Monday, March 28, 2016

Women Ancestors- Newspaper Revelations

We continue to celebrate Women's History Month by focusing on recent revelations from the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

Last November I wrote about my great grandmother, Mae Moss, 1882-1963, as my "brickwall ancestor."  You can read that article here: LINK  I mentioned in that article that Mae resided in the Sacramento "Orphan Asylum" from 1892 to 1897.

Her great grandchildren myself included always knew her as "Grandma Mae."  Her maiden name was  "Mae Moss."  I recently found several articles from the Sacramento Record Union under the spelling "May Moss" that note her participation in school programs at the Orphan Asylum. A useful technique when searching in book indices and digital databases is to consider all of the possibilities for alternate spellings of the names of your ancestors.

Here is the full page from the Sacramento Union which shows with yellow highlights that there were two columns naming students participating in activities celebrating Washington's Birthday in 1896:

Sacramento Daily Record-Union, Friday, February 21, 1896, page 3
California Digital Newspaper Collection

The title of the article and opening paragraphs explain that all of the city schools had been directed to participate:

May Moss participated in a flag exercise conducted at the Orphan Asylum School:

Similar celebrations were held for Memorial Day in 1896:

Sacramento Daily Record-Union, Friday, May 29, 1896, page 4
California Digital Newspaper Collection
May Moss performed the song "Dead Comrades" at the Sacramento Orphan Asylum School on Friday, May 29, 1896 during the Memorial Day celebration.

The following year, May Moss is listed as a performer in a school program celebrating Independence Day at the Sutter Grammar School in Sacramento:

Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 93, Number 194, 2 July 1897, Page 4

It appears that school sessions continued into July in Sacramento in 1897 which was surprising.  The school officials moved the time of the performances up to 9:30 AM rather than 10:00 AM in "view of the possibility of the weather being hot."  It is also interesting to note that May Moss was the first solo performer which would indicate that she had a good voice.  Another notable fact is that May is now attending Sutter Grammar School rather than the Orphan Asylum School.

Apparently, the school year ended in July rather than June because May Moss was again listed in a newspaper article regarding school promotions in the Sacramento Daily Union on the 14th of July 1897.  May Moss was promoted from the Sixth Grade at Sutter Grammar School.  According to the orphanage records, Mae Moss was about 15 years old at the time which seems a little old to be in sixth grade but not inconceivable.  In Mae's own account of her age in her Social Security application, she would have been about 12 years old which seems to fit better with a sixth grader.

The records of the Sacramento Orphan Asylum show that her mother removed Grandma Mae from the orphanage less than a month later on August 4, 1897 without permission from the board.

Now that I have Sacramento and San Francisco newspapers to search, I am starting to get more pieces of Grandma Mae's "ancestor puzzle."  These news articles provide a fascinating view into her life over 100 years ago.  While the "brickwall" isn't exactly tumbling down, hopefully, there will be more puzzle pieces discovered in the near future.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Grandma Vesta Threw a Great Party! - Fun with Newspapers

In the spirit of celebrating one of the great women in our family tree, I will share a fun little story that I found in the Colorado Online Historic Newspaper Collection.

Vesta Price Fitzpatrick, 1890-1988
Vesta Price was born on October 24, 1890, in Buena Vista, Colorado, her father, Thomas Price, was 51 and her mother, Flora Ann Hill, was 29. She married John Arthur Ross Fitzpatrick on June 5, 1910, in Mesa County, Colorado. John Art and Vesta had seven children in 20 years. Vesta died on July 20, 1988, in Grand Junction, Colorado, at the age of 97, and was buried in Cedar Crest Cemetery in Collbran, Colorado.  Vesta and John Art met in Collbran and lived there until they moved to Grand Junction during World War II.

It was with great excitement that we learned that the newspapers from Collbran were available online at

We knew that Grandma Vesta was a writer, poet and community leader in Collbran but we were delighted to learn that she threw a great party.  The editor of the Plateau Voice states "a friend writes an account of it."  I wouldn't be surprised if Vesta, herself, wrote this account of the party

Plateau Voice, Collbran, Colorado, October 21, 1921

A Fine Children's Party

Our little folks were given a great good time at the home of Mrs. J. A. Fitzpatrick one evening last week. A friend writes an account of it as follows:

All weather conditions being just right Mrs. J. A. Fitzpatrick [Vesta Price, 1890-1988] and [her sister-in-law] Mrs. Karl Price [Clara Pitts, 1893-1971] planned a party for the little school folks, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades last Saturday evening at the Fitzpatrick home, hours 6 to 9. 
About forty of the little folks were greeted at the gate by huge, beaming faces as harbingers of the mysterious surprises held within.

Common games were played for a while till the crowd had gathered. Then all were taken into the house to see a "circus." Near the door stood a black bear (the "preacher's bear") and some of the smaller children shied off only to be stared at by the "Old Original Witch of Endor" and more jack-o-lanterns and then assured of the fun of it by a very tame kitten in a cage, representing the tiger. The "cabbage head", the ¦ "old woman that lived in the shoe", the caterpillar, the South African zebra and others were funny surprises. The greatest bat in captivity (baseball bat) was hidden, behind a curtain and only a hurried glance allowed lest it escape. The "great North American monkey" was securely caged near the ceiling and it was very funny as well as interesting to see the expectancy and wit of _the children as each climbed to the top step of the _ladder and looked into the cage which held only a looking glass.

The circus over, all were taken into the grove where a big bonfire, well surrounded in the distance by more Jack-o-lanterns, awaited them. Also a tub of apples and sacks of pop-corn, candy and peanuts and for more substantial "fillin" sandwiches, pickles and cake.

Last of all the bunch, one by one, _was blindfolded and sent to the house to pin a tail on the donkey. The girl winning the best prize for getting the tail nearest the right place was Ethel Thompson; the boy, Richard Snider. The boobie prize went to Robert Franklin and Mabel Hill. By this time the clock had begun to strike nine and good-byes were said with cheers and noise as only a bunch of happy youngsters are capable of and each said, "Oh! I'm so glad I came." 

Coincidentally, we had a great presentation on Friday night by Kim Zrubek of the Friendswood, Texas Public Library about the Chronicling America newspaper collection.  Before we get lost in endless searches for all of our family in this great newspaper site, Kim recommended that we click the U.S. Newspaper Directory link in the upper right hand corner of the Chronicling America home page. You have the option to browse the directory by title or to select where the newspaper was published by state, county or city.

Here is a sample result selecting Collbran, Colorado as the city where the newspaper was published:

Clicking on the links for each paper leads to more information about the paper and a list of libraries that have it on microfilm.  This can be especially helpful if you are looking for an obituary or wedding and anniversary announcements.

I also recommend that you search for websites for the local libraries in the vicinity.  Local librarians can be very helpful in locating obituaries.  Here is a description of services for the Mesa County Library:
The Mesa County Library carries microfilm of The Daily Sentinel back to 1893. The microfilm is located on the lower level of the Central branch. An obituary file is located next to the microfilm and is available for your use. Library staff can also access an electronic database to search these obituaries. Ask any library staff if you have questions. Also, if you are from out of town or are otherwise unable to visit us, library staff will search our microfilm holdings and send requested obituaries via email. To request one, write to Please include: last name, first name, birth date and death date of each individual you are seeking an obituary for. You will typically receive a response within 5 business days.
Best of luck in your newspaper searches.  Thanks to Kim and all of the librarians out there for their wonderful services.  Hopefully you can find some gems like the article that we found for Grandma Vesta!

Monday, March 14, 2016

In Praise of Southern Women Writers

My research on the history of slavery began in the early 1990s when I read two books by women authors:  A Diary from Dixie by Mary Boykin Chesnut and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs.  I recommend that you obtain copies of these books for the shelves of your library but if you are a modern reader, you will find each of these titles is hyperlinked to free online versions.

Both of these books are filled with insightful analysis of the elephant in the room of American history: slavery.  A Diary from Dixie  contains Mrs. Chesnut's observations in her diary from February 1861 through August 1865. In the beginning of Mrs. Chesnut's diary, she had the overview of the landscape that was afforded while riding the elephant.  Mary Boykin Chesnut was the wife of James Chesnut, Jr., United States Senator from South Carolina, 1859-1861. Senator Chesnut also worked as an aide to Jefferson Davis and was a Brigadier-General in the Confederate Army. Four long years of war took their toll on Mrs. Chesnut.  On July 26, 1865 she wrote:
"I do not write often now, not for want of something to say but from loathing of all I see and hear."

Mrs. Jacobs had the graphic view of those that are forced to endure the crushing weight of the elephant in the ante-bellum period. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was published in 1861 and begins with her recollections of childhood, the trials of girlhood and the jealous mistress.  She continues with observations on the fear of insurrection, the church and slavery and continued persecutions among many others.  Her last chapter is "Free at Last."

"Trials of Girlhood" was the Victorian style of titling what slave girls had to endure:
"But I now entered on my fifteenth year - a sad epoch in the life of a slave girl.  My master began to whisper foul words in my ear.  Young as I was, I could not remain ignorant of their import."
Mrs. Chesnut also offers her opinion on the morality of the Southern male:
 "August 27, 1861...I hate slavery. I hate a man who - You say there are no more fallen women on a plantation than in London in proportion to numbers. But what do you say to this - to a magnate who runs a hideous black harem, with its consequences, under the same roof with his lovely white wife and his beautiful and accomplished daughters? He holds his head high and poses as the model of all human virtues to these poor women whom God and the laws have given him. From the height of his awful majesty he scolds and thunders at them as if he never did wrong in his life. Fancy such a man finding his daughter reading Don Juan. 'You with that immoral book!' he would say, and then he would order her out of his sight. You see Mrs. Stowe did not hit the sorest spot. She makes Legree a bachelor."
Keep in mind if you read the online edition of Mrs. Chesnut's diary that it is an edited version published in 1905 which is subject to several deletions by the editors of that day.  Fortunately, they left the preceding paragraph intact.

The 1905 edition contained about 150,000 words while the manuscript copy of the complete diary contains closer to 400,000 words.  Some of the 1905 deletions might have been to avoid offending persons then living. However, some of Mrs. Chesnut's frank views of slavery were also excluded from the 1905 edition and have since been included in versions published in the last quarter of the 20th century.  The copy that I have on my shelf was edited by Ben Ames Williams and originally published in 1980.

As genealogists, we seek to understand the trials and travails of our ancestors.  These two books are crucial to an understanding of our shared American family history.  The family historian must have historical context when evaluating historical records of genealogical value such as the U.S. census.

For example, I am currently working with a client whose family has historically identified as white but has oral history about African ancestry.  We have been able to find several records that substantiate the stories of African ancestry.  In addition, DNA analysis has also confirmed the African ancestry.  The research has lead us to a mulatto woman, named Evaline Brenham, in the 1880 census of Catahoula Parish, Louisiana.  She was also found in the 1870 census in the same parish but she was listed as white.  The head of household in both of these censuses is a white man named George H. Richardson.   The theory is that George Richardson may be the father of Evaline Brenham.  In 1860, we find Mr. Richardson in Concordia Parish working as an overseer and listed between two major landowners, Farrar B. Conner and Henry Chotard.

The goal is to find the mother of Evaline Brenham and to connect George H. Richardson as an employee of one these major landowners.  The next step in this research project will be to begin reviewing microfilm from the Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations that are available at many university and public libraries.  We will begin with the records of the Conner and McMurran families that owned the Killarney plantation in Concordia Parish, Louisiana.  The collection includes many business records and letters related to the operation of the Killarney plantation and many others in the Natchez district.  Many of these letters were written by women.

The early life of Evaline Brenham and the name of her mother is currently shrouded in mystery.  We may never know their precise identity, but reading books and letters such as those described above will give us a better idea what life was like for their contemporaries.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Finding Records of Female Ancestors

My grandmother, Elaine Coffman Mayne and my mother, Jill Mayne 1937 Reno, Nevada
When copying old photographs be sure to include the studio name in your digital copy.
Paffrath Studio was located in Reno, Nevada.  Gram Elaine was residing in Reno in 1937 when she filed for divorce from her first husband, True Mayne.  Jill was born in November 1935 and the divorce was granted in October 1937.

March is Women's History Month  which makes it an appropriate time to focus our genealogy research efforts on our female ancestors.  Finding records for women can often be a challenge.  The names of American women change throughout their lives.  American women are found in genealogical records under their maiden names and their married names.  Genealogical search engines need to be tweaked when we are searching for women.

This is an earlier photo of "Gram Elaine" with her first daughter, Joan Vivian Mayne.
Judging by Joan's age in this photo it was probably taken about 1932 in San Francisco.
When using the search engine at, we find that women that have been married more than once are a particular challenge.  My maternal grandmother, Elaine Blanche Coffman Mayne Kelly DeGuire Thomas is a case in point.  "Gram Elaine" was married four times over the course of her 99 years on the planet.  For 54 years [1937 to 1991] she was known as Elaine Kelly. For eighteen years, she was known as Elaine Coffman, her maiden name [1910-1928].  For eleven years she was known as Elaine Thomas [1999-2010].  For nine years she was known as Elaine Mayne [1928-1937]. For three years she was known as Elaine DeGuire 1994-1997].

Trying to search all of these names at once overwhelms the search engine at As can be seen from the following search, many extraneous records are included in the results when searching for all her surnames at once:
Click on the "Edit Search" link to limit the search.

I recommend that users edit the search to include only one surname at a time.  For example, let's try changing the surname to Elaine Kelly and delete the rest of the names.  Since she was known as Elaine Kelly for the majority of her life, this will yield better search results.  It is also helpful to choose only the databases which are most likely to include women under their married names such as the U.S. City Directories database.  The following example shows several records for Elaine Kelly in the Sacramento City Directory:

Search results for "Elaine Kelly" in the City Directory database

The U.S. Public Records Database is an excellent source for searching your late 20th century females.  Here is a record for Gram Elaine when she was known as Elaine Thomas in the Public Records Database as shown below:

20th century females can be found in the U.S. Public Records Index
Jumping back two generations to Gram Elaine's paternal grandmother, Harriett Anne Ketcham Coffman 1853-1938, we can see another example of choosing the right database to search.  After performing a search for Harriett we see that one of the suggested databases is California Voter Registrations.  Given that Harriett resided in California from 1880 to 1938, we can find her in the California Voter records under her married name as shown below:
Harriett Ketcham Coffman was found in the California Voter Registration database
in the 1920s and 1930s in Oakland, California. The list at the top of this image shows
some of the records that I have already attached to her profile. Adding voter registrations
and city directories will help to fill in the blanks in her timeline between census years.

I have many more tips on how to find female ancestors in my presentation entitled: How to Become an Power User.  Please contact me if you need assistance using or if you would like me to review and edit your family tree on