ancestryink fisherman

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Inst. and Ult.

I was mystified when I first encountered the usage of "inst." and "ult." in Shipping News reports from historic newspapers. I noticed they were generally used in commercial language, such as business correspondence or news reportage and indicated some form of abbreviation.  

They are actually abbreviations of Latin terms. "Inst." is short for the Latin "instante mense" or "this month."  And "ult." is short for "ultimo mense" or "previous month."  (Another related term genealogists may encounter is "prox.," from "proximo mense" or "next month.)

Oftentimes, an old newspaper item will report a total list of shipping arrivals and departures over a two week or 30 day period.  These shortened terms replace the need to keep mentioning the actual name of the month.

"Inst. and ult." are used in many descriptions besides shipping news, however. 

Here are two examples from 1870 newspapers. The terms "inst." and "ult." are highlighted in yellow.  Please click on the images for a larger, more readable version.

Inst.    A collection of news items for various towns in Ireland, 1870

Irish American Weekly, NY NY  29 Oct 1870

Ult.    A list of recent deaths, from the Springfield, Mass. newspaper

Springfield Republican 8 Apr 1870

In 1923, Punch, a popular British satire magazine, referred to these terms as "outdated jargon."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Rough on Rats road to distraction - Three Tips to Stay on Target During Genealogical Research

Have you ever watched the TV series "Bones?"  Notice how the investigators and forensic scientists always seem to go about their business completely without distraction,  always on track towards analyzing the dead body and solving the case?  Who is taking out the trash at home? Who is writing that rent check or arranging (later in the series) for day care?  Maybe once in a blue moon I've seen them go food shopping.  Nothing seems to really throw them off the path of finding clues, roughing up a few bad guys/girls, and solving crimes.  All in less than 60 minutes.

Genealogical research is no different than CSI work.  Driven by our goal to solve family mysteries we spend hours, weeks, years even, chasing down clues about that one ancestor you may know nothing about- the Elusive One who is leaving a huge gap in the leafy branches of your family tree. However, in real life the powers of distraction are huge and before long, I guarantee, you will find yourself "Off Track."  You will be Alice chasing the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole. 

Here is my "Rough on Rats" story - a short, personal tale of extreme distraction - and some useful tips for avoiding this very common pitfall for the genealogical researcher.

Old age or opium?  Cause of death
While perusing death records for a Maine ancestor online, I discovered that this poor woman had died from an overdose of laudanum, otherwise known as opium.  I will spare you the history of its usage, but laudanum was prescribed for health reasons a tad more liberally than it is today.  Shortly thereafter another death, this time suicide by laundanum, caught my eye on a Maine death record.

Two weeks later, I had almost completed my rampant, obsessive quest fueled by Curiosity, for the appearance of laudanum as a cause of death amongst Mainers.  I literally went county by county, year by year from 1840 - 1920, and from A-Z by surname looking at death records.  Why?  I had become interested in the history of laudanum usage in deleterious ways, and how that issue was eventually resolved in the United States.  Not a bad mission, but what about my original ancestral research?  Oh yes, that.

Wait. (cringe) There's more.  I discovered that besides laudanum used in suicides, another method,  a rodent-killing product called "Rough on Rats," was quite popular in the late 1800's.  "Rough on Rats" was produced by a NJ company and available to farmers and householders alike.  I googled it.  They had colorful, delightful ads of dead rats lying feet up!  Obsession led me to EBay where I discovered that an October 1905 edition of "Woman's Home Companion" contained one of these ads.  You guessed it.  For $11, I now have a real-life original "Rough on Rats" ad in my possession - not one of the really colorful ones, but that's okay. Sad but true. End of my saga. (For now...)

Genealogy is fascinating and inseparable from historical events.  It is easy to find yourself down any number of bottomless rabbit holes and distracted from your main focus.  Here are Three Simple Tips for staying on target, from the start of your research day, through to the end:

1.  Goals: Before you sit down at the computer to commence your online research, write down the specific goal of the day.  Here are some examples:

- Name:    "Alexander Henderson, in Nova Scotia"
- Topic:     "Shipbuilding in Bath, Maine 1840 - 1860"
- Record:   "Death Record of Marietta Small, 1870 - 1920"
- Location: "Migration path of Nelson family from PA to Iowa"

This same tip is essential for visiting a physical source such as historical society or library where you will be surrounded by shelves of books and documents singing their siren call.

As tempting as it will be to deviate from this chosen goal - do not succumb. 

2.  Take Notes:  It is inevitable that you will find important facts along the way that need to be pursued - later.

Write them down, then push them aside.  I enter mine in my "Evernote" app on  my iPad. This way when I switch back to researching ancestry databases, I don't have all these tempting topics taunting me from the sidelines on some piece of paper visible from the corner of my eye.  You have to be cagey when avoiding distraction.

3.  Exercise:  Yes, you read that right.  In order to avoid getting hunched over your computer or desk, locked into eye-straining, muscle-fatiguing research - a situation which will eventually sap your resolve and allow your mental concentration to wander - you need to periodically get up and walk around.  Do some jumping jacks. A Downward Facing Dog or two.  Anything to rush blood to the brain and re-invigorate your commitment to pursue that one topic of interest.  Trust me, it works.

These three simple tips will go a long way to keeping you on track in your genealogical research.  Pretty uncomplicated, but very effective.  Good luck!

Monday, August 27, 2012

In the Portsmouth Herald Today

Suzanne Laurent, a reporter for the Portsmouth Herald who covers the South Berwick area, recently called me for an interview about this blog.  Her article was published today and I am pleased to share it with you!  Click on the Headline below:

South Berwick Woman Unlocks the Past Through Genealogy

**Correction:  There is a misquote in the article I would like to correct.  Regarding lumber shipping business in Maine:  After active shipping of Maine lumber to other parts of the country, and an incredibly busy period of shipbuilding at Maine shipyards,  supply of first-growth white pine, commonly used for masts, became depleted for a time, around mid - 1800's.  At this point, lumber was then carried by ship to Maine from other states, mostly those in the south. This was not the onset of the shipping trade in Maine at all.  It was simply a change in the balance of imports and exports of lumber and the beginning of the use of oak for masts in shipbuilding. 

Now, moving on.  I like to periodically review my links and research websites to see if there are new updates.

Cyndi's List website logo

Cyndi's List sent out an email a couple of weeks ago notifying followers/genealogists of changes and additions to the site. I decided to go for a visit.

Cyndi's List is a multi-layered, cross-referenced website featuring thousands upon thousands of links, no exaggeration.  She, Cyndi, lives near Seattle, Washington, and started listing and categorizing the entire website herself, some years ago.  Since, she has been able to hire a web company to manage the technological requirements of this powerful site.  She now spends much of her 24/7 weeks checking for broken or defunct links, and reviewing suggestions from folks contributing new links to include in her site.

I have had trouble with navigating this site in the past, partly because of the sheer amount of info, and partly because I found the site design somewhat cluttered. But this latest rendition is friendlier.

The best way to begin your research is to click on the "Categories"   purple arrow in the left hand menu on the front page, and you will be taken to a page allowing you to search using an alphabetized keyword search tool.

Most of my difficulties in the past have been due to the sheer amount of links to review, in looking for needed info.  It's pretty daunting!  But very well worth the time it takes to keep diving into the different categories.  The links relate to people, events, locations, covering the entire planet.  You can search by time period, nationality, geographic location, societies, religion - basically anything you can imagine that has to do with the human population.

My advice is to begin with just one category - and at least an hour of unbroken time ahead of you.  This will be enough to open up a tantalizing Pandora's Box of related categories and websites, and you will be off and running. Here are a few samples for you which barely scratch the surface of all there is to see.   Just click away... 

1.  Occupations

2.  Prisons, Prisoners, and Outlaws

3.  Ships and Passenger Lists

Good luck!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Analyzing an Old Photograph

This 1890 photograph was taken in the home of William H. Ropes,  Salem, Mass around 1890.  This is known from handwritten information on the back of the photograph.

The woman seated at the center of the image holding the infant (her first child, Raymond Henderson,) is my Danish great-grandmother Marie Dorothea Henningsen, who arrived with her father Georg Nicolai Henningsen, mother Anna Catharina Liebsch, and siblings from Schleswig-Holstein in 1872.  At the time of this photograph, she is married to my great-grandfather Alan H. Henderson (b. Deer Isle, Maine) who is a master mariner. He is not present in this image.

Or is he?

Henningsen-Ropes - please click on image for larger size
It was common practice in the 1800's to include paintings, photographs or illustrations of family members who were not able to be present when the family photograph was being taken by a local studio photographer.

Just behind my g-grandmother on an easel, is a portrait image of her husband, Alan Henderson.  As a schooner captain who delivered goods up and down the east coast from Philadelphia to Canada, he was frequently at sea and absent. (Marie would later divorce him, and he would never be mentioned again, in my family!) Against the back wall directly to his left is undoubtedly a photograph of his ship.

The woman to the far left of the photograph is another Henningsen sister.  To her left is another portrait of a man - most likely her husband.  He appears quite a bit older than her and the easel is adorned with an elaborate scarf-like decoration.   It almost appears funereal. Research would follow to determine if he was deceased.

There is much to be gleaned from an image.  This one very purposefully includes a row of photographs along the mantlepiece behind George Ropes (the seated, bald gentleman.) These photos are likely images of ancestors or living relatives of the Ropes/Henningsen family. The other men standing in the image are Henningsen brothers and possibly a Liebsch cousin. Some of the Henningsen family settled in North Carolina after immigrating, and perhaps these smaller images are of that branch of the family.

At the very center of the photograph, we have the eldest female and mother: Anna Catherine (Liebsch) Henningsen. 

Their clothing is formal and indicative of the time period.  The room, possibly a formal parlor, has ornate wallpaper and chandelier and was probably the receiving room in the house.

The inclusion of absent family members in the form of a photograph or painting is something to look for in your family photo collections.  Not decorative or random - these framed images are very likely to be ancestors vital to your family research.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What If Tampa Lost Power?

With Hurricane Isaac bearing down on Puerto Rico, and Florida, there is much concern about the GOP convention happening in Tampa next week.  "What if Tampa lost power?"  The mayor of Tampa reports reassuringly that the city is prepared.

Historic storms in Tampa?

I searched, that great archive of old newspapers and documents.  Keywords:  Tampa, power lost; Date: 1890-1930.   This website never disappoints.  Occurring a little later in the year than the last week of August, a significant storm did in fact knock the stuffing out of Tampa in October of 1921.  Here is an excerpt from the article published by the Macon Telegraph, Macon GA:

(click on images for larger size)


" The business section of Tampa is practically flooded under three feet of water as a result of the gulf storm...No loss of life has been reported, but the industry is at a standstill...The entire West Coast of Florida is feeling the effects of the storm and is virtually isolated insofar as communication is concerned...

Tampa is without lights, telegraph, telephone or street car service..."

Even before this 1921 storm, dating back as far as 1860, old newspapers report numerous historic storms and loss of ships, life, crops and general hurricane mayhem during the month of August.

It is possible that the weather will prove to be much more enthralling than the convention??  Just a thought...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Are Women to Blame?

Senatorial candidate Todd Akin put his foot in his mouth, right? To put it mildly.  The Republican party is reeling.  There goes the female vote.  Somebody left a body in the road, Romney's carriage has hit it and is heading for a ditch.

In a few days, it will all be forgotten, as usual.

One of the more disturbing implications of this whole brouhaha is the darker current that still flows below Akin's statement.  A woman's right to her own body is still political fodder - and still apparently not really her own jurisdiction.  When Akin implies something to the effect that during a rape - "a woman's body can just shut that thing down," there lurks that age-old shadow of shame and blame.  Somehow, if a woman's body does NOT 'shut that thing down' during rape, this attitude subtly implies that once again, a woman is solely responsible for preventing pregnancy, even when brought about violently and against her will!   And if she fails at that, she has to physically and emotionally just ride out the consequences.

We really haven't made much progress here.

Once again, I wondered what the general language surrounding abortion and more importantly, women's rights, would be in the 1860's.  I figured this was far enough back to present some real contrasts between then and now.

In the 1860's the topic of abortion usually surrounded the untimely death of a young woman, and whether the doctor who may have performed the abortion was culpable.  Okay, so that makes sense.

Here is an excerpt of a short article dated August 23, 1860, from the Boston Herald, addressing just such a case.  Read it carefully.  That underlying shadow of blame overrides any criminal investigation.  Though this is not about rape, by the end of the article what is left is really just a not so thinly veiled assignation on a woman's character.  She died, by the way.  Unsupported by friends, and barely assisted by doctors.  They even imply that it was a "woman" who performed the abortion.  Blame, again.  The fetus is referred to as "her shame." Instead of sympathy towards her situation,  her case just ends up being a "sad warning to humanity" that she somehow deserved her fate due to her indiscretions.

From the Boston Herald, August 23, 1860

And again, the really uncomfortable notion that Akin implies this week is not all that different from the tone of the 1860 article.  If a woman's body does not "shut that thing down," - then what?  Oh well - it is her responsibility in the end. A woman is raped and the refusal to condone abortion in a case like this - the refusal to support a woman in taking care of herself and choosing her own future - just somehow hints that it was "her fault." 

To end on a totally different note, Diana Nyad quoted this lovely verse from a Mary Oliver poem, when asked how she felt about her recent failed attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida.  This is a woman who definitely defies the odds, makes her own decisions, and lives her life to the fullest.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sailing Ships of New England & Soaring Ancestry Revenue

By  George Francis Dow & John Robinson
This book is a total sleeper.  I found it at one of my favorite bookstores: Jabberwocky Bookshop, located in Newburyport, Mass.  On sale for $7.98 in the local books section, I picked it up because I was looking for a picture of a hermaphrodite brig but honestly wasn't expecting too much.  Don't judge a book by its sale price.

The book was originally published in 1922 by the Salem Marine Society and this paperback edition was published in 2007.  There are over 300 illustrations of ships.  Many of them are courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

The first 65 pages contain descriptions of each type of ship, from Pinky to Topsail Schooner. There is navigation info, a chapter about the life of the captain, the shipwright, rigging - even information on the artists who painted ships - anything connected to the building and sailing of ships is there.  And in a concise, not overly technical way.

The rest of the book is dedicated to ship illustrations.  The ships are listed in alphabetical order by ship's name.  This is helpful if you are searching for a particular ship.  I would have liked the ability to view the ships by their make, however.  I had to hunt and peck to find the images of hermaphrodite brigs.  Otherwise, it is a really interesting volume, the likes of which I have not found before.  Most ship books seem to deal with either an era such as "WWII vessels," or a single type of ship.

And, the price was right.

Speaking of "price," today we have news of a transaction that has been in the works since last April: purchased the Silicon Valley based website for a cool $1 million.  Nothing will change on the outside, however., which was a competing genealogical history database site (with lower subscription rates,) will look and act the same for you.

Genealogy is high finance.  Got stock??

Friday, August 17, 2012

Penobscot Marine Museum Archives

Collections of thousands of photographic images compiled by subject and photographer on a searchable online database - that is what the Penobscot Marine Museum has to offer for researchers.

Just a sampling of Penobscot Marine Museums collection
You can do a keyword search of their database in one or all of the following categories:

~ Archives
~ Photos
~ Creators
~ People

Located in Searsport, Maine, the museum is open from 10am - 5pm Monday - Saturday; and Sunday 12 - 5pm.

The online offerings are wonderful and a great gift to researchers, but personally I cannot wait to visit.  A September trip is planned.

They also have educational programs for both kids and adults and community outreach programs.

Stuffy museum fare?  Not on your life.  This looks like a lot of fun for everyone.

Take a trip to their website to see all that is going on at Penobscot Marine Museum. 

Images Source:  Penobscot Marine Museum website.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

1940 Facts and More Weird Weather

Two brief items of note, today:

St. Augustine, Texas - 1940:

7.7 years of schooling.  That was the norm for folks in rural farming communities.

Think about that for a moment.  My father, who was single and living in New York City in 1943, would end up completing 18 years of school, after a brief interruption to serve in WWII.  Quite a difference. 

From 1940 Census website - Education 1940
The 1940 Census website and records are a lot of fun to search.  The home page of the census website contains a map of the U.S.  You can click on each individual state and find out a few fun facts about what was happening there in 1940.

Maine had the dubious honor of being the "toothpick capital of the world."

Visit the 1940 Census website, a section of's vast database.  I don't think you need to have a subscription to access some of the fun stuff.


Okay, I couldn't resist one more reference to extremely weird weather, lest you feel singularly plagued by our current weather patterns.

Remember how Spring normally arrives around ...oh... March or April??

Here are two entries excerpted from the diary of "Schoolmaster Joseph Tate," who was a citizen of Rollinsford, New Hampshire in the mid-late 1700's.  (Source:  Catalfo's:  "History of Rollinsford, New Hampshire."  (Most of his entries were records of deaths, you may notice.)

Thursday, May..1777.  Snowed almost all day...10 inches snow

Possible 10 inches of snow in May??

Clearly, this was followed by a lethal
thunderstorm.  Death by thunder...

A year earlier, another record of bizarrely unseasonable weather, noted by Schoolmaster Tate:

May 30, 1776 A severe frost  - ground frozen an inch deep

Okay, I know what you are thinking, and I had the same shadow of doubt cross my mind when I read this.  Should we question the memory or sanity of Mr. Tate??

I may be wrong about this, not being a dyed in the wool farmer, but when does corn appear in May?
Beans, sure.  They are an early season crop....but corn?  Possibly this corn was planted in the traditional way of using a corn stalk for a beanpole, and not for the eating kind.  I don't know about that.  At any rate, the report of this very late, hard frost is probably true.

We have been known to have snow still lingering in the dark hollows, in late April...

*Just a note:  Rollinsford, New Hampshire is just north of Portsmouth which places it at the very southernmost region of New Hampshire, nearly in Massachusetts. Rochester, NH, is a bit futher north, but not much.  So, we're not talking the chilly climes of the White Mountains, here.

History can be reassuring.  If you think you have "seen it all," and our lives and environment have been freakishly and forever altered, chances are - IT all happened before.  And yet,  here we are.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why A Wreck?

Once again, the news caught my attention this morning as it spotlighted another effect of the current drought:  exposed shipwrecks.  The 133 yr. old ribs of the  steamboat "Montana"  (1879 - 1884) have emerged from the parched Missouri River.  It's an interesting story, and a well-documented wreck.

Shipwrecks!  Everyone loves a good shipwreck story.
Here is one that is a little more personal:

One of my neighbors on Martha's Vineyard, many moons ago, was Barry Clifford.  Barry is the renowned salvage expert who located the "Whydah," slave ship turned pirate ship dating back to 1715, captained by the infamous pirate Sam Bellamy.  For decades, Clifford has continued to dive on the wreck every summer off the coast of Provincetown.   Barry Clifford's expeditions have ranged far and wide:  Scotland, Madagascar, Haiti to name just a few.  His work has graced the cover of National Geographic, been featured on the Discovery Channel, and he has written numerous books.  Clifford's museum is located on MacMillan Wharf in Provincetown.  National Geographic Society now sponsors a traveling exhibit about the Whydah.  More about Clifford and the Whydah, can be found at the museum website. 

Painting of the Whydah, courtesy Expedition Whydah website
 On the Vineyard, Barry Clifford was sort of our home-town hero.  Discovering the Whydah was one thing, but living the life of a "treasure hunter" (we'll skip the practical details of maintenance of his vessel the Vast Explorer, sophisticated sonar equipment, endless fund-seeking, government permits, archaeology rights, vigilance over wreck sites, etc etc.)  just re-ignited the childhood fantasies of many a man - and woman.  Give up your day job.  Become a shipwreck sleuth. 

 Mysteries are exciting.  History is exciting.  When the ribs of an old ship emerge from the waters, most of us are imagining decks teeming with panicked passengers, a frenzied crew, and a desperate attempt to survive a disaster.  We all want to know "exactly what happened."  Who survived?  How did they die? Obviously, the Titanic is another ship that has held us captive for years, for the same reasons.

I suddenly realized today, as I was watching that news spot about that steamer in the Missouri River, that I have an uncommon association with shipwrecks.  Really unusual, actually.

About ten years after I met Barry Clifford, I became re-associated with him and his crew now located permanently in Provincetown, through one of his close friends.*  At this point in time,
Whydah treasure: cvr
Barry's crew (and myself, for a couple of short visits) traveled to Scotland as they searched for another ship, this time located in the Firth of Forth.  This project would continue for a number of years.  Weather, funding, film rights, all dragged out the duration of salvage efforts.

During this same period, another possible wreck off the sands of St. Andrews, drew me into research at the University of St. Andrews, and the National Library of Scotland located in Edinburgh. It was the researcher's Garden of Eden.  I probably sat next to J.K. Rowling at the local cafe as she penned Harry Potter into existence.

Later, the salvage group traveled to Madagascar looking for Capt. Kidd's "Adventure Galley."  My graphic design skills brought me into the fray, and I ended up contributing to the creation of a photo mosaic of the debris field - cannons and pottery at that point - of the shipwreck which had been careened close to the shore of Ile Ste. Marie.  Pretty fascinating: using hundreds and hundreds of video images of the ocean floor, shot by divers with underwater cameras, and then re-constructing them into a whole image.

Why recount all this past history?   I am sure it sounds like a lot of nostalgic, personal rumination.

However, I had become hooked.  Shipwrecks are ripe, tantalizing fodder for the imagination, for sure.  And yet it was the pursuit of clues, facts, solving the questions of the "unknown,"  that sealed the deal for me.  I became hooked on research.

More importantly, I finally began to envision historical events as synapses that actively and colorfully connect us backwards - and forwards  - in time.  It was a way of beginning to truly understand my place in the "timeline" of our universe.   A quest of a very different nature.

Source:  All images accessed from the Whydah Museum website.

*This same mutual 'friend' of ours would also become one of the few to make an early dive on the Titanic, preceded only by Robert Cameron,  giving me yet another close "relationship" with a fascinating relic of "deep" historical significance.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Artillery Fire Ends Severe Drought?

Seeding the clouds with gunfire??

By November of 1870, the scars of one of the most damaging summer droughts of the last hundred years in both the United States and parts of Europe, were finally starting to heal.

France seems to have exceeded even the U.S. in impact from this world-wide drought.  Headlines gave equal attention to both countries.  (See my previous blog posting for more...)

From June 20th, 1870: the Baltimore Gazette reports the state of the drought in France:

"No rain for three months!"  Luasanna, France
Much as the way we respond today after a troubling event of such epic proportions and suffering, attention now turned to finding a human-induced solution to any future drought that might visit itself upon a now very stressed-out population.

HEADLINES:  Can Rain be Produced Artificially??

"The Effects of Artillery Fire Upon the Weather.

Vicksburg, April 16th 1863
The drouth which began early in the summer, in Europe, as with us in New England, was succeeded, soon after the commencement of the war between Germany and France, by almost continued rains...It is asserted, and we presume correctly, that nearly every great battle and naval engagement during the war, was followed by a storm more or less sever, and especially was this the case after the engagements of Bull run, Roanoke Island, Gettysburg, Fort Donelson, and on the peninsula, before Richmond....It is also said that the cannonading (during the war) on the York river and James river, as well as the cannonading of Corinth and on the Mississippi, were followed by such fearful storms that the land was inundated."

This article published by the Columbian Register,  New Haven, CT on Saturday 26, 1870, is lengthy and full of wonderful examples supporting the theory that artillery fire brings about rain.  One of my own ancestors, Alexander Henderson, who survived the battle drowned during the intense rains and swelling river that followed.

Another excerpt, in regards to France:

"In the month of June, the great drought prevailing in France led a number of scientific men to suggest to the Minister of War, Leboeut, that cannonading should be instituted in order to bring about rain."

Speculation?  Truth in science?  Humankind striving to make order of an unruly, unpredictable universe?  I am sure we've made a few advances on this theory.
But still...I find it endearing.

Click here to download full PDF version of the article:

(Source Information:; historical newspaper archives
For Civil War Image:   Currier & Ives lithograph, 1863; Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, Beverley R. Robinson Collection. Accessed at their website:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Severe Drought. Then and Now

Two days ago, CNN reported that the Mississippi River has shrunk in some places from 3 miles wide to a mere 3/10 of a mile wide.  Barges carrying goods cannot get through at Greenville, MI.  As the severe heat and drought continue, there are plans for dredging parts of the river in LaCrosse, WI.  Daily, farmers report the stress and partial or total demise of their crops.  We hear a lot about high prices on the horizon for fruit and vegetables.

Farmer:  Scott Olsen/Getty Images. From
 I wondered about other historical periods of phenomenal heat and drought.  A little research seemed in order.

A very reassuring aspect of studying history is the evidence that most of the more “worrisome” things we experience today: war, drought, new strains of illness, hurricanes, political skirmishes, tsunamis, plummeting economies – all occurred in the past, in varying degrees of similar epic proportions.  The good news is – the world pulled through and here we are! 

Here are a few snippets from news articles I located, all reported during the great drought of the Summer of 1870.   This drought spanned much of the U.S. and Europe, particularly France, as well.  The first article, from Maine, sounds eerily similar to the CNN report on the Mississippi.

Do the math on the total number of lumber feet that are being held up by dried-up rivers.  It’s mind-boggling.  And lumber was one of Maine’s prime exports, not to mention crucial for shipbuilding in that state, during a still-active period of trade by sea.   

“Yesterday the thermometer stood ninety degrees in the shade and today ninety-six degrees…”

Another report, from Indiana gives a sense of the breadth of the drought in that area:

And, below, from New Jersey – a tale of lost crops, saved crops, and fervent prayers for rain being sent by “divine interposition:”


 In a “Letter From Newport:

A different kind of concern affected this affluent Rhode Island community.

“Newport, August 4, 1870

Not a drop of rain has fallen here for nearly a month, and everybody is praying for a shower.  The streets are dusty. The beautiful lawns are turning yellow, flowers are fading, and the foliage begins to look dead.

Newport is rarely so free from fog as this season, or rather as it has been through July, for we were enveloped in mists during the whole of June, and the absence of all moisture is having a very bad effect on vegetation.  Bellevue Avenue and the Bath road are well-watered, and all riding is confined to the avenues where the dust is laid. The roads into the country and the Ocean drive are simply impassable.”

And finally, from (*graphic material alert) an article listing "Domestic News" – of the oddity ilk, this melancholy note of irony:

More news on the historic drought situation will follow here, tomorrow.  In 1870,  there was a unique solution being mulled over, to put an end to the arid conditions worldwide...A solution that, with a little care, (and a blocking of ears) could be implemented just about anywhere.

Look for tomorrow's blog posting...

Source:  All newspaper clippings in this posting accessed at, a subscription website for historic newspapers

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Who Needs YouTube? Nail-Biting Suspense 1846-Style

Aboard the ship Wyoming, during the gale of Nov. 1846

The storms of late 1846 brought treacherous gales and many newspaper reports of disaster.

The Newburyport Herald is archived on microfilm on the third floor of the Newburyport Public Library,  State Street, Newburyport, MA.  Yesterday, I spent several hours lost in the elaborately descriptive and often suspenseful recounts of 'disasters at sea.'  The author of this article is unknown, but he was clearly on board the "fine packet ship Wyoming" at the time of her watery demise, and gives a first-hand account, creating images more looming, immediate, and illustrative than any movie on the big screen.

As I read through the story, I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat, my stomach in knots.

This is just a small excerpt.  There were many more horrific and also very human details in this long article of the loss of sails, masts, and sailors from the terrifying winds.  There was also a certain matter-of-fact quality that permeated this account, reminding us that life was in peril from the elements much more frequently, and more generally accepted as a fact of life, occupation, and death, than we presently experience.

Aug. 13, 2012:
Note:  A follow-up on this story:   It turns out a young Philadelphian who was a passenger on board the Wyoming is responsible for the lengthy, descriptive journal entry detailing the fate of the Wyoming on the high seas.  The ship had left Philadelphia, with passengers, in September of 1846, en route to Liverpool, England. A month or so into her voyage, she encountered the gale.  His colorful account was published in newspapers all over the United States, and in England, as well.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Out of the Depths

Shipwreck Exhibit  (Image from M.V. Museum website)
I like to think of the local historical society as a schooner. "In the holds"  are shelves and vaults and boxes that are almost as cool, dark and time-worn as the interior of a ship's cabin.  She carries the tales, local business, and passengers of our past.

And master of this great ship is the able administrator of all these great physical resources, usually assisted by a small but knowledgeable and devoted crew.  It is an occupation, like being a mariner, that is more about passion than comfort or prosperity.

So, today I re-arranged the blog's "Resource" list to create a separate category for the Historical Society.  My list only contains those I have actually visited in person.  This list will grow.

Also, as a special highlight today, I'm pointing our bow towards the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society and its current exhibit "Out of the Depths," which I had the good fortune to see two weeks ago.  I have a long history with Martha's Vineyard (near 30 years of island living) and the Historical Society has, like a good ship, been well-tended, its sails 'filled with wind' to meet the growing Island's interests.  The research library is dark, cool, and replete with studious researchers, some glove-clad, others deep in local family genealogies or local Island histories.  Quiet prevails.
M.V. Museum and Fresnel Lens  (photo from website)

I remember years ago visiting this same Library.  It was winter.  The room was barely heated and two women worked at cataloging and weeding books, vertical files, photos and artifacts.  One of them would literally disappear down an ancient staircase in a hole in the floor (to the basement, I guess) and come up with more books.  I was researching my house - an old Captain's home in Chilmark built in the mid-1800's (and which later became for awhile, the town Poor Farm.)

These welcoming women handed me several boxes containing hundreds of loose photos, many from the 1800's, and invited me to just sit on that old wood floor and have my way with them.  Most fun ever.

It is a little different now.  It truly is like a great ship - now a 'breeze' to navigate the holdings under the direction of the collections manager, Dana Costanza Street-a young woman with a completely clear grasp of the collections - and an avid interest in all topics, it seems.  Creative imagination being key to a good researcher, Dana was able to "think outside the box" so to speak and locate resources that might contain the information I needed.

In future posts, I would like to highlight more of our favorite historical societies.  They are all worthy of mention, and all in need of support.

The other day, at the Old York Historical Society, "Mrs Virginia Spiller" the sharp-as-a-tack librarian/historian/author there said about her imminent retirement: "I'm 75!  I'd like to finally have some time with my husband."  She will be missed, I am sure.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Plucking the Fruits of Missouri Research at the MO SOS

In the world of research, there is nothing more gratifying than finding a fecund, new archive of information.  Today, this came in the form of the Missouri Digital Heritage archives, located at the "Missouri Secretary of State" website [MO SOS.]

Courtesy: Missouri Digital Heritage website
This website is rich in historical information about Missouri and a fun site to visit, as well, with its many images, videos, and exhibits - and very clear info regarding use of the database. There are many collections to search there, but today I was looking for death records.

You can search both pre- and post -1910 birth and death certificates. It's awesome, really.  A brilliantly clear copy of the original certificate will be available to download as a PDF.  The Missouri death records were quite detailed around 1910 and yield an abundance of information.

This was my first foray into any Missouri records, in the course of my genealogical research.

After searching for some hours on and with zero results for death records for my particular family, I had come to believe that perhaps many of Missouri vital records had not been digitized, or were somehow lost.   The Missouri Digital Heritage pages proved far more fruitful!

Visit, and have enjoy. 

P.S.  I wish to give credit where credit is due:  I would not have found this great resource, had I not been viewing a memorial page on that cited these archives as the source of the information contained there.  So...thank you to the author who correctly included a citation for the biographical info on their page.