FamilySearch Family Tree Adds Important New ‘Attach Record’ Feature

FamilySearch.org has released a new “Search & Attach Record” feature this week that lets you easily search and attach genealogy records to each person on your family tree.

For example, let’s look at Allen Pierce Richmond (1826-1912) on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Here he is on the Family Tree.

By clicking on his name, we can pull up his page of information on the Family Tree.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Here is how the new Search and Attach Records feature works.

First, notice the Search Records button on the right side.

screen shot of the new "Search and Attach Records" feature on FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Clicking on that button will pull up a list of possible genealogy record matches—much like Ancestry’s “shaky leaves.”

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

You then select the genealogy records that pertain to your target ancestor. You are able to open and see each of these documents to confirm that they are your ancestor’s records.

For example, if we click on the reference for the 1910 Census that page immediately opens up.

screenshot of 1910 Census from FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch.org

After confirming that this is the correct Allen P. Richmond, we can immediately add this census record as a hyperlinked source to his page on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

With a click we can switch from the digital image of the 1910 Census to the index page for that household in the 1910 Census.

Click on the bright blue “Attach to Family Tree” button.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

This will pull up a decision box that lets you select the correct person to attach this 1910 Census page to.

Notice that this box has two options:

  • Possible Matches—where FamilySearch suggests matches
  • History List—where you can see the drop-down list of persons you recently viewed in your family tree

By selecting our target Allen Pierce Richmond (1826-1912) a confirmation screen will appear asking: “Is This Your Person?”

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

This step gives you the opportunity to review and confirm that you are accurately attaching this 1910 Census page to the correct Allen Pierce Richmond.

It also gives you the opportunity to add an explanation why you are attaching this document—perfect for those difficult-to-read old genealogy records. This space lets you explain how you reached your conclusion that this was his census record.

Click the blue attach button.

Now this census record has been attached as a source on Allen Pierce Richmond’s page on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

The 1910 Census attached to Allen Pierce Richmond on your Family Tree is permanently hyperlinked there in the list of “Sources” on his page in the tree. With one click the digital copy of the 1910 Census page will open right up.

Now you or any genealogist can see the sources you used to document your Family Tree on FamilySearch.

If you don’t agree with the conclusions and documentation that a genealogist adds to your ancestor, you can easily add the additional documentation that you find so that all of the genealogy records are attached to the person on the tree.

Quick, easy and permanent.

This new FamilySearch Family Tree feature will be heavily used and relied upon by genealogists.

Old Tombstones Recently Unearthed from Forgotten Illinois Cemetery

Genealogists are always digging.

So are backhoe operators.

It was a good thing that the Fosterburg Water District was digging for a waterline in Prairietown, Illinois, because while digging they found a long-abandoned historic cemetery.

Amazing.

No one had remembered that there was an old cemetery there. The tombstones had fallen and over the years were buried and forgotten.

Old Tombstone from Prairietown, Illinois Cemetery

Credit: John Badman, The Telegraph (Alton, Illinois), 28 June 2013.

Credit: John Badman, The Telegraph (Alton, Illinois), 28 June 2013.

The dig for the waterline unearthed these long-lost gravestones. Anthropologist Dawn E. Cobb from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency began studying why these tombstones were there. She looked at old Illinois maps and quickly found that there was a cemetery located at that spot in 1873, and a church was shown there on an 1892 map.

Years ago St. Mary’s Roman Catholic parish was merged with a parish in Macoupin County, Illinois. Now she is investigating how many people were buried there and researching the old records to find their names and genealogical details. Read the entire story in The Telegraph (Alton, Illinois), 28 June 2013: http://bit.ly/1aZp9Ac.

How many small cemeteries are gone from our memories?

How many tombstones have tipped over—with solid genealogical information buried—waiting to be rediscovered?

Historic Cemeteries and Unmarked Graves Newspaper Articles

Take the time this summer to research and found out where the old cemeteries were in your area 150 and 200 years ago. Are they all still accounted for?

Let us know if you rediscover a “lost” cemetery and what you found in the comments.

The History of the Great 1918 Flu Pandemic: We All Wore Masks

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena researches old newspaper articles to learn about the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, a three-year disaster that killed approximately 50 million people worldwide and unquestionably affected the lives of any of your ancestors living in the years 1918-1920.

Influenza is a disease, makes you weak all in your knees;
‘Tis a fever ev’ybody sure does dread;
Puts a pain in ev’y bone, a few days an’ you are gone
To a place in de groun’ called de grave.

—“Influenza,” lyrics found on American Memory: the John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip. Song sung by Ace Johnson, Clemens State Farm, Brazoria, Texas, April 16, 1939.

Earlier this year, despite having had a flu shot, I ended up catching the flu. Anyone who has had the flu knows how truly miserable it is. When you are suffering from it, you can easily understand how someone could die from its symptoms. Although still deadly, the flu does not strike the terror in people’s minds that it once did. In fact many people take a wait and see approach, frequently opting not to get the yearly influenza vaccination shot.

When many people think of our ancestors and the flu, they automatically think of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic—and with good reason. This was one of the deadliest flu pandemics in history.

What Is Spanish Influenza? Dr. Rupert Blue Tells about It, Times-Picayune newspaper article 6 October 1918

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 6 October 1918, page 1

From January 1918 to December 1920, this flu pandemic killed approximately 50 million people worldwide, nearly 675,000 in the United States alone.[i] By contrast, 16 million lives were lost during World War I, which was still ongoing during the Spanish flu pandemic’s first year. Why was this flu different from previous forms of influenza? One significant difference in this deadly strain was that young adults were affected just as much as the usual at-risk groups: young children and the elderly.[ii]

This influenza pandemic touched everyone’s lives whether they came down with the virus or not. Efforts to curb the spread of the flu disaster included requiring people to wear facemasks, and discouraging public meetings. The committee of the American Public Health Association decreed that non-essential meetings and gatherings in crowded rooms were dangerous. Some of the APHA recommendations included the closing of “saloons, dance halls, and cinemas.”[iii]

Influenza Mask Wearing Compulsory: Health Board, San Jose Mercury News newspaper article 11 December 1918

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 11 December 1918, page 1

The implementation of these public safety health precautions shows how seriously the influenza pandemic was taken. A startling example of this is described in the following article from a 1918 Washington newspaper, reporting that a public health officer shot a person on the street who refused to don a mask.

Refuses to Don Influenza Mask; Shot by Officer, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 28 October 1918

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 28 October 1918, page 2

The vast movement of troops caused by World War I meant that an illness that would normally be quickly contained instead had worldwide consequences. While the 1918 pandemic is the one that often gets remembered, there have been other epidemics including those of a more recent nature, like the recent Swine Flu. There is no doubt that the 1918 pandemic wasn’t the only one that may have affected your family. According to the website flu.gov there have been four flu pandemics since 1918.[i]

Do you have an ancestor who had the flu during the Spanish flu pandemic? Want to learn more about the history of that outbreak? Good sources for researching historical epidemics are the books Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence: From Ancient Times to the Present by George Childs Kohn, and America’s Forgotten Epidemic: The Influenza of 1918 by Alfred W. Crosby.

Don’t forget to search for old newspaper articles about the flu on GenealogyBank. By searching on the word “influenza” and narrowing your search by date and place you will be able to find articles of how the pandemics affected your ancestor’s community and other parts of the United States.


[i] Pandemic Flu History. Available at http://www.flu.gov/pandemic/history/index.html.

[ii] The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918. National Archives and Records Administration. Available at http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/influenza-epidemic/.

[iii] The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Available at http://virus.stanford.edu/uda/.

Deciphering 19th Century Handwriting and Type in Records & Newspapers

19th Century newspapers and handwritten records (such as the census) can be hard to read.

If you are having difficulty deciphering the handwriting or type, read through the issue of a newspaper or page in the census to see if other words on the page can give you clues to the editor’s or census taker’s writing style.

For example: here we have Eliza Markham living with her husband and family in Gerry, Chautauqua County, New York, as recorded in the 1855 New York State Census.

photo of the listing of the Markham family in the 1855 New York State Census

Credit: FamilySearch.org
1855 New York State Census
https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K6SG-7SG

Look carefully at the handwritten entry for Eliza Markham.

photo of the listing of Eliza Markham in the 1855 New York State Census

Credit: FamilySearch.org
1855 New York State Census
https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K6SG-7SG

Is her name “Eliza” or “Eleru”?

Is this a 19th Century name you’re not familiar with—or is it simply a handwriting style you don’t recognize?

Not so simple is it?

As you look at each handwritten letter in her name, you have to think through the options. Some letters are easier to read then others.

What you want to do is to carefully review the other words on the page to become more familiar with the census taker’s handwriting.

Let’s examine each letter in this name:

  • “E” – the initial letter has flourishes that make you wonder, but it is probably an “E”
    “l” – yes, the second letter is clearly a lower-case “l”
  • “i” – the “i” can be a little tricky—I don’t see a dot over the “i”…is this an “e” instead?
  • “z” – is that fourth letter an “r”? Would that fit? Looking at it again, it is probably the letter “z” written in the printed style instead of the cursive style
  • “a” – what about this open-topped final letter—is it the letter “u” or an “a”?

In trying to determine if that final letter is a “u” or an “a,” look at other examples on that same page:

  • Repeatedly the final “a” in Markham is written with an open top, much like a “u”
  • The daughter’s name “Alvira” on the seventh line is written with an open-topped final “a”
  • The family’s one-year-old son—and the father—also have a final open-topped “a” in their name

So, we can conclude from this handwriting pattern that her name was “Eliza.”

You will want to verify this by comparing the name to other genealogy records created in her lifetime.

Newspaper editors set and reset the pieces of type needed for each day’s newspaper. Broken type, ink spots, and gremlins of all sizes made their way into print and became a permanent part of the surviving newspapers—just like the imperfections in the handwritten records made by thousands of census takers a century ago.

FamilySearch Wiki has a handy multi-page chart of common spelling and transcription errors that were common in 19th Century printed newspapers and in handwritten documents like the census.

The “Intended” column shows what the letter was supposed to be, while the “Common Mistakes” column shows how the letter may appear.

a common-letter mistakes chart from FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch Wiki

See the FamilySearch common letter mistakes charts here: https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Spelling_Substitution_Tables_for_the_United_States_and_Canada

With these handy charts—and the patience to examine other examples on the page you’re viewing—you’ll find it gets easier deciphering difficult-to-read 19th Century newspapers and handwritten records.

Find the Oldest People to Ever Live, as Reported in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary looks through newspaper articles to find stories about the oldest people to have ever lived—and issues a challenge to readers to find even greater claims of longevity in the newspapers.

With the Baby Boomers aging and advances in medicine, longevity is a hot topic in the news these days. There’s a lot of talk about how long people lived in the past—and speculation about how long people will live in the near future.

Newspapers are a great resource to research how long our ancestors lived—and a good way to keep up with current health, medicine and aging issues going forward. According to knowledgeable sources, the oldest verified person to have ever lived attained the astonishing age of 122 years, 164 days!

Her name was Jeanne Calment (1875-1997), a resident of France. According to this 1997 Georgia newspaper article, she was interred in Trinquetaille Cemetery in Arles, France.

Honoring the Eldest, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 7 August 1997

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 7 August 1997, page 53

Several groups track longevity, including Wikipedia on this Oldest People webpage. Guinness World Records tracks the oldest person by specific activities. Some oldest-person GWR listings include the oldest person to have a total hip replacement, the oldest person to obtain a pilot’s license, and the oldest person to sail around the world.

Those Guinness senior citizen records are all interesting, but it is more intriguing to focus on overall longevity.

Jeanne Calment, who received her certificate from Guinness Records in 1988 at the age of 113, passed away on 4 August 1997. This 1988 South Dakota newspaper article shows her in her ripe old age holding a large certificate noting her birth on 21 February 1875.

Guinness Record, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 15 June 1988

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 15 June 1988, page 2

After her in the rankings of greatest longevity are three other centenarian women: Sarah Knauss (119 years), Lucy Hannah (117 years) and Marie-Louise Meilleur (117 years), although some verification of their ages is disputed.

Another entry in the greatest-longevity rankings whose age is disputed is Carrie White, who was supposedly 116 when she died in 1991. She was said to have been born in 1874, a time “when Ulysses S. Grant was president and Gen. George Armstrong Custer was still two years away from his last stand” according to this 1991 newspaper article from Illinois.

Oldest Woman, Register Star newspaper article 15 February 1991

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 15 February 1991, page 6

In 1998, when Sarah Knauss was informed of her honor as the oldest person alive, she reacted with a simple “So what?” according to this 1998 Illinois newspaper story found in the online archives.

Woman Unfazed by Oldest Designation, Register Star newspaper article 19 April 1998

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 19 April 1998, page 3

Genealogical Challenge: Find the Oldest People to Ever Live

But who’s really counting when you are a centenarian of distinction?

We are, that’s who! So readers, we challenge you to verify the life of a centenarian older than any of the women mentioned above—or, alternatively, find the oldest claimed age at death. You’ll find an outrageous assortment of longevity claims reported in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives, though certainly none as old as the Bible figure Methuselah—who reportedly attained an age of 969 years!

By browsing this collage of obituaries, you can review a succession of extraordinary longevity claims.

collage of obituaries claiming extreme old age

Collage of obituaries claiming extreme old age

It’s as if each newspaper wanted the bragging rights for the oldest centenarian. Did Andy Roark and Cato Pidgeon really attain the age of 130 years? Was it possible for Nancy Lawton to reach 140, and who was R. Sarman, reported to have lived to 160?

  • Andy Roark: 130 years
  • Cato Pidgeon: 130 years
  • John Hannah: 136 years
  • Nancy Lawton: 140 years
  • Antionio Infante: 150 years
  • Mary Tecuyas: 150 years
  • R. Sarman: 160 years

I tried to verify these age claims, but was not successful. See if you can verify any of these ages—or, if not, see what other incredible age claims you can find in the newspapers.

Follow these guidelines and let us know what you find in the comments on our FaceBook or Blog page. There are two ways to participate in this longevity challenge.

Part 1: Verify a previously unknown oldest person

Submit evidence to prove and verify a centenarian’s age older than Jeanne Calment.

Show supporting documentation, supported by generally accepted genealogical records (GAGR).

These may include civil and church registration, census, family records, and other documentation to show longevity. Tombstone photos alone do not suffice as evidence, as errors in birth years are often caused by confusion between persons of the same name.

Part 2: Find the oldest person as reported in an obituary

Even if you can’t verify the longevity, let’s see who can find the oldest reported person in an obituary or other newspaper article. No evidence is required—just an obituary or newspaper article from GenealogyBank, printed around the time of death. Recollections or reprints from long afterwards do not count.

Let’s see who can come up with the most convincing proof of extreme longevity—and who can come up with the most incredible and unbelievable claim of extreme old age!

Good luck! We look forward to your responses.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

The Works of Benjamin Franklin (1817)

painting of Benjamin Franklin, by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis

Painting: Benjamin Franklin, by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis (1725–1802). Credit: National Portrait Gallery; Wikipedia.

Extreme Weather in History: Stories That Affected Our Ancestors

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena researches old newspaper articles to show how severe weather deeply affected our ancestors’ lives.

Last week I went to pick up my son from a pool party and the outside temperature was 100 degrees at 9:00 p.m. While I expect it to be hot in the summer during the daytime, when it’s 100 degrees at night I know we’re in store for a heat wave.

There can be no doubt that the weather significantly affected our ancestors’ lives, even that of more recent generations. In my own family, my grandparents moved from the Los Angeles area to Indio, California, a desert community near Palm Springs, in the 1950s. The average daily high in the summer months is well over 100 degrees. Because my grandfather worked for the railroad, when he wasn’t sitting in a train in the heat he was working outside. Having traveled to that area many times I can’t imagine living there without air conditioning.

How did the weather affect your ancestors? Did they or a family member suffer an injury or die due to extreme cold or heat? Do you ever consider how the weather affected your ancestors’ everyday lives?

collage of scenes from the Blizzard of 1888 in Keene, New Hampshire

Collage: scenes of the Blizzard of 1888 in Keene, New Hampshire. Credit: Keene Public Library and the Historical Society of Cheshire County.

The Children’s Blizzard of 1888

Stories of the deadly consequences of severe weather filled our ancestors’ hometown newspapers. For those with Great Plains ancestors, the 12 January 1888 blizzard known as “The Children’s Blizzard” has great historical significance. This tremendously strong storm, which spread all the way to New England, caught everyone by surprise—including children at school, some of whom died because they couldn’t get home and the schools lacked provisions. This blizzard is chronicled in the book The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin. Those who have read the “Little House on the Prairie” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder are familiar with this extreme blizzard because it’s depicted in the book The Long Winter.

This 1888 Missouri newspaper article reported the “awful list” of victims from the severe blizzard.

An Awful List: Victims of the Deadly Blizzard, Kansas City Times newspaper article 17 January 1888

Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri), 17 January 1888, page 1

Newspapers are filled with articles reporting severe blizzards in history.

Extreme Heat Wave Hit New England

Sudden weather anomalies like blizzards weren’t the only type of weather that had dire consequences for our ancestors. Extreme heat—especially the inability to escape it—was also something that took its toll on our ancestors. This article from a 1911 Massachusetts newspaper reports on those who died from a heat wave blasting New England, including a man who was run over by his horse-drawn cart when the horses went crazy from the heat.

Second Heat Wave Calls Toll of Ten, Boston Journal newspaper article 11 July 1911

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 11 July 1911, page 1

Newspapers provide information on the day-to-day weather in your ancestors’ communities. Explore them to find stories of extreme storms and severe weather throughout history. Newspapers also printed old daily almanac weather reports and bulletins that can give you insight into the weather conditions that affected your ancestors’ lives.

Once you’ve researched these articles to identify extreme weather stories and weather records, consider searching a manuscript collection for a diary or journal in which someone describes how the weather on a particular day affected the city or town.

Another good source of historical weather information is Google Books. Titles such as The Weather and Climate of Chicago by Henry Joseph Cox and John Howard Armington, and Maryland Weather Service by Maryland Weather Service, Forrest Shreve and Oliver Lanard Fassig, provide weather data back to the beginning of the 19th century.

The weather affected all aspects of our ancestors’ lives from their work to their everyday living circumstances. Take a look at their area’s newspapers for the story behind the weather—one more way historical newspapers help you flesh out the names and dates on your family tree to get to know your ancestors better, the lives they led, and the times they lived in.

Search Revolutionary War Records Online & Share Your Finds

With Memorial Day, Flag Day and July 4th fresh in our memory, genealogists often think about their Revolutionary War ancestors.

American Revolutionary War Newspapers Collage

Revolutionary War Newspaper Articles from GenealogyBank.com

Remember that GenealogyBank has a strong collection of historical newspapers and records from the 1700s and 1800s. Discover your early American ancestry in millions of records from the Revolutionary period.

Let’s honor the lives of each one of our Revolutionary War ancestors.

Between now and the end of the year we will be posting articles and obituaries about Revolutionary War soldiers. The American Revolutionary War started 238 years ago.

Write in and tell us about your Revolutionary War ancestor. Let’s recognize and remember 238 Revolutionary War soldiers in the days ahead. Let’s all do our part in making sure the memories of these brave Revolutionary War heroes are not lost.

Please post your genealogy research finds here in the blog’s comments section.

Celebrate Independence Day by Honoring Our American Ancestors

Cheers to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—and to our brave American ancestors who fought for our freedom! Amidst the festivities and fireworks of this 4th of July holiday, take time to remember those heroic American revolutionaries that came before us, boldly paving the paths for our futures.

To The People of the United 13 Colonies - July 6, 1776

Freeman’s Journal (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 6 July 1776, page 2.

GenealogyBank is one of the best online resources available to trace your family history back to your American Colonial and Revolutionary roots. Our historical archives contain hundreds of thousands of articles from the Colonial and Revolutionary periods. Many of these records from the 1600s and 1700s are exclusive to our online collections, making GenealogyBank a prime location to explore your early American ancestry.

Happy 4th of July, 2013, to all our fellow Americans! Raise your head, your flag, your glass and salute each other and our ancestors. Dig into GenealogyBank’s genealogy records and discover the early American heroes in your family tree.

To read the above historical newspaper article about the Declaration of Independence in full, visit To The People of the Thirteen Colonies.

How Is Your Local Genealogical Society Doing?

photo of a presentation made during the 2013 RootsTech genealogical conference

Credit: RootsTech

The Reading Eagle (Reading, Pennsylvania) ran an interesting article about the dropping membership of the Berks County Genealogical Society.

According to the article this local genealogical society is feeling the impact of dropping memberships at the same time interest in genealogy is soaring. Instead of joining local genealogical societies, new genealogists seem to be going directly to the Internet to ask questions, learn the basics of genealogical research and search for their ancestors.

The national genealogical conferences like the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Genealogical Society annual conferences have seen a drop-off in attendance since 11 September 2001. Meanwhile the annual RootsTech conferences have seen a surge in attendance during the three years this family history conference has been held.

At the same time, online weekly webinars like the Legacy Family Tree Webinars have 1,000 people attending, and podcasts like the Genealogy Guys Podcast are seeing each episode downloaded over 4,000 times. That is way more than the number of genealogists attending the annual meeting of a large city or state genealogical society…and they are pulling that many of us every week.

How is your local genealogical society doing?

Is it growing?

Is there excitement?

Is it fresh?

Is there a buzz?

When I attended my first genealogical society meetings 50 years ago in the early 1960s—the meetings of the Stamford Genealogical Society (now called the Connecticut Ancestry Society)—the focus was on outreach and training. Their chief projects were having the genealogical society members submit their family tree charts (which were put in binders and cross indexed), and producing the quarterly journal. They were good, effective meetings. We all looked forward to them. It was like an extended family.

The genealogy world changed in 1976 with the publication of Alex Haley’s Roots and the launch of the companion television series in 1977. Genealogy has not been the same since. We went from 200 genealogical societies in the United States to over 4,000 societies.

FamilySearch Indexing has well over 100,000 indexers, all volunteers, who are creating over 1 million indexed genealogy records every day.

How is your local genealogical society doing?

What is your society doing to keep itself fresh and exciting?

Share your ideas and best practices.

Post them here today in the comments.

Investigating the Murder Mystery of Louise Bailey with Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena searches old newspapers to investigate the murder mystery of Louise Bailey back in 1914.

“If she is innocent, may God help her.”

~ Mrs. Duryea

Imagine a story that involves jealousy, murder, and a bullet through a window. The players in this tragedy include the jealous society wife of a physician, the doctor, and a female patient. And as with all good whodunits the story ends with more questions than answers.

Is this the plot of a recent murder mystery novel? Perhaps one of those episodes of Law and Order ripped from the headlines? No, this is a murder mystery that happened almost 100 years ago, specifically June 1914 in Freeport, New York. A story preserved in old newspaper articles.

It involves Dr. Edwin Carman, his wife Florence Carman, and a patient named Mrs. Louise Bailey. On that June evening Mrs. Bailey was in the exam room of Dr. Carman’s home medical office, seeking a remedy for malaria. Suddenly a bullet was fired from outside that went through the window of the exam room and killed Mrs. Bailey instantly. Later, speculation would arise that Mrs. Bailey was the unintended murder victim and the real target was the doctor himself.

photo of Dr. Edwin Carman with his daughter Elizabeth

Photo: Dr. Edwin Carman with his daughter Elizabeth. Credit: Library of Congress, Windows Live Photo Gallery.

As with any murder that involves a married woman, first suspicions might rest with the husband of the victim. In this case, Mr. Bailey was at home at the time of the shooting, wondering what was taking his wife so long. It is thought that this was the first time Mrs. Bailey had sought Dr. Carman’s services.

photo of Florence Carman, wife of Dr. Carman

Photo: Florence Carman, wife of Dr. Carman. Credit: Library of Congress, Windows Live Photo Gallery.

Suspicion quickly turned to Mrs. Carman, who admitted that in the past, jealousy had driven her to such acts as setting up a recording device in her husband’s office so that she could hear anything going on behind those closed doors. Bugging her husband’s office wasn’t the first time Mrs. Carman had allowed jealousy to cloud her judgment. Her husband relayed a story where Mrs. Carman had burst into the exam room and slapped and pulled the hair of a female patient.

So from their own admission, Mrs. Carman had been known to be jealous of her husband’s female patients—but was she capable of murder? While Mrs. Carman and another family member insisted she was in bed at the time of the shooting, a male patient in the waiting room testified that he had seen her walking around.

Sensations in Bailey Slaying, Elkhart Daily Review newspaper article 3 July 1914

Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 3 July 1914, page 4

Whether it was the vengeance of a disgruntled employee—or the true testimony of someone who heard Mrs. Carman admit her guilt—the Carman’s maid said that Mrs. Carman had confessed to her that “she shot (at) him.” The maid’s claim sealed the deal and Mrs. Carman was put on trial for first degree murder.

The alleged confession added to the speculation that the doctor was the true target of the crime. Mrs. Carman’s defense team argued that the real killer was an unknown man. Another possible suspect for the shooting raised by the defense was an “insane” patient exacting some sort of revenge on the doctor. But Dr. Carman couldn’t think of any possible patients who fit that profile.

photo of the 1914 murder investigation at the home of Dr. Edwin Carman

Photo: murder investigation at the home of Dr. Edwin Carman. Credit: Library of Congress, Windows Live Photo Gallery.

After a sensational court trial, the jury reported to the judge that they were hopelessly deadlocked on the verdict. Later, a second murder trial acquitted Florence Carman. Did Florence Carman get away with murder or was this a case of some random act of violence? Maybe Mrs. Carman had reason to be jealous or maybe an equally jealous husband pulled the trigger, intent on ending the life of the doctor.

We may never know what really happened that summer evening at the home office of Dr. Carman, but if you’re investigating a case of a murder in your family history, remember that those who commit murder leave a paper trail—and that trail can often be found in old newspapers.

Have a murder case or other crimes in your family tree? Consult newspapers in the city that the ancestor was from, as well as newspapers from across the United States because the story may have been picked up and republished. Read histories of the area for information about the case and the families involved. If the case went to trail, spend some time at the courthouse or hire someone to find documents relating to the case. Also, peruse old newspapers for court case articles. The public hearings and verdicts of superior, civil and criminal court cases can often be found in old newspapers. A criminal case may just be the tip of the iceberg. The victim’s family may have also decided to sue, so check the civil trial index. Looking for other records to consider? Coroner’s inquests and criminal records might also help.

What happened to Dr. and Mrs. Carman? They continued to live out their days in Freeport, New York. Some books suggest that her new-found infamy led her to the New York stage where she spent a short time singing.* It seems that even in the “good old days” those who committed murder sometimes found a fame that escaped them prior to their notorious deeds.

While you may never know what really happened in your family’s murder case, with enough research you can at least tell the story. Whether your ancestor was the accused or the victim of the crime, resources exist to help piece together and document this part of your family history.

____________________

Note: the quote at the beginning of the post refers to the fact that Mrs. Bailey’s mother, Mrs. Duryea, reportedly said of the accused killer Florence Carman: “If she is innocent, may God help her.” “Mrs. Florence Carman Arrested and Held on Charge of Murder.” Meridian Weekly Republican (Meridian, Connecticut), 9 July 1914, page 1.

* The books Ghosts of 42nd Street by Anthony Bianco (page 40) and When I’m Bad, I’m Better: Mae West, Sex, and Entertainment by Marybeth Hamilton (page 4) both suggest Florence Carman spent some time singing on stage.