Monday, 25 April 2011

A Corner in Ancestors

Do the names Eleanor Lexington or Francis Cowles mean anything to you? They would if you were into family history in the first two decades of the 20th century in the US, or a casual reader of one of a string of newspapers. The "A Corner in Ancestors" column was the "Who Do You Think You Are?" of its day inviting readers into a corner of the world of family history.

The columns were a weekly feature in many US newspapers. Stories profiled a particular surname typically giving the origin, mentioned immigrants in the US colonial period, and often tracing or attempting to trace back to the British Isles. Historical notables carrying the name were sure to be included. In the later period of the run there was also often a social network section, then it was called "To Correspondents," as in this example from the 2 January 1916 Syracuse Herald.

Here are some examples published under Eleanor Lexington's byline from through Google News Archive Search: Drake, FreemanGrantHolmes, HortonJohnsonLaw, LawrenceLewisMeadMorgan, OakesPrattRidleySavageScottSmith, Wallace

At first the column had no running title. Only later does Eleanor Lexington appear to have adopted "A Corner in Ancestors," subsequently taken over by Francis Cowles. Some of his articles are: BatesBlakeBurwellCalvertCareyKingSwift, Worthington.

Many more can be read through Google News Archive Search on a pay-per-view basis. There is also a compilation of some of Eleanor Lexington's work, Colonial Families of America, published under her real name Frances M. Smith.  In all of these watch out for the qualifying phrases such as "Tradition has it", "probably", "may be," and notice the temporal discontinuities between, likely, unrelated individuals for whom records happen to have survived.

If you clicked one or more of the above names, perhaps because it's in your family tree, you will have demonstrated why these columns had a long run. If you actually read one you'll appreciate that although they may be amusing in small doses the value for an individual's family history is marginal.

No comments: