Hurricane Rescue Stories from the ‘Grand Isle’ Hurricane of 1909

With Hurricane Sandy pounding the United States East Coast, we are experiencing right now how hurricanes can cause pain and destruction. It is true today and was true for our ancestors.

Some of the bright spots in the major “Grand Isle” hurricane of 1909 that hit Louisiana are told in these newspaper hurricane rescue stories of “the rescue of a family in a small boat in which a baby had been born an hour before the relief steamer arrived” and another account of a 4-year-old child “found lodged in the branches of a tree…[in] Terrebonne Parish, having survived for three days without food or water.”

rescues during the "Grand Isle" hurricane of 1909, Kansas City Star newspaper article 24 September 1909

Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), 24 September 1909, page 7

We hope that all of GenealogyBank’s readers are safe from Hurricane Sandy this difficult week.

GenealogyBank’s “Guide to Searching for Your Ancestors” Infographic

GenealogyBank has a fresh new look with enhanced search features to help you find information about your ancestors faster. We created this GenealogyBank “Guide to Searching for Your Ancestors” Infographic to quickly introduce you to some of our recent website improvements so that you can get the most out of your ancestor searches.

Click here for the larger Infographic version.

Simple Search

To search all of the records available for your ancestor in our online archives start at the GenealogyBank homepage and do a simple search for your ancestor’s first and last name.

Advanced Search

If you’d like to narrow your ancestor search click the “Advanced Search” link in the lower right next to the “Search Now” button for expanded search options. The Advanced Search allows you to include and exclude keywords, as well as specify dates.

About Our Ancestor Search Options

1.      Ancestor’s Last Name

Enter the last name of the ancestor you are searching for. Try different name spellings and use wildcards to increase results (ex. Carol, Caroll, Car*).

2.      First Name

Enter the first name of the ancestor you are searching for. Try using different variations of your ancestor’s first name to increase search results (ex. William, Will, Bill, Wm.).

3.      Include Keywords

If you are looking for a specific type of record and wish to decrease search results enter a relevant keyword such as your ancestor’s occupation, university, hometown, etc.

4.      Exclude Keywords

If your search results contain irrelevant records for your ancestor, try narrowing your search by excluding keywords. For example, you may choose to exclude all records from a particular U.S. state by entering the state’s name.

5.      Date

If you know the date or date range of the records you would like to retrieve about your ancestor enter it here. For example, search a date range spanning years of birth to death (ex. 1850-1930).

 6.      Added Since

Use this handy feature to save you time. This drop-down menu lets you search only the new material added in the last month, sixty days or ninety days. This can be a real time-saver. If you’d like to search all the records, you can still do so by selecting “the beginning.”

New! Search Genealogy Records by Type

Now you can search genealogy records by type so that locating the specific record you are looking for is quick and convenient. Here is a list of some of the genealogy records now searchable by type:

Give us a ring at 1-866-641-3297 if you get stumped in your ancestor search. We’re always here to help. Enjoy using the newly redesigned site to find your ancestors!

Genealogy Search Tips for Ancestors’ Names: Less Is More

Beginning genealogists sometimes write us and say: “I put in the correct information for my search—full name including middle name, birth date, last known place of residence, etc.—everything I know about my ancestor, and yet I found no matching records. I did this search for a few other ancestors after I was told that there was no record of death. I have seen these names on the Social Security Death Index before. How come I can’t find that information now?”

Be flexible in your ancestor name search

What you want to do is limit your family searches to the basic, essential information, typing in just enough to find your target ancestor without getting back too many hits.

For example, your ancestor’s full name might have been John Henry Thompson—but the editors of the newspaper simply called him “Bif Thompson,” the name he was known by in the community for the past 30 years.

The Social Security Death Index has records for 4,266 persons with the first name “Buddy,” 25,947 records with the first name “Tommy,” and one record for a person named “Bif.”

Now Bif, Buddy and Tommy just might be the first name on their birth certificates, but it is more likely that these are a nickname or the diminutive form of their formal name (for example, “Tommy” for “Thomas.”)

When these people’s names are indexed there is no way to know that “Bif Thompson,” for example, was actually “John Henry Thompson.”

There are over 1.3 billion names in GenealogyBank, and we index them exactly as the names appeared in the original record. So you want to be flexible in how you search for a name.

Search using only your ancestor’s surname, limited by date range if necessary

Most surnames are unique. You will learn by genealogy research experience if a search using only a surname will generate too many hits. If it does, then limit your search by a range of years—for example: 1950–1975. That will usually enable you to pull up just enough search result hits so that you can locate your target ancestor.

picture of the GenealogyBank search form for surname "Starbird" between the years 1950-1975

GenealogyBank search form for surname “Starbird” between the years 1950-1975

By searching for all persons surnamed Starbird from 1950–1975, you will then find all of those records regardless of whether the editor included their first name, middle name, initials, or nicknames.

Give the surname search, limited by date ranges, a try.

Find Old Photos & Illustrations in GenealogyBank

Finding an old photograph or illustration of your ancestors, their house, or something else associated with their lives and times can be a highlight of your genealogy research. It is exciting to see the faces and places that are a part of your family’s history.

Have you noticed that many historical newspaper articles are illustrated with photographs, etchings and other graphics?

collage of newspapers showing various illustrations

Collage of newspapers showing various illustrations

There is a handy way to search for these old photographs and illustrations in GenealogyBank’s online newspaper archives: click on this link to Search Newspaper Photos and Illustrations in GenealogyBank to search by family surname, first name, date and more.

Notice that these newspaper photos and illustrations can include images of the family homestead, either with photographs or etchings.

GenealogyBank search form for photos & illustrations

GenealogyBank search form for photos & illustrations

By using the Photos and Illustrations search, you can find newspaper articles about your ancestor that include a photo or sketch so that you can see what they looked like.

Give it a try now: Search Newspaper Photos and Illustrations

Got Burnout? Go Play in a Genealogy ‘Playground’

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott explains what he does to refresh himself when experiencing genealogy burnout after hitting a brick wall in his family history research.

One of the most common concerns I hear from genealogists is burnout. It can happen to anyone, especially after a difficult period of hitting a “brick wall” in your family history research. This got me to thinking about what I did at times in my life when I felt a case of burnout coming on. Most frequently, I recalled, it seemed to attack me in elementary school…almost every day, in fact. Then I remembered recess and the playground!

When I was a youngster in school, recess was my favorite time of day—next to dismissal when the school day ended. At recess I’d race to the playground just to see what was exciting, what was new, who was there, and what fun I could have. I’d come back in for the afternoon refreshed and ready for schoolwork again.

For me, GenealogyBank.com sometimes functions as my “Genealogy Playground.” In addition to being one of my primary “Go To” genealogy resources, it is also the place I love to go just to see what I can find, learn, have fun with, and almost always discover something to add to my family tree. Plus, the knowledge of history that I gain from GenealogyBank’s large newspaper archive helps me better understand the times and world of my ancestors.

In just half an hour of genealogy play time, I can find some great stuff! In my most recent case of “30-minute recess” I found fascinating articles simply by searching on the terms “immigration statistics,” “Berea, Ohio,” and “WPA Writers’ Project.”

In my first search I discovered some interesting statistics on immigration from the fiscal year ending June 30, 1896.

Italy Heads the List, Emporia Gazette newspaper article 18 July 1896

Emporia Gazette (Emporia, Kansas), 18 July 1896, page 1

This historical newspaper article listed the countries of origin and the numbers of immigrants to the United States from each country. I was surprised to learn that Italy was first in total number of immigrants that year, and found it enlightening that from the total number of hopeful immigrants, over 3,000 were rejected for being “paupers,” “convicts and laborers,” “idiots,” “insane,” and/or “diseased.”

Then I came across a fun historical gem about my own hometown. I always knew that Berea, Ohio, was called “The Grindstone City,” but I knew next to nothing beyond the fact that as a boy I enjoyed swimming in the abandoned quarries that had filled with water.

Letter from Berea, Ohio, Cincinnati Daily Gazette newspaper article 2 June 1869

Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 2 June 1869, page 1

This old news article explained to me the whole business of quarrying, making, and marketing the famous Berea Grindstones.

Since I am a fan of, and interested in, the Works Public Administration (WPA) and especially its Writers’ Project, I conducted that search in the archives next. I am fascinated as a genealogist and family historian that this project employed some incredible writers and also created significant and priceless Americana. With a quick online search I found (among the more than 350 newspaper articles) an interesting story.

Schools Carry Out WPA Writers' Project, Oregonian newspaper article 3 May 1936

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 3 May 1936, page 3

This historical news article intrigued me as it explained that a teacher, in partnership with the WPA Writers’ Project and its United States Guides series, created a school history project. The old article states: “Pupils of these schools collected information relative to local Indians, pioneer characters and incidents, and buildings and sites of historical interest.” How I would love to read those stories about those Indians and pioneers! I bet they held some priceless insights and information, especially from the perspective of youngsters.

So, in spending just half an hour playing in GenealogyBank I had some great experiences, was refreshed, and gained some great knowledge.

My advice for genealogists experiencing burnout? Don’t forget how fun and invigorating recess can be!

Been on a Cemetery Tour Lately?

Genealogists and the curious have been touring cemeteries since time immemorial. Here is a newspaper article about a 1913 tour of Portland’s pioneers buried in the Lone Fir Cemetery in Oregon. That cemetery is still actively offering tours today: see Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery – 2012 Calendar of Events.

Graves of Prominent Portland Pioneers Are Visited, Oregonian newspaper 17 August 1913

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 17 August 1913, page 8

Be sure to check GenealogyBank to document the people buried in the local cemeteries in your area. You can often find the final resting places of your ancestors in newspaper obituary records.

Have you been on a cemetery tour recently? How did your cemetery research go?

cemetery inscriptions, Macon Telegram newspaper article 25 February 1891

Macon Telegram (Macon, Georgia), 25 February 1891, page 3

Some newspapers published lists of cemetery inscriptions with biographies of the former local residents, like this article in the Macon Telegram.

Perhaps your goal is to document every person buried in a specific cemetery. GenealogyBank can help you do that.

Simply search using the name of the cemetery; for example the “Lone Fir Cemetery” mentioned above.

GenealogyBank search for "Lone Fir Cemetery"

GenealogyBank search for “Lone Fir Cemetery”

Up will come thousands of search results showing the names of persons that were buried in the Lone Fir Cemetery. GenealogyBank makes this easy to do.

GenealogyBank is your source for the information you need to document your family history and fill out your family tree.

Start searching now!

How to Date Family Photos with Vintage Fashion Ads in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shows how the fashion pages in old newspapers can help you date family photographs based on the clothes your ancestors are wearing, especially ladies’ hats.

If you’re having difficulty dating family photographs, you could invest in a clothing reference to help you figure out the time period based on the clothes your ancestors are wearing. Another option: you can browse the thousands of old fashion advertisements and style pages in GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives.

I recommend the latter, as there is no larger archive for vintage fashion ads and style images available online.

vintage photo and illustration of ladies' hats c. 1898

Vintage photo and illustration of ladies’ hats c. 1898

Take, for example, the undated photo on the left, which was located in the William Edward Burghardt Du Bois Collection of the Library of Congress’s Prints and Photograph Collection.

The identity of the African American woman featured in the old picture is unknown, but her hat is consistent with Victorian-era fashion. Not only are there elegant embellishments (feathers), but the bodice and high collar are reminiscent of the Victorian time period. The head positioning (looking to the side) indicates she wanted her hat to be a central theme of the photograph.

I wanted to determine if the estimated date range of 1899-1900 was accurate.

Was the photographer identified? No, but if he/she were, then one could use newspaper advertisements and obituaries to learn the work location, and life and work spans of the artist.

Was the medium (gelatin silver print) used at this time? Yes, and the size of the print is consistent with known examples.

Were there newspaper advertisements that supported this clothing style? Yes, with the closest fashion advertisement match located in the Kansas City Star on 16 January 1898.

This doesn’t indicate that the woman in the photograph resided in Kansas City—just that she wore a fashion trend common in the United States at the end of the 19th century.

Taking all these factors into account, it does give credence to the 1899-1900 estimate, or perhaps a wider range, say 1898-1901, since fashion trends spread from east to west, and often took time to appear in outlying regions.

Search Tip: Keywords to Find Fashion Advertisements

What keywords should you search for to find fashion advertisements in newspapers? To find fashion ads and style pages in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives, try search keywords such as “Dame Fashion,” “Latest Fashion” or “Millinery.”

illustration of lady's hat, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper 27 May 1892

Illustration of lady’s hat, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 27 May 1892

Some time periods, such as the Civil War, are more distinctive than others, but early fashion advertisements were not as visual (simple drawings, or merely descriptions).

photograph of Miss Chapman

Photograph of Miss Chapman

Once you have narrowed an old family picture to a specific date range, construct a collage of fashion images from newspapers, and cross-reference with photos that have known dates.

Establish the “earliest” possible date your ancestor’s photograph could have been taken, based on the earliest date when the fashion was first advertised in newspapers.

And don’t forget to browse your ancestor’s hometown newspaper, taking note of fashion editors and which stores were advertising. You may find an exact match to a family photograph.

If you’ve been able to date a family photograph using this method with fashion ads in GenealogyBank, please share it with us in the comments!

More Massachusetts, North Carolina & Virginia Newspapers Coming Online!

Newspapers are a great source for obituaries, as well as birth notices, marriage announcements, family reunion stories, and local news reports—providing great information to help with your family history research.

collage of birth notices, wedding announcements and obituaries

Collage of birth notices, wedding announcements and obituaries

Every day GenealogyBank adds more newspaper back issues online, filling in the gaps in our content coverage. These daily expansions can range from one newspaper issue—like the 1 January 1986 issue of the Greensboro News and Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)—to over 4,730 back issues of the Boston Daily Record (Boston, Massachusetts).

Here is a list of some of the additions we will be adding to GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives soon, including two MA papers, four NC papers, and one from VA. This addition alone will provide 9,203 more newspaper back issues to help you discover your “Bay State,” “Tar Heel State,” and “Old Dominion” ancestry.

list of Massachusetts, North Carolina and Virginia newspapers being added to GenealogyBank's online historical newspaper archives

List of Massachusetts, North Carolina and Virginia newspapers being added to GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives

From a handful to warehouse full of old newspapers, we are busy putting more newspapers online everyday for you.

Look for these additional newspapers to be added in the coming weeks on our new content page. This is just a small slice of the millions of genealogy records that GenealogyBank adds every month to help you trace your family tree.

More Newspapers, from California to Washington, D.C., Coming Soon!

GenealogyBank adds more records to several thousand newspapers every day to provide you with enhanced coverage for your family research. Our next batch of current newspaper additions will span across the U.S., from California to Washington, D.C., including some recent newspapers from the heartland in Iowa and South Dakota.

illustration of men pointing to a map showing Washington, D.C., Patriot newspaper 29 July 1919

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 29 July 1919, page 2

This round of expansion, we’ll be adding many more recent obituaries and death notices to help you discover more about your ancestors. Here are just a few of the new newspapers that we are adding to our archives from 11 states:

Mohave Valley Daily News (Bullhead City, AZ)

  • Death Notices:  06/30/2009 – Current

California Newswire (CA)

  • Obituaries:  07/09/2009 – Current

Ridgefield Press (Ridgefield, CT)

  • Obituaries: 6/12/2003 – 1/27/2010

Washington Times (Washington, DC)

  • Death Notices:  1/27/2004 – Current

Beacon News (Aurora, IL)

  • Obituaries:  9/24/2006 – Current

Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest (Oak Park, IL)

  • Obituaries:  12/21/2004 – Current

Decorah Newspapers (Decorah, IA)

  • Obituaries:  9/06/2001 – Current

Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, MA)

  • Obituaries:  4/25/2012 to Current

Edgefield Advertiser (Edgefield, SC)

  • Obituaries:  2/27/2012 – Current

Black Hills Pioneer (Spearfish, SD)

  • Obituaries:  12/20/1999 – Current

Mexia News (Mexia, TX)

  • Obituaries:  9/13/2012 – Current plus selected coverage from 6/30/2008 – 9/2/2008