11 March 1993: Janet Reno Becomes 1st Female U.S. Attorney General

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—in honor of March being National Women’s History Month—Gena celebrates the 21st anniversary of Janet Reno becoming the nation’s first female attorney general.

On 11 March 1993 Janet Reno accomplished a first that no other woman has done since: she was confirmed to serve as U.S. Attorney General, beginning her tenure as the second-longest-serving attorney general in our nation’s history. To this day, no other woman has served as Attorney General of the United States.

But that wasn’t the only first that Janet Reno accomplished. Searching on her in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives pulls up many news articles showing that her illustrious life was marked by many such milestones.

Janet Reno was born in Florida on 21 July 1938. After earning her chemistry degree from Cornell she attended Harvard Law School, where she was one of only 16 women in a class of 500. In this 1970 newspaper article looking back at Cornell’s graduating class of 1960, Janet Reno  is described as “now a partner in a Miami, Fla., law firm, is a prime mover in Miami’s civic affairs and is eyeing a career in politics.” According to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, she became a partner in a law firm that previously denied her a position because she was a woman.*

What Happened to (Cornell) Class of 1960? Omaha World Herald newspaper article 14 June 1970

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 14 June 1970, page 28

Prior to being nominated by then-President Bill Clinton for attorney general,  Reno served as  a partner in two law firms and then eventually went on to become the state attorney for Dade County (Florida).**

Janet Reno’s Senate hearing was different from those that we often read about: she received a standing ovation! After those two days of hearings she became the first women attorney general. She was praised by many, including Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) who attended Harvard Law School with Reno and stated she was “superbly qualified to be our nation’s top lawyer. She is an innovative, straightforward, brilliant prosecutor.”

Attorney General Hopeful (Janet Reno) Coasts through Hearing, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 10 March 1993

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 10 March 1993, page 16

Reno won unanimous approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee and started her tenure in March 1993, remaining in her position until 20 January 2001.

(Janet) Reno's Nomination Approved 18-0 by Judiciary Committee, Marietta Journal newspaper article 11 March 1993

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 11 March 1993, page 10

One can easily imagine the pressure of being the first woman in such an important post. In an article printed after her historic Senate confirmation, Reno said that she planned on tackling the job as her mother taught her: “to be prepared…You try to do the right thing, just don’t let it overwhelm you.” While she didn’t admit to feeling pressure as the first female attorney general she did say that she wanted “to do the women of America proud.”

New AG (Janet) Reno Begins Quickly, St. Albans Daily Messenger newspaper article 12 March 1993

St. Albans Daily Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont), 12 March 1993, page 1

After eight years as attorney general, Reno’s life didn’t cease to be busy. She competed in an unsuccessful bid to become governor of her home state of Florida and was narrowly defeated. That election was her last foray into political life.

Her post-public life has included work with groups like the Innocence Project, which uses DNA to exonerate those wrongly convicted, and she even stepped into the celebrity spotlight with guest spots on the television shows The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live.

____________________

* Janet Reno, National Women’s Hall of Fame. Women of the Hall. http://www.greatwomen.org/women-of-the-hall/search-the-hall/details/2/121-Reno.

** Janet Reno, Women’s International Center, http://www.wic.org/bio/jreno.htm.

5 Free Online Resources for Tracing Your Irish Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—to help celebrate both the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday and the fact that March is Irish American Heritage Month—Gena describes five free websites that provide a wide range of resources to help you explore your Irish American ancestry.

Got Irish roots? Trying to find free online resources to research your Irish genealogy? Look no further because these five free websites can help you trace your Irish ancestors.

photo of a satellite image of Ireland

Photo: satellite image of Ireland. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz from the NASA Earth Observatory; Wikipedia.

1) FamilySearch

One of the first places to start any genealogy research project is FamilySearch and their Family History Library Catalog. FamilySearch is adding digitized and indexed records to their Historical Records Collection, where you can find Irish as well as other worldwide records. In addition, be sure to search the Library Catalog. From the Catalog, conduct a place search for where your Irish ancestor was from. As you search the results, note which ones are available by microfilm or digitized online. Microfilm and microfiche can be ordered online and sent to one of the over 4,500 Family History Centers worldwide (fees apply).

The Library Catalog isn’t the only thing available on FamilySearch. Check out the Research Wiki for information on resources and how to do research. Articles you may be interested in include:

2) Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s Irish Genealogy

A website from Ireland’s Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Irish Genealogy provides you a place to search various records from other websites in one place. By clicking on the Main Search link found at the top, you can search for historical records like the 1901 and 1911 censuses as well as the Castle Garden and Ellis Island records. You can read about what records are included by clicking on the What Is Available link. A separate page just for searching church records is also available. You may search these records by name, location and date or browse by location.

Under the “Research in Ireland” tab, make sure to read the page How Does This Site Work? Here you will find information about using wild cards in your search, variant spellings, and the advanced search features.

banner ad for GenealogyBank

3) The National Archives of Ireland

The National Archives of Ireland “holds the records of the modern Irish State.” While the majority of these records can only be searched at the actual Archives, they do have some records available online. Their Genealogy page provides researchers with access to the 1901 and 1911 censuses, Tithe Applotment Books 1823-1827, Soldiers’ Wills 1914-1917, and the Calendar of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1922, with promises of additional records to come.

Don’t forget to check out the National Archives card catalog under the tab “Search the archives.” It’s here that you can explore the holdings of the Archives. Search by keyword (not necessarily the name of your ancestor, think more in terms of searching on the name of the place they were from, an event they participated in, or their occupation, etc.). Find a must-have resource? No problem; even if you can’t make a trip to Dublin to visit in person, the Archives does have a list of researchers that can help.

4) Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)

The mission of the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is to “identify, preserve and make available Northern Ireland’s unique archival and community memory.” Records available online through PRONI include the Ulster Covenant archive, which has nearly a half million signatures and addresses of the men who signed the 1912 Ulster Covenant—and the women who signed a “parallel Declaration” (over 234,000 women). Freeholders’ records (people who voted or were entitled to vote) are also indexed and digitized on the website. Don’t forget to check out their indexed and digitized wills from 1858-1900. The first phase of this important project is complete and viewable.

photo of three men and a woman from Ireland

Photo: Group portrait of three men—two in military uniform, and one woman who is wearing a beret-style hat and a fur stole. Credit: Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. Flickr the Commons. http://www.flickr.com/photos/proni/10942071025/.

One of my favorite things about PRONI is their Flickr photo stream with over 2,000 vintage photos that have no known copyright restrictions. Click here to take a look at these photos.

Like many websites, PRONI includes helpful articles to assist you with your ancestry research. Make sure to start on their Family History page and read their web pages that provide more information about researching your Irish roots, including their Family History Key Sources page.

5) GENUKI

GENUKI is a “virtual reference library” for the United Kingdom and Ireland maintained by volunteers. Just like Cyndi’s List, GENUKI will help you identify additional resources for your genealogy research. Search by Region or by using their Quick Links and discover links to census, church, military, town and tax records. Make sure to use GENUKI to find and learn more about maps, statistics and the social life of your ancestors.

One of the Quick Links includes a Gazetteer for England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. Type in the place you are looking for and then see your results on a map or as a list complete with the county or nearby places.

GenealogyBank

There’s much for Irish researchers to find in the above free websites—but as you research, don’t forget to search GenealogyBank’s online Irish American Newspaper Archives for your ancestors. This collection features newspapers published in New York that documented Irish American lives, featuring birth, marriage and death information from Ireland years before civil registration began there in 1864.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for its Irish American Newspaper Archives

Here’s a good example of how helpful these Irish American newspapers can be. As is typical with census records, Catherine Scully was only listed in the 1892 New York state census as having come from “Ireland.” However, her obituary published in an Irish American newspaper gives the important detail family historians prize so much: where in Ireland she was born (Ballingarry, County Tipperary).

obituary for Catherine Scully, Irish Weekly World newspaper article 2 December 1893

Irish Weekly World (New York City, New York), 2 December 1893, page 3

Once you search this special collection of Irish American newspapers, conduct a broader search through GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives for newspapers in the community your ancestor eventually settled in.

Genealogy Tip: Not sure where to start researching your immigrant ancestors from Ireland? Always begin by researching their lives in the United States first, before tackling records in a foreign locale. Irish American newspapers are a great place to start!

Organization & Preservation Tips for Genealogy Spring Cleaning

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott—weary of this long, cold winter—jumpstarts thoughts of spring by planning his genealogy spring cleaning tasks.

Wow, what a winter we are having this year! But there is good news: March 1st was the beginning of Meteorological Spring! If you don’t believe me, just take a look at this 1937 article from a New Jersey newspaper, which says:

The astronomical Spring is fixed by the sun, the meteorological Spring by the calendar. So the weatherman’s Winter ended a week ago.

(Note: all of the newspaper articles used to illustrate this Blog post come from GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.)

Winter Departed, Says Weatherman, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 8 March 1937

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 8 March 1937, page 12

So we have passed one spring beginning, and have one to go—with this year’s astronomical start of spring occurring on March 20th with the vernal equinox.

I prefer to follow the seasons in the Farmer’s Almanac. Although the currently-produced Farmer’s Almanac has been in continuous publication since its first issue in 1818, I came across an advertisement for one of its predecessors all the way back in a 1792 Massachusetts newspaper.

ad for "The Farmer's Almanac," American Apollo newspaper advertisement 16 November 1792

American Apollo (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 November 1792, page 4

All of this talk and my dreaming of springtime got me thinking about doing some spring cleaning, especially of my genealogy and family history materials.

So I dug in and began to devise my genealogy spring cleaning plan. Although a serious project, I want to keep the work of getting things organized enjoyable—keeping in mind a delightful and fun article I once found in a 1951 Texas newspaper.

Spring Cleaning Time to Observe Safety Rules, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 19 March 1951

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 19 March 1951, section II, page 2

I got a good chuckle at a few of this newspaper article’s suggestions, such as:

  • “Never use chairs or tables in place of stepladders.”
  • “Don’t carry sharp objects or hot liquids up or down stairs if at all possible.”
  • “Avoid electrical contacts while standing on damp floors.”
  • “Avoid overtiring or muscle strain.”

If you follow my spring cleaning rules outlined below, you can avoid any overtired or strained muscles while getting a fresh start this 2014. I hope my organization and preservation tips help you with your genealogy spring cleaning tasks!

Tip #1: Digitally Copy Anything Still on Paper

I want to make my genealogy pursuit and passion something that can be easily passed on to someone in the family once I “shuffle off this mortal coil,” and to me the best way to do that is to have absolutely everything I can in digital format. Not only to preserve it, but to make it far simpler for anyone to take over. Piles of paper are just not conducive to much of anything except perhaps the “Victory Waste Paper Campaign” profiled in this article from a 1944 Oregon newspaper. It was estimated that at that time each household in Portland, Oregon, had an average of 38.5 pounds of “this No. 1, critical war material, stowed away.”

Waste Paper Hoard Larger, Oregonian newspaper article 2 June 1944

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 2 June 1944, page 13

By the way, I think I am well above this average weight of paper—hence my first genealogical spring cleaning task. So it is to my scanner I go!

Tip #2: Catalog Genealogy Books

While I will be digitally copying as many paper records, documents, etc., as I can find in my house, I still love old books and have plenty of them around as well. Since I don’t have the time to digitize my books that are out of copyright—and I have many that are still within their copyright and can’t be digitized anyway—I have set as my next spring cleaning task to get organized: to catalog each of the genealogy and history books on my office bookshelf. Now my book collection is far from huge, but again I want them to be easily listed for anyone who might be interested in the future.

As you can read in this 1909 article from an Idaho newspaper, the Library of Congress was already, at that time, the 3rd largest library in the world. As a result, I decided that if they can get their books organized, so can I.

The Library of Congress, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 1 May 1909

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 1 May 1909, page 10

I’ve chosen to use the online site LibraryThing.com to polish off this task and am well on my way, with over 150 of my books listed so far. (If you are interested you can see my books at: https://www.librarything.com/catalog/OnwardToOurPast.)

Tip #3: Follow a Rule from 1951 and Don’t Strain Anything!

I think of myself as an amenable fellow (some of my friends and colleagues even call me a “Do Bee” at times). For those of you who might be just a bit younger than I, check out this article from a 1966 Nebraska newspaper if you are not familiar with what the expression “Do Bee” means!

illustration of Romper Room's "Do Bee," Omaha World Herald newspaper article 3 April 1966

article about the children's TV program "Romper Room," Omaha World Herald newspaper article 3 April 1966

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 3 April 1966, page 166

Anyway, I decided that I better be certain I am following the rules from that 1951 spring cleaning newspaper article, especially the one about being careful of any strains or sore muscles.

It was at this point that I read an article from a 1958 Massachusetts newspaper about golf’s Masters Tournament.

Arnold Palmer Wins Masters Tournament by Stroke with 284, Springfield Union newspaper article 7 April 1958

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 7 April 1958, page 14

The newspaper article featured a hero from my boyhood, Arnold Palmer, who donned the champion’s Green Jacket after winning the Masters Tournament. What could be more spring-like than to begin sipping a summer drink! Because I couldn’t decide between lemonade or ice tea, I tipped my hat to Mr. Palmer and mixed myself an “Arnold Palmer” drink.

I then sat back, thought of warmer days to come, and toasted myself for completing my spring cleaning tasks list, knowing that I am on my way to doing more efficient and organized genealogy research in 2014. I will work steadily, a little bit every day—careful not to strain myself—until I have digitally preserved all my paper records and cataloged all my books before summer arrives!

8 Genealogy Tips for Tracing Female Ancestry

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, to celebrate March being National Women’s History Month, Mary provides practical tips to help you search for your female ancestors.

You know that age-old expression, What’s in a name? Well, it means absolutely nothing if you can’t find your female ancestor in any of the records—much less her maiden name.

Since the majority of “dead end” ancestor quests are for women, I’d like to share some overlooked avenues for breaking through those genealogy research brick walls, in honor of Women’s History Month.

photo of the B. F. Clark family

Library of Congress Photo: “Family of B. F. Clark, 219 N. 4th Street” www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ncl2004002862/PP/resource/

(Note: all of the newspaper articles used to illustrate this Blog post come from GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.)

Tip #1: Know All of Your Ancestor’s Identities

This tip suggests that when searching the women in your family tree, you need to search for every name she ever went by, whether it be a formal first name (given name) or an informal nickname.

Most women, including myself, have multiple identities, depending upon the context.

Someone might have a pet name within the family, a formal name on a birth record, and might also gain a new name in a religious setting. And a woman might also go by one spelling as a child, and then choose to spell her name differently as an adult.

Nickname References and Examples

  • Abigail: Abbie, Abby, Gail, Nabby
  • Adeline: Addie, Aline, Dell, Della
  • Clementine: Clem, Tina
  • Henrietta: Etta, Henry, Etty
  • Margaret: Daisy, Greta, Madge, Maggie, Mamie, Marge, Margery, Peggy
  • Roberta: Berta, Bertie, Bobbie, Bobby, Robbie, Robby
article about Daisy Walker, Freeman newspaper article 20 March 1909

Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana), 20 March 1909, page 4

Tip #2: Search All of Your Ancestor’s Titles

Titles aren’t always formal. They can be applied according to the role one takes in the community, and vary from situation to situation. Take, for example, Mary Jane Smith, a popular neighborhood mom in Atlanta. It’s possible some genealogical records only call her Mama Smith, whereas others might name her as Mary Jane Smith.

article about Mary Jane Smith, Marietta Journal newspaper article 4 June 1985

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 4 June 1985, page 6

Ancestor Title examples:

  • Aunt, Aunty, Sis, Mama, Mother, Grandma, Grannie, Nana
  • Goodwife or Goody Jones (a Puritan title)
  • Miss America
  • Mrs. Peabody, Mrs. Juan Moreno
  • Nurse Miller
  • Widow Channing
article about the Puritans' use of the terms "goodman" and "goodwife," Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 4 July 1937

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 4 July 1937, page 5

Tip #3: Search for Pseudonyms

If a woman wished to compete in a man’s world, she typically used a pseudonym.

Many people have heard of Louisa May Alcott, who wrote the beloved novel Little Women. However, few know that Louisa used the pseudonym A. M. Barnard to publish a series of “potboilers” that were thrilling Gothic stories.

book review of Louisa May Alcott's book "Plots and Counter-Plots," Dallas Morning News newspaper article 26 September 1976

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 26 September 1976, page 5aaa

Tip #4: Search by Her Initials

Many assume that men are more prone to be recorded by their initials, but it is common for women also, depending upon the circumstance.

Competing in a Man’s World

Female authors and artists very often use initials to compete in a man’s world.

Mary Jane (Olmstead) Stanton was a suffragette and author who appears in records under the name M. O. Stanton. In this 1890 newspaper article, written when Stanton was involved as a founding member of the Woman’s Press Association of the Pacific Coast, some women were referred to by their initials (Mrs. E. T. Y. Parkhurst), others by their own names (Mrs. Sarah B. Cooper), and one by her husband’s name (Mrs. Sam Davis).

Woman's Press Association, San Diego Union newspaper article 9 October 1890

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 9 October 1890, page 2

Official Government Records

Official government records, such as patents, are sometimes recorded by the inventor’s initials—so if you search only by the obvious names, you’ll miss them.

  • The invention of the modern form of the rolling pin was patented by C. Deiner (Catherine Deiner) 17 March 1891 under U.S. Patent 448,476.

Tip #5: Incorporate Cultural Considerations in Searches

As a country of immigrants, we shouldn’t be surprised that name spellings vary from country to country, or that a bilingual family might interchange names according to the cultural setting. A woman might be called by her Old World name in the family setting, and recorded in other ancestry records by the more common American spelling.

For example, an ancestor named Mary might also be known as: Maria if your family came from Spain; from the Netherlands, as Marja or Maaike; and if your female progenitor was Welsh, she might also be recorded in records as Mair.

article about Marja Rufa, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 11 February 1909

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 11 February 1909, page 3

Research Considerations

  • It can take several generations before Old World names are Americanized.
  • American and foreign versions were often interchanged, depending upon the cultural setting.
  • Names are typically recorded differently in English-speaking newspapers than in foreign-language editions.

Tip #7: Search Multiple Sources for Marriage Records

There are more ways to prove a marriage than almost any other event—but many sources for marriage evidence are overlooked. Some will not be found on the Web, so think creatively if you haven’t been able to locate a woman’s maiden name or marriage record.

Marriage Record Research Suggestions:

  • Bibles
  • Biographies
  • Cemetery Records
  • Church Books and Minister’s Records
  • Church Newsletters
  • Civil Registrations (courthouses)
  • Consent Affidavits
  • Courthouse Records
  • Death Certificates
  • Diaries
  • Divorce Decrees
  • Engagement Notices
  • Frakturs (form of artwork common with the Pennsylvania Dutch; see “Frakturs & Family Bibles Can Provide Proof of Marriage”)
  • Immigration Records
  • Journals
  • Land Records
  • Marriage Banns—or Publishing of the Banns (see “Understanding Terms Found in Historical Newspapers”)
  • Marriage Bonds
  • Marriage Certificates
  • Marriage Licenses
  • Marriage Permits
  • Naturalization Papers
  • Obituaries of Family Members
  • Orphan Court Records
  • Pension Files (widows)
  • Probate Records
  • Town Histories
  • Town Records (prior to civil registration)
  • Wedding Showers
  • Wills
article about marriage permits, Cincinnati Daily Gazette newspaper article 16 July 1878

Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 16 July 1878, page 3

Tip #8: Enter “Maiden Name” as a Search Engine Keyword

When I discovered this last genealogy research tip, it was a real “Aha” moment!

If you are looking for a maiden name, use “maiden name” or “maiden name was” as keywords in your search. Notice how many results were returned when I tried it in the GenealogyBank search box:

  • “maiden name”: over 125,000 results
  • “maiden name was”: almost 35,000 results

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for keywords "maiden name was"

Now incorporate those keywords with a name search, and see what you find! When I entered “Sarah Furman” “maiden name,” this record identifying her as a Strickland appeared—a fantastic research find listing her 260 offspring!

obituary for Sarah Furman, Boston Post-Boy newspaper article 22 February 1742

Boston Post-Boy (Boston, Massachusetts), 22 February 1742, page 3

Yes, finding all the genealogy records for your female ancestors can be tough, but employing these eight research tips—plus a little patience—might turn up some solid results for you in your family history searches.

Please share with us in the comments section any successes you’ve had from using these tips, and any additional methods you’ve used to find the females in your family tree.

Genealogy Tips for Researching Letters in Newspapers

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 good family history information can be found in our ancestors’ letters published in newspapers.

Newspapers have a long history of publishing letters. Many of us are familiar, thanks to the movie National Treasure, with the “Mrs. Silence Dogood” letters that were actually penned by 16-year-old Benjamin Franklin. These 14 letters, published in his brother James’s newspaper New-England Courant during 1722, allowed the young Franklin to fulfill his dream of having his writing published. These letters were so convincing that several men proposed marriage to the “widow” who wrote them.

"Mrs. Silence Dogood" letter written by Benjamin Franklin, New-England Courant newspaper article 13 August 1722

New-England Courant (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 August 1722, page 1

For some people, letters published in the newspaper are the only opportunity they have to be a “published” author.

Correspondence is an important—yet often overlooked—resource for genealogy research. It’s through a letter found by a cousin that I learned more about a 4th great-grandmother’s family. Another letter published in a newspaper helped me to confirm a World War I solder’s service.

When you think of letters, think outside of the proverbial envelope. Yes, letters are often a home source or housed in archival collections. But remember that letters have long been published in the newspaper. Whether written specifically to the newspaper, or those that were never meant for public consumption, letters found in the newspaper can be an important addition to your family’s story. At the very least they provide a place and time for your ancestor. But they can also contain important details such as organizational affiliations, military service, and the names of other family members.

Did your ancestor write a letter that was published in the newspaper? There’s a good chance they did, considering the types of letters spotlighted in this article and others that we have discussed on this blog before, including letters to Santa and letters written home by soldiers.

All of the following examples are from GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.

Letters to the Editor

While we tend to stereotype Letters to the Editor as something people write when they are passionate about an issue or angry about an article, these letters can have varied content. I love this example written by James H. Baum honoring a fellow “Forty-sixth Regiment” Civil War soldier.

letter to the editor written by James H. Baum, Patriot newspaper article 6 June 1912

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 6 June 1912, page 6

Baum wrote:

“Ned” Whitman was an universal favorite. Everybody liked him, officers and men alike. He was approachable at all times and never wore his honors on his sleeves…Among all those I saw no soldier in our army was more graceful on horseback as “Ned” Whitman. Horse and rider, when in motion seemed as one.

Imagine finding this wonderful tribute about an ancestor written by someone who served beside him during the Civil War! This letter shows that we can sometimes find information about an ancestor by searching those who were part of their community.

What about a letter that listed an organization that your ancestor belonged to? Such is the case in the following written by H. J. LaQuillon, who was the secretary to Local No. 174, Brotherhood of American Railway Express Employees. His 1918 letter to the New Orleans Times-Picayune voices his displeasure about an article that was published having to do with unions.

letter to the editor written by H. J. LaQuillon, Times-Picayune newspaper article 1 December 1918

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 1 December 1918, page 10

This letter not only provides us with his organizational affiliation—an important clue to his occupation—but also a glimpse into his life.

Letter Writing Contests

Did someone in your family (an adult or child) enter a letter writing contest? Newspapers and other groups once held letter writing contests. In these types of articles you may see the name and address of the person, whatever prize they won, and perhaps a sample from their letter.

In this example of a New Jersey letter writing contest, sponsored by the newspaper and an exposition that was being held, women discuss what they learned or give their recommendations about the local exposition. In this article, the newspaper listed letter writing winners along with their addresses and prizes.

Prize Winners Picked; Letters to Be Printed, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 2 February 1916

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 2 February 1916, page 1

Then little by little the Trenton Evening Times printed the actual letters in the newspaper.

Times Food Show (Winning) Letters, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 16 March 1916

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 16 March 1916, page 12

While one of your ancestors may have taken part in a local letter writing contest, don’t forget that national contests may have also occurred with the results listed in the newspaper. This article is about a 1938 letter writing contest sponsored by American Beauty Flour. Winners were from Texas, Missouri, and Illinois. This Texas newspaper made a point of highlighting the Texas winners.

Hillsboro Woman Wins First in Flour Letter-Writing Contest, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 14 January 1938

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 14 January 1938, section III, page 4

Post Office Letters

One of my favorite sources of names in newspapers is the list of those who hadn’t picked up their mail at the post office. While you won’t see the actual letter in this type of article, you will get your ancestor’s name. Maybe your ancestor was a procrastinator, and thanks to that trait you can place them in a specific time and place because they had letters waiting for them!

This 1840 list includes nine different post offices in Connecticut along with the names of the postmasters.

list of people who have mail waiting for them at the Post Office, Times newspaper article 1 January 1840

Times (Hartford, Connecticut), 1 January 1840, page 4

Contrast the above article with this newspaper list that is separated according to gender and then includes letters that are “unmailable.”

Genealogy Tip: Many of these lists of unclaimed letters held at the post office can be found in the Tables & Charts archive of GenealogyBank.

list of people who have mail waiting for them at the Post Office, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 20 August 1879

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 20 August 1879, page 4

Newspapers are great sources for information on the common man, woman and child. There’s a good chance that even if your ancestor wasn’t featured in an article, their name was published because of a letter they wrote or a letter they forgot to pick up.

Genealogy Tip: In order to pick up a reference to an ancestor mentioned by someone in another city or state, make sure to conduct your initial search broadly, without limiting your results by place.

Digging Up Your Ancestors: Cemetery Research with Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspapers to find out more about Woodland Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio where many of his relatives are buried.

Historical newspapers are incredibly helpful in our genealogy research, especially obituaries that provide information on our ancestors and, often, their extended family. But what else can we learn from other types of newspaper articles? Let me just answer that with one word: Plenty!

I happen to have over 150 family members interred at a cemetery by the name of Woodland Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.

Tombstone of Karolina Porkony, Cleveland OH

1895 headstone (in Czech) for Karolina Porkony Vicha, one of the author’s ancestors, from Cleveland’s Woodland Cemetery. Image Credit: from the author’s collection.

I decided recently to research this cemetery in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives—and I was not disappointed at what I learned!

The first discovery I made in my cemetery research was an article in an 1853 newspaper. It reported on the dedication of the Woodland Cemetery—and I was happy to learn when burials began in this cemetery. I also could not help but smile at these lines:

“The Ode was read by the Rev. Mr. Hawkins, and sung by the Choir. The singing was only tolerable, we thought.”

City Facts and Fancies Woodland Cemetery Dedication Article

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 15 June 1853, page 3

Shortly after this, I read an item in an 1854 newspaper. This old news article recounted a visit to Woodland Cemetery by some member of the newspaper staff. It gives us a very interesting look not only at the cemetery as a whole, but how they interred the indigent and poor citizens of the city as well as the children. My heart sank though when I read:

“Two long rows of graves stretch from one side of the enclosure to the other, containing the remains of 200 deceased persons, nearly all of whom fell before the epidemic.”

Visit to Woodland Cemetery Cleveland Article Excerpt

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 2 October 1854, page 3

I decided to take a look further and see what “epidemic” the newspaper article was referring to.

It wasn’t long before I came across an 1854 article with the headline “The Dread Epidemic,” which begins with:

“The cholera this year comes with dread punctuality.”

1854 Cholera Dread Epidemic Newspaper Article

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 June 1854, page 2

I picked up my Ohio history book and discovered that, beginning in the 1830s: cholera epidemics killed thousands; Cleveland was the first Ohio city to experience a cholera epidemic; and it was cholera that killed former United States President James K. Polk.

Next I found an article in a 1900 newspaper about a burial in Woodland Cemetery. It gives us a very intimate view of the celebration of a Chinese funeral at this time. Plus there was an interesting final sentence in this article, which reads:

“The body of Huie will be removed by and by and taken to China for final interment.”

Burial of Huie Gimm 1900 Newspaper Article

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 7 February 1900, page 5

While furthering my cemetery research I spoke with Michelle Day, the director of the Woodland Cemetery Foundation of Cleveland. She told me that, while there were hundreds of Chinese immigrants interred in Woodland Cemetery, nearly every single one was later disinterred and removed to China for final burial.

I then came across an interesting article from an 1892 newspaper. This somewhat humorous article gives us a nice view of just how reporters used to gather information for obituaries, and how some of the more “interesting” items get included that we often while doing genealogy research!

Facts for An Obituary Reporting Newspaper Article

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 20 May 1892, page 7

I closed out my cemetery research by finding an article from a 1984 newspaper. The columnist, Bob Greene, takes an interesting look at the fact that so many folks move, in their later years, to a Southern climate and makes note:

“…it must be strange to know one’s obituary is destined to appear in a newspaper that was never read in the house of one’s most vital years.”

A Story of Death and Life Newspaper Article

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 25 April 1984, page 17A

This made me think: I had better be sure to cast my geographical net wide when I am searching for an obituary for one of my elusive ancestors!

Good luck with your family history research, and comment here to let me know some of the intriguing facts you have discovered about your ancestral cemeteries and obituaries.

African American Slave Trade: Ships & Records for Genealogy

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 and other online resources to learn more about the African slave trade in early American history.

Throughout the course of the Atlantic Slave Trade, an estimated 12 million Africans were captured in their homeland and forcibly shipped across the Atlantic, on more than 35,000 voyages, starting in the 17th century* The African Diaspora scattered Africans throughout the Caribbean and Americas. The first slave ship to land in Colonial America went to Jamestown, Virginia, in August 1619. Eighteen years later, the first American slave ship, Desire, sailed out of Massachusetts. This forced migration caused the displacement, torture, enslavement and murder of many Africans.**

African slaves brought to the Americas were part of the “Middle Passage,” a voyage that began in Europe, stopped in Africa to unload supplies and pick up enslaved human cargo, and then traveled to American ports on the eastern coast to trade that human cargo for goods that were then shipped back to Europe.

History of the African Slave Trade in Early America and the United States Infographic (Note: the article continues after this infographic.)

History of the African Slave Trade in America

This troubling part of American history—and important part of African American history—can be uncovered and explored with patient historical research, including searching in old newspapers such as GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.

Laws Slow—but Don’t Stop—the African Slave Trade

It would seem that the African slave trade to America would have been stopped by a law passed by the U.S. Congress in March 1807 that stated:

“That from and after the first day of January, one thousand eight hundred and eight, it shall not be lawful to import or bring into the United States or the territories thereof from any foreign kingdom, place, or country, any negro, mulatto, or person of colour, with intent to hold, sell, or dispose of such negro, mulatto, or person of colour, as a slave, or to be held to service or labour.”***

Genealogy Tip:

Read more about U.S. legislation in the 1800s regarding slavery in GenealogyBank’s Historical Documents section which contains The American State Papers and more.

However, the Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves and a similar law passed in the United Kingdom didn’t end the practice of the slave trade. Slave ships illegally continued to bring their human cargo to U.S. ports, and American newspapers continued reporting on the occasional capture of a slave ship into the 1840s. (Two ships, the Wanderer and the Clotilde, are reported to have brought slaves to the United States well into the 1850s.) As with the passage of most laws, those who would break the law don’t end their criminal deeds; instead a black market thrives.

Slave Advertisements in Newspapers

Eighteenth-century newspapers found in GenealogyBank’s archives report of the comings and goings of slave ships, when the African slave trade was still legal. From advertisements to shipping news articles, researchers can find mentions of slave ships, names of their captains, and descriptions of the people on board.

In some cases advertisements for the upcoming sale of slaves included information on the ship they would be arriving on. In this example from a 1785 South Carolina newspaper, Fisher & Edwards advertise that the ship Commerce, under Captain Thomas Morton, will be arriving from Africa’s Gold Coast with “upwards of 200 prime slaves” for sale.

ad for a slave auction, South-Carolina Weekly Gazette newspaper advertisement 6 August 1785

South-Carolina Weekly Gazette (Charleston, South Carolina), 6 August 1785, page 3

An earlier South Carolina advertisement proclaims that the slaves aboard Captain Buncombe’s ship Venus are “mostly stout men.”

ad for a slave auction, South-Carolina Weekly Gazette newspaper advertisement 17 July 1784

South-Carolina Weekly Gazette (Charleston, South Carolina), 17 July 1784, page 4

Slave Ship “Shipping News” in Newspapers

Articles under “Shipping News” or “Marine List” headlines are a good place to start searching for information about slave ships, crew, and cargo.

In this example from a 1799 New York newspaper, we see updates on various ships including information about deaths on ships. We also see that the Gurbridge and Mary were bringing slaves, and to whom they were being brought.

shipping news, Commercial Advertiser newspaper article 31 July 1799

Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), 31 July 1799, page 3

Where to Find Records on the African Slave Trade & Slave Ships

  • After exhausting your research in newspapers, learn more about a particular slave ship by consulting the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database website, which houses information about slave ships from 1514 to 1866.

The National Archives (NARA) houses resources that can assist in your research:

African American Slave Trade Infographic Research Sources:

These online websites can be helpful, but research on the name of a slave ship should begin with historical newspapers. It’s in their advertisements and news articles that you will find mentions of the slave ships’ cargo, crew, and destination.

You are free to share the History of the African Slave Trade in Early America and the United States Infographic on your blog or website using the embed code below.

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* The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. http://www.slavevoyages.org/tast/index.faces. Accessed 23 February 2014.

** “March 2, 1807.” This Week in History, March. http://www.peacebuttons.info/E-News/images/peacehistorymarch.htm. Accessed 23 February 2014.

*** “An Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves into any Port or Place Within the Jurisdiction of the United States, From and After the First Day of January, in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eight.” The Avalon Project. Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/sl004.asp. Accessed 23 February 2014.