by Diahan Southard | Nov 10, 2014 | 01 What's New, Digital Archives, Military, Photographs
Recently listener Stacy sent us links to two fabulous collections of historical photos. The stories they tell–and the back story of one of the photographers–are just stunning.
Civil War Soldiers
Pvt. Samuel Decker, SP 205, National Museum of Health and Medicine. Pvt. Samuel H. Decker, Company I, 4th US artillery. Double amputation of the forearms for injury caused by the premature explosion of a gun on 8 October 1862, at the Battle of Perryville, KY. Shown with self-designed prosthetics. Photo ID: SP 205. Source Collection: OHA 82 — Surgical Photographs. Repository: National Museum of Health and Medicine, Otis Historical Archives.
The first collection is a sobering visual record of wounded Civil War soldiers. The National Museum of Health and Medicine has posted this collection online.
“From missing fingers and hands to completely amputated legs, the portraits show solemn soldiers posing with what remains of their bodies,” writes Gannon Burgett, the author of this article about the collection. “Some of the portraits were captured by hospitals, as a way of showing how their surgical procedures had turned out; others were commissioned by the soldiers themselves as a memorabilia of sorts.”
It struck me how young some of these soldiers were, and how for many of them, their injuries would have made them unable to earn a living.
Settlers of the American West
In the late 1800s-early 1900s, Solomon Butcher photographed settlers of the Great Plains of the American West. Aware that he was capturing history in the making, he posed settlers in front of their sod homes, with their tools or livestock (and one family with their pump organ). The wide expanse of sky and sun behind these sun-hardened settlers places them squarely in their harsh natural environment.
About 3000 Butcher photographs are now online at the Library of Congress’ American Memory site, one of the only visual records of the settling of the Great Plains, mostly thanks to the generous land ownership terms of the Homestead Act. Most of the photographs are labeled–was your ancestor among them?
The story of the man behind the camera mirrors the outright failures and delayed success of the settling of the West itself. Read his story here and see if you agree with me that the time he knocked himself out trying to save his burning home sort of epitomizes his entire life.
These really are photographs you don’t see every day! Some are grim–but they illustrate the realities of our ancestors’ lives in ways that sometimes the most vivid written descriptions can’t capture. Thanks for sending these links, Stacy!
by Lisa Cooke | Jun 22, 2015 | 01 What's New, African-American, Brick Wall, FamilySearch, images, Records & databases, School Records, United States, Volunteer
The more I learn about U.S. history and records, the more I appreciate the challenges faced by those researching their African-American roots. In addition to the emotional toll of learning about their ancestors’ hardships, today’s researchers face the practical challenges of finding kin in records that mostly ignored their existence.
That’s why I’m super excited that the Freedmen’s Bureau records are finally being fully indexed. Scattered records are already transcribed (see the Freedmen’s Bureau Online). But there hasn’t been a comprehensive index of its 1.5 million state field agency documents. These include military pensions, marriage records, property claims, hospital records, trial summaries, labor contracts, school rolls, registers and censuses. Many of the four million African-Americans freed from slavery are mentioned, as are many white Southerners.
FamilySearch indexers began quietly indexing Freedmen’s Bureau records in 2009: the state of Virginia’s records are already searchable. Last week, in observance of the Juneteenth holiday (which celebrates emancipation), FamilySearch issued a call to action. They asked for help indexing the rest of the Freedmen’s Bureau within the year.
“Records, histories and stories will be available on DiscoverFreedmen.org,” says a release. “Additionally, the records will be showcased in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is currently under construction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and expected to open in late 2016.”
Here’s a quick history lesson: The Freedmen’s Bureau was organized after the Civil War to aid newly-freed slaves in 15 states and Washington, DC. For several years it gathered “handwritten, personal information on freed men, women and children, including marriage and family information, military service, banking, school, hospital and property records,” according to FamilySearch.
The richest genealogical records of the Freedmen’s Bureau are in the field office records of each state. Click here to download a PDF from the National Archives about these original records.
Find more tips on finding African-American and other Southern U.S. ancestors here on the Genealogy Gems website. Recent posts include:
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by Lisa Cooke | Sep 19, 2016 | 01 What's New, African-American, Military, Photographs |
When I’m not at the podcast microphone, you can usually find me on a plane. And on one of those recent flights I had the privilege travelling along side a few of the last of the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII.
The History of the Tuskegee Airmen
The Tuskegee Airmen was the common name given to a group of African-American military pilots who fought in World War II. Before the 1940’s, African-Americans had not been admitted to the U.S. Army Air Corps flight training program. In 1940, this changed with the formation of a segregated unit to train black pilots and ground crews at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
The 996 pilots and more than 15,000 ground crew of the Tuskegee Airmen are credited with over 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses for their service. The Tuskegee Airmen continued flying and fighting until the end of the war in 1945.
Meeting A Tuskegee Airman
After the flight, I collected my luggage and found a spot on the curb outside to wait for my husband to pick me up. It was then I noticed I was standing next to one of the Tuskegee group who was sitting quietly alone waiting for his ride. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him for his service. A warm, friendly grin greeted me from under the Tuskegee baseball cap and we easily fell into conversation.
He explained that a handful of retired Airmen were returning home from a national conference held each year. I also learned, to my great surprise after looking at the patch on his suit coat, that I was speaking with Brigadier General James T. Boddie! Tim (as he likes to be called) is a retired deputy director for operations J-3 of the National Military Command Center and Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C.
Boddie was born in Baltimore in 1931 and graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in 1949, just behind the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII. Later in his career (starting in 1961,) Tim served as the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program commandant of cadets at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama. He also taught military aspects of world political geography and international relations to senior cadets.
When I asked him what some of his most cherished memories were, he didn’t hesitate. Although he has a long and decorated history of service, he fondly reminisced about the young men he has met and assisted along the way. “Our country needs good men now more than ever,” he stated emphatically. He said that he has made it his mission since retiring in 1983 to mentor servicemen in their military careers. He pulled out his smartphone and happily whisked through a series of photographs he had taken with young up-and-coming cadets.
Great! He likes pictures, I thought. There was no flinching when I asked the 85-year-old to take a selfie with me. “Absolutely!” he said enthusiastically as he set down his own smartphone.
Boddie’s face radiated with pride and patriotism, wisdom and strength. This brought my thoughts to the United States heroes who bravely faced peril and sacrificed their lives for our country. Wouldn’t it be stunning to be able to see the faces of our ancestors who fought in the American Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, and the wars that followed? Well, it’s not as unlikely as you might think.
The American Revolutionary War
I didn’t think it was possible to find pictures of the faces of American Revolutionary War heroes, but it is! The pictures are exceptionally rare because few of them lived long enough to have their faces captured on film.
A Utah journalist named Joe Bauman spent three years collecting images of the faces of these veterans. To view his collection of these great men, click here.
The last known Patriots of the American Revolutionary War were John Gray, who died in 1868 and Daniel Frederick Bakeman, who died in 1869. 
See more riveting faces of Revolutionary War veterans in Maureen Taylor’s books The Last Muster: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation and The Last Muster, Volume 2: Faces of the American Revolution
The War of 1812
Sometimes considered the “second war for independence,” the War of 1812 was in part due to the desire for Americans to expand west.
The fighting that originally started between the U.S. and Britain, soon included the American Native tribes. The defeat of the British at the Battle of Tippacanoe convinced many Indians in the Northwest Territory (including the celebrated Shawnee chief Tecumseh) that they needed British support to prevent American settlers from pushing them further out of their lands.
The valiant faces of the this war can be more readily found, perhaps even in your own family history. Many wonderful images can be found by simply Googling War of 1812 Veteran, and then clicking the Images results tab.
Hiram Cronk was the last surviving veteran of the War of 1812 at the time of his death in 1905. He died at the age of 105.
The American Civil War
Did you know that children of American Civil War veterans still live among us? Two such “children” share their fathers’ stories in an article titled “Children of the Civil War Veterans Still Walk Among Us, 150 Years After the War.”
Not only will you find inspiration in the children’s stories, but the stories of many Civil War Veterans who lived to tell their remarkable tales. You can see faces of Civil War veterans in many places online, but the collection of Portraits of Named Civil War Enlisted Men at the Library of Congress is especially moving.
The last known surviving Union Army soldier was Albert Henry Woolson. He died in August 1956. 
Spanish American War
The Spanish American War of 1898 led to the U.S. control of Cuba (who later became an independent nation), Guam, the Philippine Islands, and Puerto Rico. The war only lasted a short 10 weeks.
Whether your ancestors were fighting for the Spanish side or the American side, there are lots of fantastic pictures of our fighting heroes. Check out the 917 pictures of the Spanish American War at GettyImages.com.
World War I
Frank Buckles, August 1917.
The handsome Frank Buckles born in Bethany, Missouri was the last surviving veteran of WWI, dying at 110 years of age. You can see his name among a list of last surviving WWI veterans by country here.
WWI, also known as the Great War, ravaged the European continent for nearly three years before the United States joined their allies to fight in the war. Many of our young men and women lost their lives to serve and protect in the first of two World Wars.
You can enjoy hours of viewing images at the Library of Congress’ digital collection titled World War I in Pictures: An Overview of Prints & Photographs Division Collection.
Remembering Faces of U.S. Military Veterans
I hope my story of meeting Brigadier General James T. Boddie has inspired you to look for the faces of your family’s military veterans. Even if you never find a photograph of your veteran hero, it is important to learn their stories of bravery and sacrifice, both on and off the battlefield.
Do you have a special veteran hero in your family history? We would love to hear about them in the comments below. While you are at it, if you have a picture of your veteran, please post it to our Genealogy Gems Facebook page. We love to hear from you. Thanks for reading, friends!
More Gems on Finding Your Military Veterans
Find Your WWII Ancestors
Be a Hero! 4 Ways to Rescue Military Memories and Artifacts
by Lisa Cooke | Jul 19, 2015 | 01 What's New, Brick Wall, images, Photographs, Research Skills, Technology
The forensic investigator pulls up to the crime scene and snaps a fresh set of rubber gloves. She props open the trunk of the car and carefully, slowly, sweeps a tube of florescent light back and forth inside the trunk, watching with an eagle eye for the glimmer of something that shouldn’t be there.
It’s a familiar scenario – well, that is, if you watch Court TV or CSI or one of the other of myriad of television shows featuring forensics. If you’re like me, you’re fascinated by this type of investigation. Criminal investigators are not all that different from genealogists: they are looking for dead people and trying to find out what happened to dead people.
So it will be be no surprise that this recent news item grabbed my attention:
Image from the National Library of Wales website. Click to view.
Poetry and pictures drawn in the margins of a medieval manuscript–and then erased–have been rediscovered using modern imaging techniques. The Black Book of Carmarthen is the oldest known surviving Welsh language manuscript. Written in 1250, it’s now “throwing up ghosts from the past after new research and imaging work revealed eerie faces and lines of verse which had previously been erased from history,” according to a National Library of Wales blog post.
“A combination of ultraviolet light and photo editing software” were used to better see ancient doodles that had been erased from the margins. The process revealed “images, and snatches of poetry which are previously unrecorded in the canon of Welsh verse.”
We’ve featured several types of forensic analysis as applied to genealogy over the years. In fact, forensic genealogy principles inspired my popular presentation, How to Reopen and Work a Genealogical Cold Case (if you’re a Premium Member of this website you can sign in right now and watch it under Premium Videos).
Criminal investigators are not all that different from genealogists:
they are looking for dead people and trying to find out what happened to dead people.
Genealogy Gems Podcast Episodes 89 and 90 features Dr. Robert Leonard, a forensic linguist featured on an episode of Forensic Files on TV. It was such a riveting interview that I brought him back for Premium episode 48 where his brother Dr. George Leonard joined us. And way back in the pioneer days of this podcast (2008) Episode 18 featured “Vehicular Forensics.”
It was my genealogical take on using alternative light sources on not the trunks of cars, but rather their faded license plates as they appear in old photos. That episode has been “retired” but will soon be remastered and available for listening (stay tuned to the free Genealogy Gems email newsletter for the publication announcement.) In the meantime you can read about it in depth in my very first book Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies.
Have you looked to see what lurks on the pages and photos of your ancestors? Email me and we may share it in an upcoming blog post or episode.