Prison Inmate Photos: “The Eyes Are Everything”

Matt from Omaha, Nebraska (U.S.) recently told me about a project his cousin is working on that is so cool the story was picked up by U.S.A. Today.

Prison Memory

While poking around at an 1800s-era Iowa prison about to be torn down, Mark Fullenkamp came across boxes of old glass negatives. Upon closer inspection, he found they were intake photos of the inmates. Some were 150 years old!

Mark first set out to digitize and reverse the negative images of over 11,000 prison inmate photos. Others gradually became involved, like scholars at University of Iowa where he works and even inmates at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women. A doctoral candidate who was interviewed by U.S.A. Today says she’s struck by the moment these photos were taken: when their lives were about to change forever. Though many look tough for the camera (and presumably the other inmates), she sees a lot of emotion in their expressions: “The eyes are everything.”

Now Fullekamp’s team is trying to connect names and stories with the photos. It’s not easy, but many of the pictures have inmate numbers on them. Some files have surfaced with inmate numbers and names in them. Others are stepping forward with memories.

Read more about the project on Matt’s blog.

Got a digital photo archiving project of your own? Click here to learn about a free ebook published by the Library of Congress on digital archiving.

Historical Maps of New York City and More Now Free Online

Map of New York City, 1857. Click for full citation information.

Thousands of historical maps of New York City, the mid-Atlantic states and even the Austro-Hungarian empire (yes, really!) are now online–and they’re free.

The New York Public Library has published more than 20,000 historical maps dating from 1660-1922. They are free for public use, downloading, manipulating and publishing!  A lot of the maps are from New York City neighborhoods, like the one shown here.

The author of a news item about the collection said this: “We can’t imagine too many people wanting to remix Gangs of New York-era property charts, but it’s hard to object to getting more geographic knowledge at no charge.” Well, we genealogists may not “remix” these old property maps, but we can certainly see the value in them!

Do you use maps in your research? Have you tried overlaying a historical map showing an ancestor’s home with a modern one on Google Earth? Learn more about using Google Earth in your genealogy research in this FREE video. 

And if this post is interesting to you, you should also read this blog post about interactive historical maps of major cities (like New York City).

 

12 Things You Can Find in Obituaries

Paul McClellan obituariesRecently I decided to learn more about my great-uncle Paul McClellan, my grandfather’s brother. After World War II, Paul left his Idaho hometown for Pennsylvania. Surviving relatives know hardly anything of his life or family.

The census only takes me through 1940 and he lived through the 1970s. Pennsylvania vital records are pretty tight-lipped. So almost immediately, I found myself looking for obituaries.

Our online community tree at FamilySearch told me when and where he died. I emailed the local history and genealogy contact at the public library in that town. I heard back within a day and had this obituary within a week.

I’ve seen a lot of detailed obituaries. But perhaps because I’m so thirsty for information on Paul, the level of detail in this obituary made me especially happy. I see his:

  1. Age
  2. Street address
  3. Hospital where he died and length of stay there
  4. Birthplace and age
  5. Parents’ names, including mother’s maiden name
  6. Employer and retirement date
  7. Membership in local civic organizations
  8. WWII Army veteran status
  9. Surviving widow’s name, including maiden name
  10. Names, spouses and residences of surviving siblings
  11. Name of funeral home and officiator of funeral
  12. Cemetery name

Wow! Some of these details confirmed that I had the right guy: his age, birth data, relatives’ names. Others open new avenues of research for me. I’ve already started following leads to the civic organizations, funeral home and cemetery.

You know, what is NOT said in this obituary may also prove important as I continue my research on Paul. First, there are no surviving children or grandchildren listed. This disappoints me as I was told he did have children by at least one previous marriage. If he did have children, the informant (his widow?) either didn’t know about them or didn’t choose to mention them. Second, the informant did know a lot about Paul’s kin. Maybe Paul and his wife didn’t totally lose touch with the folks back home–it just seems so years later.

Have you worked much with obituaries? Do you know how to find them? Learn more in Lisa’s book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, available in print or as an e-book. There’s an entire chapter on online digitized newspaper collections, and one on online resources for finding newspapers (either online or offline). Yet another chapter is devoted to African American newspapers. This book will teach you to find all those elusive obituaries–and plenty more mentions of your family in old newspapers.

Adoption and Genealogy: A History of Adoption in the U.S.

Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman, with three grandchildren and her adopted daughter [reflected in the mirror]. Image from The Gordon Parks Archives in the Library of Congress.

Most of us probably have adoptees somewhere on our family trees. Do you know how to research them? It’s not the same as the adoption research people do nowadays to find their birth parents.

Formal, legal adoption wasn’t common in the U.S. until the late 1800s. (State adoption laws didn’t even exist until after Massachusetts passed the first one in 1851.) Before that,  if mom and dad couldn’t take care of a child, a relative, neighbor or friend took that child in, or the child was sent to a county orphanage or poor home. In even earlier days, orphaned or poverty-stricken children were also sold by their towns into indentures.

The Adoption History Project at the University of Oregon has a great timeline of adoption history in the U.S. Check it out to see what was going on when your family member was adopted.

To learn more about adoption and genealogy research, check out these links:

FamilySearch Wiki U.S. Adoption Research

All About Adoption Research by Maureen Taylor

RootsWeb’s Guide to Tracing Family Trees: Adoption

 

Preserving the Memories of Combat Veterans

If your family has a history of military service, you want to better understand the experience of war, or you want to help preserve someone’s memories

korea soldiers

American soliders in the Korean War. Fighting with the 2nd Inf. Div. north of the Chongchon River, Sfc. Major Cleveland, weapons squad leader, points out Communist-led North Korean position to his machine gun crew. November 20,1950. Pfc. James Cox. Wikimedia Commons Image.

of combat, you should check out Witness to War.

Witness to War aims to capture “the ‘foxhole view of combat as seen by the soldiers who experienced it.” They do oral history interviews with combat veterans, then preserve and share them through their website. They have already posted a lot of video interviews that are searchable by subject or name.

Their collection of photos, mostly snapshots taken by soldiers,  is sobering and powerful. There are a lot of battlefield and other very stark images.

Do you know anyone whose memories should be included in this site? They are currently interviewing soldiers in the Atlanta and Washington, D.C. areas. All content they collect will be donated to the (US) Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

 

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