Congress Passed the Amendment for Women’s Equal Rights in 1972

On 22 March 1972, 50 years of hard work by women’s rights activists finally paid off when Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). As soon as 38 states ratified the amendment within the next seven years, the U.S. Constitution would be amended with this statement:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

graphic showing the text of the Equal Rights Amendment: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

However, only 35 states ratified the ERA by the original deadline of 22 March 1979 (the deadline was later controversially extended to 30 June 1982, with no further state ratifications), and the victory that had seemed so close to the women’s liberation movement was once again denied. The ERA has been reintroduced in every congressional session since 1982, but has never again received enough votes for passage.

When the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified on 18 August 1920 granting women the right to vote, some thought the women’s liberation movement was over because it had achieved its main goal. However, voting rights were only one form of equality, and women’s rights advocates pressed for full equality before the law. Suffragist Alice Paul wrote the first ERA: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction,” and it was introduced in Congress in 1923.

Showing the perseverance of women’s rights advocates and their supporters, the ERA was introduced into every congressional session from 1923 until 1970, when the version was introduced that Congress finally passed in 1972 – by wide margins in both Houses.

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The following five newspaper articles are about the (what seemed to be) historic congressional action in passing the ERA. Some of the old articles are news reports of the congressional action, some record people’s reactions, and others are editorials either supporting or condemning the ERA. By providing details of some of the congressional debates and divisions over the ERA – as well as the public’s reaction – these articles give indications of why the amendment ultimately was never ratified.

This article reports the amendment’s passage.

Senate Passes Women's Rights Measure, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 23 March 1972

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 23 March 1972, page 1

According to this newspaper article:

“The National Women’s Political Caucus viewed the passage of the ERA as a major victory.

“The significance of women as a new and powerful political force is demonstrated by the overwhelming margin of passage of the ERA,’ said Rep. Bella Abzug, D-N.Y., co-chairwoman of the caucus.

“The caucus is now urging women in all states to maintain the momentum by pressuring for ratification in their state legislatures.

“‘Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do,’ said Sen. Sam Ervin, D-N.C., in concluding his unsuccessful fight for a host of amendments. This brought a hiss from around the gallery which was dominated by women three to one.

…“Ervin, who led the opposition alone through three days of debate, said the amendment will create chaos in the nation’s legal system.

“But the proponents said this simple language of the amendment means equal legal treatment of men as well as women: ‘Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.’

“Ervin contended all laws requiring a father to support his legitimate or illegitimate children would be stricken from the books.

“But the amendment’s floor manager Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., said: ‘Most fathers have the primary responsibility of supporting their children not because they are fathers, not because they are men, but because they are the primary source of their family’s income.’

“Ervin said the amendment means the end of laws guaranteeing separate restrooms. Bayh said there are ample constitutional safeguards for this sort of privacy.

“Ervin saw the amendment as a blow to states’ rights. ‘State legislatures will be meaningless zeroes on the map of the nation,’ he said.

“Sen. Marlow Cook, R-Ky., said: ‘I was not aware states maintained their power by legislating discriminating laws against women.’”

This historical news article reports the defeat of an amendment to the ERA by Sen. Sam Ervin, D-N.C., that would have exempted women from the draft.

Senate Votes Draft in Women's Rights, Mobile Register newspaper article 22 March 1972

Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama), 22 March 1972, page 25

According to this news article:

“‘I believe if women want equal rights they should have them all the way,’ said Sen. Charles Percy, R-Ill.

“In effect, senators declined the advice of the Armed Services Committee chairman, Sen. John Stennis, D-Miss., who said the women’s rights amendment would create ‘great doubt, chaos and confusion’ with the draft and in the military.

“Sen. Sam Ervin, D-N.C., proposed the draft exemption as an amendment to the women’s rights measure. But he urged his colleagues to vote against it ‘if they believe in their heart that women should be drafted and sent into combat where they will be slaughtered and maimed by the bayonets, bombs, bullets, grenades, napalm and poison gas of the enemy.’

“Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., manager of the amendment, did not deny women might see combat duty.

“‘If the country needs them I see no alternative but to require their services,’ he said, and they ‘will answer the call.’

“However, Bayh said, women would be eligible for all service benefits and be assigned as commanders see fit, just as men.

“Mothers could be exempted by federal law if the amendment passed, Bayh continued. And in any event the number of women drafted and assigned to combat duty, if the draft continued, ‘would be significantly less than one per cent,’ he said.

“This would be because some of them could not pass required physical tests such as doing push-ups.”

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This editorial from an Ohio newspaper supports the ERA and urges immediate passage by the state legislature.

editorial about Ohio passing the Equal Rights Amendment, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 March 1972

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 March 1972, page 40

This editorial states:

“Clearly, the equal rights amendment’s day has come.

“In many states there still are, in 1972, legal restrictions on women buying or selling property or conducting businesses.

“There still are laws setting different ages at which men and women attain legal majority or become eligible for retirement. Some states still have different jail sentences on the books for men and women convicted of identical crimes.

“Work laws and unemployment compensation requirements still treat pregnancy differently from other temporary physical disabilities. Alimony and child-custody laws are notoriously discriminatory.

…“It would be well for Ohio’s image and prestige if the state legislature acts immediately to ratify the prospective 27th Amendment.”

This editorial from an Alabama newspaper opposes the ERA.

editorial opposing the Equal Rights Amendment, Mobile Register newspaper article 23 March 1972

Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama), 23 March 1972, page 4

This editorial states:

“Were the ‘Women’s Rights’ scheme made part of the federal Constitution, it would deprive women of exemption from military service, of safeguards (dearly won over the past two centuries) against bad conditions and hours of labor, and of benefits at law they now enjoy as mothers, wives, and widows. This is liberation?

“Senator Ervin endeavored in committee to substitute a proposal that would have prevented this eroding of women’s real present rights, and would have recognized physiological and functional differences between the male and female. He was beaten down by his timid or demagogic colleagues, who feared retaliation by the Women’s Liberation zealots.”

This article reports the opinions of women in Portland, Oregon, who opposed the ERA.

Women Voice Concern over (Equal Rights Amendment) Passage, Oregonian newspaper article 23 March 1972

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 23 March 1972, page 64

According to this historical newspaper article:

“Washington—The Senate vote Wednesday on an equal rights amendment for women sparked a flurry of long distance telephone calls from the Portland area to Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore.

“The calls came from women who voiced strong concern with the amendment’s effect on moral values.

“Hatfield staff members said the approximately 30 calls they received was the greatest number on a single issue since the vote on the supersonic transport.

…“‘They were mostly worried the amendment will destroy family life and would force women into a role they didn’t want,’ said Lyn Jenks, who fielded the calls for Hatfield.”

Historical newspapers are not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors – they also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers. Did any of your ancestors get involved in the fight – for or against – the ERA? Please share your stories with us in the comments.

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Libby Riddles: First Woman to Win Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

Alaska’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a grueling test of endurance for both humans and dogs, as competitors follow a trail more than 1,100 miles long through forests, over mountains and across frozen rivers. The sled drivers and dog teams are often caught in fierce blizzards that cause white-out conditions and can bring a wind-chill factor of 100 degrees below zero! Begun in 1973, the first 12 Iditarod races were won by men – but that all changed in the 13th race.

On 20 March 1985, Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the Iditarod. A 28-year-old musher and dog breeder, Riddles had run the Iditarod twice before, finishing 18th in 1980 and 20th in 1981. Her historic dog sledding victory in 1985 was the result of a daring and very dangerous gamble she took: when a tremendous blizzard struck the race, forcing the other drivers to hole up and wait for the storm’s passing, Riddles kept going. She and her dogs could have frozen to death, but they persevered—and the bold move gained her enough of a lead to assure her victory.

article about Libby Riddles becoming the first woman to win Alaska’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Oregonian newspaper article 21 March 1985

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 21 March 1985, page 1

After fighting through the blizzard and all 1,100 miles of the frozen race, Riddles and her dogs deserved a reward. According to this old newspaper article:

For her victory, Riddles earns a record prize of $50,000. The next 19 mushers will split the rest of the record $200,000 purse.

Asked what she planned to do with her winnings, Riddles said: “Maybe Hawaii. And a box of dog biscuits for each of the dogs.”

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This editorial praises Riddles for being the first female to triumph over the males – but it makes a sly point.

editorial about Libby Riddles becoming the first woman to win Alaska’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Oregonian newspaper article 24 March 1985

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 24 March 1985, page 108

Newspapers are not only a great way to find your ancestors’ vital statistics – they are a tremendous resource for discovering the stories of their lives as well. Dig into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and find your ancestors’ stories. Start your 30-day trial now!

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Native American Newspapers for Genealogy Research

When births, marriages and deaths occur, Native American families make sure that they are written up and documented in their local newspapers. Family and tribal historians want to data mine GenealogyBank’s entire Historical Newspaper Archives looking for these events by searching on the names of the individuals – but also by searching on the tribal affiliations of the persons involved.

montage of newspaper articles about Native Americans

Genealogy Tip: Search for your Native American ancestors using not only individual names, but also the names of their tribal affiliations to locate all articles about your family.

As part of its online collection of deep back runs digitized from more than 7,000 different newspapers spanning 1690 to today, GenealogyBank has a specific collection of Native American newspapers, fantastic for researching Indian roots from several tribes, from all around the country.

Currently, our Native American newspaper titles include:

Genealogy Tip: Make sure to begin searching for your Native American ancestors with a wide search of our entire archives, then narrow down to specific locations and newspapers – including our collection of Native American newspapers – to increase your chances of success.

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Where in Ireland Are Your Irish Ancestors From? Search Newspapers

Newspapers recorded every day of our ancestors’ lives – and that is a good thing for genealogists.

Time and time again old documents, from death certificates to the census, simply state that someone like John Clifford was born “in Ireland” – and never tell us where in Ireland. Often it is newspapers that are critical to our finding the name of the community or the county in Ireland where our Irish immigrant ancestors were born.

For example, this old 1800s obituary for John Clifford tells us where in Ireland he was from.

obituary for John Clifford, New York Herald newspaper article 4 November 1880

New York Herald (New York City, New York), 4 November 1880, page 8

Thanks to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, we know that he was born in Killeshandra, County Cavan, Ireland.

Government and other official passenger lists routinely list that the waves of Irish immigrants were born in “Ireland” without any further details – but it is in newspapers that we can find two other key facts (origin and destination) that were not recorded in the passenger lists genealogists are familiar with.

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I am just amazed every time I read these Irish American passenger lists in online newspapers and see that they tell me where these new arrivals had lived in Ireland, and where they were going to live in America.

How in the world did the editors of New York City’s Irish American newspapers find the time to interview and document the incoming Irish immigrants, and keep doing it for over a century?

Irish immigrants passenger list, Irish Nation newspaper article 27 May 1882

Irish Nation (New York City, New York), 27 May 1882, page 8

Irish American newspapers were diligent about reporting the great migration of Irish immigrants to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Newspapers like the Irish Nation and Irish World regularly published lists of Irish passengers that came over on the passenger ships each week.
These published ship passenger lists did not include every Irish immigrant – but for the tens of thousands that were interviewed and documented by the newspapers, these lists give us the critical place of origin and where they were heading after their arrival in America, valuable information that is just not found in any other genealogical source.

One of my colleagues, Duncan Kuehn, closely compared some of the passenger lists published in newspapers to the corresponding federal passenger lists. She found that for the passengers interviewed and listed by the newspapers, their names were often more complete – and often, additional names of accompanying family members were given in the newspaper account that did not appear in the federal lists.

It would be even better if the newspapers had interviewed every single passenger, but we’re grateful for the excellent job they did on the ones that were documented.

Genealogists must use these newspaper passenger lists to learn more about their ancestors’ stories.

Start searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and begin documenting and recording your family history. If you have Irish ancestry, try searching our special Irish American newspaper archives first.

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Free Guide for Irish Genealogy to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

Got Irish roots? Since March is Irish American Heritage Month and we are celebrating St. Patrick’s Day today, everyone is feeling a wee bit Irish this time of year. For Irish Americans, however, that sentiment is year-round, as feeling connected to Ireland is part of their family history.

photo of a pasture near Ballyieragh, County Cork, Ireland

Photo: pasture near Ballyieragh, County Cork, Ireland. Credit: Pam Brophy; Wikimedia Commons.

Have you been tracing your Irish genealogy, looking for good research sources for Irish genealogy records? If so, here is a free research guide to help you discover and document your Ireland genealogy.

Simply click the link below to download your PDF.

Free Irish Genealogy Research Guide

Irish Genealogy Brick Wall

The brick wall that most Irish American genealogists hit is: trying to figure out where in Ireland your Irish immigrants came from. There are a lot of free Irish genealogy records available online, but first you need to know where in Ireland to concentrate – and that exact location is often hard to discover. Most U.S. census records, for example, only state that someone was from “Ireland” without specifying exactly where.

This free Irish Genealogy research guide will help you.

Irish American Newspapers

For one thing, it offers links to online Irish American newspapers, which published birth notices, marriage announcements, and obituaries that often give exact Irish locations. These newspapers also published Irish vital statistics years before official civil registration began in Ireland in 1864.

Ireland Civil Registration Records

The guide also provides links to these online collections of Irish vital statistics:

  • Irish Birth & Baptismal Records 1620-1881 (Church & Government)
  • Irish Marriage Records 1619-1898 (Church & Government)
  • Irish Death Records 1864-1870 (Church & Government)
  • Records from the General Record Office in the Republic of Ireland
  • Records from the General Record Office in Northern Ireland

Additional Resources for Irish Genealogy

In addition, the guide has links to these genealogy records:

  • U.S. Federal Census 1790-1940
  • U.S. State Census Records
  • 1901 & 1911 Irish Census Records
  • Tithe Applotment Books from Ireland
  • Griffith’s Valuation and the Ordnance Survey Maps

So download your free copy of the Guide to Research Sources for Irish Genealogy Records today and get a big boost for your Irish family history research! Just click the link below to start your PDF download:

Free Guide for Irish Genealogy Research >>

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Maine Archives: 48 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Yesterday Maine celebrated the 195th anniversary of its statehood – it was admitted into the Union on 15 March 1820 as the 23rd state. Originally part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Maine is the largest of the six New England states – but is only the 39th largest state in the country, and the 41st most populous.

photo of the coast of Maine near Acadia National Park

Photo: the coast of Maine near Acadia National Park. Credit: Someone35; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your family roots in Maine, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online ME newspaper archives: 48 titles to help you search your family history in “The Pine Tree State,” providing news coverage, family stories and vital statistics from 1785 to Today. There are currently more than 2 million newspaper articles and records in our online Maine archives!

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

Search Maine Newspaper Archives (1785 – 1950)

Search Maine Recent Obituaries (1992 – Current)

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

City Title Date Range* Collection
Augusta Age 1/6/1832 – 8/29/1861 Newspaper Archives
Augusta Kennebec Gazette 9/11/1801 – 7/31/1805 Newspaper Archives
Augusta Herald of Liberty 2/13/1810 – 9/2/1815 Newspaper Archives
Augusta Kennebec Journal / Kennebec Journal Sunday 11/14/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bangor Bangor Weekly Register 11/25/1815 – 6/21/1831 Newspaper Archives
Bangor Bangor Daily News 12/14/1992 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bath Maine Gazette 12/8/1820 – 12/29/1820 Newspaper Archives
Belfast Waldo Patriot 12/30/1837 – 12/21/1838 Newspaper Archives
Belfast Hancock Gazette 7/6/1820 – 12/28/1820 Newspaper Archives
Biddeford Justice de Biddeford 5/14/1896 – 3/2/1950 Newspaper Archives
Brunswick Maine Intelligencer 9/23/1820 – 12/29/1820 Newspaper Archives
Bucksport Gazette of Maine Hancock Advertiser 7/25/1805 – 4/10/1812 Newspaper Archives
Castine Eagle 11/14/1809 – 3/19/1812 Newspaper Archives
Eastport Eastport Sentinel 8/31/1818 – 8/15/1832 Newspaper Archives
Falmouth Falmouth Gazette and Weekly Advertiser 1/1/1785 – 3/30/1786 Newspaper Archives
Hallowell American Advocate 8/23/1809 – 1/28/1835 Newspaper Archives
Hallowell Maine Cultivator and Hallowell Gazette 10/4/1839 – 3/10/1870 Newspaper Archives
Hallowell Hallowell Gazette 2/23/1814 – 12/26/1827 Newspaper Archives
Hallowell Kennebec Gazette 11/14/1800 – 8/28/1801 Newspaper Archives
Kennebunk Weekly Visiter 6/24/1809 – 6/30/1821 Newspaper Archives
Kennebunk Annals of the Times 1/13/1803 – 1/3/1805 Newspaper Archives
Kennebunk Eagle of Maine 7/1/1802 – 9/30/1802 Newspaper Archives
Lewiston Sun-Journal 1/29/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Madawaska St. John Valley Times 8/6/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Paris Jeffersonian 7/11/1827 – 6/14/1831 Newspaper Archives
Portland Eastern Argus 9/8/1803 – 12/30/1880 Newspaper Archives
Portland Portland Daily Press 9/3/1870 – 3/9/1882 Newspaper Archives
Portland Portland Advertiser 1/3/1824 – 1/30/1864 Newspaper Archives
Portland Daily Eastern Argus 1/1/1863 – 3/17/1888 Newspaper Archives
Portland Gazette 4/16/1798 – 12/30/1828 Newspaper Archives
Portland Portland Daily Advertiser 8/13/1840 – 8/23/1898 Newspaper Archives
Portland Eastern Herald 1/2/1792 – 12/27/1802 Newspaper Archives
Portland Cumberland Gazette 7/20/1786 – 12/26/1791 Newspaper Archives
Portland Freeman’s Friend 9/19/1807 – 6/9/1810 Newspaper Archives
Portland Oriental Trumpet 12/15/1796 – 11/5/1800 Newspaper Archives
Portland Independent Statesman 7/14/1821 – 5/6/1825 Newspaper Archives
Portland Jeffersonian 2/24/1834 – 7/25/1836 Newspaper Archives
Portland Herald of Gospel Liberty 4/27/1810 – 6/21/1811 Newspaper Archives
Portland Maine Sunday Telegram 3/6/1994 – Current Recent Obituaries
Portland Portland Press Herald 3/1/1994 – Current Recent Obituaries
Saco Freeman’s Friend 8/21/1805 – 8/15/1807 Newspaper Archives
Sanford Justice de Sanford 2/26/1925 – 12/27/1928 Newspaper Archives
Sanford Sanford News 1/21/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Waterville Morning Sentinel / Sunday Sentinel 11/14/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wiscasset Lincoln Intelligencer 11/1/1821 – 10/24/1822 Newspaper Archives
Wiscasset Wiscasset Telegraph 12/10/1796 – 3/9/1799 Newspaper Archives
Wiscasset Lincoln Telegraph 2/15/1821 – 10/18/1821 Newspaper Archives
Wiscasset Wiscasset Argus 12/30/1797 – 1/13/1798 Newspaper Archives

*Date Ranges may have selected coverage unavailable.

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

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Irish Ramsey Family – Descendants of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II?

In 1922 Irish American Ramsey descendants from all over the northeast gathered for a family reunion in Flemington, New Jersey.

Ramsey Family in Annual Gathering, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 13 August 1922

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 13 August 1922, page 2

According to this newspaper article:

The reunion was the largest the family has yet held.

The attendees must have been stunned to learn, during a family history presentation given at the reunion, that their Ramsey family originated with the Egyptian pharaohs named Ramesses. Apparently their family historian thought that they were related because the pharaoh’s name, Ramesses, sounds like Ramsey.

Wow – I thought I’d heard of everything.

photo of a statue of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II

Photo: statue of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II. Source: Wikipedia.

Just as Irish American genealogists quickly learn that not all Kellys are related and not all Moriartys are related, so too, it is not likely that the Ramsey family is related to Ramesses II – but…

There is a way to learn about who your ancestors and relatives are. Start digging in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and begin documenting and recording your family history. If you have Irish ancestry, try searching our special Irish American newspaper archives first.

If the Luck of the Irish is with you, you just might be descended from the pharaohs.

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Ghost Stories & Séances: History and True Life Paranormal Events

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary searches old newspapers for stories about ghosts, séances and psychics – and tells two related stories from her own family’s history.

Starting in the Victorian Era, séances, psychics and spiritualists seemed to be everywhere, as more and more people believed they could talk to – or receive messages from – the spirit world, and thereby communicate with their departed spouse or child.

photo of a séance conducted by John Beattie, Bristol, England, 1872, from the Eugène Rochas Papers held at the American Philosophical Society Library

Photo: séance conducted by John Beattie, Bristol, England, 1872, from the Eugène Rochas Papers held at the American Philosophical Society Library. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The interest in séances and ghosts carried over into the early 20th century. This 1916 newspaper article reports there will be an “independent message séance” at the First Independent Spiritual Church, and another “message séance” at the home of Mrs. Jennie Cook – “held under the auspices of the Ladies’ Auxiliary.”

article about séances, Miami Herald newspaper article 23 July 1916

Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 23 July 1916, section 2, page 12

Reactions to séances have been mixed throughout history. Some who turned to spiritual psychic mediums were true believers; others went out of curiosity or on a lark. And then there were the doubters who went to great lengths to debunk what they considered outrageous fraud.

Perhaps your ancestors were among those who attended séances; I know mine were – but whatever their reasons, marvelous reports of séances and ghosts filter through historical newspapers!

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Genuine Manifestation Award

In 1937, a $10,000 reward was put up by “medium exposer” Joseph Dunninger for anyone who could provide a “genuine manifestation” – a contact with the spirit world. Spirit Medium Stanley K. Werner struggled and strained to produce a message from the ghost of deceased magician Howard Thurston, but failed. His wife had no better success.

photo of a séance, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 22 July 1937

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 22 July 1937, page 8

Mrs. Huntoon’s Ruse

This historical newspaper article from 1898 reports that Mrs. Huntoon, a well-known spiritualist, put on quite a show. For 50¢, her customers got to see spirits move, tin cans rattling and hands jingling bells from behind a curtain. Sometimes messages from the other side were received. One man heard from his dear departed wife, who wrote on a piece of paper: “My darling husband.” Mrs. Huntoon’s séances were elaborate ruses which many fell victim to.

article about a séance, Argus and Patriot newspaper article 19 January 1898

Argus and Patriot (Montpelier, Vermont), 19 January 1898, page 2

The journalist apparently agreed. He examined the written messages and reported that “the writing was a horrible hieroglyphic and all strangely alike.” The end of the old news article reports:

One of the men attending the séance said that Mrs. Huntoon was not so good now as she used to be.

Got It Wrong

The story from this next newspaper article has a humorous twist. At this séance in 1909, one of the participants asked the medium about his “very good friend who did all our work,” and who had departed several years earlier. He left out the part about this “friend” being in reality an old horse. The spiritualist “made a few mysterious motions and rapped on the table,” then reported good news: “Your friend is still in the west of Ireland and is married to a rich woman!”

article about a séance, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 26 December 1909

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 26 December 1909, page 3

My Family’s Ghost Stories

Now before we end, I have to tell you about two true life ghost stories in my family’s history.

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The first has to do with a condemned government building in Indianapolis, Indiana. The locals believed it was haunted, so they tore it down.

As far as I know, my ancestor, David Macy of Indianapolis, didn’t believe in ghosts. He did, however, recognize a bargain when he saw it. The story is that he purchased the demolished building’s materials and used them to build his own home. Apparently, the ghosts didn’t follow the haunted lumber to his new house. You can see from this photo that Mary Ann (Patterson) Macy and her granddaughter were not a bit afraid to enjoy their front porch!

photo of Mary Ann (Patterson) Macy and her granddaughter

Photo: Mary Ann (Patterson) Macy and her granddaughter. Credit: from the personal collection of Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

The second family ghost story has to do with my Scott ancestors who lived in Saratoga, New York.

Their son was often sent by his mother Sophronia to deliver items to a neighbor named Sally Wheeler. Sally had a reputation for being a stern, old woman who lived with a servant. Once she told Sophronia that if anything ever happened to her, she should look in the clock to find money hidden there.

Well, eventually Sally Wheeler did pass away – but when the clock was examined, the money was gone. Afterward, Sophronia visited the estate’s lawyer and asked him about the money in the clock. The family story is that he became white as a ghost and shortly thereafter committed suicide.

Many years later, my grandmother wrote a letter about this. She reported that the story had virtually been forgotten until she and her parents went to a séance. At the end, the medium turned to my great grandfather and told him that she could see him as a frightened little boy outside the door of an old woman’s house. He knocked, the door opened, and the old woman took the items he was delivering to her. Believe it or not, but that is what my grandmother reported!

Now, as every good genealogist knows, you need to check the provenance of the ghost story.

Were these people real?

Yes, A. H. and Sophronia Scott are recorded living in dwelling house #188 on the 1860 U.S. Federal Census for Greenfield, Saratoga, New York. Eight family members were in the household. He was a farmer, as were two of his sons, including the one from the story.

Sarah “Sally” Wheeler was also real. She was age 52 and living in household #185 with her sister Syrissa Wheeler, age 57. With them were three men engaged in farming, or farm laborers. The sisters each owned $3,000 in real estate and $500 in personal property. Interestingly, Sarah and Syrissa Wheeler are buried in the Scott cemetery, although my Scotts are buried in Bailey Cemetery. (The links will direct you to the Wheeler memorials at Findagrave.)

Was the money ever found?

No, but the clock is real. It was given to my ancestor and is still owned by a family member. We all call this heirloom the Sally Wheeler clock.

Was there an estate lawyer who committed suicide?

There probably was a lawyer in Greenfield, but I have no idea who he was. If a kind reader can locate a corresponding death notice from 1894 or 1895 from the Greenfield area, please let me know.

If you have any séance or ghost stories to share, please send them along!

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Why I Subscribe to GenealogyBank: Family Stories

I am a subscriber to GenealogyBank and use it all the time because it has the stories of my family – millions of stories I can’t find anywhere else.

I want to find these stories and make sure they are preserved and passed down in the family. I want them remembered.

I have been working on my family history for more than 50 years – and yes – I have found my ancestors’ names, dates of birth, and places of death. That’s fundamental – core to compiling an accurate family history.

But GenealogyBank gives me much more.
It gives me the chance to find my ancestors’ stories: big ones, little ones – all kinds of stories that bring their lives to life.

montage of newspaper articles about family events

For example, I didn’t know that my Grandmother had worked as a bookkeeper in another state; that my Dad got married dressed in his World War II uniform (he was back from Europe, but hadn’t been discharged yet); or that my 2nd Great-Grandfather was expelled from the Methodist Church for praying too loudly.

I first thought that my family stories just wouldn’t be written up in a newspaper. I come from a long line of nobodies. But – after looking in GenealogyBank, I found out that I was wrong. I learned that newspapers wrote about regular people all the time – your ancestors and my ancestors.

I make it a point now to research every person in my family tree by searching old newspapers.
Do I find all of them?

No.
But – I am finding hundreds of articles: news stories that add color to the fabric of their lives.

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I have surnames in my family for which I have found that nearly “everyone” with that surname is related to me. Names like Garcelon, Fernald and Rutledge. Knowing that, I pull every newspaper article and look to see how the person connects to my family.

I want to document and pass down our family history.
I want to get to know my ancestors and relatives – not just their basic facts (their name, rank and serial number, so to speak) – but the stories of their lives.

That personal life information is pure gold – and it is only found in newspapers.
GenealogyBank is the essential tool in every genealogist’s arsenal.

Make full use of the historical archives.
Find your family’s stories – document them and pass them down.

GenealogyBank can help you learn more about the members of your family tree; see what’s inside the online archives on your ancestors’ stories. Start your 30-day trial now!

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The Bible: It Just Might Save Your Life – Literally

The Word of God has been known to save the lives of many on a daily basis.

And then there is John Brotherton, 1729-1809 (MD4H-4T5). The Bible saved his life – literally.

In the mid-1700s Brotherton was in fierce hand-to-hand combat when a bayonet pierced through his belt, several layers of clothing, and 52 pages of his pocket Bible. That Bible slowed down the bayonet and saved his life.

obituary for John Brotherton, Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 22 November 1809

Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 22 November 1809, page 3

obituary for John Brotherton, Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 22 November 1809

Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 22 November 1809, page 3

According to Brotherton’s obituary in the Hampshire Gazette, when he left “his native cottage” to join the British Army, he “took with him a small Bible, determining to make it the companion of his marches.” Faith made Brotherton a better man. His family was deeply religious and John himself was described as a man of “boldness and intrepidity” with a demeanor that was “gentle” and “without offense,” setting him apart from his fellow soldiers.

John Brotherton served with his regiment during the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763). (In America this is called the French & Indian War.) While we don’t know the specific battle when that pocket Bible saved his life, John’s newspaper obituary tells us that he fought in Germany against the French at the Battle of Minden in 1759.

Painting: Battle of Minden, 1759, by Richard Caton Woodville (1825-1855)

Illustration: Battle of Minden, 1759 – by Richard Caton Woodville (1825-1855). Source: Wikipedia Commons.

This battle illustration gives us a good idea of the fierce, hand-to-hand fighting that John Brotherton experienced during the Seven Years’ War.

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Brotherton served in the military faithfully, returned home, and lived to be 80 years old.

Thanks to GenealogyBank, John’s gripping war survival story is passed on to us today.

According to his obituary, one of Brotherton’s brothers was given this special lifesaving Bible at the time of his death.

Does the family still have this heirloom Bible? Do they know why there is a large gash in it? Do they know the details of John’s military service and how this Bible saved his life?

Obituaries showcase our ancestors lives. While some obituaries may only give us a line or two about our deceased relatives, many include important personal stories. Brotherton’s miracle inspires us all to value life, and be thankful for the things that keep us alive. Family history helps connect us to the stories of our past.

GenealogyBank lets us dig deeper into the times our ancestors grew up in, and find the details of their day-to-day lives. We all have a John Brotherton in our family tree. We only need to do the genealogy research to find their story.

GenealogyBank’s deep newspaper archive of over 1.7 billion records holds story after story about the people who built America, along with their births, marriages, and deaths. Find your ancestors’ stories today to discover who they were, what they did and what they lived through. Find your John Brotherton.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

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