Who Really Invented the Steamboat? Fitch, Rumsey or Fulton?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary uses old newspapers to research the invention of the steamboat—and describes how much steamboats changed our ancestors’ world.

The invention of the steamboat radically changed our ancestors’ world. While researching your ancestors’ lives in historical newspapers, you will run across many mentions of steamboats. This blog article, including a fun quiz, will test your knowledge of the history of steamboats and help fill in some of the gaps for you.

Who Invented the Steamboat?

Although many, including the writer of this 1815 obituary, credit Robert Fulton (1765-1815) with the invention of the steamboat, it simply isn’t true.

obituary for Robert Fulton, American Beacon newspaper article 7 November 1815

American Beacon (Norfolk, Virginia), 7 November 1815, page 3

Perhaps you are an expert in steamboats; test your knowledge with this handy steamboat quiz and check your answers below.

a quiz about the history of steamboats

John Fitch

Most historians attribute the honor for the invention of the steamboat to John Fitch (1743-1798), who constructed the first steamboat in the United States.

As you can see from this 1786 announcement addressed “To the ENCOURAGERS of USEFUL ARTS,” Fitch “proposed a Machine for the improvement of Navigation” which was endorsed by a number of subscribers who thought that “it might be beneficial to the public.”

a proposal by John Fitch for a steamboat, Pennsylvania Journal newspaper article 4 January 1786

Pennsylvania Journal (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 4 January 1786, page 1

Several state legislatures granted Fitch a 14-year monopoly on all steamboat travel on the inland waterways within their borders. This steamboat monopoly in turn helped him attract investors. His invention used steam to power oars, and in 1788 his commercial steamboat could carry up to 30 paying passengers per trip on the Delaware River. (See Wikipedia’s image of a woodcut by James Trenchard showing Fitch’s steamboat.)

James Rumsey (or Rumsy), Fitch’s Rival

As is the case with many inventions, other inventors worked on the concept of steam navigation simultaneously, including James Rumsey (1743-1792). His steamboat incorporated steam propulsion and was patented by several southern states.

After Rumsey went to Philadelphia in 1788 a pamphlet war arose with Fitch, with each claiming the right to make steamboats. This 1910 newspaper article reported that:

“George Washington had written a letter certifying that he had witnessed trials of the Rumsey boat, and that although he formerly had but little faith in it, he was then convinced that Rumsey had discovered the art of working boats by mechanism.”

history of the invention of the steamboat, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 18 November 1910

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 18 November 1910, page 5

This article also reported that Rumsey “had a controversy before his death with Fitch, whom he accused of ‘coming pottering around’ his shop.”

Several people tried in vain to get the two inventors to work together. It is reported that Fitch tried to secure a patent in England based upon Rumsey’s water-tube boiler. There was even a Rumseian Society formed in 1788 to assist Rumsey, but it was disbanded in 1792 after his death. I recommend you read about it on the Web and at http://jamesrumsey.org/. It is a very interesting story.

Robert Fulton

Although Fitch and Rumsey preceded Robert Fulton with their steamboat inventions, Fulton’s contributions to commercial steamboat operations should not be overlooked.

In 1801, he and partner Chancellor Robert Livingston (1746-1813) built the North River Steamboat, which was later named the Clermont.

Livingston was one of our nation’s Founding Fathers and, among other accomplishments, became the first United States Secretary for Foreign Affairs (1781-1783). As you can see from this early advertisement, Livingston and Fulton charged $7 for passage from New York City to Albany on the North River Steamboat.

ad for travel fares on the North River Steamboat, American Citizen newspaper advertisement 5 September 1807

American Citizen (New York, New York), 5 September 1807, page 2

This next historical newspaper account describes, in Fulton’s own words, how he traveled from New York to Clermont, and arrived at the seat (home) of Chancellor Livingston in 24 hours and also includes a nice portrait illustration of him. Clermont would later become the famous name of Fulton’s steamboat, and of course we should note that Chancellor Livingston was the uncle of Fulton’s wife, Harriet Livingston.

letter from Robert Fulton, Columbian Gazette newspaper article 1 September 1807

Columbian Gazette (Utica, New York), 1 September 1807, page 3

There is so much written about Fulton, I’ll leave more in-depth research to you. However, I would recommend reading the many charming accounts of how Robert Fulton wooed and won the hand of his bride Harriet. Some report that she was present at the trial run of his first steamboat. The following account, reported by Fulton’s grandson Robert Fulton Blight, states:

“‘Is it too presumptuous in me to aspire to the hand of your niece, Harriet Livingston?’ young Robert Fulton one day asked her uncle, Chancellor Robert L. Livingston.

“‘By no means,’ replied the distinguished Chancellor. ‘Her father may object because you are a humble and poor inventor and the family may object, but if Harriet doesn’t object, and she seems to have a world of good sense, go ahead and my best wishes and blessings go with you.’”

article about Robert Fulton and his wife Harriet, New York Herald newspaper article 25 October 1891

New York Herald (New York, New York), 25 October 1891, page 32

Genealogical Challenge

I was not able to locate Robert Fulton and Harriet Livingston’s marriage announcement in the newspapers. If any of our readers find it, please let us know and we will update this post to include it.

Update

A sharp-eyed reader, J. Hansen, found the following marriage announcement for Robert Fulton and Harriet Livingston; we are now able to update this Blog article with that newspaper article. Thank you, J. Hansen!

marriage announcement for Robert Fulton and Harriet Livingston, American Citizen newspaper article 9 January 1808

American Citizen (New York, New York), 9 January 1808, page 3

How Steamboats Changed the World

So how did steamboats change the world?

You may be surprised at some of the answers. The emergence of mechanical navigation meant that:

  • Commercial boating was no longer dependent upon the wind.
  • Boats could navigate in a straightforward manner, eliminating the need to tack with the wind. This made navigation in narrower waterways feasible.
  • Travel times were shortened by the steamboat, as seen in this 1808 newspaper article reporting that one could travel from Albany to New York in 35 hours.
notice about the arrival of the steamboat from Albany, New York, Columbian Centinel newspaper article 14 September 1808

Columbian Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 14 September 1808, page 2

In addition to the above improvements, there was another astounding way that steamboats changed our ancestors’ lives.

The bitter dispute between Fitch and Rumsey actually led to the formation of the Federal U.S. Patent Office. Starting on 10 April 1790, patents were no longer granted by individual states—they had to be issued on a national level.

Congress named the Patent Office legislation “An Act to Promote the Progress of Useful Arts.”

legislation to create the U.S. Patent Office, Daily Advertiser newspaper article 13 April 1790

Daily Advertiser (New York, New York), 13 April 1790, page 2

Dig into historical newspapers yourself to find out more about Fitch, Rumsey and Fulton, and learn how steamboats dramatically changed your American ancestors’ lives.

See related Blog article:

In Search of Our Early American Ancestors’ Patents on Inventions

How to Date Old Ancestor Photographs with Early Photo Types

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shows how you can date old, undated family photos by first figuring out what type of photograph they are, and uses old newspapers and other sources to illustrate different types of photos.

Do you have a box of old, undated family photos somewhere up in the attic—or maybe buried in the back of some closet? Have you wondered how you were ever going to figure out who these family members might be, since the old photographs lack inscriptions or dates?

Genealogy is a lot like detective work, gathering clues to make the pieces of your family puzzle fit together. Old, undated family photographs are pieces of evidence, clues that—if you examine closely enough—might yield some answers.

By knowing a little of the history of photography, you might be able to solve the mystery of those old photos by first recognizing what type of photograph they are—which in turn will help you narrow down the date range for when the photo was created. This blog article will help you do that.

The First Affordable Camera

We’ll start with a brief primer on the history of photography. Many think that the photography revolution began with George Eastman and Frank Brownell (of Kodak) in February of 1900, when they introduced the “Brownie,” the first affordable camera. (See http://www.brownie-camera.com/ for everything you ever wanted to know about this early camera for the mass market.)

Here is an advertisement for the Brownie camera from a 1921 Washington, D.C., newspaper.

What the 2A Brownies [Cameras] Do, Evening Star newspaper advertisement 14 August 1921

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 14 August 1921, page 67

Heliography

However, in my opinion, the true photography revolution started at least 50 years prior, with the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833). His 1826 heliograph “View from the Window at Le Gras” became the first permanent photograph. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicéphore_Niépce.) It was created with a camera obscura, a device used by artists to project images on a wall or screen. Niépce captured his view by projecting onto a pewter plate coated with a type of asphalt called bitumen of Judea. After a long eight-hour exposure time, the image became affixed.

First Permanent Photograph, 1826, Mobile Register newspaper cartoon 24 September 1983

Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama), 24 September 1983, page 31

It’s doubtful that you’ll find a heliograph in your personal ancestor photo collection, but with any luck, you’ll find a variety of other types of photos. Perhaps your family pictures are identified—but in all likelihood many are not, so narrowing time periods for the creation of each photo is important in trying to date them.

Some of my earlier GenealogyBank Blog posts provided other tips for dating undated photographs, including one showing how historical newspapers can assist greatly with photo dating by comparing the clothing of people in your undated photos to clothing styles shown in old newspaper advertisements. (See a list with links to these photography-related blog posts at the end of this article.)

You can also use historical newspapers to learn how to recognize photographic types, and also to research photography studios, as shown by the newspaper articles used in this blog post.

Photographic Timelines

To start, familiarize yourself with photographic timelines, such as the timelines available in the list of websites below. Although there are numerous types of photographic processes, most of your old photos are probably ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, tintypes, cabinet cards or carte de visites (CDVs), along with some lesser-known types such as cyanotypes.

Representative Samples of Different Photographic Types

To see examples of different types of photos, use your favorite search engine such as Google. After searching for a specific type, such as a daguerreotype, click the image option.

screenshot of Google search page showing photographic images

Credit: Google & Wikipedia

Ambrotypes

A distinctive characteristic of an ambrotype is that the image is a positive image created on a transparent sheet of glass, by what is known as wet plate collodion printing. James Ambrose Cutting is credited with the process, which dates to the early 1850s.

The Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambrotype has several examples, and mentions that many were hand tinted. If you think you have an ambrotype take note of the casing, as the style can also be a clue to the time period.

Carte de Visites and Cabinet Cards

Although these two types of photos are different, I’ve chosen to group them together because they are commonly confused. Both types were printed on paper or card stock, and originally created through a type of albumen printing which was used to bind images to paper.

Carte de Visites (CDVs or Cartes)

The Carte de Visite was made in 1850 by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard (1802-1872), and is known as the first pocket-sized photograph. It is also referred to as a calling or visiting card.

He created a negative and made varying sizes, but typically his photos were small and in the range of 2 3/8” x 4” to 2 ½” x 4.” The smaller size of CDVs offered the advantage of portability and affordability. If you are lucky, you’ll find the photographer’s name imprinted on the back.

This example, rescued from an antique shop near Austin Texas, is tentatively labeled “George W. Bohun.” I believe it was shot by Rudolph Uhlman who, according to a University of Missouri-Kansas City article “A Preliminary Survey of Photographers and Artists in St. Joseph Missouri 1859 to 1889” by David Boutros, worked at 225 Edmond Street between 1876 and 1885. (See http://www.umkc.edu/whmckc/Scrapbook/Articles/StJoePhotographers.pdf.)

photo of a Carte de Visite showing George Bohun

Example of a Carte de Visite from the author’s photo collection

Cabinet Cards

Cabinet cards were introduced in 1864 by a British studio called Windsor & Bridge. As they were larger (typically 4” x 6” or 4 ½” x 6 ½”) and printed on card stock, they were more durable than other paper types.

The photographer’s name can be printed on the front or the rear, and the presentation (font, coloring, etc.) can also be a clue to the time frame of the photo. (See Marshall University’s article at http://www.marshall.edu/library/speccoll/virtual_museum/photographers/cabinet-cards.asp.)

This cabinet card from my photo collection identifies the photographer as James S. Cummins. Research shows he lived from 1841-1895, and if my guess is correct, this sepia-toned image was probably taken between 1875-1885.

photo of a Cabinet Card

Example of a Cabinet Card from the author’s photo collection

Cyanotypes

The discovery of the cyanotype process is credited to scientist/astronomer Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), but botanist Anna Atkins (1799-1871) gets the credit for applying the technique to photography. She used it to record images of plants for her research, as described in this 1982 article from a South Dakota newspaper.

Lockwood at Dakota Midland [Hospital Art Gallery], Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 29 June 1982

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 29 June 1982, page 13

Most cyanotypes are small. Popular in the 1880s, you can still find them today, and the photographic process is published on the Web.

This cyanotype from my collection is of an ancestor born in 1875, and I estimate it was taken between 1893-1900.

example of a Cyanotype photograph

Example of a Cyanotype photograph from the author’s collection

Daguerreotypes

To learn more about Niépce’s colleague Louis Daguerre (1787-1851), see these resources:

Daguerre is credited with inventing a new photographic process known as daguerreotype.

His technique also incorporated the camera obscura, but by introducing copper plating with a thin layer of silver exposed to the fumes of iodine crystals, he was able to capture the images. Daguerreotypes were very popular from the 1840s into the 1860s or early 1870s.

After his death, Daguerre was described in this 1851 Massachusetts newspaper as “a scene painter and dioramist in Paris, an ingenious mechanic, and tolerable chemist.”

obituary for Louis Daguerre, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 16 July 1851

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 16 July 1851, page 2

Daguerreotypes (or dags) changed the world of photography, offering our ancestors their first opportunity to sit for portraits. Many appear to be serious or grimacing in their portrait—which, some people today speculate, was from having to sit still for a long time while their picture was being taken.

However, this may be somewhat of a myth. Exposure time ranged from 60-90 seconds, and after 1845 the sitting time was reportedly just a few seconds. If one wanted multiple pictures, there was no way to make copies of the original—so multiple sittings would have to occur. (See http://mentalfloss.com/article/16677/daguerreotype-qa.)

This 1841 ad from a New York newspaper promoted a daguerreotype exhibition to benefit local charities.

The Daguerreotype Exhibition, Evening Post newspaper article 4 February 1840

Evening Post (New York, New York), 4 February 1840, page 3

This obituary from an 1851 New Hampshire newspaper called Daguerre “the celebrated discoverer of the daguerreotype,” claiming that with this invention “he succeeded in immortalizing his name.”

Death of M. Daguerre, New Hampshire Sentinel newspaper obituary 14 August 1851

New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 14 August 1851, page 2

Dags of many famous people can be found online, including some of Abraham Lincoln at www.lincolnportrait.com.

Tintypes

Tintypes are another commonly-found type of photograph—although they were not created on tin.

The tintype production method is similar to that of ambrotypes. (Other common names of similar photographic processes are melanotype and ferrotype.) Tintype sizes ranged from 2 3/8” x 3 ½” to 4” x 5 ¾.”

Sometimes they were created with a wet plate and at other times with a dry plate. The image was underexposed and darkened by lacquering or other methods, and then coated. Interestingly, the metal used was not tin, but a very thin iron that resembled tin. (A magnet can determine if there is metal in your picture.)

Since tintypes were often taken at carnivals, many have a fun quality about them. Notice in this tintype (a Library of Congress image), a man was seated before two mirrors placed at right angles, in order to provide five images.

Library of Congress image of a tintype photograph

Credit: Library of Congress

Tintypes were often sold in a paper sleeve for protection. However, if your tintype still has the original paper sleeve, don’t be fooled by the location printed on it—it may not be correct. According to this 1901 article from a Kansas newspaper, tintype sellers had a variety of preprinted sleeves from distant locations that came “in handy for people who like to put up a bluff that they have been further away from home than they really have.”

The newspaper article imagined a conversation between a tintype seller and his customer:

“What place did you say? Coney Island or—”

The maid looked at the man sheepishly. “Let’s put it New Haven,” she said. “That will sound better than Coney Island.”

Tintypes May Prevaricate, American Citizen newspaper article 8 November 1901

American Citizen (Kansas City, Kansas), 8 November 1901, page 3

To learn more about tintypes and the other commonly-used photographic processes, revisit the timeline at Phototree.com (http://www.phototree.com/identify.htm). The site also has tips to help you identify the characteristics of pictures.

Although this is just a sampling of photographic types, hopefully this article gives you a few ideas on how to identify and date your family treasures.

Go get that box of old family photos and look at them closely. Can you identify what type they are, and thereby limit the date range for the people in the picture? Good luck with your detective work!

Related GenealogyBank Blog articles:

History of Trains & Railroads: Locomotives, Steam Engines & More

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers for articles and ads about trains and locomotives, and discusses how important railroads were in the lives of our ancestors.

Trains & Railroads Shaped Early America

The importance of train travel cannot be overstated in the development of America, and its effect on how and why our ancestors traveled on land. Stagecoaches were an early transportation option, but once locomotives and steam engines proved their worth, travel by stagecoach became less frequent.

picture of a locomotive, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper illustration 15 February 1892

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 15 February 1892, page 5

Our nation’s great westward expansion took off, and trains became the favored mode of transportation until automobiles and air travel took over. Reading old newspaper articles to explore the history of train travel is a good way to better understand our ancestors’ lives and the times they lived in.

Steam Powers the Way

Early trains were powered by steam, but it may surprise you to learn that steam power was not a 19th Century invention. English inventor Thomas Savery (c.1650-1715) is given the credit for inventing steam power for transportation. He didn’t work on steam-powered trains, but this 1848 Connecticut newspaper article notes he did develop a steam engine for a rowing ship.

Thomas Savery the Engineer, Connecticut Courant newspaper article 28 October 1848

Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 28 October 1848, page 165

Although Savery received his steam engine patent in 1698, the first steam-powered engine didn’t arrive in the American Colonies until 1752 or 1753. Evidence of such a machine can be found in this 1753 Massachusetts newspaper article reporting that the Town of Charlestown was:

“so kind as to bring over their fine Water-Engine, which was of great Service in suppressing and preventing the Progress of the Fire.”

notice about a Charlestown, Massachusetts, fire engine, Boston Gazette newspaper article 13 February 1753

Boston Gazette (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 February 1753, page 3

A screw-driven steamboat was invented around 1802 by John Stevens. A Wikipedia article mentions he created a steam carriage around 1826 that ran on a track, but he was not the only one working on the concept.

There are several early newspaper reports of inventors working on steam carriages, including this 1822 New Jersey newspaper article about a petition for a steam carriage being presented on behalf of Isaac Baker, of Ohio.

notice about a patent petition from Isaac Baker for a steam-carriage, New Brunswick Fredonian newspaper article 14 February 1822

New Brunswick Fredonian (New Brunswick, New Jersey), 14 February 1822, page 2

The illustration below, from an 1826 Massachusetts newspaper, shows a 12-horsepower “loco-motive engine” used by the Helton Railroad in England.

picture of a locomotive, Boston Traveler newspaper illustration 7 March 1826

Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 7 March 1826, page 4

Early Train & Railroad Companies

If you’ve played that famous board game “Monopoly,” you can surely guess the first railroad thought to have provided regularly-scheduled service.

Yes, it was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O), chartered on 28 February 1827, to provide service from Baltimore, Maryland, to the Ohio River. It was capitalized with 15,000 shares at $100 each ($1,500,000), what must have seemed like a tremendous fortune at that time.

Perhaps your ancestors traveled on the great B&O, credited to have been the first U.S. company to offer scheduled passenger and freight service?

However, B&O was not the first charted train company. A search of GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives finds mention of other train companies. This 1825 Pennsylvania newspaper article reports a petition to incorporate and provide service from Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania, “to the nearest point on the Delaware.”

petition to construct a Pennsylvania railroad, National Gazette newspaper article 15 December 1825

National Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 15 December 1825, page 1

This advertisement was published in an 1856 South Carolina newspaper, showing the Virginia Springs Central Railroad’s announcement that its opening line will travel 56 miles. Until the rail line is completed, the company’s stage coaches will continue to operate at fares ranging from $10 to $13.

railroad ad, Charleston Courier newspaper advertisement 11 September 1856

Charleston Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 11 September 1856, page 3

We can all imagine the excitement generated by the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on 10 May 1869 at Promontory Summit, in Utah Territory!

To commemorate the final joining, the railroad placed a golden spike and a silver railroad tie. This article from an 1869 New York newspaper reports that that the last spike would be engraved as follows:

“The last spike. The Pacific Railroad—ground broke January 8, 1863, completed May–, 1869. May God continue the unity of our country as this railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.”

The Silver Tie and Golden Spike, Evening Post newspaper article

Evening Post (New York, New York), 15 May 1869, page 4

There were many other train “firsts,” such as this article from an 1898 Minnesota newspaper commemorating the first Minneapolis Locomotive crossing the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River “at this point.”

The First Minneapolis Locomotive, Minneapolis Journal newspaper article 12 February 1898

Minneapolis Journal (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 12 February 1898, page 14

Railroad Family History for Kids (and Adults)

The children of today may never know the joy of train travel, except as a novelty. To connect your children with this important part of American history, search the newspaper archives to see if any of their ancestors were connected with the railroad industry—that may spark their interest.

In addition to their surname, be sure to search for your railroad ancestors by their job title, such as conductor or switchman. Also search for railway pension records (which are in a separate system from Social Security).

Here is an example of an old newspaper article that may show your ancestors in the context of railroad travel. This 1857 Pennsylvania newspaper wedding announcement notes that the marriage of William C. Pitman and Miss F.A. Fuller occurred on a moving train that exceeded 40 miles per hour!

Pitman-Fuller wedding announcement, Public Ledger newspaper article 10 January 1857

Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 10 January 1857, page 5

This is just the tip of the iceberg for conducting research on how our ancestors were connected to trains, either by occupation or their desire to travel.

Websites and Documents of Interest

Cyndi’s List: Railroads >> Records: Administrative, Employment and Pensions

U.S. Railroad Retirement Board

“I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”

The original title of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” was “The Levee Song,” published in 1894 in a book of songs published by Princeton University titled Carmina Princetonia. If you search GenealogyBank you can locate several references to this famous song, including this one.

"I've Been Working on the Railroad" song, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 30 August 1920

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 30 August 1920, page 2

Have fun filling in the lives of your ancestors and the times they lived in with railroad and train stories. You never know what you’ll discover about your family history!

Which of Your Ancestors Would You Invite to Your Family Reunion?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary fantasizes about being able to invite some of her famous ancestors—including flight pioneers the Wright brothers—to a family reunion.

I’ve got a number of friends who get excited about fantasy football.

Whereas this is quite a snoozer for me, I see their point. They love to discuss and theorize about favorite football players—which is not unlike family historians when they get together, who assert their knowledge about favorite genealogical finds. And genealogists love to discuss their favorite ancestors!

Nobody can really speak for their ancestors, of course, but you can—in a round-about way—introduce them at your next family reunion. Someone could present a written report on their favorite ancestor, or the more theatrical members at your reunion could re-enact times and events surrounding your more noteworthy (or notorious) ancestors.

So if you could invite any relation (direct or otherwise) to your next family reunion, who would it be?

The Wright Brothers

One of my choices would be my latest cousin discovery: aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright, who share Edmund Freeman (1737-1813) and Martha Otis (1737-1790) as mutual ancestors.

I’d love to ask the Wright brothers if they were apprehensive about their flying machine when it first took flight. I’ve read the patents and various reports about their incredible aviation invention, but it would be wonderful to get their first-hand accounts.

Patent No. 821, 393 of 2 May 1906 (available for viewing at Google Patents):

To all whom it may concern:

Be it known that we, ORVILLE WRIGHT and WILBUR WRIGHT, citizens of the United States, residing in the city of Dayton, county of Montgomery, and State of Ohio, have invented certain new and useful Improvements, in Flying-Machines, of which the following is a specification.

Our invention relates to that class of flying-machines in which the weight is sustained by the reactions resulting when one or more aeroplanes are moved through the air edgewise at a small angle of incidence, either by the application of mechanical power or by the utilization of the force of gravity.

This old newspaper article from 1903 reports that the Wright brothers’ flying machine flew three miles against the wind.

A Flying Machine Goes Three Miles against the Wind, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article, 18 December 1903

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 18 December 1903, page 1

If Orville Wright were alive, I’d love to see him fly his hydro-aero-boat invention. This 1913 newspaper article describes him, not as an aviator, but as a “noted birdman,” and reports that Wilbur Wright had been stricken with scarlet fever. What fun that Orville’s flying boat was tested on “Mad River”!

Orville Wright Perfects New Flying Boat, Evening Times newspaper article 5 December 1913

Evening Times (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 5 December 1913, page 10

Accused Witch Lydia Gilbert

Another on my list of ancestors I’d invite to my family reunion would be accused witch Lydia, wife of Thomas Gilbert. This travesty occurred in October of 1651, reportedly in Hartford, Connecticut (not Salem, Massachusetts). At the time, Lydia and her husband were living in the household of Henry Stiles. A neighbor, Thomas Allyn, was present when a gun discharged, slaying Stiles. Allyn was found guilty of “homicide by misadventure” but three years later, Lydia and others were accused at a Court of Oyer and Terminer of having caused the deed by witchcraft.

Poor Lydia. Wouldn’t you love to hear from her and to reassure her that witchcraft trials were finally put to rest when Governor Phils dissolved this particular Court on 29 October 1692. (Note: that didn’t put an end to all Courts of Oyer and Terminer, a term easily searchable in GenealogyBank. Such courts were authorized to oversee certain criminal cases.)

GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives don’t date to 1651 (although they do contain the first newspaper published in America, Publick Occurrences, in 1690), but there are various references to witch trials contained in the old newspapers, including this photo of the Old Witch House taken in 1914.

Oldest Building in Salem, Mass., Anaconda Standard newspaper article 26 June 1914

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 26 June 1914, page 1

Oyster Cracker Inventor Adam Exton and Wife Elizabeth Aspden

Although not household names today, British immigrants Adam Exton (1823-1887) and wife Elizabeth Aspden (1821-1894) were well known in Trenton, New Jersey, during their lifetime. Adam Exton was the inventor of the oyster cracker, a recipe which became immensely popular. I’d love to invite both of them to my family reunion as well.

I’d like to inquire why Adam Exton didn’t patent this particular invention, as it was soon stolen—and to this day some still disclaim him as the inventor of the delicious invention. However, this piece of family provenance is substantiated in a 1917 newspaper article written by his nephew, also named Adam Exton, who worked in the cracker factory and knew his uncle personally.

Life History of Oyster Crackers, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 31 May 1917

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 31 May 1917, page 4

If you’d like to know more about this topic, search the Web for “Adam Exton’s cracker factory.” The factory still exists and has been renovated into condominiums, known as the Trenton Lofts.

So as family reunion season approaches, consider inviting a few “virtual” ancestors to the party, and don’t forget to search GenealogyBank’s historical archives for the family trivia. You might even uncover a news report of a previous family reunion. When I input “family reunion” into GenealogyBank’s search box, almost 100,000 matches return! Many of these old news articles include old family reunion photos that show the whole family the way they were in the past. What great find to share with the rising generation at your next family get-together so that the young ones can see their ancestors’ faces.

GenealogyBank search box for "family reunion"

GenealogyBank search box for “family reunion”

So which ancestors would you place on your “fantasy ancestral team”? Please share your more extraordinary ancestral finds with us!

The 1876 Centennial Exhibition Celebrated 100 Years of American Freedom

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition that celebrated 100 years of American independence.

Do you remember the American Bicentennial? In 1976 Americans celebrated our shared history and our fight for freedom. Visual reminders of the early history of America were everywhere. My school picture that year had a background of an American flag, and as I stood against that background my arm rested on a faux chair that had a small eagle painted in gold. For those who were around in 1976, it is easy to date that image.

Did you have ancestors living in the United States in 1876? Just as you may have participated in bicentennial celebrations, they participated in centennial activities to celebrate 100 years of American independence. Maybe they even attended the biggest celebration of America’s freedom: the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, the first time an official World’s Fair was held in the U.S. From May to November 1876 in Fairmount Park, the city of Philadelphia provided Americans the opportunity to see history, experience the newest technologies and innovations, and show patriotism just 11 years after the Civil War ended.

Philadelphia International Exhibition souvenir ribbon, 1876, from the Cornell University Collection of Political Americana, Cornell University Library

Philadelphia International Exhibition Souvenir Ribbon, 1876, from the Cornell University Collection of Political Americana, Cornell University Library

Approximately 10 million visitors strolled the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition’s 285 acres and saw exhibits in more than 200 buildings. The Exhibition of 1876 offered everything from historical and technological exhibits to food. Most states participated as well as over 30 nations. Patriotism was a big part of the great Centennial Exhibition but so too were the machines and exhibits that touted America’s innovation.

Many of the top American inventors of the day presented their newest creations at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. This was the international event where attendees from around the world were introduced to Alexander Graham Bell’s invention he called the telephone, and Thomas Edison was there showcasing some of his new ideas. Many everyday household items that we now take for granted were either exhibited or introduced at the Exhibition including typewriters, sewing machines and even Heinz 57 Tomato Ketchup. The largest steam engine ever built, weighing a staggering 56 tons, was at the Exhibition and powered the Machinery Hall.

Even Lady Liberty was there—well, part of her arm and torch to be precise. This section of the Statue of Liberty was displayed at the Centennial Exhibition as part of a fundraising effort to raise the money needed to build a base for the permanent statue.

colossal hand and torch “Liberty,” from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Colossal hand and torch “Liberty,” from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

All good things must come to an end and so did the Centennial Exhibition. On November 10th President U.S. Grant, with a wave of his hand and the words “I declare the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 closed,” marked the official end of the Exhibition. For ten days after that official declaration the Exhibition continued to stay open and allowed people to visit the exhibits until they were removed.

The International Exposition of 1876 Formally Closed, Critic-Record newspaper article, 11 November 1876

Critic-Record (Washington, D.C.), 11 November 1876, page 3

Today, all that is left of that 1876 event is Memorial Hall, the Ohio House (which now houses a café), and two smaller buildings.*

The Free Library of Philadelphia has an online exhibit, The Centennial Exhibition, where you can learn more about the fate of the buildings and machinery at the legendary Exhibition and about the event itself. Fairmount Park, the park that hosted the Exhibition, has an archival collection available to researchers by appointment.

Want to learn more about the 1876 Centennial Exhibition? The original guides to the Exhibition are available on Google Books. For a look at the history and images from the Exhibition see the “Images of America” book Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition by Linda P. Gross and Theresa R. Snyder (Arcadia Publishing, 2005).

If your ancestors were alive in 1876, perhaps they went to see the Centennial Exhibition themselves—about 20% of the American public did. Even if your ancestors did not actually visit the Exhibition, it was a big event during their lifetime that they most likely talked about in their homes and communities. You can peruse GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives to read thousands of news articles containing the original coverage on the Centennial Exhibition. GenealogyBank’s online newspaper archives are a great place to learn about your ancestors’ lives and the times they lived in—from 1690 to the present.

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*Whatever Happened to: Buildings. Centennial Exhibition Digital Collection. Free Library of Philadelphia. http://libwww.library.phila.gov/CenCol/what-bldgs.htm. Accessed 21 October 2012.

 

Today in History: Bizarre Yet Brilliant Inventor Nikola Tesla Born

Happy Birthday Nikola Tesla!

When most people think about an electrical genius who was a master inventor, they think of Thomas Edison. However, when Edison was working his magic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries he had a rival who was every bit his equal in brains if not lasting fame: Nikola Tesla. Today marks the 156th anniversary of Nikola Tesla’s birth on July 10, 1856. In remembrance and celebration of Tesla’s legacy on his birthday we explore his uncommon life.

A Brief Biography of Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla was born in the village of Smiljan, present-day Croatia, but became an American citizen. In his eventful 86-year life Tesla proved to be a real wizard of electricity: he perfected alternating current (AC) electrical power; made breakthroughs in radar, X-rays and robotics; invented the Tesla coil; and made many important discoveries that justify calling him the “father of modern radio.”

Unquestionably a genius, Tesla spoke eight languages fluently. He experienced astonishing visions in which he saw inventions so clearly that every detail was already sharp in his mind before he ever set them down on paper. At the height of his fame the public marveled at his inventions and recognized him as the equal of fellow inventor Thomas Edison.

Sadly, that fame was not to last. As he aged he became increasingly strange, with ever-more bizarre behavior. He was obsessed by many things, including pigeons and a deathly fear of dirt. The number 3 haunted him: for example, he always walked around a block three times before entering any building. The public lost its fascination with him, and his life ended without acquiring the lasting fame that Thomas Edison enjoys to this day.

Nikola Tesla died broke and all alone in a New York City hotel room on Jan. 7, 1943. Despite making more than 700 inventions in his lifetime and many of science’s most important breakthroughs, he died deeply in debt, unnoticed and forgotten—perhaps the archetype of the “mad scientist.”

He may have been bizarre, but Tesla was not crazy—and many of the devices and procedures we use today sprang from the mind of this baffling, incredibly inventive man.

Tesla's Latest: The Electrician Illustrates Three New Discoveries, Plain Dealer, 9 April 1897

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 April 1897, page 8

Published in the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 April 1897, page 8.

The above old newspaper article was written when Tesla enjoyed great renown.

The article begins: “After many months of silence, Nikola Tesla spoke night before last at the Academy of Science, and, as always happens on such occasions, the scientific knowledge of the world was the richer thereby. Mr. Tesla, without going deeply into the details of his methods, announced three discoveries he has made, and gave practical illustrations of them. One will revolutionize the present methods of electric lighting, will exert a tremendous influence upon a hundred different things, and will open to the investigator an infinite number of highways of research, and will end, Mr. Tesla says, in bringing about that sought-for end of all electricians: the transmission of information through space without the agency of wires now needed.”

A collection of old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives, provides tremendous information to help with your family history research—and also contains stories about the times and leading figures that influenced your ancestors’ lives such as this remarkable inventor. You can explore thousands of articles to learn more about the curious life of Nikola Tesla in our online archives.

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.

Congratulations to my cousin Sarah Heath Palin!

Genealogists will love the fact that the new Republican choice for Vice President – Sarah Heath Palin is a descendant of multiple Mayflower passengers: John Tilley, John Howland, Stephen Hopkins, Elder William Brewster, Richard Warren and other well known New England families.

I am also descended from those Mayflower passengers …. so we’re cousins.

She is also a descendant of the Rev. John Lathrop – famous to genealogists as the “gateway” ancestor of many US Presidents, inventors, actors and celebrities.

No doubt in the days ahead we will see stories of how she is related to our other cousins: George Bush, Queen Elizabeth, Barack Obama, John Kerry, Dick Cheney, George Washington, King George III, King Henry VIII, Abraham Lincoln and the list will go on and on.

It’s a great day for genealogy!

National Archives, Library of Congress Documents Go Online

The National Archives and the Library of Congress announced today that they have begun loading digital copies of their materials on a new site called the World Digital Library.

Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein and Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced today that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has become a founding partner in the World Digital Library (WDL).

NARA will contribute digital versions of important documents from its collections to the WDL, which will be launched for the international public in early 2009.

These documents include Civil War photographs, naturalization and immigration records of famous Americans, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, and photographs by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and Lewis Hine. Examples of the images that NARA is contributing to the World Digital Library are now available online.

Example of a naturalization document – Declaration of Intent of Maria von Trapp, 01/21/1944 – that was put online by NARA. NARA ARC Identifier 596198.

The WDL will include representative examples from these document categories – not the complete backfiles of these documents.

The complete run of the American State Papers is already available on GenealogyBank. See GenealogyBank’s Historical Documents collection where you will find military records, casualty lists, Revolutionary and Civil War pension requests, widow’s claims, orphan petitions, land grants and much more including the complete American State Papers (1789-1838) and all genealogical content carefully selected from the U.S. Serial Set (1817-1980). More than 146,000 reports, lists and documents. GenealogyBank has the most comprehensive collection of these US Government reports and documents available to genealogists online. GenealogyBank is adding more documents to this collection every month.

Proposed in 2005 by the Library of Congress in cooperation with UNESCO, the WDL will make available on the Internet significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world. The project’s goal is to promote international understanding and to provide a resource for use by students, teachers, and general audiences.

“We are pleased that our fellow Federal cultural institution, the National Archives, is joining the Library of Congress in the early stages of this project,” said Billington.

“NARA’s participation not only will ensure that the World Digital Library contains a full record of the American experience, but it also will encourage archives around the world to join with their counterparts from the library world in this important initiative.”

“The mission of the National Archives is to make U.S. Government records widely accessible,” said Weinstein. “The World Digital Library will be a valuable conduit for us to share some of our nation’s treasures with others around the world. We look forward to working with the Library of Congress on this important project.”

In addition to NARA and the Library of Congress, the WDL project partners include cultural institutions from Brazil, China, Egypt, Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia and many other countries. Click here for more Information about the WDL.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest Federal cultural institution, is the world’s preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled integrated resources to Congress and the American people. Founded in 1800, the Library seeks to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections. The Library seeks to spark the public’s imagination and celebrate human achievement through its programs and exhibits. In doing so, the institution helps foster the informed and involved citizenry upon which American democracy depends. The Library serves the public, scholars, members of Congress and their staffs through its 22 reading rooms on Capitol Hill. Many of the rich resources and treasures of the Library may also be accessed through its
award-winning web site and via interactive exhibitions on a new, personalized web site.
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