Each week, Findmypast will review each episode from TLC’s new season of Who Do You Think You Are?, providing expert family history insights along the way.
This week, we saw the second episode of this season’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” on TLC. Featuring actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, he worked his way across the country tracing his great-grandfather and namesake, Jesse Ferguson. As we learned more of the life of Jesse Ferguson, and his three wives, his adventures took us through the “Gilded Age.”
Generally spanning the last three decades of the nineteenth century, this period of US history was one in which many men flourished, but many also suffered. It is also an era in which many family historians find themselves researching daily. As the country grew out of the effects of the Civil War, and western expansion exploded, the resources we value most became all that more common. Newspapers, vital records, county histories, and other common published works arose from every corner.
There is so much, in fact, to learn about this time in our history that there are formalized organizations designed to study and preserve this period. Included in that community is the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, who publish the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Articles include pieces on the effects of music, politics, actress testimonials, and intoxication. Their stated purpose defines the period in question as that of 1865 – 1917.
This story reached its peak as Jesse Ferguson continues his adventures across the continent and participates in the 1898 gold rush to the Klondike territory of Alaska. His now infamous adventure as the leader of the Alaska Klondike Cooperate Expedition included sixty individuals, who “put up $500 each. They purchased two bucket dredges, a sawmill, a large metallic gold pan, and two boilers and engines for a steamer to be constructed on the Stikine River.” (“The Stampeders,” Golden Places: The History of Alaska-Yukon Mining, Chapter 3, National Park Service).
The details of a mining expedition such as this can be quite descriptive. Newspapers can be an incredible tool for learning of the men, the adventure, and the tools they used to seek their fortunes, such as this article found in the Colorado Springs Gazette (August 22, 1965), telling the story of a historic gold dredge left behind in the Rocky Mountains. Although not the same as what was included in the Alaska Klondike Cooperate Expedition, it is a glimpse of the technology used throughout the Gilded Age.
By telling the story of this one man, we travel through time, exploring the major stories in history that effect their life. It should be, too all of us as family historians, inspiration to dig deeper into the stories of our own ancestors. Utilizing publications from societies and local media can provide much more than names and dates, but the life experiences in which they took part.
You can star in your own Who Do You Think You Are? by bringing your family history to life with Findmypast’s new Who Do You Think You Are? Story.
For more stories on tracing your Irish heritage from Findmypast click here.