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.

Using Historical Newspapers to Research My Civil War Ancestry

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspapers to find stories about his Civil War cousin, Captain James Ham, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Five Forks just as the war was drawing to a close.

 Earlier this month (July 1-3) our nation commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. I well recall the awe I felt when, as a youngster, my family and I visited those hallowed grounds during the centennial of the Civil War back in 1963. That experience was the one that sparked my deep interest in American Civil War history, which continues to this day.

As pure luck would have it, while I was enjoying all the recent publicity regarding the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, I happened to make the discovery of a cousin in my ancestry, James Ham, who was a veteran of the Civil War.

Gravestone of James Ham - A Civil War Veteran

Photo: gravestone of Captain James Ham in Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Pennsylvania. Credit: Patricia Bittner.

James was born in Launceston, Cornwall, in the United Kingdom. I discovered that after running into trouble with the law for “assaulting an officer in the execution of his duties” and receiving a 12-month sentence, he emigrated from Cornwall. It wasn’t long before I found that he established himself in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.

As I was following his listing from the 1860 U.S. Census, I also came upon the fact that James Ham served in the Civil War. He rose to the rank of captain in the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry, in their M Company. It was very enjoyable to find, while searching the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank.com, an article from an 1889 Maryland newspaper reporting on the dedication of a monument at Gettysburg to “my” Captain Ham’s regiment, with a description of the huge crowds that attended this event.

Pennsylvania Veterans' Day Newspaper Article - Sun 1889

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 12 September 1889, page Supplement 2.

Monument 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry Civil War

Photo: Civil War monument at Gettysburg dedicated to the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry. Credit: from the author’s collection.

The more I followed my leads, the more I was able to improve my understanding of the life, and unfortunate death, of my Civil War ancestor. It wasn’t long before I came upon the fact that Captain Ham was wounded in Virginia at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, and died from those battle wounds on April 5, 1865. Now, as much as I like to think I know a lot about the Civil War, I was not familiar with the Battle of Five Forks—so I turned again to research the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank.com.

This time there were hundreds of old newspaper articles for me to pick from. My knowledge was really expanded by reading an impressive article from an 1865 Wisconsin newspaper. This was a very detailed account of the battle, and the reporter wrote paragraph after paragraph that put me right in the action of many of the cavalry charges.

Civil War Battle of Five Forks Newspaper Article - Milwaukee Sentinel

Milwaukee Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 7 April 1865, page 1.

Shortly thereafter I found an article in a 1908 Idaho newspaper that would make any genealogist’s and/or historian’s heart jump. This old news article contains a story of family letters, history, a dash of good luck, and perseverance in the discovery of the fate of the battle flag carried for a time by Union General Sheridan during the battle.

Old Battle Flag Sheridan Carried at Five Forks Is Found Newspaper Article - Idaho Statesman

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 23 March 1908, page 4.

Then my attention was captured by an article published in an 1880 New York newspaper which reported that General Sheridan was being called to court in order to explain why he relieved General Warren of his command after the Battle of Five Forks. The subheading really caught my eye: “Eight Days Previous to the Surrender at Appomattox.” I had read the date of death of my ancestor but I had not, until that point, realized that he was killed in action only days before the Civil War ended.

Sheridan Warren Civil War Battle of Five Forks Newspaper Article - NY Herald

New York Herald (New York, New York), 27 October 1880, page 8.

I am now in the second phase of seeking even more information about this Civil War ancestor as I have placed a research request with the Wayne County (Pennsylvania) Historical Society (http://waynehistorypa.org). One of their researchers is hard at work hopefully finding more clues, data, and details about Captain James Ham and his family. Plus after my very first conversation with the researcher, I have been “forced” to place Wayne County, Pennsylvania, on my “Genealogy Must-Visit List” since the researcher casually mentioned to me that the Museum holds dozens of personal letters written from Captain Ham back to his wife and family during the Civil War!

I think I better start packing right now. I figure at least two days reading for sure! Can you imagine what those letters might hold?

Do you have comparable success stories about researching your Civil War ancestor? Tell us about them in the comments section.

Fun Family Folklore: Are These Superstitions Fact or Myth?

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott decides to add some of his family’s superstitions to his family tree to make it more complete—and searches old newspapers to find more information about those superstitions.

I would not be surprised if every family that ever lived had one superstition or another that was “believed in.” Maybe not 100%, but at least to the point that the superstition cropped up each time the subject was broached. For instance, when my wife was well overdue with our first child, she was told: “Eat Chinese takeout food and your labor will start.” I also well remember my grandmother’s constant admonition to “Find a pin and pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck,” and her commandment “Sing at the dinner table and you’ll marry a drunkard.”

My family folklore included many superstitions and my wife’s family added a few more that I was not familiar with, so I thought to make my family tree even more interesting and complete, I’d look into a couple of the superstitions that were amongst the strongest in our families. So off I went to GenealogyBank.com to see what I could discover and add to our family tree.

Fact or Myth? Snakes Don’t Die until Sundown

First up was a superstition that still haunts me to this day. It is that a snake does not die until sundown. Actually, the way it was related to me by my father was this: “The only way to kill a snake is to cut off its head and then leave it be, since it will not die until sundown.” Well, let me tell you, that was more than enough to instill a fear of snakes that exists in me to this very day, which you can see in this photo.

photo of Scott Phillips holding a large snake in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil

Photo: Scott Phillips and his uncomfortable “close encounter” with a large snake in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Credit: from the author’s collection.

My father’s “wisdom” about snakes was imparted to me frequently back in the 1950s. Imagine my surprise when I found this 1906 Pennsylvania newspaper article that addressed my dad’s snake superstition.

Killing Lies about Snakes, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 25 November 1906

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 25 November 1906, page 13

In this old newspaper article a zoologist debunks many of the myths regarding snakes, and there in the list at #12 is this: “It isn’t true that when snakes are killed their tails do not die until the sun goes down or until it thunders.” Good grief! If I had ever heard that “thunder” part I might still be in my old backyard waiting!

Open the Doors & Windows before Midnight on New Year’s Eve

I then recalled the first New Year’s Eve I celebrated when I was dating my future wife. Just before the stroke of midnight she began going around my parents’ home opening the windows and doors—during a Minnesota winter! As we all stood there shivering, watching our breath indoors, she explained her superstition that in order to have a good New Year, you needed to let the old air, spirits, year, etc., out and the new year in.

I married her anyway and then, 38 years later, I found this 1954 Washington newspaper article that gives instructions for doing exactly this. It was interesting for me to learn that my Italian wife had evidently picked up a Danish superstition, which we still follow.

notice about midnight superstitions, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 19 December 1954

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 19 December 1954, page 95

No Hats on the Bed or Chair!

Next up, I took on another one of my wife’s oft-cited superstitions from her Italian family. I can still hear my wife’s grandparents saying “Don’t ever put your hat on a bed or a chair!” While there were some strong rules in my home about never, ever wearing a hat in the house, I was not aware of anything like this Italian hat superstition that it is bad luck to lay your hat on a bed or chair. Then I found this 1938 Nebraska newspaper article, in which the columnist not only discusses this mysterious hat superstition—he also explains how he and his family still don’t abide seeing any hats on a bed.

notice about superstitions, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 22 May 1938

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 22 May 1938, page 39

Bury a Statue of Saint Joseph to Sell Your Home

Then I laughed out loud at myself as I came across an article in a 1991 Alabama newspaper. It verified that I am as “guilty” of following superstitions as anyone else!

notice about a superstition involving real estate and St. Joseph, Mobile Register newspaper article 7 April 1991

Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama), 7 April 1991, page 18

You see, just as this newspaper article explains, my wife and I have always buried a statue of St. Joseph in our yard every time we were in the process of selling a home. I’ll just add here that with my wife being an architect/designer, this burial ritual happened fairly often! It did my heart good to see that this tradition started, according to this article, “hundreds of years ago in Europe.” I take issue with the company selling these St. Joseph statue kits, though! While they do get the part right about burying him on his head and facing the street, he must be buried in a piece of linen from your house!

After reading the “error” in this newspaper’s account of a superstition that I personally follow, I became all the more resolved to add our folklore and superstitions to my family tree. Someone has to be sure everyone gets it “right” in the future!

What kinds of superstitions have been handed down in your family? Post a comment and let me know about your traditions and rituals rooted in superstition. I’d love to learn more about your family’s folklore!

4th of July Holiday: A Time for Family Reunions & Genealogy Fun

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott celebrates the Fourth of July holiday by researching old newspaper articles to discover some July 4th reunions celebrated in times past.

I love holidays and I especially love the 4th of July! Fireworks, picnics, and family reunions! What a great combination for all of us, and especially those of us who are genealogy “infected”! All my life July 4th was a time to gather family around and have a wonderful long weekend while celebrating the birth of the United States!

I hope you and your family had fun this past holiday weekend celebrating our great nation and enjoying quality time together.

When I began planning my picnic menu for this year’s 4th of July party (should I go with hamburgers, hot dogs, or brats?) I decided to spend a few moments searching GenealogyBank.com’s historical newspaper archives to see what some of the past July Fourth celebrations were like that “made the papers.”

The first article I found in my search, published in the “Society” column of a 1912 Pennsylvania newspaper, really perked up my interest as a genealogist. The historical news article listed the names of dozens of the reportedly more than 100 family members of three of the oldest families of the county who gathered for their annual 4th of July reunion. Seeing all those persons’ names and hometowns made me wish I were related!

Three Families in July Fourth Reunion, Patriot newspaper article 6 July 1912

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 6 July 1912, page 3

Next, I enjoyed another family reunion article and wished I had ancestors who lived in Mason, Fleming, and/or Lewis counties in Kentucky. This 1912 Kentucky newspaper reported on a nice assortment of many of the “Old Settlers” of the area.

Old Settlers Will Meet July Fourth, Lexington Herald newspaper article 22 May 1912

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 22 May 1912, page 2

I became a bit envious when I read an article from a 1913 Oklahoma newspaper. This piece explained that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had changed his mind and agreed to go to the Gettysburg battlefield and address the Veterans Encampment there. Can you imagine being at Gettysburg and walking amongst Civil War veterans, hearing their first-hand stories? Wow, what a 4th of July that would make for anyone who loves genealogy and history!

Wilson to Visit Gettsyburg Vetson July Fourth, Daily Oklahoman newspaper article 29 June 1913

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 29 June 1913, page 1

Then I got a good chuckle from an article in an 1875 Ohio newspaper. This enjoyable item recounted the 4th of July festivities surrounding the annual gathering of telegraphers. I enjoyed reading that this group knew “how to have a frolic in a sensible and respectable manner” and sported badges with coded messages. Despite their apparent good manners and fun times, I’d be willing to bet that this is a group that doesn’t meet anymore.

Reunion of the Cleveland, Buffalo, Toledo and Erie Telegraphers, Plain Dealer newspaper article 6 July 1875

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 6 July 1875, page 4

Of course reading all these wonderful old newspaper articles about 4th of July family reunions and gatherings only made me pine a bit for some of my family reunions in times gone by. The last several decades or so have found us in a cabin in the north woods of Minnesota where we enjoy the holiday, often in its weather extremes. I have great memories ranging from the incredibly HOT 4th of July when the beach sand was so burning we couldn’t walk on it barefoot to get to our clambake fire—all the way to the other extreme of the 4th of July in 1996, when we all watched the fireworks in winter jackets, hats, and mittens after trimming a small, nearby pine tree with Christmas lights to celebrate the cold!

Before wrapping up my Fourth of July reunion research, I took a few more minutes to look in our old family photo albums for some more memories of the holiday. Aside from a whole lot of my really bad photos of fireworks that didn’t quite work out (thank goodness for digital photography now), I did find two photos that really took me back. One is of my dad and mom enjoying the 4th in their favorite place—a swimming pool.

photo of Scott Phillips' parents celebrating July Fourth by a swimming pool

The second photo was from a 1986 4th of July reunion with my in-laws in northern Minnesota.

photo of Scott Phillips celebrating July Fourth with his in-laws in northern Minnesota

Both these family photos bring memories of happy, happy times gone by. I hope you enjoy them; I have included them here as my way of saying: I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July holiday—and Happy Birthday to the United States of America!

By the way—what did you grill this 4th of July? Tell us in the comments.

The Past Tells the Future of Genealogy: Is Anything Really New?

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspaper articles to discover that what was new in genealogy 100 or more years ago is still new today.

There is nothing new except that which has been forgotten.

~ Marie Antoinette

This is certainly true in genealogy in a variety of ways. Naturally, we as genealogists spend a great deal of time and effort looking for that which has been forgotten or almost forgotten. We strive to discover, or rediscover actually, family history information every day.

On the other hand, I find it interesting when I hear some of the genealogy “pundits” trumpet all the newest “discoveries” in genealogy, often claiming that they are a harbinger of the end of genealogy as we know it. Some of these latest proclamations had me wondering, so I decided to see what was new (and old, which might have been forgotten) in genealogy through the historical newspapers in the database of GenealogyBank.com.

After a few quick searches, I encountered some terrific genealogy headlines and articles. Every one of them brought home the point that not all that much has changed in the world of genealogy! See if you can place the date of each of the following newspaper articles. Were these historical stories from yesteryear or news articles from today’s newspapers?

  • “Genealogy Study Rapidly Growing.” How often have we heard this? I especially appreciated this newspaper article’s subheadings: “In Recent Years Americans Have Been Making Great Study of the Family Tree” and “Genealogists Working Along New Lines and Startling Results Follow.” Sounds just like something I’d read in the news today.
Genealogy Study Rapidly Growing, San Jose Mercury News newspaper article 16 March 1912

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 16 March 1912, page 2

This newspaper article was published in 1912!

  • “Forum on computers, genealogy scheduled.” This one really could be from today, the type of article found in just about every genealogy society newsletter and newspaper column on “local happenings.” It is interesting to see the name of Genealogical Computing magazine in this article, and it is fun to see how far we have come in such a short time.
Forum on Computers, Genealogy Scheduled, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 22 September 1984

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 22 September 1984, page 20C

While this sounds like today’s genealogy news, this newspaper article was published in 1984!

  • “Of the New Genealogy, Its Enlarged Field of Study. How Genealogy as a Science May Help Us to Help Ourselves.” I wondered if this article might be discussing the role of DNA testing in genealogy today, but not quite… I enjoyed this article especially since it was on a topic near-and-dear to me: that of the needed link between genealogy and the academic world. Plus, this article is about an address given at the 60th anniversary of the New England Historic Genealogist Society by Charles K. Bolton.
Of the New Genealogy, Springfield Republican newspaper article 3 November 1909

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 3 November 1909, page 15

This newspaper article was published in 1909!

  • “Genealogy business booming national one.” With the business of genealogy booming, it seems to offer good career opportunities. This article was from an advice column and the author seemed to have a pretty decent grasp of genealogy, which was fun to see.
Genealogy Business Booming National One, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 July 1981

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 July 1981, page 33

While this would be good career advice for genealogists today, this newspaper article was actually published in 1981!

  • “Who Was Your Grandfather?” I thought perhaps this was an article for the newest television spinoff of Who Do You Think You Are?
Who Was Your Grandfather? New-Hampshire Patriot newspaper article 27 August 1851

New-Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 27 August 1851, page 3

While this headline seems right out of today’s news, it’s actually about finding an heir for the deceased Jennings—and the newspaper article was published in 1851!

  • “Old Tombstone Wanted.” Once again, this headline could be from practically any newspaper today; as I read the article I can almost feel the angst of the writer as he pleaded for anyone in the local community who may have known anything at all about the tombstone he was searching for.
Old Tombstone Wanted, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 23 October 1900

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 23 October 1900, page 2

While this newspaper article refers to “a genealogical chain” and “the genealogist and all his vagaries,” it was actually published in 1900!

  • “Cousin George’s Decision” The subtitle of this article “He Thought His New Found Relatives Were a Very Shoddy Lot” made me think that this story’s moral is as valid today as when the article was written.
Cousin George's Decision, Daily Alaska Dispatch newspaper article 24 January 1900

Daily Alaska Dispatch (Juneau, Alaska), 24 January 1900, page 2

However, this newspaper article was published in 1900!

  • “Genealogy of Slang.” This article earned its way to being copied and placed on my bulletin board. After all who knows when it might come in handy for me to use the word “Gellibagger”?
Genealogy of Slang, Repository newspaper article 15 March 1890

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 15 March 1890, page 5

While using slang in genealogy might seem like a modern topic, this newspaper article was published in 1890!

Thanks to this trip through the past using historical newspapers, we can see that: 1) genealogy has been in the news a long time; and 2) what was new then is sometimes new today. Truly, “Nothing in Genealogy is as new as that which has been forgotten.” The past is often one of the best places to look for clues to the future.

Jeff Corey & Me: Filling In the Blanks in My Own Life Story

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches the history of an old acting professor of his—Jeff Corey—and discovers that filling in the blanks of Jeff’s life story in turn fills in some blanks in his own life history.

If you follow my posts here on the blog for GenealogyBank.com, you read toward the end of my latest article “Finding the Historical Articles That Tell My Ancestor’s Story” that I had discovered a one-line death notice for Jeff Corey. He was one of my favorite professors when I was a student in the “World Campus Afloat” program. While I remember him as my instructor, you might best recall him as Sherriff Ray Bledsoe in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Finding Jeff’s death notice led me to think back on many of the stories that this friendly, approachable, and talented professor shared with me when I was a student, and reminded me how important he once had been in my life. Sadly, I realized that although he once mentored me, he actually was a blank in my life history—I really didn’t know very much about Jeff Corey.

These memories prompted me to undertake another search in GenealogyBank.com and see what else I might discover about Jeff. As usual, I wasn’t disappointed and I was able to more fully document and add this person from my own life to my family’s extensive family history and genealogy—filling in the blanks about Jeff’s story in turn filled in a blank in my own life history.

The first thing I did, as any good genealogist does, is look for multiple copies of an individual’s obituary. I was very happy to discover that, while my earlier find had been only that one-sentence death notice, more than a dozen other newspapers provided more extensive obituaries for Jeff Corey. As you might expect for an American actor, one of the best I found was in a Los Angeles newspaper.

Obituaries: Jeff Corey, 88, Los Angeles Times newspaper article 19 August 2002

Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California), 19 August 2002

Not only did this extensive obituary list some of Jeff’s best known roles in movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, In Cold Blood, and Little Big Man, it also listed some of his television credits in successful sitcoms such as One Day at a Time and Night Court. Then his life story got really interesting.

I found more information on a time in Jeff’s life that he had only briefly touched on when we talked those many years ago as student and instructor. This was the period when Jeff Corey was blacklisted in Hollywood for more than ten years! His mistreatment was a result of Jeff’s appearance before the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the 1950s. Once again, GenealogyBank.com and its database of historical documents proved invaluable.

In GenealogyBank’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set collection, I found the Annual Report for the Committee on Un-American Activities for the year 1952. It included Jeff Corey with the notation: “(Appeared Sept. 21, 1951, and refused to affirm or deny Communist Party membership.)” On the same page you can see many others who also refused to comply with the committee’s demands.

U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Annual report of the Committee on Un-American Activities for the year 1952

U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Annual report of the Committee on Un-American Activities for the year 1952. December 28, 1952. (Original release date.) January 3, 1953.

This action was enough to get Jeff Corey blacklisted and banned from any work in Hollywood for more than ten years. I found Jeff’s comment, related in his obituary, to be most interesting. He said “The only issue was, did you want to just give them their token names so you could continue your career, or not?” He chose not to name any others in Hollywood.

I think you could say that Jeff got the last laugh, though. While I am sure he missed out on a multitude of roles in those ten years—and he did tell me they were some very lean years—he became one of the most sought-after acting coaches in all of Hollywood!

This 1975 California newspaper article reported that some of Jeff’s more notable students were such Hollywood superstars as Jack Nicholson, Anthony Quinn, Jane Fonda, and Kirk Douglas. Needless to say, I was truly impressed by this talented group.

Jeff Corey Sees Simplicity as 'The Logic to Acting,' San Diego Union newspaper article 2 January 1975

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 2 January 1975, page 47

Jeff’s return to the “big screen” was noted in this 1961 Louisiana newspaper article.

Jeff Corey Back before Cameras after 10 Years, State Times Advocate newspaper article 17 January 1961

State Times Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 17 January 1961, page 9

Jeff continued to coach actors even after he returned to his career in acting. I found a wonderful quote praising Jeff by one of my favorite actors, James Coburn, published in this 1979 Ohio newspaper article.

notice about actor Jeff Corey, Plain Dealer newspaper article 31 August 1979

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 31 August 1979, page 142

After I finished my genealogy research on Jeff, I was pleased with how much information I had found and how much more I knew of this cherished professor. I was also happy because I had filled in a delightful segment in my own family history story—one I hope my children and grandchildren will someday enjoy reading as much as I did researching and writing it.

My closing advice is this: Don’t overlook your own life stories while you are working on your genealogy. They can be great fun and lead to many surprising discoveries!

Finding the Historical Articles That Tell My Ancestor’s Story

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about finding old newspapers articles about a foreign-study program called “World Campus Afloat” that he once participated in—the same program, it turns out, that a family member had attended years earlier.

As a genealogical historian I often include what some people might call the “back story” on many of my ancestors. I, however, much prefer to call it the “front story.” I take great enjoyment and pride in being able to add more to my family members’ profiles on my family tree than just facts, figures, and dates. I think of each person’s profile as a quilt. As a result, I need to find and attach as many of the unique squares—the stories—that represent their lives. I believe a terrific place to find such ancestor stories is in the historical newspapers of the time.

So it was that I found myself using GenealogyBank.com while I was working on stitching up the “quilt” for one of our family members. I had made the discovery that they, too, had attended “Semester at Sea,” the same foreign-study program that I had, although they had done it many years before I attended. Not being familiar with this program’s roots, I decided to take a look for what was originally named the “University of the Seven Seas.” Not expecting much, I was amazed to find that my search provided me with over 240 results!

photo of the author, Scott Phillips, as a youth on board ship, participating in the World Campus Afloat program

Photo: the author as a youth (left) on board ship, participating in the World Campus Afloat program

The first article I read was a terrific find from the Springfield Union. It featured an article that covered more than half a page of newsprint and told a detailed story about the very first voyage ever undertaken by the University of the Seven Seas program, and featured the first Academic Dean and a local student as well.

SC Professor Back after Semester on High Seas, Springfield Union newspaper article 23 February 1964

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 23 February 1964, page 51

The next article I read was published in the Boston Herald. Again I found that the wonderful focus on detail provided by good newspaper reporting paid dividends: the news article listed dates of sailing, duration of the voyages, and ports of call. It also gave a bit of history, talked about the partners in the program at that time, and gave some personal insights by students.

New 'Semesters at Sea' Scheduled by Ship Line, Boston Herald newspaper article 19 April 1964

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 19 April 1964, page 264

My next discovery led me to the fact that the program officially changed names from the “University of the Seven Seas” to “World Campus Afloat.” Thanks to another capable newspaperwoman or man, this fact was nicely showcased in an old article published in the Trenton Evening Times and provided me with yet more detailed information.

Floating Campus Cruises the World, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 10 December 1967

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 10 December 1967, page 53

From a report in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set from the “Historical Documents” portion of the GenealogyBank.com database, I learned that a member of the program’s faculty testified on United States policy toward Asia in front of a subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee in 1966. It was interesting to read the biography of this individual, Dr. C. Y. Pan, and then to follow along and read his actual testimony.

United States Policy toward Asia, U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Vol. No.12725-3; Report: H.Doc. 488; 19 May 1966

U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Vol. No.12725-3; Report: H.Doc. 488; 19 May 1966

At this point I had lost all track of time and must have read more than 50 historical articles and scanned many more, but another one caught my eye and I had to keep going. It was published in the Greensboro Daily News, and when I opened the article—there was an old classmate of mine looking back at me from the newspaper photograph showing up on my computer screen!

New Program Lets Students Help Plan Courses, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 26 December 1972

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 26 December 1972, page 51

I was about to conclude my searching for the evening when I found one more article of interest. Sadly, it was an obituary for the actor Jeff Corey. Jeff had been our Actor-in-Residence, drama professor, and a wonderfully friendly, open, and approachable member of our shipboard faculty. This was certainly a bittersweet find.

Jeff Corey death notice, USA Today newspaper article 3 January 2003

USA Today (Arlington, Virginia), 3 January 2003

So not only did I find enough material to more fully tell the story about my family member as I had set out to do, but I also found out a great deal more about an educational organization we both attended. In doing so, I rekindled old memories of my own. What a tremendous side benefit to my family tree research!

Do you have anything like this in common with your ancestors? If so, please share with us in the comments. We love to hear your family stories.

Making an All-Inclusive Family Tree through Newspaper Research

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about expanding his family tree research to be inclusive of all family relations, and uses old newspapers to accomplish this goal.

When I embarked on my initial family tree work I made an important decision: I was going to be as inclusive in my ancestry work as possible. It was an easy decision and it was actually made by my children. Quite naturally, they wanted to know both sides of their ancestry. To them it made no difference that my wife’s grandparents weren’t “my blood” because they were “their blood”!

I quickly saw that this would be true for every marriage in my tree and thanked my children profusely. In hindsight this decision to go all-inclusive with our family tree has paid huge dividends in many of my family history and genealogy efforts.  It’s led to research successes such as finding my ancestral home village in Bohemia through a clue I discovered as a result of researching my great grandfather’s sister’s marriage!

Recently while I was researching my family tree I found myself sighing over the fact that I really knew far too little about my brother-in-law’s father, Lee Tressel.

photo of the Phillips-Tressel wedding

Photo: the wedding of Scott Phillips’s sister and her husband, Dick Tressel. The bride’s parents are on the left; Lee Tressel and his wife, Eleanor, are on the right. Credit: from the author’s collection.

Unfortunately, Lee passed away at the young age of 56 in 1981, long before I was smart enough to have spent an appropriate amount of time gathering his stories and memories of his life and career to add to our family tree. While I knew Lee and had spent some time with him, I believed that there had to be more I did not know about this accomplished football player, coach, mentor, and family man. So off I went to GenealogyBank.com to help me fill the void in our family tree—and it did a superb job!

One of my earliest discoveries in this family research project was a 1996 newspaper article that recapped Lee’s induction, as a member of the inaugural class, into the College Football Hall of Fame. It was inspiring to see his name alongside such football luminaries as Terry Bradshaw and Walter Payton.

Payton, Bradshaw Lead List of Hall of Fame Inductees, Marietta Journal newspaper article 18 May 1996

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 18 May 1996, page 22

As I continued my genealogy search, I was treated to a 1969 newspaper article that included a wonderful photo. This was a truly smile-inducing old news article since it not only talked about Lee, but also about his son, Dick, my now brother-in-law, playing for him at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.

Father-Son Act Closes at B-W, Plain Dealer newspaper article 21 November 1969

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 21 November 1969, page 54

Soon my searching brought me to another historical newspaper article from Cleveland, Ohio. While it was bittersweet to be reading Lee’s obituary, there were genealogy and family history treasures to be found throughout this article.

Friends, Rivals Alike Remember B-W's Tressel as a Gentleman, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 April 1981

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 April 1981, page 61

Not only was there a very nice review of Lee’s sports coaching career, there was also a quote from our old family friend and my first childhood hero, Cleveland Browns’ Pro Football Hall of Fame member Lou “The Toe” Groza. I was even more thrilled when I saw that this news article included a photograph of Lee from his playing days. Now, I am not saying Lee played the game in the olden days, but I will say you can see him wearing a leather helmet. No wonder he knew the game so well! It was also heartwarming to read a quote by the Browns’ coach, Sam Rutigliano, who said “Lee represented all the things I believe in—in coaching, as a father, a friend and a husband. He was all the things I’d like to be.” Quite an accolade I’d say.

I came across several more articles talking about how Lee thought it was a real thrill to be able to coach two of his sons on the gridiron, both my brother-in-law, Dick, and Dick’s youngest brother and my schoolmate, Jim. I kept on searching and was taken aback by my next genealogy find.

I couldn’t quite figure out why GenealogyBank.com was directing me to an article published on 20 November 1933 in the Repository of Canton, Ohio, but as always I took a quick look. I found myself reading an article about Lee’s father (who was also named Lee) and the tragic loss of his brother, Charles Gene Tressel, at the age of 11. He died of “lockjaw” from stepping on a chicken bone. This one took me right back to my summer visits to the old Tressel family farm in rural Ohio.

Tetanus Attack Fatal, Repository  newspaper article 20 November 1933

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 20 November 1933, page 10

In just about an hour I had taken a lovely trip back in time, gained valuable information on this family member, and even discovered tidbits of family information I had never expected. That is one of the things I like best about using newspapers in my genealogy research: finding the unexpected!
What kind of interesting family information have you found unexpectedly in old newspapers?

How the 5 Ws & FAV(orites) in Newspapers Can Help Genealogists

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott explains how he adds his own personal touch to the “5 Ws” (Who, What, When, Where & Why) of newspaper journalism to enliven his family history research.

Recently I wrote here on the GenealogyBank.com blog about how much I love the 5 Ws (Who, What, When, Where & Why) of good, high-quality newspaper reporting for my genealogy and family history work. There is little better than finding an interesting article in one of the thousands of GenealogyBank.com newspapers that contains your ancestor’s name, and then topping that off by finding that the reporter adhered to the newspaperwoman/man’s mantra of the 5 Ws. Most decidedly, to me, it just doesn’t get much better than this! However, since none of us genealogy-crazy folks ever leave something well enough alone, I like to add my own FAVs to the 5 Ws. Now, while I know this won’t win me a Pulitzer or anything, my FAVs do help my family search efforts.

My FAV(orites) are this: Fun, Adventure, and Value.

First, FUN: One of my key precepts as a genealogist is that we must always keep the fun in our work. If we hope to attract the interest of others to genealogy and family history, one of the easiest ways to do this is by making it fun! Whenever I am doing genealogy research in newspapers I am reminded that my father always began his day, every day, with the funny pages of the newspaper. Although a businessman through-and-through, he said the news and business of the day could wait while he started his day with a smile and a chuckle. I have wonderful memories of my dad in his crisp white shirt and tie, coffee mug in hand, and seeing his eyes sparkling as he laughed at the funnies. So it is from these vivid memories that I keep the fun in my genealogy in a variety of ways. One of which is that whenever I am searching old newspapers I make sure to check the funnies.

If nothing else I enjoy seeing how some of my favorites have changed over the years, like good old Dagwood Bumstead of the “Blondie” comic; I found this example in a 1938 newspaper. That day’s comic featured a coal-fired furnace (like my grandparents’ home had), old-fashioned telephone switchboard (which I recall from my old hometown), and much more all in one comic. Times like this give me what I call “a minute vacation” and the fun refreshes me for the work ahead.

"Blondie" comic strip, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper 11 December 1938

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 11 December 1938, page 115

Second, ADVENTURE: I also love discovering in old newspaper articles the adventures that our ancestors had. As a matter of fact, just two days ago I was beginning my genealogy research on the Fortelka family branch in our family tree when I discovered Frank Fortelka aka “The Bohemian Cyclone”!

Pugilism: The Cyclone Will Fight, Plain Dealer newspaper article 11 April 1895

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 April 1895, page 3

Not only did I get to follow The Cyclone’s career as a boxer, but also his career after that when he became a member of the “thin blue line” as a police officer for the city of Cleveland, Ohio. I also learned that The Cyclone was known to use his fisticuffs abilities against ne’re-do-wells in that city, often being reported to take on groups of twenty or more, successfully subdue them, and bring them to justice—with only his fists! Wow, talk about a real-life adventure and superhero! Then I got treated to his photograph, along with his wife’s picture for good measure, in a 1947 newspaper article about the golden wedding anniversary of The Bohemian Cyclone and his wife.

Ex-Boxer and Wife Married 50 Years, Plain Dealer  newspaper article 26 October 1947

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 October 1947, page 16

Third, VALUE: Another of my mantras in my genealogy work is to capture the persona, not just the data, of my ancestors. I believe that nothing adds more value to my family tree quite like the insight into the real persona of my ancestors that I gain from newspaper articles. I find great value in newspapers’ photographs, in-depth information, stories, and articles on the times my ancestors lived, and much, much more. The last time I looked at my family tree I found that I have more than 320 newspaper articles attached to the profiles of my family members and ancestors! Now that is what I call adding value. Of course, while I love the value these impart to me, I am even more thrilled when their value is realized by others.

For instance, whenever I get to share a newly discovered newspaper account about one of our ancestors with my 93-year-old Mother I get to see the happiness in her eyes and hear the excitement in her voice. Now that, my friends, is adding real value!

photo of Scott Phillips' mother

From the author’s collection

So tell me—what do you add to the 5 Ws in newspaper journalism as you work on your family tree?

Researching Uncle Cledo’s Life Spurs Several ‘Oh Wow!’ Moments

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about several “Oh Wow!” genealogy moments he had when he researched a remarkable member of his extended family: the brilliant scientist Cledo Brunetti.

While I really enjoy every aspect of genealogy and family history, if you are like me, you really treasure and celebrate those amazing “Oh Wow!” moments when you make an unexpected research discovery.

For me one of these exciting genealogy research moments, which actually resulted in me doing my best Happy Dance (something like this that you do not want to witness), happened when I was looking through GenealogyBank.com for information on one of my wife’s great uncles, Cledo Brunetti. I had not done much work on my wife’s “Uncle Cledo,” but I had become intrigued by a number of family stories that this fellow was involved in sophisticated research on behalf of the United States. So off I went in search of the story of Uncle Cledo.

As I said, Oh Wow! My very first research discovery was a 1946 newspaper article that confirmed a whopping four of the family stories I had heard about Uncle Cledo.

Radar, Radio Pocket-Sized, Oregonian  newspaper article 9 February 1946

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 9 February 1946, page 1

First, it reported that Dr. Cledo Brunetti worked for the Bureau of Standards for the U.S. government. The old newspaper article went on to say that he was with a group instrumental in the development of the proximity fuse for American munitions, was involved in the creation of the first transistor radio (about the size of a pack of cigarettes), and had a hand in the invention of the very first printed circuits. Not a bad start to my ancestry research, especially since a subsequent newspaper article included the fact that Uncle Cledo was actually the Director of the Ordinance Division of the Bureau during World War II.

Then I opened another amazing research find! This 1947 news article reported that Uncle Cledo was introducing a “personal vest-pocket broadcasting station” for radio communications. One half was so small it fit in a tube of lipstick and the other half was on a calling card. This certainly seemed to be the beginnings of what I had been told was his development of the “Dick Tracy Wrist Radio.”

Radio Station Made to Fit Lipstick Tube, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 16 February 1947

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 16 February 1947, page 11

Best of all, this 1947 article featured a picture of Uncle Cledo!

photo of scientist Cledo Brunetti, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 16 February 1947

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 16 February 1947, page 11

Then surprise, surprise! In a 1948 newspaper I found an article entitled “Dick Tracy Radio May Come True” and who do you think was the inventor quoted? Yep, none other than Uncle Cledo and he was talking about having one made as a Christmas present for President Truman!

Dick Tracy Radio May Come True, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 11 August 1948

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 11 August 1948, page 14

A 1949 newspaper reported (with some wonderful photographs): “Dick Tracy’s Wrist Radio Comes True.” Yep, Uncle Cledo really did it!

Dick Tracy's Wrist Radio Comes True, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 20 February 1949

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 20 February 1949, page 26

Then I found a 1961 newspaper article that surprised even my wife, Mary Kay, Cledo Brunetti’s niece.

New U.S. Rocket Series Urged in Space Race, San Diego Union newspaper article 21 April 1961

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 21 April 1961, page 7

This old newspaper article quotes Uncle Cledo, in his role as president of the Grand Central Rocket Company, discussing his work on space rockets and how NASA could get a man on the moon—and his testifying before the House Space Committee in Washington D.C.

Wistfully, Mary Kay told me how much I would have loved meeting Uncle Cledo, and then she related how Uncle Cledo had given her and her family a private tour of the Lick Observatory while on a family vacation in California. It’s such a small world…my great uncle James Vanek was the man who accompanied the Warner & Swasey telescope parts on the train from Cleveland, Ohio, to the observatory where it was installed.

I thought I was done with my genealogy research on Uncle Cledo when I decided to do a quick Google search to augment my GenealogyBank.com information, and I found one more amazing item. It seems that ever since 1975 the world-premier award in nanotechnology, awarded by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is named the “Cledo Brunetti Award.”

What is the biggest Oh Wow! moment you have had in your genealogy efforts? I’d sure love to hear about it! Please share your ancestor stories in the comments.

A Civil War Captain in My Family Tree?! Share Your Surprises

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about his genealogy surprise: he was researching a branch of his family tree and discovered a Confederate captain from the Civil War!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of working on our genealogy is the surprises we discover. If you are like me, you have had your fair share of finding something in your family history research that you either weren’t looking for at the time, or were shocked at what you actually did find. Recently that happened to me while I was working on our daughter-in-law’s family branch. Here is that story. And after telling you about my latest genealogy adventure, I’d love to hear about your biggest genealogy surprises!

I had been at work on our daughter-in-law’s family tree for some time when I got a bit stumped on one of the female members back in the early 1800s. The family was from southern Ohio and their daughter Mary A. Dillon seemed to have disappeared on me. That is to say, she disappeared until a colleague happened to mention that he thought she might have married a fellow by the name of Scovell. A quick check with the Lawrence County, Ohio, Genealogy Society and I confirmed the marriage of our Mary A. Dillon to one William Tiley Scovell. Once I had a place and a name I was off to the newspaper archives and other databases of GenealogyBank.com to see what else I could find.

Well, the last thing I was expecting to find in my family tree was a Civil War Confederate captain who was so in demand that Southern generals were competing to have his services! Plus, none other than General Robert E. Lee, the top man himself, was deciding where Scovell could best serve the Confederacy.

I’ve long known that we have a Civil War veteran or two in our family tree, but never anyone above the rank of private and certainly no one who was in demand quite like Captain Scovell. A riverboat captain before the war, Scovell evidently was extremely adept at getting ships, men, and cargo up and down—as well as across—rivers.

In my first search I found an 1895 newspaper article explaining that Captain Scovell had just passed away—at that time he was the second-to-last surviving member of the Grivot Rifles of the Fifteenth Louisiana Infantry.

William Scovell obituary, Times-Picayune newspaper article 4 July 1895

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 4 July 1895, page 11

From this old newspaper article I gained excellent information, leads, and insight into the Civil War career of William T. Scovell and began looking further.

Next I discovered, in GenealogyBank.com’s Historical Documents collection, the Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, which showed William T. Scovell “taking rank” on June 5, 1862, in Louisiana.

reference to William Scovell in the Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865

U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865. Volume II. Serial Set Vol. No. 4611; S.Doc. 234 pt. 2.

Next I found an additional 1895 newspaper article about Scovell.

Liked by Lee and Jackson, Idaho Register newspaper article 18 October 1895

Idaho Register (Idaho Falls, Idaho), 18 October 1895, page 2

This historical newspaper article was wonderful since it explained that Captain Scovell’s services were argued over by Generals Stonewall Jackson and Early, with the decision over Scovell’s assignment coming from General Robert E. Lee himself. It also offered the information that Captain Scovell was one of the CSA officers in charge of the infamous burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, on July 30, 1864.

Then I discovered a real bit of genealogy treasure. In a 1922 newspaper I read a “Succession Notice” for “Mrs. Mary A. Dillon, widow of William T. Scovell.”

succession notice for Mary Dillon, New Orleans States newspaper article 8 January 1922

New Orleans States (New Orleans, Louisiana), 8 January 1922, page 35

This historical succession notice was for the probate of the estate of Mary. I have since sent to Louisiana for instructions and information on how I can access this will and estate file since the old news article wonderfully contains the court name, parish, division, date, file number, deceased, attorney, and executor. What an abundance of information in one short article!

photo of the crypt of William T. Scovell and Mary Dillon in Louisiana

Photo: the Louisiana crypt for William T. Scovell, his wife Mary Dillon, and their family. Credit: from the author’s collection.

From almost nothing I am now deeply involved in learning about our family’s Civil War luminary and it brings me back to the question I asked in the beginning of this article.

Tell me…what is the biggest surprise that you have found doing your genealogy and family history?