The Leaves of Fall: Leaf Stories, Poems & Decorating Ideas

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott celebrates the colorful foliage of the autumn season by finding lots of leaf stories in old newspapers.

I am an unabashed lover of autumn and all it brings us! It is my favorite time to go out and take photographs at cemeteries. I love the crisp mornings coupled with the still-warm afternoon sunshine, walking in the woods, and perhaps most of all the leaves as they present us with all their magnificent fall colors.

One of our family’s favorite autumn pastimes when our children were young was for me to rake the leaves into a huge pile and then allow our children to make a massive leaf “fort.”

photo taken by Scott Phillips of his son in a leaf fort, circa 1979

Photo: the author’s son in his leaf fort, circa 1979. Credit: Scott Phillips.

The other day, I was enjoying the wonderful fall colors and delightful vistas—along with some wonderful autumn memories stirring in my mind’s eye—when I decided to take a look at the online historical newspapers of GenealogyBank.com to see if other folks shared my love of autumn. Let me just say it appears, much like the colors of our autumn leaves, to be a bit of a mixed bag.

Fall Fairy Tale

My first discovery was a delightful fairy tale from a 1917 South Dakota newspaper. Featuring autumn leaves, “Mr. Wind,” the “Breeze Brothers,” gnomes, and fairies, it is exactly the kind of story I would have enjoyed telling my children and I have now saved it so that I can read it to our grandsons.

Daddy's Evening Fairy Tale: Autumn Leaves, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 10 October 1917

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 10 October 1917, page 7

Decorating with Leaves

Next I came across a name that rang a bell with me. It was “Cappy Dick” in a 1954 issue of my hometown newspaper in Cleveland, the Plain Dealer. I recall looking forward to Cappy Dick’s “Hobby Club” ideas in the newspaper every week when I was a child. In this article, Cappy instructed his young fans to take a vase and “Brush shellac all over the surface. Then stick the bits of leaf to the shellac after first applying glue to the back of each leaf.” Reading it made me laugh out loud at the thought of how my mother and grandmother might have reacted had I ever dared take shellac, glue, and autumn leaves to any one of their precious vases.

Decorate a Vase or Jar with Leaves, Plain Dealer newspaper article 15 October 1954

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 15 October 1954, page 51

Moonshiners Make Crafty Use of Leaves

Still chuckling over my likely “shellacking” had I shellacked a vase, I came across an article from a 1928 North Carolina newspaper, during the height of Prohibition, that contained a unique take on autumn leaves. The article reported: “Officers in recent days have discovered that the moonshiners are taking advantage of the fall of autumn leaves in a unique way. A trench deep and long enough to contain about four barrels of beer is dug next to the log of a fallen tree in the depth of the woods…On top of these is (sic) laid sheets of iron roofing and then leaves are raked so that they gradually slope up to the top of the log as if blown by autumnal breezes. Four barrels like this were found during last week by the use of sticks to punch into the leaves.” I guess there were smart moonshiners in those days—but perhaps even smarter officers.

Officers Locate Horse Head in Barrel of Corn Beer in East Davidson County, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 12 December 1928

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 12 December 1928, page 13

Leaves Cause Broken Ankle

Mrs. Francis M. Whitlaw evidently did not take too kindly to autumn leaves, as reported in a 1908 Missouri newspaper. While it made me a bit sad that Mrs. Whitlaw broke her ankle due to the leaves, I found it an interesting bit of time-travel to read that she was treated by her doctor at “Rose & Gordon’s drug store” and was taken “in a carriage” to the hotel where her husband was the manager.

Autumn Leaves: An Accident, Kansas City Star newspaper article 9 November 1908

Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), 9 November 1908, page 4

Leaves Cause Fall Fatalities

Then I got a real shock when I read an article from an 1898 New York newspaper about a fatal train wreck caused by autumn leaves. While definitely a tragic story, I found the amazing details related to this autumn leaves event extremely interesting.

Wreck Caused by Autumn Leaves: Clogged Brakes, and Sent Lehigh Valley Train Dashing Down Mountainside to Collision, New York Herald newspaper article 12 November 1898

New York Herald (New York, New York), 12 November 1898, page 7

Poem about Leaves

I closed out my searching after making a delightful discovery in a 1911 Idaho newspaper. Oh what memories this lovely poem brought back! I could smell the wonderful aroma of burning leaves (now forbidden in our community) in the fall. I encourage you to read this nifty little poem. As the anonymous author writes, “such scented censer smoke” brings each of us “The glory of our olden dreams.”

A Poem: The Burning Leaves, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 29 October 1911

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 29 October 1911, page 4

I hope you enjoy the wonder of this autumn’s colorful leaf display, and indulge in some fun memories of your own as you rake the leaves. And if you have a moment, how about sharing your favorite autumn family memories here with me in the comments section? I’d certainly enjoy hearing them!

Researching Our Old Family Vacation Destinations with Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott reminisces about a wonderful vacation at a Wyoming ranch his family enjoyed when he was 11—and supplements his memories by searching in old newspapers for articles about the R Lazy S ranch.

My mom passed away recently and as a son and genealogist, you must know that I have been doing a lot of reminiscing. Most often I have found myself thinking of all the things my mom taught me in life. She was a woman who moved with urgency and purpose, enjoying a wide variety of interests, and she cultivated those traits in my older sisters and me.

One of the memories that came back to me was of one of our quintessential “family car vacations.” This one happened to be what the family still refers to as “Scott’s Summer Vacation.” My folks decided that my sisters and I needed to see the grand sites of the Western United States. I was bouncing-off-the-ceiling happy that our vacation destinations included such places as the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, several more U.S. National Parks, and concluded with a week at a “Dude Ranch.” Now, I will admit right here that my sisters were hoping more for Western sights such as Las Vegas and San Francisco, but off we went in the family station wagon—complete with the third seat facing rearward.

The dude ranch was truly the highlight of the trip for me. For a boy of about 11, “real” cowboys, outhouses, a potbellied stove in my cabin, learning to rope a calf, and riding into the Grand Tetons every day simply could not be beat. Finally from my memory banks came the name of the ranch we stayed at: the R Lazy S. The brand, I still recall, was an upright “R” with an “S” on its side.

photo of the sign for the R Lazy S ranch, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Photo: sign for the R Lazy S ranch, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Credit: courtesy of the R Lazy S ranch.

I wanted to find out more about this boyhood memory of mine, so I did a quick check of GenelaogyBank.com to see if there might be something.

To my delight and surprise, on my first search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives I got results!

The first article I opened was published by a Wyoming newspaper in 1920. This old news article gave me far more background about the R Lazy S ranch than I had known (or perhaps recalled) from our long-ago visit. It turns out the R Lazy S ranch had quite a storied history to it. The property was once owned by Owen Wister, who wrote The Virginian and other works set in Wyoming. Wister sold the ranch in 1920 to the R Lazy S “outfit.”

Owen Wister Tires of His Old Ranch; Parts with It, Wyoming State Tribune newspaper article 1 March 1920

Wyoming State Tribune (Cheyenne, Wyoming), 1 March 1920, page 1

Smiling from this find, I looked further into my results and quickly found a 1958 travel article from my Cleveland, Ohio, hometown newspaper. Immediately I wondered if my mother had read this article—had it been the genesis of the plans for our family vacation? I had a good laugh when I read this author’s description of the R Lazy S ranch that included “luxury cabins.” Now perhaps I was in the wrong cabin, but mine was outside the gate, had only a potbellied stove for heat, and the outhouse was a good 200 yards away. But perhaps “luxury” is in the eye of the beholder!

Bainbury's Western Diary, Plain Dealer newspaper article 8 July 1958

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 8 July 1958, page 8

Next I discovered a newspaper article from 1982, again in the Plain Dealer, explaining that Mr. Howard F. Stirn, then chairman of the R Lazy S ranch, was in Cleveland to present a photographic exhibit of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the surrounding area. I’m wondering if perhaps there was a connection between the R Lazy S ranch and my hometown. This may be one of those many questions in our family histories that we are never able to fully answer (and is a good reason why preserving our stories and memories onto our family trees is so crucial).

Jackson Hole Nature Photography, Plain Dealer newspaper article 10 January 1982

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 January 1982, page 116

With my head full of wonderful memories and our crazy family song (which we all made up along the way and called “Touring Our Country: Monuments and Parks”), I searched Google to see if the R Lazy S ranch is still in existence.

Guess what—it is! You can see at http://rlazys.com that they are indeed alive and kicking like a bronco.

Hmm, maybe it is high time for a family vacation…back out to Wyoming and the R Lazy S ranch with our grandsons.

I do believe, as a proper grandfather, I need to share my memories with my grandsons in person, especially since the Ranch looks far less “rustic” than back in my day!

What were your favorite family vacation destinations growing up? We’d love to hear your personal vacation stories. Share them with us in the comments.

New Mexico Governor Wants More Federal Cemeteries

New Mexico Governor Susan Martinez is pushing to increase the number of federal military cemeteries in her state from two to ten.

Fort Bayard New Mexico National Cemetery

Photo: Fort Bayard, New Mexico National Cemetery. Credit: Wikipedia.

New Mexico is the fifth largest U.S. state in land mass, with 122,000 square miles. Given the long distances most state residents must travel to visit the two existing federal military cemeteries, Governor Martinez wants to create eight more cemeteries dispersed across the state to make it easier for family and friends to visit the gravesites. Read the full story about how Gov. Susana Martinez wants to build small veterans cemeteries throughout state in the Current-Argus (Carlsbad, New Mexico), 17 July 2013.

One of the state’s two existing federal military cemeteries is located at Fort Bayard, New Mexico, in the southwestern area of the state. That cemetery has burials from the 1800s to today.

The other federal military cemetery is the Santa Fe National Cemetery located in the city limits of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Burials there began in the mid-1800s.

New Mexico residents in the southern part of the state also use the Fort Bliss National Cemetery located in El Paso, Texas. The earliest grave in that cemetery dates from 1883.

Be sure to use the U.S. Veterans Administration’s National Gravesite Locator to search for details about the servicemen & women and their spouses buried in these federal military cemeteries.

Adeline Kemp - National Gravesite Locator Map

Credit: National Gravesite Locator.

These military cemeteries permit the burial of the service member and their spouse. The online index gives you the core information: each person’s name; dates of birth and death; name and rank of the person that served in the military; and the name and contact information for the military cemetery. All of this is available 24/7 online. This government cemetery website is updated daily.

For more information about cemetery websites see also the blog post: “Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records.”

History of Trains & Railroads: Locomotives, Steam Engines & More

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers for articles and ads about trains and locomotives, and discusses how important railroads were in the lives of our ancestors.

Trains & Railroads Shaped Early America

The importance of train travel cannot be overstated in the development of America, and its effect on how and why our ancestors traveled on land. Stagecoaches were an early transportation option, but once locomotives and steam engines proved their worth, travel by stagecoach became less frequent.

picture of a locomotive, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper illustration 15 February 1892

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 15 February 1892, page 5

Our nation’s great westward expansion took off, and trains became the favored mode of transportation until automobiles and air travel took over. Reading old newspaper articles to explore the history of train travel is a good way to better understand our ancestors’ lives and the times they lived in.

Steam Powers the Way

Early trains were powered by steam, but it may surprise you to learn that steam power was not a 19th Century invention. English inventor Thomas Savery (c.1650-1715) is given the credit for inventing steam power for transportation. He didn’t work on steam-powered trains, but this 1848 Connecticut newspaper article notes he did develop a steam engine for a rowing ship.

Thomas Savery the Engineer, Connecticut Courant newspaper article 28 October 1848

Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 28 October 1848, page 165

Although Savery received his steam engine patent in 1698, the first steam-powered engine didn’t arrive in the American Colonies until 1752 or 1753. Evidence of such a machine can be found in this 1753 Massachusetts newspaper article reporting that the Town of Charlestown was:

“so kind as to bring over their fine Water-Engine, which was of great Service in suppressing and preventing the Progress of the Fire.”

notice about a Charlestown, Massachusetts, fire engine, Boston Gazette newspaper article 13 February 1753

Boston Gazette (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 February 1753, page 3

A screw-driven steamboat was invented around 1802 by John Stevens. A Wikipedia article mentions he created a steam carriage around 1826 that ran on a track, but he was not the only one working on the concept.

There are several early newspaper reports of inventors working on steam carriages, including this 1822 New Jersey newspaper article about a petition for a steam carriage being presented on behalf of Isaac Baker, of Ohio.

notice about a patent petition from Isaac Baker for a steam-carriage, New Brunswick Fredonian newspaper article 14 February 1822

New Brunswick Fredonian (New Brunswick, New Jersey), 14 February 1822, page 2

The illustration below, from an 1826 Massachusetts newspaper, shows a 12-horsepower “loco-motive engine” used by the Helton Railroad in England.

picture of a locomotive, Boston Traveler newspaper illustration 7 March 1826

Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 7 March 1826, page 4

Early Train & Railroad Companies

If you’ve played that famous board game “Monopoly,” you can surely guess the first railroad thought to have provided regularly-scheduled service.

Yes, it was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O), chartered on 28 February 1827, to provide service from Baltimore, Maryland, to the Ohio River. It was capitalized with 15,000 shares at $100 each ($1,500,000), what must have seemed like a tremendous fortune at that time.

Perhaps your ancestors traveled on the great B&O, credited to have been the first U.S. company to offer scheduled passenger and freight service?

However, B&O was not the first charted train company. A search of GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives finds mention of other train companies. This 1825 Pennsylvania newspaper article reports a petition to incorporate and provide service from Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania, “to the nearest point on the Delaware.”

petition to construct a Pennsylvania railroad, National Gazette newspaper article 15 December 1825

National Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 15 December 1825, page 1

This advertisement was published in an 1856 South Carolina newspaper, showing the Virginia Springs Central Railroad’s announcement that its opening line will travel 56 miles. Until the rail line is completed, the company’s stage coaches will continue to operate at fares ranging from $10 to $13.

railroad ad, Charleston Courier newspaper advertisement 11 September 1856

Charleston Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 11 September 1856, page 3

We can all imagine the excitement generated by the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on 10 May 1869 at Promontory Summit, in Utah Territory!

To commemorate the final joining, the railroad placed a golden spike and a silver railroad tie. This article from an 1869 New York newspaper reports that that the last spike would be engraved as follows:

“The last spike. The Pacific Railroad—ground broke January 8, 1863, completed May–, 1869. May God continue the unity of our country as this railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.”

The Silver Tie and Golden Spike, Evening Post newspaper article

Evening Post (New York, New York), 15 May 1869, page 4

There were many other train “firsts,” such as this article from an 1898 Minnesota newspaper commemorating the first Minneapolis Locomotive crossing the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River “at this point.”

The First Minneapolis Locomotive, Minneapolis Journal newspaper article 12 February 1898

Minneapolis Journal (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 12 February 1898, page 14

Railroad Family History for Kids (and Adults)

The children of today may never know the joy of train travel, except as a novelty. To connect your children with this important part of American history, search the newspaper archives to see if any of their ancestors were connected with the railroad industry—that may spark their interest.

In addition to their surname, be sure to search for your railroad ancestors by their job title, such as conductor or switchman. Also search for railway pension records (which are in a separate system from Social Security).

Here is an example of an old newspaper article that may show your ancestors in the context of railroad travel. This 1857 Pennsylvania newspaper wedding announcement notes that the marriage of William C. Pitman and Miss F.A. Fuller occurred on a moving train that exceeded 40 miles per hour!

Pitman-Fuller wedding announcement, Public Ledger newspaper article 10 January 1857

Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 10 January 1857, page 5

This is just the tip of the iceberg for conducting research on how our ancestors were connected to trains, either by occupation or their desire to travel.

Websites and Documents of Interest

Cyndi’s List: Railroads >> Records: Administrative, Employment and Pensions

U.S. Railroad Retirement Board

“I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”

The original title of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” was “The Levee Song,” published in 1894 in a book of songs published by Princeton University titled Carmina Princetonia. If you search GenealogyBank you can locate several references to this famous song, including this one.

"I've Been Working on the Railroad" song, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 30 August 1920

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 30 August 1920, page 2

Have fun filling in the lives of your ancestors and the times they lived in with railroad and train stories. You never know what you’ll discover about your family history!

Marriage by Proxy & More Stories of Attendance from Afar

Every now and then you run across an interesting marriage announcement in old newspapers about someone who couldn’t travel to a wedding—so they attended by proxy.

Attendance Married by Proxy

I once read about Mark Twain and his wife attending the funeral of his mother in law—by listening to it over the telephone 450 miles away!

Mark Twain Funeral by Proxy Newspaper Clip Daily Inter Ocean

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 12 January 1891, page 2.

It seems that proxy weddings were common on the island of Curacao—at least for Luis O. Negron. Although not married himself, Negron participated in five proxy weddings there on the island.

In one instance, a Mr. Lieder in New York needed to return to Curacao to marry his bride-to-be, Miss Armajo, who was also from his native Curacao. However, Mr. Lieder could not leave New York at the time of the wedding. So on 25 June 1902 they were married—using a proxy stand-in husband. Apparently the bride’s brother-in-law, Luis O. Negron, had plenty of experience with proxy marriages!

Married By Proxy Charlotte Observer July 2, 1902

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 7 July 1902, page 1.

Eating on the ‘Titanic’: Massive Quantities of Food on the Menu

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about a lunch menu from the Titanic on the day the ship struck the fateful iceberg—April 14, 1912—and talks about the massive quantities of food carried and served on that immense ship.

Mention to anyone that you are going on a cruise and most likely one of the first topics of discussion will be about food. Cruises are synonymous with large quantities of food. Whether it’s a buffet or a more formal meal in one of the cruise ship’s restaurants, the quantity and variety of food seems limitless.

The abundance of food on a passenger ship is not a modern phenomenon; consider the Titanic, that infamous passenger ship that sank in the early morning hours of 15 April 1912.

Carpathia Will Dock with (Titanic) Survivors Tonight; Facts of Tragedy Being Withheld from World, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 18 April 1912

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 18 April 1912, page 1

The RMS Titanic rang in a new era in ship travel because even the third class passengers had access to a variety of food—though not the same foods or amounts as the first class passengers.

It amazes me to think about how much food had to be secured, purchased, and stored before a cross-Atlantic voyage on a ship as large as the Titanic. With 2,224 ship passengers and crew there had to be large quantities of everything from fresh water, to produce and meat, to alcohol. Practically every need of the passengers was anticipated down to the availability of kosher food.* The website Titanic Facts has a page entitled Food on the Titanic which provides an idea of the massive quantities of food needed to cater for such a voyage, including: 11,000 pounds of fresh fish, 40 tons of potatoes and 40,000 fresh eggs!

Obviously the type of food served to a passenger on the Titanic corresponded to how much they paid to sail. However, unlike earlier ship voyages that required steerage passengers to bring their own food, Titanic’s third class passengers were fed food similar to second class passengers with a few exceptions, such as being served high tea in place of dinner. First class Titanic passengers paid up to 25 times more for their passage and the food they were offered reflected that price difference.**

photo of the first class reception room on the Titanic

Photo: First Class Reception Room on the Titanic. Credit: National Maritime Museum, Flickr: The Commons.

Photo:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalmaritimemuseum/2843687676/ Accessed 4 April 2013.

A first class lunch menu from the fateful day the Titanic struck an iceberg, April 14, 1912, is now on display at Titanic Belfast. The Titanic menu gives us a glimpse of some of the foods that were served to the millionaires sailing on the vessel. A large selection of meat dishes could be sampled, including: corned ox tongue, bologna sausage, grilled mutton chops, roast beef, veal & ham pie, corned beef, chicken a la Maryland, and spiced beef. Seafood offerings included: potted shrimps, salmon mayonnaise, Norwegian anchovies, and soused herrings. Vegetables and cheeses were also offered for lunch. Probably one of the more unfamiliar dishes served was Cockie Leekie, a soup whose ingredients include young fowl and leeks.

You may wonder how a paper menu from the day of the iceberg collision might have survived all these years. It seems that some paper items did survive; they were ensconced in the pockets of the coats, or in the case of the above menu in the purse, of those who made it safely to a lifeboat. This particular old Titanic menu now on display at Belfast is not the only copy of that day’s menu. Several years ago, a copy of that same ship luncheon menu was appraised on the PBS show Antiques Roadshow. You can watch that Titanic menu appraisal on the PBS website.

Because of the tragedy of the Titanic, most newspaper and magazine food articles concentrate on the last meal served on the Titanic the evening of April 14, 1912 (the ship struck the iceberg 11:40 that night, sinking less than three hours later). In fact there’s even a book on the subject, entitled Last Dinner on the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner by Rick Archbold & Dana McCauley.

* “Availability of kosher food aboard Titanic sheds light on immigration via England.” Accessed 27 March 2013.

** “Food and Menus on the RMS Titanic 1912.” From: About.com British & Irish Food. Accessed 2 April 2013.

Genealogy Tools & Resources Review: Best Bang for Your Buck!

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows the method he uses at the end of each year to evaluate all the genealogy tools and resources he used, to help him prepare his genealogy budget for the new year.

About this time of year I go through my annual exercise of evaluating the benefits, or “bang-for-my-bucks,” that I derived from the money I spent on genealogy tools and resources during the past year to indulge all my family history pursuits. I do this as the first step toward building my genealogy tool budget for the upcoming year.

More Bang for Your Buck, Greensboro News and Record newpaper headline 5 August 1984

Greensboro News and Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 5 August 1984, page 144

2013 is no exception and, due to a variety of reasons, I decided that I was going to adhere to the “brutally honest” approach in my genealogy tools and resources review.

Each year I make up a simple table and list all the genealogy software and website subscriptions I spent money on for family history research and write them down in the far left-hand column. Then I begin to take stock of each of them. If you’d like to do a similar analysis for your genealogy tools and resources, feel free to use my spreadsheet as a model for your own evaluation.

Download the Genealogy Tools Evaluation Spreadsheet.

My evaluation criteria are simple and few. The following are the four I used for this year’s review:

  1. How often have I used the genealogy resource or tool in the past year?
  2. How successful have I been at finding useful genealogical information for my family tree from this genealogy resource or tool?
  3. How many times have I had an “AH-HA” moment of discovery using the genealogy resource or tool? And, of course,
  4. How much did I spend on this genealogy tool or resource?

I proceed to place a value of 0, 1, or 3 points for each of the first three evaluation criteria for each item in my list and the dollar amount in the fourth. Then just in case of a tie, I have a column on the far right-hand side that asks: Is this genealogy resource or tool fun to use? I really like to have fun with my family history, so I place a premium on those genealogy research tools and resources that offer me not only useful information, but some enjoyment as well. This column, since it is a tie-breaker, simply gets a “-” or a “+” sign.

When all was said and done, after this exercise my genealogy tools budget for 2013 was remarkably easy to assemble.

My review includes every subscription and membership that I purchased during the year for any genealogy or history society, museum, software program, database, or association. In my case (simply for example) I have such diverse line items as MyHeritage.com (the software I use for my family tree and our family social network website), the British Newspaper Archive, Ohio Genealogical Society, Ancestry.com, Ohio History Society, Cornwall Family History Society, Minnesota Historical Society, Association of Professional Genealogists, National Genealogical Society, Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Ontario, Canada Genealogical Society, and almost two dozen additional state and local societies—in addition to GenealogyBank. I include them all from my largest individual annual outlay of $299 for Ancestry to my smallest for a local genealogical society that still only charges $10 a year. (I do not enter the costs I incur each year for experts, long distance assistants, translators, and genealogy tourism/travel in this evaluation spreadsheet because I have a different analysis I use for these outlays.)

You might find it interesting to know that GenealogyBank.com was one of the very top-rated genealogy resources in my analysis.

screenshot of an Excel spreadsheet

The following are the answers from the table I constructed:

  1. I used GenealogyBank.com at least every week and some weeks every day: 3 points.
  2. Over and over, on almost every log-in, I discovered extremely useful, critical, and unique information for my family tree: 3 points.
  3. My “AH-HA” moments were numerous, ranging from articles that provided needed background, obituaries that listed previously missing family members (especially married names of daughters and nieces), and the intensely precious newspaper photos that in several cases make up the only family photo we have of a particular family member: 3 points.
  4. I pay for my GenealogyBank.com subscription on the annual plan, so I notice when I have to part with the fee of $55.95—but I actually do it with a smile because if I divide this total by month, day, article found, or “AH-HA” moment, it works out to pennies a discovery. Well worth it!

Oh, and one of my favorite parts is that GenealogyBank.com also gets a “+” in the “fun column.” I have had more fun finding my family history discoveries and learning new and exciting aspects of the times of my ancestors through GenealogyBank’s newspaper collections than I have had on any other genealogy-oriented site. In fact I always find myself looking forward to logging in, ready for another session.

So GenealogyBank came out of my analysis with a score of 9+, the highest possible score. Renewal for sure!

We all know that genealogy can be an expensive hobby, but in this case there is no second-guessing my use of GenealogyBank.com as one of my premier, must-have sites.

I hope you found my genealogy resource and tool review method helpful. Good luck with your own family history searching in 2013!

Planning a Trip to Salt Lake City for Your Family History Research?

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena provides practical advice for genealogists planning a trip to Salt Lake City for doing family history research.

Want to go to Salt Lake City in Utah? If you are like most genealogists that question is answered with an emphatic “yes!” because Salt Lake City is one of the world’s centers for family history research.

photograph of Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah

Temple Square as seen from the Joseph Smith Building, Salt Lake City, Utah. © 2012 Gena Philibert-Ortega

Like any research trip it’s a good idea to do your homework prior to leaving home. There’s so much you can do in Salt Lake City including researching at the world famous Family History Library (open to the public free of charge) or even attending a conference like RootsTech. But before you pack your bags consider these tips.

Travel is easier when you have a guide. The Chart Chick’s Quick Insider’s Guide to Salt Lake City by Janet Hovorka, president of the Utah Genealogical Association and a Salt Lake City native, provides family history researchers with what they need to know for a trip to this genealogical mecca. Covered in this guide is everything from how to get around Salt Lake City to archives and libraries (aside from the Family History Library), places to visit, shop, and most importantly—where to eat. To purchase this Salt Lake City, UT, travel guide book or download it as a free PDF, visit Janet’s blog The Chart Chick. If you do request the PDF you have the added advantage of being able to download it to a mobile device for easy reference.

Do your genealogy homework. Before you take a genealogy research trip make sure you are prepared. Conduct a thorough search of the Family History Library Catalog and make note of all the microforms, books and resources you want to see. Pay special attention to the location of the item. If an item is in the “Vault” you will need to order it beforehand. Since the Family History Library Catalog is available on the Internet, do this preliminary research first so you don’t waste time while at the library.

photograph of microfilm drawers inside the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah

Microfilm Drawers inside the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. © 2012 Gena Philibert-Ortega

Ask other genealogists. It’s always a good idea to talk to other genealogists who’ve traveled to your destination. Frequent travelers to the Family History Library may have helpful tips about making photocopies, what to bring, how they go about researching at the facility, and where the best places to stay in Salt Lake City are. Not sure you know anyone who has been to Salt Lake City? Ask around at your local genealogy society or post a question on a social media website like Facebook, Twitter or GenealogyWise.

photograph of the Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah

Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints located in downtown Salt Lake City. © 2010 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of FamilySearch.org

Have fun! Yes, there is so much you can research at the Family History Library, as well as the other archives and libraries, but don’t forget to take some breaks during your trip as well. It’s important to schedule some time to eat, walk around or even take the night off to check out the sights and tourist attractions. If you arrive on Sunday, the Family History Library is closed but that gives you time to prepare for your research and do some sightseeing in Utah.

photograph of Salt Lake Temple, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake Temple, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. © 2012 Gena Philibert-Ortega

However you plan your family research trip, remember this: no matter how much time you spend researching, there will always be more you wished you had seen. So when you get home, organize what you found, update your database and start planning your next trip!

 

 

The World Was Your Ancestor’s Oyster: Food in Family History

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena explores one of her many interests: the connection of food and cooking to family history, revealing how much oysters were part of our ancestors’ diets.

What did your ancestors eat? Is this something you ever ponder? As family historians, the actual everyday activities of our ancestors can help to bring the dates and places we research to life.

In some cases the food our ancestors ate is quite different from what we are accustomed to today. With the lack of refrigeration and transportation, it’s no surprise that there were regional differences in cuisine. Considering the limited ability to transport and preserve ingredients, the variety of what was available to harvest locally, and the food preferences of local ethnic/immigrant populations, it is not surprising that the food that was served in various areas could be extremely different. A specialty enjoyed by those living in one region of the United States was all but unknown in another. While to some extent this is still true of modern cuisine today, as you can travel to different regions of the United States and taste local favorites not served where you live, these food differences are not as dramatic as they were 100 years ago.

So what were some food commonalities? Well there were many American foods that were feasted upon across the regions. One such food that was enjoyed by almost all Americans in the nineteenth century was oysters. Today oysters, depending on where you live, are usually a delicacy because of the price they command. It would also not be unusual to find people who have never even tried an oyster, raw or cooked.  In the nineteenth century oysters were everyday food items that were inexpensive and plentiful. They were the food of the common person.

Newspaper advertisements hint at the massive amounts of oysters available to our ancestors. Consider this 1874 newspaper advertisement from the Oregonian which lists several places to eat and obtain oysters.

Old Vintage Advertisement for Oysters - Oregonian Newspaper  1874

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 16 October 1874, page 5.

Street vendors, oyster houses, saloons, restaurants and home cooks prepared oysters in various, often creative ways. Oysters were served in every way imaginable including ways we are familiar with today like raw and fried. Interesting ways to serve oysters could be found in the era’s cookbooks including pickled oysters, oyster ketchup and one recipe that called for oysters to be served with shortcake.[i]

Consider this newspaper article which provides 11 ways to cook oysters that “if adhered to will bring cheer to the family board.” Note that this article was printed in a Kentucky newspaper—not exactly known today for its seafood. Yet this historical 1913 article tells “how best to serve the succulent bivalve [oysters], perhaps the most universally popular dish of the American table.”

How To Cook Oysters Old Recipe - Lexington Herald Newspaper 1913

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 19 October 1913, section 4, page 3.

There were also “mock oyster” recipes for those who were unable to obtain oysters. These oyster recipes substituted different ingredients for oysters including corn, mashed potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant. Women could cook dishes such as “Mock Oyster Soup,” “Mock Oyster Sauce,” “Mock Oyster Stew” and just plain “Mock Oysters.” While the appearance of a “mock” recipe in a cookbook might connote that the item was difficult to obtain or expensive, this was not necessarily so in the case of the oyster.

As oyster beds became contaminated and overfished in the early 1900s, oysters began to cease being eaten as an everyday food and became more of a delicacy. No longer was the oyster part of America’s everyday diet.

To learn more about America’s love affair with oysters see the history The Big Oyster. History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky.


[i] Stavely, Keith W. F., and Kathleen‎ Fitzgerald‎. America’s Founding Food. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2004, pg. 108. Viewed on Google Books 1 July 2012.

How to Find Your Ancestors’ Church Records

Church records can be a terrific resource for your genealogy research. But if you’re not sure what church your ancestors attended, how do you know what church records to look for?

The denominations that families attended may have changed over the years. In some faith traditions, like Catholics and Mormons, it is important that the members of the church be baptized and married by the clergy of that church—so it is likely that your ancestors in those faith traditions made the effort to travel to the closest church within that denomination. In other faith traditions families may have felt some flexibility in which denomination they attended, often based on proximity or the appeal of a local pastor or congregation.

In looking for church records about your ancestors, start with the faith tradition of your parents and grandparents. Chances are that the family has attended the same church for multiple generations. But—there wasn’t always a Presbyterian or Baptist church in every town.

When I was growing up in Lower Gilmanton, New Hampshire, there was only one church in town: a Congregational church. It seemed then that every small town had a Congregational church. So, if you wanted to attend church in Lower Gilmanton, you either went to the local Congregational church or made a trip to Barnstead, Belmont, Pittsfield, or any of the other towns in the area that had a church of the denomination you were more comfortable with.

In the early 1960s a group of Baptists was organized in Lower Gilmanton and they wanted to meet in the Congregational church. It was agreed that they would rent it and hold religious services on Sunday afternoons. In this case two denominations shared the same building.

Genealogy Search Tip: Check the records of all of the churches in the area where your ancestors lived. Be flexible—just as they were—because they may have attended multiple churches during their lives. Since it was common for couples not of the same faith to marry, it is possible to find, for example, that the Methodist groom was married to the Baptist bride at the area Baptist church—and then, when they moved west to settle in Kansas, they attended the Congregational church.