Let’s Talk About: Dead Fred

Quoting from a bit by Lisa Louise Cook in the Family Tree Magazine, Mar/Apr 2024:

“Would you like to discover a previously unknown photo of your ancestor? Thousands of people have done just that using the free dead Fred website,  www.deadfred.com. This archive includes user-submitted photos that are either unidentified or have spotty information, and you can search it by surname, place or other related keywords. If you find a photo of a direct ancestor, Dead Fred will even sent it to you for free. Take a second look through your own photo collection and start posting those unidentified pictures. Someone else may just be able to help solve the mystery!”

If you’re like me and enjoy “treasure hunting” in thrift shops and garage sales, we HATE to see family photos just casually and anonymously up for sale. Whenever possible, I gather up as many of these as I can and package them up and send them to Dead Fred. Idea for you too???

Let’s Talk About: Picture Postcards

Don’t most of us have old picture postcards included with our ancestors’ memorabilia? We have a lovely batch from 1911 when great-grandmother Ethel visited Yellowstone (traveling in horse-drawn carriages and wearing long dresses and huge hate). The first known printed picture postcard, with an image on one side, was created in France in 1870 at Camp Conlie by Leon Besmardeau (1829-1914). Conlie was a training camp for soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War. Below is an image of that card:

 I learned much about picture postcards from a webinar by Katherine Hamilton-Smith, the St. Clair County (Illinois) Gen Soc in early 2024. 

“The years 1890 to 1915 were the Golden Age of postcards; they were an absolute craze,” she explained. “Everybody collected them and would show them off to family and guests. Everybody who could afford them, bought them.” 

There were so many types of picture postcards!  Auto courts, Motels, Restaurants, Gas Stations, Churches, travel destinations, fashion, trains, cars, airplanes and ships, places, disasters (tornados, fires, shipwrecks) and commemorative events (opening of Panama Canal). Anything and everything might show up as a picture on a postcard during that Golden Age. Entrepreneurs quickly saw an opportunity to make money and would take a photo of a place and then make and sell those postcards. 
Hamilton-Smith further explained that “postcards were a visual documenting history of a place in time…… not of people but of places.” 

Today people collect specific postcards for other reasons than connections to their family history. 
Do you have any old family-sent or collected picture postcards??

Let’s Talk About: Egyptian Genealogy

About twenty years ago, we were blessed to be able to take a tour to Egypt. Of course it was marvelous…….. but this post is not a travelog.

Upon my return, and being a genealogist, I got to wondering about Egyptian genealogy. I went to FamilySearch and found just what I expected: about six resources listed in the catalog and most of recent origin. Out of curiosity, in March 2024, I went again to FamilySearch to check the catalog for what’s new in Egyptian genealogy.
And by gosh! There were 87 items listed……… 87 potential sources for those with Egyptian ancestry. Two of the listings appeared to me to be in Arabic. There were 29 suggestions for history; six for genealogy and even one for Jewish history. 

Proving what? FamilySearch continues to seek out the records of the world’s peoples and make that information available to one and all. 

Our perennial other favorite, Ancestry, began in 1983 as a book publishing company. (The first edition of The Source by Arlene Eakle was published in 1983.) Ancestry went online in 1996 and has expanded exponentially ever since. Ancestry launched Ancestry DNA in 2012 and to date, over 25,000,000 DNA kits have been registered. 

Between 1997 and 2023, Ancestry added 41,000,000,000 (yes, billion!) records from 88 countries to their website; this averages out to 2,000,000 million per month. Besides adding new records, Ancestry keeps adding new features, all to help us find our ancestors.

Point of this blog post? If you’ve not checked BOTH FamilySearch and Ancestry recently, you should.  If you’re sincerely seeking answers, that is. 🙂  

Let’s Talk About: Windmills!

In April 2024, I was blessed to spend two weeks in Holland on a Viking riverboat cruise. Besides learning that Gouda cheese is “wunnerful,” I eagerly soaked up lots of Dutch history. Since many family historians find that they have a family line going back to the Netherlands (proper name of that little country), I thought I’d share some of the Dutch history bits that I learned.

I learned that over half of this little flat country, right on the North Atlantic, would be underwater if the windmills (and modern pumping stations) didn’t keep pumping. I was told that with rising ocean levels and glacial melting increasing the rivers’ flow through Holland, it’s a constant battle of man against nature.

I heard this wag more than once:  “God made the world but the Dutch made Holland.” The industrious Dutch constructed dykes and dams and pumped the water out (into the ocean) and the resulting polders provided rich farmland for a growing vegetables (and tulips!) for a growing population. 

The original windmills had a keeper-miller who lived in the base of the tower with his family. He needed to be a good judge of weather. It was his job to keep the blades turning, and the water pumping, but not endanger the structure. The top of the structure rotated as needed by hand to get the blades in best wind-catching position. 

I visited a restored windmill and was amazed at the strength and work it took to move those big wooden blades into position, often several times in a 24-hour period. 

Windmills were not invented until the 1700s and didn’t come into widespread use until into the 1800s……… before this time, when much of Holland was flat, mushy land, the cities were confined to higher points where they could be found. Before windmills, the early inhabitants built dykes to keep the water from their homes. (Amster was the town began on the Amster’s Dyke.) 

Fascinating topic; one could read a big book and not learn all there is to know about Dutch windmills.

Let’s Talk About: Spruce Trail in Clallam County

Today:  The Spruce Railroad Trail is a 4-mile paved walking/biking trail along the north shore of Lake Crescent in Clallam County, just a few miles west of Port Angeles. It’s now part of the 134-mile Olympic Discovery Trail and hundreds walk this trail regularly. 

History:  Built near the end of World War I, the Spruce Production Division was organized to build a railroad line to transport spruce wood from the western Olympic Peninsula to the nearby lumber mills and ultimately to aircraft manufacturing plants in the east. The railroad was completed in 1919, a year too late for its intended purpose; it was abandoned in 1951.

Why spruce wood? And why Clallam County?

Spruce wood was the best for constructing airplanes………. and remember that World War I era planes were made of wood………..for it would not splinter, shatter or snap. And it was light and strong, perfect for the job.  

Demand for aircraft in Europe during World War I soared. The Aircraft Production Products Board of the U.S. wanted 3,000,000 board feet of lumber per month

(Here is a pix of 7,000,000 board feet……. it’s a wonder there are any spruce trees left!)

Sitka spruce was the ideal wood and was found mainly in WA, OR, CA and Alaska. The largest source was in Clallam County.  Harvesting of the wood began in July 1918 and provided all sorts of jobs, especially loggers and lumbermen. By the end of the war, nearly 100,000 people worked harvesting spruce wood for warplanes but the need was gone by the time the project was fully underway. The day after the armistice was signed (12 Nov 1918) the Spruce Production Division shut down and the many workers went home to find other jobs. 

The project cost $10,000,000 and did produce 88,000,000 board feet of wood which was enough to manufacture 12,000 warplanes. 

Let’s Talk About: Favorite Hymn

Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war,

with the cross of Jesus going on before.

Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe:

Forward into battle, see his banner go!

Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war.

With the cross of Jesus going on before. 

I’d bet that most every 19th century hymnal, Catholic or Protestant, carried this beloved hymn. I’d bet that many of my ancestors and yours loudly sang these lyrics.

The words were written by Sabine Baring-Gould (1832-1924)q`, a Roman Catholic priest, in 1865 to be a processional for children walking from the church were he was curate to a nearby church in Yorkshire. “It was written on great haste,” Baring-Gould related, “and I am afraid that come of the lines are faulty.” 

The song/hymn became popular after the lyrics were put to the music of Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) in 1870. 

The hymn has been associated with war: soldiers going to war, beginning with the Civil War (as shown in John Paul Strain’s painting). In 1912, presidential candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, included this song and said his party was “going to battle for the Lord.”

When Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met in August 1941 on the battleship HMS Prince of Wales to agree to the Atlantic Charter, Churchill chose this hymn for their onboard church service. 

As I energetically sing that hymn today, I do imagine my forebears belting it out with gusto. Bet yours did too. 

Let’s Talk About: Early Virginia

(Map of Virginia in 1600 from Alamy)

Once upon a time, all of North America between Florida and Nova Scotia was known as Virginia for a number of years ………. did you know that? The area was named by Queen Elizabeth (ruled 1558 to 1603) after herself as “the Virgin Queen.” She charmed by Sir Walter Raleigh’s, her favorite sea captain,  accounts of the coasts of the Carolinas in 1585 that she favored him by taking his suggestion for a name of this new land. 

True or false? I found this bit in a book, The History of Orange County Virginia, by William W. Scott, published in 1907.

I spent a bit of time digging into this recent reprint looking for information on my Orange County ancestors. Like with many checked-into sources, I found no real answers but several clues. (Isn’t that what real research is all about???)

I did find these rather amusing names:

Prettyman Merry, “a prominent citizen during the Revolution”

Mourning Pegg,  found on the 1782 census

Peachy Bledsoe, in 1792 a Regiment

Seattle Genealogical Society Tip of the Week Lost Newspapers

 If a community you are studying lost their newspapers, try searching the entire state for mentions of the name of that newspaper, you can often find snippets of local news that were reprinted by neighboring communities. For example, you may find details of a devastating storm or a local bank failure. All of these events impacted our ancestors even if the story doesn’t include their name. You can also find a mention of a family member this way as well. Another useful strategy is to search newspaper in their state querying the name of their town with their surname.
July 1, 2024

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Let’s Talk About: AI to help save whales

Oceanus is the publication of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. I quite enjoy the issues of Oceanus and learn from the WHOI website and frequent free educational webinars. 

Living in Washington, with the whale-waters of Puget Sound, Straits of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean, we’re very aware of ferries and their potential negative impact on whales. (This article’s information applies to all ocean-going big vessels.)

“Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has come into worldwide use and in many ways we’d never have imagined.” The Spring 2021 issue of Oceanus explained……

“Vessel strikes are one of the biggest threats to the survival of the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale (and I would add, ALL whales). Restrictions on shipping speeds and routes have reduced the number of vessel strikes, but at least sixteen North Atlantic Right Whales were killed by ship strikes between 2003 and 2018. Only about 360 of these endangered animals remain.

“Various methods or remedial action have been utilized but up to now, nothing has really “done the trick.” A WHOI team is developing a new detection system, Thermal Imagine Scanners (cameras!) to be used to scan the water’s surface for whale blows. The cameras are linked to AI that the team has trained to ignore waves, birds and boats and to only sound alerts of a thermal signature…. ie, whale detection.

“Mounted on ships, the system can alert captains to the presence of a whale several kilometers away within seconds…..enough time for the vessel to slow down or change course.”

Don’t we all mourn when we read a news story of a dead whale on a beach with clear propeller slashes on its body?? Let’s hope our Washington ferries also get this technology to better protect our Orcas. I want my great-grandchildren to see leaping Orcas in our Washington waters!!

Let’s Talk About: Sam’s Hill

Way up on a Washington bluff overlooking the Columbia River, a huge stone castle pokes in and out of view as you zoom along I-82 in Oregon. “What the Sam Hill?” You’ve heard that expression, haven’t you? 

There is no population center for miles and yet here’s this castle, Sam Hill’s mansion. Hill was an “inspired lunatic”  and the son-in-law of railroad baron, James J. Hill. Sam bought 7000 acres of scrubland on a high bluff overlooking the mighty Columbia River in 1907. He intended to erect a glorious home for his wife, Mary. 

“No way!” she must have said when told about her proposed new home. She never left Europe to come see “her” castle home. 

After 20 years, the mansion/castle was till unfinished. Over the years, the place remained unoccupied and unfinished. People wandering through the deserts of Washington and Oregon would look up to see this enormous abandoned building and say “What the Sam Hill?” 

Or so the story is told. 

Today the mansion is part of Maryhill State Park and there is lots to see and do at the park. Do stop on your next trip to Portland. While you’re there, on the Washington side, take a snap of time to visit Stonehenge just three miles east of Maryhill….

Also built by Sam Hill, this replica of England’s famous Stonehenge was begun in 1918 to honor the heroism of Klickitat County’s soldiers in that Great War. Finished in 1929, it’s both a monument to heroic dead but a monument dedicated to peace.