‘People’s Lawyer’ Louis Brandeis: 1st Jewish Supreme Court Justice

On 1 June 1916, President Woodrow Wilson achieved one of his greatest political triumphs when his controversial nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Louis Dembitz Brandeis, was confirmed as the first Jewish Supreme Court justice. Brandeis, whose brilliant legal mind was acknowledged by even his staunchest opponents, had built such a successful private law practice that he was able to devote himself to supporting public causes – for which he adamantly refused any compensation.

photo of Louis Brandeis, c. 1916

Photo: Louis Brandeis, c. 1916. Credit: Harris and Ewing; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

He became a fierce legal opponent of monopolies, large corporations and public corruption; an advocate for social reform; and a protector of workers’ rights and working conditions. He also helped pioneer a concept that has become extremely important in today’s world: the right to privacy.

In a speech Brandeis gave at his alma mater Harvard University in 1905, he said:

Instead of holding a position of independence, between the wealthy and the people, prepared to curb the excesses of either, able lawyers have, to a large extent, allowed themselves to become adjuncts of great corporations and have neglected the obligation to use their powers for the protection of the people. We hear much of the ‘corporation lawyer,’ and far too little of the ‘people’s lawyer.’ The great opportunity of the American Bar is and will be to stand again as it did in the past, ready to protect also the interests of the people.

As a crusading “people’s lawyer,” Brandeis won many legal victories for working people and the general public, and worked hard to support Woodrow Wilson during the presidential campaign of 1912 – and later, helped President Wilson formulate his ideas on how to combat monopolies and regulate large corporations. As a consequence of all this judicial and political activism, Brandeis earned the enmity of conservative Republicans and powerful, wealthy businessmen.

Therefore, it was not surprising that when President Wilson nominated Brandeis for the Supreme Court on 29 January 1916, the nomination was controversial and met with a great deal of opposition. After Brandeis retired from the Supreme Court on 13 February 1939, his successor, Justice William O. Douglas, wrote of the opposition to Brandeis’s confirmation:

Brandeis was a militant crusader for social justice whoever his opponent might be. He was dangerous not only because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible.

Douglas also acknowledged one of the strong undercurrents in the opposition to Brandeis’s confirmation: the fact that he was a Jew. As Douglas wrote:

The fears of the Establishment were greater because Brandeis was the first Jew to be named to the Court.

Traditionally, confirmation of Supreme Court nominees had been a matter of a straightforward up-or-down vote in the Senate, usually held on the same day the president submitted the nomination. However, the controversy over Brandeis changed everything. For the first time ever, the Senate Judiciary Committee held public hearings on the nomination, and 47 witnesses testified during a confirmation process that took an unprecedented four months to complete. Bitter opposition came from such famous figures as former President William Howard Taft, who would himself go on to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on 11 July 1921, and former presidents of the American Bar Association.

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Even the head of Brandeis’s alma mater, Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell, opposed his confirmation, even though Lowell was in many ways a fellow progressive – and Brandeis had been one of the most brilliant students in Harvard University’s history, graduating in 1877 at the age of 20 as valedictorian, with the highest grade point average in the school’s history (a record that took eight decades to break). The reason for Lowell’s opposition is revealed, perhaps, when one remembers that one of his more controversial efforts was an attempt to limit Jewish enrollment at Harvard to 15% of the student body. Anti-Semitism was an unspoken but strong factor in the opposition to Brandeis.

When all the wrangling was done, the full Senate confirmed Brandeis by a vote of 47 to 22 on 1 June 1916. During a 23-year career as a Supreme Court justice, Louis Brandeis continued to be the “people’s lawyer,” especially in the areas of freedom of speech and the right to privacy, and he earned a legacy as one of the Court’s greatest justices.

article about the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, Boston Journal newspaper article 2 June 1916

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 2 June 1916, page 1

This old newspaper article reported:

Washington, June 1.—The nomination of Louis D. Brandeis of Boston to the Supreme Court to succeed the late Joseph Rucker Lamar, was confirmed by the Senate today by a vote of 47 to 22. The vote, taken without debate, ended one of the bitterest contests ever waged against a presidential nominee. Mr. Brandeis will be the first Jew to occupy a seat on the Supreme bench.

One Democrat in Opposition

Only one Democrat, Senator Newlands, voted against confirmation. Three Republicans, Senators La Follette, Norris and Poindexter, voted with the Democratic majority, and Senators Gronna and Clapp would have done so, but were paired with Senators Borah and Kenyon. The negative vote of Senator Newlands was a complete surprise to the Senate, and the Nevada senator, recognizing that his action had aroused comment, later made public a formal explanation.

Newlands Explains Vote

“I have a high admiration for Mr. Brandeis as a publicist and propagandist of distinction,” said Senator Newlands. “I do not regard him as a man of judicial temperament, and for that reason I have voted against his confirmation.”

Throughout the fight President Wilson stood firmly behind his nominee, never wavering even when it seemed certain that an unfavorable report would be returned by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Before the committee voted he wrote a letter to Chairman Culberson, strongly urging prompt and favorable action.

The new justice was born 60 years ago in Louisville, Ky., graduated from Harvard University in 1877 and began the practice of law in Boston after admission to the bar in 1878. He probably will take the oath of office June 13, a week from Monday, just before the Court adjourns for the summer recess.

Nomination Sent in Jan. 29

The nomination of Mr. Brandeis was sent to the Senate Jan. 29. It was referred to the Judiciary Committee, and immediately a flood of protests against confirmation and memorials in favor thereof began to pour in.

A sub-committee consisting of Senators Chilton, Fletcher, Walsh, Cummins and Works was appointed to report on the nomination. It adopted the unusual course of holding public hearings. Clifford Thorns, railroad commissioner of Iowa, was the first witness, protesting against confirmation on the ground that Mr. Brandeis had been guilty of unprofessional conduct in handling the 8 per cent. rate advance case before the Interstate Commerce Commission. Sidney W. Winslow, president of the United Shoe Machinery Company, testified that Mr. Brandeis had been guilty of unprofessional conduct in relation to his company, and shortly thereafter Austin G. Fox, a New York attorney, appeared before the committee as the representative of 85 citizens of Boston, headed by A. Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard, and took charge of the opposition. Then United States District Attorney George W. Anderson of Boston, at the request of the committee, undertook direction of the case for those favoring confirmation.

47 Witnesses Testified

In all, 47 witnesses were heard and 1,500 pages of testimony taken. William H. Taft, Simeon E. Baldwin, Francis Rawle, Joseph H. Choate, Elihu Root, Moorfield Storey and Peter W. Meldrim, all former presidents of the American Bar Association, wrote protests to the committee against confirmation, and Charles W. Eliot, president emeritus of Harvard, and many others wrote in favor of confirmation.

On April 3 the sub-committee, by a strict party vote, recommended confirmation, and on May 14 the full committee agreed to a favorable report by another strict party division.

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Anna Jarvis Worked Hard to Make Mother’s Day a National Holiday

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over nine years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan searches GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives to learn more about Anna Jarvis and her hard work getting Mother’s Day established as a national holiday.

Mother’s Day is this Sunday. It is time to get the shopping for mom’s gifts done. Buy a sweet card, get some flowers, maybe some nice jewelry or other token of your appreciation. You will probably call home or drive over for a visit with your mother. It is a day to celebrate mom. The fact that Mother’s Day is a National Holiday is thanks largely to the efforts of Anna Jarvis, whose story can be found in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

photo of Anna Jarvis

Photo: Anna Jarvis. Credit: Olairian; Wikimedia Commons.

Anna M. Jarvis spent seven years pushing for a national holiday to celebrate mothers, after her own mother died. Congress finally passed the requisite law on 8 May 1914, and President Woodrow Wilson issued the official proclamation the next day. Anna began her efforts in 1907, and had successfully convinced 5-6 million people to join in the feel-good festival honoring mothers as early as 1908. They wore a simple white carnation as a token of appreciation for mothers.

article about Anna Jarvis and the first celebration of Mother's Day in the U.S., Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 20 May 1908

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 20 May 1908, page 8

Anna desired the holiday to celebrate her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis. Ann was also a social activist and had been the founder of a “Mother’s Friendly Day to weld families split by the Civil War.” Ann gave birth to 13 children, many of whom died very young. Ann and Anna were very close and when Ann died 9 May 1905, Anna mourned deeply.

Three years later she made her initial push for a larger memorial service to honor all mothers. The idea was a success and 5-6 million people were estimated to have participated in the celebration. They made a visual show of appreciation for their mothers by wearing a single white carnation.

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Anna eventually quit her job in order to campaign for a national holiday. The idea caught like wildfire and just seven years after she began her campaign, the second Sunday in May was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson for the purpose. Nearly every country around the globe also began instituting its own version of a Mother’s Day celebration. Although not the first to champion the idea for Mother’s Day, Anna was probably more successful instituting it than she ever imagined.

article about Anna Jarvis and Mother's Day, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 27 November 1948

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 27 November 1948, page 4

Despite being successful in her efforts to bring attention to motherhood, Anna was never able to participate in that experience herself because she never had children of her own.  Her endless efforts also led to personal financial challenges, because her seven-year campaign turned into a life-long no-holds-barred battle against the commercialization of the new national holiday, which absolutely horrified her. Anna’s simple, heartfelt symbolic gesture of honoring mothers with a single white carnation was quickly overshadowed in the landslide of marketing campaigns around the new celebration.

Anna was disgusted by the commercialization of Mother’s Day, the pre-printed store-bought cards, and the impersonal gifts. She campaigned hard, with the same energy she had devoted to the first seven years of getting the day recognized, to push her ideas of forgoing the shallow tokens in favor of making a heartfelt connection with one’s mother. It was a battle she did not win. Mother’s Day is one of the most lucrative holidays for phone companies, the travel industry, card makers, florists, spas, and more.

Anna “once threatened to sue Governor Al Smith of New York over plans for a gigantic Mother’s Day meeting in 1923.” She even “tangled with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt over a rival Mother’s Day committee.”

Sadly, Anna died a “lonely spinster…partially deaf, blind and penniless” at the age of 84.

obituary for Anna Jarvis, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 November 1948

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 November 1948, page 37

Perhaps this year a homemade card, a single white carnation, and some quality time together with mom might be the better way to celebrate mom and Anna Jarvis.

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Wedding Belles! How to Find Your Ancestors’ Marriage Records

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary provides search tips for finding your ancestors’ marriage records in old newspapers.

When romance is in the air, newspapers report it in many surprising ways. By searching old newspapers, you’ll find copious details about your ancestors’ engagements, rehearsal dinners and weddings!

photo of a bride in her wedding dress

Photo: bride in wedding dress, 11 September 1929. Credit: Infrogmation; Wikimedia Commons.

Newspapers Provide Shower & Wedding Details

You might even find old newspaper articles on wedding showers, such as this one from 1910, when Grace (Floyd) Kannaman’s friends surprised her with one. Even though the wedding had already occurred, they couldn’t resist more festivities.

They dined on frappes and wafers, while entertaining themselves with the games “Ring on the String,” “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button,” “Jenkins Up,” and a clothes-pin race. Color-coded gifts were accompanied by poetical dedications, and recipes were pasted in a blue-bound book to become her “infallible household guide!” What a treasure that recipe book must have been to receive – and a great family heirloom to locate if it’s still around!

article about Grace Floyd's bridal shower, Sedan Times-Star newspaper article 1 September 1910

Sedan Times-Star (Sedan, Kansas), 1 September 1910, page 1

Notice how the wedding of Mr. Le Grand C. Cramer and Miss Nellie Almy was described in the following newspaper article as a virtual feast of details. This lengthy historical news article names family members, bridesmaids, groomsmen, the officiant and even the organist – and you get to read about the magnificent pearl and diamond earrings bestowed on Nellie by her groom.

Her bridal costume “consisted of a very rich Velour white-ribbed silk dress with court train, the front breadth elaborately trimmed with flowers and tulle, and the remainder of the dress also elaborately trimmed with waxed orange buds and tulle.” There was a matching veil and extraordinary gifts abounded. An imported camel’s hair shawl was “very cheap at twelve hundred dollars” and of the solid silverware “there seemed to be no end, either in quantity or variety.” The article went on to say that “Those who ought to be good judges say that no bride in this city has ever received such a large quantity of elegant presents as have been bestowed upon Mrs. Cramer.” (I imagine that was an understatement!)

wedding  notice for Le Grand C. Cramer and Nellie Almy, Providence Evening Press newspaper article 17 November 1871

Providence Evening Press (Providence, Rhode Island), 17 November 1871, page 2

The elite are usually proffered prime newspaper coverage for their weddings – but even if your ancestor wasn’t a society belle, you’ll likely uncover intriguing details and descriptions of her wedding.

In 1897, this wedding notice for J. C. Love and Hattie Upchurch reported that the church was “crowded to the doors” and that after the “knot had been tied, to be broken only by death” there was a “swell reception.”

wedding notice for J. C. Love and Hattie Upchurch, Gazette newspaper article 30 October 1897

Gazette (Raleigh, North Carolina), 30 October 1897, page 3

Ancestor Wedding Photographs

Don’t forget to hunt for photographs of marriage engagements and weddings.

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Historical newspapers have always been prone to printing arrays of pictures. When you find weddings, you get a special treat – not only do you get to see the bride and sometimes the groom, but you also get a fashion show of earlier styles!

Genealogy Tip: As discussed in other articles on this blog, if you’ve got an undated photo, browse early newspapers to see if you can figure out the time period when similar clothing styles were popular. For example, read the article How to Date Family Photos with Vintage Fashion Ads in Newspapers.

Here is a 1913 photograph depicting a society belle with her groom. He was Frances Bowes Sayre (1885-1972), the lucky fellow who married President Woodrow Wilson’s daughter, Jessie (1887-1933). Her gown was magnificent – and if you search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for reports about their wedding, you’ll learn about the White House ceremony and their honeymoon in Europe.

wedding photo for Frances Bowes Sayre and Jessie Wilson, Evening Times newspaper article 29 November 1913

Evening Times (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 29 November 1913, page 8

This next photo example, from 1936, is a virtual collage of people – from the wedding party to family members and attendees. What a treasure it would be to include this wedding picture collage in the family scrapbook!

wedding photos, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 9 August 1936

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 9 August 1936, page 8

Search Tips for Ancestor Wedding Information in Old Newspapers

I’d like to leave you with some search tips, and invite you to share your own with us in the comments section.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search page

  • After exhausting these two, try other search categories. Occasionally you’ll find a honeymoon mentioned in the Passenger Lists category, or the unfortunate divorce filing in the Legal, Probate & Court category. Any of these can help with finding an elusive date of marriage.
  • Don’t forget to broaden date ranges when you do your newspaper searches. Engagement notices can appear in newspapers many years prior to a wedding. Although local wedding notices are usually printed not long after a wedding, out-of-town papers may report the wedding after a long delay. Even honeymoon stop-overs are reported when the happy couple visits relatives.
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  • Research wedding legal requirements. An often overlooked query are banns, which had to be published prior to a wedding. This was done so that people could report concerns as to why a couple should not be married. The amusing anecdote in the following newspaper article showcases the process. In this instance, the groom had written to the church sexton with a request to publish the banns. Trying to be congenial, he concluded his letter: “So no more from your well wisher and Mary Williams.” This sexton unfortunately interpreted the man’s name as “William Wisher,” which was used in the published banns. Imagine the couple’s disappointment when they learned their wedding had to be postponed until after the corrected banns had been published!
article about wedding banns, Biloxi Herald newspaper article 16 December 1893

Biloxi Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi), 16 December 1893, page 3

  • Many records kept by organizations are only available at the source. Go to your family’s house of worship to see if any canonical records can be searched. One example comes from my own family. I tried to order my parents’ marriage certificate, but it is lost. So Mom and I went to the church where they were married, only to find that the official wedding book had been lost. The church finally located a report in the monthly newspaper which verified the details of their wedding.
  • Learn about religious customs. An example comes from those with ancestors belonging to the Society of Friends (or Quakers). Many of their accounts make for interesting reading. Recently, I spotted reports where members were directed to observe weddings. The intent was to make sure the ceremony was performed in a manner appropriate to the religion. When it wasn’t, there were follow-ups as to how the marriage had occurred out of unity and whether or not a member took appropriate steps to restore the relationship with the church.
  • If you can’t find a family wedding notice in a newspaper, focus on the groom. Enter his full name, and follow up with a search using his given name’s initials. As seen in the Sayre-Wilson wedding photo above, the bride wasn’t even mentioned by name – and the groom only as “F. B.” Sayre
  • A related tip is to search for the bride or groom’s father. It’s all too common to read reports that “a daughter or son of Mr. So & So was married recently.”
  • Many historical newspaper articles will have headlines reporting just the surnames of the wedding couple, so try searching without given names, such as “Smith-Kline marriage.”
  • If your primary objective is to determine a date and you’re striking out as to the exact date of the marriage, look for anniversary notices and obituaries. Many will report that a couple was married on a certain day, or that they were celebrating a special milestone such as a golden wedding anniversary.
article about wedding anniversaries, San Francisco Bulletin newspaper article 26 September 1866

San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 26 September 1866, page 3

  • From one’s engagement to the actual wedding, there are more steps associated with marriages than any other type of life event – so consider all of them as potential keywords. Browse the following list to find keywords that can be cross-referenced:
  • bachelor
  • banns
  • best man
  • betrothal or betrothed
  • bride
  • bridal
  • bridal party
  • bridal shower
  • bridegroom
  • bridesmaid
  • ceremony
  • civil ceremony
  • civil union
  • commitment ceremony
  • dowry
  • elope
  • eloped
  • elopement
  • engaged
  • engagement
  • engagement ring
  • fiancé or fiancée
  • flower girl
  • groom
  • groomsmen
  • guests
  • honeymoon
  • intended
  • intentions
  • maid of honor or matron of honor
  • marriage
  • marriage certificate
  • marriage license
  • married
  • marry
  • newlyweds
  • nuptials
  • officiant (minister, priest, rabbi, reverend, etc.)
  • proposal
  • ring
  • shotgun wedding
  • shower
  • spinster
  • trousseau
  • union
  • veil
  • vows
  • wedding
  • wedding party
  • witness and witnesses

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WWI Christmas Truce: When the Guns Stopped Firing

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena tells a remarkable story: how the power of Christmas – with its hope of “peace on earth, good will to men” – temporarily stopped the fighting during WWI in 1914.

By December 1914, Germany, Britain, France, and other European nations had been fighting since August. Trenches were dug on the Western front in September and those trenches, now home to soldiers, meant a holiday that would be cold, wet, and miserable tinged with the constant threat of death. What was first thought of as a “great adventure” by many young men must have quickly turned into a harsh cold reality as the casualties rose.

Then Christmas time approached, and something wonderful happened.

Illustration: the “Illustrated London News” depiction of the WWI Christmas Truce of 1914: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches.”

Illustration: the “Illustrated London News” depiction of the WWI Christmas Truce of 1914: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches.” The subcaption reads: “Saxons and Anglo-Saxons fraternising on the field of battle at the season of peace and goodwill: Officers and men from the German and British trenches meeting and greeting one another; a German officer photographing a group of foes and friends.” Credit: A. C. Michael; Wikimedia Commons.

Pope Benedict Calls for Christmas Truce

In an attempt to stop the fighting for Christmas that year, Pope Benedict called on the warring nations to declare a Christmas truce. Initially, Germany was reportedly agreeable to a truce – but only if the other countries agreed.

article about the WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Elkhart Daily Review newspaper article 11 December 1914

Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 11 December 1914, page 1

Pope’s Plea Denied

But not every country was in agreement about the Christmas truce, so the discussion of a lull in the fighting ended. By mid-December 1914 the American newspapers announced that an official cease fire was not to be.

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The following newspaper article reported:

The thundering roll of heavy guns will be the Christmas chimes of Europe. It’s [sic] carols will be the cries of dying men. Across the sky toward which wise men looked for the star which guided them to a manger will dart the aircraft of hostile powers – the latest man-made engine for aiding the destruction of fellow men.

Thousands may die upon battlefields on this Christmas Day when the message of ‘Peace on earth, good will to men,’ is being again repeated in other parts of the world.

article about the WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 13 December 1914

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 13 December 1914, page 1

Andrew Carnegie Comments

Interestingly enough, though America was not yet engaged in World War I, there was an American industrialist who was against a Christmas-time truce. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie weighed in with the opinion that a truce where the fighting would end momentarily and then commence after the holidays was “unchristianlike and immoral.” Instead he called for supporting President Woodrow Wilson in promoting and securing a permanent peace: “It is terrible that so many widows and orphans are being made because a few men wanted war.” (An interesting aside is that this newspaper article ends with the comment that Carnegie walked to the White House to see the President, but the President was out golfing.)

article about the WWI Christmas truce, Elkhart Daily Review newspaper article 11 December 1914

Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 11 December 1914, page 1

Brief Christmas 1914 Truce

While an official truce did not occur, many WWI soldiers took matters into their own hands, setting aside their weapons and reaching out to their enemies in the spirit of the season. There were in fact mini truces all along the trenches that Christmas. While some mythology surrounds the details, there is no doubt that there was an unofficial cease fire, and soldiers from opposite sides did interact peacefully in “No Man’s Land” for Christmas 1914. Recollections of those involved told of gift giving, singing, kicking balls around, and other friendly interactions.

photo of British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the WWI Christmas truce of 1914

Photo: British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the WWI Christmas truce of 1914. Credit: Robson Harold B.; Wikimedia Commons.

This report from a Rhode Island newspaper announces “British and Germans Exchange Gifts During a Christmas Truce on Firing Line.” The article reports:

On Christmas morning two British soldiers, after signalling truce and good-fellowship from the perilous crown of their trench, walked across to the German line with a plate of mince pies and garniture and seasonable messages… and were sent back with packets of Christmas cards – quite sentimental – wreathed with mistletoe and holly, for distribution among their fellows.

article about WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Pawtucket Times newspaper article 31 December 1914

Pawtucket Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island), 31 December 1914, page 11

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Initially American newspapers reported that an unofficial truce would be declared in the trenches so that the men could eat their Christmas dinners in peace. While those in charge were providing their fighting men with some small luxuries (reportedly the French government sent their soldiers champagne), an unofficial momentary truce was about all that these soldiers could hope for.

article about WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Times-Picayune newspaper article 26 December 1914

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 26 December 1914, page 6

Unfortunately, those fighting in World War I would see not only the Christmas of 1914 come and go with no peaceful solution to the war, but they would see three more Christmases bring fighting and lives lost – for some countries, almost wiping out an entire generation.

But for a brief time, that December 1914, soldiers on both sides laid down their weapons and enjoyed a little “peace on earth,” if only just for a short while.

photo of a cross erected in Belgium in 1999 to commemorate the WWI Christmas truce of 1914

Photo: a cross erected in Belgium in 1999 to commemorate the WWI Christmas truce of 1914. The inscription reads: “1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget.” Credit: Redvers; Wikimedia Commons.

Various stories of the Christmas truce can be found in historical newspapers and online. A dramatic narration done by Walter Cronkite accompanied by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir tells the story of the World War I Christmas truce and can be found on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRq–pTnlog.

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Friday the 13th: Is It Lucky or Unlucky in Your Family?

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to find out more about the superstition of Friday the 13th being an unlucky day—and finds that the day has been unlucky for many, but lucky for some.

I believe every family, no matter where, is aware of some sort of adage, saying, or superstition. For instance, in my family my maternal grandmother always seemed to have some saying or another that would help us get through the day. “Find a pin and pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck” was one of her favorites. I guess this old family saying is not quite as prevalent today as back then—when almost everyone in my family knew how to sew and straight pins were a constant menace to my bare feet.

Then of course there is the granddaddy superstition of them all: Friday the 13th! Since today is indeed one of those special Fridays, I decided to look up its history in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. I found out quite a lot!

Friday the 13th a Very Old Superstition

The superstition about Friday the 13th being unlucky has been with us for a long time. Talk about an old superstition! This 1912 Washington, D.C., newspaper article explains that this belief goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, the ancient Persians, and Norse mythology. Now that is old. For example, the Norsemen believed that Loki, the dark god of evil, was the 13th god at the banquet table—and he proceeded to wreak havoc against the good gods there.

article about Friday the 13th, Evening Star newspaper article 13 September 1912

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 13 September 1912, page 20

Kenneth Nalley & Triskaidekaphobia

I learned that the fear of Friday the 13th is actually called “triskaidekaphobia.” I discovered this tidbit when I came across this 1963 Texas newspaper article. It seems Kenneth Nalley was loaded with 13. He was celebrating his 13th birthday on Friday the 13th, there are 13 letters in his name, and the number on his football jersey was 13. But on the good news side of the ledger, it seemed the only thing he was concerned about was his pending spelling test.

article about Friday the 13th, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 13 September 1963

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 13 September 1963, page 12

Friday the 13th Is Unlucky for Charles Hitchcock

On the darker side of Friday the 13th is this 1908 Texas newspaper article. It seems that a certain Charles Hitchcock was given a banquet in his honor on Friday the 13th, during which all the guests noted that there were 13 people seated at the table. While the guests all reportedly laughed, they weren’t laughing when Mr. Hitchcock, while getting off a train, fell, hit his head and died!

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article about Friday the 13th, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 19 March 1908

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 19 March 1908, page 1

The Tale of John Gentile

There is also the just plain inexplicable side to Friday the 13th. Take for example this story published in a 1985 Ohio newspaper. Ship’s captain, Lt. John Gentile, was interviewed about his adventures with the icebreaker Neah Bay, and he had this recollection:

There was one day, a Friday the 13th, when we had 30 ships stuck in 1,000 yards of the (St. Clair) River, with seven of those all jammed up together and 200 more waiting to get through. It was total chaos, the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen, ships hitting each other and running aground all over the place. It was a real mess.

I think after that experience, Lt. Gentile is most likely a true believer in the power of Friday the 13th.

article about Friday the 13th, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 February 1985

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 February 1985, page 222

Ice Storm Freezes NC

Mother Nature played her nasty game again on another Friday the 13th, as explained in this 1978 North Carolina newspaper article. It reported that on the last Friday the 13th, in January, a terrible ice storm hit the city of Greensboro leaving some 8,000 homes without power and heat. Plus, the article went on to explain, that Friday the 13th was also the day that “the happy warrior,” Sen. Hubert Humphrey, passed away.

article about Friday the 13th, Greensboro Record newspaper article 13 October 1978

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 13 October 1978, page 25

Lucky Talismans for Protection

Then of course there are the interesting talismans that are said to protect us from the evils of Friday the 13th. This 1896 Illinois newspaper article reports on the sale of rabbits’ feet decorated in gold to help ward off the voodoo of Friday the 13th.

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article about Friday the 13th, Daily Inter Ocean newspaper article 2 September 1896

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 2 September 1896, page 10

Woodrow Wilson & Lucky #13

And speaking of good luck, this article from a 1912 Georgia newspaper explains that 13 was presidential-candidate Woodrow Wilson’s lucky number. On Friday the 13th, he sat in seat number 13 “in a parlor car.” Seems there was something good about 13 throughout the life of President Wilson. For example, in his 13th year teaching at Princeton University he was elected the school’s 13th president.

article about Friday the 13th and Woodrow Wilson, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 23 September 1912

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 23 September 1912, page 12

Dr. Naftzger & Auspicious 13

And if you want really lucky, check out this article from a 1908 Indiana newspaper. It provides an incredibly extensive list of how lucky the number 13 and Friday the 13th were in the life of Dr. Leslie J. Naftzger, presiding elder of Muncie, North Indiana M. E. Conference. Among other signs of good luck for Dr. Naftzger was that he was born on a Friday the 13th as the 13th child of his parents—plus twin boys of his own were born on a Friday the 13th. Amazing!

article about Friday the 13th, Elkhart Weekly Review newspaper article 18 March 1908

Elkhart Weekly Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 18 March 1908, page 5

Good Luck Soldier

An article from a 1919 Pennsylvania newspaper really caught my eye. This soldier also relates a history of Friday the 13th good luck, including once being offered a free ride from Tacoma to Seattle.

article about Friday the 13th, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 9 February 1919

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 9 February 1919, section 2, page 17

The Cubs Win!

Proving that good luck can really happen on Friday the 13th, this 1906 article from a Washington newspaper reports on a victory by the struggling Chicago Cubs baseball team. It does seem like unusually good luck to hear “Cubs Win!” even today, Friday the 13th or not, unfortunately, as the team continues to struggle.

article about Friday the 13th, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 14 April 1906

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 14 April 1906, page 7

My Wife’s Grandfather Mario

And, I’d like to add, my wife’s grandfather, Mario Casagrande, always considered Friday the 13th as his luckiest of days. He closed many of his business deals on that day, as well as using it as the day he’d buy a new car.

photo of Scott Phillips and his wife on their wedding day

Photo: the author and his bride on their wedding day in one of the lucky cars that grandfather Mario bought on Friday the 13th. Credit: from the author’s collection.

So leave a comment here and tell me: is Friday the 13th lucky or unlucky for you? Got any Friday the 13th birthdays or stories in your family tree?

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First Lady Edith Wilson & Her Ancestor Pocahontas

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—in celebration of November being Native American Heritage Month—Gena searches old newspapers to find stories about First Lady Edith Wilson and her connection to her famous Native American ancestor, Pocahontas.

When we think of great Native American leaders throughout U.S. history, names like Cochise, Geronimo, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull come to mind. But what about Native American women? Most Americans know the names of only two Native American women: Pocahontas and Sacagawea. Pocahontas, whose mythology was immortalized in a song sung by Peggy Lee and a Disney movie, might be the most familiar Native American woman because she left a sizable number of descendants through her son Thomas Rolf.

Who can claim descent from Pocahontas? At least one First Lady, numerous politicians, and even Confederate General Robert E. Lee, to name just a few. It was estimated in the 1980s that Pocahontas’ descendants probably numbered around 250,000. According to genealogist Gary B. Roberts, those who claim this lineage are through the Bolling line, which are the only known descendants traced beyond the early 18th century.*

Mrs. Woodrow Wilson’s Native American Ancestry

One American whose Pocahontas lineage was well reported was Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, the second wife of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. From the time she became engaged to the president, her family history was a frequent topic in the newspapers.

photo of First Lady Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, married to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson

Photo: Edith Bolling Galt Wilson. Credit: Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library.

This 1915 newspaper article provides some information about Edith’s family history. It reports that ever since the engagement was announced “there has been a live inquiry for the correct data.” The article provides that data by tracing Edith’s direct line to Pocahontas and proclaims Edith Bolling Galt the ninth in descent from Pocahontas. [Note: the article erroneously states that Pocahontas married Thomas Rolfe; her husband’s name was John Rolfe, and their son’s name was Thomas.]

Fiancee of the President Is Undoubtedly a Direct Descendant of Pocahontas, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 14 November 1915

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 14 November 1915, page 5

In writings about Edith’s foremother, emphasis was placed that someone with “Indian blood” would now reside in the White House. This announcement about Edith’s lineage was also the catalyst for impromptu history lessons found in newspapers across the country. The short life of Pocahontas has been retold often, and—as with any well-told story—inaccuracies creep in. This old newspaper article provides readers with information and images reportedly of Pocahontas.

Unhappy Pocahontas, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper article 24 October 1915

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 24 October 1915, page 43

The widow Edith Bolling Galt married President Woodrow Wilson in December 1915. Undoubtedly, any presidential wedding results in gifts from a diverse range of well-wishers. The Wilson wedding was no different.

According to this 1916 newspaper article, one item that Edith received was a Pocahontas statuette presented by the Pocahontas Memorial Association. The article points out that Edith Bolling Wilson was related to Pocahontas through her paternal line.

Indian Statuette for Mrs. Wilson; Figure of Pocahontas, Her Ancestress, a Bridal Gift, Broad Ax newspaper article 8 January 1916

Broad Ax (Chicago, Illinois), 8 January 1916, page 3

The news article included this picture of the Pocahontas statuette.

photo of a statuette of Pocahontas given to her descendant, First Lady Edith Wilson

The statuette was not the only Pocahontas-related gift that Edith received while in the White House. Other gifts related to her Native American ancestry included dolls and a portrait of her ancestress presented by the heritage membership organization Colonial Dames.

Pocahontas' Picture Gift; Private Copy of Original Portrait to Be Sent Mrs. Wilson, Oregonian newspaper article 3 March 1919

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 3 March 1919, page 14

When Edith Wilson visited England in 1918, this Duluth newspaper article heralded the visit of a descendant of Pocahontas—pointing out it was a little over 300 years since her ancestor made a similar trip. The newspaper article claims: “Only one other American woman [Pocahontas] ever has been received in England with the social and official courtesies which will be lavished upon Mrs. Woodrow Wilson.” The news article goes on to trace Edith’s roots to Pocahontas and even to her early Bolling English roots.

To Be Greeted as Was Pocahontas in 1616; England Prepares for President's Wife, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 3 December 1918

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 3 December 1918, page 12

Pocahontas Research Resources

Are you a descendent of Pocahontas? You may be interested in the book Pocahontas’ Descendants: A Revision, Enlargement, and Extension of the List as Set Out by Wyndham Robertson in His Book Pocahontas and Her Descendants (1887), by Stuart E. Brown, Jr., Lorraine F. Myers, and Eileen M. Chappel (the Pocahontas Foundation, 1985).

Gary B. Roberts’ article Notable Kin: Some Descendants and Kinsmen of Descendants of Pocahontas: An Excursion into Southern Genealogy on the American Ancestors website has additional sources you may be interested in.

Whether or not you have Native American ancestry, dig into GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives to find out more about your ancestors, discovering the stories that help fill in the details on your family tree.

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*Notable Kin: Some Descendants and Kinsmen of Descendants of Pocahontas: An Excursion into Southern Genealogy by Gary B. Roberts. American Ancestors. 1986. http://www.americanancestors.org/an-excursion-into-southern-genealogy/ accessed 11 November 2013.

Remembering James Dean, Woody Guthrie & Janis Joplin with Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott looks up profiles, news stories and obituaries in old newspapers to learn more about these three famous entertainers who died this week in American history.

During this week in history (30 September to 4 October) America lost three of its most iconic entertainment personalities. America, and indeed the whole world, lost film actor James Dean in 1955, singer Woody Guthrie in 1967, and singer Janis Joplin in 1970.

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.

James Dean (1931-1955)

Although he only starred in three movies in his short lifetime, James Dean was already being compared to Marlon Brando when he died. In 1955 Dean shot to stardom as a result of his starring role of Cal Trask in East of Eden, which earned him the first-ever posthumous nomination for an Academy Award. For most of us today, James Dean is best known for his role as Jim Stark in Rebel without a Cause. At the time of his death, Dean had just finished filming his now-famous role as Jett Rink in the film Giant, and had set off in his Porsche sports car to indulge in his passion for car racing at a racetrack in Salinas, California, in the upcoming weekend. Dean never made it to Salinas.

How did James Dean die so young? As you can read in this article from a 1955 Texas newspaper, a tragic automobile accident claimed the life of James Dean at the age of only 24.

Car Collision Kills Actor James Dean, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 1 October 1955

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 1 October 1955, page 1

Then just two days later, the Dallas Morning News again reported on the Dean tragedy, this time focusing on his funeral to be held in Dean’s home town of Fairmount, Indiana.

Funeral Services for Dean Planned in Indiana Saturday, Dallas Morning News newspaper article, 3 October 1955

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 3 October 1955, page 18

This newspaper article not only provides a fascinating look at the early life of James Dean, but also reports the stark reactions of his costars such as Elizabeth Taylor, who “took it the hardest” and was “crying unashamedly.”

I always thought James Dean was buried in Hollywood; now that I know he lies at rest just a couple hours from my home, I will be taking a future road trip to pay my respects to this marvelous actor and icon of youth angst. Interesting note: this same small Indiana town is also the hometown of another American cultural icon, Jim Davis, the cartoonist and creator of “Garfield.”

Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)

While some folks reading this might be more familiar with Arlo, the son of Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie, many musicians and music historians would agree with the claim in this 1971 New Jersey newspaper article that Woody is “generally considered America’s greatest balladeer.”

Okie Folk Poet [Woody Guthrie] Loved Underdog, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 27 June 1971

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 27 June 1971, page 102

Woody Guthrie wrote more than 1,000 songs, of which more than 400 are preserved in the Library of Congress (and dozens of which populate my iPad). He also wrote an autobiography Bound for Glory(also on my iPad), and has been acknowledged as a major musical influence on such modern-day musicians as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and dozens of others. His best known musical piece might well be “This Land Is Your Land.”

When he succumbed to his 15-year battle with Huntington’s disease on 3 October 1967, the news of Guthrie’s death was carried from coast-to-coast. This obituary from a 1967 Louisiana newspaper makes note of a fact still true about Woody today: “Many persons heard Guthrie’s songs without ever knowing his name. Among those who have recorded Woody’s songs are Bing Crosby, Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.”

Folk-Singer [Woody] Guthrie Dies, Times-Picayune newspaper obituary, 4 October 1967

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 4 October 1967, page 8

Being a born and raised Clevelander (home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), it was especially nice to read a 1987 news article from my hometown Cleveland newspaper that reported the 1988 Class of inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: not only was Woody Guthrie being honored—but also a singer whom he greatly influenced, Bob Dylan.

Lads, Boys, Girls, Bob [Dylan] in Hall, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 October 1987

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 October 1987, page 83

Oh, and just in case you are a fan of the website FindAGrave.com, I’ll let you in on a “secret.” There may be a memorial stone to Woody in his hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma, but Woody’s not there. His ashes were actually spread at Coney Island, New York.

Janis Joplin (1943-1970)

The year was 1970. America was at war; the Vietnam War was raging in its 11th year. The fight over the war raged across our nation’s home front. The divisions that this war caused throughout America were evident in families, public protests, college campuses, and beyond. Rock and roll music was a boiling caldron fueled by many of these divisions (for instance my parents would not allow rock and roll in my house). Into this scene burst some of America’s most noted rock artists.

One of these was one of my personal favorites, Janis Joplin. Her name is forever welded to “Mercedes Benz” in my mind, a song she recorded just two days before her untimely death in 1970 at the age of only 27. As you can see it was Page One news in this 1970 article from a Texas newspaper.

Singer Janis Joplin Found Dead in Hotel, Dallas Morning News newspaper obituary 5 October 1970

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 5 October 1970, page 1

As you can imagine there followed numerous articles that mourned the loss of this one-of-a-kind singer. Other newspapers seized the occasion to rail away at the excesses of America’s youth.

This 1970 article from a North Carolina newspaper reported that Janis had signed her will only three days before her death, and left half her estate to her parents and one quarter each to her brother and sister.

Janis Joplin Left Estate to Family, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 22 October 1970

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 22 October 1970, page 11

Janis had a unique voice and style. In this 1969 article from a California newspaper, reporter Carol Olten had this to say about Janis: “Janis Joplin never leaves doubts in anyone’s mind about being THE rock ’n’ roll woman. Any musicians who appear on stage with her have been more or less reduced to mashed potatoes.”

Janis Joplin Here Saturday, San Diego Union newspaper article 28 September 1969

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 28 September 1969, page 78

Janis was indeed quite the woman of rock and roll. As reported in this 1994 article from an Illinois newspaper, she was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the 1995 Class of inductees.

[Janis] Joplin, [Frank] Zappa Join Hall of Fame, Register Star newspaper article 17 November 1994

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 17 November 1994, page 35

By the way, whenever you are in Cleveland, Ohio, pay a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famewhere you can see some of Janis’s memorabilia and a whole lot more. From personal experience, I suggest you allow at least two days for your visit!

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 about your family and favorite celebrities!

4th of July Holiday: A Time for Family Reunions & Genealogy Fun

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott celebrates the Fourth of July holiday by researching old newspaper articles to discover some July 4th reunions celebrated in times past.

I love holidays and I especially love the 4th of July! Fireworks, picnics, and family reunions! What a great combination for all of us, and especially those of us who are genealogy “infected”! All my life July 4th was a time to gather family around and have a wonderful long weekend while celebrating the birth of the United States!

I hope you and your family had fun this past holiday weekend celebrating our great nation and enjoying quality time together.

When I began planning my picnic menu for this year’s 4th of July party (should I go with hamburgers, hot dogs, or brats?) I decided to spend a few moments searching GenealogyBank.com’s historical newspaper archives to see what some of the past July Fourth celebrations were like that “made the papers.”

The first article I found in my search, published in the “Society” column of a 1912 Pennsylvania newspaper, really perked up my interest as a genealogist. The historical news article listed the names of dozens of the reportedly more than 100 family members of three of the oldest families of the county who gathered for their annual 4th of July reunion. Seeing all those persons’ names and hometowns made me wish I were related!

Three Families in July Fourth Reunion, Patriot newspaper article 6 July 1912

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 6 July 1912, page 3

Next, I enjoyed another family reunion article and wished I had ancestors who lived in Mason, Fleming, and/or Lewis counties in Kentucky. This 1912 Kentucky newspaper reported on a nice assortment of many of the “Old Settlers” of the area.

Old Settlers Will Meet July Fourth, Lexington Herald newspaper article 22 May 1912

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 22 May 1912, page 2

I became a bit envious when I read an article from a 1913 Oklahoma newspaper. This piece explained that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had changed his mind and agreed to go to the Gettysburg battlefield and address the Veterans Encampment there. Can you imagine being at Gettysburg and walking amongst Civil War veterans, hearing their first-hand stories? Wow, what a 4th of July that would make for anyone who loves genealogy and history!

Wilson to Visit Gettsyburg Vetson July Fourth, Daily Oklahoman newspaper article 29 June 1913

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 29 June 1913, page 1

Then I got a good chuckle from an article in an 1875 Ohio newspaper. This enjoyable item recounted the 4th of July festivities surrounding the annual gathering of telegraphers. I enjoyed reading that this group knew “how to have a frolic in a sensible and respectable manner” and sported badges with coded messages. Despite their apparent good manners and fun times, I’d be willing to bet that this is a group that doesn’t meet anymore.

Reunion of the Cleveland, Buffalo, Toledo and Erie Telegraphers, Plain Dealer newspaper article 6 July 1875

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 6 July 1875, page 4

Of course reading all these wonderful old newspaper articles about 4th of July family reunions and gatherings only made me pine a bit for some of my family reunions in times gone by. The last several decades or so have found us in a cabin in the north woods of Minnesota where we enjoy the holiday, often in its weather extremes. I have great memories ranging from the incredibly HOT 4th of July when the beach sand was so burning we couldn’t walk on it barefoot to get to our clambake fire—all the way to the other extreme of the 4th of July in 1996, when we all watched the fireworks in winter jackets, hats, and mittens after trimming a small, nearby pine tree with Christmas lights to celebrate the cold!

Before wrapping up my Fourth of July reunion research, I took a few more minutes to look in our old family photo albums for some more memories of the holiday. Aside from a whole lot of my really bad photos of fireworks that didn’t quite work out (thank goodness for digital photography now), I did find two photos that really took me back. One is of my dad and mom enjoying the 4th in their favorite place—a swimming pool.

photo of Scott Phillips' parents celebrating July Fourth by a swimming pool

The second photo was from a 1986 4th of July reunion with my in-laws in northern Minnesota.

photo of Scott Phillips celebrating July Fourth with his in-laws in northern Minnesota

Both these family photos bring memories of happy, happy times gone by. I hope you enjoy them; I have included them here as my way of saying: I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July holiday—and Happy Birthday to the United States of America!

By the way—what did you grill this 4th of July? Tell us in the comments.