Genealogy Collaboration to Trace Czech American Ancestry Pt. 1

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how some old newspaper articles led to a breakthrough in his genealogy work—and to a fruitful collaboration with the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland.

Genealogy and collaboration go together just about as well as peanut butter and jelly! If you have been working on your genealogy for any time at all, you have made some wonderful family discoveries that were possible due to collaboration—as have I.

American Antiquarian Society

It is my belief that collaboration is one of the best additional benefits of using the newspapers of GenealogyBank in your genealogy research. When I first began to subscribe to GenealogyBank, I noticed right away that its newspaper collection has benefited from a collaborative effort with the highly esteemed American Antiquarian Society (AAS).

By the way, if you have never checked out the AAS I’d suggest a visit to its website at http://www.americanantiquarian.org. As you will see on its homepage, “The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) library houses the largest and most accessible collection of printed materials from first contact through 1876 in what is now the United States, the West Indies and parts of Canada.” Located in Worcester, Massachusetts, the AAS is high on my “Genealogy Must-Visit List.”

Tracing Czech American Ancestry with Newspapers

On a more personal note, a recent GenealogyBank discovery I made while working on another genealogy project has put me smack-dab in the center of a very valuable collaboration.

I have been working on documenting the earliest Czech immigrants of Cleveland, Ohio. One of these early immigrants was a man by the name of Leopold Levi (sometimes spelled Levy), and I was making pitiful progress on discovering any valuable leads on him until GenealogyBank’s newspapers came to my rescue.

My first discovery was in an 1892 Ohio newspaper.

death notice for Stella Levi, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 27 February 1892

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 February 1892, page 5

This article reported that Stella, the daughter of Leopold and Esther Levi, died on 26 February 1892 at 831 St. Clair St. While an interesting find, with some very nice details and from the appropriate timeframe, it did not provide me with any indication that this was “the” Leopold Levi I was seeking. So I continued reviewing the results from my newspaper search.

It wasn’t long before I discovered a second interesting article, this one in an 1899 Ohio newspaper.

Assistant Assessors, Plain Dealer newspaper article 16 April 1899

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 April 1899, page 8

Here was a Leopold Levi from the same address as in the 1892 article, and he had been appointed to be an enumerator for the upcoming 1890 Federal Census.

Next I found a much more recent article, from a 1951 Ohio newspaper.

notice about Leopold Levi, Plain Dealer newspaper article 10 December 1951

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 December 1951, page 22

This substantial article was titled “Early Jewish Life in Cleveland” and included the following sentence: “Leopold Levi, who arrived in 1849, served as tax assessor for many years.” BINGO! This article provided me with a nice link to the previous article of 1899 and from there back to the 1892 article. Additionally, I had discovered the important fact that Leopold Levi was Jewish.

Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland

A quick Google search ensued to see if there happened to be an active Jewish genealogy group in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. Sure enough I located the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland. After taking a look at their website at http://www.clevelandjgs.org, I filled out their online research request form and submitted it via email. I realized I may have stumbled upon something good when, within 24 hours, I had a magnificent response back from their researchers complete with a terrific set of materials.

They provided me with an obituary for Leopold Levi, his burial location, details regarding his civic works, and the fact that he died intestate. They even gave me the link to an “Application for Letters of Administration” that lists all his heirs-at-law. Additionally they sent me obituaries for his wife, one daughter, and his son. As an added bonus, included with these items was the married name of a second daughter as well as the married names of several granddaughters.

My collaboration with the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland is continuing and I will be sharing my work with them once it is completed. This is especially worthwhile because they have no indications that anyone else has undertaken previous work on Leopold Levi and his family.

Now I am well on my way to a more complete understanding of Leopold Levi, his life, and his impact as one of the very earliest Czech immigrants to Cleveland, Ohio.

Best of all, this continuing genealogy success story started as a result of leads I discovered in the newspapers of GenealogyBank, and then led me to a fruitful collaboration—one of the real delights of genealogy research.

I’d enjoy hearing what your best collaborative efforts have been in your genealogy work.

How Old Newspapers Can Help You Search U.S. Census Records

Like detectives, we approach family history by gathering all of the clues and making a case for who our relatives were: their names, when and where they were born, pushing through all of the activities of their lives until their deaths.

Pulling all of the facts and clues together helps us rediscover who each one of our relatives really were. What happened while they were alive—what do we really know about them?

The U.S. census is a terrific tool—basic for building an American family tree. It gives us a snapshot of our family at the time of recording. The census looks in on them one day of their lives, every ten years, over their lifetime. Couple this census information with old family letters, perhaps a journal, and birth, marriage & death certificates, and we begin to discover the basic facts about each person.

Add newspapers to our research and we can go beyond the basic genealogical facts: we get to learn their stories.

Newspapers were published every day. They tell us what happened each day in their town, their state, in the world. Old newspapers tell us what was happening in our relatives’ lives every day of their lives.

Since a census record is a one-day look at the family, we complement those basic facts with newspaper articles to fill in the details and get the rest of their stories, as shown in the following two examples.

William T. Crow (1802 – )

Here is the listing for William T. Crow and his wife Elizabeth Crow (1806- ) in the 1880 census.

photo of the 1880 census listing for William and Elizabeth Crow, from FamilySearch.org

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Digging deeper into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I found this old 1800s newspaper article about William Crow.

notice about William T. Crow, Aberdeen Weekly News newspaper article 2 October 1885

Aberdeen Weekly News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 2 October 1885, page 2

This article fills in more of the details of their lives:

  • He was a judge
  • Her maiden name was Elizabeth Blackwell
  • They married on 26 February 1826
  • They were close to the 60th anniversary of their wedding day
  • They had 6 children and 47 grandchildren living in 1885
  • 1 daughter died during childhood
  • 2 sons “sleep in soldiers’ graves”
  • They lived near Carnesville, Georgia, and all of the children lived within 1½ miles of the family home

That’s a lot of family information packed into one short paragraph. Marriage records in newspapers are a fantastic resource to trace your family tree.

Hannah Lyman (1743-1832)

Hannah (Clark) Lyman lived in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Her census record gives us a start at her story.

Here she is in the 1830 census, living in Northampton, Massachusetts.

photo of the 1830 Census listing for Hannah Lyman, from FamilySearch.org

Credit: FamilySearch.org

She is there—and the check marks tell us that there were others, unnamed, living in the house with her at that time.

Once again I turned to GenealogyBank’s historical newspapers to get more of her story, and found this 1800s news article published just two years after the census was taken.

obituary for Hannah Lyman, Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 21 March 1832

Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 21 March 1832, page 3

Like the trendy saying “it takes a village,” it takes multiple genealogical resources to fill in the details of the lives of our ancestors.

And wow—do newspapers deliver!

This newspaper article from GenealogyBank’s deep backfile of historical newspapers builds on her brief mention in the census, and tells us the core facts of her life along with a terrific family story of her memories of the “great earthquake of Nov. 18, 1755.”

Details—stories.

Newspapers tell us so much about our family history.

Missing Men: Lost Husband Ads in Newspapers for Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena explores a family history resource in old newspapers that may surprise you: missing husband ads.

The Internet, text messaging, email, cell phones, social media and instant messaging…today we take for granted the convenience and peace of mind that having access to a person at the drop of a hat—24 hours a day, 7 days a week—brings. When I was a teenager my parents knew that if I drove somewhere they would not hear from me again until I returned home. If I was going to be late I would find a telephone booth and call but there was no way to be in touch constantly. In today’s world, parents panic if they don’t get an immediate response from their cell phone-attached youngsters.

Imagine a time when, if someone left the house and didn’t return, there were few ways to track them down.

Immigrant Disappearances

I was confronted with this reality years ago when I researched a client’s grandfather who had come to the United States in the early 20th century to seek out a better life for his family. The idea, like for many immigrants, was that he would emigrate first to find work and then make enough money to bring his wife and children over to their new home.

Instead they never heard from him again. No one knew what happened to him. The family wasn’t sure if he had died en route or years after arriving in America. Back at the time he disappeared, there was little that could be done to find a person who simply vanished into thin air. In some cases leaving without a trace was seen as a preferable option to a difficult or expensive divorce proceeding. In other tragic cases, an unfortunate mishap or act of violence was the reason for an unintended disappearance.

Missing Husband Newspaper Ads

So what did 19th and 20th century wives do when their husbands left and never returned? They used the newspaper. Specific newspaper articles targeting missing husbands existed, as in the case of the Jewish Daily Forward, which for a time included a column entitled the “Gallery of Missing Men” that provided descriptions and photos of husbands who had deserted their wives.

Newspapers also provided women the option of taking out a personal advertisement in the classifieds asking for the public’s help in finding their missing husbands.

These missing husband newspaper ads might be a surprising source of family history information, helping you fill in some details about your ancestors that you can’t find elsewhere.

Consider these two advertisements found in a 1907 Texas newspaper from GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, both placed by women pleading for the public’s help in finding their husbands.

missing husband ads, Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisements 12 September 1907

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 12 September 1907, page 8

In the case of the second advertisement placed by Mrs. H. L. Hooyer, her husband Henry was a harness maker who one day disappeared. In a previous advertisement more details of H. L. Hooyer were given, including a physical description and what he was wearing when he disappeared.

missing husband ad for Henry Hooyer, Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisement 28 August 1907

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 28 August 1907, page 8

Mrs. H. L. Hooyer placed multiple advertisements in the Dallas Morning News looking for her husband. His union magazine also carried notices of his disappearance. An article in the October 1907 The Leather Worker’s Journal (available from Google Books) from the Dallas Chief of Police provided information as well as a $50 reward. (See: http://bit.ly/1gfsW1C)

missing husband ad for Henry Hooyer, The Leather Workers’ Journal, October 1907

The Leather Workers’ Journal, October 1907. Credit: Google Books.

Another personal notice in The Leather Workers’ Journal stated that the family feared Hooyer had been a victim of foul play, with an unconfirmed report of his drowning in Nebraska. Conducting a quick search for H. L. Hooyer in GenealogyBank confirms that he had been involved in at least one past criminal court case, as well as a civil case, months prior to his disappearance. Whether Henry did meet with an untimely death or not, his wife is listed in subsequent city directories and in the 1910 U.S. Census as a widow.

Find Lost Ancestors in Missing Person Ads

In an era when social media meant a daily or weekly newspaper, personal advertisements alerted the community to those who went missing. For wives who found themselves suddenly alone, the classifieds were one of their only options for seeking help locating their missing husbands.

Genealogy Search Tip: Remember, newspapers are full of family history information—which sometimes turns up in the most unexpected places. Don’t rule out the classified ads when searching newspapers; your distressed ancestor may have placed an ad for her missing husband, providing personal details to help fill out your family tree.

Remembering Daniel Boone, Dr. Seuss & Paul Newman with Newspapers

During this September week in American history three famous octogenarians died who had a big impact on America:

  • Daniel Boone, American explorer, died at 85 on 26 September 1820
  • Theodor Seuss Geisel (better known as “Dr. Seuss”), American children’s book author, died at 87 on 24 September 1991
  • Paul Newman, American actor, died at 83 on 26 September 2008

Newspapers are filled with obituaries and profiles that help us better understand the lives of our ancestors—and the famous people who lived during their times. The following newspaper articles about these three famous Americans are good examples.

Daniel Boone (1734-1820)

Daniel Boone, who died 26 September 1820, is one of the most famous figures in American history, a legendary frontiersman, hunter and explorer credited with opening up the area now known as Kentucky to white settlers. In his long, adventurous life, Boone was an officer in the American Revolutionary War; a captive of the Shawnees, who later adopted him into their tribe; and a successful politician, serving three terms in the Virginia General Assembly. When he died in Missouri in 1820, all of America mourned.

The St. Louis Enquirer published Boone’s obituary four days after he died. Today Daniel Boone is regarded as the quintessential American folk hero, and in this contemporary obituary we can see that he was held in high regard during his own time. When the Missouri General Assembly learned of Boone’s passing they sadly adjourned for the day, pledging to wear black armbands for 20 days as a sign of respect and mourning.

obituary for Daniel Boone, St. Louis Enquirer newspaper article 30 September 1820

St. Louis Enquirer (St. Louis, Missouri), 30 September 1820, page 3

The obituary erroneously states that Boone was 90 when he died (he was 85). It reports that up until two years before his death, Boone “was capable of great bodily activity,” and notes that “Since then the approach of death was visible, and he viewed it with the indifference of a Roman philosopher.”

Here is a profile of Daniel Boone published in 1910, burnishing his legacy and legend, calling him a “courier of civilization.”

Daniel Boone: Pathfinder, Mighty Hunter and Courier of Civilization, Oregonian newspaper article 17 April 1910

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 17 April 1910, section 6, page 2

The old newspaper article states: “He found more profit in the woods than in tilling the soil, and for months at a time he was away hunting beaver, otter, bear, deer, wolves and wildcats. Garbed in hunting shirt of deerskin, with leggings and moccasins of the same material, and with powder horn, bullet pouch, scalping knife and tomahawk, the world afforded him plenty. The bare ground or the bushes furnished him a bed, and the sky was his canopy. His skill with a gun or in throwing a tomahawk was marvelous. Of Indian fighting he had enough to satisfy.”

Theodor Seuss Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”) (1904-1991)

Best known as the author and illustrator of beloved children’s books, Theodor Seuss Geisel was also a novelist, poet and cartoonist. His vivid imagination, crazy rhymes, and colorful illustrations graced 46 children’s books, creating such enduring characters as “The Cat in the Hat” and “Horton” the elephant. Generations of American children grew up learning to read from such classics as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and Horton Hears a Who!

In this obituary, published two days after Geisel’s death on 24 September 1991, we learn how the wild animals that peopled his imagination and stories came from his childhood experiences in the zoo.

'Seuss' Author Dies in Sleep, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 26 September 1991

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 26 September 1991, page 1

Dr. Seuss’s obituary states:

“The world of Geisel’s imagination was nourished by his childhood visits to the zoo in Springfield, Mass. He was born in Springfield on March 4, 1904, the son of Theodor R. Geisel, the superintendent of parks, and Henrietta Seuss Geisel.

“Superintendent Geisel, the son of an émigré German cavalry officer who founded a brewery in Springfield, expanded the zoo and liked to show it off to his son.

“‘I used to hang around there a lot,’ Geisel recalled in an interview. ‘They’d let me in the cage with the small lions and the small tigers, and I got chewed up every once in a while.’”

Geisel did very little merchandising of his popular characters during his lifetime—but that all changed after he died, as reported in this 1997 newspaper article.

'Cat in the Hat' Joins Commercial Scene, Register Star newspaper article 7 February 1997

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 7 February 1997, page 18

The newspaper article quotes Herbert Cheyette, Geisel’s longtime agent:

“Ted had been very reluctant to do it [merchandizing his characters],” he says. “His primary reaction was, ‘Why should I spend my time correcting the work of other people when I could do my own work creating new books?’ He said to me more than once, ‘You can do this after I’m dead.’

“In fact, Geisel’s death at 87 made merchandizing his characters a copyright necessity rather than a luxury; a case of use it or lose it, Cheyette says.”

Paul Newman (1925-2008)

Paul Newman was an Academy Award-winning American actor who appeared in more than 60 movies during his long career. Gifted, handsome, famous and wealthy, Newman shunned the Hollywood lifestyle and preferred his home life with his wife Joanne Woodward, to whom he was married 50 years—right up to his death. Newman also was a great philanthropist, co-founding a food company called “Newman’s Own” that donated more than $330 million to charity during his lifetime.

Paul Newman died on 26 September 2008; the following obituary was published the very next day.

obituary for Paul Newman, Sun newspaper article 27 September 2008

Sun (Lowell, Massachusetts), 27 September 2008

Newman’s obituary states:

“Newman, who shunned Hollywood life, was reluctant to give interviews and usually refused to sign autographs because he found the majesty of the act offensive, according to one friend.

“He also claimed that he never read reviews of his movies.

“‘If they’re good you get a fat head and if they’re bad you’re depressed for three weeks,’ he said.

“Off the screen, Newman had a taste for beer and was known for his practical jokes. He once had a Porsche installed in [Robert] Redford’s hallway—crushed and covered with ribbons.”

The following 1998 newspaper article reports on one of Newman’s charitable endeavors: he published a cookbook featuring favorite recipes from his famous actor friends.

What's on the Menu When Hollywood's Elite Meet to Eat, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 8 November 1998

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 8 November 1998, page 52

The news article reports:

“But it’s not all about dropping names. Newman introduces several recipes by recounting fond memories of meals enjoyed. He also tells about his life as the only man in his house along with his actress wife, Joanne Woodward, and five daughters, and waxes poetic about his ‘relationship’ with food.”

Obituaries provide personal details about someone’s life that we can’t find elsewhere—whether they are our ancestors or famous people we’re interested in. GenealogyBank features two collections of obituaries:

Dig into these obituary archives today and see what you can discover!

Take a Music Break & Listen to ‘I’m My Own Grandpa’

Take a break today and listen to this old country song performed by Dennis Warner.

Click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7x1ETPkZsk.

photo of Dennis Warner performing "I’m My Own Grandpa"

Credit: YouTube

You’ll need a pad and pencil to work out all the genealogy connections in this funny ballad loaded with connections on the old family tree. The song lyrics to “I’m My Own Grandpa” are below for reference.

Many, many years ago when I was 23

I was married to a widder who was pretty as could be

The widder had a grown up daughter who had a hair of red

My father fell in love with her and soon they were wed

 

This made my dad my son in law, which changed my very life

For my daughter was my mother in law, she was my father’s wife

To complicate the matter even though it brought me joy

I soon became the father of a bouncing baby boy

 

I’m my own grandpa

I’m my own grandpa

It sounds funny, I know,

but it really is so

I’m my own grandpa

 

My little baby then became a brother in law to dad

And so became my uncle though it made me very sad

For if he was my uncle then that also made him the brother

Of the widder’s grown up daughter who of course was my step mother

 

My father’s wife then had a son, that kept them on the run

and he became my grandchild for he was my daughter’s son

My wife is now my mother’s mother and it makes me blue

Because although she is my wife, she’s my grandmother too

 

I’m my own grandpa

I’m my own grandpa

It sounds funny, I know,

but it really is so

I’m my own grandpa

 

Oh if my wife is my grandmother then I’m her grandchild

And every time I think of it, it nearly drives me wild

For now I have become the strangest case you ever saw

As husband of my own grandmother, I’m my own grandpa

 

I’m my own grandpa

I’m my own grandpa

It sounds funny, I know,

but it really is so

I’m my own grandpa

The Marketing Finesse of Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkham

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena researches old newspaper articles and advertisements to show how, more than a century ago, Lydia Estes Pinkham used marketing techniques to promote her medicinal “vegetable compound” that may inspire today’s businesses.

Looking for marketing ideas for your business? You may want to take a look at old newspapers for inspiration.

Consider the work of Lydia Estes Pinkham.

Mrs Lydia E. Pinkham of Lynn Mass. Medical Vegtable Compound - Watertown Daily Times

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 12 August 1880, page 4.

Who Is Lydia Pinkham?

Who is Lydia Pinkham you ask? She was a wife and mother living in Lynn, Massachusetts, when the Depression of 1873 threatened to ruin her family financially. Lydia had a recipe for a medicinal elixir that she had previously shared with family and friends. She started manufacturing and bottling this “medicine” in an effort to better her family’s financial position.

Faces Sell

Lydia Pinkham was a master marketer. Her marketing plan included placing an image of herself on her product’s bottles. By putting her face on the label she established a credibility with her target audience, women. She had several medicines; her vegetable compound was likely the most popular and had an alcohol content that was as high as 20%.[ii] At a time where visiting a physician was expensive and women suffered in silence through a variety of ailments—or ingested medicines that had deadly ingredients—Pinkham’s medicine provided some hope.

Customer Testimonials

Lydia also produced pamphlets, which were really thinly disguised recipe books, which not only gave suggestions of what products a woman should use but provided women’s own stories of being cured. In the pamphlet titled Food and Health, there are numerous testimonials that include women’s names and addresses. The pamphlet says of these testimonials: “…you will find letters from many classes of women, young and old, mother and daughter. They are genuine expressions of gratitude from one woman to another.”[iii]

Lydia Pinkham Obituary - Western Recorder Newspaper

Western Recorder (Lawrence, Kansas), 24 May 1883, page 4.

Establish Expertise

Pinkham encouraged her customers to write to her with their health questions. This service became so popular that these letters were being answered years after Pinkham’s death and signed by “Mrs. Pinkham.” When a photo of the gravestone of Lydia Pinkham was published in a 1905 issue of the magazine Ladies’ Home Journal it caused some to question the validity of these letters. Even though Lydia’s 1883 obituary had run in newspapers all around the country, it seems some people believed that Lydia was still answering these letters long after her death. At the end of this 1907 California newspaper article “Mrs. Pinkham” clarifies that she is actually the daughter-in-law of the real Mrs. Lydia Pinkham.

Tumors Conquered - Lydia Pinkham's Vegtable Compound Newspaper Article

Evening News (San Jose, California), 1 May 1907, page 6.

Advertise!

Newspapers ran all kinds of advertisements for Pinkham’s products including those with images and names of women customers singing the product’s praises. Were these women real or just figments of the company’s marketing machine? It appears that they were real women and although they may seem quite personal to us today, these testimonies are really not that different from postings online on medical support group boards, mailing lists, or review websites.

For Older Women - Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 27 June 1930, section 2 page 22.

Enjoy Enduring Business Success

Did Lydia’s marketing work? The evidence of her company’s success is that you can still purchase her reformulated products, manufactured by a different company, today. Marketing techniques that Lydia used in the 19th century, including customer testimonials, are still an effective way to spread the news about products in today’s market.


[i] From Food and Health, page 2. Testimonial by Mrs. Mary Dipietro of Canton, Ohio. < http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/4089243?n=4&imagesize=1200&jp2Res=.25&printThumbnails=no> Available online in the Lydia Estes Pinkham Collection http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/4089243 on the Harvard University Library’s Open Collections Program Women Working, 1800-1930 at http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww/pinkham.html.

[ii] The Name that Launched a Million Bottles. The Annette & Irwin Eskind Biomedical Library, http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/biolib/hc/nostrums/pinkham.html.

[iii] From Food and Health. Available online in the Lydia Estes Pinkham Collection http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/4089243 on the Harvard University Library’s Open Collections Program Women Working, 1800-1930 at http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww/pinkham.html.

Using Historical Newspapers to Research My Civil War Ancestry

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspapers to find stories about his Civil War cousin, Captain James Ham, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Five Forks just as the war was drawing to a close.

 Earlier this month (July 1-3) our nation commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. I well recall the awe I felt when, as a youngster, my family and I visited those hallowed grounds during the centennial of the Civil War back in 1963. That experience was the one that sparked my deep interest in American Civil War history, which continues to this day.

As pure luck would have it, while I was enjoying all the recent publicity regarding the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, I happened to make the discovery of a cousin in my ancestry, James Ham, who was a veteran of the Civil War.

Gravestone of James Ham - A Civil War Veteran

Photo: gravestone of Captain James Ham in Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Pennsylvania. Credit: Patricia Bittner.

James was born in Launceston, Cornwall, in the United Kingdom. I discovered that after running into trouble with the law for “assaulting an officer in the execution of his duties” and receiving a 12-month sentence, he emigrated from Cornwall. It wasn’t long before I found that he established himself in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.

As I was following his listing from the 1860 U.S. Census, I also came upon the fact that James Ham served in the Civil War. He rose to the rank of captain in the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry, in their M Company. It was very enjoyable to find, while searching the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank.com, an article from an 1889 Maryland newspaper reporting on the dedication of a monument at Gettysburg to “my” Captain Ham’s regiment, with a description of the huge crowds that attended this event.

Pennsylvania Veterans' Day Newspaper Article - Sun 1889

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 12 September 1889, page Supplement 2.

Monument 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry Civil War

Photo: Civil War monument at Gettysburg dedicated to the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry. Credit: from the author’s collection.

The more I followed my leads, the more I was able to improve my understanding of the life, and unfortunate death, of my Civil War ancestor. It wasn’t long before I came upon the fact that Captain Ham was wounded in Virginia at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, and died from those battle wounds on April 5, 1865. Now, as much as I like to think I know a lot about the Civil War, I was not familiar with the Battle of Five Forks—so I turned again to research the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank.com.

This time there were hundreds of old newspaper articles for me to pick from. My knowledge was really expanded by reading an impressive article from an 1865 Wisconsin newspaper. This was a very detailed account of the battle, and the reporter wrote paragraph after paragraph that put me right in the action of many of the cavalry charges.

Civil War Battle of Five Forks Newspaper Article - Milwaukee Sentinel

Milwaukee Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 7 April 1865, page 1.

Shortly thereafter I found an article in a 1908 Idaho newspaper that would make any genealogist’s and/or historian’s heart jump. This old news article contains a story of family letters, history, a dash of good luck, and perseverance in the discovery of the fate of the battle flag carried for a time by Union General Sheridan during the battle.

Old Battle Flag Sheridan Carried at Five Forks Is Found Newspaper Article - Idaho Statesman

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 23 March 1908, page 4.

Then my attention was captured by an article published in an 1880 New York newspaper which reported that General Sheridan was being called to court in order to explain why he relieved General Warren of his command after the Battle of Five Forks. The subheading really caught my eye: “Eight Days Previous to the Surrender at Appomattox.” I had read the date of death of my ancestor but I had not, until that point, realized that he was killed in action only days before the Civil War ended.

Sheridan Warren Civil War Battle of Five Forks Newspaper Article - NY Herald

New York Herald (New York, New York), 27 October 1880, page 8.

I am now in the second phase of seeking even more information about this Civil War ancestor as I have placed a research request with the Wayne County (Pennsylvania) Historical Society (http://waynehistorypa.org). One of their researchers is hard at work hopefully finding more clues, data, and details about Captain James Ham and his family. Plus after my very first conversation with the researcher, I have been “forced” to place Wayne County, Pennsylvania, on my “Genealogy Must-Visit List” since the researcher casually mentioned to me that the Museum holds dozens of personal letters written from Captain Ham back to his wife and family during the Civil War!

I think I better start packing right now. I figure at least two days reading for sure! Can you imagine what those letters might hold?

Do you have comparable success stories about researching your Civil War ancestor? Tell us about them in the comments section.

Fun Family Folklore: Are These Superstitions Fact or Myth?

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott decides to add some of his family’s superstitions to his family tree to make it more complete—and searches old newspapers to find more information about those superstitions.

I would not be surprised if every family that ever lived had one superstition or another that was “believed in.” Maybe not 100%, but at least to the point that the superstition cropped up each time the subject was broached. For instance, when my wife was well overdue with our first child, she was told: “Eat Chinese takeout food and your labor will start.” I also well remember my grandmother’s constant admonition to “Find a pin and pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck,” and her commandment “Sing at the dinner table and you’ll marry a drunkard.”

My family folklore included many superstitions and my wife’s family added a few more that I was not familiar with, so I thought to make my family tree even more interesting and complete, I’d look into a couple of the superstitions that were amongst the strongest in our families. So off I went to GenealogyBank.com to see what I could discover and add to our family tree.

Fact or Myth? Snakes Don’t Die until Sundown

First up was a superstition that still haunts me to this day. It is that a snake does not die until sundown. Actually, the way it was related to me by my father was this: “The only way to kill a snake is to cut off its head and then leave it be, since it will not die until sundown.” Well, let me tell you, that was more than enough to instill a fear of snakes that exists in me to this very day, which you can see in this photo.

photo of Scott Phillips holding a large snake in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil

Photo: Scott Phillips and his uncomfortable “close encounter” with a large snake in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Credit: from the author’s collection.

My father’s “wisdom” about snakes was imparted to me frequently back in the 1950s. Imagine my surprise when I found this 1906 Pennsylvania newspaper article that addressed my dad’s snake superstition.

Killing Lies about Snakes, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 25 November 1906

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 25 November 1906, page 13

In this old newspaper article a zoologist debunks many of the myths regarding snakes, and there in the list at #12 is this: “It isn’t true that when snakes are killed their tails do not die until the sun goes down or until it thunders.” Good grief! If I had ever heard that “thunder” part I might still be in my old backyard waiting!

Open the Doors & Windows before Midnight on New Year’s Eve

I then recalled the first New Year’s Eve I celebrated when I was dating my future wife. Just before the stroke of midnight she began going around my parents’ home opening the windows and doors—during a Minnesota winter! As we all stood there shivering, watching our breath indoors, she explained her superstition that in order to have a good New Year, you needed to let the old air, spirits, year, etc., out and the new year in.

I married her anyway and then, 38 years later, I found this 1954 Washington newspaper article that gives instructions for doing exactly this. It was interesting for me to learn that my Italian wife had evidently picked up a Danish superstition, which we still follow.

notice about midnight superstitions, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 19 December 1954

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 19 December 1954, page 95

No Hats on the Bed or Chair!

Next up, I took on another one of my wife’s oft-cited superstitions from her Italian family. I can still hear my wife’s grandparents saying “Don’t ever put your hat on a bed or a chair!” While there were some strong rules in my home about never, ever wearing a hat in the house, I was not aware of anything like this Italian hat superstition that it is bad luck to lay your hat on a bed or chair. Then I found this 1938 Nebraska newspaper article, in which the columnist not only discusses this mysterious hat superstition—he also explains how he and his family still don’t abide seeing any hats on a bed.

notice about superstitions, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 22 May 1938

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 22 May 1938, page 39

Bury a Statue of Saint Joseph to Sell Your Home

Then I laughed out loud at myself as I came across an article in a 1991 Alabama newspaper. It verified that I am as “guilty” of following superstitions as anyone else!

notice about a superstition involving real estate and St. Joseph, Mobile Register newspaper article 7 April 1991

Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama), 7 April 1991, page 18

You see, just as this newspaper article explains, my wife and I have always buried a statue of St. Joseph in our yard every time we were in the process of selling a home. I’ll just add here that with my wife being an architect/designer, this burial ritual happened fairly often! It did my heart good to see that this tradition started, according to this article, “hundreds of years ago in Europe.” I take issue with the company selling these St. Joseph statue kits, though! While they do get the part right about burying him on his head and facing the street, he must be buried in a piece of linen from your house!

After reading the “error” in this newspaper’s account of a superstition that I personally follow, I became all the more resolved to add our folklore and superstitions to my family tree. Someone has to be sure everyone gets it “right” in the future!

What kinds of superstitions have been handed down in your family? Post a comment and let me know about your traditions and rituals rooted in superstition. I’d love to learn more about your family’s folklore!

Case Study Part 2: How to Find Old Newspaper Articles about Family

As I continued to look in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for the history of the Crofoot family (see: “Case Study: Using Old Newspaper Articles to Learn about Your Ancestors”) I found another clue.

Connecticut Journal Newspaper Esther Crofoot Death Notice 1829

Connecticut Journal (New Haven, Connecticut), 10 March 1829, page 3.

Another wife?

This historical obituary was for Mrs. Esther Crofoot who was the “wife of Ephraim C.”

Notice the newspaper editor simply gave his name as “Ephraim C.,” not repeating the surname Crofoot. The context was clear to the reader in this death notice, but these on-the-fly abbreviations can make it difficult to find every article about our target family.

So—we have an Ephraim Crofoot with a wife Esther, most likely married in the 1820s.

Earlier we found that an Ephraim Crofoot married Elizabeth W. Winship in 1830 and Betsey Sampson in 1850.

Is it the same Ephraim Crofoot in all three marriages?

It takes time to piece together the genealogical clues and facts that document a family tree.

In the weeks ahead I will continue to report on my newspaper findings about the Crofoot family and provide similar examples from other typical families.

Investigating the Murder Mystery of Louise Bailey with Newspapers

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 investigate the murder mystery of Louise Bailey back in 1914.

“If she is innocent, may God help her.”

~ Mrs. Duryea

Imagine a story that involves jealousy, murder, and a bullet through a window. The players in this tragedy include the jealous society wife of a physician, the doctor, and a female patient. And as with all good whodunits the story ends with more questions than answers.

Is this the plot of a recent murder mystery novel? Perhaps one of those episodes of Law and Order ripped from the headlines? No, this is a murder mystery that happened almost 100 years ago, specifically June 1914 in Freeport, New York. A story preserved in old newspaper articles.

It involves Dr. Edwin Carman, his wife Florence Carman, and a patient named Mrs. Louise Bailey. On that June evening Mrs. Bailey was in the exam room of Dr. Carman’s home medical office, seeking a remedy for malaria. Suddenly a bullet was fired from outside that went through the window of the exam room and killed Mrs. Bailey instantly. Later, speculation would arise that Mrs. Bailey was the unintended murder victim and the real target was the doctor himself.

photo of Dr. Edwin Carman with his daughter Elizabeth

Photo: Dr. Edwin Carman with his daughter Elizabeth. Credit: Library of Congress, Windows Live Photo Gallery.

As with any murder that involves a married woman, first suspicions might rest with the husband of the victim. In this case, Mr. Bailey was at home at the time of the shooting, wondering what was taking his wife so long. It is thought that this was the first time Mrs. Bailey had sought Dr. Carman’s services.

photo of Florence Carman, wife of Dr. Carman

Photo: Florence Carman, wife of Dr. Carman. Credit: Library of Congress, Windows Live Photo Gallery.

Suspicion quickly turned to Mrs. Carman, who admitted that in the past, jealousy had driven her to such acts as setting up a recording device in her husband’s office so that she could hear anything going on behind those closed doors. Bugging her husband’s office wasn’t the first time Mrs. Carman had allowed jealousy to cloud her judgment. Her husband relayed a story where Mrs. Carman had burst into the exam room and slapped and pulled the hair of a female patient.

So from their own admission, Mrs. Carman had been known to be jealous of her husband’s female patients—but was she capable of murder? While Mrs. Carman and another family member insisted she was in bed at the time of the shooting, a male patient in the waiting room testified that he had seen her walking around.

Sensations in Bailey Slaying, Elkhart Daily Review newspaper article 3 July 1914

Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 3 July 1914, page 4

Whether it was the vengeance of a disgruntled employee—or the true testimony of someone who heard Mrs. Carman admit her guilt—the Carman’s maid said that Mrs. Carman had confessed to her that “she shot (at) him.” The maid’s claim sealed the deal and Mrs. Carman was put on trial for first degree murder.

The alleged confession added to the speculation that the doctor was the true target of the crime. Mrs. Carman’s defense team argued that the real killer was an unknown man. Another possible suspect for the shooting raised by the defense was an “insane” patient exacting some sort of revenge on the doctor. But Dr. Carman couldn’t think of any possible patients who fit that profile.

photo of the 1914 murder investigation at the home of Dr. Edwin Carman

Photo: murder investigation at the home of Dr. Edwin Carman. Credit: Library of Congress, Windows Live Photo Gallery.

After a sensational court trial, the jury reported to the judge that they were hopelessly deadlocked on the verdict. Later, a second murder trial acquitted Florence Carman. Did Florence Carman get away with murder or was this a case of some random act of violence? Maybe Mrs. Carman had reason to be jealous or maybe an equally jealous husband pulled the trigger, intent on ending the life of the doctor.

We may never know what really happened that summer evening at the home office of Dr. Carman, but if you’re investigating a case of a murder in your family history, remember that those who commit murder leave a paper trail—and that trail can often be found in old newspapers.

Have a murder case or other crimes in your family tree? Consult newspapers in the city that the ancestor was from, as well as newspapers from across the United States because the story may have been picked up and republished. Read histories of the area for information about the case and the families involved. If the case went to trail, spend some time at the courthouse or hire someone to find documents relating to the case. Also, peruse old newspapers for court case articles. The public hearings and verdicts of superior, civil and criminal court cases can often be found in old newspapers. A criminal case may just be the tip of the iceberg. The victim’s family may have also decided to sue, so check the civil trial index. Looking for other records to consider? Coroner’s inquests and criminal records might also help.

What happened to Dr. and Mrs. Carman? They continued to live out their days in Freeport, New York. Some books suggest that her new-found infamy led her to the New York stage where she spent a short time singing.* It seems that even in the “good old days” those who committed murder sometimes found a fame that escaped them prior to their notorious deeds.

While you may never know what really happened in your family’s murder case, with enough research you can at least tell the story. Whether your ancestor was the accused or the victim of the crime, resources exist to help piece together and document this part of your family history.

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Note: the quote at the beginning of the post refers to the fact that Mrs. Bailey’s mother, Mrs. Duryea, reportedly said of the accused killer Florence Carman: “If she is innocent, may God help her.” “Mrs. Florence Carman Arrested and Held on Charge of Murder.” Meridian Weekly Republican (Meridian, Connecticut), 9 July 1914, page 1.

* The books Ghosts of 42nd Street by Anthony Bianco (page 40) and When I’m Bad, I’m Better: Mae West, Sex, and Entertainment by Marybeth Hamilton (page 4) both suggest Florence Carman spent some time singing on stage.