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.

3 Genealogy Tips for Family History Month

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” As you may be aware, October is Family History Month. In this blog article, Gena celebrates this special month for family historians by suggesting three genealogy tips for you to try.

First set aside as Family History Month in 2001 via a resolution introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch, October is a time to reflect on our ancestry. Family History Month can be a busy one with genealogy society events and conferences to educate existing family historians – and encourage those who are just starting.

What are you personally doing for Family History Month? It’s the perfect time to set some goals for what you want to do with your family history research. Consider what you want to accomplish and then break those objectives down into smaller goals that can easily be achieved in a short amount of time. What might some month-long genealogy goals look like? Here are a few goals that I’ll be working on to celebrate Family History Month.

1) Catch up on your newspaper research. I’m lucky – I get to research in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives on a daily basis. But GenealogyBank is updated monthly and I don’t always remember to rerun my searches for new-to-me articles. My plan this month is to search the latest additions to GenealogyBank for newspapers that can help me fill in some of the gaps in my family tree.

Do you have an obituary for all of your great-grandparents? Have you looked for your parent’s wedding announcements? What about notices in the legal section of the newspapers? Take some time this month to find new articles to add to your family history.

I’m starting with my great-great-grandparents’ obituaries. Below is one of my paternal great-great-grandparents. Now, only 31 more to go!

obituary for Joseph Chatham, Sacramento Bee newspaper article 16 January 1940

Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), 16 January 1940, page 4

2) Learn one new thing about genealogy. What’s that one thing you wish you knew about family history research? Maybe you want to know how to conduct better searches. Maybe you want to learn how to use a specific genealogy website. Maybe you would just like to better understand the World War I draft. Whatever your interest is, make a pact with yourself that you will take some time this month to enhance your genealogy research skills by learning one new thing. Whether it’s methodology, a new website, how to search a favorite website, or learning about a record set, your research will benefit from continuing education.

GenealogyBank provides many different opportunities to learn more about genealogy, including a YouTube channel, Pinterest boards, and a Learning Center. Ensure you are searching like a family history pro and invest some time in learning how to best use genealogy resources.

3) Share your family history research. How are you sharing your genealogy research? Genealogy is often seen as a solitary pursuit. While the image of someone bent over a microfilm machine in a hushed library is sometimes accurate, the new face of genealogy research is so much more. It’s through sharing that we learn from the knowledge and work of others as we seek to find answers. Sharing your genealogy research doesn’t need to be a big production.

Take some time today to tell a younger member of the family about your grandparents, or a story about a historical event you witnessed (my mom shared with my high school-age sons about the Kennedy assassination and its effect on her as a high school student). Upload some family photos to Facebook and tag your family members. Call a sibling and ask them what they remember about a grandparent or a family event, and then share your research about that person. Sharing doesn’t need to be something planned well in advance or a lot of work – it can simply mean spending a few minutes to pass on what you know about your ancestry.

As you think about sharing your family history, make plans for how you will share or gather information as the holidays approach. Many families take time out of their busy lives to meet for the holidays. Plan now to take advantage of these multigenerational family gatherings.

Family History Month is a great time to accomplish some family history goals. Take a few minutes today to decide what you will accomplish.

Related Articles:

How to Research Hispanic Ancestors When You Don’t Speak Spanish

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” Has National Hispanic Heritage Month inspired you to research your Hispanic ancestors – yet you’re not sure how to go about it because you don’t speak Spanish? In this blog article, Gena gives practical tips and describes online resources to help you overcome this family history challenge.

What are your favorite genealogy projects to work on? Mine typically involve English-language records. Let’s face it, when you only speak/read/write English those are the genealogy records that you feel most comfortable using.

So what happens when you have to research outside of your comfort zone – such as researching Hispanic ancestors when you don’t know how to speak or read the Spanish language? Well, for one thing: it’s time to start planning your Hispanic ancestor research.

A basic genealogy tip is to start with yourself and work back through each generation. In this case, after you do that, focus on your immigrant ancestors and exhaust records in the United States, then work on records found in their homeland.

Here are three other tips to keep in mind.

1) Start your timeline. I’ve written about timelines on the GenealogyBank blog before (see: Genealogy Timelines: Helpful Research Tools), and it’s worth taking the time to re-read that article. Organize what you know about your Hispanic ancestors with a timeline, and then study it for gaps in information. Ask yourself what events you should be searching for, such as births, marriages, and deaths. Consider historical events that may have affected your ancestors on a personal level and would have resulted in records. For example: military service during a war. As you study your timeline, what events impacted your family?

You can learn more about historical events in your ancestors’ homeland by consulting online history timelines. And very important: don’t neglect to read online historical newspapers, such as those in GenealogyBank’s Hispanic American Newspapers.

a Spanish-language article about the "Familia Ochoa," Heraldo de Mexico newspaper article 12 September 1928

Heraldo de Mexico (Los Angeles, California), 12 September 1928, page 6

These Spanish-language newspapers were published in the United States, but they also report on events in other countries and can be a valuable resource for better understanding a historical era. These historical Hispanic American newspapers covered events important to the community they served, and provided a perspective not found in the larger city newspapers. GenealogyBank’s Hispanic American Newspapers collection includes newspapers from the early 19th century.

2) Read Spanish-language newspapers. It may seem strange to suggest reading Spanish-language newspapers when you don’t know how to read Spanish. Don’t let Spanish-language newspapers intimidate you. I don’t read Spanish either, but with today’s online tools it’s never been easier to “read” a foreign language.

It’s helpful to become familiar with genealogically-relevant words in the new language you’re trying to understand. What’s genealogically-relevant mean? It depends on what you’re researching, but some words to begin with include those for birth, marriage, baptism, death, and familial relationships. Combining a name and a Spanish-language keyword in the search box will help you narrow down results when researching a common name. Consult the Spanish Genealogical Word List on the FamilySearch Wiki for words to become familiar with. I would also recommend investing in a Spanish-English dictionary for quick lookups. These two tools will assist you as you research Spanish-language documents.

For example, here’s a search for Perez birth records in GenealogyBank.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box showing a search for the keywords "Perez" and "nacimiento"

One of my favorite resources for Spanish-to-English language translations is the website Google Translate. While not a perfect language translation tool, it can help you better understand what you are reading. You can use the Google Translate website on your computer or on the go with the Google Translate app. The translation app allows you to speak, scan, type or draw text. The app will even translate text from a photo. Translations can be saved in an online Phrasebook for future reference. Consult the web page for Google Translate Help for information on using these features.

3) Learn more. Perhaps you aren’t just researching your Hispanic ancestors’ vital statistics, but instead verifying a family story. In my family, one story involves being forcibly chased out of Mexico by Pancho Villa. You might have a similar story that you want to verify.

Huerta Plans Ruin of North Mexico as Check to Villa, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 21 December 1913

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 21 December 1913, page 1

Good family history research is searching for records, but also learning more about a place in time so that you can find additional documents that you need. Use books and periodicals to learn more about an area and the events your Hispanic ancestors were a part of. Search on the event and read newspapers published throughout the United States archived on GenealogyBank. Join societies like the Genealogical Society of Hispanic America to learn more about research and to benefit from their publications, meetings, and conferences. Genealogy research is so much more than just doing look-ups for dates and places; it takes time to immerse yourself in the material that will help you document your ancestors’ lives.

Researching Hispanic ancestors and you don’t know how to speak or read Spanish? No problem! Take some time to formulate a genealogy research plan and learn more about what you should be researching – and you will be on your way to adding more information to your family tree!

Related Hispanic American Genealogy Articles & Resources:

Old Classified & Personal Ads Reveal Our Ancestors’ Love Lives

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows a surprising source of family history information: marriage ads placed by our ancestors in their local newspapers.

Are you married? Dating your partner for years? How did you meet your lover? That’s a question most people ask of couples who’ve been together a long time. Some couples meet through work, school or friends, others may take a perceived modern route. In today’s world there are all kinds of ways to meet a prospective mate; some are more traditional and others are truly a sign of the times – like online dating.

It might surprise you to know that those looking for love have always found answers in the newspaper. While today you may go to an online forum such as Craig’s List to scan the personals, advertising for a partner is not a new idea; our 19th and 20th century ancestors used the Personals in their local newspapers to facilitate long-term love matches.

a personal ad containing a love poem, San Jose Mercury News newspaper advertisement 4 September 1915

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 4 September 1915, page 10

Marry for Money or Love?

It’s that age-old marriage question: Do you marry for love or money? While passionate arguments could ensue over the benefits of either marital choice, the newspaper classifieds of yesteryear make it fairly clear which was more often preferred.

This old newspaper advertisement in the Business Personals section of an Ohio newspaper initially seems out of place and sounds, appropriately, more like a business proposition. Interestingly enough the gentleman placing the advertisement is casting a fairly large net looking for his love connections, advertising in Ohio when he’s living in New York.

personal ad from D. Rengaw, Plain Dealer newspaper article 4 July 1911

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 July 1911, page 14

Scrolling down the same page, we find another personal ad from a businessman who is interested in a marriage partner “with some money.”

personal ad from Frank Felman, Plain Dealer newspaper advertisement 4 July 1911

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 July 1911, page 14

In some cases, a dowry may have been what was required to meet with some potential suitors. At times, advertisers for potential marriage partners laid all their proverbial cards on the table, stating their assets and asking for specific goods (money, a home, etc.) that the potential bride had to bring in return. What may appear as a desirable commodity – a successful business man or farmer who owned his farm or home – meant requesting that the woman have cash to add to the assets, such as in this advertisement request from a Pennsylvania newspaper.

personal ad, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper advertisement 8 April 1900

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 8 April 1900, page 10

Situations Wanted

Sometimes I read the classifieds and wonder if the advertisements are a thinly disguised effort to secure a job and a marriage partner. Consider these old want ads found in a California newspaper. In the first advertisement a “refined lady” is looking for a housekeeping job with an older gentleman or an invalid. Another advertisement is placed by a mother who wants a housekeeping job working with men. Not sure who could turn down such a request that ends with the words “work cheap.”

personal ad, San Jose Mercury News newspaper advertisement 4 September 1915

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 4 September 1915, page 10

personal ad, San Jose Mercury News newspaper advertisement 4 September 1915

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 4 September 1915, page 10

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Individuals were not the only ones placing these advertisements; sometimes a love matchmaking service was trying to attract clients. Consider this example that promises “…lovely women and honorable men. Many rich.” For a small investment of only 2 cents (about 58 cents in today’s money), you could obtain a “big list” of names. I’m sure having a large catalog of potential mates would sound potentially promising.

ad from a matchmaking service, Omaha World Herald newspaper advertisement 14 January 1900

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

Love in the Wild West

Requests for partners started popping up in newspaper advertisements as more single men traveled west looking for adventure or to try their hand at homesteading, and women found they were widowed or unable to find a mate after the Civil War. By 1898, the federal government even got in the act by publishing a chart showing where eligible men and women could be found. This demographic information was printed in the newspaper for those readers curious about which state likely held a potential marriage partner.

Enter Last Name

In this personal ad, a woman is seeking her love out west. I like how she encourages both rich and poor to write, but makes it clear that she is not wealthy.

personal ad, Omaha World Herald newspaper advertisement 14 January 1900

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

Need a Spouse? Try Advertising in the Newspaper!

Using online dating services may seem like a new idea – but even our ancestors used the technology of the day looking for someone to love. Not all men married the girl next door, and while traditional opportunities to meet someone outside of your community may have been limited, there were alternative love-seeking options including placing an ad in the newspaper. As you research your family tree and wonder where your great-great grandparents met, don’t neglect to search the newspaper for a possible answer.

Genealogy Tip: Remember that when searching for your ancestors in newspaper ads, try variations of their name including just their initials and surname. Advertisements may have required payment per word – as well as each time they ran – so they needed to be brief and to the point.

Related Newspaper Advertisements Articles:

A Guide to Using Social Media for Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena examines the various social media channels that exist for genealogy and shows how they can help your family history research.

I remember the more recent “good old days” of genealogy. In those days, connecting with other researchers meant reading Everton’s Genealogical Helper magazine, where pages of researchers’ messages resided. I eagerly read those blurbs looking for my surnames, hoping to connect with a yet-unknown cousin who was trying to track down the same information I was.

I miss that magazine but I’m grateful to live in a time where making genealogical connections is considerably easier, thanks to the rise of the Information Age. With online message boards and numerous social media channels, I’m able to make connections in ways that my family historian grandmother could only imagine.

Are you using social media for your own genealogy? I realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but seriously consider trying at least one social media network (Twitter, Facebook, GenealogyWise, Google+, YouTube are examples), or create a family history blog so that you can take advantage of all that modern-day genealogy offers.

graphic to illustrate an article on using social media for genealogy

Whether you are just dipping your toes in the ocean of social media or a seasoned user, consider these ways that social networking can benefit and enhance your genealogy research.

Seeking Family History Information

Genealogy research often raises more questions than answers, so I’m glad that I’m able to go online and seek guidance from libraries, archives and other family history researchers when I need to ask a question or talk through a tough research problem.


There are various ways that I do this, but one method is crowd-sourcing questions using a social media website like Twitter. I add relevant hashtags to my post that expand the reach of my question beyond just the people that follow me (some examples include #genealogy or #familyhistory). For questions I want to direct specifically to one person or institution, I use the direct message feature so that we can have a longer, private conversation. Note that Twitter apps such as Tweetdeck can help you track your responses more easily.

Also, try searching the names and hashtags of genealogical societies, companies, magazines, conferences and more, to find accounts to follow and stay on top of what is going on in the community, as shown below.

screenshot of GenealogyBank on Twitter

See: #genealogybank Twitter search


Obviously there are other ways to ask questions and seek information. Facebook’s specific subject groups are a great place to direct questions to those who have an interest in a certain type of research (like newspapers for example) or who use a website or software product. To find relevant groups, use the search engine located at the top of Facebook and enter keywords like “genealogy” or your favorite website or software program. Note that you must be logged into Facebook to search.

screenshot of GenealogyBank on Facebook

Follow Genealogical Societies, Organizations & Companies

Don’t forget to follow your favorite libraries, historical archives and genealogy companies on social media. They often post great resources to try, as well as information about emergency closings. Their social media channels are a great way to stay informed. For example, to find genealogy groups on Facebook, type “genealogy” into the search box and then select the “Pages” tab to get a listing of related pages to follow. Note that you must be logged into Facebook to search as shown below.

screenshot of genealogy pages on Facebook

Genealogy pages on Facebook

Attract Cousins

How do distant relations know of your research unless you have information about yourself out “there”? Leaving a virtual trail is one way people can find and connect with you to share information as well as answer questions. In my research, it’s through looking at online family trees, message boards and social media websites that I find modern-day descendants to share information, ask questions, and on occasion, reunite a family heirloom that I have found in an antique store.

I know it’s your genealogy research and I understand how protective you are of the work you’ve invested in it. But make it easier for others to find you. While some communications could be frustrating, others might result in wonderful things like a lost heirloom making its way back to your family. Get out there in the virtual world by using a genealogy blog or website to post information about your family history research. Then add a family tree or family images to share.

As one example, I put together a blog about an early 20th century couple I am researching. An antique dealer Googled the name she found on a painting (the wife was a painter), found my blog and then contacted me with information. Researching family history is not just about searching websites – it’s also about making connections with people who share your passion.

Learn More from GenealogyBank

We all could use a little help now and then. That’s why I always appreciate genealogy website social media tools. GenealogyBank has numerous tools online to help you learn more about genealogy research, as well as using the website to find your ancestors.

What tools are available? For one, take a look at GenealogyBank’s YouTube channel. Here you can find tutorials helping you do everything from finding family stories to using the GenealogyBank website itself. Sign into Google with your Google Account or your Gmail credentials and you can add your favorite genealogy tutorial videos to your YouTube playlist.

screenshot of GenealogyBank tutorial videos available on YouTube

See: GenealogyBank tutorial videos on Youtube

GenealogyBank also has a Google+ account with links to a variety of family history blog posts.

screenshot of GenealogyBank on Google+

See: GenealogyBank on Google Plus

Whom to Follow on Twitter for Genealogy

Those who know me know that I love Twitter. It’s a great place to follow other researchers, libraries, archives, and your favorite genealogy websites. GenealogyBank can be found at @genealogybank. Don’t forget to follow the GenealogyBank writers at their accounts: Gena Philibert-Ortega, @genaortega; Mary Harrell-Sesniak, @compmary; Duncan Kuehn, @FamBriarPatch; and Tom Kemp, @TomKemp.

GenealogyBank can also be found on Facebook and Pinterest.

I saved the best for last: the GenealogyBank blog. Frequent articles on the blog include nods to history, methodology, and ideas for your family history research. Don’t forget that we also post the latest newspaper additions to GenealogyBank, so the blog is a great place to learn about what’s new on the website.

I would recommend you add the GenealogyBank blog to your favorite blog reader by subscribing via the RSS feed. The RSS orange subscribe button can be found at the top right of the blog page.

screenshot of the GenealogyBank Blog RSS subscribe button

GenealogyBank Blog RSS Subscribe

You can search blog postings by the date, name of the author (to find all my blog posts search on my name: Gena Philibert-Ortega), and even by tags. You can find tagged subjects for each article at the bottom of the post. These tags index the article by subjects, and those subjects might be shared by other posts. You can find social media share buttons (as well as the option to print your favorite posts) at the bottom of each blog article.

Why Use Social Media for Genealogy?

Social media is an important tool in family history research. It provides us opportunities to network, share, and find information. Even if you are overwhelmed by social media, give one of the above tips a try. You just might find that these online genealogy tools can help you find a new cousin or unravel that family history mystery you’ve been working on for a while. I’d love to hear your experiences finding family or answers via social media networking. Please use the comment section below to share your social media genealogy tips.

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DNA Testing Confirms President Harding’s ‘Love Child’

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows how DNA testing has been used recently to prove that the old rumor about President Warren G. Harding’s “love child” was true.

DNA testing is growing in popularity, with more and more genealogists using it to break through brick walls in their family history research. Historians, too, are using DNA testing to unlock mysteries from the past – most recently, to prove that the old rumor about President Warren G. Harding’s “love child” was true.

photo of Warren G. Harding, by Harris & Ewing, c. 1920

Photo: Warren G. Harding, by Harris & Ewing, c. 1920. Credit: Library of Congress.

Long before Monica Lewinsky, Mimi Alford and rumors of other adulterous affairs carried on at the White House by Presidents Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, President Warren Harding was embroiled in multiple controversies – some of which came to light after his death. Government bribery via the Teapot Dome Scandal, an affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips (Mrs. James Phillips, a woman who successfully blackmailed him), and the later-discredited whispers that Mrs. Harding may have had a part in her husband’s mysterious death, all continue to blacken Harding’s legacy. And then there was the case of Nan Britton, who claimed to have had a nearly seven-year affair with Harding while he was married – and that he fathered her daughter Elizabeth.

DNA Testing Reveals Secrets from the Past

In an age before mobile devices that record and track your every move, lying about where you were, what you were doing, and who you were with was much easier. Without any way to “prove” a claim of an affair or resulting paternity, it was a matter of “he said” v. “she said.” Today, DNA testing is the ultimate game-changer. As far as familial relationships are concerned, DNA keeps no secrets.

In today’s world, it comes as no surprise to most of us to hear that a president had an affair (or multiple affairs) but in an earlier era, the truth was often easily covered up.

In the early 1910s, Nan Britton, a Marion, Ohio, teenager, was infatuated with local newspaper owner – and later U.S. senator – Warren G. Harding, who also happened to be her father’s friend. Harding, 31 years Britton’s senior, was carrying on an affair with local woman Carrie Fulton Phillips when the teenaged Britton began her obsession. When she was 20, Harding began his affair with Britton, which led to the birth of their daughter Elizabeth in 1919 – shortly before Harding was elected president. Britton would later claim that Harding provided financial support for their child but failed to mention her in his will, leaving Britton fighting unsuccessfully for her daughter’s inheritance when President Harding died suddenly during a trip to California in 1923.

Nan Britton’s Infamous Book

After Harding’s death stopped his financial support, Britton tried unsuccessfully to get Harding family members to provide ongoing compensation for his child. Britton then chose a route that modern-day readers are well-acquainted with: writing a tell-all book. The President’s Daughter (1927) told the story of her affair with Harding and their child. While Britton may have believed she was doing the right thing by her child, she probably didn’t anticipate the fallout she would experience from this decision to write a book about the affair.

article about Nan Britton and her daughter Elizabeth, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 6 November 1927

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 6 November 1927, page 2

Britton’s book met with controversy prior to its publication, including the printing plates being seized and attempts to block its release. In response, she started her own organization, The Elizabeth Ann Guild, which published her book. The Elizabeth Ann Guild’s purpose was to spotlight an important issue: the plight of “illegitimate” children.

ad for Nan Britton's book "The President's Daughter," Evansville Courier and Press newspaper advertisement 28 February 1928

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 28 February 1928, page 7

Embroiled in Lawsuits

Those who write tell-all books often suffer the side effects of revealing very personal details. Imagine the Roaring ’20s and a woman, a self-proclaimed mistress at that, writing a book about “lurid” details that seek to tarnish the reputation of a U.S. president. Aside from being ridiculed for her paternity claims, Britton was involved in subsequent lawsuits having to do with her best-selling book.

One such suit involved her mentor (and what some believe to be the primary author of her book), Richard Wightman. In the following 1928 newspaper article, Patricia Wightman claimed her husband Richard – not Britton – wrote The President’s Daughter, which led to the demise of their marriage. Mrs. Wightman claimed:

…that her husband took Miss Britton into their home at Saybrook while he wrote the book from information supplied by Miss Britton, who acted as typist and secretary for him.

The book, and her husband’s involvement with Miss Britton, caused Patricia to leave and “live in a shack” before moving on to live in an exclusive hotel. She proclaimed that she:

…asked my husband not to have anything to do with the book…because it was scandalous and was an attack on the memory of a dead President.

article about Richard Wightman ghost-writing Nan Britton's book "The President's Daughter," Winston-Salem Journal newspaper article 3 March 1928

Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), 3 March 1928, page 1

According to a news report a few weeks later, Britton was named as a co-respondent in the Wightman divorce.

article about Nan Britton being involved in the Wightman divorce, Winston-Salem Journal newspaper article 26 March 1928

Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), 26 March 1928, page 3

That was not the only lawsuit Britton was a party to. A book that claimed her allegations of an affair with Harding were false was published. Titled The Answer to the President’s Daughter, this work led to a lawsuit brought by Britton for libel. Another book that also aimed to discredit Britton was written by Harding’s campaign manager and attorney general, Harry M. Daugherty. Titled The Inside Story of the Harding Tragedy, it claimed to “refute Nan Britton’s claim that President Harding was the father of her daughter” as well as exonerate Mrs. Harding against claims that she murdered her husband.

article about Harry M. Daugherty writing a book to defend President Harding, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 29 December 1931

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 29 December 1931, page 1

Later Years

In the 1960s, the discovery of love letters from Harding’s affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips led to renewed interest in Britton’s story, resulting in follow-up newspaper articles. Britton knew the Phillips family and had gone to school with their daughter.

article about Nan Britton's affair with President Harding, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 24 February 1965

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 24 February 1965, page 8

In this old news article, Britton lays out her life in the years after the president’s death that included living under assumed names and working hard to support her daughter. She also revisits her relationship with Harding and the subsequent financial need to write a tell-all book after his death:

…her motive for publishing the story of her love-life with Harding was grounded on the need for legal and social recognition and protection of all children born out of wedlock. She stated that in her opinion “there should be no so called ‘illegitimates’ in this country.”

While love letters from President Harding to Britton do not survive, those he wrote to Phillips do and have recently been released to the public, digitized and available on the Library of Congress website.

Nan Britton spent her life standing by her presidential love story and faced much ridicule for it. In this case the final “proof” endures in the genetic genealogy of a family. Britton died in 1991 in Oregon, still viewed with contempt by some who believed she told lies that tarnished Harding’s reputation. Her daughter Elizabeth died in 2005, ten years before the 2015 DNA test that proved the story that her mother consistently told all those years was the truth.

Related DNA Articles:

Must-Have Tech Tools for Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena talks about some of the tech tools available today to help genealogists with their family history research.

I’m grateful to be living in a time when family historians have so many options for doing their genealogy work. Technology gives us opportunities to organize, research, share and store our precious family history work in so many ways not available to previous generations. Are you taking advantage of today’s genealogy technology? If you’re not, you might want to reconsider. Here are some ideas of what you need and why it’s important to your research now.

photo of a woman holding up a sign that reads "must-have tech tools for genealogy"


When I was young, my family would visit my maternal grandmother every summer. One year, my dad “copied” images from her photo albums by using his camera and tripod. In the days before digital cameras, he could only hope that those precious images of past generations he duplicated would come out clear and usable. It wasn’t until after we arrived home and he had the film developed that we were able to see the results. Years later when copy machines could be found everywhere, some family historians chose to use these to duplicate vintage images. Unfortunately those paper copies resulted in muddy, fuzzy images that are not ideal for long-term viewing, sharing, or storing.

Boy, has life changed since those days. Today, I can visit a relative or attend a family reunion, digitize their images, and instantly see whether the image I have copied is what I want. With the use of portable scanners and yes, even digital cameras or a mobile device, I can “copy” images and immediately store or send them via email or cloud storage websites.

So what do you need to scan at home or on the go? Various devices exist for your scanning needs, including scanning apps for your smartphone/mobile device or mobile scanners. One popular option that I also use is the Flip-Pal mobile scanner. You might have seen this scanner demonstrated at a genealogy conference; one nice feature is that you can remove the lid of this compact scanner to scan three dimensional objects like quilts, military medals or other heirlooms. The Flip-Pal includes a small window that allows you to see the finished scan, and a removable disk that allows you to take the images and transfer them to your computer. Scanning a large document or photo? No problem! Take several scans and then “stitch” them together with the software provided with the scanner. It’s a great tool for scanning at a repository or a family reunion.

Are there other mobile scanners available for genealogists? Absolutely! One that I found recently is the Zcan + mouse scanner. Available as a wireless or wired mouse, it is a great way to easily scan documents or photos and it automatically stitches images together as you scan. It even saves documents as Word files or PDFs. See the Zcan video below for more information about this nifty new gadget.

If you decide to use your smartphone or mobile device’s camera as a scanner, check your device’s app store for scanner apps that have the features you want. Also, consider purchasing a tripod made especially for these devices. Tripods ensure that your device is still and gets the best image possible.

Mobile Devices

Oh, the good old days of making a trip to a library or archive. I remember how excited I was to have my first laptop. Typing out notes was made so much easier by having a computer that I could take everywhere. But, boy was it heavy! By the time I gathered that, my notes, pens, copy machine change and maybe even a lock to secure the computer to the table, I was hauling around a wheeled suitcase that made using my “portable” laptop not as easy as I had initially thought.

Fast forward to today and I rarely take a laptop computer with me to do my genealogy research. Occasionally I may take my notebook computer that can easily fit in a small bag and weighs a fraction of what my first laptop computer did. Otherwise I bring only my mini iPad and portable keyboard that I carry in my purse. Mobile devices come from numerous manufacturers, in all ranges of size and price. I highly recommend trying them out at a local retailer and deciding which one is best for you.

Features to look for? A built-in camera is a must. Forward- and backward-facing cameras allow you to not only take photos but to also utilize services like Skype or Google Hangouts. While you may think those are features you don’t need, you may one day decide that having the ability to make a video call for free via Skype, or participating in an online genealogy meeting via Google Hangouts, is well worth it.

Other features that are must-haves for me include the ability to switch to a data plan when accessing WiFi is impossible. Plenty of memory and storage is important since you will most likely be storing your ancestry research and images on your device.

Why am I a big fan of a tablet? I use my Apple iPad at libraries and archives to research, take photos of documents and book pages, “scan” family photos, share my research with family and write articles. I even watch webinars and read books all using this one device.

Backup Storage

It’s a tragedy that I’ve been a part of one too many times. It stems from the wishful thinking that it can never happen to you. And then one day it does. It’s the tragic story of the fabled blue screen of death that takes with it your functioning computer and every single one of your files. Yes, the inevitable computer crash.

That’s why experts have recommended backing up your files since the dawn of the personal computer. But like dentists warning us to floss our teeth, we don’t always listen. Start today and make a pact to start backing up your files to an external device at least once a month (feel free to also back up to a cloud storage website as well).

Numerous options exist when choosing an external device, from thumb/flash drives to CDs to portable devices and external hard drives. Your decision about what to use will depend upon the amount of space you need as well as what works best for you (where will you store the device, does it need to be portable, do you want to have several of the same copy so that they can be stored offsite or with a friend). To get a sense of what’s available, take a look at CNET’s Storage Buying Guide.

As a family historian, do you need tech? Yes, your genealogy will benefit from it. Take some time to think about what you are doing with your research, such as traveling to libraries or archives, making copies at a courthouse, or visiting the family member with all the photos, and plan now to utilize the tech that will help you with your family history research.

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Vintage Fashion: Our Ancestors’ Summer Apparel

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 articles and advertisements that show what our ancestors wore during the hot summer months.

I don’t know about where you live, but here in California it is HOT. This week has been hot and humid, something we are not as used to since we normally live with a “dry heat.” So as the temperature goes up people try all sorts of ways to keep cool, including altering the way they normally dress. A few days ago I was standing in line at the bank and a woman in her bathing suit was in front of me! Because it is warm all year long here, I would say the concept of “summer fashion” is lost on most of us Californians.

Typically in most places, however, each season brings with it new fashions. It wasn’t too terribly long ago that our ancestors learned about the newest fashion trends via the newspaper. And while swimsuits are a summer fashion must-have (see Great-Grandmother’s Swimsuit in Vintage Fashion Articles & Photos), other summer fashions are important for outdoor activities, social events, and vacationing.

bathing suit ad, Charlotte Observer newspaper advertisement 11 July 1916

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 11 July 1916, page 7

Summer Fashions of Yesteryear

I am grateful fashion trends have changed over the generations because some of the older apparel trends included way too much fabric to wear during hot summer months. Take this 1906 example from Louisiana. The Gibson girl look is well represented in these summer dresses, which are described as being “light” and made from “filmy fabrics.” And while I have no doubt that these linen dresses were much lighter than women’s standard fare at that time, I am grateful I didn’t have to wear that much fabric in a time when air conditioning wasn’t available.

summer fashions ad, Times-Picayune newspaper advertisement 11 February 1906

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 11 February 1906, page 5

I have to admit I love looking at vintage fashions from the 1920s, and newspaper advertisements provide us with a sense of what clothing was really available to our ancestors for purchase. Sure, it’s interesting to see what models were wearing at fashion shows, but newspaper advertisements verify what styles of apparel were available for the common family.

Take for instance this short-sleeved frock. The reader is informed that “The whole background of summer fashions is white” and the use of “dainty pleatings and exquisite lace trimmings” can be seen in the fashions of 1924.

ad for summer clothes, Plain Dealer newspaper advertisement 25 May 1924

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 May 1924, page 49

Similarly-styled dresses can be seen in an advertisement on the same page of the Plain Dealer, that proclaims:

When summer comes – it must not find us unprepared. Filmy Frocks of printed or plain georgette, crepe or chiffon, embellished with lace, embroidery or beads, in themselves suggest vine shaded verandas and light laughter, or the joys of the summer evening dance.

ad for summer clothes, Plain Dealer newspaper advertisement 25 May 1924

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 May 1924, page 49

Looking toward Hollywood

Celebrity has always attracted attention – and there is no doubt that, just like today, people have always been interested in what was being worn by the rich and famous. I love the description of the outfits in this 1939 article entitled “Ladies of the Screen Vie with Each Other in Wearing Latest in Summer Fashions.”

Ladies of the Screen Vie with Each Other in Wearing Latest in Summer Fashions, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 5 June 1939

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 5 June 1939, page 4

One of the stars mentioned in the piece is Margaret Sullavan who starred opposite Jimmy Stewart in the movie Shop Around the Corner, the inspiration for the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan film You’ve Got Mail. Sullavan’s outfit is described as:

…new hostess pajamas, the latest in lounging comfort, combine pigskin with a heavy roma crepe. The blond star chooses a watermelon pink shade for the very full trousers, with shirred bodice draped from the plain round neckline. A wide, natural-colored pigskin girdle, studded in silver nailheads, individualizes the suit, and, with it, Miss Sullavan wears a heavy cord snood to keep her curls in line.

Most likely the use of the word pigskin here indicates a type of leather.

A more summer-sounding outfit in the article is described as worn by Lupe Velez who:

…relaxing recently at Palm Springs, wore transparent oilskin fuchsia-colored slacks and bolero over a fuchsia and white striped oil-silk puckerette bathing suit.

(Oil-silk, incidentally, is a material much like that used for men’s tobacco pouches.)


What did those summer fashions cost our ancestors? I mentioned above how advertisements can provide us images of fashions that were available to our families, but they can also answer questions about the price of the apparel. This large 1933 newspaper advertisement includes sale prices for everything from wool bathing suits to summer coats and dresses.


ad for summer clothes, Daily Illinois State Journal newspaper article 20 July 1933

Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 20 July 1933, page 11

What shoes would they have worn with that summer wardrobe? Today we mostly think of sandals and flip-flops as summer ware, but fashionistas know you need much more. This ad offers shoes for $1.95 a pair:

Every style in this sale was selected for fashion-rightness. Shoes for all summer occasions – in models for street, sports, daytime and summer resort wear.

Notice that they proclaim to have plenty of white shoes in stock, since white was traditionally worn during the summer months or specifically after Memorial Day and before Labor Day; a fashion “rule” most likely established by high society women to distinguish themselves from everyone else.

ad for summer shoes, Evening Star newspaper advertisement 13 May 1934

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 13 May 1934, page 26

When you find an old newspaper fashion advertisement, take the time to research what the price would translate to in today’s world. Various websites including Measuring Worth can assist you in converting those prices into modern-day sums.

What did your ancestors wear during the summer? While our ideas about what constitutes summer wear have changed over the generations, it’s a good bet that your ancestors chose outfits that would have helped them beat the heat. What did your ancestors wear? Their hometown newspapers provide clues.

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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.

Enter Last Name


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.


* “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).

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.

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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