Ellis Island Celebrates Its 125th Anniversary

Ellis Island opened as the nation’s main immigrant processing center 125 years ago on Jan. 1. More than 12 million immigrants passed through the gates of the processing center. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation says nearly half of all Americans can trace their family roots to a person who passed through Ellis Island.


The 27.5-acre island, part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, no longer serves as a port of entry for new arrivals but it does greet about 2 million visitors a year, according to its website.

You can read more in an article by Karen Yi at http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2017/01/ellis_island_anniversary.html.

Census Find Sheds New Light on St Kilda’s History

Not all census records are found online. A few census records have been misplaced over the years. A 250-year-old census came to light during cataloguing by the National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS). The census lists 90 people living on the remote archipelago on 15 June 1764 – 38 males and 52 females, including 19 families and nine individuals.


A Possible Location for Arthur’s Camelot has been Identified

Here is a bit of news about history: the quest to find King Arthur’s Camelot has puzzled and intrigued scholars and fans for a thousand years. Now, the search may finally be over.

A retired Bangor University English Literature Professor has revealed what he believes to be the location of Arthur’s Camelot- and it turns out to be a small Roman fort at Slack, outside Huddersfield. In Roman times, the fort was called Camulodunum, which means “the fort of the god Camul”. Over the years, well-recognized linguistic processes would have reduced Camulodunum to Camelot.

Buttering Our Toast

margarine-butterThe Ancestry Blog has republished an article by Beau Sharbrough that originally appeared years ago in Ancestry Magazine. It describes the invention of margarine and its influence on the lives of our ancestors. I suspect that many readers of this newsletter are unaware of the controversies surrounding margarine, originally called “oliomargarine.”

I particularly enjoyed Beau’s words:

“Making butter wasn’t a simple task. First, someone would have to milk the cow. Then the milk would sit in pans, the wife would skim the cream off the top, and the cream would go into the churn. A good housewife would force her sons to work the churn. When those boys grew into men, they never doubted how much work being a housewife was—from beginning to end, it might take 45 minutes to make butter from cream.”

University of South Carolina to Store and Digitize 10,000 Vintage Marine Corps Films

usmc-logoFor most of the 20th Century, the Marine Corps archived film footage of that recruit training along with Marines fighting in wars, including World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars and various public relations activities.

Starting at the first of the year, that film collection – 10,000 Marine Corps film – will be permanently transferred to the University of South Carolina, where it will be digitized, stored and made available for public viewing. The footage covers Marine Corps activities from 1918 through the 1970s.

Archaeologists Think They Found the Original Pilgrim Settlement

Archaeologists have pinpointed what they think is the exact spot where the Pilgrims lived in the years after landing in the New World. Every American schoolchild knows the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620, but exactly where has been elusive. Plymouth Rock, after all, is only an educated guess of where the Pilgrims stepped ashore. The archaeologists have now discovered calf’s bones, musket balls, ceramics and brownish soil where a wooden post once stood. The calf’s bones are significant, as the Pilgrims raised cattle while the local Indians did not.

Details may be found at https://goo.gl/kYP2F1.

America’s First UFO Sighting: a strange vision of Ye Olde UFO that mystified Boston

Did our ancestors see UFOs? During the 1600s, Puritans in New England spotted more than just witches flying through the skies. Hundreds of years before Area 51 and Project Blue Book, Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop detailed instances of unidentified flying objects in the heavens above seventeenth-century Boston in the first recorded UFO sightings in America.

You can read more about Colonial-era UFO sightings in an article by Christopher Klein in the History.com web site at http://www.history.com/news/americas-first-ufo-sighting.

If you do talk with one of the aliens, would you ask if my great-great-grandfather was in their group?

Civil War documents Tucked Away in Shoeboxes Across Virginia have been Digitized and Placed Online

The Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission funded the State Library to send two archivists around the state with digital scanners, making high-resolution copies of documents brought by residents. They roamed Virginia between 2010 and 2015. The archivists traveled the state in an “Antiques Roadshow” style campaign to unearth the past. Organizers had thought the effort might produce a few hundred new items. They were a little off. It flushed out more than 33,000 pages of letters, diaries, documents and photographs that the library scanned and has made available for study online. The originals were all returned to the owners.


Best of all, the documents are available online and can be searched at http://www.virginiamemory.com/collections/cw150.

My thanks to the several newsletter readers who sent me links to this article.

Uncovering the Truth Behind the Salem Witch Trials with Google Expeditions

Just in time for Halloween: A new set of Google Expeditions lets you explore the Salem Witch Trials. If you had ancestors in Salem during the witch trials, whether they were accused or not, you will find items of interest at https://goo.gl/RK6nSz.


According to the web site: “The new Expeditions invite you to explore the landmarks from the Trials including the Witch House, the home of Witch Trials Judge Jonathan Corwin, and The House of Seven Gables, which tells the story of the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne and his connection to the events of the Salem Witch Trials.”

The Beautiful, Forgotten and Moving Graves of New England’s Slaves

This photo project reveals the powerful history tucked into Rhode Island’s cemeteries.

A great article by Caitlin Galante-DeAngelis Hopkins in Atlas Obscura describes and provides photographs of many interesting graveyards in New England. The autor writes:

“Most of New England’s colonial-era graveyards hold the bones of slaves. This is true not only of the urban graveyards of Boston and Newport, but also of the sleepy little cemeteries nestled among the clapboard churches and old stone walls in rural villages from Norwich, Connecticut to Jaffrey Center, New Hampshire. Unlike the African Burial Ground in New York City, which was formed after black bodies were banned from Trinity Churchyard in 1697, most New England municipalities maintained unified burying places that segregated black and white graves within a shared boundary.


A Photographic Archive of 1920s Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland Published Online

Leith is a district to the north of the city of Edinburgh. When local historian Fraser Parkinson was entrusted with a set of photographs showing Leith slums in the inter-war era, he knew they deserved to be shared with a wider audience. The incredible images were produced by the city authorities to show the slums of the old port prior to the ‘Edinburgh (Leith) Improvement Scheme of 1924’, which would see large swathes of the district vanish for good.


Bomb Squad Detonates Civil War Weaponry Exposed by Hurricane

The Civil War will never end. While there haven’t been any battles in 151 years, the remnants of the war still exist and must be dealt with. Hurricane Matthew moved up the southeastern coast of the US over the weekend and caused a lot of beach erosion. The damaging storm acted like an archaeologist in South Carolina when it uncovered a potentially dangerous piece of history at Folly Beach.

This region of South Carolina was a major staging area for Union troops. “Despite the the jungle-like foliage, the soldiers constructed roads, forts, an artillery battery, and a supply depot,” stated the City of Folly Beach. This weekend’s storm uncovered a cache of old ordnance that apparently had been buried for at least 151 years.

Rare Photographs at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture

sgt_josiah_whiteAt the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture, a small object is getting a lot of attention. An album of Civil War photos portraying 17 men of Company G, 14th Regiment, United States Colored Troops was a gift from the descendants of Captain William A. Prickitt, the white officer commanding those black troops, and the person most likely responsible for writing the names of the men in the album. These names make the album quite rare, since few of the 200,000 African American soldiers who served in the Union Army have been identified in photographs.

Afghan Officials Receive Digitized Cultural Treasures

Here is another strong argument why libraries, archives, and museums should make digital copies of everything in their collections and store the copies off-site. During recent warfare and insurrections, tens of thousands of historical items were stolen and most apparently are lost forever. Now more than 163,000 digital pages of documents are being returned to the owners of the originals.

A digital copy is never as good as the original but it is a lot better than staring at an empty space where the original was once housed!

The following announcement was written by the Library of Congress:

Library of Congress, Carnegie Corporation provide Cultural, Historical Materials

The Library of Congress has completed a three-year project, financed by Carnegie Corporation of New York, to digitize holdings of the Library of Congress relating to the culture and history of Afghanistan, for use by that nation’s cultural and educational institutions.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, joined by Carnegie Corporation of New York President Vartan Gregorian, presented hard drives containing more than 163,000 pages of documents to the Afghan Minister of Information and Culture, Abdul Bari Jahani, and to Abdul Wahid Wafa, Executive Director of the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University.

Burbank in Focus: a Digital Archive of Historic Burbank, California Photos

The Burbank Public Library has a new online web site called Burbank in Focus. It contains hundreds of hundreds of historic photographs saved by the library and by the public. Whether you are interested in browsing by collection, searching for photos of a particular person or event, or even searching by location, this is the place to celebrate the Media Capital of the World and the people who have made it great.

Burbank's First Two-Story Office Building 1911

Burbank’s First Two-Story Office Building 1911

Burbank in Focus is available at https://burbankinfocus.org.

A Family History Discovered on eBay

Genealogy information is found in many places, including on eBay. James Boling wrote:

“It all began in April 2014, as I was conducting on-line research into my maternal grandfather’s military service on the Mexican Border (1916). After many swings and misses, lo and behold, I discovered an eBay auction for a number of ‘postcards, Mexican Border, Pancho Villa.’ I immediately went to the listing and discovered four cards showing my grandfather, James ‘Harvey’ Holdeman, both in uniform and in his later career as an oil exploration geologist in Texas.

“Of course, I hit the ‘contact seller’ button, and was soon corresponding with a bookseller near Houston who had an interesting story. Here is what we pieced together:”

Remains of Civil War Veteran Returned Home

A Civil War soldier from Maine whose cremains were stored haphazardly at the Oregon State Hospital for nearly 100 years has finally come home. Private Jewett Williams was part of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He saw a number of battles of combat and was present at Appomattox when his commanding officer, Joshua Chamberlain, accepted the formal surrender of the Confederate army.

Jewett Williams

(Photo of  Jewett Williams from the Oregon State Hospital records)

In 1922, Jewett Williams passed away at the age of 78. His remains had been stored at the Oregon State Hospital ever since. His family never claimed his body and he had no known relatives. Thanks to the Patriot Guard Riders, Jewett Williams’ final journey began August 1 and ended on Sunday after crossing 19 states to get to Maine.

Gorham (Maine) Historical Society May Need to Disband

An article by Robert Lowell in the KeepMeCurrent.com web site describes a potential loss for historians, genealogists, and the general public. The Gorham (Maine) Historical Society is on the verge of going out of business. The society doesn’t have a president, vice president or recording secretary. Brenda Caldwell, executive secretary and archivist, and a few core members are trying to breathe new life into it.

The society’s building houses genealogical records, documents, volumes of books, scrapbooks, town reports, school yearbooks and files with histories of Gorham people and landmarks.

Collage, The London Picture Map

Launched last week, Collage, The London Picture Map allows you to trace London’s visual history street by street. With more than 150,000 pictures mapped across the city, the digital photo archive of the city of London is a huge resource showing what London looked like over the years. Yes, if you have London ancestors, it is likely that you can now see what they saw. The project is the result of two full years of digitizing and mapping images from the London Metropolitan Archive and the Guildhall Art Gallery, which together possess the largest collection of London images in the world.

Whitechapel High Street- looking east about 1890

Whitechapel High Street- looking east about 1890

Happy Birthday, US National Census

Seal_of_the_United_States_Census_BureauHappy 226th birthday!

One of the most valuable tools for US genealogists is the National Census that is enumerated (created) every ten years. Census results were never intended to benefit genealogists. That is simply a side benefit. The primary purpose is to reapportion seats in the House of Representatives and to to realign congressional districts. Over the years, the Census numbers also have become important for the formulas that distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds each year.

The first national census took place on August 2, 1790, when marshals under the direction of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson canvased the original 13 states plus Maine, Vermont, Kentucky, and the Southwest Territory (Tennessee). They asked six questions: name of the head of the household, and number of persons in each household in these categories: free white males over 16; free white males under 16; free white females; all other free persons; and slaves.