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.

Thanksgiving Traditions

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 some of the Thanksgiving traditions families enjoy this time of year.

Family history isn’t just about the gathering of our ancestors’ names, dates, places, and stories. Family history is also about recording our present-day lives, including our traditions, for the benefit of future generations. What traditions does your Thanksgiving Day include? Besides eating the Thanksgiving turkey what else does your family enjoy? Do you spend time cheering a favorite football team, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, or do you prefer to get a jump on your Christmas shopping?

Thanksgiving is a day of traditions, some long established and others unique to our individual families. Here are a few holiday traditions I learned more about by searching in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

The Food

Obviously the main tradition for Thanksgiving is the feast. We collectively associate Thanksgiving with foods such as turkey, stuffing or dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Looking for some traditional recipes? This article from a 1955 newspaper provides some tips about cooking the Thanksgiving turkey and two different types of stuffing, using bread or cornbread.

article about Thanksgiving recipes, San Diego Union newspaper article 10 November 1955

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 10 November 1955, page 26

Now, you may be asking why we partake in these specific foods on Thanksgiving. Well the old newspapers have answers for this question. What I like about this 1936 version of Thanksgiving food history is that it addresses the fact that turkey may not have been an option for everyone’s holiday dinner because of expense – an important statement as people were in the midst of the Great Depression. The author writes that families may have substituted “chicken, duck, beef, rabbit, or even pork and were glad to get it.”

article about Thanksgiving turkey, National Labor Tribune newspaper article 21 November 1936

National Labor Tribune (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), 21 November 1936, page 4

What other foods does your family have for Thanksgiving? What is the history of that recipe in your family?


Are you eagerly awaiting the deals that “Black Friday” brings? For some, online shopping has replaced the frenzied crowds associated with the number one shopping day of the year – but for some families, shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving is a tradition. I had assumed that this November sale day was a more modern idea – but judging from this 1915 newspaper article, there was a push in the early 20th century to have shoppers begin their holiday shopping early so as to not overwhelm stores as the Christmas holidays approached. The article states:

It was started as a measure to bring relief to overworked employees in the shops. The call was not only to do Christmas shopping early and thus modify the heavy strain upon the shop workers, but throughout the year to do shopping early in the week, and early in the day, so that there might be no congested period later.

Publicity for this effort included newspaper articles, signs, and even slides shown at the motion picture theatres.

Focusing on one day of sales to overwhelm stores, as Black Friday does today, was certainly not the idea behind this original early-shopping campaign; there was a concentrated effort back then to make people think about when they shop and to consider doing their Holiday shopping in November.

article about doing Christmas shopping right after Thanksgiving, Oregonian newspaper article 8 November 1915

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 8 November 1915, page 9

The term Black Friday was in use by the 1960s, but the practice of holiday shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving predates the phrase. This 1927 newspaper article announces that Christmas display windows would debut on Thanksgiving Day, and that sales would begin the next day. Shoppers were urged to get their shopping done early to avoid the hassles of the past:

In former years, when the public, through some peculiar psychological twist, felt that no Christmas shopping could be done until within a week [or] 10 days of the holiday, merchants were slow to put their complete lines of holidays [sic] wares on display. The buying public has forced it upon them.

article about doing Christmas shopping right after Thanksgiving, Repository newspaper article 23 November 1927

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 23 November 1927, page 2


For some families an impromptu game of football in the back yard or watching a game on the television is part of their Thanksgiving Day. If you are a football fan, you may not be too surprised to learn that football and Thanksgiving have been linked since the beginning of the sport. College and professional teams have played on Thanksgiving Day since the late 19th century.

One early mention of this tradition comes from the New York Herald, referring to Thanksgiving Day 1880 when the Princeton and Yale football teams would engage in “one of their stubborn old time contests.”

article about college football games, New York Herald newspaper article 13 November 1880

New York Herald (New York, New York), 13 November 1880, page 6

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Love a parade? If you do, you might be a big fan of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The Macy’s parade in New York City debuted for Christmas 1924. That first parade, watched by 250,000 spectators, included costumed employees and floats. The success of that first effort ensured that the parade would become a yearly holiday tradition. It wasn’t until 1927 that the first balloon became part of the festivities. That balloon was cartoon character Felix the Cat.*

This 1940s description of the parade comes from Bobby Sutherland, whose writing appeared on the children’s page of the Richmond Times Dispatch. He describes the parade as starting:

at 110th Street and Broadway at 1 P.M. on Thanksgiving Day…The parade goes down to Central Park West and then south to Macys, which is at Thirty-fourth Street and Broadway. There’s always lots of bands and balloons. I’m told by some of the boys in my classes that it some times takes two hours for this parade to pass.

article about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper article 3 November 1940

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 3 November 1940, page 50

A 1959 newspaper article heralded the approximately 1.3 million people who watched the 33rd annual parade in person, and countless others who watched it broadcast on TV. That year, balloon figures included a turkey, a space man and Popeye.

article about Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Advocate newspaper article 27 November 1959

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 27 November 1959, page 72

It is estimated that the parade now attracts 3.5 million people to New York City each year.**

Your Thanksgiving Traditions

What are your family’s Thanksgiving traditions? Do you participate in some of the time-honored traditions that Thanksgiving is famous for, or do you do something different? Tell us about them in our comments section below.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!


* Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – the History. NYC Tourist. http://www.nyctourist.com/macys_history1.htm
** Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – the History. NYC Tourist. http://www.nyctourist.com/macys_history1.htm

Related Thanksgiving Articles:

Thanksgiving Traditions & Memories: My Grandmother’s Pies

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 recipes and learn more about one of our favorite parts of Thanksgiving: pies!

One of my earliest Thanksgiving memories is of my grandmother and great-grandmother waking up before everyone and starting the meal preparations at 4 a.m. On that annual feast day, multiple tables would be heavy with all kinds of food, including pies – all kinds of pies. I must admit that back then the only pie I cared about was pumpkin, but there were other choices on that table as well, including mincemeat, apple, and cherry.

photo of a pumpkin pie

Photo: pumpkin pie. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture; Wikimedia Commons.

Who doesn’t like pie? Pie is something our ancestors ate and in fact has been around since the ancient Egyptians. This time of the year focuses on pie as a dessert, but originally most pies were made of meat, appearing in England around the 12th century. Fruit pies came around later in the 1500s. Pie was even a food eaten by the earliest English settlers to America.*

So what pies are your family favorites? Are you a pie baker? Looking to try something new this Thanksgiving? Here are a few pie recipes from yesteryear, as found in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Prize-Winning Pie Recipes

You can’t go wrong with an award-winning pie recipe, and old newspapers are full of examples from competitions hosted by newspaper food columns, food companies, and other groups. For those who are fans of cherry pie, this recipe from Karan Ann Gunning of Mulberry, Indiana, won the 27th National Cherry Pie Baking Contest in 1959.

photo of a slice of cherry pie

Photo: slice of cherry pie. Credit: Evan-Amos; Wikimedia Commons.

Aside from frozen cherries, the filling consists of sugar, tapioca, red food coloring, almond extract, lemon juice and butter. The pie crust is completed with a cherry decoration.

article about a prize-winning recipe for cherry pie

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 26 February 1959, section 5, page 16

Newspaper food columns did more than provide recipes and tips; they also held contests (see Newspaper Recipe Contests: Was Your Ancestor a Contest Winner?).

The winner of this 1934 Trenton Evening Times (New Jersey) contest is a rhubarb pie topped off with a meringue.

photo of a rhubarb pie

Photo: rhubarb pie. Credit: Hayford Peirce; Wikimedia Commons.

Miss Grace Martin from Trenton won the top prize of $5 for her recipe, while the other recipe winners brought home $1.

article about a prize-winning rhubarb pie recipe, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 5 July 1934

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 5 July 1934, page 13

Thanksgiving Means Pumpkin Pie

At Thanksgiving time, the best pie is obviously pumpkin pie.

photo of a slice of pumpkin pie

Photo: slice of pumpkin pie. Credit: Evan-Amos; Wikimedia Commons.

Let’s face it, what’s not to like about this traditional holiday favorite? And speaking of traditional – this 1910 newspaper article gives the pumpkin pie recipe “the Pilgrim mothers used to make.”

article about a pumpkin pie recipe, Grand Forks Daily Herald newspaper article 30 November 1910

Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 30 November 1910, section 2, page 9

This 1953 newspaper article provides a pumpkin pie recipe that uses canned pumpkin to make two versions of the pie. One version, referred to as a “refrigerator pie,” involves a double boiler and gelatin.

article about pumpkin pie recipes, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 1 November 1953

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 1 November 1953, section vi, page 6

Now, if you’re tired of the same old pumpkin pie, consider a variation – like one of my favorites: the Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. This interesting recipe for the chiffon pie includes a crust of saltine crackers.

photo of a pumpkin chiffon pie, Boston Herald newspaper article 16 November 1972

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 November 1972, page 26

article about a pumpkin chiffon pie recipe, Boston Herald newspaper article 16 November 1972

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 November 1972, page 26

I’m Not Eating That

Ok let’s face it. Everyone has a favorite pie which means there is probably a pie you dislike. So here are a few recipes that would probably cause me to skip dessert this year if they were served.

I don’t come from a big cranberry-eating family, so I was a little surprised to see this Cranberry Pie recipe from 1942.

photo of a cranberry-pecan pie

Photo: cranberry-pecan pie. Credit: BenFrantzDale; Wikimedia Commons.

But in light of food rationing during World War II it makes sense why this pie would have been suggested. The article advises:

In view of sugar rationing, it might be well this year to double up on the cranberries and dessert by serving the cranberries in a pie.

The other recipe adds orange juice to pumpkin pie, which is not the pumpkin pie I’m used to.

article about a pumpkin pie recipe, Advocate newspaper article 4 December 1942

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 4 December 1942, page 18

Mincemeat Pie

Another pie that I often hear associated with the holidays is mincemeat.

photo of a mincemeat pie

Photo: mincemeat pie. Credit: Alcinoe; Wikimedia Commons.

According to the History Channel website, mincemeat originated in the 13th century when the Crusaders brought back exotic spices and ingredients from the Holy Land. Those spices were combined with “fruit and meat to make their supply of protein last longer.” The spices became associated with Christmas and the gifts presented to the Christ child by the Three Wise Men.** Now, my guess is that mincemeat pie is not as popular today as it once was. A few generations back, it was regularly served in my family. One side made this pie with meat and the other with only fruit. If you’re confused about what mincemeat pie really is, this 1995 nutrition column provides some direction.

article about mincemeat pie, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 19 December 1995

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 19 December 1995, page 10

If your holiday tradition includes mincemeat pie, these 1911 examples include some recipes with meat as an ingredient and others with strictly fruit.

article about mincemeat pie recipes, Oregonian newspaper article 19 November 1911

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 19 November 1911, section 5, page 6

And because Thanksgiving is so busy with all the prep work and cooking, I think this recipe for mincemeat pie is probably the best one of them all because of its simplicity.

article about a mincemeat pie recipe, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 19 November 1959

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 19 November 1959, page 18

What pie are you preparing this Thanksgiving? Is it from a recipe that’s been in the family a long time? Share your pie memories – and recipes – with us in the comments section.


* History of Pies. American Pie Council. http://www.piecouncil.org/Events/NationalPieDay/HistoryOfPies
** Mincemeat: It’s What’s for (Christmas) Dinner, History. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/mincemeat-its-whats-for-christmas-dinner

Related Articles and Resources:

Researching Your Female Ancestor: Women in the WCTU

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows how you can research your female ancestor by searching old newspapers for articles about the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

Having trouble learning about the lives of your female ancestors? A good place to find their stories is an online collection of old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Go beyond the obvious articles (birth notices, wedding announcements, obituaries) to find stories about the lives they led, causes they cared about, events they participated in, and groups they supported.

For example, what groups did 19th century women belong to? Their memberships most likely included organizations whose missions they were passionate about. One group that consisted of women who disavowed alcohol was the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), founded in 1873.

photo of WCTU members of the New Hampshire chapter, 1888

Photo: WCTU members of the New Hampshire chapter, 1888. Credit: Keene Public Library; Historical Society of Cheshire County.

According to the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union website, the group:

was organized by women who were concerned about the destructive power of alcohol and the problems it was causing their families and society.

Member activities included trying to convince saloon owners to voluntarily close their doors. According to their website, the WCTU is today “the oldest voluntary, non-sectarian woman’s organization in continuous existence in the world.”*

Illustration: Woman’s Christian Temperance Union logo, scanned from a 1920 WCTU temperance flyer

Illustration: Woman’s Christian Temperance Union logo, scanned from a 1920 WCTU temperance flyer. Credit: WCTU; Wikimedia Commons.

Their most well-known leader was their second national president, Frances E. Willard, who led the organization for 19 years (1879-1898). She joined the WCTU shortly after its founding and during her tenure promoted other causes that impacted women such as suffrage, equal pay for equal work, and the eight hour work day.**

photo of Frances E. Willard, taken sometime before 1898

Photo: Frances E. Willard, taken sometime before 1898. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Frances Willard was famous in her day, well-known to all, and so looked up to that a statue in her likeness was presented to Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol by Illinois in 1905. Hers was the first likeness of a woman displayed in the Hall.

obituary for Frances E. Willard, Pawtucket Times newspaper article 18 February 1898

Pawtucket Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island), 18 February 1898, page 9

The Frances Willard House and Museum in Evanston, Illinois, includes a library and archive with items of interest to genealogists. You can learn more by visiting their website.

The 19th and 20th century WCTU did more than just try to convince saloon owners to stop selling alcohol and men to stop drinking. Some of their efforts are still visible today.

Drinking Fountains

One of the first orders of business for the WCTU was to encourage the installation of drinking fountains in cities across the United States. It was thought that these fountains would provide clean water for everyone and give men a place to get a drink of water – thus avoiding the local saloon.

article about the WCTU installing drinking fountains, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 20 June 1941

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 20 June 1941, page 3

Some of these fountains still exist. A list of currently known fountains is found on the WCTU website.


As mentioned previously, temperance wasn’t the only issue the WCTU was passionate about. The WCTU lent their voices to other social ills they believed victimized women. They joined with other Protestant women to speak against the Mormon practice of polygamy. WCTU’s leader Frances Willard even wrote the introduction to the anti-polygamy tome The Women of Mormonism; or The Story of Polygamy as Told by the Victims Themselves by Jennie Anderson Froiseth (1882). It’s clear what the WCTU leader thought about this “twin relic of barbarism” when she writes:

surely it is time that the Christian women of this nation arouse themselves to organized action against this sum of all curses…***

Although the Mormon Church’s sanctioning of the practice of polygamy ended in 1890, the WCTU was still speaking against polygamy in the early 20th century. This 1906 Massachusetts newspaper article reports on a meeting of the WCTU:

As a result of one of the most startling anti-Mormon addresses ever heard in Boston, the delegates to the World’s convention of the W.C.T.U., assembled in Tremont Temple yesterday afternoon, unanimously passed a resolution placing that body on record to employ every means in its power to force the adoption of an anti-polygamy amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

article about the WCTU and the Sixteenth Amendment, Boston Journal newspaper article 20 October 1906

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 20 October 1906, page 1

Was Your Ancestor a Teetotaler?

Your 19th and early 20th century Christian female ancestors may have taken up the cause of prohibition. Their devotion to this cause may have included membership in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union – but how do you learn more? The first place to look is their local newspapers. Newspapers listed WCTU events, and members elected to offices and committees – reports in which you may find your ancestors’ names. In some cases, their obituaries may also include mention of their membership in the WCTU, such as this example of Martha Sprague’s obituary in a 1916 New York newspaper.

obituary for Martha Sprague, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 30 December 1916

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 30 December 1916, page 5

Genealogy Tip: Don’t forget to search for your married female ancestor by her husband’s name, such as in the above example, where Martha Sprague is identified in the headline as “Mrs. C. H. Sprague” (her husband was Charles H. Sprague).

In this article from an 1874 Indiana newspaper, several different WCTU group members are mentioned.

article about members and meetings of the WCTU, Indianapolis Sentinel newspaper article 31 October 1874

Indianapolis Sentinel (Indianapolis, Indiana), 31 October 1874, page 3

Other Resources

A search on ArchiveGrid, an archival collection catalog, can also help you track down your female ancestors who belonged to the WCTU. Use the keyword WCTU to find relevant collections. To get the most of your search, consult their How to Search page.

Another good genealogy resource is community cookbooks. The WCTU used cookbooks to raise funds for their activities, as did other women’s organizations. You can find these cookbooks on digitized book websites like Google Books, and in library and archive collections.

The WCTU Today

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union is still in existence and continues to be dedicated to issues that affect families, such as substance abuse. You can learn more at the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union website. Their website also includes links to some affiliate chapters. In the case of the California chapter, an archive page contains images and a history of the WCTU in Southern California.

Was your ancestor a member of the WCTU? Add to her life story by documenting her membership and the events she was a part of, as preserved in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.


* The Women’s Christian Temperance Union. http://www.wctu.org/. Accessed 16 June 2015.
** Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Frances Willard. http://www.wctu.org/frances_willard.html. Accessed 18 June 2015.
*** Froiseth, Jennie A. The Women of Mormonism, Or, the Story of Polygamy As Told by the Victims Themselves. Chicago: Bryan Bros. Pub. Co, 1883. Available on Google Books.p. xviii. FA902D0%40W.

Related Women’s Genealogy Articles:

WWII Victory Gardens: Family History & War Food Rations

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 an effort on the American home front during World War II to support the country and the troops: the planting of “Victory Gardens.”

What was your family doing during World War II? Often we remember the brave American soldiers who went “over there” and fought for freedom, but forget that those left behind on the home front were an integral part of the war effort. Families in the United States did their part by buying WWII war bonds, recycling metals, and participating in the rationing of food and other materials.

In order to supplement the rationed food they could purchase during WWII, families cultivated Victory Gardens that supplied them with fresh homegrown produce – both in the short term as well over time as they learned to preserve their harvest. This increased food production also freed up more canned food for sending to the soldiers overseas.

illustration: WWII Victory Garden poster

Illustration: WWII Victory Garden poster. Credit: Morley; U.S. Agriculture Department; Wikimedia Commons.

It might seem that learning more about your ancestors’ WWII Victory Garden would be near to impossible. After all, unless you have a diary, photos, or an interview with a family member, how would you learn more?

The answer: a collection of online newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is a great go-to place to uncover the lives of everyday people. World War II-era newspapers don’t disappoint, with articles and mentions of men, women, and children living during the war. A search for your ancestors or browsing their hometown newspaper can provide many interesting Victory Garden finds.

Victory Garden Poems & Essays

Many gardeners waxed poetic about the Victory Gardens they were growing or were planning. Adults and children alike submitted their garden poetry to newspapers. Many of these were titled, not surprisingly, “My Victory Garden.” Poetry contests at this time were full of patriotic, instructive poems encouraging everyone to do their duty.

In this example found on the “Junior” page of the Daily Illinois State Journal, 14-year-old Alice Mae Jackson of Carlinville encourages other teens to grow a garden during the summer:

Why don’t you garden a little instead of play
And help to pass your spare time away?
Also, you’ll find, some of these days
Your Victory garden really pays

WWII Victory Garden poem, Daily Illinois State Journal newspaper article 5 September 1943

Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 5 September 1943, page 20

Young people didn’t just write poems about Victory Gardens; they also entered contests describing the gardens they planned on planting. In this winning entry from the Jordan Marsh Victory Garden Contest, Eva Solimine of Belmont, Massachusetts, won $5 for her entry that stresses the importance of these wartime gardens. She writes:

We all have a job to do, and it is everybody’s job [planting a garden]. Our men are fighting on the battlefronts, and also men and women are working in defense plants making ships, tanks and other weapons to win this war. We at home also have a job to do, and that is by buying War Saving Stamps and Bonds and by planting Victory Gardens this summer and every other summer until this war is won.

Her essay points out the shortage of food during World War II and how homegrown gardens allow more food to be sent to soldiers.

essay about WWII Victory Gardens, Boston Herald newspaper article 23 May 1943

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 23 May 1943, page 96

Victory Garden Seed Advertisements

There’s no doubt that Victory Gardens were a great marketing tool for nurseries and seed suppliers. Just like other newspaper advertisements we’ve discussed in previous articles (see links at the end of this article), they sometimes used real people to provide endorsements – complete with a photo and home address. This advertisement from Germain’s Seeds is just one of many that can be found with a community member’s photo. In this ad featuring Mrs. Dorothy Hoelsken from Oakland, California, she testifies that:

I have planted Germain’s Seeds exclusively the last two years, and my Victory Garden has been the talk of the neighborhood.

ad for Germain's seeds, Sacramento Bee newspaper advertisement 24 February 1945

Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), 24 February 1945, page 10

Further genealogical research shows that Mrs. Hoelsken lived in the Bay Area of California for a number of years, up to her death in 2000. The advertisement’s mention of Mrs. Hoelsken’s residence allows a researcher to continue searching for her in records such as city directories.

Mrs. Hoelsken wasn’t the only person featured in ads for Germain’s Seeds. Mrs. Mary Hammons of Merced, California, is quoted and pictured in another ad along with the tag line “Seeds for Gardens at War.” This is a good example of how our ancestors and their image can appear in just about any part of the newspaper.

ad for Germain's seeds, Riverside Daily Press newspaper advertisement 24 March 1944

Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, California), 24 March 1944, page 7

Victory Garden Letters

Newspapers provide various opportunities to express an opinion, tell a story or ask a question. One of these opportunities is to write a letter either to the editor or to an advice column. During the war we find people asking questions about gardening and sharing experiences. In this, somewhat funny example sent to the editor of the Sacramento Bee in July 1943, the writer may have seen ants as a valuable help and less of a hindrance in his Victory Garden.

letter about a WWII Victory Garden, Sacramento Bee newspaper article 30 July 1943

Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), 30 July 1943, page 22

A cutworm is actually a caterpillar who feeds at night, attacking the stem of a plant by “cutting” it down.

Some newspaper columnists used readers’ comments in their columns, as in this Illinois example from “Uncle Ray” where reader Mr. J. A. Ibbotson remarks on his experience with the English berry bushes in his Victory Garden.

letters about WWII Victory Gardens, Daily Illinois State Journal newspaper article 1 July 1944

Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 1 July 1944, page 7

And of course there were newspaper columnists who answered questions about Victory Gardens, as in this 1943 example from Springfield, Massachusetts. This type of old newspaper column is a good example of being creative with searching on your ancestor’s name. Rarely in these types of historical articles do you see the entire name of those who provided the questions. Often they are simply identified by initials, or a first name and initials.

letters about WWII Victory Gardens, Springfield Republican newspaper article 7 December 1943

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 7 December 1943, page 6

Did your family grow a Victory Garden during World War II? There’s a good chance they did – and that effort may be found in articles from their hometown newspaper. Dig into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and see if you can find their stories.

Related Articles:

Scary Old Recipes from Your Family’s Past

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 recipes that were common in our ancestors’ time – but seem a little “scary” to a modern audience.

Do you have any scary recipes in your family? No, I don’t mean that Halloween dessert decorated with ghosts and bats, but truly scary family recipes that you are afraid someone in the family will serve at Thanksgiving or your grandmother served 50 years ago. These old family recipes are scary because of their ingredients or method of preparation. I know there are a few from my childhood I hope to never be served again.

So what about your family and ancestors? What scary old recipes did they have in their recipe box? GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives are for more than just looking up biographical information about your ancestors – you can also find stories about their lives and the times they lived in, including popular and not-so-popular family recipes. Consider some of these old recipes that may have been too familiar in your family tree.

Old Jello Recipes

Ok, I come from a family that loved to make all kinds of Jello desserts. But there was a time that Jello was popular in savory dishes as well. You might be familiar with the more interesting gelatin luncheon dishes made popular in the 1950s, but those types of recipes also existed in previous decades.

This newspaper article, titled “All Members Diet Happily When Gourmets Plan Menu,” seems a bit misleading to me. While this Lime Tuna Mold is low calorie, I don’t know if I believe that the members of this group enjoyed eating this dish that is a combination of gelatin, tuna, green olives, celery, onions and a Hollandaise Sauce.

recipes, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper article 27 February 1964

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 27 February 1964, page 34

A 1970s-era recipe for Coleslaw Souffle isn’t as scary as jellified tuna but I had to include it here because it provides the name of the submitter and her street address. What a great family history find!

recipe for coleslaw souffle, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 24 October 1971

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 24 October 1971, page 90

This 1923 recipe starts off like many familiar gelatin desserts – but its inclusion of Thousand Island dressing and whipped cream seems pretty scary to me.

jello and cottage cheese recipe, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 8 July 1923

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 8 July 1923, page 29

Regional American Delicacies

Today, most people are far removed from the source of their food. Meat production is something most of us would rather not think about. And it would seem that many in today’s world have strong opinions about what types of meat they will eat and what they won’t.


It wasn’t too long ago that recipes were very explicit about how to prepare certain meals. What makes some modern-day cooks squeamish was once everyday knowledge. Case in point: this 1908 recipe for Scrapple, a.k.a. Pon Haus. This dish may possibly be the first pork recipe invented in America – and today, November 9th, is National Scrapple Day. For those not familiar with this dish, it’s a combination of pork scraps, corn meal, flour and spices. It is a food that is more familiar to those in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States due to its Pennsylvania Dutch roots. (To learn more, including photos and modern-day recipes, Google the word “Scrapple.”)

Scrapple is one of those dishes that harkens to a time when meat/food was not wasted. Scrapple allows the maker to take advantage of all parts of the butchered hog, as this recipe from the column “Womanly Answers to Womanly Questions” explains.

scrapple recipe, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 8 October 1908

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 8 October 1908, page 13

Turtle Soup

While still consumed in certain parts of the country (especially in New Orleans), turtle soup was much more popular in the 19th century. Some recipes I’ve seen from the 1800s go into great length about how to dispatch the turtle prior to cooking. The following recipe from 1896 doesn’t go into great detail about killing the turtle – but is probably just enough to border on scary for modern audiences. Note the use of calves’ heads in the recipe. Calves’ heads are usually the main ingredient in mock turtle soup.

Tip: If you ever visit New Orleans, turtle soup is still served at a variety of fine restaurants including Commander’s Palace, Pascal’s and Upperline. It’s actually quite tasty.

turtle soup recipe, Irish American Weekly newspaper article 14 December 1896

Irish American Weekly (New York, New York), 14 December 1896, page 6

Squirrel Recipes

What constitutes a scary ingredient for some people is not that out of the ordinary for others. Some foods are strongly tied to a specific region. Probably the most argued about ingredient is meat. One example is squirrel. If I were to talk about eating squirrel in Southern California most people would think I was joking, but in some parts of the country and for our ancestors, it was just another protein source.

In case you need some squirrel recipe ideas, here are three from a 1900 newspaper. It’s pointed out in this set of recipes, Squirrel Pot Pie, Squirrel Pie and Baked Squirrel, that rabbit could be substituted for squirrel.

squirrel recipes, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 31 July 1900

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 31 July 1900, page 7

The Scary Price of Beauty

Multiple articles could be written about some of the scary recipes and products sold to our families in the name of cures and beauty aids. Cookbooks from the early 19th century included sections on remedies because the housewife had to know not only how to nourish her family, but how to heal them in the event of sickness. Other types of recipes like those for household cleaners and personal care could also be found.

In this 1906 example, milk baths are touted for a fine complexion. To take advantage of this, the article gives instructions that women should first clean their face with wadding soaked with a mixture of olive oil, cognac oil and cologne. Then the milk bath should be applied and allowed to dry so that you can rub raw potato or cucumbers on your face. Now so far that’s not too out of the ordinary. Some people swear by using olive oil on their skin. But it’s the warning that I find a little scary: “Women sometimes find that the milk seems to burn the face at first, but they must persevere and the good effect will soon be perceived.” You should also drink a lot of milk during the day and continue these treatments for a “long time” in order for it to work. But because this idea is said to come from Paris, it must work.

How to Take Milk Baths, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 24 July 1906

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 24 July 1906, page 5

What Are the Scary Recipes in Your Family History?

Scary recipes are an important part of family history. What makes family history interesting to everyone, not just those genealogy-obsessed, are the stories. Knowing more about the times our ancestors lived in and the food they ate help make their lives more relevant to us; it places them in context. It also can drive home important aspects of their lives. Eating foods not familiar to us today, eating almost everything, and combining unique flavors speaks to what was available, not wasting resources, frugality, and trying to make food interesting with what was available. Social history, the study of the everyday lives of people, makes family history something that will interest even the non-genealogists in your family.

What scary recipes did your family eat? Start searching for them today in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives – and tell us about them in the comments section.

Share Your Recipes with Us!

GenealogyBank has a shared Pinterest board where you can share your old family recipes. If you have a family recipe you’d like to share, send us a Pinterest group board request and you can pin your recipe on our board to share with the community.

Related Recipe Articles and Resources:

Betty Crocker: America’s Favorite Fictional Cook

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 an icon in American cooking: Betty Crocker.

Betty Crocker is a household name that almost everyone in America is familiar with. But do you know who the real Betty Crocker actually is? While her name is attached to a very “real” image of a woman, she – like many other famous food icons – is not a real person, but instead a marketing tool used to sell food products and recipes, and to instill trust in her brand.

How did Betty Crocker come to be such a famous brand? Well, according to author Susan Marks’ book Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food, it started with letters sent to the Gold Medal Flour Company. Homemakers would write cooking questions to the company and they in turn would send replies they gathered from their Home Service staff. While the advertising department, staffed by men, sent out the answers to these recipe-related questions, the department’s manager didn’t think women would take cooking advice in a letter signed by a man. Because they didn’t necessarily need a woman to fill a new job, they invented a fictional female character. They provided her with a name, asked current female staff to participate in a contest for the best signature, and Betty Crocker was “born.”*

So what year was Betty born? It might surprise you that she actually predates the 1950s, the decade that most people associate her with. She first appeared in a much earlier decade, the 1920s.

So you’re most likely familiar with products that carry the Betty Crocker image and red spoon logo, but how has “she” influenced American cooking over the years? Aside from answering consumers’ letters, she has been the star of her own radio show, shared recipes, and published numerous cookbooks during her long tenure.

Betty Crocker on the Radio

In the days prior to television – and with the advent of cable channels dedicated to food matters way in the future – Betty Crocker hit the air waves. She brought her cooking advice to the masses by presenting programs on the radio. The actress who portrayed Betty not only provided help to her listeners, she used the advice of older homemakers to pass along cooking tips to her audience.

According to this 1929 newspaper article, the “recipe exchange” was a feature of the Betty Crocker radio broadcast that included readers’ tips and recipes.

article about the Betty Crocker radio show, Riverside Daily Press newspaper article 13 February 1929

Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, California), 13 February 1929, page 10

She not only presented a cooking show, but she conducted a “cooking school” on air. Listeners could “graduate” via Betty Crocker’s radio show. Those who actively participated in all eight cooking lessons would receive a Gold Medal Radio Cooking School diploma at its conclusion. According to this 1926 newspaper article, the “cooking school had many thousands of members all over the United States, ranging in age from 14 to 90 years.” Women could enroll in the school for no fee. Their graduation was a matter of preparing and reporting on recipes. One of the graduates, an 80-year-old woman, had written to Betty Crocker “…and pleaded that she please be allowed to graduate as she had tried so hard and she had never been graduated from anything before in her life.” Like the other culinary students, her diploma was announced over the radio waves.

article about the Betty Crocker cooking school, Evening Star newspaper article 24 January 1926

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 24 January 1926, page 33

Betty Crocker Recipes

Newspapers are a source for all kinds of recipes: those written by newspaper staff, submitted by readers, and found in advertisements. Betty Crocker recipes are no exception and can be found throughout the decades in historical newspapers.

Women who listened to Betty Crocker’s radio show were able to add many new recipes to their repertoire. This one from 1928 is for Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies. To show how fool-proof the dessert recipe was, the text exclaims: “Of 278 women trying the recipe, not a single one failed her first attempt!”

Betty Crocker ad for Gold Medal Flour, Evening Star newspaper advertisement 15 November 1928

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 15 November 1928, page 31

Betty Crocker recipe for Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies, Evening Star newspaper article 15 November 1928

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 15 November 1928, page 31

During World War II various foods, including meat, were rationed. Betty Crocker recipes addressed those on the home front who needed to feed their families with reduced quantities or food substitutions. In this 1944 advertisement featuring a recipe for Yorkshire Pudding (or “Pig in a Poke”), the text of the advertisement for Gold Medal Flour states: “Betty Crocker offers this ‘meat-extender’ recipe to show you one way Gold Medal ‘Kitchen-tested’ Enriched Flour can add nourishment to your wartime meals.” An image on the lower left reminds consumers that food was integral to the war effort, stating “Food Fights for Freedom” and reminding them to “produce and conserve/share and play square.”

Betty Crocker recipe for "Pig in a Poke," Oregonian newspaper article 30 January 1944

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 30 January 1944, page 41

Betty Crocker recipes were meant to help sell various food-related products. A great marketing tool, they demonstrated how to take Betty Crocker cake mixes and turn the finished product into something special for your family to feast on. Consider this 1960 advertisement that utilizes Country Kitchen cake mixes and transforms them into desserts like Spumoni Cake, Hawaiian Velvet Cake, and Colonial Butter-Nut Cake.

Betty Crocker cake recipes, Oregonian newspaper article 11 September 1960

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 11 September 1960, page 130

Betty Crocker Cookbooks

Many family historians most likely either have a Betty Crocker cookbook or remember one in their family’s collection.

photo of a Betty Crocker cookbook

Photo: Betty Crocker cookbook, from the author’s collection. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.

Today we can download the Betty Crocker Cookbook app, but our elders were able to peruse Betty’s recipes in her cookbooks, such as Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book which was first published in 1950.

ad for a Betty Crocker cookbook, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 29 November 1950

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 29 November 1950, page 3

One of the benefits of this cookbook is the fact that it is published as a 3-ring binder which allows its owner to add additional recipes. This 1950 review of the cookbook exclaims: “One of its chief values is that it is looseleaf, enabling the housewife to add clippings from other sources.” The review goes on to explain that the photos and illustrations are helpful aids in preparing the recipes.

review of a Betty Crocker cookbook, Greensboro Record newspaper article 13 September 1950

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 13 September 1950, page 19

The Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book now referred to as the Betty Crocker Cookbook, is one of 250 cookbooks since 1950 that sport the Betty Crocker name.**

What are your memories of cooking with Betty Crocker? Do you own the Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book? Has your grandma passed down her Betty Crocker diploma? Share your memories in the comments below.


* Marks, Susan. Finding Betty Crocker: The secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food. Minneapolis, MC: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. Page 10-11.

** “The Story of Betty Crocker.” http://www.bettycrocker.com/menus-holidays-parties/mhplibrary/parties-and-get-togethers/vintage-betty/the-story-of-betty-crocker. Accessed 16 June 2015.

Share Your Recipes with Us!

GenealogyBank has a shared group Pinterest board where you can share your old family recipes. If you have a family recipe you’d like to share, send us a Pinterest group board request and you can pin your recipe on our board to share with the community.

Related Food & Cooking Articles and Resources:

True Ghost Stories from America’s Most Haunted Old Cemeteries?

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article – just in time for Halloween – Gena searches old newspapers to uncover eerie stories of ghostly sightings and hauntings at some of America’s oldest cemeteries.

In my work as a genealogist, I’ve been to cemeteries all over America. I’ve even written a book (Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra) about cemeteries in the Eastern Sierra mountain range of California. And because I’ve been to so many cemeteries I’ve also had diverse experiences on these visits – from a tender scene of a deer family grazing on the morning grass, to an opened grave and its skeleton inhabitant. But I have, luckily, never seen a ghost during my various cemetery trips.

illustration of a ghost in a cemetery

Source: Ghost Horror Collections

However, there have been plenty of ghost sightings by others who visit America’s cemeteries, and some of these cemeteries are rather notorious for their paranormal activity. Have you had a supernatural experience of your own at any of these famous haunted cemeteries?

New Orleans Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau

One of the more infamous New Orleans citizens was Marie Laveau. While today her name is synonymous with voodoo, it’s obvious from her obituary that she was a well-regarded citizen of her community – although there were those at the time who feared her strange priestess powers.

Her obituary reports:

On Wednesday the invalid sank into the sleep which knows no waking. Those whom she had befriended crowded into the little room where she was exposed, in order to obtain a last look at the features, smiling even in death, of her who had been so kind to them.

Known as the “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,” Laveau willingly administered to the sick.

According to her obituary:

Besides being very beautiful Marie was also very wise. She was skillful in the practice of medicine and was acquainted with the valuable healing qualities of indigenous herbs. She was very successful as a nurse, wonderful stories being told of her exploits at the sick bed. In yellow fever and cholera epidemics she was always called upon to nurse the sick, and always responded promptly.

obituary for Marie Laveau, Times-Picayune newspaper article 17 June 1881

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 17 June 1881, page 8

Marie’s obituary concludes:

All in all Marie Laveau was a most wonderful woman. Doing good for the sake of doing good alone, she obtained no reward, oft times meeting with prejudice and loathing, she was nevertheless contented and did not flag in her work…Marie Laveau’s name will not be forgotten in New Orleans.

Not only has her name not been forgotten, some people insist her healing powers remain active. Generations of visitors to her tomb in Saint Louis Cemetery have marked an “X” on its walls and made a wish for her to grant, returning with an offering after the wish was supposedly granted. Yes, some have reported feeling a presence at her tomb or a hand on their shoulder – this “ghost story” is about what Marie does for others from the beyond.

article about Marie Laveau's tomb in New Orleans, Advocate newspaper article10 August 1976

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 10 August 1976, page 28

However, unlike most ghost tales involving America’s old cemeteries, this one has had an unfortunate consequence. Years of those “X” marks have led to damage to her family tomb and the resulting closure of the cemetery to the public (to visit the cemetery now you must have family buried there or be part of a guided tour).

It’s now134 years later, and the last sentence of Marie’s obituary continues to ring true: “Marie Laveau’s name will not be forgotten in New Orleans.”

Celebrity Ghost Sightings

Even celebrities have been known to haunt America’s old cemeteries. Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Southern California is known for its celebrity burials. Some of the famous who reside there include Douglas Fairbanks, Jayne Mansfield, and Rudolph Valentino. As with any old cemetery it also has its share of ghost stories, including one non-resident ghost that comes to visit.

Marion Davies, film actress and longtime mistress of newspaperman William Randolph Hearst, died in September 1961 after succumbing to cancer. She was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in a family mausoleum that would later include her “niece” Patricia Lake.

obituary for Marion Davies, Springfield Union newspaper article 23 September 1961

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 23 September 1961, page 1

Hearst died almost 10 year prior to Davies and was buried in Northern California at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma. Still married when he died, Hearst had openly lived with Davies and is rumored to have fathered a child with her – Patricia Lake – who was raised by Davies’ sister. Davies played hostess and helped Hearst with financial matters, even providing him a million dollar check when his business was in trouble. All this happened while he was married to his wife Millicent, who escaped the day-to-day reality of the scandal by moving to New York to conduct her philanthropic work – out of sight of her husband’s affair.

obituary for William Randolph Hearst, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 15 August 1951

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 15 August 1951, page 1

With Hearst and Davies long gone, you’d think their story had come to an end — but not so. Some startled visitors to Hollywood Forever Cemetery have reported seeing the ghost of William Randolph Hearst haunting the gravesites of the mistress he loved and the daughter he could never publicly acknowledge.

Nevermore, Nevermore

It probably comes as no surprise that the final resting place for writer Edgar Allen Poe is haunted.

obituary for Edgar Allen Poe, Enquirer newspaper article 16 October 1849

Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 16 October 1849, page 4

Most people are familiar with the story of the mysterious visitor, the “Poe Toaster,” who for 75 years – starting in 1934 – visited Poe’s grave in the middle of the night on January 19 (the author’s birthday), drank a toast to him, and left three roses and the rest of the bottle of cognac.

article about the mysterious "Poe Toaster" who secretly visited Edgar Allan Poe's tomb for 75 years, Register Star newspaper article 23 January 2004

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 23 January 2004, page 25

Poe’s mysterious visitor made his last appearance in 2009, the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth. He – or it – was never identified, and perhaps never will be.

And while some have claimed that Poe’s ghost walks the cemetery catacombs, there are other ghostly residents that make Westminster Hall and Burying Ground (established in 1787) repeatedly named as one of the most haunted cemeteries.

The “Screaming Skull of Cambridge,” a head belonging to a murdered minister, is just one of the ghostly residents of this old Baltimore, Maryland, cemetery reported by visitors. The ghost story goes that his corpse would scream day and night, so his mouth was gagged in an effort to muffle the ongoing screams. When that didn’t work his body was decapitated and his skull was buried in a block of cement. Other reported ghosts roaming the old cemetery grounds include a teenage girl that can be seen praying by her grave, and a woman who spent time in an asylum who follows visitors around the cemetery. She is quite recognizable since she was buried in a strait jacket.

Ghosts in the Cemetery

Do you live by a haunted cemetery? Have you ever seen a ghost? If you want to research the cemetery you’ve visited, or learn more about the rumors you heard about a ghost sighting there, search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

There’s no doubt that genealogists spend a lot of time walking through old cemeteries and are the most likely folks to see the supernatural. Whether you enjoy seeking out haunted experiences or would rather stay safely away from such places, have a Happy Halloween!

Related Cemetery Articles:

Genealogy Research with Newspapers: Stories in Classified Ads

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena provides several examples of classified ads from old newspapers to show how these often-overlooked genealogy resources can help tell our ancestors’ stories.

Newspaper classified ads. They are traditionally for glancing at when you need a job or a used car, right? Classified advertisements are one way newspapers make money, both from their readers and local businesses. Looking through generations of classifieds, the structure remains similar though the content of the advertisements changes over time. Reading the classifieds makes for a fascinating social history study of your ancestors’ place and time.

The more I scan old classified ads the more I find to like. I’ve written before about the classifieds (see links at the end of this article) and how they pertain to family history research. Here are a few more historical newspaper advertisements that may spark some ideas for your own genealogy searches.

The Personal Classified Ads

There’s no doubt I love the Personals. I’m fascinated by what people paid to print about themselves or their family in the newspaper, and often wonder how their story ended. These tidbits offer genealogy researchers interesting social history information. They can also provide genealogical information on all aspects of a person’s life – including if the person went missing.

This example of a missing person ad would be a great find for the modern-day family of Charles Martin Hallinen, who left Champaign, Illinois, about 1890 and then seemingly vanished without a trace. This old personals advertisement also serves as a reminder that information may not necessarily be in the location you think it should be. In the case of this ad about a missing Illinois man, I found it in a Nebraska newspaper – and also duplicates in newspapers from: Salt Lake City, Utah; San Francisco, California; Reno, Nevada; and Dallas, Texas. These personals advertisements covered the span of at least six months.

missing person ad for Charles Martin Hallinen, Omaha World-Herald newspaper advertisement 14 January 1900

Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 14 January 1900, page 10

Often as genealogists, we come across an ancestor that seems to just disappear. While their fading paper trail may be due to a lack of records, it’s quite possible that they did vanish for some reason (perhaps on purpose or as the result of a tragedy) and the newspaper might be the place to find information about that missing ancestor.

Another example of a Personals ad with genealogical value is this one placed by the family of Theodore Stevenson, who died 27 February 1900 – his family placed a newspaper ad to remember his passing 16 years later.

personal ad in remembrance of Theodore Stevenson, Patriot newspaper advertisement 6 March 1916

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 6 March 1916, page 9

Homes for Orphans

Sure you can acquire all kinds of things in the classifieds: clothing, automobiles, animals, employment, etc. But if you read between the lines of this 1919 personals advertisement, it reveals a sad story.

home wanted personal ad, Patriot newspaper advertisement 7 July 1919

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 7 July 1919, page 14

That’s not the only example I found of family tragedy; other old newspaper advertisements for homes for babies and young children can be found in various editions of the newspaper.

home wanted personal ads, Patriot newspaper advertisements 18 August 1919

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 18 August 1919, page 10

Don’t Take as Directed

There’s no better peek into our ancestors’ everyday lives than when you check out the ads for remedies and medicinal services. I’ve written before about Lydia Pinkham, who was a genius at marketing her medicinal remedies to women. She used the newspaper classifieds to sell her product via testimonials complete with photos, names and addresses of satisfied customers. She wasn’t the only one who used the classifieds to seek out new customers. Plenty of examples of questionable medical cures can be found in the newspaper.

Medicinal advertisements not only provided reasons why the reader should invest in a bottle of a particular tonic, but also explained everything that the tonic cured – and included glowing endorsements from satisfied “users.”

In this example for Dr. Folger’s Olosanonian, or “All-Healing Balsam,” an armor-wearing knight on his horse is stabbing a figure holding a flag labeled “consumption.” The old advertisement states that the “question is no longer asked can Asthma be cured?” and promises that Dr. Folger provides a cure “quicker than any remedy in the world.”

Endorsements found in this advertisement include Mrs. Robert P. Bell of Morristown, New Jersey, who was:

severely afflicted with asthma. Her physicians had given up on her but with one bottle of Olosanonian she could get up out of bed and dress herself, the first time she was able to in months.

ad for Dr. Folger's “All-Healing Balsam,” Gloucester Telegraph newspaper advertisement 29 October 1845

Gloucester Telegraph (Gloucester, Massachusetts), 29 October 1845, page 4

It makes you wonder how many desperately sick people put all their confidence in Dr. Folger and his miracle consumption cure.

Government Notices

The U.S. federal census is the go-to resource for anyone with American ancestors. It’s the best tool we have for locating families. But while we all use it, we don’t often give thought to how the information was obtained.

In this 1830 classified advertisement, we see the title Fifth Census of the United States. The ad states:

The Deputy Marshal respectfully informs the Inhabitants of Ward No. 3, that he will This Day commence his duties in that Ward, and requests that written answers to the Interrogatories published by the Marshal of this District, may be left for him in all places, where it may be inconvenient for some Member of the family personally to answer the same.

classified ad for the Fifth Census, Charleston Courier newspaper advertisement 29 July 1830

Charleston Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 29 July 1830, page 6

According to the United States Census Bureau website, marshals or their assistants visited every house or “made a personal inquiry of the head of every family in their district.” This was the first year that uniform printed schedules were used.*

Classifieds provided many different types of government notices including information about military service and public meetings.

Have You Found Your Ancestor in the Classifieds?

Take some time now to read the old classifieds in your ancestor’s hometown newspaper. What was going on during historical events or times of stress (wars, economic depressions)? What can you learn about your ancestor’s lifetime in the classifieds?

Please use the comments section below; I’d love to hear about your family history finds in the classified ads.


* 1830 Overview. United States Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/overview/1830.html. Accessed 3 June 2015.

Related Classified Ads Articles:

Researching Your Female Ancestor & the ‘Woman’s Exchange’

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 about the charity organizations your female ancestor belonged to may give you valuable personal information about her that you can’t find anywhere else.

Having trouble researching your 19th or 20th century female ancestor? Have you considered her everyday life? Sure, government records such as birth, marriage, death and the census help to learn about your ancestor. But what about her everyday life? Who was she personally? What activities did she enjoy? What causes was she passionate about? What groups did she belong to?

photo of the Woman’s Exchange, Sarasota, Florida

Photo: Woman’s Exchange, Sarasota, Florida. Credit: Ebyabe; Wikimedia Commons.

Organizational records and documents that reveal membership activities are some of the least-used records in genealogy. Why? Well, often because they are more difficult to locate and access when doing genealogy research. These are archival records that are rarely digitized. So if you are unable to access those original records, where can you find this information about your ancestor?

The answer: old newspapers, such as those in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Newspapers document the activities of a community, including organizations and their members. Your ancestor’s hometown newspaper can be a rich source for learning about a female ancestor’s everyday activities and memberships.

Women took part in all types of membership groups that spanned politics, religion, leisure and social causes. Many women joined benevolent groups that provided service to others, including less fortunate women. Let’s take a look at one example: the Woman’s Exchange.

History of the Woman’s Exchange

The first Woman’s Exchange was founded in Philadelphia in 1832. Its premise was simple: “women helping women.” The female founders wanted to do something about the position women found themselves in when they were faced with supporting their family but unable to do so. Then, as today, women who have relied on a husband’s income may find themselves quickly spiraling into poverty due to a loss of income, marital separation, divorce or death of that husband. Author Kathleen Waters Sander writes in her book The Business of Charity that those founding women wanted to provide women a “discreet work alternative to protect peers from the ‘rough and unkind treatment to which they are frequently exposed in their efforts to obtain employment.’*

The Woman’s Exchange charity foundation that started in Philadelphia grew to other Exchanges across the United States. These businesses showcased consigned women’s goods while adjoining tea rooms provided meals and refreshment. Woman’s Exchange businesses benefitted both women who provided managerial and clerk functions as well as those who consigned items.

As with other organizations, the story of the Woman’s Exchange can be found in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. When researching the history of the Woman’s Exchange, it quickly becomes apparent that a variety of newspaper articles were published about the charity organization, many with the names of the women involved – these old news articles can provide a window into your ancestor’s life you won’t find anywhere else.


Many organizations and their members find themselves at one time or another being the subject of a newspaper interview piece. These articles typically report on the history and services provided by the organization. For example, this syndicated interview published in a 1928 Kentucky newspaper with Mrs. Edward I. Cudahy, then president of the Chicago Woman’s Exchange, is such an article. An added bonus is that it includes her photograph.

article about the Chicago Woman's Exchange, Lexington Leader newspaper article 23 September 1928

Lexington Leader (Lexington, Kentucky), 23 September 1928, page 23

All types of women were involved in the Exchange movement: the women needing financial assistance who consigned goods; the society women who managed the enterprise and sat on its board; and the women (and men) who donated money as “subscribers.” In most cases, you are more likely to find newspaper articles that list the society women who administered these programs rather than the women who needed the financial benefits this marketplace provided. So, for example, it’s not unusual to find newspaper articles where the names of the women on the board, along with their position, are listed – as in this 1924 article from a California newspaper. The founder of the San Francisco Exchange, Mrs. M. H. (Katherine) de Young, is also named.

New Home of Woman's Exchange Open, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 9 February 1924

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 9 February 1924, page 68

Women involved in raising funds and administering the Exchange could also be found writing letters to newspapers requesting donations. In this 1907 appeal for subscribers to the Exchange in Charleston, South Carolina, we find the names of several women involved in the cause.

letter to the editor about the Charleston Woman's Exchange, Charleston News and Courier newspaper article 23 January 1907

Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 23 January 1907, page 3

Names Lists

As genealogists, we are always looking for “names lists.” Lucky for us, all kinds of newspaper articles can provide us those coveted lists of names. Old newspaper articles about annual meetings provide a who’s who of the movers and shakers in any organization, as well as information about the meeting itself.

Woman's Exchange, San Diego Union newspaper article 2 November 1888

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 2 November 1888, page 5

In addition to newspaper articles, search for other records documenting meetings of your ancestor’s organization. Further research involving annual meeting reports provides details about officers and others who are vital to the running of any organization. Such organizational records may be found through the organization, should it still exist, or archived at a local historical society or other repository.

Today about 20 Woman’s Exchanges are open for business in 12 states. These Exchanges still operate under the same premise of women helping women. In my recent visit to the Woman’s Exchange in St. Augustine, Florida, more than 100 registered consigners were benefitting from selling everything from jewelry and jams to potholders and the Exchange’s own community cookbook.

What organization was your female ancestor a member of? To get some ideas of what groups she may have belonged to, identify those affiliated with her religion, children’s school, and husband’s military service or occupation, as well as a cause she felt passionate about. It’s through this extra genealogy research work that you can find richer, more personal information about her – including her name – in the newspaper.


* Sander, Kathleen Waters The Business of Charity: The Woman’s Exchange Movement, 1832-1900. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998 P. 11.

Related Female Ancestor Research Articles:

Legal News & Records in Newspapers & Your Ancestors

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” If your ancestor had trouble with the law or was the victim of a crime – or participated in a civil or criminal trial – law articles in the newspapers of that time might have family history information to help your genealogy. In this blog article, Gena gives several examples of law articles she found while searching old newspapers, and shows what good genealogy information they provide.

One of the reasons I love newspapers for my family history research is that they tell the story of a community, the entire story both good and bad. Legal news and records of all types can be found in the newspaper including arrests, court cases (criminal and civil), as well as investigations into crime. Unlike other types of newspaper topics, those involving the law result in numerous follow-up articles as court cases are heard over days and weeks, or as an offender is arrested multiple times.

Let’s look at a few examples of legal articles to see what you can find out about your ancestors in the pages of old newspapers.

Police Blotters

Have a black sheep ancestor who was up to no good? The first place you may find their misdeeds mentioned is in the newspaper’s police blotter. What I love about these short news articles is they often provide other details, like the victim’s name and address.

This example includes a notice that 13-year-old James Pooler was committed by his father to the House of Refuge. Judging from the mention in this same article of a 14-year-old boy who was similarly committed for the crime of stealing lead from the Bell Telephone Company, my guess is that the House of Refuge was Juvenile Hall.

It seems stealing lead was not that unusual. This same notice reports that the prize fighter “Bull” McCarthy was also arrested for stealing lead.

police blotter, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 2 February 1900

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 2 February 1900, page 9

Genealogy Search Tip: it’s easy to get in a rut with your newspaper searches. Make sure you don’t just stick to one keyword or keyword phrase as you search. Case in point: the phrase “police blotter.” Sure that’s the typical wording on the daily or weekly reports regarding police activity and arrests. But in this 1918 Georgia newspaper, the “Town in Tabloid” column reported on police activity such as fines and arrests. In this example, those mentioned received stolen goods, violated traffic laws, or were committed to a state asylum.

police blotter, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 21 May 1918

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 21 May 1918, page 11

Court Trials

Some of the best parts of a local newspaper are the articles or even brief mentions of criminal and civil court trials. In this example from a 1921 Washington newspaper, notice that the two young defendants, 21 and 19 years of age, wanted to speak to their mothers before revealing their plea.

article about court hearings, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 29 January 1921

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 29 January 1921, page 5

In the case of one of my ancestors who was murdered in the 1870s, his trial was covered in numerous articles over time and from many areas, as well as newspapers covering the county where he lived.

Genealogy Search Tip: Depending on the details of the crime, don’t forget to enlarge your search to include all newspapers, not just the one for the area where your ancestor lived.

Coroner’s Inquests

One type of newspaper article you may have missed in your previous searches is reports of a coroner’s inquest. These investigations involve coroner personnel and a jury of citizens who try to determine the manner of death. These events can be found in the newspaper and may contain several days of testimony. Although this type of inquiry is for fact finding, afterwards, if the death is determined to be murder, criminal charges may be filed by law enforcement.

In this example from the bilingual newspaper Anunciador (Trinidad, Colorado), two men – Joe Romero and Margarito Diaz – engaged in a fight that resulted in Diaz shooting and killing Romero.

article about Joe Romero's murder, Anunciador newspaper article 4 March 1922

Anunciador (Trinidad, Colorado), 4 March 1922, page 3

From follow-up newspaper articles, we learn that Diaz professed his innocence at his criminal trial by claiming that the dead man, Romero, had first come toward him with a revolver and “made a movement to draw this weapon.” This news article informs the reader that the Diaz and Romero families lived in the same house and there was a witness to the shooting.

article about Margarito Diaz's trial for killing Joe Romero, Anunciador newspaper article 1 April 1922

Anunciador (Trinidad, Colorado), 1 April 1922, page 1

One of the reasons that newspaper articles about legal actions can result in genealogical gold is that they typically involve multiple articles over time. What might start as a notice in the police blotter may then go to a coroner’s inquest or an article reporting an arrest, and then articles on the trial, and so forth. These newspaper articles are great additions to the family history information you can find in court records.

A good example of all the various types of articles that can come out of legal activities is the following case from 1898 involving Lillian Brandes, a teenage California girl. Numerous articles over time were published in newspapers throughout the United States, most likely because it involved the brutal murder of a young girl. Originally reported as a suicide by her adopted parents, the inquest found that the girl was beaten and killed by her father, with her mother being arrested as an accessory.

article about the murder of Lillian Brandes, Tacoma Daily News newspaper article 23 November 1898

Tacoma Daily News (Tacoma, Washington), 23 November 1898, page 1

Not only does the newspaper report the legal events surrounding the murder, it also provides a short obituary for the young girl.

obituary for Lillian Brandes, Evening News newspaper article 28 November 1898

Evening News (San Jose, California), 28 November 1898, page 5

Just as a criminal trial that catches our interest today, each day of the trial resulted in an article updating the public on what was happening. In this old newspaper article we learn that in the preliminary hearing a neighbor recounted the screams and argument right before the murder.

testimony about the murder of Lillian Brandes, Evening News newspaper article 3 December 1898

Evening News (San Jose, California), 3 December 1898, page 1

Like many other cases, the court trial seemed to go on and on. In January 1899, there was a motion for a new trial by the Brandes due to their belief that they could not get a fair trial in the current venue.

Brandes Wants a New Trial, Evening News newspaper article 30 January 1899

Evening News (San Jose, California), 30 January 1899, page 5

Brandes was convicted, but then was tried a second time. In the second trial the testimony included the physician who was summoned to the death scene. Interestingly, at first he thought the girl was still alive and asked for some whiskey to restore her. Mr. Brandes proclaimed the girl was adopted and “this is what a person gets for adopting a stranger into the family.”

article about the trial of W. Brandes for murdering Lillian Brandes, Evening News newspaper article 31 May 1901

Evening News (San Jose, California), 31 May 1901, page 7

Newspaper articles about this crime didn’t stop at the conclusion of the court trial. Later news articles report on the prison escape attempt by Mr. Brandes, his release from prison, his later divorce from his wife and subsequent arrest on other charges.

Did your ancestor have any interactions or altercations with the law? Even if it was a non-criminal act or they were the victim of a crime, you may find that thorough genealogy research in court records and newspapers will provide a wealth of information. This is a good example of not making assumptions about your ancestor’s life, and enlarging your search to include newspapers in other areas of the country. The best thing about black sheep ancestors? They leave the best paper trail!

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