100th Anniversary of the Panama Canal: History in the News

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan searches old newspapers to learn more about one of humankind’s greatest engineering feats: the building of the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal recently turned 100 years old. This prompted me to learn more about the history of this important waterway.

photo of the SS Ancon passing through the Panama Canal on 15 August 1914, the first ship to use the canal

Photo: SS Ancon passing through the Panama Canal on 15 August 1914, the first ship to use the canal. Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Early Transportation History

The only way for ships in the Atlantic Ocean to access the western coast of the Americas was to go the long way round—either around the southern tip of South America, or an even longer distance around the horn of Africa. Either route was fraught with danger and took an exceptionally long time. The narrow neck of land connecting North and South America was quickly targeted as a possible transportation alternative.

In the 1500s, Spain was particularly interested in reducing the amount of time it took to transport silver mined in Peru to Atlantic fleets. This would give them an economic and militaristic advantage over their enemies and rivals. To accomplish this, they created a trail system across the Isthmus of Panama—Spanish fleets shipped the silver from Peru to the west coast of Panama, and mule trains followed the trails to the east coast, bringing the silver to waiting ships. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t easy, but it was better than nothing.

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The Darien Disaster

Later, Scotland launched an early attempt to gain economic advantage by creating a shortcut for goods across the Isthmus of Panama. They wagered an absurd amount of money on the project termed the “Darien Scheme” (and later renamed the “Darien Disaster”). They set up an outpost in 1698 in the hopes of creating an overland route to transport goods and shorten the amount of time it took to carry items from Europe to the western coast. Conditions in the area were vastly different from what they were prepared for and horribly inhospitable. They slugged it out for less than two years before abandoning the project.

Meanwhile, the Spanish continued their efforts to make an even better route across Panama to maintain their economic success—and their enemies took notice. This 1762 newspaper article foretold “our” (British) troops’ plans to attack the Isthmus of Darien (Panama) and thwart the Spanish advantage.

article about a planned British attack on the Spanish outpost in Panama, Boston Evening-Post newspaper article 6 December 1762

Boston Evening-Post (Boston, Massachusetts), 6 December 1762, page 2

The Spanish were persistent in their efforts and, as this article reported, they had established a new colony in the Isthmus of Panama by 1777.

article about the Spanish estabishing an outpost in Panama, Virginia Gazette newspaper article 12 December 1777

Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Virginia), 12 December 1777, page 1

The Panama Railroad

By the time gold was discovered in California in 1848, the railroad was a significant technological advancement. Naturally, this idea was applied in Panama: build a railroad across this challenging terrain to quickly transport goods and prospectors from the East coast and Europe and deposit them on the Pacific coast, to complete their journey by ship. They used old Spanish trails that had been in use for over three centuries.

Actually, the idea of a railroad across Panama had been in existence for many years before the California Gold Rush. The Columbian and French governments had both shown interest. The U.S. had made some effort under Andrew Jackson in the 1830s, but it wasn’t until 1855 that a cross-Panama railroad came to fruition. It is amazing that they were able to accomplish this feat. The heavens dump around 150 inches of rain each year on the landscape. Laying track in such hot, wet conditions must have been a miserable experience. But the real threat came from disease, especially malaria and yellow fever. Workers dropped like flies. Completing the Panama Railway was certainly a cause for celebration.

article about the completion of the Panama Railway, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 31 January 1855

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 31 January 1855, page 2

However, traversing the troublesome landmass necessitated loading and unloading cargo, a painfully labor- and time-intensive undertaking for the railroad. There were calls for a canal through the isthmus to allow large cargo ships to alleviate this difficulty. The French rose to the occasion and dispatched the famous Ferdinand de Lesseps—designer of the newly completed Suez Canal—to lead their nation to triumph. They rushed to start the project in 1881, without sufficient understanding of the geology or hydrology of the area.

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At first the idea was simply to cut away the land leaving a sea level passageway. Attempts at this seemingly simple idea soon showed that the copious rainfall quickly filled these efforts of the exhausted laborers, with mud and large landslides causing problems. The wedge of land to be removed changed from a narrow slip, just wide enough to allow a ship’s passage, to an impossibly large width to prevent the frequent landslides. This was all being attempted with primitive steam shovels that quickly rusted to uselessness in the persistent rain. If that wasn’t disheartening enough, the swampy conditions were ripe for mosquitoes and therefore deadly malaria and yellow fever. Thousands of workers died and the project went bankrupt. Meanwhile, the American media had a heyday over the “Panama Canal Fiasco” or the “Panama Affair.”

The Panama Canal Fiasco, Springfield Republican newspaper article 13 January 1889

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 13 January 1889, page 2

Despite a later attempt to revive the project, the weary French eventually sold out to America for a bargain basement price.

article about the French selling their Panama Canal project to the U.S., Forth Worth Morning Register newspaper article 8 January 1902

Forth Worth Morning Register (Fort Worth, Texas), 8 January 1902, page 2

After the smoke had cleared from the expected congressional infighting over the viability of the project and the wisdom of purchasing the project from the French, there remained the matter of obtaining Colombian authorization (Panama was Columbian territory at the time).

When Columbia refused to ratify a treaty granting such permission, President Theodore Roosevelt and the U.S. got around this obstacle by promising support to Panamanian rebels seeking independence from Columbia. U.S. warships moved into position off the Panamanian coast on 2 November 1903, and Panama declared independence the next day. Three days later, on 6 November 1903, the newly-recognized nation of Panama signed a treaty granting the U.S. the right to build and administer a canal.

With that, the U.S. got to work. Fortunately, by that time technology had advanced and we were able to complete the project by building a lock system—but not before even more people died of illness and accident. (As a side note, it is good to know that the Panama Affair did contribute to a better understanding of mosquito-borne illnesses and their prevention.)

Panama Canal Opens

After much labor, the Herculean task of building the Panama Canal was completed, and it was officially opened on 15 August 1914.

Great Panama Canal Open for Commerce, State newspaper article 16 August 1914

State (Columbia, South Carolina), 16 August 1914, page 1

Of course, this is a simplified and selective account of the scandal-soaked history of the canal. It doesn’t mention that the treaty we signed with Columbia (which was refused by that country) was actually with a French representative. It doesn’t detail the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that the U.S. was involved in with the rebellion that created the country of Panama—all in order to accomplish our goal of building the canal. It doesn’t mention the Panamanian protests after WWII and international pressure which led—eventually—to the release of the canal to Panama beginning in 2000. Nor does it go in depth into the scandals, illnesses, and accidents that make a study of the canal so interesting.

Hopefully, this article gives a little insight into the history of the Panama Canal and whets your appetite for your own research. The significance of the Panama Canal cannot be overstated. World commerce depends on fast, dependable transportation, which the canal provides.

Also, it is hoped that this article offers insights into what can be found in and learned from the old newspapers contained in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.

Related Articles about Early Transportation:

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Genealogy Tips for Baby Research

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary provides search tips to find information about babies in your family history research.

If you think about it, genealogy isn’t about ancestors—it’s about babies, because without progeny or descendants, genealogy simply couldn’t exist.

graphic illustrating the saying "Babies are the key to making us ancestors."

As the new grandparents of baby Eliza, my husband and I are thankful for this, as new family members are the key to making us ancestors!

photo of Mary Harrell-Sesniak's granddaughter Eliza

Photo: Baby Eliza with Grandpa Tom. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

Fortunately, GenealogyBank has an entire section of its Historical Newspaper Archives devoted to research of these little family blessings. To access this content, select the Birth Records category on the newspaper search page.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search page showing the Birth Records category

Sometimes you may not find a hoped-for newspaper birth announcement, so I’d like to share some genealogy search tips for better research success.

Civil Registration Laws

Family history researchers are often disappointed when a courthouse doesn’t have a birth record. Mainly this is due to civil registration laws, which were instituted at varying times. Even when required by law, many parents and physicians did not comply by registering babies, so early newspaper birth announcements are important resources.

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Newspaper Announcements Placed by Parents

Most birth announcements are placed by parents or hospitals. They often divulge the day of the blessed event, along with details about the parental names and family address. If you are lucky, you may also locate a notice of baptism. In either case, if the announcement was published shortly after birth, then the baby’s name may not be included—so this is a clue to locating an elusive notice.

Genealogy Search Tip: If you can’t find a birth announcement by searching on the child’s name, try searching the parents’ names, the family’s home address—or the date of the birth.

For example, notice that in these birth announcements from 1912 the parents’ names and home addresses are given, but not the babies’ names—in each case the child is only called “a daughter” or “a son.”

birth announcements, Oregonian newspaper article 6 August 1912

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 6 August 1912, page 12

Notice that this birth announcement for Nora Maria Meyers states that her baptism was performed at the hospital.

birth announcement for Nora Meyers, Anaconda Standard newspaper article 3 February 1921

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 3 February 1921, page 3

Genealogy Search Tip: Contrary to popular belief, not all baptisms were performed in churches or religious institutions.

Newspaper Announcements by Others

Don’t be surprised to find birth announcements placed by members of the family other than the parents, or even a mention of a new birth in a family reunion notice or obituary. As you see from this classified advertisement from 1969, the proud grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents had the birth announcement published to welcome little James into the world.

birth announcement for James McCoy, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 24 January 1969

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 24 January 1969, page 4

Expand Searches to Other Locations

Most researchers limit searches to a home town, but as seen in the example above, it’s entirely possible that a notice might be placed in a city newspaper where the child was not born. James was born at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, California, but his birth announcement was published in Dallas, Texas. If the query had been limited to California, the announcement would have been missed.

Genealogy Search Tip: If you can’t find a birth location, consider if the parents were stationed elsewhere by the military.

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Small Town vs. Large Town Newspapers

Although there are exceptions, small town or city newspapers are able to include expanded details about births that larger publications have to eliminate. Some smaller newspapers many even include notices from surrounding areas, such as these birth announcements from a Fort Wayne, Indiana, newspaper published in 1918 that have birth news from the towns of Angola, Waterloo and Warsaw.

birth announcements, Fort Wayne News Sentinel newspaper article 26 September 1918

Fort Wayne News Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana), 26 September 1918, page 11

Genealogy Search Tip: If you can’t find a birth announcement in your ancestor’s home town, consider if a neighboring town’s newspaper may have published one.

Search Terms in Foreign-Language Newspapers

If your ancestor’s family was an immigrant family or lived in a multicultural community, try incorporating foreign terms in your newspaper search for birth announcements. Long ago, many immigrant communities published local newspapers in Old World languages. For example, this 1928 announcement from Maine was published by a French-language newspaper, and reports the births of two sons (indicated by “fils”). I found this birth announcement by searching for the French word “naissance,” which translates into English as “birth.”

birth announcements, Justice de Sanford newspaper article 25 October 1928

Justice de Sanford (Sanford, Maine), 25 October 1928, page 6

Genealogy Search Tip: To learn the equivalent terms for the word “birth” used in foreign-language newspapers, search glossaries or use a translator such as Google Translate.

This Google service will translate the word “birth” into a variety of foreign languages. Now enter the translated word into GenealogyBank’s search box and select the Birth Records category.

Interesting Facts about Babies Found on the Web

  • A baby is born into the world about every three seconds.
  • The U.S. sees over four million arrivals every year.
  • Babies have more bones than adults, who have 206. Several of a baby’s bones fuse over time, which results in the smaller adult number.
  • Babies have more taste buds than adults. Some appear in different places of the mouth, but eventually disappear.
  • Babies do not have kneecaps.
  • Babies born in May are the heaviest.
  • The heaviest baby reported to have survived was a 22-pound 8-ounce Italian baby born in 1955. In 1879, a woman in Canada gave birth to a 23-pound 1.92-ounce baby that died shortly after birth. These weights are typically what a one-year-old might weigh! (See the newspaper article below for a fun report.)

Giant Baby

If you search historical newspapers you’ll find reports of many unique baby records, including this article from 1893—when a baby weighing 23 ¾ pounds was born to “giants.” He reportedly was 2 ½ feet in length and had a “cute little pink foot” measuring 5 ½ inches. Perhaps this report was a slight exaggeration, as we notice that neither the parents nor the child was named in the article.

The Largest Baby Ever Born, Plain Dealer newspaper article 21 April 1893

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 21 April 1893, page 4

For more fun baby facts, see the Online Nurse Practitioner Schools’ Website at http://onlinenursepractitionerschools.com/40-truly-amazing-facts-about-babies/

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8 Million More Genealogy Records Just Added to GenealogyBank!

Every day, GenealogyBank is working hard to digitize more newspapers and obituaries, expanding our extensive historical collections to give you the largest newspaper archives for family history research available online. We just completed adding 8 million more U.S. genealogy records, vastly increasing our content coverage from U.S. coast to coast!

screenshot of GenealogyBank's home page showing announcement that 8 million more genealogy records have been added

Here are some of the details about our most recent U.S. newspaper additions:

  • A total of 35 newspaper titles from 20 U.S. states
  • 17 of these titles are newspapers added to GenealogyBank for the first time
  • Newspaper titles marked with an asterisk (*) are new to our online archives
  • We’ve shown the newspaper issue date ranges so that you can determine if the newly added content is relevant to your personal genealogy research

To see our newspaper archives’ complete title lists, click here.

State City Title Date Range Collection
Alaska Anchorage Anchorage Daily News: Web Edition Articles* 12/17/2007–Current Recent Obituaries
Arizona Rivers Gila News Courier* 09/12/1942–09/05/1945 Newspaper Archives
California Newell Newell Star* 12/31/1944–11/26/1945 Newspaper Archives
California San Francisco Corriere del Popolo 03/14/1916–12/20/1962 Newspaper Archives
California San Francisco San Francisco Chronicle 4/1/1917–8/27/1939 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Marietta Marietta Journal 2/22/1990–8/30/1998 Newspaper Archives
Idaho Boise Idaho Statesman* 1/1/1934–6/30/1987 Newspaper Archives
Idaho Hunt Minidoka Irrigator* 01/01/1944–07/28/1945 Newspaper Archives
Indiana South Bend South Bend Tribune: Web Edition Articles* 03/10/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Kentucky Louisville Louisville Anzeiger* 03/28/1923–05/31/1928 Newspaper Archives
Massachusetts Boston Boston American 4/30/1953–11/14/1960 Newspaper Archives
Michigan Flint Flint Journal 8/19/1915–8/31/1915 Newspaper Archives
New Jersey Egg Harbor City Egg Harbor Pilot 10/08/1864–10/08/1864 Newspaper Archives
New Jersey Jersey City Jersey Journal 11/4/1914–11/4/1914 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Arbeiter Zeitung 12/12/1874–11/01/1895 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Cristoforo Colombo 07/28/1892–07/28/1892 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Eco D’Italia 01/12/1890–11/19/1896 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Fiaccola 04/11/1918–04/11/1918 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Fur Worker 10/17/1916–04/01/1930 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Gaelic American* 10/07/1905–09/28/1907 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Jewish Messenger 03/07/1879–01/21/1898 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Ognisko* 07/14/1887–06/22/1889 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Progresso Italo-Americano 04/08/1886–12/15/1889 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Vorwarts 01/18/1919–01/18/1919 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Charlotte Charlotte Observer* 8/1/1928–3/22/1929 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Daily News 3/16/1974–3/16/1974 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Record 11/29/1929–11/29/1929 Newspaper Archives
North Dakota Grand Forks Evening Times 1/14/1910–3/7/1914 Newspaper Archives
Oregon St. Benedict St. Josephs-Blatt* 01/03/1938–01/03/1938 Newspaper Archives
Pennsylvania Philadelphia Momento* 01/27/1917–12/27/1919 Newspaper Archives
South Carolina Murrells Inlet Waccamaw Times* 05/30/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
South Dakota Yankton Dakota Freie Presse* 02/24/1920–02/24/1920 Newspaper Archives
Texas Corpus Christi Corpus Christi Caller-Times: Web Edition Articles* 05/22/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Wisconsin Milwaukee Milwaukee Herold* 01/01/1921–01/01/1921 Newspaper Archives
Wyoming Heart Mountain Heart Mountain Sentinel* 08/25/1942–10/23/1945 Newspaper Archives

More Articles about GenealogyBank’s Newspaper Archives:

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My Ancestors’ Life Stories as Told in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott shares some of the family stories he’s learned about his ancestors by searching old newspapers.

Stories are what make our family trees and all the work we do in our genealogy truly come alive! If you are like me, the stories about your ancestors were the initial spark that ignited your interest in conducting your genealogy research and discovering the amazing stories of your family’s history. The old family stories you discover and preserve also spark the interest of others to begin their own genealogy work, or perhaps to carry on your family history work.

The stories of the lives of our ancestors can come to us from a variety of sources. Many come firsthand from our elders and other members of our extended family, often aunts, uncles, and cousins who enjoy sharing all kinds of memories. Another great place to find the stories of our ancestors is in old newspapers, which is a big reason why I keep on subscribing to GenealogyBank.com. Let me tell you some of the family stories I have found in newspapers.

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The Charvat Family Tragedy

Of course there are the sensational stories that capture the attention of the reporters. I happened to come across one of these while working on a branch of my family tree recently: the Charvat family. After going through the more mundane aspects of genealogy such as census records, I moved on to newspapers and found this 1951 article. It was a true tragedy.

Not only did this unfortunate little girl of 14 lose her mother to murder and her father to suicide, but the story related that she “tiptoed to her door and opened it when she heard her father and mother arguing. She saw them struggling over a shotgun. She saw shooting.” The article goes on to say that the mother and father had argued previously over the husband’s desire for his wife to “follow the European way by staying home.”

From a genealogy perspective, this article not only provided quite a bit of information on the deaths of the parents, but also informed me of the jobs of those parents, that they only had the one child, gave the name of the grandmother, and the home address that matched their listing in the 1940 U.S. Census.

Girl (Corrine Charvat), Orphaned by Murder, Suicide, Is Shock Victim, Plain Dealer newspaper article 21 July 1951

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 21 July 1951, page 4

Joseph Kapl & Minnie the Elephant

There are also the extremely humorous stories you find occasionally. One of my all-time favorite funny stories that I discovered in the newspapers was this 1915 article titled “I Fed Her; I Petted Her; I Trusted Her; But Never Again!” This story detailed how my ancestor, Joseph Kapl, was a zookeeper who was entrusted with the care of Minnie the elephant at the old Brookfield Zoo in Cleveland, Ohio. It seems that Joseph was attacked and almost trampled by this elephant! Now there is a story you don’t read every day in your genealogy! You can read more about this humorous family story in my previous blog post “Family Search Uncovers Circus Elephant Story.”

article about zookeeper Joseph Kapl, Plain Dealer newspaper article 23 March 1915

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

From Banking to WWII

There are also some wonderful articles that I have found in newspapers’ Business Section that are filled with valuable family history information. One example I found is this 1943 article, which continued my work on my Kapl family line. This old news article provided me with some very nice details regarding the career of Joseph H. Kapl, who was the son of the zookeeper. It seems that Joseph must have decided that banking would be safer than dealing with elephants!

Kapl Is Head of Branch, Plain Dealer newspaper article 8 January 1943

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 8 January 1943, page 9

Going back further in time, I learned about another ancestor from this 1896 newspaper article. In this historical news article I discovered that my great grandfather, Joseph Vicha, was an officer of the Central Labor Union—and he not only addressed a crowd of striking garment workers in Cleveland, but he did it in “Bohemian.” All key pieces of information for our family tree.

article about Joseph Vicha, Plain Dealer newspaper article 27 April 1896

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 April 1896, page 10

Even an apparently mundane newspaper article can hold genealogy treasures for us as well. This 1942 article about registration for WWII included a list of inductees from the previous week, which included one of my cousins, Allan R. Evenden. This tidbit of information allowed me to begin researching his military records for our family tree.

article about WWII registration of soldiers, Plain Dealer newspaper article 5 April 1942

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 5 April 1942, page 33

Grandma’s Letter in the Cleaning Column

Another article I discovered even caused me to chuckle a bit. This 1961 article came with the pretty bland title of “Bleach Ineffective on Cement Spots.” It just goes to show you never know where in the newspaper your ancestor might turn up!

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It turns out that my grandmother, “Nana,” had written in to the cleaning column in the newspaper asking how to remove dark spots in her new cement breezeway. She said in her letter “I thought it needed a good sweeping, but I have scrubbed with soap and swept, but it is no different.” I actually laughed out loud when I read that since my mind went back to my many visits to my grandmother’s home, at her request, to apply yet another of her home remedies combined with lots of elbow grease to try and get those spots out of her new cement. I guess Nana was using the equivalent of the Royal “we” when she said “she” scrubbed and swept those spots.

Bleach Ineffective on Cement Spots, Plain Dealer newspaper article 2 September 1961

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 2 September 1961, page 41

I could continue on and on with many more family stories I’ve discovered in the newspaper archives through the years, but instead I’ll ask you: what are some of the best stories you have uncovered in newspapers that now bring your family tree to life?

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Getting Your Ancestor’s Obituary and a Bonus, Too

GenealogyBank’s deep backfile newspaper archives are packed with stories—over 1.6 billion of them.

I like it when old obituaries give key details in the lives of our ancestors. It’s always a bonus when you find that a photo was included with their obituary.

Here are some examples:

obituary for Alphonso Boone, Oregonian newspaper article 4 April 1915

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 4 April 1915, page 16

obituary for Mrs. O. H. Adams, Oregonian newspaper article 6 March 1902

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 6 March 1902, page 4

obituary for Ida Gevurtz, Morning Oregonian newspaper article 26 April 1921

Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 26 April 1921, page 4

These great stories and photos were found in the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) Newspaper Archives (1861–1987). Dig into our Newspaper Archives (1690 – 2010) and see what you find.

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Victorian Women Hike to the Summit of Pikes Peak!

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog post, Gena finds old newspaper articles and reads about Victorian women who bravely climbed or rode to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado—some wearing corsets!

Climbing Pikes Peak in Colorado was quite the accomplishment for our nineteenth century ancestors. In 1806 Zebulon Pike declared that he thought the mountain was impossible to climb. At 14,115 feet it is and was no walk in the park. Temperatures can drop 30 to 40 degrees at the higher elevations, a fact that early pioneer hikers were in some cases ill-prepared for.

photo of Pikes Peak, rising above present-day Colorado Springs, Colorado

Photo: Pikes Peak, rising above present-day Colorado Springs, Colorado. Credit: Huttarl; Wikimedia Commons.

Fourteen years after Zebulon Pike’s prophecy, a young man named Edwin James proved that it could be climbed. And so the rest, as they say, is history.

But maybe it’s not a history that’s been completely told.

Imagine hiking the Peak in a long heavy dress and corset! If men thought the hike was difficult in the nineteenth century, it could have only been compounded by what women were expected to wear during this time period. Nonetheless, women did.

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First Woman on Pike’s Peak

Fifty-two years after Zebulon Pike proclaimed no one could ascend the Peak, a woman did just that: Julia Archibald Holmes, a suffragette and abolitionist, climbed to the top of the peak accompanied by her husband in 1858.

photo of Julia Archibald Holmes, c. 1870

Photo: Julia Archibald Holmes, c. 1870. Credit: Agnes Wright Spring; Wikimedia Commons.

Nearly one hundred years later, her exploit was recounted in this newspaper article.

article about Julia Archibald Holmes, Sacramento Bee newspaper article 10 August 1950

Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), 10 August 1950, page 20

In that letter* she wrote her mother from atop Pike’s Peak, Julia said of her historic climb:

Nearly everyone tried to discourage me from attempting it, but I believed that I should succeed; and now here I am, and I feel that I would not have missed this glorious sight for anything at all.

While not as comfortable as today’s sportswear, Julia did wear bloomers and a shorter dress that aided her in hiking more comfortably up to the mountain’s summit.

article about Julia Archibald Holmes, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 24 August 1961

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 24 August 1961, page 19

It’s not exactly spandex, but bloomers were at least an improvement for the intrepid mountain climber!

illustration of “bloomer” dress of the 1850s

Illustration: “bloomer” dress of the 1850s. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

After Julia, women continued to ascend the mountain, some by hiking the trails while others used different modes of transportation.

Pikes Peak Inspires “America the Beautiful”

One of the more famous results of having reached the top of Pikes Peak and marveling at the scenery was the penning of the poem “Pikes Peak” by Katherine Lee Bates; her poem was turned into the patriotic song “America the Beautiful.” As a visiting professor at Colorado College in 1893, Bates had the opportunity to ride up to the Peak. The magnificent view from the top gave her the inspiration to write the poem.

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Woman Journalist Goes to the Top

Not all the women who went to the top of Pikes Peak hiked; some, like Katharine Lee Bates, rode in wagons—or even on the backs of mules. New Orleans newspaper travel writer Catharine Cole (pen name for Martha R. Field) wrote about her journey up Pikes Peak in 1884 on a mule, led by a guide. Her report gives a sense that even with the added convenience of riding up the mountain, a woman still faced challenges with the thin air at high altitude—combined with the difficulty of breathing while wearing a corset!

travel article about Pikes Peak written by Catharine Cole, Times-Picayune newspaper article 6 October 1884

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 6 October 1884, page 2

Suffragettes Hoist Flag

Julia Archibald Holmes wasn’t the only suffragette who climbed the mountain. Like with any endeavor, once there is the pioneer who shows that something can be done, others soon follow. And while women continued to climb Pikes Peak for the adventure and the magnificent view, groups of women also used the mountain as a way to get their message across. In 1909 suffragettes ascended and planted a “Votes for Women” flag at the summit.

"Votes for Women" (flag) Floats from Top of Pike's Peak, Anaconda Standard newspaper article 6 November 1909

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 6 November 1909, page 13

Four Generations of Women from One Family Climb the Peak

This article from a 1905 issue of the Denver Post is a family historian’s dream. It would seem that not just one female member of the family climbed the peak, but four generations of the Knapp family women—including a 4-month-old baby! By achieving this goal they disproved the adage that the Peak was “too high for the very young and the very old.” The youngest in their party, understandably, was the youngest ever to ascend the mountain, and the oldest was 85 years of age. Names, ages, and residences are provided in the article.

Four Generations of One Family (Knapp) Ascent to the Top of Pikes Peak, Denver Post newspaper article 8 October 1905

Denver Post (Denver, Colorado), 8 October 1905, page 47

Pikes Peak Can Be a Dangerous Place

While many have successfully climbed to the summit of Pikes Peak, the ascent is not without risk. As hiking to the summit became popular, more and more individuals and families climbed the mountain and some tragic accidents did occur. In their eagerness to ascend the famous Colorado attraction, some downplayed the potential danger in such a trip. While today we know of difficulties that excess exercise combined with changes in altitude and weather can cause, our ancestors didn’t always consider these factors. One case is that of William and Sallie Skinner, a middle-aged Texas couple who attempted to climb the Peak in August 1911. Ignoring their better judgment, they got to a point where they could no longer go on and eventually froze to death. Ironically, a friend of theirs had sent a letter stating “I hope you don’t freeze to death on Pikes Peak.” This letter was found in Mr. Skinner’s pocket.

Man and Wife Frozen to Death in Snows on Summit of Pikes Peak, Denver Post newspaper article 23 August 1911

Denver Post (Denver, Colorado), 23 August 1911, page 6

We know quite a bit about this one tragic death because a photographer took a photo of the frozen bodies and published postcards. You can learn more about this case by viewing the video produced by the Pikes Peak Library about researching the postcard.

Victorian women accomplished incredible things while wearing heavy dresses and constrictive corsets. Hiking Pikes Peak is just one of many ways they showed that they were up to the challenge.

Did any of your female ancestors accomplish remarkable firsts? Please share your stories with us in the comments.

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*Robertson, Janet (2003). The Magnificent Mountain Women: Adventures in the Colorado Rockies. University of Nebraska Press.

Related Female Ancestry Articles:

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How to Use a Thesaurus as a Genealogy Keyword Tool

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary talks about how important it is to try many variations when using keywords for your genealogy searches—and explains how helpful a thesaurus is for finding those variations.

A thesaurus is a marvelous writing tool—and an essential search tool for genealogists. Why?

When writers, and particularly journalists, go out of their way to be creative, they don’t use expected terms to describe ordinary events.

graphic showing how a thesaurus can be useful in finding word variations

Source: Mary Harrell-Sesniak

These writers turn to a thesaurus, such as the renowned (celebrated, famous, notable) lexicon compiled by Dr. Peter Mark Roget of London in 1852. His Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases revolutionized the modern construction of words—although he was not the first or the last to do so.

portrait of Peter Mark Roget by Thomas Pettigrew, 1843

Portrait: Peter Mark Roget by Thomas Pettigrew, 1843. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

A search of GenealogyBank’s archives finds references to Stevens’s Thesaurus in 1724, Beveridge’s Thesaurus in 1733, a Thesaurus Medicus in 1784, Tyronis’s Thesaurus in 1812, and a whole slew of others—including clubs and organizations devoted to synonyms and antonyms.

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screenshot showing GenealogyBank's search results for a search on the word "thesaurus"

(Note: if you are a Wikipedia contributor please expand their Thesaurus article, as not one of these earlier thesauri is mentioned in the article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thesaurus.)

One Reason Why Search Queries Fail

Queries can fail if you don’t employ search substitutions—a variation of the word or name you are searching for might work when the original search word or name found no results.

What if the writer, who wrote about your cherished ancestor, was bored with using the same terms repeatedly?

He/she might have concluded that the terms “marry” and “married” are easily exchanged for “matrimony,” “nuptials,” “wedding” and “union.”

Obituarists (or in some cases obscurantists) are also prone to employing “passed away” or “expired” for “death” or “died.”

In many search engines (and especially on the Web) you will miss desired results if you don’t try variations.

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Searching for Revolutionary War Ancestors

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll soon learn (ascertain, discover, find) that I am an active American Revolutionary War researcher. I scour archives for patriots and frequently post transcriptions online (see Facebook’s Revolutionary War Research page). There’s even an online index, and later this year I hope to publish an updated reference of this work with the full transcriptions.

Finding early obits and articles about specific patriots can be challenging, so I started cross-referencing searches.

“Revolutionary War,” “American Revolution,” “patriot” and “pensioner” achieved great results, but then one day I found an article about a Revolutionary War ancestor that didn’t include any of those terms. Then I started reading more from the target time period, and concluded that I needed to broaden my selection of keywords.

Revolutionary War Search Keywords

Ever hear of the “shot heard around the world”?

Many think the phrase has something to do with baseball (Bobby Thomson’s home run to win the National League pennant in 1951), but its first known use was to describe the Battles of Lexington and Concord that began the Revolutionary War in 1775. This phrase, along with the “Skirmish at the North Bridge,” appear in numerous articles without incorporating the terms “war” or “American Revolution.”

article about Mr. Gladstone, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 9 October 1876

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 9 October 1876, page 2

Ancestor Name Variations

One day I became curious about people who served with famed Captain John Paul Jones during the Revolutionary War, and noticed that some wordsmiths of the past liked to call him Paul Jones and others referred to him as John Paul Jones. In these two obituaries from 1792, for example, one calls him “Paul Jones” and the other “John Paul Jones.”

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results page for a search on "John Paul Jones"

So when searching for this famous patriot, I now search on both variations of his name.

And my keyword options don’t stop there. I’ve maintained a list of over 50 ways to search for Revolutionary War participants, including the words and phrases “entered the service of his country,” “spirit of ’76” and “Whig.”

Genealogy Keyword Search Tips

To increase the prospects of keyword search success, data-mine search engines with obvious words and consider these tips:

  • Start with obvious keywords.
  • Use a thesaurus to find alternatives and search on those variations.
  • Don’t rely on modern-day expressions for keyword ideas.
  • Observe what was written in articles of the past by reading early newspapers.
  • Keep a list of what you find.
  • Always think like a wordsmith of the past!

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Find Pictures of Your Ancestors’ Home in Old Newspapers

Do you have old family traditions, places and/or heirlooms?

Like Abe Lincoln, did your family live in a log cabin? Do you have a picture of it?

pictures of the Dalton family and their log cabin, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 16 July 1922

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 16 July 1922, page 7

If you are related to Robert Dalton of Palo Pinto County, Texas, then GenealogyBank’s newspaper collection has a photograph of their old log cabin (built in the 1870s) along with photos of the family.

Our Historical Newspaper Archives are invaluable for finding old family homesteads, traditions, family photos and images that are preserved here—but might have been long lost to the family.

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Find the details of your family history; in many cases, newspapers are likely your only source for these important memories.

Dig in—see if you can find pictures of your ancestors’ home and discover more about your family history today.

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Patriot Day: Remembering 9/11

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to learn more about the history of Patriot Day, and discusses current commemorative events on this day.

Every generation has certain historic days that are seared into their collective memories—days that we each know exactly where we were and what we were doing when we got the news. For folks in my parents’ generation, one of those days was 7 December 1941, “a date which will live in infamy”—the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. For many of us “Boomers” it is 22 November 1963, the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. Unfortunately we added 11 September 2001, the day of the attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and the crash of Flight 93 near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to this list.

September 11th is now officially known as Patriot Day, or more fully “Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance.” While not a single one of us will ever forget, or be the same, after “9/11,” it is a powerful testament that this day has also taken on aspects of service to America as well as remembrance.

photo of American flags flying at half staff on Columbus Circle, Washington, D.C., on Patriot Day 11 September 2013

Photo: American flags flying at half staff on Columbus Circle, Washington, D.C., on Patriot Day 11 September 2013. Source: T. H. Kelly; Wikimedia Commons.

I turned to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to learn more about the history of this day and how it has been commemorated in the U.S.

Legislation Signed for Patriot Day

President George W. Bush signed the congressional resolution creating Patriot Day on 18 December 2001, as reported in this Connecticut newspaper article.

Bush Signs Bill Naming Sept. 11 Patriot Day, Daily Advocate newspaper article 19 December 2001

Daily Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 19 December 2001, page 14

Later, on 21 April 2009, President Obama signed into law the “Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act,” which designated September 11th as our “National Day of Service and Remembrance” as well as Patriot Day.

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Past Commemorative Events

In this 2011 article from a Michigan newspaper, Chris Sizemore, executive director of Volunteer Kalamazoo, said it well:

9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance is a great chance to reclaim the unifying spirit that Americans had after the tragedy of Sept. 11. Stronger neighborhoods make for stronger communities, and in turn, a stronger nation.

10 Years Later -- Events to Commemorate 9-11 Terrorist Attacks, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 4 September 2011

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 4 September 2011

Similarly, this 2013 Texas newspaper article explained that in their community there would be a memorial service at 8:30 a.m. on Sept 11th, which would include the observation of our national moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. (EDT).

We Will Never Forget -- Remembering Patriots Killed, Injured on 9-11-2001, Meridian Tribune newspaper article 28 August 2013

Meridian Tribune (Meridian, Texas), 28 August 2013

The September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance began in 2002 and now reaches every community across America.

Current Commemorative Events

If you visit the website http://www.nationalservice.gov you can easily find volunteer opportunities to help in your community. The site offers anyone the option of entering your interests (they give the examples of September 11, Disaster Preparation, Military Families, Veterans, etc.). You can then add your city, state, or ZIP Code and your volunteer opportunities will be listed for you. When I entered my ZIP Code and “September 11” I received dozens of opportunities listed.

There is also the 9/11 Day organization at http://www.911day.org. This organization reports that in 2013 more than 47 million people throughout the United States and in 150 other countries observed 9/11 by volunteering.

In my own hometown there will be a community remembrance celebration sponsored by such diverse organizations as our local community college, city government, JROTC, an American Legion Post, and the Guardian Riders.

You can follow and stay up-to-date on what you would like to do as a volunteer on September 11 Day of Service and Remembrance on Twitter @nationalservice, @ServeDotGov, and @911day, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/911day.

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Early American Colonial History Timeline Infographic

Beginning in the 16th century, settlers from many European countries came to North America, including: Finland, Germany, Holland (the Netherlands), Ireland, Scotland, Sweden—and especially England, France and Spain. These settlers arrived seeking a better life, profit, and religious freedom. England eventually exerted control over the new land, and established the 13 colonies that became the United States.

If you are exploring your ancestry all the way back to the Colonial period in U.S. history, this Infographic will help—providing a timeline and facts to help you better understand the times your ancestors lived in.

Here’s a timeline of key historical events in Colonial America. (Note: this article continues after the Infographic.)

Click here for the larger version of the Settling America Infographic.

Early American Colonial History Timeline

Settling America Infographic

Settling America: Explore Your Ancestry in Colonial America

Does your family history in America begin before the United States became a country?

After Christopher Columbus’ voyages, many European countries came to the New World—but eventually Great Britain became the dominant power in North America.

This timeline shows some of the key events in the settling of America, as settlements and colonies became the 13 British colonies—leading to the original 13 United States.

Colonial America Timeline

1492: Christopher Columbus first arrives in the New World
1534: France’s New France Colony (Canada, Louisiana Territory)
1565: Spain’s St. Augustine—the oldest continuously-occupied city in the U.S. (Florida)
1585: England’s Roanoke Colony, the “Lost Colony” (North Carolina)
1607: England’s Jamestown Settlement (Virginia)
1614: Holland’s New Netherland Colony (Mid-Atlantic States)
1620: England’s Plymouth Colony founded by the Pilgrims (Massachusetts)
1625: Holland’s New Amsterdam settlement established on the southern tip of Manhattan Island
1630: Puritans from the Massachusetts Bay Colony establish Boston and 10 other settlements
1636: England’s Connecticut Colony, Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
1638: Sweden’s New Sweden Colony (Mid-Atlantic States)
1656: First Quakers arrive in New England
1664: England captures the New Amsterdam settlement on Manhattan Island
1665: England renames New Amsterdam “New York City”
1667: England takes over Holland’s New Netherland Colony and renames it “New York”
1681: England’s Pennsylvania Colony
1687: Protest by New England settlers and merchants against “arbitrary” taxes
1690: Spain colonizes Texas
1690: Publick Occurrences, the first newspaper in America, is published in Boston
1754: Beginning of the French and Indian War, France and its Indian allies versus Great Britain, its Colonial militia, and Indian allies
1763: Treaty of Paris ends the French and Indian War—France loses most of its North American territory to Great Britain, with its Louisiana Territory going to Spain

Colonial Newspapers Online

Long-established American families have family trees that stretch back to the Colonial Era in the 17th and 18th centuries. Finding vital statistics and other genealogical information about these early Colonial ancestors from that time period can be difficult, as some vital records simply were not officially kept before and during the 1700s, or have been destroyed through war, accident or the passage of time.

Fortunately, GenealogyBank offers a rich genealogy resource for family historians tracing their family trees back to Early American times: an online collection of 27 Colonial newspapers, providing obituaries, birth notices, marriage announcements, and personal stories to get to know your pioneering ancestors and the times they lived in better.

Download our printable PDF list of Colonial newspapers for easy access to our historical archives right from your local desktop to begin researching your genealogy back to the Colonial period. The list shows the individual Colonial newspaper titles we house in our historical archives, ranging from the first newspaper ever published in America up to publications from the late 1800s. After you’ve downloaded the PDF, click the newspaper titles to be taken directly to the search landing page for that publication. Just click on the graphic below to start your download.

list of Colonial-era newspapers available from GenealogyBank

Sources

Related American Colonial Ancestry Articles:

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