Researching Our Old Family Vacation Destinations with Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott reminisces about a wonderful vacation at a Wyoming ranch his family enjoyed when he was 11—and supplements his memories by searching in old newspapers for articles about the R Lazy S ranch.

My mom passed away recently and as a son and genealogist, you must know that I have been doing a lot of reminiscing. Most often I have found myself thinking of all the things my mom taught me in life. She was a woman who moved with urgency and purpose, enjoying a wide variety of interests, and she cultivated those traits in my older sisters and me.

One of the memories that came back to me was of one of our quintessential “family car vacations.” This one happened to be what the family still refers to as “Scott’s Summer Vacation.” My folks decided that my sisters and I needed to see the grand sites of the Western United States. I was bouncing-off-the-ceiling happy that our vacation destinations included such places as the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, several more U.S. National Parks, and concluded with a week at a “Dude Ranch.” Now, I will admit right here that my sisters were hoping more for Western sights such as Las Vegas and San Francisco, but off we went in the family station wagon—complete with the third seat facing rearward.

The dude ranch was truly the highlight of the trip for me. For a boy of about 11, “real” cowboys, outhouses, a potbellied stove in my cabin, learning to rope a calf, and riding into the Grand Tetons every day simply could not be beat. Finally from my memory banks came the name of the ranch we stayed at: the R Lazy S. The brand, I still recall, was an upright “R” with an “S” on its side.

photo of the sign for the R Lazy S ranch, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Photo: sign for the R Lazy S ranch, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Credit: courtesy of the R Lazy S ranch.

I wanted to find out more about this boyhood memory of mine, so I did a quick check of GenelaogyBank.com to see if there might be something.

To my delight and surprise, on my first search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives I got results!

The first article I opened was published by a Wyoming newspaper in 1920. This old news article gave me far more background about the R Lazy S ranch than I had known (or perhaps recalled) from our long-ago visit. It turns out the R Lazy S ranch had quite a storied history to it. The property was once owned by Owen Wister, who wrote The Virginian and other works set in Wyoming. Wister sold the ranch in 1920 to the R Lazy S “outfit.”

Owen Wister Tires of His Old Ranch; Parts with It, Wyoming State Tribune newspaper article 1 March 1920

Wyoming State Tribune (Cheyenne, Wyoming), 1 March 1920, page 1

Smiling from this find, I looked further into my results and quickly found a 1958 travel article from my Cleveland, Ohio, hometown newspaper. Immediately I wondered if my mother had read this article—had it been the genesis of the plans for our family vacation? I had a good laugh when I read this author’s description of the R Lazy S ranch that included “luxury cabins.” Now perhaps I was in the wrong cabin, but mine was outside the gate, had only a potbellied stove for heat, and the outhouse was a good 200 yards away. But perhaps “luxury” is in the eye of the beholder!

Bainbury's Western Diary, Plain Dealer newspaper article 8 July 1958

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 8 July 1958, page 8

Next I discovered a newspaper article from 1982, again in the Plain Dealer, explaining that Mr. Howard F. Stirn, then chairman of the R Lazy S ranch, was in Cleveland to present a photographic exhibit of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the surrounding area. I’m wondering if perhaps there was a connection between the R Lazy S ranch and my hometown. This may be one of those many questions in our family histories that we are never able to fully answer (and is a good reason why preserving our stories and memories onto our family trees is so crucial).

Jackson Hole Nature Photography, Plain Dealer newspaper article 10 January 1982

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 January 1982, page 116

With my head full of wonderful memories and our crazy family song (which we all made up along the way and called “Touring Our Country: Monuments and Parks”), I searched Google to see if the R Lazy S ranch is still in existence.

Guess what—it is! You can see at http://rlazys.com that they are indeed alive and kicking like a bronco.

Hmm, maybe it is high time for a family vacation…back out to Wyoming and the R Lazy S ranch with our grandsons.

I do believe, as a proper grandfather, I need to share my memories with my grandsons in person, especially since the Ranch looks far less “rustic” than back in my day!

What were your favorite family vacation destinations growing up? We’d love to hear your personal vacation stories. Share them with us in the comments.

Genealogy Song: ‘I Think I Hear a Woodpecker Knocking at My Family Tree’

“I Think I Hear a Woodpecker Knocking at My Family Tree” is probably the funniest genealogy song you will ever hear.

photo of the sheet music for the song "I Think I Hear a Woodpecker Knocking at My Family Tree”

Credit: University of Oregon, Sheet Music Collection

Written by composer Joseph Edgar Howard (1878-1961), this genealogy song has been popular since it was written back in 1909. A copy of the original sheet music for this piece was put online by the University of Oregon. You can see a copy of the song’s lyrics on the original sheet music; the lyrics are also reproduced below for your reference:

My family tree is an awful sight to see

For the bark is all worn bare;

It’s a busted stump which is mostly punk

And the worms are nesting there.

I’d point with pride to the ones who died

In my genealogy,

But the fact is this, almost all my kin and kith,

Have been hanged up on that tree.

I think I hear a woodpecker knocking on my family tree,

While I hear his knock, knock, knock,

I think he’s on to me.

My family did a whole lot of things that ain’t in history

But when he gets free with my ancestry

He’s knocking me. I me.

My father Dan was a literary man

He lived by and in the pen,

When he got away it was safe to say

He would soon be back again;

My uncle Frank for his work in a bank

By the police was in demand,

While my cousin Roy was an awful handy boy

With a stocking full of sand.

I think I hear a woodpecker knocking on my family tree,

While I hear his knock, knock, knock,

I think he’s on to me.

My family did a whole lot of things that ain’t in history

But when he gets free with my ancestry

He’s knocking me. I me.

Listen to a recording of this funny genealogy song here:

http://www.abmp3.info/mp3/i-think-hear-a-woodpecker-knocking-at-my-family-tree.html

Joseph Howard was a well-known vaudevillian. His most famous song was Hello, Ma Baby written in 1899.

Extreme Weather in History: Stories That Affected Our Ancestors

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena researches old newspaper articles to show how severe weather deeply affected our ancestors’ lives.

Last week I went to pick up my son from a pool party and the outside temperature was 100 degrees at 9:00 p.m. While I expect it to be hot in the summer during the daytime, when it’s 100 degrees at night I know we’re in store for a heat wave.

There can be no doubt that the weather significantly affected our ancestors’ lives, even that of more recent generations. In my own family, my grandparents moved from the Los Angeles area to Indio, California, a desert community near Palm Springs, in the 1950s. The average daily high in the summer months is well over 100 degrees. Because my grandfather worked for the railroad, when he wasn’t sitting in a train in the heat he was working outside. Having traveled to that area many times I can’t imagine living there without air conditioning.

How did the weather affect your ancestors? Did they or a family member suffer an injury or die due to extreme cold or heat? Do you ever consider how the weather affected your ancestors’ everyday lives?

collage of scenes from the Blizzard of 1888 in Keene, New Hampshire

Collage: scenes of the Blizzard of 1888 in Keene, New Hampshire. Credit: Keene Public Library and the Historical Society of Cheshire County.

The Children’s Blizzard of 1888

Stories of the deadly consequences of severe weather filled our ancestors’ hometown newspapers. For those with Great Plains ancestors, the 12 January 1888 blizzard known as “The Children’s Blizzard” has great historical significance. This tremendously strong storm, which spread all the way to New England, caught everyone by surprise—including children at school, some of whom died because they couldn’t get home and the schools lacked provisions. This blizzard is chronicled in the book The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin. Those who have read the “Little House on the Prairie” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder are familiar with this extreme blizzard because it’s depicted in the book The Long Winter.

This 1888 Missouri newspaper article reported the “awful list” of victims from the severe blizzard.

An Awful List: Victims of the Deadly Blizzard, Kansas City Times newspaper article 17 January 1888

Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri), 17 January 1888, page 1

Newspapers are filled with articles reporting severe blizzards in history.

Extreme Heat Wave Hit New England

Sudden weather anomalies like blizzards weren’t the only type of weather that had dire consequences for our ancestors. Extreme heat—especially the inability to escape it—was also something that took its toll on our ancestors. This article from a 1911 Massachusetts newspaper reports on those who died from a heat wave blasting New England, including a man who was run over by his horse-drawn cart when the horses went crazy from the heat.

Second Heat Wave Calls Toll of Ten, Boston Journal newspaper article 11 July 1911

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 11 July 1911, page 1

Newspapers provide information on the day-to-day weather in your ancestors’ communities. Explore them to find stories of extreme storms and severe weather throughout history. Newspapers also printed old daily almanac weather reports and bulletins that can give you insight into the weather conditions that affected your ancestors’ lives.

Once you’ve researched these articles to identify extreme weather stories and weather records, consider searching a manuscript collection for a diary or journal in which someone describes how the weather on a particular day affected the city or town.

Another good source of historical weather information is Google Books. Titles such as The Weather and Climate of Chicago by Henry Joseph Cox and John Howard Armington, and Maryland Weather Service by Maryland Weather Service, Forrest Shreve and Oliver Lanard Fassig, provide weather data back to the beginning of the 19th century.

The weather affected all aspects of our ancestors’ lives from their work to their everyday living circumstances. Take a look at their area’s newspapers for the story behind the weather—one more way historical newspapers help you flesh out the names and dates on your family tree to get to know your ancestors better, the lives they led, and the times they lived in.

Newspaper Genealogy Research: Finding the Hames Family Stories

So few family stories are passed down and preserved by folks today. People are busy earning a living and dealing with the demands of 21st century lives. In addition, many families now find themselves spread across the country. It can be difficult for the rising generation to hear the old family stories from their grandparents.

Fortunately newspapers published many of these interesting family stories from yesteryear, and they can be found online today.

Here’s a great story preserved in an old newspaper: the trip the Hames brothers made in 1910 to visit for the first time the grave of their 2nd great-grandfather John Hames.

brothers find grave of ancestor John Hames, Marietta Journal newspaper article 29 July 1910

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 29 July 1910, page 2

After a train ride, the two brothers took “a buggy across the country to Sardis” where they saw the grave where their ancestor was buried in 1860.

Today, a gravestone marks the spot where John Hames was buried. The 1910 newspaper article stated that “his grave will be properly marked” by the visiting brothers to honor their ancestor. What’s there now is a standard military gravestone supplied by the government. Did the two brothers arrange for it to be placed in the cemetery?

photo of the gravestone of John Hames, buried in 1860

Photo: gravestone of John Hames. Credit: Waymarking.com.

Reading further into the old newspaper article about the brother’s gravesite visit, we find that when John Hames died he was known as the oldest man in the country: 108 years old.

Look at all the family history we learn from this one newspaper article:

  • W.J.M. Hames and D.C. Hames were brothers living in Marietta, Georgia
  • Their 2nd great-grandfather, John Hames, served in the Revolutionary War and was buried in Sardis, Georgia
  • John married Charity Jasper, the sister of Sergeant (William) Jasper—another hero of the Revolutionary War. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Jasper
  • The brothers took the Western & Atlantic train to Tilton, Georgia, then went by buggy to the cemetery at Sardis, Georgia
  • There they saw their ancestor’s grave and met John Beemer (who helped to bury the old soldier) and John Shannon (who made his coffin)
  • In 1860 when he died, John Hames, at 108, was considered to be the oldest man in America
  • The brother’s father was Hamlet C. Hames
  • Their grandfather was William Hames
  • Their great-grandfather was Charles Hames, the son of their Revolutionary War ancestor
  • They enjoyed their trip and spent time fishing in the Connasauga River
  • They visited Fort DeSoto
  • They visited the jail where John Howard Payne was imprisoned. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Howard_Payne
  • They also visited the home of Chief James Vann, the Cherokee Indian leader
photo of Cherokee Chief James Vann’s house

Photo: Cherokee Chief James Vann’s house. Credit: Georgia State Parks: http://www.gastateparks.org/ChiefVannHouse.

As this one historical newspaper article shows, newspapers provide information about your ancestors you can’t find anywhere else. More than just the names and dates you can get from other genealogy records, newspapers tell stories about the experiences your ancestors had, the people they met, and the times they lived in—these family stories help you get to know them as real people.

Got Genealogy Questions?

Do you have a genealogy question? Have you hit a brick wall in your genealogy research? Need help? Write our free “Ask the Genealogist” service and let’s see what we can find out for you about your family history.

And, hey—would you help us out and “Like” us on Facebook, and ask your friends to do the same?

Here’s a question about genealogy research we just received:

“Hello, I am researching the Moxham family line in Niagara, New York. I was doing fine then hit a block with Fred E. Moxham from 1861. I have done checking everywhere I could think of. He married Anna Maurer. I know he died young. If I could just figure out his father’s name it would be a great help I believe. Any thoughts?”

Here is our response to the genealogy question we were asked:

Notice that in the 1892 New York State census they list Fred as born in the U.S.

See: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-11684-14945-80?cc=1529100

Notice also that in the 1900 census his children state that the birth place of their father was New York.

See: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MS2F-X22

  • Since he died in the Niagara County area—have you found copies of the probate file for his estate?
  • Do you have his death certificate?
  • Do you have a copy of their marriage certificate?
  • What church did they attend?
  • Did you find him in the 1870 census? 1880?

What do you make of the “other” Frederick Moxham living in Niagara County? He was born March 1830 in England.

In the 1880 census that other Frederick is 50 years old, his wife is 33 years old, and their oldest child is 12.

See: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MZX8-DMP

Their difference in age in the 1880 census allows room for him to have had a first wife—and if so, they could have been the parents of your Frederick. Let’s see where this takes us.

You need to run the church, probate, land and census records for both Moxham households to see where the connections to your Fred E. Moxham are.

You can obtain those records from your area FamilySearch Center.

See: https://familysearch.org/search/search/library_catalog#searchType=catalog&filtered=true&fed=false&collectionId=&catSearchType=place&searchCriteria=&placeName=New+York%2C+Niagara&author_givenName=&author_surname=

For example, there is a marriage certificate for your Frederick Moxham’s son: Howard Moxham marrying Ruby Banks on 23 Dec 1911 in Niagara, New York.

See: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F6SK-LWL

And here is the marriage certificate for his son: Harold Fred Moxham in 1909.

See: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F6SF-7PY

You want to see these marriage certificates to see if they give the city/state of birth of the father Frederick E. Moxham. Hopefully it will give you the city so you can then find his birth/baptismal certificates.

Try these suggestions and let me know what you find.

National Archives Celebrates 75th Anniversary this Friday!

National Archives Celebrates 75th Anniversary on Friday, June 19th.

Susan Logue (Voice of America) distributed this commentary on the 75th Anniversary of the National Archives.

Before the National Archives was founded, many governmental records were kept in poor conditions. On June 19, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the legislation creating the National Archives. “There was a recognition by historians, by public officials and others that the history of the nation was being lost,” says assistant archivist Michael Kurtz. “Records were kept by the agencies that created them. Fires, floods and other disasters really ate away at the nation’s documented heritage.”

A visitor to the National Archives examines the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S.

Constitution Seventy-five years later, it is home to some of the most treasured documents in the United States. Every day, visitors fill the rotunda of the National Archives to get a glimpse of the documents that are the foundation of the United States government: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

But there is much more to the National Archives than just the so-called Charters of Freedom. More than 9 billion records preserved.

Since 1934 it has been responsible for all official governmental historical records: judicial, legislative and executive. Of course, not every government document is saved. Only one to three percent are deemed valuable enough to permanently archive. But, as Kurtz explains, that still adds up to more than nine billion records. While the paper records are vast, there are records in other formats as well including video, film, and digital.

“You have wikis and blogs, digital e-mail, all capturing government business,” says Kurtz. He notes they present new challenges to the Archives. “Preserving them is not like having temperature- and humidity-control vaults for paper records, which will ensure the paper records last for hundreds of years. Digital media is much more fragile.”

On the other hand, Kurtz says, the digital age has presented some opportunities for the National Archives, which can provide access to holdings to people who will never be able to come to the National Archives in person.

The National Archives is celebrating its 75th anniversary with lectures and panel discussions, screenings of films, and an exhibit called “Big!,” featuring some of its more unusual holdings. “The original premise was to showcase some unique items that normally don’t get displayed because of their size,” says exhibits specialist Jennifer Johnson.

Those items include a Civil War-era battlefield map of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that measures four meters square and a bathtub modeled after the one made for President William Howard Taft, the largest U.S. president. He weighed about 145 kilos (320 pounds). “There were a series of items that were custom made for him, including his bed,” says Johnson. “We have a telegram where it is asking for a bathtub, listing the dimensions and describing it as ‘pond-like.’”
When the exhibition, Big!, closes next January, Shaq’s shoe will go to the George W. Bush presidential library. Presidential libraries are also part of the National Archives. There is also a shoe that belonged to basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, which was given to President George W. Bush, and a casting of dinosaur footprints.

Johnson says that was presented to Richard Nixon by two boys who discovered the fossilized prints in New Jersey. “When they discovered these footprints they petitioned Nixon to preserve that area of land so they could study it, and he did. So they gave him a casting of the footprints.” Today, she notes, one of those boys is one of the leading paleontologists in the U.S. There are also more conventional records in the exhibit, illustrating big events and big ideas in American history, like the lunar landing and D-Day, the Normandy invasion that led to the Allied victory in World War Two.

Exhibits like “Big!” give visitors a glimpse of the vast holdings of the National Archives, but the stars of the collection remain the Charters of Freedom.
.

Native American Tribal History

A soldier’s last letter ….

What have I done I asked myself, to deserve to be remembered by strangers in a town in which I had never been…”

You can almost hear him ask that now, over 100 years later as we remember him.

Corporal Wilson Mcpherson Osbon (1877-1899) wrote the letter on 28 Dec 1898, in gratitude for a Christmas care package of food and goodies sent from Mrs. R.S. Gleason of Aberdeen, SD. She had sent it to him and the three other young men who were serving in the Philipines from Howard, South Dakota in Company F – among them was his brother Orman King Osbon (1874-1903).

Portion of his letter – Aberdeen Daily News 22 Feb 1899

This would be the last letter Wilson Osbon would write back home. He was killed just a few weeks later on 15 Feb 1899.

I found his story in the Aberdeen (SD) Weekly News.
In looking into it further, I quickly pulled more than a dozen articles about him and his family in GenealogyBank.
It was gripping to read his last letter.

Even more gripping to read in the old newspapers that his brother Orman was also killed in the Philippines just four years later in a fight leading a group of 22 men against a band of local thugs – in Bolinao, Philippines.

Going beyond the historical newspapers I found Orman Osbon’s obituary in a 1903 report of the War Department. It was there that I learned one more key family detail – Orman Osbon had married in the Philippines and his wife, Antonia Osbon resided in Manila.

Annual reports of the War Department for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1903. Volume VII. Report of the Philippine Commission –
Serial Set Vol. No. 4634, Session Vol. No.858th Congress, 2nd SessionH.Doc. 2 pt. 7. p. 719.
I checked the other popular online sources – none of them give these details that filled in the family tree.

I could only find the complete record in GenealogyBank – dozens of articles and reports that gave the crucial details of this family and their loss of two sons in the service of the country on the other side of the world.

The handy search box made it easy – I entered the name and it searched all 219 Million records and documents – making it quick and easy to find the details of the family tree.

Give it a try right now – there is a special give it a try rate of $9.95.