The Polygamist’s Wife: The Story of My Favorite Ancestor Mary Ann

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about her favorite ancestor Mary Ann, a Mormon who married a polygamist when she was 15 years old, in 1868.

Do you have a favorite ancestor? Maybe it’s that one ancestor you love to research because of all the great documents you find about his or her life. Or perhaps it’s a more recent ancestor that was alive when you were a child.

old photographs from the author's collection

Old photographs from the author’s collection

When someone asks me about my favorite ancestor it’s hard for me to choose just one. But there is one ancestor that is responsible for me loving family history as a child and my eventual career as a genealogist.

My maternal grandmother’s paternal grandmother, Mary Ann Smith McNeil, has always been important to me. My grandmother told me stories of her grandmother’s life, a life story that rivals any Hollywood movie. Maybe that’s why my grandmother spent time telling me about Mary Ann. Perhaps my grandmother knew that it would ultimately plant a seed that would continue to grow within me and lead me on a genealogical journey.

Let me tell you a little about Mary Ann’s life. She was born on 2 July 1853 in Newton Heath, England, to William Smith and Mary Hibbert Smith. At the age of two years she sailed to America along with her family and other English Mormon converts. When Mary Ann was nine years old they migrated across the United States to Utah. She was married at age 15 years to a polygamist who was 45 years old. At the age of 16 she became a mother.

Polygamy is a controversial subject. My grandmother would tell me about Mary Ann’s life as a polygamist’s wife and suffice it to say it was difficult. The stories of this life (please remember that the Mormon Church ceased practicing polygamy in 1890) captivated me as I thought about what it must have been like to have been so young and married.

But this isn’t a story about polygamy. That’s an article for another time. This is the story of a woman who was just an everyday ancestor. Just like most of your female ancestors, Mary Ann was an everyday person; some would label her “just a housewife.” But she left a great paper trail.

That paper trail starts with the obvious records: marriage records, a death certificate, and birth certificates for children. Like many women, Mary Ann’s work for her church was important, and so her name is found in church histories and records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ female auxiliary, the Relief Society.

But here’s the great thing about living in the modern age of Genealogy 2.0. Digitized genealogy records are always being added online. This means continued, reasonably exhaustive Internet searching is crucial in order to find the latest information available about your ancestor.

One of the family stories I had heard was that during World War II, Mary Ann appeared in newspaper articles touting the large number of descendants she had serving in the war. A biography compiled by her great-grandson Herbert A. Hancock describes newspaper articles that appeared nationwide reporting on her 5 grandsons and 17 great-grandsons serving in the war (later the number of her descendants serving in the military would grow to a total of 25). These newspaper articles about her family’s patriotism started appearing around the celebration of her 90th birthday and were picked up by a number of newspapers nationwide proclaiming her family’s “great contribution to the cause of freedom.”(Legacy of Faith, compiled by Herbert A. Hancock, pg. 364.)

I was always curious about these old newspaper articles. Prior to digitized newspapers being made available online, it was very difficult to find them. However, a search today on GenealogyBank shows some of these articles, one of which appeared in a newspaper not too far from where I, her great-great granddaughter, live.

Nonagenarian 'Ancestor," San Diego Union newspaper article 4 June 1944

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 4 June 1944, page 31

Sometimes it’s the human interest stories that get our seemingly everyday ancestor written up in the newspaper. GenealogyBank’s search engine allows us to search for ancestors whether they are mentioned in a hometown newspaper or in several papers around the country. These articles are something I would miss if I limited my search to where Mary Ann lived in Arizona. Her life is a great reminder that ordinary people, including housewives, had stories written about them and that these stories can provide us wonderfully rich information about our families.

Not too bad for a woman who was “just a housewife.”

The Social Columns: Mrs. Smith Is Visiting Her Parents in New Mexico

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how much valuable family history information can be found in newspapers’ social columns.

Newspapers report important events and breaking news on the local, national and international level. They document accidents, crimes, politics, and natural disasters. They also report on the rich and famous, the infamous, and politicians. Many people have an assumption that only “famous” or “important” people are written about in the newspaper. Some people assume that their ancestor’s name would never be found in the newspaper because they were “just farmers”—no one special.

But of course, everyday people’s lives are recorded in newspapers, with many articles documenting births, marriages, and deaths. Ordinary people’s stories can also be found in other parts of the paper. Newspapers document their community, both the good times and the bad. They report everything from who owes back taxes and epidemic victims’ names, to legal notices and school achievements. Many of a town’s small goings-on can be found in the local newspaper’s social columns.

I love the social columns of the newspaper. This is the section that names community members and reports on their everyday lives. Think of it as Twitter for an earlier generation.

According to the online article “Using Newspapers for Genealogical Research” available from the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library in Indiana, one type of newspaper article that is especially helpful to genealogists is the “social items, such as notices of visitors from out of town; visits of local people to other places; birthday parties and their attendees; illnesses; community events, contests, and holiday celebrations and their participants; notices of residents who have moved to other locations; etc.”

There can be great genealogical benefits to searching a social news column, especially around the time of an ancestor’s death. Once as I was researching a death for a client the social column reported the illness of the client’s ancestor, the update on her illness, her death, and then mentioned that the deceased’s son was coming to the funeral. All great family information that was not recorded anywhere else.

Consider the following social news column, which records everything from the names of people visiting, to who won awards and who is ill.

Social News, Plaindealer newspaper article 30 October 1931

Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas), 30 October 1931, page 6

Some of the details we learn in this historical news article:

  • “Miss Muriel Carney, 1041 Grand avenue, left Sunday for Chicago to visit her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. T. G. Thompson.”
  • “Mrs. Marvel of Albuquerque, N. Mexico, is visiting with her daughter, Mrs. Curtis Burton and Mr. Burton.”
  • “Miss Marie Hicks and Mrs. Bessie King spent Thursday in Tongonxie, Kansas, visiting their mother, Mrs. Mary Hicks.”

While these social postings typically fill up a column or two in the newspaper, sometimes a newspaper devotes much more space to the social goings-on in its community. Consider the following social column; it takes up a page and a half and includes social news from various nearby communities.

Society, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 29 June 1902

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 29 June 1902, section III, page 2

The reporting on several communities in the above social column serves as a good reminder that news of your ancestors may not be limited to just their town’s newspaper. A larger regional newspaper may also carry news from surrounding communities. Genealogically rich information can be gleaned from this Minnesota paper’s large social column, including birth notices, business openings, and out-of-town visitors.

Social news columns provide not only a glimpse of the comings and goings of your ancestors but they can also provide information on genealogical facts. As you search newspapers, don’t limit yourself to obituaries. Check out social columns to learn more about your ancestors and their lives.

Our Online Newspaper Archives Keep Growing & Growing..

GenealogyBank adds more content to its online historical newspaper archives every day, a continuous effort to provide more birth notices, wedding announcements, obituaries, and local news stories to help with your family history research.

Historical Newspapers Archives Collage from GenealogyBank.com

Here is a list of just 3,100 of the back issues of six newspapers that we will be adding to our online newspaper archives in the next month. That’s over 122,000 pages of newsprint—and as impressive as that is, it’s only a fraction of the newspapers that are being added online for your genealogy research.

State City Newspaper

Issues

Pages

Start

End

District of Columbia Washington (DC) Evening Star

136

1,869

1/1/1896

8/12/1896

Illinois Evanston Northwestern

156

2,855

1/16/1891

6/14/1900

Massachusetts Boston Boston Herald

1,303

72,084

11/8/1953

7/31/1963

North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Record

147

6,295

10/1/1962

3/16/1984

Ohio Cincinnati Cincinnati Post

754

12,994

1/3/1916

10/31/1922

Virginia Richmond Richmond Times Dispatch

610

26,180

1/7/1939

12/31/1952

Total

3,106

122,277

Earthquake! Newspapers Record Destruction in California History

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how historical newspapers provide excellent coverage of disasters such as earthquakes, including detailed casualty lists helpful to genealogists.

Living in California as I do, earthquakes are a fact of life. Because of their suddenness and intensity, earthquakes can be a terrifying event to experience. When the shaking begins your mind starts racing, wondering when the earthquake will stop. Seconds feel like minutes. An automatic reaction to an earthquake is to run to safety. I remember during one trembler a few years ago yelling to my kids not to run down the stairs. Earthquakes can kill—so too can the panicked actions of those experiencing the earthquake.

It goes without saying that our ancestors experienced devastating natural disasters as well. My great-grandmother used to talk of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake when all of her china was broken. That 6.4 (on the Richter scale) earthquake cost millions of dollars in damage and killed more than 100 people. My guess is it must have been a terrifying experience for a young married woman with an 8-year-old child, as my great-grandmother was at the time. She was lucky that her only loss was the china.

When thinking of historic California earthquakes, many people think of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The destruction caused by that earthquake and the resulting fires has been the subject of books, documentaries, and vintage photos. But that earthquake wasn’t the only one that resulted in heavy destruction for a California city. Lone Pine, a little town in the Eastern Sierra region of California, experienced an earthquake in 1872 so strong that it almost leveled the entire town.

It is easy to understand why the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (both believed to have measured over 7.0 on the Richter scale) caused so much damage in and around California. 19th century buildings in the West, mostly wood and brick structures, were not forgiving when the earth shook. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, that March 1872 earthquake destroyed 52 out of 59 homes and killed 27 people in the city of Lone Pine. The earthquake was felt as far south as San Diego and as far east as Elko, Nevada.

Historical newspapers give us a sense of what the resulting chaos was like when Lone Pine residents were rudely awakened at 2:35 that March morning. The Inyo Independent newspaper quoted one resident as yelling to his wife during the earthquake: “Get up; hell’s broke loose!” The newspaper’s front page headline for March 30 screamed: “HORRORS!! Appalling Times! EARTHQUAKES. Awful Loss of Life! 24 People Killed! Earth Opens! Houses Prostrated!!” Some people were crushed by the debris of their collapsing houses as they lay in their bed. This earthquake and the inevitable aftershocks must have made it seem like the world was ending.

The 1872 Lone Pine earthquake was reported in newspapers across the country. These earthquake reports reveal the sense of shock felt at the time of the natural disasters and also provide genealogists with practical information like causality lists.

For example this historical San Francisco newspaper article, reprinted by a New York paper, provides lists of the dead and the injured.

The Earthquake in California, New York Herald newspaper article 9 April 1872

New York Herald (New York, New York), 9 April 1872, page 7

The list of fatalities in this historical newspaper article also reports where the victims were from originally:

List of the Killed (in 1872 earthquake), New York Herald newspaper article 9 April 1872

New York Herald (New York, New York), 9 April 1872, page 7

Survivors of this terrifying California earthquake buried their loved ones. Earthquake victims without family members, mostly immigrants, were buried in a mass grave. The Inyo Independent reported that “a large grave was prepared on a little rise north of town. In this grave all of foreign birth were consigned the next day. Fifteen coffins numbered and contained sixteen bodies were all deposited in one huge grave.” Catholic and Protestant rites were said at the burial. A modern memorial marks the mass grave and lists the known names. For the victims whose names were not known, it says “…of French, Irish, Chilean, Mexican & Native American ancestry are known but to God.”

photograph of the historical marker for the 1872 Lone Pine, California, earthquake

1872 Earthquake Historical Marker. Lone Pine, California. © 2012 David Ortega

To read more about the history of the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake, consult the Historic Earthquakes page of the United States Geological Survey and visit GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives.

 

 

A Genealogist’s Family Story: A Blind Baby & Kind Strangers

This is a bittersweet family story, about an abandoned blind baby and the kindness of strangers. But it is also an interesting story about family history research, telling the tale of a genealogist finding the facts about her grandmother.

Melissa Archibald wrote us about the brick wall on her family tree involving her grandmother—and how she solved it.

She wrote:

“I wanted to thank you for posting the historic newspapers from Saginaw, Michigan. I thought you’d want to know how GenealogyBank solved my problem. My Grandmother was an abandoned baby and I did a search one day under the terms “Sunshine Baby,” Saginaw and blind. The only thing I knew about my Grandmother was her nickname “Sunshine Baby,” she was born in Saginaw, and that she was blind. I had been searching for 15 years to try and find out the truth about my Grandmother who was abandoned but also blinded because of it. One amazing service you have. I found her.

“Thanks again for making these papers available online. My Grandmother had seven children who all wondered about the mystery surrounding the birth of their Mother and your service has answered all of our questions.”

Here is what she found doing genealogy research in GenealogyBank:

The story of her grandmother, an abandoned baby—a sympathetic story that touched people’s hearts in Saginaw, Michigan, and around the country. The Sunshine Society, dedicated to helping blind children, had a chapter in Saginaw. They put out the call for the public and for “every school child in Saginaw [to] give one penny to the Sunshine fund for the blind baby.”

blind baby abandoned, Saginaw News newspaper article 25 November 1904

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 25 November 1904, page 11

But, who was this baby? Could the parents be found?

The old newspapers give the brutal details.

It was a grim day when Grace Vergeson put her newborn daughter into a suitcase and left her in the “closet in the house where she had been working.” We don’t know what she was thinking. Was it post-partum depression? Did she think the baby was already dead? Were others involved? We don’t know all the reasons or circumstances, but we do know that the baby was not discovered for three days. By then she was “totally blind as a result” of not having had proper medical care.

Mother's Cruel Act, Grand Rapids Press newspaper article 19 November 1904

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 19 November 1904, page 2

The young mother soon “signed release papers relinquishing all claim on the child,” turning the guardianship of her child over to the Sunshine Society.

Gave Up Her Babe, Flint Journal newspaper article 25 November 1904

Flint Journal (Flint, Michigan), 25 November 1904, page 4

A brutal story, brightened by the kindness of the members of the “Sunshine Society,” and the fact that the blind baby went on to have a wonderful life, marrying and raising seven children.

It is almost impossible to find the parents of an abandoned child. Melissa had been searching for the answers for over 15 years—and that patient research paid off in the old newspaper archives at GenealogyBank.

 

 

Genealogist Chips Away at His Family History ‘Brick Wall’

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott tells how the discovery of a faded news clipping in the drawer of an old desk provided an important clue about his family history.

The most impenetrable brick wall in my personal genealogy quest began as, and continues to be, my maternal great grandfather, Joseph K. Vicha.

When I was starting my genealogy the sum total of our family’s knowledge about my great grandfather Vicha was his name, his wife’s name (Anna Knechtl), and a penciled note of unknown date and author that simply stated “Joseph K. Vicha – Pisec (sic).” Nothing more.

Over the years of my searching, I can happily report that I have been successful in finding my great grandfather’s birth family, home village in Bohemia (Czech Republic now) of Milevsko, and have traced this family line back to the mid-1600s in Bohemia. However, he still disappears from view in 1911. But what wonderful things I am finding in the years between his birth in 1862 and his disappearance in 1911!

What I am discovering to be an extraordinarily useful method in my work is to expand the search terms I am using in GenealogyBank.com and other places.

A couple of examples might help me explain this best.

Quite by chance, my cousin was rummaging through an old family desk when he came across an envelope. It held a barely legible, torn, and undated newspaper clipping. This article showed me that my great grandfather was a labor union activist with something called the C.L.U. in Cleveland, Ohio.

old, faded newspaper clipping about J. K. Vicha, the author's ancestor

Old, faded newspaper clipping that provided the author his first clue in tracing his ancestor J. K. Vicha

Upon learning this I immediately started searching anew on GenalogyBank.com. I searched using terms such as C.L.U., Central Labor Union, and Joseph K. Vicha in the search boxes and I struck gold!

My first hit was an article from the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio, dated 28 November 1896 and headlined “Vicha Will Resign. Will Retire From the Presidency of the C.L.U.” I still feel pleased when I think back on that discovery, and am thankful the newspaper articles in GenealogyBank.com are very carefully digitized and come complete with attribution of newspaper and date.

Vicha Will Resign, Plain Dealer newspaper clipping 28 November 1896

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 November 1896, page 2

This early article held the new clue that my great grandfather was seeking an appointment from Ohio’s governor, Asa S. Bushnell, to become the superintendent of the Free Employment Bureau. On I went with new searches looking into the Free Employment Bureau in Cleveland and sure enough there was more to be learned! Soon I was discovering that my great grandfather was also a close political advisor to Robert E. McKisson, a two-term mayor of the City of Cleveland from 1895 to 1898.

Mayor McKisson Had His Picture Taken at a Bohemian Reunion, Plain Dealer newspaper article 27 June 1898

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 June 1898, page 5

I was fast learning to follow each seemingly unrelated, but actually related, clue in article after article. For instance, moving from Vicha I found myself searching on Central Labor Union, then moving to C.L.U., Mayor Robert McKisson, Labor Unrest, Cloakmakers’ Strike, Lumbermen’s Strike, Czech, Bohemian, and the name of each company where my great grandfather was reported to have been working. One especially nice aspect of GenealogyBank.com is that it not only contains papers from the major Cleveland daily, the Plain Dealer, but it also has issues from the Cleveland Gazette and the Cleveland Leader.

Real Condition Given by Superintendent Vicha of the Cleveland Free Employment Office, Cleveland Gazette newspaper article 15 December 1900

Cleveland Gazette (Cleveland, Ohio), 15 December 1900, page 1

While searching each new term, it was exciting to find that while my great grandfather did start out as a tailor just like his father, he:

  • became a Union organizer
  • was active in some of the most contentious labor strikes in the history of Cleveland
  • was elected the president of the Central Labor Union
  • received a gubernatorial appointment as the superintendent of the State of Ohio Free Employment Bureau in Cleveland
  • fought against sweatshops and child labor in Cleveland
  • authored a bill for the Ohio State Legislature to provide for the teaching of Bohemian (Czech) in the public schools
  • worked as a political advisor to Mayor McKisson
  • was instrumental in the mayor’s campaigning in the Bohemian community of Cleveland
  • and, while making some of the most powerful enemies one could have (such as Mark Hanna, Max Hayes, and United States President William McKinley), great grandfather Vicha was also recognized as one of the most influential Bohemians in Cleveland at that time

Unfortunately, my great grandfather does simply disappear in 1911. Family legend has it that he was branded “persona non grata” by his political and business-community enemies in Cleveland and was forced to leave in order to find work and survive.

Undeterred, I am continuing my hunt—chipping away at the brick wall that is Joseph K. Vicha after 1911. I just have this feeling that the resources of GenealogyBank.com are going to hold the key for me!

Portuguese American Revolutionary War Hero’s Obituary Discovered

You can learn a lot about the Americans who fought in our country’s wars—from the Colonial Indian Wars down to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq—from GenealogyBank’s online newspaper archives.

Revolutionary War Hero Lives to Be a Centenarian

This old obituary gives us many details of the life of John Peters, a Portuguese American who fought in the Revolutionary War and lived to be over 100 years old. It was published in the Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 1 May 1832, page 2.

John Peters Obituary - Alexandria Gazette Newspaper

Peters was there from the beginning of the troubles with Great Britain.

He was at the Boston Tea Party on 16 December 1773. He then joined the army.

John Peters Obituary - Boston Tea Party - Alexandria Gazette Newspaper

During the American Revolutionary War he fought in the Battle of Lexington and the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Although Peters “lost one of his fingers” in that latter battle, he continued to fight for his new country.

John Peters Obituary - Revolution War Battles - Alexandria Gazette

He was “in the battles of Monmouth and Princeton, and assisted in capturing the Hessians at Trenton.”

The historical obituary of this old Revolutionary war soldier goes on to say “He was engaged in the capturing of Burgoyne and also of Cornwallis; he fought under Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge, where he was again wounded.”

It tells us he was “aged 100 years 5 months and 23 days” when he died on 23 April 1832. That calculates out to give us his birth date:  31 October 1731.

And just where was this centenarian veteran born? The old newspaper obituary tells us that he was born “in Portugal near Lisbon.”

John Peters Obituary - Born in Portugal - Alexandria Gazette Earthquakes That Shook the World in 1755 Remembered

The veteran’s obituary adds the extra detail that he “emigrated [sic] to this country shortly after the earthquake in 1755.”

According to Wikipedia that was the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, “one of the deadliest earthquakes in history” with tens of thousands killed.

There were several powerful earthquakes in 1755. Another one was the Cape Ann earthquake that hit the U.S. 18 days after the Lisbon earthquake, on the northeast coast of Massachusetts.

Young Hannah Clark [Hannah (Clark) Lyman (1743-1842)], then a child of 12, was terrified by the Cape Ann earthquake. Her obituary clearly recorded her terror at living through that earthquake.

Hannah Lyman Obituary - Hampshire Gazette Newspaper

It was published in the Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 21 March 1832, page 3.

“She remembered distinctly the great earthquake of Nov. 18, 1755…It was between 4 and 5 in the morning, and the moon shone brightly. She and the rest of the family were suddenly awaked from sleep by a noise like that of the trampling of many horses; the house trembled and the pewter rattled on the shelves. They all sprang out of bed, and the affrighted children clung to their parents. ‘I cannot help you dear children,’ said the good mother [Martha Phelps Clark, 1717-1803], ‘we must look to God for help.’”

According to Wikipedia this was “the largest earthquake in the history of Massachusetts.” Cape Ann and Boston felt the brunt of the earthquake’s aftermath; however hundreds of homes and buildings throughout the state of Massachusetts were also damaged. Northampton, Massachusetts, is 142 miles from Cape Ann, Massachusetts.

These two powerful earthquakes were so memorable that 77 years later they were mentioned in these 1832 obituaries.

Don’t let the stories of your ancestors’ lives be lost. Use GenealogyBank to find them and document their lives.

Last Revolutionary War Widow Receives Final Pension—in 1906!

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about the last Revolutionary War pension being paid in 1906—131 years after armed conflict began between Great Britain and its American colonies.

It seems hard to believe, but the last Revolutionary War pension was paid in 1906—131 years after the Battles of Lexington and Concord began the American Revolutionary War in 1775. That link to our country’s birth ended with the death of Esther (Sumner) Damon, the widow of Noah Damon and the last widow of the Revolutionary War to receive a pension.

Esther died 106 years ago (in 1906), having married her spouse 6 September 1835 when he was 75, and she, 21.

Death of Widow of Veteran of 1776, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article, 12 November 1906

Obituary for Esther (Sumner) Damon, Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 12 November 1906, page 5

Noah served as a private with the Massachusetts troops, and applied for a war pension 13 November 1848 as a resident of Plainfield, New Hampshire. He died five years later, as shown in this death notice found in a historical newspaper.

Death notice for Noah Damon, New Hampshire Patriot newspaper article, 24 August 1853

Death notice for Noah Damon, New Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 24 August 1853, page 3

The first pension Act was in 1776, so why didn’t Noah receive a war pension until 1848?

One might assume he wasn’t eligible for the government pension benefits, failing to meet one of the many requirements imposed by the legislature, such as disablement, rank or length of service.

“In CONGRESS August 26, 1776.

…Resolved, That every commissioned officer, who shall lose a limb in any engagement, or be so disabled in the service of the United States of America as to render him incapable, afterwards, of getting a livelihood, shall receive during his life, or the continuance of such disability, the one half of his monthly pay, from and after the time that his pay as an officer, or soldier, ceases; to be paid by the Committee as hereafter mentioned…”

Damon’s pension application stated he might have applied earlier, but had been a resident of Canada and “ignorant of his right.” He wrote that he

 “received a bayonet and wound in his right thigh, from the effect of which he has since suffered much pain and inconvenience the scar of which is very apparent to the present day.”

So how many pension acts were there?

Numerous—with each pension designed to accommodate the needs of soldiers and/or survivors.

Over time, the ranks of the public dole swelled—up to 1878, when Congress passed the final act (which also included the War of 1812).

It was an amazingly generous pension act, allowing a pension for just a minimum 14-day service for honorably discharged veterans, and imposing a short time period for the application process.

You could read about these pension acts for war veterans and their survivors in various historical sources, or you can delve into them yourself in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives to see how these acts were presented to the public at the time they were enacted.

As an example, here is an old newspaper article describing the important pension act of 1780—the first to address the provision of war pensions to widows and orphans.

newspaper article about the 1780 pension act, Pennsylvania Packet newspaper, 19 September 1780

Article about the 1780 pension act, Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 19 September 1780, page 3

To help you with your Revolutionary War and War of 1812 pension research on your ancestors, here is a list of the dates for each pension act of Congress:

Pension Acts and Amendments

  • August 26, 1776
  • May 15, 1778
  • September 29, 1789
  • March 18, 1818
  • May 15, 1823
  • June 7, 1832
  • August 24, 1780
  • August 26, 1776
  • May 15, 1778
  • August 24, 1780 (first to address pay for widows and orphans)
  • October 21, 1780
  • March 22, 1783
  • September 29, 1789
  • March 23, 1792
  • April 10, 1806
  • March 18, 1818 (first to grant pensions for service only)
  • May 1, 1820
  • March 1, 1823
  • May 15, 1828
  • June 7, 1832
  • July 4, 1836
  • July 7, 1838
  • July 29, 1848 (widow marriage requirement prior to January 2, 1800)
  • March 9, 1878

Family Search Uncovers Circus Elephant Story

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott speaks of his love of genealogy, and shares some of the family history discoveries he’s made—including the tale of an ancestor, a zookeeper, who was nearly trampled to death by Minnie, the lone elephant at Cleveland’s Brookfield Zoo, in 1915!

Right off the bat I’ll admit it. I’m a genealogy nut! My wife calls my pursuit of family history “our shadow.” My favorite quote is “I used to have a life and then I started doing genealogy.” Plus, I am hoping for another grandchild, simply because I have a myriad of historic family names that I think need to be carried on. I wonder what my chances are for either Lovejoy Cinderella for a granddaughter or Sylvia Marathan for a grandson?

Well, maybe not.

Additionally, it is a matter of great personal satisfaction that I have been able to trace my family roots, with documentation, to the 1500s on my father’s side (Phillipps and Cottle) in Cornwall, United Kingdom; to the early 1600s on my mother’s side (Vicha and Knechtl) in Bohemia, now the Czech Republic; and to the 1700s with my wife’s families (D’Aquila and Casagrande) in the Molise district of Italy. My Cornish and Bohemian immigrant ancestors all happened to find their separate ways to Cleveland, Ohio, between 1852 and 1911. My wife’s ancestors made their way to the Mesabi Iron Range of northern Minnesota.

The “Chase-of-the-Trace”

While the thrill of what I have dubbed the “chase-of-the-trace” is always amazing, I have to admit that, for me, the best part is more often the “little things.” You know, those human interest stories or unexpected items that one discovers pursuing genealogy and/or family histories. Sure there is the rush of excitement when we chip a brick out of a longstanding wall by finding a birth, marriage, or death certificate we’ve long been looking for, but to see the real lives of our ancestors unfold is what gets me truly excited.

A personal goal in my family tree and website (which I keep on the genealogy/social network site MyHeritage.com) is to find, capture, and then weave the threads of the culture, times, and values of our ancestors into what I call the quilt of our family history. For instance, in my family I will be the last person who will have grown up hearing Czech spoken in our home. I don’t want that memory to be lost. Not ever!

Sister Marjorie: the Chase Begins

Recently I got a phone call from a Cleveland cousin. Since I use our genealogy website as our worldwide family social network, she wanted to inform me of the passing of another cousin, Sister Marjorie. In the family we knew Sister Marjorie, before her vows, as Florence Kotrsal, a member of our Knechtl family branch. Cousin Florence had always intrigued me, especially since she was a twin (rare in our family tree) and I had not done any significant amount of work on her. As so often happens, the loss of a family member caused me to be doing something a bit too late.

First, I began learning more about her life as a member of the Order of the Sisters of Holy Humility of Mary where she lived for 73 years in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania. Next, I began to work more on her family members. I knew Florence was the daughter of Dr. Joseph J. Kotrsal (later, as with so many Slavic names in my family, “Americanized” to Kottershall) and Florence Kapl, and that Florence was the twin sister of Josephine. I began to move back in time and soon discovered I was in my favorite element, which is the early Bohemian community of Cleveland, Ohio.

As always, one of my first stops during my family history search was at GenealogyBank.com. I love the site and the coverage in the Cuyahoga County/Cleveland/Northeast, Ohio, area through the Plain Dealer and the Leader is excellent and very deep. Plus, with bated breath, I am awaiting their forthcoming additions of some of the early Cleveland Czech-language newspapers they recently acquired from the Balch Museum in Pennsylvania.

Sister Marjorie’s Father, Dr. Joseph J. Kotrsal (Kottershall)

J.J. Kotershall, Physician, Is Dead, Plain Dealer 11 December 1945

Obituary for Dr. Joseph J. Kotrsal (Kotershall), Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 December 1945, page 6

During my family search my first exciting discovery was that Florence’s father, Dr. Joseph J. Kotrsal, was the same medical doctor whose name I had seen frequently on death certificates and other documents. As I searched farther, I found his obituary, always a terrific find. As I read, I was amazed to see that Dr. Kotrsal was instrumental in bringing the very first x-ray machine to Cleveland, Ohio. Now you might think this would have changed him as a person or his practice, but his obituary states that he continued to focus on providing medical care in the Bohemian community of Cleveland his entire life.

An additional precept in my personal family history work is that I want to be as inclusive as possible, so I study spouses and their families for equal inclusion in my family tree. In this case, I directed my searching to Florence’s maternal grandparents, Joseph F. and Louise Mary (Babicky) Kapl.

Circus Elephant Story

But Never Again! Says Keeper Kapl of Minnie, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 23 March 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 23 March 1915, page 4

The next item I found brought me to a stop. The first “hit” (of 31) in Historical Newspapers on Joseph Kapl, Florence’s grandfather, was a real keeper. Zookeeper that is! Not only was there a full newspaper article on this man, but there was a story, a terrific ink drawing of Joseph (so far the only picture anyone in the family has of him), and the unique story of how he was nearly trampled to death by Minnie, the lone elephant at Cleveland’s Brookfield Zoo, where Joseph happened to be Minnie’s keeper. Very kindly, the newspaper reporter even thought to list Joseph’s home address in the article, which matches spot-on with the 1920 United States Census listing for the Kottershall family.

Between the obituary for Dr. Kottershall and the wonderful circus elephant story with Joseph Kapl these newspaper articles gave me the exact threads I was seeking—ones that allow me to weave a bit of what the real lives of my ancestors were like into the quilt of our family history that I am still laboring over.

Ah, but what a labor of love it is!

Search More than 80 Minnesota Newspapers Online!

GenealogyBank continues to grow, adding more content daily to our newspaper archives. For genealogists researching their family history in Minnesota, we now have over 80 newspapers online from the “North Star State.”

That’s a lot of papers to research your genealogy with!

Our Minnesota archives include both old and recent newspaper titles, dating from the 1800s up to today.

Our MN historical newspaper archives cover 1849-1923, providing thousands of birth, marriage and death notices, as well as local news stories, to help with your family history research.

Our MN recent obituaries titles provide Minnesota death notices from 1986-Today.

Here is the complete list of GenealogyBank’s Minnesota newspapers.

City Title Date Range Collection
Albany Stearns – Morrison Enterprise 7/18/2005 – 1/12/2011 Recent Obituaries
Apple Valley Apple Valley – Rosemount Sun-Current 2/22/2011 – 3/6/2012 Recent Obituaries
Brooklyn Center Brooklyn Center Sun-Post 2/16/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Brooklyn Park Brooklyn Park Sun-Post 1/26/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Burnsville Burnsville Sun-Current 2/22/2010 – 3/6/2012 Recent Obituaries
Champlin, Dayton Champlin – Dayton Press 8/15/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chanhassen Chanhassen Villager 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chaska Chaska Herald 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cloquet Pine Journal 5/17/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Coon Rapids Blaine – Spring Lake Park Sun-Focus 2/6/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Crookston Crookston Daily Times 2/13/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Crow River South Crow River News – Rockford Area News Leader 11/21/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Crystal, Robbinsdale Crystal – Robbinsdale Sun-Post 2/16/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Delano Delano Eagle 7/26/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Duluth Budgeteer News 6/9/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Duluth Duluth Daily News 7/2/1887 – 9/4/1892 Newspaper Archives
Duluth Duluth News Tribune 1/1/1995 – Current Recent Obituaries
Duluth Duluth News-Tribune 5/16/1881 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Duluth Duluth Weekly Tribune 1/6/1876 – 8/18/1887 Newspaper Archives
Duluth Lake Superior News 7/4/1878 – 1/27/1881 Newspaper Archives
Duluth Minnesotian-Herald 4/24/1869 – 5/11/1878 Newspaper Archives
Eagan Eagan Sun-Current 2/16/2011 – 3/6/2012 Recent Obituaries
Eden Prairie Bloomington Sun-Current 2/22/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Eden Prairie Eden Prairie News 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Eden Prairie Eden Prairie Sun-Current 2/16/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Eden Prairie Plymouth Sun-Sailor 1/26/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Eden Prairie Richfield Sun-Current 1/25/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Eden Prairie St. Louis Park Sun-Sailor 2/9/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Edina Edina Sun-Current 2/16/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Excelsior Excelsior – Shorewood Sun-Sailor 1/26/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Grand Rapids Grand Rapids Herald-Review 1/10/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Granite Falls Advocate Tribune 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hibbing Hibbing Daily Tribune 6/2/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hopkins Hopkins Sun-Sailor 1/11/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hutchinson Hutchinson Leader 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
International Falls Journal 8/25/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Jordan Jordan Independent 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lakeville Lakeville Sun-Current 2/16/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Litchfield Litchfield Independent Review 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mankato Free Press 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Melrose Melrose Beacon 7/18/2005 – 1/13/2011 Recent Obituaries
Minneapolis Afro-American Advance 5/27/1899 – 11/17/1900 Newspaper Archives
Minneapolis Columbia Heights – Fridley Sun-Focus 2/16/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Minneapolis Minneapolis Journal 1/1/1895 – 12/31/1900 Newspaper Archives
Minneapolis Minneapolis Tidende 10/18/1895 – 12/28/1900 Newspaper Archives
Minneapolis Star Tribune 1/21/1986 – Current Recent Obituaries
Minnetonka Minnetonka Sun-Sailor 1/26/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Montevido Montevideo American-News 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Monticello Monticello Times 11/29/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mound Laker 1/7/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mounds View Mounds View – New Brighton – St. Anthony Sun-Focus 2/16/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
New Hope New Hope – Golden Valley Sun-Post 1/26/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Osseo, Maple Grove Osseo – Maple Grove Press 7/28/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Prior Lake Prior Lake American 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Redwood Falls Redwood Falls Gazette 10/3/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sartell Sartell Newsleader 10/14/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Savage Savage Pacer 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Shakopee Shakopee Valley News 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sleepy Eye Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. James St. James Plaindealer 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. Joseph St. Joseph Newsleader 1/4/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. Michael North Crow River News 4/17/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. Paul Appeal 2/7/1903 – 11/24/1923 Newspaper Archives
St. Paul Broad Axe 9/17/1891 – 6/11/1903 Newspaper Archives
St. Paul Negro World 3/10/1900 – 6/9/1900 Newspaper Archives
St. Paul St. Paul Daily Pioneer 9/23/1854 – 12/31/1857 Newspaper Archives
St. Paul St. Paul Daily Press 1/2/1868 – 12/29/1872 Newspaper Archives
St. Paul St. Paul Pioneer 4/28/1849 – 1/20/1853 Newspaper Archives
St. Paul St. Paul Pioneer Press 3/25/1988 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. Paul Sun Newspapers 1/10/2001 – 2/24/2010 Recent Obituaries
St. Paul Western Appeal 6/13/1885 – 12/29/1888 Newspaper Archives
Stillwater Stillwater Gazette 11/13/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Two Harbors Lake County News-Chronicle 5/11/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Virginia Mesabi Daily News 3/17/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Waconia Carver County News 8/4/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Waconia Pioneer 2/4/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Waconia Waconia Patriot 8/3/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Walker Pilot-Independent 12/18/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wayzata Wayzata – Orono – Long Lake Sun-Sailor 9/9/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Winona Winona Daily News 5/15/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Young America Norwood Young America Times 1/5/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries