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.

Our Honored Dead …

When Abraham Lincoln gave his stirring remarks at Gettysburg in 1863 word spread quickly across the nation.

The San Francisco (CA) Daily Evening Bulletin of 18 Dec 1863 captured the impact of Lincoln’s words that still move us today.

Newspapers report what happens every day giving each of us the emotion, context and impact of the news as it happens.

GenealogyBank with more than 3,400 newspapers over four centuries gives us the news as it happened.


Gripping accounts of the attack at Lexington & Concord appeared within days giving us the emotion and details of that day.
(NH Gazette & Historical Chronicle. 21 April 1775).

As we look back and remember our “honored dead” it is a good time to pause and reread Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Four score and seven years ago
our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation,
conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition
that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether
that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
We are met on a great battle-field of that war.
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field,
as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives
that that nation might live.
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense,
we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—
we can not hallow—this ground.
The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here,
have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,
but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living, rather,
to be dedicated here to the unfinished work
which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be
here dedicated to the great task remaining before us
—that from these honored dead
we take increased devotion to that cause
for which they gave the last full measure of devotion
—that we here highly resolve
that these dead shall not have died in vain
—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom
—and that government of the people,
by the people,
for the people,
shall not perish from the earth.
This familiar version cited from Wikipedia

Now compare that with the version published in the San Francisco (CA) Daily Evening Bulletin of 18 Dec 1863

There were in fact multiple versions of the Gettysburg Address that were written down by reporters, others at the event and Lincoln himself.

See a discussion of this on the Library of Congress website loc.gov including a copy of the only known photo of Lincoln taken that day.

Homestead Act – May 20, 1862 – Daniel Freeman 1st Homesteader

Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862. It would take effect on January 1, 1863. The first homesteader to take “the required oath and [be] given the documents which made him possessor of 160 acres of land” was Daniel Freeman (1826-1908).

Daniel Freeman was born April 26, 1826 in Lewisburg, Preble County, Ohio. The son of Samuel and Phebe (Willis) Freeman.

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

According to that newspaper he and his family moved from Ohio to Illinois when he was 9 years old. In time he enlisted in “Company H of the Seventeenth Illinois Volunteers” and was stationed in Nebraska.

Freeman “had been ordered to return to St. Louis” and would not be in town when the land record office would open on January 2nd but the Recorder of Deeds James Bedford agreed to accommodate Freeman’s situation and made an exception and administered the oath at midnight the morning of January 1st so that he could leave to report in St. Louis.

Freeman wouldn’t return to build on his land until 1865. He literally married the “girl next door” – Agnes Suiter (1843-1931) – and they built their lives together there in Brownsville, Nebraska.

The Kansas City (MO) Times 26 May 1920 carried an image of the old homestead.

What a great day for genealogists. GenealogyBank is packed with newspaper articles and historical documents – over 227 Million of them that document and give the details of our ancestor’s lives.

It’s great to have the details and the actual images of our ancestors and their homes. Who knew it would be this easy to find them after all these years.

Give it a try for 30 days for $9.95.