History

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.

Mississippi State University Libraries to Digitize Records of Enslaved Mississippians for the First Time

“Mississippi State University Libraries is helping create the state’s first institutionally supported digital database intended to give greater access to legal records identifying victims of slavery.

“The Lantern Project is one of only a few in the South and is funded by a $340,424 grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Committee, a branch of the National Archives. In addition to MSU Libraries, the University of Mississippi Libraries, Delta State University, the Historic Natchez Foundation, Columbus-Lowndes County Public Library and the Montgomery County (Alabama) Archives also are participating.

The UCSB Library Invites You to Discover and Listen to its Online Archive of Cylinder Recordings

Do you remember cylinder recordings? Of course not. They became obsolete long before you were born. However, my grandmother had a few of them when I was a child although the cylinders were obsolete even then. (I’m not THAT old!)

Cylinder recordings

Welcome to the modern, digital, and online 21st century! Many of those old recordings are now available online. Yes, you can listen to the same music that some of your ancestors listened to. In those days, the devices were not called phonographs. Instead, they were “graphophones.”

Comment: I don’t think any of the recordings will ever win a modern-day Grammy Award! When I say these are old, I mean they are REALLY OLD. They are scratchy and very much low fidelity. But they still will interest many of us who are trying to imagine what our ancestors used for entertainment.

Edison Graphophone

Book Review: Strange, Amazing, and Funny Events that Happened during the Revolutionary War

The following Book Reviews were written by Bobbi King:

Strange, Amazing, and Funny Events that Happened during the Revolutionary War
By Jack Darrell Crowder. Genealogical Publ. Co. 2019. 145 pages.

The First 24 Hours of the American Revolution
An Hour by Hour Account of the Battles of Lexington, Concord, and the British Retreat on Battle Road
By Jack Darrell Crowder. Genealogical Publ. Co. 2018. 129 pages.

Jack Darrell Crowder taught school. And I’m guessing he taught history. And I’m guessing he jump-started a love of history for a lot of students who discovered a new excitement for history, because if he enriched his classes with such stories as he’s written into his books, then his teaching has left a personal legacy.

The Story Behind the German Jewish War Hero Honored on Both Sides of the Atlantic, Decades Apart

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. A beautiful story is featured today on CNN, made possible thanks to the dedicated efforts of the MyHeritage Research Team.


According to the MyHeritage Research Team:

“An iconic 1933 photo of Jewish shopkeeper Richard Stern standing defiantly outside his shop in Cologne, Germany, sparked the interest of our Research team, who noticed the Iron Cross on his lapel as a Nazi soldier [Correction: He is a brown shirt: a member of Hitler’s Nazi party] stands guard a few feet away. Using MyHeritage family trees and SuperSearch™, our researchers traced Stern’s incredible personal story from that day in Cologne and across the Atlantic Ocean. What they revealed was an inspiring story of hope and determination starring a real-life hero.”

You can read the article by CNN reporter Lianne Kolirin at: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/01/27/europe/richard-stern-photo-grm-scli-intl/index.html.

‘People Not Property’ Aims to Create Statewide Database of Slave Deeds in North Carolina

When Deshawn Elam started college at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University , an Historically Black College (HBCU) in Greensboro, N.C., he thought he would become a history teacher. But life changed his plans.

One of his first classes introduced Elam to digital archiving.

“I’ve always been someone who’s interested in seeing actual history, like having it in my hands,” Elam says. “So, I was always fascinated with trying to preserve that history and trying to hold it physically.”

Buncombe SlaveDeed

“Slave deeds,” documents testifying to the sale of enslaved people, were stored in county Register of Deeds offices. One of the first people who began digitizing these records and making them public was Drew Reisinger, the Register of Deeds for Buncombe County, North Carolina. The Buncombe County’s registry office has documents dating to the 1700s, and it has approximately 300 slave deeds.

How You can Help the City of Seattle Document and Decode History

I suspect many genealogists will be interested in helping with this project. From the King5 News web site:

“The Seattle Municipal Archives department works to transcribe documents that tell Seattle’s story- and now, they’re asking for your help.

“Seattle is rich with history- and the archivists at the Seattle Municipal Archives keep it all safe and accounted for. But as dedicated as they are, this time, they need some help.

Destroyed Identities – the Digital Reconstruction of Auschwitz-Birkenau Victims’ Data

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is dedicated to the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp in Oświecim, Poland. The museum is attempting to identify all the former prisoners who were incarcerated there. According to the museum’s web site:

“More than 1,200,000 entries from the post-camp documentation have been created by the Digital Repository of the Memorial Site. So far, more than 60 per cent of the 400,000 prisoners registered in the German Nazi concentration camp have been identified.

Human Remains Found in Idaho Cave Identified as Outlaw Who Died Over 100 Years Ago

Talk about a “cold case!” Joseph Loveless most likely died in 1916 at age 46. His remains were preserved in a Cave for as long as 63 years, researchers say.

The dismembered and headless John Doe, whose remains were found in the Civil Defense Caves near Dubois, Idaho, in 1979 and 1991, was identified as those of Joseph Henry Loveless. His remarkably preserved remains are thought to have been placed in the caves in 1916.

You can read the full story in an article by Janelle Griffith in the NBC News web site at: https://nbcnews.to/39BgYO4.

While the human remains have been identified, the “cold case” is not yet solved. The cause of death has not yet been determined. If Joseph Loveless was the victim of a crime, such as murder, the perpetuator also has not yet been identified. Admittedly, for a crime committed 63 years, the perpetrator probably will not be arrested. He or she probably is deceased by now. Of course, Joseph Loveless may have died of natural causes.

My thanks to the several newsletter readers who wrote to tell me about this story.

How Artificial Intelligence is Helping Identify Thousands of Unknown Civil War Soldiers

Norman Spencer Pierce

Another great use of modern technology:

David Morin in Exeter, N.H. owns a collection of more than 260 Civil War military pictures. Until now, many of the men in the photos remained a mystery to him — but in the course of the last year, he identified many of them by using Civil War Photo Sleuth, a website that uses facial recognition technology, a form of artificial intelligence (A.I.), to identify the men in such photos. And in 2020 the site is planning to add a new feature, after a successful test: a way for users to get second opinions on potential photo matches.

“Today history is so much better documented and the chances of things living on are so much greater,” says Morin.

Old Manchester, Connecticut Newspapers are being Digitized

Wouldn’t it be nice if ALL old newspapers were digitized and made available online? One genealogist is doing just that. According to an article by Jesse Leavenworth in The Hartford Courant web site at: http://bit.ly/2Sj0wMf:

Scrolling through newspaper microfilm last year with little sense of how long the search would take, Noreen Cullen remembered mumbling in frustration and “probably saying some bad words along the way.”

“I thought to myself, ‘This is 2018. Why am I still using microfilm?’” the Manchester native and genealogist said.

Front page of the Manchester Evening Herald, which was published for a little over a century before shutting down in 1991. (Manchester Historical Society)

A French-Canadian Christmas – Holiday Traditions from the Era of New France and Beyond

If you are researching your French-Canadian ancestry, you undoubtedly will want to read Kim Kujawski’s new article: A French-Canadian Christmas – Holiday Traditions from the Era of New France and Beyond.

The article’s introduction states:

“It’s that time of year… Christmas cards, decorations, Christmas trees, over-indulgence and, to the delight of some and the chagrin of others, non-stop holiday music everywhere. These “traditions” are all fairly recent. As a genealogist and history-geek, I’ve often thought about my French-Canadian ancestors and how they might have celebrated the Christmas holidays centuries ago. Did they come together with friends and family as we do? Or was Christmas mostly a religious holiday?”

Of course, I was interested in the article. After all, my family tree is 50% French-Canadian. (Thanks Mom!)

“The Return from Midnight Mass”, 1919 painting by J. Edmond Massicotte (BAnQ numérique)

The article focuses on family traditions during a series of evening festivities that lasted until the Feast of Kings, celebrated on January 6th (also called Three Kings’ Day or Epiphany). These were the “twelve days of Christmas”. Most of these traditions were common across French-Canadian groups: Québécois, Franco-Ontarians and Acadians.

The Book Your Ancestors Read: The Old Farmers Almanac

It’s official: the 2020 edition of The Old Farmers Almanac is now out in the stores. If your ancestors have been in the United States for a few generations, there’s an excellent chance that your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and even earlier generations read this same book. After all, it has been published every year since 1793, making it the oldest continuously published periodical in North America.

In fact, it wasn’t only our ancestors that read The Old Farmers Almanac. I well remember reading it cover-to-cover every year when I was growing up on a small farm in rural Maine! I am sure many others will do the same with the new 2020 edition.

Robert B. Thomas started publishing The Farmers Almanac in 1793. George Washington was president at the time. The Almanac sold for six pence (about nine cents). The Farmers Almanac quickly became the most popular publication of its kind. Nearly forty years later, in 1832, Thomas added the word “old” to the title. He apparently had a change of heart in 1836 when he removed the word “old” from the title. The word was re-inserted a year later, after Thomas’ death.

A New Online Database: “Enslaved: Peoples of the Historic Slave Trade”

From the Smithsonian Magazine web site:

A detail from a page in a 1767 slave inventory from Maranhao, Brazil. It lists the household slaves belonging to a judge in the city, including their ages and birthplaces. (Walter Hawthorne III)

The study of the historic slave trade depends on numbers—the 12.5 million people kidnapped from Africa and shipped to the New World between 1525 and 1866, the 10.7 million who survived the two-month voyage, the 3.9 million enslaved in the United States just before the Civil War. These figures are horrifying, but at the same time their very enormousness can have a numbing effect, which is why contemporary historians are increasingly turning to biography.

“Individual stories make a difference,” says Leslie Harris, a historian at Northwestern University, who writes about and teaches the history of slavery. “We do need to know the vast numbers that we’re talking about, that this was the largest forced migration in history, but when you begin to talk about these big concepts in terms of individual lives, you can better understand what these things mean.”

Georgia Civil War and Reconstruction Newspapers now Freely Available Online

As part of a $27,405.00 grant from the R. J. Taylor, Jr. Foundation, the Digital Library of Georgia has digitized over 100,000 pages of Georgia newspaper titles published from 1861 to 1877 from microfilm held by the Georgia Newspaper Project.

The project creates full-text searchable versions of the newspapers and presents them online for free in its Georgia Historic Newspapers database at gahistoricnewspapers.galileo.usg.edu in accordance with technical guidelines developed by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress for the National Digital Newspaper Program.

You can read more in an article by Mandy Mastrovita in the blog of the Digital Library of Georgia at: https://blog.dlg.galileo.usg.edu/?p=7430.