About Scott Phillips

Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. Scott specializes in immigrant ancestry, especially from Bohemia (Czech Republic), Cornwall, the United Kingdom, and Italy. In addition to GenealogyBank.com, Scott has been recently published by Ohio Genealogy Society, National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, SaveEllisIsland.com, MyHeritage.com, and Greater Cleveland Genealogical Society. He was a presenter at the 2012 World Congress of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences in Slovakia. You can follow Scott on his Facebook page at OnwardToOurPast and on his website/blog at OnwardToOurPast.

Commemorating V-J Day: 14 August 1945

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to find stories about the day Japan announced its surrender, ending World War II.

A few days ago I happened to notice an obituary in my local newspaper for Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk. I read that this gentleman passed away in Stone Mountain, Georgia, at the age of 93. I was curious to learn why this obituary would be in my local paper when Stone Mountain, Georgia, is well over 700 miles away.

photo of the World War II bomber Enola Gay after the Hiroshima mission

Photo: the Enola Gay bomber after the Hiroshima mission. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

I soon discovered that his death was news across the entire United States—his obituary was published coast to coast. For example, this obituary was published in a California newspaper.

obituary for Theodore Van Kirk, Tri-Valley Herald newspaper article 31 July 2014

Tri-Valley Herald (Pleasanton, California), 31 July 2014

As this obituary explains:

Theodore ‘Dutch’ Van Kirk [was] a navigator who guided the Enola Gay bomber over Hiroshima during World War II to drop the first nuclear bomb in the history of warfare… Van Kirk was the last surviving member of the Enola Gay’s 12-member crew, which was responsible for dropping the atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945 that killed 80,000 people and hurried the war’s end eight days later.

The phrase “hurried the war’s end eight days later” refers to the fact that the announcement of Japan’s surrender was made on 14 August 1945 (which, due to time zone differences, was actually August 15 in Japan), in effect ending WWII.

This article from an Illinois newspaper presents Van Kirk’s own words describing the world-altering event he and his fellow Enola Gay crew members participated in that day.

article about the WWII bomber Enola Gay and the atomic bombig of Hiroshima, Register Star newspaper article 7 August 2005

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 7 August 2005, page 11

“Dutch” died just two weeks shy of the 69th anniversary of the declaration of “V-J Day” (Victory over Japan Day), commemorating the Japanese surrender which marked the end of World War II. Note: although Japan’s surrender was announced in the U.S. on 14 August 1945, the formal surrender ceremony took place aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2—so both days can be called V-J Day.

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Intrigued by Van Kirk’s story, I began to look for more historical information on V-J Day in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to see how the news was reported—and to learn what our ancestors might have been doing that day.

Here is what the front page of this Louisiana newspaper looked like on Victory over Japan Day.

Japs Surrender Unconditionally, Advocate newspaper article 15 August 1945

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 15 August 1945, page 1

This photo spread from a California newspaper shows Americans celebrating the good news of Japan’s surrender and the ending of the war: streets jammed with huge, happy crowds, with celebrations of all types.

photos of people in San Diego celebrating V-J Day, San Diego Union newspaper article 15 August 1945

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 15 August 1945, page 2

And speaking of end of war celebrations, on page three of that same newspaper was an article reporting that floodlights were lit at night after four years of darkness, almost every store in nearby towns was shuttered for the holiday—and from weeping telephone operators to an elevator attendant giving out free whisky to his riders, the whole of America seemed engaged in some type of revelry.

article about people in San Diego celebrating V-J Day, San Diego Union newspaper article 15 August 1945

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 15 August 1945, page 3

And why shouldn’t America have been celebrating with wild abandon? As the headline of this Ohio newspaper declared: the soldiers would finally be coming home!

Japs Delay Reply to MacArthur's Orders on Surrender Procedure, Plain Dealer newspaper article 16 August 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 August 1945, page 1

Seven and a half million men (and women) coming home at last! I know my father, a 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Army, was among those men. While Dad fought throughout Europe, he and his men all had a terrible feeling of foreboding should they have to fight on the shores of Japan. But now they all knew that they’d be coming home.

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While many Americans had been waiting out every second of time for V-J Day to finally arrive, this Texas newspaper article cleverly pointed out that a Mr. and Mrs. B. M. Day had enjoyed V. J. Day for 12 years already! It seems that their daughter was Vera Janice Day, and some smart reporter caught that cute tidbit amongst all the other excitement!

Vera Janice Has Been V-J Day Twelve Years, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 16 August 1945

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 16 August 1945, section II, page 7

This Oregon newspaper article reported that Portland was already planning how to celebrate V-J Day even before Japan announced its surrender: “City fathers have no objection to John Q. Citizen’s celebrating in any manner he chooses so long as the peace is kept. ‘I am not interested in stopping people from showing their exuberance,’ the mayor said, ‘as long as property is not destroyed and the laws are observed.’” Sounds to me like Portland was surely going to rock for V-J Day!

Citywide Plans Underway--V-J Day Pattern like V-E, Oregonian newspaper article 11 August 1945

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 11 August 1945, page 4

Also on the home front, the impending end of the war was going to mean the end to rationing. Two days before V-J Day, a Massachusetts newspaper published this article listing many of the everyday items that were being rationed for the duration of the war, such as gasoline, tires, shoes, food and fuel oil. The old newspaper article speculated when that rationing might end after the formal surrender of Japan. Another family story I recall is that after my Dad returned home from the war, my Mom explained to him how challenging it was to live with rationing—and my Dad responded, with a chuckle: “I’d have traded anyone on the home front anything for the bullets and K-Rations!”

Life Will Begin Again for Civilians Not Long after Japs Fold for Good, Springfield Republican newspaper article 12 August 1945

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 12 August 1945, page 1

As we commemorate V-J Day today, I hope you will take a moment to reflect on what your ancestors might have been doing 69 years ago. I’d love to read your comments here!

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Sleuthing for Clues in the News to Solve Genealogy Mysteries

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how tiny clues in old newspapers can lead to big family history discoveries.

Every genealogist I have ever met seems to be a combination of Perry Mason, Jessica Fletcher, Columbo, Christine Cagney, Mary Beth Lacey, Thomas Magnum, and Sherlock Holmes—searching everywhere for clues, following each one (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant), and putting together the strongest case they can.

illustration of Sherlock Holmes in “The Five Orange Pips”

Illustration: Sherlock Holmes in “The Five Orange Pips.” Source: Wikimedia.org.

One of my favorite places to hunt for clues in my genealogy and family history is the online collection of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. There always seems to be some new discovery for me to delve into in order to make our family tree more complete.

Sleuthing for Clues in the News

Sometimes these genealogical clues are truly tiny—but when pursued, can lead to valuable information and additions to our family trees. Such was the case when I came across a small, three-sentence article in an 1897 newspaper.

article about Mary Lisy, Plain Dealer newspaper article 16 May 1897

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 May 1897, page 13

Having already identified that I had a couple in our family tree of Joseph and Mary Lisy, I decided this was worth investigating further. It certainly seemed to have all the elements of a highly interesting genealogy story. So my work began.

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Investigating Joseph & Mary Lisy

In another Ohio newspaper the very next day was an even shorter article, this one containing only one sentence.

article about Mary Lisy, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 17 May 1897

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 May 1897, page 6

Now I had some nice pieces of information to further my ancestry research. First I learned that the court that heard this case was the Probate Court, and, second, that this Mary Lisy was a patient in a facility named Cleveland State Hospital.
I began to look for Mary Lisy in the Census records of the time and sure enough, in the 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 United States Census records is listed “Lisy, Mary, Inmate” at the Cleveland State Hospital for the Insane. I then continued to look in GenealogyBank’s newspapers to see if there might be something I could learn about the institution itself.

My initial archive search returned hundreds and hundreds of search results. Many, like this 1909 newspaper article, detail terrible conditions and chronic overcrowding in the Cleveland State Hospital.

Asylum Cramped, Governor Finds, Plain Dealer newspaper article 9 August 1909

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 August 1909, page 1

Then in the 1940 United States Census returns I discovered Mary Lisy, who—while still listed as an “inmate”—was now at Hawthornden State Hospital (Insane) and had been at this facility at least since 1935. While I was not familiar with this facility from any of my prior research, it didn’t take me long to find this 1941 newspaper article, which contains a lot of good information on the system of insane asylums in Ohio, including Hawthornden.

Ohio Insane Asylums Slated for Repairs, Repository newspaper article 10 January 1941

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 10 January 1941, page 12

Genealogy Sleuthing Stumbling Block

Then I had one of those “uh-oh, I knew this was going too smoothly” moments in my genealogy research. As I continued researching Joseph and Mary Lisy, I discovered that there were at least two men in Cleveland named Joseph Lisy who had almost identical birth years. Both also happened to have married women with the given name of Mary, who also had similar birth years. To make this matter even more confusing, all these folks were Bohemian as well.

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One of the couples seemed to have had a fairly “normal” life, but the other couple had a darker life together—including this Mary having been in an asylum for decades, as shown in this 1901 newspaper article. This article detailed a court case in which Joseph Lisy was found guilty of failing to provide for his four minor children and was sentenced to the workhouse.

article about Joseph Lisy, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 February 1901

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 February 1901, page 12

This complication of multiple Joseph and Mary Lisy couples was a great learning experience for me and a good example of the need to get as much definitive documentation as we can find to ensure that our family trees are true and accurate.

Expanding My Genealogy Search

I branched out my research to include records from Cuyahoga County, the Ohio Probate Court, the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services, several local genealogical and history organizations, the diocese of Cleveland, several cemeteries, and, much to my luck, a cousin who was also struggling with this same dilemma. As they say “two heads are better than one,” and we all know this is certainly at its truest when it comes to genealogy and family history research.

It took some time to sift through all of the death listing for each Mary Lisy that we could find, but that is what we did. As we winnowed them down, one was discovered from 1960 that placed her death at the “Millcreek Psych. Ctr” in Knox County, Ohio. Of all the death listings for women named Mary Lisy, after the 1940 Census, this was the only one with any hint of an institution as the location of her death. It was from 1960, which means Mary had lived in Ohio insane asylums for over 60 years of her life, which was a sobering thought all by itself. Both my cousin and I agreed this was the most promising lead we had, so it was picked to be our first to pursue.

Then almost all at once the genealogy research started falling into place like dominos.

Pieces of the Family Mystery Come Together

Our first break came when a very helpful priest in the diocese provided a copy of the parish register for the marriage of Joseph and Mary, which gave us her maiden name of Bolf (Wolf).

photo of the marriage registry for Joseph Lisy and Mary Bolf

Photo: marriage registry for Joseph Lisy and Mary Bolf

Second, the archivist from the Cuyahoga County Probate Court sent me the files on the insanity hearings for Mary Lisy. Pages and pages of information—then in about the middle, penciled in the margin of one of the records was this: “nee Wolf.”

My cousin called to say that when she was speaking to her husband about this mystery, he mused aloud about why Mary would have been transferred to Hawthornden—which was not in Cuyahoga County, but rather in Summit County, Ohio. She said this didn’t click right away, but then like a bolt of lightning it struck her.

She recalled that the only children of Mary Lisy who were still alive in 1960 had been listed as living in Cuyahoga County, according to the 1940 Census. However, there was a cemetery listing in one obituary for a cemetery in Summit County, Ohio. The obituary for Edward Votypka was in a 1944 newspaper and nicely mentioned the cemetery by name.

obituary for Edward Votypka, Plain Dealer newspaper article 14 March 1944

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 14 March 1944, page 10

It was, as she said “a tenuous connection,” but she placed a call to the cemetery. There a wonderfully helpful staff member was able to verify that a family member had purchased 12 graves for a family plot. Not only were several of the children and other family members of Mary Lisy interred there, but one grave was the final resting place of Mary Lisy herself!

We are now tidying up the rest of our genealogy research on Mary and Joseph Lisy. And to think—this all came about from a three-sentence article in an 1897 newspaper!

What is the best and biggest genealogy and family history discovery you have made from a newspaper article? I’d love to learn about them so please leave your story in the comments here. Thanks for reading and Godspeed in your genealogy sleuthing!

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Records to Research Your Ancestor’s Age with GenealogyBank

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how various kinds of genealogical records can help determine your ancestor’s age.

One of the most important—but often quite challenging—pieces of information we need in our genealogy and family history work is discovering the age of the members of our family trees. All too often, finding a birth record for some of our earliest ancestors is not always possible, so we need to work through additional family history records and information to see what we can determine as to the age of a particular ancestor.

Fortunately for us there are a number of genealogical resources we can use to find the age of our ancestors, or to verify an unnamed record that we may have come across in our ancestry research.

Birth Records

I am sure you all are familiar with some of the genealogical records that can help us determine our ancestors’ age. Certainly number one on the list is the actual birth record. However, these records are not always available, especially within certain timeframes and family situations.

SSDI

Fortunately on GenealogyBank.com there are not only newspapers containing birth records, but also such invaluable resources as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), covering the years from 1936 to 2011 and containing over 89 million death records. Many of these SSDI entries contain, if not an actual birthday, an estimated age that can be an invaluable lead in our efforts to find out the birth range of an ancestor.

Military Records

Add to the SSDI all the military records in GenealogyBank’s various collections, such as casualty lists, pension requests for Revolutionary and Civil War veterans, and widows’ claims—there are a phenomenal number of resources to help you determine the age of your ancestor.

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Newspaper Articles

But to me, the real genealogy gems are GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. With newspapers from all 50 states, covering the years 1690 to Today, containing more than one billion articles, this huge online database features birth notices, obituaries, news articles, engagement and marriage announcements, social columns, and more. And best of all, every one of these types of articles can offer us opportunities to find age-related leads for our family history and genealogy efforts.

Newspaper Casualty Reports

One article-type that has proven quite useful in my own family history research has been newspaper casualty reports from World War II. For example, I had been struggling with one of the branches of our family tree when I came across this article from a 1945 Ohio newspaper. It contains a casualty list for servicemen from the greater Cleveland area.

WWII casualty list, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 May 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 May 1945, page 11

This historical news article reports that Robert G. Vicha was wounded. It also gives his home address (4779 Osborn Road, Garfield Heights), his mother (Mae Vicha), and his age (20). This small item gave me several leads that helped me locate more information, enabling me to add this ancestor to my family tree.

WWII casualty list mentioning Robert Vicha, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 May 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 May 1945, page 11

Newspaper Obituaries

The next item I discovered was again in the Plain Dealer: the obituary for Mae (nee Gottfried) Vicha. This obituary provides confirmation of the home address as reported in the earlier 1945 casualty list article, her husband, three children, a grandchild, and siblings. It wasn’t long before I was able to match up census records and other genealogical records to add a fuller picture to this branch of my family.

obituary for Mae Vicha, Plain Dealer newspaper article 11 March 1966

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 March 1966, page 44

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Historical News Articles

And of course there are some news articles that, while not the most pleasant of topics, offer us many clues for our genealogy work. This was the case with an article I found in an 1897 Ohio newspaper. This old news article, while explaining in some rather gruesome detail the suicide of James Knechtel, also gives us his approximate age, his home address, and the facts that he was married and had three children. These genealogical clues were crucial given the fact that James was baptized as Vaclav and took the Americanized version of “James” at some point after his family settled in Cleveland. This article’s information was enough for me to find James and his family in the U.S. Census records and City Directories to identify this ancestor and record him in our family tree.

article about James Knechtel's suicide, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 25 August 1897

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 August 1897, page 5

Newspapers hold a wealth of detailed personal information to help determine ages and other important data about our ancestors for our genealogy and family history work.
What types of records have you used in your family research to discover the ages of your ancestors? Please share your most frequently-used resources, biggest research challenges and genealogy discoveries.

More Age-Related Posts

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Friday the 13th: Is It Lucky or Unlucky in Your Family?

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to find out more about the superstition of Friday the 13th being an unlucky day—and finds that the day has been unlucky for many, but lucky for some.

I believe every family, no matter where, is aware of some sort of adage, saying, or superstition. For instance, in my family my maternal grandmother always seemed to have some saying or another that would help us get through the day. “Find a pin and pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck” was one of her favorites. I guess this old family saying is not quite as prevalent today as back then—when almost everyone in my family knew how to sew and straight pins were a constant menace to my bare feet.

Then of course there is the granddaddy superstition of them all: Friday the 13th! Since today is indeed one of those special Fridays, I decided to look up its history in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. I found out quite a lot!

Friday the 13th a Very Old Superstition

The superstition about Friday the 13th being unlucky has been with us for a long time. Talk about an old superstition! This 1912 Washington, D.C., newspaper article explains that this belief goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, the ancient Persians, and Norse mythology. Now that is old. For example, the Norsemen believed that Loki, the dark god of evil, was the 13th god at the banquet table—and he proceeded to wreak havoc against the good gods there.

article about Friday the 13th, Evening Star newspaper article 13 September 1912

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 13 September 1912, page 20

Kenneth Nalley & Triskaidekaphobia

I learned that the fear of Friday the 13th is actually called “triskaidekaphobia.” I discovered this tidbit when I came across this 1963 Texas newspaper article. It seems Kenneth Nalley was loaded with 13. He was celebrating his 13th birthday on Friday the 13th, there are 13 letters in his name, and the number on his football jersey was 13. But on the good news side of the ledger, it seemed the only thing he was concerned about was his pending spelling test.

article about Friday the 13th, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 13 September 1963

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 13 September 1963, page 12

Friday the 13th Is Unlucky for Charles Hitchcock

On the darker side of Friday the 13th is this 1908 Texas newspaper article. It seems that a certain Charles Hitchcock was given a banquet in his honor on Friday the 13th, during which all the guests noted that there were 13 people seated at the table. While the guests all reportedly laughed, they weren’t laughing when Mr. Hitchcock, while getting off a train, fell, hit his head and died!

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article about Friday the 13th, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 19 March 1908

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 19 March 1908, page 1

The Tale of John Gentile

There is also the just plain inexplicable side to Friday the 13th. Take for example this story published in a 1985 Ohio newspaper. Ship’s captain, Lt. John Gentile, was interviewed about his adventures with the icebreaker Neah Bay, and he had this recollection:

There was one day, a Friday the 13th, when we had 30 ships stuck in 1,000 yards of the (St. Clair) River, with seven of those all jammed up together and 200 more waiting to get through. It was total chaos, the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen, ships hitting each other and running aground all over the place. It was a real mess.

I think after that experience, Lt. Gentile is most likely a true believer in the power of Friday the 13th.

article about Friday the 13th, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 February 1985

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 February 1985, page 222

Ice Storm Freezes NC

Mother Nature played her nasty game again on another Friday the 13th, as explained in this 1978 North Carolina newspaper article. It reported that on the last Friday the 13th, in January, a terrible ice storm hit the city of Greensboro leaving some 8,000 homes without power and heat. Plus, the article went on to explain, that Friday the 13th was also the day that “the happy warrior,” Sen. Hubert Humphrey, passed away.

article about Friday the 13th, Greensboro Record newspaper article 13 October 1978

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 13 October 1978, page 25

Lucky Talismans for Protection

Then of course there are the interesting talismans that are said to protect us from the evils of Friday the 13th. This 1896 Illinois newspaper article reports on the sale of rabbits’ feet decorated in gold to help ward off the voodoo of Friday the 13th.

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article about Friday the 13th, Daily Inter Ocean newspaper article 2 September 1896

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 2 September 1896, page 10

Woodrow Wilson & Lucky #13

And speaking of good luck, this article from a 1912 Georgia newspaper explains that 13 was presidential-candidate Woodrow Wilson’s lucky number. On Friday the 13th, he sat in seat number 13 “in a parlor car.” Seems there was something good about 13 throughout the life of President Wilson. For example, in his 13th year teaching at Princeton University he was elected the school’s 13th president.

article about Friday the 13th and Woodrow Wilson, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 23 September 1912

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 23 September 1912, page 12

Dr. Naftzger & Auspicious 13

And if you want really lucky, check out this article from a 1908 Indiana newspaper. It provides an incredibly extensive list of how lucky the number 13 and Friday the 13th were in the life of Dr. Leslie J. Naftzger, presiding elder of Muncie, North Indiana M. E. Conference. Among other signs of good luck for Dr. Naftzger was that he was born on a Friday the 13th as the 13th child of his parents—plus twin boys of his own were born on a Friday the 13th. Amazing!

article about Friday the 13th, Elkhart Weekly Review newspaper article 18 March 1908

Elkhart Weekly Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 18 March 1908, page 5

Good Luck Soldier

An article from a 1919 Pennsylvania newspaper really caught my eye. This soldier also relates a history of Friday the 13th good luck, including once being offered a free ride from Tacoma to Seattle.

article about Friday the 13th, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 9 February 1919

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 9 February 1919, section 2, page 17

The Cubs Win!

Proving that good luck can really happen on Friday the 13th, this 1906 article from a Washington newspaper reports on a victory by the struggling Chicago Cubs baseball team. It does seem like unusually good luck to hear “Cubs Win!” even today, Friday the 13th or not, unfortunately, as the team continues to struggle.

article about Friday the 13th, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 14 April 1906

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 14 April 1906, page 7

My Wife’s Grandfather Mario

And, I’d like to add, my wife’s grandfather, Mario Casagrande, always considered Friday the 13th as his luckiest of days. He closed many of his business deals on that day, as well as using it as the day he’d buy a new car.

photo of Scott Phillips and his wife on their wedding day

Photo: the author and his bride on their wedding day in one of the lucky cars that grandfather Mario bought on Friday the 13th. Credit: from the author’s collection.

So leave a comment here and tell me: is Friday the 13th lucky or unlucky for you? Got any Friday the 13th birthdays or stories in your family tree?

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70th Anniversary of WWII’s D-Day (6 June 1944)

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to find out more about the Allied attacks on German-held beaches in France on D-Day.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of World War II’s D-Day, which happened on 6 June 1944. D-Day was the long-awaited invasion by the Allies of Nazi Germany’s “Fortress Europe.” The massive assault was also known by the codename “Operation Overlord.”

It is estimated that America is losing some 550 World War II veterans each and every day now. Of the approximately 16 million U.S. men and women who served in World War II, only about 1.2 million are still alive today. Personally, I know that my father landed on Omaha Beach, and he has passed away. Now his WWII experiences are only stories others remember, not first-hand experiences he’s around to share with us. It was with this in mind that I decided to search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to review this historic day.

It did not take me long to find this front-page news coverage of D-Day. General Dwight Eisenhower and the Allies had amassed the greatest amphibious invasion force in history. The old news article reports a one-sentence communiqué issued at 3:32 A.M. Eastern War Time:

Under the command of Gen. Eisenhower, Allied naval forces supported by strong air forces began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.

By the time this “Extra” edition of the newspaper hit the streets, Operation Overlord had become an immense battle across five Normandy beaches whose code names now are seared into our memory: Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword, and Utah.

front-page news about the Allied invasion of France on D-Day during WWII, Boston Herald newspaper article 6 June 1944

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 6 June 1944, page 1

During the months of D-Day preparations, the actual landings, and even continuing into the first weeks of battles, there was an equally important operation taking place by the name of “Operation Fortitude.” This two-part operation of “Fortitude North” and “Fortitude South” was one of the supreme acts of deception of all time.

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It took a while for all the details to be revealed, but this 1965 newspaper article presents a very good review of this “secret of D-Day.”

article about D-Day and the secret “Operation Fortitude” during WWII, Boston Herald newspaper article 10 December 1965

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 December 1965, page 15

Four years later, this 1969 newspaper article again focuses on the use of deception that paved the way for the Allies’ success at D-Day. This historical news article reports the reminiscences of General Omar Bradley, who commanded the American troops attacking the Normandy coast. Bradley related not only his firsthand memories regarding the D-Day invasion, but also the big deception that was created to convince the Axis powers that the actual invasion was still coming at Pas de Calais—and that the Normandy landings were actually just a distraction.

article about WWII's D-Day and General Omar Bradley, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 1 June 1969

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 1 June 1969, page 32

The incredible fighting, bravery, and staggering losses of D-Day have been frequently reported, but I found a 1979 article on this subject that was particularly interesting to me. It was written by Robert E. Cunningham, a U.S. Army Captain, and relates his experiences while landing at Omaha Beach that fateful day. His story is almost too intense to read.

At Omaha Beach, D Day, June 6, 1944, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 3 June 1979

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 3 June 1979, page 135

Several years ago, my family was on vacation in Europe. We were in France, my mother was driving and my father was dozing in the car. My mom saw a sign for “Omaha Beach” and decided it would be a nice surprise to go there for my dad. My father didn’t wake up until we parked the car. He was incredibly shocked to see where we were as he sat in the car looking out at the acres and rows of crosses. For quite some time he refused to leave the car. Finally he joined us as we walked the now silent beach, seeing the cliffs, concrete pillboxes, old rusting guns, and shipwrecks still in the surf.  It was later, while walking hand-in-hand with his family through those crosses that he said, in a voice that was only a whisper, that he had spent the first months after D-Day on graves registration detail and it was the worst duty he had ever pulled.

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The War continued for almost a year after D-Day with fierce fighting all across Europe (and in the Pacific for even longer), as shown in this 1944 newspaper with a full page of articles covering battle after battle being waged from France and Italy to the Pacific.

articles about WWII battles, Oregonian newspaper articles 23 June 1944

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 23 June 1944, page 4

Now it is 70 years after D-Day and the successes of that fateful day continue to be recognized across Europe as communities everywhere celebrate their liberation. As a matter of fact, just a couple of months ago I was contacted by a woman who is coordinating the celebration of the liberation of the town of Dinan, France, which was accomplished by the forces of the 83rd Infantry. She was seeking photographs that might be a part of that town’s celebration. As any good family historian and genealogist would do, I was happy to share what I had for the display during their celebration this summer.

The small leather satchel in this photograph is the one my father carried across Europe during the fighting. He carefully noted each town he found himself in, one of which was Dinan.

photo of a leather satchel carried by Scott Phillips's father across Europe during the fighting of WWII

Photo: leather satchel carried by the author’s father across Europe during the fighting of WWII. Credit: from the author’s collection.

As my contact in Dinan said to me: “Oh my, Scott, this satchel tells a story all by itself.”

I can only add my thanks to all who served our country in WWII and especially those who fought on the beaches of Normandy 70 years ago on D-Day.

photo of Scott Phillips'sfather having lunch somewhere in Normandy with his squad during WWII

Photo: The author’s father (right rear) having lunch somewhere in Normandy with his squad during WWII. Credit: from the author’s collection.

Do you have any D-Day veterans in your family or your family tree? I’d like to hear about them if you do; please post something in the comments section below.

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Old Newspaper Ads, Your Immigrant Ancestors & U.S. Migrations

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to find advertisements that encouraged families to move to other parts of the U.S. for a better life—and shows how these ads can help you better understand the lives your ancestors lived and the decisions they made.

As genealogy and family history fans, we all know the concept of “chain migration,” which is loosely defined as the process of immigrants moving from their homeland to new lands and communities, building upon familiar and familial social relationships from the Old Country. This certainly was true in the case of many of my immigrant ancestors.

But what happened once those immigrants got to their destination in the United States? While some put down lifelong roots in the community they first arrived in, many moved on to other destinations in America. What were some of the influences on these migratory movements within the U.S.?

Newspaper Advertisements Influenced Migrations

Some of the answers can be found in simple newspaper advertisements. Just as letters home might have influenced some people to come to the States, once here they were subjected to the constant allure of a better life in other parts of the country.

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Here are some examples of historical newspaper advertisements that influenced our immigrant ancestors’ migrations to other parts of America.

Arkansans Urged to Migrate West

With the bold headline “Westward, Ho!” this 1845 advertisement tells of a meeting to be held in Napoleon, Arkansas, “to organize a company of emigrants, to remove to California.”

ad urging westward migration, Arkansas Weekly Gazette newspaper article 29 September 1845

Arkansas Weekly Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 29 September 1845, page 3

Montana Riches: Land of Opportunity for Millions!

Some of the people and organizations looking to entice emigrants to move used a method that had worked in the Old Country: they wrote letters to the editor, which in many cases sure resembled an advertisement to me.

For example, take a look at this 1882 letter to the editor headlined “ROOM FOR MILLIONS.” The author of this “letter,” one James S. Brisbin writing from Keogh, Montana, covers a range of items in this letter/advertisement, including the weather, parks, the wealth of the mines in the area, and more. He states:

But not only are stock raisers, farmers and miners needed in the West, but artisans and skilled labor of all kinds. Towns are everywhere springing up, and the services of workmen of every grade are in great demand.

And just for good measure he closes his letter by reminding readers that Montana is only a four-day train ride from the East Coast, and ends with this statement: “Only four days from want and misery to wealth and joy.” Well, how could you not move there?

article urging migration to Montana, New York Herald newspaper advertisement 10 February 1882

New York Herald (New York, New York), 10 February 1882, page 9

Telegraphers Needed

This 1905 advertisement for The Morse School of Telegraphy promises immediate employment upon graduation and a salary of $40-$60 a month “east of the Rockies” and $75-$100 a month “west of the Rockies.” For that big of a difference in salary, I’d say there was probably a waiting line for telegraphers heading out West!

ad offering employment to telegraphers, Morning Olympian newspaper advertisement 2 August 1905

Morning Olympian (Olympia, Washington), 2 August 1905, page 3

The Allure of Arizona Gold

The following 1907 newspaper article reads like an ad. While not an actual advertisement, it surely advertises what opportunities might await folks interested in moving to Kofa, Arizona. Kofa, which is an acronym for “King of Arizona,” held the richest gold mine in the history of the Southwestern United States.

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It may have been an article just like this that enticed one of my own immigrant ancestors, Elijah Poad, to seek his fortune in Kofa. As a Cornish miner, he would have been well suited to the work. However, the one note this article leaves out is the fact that there was no water in Kofa, so they had to bring it in by mule teams. While Elijah did live in Kofa for a few years, he then followed many of his fellow Cornish miners and became a Yupper in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan mining copper, then on to Linden, Wisconsin, to mine lead, and finally to Anaconda, Montana, to mine for silver and other minerals.

article urging migration to Arizona for the Kofa gold rush, Tucson Daily Citizen newspaper article 12 December 1907

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 12 December 1907, page 7

Workers Wanted All across America

This 1922 newspaper article tells readers that there are workers needed across the U.S., and reports what jobs are available where. Almost every category of employment seems to be mentioned in this article.

Jobs Now Plentiful in U.S., Saginaw News newspaper article 15 December 1922

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 15 December 1922, page 28

Eastward Migration, Also

Not all the U.S. migration advertisements urged westward expansion, however—some encouraged migrants to head east. For example, this 1920 ad in a Colorado newspaper encourages land-seekers to head east to Michigan. It starts out with the statement “Big opportunity in Michigan.” The old advertisement continues and promises “Big money in grains, stock, poultry, or fruit.”

ad urging migration to Michigan, Denver Post newspaper advertisement 18 August 1920

Denver Post (Denver, Colorado), 18 August 1920, page 21

Many of the ancestors in my family tree moved around the United States, especially in pursuit of better economic opportunities. Did your ancestors move around the country—and if so, do you think they might have been influenced by old newspaper advertisements like these? Leave me a comment, as I’d enjoy knowing your thoughts and experiences.

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Researching Old Military Records & War Stories in Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers for articles about his ancestors’ military service and records—just in time to help you research your military ancestors during this Memorial Day weekend.

As we commemorate Memorial Day this weekend, honoring the men and women who have died while in military service, you might feel inspired to research your veteran ancestors.

In our genealogy work, we frequently find ourselves having to use a wide variety of techniques to ferret out an obscure clue when we are working on our family histories. Often, this is especially true when we are working on the military service history of our ancestors.

One technique I have found to be especially valuable is searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for articles that relate to my military ancestors. It can be a very successful genealogy strategy, as well as introducing you to some valuable history and stories.

Researching My Civil War Ancestor

painting of the Civil War Battle of Five Forks, Virginia, showing a charge led by Union General Philip Sheridan, by Kurz & Allison

Painting: Civil War Battle of Five Forks, Virginia, showing a charge led by Union General Philip Sheridan. The author’s ancestor was killed during this battle. Credit: Kurz & Allison; Library of Congress.

Recently I was researching one of my ancestors, Captain James Ham. I decided that rather than simply search on his name, I would search on the military unit he had enlisted in during the United States Civil War: the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry. My first newspaper archive search on the “Seventeenth Pennsylvania” returned some very interesting results, such as this 1862 article from a Pennsylvania newspaper.

The newspaper article is headlined: “The Camps at Harrisburg. A Visit to Camp McClellan.” Initially, the reporter gives us a detailed, firsthand account of what conditions were like at Camp McClellan, such as: “Mud and slush seem to be the main characteristics…”; and, “These are cavalry men. But few of them have yet received their horses. They are but novices in the art and science of soldiery; but yet the men of Camp McClellan are remarkably well-disciplined.”

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List of Calvary Regiments

Then the news article continues on to list the three new Cavalry regiments, one of which was the 17th. I was delighted to find this newspaper article contained every officer of the regiment—and listed as a first lieutenant was my ancestor James Ham.

article about the roster of the Seventeenth Pennsylvania Cavalry during the Civil War, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 21 November 1862

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 21 November 1862, page 2

The next news article I came across was published after the war, from an 1880 New York newspaper. This report particularly caught my eye since it was at the Battle of Five Forks in Virginia that James lost his life to enemy fire. This newspaper article, though short, was firsthand testimony by Colonel Henry C. Durland, the commander of the PA 17th, and it reported for the first time the losses by my ancestor’s regiment of “seven officers and thirty privates.”

Losses at Five Forks, New York Herald newspaper article 15 October 1880

New York Herald (New York, New York), 15 October 1880, page 9

War Stories Abound

As I continued my newspaper research, I discovered dozens of news articles that reported on the military battles and movements of the PA 17th, which included more famous Civil War battle locations including Fredericksburg, Richmond, Petersburg, and several others—and often included fascinating first-person accounts of those battles.

Researching My Indian Fighter Ancestor

photo of Chiricahua Apache Chief Victorio, c.1875

Photo: Chiricahua Apache Chief Victorio, c.1875. The author’s ancestor fought against the Apaches. Credit: Wikipedia.

Here is another example of the value in using newspaper articles to fill in your genealogy and learn about an ancestor’s military service. One of my great, great uncles, Frantisek Vicha, served in the U.S. Army in Company “D” of the 16th Infantry while fighting in what we know as the “Indian Wars.” From previous research, I knew that he enlisted in 1878 and was discharged due to disability in 1881. However, I knew little about the Indian Wars and practically nothing about my ancestor’s military service.

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My first research finding in GenealogyBank’s newspapers was an old article from a 1919 New Jersey newspaper. This historical newspaper article listed the (unfortunate) multitude of Indian Wars and gave me a good overview of these conflicts and the time period when my ancestor fought.

article about all the wars and battles in U.S. history, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 5 January 1919

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 5 January 1919, page 6

The next article I located was from an 1880 Pennsylvania newspaper. This historical news article reported that “Company D, Sixteenth Infantry”—my ancestor’s company—was one of those sent in relief of General Hatch, who was pursuing “Victorio’s band of Apaches in New Mexico.”

article about the Apache War in New Mexico, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 2 June 1880

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 2 June 1880, page 1

Now I had a location that I could work from, with even more focus. I then began to search on Victorio’s Apaches and found this article from an 1880 Texas newspaper.

Victorio's Apaches, Galveston Weekly News newspaper article 8 July 1880

Galveston Weekly News (Galveston, Texas), 8 July 1880, page 3

I found dozens more newspaper articles detailing several battles and the movements of Victorio and his fellow Apaches. An interesting and helpful article was published much later, in a 1921 Arizona newspaper. This detailed article covers the time in Apache history when Victorio was the “accredited war chief” of the Ojo Caliente Apaches, including his death in 1880.

Apache, Past and Present, Tucson Daily Citizen newspaper article 22 May 1921

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 22 May 1921, section: second, page 8

Then of course there was another old article I discovered about my Indian fighter ancestor, from an 1889 Ohio newspaper. This article reported an entirely different fight Frank Vicha had on his hands—but that one took place in a courtroom, and will have to be a story all its own for another time!

article about Frank Vicha filing for divorce, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 March 1889

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 March 1889, page 6

Historical newspapers are a great way to weave together the story of your veteran ancestor’s military service, and find more military records. Have you had success in finding your ancestors’ military records using newspapers? Tell us what you’ve discovered in the archives about your ancestor’s military service in the comments section below.

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Genealogy Resource Partners: Newspapers & the Census

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows that combining research in old newspapers with records from the U.S. Census is a good strategy, leading to genealogy discoveries about your ancestors you might otherwise have missed.

All of us who love genealogy know we must check and double-check our data as we create or fill in our family trees. Our double-checking can be accomplished in any number of ways. One of the ways I really enjoy is discovering how complementary and helpful newspaper articles and obituaries from the databases of GenealogyBank are to each other. This is especially true when we take this a step further: when we compare and contrast newspaper articles with return information from the U.S. Census. When paired together, you will find that newspapers and the Census are great genealogy resource partners.

Here’s an example of that complementary partnership. I was working on my maternal grandmother, Mae Anne Vicha, and tracing where she lived, etc. It wasn’t long before I came across information about her in an Ohio newspaper’s Society Pages. The column was titled “Social News of the Week” and featured as one of the tidbits the fact that the “B.C.B. Club” (a literary and social club) would be entertained next, on June 21st, at the home of Miss Mae Vicha, 3800 Warren Ave. I then checked the United States Census for 1910 and sure enough, there was my grandmother, now married, but living with her Mother, brother and sisters all at 3800 Warren Ave.

article about Mae Vicha, Plain Dealer newspaper article 10 June 1906

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 June 1906, page 29

Another interesting example I encountered of how newspaper articles and Census records can work together in tandem, leading you to great family history discoveries, occurred during some early genealogy research I was conducting on my Vicha ancestors. I was working through the Census returns on Teresa Vicha when I came upon the 1920 return. Not only did I find Teresa married to John Sluka, but I also found one of their daughters, Carolyn, living with them. Carolyn had married, taken the surname of Bidlingmaier, and had two children. Plus there was another treat: I found yet a second daughter, Teresa, also married and having taken the surname of Rehor. As I worked to corroborate this information about the Vicha family, the first item I found in the newspapers offered multiple benefits—just like the Census.

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This historical article is from an 1896 Ohio newspaper. While I was enjoying reading “In the athletic events the fat tailors’ race and the lean tailors’ race were the most amusing,” I found that John Sluka won one of the races (for the lean tailors, and he won a suit of clothes). Imagine my surprise when elsewhere in the same article it stated that my great grandfather, J. K. Vicha, was “the orator of the day” and was the national representative of the United Garment Workers and past president of the Central Labor Union of Cleveland.

Tailor's Picnic, Plain Dealer newspaper article 21 September 1896

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 21 September 1896, page 5

As I continued to work this branch of my family tree I came upon a 1907 article, again in the Plain Dealer. It was a sad story about an attempted suicide because the “Mother of Murdered Policeman Is Weary of Existence.”

article about Barbara Sluka, Plain Dealer newspaper article 22 September 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 22 September 1907, page 5

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I knew from my earlier ancestry research that my first cousin (twice removed), Albert Sluka, had been a special policeman who was stabbed to death outside a dance hall. But his mother was Teresa, not Barbara as reported in this article!

photo of Albert Sluka from his tombstone in Woodland Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio

Photo: picture of Albert Sluka from his tombstone in Woodland Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio. Credit: from the author’s collection.

This was indeed an interesting, but perplexing, old news article that required some additional and very enjoyable genealogy detective work. I’m glad to say I was able to straighten out the story. Barbara was actually the grandmother, not the mother, of Albert. Plus she did recover from her attempted suicide and lived for an additional 12 years. Perhaps it was Barbara’s thick Bohemian accent combined with her advanced age that caused the newspaper reporter to get the details just a bit mixed up.

Do you work with Census records and newspapers in tandem? If so, what have you found that has helped you the most in using these resources to research your genealogy?

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Remembering a Huge Day in Our Family History: V-E Day

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott commemorates V-E Day—the day Nazi Germany surrendered in WWII—and  reminisces about his father’s involvement in the war.

It had been a long, arduous, and brutal six years of war in Europe. The United States had entered World War II on 7 December 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Finally in the spring of 1945, although the war against Japan would last a few more months, Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies on 8 May 1945—“V-E Day,” which stands for “Victory in Europe.” WWII was finally over in Europe.

Some 16 million Americans served in the armed forces during WWII and more than 400,000 of these Americans died in the line of duty.

Today, which is the 69th anniversary of V-E Day, is a good time for all of us who love and enjoy genealogy and family history to reflect on this historic day.

Victory in Europe Sweeps the Headlines

This front page from a Massachusetts newspaper was typical of newspapers across the United States announcing the important news.

Today Official V-E Day, Boston Herald newspaper article 8 May 1945

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 8 May 1945, page 1

The news was welcome everywhere. Stories abounded in the nation’s newspapers about the impact of the unconditional surrender of the Nazi armies. A good example comes from this Texas newspaper. This old newspaper article explains how one family welcomed the news as the MacWilliams family learned that their daughter, a WAC, and their son, a lieutenant, met in Paris after four years of war. Later, the news story mentions that the MacWilliams’ family also had two more sons serving in the Army. The family impacts of WWII can hardly be underestimated as we do our family histories!

WAC, Brother Meet in Paris after 4 Years, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 May 1945

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 May 1945, page 3

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V-J Day Still Months Away

WWII would rage on three more months in the brutal Pacific Theatre until V-J Day (Victory over Japan). Japan announced its surrender on 15 August 1945, with the formal surrender ceremony taking place on 2 September 1945. The fact that the war in the Pacific was continuing may have been cause for many families in the United States to celebrate V-E Day with a bit of reserve. As you can see from this front page of a Louisiana newspaper, there was much concern about the continuing and staggering losses in the Battle of Okinawa

U.S. Casualties Rise on Okinawa; Bitter Fight Rages, Advocate newspaper article 10 May 1945

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 10 May 1945, page 1

Similarly an entire page from this Illinois newspaper speaks to the ongoing war effort in the Pacific and “an invasion of Japan.”

articles about the war against Japan in WWII, Morning Star newspaper article 29 May 1945

Morning Star (Rockford, Illinois), 29 May 1945, page 6

Troops Celebrate V-E Day; Wary of Invasion of Japan

My father, a 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry, told me years later that, while he and his buddies all toasted V-E Day, they felt that being reassigned to fight what they thought was the inevitable invasion of Japan might mean their deaths.

photo of U.S. troops in Europe during WWII

Photo: Scott Phillips’s father (in the back right corner) with some of the men from his unit, somewhere in Europe. Credit: from the author’s collection.

In my father’s words:

We all felt that if we had lived through the hell of the war in Europe it was only because we were just damn lucky, and our luck would surely run out in the Pacific and an invasion of Japan.

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Despite this apprehension due to the continuing war against Japan, there was good news on the home front all the same. Even though rationing continued until 1946, a return to normalcy seemed in sight after V-E Day was announced.

photo of WWII ration coupons

Photo: WWII ration coupons. Credit: from the author’s collection.

However, with the loss of over 400,000 servicemen and women, many families would never return to “normal.”

Did you have family members who served in World War II? My father only spoke of his service one time to my children and me. I hope you were able to document your family stories surrounding WWII and after V-E Day. They are certainly crucial stories to include in our family trees.

I’d be interested in knowing if you have been able to do this. Simply leave me a comment below if you would.

Peace.

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May Day, May Poles, May Baskets & Family Traditions

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott reminisces about his family’s traditions of celebrating May and the coming of spring, and researches old newspapers to find that these traditions go back a long way.

photo of a maypole at Archer School for Girls (former Eastern Star Home) in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California

Photo: maypole at Archer School for Girls (former Eastern Star Home) in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. Credit: Jengod; Wikipedia.

Tra la! It’s May! The lusty month of May!

—Guinevere

Guinevere’s words are from the wonderful play and movie, Camelot. May brings the flowers that April’s showers promised us, and while the traditions of May baskets and May poles may have been more popular with our ancestors than they are with us, they still do exist.

My Memories of May

My personal memories of May Day, due to my age, tend to focus on the U.S.S.R. and the Cold War. While my sisters had visions of May poles and May baskets in their heads, I could only think of the specter of the “Red Menace” that was on display in articles such as this one from a 1950 newspaper.

Soviet Might Seen in May Day Show, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 2 May 1950

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 2 May 1950, page 1

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May Pole Showdowns

As I continued researching May Day and its celebrations in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, the very earliest mention I could find was this 1725 article. Because of the Cold War connection in my mind between May Day and confrontation, I was not surprised that this article mentioned not only a May pole—but also an altercation. It seems that in Barford, a ”neighboring Gentleman” suspected the local May pole had been stolen from his woods, and came with a “large Posse” to get it back. However, the locals “rose upon them” and gave the posse “an entire Defeat, and sent them back with many broken Heads.”

article about a dispute over a May pole, American Weekly Mercury newspaper article 11 November 1725

American Weekly Mercury (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 11 November 1725, page 3

Luckily, a bit later in Pennsylvania as reported in this 1798 newspaper article, cooler heads prevailed in a village-wide dispute over a May pole. It seems half the village wanted one and half did not. The matter was eventually taken up by the local magistrate who had this to say:

You grave folks who are against a May pole shall have none—but you gay folks who are for a May pole may set up one as soon as you like.

The result was:

The whole village were struck with the equity of their magistrate, and peace and good-will were instantly restored.

Much better than “many broken heads” I’d say!

article about a dispute over a May pole, Federal Gazette newspaper article 19 February 1789

Federal Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 19 February 1789, page 2

Family Tradition of May Baskets

Fortunately, in our home May baskets reigned and did so in peace! My mother and maternal grandmother, who lived with us, would magically have a homemade May basket appear on the door knob of my sisters’ bedrooms on May Day morning.

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It seems homemade May baskets were the norm for a long, long time, as shown by this 1894 newspaper article. I especially enjoyed that the first line of the article was this:

When I was a little girl there was a pretty custom in fashion among children which I do not now hear much about.

Gee, I guess some folks were worried about this lovely tradition fading out way back in 1894! I am glad the tradition did continue and, as you can read in this article, there are directions for making your own May basket that you can still use today for your celebrations.

May Baskets, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 29 April 1894

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 29 April 1894, page 20

Until our children married and moved out on their own, my wife always made sure that those handmade baskets continued to mysteriously appear each May Day—and now I do the same for her.

Do you have any special family May Day memories and do you still celebrate May Day in your home? What are your family traditions to celebrate spring?

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