She’s Been Workin’ on the Railroad! Researching Railway Records

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott discovers his centenarian cousin once worked for the U.S. Railway Mail Service—and delves into some railroad history.

As a genealogical historian, one of the aspects of family history I love the most is discovering something new about an ancestor. Then I can take some time off from working on my family tree and spend it learning about this new aspect, or area, that I have uncovered. So it was recently as I found myself once again working on my Bohemian (Czech) ancestors in Ohio.

This time I was delving into one of my first cousins, twice removed, Theresa (Sluka) Armstrong. I was reading her obituary in GenealogyBank.com and among all the other tidbits of great information I was finding, I came upon the statement that she was a retiree of the United States Railway Mail Service.

As you can see by reading my cousin’s obituary, Theresa was 100 years old when she passed away. She must have loved the city as she was the wife of a Cleveland policeman and the sister of Frank and Albert Sluka, who were also both Cleveland policemen. (You can read about the tragic murder of Albert Sluka in my previous GenealogyBank.com blog article found at http://blog.genealogybank.com/author/scottphillips.)

obituary for Theresa Sluka Armstrong, Plain Dealer newspaper 19 February 1991

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 February 1991, page 11

The more I thought about it, the more intriguing this organization called the United States Railway Mail Service became to me. Additionally, I found it quite interesting that my female cousin worked for them. Having never heard of it before, I began investigating her occupational history with the railroad almost before I realized it.

Still on GenealogyBank.com, I began searching on “U.S. Railway Mail Service” and was instantly treated to amazing railroad background and historical information.

Unbeknownst to me, in about 1863, the United States Postal Service began outfitting and utilizing specially-designed railway cars to accommodate the collecting, sorting, and distributing of mail aboard railroad trains as they traversed across the United States as an integral part of the early postal system. This efficient railway system was even designed so that at many locations, usually smaller, rural towns where the train did not stop, mail pouches were hung by the railroad tracks where a special “arm” attached to the train would snag the bag while moving. Then the postal clerks on board would retrieve the pouches, open their locks, and sort and process the mail as the train roared along. The train never slowed down or missed a beat!

Quickly I was treating myself to multiple stories about the development, history, and operations of the United States Railway Mail Service. One of my early favorite stories was from an 1891 newspaper article that not only explained the functioning and design of this delivery service, but even contained a drawing of what the mail pouch pick-up looked like.

Mail on the Rail, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 October 1891

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 October 1891, page 13

Then I really found myself hitting pay dirt with a 1909 newspaper article from North Dakota. This historical article is an entire page of the newspaper explaining in detail the U.S. Railway Mail Service and containing six extraordinary photographs of the working areas of these specialized train cars. It even contains the names of the postal clerks working that run. Lists of employee names are always a treat for genealogists and family historians!

U.S. Railway Mail Service in North Dakota, Grand Forks Herald newspaper article 24 January 1909

Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 24 January 1909, page 16

I am now engaging in a full pursuit of finding the employment and pension records for my cousin, which for the U.S. Railway Mail Service are held at the Civilian Personnel Records Department of the National Personnel Records Center, housed at the National Archives and Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

I am keen on discovering more about the employment history of my centenarian cousin and finding out if her working career involved actually “riding the rails” or staying on the solid ground at the station in Cleveland.

 

 

A Murder in the Family Tree: Policeman Stabbed to Death

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott reports a sad discovery when doing his family history research—finding a murder in his family tree.

Ever have one of those eerie experiences that make you just a little bit scared in your family history work? I did and it happened early in my genealogy research when I decided to visit the Woodland Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio. I had been wanting to visit this cemetery for some time as I have faint memories of visiting there with my family when I was a very young boy. Additionally, in my genealogy research, I have discovered that our family has more than 160 deceased family members resting eternally in Woodland Cemetery.

On this particular cemetery visit I was planning on paying my respects to my great grandfather’s sister, Theresa Sluka. As I arrived at her grave I not only found her gravestone, but I found a substantial family burial plot. I was madly clicking photos and writing down notes as to location, directions, etc., when one of the Sluka family gravestones caught my attention.

Up until that visit, I had never seen a gravestone that held portraits captured in porcelain. The small obelisk in front of me held not one portrait, but two. As I came closer, I realized that for the first time I was gazing at the likenesses of my cousins, Albert and Frank Sluka. Both looked remarkably young and then I noticed that Albert died at just 29 (1877-1907) and his brother, Frank, wearing a uniform of some sort in his portrait, died at only 33 (1878-1912).

gravestone portrait of Albert Sluka (1877-1907)

Gravestone portrait of Albert Sluka (1877-1907)

It wasn’t an hour later that I was booting up my computer and digging into these two family members. Beginning with Albert, my first stop was at GenealogyBank.com and I was not disappointed. On the first page of search results there was an article from the front page of the Plain Dealer:

Policeman Dies in Street Fight, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 28 March 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 March 1907, page 1

I felt as if the headline was screaming at me. I couldn’t believe what I was reading: “Policeman Dies in Street Fight. Is Stabbed Just Once, but Life Ebbs Away in Short Time.”

Only three blocks from the very cemetery where I had been standing only an hour earlier, my cousin, wearing his badge and working as a “Special Policeman,” was stabbed to death by a man he had bounced from a dancehall! The old newspaper article explained the crime scene and reported that his brother was a member of the Cleveland Police Department. My curiosity, being fully piqued at this point, kept me looking further.

Amidst the tragedy of this police murder story, I discovered in another newspaper article that the Cleveland Police did indeed get their man, who was a fellow by the name of Harry Fertel:

Murder Charge Rests Lightly, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 29 March 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 29 March 1907, page 2

The news of Albert Sluka’s murder was carried in other newspapers in other states, such as this historical news article which appeared on the front page of an Indiana paper:

Policeman Stabbed to Death, Elkhart Truth newspaper article, 28 March 1907

Elkhart Truth (Elkhart, Indiana), 28 March 1907, page 1

GenealogyBank.com was finding, and I was reading, news stories that covered the initial reports of the assault and crime, and explanations of the impact of the murder on my ancestors including this: “The aged father and mother of the dead policeman are brokenhearted. All day long they sat sobbing beside the casket in the little front room of their home at 5311 McBride Av., S.E…”

I was even learning about my great aunt trying to get her son’s killer sentenced to serve his time in the Penitentiary rather than the Ohio State Reformatory—which itself was none too nice, as revealed in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption (the movie was filmed at the Ohio State Reformatory).

Mother Seeks Revenge, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 15 May 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 15 May 1907, page 3

Ever since that first day of those discoveries about my cousin Albert and his murder, I have been further augmenting my knowledge of this family tragedy with information available from the coroner’s autopsy report, trial transcripts, jail records, and more.

The one thing I can tell you for certain is that reading those early newspaper articles sure beats any TV courtroom drama I have ever seen, because, as they say, “This Is Family.”

 

Genealogist Chips Away at His Family History ‘Brick Wall’

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

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

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

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

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

A couple of examples might help me explain this best.

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

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

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

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

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

Vicha Will Resign, Plain Dealer newspaper clipping 28 November 1896

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treasured Discovery: Only-Known Photos of Ancestors Found in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott tells about finding the only-known photos of two of his ancestors in old newspaper wedding announcements—and a surprising engagement notice that told him something he never knew about his own mother!

Summertime! The livin’ is easy and traditionally it is the time for weddings. My bride and I just celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary a short time ago and it got me to thinking about how much I have gained in my family history and genealogy work from searching for engagement notices and wedding announcements in GenealogyBank.com.

Mr. & Mrs. Scott Phillips Wedding Photo 1975

The author’s wedding photo from 1975.

As many of us go about developing and nurturing our family trees, I think you’ll agree that one of the best aspects of that work is discovering photographs of our ancestors. Let me tell you, few places that I have found beat newspaper engagement and wedding stories for personal photos—sometimes the only picture anyone in the family has of a particular ancestor. I have had terrific success in my family tree with these types of articles.

A great example was the newspaper article I recently found when researching my Havlic branch. I discovered the wedding announcement for Eleanor Anna Havlic as reported in the Plain Dealer on 30 September 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. Not only was I thrilled that there was a picture of my ancestor, but it showed some lovely period dress for a 1928 wedding. Additionally, I was treated to the names of parents, spouse, in-laws, addresses of both, the new couple’s home address, bridal party members, wedding date, and the name of their church.

Mrs Louis J Beran Old Marriage Announcement

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 30 September 1928, page 50.

Another nice find for me was the wedding story of another cousin, Margaret Tager, again in the Plain Dealer (27 August 1961) in Cleveland. Once more I was excited to find an old wedding photo that illustrated the current fashion, this time of the early 1960s, plus addresses, parents’ and in-laws’ names, the name of the church where the ceremony was held—and there was even a mention of where both the bride and groom attended college. As an added treat, the newspaper article explained where the couple honeymooned.

Margaret Ann Tager Marriage Announcement

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 August 1961, page 108.

In the case of both of the above family members, the old newspaper articles provided me with the only photos I have of these particular ancestors, which make them all the more important to my work, my family, and our family tree.

Oh, and don’t forget that every so often you just might find one of those “ah-ha” moments we all enjoy so much in genealogy. I had one myself not long ago.

After working on one of my grandparent’s branches I was having some fun searching different family surnames to see what I could find. As I was running my grandmother’s married name lo and behold I found an engagement announcement! I clicked on the article to find…my mother had been engaged one time before becoming engaged to, and then marrying, the man who was to become my father. This was a fact that had not been a topic of discussion in my life ever before.

Thank goodness my mom made the choice she did or I wouldn’t be here writing this today!

That was a close call…and a really fun discovery.

Family Search Uncovers Circus Elephant Story

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

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

Well, maybe not.

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

The “Chase-of-the-Trace”

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

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

Sister Marjorie: the Chase Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circus Elephant Story

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

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

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

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

Ah, but what a labor of love it is!

Genealogy Boot Camp: Getting Started

OK Team – it’s time to get down to basics and make sure we haven’t missed clues and information that would help us to accurately document our family tree.

Welcome to Genealogy Boot Camp: Core training

Day 1. Home Sources
OK recruits – you will need the basic equipment.

First – get that old laundry basket and let’s put it to good use.
Put this laundry basket where you will see it every day – but where it will be safe. Perhaps a room you don’t use everyday – like the dining room – that should be a good place – or perhaps on the bed in the spare bedroom.

Now, here is your first assignment:
Begin gathering the family history information that you have in your own home.

“But – I don’t have any information about my family!”

OK recruit: put your laundry basket in a visible, safe place and let’s see what we can find in your house.

Step One: Go from room to room in your home looking for items that have clues about your family. As you see something of value – take it and put it in the laundry basket. You should expect to spend one week on this task – do NOT try to do it all at once.

- Photo albums
- Family mementos
- School yearbooks
- Family Bible
- The envelope with family clippings
- Grammie’s recipe book
- The old wooden spoon
- Dad’s World War I medal
- The box with the old family letters and photos
- Baby books
- Old family cups, plates
- History of Gilmanton, NH – Why do we have that?

“I have an old cedar chest with some old clothes & a comforter made by my great-grandmother – I don’t want to move them.

If some of your family treasures are too large or fragile to move – write down a quick description on a 3×5 card and put that in the laundry basket.

Tips

Why should this take one week?

You’re busy. Don’t burn yourself out. During this week as you go around the house in your normal daily routine – be thinking about clues. What do I have in my home that would tell me more about the family? Pick it up and put it in the laundry basket. By the end of the week you’ll have plenty of clues.

Back in the early 1960s I drove over to White Plains, NY to visit my cousins: Genevieve and Burt Shaw (Genevieve M. (Smith) Shaw 1871-1967) – Burton C. Shaw 1866-).

When I arrived Burt was off getting a haircut – Cousin Gen said that he would be right back. We spoke about the family and got caught up on current events.

But, still – no Burt.

As I asked about the family history – Cousin Gen was so apologetic that she didn’t know more about the family history. But as we waited I asked her about the things in the living room. There were framed pictures and photos on most of the shelves and tables. Who were they? She was a steady stream of detail about the family.

And what about the old piano; the old rocking chair; the painting in the corner. Everything had a story and a family connection.

I had written down pages of notes – all the while she repeated that she could no longer remember the details of the family history.

Cousin Burt never did come home that day – but she was a goldmine of information.

So - Step One – Gather Your Home Sources. Once you have them – in hand start to write down the facts and clues and document your family history.

How to deal with heirloom, oversize portraits

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal (February 14-15, 2009 pp. R6) has a terrific article by Kathleen A. Hughes – “The Person over the Mantle”.

Hughes tells the experiences of families in preserving and displaying their old family portraits and her own change of heart in displaying the image of her 3rd Great Grandmother, Mary Plumb Fairchild.
Early on she was offered Mary’s portrait but decided that she didn’t want that “stern” looking woman over the mantle of her fireplace. Thirty years later she had a change of heart and looked into her genealogy and remembered that old family heirloom. Turns out that Mary Plumb Fairchild was “one of the first women to attend Oberlin College, and an early abolitionist. She died at 29 after giving birth to her fourth child”. Now not accepting the offer of the family portrait is one of her regrets – but the portrait is preserved and hangs in the home of a cousin across the country. (Portrait of Mary Plumb Fairchild is from the article).

We have a wall of old family portraits in our home along the landing at the top of the stairs – much like the walls at Hogwarts in a Harry Potter movie – they are hard to miss. The really oversize family portraits still hang at my uncle’s home in New Hampshire.

If you have early family portraits – be sure to make a digital copy of each one – identify them and post them online. eMail copies to members of your family. You could post them for free at Facebook.com; on Scribd.com or similar sites …. and you can join online genealogy sites like Ancestry.com and post the digital images there.

But – what do you do if you don’t have a portrait of any of your ancestors?

You could scour the Internet looking to see if a historic image of your relative is already online. You could also search sites like GenealogyToday – a terrific site that regularly posts funeral cards, early printed items and photographs etc.
Another source is old newspapers. I have found thousands of images – photos, etchings of people in 19th & 20th Century newspapers. GenealogyBank is a great source for tracking down old family photos that the family lost track of decades ago.

This image of Daniel Freeman is from the Omaha (NE) Sunday World Herald 26 June 1899.

What do you have for my town?

Sometimes genealogists look at GenealogyBank‘s 3,700+ newspapers and only focus on newspapers published in their home town.

Beginning researchers often concentrate on their local newspaper or other newspapers published in their state and don’t think they need the rest of the content in GenealogyBank.

When I first began researching 43 years ago – I found an obituary about Edward Kemp (1863-1926) published in the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s Register (NEHGS Memoirs. January 1928. pp. 103-104).

The obituary said that he was born in County Cavan, Ireland. That would have been crucial information for my Kemp research at that time. But the article also said that he was born in New York City so I erroneously concluded this was not my relative. I thought our family was “only” from Stamford, Connecticut.

It would be years later that I would again find Edward’s obituary in the Register. The second time I recognized him immediately as my cousin. By then I knew that the family was from County Cavan – but I stared at that information and wondered – how was it I didn’t find this earlier? And, then I recalled that I had tossed it aside because he was from New York City.

Tip: Families move to other parts of the country. Use GenealogyBank to find your family obituaries; articles, and documents – no matter where in the country these items were published. Don’t assume you only want your hometown newspaper.

Let me give you an example – framed on the basic question researchers often ask – What do you have on Stamford, CT?

The question should be more precise. What do you have on Grace Stewart – who was born and married in Stamford, CT?

What was known?
Her name: Grace Toms
Approximate year/place of birth: born about 1896 in Stamford, CT
Spouse: She married “Charles Stewart”
Other: The rest of the “Toms” family lived/died in the Stamford area.

Problem:
Initial searches found nothing on them.
Charles Stewart and Grace Stewart are common names.

A search of GenealogyBank for Grace Stewart yielded 1,238 results – that is just too many to sort through to find her.

I narrowed the search to just the more recent America’s Obituaries section to see if I could locate her obituary notice.


That resulted in 143 hits – I could sift through those – but I first limited the search again by state – for just obituaries published in Connecticut newspapers. This time I got zero hits.

So I turned to search for her husband: Charles Stewart.

A search for him in the America’s Obituaries section for all newspapers produced 632 hits. When I limited the search to just CT newspapers I found one hit, but it was not him

I then repeated the America’s Obituaries section search for Grace Stewart but this time I added her middle name “Toms” to the extra search terms in “Include keywords” box.

Nothing.

One more try. I repeated the America’s Obituaries section search for Grace Stewart but this time I added “Stamford” to the extra search terms “Include keywords” box.

Success!

Grace Stewart
Washington Post, The (DC) – February 4, 1992
GRACE STEWART, LAWYER, ASSOCIATE JUDGE, DIES
Grace M. Stewart, 93, an associate judge of the Municipal Court in Washington in 1952 and 1953, died of pneumonia Feb. 1 at the Collingswood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rockville, where she was a patient for five years. She was a Washington resident off and on for 74 years.


Mrs. Stewart was appointed to the court after serving as executive assistant in the attorney general’s office. She worked for the Justice Department for 24 years.
After she left Municipal Court, she was on the staff of the Senate District Committee and later became administrative director of the Washington office of Executive Manpower Corp, a recruitment firm. She retired in 1973.


A native of Stamford, Conn., Mrs. Stewart attended American University and its law school. She was a typist with the Veterans Administration before she became a lawyer at Justice.

She belonged to the Federal and Women’s Bar associations and Phi Delta Delta legal fraternity.

Her husband, Charles Stewart, died in 1920. Survivors include two daughters, Barbara S. Eskey of Rockville and Patricia S. de Hoffman of La Jolla, Calif.; four grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Copyright (c) 1992 The Washington Post

Tip: Don’t only concentrate on your home town newspaper. You can find articles about your family published in out of state newspapers – in this case the Washington Post.

Tip: Be sure to be creative in adding/removing search terms to fine tune your search.
Tip: Search GenealogyBank now.
What will you find?

Congratulations to my cousin Sarah Heath Palin!

Genealogists will love the fact that the new Republican choice for Vice President – Sarah Heath Palin is a descendant of multiple Mayflower passengers: John Tilley, John Howland, Stephen Hopkins, Elder William Brewster, Richard Warren and other well known New England families.

I am also descended from those Mayflower passengers …. so we’re cousins.

She is also a descendant of the Rev. John Lathrop – famous to genealogists as the “gateway” ancestor of many US Presidents, inventors, actors and celebrities.

No doubt in the days ahead we will see stories of how she is related to our other cousins: George Bush, Queen Elizabeth, Barack Obama, John Kerry, Dick Cheney, George Washington, King George III, King Henry VIII, Abraham Lincoln and the list will go on and on.

It’s a great day for genealogy!

Wild Bill Obama

May 27th was Wild Bill Hickok’s day – I wrote about how easy it is to find newspaper articles about him in GenealogyBank.

Wild Bill Hickok is in the news again – when Barack Obama mentioned his family tradition that he was a distant cousin to Wild Bill – James Butler Hickok (1837-1876).

(Photo: Texas Observer Blog 27 Feb 2007)

Don’t you love it when politicians talk about their genealogy!

The New England Historic Genealogical Society does and issued a statement yesterday verifying Obama’s family tradition:

Obama and Hickok are sixth cousins, six-times removed. Their common ancestor is Thomas Blossom, who came to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1629 from Leiden, Holland. Obama’s 4th great-grandfather, Jacob Dunham, was 6th cousins with Wild Bill. Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann, is also a Dunham.

“The ancestry of Wild Bill Hickok was published by NEHGS some years back, which showed he descended from the Blossom family of Cape Cod, an early family written up in one of our scholarly publications,” said Child. He added, “Since we had also recently done the ancestry of Senator Obama, finding this connection was a little easier.”

Click here to see the Obama – Hickok family tree – Wild Bill is related to Obama through his mother Polly Butler.