Genealogical Jackpots

Researching your family history in newspapers is a bit like buying lottery tickets. You hear stories about the jackpot winners and you can’t help but imagine being a big winner yourself someday. So you keep at it, scratching away at ticket after ticket, clinging to hope with nothing but $5 winners to show for it—at best, the occasional two-line death announcement when you already have the full death certificate, or the newspaper ad that you had already found in a city directory. You try to pump yourself up every time you sit down to Chronicling America or GenealogyBank, “Today is the day!” Scratch, scratch, scratch away…

My friends at the Family History Center were all excited about starting newspaper research—they’d heard all the jackpot tales. I put them off as long as I could. There are a lot more productive avenues for online research, I assured them.

But the day came when we were tired of censuses and pension files, familysearch and fold3. So what the heck—let’s have a demonstration of how time-consuming and fruitless newspaper research really is.

So we popped open GenealogyBank and I asked for a name—Ian suggested “Pachter”, and inwardly I smiled. This was going to be a good lesson in the need to think flexibly about search terms. How many different ways could OCR have misread “Pachter,” for goodness sake? I filtered the search to Philadelphia, 1900-1920, and got my trusty “Genealogy is long, tedious work” speech all prepped up and ready to go….

“Woman [Illegible] Eleven from Death in Flames…”[1]

This can’t possibly be…

We opened the image. Page 1, above the fold, right under the banner. A scrap of paper obscured a bit of the headline, but there in crisp black and white it was easy enough to make out:


Carries Children Down Blazing Stair-way in Bare Feet and Rouses Slumbering Occupants of House

Through the pluck of Mrs. Rose Pachter, of 708 Buttonwood street [sic], eleven persons were saved from probable death during an early morning fire at her home yesterday. She was badly burned.

Mrs. Pachter, who occupies the second floor of the residence, with her five children, was awakened by smoke. She found the house in flames, and the bed, in which slept her five-year-old son Paul, completely enveloped by fire. Grasping the boy, she ran downstairs in her bare feet. Placing the child in the street, out of danger, she returned to awaken the other sleepers.

Her feet were scorched and her clothing ignited and she was burned about the face and body, but her injuries did not deter her. She aroused the other children, Jennie, 19 years old; David, 17 years old; Hettie, 20 years old, and May, 17 years old.

Then she ran to the third floor of the building and awakened Benjamin Cohen, his wife and their five children. All succeeded in getting out, though Jennie and May Pachter were burned about the arms, and Hettie Pachter tripped over a water pitcher, which broke and cut her right leg.

After getting the occupants out of the house, Mrs. Pachter started to fight the fire. When the firemen arrived a few minutes later they found the plucky woman, in her burned nightrobe, throwing water at the flames. The loss is estimated at $400.”


Rose Pachter was Ian’s grandmother.


[1] “Woman’ [Illegible] Eleven from Death in Flames,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 5 Sep 1910, p.1, col. 7; digital image, GenealogyBank ( : accessed 25 Aug 2013).