Christmas Presents of the Past: the Strange, the Unusual—and More

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott looks through old newspapers to find some truly strange, unusual—and sometimes heartwarming—presents given during past Christmases.

I always feel extra thankful around Christmastime that I am a genealogist. It is the best time to be with, and think about, family. Of course some of the most fun memories that always come flooding back are those of giving and receiving Christmas presents!

I grew up with many Christmas family traditions handed down from my Czech ancestors. I fondly recall that we always celebrated St. Nicholas Day on December 6th and that Santa Claus always brought our Christmas tree along with our gifts on Christmas Eve after we fell asleep listening for sleigh bells in the night. Now as an adult, I can hardly imagine how much work my parents must have done those late Christmas Eve nights…putting out packages, assembling toys, AND decorating a full Christmas tree. But, I certainly recall that those Christmas mornings were magical, seeing the tree for the first time with all those gifts for us kids under it.

Speaking of Christmas gifts, I remember being thrilled and amazed at what I found under the tree with my name on it! These fond family memories and my genealogy work got me to thinking about what presents other people might have found under their Christmas trees, so I turned to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for a bit of fun to see what I might find.

The Elephant in the Yard

My first discovery, from a 1985 South Dakota newspaper, was a “white elephant” gift: literally, an elephant. It seems a certain Marie Christianson, of Apple Valley, Minnesota, woke to find an eight-foot-tall fiberglass elephant on her front lawn! Now, my family will tell you I have “missed” on more than one gift over the years, but at least I never tried giving anything that big!

Woman Gets Surprise from Elephant, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 15 December 1985

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 15 December 1985, page 20

A Gold-Dipped Cow Chip

Next up I just had to read an article I found in a 1980 Texas newspaper, since it was headlined “Oh, just what I always wanted…a gold cow chip.” No kidding! This strange story leads with the opportunity to buy, for only $125, a gold-dipped cow chip made into a Christmas ornament, and it didn’t stop there. The article also reports on such gifts as cow chip drink coasters, a “hospital booze” dispenser, and other strange gifts. As the reporter comments: “But, of course, with Christmas gifts, like anything else—beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

"Oh, Just What I Always Wanted...a Gold Cow Chip," Dallas Morning News newspaper article 14 December 1980

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 14 December 1980, page 177

The Worst Christmas Gifts Ever

Then I came across a 1975 article from a Texas newspaper titled “Christmas gifts. Everything they never wanted.” It seems that the UPI undertook a survey to find some of the worst Christmas gifts ever. Right up there at the top was the WWII GI who was fighting in the mud of the western Pacific when he received his Christmas gift: a shoe shine kit! That one really had me laughing, as did several of the others as the UPI interviewed a host of big-name celebrities including Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, Phyllis Diller, David Niven and others. While I laughed over gifts such as Carol Burnett’s “a case of chicken pox” and shuddered over Phyllis Diller getting a snake, the gift that took the cake for me was Stanley Marcus, of the Neiman-Marcus Department Store chain. It seems his children couldn’t figure out what to give the man that probably literally had everything, so they gave him a live donkey for Christmas!

Christmas Gifts: Everything They Never Wanted, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 24 December 1975

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 24 December 1975, page 9

Oh! It’s Moleskin Pants…Again

The laughter really rolled around my office when I came across a real “winner” of a Christmas gift in a 1984 Massachusetts newspaper article. This one makes me wonder if the genealogy and family history of Roy Collette of Owatonna, Minnesota, will include his Christmas gift of a pair of moleskin pants. It seems Roy and his brother-in-law gift and re-gift the same pair of moleskin pants each Christmas. In the article, Roy tells the story that it took him two months to unwrap his Christmas present of those pants since his brother-in-law, Larry Kunkel, sent them wrapped “cemented in a 12,000-pound, 17-foot-high red space ship”! Can you imagine? The two of them had been exchanging this same pair of pants, wrapped in various zany ways, since the mid-1960s.

Moleskin Pants Finally Free from Concrete Cocoon, Springfield Union newspaper article 29 March 1984

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 29 March 1984, page 2

The Real Santa of Danby & Mount Tabor

Soon I found a heartwarming article from a 1983 Louisiana newspaper, which told the story “Christmas legacy continues” from the small towns of Danby and Mount Tabor, Vermont. It seems a local boy, who made a fortune in the lumber trade, never forgot his hometown. When Silas Griffith died in 1903, his will set up an endowment to buy Christmas gifts each year for all the boys and girls in the towns of Danby and nearby Mount Tabor. This old newspaper article begins with a 75-year-old fellow recalling “washtubs full of large, juicy oranges” beneath the Griffith endowment tree as holiday gifts. William Crosby comments: “In those days, an orange was a pretty scarce item. It meant an awful lot to me.” That one really took me back, since every year when I was a child, year in and year out, my Christmas stocking held an orange in the toe as a very special winter treat. I can still taste the marvelous flavors as my sisters and I would stick a peppermint stick into the orange and drink the juice through our makeshift straws. Christmas magic indeed.

Christmas Legacy Continues, Advocate newspaper article 25 December 1983

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 25 December 1983, page 3

The Red Cross Delivers a Great Gift

Tears formed in my eyes as I read the next article I came across, titled “The Funny Christmas Gift,” from a 1918 Pennsylvania newspaper. This news story was incredibly moving to me, especially as we approach the centennial of World War I. If you want to truly get into the Christmas spirit and have immigrant ancestors in your genealogy as my family does, you must read this great story about a gift both simple and hugely meaningful. The story is told by a Red Cross worker who is helping process packages to troops overseas during WWI, and concludes this way:

The Funny Christmas Gift, Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader newspaper article 26 November 1918

Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), 26 November 1918, page 12

Remember Rural Free Delivery?

Things got lighter after this when I found myself reading an article from a 1905 Pennsylvania newspaper, titled “Christmas with the Rural Free Delivery Carriers.” Now if you are old enough to recall sending mail with an address that featured “R.F.D.” in it, then you will really enjoy this wonderful trip back in time. This one is almost like having your own genealogy time machine! Be sure to check it out and read about what these wonderful rural carriers got from their appreciative customers around Christmastime. It was special to read how these fellows often received “potatoes, flour, apples, preserves, etc., in such quantities that the family is kept supplied with these things all winter in this manner.”

Christmas with the Rural Free Delivery Carriers, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 17 December 1905

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 17 December 1905, section: comic, page 2

Strange Christmas Presents of the Rich & Famous

I was especially intrigued when I came across an article from a 1909 Louisiana newspaper, titled “Some Queer Christmas Presents.” This story tells of many gifts received by actors and actresses at Christmas, and I was pleased to see that several had been given bricks from a building that was significant in their lives.

Some Queer Christmas Presents, Times-Picayune newspaper article 12 December 1909

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 12 December 1909, page 48

I was given a brick once, as you can see in the photograph below. While it may not be from an opera house or famous theater, mine is from a community center in a small village in Michoacán, Mexico, that I was instrumental in getting built. I do believe that, as the earlier reporter noted, the beauty of a gift truly is in the eye of the beholder.

photo of author Scott Phillips with a brick he received as a present

Photo: Scott Phillips with his prized brick. Credit: from the author’s collection.

What have been some of your favorite, strange, or outrageous Christmas gifts in your family? Please tell us about them in the comments section.

Top Genealogy Websites: Arkansas Genealogy Resources for Records

Are you researching your family roots in Arkansas? Here are some good resources for Arkansas genealogy information online—GenealogyBank and vital records put up by the state itself, as well as FamilySearch—to help with your family history research in “The Natural State.”

GenealogyBank has an extensive collection of Arkansas newspapers online from 1819 to Today.

Search Arkansas Newspaper Archives (1819 – 1999)

Search Arkansas Recent Obituaries (1999 – Current)

Discover a variety of genealogy records and news stories in these 23 Arkansas newspapers:

Search recent obituary records for your relatives in these 55 Arkansas newspapers:

Click on the image below to download a printable list of the Arkansas newspapers in GenealogyBank for your future reference. You can save to your desktop and click the titles to go directly to your newspaper of interest.

Feel free to share this list of Arkansas newspapers on your blog or website using the embed code provided below this article.

In addition to all the vital records you can find in newspapers, there are several collections of Arkansas vital records online to help with your family history research.

Some of the important collections you want to use are:

Arkansas Probate Records (1817-1979)

photo of Arkansas Probate Records, 1817-1979, from FamilySearch.org

Credit: Arkansas Probate Records, 1817-1979, FamilySearch.org

As you can see from the above example, this is a collection of digital copies of the original county probate records.

Currently this collection has 940,000 digital wills and probate papers from the following counties (click on the county name to see the probate record):

Arkansas History Commission: Arkansas Deaths (1819-1920)

The Arkansas History Commission has undertaken an important effort to index multiple sources that give the date of death for Arkansas residents from 1819-1920. They have indexed county death registers, census mortality schedules, obituary indexes, funeral home registers, Confederate pension registers and similar sources.

photo of the online death index provided by the Arkansas History Commission

Credit: Arkansas History Commission

Arkansas County Marriage Records (1837-1957)

This important online collection has more than 1 million digital copies of Arkansas marriage records online. These records were indexed by FamilySearch and the Arkansas Genealogical Society.

photo of the online index for Arkansas County Marriages, 1837-1957, provided by FamilySearch.org

Credit: Arkansas County Marriages, 1837-1957, FamilySearch.org

It’s a great day for genealogy!

Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):

Search More than 75 Arkansas Newspapers Online!

GenealogyBank adds new content to its online historical newspaper archives daily. We now have more than 75 online newspapers from Arkansas.

That’s a lot of newspaper articles to help with your family history research in “The Natural State.”

Our Arkansas archives include both old and recent newspaper titles, dating from the 1800s up to today.

Our AR historical newspaper archives cover 1819-1999, providing thousands of birth, marriage and death notices, as well as local news stories, to help with your genealogy research. Explore your ancestry in multiple popular newspaper titles from large cities in Arkansas such as Little Rock, Fayetteville and more.

Our AR recent obituaries titles provide Arkansas death notices from 1998 to today.

Here is the complete list of GenealogyBank’s Arkansas newspapers. Bookmark this list of Arkansas newspapers that is frequently updated to stay abreast of newly added titles.

City Title Date Range Collection
Arkadelphia Daily Siftings Herald 3/15/2001 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Bella Vista Weekly Vista 11/30/2011 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Benton Saline Courier 5/8/2008 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Bentonville Benton County Daily Record 1/1/2001 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Booneville Booneville Democrat 1/25/2005 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Cabot Cabot Star-Herald 3/22/2007 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Camden Camden News 12/2/2011 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Carlisle Carlisle Independent 3/26/2007 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Charleston Charleston Express 1/27/2005 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Clinton Van Buren County Democrat 1/26/2005 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
El Dorado El Dorado News-Times 12/1/2011 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Farmington Washington County Enterprise-Leader 11/4/2009 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Fayetteville Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Northwest Edition 11/18/2011 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Fayetteville NW Arkansas Times 1/2/2001 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Fayetteville NWAOnline: Web Edition Articles 7/28/2009 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Fayetteville Whole Hog Sports 4/14/2007 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Forrest City Homeland 10/1/1991 – 7/1/1999 Historical Newspapers
Fort Chaffee Helping Hand 5/2/1975 – 12/19/1975 Historical Newspapers
Fort Smith Southwest Times Record 3/1/2000 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Gravette Westside Eagle Observer 8/4/2010 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Greenwood Greenwood Democrat 1/26/2005 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Heber Springs Sun Times 10/2/2009 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Helena Western Clarion 4/8/1865 – 12/16/1865 Historical Newspapers
Helena, West Helena Daily World 2/9/2001 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Hope Hope Star 2/9/2001 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Hot Springs Hot Springs Village Voice 1/14/2002 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Hot Springs Sentinel-Record 1/1/2011 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Jacksonville Jacksonville Patriot 4/18/2007 – 12/14/2007 Newspaper Obituaries
Jonesboro Jonesboro Daily News 10/19/1908 – 5/31/1910 Historical Newspapers
Jonesboro Jonesboro Daily Times-Enterprise 9/3/1904 – 10/16/1908 Historical Newspapers
Jonesboro Jonesboro Daily Tribune 1/1/1910 – 12/30/1922 Historical Newspapers
Jonesboro Jonesboro Evening Sun 12/8/1904 – 12/27/1922 Historical Newspapers
Jonesboro Jonesboro Sun 8/25/1999 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Jonesboro Jonesboro Weekly Sun 3/3/1904 – 2/21/1923 Historical Newspapers
Jonesboro Jonesboro Weekly Times-Enterprise 5/18/1905 – 1/16/1908 Historical Newspapers
Jonesboro Jonesboro Weekly Tribune 6/1/1905 – 11/30/1905 Historical Newspapers
Little Rock American Guide 1/27/1900 – 1/27/1900 Historical Newspapers
Little Rock Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 10/30/2011 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Little Rock Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Web Edition Articles 3/30/2007 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Little Rock Arkansas Freeman 10/5/1869 – 10/5/1869 Historical Newspapers
Little Rock Arkansas Gazette 8/23/1842 – 11/1/1908 Historical Newspapers
Little Rock Arkansas Mansion 6/23/1883 – 4/19/1884 Historical Newspapers
Little Rock Arkansas Star 9/7/1839 – 2/1/1841 Historical Newspapers
Little Rock Arkansas State Press 5/9/1941 – 10/30/1959 Historical Newspapers
Little Rock Arkansas Times 7/7/2005 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Little Rock Arkansas Times: Blogs 4/12/2006 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Little Rock Arkansas Weekly Gazette 11/20/1819 – 5/25/1876 Historical Newspapers
Little Rock Arkansas Whig 5/22/1851 – 5/24/1855 Historical Newspapers
Little Rock ARPreps 5/28/2011 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Little Rock Morning Republican 11/25/1867 – 6/3/1874 Historical Newspapers
Little Rock Southern Meditator Journal 6/22/1962 – 2/25/1966 Historical Newspapers
Lonoke Lonoke Democrat 3/21/2007 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Magnolia Banner-News 11/19/2011 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Malvern Malvern Daily Record 8/1/2008 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Maumelle Maumelle Monitor 4/26/2006 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Newport Newport Independent 1/25/2002 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
North Little Rock Times 4/26/2006 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Paragould Paragould Daily Press 7/11/2002 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Paris Paris Express 2/2/2005 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Pea Ridge Times of Northeast Benton County 10/5/2005 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Pine Bluff Pine Bluff Commercial 10/27/1998 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Pine Bluff Pine Bluff Weekly Herald 1/27/1900 – 1/27/1900 Historical Newspapers
Prescott Gurdon Times 10/2/2009 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Prescott Nevada County Picayune 10/2/2009 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Rogers Rogers Morning News 10/26/2009 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Russellville Courier 7/31/2002 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Searcy Daily Citizen 8/26/2003 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Sherwood Sherwood Voice 4/18/2007 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Siloam Springs Siloam Springs Herald-Leader 12/28/2005 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Springdale Springdale Morning News 10/26/2009 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Springdale, Rogers Morning News of Northwest Arkansas 10/11/2004 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Stuttgart Stuttgart Daily Leader 3/15/2001 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Van Buren Alma Journal 6/29/2005 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
Van Buren Arkansas Intelligencer 2/15/1845 – 10/1/1858 Historical Newspapers
Van Buren Press Argus Courier 1/24/2005 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
White Hall White Hall Journal 10/2/2009 – Current Newspaper Obituaries
White Hall White Hall Progress 1/31/2007 – Current Newspaper Obituaries

I found one of my ancestors in the 1881 Canadian census. What do I do now?

I found one of my ancestors in the 1881 Canadian census on http://www.familysearch.org/What do I do now?

Good work.

FamilySearch.org is a terrific free site – with helpful indexes like the 1881 Canadian census index.

You may see the original census page at a website put up by the The Library & Archives of Canada. It has the 1881 (and other) census records online – free.

New Brunswick Vital Records are online – free.

I copied out the index citations for Ella’s brother Charles and sisters: Agnes and Elizabeth.

But, now look carefully at these records. In the census – the mother’s name is: Mary and in these vital records it is given as Annie Stewart.

So, you need to determine – if these records are for the same family or not.

Questions you might ask:
1. Are Annie & Mary the same person?
Perhaps one name is her first name and the other her middle name OR perhaps Annie died and Stephen remarried a person named Mary before the 1881 census was taken.

2. Are these two different families with similar names?

The oldest child listed in the census – William – was born in 1862. So you want to search the Church registers from 1850 on to check for the parent’s marriage record and the records for each of the children.

Like the birth records from the New Brunswick Archives – the Church records should give the mother’s maiden name.

Notice too – that Stephen Jackson was born in England – in 1881 he gave his age as 45 – that would make his birth year as approximately 1836. Let’s hope that he rounded his age – since British birth, marriage and death records were started on July 1, 1837.

3. Your next critical question is: When did they leave Canada and emigrate to the United States? If they are in the US by 1900 – you will want to look for them in the 1900 Census.
If they are still in Canada in 1901 – then you want to search for them in the 1901 Census.

You may use the 1900 Census – free at FamilySearchLabs

You may search the 1901 Canadian Census at the Library & Archives of Canada.

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Tremendous Battle on Lake Ontario – War of 1812 – Team Looking for Wreck of HMS Wolfe

This month a Canadian dive team is expected to search the water near Kingston, Ontario for the wreck of the HMS Wolfe, later renamed the HMS Montreal.

Launched 5 May 1813 the HMS Wolfe was the flagship of the British fleet on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812. The ship was badly damaged by the USS General Pike under the command of US Commodore Isaac Chauncey on 28 August 1813.

The ship escaped and was repaired but did not return as the flagship for the British fleet. Years later the ship sunk off of Kingston, Ontario.
You can read the accounts of the battle as they were reported in the newspapers of the day in GenealogyBank.

(Tremendous Battle on Lake Ontario – Universal Gazette (Washington, DC) 8 Oct 1813). Click on the link above or the image (left) to read the article.

GenealogyBank has more than 3,800 newspapers, covering 1690 to today. It is the source that genealogists rely on to document the lives of their ancestors.

Read the news as it happened.

Subscribe to GenealogyBank today.

Click Here.

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GenealogyBank.com adds 14 newspapers from states – Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, North Carolina

GenealogyBank.com adds 14 newspapers from 5 states – Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, North Carolina

Daily World, The (Helena, West Helena, AR)
Obituaries: 06/26/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 05/27/2008 – Current

Hope Star (Hope, AR)

Obituaries: 10/20/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 11/18/2008 – Current

Apache Junction-Gold Canyon Independent (Apache Junction, AZ)
Obituaries: 07/01/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 11/13/2007 – Current

East Mesa Independent (Apache Junction, AZ)
Obituaries: 01/01/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 11/13/2007 – Current
Notes: No Data: 5/6/2008-12/30/2008

North Scottsdale Independent (Scottsdale, AZ)
Obituaries: 01/16/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 02/27/2008 – Current

Peoria Independent (Peoria, AZ)
Obituaries: 01/16/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 01/16/2008 – Current

Queen Creek Independent (Queen Creek, AZ)
Obituaries: 08/27/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 01/30/2008 – Current
Notes: No Data: 5/7/2008-12/31/2008

Sun City West Independent (Sun City West, AZ)
Obituaries: 04/29/2009 – Current
Death Notices: 01/02/2008 – Current

Sun City-Youngtown Independent (Sun City-Youngtown, AZ)
Obituaries: 07/16/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 01/02/2008 – Current

Surprise Independent (Surprise, AZ)
Obituaries: 04/16/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 01/02/2008 – Current

Town of Paradise Valley Independent (Paradise Valley, AZ)
Obituaries: 01/16/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 01/28/2009 – Current

La Junta Tribune-Democrat (La Junta, CO)
Obituaries: 04/17/2008 – Current
Death Notices: 03/27/2008 – Current

Washington Times-Herald, The (Washington, IN)
Obituaries: 11/23/2007 – Current
Death Notices: 11/05/2007 – Current

Salisbury Post (Salisbury, Spencer, NC)
Obituaries: 12/01/1998 – Current:
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Using the Congressional Serial Set for Genealogical Research

Using the Congressional Serial Set for Genealogical Research
By Jeffery Hartley


(This article appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Prologue. It has been excerpted and reprinted here with the permission of the author.

The Historical Documents section in GenealogyBank includes over 243,000 reports from the US Serial Set and the American State Papers).


Click here to search the American State Papers and US Congressional Serial Set in GenealogyBank.com

Genealogists use whatever sources are available to them in pursuit of their family history: diaries, family Bibles, census records, passenger arrival records, and other federal records. One set of materials that is often overlooked, however, is the Congressional Serial Set.

This large multivolume resource contains various congressional reports and documents from the beginning of the federal government, and its coverage is wide and varied. Women, African Americans, Native Americans, students, soldiers and sailors, pensioners, landowners, and inventors are all represented in some fashion. While a beginning genealogist would not use the Serial Set to begin a family history, it nevertheless can serve as a valuable tool and resource for someone helping to flesh out an ancestors life, especially where it coincided with the interests of the U.S. federal government.

Since its inception, the U.S. government has gathered information, held hearings, compiled reports, and published those findings in literally millions of pages, the majority of which have been published by the Government Printing Office (GPO).

These publications include annual reports of the various executive branch agencies, congressional hearings and documents, registers of employees, and telephone directories. Their topics cover a wide range, from the Ku Klux Klan to child labor practices to immigration to western exploration.

In 1817, the Serial Set was begun with the intent of being the official, collective, definitive publication documenting the activities of the federal government. Following the destruction of the Capitol in 1814 by the British, Congress became interested in publishing their records to make them more accessible and less vulnerable to loss.

In the early Federal period, printing of congressional documents had been haphazard, and the Serial Set was an effort designed to rectify that situation. Although initially there were no regulations concerning what should be included, several laws and regulations were promulgated over the years. The contents, therefore, vary depending on the year in question.

In 1831, 14 years after the Serial Set was begun, the printers Gales & Seaton proposed that a compilation of the documents from the first Congresses be printed. The secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House were to direct the selection of those documents, 6,278 of which were published in 38 volumes between 1832 and 1861. This collection was known as the American State Papers.

Because it was a retrospective effort, these 38 volumes were arranged chronologically within 10 subject areas: Foreign Relations, Indian Affairs, Finance, Commerce & Navigation, Military Affairs, Naval Affairs, Post Office, Public Lands, Claims, and Miscellaneous.

Although not technically a part of the Serial Set, the volumes were certainly related, and therefore the volumes were designated with a leading zero so that these volumes would be shelved properly, i.e. before the volumes of the Serial Set. (1)

The Congressional Serial Set itself includes six distinct series: House and Senate journals (until 1953), House and Senate reports, House and Senate documents, Senate treaty documents, Senate executive reports, and miscellaneous reports. The journals provide information about the daily activities of each chamber. The House and Senate reports relate to public and private legislation under consideration during each session.

Documents generally relate to other investigations or subjects that have come to the attention of Congress. Nominations for office and military promotion appear in the Senate Executive Reports. Miscellaneous reports are just that­widely varied in subject matter and content. With the possible exception of the treaty documents, any of these can have some relevance for genealogists.

The documents and reports in the Serial Set are numbered sequentially within each Congress, no matter what their subject or origin. The documents were then collected into volumes, which were then given a sequential number within the Serial Set. The set currently stands at over 15,000 volumes, accounting for more than 325,000 individual documents and 11 million pages.

The Serial Set amounts to an incredible amount of documentation for the 19th century. Agency annual reports, reports on surveys and military expeditions, statistics and other investigations all appear and thoroughly document the activities of the federal government.

In 1907, however, the Public Printing and Binding Act provided guidelines for what should be included, resulting in many of these types of reports no longer being included as they were also issued separately by the individual agencies. The number of copies was also trimmed. With that stroke, the value of the Serial Set was lessened, but it nevertheless stands as a valuable genealogical resource for the 19th century.

So what is available for genealogists? The following examples are just some of the types of reports and information that are available.

Land Records
The Serial Set contains much information concerning land claims. These claims relate to bounty for service to the government as well as to contested lands once under the jurisdiction of another nation.

In House Report 78 (21-2), there is a report entitled “Archibald Jackson.” This report, from the House Committee on Private Land Claims, in 1831, relates to Jackson’s claim for the land due to James Gammons. Gammons, a soldier in the 11th U.S. Infantry, died on February 19, 1813, “in service of the United States.” The act under which he enlisted provided for an extra three month’s pay and 160 acres of land to those who died while in service to the United States. However, Gammons was a slave, owned by Archibald Jackson, who apparently never overtly consented to the enlistment but allowed it to continue. That Gammons was eligible for the extra pay and bounty land was not in dispute, but the recipient of that bounty was. Jackson had already collected the back pay in 1823 and was petitioning for the land as well. The report provides a decision in favor of Jackson, as he was the legal representative of Gammons, and as such entitled to all of his property. (2)

Land as bounty was one issue, and another was claims for newly annexed land as the country spread west. In 1838, the House of Representatives published a report related to Senate Bill 89 concerning the lands acquired through the treaty with Spain in 1819 that ceded East and West Florida to the United States. Claims to land between the Mississippi and the Perdido Rivers, however, were not a part of that treaty and had been unresolved since the Louisiana Purchase, which had taken the Perdido River as one of its limits. The report provides a background on the claims as well as lists of the claimants, the names of original claimants, the date and nature of the claim, and the amount of the land involved. (3)

Other land claims are represented as well. In 1820, the Senate ordered a report to be printed from the General Land Office containing reports of the land commissioners at Jackson Court House. These lands are located in Louisiana and include information that would help a genealogist locate their ancestor in this area. Included in this report is a table entitled “A List of Actual Settlers, in the District East of Pearl River, in Louisiana, prior to the 3d March, 1819, who have no claims derived from either the French, British, or Spanish, Governments.” The information is varied, but a typical entry reads: No. 14, present claimant George B. Dameson, original claimant Mde. Neait Pacquet, originally settled 1779, located above White’s Point, Pascag. River, for about 6 years. (4)

Annual Reports
Among the reports in the Serial Set for the 19th century are the annual reports to Congress from the various executive branch agencies. Congress had funded the activities of these organizations and required that each provide a report concerning their annual activities. Many of these are printed in the Serial Set, often twice: the same content with both a House and a Senate document number. Annual reports in the 19th century were very different from the public relations pieces that they tend to be today.

Besides providing information about the organization and its activities, many included research reports and other (almost academic) papers. In the annual reports of the Bureau of Ethnology, for instance, one can find dictionaries of Native American languages, reports on artifacts, and in one case, even a genealogy for the descendants of a chief. (5)

These reports can often serendipitously include information of interest to the family historian. For instance, the annual report of the solicitor of the Treasury would not necessarily be a place to expect to find family information. The 1844 report, however, does have some information that could be useful. For instance, pages 36 and 37 of this report contains a “tabular list of suits now pending in the courts of the United States, in which the government is a part and interested.”

Many on the opposite side of the case were individuals. An example is the case of Roswell Lee, late a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, against whom there has been a judgment for over $5,000 in 1838. Lee was sued in a court in Massachusetts and in 1844 still owed over $4,000. In a letter dated May 5, 1840, the district attorney informed the office (6)
that Mr. Lee is not now a resident of the district of Massachusetts, and that whether he ever returns is quite uncertain; that nothing, however, will be lost by his absence, as the United States have now a judgment against him, which probably will forever remain unsatisfied.

Another set of annual reports that appear in the Serial Set are those for the Patent Office. The annual reports of the commissioner of patents often include an index to the patents that were granted that year, arranged by subject and containing the names of the invention and the patentee and the patent number. The report included a further description of the patent, and often a diagram of it as well. Each year’s report also included an index by patentee.

Unfortunately, the numbers of patents granted in later years, as well as their complexity, led to more limited information being included in later reports. The 1910 report, for instance, simply contains an alphabetical list of inventions, with the entries listing the patentee, number, date, and where additional information can be found in the Official Patent Office Gazette. (7)

The Civil War gave rise to a number of medical enhancements and innovations in battlefield medicine, and the annual report for 1865, published in 1867, contains a reminder of that in the patent awarded to G. B. Jewett, of Salem, Massachusetts, for “Legs, artificial.” Patent 51,593 was granted December 19, 1865, and the description of the patent on page 990 provides information on the several improvements that Jewett had developed. The patent diagram on page 760 illustrated the text. (8)

This annual report relates to a report from May 1866, also published in the Serial Set that same session of Congress, entitled “Artificial Limbs Furnished to Soldiers.” This report, dated May 1866, came from the secretary of war in response to a congressional inquiry concerning artificial limbs furnished to soldiers at the government’s expense. Within its 128 pages are a short list of the manufacturers of these limbs, including several owned by members of the Jewett family in Salem, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, D.C., as well as an alphabetical list of soldiers, detailing their rank, regiment and state, residence, limb, cost, date, and manufacturer. Constantine Elsner, a private in B Company of the 20th Massachusetts living in Boston, received a leg made by G. B. Jewett at a cost of $75 on April 8, 1865. 9 This may have been an older version of the one that Jewett would have patented later in the year, or it may have been an early model of that one. Either way, a researcher would have some idea not only of what Elsner’s military career was like, but also some sense of what elements of life for him would be like after the war.

Congress also was interested in the activities of organizations that were granted congressional charters. Many of the charters included the requirement that an annual report be supplied to Congress, and these were then ordered to be printed in the Serial Set.

One such organization is the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). As one would expect, the DAR annual reports contain a great deal of genealogical and family history information. The 18th annual report is no exception. Among other things, it includes, in appendix A, a list of the graves of almost 3,000 Revolutionary War soldiers. The list includes not just a name and location, but other narrative information as well:
Abston, John. Born Jan. 2, 1757; died 1856. Son of Joshua Abston, captain of Virginia militia; served two years in War of the American Revolution. Enlisted from Pittsylvania County, Va.; was in Capt. John Ellis’ company under Col. Washington. The evening before the battle of Kings Mountain, Col. Washington, who was in command of the starving Americans at this point, sent soldiers out to forage for food. At a late hour a steer was driven into camp, killed, and made into a stew. The almost famished soldiers ate the stew, without bread, and slept the sleep of the just. Much strengthened by their repast and rest, the next morning they made the gallant charge that won the battle of Kings Mountain, one of the decisive battles of the American Revolution. Washington found one of the steer’s horns and gave it to Abston, a personal friend, who carried it as a powder horn the rest of the war. (10)

Another organization whose annual reports appear is the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, which later became Gallaudet University. These reports, found in the annual reports of the secretary of the interior, contain much of what one would expect: lists of faculty and students, enrollment statistics, and other narrative. While that information can help to provide information about one’s ancestor’s time there, there are other parts of the narrative that include information one would not expect to find.

For instance, the 10th annual report for 1867 has a section entitled “The Health of the Institution.” It concerns not the fiscal viability of the institution but rather the occurrences of illness and other calamities. One student from Maryland, John A. Unglebower, was seized with gastric fever and died: “He was a boy of exemplary character, whose early death is mourned by all who knew him.” Two other students drowned that year, and the circumstances of their deaths recounted, with the hope that “they were not unprepared to meet the sudden and unexpected summons.” (11) Both the faculty and the student body contributed their memorials to these two students in the report.

Other organizations represented in the Serial Set are the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, Veterans of World War I of the United States, proceedings of the National Encampment, United Spanish War Veterans, the American Historical Association, and the National Convention of Disabled American Veterans.

Lists of Pensioners
The history of pensions provided by the federal government is beyond the scope of this article. However, the Serial Set is a source of information about who was on the rolls at various times. For instance, an 1818 letter from the secretary of war was published containing a list of the persons who had been added to the pension list since May 28, 1813. The list provides information on the likes of Susanna Coyle, certificate of pension no. 9, heiress of deceased soldier William Coyle, alias Coil, a private who received pay of four dollars per month. (12)

Sundry lists of pensions appeared in 1850, related to the regulation of Navy, privateer, and Navy hospital funds. The report included four lists: those placed in the invalid list who were injured while in the line of duty; those drawing pensions from wounds received while serving on private armed vessels; widows drawing pensions from their husbands who were engineers, firemen, and coal-heavers; and orphan children of officers, seamen, and marines pensioned under the act of August 11, 1848. (13)

One of the most widely consulted lists is that for 1883, “List of Pensioners on the Roll, January 1, 1883” (Senate Executive Document 84 [47-2]). This five-volume title, arranged by state and then county of residence, provides a list of each pensioner’s name, his post office, the monthly amount received, the date of the original allowance, the reason for the pension, and the certificate number.

An example is the case of Eli G. Biddle, who served in the 54th Massachusetts. Biddle can be found on page 439 of volume 5 of the “List,” and a researcher can learn several things without even having seen his pension file: his middle name is George, he was living in Boston in 1883, and he was receiving four dollars each month after having suffered a gunshot wound in the right shoulder. His pension certificate number is also provided 99,053­ and with that one could easily order the appropriate records from the National Archives.

Registers
The Serial Set serves as a source of military registers and other lists of government personnel as well. Both Army and Navy registers appear after 1896. The Army registers for 1848–1860 and the Navy registers for 1848–1863 are transcripts of the lists that appeared the preceding January and include pay and allowances, with corrections to that earlier edition for deaths and resignations.

The Official Register, or “Blue Book,” a biannual register of the employees of the federal government, appears for 10 years, from 1883 to 1893. If one’s ancestors were employees at this time, their current location and position, place from which they were appointed, date of appointment, and annual compensation can be gleaned from this source.

The Serial Set often provides unexpected finds, and the area of registers is no exception. There is a great deal of material on the Civil War, from the 130 volumes of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion to other investigations and the aforementioned registers and lists of pensions. There are not, however, large amounts of compiled unit histories.

One exception, however, is the report from the adjutant general of Arkansas. Shortly after the Civil War, the adjutant general offices of the various Union states prepared reports detailing the activities of the men from their states. The same was done in Arkansas, but the state legislature there, “under disloyal control,” declined to publish the report. Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, brought it to the committee in 1867, and it was ordered to be printed in the Serial Set so that the loyal activities of these 10,000 men would be recognized. (14) The report includes brief histories of each unit as well as a roster of the unit and rank, enlistment date, and other notes on each soldier.

Accessing Information in the Serial Set
The indexing for the Serial Set has long been troublesome to researchers. Various attempts have been made to provide subject access, with varying degrees of success. Many of the indexes in the volumes themselves are primarily title indexes to the reports from that Congress and session. The Checklist of United States Public Documents, 1789–1909, does provide information about what reports listed therein do appear in the Serial Set, but the researcher has to know the name of the issuing agency in order to access that information. The Document Index provides some subject indexing by Congress, and other efforts such as those by John Ames and Benjamin Poore can also be used, but none index the tables and contents of many of the reports that have been discussed in this article. (15)

The best comprehensive print index is the Congressional Information Service’s (CIS) U.S. Serial Set Index, produced in conjunction with their microfilming of the volumes through 1969 beginning in the mid-1970s. In this index, a two-volume subject index covers groups of Congresses, with a third volume providing an index to individual names for relief actions, as well as a complete numerical list in each report/document category. The index, however, does not index the contents of the documents. For instance, although the title given for the Archibald Jackson land claim includes James Gammons’s name, the latter does not appear in the index to private relief actions. In addition, users must often be creative in the terms applied in order to be sure that they have exhausted all possibilities. In the mid-1990s CIS released these indexes on CD-ROM, which makes them somewhat easier to use, although the contents are essentially the same.

The indexing problems have been rectified by the digitization of the Serial Set. At least two private companies, LexisNexis and Readex, have digitized it and made it full-text searchable.

[The Serial Set and American State Papers are available in GenealogyBank. Click here to search them online]

This article can only hint at some of the genealogical possibilities that can be found in the Congressional Serial Set. It has not touched on the land survey, railroad, western exploration, or lighthouse keeper’s reports or many of the private relief petitions and claims. Nonetheless, the reports and documents in the Serial Set provide a tremendous and varied amount of information for researchers interested in family history.

Author
Jeffery Hartley is chief librarian for the Archives Library Information Center (ALIC). A graduate of Dickinson College and the University of Maryland’s College of Library and Information Services, he joined the National Archives and Records Administration in 1990.

Notes
1 For a more complete description of the American State Papers, and their genealogical relevance, see Chris Naylor, “Those Elusive Early Americans: Public Lands and Claims in the American State Papers, 1789–1837,” Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration 37 (Summer 2005): 54–61.
2 H. Rept. 78 (21-2), 1831, “Archibald Jackson” (Serial 210).
3 H. Rept. 818 (25-2), 1838, “Land Claims between Perdido and Mississippi” Serial 335.
4 S. Doc. 3 (16-2), 1820, “Reports of the Land Commissioners at Jackson Court House” (Serial 42).
5 H. Misc. Doc. 32 (48-2), 1882, “3rd Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology” (Serial 2317).
6 H. Doc. 35 (28-1), 1844, “Annual Report of Solicitor of the Treasury” (Serial 441), p. 37. 7 H. Doc. 1348 (61-3), 1911, “Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1910″ (Serial 6020).
8 H. Exec. Doc. 62 (39-1), 1867, “Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1865″ (Serial 1257-1259).
9 H. Exec. Doc. 108 (39-1), 1866, “Artificial Limbs Furnished to Soldiers” (Serial 1263).
10 S. Doc. 392 (64-1), 1916, “Eighteenth Report of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, October 11, 1914, to October 11, 1915″ (Serial 6924), p.155. 11 H. Exec. Doc. 1 (40-2), “Tenth Annual Report of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb” (Serial 1326), pp. 429–430.
12 H. Doc. 35 (15-1), 1818 (Serial 6), p. 17.
13 See H. Ex. Doc. 10 (31-2), 1850, “Sundry Lists of Pensioners” (Serial 597).
14 See S. Misc. Doc 53 (39-2), 1867, “Report of the Adjutant General for the State of Arkansas, for the Period of the Late Rebellion, and to November 1, 1866″ (Serial 1278).
15 A good discussion of how some of these indexes work can be found in Mary Lardgaard, “Beginner’s Guide to Indexes to the Nineteenth Century U.S. Serial Set,” Government Publications Review 2 (1975): 303–311.

"Family Historian" Susan Boyle wows them on UK "Idol" TV Show

“Family Historian” Susan Boyle wows them on UK “Idol” TV Show!

Susan Boyle is the woman with a dream that lives in Blackburn, in West Lothian near Edinburgh – a short distance from East Lothian, Scotland where my Kemp family hails from. Now 47, she lives at home with her cat Pebbles.

All her life, since she was twelve, she has had the dream of being a professional singer as successful as Elaine Paige and signing, performing before a large audience.

Saturday night in Glasgow she got her chance on UK’s version of the American Idol TV show - Britains Got Talent.

Her performance was stunning, overwhelming and deeply emotional.

A triumph for her and for us. She sings of the dreams, the dreams in all of us – and no doubt the dreams of our ancestors, both realized and unfulfilled. Her moving presentation has been viewed live by millions and by well over 10 million more people in just the last few days via the Internet. She captivated her audience with this haunting anthem of dreams, seemingly almost lost and for her now realized at this time in her life.

You will want to watch this – again and again
Click Here to see her performance.

Is Susan Boyle a genealogist?
I don’t know – but she made history for her family Saturday night.
:)

In the words of Susan Boyle herself, this presentation was “just so emotional; unbelievable and emotional; fantastic.”

I dreamed a dream from Les Miserables.
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.

Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used
And wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung No wine untasted.

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame.

And still I dream he’ll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms
We cannot weather…

I had a dream my life would be
So different form this hell
I’m living so different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed
The dream I dreamed.

Thanks to Elaine Maddox for sending this to me.

The pull of family history … family is more than names

What motivates people to do family history?
Family history is more than names – we are drawn to the stories of their lives. We dig their names and dates out of vital records or the census and we dig deeper into newspapers and family letters to find the stories of their lives.

When I was teaching a genealogy class for the Darien Historical Society (CT) back in the early 1970s I asked my class – why were they interested in their family history?

One elderly man said – My sister was the kindest person he ever knew. She never married. I knew that if I didn’t write our family history that no one would remember her. That always stuck with me.

In today’s Denver Post Tina Griego wrote:

“Usually it starts with a family story. Grandma was tracking the family and they ended up with a box full of her papers. Or they heard someone in the family fought in the Revolutionary War. Or ‘My ancestors came from Spain and settled in Mexico and I want to find that branch of the family.’ “
What is it, I ask her, that draws people to their family histories? What is it they hope to learn? Why does it matter?
As I ask, I am aware that these questions are as much professional as they are personal.

Tina Griego, columnist for the Denver Post writes about the pull of genealogy in today’s paper.

Click here to read her entire column.
Family History is more than Names. 14 April 2009. Denver Post.

News: Mamaroneck (NY) Daily Times 1936-1979 Going Online

The Mamaroneck Public Library announced today that it is putting its backfile of the newspaper, the Mamaroneck Daily Times, 1936-1979 online. They will put the newspaper on the library’s website when the work is completed.

The Daily Times was published in Mamaroneck, NY. It was acquired by the Gannett newspaper group which merged it along with another ten local newspapers into the Journal News which is still published in Westchester County, NY.

“Our library receives a request for an article or obituary from The Daily Times nearly every week. People call from all across the country. Having the newspapers professionally digitized and archived is essential to the preservation of local history. Not only do we hope to make this wealth of information available nationwide, but we are also preserving this historical icon for generations to come,” said Susan Benton, Mamaroneck Public Library Director.

The Mamaroneck Library is seeking funding to continue this necessary preservation project. As Susan Benton expressed, “In order for us to continue on this path we need the public’s help. We just can’t do it alone.” For information on how you can help, please contact Susan Benton at (914) 698-1250 ext. 30.

For information on the Mamaroneck Public Library’s plans to put the Mamaroneck Daily Times, 1936-1979 online on it’s own website click here. This content is not on GenealogyBank.

For Obituaries from the Journal News 1999 – Today: Click Here

Search Over 300 New York newspapers 1719-1999: Click Here