Ancestry Believe It or Not: Genealogy Scams, Fakes & Forgers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about genealogical fakes and frauds, and cautions readers to be careful in documenting their family history.

You can’t always believe what you read—or can you?

Genealogy, when done right, is a pursuit requiring patience, with family relationships being carefully established and well documented. But be wary when constructing your family tree; examine each piece of evidence with a critical eye.

Exaggerations abound in genealogy, many of which can be categorized under the “Believe It or Not” phrase made famous by Robert. L. Ripley (1890-1949).

In order to “prove” more impressive ancestry than they actually have, scoundrels and frauds sometimes doctor documents, create fictitious Bible records, and even sell services to unsuspecting family researchers.

Some of the more notorious genealogy fakes and forgers were Gustave Anjou, Harriet de Salis and Horatio Gates Somerby.

Gustave Anjou (1863-1942), a.k.a. Swedish native Gustaf Ludvig Jungberg

Anjou immigrated to America from Sweden, after being released from incarceration in 1886, reportedly on a forgery charge. He became active in genealogical societies in the New Jersey and New York areas, and proceeded to sell his services as a researcher to wealthy citizens. His specialty was fabricating descent from royal lineages.

Some of his more infamous works included supposed lineages for the families of Andrews, Dent, Duff, Grant, Houston, Hurd, Longyear, Shapleigh, Wyckoff, and many more genealogical frauds. He also published a reference on the Ulster Country, New York, Probate Records. For a more thorough list of his junk genealogies, conduct a search in WorldCat or Google Books.

Gustave Anjou’s passport photo (1924)

Gustave Anjou’s passport photo (1924)

Even Anjou’s name is a sham or half-truth. His passport application of 1924 reported his father as “Charles Gustave Marie Anjou” and that he was born in Paris, France. This fabrication was derived from his parents’ names, Carl Gustaf Jungberg and housekeeper, Maria Lovia Hapberg, along with the Anjou reference from his fiancée (later wife), Anna Maria Anjou. The passport application noted he was naturalized in 1918 and that he was following the occupation of genealogist.

Gustave Anjou’s passport application (1924)

Gustave Anjou’s passport application (1924)

References to Anjou’s association with genealogy can be found in New York City records:

  • The New York City Directory of 1910 reported: “British-Am Record Soc, 116 Nassau R [Residence] 1116—C. Percy Hurditch, Pres; Gustave Anjou, Sec.”
  • The New York City Directory of 1912 reported: “Am Genealogical Soc., 116 Nassau R 1117—Gustave Anjou, Sec.”

In the following historical newspaper article, we can see the ripple effect of Anjou’s fraudulent genealogy work. A New Orleans newspaper’s Genealogical Department ran a feature called “Who’s Who and Their Forbears,” and innocently quoted Anjou’s work assuming it was authentic.

Who’s Who and Their Forbears, Times-Picayune newspaper article 11 August 1912

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 11 August 1912, page 34

Mrs. Harriet de Salis, nee Bainbridge

De Salis was a noted cookbook author. The title of one of her publications, Tempting Dishes for Small Incomes published in 1903, seems to hold a “secret message” about her second career: junk genealogy. Her culinary skills apparently didn’t generate enough income, so she turned to providing a fraudulent genealogy service, much like Anjou.

Some of her noted counterfeits were submitted by her eager clients to the New England Historical and Genealogical Register (NEHGR) . Unfortunately for de Salis, NEHGR researchers typically investigate exuberant ancestral claims, as seen in this 1943 response pointedly remarking on de Salis’s “vivid imagination”:

“The wills of ‘Edward’ and ‘Valentine’ [Woodman] appear to have been the offspring of Harriet de Salis’ vivid imagination—at least no such wills can now be found. After this auspicious beginning she proceeded to construct a wondrous pedigree making Nicholas the ancestor of the two New England progenitors and deducing his descent from all the ancient and gentle family of Woodman of Surrey.”

The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. 97, p. 282 (1943).

Little mention of de Salis appears in GenealogyBank. Her death date and obituary were not located in its vast historical newspaper archives. Interestingly, however, there is a mention of de Salis in GenealogyBank’s United States Congressional Serial Set archives, referring to her 1888 oyster cookbook.

mention of Harriet De Salis's 1888 oyster cookbook in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, Part XVIII. Report of the Commissioner for the year ending June 30, 1892. Date: Monday, January 1, 1894. Publication: Serial Set Vol. No.3264; Report: H.Misc.Doc. 209.

Horatio Gates “H. G.” Somerby (1805-1872)

Somerby, a native of Newburyport, Massachusetts, moved to England, where he fabricated genealogies for Americans wishing to establish English origins.

WorldCat and Google Books report a variety of publications on families that feature suspect genealogical work done by Somerby, such as The Blakes of Somerset, John Cotton of Boston, The Searstan Family of Colchester, Pedigree of Lawrence, A Sketch of the Family of Dumaresq, and Notices of the Sears Family.

GenealogyBank’s newspapers report that a man by the name of “Horatio B. Somerby” was a witness at a forgery trial. Although the middle initial is incorrect, it may be a typo. One has to wonder about the association with a noted forger, especially one with New England connections, and suspect this is really Horatio G. Somerby.

forgery trial report, Boston Herald newspaper article 13 October 1848

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 October 1848, page 2

GenealogyBank has a brief notice of his death in London, but this death notice makes no mention of his background in fraudulent genealogy.

Horatio Somerby death notice, Salem Register newspaper article 5 December 1872

Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 5 December 1872, page 2

There are numerous examples of scammers, frauds, fakes and forgers in genealogical research, so remember the famous words of Ripley: “Believe It or Not,” and be careful documenting your family history to keep it real!

Fact or Myth: Did Horace Greeley Really Say ‘Go West Young Man’?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary explains how research on her ancestor led her to investigate if Horace Greeley really said “Go West young man.”

Whether your forebears have roots to the Mayflower, settlements on the western frontier, or Ellis Island, your ancestral migration patterns are certain to fascinate you as you research your family history—and at the same time, be a puzzlement.

Did they migrate to avoid religious persecution, serve the military (ex. Hessian soldiers paid during the American Revolution), find freedom from slavery—or were they simply seeking a new life or quick fortune, such as during the California Gold Rush (1848-1859)?

Whatever factors influenced your ancestors, newspapers are a resource rich in information that can clarify or debunk misconceptions about how or why your ancestors lived their lives. You can use historical news articles not only to discover the truth about your ancestors’ lives, but also to validate the facts surrounding events and other items relevant to your family history.

Take, for example, Horace Greeley (1811-1872), the influential newspaper publisher of the New York Tribune, and the famous quote attributed to him: “Go West young man.” I have a special connection with Greeley, as my great great grandmother, Mary Jane (Olmstead) (King) (Hanks) Stanton, tutored his children as a way to support herself after being widowed.

Greeley reportedly inspired America’s massive westward expansion in the second half of the 19th century by urging: “Go West young man; go West and grow up with the country.”

My ancestor Mary Jane heeded his advice and visited California around 1869-1870 with her second husband, Jesse Turner Hanks, a successful gold miner. He later became a superintendent of a gold mine, which paid him $5,000 a year in gold. He unfortunately died in 1872 and the money disappeared, so she began authoring books and returned east. She joined the suffrage movement, associating herself with suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the other well-known champions of women’s voting rights in Willamantic.

Mary Jane and her third husband, newspaper business manager A. P. Stanton (distantly related to the above), settled in California, where she became a successful author on phrenology (a pseudo science no longer accepted) and continued her work for women’s voting rights. She did not live long enough to see the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment on 18 August 1920. However, her obituary from the San Francisco Chronicle notes she lived long enough to witness the success of suffrage in her adopted state.

Devoted Life to Woman's Suffrage, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 12 March 1914

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 12 March 1914, page 9

From time to time I continue to search for specific evidence of her life events, but what generally happens is that I uncover unexpected items in my genealogical research. That is how, one day, I began exploring the factual validity of Horace Greeley’s well-established quote, “Go West young man; go West and grow up with the country.”

Some writers report that Greeley’s famous quote is from the New York Tribune of 13 July 1865, in which he allegedly said:

“Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”

That claim will stump you, as the attribution has been misapplied: that quote does not appear in the 13 July 1865 edition of the New York Tribune. GenealogyBank’s archives show that a more likely source for Greeley’s quote is from a 13 December 1867 editorial expressing opposition to a wage increase for federal government clerks. Rather than increasing their salaries, Greeley suggests they should emigrate to a better life out West. Greeley stated:

“Washington is not a nice place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting, the mud is very deep, and the morals are deplorable. But on a farm in the West these dissatisfied young men could not only make money, and live decently, but also be of some use to the country.”

Note nowhere does he say “Go West young man” or “grow up with the country.”

Horace Greeley editorial, New York Herald-Tribune newspaper article 13 December 1867

New York Herald-Tribune (New York, New York), 13 December 1867, page 4

The response to Greeley’s controversial statement was immediate, particularly in the Evening Star—which put an editorial on its front page the very next day rebutting Greeley and taking the position that the workers were deserving of a wage increase.

Twenty Per Cent., Evening Star newspaper article 14 December 1867

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 14 December 1867, page 1

The Evening Star’s rebuttal is worth quoting in its entirety:

“We regret that the New York Tribune should so persistently oppose the twenty per cent. increase of the salaries of the Government clerks in this city. The last article on the subject in that paper, in which the editor advises them, if they cannot live here, to emigrate to Kansas or Nebraska [correction: Nevada], is an unfortunate one for the opponents of “20 per cent.,” because the assertions that “Washington is not a nice place to live in,” and that “the rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting, the mud is very deep, and the morals are deplorable,” would, if they were true, be the strongest possible arguments why those so unfortunate are to be compelled to live and labor here should be well paid for their work. The proper and prompt administration of the affairs of the Government requires the services in this city of a great number of intelligent employees. These duties must be performed by some one, and if all who are competent go to farming, what will become of the public business! We are told that if the clerks are dissatisfied with their pay they can leave, as there are others who will take the places for the pay. No doubt. So there are plenty of needy men who would undertake to make a watch or run an engine for good pay, who know nothing of the construction of either. There are now in the Departments here, many gentlemen and ladies of great intellectual ability occupying responsible positions, whose services save the Government thousands of dollars annually, and whose salaries are totally inadequate. They cannot save a cent, and advising them to go west to till the soil, is very much like the advice of another New York paper to starving laborers in that city, to buy small farms and raise vegetables for the city markets.”

It is reported that Greeley disavowed ever making the “Go west” statement, but the myth is perpetuated to this day.

Some feel that the statement originated with others, such as John B. L. Soule from the Terre Haute Express of 1851. This claim can also be debunked, as it is predated by a report in the Irish American Weekly in 1850 that states: “Yes, the advice is right—come West, do something, and ‘grow up with the country.’”

Good Advice to Those Who Think of Coming West, Irish American Weekly newspaper article 29 June 1850

Irish American Weekly (New York, New York), 29 June 1850, page 4

However, even this 1850 newspaper article cannot be the source, as proved by this even earlier 1846 quote by South Carolina Senator John Caldwell Calhoun (1782-1850). He was interviewed by Sarah Mytton Maury, an English writer who spent a winter in Washington and later published a book quoting Calhoun urging her sons to come to America: “let them grow up with the country.”

“I have eight sons in England.”

“Bring them all here; we are an exulting nation; let them grow up with the country; besides, here they do not want wealth. I would not be rich in America, for the care of money would distract my mind from more important concerns.”

—Maury, Sarah Mytton: The Statesmen of America in 1846. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1847, p. 182.

So what is the lesson learned from this fact-finding investigation?

The lesson is to follow this sound genealogy advice: always seek confirming sources for any record, including family provenance—and be sure to indulge your curiosity by reading historical reports from actual time periods.

You will undoubtedly be able to debunk many myths about your own family history!

Newspaper Recipe Contests: Was Your Ancestor a Contest Winner?

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how recipe contests that ran in local newspapers can turn out to be a surprisingly good source of genealogy information about your female ancestors.

Have you ever won a contest sponsored by your local newspaper? Newspapers run all kinds of promotions aimed at encouraging new readership and subscribers. Contests commonly run by newspapers include photo contests, recipe contests, writing contests and coloring contests. By participating in these newspaper contests you can win tickets to an event, have your artwork featured in a special edition, or even win a cash award. The added bonus of winning a newspaper contest is that your name and perhaps even your picture will appear in the newspaper.

Newspaper contests can include all generations. Many years ago my oldest son was one of the “winners” in a newspaper coloring contest. All of the winners had their picture taken with their award-winning entry, and these photographs were published in the local paper. Since that time I’ve had other adults tell me about winning coloring contests sponsored by their local newspapers when they were children.

Are you looking for genealogy records about female family members? A newspaper recipe contest may be the one place your ancestor had her name published—and possibly her picture.

In some cases the winning recipes would have been featured in additional publications after their initial run in the newspaper. Some newspapers even went on to publish a cookbook featuring the recipes submitted from their contest winners.

The Daily News Cookbook, 1896, title page

The Daily News Cookbook, 1896, title page. From Google Books.

The Daily News Cook Book (1896) is a cookbook of menus originally contributed to the Chicago Record newspaper’s daily contest for “menu for a day.” Many of the menus end with the name and street address of the woman submitting it. The recipes in this cookbook were contributed not only by women from the Chicago area, but also from other parts of the United States—as shown in the following example, a contribution from a Mrs. Tebbetts in San Diego, California.

The Daily News Cookbook, 1896, page 12

The Daily News Cookbook, 1896, page 12. From Google Books.

The Los Angeles Times was another newspaper that conducted recipe contests and then published cookbooks based on entrees. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, A. L. Wyman was one of their food writers and tested over 7,000 entrees for their 1923 recipe contest. Entrees, both the winning and the losing, were then compiled into the Los Angeles Times Prize Cook Book.*

The great thing about recipe contests was that even women who lived out of town, and for that matter out of state, may have been featured. This is a good reminder that while it is important to search for your ancestor and their place of residence in a database, sometimes a search on a name alone without a location may yield unanticipated results—your ancestor’s name may pop up in a source far from home.

This 1922 newspaper article points out that the week’s recipe winners included those from other Louisiana cities in addition to New Orleans. The two winners from New Orleans, one winning for her deviled kidney dish and the other for her Bordelaise sauce, had their names and street addresses published.

Recipe Contest Honors Divided by Housewives, Times-Picayune newspaper article 23 December 1922

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 23 December 1922, page 19

While newspapers held their own recipe competitions, they also reported on other recipe contests. This 1928 newspaper article reports on a contest held by the food company Libby, and says that winning recipes would be published in future advertisements for that company. The winner’s names and addresses are provided—key clues to help you trace your family history.

Local Women Win in Recipe Contest, Riverside Daily Press newspaper article 19 October 1928

Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, California), 19 October 1928, page 7

All kinds of food companies sponsored recipe contests. Consider this one from Sapphire Sardine Company, offering cash prizes for recipes that featured sardines as the principal ingredient.

$50 Prize Recipe Contest!, Evening Tribune newspaper article 12 April 1923

Evening Tribune (San Diego, California), 12 April 1923, page 8

While newspapers documented the times and events in our ancestors’ lives, they also served a social function. As you research female ancestors, consider the activities they may have pursued in looking for mentions of their name. Are recipe contests a source of genealogy? Yes, they place your ancestor in a specific place in time. Like more traditional genealogical sources they are a names list that can be used to pursue other leads.

*“The Wyman Test,” by Leilah Bernsteon, July 5, 2000 available online http://articles.latimes.com/2000/jul/05/food/fo-47809

Ephemera: A Surprisingly Fertile Genealogical Resource

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about an unusual—but a personal favorite—source of family history information: ephemera.

As I research my family history I look forward to finding unusual sources that reveal different aspects of my ancestor’s life beyond what an online index provides. One unusual source I find myself searching for is ephemera. In fact, I LOVE ephemera.

What’s ephemera you ask? Well one of the official definitions is “paper items (such as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles” (from Miriam Webster). At first glance that may seem to refer to only a few items but, according to the Ephemera Society of America, the Encyclopedia of Ephemera lists 500 categories of ephemera. Vintage ephemera can provide details of your ancestor’s life, even vital record information, or a specific place and time for them.

ephemera example: wedding anniversary invitation

Ephemera example: wedding anniversary invitation. From the author’s collection.

In genealogical terms it can include everything from your grandparents’ World War II ration books, a Christmas card your great-grandparents sent out, newspaper clippings of obituaries and marriage announcements, to the letters your 4th great-grandfather wrote from the battlefield during the Civil War. But it’s even more than that. In some cases it may be tidbits that provide social history information like a World War I recruitment poster or a menu from the first restaurant in your hometown.

ephemera example: restaurant menu

Ephemera example: restaurant menu. From the author’s collection.

Not everyone fully embraces ephemera in genealogical research. Why? These types of historical records can be difficult to find. In searching for ephemera that has your ancestor’s name on it you will need to start with home sources. When I refer to a home source, I’m not just suggesting looking for items in your home. Ask your family members about any types of items they may have inherited. In some cases family members may not realize what genealogical treasures they have. It might take several discussions where you reminisce or conduct an interview before they remember some of the items they have been holding on to.

I recently blogged about a letter I found in my childhood stamp collection that was given to me by my maternal grandmother. She had given me the letter to keep because of its interesting stamp. As I read this long-forgotten letter, I realized it contained important genealogical information from her own research on an English family line from the 1800s.

Cast your genealogical fishing line far and wide, and reach out to a distant unknown cousin who may have an heirloom or a forgotten item in their home. Utilizing social media can help get the word out about your research. Consider using a blog, website, Twitter or Facebook as just some of the ways to help other researchers find you.

ephemera example: graduation exercises brochure

Ephemera example: graduation exercises brochure. From the author’s collection.

Ephemera can also be found in collections housed at archives, libraries, societies and museums. One way to find these types of historical collections is to search either the repository’s catalog or a union catalog (one that includes multiple repositories), such as ArchiveGrid or the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). When researching collections, search on the place your ancestor was from to find materials that might have originated with an acquaintance or neighbor. Also consider groups and organizations your ancestor was a member of when searching through collections.

ephemera example: postcard

Ephemera example: postcard. From the author’s collection.

Do you have ephemera from your family or someone else’s? Consider sharing this by scanning and posting it on the Internet. Several non-genealogy blogs share ephemera they have found or collected. Check out Forgotten Bookmarks, Paper Great, and Permanent Record for ideas of how others are sharing ephemera. By sharing their genealogical finds and collections they make it possible for descendants to be reunited with their family history.

Dating Old Family Photographs with Civil War Revenue Stamps

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shows how to determine the date of undated, Civil War-era family photographs using revenue stamps affixed to the back of the picture.

Do you have Civil War-era photographs of your ancestors that are undated? As this genealogy article explains, tax stamp legislation passed by the Union in 1864 might provide a valuable clue to help you finally assign a date to those old family photos, allowing for deeper Civil War family history research.

Stamp Duties, New York Herald-Tribune newspaper article 13 April 1865

New York Herald-Tribune (New York, New York), 13 April 1865, page 6

In order to fund the rising costs of the Civil War, the federal government passed an act on 30 June 1864 requiring that tax stamps be affixed to various goods, including:

  • Proprietary Medicines and Preparations
  • Perfumery and Cosmetics
  • Friction Matches
  • Cigar Lights and Wax Tapers
  • Photographs, Ambrotypes and Daguerreotypes
  • Playing Cards

Although this legislation achieved the intended goal of raising revenue, it was an extremely unpopular tax—especially for those desiring photographs of family members soon to be separated by war.

explanation of stamp fees for photographs, New York Herald-Tribune newspaper article, 13 April 1865

New York Herald-Tribune (New York, New York), 13 April 1865, page 6

Fees were assessed upon the selling price of photographs, ambrotypes and daguerreotypes, with different-colored stamps for the various fees.

  • 2¢ stamps were blue or orange and assessed on images 25 cents or less
  • 3¢ stamps were green and assessed on images between 26 and 50 cents
  • 5¢ stamps were red and assessed on images 51 cents to one dollar
  • For images exceeding one dollar, in addition to the 5¢ stamp an extra 5 cents was assessed “for every additional dollar or fractional part thereof”

As with most laws, there were exceptions and specifications that had to be followed.

exceptions to the stamp tax on photographs, New York Herald-Tribune newspaper article 13 April 1865

New York Herald-Tribune (New York, New York), 13 April 1865, page 6

“Photographs and other sun pictures, which are copies of engravings or works of art, or which are used for the illustration of books, or which are so small that stamps cannot be affixed, are exempt from stamp duty. In lieu thereof, they are subject to duty of 5 per cent ad valorem.

“The price of a photograph by which the stamp duty is determined is held to be the price which is received for such photograph, including the case or frame, as well as any labor which may have been expended upon the picture.

“Imported articles, when sold in the original and unbroken package in which they were imported, are not subject to stamp duty, but they become so as soon as the packages are opened.”

The process was for a photographer to affix a stamp to the back of an image, and cancel it by adding initials and a date.

Civil War-era photograph with a revenue stamp affixed to the back

Civil War-era photograph with a revenue stamp affixed to the back

In the old photograph example above of a Carte de Visite (CDV), which shows the back and front of the image side-by-side, the picture was taken at Delong’s Gallery on Locust street in Fairbury, Illinois. The 5 cent stamp indicates that the photographer charged from 51 cents to $1 for his services.

Photographers often designed their own system of stamp cancellation. The hand-written date appears to be 11/11, but more likely was 11/4 (Nov. 1864), with the information under the numbers indicating either his initials or an internal reference. It was not 1861, as revenue stamps are only found on images 1864-1866, with the final repeal of the Stamp Act on Aug. 1, 1866.

For more information on Tax Stamps, see eBay’s Guide to Tax Stamps on Antique Photography.

Deadwood Dick: Chasing a Cornish-American Legend

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott digs into old newspapers to see if the Wild West’s legendary character “Deadwood Dick” was a real person or just a myth.

Early in my family history and genealogy work I made, what was for me, a remarkable discovery. I found that I had a significant branch of second cousins in Cornwall in the United Kingdom.

I had not known about my Cornish relatives and they were equally unaware of me. It wasn’t long before I had the opportunity to meet this grand branch of my family and it was an extraordinary occasion! We spent several wonderful days together and those treasured family memories will now be with me forever. Given all the family photographs, stories, catching up on lifetimes, pub visits, heirlooms, and tromping around parish churches and graveyards, my head was filled with family history. I guess it should come as no surprise that I placed one item in a remote drawer of my “mental filing cabinet,” to be explored at a later date.

Not long ago this tidbit came roaring back into my consciousness and I decided I needed to investigate. The name I had filed away was “Deadwood Dick”; when I was in Cornwall many people had asked me if I was familiar with this famous Cornish-American immigrant. To begin my investigation, I opened up GenealogyBank.com and started searching for historical records containing his name. As usual, I was not disappointed!

I logged in and searched on “Deadwood Dick.” To my surprise I was greeted with more than 3,800 articles in the Newspaper Archive section of my results. I then clicked on the subcategory Obituaries. Quickly I noted that Deadwood had been reported as dead a number of times, including 1906, 1911 and 1920, along with a couple of other dates! As a genealogist I smiled when I read these different death accounts, and also found varying family histories attributed to good old Deadwood.  They ranged from Deadwood being: the nephew of the governor of Illinois; a shop owner in Belle Fourche; and a postmaster in Deadwood, the latter two places both in the Dakota Territory.

So I read on. What I discovered about this Cornish-American immigrant was quite a story! You see Deadwood was the inspiration for dime novels, or what were also known as the yellow-backed series of action books, featuring the exploits and adventures of Deadwood Dick.

But was the legendary Deadwood Dick a real person?

An old article from the Daily People newspaper proclaimed: “Deadwood Dick a Myth.” As they say in the game shows: “Buzz…wrong answer!” This newspaper article was certainly not going to establish that Deadwood was a real person.

Deadwood Dick a Myth, Daily People newspaper article 26 April 1903

Daily People (New York, New York), 26 April 1903, page 6

Soon I found a delightful old news article published by the Jackson Citizen Patriot lamenting “Dime Novels of Our Youthful Days.” Seems no matter what the time in history, we always miss things from our youth—and in this case it was the exciting stories of Deadwood Dick.

Diime Novels of Our Youthful Days, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 16 August 1922

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 16 August 1922, page 2

Then I discovered, from an old newspaper article published by the Sun, that Deadwood Dick was the subject of a successful stage play. But still the question remained: was he a real person? I kept on with my investigation.

"Deadwood Dick" at Blaney's, Sun newspaper article 26 November 1907

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 26 November 1907, page 9

I was really enjoying taking a trip into America’s past, through newspapers, trying to discern who and/or what Deadwood Dick really was. Then I found a newspaper article that answered my question: Deadwood was indeed a real person!

I found his story in an article published by the Kansas City Star, entitled: “‘Deadwood Dick’ Cashes in His Chips in Life’s Game.”

"Deadwood Dick" Cashes in His Chips in Life's Game, Kansas City Star newspaper article 16 February 1920

Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), 16 February 1920, page 20

This account confirmed that a man named Richard Bullock was the original and very real Deadwood Dick. He spent time as a guard on the gold bullion stagecoaches that carried gold ore from the mines of South Dakota to Omaha, Nebraska. The article said that Richard emigrated from “England,” the common misnomer in those times for any portion of the United Kingdom.

My additional research has confirmed that Richard Bullock, a.k.a. Deadwood Dick, was born about 20 August 1847 near Saint Columb Major in Cornwall. He was a member of the Methodist Choir before he emigrated from Cornwall in his early 20s to find his future in America.

From choirboy to a man of mythological proportions and the stuff of early action novels!

All I can say is I am sure happy I pulled that memory out of the old filing cabinet and looked for Deadwood Dick stories in GenealogyBank’s newspapers. You just never know what you will find!

The 1876 Centennial Exhibition Celebrated 100 Years of American Freedom

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition that celebrated 100 years of American independence.

Do you remember the American Bicentennial? In 1976 Americans celebrated our shared history and our fight for freedom. Visual reminders of the early history of America were everywhere. My school picture that year had a background of an American flag, and as I stood against that background my arm rested on a faux chair that had a small eagle painted in gold. For those who were around in 1976, it is easy to date that image.

Did you have ancestors living in the United States in 1876? Just as you may have participated in bicentennial celebrations, they participated in centennial activities to celebrate 100 years of American independence. Maybe they even attended the biggest celebration of America’s freedom: the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, the first time an official World’s Fair was held in the U.S. From May to November 1876 in Fairmount Park, the city of Philadelphia provided Americans the opportunity to see history, experience the newest technologies and innovations, and show patriotism just 11 years after the Civil War ended.

Philadelphia International Exhibition souvenir ribbon, 1876, from the Cornell University Collection of Political Americana, Cornell University Library

Philadelphia International Exhibition Souvenir Ribbon, 1876, from the Cornell University Collection of Political Americana, Cornell University Library

Approximately 10 million visitors strolled the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition’s 285 acres and saw exhibits in more than 200 buildings. The Exhibition of 1876 offered everything from historical and technological exhibits to food. Most states participated as well as over 30 nations. Patriotism was a big part of the great Centennial Exhibition but so too were the machines and exhibits that touted America’s innovation.

Many of the top American inventors of the day presented their newest creations at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. This was the international event where attendees from around the world were introduced to Alexander Graham Bell’s invention he called the telephone, and Thomas Edison was there showcasing some of his new ideas. Many everyday household items that we now take for granted were either exhibited or introduced at the Exhibition including typewriters, sewing machines and even Heinz 57 Tomato Ketchup. The largest steam engine ever built, weighing a staggering 56 tons, was at the Exhibition and powered the Machinery Hall.

Even Lady Liberty was there—well, part of her arm and torch to be precise. This section of the Statue of Liberty was displayed at the Centennial Exhibition as part of a fundraising effort to raise the money needed to build a base for the permanent statue.

colossal hand and torch “Liberty,” from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Colossal hand and torch “Liberty,” from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

All good things must come to an end and so did the Centennial Exhibition. On November 10th President U.S. Grant, with a wave of his hand and the words “I declare the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 closed,” marked the official end of the Exhibition. For ten days after that official declaration the Exhibition continued to stay open and allowed people to visit the exhibits until they were removed.

The International Exposition of 1876 Formally Closed, Critic-Record newspaper article, 11 November 1876

Critic-Record (Washington, D.C.), 11 November 1876, page 3

Today, all that is left of that 1876 event is Memorial Hall, the Ohio House (which now houses a café), and two smaller buildings.*

The Free Library of Philadelphia has an online exhibit, The Centennial Exhibition, where you can learn more about the fate of the buildings and machinery at the legendary Exhibition and about the event itself. Fairmount Park, the park that hosted the Exhibition, has an archival collection available to researchers by appointment.

Want to learn more about the 1876 Centennial Exhibition? The original guides to the Exhibition are available on Google Books. For a look at the history and images from the Exhibition see the “Images of America” book Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition by Linda P. Gross and Theresa R. Snyder (Arcadia Publishing, 2005).

If your ancestors were alive in 1876, perhaps they went to see the Centennial Exhibition themselves—about 20% of the American public did. Even if your ancestors did not actually visit the Exhibition, it was a big event during their lifetime that they most likely talked about in their homes and communities. You can peruse GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives to read thousands of news articles containing the original coverage on the Centennial Exhibition. GenealogyBank’s online newspaper archives are a great place to learn about your ancestors’ lives and the times they lived in—from 1690 to the present.

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*Whatever Happened to: Buildings. Centennial Exhibition Digital Collection. Free Library of Philadelphia. http://libwww.library.phila.gov/CenCol/what-bldgs.htm. Accessed 21 October 2012.

 

Genealogy Help: Two Captain Elisha Smiths—Which Is My Ancestor?

I was recently doing some family history research, looking for information about my ancestor Captain Elisha Smith—when I ran into a dilemma that genealogists occasionally face: two men with the same name from roughly the same time period.

Here’s how it happened, and here’s what I did to solve this riddle.

I was looking for my ancestor Captain Elisha Smith (1755-1834) who served in the American Revolutionary War.

Hmm…

Family records show that he was born in 1755, died in 1834, and lived in New Hampshire.

A quick search in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives—Bingo—there he is.

obituary for Captain Elisha Smith, New Hampshire Patriot newspaper article 7 July 1834

New Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 7 July 1834, page 3

OK. This old death record seems to fit.

He did live in New Hampton, New Hampshire.

The age is about right: “in the eightieth year of his age.”

Captain, and “soldier of the Revolution.”

Yes, that all fits my ancestor’s profile.

He’s called “a republican of the Jeffersonian school” and “a firm supporter of the present administration.”

OK, I have no idea what his politics were, but it is interesting to know that he was such a strong supporter of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.

“He was among the first settlers of the town in which he lived.”

OK, that fits. The family lived in New Hampton, New Hampshire, for generations.

He’s called “an enterprising and industrious farmer.”

OK; good testimonial to his character and work ethic.

So—this seems to be the old obituary of my ancestor.

“Hey, wait a minute…”

As the doctor said when my twin brother and I were born: “Hey, wait a minute, there’s another one.”

I found another historical obituary for a person named “Capt. Elisha Smith.”

Is this my “Captain Elisha Smith” ancestor that I was looking for?

Did I have the dates and places for him wrong?

obituary for Captain Elisha Smith, American Advocate newspaper article 16 April 1825

American Advocate (Hallowell, Maine), 16 April 1825, page 3

The name in the death record is the same, so is his title.

So that fits.

This Capt. Elisha Smith died in 1825 “aged 74.”

He was 74 years old in 1825, so his dates are approximately 1751-1825.

This could be a record for my ancestor—maybe the dates/places I had were wrong and this is the correct Elisha Smith.

He has the title “Captain.” Given his age he probably served in the American Revolutionary War; a local militia or other military role.

This Elisha Smith died in Lyman, Maine.

Lyman, Maine?

Hmm… that doesn’t fit as well.

As you can see from this map, Lyman, Maine, is about 70 miles from New Hampton, New Hampshire.

map showing distance between New Hampton, New Hampshire, and Lyman, Maine

Map showing distance between New Hampton, New Hampshire, and Lyman, Maine, from Google Maps

Was he traveling in Lyman, Maine, when he died?

I decided to see what else I could find about “Captain Elisha Smith,” so I Googled his name.

Bang. Up came a book written in 1915 by Mary Elizabeth Neal Hanaford: Family Branches of the Hanaford, Thompson, Huckins, Prescott, Smith…and Allied Families. (Rockford, Illinois: Author, 1915).

collage of pages from Mary Hanaford's 1915 book "Family Branches of the Hanaford, Thompson, Huckins, Prescott, Smith…and Allied Families"

Collage of pages from Mary Hanaford’s 1915 book “Family Branches of the Hanaford, Thompson, Huckins, Prescott, Smith…and Allied Families”

Genealogy Research Tip: Google has digitized hundreds of thousands of local histories and genealogies just like this one. Use Google Books as a quick source to see what conclusions other genealogists and local historians have made. It’s free, and can really help you with your own family history research.

Hanaford’s book is terrific. She published her research almost 100 years ago, in 1915, and she included a section on Captain Elisha Smith.

Hmm. She makes no mention of Lyman, Maine, for her Elisha Smith.

On page 145 she states: “Elisha Smith went to New Hampton [New Hampshire] from Brentwood Corner [New Hampshire] and settled at the foot of Beech Hill, in 1834.” Since he died 28 June 1834, he moved to New Hampton within weeks of his death. Perhaps it was his advancing age and possible ill health that prompted the move to New Hampton, to be closer to other family members.

Hanaford’s book has pages of references and citations that give more details on his life and that of the other members of the family.

I still need to check out those references, but with the additional corroboration in Hanaford’s book I can reasonably conclude that the first obituary I found in GenealogyBank for “Captain Elisha Smith,” the one published in the New Hampshire Patriot, is for my target ancestor Captain Elisha Smith that I was researching.

Family Memories: Finding My Grandfather’s Stories in the Newspaper

When I was a kid my grandfather would drive us over to see the old family sites in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. I remember grandpa was quite the storyteller. Every corner had a story attached to it, including the story of Joseph Plummer (1774-1862) of Meredith.

collage of newspaper articles about New Hampshire hermit Joseph Plummer

Collage of newspaper articles about New Hampshire hermit Joseph Plummer

Why was that story memorable? Because Plummer was a hermit.

A hermit…that was kind of spooky, mysterious…but there we were—parked near his grave. My grandfather showed us where Plummer’s cabin stood. As we drove around the Lakes Region, my grandfather brought us to the old Baptist Church where some of our relatives were once baptized on Christmas Day—after chopping a hole in the ice. Later, he showed us the place where another relative was buried in a glass coffin, a sealed vat of alcohol, in an attempt to prevent his body from decomposition by being buried in the ground.

These were great stories I heard while growing up in New Hampshire. It didn’t matter that we didn’t have TV; we had our grandfather to keep us spellbound with his stories—“our” stories. Today, remembering his storytelling provides some of my fondest memories of time spent with grandpa when I was young.

Over the years I have found documentation in old newspapers that filled in my memory of the stories he told us when we were children.

Bingo: here is another one of my grandpa’s stories verified. I found information in an old newspaper article about the New Hampshire hermit Joseph Plummer that my grandfather told us about.

Over the years the newspapers wrote a dozen articles about Joseph Plummer, giving many of the details of his life.

He was interviewed in 1862 and asked his age: “he answered: ‘I was born the 9th hour of the 13th day of October, in 1774.’”

New Hampshire hermit Joseph Plummer, Deseret News newspaper article 15 October 1862

Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 15 October 1862, page 123

Another news report gave an episode in Plummer’s life that my grandfather didn’t include in his telling of the hermit’s story.

It seems Plummer didn’t quite know how to go about dating the Deacon’s daughter. His brothers married two other of the Fox daughters—but for Joseph it wasn’t to be, despite his apparent determination: “Joseph on one occasion made up his mind to sally forth from his retreat and woo the remaining daughter.”

Unfortunately for Joseph, as the old article relates, “He was somewhat original in his method and broke down in his project.”

A Hermit's Attempt at Courtship, Washington Reporter newspaper article 19 February 1873

Washington Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania), 19 February 1873, page 7

After failing in his attempt at romance, Plummer bought land and built his cabin far from the “crowds” and cares of the world.

Hermit's Home Today, Broad Ax newspaper article 21 May 1898

Broad Ax (Salt Lake City, Utah), 21 May 1898, page 2

These old newspaper article clippings bring back memories of time spent with my grandfather and add depth to the stories he told us as children. They provide perfect material for family memory books and scrapbooking projects to share with family generations to come so that they remember grandpa and his stories. Family stories are a treasure—even more so when we can document and expand on them in the deep newspaper archives of GenealogyBank.

 

 

Searching Family History: Old School Records in the Newspaper

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post timed with kids going back to school, Gena shows how valuable school records—in archives and in newspaper articles—can be in tracing your family history.

Once again it’s that time of the year when children’s parents rejoice: the start of a new school year! The beginning of a school year is also a good time for family history researchers to consider how much old school records can help them document their ancestors. Compulsory education has long been a fact of life in America, starting with the first attendance law passed in Massachusetts in 1853. As long as kids have been going to school records have been kept chronicling their school days.

Looking to find information about your ancestors when they were children? Or perhaps you want to find out more about your ancestors who were in the education field, either as teachers or administrators. Consider seeking out local and school histories, school and federal censuses, yearbooks and alumni lists, just to name a few resources. As with any research project, begin by searching your home for sources like attendance records, report cards, rewards of merit, yearbooks, autograph books, and photos. Next, consult the Family History Library Catalog. Conduct a search on the place your ancestor lived and then look for the subject heading “Schools” for microfilmed records that can be viewed at your local FamilySearch Center.

Once you have searched the Family History Library for historical school records, look for collections at a state archive, library or historical society. These school records most likely can be found in a manuscript collection. A look at the Colorado State Archives showed school records that document students as well as teachers. A search using the keyword “School” on the website Online Archive of California, a union catalog of California repositories, found over 6,000 hits including photos, dance cards, report cards, student publications, school district records, and parent association records, just to name a few.

Don’t limit your ancestral school research to just documents. School life is an important part of every community, and local newspapers print many different types of articles about schools, students, teachers and administrators. Searching an online archive of historical newspapers using school-themed keywords can turn up a surprising amount of information on your ancestors. The following examples of school-related news articles are all from GenealogyBank’s online collection.

This listing of Chicago-area schools provides a glimpse at all the students who graduated in 1895. Notice that the list is broken down by school and includes names of students who won awards. These school graduation lists continue even today, especially in small town newspapers.

End of School Year, Daily Inter Ocean newspaper article 29 June 1895

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 29 June 1895, page 6

School statistics can give you an idea of the school population for where your ancestor lived. Though they will not provide the names of students, these statistics give you some information about what the area was like in your ancestor’s time.

School Statistics, Jackson Citizen newspaper article 1 January 1889

Jackson Citizen (Jackson, Michigan), 1 January 1889, page 8

Individual students may have been mentioned or even photographed for a newspaper. Such newspaper clippings can provide valuable family keepsakes. Activities such as sports and student clubs are often documented in newspaper articles.

County School Boys Compete in Meet Today, Sun newspaper article 14 June 1913

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 14 June 1913, page 7

Did your ancestor work at a school as a teacher or administrator? Don’t forget that they too could be mentioned in an old newspaper article. The following news article provides a list of school personnel and what schools they were assigned to in Dallas.

Assignments Announced for Dallas Public Schools, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 5 August 1962

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 5 August 1962, page 6

Was your ancestor a brainiac? One way kids made it into the paper was for their outstanding academic achievements.

School News and Honor Rolls from the Cobb County Schools, Marietta Journal newspaper article, 25 February 1921

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 25 February 1921, page 7

Today we are used to hearing about school violence but it’s a mistake to believe that this is a new phenomenon. Consider this story of a 12-year-old boy who died from a school hazing incident back in 1900. While the successes of students are celebrated in the newspaper, there are also reports documenting tragedies.

Hazing Kills Young Student, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 7 November 1900

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 7 November 1900, page 3

Remember to include school records of all kinds when filling in details on your family tree, including articles from local newspapers. You’re likely to find information and stories about your ancestors you can’t find anywhere else, especially from their younger days.