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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

articles about WWII battles, Oregonian newspaper articles 23 June 1944

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Revolutionary Roots & Family Ties to the Boston Tea Party

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post—written in celebration of the 240th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party—Mary tells the story of how one paragraph in an 1858 newspaper article provided the clue that led to one of her most satisfying genealogy moments.

Researching your family history in old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is a great way to fill in your family tree and find stories about your ancestors’ daily lives. Sometimes the most astounding discoveries one finds in newspapers aren’t about proving descent from an ancestor—but instead, they’re about finding your family’s place in history.

the illustration “The Destruction of the Tea at Boston Harbor” by Nathaniel Currier

Illustration: “The Destruction of the Tea at Boston Harbor” by Nathaniel Currier. Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Boston Tea Party of 1773

I’ve been lucky to find more than my fair share of family history connected to important events in American history—especially the American Revolution. There is one particular event that has always held a special fascination for me: the Boston Tea Party of 16 December 1773. This famous political protest, when demonstrators boarded three British ships and dumped chests of tea into Boston Harbor to protest the tax levied by the hated Tea Act, was one of the events that led to the American Revolutionary War.

Many of the Boston Tea Party participants belonged to the “Sons of Liberty,” who were despised by the British. Even into the early 1800s, many “sons,” and even “Daughters of Liberty,” were afraid to disclose their secret support or participation in this group—often taking that secret to their graves.

Shortly after the Boston Tea Party, some of the Daughters of Liberty entered into a “spirited” resolve, declaring: “That the Destruction of the East India Tea, imported among us, is absolutely necessary for the Happiness of America.” Knowing that their defiance of English law could be dangerous, they ended their resolution with the following declaration—with tongue firmly in cheek:

“That as hanging, drawing and quartering are the punishments inflicted by Law to Cases of High Treason, we are determined constantly to assemble at each other’s Houses, to HANG the tea kettle, DRAW the Tea, and QUARTER the Toast.”

article about the "Daughters of Liberty" supporting the Boston Tea Party, Connecticut Courant  newspaper article 15-22 February 1774

Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 15-22 February 1774, page 3

I admit my fascination with the Boston Tea Party is an unusual interest, because for a long time I couldn’t uncover any family provenance connecting us to that eventful protest—yet my interest remained keen.

I knew all along there was more historical evidence to continue investigating. If you suspect your family had a connection to that event, be sure to review the list at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museums website. It unfortunately does not include any of my forebears, but perhaps you’ll find someone in your tree.

My Revolutionary War Ancestors

Although my past genealogical research hadn’t been able to connect my family tree to the Boston Tea Party, my ancestors were involved in the American Revolutionary War. Two of my Patriot ancestors that fought in the war were from the Wilder family:

  • Seth Wilder, Sr. (1739/40-1814), husband of Miriam Beal
  • Seth Wilder, Jr. (1764-1813), husband of Tabitha (or Dorcas) Briggs

Both natives of Hingham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, they later settled in Cummington, Hampshire County, Massachusetts. I don’t know with certainty why they left Hingham, but I found a 1773 newspaper article that perhaps provides the answer: a chimney fire entirely consumed their house when Seth, Jr. was only nine.

article about Seth Wilder's house catching fire, Boston Evening-Post newspaper article 7 June 1773

Boston Evening-Post (Boston, Massachusetts), 7 June 1773, page 3

There are some brief accounts in the National Archives about the military service of at least one Seth Wilder, but none that corroborate the family provenance.

My mother wrote about our Wilder ancestors in two of our family history books that she published. This is what she wrote about Seth Wilder, Jr.:

“At the age of 16, Seth Wilder (Jr.) took his father’s place in the army, serving as a mechanic in the Revolution. He fought at Saratoga, Monmouth and Stony Point, being wounded at Stony Point. After the war, he settled on his father’s farm in Cummington. He died intestate.”

A biography written about Seth, Jr.’s grandson, John Thomas Wilder, reports that the reason the son took his father’s place in the fighting is because Seth, Sr. lost a leg at the Battle of Bunker Hill. If this story is correct, it is more likely that it occurred at a later date—since Seth, Jr. wasn’t 16 until 1780, closer to the end of the Revolutionary War.

Exciting Newspaper Discovery: Possible Family Connection to the Boston Tea Party!

Eager to learn more about these Patriot ancestors, I examined numerous records, books and newspapers.

One day I stumbled upon something exciting: an 1858 newspaper article indicating that Seth Wilder, Sr. might have participated in the Boston Tea Party!

This was a real “Aha!” genealogy moment—although the connection was not a certainty and required more research to confirm.

The old newspaper article reported that a Mrs. Jenks Kimball claimed to be the granddaughter of a “Seth Wilder of Hingham,”—but I didn’t have a “Mrs. Jenks Kimball” in my family tree.

article about Mrs. Jenks Kimball and her ancestor Seth Wilder, Lowell Daily Citizen and News newspaper article 22 January 1858

Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts), 22 January 1858, page 2

Was she the granddaughter of my ancestor Seth Wilder, Sr. or possibly Seth Wilder, Jr.—or was she the daughter of another Seth Wilder not at all related to me?

If I could establish that she was part of my family tree, then the report that she had inherited “a steel tobacco box which was in the pocket of her grandfather…when he assisted in throwing overboard the tea in Boston harbor,” was exhilarating!

But who was Mrs. Jenks Kimball?

She wasn’t recorded in the famous Book of the Wilders: A Contribution to the History of the Wilders from 1497… written by Moses Hale Wilder in 1878.

This is where genealogy really gets fun: putting together the pieces, trying to solve the puzzle of my family history. That 1858 newspaper article gave me the clue I needed in order to unravel this genealogy mystery. After some diligent research, I finally found the evidence proving Mrs. Jenks Kimball was part of my family!

Evidence Tying All the Pieces Together

From the following sources, I was able to confirm that Mrs. Jenks Kimball (Betsey Bradley) was the daughter of Tamer Wilder—who in turn was the daughter of Seth Wilder, Sr.!

Mrs. Jenks Kimball’s lineage:

  • Seth Wilder, Sr. & Miriam Beal
  • Tamer Wilder & James Bradley
  • Betsey Bradley & Jenks Kimball

The Vital Records of Cummington, Massachusetts (William W. Streeter & Daphne H. Morris, 1979), reports numerous Wilder family records, including:

  • 30 May 1797: Tamer Wilder (daughter of Seth Wilder, Sr. and Miriam Beal) married James Bradley.
  • The couple had three children, all born in Cummington: Royal, Betsey and Cynthia.

Vermont Vital Records, 1760-1954 (Database online at Familysearch.org):

  • Jinks [sic] Kimball
  • Marriage: 20 August 1820 in Pownal, Vermont
  • Spouse: Betsey Bradley

1850 Adams, Berkshire, Massachusetts U.S. Federal Census:

  • Jenks Kimball age 53
  • Betsey Kimball age 56

After all those years of being keenly interested in the Boston Tea Party, it was enormously gratifying to finally establish that I have a direct family connection to that historic event. And I owe it all to the clue I unearthed in one paragraph of an 1858 newspaper article!

Newspapers really are tremendous sources of family history information that can help you discover ancestral connections you never knew you had. I hope this story of my personal genealogical discovery will inspire you to search old newspapers for your own family’s connections to history.

By the way—if any of you are interested in tracing your Revolutionary War ancestry, come join the Revolutionary War Research page on Facebook! See www.facebook.com/groups/RevWarRsch/.

And if any of you know what happened to the steel tobacco box or the salt cellar once in the possession of my ancestor Betsey (Bradley) Kimball, please let me know, as I’d really love to see them.