2    Jun 20114 comments

Languages: More are better!

Genealogists often lament the fact that immigrant ancestors did not pass on their native languages to their descendants.While the children of immigrants were mostly fluent in those languages - the first generation - those children only rarely passed down those languages to their own children or grandchildren - thus losing them forever.

Years ago, as I sat struggling through Cyrillic to understand records from Mogilev, Belarus, I often wished my great-grandparents had passed down Russian and Yiddish. Russian seems to have disappeared the day the family hit the streets of New York, while Yiddish was transmitted to their children. Their grandchildren knew only phrases or could understand some but not speak it, and they only rarely could read it.

How much easier it would have been if I had learned both languages fluently from my parents and grandparents! However, I did learn Farsi fluently when we lived in Iran. Our daughter studied it, used to read and write it, understands it nearly fluently, but refuses to speak it.

Now, through one scientist's research, we learn that there are two major reasons that people should pass their heritage language on to their children.

Continue reading "Languages: More are better!" »

7    Sep 20101 comment

Family reunions: Remembering

Wouldn't you like to meet all those people you've discovered and who now appear on your family tree?

This is the time to start planning for next summer - the most popular season for such events - so here are some tips and resources to help you get together with your far-flung relatives in person.

For even more on family reunions, see  another previous MyHeritage Genealogy Blog post which provided more tips, resources and a 12-step "getting organized" outline to plan a family reunion.

Don't forget that your family website at MyHeritage is a great way to stay in touch with prospective family reunion attendees. Share pre-event planning and programs, and then provide - post-reunion - photos and videos of the reunion for the whole family to see. It will encourage those who didn't or couldn't attend the event to show up next time.

 "A Good, Sacred Memory From a Family Reunion," in The Huffington Post by Al Eisele expressed his feelings as he returned from his family's reunion of the descendants of his German immigrant grandparents, Joseph and Elizabeth Eisele.
24    Aug 20106 comments

New Mexico: Digitizing historic newspapers

Where can you read about your ancestors' births, marriages and deaths?

If you are lucky, these lifecycle events will be documented in the newspapers where your family lived. The pages also allow us to glimpse how people lived, what they bought, what they ate, their social activities and more through advertisements and local event coverage.

If your family lived in New Mexico, you may find information dating back to 1860, as the University of New Mexico Libraries has just received a major grant to digitize the state's old newspapers (1860-1922).

Continue reading "New Mexico: Digitizing historic newspapers" »

22    Aug 20102 comments

New Zealand: Find family in photos

A New Zealand library has just launched a database with more than 2,500 historical images, as well as cartoons, drawings, posters, watercolors and ephemera. 

The photo below is of Manurewa’s creamery, circa 1905 (CREDIT: Manurewa Historical Society).

South Auckland's Manukau Libraries Footprints Archive database is now accessible to researchers around the world, with images detailing everyday life from the 1870s-1990s, and covering a geographic area from Otahuhu down to Papakura and Franklin. Continue reading "New Zealand: Find family in photos" »

18    Aug 20102 comments

Family treasures: What’s in your attic?

Aren't attics - and cellars - magical places to explore?

As a young girl visiting my grandmother in upstate New York during the summers, we would often go to see her friend Fanny who lived not far away.

I remember the old country farm house set in large surrounding fields. While Grandma and Fanny were talking downstairs, I was given permission to go up to the attic and scrounge around.

Fanny and her family had bought the place from people who had long been living there, and the attic was full of what people generally hide away. I found ancient letters, old newspapers covering historical events, all sorts of documents, books, photographs, as well as odd pieces of furniture, art work and old-fashioned clothing. At that young age, I didn't recognize the importance of these finds.

Now that I am so involved in family history and artifacts, I often wish I had an opportunity to revisit that treasure trove. Unfortunately, the house is long gone, and a housing development fills those fields. Continue reading "Family treasures: What’s in your attic?" »

2    Jun 20093 comments

Newspapers: The tragedy of the Titanic

The unsinkable Titanic wasn't, when it went down in the North Atlantic in 1912.

Most readers have seen television shows and movies based on the great tragedy, but how many of us have actually read the words of the survivors in contemporary newspaper coverage of the time? This coverage took place in a world without cable TV, cellphones, computers, satellite trucks or instantaneous communication?


When the Carpathia arrived in New York, figures on the number rescued varied. Carpathia reported 710 saved from what the White Star Line said was 2,180 passengers, and that others say was 2,340. The list of names given by the Carpathia on her docking in New York shows the rescued included 188 first cabin passengers, 115 second cabin, 178 third class and 206 of the crew for a total of 687.

"The tragedy of the Titanic was written on the faces of nearly all of her survivors. Some, It is true, who were saved with their families could not repress the joy and thankfulness that filled their hearts, but they were very few compared with the number of the rescued. These others bore the Impress of their time of darkness, when their people passed out in an accident that seemed like an insane vision of the night. Their faces were swollen with weeping. They had drunk more deeply of sorrow than is rarely given to human kind. But manv whose spirits were fainting from despair walked firmly enough down the gang-plank. Some walked unseeing in a kind of dreadful somnambulism of despair."

When I read that the youngest survivor had recently died - Elizabeth Gladys Dean, known as Milvina, was only two months old when she, her toddler brother and mother were rescued - I decided to see how the newspapers of the time handled this story. I used NewspaperARCHIVE.com as my source and decided to choose the Syracuse Herald in New York.

Dean was listed in the Syracuse Herald as recovering in New York City's St. Luke's Hospital, with her brother and mother (third on the list below):

Titanic survivors

Eyewitness accounts gave a strong picture of the best of humankind and the worst, of unsuspecting passengers who believed this was a trifling incident, of wives who refused to leave their husbands, of cowardice and bravery:

Saying Goodbye

The stories illustrated how little the passengers really knew about what would happen:
Continue reading "Newspapers: The tragedy of the Titanic" »

24    Sep 20086 comments

Historic newspapers provide help to researchers

Family history researchers know that old newspapers are treasure troves of family information. If your family lived for a long time in one location, then local papers likely hold information about your relatives.

Examples of such details can range from birth, marriage and death records. \if your ancestors owned businesses, there may be legal records or advertisements in the pages of the paper. Additional information may include real estate records, school data and the cost of consumer goods.

In the San Francisco Call of December 10, 1905, a large display ad for Dragers department store, at Market and Jones, indicated they were selling cushion covers, Christmas post cards, slippers, gift handkerchiefs, toys, holiday silverware, gift glassware and even groceries (Kona coffee, 19 cents/pound, maple syrup, 63 cents/half-gallon, the best sweet Washington navel oranges, 30 cents/dozen).

For $15, a stylish woman could purchase a suit described as: "Coat 32 inches long; strictly tailor-made; collar, cuffs and pocket trimmed with velvet and braid, buttons to match; loose back; lined with satin; plaited skirt; blue, red, green and plum; sizes 12 to 40. This is the suit at left; the other was $18.50.

Put tooltip here

Consumer goods are only one area of life detailed in historic newspapers. Current events and major historic events are of great interest.

Let's look at the same paper dated May 10, 1906, a few weeks after the major San Francisco earthquake:

Page 1: City bank vaults withstood the quake. The Fireman's Fund Insurance Company discovered that the vault containing all its insurance business records was destroyed when a huge steel girder fell and broke off a corner of the vault, allowing fire to get in and destroy records (policies, maps, etc.).

Page 2: Fire was the principal cause of city damage; no properly constructed building was damaged more than 10%; buildings erected on stable ground prior to the earthquake of 1868 had no evidence of damage.

Page 3: The extraordinary work of the Signal Service Corps who began fixing communication lines immediately after the quake. More than 1,000 individuals and companies paid to rent steel boxes in the bank safe deposit vaults. Provision trains are plundered by organized gangs; there is looting.

Page 4: Professor John Milne, described as the inventor of the seisometer, is spotlighted. The article described a special interview with him on the Isle of Wight, how the machine works and that the tinkling of the machine's bell woke him up and he knew about the earthquake in California hours before the London papers learned about it. Genealogists looking for death certificates will note that the city's mortuary clerk will enforce burial laws, requiring burial certificates be made out on the proper form.

And talk about rumors ... The first report received in Panama on April 18 by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company manager R. P. Schwerin, said that there had been an earthquake and tidal wave and that 5,000 lives were lost.

A later cable however said that San Francisco was destroyed by earthquake; 200,000 lives lost; business portion of city swept by tidal wave and remainder of residence part being destroyed by flames; Chicago in ashes; New Orleans has disappeared beneath the waters of the Mississippi River.

There are columns of the missing, meeting notices of organizations asking members to send in change of addresses. Ads for furniture, rooms/houses for sale or rent, the repairing of gas lines, columns of ads detailing the new temporary offices of many businesses.

Digitizing programs for historic newspapers are underway. Such sites as GenealogyBank.com, and the Library of Congress are helping researchers learn more about our ancestors' lives.

For information on digitzing programs in general, click here. For information on the Library of Congress effort, click here.

Google has also just announced its plans to begin digitizing millions of pages of old newspaper archives and placing searchable images of dozens of newspapers online for free, the same way it has done with Google Books. This is what a page will look like:

Click to view photo in full size

In addition to the New York Times and the Washington Post, other papers include the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "the first newspaper West of the Alleghenies; and the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, published continuously for 244 years - the oldest paper in North America.

Have you accessed historic newspapers in your research? What details have you located about your ancestors? I look forward to reading about your discoveries.

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