The amount of details that can be learned from newspapers about our ancestors’ day-to-day lives is incredible. Even if we already know a lot about an individual, news items were very gossipy and informative back in the day and can give a much clearer sense of what life was like.
Hartwell Thomas Coleman is one of my maternal great grandfathers. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have ever known him personally, but Grandmother told me many things about him. I know his exact dates of birth, death and marriages – all three of them – know that he was a master mariner who lived and worked in Calais, Maine on the St. Croix River, but also spent several years working in Boston Harbor in the 1920s and am even fortunate enough to have inherited several photos, from Grandmother, of Hartwell both as a baby and in later years.
His work was mainly as a tugboat captain, piloting steamers up and down the St. Croix River. As he got closer to retirement, he opened a general store, which my mother and aunt loved, because he sold candy and would treat them when they came to Maine on vacation.
A photo of his store has even been handed down to me:
I am a big fan of trolling through old newspapers looking for family information. However, Maine hasn’t been quick to get on the digital newspaper bandwagon and the newspaper I would most like to read, The Calais Advertiser, is still nowhere to be found in historical newspaper collections.
However, Bangor, Maine isn’t all that far from Calais, about 95 miles) and I recently discovered it on one of the subscription websites. The Bangor Daily News in the early 1900s was truly a regional newspaper and had local news columns for Calais and other towns within a wide radius.
I wasn’t sure how much I would find, but Captain Hartwell Coleman was mentioned over 20 times between 1900 and the early 1930s.
Look at all the interesting tidbits I now know about his life:
Hartwell Thomas Coleman
15 April 1900 – earned his master mariner license
18 Nov 1911 – elected Calais harbor master
15 June 1912 – elected Senior Sagamore (1st Vice President) in Etchemin Tribe of the Order of Red Men
19 Aug 1912 – while master of the tug Wesley A. Gove, and while standing on deck of the schooner Ellen M. Golder, he was attacked with a belaying pin by a drunk mentally unstable sailor
13 April 1916 – elected Calais harbor master
15 Jan 1917 – elected trustee of Order of Red Men, 3 year term
28 Dec 1917 – served on committee that agreed to loan tug Henry Wellman for Canada’s use for two months
28 Mar 1919 -noted as having piloted the largest sailing vessel on the St. Croix
28 Mar 1924 – resigned his job in Boston as captain for Bay State Dredging Company & returned to Calais
2 Apr 1924 – Pump and gasoline tank privileges awarded by Calais
2 June 1924 – Grocery store and gas station opened at Bog Brook (Calais)
29 Oct 1932 – Piloted Norwegian steamer Mervion up & down St. Croix River. Carried 2500 tons of coal.
19 Feb 1933 – Subpoenaed as a witness in Bay State Dredging Company v. Grand Manan Steamboat Company.
1 Mar 1933 – Kickapoo ice breaker took on Captain Coleman to guide them through the St. Croix River to break up the ice and make is passable
2 Mar 1933 – Piloted Norwegian steamer Dagia up St. Croix River
27 Apr 1933 – Piloted Norwegian Boomstad down the St. Croix River
19 Sep 1933 – Piloted a Norwegian steamer carrying 1300 lbs of coal down the St. Croix waterway
23 May 1934 – Piloted Kickapoo ice breaker – took five days to open the waterway
15 Feb 1937 – Record for largest ice fishing catch at Nash Lake – 8 lb. salmon
13 May 1937 – Kenneth Scott, wife & 2 children called on Hartwell & his family. Kenneth arrived back home down hardscrabble Road before his family. Wife heard a gunshot and he had killed himself.
9 Feb 1938 – Captain Coleman has been in ill health, but feeling better
31 Mar 1938 – Death announcement of Captain Coleman
I have learned so much more about my great grandfather. I know exactly when he became a master mariner and I know the names and dates that he piloted various sailing vessels.
I’ve learned that he was an avid fisherman, not a surprise given where he lived, but that he also enjoyed ice fishing on nearby Nash Lake.
As for the general store that Mom remembered, I know exactly when it opened and even when he was okayed to sell gasoline.
Sadly, I did not know about Kenneth Scott. He married 17 year old Beryl Boone in 1929. Beryl was one of Hartwell’s step children by his third wife, which explains why the young family was “calling on” Hartwell.
I never knew Beryl, but did know her sister, Doris, and visited once with her and Grandmother’s half sister, Lydia. They told me many family stories, but they were focused on the Coleman family, not the Boones.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Doris was a distant cousin of Grandmother, Lydia and I through her father’s line. It also happens to be the line that adds Mayflower passenger George Soule as a branch on my family tree.
Now that I know how much news was picked up by the Bangor Daily News, I want to read the Calais Advertiser even more!
2 thoughts on “Adding Detail to Our Ancestors Lives with Newspapers: Case Study – Hartwell Thomas Coleman (1868-1938”
Ooh – thank you for noting that the Bangor Daily News is digitized. I’m now exploring it for my Copeland ancestors! And I agree – I would love to see the Calais Advertiser digitized, too!
Oh, how exciting! It’s also a great reminder that regional newspapers often has news of smaller local areas. But I feel for you wanting the Calais paper digitized, just as I want the Turlock papers to be.