Family History Saturates American Pop Culture & Advertising

You can find references to genealogy everywhere in America these days.

In a current Capital One TV commercial, Alec Baldwin and “the boys” use their double miles to fly home for their family reunion.

Family Reunion Capital One Venture Card Commercial

So opens the familiar Capital One ad—this works because of the underpinning of family reunions in our lives. With quick one-liners and unexpected zingers, this is one of the funniest “genealogy”-based ads created by DDB.com.

Genealogy research was the key to solving a recent case on NCIS-Los Angeles and constantly comes up in TV sitcoms & mysteries, and in novels. From Harry Potter to Despicable Me—it’s everywhere.

harry potter family tree

Credit: Wikipedia and Warner Brothers.

Family history is critical to the plot in the Harry Potter series. In every page we see that key events happen because of the intertwined branches of the family tree of the charters in this popular wizard’s family saga.

The 2004 BBDO (New York, New York) ads for Cingular/AT&T capture the pull that family and family trees have in American culture.

AT&T / Cingular Family Tree Commerical – BBDO

What references to family history are you seeing in popular culture? Tell us about them in the comments section.

Remembering ‘Roots’ Author Alexander Murray Palmer Haley

Alex Haley (1921-1992) was a famous African American author who had more impact on genealogy than any other person in the past 50 years. He was born 11 August 1921. Haley would be almost 92 years old if he were alive today.

After the release of his book Roots: The Saga of an American Family (New York City, New York: Doubleday) 37 years ago—on 17 August 1976—and the launch of the eight-part television mini-series on ABC-TV in January 1977, the genealogy world was forever changed.

He was 55 years old when Roots was published.

Alex Haley Roots Book Cover

Image credit: Wikipedia.org

From that point on the number of genealogical societies in the U.S. skyrocketed from 400 societies to over 4,000. Public libraries and state archives across the country were flooded with family history researchers using their book and microfilm collections.

Some major milestones to keep in mind: the first laptop wasn’t invented until 1981 (Osborne); Google was launched in 1995; and GenealogyBank was born 19 October 2006.

One man can make a big difference.

Recently Alex Haley’s nephew Christopher Haley participated in a DNA study and was surprised to learn about his Scottish roots. Hosted by Megan Smolenyak, this episode of Roots Television shows the family reunion of the Haley and Baff families:

Christina Applegate Finds Family with GenealogyBank on WDYTYA

Genealogists are relying on newspaper archives more and more to document the stories of their ancestors and trace their family trees. In last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? American actress Christina Applegate used an old article found in GenealogyBank’s Trenton Sunday Times Advertiser (Trenton, New Jersey), 26 August 1934, to learn more about her family history. Notice the family resemblance with her grandmother and great-aunt: Lavina and Delilah Shaw.

collage of a photo of American actress Christina Applegate and a newspaper clipping of her ancestors

Image Credit: Wikipedia and GenealogyBank.com

Dig into GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives and see what you can find out about your ancestry now!

Disclaimer: GenealogyBank is not affiliated with TLC TV Network or the Who Do You Think You Are? television program.

Historian Leads Walter Pierce Park (DC) Cemetery Restoration

Hat’s off to Mary Belcher. A group she organized has been diligently restoring and documenting upwards of 10,000 persons who were buried in the Adams Morgan section of Walter Pierce Park in the District of Columbia.

photo of Mary Belcher leading effort to restore historic District of Columbia cemetery

Photo: Mary Belcher. Credit: WJLA-TV (District of Columbia).

Over time the old grave markers have deteriorated and been lost. Mary’s group is using the older records and evidence found on the site to document each person buried there. No small task.

Watch this news report from local television station WJLA-TV to see what Mary and her group have accomplished so far in their cemetery restoration efforts.

Adams Morgan Cemetery Fight

N.H.’s Old Man of the Mountain Collapsed 10 Years Ago Today

The “Old Man of the Mountain” was a granite rock formation in the White Mountains of New Hampshire that looked like the rugged profile of a man’s face. First discovered in 1805, the 40-foot-high face had been N.H.’s state emblem since 1945. But centuries of freezing and thawing eventually did the Old Man in.

News of the collapse of Old Man of the Mountain rock formation—ten years ago today—spread with shock throughout the U.S. on Saturday morning, 3 May 2003.

newspaper article and stamp illustration of New Hampshire's "Old Man of the Mountain"

Newspaper article: Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 4 May 2003, page 4. Stamp illustration: Wikipedia.

It was like hearing that your aged father or grandfather had died. We thought the Old Man of the Mountain would live forever. Yes, we knew about the rehabilitation efforts the state had been doing on the rock formation—the therapy to keep him going. It felt like every new approach would “work” and keep him going well into the new millennium.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

The Old Man of the Mountain lost his fight with age and time and passed with a great, earth shattering crash. The news of the collapse stunned everyone for days—even now hearing of it brings back the old memories.

The news of the demise of the great stone face was reported in the newspapers, and on radio and TV. Family members called one another to share the news, speaking in quiet reverence—still shocked by the fact that the “Old Man” had died.
Whether it is the recent loss of a beloved member of the family or an obituary from 300 years ago, you will find over 220 million obituaries and death records in GenealogyBank.

Gather your family’s stories, save them, and pass them down.

Don’t let your story be lost.

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!

Family Memories: Finding My Grandfather’s Stories in the Newspaper

When I was a kid my grandfather would drive us over to see the old family sites in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. I remember grandpa was quite the storyteller. Every corner had a story attached to it, including the story of Joseph Plummer (1774-1862) of Meredith.

collage of newspaper articles about New Hampshire hermit Joseph Plummer

Collage of newspaper articles about New Hampshire hermit Joseph Plummer

Why was that story memorable? Because Plummer was a hermit.

A hermit…that was kind of spooky, mysterious…but there we were—parked near his grave. My grandfather showed us where Plummer’s cabin stood. As we drove around the Lakes Region, my grandfather brought us to the old Baptist Church where some of our relatives were once baptized on Christmas Day—after chopping a hole in the ice. Later, he showed us the place where another relative was buried in a glass coffin, a sealed vat of alcohol, in an attempt to prevent his body from decomposition by being buried in the ground.

These were great stories I heard while growing up in New Hampshire. It didn’t matter that we didn’t have TV; we had our grandfather to keep us spellbound with his stories—“our” stories. Today, remembering his storytelling provides some of my fondest memories of time spent with grandpa when I was young.

Over the years I have found documentation in old newspapers that filled in my memory of the stories he told us when we were children.

Bingo: here is another one of my grandpa’s stories verified. I found information in an old newspaper article about the New Hampshire hermit Joseph Plummer that my grandfather told us about.

Over the years the newspapers wrote a dozen articles about Joseph Plummer, giving many of the details of his life.

He was interviewed in 1862 and asked his age: “he answered: ‘I was born the 9th hour of the 13th day of October, in 1774.’”

New Hampshire hermit Joseph Plummer, Deseret News newspaper article 15 October 1862

Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 15 October 1862, page 123

Another news report gave an episode in Plummer’s life that my grandfather didn’t include in his telling of the hermit’s story.

It seems Plummer didn’t quite know how to go about dating the Deacon’s daughter. His brothers married two other of the Fox daughters—but for Joseph it wasn’t to be, despite his apparent determination: “Joseph on one occasion made up his mind to sally forth from his retreat and woo the remaining daughter.”

Unfortunately for Joseph, as the old article relates, “He was somewhat original in his method and broke down in his project.”

A Hermit's Attempt at Courtship, Washington Reporter newspaper article 19 February 1873

Washington Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania), 19 February 1873, page 7

After failing in his attempt at romance, Plummer bought land and built his cabin far from the “crowds” and cares of the world.

Hermit's Home Today, Broad Ax newspaper article 21 May 1898

Broad Ax (Salt Lake City, Utah), 21 May 1898, page 2

These old newspaper article clippings bring back memories of time spent with my grandfather and add depth to the stories he told us as children. They provide perfect material for family memory books and scrapbooking projects to share with family generations to come so that they remember grandpa and his stories. Family stories are a treasure—even more so when we can document and expand on them in the deep newspaper archives of GenealogyBank.

 

 

Who Do You Think You Are? Sourcing GenealogyBank

Gather round the telly, grab some popcorn and let the kids stay up!

Special alert to our GenealogyBank members in the United Kingdom and beyond: please pay careful attention to the next television episode featuring Samantha Womack on Who Do You Think You Are? being broadcast on BBC-TV in the UK.

We received word that GenealogyBank’s newspaper archive was used to trace Womack’s family tree and is one of the sources credited in this WDYTYA episode. Yea!

Samantha Womack is the star of the UK hit television series “EastEnders.”

At the Playhouses, Evening Journal newspaper article 6 August 1904, plus photo of actress Samantha Womack

Photo of actress Samantha Womack plus newspaper article published by the Evening Journal (Jersey City, New Jersey), 6 August 1904, page 3

Tune in to BBC and watch this new WDYTYA episode on Wednesday, August 15.

To read the newspaper article used to trace the Womacks in the upcoming show, see the article “At the Playhouses” published in the Evening Journal (Jersey City, New Jersey), 6 August 1904, page 3.

 

A Murder in the Family Tree: Policeman Stabbed to Death

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott reports a sad discovery when doing his family history research—finding a murder in his family tree.

Ever have one of those eerie experiences that make you just a little bit scared in your family history work? I did and it happened early in my genealogy research when I decided to visit the Woodland Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio. I had been wanting to visit this cemetery for some time as I have faint memories of visiting there with my family when I was a very young boy. Additionally, in my genealogy research, I have discovered that our family has more than 160 deceased family members resting eternally in Woodland Cemetery.

On this particular cemetery visit I was planning on paying my respects to my great grandfather’s sister, Theresa Sluka. As I arrived at her grave I not only found her gravestone, but I found a substantial family burial plot. I was madly clicking photos and writing down notes as to location, directions, etc., when one of the Sluka family gravestones caught my attention.

Up until that visit, I had never seen a gravestone that held portraits captured in porcelain. The small obelisk in front of me held not one portrait, but two. As I came closer, I realized that for the first time I was gazing at the likenesses of my cousins, Albert and Frank Sluka. Both looked remarkably young and then I noticed that Albert died at just 29 (1877-1907) and his brother, Frank, wearing a uniform of some sort in his portrait, died at only 33 (1878-1912).

gravestone portrait of Albert Sluka (1877-1907)

Gravestone portrait of Albert Sluka (1877-1907)

It wasn’t an hour later that I was booting up my computer and digging into these two family members. Beginning with Albert, my first stop was at GenealogyBank.com and I was not disappointed. On the first page of search results there was an article from the front page of the Plain Dealer:

Policeman Dies in Street Fight, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 28 March 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 March 1907, page 1

I felt as if the headline was screaming at me. I couldn’t believe what I was reading: “Policeman Dies in Street Fight. Is Stabbed Just Once, but Life Ebbs Away in Short Time.”

Only three blocks from the very cemetery where I had been standing only an hour earlier, my cousin, wearing his badge and working as a “Special Policeman,” was stabbed to death by a man he had bounced from a dancehall! The old newspaper article explained the crime scene and reported that his brother was a member of the Cleveland Police Department. My curiosity, being fully piqued at this point, kept me looking further.

Amidst the tragedy of this police murder story, I discovered in another newspaper article that the Cleveland Police did indeed get their man, who was a fellow by the name of Harry Fertel:

Murder Charge Rests Lightly, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 29 March 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 29 March 1907, page 2

The news of Albert Sluka’s murder was carried in other newspapers in other states, such as this historical news article which appeared on the front page of an Indiana paper:

Policeman Stabbed to Death, Elkhart Truth newspaper article, 28 March 1907

Elkhart Truth (Elkhart, Indiana), 28 March 1907, page 1

GenealogyBank.com was finding, and I was reading, news stories that covered the initial reports of the assault and crime, and explanations of the impact of the murder on my ancestors including this: “The aged father and mother of the dead policeman are brokenhearted. All day long they sat sobbing beside the casket in the little front room of their home at 5311 McBride Av., S.E…”

I was even learning about my great aunt trying to get her son’s killer sentenced to serve his time in the Penitentiary rather than the Ohio State Reformatory—which itself was none too nice, as revealed in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption (the movie was filmed at the Ohio State Reformatory).

Mother Seeks Revenge, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 15 May 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 15 May 1907, page 3

Ever since that first day of those discoveries about my cousin Albert and his murder, I have been further augmenting my knowledge of this family tragedy with information available from the coroner’s autopsy report, trial transcripts, jail records, and more.

The one thing I can tell you for certain is that reading those early newspaper articles sure beats any TV courtroom drama I have ever seen, because, as they say, “This Is Family.”

 

Old West Stories in Newspapers: Here Comes the Morning Stagecoach!

Maybe it was because of Father’s Day, but there were a lot of old western movies on TV this past weekend. Good ones, too, starring Gregory Peck, John Wayne, and more.

Daily Ohio Statesman -  Stagecoach Story Newspaper Article 1860

Daily Ohio Statesman (Columbus, Ohio), 10 May 1860, page 3

So, it was no surprise when I was combing through GenealogyBank today that I found this great newspaper article about an old western stagecoach, published in the Daily Ohio Statesman (Columbus, Ohio), 10 May 1860, page 3.

It read like the plot of a TV western—only these stories of the old Wild West were real.

This historical newspaper article reports that the Overland Mail Coach arrived with passengers “Lieut. Cogswell, of the USA, Dr. J. P. Breck, and Mr. and Mrs. Arnold.”

They brought news from the Texas frontier and points west. “They report the Indians very troublesome in the vicinity of Mustang Pond [Nevada], and between Mountain Pass Station and Phantom Hill.”

The stagecoach passengers provided details of several attacks:

“A blacksmith in the employ of the Overland Mail Company, and three men living at Mountain Pass, were murdered by the Comanches the day before the stage passed there.

“Fifteen Indians stopped at Mustang Pond and committed sundry depredations upon the whites.

“The scout for this stage saw some bands of Indians at the latter place, looking with eager eyes towards the coach, and the passengers prepared themselves for a fight, but the red skins were too wary, and it did not become necessary to fire upon them.

“Col. Fountleroy had started on a tour to select a site for Fort Butler.

“Maj. Ruff had been ordered with five companies of rifles to take the field immediately against the Kiowa and Comanches. His depot was at Fort Butler.

“Several ranging companies were out in the vicinity of Jackborough.”

Clearly, riding a stagecoach in the Wild West was just as dangerous as western movies later portrayed it!

Every stop was an adventure. This old Pony Express Route, April 3, 1860 – October 24, 1861 map (courtesy, Library of Congress) shows the overland route many travelers took from Missouri to California.

Historical Map of Pony Express Route that Stagecoaches Followed - 1860-1861

Pony Express Route, April 3, 1860 – October 24, 1861

The strength of historical newspapers is that they provide a daily record of the past.

GenealogyBank has the largest online newspaper archive, full of details about our American heritage. You can find stagecoach passenger lists, information about the early American pioneers and Native Americans and so much more in GenealogyBank. Carefully review GenealogyBank’s 1.2 billion records for the details of your family’s history.

D73FCRRRYRTP