100th Anniversary of the Panama Canal: History in the News

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan searches old newspapers to learn more about one of humankind’s greatest engineering feats: the building of the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal recently turned 100 years old. This prompted me to learn more about the history of this important waterway.

photo of the SS Ancon passing through the Panama Canal on 15 August 1914, the first ship to use the canal

Photo: SS Ancon passing through the Panama Canal on 15 August 1914, the first ship to use the canal. Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Early Transportation History

The only way for ships in the Atlantic Ocean to access the western coast of the Americas was to go the long way round—either around the southern tip of South America, or an even longer distance around the horn of Africa. Either route was fraught with danger and took an exceptionally long time. The narrow neck of land connecting North and South America was quickly targeted as a possible transportation alternative.

In the 1500s, Spain was particularly interested in reducing the amount of time it took to transport silver mined in Peru to Atlantic fleets. This would give them an economic and militaristic advantage over their enemies and rivals. To accomplish this, they created a trail system across the Isthmus of Panama—Spanish fleets shipped the silver from Peru to the west coast of Panama, and mule trains followed the trails to the east coast, bringing the silver to waiting ships. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t easy, but it was better than nothing.

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The Darien Disaster

Later, Scotland launched an early attempt to gain economic advantage by creating a shortcut for goods across the Isthmus of Panama. They wagered an absurd amount of money on the project termed the “Darien Scheme” (and later renamed the “Darien Disaster”). They set up an outpost in 1698 in the hopes of creating an overland route to transport goods and shorten the amount of time it took to carry items from Europe to the western coast. Conditions in the area were vastly different from what they were prepared for and horribly inhospitable. They slugged it out for less than two years before abandoning the project.

Meanwhile, the Spanish continued their efforts to make an even better route across Panama to maintain their economic success—and their enemies took notice. This 1762 newspaper article foretold “our” (British) troops’ plans to attack the Isthmus of Darien (Panama) and thwart the Spanish advantage.

article about a planned British attack on the Spanish outpost in Panama, Boston Evening-Post newspaper article 6 December 1762

Boston Evening-Post (Boston, Massachusetts), 6 December 1762, page 2

The Spanish were persistent in their efforts and, as this article reported, they had established a new colony in the Isthmus of Panama by 1777.

article about the Spanish estabishing an outpost in Panama, Virginia Gazette newspaper article 12 December 1777

Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Virginia), 12 December 1777, page 1

The Panama Railroad

By the time gold was discovered in California in 1848, the railroad was a significant technological advancement. Naturally, this idea was applied in Panama: build a railroad across this challenging terrain to quickly transport goods and prospectors from the East coast and Europe and deposit them on the Pacific coast, to complete their journey by ship. They used old Spanish trails that had been in use for over three centuries.

Actually, the idea of a railroad across Panama had been in existence for many years before the California Gold Rush. The Columbian and French governments had both shown interest. The U.S. had made some effort under Andrew Jackson in the 1830s, but it wasn’t until 1855 that a cross-Panama railroad came to fruition. It is amazing that they were able to accomplish this feat. The heavens dump around 150 inches of rain each year on the landscape. Laying track in such hot, wet conditions must have been a miserable experience. But the real threat came from disease, especially malaria and yellow fever. Workers dropped like flies. Completing the Panama Railway was certainly a cause for celebration.

article about the completion of the Panama Railway, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 31 January 1855

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 31 January 1855, page 2

However, traversing the troublesome landmass necessitated loading and unloading cargo, a painfully labor- and time-intensive undertaking for the railroad. There were calls for a canal through the isthmus to allow large cargo ships to alleviate this difficulty. The French rose to the occasion and dispatched the famous Ferdinand de Lesseps—designer of the newly completed Suez Canal—to lead their nation to triumph. They rushed to start the project in 1881, without sufficient understanding of the geology or hydrology of the area.

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At first the idea was simply to cut away the land leaving a sea level passageway. Attempts at this seemingly simple idea soon showed that the copious rainfall quickly filled these efforts of the exhausted laborers, with mud and large landslides causing problems. The wedge of land to be removed changed from a narrow slip, just wide enough to allow a ship’s passage, to an impossibly large width to prevent the frequent landslides. This was all being attempted with primitive steam shovels that quickly rusted to uselessness in the persistent rain. If that wasn’t disheartening enough, the swampy conditions were ripe for mosquitoes and therefore deadly malaria and yellow fever. Thousands of workers died and the project went bankrupt. Meanwhile, the American media had a heyday over the “Panama Canal Fiasco” or the “Panama Affair.”

The Panama Canal Fiasco, Springfield Republican newspaper article 13 January 1889

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 13 January 1889, page 2

Despite a later attempt to revive the project, the weary French eventually sold out to America for a bargain basement price.

article about the French selling their Panama Canal project to the U.S., Forth Worth Morning Register newspaper article 8 January 1902

Forth Worth Morning Register (Fort Worth, Texas), 8 January 1902, page 2

After the smoke had cleared from the expected congressional infighting over the viability of the project and the wisdom of purchasing the project from the French, there remained the matter of obtaining Colombian authorization (Panama was Columbian territory at the time).

When Columbia refused to ratify a treaty granting such permission, President Theodore Roosevelt and the U.S. got around this obstacle by promising support to Panamanian rebels seeking independence from Columbia. U.S. warships moved into position off the Panamanian coast on 2 November 1903, and Panama declared independence the next day. Three days later, on 6 November 1903, the newly-recognized nation of Panama signed a treaty granting the U.S. the right to build and administer a canal.

With that, the U.S. got to work. Fortunately, by that time technology had advanced and we were able to complete the project by building a lock system—but not before even more people died of illness and accident. (As a side note, it is good to know that the Panama Affair did contribute to a better understanding of mosquito-borne illnesses and their prevention.)

Panama Canal Opens

After much labor, the Herculean task of building the Panama Canal was completed, and it was officially opened on 15 August 1914.

Great Panama Canal Open for Commerce, State newspaper article 16 August 1914

State (Columbia, South Carolina), 16 August 1914, page 1

Of course, this is a simplified and selective account of the scandal-soaked history of the canal. It doesn’t mention that the treaty we signed with Columbia (which was refused by that country) was actually with a French representative. It doesn’t detail the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that the U.S. was involved in with the rebellion that created the country of Panama—all in order to accomplish our goal of building the canal. It doesn’t mention the Panamanian protests after WWII and international pressure which led—eventually—to the release of the canal to Panama beginning in 2000. Nor does it go in depth into the scandals, illnesses, and accidents that make a study of the canal so interesting.

Hopefully, this article gives a little insight into the history of the Panama Canal and whets your appetite for your own research. The significance of the Panama Canal cannot be overstated. World commerce depends on fast, dependable transportation, which the canal provides.

Also, it is hoped that this article offers insights into what can be found in and learned from the old newspapers contained in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.

Related Articles about Early Transportation:

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News from Soccer’s Previous World Cups in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan shows some of soccer’s most famous and infamous moments from previous World Cups, as reported in newspapers.

To celebrate this year’s exciting World Cup, let’s relive some of the most talked-about moments in World Cup history, as shown in old newspaper articles.

Even though it is known worldwide as the “Beautiful Game,” soccer unfortunately sometimes makes headlines because of violent incidents, cheating and other unsavory elements that make news around the globe.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

There will always be some dirty soccer playing, like this year when Uruguay’s Luis Suarez bit Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini during the World Cup in Brazil. Similar behavior was seen when France’s Zinedine Zidane headbutted Italian defender Marco Materazzi in his career-ending game during the final of the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

article about Italy winning soccer's 2006 World Cup, Register Star newspaper article 10 July 2006

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 10 July 2006, page 25

No Butts about It--Zidane Song Tops French Charts, Register Star newspaper article 3 August 2006

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 3 August 2006, page 18

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Occasionally there are fights between players, such as during the 1990 World Cup in Italy when the Netherlands’ Frank RijKaard spat at Germany’s Rudi Voeller and the two had an altercation.

article about the 1990 World Cup in Italy when the Netherlands’ Frank RijKaard spat at Germany’s Rudi Voeller, State Times Advocate newspaper article 27 June 1990

State Times Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 27 June 1990, page 45

Cheating

Lamentably, there is even cheating in soccer sometimes. What he later called the “hand of God” goal by Diego Maradona is one example. It happened during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, when the Argentine forward illegally used his hand to score an infamous goal against England.

Soccer Player (Maradona) Admits Cheating, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 November 1986

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 November 1986, page 52

Injuries

Very rarely, there are horrific accidents like this year’s injury to Brazilian star Neymar da Silva Santos Jr., who was kneed in the back and suffered a broken vertebra—such incidents, of course, make it into the newspapers. Another accident happened during the 1982 World Cup in Spain, when Germany’s goalkeeper Toni Schumacher ran full speed into French defender Patrick Battiston, breaking his jaw, damaging vertebrae, and knocking out several teeth. The unfortunate Frenchman nearly died on the field due to “improper medical attention.”

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article about French defender Patrick Battiston being injured in soccer's 1982 World Cup, Oregonian newspaper article 25 June 1986

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 25 June 1986, page 87

Game Drama

There can be other drama with the players besides cheating or their hurting each other on the field. During the 1998 World Cup final in France, Brazil’s superstar Ronaldo was mysteriously missing from the team roster until just before the game with France. The rumor was that he had experienced a seizure in the locker room.

Reports--Ronaldo Did Not Have Convulsions, Register Star newspaper article 18 July 1998

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 18 July 1998, page 24

Soccer Winners & Losers

In addition to news about the soccer players, the World Cup results often make it into the headlines. For example, there are the shocking upsets—such as Brazil’s defeat to Uruguay during the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, and West Germany’s upset win over the powerful Hungarian team during the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.

Uruguay Edges Brazil for Title, Oregonian newspaper article 17 July 1950

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 17 July 1950, page 23

West Germans (Reds, Too) Celebrate Soccer Triumph, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 6 July 1954

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 6 July 1954, page 13

Gunned Down by Gamblers?!

The most shocking event in World Cup history is of course the murder of Colombian defender Andres Escobar in 1994. He was gunned down by gamblers back home in Colombia just days after the Americans beat Colombia during the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. due to an accidental goal Escobar knocked into his own net.

article about Colombian defender Andres Escobar being killed after soccer's 1994 World Cup, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 3 July 1994

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 3 July 1994, page 7

Most of the time, the World Cup makes the news because of the exciting games, the fantastically athletic players, the cultural treats provided by the home country, and the rapturous reactions of the devoted fans. But occasionally, as this article has shown, there is a darker side to the World Cup—and that of course makes it into the newspapers.

Hope you enjoyed this year’s World Cup and that your team did well!

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70th Anniversary of WWII’s D-Day (6 June 1944)

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to find out more about the Allied attacks on German-held beaches in France on D-Day.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of World War II’s D-Day, which happened on 6 June 1944. D-Day was the long-awaited invasion by the Allies of Nazi Germany’s “Fortress Europe.” The massive assault was also known by the codename “Operation Overlord.”

It is estimated that America is losing some 550 World War II veterans each and every day now. Of the approximately 16 million U.S. men and women who served in World War II, only about 1.2 million are still alive today. Personally, I know that my father landed on Omaha Beach, and he has passed away. Now his WWII experiences are only stories others remember, not first-hand experiences he’s around to share with us. It was with this in mind that I decided to search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to review this historic day.

It did not take me long to find this front-page news coverage of D-Day. General Dwight Eisenhower and the Allies had amassed the greatest amphibious invasion force in history. The old news article reports a one-sentence communiqué issued at 3:32 A.M. Eastern War Time:

Under the command of Gen. Eisenhower, Allied naval forces supported by strong air forces began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.

By the time this “Extra” edition of the newspaper hit the streets, Operation Overlord had become an immense battle across five Normandy beaches whose code names now are seared into our memory: Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword, and Utah.

front-page news about the Allied invasion of France on D-Day during WWII, Boston Herald newspaper article 6 June 1944

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 6 June 1944, page 1

During the months of D-Day preparations, the actual landings, and even continuing into the first weeks of battles, there was an equally important operation taking place by the name of “Operation Fortitude.” This two-part operation of “Fortitude North” and “Fortitude South” was one of the supreme acts of deception of all time.

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It took a while for all the details to be revealed, but this 1965 newspaper article presents a very good review of this “secret of D-Day.”

article about D-Day and the secret “Operation Fortitude” during WWII, Boston Herald newspaper article 10 December 1965

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 December 1965, page 15

Four years later, this 1969 newspaper article again focuses on the use of deception that paved the way for the Allies’ success at D-Day. This historical news article reports the reminiscences of General Omar Bradley, who commanded the American troops attacking the Normandy coast. Bradley related not only his firsthand memories regarding the D-Day invasion, but also the big deception that was created to convince the Axis powers that the actual invasion was still coming at Pas de Calais—and that the Normandy landings were actually just a distraction.

article about WWII's D-Day and General Omar Bradley, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 1 June 1969

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 1 June 1969, page 32

The incredible fighting, bravery, and staggering losses of D-Day have been frequently reported, but I found a 1979 article on this subject that was particularly interesting to me. It was written by Robert E. Cunningham, a U.S. Army Captain, and relates his experiences while landing at Omaha Beach that fateful day. His story is almost too intense to read.

At Omaha Beach, D Day, June 6, 1944, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 3 June 1979

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 3 June 1979, page 135

Several years ago, my family was on vacation in Europe. We were in France, my mother was driving and my father was dozing in the car. My mom saw a sign for “Omaha Beach” and decided it would be a nice surprise to go there for my dad. My father didn’t wake up until we parked the car. He was incredibly shocked to see where we were as he sat in the car looking out at the acres and rows of crosses. For quite some time he refused to leave the car. Finally he joined us as we walked the now silent beach, seeing the cliffs, concrete pillboxes, old rusting guns, and shipwrecks still in the surf.  It was later, while walking hand-in-hand with his family through those crosses that he said, in a voice that was only a whisper, that he had spent the first months after D-Day on graves registration detail and it was the worst duty he had ever pulled.

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The War continued for almost a year after D-Day with fierce fighting all across Europe (and in the Pacific for even longer), as shown in this 1944 newspaper with a full page of articles covering battle after battle being waged from France and Italy to the Pacific.

articles about WWII battles, Oregonian newspaper articles 23 June 1944

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 23 June 1944, page 4

Now it is 70 years after D-Day and the successes of that fateful day continue to be recognized across Europe as communities everywhere celebrate their liberation. As a matter of fact, just a couple of months ago I was contacted by a woman who is coordinating the celebration of the liberation of the town of Dinan, France, which was accomplished by the forces of the 83rd Infantry. She was seeking photographs that might be a part of that town’s celebration. As any good family historian and genealogist would do, I was happy to share what I had for the display during their celebration this summer.

The small leather satchel in this photograph is the one my father carried across Europe during the fighting. He carefully noted each town he found himself in, one of which was Dinan.

photo of a leather satchel carried by Scott Phillips's father across Europe during the fighting of WWII

Photo: leather satchel carried by the author’s father across Europe during the fighting of WWII. Credit: from the author’s collection.

As my contact in Dinan said to me: “Oh my, Scott, this satchel tells a story all by itself.”

I can only add my thanks to all who served our country in WWII and especially those who fought on the beaches of Normandy 70 years ago on D-Day.

photo of Scott Phillips'sfather having lunch somewhere in Normandy with his squad during WWII

Photo: The author’s father (right rear) having lunch somewhere in Normandy with his squad during WWII. Credit: from the author’s collection.

Do you have any D-Day veterans in your family or your family tree? I’d like to hear about them if you do; please post something in the comments section below.

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21 May 1927: Charles Lindbergh’s Daring Solo Plane Flight

The “Roaring ’20s” was a fast-paced, dizzying time of excitement and possibilities. Peace and prosperity had returned after the devastation of WWI, and new inventions and machinery were pushing frontiers and expanding former boundaries. A bold young pilot named Charles Lindbergh epitomized the spirit of the times, and he dazzled the world when he landed his plane in Paris after completing history’s first solo trans-Atlantic flight on 21 May 1927.

photo of Charles Lindbergh standing in front of his plane “Spirit of St. Louis”

Photo: Charles Lindbergh standing in front of his plane “Spirit of St. Louis.” Credit: Library of Congress.

The 25-year-old airmail pilot was unknown when he flew his now-famous airplane Spirit of St. Louis from Roosevelt Field in Long Island, New York, to Le Bourget Field outside of Paris, France, in 33½ hours on 20-21 May 1927. He was after the Orteig Prize, a $25,000 reward that had been available since 1919 to the first pilot to fly nonstop between New York and Paris.

In the intervening years several attempts had been made, all unsuccessful, and six famous pilots had died. Just 12 days before Lindbergh took off on his successful flight, two French war heroes—pilot Charles Nungesser and navigator Francois Coli—departed Paris in pursuit of the Orteig Prize, but they and their plane disappeared forever after flying over the coast of Ireland.

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The whole world seemed to embrace Lindbergh’s amazing aeronautical feat, and his daring and confidence were praised and rewarded. As a reserve Army officer he was awarded the Medal of Honor, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross from President Coolidge. He achieved wealth and lasting fame, and the unknown airmail pilot was obscure no longer.

frront-page news about Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 22 May 1927

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 22 May 1927, page 1

This historical newspaper reported:

A new epoch in aviation has been inaugurated.

Charlie Lindbergh, of Little Falls, Minn., landed at Le Bourget, France, at 5:15 p.m. eastern daylight time yesterday, in one record-smashing jump from Roosevelt Field, New York.

“Well, here we are” was his greeting to the enthusiasm-maddened crowd.

Unaccompanied, Lindbergh drove his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, over the nearly four thousand mile air track, clipping about two hours and a half off the most optimistic time allowance.

The world’s imagination was fired by his exploit.

Spontaneous celebrations in scores of cities both here and abroad lasted far into the night; President Coolidge and executives of other nations flashed their congratulations and these were supplemented by the thousands from other individuals publicly prominent.

At Detroit, Charles’ mother relaxed her steadily maintained attitude of silent confidence and through tears of joy declared his victory “was all that mattered.”

photo of Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” airplane on display at the National Air and Space Museum

Photo: Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” airplane on display at the National Air and Space Museum. Credit: Ad Meskens; Wikipedia.

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The old newspaper also reported Lindbergh’s reception when he landed in France:

To the young American it was seemingly merely the achievement of an ambition. To Paris, to France, to America, to the world, his landing tonight made him the greatest of heroes mankind had produced since the air became a means of travel.

A crowd of at least 25,000 surrounded his plane, the “Spirit of St. Louis,” when it came to earth after its epochal voyage from the new world to the old. The airman was lifted from the seat, where for two days and a night he sat fixed, guiding his plane over land and sea, and for 40 minutes he was hardly able to talk or do anything else, except let himself be carried along by a mass of men made delirious with joy at his achievement.

Never has an aviator of any nation, even king or ruler, had a greater or more spontaneous welcome from the hearts of the common people of France. The very recklessness of his endeavor, as it appeared, appealed to the quick emotional imagination of Frenchmen, and they were quick to respond with everything their own hearts could give.

All ties of nationalism were forgotten by the Le Bourget throng. They saw in Lindbergh only a man who had brilliantly gambled with death and won. There was regret, for Nungesser and Coli, and regret, too, that the daring Frenchmen had not been the first. But there was no bitterness in their greeting of the American winner.

GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives are a great way to discover the details of your ancestors’ lives—as well as learn about the times they lived in. Come search today and see what amazing feats your ancestors accomplished during their lifetimes!

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How to Research Old Diaries & Personal Journals for Genealogy

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary gives examples of how your ancestors’ diaries and journals—some available online in various collections—are invaluable to your family history research.

As family historians, we turn to newspapers to corroborate vital records—but often neglect to venture further with our research by exploring charming, firsthand accounts from our ancestors’ diaries and journals. Not only do these personal writings add to the fabric of our research, they enrich genealogical studies by adding unique perspectives into specific time periods, activities and historical events.

Some entries from diaries and journals, as well as complete autobiographies and memoirs, can be found in GenealogyBank’s Historical Book Archives, and others appear as feature pages in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

screenshot of GenealogyBank’s search page for its Historical Book Archives

Screenshot: GenealogyBank’s search page for its Historical Book Archives

I think you’ll enjoy reading some old-time intimate diaries.

The excerpts I’ve chosen from diaries found online present a variety of stories. Two are from brides, one is about shipwreck and imprisonment, another is about young school boys who get in trouble writing diaries, and the last is a description of the First Battle of the Marne during World War I.

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Bridal Diaries (1886 and 1921)

This 1886 article from an Illinois newspaper presents “A Leaf from a Bride’s Diary.” In her witty and entertaining diary entries, this bride recounts the story of her elopement, her impression of the justice of the peace, and her hilariously failed attempt at baking her first pie.

A Leaf from a Bride's Diary, Hyde Park Herald newspaper article 5 June 1886

Hyde Park Herald (Chicago, Illinois), 5 June 1886, page 2

She writes of her elopement with George:

We did not have dear papa’s consent, nor much of anything else.

She was not much impressed with the justice of the peace who married them, remarking:

He looked to me like a man who would snort around the cemetery and tear up the greensward when his wife died in the early spring, and friends would have to chain him to a tree somewhere till his grief had spent itself, and then in the early fall he would lower the top of his old concertina plug hat, and marry a red-eyed widow with a baritone voice and two sons in the penitentiary.

The young bride resolved to make the best of things:

To-day I am a wife with my joyous girlhood, my happy home and the justice of the peace behind me. Life is now real, life is earnest, for we have no girl [servant]. We will not keep a girl at first, George says, for if we did she would have to board at home, as we have only one room, and it is not a very good room either. We take our meals at a restaurant, and the bill of fare is very good.

Her first attempt at baking a pie ended in disaster. She “put in quite a lot of soda or baking powder,” put the pie in the oven, and started sewing while she waited for it to bake. Suddenly:

While thus engaged the oven door was blown off the hinges and the air was filled with subtle odor of some kind which I could not describe. We pulled the pie off the ceiling.

cartoon showing a young bride's failed attempt at baking her first pie, Hyde Park Herald newspaper article 5 June 1886

Hyde Park Herald (Chicago, Illinois), 5 June 1886, page 2

While perusing this next perfunctory diary, take note that some brides are more interested in the “haul” of their shower and wedding gifts than the feelings of friends and family, and that wedding planning has always had its challenges!

extracts from a young bride's diary, Montgomery Advertiser newspaper article 13 November 1921

Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), 13 November 1921, page 4

A Tale of a Shipwreck and Imprisonment (1795)

The Diary of Donald Campbell (1751-1804) was first published in 1795 and, due to its popularity, republished several times. Follow Campbell’s fascinating story of a journey to India, where he was shipwrecked and imprisoned. Luckily, Campbell was released and wrote his story for us to enjoy centuries later.

extract from a historical book: “A Narrative of the Extraordinary Adventures, and Sufferings by Shipwreck & Imprisonment, of Donald Campbell, Esq. of Barbreck. With the Singular Humors of His Tartar Guide, Hassan Artaz.” 1801 edition, page 260.

Historical book: “A Narrative of the Extraordinary Adventures, and Sufferings by Shipwreck & Imprisonment, of Donald Campbell, Esq. of Barbreck. With the Singular Humors of His Tartar Guide, Hassan Artaz.” 1801 edition, page 260.

For more information on Campbell, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Campbell_(traveller).

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School Boys Get in Trouble at School over Diaries (1880)

After receiving a diary from his Uncle Joe, Robert Cummings documented how his days passed. After a friend was caught writing in his diary at school, the frustrated teacher threw it into the fire—making this activity all the more desirous to these young diarists.

In his first entry, Robert certainly sounds committed to keeping a diary:

January 1. This is New Year’s Day. Uncle Joe gave me this diary to-day. I am going to write in it every night just before going to bed. Every boy and girl ought to keep a diary so when he gets a man he can see what he did so when he was a boy. This is New Year’s Day, and there ain’t no school to-day, and I have played with Billy all day. Billy is my goat. I got up and ate breakfast, then I harnessed Billy and saw Uncle Joe and he gave me this diary. He says it is the best thing a boy can do to keep a diary, but he says it is the hardest thing a boy can do. I don’t see where the hard comes in.

extract from Robert Cummings's diary, Portland Daily Press newspaper article 20 March 1880

Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 20 March 1880, page 1

An Account of WWI’s First Battle of the Marne (5-12 September 1914)

Although the author of this diary was only described as an unnamed “citizen of Crepy-en-Valois,” this gripping account from the French newspaper Petit Parisien was reprinted in papers across the world.

Diary of Battle of Marne, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 18 September 1914

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 18 September 1914, page 2

For more information on the First Battle of the Marne, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Battle_of_the_Marne.

As you can see from these examples, diaries and journals provide an extraordinary glimpse into our ancestors’ lives, giving us details of their everyday experiences and, occasionally, insight into important events they participated in or witnessed firsthand. Dig in and find everything from great-great grandma’s first pie to war stories from the battlefield and beyond.  Be sure to include these genealogical treasures in your family history research. True personal stories direct from your ancestors add more interest and meaning to your family tree.

Here are some online sources to locate diaries for genealogy research:

Please share reports of exciting diaries or journals you have located in your genealogy work—either within a personal family collection or online—in the comments section below.

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Military Records in Newspapers: How They Help Make Your Genealogy Complete

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how he used military records that he found in old newspapers to fill in some of the gaps in his family history.

Certainly none of us likes war. It tears families apart, causes untold destruction, and all too often results in the loss of life or severe injury. However, there is one benefit to us as genealogy fans—and that is the fact that military service, notes, casualty lists, etc., were often reported in historical newspapers. As a result those military records are available to help us fill gaps in our family history, providing many excellent details about our ancestors.

Here are just a few examples of the dozens of military details I have been able to find in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Often during wartimes, things that may seem mundane during times of peace become newsworthy—such as an enlisted man getting a furlough. That was the case with this article I discovered in a 1942 Ohio newspaper. This news article contains some terrific detail on one of my mom’s favorite uncles, Charles G. Evenden. In just a few short sentences, I learned his rank (First Sergeant.), his years of service (24), his brother’s name and address, plus the fact that he was seeing his mother in nearby Lorain.

Then there was the icing on the cake! In the upper corner of the page is his photograph, which happens to be the only one we have of him in our family tree. What a family history treasure to discover in an old newspaper!

Greater Clevelanders at Home on Furloughs from WWII, Plain Dealer newspaper article 16 August 1942

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 August 1942, page 16

Recently, I have been working to gain a more detailed look into the actions of my dear father’s unit during World War II. He was in the 83rd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, which is often called “the Ohio Division.” Unfortunately, his record file at the National Archives was lost during the 1973 fire. However, I have been very pleased at the amount of information I have discovered in local newspapers that reported on the activities of the 83rd. This article, from a 1945 Canton newspaper, provided me with quite a detailed description of many of the movements of the 83rd after their landing in Normandy, France.

WWII Fighting Divisions: 83rd Infantry, Repository newspaper article 19 November 1945

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 19 November 1945, page 18

I was very proud to read of the hard fighting and success achieved by my father’s division, especially the conclusion of this news article:

Crossing the Rhine [River], the Ohioans cleaned up several enemy pockets, then drove for the transportation center of Hamm. Taking that vital place, the 83rd slipped into high gear and began to speed through the Reich.

In 14 days of its push from the Rhine to the Elbe [River], the Ohioans captured 24,000 Germans and liberated 75,000 Allied prisoners of war.

Then an article from a 1945 Cleveland newspaper gave me some remarkably fine detail about the movements of the 83rd as they approached the Elbe River, a destination that my father had mentioned to me.

article about the movements of the 83rd Infantry Division in WWII, Plain Dealer newspaper article 10 April 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 April 1945, page 1

I am still reading more of the dozens of articles that resulted from my search on the 83rd Infantry Division, amazed at how much I am learning about the performance of my father’s division during WWII.

In addition to my searches on the 83rd, I learned more about a troubling aspect of my father’s wartime experience by trying a different approach. This time, I searched the old newspapers for a place name: Langenstein Concentration Camp. This newspaper article from a 1994 Illinois newspaper gives as stark a description of this concentration camp as did my father the one and only time he ever spoke of the fact that he was one of this camp’s liberators. Among other things, it states: “The smell of death was there.” The smell was the first thing my father had mentioned.

article about the liberation of the Langenstein Concentration Camp during WWII, Register Star newspaper article 29 May 1994

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 29 May 1994, page 4

Unfortunately, death is also a part of war, and I was saddened when I discovered this obituary in a 1945 Ohio newspaper. It informed me that an ancestor, Pfc. Norman Sloan, had been killed in action in Germany, leaving a wife and 6-week-old daughter.

obituary for Norman Sloan, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 February 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 February 1945, page 83

Looking further I found an additional article from the same Cleveland newspaper, a longer casualty list article giving details about Pfc. Sloan’s death and his family, and providing a photograph as well.

obituary for Norman Sloan, Plain Dealer newspaper article 22 February 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 22 February 1945, page 11

Using the information from this newspaper article, I was able to trace his burial as listed by the American Battle Monuments Commission, which in turn helped me find a photo of his grave marker in the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Henri-Chapelle, Belgium. While a bittersweet find, it was wonderful to be able to add so much information to my family history.

photo of the gravestone of Pfc. Norman James Sloan, Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, Belgium

Photo: gravestone of Pfc. Norman James Sloan, Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, Belgium. Credit: Mr. Desire Philippet.

Newspaper articles can provide immense help when you’re researching your veteran ancestor. I hope you have, or will, search old newspapers for battle reports, casualty lists, service records, pension lists, etc.—and let me know what you have found as a result.

Arlington National Cemetery Removing Mementos Left at Graves

Military cemeteries traditionally have a uniform look: clean, unadorned, orderly.

photo of Flanders Fields American Cemetery and Memorial

Credit: Flanders Fields American Cemetery and Memorial

The appearance of the military crosses was immortalized in the lines of the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by Canadian John McCrae during WWI on 3 May 1915:

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Now, a century later, there has been a growing trend by families and friends to decorate military gravestones of their loved ones in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. Military authorities are reminding families that this decorating is not allowed. Photographs and mementos left at the gravesites have been removed, and the historical landmark cemetery has returned to its traditional appearance—with silent rows of gleaming white crosses.

A London newspaper ran a story on this clean-up project at Arlington National Cemetery last month.

article about Arlington National Cemetery removing mementos left at gravesites,  Daily Mail newspaper article 10 October 2013

Credit: Daily Mail (London, United Kingdom), 10 October 2013

Read the entire news story from the Daily Mail (London, United Kingdom), 10 October 2013, here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2451626/Arlington-graves-stripped-personal-momentoes-controversial-clean-up.html

Here is a copy of McCrae’s handwritten poem.

photo of the handwritten original copy of John McCrae's poem “In Flanders Fields”

Credit: Wikipedia

Lt. Colonel McCrae died 28 January 1918 while serving in France during WWI. He is buried in Wimereux Military Cemetery in northern France.

photo of the tombstone of Lt. Colonel John McCrae

Credit: Wikipedia

Here is the complete text of the poem “In Flanders Fields.”

In Flanders fields the poppies grow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Veterans Day Special: How to Trace Your Veteran Ancestors

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—in celebration of today being Veterans Day—Gena searches old newspapers to help fill in the story of an ancestor’s military service during World War I.

As our thoughts on this Veterans Day turn to the nation’s military personnel, you may be thinking about one of your ancestors who was a veteran—and wondering how you could find out more about him or her.

Quick question: if you are researching a soldier where should you search? Your most immediate answer might include searching a familiar genealogy subscription website or ordering military and pension records. While those are important places to start, have you considered searching old newspapers?

Hometown newspapers provide information about young men and women who have gone off to war. In some cases these mentions of people can be numerous. Search for these old newspaper articles to add to the official military records you have already gathered to help tell your ancestor’s story.

As an example, let’s look at the military life of Sgt. Ernest L. Clayton from Blackwells, Georgia. Sgt. Clayton was a World War I soldier serving in France. His WWI draft registration card from 1 June 1917 indicates that he was a college student prior to his service.

Fast forward to April 1918 and we see from the local news section of the Cobb County Times that Sgt. Ernest Clayton, from Camp Gordon, spent his Sunday in town with his friends. Camp Gordon, now known as Fort Gordon, is in Augusta, Georgia, and was established in 1917.

a notice about Sergeant Ernest Clayton, Cobb County Times newspaper article 11 April 1918

Cobb County Times (Marietta, Georgia), 11 April 1918, page 4

It’s important to remember that many times these smaller city newspapers did contain short mentions of the comings and goings of community members. In those hometown newspapers you can find details of the soldier and his or her family.

Think of older newspapers as the Facebook of their time. Just as we would now share important news of our family through Facebook posts, our ancestors shared their highlights with the local newspaper. It wasn’t too long ago that newspapers even printed the letters that families received from their military-serving family members. The following article is a letter from Sgt. Clayton to his sister, and has a photo of him in uniform.

Letter from Home Folks Adds Much to Life of a Soldier [Ernest Clayton], Cobb County Times newspaper article 24 October 1918

Cobb County Times (Marietta, Georgia), 24 October 1918, page 1

As an introduction to the letter, the newspaper editor let the community know that Clayton was a part of Battery B, 320th Field Artillery, and that he fought in the Battle of Saint Mihiel on 12-15 September 1918. This introduction indicated that he was already in the military when he filled out his draft registration, having entered in May 1917.

In his letter written from France, Clayton talked about how letters from home helped keep his spirits up. He wrote: “You know we soldiers grow tired and weary and if we don’t have any greetings from home and dear old America sometimes, we feel like death would be sweet. But when we are so discouraged and ‘all in’ as we call it, a bunch of mail encourages us very much, and we feel just like singing that dear old song: ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty.’”

There’s no doubt that having a soldier fighting in a war could be nerve wracking for family members on the home front. Not knowing how their son or daughter was doing, especially in a time when communication methods were limited, was an enormous stress. Receiving erroneous news must have been even more difficult to recover from.

World War I on the Western Front ended on 11 November 1918 with the signing of the armistice in France between the allies and Germany. That day was originally commemorated as Armistice Day (it became known as Veterans Day in the U.S. after World War II).

That fateful day took on special meaning for the Clayton family after Sgt. Clayton was unofficially listed as killed in action during the last days of the war. To the family’s great relief, that news of his death turned out to be erroneous!

They received a letter (which the family shared with the local newspaper) that Clayton wrote them on 23 November 1918—after the war had ended, and after he was supposedly dead. He wrote the letter from a hotel room in France, where he was enjoying some rest after 100 days on the firing line. He wrote that he anticipated arriving back home from the war in January 1919.

Sgt. E. L. Clayton Was Not Killed in Action, Cobb County Times newspaper article 19 December 1918

Cobb County Times (Marietta, Georgia), 19 December 1918, page 1

This Veterans Day, spend some time looking for your veteran ancestor in old newspapers. Remember that military service information can be found in more than just the official government military records! You can often find much more information about your veteran ancestor in letters, photos, draft lists, pension lists and other types of articles published in old newspapers.

Genealogy Tip: Make sure to search various versions of a person’s name when using a search engine. In searching for Sgt. Clayton, I searched on just the surname Clayton, as well as E. L. Clayton, Ernest Clayton, and other variations. I also searched for the names of his parents and sister.

Harrybelle (Durant) Stark: The Last Casualty of WWI

Harrybelle (Durant) Stark (1891-1937) gave the last full measure of devotion to our country. She was the last casualty of World War I.

Born March 1891 in Pensacola, Florida, she was the daughter of Osmond P. (1856-1913) and Annette (Knowles) (1880- ) Durant.

photo of Harrybelle Stark

Credit: Stark family photograph

Harrybelle attended Saint Vincent’s Hospital School of Nursing in Birmingham, Alabama, and graduated as a nurse in the Class of 1911.

She enlisted in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps 24 August 1916, and was commissioned a lieutenant and sent overseas to serve at Evacuation Hospital No. 6, American Expeditionary Force, based in Souilly, France. It was there that she met and married her husband, Lt. George Frederick Stark (1895-1958), an Army aviator.

photo of Harrybelle Stark

Credit: Stark family photograph

WWI ended for the rest of the world on 11 November 1918—but for Harrybelle it would not end for another 19 years, until 16 April 1937.

Near the end of WWI her base was gassed by the Germans. In spite of the damaging effects of the gas she continued to serve and was discharged from the Army on 25 April 1919.

photo of a Purple Heart medal

Credit: Wikipedia

But the deteriorating effects of the gas were too much and she soon entered the Castle Point Veteran’s Hospital (Castle Point, New York) where she remained until her death

photo fo the Castle Point Veteran’s Hospital (Castle Point, New York)

Credit: VA Hudson Valley Health Care

As the last casualty of WWI she was buried 21 April 1937 at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

photo of Harrybelle Stark

Credit: Stark family photograph

Arlington National Cemetery Puts Tombstone Photos Online

Arlington National Cemetery has recently completed a massive effort to photograph all 400,000 tombstones and put the photos online.

photo of the front of Harrybelle Stark's tombstone

Credit: Arlington National Cemetery

This is a terrific genealogical resource. Genealogists can easily search for their deceased relatives and the website will display the gravestone and show you where on the cemetery map the person is buried.

Arlington National Cemetery. Search burials here:

http://public.mapper.army.mil/ANC/ANCWeb/PublicWMV/ancWeb.html

map of Arlington National Cemetery

Credit: Arlington National Cemetery

With a click you can pull up more details of the person’s military service and a close-up photograph of the front and back of the tombstone.

When you click on “Details,” it pulls up the accompanying tombstone photos with both a front and rear view. Notice the handy “Download Photo” button under each photograph. It’s a snap to download and keep these photos to add to your family collectibles.

photos of the front and back of Harrybelle Stark's tombstone

Credit: Arlington National Cemetery

This comprehensive effort by the Arlington National Cemetery is one of the best genealogy websites online today.

What Can I Find in GenealogyBank about My Cousin Maid Marion?

No, I don’t mean Robin Hood’s love interest from the 16th century.

I’m referring to my cousin Marion Morgan Kemp (1862-1963) who owned villas in France, New York and Rome.

Years ago I contacted the authorities in Osmoy, France, where she died and received a copy of her death certificate.

photo of the death certificate for Marion Morgan Kemp (1862-1963)

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp

Since Marion lived most of her life overseas, I wondered if I could find more details of her life in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

I quickly found many old newspaper articles about her that gave me a better sense of Marion’s social and civic activities. She not only hosted many events, but also during World War II—after the Allies retook Rome in June of 1944—she lent her personal villa for the use of President Roosevelt’s representative in Rome.

If you read the news article about the villa takeover carefully, you’ll see that her 60-room villa was highly sought after, causing “a scramble among high Allied officers who wanted it.” President Roosevelt’s personal representative, Myron Taylor, won the right to occupy her prized villa when he showed up with a personal letter from Marion—turns out they had known each other for many years.

collage of news articles about Marion Kemp, from GenealogyBank

Credit: GenealogyBank

Notice where the above three articles about Marion appeared:

  • “Mrs. Coolidge Honored,” Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 14 August 1949, page 16.
  • “Sporting Tea in Stable,” Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 9 April 1905, page 8.
  • “Myron Taylor Wins Row over Mansion in Rome,” Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 4 July 1944, page 3.

These are terrific articles, published in newspapers from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Not locations where I had expected to find more information about my ancestor, but pleasant surprises nonetheless.

I had almost limited my record search to only New York newspapers, since that is one of the cities where she owned a home—but I went with a full search of GenealogyBank. It’s a good thing I did— I otherwise wouldn’t have discovered the interesting news articles I found that gave me a glimpse into her life.

Genealogy Search Tip: Cast a wide net when searching newspapers and gather in all of the articles about your family. You never know what you might find out about your ancestors.