Posted by Jasmine Rockow on September 1, 2017 in Campaigns, ProGenealogists

A clue about her ancestor’s job continues to inspire new avenues of research for an Ancestry genealogist. What will you learn during Ancestry’s Labor Day free access?

A handwritten “Dr.” scrawled in the margins of a 1918 passenger list led Nicole Kreis Kendall on a journey that ended with an amazing discovery about the career path of her third great-aunt, Maria Belle Coolidge.

“Now, I just want to tell her story and share how awesome and gutsy she was,” Nicole said. “She had so much gumption.”

Nicole’s passion for family history is evident in the enthusiasm she brings to her professional work with AncestryProGenealogists, and in her excitement to share her experiences as a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

Six years ago, Nicole was new to genealogy and to Ancestry, working as a content editor in the company’s corporate office. Her team spent an hour every Friday researching their personal family trees—time Nicole used to pursue a long-held interest in the siblings of her great-grandmother, Katharine (Coolidge) Kreis, especially a pair of twin sisters named Anna and Maria.

Maria Belle Coolidge Passenger List

One of the first documents to surface was a passenger list. On 23 November 1918, Maria Belle Coolidge arrived in the Port of New York on board the SS Rochambeau from Bordeaux, France. And next to Maria’s name, someone had written the abbreviation “Dr.”

“I was amazed,” Nicole said. “She’s a doctor? She was coming home from France, and she was a single woman, and it was around the same time as World War I. When I saw that passenger ship record, I got really interested.”

Users of Ancestry.com are well-acquainted with the shaky leaf—hints that often lead to other related documents about a particular ancestor. One of the hints attached to that 1918 passenger list was a passport application. On 6 February 1918, a 43-year-old physician named Maria Belle Coolidge sought permission to go to France with the American Red Cross for the duration of the war. Her birth date and location matched what Nicole knew about her ancestral Maria, as did her father’s name.

Maria Belle Coolidge Passport Application

It was a match, but these fascinating pieces of information about her great aunt were just the beginning. Nicole eventually learned that, like her, Maria had been a member of the DAR, which had records about Maria giving presentations on sanitation and conditions at the front.

“My goal, after I saw that mentioned in the DAR publications, was to find records of her account of the war,” Nicole said. “It was really cool that she went over, and I felt like she was a single woman and there’s no one else to really talk about her. She doesn’t have any descendants, and if no one talks about her, then what she did doesn’t matter.” 

Newspapers, for the win

Nicole’s big break in uncovering the details of Maria’s life came when Newspapers.com added a wealth of new material from newspapers in Michigan. It was here she found Maria’s obituary, which revealed that the government had sent Maria on a tour of the American southern states to sell war bonds.

“So, I did a search and I found a newspaper article that totally answered my prayers and made me so happy,” Nicole said. “Because forever I had wanted to hear about her experiences, her first-hand account.”

The Houston Post, April 28, 1919.

And that’s exactly what she found. In a news article published in The Houston Post on 28 April 1919, an enthusiastic reporter gave a detailed account of a speech given by Lieutenant Maria Belle Coolidge, encouraging people to buy war bonds. In Maria’s own words, Nicole learned about her aunt’s experiences in the trenches, surviving poison gas attacks and close encounters with shells. This is Nicole’s favorite quote from the article: “I am sometimes introduced to an audience as Lieutenant, often as Doctor Castor Oil and Dr. Cootie, and on rare occasions as a Buck Private. That is the best title of all and I feel honored when so called. One day while crossing the Atlantic on a transport a soldier said to me, ‘I don’t know what your uniform will be, but I got this much to say, you are a darn good buck private,’ and I answered, yes I hope to make a darn good buck private.”

Nicole said, “It felt like Maria was speaking to me, and it was just amazing to be able to hear that account. She would have been a hoot to hang out with. And that was the other thing I wanted to see, was her personality. She worked so hard. She made an impact.”

Nicole’s search for more information about her intrepid great aunt is far from over. She plans to visit all the places that Maria has been, to “see what she saw.” In the meantime, she’s sharing Maria’s story with as many people as she can. Her grandpa had only known his aunt Maria as one of the “two crazy ladies my father would talk about.” As a veteran who served in Germany and England during World War II and later become a doctor, he now has a new appreciation for their shared experiences.

Nicole wishes she had known about Maria growing up, and that young girls in general heard more stories about women like her aunt.

“Things were hard for them, but they made it work,” Nicole said. “They fought and they broke through barriers. I feel like my responsibility now is to tell people about her.”

Take advantage of free access to more than 850 million historical occupation records thru Labor Day, here.

Jasmine Rockow

Jasmine Rockow writes family history narratives for AncestryProGenealogists. Before joining the Ancestry team, she earned her journalism degree from the University of Oregon and worked as a reporter in Central Oregon. She lives with her husband in Salt Lake City, Utah.

7 Comments

  1. Sharon gire

    How cool that you were able to find so much detail information on your ancestor. I am hoping for an approval of my DAR membership. I submitted my first application this summer. The research required really taught me a lot of skills in genealogy. I was able to find my 7th great grandfather’s sons on a probate settlement of his lands. I also tracked down his wife and date of marriage (1764) through locating hand written lists from Presbyterian session records held by an archive in Georgia. Fun detective work. I love the hunt, the information and the learning. Thanks for your Blog

  2. Janice

    Great story! Wondering what the deal is for this weekend. I have U.S. subscription and newspapers.com. Will I be able to view other collections this weekend (e.g., Fold 3 or non-U.S. records)? Or is this something for the general public? Thanks.

  3. Jane

    Very much enjoyed reading Jasmine’s fascinating discoveries about her 3rd Great-Aunt, Maria Belle Coolidge (great name too)! Amazing how one tiny item (‘Dr’ notation) can lead a researcher to such a fascinating story! I met a 3rd cousin through ANCESTRY recently and, together, we were able to ‘flesh out’ the identity of a woman & her son who were in an old family photo ~ that was very exciting for me! I’m also 99.9% certain that my 2nd Grt-Grandfather (the Grandfather of the boy in said photo) was in the Union Army during the Civil War; however, I’ve hit the proverbial ‘WALL’ because his name was very common (John Coyle). Any hints on how to track someone with a common surname would be much appreciated! An additional problem is that, in New York, long ago, addresses were not included….just ‘Building #x’ type listings. Anyway – thanks Jasmine for your terrific story!!

  4. Jan Nicolaas

    I have some information on a nother Jan Nicolaas Benson. Born on the 13th of January 2886 in the district of Posmasburg and got married to Catharina Johanna Fransina Smit born on the 17th March 1900 on the farm twisfontein and they got married on the 16th of May 1922 and they had 8 children n.l Hester Adriana Benson. Cornelia ; Catharina Johanna Fransina ; Willem Joseph ; Hendrik Petrus (dauter) Jan Nicolaas Benson born on 24th May 1934 on the farm wateraan in the Kuruman district ; Sussanna and Alwyn Johannes

  5. Tom Ontis

    Even before I started doing family history, I knew that my mother, Madeline, had been a ‘Rosie the Riveter’ at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, CA. She worked there for almost three years and went back during Korea before my brother Kevin was born in February 1952.
    My father was in the Navy at the time and the few times his ship came home, she would quit, go meet him and then get re-hired. She had some great memories. (She passed away about 10 years ago.) Fortunately she wrote many of her remembrances down.

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