Tuesday’s Tip: Local History News Alerts

This past weekend, there was a huge celebration in the town of Easton, Md., surrounding the placement of a sculpture of Frederick Douglass in front of the Talbot County Courthouse. Douglass once gave a very famous address on the steps of that courthouse.

The events this weekend got me thinking about the likelihood of similar events taking place in towns across the country. With all of the patriotic holidays during the summer, there are many celebrations of local and national history throughout the country during this season.

Local newspapers tend to preview such events with articles about area history. What a great way to learn about the hometowns of your ancestors! Might your ancestor get a mention? Here’s one way to find out: set up a Google News Alert for your ancestors’ hometowns and add keywords like ‘history’ to the search string.

Use the AROUND operator to make results more relevant. When I did a search for “San Antonio” and “history,” the results weren’t what I’d hoped for. I changed the search string to ‘”san antonio” AROUND(5) history’ (meaning where ‘history’ appears within five words of ‘San Antonio’) and got much better results.

You can add other keywords to the search string too. Were your ancestors farmers? Miners? Play around with other keywords to narrow your results.

I had trouble getting relevant results from one of my searches. You can click on Advanced Search to narrow the results by source location OR by coverage of a certain location.

I tried out a Google News search for one of my ancestral hometowns, Elizabethton, Tenn. I typed ‘Elizabethton Tennessee history’ into the search bar. The results varied from calendar items for workshops at local history landmarks to an article on local sports history. I set up a news alert so that future articles about the area come to my attention.

When you set up the news alert, you are presented with a number of options that will affect the results you receive. You can have the alert cover everything from blogs to video. I usually select “Everything” from the Type drop-down menu. Likewise, I also select “All Results” under Volume.

I have dozens of news alerts set up for my day job, and I find it can be overwhelming to receive all of those emails. Since I already have Google Reader set up for keeping track of genealogy blogs, I elected to receive these local history updates in my feed there, rather than receiving still more email.

Don’t forget to navigate around the Google News results using the menu on the left. I hit Archives and found articles about presidential candidate Herbert Hoover visiting Elizabethton in 1928. Another article, from 1957, detailed the homecoming of conjoined twins (joined at the head, no less), who had been successfully separated just in time to return home for Christmas that year. Note that some of the archive hits may require payment to view the full article, depending on the publication.

None of these stories involve my ancestors, but what great snapshots of local happenings over the years.

It also pays to search for county names and not just town names. I found this article on a flood that swept through Elizabethton (spelled ‘Elizabethtown’ in this article, which is why it didn’t show up in my previous search) in 1901 by searching for “Carter County.” Surely my ancestors were affected by this flood.

Another interesting find was this reprint of a letter by Abraham Lincoln.

Another bonus to performing these searches is you may discover newspapers you didn’t know existed. This could lead to more fruitful searching later on.

Dear Mr. Lincoln, I Think We May Be Related…

In preparing a blog post involving Carter County, Tenn., I found this fascinating reprint of a letter by Abraham Lincoln, to a relative who had written him inquiring as to whether they may be related. The article, which originally appeared in The New York Times, can be downloaded as a PDF at no charge.

Stay tuned on Tuesday to see how I found this little treasure!

Wordy Wednesday: Friends Album Update

Well, I’ve done it! I’ve found a living descendant of a subject in the friends album. I haven’t contacted him yet. I’m still figuring out what I want to say.

Friend No. 12 (Ellis B. Wilson)

In the meantime, I’ll share some tidbits from a major clue that led me to the grandson of Ellis B. Wilson (I’m withholding the grandson’s name to maintain his privacy). Over the weekend, I decided to search the Hartford Courant archives to see if I could find Ellis’ obituary (previously, I found his FindaGrave memorial, which provided me with his date of death and the names of his two wives). Other records had confirmed for me that Hartford was the place to search for his obit.

The Courant’s archives delve back into the 1700s. The paper does charge users for anything besides a brief abstract of its older articles, but after failing to find the obituary through other free resources available to me (and resources that I already pay for), I decided it was worth the nominal fee to get the details that his obituary would divulge.

From Ellis’ obit, I learned he was known as “Mr. American Legion Baseball,” having established the American Legion Baseball program in Connecticut. I also learned that he died while on vacation in Treasure Island, Fla.

The obituary named his daughter and her place of residence at the time of his death. This allowed me to find more information on her, which led me to her sons including the one I know still to be living.

I think I’m going to wait until I’ve finished going through the entire album before I contact Ellis’ grandson. I’m still hoping that I’ll find other descendants of other known subjects in the album. This could lead to a dilemma. My original goal was to return the album to descendants of those pictured after I realized that many of the photo subjects belong to the same family. Now, it appears that I may identify descendants of unrelated subjects. I’m loathe to split up the album, at least right now. But if Ellis’ family doesn’t have this picture of him, how I could I not send it to them? Dilemma!

————————————–

“Ellis B. Wilson, 77, Dies; Legion Baseball Pioneer,” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984), Jan. 30, 1971, p 4: ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1764-1985); (http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/courant/advancedsearch.html : accessed 26 March 2011).

Sunday’s Obituary: Della (Crow) Hayes

Dear Reader: Do you think you are related to the individuals listed in this post? Please drop me a note! I love hearing from cousins and others researching my family!

Della (Crow[e]) Hayes was my great-grandmother. All of the materials below are in the possession of one of my aunts:

Original source unknown

Original source unknown

Funeral Program Cover

Funeral Program, Inside

I have a couple things to follow up on here. There is a minister involved in the funeral of the last name ‘Hayes.’ Possibly a relative? Same with pall bearer Wayne Gourley (note the difference in spellings of Gourley/Gorley throughout the materials). I should also check with the church mentioned in the obituary to see if they have any family records.

It Always Pays to Re-Search

Dear Reader: Do you think you are related to the individuals listed in this post? Please drop me a note! I love hearing from cousins and others researching my family!

I’ve been through Ancestry records too many times to count, but I find that it’s always fruitful to go back and repeat searches for folks I added to my family tree ages ago. Today’s finds:

A 1904 mention in the Washington Post of a lawsuit in which my grandfather, a physician, was suing an individual, presumably a patient, for $639.42.

A 1910 mention in the Post in an article detailing the inspection of a new milk plant in the D.C. area; my grandfather was one of 100 physicians and other medical personnel invited to tour the facility.

A 1911 Washington Post blurb about recent car sales. My grandfather had just purchased a Model 35 Buick Roadster. According to the American Automobiles web site, the 1912 Model 35 sold for $1,000. An ad for the vehicle is available online.

A 1915 Washington Post announcement that my grandmother would be one of many women assisting at the College Women’s Club’s presentation of “Color in the Home.”

Another 1915 Post article about a University of Pennsylvania alumni dinner that my grandfather attended.

Alert readers will note that all of these items come from the same source. I found them by drilling down into the various categories of records returned among my search results. This helps to separate the wheat form the chaff, bypassing all of those unrelated census records, etc., that always seem to clog up the first few pages of top-level search results.

All of the above items add colorful details about my grandparents’ lives and also a jumping off point for discovering more records (especially regarding that lawsuit!).