Outlaws in the News: Bonnie & Clyde, Al Capone & My Ancestor

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how criminal records and old newspaper articles about your outlaw ancestors can help fill in important details on your family tree.

Everyone’s family tree has at least one or two “bad seeds”: outlaw ancestors, who ran on the wrong side of the law. While it is unfortunate that they chose the “dark side of the force,” it is lucky for us genealogists that newspapers love to report on these black sheep! Our outlaw ancestors might have been portrayed as “bad,” but we reap the benefits of the press coverage they generated—finding in those old newspaper articles many additional details for our genealogy, family history, and family trees.

To illustrate this point, I searched through GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives for old news articles about famous outlaws, to show how much family history information those articles contain.

Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow

Take a look at Bonnie and Clyde for example. While we all know the basic story, there is far more that can be found in the newspapers of the day, such as this 1934 article from an Illinois newspaper. This particular news article alone contains many juicy genealogy facts about the Clyde’s funeral, such as where Clyde was buried, that Bonnie’s sister was in jail at the time facing two counts of murder in the deaths of two policemen, and the name of Bonnie’s mother.

And what about that intriguing last paragraph? Who was the anonymous friend who flew an airplane over the gravesite as Clyde was being buried and dropped a wreath of flowers onto the grave? Now there’s a mysterious puzzle that would be fun to try and unravel!

Clyde Barrow Buried in Texas, Morning Star newspaper article 26 May 1934

Morning Star (Rockford, Illinois), 26 May 1934, page 7

Al Capone a.k.a. Scarface

While we all recognize the name “Scarface” Al Capone, this 1926 article from a Massachusetts newspaper reports that Mafia legend Al had a brother, Ralph, who had just been arrested and charged with the slaying of Illinois Assistant State’s Attorney William McSwiggin and two “beer gangsters”: “Red” Duffy and James Doherty.

article about Ralph Capone, Springfield Republican newspaper article 30 April 1926

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 30 April 1926, page 11

And of course it is almost impossible to say “Al Capone” without thinking of, or saying, Eliot Ness! I enjoyed this 1931 article from a California newspaper not only because it talks about Eliot Ness and his crew of agents—it also gives us the name of Steve Svoboda, who was among those arrested. Since Svoboda had been arrested in another Capone-owned brewery just two weeks earlier, he may well have been a member of Scarface’s gang!

Stage Raid on (Al) Capone Brewery, Evening Tribune newspaper article 11 April 1931

Evening Tribune (San Diego, California), 11 April 1931, page 19

My Outlaw Ancestor: Herman Vicha

But it is not only the infamous that we can read about and learn from for our family trees.

In my own family tree is information from a small newspaper clipping that a cousin once gave me. Yellowed with age, brittle, and tattered about its edges, this small article was dated in its margin simply “1916” and consisted of a single sentence. That sentence was: “Herman Vicha was convicted in common pleas court of stealing brass from the Lorain Sand and Gravel Company.” That one sentence led me to some amazing discoveries about this ancestor.

First I contacted the Lorain County, Ohio, courts and—thanks to a wonderfully helpful staff member—I soon received five pages of court documents from the 1916 case of “State of Ohio vs. Herman Vicha.” The case was for grand larceny because my ancestor was accused of stealing $37.25 worth of brass from the Lorain Sand and Gravel Company. He was convicted and sentenced to 1 to 7 years!

Following up on this case, I contacted the Ohio State Historical Society and, after filing the appropriate paperwork, received over a dozen pages of the prison files for this ancestor. This paperwork path initially took me to the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. If the name of this prison isn’t familiar, perhaps you have seen the movies Shawshank Redemption and Air Force One? If so, this was the prison used in those movies.

photto of the Ohio State Reformatory

Photo: Ohio State Reformatory. Credit: from the author’s collection.

One of the more amazing historical documents I received was the “Bertillon Card” for my ancestor. This was a great genealogical find since it has our only photograph of Herman Vicha, plus gives a wealth of physical description about him as well as the year and location of his birth.

photo of the Bertillon card for Herman Vicha, 1916

Photo: Bertillon card for Herman Vicha, 1916. Credit: from the author’s collection.

I admit that I had to take a moment and learn exactly what a Bertillon Card was. The full-page obituary for Alphonse Bertillon that I found in a 1914 Colorado newspaper gave me all the information I needed to understand the details listed on my ancestor’s card.

obituary for Alphonse Bertillon, Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper article 15 March 1914

Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado), 15 March 1914, page 31

My ancestry research path moved from this prison, across the state of Ohio, to the Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane where Herman was kept. My concern for what my ancestor went through increased when I read this 1971 article from a Virginia newspaper with this opening sentence:

“The fortress-like state hospital for the criminal insane here has been described by inmates, staff members, state officials and Ohio’s governors as a chamber of horrors.”

Ohio Hospital Has Sordid Image, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper article 28 November 1971

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 28 November 1971, page 34

Herman Vicha’s sentence actually lasted for 7 years, 3 months, and 8 days plus an additional 1 year, 3 months, and 12 days in the Cleveland State Hospital after being released from Lima.

Note that all of this detective work to track down my outlaw ancestor began with one small old newspaper clipping!

Herman died in a boarding house in Danville, Kentucky, while working as a trucker and having assumed the new name of “Henry Miller”—but how I found him under his new name is a whole different genealogy detective story that will have to wait for another day!

What information have you found for your family tree from the criminal records and newspaper clippings about your outlaw ancestors? Share your family stories with us in the comments.

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Mining for Historical News & Genealogy Clues in the Archives

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to find stories about how Mother Nature affected his ancestors’ lives—and discovers some important genealogy clues.

With the strength of this current winter, I don’t have to remind you that our dear Mother Nature can have a significant impact on our families and ourselves. Just the other day I got my car stuck in the snow in my own driveway! While I was “mumbling” about it to myself, I got to thinking about how long, harsh winters would have been even more challenging for our ancestors. That evening I decided to take a look at my family tree and see how Mother Nature’s hand had impacted some of my family members. Instinctively I turned to GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives and, naturally, I wasn’t disappointed.

Ancestor Obituary Clue

While researching one branch of my Phillips family, I uncovered an obituary about my ancestor Elijah Poad in a 1910 Montana newspaper.

Elijah Poad Dead, Anaconda Standard newspaper obituary 16 September 1910

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 16 September 1910, page 9

Elijah had married Catherine Phillips, and shortly thereafter they emigrated from Great Britain to settle in the United States. Certainly one of my first questions was: “What would cause a Cornishman from St. Blazey, Cornwall, to go to Montana in 1885?”

Mining in Montana

I think I found my answer when I read another article from the Anaconda Standard, this one from 1899. This article begins “E. Poad, a miner at the Gagnon, was seriously injured yesterday by getting a fall in the mine.” While there wasn’t “gold in them thar hills,” there was silver and copper in the Montana hills—and the discovery of both had caused a huge rush to the Anaconda area, including my miner ancestor. Mother Nature at her finest, offering the temptation of riches!

(Elijah Poad) Seriously Injured, Anaconda Standard newspaper article 8 June 1899

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 8 June 1899, page 8

More Mining for Genealogy Clues

While I was still reading the Anaconda Standard, another article from 1899 caught my eye due to its headline: “The Mesabi Range. Tremendous Possibilities of the Great New Region.” This was indeed a very interesting find to me. You see, my wife’s grandfather, Pasquale D’Aquila, had emigrated from Italy to Canada and then to the United States. I have found his border crossing record from 1915 at Eastport, Idaho. As the miner he was, could Pasquale have heard talk just like the news in this article about the iron ore riches of the Mesabi Range in Minnesota? Could an article just like the one I was reading have been what drew him there? Yes, or no, it is certainly evident that once again Mother Nature was wielding her influence.

The Mesabi Range (Montana), Anaconda Standard newspaper article 26 December 1899

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 26 December 1899, page 12

News Flashback: the Polio Epidemic

It wasn’t long after this that I came upon a totally different and far less desirable impact of Mother Nature. I discovered two articles side-by-side in a 1952 Ohio newspaper. They had huge headlines blaring “Ohio Now Has 232 ‘Sure’ Polio Cases” and “‘Iron Lung’ Supply Runs Short Here.”

articles about the polio outbreak in Ohio and especially Cleveland, Plain Dealer newspaper articles 19 July 1952

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 July 1952, page 4

Now here was an impact of Mother Nature that I did not need an ancestor to illustrate for me, since I vividly recall the polio epidemics of my youth. I remember all too well that, just as the first article reported, “Swimming pools have been closed and other precautionary measures taken.” Our local swimming hole was posted with a sign in big, red letters that read: “Closed due to polio.” I also remember that the mother of one of my best friends was confined to a wheelchair due to polio, and I’ll never forget the ever-present (at least in my mind) threat of living your life in an “iron lung.”

I next found an article from a 1962 California newspaper with an even larger headline.

Dr. Sabin Hails Anti-Polio Clinics Set for Sunday, San Diego Union newspaper article 18 October 1962

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 18 October 1962, page 12

How well I remember these clinics! I recall standing in a long line in the hot sun, with my entire family, awaiting our turn to get our “sugar cube” and incessantly questioning my father as to whether or not it was true that we would not get a “shot” but rather a sugar cube as we were told! (I really hated any shots as a kid!) And to think, especially now, that Dr. Sabin forwent patenting his discovery in order to keep the cost down and make his “wonder drug” available to everyone.

Then for some reason I searched the newspaper archives on “historic blizzard,” but when I saw there were 95 results I got too depressed at the thought of reading about any more winter. That’s when I made the only rational decision any genealogy fan could make.

I went back to the 1910 obituary that I had found in the newspaper for Elijah Poad since it also included this line: “He was 78 years of age and leaves, besides his brother in Helena, a brother in Dodgeville, Wis., a brother in England, a sister in Linden, Wis., and a son in Butte.” You see, while I have Elijah’s siblings in our family tree, I had no genealogy clues—until this obituary—as to where to search for them. Thank you, Mother Nature!

GenealogyBank Update: 13 Million Newspaper Articles Just Added!

Every day, GenealogyBank is working diligently to digitize more U.S. newspapers and obituaries, expanding our online archives to give you the largest newspaper archives for family history research available on the web. We just completed adding 13 million more newspaper articles to the archives, vastly increasing our coverage of life in America from coast to coast!

GenealogyBank's search box

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

  • A total of 29 newspaper titles from 17 U.S. states
  • 7 of these titles are newspapers added to GenealogyBank for the first time
  • Newspaper titles marked with an asterisk (*) are brand 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 Start Date End Date
CA Fresno Fresno Morning Republican 12/14/1890 12/31/1893
CA San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram 6/1/1907 9/30/1914
FL Miami Nuevo Herald 3/29/1976 12/31/1982
GA Columbus Columbus Daily Enquirer 1/1/1923 2/24/1926
GA Macon Macon Telegraph 3/12/1923 11/5/1925
GA Marietta Marietta Journal 11/27/1945 11/27/1945
ID Boise Idaho Statesman 1/1/1923 2/15/1925
IL Springfield Daily Illinois State Journal 1/4/1923 7/30/1947
IN Martinsville Reporter-Times, The* 02/02/2013 Current
IN Mooresville Mooresville-Decatur Times, The* 02/02/2013 Current
KS El Dorado Butler County Times-Gazette, The* 11/05/2013 Current
KY Lexington Lexington Herald 1/1/1923 10/31/1924
LA Baton Rouge Advocate 12/1/1985 12/31/1985
LA Baton Rouge State Times Advocate 11/2/1987 10/2/1991
MA Boston Boston Herald 12/2/1951 4/15/1992
MS Biloxi Daily Herald 1/1/1926 3/31/1928
NY New York Jewish Messenger 01/02/1857 12/26/1868
NY New York New Yorker Volkszeitung 04/01/1913 04/30/1923
NY Watertown Watertown Daily Times 7/14/1880 7/27/1921
NC Charlotte Charlotte Observer 1/1/1923 10/31/1924
NC Greensboro Greensboro Daily News 7/17/1921 2/29/1968
OH Columbus Lantern, The: Ohio State University* 08/03/1998 Current
OH Sidney Sidney Daily News, The* 09/15/2013 Current
PA Clarks Summit Abington Journal, The* 10/15/2013 Current
PA Dallas Dallas Post, The* 10/05/2013 Current
PA Erie Erie Tageblatt 05/05/1913 06/05/1916
VA Richmond Richmond Times Dispatch 4/11/1971 7/15/1983
WA Bellingham Bellingham Herald 1/1/1923 12/31/1925
WA Olympia Morning Olympian 9/7/1924 11/15/1924

Breaking through Genealogy Brick Walls & Finding Family Tree Firsts

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how old newspapers helped him break through a genealogy brick wall that had stumped him for years—and led to an amazing find: the only known photograph of his great grandfather Vicha!

Several years ago I discovered GenealogyBank.com’s extensive historical newspaper archives through a referral by a wonderful newspaper reporter in Tennessee. While I don’t recall his name now, I thank him every time I am working on my genealogy and family history.

Subscribing to GenealogyBank has been one of the best decisions I have ever made for my ancestry and genealogy. Why? Let me give you a few examples of how GenealogyBank has helped me break through brick walls and discover a multitude of “firsts” for my family tree.

Incredible Family Tree Find: Only-Known Photograph of This Ancestor

This is the only known photograph my family has of my great grandfather Joseph K. Vicha.

photo of Joseph K. Vicha

Photo: Joseph K. Vicha. Credit: from the author’s collection.

Let me tell you how GenealogyBank’s old newspapers led to this amazing photo of my great grandfather.

Genealogy Brick Wall Busting: My Great Grandfather Vicha

When I began working in earnest on our family history, my Mother, God rest her soul, was fascinated by what I was finding and asked me for only one genealogy favor. That favor was to find out what I could about her grandfather, Joseph K. Vicha. As a family, we knew nothing beyond his name, the name of his wife, and the fact that he was Bohemian. I struggled for the first years of my family history work trying to discover much of anything about my great grandfather Vicha—until that day when I was directed to GenealogyBank by that wonderful newspaperman (to look for an entirely different person, I might add).

When I searched on my great grandfather’s name in GenealogyBank’s online archives, I was astonished to find over 110 results returned! As I opened each article, it was as if I were back on the streets of Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1880s, right there with the ancestor I had been searching for.

I discovered his work as a union organizer in an 1896 newspaper article that told me he was the president of the Central Labor Union.

[Joseph K.] Vicha Will Resign; Will Retire from the Presidency of the C.L.U., Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 November 1896

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 November 1896, page 2

In an 1897 newspaper article I discovered that my great grandfather Vicha was later appointed by the governor of Ohio as the superintendent of the Free Employment Bureau, where he pledged to “do everything in his power to do something for the good of the laboring people.”

His Commission: Joseph K. Vicha Receives It from the Governor and Expects to Assume the Duties of His Office Today, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 4 January 1897

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 January 1897, page 10

I also made the sad discovery that there was a son, Joseph K. Vicha, Jr., who died at the age of two—and whom no one in the family had known about until I found his death notice in this 1890 newspaper.

death notice for Joseph K. Vicha, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 February 1890

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 February 1890, page 6

Then I even found a story about my great grandfather being held up at gunpoint in an 1898 newspaper article!

[Joseph K.] Vicha Held Up, Plain Dealer newspaper article 24 November 1898

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 24 November 1898, page 3

The Genealogy Thrill of a Lifetime: Finding My GGF’s Photograph

But the best discovery of all was hidden in an 1891 newspaper article I found in the archives.

Ten Thousand Bohemians Celebrate the Anniversary of the Birth of Huss, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 6 July 1891

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 6 July 1891, page 8

I was thrilled at the mention of my great grandfather in this article: “The formation of the [parade] column was under the direction of the chief marshal of the day, Mr. Joseph K. Vicha.”

Most importantly, this old newspaper article provided the clue that led to one of my most exciting discoveries in all of my genealogy efforts. In the news article’s description of who was in the parade column, I saw a reference to the Knights of Pythias. Not being familiar with this group I began to do more research, eventually finding a book published in 1892 with the title History of the Knights of Pythias.

As I began reading this book, I heard genealogy bricks falling down everywhere. Then it happened—there on page 180 I found myself looking at my great grandfather! I had made an amazing genealogy discovery: the only known photograph of my great grandfather Vicha that anyone in my family alive today has ever seen!

It is hard to describe the overwhelming emotions and the great thrill I felt when I was finally “meeting” my great grandfather for the first time. My voice was still trembling when I phoned my Mother to tell her the news of such a great family tree find. What a happy day that was—and I owe it all to GenealogyBank!

Finding Fabulous Firsts for Family History

I have subscribed to GenealogyBank continually ever since my initial genealogy research successes with those early discoveries of my great grandfather. I am thrilled that I have remained a constant subscriber, since GenealogyBank continues to add new content to the online archives every day—and this has enabled me to add more and more first-time discoveries to our family tree.

Many of my earlier GenealogyBank Blog posts discuss in detail many of these fabulous family firsts that now add incredible value, texture, and meaning to what I like to call the tapestry of our family history. For example:

I’d sure enjoy hearing about your own genealogy research successes: what is the best brick wall buster that GenelaogyBank.com helped you to find?

Extra! Extra! Newspaper Archives Grow by 31+ Million Articles

It’s always exciting to see more and more newspapers going online—millions of them. We’ve just added a wide assortment of brand new newspaper titles, as well as expanded our existing titles to give you more coverage to research your roots from coast to coast.

photo of a stack of newspapers

Credit: Wikipedia

This month has been busy for our team. GenealogyBank added more than 31.5 million articles from over 3,000 newspapers published in all 50 states!

Wow—a great month!

Here are just a handful of the over 3,000 newspapers that were expanded in the online archives this month. The newspapers marked with an asterisk * are brand new newspaper additions to GenealogyBank.

State City Newspaper Date Range Collection
California Fresno Fresno Morning Republican* 7/3/1888–6/30/1896 Newspaper Archives
Colorado Denver Denver Rocky Mountain News 6/28/1908–9/30/1917 Newspaper Archives
Florida Bradenton Manatee River Journal 1/4/1923–9/20/1923 Newspaper Archives
Florida Tampa Tampa Tribune 12/1/1925–3/31/1926 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Cornelia Northeast Georgian, The* 04/12/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Georgia Dawsonville Dawson News & Advertiser* 06/05/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Illinois Rockford Morning Star 7/25/1925–6/26/1959 Newspaper Archives
Illinois Rockford Register Star 12/2/2007–11/30/2008 Newspaper Archives
Illinois Rockford Rockford Weekly Gazette 8/13/1868–8/13/1868 Newspaper Archives
Indiana Batesville WRBI – 103.9 FM* 01/29/2010–Current Recent Obituaries
Louisiana Baton Rouge State Times Advocate 9/24/1981–4/29/1990 Newspaper Archives
Louisiana New Orleans Times-Picayune 2/12/1978–5/21/1978 Newspaper Archives
Massachusetts Boston Boston Herald 3/1/1990–7/31/1991 Newspaper Archives
Massachusetts Jamaica Plain Jamaica Plain Gazette* 10/06/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Michigan Adrian Daily Telegram 1/20/1898–8/1/1906 Newspaper Archives
Michigan Sault Ste. Marie Evening News 5/30/1903–1/24/1920 Newspaper Archives
Nebraska Omaha Omaha World Herald 5/1/1906–6/30/1906 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Jewish Messenger* 03/13/1857–12/18/1868 Newspaper Archives
New York New York New Yorker Volkszeitung 12/22/1910–12/12/1920 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Vorwarts 04/14/1917–04/14/1917 Newspaper Archives
New York Watertown New York Reformer 10/19/1854–6/4/1857 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Daily News 9/1/1949–8/15/1954 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Raleigh Observer* 2/24/1877–9/11/1880 Newspaper Archives
Ohio Canton Repository 5/13/1884–10/2/1921 Newspaper Archives
Pennsylvania Erie Erie Tageblatt 04/05/1912–12/12/1916 Newspaper Archives
Pennsylvania Waynesboro Record Herald 2/22/1919–3/28/1919 Newspaper Archives
South Carolina Beaufort Beaufort Gazette, The* 01/10/2002–Current Recent Obituaries
Virginia Richmond Richmond Times Dispatch 11/1/1954–9/30/1972 Newspaper Archives

October 1880 Snowstorm Began ‘The Snow Winter’

This photograph was taken in March 1881 of a train passing through snow-covered Minnesota in the worst snow season ever recorded there.

photo of a train passing through deep snow in Minnesota during winter of 1880-1881

Credit: Wikipedia

The snow season started with a storm in October 1880 and it just kept on snowing until March of 1881. It was one of the Midwest’s worst-ever snow seasons, with multiple blizzards and snow accumulation of more than 11 feet in some areas. Somewhat accurate details and many of the names of the townspeople who endured this long winter season of frequent blizzards can be found in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novel The Long Winter.

Here in New England, it’s hard to forget the 2011 Halloween nor’easter that slammed the area with so much snow, so early in the season, that it destroyed the most trees in the entire recorded history of Connecticut storms.

The following Ohio newspaper article reported that the storm that started in October 1880 was “the worst storm ever known in Southern Minnesota and Eastern Dakota and is still raging.”

The storm blocked passenger and freight trains “in snow drifts from ten to twelve feet deep and teams with provisions have been dispatched to their relief.”

Read the account of the start of the storm in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Disastrous [Snow] Storm, Plain Dealer newspaper article 18 October 1880

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 October 1880, page 1

Many people lost their lives in these terrible blizzards. Farmers had to burn their fences to keep warm. Read this 1922 newspaper article from the Milwaukee Journal that recounts how the autumn storm that began the winter of 1880-1881 claimed 70 lives on Lake Michigan: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/wlhba/articleView.asp?pg=1&orderby=&id=3670

Did you have any ancestors who survived “The Snow Winter?” Share with us in the comments.

Genealogy Collaboration to Trace Czech American Ancestry Pt. 1

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how some old newspaper articles led to a breakthrough in his genealogy work—and to a fruitful collaboration with the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland.

Genealogy and collaboration go together just about as well as peanut butter and jelly! If you have been working on your genealogy for any time at all, you have made some wonderful family discoveries that were possible due to collaboration—as have I.

American Antiquarian Society

It is my belief that collaboration is one of the best additional benefits of using the newspapers of GenealogyBank in your genealogy research. When I first began to subscribe to GenealogyBank, I noticed right away that its newspaper collection has benefited from a collaborative effort with the highly esteemed American Antiquarian Society (AAS).

By the way, if you have never checked out the AAS I’d suggest a visit to its website at http://www.americanantiquarian.org. As you will see on its homepage, “The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) library houses the largest and most accessible collection of printed materials from first contact through 1876 in what is now the United States, the West Indies and parts of Canada.” Located in Worcester, Massachusetts, the AAS is high on my “Genealogy Must-Visit List.”

Tracing Czech American Ancestry with Newspapers

On a more personal note, a recent GenealogyBank discovery I made while working on another genealogy project has put me smack-dab in the center of a very valuable collaboration.

I have been working on documenting the earliest Czech immigrants of Cleveland, Ohio. One of these early immigrants was a man by the name of Leopold Levi (sometimes spelled Levy), and I was making pitiful progress on discovering any valuable leads on him until GenealogyBank’s newspapers came to my rescue.

My first discovery was in an 1892 Ohio newspaper.

death notice for Stella Levi, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 27 February 1892

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 February 1892, page 5

This article reported that Stella, the daughter of Leopold and Esther Levi, died on 26 February 1892 at 831 St. Clair St. While an interesting find, with some very nice details and from the appropriate timeframe, it did not provide me with any indication that this was “the” Leopold Levi I was seeking. So I continued reviewing the results from my newspaper search.

It wasn’t long before I discovered a second interesting article, this one in an 1899 Ohio newspaper.

Assistant Assessors, Plain Dealer newspaper article 16 April 1899

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 April 1899, page 8

Here was a Leopold Levi from the same address as in the 1892 article, and he had been appointed to be an enumerator for the upcoming 1890 Federal Census.

Next I found a much more recent article, from a 1951 Ohio newspaper.

notice about Leopold Levi, Plain Dealer newspaper article 10 December 1951

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 December 1951, page 22

This substantial article was titled “Early Jewish Life in Cleveland” and included the following sentence: “Leopold Levi, who arrived in 1849, served as tax assessor for many years.” BINGO! This article provided me with a nice link to the previous article of 1899 and from there back to the 1892 article. Additionally, I had discovered the important fact that Leopold Levi was Jewish.

Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland

A quick Google search ensued to see if there happened to be an active Jewish genealogy group in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. Sure enough I located the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland. After taking a look at their website at http://www.clevelandjgs.org, I filled out their online research request form and submitted it via email. I realized I may have stumbled upon something good when, within 24 hours, I had a magnificent response back from their researchers complete with a terrific set of materials.

They provided me with an obituary for Leopold Levi, his burial location, details regarding his civic works, and the fact that he died intestate. They even gave me the link to an “Application for Letters of Administration” that lists all his heirs-at-law. Additionally they sent me obituaries for his wife, one daughter, and his son. As an added bonus, included with these items was the married name of a second daughter as well as the married names of several granddaughters.

My collaboration with the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland is continuing and I will be sharing my work with them once it is completed. This is especially worthwhile because they have no indications that anyone else has undertaken previous work on Leopold Levi and his family.

Now I am well on my way to a more complete understanding of Leopold Levi, his life, and his impact as one of the very earliest Czech immigrants to Cleveland, Ohio.

Best of all, this continuing genealogy success story started as a result of leads I discovered in the newspapers of GenealogyBank, and then led me to a fruitful collaboration—one of the real delights of genealogy research.

I’d enjoy hearing what your best collaborative efforts have been in your genealogy work.

Remembering James Dean, Woody Guthrie & Janis Joplin with Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott looks up profiles, news stories and obituaries in old newspapers to learn more about these three famous entertainers who died this week in American history.

During this week in history (30 September to 4 October) America lost three of its most iconic entertainment personalities. America, and indeed the whole world, lost film actor James Dean in 1955, singer Woody Guthrie in 1967, and singer Janis Joplin in 1970.

Newspapers are filled with obituaries and profiles that help us better understand the lives of our ancestors—and the famous people who lived during their times. The following newspaper articles about these three famous Americans are good examples.

James Dean (1931-1955)

Although he only starred in three movies in his short lifetime, James Dean was already being compared to Marlon Brando when he died. In 1955 Dean shot to stardom as a result of his starring role of Cal Trask in East of Eden, which earned him the first-ever posthumous nomination for an Academy Award. For most of us today, James Dean is best known for his role as Jim Stark in Rebel without a Cause. At the time of his death, Dean had just finished filming his now-famous role as Jett Rink in the film Giant, and had set off in his Porsche sports car to indulge in his passion for car racing at a racetrack in Salinas, California, in the upcoming weekend. Dean never made it to Salinas.

How did James Dean die so young? As you can read in this article from a 1955 Texas newspaper, a tragic automobile accident claimed the life of James Dean at the age of only 24.

Car Collision Kills Actor James Dean, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 1 October 1955

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 1 October 1955, page 1

Then just two days later, the Dallas Morning News again reported on the Dean tragedy, this time focusing on his funeral to be held in Dean’s home town of Fairmount, Indiana.

Funeral Services for Dean Planned in Indiana Saturday, Dallas Morning News newspaper article, 3 October 1955

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 3 October 1955, page 18

This newspaper article not only provides a fascinating look at the early life of James Dean, but also reports the stark reactions of his costars such as Elizabeth Taylor, who “took it the hardest” and was “crying unashamedly.”

I always thought James Dean was buried in Hollywood; now that I know he lies at rest just a couple hours from my home, I will be taking a future road trip to pay my respects to this marvelous actor and icon of youth angst. Interesting note: this same small Indiana town is also the hometown of another American cultural icon, Jim Davis, the cartoonist and creator of “Garfield.”

Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)

While some folks reading this might be more familiar with Arlo, the son of Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie, many musicians and music historians would agree with the claim in this 1971 New Jersey newspaper article that Woody is “generally considered America’s greatest balladeer.”

Okie Folk Poet [Woody Guthrie] Loved Underdog, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 27 June 1971

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 27 June 1971, page 102

Woody Guthrie wrote more than 1,000 songs, of which more than 400 are preserved in the Library of Congress (and dozens of which populate my iPad). He also wrote an autobiography Bound for Glory(also on my iPad), and has been acknowledged as a major musical influence on such modern-day musicians as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and dozens of others. His best known musical piece might well be “This Land Is Your Land.”

When he succumbed to his 15-year battle with Huntington’s disease on 3 October 1967, the news of Guthrie’s death was carried from coast-to-coast. This obituary from a 1967 Louisiana newspaper makes note of a fact still true about Woody today: “Many persons heard Guthrie’s songs without ever knowing his name. Among those who have recorded Woody’s songs are Bing Crosby, Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.”

Folk-Singer [Woody] Guthrie Dies, Times-Picayune newspaper obituary, 4 October 1967

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 4 October 1967, page 8

Being a born and raised Clevelander (home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), it was especially nice to read a 1987 news article from my hometown Cleveland newspaper that reported the 1988 Class of inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: not only was Woody Guthrie being honored—but also a singer whom he greatly influenced, Bob Dylan.

Lads, Boys, Girls, Bob [Dylan] in Hall, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 October 1987

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 October 1987, page 83

Oh, and just in case you are a fan of the website FindAGrave.com, I’ll let you in on a “secret.” There may be a memorial stone to Woody in his hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma, but Woody’s not there. His ashes were actually spread at Coney Island, New York.

Janis Joplin (1943-1970)

The year was 1970. America was at war; the Vietnam War was raging in its 11th year. The fight over the war raged across our nation’s home front. The divisions that this war caused throughout America were evident in families, public protests, college campuses, and beyond. Rock and roll music was a boiling caldron fueled by many of these divisions (for instance my parents would not allow rock and roll in my house). Into this scene burst some of America’s most noted rock artists.

One of these was one of my personal favorites, Janis Joplin. Her name is forever welded to “Mercedes Benz” in my mind, a song she recorded just two days before her untimely death in 1970 at the age of only 27. As you can see it was Page One news in this 1970 article from a Texas newspaper.

Singer Janis Joplin Found Dead in Hotel, Dallas Morning News newspaper obituary 5 October 1970

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 5 October 1970, page 1

As you can imagine there followed numerous articles that mourned the loss of this one-of-a-kind singer. Other newspapers seized the occasion to rail away at the excesses of America’s youth.

This 1970 article from a North Carolina newspaper reported that Janis had signed her will only three days before her death, and left half her estate to her parents and one quarter each to her brother and sister.

Janis Joplin Left Estate to Family, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 22 October 1970

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 22 October 1970, page 11

Janis had a unique voice and style. In this 1969 article from a California newspaper, reporter Carol Olten had this to say about Janis: “Janis Joplin never leaves doubts in anyone’s mind about being THE rock ’n’ roll woman. Any musicians who appear on stage with her have been more or less reduced to mashed potatoes.”

Janis Joplin Here Saturday, San Diego Union newspaper article 28 September 1969

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 28 September 1969, page 78

Janis was indeed quite the woman of rock and roll. As reported in this 1994 article from an Illinois newspaper, she was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the 1995 Class of inductees.

[Janis] Joplin, [Frank] Zappa Join Hall of Fame, Register Star newspaper article 17 November 1994

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 17 November 1994, page 35

By the way, whenever you are in Cleveland, Ohio, pay a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famewhere you can see some of Janis’s memorabilia and a whole lot more. From personal experience, I suggest you allow at least two days for your visit!

Obituaries provide personal details about someone’s life that we can’t find elsewhere—whether they are our ancestors or famous people we’re interested in. GenealogyBank features two collections of obituaries:

Dig into these obituary archives today and see what you can discover about your family and favorite celebrities!

This Day in History, 10 September 1813: U.S. Wins Battle of Lake Erie

“We have met the enemy and they are ours.”—O.H. Perry

A collection of old newspapers, like GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is an essential resource for genealogists trying to find their family stories and capture the details of their ancestors’ lives. Old newspapers also help us better understand the times our ancestors lived in, and the events they were probably thinking about and discussing with their family and friends.

On this day in history, 10 September 1813: the tiny U.S. Navy defeated the mighty British Navy in a hard-fought battle on the waters of Lake Erie. Right after the fighting ended, American Commodore Oliver Perry wrote on the back of an old envelope his famous message to General William Harrison: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

article about the U.S. winning the Battle of Lake Erie over the British during the War of 1812, American and Commercial Daily Advertiser newspaper 23 September 1813

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland), 23 September 1813, page 2

During the 19th century the powerful British Royal Navy ruled the waves. However, during the War of 1812 one of the key clashes, the Battle of Lake Erie off the coast of Ohio, was a naval engagement in which the fledgling U.S. Navy completely defeated its British counterpart. On 10 September 1813 American Commodore Perry’s nine warships with 54 guns captured the entire British squadron of six warships with 61 guns led by Commodore Robert Barclay.

The nearly 3½ hour battle was hard-fought with similar casualties on both sides: the British lost 134 killed and wounded, the Americans 123. The battle did not start off well for the Americans, as Perry’s flagship Lawrence was badly damaged and most of its crew killed. He and his personal flag were rowed a half mile, while guns were roaring all around them, to take over the other large U.S. vessel, the Niagara. Perry dispatched the Niagara’s captain, Jesse Elliot, to command the smaller gunboats while he carried on the fight from the Niagara’s deck. Through sheer tenacity the Americans outfought the British, capturing all six ships and 306 men.

The American press quickly realized the significance of the morale-boosting victory.

Commodore Perry, American and Commercial Daily Advertiser newspaper article 25 September 1813

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland), 25 September 1813, page 3

The British had controlled Lake Erie since the outset of the war, and used this advantage to capture Detroit. However, after the Battle of Lake Erie the U.S. controlled the lake for the rest of the war, enabling them to recapture Detroit and prevail at the crucial Battle of the Thames.

Were any of your ancestors or relatives involved in the Battle of Lake Erie 200 years ago? If so, please share with us in the comments.

GenealogyBank Made 2013 Best 101 Genealogy Websites List!

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott—sparked by an award announcement he read—reminisces about some of the great family history discoveries he’s found in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives.

Congratulations on the great news! I just read that GenealogyBank.com, one of my all-time favorite “Go To” genealogy and family history websites, has been selected one of the “101 Best Websites for Genealogy in 2013” by Family Tree Magazine again! You can find the list online on the “Best U.S. Genealogy Websites of 2013” page on the Family Tree Magazine website.

I was happy to see this selection for such a super genealogy website, especially when I know that Family Tree Magazine has the largest circulation of any genealogy/family history magazine in America. I’m going out now to get my copy—the new issue of the magazine went on sale at newsstands nationwide today—to read all about the inclusion of GenealogyBank.com in the “101 Best.” This is certainly well deserved recognition for a terrific genealogy website.

Personally, I access GenealogyBank.com on almost a daily basis. Not only do I look up articles of interest on my ancestors, but with the constant growth and daily additions to GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives, I am always finding new and exciting gems for my family tree.

As I think back, GenealogyBank.com has provided me with some of the most memorable discoveries for my ancestry and in my genealogy work.

I will never forget the excitement and feelings of wonder when I first subscribed to GenealogyBank.com and quickly discovered an article in an 1897 Ohio newspaper titled simply “His Commission.”

His Commission: Joseph K. Vicha Receives It from the Governor and Expects to Assume the Duties of His Office Today, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 4 January 1897

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 January 1897, page 10

I had been working for years trying to find any clues that might lead to my great-grandfather, Joseph Vicha. This was especially meaningful since my then 90-year-old Mother had asked me to “find my grandfather” for her. This old newspaper article was the first lead I found, and it included such details as his work, approximate age, his activities in the Bohemian community, and even that he had received this position through an appointment by the governor of Ohio. It opened the doors to dozens more articles that have resulted in me gaining a much fuller picture of my great-grandfather. It was through a lead in one of these follow-up articles that I was able to locate an actual image of my great-grandfather. To this day it is the only known photograph of great-grandfather Vicha the family has ever seen.

photo of Joseph K. Vicha

Photo: Joseph K. Vicha. Credit: from the author’s collection.

I have used GenealogyBank.com to find the serious side of my ancestors’ lives, such as death notices, estate matters, divorces and more. I have also found the positive through births, marriages, anniversaries, and even stories of surviving when the ship they were on was torpedoed by a U-Boat!

I have even found stories that amazed me. One of my favorite family stories was this discovery in a 1915 Ohio newspaper titled “I Fed Her; I Petted Her; I Trusted Her; But Never Again!” This wonderful newspaper article that covered the story, complete with a pen and ink image of my ancestor, Joseph Kapl, (and “Minnie” the elephant too), related how he, as a zookeeper, was almost trampled to death by Minnie the circus elephant!

article about zookeeper Joseph Kapl and Minnie the elephant, Plain Dealer newspaper 23 March 1915

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

I constantly work to weave what I call the tapestry of our family history. I attempt to find and join the threads of our family’s cultures, values, and histories together into a tapestry that will represent all we are and all we have been, for the future generations. I couldn’t do that without the wonderful stories I find in newspapers thanks to GenealogyBank.com.

Congratulations again on being named one of the “101 Best Websites for Genealogy in 2013.” To me you will always be my #1!