His Life for His Son’s: The Story of My Cousin Isaac Smith

I recently found compelling newspaper articles about a local New York baker who lost his life while saving his drowning son.

A distant cousin wrote me last week and mentioned that a mutual cousin of ours, Isaac Smith, had died while trying to rescue his son back in the 1800s. I thought, that sounds like a story that a newspaper would pick up – so I headed to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to find the rest of that story.

I quickly found not one – but three articles on this tragedy.

article about W. Isaac Smith drowning while strying to save his son, New York Herald newspaper article 24 June 1895

New York Herald (New York, New York), 24 June 1895, page 5

The drowning happened at a company picnic at Oakland Beach in Rye, New York.

According to the newspaper article, Isaac never took time off from his bakery. The picnic he organized was his first break from work in ten years. The news article goes on to describe the grim details of his death while rescuing his drowning son.

article about W. Isaac Smith drowning while trying to save his son, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 24 June 1895

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 24 June 1895, page 1

According to the other two articles I found, Isaac died of a heart attack – likely brought on by the urgency, fear and stress of finding and rescuing his son Gordon Smith, who was 15 years old.

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Thanks to these old newspaper articles, my connection to William Isaac Smith went beyond the dates and places. The details and people involved in saving Gordon Smith’s life helped me see into the lives of my relatives in a unique way that is now preserved forever. These newspaper articles provided more than the “facts” so that I could see my relatives as they lived – and died. I got the details of this tragedy – but also sprinkled through there were the details of William Isaac Smith’s character, work ethic and business success that led him to open not just one bakery, but two more in neighboring towns.

article about W. Isaac Smith drowning while trying to save his son, New York Herald Tribune newspaper article 24 June 1895

New York Herald Tribune (New York, New York), 24 June 1895, page 7

Isaac ran a “wholesale bakery” in White Plains that branched out with bakeries in Tarrytown and Port Chester. By the young age of 43, he had provided financial security for his wife and children, and served his employees faithfully. These newspaper clippings on the accident provide amazing details that I would not have found anywhere else – describing not just this tragic incident, but details of the character of my cousin.

GenealogyBank has become a core “go-to,” reliable resource for learning about and writing the history of your family. Newspapers are the only place that genealogists can find the stories of their relatives.

Beyond the dates and places and news of the day are the stories of our grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Only GenealogyBank provides access to over 1.7 billion newspaper records that tell the stories our ancestors cannot. Thanks to our digital archival technology, our records can be made available to you at the click of a mouse. Sign up today and discover stories you might otherwise never have known about your family. Start your 30-day trial now!

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NBC Prime Time: Who Do You Think You Are? – Sarah Jessica Parker

If you missed the first show of the NBC prime time series Who Do You Think You Are? – you can click here and see it on Hulu.com

Watch it and see how Sarah Jessica Parker used newspapers to find the crucial information she needed to climb up to the next branches on her family tree.
Search over 4,300 newspapers on GenealogyBank and see what you will discover about your family.
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Genealogy Boot Camp: Getting Started

OK Team – it’s time to get down to basics and make sure we haven’t missed clues and information that would help us to accurately document our family tree.

Welcome to Genealogy Boot Camp: Core training

Day 1. Home Sources
OK recruits – you will need the basic equipment.

First – get that old laundry basket and let’s put it to good use.
Put this laundry basket where you will see it every day – but where it will be safe. Perhaps a room you don’t use everyday – like the dining room – that should be a good place – or perhaps on the bed in the spare bedroom.

Now, here is your first assignment:
Begin gathering the family history information that you have in your own home.

“But – I don’t have any information about my family!”

OK recruit: put your laundry basket in a visible, safe place and let’s see what we can find in your house.

Step One: Go from room to room in your home looking for items that have clues about your family. As you see something of value – take it and put it in the laundry basket. You should expect to spend one week on this task – do NOT try to do it all at once.

– Photo albums
– Family mementos
– School yearbooks
– Family Bible
– The envelope with family clippings
– Grammie’s recipe book
– The old wooden spoon
– Dad’s World War I medal
– The box with the old family letters and photos
– Baby books
– Old family cups, plates
– History of Gilmanton, NH – Why do we have that?

“I have an old cedar chest with some old clothes & a comforter made by my great-grandmother – I don’t want to move them.

If some of your family treasures are too large or fragile to move – write down a quick description on a 3×5 card and put that in the laundry basket.

Tips

Why should this take one week?

You’re busy. Don’t burn yourself out. During this week as you go around the house in your normal daily routine – be thinking about clues. What do I have in my home that would tell me more about the family? Pick it up and put it in the laundry basket. By the end of the week you’ll have plenty of clues.

Back in the early 1960s I drove over to White Plains, NY to visit my cousins: Genevieve and Burt Shaw (Genevieve M. (Smith) Shaw 1871-1967) – Burton C. Shaw 1866-).

When I arrived Burt was off getting a haircut – Cousin Gen said that he would be right back. We spoke about the family and got caught up on current events.

But, still – no Burt.

As I asked about the family history – Cousin Gen was so apologetic that she didn’t know more about the family history. But as we waited I asked her about the things in the living room. There were framed pictures and photos on most of the shelves and tables. Who were they? She was a steady stream of detail about the family.

And what about the old piano; the old rocking chair; the painting in the corner. Everything had a story and a family connection.

I had written down pages of notes – all the while she repeated that she could no longer remember the details of the family history.

Cousin Burt never did come home that day – but she was a goldmine of information.

So – Step One – Gather Your Home Sources. Once you have them – in hand start to write down the facts and clues and document your family history.