Orphan Trains Head West

In 1853 Charles Loring Brace formed the Children’s Aid Society to develop programs for the growing population of orphaned children in New York City. In the mid-1800s, a wave of immigration brought newcomers to America. Without an extended family to fall back on, immigrants often crowded into unsanitary living conditions where illness spread creating high mortality rates. Other factors that contributed to the orphan population were disease, unsafe working conditions, poverty, and the Civil War. At one point an estimated 30,000 orphans roamed the streets of New York City. The Children’s Aid Society aimed to change that. From 1854 to 1929 an estimated 250,000 children were loaded onto Orphan Trains and transported from eastern cities to the rural Midwest hoping to find adoptive homes. At the time, there was no federal government program to oversee child welfare.  

Children board the Orphan Train

For some, the Orphan Trains resulted in children being placed in loving, adoptive homes. Others were paraded before prospective adoptive families and treated like indentured servants.  

Little 3-year-old Louise Anderson rode the Orphan Train and got adopted by a family whose daughter had died. She remembered her adoptive mother commenting, “We lost a little girl; she was so smart, and this one was a dummy.” Louise’s adoptive home was not a happy one. By the age of 12, she spent nights alone outside minding the cattle. She never attended school and was illiterate as a child. She married at 17 and learned to read and write alongside her young children.

Alice Ayler was one of the last to ride the Orphan Train in 1929. She was living in a tent in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York with very little to eat. Her mother would often disappear for days at a time and eventually signed papers relinquishing her to the Children’s Aid Society. Ayler took the Orphan Train to Kansas and was adopted. “I was one of the luckier ones because I know my heritage,” Ayler said. “They took away the identity of the younger riders by not allowing contact with the past.”

Most children sent west on Orphan Trains retained few memories and no documentation about their birth families. Siblings were often separated and never saw each other again. Seven-year-old Clara was an exception. Her parents and a sister died while trying to cross a river in New York state. She and her two younger brothers boarded an Orphan Train to Kansas where they were adopted by three different loving families. They remained in contact with one another throughout their lives. 

Two silk ribbons with the number 9 printed on them were the identification pieces worn by young girl who rode the Orphan Train

Nettie Enns remembers boarding the Orphan train with her twin sister Nellie. They were given blankets, name tags and sack lunches for the four-day journey to Kansas. After arriving, the sisters were adopted but their first home was abusive. Nettie remembers her sister being hit with a horsewhip after falling and breaking a dish. The girls were eventually removed from the home and taken in by a woman they considered their mother, though she never officially adopted the girls. Later in life Nettie and Nellie both married and lived across the street from each other.

Discovering information about family members who rode Orphan Trains is difficult, but sometimes possible. Begin with newspaper clippings in the city where they were adopted and branch outwards. Head over to Newspapers.com to learn more about Orphan Trains today!

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The Flannan Isles Disappearance

In December 1900, something very unusual happened on one of the desolate Scottish islands that make up the Flannan Isles. All three men manning the lighthouse on the largest of the seven islands disappeared without a trace.

The Three Missing Men Behind the Locked DoorThe Three Missing Men Behind the Locked Door Sun, Feb 9, 1975 – 76 · Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

An Empty Lighthouse

Three men manned the lighthouse at one time. In the early days of the newly built lighthouse, those three men were Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald McArthur. A fourth man, Joseph Moore, was due to relieve one of the men in late December following his two-week break.

The first signs of something amiss came on December 15th, when a passing ship reported that no guiding light came from the lighthouse. For reasons of bad weather or convenience, no one went to investigate. It wasn’t until the 26th that a ship finally arrived at the island bearing supplies and Joseph Moore, and the sad reality was discovered.

Mystery of the Atlantic - Lighthouse DisasterMystery of the Atlantic – Lighthouse Disaster Fri, Dec 28, 1900 – 5 · The Courier and Argus (Dundee, Tayside, Scotland) · Newspapers.com

Possible Explanations

The generally accepted explanation goes something like this: the men were trying to secure a crane or aid someone in distress when they were swept away by an unexpected, massive wave. But the unusual nature of the story, and the mysterious clues left behind (often embellished in the papers, of course), led to other increasingly dramatic theories:

Flannan Isles Disappearance theoriesFlannan Isles Disappearance theories Sun, Jul 24, 1994 – 158 · The Observer (London, Greater London, England) · Newspapers.com

Still a Mystery

Unfortunately, the bodies of the three men were never found. The details of what exactly happened to the lighthouse keepers on that remote and stormy isle remain a mystery.

You can find more on this strange disappearance with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Love at First Sight

Here’s a little love joke to wrap up the month of all things lovey-dovey:

Love at first sight jokeLove at first sight joke Wed, Mar 7, 1923 – 3 · The Alexander City Outlook (Alexander City, Alabama, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

There’s plenty more like this to be found on Newspapers.com. Try a search for something specific or browse through the pages for gems like the one above.

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The Real-Life Shipwreck that Inspired Moby Dick

A Whale Sinks the EssexA Whale Sinks the Essex Sun, Feb 27, 1916 – Page 65 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Some already know this story; those who saw 2015’s In the Heart of the Sea will have even watched it play out on the big screen. But for many, the true and horrific tale of the Essex shipwreck has only been seen in fictional fragments through the novel it inspired, Moby Dick.

Moby Dick ends with a whale-induced shipwreck; the true story begins with one.

The Wreck

Whale sinks a big vesselWhale sinks a big vessel Sun, Jul 4, 1915 – Page 4 · The Washington Post (Washington, District of Columbia) · Newspapers.com

Though “Uncle Jack” may be a fictional embellishment in the article above, the shipwreck caused by the whale’s attack was very much real. It took place on November 20, 1820, and was only the beginning of the horrors faced by the crew of the foundered Essex. Twenty men divided themselves between three boats and deliberated on what should be done next. One boat was commanded by Captain Pollard, one by first mate Owen Chase, and the third by second mate Matthew Joy.

Lost at Sea

In a decision that will read as decidedly ironic to those who know the history, the crew decided against the shorter and easier route west to the Marquesas islands for fear of encountering cannibals. Instead they opted to travel east with hopes of reaching South America, though the journey would be twice as long, with currents and winds working against them.

After surviving nearly a month on the provisions they had hastily taken from the sinking Essex, all three boats landed on what they thought was Ducie Island. It didn’t take long to realize the island’s scant resources would not support them for long. They set sail again one week later, though three men opted to stay behind and take their chances on the island. Captain Pollard also left behind a letter with hopes that it would be sent on to his family if the men were recovered.

Three men remained on Ducie's Island (Essex disaster)Three men remained on Ducie’s Island (Essex disaster) Sun, Feb 27, 1916 – Page 65 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Dire Straits

This is where the details become especially grim.

The boat captained by Owen Chase was separated from the other two in a squall on January 11th. Two of the men on board perished in the days following; the first was slipped into the sea to rest, but the second was eaten by the starving men who remained. On February 18th Chase’s boat, containing three survivors, spotted a British vessel, the Indian.

Second boat picked up with three survivors (Essex disaster)Second boat picked up with three survivors (Essex disaster) Sat, Aug 4, 1821 – 2 · The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Western Countries and South Wales Advertiser (Bristol, Bristol, England) · Newspapers.com

The other two boats were separated from each other not long after. One, with three men still living, was never seen again. The second held Captain Pollard, his young cousin Owen Coffin, and two other crew members. With starvation a very real and looming threat, a difficult choice was made:

Owen Coffin killed to save the others (Essex disaster)Owen Coffin killed to save the others (Essex disaster) Sat, Sep 10, 1921 – 6 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

With the sustenance provided by Coffin and a second man who died a few days later, Pollard and the remaining crewman Charles Ramsdell survived long enough to be recovered by an American whaling ship, the Dauphin, on February 23, 1821.

On April 9th the three men who stayed on Ducie Island (which turned out to be Henderson Island) were recovered, still miraculously alive. Of the twenty men who had sailed away from the wreckage of the Essex, only eight survived. Owen Chase’s account of the experience would be the inspiration for Herman Melville’s famous American novel, along with many other stories and films.

Find more on this incredible piece of history with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Extra! Extra! Read all about The Atlanta Voice

To celebrate Black History Month, we’re pleased to add The Atlanta Voice to our newspaper archives. Founded in 1966, the paper originated with a goal to provide fair and credible coverage to the growing Civil Rights Movement. According to the paper’s motto: “A People Without A Voice Cannot Be Heard.” The Atlanta Voice is the largest audited African-American community newspaper in Georgia. It is a weekly publication, and our archives contain issues that date back to 1969.

The Civil Rights Movement took root in the fertile ground of Atlanta. As it did, The Atlanta Voice used its editorial voice to shine a light on injustice. For example, in this clipping, a local taxi company refused to hire African-American drivers simply because they just “hadn’t thought about it.” In another instance, the paper reported on realtors who discriminated against African-American home buyers that were suddenly told that a potential home was either no longer on the market or had suddenly jumped in price. In this 1969 clipping, a 40-year-old Atlanta man was fired from his job at a hospital after hospital officials learned his wife was black.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and a native Atlantan. His legacy is deeply intertwined with the history of the city. His assassination in 1968 created shock waves that rippled through Atlanta and across the world. On the 10th anniversary of his death, The Atlanta Voice poignantly noted that the most precious gift he left to African-Americans was a change in their minds and spirits.

That dramatic shift was manifest in 1973 when Atlanta elected its first black mayor. The Atlanta Voice chronicled Mayor Maynard Jackson’s sometimes uphill battle to govern the city even as he and other elected black officials faced harassment. In an effort to overhaul the police department which stood accused of discriminatory behavior towards black citizens, Mayor Jackson ousted police chief John Inman. A number of black citizens had been killed or injured under questionable circumstances during Inman’s watch, and many accused him of racism. The Atlanta Voice reported on the police department’s “Gestapo-type unit” that spied on politicians. In an effort to determine the source providing inflammatory information to the paper, Inman sent an undercover officer to work as a typesetter at The Voice. This infuriated many, particularly the black community. Mayor Jackson continued to press forward and was a force in changing racist behaviors. When Maynard Jackson died in 2003, he was eulogized as a trailblazer in a ceremony the likes of which Atlanta had not seen since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Atlanta Voice archives are a great place to search for clippings that pertain to your family tree. Did your family member sing in the church choir or serve in the military? News Briefs and society pages are another great place to see birth announcements, wedding announcements and learn about community events your family may have been a part of.

Dive into our archives today* to learn more about the people of Atlanta and the part they played in the historic Civil Rights Movement. Search Newspapers.com to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement today! 

*The Atlanta Voice requires a Publisher Extra subscription to search their archive

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The Atlanta Voice

To celebrate Black History Month, we’re pleased to add The Atlanta Voice to our newspaper archives. Founded in 1966, the paper originated with a goal to provide fair and credible coverage to the growing Civil Rights Movement. According to the paper’s motto: “A People Without A Voice Cannot Be Heard.” The Atlanta Voice is the largest audited African-American community newspaper in Georgia. It is a weekly publication, and our archives contain issues that date back to 1969.

The Civil Rights Movement took root in the fertile ground of Atlanta. As it did, The Atlanta Voice used its editorial voice to shine a light on injustice. For example, in this clipping, a local taxi company refused to hire African-American drivers simply because they just “hadn’t thought about it.” In another instance, the paper reported on realtors who discriminated against African-American home buyers that were suddenly told that a potential home was either no longer on the market or had suddenly jumped in price. In this 1969 clipping, a 40-year-old Atlanta man was fired from his job at a hospital after hospital officials learned his wife was black.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and a native Atlantan. His legacy is deeply intertwined with the history of the city. His assassination in 1968 created shock waves that rippled through Atlanta and across the world. On the 10th anniversary of his death, The Atlanta Voice poignantly noted that the most precious gift he left to African-Americans was a change in their minds and spirits.

That dramatic shift was manifest in 1973 when Atlanta elected its first black mayor. The Atlanta Voice chronicled Mayor Maynard Jackson’s sometimes uphill battle to govern the city even as he and other elected black officials faced harassment. In an effort to overhaul the police department which stood accused of discriminatory behavior towards black citizens, Mayor Jackson ousted police chief John Inman. A number of black citizens had been killed or injured under questionable circumstances during Inman’s watch, and many accused him of racism. The Atlanta Voice reported on the police department’s “Gestapo-type unit” that spied on politicians. In an effort to determine the source providing inflammatory information to the paper, Inman sent an undercover officer to work as a typesetter at The Voice. This infuriated many, particularly the black community. Mayor Jackson continued to press forward and was a force in changing racist behaviors. When Maynard Jackson died in 2003, he was eulogized as a trailblazer in a ceremony the likes of which Atlanta had not seen since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Atlanta Voice archives are a great place to search for clippings that pertain to your family tree. Did your family member sing in the church choir or serve in the military? News Briefs and society pages are a great place to see birth announcements, wedding announcements and learn about community events your family may have been a part of.

Dive into our archives today to learn more about the people of Atlanta and the part they played in the historic Civil Rights Movement. Start searching The Atlanta Voice archives today!

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Cato, King of Cats

From saving his owner’s life to waving goodbye on his deathbed, this “King of All the Cats” had quite the reputation. Cato must have been special to have earned this unofficial obituary:

Cato, King of CatsCato, King of Cats Wed, Jul 12, 1876 – 1 · The Crescent (Beaufort, South Carolina, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

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How Did Early Americans Celebrate Presidents’ Day?

Presidents’ Day isn’t a holiday that many Americans today associate with major celebrations. Though some parts of the country hold parades or other festivities, people are probably more likely to associate it with a day off school or big sales.

But this wasn’t always the case. What we now commonly call Presidents’ Day was, until fairly recently, a holiday to commemorate George Washington’s birthday. And it turns out that in America’s early days, it was one of the nation’s biggest national holidays!

Curious how Americans of centuries past observed Washington’s birthday? Historical newspapers have got you covered!

This article, for instance, describes a celebration of Washington’s birthday in 1784, when he was still alive.

“Early Honors to Washington” Sun, Feb 23, 1896 – Page 13 · The Times (Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com


Things apparently got pretty loud at celebrations of Washington’s birthday during President James Monroe’s administration (1817–1825):

“Great George’s Day; How Washington’s Birthday Was Celebrated of Old” Wed, Feb 22, 1888 – 7 · Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, New York, United States of America) · Newspapers.com


Boston’s first official public celebration of Washington’s birthday was reportedly in 1856. Luckily, the February weather cooperated because there was a lot planned for that day:

“Washington’s Birthday in Boston” Wed, Feb 21, 1900 – 5 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States of America) · Newspapers.com


However, this 1888 newspaper article documented what appeared to be a diminishing enthusiasm for celebrating our first president’s birthday in the late 19th century:

“Great George’s Day; How Washington’s Birthday Was Celebrated of Old” Wed, Feb 22, 1888 – 7 · Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, New York, United States of America) · Newspapers.com


Though the popularity of public celebrations for Washington’s birthday was declining, people still hosted private parties. These party ideas come from 1905, and colonial-themed accessories, cherries, and miniature hatchets were the order of the day:

“For Washington’s Birthday” Sun, Feb 19, 1905 – Page 36 · The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com


But perhaps one of the most persistent—and delicious—traditions associated with George Washington’s birthday is cherry pie, stemming from the legend of him chopping down a cherry tree as a youth: 

“Cherry Pie Is Good Reminder for Washington’s Birthday” Thu, Feb 23, 1950 – 11 · Republican and Herald (Pottsville, Pennsylvania, United States of America) · Newspapers.com


And cherry pie is a tradition that a lot of us can probably get behind. Happy birthday, George Washington! And Happy Presidents’ Day!

Learn more about George Washington’s birthday by searching Newspapers.com. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

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Bay Leaves on Your Pillow, and Other Love Spells

Happy Valentines Day! This day has its share of nay-sayers, and not without reason. Though some have more commercial concerns in mind, most find that lacking a significant other can really put a damper on a holiday centered around love. Such concerns are sprinkled throughout the papers, and with them come some rather unusual solutions. Some might call them superstitions, others call them spells. But all are said to be effective in leading you to love.

1. Scatter Something

The first method to snatching up a sweetheart involves hemp seed and, ideally, a church.

Valentine's Eve Hemp ScatteringValentine’s Eve Hemp Scattering Sun, Nov 25, 1900 – Page 21 · The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Jefferson, Kentucky, United States of America) · Newspapers.com Sowing and Harrowing Hemp SeedSowing and Harrowing Hemp Seed Sat, Oct 29, 1892 – 20 · The Graphic: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper (London, Greater London, England) · Newspapers.com

Lacking in hemp and/or churches? No problem. Just substitute hemp for barley and the church for an apple tree. You could even go for it on a different holiday, if you like:

Scatter Barley for your future husbandScatter Barley for your future husband Tue, Oct 20, 1896 – 3 · St. Albans Daily Messenger (Saint Albans, Vermont, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

2. Flower Power

It comes as no surprise that flowers can play a big role in matters of the heart. They have long been associated with Valentine’s Day, often gifted as a token of love. This is about love too…but it comes at it in a slightly different way.

Rose Leaves will name your loveRose Leaves will name your love Wed, Apr 23, 1884 – 7 · Gibson City Courier (Gibson City, Illinois, United States of America) · Newspapers.com Simple flower love spellSimple flower love spell Tue, Oct 20, 1896 – 3 · St. Albans Daily Messenger (Saint Albans, Vermont, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

3. Spookier Spells

The following method works in much the same way that many mirror tricks do—mostly with a lot of staring. But while often such things are associated with visions of spooky ghosts, this one shows you the face of your future love.

The looking glass, comb, and apple love spellThe looking glass, comb, and apple love spell Sat, Oct 29, 1892 – 20 · The Graphic: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper (London, Greater London, England) · Newspapers.com

If you’re really not into the sweeter stuff, there’s always Miss Hill’s somewhat morbid choice of spell. How she got hold of the man’s socks we may never know.

Socks in a new-made graveSocks in a new-made grave Fri, Jun 13, 1884 – Page 2 · The Shippensburg Chronicle (Shippensburg, Cumberland, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

4. Pillow Leaves

Finally, we end with the well-established and once-loved practice of pinning bay leaves to your pillow. A night’s rest with this set up would guarantee dreams of your sweetheart.

Valentine's Bay Leaves traditionValentine’s Bay Leaves tradition Sun, Feb 10, 1957 – 11 · News-Journal (Mansfield, Richland, Ohio, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Some pin the leaves at each corner of the pillow, with one directly in the middle, but Jody Berkey, below, has a more decorative approach.

Five bay leaves on your pillowFive bay leaves on your pillow Sun, Feb 10, 1957 – 11 · News-Journal (Mansfield, Richland, Ohio, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

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How Not to Fool the Police

Have you ever waited for a street car with thirteen moving boxes and a suitcase? Neither did this guy, but he certainly tried to make police think otherwise.

Robber's story: he was Robber’s story: he was “waiting for a street car” Fri, Feb 4, 1949 – Page 2 · Portland Press Herald (Portland, Cumberland, Maine) · Newspapers.com

Could his name be any more perfect? Imagine police opening Mr. Jewel Case’s boxes only to find…jewels!

Find more like this with a browse through the pages of Newspapers.com.

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