I Found it in the Archives: We Have a Winner!

I Found it in the Archives: We Have a Winner!

The Ohio History Connection is proud to announce the winner of the 2017 I Found it in the Archives Contest!

Researcher Janet Peterson discovered some fascinating photographs while investigating a Victorian era social scandal. Check out her story below!

I found treasure in the Ohio archives when doing research for a story I was writing. I’d stumbled upon a tale of scandal from 1883 involving a débutante, Sara Swan Whiting. A popular beauty born in Newport, Rhode Island, Sara’s family was a welcome member of the famous New York “Four Hundred” social elite set, ruled by society’s matriarch, Mrs. Caroline Astor. Sara was a favorite of Mrs. Astor, and close friends with her daughter, Carrie Astor and Edith (Jones) Wharton.

I learned that Sara Swan Whiting became involved in a scandal after falling in love with Oliver Belmont, son of financier August Belmont. Sara and Oliver were married, but the marriage only lasted several months when Oliver abandoned his bride on their Paris honeymoon, delivering Sara to horrible scandal.

While hunting for information I was unable to find any photos of Miss Whiting, or her family, who played an intricate role in her failed marriage. Her mother, Mrs. Sara Swan Whiting, and two older sisters, Jane and Millie Whiting, as well as a brother, Augustus Whiting. I finally found several photos of Sara at the New York Historical Society, but no portraits or other photos. This is unusual for a woman of her social standing. There are many portraits and photos of her friends, Carrie Astor and Edith Wharton, but few of Sara and none of the Whiting family.

I assumed this was fallout from the scandal. It was almost as though Sara had been wiped from the records of history.

Research into Sara’s genealogy revealed she was the granddaughter of Judge Gustavus Swan. Judge Swan had a successful legal career in Ohio, and summered in Newport, R.I. Admitted to the bar in 1811, he went on to serve in the Ohio House of Representatives, the Ohio Supreme Court, president judge of the Ohio Court of Common Pleas, and president on the board of the Bank of Ohio. Judge Swan died in Columbus in 1830, leaving his name in Ohio’s history books.

Imagine my delight when an Ohio historian located photos of the Whiting family mixed in with their cousins, the Parson family! Although none were found of Sara, probably because she was a baby, the historian found photos of Sara’s mother, her sisters, Jane and Millie, and her brother Augustus. These photos were a visual gold mine, putting faces to names of a well respected Ohio family!

Thanks to Janet for sharing her awesome experience with us!

We love hearing from our researchers at the Ohio History Connection Archives/Library. Have you made a great find? Stumbled upon an interesting story? It’s never too early to start preparing your entry for the 2018 I Found it in the Archives Contest!

In the meantime, stay tuned to the History Blog for more information about Janet’s story and the statewide Ohio contest. You will be able to vote for Janet as she goes head to head with entries from other archives around the state.

Congratulations, Janet!

Posted July 20, 2017

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