Memorial Day: the officially unofficial start of summer. A much needed long weekend and time for outdoor parties with your peeps. However, in our excitement (especially as the country starts to emerge from the pandemic!) it is easy to forget the actual reason we have today off. Why exactly do we have Memorial Day?
The U.S. Memorial Day was originally intended to be a day to honor soldiers lost in the Civil War. It grew out of traditions that had begun before the war and that increased during the conflict, especially but not exclusively in Southern states. Throughout time, cultures have dedicated special events or days to honor those lost in battle. And after losing an estimated 750,000 (combined) soldiers in four years, the country had a lot of mourning to do.
In 1868, Major General John A. Logan*, in his position as the head of Union veterans’ organization the Grand Army of the Republic, established May 30th as a day to decorate the graves of the soldiers. Why he chose this date seems to have been lost to history. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affair’s says “It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.” History.com says it is because the date “wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle” (which is incorrect, according to this list). Logan’s proclamation supports the flower theory:
“The 30th day of May, 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion…Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime…”General Orders No. 11, Grand Army of the Republic. John A. Logan, Commander in Chief.
The original order does not explicitly state if the day should be called Memorial Day or Decoration Day–the traditional name for a day to “strew with flowers” soldier’s graves. By the century’s close, most states had adopted Decoration/Memorial Day as an official holiday. But it was not yet a federal holiday! That would take seven more decades.
As the living memory of the Civil War faded, the nation faced another major war. After World War I, Memorial Day expanded to be a day to honor everyone who had died serving the United States in war. But, it was still not an official holiday. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson made Proclamation 3727, further formalizing Memorial Day (May 30th) as a day to honor our war dead, adding it should be a day that we pray for peace (oh the irony).
And finally, in 1971, Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday in May as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This also gave us the officially unofficial end of summer: Labor Day Weekend. And, more controversially, it created Columbus Day. At long last, Memorial Day was a federal holiday!
Bringing Back Memory to Memorial Day
However, the move to Monday also eroded the original intention of the holiday. As we focused more on gearing up for summer, we lost focus of the reason for the holiday. Realizing this, in 2000, Congress passed the “The National Moment of Remembrance Act.” At 3pm local time on Memorial Day, the nation is encouraged to take a moment to honor the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Side Note: For those living in some former Confederate states, the tradition of memorializing the Confederate dead–separate from any other war or group–continues as a mandated holiday. This was news to your “Yankee” (by birth if not entirely by ancestry) author. It adds difficult context to our country’s current woes.
19th Century Celebrations
How did our ancestors celebrate the day? In the years following the Civil War, a general pattern was followed. There would be a formal decorating of soldier’s graves, followed by speeches commemorating the event, and possibly other activities like parades. The details depended on your community. In this summary of celebrations from 1872, the events ranged from “simple and brief” in Cincinnati to the “most imposing demonstration of the kind ever known in this part of the country” in Terre Haute, Indiana. The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)** was exceptionally active in organizing these activities.
By the turn of the century, the GAR was sharing space with their sister organization, the Women’s Relief Corps. After the Spanish American War in 1898, we also start to see the shift to a more inclusive Memorial Day. This 1901 article mentions commemorating the Spanish American War dead and accurately predicts that “in a few years May 30 will probably be observed in all parts of the United States as a day when tribute is to be paid to all soldiers who fell while fighting for a cause they believed to be holy.” Of course, they didn’t know that part of the impetus would be The Great War. 😕
Interestingly, the article also switches between calling it Decoration Day and Memorial Day and directly addresses the customs of the South–despite being from Omaha. They also give shade to New Orleans for being weird Europeans who use fake flowers and “strange emblems” instead of fresh flowers. Is this anti-Catholic? Anti-French? Anti-Old World in general? Surely not anti-beignet! I love these little glimpses into the past. They are windows to a different time and different ideas.
For more historic newspaper goodness, check out the free Chronicling America collections at the Library of Congress. Your local library (or the library near your ancestors) may also have free online collections. And there are a number of paid subscriptions, such as Newspapers.com (an Ancestry subsidiary).
Curious if your ancestor was in the GAR or Women’s Relief Corps? Check out the GAR Records Project or the FamilySearch resource page. Also try googling for the corresponding state(s) that your ancestors lived in. Often the records are held at local libraries and archives.
The Impact of War
Looking at my family tree, I’ve had some very lucky ancestors. Despite my parents, grandparents, great uncles, and nearly every generation back to the Civil War having fought in every war, they all survived! In just the Civil War, all four Union Soldiers and both Confederate Soldiers managed to make it through to the other side.
However, this doesn’t mean that they made it out whole. From the tuberculosis that plagued my father’s family for generations to permanent disabilities to what we would now call PTSD–the soldiers who survive a war don’t entirely leave the war behind. This is still a major issue for our troops and veterans today. If you would like to help, check out the Wounded Warrior Project for ways to assist those in need.
What are your thoughts? Do you have any ritual for honoring our fallen service members? Does your family tree have any soldiers? Did they survive a war? Bear the scars of their service? Let me know below!
Before I sign off, I kindly request you take a moment at 3pm to honor those we lost. Whatever your opinion on war, these men and women lost their lives and their families lost their loved ones serving our country.
May you have a safe and great Memorial Day!
American Flags: Stock photo from Canva.com.
Arlington Burial: Burial of Sergeant Major of the Army George W. Dunaway at Arlington National Cemetery, 2008. Wikipedia. Public Domain, photo taken as work of a U.S. Army employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties.
Sheet Music: “Soldier’s Memorial Day” sheet music. 1870. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Public Domain.
Patriotic Souvenir: “Memorial Day Souvenir Embossed Postcard c1910”. From Pinterest, PIN 259168153529205532.
GAR Parade: Parade of the Grand Army of the Republic. Washington, D.C., September 20th 1892. The Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History, Huntington Digital Library.
Burial of the Dead: “Burial of the dead on the Antietam battlefield” from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 18 October 1862. From Wikimedia Commons.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I wanted to share a few fun videos to help connect us with Irish culture on this day of celebrating all things Ireland. 🙂
One of the big events that drove Irish immigration was the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1849. In the end, well over a million people immigrated from Ireland, with many of them landing in the United States. Their influence can still be felt in our culture today, from our music to the food and beverages we consume. To say nothing of the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations!
Before we get to the drink, let’s start by putting some food in our bellies. Max Miller, the charming creator of the Tasting History channel, brings us a traditional Irish Stew recipe. He also includes an excellent overview of the famine itself. If this is your first Tasting History video, you are in for a treat!
Now that we have the food taken care of, we can move on to the drink. While beer is more common, whiskey is an important feature of Irish culture. Looking at early Irish immigrants, even on the frontier whiskey was being distilled for pleasure, to preserve grain crops, and to turn a little profit.
At the Locust Grove Historic Site outside of Louisville, Kentucky, they have recreated a historic whiskey still. And, the fabulous crew at Townsends made a video on the basic distilling process of this early frontier whiskey. Spoiler Alert: it’s not aged in barrels!
For a little context before we watch, Locust Grove was built by Irish immigrant William Croghan, whose wife Lucy Clark was the sister of both Revolutionary War Brigadier General George Rogers Clark and William Clark of the famous duo Lewis & Clark. Like many wealthy people at that time in that region, the Croghans did own slaves and the house was built with enslaved labor. For the history of the house and its people, check out their very informative website.
If you enjoyed that video, Townsends has several others filmed at Locust Grove. And if you enjoyed the presenter Brian Cushing, he was featured in a Townsends live stream back in 2019 (where the making/not making whiskey is explained further).
I hope this was a nice little distraction for your St. Patty’s Day!
Do you have Irish ancestry? How do you celebrate it? Let me know below! 🙂
Paris between the world wars. Exciting. Creative. Cheap. And for many Americans, a much more free place than back home. Free of social constraints, free of sexual restrictions, and free of the oppressive racism found in the U.S.
In this second part of our look at African American migration to Paris during the 1920s, let’s look at how to find those Jazz Age relatives!
While we’re focusing on the African American experience in this series, these research concepts apply to everyone with relatives living in Paris in the period. The difficulties in hunting down French records seem to know no color boundaries. The biggest difference is that the white experience in Paris is historically much more well documented. This can make finding key details needed for the research easier. So sadly, some things are the same on both sides of the pond. 😐
We have two basic places to start your search: Census Data and Directories.
Census Data can be a treasure trove of information…if you can find them on the census. If you have experience in searching the U.S. Census, strap in. As with most things involving French bureaucracy, you are going to need patience. But it can be very rewarding once you find them!
For this article, I decided I wouldn’t just give advice, but follow it so you can see it play out. I don’t personally have any relatives in Paris at this time, so I chose to try to find the one and only Josephine Baker.
How to Find People on the Census
First, a few details. The French conveniently were taking a census every 5 years in the interwar period. For that time, there are 4 censuses available publicly: 1921, 1926, 1931, and 1936. However, the census data for the Île-de-France Region (including Paris) is not currently indexed. Which means we have to get creative, and, more importantly, comfy.
Here are the basic steps to (hopefully) finding your ancestor on the census.
Part 1 – Which Records?
- Locate Their Address. This is hurdle number one. Because the census is not indexed, you are going to have to go at it geographically. If you have more than one address, try to narrow it down to the one closest to a census year (above). Hopefully you have an old address book, envelope, or other document with their address. Otherwise, you can try hunting them down through a few publications (see Directories below).
- Locate the Department of the address. France is broken into Regions (basically states) and then Departments (sort of like counties). From there we have Communes (municipalities). The records are usually held at the Department level. Note that France has reorganized itself a few times in the last century, just like how our counties keep changing boundaries. So once you have the city (Commune), you can find the department. Hopefully the commune has a wikipedia page or other website that will easily give you this information and any history you may need.
- Find the census records. Good ol’ FamilySearch to the rescue! Their France wiki has extensive information. Scroll down to the region map and click on your region. We are focusing exclusively on the Île-de-France Region (currently in violet) or you can scroll down to the list below the map. Once on the correct page, scroll down to the Census records.
For Josephine, we are using her address in the department of Yvelines. Her commune is Le Vésinet, a very swanky suburb of Paris.
Part 2 – The Database
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the records! Grab a cup of caffeine for this next part.
- These are French records, so everything is in French of course. Now is the time to set your browser to Translate French to English (Chrome is excellent for this). Review any collection information and requested permissions/agreements and move to the search (rechercher) page.
- For Yvelines, we have 3 fields we can fill out: Current municipality, Old municipality (if different), and the year range. If you aren’t sure, you can go big, such as 1920-1940. Here we have the search page in English and French.
We’ll then see the search results. Here’s where patience pays off! The results will come back a bit differently, depending on the department. But in general things will be broken out geographically and then alphabetically.
In our case, our commune–Le Vésinet–is quite small and doesn’t have any further geographic breakdowns. We’ll dive right into the the alphabetical street names. However, Paris for example is organized by arrondissement and then quartier and THEN by street, which will take a little extra research and map-consulting.
In Le Vésinet, note that each listing is named by the street that the image set starts with. And roughly the street names are alphabetized. The exceptions can be small little allées (alleys), cours (courtyards), and passages (same in English-handy!), which seem to mostly be organized with the larger street they grow off of.
Part 3 – Success
In Josephine’s case, her address was 52 avenue Georges-Clemenceau. When you search, drop the street type (rue, avenue, boulevard, etc.) and use the just the street name. Don’t over think it. Albert Joly is “A”, not J. So Georges-Clemenceau should be in the Fontaine images. Singing the alphabet song is optional in this process. 🙂
You’ll scroll through, looking first at the street name, then the house numbers. And then voila! Hopefully you find your target! I present to you Josephine Baker and her surprisingly large household:
Whew! That was a lot, but we get a lot in return. First, who was living with her:
- Her manager/lover Pepito Abatino
- Their staff of three “domestiques” or house servants, a gardener, and a concierge overseeing it all
- A French couple labeled as “friends” (ami/e)
- A 20-year-old woman who could be just a girl/young woman or a daughter (fille sadly means both) of someone in the household. Either way, she worked as a stenographer for Phoscao, which made the French version of Carnation Instant Breakfast.
We also see where each person was born, their birth years, and occupations.
Of course it creates a lot of questions as well. Including who all of the non-servants are and why are they there. But it’s a good start!
While it seems that Paris didn’t have the City Directories that we know and love from this period, there are some directories to help hunt down the elusive ancestor.
American Chamber of Commerce in France Directory. The Chamber published annual directories of Americans living in Paris from about 1925-1940. The catch? They are not yet in the public domain. Which means finding them is less than fun. Some universities have copies in their libraries–hopefully near you!
The full name of each is American Chamber of Commerce in France. Americans in France: A Directory + the year. Use the WorldCat search for the year you are looking for. Some copies are also available on Amazon, AbeBooks, and Ebay periodically. Lastly, you can search the 1925 edition online here. Note that you will not see anything other than indexed results.
Tout Paris. If your ancestor lucked out and was part of high society, there were directories for those folks. The Tout-Paris: Annuaire de la société parisienne annual publication lists the rich and famous. Some are public domain and others are not. Some are available in the Hathi Trust Digital Library and some are on Google Books.
Like with the directories, due to privacy laws we are a bit hamstrung when it comes to a lot of public data. But, as you may have seen on the FamilySearch page, there are more records available online, depending on the department and commune.
If your ancestor was a musician, artist, or otherwise possibly even partly famous, they may be mentioned in some of the more inclusive books or websites focused on this period. See the first part for some resources focused on Black Paris, as well check out your local library and the internet for more options.
Was your ancestor active in their home community? Their departure or return home may have been mentioned in the local newspaper. If they were especially noteworthy, they may have been mentioned in the New York Times or the paper of their city of departure.
Lastly, you can hire local genealogists in France who can access the archives for data that has not yet been digitized or available for public use. Check out the Association for Professional Genealogists (American/English with some researchers in France) or if you are feeling brave, the French union for genealogists (you’ll need google translate).
Apologies for yet another long one! But I hope this helps you get started on your French Adventure!
Will you be hunting down any 20th century French ancestors? Would you like to see older French records searches? Other countries? Or do you want me to stick with the U.S. of A? Let me know below! Thanks!
In Case You Missed It: Check out Part 1, about why and how African Americans moved to Paris after World War 1!
Cover Photo: RMS Mauritania. From Monovisions Black & White Photography Magazine
Fun at the Bar: Pinterest Pin #277393658279631329
All Census Images are from the ARCHIVES DÉPARTEMENTALES DES YVELINES. The Josephine Baker Census Record is in the 1931 Le Vésinet Census, Fontaine Image Set, Image 18/page 168.
Villa Beau-Chêne: credits unknown. From the Société d’histoire du Vésinet
Tout Paris: From the 1925 Edition, available at the Hathi Trust Digital Library. Public Domain.
- Locate Their Address. This is hurdle number one. Because the census is not indexed, you are going to have to go at it geographically. If you have more than one address, try to narrow it down to the one closest to a census year (above). Hopefully you have an old address book, envelope, or other document with their address. Otherwise, you can try hunting them down through a few publications (see Directories below).
Genealogy is generally the search for ancestors who moved to where we are now. But some family members emigrated away to other countries instead. One example of this “reverse” migration was the flow of Black Americans to France between WWI and WWII. In this first part of a two-part series, we’ll explore the history of this extraordinary event.
The chaos and change of war don’t end when the war does. They continue to cause disruption for years afterward. In U.S. history, after the Civil War and Reconstruction ended, Jim Crow laws and violence against African Americans began. This resulted in the Great Migration–the largest internal migration event in our history. But after World War I, there was a smaller but still important migration to France. Some of the emigrés are household names, such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald. But others moved for a different type of freedom: an escape from the racism, violence, and lack of opportunity found at home.
WWI & The Summer After
World War I brought a complicated opportunity to African Americans. On one hand, fighting for a country that had repeatedly failed them seemed like lunacy at best. On the other, perhaps this was the chance for Blacks to prove their value in a very important and public endeavor. And hopefully, after fighting the war, they could also find success in the battle for civil rights.
As in most areas of American life, the military was officially segregated. Racist treatment of Black soldiers was endemic. Instead of fighting, they received demeaning labor assignments. They also endured inhumane work conditions, unequal restrictions, and unfair punishments. Basically, not much different than at home.
Under the French
However, Black American soldiers who were placed under the French command had a much better time of it. Though not perfect (nor is France’s record on race relations), it was a huge improvement over the treatment received from their fellow Americans. The French people also embraced the Black soldiers. They were saviors fighting the enemy. And the African American culture, especially jazz music and dance, enchanted them.
Even before the war, France had a reputation for being “color blind” compared to the U.S. Once there, the Black soldiers were able to experience first hand the relative freedom of life away from Jim Crow. And after the war, some would return to that freedom.
Back home, African Americans faced even more challenges. They arrived in early 1919 to a country in crisis. The Spanish Flu was at the beginning of its third wave. And the economy was struggling to re-assimilate about a million soldiers into the workforce. Tensions were high. Whites felt threatened by the now trained–and in many cases decorated–Black veterans. Veterans who now rightfully sought equality in the U.S. Predictably a large number of Whites wanted to retain the pre-war status quo.
The conflict came to a head during the Red Summer. Named for the amount of blood shed in lynchings, riots, and other violence across the country, it cemented the idea that leaving was better than staying for those who could swing it.
How To Get To France?
Getting to France was the first challenge. Some African Americans emigrated on their own, scraping together the money for the passenger ticket. Others made it over as part of entertainment troupes or jazz bands. Some, like their White counterparts, only stayed for awhile. Some, instead, stayed for a lifetime.
The 1920s were a golden age for sailing and the American dollar was king. However, that did not make the passenger fares cheap. The “tourist cabin”–a new level of Third Class intended for students and budget travelers–was the sailing equivalent of coach seating on an international flight. Everything you needed was included. Everything you wanted was reserved for First and Second Class.
It was theoretically better than the steerage accommodations in the traditional third class, which was meant for immigration to the U.S. (think Titanic). At least on the RMS Olympic (Titanic‘s erstwhile sister), the Tourist Cabin looks like a compromise between the old Second Class and Third Class spaces.
The tickets were about the same price as a modern plane ticket after currency conversion. For example, a one-way ticket ran about $128 in 1928. This is the equivalent of $1,910 now*. So not much more than a high season plane ticket booked a bit too late. Except it took a week and you got a bedroom and three squares a day!
Nevertheless, then like now, these prices were quite high for a lot of families. Especially those struggling against systemic lack of opportunity. This meant going over was a bit easier for those in the entertainment industry, as the show producers covered the costs.
France’s fascination with Black culture had not ended with the war. Black American entertainers were highly sought after. Impresarios basically “imported” talent, including dancers and musicians. The most famous example of this is the extraordinary Josephine Baker. She found instant and lasting success in Paris and ended up living in France the rest of her life. She was even awarded three different medals and honors for her activities in the French Resistance!
Despite being an ocean away from home, the Americans remained de facto segregated. Most of the Black American community was centered in the bohemian Montmartre area of the right bank. In contrast, the White community was centered on the left bank, near the Luxembourg Gardens and Montparnasse.
After the 1929 stock market crash and resulting Great Depression made Paris more expensive, and as fascism grew next door in Germany, a number of Americans returned home in the 1930s. And any people of color who could flee German-occupied France did; the Nazis didn’t limit themselves to removing the Jews. Those who returned after the war often became life-long expats and a part of the tapestry of French life.
I hope your interest in now piqued for this oft-forgotten piece of history! Check out these resources to learn more.
The War and Aftermath
The American World War I Museum has put together a Google Arts & Culture Exhibit on the African American Experience in the war. There are plenty of photos and some stories. They also need help identifying all of the soldiers in the images, if you recognize anyone from your family!
You can read more about the Red Summer in these articles here and here. To go deeper, check out the book Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America by Cameron McWhirter.
The African American Experience in Paris
While the post-WWII years are fairly well documented, there are fewer options for the Interwar period. However, there are several books on the topic ranging from general history to specific experiences:
- Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light by Tyler Stovall. A general history, leading up to and including the Interwar period and beyond. The first chapter is excerpted here.
- Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story Between the Great Wars by William A. Shack. An academic book focused on the music and musicians of the period. It inspired a PBS Great Performances episode as well (that is unfortunately not available in full anywhere. You can find pieces of it here and there by googling, including this excerpt).
- Bricktop’s Paris: African American Women in Paris between the Two World Wars by T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting. An exploration of mostly African American female artists and entertainers at the time.
For a more visual experience, the award-winning documentary Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light (it does not seem to be related to the book) is available to rent or buy here.
Thank you for coming along on this transatlantic journey!
In Part Two, we look further at the genealogical resources available for this time period.
Do you have any family that went to France between the Wars? And would you leave your home country for better treatment and opportunity or stick it out at home? Let me know below!
Cover Photo: RMS Mauritania. From Monovisions Black & White Photography Magazine.
Soldiers of 369th: “Colored Troops – New York’s Colored Regiment Returns Home on Stockholm”. From the National Archives, Identifier: 26431282 Public Domain.
RMS Olympic Brochure: ” White Star Line brochure highlighting the amenities of the new “tourist third cabin” accommodations, 1920s” From the Smithsonian Online Exhibit “On the Water” Part 5, Ocean Crossings 1870-1969. Public Domain.
Josephine in Uniform: Pinterest PIN 272890058659413750. Joséphine Baker in the uniform of the female auxiliaries of the French Air Force. London, 1945.
*Sources For Pricing:
Pricing found in news articles: “Ocean Travel Costs More” in The Indianapolis News, July 12, 1920 (on Hoosier State Chronicles). “Third Cabin Fares Are Increase by $5” New York Times Nov. 27, 1927. “Travel Club Protests Tourist Ticket Rise” New York Times Feb. 13, 1928. NYT articles available on ProQuest.
Conversion costs found on Measuring Worth.com, using the Real Price-Commodity calculation: Samuel H. Williamson, “Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1790 to present,” MeasuringWorth, 2021.
Welcome to the first Newsreel article! This is a new feature for sharing quick genealogy news and updates. I know this isn’t (yet?) a short news film but it does include a video so close enough. 😄
Civil War Widow Dies…in 2021
After starting my family research I realized something that blew my mind: My grandmother was partially raised by/near her grandparents (not the mind-blowing part). And her grandfather had served in the Civil War. Though her grandparents passed away before I was born, I did know my grandmother before she passed away. This meant that I knew someone who knew someone that was in the Civil War! A war fought 150 years ago was suddenly much closer at hand! 🤯
Which brings me to more recent news: A 101-year old woman passed away this month, which is news in itself. But more surprisingly, she was the last known (and plausible) Civil War widow. Apparently, at the age of 17, Viola Jackson married 93-year-old former Union Soldier James Bolin. She was his caretaker and he married her in part to pass on his service pension as a thank you for her care. She never applied for the pension after his death, however. And there is talk of his children threatening her with exposure of her “sin” if she did apply.
Setting aside the unfortunate family drama, this makes my own connection pale in comparison. It is an excellent reminder that the past is never as far away as it seems. We may now have few if any living connections to the Civil War. But we don’t have to try too hard to make a connection similar to mine: the people who knew people. And to take it a step further, those who fought in the Civil War would have known the last of those who witnessed the American Revolution. So we know people who knew people who fought in or survived the American Revolution.
Of course we could take this to its absurd extremes, but it is a powerful reminder that we are all connected. Past, present, and future!
If you have found your own Civil War ancestors, you can order their service and pension records from the National Archives for a fee. Check out the NA’s site for Civil War Records. For any Confederate soldiers, note that the pensions were received from the state they served in. You’ll need to contact the state’s archive department for those.
New Season of Finding Your Roots
It’s back, baby! The amazing and dapper Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and the team will be back with a new season of Finding Your Roots on Tuesday, January 19th. Check out the preview:
Consult PBS for your local schedule. If you, like me, have cut the cord, you can stream it live when it airs (click on the Live TV button in the upper corner). For past episodes, you can find some online and all of them through then PBS Passport (which requires a monthly membership donation of $5+)
Are you as excited as I am for FYR’s return? What connections to historic events have found in your research? And what do you think about the Newsreel idea? Please let me know below! Thanks!
Newsreel Graphic: by author, ©Michelle Keel 2021
We haven’t known each other very long, but I have to confess something. I struggle with organization. Wrangling all those family members feels like a full time job!
As I mentioned in the beginning, I’m pivoting to life as a full-time genealogist. Part of doing this was getting my own ship in shape. If I was going to do genealogy in earnest, I wanted to be an example. And not have the genealogy equivalent Monica’s Messy Closet. This should be easy, right? I can hear you laughing now…
Our historic counterparts had a difficult challenge. Reams and reams of paper: notes, documents, family trees, you name it. They had to find systems to organize everything and keep it straight. By hand. On paper.
I love paper (maybe too much) but in the 21st century there is no excuse for not digitizing the process as much as possible! But how?
Keeping Track of the Peeps
The available genealogy apps will help you keep track of your tree as you build it. But I haven’t found one yet that lets you keep track of all of your notes, especially when you are still building a case for an ancestor or a family branch. Or if you are also building a database of geographic and general historic information that pertains to your family. Or those random tidbits that you find that you need to follow up on (aka distracting and tempting bright shiny objects).
One of the most rewarding but most complicated facets of genealogy is doing the deep research. I’m a big fan of research. But there are times when it can feel overwhelming. You are going in circles and not finding anything. And you really can’t imagine why so many generations of your family decided to go with the same name. Over and over and over again. They didn’t need to use Apple or North, but could they ditch Hardy for maybe Daniel just once?! I digress…
Brick wall ancestors especially can hang out for years, unknown or unconfirmed. And your research will ebb and flow as time and interest allow. It is these ancestors that definitely need dedicated research notes. So you don’t spend half of your valuable time trying to remember what you looked at, what you found, and what you thought about it all.
But even your “easier” ancestors deserve their own individual notes. We are all guilty of citation failures. Having a record of where you found your information and why you thought it was relevant or accurate will save you much heartache later!
The Template Search and Creation Process
While I had been loosely note-taking for years for the medium-to-difficult ancestors, one particular person inspired me to get more organized with my research.
Meet Hardy Keel, my paternal 4x great-grandfather. This guy is a ghost! I’m not even sure he is the correct individual–this is just my best guess. I have been picking at him for over 10 years and notes about him were scattered throughout his page, his son’s page, a family page, a few random musings pages. A complete mess.
I knew I needed a few things to make this easier for myself:
- A template to track my research–a traditional Research Log–and
- A place to collect all the info for that person in one place.
- And all of this had to be easy to use or I would stop using it and be back into chaos.
Basically, I wanted one-stop shopping for everything about a person and where I left off, what I already knew, and what my thoughts were about all of this.
After googling and researching, I found a template that seemed like a good starting place. However it didn’t quite meet all my needs for centralizing a person’s info as much as reasonably possible. So I supersized it to more of a dossier on the person and my research.
The template acts as a master sheet for both the ancestor and my on-going research.
We start with the basics: Who is this person? What do I know?
For the infamous Hardy, this is what I have so far:
For the rest of the file, I have sections to complete as I work through the research on the individual:
I know this diverges a bit from common practice. Usually, a research log is presented as this stand alone item, that should be used as a master sheet for research only and is in a restrictive table format. For me, my template works better. I’m highly contextual and having it all laid out in one space helps me find connections I can’t find across multiple notes.
In the Real World
There are exceptions, of course. Info or inquiries shared across numerous individuals deserve their own note. Nor would you paste in all of your location information and research. This is where tagging or using keywords and a good search function can help (see Applications below). If you would like to copy the Evernote template, it is available here.
I want to emphasize that you should always do you. Edit this to your heart’s desire. If you like a more compartmentalized structure, break the template up into separate parts you feel makes sense. Play with it until it works. My template is always a work in progress and gets edited to meet the person in question. If something doesn’t apply, delete the line. Need a line? Add one in!
Lastly, of course individual notes are only one piece of the puzzle. In the future, we’ll discuss keeping track of entire families and how to track your overall research history. Yep. There is no way to escape some form of overall tracking!
This is where a note-taking application enters the equation. And where personal preference really comes into play. I’m partial to Evernote* but others prefer Microsoft’s OneNote. There are any number of other applications as well. Fair warning: I’m a PC user but also an iPhone/iPad mobile user. I look for apps that work well with this multi-OS environment.
The important things to consider:
- Does it have desktop and mobile applications that sync easily? And is the mobile app robust enough for your needs? Both Evernote and OneNote have desktop and mobile apps that sync. And both have mobile apps that are functional but not fully operational.
- How will you organize your notes? If you are using Tags, Evernote is the reigning king. If you like tabs, OneNote is better. But beware the differences between the robust OneNote (formerly OneNote 2016) desktop app (Office subscription required) and the much more limited default OneNote for Windows 10 free app.
- Do you like using templates? Evernote again is excellent for this, as is OneNote. The free OneNote for Windows 10 app does not do templates but you could get creative if you needed.
- Cost and Data Limits: Evernote has a free version but come with data limitations. If you are adding images or documents to your notes, you may run out quickly. Their paid versions allow you more space. I use the Premium version and have never run out of my allowance, despite being a daily user. The robust OneNote requires a subscription/license to MS Office 2016/2019/365. OneNote for Windows 10 is free. Both mobile apps are also free, but have limited functionality.
Please let me know below what you think of the template: What do you like? What would you change? Do you think you will adopt for yourself? Lastly, which note taking app do you use? Thanks!
I hope you are now ready to start cleaning out the genealogical closet and getting all those ancestors in line! Happy Organizing! 🙂
*Evernote is in the middle of rolling out their shiny new Version 10 for desktop. It is taking some getting used to. I use both the Legacy and v10 on my computer currently, since 10 is missing some features still (like easy backups, weirdly).
Header Image: From Adobe Stock Photos, “Closeup a pile of old paper on a table in an abandoned building”.
Friends GIF: From Tenor. “You Weren’t Supposed To See This – Messy GIF”
Hardy Keel Census Excerpt: Ancestry.com. 1820 United States Federal Census [database on-line], Beaufort, North Carolina. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
Evernote Templates: Created by Michelle Keel ©2020, using Evernote (not sponsored).
Evernote/OneNote Logos: Pinterest Pin 62557882302806936.
Just a quick note to say we made it!!
May this year be a much better year for everyone! Stay safe and stay tuned for some organization tips to get the year started right! They will hopefully be more helpful than the weight-loss tips we forget by January 15th. 😀
In the interim, check out New Yorkers going wild on New Year’s in this footage from 1938! Have you or your family ever been to Times Square for New Year’s Eve? Let me know below!
Image Credit: 2021 Images created with Canva
This year we celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage. While this milestone wasn’t the biggest news of the year (😐), it is still important to history. And to the large number of us with colonial ancestors!
Since we are all busy this holiday season, I want to focus on some of the new resources released with the anniversary. And for good measure, some additional places to look to find your Mayflower ancestry.
Mayflower At 400
400 years ago, the Mayflower landed at Plymouth (Plimouth), setting into motion centuries of myth and legend. While the story we were taught as children is straightforward and sanitized, it left out a lot of hard reality. Thankfully we are now starting to look at all the aspects of the Mayflower. This includes the historical context of the New England region and the reality of the relationships between all of the peoples, both indigenous and European.
For a relatively quick primer on the expanded and inclusive examination of the Mayflower, check out this documentary. Be forewarned: it is 50 minutes, but it gives pre-voyage context and a look at what is being done now to tell the entire story.
This major anniversary is being celebrated not just here in the U.S. but also in the UK and the Netherlands. Websites have been set up to examine the Mayflower’s legacy, one for each major country in the story:
The UK (the best and most useful of the websites)
The USA (the most commercial of the websites, sadly)
The Netherlands (where the Puritans lived in exile before deciding to relocate to the American colonies)
Unfortunately, there isn’t a formal associated anniversary website for the Native nations. The British has the better page dedicated to Wampanoag history.
Thankfully, the importance of the Mayflower to the mythology of the United States has resulted in a large amount of existing research. The trick is getting your family tree back far enough to connect with that information!
Not all of the passengers managed to procreate or have surviving offspring. Below is a list of those known to have created New World families. This list includes the women who bore the children as well, so it is a bit longer than some of the standard lists.
Recognize any names from your tree? I have the family names but not yet any direct branches. Maybe someday!
- John Alden
- Priscilla (Mullins) Alden
- Bartholomew Allerton
- Isaac Allerton
- Mary (Norris) Allerton
- Mary (Allerton) Cushman
- Remember (Allerton) Maverick
- Elinor Billington
- Francis Billington
- John Billington
- William Bradford
- Love Brewster
- Mary Brewster
- William Brewster
- Peter Browne
- James Chilton
- Mrs. Chilton (wife of James)
- Mary (Chilton) Winslow
- Francis Cooke
- John Cooke
- Edward Doty
- Francis Eaton
- Samuel Eaton
- Sarah Eaton
- Moses Fletcher
- Edward Fuller
- Mrs. Fuller (wife of Edward)
- Samuel Fuller (son of Edward)
- Samuel Fuller (brother of Edward)
- Constance (Hopkins) Snow
- Giles Hopkins
- Stephen Hopkins
- Elizabeth (Fisher) Hopkins
- John Howland
- Richard More
- William Mullins
- Degory Priest
- Joseph Rogers
- Thomas Rogers
- Henry Samson
- George Soule
- Myles Standish
- Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland
- John Tilley
- Joan (Hurst) Tilley
- Richard Warren
- Peregrine White
- Resolved White
- Susanna (Jackson) White Winslow
- William White
- Edward Winslow
For a full list of passengers, whether or not they successfully went forth and multiplied, check out this site.
There are a number of societies and groups for the European Mayflower descendants. Here are a few to get you started. Alas, most resources have subscription or membership fees ($$). Check with your local library for access to some of the databases to help save some money.
- The Mayflower Society (for confirmed descendants, similar to Daughters of the American Revolution) $$
- American Ancestors (New England Historic Genealogy Society). Dedicated Mayflower-specific Resources $$
- Mayflower History.com. A labor of love for all things Mayflower, including genealogy resource lists. Free
- Family Search Pilgrims & Colonists. Free. Some parts require free login.
- Ancestry.com Genealogies of Mayflower Families, Vol 1. Search is free, subscription is required to view results. $$
For a lot of us, physical resources are a little hard to get our hands on right now. But once we can move about freely again, there are some options that have yet to be digitized:
“The Silver Books” by Bruce Campbell MacGunnigle. Printed by the Mayflower Society, these are detailed histories of the folks listed above. They include about 5 generations of descent, so if you can get within roughly 100 years or so of 1620, you may find a gold mine. You can buy them from the Society or hopefully find them at your local library.
Speaking of, your local library–especially if they have a genealogy center or section–may have a number of publications for you to get your research on!
If you know of a specific book title, check WorldCat to find a copy near(ish) to you. Most libraries offer interlibrary loans if it is several states away. And don’t forget Google Books and Archive.org for digitized public domain books.
There are also a number of general history books that explore the Mayflower, Plymouth, their history, and the impact of the settlers. Some of the newer ones include:
- The Mayflower: The Families, the Voyage, and the Founding of America by Rebecca Fraser
- Mayflower Lives: Pilgrims in a New World and the Early American Experience by Martyn Whittock
- They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty by John G Turner
- Of Plimoth Plantation (400th anniversary Edition) by William Bradford. Fully updated and annotated release of Bradford’s account of the early years of the settlement (not cheap-hopefully your library has it!).
Please note that each of these books has a different perspective and aim. Check out the description and reviews to best meet your interests.
Native American Resources
If you have or suspect you have Wampanoag or other regional tribal ancestry, we’re finally starting see some resources available for your research as well. A good place to start is with the American Ancestors’ Native Nations of New England page. It includes tribal information, available records, historical resources, and more to begin or expand your research.
Before We Sail On
Do you have any Mayflower connections? If so, what do you know of them? As we widen our view of the history of the Mayflower, has your opinion of this connection changed in anyway? Let me know below!
Personally, I have found ancestors going back to at least 1630. This fills me with tremendous pride–good job on surviving, peeps! But also with a sense of responsibility to understand their history and how it has shaped–for better and worse–the America we have today.
Thank you for following along on this quick resource overview of the Mayflower! Stay tuned for a more seasonally appropriate article soon!*
* Author’s Note: Apologies for the Thanksgiving after Christmas theme. I fell afoul of the plague and am at last recovered. This was already drafted and I wanted to release it in the actual anniversary year. Thank you for humoring me! 🙂
Mayflower Oil Painting: Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall. 1882. From collection of Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, PD-US-expired.
Mary Chilton Arrives: Excerpt from Stories of the Old Bay State by Elbridge Streeter Brooks. Published by American Book Company, 1899. Page 29. Google Books. Public Domain.
Successful Landing: Desembarco de los puritanos en América by Antonio Gisbert. 1883. In the collection of Palacio del Senado, Madrid, Spain. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, PD-US-expired.
John Smith Map: Excerpt from A Description of New England, or, Observations and discoveries in the north of America in the year of Our Lord 1614, with the success of six ships that went the next year, 1615 by John Smith. From The University of Pittsburgh Collection. Public Domain.
That magical time of year is upon us, when we are frantically trying to get everything done for the holidays. Added bonus: all things 2020 are making the season even more difficult! So let’s take a much needed break and chill out with some traditional Christmas music.
While our modern Christmas often looks quite different from our ancestors’ holiday season, we do have one thing in common: Christmas Carols. Music, like food, is a way we can reach across the ages and experience what people in the past experienced. Through our shared musical history, we can connect in a very visceral way.
For today, we’re focusing on carols found in the colonies that have English/British origins. This represents the largest population group in the colonies and seems to have the greatest proportion of carols we still enjoy today. Of course, some colonists weren’t so OK with the singing and dancing–conservative Puritan New England was not down with the revelry! But most colonists incorporated music into their daily lives, just as we do now.
For these performances, I chose versions that would approximate what the colonists would have heard. No giant choirs singing at Westminster or modern pop interpretations. There would have been improvisation but no jazz, blues, or rock influences since those genres didn’t exist yet.
Without further ado, grab some eggnog, mulled cider, or hot chocolate and check these out these carols!
The First Noël
“The First Noël” has a bit of a fuzzy history. The song is probably Cornish from the Early Modern period (~15-16th centuries). And it is possibly based on an even older musical style from medieval France. Side note: I’m a huge music geek. We won’t discuss the rabbit holes that happened during this research! 🤐
I like this performance because it is small and intimate. It would have been easy for colonials to perform in this style at home or in church. The guitar, in several historic forms, was available at the time, as were a number of other string instruments.
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
One of the oldest known carols, going back to at least the 16th century, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” is also one of the most enduring. Questions of the language use and the tricky rhyme in the third verse aside, this would have been a common song among the English-language colonists.
The Coventry Carol
Another oldie but goody, “Coventry Carol” is also from the 16th century or earlier. This time, we’re going with a small choral group (renowned artists The Sixteen) to represent the scale of colonial churches. We didn’t have giant cathedrals like Westminster or York in the colonies. Instead, the churches were built for our smaller communities.
I Saw Three Ships
This is a fun way to end our quick exploration. Here we have a great example of the improvisation that would have been popular in the time period. Printed music was expensive and a lot of musicians would have learned by ear and then creatively filled in the gaps.
The song itself is probably from the 17th century (or, like the others, possibly earlier). “I Saw Three Ships” is one of my favorites to play because of the jaunty tune. Lindsey Stirling (sitting still!) and crew add a Gaelic feel to it, which would have been common in some regions of the colonies.
I hope you found these entertaining and just what you needed this week. 🙂
Which of these did you like most? In general, what is your favorite holiday song? Is it a traditional tune like these or are you more of a Santa Baby fan? Does your family have any “must be played” holiday music? Let me know below!
Have a happy and safe Holiday Season! 😀
I Saw Three Ships Sheet Music: From William Sandys’ Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern Published London: Richard Beckley, 1833. Available on HymnsAndCarolsOfChristmas.com.
First Nowell Sheet Music: From William Sandys’ Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern Published London: Richard Beckley, 1833. Available on HymnsAndCarolsOfChristmas.com.
Country Christmas: Pinterest: Colonial Williamsburg Education board.
As we manage a new normal for our Halloween, let’s see how our ancestors used to celebrate!
Like Christmas, Halloween as we know it today began in the 19th century. They were the masters of decoration and party planning! Much of our secular symbolism and traditions come from this era. Cute “spooky” images? Yep. Commercial holiday products? Of course. Magazine articles that make your own efforts pale in comparison? Food Network and Instagram have nothing on the Victorians!
In 1891, the American women’s magazine Ingall’s Home & Art published a very extensive article on how to celebrate Halloween in style. Included are a list of activities and games, plus a full menu for what appears to be the party of the season. Dancing, courtship games, fortune telling, tongue salad. This party had it all. 😄
Actually, times haven’t changed that much. The article implies a true hostess should hand-paint each hand-made invitation. To be fair, the overall theme of the magazine is art and decoration. But you can also imagine this being in a YouTube video on how to plan the perfect party. Maybe this is how I go viral?
Before we dive into the menu, lets take a quick glance at the suggested activities:
Per the introduction, “Halloween dancing parties are much in vogue at present” and the use of dance cards–“a quaint device”–are still used in the country and in an unspecified “modified form” in the city. However, “dancing may be indulged in until the supper hour,” after which we move onto the food and the various games.
Bobbing for Apples
This is not quite what you would expect! First, it is for the gentlemen only. The game involves using your teeth to grab apples suspended from the ceiling on a rod hanging on a rope. For an added challenge, there are burning candles ready to drip hot wax on the player who doesn’t keep the rod straight! The man must attempt to secure the apple while avoiding tipping the candle enough to burn himself with wax.
Helpfully, we are reminded to protect our carpets from spilled wax. The author indicates, “This [game] is a decided improvement, in every way upon floating the apples in a tub of water, as the task of securing them is so damaging to both clothing and carpets.”
The BBC Series Edwardian Farm recreated the candle version as part of their Halloween festivities. Peter for the win!
Fortune-telling activities at Halloween go back centuries and it is fun to see what was in vogue in the 1890s. The Cup of Fate, For Good or Ill, Fortune in the Meal Bag, Kaling, and the very traditional Roasting Chestnuts are given as possible options. The methods are different but all are meant to discover who you will–or won’t–marry. Would you like to partake in these games?
More fire! The hostess (or more likely her housemaid) makes little candle boats out of walnut shell halves, including scenting them with lavender. During the party, each boat is marked with the initials of a guest. The little boats are then lit and set afloat in a tub of water. Next, the water is disturbed enough to create some motion of the boats. The fate of your boat reveals your own, from longevity to partnerships!
My personal favorites are the dancing (though I fear my dance card would be empty once they saw me in action!) and the walnut shell fairy boats. It seems a tad dangerous by our standards but a lot more fun (and safe!) than bobbing for apples. Which are your favorites?
The full spread, as recommended by the magazine:
This is not a low cost affair. It is meant for either a comfortably middle class home or to be an aspiration for the rest of us. The instructions state that this is for a “large dancing party.” They do recommend that for smaller parties or one where only games are played (no dancing), a simpler bill of fare would be appropriate. Dancing does build up the appetite.
While this menu is often shared in blog posts, what is left out are the associated recipes. One that really stands out is the Halloween or Dumb Cake (dumb at the time meant “can’t speak”, not a statement on the person’s intelligence). This is yet another divination option, using an elaborate method to bake a cake with special prizes inside. Most importantly, the entire process must be done in silence!
Supper was usually a late repast. This explains the heavy emphasis on dessert items. I would not be interested in tongue salad but I do embrace the three-cake concept!
Trying It At Home
One of the best ways we can connect with the past is through food. With Halloween here and most of my time and budget tied up in lockdown prepping (2020 is a seriously weird place), I opted to try out the Baked Apples, Browned and Glazed.
The original recipe was a bit vague. Alas, this is the way of historic recipes. Our ancestors were extraordinary: they either had deep foundational knowledge or were culinary adventurers! Thankfully, I am happy to channel my inner Townsends and did some research and experimenting.
This is what I ended up with:
4 Granny Smith Apples–peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 in. slices
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp salted butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is heating up, peel, core, and cut the apples into 1/2 inch slices. Place them in a 2-quart cooking dish. Make a simple syrup with the water and sugar, over low heat, stirring frequently. Once the syrup is blended and heated through, turn off the heat and add the butter. Stir butter until melted and incorporated. Pour syrup over apples and stir to coat. Bake 30-40 minutes, until tender, stirring occasionally.
My original experiment used 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar with 1/4 cup butter. This was entirely too much liquid with the juice from the apples. I also baked them covered, which resulted in basically stewed apples instead of baked. The reduced syrup and no cover should balance everything out.
In the end, they are quite tasty and make a nice snack or condiment. The hardest part for me was not adding any cinnamon or other fall spices! But they didn’t really need them. The brown sugar and butter did the trick. As they often do. 😉
Which of the recipes would you like to make? Which would you absolutely leave out?
And would your late 19th-century ancestors been able to have such a lavish party? Or would they have had a more modest affair? Mine definitely would have thrown a smaller party on a farmer’s or miner’s budget. They would have also probably included some beer!
Thank you joining for me on this quick trip back to the 19th century. Please let me know below what you thought of the journey!
Happy Halloween!! Best wishes for a wonderful and safe holiday!
Merry Halloween Black Cat: 1909 Postcard, Ellen H. Clapsaddle artist. Found on Pinterest. Public Domain.
Party Invitation: Circa 1920s Party Invite. Found on SheWalksSoftly. Copyright unknown.
Three Bowls: “Halloween Greetings” postcard, Victorian. From article, “Browse These Spooky Vintage Cards“, last modified Nov. 2, 2018. Presented by The Kansas City Public Library. Public Domain.
Chestnut Poem: “Halloween Postcard HIR 363-3 Bat Acorn People Fantasy Vintage” from Pinterest (based on expired ebay bid). Public Domain.
Dancing Instruction: Illustrations from Dancing and its relations to education and social life with a new method of instruction, including a complete guide to the cotillion (German) with 250 figures, by Allen Dodworth. 1900. Publisher: Harper & Brothers, New York. Library of Congress Music Division, Control #00002075. Pages 300-301. Public Domain.
Bobbing Party: “Hallowe’en Festivities from an Old English Print” from the The Book of Hallowe’en, by Kelly, Ruth Edna. 1919. Publisher Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co. WikiCommons. Cropped and rotated for viewing. Public Domain.
Grewsome Halloween Owl: From the article, “The Witch’s Hour” from the Los Angeles [Sunday] herald. 24 Oct. 1909. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Public Domain.
Ingall’s Home & Art Magazine Clips: Ingall’s Home and Art Magazine. United States, J. F. Ingalls., October 1891. Available on Google Books, in the collection “Volume 4, November 1890-October 1891, pages 501-505. Public Domain.
Cooking photos ©Michelle Keel 2020