The SS United States has been saved from the Scrapyard

This story isn’t genealogy-related but it does describe history. Besides, I think I think it is a wonderful turn of events.


The SS United States Conservancy announced Tuesday that it has received more than $600,000 in donations to keep the SS United States from being sold for scrap metal, after the nonprofit revealed in early October that it was running out of funding to maintain it and was exploring its sale.

Looking for Descendants of the Orphan Train Riders

2015SBAGSOrphanTrain-smallerFrom the 1850s until the 1900s the Children’s Aid Society’s orphan trains brought children to families in the Midwest. During the early years, Indiana received the largest number of children.

If you are descended from one of the orphan train riders, at the program the South Bend Area Genealogical Society would like the opportunity to recognize you and honor your ancestor’s experience.

You can read more about the South Bend Area Genealogical Society’s meeting in the poster to the right. Click on the image to view a larger version.

Menus of the 1850s and 1860s

The Hilton College of the University of Houston’s Hospitality Industry Archives includes a wonderful selection of menus from the 1850s and 1860s. It is interesting to see that our ancestors’ food choices were quite different from what we might choose today. My favorite is shown below. (Click on the image to view a larger version.)


Was the First Thanksgiving Held in Florida?

Did the first Thanksgiving held in the New World happen in Saint Augustine, Florida on September 8, 1565? One person with significant credentials in history claims Thanksgiving started decades before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

“The first Thanksgiving that involved a feast and lots of local food and inviting the local people, the Timacuan Indians here in St. Augustine to be part of it, and that’s our Thanksgiving,” says Kathleen Deagan, Ph.D., the distinguished research curator emerita at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida. “Most of us associate our early history and our founders of the English colonies of Jamestown and of Plymouth, and really the first settlement was here in St. Augustine in 1565.”

Dr. Deagan continues, “It never ceases to astonish people the first thanksgiving meal was smoked meat and fish. Ham. Garbanzo beans. Red Wine. Olives and Olive oil. There wasn’t any corn as far as we know, no turkeys, no mashed potatoes, no pecan pie for sure!”

The Origins of the Melungeons

Melungeon_family“Melungeon” is a term applied to many people of the Southeastern United States, mainly in the Cumberland Gap area of central Appalachia: East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and East Kentucky. The most common adjective used to describe the Melungeons is “mysterious;” no one seems to know where the Melungeons originated. The Melungeons often did not fit into any of the racial categories that define an individual or group within American society; their neighbors considered them neither white, black, nor Indian.

The Melungeons appear to be of mixed ancestry, and contradictory claims about the origins of these people have existed for centuries. Most modern-day descendants of Melungeon families are generally Caucasian in appearance, often, although not always, with dark hair and eyes, and a swarthy or olive complexion. Descriptions of Melungeons vary widely from observer to observer, from “Middle Eastern” to “Native American” to “light-skinned African American.”

Harvard’s Digital Portrait of Colonial Life

Harvard University has launched a new website called the Colonial North American Project. It includes 150,000 images of diaries, journals, notebooks, and other rare documents from the 17th and 18th centuries. Many more documents are planned to be added in the coming months.


Part of the University’s endeavor to digitize all its collections and make them available free of charge, the Colonial North American Project contains material scattered throughput 12 repositories — from Houghton Library to the Harvard University Archives to Loeb Music Library. When complete, the project will make available to the world digitized images of all known archival and manuscript materials in the Harvard Library that relate to 17th and 18th century North America. These documents reveal a great deal about topics such as social life, education, trade, finance, politics, revolution, war, women, Native American life, slavery, science, medicine, and religion.

Think Your Immigrant Ancestors Came Here Legally? Think Again.

An article by Brian Donohue, recently re-published in the NJ.com web site, will interest many genealogists, especially in light of the political issues in the Presidential campaigns that are receiving a lot of publicity lately. Donahue points out that a high percentage of America’s immigrants have arrived illegally for the past 150 years or more. Most of them stayed, raised families, and the immigrants and their descendants have contributed greatly to America’s industrial might, military strength, culture, and more.


Donohue writes:

“The images burned into our brains of previous immigration waves come largely from newsreels and photos of immigrants disembarking at Ellis Island, one at a time, orderly, legally.

“There’s one problem with the argument. It’s utter hogwash.”

Booze in Colonial America

“Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Wine is necessary for life.” – Thomas Jefferson

“My manner of living is plain…a glass of wine and a bit of mutton.” – George Washington


According to many historians, the American Revolution was built on a foundation of booze. Our ancestors imbibed frequently, often every day. It is estimated that there were more taverns per capita than any other business in colonial America. In fact, the Colonial Williamsburg web site says:

Colonial Americans, at least many of them, believed alcohol could cure the sick, strengthen the weak, enliven the aged, and generally make the world a better place. They tippled, toasted, sipped, slurped, quaffed, and guzzled from dawn to dark.

Rediscovered Leather Trunk Contains Thousands of Letters From the 17th Century

Talk about the Dead Letter Office! A 300-year-old linen-lined trunk filled with over 2,600 letters that were mailed out—but never received—between the years 1680 and 1706 has recently been discovered in The Hague, Netherlands. The extraordinary collection contains letters from all manner of society, including aristocrats, merchants, lovers, actors, musicians, and even spies. At least 600 of the 2,600 letters have never even been opened. Historians are now taking a closer look.


NYPL’s Early American Manuscripts Project

EarlyAmericanManuscriptsProjectHere is a valuable online resource for genealogists, historians, students, and probably many others as well. The New York Public Library is currently digitizing upwards of 50,000 pages of historic early American manuscript material.

Quoting from the Project’s web site: “…to revisit major political events of the era from new perspectives and to explore currents of everyday social, cultural, and economic life in the colonial, revolutionary, and early national periods. The project will present on-line for the first time high quality facsimiles of key documents from America’s Founding, including the papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Drawing on the full breadth of the Library’s manuscript collections, it will also make widely available less well-known manuscript sources, including business papers of Atlantic merchants, diaries of people ranging from elite New York women to Christian Indian preachers, and organizational records of voluntary associations and philanthropic organizations. Over the next two years, this trove of manuscript sources, previously available only at The Library, will be made freely available through www.nypl.org.”

14,000 Images of the French Revolution Released Online

Exécution capitale à l'aide d'une guillotineThe French Revolution Digital Archive, a partnership between Stanford University and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, was announced last week with some 14,000 high-resolution images.

The site contains both resources for the dedicated scholar and fascinating material for the everyday history buff, from prints depicting the events of 1789 to records of parliamentary deliberations and private letters. FRDA is the result of a multi-year collaboration of the Stanford University Libraries and the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) to produce a digital version of the key research sources on the French Revolution and make them available to the international scholarly community. The archive is based around two main resources, the Archives parlementaires, and a vast corpus of images first brought together in 1989 and known as the Images de la Revolution française. As an online database the archive is now searchable in a multitude of ways providing scholars new ways to conduct research and making it easier for any user to explore this pivotal moment in the history of France, and, indeed, the world.

You can access the French Revolution Digital Archive at http://frda-stage.stanford.edu.

Historians Searching for Information About Victorian Criminals

Historians have been handed hundreds of mugshots of Victorian criminals. Now, armed only with the pictures and names, they are searching for the stories behind the stares, putting a crime to the face. Each image shows the arrested individual with their name written in chalk either on a board held in front of them or, in later years, on a slate above their heads. The later pictures also feature the arrested with hands raised to the chest to capture any identifying marks, tattoos or missing digits, and a mirror to reflect their profile. However, none of the entries give any identifying information about the people in the photographs nor is there any information about their crimes.

Wait a minute, is that great-great-uncle Harry on the left in that picture?

In Memory: Ancestry Launches Historic WWII Canadian Records Collection and Offers FREE Access November 6 to November 11

The following announcement was written by the folks at Ancestry.ca:

Digitized records detail the brave service of more than 29,000 Canadian soldiers killed in action in WWII

Detailed new collection includes attestation forms, medical history forms and correspondence to family members back in Canada

Records of Canadian Military heroes John Robert Osborn, Samuel Moses Hurwitz and David Hornell help shed light on these brave soldiers during WWII

Ancestry is offering free online access to its entire collection of global military records from November 6 to November 11


TORONTO, Nov. 5, 2015 – As Canada prepares to pay tribute to the men and women who have fought and died for our country this Remembrance weekend, Ancestry, the world’s largest online family history resource, has launched a key collection of detailed records pertaining to fallen soldiers from the Second World War.

170,000 Great Depression Images Are Now Online

In the 1930s, the U.S. government sent photographers to all the states to capture America “at her most vulnerable.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s team wanted a record of what was going on — and images of real lives and struggles to help rally support for his New Deal policies. Over 170,000 images were taken.

Yale University and the Library of Congress have just made the entire collection available online on a site called Photogrammar at http://photogrammar.yale.edu.

I found the interactive map at Photogrammar to be very useful. The map plots the approximately 90,000 photographs that have geographical information. (Not all of the 170,000 photos taken included geographical information so only those with the information could be indexed.) The interactive map allows the user to customize the search by photographer, date, and place.

The picture shown above is from Fort Kent, Maine. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Witches in Your Family Tree

This is the time of year for ghosts, goblins, and other such superstitions. However, perhaps it is also a time to pause and reflect on the horrors of those who suffered in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. The witches of Salem and nearby towns probably have hundreds of thousands of present-day descendants. If you have ancestry from early Essex County, Massachusetts, you have an excellent chance of finding a connection to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

Circa 1692, The trial of George Jacobs for witchcraft at the Essex Institute in Salem, Massachusetts. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

Circa 1692, The trial of George Jacobs for witchcraft at the Essex Institute in Salem, Massachusetts. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

Salem, Massachusetts, and the surrounding towns in Essex County were amongst the first settled in this country. Most of the towns were established prior to 1640. By the time of the witchcraft trials of 1692, a complete legal system of courts and clerks was well established. Records were written, and many of them have been preserved. Even if your ancestors are not among those accused, it is quite possible that you can find them mentioned as witnesses, those who gave depositions, or perhaps even those who served on a jury.

Not a Wise Decision

Perhaps this should be used as an example of stupid business decisions:

Western_Union_TelegraphIn 1876, Western Union had a monopoly on the telegraph, the world’s most advanced communications technology of the time. As a result, Western Union was one of America’s richest and most powerful companies, “with $41 million in capital and the pocketbooks of the financial world behind it.”

Gardiner Greene Hubbard, a wealthy Boston businessman representing a young inventor, approached Western Union with an offer to to sell the patent for a new invention Hubbard had helped to fund. The new patent would help Western Union add another product to the company’s business. Hubbard was asking for $100,000 for the patent.

William Orton, president of the Western Union Telegraph Company, turned down the offer.

Drought Makes Colonial-era Church Reappear

I guess there are some good benefits to a drought. It seems that a drought allows us to study a bit of history.

The ruins of a huge 16th Century church have emerged from a reservoir in Mexico. A lack of rain in the southern state of Chiapas has meant the water level has dropped by 25m (75ft).

Billy the Kid Photograph Purchased for $2, Should Sell for $5 Million

Check your attic. You might have a valuable photograph there amongst the old photos you haven’t looked at in ages. A rare photo of legendary outlaw Billy the Kid, purchased in 2010 in a bunch of old photos for $2, could now fetch $5 million.

Billy the Kid is shown on the left in the above photograph taken in 1878.

Christopher Columbus was Not the First: the Story of the The Westford Knight and other Early Explorers

Schoolchildren have been taught for years that Columbus discovered America. This “discovery” suggests he was the first European to land in the Western Hemisphere. Sadly, that statement isn’t true. In fact, dozens of others may have made the trip before 1492.

There is speculation that Brendan the Navigator sailed from Ireland to North America sometime between AD 512–530. Others believe the Polynesians were in South America prior to 1000 AD. Other claims of early travels to the Americas include Arab merchants as mentioned in a Chinese story first written in 1178 AD.

Yale Places 170,000 Photographs From 1935 to 1945 Online

Yale University had posted online 170,000 Library of Congress photographs taken in the United States from 1935 to 1945. The photos come from all over the U.S., and can be accessed with this easy-to-use interactive map. They also used the original captions allowing the viewer to get an honest feel for the time period.

No guarantees but you might find one of your ancestors in this series of photographs. You can start at http://photogrammar.yale.edu/map.


The above photograph is from Caribou, Maine in 1940.


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