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.

Electric Cars… of the 1890s and Early 1900s

What goes around comes around. Are you dreaming of purchasing a Tesla or some other all-electric automobile? Your great-great-grandfather might approve of your following in his footsteps.

Here are a few examples of early electric automobiles that may have been purchased by our ancestors:


1902 Studebaker electric automobile

She Went to College to Study Anthropology and Found Her Slave Ancestors Nearby

This story seems ironic although I doubt if it is the first time something like this happened. Michelle Taylor recently graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University. Like millions of other people, Taylor started researching her own ancestry. She was surprised to not only find dusty old records, but to even visit the cabin where her ancestor, freed slave George Gilmore, lived. He was a man who had been enslaved by James Madison at Montpelier, about 30 miles northwest of her school.

You can read the full story in an article by Moriah Balingit in the Washington Post at https://goo.gl/7tbo5H.

Hitler’s UK Hit List Translated into English to Mark 75Th Anniversary of Battle of Britain

The following announcement was written by Forces War Records:

Inspiration for James Bond was on Nazi death list
List unveiled online on Battle of Britain Day, 15 September

The Black Book front cover (translation: ‘Top Secret!’) Photo credit: ©IWM (041820) Die Sonderfahndungsliste

To mark 15 September, Battle of Britain Day (its 75th anniversary), a remarkable historical record can be viewed in English – and online – for the first time. Known as Hitler’s Black Book listing ‘enemies of the state, traitors and undesirables, marked for punishment or death’, it has been painstakingly translated from the original German by specialist military genealogy website Forces War Records. It documents 2,820 of the Reich’s ‘most wanted’ people in Britain, for targeting following invasion. The entire digital Black Book can be seen and searched, free, on (www.forces-war-records.co.uk). There are many notables within the collection: probable and improbable politicians, intelligensia, even entertainers.

One further person on the hitlist however is a little known hero that the website’s historians, while researching the reasons WHY each had been named, believe was the inspiration for James Bond. If he had been killed, the series may never have been written. ‘Britain’s Schindler’ who saved 10,000 Jews from the Holocaust, is also named.

‘The real 007’

Conrad Fulke Thomond O’Brien-ffrench Photo: Wiki Commons

‘The real 007’, the wonderfully named Conrad Fulke Thomond O’Brien-ffrench, was a dashing and courageous spy who, for a dangerous few [weeks/months] was friendly with Bond creator, Ian Fleming.

The Greatest Reign in British History

A historic milestone has been reached. The following was written by the Guild of One-Name Studies:

Queen ElizabethOn the 9th September 2015, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth became the longest-serving monarch in British History, moving past the 63 years and 216 days of her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria’s reign. The Guild of One-Name Studies wishes to congratulate the Queen on this remarkable milestone in her reign.

Longest serving British monarchs

The ten longest serving British monarchs are:

British Movietone Digital Archives Online

Quoting from the Movietone web site: “British Movietone is arguably the world’s greatest newsreel archive, spanning the period 1895 – 1986. Shot on 35mm film, this global archive contains many of the world’s enduring images and is rich in coverage of news events, celebrities, sports, music, social history, science, lifestyle and quirky. It was the first newsreel to include sound, the first to use colour film, the first to break many exclusive stories, and is your first and last stop for newsreel footage. The collection is fully digitized and now available from AP Archive.

The web site allows the user to search:

Oklahoma School Replaces Chalkboards, Finds 98 Year Old Drawings and Lessons Hidden Behind Them

When contractors began work on four classrooms of Emerson High School in Oklahoma, they knew their remodel would improve education — but they never expected it would impact local history. Looking to upgrade the rooms with new whiteboards and smartboards, the workers had to first remove the outdated chalkboards. But when they began to pull away the old boards, they made a startling discovery. Beneath the current boards rested another set of chalkboards — untouched for nearly 100 years.

Protected and totally undisturbed, the century-old writings and drawings looked like they were made just yesterday. Here, a November calendar rolls into December. A turkey marks the celebration of Thanksgiving. This was a snapshot in time.

Jamestown Discovery: Graves of Four Founders Unearthed

Archaeologists working to excavate the earliest European settlement on Jamestown Island have discovered the graves of four of the men believed to have founded English America. The graves were discovered beneath what was the chancel — an area usually reserved for clergy — of the first church on the island, which stood from 1608 to 1616.

Those buried are believed to be:

Rare African American Family Photo Albums Give Glimpse of 19th Century Albany, NY

The Arabella Chapman Project provides two photo albums assembled by an African American woman and her family in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The pages are filled with layers of family, community, and politics. Assembled in Albany, NY and North Adams, MA — tintype, carte-de-visite, and snap shot images — Arabella Chapman’s albums tell histories both intimate and epic.

Black Americans, including Arabella’s family and neighbors, sat for and then assembled their own images, crafting counter-narratives that challenged a rising tide of racism. At the same time, in their images are a politics of pleasure. From careful sartorial choices in formal portraits to rare scenes of leisure, the Chapman albums provide us an intimate glimpse into how black Americans embodied the lived pleasure of everyday life.

The Viking Discovery of North America

Despite what you learned in grade school, Christopher Columbus and his crew were not the first Europeans to land in North America. In fact, many Europeans probably preceded Columbus. Some even stayed for a while and settled in. One of the better documented European villages may be found at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland.

Some time around 1000 A.D., Norsemen landed on Newfoundland, where they set up a small village. Though this inhospitable spit of land would eventually come to be populated by Canadians, its original inhabitants were forgotten until one day in 1960, when an explorer, an archaeologist, and a nurse were visiting the remote community of L’Anse aux Meadows.


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