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.

How to Research Legal Notices in Newspapers for Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows how legal notices published in old newspapers are a great genealogy resource, providing a wealth of family history information.

When doing your family history research, have you ever given much thought to those legal notices found at the back of the newspaper? Legal notices in newspapers have an important purpose: they notify the public about government and individual actions so that readers may take action if necessary. The publishing of these public notices dates back to 1789, when Congress “required all bills, orders, resolutions and congressional votes to be published in at least three publicly available newspapers.”*

According to the genealogical text, The Source, legal notices may include: “land sales for payment of taxes, administration in probate, proving of wills, heirship determination and the settlement of estates, pending divorce proceedings, sales of properties of insolvent estates, and more.”**

Have you looked for your ancestor in these public notices published in newspapers? These legal articles can lead you to additional sources stored in courthouse archives, county government offices, and beyond. Let’s look at a few examples.

Probate & Estate Notices to Creditors

One genealogically rich source of information is the Notice to Creditors for estates being probated.

At the very least these probate notices provide the deceased’s name, such as this example found in an Arizona newspaper following the death of Mary J. Griffin.

This legal notice is a good reminder to not make assumptions about female ancestors. We often assume women in earlier times didn’t leave behind wills, but they may have – and if so, legal notice of that will or testament might have been published in the local newspaper. Legal notices are a wonderful source for researching female ancestors.

a legal notice for Mary Griffin, Tucson Citizen newspaper article 26 July 1915


Tucson Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 26 July 1915, page 5

Legal notices will often include a family member’s name who was administering the estate. This notice to creditors article example from an Idaho newspaper includes the name of the deceased, S. F. Beery, and the name of the executor who was most likely a relative, David Beery.

legal notice for S. F. Beery, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 26 June 1905

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 26 June 1905, page 5

Court Actions & Case Files

Notices of court actions in the newspaper include everything from divorces to individual lawsuits, delinquent tax issues, and foreclosures on property. Consider this example from a Minnesota newspaper that not only notifies the defendants about the court action, it mentions the land that is at the heart of the case.

legal notice for Elizabeth Field, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 11 January 1910

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 11 January 1910, page 11

Let’s face it, even our ancestors had money troubles – and that’s nowhere more obvious than in the Notice of Summons for delinquent taxes. This example from a North Carolina newspaper published during the Great Depression is an entire page of delinquent tax notices, and includes the names of married couples as well as individuals.

legal notices, Greensboro Record newspaper article 22 August 1932

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 22 August 1932, page 12

Divorces can be found in various parts of the newspaper (see Divorce Records in Newspapers: Genealogy Research Tips) including the legal notices section. In this example from an Oregon newspaper, Loretta Gates believed her husband John W. Gates to be dead, so a notice was published in the newspaper giving him the opportunity, if alive, to respond to her divorce petition. It states:

SIR: PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that a petition has been presented to this court by Loretta Gates for dissolution of your marriage on the ground that you absented yourself for five successive years, last past, without being known to her to be living, and she believes you to be dead, and that pursuant to an order of said court, entered the 22d day of December 1949, a hearing will be had upon said petition at Supreme Court…

legal notice for Loretta Gates, Oregonian newspaper article 12 February 1950

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 12 February 1950, page 39

This notice ran in the newspaper for at least three consecutive Sundays, providing ample time for a living Mr. Gates to read it.

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Bids

Government notices in the newspaper may provide you a better understanding of an event, or even an occupation, that affected your ancestor. In this legal notice from a Mississippi newspaper, the city of Gulfport in 1936 was taking bids from those who wanted to feed prisoners.

legal notice, Daily Herald newspaper article 31 December 1936

Daily Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi), 31 December 1936, page 3

It’s important to remember that newspaper articles may report on activities that impacted your ancestor’s life, but they won’t be specifically named. Search the census and city directories for your ancestor’s job and then turn to the newspaper to learn more about how they may have acquired that job.

And Then This…

I have to admit that when I think of legal notices, I think of a certain type of notice such as those I’ve highlighted above . But you never know what you might find, including this one from a San Quentin prisoner published in a California newspaper.

legal notice for Charles Cupp, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 9 January 1927

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 9 January 1927, page 73

This pardon notice for Charles S. Cupp surprised me – though I guess it shouldn’t have. His seeking a pardon would have been of interest to the community, and its publishing provided the community – and the victim of his crime – with notification so that they could then respond. Cupp had been convicted of shooting at a police officer.

Did You Know?

GenealogyBank has a special category for legal records, probate records and court case files. Explore legal records now >>

Genealogy Tip: Don’t limit your newspaper search to just one type of article. Make sure to examine all kinds of newspaper articles, including legal notices that mention your ancestor by name or involved activities that impacted their lives.

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* “Public notice and the role Oregon newspapers play.” Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association. Accessed 3 May 2015. http://www.gallatinpublicaffairs.com/services/media/pdf/Public_Notice_Whitepaper.pdf.
** “Newspapers” by Loretto Dennis Szucs, FUGA, and James L. Hansen, FASG in Szucs, Loretto D, and Sandra H. Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006.

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Hit a Brick Wall? 4 Genealogy Tips to Break Through

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena provides four tips to help solve a problem every genealogist runs into: the dreaded “brick wall,” when you don’t know where to turn or what to do to find information on an elusive ancestor.

Do you ever find yourself frustrated by your genealogy research? Maybe you feel like you’ve looked everywhere and will never find that missing ancestor. Family history research is a careful process and it takes a lot longer than we would often like. Genealogical records are incomplete, transcriptions have errors, not everything is found online, and your ancestor had no control over how others spelled or misspelled their name.

photo of a brick wall in English cross bon pattern

Photo: brick wall in English cross bon pattern. Credit: Oula Lehtinen; Wikimedia Commons.

So yes, you will hit that genealogy brick wall, multiple times. How can you get over that persistent obstacle?

1) Take a Genealogy Research Break

You may be scratching your head and wondering why I’m suggesting that you take a break from your family history research before trying to break through your brick wall. It’s really very simple. We all benefit from stepping away from a problem for a time, whether momentarily or for a longer stretch. Putting your genealogy research away allows you time to ponder, as well as learn about new resources and methodologies.

How do you make the most out of your research break? Take some time to enhance your genealogy research skills by reading books that teach methodology or expose you to record sets you’ve never used. Some of my favorite genealogy books are The Family Tree Guidebook to Europe, The Genealogists’ Google Toolbox and The Family Tree Problem Solver.

Also during your research break, take advantage of webinars and other genealogy learning opportunities. Explore your local library or a nearby archival collection. By exploring different library and archival catalogs you can learn more about what family history resources exist for the place and time period you are researching.

To get started, conduct some searches on the FamilySearch catalog. Search on the name of the place you are researching, and continue your hunt by conducting a keyword search – for example, utilizing words that describe an ancestor’s religion or occupation.

2) Strategize Your Next Research Step

Where do you look for ancestral records now? What do you do if you can’t find an ancestor in records where you think they should be, like a census record? What do you do then?

Take some time to plan out your next genealogy research steps. One way to do this is to put together a Research Plan. A Genealogy Research Plan allows you to clarify what you are looking for, what you currently know, and where you go from there. To learn more about creating a research plan, see the article Think Like a Detective – Developing a Genealogy Research Plan by Association of Professional Genealogists president Kimberly Powell.

One question I get asked in regards to my genealogy research is: “How did you find that?” There’s no magical answer except that I use some basic tried and true research techniques, such as searching on different variations of an ancestor’s name (see Name Research Tip: Search Variations of Family First & Last Names). In addition to standard genealogy record sets, I also use resources like digitized books (see Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 2: Google Books & Internet Archive).

One of my favorite genealogy tools is to create a timeline for the ancestor’s life I’m researching, and then populate that timeline with dates, events, comments and sources. By creating that timeline, I can keep track of my research and see what gaps need to be filled. It also helps me to focus on what family history resources I may be missing (see Genealogy Timelines: Helpful Research Tools).

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3) Try Something New

What resources do you use for your research? Instead of doing the same old thing, try using your favorite websites in a different way. For example, GenealogyBank is a great resource for newspapers – but did you know the site offers historical books and documents as well?

Now’s the time to go beyond just searching the same old way and instead try searching differently or utilizing a new collection. You can get some new ideas by checking out the GenealogyBank Learning Center.

Once you’ve explored a new way to use your favorite websites, start searching for genealogy websites you’ve never used before. Need some ideas? You can find website links specific to a topic or a place by checking out Cyndi’s List or Linkpendium. Explore online catalogs by searching on WorldCat or ArchiveGrid, or the catalog for the state archive or library you are researching.

4) Get Help from Professionals, Family & More

Ask a research professional (professional genealogist, reference librarian or archivist) for some assistance searching an online catalog or looking for new resources. There are so many opportunities to ask questions and get assistance with your genealogy searches; one of my favorite ways is to use the “Ask a Librarian” feature found on many library websites. This allows me to email or use a chat room to ask a question about a resource or collection.

In addition, GenealogyBank offers a toll-free phone number for free help from a Family History Consultant. Call 1-866-641-3297 (Hours: Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. ET) for help. Also, try looking for more strategies to break through genealogy brick walls in GenealogyBank’s Genealogist Q&A and brick wall blog articles.

Even problem-solving with a non-genealogist friend or relative can be useful. The non-genealogists around us will approach the problem from a different angle since they do not have preconceived notions of where to find information. Talk about your family history research problem with the non-genealogists around you and you may get a few new ideas.

How are you going to get over your genealogy brick wall? We all come to a point where we feel “stuck.” The key is to take a break, regroup, and plan out your future genealogy research. Genealogy is a pursuit that involves continuing education, so take some time to learn something new every day – it will benefit your research and perhaps even your stress level!

How have you overcome your genealogy brick walls? Share your brick wall experiences with us in the comments section.

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How to Find the Black Sheep of Your Family in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena writes about one of the more interesting aspects of genealogy: uncovering the stories of your “black sheep” ancestors.

It’s no secret that I love researching black sheep ancestors when tracing my family tree. Why? They leave behind the best paper trails! And if there’s one place to learn more about your black sheep ancestor, it’s in old newspapers – like those in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. I could literally spend days finding examples of articles memorializing those ancestors who didn’t walk the straight and narrow. To get you started on your own family black sheep research quest, here are a few examples of articles I’ve discovered in the old newspaper archives.

Police Blotters

Police blotter articles are short listings documenting arrests and police activities. They can provide a lot of information, including the name of the party arrested, their crime, the address where the crime occurred, and even the name of the victim – as in these examples from May 1900.

police blotter, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 10 May 1900

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 10 May 1900, page 9

A few days later the same Philadelphia police blotter gives additional information about one criminal, as it reports:

Henry Haig, alias Kendig, who has only been out of jail two weeks, was sent to prison pending trail [sic] on the charge of having stolen bicycles belonging to Thomas Magee, of 2247 Dickinson street, and William H. Urner, of 22 South Nineteenth street.

What a great find for someone unaware that their kin used more than one surname.

police blotter, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 12 May 1900

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 12 May 1900, page 9

From the Jail to the Courthouse

The nice thing about reading your ancestor’s court case in the newspaper is that you can follow it up with the actual official court records. In this list from the Lexington Herald of police court cases, some are violent crimes like murder and assault – but many are less serious, such as drunkenness, loitering, and disorderly conduct. My favorite in this list is the last entry for Mrs. A. B. Lancaster, charged with reckless driving – in 1913!

Twenty-Seven Cases Up in Police Court, Lexington Herald newspaper article 6 July 1913

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 6 July 1913, page 6

Affairs of the Heart

Your black sheep ancestor might not have committed what we would define as a crime today – but they may have acted in a manner that was criminal at the time (and most people would continue to disapprove of). In today’s world we get our fill of the private lives of celebrities, but don’t forget that the unwise choices of normal, everyday people can also be found in the newspaper.

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Consider the California case back in 1921 of Wallace Van Winkle Alexander, his wife Mary, and his alleged mistress Edith Prudhomme (sometimes misspelled as Prudhammer). Mrs. Alexander first became suspicious of the relationship between her husband and family friend Mrs. Prudhomme after finding a classified ad about a lost canary. Coupled with her husband’s absence, Mrs. Alexander suspected that her husband was with Mrs. Prudhomme in her apartment. Mary Alexander contacted the police and they raided Mrs. Prudhomme’s apartment, finding Mr. Alexander hiding in a closet wearing pajamas.

article about the Alexander scandal, Evening News newspaper article 18 July 1921

Evening News (San Jose, California), 18 July 1921, page 1

Probably even better than the initial story of catching her husband red-handed is a follow-up news story that shows a photo of Mary Alexander swearing out a complaint against her husband. It just goes to show that you never know what kind of photos you’ll find in the newspaper.

In this follow-up article, the journalist seems surprised by Mr. Alexander’s choice in a mistress. He writes:

The heart of Wallace Van Winkle Alexander, wealthy Los Gatos broker, was won not by a blue-eyed baby doll or a dashing young widow, but one who would least be suspected – a family friend of years of standing, a woman 50 years old and ten years the senior of his wife.

(It appears from census records that the age difference between the two women is slightly exaggerated in this account.) While Mrs. Alexander had already sworn a formal complaint on the lovebirds, Mr. Alexander tried to file one on his wife for cruelty. Mrs. Alexander’s brother chalked up the tryst to the greed of both husband and mistress – he is quoted as saying:

She thought he had money and he thought she had it, is the way I sum the matter up…

Broker Vamped by Woman of 50, Says Wife [Mary Alexander], San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 19 July 1921

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 19 July 1921, page 3

A newspaper article that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune reports the flimsiest excuse from an accused husband that was ever uttered:

Alexander explained his presence in Mrs. Prudhammer’s apartment in his pajamas by saying that the hot water at his own apartment was seldom very hot. He said he went to the apartment of Mrs. Prudhammer, an old family friend, and told her that he wanted to use her tub. He had just undressed, he said, when the door bell rang, and he hastily rushed into a closet and donned a pair of pajamas.

The story goes on to say that Mrs. Prudhammer verified Mr. Alexander’s story but added that she protested when he said he wanted to use her tub.

Broker's Wife Sends Police after Hubby, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper article 19 July 1921

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 19 July 1921, page 1

Don’t Forget Those Images

We’ve talked about the richness of images in the newspaper in previous blog articles. One of my favorite sections of early 20th century newspapers is the photographs page where images are accompanied with a sentence or two about their significance. This feature acted as an image wrap-up of current news stories from around the globe. This 1922 example from Trenton, New Jersey, has several examples of nefarious dealings – including two photos dealing with a husband’s abandonment, and another about a wife’s inclination to steal furs.

Page of Photographs, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 27 March 1922

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 27 March 1922, page 8

The Times They Are a-Changing

As time went by, activities that once earned the black sheep label seemed sedate to later generations. Old newspapers allow us to get to know the sensibilities and moirés of an earlier time.

Black sheep ancestors include those who pushed the boundaries of current convention. Consider your 1920s grandmother who dared to bare just a little too much leg and received a monetary fine for doing so.

While the example in the next newspaper article is from Germany, I’m sure evidence of such practices can be found for the United States. These two police officers have the most dreadful task of measuring young women’s skirts and issuing fines for their lack of length. I have to admit that I would absolutely love to find one of my female ancestors in a police record for wearing a short skirt!

Berlin Police and Short Skirts, Cobb County Times newspaper article 16 August 1921

Cobb County Times (Marietta, Georgia), 16 August 1921, page 8

It’s possible that, if your grandmother was wearing her skirts too short when she was young, she was also going to dances, smoking cigarettes, and drinking. The more I read old newspapers the more I realize that teenagers haven’t changed much in 100 years.

Watch Dancers, Not the Dances, Plain Dealer newspaper article 7 October 1921

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 7 October 1921, page 13

GenealogyTip: Black sheep ancestors may have left other records. Follow up what you find in newspaper articles with other documents like court records.

Who’s the Black Sheep in Your Family?

Your ancestor may have been the black sheep of the family for any number of reasons, ranging from committing crimes to engaging in adultery, or perhaps an activity that is commonplace now but considered scandalous back in the day. Embrace your black sheep ancestors and look for their stories in the newspaper – and if you know of any black sheep in your family tree and are willing to share the stories, tell us in the comments section.

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How to Find Old Family Photos & More in Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shares some of her favorite old photos that she’s found in historical newspapers.

There’s no doubt I love to read and research old newspapers. The diverse news stories you can find are always amazing. But newspapers also provide a visual feast of images. Let’s face it, images tell a story much more powerfully than words alone. Images provide us with additional information as we research our ancestor, their place, and time.

Often when we research an ancestor we are focused on finding information about that single person and perhaps their family. In some cases you might find your ancestor’s photo in the newspaper – but what other types of photographs are available? Here are some of my favorite examples of old photos I found while browsing in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Old Family Reunion Photos

Newspapers are a great resource for finding family stories. Newspaper articles provide information about a person’s life from cradle to grave – and all the activities in between. One way they report on family stories is through articles about family reunions – and these articles can have photos that are very helpful to family historians.

Family reunion photos may be of everyone at the gathering or just a few members, such as this reunion photo of two of the older members in attendance at the Chenault-Chennault clan’s 1952 reunion that drew over 255 relatives from seven states to Dallas, Texas. One of the issues discussed at the reunion? Whether their surname should be spelled Chenault or Chennault.

photo from the Chenault family reunion, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 1 September 1952

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 1 September 1952, section III, page 1

It’s great to have this old family photo and the accompanying information about those relatives pictured. Mrs. Blanche Chenault Junkin was a retired teacher and stated she had “won three college degrees after she was sixty years old.”

Sometimes a “family reunion” isn’t a large gathering of descendants, but instead a celebration of a singular family event – such as this photo taken on the occasion of Mrs. Nancy J. Atkinson’s 91st birthday in 1922, when her eight children came to pay her a visit and help celebrate.

photo of the Atkinson family reunion, Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper article 10 September 1922

Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado), 10 September 1922, page 20

Multi-Generation Family Photos

How many generations of your family could you have pose for a family photo? Unfortunately, in my current family we max out at three – but for other families, four to six generations can be found in one photograph. Newspapers are a great place to find these types of multi-generation family photos.

This five-generation family photo is of Mrs. Eliza Heminger, her son George Heminger, Mrs. Lillian Hall, Mrs. Ethel Campany and Ethel’s baby daughter Leafy.

photo of the Smith family reunion, Grand Rapids Press newspaper article 12 January 1907

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 12 January 1907, page 11

Multi-generation family photos are just one of the general interest-type stories and images that one can find in old newspapers.

Natural Disaster Photos

Telling your ancestor’s story is more than just finding vital statistics about him or her. Filling in the details about their life is equally important – as well as finding out what was going on in the times they lived in – and for those stories, you need newspaper articles of the day. You can find all types of photos from historical events in the newspaper – and often if the event was big enough, those photos were not limited to just the hometown newspapers.

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For example, photographs of this 1915 Italian earthquake were published in a Northern California newspaper. Most likely this was the 13 January 1915 Avezzano earthquake that killed 30,000 people. Photos of the devastation, printed weeks and months after the event, were the only way that distant family, friends, and concerned parties could size up the destruction.

photo of an earthquake in Italy, San Jose Mercury News newspaper article 6 February 1915

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 6 February 1915, page 1

California is no stranger to earthquakes. One of the most famous is the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which not only caused destruction from the shaking but the subsequent fires. Three days after the earthquake of 1906 struck, 500 city blocks—over 25,000 buildings—had been smashed or burned; the earthquake and fire combined to destroy over 80 percent of the city. So many old news articles and images can be found for this earthquake that it’s quite easy to put together information about how a family was affected during and after the disaster.

photo of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, Register Star newspaper article 18 April 2005

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 18 April 2005, page 3

Genealogy Tip: As you put together a timeline of your ancestor’s life, make sure to note any events, including disasters, which may have impacted them. Once you have identified dates for those events, search the newspaper for accompanying photos and stories.

School Group Photos

One thing I love about newspapers is the ability to find all family members, not just adults. Children, teens, and young adults are well represented in the newspaper, especially when it comes to school activities. Numerous school group photos can be found in newspapers. While we may think of class photos, graduation announcements, or sports highlights, other types of school happenings are also well documented in old newspapers, like this 1939 photo from Brownsville, Texas, of the new student leaders at the high school and junior college.

photo of school class presidents, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 6 October 1939

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 6 October 1939, page 3

Unlike the photo above that includes everyone’s name, this next photo has only one student name: Miss Borghild Asleson. However, this old school photo provides some important social history regarding attending college during the Great Depression. This class photo of students at Park Region Lutheran College in Minnesota shows them paying their tuition with wheat grown on their family farm. You can imagine how important that payment option was to families during those hard economic times.

photo of student paying tuition with grain at Park Region Lutheran College, National Labor Tribune newspaper article 24 September 1931

National Labor Tribune (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), 24 September 1931, page 8

The examples of historical photos shown in this blog article are just the tip of the iceberg. Newspaper photos provide an important element in telling your family story, whether you are searching for the people photographed, an event, or a place. Old newspapers can help you tell that story with this rich resource.

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Brave Women of the American Revolutionary War Era

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 stories of some brave American women and their deeds during the Revolutionary War.

When we think of the American Revolutionary War we reflect on the sacrifices and bravery exhibited by the men of the era. We tell the stories of heroes like George Washington and John Paul Jones. But what did women do during the Revolutionary War era? What were these early American women like? We tend to believe that they were “just housewives,” more “delicate” than women of a latter era. Sure, they were tough due to lack of technology, access to medical care, and the hardships they faced. But how tough were they?

Illustration: “Heroism of Miss Elizabeth Zane” depicts Elizabeth Zane’s legendary feat of retrieving gunpowder during the siege of Fort Henry during the American Revolutionary War

Illustration: “Heroism of Miss Elizabeth Zane” depicts Elizabeth Zane’s legendary feat of retrieving gunpowder during the siege of Fort Henry during the American Revolutionary War. Lithograph by Nagel and Weingaertner, 1851. Source: Library of Congress.

When we look at our Revolutionary War foremothers, in some cases they were so tough that they kicked butt and didn’t bother to take names. Yes, that’s right. Our Revolutionary War-era foremothers were TOUGH!

Hannah Gaunt

My first introduction to this was from my own family history research: the story of Hannah Gaunt of South Carolina, daughter of Israel Gaunt who was a Quaker. Now let me set the scene for you. It seems that Israel was known to have some money. During the war, three Tories decided to go over to the Gaunt house to relieve Israel of that money. After sunset, the would-be robbers rode up to Israel’s home and asked for lodging. The Gaunts refused their request. One of the men, a guy named Hubbs, rode up to the kitchen door and asked Mrs. Gaunt for some water. When Mrs. Gaunt went to get the water, Hubbs jumped into action and entered the house. Mrs. Gaunt yelled to her husband so that he could lock the other doors, preventing the other two outlaws from getting in. Suddenly Hubbs drew his pistol and aimed it at Mr. Gaunt’s chest.

Now, let’s stop there. Here is Mr. Gaunt with a pistol to his chest while his wife and daughter look on, seemingly helpless. Two other outlaws who would do them harm are outside waiting for their chance to grab the family’s money. What do you do?

Well if you are Hannah Gaunt you leap into action: you wrestle the bad guy for his gun and pin him to the ground. According to this later 1859 newspaper article recounting the episode:

…she held him with an iron gripe [sic], notwithstanding his violent struggles to release himself, and his plunging his spurs again and again into her dress and her limbs. While the Amazonian damsel thus pinned him down, her father snapped two loaded muskets at his head…

article about Hannah Gaunt, Weekly Wisconsin Patriot newspaper article 22 January 1859

Weekly Wisconsin Patriot (Madison, Wisconsin), 22 January 1859, page 3

Mary Hooks Slocumb

So was Hannah Gaunt the only woman who had a fighting spirit? Certainly not; we know that some women during the American Revolutionary War fought on the battlefields, while others protected their homes. Newspapers reported on these brave women’s exploits.

Enter Last Name

This 1851 newspaper article, a review of Mrs. Elizabeth F. Ellet’s 1850 three-volume book The Women of the American Revolution, recounts one of the stories from that book involving a very brave woman: Mary Hooks Slocumb. One night after having a dream where she saw her soldier husband injured from battle, she took to her horse and rode all night alone, approximately 60 miles, to reach the battle where her husband’s unit was. Although he was not one of the injured, many others were – and Mary ignored the sounds of cannon fire and tended to their needs. So that readers would not get the impression that Mary was anything but a lady, the article added:

Though Mrs. Slocumb could ride a horse, shoot a pistol, or take part in many masculine employments, she was not inattentive to many feminine duties…

article about Mary Hooks Slocumb, Daily National Intelligencer newspaper article 19 June 1851

Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), 19 June 1851, page 3

Elizabeth Zane

Women volunteered to do all sorts of tasks to help the Revolutionary War effort, often at great risk. This 1849 newspaper article recounted the story of Elizabeth Zane’s bravery during a British attack on the American Fort Henry. After two days of holding the enemy at bay, the patriots were running out of gunpowder. They needed someone to run through enemy fire to a nearby block-house and retrieve more. At first, when asked, none of the men would volunteer. Finally a boy said he would do it, which of course prompted the men to volunteer. The men then started arguing about who should go – when the sister of Colonel Silas Zane (who was in the outside block-house) volunteered. Another of her brothers was in the fort, and he didn’t want her to run the risk.

The old newspaper article reports:

Her brother thought she would flinch from the enterprise, but he was mistaken. She had the intrepidity to dare, and the fortitude to bear her up in the heroic risk of her life.

Her brother tried to talk her out of it, but Elizabeth was resolute. She ran to the block-house unharmed, and then returned to the fort with the precious extra gunpowder through a volley of enemy bullets.

article about Elizabeth Zane, Semi-weekly Eagle newspaper article 11 October 1849

Semi-weekly Eagle (Brattleboro, Vermont), 11 October 1849, page 1

Mrs. Porter Philbrook

The bravery and heroism of American women during the Revolution continued to be discussed long after the fighting ended. Newspaper obituaries and memoirs noted those women and their acts of valor during the Revolutionary War period. Even latter-day women who displayed strength and cunning were likened to their Revolutionary mothers, as in this case involving an 1850 home burglary that resulted in the capture of the culprit by the lady of the house, Mrs. Porter Philbrook of Wilton, New Hampshire.

In telling of her bravery in apprehending a burglar while her husband was away, this 1850 newspaper article said she performed:

“a deed of daring”…which would not be unworthy of the bravest of the “women of the Revolution.”

As Mrs. Philbrook was preparing to retire for the night, she heard a noise and found a burglar breaking in – whom she confronted and subdued.

article about Mrs. Porter Philbrook, National Aegis newspaper article 25 December 1850

National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 25 December 1850, page 2

What did your Revolutionary War-era ancestress do? Probably more than you imagine. While you might think that these women sat at home and waited, more likely they were involved in something to assist in the war effort. In some cases they were true heroines.

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Father’s Day & Father of the Year

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena writes about the origins of Father’s Day as a national holiday, and the special honor “Father of the Year.”

What are your plans this Sunday for Father’s Day? You might be surprised to learn that Father’s Day is actually a fairly recent holiday. Although a celebration of fathers was held on 19 June 1910 in Spokane, Washington, it wasn’t until President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation in 1972 that the third Sunday of June was permanently set aside as Father’s Day, a national holiday.

Sonora Smart Dodd Starts Movement to Honor Fathers

The idea for Father’s Day is credited to Sonora Smart Dodd who, after listening to a Mother’s Day sermon at church, believed that her father William Jackson Smart – a Civil War veteran and young widower who raised 6 children – should also be honored.

article about Sonora Smart Dodd promoting "Father's Day," Cincinnati Post newspaper article 25 May 1911

Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, Ohio), 25 May 1911, page 5

She encouraged Spokane churches to set aside a Sunday sermon in honor of Father’s Day. They did that in June 1910 and preached about the importance of fathers. The movement grew from there and was discussed in newspapers across the country.

Movement Spreads for "Father's Day," Tucson Daily Citizen newspaper article 14 June 1910

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 14 June 1910, page 1

As the idea for Father’s Day took off, others joined the effort to make a permanent national holiday honoring dads. The Father’s Day Council was established in 1931 by concerned citizens and leaders who wanted to help achieve the “universal observance” of a Father’s Day holiday. Later it was renamed the Father’s Day/Mother’s Day Council.

Father of the Year

In 1942 the Father’s Day Committee was established, whose “sole purpose was to confer Father of the Year honors on leaders of society.”

The Father’s Day Committee set about choosing “lifestyle leaders” each year for their honorees. Starting in 1942 a select few dads were honored with the title Father of the Year. So who are some of the winners of this honor?

Probably not surprisingly considering that World War II was happening, the first honoree was General Douglas MacArthur. One of the fathers awarded the next year, 1943, was another general: Dwight D. Eisenhower.

General Eisenhower Wins Designation as No. 1 Father, Sacramento Bee newspaper article 16 June 1943

Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), 16 June 1943, page 22

Eisenhower was bestowed the honor of number one father “because of the brilliant victory of the United Nations forces, because of their stirring example in fortitude, because of their value to the cause for which we are fighting – the protection of our homes and our liberty – and because of your sterling qualities of leadership and inspiration to the youth of today and all future generals.” At the time of this award Eisenhower and his wife Mamie had a son, John D. Eisenhower, who was a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy.

Enter Last Name

Through the years, all kinds of celebrities and famous men were given the honor of the nation’s #1 father. Presidents, movie stars, soldiers, ministers, athletes, musicians, and lawyers were honored. The title of Father of the Year was given to several men each year, all representing different walks of life. In 1960 Pat Boone was named Television Father of the Year, with additional awards going to Robert F. Kennedy, Charlton Heston, John Unitas (quarterback for the NFL’s Baltimore Colts) and Art Linkletter.

Pat Boone, 'TV's Father of the Year,' Daily Illinois State Journal newspaper article 11 June 1960

Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 11 June 1960, page 31

Every year the Father of the Year charity luncheon is held in the nominees’ honor. This year’s honorees include President George W. Bush, Morris Goldfarb and Ashok Sani. You can read more about this year’s ceremony and The Father’s Day/Mother’s Day Council on their website.

Step Away from That Tie!

While your dad may never be officially named Father of the Year, he’s probably number one in your life. Father’s Day is a great way to show him how much you care, but let’s face it – dads probably get the short end of the stick when it comes to gifts. Even before there was an official holiday, retailers were coming up with ideas about what to get dad for his special day. In this 1919 advertisement for the John Bressmer Company, gift-giving suggestions include a humidor and an Edison phonograph – but it wasn’t too long before ties were the suggested gift.

Sunday, June 1 Is Father's Day, Daily Illinois State Journal newspaper advertisement 29 May 1919

Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 29 May 1919, page 3

Probably the real problem with finding a special gift for dad is that moms are just easier to shop for. After all, moms are more associated with sentimental gifts. As this 1930 Mississippi newspaper article points out:

article about gifts for Father's Day, Daily Herald newspaper article 11 June 1930

Daily Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi), 11 June 1930, page 5

It would seem that gifting a tie has a long tradition.

That same newspaper article provided two poems for Father’s Day:

poem for Father's Day, Daily Herald newspaper article 11 June 1930

Daily Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi), 11 June 1930, page 5

poem for Father's Day, Daily Herald newspaper article 11 June 1930

Daily Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi), 11 June 1930, page 5

Spend some time making family memories with your dad. Honor those dads who have passed by writing and sharing their stories. Happy Father’s Day!

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Frederic Haskin’s Answers to Questions: Like Google before Google

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena profiles Frederic J. Haskin and his Question & Answer column that was syndicated in more than 100 newspapers during the 1920s.

Where did inquisitive minds seek answers to their questions 70 or more years ago, long before the age of the Internet and search engines like Google? Your immediate answer might be: the library. Librarians, then as now, are the great reference source (even when Google lacks an answer). In fact, the New York Public Library has recently reported the finding of old index cards of reference questions and answers from the 1940s to the early 1980s. Recently, they have started to add those index cards to their Instagram account (@nypl) each week.

Frederic J. Haskin’s Answer Column

But who else, aside from librarians, answered questions in the days before the Internet? The newspapers. While many different types of Question & Answer columns were printed in newspapers, one column was syndicated in more than 100 newspapers during the 1920s. Frederic J. Haskin of the Information Bureau is said, at one point, to have received 1,000 letters a day which he answered with the help of his staff.

According to Haskin’s 1926 book Answers to Questions, his work on the Q & A newspaper column started because:

the author of this book gradually developed a large mail from readers asking questions about subjects which he had discussed. Pleased by the questions that his writings had inspired, the author set out to answer the inquiries which he received. As this became known, his mail increased until he was forced to obtain funds from the newspaper which he represented to pay for the cost of additional research work.*

Each newspaper that ran his Q & A column would start with an invitation such as this:

Any reader can get the answer to any question by writing… information bureau Frederic J. Haskin, director, Washington D.C. Give full name and address and enclose two-cent stamp for return postage. Be brief. All inquiries are confidential, the replies being sent to each individual.

When printed in the newspaper, readers’ questions were always signed with only their initials, allowing them to ask pretty much any type of question.

Questions, Questions and More Questions

The questions asked by people ranged from the historical to current events, practical to trivial. Understandably, questions that affected people in the here and now were asked, like this May 1919 question about the length of military enlistment – six months after the official end of World War I.

a question and answer column by Frederic J. Haskin, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 1 May 1919

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 1 May 1919, page 7

In some cases, questions amounted to simple trivia – but for some of the questions, you may wonder what was the story behind the question that was asked. In this column from November 1922, the questions include “Why are some cranberries white?” and “Is China the most densely populated country?” to “Can a husband demand the delivery of mail addressed to his wife?”

For the latter question, the reply was:

Neither husband nor wife can control the delivery of mail addressed to the other against the wishes of the one to whom it is addressed. In the absence of instructions to the contrary, the wife’s letters will be placed with the husband’s mail unless they be known to live separately.

a question and answer column by Frederic J. Haskin, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 6 November 1922

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 6 November 1922, page 15

Haskin was a prolific author on various topics. Some of his Q & A columns also ran with an advertisement for his informative booklets, like this one on Parliamentarian Law, and there were other topics as well – such as poetry and maps

ad for a booklet on Parliamentarian Law by Frederic J. Haskin, Omaha World Herald newspaper advertisement 12 November 1931

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 12 November 1931, page 13

With a Touch of Genealogy Research

In his book Answers to Questions, the questions received from 5,000 newspaper readers and his answers are compiled and arranged according to topic. Chapters range from Agricultural and Aircraft to Criminology and Religion.

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Haskin understood the reference and educational value of his Q & A column. He wrote in his book:

It is also the most unusual school in the world. It costs nothing to go to it. It has millions of students. It offers a more diversified curriculum than any university. It spreads its knowledge through the daily press and the mails. It reaches the ditch digger and the captain of finance, the washerwoman and the social leader. It is open to anyone who can read and write. All a student is required to do is ask and it will answer. It is the school of universal information.**

It’s surprising how many of these old Q & A columns could be useful to today’s genealogist. And in some cases Haskin’s Information Bureau acted as a detective service. In a 1922 article about the Information Bureau that appeared in the periodical The American Magazine, it is recalled that one of the letters received was from a woman who wanted to know the whereabouts of her brother, a civil engineer, whom she had lost contact with. Using city directories, the Bureau researcher was able to give her an answer:

Your brother left Buffalo, probably in the year 1916. If he went to Detroit, he did not remain there permanently. As he was not enlisted in the army or navy during the way, though of draft age, he may have been married without your knowledge…

The researcher also recommends contacting the brother’s college alumni association. That article explains more about the Information Bureau and its team of expert researchers. And just like the traits of a good genealogist, it states:

Neither Haskin nor the people in his bureau pretend to know the answer to every question: But they do know where to find the answers.***

——————–

* Answers to Questions, by Frederic J. Haskin, p. 11. Hathi Trust http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.$b287779.
** Answers to Questions, by Frederic J. Haskin, p. 12. Hathi Trust http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.$b287779
*** “What People Are Inquisitive About,” by Fred C. Kelly. The American Magazine. Available from Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=UbQ7AQAAMAAJ&lpg=RA4-PA45&ots=wkIdv0TUA-&dq=newspaper%20information%20bureaus%20questions%20and%20answers&pg=RA4-PA45#v=onepage&q=newspaper%20information%20bureaus%20questions%20and%20answers&f=false

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Genealogy Timelines: Helpful Research Tools

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena explains the importance of genealogy timelines – and provides a free timeline template to download for your own family history research.

Do you use timelines for your family history research? Genealogy timelines provide a visual representation of your research that makes it easier for you to examine information you have collected on where your ancestor was, and what they were doing, at various points in their life. No matter how you put together your genealogy timeline (whether via a genealogy software program or simply using a chart in a word processing document), they are an important research tool for tracking your ancestor and for understanding their place in history.

Here is a sample genealogy timeline for John M. Howard.

a sample genealogy timeline

Download the free GenealogyBank timeline template >

Who, What, When, and Where

A genealogy timeline allows me to track the basic facts I want to know about my ancestor in one place. Use your timeline to document the information you find in documents, newspapers, and books. My timelines consist of tables with five columns; Date, Place, Event, Comments, and Source. This allows me to view everything I know about a person in one place. As I find new information I add a row to my genealogy timeline, with the information in date order.

Create your timeline so that it is most useful to you. You might prefer color-coding events, names, or even sources. Maybe you want to add portions of an original document to your timeline entry, or links to websites. Whenever you’re using a genealogy tool like a timeline it’s important that you create it in a way that you will use and that will assist you in your research.

While timelines provide a great place to document your family history findings, don’t forget to use them for asking questions or noting next steps. In my timeline’s comments section I always add analysis, observations or what information I need to look for. When I add newspaper articles, I always include comments regarding follow-up research or even new keywords I need to use in my searches.

Most importantly, make sure you document the source where you found that information in your genealogy timeline. This will help you later when you need to refer back to a newspaper article, document or a website. While this may seem like a lot of work now, it’s nothing compared to the hassles of trying to track back to find something later.

Enter Last Name

Add Unique Identifiers

As I create a timeline for an individual I always add a column based on something unique about that genealogy research. For example, in one case I was researching a man who lived in the early 20th century, who changed his name three times, lived in five different states, and married a total of four times. I added a column to my timeline to note what name I found him listed under and his address. This allowed me to get a sense of when and where he was using a specific name. A family history research project I’m currently working on involving a woman who used a “professional” name – as well as various versions of her birth name and subsequent married names – involves numerous newspaper articles over time. So tracking what name I found information under and what newspaper is vital.

Mind the Time Gap

A genealogy timeline is a “living” document, meaning that it is essentially never finished. As you find new information and discover new events, you will add to your timeline. One of the aspects of your timeline you’ll want to keep a look out for is the gaps in time. Whether they are small gaps that represent months or larger gaps representing several years, you’ll want to keep in mind those gaps and what they could represent.

Researching a female ancestor who has a large gap between births in her children? This could represent a number of things including the loss of a child or children due to miscarriage or childhood disease. It could also represent her husband being gone for a period of time like in the case of military service during a war. When you see a gap in your timeline ask yourself what that gap could mean and then check out what was going on in history that might have had an influence on the life of your ancestor. Performing newspaper research for that time period and place can be especially helpful.

Understanding Ancestors’ Lives in Historical Context

History is an important component to what we do as family historians. We have a tendency to ignore history in our search for details of an ancestor’s life, but the two are intrinsically linked. History had an effect on your ancestor and their choices whether it was war, famine, or unemployment. As you add events to your timeline don’t forget to add historical events to it as well. This may assist you in determining what additional documents could exist and provides context and richness to your family stories. For example, research for an adult male ancestor living during World War I should include a search for a World War I draft record. Historical newspapers should also be searched for possible mentions of military service.

Genealogy timelines are a tool that can assist you as you research – and later as you compose – the story of your ancestor’s life. Use your timeline to add research finds as well as history to better understand your ancestor’s story.

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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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