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Tonsils and a Spaghetti Dinner

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

Long before Snapchat, Tiktok, Instagram, and Facebook, even before MySpace, AOL chat rooms, and BBSes (where are my former Wizard Realmers at?!) our ancestors had their own form of social media. That's this week's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks topic, "Social Media."

Beyond the names, dates, and locations that are often obtained from vital records, newspapers can help fill in many of the stories of our ancestors' lives. As you may expect, you can often find an elaborate write-up about a wedding or an anniversary party. You may find an obituary detailing the lives and accomplishments of several generations of your family. Short mentions of the day's births within a particular community may also be found.


Especially in small towns, newspapers were often used to spread local gossip, as well as, basic seemingly mundane happenings around their area. This seemed particularly true as I began researching my husband's maternal family in Statesville, Iredell County, North Carolina.


The Statesville Daily Record was published from 1941 - 1954. It was preceded by The Statesville Record and eventually merged with the Landmark in 1953 to become the Statesville Record & Landmark which is still in publication today. Among these titles, I have located dozens of articles mentioning my husband's grandfather, spanning more than four decades!

From having his tonsils removed at the age of six, to receiving a national recognition for a 4-H project, information about a motor vehicle accident, notice of a sickness, and even the account of a spaghetti dinner to celebrate a birthday, the day to day life of John Harvey Mason, Sr. has been remarkably well documented in the pages of his local newspaper. Let's face it, these are the same kinds of information that many of us share on social media today!


During World War II (WWII), the newspaper, and so many like it across the country, began soliciting news and updates from friends and family members about the men and women in military service. John's stories seemed to be shared in abundance! While a lot of this information may be obtainable through his service records (we've been waiting over two years for a response to that records request!), these articles give us a glimpse of John's experiences, his thoughts, and his feelings. In one particular example, while home on furlough, John, a paratrooper, is quoted as saying, "I want to have a ride in an airplane, and land in one. I've often gone up in one, but never made a landing in one - I've always had to jump out!"¹


A section of John's diary was published a few days earlier documenting nearly two weeks of his time during his four week paratrooper training.² In one entry, dated "Sept. 15." John wrote, "We really caught it today. On our Judo class this morning we learned how to break a man's neck without letting him cry out. Slick, too. They really teach one how to kill here." I can't think of any other documentary source, genealogical or otherwise, that would offer such an account.


While we continue to await a copy of his service records, newspaper articles have informed us that John Harvey Mason Sr. was a paratrooper with the 3rd Battalion of the 11th Airborne Division. Furthermore, he was stationed in Yokohama when the Empire of Japan formally surrendered aboard the USS Missouri. "On the day peace was signed here, I was a guard on the building (outside, of course:) and it was just part of a day's work. Someday, though, I can look back on this and be proud of the little part I had in it."³ Fascinatingly, John's grandson (my husband) would find himself serving aboard that same ship, the USS Missouri, roughly forty-five years after John, himself, participated in this monumental moment of history.


Social media has evolved over the generations, but our ancestors were not without ways of sharing their stories, whether it documented a personal account during one of the most significant moments in American history, or it was just sharing who was in attendance for that spaghetti dinner. Let's work together to find the stories your ancestors left behind through their social media.

 

1. “Wanted to Land!,” Statesville Record and Landmark (Statesville, North Carolina), 19 October 1944, pg 8, col. 8, para. 3; digital image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers‌.com/image/11463622/ : accessed 08 February 2023).

2. "Paratrooper's Diary," Statesville Record and Landmark (Statesville, North Carolina), 14 October 1944, pg 6, col. 3, para. 1; digital image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/3562961/ : accessed 08 February 2023).

3. "Pvt. John Mason Was On Guard At Peace Signing," Statesville Record and Landmark (Statesville, North Carolina), 21 September 1945, pg 8, col. 6, para. 1; digital image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/3677673/ : accessed 08 February 2023).



 

Disclaimer: Each blog post is created and presented for marketing and entertainment purposes only but are based on larger research which adheres to the standards of The Board of Certification of Genealogists® as set forth in Genealogical Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry Imprint, Turner Publishing, 2014).

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