Photo Corner

20090223Lillie-resize.bmpContributed by Pam McAllister Bryant
This is a picture of my grandmother Lillie Douglas and her twin sister Willie Douglas.  They were born 21 June 1901 in Lockhart, South Carolina to Virginia Meggs and Benjamin Douglas.  In one picture they are about one-year-old. Growing up when my great aunt visited we had two grandmother’s because they looked exactly alike!

Click on an image to enlarge it.

20090223Elvira.bmpContributed by Alison in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Attached is a picture of R. A. Elvira Hewes, wife of Nelson Wallace Hewes. This picture was taken in Chicago where her husband had a business, which was later destroyed in the great Chicago fire. Elvira’s daughter was taken to the Lincoln funeral parade in Chicago by Elvira’s mother. Sadly Elvira died at the age of 32 on 15 January 1868. Every time I look at this picture I am thankful I never had to iron this silk dress.

Unclaimed Persons Update

UnclaimedPersons.bmpLast May, I blogged about the Unclaimed Persons (, a network of genealogists organized by our friend Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, to help coroners locate the families of unclaimed persons who have died.

The group began as an offshoot of a RootsTelevision program that showed how Megan was working with coroners offices to help solve several unclaimed persons cases. In response to the show, Megan began hearing from other genealogists who wanted to help with the effort. The small network of volunteers I wrote about last year has grown to around 500 and since June 2008, this dedicated group of genealogists has solved 45 cases. Congratulations to everyone who is involved in the project!

Last week the group was the focus of an article in San Bernadino’s The Sun. San Bernadino is believed to be the first county to put its database of unclaimed persons online. More stories on the initiative, including an article from the January/February 2009 issue of Ancestry Magazine can be found here.

Click here to learn more about Unclaimed Persons. Click here to visit RootsTelevision.

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Weekly Planner: Family History Jobs for Kids

At this time of year, everyone in our house is going a little stir crazy. After the umpteenth “I’m bored” last weekend, I followed in my mom’s footsteps and hired my daughter for some family history chores. Back in the 70s, we were the only family on the block with a microfilm reader in the basement, and Mom used to pay my sisters and me a quarter for every family member we found as we scrolled through Brooklyn census microfilms. Now I can sit my daughter down in front of the computer and have her try her hand at searching I’m working on attaching records to my online tree so that when it comes time to create a family history book, the records are attached and download into MyCanvas seamlessly. Other “chores” I have in store include scanning family photographs, labeling current photos, and catching up on that never-ending filing.

Scrolling through microfilm all those years ago is what sparked my interest in family history. I’m hoping that the same will be true for my daughter. Perhaps there is a child you know that would be willing to help you. By enlisting them we can create another generation of family historians.

Exploring the Lincoln Papers, by Juliana Smith

History definitely comes to life when we can find it described in the words of eyewitnesses. Often we find biased and boring accounts of the lives of the famous in history books. But once in a while we come across a source that gives us a better idea of how events shaped our nation and the personal lives of our ancestors.

I love this kind of history most, so when the Lincoln Papers were posted to Ancestry last week, I decided to poke around and see what I could find. Although I didn’t expect to find an ancestor in the database, I checked just in case. The collection includes correspondence from ordinary citizens expressing support and opinions. A nice example is a letter from George Sprecher, a postmaster from Ohio,

“As you are now Elected to the Presidency, & are probably out of a job at present, as no man will think of offering you a job for fear you would be above work now, and as I a nice little job of about 500 cords of wood to chop and a lot of rails to make. So I thought I would write you, and See if we could not come to terms and exchange work, on fair terms if You will help me with my job. . .”

It appears that George was seeking to retain his position as postmaster, but I thought the job offer was an interesting tactic.

One of the more moving messages I read came from Delphy Carlin. We often hear the phrase “brother versus brother” in connection with the Civil War, and as the father of two such brothers, Mr. Carlin wrote to the president,

“In 1814 Mr Neemo, an English born gentleman, but then an American citizen, neighbor of my Father on the Bayou Téche Louisiana had to join the army at New Orleans. Whilst there he received a letter from his Brother, informing him that he was in the British army only a few miles from the City. Mr. Neemo forthwith went to General Jackson, and told him of the circomstance [sic], showed him the letter, and said, “General, I am English born, but am now an American citizen, and I promise you that I will faithfully do my duty, can you not employ me in some way, that I may not come in contact with my Brother, & perhaps kill him.

“Sir my object in relating this anecdote is to illustrate the fact, that…I have two sons; one of them Sylvan my oldest aged 28 years is in the Federal army a volunteer in the 1st Regiment of the Excelsior Brigade Co K. and the other James my youngest son unfortunately went to Louisiana a few months before this war commenced, and, before I could extricate him from those mad people he had enlisted in the rebel army, a boy less than 18 years old.

“I assure you that nothing could be more painful, both to my wife & myself. . . .

“Our prayer to you is that you may give him employment as General Jackson, did to Mr. Neemo, so that he may not come in contact in battle with his Brother, and perhaps kill him.”      

President Lincoln promoted Mr. Carlin’s son to Lieutenant. Continue reading

Growing with the Field

The advances that have been made in family history research in the past fifteen years have revolutionized the way we do research. New tools and technology continue to evolve at breakneck speed. Couple that with the fact that as our research progresses, we are faced with learning about the records of a new era, and often in a different location. There is a constant need to learn new skills and how to use new tools, making it challenging to keep up.

Fortunately there are also many new opportunities these days when it comes to learning. For those who can attend, family history conferences are a fantastic way to learn from professionals and from the companies who are developing the tools we use, and are a great way to connect with other researchers and exchange information. will be attending the following conferences in 2009:

Thousands of users have now taken part in Ancestry’s free webinars. They allow you to sit back and watch as professionals guide you through the tools Ancestry provides, and an international series covered the basics of Jewish, Polish, Irish, English, German, and Italian research. (Click here to view past webinars or sign up for future sessions.)

Tips from the Pros: Traveling Family Members in Passenger Arrivals

When we think about passenger arrival records, too often our focus is on immigrant ancestors. Don’t forget to look for other family members who may have been world travelers or who perhaps had to return to an ancestral home to visit family or settle the estate of a grandparent or some other relative.

And don’t forget that many immigrants went back and forth several times–and did not always pass through the same port. I found my great-grandfather arriving in the U.S. twice in the same year, once in July through Baltimore and again in October through New York.

So don’t stop looking once you find a passenger arrival for your immigrant ancestor. You may be pleasantly surprised at what else you find.

Your Quick Tip, 16 February 2009

Ankle Power!
In graduate school, thirty years ago, I ran across a book listing the people buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Mobile, Alabama. I was thrilled to find many of my relatives listed, with birth and death dates. It was a good start to my own personal journey through history. But one person was missing. My great-great-grandmother was nowhere to be found. Her parents, siblings, husband, and one child were listed, but not her. For thirty years I couldn’t find her listed after the 1900 census. After trying everything I could think of, I decided to drive the sixty miles to Mobile, find the cemetery, and look for myself. After searching the cemetery’s computer records with no luck, I walked to the two family plots. There she was. Her head and footstone had been placed on top of her husband’s slab many years after her death and had been completely overlooked by everyone. Her birth date and death date were clear, as was part of her name and her relationship to her husband. We have become so accustomed to relying on computers that we forget that the old fashioned way has its strengths too. Amazing what a little ankle power can do!
Bobbye Carroll Continue reading

The Year Was 1862

Lincoln-McClellan.bmpThe year was 1862 and the United States was engulfed in the Civil War. Forces on both sides were beginning to realize the human and financial cost of war. Five of the ten most costly battles were fought in 1862–at Antietam (Maryland), the Second Manassas (Virginia), Stone’s River (Tennessee), Shiloh (Tennessee), and Fort Donelson (Tennessee). At the Battle of Antietam alone, more than 23,000 men were killed, wounded, or went missing–the most casualties in one day in American history.

With the war weighing heavily on President Lincoln, tragedy came to the White House in February. His son Willie died of a fever, which devastated the Lincoln family.

Willie Lincoln had charmed many in his ten short years and was thought to be most like his father. U.S. diplomat, Thomas H. Nelson of Indiana wrote the following in a letter of condolence to the Lincolns:

“His rare qualities of head and heart won for him the love and admiration of all who knew him, and gave high promise of future excellence, while his fine physical organization seemed to indicate long life and vigorous health.”

His son’s death would not keep him from his duties though. In 1862, Lincoln signed the Homestead Act. This legislation allowed any U.S. citizen (or immigrant who intended to become a citizen), who had not borne arms against the United States, to claim 160 acres of public land. The applicant was required to live on the land for five years and improve it by building a dwelling and starting a farm. After fulfilling the requirements the applicant could then apply for the deed to the property at the local land office. The Homestead Act helped bring in a wave of immigration and the Railroad Act, also of 1862, provided for the construction of a transcontinental railroad that would accelerate westward expansion.

In September Lincoln issued a warning to Confederate states that unless they returned to the Union by 1 January of the following year, he would grant freedom to slaves in those states. It did not however, free slaves in loyal states. The irony of this was not lost on Secretary of State William Seward, who remarked, “We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.”

The effects of the American Civil War were also being felt overseas. The blockade of southern ports prevented the export of cotton upon which textile mills in Lancashire, England, depended. By late 1862, an estimated three-fifths of the workforce in Lancashire was out of work.

To the south of the border, the French Army occupied Mexico in an attempt to collect a debt. France was not happy with the growth of the United States, and Mexican occupation would allow the French Army to aid the Confederate Army. A Confederate victory would result in two smaller and less powerful countries. As the French marched toward Mexico City, they were met by Mexican forces and farmers armed with only the tools of their trade. The French were defeated on the 5th of May, Cinco de Mayo, and forced to retreat to the coast. Eventually they regrouped and made their way back to Mexico City, but Mexican forces under the leadership of Benito Juarez and Porfirio Diaz managed to stall the French long enough for the Civil War to end.