Is There a Pirate in Your Family Tree?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary searches old newspapers to learn more about pirates – their legends, and their true stories.

As long as there have been newspapers, there have been stories published about pirates. You can certainly find lots of them in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Search Tip: Use these search terms to find pirate stories in the old newspapers: buccaneer, buried treasure, corsair, freebooter, marauder, raiders and privateer.

illustration of a pirate

Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division: LC-H824-T01-240

So avast ye family historians – is there a pirate in your family tree? Some of the stories I found in old newspapers will shiver ye timbers. Read on if you want to know more about this spine-tingling topic.

Pirate John Quelch (1666-1704)

Private ship owners were often commissioned to make reprisals or gain reparations for the British crown. They were called “privateers.” When they seized an enemy ship it was called a “prize” and all was perfectly legal. Proceeds were split, so it was a lucrative undertaking. But not all excursions went well.

Ponder Captain Daniel Plowman’s story. In 1703 he was commissioned a privateer by Governor Joseph Dudley, who happens to be one of my ancestors. His ship the Charles was authorized to attack French and Spanish ships off the coast of Newfoundland and Arcadia, but his crew soon mutinied and murdered him. See Wikipedia’s article about Quelch.

John Quelch, Plowman’s lieutenant, was elected leader and turned the Charles south to plunder Portuguese ships off the Brazilian coast. Legend has it that some of the pirates’ captured gold was later buried on New Hampshire’s Star Island. After looting and plundering for ten months, they returned to Marblehead, Massachusetts, where some of them were captured. Quelch and five others were executed and the rest put in jail. After languishing for 13 months, a pardon was granted to Charles James, William Wilder, John Dorrothy, John Pittman, John Carter, Dennis Carter and Charles King. Perhaps one of them is your ancestor.

article about the pardoning of some members of pirate John Quelch's crew, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 23 July 1705

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 23 July 1705, page 2

Pirate Narratives

Encounters with pirates were the tabloid sensations of yesteryear.

This gripping report describes actions with a pirate schooner, chases and even how a brig was “much cut up with musquetry.” During one encounter the captain was burned from a gun powder explosion but survived, with the fight leaving several pirates dead on the ship’s deck.

stories about pirates, Hallowell Gazette newspaper article 12 June 1822

Hallowell Gazette (Hallowell, Maine), 12 June 1822, page 2

Obituaries That Mention Pirates

Pirate encounters often followed men to their death by appearing in their obituaries.

James MacAlpine, who passed away in 1775, had been “taken by a French Pirate and carried into Rattan, where he lived six weeks entirely upon turtle…” Interestingly, this forced diet cured him of consumption which earlier had nearly killed him.

obituary for James MacAlpine, Pennsylvania Ledger newspaper article 1 April 1775

Pennsylvania Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 1 April 1775, page 2

This next obit from 1789 for Captain Luke Ryan reports that his ship Black Privateer had “captured more vessels belonging to Great Britain than any other single ship during the war.”

After being captured in 1781, Ryan was tried as a pirate and thrown into the Old Bailey prison. Although condemned to be executed on four different occasions, each time he was reprieved – though he ended up dying in prison.

obituary for pirate Luke Ryan, Massachusetts Centinel newspaper article 7 October 1789

Massachusetts Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 7 October 1789, page 26

Famous Pirates

Ever wonder if legendary pirates were real? Even if they stretch the truth, some of the anecdotal articles you can find in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives are marvelous.

For example, there is this 1789 account of one of Blackbeard’s legends. After a swordfight that went “pell mell,” Blackbeard supposedly “received a severe stroke on the shoulder” from a lieutenant from a “British ship of war” who had challenged the old pirate to single combat. “Hah, cried he, that’s well struck brother soldier!” A stronger blow followed that “severed his black head from his shoulders.” The old newspaper article reports that Blackbeard’s head was then boiled and a drinking cup made out of his skull. The cup was presented to a “keeper of a publick house, as a cup to drink punch out of.”

article about the pirate Blackbeard, Massachusetts Centinel newspaper article 26 August 1789

Massachusetts Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 26 August 1789, page 186

Believe It or Not

The depth of one’s imagination often runs wild when it comes to the subject of pirates.

In 1820 a man identified only as J— D— passed away, supposedly at the age of 103. He claimed to have been one of the crew of the “old noted pirate” Captain Kidd. Since Captain William Kidd (1645-1701) died 119 years earlier, it’s apparent that this claim merely came from JD’s vivid imagination.

obituaries, Concord Observer newspaper article 17 January 1820

Concord Observer (Concord, New Hampshire), 17 January 1820, page 3

Any Pirates in Your Family History?

Please share your genealogical pirate stories in the comments section.

The WWI Soldier Girl: Hazel Blauser Carter

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to uncover the story of Hazel Carter, who disguised herself as a man in order to follow her husband into battle in WWI – and almost made it.

During the American Civil War, an untold number of women disguised themselves as men and fought on the front lines. These women risked their lives looking for adventure, higher wages, involvement in a cause they believed in, or to follow sweethearts or family members into battle. While it may be difficult to fathom how a woman could get away with passing herself as a man during the Civil War day in and day out, stories and books have been written about the women who did just that.

One might assume that as time marched on, women were less successful disguising themselves as men in order to go to war. After all, weren’t there medical examinations that would have uncovered this type of charade? Well, believe it or not – women tried to pose as male soldiers as recently as World War I!

Hazel Carter, WWI Soldier Girl

Hazel Blauser was born in 1894 and lived in Douglas, Arizona. On 12 December 1916 she married John Carter. John was serving with the 18th infantry, stationed in Douglas, when his unit was called up to go to France. Hazel decided that she would not be left behind. After saying her goodbyes to John, she headed off to a barber where she had her long hair shorn. Then, dressed in an old uniform, she went down to the military base where the soldiers were gathered and tried to get lost in the crowd of young men.

photo of Hazel Carter

Photo: Hazel Carter. Source: National Archives and Records Administration; Wikimedia Commons.

As she explained in this Nebraska newspaper article:

I marched aboard the troop train at Douglas without my husband’s knowledge and to the port from which we sailed without being detected.

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 6 August 1917

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 6 August 1917, page 5

Once on board the troop ship and out to sea, a rumor began circulating that there was a woman aboard. One account says it was because someone heard Hazel’s voice. She was discovered after being asked to remove her shirt. Hazel was then held in a stateroom and transported back to the United States without ever being allowed to step foot on French soil.

Once Hazel was back in the United States her story made newspaper pages across the nation. The adventure of the woman dressed as a WWI soldier was reported, including the fact that she was provided women’s clothes and a wig when she arrived in the United States prior to being sent home to Arizona. In some old newspaper articles she was even referred to as Private Hazel Carter (retired).

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Riverside Daily Press newspaper article 17 July 1917

Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, California), 17 July 1917, page 1

Writing Her Story in the Newspaper

Hazel was able to capitalize on her brief stint with fame by writing four articles about her adventure that were serialized in newspapers. Hazel detailed everything from her decision to follow her husband, to how she was able to hide on the troop train and her eventual boarding of the transport ship and how she “nearly got away with it.”

Her military adventure must have seemed like a grand story – except perhaps to her husband, who lost his rank of corporal and was threatened with court martial due to his wife’s attempt to be with him.

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 19 August 1917

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 19 August 1917, page 4

In her fourth installment of her article series, she reports that her mother had not known that Hazel had left Douglas until she was gone. Her mother wrote to Hazel:

If you wanted to be a soldier and fight with your man, it was all right with us. We’re proud of you. You’re an honor to the blood, and that has been fighting blood since before the Civil War.

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 26 August 1917

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 26 August 1917, page 27

Hazel’s mom wasn’t the only one that was proud of her. Her grandfather H. Clark, a veteran of the Civil War, was quoted as saying:

I knew she would do it…That girl sure has grit. I wish she could stay and fight the Germans. You ought to have seen her in uniform. She made a better looking soldier than John, I do believe. She can handle a rifle better than most men. They sure should have let her stay.

In addition to her family’s approval, Hazel had the admiration of her hometown, the city of Douglas, Arizona. A Michigan newspaper article announced that when she arrived home from her adventure, she would be “met by a guard of honor and a brass band.”

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 30 July 1917

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 30 July 1917, page 8

Hazel wasn’t the only woman to try to join the war effort dressed as a man during WWI. Another young woman, Freda Hart, also tried to disguise herself with the intent of joining the military but was “outed” before she could board a train for Washington, D.C. Hazel and Freda’s stories are recounted in this historical newspaper article with a title emphasizing their boyish haircuts, referring to their “sacrifice of tresses.”

article about Hazel Carter and Freda Hart disguising themselves as men to go fight in WWI, Boston Herald newspaper article 11 November 1917

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 11 November 1917, page 61

While Hazel’s story makes it sound as though women weren’t involved in the war effort or on the battlefronts, nothing could be further from the truth. Did women help in the war effort? Absolutely! Women joined groups like the Red Cross as nurses, the Salvation Army and YWCA. Women even joined the military as nurses and clerical workers and were sent to France. Hazel remarked that she did try to join the Red Cross, only to be turned down.

A Story That Ends Too Soon

Does this love story between Hazel and John end “happily ever after”? Unfortunately, no. Hazel died about a year later, in July 1918 in New Mexico. Her husband, fighting the war in France, never saw her again after her discovery on his WWI troop ship. His last words to her can be found memorialized in one of the newspaper articles she wrote about her adventure:

Don’t let a little thing like that discourage you, honey. Go home and take a run down to Kentucky to see mother. Tell her I am well and doing all right. No Boche bullet is going to get me. Then if you still want to come over, join the Red Cross. I’ll work night and day to see you are sent somewhere near us. Be good, kiddie. Wait for me.

Hazel’s body was transported back to Douglas by the Red Cross, where she was provided with a military-like funeral that included a flag draped over her casket, a military chaplain officiating and soldiers as her pallbearers.

Hazel’s story is just one example of the rich family history you can find in old newspapers. What will you discover about your family in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives?

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Obama & Romney Are Related! Genealogy Infographic

In time for the 2012 election countdown, I recently did some genealogy research to learn more about the background of both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, and guess what—they’re related!

What’s more: they’re also related to several former U.S. presidents, English kings, outlaws and celebrities. This is really huge! So huge in fact that our team at GenealogyBank decided to create this Infographic to show many of these surprising genealogical findings.

Click the image for the even bigger full-size Infographic version.

Obama & Romney - Who Knew? We're Related! Genealogy Infographic

Obama & Romney Are Related?

Yes. Obama and Romney are both direct descendants of King Edward I of England, who was the eldest son of King Henry III and himself a father to numerous children by his two wives, Queens Eleanor and Margaret. King Edward I was perhaps the most successful of the medieval English monarchs. Known as “Longshanks” due to his great height and stature, King Edward I stood head and shoulders above other men of his time, towering at a height of 6’2. Romney and Obama are chips off the old block, both over six feet tall. Romney measures in at 6’2 and Obama at 6’1.

Several U.S. Presidents as Cousins-in-Common

The 2012 presidential candidates not only share a royal ancestor, they also have many distant cousins-in-common. These distant relatives form the impressive lineup of United States presidents featured in the White House Family Reunion photo in the Infographic above.

Obama and Romney’s U.S. president distant cousins-in-common include:

  • James Madison – 4th President of the United States
  • William Harrison – 9th President of the United States
  • Zachary Taylor – 12th President of the United States
  • Ulysses S. Grant – 18th President of the United States
  • Benjamin Harrison – 23rd President of the United States
  • Grover Cleveland – 24th President of the United States
  • Warren G. Harding – 29th President of the United States
  • Calvin Coolidge – 30th President of the United States
  • Richard Nixon – 37th President of the United States
  • Gerald Ford – 38th President of the United States
  • Jimmy Carter – 39th President of the United States
  • George W. Bush – 43rd President of the United States
  • George H.W. Bush – 41st President of the United States

Early American Presidential Roots

Obama and Romney also have deep early American roots in their respective family trees. Mayflower passengers Edward and Samuel Fuller are both direct ancestors of Mitt Romney. They were part of the group of Pilgrims who founded Plymouth Colony in 1620.

Romney is also a distant cousin to the early American President Thomas Jefferson, and Obama is a distant cousin to President George Washington.

Wild West Outlaw Kin

Another interesting ancestral find was that each of the presidential nominees is a distant relation to notorious American Wild West gunslingers. Wild Bill Hickok is a distant cousin to Obama, and William H. Bonney a.k.a. “Billy the Kid” is a distant cousin to Romney. Also noteworthy is that Romney is a relation to famous American actor Clint Eastwood, who has starred in many hit Western movies such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Star-Studded Family Trees

Both of the 2012 election candidates share their family trees with Hollywood megastars, as well as other celebrities ranging from renowned American artists to British royalty.

Obama is a distant cousin to the following celebrities:

  • Brad Pitt – Hollywood Megastar
  • Elvis Presley – King of Rock & Roll
  • Georgia O’Keeffe – Famous American Artist & Painter
  • Robert Duvall – Hollywood Actor

Romney’s family tree also has many movie stars and famous people. His distant cousins include:

  • Clint Eastwood – Hollywood Megastar
  • Alec Baldwin –Hollywood Actor
  • Princess Diana – Former Princess of Wales
  • Katherine Hepburn – Earlier Hollywood Megastar
  • Julia Child – Famous Chef, TV Personality and Author

Both Have Foreign-Born Fathers

President Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to parents Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. The Infographic features an old photo of Barack Obama II as a child with his mother Ann.

President Obama’s father was born in 1936 in Kanyadhiang Village, Kenya. The Infographic features an old picture of President Obama’s dad Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., as an infant with the president’s paternal grandmother Habiba Akumu Obama.

Governor Romney was born in 1947 in Detroit, Michigan, to parents Lenore and George W. Romney. The old family photograph in the Infographic shows the governor as a baby with his mom and dad.

Mitt Romney’s father George W. Romney, the former governor of Michigan, was born in 1907 in Colonia Dublán, Mexico. The old picture in the Infographic shows Romney’s father as a child with Mitt’s grandma Anna Amelia Pratt Romney.

Who knew the presidential candidates shared so many family connections? We’re continuing our ancestral exploration into the 2012 U.S. presidential candidates’ family trees. Make sure to stay tuned by following us here on the blog and on Facebook, Twitter or G+ to get more Obama and Romney family history.

It’s a great day for genealogy!

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Genealogist Obituaries – genealogists in 16 states pass away

Genealogists in 16 States pass away. AK, CA, DE, FL, ID, IL, KS, LA, MA, MO, OH, TX, UT, VA, WA, WI.

Bedgood, Pierrine Charlotte Claudine Cabral. (1938-2009)
Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA) – May 13, 2009

Cheng, Nelson Yum-Ping. (1920-2009)
St. Petersburg Times (FL) – May 14, 2009

Cox, Donald H. (1946-2009)
Lima News (OH) – May 16, 2009

Dawson, Elsie Carter Leonard. (1913-2009)
News Journal (Wilmington, DE) – May 17, 2009

Fortuine, Robert. (1934-2009)
Anchorage Daily News (AK) – May 14, 2009

Gerrie, Alfred Lind, Jr. (1931-2009)
Pasadena Star-News (CA) – May 14, 2009

Harden, Glenda. (1931-2009)
Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT) – May 14, 2009

Harding, Nancy Grotz. (1950-2009)
Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA) – May 17, 2009

Hess, Arthur Brackett. (1948-2009)
Landmark (Holden, MA) – May 14, 2009

Hunt, Edwin Simonds. (1915-2009)
Rockford Register Star (IL) – May 14, 2009

Krah, Gladys Thelma. (1913-2009)
Columbian (Vancouver, WA) – May 17, 2009

Krebs, Emanuel. (1916-2009)
Times-News (Twin Falls, ID) – May 15, 2009

Lasche, Martha Mae. (1912-2009)
Seattle Times (WA) – May 17, 2009

Osteen, Elizabeth Moore. (1917-2009)
Longview News-Journal (TX) – May 16, 2009

Raymond, Guy Raymond, Jr. (1925-2009)
Post-Crescent (Appleton, WI) – May 14, 2009

Roos, Diane. (1945-2009)
Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT) – May 17, 2009

Scott, Frances L. (1946-2009)
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) – May 17, 2009

Shackelford, Patricia Ann. (1935-2009)
Lee’s Summit Journal (MO) – May 14, 2009

Stocks, Ina Sharp. (1919-2009)
Idaho State Journal (Pocatello, ID) – May 15, 2009

Strother, Mary McAvoy. (1923-2009)
Sacramento Bee (CA) – May 16, 2009

Yust, Frances L. (1920-2009)
Hutchinson News (KS) – May 16, 2009


14 Children in 7 years – Mom says: "These are the dearest little things"

Sunday September 29, 1901 Josephine Ormsby (1871-) gave birth to children number eleven, twelve, thirteen and fourteen – three boys and one girl.

The proud mother Josephine Ormsby said “These are the dearest little things” as she was “propped up in the bed with the three boys in her arms and the little girl lying crosswise at the foot of the bed.”

What a terrific family scene – and what a find in GenealogyBank for the Ormsby family history.

Here they are a few years later in a 1910 photograph: Front row, from left – William, Theodore, Edith, John, George & Helen; 2nd row, Mrs. Josephine Ormsby, and Daisy. (Photo courtesy – Library of Congress American Memory Project LC No. #ichicdn n005169)

This article (Pawtucket Times – 2 Oct 1901) not only describes the other children – but gives their dates of birth too.

Nov 1, 1896 – twins, one died: Daisy Ormsby survived
Sep 19, 1897 – twins, both died
Sep 24, 1899 – triplets: Carter Harrison Ormsby died; Helen Gould Ormsby and George Dewey Ormsby – survived.
and lastly:
Sep 29, 1901 – quadruplets: Edith Viola Ormsby, John Studebaker Ormsby, Theodore Roosevelt Ormsby and William Hearst Ormsby.

According to the article the mother was herself “one of a set of triplets”!

What will you find in GenealogyBank?
Click here and start searching now!

Genealogy Librarian – Edith Nettleton – turns 100!

Tuesday July 22nd was Edith Nettleton’s 100th birthday!

Celebrate with her and send a birthday card to:
Edith B. Nettleton
c/o Guilford Free Library
67 Park Street
Guilford, CT 06437

Rachael Scarborough King, New Haven (CT) Register reporter wrote about Genealogy Librarian Edith Nettleton turning 100.
Click here to read the entire article.

Here is the first part of the article:
GUILFORD, CT — Surrounded by friends, family and colleagues, Edith Nettleton celebrated her 100th birthday Tuesday at the place where she has spent much of her adult life — the Guilford Free Library. Tuesday’s party could not take place at the main Park Street library, where Nettleton became the first librarian in 1934. The building is under construction and due to reopen in early September.

But that didn’t stop well-wishers from filling the temporary library on Carter Drive for the occasion.

The party — which included punch and her requested chocolate cake and coffee ice cream — was one of four in the past few days for Nettleton, whose birthday was Tuesday.

“It’s overwhelming,” Nettleton said of the party. “It’s lovely.”

She started working at the library 75 years ago, and retired from her role as library director in 1978. Since then, she has continued as a volunteer librarian, often working on special projects on Guilford history or genealogy.

She can still be found at the library a few days a week, where the main reading room — the

Edith B. Nettleton Historical Room — is named for her. Click here to read the entire article.

NGS Newsmagazine – Latest Issue

The April-June 2008 issue of the NGS Newsmagazine (National Genealogical Society) just arrived in the mail.

Alpert, Janet A. President’s Message. pp. 2-3
Kerstens, Elizabeth Kelly. Editor’s Corner. pp. 4-5
Freilich, Kay Haviland & Ann Carter Fleming. Research in the States Series Expands. pp. 10-11.
Jennings, Arlene V. Reconstructing family history from museum visits. pp. 18-22.
Mieszala, Debbie. Courage on the Seas: Records of the United States Life-Saving Service. pp. 23-27, 51.
Smith, Gary M. & Diana Crisman Smith. Reaching Genealogists through Words (ISFHWE, Genealogical Speakers Guild). pp. 28-31.
Hovorka, Janet. Care and Repair of Photographs. pp. 33-37.
Gray, Gordon. What is APG? pp. 38-41.
Pierce, Alycon Trubey. Adding final pension payment voucher records to the researcher’s toolbox. pp. 42-48.
Smith, Gary M. & Diana Crisman Smith. Research dilemmas of broken homes. pp. 49-51.
Swanson, Andree Brower. Not so plain Jane (Jane Crawford). pp. 52-54.
Schneck, Barbara. Review of Family Tree Maker 2008. pp. 55-58.
Smith, Drew. Papa’s got a brand new genealogy bag. pp. 59-61.
Hinds, Harold E., Jr. A paradigm shift? Biology vs. lineage. pp. 62-63.