History

A New Fad Sweeps the Country in the 1870s

We all know about popular fads: the hula hoops of the fifties, the pet rocks of the sixties, and body-piercing jewelry of the present time. The young people generally embrace fads with open arms while older generations wring their hands and wonder what the younger generation is coming to. However, we generally do not think about fads in the times of our ancestors. A quick bit of historical study shows that our ancestors were just as enthusiastic about new ideas and fashions as are any of their descendants. Some of these fads had far-reaching effects on future generations. In fact, some of us might not be here today had it not been for one of these fads.

One item that we take for granted today is the bicycle. Yet this two-wheeled device was all the rage when first introduced in the late 1870s. To be sure, two-wheel conveyances had been invented much earlier but were rarely seen. In 1790, Frenchman Chevalier de Sivrac conceived the idea of a crude form of a bicycle, consisting of a wooden beam with wheels attached below each end. It had no pedals; the rider pushed along the ground with his feet. It had no steering capability. Even worse, it had no seat. The rider simply sat on the beam. Apparently de Sivrac built only one of these, and it was soon relegated to a storage shed. Later models improved on the earlier design with a cushioned seat of some sort. In 1813, Baron Charles de Drais of Saurbrun, Germany, introduced a bicycle that was similar to Sivrac’s model but with a swivel head to aid steering.

MyHeritage CEO Gilad Japhet Tells the Stories of His Ancestors Who Were Victims of the Holocaust

In honor of International Holocaust Memorial Day, commemorated on Saturday, MyHeritage’s CEO and Founder, Gilad Japhet, wrote a very personal blog post in dedication of his family and others who perished in the Holocaust. He wrote the article in memory of his ancestors who were victims of one of the most tragic human experiences this world has ever witnessed.

Japhet writes, “My passion to learn more about my Chwojnik ancestors was key to my personal interest in genealogy, which began when I was 13 years old.”

Almost all genealogists attempt to learn of the difficulties and successes of their relatives. Those of us with families who were not affected by the Holocaust have difficulty understanding the horrors that other families endured. Gilad Japhet’s blog post helps provide some understanding of those terrible years. You can read his words in the MyHeritage Blog at: http://bit.ly/2rLjgbB.

Why the British Decided to Send Convicts to Australia in 1788

I am sure all the Australians know this story already, but The Telegraph has published an article for the rest of us.

January 26 is celebrated as Australia Day because on that day in 1788 British settlers arrived on Australian shores for the first time. The anniversary has become an annual opportunity for the country to show its national pride.

The First Fleet of convicts departs Portsmouth, England, bound for Australia

Irish Revolution Archives to go Online

The letters, official documents, secret military orders, and other papers from figures in Ireland’s political and military revolution are to be made available online.

A project to digitise some of the most important manuscript collections held in the National Library of Ireland (NLI) will mean the documents are easily accessible to researchers and others interested in the history of the period that led to Irish independence.

Vintage Photographs and Letters, and Other Documents from Rockford, Illinois are now Available Online

Rockford’s Midway Village Museum often is asked for photos to help history buffs for family trees, business research, and school projects. Previously, you would have needed an appointment. Now, 1,700 of the most popular historic images and documents are being digitized and uploaded by the museum’s staff for your viewing.

The online collection includes photos captured on rare glass-plate negatives, early 20th century postcards of Rockford, as well as digital images of numerous documents and letters. The items include: Civil War letters sent by local soldiers, transcripts from interviews done in 2007 with immigrants to Rockford and their children, and images related to the Rockford Peaches.

Early Delaware Burials Discovered in Archaeological Dig

An archaeological study years in the making has revealed a wealth of new information about some of Delaware’s earliest colonial settlers and shed new light on what life would have been like in the region three centuries ago.

The discovery of numerous artifacts as well as 11 well-preserved burial sites dating to the late 1600s fills in gaps in Delaware’s early history, telling the story of the colonists’ physical health, diet, family life, and how they made their living. Three of the burials, one a young child, were determined to be of African descent, constituting the earliest known discovery of remains of enslaved people in Delaware.

Did the Norse Visit Maine centuries before Columbus’ Voyages?

We already know the Vikings visited and settled for a while at L’Anse aux Meadows, in Newfoundland. Is it possible they also travelled further south along the coast, visiting what is now a part of the United States?

An article by Sarah Laskow in the Atlas Obscura web site describes the discovery in 1956 of a Norse penny, made in medieval Scandinavia. But 60 years after the discovery, archaeologists and numismatic experts are still asking how in the world this small, worn coin got to Maine. Was it carried by Vikings around the year 1100? Or did it arrive centuries later?

Abbot-Downing’s Concord Coaches

I have long had an interest in Abbot-Downing Concord Coaches, probably the most popular brand of stagecoach ever produced in the United Sates. Judging by the e-mail that I have received from a short mention in a previous article, it looks like many people are interested in these old stagecoaches. I thought I would write a bit about these important transportation methods in American history.

If you ever see one, you should realize that you are looking at history.

In the 1800s and very early 1900s, the Abbot-Downing Company of Concord, New Hampshire, built more than 3,000 of these stagecoaches and then sold them all over the United States. Properly called Abbot-Downing Coaches, a few were even shipped to New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.

“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, stunned virtually everyone in the United States. Pearl Harbor was totally unprepared. 353 Japanese planes mounted a surprise assault on American naval forces stationed in Hawaii. The attack killed 2,403 United States personnel, injured 1,178, drew the United States into World War II, and altered the course of history forever.

President Franklin Roosevelt quickly addressed Congress to ask for a declaration of war. This action was soon followed by declaration of war with Germany and, soon after, with Italy.

Today is the appropriate time to pause and reflect on the events of 76 years ago today. Let us vow to never again allow any nation ever catch us unprepared.

100 Years Ago Today the Halifax Explosion nearly destroyed Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

On the morning of 6 December 1917, the SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship laden with high explosives left the dock in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and headed for Bordeaux, France. The explosives were destined to be used by the French military in World War I. At 8:45 AM, the SS Mont-Blanc collided with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo in the Narrows, a strait connecting the upper Halifax Harbour to Bedford Basin. A fire broke out on the French cargo ship. 20 minutes after the collision, at 9:04:35 am, the SS Mont-Blanc exploded.

The blast destroyed both ships along with most of the Richmond district of Halifax. Approximately 2,000 people were killed, about 500 of them children, by the blast or by flying debris, fires or collapsed buildings. An estimated 9,000 others were injured.

The Halifax Explosion was one of the worst disasters in North American history. It was the largest man-made explosion prior to the development of nuclear weapons, releasing the equivalent energy of roughly 2.9 kilotons of TNT.

The Truth You’ve Never Heard About Plimoth Colony and the First Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving story you know probably goes a bit like this: English Pilgrims, seeking religious freedom, landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where they found a rich land full of animals and were greeted by a friendly Indian named Squanto, who taught them how to plant corn.

The true story is more complicated. Once you learn about the real Squanto — also known as Tisquantum — you’ll have a great yarn to tell your family over the Thanksgiving table.

How is it that Squanto knew how to speak perfect English when the Pilgrims arrived?

Postmortem Photography

It sounds ghoulish but many of our ancestors accepted the idea as normal: photographing the corpses of family members shortly after their death. During the Victorian era, such photographs were meant to be happy reminders of the life of the deceased person for their families. Death, and personally dealing with death, was prevalent throughout the entire world as epidemics would come quickly and kill quickly. Postmortem photographs not only helped in the grieving process, but often represented the only visual remembrance of the deceased and were among a family’s most precious possessions. These were often called “Memento Mori Photography.” Memento mori is Latin for “remember that you have to die.”

 

Mother and deceased child

Scroll through Colonial life with the Harvard Library

This should be a fabulous resource for anyone researching Colonial American ancestry. It isn’t a genealogy database. Instead, it will teach you about the lives your ancestors led and the world in which they lived.

In a few weeks, the Harvard Library will release a new website for its ongoing, multiyear digitization “Colonial North American Project at Harvard University.” Approximately 450,000 digitized pages of all the known archival and manuscript materials in the Library relating to 17th- and 18th-century North America will be available to the public. The library’s vast collection from era, from love letters to receipts, is being digitized for public view

Witches in Your Family Tree

This is the time of year for ghosts, goblins, and other such superstitions. However, perhaps it is also a time to pause and reflect on the horrors of those who suffered in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. The witches of Salem and nearby towns probably have hundreds of thousands of present-day descendants. If you have ancestry from early Essex County, Massachusetts, you have an excellent chance of finding a connection to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

Circa 1692, The trial of George Jacobs for witchcraft at the Essex Institute in Salem, Massachusetts. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

Circa 1692, The trial of George Jacobs for witchcraft at the Essex Institute in Salem, Massachusetts. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

Salem, Massachusetts, and the surrounding towns in Essex County were amongst the first settled in this country. Most of the towns were established prior to 1640. By the time of the witchcraft trials of 1692, a complete legal system of courts and clerks was well established. Records were written, and many of them have been preserved. Even if your ancestors are not among those accused, it is quite possible that you can find them mentioned as witnesses, those who gave depositions, or perhaps even those who served on a jury.

The Truth about Christopher Columbus and His “Discoveries”

Alternative Title: Columbus was Really Bad at Math

Almost all the “facts” you learned in school about Christopher Columbus are wrong! Amongst other things, Columbus never proved that the earth is round and he never set foot in what is now North America. A YouTube video below and also available at https://youtu.be/3MJoKhO9G1g sets the record straight.

The Mysterious Tree Carvings of America’s Basque Sheepherders

The Atlas Obscura web site has an interesting article about Basque immigrants to the United States. The article begins:

“Some Americans, to learn about their ancestors, can dig through documents detailing when they passed through Ellis Island or flew in or got married, or where they lived at the time of a census. But for some Basque families in the United States, the only record they have of their immigrant ancestors is carved into trees in secluded aspen groves throughout the West. Names, dates, hometowns, and other messages and art scar the pale bark of aspens where Basque men watched over herds of hundreds of sheep from the 1850s to the 1930s.

How 19th Century Women Were Taught to Think About Native Americans

It is always interesting to try to guess what happened in the minds of our ancestors. Writing in the Jstor Daily web site, Erin Blakemore offers insights into the minds of many 19th century women in the US:

“What did nineteenth-century Americans know about Native Americans? For years, scholars have focused on stereotypes of indigenous Americans as brutal and sadistic—depictions that dominated press portrayals and that reverberate in culture to this day. But a look at those portrayals with an eye on gender reveals a slightly different story, writes Linda M. Clemmons—one that suggests Native American women were portrayed as equal with their white sisters.

Portrait of a young Choctaw woman, 1850 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Predictions for the Year 2000 from The Ladies Home Journal of December 1900

The Ladies Home Journal from December, 1900, contained an article by John Elfreth Watkins, Jr.: What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years. Mr. Watkins wrote: “These prophecies will seem strange, almost impossible. Yet, they have come from the most learned and conservative minds in America. To the wisest and most careful men in our greatest institutions of science and learning I have gone, asking each in his turn to forecast for me what, in his opinion, will have been wrought in his own field of investigation before the dawn of 2001 – a century from now. These opinions I have carefully transcribed.”

Well, I am about seventeen years late in analyzing Mr. Watkins’ predictions. However, I think they are still interesting and many of them were surprisingly accurate.

Prediction #1: There will probably be from 350,000,000 to 500,000,000 people in America and its possessions by the lapse of another century. Nicaragua will ask for admission to our Union after the completion of the great canal. Mexico will be next. Europe, seeking more territory to the south of us, will cause many of the South and Central American republics to be voted into the Union by their own people.”

Floridians: Share Your Digital Photos of Hurricane Irma

NOTE: This has nothing to do with today’s genealogy. However, Florida residents are invited to help preserve the history of the state and to record events that perhaps will benefit future historians and possibly even future genealogists.

The Florida State Archives is asking residents to preserve hurricane history by donating your digital images of preparation, damage, volunteers, shelters, recovery and other effects of Hurricane Irma. The donated photographs will join past photos of Camille, Andrew, and Charley as one of many hurricanes that have shaped Florida’s history. Some of the photographs donated to the State Archives will appear on Florida Memory.

Details may be found in the Florida Memory web site at: http://bit.ly/2wLmnCs.

How One Woman Brought the ‘Mother’s Curse’ to Thousands of Her French-Canadian Descendants

The first King’s Daughters—or filles du roi—arrived in New France in 1663, and 800 more would follow over the next decade. Given their numbers, they were not literally the king’s daughters of course.

They were poor and usually of common birth, but their passage and dowry were indeed paid by King Louis XIV for the purpose of empire building: These women were to marry male colonists and have many children, thus strengthening France’s hold on North America. French Canadians can usually trace their ancestry back to one or more of these women.

For more information about the filles du roi, see my earlier article at http://bit.ly/2wG6ecP.

Whenever a small group of people leave a large population (France) to found a new one (New France), they bring with them a particular set of mutations. Some of these mutations will by chance be more common in the new population and others less so. As a result, some rare genetic disorders disproportionately impact French-Canadians.

One of these is Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, which causes vision loss, usually in young men. Recently, geneticists using French Canadian genealogy have reexamined the effects of Leber’s and found a striking pattern of inheritance: It seems to show a long-theorized but never-seen-in-humans pattern called the “mother’s curse.”