May Day, May Poles, May Baskets & Family Traditions

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott reminisces about his family’s traditions of celebrating May and the coming of spring, and researches old newspapers to find that these traditions go back a long way.

photo of a maypole at Archer School for Girls (former Eastern Star Home) in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California

Photo: maypole at Archer School for Girls (former Eastern Star Home) in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. Credit: Jengod; Wikipedia.

Tra la! It’s May! The lusty month of May!

—Guinevere

Guinevere’s words are from the wonderful play and movie, Camelot. May brings the flowers that April’s showers promised us, and while the traditions of May baskets and May poles may have been more popular with our ancestors than they are with us, they still do exist.

My Memories of May

My personal memories of May Day, due to my age, tend to focus on the U.S.S.R. and the Cold War. While my sisters had visions of May poles and May baskets in their heads, I could only think of the specter of the “Red Menace” that was on display in articles such as this one from a 1950 newspaper.

Soviet Might Seen in May Day Show, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 2 May 1950

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 2 May 1950, page 1

Enter Last Name










May Pole Showdowns

As I continued researching May Day and its celebrations in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, the very earliest mention I could find was this 1725 article. Because of the Cold War connection in my mind between May Day and confrontation, I was not surprised that this article mentioned not only a May pole—but also an altercation. It seems that in Barford, a ”neighboring Gentleman” suspected the local May pole had been stolen from his woods, and came with a “large Posse” to get it back. However, the locals “rose upon them” and gave the posse “an entire Defeat, and sent them back with many broken Heads.”

article about a dispute over a May pole, American Weekly Mercury newspaper article 11 November 1725

American Weekly Mercury (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 11 November 1725, page 3

Luckily, a bit later in Pennsylvania as reported in this 1798 newspaper article, cooler heads prevailed in a village-wide dispute over a May pole. It seems half the village wanted one and half did not. The matter was eventually taken up by the local magistrate who had this to say:

You grave folks who are against a May pole shall have none—but you gay folks who are for a May pole may set up one as soon as you like.

The result was:

The whole village were struck with the equity of their magistrate, and peace and good-will were instantly restored.

Much better than “many broken heads” I’d say!

article about a dispute over a May pole, Federal Gazette newspaper article 19 February 1789

Federal Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 19 February 1789, page 2

Family Tradition of May Baskets

Fortunately, in our home May baskets reigned and did so in peace! My mother and maternal grandmother, who lived with us, would magically have a homemade May basket appear on the door knob of my sisters’ bedrooms on May Day morning.

Enter Last Name










It seems homemade May baskets were the norm for a long, long time, as shown by this 1894 newspaper article. I especially enjoyed that the first line of the article was this:

When I was a little girl there was a pretty custom in fashion among children which I do not now hear much about.

Gee, I guess some folks were worried about this lovely tradition fading out way back in 1894! I am glad the tradition did continue and, as you can read in this article, there are directions for making your own May basket that you can still use today for your celebrations.

May Baskets, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 29 April 1894

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 29 April 1894, page 20

Until our children married and moved out on their own, my wife always made sure that those handmade baskets continued to mysteriously appear each May Day—and now I do the same for her.

Do you have any special family May Day memories and do you still celebrate May Day in your home? What are your family traditions to celebrate spring?

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Our Ancestors’ Easter Parades & Spring Fashions

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 learn about our ancestors’ spring fashions—and the popular Easter parades they strolled in to show off those fine new clothes.

What are your memories of Easter? Egg hunts, baskets overflowing with chocolate bunnies, posing for a photograph with an oversized rabbit, or maybe waking up early for church services? My Easter holiday memories revolve around food (probably not a surprise there): dyeing eggs, eating ham and of course chocolate. Judging from my Twitter and Facebook friends it would seem that one shared fond memory of Easter, especially for the women, is the new clothes they would receive for Easter.

The Easter Wardrobe

Easter is one of the ways we mark spring, which in turn marks the changing of the wardrobe from those heavy, bulky winter outfits to much lighter and more colorful spring ensembles. Easter was also a good time to pick out a nice dress that included all of the accessories like gloves and hats, as discussed in this 1891 New Jersey newspaper article.

Easter Dress Parade, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 29 March 1891

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 29 March 1891, page 2

There’s no doubt that our ancestors could have perused the newspaper for ideas about what they wanted in a new Easter outfit. In this full-page article from a Minnesota newspaper, we see some examples of 1921 Easter fashion.

The New Easter Dresses, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 13 March 1921

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 13 March 1921, page 3

Here are more Easter historical fashions, from 1938. New Easter clothes weren’t just reserved for the women—children and even men used that time as a good excuse to invest in a new suit of clothing.

ad for Easter dresses, Omaha World Herald newspaper advertisement 15 April 1938

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 15 April 1938, page 2

Enter Last Name










Everyone Loves an Easter Parade

Once you had your new Easter outfits, it was time to show them off—and what better way than a celebratory holiday parade? The tradition of Easter parades in the United States dates back to at least 1870, when the first New York City parade on Fifth Avenue began. This illustration from an 1892 New York newspaper article sums up the yearly New York event: “Beauty and Fashion Out in All the Glories of Fine Raiment to Celebrate the End of the Penitential Season.”

illustration of New York's Fifth Avenue Easter Parade, New York Herald newspaper article 18 April 1892

New York Herald (New York, New York), 18 April 1892, page 3

There’s no doubt that New York City’s Fifth Avenue parade was synonymous with an Easter parade. It is even immortalized in a 1933 Irving Berlin song and 1948 movie with the same title.

Easter Parade

In your Easter bonnet,

With all the frills upon it,

You’ll be the grandest lady

In the Easter Parade.

I’ll be all in clover,

And when they look you over,

I’ll be the proudest fella

In the Easter Parade.

On the avenue, Fifth Avenue,

The photographers will snap us,

And you’ll find that you’re

In the rotogravure.

Oh, I could write a sonnet,

About your Easter bonnet,

And of the girl I’m taking

To the Easter Parade.*

(The mention of a “rotogravure” in the above lyric refers to a printing process used by newspapers to print images.)

photo of the Fifth Avenue Easter Parade, New York City, 1900

Photo: Fifth Avenue Easter Parade, New York City, 1900. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Bureau of Public Roads.

The whole idea behind an Easter parade is to see and be seen. Other cities also hosted Easter parades both as official events as well as impromptu group walks. Consider this 1915 Pennsylvania newspaper article from Wilkes-Barre, recalling the previous day’s parade. It starts by noting:

Were you in the Easter parade yesterday? If not, why not? The day was almost ideal, cool and breezy, but you could have worn your winter outfit with discretion and joined right in the procession.

Enter Last Name










The old newspaper article goes on to comment on the women’s and men’s outfits.

Streets Crowded by Easter Parade in Wilkes-Barre, Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader newspaper article 5 April 1915

Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), 5 April 1915, page 1

This description of the Atlantic City Easter Fashion Parade, from a 1922 Oregon newspaper article, is wonderful:

Under skies of azure blue with a bright sun beaming down 200,000 men, women and children decked out in all the glory of their spring finery strolled along Atlantic City’s famous board walk today…

This post-World War I parade even included a dignitary in the audience: General John J. Pershing, who led the American forces during the war.

200,000 in Parade of Easter Finery, Oregonian newspaper article 17 April 1922

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 17 April 1922, page 1

Share Your Easter Memories

Did your city have an Easter parade? Did you celebrate your new Easter outfits by strolling downtown for all to see? What are your Easter memories? Share them with us in the comments section below. Happy Easter to you and yours!

__________

* SongLyrics. Irving Berlin Always –Easter Parade Lyrics. Accessed 14 April 2014. http://www.songlyrics.com/irving-berlin-always/easter-parade-lyrics/.

banner ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Organization & Preservation Tips for Genealogy Spring Cleaning

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott—weary of this long, cold winter—jumpstarts thoughts of spring by planning his genealogy spring cleaning tasks.

Wow, what a winter we are having this year! But there is good news: March 1st was the beginning of Meteorological Spring! If you don’t believe me, just take a look at this 1937 article from a New Jersey newspaper, which says:

The astronomical Spring is fixed by the sun, the meteorological Spring by the calendar. So the weatherman’s Winter ended a week ago.

(Note: all of the newspaper articles used to illustrate this Blog post come from GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.)

Winter Departed, Says Weatherman, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 8 March 1937

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 8 March 1937, page 12

So we have passed one spring beginning, and have one to go—with this year’s astronomical start of spring occurring on March 20th with the vernal equinox.

I prefer to follow the seasons in the Farmer’s Almanac. Although the currently-produced Farmer’s Almanac has been in continuous publication since its first issue in 1818, I came across an advertisement for one of its predecessors all the way back in a 1792 Massachusetts newspaper.

ad for "The Farmer's Almanac," American Apollo newspaper advertisement 16 November 1792

American Apollo (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 November 1792, page 4

All of this talk and my dreaming of springtime got me thinking about doing some spring cleaning, especially of my genealogy and family history materials.

So I dug in and began to devise my genealogy spring cleaning plan. Although a serious project, I want to keep the work of getting things organized enjoyable—keeping in mind a delightful and fun article I once found in a 1951 Texas newspaper.

Spring Cleaning Time to Observe Safety Rules, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 19 March 1951

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 19 March 1951, section II, page 2

I got a good chuckle at a few of this newspaper article’s suggestions, such as:

  • “Never use chairs or tables in place of stepladders.”
  • “Don’t carry sharp objects or hot liquids up or down stairs if at all possible.”
  • “Avoid electrical contacts while standing on damp floors.”
  • “Avoid overtiring or muscle strain.”

If you follow my spring cleaning rules outlined below, you can avoid any overtired or strained muscles while getting a fresh start this 2014. I hope my organization and preservation tips help you with your genealogy spring cleaning tasks!

Tip #1: Digitally Copy Anything Still on Paper

I want to make my genealogy pursuit and passion something that can be easily passed on to someone in the family once I “shuffle off this mortal coil,” and to me the best way to do that is to have absolutely everything I can in digital format. Not only to preserve it, but to make it far simpler for anyone to take over. Piles of paper are just not conducive to much of anything except perhaps the “Victory Waste Paper Campaign” profiled in this article from a 1944 Oregon newspaper. It was estimated that at that time each household in Portland, Oregon, had an average of 38.5 pounds of “this No. 1, critical war material, stowed away.”

Waste Paper Hoard Larger, Oregonian newspaper article 2 June 1944

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 2 June 1944, page 13

By the way, I think I am well above this average weight of paper—hence my first genealogical spring cleaning task. So it is to my scanner I go!

Tip #2: Catalog Genealogy Books

While I will be digitally copying as many paper records, documents, etc., as I can find in my house, I still love old books and have plenty of them around as well. Since I don’t have the time to digitize my books that are out of copyright—and I have many that are still within their copyright and can’t be digitized anyway—I have set as my next spring cleaning task to get organized: to catalog each of the genealogy and history books on my office bookshelf. Now my book collection is far from huge, but again I want them to be easily listed for anyone who might be interested in the future.

As you can read in this 1909 article from an Idaho newspaper, the Library of Congress was already, at that time, the 3rd largest library in the world. As a result, I decided that if they can get their books organized, so can I.

The Library of Congress, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 1 May 1909

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 1 May 1909, page 10

I’ve chosen to use the online site LibraryThing.com to polish off this task and am well on my way, with over 150 of my books listed so far. (If you are interested you can see my books at: https://www.librarything.com/catalog/OnwardToOurPast.)

Tip #3: Follow a Rule from 1951 and Don’t Strain Anything!

I think of myself as an amenable fellow (some of my friends and colleagues even call me a “Do Bee” at times). For those of you who might be just a bit younger than I, check out this article from a 1966 Nebraska newspaper if you are not familiar with what the expression “Do Bee” means!

illustration of Romper Room's "Do Bee," Omaha World Herald newspaper article 3 April 1966

article about the children's TV program "Romper Room," Omaha World Herald newspaper article 3 April 1966

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 3 April 1966, page 166

Anyway, I decided that I better be certain I am following the rules from that 1951 spring cleaning newspaper article, especially the one about being careful of any strains or sore muscles.

It was at this point that I read an article from a 1958 Massachusetts newspaper about golf’s Masters Tournament.

Arnold Palmer Wins Masters Tournament by Stroke with 284, Springfield Union newspaper article 7 April 1958

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 7 April 1958, page 14

The newspaper article featured a hero from my boyhood, Arnold Palmer, who donned the champion’s Green Jacket after winning the Masters Tournament. What could be more spring-like than to begin sipping a summer drink! Because I couldn’t decide between lemonade or ice tea, I tipped my hat to Mr. Palmer and mixed myself an “Arnold Palmer” drink.

I then sat back, thought of warmer days to come, and toasted myself for completing my spring cleaning tasks list, knowing that I am on my way to doing more efficient and organized genealogy research in 2014. I will work steadily, a little bit every day—careful not to strain myself—until I have digitally preserved all my paper records and cataloged all my books before summer arrives!