A Civil War Captain in My Family Tree?! Share Your Surprises

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about his genealogy surprise: he was researching a branch of his family tree and discovered a Confederate captain from the Civil War!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of working on our genealogy is the surprises we discover. If you are like me, you have had your fair share of finding something in your family history research that you either weren’t looking for at the time, or were shocked at what you actually did find. Recently that happened to me while I was working on our daughter-in-law’s family branch. Here is that story. And after telling you about my latest genealogy adventure, I’d love to hear about your biggest genealogy surprises!

I had been at work on our daughter-in-law’s family tree for some time when I got a bit stumped on one of the female members back in the early 1800s. The family was from southern Ohio and their daughter Mary A. Dillon seemed to have disappeared on me. That is to say, she disappeared until a colleague happened to mention that he thought she might have married a fellow by the name of Scovell. A quick check with the Lawrence County, Ohio, Genealogy Society and I confirmed the marriage of our Mary A. Dillon to one William Tiley Scovell. Once I had a place and a name I was off to the newspaper archives and other databases of GenealogyBank.com to see what else I could find.

Well, the last thing I was expecting to find in my family tree was a Civil War Confederate captain who was so in demand that Southern generals were competing to have his services! Plus, none other than General Robert E. Lee, the top man himself, was deciding where Scovell could best serve the Confederacy.

I’ve long known that we have a Civil War veteran or two in our family tree, but never anyone above the rank of private and certainly no one who was in demand quite like Captain Scovell. A riverboat captain before the war, Scovell evidently was extremely adept at getting ships, men, and cargo up and down—as well as across—rivers.

In my first search I found an 1895 newspaper article explaining that Captain Scovell had just passed away—at that time he was the second-to-last surviving member of the Grivot Rifles of the Fifteenth Louisiana Infantry.

William Scovell obituary, Times-Picayune newspaper article 4 July 1895

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 4 July 1895, page 11

From this old newspaper article I gained excellent information, leads, and insight into the Civil War career of William T. Scovell and began looking further.

Next I discovered, in GenealogyBank.com’s Historical Documents collection, the Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, which showed William T. Scovell “taking rank” on June 5, 1862, in Louisiana.

reference to William Scovell in the Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865

U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865. Volume II. Serial Set Vol. No. 4611; S.Doc. 234 pt. 2.

Next I found an additional 1895 newspaper article about Scovell.

Liked by Lee and Jackson, Idaho Register newspaper article 18 October 1895

Idaho Register (Idaho Falls, Idaho), 18 October 1895, page 2

This historical newspaper article was wonderful since it explained that Captain Scovell’s services were argued over by Generals Stonewall Jackson and Early, with the decision over Scovell’s assignment coming from General Robert E. Lee himself. It also offered the information that Captain Scovell was one of the CSA officers in charge of the infamous burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, on July 30, 1864.

Then I discovered a real bit of genealogy treasure. In a 1922 newspaper I read a “Succession Notice” for “Mrs. Mary A. Dillon, widow of William T. Scovell.”

succession notice for Mary Dillon, New Orleans States newspaper article 8 January 1922

New Orleans States (New Orleans, Louisiana), 8 January 1922, page 35

This historical succession notice was for the probate of the estate of Mary. I have since sent to Louisiana for instructions and information on how I can access this will and estate file since the old news article wonderfully contains the court name, parish, division, date, file number, deceased, attorney, and executor. What an abundance of information in one short article!

photo of the crypt of William T. Scovell and Mary Dillon in Louisiana

Photo: the Louisiana crypt for William T. Scovell, his wife Mary Dillon, and their family. Credit: from the author’s collection.

From almost nothing I am now deeply involved in learning about our family’s Civil War luminary and it brings me back to the question I asked in the beginning of this article.

Tell me…what is the biggest surprise that you have found doing your genealogy and family history?

Genealogy Is Family Stories & Newspapers Are Full of Them

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott hears some interesting family stories from his 93-year-old mother and digs into old newspapers to learn more.

If you were at RootsTech 2013 or followed much of that genealogy conference online as I did, you know that speaker after speaker reminded us that stories are what make our genealogy come alive. I am sure you will agree with this sentiment. Few things in our family history work surpasses the impact and enjoyment of stories.

So it was natural that I got to thinking again about the multitude of stories that adorn my family tree. It is probably the item I ask for most often from people for our tree, right after I hound them for a photograph. Family stories can tell us so much about the lives and times of our ancestors. They offer us snapshots of life that are often filled with amazing tidbits and personal details.

photo of Scott Phillips and his 93-year-old mother

Photo: Scott Phillips’s mother sharing her stories with him. Credit: from the author’s collection.

When I am working on my genealogy early in the morning and it is too early to bother family members for a new story over the phone, I scan the newspaper for new information and stories that might be of interest. Since I am also a GOG—a Grizzled Old Genealogist—I still like my newspaper the old-fashioned way, delivered to my stoop each morning.

I begin my day, every day, the same way my father always began his day. That would be with the comics section of the newspaper! My Dad, God rest his soul, always said “The headlines and business news can wait. It’s more important to start your day off with a smile.” Then he would first open the paper to the funny pages.

Still to this day, I start my day the same way! Two things happen: I do indeed start my day with a smile and a chuckle; and in my mind’s eye I can see and hear my dad chuckle over his favorite comic, “Pogo” by Walt Kelly. My dad even had his favorite quote, uttered by Pogo himself, taped on his desk: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Pogo cartoon for Earth Day 1971, Anchorage Daily News newspaper 18 April 1971

Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska), 18 April 1971, page 4

Not long ago I was visiting with my 93-year-old Mother about all things family and asking her about stories from her youth in the Czech community of Cleveland, Ohio. One of the stories she shared gave me gooseflesh. She told me about living in fear at the time of the “Torso Murders” in Cleveland that instilled dread throughout her neighborhood and the entire city.

This story was new to me, so it didn’t take me long to pull up some articles on GenealogyBank.com and begin to research this story from the 1930s involving a set of serial murders which remain unsolved to this day. I dug into this story and was fascinated to learn that these murders greatly tarnished the career of one of America’s most famous “G-Men,” Elliot Ness.

The "Mad Butcher" Strikes Again, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 18 September 1938

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 18 September 1938, page 37

While I was reading my fourth newspaper article about the “Torso Murders” I was thrilled to find that one of my ancestors, Gordon Shibley, was a Cleveland Police Detective working to try and solve these horrible crimes. It was amazing and quite interesting to follow this strange murder case and read, in a 1936 article, about my ancestor’s efforts trying to solve these heinous crimes.

story about the "Torso Murders" in Cleveland in the 1930s, Plain Dealer newspaper article 12 September 1936

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 12 September 1936, page 1

As I was following this story as it unfolded in the newspapers of the day through GenealogyBank.com it was easy for me to check out, and add to, my family tree with additional items I uncovered. For example, I found other stories covering Detective Shibley’s experiences as a member of Cleveland’s “Thin Blue Line,” some family obituaries, wedding announcements, and many more family-related newspaper articles. I was able to more fully populate our family tree as I read and learned about some of Detective Shibley’s parents and siblings.

I have now become so intrigued with this historical murder case that I ordered a copy of the book In the Wake of the Butcher: Cleveland’s Torso Murders written by James Jessen Badal (Kent State University Press, 2001) for even more in-depth information on this family-linked story. I am excited to get this book—especially since I have been told there are multiple references to my detective ancestor in it.

My Mom finished her recollections by telling how her mother would admonish her and her brother each day, when they went to school or out to play, to be very careful. She said this warning continued for many years even when she and her brother headed just down the street to their highly-loved corner candy shop…the one operated by an uncle, which was half beer parlor and half candy store. Wow, did my ears perk up at hearing that! Here is yet another new family story I will get to investigate!

What is your favorite family story that you have been able to add to your family tree?

Sunday Blue Laws, Old Family Memories & U.S. Legislative History

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott explains how “Blue Laws” turned Sundays into very special family days during his childhood.

Sundays always loom large for me each week. I love them now and I really loved them when I was growing up. I am not sure about you, but for me Sunday was a significant family day. I have marvelous memories of our Sundays when I was a youngster. Mom, Dad, grandpa and grandma always said keeping Sundays as family days had a lot to do with what are called “Blue Laws.”

Do you remember these old laws? They are the laws that regulated commerce—and historically other activities—on Sundays. I well remember going to church as a youngster and having everything in town closed up tighter than a drum. Not a single shop was open in my hometown except after twelve noon—and then it was only our one pharmacy and only for a limited number of “essential” items.

So it was that we went right home from church, I fought with my sisters over who got the Sunday newspaper funny pages first, and reveled in the aromas from the kitchen while Mom prepared Sunday supper. If we were lucky the day included a leisurely Sunday Drive and almost always grandparents or other family members over to our house to share in this important meal. Then, if we had been “good” all week, we gathered in the basement around the TV and as a family watched our favorite programs like Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and Bonanza. I remember well my Dad relishing in what he called “do-nothing Sunday afternoons” because all the stores were closed.

While I was working on my family history the other day, I happened across an old article from a 1978 newspaper that explained some of the history of Blue Laws. I was interested to see that, at least according to this newspaper article, the first Blue Law was enacted all the way back in 321 AD by Roman emperor Constantine. Now that is old!

Blue Laws Not New to World, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 December 1978

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 December 1978, page 65

This got me intrigued and it wasn’t long until I came across an article from a 1919 newspaper (published on a Sunday by the way) reporting that the origin of the term Blue Laws came from the fact that they were originally printed on blue paper. However, this “fact” as reported here has been relegated to the category of myth, although this article does highlight the extensive Blue Laws during the 1600s that were some of the most restrictive laws in American history.

The Origin and Nature of the Early Blue Laws Afford Amusing Reading, Sun newspaper article 21 December 1919

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 21 December 1919, part 3 page 11

I was enchanted by another historical article in a 1925 newspaper from a regular column that featured “Sunday Drives.” That really took me back, and made me happy to realize that Sunday drives were evidently universal enough to warrant a regular column in such a large newspaper.

Sunday Auto Drive on the Highways of Dallas County, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 17 May 1925

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 17 May 1925, page 1

It was also fun to read an article from a 1961 newspaper about Walt Disney’s first color television show. That took me back to our big, old black and white TV, antennas on the roof, adjusting rabbit ears on top of the set, fiddling with the horizontal and vertical knobs, waiting for tubes to warm up, and finally the grand day we got our first color TV. As best I can recall we always had just one TV until the day I came home from college.

Disney Opens Color TV, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 24 September 1961

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 24 September 1961, page 111

Today, most Blue Laws have been repealed and my Sundays aren’t quite as calm and relaxing as they were in my youth. However, there are still remnants of Blue Laws around us. For instance, in my home state of Indiana you still cannot buy a car on Sunday nor can you purchase alcoholic beverages by the bottle. Sunday drives are a bit shorter now with near $4-a-gallon gas prices, but they still happen. I’m happy to say Sunday Supper still demands full attention in our home—and I always do my best to keep it a family day, especially around Easter.

How about you? Do you remember Blue Laws and do you think they helped make Sundays special and more family oriented? Are there any Blue Laws where you live? I hope you will let me know!

List of 50+ Mississippi Newspapers Online

Mississippi is in the heart of the Old South. Today there are three million Mississippians living in the Magnolia State—and millions more have lived in the Delta area since its first settlement over 300 years ago.

With more than 50 Mississippi newspapers currently online and growing, GenealogyBank’s historical archives are your starting place for researching your family tree—dating back to the American Colonial period up to modern times—in this old Southern state.

photo of Meridian, Mississippi

Photo: Meridian, Mississippi. Credit: Wikipedia.

Here is the list of the Mississippi newspapers currently available in our online archives:

City Title Date Range*

Collection

Biloxi Biloxi Herald 1/14/1888 – 11/26/1898

Newspaper Archives

Biloxi Daily Herald 3/31/1888 – 12/31/1909

Newspaper Archives

Biloxi Sun Herald 2/12/1994 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Brandon Free State 1/20/1900 – 1/20/1900

Newspaper Archives

Clarksdale Clarksdale Press Register 4/20/2005 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Cleveland Bolivar Commercial 10/2/2009 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Columbia Columbian-Progress 11/3/2008 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Columbus Columbus Packet 12/12/2010 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Columbus Commercial Dispatch 5/7/2002 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Corinth Daily Corinthian 6/12/2011 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Eupora Webster Progress-Times 3/25/2003 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Forest Scott County Times 8/5/2003 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Gautier Mississippi Press 8/15/2006 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Gautier Mississippi Press, The: Web Edition Articles 10/18/2012 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Greenville Delta Democrat Times 1/8/2002 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Greenwood Greenwood Commonwealth 5/29/2000 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Gulfport Daily Herald 1/1/1910 – 12/30/1922

Newspaper Archives

Hattiesburg Lamar Times 4/21/2011 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Hattiesburg Petal News 4/21/2011 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Indianola Indianola Enterprise-Tocsin 9/16/2010 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Jackson Clarion 1/6/1886 – 1/11/1888

Newspaper Archives

Jackson Clarion Ledger 1/19/1888 – 3/6/1890

Newspaper Archives

Jackson Jackson Advocate 2/23/2011 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Jackson Mississippi Free Press 12/16/1961 – 8/1/1964

Newspaper Archives

Jackson Mississippi Link 2/17/2011 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Jackson Mississippi Weekly 5/18/1935 – 5/18/1935

Newspaper Archives

Jackson Northside Sun 7/1/2007 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Kosciusko Star Herald 1/7/2008 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Laurel Laurel Leader-Call 5/2/2006 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Louisville Choctaw Plaindealer 11/10/2005 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Louisville Winston County Journal 3/25/2003 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Magee Magee Courier, The & Simpson County News 1/3/2008 – Current

Recent Obituaries

McComb Enterprise-Journal 12/24/1999 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Meridian Meridian Star 2/17/2006 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Mound Bayou Mound Bayou News-Digest 5/13/1950 – 5/13/1950

Newspaper Archives

Natchez Ariel 7/20/1825 – 7/19/1828

Newspaper Archives

Natchez Mississippi Free Trader 11/20/1844 – 3/28/1854

Newspaper Archives

Natchez Mississippi State Gazette 3/6/1818 – 5/14/1825

Newspaper Archives

Natchez Southern Clarion 5/13/1831 – 11/18/1831

Newspaper Archives

Natchez Southern Galaxy 5/22/1828 – 3/18/1830

Newspaper Archives

Natchez Statesman and Gazette 5/18/1825 – 10/24/1832

Newspaper Archives

New Albany New Albany Gazette 11/20/2008 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Olive Branch DeSoto Times-Tribune 3/25/2005 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Oxford Oxford Eagle 2/9/2012 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Picayune Picayune Item 2/5/2008 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Starkville Starkville Daily News 3/9/2008 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Vicksburg Daily Commercial 3/21/1877 – 12/28/1882

Newspaper Archives

Vicksburg Golden Rule 1/27/1900 – 1/27/1900

Newspaper Archives

Vicksburg Light 1/18/1900 – 1/18/1900

Newspaper Archives

West Point Daily Times Leader 3/27/2008 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Winona Winona Times & Conservative 4/2/2009 – Current

Recent Obituaries

Newspapers: A Brief History, the 5 Ws & Why I LOVE Them

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott explains why newspapers’ use of the “5 Ws” is tremendously helpful to genealogists.

A Brief History of Newspapers

Thank goodness the world of news reporting switched from hand-written Avvisi—which were some of the first hand-written newsletters that appeared in Europe—to the first printed newspaper, or Bao zhi—which was printed in Beijing, China, in about 1582 during the late Ming Dynasty. Ever since their mass production began, newspapers have been a staple of our lives and they are certainly one of the most valuable resources we as genealogists can access, learn from, and utilize in our genealogy research.

The Five Ws of Newspaper Journalism

However, the real reason newspapers are such wonderful and useful resources in genealogy, I believe, goes all the way back to Hermagoras of Temnos, a 1st century BC Greek rhetorician. According to my limited research, this fellow is credited with being the first person to propose the importance of what has now become the mantra of good newspaper reporting: the “5 Ws.” So let me here and now say: thank you, Hermagoras of Temnos, on a job well done!

Still taught today, the 5 Ws of “who, what, where, when and why” remain the gold standard of good journalism.

The more one thinks about it, the more obvious it may become that this mantra fits better than O. J.’s glove when it comes to our family history work. It is also why my family tree is chockablock with information and articles from GenalogyBank.com.

My Great Grandfather Was Robbed!

One particularly interesting example of the 5 Ws at work is the article I found on my great grandfather from an 1898 newspaper.

Vicha Held Up, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 24 November 1898

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

As you can see, the very first sentence offers me all 5 Ws by telling me my great grandfather (even giving me his employment for good measure) was robbed for a loss of $1.35 on Forest Street on Tuesday night. There you have all five: Who (Joseph Vicha), What (robbery), Where (on Forest Street), When (Tuesday night) and Why (for $1.35). I love that this old newspaper article has lots of great genealogical information and a nifty snapshot of a day in the life, albeit a bad one, of my great grandfather.

My Cousin’s Home Was Attacked during a Strike

Another example of the 5 Ws being clearly presented, although not in the first sentence of the article, is one I discovered about my cousin in a 1911 newspaper.

Woman Declares Life Is in Danger, Plain Dealer newspaper article 30 September 1911

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 30 September 1911, page 4

This historical newspaper article describes how my cousin Anna Tussel’s home was attacked during the confrontations over a garment workers’ strike (her house was sprayed with tar, “blackening the windows and doors”). This article provides another snapshot of an ancestor’s life and gives information on her home address at the time, and more.

The use of the 5 Ws can also be a huge help in ruling out similarly-named folks, through the reporting of addresses, middle initials, employment, and more.

My Sister’s Wedding

Plus every so often you can also get a little treat closer to home, as I did when I was working on a branch of my in-laws and a newer article caught my eye. This article from a 1967 newspaper treated me to a nice account of my own sister’s wedding. Given that my brother-in-law and his parents have now all passed away, it was especially nice to get all the information contained in this old newspaper article.

Karen Phillips Married to David Berry, Plain Dealer newspaper article 18 June 1967

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 June 1967, page 117

So dig into those newspaper archives and when you find your next great article join me in thanking Hermagoras of Temnos!

Help Solve a Genealogy Mystery: Who Is Uncle L in My Old Photo?

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott asks our readers for help in deciphering the writing on the back of an old photo identifying his “Uncle L.”

As I would imagine many of you do, I have some intriguing old photographs that unfortunately don’t have any identification on them. However, the one I have in my family history stash that makes me the craziest actually does have writing on it. The old black and white picture has a wonderfully clear full sentence on the back, which identifies my father around the age of 2 or 3 and—here is the kicker—a second, older fellow identified as Uncle L. Uncle L?

photo of Scott Phillips's father and uncle

From the author’s collection

Yep! The old family photo is as clear as a bell (as you can see here), except for the name of this mysterious uncle!

back of photo of Scott Phillips's father and uncle, showing inscription

From the author’s collection

Every so often I pull that old photo out and try again to identify this mysterious member of my family that I know nothing about. As my family tree continues to grow, becoming more refined and better documented, I keep hoping for a breakthrough. So far though, I have had no luck in identifying this Uncle L. I brought that old family photo out the other day and decided to try some lateral thinking via GenealogyBank.com and its newspaper archives.

To me the handwriting on the back of the photo might be read as Uncle “Lew” or “Len.” Unfortunately there is no Lew or Len in any of my Dad’s immediate family, nor his father’s family. So I branched out to look at some relations of my grandmother’s who lived nearby.

I began my genealogy research with the knowledge that the passenger list from Ellis Island shows my grandmother coming to America to live with her brother-in-law Thomas Martin. He happened to be living on the same street as she and my grandfather would later live on for decades. I still have many warm and wonderful memories of that home from my youth.

My new search began with this brother-in-law and fellow traveler, Thomas Martin. I learned many interesting facts about him from GenealogyBank’s newspapers, such as his job as a lamplighter—which conjured up many images of a great job, until I thought of winter and rainy evenings—and his later job as a street car motorman. However, nothing I found about Thomas helped me identify my mystery uncle.

So I broadened my search on the Martin surname and it wasn’t long before I discovered that a descendant had married a Starr family member related to Floyd Starr, the founder of the amazing Starr Commonwealth for Boys in Albion, Michigan.

Starr Commonwealth--the Miracle Home--Is Rebuilding Many Boys, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 16 November 1919

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 16 November 1919, page 14

While I truly enjoyed reading this old news article, which provides a great history of the charitable youth program, it still offered me no one with a given name that comes close to my mystery uncle’s name.

I branched my researching out some more and soon found another family member farther down the street, the Newell family. The Newell family matriarch, Marjorie, was another sister of my grandmother’s, so the search was back on. I discovered lots of interesting information about Marjorie in the newspaper archives, such as her old marriage announcement.

Marjorie Cottle Becomes Wife of T. J. Newell, jr., Plain Dealer newspaper article 14 May 1944

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 14 May 1944, page 47

While offering good genealogical information on Marjorie, this historical marriage announcement also led me to another interesting story about her soon-to-be brother-in-law being awarded the Purple Heart after an air raid in WWII.

Hero, Minus Foot, Is Glad He Did Bit, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 July 1943

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 July 1943, page 1

However, once again I had nothing that solved my mystery about Uncle L.

I moved on to the last family member who lived in the States. This was my grandmother’s brother Thomas Cottle who lived just a couple of blocks away. I searched his family, his wife’s family the Morrells, his wife’s brother Wilbert, and his brother-in-law’s wife’s family the Ricks. Again I gained much useful information for my family tree, but my mystery uncle remains just that.

While I refuse to call this treasured family photograph a brick wall, I am back to staring closely at the photo and analyzing the name. Does it begin with an L, a T, or possibly even a script Q?

What do YOU think? Take a good look yourself, post a comment and let me know…PLEASE!

Tracing My Unknown Ancestor in the Martin Family

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott discovers the name of an ancestor he never knew about—and turns to old newspapers to fill in this blank on his family tree.

Recently my sister phoned me to ask some questions about certain members of our family who had passed through Ellis Island. As I was talking to her, I pulled up some of the documents I had for our grandparents and started reciting facts and information about them. As I was wrapping up our phone call a bell was ringing in my mind telling me something wasn’t quite right.

I looked at all the information again and there it was: on her Ellis Island documentation, my future grandmother had listed her brother-in-law, Thomas Martin of Cleveland, Ohio, as her contact in the U.S. Since I knew that her sister, my Great Aunt Rose, had married a Martin, finding this contact listing was not a surprise. As I looked at our family tree, however, I could see that the Martin her sister had married was named William, not Thomas.

photo of Rose Cottle Martin Jones and Ina Cottle Phillips

The author’s Great Aunt Rose Cottle Martin Jones on the left, with her sister (and the author’s grandmother) Ina Cottle Phillips on the right. Photo from the author’s collection.

So who was the Thomas Martin my grandmother had listed at Ellis Island?

I needed to look into this! I went to GenealogyBank.com first to see what I might discover. As the old saying goes, “be careful what you wish for.” This family history search led me down a very long—but delightful—path.

First I discovered the old obituary for William Martin, my Great Aunt Rose’s husband. It was quite a genealogical find.

William Martin obituary, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 October 1933

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 October 1933, page 23

In just its seven short lines, it provided my great aunt’s name complete with her maiden name. It also gave the names of their two daughters (Edna and Dorothy) and William’s three siblings (Grace, Charlotte and Jessie). The obituary listed the street address where William and Mary Rose lived. I was about ready to move on, when that last item caught my attention.

I went back to the Ellis Island passenger manifest that I had been reading to my sister, and noted that the street address listed for Thomas Martin happened to be the very same as the street address given in William’s obituary. Nice way to close that circle! The link was looking quite strong, but still a puzzle remained: there was no mention of a brother named Thomas in the obituary.

Next, I started a search on the three siblings listed in William’s obituary. First up, I searched on Grace Bowhay. What I found was mention of her name in her sister Charlotte’s obituary.

Charlotte Martin obituary, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 September 1944

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 September 1944, page 78

This old obituary not only made reference to Grace Bowhay and siblings Jessie and William, but also listed the so-far elusive Thomas (deceased). Oh, and don’t let me forget to tell you that it also included three additional siblings: three sisters (complete with married names) all still residing in England!

With Thomas Martin being such a common name combination, I decided to make a quick check of the Cuyahoga County Recorder’s Office website for Thomas Martin. Sure enough, not only did I get a “hit,” but it was for the purchase of a home on—again—the same street as all the other notices. Plus, the property record informed me that this Thomas had a wife, Mary.

While I am still on the trail of Thomas Martin and have more searching to do, I am more convinced than ever that I am on the right path! And I am bound and determined to find this ancestor that I never knew about and add more information to our family tree!

Valentine’s Day History Facts & My Sweet Genealogy Karma

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott turns to old newspapers to research the history of St. Valentine’s Day—and shares a personal Valentine’s Day story.

Nothing much beats holidays as a way to get everyone talking about family, memories, stories, and family history. Certainly Valentine’s Day is no exception! I’ve been blessed to have my “Valentine” with me now for over 38 years and I sure am glad she said that she would be my valentine all those years ago.

In the case of my wonderful wife, each year about this time I would go out to find one of those fancy satin hearts filled with chocolates. Why? Well, when we were dating she told me, very early in our relationship, “I’ll know the man who really loves me because he will buy me one of those fancy hearts filled with chocolates for Valentine’s Day.” Needless to say I bought one for her every year after that.

Every year, that is, until recently when she said to me: “OK honey, I know you love me so you can stop now.” So now I have to be creative and come up with something new and different each Valentine’s Day. That got me to thinking this year about what the history of Valentine’s Day was, what gifts might have been like in the past, etc. I admit I never really knew much about this holiday, so I gave GenealogyBank.com a look for some information about this romantic day and maybe even find some potential ideas for my wife’s gift.

Historical Origins of Valentine’s Day

My first hit helped explain the history of the Valentine’s Day holiday. There in a 1925 newspaper was an intriguing, full-page article describing the origins of Valentine’s Day. The first thing I learned was that it is actually St. Valentine’s Day, named after the long-ago martyred Saint Valentine.

Why We Call It St. Valentine's Day, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 February 1925

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 February 1925, page 1

I certainly appreciated one of the cartoons that accompanied the old news article, even if I have been lucky enough to never have to visit a pawnshop prior to my shopping trips for chocolate-filled hearts.

Valentine's Day cartoon, Dallas Morning News newspaper 8 February 1925

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 February 1925, page 1

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

My next hit was closer to my adopted hometown when I saw the byline of Chicago, but alas this 1929 newspaper article was about the infamous St. Valentine’s Day gangster massacre.

Link Capone with Chicago Massacre, Boston Herald newspaper article 15 February 1929

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 15 February 1929, page 1

Ugh…not romantic in the least, although it is a very interesting event in our national history. So I was off in search of more newspaper articles about Valentine’s Day.

My Sweet Genealogy Karma

Then I found it! At least, to me as a genealogist, I found it. It was in a 1910 newspaper: there was an advertisement entitled “For Your Valentine: Candy Hearts and Heart Shaped Boxes.”

Valentine's Day candy ad, Plain Dealer newspaper 11 February 1910

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 February 1910, page 14

I smiled when I saw that the price of satin heart boxes ran from 20 cents to $4, but it was the name of the company that ran the advertisement, The Chandler & Rudd Company, that actually caught my eye. You see back in 1910 my great grandfather, Frederick George Evenden, was a Master Tea Blender for none other than The Chandler & Rudd Company. Yep, the very same company as the one in the advertisement—and during the time that he worked there.

So for all these years my buying chocolate-filled hearts was simply karma! Karma sent from my great grandfather to my wife, giving her vibes to instruct me to go for what he personally knew was the really good stuff for Valentine’s Day! Sadly, Chandler & Rudd closed just two years ago, but if they were still open I’d be on the phone with them right now to buy her a sweet bit of the past.

So with a tip o’ my hat to my great grandfather Evenden, this year I am going back to getting my Sweetie some of those fancy chocolate candies in a heart-shaped box this Valentine’s Day for sure.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day to you and your family!

Tracing the Bohutinsky Family Tree: Good Finds from Bad News

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about finding some bad news in his family history—and how this turned into good clues for his genealogy.

It seems that in genealogy even bad news can magically be transformed into good news, which is quite a feat when you think about it. Recently I decided that I was going to do some in-depth research on a branch of my family that I had not worked on before. It was during this research that I witnessed bad news turn good right before my eyes—and it was via GenealogyBank.com. Here is that story!

One of the more challenging branches of my family tree has been the Bohutinsky branch of our family. Research on this family branch remains a “work in progress,” but I do know that they appeared in Cleveland, Ohio, from Bohemia sometime prior to 1870. This means that they were amongst the earlier Bohemian immigrants to that area. Now let me tell you, not only does Bohutinsky get altered by misspellings, typographical errors, etc., but there are also branches that made the decision to change their surname from Bohutinsky to Bohntinsky, Botin, and even Bugg. Add to this the fact that some of the men chose to abandon their Bohemian given names and adopt Americanized given names—but then at times reverted back to their original Bohemian given names! Needless to say it has been a fun and complicated search.

As you might expect, it got even more challenging as I worked to find marriages and the ensuing families and paths for the female offspring in the family, but here is where truly bad news turned good.

One day as I was doing my research on the Bohutinsky line I happened upon a brief newspaper article from 1885.

James Bohutinsky domestic violence, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 3 October 1885

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 3 October 1885, page 8

I was sad to read the story that James (born Vaclav) Bohutinsky was “fined $5 and costs” in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas for striking his young married daughter and her “babe.” This was certainly not the type of thing I like to find in my family history, nor do any of us. Domestic violence is terrible, even if the defendant was, as the article stated, “a little old man.”

However, I soon discovered that this historical newspaper article provided some good news for me as well!

I was very pleased to find that the daughter’s given name of Barbara was reported, as was her married surname of Seitz. This was a wonderful genealogical discovery. I immediately switched my search from Bohutinsky to Seitz and started looking for Barbara.

I quickly found an old newspaper article published back in 1900 that leads me to believe Barbara might have been active in the Knights of the Maccabees, a fraternal organization that was formed in 1878.

Knight and Lady "Bees," Cleveland Leader newspaper article 18 January 1900

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 January 1900, page 7

This lengthy old newspaper article listed numerous officers in the organization, and buried in all those names I found mention that Barbara Seitz was “mistress-at-arms.”

Barbara Seitz, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 18 January 1900

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 January 1900, page 7

After consulting other genealogy resources such as Ancesty.com, I found the family on the 1900 United States Census.

Then, back on GenealogyBank.com, it wasn’t long before I came across a death notice from 1904 which listed the death of one Barbara Seitz at 153 Beechwood Avenue in Cleveland, at the age of only 37.

Barbara Seitz death notice, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 November 1904

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 November 1904, page 4

Although Barbara’s life and marriage were both cut short, I later found information about the “babe” that was referenced in the first article I had found. As a result of that I now know her name, and I am on the path of that daughter: Grace Seitz Vretman. So my ancestry search continues.

Yes, finding a historical newspaper article about domestic violence in my family history was dismaying, but the silver lining in that dark cloud was discovering an important family clue that has led to other searches for other members of my family.

I still have lots to learn about the Bohutinsky members of my family and especially the Bohutinsky/Seitz/Vretman branch, but it certainly has been nice to see that initial piece of bad news turn into something so good and helpful in my genealogy research!

Solve the Robert ‘Believe It or Not!’ Ripley Ancestry Brick Wall

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about two discoveries she made relating to Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley, and invites readers to join her in breaking through a brick wall in Ripley’s family history.

There is a wealth of discovery waiting to be found in historic newspapers. For one thing, old newspapers provide the stories that help you understand your ancestors and get to know them as real people.

For another thing, while researching your family history in a newspaper archive you occasionally stumble across interesting discoveries that have nothing to do with your family, things you never knew before—like what I found out about Robert L. Ripley and the origins of his “Believe It or Not!” publishing/radio/television/museum empire, and his involvement with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

In this article I want to talk about my Ripley discoveries, and then ask for your help in breaking through a brick wall I’ve hit in exploring his genealogy.

photo of Robert L. Ripley, Dallas Morning News newspaper article, 28 May 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 28 May 1949, page 1

Ripley’s First “Believe It or Not” Newspaper Cartoon

One day while looking through old newspapers I was fortunate enough to stumble upon this tantalizing treasure, explaining how Robert L. Ripley drew his first “Believe It or Not” cartoon.

On 19 December 1918, Ripley—a 27-year-old cartoonist for the New York Globe newspaper—was sitting in front of his drawing board with no new ideas. He was under deadline pressure to produce a cartoon for the next day’s paper, so “in desperation” he put together an assortment of odd sports occurrences to make a cartoon. He published it under the caption, “Believe It or Not.” He was interviewed on the subject of the cartoon’s origin years later, and his recollection was published in the New York Daily Mirror.

When Robert Ripley died in 1949 at the age of 58, his obituary reprinted that first cartoon recollection:

obituary for Robert L. Ripley, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 28 May 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 28 May 1949, page 1

Here is one of Robert Ripley’s early “Believe It or Not” cartoons with a sports theme:

Ripley's "Believe It or Not," State newspaper cartoon 22 October 1919

State (Columbia, South Carolina), 22 October 1919, page 8

How astonishing it is, that from a single case of writer’s block developed an empire of over 90 world-wide attractions, including wondrous museums and amazing aquariums!

Robert Ripley & “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Here’s another Ripley tidbit I uncovered while browsing through old newspapers, of historical importance: Ripley had a role in making “The Star-Spangled Banner” our official national anthem.

The lyrics come from a poem written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, entitled “Defence of Fort McHenry.” Key wrote his poem after witnessing the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812. Key’s poem was set to the tune of a popular British song, “The Anacreontic Song” (or “To Anacreon in Heaven”) and the resulting song came to be known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Although officially used by the Navy in the late 1800s, it wasn’t the country’s national anthem at that time. Nonetheless, crowds caught up in patriotic fever would rise and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

"The Star-Spangled Banner," Daily Register-Gazette newspaper article 2 January 1930

Daily Register-Gazette (Rockford, Illinois), 2 January 1930, page 2

And then one day, Robert L. Ripley started a national conversation about its use with this comment, noting that the U.S. “has no official national anthem”:

Ripley at Music Box, Oregonian newspaper article 5 November 1930

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 5 November 1930, page 10

The discussion about the country’s lack of a national anthem gained momentum. Several months later, President Herbert Hoover signed the act that made “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem, on 3 March 1931.

"Star Spangled Banner" Is Now National Anthem though Pacifists Object, Springfield Republican newspaper article 5 March 1931

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 5 March 1931, page 1

And for you curiosity-seekers, you can read the first publication of Francis Scott Key’s poem by searching the newspapers in GenealogyBank. It was published in the Baltimore Patriot (Baltimore, Maryland) on 20 September 1814. No, I’m not going to republish it in this blog—you can have the joy of looking up this amazing discovery yourself.

But readers, I need some help with Robert Ripley, whose ancestry is as elusive as spotting a shooting star on a cloudy night.

Help Me Uncover Robert Ripley’s Family Tree!

I can’t seem to crack the brick wall in his genealogy. He left no descendants and was only married briefly to actress Beatrice Roberts. I can’t discover his family history any further back than his maternal grandmother.

Here are the clues I’ve been able to find, if any of you determined genealogists want to take up the challenge and break through the Ripley genealogy brick wall:

  • See one of Findagrave.com’s earliest memorials, #1399, from Odd Fellows Lawn Cemetery in Santa Rosa, California
  • His parents, Isaac Davis Ripley (1854-1904) and Lillie Belle Yocka or Yocke (1868-1915), are also buried there; they married on 3 October 1889 in Sonoma, CA (California, County Marriages, 1850-1952 Database at familysearch.org)
  • Isaac was a carpenter born in Ohio (various California directories)
  • In 1870, a census reports that Isaac was possibly residing in the household of Jason and Phelia A. Stubs or Stutes in Belpre, Washington, OH, and attending school, age 16 (see http://ohgen.net/ohwashin/OMP-2.htm — Ohio Historical Society, Newspaper Microfilm Reel # 38487 — marriage license for Jason Stubbs and Phelia A. Hunter of Belpre on 8 May 1865)
  • Lillie was the daughter of Nancy Yocke (1828-?) and an unknown father from Germany (1880 Analy, Sonoma, CA, census)
  • Ripley’s siblings were Douglas and Ethel or Effie Ripley (obituary); it is unclear if they ever married, but are seen on a passenger list traveling together

We look forward to seeing who can crack this ancestry brick wall first, and promise to publish your results in the GenealogyBank blog! Please post your Ripley genealogy finds on GenealogyBank’s Facebook or blog pages as comments, or email us using our blog contact form at: http://blog.genealogybank.com/contact.