Believe it or not . . . stranger things have happened (Can’t Mail Kiddies)

On January 1, 1913 the United States government began parcel post service throughout the country, based on a zone system which would determine how much postage would be charged for a particular package. Eleven pounds was the weight limit for a single package and basically anything that did not injure other mail could be sent. . . The new parcel post system was making headlines around the world. . . folks were so excited about the prospect.  Then, someone tried to mail a child. For the rest of the article, purchase the January issue of Digging History Magazine here ($1.99). Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new...

Philatelic Genealogy: What is it and how can it help me find my ancestors?

As a child you may have been a philatelist without knowing the official term. Stamp collecting has long been a popular hobby.  It was (and still is) a great way for young and old alike to learn more about the world. The word “philately” is the English version of a French word coined by a man named Georges Herpin in 1864. Herpin took the Greek root word “philo” which refers to love or appreciation of something, and combined it with the word “ateleia” which refers to “exempt from duties and taxes”. . . . Genealogists know that Bible records, wills and old letters can be a gold mine of family history. In regards to old mail, philatelic genealogy also looks at the outside of the envelope to glean genealogical information. . . For the rest of the article, which includes actual examples of combing through old letters to find family history “gems”, purchase the January issue of Digging History Magazine here ($1.99).   Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new...

Brick Walls: Despise Them or Conquer Them

Whether you’re an amateur or a seasoned genealogist, you have inevitably run into what is called a “brick wall”. If you primarily use the internet for research, it’s easy to blame it on Google, but sometimes it has nothing to do with search techniques, but a mindset that may need some adjustment — or a change in strategy. For instance, and I’ve encountered this myself, we rely too much on family “lore”. Let’s face it, some family stories were just that — stories (and perhaps outright stretches of the truth!). Too much reliance on those stories may have you “barking up the wrong tree.”. . . Try a “Back Door” Approach Awhile back I was researching family history for a friend who was adopted by his aunt and uncle. He knew his mother but didn’t know much about his father (but did know his name). After a brief conversation with his wife at church one Sunday, I set out on a quest to find out all I could about his father and his family. What I found was a family tragedy related to a volatile time in United States history on the border between Texas and Mexico.  To read the rest of this lengthy and informative article, purchase a copy of the January issue of Digging History Magazine here ($1.99). P.S.  This article in the magazine is followed by a short article on effective Internet search techniques. Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in...

Happy New Year: New (Ad)ventures on the Way Soon!

Happy New Year . . .  and with the new year come new (ad)ventures!  Digging History will be “going digital” by mid-January (if all goes as planned).  What does “going digital” mean?  (Update:  looks like it will be sometime Tuesday, January 16 for opening day!) Digging History will be publishing a monthly digital history magazine packed with an eclectic mix of articles and topics.  Digging History has always tried to focus on the unusual, unique and unheard-of stories which are not found in history books and that tradition will continue with Digging History Magazine.  After purchasing you’ll be able to download a copy to your computer, tablet or phone to read and enjoy at your leisure. There will be a new web site: www.digginghistorymag.com (still under construction).  Here you’ll be able to purchase monthly issues, beginning with January 2018.  Also available will be special editions which are dedicated to one particular theme.  For example, an “Early American Faith” special issue will be available and focus on a series of articles and essays previously published on the Digging History blog (with some new content).  Another special issue entitled “Genealogy and the Census” is also planned, with more to come. While early on most articles will be written by Publisher and Editor Sharon Hall, the goal is to garner interest from other lovers of history who would like to write and share these same kind of stories.  If you have a story to tell, contact us and let’s discuss.  In addition to serving as publisher/editor of Digging History Magazine, Sharon also serves as Editor for the award-winning newsletter of the South...

Book Review Thursday: Heaven’s Ditch: God, Gold and Murder on the Erie Canal

A dear friend who recently passed away once wrote an article about his ancestors and reflected on how, as the nineteenth century dawned, lifestyles began to change.  Before the 1800’s life was much the same through generations of families.  Then, the nineteenth century – what my friend called “The Century of Acceleration” – dawned and with it rapid change from beginning to end (and of course, beyond). America had just concluded its war for independence and many were looking to the west to expand beyond the confines of the eastern seaboard and the original thirteen colonies.  One of the major challenges the expanding nation would encounter was better ways to transport goods back and forth from the established urban and rural areas of the east to those who chose to venture to the west.  Yes, roads could have been carved through the mountains and forests, but what about a waterway to convey those needed supplies? Many had thought of building a canal system but Jesse Hawley, who took it upon himself to survey the Mohawk Valley, was the many who finally got it done, but only after petitioning the New York State Legislature and gaining the support of Governor DeWitt Clinton.  The challenges were great with varying altitudes and rises along the proposed three hundred and sixty-mile canal.  A system of locks would become necessary to accommodate those variances. Many mocked the idea but on October 26, 1825 the canal opened for business.  Along the way, however, there were other events of note occurring along the canal some would call “Heaven’s Ditch”.  The book’s subtitle says it all: God,...

Book Review Thursday: The Brigade: An Epic Story of Vengeance, Salvation and WWII

Howard Blum’s latest book is about many things as the sub-title implies: Vengeance, Salvation and World War II.  Palestine was under British control and in November 1944 the British finally agreed to send five thousand Jewish soldiers to fight the Nazis.  This may be surprising to some people who assumed Jews weren’t allowed to fight back against Nazi tyranny and the horrors of the Holocaust. While the brigade’s contributions had very little influence on the eventual outcome, still they were extremely proud to have been allowed to serve.  In fact, at times it was downright frustrating to be held back to participate in only minor operations.  Yet, when given the chance to fight the Jewish Brigade proved themselves more than adequate to the task at hand.  Of course, by the time the brigade was sent to Europe the war was winding down.  Five months later Hitler and the Germans were soundly defeated. The men chosen to serve in the brigade had been living in Palestine, having migrated there from various parts of the world.  At this time, of course, the State of Israel was non-existent.  It was extremely heart-wrenching for the brigade to witness first-hand the persecution of their brethren at the hands of the Nazis.  That’s when things got rather interesting. As one reads the book it sounds much like a novel.  However, this is a true story of how this group not only ably served, but once the war had ended remained “on duty” while pillaging the enemy and exacting vengeance.  It’s quite an interesting story full of details of exploits these fiercely and proudly Jewish men...

Book Review Thursday: Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain’s Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour

So much has been written about Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain.  One might assume there couldn’t possibly be one more book written about one of America’s most beloved characters.  Author Richard Zacks, however, has managed to do just that in his latest book. Zacks brought the story to life through Twain’s never published notebooks and correspondence, bringing a unique perspective to a somewhat “dark period” in the author’s life.  Mark Twain was a highly successful humorist and author, but as a businessman he failed in 1894 after investing in an ill-conceived invention which never quite lived up to its potential. As a result his publishing company went under; buried in debt, he declared bankruptcy.  His wife Olivia (Livy), a coal heiress, was heartsick at the possibility of their good name being sullied.  Twain promised Livy he would pay back every penny despite the fact there was no legal responsibility to do so once he filed for bankruptcy.  But, how to do that? Twain, at this point in his life, really hated the idea of performing, yet it seemed the only way to make headway against the mountains of debt.  He was fifty-nine years of age but set out to make good on his word by embarking on an around-the-world comedy tour.  After traveling throughout the American West he and Livy and daughter Clara set sail for places like Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa where he entertained sold-out audiences. The book tells the story of their travels and adventures (and let’s face it with Mark Twain, some misadventures), including a wild ride down a Himalayan mountain, while interspersing...

Book Review Thursday: Two World War II Spy Stories

I’ve been lax of late in writing here at Digging History as I’ve undertaken some ancestry and book research projects.  I’ve also been inundated with trying to keep up with library books I’ve had on hold all coming my way at the same time it seems.  In the last two weeks I’ve read two somewhat-related books about World War II spies – one about a woman who to many in the world of MI6 and OSS during the war was known only as “Cynthia” and the other about an American family living in Paris who joined the Resistance and paid a dear price. The Last Goodnight I am a fan of Howard Blum.  I eagerly wait for his new books to be released and make sure I’m in line to check it out as soon as I can from the library.  After seeing initial reviews of his latest book, I wasn’t so sure I’d like it or not. Truth be told I had mixed feelings about the book – it was hard to decide if Betty Pack (a.k.a. “Cynthia”) was a true patriot or perhaps just a nymphomaniac whom the British and Americans exploited.  One reviewer suggested she may have been possessed of narcissistic personality disorder.  I’m not sure about that, but Ms. Pack seemed to have little or no compunction about “putting herself out there” as a temptress. As a young woman she married an older man, a British diplomat, and almost immediately began cheating on him and did so throughout their marriage.  She seemed to fall in and out of love with men other than her husband...

Book Review Thursday: The Secrets of the Notebook: A Woman’s Quest to Uncover Her Royal Family Secret

Even after the author’s family fled Nazi Germany to take refuge in London, they still faced danger as Hitler’s blitzkrieg pounded England.  On the day Eve Haas (nee Jaretzki) turned sixteen her father showed her a piece of family history, a notebook, which contained secrets about her family’s history.  Years later after both of her parents had passed away Eve finally came into possession of the notebook.  Although her family had warned against researching the secrets lodged in the notebook, Eve decided to pursue it nonetheless.  The notebook’s opening inscription alone was intriguing enough to propel her forward, ignoring her family’s warnings. By this time she had a family of her own, having been raised as a non-orthodox, secular Jew.  Her grandmother had been left behind and more than likely suffered death at the hands of the brutal Nazi regime.  The details which began to unfold revealed one startling revelation after another, but in order to get the complete story Eve and her husband had to find a way to access records which at this time were stored in Communist East Germany. The process of discovering her family’s secret history took years of patience and research and Ms. Haas gives a thorough account of  both triumphs and disappointments.  At the heart of what she discovered was a touching love story and the identities of her great-great grandparents, one of which was Prussian royalty (and a distant relative of England’s Queen Victoria).  Due to the treachery of his own family and attempts on his young wife Emilie’s life, Prince August was forced to take extraordinary measures to protect their only...

Ghost Town Wednesday: Shafter, The Silver Capital of Texas

This area of Texas is home to just a handful of residents these days, but once boasted a population of four thousand.  The town was named for Colonel (later General) William R. Shafter, commander at Fort Davis, and located about eighteen miles north of Presidio.  It became a mining town after rancher John W. Spencer found silver ore there in September 1880. Shafter had the sample assayed and found it contained enough silver to make it profitable to mine – profitable enough for Shafter himself to invest.  Spencer had thought it prudent to share his secret with Shafter since the area was prone to periodic Indian attacks.  Protection would be needed to carry out successful mining operations. Shafter called upon two of his military associates, Lieutenants John L. Bullis and Louis Wilhelmi to join his venture (and clear the area of unfriendlies).  The following month Shafter and his partners asked the state of Texas to sell them nine sections of school land in the Chinati Mountains.  Eventually only four sections were purchased, but lacking capital the partners leased part of their acreage to a California mining group.  Shafter later obtained financial backing in San Francisco and the Presidio Mining Company was organized in the summer of 1883. The company contracted with Shafter, Wilhelmi and Spencer individually to purchase their interests, each receiving five thousand shares of stock and $1,600 cash.  Bullis had purchased two sections in his wife’s name, but when the company’s manager William Noyes found deposits on the Bullis acreage (valued at $45 per ton), a dispute arose.  Bullis claimed the two sections had been purchased outright...