Archive | Family History

This blog is about family history / genealogy. From the beginning of time, people have sensed a need to belong – to be connected with others. Genealogy is a unique and personalized form of history, transferring photos, documents, medals, personal letters, and oral history from one generation to the next.
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Independence Day

Thomas MacEntee of High Definition Genealogy investigates the origins of Independence Day and how our families have celebrated the holiday.
Patriotic family

Recently, I went through some old photos of my family celebrating Independence Day and it was interesting to see some of the same traditions from past generations still hold true today. Naturally I had to do some research as to how some traditions got started and why we mark this national holiday in certain ways.

The Declaration of Independence – Read Wide and True

The first printing of the Declaration of Independence was made late in the afternoon on Thursday, July 4, 1776 by a local Philadelphia printer. Since the Continental Congress had mandated that proclamations of the document be made throughout the nation, copies were dispersed on horseback to each colony. While the Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote (German language) newspaper was the first newspaper to announce news of our nation’s independence, it was the Philadelphia Evening Post, which printed the declaration in full on July 6, 1776.

When Was the First Independence Day Celebration?

The first celebration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776 was a year later in Philadelphia, the same city where the congress was held. Festivities included music, parades and fireworks. The first official recognition of Independence Day as a holiday was by the Massachusetts legislature in 1781. The oldest continuous Fourth of July celebration is in Bristol, Rhode Island, where it has been held since 1785.
It wasn’t until 1870 that Congress made July 4 of each year a national holiday to recognize the start of this nation. And in 1941, it became a paid holiday for all federal government employees.

July 2 – The Real Independence Day?

Did you know that originally there was quite the controversy over which day to celebrate our nation’s independence? The original resolution put forth in the Continental Congress by Richard Henry Lee, the delegate from Virginia, was adopted on July 2, 1776. It was that same day that John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”

Adams was so adamant as to the “correct” date for celebration that he supposedly refused to attend events related to our nation’s independence if they fell on July 4. Ironically, he and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826.

United States Flag as Photo Identifier

Many of the old photos of your family marking the Fourth mostly likely show them holding small flags or have flags displayed. If you know the history of our country’s flag, and when the configuration of stars was changed, you have a handy clue to help you date a photo.

Visit the Flag Timeline at and you’ll see that the U.S. flag had 45 stars as of 1896 (when Utah became a state on January 4)and then had 46 stars after November 16, 1907 (when Oklahoma became a state).

It isn’t always easy to count the stars due to folds etc., but look at how the edges of the field are laid out and there is a difference between the versions. Also keep in mind that although some families didn’t replace their flags right away, you’ll at least know that a 46 star flag had to be after 1907, etc.

Fourth of July Ephemera and Memorabilia

As you sift through your family archives and mementos, you may come across a variety of items related to the Fourth of July: old photos, postcards, programs for concerts and readings of the Declaration of Independence.

These items offer a glimpse at how our families celebrated this holiday in years gone by. Look closely at what people wore, what activities they attended and, if you’re lucky enough to find letters and diaries, how they felt about the holiday. Many of these items are easy to scan using the Flip-Pal mobile scanner and the digital images can be incorporated into your family history research.

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No matter how you choose to celebrate this year, capture those memories through photos, stories and writing. Preserve a snapshot of how you and your family mark this, and other holidays, so future generations can better understand the importance of Independence Day.


Preserving Military Memories

[Editor’s note: Genealogy expert Thomas MacEntee of High-Definition Genealogy shares his family’s own story of a World War II era veteran and a condolence certificate signed by President Harry Truman.]

mccrickertmatthewcertificateSeveral years ago, I came upon a variety of family photos and documents when cleaning out my mother’s house in New York. Many of these items belonged to my great-grandmother, Therese McGinnes, who passed away in 1988 and some to my great aunt, Ethel McCrickert, who passed in 2002. Among the items was a Certificate of Condolence signed by President Harry S. Truman.

For me, this item has always been a mystery and I knew it held an interesting story related to my family. But with my older relatives now gone, I had no one to ask about the item and its importance. My search was on…”

Condolence Certificates

The certificate reads:

In grateful memory of Corporal Matthew T. McCrickert who died in the service of his country in the American Area, June 11, 1946. He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live and grow, and increase its blessings. Freedom lives, and through it, he lives—in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.

Harry Truman
President of the United States of America

My first point of research was to determine “what I had” in terms of this item. What I’ve determined is that this document, measuring about 14 x 11,” was sent to the family of a United States military service member killed in action during World War II. The document was signed by President Truman and as far as I can tell, the signature is authentic and not from an auto pen. Although Truman was the first President to regularly use an autopen (which is an automated way of signing thousands of documents), such use was restricted to basic correspondence, not something as important as a condolence certificate.

Scanning the Condolence Card

Before I started my research I wanted to scan the condolence card, so I had a digital image to work with and I wouldn’t damage the original. I used my Flip-Pal mobile scanner and removed the top to scan the document in sections.


After scanning 15 different sections, I was ready to open the Toolbox folder and use the Flip-Pal EasyStitch program to stitch all sections together into one image. The entire process took about 10 minutes from start to finish.

The Search for U.S. Army Veteran Matthew McCrickert

In my search I also found a funeral card for Matthew McCrickert in the same box of possessions. It had basic birth and death information as well as a photo of a young man whose life held such promise but ended at a very early age.


My mother cared for Ethel McCrickert Macari Hannan for several years towards the end of her life and Matthew was her only brother, but she never talked much about him. My goal was to learn more about Matt and how he actually died and what the loss meant to his immediate family.

I explored all possible avenues based on the information I had:

1. A death date

2. Bits and pieces of a family story about a plane crash

However, I lacked important information, including where the crash took place.

News Stories: A Fatal Plane Crash in Freehold, New Jersey

My first research step was to search for “Matthew McCrickert” with the year 1946, the year he died. No results. Next, I moved on to a date range of June 1-15, 1946 and added terms such as plane crash.

A glance at a newspaper from upstate New York—the Kingston Daily Freeman—revealed the date and location of a crash in Freehold, New Jersey involving a military plane. While Matt was not listed as a victim of the crash, the story in the newspaper fit with what I had been told by family members.


Further research located another newspaper article, this time in the Middletown Times Herald. This article held an important clue: bad weather along the Eastern Seaboard due to a series of violent storms.




A Precious Document and A More Complete Story

While I don’t yet have all the pieces to this family mystery, my motivation to learn more about my cousin Matt motivated me to preserve the condolence card, which holds great value to my family.

Over time, as I find more information, I can use the images created using the Flip-Pal mobile scanner and my research to fully tell the story of Corporal Matthew T. McCrickert and his service to his country

Using Newspapers in Genealogy Research

newspapersArticle by

Newspapers have been around for centuries and are a wonderful tool for genealogy research. The very first newspaper ever printed in America was edited and published by none other than Benjamin Franklin’s older brother James. Before that, European nations printed weekly or monthly gazettes and other publically distributed publications, each with their own unique terms and wording. Newspapers have always helped to document everything from birth announcements and deaths to weddings, local gossip, legal notices, and transfers of real estate. We might even be able to find some long lost photos of family relatives hidden within their pages.

Obituaries and Deaths

Although death notices are usually published rather quickly in today’s newspapers, this was not always the case. In newspapers of centuries past, it is not uncommon to find an obituary printed in a local paper several weeks after the funeral has actually occurred. Be patient and keep looking because obituaries can provide a massive amount of historical information, including names of siblings, sons, daughters, and parents as well as the date and location of birth, any records of military service, the relative’s occupation, the location of the burial site, and even the church in which the funeral was held.

Birth Announcements

Birth announcements and christenings did not begin to appear in newspapers until the 20th century, but one of the more important pieces of information that we can find might include the legal or “real” names of the person who we are researching.   There are times when one of our relatives might have been known to members of the family by their middle name or a nickname that is completely different from the name on their birth certificate. If you are having trouble finding historical information on a particular member of your family tree, locating the birth announcement may prove that you have actually been unknowingly researching for the wrong name all along.

Society News, Weddings, and Local Gossip

Many local newspapers printed prior to the 1850’s might not include a designated section for wedding announcements like we have today. Instead, some of this information might be hidden within the local society news stories. Silver and golden wedding anniversaries might also be posted as well as brief mentions of relatives applying for marriage licenses. Prior to the Civil War, there may be stories of runaway slaves, forced land sales, and people moving to another town. There can even be stories of school activities that can provide some value information or photos of our relatives as young children, or we might find news stories of military heroes returning from war.

Odd Definitions of Relationship Terms

When our genealogy research begins taking us back to the late 17th or early 18th centuries, we might begin to notice some rather odd terminology used in the newspaper articles.

  • Bans or Banns: This is an old term used to define a marriage. A Banns Proclamation was a type of matrimonial announcement that would typically run in the newspaper for three weeks, every Sunday, prior to the actual wedding ceremony. It is still used today in some countries.
  • Consort or Relict: These are other antiquated terms for the husband or wife left behind after the death of a spouse. You might also find the words “spinster” or “bachelor”, referring to an unmarried woman or man, respectively.
  • Instant: This is a term used to define an event that was taking place in the current month of the newspaper’s publication. For example, the story might read, “Margaret Smith died on the 8th instant from tuberculosis.”
  • Proximo: This is a term used to define an event that was taking place a month in the future or next month. An example might be, “The wedding of Ted and Mary will take place on the 10th
  • Ultimo: This is a term used to define an event that was took place a month before the newspaper was published. An example might be, “Jones Mercantile opened its doors for business on the 26th

Managing the Newspaper Articles

Locating these newspaper articles and clippings is going to be difficult enough, but what do we do with them once we find them? After all, we probably don’t want to take a pair of scissors to these old documents, many of which will be found in libraries and county clerks’ offices. We could make photocopies, if we can actually find a Xerox machine nearby, that is.


Click image to watch video of scanning a newspaper article with stitching

The Flip-Pal mobile scanner is ideal for gently scanning those fragile news articles, death and birth certificates, marriage licenses, deeds of ownership, tax records, and old personal photos. The high-resolution scans will have perfect detail. And, any size original can be scanned in sections and then reassembled with the EasyStitch software. Watch this video to learn more.

Enjoy sifting through the wealth of information for genealogy research in newspaper articles!



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