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The Titanic: Last Port of Call

One of the best parts about my job is how often I come in contact with historic locations. Most of these places I never dreamed I’d be fortunate enough to see outside the pages of a history book. Twice, in the last five years, I have had the opportunity to work with artifacts and locations that were directly linked to the Titanic. My first experience with this infamous ship came when I was brought in to work with artifacts that were recovered from the wreck. These pieces, collected from the ocean floor, were believed to be haunted by those who died in the disaster. I will be the first to say that I nerded out a bit over the opportunity. My second encounter with the Titanic came when I was sent to a little seaport town called Cove for work.

In November of 2010, I had found myself in southern Ireland boarding a small fishing boat. We were headed out to work for the night on an island just off the coast of Cove. Once aboard, I noticed this old, rotting pier that jetted out into the water in front of a yellow, weather-beaten building. This building displayed a sign that read, “Titanic Bar Restaurant” and sat adjacent to our pier. After asking one of the locals with us, I learned that Cove, once known as Queenstown, was the last port of call for the Titanic.

On April 11, 1912, 123 passengers used that old, rotting pier to board the Titanic before it headed out for its ill-fated, maiden voyage. Three days later, just before midnight on April 14, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Within a few hours, in the early morning of April 15, this enormous ship sank, taking with it 1,517 out of the 2,228 lives on board. Out of the 123 passengers who boarded in Cove, only 44 would survive.

A century later, the Titanic is still considered one of the greatest maritime disasters in history. We all know about the disaster and the number of people who died, but who were the men, women and children that made up those figures? With help from the new Titanic Collection on Ancestry.com, we are now able to get a better look at who these passengers and crewmembers were. Through this collection of scanned original passenger lists, crew records, fatality reports and coroner’s records the passengers become more then just a number. Becoming aware of the passengers personal details makes this event less about cold statistics. It makes us turn our attention to what made the Titanic such a historic tragedy; the large loss of life.

I will never forget the sadness I felt while looking at that timeworn pier in Cove. I could imagine the people waiting, excited to board the enormous luxury liner that was believed to be unsinkable. The whole town must have turned out; thrilled to welcome this massive history making ship to their seaport. I also found it difficult to shake the eerie feeling I got as we set out on our little boat. For some, on April 11, 1912, this same colorful seaport skyline would be the last town they’d set their feet and eyes on.

By Kris Williams
Twitter: @KrisWilliams81

Kris Williams Discusses the Importance of the 1940 U.S. Census

Kris Williams: The Importance of the 1940 U.S. Census

We should all be aware of what took place in our country leading up to the 1940 census and what followed shortly after. Our country had experienced many ups and downs in just a short span of time. From the prosperity of the roaring 20’s till its end in 1929 with the crash of the stock market; resulting in The Great Depression. To the rise of organized crime in 1920 due to prohibition; till it’s end in 1933 with the 21st Amendment. Following end of prohibition, there was the Golden Age of Hollywood that made “stars” out of gangsters. Radio was the main source of news and entertainment, like today’s Internet. The airwaves were dominated by popular radio shows, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller and The Andrews Sisters.

In Europe, the rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler were tearing countries and families apart. The United States tried to remain distant from the war in Europe. However, it became unavoidable with the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in 1941. While the Great Depression taught people to make due and save, WWII sent our young men off to war and changed women’s roles in society forever.

I have always found the 1930’s -1940’s to be one of the most fascinating times in our history. There was so much life altering change, in such a short amount of time, it touched everyone. How were all of these events affecting the everyday American? More importantly, how did they affect your family?

The 1940 census is the first census to be released in the last 10 years. What is different about this census is the amount of information that is included in it. For starters, it shows who in the family filled it out, people living in the household and those who were not home when it was taken. Other details it covers are-the highest level of education completed, employment, income, and where they resided 5 years before in 1935. Along with the standard information, sampling techniques were added to the 1940 census. 1 in 20 people were asked to answer 14 additional questions, which included literacy, income and fertility. So much information was included that 72 years ago when it was put out, there were moves by organizations and senators to have it boycotted completely.

The most fascinating part to me about the 1940 census is that many who were included in it, are still alive today. My grandparents were in their late teens or early twenties when it was taken; for you it may have been your parents who were. Getting a better understanding of the time period that shaped them, will give us a better understanding of how its directly affected the people we are today. The 1940 census can not only tell us about the state our country was in as a whole, but it is also a glimpse at what life was like for our parents or grandparents.

Kris Williams, an Ancestry.com user and genealogy fan since she was just 11 years-old, talks about one of her first experiences with the paranormal while doing some genealogy work in an old graveyard.

Kris Williams: How I Got Started in Genealogy

“My life not availeth me in comparison to the liberty of the truth”

When I was 11 years old and in the 4th grade, I had a teacher who was obsessed with genealogy. She would regularly come in and tell my class about the new things she had found through her research. Eventually, as a graded project, she had us go home and start our own family tree. She gave us some pointers on how to get started and gave us two weeks to see what we could find. I still wonder if she had any idea the monster she created when she gave me that assignment.

Being as young as I was, I couldn’t drive to town halls and the internet wasn’t around like it is today. So, most of my research was done through phone calls and visits with my grandparents.  During those conversations and visits, I learned about my great grandfather who was born in Italy and another who was born in Nova Scotia. I also learned that I came from a line of strong willed women. One of which, who’s story was so interesting, caught the attention of this history loving nerd and is responsible for my obsession with genealogy.

Mary Dyer was one of several women my grandmother (my Dad’s mother) had told me about. At the time, all she could tell me was Mary was hanged for being a witch in Boston. She was unable to tell me how we were related to her, however she said that her mother used to have a family bible that outlined the connection. She also told me that the tree Mary had been hanged from had been cut down and from it; plaques were made and given to descendants. My great grandmother had one of these plaques. However, when my great grandmother died, the bible and the plaque were two of several things that disappeared from her house. Due to my own curiosity and wanting to solve the puzzle for my grandmother; it then became my goal to track down my family’s connection to Mary Dyer.

Mary Dyer came over to Boston in the 1630’s from England with her husband William. Together they had several children and were very active within the small community. Along the way she made friends with another strong willed woman, Anne Hutchinson. Anne Hutchinson was known for holding her own religious meetings and had a good following. Since it was uncommon for women at that time, Anne became a target and was eventually banished to Rhode Island with her family. During that time, Mary had become a Quaker. Quakers were very unpopular in Boston which was lead by Puritans. Some of the local leaders disliked Mary and her religion so much, when she gave birth to a stillborn baby they spread rumors about it being badly deformed. They said that it had horns and scales and that it was obviously the outcome of her dealings with the devil. These leaders labeled her as a witch and decided to banish her from the city.

Although she was banished she returned to Boston to bring clothing and food to other imprisoned Quakers. When she was caught, they were going to have her hanged until her husband was able to get her released under the condition he swore they would never return to the city. Mary stayed away for a short time before returning to Boston again to support her Quaker friends. This would be the 3rd and final stand she would take against the city for her religion.

Mary was hanged June 1, 1660 on the Boston Common in front of a whole mob of people.  She was then buried in an unmarked grave somewhere on the Common. Mary’s son Samuel eventually married Anne Hutchinson’s granddaughter, Anne Hutchinson and this is the line I descend from.  Today a statue of both Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson stand in front of the Boston State House over looking the site of Mary’s hanging.

Having not grown up in a church, I did not understand dying for a religion. However, I did understand the importance of standing up for what you believe in and the importance of knowing right from wrong. Her refusal to back down, while others may have seen it as stubborn or foolish due to the consequences at the time, helped shape the country we know and love today.

Kris Williams - Lead Investigator from SyFy’s Ghost Hunters International