History

Who Was Saint Patrick?

Every March 17, millions of people pause to reflect on their Irish heritage. Conceived as a Saint’s Day in the Catholic Church, Saint Patrick’s Day is now a time of celebration for millions. However, many of us have little knowledge of the man whose name we celebrate.

First of all, Saint Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was a Roman, although born at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton in Scotland, in the year 387. His original name is recorded as Maewyn Succat. His father, Calphurnius, belonged to a Roman family of high rank and held the office of decurio in Gaul or Britain. At the age of sixteen years old, Patrick was carried off into captivity by Irish marauders and was sold as a slave to a chieftain named Milchu in Dalriada, a territory of the present county of Antrim in Ireland. He was soon sold to another chieftain in the area. The future saint spent six years tending his master’s flocks near the modern town of Ballymena. During this time he learned to speak fluent Celtic.

A Glimpse Into the Life of a Slave Sold to Save Georgetown University

The New York Times has published an interesting article by Rachel L. Swarns about the life of a slave who was sold by the Jesuit college, now known as Georgetown University. He was then shipped to Louisiana and would survive slavery and the Civil War. He would live to see freedom and the dawning of the 20th century. One thing is unusual about this man: pictures of him still exist today.

The photos had been stored in the archives of the Ellender Memorial Library at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., not far from where Mr. Campbell was enslaved.

Clifton Theriot, the library’s archivist and interim director, made the connection late last year after stumbling across an article in a genealogical quarterly about the Jesuit slaves who had been shipped to Louisiana. He was startled to see Mr. Campbell’s name listed among them.

Danish National Archives Observes the Centennial of the Transfer of the Danish West Indies (U.S. Virgin Islands)

The Danish National Archives has created a new Web site in commemoration of the March 31, 2017, Centennial observance of Transfer Day, the day on which the Danish West Indies were transferred to the United States of America as the Territory of the Virgin Islands of the United States. The site is available at: https://www.virgin-islands-history.org/en/

Quoting from the announcement:

“All researchers everywhere now have free, online access to over 5 million scanned images (over 8.5 million pages) of original documents, maps and drawings from the records of the Danish West Indies held by the Danish National Archives.

Immigration and National Security in George Washington’s Day

After reading today’s news, it seems strange that Americans and other countries used to actively encourage immigration. In the eighteenth century, it seemed obvious to the leaders of Western countries that population was a key to a nation’s strength.

In fact, there is a complaint in the Declaration of Independence that King George III “has endeavored to prevent the population of these states.” Nine of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were immigrants.

You can read an interesting article by Livia Gershon about immigration in the eighteenth century at: http://bit.ly/2m0EJFx.

Sleuth Along Interstate Highways for Your Ancestors

The thought of your ancestors of 100 or 200 years ago traveling along a modern-day interstate highway may seem amusing as interstate highways didn’t exist until the 1950s. Yet, it is quite possible that your ancestors traveled along the same routes as today’s interstates, plus or minus a very few miles.

Westward migration in the United States usually took place in the path of least resistance: on riverboats where practical or on pathways along rivers when boat travel was not available. In cases where there was no river to follow, overland travel generally went along the path of least resistance, too: through valleys, through mountain passes, and perhaps straight across the flatlands and prairies.

When studying migration patterns throughout history in the United States, we can see hundreds of examples. In New England, the first inland areas to be settled were along the Merrimack River, the Connecticut River, the Penobscot River, and the others.

When High-Class Ladies Wore Masks That Made It Impossible to Speak

Here is a bit of history about some of our ancestors that I had not heard before. For refined, upper-class ladies in 16th-century Europe, getting a tan, especially on your face, was not a good look.

The implication of such coloring was that one must work outside, and thus, quite possibly be poor (cue gasps and swooning faints). So to make sure they didn’t get burned, some 16th-century ladies wore face masks called visards (or vizards) that covered their delicate visages. Unfortunately, the masks also made it so they couldn’t speak. And, look as if they belonged to an evil cult.

You can find this interesting article by Eric Grundhauser in Atlas Obscura at: http://bit.ly/2mppytY.

Stagecoach Mary: the Black Cowgirl

America’s Old West was undoubtedly a Wild West before an ex-slave named Mary Fields arrived in 1885 at a small railroad town in present-day Montana. Yet she certainly made things more interesting.

Miss Fields, who came to be known as “Stagecoach Mary,” stood tall and brawny by even frontier standards, weighing more than 200 pounds. Though she preferred men’s clothes to women’s, beneath her work apron she sometimes packed a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver. She was the only woman the local mayor permitted to drink in the saloons, where she favored hard liquor, smoked black cigars, and didn’t shy from arguments, fistfights, or at least one confirmed duel.

mary_fields

Born a slave in Hickman County, Tennessee, around 1832, Fields was freed when American slavery was outlawed in 1865.

Genealogy in the Days of George Washington

Yvonne Seale has published a bizarre and fanciful piece of genealogical scholarship and what it tells us about identity in late 19th-century America. In the four-hundred-page tome The Pedigree and History of the Washington Family Derived from Odin, the Founder of Scandinavia. B.C. 70, Involving a Period of Eighteen Centuries, and Including Fifty-Five Generations, Down to General George Washington, First President of the United States (1879), Welles created a family tree for Washington of truly mythical proportions, and one which shows just how useful nineteenth-century Americans found the Middle Ages to be when it came to shaping their understandings of their country’s origins.

I’m glad that we have better resources for today’s genealogical studies!

You can read Yvonne Seale’s article at: https://goo.gl/lZB2cC.

My thanks to newsletter reader Kristy L Ostergard for telling me about the article.

Families Torn Apart by Slavery Sought Lost Loved Ones in Newly Archived Ads

The ads are gut-wrenching, such as, “Where is John Person?”

“Ten years have gone by since his mother, Hannah Cole, last saw him. The pain of his disappearance, the mystery of his whereabouts, and the aching question of whether he is alive or dead have driven her to take out an advertisement in the Christian Recorder, seeking an answer.

hannahcolead

“This is the only child I have,” it reads, “and I desire to find him much.”

Coffers, Cauldrons, Comfrey, and Coifs: Lives of our 17th Century Ancestors – A Half-day Course on 25 February

Why do you need a bum roll? What colour were carrots in the 17th century? What did the Cavaliers use for deodorant? Can you think of 47 uses for urine?

Supplying the answers to the above (well maybe not all 47 uses), this presentation is a light-hearted but informative, insight into the domestic life of our 17th century ancestors and what they ate and drank. The emphasis is on providing the context against which to set the documentary evidence for this period.

Oh yes, the presentation by Janet Few, is being made at the Society of Genealogists’ building in London, England. Sounds like fun!

You can read more at: https://goo.gl/aRaapl.

Who Was Saint Valentine?

saint-valentineValentine’s Day is the second most popular holiday to send a card. The Greeting Card Association claims that an estimated one billion cards are sent each year. Yet, most of the people who send the cards have no idea who Saint Valentine was. Even historians cannot agree.

According to some authorities, there were two Valentines. One was a priest and doctor who was martyred in the year 269, and the other was the bishop of Terni, who was brought to Rome to be tortured and executed in 273. Others say it was the same person. Both men (or the same man) have legends attributed to them concerning love and matrimony, legends that may or may not be true.

Early Victorian Photos Featured on new Website

William Henry Fox Talbot in 1864

William Henry Fox Talbot in 1864

The William Henry Fox Talbot Catalogue Raisonné contains the complete corpus of the works of the Victorian inventor of photography on paper. More than 25,000 known surviving Talbot negatives and prints are now online.

The photographs are mostly from Talbot’s home in Wiltshire home of Lacock Abbey as well as from Oxford, Reading, and York (England) and a few from Paris, all taken from 1839 to 1846. In most cases, these are the only known photographs of that era. It should provide the best available views or life in those areas in the 1840s.

The US Presidency & its Irish Connection

John Cunningham, owner of Claddagh Rings, has crated a visual showing the US Presidents who had at least some Irish ancestry. 22 American presidents claim Irish roots which is half of all the 44 presidents up to and including Barack Obama.

You can see the visual at by clicking here.

Depending upon which web browser you use in your computer, you might see it full-sized or it may display as a miniature image. If it is miniature, most web browsers can display it larger by simultaneously pressing CONTROL and the Plus Key several times. Macintosh users will need to press COMMAND and the Plus Key several times.

The History of Groundhog Day

groundhogEvery February 2nd, residents of the United States turn their attention to the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. A group of men in top hats put a groundhog on a log in front of hundreds of people and wait for it to notice or not notice its own shadow. If Phil the groundhog sees his shadow, we’re supposed to have six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see it, winter is supposed to end earlier.

NOTE: A groundhog is also known as a woodchuck. It is a member of the family of rodents known as marmots.

A rodent in Pennsylvania, watched by men in top hats, can tell what the weather will be like for the next several weeks? Sounds strange to me! Actually, it is based upon the traditions of some of our ancestors.

Auschwitz Death Camp: Poland Puts Database of Prison Guards Online

The names of Nazi SS commanders and guards at the Auschwitz death camp in German-occupied Poland have been put online by the country’s Institute of National Remembrance (INR). It has been hailed as the most comprehensive list to date.

These children were photographed by a Red Army soldier on the day the camp was liberated

These children were photographed by a Red Army soldier on the day the camp was liberated

About 9,000 names – nearly all German – are on the Auschwitz garrison list, some with photographs attached.

Today is Thomas Crapper Day!

thomas-crapperThomas Crapper was a plumber in the late 19th century who founded Thomas Crapper & Co. Ltd. in London. He is widely (but erroneously) credited with invention of the flush toilet.

Thomas Crapper’s date of birth is unknown but a record exists of his baptism in Thorne, Yorkshire, on September 28, 1836. He died January 27, 1910 so that date every year is dedicated to his memory because of all he did for England and the rest of the world.

Actually, Crapper did not invent the flushing toilet. It was invented by John Harington in 1596 but it never achieved much success commercially. Most people had never seen a flush toilet until after the 1880s. Crapper improved the design and used his skills as a shrewd businessman and salesperson to make it extremely popular. His company, Thomas Crapper & Co, owned the world’s first bath, toilet and sink showroom, in King’s Road, London, England.

Online eBook: Acadian Culture in Maine

If you have Acadian ancestry, especially those who moved from Acadia to northern Maine, you will want to read a 92-page report on the history and culture of Maine’s upper St. John Valley that is available online free of charge. Acadian Culture in Maine, a 1994 publication of the National Park Service can be found on the web site of the University of Maine at Fort Kent Acadian Archives at http://acim.umfk.maine.edu.

acadian-culture-in-maine

The 1994 print run was limited to 1,000 copies that sold out quickly. The Park Service did not have the necessary funds for a second publication. Now the Park Service has made the book available online at no charge. The result is lower expenses for the National Park Service and a much wider audience for this reference book.

The Acadians featured in this book are those Americans of French descent connected by history to the upper St. John Valley of Maine and New Brunswick, including the descendants of early Acadian settlers of the St. John Valley.

100-year-old Film of the Red Baron (Baron Von Richthofen) is Available Online

Talk about an old film! It’s from 1917, and it’s an up-close and personal look at the most legendary combat pilot who ever lived, the infamous Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen. It shows the Baron preparing for a mission, as well as film of him putting on a flying suit prior to a flight in cold weather. If you look closely you will also see a brief glimpse of Hermann Goering.

The Baron was shot down on 21 April 1918 by Roy Brown of the Royal Navy Air Services, long before it was called the R.A.F.

The Genealogy World of Twenty Years Ago

This week I decided to take a trip down memory lane. I re-read the first 50 issues of this newsletter, all published in 1996. The genealogy world indeed has changed. Here are a few of the more memorable newsletter items from twenty years ago, along with a few comments:

20_years

Only the more advanced computer users in 1996 had state-of-the-art software: Microsoft’s latest operating system, called Windows 95. However, because I was now writing a “techie” newsletter, I purchased a very high-speed system (a 90-Mhz Pentium I) with a huge amount of memory (32 megabytes) so that I could use the latest professional operating system from Microsoft: Windows NT 3.51. During the year, Microsoft also released Internet Explorer version 3.0. Most of the 30 million users of the World Wide Web used Netscape, however. A few used the older Mosaic web browser.

The annual GENTECH conference was held in Plano, Texas, with several hundred attendees.

While at the GENTECH conference, I first saw a GPS unit designed for use by consumers. I saved up my money and purchased my own GPS later in the year. GPS devices certainly have become much more popular in the past twenty years!

Ellis Island Celebrates Its 125th Anniversary

Ellis Island opened as the nation’s main immigrant processing center 125 years ago on Jan. 1. More than 12 million immigrants passed through the gates of the processing center. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation says nearly half of all Americans can trace their family roots to a person who passed through Ellis Island.

ellis-island-immigrants

The 27.5-acre island, part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, no longer serves as a port of entry for new arrivals but it does greet about 2 million visitors a year, according to its website.

You can read more in an article by Karen Yi at http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2017/01/ellis_island_anniversary.html.