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A True Account - '12 Years a Slave'

northupAll family researchers love to find an unusual story relating to an ancestor. Traditionally it is just family lore or legends as a source — a source that could have many errors. One of the best places is if the event was ever documented in a newspaper of the times.

From Hollywood movie makers, they recently produced the story of “12 Years a Slave” which also won the golden acclaimed Oscar for Best Picture. It is the true story of Solomon Northup, an African-American born between 1807 and 1808 in New York to freed parents, who was kidnapped and placed into unlawful bondage for twelve years until he proved he was a free man. Afterward, as an educated man, he wrote of his experiences during those 12 years from 1841 to 1853 in Louisiana.

The material in his book could have been forgotten decades later. However besides the material Solomon had in the book, there were newspaper articles of the times published. One such example was in the The New York Times of January 20, 1853 and another on “The Northup Kidnapping Case,”New York Daily Tribune on July 14, 1854. The book had been published in May 1853. With newspaper articles there is additional documentation of those true events. Other articles would follow including: “Freedom in Canada” in the Boston Herald on August 25, 1857 and American Union in Ellicottville, NY on November 12, 1858.

This is but one example, there could be an ancestor that you have little knowledge of, who could have had newspaper articles about during his / her lifetime.

My own personal ancestor, a great great grandmother, I found written up in the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper of October 21, 1862. In a simple short article, it stated the Susan Groff, wife of Capt. Joseph Groff of the Union Army, single handedly gathered up some 90 rifles in the town of Frederick, MD and hid them in a well until the Confederate soldiers had left the town in September 1862. She then gathered the rifles, proceeded to Washington, D. C. where they were turned over to the U. S. Army. We would have never had that true story if it had not been for the newspaper article.

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