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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Research Using the U. S. Federal Government Agencies

Last year, an article was written by Diana Crisman Smith for the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly.  She warned of the possible shutdown of the U. S. Government, and how it would impact persons using Federal records for their historical research.

Luckily, we  don't seem to have a shutdown looming at the moment.  But the article was a good review of exactly what resources are available to the community of researchers in our nation.  Here's a few of the repositories mentioned by Diana, what they can provide in the way of documents and records:

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

census records, immigration records, military records, homestead records.  see 

Library of Congress (LOC)

books, microfilm, newspapers, periodicals, directories, manuscripts and maps. see 

Department of the Interior

park services, civil war soldiers database, civil war battles and battlefields and all military units involved.  see 

The Bureau of Land Management  holds records of land owned by the federal government, excluding the thirteen original colonies, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.  The records of the first sale of public land to individuals.  see

The U.S. Geological Survey holds a collection of maps from the 1850s to the present.  It also has a gazetteer of place name with locations.  see

The Copyright Office

registration and verification for copyrights for works of art or literature.  see
Diana Crisman Smith has some suggestions to those researchers using these and other government resources.  She highly suggests to transcribe all the information that you need the first time that you find it, including full citation.  Take a screen shot of a web page that has helpful information on it.  Things change quickly on the web, and that web page may not be available again.  She adds that assuming resources will always be available is a mistake, so use these resources as soon as you need them.

In the event of another government shutdown, various genealogy websites may have information from the U.S. Federal Government websites mentioned here.  But, let's hope we don't have to worry about that.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1946 : A Very Special Family Day

Listen, people.  It's that holiday that we all enjoy....for various reasons.  Some like it for the vast selection of foods that some people display before their guests...what to try first?  And others love it because it means family, functional or dysfunctional, gathering and spending time conversing about a bunch of topics.  Politics, sports, one-ups-manship, health name it.  And hopefully there are no loud disagreements.  Everyone is glad it's here, and afterwards, some are glad it's over.

In our family, Thanksgiving meant all of the above, plus, it meant that Mom and Dad celebrated another wedding anniversary.  Yes, Mom and Dad were married on November 28, 1946.  I guess it was a good way to get the family together, and celebrate a wedding at the same time.

Anna Marie and Frank Bognar, Jr.
They were married at St. Leo's Catholic Church in St. Louis, Missouri.
They looked so happy on that special day.

My guess is that Thanksgiving Day has had a very  special meaning to them ever since that wonderful day.  I have never know a greater love between two people.  I wish that I had experienced that kind of love in my life.  It was so very special.  You could tell it was there, each time you looked at them together.

Mom had two sisters, a sister-in-law and a cousin in her wedding party.  Her brother stepped in and gave her away at her wedding, since her father had passed away when she was 3 years old.

Dad had a brother, brother-in-law and two Navy buddies in his wedding party.  They were so very much ready to start their lives together, after the years of war that kept Dad away from Mom for some time.  

St. Leo's Church, Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri,
St. Leo's Catholic Church was build in 1888, and located on the corner of 23rd Street and Mullanphy Streets. Mom and her siblings lived just down the street from the church on Mullanphy Street.  It was originally an Irish church, but Italian families, like Mom's, began to move into the neighborhood, and the parish membership was thoroughly integrated after several years. In 1963, the parish was merged with St. Bridget's Church, and in 1978 the church building was razed.

How I wished that I could have been there to see these two wonderful people begin their lives together.  Of course, I did not come along until ten years later.  But still, I saw what wonderful people they were during my lifetime.  It just would have been so nice to be there all those years before to witness more years of their love for each other, and the love that they spread all over the world.

My parents are both deceased now.  Dad passed in 2002.  Mom passed in 2011. They are celebrating their special time together once again. And how wonderful it must be in witness the two of them in each others arms, sharing their love and compassion for everyone, and celebrating their wedding anniversary this Thanksgiving weekend. Imagine the happiness up there in the Lord's house.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Remember to celebrate the special relationships that you have.  They will be with you now and forever.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Holidays Approaching : Time to Give and Give More...

Have you started shopping for the approaching holidays?  What? No!!!

I have a few deals for you and your history and genealogy buffs.

Our new website, All For Schools, at have enlisted four of the biggest Genealogy and History retailers to donate to the school of YOUR choice, when you purchase a membership to their websites, and/or make a purchase from their website for their services and products.

Archives, at, will donate 5% of their sales to registered user of All For Schools.

Order a certificate, request a court record, order a living person search report, subscribe to NewspaperArchive, subscribe to One Great Family, or just purchase a subscription to

Ancestry, at, will donate 5.75% of their sales....

Purchase Family Tree Maker for Mac or PC, order Companion books for Family Tree Maker and Ancestry with loads of search tips, order a DNA test kit, order photo books and posters, or just a subscription to on several record coverage levels.

Fold3, at, will donate 10% of their sales...

order an all-access subscription to the world's best military database....

Newspapers, at, will donate 10% of their sales...

order a annual subscription to a very large database of national archives newspapers and start a collection of historical data in your clippings file

All For Schools is a FREE new fundraising platform where you save money and support schools.  This online school fundraising portal makes it easy to earn money for your school through everyday online shopping  Over 5000 retailers have aligned with All For Schools to donate an average of 1% to 10% of their sales from registered users to our schools.  How cool is that?

Remember, your neighborhood schools can't continue to operate without your support.  Their operational costs are continuing to spiral upwards.  That means there is less money for what is needed in the classroom.  Support your neighborhood school.  Sign up for FREE at All For Schools, Purchase a gift of membership or products as mentioned above for yourself, or your family historian.

Tis the Season to Give, and Give Some Your Schools.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Phillip Becker : Last Surviving Musician of the Lincoln Funeral Ceremony in Springfield

With the upcoming Veterans Day, I thought I'd  focus on someone who served his country in a way that very few did.  Philip Becker, the last surviving member of the band that played at the funeral of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield in 1865, died on May 7 in 1926.  He was 92 years old. He was laid to rest in Diamond Grove Cemetery in Jacksonville.  An obituary has been written for him in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. XIX  April-July 1926 Nos. 1-2.

 Mr. Becker had lived in the same house in Jacksonville, Illinois for the last 60 years of his life. Being born in Germany in 1834, Phillip arrived in Jacksonville in 1855. He was a cabinet maker by trade.  He and his wife, Elizabeth, raised their son, Phillip, and daughter, Kate, in Jacksonville.  His silver cornet band assembled in Springfield for the slain president's funeral.  He had formed the first band of Jacksonville with sixteen musicians, all of German descent. Philip would have been about 31 years of age at the time of the assassination of President Lincoln.

My thoughts began to focus on the funeral of President Lincoln, and what it must have been like for Phillip Becker and his fellow musicians to play their instruments. It must have been hard to control their emotions during that sorrowful event.  Yet, what an honor to be allowed to perform for the public during that time when the entire nation was in mourning.

http://thelincolncollection .org

The 150th anniversary of the Abraham Lincoln Funeral will be celebrated in Springfield in 2015.
The informative website,, tells of the large scope of events planned for April-May 2015.

2015 Lincoln Coalition Logo

A Chicago area man is building a precise replica of the steam engine that pulled the funeral car of Abraham Lincoln.  You can watch a short film about this at . This site also contains a slide show of the construction of the funeral car, and a map of the 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train Route.

There appears to be so much planned for the commemoration of this historic event.  I am sure that there will  be many visitors to the Springfield area, and people standing along the railroad tracks to catch a glimpse of the reenactment.

But what of Phillip Becker?  The last surviving musician of the band that played at the funeral of Abraham Lincoln was survived by one son, Phillip Becker, Jr. of Jacksonville, and one daughter, Mrs. Kate Werghwein of Henry, Illinois.  His funeral was held on May 9, 1926, in Jacksonville.
I know that his spirit will be there at the anniversary celebration of the President's funeral.  Mr. Becker will be standing tall, instrument in hand, alongside the other musicians who  played at the funeral 150 years ago.

Well done, Mr. Becker.  Your nation is grateful for your service at one of the most poignant events in this country's history.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Piasa Bird : Fact or Fiction?

When I was a little girl, my Dad would take me on boat rides on the waters of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, in the area just north of St. Louis, Missouri.  One day, Dad pointed out an interesting primitive painting on the side of a bluff, which jutted high above the waterways.  He said, "look up there at that picture on the side of the bluff...they say it was painted by the Indians a long time ago".  When I gazed at the image, I saw what appeared to be a bird-like image, with sharp talons, large teeth and a set of wings.  As I recall, it may have had a set of horns, too.  It was a bit scary looking to me.  It's been a while since I've taken a look at it.  One day, I'll have to drive by that part of the area near Alton, Illinois, and take another look at what may be left of the image.
Department of Natural Resources, State of Illinois

What I was shown was the image of the Piasa Bird, There are many articles written about it.  I was surprised to find that even in this age of technology and historical research, there are so many different theories about the Piasa Bird.  According to many website writings, Father Jacques Marquette wrote about seeing the painting in his hand written records of his famous exploration with Louis Joliet.  Father Marquette wrote that it had horns like a deer, a beard, red eyes, a body covered in scales and a long tail, although not quite in those words.

Some say that the bird was given it's name by the Illini Indians, Piasa, which translates to a bird that feeds on man.  It sounds like it was thought of as a monster, with a taste for human flesh.  In other words, they had visions of a blood-thirsty creature that they evidently feared as much as some of us fear all the ghouls and goblins at this time of year.  Some say that this creature is responsible for the deaths of many Indians of the area. However, there are contradictions to this school of thought. I read somewhere that certain authors thought that the original image was not painted at all, but merely etched into the side of the bluff, and nature had made the colors of the rocks into various hues.
Piasa Bird and Cave Tourist Spot, near Alton, Illinois,

It has also been said that the name, Piasa, came from the Miami-Illinois tribe, which meant "little peoples", and had a relation to the thought of little dwarfs that attack travelers in the area of the bluffs along the river ways.  So, where does the flying monster come into this story? Another story version states that Piasa, the name of the monster, means "the Destroyer".  Who is correct?  I don't know.

There are also stories about the bird-monster living in a cave in the bluffs.  It would hide there, and swoop down on unsuspecting area intruders.  The Indian legend, which may have been embellished by non-Indians, tells that the creature was killed by a chief who stood out on a ledge by the bluffs to entice the creature out of his cave.  When the monster made a move to attack the chief, his warriors shot their poison arrows at it, and killed the creature. The story goes on to say that the villagers painted the picture on the bluff to commemorate the killing of the creature, and in honor of their brave Indian chief.  Is it true, or not?
Workers touching up the paint on the Piasa bird, Illinois Tourism Department

An early account of the painting was told by John Russell, who was said to be an imaginative professor from a college in the area.  His version, which he supposedly published in a newspaper article, said that the creature was given the name of a nearby stream, the Piasa. His story was similar to the one above about the Indians who killed the creature, but, he admitted to others that he embellished his story.

Lastly, there was a article written in the Illinois State Historical Society Journal, Vol. XVIII, No. 3 by Dr. H. W. Long, regarding his take on the Piasa bird.  He was in France during WWI, and was able to visit a museum while there.  He observed a display of "Le Grande Geule", a bird of prey.  After studying it carefully, he realized that he had seen the likeness somewhere before then.  He was given permission to photograph the display of the creature.  After his service, he began to review the photo and compare it to the photos that he had seen of the Piasa bird in Alton.  In his article, he write about the similarities and differences in the two creatures.  He notes that there is a possibility that in the description that Father Marquette gives about the image that he saw, he also was familiar with the French "Le Grande Geule", which had an effect on his memories as he wrote his description of the painting on the bluffs along the Mississippi.  His theory is that early French explorers of the region placed that painting on the bluffs, and not the Indians of the region. He further explains that he feels the early explorers would have knowledge of building rigging for holding the painters, and also knowledge about longer lasting pigment paints to use on the painting on the bluffs.
Illinois State Historical Society

Who knows what the truth is?  There are only stories told ages ago, photographs of the bluffs before and after the painting was retouched by modern techniques, and, of course, the diary of Father Marquette.  But, it is fun to think that such an evil creature with four taloned feet, wings and a long tail lept through the air to scare anyone who dared to impose on  this monster's territory.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Mysterious Death of Lake Ransom : Murder or Suicide?

Daily Inter Ocean, Chicago, 13 Feb 1882

The Chicago Evening Journal reported the Hinsdale tragedy...Mr. Lake Ransom, resident of 428 South Lincoln Street, was found dead by the side of the street on the morning of February 11, 1882 at the intersection of First and Lincoln Street.  Did he commit suicide, or was he the victim of a brutal murder?  The case has never been solved.  Let's look at the facts and review the investigation.

Lake Ransom was born on 5 June 1844 in Windsor City, Vermont, to Daniel and Lucy Edson (Lake) Ransom.  He was the descendant of Richard Ransom who served as Captain of the Connecticut Militia under Lt. Col. E. Storrs during the Revolutionary War.  Lake Ransom was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Daniel and Lucy Ransom had moved their family to Jo Davies County, Illinois by 1860.

Lake Ransom had served his country in the Union Army during the Civil War, in the 12th Vermont Company B unit.  He was discharged in 1863., Ramsom, Lake; 12 Regt. Vermont Infantry

He and Lucy Jane Bacon were married in Boston, Massachusetts on 25 December 1866., Massachusetts Marriages; Lake Ransom, Boston, 25 Dec. 1866

Lake was a General Sales Agent for a reaper company, the D. M. Osborne Company, which had a branch sales office and warehouse in Chicago after the Civil War.  According to the Western Massachusetts History , Volume 4, 1636-1925,  Lake Ransom was born in South Woodstock, Vermont, and he moved West.  He was a manager of the western division of the Osborne Harvester Company, in which he spent the majority of his career., Chicago City Directory, 1867; Lake Ransom, D. M. Osborne & Co.

Mr. and Mrs. Ransom had moved their familly to Hinsdale, Illinois, and took up residence at a fine home located at 428 South Lincoln Street.  The family appears in the 1870 and 1880 US Federal Census, at this address., Ransom, Lake, Hinsdale, Illinois, 1870

The Ransom family grew, and by 1880, consisted of five children : Albert, Charles, Clara, William and Louis.

FRIDAY EVENING, 10 February 1882

 Two shots were heard in the evening by a resident of Hinsdale, Mrs. J. W. Webster, who was waiting for her children to arrive home after spending the evening with neighbors.  She estimates it was about the time that the 10:30 p.m. train from Chicago had arrived at the Hinsdale depot. Charles Hinds said the he also heard a shot coming from the area in the evening as he was standing in front of the residence of Mr. Clark, who lived on First Street.

 Mr. Ransom was in the habit of riding the train to and from Chicago. He had been employed as bookkeeper for the Osborne Company for eighteen years until a month before the incident.   He usually rode the late train daily, and his family expected him home shortly after that time.  According to the Chicago Inter Ocean, the train conductor did not recollect him, nor did the other riders remember him leaving the train at the depot.  He could have rode in the smoking car, and departed the train at Lincoln Street, where the head of the train stops, to be nearer his home and he  could reach it sooner.   His wife waited for him until midnight, never to see him walk through the door of their home.


The body of Lake Ransom was found just before 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, at the corner of First and Lincoln Streets, just two blocks from his residence, and one block from the train depot.   Mr. Shannon, Mr.  A. M. Weir and Mr. J. W. Russell  take the morning train to Chicago. On their walk to the depot, they had observed the body, cold and rigid, laying on the back, next to a tree and the boarded sidewalk.  A hat was laying on the sidewalk, near the feet of the victim.  A revolver was found laying on the sidewalk, with two of the chambers empty. There was also a bag of shot found on the street near the body. The head was laying in a pool of blood, with a bullet hole to back of the skull.  Blood was trickling from the ears and nose. Part of the clothing near the arm and chest was smoldering.  As a crowd of residents surrounded the corpse, a neighbor hustled to the home of the victim and had broken the news  to Mrs. Ransom, who rushed to the scene and she was horrified at the state of her husband.  The body was removed by the police magistrate and officers to the Town Hall. Cornoner Cotton, of Turner Junction, was summoned by telegraph.


 A large hole was found in the left arm of the garments, which still smoldered as if burned.  The flesh underneath the layers of clothing was blackened and blistered, as if burned. Perhaps that was a point of contact with a gunshot, however, no bullet or wound had been found.  The neck tie was still around the neck, but the collar had been pulled from the shirt.  The vest had been unbuttoned, and the familiar gold watch on a chain was missing from the body.  The watch had been presented to the victim by the employees of D. M. Osborne, and he never seemed to be without it, until now.  The pants pockets had been turned inside out, and the wallet of the victim was not on the body.

A bullet hole to the head, just behind the left ear, appears to have been the fatal shot that ended the life of Lake Ransom.  A large amount of blood and brain matter had come from the wound.

 The Hinsdale police officers searched the general perimeter of the incident and found cards and letters from the deceased strewn across the railroad track area.  The wallet of the victim was found nearby on the railroad track about a block away, completely empty.  Other cards belonging Mr. Ransom were found near the train depot.

Was the bag of shot used to knock Mr. Ransom senseless?  Or thrown to distract him while he was attacked and murdered?  Did he shoot himself once, unsuccessfully in the torso, and then again, successfully in the back of the head?  Would he have emptied his own pockets and tossed his personal papers and empty wallet?

Detectives Wiley and Elliott were hard at work trying to solve the tragic event.  Several tramps were found in the vicinity of the train depot, and they were arrested for questioning, but to no avail.


During the investigation, many people were interviewed :

Charles Cook, while visiting Western Springs on Friday afternoon, noticed vagrants shuffling along the railroad tracks headed for Hinsdale.

There were rumors, but no concrete evidence, that the tramps were actually at, or near,  the train depot in Hinsdale at the time of the arrival of the 10:30 p.m. train.

It was thought by the Coroner, that Mr. Ransom most certainly would have had some money on him on his way home from Chicago that Friday evening.  However, when the body was found on Saturday morning, there was no money or valuables on him. And, his watch and chain were missing. The Coroner also raised the thought that Mr. Ransom could have killed himself, and the tramps could have taken his valuables when they found his body in the late evening.

Dr. Fitch, brother-in-law of the Mr. Ransom, said he refused to believe that it was a case of suicide.  He believes that there was no reason for his relative to end his life, stating that he had been an honorable character in the community. His family relations were perfect. Though he severed his employment with D. M. Osborne company the month prior, he had ample resources, and he spoke of starting a business for himself in short order. Dr. Fitch also stated that finding the body in the way that it was, without valuables, most certainly points to foul murder.


Many facts were brought to light as the investigation moves to Mr. Ransom's business life:

Mr. Ransom quit his job at the D. M. Osborne Company early in January.

It was rumored that he gambled a bit, and lost heavily.  On the Tuesday before his death, his wife testified that she had given $1,500 to her husband, which he had gambled away in an attempt to win back his previous losses. He may have planned to kill himself so as not to disgrace his family.
His losses on the Board of Trade were estimated to be about $50,000 to $60,000.

It was revealed that he may have embezzled money from the D. M. Osborne Company, as he held a top position in the financial department.  He was being investigated by the detectives of the Osborne's insurance company in December of the previous year 1881, when the main warehouse in Chicago was destroyed by fire.   Fire investigators found that the supposed story of the incident being caused by burglars was not viable...the vault was broken out of, and not into.  The financial books were destroyed, and the company owner came to Chicago to investigate. Mr. Ransom had been suspected of being behind the incident, but they had no proof as of yet.

Police detectives think that Mr. Ransom overdid the job.  The bag of shot would have been useless as it would only have been used as a weapon by someone else against him, and hard to use on himself as a weapon.  The revolver was laying where it would have fallen if he used it on himself.  It was a very newly purchased gun, without rust or scratches. Mr. Ransom could have been responsible for emptying his own pockets, throwing his wallet and papers into the wind himself and disposing of his watch. They suspect that he was financially ruined and embarrassed, causing him to become despondent and planned his own demise.


When asked about the speculation of Mr. Ransom having embezzled money from the company, Mr. Osborne stated that the company had completed an investigation of the matter but found no evidence that Mr. Ransom had been dishonest.  He was employed Mr. Ransom for over seventeen years, and felt confident of his abilities.  Mr. Ransom had been the general manager of the Chicago location up to 1 January 1882, and handled over a million dollars each of the nine years in that position.  Mr. Ransom had been investing in produce, and had been losing money on such ventures.  Mr. Osborne felt that it was not to his liking, and asked Mr. Ransom to cease his speculating, or give up his position with the company.  He had showed a desire to stop, and assured the company that he would never engage in another deal on the board.  After a while, it was found that he continued his dealing with the board, and he was asked to submit his resignation.  He did submit his resignation to take affect on 1 January 1882.  It was estimated by the company that Mr. Ransom has lost some $10,000 to $12,000 of his own.  It was felt that he never squandered money belonging to the firm, and was believed to be honest by nature.  He had admitted  that he became infatuated with speculating.

When asked if it was thought that Mr. Ransom was responsible for the fire which destroyed the company  warehouse, Mr. Osborne stated that there was no cause for any such supposition.

Further questioning revealed that Mr. Osborne felt that Ransom had committed suicide, He felt that his demon was the gambling on the Produce Exchange, which produced much remorse.  He reported that his former employee's salary was about $5,000 annually, and then increased to $6,500 when promoted to management.  He felt that Mr. Ransom never used any company funds in his speculating.  He was a very economical man, and he seemed to spend frugally with his personal living expenses.  It could hardly be possible that Mr. Ransom could have taken thousands of dollars from the company without our knowing about it.


The examination was performed by Dr. Skear of Chicago, and under the direction of Dr. J. C. Merrick, of Hinsdale, who was the foreman of the Coroner's Jury. The results were as follows :

The external examination showed that there was burning through the overcoat, undercoat, vest, shirt and undershirt and to the skin on the left side to the skin on the left arm, cooking the flesh in a area of seven by nine inches.  The top of the pants and underpants were slightly burned on  the left side.

Blood was oozing from the left nostril and both ears, more from the left ear.  Skin was burned and charred over the left side of the body, but not blistered.  Rigor mortis was well advanced.  The body looked well nourished.

The bullet wound to the head was one inch above the left ear, large enough to admit the little finger.  On the edges of the scalp near the wound the  bone was driven inward.  The hair was not burned.  There was a bruise on the upper lid of the left eye and lower lid of the right eye.  There were also slight bruises on parts of the body.  When the scalp was removed there was found additional bleeding.  The skull fractures extended from the wound to the area of the eyes.  The bullet was found crushed from end to end.  There was considerable bleeding into the ventricles of the brain, which otherwise looked healthy.

In opening up the chest, the flesh was cooked to the ribs, affecting the lower portion of  the left lung and a portion of the spleen.  All other organs were perfectly healthy.


In the Illinois State Daily Register on 3 March 1882, a reward is posted


The following article was printed in the Daily Inter Ocean, 22 February 1882.  The persons mentioned as Mr. and Mrs. Scott were the sister and brother in law of Lake Ransom : 


News articles appeared through out the nation regarding the mysterious death of Lake Ransom :

Trenton Gazette, 16 Feb 1882

Denver Rocky Mountain News, 14 Feb. 1882

Rockford Daily Register, 13 Feb 1882
More articles were posted in Kentucky, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and many other city newspapers.


I have found two Chicago Evening Journal funeral notices for Lake Ransom, as follows:


Mrs. Lucy Ransom did not apply for the Civil War Widow's Pension until 1908.  Notice that she filed for the pension when living in Massachusetts, not Illinois.  The life insurance policy that her husband had for $27,000 probably supported her until this time...., Ransom, Lake, widow's pension file card


What do you think?  Who was the person to have met with Lake Ransom at the Sherman House?  What happened to the $1,500 that Mr. Ransom was to have withdrawn from the bank....remember his wife said that she gave him the money.  What happened to his gold watch?  Was he really innocent of being involved with the warehouse fire?  

My question : Was Lake Ransom left or right handed?  If he was right handed, it would have been hard for him to shoot himself behind the left ear.  But, it would have been easier for him to shoot himself in the left side.  

The case is still unsolved.....over one hundred years later.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Research Strategies and Stories : The Wisconsin African-American Genealogy Conference

Strategies and Stories: 
African-American Genealogy Conference
Saturday, October 18, 2014
8 am-5 pm

This weekend, I attended the 2nd Annual African-American Genealogy Conference in Madison, Wisconsin.  Remember, I am researching the life of Civil War veteran, Corporal Thomas Nelson, who enlisted in the ranks of the Union Army in 1864 while he lived in Rock County, Wisconsin.  I thought perhaps I would learn a bit more about research techniques and strategies that would be useful to me in my project.  I did not leave Madison disappointed.

Conference speakers, Janis Minor Forte', Carolyn Mattern and Lori Bessler, shared their knowledge and experiences with a room full of conference participants.  Ms. Forte' reviewed the research she had done on her ancestor, Sallie Campbell Driver.  She had developed her research question : How many children did Sallie have?...14, 15, 16,....  We listened intently as she showed us her research plan and rode along with her as she guided us on the trail to review the smallest items of information on the census sheets.  Comparing the details of vital records, historical reports and genealogies, she determined, at the end of her presentation, that Sallie was the mother of 16 children.

Ms. Forte' gave a second presentation about the World War I draft registration in the United States. She entitled her program, "Even Gangsters Had to Register".  Why name it that?  Well, you see, she just happened to have an ancestor who had a rather interesting a gangster.  And, yes, she did show his draft registration form, and highlighted the wonderful personal information that could be gleaned from it.  She also added the draft registrations of several notorious mob figures, noting that every man had to register, regardless of who you were or what you did.  We talked briefly about non citizens who were not required to serve in the armed forces.  Of course, I had to pipe up and tell my story of my grandfather, a non citizen, who was drafted.  He told the members of the draft board that he was an alien, and furthermore, he had a brother serving in the army of the Kaiser in Austria.  They still sent him to boot camp in New Jersey.  However, when they asked the new recruits to write a letter to their families, telling how they would be leaving to go to grandfather wrote a letter in German and his family members living in the Austo-Hungarian empire.  The government needed no more convincing.  Grandpa was discharged as an enemy alien and sent home with what pay he had earned from the US Army.
Frank J. Bognar, Sr., orders to return home, labeled as an enemy alien.  From the personal papers of F J Bognar, Sr.

Carolyn Mattern gave a wonderful presentation about collecting information, forms and packets regarding the Civil War service of African-Americans.  This was of special interest to me.  Remember that Corp. Thomas Nelson served in the Union Army, 1864-1865.  Carolyn reviewed my collection of information on Mr. Nelson, and suggested that I write to the National Archives for the complete pension file for him.  She promised that it would be chocked full of wonderful family information....something that I need more of for my file.  Recently I found a photograph of the members of the GAR of Hinsdale, Illinois, taken in the early 1900s.  Mr. Nelson can be found in the middle of the back row, proudly standing with his fellow veterans.

"Village on the County Line" by Hugh Dugan

Lori Bessler, of the Wisconsin Historical Society reference librarian, followed up with two presentations.  The first was to give advice on organizing research materials and data...something that we all need to review from time to time.  The second presentation was the discussion of resources available to those who wish to research African-American heritage and genealogy.  Most of the nationally known websites were mentioned.  In addition, some of the more specialized websites were reviewed.  Afrigeneas, found at , is a good resource to help those researching their ancestry. Another that I have recently found is BlackRefer, found at , which is a portal for sites.  The Center for African-American Genealogical Research, found at, is another well-respected website.  Don't forget the the Freedmen's Bank Records, and many of the others listed on Ancestry, found at

Sunday, October 12, 2014

County Namesakes : Knox, Mercer and Schuyler Counties of Illinois

Have you ever wondered how counties are named?  Apparently it takes a local, state or national hero's story or a legacy to be broadcast over the area to make way for the nomination.  Political figures and other legislators discuss amongst themselves probable names for counties and their townships.  Agreements and handshakes were exchanged in the distance past, and a new county was born.

Knox County in Illinois was named after General Henry Knox, an adviser to General George Washington.  He was also the first United States Secretary of War. Actually, a great number of towns, cities, townships and counties across the nation are named for General Knox.

General Henry Knox,
General Knox was born in Boston in 1750.  He attended school until, at the age of 12, his father passed away.  Henry left school and took a job in a book store to help his mother with expenses.  In 1771 he went into business for himself, and had much success.  His future wife, Lucy, was a frequent shopper in his bookstore.  Henry joined the fight for freedom from English rule with his fellow Bostonians.  He rose through the ranks from colonel to brigadier general in 1776.  After George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States, Knox became the Secretary of War, and held that office until the end of 1794.  He passed away in 1806 in Maine. Rumor has it he swallowed a chicken bone and suffered an infection that caused his death.

Mercer County in Illinois was named for General Hugh Mercer, He gained favoritism of George Washington from his participation in the Revolutionary War, and earlier in the French and Indian War.  Many counties and towns across the nation are named for this military hero.

General Hugh W. Mercer,

General Mercer was born in 1726 in Scotland.  There, he had trained as a physician and began his career in America in Pennsylvania, until the beginning of the French and Indian War.  He volunteered for the unfortunate expedition of General Braddock to Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh).  He was wounded in 1755 and unable to keep up with the other soldiers.  He wandered alone through forests until he reached Fort Cumberland.  After being presented with a medal for bravery and endurance, he was promoted to the rank of captain, and later lieutenant colonel.  After the war, he resumed his profession as a physician in Virginia, marrying Isabella Gordon in Fredericksburg. In 1775 he began to drill the minute men of Viriginia.  He was placed in command of the patriots called the Flying Camp.  General Mercer was badly wounded in the Battle of Princeton, and died from his wounds in January of 1777.

Schuyler County, of Illinois, is named for General Philip Schuyler.  Schuyler County in New York is also named for him.  General Schuyler is noted for his leadership in the French and Indian War, as well as the Revolutionary War.  

General Philip Schuyler,

General Schuyler was born in Albany, New York in 1733, His father, owner of several thousand acres in New York, died in 1741, leaving Philip all of his estate.  Philip divided the estate among his siblings, as he later inherited an estate from his uncle in Saratoga County.  When the French and Indian County was underway, he organized a group of his neighbors and joined the fight, gaining some military experience.  Later, he became an assistant to George Washington in the Revolutionary War.  Philip married Catherine Van Rensselaer in 1775.  He aided in the organization of the Sons of Liberty.  He was elected to become a member of Congress in 1779, as a senator for the State of New York, and held that post for several years.  General Schuyler died in 1804.    

Who's name provided the inspiration for your county name?  You might be surprised when you uncover the answer.  And, you'll get a refresher course on American history at the same time.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Lucy Page Gaston 1860-1924 : Her Anti-Tobacco Campaign

How many of you readers smoke cigars and cigarettes? I am sure that you have been made aware of the health risks of such habits.  There is substantial medical evidence of such.   You might think that during the years before the building of the Panama Canal through the years following World War I there were not many persons who knew of such health risks regarding the use of these products.  Maybe you haven't heard of Lucy Page Gaston.
Lucy Gaston was born in Ohio in 1860.  She grew up to become a teacher after attending Illinois State University. It was reported in several publications that she participated in smashing several saloons in the early 1880s.  She joined the Christian Woman's Temperance Union, along with her mother, Henrietta Page Gaston.   During the 1890s, she held the position of managing editor of the newspaper, The Harvey Citizen.  This allowed her to proclaim her beliefs for all to read.  She even had a paper called The Boywhere she published articles about behavior that was brought on by tobacco use.

She spent more that twenty-five years campaigning against the use of tobacco, in addition to prohibition and woman suffrage.  Lucy organized the National Anti-Cigarette League.  She lobbied before state legislatures and even the Chicago city council.  She also appeared before the National Congress in Washington, D.C., trying to convince legislators that it was their job to outlaw the use of tobacco.  She even wrote a letter to President Warren G. Harding.  He was an avid smoker, and she felt that he was setting a bad example by his habit of tobacco use.

Lucy did become successful in pushing through a law in Illinois that prohibited minors from being able to obtain and smoke cigarettes.  Chief of Police McWeeney deputized Lucy, which enabled her to enforce this law.  She personally arrested a handful of 16 year old boys when she saw them smoking.  Lucy termed the cigarette as a "Coffin Nail".  In 1907, Lucy was instrumental with the law put forth by the Chicago City Council where it was deemed illegal to make, sell or give away cigarettes in the State of Illinois. The law was challenged and defeated on a technicality, otherwise those choosing to disregard the rule would have been fined $100 and jailed for up to 30 days.

Lucy and her family lived in Marshall County, Illinois during her formative years.  She attended and graduated from Lacon High School, and was the valedictorian at her commencement exercises.

Add caption
Lacon School 1877 Commencement brochure, paperchase-LucyPageGaston

Lucy taught at a few schools in the Richland Township area of Marshall County, Illinois, after receiving her teaching certificate, the first schools being the Strawn School and the Monahan School.  She and her family were well respected local figures and members of the First Presbyterian Church of Henry, Illinois.

map of the location of the first schools where Miss Gaston taught from 1876-1879, paperchase-LucyPageGaston

Miss Gaston met with her largest opposition when sending boxes of cigarettes to soldiers during World War I became a well received gesture of troop support.  Nevertheless, she continued her anti tobacco campaigns through personal appearances and literature.

page 1 Lucy Page Gaston obit August 28, 1924 Lacon Home Journal, paperchase-LucyPageGaston

Miss Gaston was buried in the Lacon Cemetery. Lucy died of cancer of the throat, in addition to injuries sustained in a street car accident months before, while being cared for in the Hinsdale sanitarium, in Hinsdale, Illinois on August 20, 1924.  Her obituary is written in the Illinois State Historical Society Journal, Vol. XVII, No. 3 editorials October 1924.

In Your Backyard
by david dellinger
Lacon,, IL January 2011
Lucy Page Gaston campaigned as a candidate for the presidency of the United States in 1920.  Obviously her campaign was not successful, as she was not elected.  However, she had a good platform : "Clean morals, clean food and fearless law enforcement."  She filed in the primary of South Dakota, but dropped out of the race before the election.  She could not support Warren G. Harding because he was an avid smoker, even stating that he had a smoker's face which was unbecoming to her.  She attended the convention of the Prohibition Party, and supported the candidate William Jennings Bryan.

Further information about Lucy P. Gaston can be found in the following publications, as taken from

Cigarette Wars, The Triumph of the “Little White Slaver” by Cassandra Tate
For Your own Good by Jacob Sullum
Thank You For Not Smoking by Gordon Dillow
The Little White Slaver in Kansas by R. Alton Lee
The Smoking Gun by Robert Loerzel
Lost Cause by Frances Warfield
Women Building Chicago 1790-1990 by Schultz & Hast
Readin’ and Ritin’ and Rithmetic Through The Years; Education in Marshall County, Illinois
by B.K. Doxhelmer

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ancestral Hometown Cousins : They Share Your Ancestral History

I belong to a group of persons that share my ancestral history....the Termini-Imerese genealogy research group.

Around 2003, I received an email message from a cousin that I had never met before that time.  The message explained that they had seen a post that I placed on a genealogy website, asking if anyone had information about the history of my family.  It invited me to view a website that focused on the ancestry and civil records of my ancestral hometown. was started by a distant cousin.  They had begun to transcribe civil records which had been photographed by the Latter Day Saints and placed on microfilm to save for all posterity.  The LDS does this for almost every state, county, town, village and church where they are allowed to photograph records.  Their family history library in Salt Lake City holds filmed and published records of all kinds.  The best part is that these can be viewed for free at

Since that day in 2003, I have been able to take my family history search back to the 1700s.  But, most importantly, I have met so many persons that share my ancestry.  Our families connect back to the town of Termini-Imerese, in the Palermo province on the island of Sicily.  We are all cousins to varying degrees.  We are family.

Every year this growing group of relatives meet in a venue hosted by one of more of the club members.  We share our newly found records, compare our family trees, find family connections to each other and share a few meals.  Most places have an area where Italian immigrants had established themselves.  We visit their businesses and restaurants.  We visit their libraries and museums.  We connect with the community and the people.  It's just four days of meeting and greeting.  And, it's our time of reaffirming our friendships  and family connections.

I want to encourage everyone to learn about your family before you leave this earth.  It is a very humbling task.  You will learn about the people who paved the way for you to live your life.  They worked, suffered, loved, lived and died.  Their stories become a part of you.  Imagine yourself living in the past.  Would you have made the same decisions that they did?  Would you have been able to navigate the uncertainty in their lives?  As you learn about these ancestors, you will formulate their stories.  It's not fiction.  It's real.

Share your stories with your family members.  They will be listening to every word, just as if you were reading them a storybook.  Somehow, it makes a person stand up straighter and have some pride in who they are.  Ancestors have a way of doing that to you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Thomas Young : Finding His History Among Land Warrants

I have found, with much success on  Internet sources, the histories of most of my husband's ancestry.  However, my research came to a halt when it came to focusing on Thomas Young.  Most of the census information that I had collected showed that he was born in Tennessee about the year 1797, plus or minus 5 years.  However, I have not been able to find the confirmation of his wife's maiden name, place of marriage, or his whereabouts prior to 1830, when he was listed as a resident of Illinois.

Noting that he may have been in the age brackets of those who served in the War of 1812, I decided to browse the roles of records on the website. As you can imagine, the name of Thomas Young was quite common.  How was I to find the correct Thomas, if indeed he served in the  War of 1812?

Shifting my thought process a bit, I decided to look into the Federal Land Warrants that were issued to veterans as payment for their service during the conflict.  Once again, I found the name Thomas Young to be very common.  But, I knew that he lived in Illinois in the late 1820s, as his oldest son was mentioned as having been born in the state.  So, let's check the land warrants that were issued to Thomas Young in Illinois. The Bureau of Land Management websites have this information.  There is a link to this information from  the Secretary of State of Illinois website,

Bingo!  I found Thomas Young as having land warrant papers in Adams County, Illinois.  On the warrants, it lists what type of service he had completed, including the company that he served.

www.cyberdriveillinois,com,  Land Patents, Vol 150 page 213

This land warrant tells that Thomas Young served as a private in Reed's Company in the Corp of Artillery.  It is dated at the bottom of the page as October 1817.

There was yet another land warrant patent under his name, also in Adams County, Illinois, dated 1819.  So, now we know where he was hanging out at that time.  

Later on, I found several land patents that told Thomas Young had land from the Federal Government in  Schuyler County, during the 1840s.  This is the location where the bulk of information has centered on Thomas Young and his family.  

The National Archives has a few search features which allow you to search for the various units in the Tennessee Volunteer Militia for the War of 1812.  Finding Capt. James Reed, 2nd Regiment, West Tennessee Volunteers, Artillery Unit......Now I know even more.

Taking the information from the land warrant, and the unit information from the National Archives, and knowing that Thomas Young served in the artillery, Reed's Company, we go back to  We have more information about him so that we can narrow which Thomas Young he was.  image from the War of 1812 Record Index
We know a little more about Thomas Young with this research of his service during the War of 1812 and his land ownership in Illinois.  This give us many more clues to follow to find out more about him.  His pension files are at the National Archives.  Since his surname begins with Y, it may be a while before they digitize his paperwork and post it online.  Meanwhile, I know that he was around western Illinois during his young adult life after his military service.  I can go back to the census of Illinois and the Federal Government to find him as a land owner before 1830.

And that's a lot more than I knew before today.  Progress!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Browsing the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society : What is the Oldest Town in Illinois?

Have you ever read some old journals of historical societies?  The Oak Brook Heritage Center, located in the Old Butler School in Oak Brook, Illinois, houses the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society in their research library.  The Oak Brook Historical Society oversees this research library, which contains over one hundred reference materials that cover local, county and state history subjects.

I love to browse through these state journals.  They contain so many interesting articles about people, places and events of Illinois.  Recently I browsed Volume XXX covering  April, 1937 through January, 1938.  This volume contains fourteen articles, historical notes and historical news of Illinois.

Reading about "firsts" in history is a passion of mine.  I was happy to find a Historical Notes article about the oldest town in Illinois.  I knew that southern Illinois was inhabited by the white man earlier than other areas of the states.  Guessing that perhaps Shawneetown, Kaskaskia, Cahokia or nearby areas were the first inhabited, I found that I was wrong, according to this article.

Prairie Du Rocher is claimed to take the honor, according to Dr. H. K. Croessmann of DuQuoin.  He claims that this little town is at the foot of the Illinios bluffs and has been there since 1722. Who knew?  I did a little exploring for myself to see exactly how old Prairie Du Rocher really is.  Using Google, I find the Prairie Du Rocher Chamber of Commerce website where they have posted a nice timeline of the history of the town :
Beginning in 1719, according to this timeline, a convoy of canoes bring persons to the area, and a fort (Fort Chartres) is established. It became a military and government command center.  I'd say that is proof of being inhabited at that time. According to The Jesuit Missions of the Illinois Country, 1673-1763, the ISHS quotes that it has the most accurate account of the founding of this village....a Randolph County atlas notes the town as being founded in 1722, incorporated in 1725.  In an article written in  The Messenger, of Randolph County, some families were living there as early as 1722, and the official founding date of the village at 1733.  Land was granted to Boisbriant in 1720, who is mentioned in the timetable above.  

Well, of course there is going to be a dispute about what is the earliest known town in Illinois.  I would be disappointed if there wasn't a dispute.  The ISHS article finds that Cahokia is mentioned as being established in 1699.  It was a scattered village and small. The area was explored by early French explorers.  Missionary priests came into the area and tried to convert some of the Indians to Christianity.  The Church of the Holy Family was erected in 1696 by the Seminary of Foreign Missions of Quebec.  It was replaced by this church building in 1799:

Church of the Holy Family, erected 1799.

Even though the Cahokia Indians were established in the area for over hundreds of years, does this make Cahokia the oldest town in Illinois?  I guess it makes a good question as to what defines a town. Cahokia was the county seat of St. Clair County (the oldest county in Illinois) until the seat was moved to Belleville, Illinois in 1814.  

  Kaskaskia is also mentioned in some Illinois memoirs as having been founded in 1703, and existed until the Mississippi River changed course and destroyed it.  Kaskaskia was an important shipping point on the river. French fur traders inhabited the area, and it was a starting point for those who decided to explore westward.  It was also named the first capital of the Illinois territory.  But was the fur trading camp of 1703 the first town of Illinois?  I suppose it is a matter of opinion.  What defines a town?  

Mather, Irwin F. (1900). The Making of Illinois. Chicago: A. Flanagan Co. p. 196. Photographer unknown. This copy retrieved from archives housed at the Skinner House in Griggsville, Illinois

Then there is Chicago, known as Checagou in early times.  Milo M. Quaife authored a text, Checagou, where he examines the identities of early explorers that had passed through, and briefly stayed in the area of what is now Chicago, Illinois.  Various explorers have kept notes on their experiences when in the Chicago area from 1674 to the early 1800s.  But no one is considered a permanent settler until Jean Baptiste Point du Sable came in 1784.  He traded with the Indians of the area and lived his life as the first non-Indian resident of the area. He sold his land and moved to St. Charles, Missouri where he died in 1818. There are no known photos of Du Sable or his home.  Only depictions of his likeness and sketches of what his cabin may have looked like can be found.   But, does his encampment fit the description of a town?  What defines a town?  

Finally, the ISHS article examines the town of Peoria, Illinois.  According to the Peoria Historical Society briefs, the town was settled in 1680 when La Salle built Fort Crevecoeur.  But the fort only lasted a few months, then it burned.  Peoria Lake was inhabited by Frenchmen.  They followed the Indians of the area when they shifted to hunting and fishing grounds.  Missionary priests are said to have lived among the Peoria Indians along the Illinois River.  Most of the Frenchmen left the area by 1817, just before the territory became a state in 1818. Fort St. Louis was built in 1691 to replace the burned fort.  Europeans inhabited the area around the fort, and was considered the first European settlement in Illinois.  Was this considered the first town of Illinois?  What defines a town?

The articles comes to it's conclusion....What was the oldest town in Illinois?  It is a matter of definition.  Kaskaskia can be eliminated if you are looking for a town that is in existence today.  If your definition of a town is a compact village with close dwellings, a few stores, a post office....then Cahokia can be ruled out.  If the history of the town must be continuous, literally, Chicago and Peoria must not be contenders.  Prairie Du'Rocher, in that case gets the title of first town of Illinois.  However, the article states, if the community was continuous, liberally, then Peoria would be mentioned as the first town of Illinois.  

So, What is the definition of a town?  Read more on the subject, and come to your own conclusion.