The Social Columns: Mrs. Smith Is Visiting Her Parents in New Mexico

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how much valuable family history information can be found in newspapers’ social columns.

Newspapers report important events and breaking news on the local, national and international level. They document accidents, crimes, politics, and natural disasters. They also report on the rich and famous, the infamous, and politicians. Many people have an assumption that only “famous” or “important” people are written about in the newspaper. Some people assume that their ancestor’s name would never be found in the newspaper because they were “just farmers”—no one special.

But of course, everyday people’s lives are recorded in newspapers, with many articles documenting births, marriages, and deaths. Ordinary people’s stories can also be found in other parts of the paper. Newspapers document their community, both the good times and the bad. They report everything from who owes back taxes and epidemic victims’ names, to legal notices and school achievements. Many of a town’s small goings-on can be found in the local newspaper’s social columns.

I love the social columns of the newspaper. This is the section that names community members and reports on their everyday lives. Think of it as Twitter for an earlier generation.

According to the online article “Using Newspapers for Genealogical Research” available from the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library in Indiana, one type of newspaper article that is especially helpful to genealogists is the “social items, such as notices of visitors from out of town; visits of local people to other places; birthday parties and their attendees; illnesses; community events, contests, and holiday celebrations and their participants; notices of residents who have moved to other locations; etc.”

There can be great genealogical benefits to searching a social news column, especially around the time of an ancestor’s death. Once as I was researching a death for a client the social column reported the illness of the client’s ancestor, the update on her illness, her death, and then mentioned that the deceased’s son was coming to the funeral. All great family information that was not recorded anywhere else.

Consider the following social news column, which records everything from the names of people visiting, to who won awards and who is ill.

Social News, Plaindealer newspaper article 30 October 1931

Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas), 30 October 1931, page 6

Some of the details we learn in this historical news article:

  • “Miss Muriel Carney, 1041 Grand avenue, left Sunday for Chicago to visit her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. T. G. Thompson.”
  • “Mrs. Marvel of Albuquerque, N. Mexico, is visiting with her daughter, Mrs. Curtis Burton and Mr. Burton.”
  • “Miss Marie Hicks and Mrs. Bessie King spent Thursday in Tongonxie, Kansas, visiting their mother, Mrs. Mary Hicks.”

While these social postings typically fill up a column or two in the newspaper, sometimes a newspaper devotes much more space to the social goings-on in its community. Consider the following social column; it takes up a page and a half and includes social news from various nearby communities.

Society, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 29 June 1902

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 29 June 1902, section III, page 2

The reporting on several communities in the above social column serves as a good reminder that news of your ancestors may not be limited to just their town’s newspaper. A larger regional newspaper may also carry news from surrounding communities. Genealogically rich information can be gleaned from this Minnesota paper’s large social column, including birth notices, business openings, and out-of-town visitors.

Social news columns provide not only a glimpse of the comings and goings of your ancestors but they can also provide information on genealogical facts. As you search newspapers, don’t limit yourself to obituaries. Check out social columns to learn more about your ancestors and their lives.

A Genealogist’s Family Story: A Blind Baby & Kind Strangers

This is a bittersweet family story, about an abandoned blind baby and the kindness of strangers. But it is also an interesting story about family history research, telling the tale of a genealogist finding the facts about her grandmother.

Melissa Archibald wrote us about the brick wall on her family tree involving her grandmother—and how she solved it.

She wrote:

“I wanted to thank you for posting the historic newspapers from Saginaw, Michigan. I thought you’d want to know how GenealogyBank solved my problem. My Grandmother was an abandoned baby and I did a search one day under the terms “Sunshine Baby,” Saginaw and blind. The only thing I knew about my Grandmother was her nickname “Sunshine Baby,” she was born in Saginaw, and that she was blind. I had been searching for 15 years to try and find out the truth about my Grandmother who was abandoned but also blinded because of it. One amazing service you have. I found her.

“Thanks again for making these papers available online. My Grandmother had seven children who all wondered about the mystery surrounding the birth of their Mother and your service has answered all of our questions.”

Here is what she found doing genealogy research in GenealogyBank:

The story of her grandmother, an abandoned baby—a sympathetic story that touched people’s hearts in Saginaw, Michigan, and around the country. The Sunshine Society, dedicated to helping blind children, had a chapter in Saginaw. They put out the call for the public and for “every school child in Saginaw [to] give one penny to the Sunshine fund for the blind baby.”

blind baby abandoned, Saginaw News newspaper article 25 November 1904

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 25 November 1904, page 11

But, who was this baby? Could the parents be found?

The old newspapers give the brutal details.

It was a grim day when Grace Vergeson put her newborn daughter into a suitcase and left her in the “closet in the house where she had been working.” We don’t know what she was thinking. Was it post-partum depression? Did she think the baby was already dead? Were others involved? We don’t know all the reasons or circumstances, but we do know that the baby was not discovered for three days. By then she was “totally blind as a result” of not having had proper medical care.

Mother's Cruel Act, Grand Rapids Press newspaper article 19 November 1904

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 19 November 1904, page 2

The young mother soon “signed release papers relinquishing all claim on the child,” turning the guardianship of her child over to the Sunshine Society.

Gave Up Her Babe, Flint Journal newspaper article 25 November 1904

Flint Journal (Flint, Michigan), 25 November 1904, page 4

A brutal story, brightened by the kindness of the members of the “Sunshine Society,” and the fact that the blind baby went on to have a wonderful life, marrying and raising seven children.

It is almost impossible to find the parents of an abandoned child. Melissa had been searching for the answers for over 15 years—and that patient research paid off in the old newspaper archives at GenealogyBank.

 

 

A Murder in the Family Tree: Policeman Stabbed to Death

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott reports a sad discovery when doing his family history research—finding a murder in his family tree.

Ever have one of those eerie experiences that make you just a little bit scared in your family history work? I did and it happened early in my genealogy research when I decided to visit the Woodland Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio. I had been wanting to visit this cemetery for some time as I have faint memories of visiting there with my family when I was a very young boy. Additionally, in my genealogy research, I have discovered that our family has more than 160 deceased family members resting eternally in Woodland Cemetery.

On this particular cemetery visit I was planning on paying my respects to my great grandfather’s sister, Theresa Sluka. As I arrived at her grave I not only found her gravestone, but I found a substantial family burial plot. I was madly clicking photos and writing down notes as to location, directions, etc., when one of the Sluka family gravestones caught my attention.

Up until that visit, I had never seen a gravestone that held portraits captured in porcelain. The small obelisk in front of me held not one portrait, but two. As I came closer, I realized that for the first time I was gazing at the likenesses of my cousins, Albert and Frank Sluka. Both looked remarkably young and then I noticed that Albert died at just 29 (1877-1907) and his brother, Frank, wearing a uniform of some sort in his portrait, died at only 33 (1878-1912).

gravestone portrait of Albert Sluka (1877-1907)

Gravestone portrait of Albert Sluka (1877-1907)

It wasn’t an hour later that I was booting up my computer and digging into these two family members. Beginning with Albert, my first stop was at GenealogyBank.com and I was not disappointed. On the first page of search results there was an article from the front page of the Plain Dealer:

Policeman Dies in Street Fight, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 28 March 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 March 1907, page 1

I felt as if the headline was screaming at me. I couldn’t believe what I was reading: “Policeman Dies in Street Fight. Is Stabbed Just Once, but Life Ebbs Away in Short Time.”

Only three blocks from the very cemetery where I had been standing only an hour earlier, my cousin, wearing his badge and working as a “Special Policeman,” was stabbed to death by a man he had bounced from a dancehall! The old newspaper article explained the crime scene and reported that his brother was a member of the Cleveland Police Department. My curiosity, being fully piqued at this point, kept me looking further.

Amidst the tragedy of this police murder story, I discovered in another newspaper article that the Cleveland Police did indeed get their man, who was a fellow by the name of Harry Fertel:

Murder Charge Rests Lightly, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 29 March 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 29 March 1907, page 2

The news of Albert Sluka’s murder was carried in other newspapers in other states, such as this historical news article which appeared on the front page of an Indiana paper:

Policeman Stabbed to Death, Elkhart Truth newspaper article, 28 March 1907

Elkhart Truth (Elkhart, Indiana), 28 March 1907, page 1

GenealogyBank.com was finding, and I was reading, news stories that covered the initial reports of the assault and crime, and explanations of the impact of the murder on my ancestors including this: “The aged father and mother of the dead policeman are brokenhearted. All day long they sat sobbing beside the casket in the little front room of their home at 5311 McBride Av., S.E…”

I was even learning about my great aunt trying to get her son’s killer sentenced to serve his time in the Penitentiary rather than the Ohio State Reformatory—which itself was none too nice, as revealed in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption (the movie was filmed at the Ohio State Reformatory).

Mother Seeks Revenge, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 15 May 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 15 May 1907, page 3

Ever since that first day of those discoveries about my cousin Albert and his murder, I have been further augmenting my knowledge of this family tragedy with information available from the coroner’s autopsy report, trial transcripts, jail records, and more.

The one thing I can tell you for certain is that reading those early newspaper articles sure beats any TV courtroom drama I have ever seen, because, as they say, “This Is Family.”

 

Treasured Discovery: Only-Known Photos of Ancestors Found in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott tells about finding the only-known photos of two of his ancestors in old newspaper wedding announcements—and a surprising engagement notice that told him something he never knew about his own mother!

Summertime! The livin’ is easy and traditionally it is the time for weddings. My bride and I just celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary a short time ago and it got me to thinking about how much I have gained in my family history and genealogy work from searching for engagement notices and wedding announcements in GenealogyBank.com.

Mr. & Mrs. Scott Phillips Wedding Photo 1975

The author’s wedding photo from 1975.

As many of us go about developing and nurturing our family trees, I think you’ll agree that one of the best aspects of that work is discovering photographs of our ancestors. Let me tell you, few places that I have found beat newspaper engagement and wedding stories for personal photos—sometimes the only picture anyone in the family has of a particular ancestor. I have had terrific success in my family tree with these types of articles.

A great example was the newspaper article I recently found when researching my Havlic branch. I discovered the wedding announcement for Eleanor Anna Havlic as reported in the Plain Dealer on 30 September 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. Not only was I thrilled that there was a picture of my ancestor, but it showed some lovely period dress for a 1928 wedding. Additionally, I was treated to the names of parents, spouse, in-laws, addresses of both, the new couple’s home address, bridal party members, wedding date, and the name of their church.

Mrs Louis J Beran Old Marriage Announcement

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 30 September 1928, page 50.

Another nice find for me was the wedding story of another cousin, Margaret Tager, again in the Plain Dealer (27 August 1961) in Cleveland. Once more I was excited to find an old wedding photo that illustrated the current fashion, this time of the early 1960s, plus addresses, parents’ and in-laws’ names, the name of the church where the ceremony was held—and there was even a mention of where both the bride and groom attended college. As an added treat, the newspaper article explained where the couple honeymooned.

Margaret Ann Tager Marriage Announcement

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 August 1961, page 108.

In the case of both of the above family members, the old newspaper articles provided me with the only photos I have of these particular ancestors, which make them all the more important to my work, my family, and our family tree.

Oh, and don’t forget that every so often you just might find one of those “ah-ha” moments we all enjoy so much in genealogy. I had one myself not long ago.

After working on one of my grandparent’s branches I was having some fun searching different family surnames to see what I could find. As I was running my grandmother’s married name lo and behold I found an engagement announcement! I clicked on the article to find…my mother had been engaged one time before becoming engaged to, and then marrying, the man who was to become my father. This was a fact that had not been a topic of discussion in my life ever before.

Thank goodness my mom made the choice she did or I wouldn’t be here writing this today!

That was a close call…and a really fun discovery.

Portuguese American Revolutionary War Hero’s Obituary Discovered

You can learn a lot about the Americans who fought in our country’s wars—from the Colonial Indian Wars down to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq—from GenealogyBank’s online newspaper archives.

Revolutionary War Hero Lives to Be a Centenarian

This old obituary gives us many details of the life of John Peters, a Portuguese American who fought in the Revolutionary War and lived to be over 100 years old. It was published in the Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 1 May 1832, page 2.

John Peters Obituary - Alexandria Gazette Newspaper

Peters was there from the beginning of the troubles with Great Britain.

He was at the Boston Tea Party on 16 December 1773. He then joined the army.

John Peters Obituary - Boston Tea Party - Alexandria Gazette Newspaper

During the American Revolutionary War he fought in the Battle of Lexington and the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Although Peters “lost one of his fingers” in that latter battle, he continued to fight for his new country.

John Peters Obituary - Revolution War Battles - Alexandria Gazette

He was “in the battles of Monmouth and Princeton, and assisted in capturing the Hessians at Trenton.”

The historical obituary of this old Revolutionary war soldier goes on to say “He was engaged in the capturing of Burgoyne and also of Cornwallis; he fought under Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge, where he was again wounded.”

It tells us he was “aged 100 years 5 months and 23 days” when he died on 23 April 1832. That calculates out to give us his birth date:  31 October 1731.

And just where was this centenarian veteran born? The old newspaper obituary tells us that he was born “in Portugal near Lisbon.”

John Peters Obituary - Born in Portugal - Alexandria Gazette Earthquakes That Shook the World in 1755 Remembered

The veteran’s obituary adds the extra detail that he “emigrated [sic] to this country shortly after the earthquake in 1755.”

According to Wikipedia that was the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, “one of the deadliest earthquakes in history” with tens of thousands killed.

There were several powerful earthquakes in 1755. Another one was the Cape Ann earthquake that hit the U.S. 18 days after the Lisbon earthquake, on the northeast coast of Massachusetts.

Young Hannah Clark [Hannah (Clark) Lyman (1743-1842)], then a child of 12, was terrified by the Cape Ann earthquake. Her obituary clearly recorded her terror at living through that earthquake.

Hannah Lyman Obituary - Hampshire Gazette Newspaper

It was published in the Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 21 March 1832, page 3.

“She remembered distinctly the great earthquake of Nov. 18, 1755…It was between 4 and 5 in the morning, and the moon shone brightly. She and the rest of the family were suddenly awaked from sleep by a noise like that of the trampling of many horses; the house trembled and the pewter rattled on the shelves. They all sprang out of bed, and the affrighted children clung to their parents. ‘I cannot help you dear children,’ said the good mother [Martha Phelps Clark, 1717-1803], ‘we must look to God for help.’”

According to Wikipedia this was “the largest earthquake in the history of Massachusetts.” Cape Ann and Boston felt the brunt of the earthquake’s aftermath; however hundreds of homes and buildings throughout the state of Massachusetts were also damaged. Northampton, Massachusetts, is 142 miles from Cape Ann, Massachusetts.

These two powerful earthquakes were so memorable that 77 years later they were mentioned in these 1832 obituaries.

Don’t let the stories of your ancestors’ lives be lost. Use GenealogyBank to find them and document their lives.

Family Search Uncovers Circus Elephant Story

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott speaks of his love of genealogy, and shares some of the family history discoveries he’s made—including the tale of an ancestor, a zookeeper, who was nearly trampled to death by Minnie, the lone elephant at Cleveland’s Brookfield Zoo, in 1915!

Right off the bat I’ll admit it. I’m a genealogy nut! My wife calls my pursuit of family history “our shadow.” My favorite quote is “I used to have a life and then I started doing genealogy.” Plus, I am hoping for another grandchild, simply because I have a myriad of historic family names that I think need to be carried on. I wonder what my chances are for either Lovejoy Cinderella for a granddaughter or Sylvia Marathan for a grandson?

Well, maybe not.

Additionally, it is a matter of great personal satisfaction that I have been able to trace my family roots, with documentation, to the 1500s on my father’s side (Phillipps and Cottle) in Cornwall, United Kingdom; to the early 1600s on my mother’s side (Vicha and Knechtl) in Bohemia, now the Czech Republic; and to the 1700s with my wife’s families (D’Aquila and Casagrande) in the Molise district of Italy. My Cornish and Bohemian immigrant ancestors all happened to find their separate ways to Cleveland, Ohio, between 1852 and 1911. My wife’s ancestors made their way to the Mesabi Iron Range of northern Minnesota.

The “Chase-of-the-Trace”

While the thrill of what I have dubbed the “chase-of-the-trace” is always amazing, I have to admit that, for me, the best part is more often the “little things.” You know, those human interest stories or unexpected items that one discovers pursuing genealogy and/or family histories. Sure there is the rush of excitement when we chip a brick out of a longstanding wall by finding a birth, marriage, or death certificate we’ve long been looking for, but to see the real lives of our ancestors unfold is what gets me truly excited.

A personal goal in my family tree and website (which I keep on the genealogy/social network site MyHeritage.com) is to find, capture, and then weave the threads of the culture, times, and values of our ancestors into what I call the quilt of our family history. For instance, in my family I will be the last person who will have grown up hearing Czech spoken in our home. I don’t want that memory to be lost. Not ever!

Sister Marjorie: the Chase Begins

Recently I got a phone call from a Cleveland cousin. Since I use our genealogy website as our worldwide family social network, she wanted to inform me of the passing of another cousin, Sister Marjorie. In the family we knew Sister Marjorie, before her vows, as Florence Kotrsal, a member of our Knechtl family branch. Cousin Florence had always intrigued me, especially since she was a twin (rare in our family tree) and I had not done any significant amount of work on her. As so often happens, the loss of a family member caused me to be doing something a bit too late.

First, I began learning more about her life as a member of the Order of the Sisters of Holy Humility of Mary where she lived for 73 years in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania. Next, I began to work more on her family members. I knew Florence was the daughter of Dr. Joseph J. Kotrsal (later, as with so many Slavic names in my family, “Americanized” to Kottershall) and Florence Kapl, and that Florence was the twin sister of Josephine. I began to move back in time and soon discovered I was in my favorite element, which is the early Bohemian community of Cleveland, Ohio.

As always, one of my first stops during my family history search was at GenealogyBank.com. I love the site and the coverage in the Cuyahoga County/Cleveland/Northeast, Ohio, area through the Plain Dealer and the Leader is excellent and very deep. Plus, with bated breath, I am awaiting their forthcoming additions of some of the early Cleveland Czech-language newspapers they recently acquired from the Balch Museum in Pennsylvania.

Sister Marjorie’s Father, Dr. Joseph J. Kotrsal (Kottershall)

J.J. Kotershall, Physician, Is Dead, Plain Dealer 11 December 1945

Obituary for Dr. Joseph J. Kotrsal (Kotershall), Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 December 1945, page 6

During my family search my first exciting discovery was that Florence’s father, Dr. Joseph J. Kotrsal, was the same medical doctor whose name I had seen frequently on death certificates and other documents. As I searched farther, I found his obituary, always a terrific find. As I read, I was amazed to see that Dr. Kotrsal was instrumental in bringing the very first x-ray machine to Cleveland, Ohio. Now you might think this would have changed him as a person or his practice, but his obituary states that he continued to focus on providing medical care in the Bohemian community of Cleveland his entire life.

An additional precept in my personal family history work is that I want to be as inclusive as possible, so I study spouses and their families for equal inclusion in my family tree. In this case, I directed my searching to Florence’s maternal grandparents, Joseph F. and Louise Mary (Babicky) Kapl.

Circus Elephant Story

But Never Again! Says Keeper Kapl of Minnie, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 23 March 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 23 March 1915, page 4

The next item I found brought me to a stop. The first “hit” (of 31) in Historical Newspapers on Joseph Kapl, Florence’s grandfather, was a real keeper. Zookeeper that is! Not only was there a full newspaper article on this man, but there was a story, a terrific ink drawing of Joseph (so far the only picture anyone in the family has of him), and the unique story of how he was nearly trampled to death by Minnie, the lone elephant at Cleveland’s Brookfield Zoo, where Joseph happened to be Minnie’s keeper. Very kindly, the newspaper reporter even thought to list Joseph’s home address in the article, which matches spot-on with the 1920 United States Census listing for the Kottershall family.

Between the obituary for Dr. Kottershall and the wonderful circus elephant story with Joseph Kapl these newspaper articles gave me the exact threads I was seeking—ones that allow me to weave a bit of what the real lives of my ancestors were like into the quilt of our family history that I am still laboring over.

Ah, but what a labor of love it is!

Family Prison Reunion—Study Uncovers Jukes’ Crime History

With Mother’s Day just past and Father’s Day approaching, genealogists would love to have a complete family history—to find and document all the members of their family.

And—as the following family story illustrates–so would the police!

Jukes Family Crime Psychology Study

Richard Dugdale (1841-1883) was studying prisoners for the Prison Association of New York. In reviewing the prison inmates at the Ulster County Jail he was surprised to find that 17 of them were members of one family.

He began a genealogical study and found that the Jukes family descended from a man named “Max Jukes,” who was born in New York in the early 1700s. The Jukes family tree grew to 1,500 criminals or other relatives—many of whom had a history of trouble with the law or with society in general.

According to Wikipedia the Jukes family study was picked up by Arthur H. Estabrook who brought that number up to 2,820 criminal relatives.

Read about the Jukes family history of crime here:

How to Find Your Grandfather’s Birth Records Online

Every day we receive questions from our members regarding their family history searches. We are here to help!

Here’s a genealogy question we just received.

GenealogyBank Member Question:

My grandfather Hugh Cornwell was born in Prairie Grove, AR, 4/6/1883. I have been searching for a birth record for the past 20 years with no luck. Any suggestions?

“Ask the Genealogist” Response:

Arkansas vital records do not begin until 1914.

So, while you can possibly obtain a church baptismal certificate, you won’t be able to find a government birth certificate for your grandfather.

I found your grandfather’s California death certificate, which does give his date of birth along with the family surnames of his father and mother. His death certificate is available online on the FamilySearch website at https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VPW3-9Q3.

There is another record for your grandfather in the 1900 census, which also states that he was born in April 1883. His census record is available on FamilySearch.org at https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M9PK-R7K.

Here is a third document with genealogical information about your grandfather: his World War II draft registration card, also showing that he was born on April 6, 1883. You can view your grandfather’s military record at https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/V48Y-54Q.

So, while you cannot get a formal birth certificate—here are three U.S. government documents, created over the past 112 years, that give his date of birth. That should be the evidence you are looking for.

Let’s see how we can help you make progress in your own family history research.

All the best in your genealogy research.

How to Do Genealogical Research: Damon Family Case Study

Sometime during the next few weeks, as we continue to add new content to our online archives, GenealogyBank will reach a milestone: we will have 1 billion more records than the total we launched our website with five years ago. Wow, that’s a lot of additional genealogy records!

I wanted to see what I could find in GenealogyBank with all this added material—so I chose a family at random and set out on a genealogical research investigation.

Researching the Family of Minnie M. Damon

I picked Minnie M. Damon who married James W. Wright on 31 December 1890 in Keene, New Hampshire. With Christmas still in the air and New Year’s Eve approaching, the couple was married by the Rev. C. E. Harrington.

A search in GenealogyBank found their marriage announcement in the New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 7 January 1891, page 8.

wright damon marriage notice new hampshire sentinel newspaper january 7, 1891

New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 7 January 1891, page 8

This marriage announcement is a great genealogical find. It gives terrific details about the wedding.

And—what about those “white silk slippers” the bride wore, the same ones her mother wore when she got married 38 years before? Does someone in the family still have them?

Hmm…they were married “at the home of the bride’s mother.” Why no mention of the father? Had he died? Was there a divorce?

Genealogical Research Find 1: George Damon (Minnie’s Father)

The next step in our genealogical research is to find out even more about Minnie’s dad. Digging deeper into our online archives I found the death notice of the bride’s father. He had died just six months earlier.

george damon death notice new hampshire sentinel june 4 1890

New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 4 June 1890, page 8

George Damon was “aged 68 years 8 months and 27 days” when he died on 2 June 1890.

Next we want to subtract those figures from his death date to see when he was born.

George’s date of birth works out to 6 September 1821.

There is a handy site for calculating these dates: see TimeandDate.com

time and date calculator

Time and date calculator

Genealogical Research Find 2: Lucy Bowker/Damon (Minnie’s Mother)

Digging deeper into our historical newspaper archives I found the marriage record of her parents: George and Lucy (Bowker) Damon.

damon bowker marriage notice weekly eagle newspaper september 20, 1852

Weekly Eagle (Brattleboro, Vermont), 20 September 1852, page 3

Their marriage announcement was published in the Weekly Eagle (Brattleboro, Vermont), 20 September 1852, page 3.

Whoa—hold on: their marriage announcement was published in the Weekly Eagle, a Brattleboro, Vermont, newspaper?

But they lived in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. The newspaper even said that they were “all of” Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.

So, why did a Vermont newspaper publish the announcement of their wedding?

map of fitzwilliam new hampshire

Map of Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire

Because newspaper editors wanted to sell papers, that’s why.

Brattleboro is only 40 miles from Fitzwilliam, and the Weekly Eagle was regularly bought and read by the residents there.

Genealogical Research Find 3: Elijah Bowker (Minnie’s Maternal Grandfather)

And here is a newspaper article about Lucy Bowker’s father, Captain Elijah Bowker, praising his life of service. It was published in the New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 28 June 1877, page 1.

elijah bowker tribute new hampshire sentinel newspaper june 28, 1877

New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 28 June 1877, page 1

What else could I find out about the Damon family in my genealogical research?

Branching Out the Damon Family Tree

I decided to do a broader genealogy search by searching on only the surname (Damon) and their hometown (Fitzwilliam).

screenshot of genealogybank's search form

GenealogyBank search form

Both “Damon” and “Fitzwilliam” are uncommon words. It is likely that all Damons from Fitzwilliam are related, but we need to sort them out to make sure.

This broad genealogy search produced a few hundred surname record results.

That is a reasonable amount of genealogy records to sift through, so I started reading through all of them.

Genealogical Research Find 4: Martha Damon (Minnie’s Aunt)

One death record in particular caught my eye. It was published in the New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 28 April 1826, page 3.

martha damon death notice new hampshire sentinel newspaper april 28, 1826

New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 28 April 1826, page 3

There in the third paragraph: “In Fitzwilliam, an infant daughter [Martha Damon, 1825-1826] of Mr. Geo. Damon.”

This little girl was the aunt of Minnie M. (Damon) Wright—the woman I started my investigation with.

Genealogical Research Find 5: George Damon and Deacon Oliver Damon (Minnie’s Paternal Grandfather and Her Paternal Great-Grandfather)

The “Geo. [George] Damon” named in this death notice was Minnie’s paternal grandfather [George Damon, 1796-1840] and the “Deacon Oliver Damon” [1758-1837] also named was her paternal great-grandfather.

OK. This newspaper obituary was for a two-year-old infant, and it would be easy to assume that such a notice would have minimal genealogical clues. But, I like to read every document.

As it turns out this obituary gives us lots of critical genealogical information:

“Deacon Oliver Damon and wife have lived in Fitzwilliam 42 years, and this [is] the first instance of mortality that has occurred in his family or among his descendants, (25 in all) during that time. Printers for Massachusetts are requested to notice this death.”

As of 1826, there were 25 descendants of the family in that area and none of them had died over the previous 42 years.

Digging deeper into GenealogyBank’s online archives I found more details in Deacon Oliver Damon’s obituary, published by the New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 9 November 1837, page 3.

oliver damon obituary new hampshire sentinel newspaper november 9, 1837

New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 9 November 1837, page 3

He was a Deacon of the Congregational Church, and he fought in the Revolutionary War. Clearly there is more genealogical research that we can do on this family.

Do you remember seeing in these obituaries the phrase “Printers in Mass. are requested to notice this death”? This note from the newspaper’s editors gives a strong indication that the Damon family has a family connection to Massachusetts.

So, the next steps in our genealogical investigation are to sort through all of the “Damon” references in and around Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, and extend that search out to Massachusetts.

Damon?

The only “Damon” I ever heard of is the actor, Matt Damon.

I wonder if Minnie M. (Damon) Wright and Matt Damon are actually related.

Tracing the Damon family tree: to be continued…

Henry ‘Hank’ Aaron: Baseball Superstar, Humanitarian—& Gentleman

As regular readers of this blog know, GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives are a great resource to research your family history and fill in details on your family tree. These newspapers are also a terrific window into the past, letting us learn more about important people and events in our nation’s history.

For example, let’s see what these old newspapers have to tell us about one of the outstanding athletes in American history: Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron, the superstar who played baseball in Milwaukee and Atlanta for 23 seasons, from 1954 to 1976. Aaron is famous as the baseball player who broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record of 714—and, as expected, there is plenty of newspaper coverage of his historic home run and other baseball exploits.

The newspapers also tell us much more about his life than this: in addition to being a rare and gifted American athlete, Henry ‘Hank’ Aaron was a humanitarian—and a true gentleman.

The sports media and baseball fans were whipped into a frenzy as Hank Aaron approached Babe Ruth’s magical number in the 1973 Major League baseball season. Although 39 years old that summer (an age when most baseball players have retired) Hank Aaron was on target, hitting 40 home runs…but ended the year with 713 home runs, still short of the goal of 715. He had to wait all winter for another opportunity to break baseball’s home run record the next spring.

When the 1974 season began, Aaron wasted no time. He hit the record-tying 714th home run on his first at-bat that year, in Cincinnati. On April 8 the Atlanta Braves returned to Atlanta for their home opener, and 53,775 wildly cheering fans attended the game hoping Aaron would get the record that night. Hammerin’ Hank did not let the crowd down, hitting home run number 715 in the fourth inning. He received a thunderous standing ovation from the Braves’ baseball fans while fireworks lit up the sky above the stadium.

Hank Aaron hammers historic 715 homerun

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 9 April 1974, page 1.

In addition to details of the baseball game itself and Aaron’s record 715th home run, the newspaper article provides this detail:

Aaron broke away from his mates and rushed to a special box adjacent to the Atlanta dugout where he clutched his wife, Billye, and parents, Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Aaron, of Mobile, Ala.

“I never knew she could hug so tight,” Aaron said of his mother.

The following newspaper article tells us something about the character of Hank Aaron. Although he was one of the greatest American baseball players ever, he kept his ego in check; Aaron was widely recognized as a good teammate and a quiet, respectful man—a true gentleman.

Hank Aaron kept his word on the 715th homerun

Wichita Times (Wichita, Kansas), 2 May 1974, page 5, (African American Newspapers).

As this newspaper article relates, Hank Aaron was sensitive to the disruption his teammates had to endure while the press thronged around him night after night in 1973-74 covering his chase of the home run record. When it was finally over and the champagne celebration in the Atlanta locker room after the game was ready, Aaron thought immediately of his teammates:

The Braves had opened the champagne and were ready to pour, but Hank Aaron had something he wanted to say first to all his teammates.

“Thank you for being patient,” he said, his sincerity moving them. “Thank you for putting up with all that you have—the newspapermen, the photographers and all the other distractions. I know how difficult it was sometimes, and I appreciate the patience you’ve shown.”

Hank Aaron doesn’t make many speeches. Everybody in the room knew he meant this one.

Away from the spotlight and the glare of media publicity, Aaron had another career: he was a great humanitarian. He devoted countless hours to helping others, especially children, as shown in the following newspaper article.

Hank Aaron Goes to Bat for Easter Seals

Milwaukee Star (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 9 August 1973, page 8, (African American Newspapers).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newspaper archives provide all sorts of surprising stories about the life of the person we’re researching. How many people know that Henry Aaron was once a mayor?

All Black Alabama Town Makes Hank Aaron Mayor

Wichita Times (Wichita, Kansas), 13 March 1975, page 1, (African American Newspapers).

Hank Aaron was born in Alabama, and in 1975 he was:

…sworn in as honorary mayor of Hobson City during ceremonies in which 75-year-old northeast Alabama all-black town dedicates new Town Hall.

There was a dark side to Hank Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record—and the newspapers covered that as well: racism raised its ugly head. Throughout the 1973 Major League baseball season, during the offseason, and again in 1974, Aaron received hate letters mixed in with the supportive letters that were pouring into the Atlanta Braves’ mailbox. Some even sent him death threats.

What pursuit of baseball homerun record has meant for Hank Aaron: People listen

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 9 April 1974, page 11.

In the above very revealing newspaper article, Hank Aaron opens up about the threats he’d been facing:

Aaron’s hero off the field is Dr. Martin Luther King. “He could walk with kings and talk with presidents,” said Aaron. “He wasn’t for lootings and bombings and fights but he wasn’t afraid of violence, either. He was 20 years ahead of his times.”

King’s death by assassination cannot, of course, be forgotten by Aaron. Sometimes Aaron wonders about that, too. He says that among the hundreds of letters he receives weekly, many are threats on his life.

“But I can’t think about that,” he says. “If I’m a target, then I’m a target. I can only worry about doing my job, and doing it good.”

This same newspaper article says of Aaron:

He has recently become identified with black causes. For example, he is now a close personal friend of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a leading young black spokesman. Aaron, in winter, now is the organizer of a celebrity bowling tournament in Atlanta with proceeds going to research on sickle cell anemia, a disease that afflicts black people.

And this:

Aaron is also outspoken on the progress, or lack of it, for blacks in baseball. He says that blacks are stagnating. “Whatever so-called progress there is—like blacks staying in the same hotels with the white players—this came about from civil rights legislation, not from any leveling action by baseball,” says Aaron.

“Why aren’t there even no black managers? Why aren’t there even no black third base coaches? There are token first base coaches—a few. But what does a first base coach do? He has no duties. No responsibilities. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. He’s not expected to have any intelligence.”

Aaron still feels some of the clichés of being black. He remembers that once blacks were considered “too gutless” to be able to take the pressures of day-in, day-out major league baseball.

“Jackie Robinson changed a lot of those beliefs,” says Aaron. “His courage and intelligence showed what the black man could be made of.

Hank Aaron’s stance on black rights is explored further in the following newspaper article.

Hank Aaron: Baseball Still Not Doing Enough To Give Equal Opportunities To Minorities

USA Monitor (Fort Worth, Texas), 1 March 1993, page 17, (African American Newspapers).

As you can see, newspaper archives are filled with stories you may never have heard before. You can discover little known facts, view pictures and learn more about the personal lives of famous people and your family members with newspapers.  Have fun searching our newspaper archives for details about celebrities and your own ancestors—you never know what you might find!