If someone were to ask me to state the political affiliations of my nineteenth and twentieth-century ancestors, I’d be certain about only a few of them. I do know that my paternal great-grandfather, who spent his working life as a conductor on the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad, was a union member and a staunch Democrat. His son, my grandfather, who seems to have been determined to be his father’s polar opposite, was very much a Republican. I know about several other ancestors’ political preferences from mentions in local newspapers — in small town news items, club columns, and obituaries. Even yearbooks have provided clues about nascent political preferences. I can make educated guesses about other ancestors, based on their ethnicities, professions, and the political leanings of their communities and states. But I think the example of my grandfather and his father is instructive: although it is tempting, I’ve learned not to expect that what was true of one individual was true of an entire family. Figuring out the differences — and the reasons behind them — always provides a richer and more interesting account.
An article by D. Josh Taylor, “How Did Great-Grandfather Vote?: Uncovering Your Ancestors’ Political Affiliations,” from the fall 2008 issue of New England Ancestors, offers ideas about identifying your ancestors’ party preferences.
And, on a related note, we present links to two online exhibits on past Presidential campaigns.
Presidential Campaign Poster Gallery from the Library of Congress:
“The presidential campaign posters in this slide show — taken from Presidential Campaign Posters From the Library of Congress: Two Hundred Years of Election Art — collect the best election images going back to the 1828 race between Democrat Andrew Jackson and incumbent John Quincy Adams of the National Republican party, which many historians consider the beginning of modern American politics, in part for its savagery.”
Presidents and Campaigns from the Maine Memory Network:
This slideshow “capture[s] some of the excitement of past presidential campaigns and presidential visits to the state — enthusiasm that transcends political affiliation and eras.”