The Year Was 1911

The year was 1911 and on 25 March, 146 young, mostly female immigrant workers, died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City. Just ten minutes before quitting time, a fire broke out. Fed by textiles, the fire quickly spread throughout the upper three stories of the building. With only one inadequate interior fire escape, an out of order elevator and locked stairwells, workers were trapped. Many chose to leap to their deaths rather than die in the flames. The tragedy brought national attention to sweatshop workers and fire safety issues, resulting in new legislation.

Fire also gutted much of downtown Bangor, Maine, that year. The fire began in a hayshed and aided by strong winds eventually scorched fifty-five acres, leaving seventy-five families homeless, and destroying businesses, churches, and government buildings. The glow of the flames could be seen 107 miles away in Brunswick.

On 11 November (11/11/11), weather was the cause of widespread disaster in the Midwestern and Great Plains states. Oklahoma City saw both a record high and a record low temperature within twenty-four hours as temperatures topped at 83 degrees before plunging to 14 degrees.  

The plunging temperatures were the result of a “Blue Norther,” which is when frigid Arctic air plunges down into the North American continent. The clash with warmer, moist air fueled blizzards in some states, and severe weather, including tornadoes in much of the central U.S. A tornado swept through Rock County, Wisconsin, killing eight people and leaving $1,000,000 in property damage. The survivors of the storm were left shivering as the temperatures that night dipped to nearly zero degrees.

Further south, Mexico was still engulfed in revolution and in 1911, revolutionary forces took control of several northern cities, including Ciudad Juarez. President Porfino Diaz resigned and fled to Europe. The Mexican Revolution would continue though with dissention among the various revolutionary factions and between 1910 and 1920 nearly 900,000 Mexicans would immigrate to the U.S.

In Liverpool, England, an uprising of seamen launched a strike movement that would eventually involve 70,000 workers in various transport positions. Wages had dropped 10 percent between 1900 and 1910 against a backdrop of a higher cost of living–laborers were feeling the pinch. The strike began with two seamen and the Transport Workers Federation quickly called for its members to support them. Workers in various trades related to the transport industry responded and the pressure forced the shipping companies to come to an agreement. The local movement spread nationwide and was followed by waves of strikes throughout the years preceding World War I.

In 1911, Charles F. Kettering filed a patent for the first practical electric automotive starter. Prior to that automobiles were started with a hand crank, and kickbacks would sometimes result in injuries. It would first become available on commercial automobiles with the 1912 Cadillac.

With no automatic starter, at the first Indianapolis 500 held in 1911, they didn’t hear the trademark line, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” Racers probably didn’t mind though, as they gathered to compete for a $14,250 purse. With the exception of the years during World War I and World War II, the Indy 500 has been held continuously on Memorial Day weekend since then.

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(Sorry, for the link problem. It should be working now. -JSS)

Photo Corner

Katharine Magdalene Penschow, New York City, about 1899.Contributed by Louise M. Hawley
The photo attached is my mother, Katharine Magdalene Penschow, with a not-too-happy expression on her face, standing on the steps of the family’s brownstone apartment building, New York City, about 1899.

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Aunt Ruby Knapp (born 1918) and Uncle Harry Homer Knapp (born 1926). Contributed by Don Lancaster
This is a photograph of my Aunt Ruby (born 1918) and Uncle Harry Homer (born 1926). Harry was my grandfather, Homer Harry Knapp’s only son. He died at the age of eight.

Down Under on RootsTelevision

Sorry for the quiet times here on the Family History Circle blog, but I’ve been fighting a particularly tenacious bout of bronchitis for the past couple weeks and it’s put me a bit behind. (Note to the wise: Get your flu shot if you can! I didn’t get one this year and boy am I paying for it!)

Anyway, I did get a note from Megan letting me know about a new series on RootsTelevision about cemeteries that stars my buddies George Morgan and Drew Smith. I finally got a chance to check it out and it is very well done. George and Drew chose a tombstone in a downtown Tampa cemetery and researched the man and woman, who are listed as “Master and Servant” on the tombstone and learned a little about them. It’s a very interesting story told very well by George and Drew. I’ll be looking forward to more of this series. Great job George, Drew and to all the crew at RootsTelevision!

They are also looking for more interesting tombstones to research. If you know of one, you can send them the details at

You can view the first in the series by clicking here.

With a Little Help From Our Friends: Identifying a Cap and Stole

Henry SmithEvery so often I get a question from a reader that, while I don’t have an answer, feel that another reader or readers may be able to help with. While we have sections for identifying people or places in photographs, not all of the questions I get fall into those categories. So I’m setting up a new section where I will post questions from readers where you can help.

For the first installment, I have a photograph from a dear friend of our family, Sandra Luebking. She sent me this photograph of Henry Smith from her own collection. (Click on an image to enlarge it.) The reverse of the photograph says,

J.M.White, Photographer
Cor. Military and Water Sts,
Port Huron, Michigan

Henry Smith - stole We think his stole and cap may be representative of a fraternal order, but are not familiar with it. I’ve enlarged the lower portion of the stole that appears to carry an insignia. If you can help with this mystery, please add your comments below.

If you have a question you think we can help with, send it to me at

Weekly Planner: Chronicle the Homes in Your Life

Have you ever wondered about the homes of your ancestors and wished you knew more? Chances are that future generations will be wondering about the homes your family lived in. Take some time to record the memories you have of the homes you’ve lived in and those of family members. Add photographs if they’re available and make a chronological history with addresses, favorite features, family gathering places, etc.

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On the Street Where They Lived, by Juliana Smith

I like to try to picture my ancestors in the settings in which they lived, but in eras and families where pictures are scarce, it can be difficult to imagine. I love browsing through old photographs anywhere I can find them and even in cases where I can’t find an image of my ancestor’s exact house, it’s fun to see images of the neighborhoods where they lived, the churches or schools they attended, and local street scenes.

Last week, Paula’s article about Google Street View showed how to view of ancestral places of interest. This is great in cases where the houses or buildings still exist (and of course is limited to areas where the service is available), but for most of us, getting that glimpse of the houses and neighborhoods in which they lived will require a little more research.

Google It
Whenever I learn a place of origin for one of my ancestors in “the old country,” the first thing I do is search for that town online. One of my ancestor’s is from Balbriggan. A search brought up the Balbriggan & District Historical Society website which has a few photographs as well as some historical information. When I switch over to Google’s image search, even more photographs come up. While most are contemporary, I can definitely get a feel for the area, and I ran across several images of historic monuments. A similar search for another small Irish town turned up an image of the church where my second great-grandmother was baptized.

Look for websites of local historical societies, libraries, tourism agencies, and chambers of commerce. These sites often have sections on local history that are populated with historical photographs. Search for nearby landmarks, street names and addresses, churches, schools, parks, and any other institution that your ancestor may have used.
The collections of images at Ancestry are growing by leaps and bounds. Since July 2006, Ancestry has experienced a surge in user-contributed content and more than 5.5 million photos have been uploaded. Many of the submitters have generously chosen to make their trees–and accompanying photographs–publicly available. Using the Photos and Maps tab on the homepage, enter a town name and state in the keyword field and see what kind of images come up. I was just browsing through with various keywords and ran across this street scene from Tingewick, Buckinghamshire, England.

If you’re lucky, you might even find a distant cousin has posted a photograph of an ancestral home. Here’s a photograph of a house in Kokomo, Indiana, from around the turn of the century. Continue reading

Genealogy from A to Z, by Michael John Neill

Accuracy. Are your records as accurate as possible? Have transcriptions been made correctly and in an honest effort to copy the original precisely?

Bibliographies. Have you looked at bibliographies and finding aids frequently shown on state archives websites and genealogical research libraries? Materials listed in these guides may assist you in your research. Bibliographies in historical or genealogical journal articles may also reference materials of which you were not aware.

Cited. Are you sources cited in such a way that you or someone else could easily find the record again if necessary? If not, consider expanding your source detail.

Documented. Do you have at least one source for each event or name in your database? Although one source does not imply accuracy and multiple independent sources are preferable, one is a start.

Errors. Remember that any record can contain errors. Never assume that one record is 100 percent accurate. Gather as many records as possible before drawing conclusions.

Faith. Have you searched for records of your ancestor’s faith? Records of church membership may provide insights into your ancestor’s life and family.

Google. Have you Googled all your relatives? I searched for a relative that died twenty years ago, entering in his name and last county of residence in the search box. I got several hits, including a post made by a granddaughter. Continue reading

Tips from the Pros: Check Local Societies for Cemetery Information, from George G. Morgan

Quite often, genealogical or historical societies canvass and transcribe cemeteries in their vicinity. Before traveling on a blind search for potentially obscure cemeteries and “missing” ancestors, make contact by mail or e-mail with the genealogical and historical societies in the area. If they haven’t transcribed a cemetery, they may be able to provide precise driving directions to lead you directly to the cemetery, thus saving you a substantial amount of research time.

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