Ohio Archives and Libraries Awarded Preservation and Digitization Grants

The Ohio Historical Records Advisory Board (OHRAB) announces it has awarded grants to ten institutions to support archival projects. The funded projects include organizing and preserving historical records and cataloging and digitizing records for improved access. Overall OHRAB received thirty applications requesting more than three times as much funding as was available. The grants are funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), an arm of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

• Alliance Historical Society: Alliance Historical Records Preservation and Cataloging Project ($1,769.00)
• Canal Fulton Public Library: Preservation of Canal Fulton Local History Photographs ($800.00)
• Clinton County Records and Archives: Indexing and Rehousing of Probate Records ($1,500.00)
• Hardin County Genealogy Society: Digitization and Storage of Anna Lee Mayhorn Collection ($640.00)
• Historic New Richmond: Preservation and Cataloging of Historic New Richmond’s Archive ($798.00)
• Ohio Genealogical Society: Digitization of the “Ohio Story” Script: Bringing Old Radio Back to Life ($2,000.00)
• Otterbein University: Reclaiming the Presidential Papers, Part I: Walter G. Clippinger Papers Preservation and Indexing Project (1909-1939) ($1,960.00)
• Rocky River Public Library: Rocky River Public Library & Cowan Pottery Museum Records Database Project ($870.00)
• Summit County Historical Society: Captain Simon Perkins, Jr. Quartermaster Papers Preservation and Digitization Project ($1,600.00)
• Warren County Historical Society: Historical Records Preservation and Digitization Project ($1,042.00)

About the Ohio Historical Records Advisory Board
The Ohio Historical Records Advisory Board is the central body for historical records planning in the state. Board members are appointed by the governor and represent Ohio’s public and private archives, records offices, and research institutions. Administrative responsibility for the board rests with the Ohio Historical Society. The board also acts as the state-level review body for grants submitted to the NHPRC, in accordance with that commission’s guidelines.

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Lilly Martin Spencer: Artist and Ohioan

Join curator Emily Lang for a talk on Lilly Martin Spencer on Saturday, March 22 at 2 pm at the Ohio History Center and see some of the artist’s work in person.

During the mid 1800s Lilly Martin Spencer (1822-1902) was one of only a few nationally-known female genre painters.  “Unlike most women artists, she did not hail from a family who provided in-home training in art, though her parents’ radical social views contributed to their willingness to support her unconventional career.”[1]  The path that led to her art career stretched across the Ohio Valley, from Marietta to Cincinnati.

Self portrait of Lilly Martin Spencer.

Self portrait of Lilly Martin Spencer.

Angélique Marie Martin, called Lilly, was born in England in 1822. Her parents were a highly educated, progressive French couple. In 1830, she arrived in the U.S. from her native England to New York before settling three years later in Marietta, Ohio. She was home schooled by her mother who instilled in her that women deserved equal opportunities.  Her mother was a follower of Charles Fourier, a French philosopher whose ideas inspired the creation of Utopia, Ohio. He believed that cooperation was the success of society and that woman played an equal role in this.

Martin started experimenting with art at a young age. She drew portraits and landscapes on the walls of her family’s home in Marietta. Instead of being punished, her parents encouraged her artistic skills. Martin quickly became a fixture in the local art scene. She studied with famed Ohio painters Sala Bosworth and Charles Sullivan. Martin’s earliest work is of the Ohio River and the various economic endeavors of Southeastern Ohio residents. During this period Martin began experimenting with the domestic scenes for which she would later become famous.

Martin began to attract the attention of patrons in Marietta. She was commissioned to paint domestic scenes for housewives of prominent local businessmen. Her first exhibition was held in a church rectory in Marietta. Cincinnati editor Edward Mansfield “discovered” Spencer’s work during this show, encouraging her to move to Cincinnati. It was reported that Nicholas Longworth, noted Cincinnati arts benefactor, saw one of these shows and encourage Martin’s art but discouraged her moving to Cincinnati or exhibiting until she had more practice. Longworth even offered to pay for her to study in Europe. Martin ignored this advice and her parents moved with her to Cincinnati in 1841.

Cincinnati was a cultural and financial hub of the Midwest. Because of its location on the Ohio River and the boarder between slavery and freedom, a unique culture of abolitionism and patronizing the arts emerged. Artists from the Midwest flocked to the city, hoping for commissions from Cincinnati’s most famous art patron, Nicholas Longworth.

"This Little Pig Went to Market" by Lilly Martin Spencer.

“This Little Pig Went to Market” by Lilly Martin Spencer.

Martin quickly settled into life in Cincinnati, studying with James Beard and several other local artists. Martin met Benjamin Rush Spencer, an English tailor living in the city, in 1844. They soon married. Spencer stopped working and never worked for the rest of their marriage. This provided Martin the freedom to pursue her artistic career while he took care of their domestic life.  Martin and Spencer had 13 children, 7 who lived to adulthood.

With Martin being the breadwinner of the family, finances were often strained. In 1848, the family moved to New York City in search of a better art market. Spencer showed at the National Academy of Design and the American Art-Union. She became popular among the prosperous, middle class homes of New York City with her scenes turning increasingly domestic.  As one patron wrote of her work, “despite their comic familiar manner, she has contrived to introduce a moral into every one of her comic pieces.” [2] Martin used her own family as models for her domestic pieces.

"First Stew" by Lilly Martin Spencer.

“First Stew” by Lilly Martin Spencer.

While Martin was a popular artist, she simply could not get the commissions needed to support her growing family. She began to experiment with lithographs, eventually becoming one of the most popular producers in New York City. Unfortunately, due to bad contracts, she was only paid for the sale of the original oil pieces and not the lithograph copies. The family moved to Newark, New Jersey in 1858, constantly searching for cheaper places to live.  During the Civil War, Martin’s pieces became darker and more serious as her world rapidly changed.

After the Civil War, there was a push in the art market to acquire European art, leaving artists like Martin struggling to maintain their livelihood. In 1879, the family moved to a farm in Highland, New York. Her artistic style drastically changed during this period, focusing on rural life and detailed landscapes. Her husband, Benjamin, died in 1890 and she was then forced to sell the family farm. Martin continued to work until the day of her death on May 22, 1902.

Martin was a true visionary and pioneer for women in the arts. With the support of her family, she made artistic decisions for herself, whether it was the content of her pieces or the physical location she placed herself in to create art.

"Shake Hands?" by Lilly Martin Spencer.

“Shake Hands?” by Lilly Martin Spencer.

The Ohio Historical Society is fortunate to have several Lilly Martin Spencer pieces in the permanent collection including “This Little Pig Went to Market”, “First Stew”, and “Shake Hands?”. Recently, her piece entitled, Shake Hands? , was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibition Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine. As part of the exhibition, Chef Meg Galus of NoMI explains how Lilly Martin Spencer’s piece inspires her.

How does Lilly Martin Spencer inspire you?

Emily Lang, History Curator


Ellet, E. F. Women Artists in All Ages and Countries. New York: Harper & Bros., 1859.

Katz, Wendy. “Lilly Martin Spencer and the Art of Refinement.” American Studies 5, no. 37 (2001): 5.

Spencer, Lilly Martin. An Exhibition of Paintings Presented by the Ohio Historical Society: An Exhibit of Paintings and Reproductions of Paintings. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio Historical Society, 1959.

[1] Katz, Wendy. “Lilly Martin Spencer and the Art of Refinement.” American Studies 5, no. 37 (2001): 5.

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New Records Available for Research Online

Thanks to our dedicated volunteers and staff, two more sets of death records have been added to our online Death Certificate Index. That’s over 35,000 new records for you to search!

Columbus Death Certificates, 1904-1908.
Previously unavailable, the Columbus Death Certificates from this time period are now fully indexed.

Updates to the Stillborn Death Certificate Index, 1942-1947.
The original Ohio Department of Vital Statistics main death index included stillborn deaths from 1908-1935. Our Ohio Historical Society staff has begun indexing the remainder of these records and has now added 1942-1947 to the searchable index.

In addition, the Ohio Death Certificate index itself is getting a facelift and a content review. When the 1913-1935 index was originally digitized, the Ohio Historical Society used a software program to translate the hard copy records into online searchable text. Unfortunately, the original records were often difficult to read, resulting in a number of omissions or errors. Currently, our staff is working diligently to cross-check the online index against the original hard copy records to ensure that they are all included.

Example of an Ohio State Death Certificate.  This one is for Orville Wright, Inventor of Airplanes.

Example of an Ohio State Death Certificate. This one is for Orville Wright, Inventor of Airplanes.

In order to make searching for specific individuals easier, we are combining all of our online indexed public records into one comprehensive database. Not only can you search our Select Ohio Public Records Index for death record listings, you’ll also find the indexes for Ohio Girl’s Industrial School records 1869-1943 and Ohio Boy’s Industrial School records, 1858-1944.

Click here to search or learn more about our online Select Ohio Public Records Index.

Posted in collections, Current News, Genealogy, OHS Resources, Research Tools, Volunteers/Interns | Leave a comment

How to Overcome Brick Wall Problems in German-American Research at the Ohio History Center, March 15

OHS_GermanGenealogy_blog image

The Ohio Historical Society, in partnership with Franklin County Genealogical & Historical Society and the Columbus Metropolitan Library, is proud to host nationally-renowned genealogist Dr. Michael Lacopo at the Ohio History Center on Saturday, March 15, from 10:30am – 12:30pm, as a part of 2014 Genealogy Workshop Series. Dr. Lacopo’s workshop, “How to Overcome Brick Wall Problems in German-American Research” will use Pennsylvania and German American case studies to highlight the different ways in which genealogical researchers can revisit their own research “brick walls” to make a breakthrough. His point-by-point lecture will explore how to formulate a genealogy research plan, how to use lesser-known resources, and how to critically analyze information that is found.

The following post is a guest post submitted by Dr.Lacopo:

People of German descent have long dominated the Ohio landscape, with the most numerous settlers in the pre-1850 period coming from the Middle Atlantic states, particularly Pennsylvania. Many of these were good “Pennsylvania Deutsch” whose ancestors had come from Germany in the 18th century. When the state began experiencing the influx of European immigrants in the first part of the 19th century, the vast majority of them came from Germany. By 1850, nearly one half of Ohio’s immigrant population came from the various regions that would become modern Germany. This is most obviously reflected in the 2000 United States census, where German ancestry was the predominant heritage reported in nearly every county in Ohio. When speaking about Ohio ancestors, there are definitely Germans among us!

2000 census map indicating ancestry per county

2000 census map indicating ancestry per county

Those of us with German ancestry are lucky, as Germans are notorious for their obsession with record-keeping. Unfortunately those records often elude us, and I hope to illustrate with a number of interesting case studies how you can find clues to your German ancestors. We will discuss records that will be useful to people of all levels of German ancestry, regardless of whether your German forefathers came in 1728 or 1928. Hopefully you will go home with that little gem of information that will break down your brick walls!

Cost to attend this workshop is $15 for OHS and Franklin County Genealogical & Historical Society members; $20.00 for non-members. Space is limited. To register online, visit the Ohio History Store at: https://connect.ohiohistory.org/workshops/genealogy1. To register over the phone, or for more information, call 614-297-2510.

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Celebrate Ohio Statehood and Women’s History

Curators’ talks for the month of March celebrate 211 years of Ohio statehood and the pioneering achievements of Ohio women.

March 1
Happy Birthday Ohio!

Celebrate Ohio’s 211th birthday and learn about the efforts that led to Ohio’s statehood on March 1, 1803. Join State Archivist Fred Previts for a look at some of the state’s significant documents from this period, including some of Ohio’s earliest legislative records.

March 8
Ladies of the House

The Ohio Statehouse that is. Join government records archivist Connie Conner to learn more about the first ladies to serve in the Ohio Senate and Ohio House of Representatives.

Photograph of the Ohio Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio, circa 1860s.

Photograph of the Ohio Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio, circa 1860s.

March 15
A Doctor In Columbus

Frances Janney Derby practiced medicine in the 1880s and 1890s in Columbus, Ohio. Join reference archivist Liz Plummer to hear about this pioneering female physician’s journey from the Boston University School of Medicine to providing medical care to patients in Columbus.

March 22
Shake Hands?

Everyday scenes like a young woman with flour covered hands reaching out to a visitor in her kitchen were the subjects of popular 1800s artist Lilly Martin Spencer. Join history curator Emily Lang to learn more about how a wife and mother from Marietta, Ohio supported her large family with her artistic talent.

March 29
Transformation: Changing Role of Women

Join history curator Emily Lang for a tour of the exhibit, Transformation, to find out how the objects in the exhibit illustrate the changing roles of women throughout history. This is your last weekend to see Transformation before the exhibit closes!

The curators talks are part of a busy schedule of activities at the History Center in March. Check out our full calendar of programs.

If you go:

Day and Time: Saturdays in March at 2:00 PM

Location: Ohio History Center at I-71 and 17th Ave.

Cost: Free with museum admission

Posted in collections, Curators, Current News, Programs | Leave a comment

Finding the Leaves of Your Family Tree in the Pages of Online Newspapers

Newspapers contain a wealth of information for those researching their family history. Whether it’s a birth announcement, death notice, business advertisement or report about a crime, you can find all kinds of things in newspapers.

A short list from the Medina Sentinel of what they consider to be newsworthy.  Other newspapers featuring local news would have published similar information.

A short list from the Medina Sentinel of what they consider to be newsworthy. Other newspapers featuring local news would have published similar information.

And while these historical treasures hold the promise of confirming, denying or even unveiling entirely new truths about your family’s history, researching with them does come with a major challenge. Because so few are indexed, it can take hours (or even days) of exhaustive searching through page after page of hardcopy or microfilmed newspapers to find that one bit of information you are looking for.

There is a silver lining, however: Chronicling America, the Library of Congress’s free digital newspaper database, has over seven million digitized newspaper pages that have been transformed into full-text searchable images, allowing you to simply type your terms into a search box and instantly find pages where your search results appear.  There are currently over 240,000 pages of Ohio’s historic newspapers—with another 60,000 on the way—to search through on Chronicling America in addition to papers from over 30 other states published between 1836 and 1922.

The easiest way to start your search is by simply typing in your family member’s name into the Search Pages (Basic Search) on Chronicling America’s front page:


But if that yields too many or too few results, here are a few tips to help you better find family history information on Chronicling America.

1. Know what is available.  Newspapers on Chronicling America are digitized through grant projects funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  States awarded grant funding can only digitize 100,000 pages for each two-year grant cycle, and for most states, that is only a small fraction of their newspaper collections.  Before you start your search, use the All Digitized Newspapers, 1836-1922 tab to see if a paper from the area of the country you are researching is available.  You can sort your results by State, Ethnicity or LanguageClick here to see a list of Ohio’s available newspapers.


2. Use the Advanced Search option to limit your search and avoid irrelevant results from the beginning.  Try using the Advanced Search to limit your results to a specific state or newspaper from the city in which your family was living.  This is especially helpful if you are researching a family name that is common (like “Smith” or “Johnson”).  


3. Combine a person’s name with another search term to find information about specific events.  When searching for a specific name, try searching it as a phrase or as a proximity (“…with the words…”) search in the Advanced Search.  If you are looking for a particular type of information, like a birth or death notice, add the word “birth” or “death” after your search. For example, “John Smith death.”


4. Use variations in spellings or words.  Newspapers do not use a standardized vocabulary and mistakes, like misspellings and typos, could happen.  If your family name is unique or foreign, search different variations of the name (for example, “Smith” and “Schmidt”).  Sometimes names were abbreviated (for example, “Thos.” might have been used for “Thomas” or “Jno.” for Jonathon).  Married women may have been referred to by their husbands’ names as well (for example, Mrs. John Smith).

Wedding news from the Logan Ohio Democrat (June 27, 1901, Image 2, col. 4).

Wedding news from the Logan Ohio Democrat (June 27, 1901, Image 2, col. 4).

In addition, unlike today’s newspapers, 19th and early 20th century newspapers rarely had columns dedicated to events like births, deaths and marriages.  Sometimes these announcements were printed amongst advertisements, court news and other articles, so it might be helpful to search with variations of the words describing the event you’re researching: if “John Smith death” doesn’t work, try “John Smith died.”

News of John Smith’s death from the Stark County Democrat (July 14, 1898, Image 5, col. 1).

News of John Smith’s death from the Stark County Democrat (July 14, 1898, Image 5, col. 1).

5.  Search by a town or county name instead of a family name.  Newspapers, particularly ones in rural areas, often served communities well beyond their city limits.  Personal news could be organized by town or county name, and it’s often easier for the search engine to find those words than it is of a person because the town or county name could be printed larger and bolder.  If you find your town or county name listed, read through the news to see if your person is mentioned. You can also try searching by a university or college name as some newspapers would report students’ comings and goings.

“Neighborhood News” in this issue of the Fremont Weekly Journal was organized by county name.  (April 9, 1869, Image 2, col. 4).

“Neighborhood News” in this issue of the Fremont Weekly Journal was organized by county name (April 9, 1869, Image 2, col. 4).

When you use this search technique, it’s a good idea to limit your results to a specific year or date range in the Advanced Search so you don’t have as many page results to read through.


There are even more tips about how to use Chronicling America for family history research available in a webinar hosted by National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio staff at the beginning of January.  You can view a recording of the webinar and learn more about how to use newspapers for genealogy research by clicking here.  Happy searching!

Chronicling America is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities, Library of Congress and state projects to provide enhanced access to United States newspapers published between 1836 and 1922.  National Endowment for the Humanities awards support state projects to select and digitize historically significant titles that are aggregated and permanently maintained by the Library of Congress at Chronicling America. As part of the project, the Ohio Historical Society contributed over 200,000 newspaper pages to the project between July 2008 and August 2012 and will contribute an additional 100,000 pages by the end of August 2014. 

Jenni Salamon, Project Coordinator, NDNP-OH

Posted in collections, Digital Projects, Digitization, Genealogy, Newspapers, Research, Research Tips | Leave a comment

An Ordinary Shawl with an Extraordinary Story

Sometimes the story of how we acquire an object is just as fascinating as the object itself. So is the case of a plain shawl donated in 1943.

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

James Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. Hughes was from a prominent African-American family with Ohio connections.  In 1835, his grandfather was the first African-American to attend Oberlin College. Hughes lived with his grandmother until he was 13.  After moving back in with his mother and her husband, the family eventually resided in Cleveland, Ohio. Hughes began writing poetry while attending Cleveland’s Central High School.  He published poems in The Belfry Owl, a school magazine.

In 1920, Hughes left for Mexico, returning to the states a year later to attend Columbia University in New York City. He left Columbia in 1922 due to increasing racial prejudices. Hughes continued to be active writing poetry in the Harlem area. After spending time in England, Hughes moved to Washington D.C. in 1924. He was working as a busboy at hotel restaurant when he met poet Vachel Lindsay. Hughes showed Lindsay some of his poetry, who ultimately used his connections to promote Hughes’ poetry.

Cover of A Pictorial History of the Negro in America by Langston Hughes.

Cover of A Pictorial History of the Negro in America by Langston Hughes from the Society’s library.

After receiving a scholarship, Hughes graduate from Lincoln University in 1929. He published his first book, Not Without Laughter, shortly after. For years, he frequently toured the US, Europe, and the USSR reading his poetry and short stories. Hughes became one of the best known poets in the United States, publishing countless volumes of poetry, short stories, and plays. On May 22, 1967, Langston Hughes died from complications of prostate cancer.

In addition to once calling Ohio home, Hughes made a lasting contribution to Ohio History.  On April 30, 1943, Langston Hughes donated this shawl (H 6806) used by Sheridan Leary to the Ohio Historical Society.  Sheridan Leary was an African-American harnesses maker from Oberlin, Ohio who was killed during John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry. Leary was the first husband of Hughes’ grandmother, Mary Patterson.

Shawl, call number  H 6806, donated to the Ohio Historical Society by poet Langston Hughes.

Shawl, call number H 6806, donated to the Ohio Historical Society by poet Langston Hughes.

In his note to the society, Hughes explained, “It (the shawl) was worn at John Brown’s Raid where Sheridan Leary was killed and since his widow, who was my grandmother, states that it had been handed down in the Leary family from Sheridan’s grandfather, I think we would be safe in dating the shawl at thirty to forty years preceding John Brown’s raid, certainly in the first quarter of the 1800’s.” The shawl was reportedly found in the mud after the raid and returned to Leary’s grieving widow.

Closeup of shawl.

Closeup of shawl.

The shawl demonstrates the need for good documentation of an object; without a provenance, it would appear to be very ordinary.  With its connection to the raid on Harper’s Ferry and Langston Hughes the shawl is one of the most treasured objects in our collection.

Have you ever come across an object with a fascinating story of how it got to where it is?

Emily Lang, History Curator


A&E Networks Television. “Langston Hughes Biography.” Bio.com. http://www.biography.com/people/langston-hughes-9346313 (accessed February 10, 2014).

Hughes, Langston, Arnold Rampersad, David E. Roessel, and Benny Andrews. Langston Hughes. New York: Sterling Pub., 20061994.

The Poetry Foundation. “Langston Hughes.” The Poetry Foundation. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/langston-hughes (accessed February 12, 2014).

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