Newspaper Articles Fill Blanks in Family History

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspapers to find stories about a member of his extended family, the 19th century philanthropist John Huntington—a founding donor of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

While growing up, one of my favorite family weekend trips was to visit the Cleveland Museum of Art. I would marvel at the art, the sculpture, and of course as a young boy, the Armor Court which displayed suits of armor. Later, during my college years, the Museum was my favorite destination as an escape from the pressures of studying. I’d make the 1½ hour drive over to Cleveland and enjoy the art, especially my all-time favorite painting, Water Lilies (Agapanthus) by Claude Monet. Years later during my mother’s 90th birthday family reunion in Cleveland, I was proud that my son and daughter-in-law took our young grandsons to visit the Museum as well.

Amazingly, just a few days ago I learned I had yet another family reason to appreciate the Museum: I discovered that one of my ancestors was a founding donor to establish the Museum.

portrait of philanthropist John Huntington

Portrait of John Huntington. Credit: from the author’s collection.

I made this discovery while in the midst of a review of those family tree branches that I had not fully researched. I began work on one of my Bohemian ancestors, Frank Joseph Ptak, who married Margaret Alice Walker. I realized that I had never researched the Walker family, so I began there. After utilizing a few resources, such as the marvelous online database of the Cleveland Public Library’s Cleveland Necrology File, I was deep into searching the newspapers of the time on GenealogyBank.com.

I was diligently reading marriage announcements, obituaries, and a few interesting stories regarding a street assault or two, when a sentence at the bottom of the marriage announcement titled “Dalbey-Leek” caught my eye.

wedding announcement for Dorothy Leek and Sherman Dalbey, Plain Dealer newspaper article 6 June 1937

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 6 June 1937, page 97

As you can see the line stated: “The bride is a grand niece of the late John Huntington, philanthropist.” Having been a fundraiser myself in an earlier career, I just had to look into this philanthropist. This was especially true since I knew Margaret Alice Walker’s mother was Ann H. (Huntington) Walker.

I took a chance and searched directly on John Huntington, narrowing my search to Ohio newspapers, and my very first result was more than I had hoped for.

Magnificent Donation to the City of Cleveland by John Huntington, Plain Dealer newspaper article 4 February 1893

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 February 1893, page 1

There in the fourth paragraph as “Item 2” were John’s specific legacies to his family members, and he nicely listed each of his brothers and sisters—which included Ann Walker!

I researched further and soon found a very complete article which, while reporting John Huntington’s death in London, England, contained the subheading that included this information: “One of the First Men to Make a Fortune from The Standard Oil Company.”

John Huntington Dead, New York Tribune newspaper obituary, 12 January 1893

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 12 January 1893, page 5

This article also contained reports of his birth date, town, father, his father’s occupation, his living children, and even the report of how his son Arthur had been killed by a train. This article helped me discover the birth records for John Huntington in the United Kingdom, his marriage record, and records for several of his family members.

Out of interest, I searched the newspapers to see if there was an account of the death of Arthur Huntington as mentioned in the New York Tribune. I discovered a gruesome, but complete, accounting of the accident that led to his death.

Both Legs Cut Off, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 April 1891

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 April 1891, page 2

I have to admit the headline “Both Legs Cut Off” sent shivers through me. The next day, on 27 April 1981, the Plain Dealer reported the grim news that Arthur had died from his extensive injuries.

In need of some more cheerful news to finish my day’s research, I came across a delightful article. It reported that the mayor of Cleveland, Newton Baker, was going to dedicate the Cleveland Museum of Art by sitting in the moonlight and having a slice of watermelon on the marble steps.

Watermelon Will Dedicate Museum, Plain Dealer newspaper article 27 June 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 June 1915, page 13

I remember walking up those steps many times, but I don’t recall seeing any watermelon seeds!

Carnegie Libraries: A History of Library Philanthropy from Steel

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post Gena writes about a resource beloved by genealogists, the local library—and how thousands were built thanks to the generosity of businessman, steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

Many genealogists are thankful for a resource that helps them immensely with their family history research: the local library. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, communities throughout the English-speaking world owed their local libraries to the generosity of one man: businessman, steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

Between the years 1883 and 1929, more than 2,500 libraries were built with donated Carnegie money, including a staggering 1,689 in the United States alone!

A recent History Channel mini-series, “The Men Who Built America,” told the story of those late 19th century tycoons who helped industrialize and bring innovation to the United States, including Andrew Carnegie. While the wealth that Carnegie amassed building his steel empire later benefitted the public, he was not without controversy. Along with his business success, Carnegie was also known for his indirect roles in the tragedies of the 1889 Johnstown Flood and the deadly Homestead Strike in 1892. Carnegie, no matter how benevolent, was not a universally-liked man during his time.

While he spent his working years building Carnegie Steel, his later years were devoted to philanthropy including establishing thousands of libraries in the United States, the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries. Carnegie wrote that the rich had a moral obligation to distribute their wealth, and that is what he did—and continues to do long after his death in 1919, thanks to endowments set up during his lifetime.*

Was your town granted money for a Carnegie library? To secure a new library, communities had to write a letter requesting funding. They were then provided a form to fill out with questions about the community’s present library and finances. Funding for a Carnegie library was not an outright gift. Those seeking funding were required to provide the land and funding for the continued operation and maintenance of the library each year, about 10% of the initial funding amount.**

Though these conditions made some communities angry, who saw them as a drain on taxpayer money, others understood the educational opportunity made possible by the offer of a Carnegie library. The first Carnegie library in the United States was opened in 1902 in New York City.

Here is an example of an announcement in an old newspaper for the approval of a library in the California town of Nevada City.

Carnegie Library for Nevada City, Evening News newspaper article 29 February 1904

Evening News (San Jose, California), 29 February 1904, page 1

This library building still stands and now houses the Doris Foley Library for Historical Research, a research facility for Nevada County history.

While some of those Carnegie-funded libraries still exist and function as active libraries, including the one pictured below in the Southern California town of Beaumont, there are many that have not stood the test of time or were converted to other uses.

photo of the Carnegie library in Beaumont, California

Photo: Carnegie-funded library in Beaumont, California. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.

In some cases a city’s growing population meant that a bigger library was eventually needed. This happened in San Diego, whose booming population outgrew its cramped library (opened in 1902) over the decades. That San Diego library was the first Carnegie library in California.

photo of the Carnegie library in San Diego about to be demolished, San Diego Union newspaper photograph 17 July 1952

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 17 July 1952, page 3

Interested in learning more about Carnegie libraries? Here are some websites for Carnegie libraries and images:

Want to know even more about Carnegie libraries? The Andrew Carnegie Collection housed at the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries includes documents regarding Carnegie libraries.

* History Channel. Andrew Carnegie. http://www.history.com/topics/andrew-carnegie. Accessed 31 March 2013.

** Determining the Facts. Reading 2: Obtaining a Carnegie Library http://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/50carnegie/50facts3.htm. Accessed 31 March 2013.