History

How a Synagogue Caretaker Used Google Maps to Solve the Mystery of a Forgotten Graveyard

Not so long ago, in Plymouth, England, Jerry Sibley discovered a Jewish cemetery that dated back to the 1700s. Sibley went to Google Maps, with a clue that placed the older cemetery on Lambhay Hill. After an initial effort failed to find it, he painstakingly over aerial images again until he found bright green spot. He zoomed in—and he could just make out some headstones.

The cemetery had gone unvisited for so long that no one at the synagogue knew how to open the door to the walled space. Sibley sorted through a box of 300 keys until he found the right one. When he opened the door he found a secret garden of trees, grass, flowers, and gravestones.

You can read the full story in an article by Sarah Laskow in the Atlas Obscura web site at: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/plymouth-jewish-cemetery-rediscovered.

The End of an Era: Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus Closes

The “Greatest Show on Earth” is no more. For many of our ancestors and even for our children and grandchildren of today, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus provided entertainment not found elsewhere. Perhaps we should all take note of the passing of this once-gigantic entertainment enterprise. The founders were the epitome of American entrepreneurship, an excellent example of why America welcomes immigrants.

The Ringling brothers were the seven American-born sons of harness maker Heinrich Friedrich August Ringling (originally spelled as “Rungeling”), (1826–1898), an immigrant from Hanover, Germany, and Marie Salome Juliar (1833–1907), an immigrant from Ostheim, in Alsace (now a part of Bavaria, Germany). One Ringling sister, Ida Loraina Wilhelmina Ringling also was part of the family although she apparently was not involved in the circus business. [Reference: “Ringling brothers” on Wikipedia.org]

Follow-Up: Things You Don’t See Anymore

On December 14, 2015, I published an article at http://bit.ly/2qGwZin, Things You Don’t See Anymore. I described a number of things that used to be common in American life but have since almost disappeared. I listed a bunch of things, including “rotary telephones” and “telephone party lines.” I guess it is now time to update that list.

If I was to republish the list today, I would have to add “wired telephones.”

An article in the BBC News web site points out one major change in the past decade: the number of U.S. homes that have an old-fashioned, wired telephone obtained from the local telephone company has now dropped to less than 50%. That is a number that few people would have dreamed of ten years ago.

Google Streetview is Used to find Britain’s “Lost” 1930s-era Cycleways

You have to love technology, especially when it is used to study the history of the days before the technology was invented. One recent example is using Google Streetview to find miles and miles of “lost” British cycleways.

The Mickleham Bypass in Surrey

The following is an excerpt from an announcement from Carlton Reid:

The New York Public Library has Released a Maps by Decade Tool

The New York Public Library has been creating some amazing digital tools in the past couple of years. The library wants more of its collection to be available to anyone with a computer or hand-held device, so it’s been digitizing its old maps and photos and presenting them in ways that make it easy for people accustomed to Google Maps and Streetview. In fact, its eventual goal is to allow people to travel back in time as if Google Maps had existed since the 19th century.

Last month, the library unveiled a Maps By Decade tool that lets people place old maps over the current street grid, and search by decade and neighborhood. They had made similar tools available before but never with this kind of handy decade-by-decade design.

State Library of South Australia has a new Online Portrait Collection of “Old Colonists”

If you are descended from one of the early settlers who arrived in Australia prior to 1841, you might be able to find his or her portrait in one of over 1,000 ‘Old Colonists’ were on display in the State Library. In 2017 they have returned as facsimiles (along with new indexes and online catalogue records) – funded by the Friends of the State Library. They are now available online.

William Rollings arrived in South Australia in March 1845 on board the ship the “Scotia”. Poundkeeper, Springfield.

A Proposal to Make the 209-year-old Golspie Inn Hotel in Scotland a Culture and Heritage Centre

The owner of the historic Golspie Inn Hotel would like to add a Culture and Heritage Centre to the hotel. He writes:

“Our main focus is to make the Golspie Inn a conductive meeting place where people from the world wide Highland diaspora and, indeed, all those interested can stay, meet and mingle in the ‘homeland’, socialise, research their culture, heritage and ancestry and, of course, sample the goodies and have fun whilst doing so! Another one of the Centre’s unique features will be the chronicling of the diaspora stories and the celebration of the immigrants’ incredible contributions in the new world but that it will be taking place in their own original homeland.”

I guess this is a “solicitation” for funds but it strikes me as a very worthwhile cause:

State of Tennessee Puts New Andrew Jackson Collection Online

The Tennessee State Library and Archives has an online collection of materials that will make it easier to learn about the nation’s seventh president. The 109-item collection includes digitally scanned copies of many of Jackson’s personal letters, original maps from the War of 1812, political cartoons, campaign broadsides, engravings, lithographs and a rare photograph of him.

Also included are papers from some of Jackson’s chief associates, including John Overton, John Coffee, James Winchester, William Carroll and William B. Lewis.

To view the Andrew Jackson collection online, please visit: http://bit.ly/AndrewJacksonTeVA.

Bizarre Things People Believed 50 Years Ago

Our ancestors had beliefs that seem strange these days. In some cases, it wasn’t only our ancestors. Some of us are old enough to remember the advertisements that “20,679 physicians smoke Lucky Strikes.”

The Grunge web site has an article, with advertisements, of what was believed to be “common knowledge” only 50 years ago. You might want to check it out at: http://bit.ly/2oAdOFt.

Hmmm, I wonder what “truths” we all accept today that will be considered strange 50 years from now…

British Dog Tag Find – ‘The Forgotten Army’

Dan Mackey, an avid relic hunter, tells us about the amazing discovery in England of thousands of metal dog tags found in 2016. The dog tags came from both world wars. The majority of the dog tags are those of British soldiers but a few came from various other nations. Now the team that made the discovery is hoping to return any of these dog tags to the families of the soldiers involved. In one case, one dog tag has already been returned in person to an elderly veteran himself.

Why Did Outhouses Often Have Crescent Moons in Their Doors?

OK, here is today’s history question. I suspect our ancestors all knew the reason for the markings on outhouse doors but those reasons are fast being lost to today’s generation of people who have only been exposed to more modern conveniences. Perhaps the information has already been lost. After all, our ancestors often wrote about many topics but few seemed to have documented the minute details of their outhouses.

An article by Eric Grundhauser in the Atlas Obscura web site insists:

“From cartoons to films to modern-day replicas of historic toilets, the cut-out shape of a crescent moon in an outhouse door seems like something that is so ingrained in our cultural consciousness, that it must have existed in real life. But it doesn’t seem to have been much of a historic reality.”

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.”