My great-grandfather Frank Becker was a fireman. I knew that he had been promoted to captain at some point, and some relatives had once told me they thought it had been covered on TV or in the newspaper.
I wanted to see if I could find a news story about the promotion. So in 2011, I obtained a copy of his service record from the St. Louis Fire Department.
The service record was a pretty cool document. It included previous addresses where Grandpa Becker had once lived, a list of companies to which he had been assigned, and other details. It also included the date of his promotion to captain: Dec. 1, 1953.
This is pretty much how I always found stuff: search and search for the right document with a date or an address, then turn to the newspapers and see if the event made into its pages.
I combed through numerous microfilmed issues of the Globe-Democrat and the Post-Dispatch from around the promotion date, hoping to find a story or a photo of my grandpa. Ultimately, though, I failed to find anything. So I turned my attention to other puzzles and let this one lapse for years.
Until last night.
There are lots of great tools for St. Louis-based genealogists, whether it’s the vast stores of microfilm at the County and City libraries, or the wide array of different digitized records at Ancestry.com.
But this year, a spectacular new treasure trove for local family history buffs came online: a searchable archive of the Post-Dispatch from 1874 to today
Last night after work, I decide to hit newspapers.com and try searching for some family members. One of the first I tried was Grandpa Becker, using the term “Frank J Becker.” Pretty quickly I turned up a photo of the promotion ceremony that I had been hunting for in 2011:
Why did I miss it before, when I was looking at microfilm? Well, I had assumed the photo or story would have been in the main news section. It didn’t occur to me that it would be in the Everyday Magazine!
It was so thrilling to find this photo, but there was a bit of a letdown: Grandpa was seemingly hiding from the camera, his face almost completely obscured behind someone else.
After saving the story and photo as a PDF, I looked through the other search results and found one other story I had never uncovered before. It was a short item about two firefighters who were injured in 1946. The story said Grandpa’s shoulder injured had been injured by falling bricks.
One advantage I have over other genealogists is proximity to the Post-Dispatch’s “morgue,” since I work in the newsroom at the Post-Dispatch. In my work, I often need to go to the morgue to scan photos of historical people or events. This time I decided to see if I could find the original, physical copy of my grandpa’s promotion photo.
It was easier than I thought. It was filed under “Missouri — St. Louis — Fire Department — Employees” in an envelope of similar photos. If only Grandpa would have taken a few steps to the side!
As I looked through the envelope, I saw several photos of union meetings with hundreds of men. I wondered if Grandpa might be one of those men.
It was my lucky day. As I turned to the next photo, there he was — right in the front row, clear as day.
What a find! Nobody is named in the photo caption. I only came across it because I was looking for the other photo.
If you have St. Louis connections, hurry over to stltoday.newspapers.com and search the P-D archives! Also, check out this excellent overview of St. Louis genealogy resources from my coworker Beth O’Malley. I also want to thank the Post-Dispatch for granting me permission to reproduce these two photos.
What’s the next step? Talking with my relatives. I have some new stories to ask them about!