Passing on Family Heirlooms

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary gives practical tips on how to document and preserve your precious family heirlooms.

Passing on cherished heirlooms is a time-honored tradition – one that predates all of us for as long as history has been recorded. Your belongings may become the heirlooms of tomorrow, but only if you take care of them.

Unfortunately, many family heirlooms become lost through the ages, mostly due to:

  • lack of proper care
  • exposure to harmful substances and environments
  • incomplete provenance
  • overlooking the need for the provenance
  • providing only an oral, not a written history

My Family Heirloom: Box of Lace & Handicrafts

A good example of a family heirloom is a box of lace and handicrafts handed down in my family. The box is full of charming little handicrafts which I adore – and luckily for me, the items have been well preserved.

photo of the contents of a family heirloom box

Photo: contents of the family heirloom box. Credit: from the author’s photo collection.

This vintage heirloom box contains dozens of small treasures, some even with the original price tag. The bundle of dainty lace at the top of the photo has a tag reporting six yards that cost $3.50 from McCutcheon’s of New York. Some of the frilly handicrafts in the box were handmade. There are two crazy quilt blocks consistent with a larger quilt made by my 2nd great grandmother and other garment parts – some partially completed, and others which appear to have been removed from existing clothing. Then there is a lovely little unsigned note which reads:

I bought this Maltese lace in Australia 1900.

When you read a note like this from one of your ancestors, you immediately long for more details.

Luckily I recognized the handwriting, and from other family documents determined which ancestors sailed to Australia in 1900. It was my maternal great grandparents – and fortunately for us, there are several heirlooms and stories connected to their trip.

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Research Your Heirloom in Old Newspapers

I was intrigued about the note, but didn’t know which object in the box was the “Maltese lace.” So I turned to the old newspaper archives to do further research.

A query of Genealogy Bank’s Historical Newspaper Archives showed that by 1904, this type of adornment had reached the height of popularity. For example, this 1904 newspaper fashion article features a photo of a stylish silk suit. The woman’s garment is decorated with “a narrow edging of gray Maltese lace defining the yoke.”

fashion article about Maltese lace, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 19 June 1904

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 19 June 1904, page 18

I found a good description of Maltese lace in another 1904 newspaper article:

Maltese lace is finely wrought, but very open in pattern, so that the decorative design stands boldly, if delicately, out from a background of fairy-like stitches in an open mesh. Made of the finest of silk threads, it has a creamy glow about it that is exceedingly becoming to the face, and it is peculiarly harmonious when worn with silk and velvet.

article about Maltese lace, Evening Star newspaper article 2 January 1904

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 2 January 1904, page 20

With these clues, the choice of which object in the box is the Maltese lace became obvious. I just looked for something with fairy-like stitching that might also be a scarf or mantilla. Although this picture doesn’t do it justice, I believe this is it.

photo of Maltese lace

Photo: Maltese lace from the family heirloom box. Credit: from the author’s photo collection.

Research Tip: While newspapers are a great resource to research your ancestors directly (their stories as well as their vital statistics), newspapers can also be used to research other aspects of their lives (such as their personal items, their communities, and the times they lived in).

Enhancing the Provenance of Family Heirlooms

Appraisers advise that provenance (establishing the origin of an object, and its past owners) adds value to an antique or heirloom, and a large component of this is writing down the object’s history.

So don’t make the mistake made by many families – if you know the heirloom’s story, don’t just tell it, write it down! Document the heirloom’s time period and ownership, and list yourself as the recorder. Add a note in your own handwriting – or if typed, include an original signature. Here are some suggestions for documenting your heirloom:

  • This (description of the item) was given to me (your name) on or about (date) by (name), who was my (relationship).
  • I was told by (name) that this heirloom was made by (name).
  • This heirloom was passed down through the (maternal or paternal) side of my family and given to me on (special occasion).
  • This heirloom did not pass through the family. I found it at an antique shop in (place) around (year). I love it because (description).
  • This note is believed to have been written by (name) of (location), as the writing is similar to a (letter, will, etc.) written on (date).

Don’t forget that you are part of the provenance. My heirloom lace in the box now has a second note:

This piece of Maltese lace was identified by Mary Harrell-Sesniak, in February of 2015.

Care and Handling of Family Heirlooms

Don’t neglect to learn about the proper care of your family heirloom. If something has broken, make sure modern materials won’t harm it before attempting a repair. Get an expert to fix it, or learn how to use traditional materials for your own repair.

As my family learned with an early American antique chest, it is better to use a traditional, natural glue than more modern products that might contain acid or wood-destroying chemicals.

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Library of Congress Has Heirloom Preservation Tips

The Library of Congress is the keeper of many of our country’s treasures. As such, they have accumulated much expertise, and have created numerous guides about preservation of works of art, documents, and other objects that might be in your family heirloom collection. Many heirloom preservation tips are found in the Collections Care section of their website.

Here you will learn about determining the material and condition of your heirloom. The material it is made from will determine much of its care. There are different guidelines for different materials, whether they are artwork, paper, textiles, photographs, metal, wood, ceramics or other fine materials.

In general terms, however, there are a few universal guidelines: avoid

  • uneven temperatures
  • materials with acid
  • handling without gloves (your fingers can damage items)
  • light

As the Library of Congress notes in their guide Why should you care about light damage:

Light causes permanent and irreversible damage that affects the chemical composition, physical structure, and, what is usually most obvious, the appearance of the collection item… There are no conservation treatments that can undo light damage.

Expert Advice for Documenting & Preserving Your Family Heirlooms

In addition to the ideas in this Blog article about documenting and preserving your heirloom, be sure to network with experts for further advice – and never underestimate the power of social media. Look for special pages on Facebook, Pinterest and Google+ about family heirlooms. You’ll often encounter an expert commenting on the same social media pages you frequent.

Sources for additional heirloom advice:

  • antique experts
  • appraisers
  • curators
  • fine auction houses
  • historical societies
  • reference guides
  • social media groups

I’ll conclude with this photo of a very fine collection of silverware:

photo of silverware

Photo: silverware. Source: Library of Congress.

Tell us about your own family heirlooms in the comments section, especially any advice you have about documenting and preserving your cherished items.

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Dad’s Hole in One Story Featured in the Newspaper

Going through Dad’s old papers I found that he had shot a hole-in-one playing golf. In fact he had certificates for four of them. How he liked to golf.

I wondered if these perfect shots were written up in the newspapers – yes, they were.

article about golf, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 20 August 1982

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 20 August 1982, page 31

In the Dallas Morning News, golfer Doris Gray was asked what was “her secret” for shooting nine holes in one. She said: “I just aim for the flag.”

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93-year-old Ralph Blake (1914-2008) had a successful career in banking and was a decorated war hero who fought in World War II. But, look closer and there in his obituary is a long, full mention of his multiple holes in one.

obituary for Ralph Blake, Republican American newspaper article 8 January 2008

Republican American (Waterbury, Connecticut), 8 January 2008

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103rd Anniversary of the Sinking of the Titanic

Today is the 103rd anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, a maritime disaster that horrified people when they first got the news in 1912 – and has fascinated the public ever since. The immediate horror was the grim news that more than 1,500 people died when the Titanic sank at 2:20 a.m. on 15 April 1912 after hitting an iceberg on her maiden voyage. The shock was that this supposedly unsinkable, absolutely huge ship (at more than 882 feet long, the Titanic was the largest ship in the world when it was launched) was entirely sinkable after all.

Illustration of the RMS Titanic

Illustration: RMS Titanic. Credit: Boris Lux, Lux’s Type Collection, ocean liners; Wikimedia Commons.

The fascination with the infamous shipwreck ever since has been in trying to imagine what the Titanic’s crew and passengers went through that awful night, with some of the survivors telling stories of incredible heroism – and acute suffering. The Titanic’s hold on the public was cemented by the overwhelming achievement of James Cameron’s film Titanic in 1997 – a runaway success that won 11 Oscars at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and earned a staggering $2.18 billion at the box office.

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Here are four articles we’ve published on the GenealogyBank blog, providing some interesting stories, insights and information about the Titanic disaster.

1) Amazing Survival Stories of Last Moments on the ‘Titanic’ Ship

survivors' stories after the sinking of the Titanic, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 19 April 1912

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 19 April 1912, page 1

2) Tracing ‘Titanic’ Genealogy: Survivor Passenger Lists & More

photo of the Titanic departing Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912

Photo: the Titanic departing Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912. Credit: F. G. O. Stuart; Wikipedia.

3) Eating on the ‘Titanic’: Massive Quantities of Food on the Menu

photo of the First Class Reception Room on the Titanic

Photo: First Class Reception Room on the Titanic. Credit: National Maritime Museum, Flickr: The Commons.

4) Elizabeth Gladys Dean (1912-2009) Last Titanic Survivor Dies

photo of Elizabeth Gladys Dean signing autographs at the British Titanic Society Titanic Convention, Hilton Hotel, Southampton, U.K., 1999

Photo: Elizabeth Gladys Dean signing autographs at the British Titanic Society Titanic Convention, Hilton Hotel, Southampton, U.K., 1999. Credit: Stephen Daniels; Wikimedia Commons.

Did you have any ancestors aboard the Titanic? Please share your family stories with us in the comments.

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Washington Archives: 87 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Washington, which joined the Union as the nation’s 42nd state in 1889, was named in honor of the country’s first president, George Washington. It is the 18th largest state in the country and the 13th most populous, with more than half of the state’s population living in the Seattle metropolitan region.

photo of Seattle, Washington

Photo: Seattle, Washington. Credit: Joshulove; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your family roots in Washington, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online WA newspaper archives: 87 titles to help you search your family history in “The Evergreen State,” providing news coverage, family stories and vital statistics from 1889 to Today. There are currently more than 67 million newspaper articles and records in our online Washington archives!

Dig deep into our archives and search for historical and recent obituaries and other news articles about your Washington ancestors in these recent and historical WA newspapers online. Our Washington newspapers are divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries (obituaries only).

Search Washington Newspaper Archives (1889 – 1984)

Search Washington Recent Obituaries (1985 – Current)

Here is a list of online Washington newspapers in the archives. Each newspaper title in this list is an active link that will take you directly to that paper’s search page, where you can begin searching for your ancestors by surnames, dates, keywords and more. The WA newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range* Collection
Aberdeen Daily World 1/20/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Arlington Arlington Times 10/4/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Auburn Auburn Reporter 2/11/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bainbridge Island Bainbridge Island Review 1/29/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bainbridge Island Bainbridge Islander 11/11/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bellevue Bellevue Reporter 7/13/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bellevue King County Journal 1/8/2003 – 1/20/2007 Recent Obituaries
Bellevue Eastside Journal 12/4/1999 – 1/13/2003 Recent Obituaries
Bellingham Bellingham Herald 10/2/1903 – 3/31/1952 Newspaper Archives
Bellingham Bellingham Reveille 2/1/1905 – 2/4/1905 Newspaper Archives
Bellingham Bellingham Herald 9/4/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bellingham Bellingham Herald, The: Blogs 1/15/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bonney Lake Bonney Lake & Sumner Courier-Herald 2/5/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bothell, Kenmore Bothell-Kenmore Reporter 3/2/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bremerton Kitsap Sun: Web Edition Articles 8/27/2014 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bremerton Kitsap Sun 1/2/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bremerton Kitsap Sun: Blogs 3/18/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bremerton Bremerton Patriot 3/11/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Brewster Quad City Herald 10/6/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Camas Camas-Washougal Post-Record 6/14/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cashmere Cashmere Valley Record 8/8/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Centralia Chronicle 10/31/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chelan Lake Chelan Mirror 8/6/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Colville Statesman-Examiner 6/9/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Coupeville South Whidbey Record 1/29/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Coupeville Whidbey News-Times 1/28/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Deer Park Deer Park Tribune 4/16/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Eastsound Islands’ Sounder 2/14/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Edmonds My Edmonds News 11/6/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ellensburg Daily Record 10/23/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Enumclaw Enumclaw Courier-Herald 1/29/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Everett Daily Herald 6/11/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Federal Way Federal Way Mirror 1/30/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Forks Forks Forum 12/15/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Friday Harbor Journal of the San Juan Islands 2/9/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Issaquah Issaquah & Sammamish Reporter 1/1/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kennewick Tri-City Herald 2/21/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kent Kent Reporter 2/3/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kent South County Journal 12/3/1999 – 1/11/2003 Recent Obituaries
Kingston Kingston Community News 10/1/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kirkland Kirkland Reporter 2/4/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Leavenworth Leavenworth Echo 8/1/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Long Beach Chinook Observer 8/15/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Longview Daily News 11/1/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lopez Island Islands’ Weekly 3/19/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lynnwood Lynnwood Today 6/18/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Maple Valley, Covington Maple Valley & Covington Reporter 2/4/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Marysville Marysville Globe 2/9/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mercer Island Mercer Island Reporter 2/9/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Montesano Vidette 1/27/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Moses Lake Columbia Basin Herald 4/6/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mount Vernon Skagit Valley Herald 1/2/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mountlake Terrace MLTnews 11/17/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Naval Base Kitsap Northwest Navigator Kitsap-Everett 12/10/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ocean Shores North Coast News 3/24/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Olympia Morning Olympian 3/15/1891 – 5/30/1952 Newspaper Archives
Olympia Olympia Daily Recorder 5/13/1902 – 1/5/1923 Newspaper Archives
Olympia Olympian 1/15/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Oroville Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune 10/6/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pasco Tri-City Herald 11/13/1947 – 12/31/1948 Newspaper Archives
Port Angeles Peninsula Daily News 4/27/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Port Orchard Port Orchard Independent 1/27/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Poulsbo North Kitsap Herald 1/28/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Quincy Crescent Bar Chronicle 5/21/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Redmond Redmond Reporter 2/11/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Renton Renton Reporter 2/10/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sammamish Sammamish Reporter 3/11/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Seattle Seattle Daily Times 12/20/1895 – 12/31/1984 Newspaper Archives
Seattle Hokubei Jiji 10/14/1916 – 2/28/1918 Newspaper Archives
Seattle World 1/4/1899 – 1/4/1899 Newspaper Archives
Seattle Seattle Republican 1/19/1900 – 1/19/1900 Newspaper Archives
Seattle Seattle Times 1/6/1985 – Current Recent Obituaries
Seattle Seattle Post-Intelligencer 1/1/1986 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sequim Sequim Gazette 1/2/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Silverdale Central Kitsap Reporter 2/14/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Snoqualmie Snoqualmie Valley Record 2/3/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Spokane Spokesman-Review 7/3/1994 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tacoma Tacoma Daily News 7/1/1889 – 7/6/1909 Newspaper Archives
Tacoma News Tribune 1/1/1992 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tukwila Tukwila Reporter 8/18/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Vancouver Columbian 5/27/1994 – Current Recent Obituaries
Vashon Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber 2/5/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wenatchee Wenatchee World 1/1/1996 – Current Recent Obituaries
Westport South Beach Bulletin 6/5/2014 – Current Recent Obituaries
Whidbey Island Naval Base Northwest Navigator Whidbey 12/3/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Whidbey Island Naval Base Whidbey Crosswind 5/11/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Yakima Yakima Herald-Republic 12/11/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries

*Date Ranges may have selected coverage unavailable.

You can either print or create a PDF version of this Blog post by simply clicking on the green “Print/PDF” button below. The PDF version makes it easy to save this post onto your desktop or portable device for quick reference—all the Washington newspaper links will be live.

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Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, a.k.a. Mrs. Bess Houdini

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 discover interesting stories about the life of Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, a.k.a. Mrs. Houdini – the wife of the famous magician.

Even if you have no interest in magic, chances are you have a passing knowledge of the master of magic himself, Harry Houdini (1874-1926). Popularized by film and known for his logic-defying tricks and escape stunts, Houdini is synonymous with magic. But how much do you know about his wife, Bess Houdini? Chances are very little.

Born Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner (1876-1943), Bess was interesting in her own right but spent most of her life in the shadow of her famous husband.

photo of Bess Houdini, c. 1900-1910

Photo: Bess Houdini, c. 1900-1910. Source: Findagrave; Wikipedia.

Newspapers are a great resource for finding the stories of your ancestors, whether they were famous or obscure. Here are six things you may not know about Bess Houdini, all discovered by searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

1) She assisted her husband throughout their marriage.

It’s fairly well known that Bess assisted her husband during his magic act. It’s less well known that she also assisted him when he conducted shows debunking the work of spiritual mediums – people who claimed they could communicate with the dead.

article about the magician Harry Houdini, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 5 March 1924

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 5 March 1924, page 4

2) She was a performer before she met Houdini – and carried on after his death.

However, Bess’s talent was not limited to helping her husband with his act; she was an entertainer prior to her marriage and continued on after Houdini’s death. She started her career in a song and dance act on Coney Island known as “The Floral Sisters.” It was while doing this act that she met Harry’s younger brother Theo, and then Harry himself. They were married on 22 June 1894 when Bess was 18.

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Bess continued performing after her husband’s untimely death in 1926. In this 1928 newspaper article she is said to “…take up the magician’s wand laid down by her husband’s dying hand.” One of the tricks she performed was where “she ‘froze’ an Indian ‘medicine man’ in a cake of ice.” It took 26 minutes to freeze the man in the ice block using solidified carbon dioxide gas, and he remained in that state for 15 minutes before the ice was chopped away to expose his face.

Mrs. Houdini to Continue His Craft, Rockford Republic newspaper article 13 January 1928

Rockford Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 13 January 1928, page 18

3) Newspaper articles about her are numerous, including those with her marital advice.

In this 1928 newspaper article, Bess gave some of her relationship advice and stories from her own marriage. Mrs. Houdini’s relationship revelation was that she kept some secrets from Harry – including the fact that she did not know how he did some of his magic tricks.

Magicians' Wives Like Magic Pretty Well, Plain Dealer newspaper article 5 August 1928

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 5 August 1928, page 103

She elaborated the point in another 1928 newspaper article:

Mrs. Houdini admits that while it is the magician’s business to mystify an audience it is the wife’s business to mystify the magician to the extent of convincing him that she understands his tricks whether she does or not.

article about Bess Houdini, Evening Tribune newspaper article 23 August 1928

Evening Tribune (San Diego, California), 23 August 1928, page 14

4) She tried to contact Houdini from the grave.

If there’s one thing most people know about Bess, it is her yearly attempts to contact Harry from the grave. A supernatural skeptic, Harry had promised Bess that if it was possible to contact the dead he would appear to her. So Bess tried for 10 years to contact Harry after his death. Not only did Bess try, but others also tried – including one who claimed success (see the 1929 newspaper article below). However, all attempts failed, and eventually Bess called it quits.

Four years into her yearly ritual, under the defeatist headline “Mrs. Houdini Gives Up,” Bess said of communicating with Houdini beyond the grave:

If I had succeeded in communicating with Houdini I would shout it from the housetops,” she told [the] Associated Press, “and I would carry a message of hope to all burdened souls, but I have none. There is nothing there.

article about Bess Houdini, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 23 March 1930

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 23 March 1930, page 6

Despite that 1930 headline, Bess kept trying to contact Harry from beyond the grave for another six years. Finally, in 1936 – ten years after her husband’s death – she made her last attempt. That final séance on the roof of a Hollywood hotel ended with Bess remarking: “He has not come. I turn out the light.” (Referring to an electric light that she had kept lit since his death 10 years prior.)

article about Bess Houdini, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 2 November 1936

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 2 November 1936, page 1

A more light-hearted comment about her repeated attempts to communicate with her dead husband is quoted in one of Bess’s obituary notices:

Ten years is long enough to wait for any man.

Mrs. Houdini's Futile Trysts with Her Husband's Ghost, Oregonian newspaper article 7 March 1943

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 7 March 1943, page 51

5) While she couldn’t contact the deceased Harry Houdini, someone else claimed to have succeeded.

Arthur Ford, a minister from the First Spiritualist Church, claimed success in contacting Houdini more than once. One such claim came during a séance where John W. Stafford, an assistant editor of the Scientific American, and Mrs. Houdini were present. Ford claimed he had received the secret code that Harry Houdini had confided to Bess he would use to verify it was he who was contacting her from beyond the veil. Ford provided that code during the séance, part of which was a name from a song that Bess used to sing in her act, “Rosabelle.”

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According to the report in this 1929 newspaper, Ford said to Bess:

The same man who came Saturday night is coming again. He says, Hello, Bess, my sweetheart. He says he wants to repeat the code you used in your mind reading act with him.

First of all, he says, Rosabelle. Do you know what that means?

Mrs. Houdini replied in a weak voice, Yes.

Then the words of the code came through Ford: Answer tell pray answer look tell answer answer tell.

Houdini's Spirit Talks to Widow, San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram newspaper article 9 January 1929

San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram (San Luis Obispo, California), 9 January 1929, page 3

At the time Bess confirmed that Ford had indeed contacted Harry and provided the correct code. Later though she recanted, perhaps due to friendly reminders that the “secret” message had been published previously in a biography about Houdini.

6) She died en route to New York aboard a train.

Bess Houdini died on 11 February 1943 aboard a train traveling through Needles, California. In ill health, she was hoping to make it to New York before her demise. Knowing that she was gravely ill, just prior to her death, she granted a last interview to journalists where she talked of hoping to see Harry Houdini again after death – and put a premature stop to anyone who would later claim supernatural contact with her.

obituary for Bess Houdini, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 12 February 1943

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 12 February 1943, page 17

She made that point emphatically at the end of the interview:

obituary for Bess Houdini, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 12 February 1943

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 12 February 1943, page 17

While the love story of Harry and Bess is sometimes held up as one of the greatest of all time, the couple was ultimately denied the right to be laid to rest next to each other. Harry was buried, along with members of his family, in the Jewish cemetery Machpelah in Ridgewood, New York, while Bess, a Catholic, was buried at Gates of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, New York.

Genealogy Tip: The research I did into Mrs. Houdini’s life in newspapers was a good example of searching by trying all variations of a woman’s name. I found articles with her listed as Mrs. Houdini, Beatrice Houdini, and Bess Houdini.

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Quilting & Genealogy: Treasured Family Heirlooms

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary writes about a family treasure of particular interest to genealogists: heirloom quilts.

Heirloom quilts and coverlets are comfort for the soul. They tell many a tale of family history, so it comes as no surprise that genealogists and quilting go hand in hand.

Perhaps an heirloom quilt has passed down through your family, as some have in mine.

Emalena’s Quilt

One such quilt in my home was made by Emalena, our family baby sitter.

She was a single woman who remained single until late in life. She treated us like her own children, and gave us many of her beautiful quilts. This one, fashioned in the traditional wedding ring pattern, became a present for my parents.

photo of a family quilt from the Harrell-Sesniak photo collection

Photo: family quilt from the Harrell-Sesniak photo collection

One has to assume she made a quilt for the kind widower she married. Perhaps one of her quilts “sealed the deal” with the marriage proposal. We certainly hope so!

Jacquard Coverlets

Two family treasures that came through my family were matching Jacquard coverlets.

Notice that this one, which belongs to my aunt, has the name Sophronia W. Seymour inscribed on it, along with the year 1834. Sophronia was my second great grandmother, and in 1834 would have been 20. Perhaps it was part of her trousseau, an old tradition in which items were collected for a girl to take into her marriage.

photo of a family coverlet from the Harrell-Sesniak photo collection

Photo: family coverlet from the Harrell-Sesniak photo collection

For many years, I thought that a family member had been a talented weaver – but now I know from historical research that this was probably not the case. Around 1820, a special loom was invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard which truly revolutionized the world of weaving.

article about the Jacquard loom, Evening Post newspaper article 29 October 1833

Evening Post (New York, New York), 29 October 1833, page 2

As Jacquard’s loom was programmable, it was much like an early computer. Intricate fabric patterns were made much quicker than before, and often in a double weave motif. The coverlet above, and another matching eagle and heart patterned example that also came through the family, are black on white on one side, and white on black on the other.

Not every quilt or coverlet contains names and dates – but when they do, they are wonderful genealogical gems (click this link for examples.)

Jacquard died in 1834, and it is a shame that so many people today do not realize the impact his loom had on the world.

obituary for Joseph Jacquard, Daily Atlas newspaper article 29 October 1834

Daily Atlas (Boston, Massachusetts), 29 October 1834, page 2

Textile Research

Newspapers offer a fine opportunity to research heirloom quilts and coverlets. Many of the newspaper articles are rich with detail. Not only can they help you date your treasures, but you can even find patterns to help you make your own family heirlooms.

One of the earliest newspaper reports that I could find regarding a quilt dates to 1752.

Margaret Rogers, a young girl apprenticed to Alice Dodd of Philadelphia, ran away. The runaway ad detailed Margaret’s garments, along with a light blue homespun quilt that she took with her.

runaway ad for apprentice Margaret Rogers, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 12 October 1752

Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 12 October 1752, page 7

Looking through 19th century newspapers you’ll find various quilting and sewing advertisements, some even detailing the machines our ancestors used.

ad for sewing machines, New Orleans Tribune newspaper advertisement 23 October 1866

New Orleans Tribune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 23 October 1866, page 3

By the 20th century, quilting had become all the rage. Quilting patterns appeared in newspaper articles, including this pretty Star Center Quilt block “stolen” from a neighbor’s laundry line. News articles frequently detailed color patterns and tips to assemble the quilts. For this one, red, white and blue were suggested:

Any house w[h]ere there are many children would be apt to furnish easily the blues and whites, and even if the red had to be bought for the purpose the cost would be very slight.

quilt block pattern for the Star Center Quilt, Broad Ax newspaper article 18 July 1903

Broad Ax (Chicago, Illinois), 18 July 1903, page 3

A favorite of modern quilters are patterns, of which there is no shortage in newspapers. Many of the famous Laura Wheeler designs were published, including this basket applique quilt design from 1936.

quilt patterns by Laura Wheeler, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 15 January 1936

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 15 January 1936, page 3

This 1937 newspaper article detailed the activities of Miss Minnie Eldridge, a home demonstration agent from Texas. She educated various Louisiana farm women on how to fashion quilts and taught them about the flower pot pattern fashionable among the mountaineers of Tennessee.

article about quilting, State Times Advocate newspaper article 11 August 1937

State Times Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 11 August 1937, page 13

Quilting is no lost art in Louisiana, not even a decadent one, if the enthusiasm and interest registered by hundreds of farm women at a quilting lecture Wednesday morning may serve as a basis for determining the quilting status in the state.

Other Resources for Quilting Examples

Don’t forget to explore social media, and in particular Pinterest, for quilting examples. A favorite of mine is the Library of Congress, where I found this lovely picture of quilters in Gee’s Bend, Alabama.

photo of Jorena Pettway sewing a quilt, Gees Bend, Alabama, c. 1937

Photo: sewing a quilt, Gees Bend, Alabama, c. 1937. Shown are an unidentified girl, Jennie Pettway, and quilter Jorena Pettway. Credit: Arthur Rothstein; Library of Congress.

Hope this inspires you to research your textiles, quilts and coverlets in newspapers. Be sure to share your finds in the comments.

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Utah Archives: 25 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Although Utah is the 13th largest state in the nation, it is the 10th least-densely populated. The state capital, Salt Lake City, is also the world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The LDS Church operates the nonprofit genealogy organization FamilySearch.org – which makes Salt Lake City one of the leading centers in the world for family history research, including the world famous Family History Library (open to the public free of charge).

photo of Zion Canyon at sunset, Zion National Park, Utah

Photo: Zion Canyon at sunset, Zion National Park, Utah. Credit: Diliff; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your family roots in Utah, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online UT newspaper archives: 25 titles to help you search your family history in the “Beehive State,” providing news coverage, family stories and vital statistics from 1851 to Today. There are currently more than 2.5 million newspaper articles and records in our online Utah archives!

Dig deep into our archives and search for historical and recent obituaries and other news articles about your Utah ancestors in these recent and historical UT newspapers online. Our Utah newspapers are divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries (obituaries only).

Search Utah Newspaper Archives (1851 – 1945)

Search Utah Recent Obituaries (1988 – Current)

photo of a state welcome sign in Utah

Photo: Utah state welcome sign. Credit: Wikimedia Commons; Bernard Gagnon, 8 March 2009

Here is a list of online Utah newspapers in the archives. Each newspaper title in this list is an active link that will take you directly to that paper’s search page, where you can begin searching for your ancestors by surnames, dates, keywords and more. The UT newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range* Collection
Bountiful Davis County Clipper 3/9/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Castle Dale Emery County Progress 11/27/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Logan Herald Journal 3/1/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ogden Hilltop Times: Hill Air Force Base 10/18/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ogden Standard-Examiner 5/22/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Park City Park Record 9/10/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Price Sun Advocate 8/2/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Provo Daily Herald 2/27/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Richfield Richfield Reaper 8/18/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Roosevelt Uintah Basin Standard 7/24/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Telegram 1/30/1902 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Tribune 1/9/1875 – 12/28/1893 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Deseret News 1/11/1851 – 12/29/1886 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Daily Telegraph 1/12/1866 – 7/3/1868 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Broad Ax 8/31/1895 – 6/6/1899 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Deseret Evening News 7/6/1868 – 9/19/1921 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Inter-Mountain Advocate 12/14/1894 – 4/30/1897 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Telegraph 10/9/1865 – 10/4/1866 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Salt Lake City Beobachter 4/6/1930 – 4/6/1930 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Intermountain Catholic 10/5/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Deseret News 4/7/1988 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Salt Lake City Weekly 6/11/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Tribune 9/26/1990 – Current Recent Obituaries
Topaz Topaz Times 9/17/1942 – 8/31/1945 Newspaper Archives
Vernal Vernal Express 5/19/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries

*Date Ranges may have selected coverage unavailable.

You can either print or create a PDF version of this Blog post by simply clicking on the green “Print/PDF” button below. The PDF version makes it easy to save this post onto your desktop or portable device for quick reference—all the Utah newspaper links will be live.

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American Family Migrations & the U.S. Interstate Highway System

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena explains that understanding transportation is an important part of getting to know our ancestors’ world – and focuses on the development of the Interstate Highway System.

Migration is something we must consider as we trace our ancestors’ lives. Our ancestors were mobile – maybe not nearly as much as we are today, but they traveled across seas, and then often went further inland to set up their new homes. Knowing where and how they arrived is important to finding genealogical documents and records. How they migrated is determined by the time period and modes of travel then available. As time and technology marched on, our ancestors’ opportunities to travel and move about increased.

photo of Interstate Highway 295 in New Jersey

Photo: Interstate Highway 295 in New Jersey. Credit: Famartin; Wikimedia Commons.

Just as we do now, future genealogists will also have to consider what their ancestors had available to them as they traveled. Although the first aircraft took off in the early 1900s, commercial flight didn’t become affordable and largely available until after World War II – just one of numerous considerations in looking at how 20th century ancestors migrated.

Along with airplanes, another mode of transportation we take for granted is the automobile. While motorized vehicles have been with us since the 1800s, it wasn’t until well after World War II that America became more accessible through the building of the U.S. interstate highway system. This mobility allowed families to migrate easier. The highway system also made it possible for people to travel great distances simply for pleasure, or to visit extended family members. This transportation milestone is an important part of the social history we can document in telling the story of our more recent family.

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President Eisenhower and the Building of the Interstate Highway System

While President Dwight D. Eisenhower is the man behind the building of the interstate highways, the bill making the national highway system possible was passed in 1944 under the Roosevelt administration. Unfortunately, the legislation did not specify a way to begin building it.

As the Federal Highway Administration’s website explains:

“After taking office in January 1953, President Eisenhower made revitalizing the Nation’s highways one of the goals of his first term. As an army Lieutenant Colonel in 1919, Eisenhower had accompanied a military convoy across the United States and saw the poor condition of our Nation’s roads. Later, during his World War II stint as Commander of the Allied Forces, his admiration for Germany’s well-engineered Autobahn highway network reinforced his belief that the United States needed first-class roads.” *

The 1962 newspaper article below, complete with a map showing the 41,000 miles of highways, declares enthusiastically:

…when completed in 1972, will connect all the states and link 90 per cent of the cities of 50,000 or more population…When the system is complete, it will be possible to drive from one end of the country coast to coast and border to border, without a slowdown, and without encountering a traffic light or stop sign.

Features of the highway that we take for granted are heralded in this article and include: “control of access” prescribed on and off ramps; “grade separations” or overpasses and underpasses; medians; and paved shoulders. All of these safety features were meant to allow a smooth flow of traffic and lessen possible accidents.

map of the U.S. Interstate Highway System, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 May 1962

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 May 1962, section 5, page 1

National Defense a Key Consideration

While many of us consider the interstate highways a tool to get us to where we are going, the highway system wasn’t only built with the general public in mind. In the shadow of the Cold War and the belief in an imminent nuclear attack, the highways could also move military vehicles and troops across the nation easily. This 1962 article points out that the highways were built as a part of national defense.

article about the U.S. Interstate Highway System, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 May 1962

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 May 1962, section 5, page 2

Interstate Highway System Named in Honor of President Eisenhower

Shortly after Eisenhower died, it was proposed by Rep. Glenn Cunningham (R-Neb) that the interstate system be named after him and referred to as the “Eisenhower Interstate Highway System” rather than the “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” as it was originally known. This honor acknowledged the important role that President Eisenhower had in the creation of this most important highway system that is still vital to most of our lives today.

article about naming the U.S. Interstate Highway System in honor of President Eisenhower, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 8 May 1969

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 8 May 1969, page 8

To learn more about the Interstate Highway System, see the website at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/homepage.cfm.

How did the building of the interstate impact your family?

———————-

* Why is President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the “Father of the Interstate System”? – Frequently Asked Questions – Eisenhower Interstate Highway System website: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/faq.htm#question2

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7 Tips on How to Find Elusive Ancestors in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary provides seven practical tips for searching hard-to-find ancestors in old newspapers.

While reading my mother’s Book of Ancestors recently I noticed she had little to say about one of our ancestors, because that person had kept himself out of the public records.

Forebears who didn’t hold public office, own property, or were married in churches or synagogues with lost or private records, are difficult to document. These elusive ancestors can also be difficult to find in historical newspapers, but sometimes they can be found in creative ways. This article gives seven search tips to help find those tricky ancestors in old newspapers.

illustration of Sherlock Holmes with a magnifying glass

1) Pay Attention to “Please Copy” Notices

When something noteworthy occurs such as a birth or death, news is first printed locally.

If that person has ties to other areas, then other newspapers may carry the story. Newspapers may do this either on their own accord, or at the request of the original publisher. What you want to watch out for is a “please copy” notice, which can be a valuable clue that your ancestor had ties to another part of the country where you might find additional articles or records about him or her.

In the newspaper article below from New Orleans, Louisiana, we see many examples of “please copy” notices.

  • Jesse Sands, formerly of Pittsburg, and his wife Jessie M. Olmsted, passed away within two days of each other. The end of their death notice says: “Newburg, N.Y. and Pittsburg, Pa. papers please copy.” So for these two ancestors, you want to include New Orleans, Newburg and Pittsburgh in your searches.
  • J. West Murphy died in Louisiana, but was described as “late of Philadelphia.” The end of his death notice says: “Philadelphia papers please copy.”
  • The end of Virginia B. Harrison’s death notice says: “Philadelphia and Cincinnati papers please copy.”
  • The end of John Gunderman’s death notice says: “St. Louis papers please copy.”

Because these death notices were originally published in a New Orleans newspaper, you want to search that area for more news about your ancestor. But thanks to these “please copy” notices, you are given additional locations for further searching.

death notices, Times-Picayune newspaper article 23 August 1853

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 23 August 1853, page 2

2) Know Your Resource: Understanding the Differences between Small Town & Metropolitan Newspapers

Depending upon the population of a town or city, news will vary. Reasons include:

  • Unless a person was well known, there may be inadequate space to present long articles in newspapers from areas of high population.
  • In smaller towns this is not the same issue, so there is a tendency toward longer descriptions of events such as weddings and arrests.
  • In smaller towns, you may also see more “gossipy” news.
  • If a lengthy feature was carried in a hometown paper, another may feel it only deserves minimal coverage, or the opposite may be true. Minimal coverage in one newspaper may result in extended details in another.
  • Some publishers may wish to sensationalize or downplay news. Once while researching a hometown newspaper, I found that a neighboring town paper was happy to publish the lurid details of a person’s arrest. It was not published in his hometown newspaper, perhaps to protect the family.
Enter Last Name

3) Name Variations

People are usually known by a variety of monikers, both formal and informal. Keep in mind that this is the rule, rather than the exception, so don’t ever limit searches to just one version of a name. Include titles, nicknames, initials, middle names without first names, and other variations. For example:

  • John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith
  • J. J. Smith or J. J. J. Smith
  • Jacob or Jingleheimer Smith
  • Mr. Smith or simply Smith
  • Thomas Edison or Mr. Edison
  • The Wizard of Menlo Park
  • Mary Stillwell
  • Dot Stillwell (her childhood nickname)
  • Thomas Edison’s first wife
  • Mrs. Edison
  • Mina Edison or Mina Miller
  • Thomas Edison’s second wife

4) Spelling Variations and Name Changes – Consider Using a Wildcard

One of the most vexing issues occurs with spelling variations, which occur all too often.

An example can be noted with my husband’s birth surname of Szczesniak. Since others were prone to misspelling it, the family had it legally shortened to Sesniak. Unfortunately, that didn’t work as typos are frequent. One of the most common is to change the ending to “ck,” rather than “ak.”

Name changes can be informal. A woman I know was named Jane. It’s a fine name, but prone to various putdowns, including “plain Jane.” Rather than be labeled with this throughout her life, she elected to change the spelling to Jayne.

We see similar variations in the given name of Mary. I use the traditional spelling, but there are many variations including:

  • Mamie, Maria, Mariah, Marie, May, Meg, Merry, Merrie, Moll, Mollie, Molly, Pollie, Polly, etc.

If you wish to search newspapers and databases for similar spellings, sometimes a wildcard will work.

There are two types: an asterisk “*” which searches for any number of characters in a name; or a question mark “?” which replaces just one letter. For example:

  • Merr* would query the database for any name beginning with Merr, such as Merry or Merrie, followed by any combination of letters. If a woman were named Merriweather, it would also find it.
  • Sebasti?n would return both Sebastian or Sebastien.

Also see prior articles on ancestor name research tips for tips on searching for first names, surnames, name spelling variations and more.

5) Overcoming Language Barriers in Foreign-Language Newspapers

Many online collections of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, contain foreign-language newspapers. GenealogyBank, for example, has some newspapers in French, German, Italian and Spanish.

What do you do if you find your ancestor’s name in a foreign-language newspaper, but are not sure what the article is saying about him or her?

There are a number of free online translators available, where you can type in the text from the foreign-language newspaper and receive an English translation.

For example, what if you found this article about your ancestor Georg Clifforeye?

Heiratete seine Grossmutter.

CALAIS, Me., 28 Oktober. Der 18 Jahre alte Georg Clifforeye heiratete seine Grossmutter Rebecca Louise Garnett von St. Stephen N.B., Canada, und begab sich dann mit ihr nach seiner Wohnung, aber kaum war er dort angelangt, erschien Rev. Gaucher, der has liebende Paar getraut hatte und verlangte den Trauschein, wobei er ihm die $10 Traugebühren retournierte und die Heirat für illegal erklärte, wegen der…

By plugging this text into Google Translate or Bing Translator, we uncover a startling story about the young man attempting to marry his grandmother!

wedding announcement, New Yorker Volkszeitung newspaper article 29 October 1922

New Yorker Volkszeitung (New York, New York), 29 October 1922, page 2

6) Social Notices Provide Many Clues

Many newspapers carried social notices, such as the below example from the Dallas Morning News, reporting the comings and goings of many friends and relatives.

Enter Last Name

These social columns in newspapers provide wonderful research clues to track your ancestor’s activities as well as personal relationships.

social column, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 June 1904

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 June 1904, page 10

7) Broaden Your Searches

Lastly, if you are in the habit of narrowing ancestor searches with specific dates, get in the habit of broadening the ranges.

Marriage details can extend for months, if not years. Look for engagement notices, bridal showers, banns notices, wedding descriptions, honeymoon reports and even “the happy couple has returned” articles.

Death reporting can also extend over long time periods. Right after passing, you’ll find death notices and obituaries, but some may be published long afterward. I’ve seen an obituary as long as one year after someone died. Also watch for legal notices pertaining to probate, which can occur many years after your ancestor died.

Don’t forget to think outside the box. Some reports are made in error. Even with their mistakes, they can contain valuable personal information. One of my favorite examples was addressed in my article The Lessons of Daniel Boone’s Obituary: Check and Double Check.

I hope these seven search tips will help you break through some brick walls and find those elusive ancestors who didn’t leave many records behind – but may well be found in the pages of old newspapers. Good luck with your family history research!

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Easter Sunrise Services: A Brief History

Easter sunrise services have been held for centuries. According to Wikipedia, the earliest recorded sunrise service was held in 1732 in Germany.

Easter sunrise services – often coupled with an early morning breakfast – have also been an American tradition since the 1700s. The Moravian Church Easter sunrise service, held annually since 1772 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has grown to be one of the largest Easter services held in the country.

article about Easter sunrise service, Winston-Salem Journal newspaper article 16 April 1911

Winston-Salem Journal (Winston Salem, North Carolina), 16 April 1911, page 1

In 1937, more than 35,000 braved the cold weather to attend the Easter sunrise service near Lawton, Oklahoma.

article about Easter sunrise service, Brownsville Herald newspaper article 1 April 1937

Brownsville Herald (Brownsville, Texas), 1 April 1937, page 10

Like Christmas Eve services that are often held at midnight in churches across the country on December 24th, church congregations have gathered for Easter sunrise services before dawn on Easter morning – often at beaches, parks, atop hills and even in cemeteries.

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The congregation is often positioned so that they are facing the east and will see the sun rising during the service. It is customary to erect a cross at the service, like this 2007 Easter sunrise service held by Littlefield Memorial Baptist Church in Rockland, Maine.

photo of a 2007 Easter sunrise service, Rockland, Maine

Photo: 2007 Easter sunrise service, Rockland, Maine. Credit: Jp498 at English Wikipedia; Wikimedia Commons.

GenealogyBank wishes you and yours a very happy Easter.

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