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Latest from the Blog

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,... read more

Military History Monday: Finding Your Family Heroes

Lately I’ve been working with clients who have asked me to find a Revolutionary War ancestor so they can join either Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) or Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).  It gives me a great sense of pleasure when I can finally inform them, yes, you have a direct-line ancestor who served in some capacity in America’s struggle for independence.  Immediately a smile of joy and pride spreads across their face and they say, “really?”. I have also had people who tell me they’re not sure they want to know more about their family history, implying it might be less than stellar.  I can assure them, however, that if you keep looking you’ll more often than not find something redemptive.  A case in point was one friend whose family were alcoholics and her family, neither her father or mother’s side, would talk about their history.  What a shame that was! While her father, grandfather and possibly great grandfather may have struggled with alcohol, her great-great grandfather was a minister who lived in a part of New York during a revolutionary period in American religious history where the likes of Charles Finney faithfully preached the Gospel in the early decades of the nineteenth century.  Perhaps her great-great grandfather had been converted by Finney or another evangelist of the time. The area in New York which encompassed several counties of central and western New York came to be known as “The Burned Over District” or “burnt district”, as Finney called it in his 1876 autobiography.  In his opinion the area had been so over-evangelized and there was... read more

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... read more

Tombstone Tuesday: John Elam Whitehead, a case study for finding elusive ancestors (On a Wing and a Hunch)

It’s been awhile since I posted an article.  I’ve been busy with other projects — writing and research.  From my latest ancestry research project I’d like to share a case study for finding elusive ancestors.  If you’re searching for some of those, perhaps it will encourage you to keep digging. When I begin a research project I never know what I’ll find (don’t we all know that!)  My client had begun her search awhile back and recently received her Ancestry DNA results, yet still didn’t know a whole lot about her family history.  In her possession are two books representing significant research published several years ago on two lines:  Belshe and Minear. Those types of books can certainly be helpful, but if you don’t understand how to interpret the research what good are they.  Still, once I found the names of the ancestors I knew were part of her line, it rolled out quickly. That was great to get a line or two started and begin exploring more in-depth research (and verification), but there were still many mysteries to be solved.  One in particular was my client’s great grandfather John Elam Whitehead, a Methodist Episcopal minister. John Elam Whitehead:  Who Were His Parents? I like to start out with census records, particularly for anyone born in 1835 and after because they usually begin to show up with their parents in the 1850 census.  I had an approximate date for John’s birth (around 1852) and soon found his grave stone at Find-A-Grave.  The inscription only contained birth year and death year (1852-1937). Of course, I first began searching, not only... read more

Side Bar Info

  1. My client’s mother related a story about Ida Virginia (her Papa’s mother) which occurred when she and John lived in Siloam Springs, Arkansas:  One night Jennie stated, “I’m going out after dinner and no one is to ask me where I’m going or in the morning ask where I was.”  The next day it was reported several women had arrived at a bar the night before and broken all the bottles of alcohol.  Of course, that sounds like something America’s most famous temperance warrior, Carrie Nation, would have done.  Carrie had a home in Siloam Springs and in 1903 changed her name (along with trademark protection) to one she felt more apropos to her crusade:  Carry A. Nation.)
  2. The Columbus Weekly Advocate, 24 Feb 1887, p. 4.
  3. Burlington Republican, 12 Jun 1896, p. 5.
  4. The Girard Press, 10 May 1894, p. 3.
  5. The Pittsburg Daily Headlight, 10 Apr 1895, p. 3.
  6. US Patent No. 567,057