Weekly Planner: Scan and Share Halloween Photos

Diana, Juliana, Patricia, and Laura Szucs, Halloween 1971Halloween photos are always fun to look at and reminisce about. Dig out those old photographs and see how many you have in your collection. Then digitize them and share them with family and friends who may remember them or who are included in the photos. Perhaps they have some photographs that they can share too. And don’t forget to record the stories behind the costumes and the memories that they evoke. As Maureen discusses in her article, this is a great way to engage children in family history and the stories will make a great addition to your family history.

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Using Ancestry: “Ghost Story,” by Juliana Smith

The wild goose (or should I say “ghost”) chase began innocently. I was working on this newsletter. I dove into “The Year Was 1897” since I had found several Halloween-ish events associated with that year. One of these was a reference to “The Greenbrier Ghost,” so I set off in search of more information. I found the story online at a site called Dead Men Do Tell Tales.

The site revealed that Elva Zona Heaster was born in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, around 1873. In 1895, she gave birth to an illegitimate child, and in late 1896, she married a man named Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue who worked as a blacksmith. Elva’s mother, Mary Jane Robinson Heaster, was not very pleased with the marriage and when Elva was found dead in January of 1897, she immediately suspected foul play. Mr. Shue remained with the body throughout the postmortem examination and became very agitated when the doctor tried to examine her. The doctor hurriedly listed her cause of death as “everlasting faint” and later, “childbirth,” as he had been treating her for “female trouble.”

After washing a sheet from the coffin, Mary Jane Heaster found a peculiar blood-like stain on it and believed this to be a sign that her daughter had been murdered. A few weeks later, her daughter appeared to her four times and told her how her husband had broken her neck in a fit of rage. She took this information to the local prosecutor and convinced him to reopen the case, which he reluctantly did. After Elva was exhumed, it was ascertained that, indeed, her neck had been broken and her husband was arrested and convicted of her murder. He was sentenced to life in prison and the case remains unique because of role that the Elva’s ghost played in solving the crime. Continue reading

Trick or Treat Tales, by Maureen Taylor

jack olantern.jpgIn case you haven’t noticed, Halloween is now big business. Cards, candy, and costumes are everywhere. Forget making your own outfit, there our seasonal stores that specialize in the occasion providing kids (and adults) with everything they need for a truly spooky evening. The roots of this holiday are no longer apparent, yet your immigrant ancestor probably celebrated the day a bit differently than we do.

The supernatural events you associate with Halloween are centuries old and date to a Celtic harvest festival known as Samhain celebrated on 1 November. According to Holiday Symbols by Sue Ellen Thompson (Omnigraphics, 2003), “the Celts believed that the souls of those who had died during the previous year gathered to travel together to the land of the dead.” Participants in the ceremony dressed in costume to disguise themselves from the deceased and lit bonfires for their sacrifices. Black (death), orange (strength and endurance), and the harvest colors of brown and gold have their beginnings in this pagan event. Continue reading

Tips from the Pros: Small-Time Criminals-Sources, from Mary Penner

Many of you who read my article about small-time criminals asked “where can I find these kinds of records?” Good question. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer.

You’ll probably have to look for records about your notorious ancestors in several different places. For my derelict great-grandfather, I found his criminal case file in the office of the district court clerk at the county courthouse. Because he went to the state penitentiary for his crime, I also found records at the state historical society which is the repository for old government records in the state of Kansas. I found the intake ledger book for the penitentiary, and I also found copies of correspondence that mentioned my ancestor in the records of the prison warden and the governor. Unfortunately, his prisoner file couldn’t be found.

In the article, I referred to some records that I found at the New Mexico state archives. I found jail logs and criminal case files in a collection of county government documents. I also found judgment records and court dockets in the district court records.

So, you need to look in both local and state repositories for records related to the judicial process. You can find links to all of the state level repositories. Use their online finding aids and catalogs to help determine what records they have.

Unfortunately, jail logs and other court-related documents often are not indexed, so be prepared to spend some time scanning the pages. Once you find a relative who ran afoul of the law, don’t forget to look at the local newspaper for that time period. Details about my great-grandfather’s arrest and trial made the weekly newspaper nearly every week for two months.

In response to another question, yes, people who were in jail were enumerated in the census. That’s what tipped me off to my ancestor’s shady past; his residence for the 1880 census was the Kansas State Penitentiary.  

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Your Quick Tips, 30 October 2006

Uncle Sam Made Me Do It…
An ancestor of my husband who served in the Civil War found when he tried to receive his pension that his name was listed incorrectly. After many, many efforts, he still could not receive the funds. (Just try to change the government’s “facts”!)

So, years later he simply applied under the spelling the government had listed and received the pension from then on; his family continued on with the spelling. On the bright side, since they spelled the surname differently, it was easy to know the line I descended from at the time of the Civil War.
Wanda Spainhower Continue reading

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The Year Was 1897

The year was 1897 and in March, William McKinley took the Oath of Office, succeeding Grover Cleveland as President of the United States.

There were notable events in several U.S. cities in 1897. On 1 January Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island merged, forming a consolidated New York City. In September, the Boston subway opened–the first in the United States–and more than 100,000 people used it on its first day. And in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the state capitol was destroyed by fire.

The smaller municipality of Aurora, Texas, remembers the year as the year when “an alien airship” struck a windmill and an alien casualty was removed and buried in the local cemetery. (This editor is convinced it is one of the ancestors she’s been unable to find.) Continue reading

Photo Corner

Rebecca Hoxit Aiken, called 'The Witch of Caney Fork' Contributed by Dan Johnson, Granada, Spain
My third great-grandmother, Rebecca Hoxit Aiken, was called ‘The Witch of Caney Fork’ a legendary figure of the Caney Fork area of Jackson County, NC. She was married at least once and possibly was of Indian background.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Louis and Yetta (nee Struckler) Becker, 1898Contributed by Edward Becker, Flushing, New York
Grandparents Louis and Yetta (nee Struckler) Becker with six of their children in 1898. The two oldest children, Harry and Molly are standing in the back, with Sylvia, Barney, Bessie, and Bertha in the front row (left to right). Bessie, the youngest child is sitting on Yetta’s lap. Yetta gave birth to three more children in later years, including my father Abraham, born in 1899.

New Content for U.S., Germany, Ireland, England, and Scotland

Last week Ancestry added a significant number of new databases, most of them with international content. Below is a list of some of the highlights. For a complete list with links, go to the Recently Added Data page. Below is a list of some of the highlights:


  • Meyers Gazetteer of the German Empire (in German) – Free 
  • Palatine Church Visitations, 1609 . . . Deanery of Kusel  
  • Mecklenburg-Schwerin Census, 1867  (in German)
  • Emigrants from the Former Amt Damme, Oldenburg (Now Niedersachsen), Germany, Mainly to the United States, 1830-1849  
  • Emigrants from Fellbach (Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany), 1735-1930  
  • Emigrants from West-German Fuerstenberg Territories (Baden and the Palatinate) to America and Central Europe 1712, 1737, 1787  
  • Emigrants from the Principality of Hessen-Hanau, Germany, 1741-1767  
  • Emigrants from Saxony (Grandduchy of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach) to America, 1854, 1859 
  • Bremen, Germany Sailors Registry, 1837-1873 (in German)  
  • Bremen, Germany Ships Crew Lists, 1821-1873 (in German) Continue reading