History

Remember the Fluoroscope?

Here is a walk down memory lane for anyone old enough to remember the fluoroscope, an x-ray device that was available in thousands of shoe stores worldwide. It also had several proprietary names, including the Pedoscope, X-ray Shoe Fitter, and the Foot-o-scope.

Fluoroscopes were once a common sight in shoe stores. Thousands of the devices were installed in the mid-20th century. Eventually, customers, shoe salespeople, and medical authorities alike finally realized that a shoe store isn’t the best place for a boxful of radioactive isotopes.

I well remember my mother taking me to Reed’s Footwear and Clothing store where we and Bill Reed (the owner of the store) all looked at live x-ray images of my feet inserted into new shoes in the store to see if the shoes fit properly or not.

The History of Memorial Day

Monday in the United States is Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who died in our nation’s service. The origins of this day of remembrance are in doubt, with more than two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women’s groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War.

Graves at Arlington on Memorial Day

Originally called Decoration Day, the holiday was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic: “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

It is believed that the end of May was chosen for the first Memorial Day because ” flowers would be in bloom all over the country.”

OpenSFHistory is an Online Archive of more than 50,000 Historic Images of San Francisco and the Bay Area

OpenSFHistory, an online archive of over 50,000 historic images of San Francisco and the Bay Area, recently launched a project to integrate modern-day S.F. with its historic past. With walking tours halted and most historic sites closed, the folks behind the site are hoping their “guerrilla history posters” will give residents a little entertainment and education.

Church and 22nd as it appeared in June of 1916. The construction of the J-Church line can be seen on the right.

10 Letters We Dropped From The Alphabet

In my earlier article, How Do You Pronounce “Ye”?, available at https://blog.eogn.com/2020/05/12/how-do-you-pronounce-ye-2/, I discussed the thorn, a letter that used to be in the English alphabet (and in the alphabets of several other European languages) but has since been dropped and is no longer used (except it is still popular in the Icelandic language).

In the article, I wrote, “Yes, the letter thorn was one of the 27 (or more) letters of the English alphabet back in the Middle Ages.” Now a YouTube video explains the many lost letters that no longer exist in the modern English alphabet.

How Do You Pronounce “Ye”?

 

Many of us have encountered “ye” in old documents. Of course, we have all seen tourists shops labeled as “ye olde” something-or-other. How many of us know how to pronounce that?

For years, I assumed it was pronounced as it was written. I would pronounce it as “Yee Old.” I was a bit surprised later to learn that I had been wrong. Instead, The words above are correctly pronounced, “The Old English.”

What looks like a “y” is a written character deriving from the old English letter, “thorn,” representing the “th” sound. No, it is not the letter “y,” it is the letter thorn.

Virginia Beach Man Finds a Receipt for the Sale of Four Slaves in 1858. He Now Wants to Find Their Descendants.

About 15 or 20 years ago, Andy Ott, as typical, bought a couple of volumes from an antique store. As typical, a folded piece of paper remained stuck in its pages. One side of the light blue paper contained a perfunctory notation: “Bill of Sale from Daniel Fisher. $1300”

The other side contained a passage that still haunts Ott.

How They Tried to Curb Spanish Flu Pandemic in 1918

Many of our ancestors had an experience in 1918 that is remarkably similar to what we are experiencing today: a raging worldwide pandemic, face masks, stay-at-home isolation requirements, politicians who ignored the problem for far too long, hospitals that were quickly overwhelmed, bogus claims of “cures” that didn’t work, and more. Perhaps we should study history in order to make sure it doesn’t repeat or to (hopefully) reduce the impact of today’s Covid-19 pandemic.

Click on this image to view a much higher resolution version.

The event our ancestors went through is now called the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 and 1919. In fact, there is one overpowering need to study the history of the Spanish Flu: after the pandemic of 1918 started dying down, a second wave of the disease, in the autumn of 1918, proved to be far more deadly than the first. By studying history, we may be able to avoid a second wave of the Covid-19 disease that is “far more deadly than the first.”

Spending a Lot of Time at Home? Take the Archive Challenge and Help Preserve History!

Here is an excellent challenge from the American Folklife Center, as described in the Library of Congress web site:

At the American Folklife Center, we know it’s been hard for those of you who are cooped up at home in order to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Most of the staff live in areas under stay-at-home orders, and have been working from home for weeks. And although some cities and states are starting to open up a little, we have a feeling it will be a while before we’re going out to concerts, theaters, jams, or open mics to perform or enjoy live music and performing arts.

Billy Bragg took the Archive Challenge in 2017!

But guess what? At the Library of Congress, we have an amazing online archive of folk music and folklife which you can explore right from home, and we’d like to offer a suggestion: why not learn a song, tune, poem, or story from the archive, make a recording or video of yourself performing it, and post it online? Or make a work of art based on one of our photos, or write a story or poem based on our materials. We’d love to see what you come up with! Folks from all genres and creators of all art forms are invited to interpret a field recording, video, photo, or manuscript from the AFC Archive. You don’t need to be a professional in order to participate!

Findmypast Launch Vast New Photographic Collection in Celebration of VE Day 2020

The following announcement was written by Findmypast:

    • Findmypast publish new online photographic archive in partnership with the UK’s largest news publisher Reach plc
    • Over 10,000 original images from WWII, many which have never been published before, will offer vivid new insights into a nation at war
    • The Findmypast Photo collection will scale over the coming years to include millions of images taken between 1904 – 2000, covering all aspects of British life ranging from sports, education, places of work and daily life to politics, national and local events
    • The collection is now available for anyone to search for free from May 8th to May 15th, in celebration of VE Day 2020

Leading family history website, Findmypast, has announced the launch of a ground-breaking new project in partnership with Reach plc. 

Digitised and published online for the first time as a complete standalone collection in celebration of VE Day 2020, the Findmypast Photo collection is made up of more than 10,000 original images from Reach’s archives. Managed through Reach PLC’s content licensing agency, Mirrorpix, this huge vault of press photography dates from the earliest years of the 20th Century up to the present day and is one of most significant photographic records of British history in the world.

A van-load of beer passing through Piccadilly Circus. The expression of some of the men sitting on top suggest they have tasted a drop. 8 May 1945.

What Really Happened to the 1890 U.S. Census?

On January 10, 1921, a major fire broke out in the U.S. Commerce Building in Washington, D.C. The fire department responded quickly, but the building was already ablaze when the firemen arrived. A crowd of about ten thousand people quickly gathered and watched the flames and the efforts of the fire department.

Due to heavy smoke, the firemen were unable to get close to the flames. The firemen eventually chopped holes in the floor of the building and simply dumped in thousands of gallons of water, drenching everything below. Of course, “everything” included millions of paper records of the 1890 U.S. Census.

Hundreds of stories have been published over the years about the tragic loss by fire of the U.S. 1890 Census. Almost all genealogists studying ancestry in the United States are aware of the story. Indeed, most of the hundreds of published stories have been more or less accurate, although brief. Many details have been ignored. It is obvious, but rarely mentioned, that bureaucratic mismanagement was a major factor in the loss of the records. One fact has always been clear, however: the records of 63 million people were lost. Indeed, this was a loss of a significant piece of United States history.

Surprisingly, not all the records were destroyed.

Isle of Man Online Newspaper Archive Made Free During Corona Virus Outbreak

Thousands of Isle of Man newspapers dating from 1792 to 1960 have been made available online for free during the coronavirus outbreak. Manx National Heritage (MNH) has suspended its subscription charge to view the items.

The digital collection features about 450,000 pages of newsprint and can be accessed through the iMuseum at https://www.imuseum.im/newspapers/.

Browsing Through the Salem Witch Trial Documents

Anyone interested in the Salem Witch Trials should look at the huge collection of digitized documents about the Trials that are available on the University of Virginia web site. No, I don’t know why documents from Salem, Massachusetts are on a Virginia web site, but I certainly am glad they are.

NOTE: I found this site useful because I had two ancestors who were slightly involved in the Salem Witch Trials. They were witnesses who testified that their long-time neighbor, who had been accused of witchcraft, never exhibited any “witch-like” actions and that my ancestors doubted the neighbor was practicing witchcraft. If you have ancestors who were in Salem in 1692 and 1693, you might find information about their lives that will be difficult to obtain elsewhere.

Quoting from the web site’s introduction:

How the Telephone Failed its Big Test During 1918’s Spanish Flu Pandemic

This 102-year-old pandemic sounds a lot like today’s problems. From an article by Harry MaCracken in the FastCompany web site:

Being cooped up at home during a pandemic is not fun. But in 2020, it doesn’t involve being disconnected from the outside world. Actually, thanks to the internet, the greater risk is that you might end up feeling overwhelmed by information.

Now rewind 102 years to the outbreak of the so-called Spanish flu of 1918. In many ways, the upshot was eerily similar to our current conundrum. Local directives shut down everything from kindergartens to saloons; quarantines kept people out of work and away from friends and family. Nobody talked about implementing “social distancing” out of “an abundance of caution,” but they practiced it in spades.

And one piece of technology promised to help life go on: the telephone.

Coping with Quarantine in a Pre-Digital Era

The Times [Seymour, IN], October 8, 1918, accessed Newspapers.com.

Staying at home because of the CoronaVirus’ self-isolation policies is certainly unpleasant for many people. However, we are not the first to be quarantined. An article by Nicole Poletika in the Indiana State Library web site shows similarities (and differences) between what we are experiencing today versus what our ancestors endured.

The article focuses on the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 and 1919. It had many similarities to today’s CoronaVirus but with one major exception: the Spanish flu epidemic was more deadly than today’s CoronaVirus.

Quoting from the article:

The [Spanish] flu struck Fort Benjamin Harrison in September of 1918 and by October 6, U.S. public health service officials mandated a statewide quarantine for Indiana and most other states. Making us grateful for the immediacy of Apple News and Google Alerts, state board officials at the time spread the news by dispatching telegrams to board secretaries in every county, ordering them to “immediately close all schools, churches, theaters, amusements of all kinds, and to put a ban on all public meetings and gatherings.” The order initially exempted factories, “business houses,” and restaurants, and limited confectionaries’ services.

Last Survivor of the U.S. Transatlantic Slave Trade Discovered

There may be people alive today who remember this woman! Matilda McCrear lived until 1940 – the last survivor of the transatlantic slave trade. Matilda died in Selma, Alabama, in January 1940, at the age 83 – and her rebellious life story was the last living link with slaves abducted from Africa.

Matilda had been captured by slave traders in West Africa at the age of two, arriving in Alabama in 1860 on board one of the last transatlantic slave ships. With her mother Grace, and sister Sallie, Matilda had been bought by a wealthy plantation owner called Memorable Creagh.

You can read the full story in an article by Sean Coughlan in the BBC News web site at: https://www.bbc.com/news/education-52010859.

The Coronavirus is New, But Not Much Different from Viruses Suffered by Our Ancestors

The news stories these days are full of articles about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) infections. I won’t repeat them here, but I will point out that this is nothing new. Our ancestors frequently suffered with similar and often much worse epidemics.

About a month ago, before the Coronavirus had become much of a problem in the US, I published a Plus Edition article entitled Epidemics. In the introduction, I wrote:

“Our ancestors lived in fear of epidemics, and many of them died as the result of simple diseases that could be cured today with an injection or a prescription.

“If you ever wondered why a large number of your ancestors disappeared during a certain period in history, you may want to investigate the possibility of an epidemic. Many cases of people disappearing from records can be traced to dying during an epidemic or moving away from the affected area.”

You can read that article at https://eognplus.com/2020/02/24/epidemics/. A Plus Edition user name and password are required to read it.

Of course, one of the more recent epidemics (“only” 102 years ago) was the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1920. It infected 500 million people around the world, or about 27% of the world population of between 1.8 and 1.9 billion. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history. Some historians and epidemiologists have theorized that the flu originated in Kansas while others believe it started in the close quarters of the trenches and military encampments of World War I. Whatever the origins, the Spanish Flu quickly spread worldwide.

A Cold Case: Thanks to Genealogy and a Persistent Forensic Pathologist, a Previously Unknown Woman’s Body has now been Identified and Buried after 99 Years

From a story by Catherine Lee in the BBC News web site:
“Mamie Stuart’s dismembered body was discovered in 1961 in an abandoned lead mine in Wales, 42 years after her family last heard from her.
“Last year, her great-niece found out Ms Stuart’s remains had been stored in a cupboard in a Cardiff forensic laboratory for almost 60 years.
“She has now been laid to rest alongside her parents in Sunderland.

Newly-Digitized Confederate Slave Payrolls Shed Light on Lives of 19th Century African American Families

From the (U.S.) National Archives News:

“For all of March 1862, a man named Ben cooked for the Confederate military stationed at Pinners Point, VA, earning 60 cents a day that would go to his owner.

“A few months later and 65 miles away, Godfrey, Willis, and Anthony worked on ‘obstructions of the Appomattox River’ at Fort Clifton.

“Then there were Grace, Silvia, and Bella, among several women listed as laborers at South Carolina’s Ashley Ferry Nitre Works in April 1864, near the names of children like Sarah, Eugenia and Sampson.

“They are single lines, often with no last name, on paper yellowed but legible after 155 years, among thousands scrawled in loping letters that make up nearly 6,000 Confederate Slave Payroll records, a trove of Civil War documents digitized for the first time by National Archives staff in a multiyear project that concluded in January.

Historic Migration Patterns Are Written in Americans’ DNA

Genetic, geographic, and demographic data from more than 30,000 Americans reveal more genetic diversity within ancestry groups than previously thought.

The following is a press release written by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard:

Studies of DNA from ancient human fossils have helped scientists to trace human migration routes around the world thousands of years ago. But can modern DNA tell us anything about more recent movements, especially in an ancestrally diverse melting pot like the United States?

To find out, researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) analyzed data provided by more than 32,000 Americans as part of the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project. This project, launched in 2005, asked Americans to provide their DNA along with their geographic and demographic data, including birth records and family histories, to learn more about human migration.

Sangerville, Maine: the Town of Two Knights

Subtitle: What do the inventor of the machine gun, a King of England, an America/Canadian/Bahamian multi-millionaire, a Nazi financier, and “Lucky” Luciano have in common with a tiny town in central Maine?

Introduction: This article is a radical departure from my usual writings. It concerns two men, both from the same small town, both of whom left as young men, both of whom became very wealthy, and both of whom were knighted by a King or Queen of England. There is very little information about genealogy here although there is a lot of history in this article.

I hope you enjoy these stories.

Dick Eastman

Knighthood cannot be granted to American citizens. Under the British system, citizens of countries that do not have the King or Queen as England’s head of state may have honors conferred upon them, in which case the awards are “honorary.” In the case of knighthoods, the holders are entitled to place initials behind their names but may not use the word “Sir” in front of their names. The only way for an American to become an officially recognized knight of the British Empire and to use the title of “Sir” is to renounce his American citizenship and to become a naturalized citizen of a country that considers the Queen as their head of state (I say “his” and “Sir” because the vast majority of knights are male; it’s been rare that a woman has received the title). Such countries would include Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and perhaps more.

Several Americans have done just that and have become knights. Strangely, one tiny town in central Maine has produced no less than two such knights. Even stranger, each of these knights has been surrounded by mystery and intrigue. One of them was even murdered while in bed, reportedly because he was involved in international intrigue in the midst of World War II. His murderer was never identified or apprehended.

How did the tiny town of Sangerville, Maine, produce two such mysterious sons who both left town to seek successfully their fortunes, both to later be knighted by the King or Queen of England? What caused them both to become embroiled in controversy? Perhaps it was the water. More likely, it was the chafing constraints of life in a small town in northern New England. Both men left to better themselves.

The stories of each of these men sound like mystery novels.