newspaper, holocaust, history,

What did Americans know as the Holocaust unfolded? Quite a lot, it turns out.

How much do we really know about events as they are unfolding? We wouldn’t miss another Holocaust, would we?

When I read the news, I’m aware that I’m only seeing what is being reported, and not necessarily all there is to see. In the age of a quickly moving, socially connected digital media, I sometimes learn about major world events via a friend’s feed with a link to a news source I hadn’t seen, and sometimes to an international site or even a small, hyper-local blog.

The following Washington Post article asks how much did the average, news reading American know about the Holocaust as it was happening. In a new, collaborative history project newspaper research is crowdsourced to cover more ground and involve a variety of sources.

Those of you familiar with the use of newspapers in family history research may want to check our this project as well, if you want to do some sleuthing on a different topic.

The following article, What did Americans know as the Holocaust unfolded? Quite a lot, it turns out, is written by Tara Bahrampour, who you can follow here on Twitter.

Growing up in Lowell, Mass., in the 1950s and ’60s, Andrea Hoffman learned about the Holocaust at Hebrew school and later married into a family that included Holocaust survivors. Along the way, certain questions haunted her.

“I’ve always wondered what people knew. When did they know it? How did they know it?” said Hoffman, 65. Her mother had been a teenager in Boston during the war but had not paid much attention to the persecution of Jews in Europe at the time, and Hoffman was curious to know how aware her mother and others in the United States would have been.

So a couple of months ago, when she saw a newspaper ad about a new project encouraging “citizen historians” to investigate American newspapers’ accounts of Holocaust, she dived in.
The project, History Unfolded, is an initiative of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is using crowdsourcing to scour newspapers across the country for articles that ran between 1933 and 1945 on the plight of Europe’s Jews.

As it turns out, there were a lot of them. Since the project was launched in full in February, the museum has received 1,030 submissions from articles published in 46 states and the District. So far, 610 people have signed up, including 32 teachers working on the project with their students.‬


A section of the Nov. 11, 1938, front page of the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va. (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star). Image via original article on

Although historians have studied the U.S. media’s take on the Holocaust, much of the investigation was done before the Internet and crowdsourcing widened the range of what was possible.

“Nobody has done this research, looking at so many papers in the 1930s and ’40s and seeing what the average American citizen would have been reading,” said Elissa Frankle, the museum’s digital projects coordinator. “If you live in that town, it’s going to be a lot easier for you to see than for us and to engage with primary sources.”

The museum selected 20 events related to the Holocaust in general or in relation to the United States’ involvement — for example, the opening of the Dachau concentration camp in 1933, the failure of a child refugee bill in the U.S. Congress in 1939, and Charles Lindbergh’s 1941 speech accusing President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the British and Jews of pushing the country toward war.
An exhibit planned for spring 2018 will incorporate the project’s findings, which will remain available online for researchers. By then the museum hopes to have material from 50 percent of the newspapers that were in circulation in 1940 and engage a fifth of the nation’s high school history classes — around 240,000 students.

“It helps teach young people that history is not just memorizing facts and dates,” said Aleisa Fishman, a historian at the museum. “It’s sort of a mystery that you have to solve, and you have to go looking for stuff.”

Jennifer Goss, a high school history teacher in Staunton, Va., said her students immediately took to the quaint format. “They thought it was so neat to go to the library and use microfilm,” she said.

They were also excited to see their community against the backdrop of major historical events. Their local paper, Staunton News Leader, had reported on nearby German POW camps, and the students spoke with people who remembered seeing German officers doing work around town.
“They don’t feel like Staunton’s a hub of world affairs, so they thought it was interesting that the government would have chosen to put those camps there,” Goss said.

Perhaps because they live in an age of unremitting information, her students overestimated how much material would be available. “Looking at it from a present-day lens, they’re like, ‘Oh, this is so important,’ ” she said. “Some of them were kind of frustrated that there wasn’t more.”

But others were shocked to see how much news had been printed on the Holocaust.

“My prevailing notion about this period in time was that a lot of what had happened with the Nazis during the ’30s and ’40s was not that well-known,” said Sandi Auerbach, 62, a retired IBM financial manager in Somers, N.Y., who is a member of the museum and has contributed more than two dozen articles to the project.

“I am amazed, quite frankly, at the coverage that there was in a lot of different papers,” Auerbach said. “For example, in 1933 there was a huge rally in Madison Square Garden with 20,000 people in attendance to protest the persecution of Jews in Germany. . . . The sad thing is that, given all that publicity, still the Holocaust happened.”
Tayte Patton, 17, whose English class in Lexington, Ky., is participating, said he was shocked at the United States’ inaction. “I never knew that we didn’t want to let Jews into the country,” he said. “I always thought that we would let anyone in, that we would be a refuge for the Jews.”

The research includes dailies and weeklies, African American newspapers, college papers, and U.S. papers in Yiddish, Spanish and other languages. Holocaust-related news sometimes made the front page, but small publications often printed it inside the paper.

However, a local connection might cause a paper to run a story more prominently. For example, when the SS Quanza, carrying hundreds of Jewish refugees from Portugal, was denied entry to Mexico in 1940 and docked in Norfolk for supplies, the Virginian-Pilot covered it. (The stranded travelers were eventually issued U.S. visas after Eleanor Roosevelt intervened on their behalf.)

Contributors say they have been struck by detailed accounts of the Nazis’ persecution and slaughter of Jews, along with a wide range of American opinions on whether to act on it.

But not all Americans got a chance to read what was in the papers, Frankle said, describing her conversations with people who were alive at the time. “They were saying, ‘Who had the ability to buy a paper? We were just trying to buy bread.’ ”

Even circulation figures do not tell the whole story, as family members and neighbors might have passed a single newspaper around.

Alex Adams, 72, a retired computer software developer in Marlton, N.J., who volunteers once a month at the museum, has focused on small papers from Montana, where he grew up in a town called Big Timber.

“There are dozens that don’t have anything,” he said, noting that front-page stories tended to focus on “wheat prices and fights over right of way on their property and Fourth of July picnics and such.” But in three papers he has found stories on subjects such as boycotts of Jewish businesses and discussions about what to do with the Jews.
Even coming up empty-handed is a contribution, showing that readers of certain papers would have had less exposure to what was happening, said David Klevan, the museum’s educational outreach specialist. “We’re asking folks to do real research, and a big part of real research is finding nothing.”

Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory University history professor and museum board member who wrote “Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933-1945,” applauded the idea of engaging non-specialists to do history research.

“What could be better for a high school student than saying, ‘I’m not just doing a research project; what I’m finding could have implications [for] what’s being presented at the Holocaust Museum,” she said. “The question is if they come up with conclusions that are different from what the historians have always believed, that will be a moment of crisis [as to] how we’re going to work that out.”

Several contributors noted a clear connection between the events of the 1930s and ’40s and current affairs.

“These things that we’re hearing, with people against immigration and congressmen standing up and speaking against it, it’s exactly the arguments that we’re hearing now, and that’s been astonishing to read,” said Hoffman, who is also a volunteer at the museum and has been focusing on the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va.

Goss said her students echoed that thought.

“Especially since we got to this project right around the time of the Syrian refugee crisis, they drew tremendous connections,” she said. “One student said, today, human rights violations and refugees are in her opinion much more in the news and that today no one has an excuse not to know.”

The original article link appears here in full:

Images via the original article on

history for genealogists, 19th century sports

New Book Release: History for Genealogists

The recently updated and rereleased History for Genealogists—Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors is a rare bird for genealogists: it’s one of the very few history books in print that is written for genealogists

As the subtitle to the 2016 expanded and revised edition of Judy Jacobson’s best-selling book indicates, this sought after book contains scores of historical chronologies that genealogists can access in order to place their ancestors in time and place. As Judy puts it, “Genealogy lays the foundation to understand a person or family using tangible evidence. Yet history also lays the foundation to understand why individuals and societies behave the way they do. It provides the building materials needed to understand the human condition and provide an identity, be it for an individual or a group or an institution.”

That said, we would not want readers to overlook the many valuable narrative elements contained in History for Genealogists. For example, the chapter on new arrivals to America contains a number of important tables showing 19th-century migration patterns. Similarly the new chapter on “Fashion and Leisure,” prepared by Denise Larson – who you may remember as the author behind Companions of Champlain: Founding Families of Quebec, 1608-1635or for her posts here on Maine genealogy or Canadian genealogy – discusses the 19th-century relationship between the growth of amateur sports and recreational swimming and the time constraints imposed upon workers by the industrial revolution.

One of the most fascinating chapters in the new edition is entitled “Even Harder to Find Missing Persons.”  Here Mrs. Jacobson tackles such thorny genealogical problems as finding slave ancestors, origins of the “Orphan Train” riders, record challenges created by boundary changes, and the matter of isolated societies. By “isolated societies” Jacobson is referring to groups such as the Mellungeons of Appalachian Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina; the “Cajans” of the Spanish frontier of Alabama; the Lumbees or Croatans of North Carolina; the Nanticokes of southeastern Delaware and others. Most of these groups possess mysterious origins and a number of them are mixed-race in make-up. According to Jacobson, as many as 200 multiracial groups of isolated societies could exist in the U.S., and for reasons that should be obvious, delving into the ancestry of any one of them could require the skills of a Sherlock Holmes.

So, whether you want to know when gold was discovered in Bannock City, Montana, when the first Scots Highlanders arrived in North Carolina, how to create a time line of your own or where do you turn when your ancestor lived in a “ghost town,” History for Genealogists may be the book you have been waiting for.

Image credit: Cricket, 1883 team, group photograph via the University of Pennsylvania Archives, Penn Library. Permanent link

CU Heritage image

Evidence Explained: An Interview with Elizabeth Shown Mills

Dipping into the Genealogy Pointers archives, we unearthed a fascinating interview with Elizabeth Shown Mills, author of “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.”

As one of the most respected and influential persons in American genealogy, Published widely in academic and popular presses, she was editor of the “National Genealogical Society Quarterly” (NGSQ) for 16 years.

Mrs. Mills has also taught for 13 years at a National Archives-based institute on archival records and, for 20 years, headed the program in advanced research methodology at Samford University in Alabama.

Mrs. Mills knows records, loves records, and regularly shares her expertise in them with audiences across three continents.

“EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” is Elizabeth Mills’ third major publication pertaining to source citation. Her earlier works include: “EVIDENCE! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian” (1997) and “QUICKSHEET: Citing Online Historical Resources “Evidence!” Style” (2005). The groundbreaking “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” analyses citation principals and includes more than 1,000 citation models for virtually every source type. In the process, it covers all contemporary and electronic history sources–including digital, audio, and video sources–most of which are still not discussed in traditional style manuals.

“Genealogy Pointers” spoke with Mrs. Mills about the making “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” and how researchers can benefit from it. Here are the exchanges from that conversation:

GENEALOGY POINTERS (GP): Why did you write this book?

ELIZABETH SHOWN MILLS (ESM): Researchers need help and want help, but what they need today is not available elsewhere. Those who study history now probe far beyond the materials covered by standard citation guides–combing long-ignored original, grassroots-level records for fresh insight into our world. Thanks to modern technology, billions of these original records are now easily accessible through many different media. However, today’s researchers also know two things: First, all these records are not created equal. Second, the real reason to carefully identify sources for each piece of information is to ensure that we use the best sources possible. Otherwise, we just can’t reach reliable conclusions. Analyzing evidence is no easy task, considering the volume of information available, the diversity of the records, all the quirks within each type of document, and all the media formats.

Since the 1997 publication of the original “briefcase edition” of “EVIDENCE!” (which compactly covers 100 of the most common types of history sources), researchers have deluged me with questions about thousands of other materials. I definitely understand their angst, after three decades of my own research in the archives of most western nations, as well as writing for journals and presses in several academic fields and 16 years of editing a major scholarly journal. The new “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” draws on that experience–but it’s also rooted in four file drawers of inquiries and debates generated by the users of that first edition.

Continue reading…


We’re all family. Cousins, actually

When we remember that we’re a part of the greater human family, will we be nicer to each other? Maybe, but hopefully we will at least remember to look beyond what we think we know.

Elizabeth Shown Mills is a historical writer who has spent her life studying Southern culture and the relationships between people—emotional as well as genetic. She is an accomplished researcher and writer, having her work published widely by both academic and popular press. Mrs. Mills has also taught for 13 years at a National Archives-based institute on archival records and, for 20 years, headed the program in advanced research methodology at Samford University in Alabama.

In We Are All Cousins, a brief video produced by National Genealogical Society, Mrs. Mills discusses her own family history and the richness that can be found with the realization of our own interconnectedness. She stresses the importance of not limiting ourselves to the ethnic and religious groups we believe we belong to exclusively, as our histories are often more complex and interwoven.

Photo Credit: Samford University