From State Hospitals to Pet Cemeteries to Feminist Communes, Chronicling America Restores Lost History.

Julianne Mangin is an independent researcher, writer, family historian, and blogger. She is a retired librarian who worked as a website developer at the Library of Congress from 1998 to 2011. This post highlights the ways Julianne has used online resources like Chronicling America* for her research.

Amber Paranick (AP): How did you first learn of Chronicling America?

Julianne Mangin (JM): Chronicling America was developed during the years I was an employee of the Library of Congress. It would be nice to say that I worked on Chronicling America itself, but that’s not the case. I did, however, help the Serial and Government Publications Division with some of their web pages that support it. I always knew that Chronicling America was important, but after retirement, I saw it in a new way. It is a valuable tool in my personal research goals. I am so thankful that it’s available to me and so many other researchers.

AP: Julianne, can you tell us about the topics you’ve been researching lately? 

JM: My first project, which I started the year after my retirement from the Library of Congress, was my mother’s family history. Four of her ancestors were patients at Norwich State Hospital in Connecticut. I was happy to discover that Chronicling America included the Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, CT).  Not only did I find stories about my ancestors within its pages, but I learned a lot about the history of the hospital itself.

“THE STAR’S DAILY PICTORIAL PAGE,” The Evening Star (Washington, DC), July 11, 1922.

I recently published a history of the Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery, a 100-year-old cemetery in Montgomery County, Maryland where 50,000 pets and at least 50 humans are buried. Chronicling America helped me turn up engaging stories about pets buried at the cemetery. My searches often started by using keywords I found on the gravestones. Newspaper articles about pet cemeteries, in general, helped me track the changes in attitudes toward them, as well as the relationship between humans and their pets.

My latest project is the history of a feminist commune formed in Texas in 1870 called the Woman’s Commonwealth. They migrated to Montgomery County in the early 20th century and ran a successful farm and inn that has been completely forgotten, until now. Thanks to Chronicling America, I was able to uncover the details of their lives and put together a fascinating story of women determined to control their own spiritual and economic destinies.

“A Sanctified Sisterhood,” The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 6, 1902.

AP: What are some of the most exciting discoveries you’ve made using Chronicling America?

JM: I’d always wondered about my great-grandfather, Philippe, and why he’d been cast as the villain in the family. I found an article in the Norwich Bulletin about his arrest for stealing a necklace. His accomplice was a woman he was living with who was not his wife (she was in the state hospital at the time). The scandal caused a rift in the family that I never understood until I found the secret in the newspaper.

While researching the Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery, I discovered a previously unknown pet cemetery in Silver Spring, Maryland called Rosedale Dog Cemetery. One of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s dogs was buried there, along with a dog belonging to Alice Roosevelt Longworth.

I found a display advertisement for the sale of the Commonwealth Farm, which was the feminist commune I mentioned earlier. It included two photographs of the Commonwealth Farm Inn, possibly the only ones ever taken of the place.  There was also a detailed description of the farm that helped me understand the nature of the business and how successful these women had been. It shows that even advertisements can be sources for historians.

Advertisement. The Evening Star (Washington, DC), May 22, 1927.

AP: Do you have any tips for users of Chronicling America?

JM: It helps to know something about the kinds of things newspapers wrote about in the past that they don’t in the present. For example, local newspapers would report on who had been admitted to the state hospital, a violation of privacy that you wouldn’t see in today’s papers. They’d also report, in the society section, on who was on vacation and where they were. While I was surprised when I first learned this in my family research, I have to say I’m grateful for these tidbits in the newspaper because they helped me track the whereabouts of my ancestors.

I keep going back to Chronicling America as I think of other ways that might have written about a topic I’m researching. After I searched “pet cemetery” and “pet cemeteries,” I got creative and found even more articles by searching “dog cemetery,” “cat cemetery,” “canine graveyard,” and “feline graveyard.”

AP: Thank you, Julianne! To keep up with what else Julianne is up to, check out the Montgomery History Speakers Bureau, of which she is a member and regularly gives talks on the history of the Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery and the Commonwealth Farm Inn in Colesville, Maryland. Her aforementioned history of the Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery was published in The Montgomery County Story in 2020. She maintains two blogs. One is on her family and local history research (juliannemangin.com) and the other is devoted to the Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery (petcemeterystories.net). Also, check out these blog posts: 

Tooting our own Kazoo
January 29, 2010 by Julianne Mangin, posted in the Library of Congress blog, In the Muse.  

Five Questions (Retiree Edition): Julianne Mangin, Network Specialist
December 16, 2011 by Jennifer Harbster, posted in the Library of Congress blog, Inside Adams.  

Nocturnal Sounds Inspired the Comic Opera The Frogs of Windham
July 21, 2016 by Julianne Mangin, posted in the Library of Congress blog, In the Muse.  

* The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

One Comment

  1. Beverly Brannan
    March 16, 2021 at 3:54 pm

    Your posts and online presentations have been fascinating and use the Library’s collections to advantage!

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