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Latest from the Blog

I Know February is Black History Month . . .

just by glancing at Digging History stats — even if I didn’t already know what is commemorated during this month.  Why is that? Last year, one story (and it’s a good one!) received hundreds of views during February and beyond – the story about Sarah E. Goode, an African American woman who invented a cabinet bed.  The same pattern is occurring this year with multiple daily views of the article. I imagine that many of the views belong to students (or “innovators” as they are called) of Chicago’s Goode STEM Academy who are perhaps tasked each February with writing a story about their school’s namesake.  I’m happy to be used as a reference for this interesting story.  However, I hope those young people take time to look around Digging History for more articles about unique and unusual events in history – or read a Tombstone Tuesday article or two. Kids (of all ages), if you’re looking for other interesting African Americans in United States history try these articles:  Bessie Coleman, Stagecoach Mary, Phillis Wheatley, Ellen and William Craft or this fascinating article about freed slaves who owned their own slaves.  You can learn about the Underground Railroad by reading “The Mapmaker’s Children”.  Here’s a thought-provoking article: When and Why Did African Americans Stop Supporting the Party of Lincoln?  There’s even a Ghost Town Wednesday article about a Kansas town which was for a time home to a significant African American population.  These two African Americans had the most unusual names: Mary Susan Ann Rebecca Yankee Doodle Jay-Ho Bonaparte Dekelter Payne Spencer and Tonsillitis Jackson (you won’t believe his siblings’... read more

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

Side Bar Info

  1. Circleville Daily Union Herald, 10 Sep 1919, p. 5
  2. Robert W. McBride, Lincoln’s Body Guard, The Union Light Guard of Ohio; With Some Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln (Indianapolis, Indiana, 1911), 34.