History

Beware of Paraskevidekatriaphobia

friday-the-13thToday is Friday the 13th this week. For many people, this means an attack of paraskevidekatriaphobia or a fear of Friday the thirteenth. Paraskevidekatriaphobia is derived from the Greek words Paraskeví (Παρασκευή, meaning “Friday”), and dekatreís (δεκατρείς, meaning “thirteen”).

The origins of this fear are are not well known, but several theories exist. One claim is that it originates from the story of Jesus’ last supper and crucifixion in which there were 13 individuals present in the Upper Room on the 13th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, known to Christians as Maundy Thursday, the night before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion on Good Friday. While there is evidence of both Friday and the number 13 being considered unlucky, there is no record of the two items being referred to as especially unlucky in conjunction before the 19th century.

Other theories abound as well.

The Disappearing Story of the Black Homesteaders who Pioneered the West

An article by Richard Edwards in the Washington Post tells of a significant piece of American history that is in danger of disappearing. The once vibrant African American homesteading communities are now falling to ruin, their locations are mostly unmarked, and the achievements of their pioneers are mostly forgotten.

Edwards writes:

“These places are precious not just to descendants but to all Americans, and their loss is a national shame. The homesteading story is usually told as one of white Americans’ westward movement. But the 1862 Homestead Act had no racial restrictions, and after the 1866 Civil Rights Act clarified that black Americans were citizens, they too were entitled to 160 acres of public land if they paid a modest fee and lived on the property continuously for five years.

Past Predictions about the Future of Electricity

On March 29, 1879, a widely circulated newspaper called the American Register published a scathing editorial stating that “it is doubtful if electricity will ever be [widely] used” because it was too expensive to generate.

Several months later, the Select Committee on Lighting and Electricity in the British House of Commons held hearings on electricity, with experts stating that there was not “the slightest chance” that the world would run on electric power generation. In 1879, electricity was still considered an expensive fantasy.

Thomas Edison contradicted those statements a few months later, on New Years Eve. Edison publicly unveiled his incandescent light bulb in Menlo Park. At the time he allegedly stated “We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.”

London Blitz: Where the Bombs Fell

File this under “History.” A new web site takes information about 43,000 casualties and more than 50,000 tons of high-explosive bombs that fell on London and displays all of the information on an interactive map.

Thanks to Geographer Dr Kate Jones and her team at the University of Portsmouth, you can now see exactly where the bombs fell. The map, which was funded by charity JISC, uses data previously available only by viewing in the Reading Room at The National Archives. Now it is available to anyone who wishes to explore where the bombs fell. The map also includes any further information, photographs, and memories available from that period and place.

View a Rare Copy of United States Declaration of Independence… in London

American schoolchildren always learn of the United States Declaration of Independence, printed July 4, 1776. They are also told that a copy (not the original) is on view at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C.

The same schoolchildren may or may not be told that 200 copies were printed on July 4, 1776. What they usually are not told is that at least 26 copies are known to still exist. What fascinates me is that three of those copies are held in one place: The National Archives in Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England.

Yes, The National Archives of Great Britain has more original 1776 copies than does the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Celebrating Immigration on the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is a celebration of the nation’s birth. But it has historically also been a celebration of a country that defines itself by its incorporation of people from around the world through immigration. Historian Ellen M. Litwicki explains that this was especially true in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Chicago, where Independence Day celebrations were mainly organized by immigrant groups.

You can read the full article at http://bit.ly/2IMpTh8.

4,800 Welsh Portraits added to Wikimedia Commons and Wikidata

Over the last 4 years the National Library of Wales has worked with Wikimedia to provide open access to more than 10,000 public domain images. These include the Welsh Landscape Collection, photographs, maps and manuscripts. This partnership has led to more than 455 million views of Wikipedia articles containing National Library images to date.

The National Library of Wales has now placed nearly 5000 portrait prints, photographs and paintings in the public domain on Wikimedia Commons. The Library hopes that volunteers will be encouraged to create Wikipedia articles about the Welsh sitters, artists, printers and photographers involved in the collection.

Cayman Islands Search for Ancestors of Welsh Settlers

The search is on for descendants of the first settlers on the tropical Cayman Islands. If your surname is Walters or Bawden it could be you.

If it turns out you’re related to their first inhabitant, the Cayman Islands will fly you to the islands to participate in a celebration of the island’s first settlers.

A Welshman called Walters and a Cornishman called Bawden were the first known people to step foot on the islands in the Caribbean in 1658. Their names subsequently morphed into Watler and Bodden, which remain prevalent family names today.

Sunshine State Digital Network Welcomes Florida Memory

From the Sunshine State Digital Network at http://bit.ly/2KcabAF:

Florida’s Sunshine State Digital Network (SSDN) is pleased to announce that more than 62,000 new records from Florida Memory are now discoverable through the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). Florida Memory is a digital outreach program of the State Library and Archives of Florida, administered by the Florida Department of State’s Division of Library and Information Services. With this new content, SSDN has now contributed more than 148,000 records to DPLA. This expands the network of people, communities, and stories that we represent and can share with you, our community.

When Americans Started Bathing

When thinking about the lives of our ancestors, we sometimes overlook some of the major facts of their lives. For instance, take bathing.

Most Americans in the first part of the nineteenth century didn’t bathe. There was little indoor plumbing, and besides, everyone “knew” that submerging yourself in water was a recipe for weakness and ill health. Therefore, most people did not bathe for weeks or even months at a time, if ever. Some people could go from cradle to grave without ever immersing themselves in water.

Illustration of Thompson’s bathtub of 1842, published in the Chronicle-Telegram, November 18, 1935.

Rare Film Uncovered Showing San Francisco Right After The 1906 Earthquake

A long-lost roll film turned up in a California flea market in 2017. It shows before and after views of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Thanks to PBS, you can view the video below or in YouTube at https://youtu.be/Fm1XSX8Un5Q.

Early ‘Vermont Newspapers of Record’ are now Available Online

The following press release was written by the office of the Vermont Secretary of State, Jim Condos:

Secretary of State Jim Condos and State Archivist Tanya Marshall announced today that early Vermont newspapers have been added to Newspapers.com and can be researched online for free by residents. Through a partnership with Ancestry.com, and its subsidiary Newspapers.com, the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration (VSARA), a division within the Office of the Vermont Secretary of State, continues to improve access to many of the state’s most valuable records. The Vermont Department of Libraries, which has microfilmed hundreds of Vermont newspapers over the past several decades, transferred its newspapers microfilm reels to VSARA in 2017.

“Newspapers, especially newspapers of record, are instrumental to ensuring Vermonters are informed and knowledgeable about historic government actions” said Secretary Jim Condos. “Preserving these newspapers in the state archives and increasing access through our partnership with Newspapers.com is a win-win for both state government and the citizens of Vermont.”

Your Ancestors: the Swimsuit Edition

If Sports Illustrated can have an annual Swimsuit Edition, why can’t a genealogy blog or web site do the same?

Today’s picture of bathing beauties comes from the Shorpy.com web site, a site that specializes in displaying high-resolution images of old photographs. Entitled Bathing at York Beach, Maine, this photograph was taken around 1906.

Click on the above image to view a high-resolution version.

United States Colored Troops (USCT) Pension Files Online

The IAAM Center for Family History is a one of a kind research center dedicated to African American genealogy. It collects and digitizes all sorts of historical records, including: funeral programs, obituaries, photos, historical documents and family histories. The center will be a part of the International African American Museum, scheduled to open in 2020.

The IAAM Center is collecting United States Colored Troops (USCT) Pension Files. Quoting from the Center’s web site:

“As Bernice Bennett notes in her article USCT Pension Files: A Rich Resource for African American Genealogy, pension files can reveal many biographical details about ancestors who served in the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Because events in USCT veterans’ lives before the Civil War were seldom recorded in the documentary record, veterans had to go to great lengths to prove their identity, their service in the Civil War, their dates of marriage, names and ages of children, and other biographical details that had to be documented in order for them to draw a military pension.

A New Database with Pictures of 18th and 19th Century Ireland is Launched

From an article by Micheál Ó Maoileoin in the Galway Daily:

“How was Ireland depicted in illustrations produced by travellers from 1680 to 1860? A new database of images drawn from travel accounts answers this question.

“Based on years of research by a group of investigators at NUI Galway led by Professor Jane Conroy, Ireland Illustrated is now available to view online.”

“Ireland Illustrated, 1680-1860, is a database of over 500 images of Ireland – woodcuts, water colours, engravings and other illustrations – with related text, drawn from more than 50 manuscript and printed works, and highlighting several neglected or rarely accessible sources.

What Your London Ancestors Ate: Jellied Eels

Tastes in food certainly have changed over the generations. An article by Tony Dunnell in the Atlas Obscura web site describes one of the favorite foods in London, especially amongst the working class folks in the 1700s. Eels from the River Thames were chopped, boiled, and then combined with vinegar, sliced onion, peppercorns, bay leaves, and salt. As the mixture cooled, the cooked animal’s gelatinous proteins solidified into savory jelly surrounding the meat.

If you are feeling hungry, you can learn more at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/foods/jellied-eels-london.

Hart Island, a Potter’s Field where New York City’s Poor and Unclaimed Dead are Buried

This sounds more like a Charles Dickens novel than it does about a 21st century news story. It seems that millions of formerly impoverished but now deceased citizens, along with many whose bodies were unclaimed by family, are buried in Hart Island. The 101-acre sliver of land in the waters far, far north of the Manhattan is the final resting place of more than an estimated 750,000 deceased persons. Hart Island is not open to the public.

Most of the graves are unmarked. The records of the coffin row-and-column placement are kept between five and 10 years, depending upon the effect of plot soil conditions on attempted disinternments. When disinternment attempts are no longer practical and appropriate, those plot burial records are turned over to the Municipal Archives.

Automobiles in Old Family Photographs

Sometimes we take certain things for granted. We often don’t stop to realize what life was like for our ancestors. We may have skills that our ancestor did not possess. Recently I stumbled across some old photographs that made me stop and think.

In 1905 the automobile was a novelty. Very few people had ever driven one, much less owned one. After looking at a couple of photographs, I realized that most people did not know how to drive in those days.

Today most adults are familiar with driving automobiles. However, 100 or more years ago, that was not true. In fact, the idea of someone driving an automobile was so unique that commercial photographers of the time often took advantage of the automobile to sell more photographs.

Historic Weather

What was the weather on the day you were born? When your Dad talked about going out in that great blizzard, just how bad was it? Wolfram Alpha has a number of helpful tools to answer your weather questions, including historical data from weather stations located all over the world.

For example, simply enter “weather” into the search bar, and Wolfram Alpha’s geoIP capabilities identify your approximate location and produce the latest records from your nearest weather station. The “Latest recorded weather” will display the current temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, and conditions, such as clear, thunderstorms, or fog.

To find historical weather information, simply enter the word WEATHER followed by a date and a location. For instance:

Congregational Library and Archives Hidden History Project

The Congregational Library and Archives’ “Hidden History” project is locating and digitizing New England church records from 1630 to 1800 and putting them online for free.

According to the project’s web site, “Congregational church records are an unparalleled source of information about the religious activities of the early colonists, and about many other aspects of early American life. The Congregational Library and Archives, in partnership with the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale is currently preserving these records and making them available to the public.”