Athletic Ancestors

By Maureen A. Taylor

With the world’s focus on the Olympics, it’s time to think about the athletes in your family. There’s a family story related to my husband’s grandfather: It’s said he was asked to play baseball with the Boston Red Sox, but his father forbade it. His father had other plans for the boy.

Do you have relative who excelled at a sport? You can post your pictures to Family Tree Magazine’s Facebook page or email them to me. (See our photo submission guidelines.) Don’t forget to send me their stories.

The first London Olympics was held in 1908. You can view the athletes in black and white photos on the Library of Congress website; use “1908 Olympics” as a search term.

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On Sept. 5, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt hosted members of the US Olympic team at his Sagamore Hill home in Oyster Bay, Long Island. On his left is sportswriter P.J. Conway and on his right is James Sullivan, secretary of the 1908 Olympic Committee. This is just one of the images available at the Library of Congress.

Movies and newsreels were just becoming popular at the time. Thanks to the Internet Archive, you can watch an interview with a rower who competed at the 1908 Olympics.

Here are some fun facts about that first London event:

  • It was supposed to be held in Rome, but when Mount Vesuvius erupted, plans were changed to London. City officials completed the “White City” for the games in under two years.
  • 1,971 men competed versus 37 women
  • The opening ceremony was held April 27 and the games didn’t close until October 31.
  • The current length of the marathon was set at these games. Supposedly the race began under the windows of the royal nursery and ended in front of King Edward VII.

There were political overtones at this event too. American shotputter and flag carrier Ralph Rose refused to dip the American flag in front of the King. Officials didn’t display the Swedish flag, so those team members refused to participate. You’ll find more information on Wikipedia and on the HistoryToday website.

And if your genealogy research includes ancestors who played sports on a school, hobby, amateur or professional team, see our October 2006 Family Tree Magazine guide to researching athletes in your family tree.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album