The 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of the RMS Lusitania

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 learn more about the tragic sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania by a German submarine, an act which almost propelled the neutral U.S. into World War I.

First launched in 1906, the RMS Lusitania was part of the British Cunard line of luxury passenger ships. For a short time, the Lusitania was the fastest ship in the world, with such amenities as electric lights and the wireless telegraph. On 1 May 1915, with World War I raging in Europe, the Lusitania set sail from New York to Liverpool, England, filled with passengers.

Warning Issued before Lusitania Departed

But – most likely unknown to most of those passengers – the Lusitania was also carrying supplies and ammunition for the British war effort. After 101 roundtrip crossings, this journey may not have seemed too different from the previous ones – except for a warning directed to all those on board. However, this crossing will forever remain different in the annals of history – for the Germans sank the Lusitania on 7 May 1915, nearly drawing the neutral U.S. into WWI.

Illustration: sinking of the Lusitania; engraving by Norman Wilkinson for the 15 May 1915 issue of “The Illustrated London News"

Illustration: sinking of the Lusitania; engraving by Norman Wilkinson for the 15 May 1915 issue of “The Illustrated London News.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

New York newspapers had carried a warning from the German embassy alerting potential Lusitania passengers that sailing through a war zone under the flags of Great Britain or its allies could mean possible destruction of the ship. Civilian passengers on board would be traveling at their own risk. Perhaps those who purchased passage on the Lusitania thought the warning was an idle threat, figuring that civilians could simply not be in danger from military actions.

According to this South Dakota newspaper article about the German warning: “Not a single passenger cancelled his sailings.” While the old newspaper article reports that the U.S. State Department took the warning seriously, it goes on to say that: “The Cunarder [sic] officials laughed at the passengers’ fears.” Referring to the speed of the ship, the officials stated that: “the Lusitania could show her heels to any submarine.”

article about the warning Germany gave before the Lusitania departed from New York, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 1 May 1915

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 1 May 1915, page 1

The Sinking of the Lusitania

Six days after departing from New York, on May 7th off the coast of Ireland, a German submarine U-20 under the command of Walther Schweiger fired a torpedo at the Lusitania.

article about Germany sinking the Lusitania, Lexington Herald newspaper article 8 May 1915

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 8 May 1915, page 1

Unlike the Titanic disaster just three years prior, the Lusitania sank very quickly in only 18 minutes – not enough time for her nearly 2,000 passengers to climb safely into lifeboats. Only 767 of the 1,960 people aboard survived. The torpedoed ship tragedy took the lives of approximately 128 out of 139 Americans on board. Only 37.7% of passengers survived the sinking, leaving a large number of women and children among the dead.* A list and biographies of the passengers and crew aboard the Lusitania can be found on The Lusitania Resource website.

article about Germany sinking the Lusitania, Gulfport Daily Herald newspaper article 8 May 1915

Gulfport Daily Herald (Gulfport, Mississippi), 8 May 1915, page 1

One of those who perished was American genealogist Lothrop Withington, who was returning to England on the Lusitania to continue researching a 17th century registry of wills.

article about Germany sinking the Lusitania, Plain Dealer newspaper article 9 May 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 May 1915, page 6

Sinking Almost Draws U.S. into WWI

After pressure from President Woodrow Wilson, Germany promised to only sink passenger ships after proper warning and safeguards for passengers. English, Irish and eventually U.S. propaganda posters evoked the needless drowning of women and children to encourage or guilt men into joining the military.

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Here’s an example of such a recruitment poster, showing a heartbreaking scene of a woman Lusitania passenger drowning with her infant child.

photo of a U.S. WWI enlistment poster spurred by Germany's sinking of the Lusitania

Photo: U.S. WWI enlistment poster spurred by sinking of the Lusitania. Source: U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

While England was hoping this tragedy would bring the United States into the war, it would be another two years before President Wilson decided to send Americans to fight. Wilson had won a second presidential term running with the slogan “He kept us out of war.” This slogan didn’t resonate with everyone, as this political commentary shows. Among its many grievances, this editorial includes anger over the sinking of the Lusitania.

editorial opposed to President Woodrow Wilson running for a second term, Tucson Daily Citizen newspaper article 15 July 1916

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 15 July 1916, page 4

After events like the sinking of the Lusitania and the intercepted Zimmerman Telegram, which revealed that Germany offered U.S. territory to Mexico in return for assisting Germany in the war effort, the United States finally entered the war on 6 April 1917.

article about the U.S. declaring war on Germany and entering WWI, Patriot newspaper article 22 March 1917

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 22 March 1917, page 1

Were any of your ancestors on board the Lusitania when it was sunk by a German submarine? If so, please tell us about it in the comments section

———————

* Passenger and Crew Statistics. The Lusitania Resource. http://www.rmslusitania.info/people/statistics/. Accessed 5 May 2015.

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WWI Christmas Truce: When the Guns Stopped Firing

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena tells a remarkable story: how the power of Christmas – with its hope of “peace on earth, good will to men” – temporarily stopped the fighting during WWI in 1914.

By December 1914, Germany, Britain, France, and other European nations had been fighting since August. Trenches were dug on the Western front in September and those trenches, now home to soldiers, meant a holiday that would be cold, wet, and miserable tinged with the constant threat of death. What was first thought of as a “great adventure” by many young men must have quickly turned into a harsh cold reality as the casualties rose.

Then Christmas time approached, and something wonderful happened.

Illustration: the “Illustrated London News” depiction of the WWI Christmas Truce of 1914: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches.”

Illustration: the “Illustrated London News” depiction of the WWI Christmas Truce of 1914: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches.” The subcaption reads: “Saxons and Anglo-Saxons fraternising on the field of battle at the season of peace and goodwill: Officers and men from the German and British trenches meeting and greeting one another; a German officer photographing a group of foes and friends.” Credit: A. C. Michael; Wikimedia Commons.

Pope Benedict Calls for Christmas Truce

In an attempt to stop the fighting for Christmas that year, Pope Benedict called on the warring nations to declare a Christmas truce. Initially, Germany was reportedly agreeable to a truce – but only if the other countries agreed.

article about the WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Elkhart Daily Review newspaper article 11 December 1914

Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 11 December 1914, page 1

Pope’s Plea Denied

But not every country was in agreement about the Christmas truce, so the discussion of a lull in the fighting ended. By mid-December 1914 the American newspapers announced that an official cease fire was not to be.

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The following newspaper article reported:

The thundering roll of heavy guns will be the Christmas chimes of Europe. It’s [sic] carols will be the cries of dying men. Across the sky toward which wise men looked for the star which guided them to a manger will dart the aircraft of hostile powers – the latest man-made engine for aiding the destruction of fellow men.

Thousands may die upon battlefields on this Christmas Day when the message of ‘Peace on earth, good will to men,’ is being again repeated in other parts of the world.

article about the WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 13 December 1914

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 13 December 1914, page 1

Andrew Carnegie Comments

Interestingly enough, though America was not yet engaged in World War I, there was an American industrialist who was against a Christmas-time truce. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie weighed in with the opinion that a truce where the fighting would end momentarily and then commence after the holidays was “unchristianlike and immoral.” Instead he called for supporting President Woodrow Wilson in promoting and securing a permanent peace: “It is terrible that so many widows and orphans are being made because a few men wanted war.” (An interesting aside is that this newspaper article ends with the comment that Carnegie walked to the White House to see the President, but the President was out golfing.)

article about the WWI Christmas truce, Elkhart Daily Review newspaper article 11 December 1914

Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 11 December 1914, page 1

Brief Christmas 1914 Truce

While an official truce did not occur, many WWI soldiers took matters into their own hands, setting aside their weapons and reaching out to their enemies in the spirit of the season. There were in fact mini truces all along the trenches that Christmas. While some mythology surrounds the details, there is no doubt that there was an unofficial cease fire, and soldiers from opposite sides did interact peacefully in “No Man’s Land” for Christmas 1914. Recollections of those involved told of gift giving, singing, kicking balls around, and other friendly interactions.

photo of British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the WWI Christmas truce of 1914

Photo: British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the WWI Christmas truce of 1914. Credit: Robson Harold B.; Wikimedia Commons.

This report from a Rhode Island newspaper announces “British and Germans Exchange Gifts During a Christmas Truce on Firing Line.” The article reports:

On Christmas morning two British soldiers, after signalling truce and good-fellowship from the perilous crown of their trench, walked across to the German line with a plate of mince pies and garniture and seasonable messages… and were sent back with packets of Christmas cards – quite sentimental – wreathed with mistletoe and holly, for distribution among their fellows.

article about WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Pawtucket Times newspaper article 31 December 1914

Pawtucket Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island), 31 December 1914, page 11

Enter Last Name

Initially American newspapers reported that an unofficial truce would be declared in the trenches so that the men could eat their Christmas dinners in peace. While those in charge were providing their fighting men with some small luxuries (reportedly the French government sent their soldiers champagne), an unofficial momentary truce was about all that these soldiers could hope for.

article about WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Times-Picayune newspaper article 26 December 1914

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 26 December 1914, page 6

Unfortunately, those fighting in World War I would see not only the Christmas of 1914 come and go with no peaceful solution to the war, but they would see three more Christmases bring fighting and lives lost – for some countries, almost wiping out an entire generation.

But for a brief time, that December 1914, soldiers on both sides laid down their weapons and enjoyed a little “peace on earth,” if only just for a short while.

photo of a cross erected in Belgium in 1999 to commemorate the WWI Christmas truce of 1914

Photo: a cross erected in Belgium in 1999 to commemorate the WWI Christmas truce of 1914. The inscription reads: “1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget.” Credit: Redvers; Wikimedia Commons.

Various stories of the Christmas truce can be found in historical newspapers and online. A dramatic narration done by Walter Cronkite accompanied by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir tells the story of the World War I Christmas truce and can be found on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRq–pTnlog.

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Ship Records for Genealogy: Newspapers & Passenger Lists

Every family historian wants to know the ship their ancestor came over on and the date that it arrived.

Along with Thanksgiving, tomorrow we’ll be celebrating the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620.

That trip took 66 days. Remarkably, when my ancestor William Kemp came to America 233 years later that trip still took a long time: 56 days.

Genealogists often can find the date and the name of the ship their ancestor came over on—but is there more to the story?
Is there a way to find out more details about our ancestors?

Yes—we can find the rest of the story and, importantly, pass it down in the family. We can find it in GenealogyBank’s 3 centuries of newspaper archives.

Stories from the Mayflower Voyage

In the case of the Pilgrims coming to America, the old newspapers fill in the story, reporting that the Mayflower voyage was very difficult. The Boston Herald tells us that “halfway across the ocean, the point of no return, the Mayflower ran into the first of ‘many fierce storms.’”

article about the Mayflower's cross-Atlantic trip in 1620, Boston Herald newspaper article 25 November 1970

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 November 1970, page 26

One violent storm at sea cracked and buckled the main beam. The news article reports that the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower were terrified. Luckily they had brought along nails, screws and other items for building homes in the New World, and were able to use a “great iron scrue” to “force the beam back into place.”

Enter Last Name

What about My Ancestor’s Story?

I have always wanted to know exactly when my ancestor William Kemp came to America, and I finally found that date and the name of the ship on the free Internet site CastleGarden.org.

William arrived in America on 21 October 1853, a passenger on the ship Benjamin Adams.

There it is in the ship passenger list: the name of the ship and the date of his arrival!
Done.

With this information, I did a search on FamilySearch and found confirmation.

screenshot of New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891

Source: FamilySearch “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1891” https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/275L-W4Z

screenshot of New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891, showing the listing for William Kemp

Source: FamilySearch “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1891” https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/275L-W4Z

But, Was There More to William’s Story?

The name of the ship and the arrival date are good to know, but I wanted to find out more about William’s story—and old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, are a good resource for finding our ancestors’ stories.

Searching GenealogyBank by the name of the ship—not the name of my ancestor—I found this article in the American and Commercial Daily Advertiser reporting that the Benjamin Adams left Friday 26 March 1852 on its maiden voyage from Bath, Maine, to Baltimore, Maryland.

shipping news, American and Commercial Daily Advertiser newspaper article 1 April 1852

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland), 1 April 1852, page 3

Advertisements for “the splendid ship Benjamin Adams” highlighted its comfortable accommodations of 6 to 8 cabins above deck and another 75 to 80 accommodations in steerage below deck.

article about the accomodations on the ship "Benjamin Adams," American and Commercial Daily Advertiser newspaper article 28 April 1852

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland), 28 April 1852, page 1

Once William Kemp made his decision to emigrate he would have taken a steamship from Ireland to Liverpool, England, arriving at Clarence Dock along the Mersey River in Liverpool.

Liverpool has a series of docks along the banks of the Mersey River. It was one of the major hubs of immigration to America.

According to Liverpool and Emigration in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Information Sheet number 64:

By 1851 it had become the leading emigration port in Europe with 159,840 passengers sailing to North America, as opposed to the second port, Le Havre, [France] with 31,859.

This would have been the scene in mid-19th century Liverpool when William arrived to wait for his ship to America.

painting: “Liverpool Docks from Wapping,” 1870, by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Painting: “Liverpool Docks from Wapping,” 1870, by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893). Source: original is at the Liverpool City Library, Liverpool, England.

The Preparation and Movement of Ships

Here is a newspaper article reporting that the ship Benjamin Adams had moved from the dock and into the Mersey River ready to head outbound—waiting to move up the river with the aid of a tugboat that will direct it safely to the open ocean.

shipping news, Portland Weekly Advertiser newspaper article 13 September 1853

Portland Weekly Advertiser (Portland, Maine), 13 September 1853, page 3

The big day arrived: the Benjamin Adams set sail on 24 August 1853 bound for New York City.

shipping news, Daily Atlas newspaper article 10 September 1853

Daily Atlas (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 September 1853, page 2

Ship Arrival Times

It was announced in the Weekly Herald newspaper that the Benjamin Adams arrived in New York City on 21 October 1853.
They made it.

shipping news, Weekly Herald newspaper article 22 October 1853

Weekly Herald (New York City, New York), 22 October 1853, page 344

News Stories of Trouble at Sea

Newspapers can tell us just how difficult the cross-Atlantic trip was for our ancestors. That Weekly Herald article gave more details on the trip. The voyage took 56 days with 620 passengers on board. The ship was hit by a storm, suffering major damage:

Sept. 10, while laying to under a close reefed topsail in a heavy gale from the NW, lost all three topgallant masts, closed reefed mizzen topsail, foresail, mainsail, stern boat, and received other damage.

The old news article also reported: “Had 15 deaths on the passage.”

A week later the Weekly Herald told us why so many had died.

Great Mortality in Emigrant Ships, Weekly Herald newspaper article 29 October 1853

Weekly Herald (Albany, New York), 29 October 1853, page 350

Cholera was killing passengers on ship after ship:

…it is pretty certain that the disease which carried them off was cholera, that fatal malady which is making such havoc among the shipping in Europe…The sickness on the Benjamin Adams was decidedly cholera.

Cholera was a major problem in England and Europe in the mid-1800s. In 1853-1854 it killed more than 31,000 people in London alone. It would be another year before the pioneering work of John Snow, M.D. (1813-1858) discovered the cause and cure for the repeated cholera epidemics.

The Albany Evening Journal had this report about the arrival of the Benjamin Adams.

article about the ship "Benjamin Adams," Albany Evening Journal newspaper article 22 October 1853

Albany Evening Journal (Albany, New York), 22 October 1853, page 2

Passenger Ship Routes

Wait—the Benjamin Adams arrived “from Syria” bringing “a Jerusalem plow and other articles from the Holy Land, for the Crystal Palace at New York”? Notice that it stopped in Boston, Massachusetts, before continuing on to New York City.

When was the ship in Syria?

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Digging deeper into GenealogyBank’s old newspapers—there it is.

The ship was in Beirut on July 25th before going to Liverpool to pick up William Kemp and the other 619 passengers.

shipping news, Daily Atlas newspaper article 1 September 1853

Daily Atlas (Boston, Massachusetts), 1 September 1853, page 2

The Springfield Republican gave more details.

article about the ship "Benjamin Adams," Springfield Republican newspaper article 25 October 1853

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 25 October 1853, page 2

In addition to the “Arab plough,” the Benjamin Adams brought:

…canes from the banks of the Jordan, branches from the Mount of Olives and cedars of Lebanon, and husks that the “prodigal son” would have eaten if he had had them to eat.

Conclusion

When I began searching for the name of the ship and the date that William Kemp arrived in America, I only knew that William was born in Corradownan, County Cavan, Ireland. I did not know any additional details about William’s cross-Atlantic trip.

Thanks to CastleGarden.org and FamilySearch.org, I learned that he came over on the ship Benjamin Adams and that he arrived in New York City on 21 October 1853.

Those were the basic facts, but it took the old newspapers in GenealogyBank’s deep newspaper archives to fill in the rest of the story. These newspapers gave me the details of how dangerous the trip was, reported that it took an incredible 56 days, provided a description of the ship’s accommodations, and listed the interesting ancient relics it was bringing from Syria to the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations—the World’s Fair—held in 1853 in New York City.

Old documents give us the names, dates and places, but newspapers have the stories that give life to our ancestors and make their experiences memorable and unforgettable.

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Are You Sure That Is How to Spell Your Ancestor’s Name?

Portraits of my Starbird ancestors hang on our wall on the landing at the top of the staircase. Over the years I have chained the family back from Martha Jane (Starbird) Richmond (1836-1905) to Robert Starbird (1782- ) to Moses Starbird (1743-1815) to John Starbird (1701-1753) to Thomas Starbird (1660-1723).

photo of the Starbird family

Photo: Starbird family. Source: Thomas Jay Kemp.

All of them lived in Dover, New Hampshire, at some time in their lives, and by the 19th century several of the Starbird lines were living in Gray, Maine.

Looking in the deep Historical Newspaper Archives of GenealogyBank, I can quickly find multiple Starbird articles from across centuries of American history.

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For example, here is a probate notice regarding Catharine Starbird, widow of Moses Starbird, published in 1838.

article about a probate proceeding involving Catharine Starbird, Portland Weekly Advertiser newspaper article 1 May 1838

Portland Weekly Advertiser (Portland, Maine), 1 May 1838, page 1

Here is an article about John Starbird (1742-1802), who served in the Continental Army. Both he and his brother (my ancestor) Moses Starbird (1743-1815) fought at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.

article about John Starbird, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 30 December 1779

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 30 December 1779, page 3

So far so good.

Their name was “Starbird” and I am finding “Starbird” articles in the old newspapers.
Good. This is straightforward.

FamilySearch recently added to their site the “England and Wales, Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008.” Great—an index to all of the births in England. I thought: let me search there to see if I can determine where in England the Starbird family came from.

This should be easy family tree research.

Bang.

screenshot of a search on FamilySearch for the surname "Starbird"

Source: FamilySearch

What? There was only one “Starbird” birth in all of England, going all the way back to 1837?

How could that be?

Looking deeper into GenealogyBank, I found this old obituary notice.

obituary for John Starboard, Weekly Eastern Argus newspaper article 26 April 1805

Weekly Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine), 26 April 1805, page

This is for a son of John “Starboard” from Gray, Maine.
Oh—that’s it.
The name could have been spelled “Starbird” or “Starboard.”

When I think of it—I pronounce both words exactly the same way.

Enter Last Name

So—let’s do a quick double-check in the FamilySearch index to British birth records with this new spelling.

This time the search results were zero.

Zero “Starboard” births and only one “Starbird” birth—what is going on here?

I can find a ton of “Starbird” references in America but none in Britain.
Is there another spelling of the surname?

I have seen where some genealogists have suggested that Thomas Starbird (1660-1723) of Dover, New Hampshire, was the son of Edward Starbuck (1604-1690) who was also from Dover.

Would Thomas really have changed his name from Starbuck to Starbird?

Alfred A. Starbird, author of Genealogy of the Starbird-Starbard Family (Burlington, Vermont: The Lane Press), looked at this—especially since another Starbird historian said that Thomas Starbird had changed his name from Starbuck—but concluded “nothing has been found to support this claim.”

The title of his book gives us another variant spelling of this surname: “Starbard.” So, I tried that spelling in the FamilySearch—again zero references.

So—what about the spelling “Starbuck”?
I repeated the search, and that spelling produced over 5,000 English birth records.

Is it that simple—Thomas simply changed his name from Starbuck to Starbird?
Would that be a logical name change?
Is there another explanation?

Have any of our readers found a record proving who the parents of Thomas Starbird (1660-1723) of Dover, New Hampshire, were? If so, I would like to know.

Do you know any current men named Starbird or Starbuck who are willing to take a DNA test? That might be the only way we find the answer to this question.

What say you?

I’d be interested in your comments.

Related Ancestor Name Research Articles:

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Researching Your Family Heirlooms: Gaudy Dutch Pottery

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shows how old newspapers can help you better understand your family heirlooms, focusing on some Gaudy Dutch pottery she inherited from her grandmother.

The first step in compiling your family history begins in your home: gathering all the family documents, letters, photos, and heirlooms you can find. The goal of many genealogists is to go beyond the names and dates on their family tree; they want to get to know their ancestors as real people—the lives they led and the times they lived in.

Heirlooms help fill in some of your family’s stories—and in order to better understand these precious objects that have been passed down through the generations, research in old newspapers such as GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives can be really beneficial.

Pottery Heirloom from My Grandmother

Among the heirlooms from my grandmother’s estate were several items described as “Gaudy Dutch” pottery. There were several plates and an assortment of cups and saucers, each hand-painted and of a unique design.

photo of Gaudy Dutch pottery

Source: the Author’s personal collection

We divided these old pottery pieces among family members, without knowing their personal history.

Yes, we knew that they had passed from our great grandmother to her daughter, but nobody could ascertain how many generations of the family had owned them—much less used them to sip tea. At the time, I remember being impressed that these pieces had come all the way from the Netherlands.

History of Gaudy Dutch Pottery

However, after doing some newspaper research I realized that my assumption was incorrect: Gaudy Dutch pottery did not come from the Netherlands after all. Actually, this type of pottery was made in England for export to the American market, primarily between 1810-1820, with some examples made through 1842.

The style is known primarily as Gaudy Dutch, but similar styles can be found under other names, such as Gaudy Welsh and Gaudy Ironstone. Only 16 patterns of Gaudy Dutch were ever made: Butterfly, Carnation, Dahlia, Double Rose, Dove, Grape, Leaf, Oyster, Primrose, Single Rose, Strawflower, Sunflower, Urn, War Bonnet, Zinnia, and once called No Name. (Can you guess which pattern I have? See answer at bottom.)

You can view photos of Gaudy Dutch pottery and learn more here: Kovels Price Guides.

The descriptive term “gaudy” came from its Japanese Imari-style patterning, but the other half of the name, “Dutch,” derived its popularity from German settlers, known as Pennsylvania Dutch. Dutch did not indicate an origin from the Netherlands, but from Germany (as “Deutsch” means German). (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_Dutch.)

The Dutch Never Made Gaudy Dutch (Pottery), Oregonian newspaper article 19 November 1978

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 19 November 1978, page 228

Researching Heirlooms in Newspapers

How can you use historical newspapers to research your family heirlooms? Well, for one thing, early advertisements provide a uniquely interesting environment to explore the history of heirlooms.

Although I knew that the name of my pottery was not originally “Gaudy Dutch,” I still searched by that keyword in very early newspapers—and quickly discovered absolutely nothing.

For my next queries I incorporated descriptions, such as “painted tea cups,” and these search results were a little more fruitful. Although I’ll never know for certain, I suspect the painted cups and saucers of this 1817 Massachusetts newspaper advertisement were for my type of earthenware.

pottery ad, Boston Daily Advertiser newspaper advertisement 4 February 1817

Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), 4 February 1817, page 3

Further newspaper archive queries into later time periods turned up a number of helpful articles, such as this one.

article about Gaudy Dutch pottery, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 March 1965

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 March 1965, section 3, page 7

Tea Time and Our Ancestors

How many cups of tea have been poured into my Gaudy Dutch teacup, I’ll never know—but I do know that the custom of tea drinking will forever be entwined in the fabric of American history.

Yes, there was a time, during the Boston Tea Party (1773), when Patriots hurled tea into Boston Harbor. But our American ancestors returned to imbibing their favorite non-alcoholic drink: tea. I like to think that this cup kept someone company on a cold winter’s night, was there during extended birthing of children, and even during the best of times!

I hope you’ll consider researching your family heirlooms in newspapers. You never know what you’ll find! If you do learn something interesting, share it with us in the comments section. We’d love to hear your story, and see if it inspires others.

What Gaudy Dutch Pattern Is It?

It is “Single Rose”; follow this link from Google’s image search to see the diversity of the “Single Rose” pattern of Gaudy Dutch pottery. To see other samples, search images by their specific pattern names.

photo of Gaudy Dutch "Single Rose" pottery

Source: the Author’s personal collection

Do you have special pottery and dishes passed down from your ancestors? Share with us in the comments.

DNA Testing & Genealogy: Is It Working for You?

Clearly DNA testing is revolutionizing 21st Century family history research.

DNA Testing Helps Orphan Find His Family

There are heartwarming stories about successful DNA tests—like that of 80-year-old Patrick J. Holland, who was raised in an orphanage and through DNA testing finally found his family.

Here is the full report on this touching family story, from CNN:

http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/us/2013/10/11/dnt-tx-dna-solves-mystery.wfaa.html

photo of a CNN report of 80-year-old Patrick J. Holland, who was raised in an orphanage and through DNA testing finally found his family

Credit: CNN

DAR Accepts DNA Test Results

Lynn Young, national president of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), has announced that the DAR is now accepting DNA test results as proof for women wanting to apply for membership.

For more details about the new DAR membership acceptance policy, see: http://youngblog.dar.org/dna-evidence-dar-applications-and-supplementals

photo of Lynn Young, president general of the Daughters of the American Revolution

Credit: DAR

The new acceptance program starts with a DAR member with a proven (well-documented), accepted membership. Next you need to get DNA test results from a male descendant in that line. Then, if someone is applying for DAR membership but cannot produce the paper trail documentation back to the Revolutionary War period, there is now a way for that person to still gain membership—if that person has a DNA match between male relatives in both lines. The DAR says that the DNA evidence from both lines demonstrates that the applicant is related to the already-accepted member, and the applicant can use that DNA evidence of the male relative in support of her application.

DNA Study of Spanish Jews

A new DNA study of the descendants of Spanish (Sephardic) Jews has shown that statistically all Jews alive today have at least one Sephardic Jewish ancestor. Read the new genealogical study on Spanish Jewish ancestry from Cornell University here: http://arxiv.org/abs/1310.1912

map showing migrations and settlements of the Spanish Jews

Credit: Wikipedia

European Jewish DNA Study

Another just-released Jewish DNA study shows that: “…the women who founded the Ashkenazi Jewish community of Europe were not from the Near East, as previously supposed, and reinforces the idea that many Jewish communities outside Israel were founded by single men who married and converted local women.” Read the complete New York Times (New York, New York), 8 October 2013, genealogy report here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/09/science/ashkenazi-origins-may-be-with-european-women-study-finds.html?_r=0

Genes Suggest European Women at Root of Ashkenazi Family Tree, New York Times newspaper article 8 October 2013

Credit: New York Times

Kemp Genealogy DNA Study

I am participating in a Kemp DNA study and it has changed our conclusions of our ancestral connections. The DNA test we’ve been participating in has shown that our County Cavan, Ireland, Kemp line is completely separate from the County Kent, England, Kemp line—which is the largest recorded Kemp family.

See the current Kemp DNA test results here:
http://www.familytreedna.com/public/Kemp/default.aspx?section=ycolorized

test results from a Kemp DNA study

Credit: FamilyTree DNA

Our Cavan Kemp descendants are all coded to R1a1. The English Kemp lines are all coded to R1b1, which appears similar but—the experts tell me—actually proves that the two Kemp lines are not related at all.

Interestingly, the German Kemp lines are coded to E, and the Scandinavian Kemp lines are coded to I.

The R1a1 marker has remained consistent with the Cavan Kemp descendants in the Canadian line: Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Ireland and here in the United States.

These DNA test findings changed our entire view of how “all” Kemp lines are or are not related.

Is DNA Testing Working for You?

Has a DNA study impacted your family history research? Has it changed your view of your family tree?

What are you finding?

What breakthroughs have you found from DNA testing?

Please share your experiences with DNA testing in the comments section.

Nursery Rhyme Origins Quiz: Meanings & History behind the Rhymes

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary provides another fun quiz to test your knowledge of the origins of some familiar nursery rhymes—and provides examples from historical newspapers.

What was “Ring-a-Round the Rosie” really all about? Eventually all genealogists hear rumors about the historical origins and meanings behind popular nursery rhymes, such as:

  • “Ring-a-Round the Rosie” describes people dying from the bubonic plague.
  • Mary of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” was a real person.

I decided to research some of the common nursery rhyme claims, and came to the conclusion that you can’t believe everything you read or hear!

It turns out that one of the above rumors about the meanings of the nursery rhymes is true and the other is an unsubstantiated myth. Do you know which claim is correct? To find out how well you know the true origins of nursery rhymes, test your knowledge with my Nursery Rhyme Origins Genealogy Quiz. Select S for “substantiated” and U for “unsubstantiated.”

early nursery rhymes genealogy quiz

Origins of “Baa Baa Black Sheep”

The first known publication of this famous nursery rhyme was in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, a sequel to the lost publication Tommy Thumb’s Song Book of 1744.

Baa, baa, black sheep,

Have you any wool?

Yes, sir, yes, sir,

Three bags full;

One for the master,

And one for the dame,

And one for the little boy

Who lives down the lane.

Some report that the song had a connection to a British tax on wool, or sadly even the slave trade. Of the two explanations the tax on wool seems most realistic, since black wool was prized because it eliminated the need to dye the wool before making clothing.

Neither of these explanations about the meaning of the rhyme is substantiated. However, after reading the lyrics carefully, it appears to me that the song describes a common system of sharing the fruits of one’s labor. Although not proved, I believe this is the not-so-hidden meaning behind “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”

A 17th or 18th Century laborer typically paid his master (probably a Lord of a manor) in goods or crops, and if he had a helper, he would also share in the bounty. Logically, the “little boy who lives down the lane” could have been an assistant, or someone who benefited from his charity.

History of “Jack and Jill”

This popular nursery rhyme dates to the 16th Century. There is no evidence as to the origin, but you may be surprised to learn that many early versions refer to Jack and “Gill” instead of Jill, as seen in this 1884 newspaper article.

Old Nursery Rhyme, Wheeling Register newspaper article 24 June 1884

Wheeling Register (Wheeling, West Virginia), 24 June 1884, page 2

Meaning of “Jack Be Nimble”

This is another famous rhyme of unknown origin. However, some think it refers to Black Jack, a 16th Century English pirate, or that it alludes to an old game of jumping over fires in celebration of the Feast Day of St. Catherine on November 25.

"Jack Be Nimble" nursery rhyme, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 8 May 1806

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 8 May 1806, page 6

Origins of “Little Jack Horner”

The true origin of this nursery rhyme is not known. Although widely debated, some suggest that “Little Jack Horner” refers to a 16th Century thief named Jack Horner, who acted as a courier for Richard Whiting, the Abbot of Glastonbury.

One year Whiting decided to send his courier Jack to bring a Christmas pie to King Henry VIII (1491-1547). Hidden inside the pie were twelve property deeds—which Jack discovered, promptly stealing one.

When he returned to the Abbot, Jack reported that King Henry had given him one of the property deeds as a present for delivering the gift. However, he was reportedly later found guilty of the theft and put to death.

I noticed that in this 1802 newspaper article, the spelling of plums was changed to plumbs.

"Little Jack Horner" nursery rhyme, New-York Herald newspaper article 9 October 1802

New-York Herald (New York, New York), 9 October 1802, page 2

History of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”

Mary had a little lamb,

whose fleece was white as snow.

And everywhere that Mary went,

the lamb was sure to go.

 

It followed her to school one day,

which was against the rule.

It made the children laugh and play,

to see a lamb at school.

 

And so the teacher turned it out,

but still it lingered near.

And waited patiently about,

till Mary did appear.

 

“Why does the lamb love Mary so?”

the eager children cry.

“Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know,”

the teacher did reply.

For obvious reasons, I’ve always had an affinity to this song, so I was delighted to learn that Mary was a real person.

Mary Sawyer (later Tyler) caused a commotion when she took her pet lamb to school. That same day, a man named John Roulstone was visiting the school.

John Roulstone knew Mary Josepha (Buell) Hale (1788-1879), the noted editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, later known as American Ladies’ Magazine, and one of the people we can thank for making Thanksgiving one of our national holidays.

Roulstone apparently related to Mary Hale the amusing incident of little Mary bringing her lamb to school, and the popular poem was written—either collaboratively, or by Hale—in response to Roulstone’s account. The evidence for this can be found in several of Mary (Sawyer) Tyler’s obituaries, such as this 1889 example from a Boston newspaper.

Mary Tyler obituary, Boston Journal newspaper article 11 December 1889

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 11 December 1889, page 4

History of the “Mother Goose” Rhymes

If you visit Granary Burial Ground in Boston, Massachusetts, you’ll find the tombstone of a Mother Goose, a photo of which can be found on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mother_Goose_Grave_Boston.jpg.

Her tombstone reads:

HERE LYES YE BODY OF

MARY GOOSE WIFE TO

ISAAC GOOSE, AGED 42

YEARS DECD OCTOBER

YE 19TH, 1690…

However, this Mary Goose was not the originator of the popular series of nursery rhymes by the same name.

That honor goes to Charles Perrault (1628-1703), a noted French author and advisor to Louis XIV. His compiled nursery rhymes were often rewritten, most notably by the Brothers Grimm during the 19th Century. For more information on Perrault, see:

The Real “Old King Cole”

“Old King Cole” was reportedly a king who lived during the 4th Century in Kaircoel, England, with Koel being an early spelling for Cole. One version is that after the Saxons overran Britain, the town was renamed Colchester, as chester was the Saxon word for city.

As the legend goes, King Cole’s musically-gifted daughter Helen married Constantine the Great, and it is rumored that she either inspired or authored this famous song.

"Old King Cole" nursery rhyme, Weekly Herald newspaper article 28 July 1849

Weekly Herald (New York, New York), 28 July 1849, page 236

Another suggestion is that “Old King Cole” referred to Thomas Cole-brook, a 12th Century cloth merchant, but there is no evidence that any of these explanations are correct.

Origins of “Ring-a-Round the Rosie”

One of the most common misconceptions about old nursery rhymes is that this poem describes people dying from the bubonic plague. Others suggest it is about putting flowers in a pocket to cover bad smells, or that this is merely describing a child’s dancing game.

Nobody knows the true origins of this delightful nursery rhyme, but if you examine the terms, you may come to your own conclusion.

"Ring-a-Round the Rosie" nursery rhyme

Were “rosies” roses, and “poseys” bundles of flowers? In America, we sing about ashes, but in Britain, they use the term “a-tishoo.” Sounds more like an allergic response to pollen, but that is purely my own speculation.

Do any of you have ancestral souvenirs of nursery rhymes? Do you have any additional information about the history that inspired these famous nursery rhymes? If so, please share with us on Facebook or in the GenealogyBank blog’s comments section. And if any of you happen to find a copy of Tommy Thumb’s Song Book, please blog about it here before it debuts on Antiques Roadshow!

Have You Participated in a DNA Study for Ancestry Research?

Have you tried a genetic DNA study as an approach to learning more about your family history?

If so, have you made family connections that you wouldn’t have found otherwise?

It is essential that you participate in a DNA study as soon as possible. Doing so will save time, and give you a clearer picture of your family history that will bridge the gaps where other genealogical records simply have not survived.

In the past, I avoided participating in a genetic DNA study because of the high cost and the sense that it wouldn’t prove anything about my ancestry.

Well, times have changed.

The cost of participating in DNA studies has dropped to very affordable levels and the results are surprising. DNA testing will allow you to clearly see how distinct groups with your surname are or are not related to you.

Genetic DNA Testing for Genealogy Image

Image Credit: Image by jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Imagine being able to sort through records for our family searching not just the surname coupled with a place of birth—but being able to narrow our search to the correct DNA haplogroup, Y-DNA 12 or deeper identifiers so that we can limit our search results to only our relatives.

If you were not sure which Miller, Stark or Sawyer individuals written up in thousands of obituaries were your relatives, knowing which DNA group they fell in would quickly help you to focus on the ones that you are related to.

A few months ago I heard from a researcher in Scotland who was spearheading a study of “Kemp” lines from Ireland, and in particular the Kemp families of County Cavan, Ireland. He wanted to determine if they were all related or if they actually were separate, unrelated families.

A quick search of other DNA projects found a Kemp study already underway, organized by Andrew Kemp in Australia. Efforts were made to find more Kemp men from all parts of the world who would be willing to participate. Seventy-five agreed and the results are still coming in.

I have been researching my Kemp family from County Cavan for the past 50 years. In piecing together the family tree I found that over the past 250 years my family—like so many Irish American families—has been continuously growing and migrating around the world, settling in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and all across the United States.

As I looked at the big picture I could see that there were large concentrations of Kemp families in England, Germany, Sweden and almost everywhere I looked. Were they all related? It is going to take a long time to examine each Kemp household and see how they connect to each other. Since the bulk of the historical family records simply did not survive, there just aren’t records that would prove how these Kemp groups were or were not related—until now.

Unbelievable.

The results of the genetic DNA study were clearly showing which of the Kemp groups are in fact related.

For example: there is the Johann Conrad Kemp group. He was born in Germany in 1685 and settled in Frederick County, Maryland. The DNA study reports that his descendants are in the E1b1b1 haplogroup.

There is a Kemp family group in County Cork, Ireland. A look at the results for all of the descendants participating in this DNA study shows that they are in the R1b1a2 group.

So—the County Cork group and the Germany/Frederick County Kemp groups are not related.

Knowing where not to look for family connections will save genealogists a lot of time.

What about the large Kemp family in England? Over 25 living descendants have participated in this DNA project and all of them are also in the R1b1a2 haplogroup.

So the County Cork, Ireland, Kemp family group clearly should look to England to document their family connections.

There is a Kemp line in the Bahamas. Since that is a part of the British Commonwealth, perhaps they are also descended from a Kemp line in England. But, DNA testing shows that they fall in the I1 haplogroup common to Scandinavia. So, another completely separate Kemp family line.

Where did my Scotch-Irish County Cavan Kemp line fall?

They are all in the R1a1 haplogroup.

So—they are not related to the English, Maryland/German or Bahamian Kemp groups.

But, look at this genetic testing find: they are related to the Kemp family of Wake County, North Carolina.

The Wake County Kemp family descends from Richard Kemp who was born about 1715 in Scotland and settled in Wake County. His descendants have spread across the southern states. They are in the R1a1a haplogroup.

There are no surviving old genealogical records that can help genealogists connect the multiple Kemp lines, but DNA is now clearly showing us which groups are or are not related.

In the decades ahead we will be able to use the basic DNA haplogroups and full DNA sequencing as additional data that we can search on to extend our family trees.

What a great day for genealogy!

American Immigrant Story: 1837 Shipwreck Ruins the Trip

Our ancestors have made the long trip to America starting with the days of the Pilgrims. These were not easy journeys and some ended in disaster. Here is a riveting newspaper account from an article written in 1837 showing just how brutal the trip to America could be.

Disastrous Shipwreck, Newark Daily Advertiser newspaper article 5 January 1837

Newark Daily Advertiser (Newark, New Jersey), 5 January 1837, page 2

The barque Mexico left Liverpool, England, in October 1836 with a 12-man crew and 104 passengers on board. Two-thirds of the passengers were women and children.

Two months after departing, the ship made it to the coast of New Jersey on Saturday, December 31, 1836. But, like an airplane waiting for the designated gate to open, the Mexico had to sit offshore with another “thirty or more square rigged vessels” waiting for a guide ship to pilot them in to the docks.

The sea was rough that day, and a gale-force wind blew them fifty miles from the port. It was now January 1837, the weather was not cooperating, and half the crew “were badly frost-bitten.” They could only remain above deck for 30 minutes at a time.

Soundings were taken but were not accurate. As the newspaper article explains: “The event has shewn that the information given by the mate as to the depth of water was incorrect; his error probably arose from the lead line being frozen stiff at the time it was cast.”

The captain, thinking that the water was deep enough for him to remain in place, dropped anchor. But as the tides shifted the ship “struck the bottom, 26 miles east of Sandy Hook at Hempstead beach, and not more than a cable’s length from the shore.”

A bad situation for the ship out at sea was growing worse… “The scene that ensued on board, we leave to the reader’s imagination.”

The Mexico’s life boats were deployed, but they were quickly smashed by the pounding waves. Finally a rescue boat came out from the shore to help the stricken ship and eight men—including Captain Winslow—jumped in and headed back to shore, escaping the Mexico.

What? The captain was one of the first to desert the ship?

The remaining ship passengers and crew, despite the fierce cold, gathered on the deck—watching the shore to see if more rescue boats would come out to save them.

None did.

“When they perceived that no further help came from the land their piercing shrieks were distinctly heard at a considerable distance, and continued through the night until they one by one perished.”

Their remains were found in the morning “lashed to different parts of the wreck embedded in ice.”

“None, it is believed, were drowned, but all frozen to death.”

The Newark Daily Advertiser published the Mexico’s sad shipwreck story, including a list of the passengers who died.

GenealogyBank gives you the news as your ancestors’ lived it.

list of dead passengers from shipwreck, Newark Daily Advertiser newspaper article 5 January 1837

Newark Daily Advertiser (Newark, New Jersey), 5 January 1837, page 2

Ship Passenger Lists

Newspapers routinely published passenger lists of passengers coming to and leaving from America.

Here are just a few examples of the thousands of passenger lists published in newspapers that can be found in GenealogyBank.

Newspapers routinely published not just lists of immigrants coming to America but also regularly published passenger lists of American’s going overseas; American’s returning home to the US and American’s traveling within the United States by ship.

Notice in this example from the Irish-American newspaper, The Shamrock (17 Aug 1816) – published in New York City – that these passengers left from the port of Sligo, Ireland on board the brig Juno and landed in New London, CT. There they boarded the “sloop MacDonough” which in turn set sail for New York City – where they arrived on 16 August 1816.

This pre-1820 passenger list tells us that these immigrants landed twice on their trip to America, that they took two ships to finally reach their destination – an alert that their names will appear on two different passenger lists. Once on the passenger list for the brig Juno that landed in New London, CT and again on the passenger list for the sloop MacDonough that landed in New York City.

Notice also that this passenger list gives the hometown or county of origin of each passenger. Critical information that is almost never given in the Federal post-1820 passenger lists.

Tip: Passenger lists were not collected by the government until 1820 – these early lists can be difficult if not impossible to find. Newspapers are a terrific source for Colonial passenger lists.

Click on these links to see a few examples of the thousands of passenger lists, published in newspapers that can be found in
GenealogyBank.

Passenger Lists of Columbus, GA
3 April 1894. Steamer Queen City.
Columbus (GA) Daily Inquirer. 3 April 1894.

Passenger Lists New Orleans, LA
20 February 1869.
Steamship Crescent City. From New York City.
Times Picayune. 20 February 1869.

23 October 1872. Steamship Saxonia.
Left New Orleans for Hamburg (Germany) by way of Havana (Cuba), Santander (Spain) and Havre (France).
Times Picayune. 23 October 1872. p. 1

29 April 1873. Steamship John G. Meiggs.
Left New Orleans for Aspinwall (Panama); Port Limon (Costa Rica); and Havanna (Cuba). Times Picayune. 29 April 1873. p. 8

25 August 1875. Steamship City of Merida.
Arrived in New Orleans from Vera Cruz, Tuxpan, and Tampico – all ports in Mexico. Times Picayune. 25 August 1875. p. 1

12 June 1848. Steamship Washington. From Southampton (England), by way of Halifax (Nova Scotia).
New York Herald. 16 Jan 1848. p. 2

Passenger Lists Philadelphia, PA
5 Nov 1881. Steamship City of Savannah. Departed for Savannah (Georgia).
Philadelphia Inquirer. 7 Nov 1881. p. 2

13 July 1883. Steamship Niagara. Marine Disaster. Burned off the coast of Florida.
Philadelphia Inquirer. 14 July 1883. p. 1

23 June 1891. Steamship Polynesia. Enroute from Hamburg, Germany.
Philadelphia Inquirer. 23 June 1891. p. 4

10 September 1901. Steamship Alleghany. Enroute from the South.
Philadelphia Inquirer. 10 September 1901. p. 16

Passenger Lists San Francisco, CA
6 September 1871. San Francisco Bulletin. 6 September 1871. p. 3

Click here to download and search the complete 1819/1820 Passenger List for all US ports.
This free resource is a good example of the genealogical content in the historical newspapers, books and documents that can be found in GenealogyBank.