Helga Estby’s Sad, Forgotten Walk across America

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to uncover the remarkable story of Helga Estby’s walk across America with her daughter in 1896—a story that was almost forgotten.

Do you ever read a book that quickly becomes a favorite because of the incredible story it tells? When this happens for me, it goes beyond just being an enjoyable read to something I want to do more research about to learn the events behind the story. I’ve had a few books affect me that way, and one of them is the story of Helga Estby as told in the book Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk across Victorian America by Linda Lawrence Hunt.

photo of Helga Estby (seated) and her daughter Clara

Photo: Helga Estby (seated) and her daughter Clara. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Helga Estby, a Norwegian immigrant residing in the state of Washington, lived during a time when women were doing all kinds of things that pushed the prevailing gender stereotypes. Women were climbing Pikes Peak (Victorian Women Hike to the Summit of Pikes Peak!), biking across the world, and taking on the challenge of traveling around the world in fewer than 80 days.

In many cases, women were doing these things to simply prove they could. In other cases there was a financial reward for meeting the challenge. In 1896, when Helga read in the newspaper about a challenge that would award $10,000 to any woman who walked across the United States, she decided this was the answer to her family’s financial problems.

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Walking the Walk

In an effort to save her family’s home and gain the money they needed to pay their mortgage and taxes, Helga and her teenage daughter Clara set off from Spokane County, Washington, to walk across the United States. They hoped to arrive in New York City safe—and leave much richer. They commenced their adventure on 5 May 1896 with little to help them except a revolver (for protection) and a plan. As part of the deal they were required to walk the entire way across the U.S. (3,500 miles) and they were to earn money for their expenses along the route. As the women traveled they took on various jobs, including selling photos of themselves, in order to earn money. Their story and progress was printed in newspapers across the country.

This update from the Denver Post reports that the mother-daughter team expected to reach New York City in a little over two months’ time. At that point in September 1896 they had been walking almost four months.

Walking to New York (Helga and Clara Estby), Denver Post newspaper article 4 September 1896

Denver Post (Denver, Colorado), 4 September 1896, page 2

They Did It!

The two women faced all kinds of problems as they walked across America, including injury. Today, most of us would consider a drive across the United States to be quite an undertaking—but just imagine walking the whole way, with no instant communications! Despite the hardships, the women completed the entire walk, arriving in New York City in December 1896.

Newspapers heralded the women’s completion of their 3,500 mile (in some newspaper reports it’s erroneously listed as 4,600 mile) pedestrian journey. This front page article from the Cleveland Leader proclaims that the women arrived in New York at 1:30 p.m. on 23 December 1896.

A Successful Feat on Foot (Helga and Clara Estby), Cleveland Leader newspaper article 24 December 1896

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 24 December 1896, page 1

No Prize at the End of the Road

Their remarkable feat should have been celebrated and rewarded—but just the opposite happened. The challenge had been to walk across America in less than seven months. By leaving on May 5 and arriving on December 23, Helga and her daughter missed the deadline by 19 days. The sponsor of the challenge refused to pay the promised award for the remarkable journey.

Despite their determination and persistence, and all the privations the two women had suffered, the long journey was all done for nothing. Not only had the women walked all that way for no reward, they also did not have the money to travel back home. To make matters worse, Helga learned that diphtheria had struck her family during her absence; her son Olaf was sick with it, and her daughter Bertha had died.

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This article from the Omaha World Herald reports the women’s efforts to get help from the office of charities commissioners in New York. It also includes a recounting by Helga about the unfortunate family’s years of misfortune:

For eight years we have had misfortunes. It was eight years ago that I fell one night over an obstacle in the streets of Spokane and was so badly injured that it made me sick for two years. Then I had an operation which laid me up a while and then cured me. About seven years ago my husband fell and fractured his knee cap. Afterward a horse fell on him and completely laid him up. Five years ago my daughter Ida went blind. She was treated in a hospital and is about well. Then my eldest boy got inflammatory rheumatism. Two years ago our house burned down, and as we had no insurance on it we only built up the kitchen part of it. Six weeks ago my eldest son, Olaf, had diphtheria. He was in a hospital near Spokane. He got out and went to our house. Now my daughter Bertha is dead.

They Were Brave Women (Helga and Clara Estby), Omaha World Herald newspaper article 7 May 1897

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 7 May 1897, page 7

By the time the pair finally made it back home they had been gone 13 months. Once home, there was no jubilant homecoming celebration to welcome the downtrodden travelers back. Two of Helga’s children were dead from diphtheria and the family was still in financial ruin. Prevailing attitudes about women leaving their children to pursue such a dream were not favorable from the community—or from her husband and children.

While Helga’s intention was to write her story and publish it, thus making some money for her family, family pressure stood in her way. The family was so angry about her leaving them and the tragedies that happened in her absence that after Helga died her daughters saw to it that her writings were destroyed. If it were not for a defiant daughter-in-law who saved a few scrapbooks, the story of Helga’s trek across America would be lost to the family today.

Helga died in 1942 having never collected the $10,000 promised for her feat. Her notoriety continued after her long, fruitless walk. This 1905 Tacoma Daily News article summarized her journey.

Walks to Gotham -- (Helga Estby) Gets No Money, Tacoma Daily News newspaper article 25 November 1905

Tacoma Daily News (Tacoma, Washington), 25 November 1905, page 21

Helga’s Story Is Finally Told

Fast forward to 1984 when a young descendent of Helga’s enters his story “Grandma Walks from Coast to Coast” in a history writing contest, in which he tells the incredible tale of his great-great-grandmother who walked across the United States in 1896. This essay gets the attention of author Linda Lawrence Hunt, who then sets about trying to find the historical facts, largely through newspaper research, of this remarkable journey.*

Helga’s incredible story is one that is the perfect example of family history research. Without documentation, fantastic family stories can be lost within a few generations. And it’s through research—and, very importantly, newspaper research—that we can recreate our ancestors’ lives. I highly recommend reading Hunt’s book about Helga, and taking to heart something about your own family history that was said by that daughter-in-law who saved the story of Helga for her family: “take care of this story.”**

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* Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk across Victorian America. Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 2003. p. xi.
** Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk across Victorian America. Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 2003. p. 240.

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My Ancestors’ Life Stories as Told in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott shares some of the family stories he’s learned about his ancestors by searching old newspapers.

Stories are what make our family trees and all the work we do in our genealogy truly come alive! If you are like me, the stories about your ancestors were the initial spark that ignited your interest in conducting your genealogy research and discovering the amazing stories of your family’s history. The old family stories you discover and preserve also spark the interest of others to begin their own genealogy work, or perhaps to carry on your family history work.

The stories of the lives of our ancestors can come to us from a variety of sources. Many come firsthand from our elders and other members of our extended family, often aunts, uncles, and cousins who enjoy sharing all kinds of memories. Another great place to find the stories of our ancestors is in old newspapers, which is a big reason why I keep on subscribing to GenealogyBank.com. Let me tell you some of the family stories I have found in newspapers.

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The Charvat Family Tragedy

Of course there are the sensational stories that capture the attention of the reporters. I happened to come across one of these while working on a branch of my family tree recently: the Charvat family. After going through the more mundane aspects of genealogy such as census records, I moved on to newspapers and found this 1951 article. It was a true tragedy.

Not only did this unfortunate little girl of 14 lose her mother to murder and her father to suicide, but the story related that she “tiptoed to her door and opened it when she heard her father and mother arguing. She saw them struggling over a shotgun. She saw shooting.” The article goes on to say that the mother and father had argued previously over the husband’s desire for his wife to “follow the European way by staying home.”

From a genealogy perspective, this article not only provided quite a bit of information on the deaths of the parents, but also informed me of the jobs of those parents, that they only had the one child, gave the name of the grandmother, and the home address that matched their listing in the 1940 U.S. Census.

Girl (Corrine Charvat), Orphaned by Murder, Suicide, Is Shock Victim, Plain Dealer newspaper article 21 July 1951

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 21 July 1951, page 4

Joseph Kapl & Minnie the Elephant

There are also the extremely humorous stories you find occasionally. One of my all-time favorite funny stories that I discovered in the newspapers was this 1915 article titled “I Fed Her; I Petted Her; I Trusted Her; But Never Again!” This story detailed how my ancestor, Joseph Kapl, was a zookeeper who was entrusted with the care of Minnie the elephant at the old Brookfield Zoo in Cleveland, Ohio. It seems that Joseph was attacked and almost trampled by this elephant! Now there is a story you don’t read every day in your genealogy! You can read more about this humorous family story in my previous blog post “Family Search Uncovers Circus Elephant Story.”

article about zookeeper Joseph Kapl, Plain Dealer newspaper article 23 March 1915

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

From Banking to WWII

There are also some wonderful articles that I have found in newspapers’ Business Section that are filled with valuable family history information. One example I found is this 1943 article, which continued my work on my Kapl family line. This old news article provided me with some very nice details regarding the career of Joseph H. Kapl, who was the son of the zookeeper. It seems that Joseph must have decided that banking would be safer than dealing with elephants!

Kapl Is Head of Branch, Plain Dealer newspaper article 8 January 1943

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 8 January 1943, page 9

Going back further in time, I learned about another ancestor from this 1896 newspaper article. In this historical news article I discovered that my great grandfather, Joseph Vicha, was an officer of the Central Labor Union—and he not only addressed a crowd of striking garment workers in Cleveland, but he did it in “Bohemian.” All key pieces of information for our family tree.

article about Joseph Vicha, Plain Dealer newspaper article 27 April 1896

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 April 1896, page 10

Even an apparently mundane newspaper article can hold genealogy treasures for us as well. This 1942 article about registration for WWII included a list of inductees from the previous week, which included one of my cousins, Allan R. Evenden. This tidbit of information allowed me to begin researching his military records for our family tree.

article about WWII registration of soldiers, Plain Dealer newspaper article 5 April 1942

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 5 April 1942, page 33

Grandma’s Letter in the Cleaning Column

Another article I discovered even caused me to chuckle a bit. This 1961 article came with the pretty bland title of “Bleach Ineffective on Cement Spots.” It just goes to show you never know where in the newspaper your ancestor might turn up!

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It turns out that my grandmother, “Nana,” had written in to the cleaning column in the newspaper asking how to remove dark spots in her new cement breezeway. She said in her letter “I thought it needed a good sweeping, but I have scrubbed with soap and swept, but it is no different.” I actually laughed out loud when I read that since my mind went back to my many visits to my grandmother’s home, at her request, to apply yet another of her home remedies combined with lots of elbow grease to try and get those spots out of her new cement. I guess Nana was using the equivalent of the Royal “we” when she said “she” scrubbed and swept those spots.

Bleach Ineffective on Cement Spots, Plain Dealer newspaper article 2 September 1961

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 2 September 1961, page 41

I could continue on and on with many more family stories I’ve discovered in the newspaper archives through the years, but instead I’ll ask you: what are some of the best stories you have uncovered in newspapers that now bring your family tree to life?

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Family Stories Are Important for Children’s Health & Happiness

Everyone loves to hear their old family stories.

We constantly hear from our GenealogyBank members of the powerful family stories that they have found in old newspapers. Stories drive us to keep researching and piece together the fabric that makes our family histories come alive.

the painting “Boyhood of Raleigh,” 1871, by John Everett Millais

Painting: “Boyhood of Raleigh,” 1871, by John Everett Millais (1829-1896). Source: Wikipedia.

It turns out that these family stories are even more important to our children’s health and well-being than we had previously realized. Recently researchers have found that:

The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.

So—genealogy is not just fun—it is an important predictor of our “children’s emotional health.”

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I encourage you to read the entire article about the importance of sharing your family’s stories with your children, titled “The Stories That Bind Us” by Bruce Feiler, published in the New York Times (New York, New York), 15 March 2013. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

Also, make sure to follow our “Genealogy for Kids” Pinterest board for more interesting articles like this and to get fun ideas to introduce the youngest leaves on your family tree to their ancestry: http://www.pinterest.com/genealogybank/genealogy-for-kids/

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News of the Weird & Wacky: Just Plain Bizarre Family Stories

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches through old newspapers to find some truly weird, bizarre—and sometimes funny—family stories.

If your family is at all like my family and the family of my wife, you have your share of funny and weird stories. As a matter of fact, just the other day my wife and I were having a good laugh over one of these family stories when she said “good thing the newspapers never got a hold of that story.” It was then that I decided it would be interesting to take a look at “News of the Weird & Wacky” family stories that did make their way into the newspapers of GenealogyBank.com.

An Unintentionally Incestuous Marriage

The first news article I found definitely falls into the “weird” category. I’d actually say it graduates to “extremely weird”! It’s the story about a wedded couple in England that was published in a 1926 Georgia newspaper. The headline says it all: “Brother Marries Sister.”

Brother Marries Sister, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 8 August 1926

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 8 August 1926, section D page 2

While truly bizarre, this old newspaper article does give some interesting facts regarding how the family was broken up and then, much later, these siblings “found each other,” fell in love and got married—without knowing they were brother and sister! But no matter what the circumstances, the “weird” factor is way too high for me on this one.

Murder Victim’s Twin Drives Murderer Insane

Then another newspaper headline grabbed my attention. Published in a 1909 Ohio newspaper, it states simply: “Driven Insane by Twin.”

Driven Insane by Twin, Plain Dealer newspaper article 18 May 1909

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 May 1909, page 7

Now I have heard (and witnessed with my daughter-in-law and her twin sister) that twins can do some very special things, but drive someone insane? I think not! Then I read the article and discovered this amazingly weird story of an uncle who killed his nephew. This heinous crime went unsolved until the uncle happened upon his victim’s twin walking down the street—upon seeing him and believing it to be the ghost of his victim, the murderer confessed to his crime and promptly went insane. Now this one is just plain weird for sure.

Heroic Ghost Saves Entire Family

By now I was in the mood for something a bit more cheerfully weird. I continued searching the newspaper archives and quickly came across an old article published in an 1893 New Mexico newspaper titled “Saved by a Ghost.”

Savced by a Ghost, New Mexican newspaper article 25 October 1893

New Mexican (Santa Fe, New Mexico), 25 October 1893, page 2

This was a ghost story with a decidedly nice twist in that the ghost in question came to the rescue of an entire family up in St. Lawrence County, New York. Although I usually conjure up images of ghosts as veiled in wispy white, this ghost is described as “a tall, heavily built man clad in furs to his chin, his fur cap pulled down over his ears, his head bowed, with both hands outstretched…” You really must read this story since, after all, the author says: “This story is a true one.”

Laughed to Death?

As I continued searching, there was no way I could hold back my smile at the headline of the next article, “May Have Laughed to Death,” which was published in an 1899 Connecticut newspaper.

May Have Laughed to Death, New Haven Register newspaper article 11 September 1899

New Haven Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 11 September 1899, page 5

I read this article with a bit of skepticism, but there it was in black and white: “He [William Gandy] is subject to uncontrollable fits of laughter, and if his attention is not directed in some other channel by friends he may have laughed himself to death, his nervous system having become exhausted. He has been known to laugh for an hour or two at a time before the fit could be broken up.” There is no conclusion in the historical newspaper article of what happened to the unfortunate Mr. Gandy, but I must admit to thinking that death by laughter is certainly more than just a bit weird.

Animals to the Rescue!

Moving along I was struck by the headline “Saved by Animals” from a 1900 Mississippi newspaper. The second headline heralded “Instances in Which They Have Been Known to Avert Serious Accidents.”

Saved by Animals, Daily Herald newspaper article 10 August 1900

Daily Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi), 10 August 1900, page 3

Now the only “serious accident” averted for me by animals (a great many Labrador retrievers over the years) was that they never allowed any food to remain on the floor for more than a nanosecond, sparing me any slips. This newspaper article, however, describes a dog saving a baby from an open window, a whole family saved by a cat, rats saving a ship, a parrot saving a family from a flood, and more astonishing tales including a fellow saved by his…now this is weird…pet bear.

Quadruple Rainbow Sighting

Then I found an article from a 1905 Maryland newspaper titled “A Quadruple Rainbow.”

A Quadruple Rainbow, Baltimore American newspaper article 25 December 1905

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 25 December 1905, page 9

The article reported that a quadruple rainbow was sighted in Mons, Belgium. This 1900s news article caught my eye since I really love rainbows. I have seen my share of single rainbows and even a few lovely doubles (the best double I ever saw was out on the Great Plains just west of Lemmon, South Dakota), but I have never seen a triple and certainly never a quadruple rainbow. This rainbow weirdness made me click over to Google and see what the all-mighty search engine had to say about this seeming impossibility. It turns out that triple rainbows are a rarity and quadruples are almost unheard of! I noted that on 10 October 2011 the Mail in the United Kingdom reported “the world’s only photograph” of a quadruple rainbow, but the photo only shows two rainbows. Now that is just plain weird all by itself!

Well, I am off now. It is starting to rain and I am hoping for my shot at fame with my camera and a quadruple rainbow I can call my own. Have you or anyone in your family ever seen a triple or quadruple rainbow? If you have, I’d love to know!

And if you have a weird family story of your own you’d like to share, please tell us in the comments section; thanks!

Heber Springs, Arkansas, ‘Jacksonian’ Is Rich in Family Stories

Heber Springs, Arkansas, may be only seven square miles in size and have a population just a little more than 7,000, but this small town is big enough to have its own newspaper, the “Jacksonian”—and GenealogyBank has it available online to help with your family history searches in “The Natural State.”

photo of the welcome sign for Heber Springs, Arkansas

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The newspaper articles and obituaries in these historical small town newspapers often give genealogical details not usually found in the big city newspapers.

For example, let’s look at the wealth of family history detail found in Mary A. (Gennoe) Moore’s obituary.

obituary for Mary Moore, Jacksonian newspaper article 19 January 1893

Jacksonian (Heber Springs, Arkansas), 19 January 1893, page 5

From this old obituary we learn these vital statistics:

  • Name: Mary A. Moore
  • Maiden name: Gennoe
  • Date of death: Thursday, 12 January 1893
  • Place of death: at her home in Heber Springs, Arkansas
  • Date of birth: 18 February 1832
  • Birthplace: Tennessee
  • Husband: I. R. Moore
  • Date of marriage: 22 February 1857

We also learn the following personal details about her life:

  • Both she and her husband grew up in the same community
  • They had known each other since childhood
  • In November 1857 the married couple moved near Springfield, Missouri
  • In January 1866 they moved to Boone County, Arkansas
  • In 1884 they moved to Yell County, Arkansas
  • Around 1889 they moved to Heber Springs, Arkansas
  • They had eight children, seven of whom survived Mary
  • Children: J. R. B., T. C., and I. W. Moore, and Mrs. Nancy E. Wilson lived in Heber Springs
  • Children: Mrs. P. D. L. Baity, Mrs. Sarah P. Hastings, and J. F. Moore lived in Dardanelle

The rest of this old obituary described the funeral and the deep feelings everyone in this small community had for “Grandma Moore.”

Where else but in newspapers can we find this much detail about the lives of our ancestors?

Sure—we probably have the tradition passed down that they were born in Tennessee, and later moved to Heber Springs. But, would we know that they also lived in Springfield, Boone County and Yell County? Would we know the dates of Mary’s birth and marriage, or the names and places of residence of her seven surviving children?

So much family history information in just one historical obituary!

Find and document your family’s history in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives. Preserve and pass down the information to the rising generation.

GenealogyBank search form for the "Jacksonian" newspaper

GenealogyBank search form for the “Jacksonian” newspaper

Find out the details of your ancestors’ lives by searching this old Heber Springs newspaper online. Search the Jacksonian newspaper archive now.

Genealogy Is Family Stories & Newspapers Are Full of Them

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott hears some interesting family stories from his 93-year-old mother and digs into old newspapers to learn more.

If you were at RootsTech 2013 or followed much of that genealogy conference online as I did, you know that speaker after speaker reminded us that stories are what make our genealogy come alive. I am sure you will agree with this sentiment. Few things in our family history work surpasses the impact and enjoyment of stories.

So it was natural that I got to thinking again about the multitude of stories that adorn my family tree. It is probably the item I ask for most often from people for our tree, right after I hound them for a photograph. Family stories can tell us so much about the lives and times of our ancestors. They offer us snapshots of life that are often filled with amazing tidbits and personal details.

photo of Scott Phillips and his 93-year-old mother

Photo: Scott Phillips’s mother sharing her stories with him. Credit: from the author’s collection.

When I am working on my genealogy early in the morning and it is too early to bother family members for a new story over the phone, I scan the newspaper for new information and stories that might be of interest. Since I am also a GOG—a Grizzled Old Genealogist—I still like my newspaper the old-fashioned way, delivered to my stoop each morning.

I begin my day, every day, the same way my father always began his day. That would be with the comics section of the newspaper! My Dad, God rest his soul, always said “The headlines and business news can wait. It’s more important to start your day off with a smile.” Then he would first open the paper to the funny pages.

Still to this day, I start my day the same way! Two things happen: I do indeed start my day with a smile and a chuckle; and in my mind’s eye I can see and hear my dad chuckle over his favorite comic, “Pogo” by Walt Kelly. My dad even had his favorite quote, uttered by Pogo himself, taped on his desk: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Pogo cartoon for Earth Day 1971, Anchorage Daily News newspaper 18 April 1971

Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska), 18 April 1971, page 4

Not long ago I was visiting with my 93-year-old Mother about all things family and asking her about stories from her youth in the Czech community of Cleveland, Ohio. One of the stories she shared gave me gooseflesh. She told me about living in fear at the time of the “Torso Murders” in Cleveland that instilled dread throughout her neighborhood and the entire city.

This story was new to me, so it didn’t take me long to pull up some articles on GenealogyBank.com and begin to research this story from the 1930s involving a set of serial murders which remain unsolved to this day. I dug into this story and was fascinated to learn that these murders greatly tarnished the career of one of America’s most famous “G-Men,” Elliot Ness.

The "Mad Butcher" Strikes Again, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 18 September 1938

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 18 September 1938, page 37

While I was reading my fourth newspaper article about the “Torso Murders” I was thrilled to find that one of my ancestors, Gordon Shibley, was a Cleveland Police Detective working to try and solve these horrible crimes. It was amazing and quite interesting to follow this strange murder case and read, in a 1936 article, about my ancestor’s efforts trying to solve these heinous crimes.

story about the "Torso Murders" in Cleveland in the 1930s, Plain Dealer newspaper article 12 September 1936

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 12 September 1936, page 1

As I was following this story as it unfolded in the newspapers of the day through GenealogyBank.com it was easy for me to check out, and add to, my family tree with additional items I uncovered. For example, I found other stories covering Detective Shibley’s experiences as a member of Cleveland’s “Thin Blue Line,” some family obituaries, wedding announcements, and many more family-related newspaper articles. I was able to more fully populate our family tree as I read and learned about some of Detective Shibley’s parents and siblings.

I have now become so intrigued with this historical murder case that I ordered a copy of the book In the Wake of the Butcher: Cleveland’s Torso Murders written by James Jessen Badal (Kent State University Press, 2001) for even more in-depth information on this family-linked story. I am excited to get this book—especially since I have been told there are multiple references to my detective ancestor in it.

My Mom finished her recollections by telling how her mother would admonish her and her brother each day, when they went to school or out to play, to be very careful. She said this warning continued for many years even when she and her brother headed just down the street to their highly-loved corner candy shop…the one operated by an uncle, which was half beer parlor and half candy store. Wow, did my ears perk up at hearing that! Here is yet another new family story I will get to investigate!

What is your favorite family story that you have been able to add to your family tree?

Want to Get the Younger Generation into Genealogy? Pass Down Your Old Family Stories

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott tells how he got his grandsons interested in genealogy by enhancing his family stories with articles from old newspapers.

When I was growing up, I was blessed to be in a family that told lots of stories. Looking back, I believe that this storytelling is one of the key reasons I became intrigued with genealogy later in my life. As a young boy, I was frequently being regaled with stories by one family member or another. The stories often involved growing up in “the old country,” sometimes about how much life had changed. Many were family stories that, while based in truth, were often embellished with more than a bit of exaggeration.

I recall very well my Aunt Gladys telling stories of the trouble she constantly found herself in due to the schemes hatched by my mother, and the story of the eye in the back of her head. There was my grandfather telling stories about being a “lad” in Cornwall.  Then there was my Uncle Jim—family storyteller extraordinaire! He was always willing to tell his stories about his time fighting in three wars as a member of the United States Navy, getting marooned on a deserted South Seas island, his various tattoos, or how he was chosen to accompany the giant telescope mirrors manufactured by Warner and Swasey Company from Cleveland all across America on the railroads.

Years later it came as no surprise to me that, as my children were growing up, I took on the role of family storyteller.

Just a week ago, I found myself sitting with my grandchildren and wondering how I could “talk some genealogy” with them. They were visiting us from their home that happens to be practically in the shadow of Disney World, Epcot, etc. It now seems so simple, but at the time it struck me like a bolt of lightning: I should be telling them our family stories! So I began by telling my grandsons all about my favorite amusement park. It was named Euclid Beach Park, located in Cleveland, Ohio, and as a kid it was heaven-on-earth to me.

photo of the author's grandmother and family having a picnic at Euclid Beach Park in Cleveland, Ohio

Scott Phillips’s grandmother Ina and some of her family having a picnic at Euclid Beach Park, date uncertain. Family photo is from the author’s collection.

Going to Euclid Beach Park for family gatherings was clearly the most special event of my year! We’d make a day of it from opening to well after dark, complete with a picnic lunch of my Cornish grandmother’s famous pasty and sausage rolls. As I wove the story, I could tell my grandsons were having a hard time buying into my excitement about what a special place Euclid Beach was. So what could I do?

I grabbed my iPad and off we clicked to GenealogyBank.com to see what I could show the boys about Euclid Beach Park. By the time I was done, everyone in the house was clustered around my grandsons and me. They were all rapt and enjoying the journey back in time, complete with my family stories to enhance them. Yep, the newspaper articles I found were that good.

I was overjoyed to see three generations enjoying what got me excited about genealogy so many decades before: family stories, but this time vastly improved through technology and GenealogyBank.com.

As I clicked, the first story—in a cache of hundreds—was about the season opener of the park in 1905, the crowds that attended, and what a significant event this was.

Euclid Beach Park Opened, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 May 1905

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 May 1905, page 6

Plus, since it is true that “boys will be boys,” my grandsons were especially enjoying the “action” stories I soon found and read to them about famed naval aviation pioneer Glenn H. Curtiss’s attempt to set a naval aviation record from Euclid Beach Park, a trapeze artist falling to his death from an aerial balloon, and ferry boats smashing into one another.

Steamers Crash Together in River, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 June 1901

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 June 1901, page 1

Then even I got excited! I found an old article that showed, nice and close up, my very favorite (still to this day) amusement park ride in the world, “The Flying Turns.” The historical newspaper article was complete, showing younger riders in all stages of happiness as they rode this amazing ride, which was a rollercoaster set inside 2/3s of a wooden tube with no rails! Centrifugal force took care of keeping you inside and it was quite the ride.

Crazy Days of Summer, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 July 1964

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 July 1964, page 107

I was so happy! With just a few easy clicks there we were and Euclid Beach was staying alive for another generation of the Phillips family. Even better, my grandsons were enjoying genealogy without even realizing it. Sometimes stories passed down from generation to generation can be the best!