About Mary Harrell-Sesniak

Mary Harrell-Sesniak, MBA, brings to the GenealogyBank Blog a blend of technical and genealogical research skills. In addition to having been a columnist with RootsWeb Review, she was president of a computer training/consulting firm for 15+ years, worked as an editor and has authored several genealogy books. You’ll find her an active contributor to a variety of online forums, RootsWeb’s WorldConnect, Findagrave.com and indexing projects.

My Revolutionary Roots & Family Ties to the Boston Tea Party

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post—written in celebration of the 240th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party—Mary tells the story of how one paragraph in an 1858 newspaper article provided the clue that led to one of her most satisfying genealogy moments.

Researching your family history in old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is a great way to fill in your family tree and find stories about your ancestors’ daily lives. Sometimes the most astounding discoveries one finds in newspapers aren’t about proving descent from an ancestor—but instead, they’re about finding your family’s place in history.

the illustration “The Destruction of the Tea at Boston Harbor” by Nathaniel Currier

Illustration: “The Destruction of the Tea at Boston Harbor” by Nathaniel Currier. Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Boston Tea Party of 1773

I’ve been lucky to find more than my fair share of family history connected to important events in American history—especially the American Revolution. There is one particular event that has always held a special fascination for me: the Boston Tea Party of 16 December 1773. This famous political protest, when demonstrators boarded three British ships and dumped chests of tea into Boston Harbor to protest the tax levied by the hated Tea Act, was one of the events that led to the American Revolutionary War.

Many of the Boston Tea Party participants belonged to the “Sons of Liberty,” who were despised by the British. Even into the early 1800s, many “sons,” and even “Daughters of Liberty,” were afraid to disclose their secret support or participation in this group—often taking that secret to their graves.

Shortly after the Boston Tea Party, some of the Daughters of Liberty entered into a “spirited” resolve, declaring: “That the Destruction of the East India Tea, imported among us, is absolutely necessary for the Happiness of America.” Knowing that their defiance of English law could be dangerous, they ended their resolution with the following declaration—with tongue firmly in cheek:

“That as hanging, drawing and quartering are the punishments inflicted by Law to Cases of High Treason, we are determined constantly to assemble at each other’s Houses, to HANG the tea kettle, DRAW the Tea, and QUARTER the Toast.”

article about the "Daughters of Liberty" supporting the Boston Tea Party, Connecticut Courant  newspaper article 15-22 February 1774

Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 15-22 February 1774, page 3

I admit my fascination with the Boston Tea Party is an unusual interest, because for a long time I couldn’t uncover any family provenance connecting us to that eventful protest—yet my interest remained keen.

I knew all along there was more historical evidence to continue investigating. If you suspect your family had a connection to that event, be sure to review the list at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museums website. It unfortunately does not include any of my forebears, but perhaps you’ll find someone in your tree.

My Revolutionary War Ancestors

Although my past genealogical research hadn’t been able to connect my family tree to the Boston Tea Party, my ancestors were involved in the American Revolutionary War. Two of my Patriot ancestors that fought in the war were from the Wilder family:

  • Seth Wilder, Sr. (1739/40-1814), husband of Miriam Beal
  • Seth Wilder, Jr. (1764-1813), husband of Tabitha (or Dorcas) Briggs

Both natives of Hingham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, they later settled in Cummington, Hampshire County, Massachusetts. I don’t know with certainty why they left Hingham, but I found a 1773 newspaper article that perhaps provides the answer: a chimney fire entirely consumed their house when Seth, Jr. was only nine.

article about Seth Wilder's house catching fire, Boston Evening-Post newspaper article 7 June 1773

Boston Evening-Post (Boston, Massachusetts), 7 June 1773, page 3

There are some brief accounts in the National Archives about the military service of at least one Seth Wilder, but none that corroborate the family provenance.

My mother wrote about our Wilder ancestors in two of our family history books that she published. This is what she wrote about Seth Wilder, Jr.:

“At the age of 16, Seth Wilder (Jr.) took his father’s place in the army, serving as a mechanic in the Revolution. He fought at Saratoga, Monmouth and Stony Point, being wounded at Stony Point. After the war, he settled on his father’s farm in Cummington. He died intestate.”

A biography written about Seth, Jr.’s grandson, John Thomas Wilder, reports that the reason the son took his father’s place in the fighting is because Seth, Sr. lost a leg at the Battle of Bunker Hill. If this story is correct, it is more likely that it occurred at a later date—since Seth, Jr. wasn’t 16 until 1780, closer to the end of the Revolutionary War.

Exciting Newspaper Discovery: Possible Family Connection to the Boston Tea Party!

Eager to learn more about these Patriot ancestors, I examined numerous records, books and newspapers.

One day I stumbled upon something exciting: an 1858 newspaper article indicating that Seth Wilder, Sr. might have participated in the Boston Tea Party!

This was a real “Aha!” genealogy moment—although the connection was not a certainty and required more research to confirm.

The old newspaper article reported that a Mrs. Jenks Kimball claimed to be the granddaughter of a “Seth Wilder of Hingham,”—but I didn’t have a “Mrs. Jenks Kimball” in my family tree.

article about Mrs. Jenks Kimball and her ancestor Seth Wilder, Lowell Daily Citizen and News newspaper article 22 January 1858

Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts), 22 January 1858, page 2

Was she the granddaughter of my ancestor Seth Wilder, Sr. or possibly Seth Wilder, Jr.—or was she the daughter of another Seth Wilder not at all related to me?

If I could establish that she was part of my family tree, then the report that she had inherited “a steel tobacco box which was in the pocket of her grandfather…when he assisted in throwing overboard the tea in Boston harbor,” was exhilarating!

But who was Mrs. Jenks Kimball?

She wasn’t recorded in the famous Book of the Wilders: A Contribution to the History of the Wilders from 1497… written by Moses Hale Wilder in 1878.

This is where genealogy really gets fun: putting together the pieces, trying to solve the puzzle of my family history. That 1858 newspaper article gave me the clue I needed in order to unravel this genealogy mystery. After some diligent research, I finally found the evidence proving Mrs. Jenks Kimball was part of my family!

Evidence Tying All the Pieces Together

From the following sources, I was able to confirm that Mrs. Jenks Kimball (Betsey Bradley) was the daughter of Tamer Wilder—who in turn was the daughter of Seth Wilder, Sr.!

Mrs. Jenks Kimball’s lineage:

  • Seth Wilder, Sr. & Miriam Beal
  • Tamer Wilder & James Bradley
  • Betsey Bradley & Jenks Kimball

The Vital Records of Cummington, Massachusetts (William W. Streeter & Daphne H. Morris, 1979), reports numerous Wilder family records, including:

  • 30 May 1797: Tamer Wilder (daughter of Seth Wilder, Sr. and Miriam Beal) married James Bradley.
  • The couple had three children, all born in Cummington: Royal, Betsey and Cynthia.

Vermont Vital Records, 1760-1954 (Database online at Familysearch.org):

  • Jinks [sic] Kimball
  • Marriage: 20 August 1820 in Pownal, Vermont
  • Spouse: Betsey Bradley

1850 Adams, Berkshire, Massachusetts U.S. Federal Census:

  • Jenks Kimball age 53
  • Betsey Kimball age 56

After all those years of being keenly interested in the Boston Tea Party, it was enormously gratifying to finally establish that I have a direct family connection to that historic event. And I owe it all to the clue I unearthed in one paragraph of an 1858 newspaper article!

Newspapers really are tremendous sources of family history information that can help you discover ancestral connections you never knew you had. I hope this story of my personal genealogical discovery will inspire you to search old newspapers for your own family’s connections to history.

By the way—if any of you are interested in tracing your Revolutionary War ancestry, come join the Revolutionary War Research page on Facebook! See www.facebook.com/groups/RevWarRsch/.

And if any of you know what happened to the steel tobacco box or the salt cellar once in the possession of my ancestor Betsey (Bradley) Kimball, please let me know, as I’d really love to see them.

Did Grandma & Grandpa Write Letters to Santa Claus as Kids?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find some of the cute, funny, and heartwarming letters our ancestors wrote to Santa Claus.

In our genealogical quests, we often overlook valuable sources of family history—such as time-honored childhood traditions like writing to Santa Claus (once known as Saint Nicholas).

I recommend you include “Letters to Santa,” published in hometown newspapers, as part of your genealogy research. Can you imagine finding a letter to Santa Claus written by Grandma or Grandpa when they were tots? It would certainly bring a jolly twinkle to your eyes this holiday season!

Yes—it’s very possible that you might find a letter to Santa your ancestor wrote in the historical newspaper archives—and you might even find one with a home address!

Fact: Many Letters to Santa Were Shipped to the North Pole

The U.S. Post Office, not knowing what to do with the abundance of letters to Santa they received throughout the Christmas season, often shared them with newspaper publishers. After air travel became feasible, many letters were (and still are) sent to the North Pole in Greenland, often causing overtime for postal workers. This article from 1950 reports that as of mid-November that year, over 70,000 letters had been received in Copenhagen, Denmark; by Christmas they were expecting about 200,000.

Mail for Santa Claus Keeps Postoffice in Denmark Busy, Boston Herald newspaper article 17 December 1950

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 17 December 1950, page 47

Letter to “Dear Old Man” (Santa Claus) from Tom (1888)

Here is an early letter to Santa published after the 1887 Christmas holiday. Although it doesn’t reveal “Tom’s” surname, it has an interesting description about the custom of using a chimney post office for the children’s letters.

The little boy made it clear he didn’t care for peppermint sticks, and had some interesting requests—including this instruction to Santa: “Don’t put my things in Jim’s stockings. My stockings are red, with holes in the knees.” Tom also advised Santa Claus: “Ma and Pa are always foolin’ about Christmas Eve, but come along and don’t mind them.”

The Letters Santa Claus Receives, Haverhill Bulletin newspaper article 2 January 1888

Haverhill Bulletin (Haverhill, Massachusetts), 2 January 1888, page 2

Santa’s Letter Box (1899)

The previous letter to Santa seems more of a novelty, as it was published in the newspaper after Christmas. Around the turn of the century, delightful children’s correspondence to Santa became a regular feature in many newspapers in the United States, and their letters were printed in the weeks leading up to Christmas. In the following 1899 newspaper article, you can read these letters to Santa:

Albany, Tex., Dec. 15.—Dear Santa Claus: Will you please send me a doll, if you have one to spare? I want one eighteen inches long, kid body and bisque head, light hair or dark will do. Yours truly, BESSIE TILGHMAN.

Oak Cliff, Tex., Dec. 15.—Dear Santa Claus: Please send me a toy cannon, train, magic lantern and a small boat, some candy, nuts of all kinds, apples, oranges and some fireworks. I am a little boy 6 years old. Your little friend, JULE BERAND.

Dallas, Tex., Dec. 17.—Dearest Santa: Though I look older, I am only 4 years old. I don’t want a doll, but I want a watering pot and a carpet sweeper, and some ginger-snaps and jaw-breakers. Yours lovingly, BROOKSIE T. SMITH.

Santa's Letter Box, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 December 1899

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 December 1899, page 5

Notice the letter authors are clearly identified by first and last name. Are any of these letters to Santa written by your ancestors?

Georgie Freeman and Charlotte Ostan from Evansville, Indiana (1905)

These children had been very good all year, one performing night work and carrying in meat, and the other who didn’t want her five-year-old brother Tony Ostan forgotten.

Letters to Santa Claus, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 15 December 1905

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 15 December 1905, page 6

Almira and Kenton Christopher from Belleville, Illinois (1919)

As we all know, many families have a tough time at Christmas. Not wanting to disappoint their children, Mom and Dad often make up cover stories to explain the lack of presents, as shown in the following letters to Santa Claus.

In 1919, the Christopher children wrote that they were sorry Santa’s reindeer were sick, and that he wouldn’t be coming this year. However—just in case—Almira did wish for a coat, hair ribbon, dress, cap, shoes, fruit and nuts, and some other items, including a little piano.

Among the presents Kenton hoped for were a popgun, new suit and cap, an auto, bicycle, football suit, and a tree. He also added, “Do not forget to leave something for my sisters, brother and parents.”

letters to Santa Claus, Belleville News Democrat newspaper article 15 December 1919

Belleville News Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 15 December 1919, page 7

Ruby Grace Coker from Marietta, Georgia (1923)

Some letters to Santa are purely fun, such as this one from a little girl who lived in Marietta, Georgia:

Dear Santa Claus—Christmas, I want you to bring me a doll that walk, talk and sleep. I want a pair of skates, and I want a box of water colors. Please bring some fruits, nuts and candy of all kinds. There is one more thing I want and that is a raincape. I won’t ask for anything else, because there is lots more little boys and girls that you have to see, but remember mother, daddy, brother and my little baby sister.—Your friend, Ruby Grace Coker.

letter to Santa Claus, Cobb County Times newspaper article 20 December 1923

Cobb County Times (Marietta, Georgia), 20 December 1923, page 6

Letters to Santa Claus Contest (1937)

With so many children’s letters to Santa sent to newspaper editors, the competition to be published was fierce. Not wanting to disappoint, some newspapers created contests—such as this one from the Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper, which offered a first place prize of $5 and a second place prize of $3, with six runners-up to receive $1 each. (I wasn’t able to locate the winning entries, but perhaps some of our readers would find them and report it on the blog.)

Letters to Santa Claus Entered in New Contest, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 12 December 1937

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 12 December 1937, page 2

Letters from the Echo of Richardson, Texas (1941)
In this collection of letters from 1941, many children told Santa Claus that they love him. (Don’t we all!)

Dear Santa Claus: I have been good. Please come to see me. Fill my stocking with fruit and candy and toys. Don’t bring me very much, but don’t forget other boys and girls. I love you, Ray Johnson.

Dear Santa Claus: I have been good. Please come to see me. Fill my stocking with fruit and candy and toys…I love you, Sylvia Jean Terry.

Letters to Santa Claus, Richardson Echo newspaper article 19 December 1941

Richardson Echo (Richardson, Texas), 19 December 1941, page 5

There are so many letters to Santa Claus in the newspapers, I hope you’ll take time to research them—and please let us know when you find any of these priceless family treasures!

Search Tips

Try entering your ancestor’s first and last name in combination with “letters to Santa” or “letter to Santa” in the “Include Keywords” field on GenealogyBank’s Newspaper Archives search page to get started.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page, looking for letters to Santa Claus

You might also try searching for your ancestors’ letters to Santa from the Newspaper Letters search page.

Christmas card from Mary Harrell-Sesniak to her blog readers

Hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

Merry Christmas!
Mary

Old Holiday Poems, Songs & Hymns in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post—just in time as the Holiday Season is now upon us—Mary searches old newspapers to find poems, carols and hymns from holidays past, to revive them and bring them into this year’s celebrations.

During this magical time of the year many people enjoy singing carols and hymns, and reading joyful poems, of Christmas, Hanukkah and other holidays.

illustration for "The Night before Christmas," Boston Herald newspaper article 12 December 1897

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 12 December 1897, page 36

You’ll find a delightful assortment of holiday poems and songs in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives, many of them little-known compositions that have faded over the years. But this holiday season why don’t we revive them, and take the time to read some of these poems to cherished children, grandchildren and other family members! It’s a wonderful way to honor the words of our poetic ancestors while sharing quality time with our loved ones.

In this blog post I’ve cut and pasted some of my favorite holiday poems, carols & hymns from old newspapers, and have included excerpts for easier reading.

“Christmas Carol” by Martin Luther

In an 1859 newspaper I found a reprint of this “Christmas Carol” that Martin Luther wrote for his son Hans in 1540. Isn’t it wonderful that such history still exists?

“Christmas Carol” by Martin Luther, Portland Weekly Advertiser newspaper article 4 January 1859

Portland Weekly Advertiser (Portland, Maine), 4 January 1859, page 4

From Heaven above to earth I come,

To bear good news to every home:

Glad tidings of great joy I bring,

Whereof I now will say and sing:

 

To you, this night, is born a child

Of Mary, chosen mother mild;

This little child, of lowly birth,

Shall be the joy of all your earth.

 

’Tis Christ our God, who far on high

Hath heard your sad and bitter cry;

Himself will your Salvation be,

Himself from sin will make you free…

 

Glory to God in highest Heaven,

Who unto man His Son hath given!

While angels sing, with pious mirth,

A glad New Year to all the earth.

“Christmas Hymn”

I found this “Christmas Hymn” by an unknown author in an 1837 newspaper.

“Christmas Hymn,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette newspaper article 16 January 1837

Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 16 January 1837, page 2

Hail happy morn—hail holy child,

Hail mercy’s sacred spring!

Upon whose birth the angels smiled,—

Our Saviour and our King!

Oh! like the star whose guiding rays

The Eastern sages bless’d,

Thy love, Oh! Lord, shall light our ways,

And give the weary rest…

 

Adoring angels filled the sky,

And thus their song began,

“Glory to God who dwells on high,

And peace on earth to man.”

“A Christmas Hymn” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“A Christmas Hymn” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was printed in an 1844 newspaper.

“A Christmas Hymn” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Centinel of Freedom newspaper article 31 December 1844

Centinel of Freedom (Newark, New Jersey), 31 December 1844, page 1

…It is the calm and solemn night!

A thousand bells ring out, and throw

Their joyous peals abroad, and smite

The darkness.—charmed and holy now!

The night that erst no shame had worn,

To it a happy name is given;

For in that stable lay, new-born,

The peaceful Prince of earth and heaven.

In the solemn midnight

Centuries ago!

“The Snow Man” by Gracie F. Coolidge

“The Snow Man,” a poem by Gracie F. Coolidge, was published in an 1884 newspaper.

“The Snow Man” by Gracie F. Coolidge, Grand Forks Daily Herald newspaper article 24 December 1884

Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 24 December 1884, page 2

…He sees through the window the children bright,

And hears them merrily singing

Round the Christmas tree with its glory of light.

When out from the chimney, in bear-skins white,

Comes good St. Nicholas springing!

 

And the Snow-man laughs so hard at that,

That when his laughter ceases,

A pipe, a coat, and an old straw hat,

Two lumps of coal and a flannel cravat,

Are all that is left of the pieces!

“Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas To-night” by Phillips Brooks

“Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas To-night,” a poem by Phillips Brooks, was published in a 1908 newspaper.

“Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas To-night” by Phillips Brooks, Patriot newspaper article 24 December 1908

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 24 December 1908, page 6

Christmas in lands of the fir tree and pine,

Christmas in lands of the palm tree and vine;

Christmas where snow peaks stand solemn and white,

Christmas where corn-fields lie sunny and bright;

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas to-night!

 

Christmas where children are hopeful and gay,

Christmas where old men are patient and gray,

Christmas where peace, like a dove in its flight,

Broods o’er brave men in the thick of the fight.

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas to-night!

 

For the Christ-child who comes is the Master of all;

No palace too great—no cottage too small.

The angels who welcome Him sing from the height,

“In the city of David a King in His might.”

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas to-night!

 

…So the stars of the midnight which compass us round,

Shall see a strange glory and hear a sweet sound,

And cry, “Look! the earth is aflame with delight,

O sons of the morning rejoice at the sight.”

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas to-night!

“Hanukkah Lights” by Morris Rosenfeld

“Hanukkah Lights,” a poem by Morris Rosenfeld, was published in a 1921 newspaper.

“Hanukkah Lights” by Morris Rosenfeld, Jewish Chronicle newspaper article 23 December 1921

Jewish Chronicle (Newark, New Jersey), 23 December 1921, page 4

Oh, ye little candle lights!

You tell tales of days and nights,

Stories with no end;

You tell us of bloody fight,

Heroism, power, might,

Wonders, how they blend.

 

When I see you flickering,

Colors diff’rent checkering;

Dreamlike speaks your gleam:

“Judah, hast fought once upon,

Conquest, glory thou hast won”—

God! is that a dream?…

“The Night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore

Finally, I’d like to leave you with the most famous of all Christmas poems, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” popularly known as “The Night before Christmas.”

For many of us, including my own family, the reading of “The Night before Christmas” is a well-honored tradition. After Christmas Eve service when I was a child, we would put on our jammies, hang our stockings with care, and mother would read us the poem before father would scoot us off to bed.

When the now-famous Christmas poem was first published in an 1823 newspaper, the author chose to remain anonymous—but he was no match for members of society, who became obsessed with wanting to identify the penman of that memorable poem. Eventually, Clement Clarke Moore (15 July 1779-10 July 1863), acknowledged authorship. It turned out he was just a kindly gentleman who enjoyed writing poetry, and this one had been written as a present for his children.

If you search old newspapers, you’ll find many renditions of Moore’s popular Christmas poem. The writer of this 1897 newspaper article did a wonderful job explaining the background of the poem, including a picture of Moore, his house, and a signed copy of the poem from Moore’s notebook.

“The Night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, Boston Herald newspaper article 12 December 1897

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 12 December 1897, page 36

Here is a picture of the house where Moore wrote his famous poem.

“The Night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, Boston Herald newspaper article 12 December 1897

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 12 December 1897, page 36

And here is the poem, with an image from his personal notebook!

“The Night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, Boston Herald newspaper article 12 December 1897

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 12 December 1897, page 36

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

 

And mama in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap;

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

 

…But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa to all of my genealogy friends and your families!

Researching Your Pilgrim Ancestry from Mayflower Ship Passengers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post—just in time for Thanksgiving—Mary searches old newspapers to trace ancestry all the way back to the Pilgrims, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean on board the Mayflower in 1620 for a fresh start in the New World.

Although endlessly rewarding, it is true that tracing ancestry is a time-consuming process requiring much patience—especially if one wishes to connect to the Mayflower passengers, those 102 Pilgrims who sailed from Leiden, Holland, in September 1620 bound for the New World—anchoring off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in November 1620.

Painting: Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, William Halsall, 1882

Painting: Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, William Halsall, 1882. Credit: Pilgrim Hall Museum & Wikipedia.

Tragically, only half the Plymouth Rock settlers survived their first winter in the New World—and if any are your progenitors, you could conceivably be required to compile from 12-18 generations of documentary evidence to trace your Pilgrim ancestry and prove you are a descendant. Fortunately, there are many ways to research the Mayflower voyage and the Pilgrims, even if you can’t visit Leiden or Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts (although please put these stops on your genealogical travel shortlist).

I traveled to Leiden, Holland, several years ago to conduct first-hand research on my Mayflower Pilgrim ancestry, and found this Dutch marriage record for future Mayflower ship passengers Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris from 1611.

marriage certificate for future Mayflower passengers Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris, 1611

Marriage certificate for future Mayflower passengers Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris, 1611, from the collection of Mary Harrell-Sesniak

However, as I say, you don’t need to travel to research your Mayflower Pilgrim ancestry—you can do it from the comfort of your own home, relying on your computer and the Internet, using several helpful websites and having access to online historical newspapers.

Common genealogical advice suggests that you start your family history research with yourself and work backwards to prove ancestry. However, with Mayflower genealogy research, you might want to work “down the research ladder,” instead of up, as it could very well save you a few steps.

Approved List of Mayflower Ship Passengers

Start at the top of your family tree by looking for surnames matching Mayflower passengers, shown on the accepted list of eligible ancestors compiled by Pilgrim lineage societies, most notably the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (www.themayflowersociety.com/).

John Alden Bartholomew Allerton Isaac Allerton
Mary (Norris) Allerton Mary Allerton Remember Allerton
Elinor Billington Francis Billington John Billington
William Bradford Love Brewster Mary Brewster
William Brewster Peter Browne James Chilton
Mrs. James Chilton Mary Chilton Francis Cooke
John Cooke Edward Doty Francis Eaton
Samuel Eaton Sarah Eaton Moses Fletcher
Edward Fuller Mrs. Edward Fuller Samuel Fuller
Samuel Fuller (son of Edward) Constance Hopkins Elizabeth (Fisher) Hopkins
Giles Hopkins Stephen Hopkins John Howland
Richard More Priscilla Mullins William Mullins
Degory Priest Joseph Rogers Thomas Rogers
Henry Samson George Soule Myles Standish
Elizabeth Tilley John Tilley Joan (Hurst) Tilley
Richard Warren Peregrine White Resolved White
Susanna White William White Edward Winslow

Publications by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants

And if that surname research strategy fails, research Mayflower descendants to the fifth generation to try and find a match to your family. Many publications exist, including the famous pink or gray Pilgrim lineage books published by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants—many of which are available at libraries. As accepted references, these Society publications allow you to bypass submitting proofs for any Mayflower descendant they’ve already established.

photo of publications from the General Society of Mayflower Descendants

Credit: from the library of Mary Harrell-Sesniak

The silver books trace the first five generations of Mayflower descendants.

The smaller pink books are Mayflower Families in Progress (MFIP), and are produced as new information becomes available.

Newspaper Evidence for Peregrine (or Peregrin) White and His Descendants

An extraordinary amount of newspaper articles and obituaries mentioning Mayflower ancestry exist in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives.

Although not my Mayflower ancestor, I’m fascinated by Peregrine White. He was the son of William and Susanna White, who crossed the ocean on the Mayflower with his older brother Resolved. Susanna was pregnant with Peregrine during the Atlantic crossing, and he became the first Plymouth Colony baby of English ancestry when he was born on 20 November 1620 on board the Mayflower in Provincetown Harbor. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peregrine_White.)

After William White died—as so many did, during the Colony’s first winter—Susanna married widower Edward Winslow, of whom much is written. After reaching manhood, Peregrine married Sarah Bassett, and if you are one of their descendants, you have a multitude of cousins.

One of your relatives is their grandson George Young (1689-1771), son of their daughter Sarah White (1663-1755) and Thomas Young (1663-1732).

George Young’s lineage was noted in this 1771 obituary.

death notice for George Young, Boston Post-Boy newspaper article 13 May 1771

Boston Post-Boy (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 May 1771, page 3

Being such a small colony of settlers, the Mayflower Pilgrim’s children intermarried. As reported in this 1821 newspaper article, John Alden was a descendant of his grandfather by the same name—and also of Peregrine White, via his grandmother. He is thought to have married twice, first to Lydia Lazell and later to Rebecca Weston, although neither of his wives are mentioned in this obituary. Note how many of John Alden’s descendants were living when he died at the ripe old age of 103.

obituary for John Alden, Daily National Intelligencer newspaper article 12 April 1821

Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), 12 April 1821, page 3

Elder James White, who founded the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Battle Creek, Michigan, was another direct descendant of the Mayflower Pilgrims. His religious affiliation and his Mayflower ancestry were reported in this 1881 newspaper obituary.

obituary for Elder James White, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 9 August 1881

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 9 August 1881, page 1

Reporting Trend in Pilgrim Descendants’ Obituaries

Do you notice a trend in these obituaries? The importance of being a descendant of a Mayflower passenger tends to overshadow all other aspects of an individual’s life!

For example, Ellen Gould Harmon was the spouse of Elder James White—and her obituary from 1915 makes more notice of his roots than her own.

obituary for Ellen White, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 17 July 1915

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 17 July 1915, page 1

Are You My Mayflower Cousin?

Although I have not located Peregrine White ancestry in my own family tree, if you trace to any of the following Mayflower passengers, then you and I are cousins:

  • William Brewster and Mary (maiden name unknown)
  • Giles Hopkins and Catherine Whelden
  • Stephen Hopkins and Mary (maiden name unknown)
  • John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley
photo of the gravesite of Giles Hopkins

Photo: Grave of Giles Hopkins, Cove Burying Ground (Eastham, Massachusetts). Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

We are in good company. By 1909, one writer’s conservative estimate calculated that by the 10th generation, any of the Mayflower ship passengers could have had at least 3,500,000 descendants! Since most Mayflower descendants are now of the 13th, 14th, 15th or 16th generation, that number has skyrocketed.

The rising number of Mayflower Pilgrim descendants is reported in this 1909 newspaper article.

article about descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 18 December 1909

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 18 December 1909, page 8

If you think you are a Mayflower ship passenger descendant, this article from the New England Historic Genealogical Society may be of interest:

“The Society of Mayflower Descendants: Who they are, where to find them, how to apply”

http://www.americanancestors.org/the-society-of-mayflower-descendants-pt1/

For tips on how to research your Mayflower genealogy using GenealogyBank visit: http://blog.genealogybank.com/tag/mayflower

Have you traced your ancestry back to one of the Mayflower ship passengers? If so, please tell us about it in the comments section. We’d love to know who your Mayflower ancestors are.

Earlier Women of War: Nurses, Camp Followers & Red Cross Volunteers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find the stories of women who served during some of our nation’s earlier wars—as army nurses, camp followers, and Red Cross volunteers.

There are numerous groups that celebrate the lives of (mostly men) veterans from America’s past wars, but many of us wonder: what about the women? Certainly women on the home front were supportive of their husbands, fathers and brothers at war—with sewing, cooking and other tasks to contribute to the war effort and stability at home.

But many women during wartime did much more—even making the decision to assist as military “camp followers” ready to tend to the needs of the soldiers. If you were a wife or mother who had sent a spouse or sons to war, what would you do?

Would you remain at home, or would you want to be close at hand, making sure the men were well fed and nursed in the event of battle injuries? Of course, most women did continue to raise their families, work the fields and keep the household running—but some went off to war to support the troops.

Most of these brave women’s war stories have never been told, as history books make scarce mention of them. Firsthand accounts of these women camp followers and soldiers’ wives are few—but with a little help from historical newspapers, we can get a glimpse into the lives of these forgotten women of war.

Elizabeth Dodd, Revolutionary War Camp Follower

In this 1849 obituary we can read the life story of Elizabeth Dodd, who led quite an eventful life in her 111 years. As the obituary comments: “In the death of this aged person, there is a volume of history lost. Living in great retirement, the relict of a forgotten age, few knew the stories she could tell of the brave old days.”

obituary for Elizabeth Dodd, Weekly Herald newspaper article 4 August 1849

Weekly Herald (New York, New York), 4 August 1849, page 248

Dodd was a camp follower during the American Revolutionary War: “During the first American war, she followed her husband through the principal campaigns; was at many of the hardest fought battles; at Monmouth, White Plains, Yorktown, &c.”

Susannah Clark, First Army Nurse Pensioned

Another fascinating account is that of Mrs. Susannah D. Clark who, according to this 1899 newspaper article, nursed American soldiers in two wars and has the distinction of being the first army nurse pensioned in U.S. history.

According to the old newspaper article: “As a bride of a few days, she cared for the suffering and dying during the Civil War, and as a gray-haired grandmother she looked after and nursed back to good health two of her grandsons during the late Spanish-American unpleasantness.”

Mrs. [Susannah] Clark Nursed Soldiers of Two Wars, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 4 September 1899

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 4 September 1899, page 4

Officers’ Entourages

Officers typically had an array of camp followers—some there to directly assist the officers with many varying roles, including baggage handling, while others came along to sell their wares.

This 1792 newspaper article discusses General Abercrombie and the Grand Army, reporting that he “sent off all his baggage that was on the out side of the fort, to Mysore, under an effort of cavalry, and accompanied by his camp followers.”

Grand Army [under General Abercrombie], Daily Advertiser newspaper article 3 September 1792

Daily Advertiser (New York, New York), 3 September 1792, page 2

British Camp Followers of the “Paper Army”

Military camp followers have participated in almost every war, here and abroad. This 1885 newspaper article gives an account of a British “Paper Army.” It reports that during a recent inspection, the actual number of men was much lower than official reports had indicated, so “cooks, servants, and camp followers were hastily crowded into the ranks to satisfy the inspectors.”

A [British] Paper Army, Wisconsin State Journal newspaper article 13 February 1885

Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wisconsin), 13 February 1885, page 5

Red Cross Camp Followers

This 1911 newspaper article gives a report from the Mexican War. After one battle, supply wagons that had been left on the battlefield were inspected by Americans protected by a Red Cross flag.

The historical newspaper article reports: “However, after the Americans demonstrated that it was safe to approach the wagons, the Mexican commander sent a detail under protection of machine guns to bring the wagons into camp. The supplies were evidently a welcome addition to the commissary department of the federals, and were received with handclapping on the part of the women camp followers.”

article about the Mexican War, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper article 10 April 1911

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 10 April 1911, page 6

Clara Barton, the “Angel of the Battlefield”

One female camp follower who did achieve fame was Clara Barton (1821-1912), founder of the American Red Cross Society.

pictures of Clara Barton, from the Trenton Evening Times 13 April 1912 & the Fort Worth Star-Telegram 12 April 1912

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 13 April 1912, page 3 (left);
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 12 April 1912, page 1 (right)

Because of her nursing work on the front lines during the Civil War, Barton was known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.” After the war, she traveled to the infamous Confederate prisoner-of-war camp Andersonville in Georgia, where she researched the graves of thousands of Union soldiers, identifying the dead and writing letters telling Northern families what had happened to their missing loved ones. (See National Park Service article at www.nps.gov/ande/historyculture/clara_barton.htm.) Later, she provided nursing services in Europe during the Franco-Prussian War, then came home to promote formation of the American Red Cross.  Barton’s long career of service began as a nurse camp follower.

As the following 1912 newspaper obituary mentions, Clara Barton “gave her life to humanity, and humanity mourns at her death…Not till she was 40 years old did Miss Barton start upon her notable life work. Then came the conflict between the American states, calling every patriot to duty. Miss Barton could not shoulder a musket, but she could and did [do] what was as essential; she went to the front as a nurse.”

The Death of Clara Barton, Plain Dealer newspaper obituary 13 April 1912

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 13 April 1912, page 6

Eleanor Guckes, My WWII Red Cross Ancestor

This photograph of my grandmother Eleanor (Scott) Guckes shows her wearing an American Red Cross uniform in 1942 during WWII. According to our family records, she assisted in the war effort by driving an ambulance while her husband was serving with the Navy in the Pacific Theatre.

photo of Eleanor Guckes

Credit: from the photographic collection of Mary Harrell-Sesniak

Do you have a female family member who served in the Red Cross or assisted as a camp follower during one of our nation’s wars? If so, please share your ancestor’s story with us in the comments section.

Genealogy Challenge Pt. 1: Spot Spoonerisms & Other Name Mistakes

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shows how to spot spoonerisms (the accidental switching of sounds or letters in two words, often to humorous effect) and other name mistakes when searching for your ancestors in old newspapers.

Creativity is essential when searching for forebears in old newspapers—especially when misspellings come into play. Names can be abbreviated, truncated and spelled in a variety of fantastical ways—including one aberration you may not have considered: a spoonerism.

What Is a Spoonerism?

Perhaps you’ve heard someone say at a wedding, “Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?” or in church, “Let me sew you to your sheet.”

Their brain meant to say, “Is it customary to kiss the bride?” and “Let me show you to your seat,” but a disconnect or “fain brart” got in the way.

You could chalk the unique phraseology up to imbibing, but more likely the speakers were sober and unintentionally mimicking Rev. William Archibald “W. A.” Spooner (1844-1930). Known for his linguistic acrobatics, Spooner frequently misspoke—as when he gave a toast at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Celebration.

“Three cheers for our queer old dean,” he said.

That might have been the end of his days as toastmaster except the hilarity of the moment kept Dr. Spooner in high demand. His name is now used to describe the humorous speech mistakes for which he was famous, in which sounds or letters are transposed.

I wonder if the king was even mildly amused when Spooner blurted, “Kinglemen, the Gent!” instead of, “Gentlemen, the King!”

More of Spooner’s spoonerisms can be found in this 1924 newspaper article.

Many 'Amusing Stories' Are Told of Doctor Spooner, National Labor Tribune newspaper article 20 November 1924

National Labor Tribune (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), 20 November 1924, page 3

How Spoonerisms Affect Genealogical Searching

The phenomenon of linguistic tongue twisting may be done on “porpoise,” but more likely it is done by accident. No matter the intent, spoonerisms occasionally appear in newspaper reporting—and the tangled results may limit your search results. If your initial results are few, try searching on a clever spoonerism of your ancestor’s name by employing wildcard characters (such as ? or *) to substitute for letters that may be accidentally transposed.

Names and words that are prone to being spoonerized are ones that:

  • have an equal amount of syllables
  • appear to rhyme (I’d be rich if I had a nickel for every time my name was jumbled up!)
  • have alliterations (given and surnames that begin with the same first letter), such as Herbert Hoover—who apparently was mistakenly referred to as Hoobert Heever, Heebert Huver or possibly Heever Herbert
Harry Von Zell's Spoonerism, Springfield Union newspaper article 30 October 1972

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 30 October 1972, page 17

Corrections in Names in Newspapers

Another type of genealogical search challenge occurs when a name is simply misreported or misspelled in the newspapers.

When in doubt, search a week or so after an event to see if there has been a correction made to your ancestor’s name—and if you find one, be sure to keep a record of both versions of the name for future searches.

(On a personal level, my son one time made a fabulous play at a baseball game. When the newspaper came out, it had published another player’s name under my son’s picture. Wonder if the other family kept a copy!)

In the following example, the name mistake is somewhat of a spoonerism (Bovee was used for Obee), and reminds us that once you spot a misspelling, keep it on your short list for further search possibilities.

notice about C. W. Obee, Daily Telegram newspaper article 14 December 1918

Daily Telegram (Adrian, Michigan), 14 December 1918, page 2

In this example from a 1921 newspaper, the writer got the name completely wrong. O. A. Wymus, an Aberdeen optometrist, was reported as the speaker of an event, when a Mr. Weymouth should have been credited. Too bad the given names of the incorrect person were abbreviated as mere initials, and totally eliminated for the correct speaker—otherwise, we would have been able to see the full extent of this mistake and perhaps discover a spoonerism at work!

notice about Mr. Weymouth, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 28 April 1921

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 28 April 1921, page 8

Ancestor & Spouse Name Swaps

Another common name error found in newspapers derives from ancestor and spouse swapping. No, this isn’t a form of genealogical adultery, but instead a mistake that occurs when a family member’s memory is foggy, or when one person is more prominent than another, resulting in an incorrect name being given to the newspaper reporter.

I recently found an example of this kind of marital mistake while doing my own family history research. My great aunt’s obituary reported that she was married to my great grandfather instead of my great uncle. My great grandfather was perhaps the better known of the two brothers in their hometown and his name would therefore come more readily to people’s minds.

Now, there are legitimate instances in which a widow or widower marries one’s brother or sister-in-law, but in my family, it taint rue.

For those of you who are wondering why I haven’t shown this incorrect obituary, I elected not to because—as any geasoned senealogist knows—once a mistake is recorded, certain enthusiasts repeat the error over and over and over again, forever rouding the clesearch!

Genealogy Challenge

Here is your latest genealogy challenge, readers.

Post your best example of a genealogical spoonerism in the comments section of this blog. I can’t wait to read them—I always love a good laugh!

Genealogy Humor: Unusual & Funny Names of People

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shares some of the odd and humorous names she’s run across while researching family history in old newspapers.

Like anyone else, genealogists enjoy a good laugh. Sometimes, when searching through old newspapers, we run across an old article or announcement that provides a welcome chuckle. This can be especially true with some of the old names we find while doing our genealogy research, such as those shown in this Blog post.

Some people seem to think that my own last name is “funny”—to be polite, they often comment that my hyphenated name is “unusual.”

If you think about the name “Mary Harrell,” it somewhat rhymes. Some people find that funny—although it’s an honorable name, and one that suits me well! And I’ve always said: if someone can spell my name correctly, he or she would make a wonderful proofreader!

I often wonder how other families select their children’s names, especially when I encounter people’s names that seem more unusual than mine. Certainly the baby name choices affect the children throughout their lives—and when one has to deal with an unusually outrageous name, hopefully the child will grow up with a good sense of humor.

Preserved Fish

Take, for example, the name Preserved Fish.

Throughout history there have been numerous people by this moniker, including the Preserved Fish who married Mary Shepherd in 1840. The writer of their 1840 matrimonial notice reported:

“Not the first time that a Shepherd has hooked a fish. The victim is a great catch, for, though there is nothing scaly about him, he has plenty of shiners; and his nett income is immense.”

marriage announcement for Preserved Fish and Mary Shepherd, New Bedford Register newspaper article 30 July 1840

New Bedford Register (New Bedford, Massachusetts), 30 July 1840, page 1

Harry Bear

Ever met a Harry Bear? In 1913, Mary Myers married Harry Bear in Hagerstown, Maryland. So Mary married Harry, and was therefore in good company. I counted 25 Harry Bears at Find-A-Grave, which makes one wonder what happened when any of these Bear families gives birth to their first child.

Miss Mary Myers and Harry Bear Wed in Md., Patriot newspaper article 28 October 1913

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 28 October 1913, page 3

Were they subjected to this kind of fairy tale banter?

“So Pappa, how are the three bears? Was this morning’s porridge too cold, too warm or just right—or did Goldilocks come by and eat every bite?”

What about Byrds?

I’ve got a close friend whose maiden name is Byrd. Although she has a fairly common given name (Linda), her parents could have had fun with it. Have you ever heard of Earl E. Byrd, Lady Byrd, or Southern Byrd? And to take this further, there are even a few Byrds who were known to marry a Fish or a Bear.

birth announcement for Kenneth Southern Byrd, Patriot newspaper article 20 December 1915

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 20 December 1915, page 7

Sterling Silver

It can be funny when people with unusual names work in related industries, such as tailors who were Taylors, aviators who were Pilots, funeral directors who were Graves, and Silvers and Sterlings who were jewelers. This report from 1961 notes that Mrs. Sterling Silver was a clerk at C. H. Lee’s Silver and Jewelry Shop, and that her first name was Goldie!

Funny Old Town, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 27 November 1961

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 27 November 1961, page 23

Kitty Graves

Along this line are various kitties, including Kitty Graves of Stephenville, Texas, who gave one of the “swellest dinners of the season” in 1900.

notice about Kitty Graves, Dallas Express newspaper article 13 January 1900

Dallas Express (Dallas, Texas), 13 January 1900, page 7

Nutts

Ever met any real Nutts? If so, it shouldn’t surprise you that W. N. Nutt was elected president of the National Nut Growers Association, or that Mr. Thomas James Nutty of Mamaroneck, New York, petitioned the court to change his surname to Nutley.

job notices, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 11 November 1915

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 11 November 1915, page 12

Ima Hogg

Here in Texas, we defend the honor of philanthropist Miss Ima Hogg (1882-1975), almost more than we do the Alamo.

She was the famous daughter of Sarah Ann “Sallie” Stimson and Governor James Stephen “Big Jim” Hogg, and a beautiful young woman. Her residence, the extraordinary Houston treasure “Bayou Bend,” is part of the Museum of Fine Arts and one of my favorite places to visit. (See www.mfah.org/)

Here is a photo I took last month at the visitor center.

a photo of the Bayou Bend Visitor Center (Houston, Texas)

Photo: Bayou Bend Visitor Center (Houston, Texas). Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

But let’s dispel the myth that Ima Hogg had a sister named Ura; it certainly isn’t true!

Kahaha Ka

Hawaii, our 50th state, has its share of residents with curious names, including Kahaha Ka. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew J. Bright, she was named in honor of her uncle John E. Maia, who passed away after completing a fast of forty days. According to this newspaper article, her name means “40 days.”

How Hawaiians Get Their Funny Names, Tucson Daily Citizen newspaper article 2 February 1922

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 2 February 1922, page 7

Unusual British Names of People

In 1891, it was reported that the British registry of births has many names of “dull propriety,” but also some that put a smile on the clerk’s face. A few of these were Ether Spray, Foot Bath, River Jordan and Rose Shamrock Anthistle, “whose name must please any patriotic man.”

an article about British names, Jacksonian newspaper article 3 December 1891

Jacksonian (Heber Springs, Arkansas), 3 December 1891, page 3

Weather & Holiday Names for People

There are also amusing weather and holiday people names, such as O. Snow, Mary Christmas and Chris Cringle of Cleveland, Ohio; Slay Bell of Merrysville, Ohio; and even A. S. Kating of Iceland—all distinguished guests of Richard’s Euclid Avenue House in 1878.

The Euclid Avenue House, Plain Dealer newspaper article 19 December 1878

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 December 1878, page 4

Genealogical Challenge

Other funny and unusual real people names that I’ve encountered in my genealogical research are B. A. Mann, B. A. Husband, Mother Hubbard, Peter Piper and Rose Bush. Do you suppose there is someone out there stuck with R. U. A. Crook or Justin Case?

It’s possible, but readers—perhaps you have uncovered more humorous name examples!

So here is your genealogical challenge.

Let’s see who can find the most belly busting, giggle producing, ridiculous or funny name ever to be found in newspapers! Share them with us in the comments section. Of course, if the name is too off-color, please check with us first. (No XXX rated examples.)

I’m thinking my Nantucket ancestors, Tristram and Dionis (Stevens) Coffin, had their share of death and dying jokes whenever someone in their family passed away!

“We’re going to need a coffin for Coffin.”

article about the Coffin family in Nantucket, Baltimore Patriot newspaper article 21 July 1826

Baltimore Patriot (Baltimore, Maryland), 21 July 1826, page 2

And certainly anyone by the name of Dunn heard “done” jokes, as was reported when Miss Gertrude Buell Dunn was “done” with her supposed soul mate, Ferdinand Pinney Earle.

The 'Soul Mate' [Gertrude Dunn] Is Coming Home, Grand Forks Daily Herald newspaper article 15 September 1909

Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 15 September 1909, page 1

Now that I am “done,” it’s your turn to share your funny name finds with us in the comments!

Who Really Invented the Steamboat? Fitch, Rumsey or Fulton?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary uses old newspapers to research the invention of the steamboat—and describes how much steamboats changed our ancestors’ world.

The invention of the steamboat radically changed our ancestors’ world. While researching your ancestors’ lives in historical newspapers, you will run across many mentions of steamboats. This blog article, including a fun quiz, will test your knowledge of the history of steamboats and help fill in some of the gaps for you.

Who Invented the Steamboat?

Although many, including the writer of this 1815 obituary, credit Robert Fulton (1765-1815) with the invention of the steamboat, it simply isn’t true.

obituary for Robert Fulton, American Beacon newspaper article 7 November 1815

American Beacon (Norfolk, Virginia), 7 November 1815, page 3

Perhaps you are an expert in steamboats; test your knowledge with this handy steamboat quiz and check your answers below.

a quiz about the history of steamboats

John Fitch

Most historians attribute the honor for the invention of the steamboat to John Fitch (1743-1798), who constructed the first steamboat in the United States.

As you can see from this 1786 announcement addressed “To the ENCOURAGERS of USEFUL ARTS,” Fitch “proposed a Machine for the improvement of Navigation” which was endorsed by a number of subscribers who thought that “it might be beneficial to the public.”

a proposal by John Fitch for a steamboat, Pennsylvania Journal newspaper article 4 January 1786

Pennsylvania Journal (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 4 January 1786, page 1

Several state legislatures granted Fitch a 14-year monopoly on all steamboat travel on the inland waterways within their borders. This steamboat monopoly in turn helped him attract investors. His invention used steam to power oars, and in 1788 his commercial steamboat could carry up to 30 paying passengers per trip on the Delaware River. (See Wikipedia’s image of a woodcut by James Trenchard showing Fitch’s steamboat.)

James Rumsey (or Rumsy), Fitch’s Rival

As is the case with many inventions, other inventors worked on the concept of steam navigation simultaneously, including James Rumsey (1743-1792). His steamboat incorporated steam propulsion and was patented by several southern states.

After Rumsey went to Philadelphia in 1788 a pamphlet war arose with Fitch, with each claiming the right to make steamboats. This 1910 newspaper article reported that:

“George Washington had written a letter certifying that he had witnessed trials of the Rumsey boat, and that although he formerly had but little faith in it, he was then convinced that Rumsey had discovered the art of working boats by mechanism.”

history of the invention of the steamboat, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 18 November 1910

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 18 November 1910, page 5

This article also reported that Rumsey “had a controversy before his death with Fitch, whom he accused of ‘coming pottering around’ his shop.”

Several people tried in vain to get the two inventors to work together. It is reported that Fitch tried to secure a patent in England based upon Rumsey’s water-tube boiler. There was even a Rumseian Society formed in 1788 to assist Rumsey, but it was disbanded in 1792 after his death. I recommend you read about it on the Web and at http://jamesrumsey.org/. It is a very interesting story.

Robert Fulton

Although Fitch and Rumsey preceded Robert Fulton with their steamboat inventions, Fulton’s contributions to commercial steamboat operations should not be overlooked.

In 1801, he and partner Chancellor Robert Livingston (1746-1813) built the North River Steamboat, which was later named the Clermont.

Livingston was one of our nation’s Founding Fathers and, among other accomplishments, became the first United States Secretary for Foreign Affairs (1781-1783). As you can see from this early advertisement, Livingston and Fulton charged $7 for passage from New York City to Albany on the North River Steamboat.

ad for travel fares on the North River Steamboat, American Citizen newspaper advertisement 5 September 1807

American Citizen (New York, New York), 5 September 1807, page 2

This next historical newspaper account describes, in Fulton’s own words, how he traveled from New York to Clermont, and arrived at the seat (home) of Chancellor Livingston in 24 hours and also includes a nice portrait illustration of him. Clermont would later become the famous name of Fulton’s steamboat, and of course we should note that Chancellor Livingston was the uncle of Fulton’s wife, Harriet Livingston.

letter from Robert Fulton, Columbian Gazette newspaper article 1 September 1807

Columbian Gazette (Utica, New York), 1 September 1807, page 3

There is so much written about Fulton, I’ll leave more in-depth research to you. However, I would recommend reading the many charming accounts of how Robert Fulton wooed and won the hand of his bride Harriet. Some report that she was present at the trial run of his first steamboat. The following account, reported by Fulton’s grandson Robert Fulton Blight, states:

“‘Is it too presumptuous in me to aspire to the hand of your niece, Harriet Livingston?’ young Robert Fulton one day asked her uncle, Chancellor Robert L. Livingston.

“‘By no means,’ replied the distinguished Chancellor. ‘Her father may object because you are a humble and poor inventor and the family may object, but if Harriet doesn’t object, and she seems to have a world of good sense, go ahead and my best wishes and blessings go with you.’”

article about Robert Fulton and his wife Harriet, New York Herald newspaper article 25 October 1891

New York Herald (New York, New York), 25 October 1891, page 32

Genealogical Challenge

I was not able to locate Robert Fulton and Harriet Livingston’s marriage announcement in the newspapers. If any of our readers find it, please let us know and we will update this post to include it.

Update

A sharp-eyed reader, J. Hansen, found the following marriage announcement for Robert Fulton and Harriet Livingston; we are now able to update this Blog article with that newspaper article. Thank you, J. Hansen!

marriage announcement for Robert Fulton and Harriet Livingston, American Citizen newspaper article 9 January 1808

American Citizen (New York, New York), 9 January 1808, page 3

How Steamboats Changed the World

So how did steamboats change the world?

You may be surprised at some of the answers. The emergence of mechanical navigation meant that:

  • Commercial boating was no longer dependent upon the wind.
  • Boats could navigate in a straightforward manner, eliminating the need to tack with the wind. This made navigation in narrower waterways feasible.
  • Travel times were shortened by the steamboat, as seen in this 1808 newspaper article reporting that one could travel from Albany to New York in 35 hours.
notice about the arrival of the steamboat from Albany, New York, Columbian Centinel newspaper article 14 September 1808

Columbian Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 14 September 1808, page 2

In addition to the above improvements, there was another astounding way that steamboats changed our ancestors’ lives.

The bitter dispute between Fitch and Rumsey actually led to the formation of the Federal U.S. Patent Office. Starting on 10 April 1790, patents were no longer granted by individual states—they had to be issued on a national level.

Congress named the Patent Office legislation “An Act to Promote the Progress of Useful Arts.”

legislation to create the U.S. Patent Office, Daily Advertiser newspaper article 13 April 1790

Daily Advertiser (New York, New York), 13 April 1790, page 2

Dig into historical newspapers yourself to find out more about Fitch, Rumsey and Fulton, and learn how steamboats dramatically changed your American ancestors’ lives.

See related Blog article:

In Search of Our Early American Ancestors’ Patents on Inventions

Halloween Fashion History: Costumes & Decorations of Yesteryear

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find Halloween inspirations from costumes and decorations of yesteryear.

They say that what once was old, is new again. That may be true in many cases but—judging from photos in historical newspapers—not with Halloween costumes.

To be truly original this year, think about going retro!

Spirit of Hallowe'en, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper photo 29 October 1922

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 29 October 1922, page 27

If the Halloween fashions that follow don’t unlock your creative spirit, search historical newspapers for your own costume inspirations. There are many, many illustrations of Halloween costumes and holiday decorations of yesteryear.

Search Tip: widen your Halloween search with these variant spellings: Hallow’een, Hallowe’en, Hallow E’en, All Hallow’s Eve, Holly Eve, and Holler Eve.

Early 20th Century Children’s Costumes

The youth of a century ago were often presented in flowing gowns and distinctive hats, some pointy, some ruffled, and some reminiscent of specific eras.

photo of children wearing Halloween costumes, Oregonian newspaper article 31 October 1915

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 31 October 1915, page 14

This youngster’s hat is certainly distinctive!

photo of a child wearing a Halloween costume, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 October 1917

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 October 1917, page 11

Just as we see today, trick-or-treaters back then imitated characters from popular films. Long before Disney’s “Ariel” or Star War’s “Yoda,” this little girl dressed as the rage of her day: “Sis Hopkins.” She was the pigeon-toed character from Posey County, Indiana, immortalized in Rose Melville’s play. (See advertisement at Wikipedia.)

photo of a child wearing a Halloween costume, Baltimore American newspaper article 2 November 1922

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 2 November 1922, page 16

In 1900, you could attend a matinee performance of the “pastoral comedy hit” for 25 cents in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania—and when Sis Hopkins was first released as a film in 1919, admission was still the same price.

ticket ads for "Sis Hopkins," Patriot newspaper advertisement 2 January 1900 & Plain Dealer newspaper advertisement 1 January 1919

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 2 January 1900, page 5 (left); Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 1 January 1919, page 12 (right)

Other Halloween costumes in the early 1900s reflected earlier times in America’s history. Notice how in 1920, Miss Lillian Gallway, a little Texan girl, was outfitted as a “soldierette” of Continental Days. As a genealogist, I would love to see trick-or-treaters knock on my door in outfits like hers.

photo of a child wearing a Halloween costume, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 25 January 1920

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 25 January 1920, page 3

Classic Women’s Halloween Fashion: Pumpkin Attire

Pumpkins have always been in vogue—even adorning the top of hats and capes. This 1912 image’s caption reads:

“A jack-o’-lantern hat of crepe paper is the latest novelty for wear by the young lady who will attend the Hallowe’en eve festivities. The hat is topped by an imitation jack-o’-lantern and a fan of the same material to match.”

photo of a woman wearing a Halloween costume, Grand Rapids Press newspaper article 28 October 1912

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 28 October 1912, page 7

What a grand cape this woman wore in 1915! It was cut from orange-colored material and consisted of a long coat, skirt and pantalets edged with fur or marabou.

illustration of a woman wearing a Halloween costume, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 October 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 October 1915, page 9

Early American Halloween Decorations & Activities

From goblins to witches, the costumes of yesteryear certainly have changed—and not only that, decorations and activities have varied as well. Here is a sampling to help you with this year’s Halloween party planning.

Why not set up a tub for apple bobbing, as these ladies enjoyed in 1903? The caption reads: “Diving for apples in a tub of water—one of the jolliest Halloween games.”

photo of women bobbing for apples on Halloween, Boston Journal newspaper article 18 October 1903

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 18 October 1903, section 2, page 1

Stencils are always popular, so try applying antique styles, such as these from 1911, to your windows.

Halloween stencils, Plain Dealer newspaper article 29 October 1911

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 29 October 1911, page 52

This article from 1916 presents ideas for Halloween plans. Pumpkin favors, black cats, chrysanthemum favors and noise makers “for the parade” only cost 10¢.

illustration of Halloween costumes and decorations, Plain Dealer newspaper article 15 October 1916

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 15 October 1916, page 11

Old Halloween Customs

Lastly, think about adopting the interpretive customs and activities of your ancestors.

Are you of Scottish ancestry? Did you know they used to burn nuts, thought to be charms, at Halloween? The method of this old custom is described in this newspaper article from 1855.

description of Halloween custom in Scotland, Daily Ohio Statesman newspaper article 4 November 1855

Daily Ohio Statesman (Columbus, Ohio), 4 November 1855, page 1

Perhaps you have Mexican ancestry. This article about “Old Mexico and Hallow ’Een” depicts a Halloween parade and reports that:

“People in the States can not form any adequate idea—save from personal observation—of what ‘Hallow Eve’ means to all classes of Mexicans. For three days and nights commencing on that night of mystery and spells, the entire population completely abandons itself to feasting and frolicking, rejoicing and making merry.”

Old Mexico and Hallow'een, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 25 October 1896

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 25 October 1896, page 25

And if you are truly of early American stock, perhaps you should greet this year’s little goblins and princesses as a Colonial Dame, as recommended in 1913 “for dainty maidens who have been invited to a Halloween party.”

The news article provides these suggestions:

“Any brocaded or flowered material may be used for the pannier, while plain pink or blue or lavender should be used for the underskirt. The hair should be dressed high with curls and powdered, and a long stick with ribbons may be carried to complete this charming effect.”

illustration of a woman wearing a Halloween costume, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 26 October 1913

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 26 October 1913, page 28

In lieu of hand-dipped candles, do consider a set of electric candles to adorn your ring lantern. They are a lot less flammable!

Have a good time exploring old newspapers for Halloween inspirations from history. I hope you and your family have a fun Halloween!

How to Date Old Ancestor Photographs with Early Photo Types

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shows how you can date old, undated family photos by first figuring out what type of photograph they are, and uses old newspapers and other sources to illustrate different types of photos.

Do you have a box of old, undated family photos somewhere up in the attic—or maybe buried in the back of some closet? Have you wondered how you were ever going to figure out who these family members might be, since the old photographs lack inscriptions or dates?

Genealogy is a lot like detective work, gathering clues to make the pieces of your family puzzle fit together. Old, undated family photographs are pieces of evidence, clues that—if you examine closely enough—might yield some answers.

By knowing a little of the history of photography, you might be able to solve the mystery of those old photos by first recognizing what type of photograph they are—which in turn will help you narrow down the date range for when the photo was created. This blog article will help you do that.

The First Affordable Camera

We’ll start with a brief primer on the history of photography. Many think that the photography revolution began with George Eastman and Frank Brownell (of Kodak) in February of 1900, when they introduced the “Brownie,” the first affordable camera. (See http://www.brownie-camera.com/ for everything you ever wanted to know about this early camera for the mass market.)

Here is an advertisement for the Brownie camera from a 1921 Washington, D.C., newspaper.

What the 2A Brownies [Cameras] Do, Evening Star newspaper advertisement 14 August 1921

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 14 August 1921, page 67

Heliography

However, in my opinion, the true photography revolution started at least 50 years prior, with the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833). His 1826 heliograph “View from the Window at Le Gras” became the first permanent photograph. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicéphore_Niépce.) It was created with a camera obscura, a device used by artists to project images on a wall or screen. Niépce captured his view by projecting onto a pewter plate coated with a type of asphalt called bitumen of Judea. After a long eight-hour exposure time, the image became affixed.

First Permanent Photograph, 1826, Mobile Register newspaper cartoon 24 September 1983

Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama), 24 September 1983, page 31

It’s doubtful that you’ll find a heliograph in your personal ancestor photo collection, but with any luck, you’ll find a variety of other types of photos. Perhaps your family pictures are identified—but in all likelihood many are not, so narrowing time periods for the creation of each photo is important in trying to date them.

Some of my earlier GenealogyBank Blog posts provided other tips for dating undated photographs, including one showing how historical newspapers can assist greatly with photo dating by comparing the clothing of people in your undated photos to clothing styles shown in old newspaper advertisements. (See a list with links to these photography-related blog posts at the end of this article.)

You can also use historical newspapers to learn how to recognize photographic types, and also to research photography studios, as shown by the newspaper articles used in this blog post.

Photographic Timelines

To start, familiarize yourself with photographic timelines, such as the timelines available in the list of websites below. Although there are numerous types of photographic processes, most of your old photos are probably ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, tintypes, cabinet cards or carte de visites (CDVs), along with some lesser-known types such as cyanotypes.

Representative Samples of Different Photographic Types

To see examples of different types of photos, use your favorite search engine such as Google. After searching for a specific type, such as a daguerreotype, click the image option.

screenshot of Google search page showing photographic images

Credit: Google & Wikipedia

Ambrotypes

A distinctive characteristic of an ambrotype is that the image is a positive image created on a transparent sheet of glass, by what is known as wet plate collodion printing. James Ambrose Cutting is credited with the process, which dates to the early 1850s.

The Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambrotype has several examples, and mentions that many were hand tinted. If you think you have an ambrotype take note of the casing, as the style can also be a clue to the time period.

Carte de Visites and Cabinet Cards

Although these two types of photos are different, I’ve chosen to group them together because they are commonly confused. Both types were printed on paper or card stock, and originally created through a type of albumen printing which was used to bind images to paper.

Carte de Visites (CDVs or Cartes)

The Carte de Visite was made in 1850 by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard (1802-1872), and is known as the first pocket-sized photograph. It is also referred to as a calling or visiting card.

He created a negative and made varying sizes, but typically his photos were small and in the range of 2 3/8” x 4” to 2 ½” x 4.” The smaller size of CDVs offered the advantage of portability and affordability. If you are lucky, you’ll find the photographer’s name imprinted on the back.

This example, rescued from an antique shop near Austin Texas, is tentatively labeled “George W. Bohun.” I believe it was shot by Rudolph Uhlman who, according to a University of Missouri-Kansas City article “A Preliminary Survey of Photographers and Artists in St. Joseph Missouri 1859 to 1889” by David Boutros, worked at 225 Edmond Street between 1876 and 1885. (See http://www.umkc.edu/whmckc/Scrapbook/Articles/StJoePhotographers.pdf.)

photo of a Carte de Visite showing George Bohun

Example of a Carte de Visite from the author’s photo collection

Cabinet Cards

Cabinet cards were introduced in 1864 by a British studio called Windsor & Bridge. As they were larger (typically 4” x 6” or 4 ½” x 6 ½”) and printed on card stock, they were more durable than other paper types.

The photographer’s name can be printed on the front or the rear, and the presentation (font, coloring, etc.) can also be a clue to the time frame of the photo. (See Marshall University’s article at http://www.marshall.edu/library/speccoll/virtual_museum/photographers/cabinet-cards.asp.)

This cabinet card from my photo collection identifies the photographer as James S. Cummins. Research shows he lived from 1841-1895, and if my guess is correct, this sepia-toned image was probably taken between 1875-1885.

photo of a Cabinet Card

Example of a Cabinet Card from the author’s photo collection

Cyanotypes

The discovery of the cyanotype process is credited to scientist/astronomer Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), but botanist Anna Atkins (1799-1871) gets the credit for applying the technique to photography. She used it to record images of plants for her research, as described in this 1982 article from a South Dakota newspaper.

Lockwood at Dakota Midland [Hospital Art Gallery], Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 29 June 1982

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 29 June 1982, page 13

Most cyanotypes are small. Popular in the 1880s, you can still find them today, and the photographic process is published on the Web.

This cyanotype from my collection is of an ancestor born in 1875, and I estimate it was taken between 1893-1900.

example of a Cyanotype photograph

Example of a Cyanotype photograph from the author’s collection

Daguerreotypes

To learn more about Niépce’s colleague Louis Daguerre (1787-1851), see these resources:

Daguerre is credited with inventing a new photographic process known as daguerreotype.

His technique also incorporated the camera obscura, but by introducing copper plating with a thin layer of silver exposed to the fumes of iodine crystals, he was able to capture the images. Daguerreotypes were very popular from the 1840s into the 1860s or early 1870s.

After his death, Daguerre was described in this 1851 Massachusetts newspaper as “a scene painter and dioramist in Paris, an ingenious mechanic, and tolerable chemist.”

obituary for Louis Daguerre, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 16 July 1851

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 16 July 1851, page 2

Daguerreotypes (or dags) changed the world of photography, offering our ancestors their first opportunity to sit for portraits. Many appear to be serious or grimacing in their portrait—which, some people today speculate, was from having to sit still for a long time while their picture was being taken.

However, this may be somewhat of a myth. Exposure time ranged from 60-90 seconds, and after 1845 the sitting time was reportedly just a few seconds. If one wanted multiple pictures, there was no way to make copies of the original—so multiple sittings would have to occur. (See http://mentalfloss.com/article/16677/daguerreotype-qa.)

This 1841 ad from a New York newspaper promoted a daguerreotype exhibition to benefit local charities.

The Daguerreotype Exhibition, Evening Post newspaper article 4 February 1840

Evening Post (New York, New York), 4 February 1840, page 3

This obituary from an 1851 New Hampshire newspaper called Daguerre “the celebrated discoverer of the daguerreotype,” claiming that with this invention “he succeeded in immortalizing his name.”

Death of M. Daguerre, New Hampshire Sentinel newspaper obituary 14 August 1851

New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 14 August 1851, page 2

Dags of many famous people can be found online, including some of Abraham Lincoln at www.lincolnportrait.com.

Tintypes

Tintypes are another commonly-found type of photograph—although they were not created on tin.

The tintype production method is similar to that of ambrotypes. (Other common names of similar photographic processes are melanotype and ferrotype.) Tintype sizes ranged from 2 3/8” x 3 ½” to 4” x 5 ¾.”

Sometimes they were created with a wet plate and at other times with a dry plate. The image was underexposed and darkened by lacquering or other methods, and then coated. Interestingly, the metal used was not tin, but a very thin iron that resembled tin. (A magnet can determine if there is metal in your picture.)

Since tintypes were often taken at carnivals, many have a fun quality about them. Notice in this tintype (a Library of Congress image), a man was seated before two mirrors placed at right angles, in order to provide five images.

Library of Congress image of a tintype photograph

Credit: Library of Congress

Tintypes were often sold in a paper sleeve for protection. However, if your tintype still has the original paper sleeve, don’t be fooled by the location printed on it—it may not be correct. According to this 1901 article from a Kansas newspaper, tintype sellers had a variety of preprinted sleeves from distant locations that came “in handy for people who like to put up a bluff that they have been further away from home than they really have.”

The newspaper article imagined a conversation between a tintype seller and his customer:

“What place did you say? Coney Island or—”

The maid looked at the man sheepishly. “Let’s put it New Haven,” she said. “That will sound better than Coney Island.”

Tintypes May Prevaricate, American Citizen newspaper article 8 November 1901

American Citizen (Kansas City, Kansas), 8 November 1901, page 3

To learn more about tintypes and the other commonly-used photographic processes, revisit the timeline at Phototree.com (http://www.phototree.com/identify.htm). The site also has tips to help you identify the characteristics of pictures.

Although this is just a sampling of photographic types, hopefully this article gives you a few ideas on how to identify and date your family treasures.

Go get that box of old family photos and look at them closely. Can you identify what type they are, and thereby limit the date range for the people in the picture? Good luck with your detective work!

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