The Year Was 1883

Buffalo Bill.bmpThe year was 1883 and people were on the move. In Europe, the Orient Express began running between Paris and Giurgi (Romania), with stops along the way in Strasbourg, Vienna, Budapest, and Bucharest. By the 1920s, its route would extend to Istanbul and an alternate route would take it to the south through Switzerland with lines to Venice. Royalty mingled with the rich and famous in its opulent cars.

The expansion of railways in the U.S. was still going strong and with the arrival of railroad schedules came the need for a standardized system of time zones. Prior to 1883, the time was determined locally by the position of the sun, and early railroads had to contend with different timekeeping at various stops along the line. It was on 18 November 1883 that Standard Railway Time went into effect, dividing the continental U.S. into the four time zones that we know today (although here in Indiana the debate raged on another 120 years).

A huge feat in transportation took place in New York with the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, which connected Brooklyn with Manhattan. Work on the bridge began in 1870 and the total cost exceeded $15 million dollars, as well as twenty lives. It was viewed as a triumph in architecture and was the longest suspension bridge in the world at that time. It towered over both cities; at that time only the spire of Trinity Church in Manhattan was taller. Prior to the opening of the bridge, travel between the two cities relied on ferries and at times the East River crossing could be hazardous and even impassable. Storms, fog, and ice frequently caused interruptions in service.

While there was much ceremony with the grand opening of the bridge in May, there was still speculation and fear about the capacity of the bridge and on Memorial Day of 1883, with 20,000 people on the bridge, a woman tripped and screamed setting off a panicked stampede that killed twelve people and injured many more.

Railroads were extending westward in the U.S. and the tide of immigration to western states that had been boosted with the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, continued. And as travel between the East and West became easier, stories of the “Wild West” captured the imaginations of easterners. Dime novels glamorized folk heroes. William F. Cody–better known as “Buffalo Bill”–a former Pony Express rider, Indian scout, and buffalo hunter became a showman in 1883, bringing tales of the Wild West to venues around the world. His outdoor show reenacted buffalo hunts, Indian attacks (including Custer’s Last Stand starring Lakota Indians who had fought in that battle), and a Pony Express ride. Famous Native Americans who starred in the show included Geronimo and Sitting Bull; show performers like Annie Oakley and Wild Bill Hickok became celebrities around the world.

The newspaper business entered an era of sensationalism as Joseph Pulitzer acquired the New York World. His newspaper catered to the working class and promised to root out corruption in government. Pulitzer believed that, “There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy. Get these things out in the open, describe them, attack them, ridicule them in the press, and sooner or later public opinion will sweep them away.” The sensational headlines and use of images grabbed the attention of the public and Pulitzer was able to increase the circulation of the newspaper tenfold within five years.

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Photo Corner, 25 August 2008

Grandfather Henry Lowe, Aunt Lucille, and Grandmother Pearl Lowe Contributed by Donna and George Bellamy
This picture is of my Grandfather Henry Lowe, Aunt Lucille, and Grandmother Pearl Lowe in their 1908 Maxwell. (GO to the blog for the full version of this photograph.)

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Floyd and Lloyd PurcellContributed by Nancy Friend
On the pony are twin brothers, Floyd and Lloyd Purcell. Lloyd is my dad, born July 1918. The boy standing is their brother, Harold, born June 1920. The picture was taken in Council Bluffs, Iowa. They are now all deceased.

Strange Laws Explained….Well, Sort of…

I heard from a lot of you this week regarding my column on Your Ancestors and the Law. Thanks to everyone who wrote in! Vicki Claybrook made me feel better about my meanderings and here’s what she found:

Juliana, you are not the only one who gets sidetracked by her curiosity. Once I read that camels were in Idaho and elephants on the streets of Florida, I had to find out more.

Camels were used by the military by the late 1850s. Later the use of camels expanded to include hauling supplies to the northern states. The practice did not last long as no one was particularly successful at driving them, and they did not do well with horses. Why you would not want to fish from the back of one, however, is something I could not find.

Then again, Boise, Idaho has a law that you cannot fish from the back of a giraffe. Maybe Boise lawmakers could not tell the difference between camels and giraffes?

Anyway, camels have had a brief, but interesting history in this country. My favorite new bit of trivia is that a Vermont senator (George Perkins Marsh) advised giving camels to native tribes as a way of ending conflicts with them, and providing them with a means of sustaining their lives after the loss of the buffalo. You can read more at if you wish to get even further led astray from what you should be doing.

As to elephants, having family in Sarasota, Florida, I was already aware of the town’s identity as the “Circus Capitol of the World”. It appears that in the early 1920s, John Ringling (Ringling Brothers Circus) used circus elephants to build the first bridge from the mainland to St. Armands Key. I imagine that would explain elephants on the streets and a need to tether them safely.

I awoke excited that I had a totally free day today; no obligations, no visiting grandkids. I have spent way too much time on Google, however. But had fun doing it. Thanks for the adventure.

Vicki Claybrook

Thank you Vicki for clearing up those mysteries! Now if we can just figure out why fishing from camels and giraffes came to be a problem, we’ll be able to run for public office! 😉


A Tale of Serendipity

This week, I got some interesting feedback from readers, and I thought I’d share this story of how, through a string of serendipitous events, David located several ancestors while on a genealogical excursion.

I have often had the pleasure of offering my help to other genealogists, in sharing photographs of their loved ones’ graves near my home back East, and in discovering the history surrounding their lives. In the dead of Winter it is comforting to explore Ancestry’s ever-expanding databases. When the weather warms, however, I yearn to discover in more concrete ways, the history of my family.
On a quiet Saturday in June of this year, I decided to drive the several hours northward from my home near Philadelphia to the Southern Tier of New York where my mother’s family lived long ago. There were several surnames and several towns, clustered among one another that I needed to find. I had found some of what I needed to know from Ancestry, but much of what I wanted was obscured by the quietness of these folks, and a dearth of written records in the family.
The one grave I knew how to find, was not marked by a stone. My great-grandfather left few tracks, and perhaps there were few who wanted to commemorate his life. His son’s grave was not far away, and so I drove to that town, and visited that cemetery. On such a beautiful day, there was a small crowd and when I stopped in hopes of turning into a different lane, there was another car. At that very corner, as I hesitated, I looked down to my left and I found the gravestones of my great-uncle and his wife.
My expedition to the next town’s biggest cemetery yielded several discoveries–less dramatic perhaps, but still connected to my family. Each helped me put a face to a record of some sort. I was thankful that my trip had not been in vain, and decided to head for home from Chemung, New York, back to Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
As I began to leave town in the late afternoon, I had second thoughts, and decided instead to go down CR 60 rather than straight back onto Highway 17. A few miles down the road on the right was a small cemetery. There was no driveway, so I parked along the shoulder and walked back to visit this cemetery along the riverside. Walking cemeteries is something I love to do, as do most genealogists. Within a few yards of the entrance I discovered my great-grandfather’s gravesite, and my great-grandmother’s beside his. These were people I have photographs of, but never met. Not far away were his parents’ graves, and two of his brothers’ graves, along with their wives. His dad served in the War of 1812, and went to the Southern Tier of New York to live and farm. I was literally on my knees after finding these folks’ graves that evening. I have no clue how I ended up at the Riverside Cemetery that day, but I have never felt closer to the family I found there. Lucky, lucky me!
The very best part of that beautiful evening in Chemung, New York, was the sense that these people who are my ancestors, deserve and desire to be rediscovered. Funny how they seemed to help me do exactly that.
Thanks Juliana,
David Dillman and JewishGen to Provide Online Access to Millions of Jewish Historical Documents

Ancestry____logo1.bmpPartnership Enables Broader Research of Jewish Ancestry Through Powerful Search Tools in One Centralized Location

CHICAGO – The Generations Network, Inc., parent company of, and JewishGen, a non-profit organization dedicated to researching and promoting Jewish genealogy and an affiliate of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, today announced a partnership designed to provide easier online access to millions of important Jewish historical documents. JewishGen’s collection of databases will be integrated and be made available for free on, making these historical Jewish records and information more accessible than ever before. As part of the agreement, the JewishGen site will also be hosted in’s data center.

For the first time ever, those interested in researching Jewish ancestry will be able to search JewishGen’s databases on, taking advantage of’s powerful search technologies, including tree hinting and the ability to search all JewishGen databases through one simple interface. The agreement will also give researchers the ability to make connections within family trees and to perform broader searches – searching JewishGen’s databases in combination with the other 7 billion names and 26,000 databases available on In addition, visitors will be able to network with millions of members to connect with others interested in Jewish genealogy and discover distant relatives.

“We are thrilled to be collaborating with JewishGen, an elite and well-respected resource in the Jewish genealogy community,” said Tim Sullivan, president and CEO of The Generations Network. “Both organizations are committed to the preservation of important historical records. We look forward to working with JewishGen and to making these wonderful collections even more accessible for free on Ancestry.

Under the new agreement, some of the important JewishGen content that will be available on includes databases from many different countries, the Holocaust Database, Yizkor Books (memorial books from Holocaust survivors), The Given Names Database and JewishGen ShtetlSeeker, among others. The JewishGen collections will be available on by the end of the year. Continue reading

Your Ancestors and the Law, by Juliana Smith

It started with an e-mail from my sister asking for help with a trivia scavenger hunt that my niece was participating in. She needed to find out what food is forbidden to be eaten after 6 p.m. in Newark, New Jersey, without a doctor’s note. After a few tries, I found reference to an odd law that prohibits eating ice cream on Sunday evenings. Of course I couldn’t stop there. Like a child following a butterfly, I strayed from the task at hand (a.k.a., this column) and went off in search of other strange laws.

I learned that here in Indiana, I’m not supposed to bathe in the winter. (Sorry, I’m going to have to be an outlaw on that one!) In Florida, if you tie your elephant to the parking meter, you have to pay the meter. Now I haven’t been to Florida in a while, but is this a problem there? I would think if the police came across an elephant tied to a parking meter, the first question that popped into their heads wouldn’t be, “Hey, did he pay the meter?” And besides, where would they put the ticket? 

And of course, in Idaho, it is illegal to fish from a camel’s back. Consider yourselves warned Idahoans.

The list goes on and on and it got me thinking. My guess is that for the most part, these laws were put on the books many years ago and just never got removed, and that the bath thing goes back to the days when some thought that bathing during the winter was actually dangerous due to the risk of pneumonia. (The reasoning behind the elephant and camel laws continues to escape me.)

There were other laws that affected our ancestors, and in doing so, affect us as we seek out the records that they left. Becoming familiar with the laws of the time can help us be more successful in our searches and not waste time looking for records that don’t exist, or that exist in another place. Let’s take a look:

Immigration Law
Naturalization records are among the most prized records by genealogists. But finding them requires a little knowledge about immigration laws for the time period in which the record was created. Will there be a naturalization record for Great-grandma Rose? Prior to 1922, the answer is probably not, because women derived citizenship from their father or husband (although there were exceptions). Continue reading

What About Those Collateral Branches? by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG

Last week’s Ancestry Weekly Journal included a Weekly Planner item from Juliana about collateral relatives that made me stop and think about my own collateral research. If I hadn’t researched one great-grandfather’s brother, I may never have found the place they left in Scotland (Arbroath) and would have missed the death and burial place for my great-great-grandparents.

If I hadn’t researched my grandfather’s siblings, I would not have known about the relatives still living in Ireland–all those collateral relatives that eventually immigrated to Boston and to Omaha. Nor would I have been visited by relatives from the Dingle Peninsula.

If I hadn’t researched another great-grandmother’s siblings, I would not have received some very neat pictures, articles, and more. I would not have known that they sent coffee to their relatives in Sweden during WWII, leading me to eventually contact descendants of those relatives.

If I hadn’t researched one more great-grandmother’s siblings, I would not have learned that I was researching the wrong name. They weren’t Irish or English Dows, but rather a French-Canadian name, Daoust! Continue reading