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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Old News - New Stories: Creepy Columns

I love using Newspapers for genealogical research.  Not only do you find out things about your ancestors but you also get to read the same publications that they very well might have read.

Since it's Halloween, I used to search some of the newspapers from areas where my ancestors are from or would have access to those publications to see if I could find any spooky ghost stories written up in the local papers.

So, here is one of my favorite spooky columns I found searching through the papers this week:

A Real Ghost

On November 4, 1873, an article ran in the Bristol News reporting on four train engineers which had all had odd sightings by the train tracks. 

A fortnight ago Thomas Campbell, who was temporarily acting as engineer of [the] train that left Troy at forty-five minutes past four P.M., when passing Stoney lane, near the Aqueduct, saw a man standing between the tracks waving his hat and gesticulating vehemently. Campbell whistled "down breaks", and keeping his eye on the man, and being fearful of running over him, whistled again.  While the speed of the train was being slackened the man seemed to disappear from sight. Campbell and his fireman both express a willingness to swear to this statement. They affirm that the man did not walk away: he vanished into the air. After the train arrived in Scheneetady they related the circumstance to the other men employed on the train. There are several hypotheses by which this circumstance if it stood alone could be explained. But we can offer no explanation for what follows. On Monday of this week William Mower, the engineer on the train, saw on the same spot two human arms. When the train reached the place the arms disappeared. Tuesday evening the roof of the cab was struck by a stone which the engineer says would have come from only one direction - the sky. Wednesday evening John Lawrence, engineer of the gravel train, at precisely the same spot saw arms. The hands attached thereto were not clenched as before, but were open and held two balls of glowing fire. Last evening, at exactly the same time and place, Lawrence discovered the body of a man lying across the track. In vain he essayed to stop the train. His efforts were futile. The locomotive and all the cars passed over the prostrate form. As speedily as possible the train was stopped, and all proceeded to the place where the form had been seen, expecting to see a bloody and mutilated corpse. They found nothing, not even a spot of blood. Then the conclusion forced itself upon the mind of the engineer that he ran over a ghost. He is an ardent spiritualist, and he is positive in the belief that something about the occurrence was supernatural. -- Troy Times

"A Real Ghost" Bristol News (Bristol, TN), 04 Nov 1873, p. 4, col. 2; Digital image (; Accessed 25 Oct 2017.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Freeman Hunt: Civil War Stories - Battle of Petersburg

As related to my last post on my trip to Richmond, VA - one of my main reasons for this trip was to stop by the Petersburg National Battlefield.

Freeman J. Hunt
About 1884
Back in early 2016 I ran into a treasure trove of information about my 3rd great-grandfather, Freeman Hunt when I visited the Fenton History Center in Jamestown, NY.  You can read that post here.  And one of the things I learned was that he was at Petersburg.

If you have any ancestors who fought in the Civil War, if you haven't checked out the National Parks website database of Civil War Soldiers I recommend it because it can give you information about the unit(s) they were with and then you can click on further links to find out where those units fought.

Detail from NPS Civil War Soldier Database for Freeman Hunt

With this information, you can order the full service records which are housed at the National Archives (I ordered mine a few days ago).  Another excellent use of this information is to have a chat with the excellent rangers at these battlefield parks.

At the Petersburg Battlefield Park, they had notebooks of information about where in the park various regiments were, what battles they took part in (Petersburg lasted several months so there was a lot going on there).  Sometimes they might not know the exact locations but can give you a general idea of where they probably were.  Which is exciting if you like following in your ancestors footsteps.
From Petersburg Battlefield Notebook
Red text notes are my personal notation.
From the information I found from my Jamestown, NY research trip, I knew that Freeman Hunt mustered out on June 20, 1864 so he actually wasn't in Petersburg for very long so he wasn't at Jerusalem Plank Road or Peebles Farm.  And from June 15-18, they pretty much were just hanging out as reserves and building earthworks since most were mustering out in a few days and were VERY motivated to stay alive.  The photo below is from the National Archives, I don't know what group but I'm sure it would have been a familiar situation for my ancestor.
Soldiers at rest after drill, Petersburg, Va., 1864. The soldiers are seated reading letters and papers and playing cards.
111-B-220. National Archives Identifier: 524639 [1]

I am also lucky that there is a book written, The 72nd New York Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Rick Barram, which if you have any ancestors who fought with this group, I recommend because it has a lot of info (which I should have referenced more before my Richmond trip - but more on that later).  The author describes their experiences at Petersburg:
With enlistments in the 72nd expiring, it was probably a miracle Leonard and the other officers could get the boys to load a rifle, let along fight, as most were going home in just a few days and no one wanted to be wounded or killed this late in the game.  All were filthy and spent. Perhaps a few dozen men in the whole army had gotten to bathe back at the North Anna, but chances were it was none of these boys. They wore the same clothes as when they had stepped off from Brandy Station seven weeks earlier. But there was some consolation: by the 18th, the supply situation had been resolved and the men finally enjoyed fresh rations.  Skirmishing proceeded all day on the 19th and 20th.... On the evening of the 20th, the 72nd was pulled out of the line and replaced by elements of the IX Corps. The New Yorkers marched nearly the entire next day, going into line of battle near the Weldon Railroad. Nothing came of the 72nd's move to the Weldon Railroad, and as it would turn out, this was the last time the 72nd would go into line. With its term of service expired, the regiment was relieved from the front on the morning of the 22nd, going to the rear to be mustered out.[2]
When I visited the battlefield, the ranger directed me to an area, currently across from a small picnic spot which he thought was probably the area where the 72nd was during these few days in June.  We aren't certain, but it is a decent guess - and a better guess than I could have made on my own.  I snapped a photo - the tree growth is all newer since most trees that were there at the time had been used for building materials (if you notice the photo above, while I don't think is this area, has very few trees for reference).

Photo taken on September 4, 2017
I'll go more into the details of Freeman's Civil War stories.  It's kind of odd that I'm starting his stories at the end of his service, but that's where I am starting myself.  He was in a lot of important battles of the Civil War and his Company B returned with only a small portion of the men who had left three years before.

I am uncertain what newspaper this clipping is from, it is from the Company B Scrapbook
in the Archives at the Fenton History Center.

[1] “Soldiers at rest after drill, Petersburg, Va., 1864.” 111-B-220. National Archives Identifier: 524639, Pictures of the Civil War: Select Audiovisual Records at the National Archives, National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD,, accessed September 12, 2017.

[2] Rick Barram, The 72nd New York Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2014), 309, accessed September 12, 2017

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Trip to Richmond, VA

Enjoying the VA Museum of Fine Arts
Painting: Two Donors in Adoration before the Madonna
and Child and St. Michael, 1557-60
Giovanni Battista Moroni, Italian
Over the Labor Day weekend I took a short trip up to the Richmond, VA area partly to do some genealogical research and partly because I’ve driven through Richmond about a hundred times and had never actually stopped to see anything there.

I’m probably going to get a few posts out of this trip because I have a bit to share, plus since I got back into records I hadn't been in a while, I noticed info I hadn’t documented properly which led me to find more ancestors – Yay!

But, I’ll start at the beginning with a word of advice:  

If you are planning on going to a library or archive, double-check the calendar or give a call to make sure that they are open their normal hours.  
I had planned to go to the Library of Virginia, which is normally open on Saturdays; however, as I discovered late the night before I was going to go, they were closed all Labor Day weekend.  I figured they were going to be closed on Monday but they were also closed Saturday.  Sadness! 
At least I did figure it out before showing up, but it was a bit of a bummer since I was geared up to do some research.  I do think my husband breathed a large sigh of relief that he wasn’t going to be tethered to a library for several hours however.  

Dapper Dan - I'm fairly certain I had one of these
So, instead of the library, we went to the Virginia Historical Society which had some lovely exhibits about VA history and helped to answer some of the questions I had about some of my ancestors who migrated from VA to OH (via what is now WV) in the late 1700s.  They had some interesting interactive displays including one for Civil War battles that showed how many losses were had on what sides and then showed a graphic on where in the US those troops were from which was really fascinating to visualize.
Trolls - some of my Mom's favorites!

They also have a temporary exhibit currently on Toys from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s which was a lot of fun – my husband turned into a 7-year-old in that exhibit, it was adorable.

We also visited the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.  My favorite exhibits were the Art Nouveau jewelry and furniture as well as the Fabergé eggs.
Imperial Red Cross Easter Egg, 1915
Fabergé Firm
The Sorcerers Necklace, 1900

Buckle, ca. 1900
Buckle, ca. 1899

Fabergé Firm, Lilies of the Valley
19th-20th century
We stopped by the Edgar Allan Poe museum which was interesting and I learned a bit more about the author than I had known and I now need to go read some of his other works that weren’t part of my normal high school readings.

After that, we hopped over to the American Civil War Museum (Museum of the Confederacy) in Richmond.  We didn’t tour the Confederate White House because that involved a lot of stairs and my feet/ankles were already complaining loudly about all the walking we had been doing.  This museum focused a lot on the Confederate side of the war and how it was viewed from Richmond's point of view. 

View of the James River from
Hollywood Cemetery
We also did a self-driving tour through Hollywood Cemetery which is probably one of the prettiest cemeteries I have visited as it is right on the James River.  As far as I know, I don’t have any ancestors buried there but there are some Presidential gravesites: Tyler & Monroe.  It is definitely worth a drive around.

And on the last day of the trip since it was on the way back home again, we stopped at the Richmond Battlefield visitors center.  I discovered later (should have done a bit more research before coming) that the ancestor I was focusing on this trip was involved in a lot of the battles in the Richmond area.  I’ll need to come back another time to really spend time at these because there are several battle locations around the Richmond area – the National Park Service suggests 4 hours for the driving tour around the various battlefields.  But, I got an overview of these battles at the visitor’s center.

Hollywood Cemetery
Richmond, VA
Then we moved on to the Petersburg National Battlefield.  I knew that my ancestor, Freeman Hunt had been at Petersburg and that he had mustered out at that point.  The rangers at the National Park visitor center were super helpful in giving me information about where my ancestor might have fought/stationed at the battlefield.  Since I knew what group he was with they were able to show me maps of battle movements, etc.  If you make any stops to any of the national battlefield parks, make sure you take that info with you because the rangers there are very knowledgeable and might be able to give you even more information about what your ancestor was actually involved in at the battle.

I’m going to stop there for today.  I’ll have another post about much more detail about what I discovered about my ancestor, Freeman Hunt’s civil war stories and more in-depth genealogy wise.

But, if you have a chance to visit Richmond, VA, I certainly recommend it.  There is a lot of history there, the Library of Virginia houses a lot of the state archives, and some great places to visit.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Diggin' in my Dishner Line

Recently, I’ve switched gears just a bit back to my paternal line, just to keep things interesting.  I’ve been fleshing out some of my Dishner cousins starting with some online genealogies and going through and checking documentation on them to see if that checks out and that I’m related to them.

One thing I do think I need to start doing is to start collecting Scott County, VA maps because I have a feeling I’m related to a large portion of Scott County, VA.  I see a lot of the same names, I see a lot of these folks as neighbors on census records and I need to start connecting some more of those dots.  Who was living where, who was married to who, etc.

Map of Virginia highlighting Scott County

By David Benbennick [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My paternal grandmother, Mary Ruth Dishner was born in Scott County, VA as well as both her parents.  I am lucky to have had access to the family bibles for her family so I have documentation from that (and a lot of the delayed birth certificates have references to these bibles).

On a funny note, we think we might have found the person who now owns the family farm in Scott County.  Apparently the owner is the cousin of our dental hygienist (who used to live right down the street from us and I went to school with her daughter) who worked for our cousin who was a dentist (this cousin is also related to the same family who lived at that farm).  I know...that's weird and convoluted.  But, I have ancestors buried there and I have been unable to find the cemetery online (probably because it's just a small family cemetery) and I need to try to hunt that down.

I need to set some time aside to go and wander around the county and see what all is there, what resources are there, what resources are in the library vs other county offices.  I also need to hop up to Richmond, VA (which isn't too far from where I live in NC) and check out the Virginia Historical Society and the Library of Virginia to help flesh out more of my knowledge about SW Virginia and how my ancestors fit into the overall story of what was going on.

So, I hope to do more posts regarding this line of inquiry.  I apologize for not posting for a while but real life took a wild turn both with my job and a death in the family.  But, I am hoping to start sticking to a publication schedule a bit more regularly than I have been doing.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Betty's Baby Book: Genealogical Info & Horrifying Medical Advice

Betty Jane Grann
A couple weeks ago I went into a bit of the history and social context of Baby Books.  Now I'll talk about my grandmother's baby book I recently scanned.

Betty Jane Grann was born Sunday, August 29, 1926 at 2:00 in Jamestown, NY to Axel Grann and Eunice Hunt.

Her Baby Book was The Book of Baby Mine printed in 1915.

Like a lot of the baby books you find, some sections are filled out and several are left blank.  This one is no exception.

From a genealogists perspective, you sometimes get names & dates, places where they lived and just a general story of their life with the young baby.  I have a list of people who gave gifts (some of the names I don't know so that gives me something to look into as a genealogist).

On the page for the Baby's First Outing:
"I went over to my grandma Hunts when I was four weeks old.  My uncle Walter took me over in his car.  Sept 25 was the date.  In the evening I went down to see my grandma Grann.  My daddy carried me and everyone we met had to stop and have a look at me."
Axel & Betty Grann
My grandmother's first words were "pretty, pretty" and "da-da".

Betty started smiling at 3 months, waved "bye-bye" at 9 months, started walking (apparently never really crawled) at 11 months, and started playing "peek-a-boo" at 12 months.

Betty was named for one of her mother's childhood friends who lived nearby, Betty Jane Harris.

The birth of her baby sister, Barbara Jean is documented in the baby book:
"I have a baby sister now, her name is Barbara Jean.  She is very, very tiny, but I love her just the same." "I stayed with my aunt Dagmar one whole week when mother went to the hospital to buy my baby sister."

I now have documentation on the addresses this family lived at from 1926 - 1928:
"I moved from my first home on 7 Beechview Ave when I was nine months old. I lived on the corner of 8th & Cherry until I was 2 years. Then I moved to great grandma’s old home 312 Allen Street."  
And then there is some touching family moments documented in the book:
"My great grandma died July 18, 1928 age 78.  The last thing I did was to kiss her when she lay on the bed in the hospital.  She had been asking for me before.  She smiled so nice when I kissed her.  The last time she ever smiled."
I believe this photo is of Eliza Hunt (referenced great-grandma)
and Betty Grann
 There are a couple other parts of the baby book that I want to mention because I found them very interesting from a social perspective. One was the advertising in the baby book and the other was the multitude of pages (the entire baby book is over 90 pages long) on the early 20th century advice on taking care of a newborn.

There are seven advertisers in the baby book:
Nothing like a guilt-trip from buying your groceries
from your normal 'unclean' store

  • Farmers & Mechanics Bank - ad to open a bank account for the baby
  • Jamestown Evening Journal - publication stressing availability of bedtime stories
  • Clark Hardware Company - household appliances (electric household helps)
  • The Mutual Life Insurance Co. of NY - A Message to Father - re: savings funds
  • The Camp Art Company - Photograph studio - portraits of family
  • Crescent Creamery - Milk for mother & child 
  • The Paquin-Snyder Co., Inc. - grocery store

The advertisements are very interesting on their use of the newborn baby to hawk their goods from opening a bank account to appliances to insurance to photography to groceries. 

Starting on Page 40 of the baby book is the section on "The A, B, C, of Baby’s Health".  I do have to admit that some of this medical advice is a bit horrifying to the modern reader.  And some of it just made me laugh out loud.
"Never let a day pass without a good movement" is going on a t-shirt.
Along with a lot of commentary on the baby's bowel movements (A LOT of commentary) and an excess of uses for Cod Liver Oil and Castor Oil, you get helpful tips like these:
  • As to Medicine. No mother should quiet her child with a blow on the head, nor should she stun her baby with the opium and morphine of soothing syrups.
  • Rest. All young infants are extremely nervous, so avoid exciting them, playing with them, or handling them too much….holding the baby habitually may cause spinal curvature….most of the time young infants should lie quietly in bed till strong enough to sit alone and play.
  • Baby’s Bath.  Never put baby in tub while tub is on a heater.
  • Borax solution recipe for sore mouth & to clean baby’s eyes; use to clean mother’s nipples
  • Airings. Sunshine purifies the air….Children deprived of sunshine grow up like pale, weak, cellar plants.  Baby should begin taking daytime naps outdoors in summer when three weeks old….In bad weather give baby the benefits of being outdoors by dressing as for an outing, then opening all windows of a room and letting it sleep, protected from wind and dampness.  Babies accustomed to cold air and cool baths are hardened against taking cold.
  • Diarrhoea: Summer Complaint. The average mother will be tempted to resort to some dose containing opium, but nothing more injurious could be done…
  • Only the most ignorant or indulgent parent would give young children tea, coffee, or beer.

And my favorite:
  • Teaching the Bowels Regularity.  Any baby over 3 months old may be trained to evacuate the bowels….Stimulate the bowels to action by tickling the anus, of if this fails, insert a suppository" [with instructions on how to create your own suppository].
In conclusion: don't hold or play with your baby too much, don't drug them with opium, don't cook them in a pot during bath-time, let them get plenty of air and if the air is too cold it's OK - it builds character, use borax on everything, when not using borax use either castor oil and/or cod liver oil, and regularly tickle your baby's butt so they poop on schedule.

FYI - I don't recommend any of this medical advice (except please don't hit, drug, or cook baby - that's probably good advice), please consult modern doctors and modern child care manuals.

From the look of it, I think this child was just given an enema.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Pull My Finger

It's been a crazy couple of weeks at my "real" job so I haven't had time to write a proper post (hopefully this weekend - cross your fingers!)

But, to appease you until then, here is a photo of my Grann relatives.
Back Row: Carl (Sr.) Grann, Otto Johnson, August "Augie" Grann, Dagmar (Kallander) Grann, Eunice (Hunt) Grann, Betty Grann, Walter "Walt" Grann
Front Row: Carl H. Grann, Axel Grann, Myrna (Grann?), Ted Grann, Dorothy (Walden) Grann, Marie (Grann) Johnson

Wonderful family photo and then you see this:
"Pull my finger!"
This answers a lot of questions about my family right here.

Also, I'm not sure who Myrna is, but I'm kinda feeling bad for her right now:
"Why do I get stuck next to the 'farting' guy?"

The 'farting guy' having his finger pulled is my great-grandfather, Axel (married to Eunice in the top row of the photo).  I am amused by this little snapshot of my family, and apparently the fact that we've been a humorous bunch for a while now.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Baby Book: History & Use for Genealogists

One of my favorite things that we have in my personal family history collection, is my grandmother’s baby book.  It is a mixture of adorable facts about my grandmother as a baby.  From lovingly detailed descriptions of my grandmother’s first words & first holidays to advertisements for life insurance, this glimpse at my family’s history is delightful, but the history of the baby book is fascinating as well.

You begin finding baby books starting in the late 1800s, but by the early 1900s they had become mass-produced with fill-in-the-blank areas for parents to document their child’s progress.  They were “memory books in which parents could record a child's activities and developmental milestones and which provided a place to gather photographs, locks of hair, and other mementos.”1  

Nicholas Day, the author of Baby Meets World, said that these baby books were really the first baby blogs.  “Baby books were where mothers—and they were almost always mothers—recorded the mundane, wondrous details of infancy….it became common for a whole population to write down their random thoughts about their babies. The baby books, like baby blogs today, were a new genre that encouraged parents to pay more attention to every tiny detail of infancy.”2  He also surmises that baby books started to become popular in the early 1900s because of the drop in infant mortality; parents were able to expect babies to survive and therefore parents started to document their lives and plan for their futures.  This seems like a sound theory for the baby book boom.  In 1911 the infant mortality rate (IMR) in the United States was 135 deaths per 1000 live births3 but the “first third of the 20th century marked an era of significant growth in child health and welfare efforts….the US Children's Bureau (USCB) was founded in 1912, and both local and state public health departments began focusing many of their resources on mothers and children….Along with improved nutrition and public health, advances in medical therapy have reduced the IMR from more than 100 to fewer than 10 deaths per 1000 live births”.4

Another fascinating aspect of many of these mass-produced baby books is the social history of advertising they provide.  Baby books often have advertisements geared to sell products. “Businesses discovered that babies are a wonderful excuse for consumption, and they helpfully padded the pages of baby books with advertisements for all manner of things that that no baby [or parents] should be without.”5

Baby books can be an excellent tool for genealogists as they offer a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives of that family.  The books often contain dates, and names of family members.  You might find the married names of female relatives.  You might find records of siblings.  As well as touching moments in that family’s lives.  It’s a great way to piece together the story of your relative’s infancy and the lives of the new parents.  Look in your attics or trunks to see if you have any baby books.  Generally speaking, you find them for the first child and other children in the family either don’t have one or very little was filled in - but even if the baby book you find isn’t your direct ancestor examine it for family details!

The UCLA’s Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library has a collection of baby books, the oldest book in their collection is “The Mother’s Record of the Physical, Mental, and Moral Growth of Her Child for the First Fifteen Years” published in 1882.6  The UCLA does take donations of baby books (it might be a good home for your baby books if you don’t want to keep them, or your family doesn’t want to inherit them).  Some researchers are using them to study baby development, health, and other social aspects from the home-documented sources such as baby books.  If you are interested in donating your baby book to the library, go to the library’s donations page:

My next post will examine more in depth my grandmother Betty's baby book and the story I was able to piece together using that family history document.

1 “Baby Books Collection.” UCLA Library, 20 Apr. 2017,
2 Day, Nicholas. “The First Baby Blogs, Over 100 Years Ago.” Los Angeles Times, 17 Apr. 2013,
3 Brosco, Jeffrey P. “The Early History of the Infant Mortality Rate in America: ‘A Reflection Upon the Past and a Prophecy of the Future.’” Pediatrics, vol. 103, 2, Feb. 1999, AAP News & Journals Gateway,
4 Brosco, Jeffrey P. “The Early History of the Infant Mortality Rate in America: ‘A Reflection Upon the Past and a Prophecy of the Future.’” Pediatrics, vol. 103, 2, Feb. 1999, AAP News & Journals Gateway,
5 Day, Nicholas. “The First Baby Blogs, Over 100 Years Ago.” Los Angeles Times, 17 Apr. 2013,
6 Lin, Judy. “Baby Books a Mother Lode for Research.” UCLA Newsroom, 3 June 2010,

Additional Sources:
  • Braun, Bob. “Rutgers University Professor Writes Book on How Infants Shape Culture, Economics.”, 1 Apr. 2010,
  • Denny, Melcena Burns. The Book of Baby Mine. Grand Rapids: The Simplicity Company, 1915. Print.
  • Kellogg, Carolyn. “The Hidden History of Baby Books.” Los Angeles Times, 11 June 2010,