Valentine’s Day History Facts & My Sweet Genealogy Karma

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott turns to old newspapers to research the history of St. Valentine’s Day—and shares a personal Valentine’s Day story.

Nothing much beats holidays as a way to get everyone talking about family, memories, stories, and family history. Certainly Valentine’s Day is no exception! I’ve been blessed to have my “Valentine” with me now for over 38 years and I sure am glad she said that she would be my valentine all those years ago.

In the case of my wonderful wife, each year about this time I would go out to find one of those fancy satin hearts filled with chocolates. Why? Well, when we were dating she told me, very early in our relationship, “I’ll know the man who really loves me because he will buy me one of those fancy hearts filled with chocolates for Valentine’s Day.” Needless to say I bought one for her every year after that.

Every year, that is, until recently when she said to me: “OK honey, I know you love me so you can stop now.” So now I have to be creative and come up with something new and different each Valentine’s Day. That got me to thinking this year about what the history of Valentine’s Day was, what gifts might have been like in the past, etc. I admit I never really knew much about this holiday, so I gave GenealogyBank.com a look for some information about this romantic day and maybe even find some potential ideas for my wife’s gift.

Historical Origins of Valentine’s Day

My first hit helped explain the history of the Valentine’s Day holiday. There in a 1925 newspaper was an intriguing, full-page article describing the origins of Valentine’s Day. The first thing I learned was that it is actually St. Valentine’s Day, named after the long-ago martyred Saint Valentine.

Why We Call It St. Valentine's Day, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 February 1925

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 February 1925, page 1

I certainly appreciated one of the cartoons that accompanied the old news article, even if I have been lucky enough to never have to visit a pawnshop prior to my shopping trips for chocolate-filled hearts.

Valentine's Day cartoon, Dallas Morning News newspaper 8 February 1925

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 February 1925, page 1

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

My next hit was closer to my adopted hometown when I saw the byline of Chicago, but alas this 1929 newspaper article was about the infamous St. Valentine’s Day gangster massacre.

Link Capone with Chicago Massacre, Boston Herald newspaper article 15 February 1929

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 15 February 1929, page 1

Ugh…not romantic in the least, although it is a very interesting event in our national history. So I was off in search of more newspaper articles about Valentine’s Day.

My Sweet Genealogy Karma

Then I found it! At least, to me as a genealogist, I found it. It was in a 1910 newspaper: there was an advertisement entitled “For Your Valentine: Candy Hearts and Heart Shaped Boxes.”

Valentine's Day candy ad, Plain Dealer newspaper 11 February 1910

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 February 1910, page 14

I smiled when I saw that the price of satin heart boxes ran from 20 cents to $4, but it was the name of the company that ran the advertisement, The Chandler & Rudd Company, that actually caught my eye. You see back in 1910 my great grandfather, Frederick George Evenden, was a Master Tea Blender for none other than The Chandler & Rudd Company. Yep, the very same company as the one in the advertisement—and during the time that he worked there.

So for all these years my buying chocolate-filled hearts was simply karma! Karma sent from my great grandfather to my wife, giving her vibes to instruct me to go for what he personally knew was the really good stuff for Valentine’s Day! Sadly, Chandler & Rudd closed just two years ago, but if they were still open I’d be on the phone with them right now to buy her a sweet bit of the past.

So with a tip o’ my hat to my great grandfather Evenden, this year I am going back to getting my Sweetie some of those fancy chocolate candies in a heart-shaped box this Valentine’s Day for sure.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day to you and your family!

Do You Know Where in Ireland Your Ancestors Came From?

Finding the town or county where your family came from in the “Old Country” can be difficult. That’s where Irish American newspapers can really help you locate your ancestor’s place of birth when researching your ancestry from Ireland.

For example, look at this 1859 obituary from an old Irish American newspaper:

Ellen O’Brien obituary, Irish American Weekly newspaper article 29 January 1859

Irish American Weekly (New York City, New York), 29 January 1859, page 3

This typical historical obituary, although short, gives us plenty of family history information:

  • Name of deceased: Ellen O’Brien
  • Name of spouse: Lawrence O’Brien
  • Date of death: 15 January 1859
  • Where she died: at 63 Montgomery Street in New York City
  • Age at death: 68th year—so, she was born about 1791
  • Where she was born: she was a native of Drinaugh Parish, County Cork, Ireland

Note: Drinaugh Parish is spelled Drinagh today.

Wow.

It took me decades to find the townland in Ireland where my family was from.

We found her birthplace with just a few clicks of the mouse in GenealogyBank’s Irish American newspaper archives.

We now know where to look to learn more about her life growing up in the late 1700s in Ireland.

We could check and see what old church records the Roman Catholic Church in Drinagh has on file.

photo of the Roman Catholic Church in Drinagh Parish, County Cork, Ireland

Photo: Roman Catholic Church in Drinagh Parish, County Cork, Ireland. Credit: Panramio.

Click by click we can piece together the documentation and the stories about the scenes that she likely saw growing up in Ireland, as we document, preserve and pass down her story to the rising generation of the family.

It’s a great day for genealogy!

Macon, Georgia, Genealogy Resources Online

Are you researching your family history from Georgia? If you have ancestors from the “Peach State,” a good place to start looking is the city of Macon, located right near the geographic center of Georgia.

photo of Macon, Georgia

Photo: Macon, Georgia. Credit: Wikipedia.

GenealogyBank’s online newspaper archives have Macon, Georgia, covered from 1826 to today. That is well over 2.5 million articles about your Southern American ancestors. That’s a lot of birth, marriage and obituary newspaper articles—with the genealogical details about your ancestry you are looking for. There are also many local news stories in the newspapers that you can read to find out more about your ancestors’ lives and the times they lived in.

Here is the list of Macon, GA, newspapers currently available for researching in GenealogyBank:

Newspapers Coverage Collection
Macon Daily Herald 5/8/1865 – 5/8/1865 Newspaper Archives
Macon Sentinel 1/27/1900 – 1/27/1900 Newspaper Archives
Macon Telegraph 2/1/1860 – 3/11/1923 Newspaper Archives
Macon Telegraph 8/18/1994 – Current Recent Obituaries
Macon Weekly Telegraph 11/1/1826 – 6/3/1895 Newspaper Archives

In addition to the newspaper archives that GenealogyBank has put online, FamilySearch.org has put some of Georgia’s vital records online including:

Births
Georgia, Births and Christenings, 1754-1960 Index only
Marriages
Georgia Marriages, 1808-1967 Index only
Deaths
Georgia, Deaths, 1914-1927 Index and images
Georgia, Deaths 1928-1930 Index and images
Georgia, Death Index, 1933-1998 Index only

Understanding Terms Found in Historical Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary explains some of the unusual or archaic terms often found in historical newspapers, and provides examples from period newspapers.

When I first started searching historical newspapers to help with my family history research, certain terms that I found in old papers confused me.

In the beginning, I found myself wondering: what was a “relict” or a “consort,” and why were there so many references to “inst.” or “instant,” and “ult.” or “ultimo”? It took some time to sort all these terms out, and I found various genealogical dictionaries useful.

Knowing that some of you may be having the same confusion about this terminology, I’d like to share some examples and definitions of the more commonly-found terms in old newspapers, with some insight on genealogical clues that these terms may provide.

MEANINGS OF GENERAL NEWSPAPER TERMS

Communicated (often abbreviated Com.): When reading old newspapers, you may spot the word communicated or its abbreviation, com. It can occur at the beginning of an article, or more typically it will be abbreviated at the end of the article, and indicates that the item was written by someone other than a staff writer, and “communicated” to the newspaper for publication. A notice at the beginning of the newspaper article will often look like this:

the term "communicated" from an old newspaper

Whenever you see the term communicated or its abbreviation com., look for additional articles in other newspapers. You never know if the first article you found is complete—often it has been edited from the original, and if you find that original article it may contain more family history information than the edited version of the article you found.

Here is an example where the abbreviation com. has been inserted at the end of the newspaper article. Note also that this example has a “Request to Insert,” explained next.

the abbreviation "com." from the Newburyport Herald newspaper 7 August 1838

Newburyport Herald (Newburyport, Massachusetts), 7 August 1838, page 3

Requests to Insert: An often overlooked clue in old newspapers is a request for printers to republish a notice in other locations. Generally, this indicates that a person or family once resided elsewhere, or has a familial or business connection outside of the published location, and therefore readers in that additional location will have an interest in news about the individual or family. This is a great clue to steer your family history searches to locations you might not have considered otherwise.

Mastheads: Typically located at the top of the front page, the masthead is the printed matter consisting of the name of the newspaper, along with details of its publication (date, location, etc.).

Here is an example of a masthead from a New Hampshire newspaper:

masthead, New-Hampshire Patriot newspaper 20 January 1823

New-Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 20 January 1823, page 1

When saving important proofs for genealogical purposes, it is advisable to review the masthead. You may also learn something interesting, such as that Isaac Hill, printer of the New-Hampshire Patriot & State Gazette, was also a publisher of the “Laws of the United States.”

DEFINITIONS OF RELATIONSHIP REFERENCE TERMS

Banns or Bans (or Publishing of the Banns): This is an ancient matrimonial term, originating from the Middle Ages. A Banns proclamation was typically published on three consecutive Sundays prior to a wedding. The requirement was abolished by the Roman Catholic Church in 1983, but is still used in some parts of the world. Original Banns certificates are rare, but you may be able to locate a few in some archives.

In this 20th century newspaper notice, the entire announcement is about a couple’s wedding banns:

Voellinger-Ehrstein wedding, Belleville News Democrat newspaper article 28 March 1921

Belleville News Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 28 March 1921, page 2

In this 19th century newspaper article, we see an amusing story about how important the banns requirement was:

amusing wedding story, Daily Advertiser newspaper article 22 August 1807

Daily Advertiser (New York, New York), 22 August 1807, page 3

Because he had no proof the banns had been “regularly published” as required, the Minister postponed the wedding until the following day. However, the groom would not be deterred! He pulled off his hat, handed it to his bride-to-be, and took off running at “full speed.” He returned “in exactly two hours and thirty-five minutes, to the great joy of the betrothed damsel” with the requisite proof that the banns had indeed been published—whereupon the Minister performed the ceremony!

Consort: A consort is a partner, and in the case of a death, a female who leaves a surviving spouse. An easy way to remember the term consort is to think of a marriage as a “consortium” between a husband and wife. A corresponding term is relict (see the next entry), along with spinster or bachelor, for persons who remain single.

In this example from an 1802 newspaper announcing Eleanor Harris’s death, she is described as the “consort” of Thomas Harris. Note the representation of the “s” as an “f,” common in 18th and early 19th century newspapers, so that “consort” actually reads “confort.” Also note that her death date is reported as “the 8th instant” (again, with the “s” spelled with an “f” so that it actually reads “inftant”). I’ll explain what “instant” means shortly.

Eleanor Harris obituary, Republican newspaper article 22 February 1802

Republican (Baltimore, Maryland), 22 February 1802, page 3

Relict (relictus): Relictus is a Latin term meaning having inherited or been bequeathed. Ergo, the relict is the survivor (usually a widow) of the marriage union.

The first sentence of this 1907 newspaper article reads: “Mrs. Prudence Hale, relict of the late Marshall Hale, died early yesterday morning at the home of her son…” It is lamentable that the typesetter misspelled her late husband’s name as Marshall “Hall” in the headline.

Noble Woman's Useful Life Ended, San Jose Mercury News newspaper article 21 January 1907

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 21 January 1907, page 1

DEFINITONS OF TIME FRAME TERMS IN NEWSPAPERS

Rather than print a specific date, old newspapers sometimes refer to a date by using terms such as instant, proximo and ultimo. Occasionally they do this for religious reasons, which I’ll explain shortly.

Instant (often abbreviated inst.): This term refers to a recent occurrence in the present or current month. In the consort example above, Eleanor Harris’s death date is reported as “the 8th instant.” Since her death notice was published on 22 February 1802, this means she died on 8 February 1802.

Proximo (often abbreviated prox.): Proximo refers to something that will occur in the future, or next month, as seen in this advertisement for the British armed ship Louisa, which was scheduled to sail on the “20th proximo.” Since this announcement was published on 27 February 1800, this means the Louisa will sail on 20 March 1800.

shipping notice about British ship Louisa, Georgia Gazette newspaper article 27 February 1800

Georgia Gazette (Savannah, Georgia), 27 February 1800, page 2

Ultimo (often abbreviated ult.): Ultimo or Ultimo Mense is a Latin term/phrase that refers to an occurrence from last month.

For example, in one old newspaper death notice Lt. Elliott’s death was specified as December 6, and in another (published in January), his death was reported as having occurred on “the 6th ult,” which is another way of saying December 6.

Boston Courier (Boston, Massachusetts), 23 December 1841, page 4:

  • “DIED, In Chester, N. H. Dec 6, Lieut Jacob Elliott, 86, a soldier of the revolution.”

Bellows Falls Gazette (Bellows Falls, Vermont), 10 January 1842, page 3:

  • “In Chester, N. H. very suddenly on the 6th ult. Lieut. Jacob Elliott, 86…”

Whenever you find an “ultimo” reference, cross-reference the date with vital records, since the newspaper in this case is reporting on an event that happened the previous month and is not immediate. Reports were often reprinted from one paper to another, and after sufficient time had passed the original date may have become unclear. In addition, some historical newspapers occasionally used the “ultimo” reference to refer to an event from two months prior.

In this notice from 1842, one’s first inclination is to record Mr. Basset’s death as having occurred in December of 1841, since the death notice was published in January and referred to the “23d ult.” However, upon further examination, I’ve uncovered some citations that report his death as having occurred in November.

Abel Basset death notice, Bellows Falls Gazette newspaper article 10 January 1842

Bellows Falls Gazette (Bellows Falls, Vermont), 10 January 1842, page 3

I suggest you consider recording “ultimo” dates as approximations (died circa or about).

New and Old Style References for Dates (often abbreviated N.S. and O.S.): Another reason that dates in historical newspaper notices may not be specific pertains to beliefs held by various religions, such as the Society of Friends, aka Quakers.

Since the commonly-used names for months are based upon pagan Gods (e.g., January from Janus, February from Februus, etc.), the early Quakers deemed it sacrilegious to use such names. Instead, the Quakers referred to months by the order in which they appeared during the year.

In this example from a 1788 newspaper, the time of the yearly meeting is recorded as being “from the 12th [Day] of the fifth Month, 1788, to the 19th Day of the same inclusive.”

notice about a Quaker yearly meeting, New-York Morning Post newspaper article 30 September 1788

New-York Morning Post (New York, New York), 30 September 1788, page 2

The conversion for Quaker dates is complicated, so if you find it necessary to record one, seek out a calendar converter and undertake further research. Mistakes are all too common.

Prior to 1752 (when the American colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar), the first month of the year was not January; the year started with the Spring Equinox in the middle of March.

The reason the calendar changed (from the Julian to the Gregorian system) was to accommodate for leap years. After several centuries the equinoxes were not falling on the calendar at the proper time, so various days were removed and the first of the year became January 1. When it was necessary to explain an old or new style date, an abbreviation of N.S. or O.S. was added.

In this 1822 newspaper article, both dating systems are used to give John Stark’s birth date: “Aug. 28, 1728, old style, corresponding to Aug. 17, N.S.”

John Stark obituary, Republican Chronicle newspaper article 29 May 1822

Republican Chronicle (Ithaca, New York), 29 May 1822, page 3

You may wish to consult one of my early RootsWeb Review articles, “Dates and Calendars through the Ages,” located at http://ftp.rootsweb.ancestry.com/pub/review/2007/0606.txt

You may also find it helpful to read “Quaker Dating before 1752” at the Swarthmore Friends Historical Library Website at www.swarthmore.edu/academics/friends-historical-library/quaker-meeting-records/quaker-calendar.xml.

I hope these definitions and genealogy tips helped you gain a better understanding of the newspaper terminology often found in old newspapers. Have you discovered any perplexing newspaper terms in your genealogy research? Share them with us in the comments!

3,000+ U.S. Newspaper Archives Just Got More Content!

It is another busy year for the GenealogyBank team as we continue to rapidly grow our online archives to offer you the best U.S. newspaper coverage for your genealogy research. We are pleased to announce that we recently added more back issues and articles to more than 3,000 newspapers from all 50 U.S. states! Now you can enjoy even more content to investigate your family history with our expanded newspaper coverage across the entire United States.

It would be too lengthy to list them all, but here is a partial list of the new newspapers we added, and the expansion to some of our existing titles: over 60 newspapers from 11 states. This gives you just a taste of the rapid growth of GenealogyBank’s online U.S. newspaper archives!

In fact, we are adding more newspapers right now, as we do each and every day to help you do better genealogy research.

Dig in and tell us what you find.

State City Newspaper

Coverae

Collection

Alabama Mobile Alabama Staats-Zeitung

02/08/1917–02/08/1917

Newspaper Archives

California Martinez Martinez News-Gazette*

01/06/2009–Current

Recent Obituaries

California San Diego Evening Tribune

9/29/1908–12/31/1914

Newspaper Archives

California San Diego San Diego Union

05/12/1871–07/17/1905

Newspaper Archives

District of Columbia Washington Daily Union

01/02/1846–12/31/1850

Newspaper Archives

District of Columbia Washington Evening Star

3/7/1913–2/9/1921

Newspaper Archives

Illinois Chicago Chicago Crusader*

11/26/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

Illinois Peoria Journal Star

4/1/1951–3/31/1953

Newspaper Archives

Illinois Springfield Daily Illinois State Journal

1/9/1907–3/23/1913

Newspaper Archives

Illinois Springfield Daily Illinois State Register

4/1/1915–12/3/1922

Newspaper Archives

Indiana Gary Gary Crusader*

12/03/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

Louisiana Baton Rouge State Times Advocate

3/1/1933–7/30/1975

Newspaper Archives

Louisiana New Orleans Advocate, The: New Orleans Edition*

10/22/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Maine Biddeford Justice de Biddeford

09/16/1897–03/02/1950

Newspaper Archives

Maine Sanford Justice de Sanford

04/29/1926–12/06/1928

Newspaper Archives

Maryland Baltimore American and Commercial Daily Advertiser

12/28/1850–06/30/1853

Newspaper Archives

Massachusetts Boston American Traveller*

05/02/1862–10/21/1862

Newspaper Archives

Massachusetts Boston Boston Herald

1/1/1851–12/30/1972

Newspaper Archives

Massachusetts Boston Boston Traveller

10/1/1945–12/31/1951

Newspaper Archives

Massachusetts Boston Boston Traveller*

10/02/1854–03/31/1864

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Daily Argus*

11/16/1898–6/24/1907

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Daily Times

10/15/1903–5/2/1908

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Daily Times*

9/1/1903–12/29/1906

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ann Arbor Ann Arbor News-Argus*

6/25/1907–5/2/1908

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ann Arbor Michigan Argus*

10/17/1879–12/27/1907

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ann Arbor True Democrat*

12/19/1845–3/8/1849

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ypsilanti Ypsilanti Commercial*

4/17/1869–8/25/1898

Newspaper Archives

New Jersey Collingswood Retrospect, The*

01/06/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

New Jersey Egg Harbor City Egg Harbor Pilot

10/17/1908–02/20/1915

Newspaper Archives

New Jersey Newark Newark Daily Advertiser

12/28/1864–12/29/1866

Newspaper Archives

New York New York Courrier des Etats-Unis

11/17/1859–01/26/1885

Newspaper Archives

New York New York Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper

06/04/1870–10/28/1871

Newspaper Archives

New York New York New Yorker Volkszeitung*

01/14/1894–02/27/1898

Newspaper Archives

New York Plattsburgh Burgh, The*

08/05/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

New York Skaneateles Skaneateles Press*

08/04/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Daily News

7/30/1939–2/12/1973

Newspaper Archives

North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Record

9/13/1946–7/14/1964

Newspaper Archives

Ohio Cincinnati Cincinnati Post

6/17/1885–6/26/1897

Newspaper Archives

Oklahoma Bethany Bethany Tribune*

12/07/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Oklahoma Fairland American, The*

10/04/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Oklahoma Nowata Nowata Star*

10/03/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Oklahoma Perry Perry Daily Journal*

12/04/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Oklahoma Vinita Vinita Daily Journal, The*

11/10/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Oklahoma Weatherford Weatherford Daily News*

11/27/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania Erie Erie Tageblatt

03/07/1899–04/20/1903

Newspaper Archives

Pennsylvania Harrisburg Unparteyische Harrisburg Morgenroethe Zeitung

02/03/1831–02/03/1831

Newspaper Archives

Pennsylvania Jeannette Jeannette Spirit, The*

11/15/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania Ligonier Ligonier Echo, The*

04/21/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania Monroeville North Journal*

04/12/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania Monroeville Times Express, The*

04/14/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania Penn Hills Plum Advance Leader*

11/08/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Druid

01/15/1929–03/01/1929

Newspaper Archives

Pennsylvania Pittsburgh National Labor Tribune

01/11/1941–08/18/1945

Newspaper Archives

Pennsylvania Scottdale Independent-Observer, The*

04/21/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania South Hills South Hills Record*

11/07/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

South Carolina Charleston Charleston News and Courier

2/21/1895–4/13/1910

Newspaper Archives

South Carolina Charleston Evening Post

5/26/1899–6/20/1922

Newspaper Archives

Tennessee Spring Hill Advertiser News, The*

05/14/2007–Current

Recent Obituaries

Texas Jasper Jasper Newsboy, The*

12/28/2005–Current

Recent Obituaries

Virginia Richmond Richmond Times Dispatch

6/11/1944–9/15/1986

Newspaper Archives

Washington Ocean Shores North Coast News, The*

03/24/2009–03/23/2012

Recent Obituaries

Wisconsin Milwaukee Wahrheit

12/22/1906–06/25/1910

Newspaper Archives

941 Issues of German American Newspaper Erie Tageblatt Are Coming!

Here is some good news for genealogy researchers exploring their German ancestry. GenealogyBank is expanding its coverage of German American newspapers. In the next few weeks it will be adding another 941 back issues of the Erie Tageblatt, a German-language newspaper published in Erie, Pennsylvania. These additional issues will expand our digital archive of this German-language newspaper in the early 20th century, pushing its coverage up to 1907.

GenealogyBank search form for Erie Tageblatt newspaper

GenealogyBank search form for Erie Tageblatt newspaper

GenealogyBank’s coverage of French, Spanish, and German newspapers provides a genealogical resource with many obituaries, birth notices and marriage announcements to help you research your immigrant ancestors.

Charlotte Gitel’s obituary from 1907 is a good example of the detailed information found in a newspaper written for the German American community.

Charlotte Gitel obituary, Erie Tageblatt newspaper 1 August 1907

Erie Tageblatt (Erie, Pennsylvania), 1 August 1907, page 1

Genealogy Tip: Look for Symbols

Notice that the old newspaper puts a cross next to the name of the deceased to call attention that this is an obituary article. Newspapers across the country still use these small symbolic devices, such as a flag to show that a person was a veteran, or a fraternal order symbol, to make it easy for their readers to spot articles that might be of special interest to them.

Revolutionary War’s Forgotten Patriots Remembered in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about interesting Revolutionary War-era discoveries she’s found in old newspapers.

Genealogists, by the very nature of what we do, have a keen interest in history. One of my more unusual interests is reading about and transcribing reports from the American Revolutionary War.

Perhaps it is because I have identified numerous ancestors in my family tree who were patriots during that war. This interest has been heightened by finding so many Revolutionary War newspaper articles in GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives.

In this article I’d like to share a few of the unusual Revolutionary War-era stories I’ve found during my ancestor searches, most of them extracted from newspaper obituaries. Keep in mind that to various lineage societies (DAR, SAR, etc.) the definition of “patriot” is not limited to military service. I happen to agree with that assessment: it’s possible to serve your country in many non-military ways during wartime, such as:

  • Belonging to a member of a committee of safety or correspondence
  • Manufacturing goods and providing necessary services
  • Attending to or assisting veterans

Some of these services during the Revolutionary War are described in copious detail in old newspapers from that time. These old newspaper articles are a great resource to discover the stories of lesser-known Revolutionary War heroes. Other types of wartime participation are not as well reported, such as the role played by Uriah Hanks, of Mansfield, Connecticut. He provided a key service during the American Revolution: he manufactured gunlocks for the Colonial troops. Hanks passed away on 4 July 1809 at the age of 74. Although I have found several death notices for him, none that I located mentioned the exact date of his death—or his occupation.

Uriah Hanks death notice, Windham Herald newspaper 20 July 1809

Windham Herald (Windham, Connecticut), 20 July 1809, page 3

It’s necessary in genealogy research to consult a range of resources, and I have found additional information about Hanks in DAR records, vital records, books, and from his tombstone at Old Storrs Cemetery in Storrs, Connecticut.

Notable & Famous People in the Revolutionary War

One of the interesting facts about our country is that two Founding Fathers and presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died within hours of each other on 4 July 1826. Both of these patriots’ careers were well covered by the newspapers of the time, and you can find numerous articles about them.

However, there is another Founding Father who is seemingly overlooked, who also passed away on our country’s birthday—like Hanks, Adams and Jefferson. His name was Fisher Ames (9 April 1758-4 July 1808), a member of the Continental Congress.

Ever heard of him?

I imagine he is not a household name, but he should be, as he was the penman of the 1st Amendment to our Bill of Rights.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The congressional election of 1788 pitted Ames against Samuel Adams, which he won handily, although Samuel Adams did gain a seat in the second Congress.

election returns, Massachusetts Centinel newspaper article 27 December 1788

Massachusetts Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 27 December 1788, page 121

When he died, Ames’s obituary described him as “a most eloquent orator, enlightened statesman, ardent and anxious patriot, virtuous and amiable man”:

Fisher Ames obituary, Hampshire Federalist newspaper 7 July 1808

Hampshire Federalist (Springfield, Massachusetts), 7 July 1808, page 3

I recommend taking the time to read the Columbian Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts) of 6 July 1808, which mentions his widely-attended funeral, including most of the important dignitaries of the time including Supreme Court Justices, Members of Congress, the Attorney General, Members of the Senate, etc.

Minority Patriots in the Revolutionary War

Surprisingly, we can locate a respectable number of articles about minority patriots in Revolutionary War-era newspapers. The first African American who fell during the struggle was Crispus Attucks, at the Boston Massacre. He is barely mentioned in the Boston New-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts) report on 15 March 1770, but received more coverage in later reports.

“Last Thursday, agreeable to a general request of the Inhabitants, and the consent of Parents & others, were followed to their Grave in succession…two of the unfortunate Sufferers, viz. James Caldwell & Crispus Attucks, who were strangers, borne from Faneuil Hall, attended by a numerous train of Persons of all ranks…”

There are newspaper articles about Native Americans and minority pensioners in the Revolutionary War, as in the following death notice examples:

collage of Revolutionary War-related death notices

Collage of Revolutionary War-related death notices

A fire in the War Department on 8 November 1800 destroyed many military records, and additional records were lost during the War of 1812, but, fortunately, we can locate most pension records after that time frame.

For example, the record of Cummy Simon (or Simons) Revolutionary War Pension S.36315, available from the National Archives or at Fold3.com, reports that he enlisted in June of 1777 in Capt. Granger’s Company (Col. Charles B. Webb’s Regiment), and wasn’t discharged until June of 1783. There is also a letter which names two children, Cummy Simon and Minerva Cable, a welcome addition to any family history research.

Women of the Revolutionary War

I’d like to conclude this article with reports of female Revolutionary War patriots. There are a number of noted women who served during the Revolutionary War, including the “Molly Pitchers” (women who fought in the war; the most famous was Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley), Emily Geiger, Dicey Langston and Deborah Samson (who disguised herself as a man named Robert Shirtliffe in order to fight). Some of their obituaries can be found at the time of their demise, and longer reports can be read from later periods of recognition when towns or lineage societies took the time to commemorate them.

Here is the obituary of one of the women patriots during the Revolutionary War, Mary Wyckoff, that notes: “Many a soldier has to mourn her death, and reflect with gratitude on the generosity and aid afforded them at Fishkill [New York], during the late revolution, when she fed the hungry, cloathed the naked, and protected the unfortunate from the fury of the British troops.”

Mary Wyckoff obituary, Minerva newspaper 29 May 1797

Minerva (New York, New York), 29 May 1797, page 3

The courageous Margaret Keysor seems to have fallen through the cracks of history. Shortly after the Battle of Oriskany, her husband and two sons were captured by Indians and Tories. Margaret escaped with her five children and fled to a nearby fort, which ended up being guarded by two invalid soldiers who were protecting 200 women and children! When the fort was attacked the women and children picked up weapons and fought for their lives until reinforcements arrived.

When Margaret died 46 years later in 1823, her obituary recalled the brave fight she participated in:

“Here she sought shelter in the fort, and remained while Major Brown, with a battalion under his command, marched out to join the forces under General Van Rensselaer. Major Brown and his whole corps, with the exception of thirteen men, fell in the action which ensued: thus was the place left with but two invalid soldiers to protect two hundred women and children. The fort was immediately besieged by the combined forces of British and Indians, but the hand of Heaven can, in times of necessity, convert even women and children into soldiers. By this apparently feeble and inefficient band, was the place defended until reinforced, and the enemy abandoned the enterprise.”

Margaret Keysor obituary, Daily National Intelligencer newspaper 23 April 1823

Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), 23 April 1823, page 3

This is the kind of exciting story Revolutionary War-era newspapers can tell us about little-known patriots during that legendary struggle!

If you enjoy reading reports from the American Revolution, I invite you to join me on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/500RevWarObits

The Daughters of the American Revolution published a reference in 2008 that is available for download on Forgotten Patriots, with a supplement in 2012.

Our United States Recent Obituary Collection Keeps Growing…

In the next two weeks GenealogyBank will expand our online U.S. Recent Obituaries collection by adding content from 14 newspapers from 12 states: California, Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington. Some of these newspaper titles are brand new to our recent obituary collection; in other cases, we’ve added more obituaries to existing newspaper titles.

It’s a great day for genealogy!

Here is the list of U.S. newspaper obituaries that will be added or expanded in our online archives soon:

Martinez News-Gazette (Martinez, CA)

  • Obituaries:  01/06/2009 – Current

Daytona Beach News-Journal (Daytona Beach, FL)

  • Death Notices:  01/01/2005 – Current; scattered 2000 data also available

Harrisburg Daily Register (Harrisburg, IL)

  • Obituaries: added 11/4/1996 – 10/5/2009 to existing collection
  • Death Notices: added 12/10/1996 – 3/10/2010 to existing collection

Kearney Hub (Kearney, NE)

  • Death Notices:  12/19/2006 – Current

Wahoo Newspaper (Wahoo, NE)

  • Death Notices:  02/01/2007 – Current

Jersey Journal (Jersey City, NJ)

  • Obituaries: added 1/16/1999 – 6/20/2003 to existing collection

Burgh (Plattsburgh, NY)

  • Obituaries:  08/05/2011 – Current

Skaneateles Press (Skaneateles, NY)

  • Obituaries:  08/04/2011 – Current

Smithfield Herald (Smithfield, NC)

  • Death Notices:  01/11/2012 – Current

Jeannette Spirit (Jeannette, PA) – this title’s search form is still being set up

  • Obituaries:  11/15/2012 – Current

Advertiser News (Spring Hill, TN)

  • Obituaries:  05/19/2007 – Current

Jasper Newsboy (Jasper, TX)

  • Obituaries:  07/25/2007 – Current; scattered earlier data also available

News & Messenger (Manassas, VA)

  • Obituaries: added 5/02/2008 – 1/21/2011 to existing collection

North Coast News (Ocean Shores, WA)

  • Obituaries:  03/24/2009 – 03/23/2012

The Importance of Old Newspaper Advertisements to Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the value of a resource in newspapers that is often overlooked by genealogists: the classified ads.

“Be sure to drink your Ovaltine. Ovaltine? A crummy commercial.”—Ralphie Parker from the movie A Christmas Story.

Advertisements: they often seem the bane of our existence. On television, advertisements scream at us every few minutes, interrupting our favorite shows. When you pick up a magazine it seems that more than half the pages are filled with ads for everything from food and household cleaners to prescription medications. Now in the world of Web 2.0, advertisements invade every aspect of our Internet experience, even as a necessary evil when using free apps.

In today’s world advertisements are impersonal and contain little family information—but this was not always the case. Ads from an earlier era were different, more personally connected to their audience, and can provide helpful information for family historians. This is especially true of advertisements from old newspapers.

When you think of the “important” sections of the newspaper for family history research, what do you think of? Vital record announcements, obituaries, and human interest stories may come to mind as sources of genealogical information. But what about those parts of the newspaper that aren’t considered “content rich”? What about advertisements?

As a genealogist researching your family history, why should you care about newspaper advertisements? Well, advertisements in newspapers from yesteryear can help researchers in two ways. The obvious way is that they can provide the name of an ancestor’s business—but they also provide us with social history background that can be crucial in reconstructing an ancestor’s time and place.

Consider this strip of ads from an old Kansas newspaper.

classified ads, Coffeyville Herald newspaper 25 April 1908

Coffeyville Herald (Coffeyville, Kansas), 25 April 1908, page 4

From these old advertisements we learn the name of proprietors of goods ranging from clothes and hats to fish, and even ice cream. An additional benefit of historical newspaper advertisements is that they provide a peek into activities long since extinct. Consider the millinery and phyrography store. Phyrography is when someone decorates a wood or leather surface by burning the design into the surface with a type of heated metallic “pen.”

Here are some old classified ads from an 1851 Georgia newspaper.

classified ads, Savannah Republican newspaper 18 June 1851

Savannah Republican (Savannah, Georgia), 18 June 1851, page 1

Here we see not only classified ads but a listing of merchant names. Must-have information for our ancestors including fares and stops for the Central Rail-Road and some ship lines are also found on this page. Further down, readers can see that there are notices of public land sales in Arkansas. Do you have an ancestor who started out in Georgia and ended up in Arkansas? Maybe they saw this notice for the land sale and headed west.

In some cases, historical advertisements can be found with other types of notices, as illustrated in this Civil War-era newspaper from Texas.

classified ads, Standard newspaper 9 May 1863

Standard (Clarksville, Texas), 9 May 1863, page 1

The advertisements and announcements on this page include notices from administrators of wills, a physician who will begin his practice, and information from the War Department. There are old ads for medicinal drugs that are for sale, presumably at a local pharmacy: opium, morphine, Blue Mass (a remedy that “cured” all sorts of problems including pains from childbirth, tuberculosis, constipation, and syphilis—one of its ingredients was mercury), ipicac, and Dovers Powders (a remedy for colds and fevers that contained opium) are just some of the “medicines” you could pick up.

One of the great things about this series of advertisements is that it is a reflection of the times. Note the short notice asking families to save rags because they are needed to make paper. Five cents a pound is offered for rags. During the Civil War, the South experienced all types of shortages including paper. This notice gives insight into these wartime shortages.

Can advertisements provide genealogists with answers about their ancestors? Yes! Not only can they provide proof of an ancestor’s occupation but they can also provide a sense of their era. These advertisements provide a much-needed history lesson for our genealogy. While it can be tempting to skip over some sections of a newspaper, don’t skip the old advertisements. They provide insight into your ancestor’s life.

A Wife & Mother’s Plea in the Newspaper after the War of 1812

The War of 1812 had been over for more than a year, and Catharine Logan had heard nothing from her husband or son since they marched off to fight the British in the summer of 1812. For four years she’d been waiting and hoping for news about her missing family…so she wrote a letter to the editor of the National Advocate newspaper pleading for information to “relieve the distresses of an anxious parent and wife.”

To the Public, National Advocate newspaper article 8 November 1816

National Advocate (New York City, New York), 8 November 1816, page 3

In search of her loved ones, Catharine had been to Sacket’s Harbor in Jefferson County, New York—the site of two battles in the War of 1812 and the location of an important shipyard for building warships.

Nothing. She found no information about them at Sacket’s Harbor.

So Catharine pressed on in her search for her missing family, going next to Plattsburgh, New York, the site of the decisive Battle of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain that was fought in 1814.

painting of naval battle on Lake Champlain by B. Tanner, 1816

Illustration: Naval Battle on Lake Champlain, by B. Tanner, 1816. Credit: Wikipedia.

Still she found no information about either her husband or son.

Having searched for her family in vain Catharine next turned to the newspapers, writing a letter to her local newspaper editor—because she felt “induced in this public manner to appeal to the generous and humane—that any persons, who may have seen or heard of them, may give me information.”

Look closely at the note the editors added to her letter. They encouraged other newspaper editors to print Catharine’s letter to give it a wider circulation:

Catharine Logan's plea for information, National Advocate newspaper article 8 November 1816

National Advocate (New York City, New York), 8 November 1816, page 3

And fellow newspaper editors responded:

  • 13 November 1816: Catharine’s letter appeared on the front page of the Baltimore Patriot (Baltimore, Maryland) and on page 3 of the National Standard (Middlebury, Vermont)
  • 14 November 1816: the Baltimore Patriot (Baltimore, Maryland) repeated it on page 4
  • 20 November 1816: the National Standard (Middlebury, Vermont) repeated it on page 1 and again a week later on 27 November 1816 on page 4; and again on 1 January 1817 on page 4
  • 26 November 1816: the Vermont Gazette (Bennington, Vermont) ran it on page 2
  • 2 December 1816: the Irish American newspaper The Shamrock (New York City, New York) published it on page 371
  • 16 December 1816: it was published in Spooner’s Vermont Journal (Windsor, Vermont) on page 3

Newspapers carried the news back in the 1800s. Newspaper editors up and down the United States East Coast took compassion on Catharine Logan and spread the word about her search for her missing husband and son.

You can find great stories about your ancestors in letters to the editor, missing person ads, and other articles found old newspapers. These articles offer stories that bring the names and dates on your family tree alive and let you get to know them as real people.

Genealogist Challenge:

Did Catherine ever reunite with her long-lost husband and son? What happened to Timothy and Peter Logan, and where did they go?