Part 2: When History and Family History Intersect

In my last post I shared a fascinating newspaper tidbit from 1901 from the Jackson (Michigan) Patriot on my aunt Grace Desmond (1891-1972). It mentioned that she was a “child wonder” and “musical prodigy” at the age of 8 who had played on numerous occasions at the home of Carter Harrison II, Chicago’s mayor at the time.

Jackson  (Michigan) Patriot August 23, 1901

Jackson (Michigan) Patriot
August 23, 1901

It took me awhile to get past my astonishment at this unusual, yet true, story about a member of my own family whom I actually remember from my childhood.  Once I did though,  I went on to review some of the other news items on that same page which, as it turns out, proved to be equally fascinating, and clearly products of their historical time.

Take this, for instance, on the Baroness Burdett-Coutts of England:

Second Lady

courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Baroness Burdett-Coutts of England in her younger days. (Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery. Washington, D.C.)





Don’t you just love that last line? She was acquainted with William IV (an ancestor, no doubt); was a friend of Dickens (I’m presuming  British author, Charles Dickens); and expended over $1,000,000 in charity. (That’s a lot of  bucks in 1901!)

Elsewhere on the page with Aunt Grace’s mention is this bit of royal gossip related to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and her hubby who wed earlier that year.  Seems the queen-mother was none too happy with her new son-in-law’s spending habits:

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands on her wedding day, 7 February 1901

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands on her wedding day, 7 February 1901







And how about this for all you female meteorologists out there today?  You can thank Mrs. L. H. Grenewald for paving the way for you. (It’s a shame we don’t know her first name, however.)

meteorologistIt also seems that despite her renown in the “scientific circles of Europe,” her credentials as President of the Woman’s National Science Club, and her overall experience in the field of meteorology, her beloved manages to show up in this news item as  sheriff of  York County, PA after the Civil War.  (Ahem…and what’s that got to do with her accomplishments?!)

My favorite news item on this page, however, is the  following.  It manages to combine  details on the resignation of Mrs. Marguerite Coleman, a 27-year veteran of the Treasury Department, with how she personally saved the life of  William H. Seward (President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State), on the fateful day Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.  It then winds up tossing in a little harmless nepotism at the end of the story when it indicates Mrs. Coleman’s position would be filled by her very own niece.

William H. Seward, Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln (Courtesy of  Google Images)

William H. Seward,  (1801-1872) Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln (Courtesy of Google Images)











And I was impressed with Aunt Grace–the  child wonder and musical prodigy–who entertained at the home of  a Chicago mayor at the turn of the last century. Amazing what else you can find in those old newspaper clippings to put your ancestor’s story into context!


 Copyright © 2014 Patricia Desmond Biallas

This entry was posted in American History, Biographies, Civil War, Family Legends and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Part 2: When History and Family History Intersect

  1. Lorene says:

    Wonder how that worked out for the prince…..
    Thanks Pat!

  2. I’m reading old small town newspapers in preparation for writing a small book. The newspaper has 4 pages of national news in it every week. I particularly loved the article about the death of Mary Todd Lincoln, written with sympathy and respect. There have been other fascinating stories, too. Reading about those past events before they were history is just fascinating.

  3. Meg Biallas says:

    Mom, I love how you really found the finer details within these newspaper clippings! Can’t wait to hear more about it when I’m home next week! XoXo.

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