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.

The WWI Soldier Girl: Hazel Blauser Carter

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 uncover the story of Hazel Carter, who disguised herself as a man in order to follow her husband into battle in WWI – and almost made it.

During the American Civil War, an untold number of women disguised themselves as men and fought on the front lines. These women risked their lives looking for adventure, higher wages, involvement in a cause they believed in, or to follow sweethearts or family members into battle. While it may be difficult to fathom how a woman could get away with passing herself as a man during the Civil War day in and day out, stories and books have been written about the women who did just that.

One might assume that as time marched on, women were less successful disguising themselves as men in order to go to war. After all, weren’t there medical examinations that would have uncovered this type of charade? Well, believe it or not – women tried to pose as male soldiers as recently as World War I!

Hazel Carter, WWI Soldier Girl

Hazel Blauser was born in 1894 and lived in Douglas, Arizona. On 12 December 1916 she married John Carter. John was serving with the 18th infantry, stationed in Douglas, when his unit was called up to go to France. Hazel decided that she would not be left behind. After saying her goodbyes to John, she headed off to a barber where she had her long hair shorn. Then, dressed in an old uniform, she went down to the military base where the soldiers were gathered and tried to get lost in the crowd of young men.

photo of Hazel Carter

Photo: Hazel Carter. Source: National Archives and Records Administration; Wikimedia Commons.

As she explained in this Nebraska newspaper article:

I marched aboard the troop train at Douglas without my husband’s knowledge and to the port from which we sailed without being detected.

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 6 August 1917

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 6 August 1917, page 5

Once on board the troop ship and out to sea, a rumor began circulating that there was a woman aboard. One account says it was because someone heard Hazel’s voice. She was discovered after being asked to remove her shirt. Hazel was then held in a stateroom and transported back to the United States without ever being allowed to step foot on French soil.

Enter Last Name

Once Hazel was back in the United States her story made newspaper pages across the nation. The adventure of the woman dressed as a WWI soldier was reported, including the fact that she was provided women’s clothes and a wig when she arrived in the United States prior to being sent home to Arizona. In some old newspaper articles she was even referred to as Private Hazel Carter (retired).

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Riverside Daily Press newspaper article 17 July 1917

Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, California), 17 July 1917, page 1

Writing Her Story in the Newspaper

Hazel was able to capitalize on her brief stint with fame by writing four articles about her adventure that were serialized in newspapers. Hazel detailed everything from her decision to follow her husband, to how she was able to hide on the troop train and her eventual boarding of the transport ship and how she “nearly got away with it.”

Her military adventure must have seemed like a grand story – except perhaps to her husband, who lost his rank of corporal and was threatened with court martial due to his wife’s attempt to be with him.

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 19 August 1917

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 19 August 1917, page 4

In her fourth installment of her article series, she reports that her mother had not known that Hazel had left Douglas until she was gone. Her mother wrote to Hazel:

If you wanted to be a soldier and fight with your man, it was all right with us. We’re proud of you. You’re an honor to the blood, and that has been fighting blood since before the Civil War.

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 26 August 1917

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 26 August 1917, page 27

Hazel’s mom wasn’t the only one that was proud of her. Her grandfather H. Clark, a veteran of the Civil War, was quoted as saying:

I knew she would do it…That girl sure has grit. I wish she could stay and fight the Germans. You ought to have seen her in uniform. She made a better looking soldier than John, I do believe. She can handle a rifle better than most men. They sure should have let her stay.

In addition to her family’s approval, Hazel had the admiration of her hometown, the city of Douglas, Arizona. A Michigan newspaper article announced that when she arrived home from her adventure, she would be “met by a guard of honor and a brass band.”

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 30 July 1917

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 30 July 1917, page 8

Hazel wasn’t the only woman to try to join the war effort dressed as a man during WWI. Another young woman, Freda Hart, also tried to disguise herself with the intent of joining the military but was “outed” before she could board a train for Washington, D.C. Hazel and Freda’s stories are recounted in this historical newspaper article with a title emphasizing their boyish haircuts, referring to their “sacrifice of tresses.”

article about Hazel Carter and Freda Hart disguising themselves as men to go fight in WWI, Boston Herald newspaper article 11 November 1917

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 11 November 1917, page 61

While Hazel’s story makes it sound as though women weren’t involved in the war effort or on the battlefronts, nothing could be further from the truth. Did women help in the war effort? Absolutely! Women joined groups like the Red Cross as nurses, the Salvation Army and YWCA. Women even joined the military as nurses and clerical workers and were sent to France. Hazel remarked that she did try to join the Red Cross, only to be turned down.

A Story That Ends Too Soon

Does this love story between Hazel and John end “happily ever after”? Unfortunately, no. Hazel died about a year later, in July 1918 in New Mexico. Her husband, fighting the war in France, never saw her again after her discovery on his WWI troop ship. His last words to her can be found memorialized in one of the newspaper articles she wrote about her adventure:

Don’t let a little thing like that discourage you, honey. Go home and take a run down to Kentucky to see mother. Tell her I am well and doing all right. No Boche bullet is going to get me. Then if you still want to come over, join the Red Cross. I’ll work night and day to see you are sent somewhere near us. Be good, kiddie. Wait for me.

Hazel’s body was transported back to Douglas by the Red Cross, where she was provided with a military-like funeral that included a flag draped over her casket, a military chaplain officiating and soldiers as her pallbearers.

Hazel’s story is just one example of the rich family history you can find in old newspapers. What will you discover about your family in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives?

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Oh Mother Where Art Thou? How to Find Females in Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena provides search tips to find your often-elusive female ancestors in old newspapers.

How do you find stories about your mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and other female ancestors in the newspaper? Sometimes that can be easier said than done, but here are a few tips to help you search for those elusive female ancestors.

What Types of News Articles Feature Women?

While the digitization of newspapers provides us the luxury of finding newspaper articles we weren’t specifically looking for, knowing what type of articles feature women can make it easier to focus your searches. It’s hard to imagine all the different types of articles a mother could be mentioned in, but reading copies of your ancestor’s local newspaper can be helpful. A few types of news articles to consider include the following.

Food & Recipe Newspaper Articles

What’s the best thing your mom cooks? Do you have memories of grandma’s homemade pies at Thanksgiving? Don’t forget that she could have been featured in the pages of the food section of the newspaper for her culinary prowess. Recipe contests sponsored by the newspaper or food companies, requests for recipes, or sharing a favorite recipe were all occasions for women to be published in the local newspaper.

For example, this article from a 1951 Texas newspaper about a pear recipe contest includes the names and addresses of the female judges and the winners. Even three-year-old Peggy Womack, who accompanied her mother to judge the entries, is mentioned.

article about a recipe contest, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 9 March 1951

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 9 March 1951, page 22

Genealogy Tip: Remember that women may be mentioned using their husband’s name so don’t forget to try searching for her as Mrs. John Smith or Mrs. J. A. Smith.

Women’s Interest Pages

Women’s Interest pages printed all types of articles about women’s activities including causes they supported and clubs they were a member of. You can find mentions of events and articles that report on meetings at members’ homes, complete with an address.

Enter Last Name

Such is the case on this Clubs page from a 1926 Washington newspaper, which includes mentions of the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union), sororities, fraternal auxiliaries like Order of the Eastern Star, and Soroptimists. Awards women won, their names, addresses and even two photos can be found on this page.

women's club page, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 22 August 1926

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 22 August 1926, page 60

Our female ancestors enjoyed club activities and membership in varied organizations. Identify membership organizations in the area your ancestor lived that she may have been a member of. Remember that she could have belonged to a group that believed in a cause she was passionate about (WCTU or League of Women Voters), was part of her church (Dorcas Society or Relief Society), or an auxiliary to an organization where her husband was a member (Women’s Relief Corp, Order of the Eastern Star).

There’s no doubt that being a mom and wife could get you in the paper as well. Whether it was for the birth of a baby, celebrating a wedding anniversary, attending a family reunion or even traveling with a child, your ancestress could be mentioned.

Great information about one family can be found in this report in a 1905 Idaho newspaper of the reunion attended in Texas by Mrs. J. F. Shellworth of Boise, Idaho. There are many names and much descendant information presented in this old newspaper article.

article about the Campbell family reunion, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 18 August 1905

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 18 August 1905, page 6

I have to admit my favorite part is the last paragraph that states:

Of this large family there is nor has been no stain on their moral characters, nor have any of them been arraigned before a court of justice as far back as the family history records.

article about the Campbell family reunion, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 18 August 1905

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 18 August 1905, page 6

Gossip & Social Columns

Don’t forget that gossip, social or “around town” articles provide opportunities for piecing together your female ancestor’s life. These short mentions often tell of the everyday activities she participated in like going shopping, traveling or even becoming ill.

For example, in this section of a 1904 Michigan newspaper entitled “News of Michigan Towns,” women are listed partaking in such activities as attending funerals, moving, attending club meetings, teaching, entertaining and in one instance passing away from a lengthy battle with consumption (TB):

Auburn, May 4.—Miss Lillie Miller, who has been suffering for the last six months with consumption, passed away April 30. Burial took place Monday morning at Midland. Miss Miller was with her parents during most of her sickness and death.

social column, Saginaw News newspaper article 4 May 1904

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 4 May 1904, page 3

It’s All in the Name

I have discovered that often when I wasn’t able to find something in a digitized newspaper it was because I wasn’t searching my ancestor’s name the way the newspaper printed it. It’s always when I think the name can’t possibly be printed as Miss Philibert or M. B. Philibert that I’m proven wrong.

Genealogy Tip: Create a list of variations of your ancestor’s name and then add various spellings and misspellings to that list.

Keep a list of those name variations handy, and on that list have two parts. In the first part, write out all the variations of the name she could have used throughout her life. Such a list for one of my paternal great-grandmothers looks like this:

  • Mary Bell Chatham
  • Mary Chatham
  • M.B. Chatham
  • Miss Chatham
  • Mary Bell Philibert
  • Mary Philibert
  • Mrs. Oscar Philibert
  • Mrs. O. J. Philibert

Now if I add all the creative ways Chatham and/or Philibert can be spelled, my list starts to look like this:

  • Mary Bell Chatham
  • Mary Chatham
  • M.B. Chatham
  • Miss Chatham
  • Mary Bell Philibert
  • Mary Philibert
  • Mrs. Oscar Philibert
  • Mrs. O. J. Philibert
  • Philbert
  • Philabert
  • Filabert
  • Philburt
  • Phillabert
Enter Last Name

So you get the idea of how many variations you may amass. Not sure how a name could possibly be misspelled? Ask a first or second grader. They will sound out the name and base their guess on phonetics, something that others may have done when spelling your ancestor’s name.

Before you give up on a genealogy search, always try another variation of your ancestor’s name.

Keep Track of Your Family History Research

As you research, keep a timeline of your female ancestor’s life so that you can determine what types of newspaper articles you might find during various times of her life, such as birth notices when she could be having children, or notices about her death. Along with that keep a research log and track your findings each time you research her in the newspaper. You will find a link to a free research log at the end of this article.

Because GenealogyBank is constantly adding new newspapers, you will need to conduct your search at least every month to find new results.

It’s no secret that I love the information that historical newspapers provide about our female ancestors. Finding mom (or grandma or great-grandma) is made easier when you know how to search. Honor your foremothers this week for Mother’s Day by locating stories about their lives in the newspaper.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Free Research Log Template

Not sure what a Research Log is or how to start one? No problem; with this free download from GenealogyBank you’ll be tracking your research in no time.

photo of a genealogy research log

Clicking on the link (or the graphic) will let you download the Research Log template as a full-size, working Excel spreadsheet that you can use to organize and track your genealogy research. This log is compliments of Duncan Kuehn, who provided the following instructions:

Crafting your genealogy research plan:

  • Title: Give your document a title. This will likely be the name of the person or family line that you are working on.
  • Objective: Craft a very specific research objective. The more specific you can be the more effective your search will be. An example of a poorly crafted object would be: “Continue the Johnson line.” A better objective would be: “Find out when Jacob Johnson was born.” An even better objective would be: “Find out when Jacob Johnson (probable son of James Johnson and Sally Kunz) was born (likely 1882-1885 in Hardin County, Kentucky or Randolph County, South Carolina).” Having a clear objective keeps your search focused. Having more information helps you narrow your search and determine if you have found the right information.
  • Date: Always enter a date for each entry. This will help you keep organized.
  • Goal:Follow this basic outline for setting goals. Each goal or search should occupy its own row in the research plan.
    • Confirm the known information.
    • Identify which sources might contain more information. Prioritize these by likelihood to contain the information, reliability, ease of accessibility, quality, etc.
    • Determine what possible documents might exist. For example, were birth certificates issued in the area at that time?
    • Try to find the document.
      • Check to see if any online resources have digitized the collection.
        • If not, check to see if an online index exists.
    • Check to see if any near-to-you repositories have the collection.
    • Check to see if any archives in the local jurisdiction have the collection.
  • Obtain the document and analyze the information.
  • Re-evaluate if the objective was met or not. If it was, then create a new research plan with a new objective. If not, determine what additional information is required and then identify which sources might contain that additional information.
  • Source: Write down what source you are using to find the information. For example, when confirming the information where did you look? Was it on your family tree? Did you locate the birth certificate in your possession? Write down this source and include as much information as possible. Who authored it? What page in the book was it found on? What was the call number of the book? What was the URL of the online document?
  • Repository: Write down where you found the source. Where was the document found? Was it in your possession? Did you locate it on FamilySearch? Was it in the local library? Write down as much information as you can here. If it is a place you intend to visit, be sure to include the address, phone number, website, etc.
  • Result: Write down what you searched for and what you found. Be very, very specific. For example: “I searched for Jacob Aman’s (born 1901 in South Dakota) birth certificate on Ancestry, but nothing was found.  I also used the spellings of Amman, Amann, Ammann, Anan, Amam, Amon, etc. I searched the time span of 1898-1903. I did not restrict it to a particular county.” That way when you think of or discover additional alternative spellings, such as Jakob or the initials J.B., you know to go back and try searching with the new information. When you do find information, record it here.
  •  #: Use this column to record the document number, include a link to the document that is stored on your computer, or list the document name as saved on your computer or in your paper files. You will want to access the document again. How will you find it? Enter that information in this column. Note: be sure to obtain a copy for yourself; don’t rely on finding the document again online, because URLs change, collections get culled and removed from websites, websites go defunct, etc.

Note: What is the difference between a genealogy research log and a research plan? A genealogy research plan includes the log, keeping all the information together. This prepares you for conducting the research: what documents exist, where can they be found? A research log would generally not include the goals of confirming the information, identifying the sources, locating where the source can be found, but instead would focus on the actual document search within a repository. This hybrid combines the best of both worlds to keep all the information in one place. I’ve called it a research plan because genealogists tend to focus on the document search when they need to focus on the preparatory work. The title is intended to remind them to slow down, focus their research, start at the beginning and work their way through. Once the document containing the information is found, the work is not done. Each fact needs to be confirmed by multiple sources. The evidence from each source needs to be properly evaluated. Finally, a written statement needs to be crafted to “prove” the answer, taking into account any evidence that contradicts the genealogist’s conclusion. Once this statement, paragraph, or report has been written, you are ready to move on – keeping in mind that new sources and evidence will be found and that might cause you to go back and revise your previous conclusions.

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The 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of the RMS Lusitania

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 more about the tragic sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania by a German submarine, an act which almost propelled the neutral U.S. into World War I.

First launched in 1906, the RMS Lusitania was part of the British Cunard line of luxury passenger ships. For a short time, the Lusitania was the fastest ship in the world, with such amenities as electric lights and the wireless telegraph. On 1 May 1915, with World War I raging in Europe, the Lusitania set sail from New York to Liverpool, England, filled with passengers.

Warning Issued before Lusitania Departed

But – most likely unknown to most of those passengers – the Lusitania was also carrying supplies and ammunition for the British war effort. After 101 roundtrip crossings, this journey may not have seemed too different from the previous ones – except for a warning directed to all those on board. However, this crossing will forever remain different in the annals of history – for the Germans sank the Lusitania on 7 May 1915, nearly drawing the neutral U.S. into WWI.

Illustration: sinking of the Lusitania; engraving by Norman Wilkinson for the 15 May 1915 issue of “The Illustrated London News"

Illustration: sinking of the Lusitania; engraving by Norman Wilkinson for the 15 May 1915 issue of “The Illustrated London News.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

New York newspapers had carried a warning from the German embassy alerting potential Lusitania passengers that sailing through a war zone under the flags of Great Britain or its allies could mean possible destruction of the ship. Civilian passengers on board would be traveling at their own risk. Perhaps those who purchased passage on the Lusitania thought the warning was an idle threat, figuring that civilians could simply not be in danger from military actions.

According to this South Dakota newspaper article about the German warning: “Not a single passenger cancelled his sailings.” While the old newspaper article reports that the U.S. State Department took the warning seriously, it goes on to say that: “The Cunarder [sic] officials laughed at the passengers’ fears.” Referring to the speed of the ship, the officials stated that: “the Lusitania could show her heels to any submarine.”

article about the warning Germany gave before the Lusitania departed from New York, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 1 May 1915

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 1 May 1915, page 1

The Sinking of the Lusitania

Six days after departing from New York, on May 7th off the coast of Ireland, a German submarine U-20 under the command of Walther Schweiger fired a torpedo at the Lusitania.

article about Germany sinking the Lusitania, Lexington Herald newspaper article 8 May 1915

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 8 May 1915, page 1

Unlike the Titanic disaster just three years prior, the Lusitania sank very quickly in only 18 minutes – not enough time for her nearly 2,000 passengers to climb safely into lifeboats. Only 767 of the 1,960 people aboard survived. The torpedoed ship tragedy took the lives of approximately 128 out of 139 Americans on board. Only 37.7% of passengers survived the sinking, leaving a large number of women and children among the dead.* A list and biographies of the passengers and crew aboard the Lusitania can be found on The Lusitania Resource website.

article about Germany sinking the Lusitania, Gulfport Daily Herald newspaper article 8 May 1915

Gulfport Daily Herald (Gulfport, Mississippi), 8 May 1915, page 1

One of those who perished was American genealogist Lothrop Withington, who was returning to England on the Lusitania to continue researching a 17th century registry of wills.

article about Germany sinking the Lusitania, Plain Dealer newspaper article 9 May 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 May 1915, page 6

Sinking Almost Draws U.S. into WWI

After pressure from President Woodrow Wilson, Germany promised to only sink passenger ships after proper warning and safeguards for passengers. English, Irish and eventually U.S. propaganda posters evoked the needless drowning of women and children to encourage or guilt men into joining the military.

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Here’s an example of such a recruitment poster, showing a heartbreaking scene of a woman Lusitania passenger drowning with her infant child.

photo of a U.S. WWI enlistment poster spurred by Germany's sinking of the Lusitania

Photo: U.S. WWI enlistment poster spurred by sinking of the Lusitania. Source: U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

While England was hoping this tragedy would bring the United States into the war, it would be another two years before President Wilson decided to send Americans to fight. Wilson had won a second presidential term running with the slogan “He kept us out of war.” This slogan didn’t resonate with everyone, as this political commentary shows. Among its many grievances, this editorial includes anger over the sinking of the Lusitania.

editorial opposed to President Woodrow Wilson running for a second term, Tucson Daily Citizen newspaper article 15 July 1916

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 15 July 1916, page 4

After events like the sinking of the Lusitania and the intercepted Zimmerman Telegram, which revealed that Germany offered U.S. territory to Mexico in return for assisting Germany in the war effort, the United States finally entered the war on 6 April 1917.

article about the U.S. declaring war on Germany and entering WWI, Patriot newspaper article 22 March 1917

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 22 March 1917, page 1

Were any of your ancestors on board the Lusitania when it was sunk by a German submarine? If so, please tell us about it in the comments section

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* Passenger and Crew Statistics. The Lusitania Resource. http://www.rmslusitania.info/people/statistics/. Accessed 5 May 2015.

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Mother of the Year Awards in the News

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 various “Mother of the Year” awards throughout the country.

Did you ever read about some sort of honor or award in the newspaper and wonder what it was all about? With Mother’s Day fast approaching I remembered that “Mother of the Year” is one award that I have often seen in various news articles describing numerous women. But what does the title Mother of the Year mean? Some research in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives reveals interesting facts and stories about this family honor.

The Genesis of American Mother of the Year

While many different groups have named mothers to this lofty title, there is one group that is in charge of the official American Mother of the Year award. The Golden Rule Foundation, founded by retailer James Cash Penney (JCPenney stores), started the American Mothers Committee. According to the American Mothers website:

“The idea of a Mothers Committee began in 1933 when America was in the middle of a Great Depression, and women were taking on many roles in society in order to make ends meet for their families. Businessman J.C. Penney enlisted four prominent New Yorkers, including famous clergyman and author Norman Vincent Peale, to form a committee under his Golden Rule Foundation called the American Mothers Committee. He believed mothers were key to the family and by honoring them the entire nation would be strengthened.”

The first Mother of the Year award, initially called the Typical American Mother, was presented in 1935 by Honorary Chairwoman Sara Delano Roosevelt (mother of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) to Lucy Keen Johnson (Mrs. Fletcher Johnson), formerly of Georgia. Of the award, Mrs. Johnson said she accepted it “not for myself alone but for millions of American mothers who are making our land a great nation.” Mrs. Johnson was the mother of six children and grandmother to 14.

article about Mother of the Year Lucy Keen Johnson, Boston Herald newspaper article 13 May 1935

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 May 1935, page 10

Making the Grade as the Best Mom

So what qualifications must a Mother of the Year have? Well this article from a 1949 Texas newspaper explains how one can be nominated for the Texas Mother of the Year. The winner of that honor would then compete with other state mothers for the national title awarded by the Golden Rule Foundation.

article about nominations for the Texas Mother of the Year award, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 16 January 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 16 January 1949, section 3, page 4

According to this old newspaper article, an individual or a group could nominate a mother who had the following four qualifications:

  • She must be a successful mother, as evidenced by the character, achievements and maturity of her children.
  • She must embody traits of courage, cheerfulness, spiritual and moral strength, patience, affection, kindness, understanding, [and] homemaking.
  • She must have a sense of social and world relations, and must have been active for her own community’s betterment or in some other service for public benefit.
  • She should be equipped to make friends readily and to meet people easily in connection with her duties as the American Mother of the Year.

The following 1958 California nominations announcement for Mother of the Year includes the additional qualifications of being an active member of a religious body, exemplifying the precepts of the Golden Rule, and having no children under the age of 15 years.

article about nominations for the California Mother of the Year award, Los Angeles Tribune newspaper article 14 February 1958

Los Angeles Tribune (Los Angeles, California), 14 February 1958, page 10

A Little Motherly Advice

It probably comes as no surprise that once a Mother of the Year was crowned, she offered her motherly advice in subsequent newspaper articles, such as this example from a Washington paper.

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The 1949 American Mother of the Year, 60-year-old Pearle Owens Gillis from Texas – who was the mother of six and foster mother of eight – gave this motherly advice: “A mother should stay with her children, and not work outside the home when the children are very young.” She went on to say that for her, she would rather raise children than anything else.

article about 1949 American Mother of the Year Pearle Owens Gillis, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 25 April 1949

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 25 April 1949, page 13

Mrs. Gillis’s predecessor, 1948 American Mother of the Year Helen Gartside Hines of Springfield, Illinois, was an author who penned her advice in the form of newspaper articles like this one from an Illinois paper, entitled “Child Training in Home Urged.” In this historical newspaper article, which many modern-day teachers will agree with, she makes the point that parents cannot assume that schools and churches will do everything to train children – some of that training needs to happen in the home:

Two principles which, in my opinion, children should be taught very early are respect for authority and a consideration for the rights of others. If they haven’t learned this before they enter our public schools they are a real discipline problem to their teachers and a menace to the other children.

Another of her ideas still rings true today:

Children have no prejudice, racial or religious. Children take people for what they are. It is only as they absorb the ideas of their elders that they begin to make distinctions and to assume a superiority over minority groups. Here again the pre-school training in the home can set the pace for all their after life.

parenting advice from 1948 American Mother of the Year Helen Gartside Hines, Register-Republic newspaper article 7 May 1948

Register-Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 7 May 1948, page 10

Mrs. Hines had ten children, nine of which served in World War II – including two daughters.

Other Mothers of the Year

While I have focused on the American Mother of the Year program in this article, there were of course other groups who named women as their choice for “Mother of the Year.” One example is this short article from a 1949 California newspaper announcing Mrs. Catherine T. Loeffler as the 1949 Catholic Mother of the Year by the National Catholic Conference on Family Life. This Massachusetts mother had 12 children, 10 of which were still living. Six of her children had chosen a religious vocation, including five of her sons who were priests.

article about 1949 Catholic Mother of the Year Catherine T. Loeffler, San Diego Union newspaper article 7 May 1949

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 7 May 1949, page 4

In some cases a Mother of the Year may have overcome some obstacles. This 1958 Texas newspaper article announces the Dallas Polio Mother of the Year awardee, Mrs. A. J. MacMaster, who became a victim of polio at the age of three. Her advice to others was to “Forget yourself, think of others.” Mrs. MacMaster, an attorney, had advanced educational degrees including a master’s degree from Yale and a law degree.

article about 1958 Dallas Polio Mother of the Year Mrs. A. J. MacMaster, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 2 January 1958

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 2 January 1958, section 3, page 1

While some groups who named a Mother of the Year were national or statewide, others were much smaller, like this instance of the Tyler Street Methodist Church Mother of the Year for Mother’s Day 1949. Their honoree was 73-year-old Mrs. C. H. C. Anderson, who is described as “tiny and vivacious.” She was to receive a flower bouquet as her award.

article about 1949 Mother of the Year Mrs. C. H. C. Anderson, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 7 May 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 7 May 1949, section 2, page 14

Is Your Mother a Mother of the Year?

You can nominate her for the official title by going to the American Mothers website.

Did you or a woman in your family tree ever receive recognition for being an exemplary mom? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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4 Tips for Genealogy Research with Historical Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena provides four tips, based on her own genealogy experience, to help you research your ancestors in historical newspapers – including a free Research Log template to help you organize and keep track of your searches.

Ok, so you have a weekend free. You decide to spend it on the hobby you love: family history research. You know you need to research in newspapers. But how do you start? Well before you sit down at the computer and start plugging in ancestor name after ancestor name, take a few minutes to plan out that research to make the most of the limited time you have. These four newspaper search tips will help you – and be sure to download the free Research Log template at the end of the article to help you with your genealogy research.

picture of a stack of newspapers with text reading: 4 tips for genealogy research with historical newspapers

1) Whom to start with?

Sometimes just the hunt itself is the addicting part of genealogy research. Looking at old newspapers and reading old newspaper articles can quickly take up your available time. So before you get too engrossed in reading historical newspapers, focus your research and plan for each individual or family you’re interested in.

First, look at your pedigree chart and decide what your research question is. Do you want to find marriage notices for your most immediate family (parents and grandparents)? Do you want to learn more about that black sheep ancestor? Looking to follow your ancestor’s political career? Write down your research question before you start your research. It’s ok if that question changes as you find new information, but start with a specific question so that your research time has a focus.

2) Get the most out of your ancestor search.

Not all genealogy search engines are equal. And to start searching without taking into consideration how that search engine works can result in a lot of frustration and fewer relevant results.

How is the GenealogyBank search engine different?

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box for its historical newspapers collection

For one thing, the information it finds is via Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and not by searching indexed or transcribed fields. (See the blog article Genealogy Search Engine Types & Tips: OCR vs. Indexed Databases.) Because the software does not recognize words but characters, keep in mind that difficulties can arise when the original newspapers are damaged, smudged, or have hard-to-read type.

Whenever you use a search engine, a good rule to remember is that the more information you add, the fewer results you will receive. In essence, as you fill the search engine with names, keywords, places and dates, you are asking for a very specific and narrow result. In some cases, this is important if you are looking for a specific event or place, or when you are researching a common name. But whenever your search results are few, always think about restructuring your search to make it broader. Try different variations of your search, such as using just a name and place, or simply a name and date.

Enter Last Name

One more tip for your search of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives: don’t forget to utilize the menu choices located on the left hand side of your search results. These options provide you the choice to narrow your search result by the type of article. This is a wonderful tool to help you find what you need, especially useful when you know what kind of article you are looking for.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's seach page for its historical newspapers collection showing the article categories available

3) Get ready, set, search!

So now that you better understand how to search GenealogyBank it’s time to do the fun part: search! While you could just plug in ancestor names and download articles, consider what each historical newspaper article tells you and how you might change your search to accommodate new information you learned. Then consider follow-up searches on additional names, places or even a historical event so that you can place your ancestor in proper context.

As I research my ancestors, I often take some time to read the whole newspaper, reading every section, to get a sense for the community, what was going on, who was coming and going, etc. – you never know what part of the newspaper might hold information about your ancestral family. I even like to browse the classified advertisements to see how they are structured. For example, do funeral notices appear there? Do they have Help Wanted or Lost and Found ads that contain identifying information like addresses and names?

classified ads, Salem Gazette newspaper advertisements 19 November 1833

Salem Gazette (Salem, Massachusetts), 19 November 1833, page 4

4) Document all your family findings.

Ok, so you found some great information about your family, now what? Don’t just save the articles on your computer to languish there until your next research session or – worse yet – to never be found again. Document your family history finds. Research Logs can help you do that by providing a place to insert what you found, note where you found it, and add any comments that you have for further research.

Free Research Log Template

Not sure what a Research Log is or how to start one? No problem; with this free download from GenealogyBank you’ll be tracking your research in no time.

screenshot of a genealogy research log

Clicking on the link (or the graphic) will let you download the Research Log template as a full-size, working Excel spreadsheet that you can use to organize and track your genealogy research. This log is compliments of Duncan Kuehn, who provided the following instructions:

Crafting your research plan:

  • Title: Give your document a title. This will likely be the name of the person or family line that you are working on.
  • Objective: Craft a very specific objective. The more specific you can be the more effective your search will be. An example of a poorly crafted object would be: “Continue the Johnson line.” A better objective would be: “Find out when Jacob Johnson was born.” An even better objective would be: “Find out when Jacob Johnson (probable son of James Johnson and Sally Kunz) was born (likely 1882-1885 in Hardin County, Kentucky or Randolph County, South Carolina).” Having a clear objective keeps your search focused. Having more information helps you narrow your search and determine if you have found the right information.
  • Date: Always enter a date for each entry. This will help you keep organized.
  • Goal:Follow this basic outline for setting goals. Each goal or search should occupy its own row in the research plan.
    • Confirm the known information.
    • Identify which sources might contain more information. Prioritize these by likelihood to contain the information, reliability, ease of accessibility, quality, etc.
    • Determine what possible documents might exist. For example, were birth certificates issued in the area at that time?
    • Try to find the document.
      • Check to see if any online resources have digitized the collection.
        • If not, check to see if an online index exists.
    • Check to see if any near-to-you repositories have the collection.
    • Check to see if any archives in the local jurisdiction have the collection.
  • Obtain the document and analyze the information.
  • Re-evaluate if the objective was met or not. If it was, then create a new research plan with a new objective. If not, determine what additional information is required and then identify which sources might contain that additional information.
  • Source: Write down what source you are using to find the information. For example, when confirming the information where did you look? Was it on your family tree? Did you locate the birth certificate in your possession? Write down this source and include as much information as possible. Who authored it? What page in the book was it found on? What was the call number of the book? What was the URL of the online document?
  • Repository: Write down where you found the source. Where was the document found? Was it in your possession? Did you locate it on FamilySearch? Was it in the local library? Write down as much information as you can here. If it is a place you intend to visit, be sure to include the address, phone number, website, etc.
  • Result: Write down what you searched for and what you found. Be very, very specific. For example: “I searched for Jacob Aman’s (born 1901 in South Dakota) birth certificate on Ancestry, but nothing was found.  I also used the spellings of Amman, Amann, Ammann, Anan, Amam, Amon, etc. I searched the time span of 1898-1903. I did not restrict it to a particular county.” That way when you think of or discover additional alternative spellings, such as Jakob or the initials J.B., you know to go back and try searching with the new information. When you do find information, record it here.
  •  #: Use this column to record the document number, include a link to the document that is stored on your computer, or list the document name as saved on your computer or in your paper files. You will want to access the document again. How will you find it? Enter that information in this column. Note: be sure to obtain a copy for yourself; don’t rely on finding the document again online, because URLs change, collections get culled and removed from websites, websites go defunct, etc.

Note: What is the difference between a research log and a research plan? A research plan includes the log, keeping all the information together. This prepares you for conducting the research: what documents exist, where can they be found? A research log would generally not include the goals of confirming the information, identifying the sources, locating where the source can be found, but instead would focus on the actual document search within a repository. This hybrid combines the best of both worlds to keep all the information in one place. I’ve called it a research plan because genealogists tend to focus on the document search when they need to focus on the preparatory work. The title is intended to remind them to slow down, focus their research, start at the beginning and work their way through. Once the document containing the information is found, the work is not done. Each fact needs to be confirmed by multiple sources. The evidence from each source needs to be properly evaluated. Finally, a written statement needs to be crafted to “prove” the answer, taking into account any evidence that contradicts the genealogist’s conclusion. Once this statement, paragraph, or report has been written, you are ready to move on – keeping in mind that new sources and evidence will be found and that might cause you to go back and revise your previous conclusions.

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Spend some time this upcoming weekend researching your family in the newspapers. Nowhere else can you find such a rich variety of stories to help you better understand your ancestors’ lives and their world.

Related Newspaper Search Tips Articles:

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Hard to Believe – but True – Stories from Old Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” They say truth is stranger than fiction – and in this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to find stories that seem unbelievable, yet really happened.

Every once in a while something happens that defies explanation. For our ancestors, what seemed like something supernatural might easily be explained with today’s advances in knowledge and technology. Other things remain inexplicable.

Old newspapers reported not only the incidents that happened but also people’s reminiscences and first-hand accounts – and reading those newspaper articles tells us about our ancestors’ experiences and the times they lived in. Whether reporting on a weather anomaly or a person exhibiting supernatural powers, newspapers documented our ancestors’ stories.

Here are a few examples: an extraordinary weather event, and some tales of incredible strength under duress.

New England’s Dark Day

It’s easy to understand how, in a time before modern technology and a comprehensive knowledge of meteorology, that a strange weather phenomenon might be seen as supernatural – especially when you don’t have the ability to easily communicate with people and places more than a few miles away. One such example is New England’s “Dark Day,” which occurred on 19 May 1780. On this day it was so dark at noon that candles had to be used. People reported all kinds of unusual occurrences, including animals acting strangely. The darkness didn’t lift until the middle of the next day. Other physical manifestations that something was amiss included reports in the days before the darkness of the moon appearing red.

More than 50 years after the Dark Day, Wheeler Martin reminisced in his local newspaper:

The darkness at 11 o’clock was so great, that a candle was lighted and placed upon the table; the fowls went to roost; the sheep all huddled around in a circle, with their heads inward.

article about New England's Dark Day, Newburyport Herald newspaper article 4 January 1831

Newburyport Herald (Newburyport, Massachusetts), 4 January 1831, page 1

Martin added this story detail:

article about New England's Dark Day, Newburyport Herald newspaper article 4 January 1831

Newburyport Herald (Newburyport, Massachusetts), 4 January 1831, page 1

Nearly 230 years after the Dark Day, researchers at the University of Missouri, looking at written records as well as evidence left behind by tree rings, concluded that the eerie, intense darkness during that day was the result of massive wildfires in Canada.*

The Dark Day wasn’t the only time the skies darkened during daytime. In this article about a tornado on 23 September 1786 in Woodstock, Vermont, there is a reporting of:

…a Tornado, or hurricane, more extraordinary than has been known in that place at any time before. About five o’clock in the afternoon a very dark cloud appeared in the western hemisphere, which whirled and moved with unusual velocity to the eastward. The whole horizon was so obscured, & the darkness equalled, if not exceeded that of the dark day in 1780.

The old news article goes on to say that barn roofs were blown off, trees came crashing down and “many cattle were killed.” There was even mention of a child picked up by the storm and carried a great distance, and a wagon deposited on top of an apple tree.

article about a tornado, Vermont Gazette newspaper article 25 September 1786

Vermont Gazette (Bennington, Vermont), 25 September 1786, page 3

Amazing Feats of Strength

Weather phenomena aren’t the only time that unusual occurrences are mentioned in the news. In some cases, maybe because of adrenalin or the crisis of the situation, some people are able to exhibit amazing acts of strength.

While a muscular man might be able to lift a car off someone, an average mom weighing 120 pounds lifting a 2,000-pound car off her son is seemingly miraculous – but it really happened.

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Moms have shown “super-strength” when their children are in danger. That is exactly the case in this incident: after an accident, Mrs. Norbert (Margaret) See lifted the family car off her 11-year-old son Mark. Mrs. See stated:

I knew my boy was under the car and I had to get him out. I didn’t notice the weight of the (Ford) Pinto.

Mother Lifts Car to Save Her Son, Register-Republic newspaper article 27 January 1972

Register-Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 27 January 1972, page 43

While Mrs. See modestly said it was “nothing” that she lifted a car off her son, an early 20th century woman’s story of saving a loved one is perhaps even more dramatic. This 1909 newspaper article reports:

“Terribly injured in an automobile accident, almost blinded by blood streaming from two long deep gashes in her head, Mrs. J. T. Donaldson of Blakely, without aid, lifted an overturned car from the unconscious form of her husband, pulled him from underneath, walked a mile” to get help repairing the car – and ended her adventure by driving her injured husband 10 miles to see a doctor!

Desperately Injured Mrs. Donalsono Drives Husband to Physician, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 14 March 1909

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 14 March 1909, section 2, page 1

Did your ancestors live through something that was highly unusual? Were they written about because of something they did that was out of this world? Please tell us about it in the comments section.

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* Mystery of Infamous ‘New England Dark Day’ Solved by Tree Rings http://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2008/0609-guyette-tree-ring-fire-release.php. Accessed 11 March 2015.

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Little-Known WWII Facts: German POWs in the U.S.

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 part of World War II that many people don’t know: there were hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war (POWs) that were kept in the U.S. during the war.

When I was growing up, I – like many youthful book lovers – read the novel Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green. This fictionalized account dealt with a relationship between an American Jewish girl and an escaped German prisoner from a Prisoner of War (POW) camp in the United States during World War II. This little-remembered history was explored in that book and later the accompanying TV adaptation.

Like many works of fiction, Summer of My German Soldier was loosely based on historical events. During World War II, the United States was home to approximately 400,000 Prisoners of War. Roughly 379,000 were German military personnel. These prisoners were housed in 900 camps scattered throughout the U.S.*

POWs Working and Living in America

For many people, the idea of POW camps on American soil may seem bizarre. This is a part of World War II history not often discussed in high school history classes. During the war, the Allies captured POWs and had to house them somewhere. In many places in the U.S., these prisoners became a part of everyday American life – actually working on individual family farms as well as for larger employers. We associate the idea of prisoners with being locked up and hidden from a community – but not so with the POWs who spent time in the United States during and shortly after WWII. With American men off fighting the war, American women and these POWs helped make up the labor force needed on the home front.

What types of agricultural work did prisoners do? This brief 1946 newspaper article provides one example, reporting on 3,121 German POWs who were assigned to sugar beet thinning in southern Idaho.

article about WWII German POWs in the U.S., Idaho Statesman newspaper article 14 March 1946

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 14 March 1946, page 11

POWs assisted with the shortage of laborers by working on all types of farms. This 1944 article explains that German POWs were brought into Lepanto, Arkansas, by the War Food Administration’s Bureau Office of Labor to pick cotton.

article about WWII German POWs in the U.S., Bellingham Herald newspaper article 3 December 1944

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington) 3 December 1944, page 8

American Resentment for Treatment of German POWs

With the recent release of the movie Unbroken and other similar accounts, we have a better understanding of how our POWs were mistreated at the hands of the Axis powers. So how were enemy soldiers treated in the United States? Prisoners of War housed in America were treated according to the rules of the Geneva Convention. Housing, food and work conditions for POWs were equal to that for our own U.S. soldiers. While this angered some citizens, the Joint Chiefs had hoped that this treatment would be reciprocated for our own POWs held by Germans.** Many Americans considered this fair treatment too good for enemy soldiers. There was much opposition to the perceived “cushy” life that POWs lived in the U.S.

Enter Last Name

In this letter to the newspaper editor from PFC Robert J. Kuhn, a U.S. soldier and former POW captured in Africa and held in “Italian and German concentration camps,” Kuhn voices his dismay at the preferential treatment of German POWs and their interaction with American women. In his letter, sent from “somewhere in Italy,” he recounts reading in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes about German POWs living in the United States:

…and then I read: “American soldier gets letter from girlfriend now engaged to German soldier – POW from camp in America” – couldn’t believe it. Then I saw in another one: “German prisoners in America have sit-down strike for day.” Also “POW go on excursions in America.” “POW in America have morale dance.”

Did American prisoners of war have German frauleins? Did we go to dances? Did we go on excursions? And above all, did we sit down and strike? No! No! No!

He continues on by mentioning, approvingly, that French women who cavorted with German soldiers had their heads shaved as punishment. His sentiments are understandable, and one can easily see how outrageous it was to American soldiers to find out that enemy soldiers were interacting with American families – and, in some cases, dating American women during their imprisonment!

letter to the editor about WWII German POWs in the U.S., Dallas Morning News newspaper article 9 November 1944

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 9 November 1944, section 2, page 2

Some German POWs Escaped

Over 2,000 German POWs tried to escape while being held in the United States. Most POW escapees were caught fairly quickly – but there were a few who eluded capture for months, years, and in at least one case, decades. Many German POW who escaped didn’t get too far before they were caught or voluntarily surrendered.

This 1946 newspaper article tells of the escape of Helmut von der Au (in some articles his name is spelled von Der Aue) from Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky. At the time of the writing of this newspaper article, von der Au had already escaped twice before. He had an advantage over other German POWs who tried to escape from camps in the United States because he could speak English. He had a plan for what he would do in a successful escape: “He would steal a P-38 (Lightning) fighter plane and fly to Greenland.” A lawyer prior to the war, von der Au was apprehended three days after his latest escape when he surrendered to police in Uniontown, Kentucky, less than 10 miles from where he began. He walked up to Police Chief Gilbert Page, still in his prisoner uniform, and asked to be returned to camp because he was hungry.

article about escaped WWII German POW Helmut von der Au, Times-Picayune newspaper article 4 January 1946

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 4 January 1946, page 26

Helmut von der Au’s story doesn’t end there. He eventually is sent to Mississippi where he is one of many prisoners who helps out on a plantation. Over time he becomes well acquainted with the plantation owner’s wife and the two fall in love. Running off together seemed like a good idea at the time, but the couple is eventually caught and his American lover, Mrs. Edith Rogers, was held for aiding in the escape of an enemy of the United States.

According to this 1946 newspaper article, the “…27-year-old, dashing German officer met Mrs. Rogers, 37-year-old Mississippi society woman, as a member of a war prisoner labor detail assigned to the 1000-acre Bolivar county plantation of her husband, Joseph R. Rogers. He and Mrs. Rogers became such close friends, von Der Aue explained to federal authorities…that after a number of drinks they decided to leave and be married.”

article about escaped WWII German POW Helmut von der Au, Advocate newspaper article 8 January 1946

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 8 January 1946, page 11

Edith Rogers wasn’t the only American woman to fall in love with a German POW. Joan McBride, with the help of her husband James McBride, assisted Rudolph Joseph Soelch, a former bodyguard for Hermann Goering, escape from the camp he was being held at in Southern California. For six months Soelch lived as “Mr. McBride” and worked in Detroit alongside Joan. Joan’s husband left her when she proclaimed her love for the German POW. Eventually they were apprehended and Soelch was repatriated back to Germany and told never to enter the United States again.

article about escaped WWII German POW Rudolph Joseph Soelch, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 18 September 1946

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 18 September 1946, page 11

Repatriation of POWS after the End of WWII

World War II came to a close with Japan’s surrender on 2 September 1945. Now the work of repatriation of all POWs living in the United States would begin.

Enter Last Name

January 1946 newspapers announced that former Axis soldiers would be sent back to their home countries in four months. (In reality it took longer.) The newspaper article below explains that later that month Japanese POWs would be sent out of the U.S. mainland but would not go directly home. Some would be sent to Hawaii for assignments. The historical news article ends by asserting that some POWs did not want to go home. Understandably, due to high unemployment and conditions in their homeland, some German POWs wanted to stay in the United States.

article about the repatriation of WWII POWs held in the U.S., Advocate newspaper article 7 January 1946

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 7 January 1946, page 8

While there were German POWs who eventually returned to the United States to live permanently, there were undoubtedly some cases where they wanted to return as soon as possible – like in the case described in this 1946 newspaper article, where a young POW stowed away on a ship so that he could return to the United States because “he liked it so much.”

article about WWII German POW Host Haufe, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper article 6 October 1946

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 6 October 1946, page 16

World War II History and Family History

As family historians, we seek to learn more about our family’s lives. As you research your military family and ancestors, don’t forget about those on the home front. I’ve had family members tell me stories of living near POW camps and the experiences they had living in close proximity and interacting with the “enemy.” Now’s the time to seek out these remembrances, or to record your own.

To learn more about World War II history on the American home front, check out GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

In addition to the news reports and first-hand accounts that can be found in old newspapers, several books have been written about POW camps in the United States. They include:

  • Buck, Anita. Behind Barbed Wire: German Prisoners of War Camps in Minnesota. St. Cloud, Minn: North Star Press of St. Cloud, 1998.
  • Fiedler, David. The Enemy among Us: POWs in Missouri during World War II. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 2003.
  • Krammer, Arnold. Nazi Prisoners of War in America. Chelsea, MI: Scarborough House, 1996.
  • Marsh, Melissa A. Nebraska POW Camps: A History of World War II Prisoners in the Heartland. Charleston: The History Press, 2014.

Did you or any of your family members have any contact with POWs held in America during WWII? Please tell us your stories in the comments section.

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* HistoryNet. German POWs: Enemies In Our Midst. http://www.historynet.com/german-pows-enemies-in-our-midst.htm. Accessed 17 February 2015. This resource includes a map with POW camp locations.
** HistoryNet. German POWs: Coming Soon to a Town Near You. http://www.historynet.com/german-pows-coming-soon-to-a-town-near-you.htm. Accessed 17 February 2015.

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Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, a.k.a. Mrs. Bess Houdini

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 discover interesting stories about the life of Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, a.k.a. Mrs. Houdini – the wife of the famous magician.

Even if you have no interest in magic, chances are you have a passing knowledge of the master of magic himself, Harry Houdini (1874-1926). Popularized by film and known for his logic-defying tricks and escape stunts, Houdini is synonymous with magic. But how much do you know about his wife, Bess Houdini? Chances are very little.

Born Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner (1876-1943), Bess was interesting in her own right but spent most of her life in the shadow of her famous husband.

photo of Bess Houdini, c. 1900-1910

Photo: Bess Houdini, c. 1900-1910. Source: Findagrave; Wikipedia.

Newspapers are a great resource for finding the stories of your ancestors, whether they were famous or obscure. Here are six things you may not know about Bess Houdini, all discovered by searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

1) She assisted her husband throughout their marriage.

It’s fairly well known that Bess assisted her husband during his magic act. It’s less well known that she also assisted him when he conducted shows debunking the work of spiritual mediums – people who claimed they could communicate with the dead.

article about the magician Harry Houdini, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 5 March 1924

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 5 March 1924, page 4

2) She was a performer before she met Houdini – and carried on after his death.

However, Bess’s talent was not limited to helping her husband with his act; she was an entertainer prior to her marriage and continued on after Houdini’s death. She started her career in a song and dance act on Coney Island known as “The Floral Sisters.” It was while doing this act that she met Harry’s younger brother Theo, and then Harry himself. They were married on 22 June 1894 when Bess was 18.

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Bess continued performing after her husband’s untimely death in 1926. In this 1928 newspaper article she is said to “…take up the magician’s wand laid down by her husband’s dying hand.” One of the tricks she performed was where “she ‘froze’ an Indian ‘medicine man’ in a cake of ice.” It took 26 minutes to freeze the man in the ice block using solidified carbon dioxide gas, and he remained in that state for 15 minutes before the ice was chopped away to expose his face.

Mrs. Houdini to Continue His Craft, Rockford Republic newspaper article 13 January 1928

Rockford Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 13 January 1928, page 18

3) Newspaper articles about her are numerous, including those with her marital advice.

In this 1928 newspaper article, Bess gave some of her relationship advice and stories from her own marriage. Mrs. Houdini’s relationship revelation was that she kept some secrets from Harry – including the fact that she did not know how he did some of his magic tricks.

Magicians' Wives Like Magic Pretty Well, Plain Dealer newspaper article 5 August 1928

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 5 August 1928, page 103

She elaborated the point in another 1928 newspaper article:

Mrs. Houdini admits that while it is the magician’s business to mystify an audience it is the wife’s business to mystify the magician to the extent of convincing him that she understands his tricks whether she does or not.

article about Bess Houdini, Evening Tribune newspaper article 23 August 1928

Evening Tribune (San Diego, California), 23 August 1928, page 14

4) She tried to contact Houdini from the grave.

If there’s one thing most people know about Bess, it is her yearly attempts to contact Harry from the grave. A supernatural skeptic, Harry had promised Bess that if it was possible to contact the dead he would appear to her. So Bess tried for 10 years to contact Harry after his death. Not only did Bess try, but others also tried – including one who claimed success (see the 1929 newspaper article below). However, all attempts failed, and eventually Bess called it quits.

Four years into her yearly ritual, under the defeatist headline “Mrs. Houdini Gives Up,” Bess said of communicating with Houdini beyond the grave:

If I had succeeded in communicating with Houdini I would shout it from the housetops,” she told [the] Associated Press, “and I would carry a message of hope to all burdened souls, but I have none. There is nothing there.

article about Bess Houdini, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 23 March 1930

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 23 March 1930, page 6

Despite that 1930 headline, Bess kept trying to contact Harry from beyond the grave for another six years. Finally, in 1936 – ten years after her husband’s death – she made her last attempt. That final séance on the roof of a Hollywood hotel ended with Bess remarking: “He has not come. I turn out the light.” (Referring to an electric light that she had kept lit since his death 10 years prior.)

article about Bess Houdini, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 2 November 1936

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 2 November 1936, page 1

A more light-hearted comment about her repeated attempts to communicate with her dead husband is quoted in one of Bess’s obituary notices:

Ten years is long enough to wait for any man.

Mrs. Houdini's Futile Trysts with Her Husband's Ghost, Oregonian newspaper article 7 March 1943

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 7 March 1943, page 51

5) While she couldn’t contact the deceased Harry Houdini, someone else claimed to have succeeded.

Arthur Ford, a minister from the First Spiritualist Church, claimed success in contacting Houdini more than once. One such claim came during a séance where John W. Stafford, an assistant editor of the Scientific American, and Mrs. Houdini were present. Ford claimed he had received the secret code that Harry Houdini had confided to Bess he would use to verify it was he who was contacting her from beyond the veil. Ford provided that code during the séance, part of which was a name from a song that Bess used to sing in her act, “Rosabelle.”

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According to the report in this 1929 newspaper, Ford said to Bess:

The same man who came Saturday night is coming again. He says, Hello, Bess, my sweetheart. He says he wants to repeat the code you used in your mind reading act with him.

First of all, he says, Rosabelle. Do you know what that means?

Mrs. Houdini replied in a weak voice, Yes.

Then the words of the code came through Ford: Answer tell pray answer look tell answer answer tell.

Houdini's Spirit Talks to Widow, San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram newspaper article 9 January 1929

San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram (San Luis Obispo, California), 9 January 1929, page 3

At the time Bess confirmed that Ford had indeed contacted Harry and provided the correct code. Later though she recanted, perhaps due to friendly reminders that the “secret” message had been published previously in a biography about Houdini.

6) She died en route to New York aboard a train.

Bess Houdini died on 11 February 1943 aboard a train traveling through Needles, California. In ill health, she was hoping to make it to New York before her demise. Knowing that she was gravely ill, just prior to her death, she granted a last interview to journalists where she talked of hoping to see Harry Houdini again after death – and put a premature stop to anyone who would later claim supernatural contact with her.

obituary for Bess Houdini, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 12 February 1943

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 12 February 1943, page 17

She made that point emphatically at the end of the interview:

obituary for Bess Houdini, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 12 February 1943

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 12 February 1943, page 17

While the love story of Harry and Bess is sometimes held up as one of the greatest of all time, the couple was ultimately denied the right to be laid to rest next to each other. Harry was buried, along with members of his family, in the Jewish cemetery Machpelah in Ridgewood, New York, while Bess, a Catholic, was buried at Gates of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, New York.

Genealogy Tip: The research I did into Mrs. Houdini’s life in newspapers was a good example of searching by trying all variations of a woman’s name. I found articles with her listed as Mrs. Houdini, Beatrice Houdini, and Bess Houdini.

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American Family Migrations & the U.S. Interstate Highway System

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena explains that understanding transportation is an important part of getting to know our ancestors’ world – and focuses on the development of the Interstate Highway System.

Migration is something we must consider as we trace our ancestors’ lives. Our ancestors were mobile – maybe not nearly as much as we are today, but they traveled across seas, and then often went further inland to set up their new homes. Knowing where and how they arrived is important to finding genealogical documents and records. How they migrated is determined by the time period and modes of travel then available. As time and technology marched on, our ancestors’ opportunities to travel and move about increased.

photo of Interstate Highway 295 in New Jersey

Photo: Interstate Highway 295 in New Jersey. Credit: Famartin; Wikimedia Commons.

Just as we do now, future genealogists will also have to consider what their ancestors had available to them as they traveled. Although the first aircraft took off in the early 1900s, commercial flight didn’t become affordable and largely available until after World War II – just one of numerous considerations in looking at how 20th century ancestors migrated.

Along with airplanes, another mode of transportation we take for granted is the automobile. While motorized vehicles have been with us since the 1800s, it wasn’t until well after World War II that America became more accessible through the building of the U.S. interstate highway system. This mobility allowed families to migrate easier. The highway system also made it possible for people to travel great distances simply for pleasure, or to visit extended family members. This transportation milestone is an important part of the social history we can document in telling the story of our more recent family.

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President Eisenhower and the Building of the Interstate Highway System

While President Dwight D. Eisenhower is the man behind the building of the interstate highways, the bill making the national highway system possible was passed in 1944 under the Roosevelt administration. Unfortunately, the legislation did not specify a way to begin building it.

As the Federal Highway Administration’s website explains:

“After taking office in January 1953, President Eisenhower made revitalizing the Nation’s highways one of the goals of his first term. As an army Lieutenant Colonel in 1919, Eisenhower had accompanied a military convoy across the United States and saw the poor condition of our Nation’s roads. Later, during his World War II stint as Commander of the Allied Forces, his admiration for Germany’s well-engineered Autobahn highway network reinforced his belief that the United States needed first-class roads.” *

The 1962 newspaper article below, complete with a map showing the 41,000 miles of highways, declares enthusiastically:

…when completed in 1972, will connect all the states and link 90 per cent of the cities of 50,000 or more population…When the system is complete, it will be possible to drive from one end of the country coast to coast and border to border, without a slowdown, and without encountering a traffic light or stop sign.

Features of the highway that we take for granted are heralded in this article and include: “control of access” prescribed on and off ramps; “grade separations” or overpasses and underpasses; medians; and paved shoulders. All of these safety features were meant to allow a smooth flow of traffic and lessen possible accidents.

map of the U.S. Interstate Highway System, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 May 1962

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 May 1962, section 5, page 1

National Defense a Key Consideration

While many of us consider the interstate highways a tool to get us to where we are going, the highway system wasn’t only built with the general public in mind. In the shadow of the Cold War and the belief in an imminent nuclear attack, the highways could also move military vehicles and troops across the nation easily. This 1962 article points out that the highways were built as a part of national defense.

article about the U.S. Interstate Highway System, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 May 1962

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 May 1962, section 5, page 2

Interstate Highway System Named in Honor of President Eisenhower

Shortly after Eisenhower died, it was proposed by Rep. Glenn Cunningham (R-Neb) that the interstate system be named after him and referred to as the “Eisenhower Interstate Highway System” rather than the “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” as it was originally known. This honor acknowledged the important role that President Eisenhower had in the creation of this most important highway system that is still vital to most of our lives today.

article about naming the U.S. Interstate Highway System in honor of President Eisenhower, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 8 May 1969

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 8 May 1969, page 8

To learn more about the Interstate Highway System, see the website at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/homepage.cfm.

How did the building of the interstate impact your family?

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* Why is President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the “Father of the Interstate System”? – Frequently Asked Questions – Eisenhower Interstate Highway System website: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/faq.htm#question2

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Newspaper Sewing & Crafting Patterns and Our Crafty Ancestors

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 find the quilt, clothing, craft and other patterns newspapers offered our ancestors for home projects.

We often think of the newspaper as a place to get news. But the newspaper offered so much more to the community it served. Newspapers were an important avenue of entertainment for generations of our families, and appealing to an entire family of readers helped ensure the ongoing success of the newspaper. In some cases the newspaper sold or gave away products, and provided readers a reason to keep the newspaper long after the news stories were old and dated.

Previously on the GenealogyBank Blog, I’ve written articles about the recipes and cookbooks printed by newspapers. Another way the newspaper appealed to women readers and subscribers was by offering sewing and crafting patterns. Patterns were provided for free, printed right in the newspaper, or offered for a minimal cost through mail-order.

Sewing Patterns Used for Newspaper Marketing

There’s no doubt that offering sewing patterns appealed to our women ancestors. The advertisement below from a 1914 newspaper is meant to flatter female readers – and the over-exaggeration of its text demonstrates that print advertising hasn’t changed much over the years. This newspaper advertisement proclaims:

Our announcement of the Big Gift to Women Readers has already made a stir. Trust the women in any community to recognize a real opportunity. They know that Embroidery Transfer Patterns cost at least ten cents each and every woman knows that a chance to secure 165 of the latest and most select patterns practically for nothing is a real opportunity. To have at hand this wonderful and complete outfit of embroidery patterns will contribute much to the happiness in the home.

embroidery patterns, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 24 April 1914

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 24 April 1914, page 12

At the bottom of the ad, under the heading “How to Secure Your Gifts,” instructions are given making it clear why this embroidery pattern give-away was such a clever promotion for the Macon Telegraph newspaper:

Bring to this office six of the Ideal Art Pattern Coupons. (One coupon is printed each day on another page of this paper.) You must bring six of different dates (they need not be consecutive) together with the small expense items amounting to 68 cents. The 68 cents is merely to cover cost of packing and shipping the package.

That’s just one example of sewing patterns provided by newspapers to their readers. Other examples include everything from needle arts and quilting, to clothing and crafts. While pattern companies advertised their latest offerings in newspapers, newspapers themselves also offered patterns for sale.

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Bible History Quilt

One type of pattern offered by newspapers was for quilt blocks. A quilt containing numerous blocks ensured that readers would want to purchase subsequent newspapers to get each pattern. And if a reader missed a week? She could then order that quilting block pattern from the newspaper for a small fee – in the case of the pattern below, 10 cents each. The following example is the Bible History Quilt, a design by prolific quilt pattern designer Ruby McKim which included 24 blocks, each one published by the newspaper on consecutive Sundays.

This news article shows a crude drawing of what the finished Bible quilt would look like, and includes some general directions about how to transfer the pattern to blocks of fabric.

quilt block patterns for the Bible History Quilt, Plain Dealer newspaper article 9 October 1927

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 October 1927, page 61

Block 1 of this quilt, with its scroll design and the words “God, Heavens, Earth, Air, Water, Life,” symbolized the creation story in the book of Genesis. Each Sunday a new block was introduced that symbolized a well-known Bible story and characters.

quilt block pattern for the Bible History Quilt, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 16 October 1927

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 16 October 1927, page 19

Here’s a picture of a Bible History Quilt showing the first block.

photo of a quilt block from the Bible History Quilt

Photo: quilt block from the author’s collection. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.

Audubon Bird Quilt

Another example of a quilt block series is the Audubon Bird Quilt. Here is block #10 from that series.

quilt block pattern for the Audubon Bird Quilt showing an oriole, Plain Dealer newspaper article 9 December 1928

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 December 1928, page 58

Clothing Patterns

Patterns for crafts and the decorative arts were plentiful in the newspaper, but they didn’t represent the only kind of pattern available. Practical clothing patterns for your family could be ordered from the newspaper as well. These patterns differ from the quilt patterns mentioned above (which were actually printed in the newspaper and didn’t have to be ordered). The clothing patterns were advertised in the newspaper for purchase, and then mailed to the reader.

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This sewing pattern, advertised under the heading “Today’s Pattern,” is for overalls and a playsuit.

sewing patterns for overalls and a playsuit, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 10 February 1944

Macon Telegraph (Macon Georgia), 10 February 1944, page 16

In some cases multiple clothing patterns can be found together, like this example from 1946 that has a slim-looking “smart-house frock” to sew and mittens to knit, tucked in between articles and the comics section.

sewing patterns for a dress and mittens, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 31 October 1946

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 31 October 1946, page 16

While the quilt patterns shown above were offered for free, most newspaper patterns were for sale and as such they read like an advertisement. Newspapers did what they could to market these patterns for sale to their readers. Good examples of their marketing prowess are this World War II-era summer dress pattern and a “colorful new Pattern Book” for 10 cents that is touted with this advertising copy:

It’s filled with simple, fabric-saving designs for active service, for ‘on leave’ glamor, for the home front.

dress pattern, Morning Olympian newspaper article 2 June 1942

Morning Olympian (Olympia, Washington), 2 June 1942, page 2

Home Décor, Memorials & More

Newspaper patterns weren’t just limited to sewing or needlework. Craft patterns were also offered, which differed depending on the time of the year and what was happening in the world. During World War II, for example, these patriotic figures for outdoor memorials and lawn decorations were advertised for the “home craftsmen.”

craft patterns, Oregonian newspaper article 16 May 1943

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 16 May 1943, page 111

Did your ancestors purchase patterns from the newspaper? Do you have a family heirloom that was made from one of those patterns? Share your stories with us in the comments below.

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