Feature Article: His Life for His Son's: The Story of My Cousin Isaac Smith

A distant cousin wrote me recently and mentioned that a mutual cousin of ours, Isaac Smith, had died while trying to rescue his drowning son back in the 1800s. I thought, that sounds like a story that a newspaper would pick up – so I headed to GenealogyBank's Historical Newspaper Archives to find the rest of that story.

I quickly found not one – but three articles on this tragedy.


New York Herald (New York, New York), 24 June 1895, page 5

The drowning happened at a company picnic at Oakland Beach in Rye, New York.

According to the newspaper article, Isaac never took time off from his bakery. The picnic he organized was his first break from work in ten years. The news article goes on to describe the grim details of his death while rescuing his drowning son.


Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 24 June 1895, page 1

According to the other two articles I found, Isaac died of a heart attack – likely brought on by the urgency, fear and stress of finding and rescuing his son Gordon Smith, who was 15 years old.

Thanks to these old newspaper articles, my connection to William Isaac Smith went beyond the dates and places. The details and people involved in saving Gordon Smith's life helped me see into the lives of my relatives in a unique way that is now preserved forever. These newspaper articles provided more than the "facts" so that I could see my relatives as they lived – and died. I got the details of this tragedy – but also sprinkled through there were the details of William Isaac Smith's character, work ethic and business success that led him to open not just one bakery, but two more in neighboring towns.


New York Herald Tribune (New York, New York), 24 June 1895, page 7

Isaac ran a "wholesale bakery" in White Plains that branched out with bakeries in Tarrytown and Port Chester. By the young age of 43, he had provided financial security for his wife and children, and served his employees faithfully. These newspaper clippings on the accident provide amazing details that I would not have found anywhere else – describing not just this tragic incident, but details of the character of my cousin.

GenealogyBank has become a core "go-to," reliable resource for learning about and writing the history of your family. Newspapers are the only place that genealogists can find the stories of their relatives.

Beyond the dates and places and news of the day are the stories of our grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Only GenealogyBank provides access to over 1.7 billion newspaper records that tell the stories our ancestors cannot. Thanks to our digital archival technology, our records can be made available to you at the click of a mouse.

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