Genealogy Humor: Unusual & Funny Names of People (Part II)

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shares some of her readers’ responses to an earlier blog article she wrote about the odd and humorous names she’s run across while researching family history in old newspapers.

After publishing my Unusual & Funny Names of People blog article on 7 November 2013, readers wrote in droves, sharing additional funny—or should I say hilarious—names. Some were submitted directly to our blog, and others via Facebook pages such as the RootsWeb Genealogist page at www.facebook.com/groups/17834741205/.

We are chuckling over their submissions, and hope you will too!

Colors

Several submitters recounted tales of fun surnames reflecting colors.

“Sometimes when women get married, their new names are comical, too, like one I found recently whose last name was White, but when she married her name became Sarah White Rice.” —K. Campbell

“I encountered two families, the Browns and the Greens, who named their children various colours. I remember one of the Brown’s first names was Green. Other names were Orange, Violet, Purple, and Red but I’m sure there was another. There was another family who named their daughters Ruby and Sapphire, so when their son came along, of course they called him Emerald.” —A. Smulders

Here is an item from a “Personal and Social” column from 1897, mentioning John Green Brown (see www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=39512930). It also mentions another unusual name: Miss Scrap Wright.

Personal and Social, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 5 October 1897

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 5 October 1897, page 5

That made me think about all the reports of men and women marrying their Miss or Mr. Wrights!

I once found a Purley Wright, and wonder if anyone has ever encountered a Purley White?

Flowers

D. Peters reported these names: “Actress Poppy Montgomery and her siblings Poppy Petal, Rosie Thorn, Daisy Yellow, Lily Belle, Marigold Sun, and their brother Jethro Tull.”

She was referring to Australian-born Poppy, who was born with a much longer name: Poppy Petal Emma Elizabeth Deveraux Donahue. If interested, be sure to read her Wikipedia bio at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poppy_Montgomery.

photo of Poppy Montgomery, Register Star newspaper article 26 March 2006

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 26 March 2006, page 83

Expressions

In my earlier funny names blog article, I enquired if there were ever people by the names of R. U. A. Crook and Justin Case? I didn’t discover a Crook with those initials, but just as I suspected—there really was someone by the name of Justin Case!

“In 2009 there was an individual who lived in the same area as where I was working. He was indeed named ‘Justin Case.’” —S. Moore

And A. Smulders reported: “I transcribed the name Ah Choo once.” She also reported seeing some names which sounded like profanity! She didn’t repeat them, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

Food Names

I’m wondering if this next woman’s middle initial was B?

“My favorite name on my family tree is Barbara Cue.” —Kathy

Miss Barbara Cue, Lt. Lane Engaged, Boston Herald newspaper article 29 April 1945

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 29 April 1945, page 82

“I found Mr. FUDGE in a South Carolina census today. Still looking for the NUTS, DIVINITY and PEANUT BRITTLE.” —M. Vanderpool Gormley

Musicians and Cartoonists

Artists have long been known to adopt unusual monikers. Dizzy Gillespie, Chubby Checkers and Fats Domino are some that come to mind, but M. Kates reported a person by the name of “Octave Piano,” which is one I hadn’t heard.

There was also a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, Jay Norwood Darling, who shortened his Darling surname to “Ding.” If you’ve ever visited Florida’s Captiva Island, perhaps you’ve visited the National Wildlife Refuge named after him. See http://www.fws.gov/dingdarling/.

Cartoon Award, Times-Picayune newspaper article 4 May 1943

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 4 May 1943, page 6

Native American Names

The descriptive nature of Indian names, such as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, is always intriguing.

However, I’ve found one a bit more graphic than usual. This man from Bullhead was elected a tribal councilman of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in 1967, and he is also recorded on line 71 of this 1940 Census. If anyone has insight on the origin of the surname Kills Pretty Enemy, please enlighten us!

Agard Is Re-Elected Chairman, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 22 October 1967

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 22 October 1967, page 8

Double Meanings, Interchangeable Names and Relationships

One of my earlier blog articles was about someone named “B. A. Husband,” and a “Husband” reader responded: “Thanks for posting this. It was fun to see my name in there.”

When I enquired, “So, are you a wife who is a husband? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.),” she replied:

“LOL. I am a Husband who is also an ex-wife and a future wife…Us Husband women are the only women that can be both husbands and wives at the same time. I don’t mind if you use my comments at all Mary.” —S. Husband

“I ran across a woman a while back whose name was Polly Esther Cotton. I had to look at it twice to make sure it wasn’t an error. It still could have been a misspelling of the last name, I suppose…We have an artist here in town whose name is Mack Truck (real name; the local librarian told me about him).” —K. Campbell

“I went to high school with a girl named Harley Davidson…A friend’s mother was named Dimple Dottie.” —L. Boyd McLachlan

“And in the 1960s I went to grammar school with a boy named Rusty Bell.” —S. Moore

I wasn’t able to find a historical newspaper account for a Rusty Bell, but I did find three at Find-A-Grave, along with the grave of a gospel preacher named Ding Dong Bell:
(See www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=85849251)

“I knew a woman years ago named Gwen and she married a man named Gwen, so her married name was Gwen Gwen.” —D. Peters

Here Is an Assortment of Other Contributions from Readers!

“In researching the family who adopted my father-in-law, a ways back there was a marriage into the Snow line; while Fielding Snow is not so funny, other members of the lineage had a real sense of humor. One I found was Frost And Snow (‘And’ was his middle name), Mourning Snow, and Fountain Snow.” —N. Morris Boyd

“I have a Manely Peacock in my family tree. He was a captain in the Union Army. My gg-gm’s sister’s maiden name was Sarah Madara. My favorite isn’t in my family tree however. I came across this name on FamilySearch: Morris Morris, born in Morristown, Morris County, NJ. I wonder what he named his cat?!” —M. Guenther

“I found an Icy North in a census record. Went to school with the Flower sisters, Iris, Rose and Daisy.” —G. Marshall

“I have a Major Buchanan; yes she was a girl.” —S. O’wen

“In the Dutch [family] trees, you often see a difference of one letter between genders. Cornelis for male, Cornelia for female. End result: Aunt and Uncle Corny. We had a family around the corner from us whose kids were named April, May, and August.” —A. Smulders

Genealogical Challenge

Thanks to everyone who shared their findings and brightened our day! If you run across more funny names during your family history research, please share them with us.

Next on the Funny Genealogy Names series will be hysterical town names! I’ve got a whole slew of funny place names in Texas, including the town of Ding Dong. When I publish it, I’ll be sure to let you know how someone stole their bell!

How to Find Tricky & Common Ancestor Names in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary provides some tips and tricks to find ancestors that are difficult to search for because they have common names, such as Smith or Jones.

One of my favorite genealogical expressions is: “My ancestor must have been in the Witness Protection Program, as there is absolutely no evidence of him [or her]!”

I always feel for people when they can’t find even the tiniest tidbit about an ancestor when they search in an extensive collection of old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Very often, information about the target ancestor is in the old newspapers—but the ancestor search may be made more difficult because their name may be tricky. This is especially true for ancestors with diabolically vexing common names, such as John Smith, John Jones, or William Scott (the name of one of my ancestors).

This blog article shows you some search tips and tricks to find these difficult ancestors with common names in newspapers.

Finding Your Target Smith or Jones

As is well known, Smith and Jones are incredibly common names, as are John and William. In this 1844 newspaper article, take a look at how many people named Smith and Jones attended this family’s Christmas party.

I can’t fathom how many historical characters were named John or William—and I know from first-hand experience, sorting them out is challenging.

Note how many Johns there were in this tongue-in-cheek account of an annual Smith Christmas party. Not only are there numerous family members named John Smith, but there seems to be an equal number by the given name of Charles, not to mention all of the John Joneses and their wives, famously known as “Mrs.”

article about an annual Christmas party for the Smith family, Commercial Advertiser newspaper article 8 January 1844

Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), 8 January 1844, page 1

Although you may never sort out a complicated family such as the one attending the Smith Christmas party, let’s review a few genealogy tips on how you might proceed with newspaper searches for ancestors with common names.

One-Name Ancestor Name Studies

Although tedious, consider undertaking a one-name study for a specific area, and cross-reference the results with persons by the same name in the same location. It will serve as a prospective list, and help you determine who’s who.

For example, in the GenealogyBank search box do a search for all the John Smiths in the Boston area.

screenshot of a search for John Smith in Boston on GenealogyBank

By incorporating a date range, such as 1844-1846, and a location, you may discover births, marriages, deaths, and even charming stories—such as this one, found doing a different John Smith search using the date 1856.

The John Smith in this newspaper article was a mate of the good ship Sally, and one day when the captain discovered him sleeping during his watch, John reacted vociferously: “do you supposed that I’m a d—–d horse to sleep standing up?” This quick and witty response caused the captain to laugh all the way back to his cabin, thereby allowing John Smith to finish his nap!

article about John Smith, Times-Picayune newspaper article 5 February 1856

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 5 February 1856, page 1

Search for Ancestor Names by Category

Another useful technique is to narrow a query using the various newspaper article categories found on GenealogyBank’s Search Results page.

For example, when I did the search above for Boston and John Smith with the date range 1844-1846, this was the Search Results page.

screenshot of search results page on GenealogyBank for a search for John Smith in Boston

First of all, this Search Results page shows there are 844 records matching the query. Notice the box on the left-hand side of the page: it breaks these 844 results down into various categories to make your searching easier. The most popular historical newspaper categories are shown first, including these results:

Initial Search Results

  • Historical Obituaries 19
  • Marriage Records 8
  • Passenger Lists 48
  • Newspaper Articles 203
  • Legal, Probate & Court 15

That accounts for the first 293 results. And the rest? See below the list of initial search results, where there is a blue arrow and it says “551 More”? Click on that blue arrow to see the remaining 551 results organized by category.

screenshot of the expanded search results page on GenealogyBank for a search for John Smith in Boston

Expanded Search Results

  • Newspaper Letters 7
  • Poems & Songs 1
  • Ads & Classifieds 540
  • Commodity & Stocks 2
  • Political & Elections 1

To select a newspaper category, click on the blue link. Try not to rule out seemingly less interesting categories—even an advertisement can hold a clue to a family business or probate record.

When dealing with a return as large as 844 hits, it makes the task of examining the results easier if you break them down into smaller groups by category, then examine each category one by one—the lesser totals will help you retain your focus, and it’s quicker to examine results when they’re grouped by category because you know what to expect and can accelerate your examination.

Narrowing Your Ancestor Name Search

When an extended family has chosen to name many offspring with similar or identical names, sharpen your search by looking for nicknames and other appellations (such as Senior and Junior), along with search terms that denote a particular characteristic of your ancestor, in an attempt to find that one specific individual you’re searching for.

Ancestor Nicknames & Distinctive Physical Characteristics

If you think we have a hard time straightening out complicated families, so did our ancestors. One of the ways they avoided confusion was to give people nicknames. The following comical 1876 newspaper article illustrates a breadth of creative nicknames.

A “respectable-looking old gentleman from the Eastern States” was trying to find a man named Smith in Austin, Nevada. The boy assisting him wanted to know which Smith the man was looking for and made many helpful suggestions, including: Big Smith, Little Smith, Three-fingered Smith, Bottle-nose Smith, Cock-eye Smith, Six-toed Smith, Mush-head Smith, One-legged Smith, Bow-legged Smith, and many more.

The old gentleman retorted: “My son, the Smith I am in search of possesses to his name none of the heathenish prefixes you have mentioned. His name is simply John Smith.”

To which the boy promptly responded: “All them fellows is named John!”

Looking for Smith, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 2 June 1876

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 2 June 1876, page 3

Searching by Generational Suffix: Senior & Junior

A common genealogical trap is thinking that “Seniors” and “Juniors” are related. From a historical perspective, senior means older, or of an advanced age, which is exactly how our ancestors interpreted the generational name designation. Two people with the same name, one a senior and one a junior, were not necessarily related.

  • Senior: indicates that there were two or more persons by the same name living in a community, with the senior being older than the junior.
  • Junior: indicates that there was another person by the same name, who was older than the person under discussion.

Distinctive Physical Characteristics

As seen in the humorous account of the many John Smiths of Austin, Nevada, people are often associated with their distinctive physical characteristics, whether it be their hair color, weight or height. An example from my own ancestry is finding two William Scotts, both of Revolutionary War fame.

Although cousins, one of the William Scotts (my ancestor) was shorter than the other. Family and other historical accounts refer to him as “Short Bill,” and the other as “Tall Bill.”

Prefix Name Titles & Initials

If someone held a position of honor, the title or the given (first name) might be ignored or abbreviated. Here are some examples of common name prefixes, which you could incorporate into an ancestor search:

  • Gen. Smith
  • Col. E. Smith
  • Rev. Dr. Smith
Passengers, Charleston Courier newspaper article 7 September 1849

Charleston Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 7 September 1849, page 2

If you are searching for an ancestor with a common name, make note if you ever run across that ancestor’s nickname, title, or distinctive characteristic—then incorporate that information into your search. You just might get lucky and find that individual needle in the haystack of common names.

Search Photos to Find Your Ancestor with a Common Name

One advantage to large families with common names is that you might find a family reunion newspaper article and—if lucky—a reunion photograph. Here is an example, displaying the “Largest Family in Mississippi,” all related to William Smith and his wife Catherine Pinkie Smith—with each individual clearly identified.

Death Invades Circle of 'Largest' Family in Mississippi, Times-Picayune newspaper article 12 March 1922

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 12 March 1922, page 39

Search Locations, Dates & Publications

Finally, try searching for your ancestor with a common name by specific locations, such as New York or New Hampshire.

After selecting “New York” as a target area, I searched for my ancestor William Scott (he was from the Saratoga Springs area) and found some good information.

screenshot of search for William Scott on GenealogyBank

By expanding the search to all of New York, I found death notices in newspapers that were published outside of Saratoga Springs. These newspaper articles provided many exciting life details, including William Scott’s approximate date of immigration prior to the Revolutionary War, information that he had fought in the battles of Bunker Hill, Trenton, White Plains and Saratoga, and that he had 38 battle wounds!

obituary for William Scott, Orange County Patriot; or, The Spirit of Seventy-Six newspaper article 15 August 1815

Orange County Patriot; or, The Spirit of Seventy-Six (Goshen, New York), 15 August 1815, page 1

As in all genealogical searches, these death notices led to more searches with even more results, including information that William Scott had actually been captured at the Battle of Bunker Hill! If you search for more newspaper articles about him, you’ll even discover that he wrote an account of what happened to the prisoners of war. This is a pretty cool research discovery for an ancestor whose common name posed search challenges, isn’t it!

Here is one of the newspaper articles about William Scott that I found in my additional searches.

casualty list for the Battle of Bunker Hill, Pennsylvania Journal newspaper article 27 September 1775

Pennsylvania Journal (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 27 September 1775, page 2

So don’t despair if you’re trying to find information about an ancestor with a common name. Yes, your first search may have turned up so many results you felt hopeless trying to weed through them, looking for information about your target ancestor. But if you use the ancestor search tips and tricks discussed in this article, you just might make that family history discovery you’ve spent years searching for! Good luck and have fun ancestor name hunting!

Exploring & Preserving Family History with Christmas Cards

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena searches old newspapers to learn about the history of Christmas cards, illustrating her article with vintage Christmas cards from her own collection.

What’s your favorite part of the holiday season? The decorations? The food? Time with family? I must confess that my favorite part is giving and receiving Christmas cards. I know that sounds odd but I really enjoy Christmas cards. I love simple ones made at home, those bought from the store, and even the lengthy family letters full of boasting and news. The ones that include photos are always a favorite because you can see how families have changed over the years.

a vintage Christmas card

Who Invented the Christmas Card?

The first Christmas card was designed by J. C. Horsley in 1843 England at the request of his friend Henry Cole, who wanted an easy way to send out greetings to his family and friends.* A card from that first set just sold at auction for nearly $7,000. Whether you currently send a photo card, a handmade card, a custom-designed card, or one you picked up at a discount retailer, Christmas cards have long been a way to keep in touch with family and friends during the holiday season. In some cases they have also been something to collect; one of the most famous collections was assembled by Queen Mary and is now housed at the British Museum.

a vintage Christmas card

Christmas Card History in Newspapers

You can learn about the history of Christmas cards by searching through old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Consider this newspaper article instructing readers to order their Christmas cards in November. While we are accustomed to holiday cards with either religious or seasonal designs (such as snowmen or Santa Claus), this was not always the case with Christmas cards. This article gives ideas for card designs including a “sketch made of an attractive nook in your house or garden.” The article’s author says that Christmas cards will be more popular in that year (1917) than ever before because of WWI: “…for many of us will wish to send this slight remembrance to the men who have gone to France or to the training camps, and many of us will wish to remember the families of the same men to at least this extent.”

Order Your Christmas Cards, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 8 November 1917

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 8 November 1917, page 9

a vintage Christmas card

Christmas Card Design

Many people have an opinion about Christmas cards. Some people only like the ones depicting religious themes; others prefer ones that include an annual letter or photo. Even the generations prior to us had their preferences. Maybe you feel the same as Betty Bellaire who remarks in her 1919 article that, while she loves Christmas cards of all kinds, she doesn’t like to receive ones where “the sender has not taken the trouble to write a single word of personal greeting.” I too believe in the importance of those added personal greetings and agree with her that Christmas cards are a “mental reunion with that big circle of friends whom one meets, enjoys and then, through forces of inevitable circumstance, loses touch with as one is swept along through the various phases of one’s life.” It would seem that even our ancestors felt the constraints and stresses of time.

A Few Words on Christmas Cards, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 24 December 1919

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 24 December 1919, page 12

a vintage Christmas card

Genealogy Tip: Save Your Family’s Christmas Cards

In January when the Yule time decorations seem to show their age, what do you do with your holiday cards? One thing to consider is to save them to preserve the signatures for future family history. Those signatures and comments may have some meaning for your family as people age and families change. You could also take some of the suggestions in this 1914 newspaper article, such as: making bookmarks, creating wallpaper, or sending them to a charity that reuses them for craft projects. In this article, Booker T. Washington recommends sending the cards to Southern schools, hospitals and homes. A quick search on the Internet may help you to find other modern-day charities that would welcome your cards.

Ways to Use Christmas Cards Suggested, Oregonian newspaper article 11 January 1914

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 11 January 1914, page 6

Happy Holidays!

[Editor’s note: the vintage Christmas cards illustrating this article are all from the author’s collection.]

————————–

* Buday, George. The History of the Christmas Card. London: Spring Books. 1965.

Genealogy Records: A History of Regional Coverage in the U.S.

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this guest blog post, Duncan discusses the availability of genealogy records in various regions of the U.S. She concludes with a genealogy case study showing how old newspapers helped her break through a brick wall in her own family history research.

When researching family history in the United States, you will find vast differences in the availability of genealogy records in various regions. This is due to a myriad of reasons, including: who initially settled the area, what government was created, what occurred during the region’s history, what records were preserved, and the availability of those documents today to the researcher.

In this blog article, I’ll provide a quick overview of three major geographic areas in the United States: New England, the South, and the West. In each region, I will briefly discuss three issues from a genealogist’s perspective: settlement, government, and history. Keep in mind, to cover hundreds of years of history in such vast regions is not fully possible in a few paragraphs. Therefore, you will want to do additional research about your area of interest.

Although the extent of official government records and other vital records about your ancestors may vary from region to region, there is one constant that is true for all areas of the country: old newspapers, such as the large online collection in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, are a great genealogical resource.

At the end of this article, I’ll present a case study from my own family history research, showing how two 1895 newspaper articles let me finally break through a brick wall I had with one of my ancestors.

Genealogy Record Coverage in New England

the painting "Autumn in New England" by Maurice Prendergast

Painting: “Autumn in New England,” by Maurice Prendergast. Credit: Wikipedia.

Many diverse groups settled New England originally. Some came looking for the freedom to practice their religion, others to create a new utopia—but they had many things in common. The settlers generally believed that their local government was created for the benefit of society and should be actively supported, participated in, and abided by. Also, they were largely a well-educated people. These factors led to the creation of excellent community and church records, which delight current genealogical researchers.

For example, records exist for the large majority of marriages that occurred in New England prior to 1700! One book, New England Marriages Prior to 1700 by Gary Boyd Roberts, provides a “comprehensive listing of the 37,000 married couples, their marriage date or the birth year of a first child, the maiden names of 70% of the wives, the birth and death years of both partners and their residence.” From the earliest days of their settlements, these educated, orderly people were keeping detailed records. The keeping of vital records (birth, marriage, and death certificates) was instituted statewide in this region earlier than anywhere else in the country, beginning in the mid- to late-1800s in most cases. Contrast that history of record-keeping with some of the other regions of our nation, and you can see how unusual these records are.

New England has also had many thriving newspapers throughout its history, which provide coverage from 1690 to the present.

Genealogy Record Coverage in the South

the painting "A Home on the Mississippi" by Currier & Ives

Painting: A Home on the Mississippi, by Currier & Ives. Credit: Wikipedia.

The diverse groups that settled the South came for entirely different reasons than most New Englanders. They were here for economic reasons. The government and laws they created were primarily to protect their business interests. It was for the most part an elitist society where only the wealthy were allowed to vote and authoritarian rule was the norm. The majority of the population consisted of undereducated, poor workers and slave laborers who were not represented. Southerners were naturally distrustful of government and did not institute the official keeping of vital records until much later. Some Southern states did not begin recording this information until the early- to mid-1900s! Even census records can be challenging to use because Southerners would often provide middle names in one census and first names in the next, or only initials—particularly in the 1860 and 1870 censuses.

During the Civil War, Union soldiers intentionally targeted Southern courthouses to destroy records naming slaves as property. The first records that were reconstructed following the war were land and property records. Land was wealth that needed to be authenticated and protected. These reconstructed land records list the person currently owning the land and often an explanation of where they got it. This can include land received from a relative and, in some cases, their relationship to that person, which is invaluable documentation for genealogists. Land records are often called the “bread and butter” of the South by family historians, meaning they are the necessary documents to use in your research.

Tax records may have survived which will show men coming of age, and can be used to get an approximate age of an individual and the names of potential family members. Kentucky is one example where excellent tax records are available. Court and probate records, where they still exist, are priceless and can provide an abundance of crucial information. Southern church records can be another excellent source of birth, marriage and death information (as well as membership details). Of course, newspapers are also excellent records.

In addition to courthouses, Union soldiers also targeted newspaper printing presses, because newspapers were the main source of information for most people. Because they were in danger of destruction, some Southern newspapers temporarily suspended operation or moved further South where it was safer. The good news is that even if a particular newspaper and its archives were destroyed, many of its articles had been picked up and printed by multiple other papers and can still be found.

Genealogy Record Coverage in the West

the painting "Emigrants Crossing the Plains" by F. O. C. Darley

Painting: Emigrants Crossing the Plains by F. O. C. Darley. Credit: Wikipedia.

The West is an idea as much as a place; it brings up images of frontier towns and vast prairies. “The West” meant anything on the western border of civilization, which had different definitions during different time periods. It can mean the western edge of the colonies, west of British King George III’s 1763 proclamation line, west of the Mississippi River, etc. The people attracted to this frontier life were those escaping persecution from the rest of society, or those with a pioneering spirit. Although white people lived west of the proclamation line prior to the king’s declaration, the main western push was in 1798-1819. In addition to Dutch, German, and Polish people, one predominate group that settled west was the Scots-Irish. These people were often marginalized and used as a buffer between the Native people and the colonies. They had a fiercely independent spirit and were quick to move if an area became too populated, which can make them hard to track. They did not have “regular schooling” and did not keep many records. In fact, they were often hostile to record keepers such as tax collectors. News, on the other hand, was prized in these small communities and people often gathered to drink and share information. Newspapers played a vital role in communicating information throughout the West.

Other American Regions of Significance

Of course, this brief description of some of the larger regions of the nation excludes vital and colorful histories such as Texas, French Louisiana, Spanish Florida, and Native peoples, to name just a few.

Genealogy Research Tip

When conducting your own genealogy research, spend some time getting to know the area your ancestors lived in: why it was created, what government agencies had jurisdiction over it, what records were created, for what reasons, and where those records can be accessed. County histories are a valuable source of information, as are finding aids for the county in question. Try searching the county or city name on Google or Bing to see what information can be found. Look for all the records that might exist such as newspapers, land records, tax lists, church records, cemetery records, etc.

Tracing My Great Grandfather: a Case Study

Newspapers are a crucial genealogical resource for all time periods. Historically it did not cost readers anything to publish news in their local paper, and they used newspapers very much like we use Facebook and other social media sites today. Information in local newspapers can give the reasons behind events, and sometimes supply information to replace missing vital records. It is worth keeping in mind that news and information can travel, even if your ancestor did not.

A great example of this is the death of my great grandfather, Zachariah Nicholson. He disappeared from the records after the 1880 census, when he was an older farmer in a very small town in Indiana. I ran a search for him in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives from 1880-1900 hoping to find out when and how he died, and found these two articles:

obituary for Zachariah Nocholson, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 19 January 1895

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 19 January 1895, page 7

obituary for Zachariah Nicholson, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 19 January 1895

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 19 January 1895, page 3

There are a few things to note about these two newspaper articles.

First, you’ll notice that his name in one article is spelled “Zachariah” and in the other it is spelled “Zacariah” without the middle “h.” You will want to check multiple spellings for a name, or search using an asterisk (*) as a wildcard to cover various possibilities.

Second, you’ll notice that the articles give slightly different information, emphasizing the importance of viewing multiple articles about the same event. One tidbit in the second article is the term “wealthy farmer.” The 1860 census lists his estate at $2100, which is sizable but not outlandish. Apparently it had grown by the time he died.  This is a reminder that I should look through the probate records for his will.

Last but not least, you will notice that one of these articles was printed in a Michigan newspaper, while the other was from his home state of Indiana. And as I mentioned, Grandpa Nicholson was from a very small town in Indiana—and yet a Michigan paper reported his death! As far as I know, there are no family connections with Michigan. The Jackson Citizen Patriot appears to be publishing information that would appeal to their readers in general. Perhaps some of their readers were from Southern Indiana or had business interests there. The point is: begin by doing a wide search, because information about your ancestor might turn up in newspapers published where you would not expect it.

I was surprised to find something about my small-town grandfather by doing a nationwide search—but I’m awfully glad that I did. I am grateful for these newspaper articles about Zachariah because they are the only documentation I have found to show when and how he died.

Genealogy Research Tip

Newspapers publish information from all around the country. Make sure you cast a wide net when searching for your ancestors in GenealogyBank because you never know where you might find information about them.

Christmas Family Reunion Articles Are Rich Genealogy Resources

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena searches old newspapers to show how much valuable family history information is provided by family reunion stories newspapers routinely printed around Christmas time.

The end of the year seems like the perfect time to renew acquaintances and hold reunions with family and friends. Even though families find it difficult to find time to get together throughout the year for other events like birthdays or anniversaries, Christmas is a time when people are more likely to make the effort to take a trip home. The other benefit of the Holiday season is that for many who normally would have to take vacation time off from work to travel, the Christmas/New Year’s holidays may mean some flexibility with work obligations. So the Holiday season is a great time to plan a family reunion.

The idea of a December family reunion is not a new one. Sure, it’s made easier with modern transportation conveniences, but it was a common occurrence in the late 19th to early 20th century, as shown by many newspaper stories at that time. These Christmas family reunion articles are a great way for family historians to catch a glimpse into the daily lives of their ancestors. A bonus for the genealogist is that these family reunion articles often included the names of all those in attendance. Even short newspaper announcements can contain genealogically rich information that could be of assistance to descendants.

I did a search for Christmas family reunions in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, and found many delightful examples.

Newspapers report on the lives of a community as well as the celebrities and leaders of a nation. So it’s not surprising that a Christmas family reunion in the White House was newsworthy. For Christmas 1910, newspapers nationwide reported that President Howard Taft had a reunion with his three children, Robert, Helen and Charles, at the White House—complete with a turkey dinner. The only thing missing was the Christmas tree because, as the article notes, the children were “older.”

Christmas at White House: Tafts to Hold Family Reunion and Partake of Turkey Dinner, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 25 December 1910

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 25 December 1910, page 2

While there are countless examples of newspaper articles detailing a family reunion, this one in the Social Affairs column of a 1903 newspaper caught my eye. In the historical newspaper article we find the mention of 13 separate family gatherings. One of the stories, reporting on the dinner at A. Galloway’s, mentions who was there (four generations were present), and reports that the Christmas reunion was leading up to some noteworthy wedding anniversaries. The A. C. Galloways and the A. Galloways would be celebrating their 67th and 56th wedding anniversary in 1904, respectively. It might seem like a breach of etiquette to modern readers but the addition of the words “if they live” came after that statement. If one needed any more hints revealing how old these two couples were, the last sentence of the article notes: “The combined ages of the four is 334 years.”

article about a Christmas family reunion hosted by A. Galloway, Daily Telegram newspaper article 28 December 1903

Daily Telegram (Adrian, Michigan), 28 December 1903, page 2

Maybe you are planning a family reunion of your own this season. Chances are it won’t be as large as this one, reported in a 1922 newspaper. Mrs. M. J. Nash had 91 family members attend her Christmas reunion! Lucky for any of her present-day descendants, the list of those who attended was printed in the newspaper.

The newspaper article concludes by saying she gave everyone in attendance a gift “by which to remember her.”

[Christmas Family Reunion]: Ninety-one Relatives Gather at Home of Mrs. M. J. Nash, Oregonian newspaper article 31 December 1922

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 31 December 1922, section 3, page 9

The old newspaper article about Mrs. Nash’s Christmas family reunion wasn’t the only one I found that included the names of other family members in attendance. This 1921 Christmas reunion article for the family of Mr. and Mrs. John Stanford included the names of those who attended and the number of children they had. As a genealogist, this historical newspaper article is very appealing since it also provides the couple’s street address and a sentence reporting on a family photo that was taken and who was in the photo: “A picture of the host and hostess, with their sons and daughters, grouped about them, was also another feature, and this should be a pleasant reminder for the parents of the event.”

Christmas [Stanford Family] Reunion Delightful Affair, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 28 December 1921

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 28 December 1921, page 6

Did your ancestor hold a Christmas family reunion? This fact may not be known to your present-day family—but if it did occur there’s a good chance it and the names of all gathered can be found in their local newspaper. Finding such an article full of relatives’ names would be a great genealogy gift to receive, something that would make any family historian smile.