Wednesday, March 8, 2017

History, Genealogy, and Ice Harvesting

History and Genealogy are conjoined twins, and like all such twins, while they are intimately connected, they each eventually and inevitably develop different perspectives and interests. One has perhaps a broader vision and more desire for external adventures and the other maybe has vision focused in a more limited direction and is content with internal, parochial adventures.  And yet both are inexorably influenced and guided by the other without end.  As I have often thought and said, genealogy is history on the most immediate and personal level, while history writ large is much broader in societal and temporal scope.

Broader history often informs our more personal and focused genealogy endeavors and so I have yet to meet anyone who indulges in Genealogy as a hobby or profession who is not also a devoted student of History. 

And it is with this intimate conjunction of History and Genealogy that I from time-to-time set aside a post here at The Prism to recommend a history book that I think can offer interesting and important material for genealogists. This is one of those posts. 

As a follow up to a recent post about a trip north to the Adirondacks in upstate New York and the Winter Carnival of Saranac Lake, I want to recommend a very interesting and informative book by Caperton Tissot titled "Adirondack Ice a Cultural and Natural History." [1] 

It was not until just after the turn of the last century (in the life time of many of our grandparents) that refrigerators for home use were first invented. Fred W. Wolfe of Fort Wayne, Indiana is often credited as the first inventor in 1913. The early domestic refrigeration systems consisted of a refrigeration unit mounted on a so-called "cold box." These first home refrigeration units were a bit cumbersome and space intensive since most of them required the mechanical parts of the system (the motor and compressor) to be placed in an adjacent room or in the basement while the cold box was conveniently located in the kitchen. It was not until 1923 that the first self-contained home refrigerator unit was introduced by Kelvinator and by that year the company had 80% of the home market for electric refrigerators. But, it was not until 1927 (the year my mother was born) that GE introduced what they called the "Monitor-Top"[2] refrigerator; it became the first really widespread home refrigerator with over 1 million units sold. 

The General Electric "Monitor-Top"
 refrigerator of 1927.

A real downside to the Monitor-Top and similar home refrigeration units was the refrigerants that were used -- either methyl formate or sulfur dioxide. The former was highly flammable and toxic if inhaled or ingested, while the latter was very corrosive and could irritate the eyes and even cause a loss of vision or cause burns and lesions if it came in contact with the skin. It was only when Freon was introduced in the 1930s that a refrigerator with safer, less toxic refrigerant came to market. 

Before powered refrigerators were introduced to American kitchens, the common method of cooling and keeping food in the early 20th-century was a mechanical kitchen appliance known as an "icebox" or "cold closet." [I remember my maternal grandparents still having a beautiful oak ice box in their kitchen in the early 1950s and getting blocks of ice delivered for it.]

An icebox was constructed with walls lined in tin or zinc and packed with insulation made of materials such as cork, sawdust, seaweed, or straw. To provide the cooling, a large block of ice was placed in a compartment of the box or on a tray at the top of the box and then the cold air would circulate down and envelope the lower storage compartments. For less expensive icebox models the water created when the ice block melted would collect in a drip pan that was placed beneath the icebox and would have to be emptied almost every day. More luxurious models had a holding tank for the accumulated ice water and a spigot that could be more conveniently used to drain off the water. 

An oak icebox similar to the one owned by my maternal grandparents.

And with this brief background on refrigeration in American kitchens, we come full circle to Adirondack Ice and how History writ large can so nicely and interestingly inform personal Genealogy.

Iceboxes, of course, were completely dependent on large quantities of ice in order to bring refrigeration into American kitchens. So naturally an industry developed to provide this necessary commodity to American homes. Before the advent of powered refrigeration, it was certainly not feasible to provide the ice for iceboxes through artificial refrigeration and so the source had to be naturally formed ice. And where was the best source for natural, freshwater ice to be found in sufficient quantities? In the large ponds and lakes of the northern tier of American states of course! 

Beginning in the mid-19th century and well into the 1930s the industry known as "ice harvesting" thrived in the United States in order to provide the ice refrigerant necessary for all the iceboxes in kitchens across the country. The basic process involved cutting and retrieving large blocks of ice created naturally in frozen lakes and ponds and preserving them in large, thick-walled ice houses where the blocks were insulated with layers of plentiful sawdust or other materials until they could be transported to market. In the colder climes of the country .  .  .  farms, restaurants, markets, and resorts would construct and fill their own ice houses (or contract with ice harvesters to fill them). In the warmer more southerly states, the ice was transported and stored in ice houses closer to the cities and towns where the ice was needed. [I remember a large ice house up on "the Heights" in Concord, New Hampshire in the early 1960s where my family would get 12 to 18 inch square blocks of ice to use in ice chests for picnics, trips to the drive-in, etc.  The ice was in a building built part way underground with a heavy wooden door that opened into a cavernous, pitch black interior where the blocks of ice would be hauled from under layers of sawdust with tongs and then washed off with a hose before being dropped into our ice chest.] 

So for almost 100 years the natural ice harvesting industry provided a huge number of jobs for Americans from the actual harvesting, to the storage, mass transportation, and delivery of the ice into American homes. At one time the delivery of ice to homes by the "iceman" was as common as the delivery of milk by the milkman and it had all the same social importance. 

Many of us might actually have relatives or ancestors who made their living in whole or in part as integral links in the chain of the ice harvesting industry . . . and this is why I recommend Adirondack Ice as not only a very interesting and informative history, but also as a resource for informing and enhancing an understanding of what could well be a part of your family genealogy!

If you had ancestors or relatives that lived in the northernmost tier of states you might have some ice harvesters in your family tree.  In Adirondack Ice you can learn about the typical process and tools used to get naturally formed ice from frozen lakes. [The tools and terms in the process derive from farming terms and implements and many farmers turned to ice harvesting when their fields were under feet of snow during the intense northern winters.] You might have an iceman in the family who made ice deliveries to homes and restaurants. Or you might have a family member who operated an ice house to supply the iceman, or worked to transport the ice to ice houses from the northern harvesting points.  If any of these occupations are known amongst your ancestors or relatives (or you think they might be), then you really should pick up Adirondack Ice to learn more about this fascinating, but now long-gone industry.

Adirondack Ice is a brief history of the formation and forms of natural ice and a fact-filled, well illustrated explanation of the process of ice harvesting in the past and its limited preservation and uses today.  You can see photographs of the early harvesting process and the development of the tools and automation of the process.  You can see a photo of an ice house in New York that held 46,000 tons of harvested lake ice. Learn how in 1913 -- on the cusp of the powered refrigeration revolution -- 1,200 to 1,500 tons of Adirondack ice, in about fifty train boxcars a day, were shipped to the metropolitan areas of New York City. Learn more about northern ice sports, celebrations, animal strategies for living with ice, and, most of all, learn the importance of northern ice to the way of life of our ancestors and relatives!

Adirondack Ice provides an absorbing connection between History and Genealogy and you will not regret adding it to your reading list -- especially when the heat of summer arrives and you want a nice read while you relax with an ice-filled glass of your favorite drink. 😊      
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[1]  Caperton Tissot, Adirondack Ice a Cultural and Natural History (Saranac Lake, New York, Snowy Owl Press, 2010).

[2] Apparently the name "Monitor-Top" came from the resemblance the top unit had to the gun turret on the Civil War era ironclad, USS Monitor.  

The scanned image of the book cover is from this blog author's personal copy of the book.

The image of the GE Monitor-Top refrigerator is from the digital collection of Mike Manning and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

The image of an oak icebox similar to one used by my maternal grandparents is from Magi Media and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

To learn more about the use of home refrigerators in the U.S. see,  For more about "iceboxes" (or "cold closets") see,

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Copyright 2017, John D. Tew
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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Saturday Serendipity (February 25, 2017)

Here are a few recommended reads for this weekend.

1.  Janine Adams of Organize Your Family History blog posted some important advice to keep in mind.  Read "Take another look at your documents" here.       

2.  Knowing history is important; it has a lot to teach us. As Jorge "George" Santayana famously said,  "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  The Legal Genealogist, Judy Russell, did the important service this week of reminding us of the 75th anniversary of a shameful chapter in our nation's history. Last Sunday marked the anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  The Order is one of the most infamous in our history. It began the internment of thousands of men, women, and children who were citizens of the United States (and their family members who in many cases were not).  These citizens were often of Japanese descent and had committed no crime. They were uprooted from their homes and livelihoods simply because they were of Japanese descent.  Read Judy's post here and learn more about this part of our history to we do not forget. And then read about the 6 - 3 decision of the United States Supreme Court that found the Executive Order was constitutional. In Koramatsu v. United States, six of the eight FDR appointees to the Court sided with the President. The sole Republican Justice on the Court, Owen Roberts, voted against the constitutionality of the Order! It took 41 years for Fred Koramatsu, who was convicted of evading forced internment, to have his conviction overturned.  Mr. Koramatsu died in 2005 and sadly did not live to see California declare in 2011 that January 30 would be "Fred Koramatsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution." Nor did he live to see the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2015 become the second state to declare each January 30th as Fred Koramatsu Day. One of the last things Mr. Koramatsu said before he died was, "I'll never forget my government treating me like this. And I really hope that this will never happen to anybody else because of the way they look, if they look like the enemy of our country."

If we fail to remember this bit of our history, we might be tempted some day to repeat it!   

3.  James Tanner of Genealogy's Star blog posted an interesting piece yesterday about genealogy as a business. It has links to other articles related to the subject and provides some data points worth mention.  You can read the post here.   

4.  With the 100th anniversary years of World War I (1914 - 1918) slowly winding down, UpFront With NGS blog calls to our attention a major resource on the subject of WWI . . . one sure to be useful to the many genealogy enthusiasts who have ancestors or relatives who participated in the "war to end all wars." Read here about the new WWI collection portal just launched by the Library of Congress and get some useful links to further explore this topic to enhance your genealogy.                

5.  At one time I had a regular feature on this blog called Samaritan Sunday. At last count there were 32 such postings before the series petered out at the end of 2014. I enjoyed searching out "Good News" articles about people who rendered assistance with some genealogical importance for complete strangers, but the series never seemed to be of interest to readers and I do not recall ever getting a comment about the series. This week I came across a truly impressive act of genealogical kindness that would have fit beautifully into the old Samaritan Sunday series and I want to highlight it here. Laura Mattingly of The Old Trunk in the Attic blog performed a truly wonderful service by posting an extensive extraction of references in wills from "Wills of Washington County, Kentucky 1792-1858,"compiled by Annie Walker Burns in 1936.  The extracted references are intended to capture all the mentions of negroes in the wills in the hope that it might assist descendants to locate some of their ancestors. Laura has extracted only half of the Burns book in her blog post of February 22nd, but when you have a look at the length of her post here, you will appreciate what a service she has provided. I can only imagine the time and patience it took to capture all the references and type up the extractions. Laura has performed an outstanding genealogical "Good Samaritan" act and we join her in the hope that it helps folks locate some long lost or unknown ancestors/relatives.  Well done Laura!

6.  And finally, The Weekly Genealogist from NEHGS brought several interesting articles to our attention this week.  The first is about the discovery of a previously unknown photograph of the famous African-American abolitionist, Harriet Tubman. See the beautifully clear portrait of a young Ms. Tubman and learn more about the discovery here.  

     Speaking of photographs, the second item of interest brought to us this week by The Weekly Genealogist answers the question, "What can you do if you do not have beautifully clear and detailed color photographs of your ancestors (male and female), but you do have some old painted portraits?" The answer for Peruvian artist/photographer, Christian Fuchs, is to painstakingly dress up as those ancestors and take your photograph with all the detail and clarity modern photography can capture.  You really should have a look at what he has done by going here.

     Third is a very intriguing article that illustrates the genius and creativity of women who are devalued in their culture, but nonetheless find a way to express themselves by keeping their autobiographies, writing their poetry and stories, and communicating with "sworn sisters," . . . bonds between women who were not biologically related. Read here about who these women were and the experiences that led them to invent "Nüshu" to secretly bond with one another and communicate what they could not otherwise express. 

     Last, but certainly not least -- and perhaps most directly related to genealogy -- is an article about how the huge genealogy databases of and are being used to analyze "for patterns like migrations, lifespan, and when people stopped marrying family members."  You can read this interesting piece here.
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Copyright 2017, John D. Tew
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Friday, February 24, 2017

The Adirondacks Again -- Winter Carnival 2017

Our trek on a snowshoe trail.

A meadow brook crossing on the snowshoe trail.

I have posted here several times about the special place the Adirondacks have in the hearts and minds of our family. We have been visiting the Adirondacks for over 40 years!  While most of our time over that period has been spent in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks during the summer, we have been up there during each of the seasons.  

Recently we visited Molly's sister Kathy at her home in Saranac Lake during the "Winter Carnival."  While the temperatures back in northern Virginia were progressively rising into the upper 60s and low 70s (and hit almost 80 degrees F. yesterday), it snowed every day we were in Saranac Lake and did not really get above freezing.  One day it was zero with a wind chill of minus 19! It reminded me very much of my youth in New Hampshire during the late 1950s into the mid-1960s. Snow was everywhere and the community just went on about its business. Stores and restaurants opened without a hitch, the air buzzed with the sound of shoveling, snow plowing, snow blowing, and the excitement of Winter Carnival.

In the 1880s, the village of Saranac Lake was a logging community that was evolving into a location where tuberculosis victims could go to "take the cure" in the fresh air of the Adirondacks. The great grandfather of political cartoonist, Garry Trudeau, was instrumental in putting Saranac Lake on the map for the battle against TB.  A tuberculosis sufferer himself, Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau founded the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium in Saranac Lake in 1885 and soon "Cure Cottages" sprang up all over the village.  In 1887, the writer Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the early notables who traveled to Saranac Lake to take the cure.  

The genesis of Winter Carnival goes back to November 1896 when a club was formed to promote winter sports and activities to combat cold weather isolation and stave off the seasonal listlessness that could otherwise develop into a full-fledged case of cabin fever. Just a few months after its founding, the Pontiac Club promoted a one-day event in early 1897 to be marked by fanciful dress and costumes. When winter arrived in 1898, the Club reprised the event, but expanded it and billed it as the "Pontiac Club Carnival" . . . and so 120 years ago a High Peaks tradition was born in a corner the Adirondacks to shatter the grip of frigid winters with a bit of frolic, irreverence, merriment, and north country sports.

The Winter Carnival in Saranac Lake was not initially held annually.  In the beginning it was held about every two years and in the decades between the world wars there were many years when it was not held at all. Then it was renewed in the winter of 1947-48 when WWII was finally over and life began to return to normal. It has been held annually ever since. 

Being in Saranac Lake the week of Winter Carnival 2017, the excitement and community involvement in Carnival was everywhere. As the day of the parade approached you saw more and more people out and about in colorful clothes and fanciful or wacky animal hats.  One often heard the term "north country culture" and it was hard not to be taken in by the festive air engulfing the community. It is a culture that laughs in the face of snow and ice and comes together around a common celebration of winter and all things cold and wonderful. Day and night the village hummed with activity leading up to the Winter Carnival Parade and the closing night "Storming of the Palace" when the community gathered around the lighted Palace in the dark to watch a music-enhanced slide show of the Carnival's various preparations and events projected on a large outdoor screen. The "storming" ended with a long, spectacular fireworks show over the Lake behind the Ice Palace. 

The "Palace" is the focal point of the Carnival and it is elaborately constructed each year with blocks of ice cut from Lake Flower.  The design of the Palace differs from year-to-year and it is colorfully lighted at night. The King and Queen of the Winter Carnival are enthroned at the Ice Palace.  

"Ice Palaces" have long been built in winter climes around the world and in the past were found in many cold-country communities in the United States . . . but today it is said that Saranac Lake is the only place in the U.S. where a "true" Ice Palace is still built each year entirely by volunteers (one of whom this year was Molly's sister Kathy).  Saranac Lake's true Ice Palaces are built entirely of ice blocks cut from the local lake and are not sculpted in whole or in part out of mounded snow or gigantic blocks of molded ice (although decorative ice sculptures are used in and around the Palace itself).  It took 2,000 blocks of ice to construct the 2017 Ice Palace. 

Site of ice block harvesting on Lake Flower.  Blocks are cut and then guided with pikes to the exit channel in the forefront where they are lifted out and transported to the nearby construction site.

The harvesting site with some left over blocks of ice.

Side view of the 2,000-block Ice Palace (2017) 

Inside the Throne Room.

A classic Adirondack Lean-to made of ice on the shore of Lake Flower behind the Ice Palace (2017)

Two Adirondack Chairs made of ice beside the lean-to (2017)

The Ice Palace at night (2017)

On Saturday, February 11th the annual Winter Carnival Parade took place through the center of the village and the route was lined with people two and three deep.

Along the Parade route on Broadway.

The approach of the "Lawn Chair Ladies," a dance and lawn chair drill team club
that is always a favorite at parades.

The Lawn Chair Ladies passing in formation and beginning a routine for the crowd.

But, all things must come to an end, and when the Ice Palace is deemed structurally unsound steps are taken to demolish it and send the ice back into the lake. On February 18th, the Palace had deteriorated to the point that officials had to close the site to the public.  It was still lighted at night and could be observed from behind barriers . . . and then on February 20th the end arrived and the Palace was razed.

Razing the Ice Palace on February 20, 2017.  The blocks are pushed back into Lake Flower.

To see more of the Winter Carnival go to the official website of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival here  At the website you can view photos of the whole ice block harvesting process, the crowning of the King and Queen, many of the Carnival's outdoor sports and activities, many more pictures of the Carnival Parade, the full Carnival schedule, and more.

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All photographs are by the author except the razing of the Ice Palace, which is by Kathy O'Kane, and the Ice Palace with the sculpted moose in the forefront, which is from the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival website.

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Copyright 2017, John D. Tew
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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Celebrating the World Scouting Movement, B-P Day, Founders' Day, and World Thinking Day (February 22, 2017)


(L to R) Peter Baden-Powell; Robert S.S. Baden-Powell;
Heather Baden-Powell; and Olave Baden-Powell (1923)
The following is a reprise of a post first published on February 22, 2014. Since that post was published, the Boy Scouts of America have made significant moves towards making the Boy Scouts a more inclusive organization that reaches out to all boys and adult leaders who have in mind the best interests of boys and their development into responsible men. I applaud these moves and celebrate today "B-P Day," "Founders' Day," and "World Thinking Day" with renewed enthusiasm. 

In addition to being the birthday of George Washington (and my maternal grandfather, Everett S. Carpenter), today is the birthday of Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell born February 22, 1857 as well as his wife, Olave St. Clair Baden-Powell (nee Soames), born February 22, 1889.

Robert Baden-Powell, known to Scouts as "B-P," was the founder of the Scouting Movement. He was a Lieutenant General in the British Army and a war hero who wrote a book about the art and skill of reconnaissance and military scouting that became a hit with boys. In 1906-1907 B-P came out with a version of his scouting book aimed at boys and in 1907 he held a camp on Brownsea Island in England to test his ideas.  The next year he published Scouting for Boys and its popularity resulted in the formation of Scouting units across the UK.  The Scouting Movement was born and in 1910 the "Boy Scouts of America" was formed in the United States. The Girl Guides organization was also created in 1910 by B-P and his sister Agnes Baden-Powell.  [B-P's wife, Olave Baden-Powell, became the Chief Guide for England in 1918 and was later named the first World Chief Guide in 1930.] In 1912, Juliette Gordon Low founded the "Girl Scouts of the United States of America" after Low had a meeting with Robert Baden-Powell.

The Scouting/Guides Movement is the largest youth movement in the world. Today there are two organizations that form the global umbrella for the Scouting/Guides Movement: the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) largely for boys, and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) largely for girls. Scouting/Guiding exists in some 216 countries today and there are about 42 million registered Scouts/Guides (32 million Scouts in 2010 and 10 million Guides in 2006). Indonesia has the largest Scout/Guide membership total at 17.1 million (7.2% of the eligible population) while the United States has the second largest combined membership at 7.5 million (2.4% of the eligible population).

In recognition of the founding efforts of Robert S.S. Baden-Powell and his wife Olave St. Clair Baden-Powell as the Chief Scout and Chief Guide respectively, Scouts and Guides around the world designate February 22nd (the Baden-Powells' joint birthday) as a day to celebrate the values and accomplishments of the Scouting/Guiding Movement.  For the Guides/Girl Scouts today is known as "Thinking Day" or more recently "World Thinking Day" and it is a time to contemplate the movement, its goals, accomplishments and fellowship among members. For Boy Scouts, today is largely known as "B-P Day" or "Founders' Day" and it is also a time to contemplate and celebrate the movement and its two founders.

As I have written previously here at The Prism, Scouting has played a significant role in the experiences of generations of our family. My father-in-law was a Boy Scout in the 1930s and later became a Scoutmaster. My mother-in-law was a Girl Scout leader for many years at the Council level.  My wife and her sister were both Girl Scouts and counselors for several summers at Girl Scout camps in New Jersey and the Adirondacks of New York respectively. My brother-in-law is an Eagle Scout.

I was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout until I reached age 18. My father was a Troop Committee Chairman. Both our sons were in Scouting from Tiger Scouts through the time they each became an Eagle Scout.  Molly was a Tiger Coordinator and Den Leader for seven years or more. I served in various adult roles for more than 20 years: Pack Chairman; Cubmaster; Webelos Den Leader; Assistant Scoutmaster; Scoutmaster; Crew Advisor; Order of the Arrow Chapter Advisor; Order of the Arrow Associate Lodge Advisor; Wood Badge Assistant Course Director; Jamboree Scoutmaster; Philmont Crew Advisor, etc.

A poster of all the Merit Badges that could be earned by U.S. Boy Scouts (circa 2000)

The family's Scouting Wall displaying the Eagle medals of our two sons, Order of the Arrow Vigil certificates, photos from four National Jamborees and other honors and memorabilia 

Like anything else, Scouting is not perfect.  It is always a work in progress with many aims and values worthy of continuing and improving where necessary.  In 2007 world Scouting celebrated its 100th Anniversary.  In 2010 the Boy Scouts of America marked the same milestone and the Girl Scouts of the United States followed with their centenary in 2012. Today is a good day to pause and contemplate the founding and huge success of the Scouting/Guiding Movement and to hope its inclusiveness and successes will grow in the future. On balance it is one of the most positive and influential youth programs in history.

Happy World Thinking/B-P /Founders' Day!  

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Photographs of Robert Baden-Powell, Olave Baden-Powell, and B-P and Olave with two of their three children from the author's personal copy of Tim Jeal's 1989 biography Baden-Powell

The fleur-de-lis upon a trefoil logo representing the international combination of Scouting and Guiding is from and is used under the permission granted there.

Photographs of The Merits of Scouting poster and the family Scouting Wall by the author from his personal collection.

For more information about the Scouting/Guiding Movement and some of its history, see  

For more information about World Thinking Day, see

For more information about Robert S.S. Baden Powell, 1st Baron of Gilwell, see,,_1st_Baron_Baden-Powell

For more information about Olave St Clair Baden Powell, Baroness Baden-Powell and first World Chief Guide, see
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Copyright 2014, John D. Tew
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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday Serendipity (February 18, 2017)

Here are a few recommended reads for this weekend.

1.  The big news out of RootsTech 2017 is that Old News USA is new, non-fake news!  Old News USA won top honors in the "Innovator Showdown. " Old News USA is an app that allows users to search for and discover family members in historical US newspapers using the Library of Congress "Chronicling America" collection of more than 11 million newspaper pages!  Find out more about this new app, other competitors, and get links here at the UpFront With NGS blog.       

2.  Wow . . . just plain WOW!  As a fairly new and minuscule blogger with a mere 142,000 views, I am amazed to learn that blogger James Tanner of the excellent Genealogy's Star blog will pass 4 million page views sometime today!  And when his other two blogs are included, his view total will exceed 5.3 million views.  Congratulations to Mr. Tanner for a job exceedingly well done!!  

3.  It is no wonder that James Tanner's blog has so many dedicated followers.  Speaking of Mr. Tanner and Genealogy's Star blog, UpFront With NGS blog gave Mr. Tanner a shout out two days ago about one of  his past posts, "Finding Unusual and Unique Sources: The Traits of a Great Genealogist."  Read the UpFront piece and get a link to Mr. Tanner's full post here.    

4.  Heather Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy blog posted her interview with Edwin Strickland, a scheduled speaker at the April 2017 NERGC ( the bi-annual conference of the New England Regional Genealogy Consortium).  Mr. Strickland will be speaking about reading old handwriting -- a subject many of us need help with at one time or another. I will be attending my first NERGC in Springfield, Massachusetts this year and Mr. Strickland's workshop is one block I might very well attend. Read Heather's interview here.               

5.  Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers fame posted a notice yesterday that is offering FREE access to 1 billion records from the UK this weekend.  You should check out his post here if you have any UK roots you would like to explore for free. Mr. MacEntee provides what I believe is the longest, most comprehensive listing of available data collections I have ever seen.  Beware that you might tire of scrolling through the massive listing, but you will certainly be able to target your searches after doing so.  Read the post here

6.  This must be the week for long, comprehensive listings of resources!  Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings blog has done the service of compiling a list (with links) to all the blog posts about the recently completed RootsTech 2017. I can only imagine the time and effort that went into capturing all this information. If you need to find out anything about what transpired at RootsTech 2017, I am sure you can find it among the extensive posts listed by Randy.  See his post and get links here.  [NOTE: Randy has post-dated this blog post for Sunday, February 26, 2017 so it stays at the top of his blog for a week. You have not pulled a Rip Van Winkle and awoken a week in the future if you go to Randy's post this weekend! 😀]   
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Copyright 2017, John D. Tew
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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Saturday Serendipity (February 11, 2017)

Here are a few recommended reads for this weekend.

1.  In the second installment in her series, "How They Do It," Janine Adams of Organize Your Family History blog interviews Denise May Levenick of The Family Curator blog. You can read the interview here.     

2.  Two items reported this week by UpFront With NGS blog deal with research tools that might be of  interest to many readers. First, is a website/workbook intended to assist you with your Irish ancestry investigations.  Read more and get links here.  Second, is the announcement that will be offering eBook editions of some 800 of its most popular titles at a 30% discount (or more) from their print editions.  Find out more about this development here

3.  Heather Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy blog posted an important piece this week about potential budget cuts and the effect they could have on genealogy.  Read Heather's post here.     

4.  Amy Johnson Crow recently posted on her blog about a resource for finding newspapers for the hometowns of your ancestors or relatives.  Read more here and get links where you can find a directory of over 154,000 newspaper titles!                

5.  Diane Boumenot of One Rhode Island Family blog offers a post this week highlighting four tips for getting more out of  research on Family Search.  Read more about her tips here.      
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Copyright 2017, John D. Tew
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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Saturday Serendipity (February 4, 2017)

Here are a few recommended reads for this weekend.

1.  The Weekly Genealogist of NEHGS cited to an interesting article about what today we would call techniques to avoid "body shaming."  The piece focuses on what famous people in the Victorian era did to hide body imperfections or visible maladies.  You can read it here.    

2.  Really?  We now have a "Genealogy Selfie Day."  I guess i missed it last year, but February 1st appears to be the date of this new event.  UpFront with NGS explains and illustrates here.  When it rolls around again next year, please remember .  .  . watch those selfie sticks, don't selfie [is selfie also a verb too?] while driving or operating power machinery, and everyone would be well-advised not to drink and selfie.  ðŸ™     

3.  Heard of "Twile?"  Neither had I until I read a post by Randy Seaver on Genea-Musings blog. It is a new way to display your family genealogy using infographics and family stats such as "average age at marriage."  To learn more if you too are not familiar with this new venture, see Randy's post with an example "twice?" here.  Speaking of Randy, he obviously heard of "Genealogy Selfie Day" this year!      

4.   James Tanner has a nice post about the "myth" concerning the hobby rating of genealogy.  Read his post here to enjoy how he deconstructs the supposed second place ranking of genealogy.           

5.   Elizabeth Handler of From Maine to Kentucky blog interviews photograph expert Maureen Taylor in a Ground Hog Day post (Feb. 2nd).  You can read it here.           
6.   And finally, Heather Rojo (and her husband) also heard about Genealogy Selfie Day this year .  .  . or are those two Pilgrims?  Have a look here.
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Copyright 2017, John D. Tew
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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Experiencing History

The very crowded Federal Center SW station at dawn on the morning of January 21, 2017. 

There are few times and events that one can say with near certainty will be considered historic in the years, decades, and perhaps centuries to come.

Since this blog is as much a family history as it is a blog about topics and issues concerning genealogy more generally, I think it is worth using it occasionally to leave a record for descendants of pieces of history that I have personally participated in or observed (given that this blog is periodically reduced to book form).

Before this post is taken by some as perhaps being politically partisan, I should go on record as saying I am neither a registered Republican nor a registered Democrat. I am an American whose family on both my mother's side and my father's side have been in America since 1620 and 1640 respectively. I am invested in America!

Since moving to Washington, DC in July 1978, I have witnessed or been caught up in several events that will almost surely be historically significant for many years to come.  I have written about or referenced some of those events in this blog previously.  But a brief listing of some of the events is appropriate here. 

I personally attended two Presidential Inaugurations in Washington, DC (Reagan's 1st and George W. Bush's 1st). 

Ronald Reagan's first Inauguration in January 1981 was the warmest on record at the time -- 55 degrees.  It was the first to take place on the so-called West Front of the United States Capitol and, despite the mild weather, it was reported that 10,000 were in the crowd that observed it. Even as the inauguration speech was taking place, the nation's attention was focused on the American hostages who were in their 444th day of captivity in Iran. They were released as the new President was in the midst of his luncheon in the Capitol with Congressional leaders.  Until Donald Trump was inaugurated eight days ago, President Reagan was the oldest man to assume the office. 

The first inauguration of George W. Bush in January 2001 took place on a gray, cold, rainy, overcast day. It was reported that 300,000 people attended despite the poor weather conditions. I was among a contingent of local Boy Scouts and Scout leaders who volunteered to man hospitality tents on the Mall for bands and others assembling for the inaugural parade. 

Molly is not Catholic and neither am I, but on October 8, 1979 we spent most of the day down on the National Mall to see and listen to Pope John-Paul II (who was the first Pope to visit the White House). There were a reported 175,000 people on the Mall that day to see and hear the Pope.

On September 11, 2001, I was in a meeting at the Washington Navy Yard when the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon took place. [I have written an account of my personal experience of that event here on this blog.] 

Almost twelve years to the day after 9-11 (on September 16, 2013), I was in my office at the Washington Navy Yard when an alert sounded for everyone to shelter-in-place immediately. Twelve people working in the NAVSEA (Naval Sea Systems Command) headquarters building just two buildings behind our office building were murdered that day by a lone gunman. Three more people were seriously injured. 

Looking east to the Capitol from the National Mall near 3rd Street and Independence at daybreak.

The latest historic event I have personally participated in and observed took place one week ago today on Saturday, January 21, 2017. Molly and I decided we had to be there to participate in the Women's March held that day. It is reported that 500,000 or more people were there to take part. I can say that the crowd was the largest assembly of humanity Molly and I had ever been part of. I  can also say that the size of the crowd dwarfed that of the Pope's 1979 Mass on the Mall, Ronald Reagan's inauguration in January 1981, and the January 2001 inauguration of George W. Bush -- all of which I personally observed. 

When they are older and perhaps learn about these times and that March, Molly and I are both going to be proud to tell our granddaughter and her sister (who arrives in May) that we were there -- and thinking of both of them often during the event.  The March was important, huge, and now a part of our history!

We arrived early enough to claim a spot to the left of the stage set up at 3rd and Independence
right in front of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Some very clever Suffragette participants in the March.  They were standing on a low wall just behind us near an entrance to the National Museum of the American Indian (as engraved above the entrance to the top left).

The stage and earliest assembly point. We are standing to the right of the tree at left near the American Indian Museum.

On Independence Ave. looking west from the stage area in front of the American Indian Museum.

Farther up Independence Ave. west of the stage and in front of the Air & Space Museum buildings on the right. One has to realize that this in only part of the crowd. Many more people could not get onto Independence Ave. or near the stage area and were on Constitution Ave. to the right on the other side of the National Mall from the Air & Space Museum -- as the next photo shows.

Marchers on Constitution Ave. on the other side of the Mall from Independence Ave. Participants first started assembling on Independence Ave. and are still over there waiting to be able to march onto Constitution Ave. west toward the White House.

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All photographs by the author except the aerial photos of the stage area and the crowd in front of the Air & Space museum which are marked "VOA" in the lower right.  VOA is the Voice of America, whose offices are directly across Independence Ave. from the National Museum of the American Indian from where we stood. We observed many people on the roof of the VOA building taking aerial shots such as these.  VOA is a U.S. Government-funded agency and is the official external broadcasting institution of the United States.  Also the photo of the marchers going west on Constitution Ave. is by Joeff Davis from

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Copyright 2017, John D. Tew
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