Genealogy tools

Louisiana Digital Library

Did you know that Louisiana offers an online, digital library with “more than 144,000 digital items from Louisiana archives, libraries, museums, and other repositories, making unique historical treasure accessible to students, researchers, and the general public in Louisiana and across the globe?”

Sounds exciting, huh?

So let’s see what’s there. First, here’s the handy dandy link:

The library draws on a number of other archives: the Louisiana State Museum, state universities, Vermilionville Living History Museum (a must if you’re ever in Acadiana), etc.

Some of it is interesting. Some of it is not, at least to me. But some of it gets more interesting than you’d at first think.

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A report on people who died in New Orleans from yellow fever in 1878. 

I took a dive into the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting to be enthused. But I found a yellow fever collection that intrigued me. Everything you’d want to know about yellow fever is in there.

Buried in the collection is a report on New Orleans yellow fever deaths in 1878.

Nicholls has a collection on veterans of Southeast Louisiana.

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Emilene Ann Bourgeois in her dress uniform. 

The university interviewed local veterans and collected photographs and stories from them. The interviews were videotaped. You can look through the gallery of photos online.

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The Strand under construction in the 1920s. Notice the old-fashioned cars on the street to the left. 

LSU-Shreveport has collected photos of the Strand Theater in downtown Shreveport. This is a grand theater that hosts movies and plays. My parents took me to see “Singin In the Rain” there when I was a kid. It was a special screening (I’m not that old!), and I was so struck by the palace-style movie theater that it was hard to watch the movie itself! Howard Hughes once holed up in a hotel just around the corner from the Strand when he was staying in Shreveport for a bit.

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Here’s a residence that had seen better days in Pointe Coupee Parish. 

The Louisiana State Museum collection doesn’t disappoint. It has amassed a treasure trove of materials, including photographs and oral histories.

Just of the museum’s collection is a series of house photos. You’ll find residences that no longer stand.




Fun facts about Louisiana, terrebonne parish

Finding family history on Facebook

A modern day photo of the fabulous town of Rodney, Mississippi.

First, I’ll warn you that what I’m about to share could result in an addiction.

I’m slightly obsessed with this photo of little Arcola Alston and her mother from Rodney History and Preservation Society’s Facebook page. I think it’s the hats. 

I regularly fall down a rabbit hole with two Facebook groups. One is the Bayou History Center Inc., which shares photos and stories from south Louisiana, including Lafourche, St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes. The other is a preservation group dedicated to the ghost town of Rodney, Miss.

Someone kindly posted this photo on the Bayou History Center’s Facebook page. It’s of a general store that once stood in Gibson. It closed in 1961. During its lifetime, it also was the Greyhound Bus Station. Look at the shadow of the photographer with the huge camera. 
I can explain my fascination with the Bayou History Center’s content since I was born in Thibodaux. I have no ties to Rodney other than a slight obsession with the place. Rodney almost became the capitol of Mississippi. It lost by a few votes. It also used to have newspapers, an opera house, stores and a thriving population. It’s even said that Zachary Taylor was paying social calls in Rodney when he found out he had been elected president of the United States. After the river shifted course, Rodney dwindled away. All that’s left today are a few churches, a heck of an old country store (no longer open), abandoned homes and deer camps. You should visit if you get a chance though! We visited for my birthday a few years ago.


This was a prisoner of war camp in Thibodaux during World War II. During the war, captured German soldiers would be brought to Louisiana and put to work in the fields to replace American soldiers who were overseas fighting. Also from the Bayou History Center Inc.

Both sites can suck me in for hours. What can I say? I love old photos. Rodney’s site is searchable. Bayou History Center’s site isn’t. Hint. Hint.

First Communion in 1931 at St. Patrick in Gibson. In my memory, the church windows were stained glass that wouldn’t have opened so they must have updated the windows at some point. 

The great thing about these sites is people will dig up old photos that you didn’t even know existed and post them. They’ll post stories about photos that are shared. It’s oral history without the audio.

How often I sat fidgeting inside St. Patrick Catholic Church in Gibson through Mass. The stairs lead to the organ loft. 

I’m sharing some photos (hope the sites don’t mind) and links to the groups. But I warned you! They’re addictive.



The other side of the family

John M. Blackstone: A study on how naughty children sometimes turn out OK


A fatherless child. A rather horrid little child, if truth be told. Probably illiterate. A husband. A father. A state senator. A preacher.

That pretty much sums up John M. Blackstone, who was one of my ancestors.

I know all of this because his grandson, the rather fabulously-named Zephaniah Fowler, wrote an account of him. Here it is:

Elder John M. Blackstone was born in Virginia in 1780 on what was called Old Christmas Day.Of several children, he was the youngest. He never saw his father, who fell in battle near the close of the Revolutionary War. From what this writer has heard him say, he was a rude little boy. His mother could not manage him very well, so she bonded him out to a relative. As he was considered a leader in mischief among the boys, he received many a hard cuff and knock for his unruly conduct. He never attended school but about three weeks in his entire life. By some means unknown to this writer, after growing up, he went to St. Augustine, Florida, and afterwards to Brunswick, Ga., and for a time was in the military service at St. Mary’s. The next account we have of him, he was in Augusta, Ga., where he became acquainted with and married Catherine Harvey, about the year 1799. at that time, he was received into the church among the Baptists. Soon after he joined the church, his mind became weighted with preaching.

Elder John Martin Blackstone was an exceptional man, not only a preacher of the Gospel, but a leader of men. He migrated to Crawford County, Georgia in 1822. His good sense, quick perception, honesty, and integrity soon won him the confidence and esteem of all who knew him. This placed him in the front rank as a representative of his county. At the first election held in this county for representatives to the Legislature or General Assembly, he was chosen as their Senator. He was re-elected annually for nine consecutive years.

While Elder Blackstone was faithful to the best interest of the State and County, he was faithful to his obligation as the Minister of the Gospel. He helped organize several churches, to wit: Mt. Paran, Salem, Mt. Carmel, Providence, Abilene, and Union; also, Old Pisgah (now known as Calvary). He assisted in the organization of the Echeconnee Association, of the Primitive Baptist Church. He served as the first moderator for the association at Mt. Paran in 1825.

No doubt, Mr. Blackstone is rolling over in his grave over the fact that his descendants migrated to Louisiana where they became Catholics. Maybe he forgives us.

He had many, many children so surely some of the descendants remained Baptists. I hail from his daughter Sarah Porter who married Nimrod Yarbrough.

John’s memorial

John made up for his naughtiness as a child by becoming a nine-term senator. He established Primitive Baptist churches across Crawford County, Georgia. After he died, at age 78, the public paid to build a monument for him.

There seems to be some debate about whether John is buried where the monument is (Salem Primitive Baptist Church) or at another church he helped found, Mt. Paran. The confusion probably lies in the fact that the monument looks very much like a grave marker.

By the way, I was curious about the reference to John being born on “old Christmas day.” Apparently Christmas used to be celebrated on Jan. 6 before the Gregorian calendar was established.


Murder and mayhem, Newspaper articles

The murder of Edna Weiss and a history of insanity

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 10.14.49 PM.pngI was in search of my great-grandmother, Isabelle Giroir Gauthreaux, when I dove into coroner records for Orleans Parish. Isabelle died in New Orleans after a failed appendix operation. She died hours away from home so I thought she might have been transferred to the morgue until her family could make arrangements to move her body to Amelia for burial.

I didn’t find Isabelle. But I did find Edna Arseneaux Weiss.

It was Edna’s brother-in-law, Adolph Davidson, who collected her body from the morgue. He also requested her shoes and clothing. Presumably, he planned to bury her in them.

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Charles Weiss slit his wife’s throat in 1917 on a New Orleans street corner. 

Edna died in 1917 on a New Orleans street corner after her husband slit her throat. She ran a hundred feet after the attack – all while holding her 2-year-old son, Alvin. She ended up collapsing and dying on Canal Street.

Poor Edna. The day started ordinarily enough. She spent the day in the city with her husband’s sister, Louise Weiss Davidson. Toward evening, she and her husband left her sister’s house to buy Alvin a pair of shoes. For some reason, her husband grew angry as they walked down the street and slit his wife’s throat with a razor.

Edna was only 24. Her husband, Charles Joseph Henry Weiss, was 30. The Lunacy Commission found Charles to be insane. They seemed to largely base this finding on insanity in Charles’ family. Apparently his father and grandfather died of insanity – whatever that means.

Charles wasn’t set free. He was packed off to the insane asylum.

The murder happened in the days when reporters were allowed into jails to interview suspects. So, before Charles went to the loony bin, a reporter was able to interview him at the New Orleans jail.

Here’s what Charles had to say:

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Yep, he accused his wife of slitting her own throat.

I don’t know what happened to Charles. Little Alvin died in 1990.

Assumption Parish Genealogy, Bergeron Family, Newspaper articles, St. Mary Parish Genealogy, Uncategorized

The Planters’ Banner

The Planters’ Banner was a newspaper that published in St. Mary and Iberia parishes from 1836 to 1871. It sounds like it should have printed crop reports, but it was a hodgepodge of items.

It had poetry.

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Obituaries from the East Coast (the publisher hailed from Maine).

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Lots and lots of attorney ads. Some things never change.

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And cures for chlorea – a very helpful recipe in the 1800s. Basically, you administered deer horn, wine, cold water and sugar. Then you did a lot of praying because there’s no way in hell that recipe cured anything.

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What disappoints me about the paper is the scarcity of local news. The paper would give you tales of haunted houses in England and gold certificate robberies on the streets of New York, but local goings-on were a bit sporadic.

The really good stuff was dug up by other newspapers and reprinted, like this woeful story from 1871.

Alcee Gautreaux’s father owned a plantation called Hard Times in Assumption Parish. Optimistic name for a farm, huh?

The Gautreaux family leased the plantation to a Mr. T. T. Cobry, who threatened to shoot anyone who came onto the property even after his lease expired. Alcee convinced carpenters with the last names of Bergeron and Gilbert to go with him to Hard Times for the purposes of assessing needed repairs to the sugar house.

Knowing this wasn’t going to be a picnic in the park, Alcee grabbed a double barrel shotgun for the excursion. When the trio got there, Cobry was standing in the road dressed in his shirt sleeves. Spying the men, he ran into the blacksmith shop and retrieved a revolver.

Cobry didn’t seem to be the most reasonable of guys. He asked the men if they had a deputy with them and then started swearing. An argument ensued. Cobry was shot and killed.

The carpenters were probably just sorry they agreed to accompany Alcee that day since the whole matter ended up in court with Alcee acquitted of murder for acting in self defense.

Here’s The Assumption Pioneer’s tribute of sorts to Mr. Cobry, may he rest in peace:

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Now, if only I could figure out if that Bergeron was a relative. Alas, no first name was reported.


Newspaper articles

The Great Baking Powder War of 1919

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Never heard of it? Well, where have you been? It was quite the dustup.

To be fair, the baking powder war wasn’t confined to 1919. That just happens to be the year in which I stumbled across ads in a Morgan City newspaper for baking powder.

Think about it. Without baking powder, we wouldn’t have cake. OK. We’d have cake.

But, after reading an article about baking in the days before baking powder and store-bought yeast, I probably would have done without cake. If you go back far enough in history, you had to make yeast before you made cake. That meant letting stuff ferment and create yeast. So maybe Marie Antoinette wasn’t being callous when she suggested the peasants eat cake. Maybe she was just trying to occupy their time so they’d leave her alone.

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Baking powder as we know it dates to the 1880s. This was revolutionary. It literally transformed recipes. Cookbooks had to be rewritten. Baking powder was big business. Soon, a number of manufacturers sprang up, including cost-cutter Calumet. And then things got nasty.

Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 6.37.08 PM.pngRoyal Baking Powder started advertising its baking powder as the pure baking powder and suggested other brands might harm your health. Then Royal started handing out bribes and convinced the Missouri Legislature to ban baking powders – like Calumet – that contained acid sodium aluminum phosphate.

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Millions of dollars in bribes exchanged hands. Folks were locked up and fined for selling illegal baking powder. All to bake your ancestor a cake.

Eventually, Missouri’s lieutenant governor was forced to resign because he was ferrying bribes. How many people can say their political career was ruined by baking powder?

The saga didn’t end there. The advertising war raged on until the number of baking powder companies diminished. Calumet still exists, by the way. It’s now owned by Kraft.

So now you know the cost of changing the way your ancestor baked. Be thankful the next time you crack open a box of Betty Crocker cake mix.



Genealogy tools

What does my Ancestry DNA mean?

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I was not the best science student in school. Reading, yes. Writing, fine. Math, surprisingly, yes. Science, no way. Don’t ask me why. My father is a scientist. My grandfather is a scientist. Apparently I didn’t get those genes.

So, months after getting my Ancestry DNA results, I’m trying to figure out what they mean. Anyone else in the same boat?

Some of it I understand. My ancestors came from the British Isles and France. Well, I knew that already.

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My ancestors traveled to Acadia. Knew that.

Ancestry has extremely high confidence that my DNA matches the DNA of my grandparents. Knew that.

I’m related to Aucoins, Penissons and Giroirs. Knew that.

What I’d really like to know if it’s true there was a Spanish grandmother in the family tree as my granny always insisted. Still don’t know that.