April 28, 2017

Articles by Sunny Morton

About Sunny

Sunny Morton is a genealogy writer whose work is read by thousands in magazines and online. As a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems, she frequently posts on the news, but also loves to share quick research tips, reveal little-known resources or take genealogists for an exhilarating dive into deeper research topics and techniques. She's also the author of My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories.

German Marriages and More in New and Updated Genealogy Records Online

German marriages, Indexed obituaries for the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, The ultimate photo map of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and UN War Crimes Commission reports from World War II are all in our new and updated genealogy records today!

Germany Marriages: Magdeburg

Ancestry.com has published a new collection of over 600,000 marriages recorded in Magdeburg, a city about 80 miles west of Berlin. According to the collection description, “Beginning on October 1, 1874, local registry offices were made responsible for creating birth, marriage, and death records in the former Prussian provinces. The collected records are arranged chronologically and usually in bound yearbook form which are collectively referred to as ‘civil registers.’ For most of the communities included in the collection, corresponding alphabetical directories of names were also created.” The records date from 1874-1923.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake: The Ultimate Map

A new interactive map plots the likely locations of thousands of photos taken of the “smoke, fire, ruins and refugees” after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The map at OpenSFHistory references stunning images of bewildered survivors amidst their devastated neighborhood, reminders of the brutal and total losses many incurred in a few seconds.

  • Got a disaster story in your family history? Read these tips on researching it.
  • Was London the scene of your family’s disaster–specifically, the London Blitz? Click here to learn about an interactive map of the bombing of London during World War II.

Indexed Obituaries at Ancestry.com

Obituaries such as this one from the Western Christian Advocate (Cincinnati, June 28, 1844) often reveal unique personal and family information.

Ancestry.com recently updated several enormous national obituary indexes:

Thousands of obituaries or death notices are searchable in digitized newspaper collections, but indexes dramatically improve the odds of discovering them. Then the trick becomes tracking down the original paper to see it for yourself. Learn more about finding obituaries (and everything else in newspapers) in How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers by Lisa Louise Cooke.

South Africa Court Records

Over 200,00 records appear in Ancestry.com’s new database, South Africa, Miscellaneous Court Records Index, 1652-2004, 2008-2011. Spanning more than 350 years, the collection indexes records from the Courts of Justice (1652-1956), Cape Town Criminal Records (1854-1855), Official Name Changes (2008-2011), South African Law Reports (1828-2004), and the 1859 Weenan, Natal Jury List.

“The details provided for each person typically include name, record date, record place, collection, and source,” states the collection description. “Depending on the collection, additional details such as occupation, place of residence, names of relatives, or information on a court case or crime may be available as well.”

UN War Crimes Commissions Archive Opened

The Guardian recently reported that the UN War Crimes Commission archives is being opened in London and its catalog is now searchable online. “War crimes files revealing early evidence of Holocaust death camps…are among tens of thousands of files to be made public for the first time this week,” says the story. “The archive, along with the UNWCC, was closed in the late 1940s as West Germany was transformed into a pivotal ally at the start of the cold war and use of the records was effectively suppressed.” The archive contains thousands of pages of evidence collected (much of it in secret) even as the war raged, and includes detailed descriptions of Nazi extermination camps, massacres in Czechoslovakia, and early war crimes tribunals.

Newspapers in the News

North Carolina

Digitized issues of The Franklin Times (weekly, searchable 1909-1924) are now searchable at Digital NC. The paper served Lewisburg, the seat of Franklin County, North Carolina. The paper has a fairly local focus, according to a blog post announcing the collection. “For example, one weekly column, ‘The Moving People,’ tracks ‘those who have visited Louisburg the past week’ and ‘those who have gone elsewhere for business or pleasure.’ The column lists individuals who returned from trips and those who visited from afar….Local meetings, contests, municipal issues, social events, and more are recounted each week.”

Washington

Lisa Louise Cooke just found a little piece of her own history in Washington State University’s student newspaper, now fully searchable online for free. It’s a short snippet that refers to a two-woman play Lisa was in!

According to a Facebook announcement, a new digital archive includes 13,200+ issues of the The Daily Evergreen (1895-2016) and 660 pages of other newspapers, including an early official student paper, the College Record (1892-1893).

Find your own family history in newspapers of all kinds, from local dailies to labor presses or church regionals, or even student papers such as the one Lisa used above. “Read all about it!” in Lisa’s book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers.

Available at http://genealogygems.com

 

The Whole Town’s Talking! Fannie Flagg on Genealogy Gems Book Club

Beloved American novelist Fannie Flagg is our newest Genealogy Gems Book Club author! Nobody can spin a story quite like she can, as she proves in The Whole Town’s Talking. You’ll love the stories of her funny, foibled characters in this intergenerational saga of a small, fictional town in the American Midwest.

The Whole Town’s Talking is best-selling author Fannie Flagg’s newest novel. A Swedish immigrant plants roots in the American Midwest and advertises in Swedish-American newspapers for a bride and neighbors to settle the land. Thus begins the town of Elmwood Springs, Missouri, the setting of several of Fannie’s previous novels.

Over several decades, descendants of the original settlers populate the town. As residents die, they appear again among their neighborly dead in the local cemetery. They continue to gossip and chatter and, occasionally, suffer. (One poor man finds himself buried between his first wife and his second, who didn’t get along in life and still don’t.)

Much-loved characters from other Fannie Flagg novels appear in The Whole Town’s Talking (or at least their ancestors do). Swedish immigrant Lordor Nordstrom is an ancestor of young Dena Nordstrom from Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! Among his neighbors are the fascinating families of spunky Elner Shimfissle, her nervous niece Norma and Poor Tot from Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven. We even hear echoes of Neighbor Dorothy,  the famous housewife with the radio show in Standing in the Rainbow.

In The Whole Town’s Talking, Fannie Flagg captures the broad sweep of Midwestern history while staying grounded in the stories of everyday people. It’s easy to fall in love with the folks from Elmwood Springs, to cheer them on in their struggles and successes, to match-make their children, to laugh along with them (and sometimes at them, bless their hearts). Their foibles and quirks likely will remind you of many on your family tree. That’s all the better, given Fannie’s premise that these folks continue to live on and take an interest in our lives. To a genealogist who falls more in love with her ancestors the more she knows about them, I find this a pretty irresistible notion.

Special thanks to Genealogy Gems Premium member Richard in Sacramento CA, who recommended The Whole Town’s Talking! He loved “the time span, the family relations and the discussions as folks entered the cemetery and the town changed.”

There’s more of Fannie Flagg to love….

In fact, Richard has read all of Fannie Flagg’s books. He thinks several of them would be “valuable reads” for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.” I agree wholeheartedly! I’m a longtime Fannie Flagg fan, ever since I saw the movie version of her classic novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

When you finish The Whole Town’s Talking, consider picking up one of the other Elmwood Springs stories already mentioned: Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! or Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven or Standing in the Rainbow.

I can’t resist recommending Fannie’s second most-recent novel, too: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion. The main character is Sookie, a lovable Southern woman (she is Dena Nordstrom’s best friend in Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!Sookie discovers she is not who she thinks she is. After a huge family secret is revealed, she questions everything she has ever believed about herself and her family. Sookie launches a secret search for a new sense of identity under the nose of her loving but domineering mother. She navigates the effects of her discoveries on her sense of identity, her marriage and her daughters’ lives. It’s funny, it’s poignant–and along the way she learns about a fascinating and little-known chapter in American history.

I hope you enjoy Miss Fannie Flagg as much as Richard and I do! The immortal storyteller herself will join us on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast in two months. So go read The Whole Town’s Talking! (And if you’re not a Genealogy Gems Premium website member, consider becoming one. A teaser clip from our conversation will appear in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #204, but to hear the whole thing, you’ll need access to the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #148.

 

 

The Touching Stories our Heirlooms Hold

Some of us are using heirloom research for genealogy. A new exhibit traces the history of interesting heirlooms using genealogical research strategies. Be inspired by these examples and tips to research heirlooms and more fully discover their stories.

A new exhibit called Heirloom Genealogy: Tracing your Family Treasures has opened at The Star of the Republic Museum in Texas. You better believe it caught our interest! We know our readers are looking for unique and different ways to continue their genealogy journeys. We wanted to find out more about how family historians are using heirloom research for genealogy. Curator Shawn Carlson was kind enough to answer some questions about it and share the touching stories the heirlooms held.

Shawn Carlson, Curator of Collections and Exhibits, Star of the Republic Museum

Q: What an unusual exhibit idea! How did you think of it?

A: I had been researching artifacts at the museum for several years by tracing the genealogy of the families who donated the artifacts. The best exhibit text usually comes from real stories about artifacts—and doing the genealogy was where I found the stories. When I started thinking about this latest exhibit, I thought maybe there was a way that I could use the genealogical research I already had, and that’s when I came up with  the idea of “heirloom genealogy.”

Q: Who was involved in the research and how long did it take?

A: I did all of the research. Some of it had previously been done, but some was new. I usually spend the summer researching for an exhibit, and then write the text and begin production in the fall for a March opening during the Texas Independence Day celebration at Washington-on-the-Brazos.

Q: Can you share a couple of examples and images of artifacts and the documents that told their stories?

A: One of the artifacts I researched was a red-on-white appliqué quilt. It was made in 1805 in Vermont and donated by the quiltmaker’s 3X great-granddaughter who lived in Houston. It should have been easy to figure out the lineage by the inscription on the quilt—but it wasn’t. There were two Cynthia Tuckers and two Pearl Browns in the family and one quilt owner had been married a couple of times and used a nickname. So, it took a bit of sorting out. The research was all done using census data, but it all came back to the inscription on the quilt for final verification.

Another item in our collection is a small buckskin suit that belonged to a little boy named Edward Clark Boylan. He was born in New Orleans in 1840 and died three years later near Galveston, probably from yellow fever. We knew his birth and death dates from his sister’s descendant who donated the suit, but not much else. I found some cryptic notes in our files taken by a previous curator and was able to trace Edward to Captain James Boylan who was captain of the ship Brutus during the Texas Revolution.

I found a passenger list from 1839 with Captain Boylan, his wife, and daughter traveling from Puerto Rico to New York. Mrs. Boylan would have been pregnant with Edward during that voyage:

The year that Edward died, his father was mentioned frequently in the newspapers as he led a flotilla of ships out of Campeche. He was probably not present when little Edward died.

Q: What was an especially interesting story you came across while researching this exhibition?

A: One of the most interesting items we’ve received in recent years is a slave birth record that was part of a family collection:

The donor’s ancestors were early settlers of Washington County. The slave record was interesting because it listed birth dates from 1832 to 1865. Out of curiosity, I tried tracking some of the slaves to see if I could find living descendants. I started with the 1870 census—looking for African-Americans with the surname of the plantation owner and first names that matched the slaves in the birth record. I was able to follow through on one of the names to find a living descendant. She and her family came to visit the museum and see the birth record of their ancestor. While the family was visiting during last year’s Texas Independence Day celebration, the donor of the slave record also visited the museum and the two families were able to meet.

Q: What advice do you have for family historians with heirlooms?

A: Learn about the artifacts you have and match them to their owners. There is plenty of information online that will help you identify and date artifacts. Knowing the date of an artifact helps you determine who had it in the past.

More on Heirloom Research for Genealogy

Connect your heirlooms with their stories and bring the past to life!

Get Denise Levenick’s popular book How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy Records. This book will help you sort, identify, and preserve your own treasured family artifacts and memorabilia. Save 10% with our exclusive Genealogy Gems promocode GEMS17 (good through Dec. 31, 2017).

WPA Records for Genealogy: Historical Record Surveys, Local Histories and More


Have you used WPA records for genealogy? Their Historical Record Surveys and local and oral histories may help you in your family history research. Existing records and locations vary widely. Here are tips to help you in your search.

WPA records for genealogy

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, employees of the Works Progress Administration (WPA, also known as the Works Projects Administration) created new resources for U.S. genealogical research. It’s possible you’ve even consulted some of these without being aware of their WPA origins. After all, the projects and their formats varied. They didn’t always prominently credit the WPA and some were printed long afterward. We’re going to shine the spotlight on WPA-era local histories, oral histories and statewide Historical Record Surveys.

WPA Records for Genealogy: Local Histories

In Annie Barrows’ novel The Truth According to Us, Layla Beck heads to the small fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia to write a local history as a WPA assignment. Drama ensues, both in Layla’s personal life and as she tries to learn local stories, which everyone reports a little differently. (We featured this book in the Genealogy Gems Book Club.)

Actually, local histories were written as WPA projects. Their scope, topics, and formats varied, depending on the unique background and resources of each region and how active WPA workers were in each state and county. For example, WPA historical materials in Morrison County, Minnesota include “histories on townships, cities, churches, schools, businesses, the military, and miscellaneous county history topics,” which have since been collected and reprinted by the county historical society. Many historical projects included photographs, such as this one for the city of New Orleans.

WPA Records for Genealogy: Oral Histories

WPA workers also captured oral histories of individuals, too. Many were collected in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940, now online at the Library of Congress. According to the collection description, “The documents chronicle vivid life stories of Americans who lived at the turn of the century and include tales of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the 1871 Chicago fire, pioneer journeys out West, factory work, and the immigrant experience. The documents often describe the informant’s physical appearance, family, education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores.”

From one of the slave narratives mentioned in this article. Click image to read.

Other important WPA oral histories are narratives of former slaves and their families. You can browse an enormous collection of these online at the Library of Congress. These aren’t the ideal eyewitness accounts we wish for, as they were gathered so long after the end of slavery, from many who were young children at the time. Also, many researchers believe interviewees may not have spoken candidly, especially to white interviewers who may have known them personally.

It’s a long shot to find an ancestor mentioned by name in WPA oral histories. In some instances, pseudonyms were even used for names and places. But, you can still learn a lot from others’ descriptions of daily life and unusual events your ancestors may have experienced.

Historical Record Surveys

The Historical Record Surveys created by the WPA are among the most genealogically-valuable of their projects. “Under the auspices of the WPA, workers went to archives, historical societies, public and university libraries, and compiled inventories of manuscript collections,” writes Bryan Mulcahy in an online report. “They went to courthouses, town halls, offices in large cities, and vital statistics offices and inventoried records. Besides compiling indexes, they also transcribed some of the records they found.”

Today, many of their efforts still exist. They include indexes to cemeteries, newspapers, and naturalization records, as well as inventories of courthouse records, church records, and other manuscript collections in various archives or libraries. Of course, some records may have been moved or destroyed since inventories were created, but knowing what records existed around 1940 and what they were called may help you locate surviving collections. Some indexes, such as those of cemetery tombstone inscriptions, may actually be more valuable since they captured information from tombstones that may no longer exist or be legible.

A blank WPA Historical Records Survey church records inventory form. Image courtesy of the State Archives of Florida. Click this image to find it online at Florida Memory.

One great example is the Historical Records Survey for the state of Oregon, described as “the most comprehensive documentary project of Oregon history and related records of its time.” It includes historical essays, document transcriptions, interviews, research notes, photographs, pamphlets and more. According to its collection description, “The territorial and pioneer periods of the mid-to-late nineteenth century receive the greatest attention, with an emphasis on the growth of state government and infrastructure, business and agriculture, transportation, education, biography, and relations between social groups. Native Americans figure prominently in this collection.”

Finding WPA Records for Genealogy Online

Some WPA projects were carried out on a federal level and others by state agencies. They were never centrally published or collected. Today, surviving original files and published volumes are scattered across the country. Some can be found in the National Archives, many in state libraries or societies, and many more available at local repositories.

A Google search such as historical records surveys and the name of the state and/or county is a great way to start your search for WPA records for genealogy research. Some results will lead right to the kinds of resources you want, such as this guide to WPA records in archives in the Pacific Northwest. Others, such as this one for the Iowa Historical Records Survey published in The American Archivist, are mostly a history of the effort. However, they do contain several useful bibliographic citations to records that were created. Add the name of the county to your search and you may find more targeted results, such as this library catalog entry for the inventory of the Jasper County archives. Click here to learn more about Google searches for genealogy records you want to find.

Remember, though, that many WPA publications and collections aren’t identified as such. Don’t fixate on needing to find WPA listed in the title. Just concentrate your efforts on finding the local and oral histories, photos, historical record indexes and inventories, and other resources that may be out there. When you find one created during the Great Depression, you’ll know it may have been done by the WPA.

Love what you’re reading and want to learn more? Go deeper into genealogy “gems” like these in Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Podcasts. Lisa produces a free internationally-renowned monthly podcast that’s had over 2.5 million downloads! Additionally, Genealogy Gems Premium website members also have access to her full archive of monthly Premium podcast epidodes: check out a full description of these here including Episode 2 on WPA records for genealogy.

Savvy Tips to Help Identify Old Photos

A local genealogist used these strategies to help identify old photos taken on holiday in England by an Australian family. Read more about her savvy tips below and view the free video on using Google image search by Lisa Louise Cooke.

Sandra Stocks can’t resist solving genealogical mysteries–her own, or someone else’s. So when she saw an  article in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner of West Yorkshire titled, “Can you solve the mystery of these old photographs?” she had to answer.

The photos in the article belonged to an Australian family. They included a series of images taken in the 1930s while the party was on holiday along the Great British coast. A partly-legible name and address on a picture postcard in the group provided a clue.

A few of the article’s readers responded with assistance. One of these readers was Sandra, who volunteers with the Kirkheaton Family History Group. Her answer was featured in a follow-up article (“Mystery SOLVED!”). We reached out to Sandra ourselves, to see if she would share the research strategies she used to identify these old photos. Very generously, she did!

Sandra Stocks, left, with Ann from Canada. Their grandfathers were cousins; they met via Ancestry.com and Ann visited England. They met up at The Croppers Arms pub, where a mutual ancestor was a 19th-century landlord. Photo courtesy of Sandra Stocks.

How-to Identify Old Photos in 4 Easy Steps

Genealogy Gems Premium website members can listen to her full answer in the Genealogy Gems Premium Episode 143. In the meantime, here’s a helpful summary for everyone:

1. Look closely at the photo for any identifying names or words. Sandra begins by saying, “Although the name on the postcard looked like Mr. J. Stogley, when I looked on the newspaper’s website there were other photographs, one which showed the name P. Hogley, Druggist, above a shop window.” (Don’t see anything? Skip to step 4, below.)

We recommend: Learn more about finding clues in old photos with the book Family Photo Detective by Maureen Taylor. (Get 10% off when you use this link and the coupon code GEMS17 through December 31, 2017.)

2. Use any names or places you identify to consult historical records for that place and time. Sandra continues, “I then searched on Ancestry.co.uk for Joseph Hogley, which, being an unusual name, was easy to find…In the 1911 English census he was living with his wife at the address on the postcard, so I knew I had the right chap. I then searched for him in [an] earlier census and found his family, and his brother Percy Hogley, a druggist, the writer of the postcard.”

3. Follow up in other historical records to identify additional relatives–and possible subjects in the photos. Sandra most often consults birth, marriage, and death records on Ancestry.co.uk and Findmypast.co.uk. “Not everybody wants to pay for a subscription,” she acknowledges, so she also recommends FreeBMD.org.uk “which allows you to search births, marriages, and deaths in England and Wales. A quick search of births for Hogley between 1850 and 1932 would have given me the births of Joseph and Percy Hogley in Huddersfield in 1875 and 1877, respectively. I used FreeBMD to discover that Joseph and his wife had a son, Bernard Thomas Hogley, in 1913 and Bernard married in 1945.”

4. If the photos have no identifying names or places, go straight to those who might recognize them: the locals. Lastly, Sandra shares, “There is a great family history forum where I could have posted a photograph and within a very short time somebody would have told me an approximate year when the picture was taken. The website is RootsChat.com and they also have pages for each English and Welsh county where local people are more than happy to help with genealogy queries.”

More on How-to Identify Old Photos

Unidentified old photos exist in nearly everyone’s family history holdings. Pull those old photos out and discover what else you can discern using these additional tips in Lisa Louise Cooke’s free video titled “How to Google Image Search to Identify Old Photos Using a Smartphone & Tablet.” By learning how to match the images you have to other images on the web, you may find some great new clues for your genealogy! This trick works great for distinct or well-known images, such as a location, or perhaps an important person in your family tree. Give it a try!

Surname Research for Free: Guild of One-Name Studies at FamilySearch.org

Sometimes you find yourself sorting through tons of people with the same last name to see which ones belong on your family tree. This surname research collection at FamilySearch can help you see what other researchers may have spent years compiling about thousands of family groups.

surname research

There’s a valuable free but much-overlooked online collection for surname research at FamilySearch.org. These are the family trees of nearly 3000 members of the Guild of One-Name Studies, who are studying nearly 9,000 different surnames. Their resources are strongest for the United Kingdom, where the Guild was founded, but you’ll find members all over the world.

What makes these family trees unique?

There are a couple of things that make these family trees unique:

1. These trees don’t just focus on a mostly-vertical line of ancestors for a single person. Members of the Guild collect everything they can about a particular surname and all its variants (hence the name of the organization). These efforts help organize and connect people with the same surname. Sometimes they help trace the origin of a surname. They can help people explore the variety of spellings and locations associated with different names.

2. These trees are often more fully researched and cited than your average online tree. The Guild takes pride in supporting its members in doing accurate, cited research; keeping their online databases updated; and responding to questions from others about their surname research.

Of course, always use caution when consulting others’ trees. Consider their content to be hints or suggestions until you prove them otherwise yourself. Scrutinize the sources they cite, many of which, say the Guild, aren’t available online elsewhere.

Explore the Guild Surname Research Collections

To explore this helpful free resource, follow the step-by-step instructions below:

1. Go to FamilySearch.org and click Search, then click Genealogies— not Records. (You may also click here to reach that landing page directly.)

2. Enter the surname of interest.

3. Click where it says All next to the Search button.surname research with Guild of One-Name Studies

4. Select Guild of One-Name Studies.

5. Run the search. Click on search results to see:

A. The individual’s name, personal details and (scroll down) associated sources and citation details.
B. The individual’s place in a Guild family tree. Explore this family tree by clicking on someone’s name and seeing their information pop up to the left, where you can also click “View Tree” to see that person’s relatives.
C. Search for names within this tree.
D. This shows you what surname study the information comes from. In this case, you’re also given a link to a separate, associated website for that study.

6. Repeat to learn more about other surnames in your family.

More on Surname Research

If you are interested in learning even more about surnames research, read Social Network Your yDNA with Surname Projects by our own Diahan Southard, and learn how surname study organizations are taking their research into the 21st century with DNA surname projects.

Also, learn more about utilizing DNA in your genealogy research with these 10 DNA quick guides from Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard. They can be purchased in a bundle in either print or digital format.

A Train Ticket and Popular Novel Solved this Adoption Mystery

Genealogy for adoptees can be a difficult journey. A train ticket from 1856 and one of our most popular Genealogy Gems Book Club titles helped one woman solve an adoption family mystery. Here’s her story.

Genealogy for adoptees

Ben Brooksbank [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Adoption Mystery: Solved

I recently read an article that I just had to share! Julia Park Tracey’s two-times great grandfather, William Lozier, was adopted. She wanted to trace his family history. Her only clue was the receipt for a train fare from New York’s Home for the Friendless to Oberlin, Ohio that William had. The ticket cost $7.50 and was dated 1856.

With a little bit of easy math, Julia realized that William would have been a three-year old at the time. Can you imagine? Julia was intrigued by the finding, but didn’t think much more about it until she read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. This piqued her curiosity about Williams’s story and she started researching. What she found was an astonishing story of family struggling to stay together during the hardships of 19th century life.

Along her research journey, Julia learned that William’s mother was widowed in upstate New York in 1848. Consequently, the woman lost the family farm and needed to give up her two oldest boys to an orphanage. She managed to hold on to her oldest daughter and baby William while she worked as a seamstress. Sadly, she still couldn’t make ends meet and ended up placing her last two children in an orphanage as well.

Julia explains in the article: “Martha was undaunted; she worked and saved, and eventually wrote to ask for her children back. The orphanage did not respond. In those days, a child’s moral and spiritual welfare were tantamount, and a single mother was seen as not fit to parent. Nevertheless, she found her way to her daughter, and at least one of her middle sons, if not both. Martha lived the rest of her life with her married daughter and her grandchildren. She died between 1900 and 1910, [but] she never saw nor heard of what had happened to Will.”

With these new pieces of information, Julia was able to trace the line back through time and generations. She even learned a little more about her unexpected DNA results! I am sure it was very satisfying to finally piece together the story of the old train ticket and William’s family story. Even the smallest clues like the old train ticket can lead to long-forgotten stories that add to our family history tapestry. Genealogy is all about persistence, and much like a detective, the smallest piece of evidence can make all the difference!

More on Genealogy for Adoptees

orphan train Christina Baker Kline genealogy book clubIf you’ve been a Premium member for a while, you’ll recall Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. It was one of our first Genealogy Gems Book Club selections—and based on feedback from you, it’s been one of our most popular choices. If you haven’t listened to Premium episode 121 which includes our interview with Christina, I encourage you to go back and listen. In that conversation, you’ll learn about the history of the orphan train riders in the U.S. and Canada and how the author researched it.

Learn more about the Orphan Train and it’s riders in this post: “Road Trip Anyone? An Orphan Train Museum.

See what else we’ve read by clicking: Genealogy Gems Book Club

 

Family Secrets, History and Love in the Great Depression: Genealogy Gems Book Club Pick

Our new Genealogy Gems Book Club pick takes you into the Great Depression with a young socialite’s WPA project to capture the history of a small West Virginia town. She finds drama, contradicting versions of the past and unexpected romance. Enjoy this novel by an internationally best-selling author!

It’s the summer of 1938. Wealthy young Layla Beck’s big problem is not the Great Depression: it’s her father’s orders to marry a man she despises. She rebels, and suddenly finds herself on the dole. A Works Progress Administration assignment lands her in Macedonia, West Virginia, where she’s to write its history. As she starts asking questions about the town’s past, she is drawn into the secrets of the family she’s staying with—and to a certain handsome member of that family. She and two of those family members take turns narrating the story from different points of view, exploring the theme that historical truth, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.

That’s a nutshell version of our new Genealogy Gems Book Club featured title, The Truth According to Us by internationally best-selling author Annie Barrows. It’s available in print and on Kindle formats: click above to purchase. (Thanks for using this link: your purchase supports free content on the Genealogy Gems podcast and blog.)

Annie will join us in the March 2017 Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast for an exclusive interview. That’s a members-only podcast; everyone else can catch a meaty excerpt in the March episode of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast. Between now and then, watch our blog for related posts on The Truth According to Us and the Great Depression–including genealogical records produced by the WPA.

Once you’ve enjoyed The Truth According to Us, I heartily recommend you curl up with Annie’s previous novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Watch a trailer for that book here:

Her popular Ivy and Bean children’s book series is also an international best-selling series, and my daughter Seneca gives it two thumbs up!

genealogy book club family history readingClick here to see more Genealogy Gems Book Club selections and how you can listen to Lisa’s upcoming exclusive conversation with author Annie Barrows about The Truth According to Us.

 

Living in the Past: Ruth Goodman Shows Us How It’s Done

What was it like to live in the Tudor age or the 1940s? Would you rather “watch” the answer or “read” it? Well, you can do both with these popular BBC historical documentary series and their companion books.

ruth-goodmanRuth Goodman is known to BBC watchers as the woman who brings history to life in several documentary series. They’re all re-creations of rural life in a certain time period: the Tudor era, Victorian era, Edwardian era (which many of us know better as the Downton Abbey era) and even World War II. All of the series have episodes you can watch on YouTube for free. A couple of them also have companion books that give you the nitty-gritty–sometimes literally–in print.

Time for a little binge-watching (or reading!)! Below, you will find a sample episode from each series, along with the companion book and a link to watch more episodes on YouTube.

Tudor Monastery Farm

how-to-be-a-tudor-ruth-goodmantudor-monastery-farm-ruth-goodmanTudor Monastery Farm is the official companion volume to the series. You’ll follow Ruth and her co-stars “as they discover how to build a pigsty, brew their own ale, forge their own machinery, and keep a Tudor household. Scrupulously researched, totally authentic, and with its own contemporary narrative playing out within an accurate reconstruction of Tudor England, this is a fantastic glimpse into history, as it was lived.”

Ruth’s more scholarly How to Be a Tudor riveted me–and I didn’t expect it to. My historical imagination doesn’t generally extend that far back in time. Ruth captured the little things that are so big like what it’s like not to bathe, how the food tastes, and how itchy the clothes are. When she waxed rapturous about studying a suit of clothing that was several hundred years old and falling apart in an archive, I felt an almost primal connection. I get that way about old documents. I’m just saying.

Watch more Tudor Monastery Farm here.

Victorian Farm

how-to-be-a-victorian-ruth-goodman

How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life is another critically-acclaimed “manual for the insatiably curious” by the “historian who believes in getting her hands dirty.” This time she reveals Victorian life (the mid and late 1800s) from daybreak to bedtime. Again, the devil and the delightful are in the details: how they got dressed, how and when and what they ate, and what work they did. I’m guessing nobody skips the chapters on the trip to the privy or “behind the bedroom door.”

Watch more Victorian Farm here.

Edwardian Farm

edwardian-farm-by-ruth-goodman“If variety is the spice of life, then Edwardian rural life has proved to be one heck of a curry.” -Ruth Goodman

In this series and the Edwardian Farm book, Ruth and her intrepid co-time-travelers live in England’s West Country as if it’s the turn of the twentieth century. At the time this was “a commercially prosperous region—a stunning rural landscape encompassing rolling farmland, wild moorland, tidal river, coast, and forest, which supported a vibrant and diverse economy.” The hosts spend a year “restoring boats, buildings, and equipment; cultivating crops; fishing; rearing animals; and rediscovering the lost heritage of this fascinating era as well as facing the challenges of increasingly commercial farming practices, fishing, and community events.”

Watch more Edwardian Farm here.

Wartime Farm

wartime-farm-by-ruth-goodmanDuring World War II, Britain couldn’t import much produce or other foodstuff as they were accustomed, so residents had to grow it themselves or go without. The series and the book Wartime Farm reveal “how our predecessors lived and thrived in difficult conditions with extreme frugality and ingenuity. From growing your own vegetables and keeping chickens in the back yard, to having to ‘make do and mend’, many of the challenges faced by wartime Britons have resonance today.”

Watch more Wartime Farm here.

Image courtesy of Sarah Chrisman.

Image courtesy of Sarah Chrisman.

This post was inspired by our current Genealogy Gems Book Club author, Sarah Chrisman. She, too, is an expert on living in the past. The difference is that her Victorian lifestyle isn’t just a year-long experiment but her chosen way of life. Lisa Louise Cooke interviewed her recently about Victorian holiday traditions in the free Genealogy Gems podcast episode 198. In the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 142, which requires a Genealogy Gems Premium membership to access, Sarah talks about her memoirs, This Victorian Life and Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present and Myself.

genealogy book club family history readingClick here to see what other gems the Genealogy Gems Book Club has to recommend!

Amazing Women in World War II: A Censored Journalist Turns Spy

Last week was the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Among the amazing women in World War II was a reporter whose story of the bombing of Honolulu was so vivid the editor wouldn’t publish it. She went on to become a spy.

women in World War II

Reporter Betty McIntosh was working for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on December 7, 1941, when the bombs started falling. Pearl Harbor was the main target–and the one everyone remembers–but the city felt the attack, too. Civilians, including children, were among the casualties.

A week later, Betty wrote an article recounting the recent horrors. Her goal was to warn women what might be coming in other places, now that the U.S. was at war. But her editor killed the article, saying it was too graphic. That’s according to the Washington Post, which finally ran the article, in full, 71 years later.

“For seven ghastly, confused days, we have been at war. To the women of Hawaii, it has meant a total disruption of home life, a sudden acclimation to blackout nights, terrifying rumors, fear of the unknown as planes drone overhead and lorries shriek through the streets.”

That’s just the beginning. She goes on to recount that as soon as she heard the news on the radio that Sunday morning, she reported to work. (Click here to hear a radio broadcast announcement from Honolulu to the mainland, announcing the attack.)

Wikimedia Commons image. Click to view.

Wikimedia Commons image. Click to view.

She saw the planes diving into the harbor and plumes of black smoke. Then, a nearby rooftop shot into the air.

“For the first time, I felt that numb terror that all of London has known for months. It is the terror of not being able to do anything but fall on your stomach and hope the bomb won’t land on you. It’s the helplessness and terror of sudden visions of a ripping sensation in your back, shrapnel coursing through your chest, total blackness, maybe death.”

(Click here to see images of the London Blitz, and here to see intense images from Pearl Harbor at the Huffington Post website.)

In the article, Betty goes on to describe the destruction to her neighborhood business district, and the chaos at the emergency room which she was assigned to cover. The aftermath wasn’t a calm after the storm, either:

“Sunday after dusk there was the all-night horror of attack in the dark. Sirens shrieking, sharp, crackling police reports and the tension of a city wrapped in fear….Then, in the nightmare of Monday and Tuesday, there was the struggle to keep normal when planes zoomed overhead and guns cracked out at an unseen enemy.”

Video Interview: Betty looks back at Pearl Harbor

The Response of Women in WWII

At the end of the article, Betty describes the frantic calls that began pouring in to the newsroom where she worked. They were from women, “wanting to know what they could do during the day, when husbands and brothers were away and there was nothing left but to listen to the radio and imagine that all hell had broken out on another part of the island. It was then that I realized how important women can be in a war-torn world.”

Betty McIntosh, reporter, spy, CIA employee

Betty McIntosh, reporter, spy, CIA employee

She ends by saying, “There is a job for every woman in Hawaii to do,” and names the Red Cross, canteens, and evacuation areas as places that needed women’s help. What Betty didn’t name was what she decided to do next: become a spy.

Witnessing the bombing of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor changed Betty, says the Washington Post. She became “restless,” wanting to do something different. So she joined the Office of Strategic Services and used her literary talents and knowledge of Japanese to spread misinformation to the enemy, including to enemy soldiers, to make them want to surrender more easily.

After the war, Betty went on to work for the CIA until she retired. You can read her biography, here. She died at age 100 in 2015.

What a story. What a woman!

“There is a job for every woman in Hawaii to do.” – Betty McIntosh

5 Posts to Help You Put Together Your Own Gripping Family Stories

Did you notice the many different sources threaded through this story? Images, news articles, oral histories, a YouTube interview, a radio broadcast clip? Your own family stories can often be fleshed out with all these different types of media. Click below for inspiring tips and how-tos.

family secrets in newspaper search tips1. A Shocking Family Secret–and 3 Powerful Newspaper Search Tips from Lisa Louise Cooke, author of How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

2. Create Your Own Family History Videos

3. How One Genealogist Used YouTube with Astonishing Results

4. Use Internet Archive for Genealogy (that’s where I found the radio broadcast clip)

5. Using Google Images to Find Photos: tips from Lisa Louise Cooke, author of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (which has a chapter on YouTube, too!)

(Click here to read a local history or here to learn from oral histories about life in Honolulu after the war began.)