Mayflower Heritage: Jack Howland Loved His!

Take pride in your Mayflowerheritage—just like Jack Howland did.

painting: “Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor” by William Halsall, 1882

Painting: “Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor” by William Halsall, 1882. Source: Pilgrim Hall Museum; Wikimedia Commons.

According to Howland’s obituary:

His Mayflower heritage was something that he was immensely proud of. He served as historian and archivist for the Pilgrim John Howland Society for many years. This role allowed him to communicate with fellow descendants from across the country and around the world. Jack was also captain of the Maine Mayflower Society. Annual trips to Plymouth were something that he always enjoyed.

His Mayflower heritage was such a part of him that after high school, when he joined the Navy, he served on the USS Plymouth Rock (LSD-29).

photo of the USS Plymouth Rock underway, 8 April 1963

Photo: USS Plymouth Rock underway, 8 April 1963. Source: Wikipedia.

His obituary went on to say that:

He took particular pleasure in recreating the journey of his ancestor, John Howland, back to Plymouth in 2003 aboard the shallop Elizabeth Tilley. In 2010 he was awarded the Lura Sellew Medal, the highest honor that the Pilgrim John Howland Society bestows for service to the organization and the memory of the pilgrim John Howland.

The Pilgrim John Howland Society is an organization of descendants of John and Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland who were passengers on the Mayflower.

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Remarkably, the home that John and Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland lived in during their old age is still standing. It was the home of their son, Jabez Howland.

photo of the Jabez Howland House in Plymouth, Massachusetts

Photo: Jabez Howland House in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Source: Swampyank;Wikimedia Commons.

According to Wikipedia they both lived in this home:

…after their own house burned. John Howland died in 1674 and Elizabeth lived there until the house was sold in 1680 and Jabez Howland moved to Rhode Island. Elizabeth moved to the home of her daughter, Lydia (Howland) Browne, in Swansea, where she died in 1687.

Take the time to research and document all of the descendants of your Mayflower ancestors.

Search out and read their stories and share them.

You can read Jack’s obituary in the Eagle Tribune (Lawrence, Massachusetts) 2 November 2011.

obituary for Jack Howland, Eagle Tribune newspaper article 2 November 2011

Eagle Tribune (Lawrence, Massachusetts), 2 November 2011

Related Mayflower Ancestry Articles & Resources:

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Your Top Genealogy Challenges & Frustrations

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary shares some of the responses her social media friends gave when she asked the question: “Just what frustrates everyone about genealogy?”

Earlier this year, the GenealogyBank blog published my article “Why Do You Love Genealogy?” The responses were engaging and it was clear that there is a world of genealogy addicts out there. So I decided to query my social media friends again: Just what frustrates everyone about genealogy?

The responses were enlightening and immediate—over 200 responses about the ups and downs of genealogy. Surprisingly, there weren’t as many frustrations about barking up the wrong tree as I imagined. Most were about brick walls, dead-ends, missing information, and how people share or misreport genealogy.

I couldn’t include them all, so have picked some of the more enlightening answers to share. They are grouped by topic and the initials indicate the name of the respondent.

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Brick Walls & Dead Ends

  • 30+ years of researching and I still have the same 3 brick walls! – G.W.

genealogy comment: "30+ years of researching and I still have the same 3 brick walls!"

  • Both (brick walls and dead-ends). – S.A.
  • Definitely both!!! – K.B.
  • Brick wall! – J.H.S.
  • Brick walls, [ancestors] missing from a census, obituary without parents’ names, no death record, obituary that says so-and-so died yesterday and no more, disappearing from all records…to name a few. But none of it deters the obsession. – D.B.
  • Dead ends. – D.G., J.S., M.M., N.S., T.L.M. & V.S.F.
  • Dead ends! People who seem to have appeared out of nowhere. One in particular is Aldenderfer, a name contrived from German meaning “high” or “small” village. So, people from the altendoerf were from the small village: small villages = altendoerfers. So, how do I find the small village in Germany for someone who arrived in the middle 1700s? – V.G.E.
  • I’d swear [Elizabeth] didn’t exist except that she managed to be on 2 censuses after she married. – L.H.
  • For me it’s dead ends, and the fact that conducting a reasonably exhaustive search just seems never to be done, and with so many zillions of places to look. – B.C.
    (My response) “I think the key word is reasonable, although most of us don’t like to stop until we find what we are looking for!”
  • For me, it is the dead ends. My great grandparents had to have had parents and perhaps siblings. Where are you? I’m looking for you! Sigh. – S.E.

genealogy comment: "Where are you? I'm looking for you!" -- Said by every genealogist to their missing ancestors!

  • I’m frustrated with a dead end, although all of the above answers are good answers, too! My great grandma supposedly came to the U.S. from Ireland in 1890 but didn’t marry ’til 1908. There is no record of her in the U.S. for those 18 years…or before that in Ireland. I am beginning to think she has something to hide. My mother describes her as a secretive woman. This is my brick wall. I’m happy to listen to any other theories! I’ve accused her of just about everything! – S.W.P.
  • Keep looking and the dead ends remain… – H.T.
  • Mom’s Grandfather didn’t leave a paper trail to track him. – J.K.
  • My experience has been one brick wall after another. So frustrating! – A.R.
  • I think that feeling of “I’ll find something…just keep looking for it” has kept me looking…so instead of giving it a rest, I keep hitting my own head into the brick wall. – T.L.M.

Locations & Websites That Stymie Researchers

  • Distance. If I could be in those other courthouses and libraries a few hundred miles [away] or across the ocean. – A.G.
  • KY TN AR – H.H.P.
  • Regarding U.S.A., lack of access to needed files and nationwide lack of ability to visit most states to find answers. – J.E.G.
  • Not being able to find a town of origin. – D.H.
  • Researching in New Jersey. – M.P.C.
  • Sites that claim you can search records for free…but you have to pay to actually see the records. – P. L.
  • The difficulty of obtaining records that I know exist because they’re far away or only available in an archive or library that can’t or won’t digitize or do research. – A.G.
  • Venezuela. – M.M.
  • When I absolutely know someone was born and lived in a place but there is no record at all, that’s so frustrating! – L.B.W.

Ancestors’ Names

  • All the common names used over and over again! – K.L.
  • Common names drive me crazy. Go look for a John White from Indiana who served in the Civil War. Or what should be uncommon names like McFetridge that are spelled 600 different ways and sometimes 3 or 4 [ways] on the same document. – B.N.
  • Dealing with [common] surnames…that have SO many branches that are not connected, at least that can be proven! I could have added just about every comment here ahead of me! So frustrating sometimes, but so fun to search and rewarding when you do find something useful! – D.K.B.

genealogy comment: "My biggest genealogy challenge are the many endless generations with the same names!"

  • 7 or 8 different spellings for one person’s first and last names. I can’t find his records in any immigration site. I think he came over in a rowboat. – E.J.K.
  • My two greatest brick walls: [both] shown in only two census records and then poof! – D.R.
  • Endless gens with the same 3 names: William, Robert, and James. – H.H.P.
  • Family using fake names. – I.R.D.
  • Good common names are my nemesis: John Smith, etc. – N.G.
  • I had 2 [men of the same name] born within a few years of each other in the same area. First cousins. I have 5 [others with the same name], of course they are all related to each other and some with close birthdates. And finally, 13 [with the same exact name] all related to each other. Headache keeping them straight! – G.S.O.
  • I have 5 gens with the same two names and each gen had several sons…ALL with the same 3 names. – H.H.P.
  • Last names. One of them is Son and one of the first names is Abraham. Pop that name in Google and you’ll have enough biblical references to keep you busy sorting through until the Second Coming. – D.H.R.
  • Mine are the brick walls AND the same names within the same branch of family. I know it was [a] tradition to name them after relatives, but my god it is murder trying to figure out which John goes with which Mary or Polly. – C.W.W.
  • My biggest frustration is finding a record with the right name/info that is reasonably and plausibly my ancestor, but not being able to verify it with certainty! – K.F.
  • My frustration is that my last name is [common]! – M.Y.
  • Researching a common name of a brick wall family. – D.L.C.
  • My granddad, great granddad and great great granddad are all named William Smith. – G.W.O.
  • I have Smiths too. – D.R.
  • My line, William, has 5 sons, 1 named William, like him. The 5 sons had boys – each named 1 son William (after their Grandfather). Those boys had sons – each named a son William…and it goes on and on and on. – M.O.S.
  • My nightmare is trying to find my Grandma. She was born in Mexico under one name but used a combination of the 2 here in the states. – S.V.
  • Same here, dead ends, and duplicate names! – L.B.W.
  • The names [are common ones] from Ireland. Do you have any idea how many of them there are? And they all have a father named Patrick and a mother named Mary. Argh. – M.C.
  • The same names in the same era, especially with surnames I once thought were weird or unusual. – A.F.
  • My Dad’s last name [is common]…my Mother’s maiden name is Smith. But then, it does make for interesting research! – M.Y.
  • Try working in the 13th century; all men are William and all wives name their daughters
    after themselves and there aren’t last names yet! – P.J.

Other Genealogy Frustrations

  • Cost of these [genealogy] programs…$119 for data search. – A.P.
  • For me it’s the organizing. I’m so focused on finding and saving items that I have to force myself to stop researching and make some organizing sense of it all. – L.T.
  • Organizing. – J.J.
  • What frustrates me most about genealogy? Unlabeled photos! – I.R.

Records (Census)

  • Lack of info…The missing 1890 census. – I.R.D.
  • Yes, the 1890 census. – G.G.T.
  • Oh yes, the missing 1890 census, I was swearing at it earlier today. Also the destroyed Irish Census and other Irish records. I’m finally “across the pond” and am hitting dead ends because of that fire. – S. C.
  • Illiterate people writing down census info. I’ve got some names from NC I can’t even figure out [because of] how they are spelled. Batrass = Beatrice. – D.R.
  • I have to agree with you there too. I couldn’t locate one branch of my husband’s Perry family. I stumbled across them looking for someone else. The census taker had the name listed as Harry. WOW! – C.W.W.
  • Here’s a fun one: I spent ages pulling my hair out trying to find my Grandmother on the 1930 Census, she was 6 years old, there was the whole rest of the family where was she??? Finally I gave up and ordered a copy of her birth certificate, found out she was born in 1933. (She died in ’92, btw.) – S.C.
  • That sounds like you were there for my most recent search on [my] family in Canada. – B.C.

Records (Deciphering)

  • Illegible handwriting drives me insane. Conflicting information is my other pet peeve. – P.R.C.
  • Inability to read a document is frustrating. – T.K.
  • Records that sort-of match up, but not enough to know whether it’s actually the same person. I’ve got relatives that, through the censuses, have a 5- or 6-year span of birth years. – M.H.
  • I like deciphering the old script, inverting a photostat of an aging parish register. I will not let a challenge defeat my research. – A.D.

genealogy comment: "Genealogists do not like to let challenges defeat their research!"

Records & Family Trees (errors, missing and otherwise)

  • All the “winkie winkie” looks between county clerks when they say records were burned. I really think lots of county courthouses just cleaned house and burned them out back. – N.G.
  • Another whammy is when you hit the mother-load of items (cards with names) inside a box wrapped with the memorial book for your great grandfather. But your great grandmother threw away the envelopes for all those cards. The cards that only have first names or last names, some of which appear to be related. – I.R.
  • As it is, because of a fire in ’73, there isn’t much there, but they say he was born [elsewhere], which is the closest I have gotten to his place of birth. – G.W.O.
  • It’s the dumb errors. – M.F.
  • Just to make things more interesting, my granddad lied about both his age and place of birth. If I [hadn’t] stumbled upon his discharge papers, I would never have been able to find any of his military papers. – G.W.O.
  • Knowing that people have sold photos and family bibles to the highest bidder to be used in a craft project. – H.T.
  • My “worst” brick wall is so bad, largely in part to one person making an error on an online tree and then everyone else copying it. So, I guess poor research is my biggest frustration. – S.C.
  • My Great Grandfather’s sibs; I just want pictures! – D.R.
  • One surname is Bryan. Why oh why does everyone want a T on the end??? – D.R.
  • The assumptions people make with no documentation! – K.C.B.

Relatives & Researchers

  • A small gripe…some folks know I do genealogy, and they call and ask about grandma and great grandma. Two days later they call and I think they want more info, but no: my little bit of info, [plus] the Internet, and they say they have the family tree all done now. They spent about a week on it. I’ve been on this quest years…many, many years. – A.G.
  • All the lies that have been told over the years…there’s a never-ending supply. – K.L.
  • Ignore the “lies” or error in research; do your own research, without any preconceived notions. – A.D.

genealogy comment: "Genealogists: do your own research, without any preconceived notions based on the research of others!"

  • Family members that don’t tell you the truth, but [instead] their version of it. – J.B.
  • For me [it] is when I make a connection and people dispute it. – L.J.S.
  • For me it’s fictitious pedigrees others have made using people with the same name or making up lineage to obtain property. – J.E.
  • It’s the fellow “researchers” who won’t reply when you reach out to them with no more intent than to just say “hello, we may be related and pursuing the same goals.” – D.R.
  • My cousin did the same to me, refused to let me know when my great-grandmother died, and my mother has continued to remind me for 34 years [that] I was at the beach and missed the funeral! – S.S.
  • My frustration button is pushed when I send someone all the info and docs and they publish it without any mention of who actually did the research, and then they get treated like a god and won’t acknowledge any of his mistakes…argh. – R.L.
  • Credit where credit is due. – T.K.
  • When someone with a private tree copies info that you have worked very hard to obtain, and when you try to ask them to share their info you hear nothing from them. – M.D.
  • People that don’t share. – M.M.
  • People who don’t share after you have graciously shared with them. – L.M.
  • Relatives that won’t talk or SHARE!!! – L.N.B.
  • Uncooperative family members that refuse to give you information. – C.R.
  • When newly-discovered family members ask for heritage items but can never seem to share with you. – H.P.M.
  • When people deliberately withhold information from you just because they can. – T.J.

Sources (or lack thereof!)

  • Here’s one: newspapers or other articles that are clipped out and no “source” information attached…no date, no city/state, no publication name. I am happy to go find them again…but man, needle in a haystack! Now, [for] every newspaper article I find, I save the full page from the website. – S.C.
  • Posted trees/pedigrees with no valid documentation. – B.E.

Time & Money (not enough hours in the day)

  • For me it’s two things: finding the time to research, and finding the focus. I start with one person, find others who are interesting and leap around. – C.M.N.
  • For me it is my inability to be able to devote enough time at one sitting. I work full-time and have a family so I rarely get more than a couple hours at a time. – R.T.F.
  • Many years and hoops [to jump through] and, yes, the costs. – D.S.B.
  • Not enough time to get it all done, and money to travel for searches. – B.J.A.

Wishing They’d Asked…

  • Not asking my relatives when they were younger about family history; now they’re all gone. – L.B.W. (My response:) “You are so right about that. If we could only ask a few more questions, we’d all be happy!”
  • Not having asked my relatives questions before they died because I wasn’t interested at the time! – G.G.T.
  • Not having my grandparents and parents around to share it with. – L.C.
  • It makes you question the information that you have. In my case it’s my paternal grandmother and her entire line. All I have is a handwritten piece of paper that my Dad apparently wrote (I was a teenager when he died and I had no idea until after his death that it even existed). – T.L.M.
  • Totally agree, 3 of [my] Grandparents died before I was smart enough to realize I should ask and record the answers. My remaining Grandma gets grilled every visit, tape recorder on! Although, the tall tales some of my relatives passed along are sometimes more frustrating than not having information from them. – S.C.

A Few Last Remarks!

  • What is reasonable to a perfectionist and genealogist? And I would wager that most of us that consider ourselves even amateur genealogists are raging perfectionists. – B.C.

genealogy comment: "I would wager that most genealogists are raging perfectionists!"

  • My greatest gift was my maternal grandmother who lived to 102 and knew everyone’s business in her country neighborhood. We were related to most of them! She loved to tell all about them. I sure miss her. – N.G.
  • The greatest frustration in this, my remaining years, is the disinterest in [our] ancestors of those who share my ancestry. It’s a risk. – T.K.
  • I’ve been hunting for the 20th century death of a family member for almost a year. Got it today – I’m smiling! – A.D.
  • What frustrates me about genealogy? ALL OF THE ABOVE! – D.R.

Got any more genealogy challenges or frustrations to add? Share them with us in the comments.

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How to Standardize Your Geographic Locations

You’ve been working on your family history for years and have gathered a lot of information.

You keep careful notes and are consistent in putting down full bibliographic citations so that others may quickly know where you found each of your facts.

But—how are you adding the places of birth, marriage or death for your ancestors?

Photo showing the view of Elm Street in Manchester, New Hampshire, looking south

Photo: View of Elm Street in Manchester, New Hampshire, looking south. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s a tip: write out the complete geographic location for each event.

Instead of writing:
Manchester, NH

You want to render it as:
Manchester, Hillsborough, New Hampshire, United States

Also acceptable:
Manchester, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, United States

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What you want to avoid are abbreviations, because they can often be misunderstood.

For example: which state has the abbreviation AR?
Is that Arizona? Arkansas? No, it can’t be Arkansas—isn’t that AK?

Actually, Arizona is AZ, Arkansas is AR and Alaska is AK.

It’s easy to know if you use those geo location abbreviations often, but when we don’t we often have to look the abbreviation up to get it right.

Over the history of the United States, abbreviations have not always been consistent. People used any abbreviation that seemed correct to them. Newspapers often used an unconventional abbreviation, such as Con for Connecticut. We’re not accustomed to that today—but it must have been acceptable over a century ago.

The accepted style for writing geographic locations is to not use abbreviations and to include the name of the county and of the country. Use the corresponding geographical jurisdictions when documenting places in other countries.

You never want to simply enter the name of the town.

For example, don’t just use: Haverhill.

You understand where that is.
Many of your family lived there—but will other relatives know where that is?
What if your relative now lives across the country—will they recognize where Haverhill is?

Is that Haverhill, Essex, Massachusetts, United States—or, not far away, Haverhill, Grafton, New Hampshire, United States?

Why include the name of the country?
Now that genealogy has gone global, it is customary to include the name of the country to make the entries more precise.

When genealogists are less familiar with the geography, having it spelled out is helpful.

For example:
Sydney (or)
Sydney, Cumberland, New South Wales

Most of us would instantly recognize this is in Australia, but could it be misunderstood as somehow being part of Wales?

Enter it as:
Sydney, Cumberland, New South Wales, Australia—then there is no misunderstanding.

Make your family history crystal clear.

Use the town, county, state and country to describe all of the localities in your family history.

Let’s be consistent in all of our records and leave a clear record that everyone will easily understand.

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Are You Celebrating Mother-in-Law Day?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to learn more about a special day coming up this Sunday: Mother-in-Law Day.

They say that there is a holiday for everything—so it should come as no surprise that Mother-in-Law Day is a time-honored tradition, at least in parts of Texas.

Modeled on the more-familiar counterparts of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Mother-in-Law Day was the inspiration of newspaper editor Gene Howe of Amarillo, Texas. He apparently adored his wife’s mother and, using the power of the press, created this special day in her honor.

However, many unkind rumors exist about its origins.

One is that it was started after Mr. Howe discovered his mother-in-law in tears about an unkind remark printed in his newspaper. Mrs. W. F. Donald, his wife’s mother, denied this, so the original story is true—Mr. Howe just had a natural affection for this kind woman in his life.

His mother-in-law said:

Gene never did anything to offend me in his life. I’ve lived with the Howes for fourteen years, and he’s the finest son-in-law anywhere.

article about Mother-in-Law Day, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 26 December 1937

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 26 December 1937, page 4

The first observance was on 5 March 1934 in Amarillo. Two years later Texas Governor James V. Allred signed a proclamation making the special day a statewide observance.

article about Mother-in-Law Day, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 5 March 1936

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 5 March 1936, page 11

Mother-in-Law Day was moved to the fourth Sunday in October—which is this upcoming Sunday.

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So what is the perfect gift for a mother-in-law? Certainly none of those unkind jokes floating around the universe. If I had to pick one special present, it would be an outing with family, and especially our little granddaughter. Of course, your mother-in-law may prefer timeless favorites such as a nice card, flowers or chocolates which are always in vogue!

So don’t forget to honor your mother-in-law in a special way—and if you can, please let us know how her day went.

article about mothers-in-law, Evening Star newspaper article 5 April 1938

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 5 April 1938, page 33

Some of you may be wondering if there is a Father-in-Law Day. Yes there is. It’s always on July 30.

Perhaps you missed it—so this year be sure to mark your calendar for Mother-in-Law Day this Sunday, October 26, and also add next year’s counterpart for the kind father-in-law in your life.

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Annie Edson Taylor: 1st Person to Barrel down Niagara Falls

For years, male daredevils had gained fame and fortune by daring to brave the rapids near Niagara Falls while floating in barrels—being very careful not to go over. However, it was a destitute, widowed, female school teacher who took the ultimate plunge: on 24 October 1901 Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Although suffering a scalp wound and some bruises, she survived her daring feat without any broken bones—but, as noted in the newspaper article below, she was “somewhat hysterical” after taking her plunge. And little wonder!

photo of Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel

Photo: Annie Edson Taylor. Source: Francis J. Petrie Photograph Collection; Wikimedia Commons.

Taylor claimed to be in her 40s, but her historic adventure actually occurred on her 63rd birthday. In front of a mocking crowd she went over the falls in a large pickle barrel, using cushions for padding. The press reported her astonishing feat, and she went on a speaking tour to capitalize on her sudden fame. Sadly, that fame proved fleeting and no fortune rewarded her efforts; she died poor at the age of 82 on 29 April 1921 at the Niagara County Infirmary.

article about Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, Boston Journal newspaper article 25 October 1901

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 October 1901, page 1

The old newspaper article reported:

“Niagara Falls, N.Y., Oct. 24.—Mrs. Annie Edson Taylor, 50 years old, went over Niagara Falls on the Canadian side this afternoon and survived, a feat never before accomplished and, indeed, never attempted except in the deliberate commission of suicide. She made the trip in a barrel. Not only did she survive, but she escaped without a broken bone, her only apparent injuries being a scalp wound one and one-half inches long, a slight concussion of the brain, slight shock to her nervous system and bruises about the body. She was conscious when taken out of the barrel. The doctors in attendance upon her tonight said that, though she was somewhat hysterical, her condition is not at all serious and that she probably will be out of bed within a few days.

To the Abyss and Over

“Mrs. Taylor’s trip covered a mile ride through the Canadian rapids before she reached the brink of the precipice. Her barrel, stanch as a barrel could be made, was twirled and tossed and buffeted through those delirious waters but escaped serious contact with rocks. As it passed through the smoother, swifter waters that rushed over into the abyss it rode in an almost perpendicular position with its upper half out of the water. As it passed over the brink it rode at an angle of about 45 degrees on the outer surface of the deluge and descended as gracefully as a barrel can descend to the white foaming waters 158 feet below. True to her calculations, the anvil fastened to the bottom of the barrel kept it foot downward, and so it landed. Had it turned over and landed on its head, Mrs. Taylor’s head must have been crushed in and her neck broken.

After the Drop

“The ride through the rapids occupied 18 minutes. It was 4:23 o’clock when the barrel took its leap. It could not be seen as it struck the water below, because of the spray, but in less than half a minute after it passed over the brink it was seen on the surface of the scum-covered water below the falls. It was carried swiftly down to the green water beyond the scum, then half-way to the Maid of the Mist Landing. It was caught in what is known as the Maid of the Mist Eddy and held there until it floated so close to the shore that it was reached by means of a pole and hook and drawn in upon the rocks, at 4:40 o’clock or 17 minutes after it shot the cataract.

“Ten minutes later the woman was lifted from the barrel, and half an hour later she lay on a cot on First Street, in Niagara Falls, on the American side.

“She thanked God she was alive, thanked all who had helped her in any way, said she would never do it again, but that she was not sorry she had done it, ‘if it would help her financially.’

Few Moments Unconscious

“She said she had prayed all during the trip except during ‘a few moments’ of unconsciousness just after her descent. The barrel in which Mrs. Taylor made the journey is 4½ feet high and about 3 feet in diameter. A leather harness and cushions inside protected her body. Air was secured through a rubber tube connected with a small opening near the top of the barrel.

“Mrs. Taylor is a school teacher and recently came here from Bay City, Mich.”

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To date she is the first and only woman to ever go down Niagara Falls in a barrel.

article about Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, Centre Daily Times newspaper article 12 January 1976

Centre Daily Times (State College, Pennsylvania), 12 January 1976, page 7

Did any of your female ancestors pull off a remarkable daredevil stunt that made the news? Tell us about them in the comments section.

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Edgar Allan Poe’s Death as Mysterious as His Stories

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan describes the puzzling circumstances surrounding the death of writer Edgar Allan Poe, a real-life story as mysterious and macabre as any tale or poem he ever wrote.

Edgar Allan Poe died 7 October 1849 after a mysterious medical condition that lasted several days prior to his demise. Nearly two hundred years later most people have heard of Edgar Allan Poe, and many have experienced the thrill of reading one of his stories of mystery and the macabre. He was the inventor of the detective story, whom even Sherlock Holmes’s author honored. Poe’s literary style was not moralistic or allegorical. He told a story simply for the thrill of the story.

But the story of his final days is also a thriller full of mystery and confusion. Let’s examine some of the documentation and discussion of the mystique around his death.

portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, Evening Star newspaper article 18 January 1931

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 18 January 1931, page 78

What Happened to Poe?

There are multiple accounts of Poe’s last days. Although he had been feeling unwell for some time, he was rekindling a romance with his childhood sweetheart—and things seemed to be going well in his life. However, on 3 October 1849—Election Day—he was found in a Baltimore street gutter in a disheveled and incoherent state. He was in clothes that did not belong to him and was unable to account for his current state. The friend that found him took him to the hospital where, after several days of illness and incoherency, he died on the 7th of October. He was 40 years old.

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Many believed that he was drunk, but there is some dispute on whether or not he smelled of alcohol. Other theories, historical and modern, include: “delirium tremens, heart disease, epilepsy, syphilis, meningeal inflammation, cholera, and rabies.”* Poe was also an acidic literary critic and it has been suggested that something malicious could have happened to him as a result.

There was one person, Dr. John Joseph Moran, who remained with him during the extent of his brief hospital stay. However, this man’s story changed over time—a story he gave in exchange for money—and the last words he claimed Poe uttered (“Lord, help my poor soul”) didn’t seem plausible to his friends and were unlikely in his medical condition. These things lead one to question the reliability of this source.

Missing Records

Tragically, all documentation during Poe’s last days, including hospital records and even his death certificate, are missing. What is still existent are newspaper articles, both contemporary and reflective. In the following article, written 100 years after his death, the reporter tried to trace the last days of Poe. He also tried to incorporate nearly every theory of his death into one.

article about the death of Edgar Allan Poe, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 2 October 1949

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 2 October 1949, page 79

Unfortunately, the statements given are not cited or even attributed, making it impossible to evaluate their accuracy. Without more information it is hard to tell what is first-hand (primary) information and what is second-hand information—or even intentional mythology. But it makes for interesting reading.

Rufus Griswold

Poe appears to have been a polarizing character. He had staunch friends and bitter enemies. Many of these people were prolific writers and had great influence. Some of these enemies, especially Rufus Griswold, took advantage of the inexplicable circumstances surrounding Poe’s death to assassinate his character. Griswold was a contemporary writer with whom Poe had repeated interaction, including possibly a love rivalry. Poe had been critical of Griswold’s work, and “Griswold succeeded Poe as editor of Graham’s Magazine at a higher salary than Poe’s.”**

Griswold seems to have undertaken a calculated attack against Poe after his death. His disparaging obituary written under the pseudonym “Ludwig” went viral and left a lasting scar on Poe’s public image (see article below). Many people, even today, have been hoodwinked by Griswold’s depiction of Poe as a wild, depraved drunk who happened to write chilling horror stories. Some feel that this scandalous image helps to make his writings even more thrilling.

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Griswold cruelly began the obituary:

Edgar Allan Poe is dead…This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it. He had readers…but he had few or no friends.

obituary for Edgar Allan Poe, Enquirer newspaper article 16 October 1849

Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 16 October 1849, page 4

Farewells from Friends & Fans

Not everyone was of the same mind as Griswold. A more complimentary article announcing his death opined:

Mr Poe was equally remarkable for his genius and his acquirements…He had acquired accomplishments rarely attained by men far more advanced in years.

obituary for Edgar Allan Poe, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 23 October 1849

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 23 October 1849, page 1

Another writer naively stated:

His literary abilities were unquestionable; and had they been properly chastened and exerted under the guidance of a clear heart and head, he might have left a name among the first upon the list of those who have enriched American literature with productions of lasting interest and value.

obituary for Edgar Allan Poe, Boston Evening Transcript newspaper article 9 October 1849

Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, Massachusetts), 9 October 1849, page 2

While it was generally assumed that Poe had drunk himself to death, his friend actively defended his sobriety. He had struggled with excessive drinking in the past, but had been under control for some time and had even signed a sobriety pledge shortly prior to his death. While it is possible he fell off the wagon, there are witnesses who say his breath and person did not smell of alcohol.

article about Edgar Allan Poe, Portland Daily Advertiser newspaper article 20 October 1849

Portland Daily Advertiser (Portland, Maine), 20 October 1849, page 2

Who Was the Real Edgar?

So who was Edgar Allan Poe really? Was he a depraved drunk? Was he a troubled man? From my readings, Poe emerges as a sympathetic character with literary genius and a challenging life surrounded by the untimely deaths of many of those closest to him, including his father, mother, wife, and close friends. He dealt with these challenges and with the artist’s stereotypical mood-swings using escapism: gambling, drinking, and running away when he perceived it necessary. He had strong opinions about his trade and was fearless in their expression. He needed to be loved. His writing remains influential and he was one of the first authors to attempt supporting himself on his pen alone. It is highly unfortunate that more original documentation about his life does not survive to give us a clearer picture of him.

Perhaps a fitting tribute would be to read one of his stories this Halloween, or perhaps print and frame a copy of one of his famous poems from a newspaper article? Make sure you peruse through the Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser which published some of Poe’s earliest poetry.

Here’s an example, this one from a Vermont newspaper.

poem "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, Vermont Phoenix newspaper article 28 February 1845

Vermont Phoenix (Brattleboro, Vermont), 28 February 1845, page 1

Genealogy Challenge:

Investigate the newspaper archives and sleuth for more clues surrounding Poe’s mysterious death. Please share you finds with us in the comments.

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* Unless otherwise attributed, all information comes from old newspapers and Wikipedia’s article, “Edgar Allan Poe”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Allan_Poe, accessed October 2014.
** Wikipedia’s article, “Rufus Wilmot Griswold”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rufus_Wilmot_Griswold, accessed October 2014.

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Salvatore Buchetto’s Obituary Celebrates His Well-Lived Life

Obituaries often celebrate lives well lived—but rarely with the enthusiasm this recent obituary does.

obituary for Salvatore Buchetto, Advocate newspaper article 17 October 2014

Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 17 October 2014

You’ll want to read the full copy of this one. Click here: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/stamfordadvocate/obituary.aspx?n=salvatore-buchetto&pid=172835303&fhid=11211#sthash.f8Roq5Qv.dpuf

His obituary states: “Sal measured out at 73 1/2 inches, and a bouncing 232 pounds, 9 ounces.”

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After reading a few lines from Salvatore’s obituary, you quickly realize that he was someone very special to many people.

His newspaper obituary reports:

For 39 years, an eccentric, electric force of nature in the Stamford Public Schools, beloved by classes and respected by peers, teaching science at Burdick and Cloonan Middle Schools. His performance in front of the blackboard was the stuff of legend, often extending out of the classroom to capture the imagination of students and fellow teachers. A Mad Scientist and Arm Wrestling Champion on the school stage, he was famous for memorable experiments that combined sports cars and mannequins; leaf-blowers and popsicle stick houses; a bed of nails and school principals; and rooftops and egg drops.

Sal Buchetto was a father, a grandfather, a very popular teacher—and a childhood friend of mine. His family lived just behind our house. We called him “Chuck.” There was a gang of 3-5 of us. We’d cut through his yard, go across the street, cut through another yard, then through the woods, get through a hole in the fence, then through another yard and down through that street—and on to school.

We were everywhere—building forts, afterschool sports and tracking the moons of Jupiter on our telescopes. I still have that telescope; I don’t think I’ve used it for over 50 years.

One day his Mom had us over for dinner.
She served pasta, on huge plates.
She filled the plate.

I thought: this is great—a huge amount of food.
She asked if we wanted more, so I said: yes.
She filled the plate again.
Wow. Two helpings, each about the size of the serving bowl we’d get at home.
Great—what a meal.

But wait—there’s more.
She then brought out the main course.
More? I was already stuffed.
Wasn’t the pasta the main course?

Well, no.
Out came the chicken, then there was another main course—a third course? Sausage, more meat, salad…an endless stream of food.
Then dessert.

Wow.

The Buchettos had a living room that no one was allowed to enter—except THAT day.
All of the furniture was white.
The couches were covered in plastic.
It was like a museum, but that day his Mom let us go in—and there it was: their brand new color TV!

Wow—television in color. How good was that!
We watched Bonanza—yeah, a little grainy—but it was in color.
What would they think of next?

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Here’s a transcription of Salvatore Buchetto’s obituary:

Buchetto, Salvatore R.

“Salvatore Robert Buchetto lived, larger than life, from October 12, 1948 through October 15, 2014. For 39 years, he was an eccentric, electric force of nature in the Stamford Public Schools, beloved by classes and respected by peers, teaching science at Burdick and Cloonan Middle Schools. His performance in front of the blackboard was the stuff of legend, often extending out of the classroom to capture the imagination of students and fellow teachers. A Mad Scientist and Arm Wrestling Champion on the school stage, he was famous for memorable experiments that combined sports cars and mannequins; leaf-blowers and popsicle stick houses; a bed of nails and school principals; and rooftops and egg drops.

“The son of Peter and Ann Buchetto, Sal was born in and grew up in Stamford. He graduated from Southern Connecticut University with a BS in Science, and followed that up by earning two Masters in education, one each from Southern Connecticut University and the University of Bridgeport. After retiring from Stamford schools, Sal would return to both his universities, schooling the next generation of teachers in his Graduate Education Classes. His marathon, free-form sessions left his audience on the edge of their seat — hesitant to take a bathroom break for fear of missing a single educational, entertaining word of his considerable experience and unique techniques.

“He is survived by family who were ever amazed and energized by his vitality: his wife Toni, daughter Kamera Dukes and granddaughter Michaela Dukes; and good family friend Abraham Davis; Sal’s sister Vita Chichester and her sons and their families: Dan, Jenn and Lucas; Keith, Tracy, Sammi and Lia; Peter, Jessica, Max, Nicole and Zack; nephew Mark Servidio and his family; sister in law Rita Orgera and her children: Ryan, Alexis and Kendall; sister-and-brother-in-law Aly and Dan McNamara, and their children and families: Tyler, Casey, Brian and Zoe; and Sara, Kyle and Cole; brother-in-law Bill Ruedaman; and sister-in-law Kim Orgera, her daughter Tessa and her children: Chance, Yancy and Dylan. Sal now joins his son Kris in heaven. Sal was also predeceased by his brother in law Daniel Chichester, Sr.; his sister Rachel and brother-in-law Babe Servidio; his brother Peter Buchetto; and brother in law Bo Orgera.

“Devoted to a malfunctioning series of TR-6 autos, Sal single-handedly supported the used parts industry for that model over the years. An accomplished photographer, his “Photography by Salvatore” business captured the romance of hundreds of newly wedded couples. He supported Native American causes through his visits to state casinos, and was widely-read through his frequent contributions to the Stamford Advocate editorial page on a wide variety of serious and satirical topics. In tribute to Sal, it’s rumored that big screen TVs across the state will be dimmed to half-brightness, and take-out cups of coffee will be served only half full. (It is expected that profits at County TV, Best Buy, Dunkin Donuts and Donut Delight will drop significantly.) Sal was a long time member of Grace Evangelical Church on Courtland Avenue, and loved Jesus.

“There will be a visitation at Cloonan Middle School auditorium this Sunday, October 19th, from 2 to 4 PM. A memorial service will immediately follow from 4 to 5:15 PM, conducted by Pastor Scott Taylor. The family requests those attending to dress in festive red, white and blue.

“Mr. Buchetto’s dynamic, unmatchable influence lives on through the countless students whose lives he inspired over 4 decades. Sal measured out at 73 1/2 inches, and a bouncing 232 pounds, 9 ounces. To leave an online condolence please visit www.leopgallagherstamford.com

Obituaries in newspapers provide us with rich genealogical information, personal stories and life details like no other source.

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Odd & Hilarious Names: You Responded with Your Funniest Finds

Last week, we posed this question to our GenealogyBank friends on Facebook: “What’s the funniest name or surname you’ve ever come across?”

Well, your responses were wonderful: 98 of you have commented so far sharing your funniest name finds! We enjoyed some laughs reading these names so much that we decided to compile them into one list to give everyone a chuckle. Some of these people’s names seem too outlandish or funny to be real—but, time and again, you appended messages swearing that this is “really, truly” a name you’ve encountered in your family history research.

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Here is that list of funny names—and thank you all, readers, for sharing these crazy names with us. The parents of these people clearly had a sense of humor! If anyone reading this has more funny names to contribute, please join in on the fun by posting them in the comments section below or on Facebook. (Keep the names family-friendly, please.)

And we couldn’t leave without contributing one hilarious name we encountered while doing research in this 1799 Massachusetts newspaper. Joseph Maxfeld ran an ad announcing the dissolution of his partnership—with a man named Preserved Fish!

ad announcing the dissolution of the firm Fish and Maxfeld, Columbian Courier newspaper advertisement, 1 May 1799

Columbian Courier (New Bedford, Massachusetts), 1 May 1799, page 1

Here’s the list of odd and funny names you shared:

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Do You Celebrate Birthday Traditions Like Your Ancestors Did?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find stories about birthday traditions celebrated by our ancestors.

Chances are you celebrate some of your birthday traditions the way your ancestors did—and not just extravagant gatherings with cakes, balloons and presents. Many cultures have unique and fun ways to commemorate a birthday.

photo of a Chinese birthday party

Photo: Chinese birthday party. Source: Library of Congress.

Birthday Traditions

This list of birthday traditions came from the following websites:

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Birthday traditions around the world:

  • Do you pull one’s earlobes for each year of one’s life? Then you might come from Argentina.
  • Does your family host barbeques with fairy bread for the children? Then you may have Australian roots.
  • Is a one-year-old surrounded with toys and watched to see which one is picked first? In China, the selection is said to represent a future life pursuit. The child typically receives gifts with tigers which are said to protect children, and noodles are served at lunch.
  • Do you receive a cake shaped like a man? Then perhaps you are connected to Denmark.
  • Is a girl’s 15th birthday celebrated with a waltz, 14 young dancing couples and a new pair of shoes from her father? This is reported to be a tradition in Ecuador.
  • How about a wooden wreath placed on a table with candles representing your age during a Geburtstagsparty (birthday party)? This is common in Germany.
  • In many Hispanic cultures there are fiestas, complete with traditional food and piñatas filled with candy. Guests take turns trying to break it open with a stick while blindfolded.
  • The Irish are known to tip a child upside down and bump him/her gently on the floor.
  • In Jordan, many make a wish while cutting the cake with the wrong side of the knife.
  • In parts of Russia, pies are baked with greetings carved into the crust.
  • In Vietnam, a birthday is called a tet, and it is said that many celebrate them on New Year’s Day rather than on the actual birthday.

This boy celebrated his third birthday with a piñata.

article about Tony Perez's birthday party, Prensa newspaper article 12 October 1945

Prensa (San Antonio, Texas), 12 October 1945, page 2

Birthdays of Leaders, Presidents & Royalty in the News

Early reports in newspapers focus more on celebrations of leaders and royalty than ordinary citizens. The birthdays of presidents, and in particular George Washington, were frequently observed with parades and special dinners. At least one party was held at a tavern in his honor. This 1782 newspaper article notes that the entertainment for Washington’s birthday was elegant, and the whole festivity was conducted with exquisite propriety and decorum. One can almost imagine the toasts said in his name!

article about a celebration for George Washington's birthday, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 21 February 1782

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 21 February 1782, page 2

This earlier article from 1711 notes a special present for the Prince of Prussia’s mother—she was to receive a thousand ducats annually “on the Birth-day of the young Prince.”

article about the birthday of Frederick William, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 21 May 1711

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 21 May 1711, page 2

This is one of my favorite birthday announcements. In 1820 the Emperor of Russia issued an imperial Ukase abolishing all the war taxes that had been imposed eight years earlier.

article about the Emperor of Russia's birthday, Arkansas Weekly Gazette newspaper article 20 May 1820

Arkansas Weekly Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 20 May 1820, page 3

Researching Birthdays of Our Ancestors

Although GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives search page doesn’t have a specific category for birthdays, you can be successful by searching for ancestors in other ways. A fun way is to research a celebration in the Photos & Illustrations category.

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If you get lucky, you’ll find a photo of a child or adult and a description of the birthday festivities. Try entering your ancestor’s name and then include “birthday” in the keyword field.

Many accounts, including this one for Miss Cora Van Fleet’s 17th birthday party, include a list of attendees.

article about Cora Van Fleet's birthday, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 1 November 1914

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 1 November 1914, page 21

Since early newspapers rarely described birthdays for ordinary citizens, also try searching for descriptions of parties within news article stories. Although this account from 1833 was entirely from the author’s imagination, one can appreciate the frivolity and excitement one might feel from receiving a birthday party invitation delivered by sleigh.

article about Aura's birthday, Salem Gazette newspaper article 15 October 1833

Salem Gazette (Salem, Massachusetts), 15 October 1833, page 1

Coming of Age Parties

If your ancestors celebrated a coming of age party, such as a quinceanera (15th birthday party for Mexican females) or Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah (Jewish parties typically at age 12 or 13), you may find accounts in the papers, including Henry Sahlein’s from 1863.

article about Henry Sahlein's barmitzvah, Jewish Messenger newspaper article 16 January 1863

Jewish Messenger (New York, New York), 16 January 1863, page 21

And finally, I’ll leave you with this happy image, to remind us all how much fun birthday parties can be!

photo of Norma Horydczak and friends at her 8th-year birthday party

Photo: Norma Horydczak and friends at her 8th-year birthday party. Source: Library of Congress.

Do you have a special tradition to celebrate birthdays in your family? If so, please share it with us in the comments section.

Related Articles about Births & Birthdays:

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Remembering the Young: Children’s Death Records in the News

I was reading this old newspaper and noticed that obituary after obituary was for young children.

children's obituaries, Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics newspaper article 28 August 1875

Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 28 August 1875, page 3

So many reports of very young children dying early deaths in this old newspaper article:

  • Martha Banks, aged 1 year, 11 months and 2 days
  • Arthur Lincoln Vaughan, aged 6 months and 12 days
  • Caroline E. Hein, aged 11 months and 13 days

August 1875 was clearly a brutal month for children and their families in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

It is so tragic that their lives ended at such a young age.

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It would be easy for this information to be lost, leaving these children’s short lives forgotten. It’s comforting to know that I can find these death records in GenealogyBank, knowing that these youngest members of the family will not be lost to the family history we are compiling—that their lives, though painfully short, are permanently recorded in the family tree.

Because newspaper editors were so good about including their age in years, months and days, it is easy to compute their dates of birth from the information contained in the death records.

Make every effort to find and document every person in your family tree.

We can do this.

Related Articles about Genealogy Research and Children:

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