Obscure Genealogy TV Show

The TV show “Follow Your Past” follows average Americans on a journey to the places of their ancestors. Then they get to walk in their ancestors’ footsteps sometimes by doing jobs of their ancestors. This series hides on the Travel Channel. There were 10 half-hour episodes broadcast in the last week of March but they were on at 9:00 and 9:30 in the morning in just one week. I only can think that the Travel Channel wasn’t very impressed with the results. Tomorrow (Apr. 27th) the channel is broadcasting a repeat episode at 9:00 and then 3 new episodes after that. I have to think that this may be the end of the series. If you have a DVR, set it to record this series and see what you think of it.

Filed under TV

Kodak History Notes – Their Biggest WWII Secret

Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge in 1947

Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge in 1947

During the early days of World War II a chemist at Kodak noticed that a family in his neighborhood just disappeared suddenly. It was a time when there were many government secrets related to the War. A few weeks later he was asked he wanted to move his family to aid in the war effort. They didn’t know where they were headed until they got to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Even once they got to their new home, security was so tight that a person was only allowed to know as little as possible to preform their function. It wasn’t until after the War that people found out they were helping to make the first atomic bomb.

On Christmas Eve 1942 James C. White from the Kodak subsidiary, Tennessee Eastman (TEC), received a phone call from a US Army General asking if they would take on a new defense project. TEC had already been making RDX, a high explosive, for the Army. This new project would involve building everything from scratch including the factory plant, housing, stores, and everything else you would need to create a town from farm land. TEC pulled employees from the Kingsport, TN plant and also from Kodak in Rochester to run a plant in Oak Ridge.

Prefab homes and trailers at Oak Ridge

Prefab homes and trailers at Oak Ridge

The function of the factory plant (code named Y-12) was to separate out uranium-235 out of raw uranium. Machines called calutrons used massive amounts of electricity to create strong magnets to separate out the U-235. At first it was thought that they would need engineers to run the calutrons but instead they ending up training local teachers, farmers, housewives, etc. into operators. Gladys Owens, the woman seated in the foreground of the picture at the bottom of this post didn’t know what the calutron she operated did until 50 years later.

The U-235 was used in “Little Boy” the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. The other atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki used plutonium, not uranium. The factory that created the plutonium for that bomb was also at Oak Ridge but run by Dupont.

Some of the housing for employees was in trailers and some in prefab houses (see pictures). Oak Ridge ended up having over 22,000 residents by August 1945. That made it the fifth largest city in Tennessee.

After WWII was over there the number of people in Oak Ridge rapidly decreased.  The contract with Tennessee Eastman had only been for the duration of the War. On May 4, 1947 the operation of the Y-12 plant was transferred to Carbide and Carbon Chemical Corp. (later Union Carbide). They ran the plant until the 1970s.

Kodak employees employees went back to their homes from before the War but still weren’t allowed to tell their secrets until there was clearance from the Army. Employees found out about how the company helped build the first atomic bomb in the May 8 and 15, 1947 issues of Kodakery, the employee newspaper (see links in sources).


  1. Kodakery; Vol. 5, number 18; May 8, 1947
  2. Kodakery; Vol. 5, number 19; May 15, 1947
  3. Arsenal of Freedom, Part two; Rochester War Plant Workers During World War II” by Bob Marcotte in Rochestery History, Vol. LXVI, no. 2, Spring 2004
  4. Y-12 National Security Complex on Wikipedia.
Ladies operating calutrons

Ladies operating calutrons


WDYTYA – Molly Ringwald

Photo courtesy of TLC

Photo courtesy of TLC

The next episode of Who Do You Think You Are? features Molly Ringwald. Molly is known for being part of the “Brat Pack” in the 1980s. The popular movies Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink cemented her career. Even though she still looks almost the same as she did in the late 1980s, Molly is now 48. She has been working continuously in Hollywood since she was 5 years old.

Molly starts her research on her family by visiting her father in Brooklyn. She then goes to Nebraska and visits the Washington County Courthouse where in the photo she is looking at plat maps. Then she is able to visit a family homestead in Arlington, Nebraska. Going back further on her family tree, Molly visits Sweden and goes into a coal mine where one of her ancestors died.

This episode of WDYTYA is on TLC at 9 p.m. (eastern & western times). Then stay tuned for the last episode of the season of Lost Lost Family.

Old News – Tires

This newspaper had a full page every week about automobiles. According to a short article there were about 44,000 autos built in 1908 but in 1915 703,527 were built. Best of all the average price of an automobile decreased from $2,123 in 1908 to just $814 in 1915. The second automobile gadget tells that you need to have tires off the garage floor to save them. That is not true.


Thursday, April 20, 1916


With This Combined Crank and Tire Pump the Power of the Engine is Used for Inflating the Tires.

With This Combined Crank and Tire Pump the Power of the Engine is Used for Inflating the Tires.

By the use of a combined automobile crank and tire pump, which is easily substituted for the crank that comes with the car, the work of inflating the tires is done with power from the engine, says Popular Mechanics Magazine. The pump is inside the crank, and to connect it with the drive shaft of the engine requires only the turning of a milled nut mounted on the shaft of the crank, the hose for conveying the air to the tires being attached to a threaded connection at the handle end of the crank. After the tires have been inflated, the pump is released from the drive shaft simply by turning the nut back to its original position, when the crank is ready to be used as a starting crank.


1916-04-20-bAutomobile tires are wearing out even when the machine stands in the garage and they wear out rapidly if the floor is covered with oil or grease. The simple jack shown here lifts the wheel from the floor and, it is stated, serves as an efficient wheel pedestal and brace to prevent side motion. The bolts can be adjusted to fit wheels of different sizes.—Independent farmer.


Katey Sagal’s Mother

Sunday night on Who Do You Think You Are? Katey Sagal wanted to find out about her mother’s early career. Her mother was born Sara Zwilling but used the stage name of Sara Macon. The program mentioned that Sara had been on radio as a teenager and also that she joined USO shows during World War II. On the Fulton History newspaper website I found this long article on Sara getting a big break on Broadway. Internet Broadway Database says that the show that she was performing in closed three days after this article ran in the newspaper. Also, this was the only show she was in on Broadway. I would imagine that Sara joined the USO show tours soon after this show closed.


Saturday, Jan. 1, 1944

Understudy, 17, Makes Good

Broadway’s happiest understudy is Sara Macon, 17-year-old actress just out of Southern Seminary, Virginia, who saved “What’s Up”, the Mark Warnow musical at the National Theatre, three times in one week. If the cast jointly acted as Santa Claus and feted her during the Christmas holidays it was because they appreciated the service she had rendered the show.

Nobody, as a matter of fact, paid much attention to Sara Macon till a week or so ago. It’s her first Broadway show and her entire part consisted of a few lines. but from the wings every performance the young actress avidly followed the movement of all the principals she was understudying and there were seven of them.Gradually she learned every lyric, every bar of music, every dance step and even every line inflection so she’d be letter perfect if suddenly she were called upon to fill in.

Frankly, Sara never expected to go on. The cast is full of youngsters no older than she is. But a cold kept Mary Roche in bed and the unabashed girl, with the poise of a veteran, stepped into the spotlight and sang every one of the Roche songs with verve. No sooner had Miss Roche returned when Marjorie Beecher, ballerina, reported ill. Again tiara filled the breach, and for a few nights she pirouetted across the footlights with magic lightness of foot. Retained even was the moment of gay satire with Rodney McLennan in the dance interlude of “You Wash and I’ll Dry.”

Pat Marshall, comedienne, meanwhile, was fighting the grippe herself and kept going long enough to see Miss Beecher back in her role. The stage manager called Sara Macon on the telephone. “Be prepared to go on for Pat Marshall,” he ordered. And Sara did.

It was that night that Jimmy Savo and Johnny Morgan talked in high praise of the little girl who had suddenly become the focus of all attention.

“We ought to do something about her.” said Savo.

I was thinking of the same thing,” agreed Morgan. “Just thanking her for giving a good account of herself isn’t enough. How about a party?”

“Sure,: came from Savo, “a party—a Christmas party. We’ll be Santa Claus.”

The idea leaped from dressing room to dressing room. They’ll all be Kris Kringle and Sara Macon would be Cinderella. And she was for one night.

As for Miss Macon, she’s back on duty again as understudy watching the principals from the wings just as if nothing had happened.

“I didn’t dream it this way,” is all she would say. “But it was the happiest Christmas I ever had.”

Sibley’s Spring Ad

Last year I bought a small collection of original art used in ads for Sibley’s department stores. They were done by a lady artist that had come to the US from Germany to draw for Sibley’s. Unfortunately the person that I bought these from didn’t know her name as he had bought the collection from an estate sale. Some of these art works have dates when they were drawn and when they were used in newspaper ads. This one was drawn April 16, 1955 and used in the Democrat & Chronicle on April 19th.

After I scanned all the drawings in the collection I gave them to the Local History Department of the Rochester Public Library.

Dated 15 April 1955

WDYTYA – Katey Sagal

Katey Sagal photo by Gage Skidmore

Katey Sagal photo by Gage Skidmore

Katey Sagal started her career as a back-up singer but became better known as Peg Bundy on Married… with Children. That lasted 10 years. Then she was the voice of Leela on Futurama for 136 episodes while working on other projects. She won a Golden Globe Award for Sons of Anarchy which was her fifth after winning four for Married….

Katey’s father was Jewish but not her mother who died when Katey was young. Katey wants to find someone who knew her mother. On this week’s episode of Who Do You Think you Are? she is connected with a lady named “Tinker” who was in the USO during WWII with Katey’s mother. Then Katey finds that her mother’s ancestors were Amish. Some of those Amish ancestors were fiercely attacked.

This episode of WDYTYA airs on TLC at 9 p.m. (eastern and western times) on Sunday April 17th. Then be sure to stay tuned for another new episode of Long Lost Family.