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!

Elizabeth HART Crow

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!

On May 1, 1902, my third great-grandmother Elizabeth HART Crow passed away. At least according to her FindaGrave memorial. Alas, there is no photo of her gravestone (I’ve requested one), nor have I been able to find an obituary or other record confirming this information. Yet.

Elizabeth and her husband Isaac D. CROW had no less than 12 children together, including my second great-grandfather Daniel B. Crow. The family lived in Carter County, Tennessee, where I still have distant relatives to this day.

I need to spend more time on Elizabeth and her family. All I have on her so far are census records and the FindaGrave link.

Treasure Chest Thursday: Destination, West!

While in the Portland, Ore., area for the AIIP11 conference, I visited Powell’s Books. I usually hit the local interest section of a bookstore when I’m traveling because you can find great mementos there. I had another motive on this trip since I have a family mystery involving Oregon — back in the early 1900s, my great-great grandfather Joseph Smith Hayes moved his entire family, including seven children, from East Tennessee to Umatilla, Oregon. I found them there in the 1910 census. By 1920, the entire family was back in East Tennessee. I was looking for local history books that might explain why my ancestors made such a move (and then had to move back).

I found and purchased a book on the Oregon Trail. It might not even be related to my family’s journey, but it looked like a good read. I’m also drawn to old books and I found a doozy:

Destination, West! by Agnes Ruth Sengstacken.

This book drew me in because it still had the original cover. When I opened it, I was in for a treat:

A letter from the author to the book’s one-time owner! Here is page two:

Here is a transcription of the letter:

ARS

Stockton, California.
January 19th, 1944.

My dear Mrs. Mccully;-

It is always a pleasure to me to hear from someone who has read my book and has found some interest or enjoyment in it. It is a very simple little story, simply told, but it has the merit of being true. I believe that this is the first published account of a woman’s trip across the plains, told in detaul [sic], though many men have written of their experiences in those dim and distant days.

It is interesting to me to know that some of your relatives are mentioned in this stoey [sic], for I have often heard my mother speak of them. She always spoke of your great grandfather, Tom McF Patton, and thus, I wrote it in my … [end of page one; I suspect a page may be missing]

…MS. this mistake is one of many made by the publishers of the book.

Many years after my mother was located at Empire City, she paid a visit to Salem, where she was the guest of her old friend, Mrs. Sam Garke, the former Harriet Buckingham. While there she also visited with Mrs. Garke, whom I believe she called Belle – though I am rather hazy on this point. I especially recall that she always spoke in glowing terms of your grandfather, Tom MCF Patton, whom she regarded as a very brilliant man.

Thank you for ypur [sic] very interesting letter, -and believe me to be

Sincerely yours.

[Signed] Agnes R. Sengstacken

Kindly pardon this wretched typing.

————————————

I found quite a bit of information on Agnes Sengstacken. She died in 1948, only a few years after this letter was written.

In addition to the clues to the provenance of the book and this letter by the author, the book also sounds like it will be a fascinating read! Who knows, maybe I’ll find a clue or two to my family mystery too.

Surname Saturday: HAYES (TN, NC) — An Update

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!

In 2009, I posted about the discovery of notes on the back of a photograph, which identified my second-great grandparents, Joseph and Molly (Taylor) HAYES of Carter County, Tennessee. Census records showed that Joseph was born in North Carolina. Eventually, I tracked down his father, Robert, also born in N.C.

Well, I finally have located the family in North Carolina (Watauga County, to be specific), using the 1860 U.S. census. The surname was spelled Hays. That breakthrough allowed me to trace them back yet another generation. My 4th-great grandfather was Ransom Hayes. In the 1850 U.S. census, the enumerator spelled the surname ‘Hase.’ Tricky, but I found them anyhow! (Also found Ransom listed as Hayse in 1860!)

I noticed that another Ancestry member had a private photo of Ransom’s tombstone. I plan to contact them, but on a hunch I went to FindaGrave and sure enough, there are photos of his tombstone and that of his wife (and now I know her surname too)! And his tombstone has interesting information on it that points to possible land records for which to search. Oh and they’re buried in a HAYES cemetery in Watauga County, N.C. This just keeps getting better!

Military Monday: Billy Hayes

I recently discovered that I have another relative buried at Arlington National Cemetery. My great-uncle Billy G. Hayes was interred there in 2002. He served in the Army. I’m still trying to flesh out the details of his service. A note on his FindaGrave record reads “CSM US ARMY; WORLD WAR II; KOREA; VIETNAM.” CSM apparently stands for Command Sergeant Major. On my next trip to Arlington, I plan to seek out his grave. My father and my maternal grandparents are all buried at Arlington as well.

In 2009, Billy’s brother, my great-uncle Ben Hayes, mentioned to me that he had purchased a brick in Billy’s honor for a war memorial in Elizabethton, Tennessee, where they grew up. Ben drove my sister and I by the memorial at the time, though we didn’t get a chance to see the brick itself.

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.