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Nauvoo Blacksmith Shop - George Brown

We had a great experience in Nauvoo, Illinois. Not only did we make some amazing family history discoveries on Kathy’s side of the family, but we were able to experience so many different trades relevant to the life of a frontier pioneer in the mid 1800’s.

One in particular was of most interest to us because of how it related to my ancestor George Brown. George Brown was a blacksmith in the 1800’s and after making this discovery it made our experience at the blacksmith shop in old Nauvoo so much more interesting. I felt like I could see into the past and understand what it must have really been like for my Great Great Grandpa Brown as a blacksmith. As someone who has owned his own small business for the past 13 years, I could see that in a lot of ways things haven’t changed very much in the last 150 years. I am sure that my great great grandfather had a lot of the same challenges running his business that I have had running mine. Customers must have wanted things done yesterday. I am sure that some of his customers probably paid very well, while some probably didn’t pay  at al. I’m sure that he had employees that needed to be trained and retrained to get the job done just right.

 I couldn’t help but wonder, while we were watching the blacksmithing demonstrations, what kind of a person he must have been. I wanted to know how he decided to become a blacksmith, was there someone in his life who influenced him to pursue this trade or did he discover at some point early in his life that he was good at the trade and so he stayed with it throughout the remainder of his life. This is what is so amazing about this trip and what is so amazing about doing family history. We make these insightful discoveries on Ancestry.com and then we can go out the next day and live a little in the life of that very ancestor. As I look back over the photos we have taken so far on this trip, I feel like a sponge that just wants to soak in as much as I possibly can. I am grateful for the example of George Brown and for the contribution he made to the lives of those in his community and family and now for the contribution he has made to my life. Thanks Grandpa George!

Ancestry.com would like to wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving! What are some of the things you are thankful for on this Thanksgiving day?

Ancestry.com would like to wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving! What are some of the things you are thankful for on this Thanksgiving day?


Descending from Evil: The Story of Herman Webster Mudgett

On the surface Herman Webster Mudgett seemed to be a productive member of society. Born and raised in the small state of New Hampshire, Herman turned his fascination with the human body into a career when he graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1884. Wealthy, well-educated and refined, the young doctor moved to Chicago where he became the owner of a drugstore, and eventually opened a hotel. Women were drawn to the handsome, finely-dressed and charismatic businessman.

He was a total lady-killer.

The 60-room hotel loomed over the Englewood suburb of Chicago, opening its doors shortly before the 1893 World’s Fair. Beneath the cover of a successful entrepreneur, Herman Webster Mudgett - better known as H.H. Holmes - designed the hotel with one thing in mind: murder. During construction, Holmes used several different contractors so that none of them would catch on to his monstrous plans. The hotel, or “Murder Castle,” came complete with stairways to nowhere, windowless rooms fitted with gas lines and body chutes used to drop his sedated victims down to the basement level.

Once in the underbelly of the castle, victims were subjected to real-life horrors that would make Dexter’s “Dark Passenger” sit up and take notice. The basement came complete with vats of acid, lime pits, an oven and a surgical table. It was here that Dr. H.H. Holmes, the living-breathing monster - worse than anything Hollywood could ever imagine - dissected his victims, selling their organs and skeletons to medical schools across the country.

Located just two miles away from the World’s Fair, H.H. Holmes had a steady flow of female victims to choose from and many times he profited off of more than just their bodies. It was while studying at the University of Michigan Medical School that he also became proficient in the art of insurance fraud. Holmes would regularly steal cadavers from the school, taking insurance policies out on the deceased. He would then disfigure the bodies to claim they had been killed in an accident so he could collect on the insurance. Later, with his living victims, Holmes would befriend and manipulate them into signing over power of attorney. Shortly after, the trusting victims would wake to find themselves in the basement of Holmes’ castle.

Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, America’s first serial killer, was eventually caught and hanged for his crimes on May 7, 1896, at Moyamensing prison in Philadelphia. Convicted of murder, he admitted to killing 27 people, but was believed to be guilty of up to 200 murders. Holmes was laid to rest in an unmarked grave, encased in 10 feet of cement at nearby Holy Cross Cemetery. After months of dominating newspaper headlines and redefining the nightmares of their readers, Herman Webster Mudgett was left to be forgotten.

Although H.H. Holmes has been dead and buried for over a century, his genes live on. At the end of his life, he was married to three different women and had an unknown number of mistresses and children.

When we set out looking to uncover the history of our families, most are excited and motivated by the thought of finding connections to war heroes, presidents, the Mayflower or even royalty. However, what we don’t consider is the fact we may unearth skeletons our family has been trying to keep hidden for generations.

This was the reality for Jeff Mudgett, author of “Bloodstains” and second great grandson of Herman Webster Mudgett. At the age of 40, Jeff learned of the monster he descends from, and it left him questioning everything he thought he knew about himself and his family. The new information forever changed him, propelling him down a new path in search of the truth.

However, diving into Holmes’ life only led him down a darker path; a path that could potentially solve the mystery of Jack the Ripper. In 2006, using 13 eyewitness accounts from 1888, Scotland Yard and the BBC had a computer composite made of the Ripper, and the similarities to Holmes are shocking. Along with the composite, Jeff had H.H. Holmes’ handwriting compared to the infamous Jack the Ripper letter. One expert, recommended by the British Library, concluded both were written by the “same hand,” while a computer program used by the Postal Service and Department of Justice stated it was a 97.95% match.

Jeff is currently investigating whether Holmes was in London during the Ripper, but in the mean time, the composite and handwriting samples can be viewed on his site at www.bloodstainsthebook.com. Could these two men be the same monster? Judge for yourself.

If you were faced with the reality of descending from a man like Holmes, how would you handle the information? Would you share it with your family or throw the skeleton back into the closet you found it in? History holds just as many villains as it does heroes, so would you have the guts to claim yours as publicly as Jeff has in his book?

If you want to learn more about H.H. Holmes, and hear how his descendants have coped with this, check out my new video blog “Claiming Your Villain” where Jeff Mudgett helps me tackle a question I often receive: “Are some family secrets better off forgotten?” He will also share how he’s grown from this experience, and gives others advice on how to handle their own dark discoveries.

Watch the interview with Jeff here:

By Kris Williams Twitter: KrisWilliams81

AncestryDNA: Now Available to Order Online

Great news, the new AncestryDNA test is available to order right now! Over the past several months, AncestryDNA was available by invitation only. We’ve sent out all of our invitations, and now the test is available to everyone—you’re all invited! All you have to do is go to the AncestryDNA site, click the orange “Get AncestryDNA” button, and order your test.

As a perk to our Ancestry.com subscribers, you can order AncestryDNA for a special price, so be sure to log in to your account when you get to the site. If you’re not a subscriber, you can choose to include a membership with your DNA test and save. The AncestryDNA test alone is amazing, but adding a subscription gives you access to the world’s largest online family history resource to take your DNA discoveries even further.

So, what is AncestryDNA? It’s the newest DNA test on Ancestry.com that uses some of the latest DNA testing technology out there. Now you can discover if you really do have Viking blood or if your ancestors hailed from Southern Europe. Along with getting a full breakdown of your genetic ethnicity, the new DNA test also connects you to distant cousins—relatives who you probably would have never met otherwise. It’s the easiest and fastest way to learn even more about your family story. Order yours today at AncestryDNA.com.

Learn how death records can add to your family story, explore the Ancestry.com Death Records to learn more.

Learn how death records can add to your family story, explore the Ancestry.com Death Records to learn more.

If you didn’t hear the news, we just added more than 18,000 yearbooks to our growing U.S. Yearbook Collection. The new additions, spanning 1806-2008, include schools across the United States, from junior highs and high schools to colleges and universities. You can browse this rich collection for a glimpse into relatives’, friends’ and celebrities’ past, from more formal class portraits to team photos and fun, candid shots. In total, the collection now stands at 53,000 yearbooks and approximately seven million images.