Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bits O' September

A slow September around here... and speaking of slow, both California and Texas have been uncharacteristically slow in responding to my latest request for birth certificates and death certificates. Hopefully something will arrive this weekend and we can get back to some analysis.

I tried's newest database of newspaper birth, marriage, and death announcements from selected major newspapers. These papers include the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, the Atlanta Constitution, the Hartford Courant, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Defender. The database supposedly has more than 30 million names from 1851 to 2003. I was fairly satisfied with the ease-of-use of the site, and it's interesting to see how different newspapers have over time treated birth, marriage, and death announcements. I must report, however, that I found no specific information relevant to my research; that's in part due to the limited coverage of the database. Hopefully it will be expanded at in the near future.

No doubt many readers have not heard of the Chicago Defender. Here's what Wikipedia says about it:

The Chicago Defender was the United States’ most influential black weekly newspaper by the beginning of World War I. The Defender was founded on May 5, 1905 by Robert S. Abbott with an investment of 25 cents and a press run of 300 copies. The first issues, which were created on the kitchen table of his landlord’s apartment, were four-page, six-column handbills and filled with news gathered by Abbott, as well as clippings from other, more established newspapers.

By 1910, Abbott was in a position to hire a full time employee and the Defender began to attain a national reputation. Using the yellow journalism techniques from other papers, the Defender began to attack racial injustice. The paper’s circulation was helped by Pullman porters and entertainers who distributed the newspaper south of the Mason-Dixon line. By 1917, more than two-thirds of the paper’s readership was outside of Chicago. It was the first black paper with a circulation over 100,000 and it is believed that as many as half a million people read the newspaper each week.

In the late teens, the Defender campaigned for blacks to migrate from the South to the North and was highly successful, tripling Chicago’s black population in just three years from 1916-1918. The Defender also attracted the writing talents of Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks.

And as I looked through the birth, marriage, and death announcements, I noticed that in the early years, the defender covered these events as they related to upperclass blacks in cities around the country. There are some very interesting stuff there. By the way, the Defender has gone through several changes of ownership and several changes in style and content. For my money the historical Defender was a much better organ than the current Defender.

A high school classmate cousin? That wouldn't be so startling for a lot of people, but I went to high school a couple of thousand miles from where any of my then-known cousins lived. Of course that was also a long time before I knew anything about genealogy. A couple of years ago, I discovered that a high school classmate of mine is married to a woman who sings in the church choir where I attend. We reconnected and I see him from time to time. I saw him last Sunday and for the first time it occurred to me that his surname exists in my genealogy file. I asked him a couple of preliminary questions and now I suspect he is one of my Bowie cousins. A little more work to do on this one; stay tuned.

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