Perfect Holiday Gift for Genealogists: GenealogyBank Membership

Christmas is two weeks from today; are you looking for last minute Christmas gifts? Perhaps you’re looking for that perfect Christmas gift for the genealogist on your shopping list? Maybe a Christmas gift for grandma…or something for the whole family?

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Here’s a great genealogy gift to give this holiday: GenealogyBank is now offering Gift Memberships!

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Vital records give you the names and dates to fill in your family tree—but newspapers give you the stories to get to know your ancestors: the lives they led and the times they lived in. Our Gift Membership lets you give an annual ALL-ACCESS pass to more than 6,500 online newspapers, with over 220 million obituaries and more than 1 billion articles and records!

And there’s more: our genealogy website’s expansive online archives also contain rare books, personal writings, military records, official government documents and more rich material for in-depth ancestry research.

With a gift membership to our website, your loved one can trace their family tree back in time over three centuries, with historical records that are exclusively available in GenealogyBank’s ever-growing digital archive collections.

Questions about our genealogy Gift Memberships? We’re here to help. Call a member of our friendly support staff toll free at 1-866-641-3297 Mon-Fri 10am-7pm U.S. EST or email us anytime at gbsupport@genealogybank.com.

Death, Horses & Meteors: My McNeil Family History Discoveries

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 find some details about the daily life of her ancestor John C. McNeil.

Some of my favorite things about researching family history in old newspapers are the surprises you can find about an ancestor’s daily life. Take for example my McNeil ancestors, John C. McNeil (1823-1909) and his wife Mary Ann Smith McNeil (1853-1944) (actually his 3rd wife; he was a polygamist and had two other wives simultaneously). I’m always interested in researching their lives and learning more about how history impacted them as they separately immigrated to the United States and lived in various states and countries, including Utah, Arizona and Mexico.

The McNeils are a family that I actually know quite a bit about, not just because of my own searching but from the research I inherited from my maternal grandmother (John and Mary Ann were her grandparents), my aunts, and my cousins. One of the future family history projects I’ve planned is to take the family history narratives that have been compiled about this McNeil family and add much-needed source citations. Obviously historical newspaper research can help with this.

James Hibbert McNeil’s Death Notice

For example, one family history narrative I inherited mentions their infant son James Hibbert McNeil dying during a scarlet fever epidemic in 1886. I found a short mortuary notice in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives that confirmed that he died of scarlet fever. Although the family was living in Arizona at the time, I found the death notice in a Utah newspaper.

death notice for James Hibbert McNeil, Deseret News newspaper article 1 September 1886

Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 1 September 1886, page 528

Horse Thievery at the McNeil Farm

I’ve written previously on the GenealogyBank Blog about Mary Ann and how her name was published in newspapers across the United States due to her numerous descendants fighting in World War II. (For my previous article, please see The Polygamist’s Wife: The Story of My Favorite Ancestor Mary Ann.) I started to wonder what other newspapers articles I could find for this family. Were there surprises yet to be uncovered?

So I started on my research quest. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can find family history information in any part of a newspaper: letters to the editor, advertisements, even weather bulletins. Newspaper advertisements, for example, can contain much more information than simply marketing a product to consumers—they can include the names of our ancestors. In this case I made a marvelous discovery: I found a newspaper advertisement that included where John was living at the time. This ad describes three horses “taken up” (stolen) from the McNeil’s farm in Bountiful, Utah.

ad for stolen horses, Deseret News newspaper advertisement 13 October 1869

Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 13 October 1869, page 432

Old Weather Reports Include Meteors!

Continuing on with my family search in Utah and Arizona newspapers (places where I know they lived), I was surprised to find some articles that provided John’s weather reports for Show Low, Arizona. These weather reports were very brief mentions of how the local weather was, included in a larger state weather report published in the newspaper. Several men in various parts of Arizona worked as weather reporters for their area and provided these reports—and my ancestor John McNeil was one of them.

weather report for Show Low, Arizona, Weekly Phoenix Herald newspaper article 24 February 1898

Weekly Phoenix Herald (Phoenix, Arizona), 24 February 1898, page 4

But amidst a few seemingly common weather reports from John, I found this old one from February 1897 in which he reports seeing a meteor. Other witnesses in this report also provided a description of this anomaly.

report of a meteor from Show Low, Arizona, Weekly Phoenix Herald newspaper article 25 February 1897

Weekly Phoenix Herald (Phoenix, Arizona), 25 February 1897, page 2

I imagine reporting on the weather every month may not have been very exciting, but a meteor! That would have added a little excitement to John’s routine.

I was curious about this meteor and continued my search in GenealogyBank’s Arizona newspapers. I soon found other descriptions of that meteor, including this one from a Prescott, Arizona, newspaper. The article reports about the meteor: “It was very near the earth and lighted up the entire heavens. It was accompanied by a roaring noise.”

report of a meteor from Arizona, Weekly Journal Miner newspaper article 27 January 1897

Weekly Journal Miner (Prescott, Arizona), 27 January 1897, page 3

Unexpected Finds in Newspapers

There’s no doubt that newspapers provide us a glimpse of our ancestors that we won’t find in other records. What do I like best about newspapers? You can find the unexpected. You come face to face with the everyday lives of your ancestors and this only keeps getting better as more newspapers are digitized. Can’t find anything about your ancestor’s story? Keep looking; one day you will be surprised at what you find out about your family’s past.

Genealogy Search Tip: Don’t always go into newspaper research expecting to find a certain type of article. Instead, search on a time period. If you only look for obituaries, most likely that’s all you will find. As I searched for John McNeil I searched in the states where he lived and for the years he was alive, not expecting to find just one type of article.

And sure enough, I was not disappointed. In a newspaper obituary, an advertisement, and some weather reports, I got some of those precious glimpses into John’s life that help us get to know the names on our family tree as real people with real lives.

Start searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives today, and see what small details about your own ancestors’ lives you can find!

Did Grandma & Grandpa Write Letters to Santa Claus as Kids?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find some of the cute, funny, and heartwarming letters our ancestors wrote to Santa Claus.

In our genealogical quests, we often overlook valuable sources of family history—such as time-honored childhood traditions like writing to Santa Claus (once known as Saint Nicholas).

I recommend you include “Letters to Santa,” published in hometown newspapers, as part of your genealogy research. Can you imagine finding a letter to Santa Claus written by Grandma or Grandpa when they were tots? It would certainly bring a jolly twinkle to your eyes this holiday season!

Yes—it’s very possible that you might find a letter to Santa your ancestor wrote in the historical newspaper archives—and you might even find one with a home address!

Fact: Many Letters to Santa Were Shipped to the North Pole

The U.S. Post Office, not knowing what to do with the abundance of letters to Santa they received throughout the Christmas season, often shared them with newspaper publishers. After air travel became feasible, many letters were (and still are) sent to the North Pole in Greenland, often causing overtime for postal workers. This article from 1950 reports that as of mid-November that year, over 70,000 letters had been received in Copenhagen, Denmark; by Christmas they were expecting about 200,000.

Mail for Santa Claus Keeps Postoffice in Denmark Busy, Boston Herald newspaper article 17 December 1950

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 17 December 1950, page 47

Letter to “Dear Old Man” (Santa Claus) from Tom (1888)

Here is an early letter to Santa published after the 1887 Christmas holiday. Although it doesn’t reveal “Tom’s” surname, it has an interesting description about the custom of using a chimney post office for the children’s letters.

The little boy made it clear he didn’t care for peppermint sticks, and had some interesting requests—including this instruction to Santa: “Don’t put my things in Jim’s stockings. My stockings are red, with holes in the knees.” Tom also advised Santa Claus: “Ma and Pa are always foolin’ about Christmas Eve, but come along and don’t mind them.”

The Letters Santa Claus Receives, Haverhill Bulletin newspaper article 2 January 1888

Haverhill Bulletin (Haverhill, Massachusetts), 2 January 1888, page 2

Santa’s Letter Box (1899)

The previous letter to Santa seems more of a novelty, as it was published in the newspaper after Christmas. Around the turn of the century, delightful children’s correspondence to Santa became a regular feature in many newspapers in the United States, and their letters were printed in the weeks leading up to Christmas. In the following 1899 newspaper article, you can read these letters to Santa:

Albany, Tex., Dec. 15.—Dear Santa Claus: Will you please send me a doll, if you have one to spare? I want one eighteen inches long, kid body and bisque head, light hair or dark will do. Yours truly, BESSIE TILGHMAN.

Oak Cliff, Tex., Dec. 15.—Dear Santa Claus: Please send me a toy cannon, train, magic lantern and a small boat, some candy, nuts of all kinds, apples, oranges and some fireworks. I am a little boy 6 years old. Your little friend, JULE BERAND.

Dallas, Tex., Dec. 17.—Dearest Santa: Though I look older, I am only 4 years old. I don’t want a doll, but I want a watering pot and a carpet sweeper, and some ginger-snaps and jaw-breakers. Yours lovingly, BROOKSIE T. SMITH.

Santa's Letter Box, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 December 1899

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 December 1899, page 5

Notice the letter authors are clearly identified by first and last name. Are any of these letters to Santa written by your ancestors?

Georgie Freeman and Charlotte Ostan from Evansville, Indiana (1905)

These children had been very good all year, one performing night work and carrying in meat, and the other who didn’t want her five-year-old brother Tony Ostan forgotten.

Letters to Santa Claus, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 15 December 1905

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 15 December 1905, page 6

Almira and Kenton Christopher from Belleville, Illinois (1919)

As we all know, many families have a tough time at Christmas. Not wanting to disappoint their children, Mom and Dad often make up cover stories to explain the lack of presents, as shown in the following letters to Santa Claus.

In 1919, the Christopher children wrote that they were sorry Santa’s reindeer were sick, and that he wouldn’t be coming this year. However—just in case—Almira did wish for a coat, hair ribbon, dress, cap, shoes, fruit and nuts, and some other items, including a little piano.

Among the presents Kenton hoped for were a popgun, new suit and cap, an auto, bicycle, football suit, and a tree. He also added, “Do not forget to leave something for my sisters, brother and parents.”

letters to Santa Claus, Belleville News Democrat newspaper article 15 December 1919

Belleville News Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 15 December 1919, page 7

Ruby Grace Coker from Marietta, Georgia (1923)

Some letters to Santa are purely fun, such as this one from a little girl who lived in Marietta, Georgia:

Dear Santa Claus—Christmas, I want you to bring me a doll that walk, talk and sleep. I want a pair of skates, and I want a box of water colors. Please bring some fruits, nuts and candy of all kinds. There is one more thing I want and that is a raincape. I won’t ask for anything else, because there is lots more little boys and girls that you have to see, but remember mother, daddy, brother and my little baby sister.—Your friend, Ruby Grace Coker.

letter to Santa Claus, Cobb County Times newspaper article 20 December 1923

Cobb County Times (Marietta, Georgia), 20 December 1923, page 6

Letters to Santa Claus Contest (1937)

With so many children’s letters to Santa sent to newspaper editors, the competition to be published was fierce. Not wanting to disappoint, some newspapers created contests—such as this one from the Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper, which offered a first place prize of $5 and a second place prize of $3, with six runners-up to receive $1 each. (I wasn’t able to locate the winning entries, but perhaps some of our readers would find them and report it on the blog.)

Letters to Santa Claus Entered in New Contest, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 12 December 1937

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 12 December 1937, page 2

Letters from the Echo of Richardson, Texas (1941)
In this collection of letters from 1941, many children told Santa Claus that they love him. (Don’t we all!)

Dear Santa Claus: I have been good. Please come to see me. Fill my stocking with fruit and candy and toys. Don’t bring me very much, but don’t forget other boys and girls. I love you, Ray Johnson.

Dear Santa Claus: I have been good. Please come to see me. Fill my stocking with fruit and candy and toys…I love you, Sylvia Jean Terry.

Letters to Santa Claus, Richardson Echo newspaper article 19 December 1941

Richardson Echo (Richardson, Texas), 19 December 1941, page 5

There are so many letters to Santa Claus in the newspapers, I hope you’ll take time to research them—and please let us know when you find any of these priceless family treasures!

Search Tips

Try entering your ancestor’s first and last name in combination with “letters to Santa” or “letter to Santa” in the “Include Keywords” field on GenealogyBank’s Newspaper Archives search page to get started.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page, looking for letters to Santa Claus

You might also try searching for your ancestors’ letters to Santa from the Newspaper Letters search page.

Christmas card from Mary Harrell-Sesniak to her blog readers

Hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

Merry Christmas!
Mary

Christmas Presents of the Past: the Strange, the Unusual—and More

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott looks through old newspapers to find some truly strange, unusual—and sometimes heartwarming—presents given during past Christmases.

I always feel extra thankful around Christmastime that I am a genealogist. It is the best time to be with, and think about, family. Of course some of the most fun memories that always come flooding back are those of giving and receiving Christmas presents!

I grew up with many Christmas family traditions handed down from my Czech ancestors. I fondly recall that we always celebrated St. Nicholas Day on December 6th and that Santa Claus always brought our Christmas tree along with our gifts on Christmas Eve after we fell asleep listening for sleigh bells in the night. Now as an adult, I can hardly imagine how much work my parents must have done those late Christmas Eve nights…putting out packages, assembling toys, AND decorating a full Christmas tree. But, I certainly recall that those Christmas mornings were magical, seeing the tree for the first time with all those gifts for us kids under it.

Speaking of Christmas gifts, I remember being thrilled and amazed at what I found under the tree with my name on it! These fond family memories and my genealogy work got me to thinking about what presents other people might have found under their Christmas trees, so I turned to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for a bit of fun to see what I might find.

The Elephant in the Yard

My first discovery, from a 1985 South Dakota newspaper, was a “white elephant” gift: literally, an elephant. It seems a certain Marie Christianson, of Apple Valley, Minnesota, woke to find an eight-foot-tall fiberglass elephant on her front lawn! Now, my family will tell you I have “missed” on more than one gift over the years, but at least I never tried giving anything that big!

Woman Gets Surprise from Elephant, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 15 December 1985

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 15 December 1985, page 20

A Gold-Dipped Cow Chip

Next up I just had to read an article I found in a 1980 Texas newspaper, since it was headlined “Oh, just what I always wanted…a gold cow chip.” No kidding! This strange story leads with the opportunity to buy, for only $125, a gold-dipped cow chip made into a Christmas ornament, and it didn’t stop there. The article also reports on such gifts as cow chip drink coasters, a “hospital booze” dispenser, and other strange gifts. As the reporter comments: “But, of course, with Christmas gifts, like anything else—beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

"Oh, Just What I Always Wanted...a Gold Cow Chip," Dallas Morning News newspaper article 14 December 1980

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 14 December 1980, page 177

The Worst Christmas Gifts Ever

Then I came across a 1975 article from a Texas newspaper titled “Christmas gifts. Everything they never wanted.” It seems that the UPI undertook a survey to find some of the worst Christmas gifts ever. Right up there at the top was the WWII GI who was fighting in the mud of the western Pacific when he received his Christmas gift: a shoe shine kit! That one really had me laughing, as did several of the others as the UPI interviewed a host of big-name celebrities including Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, Phyllis Diller, David Niven and others. While I laughed over gifts such as Carol Burnett’s “a case of chicken pox” and shuddered over Phyllis Diller getting a snake, the gift that took the cake for me was Stanley Marcus, of the Neiman-Marcus Department Store chain. It seems his children couldn’t figure out what to give the man that probably literally had everything, so they gave him a live donkey for Christmas!

Christmas Gifts: Everything They Never Wanted, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 24 December 1975

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 24 December 1975, page 9

Oh! It’s Moleskin Pants…Again

The laughter really rolled around my office when I came across a real “winner” of a Christmas gift in a 1984 Massachusetts newspaper article. This one makes me wonder if the genealogy and family history of Roy Collette of Owatonna, Minnesota, will include his Christmas gift of a pair of moleskin pants. It seems Roy and his brother-in-law gift and re-gift the same pair of moleskin pants each Christmas. In the article, Roy tells the story that it took him two months to unwrap his Christmas present of those pants since his brother-in-law, Larry Kunkel, sent them wrapped “cemented in a 12,000-pound, 17-foot-high red space ship”! Can you imagine? The two of them had been exchanging this same pair of pants, wrapped in various zany ways, since the mid-1960s.

Moleskin Pants Finally Free from Concrete Cocoon, Springfield Union newspaper article 29 March 1984

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 29 March 1984, page 2

The Real Santa of Danby & Mount Tabor

Soon I found a heartwarming article from a 1983 Louisiana newspaper, which told the story “Christmas legacy continues” from the small towns of Danby and Mount Tabor, Vermont. It seems a local boy, who made a fortune in the lumber trade, never forgot his hometown. When Silas Griffith died in 1903, his will set up an endowment to buy Christmas gifts each year for all the boys and girls in the towns of Danby and nearby Mount Tabor. This old newspaper article begins with a 75-year-old fellow recalling “washtubs full of large, juicy oranges” beneath the Griffith endowment tree as holiday gifts. William Crosby comments: “In those days, an orange was a pretty scarce item. It meant an awful lot to me.” That one really took me back, since every year when I was a child, year in and year out, my Christmas stocking held an orange in the toe as a very special winter treat. I can still taste the marvelous flavors as my sisters and I would stick a peppermint stick into the orange and drink the juice through our makeshift straws. Christmas magic indeed.

Christmas Legacy Continues, Advocate newspaper article 25 December 1983

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 25 December 1983, page 3

The Red Cross Delivers a Great Gift

Tears formed in my eyes as I read the next article I came across, titled “The Funny Christmas Gift,” from a 1918 Pennsylvania newspaper. This news story was incredibly moving to me, especially as we approach the centennial of World War I. If you want to truly get into the Christmas spirit and have immigrant ancestors in your genealogy as my family does, you must read this great story about a gift both simple and hugely meaningful. The story is told by a Red Cross worker who is helping process packages to troops overseas during WWI, and concludes this way:

The Funny Christmas Gift, Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader newspaper article 26 November 1918

Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), 26 November 1918, page 12

Remember Rural Free Delivery?

Things got lighter after this when I found myself reading an article from a 1905 Pennsylvania newspaper, titled “Christmas with the Rural Free Delivery Carriers.” Now if you are old enough to recall sending mail with an address that featured “R.F.D.” in it, then you will really enjoy this wonderful trip back in time. This one is almost like having your own genealogy time machine! Be sure to check it out and read about what these wonderful rural carriers got from their appreciative customers around Christmastime. It was special to read how these fellows often received “potatoes, flour, apples, preserves, etc., in such quantities that the family is kept supplied with these things all winter in this manner.”

Christmas with the Rural Free Delivery Carriers, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 17 December 1905

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 17 December 1905, section: comic, page 2

Strange Christmas Presents of the Rich & Famous

I was especially intrigued when I came across an article from a 1909 Louisiana newspaper, titled “Some Queer Christmas Presents.” This story tells of many gifts received by actors and actresses at Christmas, and I was pleased to see that several had been given bricks from a building that was significant in their lives.

Some Queer Christmas Presents, Times-Picayune newspaper article 12 December 1909

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 12 December 1909, page 48

I was given a brick once, as you can see in the photograph below. While it may not be from an opera house or famous theater, mine is from a community center in a small village in Michoacán, Mexico, that I was instrumental in getting built. I do believe that, as the earlier reporter noted, the beauty of a gift truly is in the eye of the beholder.

photo of author Scott Phillips with a brick he received as a present

Photo: Scott Phillips with his prized brick. Credit: from the author’s collection.

What have been some of your favorite, strange, or outrageous Christmas gifts in your family? Please tell us about them in the comments section.

Holiday Recipe Ideas for Good Old-Fashioned Home Cooking

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how GenealogyBank can help you find holiday recipe ideas in two helpful ways: on our “Old Fashioned Family Recipes” Pinterest board, and in our Historical Newspaper Archives.

What are you cooking up for your family and friends this holiday season? A big traditional family dinner? A casual get-together with friends featuring lots of appetizers? Maybe you love to bake and the holiday season gives you an excuse to make all kinds of festive tasty treats.

Looking for new recipe ideas for the holidays? What about using GenealogyBank to help you find new-to-you holiday recipes? Just as the women in our families once relied on newspaper recipe pages for new ideas for dinner and special occasions, GenealogyBank can help you find holiday recipe ideas in two helpful ways: on its “Old Fashioned Family Recipes” Pinterest board, and in its Historical Newspaper Archives.

GenealogyBank + Pinterest = Tried & Tasty Old Family Recipes

I love Pinterest and I think once you start using this website, you will too. Haven’t heard of Pinterest? Pinterest is a social media website that allows you to “pin” images from your computer or the Internet onto virtual “boards.” Think of it as a virtual bulletin board where you can share images representing various topics. I have become a great fan of Pinterest and use it to organize recipes and images of old cookbooks, quilts and genealogy resources.

Looking for a new holiday recipe to try? Did you know that GenealogyBank has a group board on Pinterest titled Old Fashioned Family Recipes? Peruse these family recipe pins for new ideas or to locate old-fashioned favorites.

photo of GenealogyBank's Pinterest board “Old Fashioned Family Recipes”

GenealogyBank’s Pinterest board “Old Fashioned Family Recipes.” Credit: Pinterest.

One of my favorite desserts, carrot cake, can be found here. I will admit this pin for Zesty Orange French Toast is also calling my name.

photo of the Pinterest pin for “Zesty Orange French Toast”

Pinterest pin for “Zesty Orange French Toast.” Credit: Pinterest.

Want to share your old family holiday recipes? You’re invited to add to the GenealogyBank Pinterest board. (Please note that you must be a member of Pinterest to pin images, but joining just takes a moment.) Help us curate a collection of the best family recipes to share with other researchers.

It’s easy to do:

  1. Go to our Old Fashioned Family Recipes board
  2. Click on the “Follow” button (located toward the top center of the page)
  3. We’ll invite you to join as a contributor to our Old Fashioned Family Recipes board
  4. Pinterest will send you a group board invitation to join our Pinterest board group
  5. Click the red “Accept” button to accept our invite
  6. Start pinning images of your family recipe cards or photos of the food itself to our board
screenshot of Pinterest sign-up message

Credit: Pinterest

In addition, after you share the recipe on our board, start your own Pinterest recipe board for your family food history that can be shared with your extended family this holiday season.

How to Find Holiday Recipes in Newspapers

Have you searched newspapers for holiday recipe ideas? Do you have a favorite family dish but you’re not sure how it’s made? A tradition in my Sister-in-Law’s family is to make various kinds of cookies to give away during the holidays. Each Christmas cookie platter has six or more types of cookies. How do you find various recipes to add to your Christmas cookie repertoire? I found lots of cookie recipes when I searched GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, including this one for Mexican Christmas Cookies which are my favorite.

Holiday [Recipe] Traditions, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 December 1983

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 December 1983, page 1E

Want more Christmas cookie recipe ideas? Here are some Christmas cookie recipes from California that may help you out in your holiday culinary pursuits. These two Christmas cookie recipes are said to be the favorites of the members of the San Diego Las Amiguitas Auxiliary to the Children’s Home Society.

Cookies a Christmas Tradition, San Diego Union newspaper article 11 December 1980

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 11 December 1980, page 66

Maybe you’re not into Christmas cookies. Perhaps some other holiday dessert is what your sweet tooth craves. Now I know it may seem old fashioned, but I really do like holiday fruit cake. Maybe it’s because we never ate it when I was growing up. As an adult living in my first home, one of my neighbors invited me over and served me tea and fruit cake. From the first bite of a dessert that some people dread, I was hooked. Whether you enjoy fruit cake as well—or you want to give it as a joke gift for the holiday office party—you can find a recipe for it in the newspaper.

This “Southern style” fruit cake recipe offers a different take on this traditional holiday dessert. After eating a slice or two, you may realize you really do like fruit cake after all.

Try Fruit Cake Southern Style, Boston Herald newspaper article 7 December 1971

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 7 December 1971, page 27

The holidays are a great time to record your family’s food history and to find old recipes that have long since disappeared from your own family’s holiday traditions. Search newspapers to find holiday recipes, and create food memories for the future.

Do you have a favorite family holiday recipe? We would love for you to share it with us so that we can give it a try sometime. Please share your family favorite in the comments section below, and add the recipe to our Old Fashioned Family Recipes  board on Pinterest.

Happy Holidays!

Old Holiday Poems, Songs & Hymns in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post—just in time as the Holiday Season is now upon us—Mary searches old newspapers to find poems, carols and hymns from holidays past, to revive them and bring them into this year’s celebrations.

During this magical time of the year many people enjoy singing carols and hymns, and reading joyful poems, of Christmas, Hanukkah and other holidays.

illustration for "The Night before Christmas," Boston Herald newspaper article 12 December 1897

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 12 December 1897, page 36

You’ll find a delightful assortment of holiday poems and songs in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives, many of them little-known compositions that have faded over the years. But this holiday season why don’t we revive them, and take the time to read some of these poems to cherished children, grandchildren and other family members! It’s a wonderful way to honor the words of our poetic ancestors while sharing quality time with our loved ones.

In this blog post I’ve cut and pasted some of my favorite holiday poems, carols & hymns from old newspapers, and have included excerpts for easier reading.

“Christmas Carol” by Martin Luther

In an 1859 newspaper I found a reprint of this “Christmas Carol” that Martin Luther wrote for his son Hans in 1540. Isn’t it wonderful that such history still exists?

“Christmas Carol” by Martin Luther, Portland Weekly Advertiser newspaper article 4 January 1859

Portland Weekly Advertiser (Portland, Maine), 4 January 1859, page 4

From Heaven above to earth I come,

To bear good news to every home:

Glad tidings of great joy I bring,

Whereof I now will say and sing:

 

To you, this night, is born a child

Of Mary, chosen mother mild;

This little child, of lowly birth,

Shall be the joy of all your earth.

 

’Tis Christ our God, who far on high

Hath heard your sad and bitter cry;

Himself will your Salvation be,

Himself from sin will make you free…

 

Glory to God in highest Heaven,

Who unto man His Son hath given!

While angels sing, with pious mirth,

A glad New Year to all the earth.

“Christmas Hymn”

I found this “Christmas Hymn” by an unknown author in an 1837 newspaper.

“Christmas Hymn,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette newspaper article 16 January 1837

Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 16 January 1837, page 2

Hail happy morn—hail holy child,

Hail mercy’s sacred spring!

Upon whose birth the angels smiled,—

Our Saviour and our King!

Oh! like the star whose guiding rays

The Eastern sages bless’d,

Thy love, Oh! Lord, shall light our ways,

And give the weary rest…

 

Adoring angels filled the sky,

And thus their song began,

“Glory to God who dwells on high,

And peace on earth to man.”

“A Christmas Hymn” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“A Christmas Hymn” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was printed in an 1844 newspaper.

“A Christmas Hymn” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Centinel of Freedom newspaper article 31 December 1844

Centinel of Freedom (Newark, New Jersey), 31 December 1844, page 1

…It is the calm and solemn night!

A thousand bells ring out, and throw

Their joyous peals abroad, and smite

The darkness.—charmed and holy now!

The night that erst no shame had worn,

To it a happy name is given;

For in that stable lay, new-born,

The peaceful Prince of earth and heaven.

In the solemn midnight

Centuries ago!

“The Snow Man” by Gracie F. Coolidge

“The Snow Man,” a poem by Gracie F. Coolidge, was published in an 1884 newspaper.

“The Snow Man” by Gracie F. Coolidge, Grand Forks Daily Herald newspaper article 24 December 1884

Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 24 December 1884, page 2

…He sees through the window the children bright,

And hears them merrily singing

Round the Christmas tree with its glory of light.

When out from the chimney, in bear-skins white,

Comes good St. Nicholas springing!

 

And the Snow-man laughs so hard at that,

That when his laughter ceases,

A pipe, a coat, and an old straw hat,

Two lumps of coal and a flannel cravat,

Are all that is left of the pieces!

“Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas To-night” by Phillips Brooks

“Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas To-night,” a poem by Phillips Brooks, was published in a 1908 newspaper.

“Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas To-night” by Phillips Brooks, Patriot newspaper article 24 December 1908

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 24 December 1908, page 6

Christmas in lands of the fir tree and pine,

Christmas in lands of the palm tree and vine;

Christmas where snow peaks stand solemn and white,

Christmas where corn-fields lie sunny and bright;

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas to-night!

 

Christmas where children are hopeful and gay,

Christmas where old men are patient and gray,

Christmas where peace, like a dove in its flight,

Broods o’er brave men in the thick of the fight.

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas to-night!

 

For the Christ-child who comes is the Master of all;

No palace too great—no cottage too small.

The angels who welcome Him sing from the height,

“In the city of David a King in His might.”

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas to-night!

 

…So the stars of the midnight which compass us round,

Shall see a strange glory and hear a sweet sound,

And cry, “Look! the earth is aflame with delight,

O sons of the morning rejoice at the sight.”

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas to-night!

“Hanukkah Lights” by Morris Rosenfeld

“Hanukkah Lights,” a poem by Morris Rosenfeld, was published in a 1921 newspaper.

“Hanukkah Lights” by Morris Rosenfeld, Jewish Chronicle newspaper article 23 December 1921

Jewish Chronicle (Newark, New Jersey), 23 December 1921, page 4

Oh, ye little candle lights!

You tell tales of days and nights,

Stories with no end;

You tell us of bloody fight,

Heroism, power, might,

Wonders, how they blend.

 

When I see you flickering,

Colors diff’rent checkering;

Dreamlike speaks your gleam:

“Judah, hast fought once upon,

Conquest, glory thou hast won”—

God! is that a dream?…

“The Night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore

Finally, I’d like to leave you with the most famous of all Christmas poems, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” popularly known as “The Night before Christmas.”

For many of us, including my own family, the reading of “The Night before Christmas” is a well-honored tradition. After Christmas Eve service when I was a child, we would put on our jammies, hang our stockings with care, and mother would read us the poem before father would scoot us off to bed.

When the now-famous Christmas poem was first published in an 1823 newspaper, the author chose to remain anonymous—but he was no match for members of society, who became obsessed with wanting to identify the penman of that memorable poem. Eventually, Clement Clarke Moore (15 July 1779-10 July 1863), acknowledged authorship. It turned out he was just a kindly gentleman who enjoyed writing poetry, and this one had been written as a present for his children.

If you search old newspapers, you’ll find many renditions of Moore’s popular Christmas poem. The writer of this 1897 newspaper article did a wonderful job explaining the background of the poem, including a picture of Moore, his house, and a signed copy of the poem from Moore’s notebook.

“The Night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, Boston Herald newspaper article 12 December 1897

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 12 December 1897, page 36

Here is a picture of the house where Moore wrote his famous poem.

“The Night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, Boston Herald newspaper article 12 December 1897

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 12 December 1897, page 36

And here is the poem, with an image from his personal notebook!

“The Night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, Boston Herald newspaper article 12 December 1897

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 12 December 1897, page 36

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

 

And mama in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap;

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

 

…But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa to all of my genealogy friends and your families!

339 Illinois Newspapers Now Online for Your Genealogy Research

Today Illinois celebrates the 195th anniversary of its statehood—the “Prairie State” was admitted into the Union on 3 December 1818 as the 21st state. The date on the official state seal, 26 August 1818, commemorates the adoption of Illinois’ first constitution that paved the way for statehood.

photo of the official state seal of Illinois

Illustration: official state seal of Illinois. Credit: Wikipedia.

If you are researching your family roots in Illinois, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online Illinois newspaper archives: 339 titles to help you search your family history in the “Land of Lincoln,” providing coverage from 1818 to Today.

Dig in and search for obituaries and other news articles about your ancestors in these recent and historical IL newspapers online:

Search Illinois Newspaper Archives (1818 – 2010)

Search Illinois Recent Obituaries (1985 – Today)

Do you research your Illinois ancestry frequently? Download the PDF version of our Illinois newspaper list by clicking on the graphic below and save the file locally on your computer. Whenever you are ready to start researching your genealogy in the archives, simply click on the newspaper name (in blue) to go directly to your newspaper title of interest at GenealogyBank.

Illinois Newspaper List for GenealogyHave a blog or website? Use the embed code below to share our list with your visitors.

Here is our complete list of online Illinois newspapers, divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries. Each newspaper title in this list is an active link that will take you directly to that paper’s search page, where you can begin searching for your ancestors by surnames, dates, keywords and more.

Discover your family’s story in a variety of genealogy records and news stories in these 62 Illinois historical newspapers, listed alphabetically by city:

Search recent obituary records for your relatives in these 277 Illinois newspapers, listed alphabetically by city:

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Breaking through Genealogy Brick Walls & Finding Family Tree Firsts

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how old newspapers helped him break through a genealogy brick wall that had stumped him for years—and led to an amazing find: the only known photograph of his great grandfather Vicha!

Several years ago I discovered GenealogyBank.com’s extensive historical newspaper archives through a referral by a wonderful newspaper reporter in Tennessee. While I don’t recall his name now, I thank him every time I am working on my genealogy and family history.

Subscribing to GenealogyBank has been one of the best decisions I have ever made for my ancestry and genealogy. Why? Let me give you a few examples of how GenealogyBank has helped me break through brick walls and discover a multitude of “firsts” for my family tree.

Incredible Family Tree Find: Only-Known Photograph of This Ancestor

This is the only known photograph my family has of my great grandfather Joseph K. Vicha.

photo of Joseph K. Vicha

Photo: Joseph K. Vicha. Credit: from the author’s collection.

Let me tell you how GenealogyBank’s old newspapers led to this amazing photo of my great grandfather.

Genealogy Brick Wall Busting: My Great Grandfather Vicha

When I began working in earnest on our family history, my Mother, God rest her soul, was fascinated by what I was finding and asked me for only one genealogy favor. That favor was to find out what I could about her grandfather, Joseph K. Vicha. As a family, we knew nothing beyond his name, the name of his wife, and the fact that he was Bohemian. I struggled for the first years of my family history work trying to discover much of anything about my great grandfather Vicha—until that day when I was directed to GenealogyBank by that wonderful newspaperman (to look for an entirely different person, I might add).

When I searched on my great grandfather’s name in GenealogyBank’s online archives, I was astonished to find over 110 results returned! As I opened each article, it was as if I were back on the streets of Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1880s, right there with the ancestor I had been searching for.

I discovered his work as a union organizer in an 1896 newspaper article that told me he was the president of the Central Labor Union.

[Joseph K.] Vicha Will Resign; Will Retire from the Presidency of the C.L.U., Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 November 1896

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 November 1896, page 2

In an 1897 newspaper article I discovered that my great grandfather Vicha was later appointed by the governor of Ohio as the superintendent of the Free Employment Bureau, where he pledged to “do everything in his power to do something for the good of the laboring people.”

His Commission: Joseph K. Vicha Receives It from the Governor and Expects to Assume the Duties of His Office Today, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 4 January 1897

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 January 1897, page 10

I also made the sad discovery that there was a son, Joseph K. Vicha, Jr., who died at the age of two—and whom no one in the family had known about until I found his death notice in this 1890 newspaper.

death notice for Joseph K. Vicha, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 February 1890

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 February 1890, page 6

Then I even found a story about my great grandfather being held up at gunpoint in an 1898 newspaper article!

[Joseph K.] Vicha Held Up, Plain Dealer newspaper article 24 November 1898

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 24 November 1898, page 3

The Genealogy Thrill of a Lifetime: Finding My GGF’s Photograph

But the best discovery of all was hidden in an 1891 newspaper article I found in the archives.

Ten Thousand Bohemians Celebrate the Anniversary of the Birth of Huss, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 6 July 1891

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 6 July 1891, page 8

I was thrilled at the mention of my great grandfather in this article: “The formation of the [parade] column was under the direction of the chief marshal of the day, Mr. Joseph K. Vicha.”

Most importantly, this old newspaper article provided the clue that led to one of my most exciting discoveries in all of my genealogy efforts. In the news article’s description of who was in the parade column, I saw a reference to the Knights of Pythias. Not being familiar with this group I began to do more research, eventually finding a book published in 1892 with the title History of the Knights of Pythias.

As I began reading this book, I heard genealogy bricks falling down everywhere. Then it happened—there on page 180 I found myself looking at my great grandfather! I had made an amazing genealogy discovery: the only known photograph of my great grandfather Vicha that anyone in my family alive today has ever seen!

It is hard to describe the overwhelming emotions and the great thrill I felt when I was finally “meeting” my great grandfather for the first time. My voice was still trembling when I phoned my Mother to tell her the news of such a great family tree find. What a happy day that was—and I owe it all to GenealogyBank!

Finding Fabulous Firsts for Family History

I have subscribed to GenealogyBank continually ever since my initial genealogy research successes with those early discoveries of my great grandfather. I am thrilled that I have remained a constant subscriber, since GenealogyBank continues to add new content to the online archives every day—and this has enabled me to add more and more first-time discoveries to our family tree.

Many of my earlier GenealogyBank Blog posts discuss in detail many of these fabulous family firsts that now add incredible value, texture, and meaning to what I like to call the tapestry of our family history. For example:

I’d sure enjoy hearing about your own genealogy research successes: what is the best brick wall buster that GenelaogyBank.com helped you to find?