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November 21, 2023
Records of the Rogues
In short order, that cooper would become a sheriff, Chicago’s first police detective, America’s first “private eye” and a spy who founded an agency of detectives larger than the standing United States Army.
November 8, 2023
The New Deal Legacy
He was celebrated in his lifetime and beyond for his numerous accomplishments as President of the United States. He became the hero of the common man, even though he was decidedly from American upper-class aristocracy. His critics cited...
October 29, 2023
The year was 1932. The men dangling on ropes before the craggy red face of the Black Canyon walls were former sailors, circus performers, and Native Americans who embodied a certain skill working with ropes high above what would...
October 10, 2023
When Tobacco was King
The tobacco industry in what would become the United States began with its early colonies growing tobacco as a cash crop. As early as 1612, John Rolfe of the Jamestown colony (famed for marrying the woman commonly known as Pocahontas) began
September 27, 2022
The Straw Hat Riot of 1922
Society-wide dress codes have gone the way of the dodo, but in the past, they were more rigorously followed by those with a means to do so. We probably remember the rule about not wearing white after Labor Day, but did you know that men...
September 11, 2022
Everybody Knows Lisa
She is enigmatic unto herself, although she is just a depiction of a person who once lived over 500 years ago. We know her by a nickname that immediately conjures her face in our minds with just two little words. We can sing her name...
August 30, 2022
“Gretna Greens” of Indiana
As each state established marital laws, the majority of states had requirements for marriage that included limitations like waiting periods, blood tests, age limits, parental permission, verified witnesses, certified officiants, and a...
August 21, 2022
The Surprise Success of Senator Hattie Caraway
In 1931, Senator Thaddeus Caraway of Arkansas had been suffering with kidney problems for months and was doing his best to overcome the ordeal. By his side was his wife, Hattie. She was as involved as any political wife, helping with his...
August 7, 2022
The House of Mercy: Anything But Merciful!
Once upon a time in Manhattan, there was a little northern jut of land called Tubby Hook. Later it would be known as Inwood, and it was one of the last bastions of bucolic existence on Manhattan Island. Perhaps because it was somewhat...
July 31, 2022
Ballot Prank Backfires
Susanna Madora “Dora” Salter (née Kinsey) was 27 years old in 1887. She lived in Argonia, Kansas with her husband, Lewis Salter. She had four children with one on the way. Her interests outside of the home included attending Woman’s...
July 17, 2022
From Here to Boylston Street: 126 Marathons and Counting
John Graham had been dazzled by the experience of the Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. The first games of the modern era had attracted the world’s top athletes in competition for bragging rights and national pride in the spirit of...
April 17, 2022
One of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World
On 5 January 1933, construction on the Golden Gate Bridge officially began. A variety of engineers, architects, geologists, hydrologists, and city and state administrators had been working on the project for over a decade by that time...
March 27, 2022
A Groove in the Sky
On the morning of 7 December 1941, Cornelia Fort was giving a flying lesson over Honolulu, Hawaii. The weather was a mild 70 degrees, the skies partly cloudy. Her student, Ernest Suomala, was doing well in his last training run before...
February 20, 2022
The Mystery of the Maine
On 15 February 1898 around 9:40 pm, an explosion caused the USS Maine to sink in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. That is all anyone can agree on regarding what happened that night. It took the lives of 266...
February 13, 2022
Dawn of the Dawes Rolls
The United States Congress passed the Dawes Act on 8 February 1887. The act was named for its author, Senator Henry Dawes of Massachusetts. Also known as the “General Allotment Act” and the “Dawes Severalty Act,” this legislation...
February 6, 2022
The Wannsee Protocol & Jewish Research
On 20 January 1942, fifteen men met in an affluent suburb of Berlin to determine the “final solution of the Jewish question.” World War II was raging, and Germany was spread thin across three fronts: Western Europe, Soviet Union...
February 1, 2022
Overlooked and Unknown: Women Who Contributed to DNA Discovery
The scientific study of genetics began in 1854 with observations made by Gregor Johann Mendel. Of course, scientists expanded and deepened their investigations into the specifics of how inheritance and reproduction worked on a cellular...
January 2, 2022
From Crusades to Credit Cards
The first issuance of an object known as a “travelers cheque” occurred on 1 January 1772, according to most sources. The inventor is credited as being Sir Robert Herries, a cosmopolitan globe trotter of his day. But history shows...
December 24, 2021
The Lights of Christmas
If we’re lucky this will be the last Pandemic Holiday Season we experience in our lifetimes. It’s sure to be a quiet season for most of us this year, and in its own way a memorable one...
December 18, 2021
The Unsung Hero of Aviation
On 17 December 1903, the first motor-powered, manned airplane was flown by none other than Wilbur and Orville Wright. Technically, Orville was the first to fly 120 feet, but they were able to fly four runs on that December day...
December 12, 2021
Lost State of Franklin
The times were fraught with uncertainty for settlers on the western frontier of the original thirteen American colonies prior to the Revolutionary War. In particular, the edge of “civilization” as they knew it landed at the slopes of...
December 5, 2021
From Gin to Gun
Eli Whitney is one of those famous American inventors who have their names seared into the fabric of national history with his contribution to technology, most famously for the invention of the cotton gin. The cotton gin did not make...
November 26, 2021
The First Thanksgiving "Foot-ball" Game
After the turkey has been roasted, toasted, carved, and devoured, along with the sides and the pies, if your family is anything like the majority of American households on Thanksgiving, you are watching a football game...
November 12, 2021
Arrested for Wearing Pants
In Los Angeles in the autumn of 1938, two men were apprehended for burglarizing the home of Helen Hulick. Miss Hulick was the primary witness and victim of the crime. On 8 November 1938, she appeared in the courtroom of Judge Arthur S...
November 5, 2021
The Standardization of Time in 1883
It’s hard to imagine the days when the average person didn’t know what time it was and neither did anyone else. Sure, they had an idea of what time it was based on where the sun was in the sky, but few people lived by the minute...
October 22, 2021
The Al Capone Takedown
“He doesn’t wear special clothes, or carry a fancy gun, or limp,” explained actor Robert Stack, “he’s just a guy facing death without heroics.” That’s how most in the 21st century remember the Norwegian-American lawman Eliot Ness, foe of...
October 15, 2021
Banned by Russian Overlords
In the 21st century Lithuania is a model for former Eastern Bloc countries, boasting a strong economy, high incomes, and good governance, but it’s been a long road to get here. Once the largest country in Europe, Lithuania nearly...
October 8, 2021
The Deadly War of Prohibition
America’s experiment with the prohibition of alcohol lasted from 1920-1932. If it proved anything, it was that criminalization could not bring an end to the consumption of alcohol, but instead would push the entire industry underground...
September 24, 2021
Deadly Yellow Jack
One of the deadliest epidemics in American history occurred in 1878 in the Mississippi River Valley. Spreading by riverboat upstream from New Orleans, hundreds of thousands of people living in the Mississippi River Valley became ill with...
September 17, 2021
The War Years
“Our Boys Need Sox - Knit Your Bit!” During World War I the American Red Cross, along with the British Red Cross and similar groups around the world, encouraged people, mostly women, to help the troops by knitting warm clothing...
September 12, 2021
Things Are Getting Eerie
Much of upstate New York is still rural, but the majority of cities and towns there have one thing in common: they are located within 25 miles of the Erie Canal. When originally completed in 1825, the canal ran 363 miles between the...
August 29, 2021
Parker's Ferry Ambush
240 years ago, on 30 August 1781, a surprise attack against the British just west of Charleston, South Carolina changed the course of the American Revolution. The David-and-Goliath scale of the Patriots’ victory at Parker’s Ferry...
August 20, 2021
Polish Immigrant Ancestors
Poland has always been a multiethnic, multicultural nation-state, and the lives and identities of Polish-Americans reflect that. Polish immigrants were a part of the first Roanoke colony in 1585. Two of the military heroes of the...
August 14, 2021
Westward Ho! How-to Use Homestead Records
Washington State became a United States territory in 1853 and was admitted as a state in 1889. During those decades the Pacfic Northwest endured struggles between the native Salish peoples of the region and the European and American...
August 6, 2021
Bad Apples & Black Sheep
It was no accident that so many American folk heroes came to prominence in the years following the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865). After four years of grueling hardship on both sides of the battle, by the end of the war thousands of men and...
July 30, 2021
"You Say You Want a Revolution..."
On 2 August Americans will probably not celebrate any patriotic holiday in particular, even though it will be the 245th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on 2 August 1776. It had taken months to get to this...
July 23, 2021
The Locust Plagues of the 1930's
1931 was a difficult year for the United States. Two years after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the country was experiencing a crushing economic depression forcing many hardworking families out of their jobs, their homes, and without...
July 17, 2021
The recent coronavirus pandemic is a reminder of how vulnerable we all are to germs and disease, despite the huge advances in medicine in the past hundred years. As we’ve seen with Covid-19, it is not only the virus that is dangerous...
July 10, 2021
New England Ancestors
The freedom of worship has been at the foundation of American society from the moment the first English colonists arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. Both the Puritans and the Quakers (known formally as the Religious Society of...
July 2, 2021
Behind-the-scenes of the Titanic Rescue Ship
The R.M.S. Carpathia, a Cunard Line passenger steamship first launched in 1902, is not as well known as its contemporary, the R.M.S. Titanic, but their stories are forever linked. In its brief 16 years of service, the Carpathia was....
June 25, 2021
The Antebellum South
“I not only do not intend to set about another book too soon, but, thank God, never intend to write another one if I keep my sanity,” wrote Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949) after completing her first novel, Gone with the Wind. “I have heard...
June 18, 2021
The Origins and Legacy of Juneteenth
American freedom is not just celebrated in July. Every 19th of June since 1865, Black Americans have celebrated “Juneteenth,” the day enslaved people in Texas were finally declared free people, no longer “masters and slaves” but now...
June 11, 2021
The US-Canadian Border
This June 15 marks the 175th anniversary of the establishment of the United States-Canada international border. The Oregon Treaty formalized the 49th parallel as the official boundary between the two countries, running from Lake of the...
June 4, 2021
Italian Immigrant Ancestors
The first half of the twentieth century was one of the greatest eras for innovations in science--particularly in the field of physics--and the life and accomplishments of Italian-American scientist Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) encompassed...
May 29, 2021
DNA Question: Who Am I?
Family history researchers know that they are always sifting through a mix of facts and, perhaps, fiction when they dig into the family archives. Commercial DNA testing can provide some shortcuts to the facts, but it can also reveal new...
May 21, 2021
The Angel of the Battlefield
On 21 May 2021 the American Red Cross will celebrate its 140th birthday. The proof of its success is obvious if we try to imagine what life was like before the American Red Cross existed. It’s easy to take the Red Cross for granted...
May 14, 2021
The Records Burned
Reckless soldiers, pork plants, citizen riots: there are a lot of ways a municipal courthouse can be destroyed, and over the years Cincinnati’s Hamilton County Courthouse has been the victim of all three. Most...
May 7, 2021
Is the distinct dialect of Appalachia really “older than Shakespeare,” as linguists once claimed? Well, yes and no. No matter how isolated the community, no language ever stops evolving completely, and the Scots-Irish immigrants to...
April 30, 2021
Haymarket Square Riot
Setting a day aside to honor workers is a custom celebrated around the world. In nearly every country that day is the 1st of May, also known as May Day. The United States is an exception, celebrating Labor Day on the first Monday in Sept...
April 23, 2021
Out of Wedlock
The oldest human stories contain tales of secret identities, hidden pregnancies, and illicit affairs. Babies have always been born in and out of wedlock, but attitudes toward these births have been fluid, influenced by the prevailing...
April 16, 2021
Legends of Ellis Island
It’s a common story in many American families, the one about how the family surname changed from Hanstein to Hanson, or Fuchs to Fox. “It was changed at Ellis Island,” you may hear by way of explanation...
April 9, 2021
Oldest Living Civil War Pensioners Tell All
Genealogists are always looking for hidden treasure troves, those secret spots in archives and on the Internet that, once unlocked, reveal unexpected discoveries within. Over the years, family history...
April 2, 2021
In April, 1881, Billy the Kid was convicted of the murder of Sheriff William J. Brady in Mesilla, New Mexico. He escaped from jail but a few months later was tracked down and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett in a shootout...
March 26, 2021
Adolescent Development: Have You Told Them Your Family Story?
Adolescence is when we begin to consciously form our sense of self. Recent research has shown that sharing stories with the family can not only help young people understand where they fit into...
March 19, 2021
German Americans: The Largest Ethnic Group in the U.S.
The influence of German-speaking immigrants to the United States is so widespread it’s almost hard to see. The nineteenth century was the era of greatest immigration, and the people who came here brought with them a...
March 14, 2021
Who Invented Your Telephone?
For many of us, it’s difficult to imagine life without our phones… not that they resemble the original telephone much anymore. But unlike the steam engine (patented in 1804), the telephone is still with us--and still...
March 9, 2021
The Boston Massacre of 1770
A relatively small street fight in Boston in 1770 was a spark that lit the fire of the American Revolution. 251 years ago, the Boston Massacre left five dead and challenged the colonists to uphold their own standards for the rule of law...
February 27, 2021
Can You Imagine the Compromise?
On March 3, 1820, the United States Congress passed the Missouri Compromise. It was a desperate attempt to to appease two sides of the nation’s most important issue: slavery. Allowing Missouri to enter the Union as a...
February 20, 2021
Your Ancestors Didn't Have Facebook, Only Postcards
There’s a reason you find so many old postcards for sale in antique shops: they’re not only vintage reminders of times past, but they are packed with useful information for anyone interested in history. From the choice of photograph or...
February 14, 2021
Have You Lost Your Census?
A census can be an unmatched resource for tracking families through time and space, providing an every-ten-years snapshot of ancestors no matter how often they changed address. Genealogists tend to be as familiar with historical censuses...
February 6, 2021
The Impact of the Freedmen's Bureau on Your Research Today
Family historians interested in the history of Black Americans in the post-Civil War era should make themselves familiar with the detailed records of the Freedmen’s Bureau, the federal agency created to assist formerly enslaved people in...
January 30, 2021
“Ye Olde” American Printing Press
Ever since its first appearance in the American colonies in the 17th century, the printing press has served an important role in the history of the United States. In the original thirteen colonies, emphasis was placed on teaching...
January 22, 2021
POTUS on TV
January 25, 2021 marks the 60th anniversary of the very first live-televised Presidential news conference. In today’s media landscape it’s easy to forget how important radio and television broadcasting were in the mid-20th century...
January 15, 2021
The Genealogy of Health
One of the strongest weapons doctors have in the fight against disease is a patient’s medical history: the story of the patient’s health and their risk for genetic illnesses. Unfortunately, family medical history is often a weak spot in...
January 10, 2021
New Year, New You, New Ancestors?
January is named for the Roman god Janus, an all-powerful deity who controlled not only beginnings and endings, bridges and doors, but time itself. With two faces, one on each side of his head, he possessed the power of foresight and...
December 18, 2020
Why We Map
Maps are not always what they seem. You can see what got included, but not what got left out. Few mapmakers have ever been as honest with his clients as Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), the famed Flemish geographer who, in his 1570 Theatrum...
December 11, 2020
Are You a Good Ancestor?
The pursuit of genealogy is also the pursuit of time. When doing family research we necessarily turn to the past to reconstruct our family’s history. But the same time that erased those people and their stories is still at work right now...
December 8, 2020
Exclusive: Break Down Those Brick Walls
Occasionally we’ll work to bring you exclusive offers to products and services we love and appreciate. This month, your free subscription to Without a Trace is brought to you by Trace.com, the easiest way to hire an expert researcher...
December 4, 2020
Field Guide: Decoding Old Cemeteries
You can learn a lot about a place by visiting its graveyards. The oldest graves tell you how long the cemetery’s been there. A line of headstones with the same date of death indicates an unusual tragedy, natural or otherwise. And even...
November 27, 2020
The First Black Friday: September 24, 1869
With all the shopping activity that takes place the Friday after Thanksgiving, the day became one of the most profitable days of the year for retailers and businesses. Because accountants use black to signify profit when recording each...
November 20, 2020
Why We Eat Turkey on Thanksgiving
The Puritans were not the first Europeans to settle in North America. The local residents of what’s now Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Wampanoag tribe, were not the best of friends. “This wasn’t a huge historic voyage in 1620,” says Jo...
November 13, 2020
DNA: The Real You?
In the 21st century many of us take for granted the truths that DNA can reveal, from proving paternity to identifying risks for disease. Yet when it comes to defining race and ethnicity, genetics can only take us so far. Consider the...
November 6, 2020
What the “Great War” Taught Us
On “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” November 11, 1918, the First World War officially ended, secured by an armistice designed to end the fighting as quickly as possible. November 11 became the firs...
October 30, 2020
“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired”: Fannie Lou Hamer, Champion of Voting Rights
2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote, and the 55th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, abolishing Jim Crow-era practices such as literacy tests and poll taxes used to...
October 23, 2020
Hiraeth: When “The Old Country” No Longer Exists
Maps of the world are always changing, reflecting the progress of politics, warfare, and empire. This was especially true for Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, leading to headaches for genealogists trying to track down...
October 16, 2020
The Line Between the Living and the Dead
Genealogists know that none of our research would be possible without access to information about the people who came before us. Maybe that’s why they call them vital records: because we really need them! Yet just as we take care to...
October 9, 2020
Be a Good Ancestor: Create a Pandemic Scrapbook
Hello and welcome to Without a Trace! This week we’re looking at the way we -- you, me, our ancestors, and our future descendants -- cope during global pandemics. While some things have changed in our approach to public health, most of...
September 30, 2020
The Genealogical Path to the Golden State Killer: how family trees can help solve crimes.
In the past 20 years DNA testing has become the single biggest destroyer of brick walls in genealogy, and family historians love it for that. But DNA is only useful to genealogists when it’s shared on a public forum such as...