About Gena Philibert-Ortega

Gena Philibert-Ortega holds a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a Master’s degree in Religion. Presenting on various subjects involving genealogy, women’s studies and social history, Gena has spoken to groups throughout the United States and virtually to audiences worldwide. Gena is the author of hundreds of articles published in genealogy newsletters and magazines including Internet Genealogy, Family Chronicle, GenWeekly, FGS Forum, APG Quarterly and the WorldVitalRecords newsletter. She is the author of the books, Putting the Pieces Together, Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra (Arcadia Publishing, 2007) and From the Family Kitchen (F + W Media, 2012). Gena is the editor of the Utah Genealogical Association’s journal Crossroads. An instructor for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, Gena has written courses about social media and Google. She serves as Vice-President for the So. California Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, board member of the Utah Genealogical Association and is a Director for the California State Genealogical Alliance. Her current research interests include social history, community, social history, community cookbooks, signature quilts and researching women’s lives.

Obituaries Provide Clues for More Family History Research

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows that – beyond the name and date of death – obituaries provide many clues that can lead your family history research into new and unexpected directions.

An obituary is an obituary is an obituary. We use them to verify a death but what else does an obituary tell us? One of the reasons I love to read obituaries is for all the other clues and records they point to. When you search obituaries, what more family history information can you be looking for?

Obituaries Go beyond Names and Dates

Let’s face it, sometimes obituaries can be brief and vague without much helpful information – but in most cases obituaries provide clues that lead to additional records. Case in point: this 1918 obituary for Bryan McDonough. We are given just a few facts about him, and no information about other family members. The obituary tells us he was 68 years of age, ill for six years prior to his death, and died at his home. It also provides these important clues: “He was one of the oldest members of St. Peter’s Catholic Church and had been employed at the Reading Iron Works for many years.”

obituary for Bryan McDonough, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 29 June 1918

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 29 June 1918, page 2

A Google search on St. Peter’s Catholic Church points to a website for the church (which was established in 1752) and contact information which can be helpful in locating records. While St. Peter’s is in the Diocese of Allentown, additional research guidance can be found on the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center website, including a parish boundary map and a guide to starting your genealogy research. A search on the FamilySearch Catalog also shows resources for cemetery marker readings, a church history article, and some 19th century records for baptisms, marriages and confirmations.

Genealogy Tip: Enhance your newspaper research by conducting a Place search in the FamilySearch Catalog.

Go beyond the Obituary

Searching for an obituary may seem like a simple task. If you know when the person died, you look for a notice published a day to a week or so after. Simple, right? While it seems like a simple task, it’s always good to expect the unexpected.

Here’s an example of two death notices printed weeks apart for the same person. In 1910, Joseph H. Taylor was a 22-year-old Mormon missionary serving in Germany. His November 21st death notice mentions Joseph’s untimely death but not much more – as can be expected under the circumstances. Aside from his death, it is announced that burial will occur in December and that the body is being accompanied home by his family.

obituary for Joseph Taylor, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper article 21 November 1910

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 21 November 1910, page 3

Later, in the December 8th Salt Lake Telegram, the reader is informed that Joseph died at Stuttgart, Germany, on November 14th. His services were held in the Salt Lake 14th ward and his burial was at the “city cemetery.”

article about Joseph Taylor's funeral, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper article 8 December 1910

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 8 December 1910, page 10

Both death notices provide us with some good family history information including his name, age, where he was when he died, religion, family names, and where he was buried. So that’s enough, right? Well, if we continue searching we can find even more! For example, a search on his name and residence (Utah) in the Historical Records collection of FamilySearch finds a death record in the online images for Salt Lake County Death Records. In this record we learn the cause of death, his parents’ names (including their state of birth and the mother’s maiden name), and date and place of burial.

Any time a younger person dies unexpectedly, or a death is the result of an accident or violence, I always search for more newspaper articles. So in this case, I went back to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives – but this time instead of searching on “Joseph H. Taylor,” I typed “Joseph Taylor” in the search engine and narrowed the search to Utah. With that search, I received a hit on a longer article about his death that provided even more information about his religious background.

This article talks about his illness and how well loved he was in the community. It also explains that his brother was serving a mission and that he was the grandson of Mormon President John Taylor. As a researcher, I know that I need to go back to FamilySearch and look for records dealing with the family history of John Taylor, as well as membership records and any histories of the ward he was attending in Salt Lake.

article about the death of Joseph Taylor, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper article 15 November 1910

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 15 November 1910, page 7

GenealogyTip: Always conduct multiple searches for your ancestor using variations of their name. By searching on only one version of their name you could be missing longer, more detailed articles.

Where Were They Buried?

Every word in an obituary is a potential clue to more information, even when the obituary seems to say nothing at all. The 1914 death of J. J. Hartenbower is noted very briefly in the Emporia Gazette. We learn he was 75 years of age, “a wealthy land-owner of Sedgwick and Butler Counties,” and that he died on June 23rd in Los Angeles, California.

obituary for Jeremiah Hartenbower, Emporia Gazette newspaper article 23 June 1914

Emporia Gazette (Emporia, Kansas), 23 June 1914, page 1

Additional news articles about Hartenbower fail to provide the cemetery information. A check on FamilySearch verifies he is found in the California Death Index, but that index does not include burial information.

A search on Google Books provides us more details on Hartenbower’s life. His entry in The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 16, includes the name of the church he attended in California: The First Congregational in Los Angeles.

Listing: Jeremiah J. Hartenbower, from The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography

Listing: Jeremiah J. Hartenbower, from The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. Credit: Google Books.

Hartenbower lived in many different places throughout his life, and one newspaper article commented that he left “nearly 1 million to his widow.” So clearly he could be buried anywhere. The one place that most likely we could find that burial is on his death certificate, but it is not available online. The next place to check, after thoroughly searching online newspapers and vital record sources, is a cemetery index – either through one of the online websites or via microfilm at FamilySearch (search the catalog for the county or state and then the subject “Cemeteries”).

In this case, Jeremiah J. Hartenbower’s burial information, wife’s name, and photo of his tombstone can be found online. He’s buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

Genealogy Tip: Work on creating a profile of your ancestor by using Google Booksto find mentions in family history books, biographical works, city directories, and periodicals.

Obituaries are important to genealogical research for a couple of reasons. Obviously they provide us with a date of death. But they can also provide additional biographical as well as death information that point to additional records like religious and cemetery records. As you read the obituary of your ancestor, note what additional records it leads you to and follow up on them.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from recent and historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

Related Obituaries Articles:

Finding Your Ancestor’s Story

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn about her Chatham ancestors in Texas.

Everyone loves a story – and a story is infinitely better when it involves your family. RootsTech presentations this week have been stressing the importance of telling the stories of our ancestors’ lives – but the government records and official documents we rely on often provide cold, dry facts and not a lot of information to fill in a story. Stories require context and detail.

That’s where a collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, really helps a genealogist.

Photo: an Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway train, c. 1895

Photo: an Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway train, c. 1895. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Chathams of Bellville, Texas

I know that my paternal great-grandfather Joseph Chatham worked for the railroad. Where he grew up in Texas, the Santa Fe Railroad was a major employer. Not only did he work for the railroad once he married and started his family, but his brother Walter also made a career of the railroad. Instead of driving or riding on the train as an engineer, brakeman or conductor, both brothers spent at least some of their time working in the roundhouse. Joseph eventually moved his family north to Southern California because of health issues.

Joseph died in Northern California in 1940. I know about him because of stories from his grandchildren whom I’ve interviewed. Family members still living remember Joseph in his later years. I have spent time gathering documents about his life including marriage and death certificates, cemetery records, and copies from the family Bible where he noted the births and deaths of his parents, siblings, and children. Similarly, discussions with Walter’s descendants, a trip to Texas, and online research have unearthed documents about Walter’s life that I have gathered, including his will.

So how do I fill in some of the dates not covered by vital records, wills, and the census? How do I tell stories about a life when there isn’t a lot available to me?

Vital to any family history research is the newspaper. Newspapers make the difference – because it is there, in their pages, that our ancestors’ stories were told and can still be found today.

As I recently searched for anything on the Chathams of Texas, I came across this interesting newspaper article involving Walter under the headline “Doings of the Police.”

article about Walter Chatham, Houston Chronicle newspaper article 21 April 1902

Houston Chronicle (Houston, Texas), 21 April 1902, page 2

The article includes a note from Walter Chatham, a railroad “car inspector” in Bellville, Texas, regarding a missing 11-year-old boy named John Darnell. Prior to this article, the Houston police chief had reported in the newspaper the April 18th disappearance of John and asked anyone with information to contact him. Only a day later Walter wrote to Police Chief Ellis that the boy arrived in Bellville from a freight train on April 19th. He then spent the night in Bellville before heading north the next morning. Walter apparently spoke to the boy since he knew John was traveling to Marlin, Texas. The report ends with the police chief stating he would talk to John’s father about what he wanted to do next.

Now seemingly, you might look at this report and say “who cares?” John isn’t a member of the Chatham family and this short report doesn’t detail any event crucial to documenting Walter’s life.

Going beyond the BMD (Birth, Marriage, Death) Records

And yet, even a notice as brief as this one is helpful to family history research. For one thing, it brings to light a real incident from Walter’s life, as we imagine him interacting with the boy, then deciding to do the right thing and sitting down to write this letter to help the police in their search.

Also, there’s this important point: any mention of our ancestor in the newspaper accomplishes an important task – it situates that person in a time and place. This newspaper notice helps verify that Walter was working for the railroad as a car inspector in April 1902, and that he was in Bellville at this time. This is important information for our timeline of his life, but it also leads to other questions that can enhance telling his story – like what did a car inspector for the railroad do? What was it like to work for the railroad in 1902? What other records might exist that would tell us about his work during this time? And I have to admit, I’m curious why Walter didn’t hand John over to local law enforcement to be reunited with his family when he first met the boy. (I know; I always want answers to questions that would require a time machine.)

Further research about Walter’s time working for the railroad would lead me to local histories and additional newspapers articles.

Are you curious about what happened to John Darnell? I know I am. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any newspaper story about his travels after leaving Bellville, where Walter reported seeing him. So I’m not sure how this runaway story evolved. But after some Internet searching, it appears that he found his way home eventually. I’m sure his descendants would be interested in learning more about his solo road trip.

Newspaper articles provide a vital link to your research. The value they offer is found in the details and context they provide that assist you in telling your ancestor’s story. The government records and official documents you find should lead you to ask questions about your ancestor’s experiences and life story. Search out the answers to those questions in the newspaper.

Are you attending the RootsTech Genealogy Conference?

GenealogyBank is helping to sponsor the RootsTech conference. If you’re attending, come visit us at booth #523 to discuss genealogy in general, or any specific questions you have about your own family history research.

For more information about RootsTech, visit the website at: http://www.rootstech.org/?lang=eng

Related Newspaper Research Articles:

Why Are Newspapers Vital to Your Genealogy Research?

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows that searching old newspapers should be a vital part of every genealogist’s family history research.

I’m always surprised when family history researchers confess they haven’t searched newspapers for information about their brick wall ancestor. Sure, it’s a good idea to start your research project by searching the census and vital records. In addition to checking government records and official documents, part of your research plan should include newspapers – such as the collection in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Newspapers allow you to verify and add information to your family tree. They often complement the government documents that you are using to verify your ancestor’s event dates and places by adding stories that tell you more about your ancestor’s life and experiences.

Every family history project should involve ongoing newspaper research. Why? Consider the following reasons:

Newspapers Reported On Events as They Happened

While a newspaper article is not an original source for documenting events like a birth, marriage or death, it is an important addition to confirming or finding information. For example, you may not know the exact date of an ancestor’s death, but finding a newspaper obituary or probate notice might provide the clue you need to successfully find that original “official” death certificate.

obituary for Charlotte Kendtner, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 27 January 1953

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 27 January 1953, page 21

What types of newspapers articles complement vital records? Birth notices; engagement, wedding and anniversary announcements; obituaries; and probate notices are just a few examples.

Newspapers Reported On Your Ancestor’s Life like No Other Document

There are some limitations to those vital record certificates that you are gathering to document your ancestor’s life. One of the big frustrations is the lack of detail, or even the additional questions they raise. Official government or church documents only provide so much information. They are meant to provide the basics, not tell a story. However, newspaper articles use the details to tell a story. Sure some of that detail may not seem as important, such as “The bride will wear a gown of white figured chiffon over white silk, with trimmings of Irish lace” – but every little detail helps give a deeper picture of your ancestor’s life.

Newspaper articles also provide genealogically relevant gems like relationships and names, occupations, and addresses. Consider this newspaper article about a 1910 New Jersey wedding. Aside from reporting on the wedding, we find the bride’s grandmother’s married name (Mrs. Wade H. Brown) and that she is giving the bride away. The article mentions that the bride is a member of the First Presbyterian Church, and that the groom works for Bell Telephone Company. The bride and groom’s residence at 62 South Hermitage Avenue is also mentioned.

What a goldmine! We now know the name of the bride’s grandmother (and grandfather), the bride’s religion and the groom’s employer, and where the newly married couple will live. Now we can take that information and search censuses, city directories, church records, and other genealogical records.

wedding notice for Pearl Dalrymple and Arthur Gilder, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 9 June 1910d

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 9 June 1910, page 10

Newspaper Articles Help You Find Documents

Let’s face it, research is not easy and in some cases it can feel impossible to find a document that you know should be online or on that microfilm reel. Online content might be mis-indexed or simply not where we think it should be. In some cases even trying to find documents in a library, archive, or courthouse may prove unsuccessful.

One friend faced a problem when the probate of her grandfather seemed to not exist at the county courthouse. She knew there was a probate because her father had been the executor of the estate. Unfortunately, this courthouse does not allow patrons to search indexes, microfilm or older files. She had to pay a search fee only to be told that no probate file existed.

So she asked me what to do. I told her to go search the legal notices section of the local newspaper. The probate notice would help “prove” to the courthouse that a probate action had occurred. Sure enough she was able to easily find the probate notice in the newspaper. She showed it to the courthouse clerk who then found the missing file. Without that newspaper proof she would never had been able to obtain the document she needed.

probate notice for the estate of Roger Powell, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 25 January 1908

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 25 January 1908, page 9

What’s the lesson here? Newspapers provide us with information that leads to other documents about our ancestors.

Newspapers Provide a Look at Our Ancestor’s Community

We don’t take the time to really read our ancestor’s newspaper. As researchers, we tend to be singularly focused on finding mentions of our own ancestor and not much else. I understand too well how addicting it is to enter an ancestor’s name into a search engine and get a result. But it is important to invest some time to read that ancestor’s hometown newspaper to learn more about their life, and what events or activities impacted them.

article about an earthquake, Cincinnati Daily Gazette newspaper article 19 June 1875

Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 19 June 1875, page 1

Don’t forget that your ancestor was part of a community. Their children went to school, they attended a church, and were active members of organizations. Those types of activities generate newspaper articles. So don’t conduct your family history research with blinders on.

One of the suggestions I always make to researchers is to create a timeline. In that timeline you are going to add the cradle-to-grave events of your ancestor’s life – but you should also add events that they may have been a part of or that might have affected them, like a natural disaster or military service during a time of war. These types of events help to fill out the story of their life, and one of the few places to get that type of information is the newspaper.

Newspaper Research Should Start Today

There’s no doubt that newspaper research is an important piece of your genealogical puzzle. Newspapers complement the genealogy documents that we use in documenting our ancestors. Their value lies in recreating the story that is uniquely your family’s.

Are You Attending the RootsTech Genealogy Conference?

GenealogyBank is helping to sponsor the RootsTech conference. If you’re attending, come visit us at booth #523 to discuss genealogy in general, or any specific questions you have about your own family history research.

For more information about RootsTech, visit the website at: http://www.rootstech.org/?lang=eng

Related Newspaper Research Articles:

A Preview of RootsTech 2016

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena previews some of the speakers, classes and events for the upcoming RootsTech 2016 genealogy conference.

Are you going to RootsTech 2016, the genealogy conference held in Salt Lake City, Utah, February 3-6? It can feel intimidating to go to a conference whose attendance last year included 23,000 people from 49 states and 39 countries. If this is your first time at the yearly genealogy conference, you may want to start making some plans now, before you step foot into the Salt Palace. With the crowds of people and all kinds of presentations, events, and activities planned, where do you start?

Photo: Expo Hall at RootsTech

Photo: Expo Hall at RootsTech. Credit: FamilySearch; RootsTech.

Keynote Presentations

Keynote presentations at conferences are different than classes or lectures. Keynotes are meant to start or end the conference. They are meant to provide inspiration and motivation. The overall idea is to take that energy and knowledge you’ve experienced at the conference and maintain it as you travel home and go back to the routine of everyday life.

Inspiration and motivation can be found in the seven keynote presentations provided during the three days of RootsTech. This year’s keynotes feature authors, innovators, and experts. You can look forward to presentations all three days by:

  • Steve Rockwood. Managing Director of the Family History Department and President/CEO of FamilySearch.
  • Paula Madison. Chairman and CEO of Madison Media Management, LLC in Los Angeles.
  • Bruce Feiler. Author of “This Life” column for the Sunday New York Times and six New York Times bestselling books.
  • Josh and Naomi Davis (Taza). Naomi Davis, also known as Taza, is the blogger behind “Love Taza” who shares information about her family’s New York City life and “life’s simple joys.”
  • David Isay. Broadcaster, author, and founder of StoryCorps, an “organization that provides people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve their life stories.”
  • Michael O. Leavitt. Previous three-time elected governor of Utah and current founder and chairman of Leavitt Partners.
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin. Presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize winner. Her latest book is The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.

When you are at a conference, it can be tempting to sleep in and miss the keynotes. These presentations set the tone for the day. Make plans to be in attendance – you’ll be glad you did.


During RootsTech 2016, 213 speakers will be presenting 288 sessions on a number of family history and technology topics. Sessions center on using websites such as FamilySearch and WorldCat, or they may focus on mobile technology and apps. Some sessions concentrate on genealogy methodology such as naming patterns, geography, and DNA.

Don’t forget to schedule some time to learn more about newspapers and genealogy from GenealogyBank. Come visit us at booth #523 to discuss genealogy in general, or any specific questions you have about your own family history research. Staff member Scott Spencer will be presenting on “Facts, Photos & Fugitives: Using Online Newspapers,” and staff member Ross Allred will present on “Researching Newspaper Obituaries.”

You can read more about these sessions and speaker bios on the RootsTech website at https://rootstech2016.smarteventscloud.com/connect/search.ww.

Expo Hall

There are many reasons to attend a conference and invest in your genealogical education. Attending classes and networking with other researchers are just a few reasons. Visiting the Expo Hall during RootsTech 2016 is another. The Expo Hall is where exhibitors come together to promote new products, answer questions, and teach small classes. In the Expo Hall at RootsTech you can expect to see booths from familiar genealogy subscription websites, publishers, archives and libraries, booksellers, technology companies, and more. In addition to exhibitors’ booths you will also find a Demo Theatre, Cyber Café, Family Discovery Zone, and the new Innovation Alley where you can check out the latest technology and tools for genealogy.

Carve out some time to stroll the entire Expo Hall. (I recommend visiting the Hall at least several times during the conference.) If you own a smartphone or mobile device, consider using the camera to take photos of booths or information you want to check out later. In some cases you may also come across QR codes (short for Quick Response codes) at booths which you can scan with your device for more information (you will need to download a special QR reading app first from you device’s app store).


There’s more to RootsTech than just classes and learning experiences: there’s also fun. Several different events are scheduled featuring music by the groups Crescent Super Band and Lower Lights.

If you’re into the technology side of genealogy, don’t forget to check on Friday’s Innovators Summit Events. There’s the annual Innovator Showdown where 6 of 12 semi-finalists will take home a cash prize. This is a great opportunity to see what new creative products genealogists will be using in the not-so-distant future. On Wednesday you have the opportunity to take part in a new event. A hackathon sponsored by FamilySearch invites everyone to “Come participate in a unique social coding and brain-storming event where you will have the opportunity to discuss and solve industry problems as you network with the best entrepreneurial minds the genealogical industry has to offer.” You bring your laptop – and Wi-Fi, food and a meeting room are provided.

The Countdown Begins!

RootsTech is an excellent opportunity to energize your genealogy passion. The conference will be here before you know it and there’s a lot to look forward to. While you’re waiting, plan out your schedule, download the app, and start making plans.

GenealogyBank is helping to sponsor the upcoming RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, 3-6 February, 2016. If you’re attending, come visit us at booth #523 to discuss genealogy in general, or any specific questions you have about your own family history research.

For more information about RootsTech, visit the website at: http://www.rootstech.org/?lang=eng

We look forward to meeting you at RootsTech!

Using Newspapers to Expand Your Genealogy Research: A Morgue Example

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows how newspaper articles can fill in the details only hinted at in some records, such as morgue documents.

What records have you used to verify your ancestor’s demise? Normally, death certificates and obituaries are the family historian’s go-to source for researching death, but there are other documents available as well. An example of a unique set of records is the Hamilton County, Ohio, Morgue Records, 1887-1930, available from the University of Cincinnati Libraries Digital Collections. This is but one example of the genealogically significant records available through academic digital collections.

The website explains:

“Bodies were taken to the morgue for various reasons, such as suspicion of murder or suicide, accidental deaths, unidentified or unclaimed bodies, or death under unknown or otherwise suspicious circumstances. Details in the morgue records include the date, time, and location the body was found, personal information on the deceased, probable cause of death, and removal of the body, sometimes effects found on the body. Some entries include letters from the next-of-kin or public officials that offer more information on the deceased.”

Morgue Records Don’t Provide the Full Story

A record set such as this is a rich source of genealogical information. But the information it provides only goes so far – we don’t really learn the full story of how or why the deceased died. To learn that story – or any of the stories about our ancestors’ lives – we need a collection of old newspapers such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Filling in the story hinted at by a morgue record is a good example of the importance of enhancing what you find in one set of records with newspaper articles. Newspapers are a perfect companion to most records. Once you find an ancestor in a morgue document, search the newspapers and verify names, dates, places, and additional details to learn the full story.

In this blog article, we’ll look at three examples that show how newspapers enhance the story of an ancestor’s death after first finding them in a morgue record.

Follow the Trail

In the case of deaths that are anything but natural, it’s important to follow the paper trail found in old newspapers. Murders, suicides and accidents can mean numerous newspaper articles on the day of and following the event – and sometimes, preceding the event.

One such example begins with the 1895 Hamilton County morgue record of Louis Stolzenberger. In that record we learn of his death – then, in a series of newspaper articles detailing his crimes and their aftermath, we learn more about the circumstances surrounding Stolzenberger’s death.

Louis, distraught over the death of his child, began his crime spree by physically abusing his wife. After the abuse was reported to the police, Officer Morris went to the Stolzenberger home to serve Louis with a warrant.

Initially, Stolzenberger appeared to cooperate by proclaiming “all right” – but then he took his pistol, placed it at the officer’s chest, and fired. As Stolzenberger fled the scene he saw his sister-in-law, Minnie Cook, and fired two shots at her but missed. Another officer, Fred Shafer, gave chase and, as expected, Stolzenberger then started firing at him.

Officer Shafer returned fire, hitting Louis in the neck. One newspaper article reports that Louis’ “…body was taken to the Morgue.” Stolzenberger is said to have been “… jealous of his wife, and accused her of infidelity.” But this article doesn’t stop there: it goes on to tell the story of Officer Morris’ last moments, including dictating his last will and testament (great news for his descendants).

article about Louis Stolzenberger, Cincinnati Post newspaper article 28 February 1895

Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, Ohio), 28 February 1895, page 7

This article includes a pencil sketch of the accused, Louis Stolzenberger.

picture of Louis Stolzenberger, Cincinnati Post newspaper article 28 February 1895

Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, Ohio), 28 February 1895, page 7

After the incident, Officer Shafer demanded that he be arrested for shooting and killing Louis. “I want to be tried on a charge of manslaughter.” But his superior told him: “There’s nothing to try you for…Let me shake hands with you for doing it.”

As this newspaper article reports, a coroner’s inquest ruled that Officer Shafer was acting in self-defense in the death of Stolzenberger.

article about Stolzenberger and Shafer, Cincinnati Post newspaper article 2 March 1895

Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, Ohio), 2 March 1895, page 3

Genealogy Tip: This event is a good example of why you want to make sure you don’t narrow your geographic search for an ancestor too much. When I searched on “Louis Stolzenberger” in just Ohio newspapers, I came across a few articles. But when I tried the same search and didn’t specify a place, I received hits for articles in newspapers from Indiana, Michigan and Nebraska. It is a safe assumption that an event like this would be picked up by other newspapers. Remember that a newsworthy event may be reported by newspapers across the country.

article about Stolzenberger shooting, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 28 February 1895

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 28 February 1895, page 1

Further genealogical research into city directories finds Lizzie Stolzenberger, the widow of Louis, living in Cincinnati after his death. If we were to continue our research on the Stolzenberger family it would include tracing their lives in Cincinnati using city directories, the U.S. census, vital records – and, of course, newspaper articles.

Sometimes There’s More to the Story

One of the aspects I love about genealogy is that research is always full of surprises. We want to believe that our ancestors lived predictable, neat lives, but life is messy.

One of the records in the Hamilton County Morgue collection is for George Montgomery. His date of entry is 24 May 1892, but the notes mention that he most likely died the previous month from a suicide. Wanting to know more of the story, I turned to the old newspapers. A newspaper search tells us of the events leading up to the morgue entry. First, a short mention is found in an April newspaper article that reports a man was seen jumping from the Newport Bridge, leaving behind his hat.

article about George Montgomery, Cincinnati Post newspaper article 18 April 1892

Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, Ohio), 18 April 1892, page 1

A month later we learn that Mr. Montgomery’s body was found. It’s easy to assume he was a local resident, but a follow-up newspaper article informs us that he resided in Kentucky. The article reports:

About the middle of April, George Montgomery, of Butler, Ky., committed suicide by jumping into the Ohio from the new bridge. His name was learned only from a slip of paper found under the lining of his hat, which the suicide threw down on the walk before making the fatal leap.

His cousin, Dr. I. J. Bonar, identified the remains. The article goes on to report that Montgomery was a single, 40-year-old man with a previous suicide attempt.

article about George Montgomery, Cincinnati Post newspaper article 25 May 1892

Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, Ohio), 25 May 1892, page 1

Genealogy Tip: It’s important to widen your search to the days, even weeks, prior to a death reported in a morgue record. Earlier newspaper articles may report everything from a sickness to, in this case, the events leading up to finding a body. While narrowing your search is important in cases when you are trying to find someone with a common name, it is imperative to try several different searches and to expect the unexpected.

Work Kills

There’s no doubt that life was dangerous for our ancestors. This can easily be confirmed by reports of occupational-related deaths. In some cases those accidents may affect more than just employees, as in this case of a railroad collision that killed an employee and two “hobos.” The morgue records list the victims of this 23 July 1894 crash as Frank Taylor, Richard Tudor, and Chas Sherman. Newspaper articles provide not only more information about the crash and those killed, but also the names of the injured.

article about a train wreck, Cincinnati Post newspaper article 23 July 1894

Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, Ohio), 23 July 1894, page 1

This accident involved two trains. Blame is squarely placed on the shoulders of the freight train engineer, who forgot about the express train until it was too late to avoid a collision. Two employees on the express train jumped, along with a small boy who saw them jump, saving their lives. But unfortunately not everyone had time to make that decision.

Ed Bradley, presumably an acquaintance of the two “hobos,” identified the men at the morgue. The newspaper article does not provide much information about one of the men, 20-year-old Richard Tudor, except for his street address and that he lived with his mother, a Mrs. Bailes. Details given about the other man, Charles Sherman, include where he worked, previous occupations, and his fatal return after a visit with a young lady, Maud Carson.

As we would expect when researching a large accident, there are other reports that can help us piece together this story. In this case a short newspaper mention of the coroner’s inquest is found a few months after the train wreck, which proclaims that the accident was “the result of gross carelessness on the part of the engineer, Samuel Hart, in forgetting the schedule time of the train with which he collided.”

article about a train wreck, Cincinnati Post newspaper article 12 September 1894

Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, Ohio), 12 September 1894, page 1

Accidents can result in numerous newspaper articles that report on the accident for days after including inquiries and of course obituaries. Any time an ancestor is a victim of an accident, occupational or personal, look for newspaper articles and be sure to extend your search to months – even a year – afterward.

What Will You Find?

The limited information I found in the Hamilton County Morgue records was greatly enhanced by additional newspaper research. I was able to learn more about their deaths, the names of family members and acquaintances, as well as details that could lead to other records. Don’t limit your newspaper research to just finding one article about an ancestor. Expand your search by following up on records that mention your ancestor to find additional newspaper articles. Records that document your ancestors’ lives usually lead to other records and newspaper articles.

Are you attending the RootsTech Genealogy Conference?

GenealogyBank is helping to sponsor the upcoming RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, 3-6 February, 2016. If you’re attending, come visit us at booth #523 to discuss genealogy in general, or any specific questions you have about your own family history research.

For more information about RootsTech, visit the website at: http://www.rootstech.org/?lang=eng

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Genealogy Tips: Searching for Your Ancestors Using Nicknames

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows how expanding your name searches to include nicknames can discover records about your ancestors you never found before.

Finding your ancestor in old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Sure, you can search by a given name and sometimes find your ancestor right away. Other times you need to try variations and common misspellings of their name before getting good search results. But if even then you come up empty, what do you search on next?

Try Nicknames

Do you have a nickname? Maybe your nickname is based on your actual given name. Perhaps it has to do with a characteristic or physical trait you possess. You may have earned your nickname playing sports or in the workplace. Sometimes a nickname may make absolutely no sense. In my case, my paternal grandfather gave me a nickname shortly after I was born based on his miss-hearing of my actual middle name. That nickname would make no sense to anyone (and no, I won’t tell you what it is) but it was always the name he used to refer to me.

A person can gain a nickname for all kinds of reasons, including: ease of pronunciation; to distinguish between two family members with the same name; and in some cases to call out a negative trait.

The most important thing to remember about nicknames is that they could have also been used in print when a newspaper referred to your ancestor. Have you given some thought to searching for your ancestor using a nickname?

You Say Mary, I Say Polly

Probably the most familiar use of a nickname is one that simply substitutes one name for a person’s given name. Throughout history, there have been some standard names substituted for “proper” given names. Case in point: Mary. Mary could be May, Mimi, Molly or Polly. And of course she could have been just Mary, Mary Ann or Mary Jane.

While these nicknames may have seemed childish to some – and they certainly were to the writer of this 1875 newspaper article – in reality it’s possible the nickname was used all of the person’s life. This writer seems annoyed at the use of such familiar names as “Bettie,” commenting:

While this vulgar and silly practice of calling ladies by their nicknames is in vogue among the ignorant and the shoddy class in all parts of the country…

article about nicknames, Cincinnati Daily Enquirer newspaper article 5 March 1875

Cincinnati Daily Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio), 5 March 1875, page 2

Are you searching on all variations of your ancestor’s written name, including nicknames? Their name may have been abbreviated to a form considered archaic to our modern written language, such as “Jno” for John, “Wm” for William or “Geo.” for George. Previous generations’ nicknames may make little sense to us today. Sarah being referred to as Sally is one such example. Many modern people are confused about why Dick is a nickname for Richard, but according to an online article by David K. Israel, 12th and 13th century nicknames for Richard included Rich and Rick as well as rhyming versions of those names – including Dick.*

In order to improve your chances of finding your ancestor in the newspaper (and other records), it’s important to become familiar with nicknames for a given name. One way to do this is to consult a resource list on nicknames like the FamilySearch Wiki page, “Traditional Nicknames in Old Documents – A Wiki List,” or “A Listing of Some Nicknames Used in the 18th & 19th Centuries” from the Connecticut State Library. You can also read more about nicknames in Christine Rose’s book, Nicknames: Past and Present.

Boy, They Weren’t Very Original!

Do you ever get tired of ancestors who seem to use the same few given names generation after generation? Recycling the names William and John, or Elizabeth and Mary, makes it very difficult to trace a family tree. In some cases re-using a name or favoring certain names might be due to a tradition like naming a child after a saint. You may stumble upon a whole family that has used one singular given name, as in the case of one branch of my family where all the daughters share the name Maria but used their middle names in day-to-day life. This is another example of why searching newspapers for variations of your ancestor’s name, such as middle names or nicknames, is so important. Don’t forget to look for home sources or conduct family interviews to uncover a person’s possible nicknames.

Nicknames can be an important distinguisher for those who are given the same name as a parent, grandparent or older relative. A newspaper article may refer to someone as “Junior” or “Senior.” While referring to someone as Junior or the Second (II) may seem straightforward, a more uncommon nickname could be utilized to refer to someone named after a previous generation or who carries the same name held by successive generations. For example, Skip may be the nickname of someone named after their grandfather but not their father.

“Billy the Kid” & “Gorgeous” George

We are all familiar with nicknames that are substitutes for both a given name and surname. A good example is Billy the Kid. Looking for articles using his given name, Henry McCarty, or his alias, William H. Bonney, might not yield as many returns as searching for his moniker, Billy the Kid.

obituary for Billy the Kid, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 22 July 1881

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 22 July 1881, page 1

Billy the Kid wasn’t the only desperado who ditched his given name. Nicknames were seemingly so popular among those committing crimes that the U.S. District Clerk’s Office kept track of defendant’s actual names and nicknames. Researching a black sheep ancestor? Make sure to use both his or her “real” name and their nickname to find relevant articles.

article about criminals' nicknames, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 23 December 1938

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 23 December 1938, page 5

One way to incorporate nicknames in your search is to consider your ancestor’s descriptive nickname substituting for a first or middle name, offset with quotes, as is often done for people like athletes or criminals.

This 1962 sports example of a wrestler named George “Gorgeous” Grant shows the difficulty that can arise when searching on a name. I’ve also seen a nickname listed with parenthesis in the middle like George (Gorgeous) Grant in genealogically-rich articles like obituaries. So make sure that you search on multiple versions of a name including just the nickname and the surname. And while exact phrase searches are important, incorporate other searches as well.

article about professional wrestlers, Times-Picayune newspaper article 14 February 1962

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 14 February 1962, page 37

When you aren’t sure of a family member’s nickname, it can be beneficial to try a surname search and include other keywords that can assist you in discovering that nickname. Remember that on GenealogyBank, in addition to keywords, you can narrow your search by place, date, newspaper title and even type of article.

article about professional baseball players, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 26 August 1911

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 26 August 1911, page 13

Before you start your next family history research project, keep in mind the importance of having a list of name variations that includes all the various nicknames and versions of your ancestor’s name, as well as possible misspellings.


* “The Origins of 10 Nicknames,” by David K. Israel. Mental Floss: http://mentalfloss.com/article/24761/origins-10-nicknames

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Genealogy Resolution for the New Year: Make a ‘To-Do’ List

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena settles on one New Year’s genealogy resolution for 2016 that she’s determined to follow.

Yikes! Where did 2015 go? I feel like another year has flown by and I’m still not where I want to be with the genealogy goals I wrote down in December 2014. I don’t know about you but I’m just not a New Year’s resolution person. Sure, I have great intentions. I feel motivated on January 1st and still fairly committed by the end of the month. But then February comes and goes and then March and I start justifying my continuing procrastination with promises that “I’ll accomplish that stuff during the summer when it’s not as busy.” Oh, sure I will. Life gets busy, stuff happens, and then pretty soon it’s December 31st again.

So if you’re like me, try sticking to just one New Year’s genealogy resolution: make a to-do list for those moments when you can say “I have an hour to work on my genealogy.” By creating a family history research to-do list you can refer back to it when you’re ready, and not feel the pressure and disappointment that will inevitably come on December 31st when you realize you never tackled a long list of New Year’s genealogy resolutions.

Photo: New Year’s resolutions postcards from the early 20th century

Photo: New Year’s resolutions postcards from the early 20th century. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

As I spent some time looking over my genealogy database recently I realized I could do a better job adding information from newspapers, such as those in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. The following ideas from my 2016 genealogy to-do list might be some you could incorporate into your own.

Go Back and Utilize Name Variations

I’ve talked about it before and believe me, I have been guilty of not heeding my own advice. I’ve noticed that when I’ve missed newspaper articles about the person I was researching it’s often because I didn’t take into consideration name variations, misspellings, and use of initials. For example, one of the women I am researching was married twice, went by a name other than her given first name, used her first husband’s surname even when married to her second husband because that was her “professional” name, and used her initials instead of her first name! Because of all this, here are some of the name variations I have to take into consideration when searching for Eleanore G. Burdick Stetson Dederick:

  • G. Stetson
  • E. G. Stetson
  • Louis Dederick
  • Eleanore Dederick
  • Ella Burdick
  • Eleanore Stetson
article about registered hotel guests, Daily Inter Ocean newspaper article 6 August 1895

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 6 August 1895, page 2

One of the first things I do when researching an individual is create a list of name variations, including initials substituting for first and middle name, and all the possible alternative spellings of their name. I add to this list as I come across other misspellings or variations. Each time I research I use this list to guide my search. By being flexible about how you search for a person, you are more likely to find them.

Fill in Your 20th Century Blanks

It’s easy to get side tracked when looking at newspapers – let’s face it, there are some great articles that can be found about our ancestors’ lives from very long ago. But I know I need to go back and concentrate on finding some of the basics for my more recent generations. Sometimes in our quest to trace our family back as far as we can, we fail to gather information on those family members that may have lived in the 20th century. My plan is to gather those newspaper articles to fill in the timelines for my great-great-grandparents and successive generations.

For example, this 1954 obituary for Betty Chatham filled in some gaps in my family tree and gave me several clues for further family history research.

obituary for Betty Chatham, Sacramento Bee newspaper article 24 December 1954

Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), 24 December 1954, page 21

While it’s tempting to skip multiple generations in our quest to trace our family lines farther back, don’t do it. Take some time today to document your more recent family. Their stories and lives deserve to be preserved for the future.

Try Something New

Whether it’s correct or not, we often hear statistics about how we only use a small percentage of our brains – but the same could be said for many of the tools we use. We become familiar with a few features of a software program or a website and we don’t venture beyond those features or databases.

I must admit that I am guilty of this. I get so caught up in finding historical newspaper articles in GenealogyBank that I forget to check out some of the other databases GenealogyBank has to offer, such as Historical Documents and Historical Books.

One of their databases that is a real gem is the Recent Newspaper Obituaries collection. At first glance you may assume you wouldn’t need obituaries from the late 1970s to today – but that would be a mistake. While the majority of our work as genealogists concentrates on those who lived generations before us, we also need to track those who died more recently, and their immediate families. That’s how we make connections with cousins and ultimately uncover new information. As I explored this collection of more recent obituaries, I came across the obituary of a cousin that listed his children. These were family members that we had lost contact with decades ago and now, because of that one obituary, I have names and residences that I can use to contact them.

Take some time today to brainstorm your 2016 genealogy to-do list. What would you like to know more about your family before 31 December 2016 rolls around?

Related Article:

For the 12 Days of Christmas: 12 Types of Newspaper Articles for Genealogy Research, Part II

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena gives examples of six types of newspaper articles that can help with your family history research.

Still looking for your ancestor in the newspaper? Or maybe you’re looking to find more mentions of your family? In yesterday’s Part I of our “12 Days of Christmas” blog article, we looked at six types of newspaper articles that give us some of the basic facts of a person’s life: birth, marriage, death, etc.

Now let’s look at six more types of newspaper articles that fill in more of the details of what your ancestors’ lives were like. All of these examples were found in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

7) Family Reunion Articles

I went to a family reunion last spring and that event was a great meeting between cousins who were new to each other – and an opportunity to trade photos and stories. Unfortunately, the local newspaper wasn’t there documenting that time we spent together, nor did anyone think of providing that story to them. However, it is not unusual to find family reunion activities documented in old newspapers. Large family reunions or milestone events that were the catalyst for a reunion (think of an elder family member’s birthday, 50th wedding anniversary, etc.) were newsworthy. Articles about these events in the local newspaper often include names, dates, history and memories.

For example, this Jackson family reunion article from a 1903 Texas newspaper tells the migration story of the family that ended in Dallas. The article gives the names, and the birth year and month, of each of the five Jackson family members pictured. It also gives a tremendous amount of family history, beginning with the family patriarch, John Jackson, his birth in England in 1806, and the perilous journey the family took in 1848 to come to Texas. Note that this article points out “His sons and daughters married, and had children, and these children did the same thing” – valuable clues to other records to search for in tracing this family’s history.

article about the Jackson family reunion, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 3 September 1903

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 3 September 1903, page 6

8) School Days Articles

All types of newspaper articles document the school days of children and young adults. You might find articles about school sports competitions or awards won for various events. Lists of graduates are also popular newspaper fodder. As you consider school-based newspaper articles, remember to not make assumptions about your ancestor’s school career (such as presuming they never attended school), and don’t assume that their school days were like your own (that assumption can result in missing articles unique to their time period). Lastly, remember that newspaper articles may focus on students, teachers, staff, and the school board.

This 1897 New York newspaper article about the graduates of Miss Hunter’s Training School gives the names of women who graduated from this Kindergarten teacher training school. The graduates’ and post-graduates’ names and city of residence are listed.

article about women graduates from a training school, New York Tribune newspaper article 8 June 1897

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 8 June 1897, page 5

Obviously your ancestor’s name mentioned in a graduate list or attached to a school activity would be great to find – but don’t forget about photos in the newspaper. The GenealogyBank search engine provides you the ability to narrow your search results by photos and illustrations. By narrowing a search to the phrase “high school football” I found this great photo of the 1901 Baker City High School football team from Oregon. The caption reads “In the group here presented are the husky fellows who make up the Baker City High School football team, together with the coach and manager of the eleven and Professor Churchill, principal of the High School.” Surnames and positions played by the students are listed.

article and photo about the Baker City High School football team, Oregonian newspaper article 2 December 1901

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 2 December 1901, page 3

9) Legal Notices

We’ve talked about legal notices before on this blog and how important they can be to your genealogy research. Those largely ignored, small dense notices in the back of the newspaper call to attention all kinds of important legal matters, including court actions. These notices, most useful for searching for your mid-19th century ancestors and beyond, are the place to find probate actions. If you’re having problems finding a probate in the courthouse archive where your ancestor lived, take a look at the legal notices in newspapers.

legal notices, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 3 August 1908

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 3 August 1908, page 7

10) Delinquent Tax Notices

This is a list most of us would rather not find ourselves on. But just like modern families, our ancestors faced difficult economic times. Lists of those with delinquent taxes can be found in the newspaper and those mentions include a name, address and even the amount owed. Such articles should be followed up by searching land grants as well as additional newspaper articles having to do with the possible sale of the property for the money owed. A seemingly sudden move to a different address or completely out of an area might be explained by finding your ancestor’s name on such a list.

list of delinquent taxes, Albuquerque Journal newspaper article 2 September 1910

Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, New Mexico), 2 September 1910, page 3

11) Letters to the Editor

Did your ancestor have a strong opinion about something? Maybe they just wanted to inform the community about an issue or event. There were several ways a person could get their name in the newspaper and writing a letter to the editor was one.

Judging from the various letters to the editor columns I read, some newspapers allowed letter writers to use a symbolic moniker, some provided anonymity by printing only the writer’s initials, while others insisted on the full name and address of the individual. I love this 1915 letter to the editor article that explains to a person who signed their letter “Neutral” why their anonymous letter wasn’t published. As you can see by the editor’s explanation, those wishing to have a letter published had to include their name and address.

letters to the editor, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 30 August 1915

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 30 August 1915, page 8

It’s important to remember to try various ways of searching for your family, including narrowing and widening your ancestry search. If you only narrow your search to a name and place, you may miss mentions of your ancestor in places you would least expect to find them.

For example, this 1925 Letter to the Editor column from a San Diego newspaper is a good example. The letter reminisces about the author’s 1929 trip to San Diego. The writer states that “In my opinion the two grandest sights in the United States are the Grand canyon of Arizona and San Diego bay from Pt. Loma.” Family of Mr. Lawrence J. Callanan of New York might be interested in this trip, which would provide some background to any photos or souvenirs passed down.

letter to the editor from Lawrence Callanan, San Diego Union newspaper article 24 August 1935

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 24 August 1935, page 5

12) Post Office Letters

I have a friend who lets her mail pile up for a week before begrudgingly picking it up. By the time she finally goes to the post office, her box is sometimes filled to capacity and some of the more urgent items have gone unchecked. One day in the future the idea of mail being delivered to our homes will probably be all but a distant memory.

Just like my friend, our ancestors didn’t always pick up their mail. Why? Lots of reasons come to mind, including that the person moved or died. This 1904 Alaska newspaper article with a list of names of people from Juneau who have not picked up their mail explains that after two weeks, the mail will be forwarded to the dead letter office in Washington, D.C. These types of lists found in the newspaper can be great clues for your ancestral timeline.

article about unclaimed letters at the post office, Daily Alaska Dispatch newspaper article 15 March 1904

Daily Alaska Dispatch (Juneau, Alaska), 15 March 1904, page 4

Most of us have heard at one time or another about the “dead letter office.” The Second Continental Congress established the position of inspector of dead letters, who would deal with undeliverable mail. Later, the first dead letter office in Washington, D.C. made its debut in 1825. Postmasters published lists of names in the newspaper of people who had letters waiting to be picked up, with warnings that unclaimed letters would be sent to the dead letter office.*

article about unclaimed letters at the post office, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 21 March 1738

Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 21 March 1738, page 2

So where will you find your ancestor in the newspaper? Newspapers are a rich source of information and your ancestor could be mentioned in any type of article. But before you give up on finding that elusive ancestor, search for them in the 12 types of newspaper articles we outlined yesterday and today. Utilize tools provided in the GenealogyBank search engine to narrow and broaden your search. And remember to search on versions of your ancestor’s name, including initials.

Good luck in your search!


* Dead letter office gave rise to official seals. Linn’s Stamp. http://www.linns.com/en/insights/stamp-collecting-basics/2005/july/dead-letter-office-gave-rise-to-official-seals.html

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For the 12 Days of Christmas: 12 Types of Newspaper Articles for Genealogy Research, Part I

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena gives examples of six types of newspaper articles that can help with your family history research.

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Well if you’re like most of us your family history gift would be finding more mentions (or perhaps just one mention) of your ancestry. Instead of geese a-laying or the partridge in a pear tree, you want to go straight to the genealogy happy dance where you celebrate finding that newspaper article about your family.

The ways in which your ancestor could be listed in the newspaper are endless – but there are some go-to articles you should be regularly looking for. It’s important to be knowledgeable about what newspaper articles can assist in your search so that you know what is available and what you should expect. Will your ancestor be mentioned in each type of newspaper article listed below? No, many factors determine whether a person is mentioned in any one type of article, but you should still keep your eye out for the following article types.

In honor of the 12 Days of Christmas, this article will take a look at 12 genealogically rich newspaper article examples – starting with these first 6 that provide the basic facts about a person: their birth, marriage, and death. Tomorrow, in Part II, we’ll look at 6 more types of newspaper articles that can help with your family history research. All of these examples were found in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

1) Birth Notices

A person is born and the newspaper publishes an announcement, right? Well, sometimes.

birth notices, Republic newspaper article 5 January 1909

Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 5 January 1909, page 4

In some cases a birth notice at the time of the birth might be found in the newspaper. However, even though newspapers report current events, in some cases a birth notice may not appear until sometime much later than the actual birth. At first read that doesn’t appear to make much sense, so let me explain.

One example is the case of delayed birth certificates, when a notice appeared in the newspaper notifying the public that a person had filed for one – and that notice included their birth date. What is a delayed birth certificate? These are a type of birth certificate issued to those who were born before the mandatory use of birth certificates, or for those whose birth was not registered at the time of the event. Obtaining a delayed birth certificate was especially important after the implementation of Social Security and during World War II.

Look at some of the samples in this article. In the first one, the person was born in 1898 – yet was requesting a birth certificate in 1944!

article about delayed birth certificates, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 29 December 1944

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 29 December 1944, page 12

Genealogy Tip: Birth announcements are likely not to include the name of the child, so search instead for the parents’ names or just the last name.

2) Engagement Notices

An upcoming nuptial may lead to numerous mentions in the newspaper, starting with an engagement notice. These notices may or may not include photos and will likely provide a little bit of information about the prospective bride and groom.

This 1922 Alabama newspaper column of engagement notices includes an example showing how much family information these notices sometimes provide: the Hertz-Friedman announcement reports the place of residence for the bride’s father, the groom, and the groom’s mother – both her current and former locations.

Engagement Announcements, Montgomery Advertiser newspaper article 4 June 1922

Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), 4 June 1922, Society Section, page 16

Genealogy Tip: An engagement notice might be in several newspapers, including the newspaper where the bride or groom live and the newspapers where their parents live. So make sure to not limit your search to a single city.

You never know what kind of information you will find in the newspaper. I particularly like this appraisal of the bride and groom found in the above notice for the Knowles-Johns engagement:

Miss Knowles is a popular member of the younger set and endeared herself to her friends by her charming personality. Mr. Johns is well known in Montgomery and holds a responsible position with the A. C. L. railroad.

Remember that an engagement notice – like the issuance of a marriage license – does not mean that a wedding actually took place. It’s important to continue your search and seek out proof that the wedding occurred.

3) Wedding Announcements

We sometimes get so used to the way a newspaper is laid out that we may miss newspaper articles that appear to be something else entirely. For example, this 1919 Nebraska newspaper article is entitled “Festive Bridal Array Again Here.” At first glance this appears to be an article about wedding fashion – but it is really a wedding announcement for two couples that begins with a comment about the return of festive wedding attire since the end of World War I. The announcement goes on to tell us about the two couples and where they currently reside.

wedding announcements, Omaha World-Herald newspaper article 2 February 1919

Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 2 February 1919, page 29

4) Anniversary Announcements

Celebrations for couples that have been married for 25, 50 and even more years are often documented in the newspaper. The great thing about these articles is they may include the wife’s maiden name as well as the names of the couple’s children and grandchildren. Frequently, photos of the happy couple accompany the article as in this example from a 1955 North Carolina newspaper which includes the couple’s street address, the number of children they had (though unfortunately not their names), and the bride’s father’s name.

article about the Elkins' 50th wedding anniversary, Greensboro Record newspaper article 25 October 1955

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 25 October 1955, page 13

5) Divorce Notices

Birth and marriage are a fact of life – and so too is divorce. All types of court actions can be found in the newspaper, including notices about divorce cases. Think divorce is a modern-day issue? Nothing could be further from the truth. In the United States, the first divorce occurred in colonial America. If you think people didn’t do that back in the “good old days” – yet your research shows a spouse that suddenly “disappeared” – consider the possibility of a divorce.

The name of the divorcing couple might be found in a newspaper article listing court cases to be heard, or in a legal notice seeking a hard-to-find defendant. While only the most notorious or infamous of divorce cases warranted a longer newspaper article, these smaller mentions are important because they can lead you to further research in court records.

divorce notices, Columbus Daily Enquirer newspaper article 29 October 1922

Columbus Daily Enquirer (Columbus, Georgia), 29 October 1922, page 8

6) Obituaries

Obituaries are a staple in genealogy research. One of the first sources many family history researchers check, obituaries can be a hit or miss proposition. When you can find them they can range in length from a single line to multiple paragraphs with a photo.

obituary for F. Lenwood Scott, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 28 January 2001

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 28 January 2001, section B, page 7

A few tips are in order when looking for obituaries. Remember that in some cases the obituary may have been preceded by notices involving the illness of the deceased or reports of an accident. These types of mentions would be more common in small communities. If the death was due to an accident or crime, search for articles detailing that event and then the coroner’s inquest or court trial that presumably followed. Like engagement notices mentioned above, obituaries may be found in multiple newspapers including where the deceased lived and the city they were from originally. Also take into consideration that a close relative may have also decided to place the obituary in their local newspaper as well.

So were you familiar with these six types of newspaper articles? These are just some of the newspaper articles where your ancestor might appear. In tomorrow’s article we will explore six other types of newspaper articles that fill in the details of your ancestor’s life.

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Go West Old Maid! Some of Our Unmarried Ancestors Did

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn about a time – in 1898 – when the U.S. government published a report and map to help unmarried women locate bachelors throughout the country.

Having trouble finding a marriage partner? Whom should you turn to for help? A matchmaker? A family member or friend? How about Uncle Sam?

Yes, Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam entered into the matchmaking business with the publishing of a 19th century U.S. Census Bureau report. This work was unique in that it addressed where to find an eligible bachelor based on location. According to the dissertation “Unclaimed Flowers and Blossoms Protected by Thorns: Never-Married Women in the United States, 1880-1930” by Jill Frahm*:

In 1898, the U.S. Census Bureau published what the popular press dubbed an “Old Maids Chart” graphically illustrating at a glance in what localities bachelors [were] the thickest, and in what regions spinsters [were] most dense per square mile.

illustration of a couple at their wedding

Credit: skinbus; openclipart.org

Using the now lost-to-us 1890 census (much of it was destroyed in a 1921 fire), the report documented “the number of single men and women over the age of twenty in each state.”

Statistical Chart of Bachelors and Spinsters of the United States

While officially titled the “Statistical Chart of Bachelors and Spinsters of the United States,” an 1898 Colorado newspaper article suggested a more tongue in cheek title:

The National Guide to Bachelors; a complete index for old maids and spinsters to the best places in the Union for getting husbands; with maps, charts, etc.; tells at a glance just where bachelors are most abundant.

article about a government report on bachelors and unmarried women in the United States, Denver Post newspaper article 23 September 1898

Denver Post (Denver, Colorado), 23 September 1898, page 4

Newspapers across the United States reported on the findings of this report. Like any article picked up by the wire services, some reports contained more information than others – and in some cases included the writer’s personal opinion.

How Many Eligible Bachelors Are There?

Did late 19th century spinsters believe that their lack of a marital status was the result of too few good men where they lived? While this was true during certain time periods like immediately after the American Civil War or in Britain after World War I, that doesn’t really seem to be the case in 19th century America, according to this 1898 Kansas newspaper article which stated that there were 2,200,000 more bachelors than old maids in the United States. (It’s important to remember that in reality not all of the men counted as single in the census would have been eligible bachelors. Some may have been institutionalized or incarcerated for example).

The article reports:

There is not a state in the union where there are as many old maids as bachelors. Even Massachusetts, the traditional home of the spinster of the poll-parrot species, has more men than women of marriageable age.

article about a government report on bachelors and unmarried women in the United States, American Citizen newspaper article 14 October 1898

American Citizen (Kansas City, Kansas), 14 October 1898, page 4

The article says “old maids” should have good luck finding bachelors anywhere in the U.S. – but it especially urges spinsters to “Go West”:

But if she wants a territory where negotiations may be completed with even greater ease – where the lottery of marriage must become a dead sure thing – let her hie herself from the crowded cities of the east to the rolling prairies or mountain wilds of the west, where there are ten bachelors to every available maiden. What spinster can resist such an advantage as this, which is offered by the states of Idaho and Wyoming? It would surely be a hopeless case which would not find its cure with the chances ten to one for recovery. Let the old maids try the free, fresh air of these mountain lands for awhile.

Where was the best place for a 19th century “old maid” to find a husband? Probably not too surprisingly, the western states of Idaho and Wyoming. Whether or not it was true, a popular belief was that young men were heading west to seek their riches, thus leaving behind single women in the New England states.

Some editorializing occurred with the publishing of this government report, including the stereotypical views regarding why marriage eluded some women. In this 1898 Massachusetts newspaper article, the rather derogatory point is made that:

With these figures in hand it ought not to be hard for the average lonely spinster to hunt down a husband and corner him, so to speak. She need not be attractive; a woman does not need many charms to secure a mate in a region like Idaho or Wyoming, where there are ten bachelors for every available maiden.

article about a government report on bachelors and unmarried women in the United States, Boston Journal newspaper article28 August 1898

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 28 August 1898, page 8

When Are You Getting Married?

So was every New England spinster chomping at the bit to go west to seek her (husband) fortune? Maybe not, according to author Betsy Israel. In her book Bachelor Girl: The Secret History of Single Women in the Twentieth Century she writes:

…very few unwed New England women were inclined to trek after men into the wilderness. The self-educated spinster, in particular, understood just what was in store for her “out there.”

She goes on to point out that a good number of children were needed to help out on farms, and that farm work was hard and giving birth was dangerous, with 1 in 25 pioneer women dying in childbirth.** Other authors have also suggested that professional opportunities for women after the Civil War may have resulted in many women delaying marriage. Economic and educational opportunities may have also influenced where women lived, so they were not necessarily sitting idle in their hometown, left behind by men seeking their fortune.

An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors – the old newspaper articles also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers.

Do you have a “spinster” aunt in your family tree? Or do you have a female ancestor that headed west to find a husband? What’s her story? Please share it in the comments below.


* Franhm, Jill. Unclaimed Flowers and Blossoms Protected by Thorns: Never-Married Women in the United States, 1880-1930. Dissertation. University of Minnesota. p. 142-143. Available at http://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/11299/96235.
** Israel, Betsy. Bachelor Girl: The Secret History of Single Women in the Twentieth Century. New York: William Morrow. p. 22.

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