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.

4 GenealogyBank Search Tips from 2014 SCGS Jamboree Conference

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena—who gave two genealogy presentations on behalf of GenealogyBank at the recent Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree—describes some of the search tips she discussed at the Jamboree.

We are back from the recent Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree. It’s always great to meet with GenealogyBank members and hear about their newspaper discoveries. If you weren’t able to attend 2014 SCGS genealogy Jamboree, that’s ok—many of the presentations are available online. For example, I made two presentations on behalf of GenealogyBank, “Using America’s Ethnic Newspapers to Find and Document Your Family” and “GenealogyBank Inside and Out,” and these were recorded and are now available from Conference Resource.

photo of Gena Philibert-Ortega and Duncan Kuehn staffing the GenealogyBank booth at the Jamboree genealogy conference

Photo: Gena Philibert-Ortega and Duncan Kuehn staffing the GenealogyBank booth at the Jamboree conference. Credit: from the author’s collection.

One of the benefits of a genealogy conference is the opportunity to learn new tips to search and make family history discoveries. I thought it would be helpful to share some of the genealogy tips we provided at Jamboree for you to try at home.

Also, remember that you don’t have to attend a conference to have us help you with your GenealogyBank searches. The GenealogyBank Blog constantly provides genealogy tips, and you can always give us a call (1-866-641-3297) and we will work with you to help you trace your family tree.

1) Locations: Location, Location, Location—or Not

Family history researchers are accustomed to searching through a genealogy database by entering an ancestor’s name, date, and location. In a previous blog article, Genealogy Search Engine Types & Tips: OCR vs. Indexed Databases, I discussed how searching indexed content is different than content that is being searched using Optical Character Recognition (OCR), like newspapers. While narrowing down a location is essential in researching other types of information, such as a census return, in newspaper research a specific location may be less important because a newspaper article can appear in multiple newspapers and locations—sometimes on the other side of the country from where your ancestor lived.

As you prepare your search on GenealogyBank, take some time to plan out different types of searches.

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For example, if I’m searching for John C. McNeil who lived from 1823 to 1909 and spent time in Arizona, I would want to conduct searches that would include his name, date range, and place. But then I may want to a search with just his name (with or without the middle initial) and a date range. Because he lived in several different states, I don’t want to always limit the place because I will miss mentions of him in other localities. Even if your ancestor didn’t move around a lot, they can still be mentioned in other newspapers outside of their immediate area. In the case of ethnic newspapers, the newspaper can be aimed at a group from a larger geographic region. Remember that some newspapers may serve a county area, and not just a city. And in the case of a tragedy or even a human interest story, the article can be picked up and printed in newspapers across the United States.

So the bottom line is: don’t include the name of the place or the newspaper location in every search you conduct.

2) Keywords: What Words Do You Include in Your Search?

One of the great features of the GenealogyBank search engine is that you can include or exclude words. So let’s say the surname you are researching is also a noun or a verb, like Miller or Walk. Use the exclude keywords box to exclude certain words. If I’m researching on the surname Baker, I may exclude the word “bread” or “bakery” because I do not want results about bakers, I want results about people with that surname.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page

Have multiple words you want to exclude or include? Just place a comma in between each word. But don’t try to include or exclude too many keywords or you may unnecessarily narrow your results.

3) Hacking Genealogy Searches: Type outside the Search Box

The GenealogyBank search engine has a place for a last and first name, but that doesn’t mean you have to enter those names in those boxes. The search engine is looking for whatever characters you have typed—it doesn’t know what words are names and what words are other keywords, so you could enter all of those characters (keywords) in the “Include Keywords” box.

However, it might help you organize your searches if you enter your ancestor’s last and first names in those boxes, then keep changing terms in the “Include Keywords” and “Exclude Keywords” boxes as you continue trying to find as many articles as you can about your target ancestor.

The search engine also allows you to use wildcards (such as the characters ? or * ) to substitute for letters. Say your ancestor’s first name is Alexander. You could try a search on Alex?. This way you would find results that list him as Alexander or Alex.

One additional genealogy search tip: conduct an “exact phrase” search. Try searching on “John C McNeil” (quotation marks around the words indicate it’s an exact phrase) instead of just John C McNeil (and remember this entire phrase can be typed into one search box). By putting the phrase in quotation marks, you are telling the search engine to search for that exact phrase, and not articles that contain a John, a C, and a McNeil somewhere in the text.

But remember; don’t limit your search to only exact phrase searches, or you will miss results where the name is slightly different than what you have entered.

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4) Major Life Events & Gatherings

One of the biggest “aha!” moments I had during the Jamboree was talking to the staff at the GenealogyBank booth and learning this search tip: try searching on an event your ancestor was involved in without adding their name. When an event is reported in the newspaper (think car crash, natural disaster, or other tragedy), names associated with that event (such as survivors, victims, witnesses, and rescue personnel) are not always mentioned in the initial reports. The event will most likely be reported in articles over a period of time, and as those articles unfold, names may be added.

Say for example you know that your ancestor was involved in a ship accident. Don’t search on their name initially; instead search on the name of the ship or the date the disaster happened. Gather all the newspaper articles you can find about that event to learn more about this incident that affected your ancestor’s life—but don’t limit your initial searches to your ancestor’s name because you will miss important information, especially in some of the first reports about the event. You can later do a search using your ancestor’s name to see if there was a report specifically focusing on your ancestor.

Those are some of the genealogy search tips I explained during my Jamboree presentations, as well as some lessons I learned by attending the Jamboree, listening to other presentations, talking to the audience, and discussing genealogy with the staff at the GenealogyBank booth. I hope they help you with your own family history research.

See You at the Jamboree Next Year!

Going to a genealogy conference? Good chance GenealogyBank will be there. Make sure to stop by the GenealogyBank booth and let us help you search for your ancestors. Not able to visit us at a particular conference? No problem—give us a call (1-866-641-3297) and GenealogyBank’s helpful support staff will assist you with your family search questions. You can also find genealogy search tips on our site’s Genealogist Q&A section.

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Genealogy Checklist: 13 Types of Records to Include in Your Research

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena provides a handy tool to help with your family history research: a checklist of 13 types of genealogy records that you can use for each ancestor you search for, to make sure your research is thorough.

After conducting online searches through your favorite genealogy websites, you may feel like you’ve hit a brick wall. This is understandable—it’s easy to become overwhelmed with multiple databases and lose sight of what sources might help you answer your research question.

Before you decide you’re facing that brick wall, consult this checklist of frequently-used family history sources. A checklist of sources can help you plan out your research and keep track of where you have searched. Print this out for each individual you search for, and refer to it as you research your family history.

illustration of a magnifying glass

Illustration: magnifying glass. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

1) Census Records

One of the first places we often look for our family is in the U.S. Federal Census. The census should be your go-to source for trying to place your ancestor in time. The census was taken every 10 years starting in 1790. (However, the 1890 census was largely destroyed.) Because of privacy concerns, the latest census you can access is 1940.

As you think about your ancestor in the census, don’t forget that other census schedules exist aside from the familiar population schedules. Depending on the year, you may also want to consult the Mortality, Agriculture, Slave, Veterans and Defective, Dependent and Delinquent schedules.

Also take a note if the state your ancestor lived in conducted a state or territorial census. Not every state participated in such a census and in some cases a state may have only conducted one when it was still a territory, but a state census can often yield additional information not compiled in the federal census.

2) Church or Synagogue Records

What religion was your ancestor? This is important, especially considering that in some cases a religious record might take the place of a civil registration. What records should you look for? The answer is: it depends. It depends on where your ancestor lived, what religion they practiced, and what still exists.

Records that might exist include those that document baptisms, christenings, marriages, and deaths. Other religious records include: cemetery records, school records, censuses, meeting notes, membership lists, pew deeds, adoption records, excommunications, church periodical articles, directories, and church auxiliary records. Exhaust religious databases found online like the selection found at JewishGen. To find church records, consult the individual meeting house and then archives associated with that religious community, including academic institutions and seminaries. Also, consider conducting a place search in the Family History Library Catalog.

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3) Court Records

Even if you think your ancestor would have no interaction with the local court, don’t overlook searching at least the civil case index for their name. Our ancestors were involved in all sorts of legal matters, and it’s a myth to believe that only our modern society is “sue happy.” Some items to look for include minutes, orders/decrees, judgments, case files, indexes, criminal proceedings, naturalizations, and divorce petitions. Learn more about what court records exist by reading the book The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val D. Greenwood. Note that you can also find court case files and courtroom transcripts in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives.

4) Death Records

Death results in a lot of paperwork. Sure, there’s the death certificate—but that’s just the beginning. There can be paperwork from the hospital, funeral home and cemetery. What other paperwork can be found? Death certificates, newspapers (including articles, legal notices, funeral notices, death notices and obituaries), funeral home records, pension records, church records, cemetery records, court records (to include a will or probate or in the case of an accident there might be a lawsuit), Coroner’s Inquest, city directories, and the Social Security Death Index. Notices from membership directories and publications may also offer clues.

5) Home Sources

Every genealogy project should begin with home sources. These are the heirlooms and “stuff” inherited and passed down through the generations. Sometimes just talking about your interest in genealogy will alert family members that you would be a grateful recipient of items that they have inherited. What are some possible home sources? Correspondence, newspaper clippings, photos, scrapbooks, diaries and journals, family Bibles, naturalization paperwork, funeral home cards, and work- and school-related papers. As you try to find home sources, don’t forget to use social media to connect with long-lost cousins who have also inherited heirlooms.

6) Land Records

Did your ancestor own land or a home? You’ll want to search for a grantee/grantor index, deeds, mortgages, patents and grants. These records can be found anywhere from the Family History Library, a local courthouse or a county recorder’s office, to the National Archives. Make sure to plan out what you are looking for and search online for what entity has that record.

7) Major Life Events

Let’s face it, a birth or marriage can result in all kinds of documentation. Everything from home sources (think baby books and photo albums filled with greeting cards and descriptions of the big day), to official government records (vital record certificates) and church records. Don’t forget newspaper articles about the actual event (birth or marriage) as well as articles about the engagement, elopement or milestone anniversaries. Marriage records that could exist include: banns, bonds, licenses/applications, and certificates.

8) Military Service Records

Did your ancestor serve in the military? If they were a soldier at any point, think about searching for military service records, pensions, bounty land grants, awards, draft registrations, unit histories, battle histories and maps. Been told that all of your ancestor’s military records burned? Make sure to check for a Final Pay Voucher and ask your recent vets about the DD214 which lists information about their service including awards earned.

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9) Historical Newspapers

Many of the life events we have mentioned were reported in newspaper articles. But don’t forget that your ancestor could be mentioned in all parts of the newspaper, including legal notices, advertisements, society pages, crime reports, and other general articles. Not sure what types of articles exist? On the GenealogyBank Blog we focus on a variety of newspaper articles and how they can assist your genealogical research.

10) Occupational Records

Even if your ancestor was “just a farmer,” an occupation can leave behind a paper trail. Consider items like paycheck stubs, occupational periodicals, union records, membership cards and records to professional groups. Mentions of occupations can also be found in the city directory.

11) Published Sources

There are many different types of published sources that can assist you throughout your family history research. In some cases, like that of unsourced family history books, they may be just a place to gather initial clues. In other cases, however, they can provide you with definitive information to confirm your ancestor’s place in time, such as city directories.

Make sure to consult biographical works on your ancestor or their associates, county and local histories, and periodical indexes like PERSI, Google Scholar and JSTOR.

12) School Days

What schools did your ancestor attend? Even if they only attended for a few years, records may be available. Consider what may be available from attending an Elementary, Secondary, High, or Vocational/Trade school, as well as a College or University. Papers may in some cases be found in the home, but also could be found in an archive or the Family History Library. Look for yearbooks and alumni directories, school newspapers, articles about school awards and events in local newspapers, award certificates, report cards, and school census records.

13) Tax Records

We all know the saying “nothing is certain but death and taxes,” and that is as true for us now as it was for our ancestors. Why search tax records? They can not only establish a place in time for your ancestors, but they help you better understand their lives.

Some ideas about tax records that could exist are: poll, personal property, real estate, income, federal, inheritance, and school taxes. Don’t forget that the newspaper also printed lists of those who were negligent in paying their taxes.

Is the above list of 13 genealogical sources totally comprehensive? No, of course not, but it provides a handy reference for your family history research. As you plan your genealogy searches, also consider what libraries, archives, and museums exist where your ancestor lived. They may have catalogs that will provide you with additional sources that you may not have known existed.

You can either print or create a PDF version of this Blog post by simply clicking on the green “Print/PDF” button below. The PDF version makes it easy to save this post on your desktop or portable device for quick reference—all the links will be live.

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Preview to Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena previews the upcoming Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree, including the genealogy talks she will be presenting there on behalf of GenealogyBank.

Do you have an event you look forward to every year? There are certain genealogy conferences that family history researchers look forward to year after year, and one of those is the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree being held at the Los Angeles Marriott Burbank Airport Hotel June 5th-8th. After all, what’s not to like? Four days of genealogical education in the beautiful Southern California sunshine.

Not familiar with the SCGS Jamboree conference? Each year over 1,000 genealogists from California, other states—and yes, even other countries—converge upon Burbank to take in lectures, historical tours, special events, and displays in an exhibit hall to learn more about genealogy and genealogical services.

photo of a  lecture from last year’s Jamboree genealogy conference

Photo: lecture from last year’s Jamboree. Credit: Used with permission, Southern California Genealogical Society <http://www.scgsgenealogy.com/>.

45th Annual Jamboree

This year will be no exception at “the 45th Annual Southern California Genealogy Jamboree, featuring over 50 speakers, nearly 150 sessions and about 70 exhibitors, software and data providers, and societies.” National speakers at Jamboree this year include: John Philip Colletta, Ph.D.; George G. Morgan; Dick Eastman; Lisa Louise Cooke; Judy G. Russell; and yours truly, just to name a few.

photo of a discussion group from last year’s Jamboree genealogy conference

Photo: discussion group from last year’s Jamboree. Credit: Used with permission, Southern California Genealogical Society <http://www.scgsgenealogy.com/>.

For the second year in a row, a special DNA conference will be held in conjunction with Jamboree on Thursday, June 5th. Family History and DNA: Genetic Genealogy in 2014 brings experts from the field of genetic genealogy, presenting on such topics as autosomal DNA, DNA studies, and DNA testing.

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To learn more about attending the upcoming 2014 Jamboree conference, see the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree website. Special events can be added to your registration and offer additional experiences. I’m especially looking forward to the Sunday morning Scholarship Award Breakfast where I will be presenting on Of Elephants, Gold, and Dashed Dreams: Researching the California Gold Rush. Join me as we honor the 2014 winner of the Suzanne Winsor Freeman Memorial Student Genealogy Grant.

GenealogyBank at the Jamboree

Do you love GenealogyBank and want to know how to make the most of your subscription? Come visit us in the exhibit hall where we will be answering your questions and helping researchers search our archival collections. Take advantage of this opportunity to talk to us and learn how to master GenealogyBank and find your ancestors.

photo of blog authhor Gena Philibert-Ortega (left) with Judy G. Russell (The Legal Genealogist), from last year’s Jamboree genealogy conference

Photo: Gena Philibert-Ortega (left) with Judy G. Russell (The Legal Genealogist), from last year’s Jamboree. Credit: from the author’s collection.

To learn even more about GenealogyBank, plan on attending my presentation “Using America’s Ethnic Newspapers to Find and Document Your Family,” Saturday morning at 8:30. On Sunday afternoon at 1:00 I’ll discuss “GenealogyBank—Inside and Out,” where we will discuss how to search on GenealogyBank’s collection of 6,500 newspaper titles and one billion family history records.

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Can’t Make It to California?

Not able to attend Jamboree in person? That’s ok, you can attend virtually! Jamboree will be providing free streaming sessions.

In addition to the streaming sessions, social media provides the opportunity to attend a conference from home. Follow Jamboree on Twitter by monitoring the hashtag #SCGS2014 or the Southern California Genealogical Society account @scgsgenealogy. Don’t forget to also follow the GenealogyBank Twitter account at @GenealogyBank.

Start Thinking about the 2015 Jamboree

If you can’t join us in person at the Jamboree genealogy event this year, start making plans now to attend in 2015. Besides the conference, there’s so much to do for those non-family historians in your family. (Disneyland, anyone?)

For the family historian, plan on spending a few extra days in the area to research at area libraries and archives such as the:

I hope to see you at Jamboree next week!

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How to Research Your Genealogy with Google & Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how to use the information you find in old newspapers to conduct Google searches that help your genealogy research.

So you just found “the” newspaper article about your ancestor that you were hoping to find. You’re excited and can’t believe what you just learned. That’s great! Congratulations! But don’t stop there. What’s next?

The next step is to find out more about the information in that newspaper article. Take that article and enhance what you just learned by searching Google.

photo of a magnifying glass

Photo: magnifying glass. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re not familiar with all that Google offers, know that it’s much more than just a search engine. In some cases it also includes content that Google has digitized and made available, such as in the case of Google Books—a must for genealogy researchers. In other aspects it is a specialized search engine that is meant to search for specific content like images or videos. Adding Google searches to your genealogy research routine will help you uncover more facts about your ancestor’s life, complementing the information you learn from old newspapers.

Googling Historical Events

In some cases finding the perfect newspaper article might mean finding one that doesn’t even mention your ancestor by name. Instead, perhaps the news article provides confirmation about an event your ancestor experienced.

One story I’ve heard repeatedly in my family involved one of my paternal great-grandmothers. The story involves the 1933 Long Beach (California) earthquake and how angry my great-grandmother was because all of her china, stored in a china hutch, was destroyed by that quake. While I knew there was a 1933 earthquake, I wanted to learn more about how it would have affected my family. Now unfortunately, my great-grandmother isn’t here to ask about that story—but I did get a sense of the magnitude of that earthquake and the resulting damage by reading about it in newspapers. In turn, this historical news information helped me better understand what my great-grandmother experienced.

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This Long Beach earthquake occurred on 10 March 1933 and registered 6.4 on the Richter scale. At least 120 people lost their lives in the earthquake, and there was millions of dollars in property damage. In retrospect, my great grandmother was probably very lucky that her china was the only casualty.

front-page news about the Long Beach earthquake, Evening Tribune newspaper article 11 March 1933

Evening Tribune (San Diego, California), 11 March 1933, page 1

Once I found some newspaper articles that detailed the quake aftermath, I turned to Google and searched on the keywords “1933 Long Beach Earthquake.” Of course I found articles and books that tell me more about this earthquake, but what I was most excited about was the video footage I found via a Google search, on the free website Internet Archive. Internet Archive is a wonderful source for digitized books as well as microfilm, audio, and video files.

The video footage showed me what Long Beach looked like just after the earthquake and allowed me a glimpse of my great-grandmother’s world as a 29-year-old wife and mother. One aspect that really hit home was that my grandfather was a 7-year-old schoolboy at this time, and many of the local schools suffered significant destruction. Luckily the earthquake happened at 5:55 p.m. on a Friday so kids were most likely at home when the quake struck.

Finding Images with Google

A continued search on Google Images (available by clicking on Images at the top of your Google Search results page, or by going to the website Google Images and entering your search keywords) provided me with images of the damage caused by the earthquake. I could then click on one of those images and go to the corresponding website. One of the benefits of Google is searching by words or images.

Search Tip: When searching on Google, don’t just stop with the Web results. At the top left of your results page, click on Images to see images that match your search terms, or click on Videos or Books to see what videos or books have applicable information for you as well.

My next steps in telling the story of my great-grandparents is writing up a narrative about this earthquake they experienced, adding my dad’s memories of his grandmother, and including newspaper accounts, images, and links to the relevant videos, so that my children—and eventually my grandchildren—can better understand this event my family lived through.

Researching with Google Books

Remember those missing husbands? If you read one of my previous Blog articles, Missing Men: Lost Husband Ads in Newspapers for Genealogy, you may have noticed that in order for me to learn more about the stories of the missing men, I also searched Google Books. For those who are unfamiliar with Google Books, it is a Google search engine that includes digitized books as well as a “card catalog” of books. Because Google partners with libraries, you can find everything from family histories, city directories, local histories, DAR publications, and occupational and union journals. Google Books is a great complement to your newspaper research.

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In that Blog article, I showed a newspaper ad that I found about one of the men I highlighted in the article, Henry Hooyer (a.k.a. H. L. Hooyer):

missing husband ads, Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisements, 12 September 1907

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 12 September 1907, page 8

After finding this “missing husband ad,” I wanted to know more about Hooyer and his disappearance. I knew later newspaper articles might exist, but I also wanted to see if Google Books might provide me with some information. A missing husband could be “missing” for a number of reasons—including disappearing as a cheap alternative to divorce, or perhaps some tragedy had befallen him.

My search on Google Books paid off. I was able to find out more about his disappearance through digitized copies of the Leather Worker’s Journal, the journal of the International United Brotherhood of Leather Workers on Horse Goods, available on Google Books. Notices in his union journal included more information about the disappearance, his physical stats, and that his occupation was harness cutter at Schoelkopf’s when he disappeared on August 19th.

article about Henry Hooyer, The Leather Workers’ Journal magazine article October 1907

The Leather Workers’ Journal, October 1907. Credit: Google Books.

What Will You Google?

So how do I use Google after I find a newspaper article? I use the newspaper article as my foundation and then take clues from it to try to find other information in digitized books, images, videos and websites. For me, what I find in a newspaper leads me to more questions which I resolve by searching for additional newspaper articles in GenealogyBank and a search in Google.

Search Tip: Just like with any search engine, remember when searching for an ancestor to try different versions of their name including initials. A Google Advanced Search, available from the drop-down menu on the gear icon at the top right of your Google search results page, will allow you to narrow your search.

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Genealogy Search Engine Types & Tips: OCR vs. Indexed Databases

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena explains the difference between searching for genealogy content in indexed databases, as opposed to genealogy content (such as historical newspapers) that is searched using OCR (Optical Character Recognition).

What’s the biggest benefit of being a family history researcher in 2014? Well at the top of my list is the ability to access countless documents right from my home computer or mobile device. Modern-day genealogy researchers are lucky to have so many options at their fingertips—but just having access to information isn’t enough. One needs to be able to navigate various website search engines to find and sift through results.

The way you search for your ancestor online is going to differ depending on what type of information is hosted by the website. What’s one of the big differences between GenealogyBank’s content and some of the other websites you use to research your family history?

It’s all in the search.

photo of a magnifying glass

Photo: magnifying glass. Credit: Wikipedia.

Indexed Database vs. OCR

Both indexed databases and optical character recognition search engines are essential to your genealogy research, but you do need to know the difference in order to conduct a thorough search.

While the search engine on GenealogyBank looks similar to the search engine you’ll find on other familiar websites, there is one important difference. GenealogyBank’s newspapers, documents and books are searchable via Optical Character Recognition (OCR). In many cases, genealogists are accustomed to content that is indexed.

On websites that house such content as vital records or the census, volunteers or paid staff go through the documents and choose certain keywords and dates to index. Keywords could be words such as a first and last name, a location, an age or an occupation. Once these keywords are indexed and the data is made available online, those fields and keywords become “searchable” meaning that a person can insert those words into the search engine and get results based on those keywords. For example, if I enter the name “Oscar Philibert” in a census search on an indexed website, I would expect to see that name or perhaps versions of that name in my result’s list.

Caution: your ability to find results in indexed content can be hampered by such things as misspellings, name variations, the readability of the document, or an error on the part of the person indexing the document.

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OCR Makes Newspapers Searchable

Indexing newspapers is too time-consuming a process, so it’s not practical to make the content available to genealogy researchers that way. You’d have to hire a huge team to read every word of every article and index millions of keywords. So instead, GenealogyBank and other similar newspaper websites use Optical Character Recognition or OCR.

What is OCR? It’s an abbreviation for Optical Character Recognition. It’s a search technology that allows a scanned document to be “read” by the computer. Websites that provide digitized books or historical newspapers use this technology to make their content searchable. The computer is programmed to recognize shapes it “sees” as letters. So when you type in a name or a keyword, the system looks for articles that match those shapes you provided.

Caution: are there problems with OCR technology? Of course. The readability of a newspaper can cause the system to have difficulty matching characters. Original older newspapers and microfilmed copies can be prone to tears, ink blots and smudges. Newspapers contain various font types and sizes as well as pages that might be black type on white background or (in the case of an advertisement) white on black background. In some cases, letters can be mistaken for similar letters. These imperfections can cause you to receive false positive results in your search.

Knowing how a website’s content was made searchable can help you try different search strategies to get better results.

A Name Is a Name, or Is It?

When searching on websites that have indexed information, it’s important to mind how you enter a first and last name because you are telling the search a specific command, to find that exact name in the exact way you have entered it. With OCR technology, you are actually telling the search engine to find two keywords (in the case of a first name and surname) that occur within two words of each other. For the OCR technology, it doesn’t know it’s looking for a name; instead, it is looking for words that you have entered—more specifically, characters you have entered. (This is not true for all of the content on GenealogyBank: its SSDI collection and recent obituary archives are indexed collections not reliant on OCR technology.)

Your search strategy should take into consideration what type of data you are searching and what problems may exist. With a search on indexed data, you want to be concerned about data that was incorrectly transcribed. For example, the “Mc” in McDonald might have been indexed as a middle name leaving the “Donald” as the surname.

Making the Most of Your Search in GenealogyBank

Make sure to utilize all aspects of the GenealogyBank search tools. For your initial search, it’s usually best to start with a broad search using the basic search form.

screenshot of the Simple Search search box on GenealogyBank

If your initial search turned up too many results to make it practical to look through them all, then it’s a good strategy to limit your search by a place or time period; do that especially in cases where you know from other research the exact place or time you want. In the case of a letter that could be confused for another, like an “o” for an “e” or an “l” for an “I,” try varying your search terms to take that into consideration—or even use other search terms or additional words.

See the “Advanced Search” link on the basic search form? Clicking on that brings up a new search box with more options.

screenshot of the Advanced Search search box on GenealogyBank

Sometimes You Need to Set Search Limits

Consider limiting your search in some cases. For example: once you conduct a broad newspaper search and have your list of results, you can limit your research to a state or a city. You can even search just on a single newspaper title. If you are looking for a certain “type” of newspaper article like an obituary or advertisement, limit your search to that type of article.

screenshot of the Search Results page in GenealogyBank showing the different types of newspaper articles available

Utilize the advanced search’s features by adding keywords to include and/or exclude. For example: with a surname that is also a noun such as “Race,” you may want to type in keywords for the search engine to exclude such as “car” or “track.” In other cases you might want to include keywords. If your ancestor was a railroad worker and you’re hoping to find mentions of that, include the word “railroad” or their job title. Also consider limiting your search by a date or date range.

Need more hints about using GenealogyBank? Watch these helpful YouTube videos.

It’s all in the search. Knowing what type of data you are looking for and how a search engine works can mean the difference between family history research frustration and success.

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Tracing Female Ancestors: The Mother of All Genealogy Research

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, to help celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, Gena provides genealogy search tips to find information about your female ancestors.

There’s no doubt that tracing female ancestors can be difficult and sometimes near impossible. Unlike men who were documented via different types of transactions throughout their lives, women can seemingly disappear just by marrying an unknown-to-you spouse or spouses.

Let’s face it, finding a certified Mother of the Year might be easier than finding most of our female ancestors, but consider the following genealogy search tips to help you find success as you embark on your family history research.

Mother of the Year (Mrs. Elias Compton), Boston Herald newspaper article 12 April 1939

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 12 April 1939, page 1

Finding Dear Old Mom in the News

First, consider the relationship your ancestress had to others. She may have been a wife or several men’s wife. Maybe she was a mother and a grandmother. Likely as a younger woman she was a student, perhaps a volunteer, and a church or organization member. Don’t forget that she was also somebody’s daughter and friend. She can be in all kinds of different newspaper articles based on her activities and relationships at the time.

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As you consider all this, remember that her name will “change” according to her relationship and time. A non-married woman will be listed by her given name and surname (a.k.a. maiden name), while a married woman might be listed as Mrs. [insert husband’s first name or initials and surname]. A widow may revert back to using her given name, so that Mrs. John Smith or Mrs. J. W. Smith becomes Mrs. Grace Smith after his death.

An example of this is the obituary for Mrs. Emily Ann Smith, a widow who was living with her daughter Mrs. W. E. Gilchrist when she died. Note she is not referred to as “Mrs. Sanford Smith.”

obituary for Emily Smith, Daily Register Gazette newspaper article 17 December 1921

Daily Register Gazette (Rockford, Illinois), 17 December 1921, page 6

Rarer is a news article such as this next one, in which the deceased is referred to by both her own name (Mary Smith Keenan) and her married name (Mrs. James Keenan). Because this is rare, make sure that you are searching all variations of a female ancestor’s name—because some articles will have her name one way, and some will have it another; very few will have both versions.

obituary for Mary Smith Keenan, St. Albans Daily Messenger newspaper article 5 February 1906

St. Albans Daily Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont), 5 February 1906, page 7

Start Research with the Basics

As you research, use a timeline of dates and places to help you find newspaper articles that you may miss just searching by a name, due to misspellings or name variations. Find the corresponding newspaper articles for your timeline that document the major events in her life: birth, engagement, wedding, children’s births, major anniversary milestones, and death.

This engagement notice from 1939 for the appropriately named Mary Love Jones gives great information—not only about her but other women in her life: her mother, sister, aunts, and other family and friends. Note that not all of the women are listed by their given names. Plus, this article provides a photograph of Mary as a young woman—what a great find if she’s one of your ancestors!

engagement notice for Mary Jones and Truett Bishop, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 29 October 1939

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 29 October 1939, section III, page 6

Avoid Making Assumptions about Your Female Ancestors

Stay away from making assumptions about your ancestor’s life. Don’t fall into the old “she was just a housewife” syndrome. You might be surprised to find what she was involved in during her lifetime.

For example, I love this front page montage of photos of teachers and women from the local PTA of Greensboro, North Carolina. What a great find for a descendent who may not be aware of their ancestor’s school involvement.

article about women in the local PTA, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 15 May 1938

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 15 May 1938, page 37

Another great example of “women’s work” making it into the newspaper is this article about  Red Cross volunteer Mrs. D. P. Beyea, who spoke to groups about her experience nursing soldieries overseas during World War I. Known as the “Little Mother of the First Division,” she is said to have been one of the first to volunteer. You get a sense of her accomplishments from the newspaper article and a reminder that a woman’s activities may have depended on the time period.

article about WWI nurse Mrs. D. P. Beyea, Lexington Herald newspaper article 9 November 1919

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 9 November 1919, section 5, page 1

Again, the issue of name is important here. The old news article isn’t clear whether D. P. (later listed as D. Pirie) is her husband’s initials or her own. A newspaper search on just one version of her name might easily miss this informative article.

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Use Clues in Newspaper Articles to Find More Information

Continuing our genealogy search for Mrs. D. Pirie Beyea by searching Google, we can learn even more about her life. For example: click here to see a copy of her lecture brochure digitized and made available through the University of Iowa Libraries Digital Library. This is a great brochure complete with personal information, charming photos, and testimonials by those who heard her speak.

Genealogy Search Tip: Once you find your ancestor listed by a certain name or involved in an activity in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, make sure to continue your search in Google and Google Books for any other mentions of them.

Consider Your Ancestor’s Activities

It’s hard to know what activities your ancestor may have been a part of since some groups that would have been familiar in her time are all but unknown today. Consider that she may have been a member of a group that was an auxiliary to one her husband was a member of (The Daughters of Rebekah, Order of the Eastern Star, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic), a religious benevolent group (Dorcas Society, Relief Society), a cause she believed in (Women’s Christian Temperance Union, National American Woman Suffrage Association), a heritage association (Daughters of the American Revolution, Colonial Dames, Daughters of the Confederacy), or just a local group that may have done anything from hold cultural events to provide a social outlet. These groups may have had articles published in the newspaper that listed members or officers, meetings, special events, or persuasive missals.

The following newspaper article reports on the Spinsters, a social group for young unmarried women.

Miss King to Head Thalian Spinsters, Greensboro Record newspaper article 12 September 1939

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 12 September 1939, page 7

The historical news article above is from this newspaper’s “Women’s Activities” page which has some great articles about women’s groups, wedding notices, and personals that list names of women and mentions of vacations and visits.

Women's Activities page, Greensboro Record newspaper 12 September 1939

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 12 September 1939, page 7

There’s So Much Genealogy to Explore

Having trouble finding genealogical information about your foremothers? Newspaper collections are an excellent place to start because newspapers recorded the happenings of a community. Can’t find anything about your female ancestors? Remember to search the archives for your ancestress with applicable name variations—and keep checking back: GenealogyBank adds more newspapers daily. Even though you may not find anything about your ancestry today, tomorrow could reveal your “aha” genealogy moment.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Related Articles about Tracing Your Female Ancestry:

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Celebrate Cinco de Mayo by Tracing Your Hispanic Genealogy

Versión en español

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena suggests celebrating Cinco de Mayo by tracing your Hispanic ancestry using GenealogyBank’s Hispanic American Newspapers collection—and provides tips how to do this.

Looking for ideas for tracing your Hispanic ancestry this Cinco de Mayo? Maybe the typical regional newspapers aren’t yielding many results in your family history searches? Have you considered narrowing your search to an ethnic newspaper? GenealogyBank’s Hispanic American Newspapers collection has many different U.S.-based newspapers that served the Hispanic community, beginning in the early nineteenth century. These Spanish-language newspapers (note: some are bilingual) might provide the ancestral answers you’re looking for.

Need some ideas to help you get started tracing your Hispanic genealogy? Consider the following:

1) Search for Different Types of Newspaper Articles

Sure, genealogy researchers should search for their ancestors’ obituaries—but don’t forget about other life events including marriages, births, military service, and graduations; these events were all reported in local newspapers. Remember that your ancestor was part of a community and participated in academic, religious, and organizational activities and events. Some articles may only provide a brief mention of your ancestor’s name, but even that helps to place them in a specific area and time—or maybe even give you an idea about when they left a place.

It’s difficult to list all the different type of newspaper articles you might find an ancestor listed in, but a thorough search will help you uncover articles you may not have otherwise considered. For example, finding an ancestor’s name in a newspaper’s unclaimed letters list might indicate that they had moved on, were moving to the area, passed away, or just didn’t pick up their mail often. Noting when and how often they appear on such a list could be an important clue to follow up on.

newspaper column listing the names of people who have unclaimed letters awaiting them at the local post office, Tucsonense newspaper article 2 June 1915

Tucsonense (Tucson, Arizona), 2 June 1915, page 3

As you search for your Hispanic or Latino ancestor in the newspaper, consider searching by surname or full name only and not including a place name or other keywords. Now this may be difficult if your ancestor’s surname is common but—as you can see in the article below—individuals can be found in articles outside of the place they lived in. Limiting your initial search with a location may filter out relevant articles that were published elsewhere.

The following is an article acknowledging donations to help journalist and political activist Juan Sarabia, who in 1910 was detained in a Mexican prison. This newspaper article shows that donations came from donors on both sides of the border. In some cases, the city of the donor was included as well as their donation amount.

article about donations made to support journalist and political activist Juan Sarabia, Regeneracion newspaper article 22 October 1910

Regeneracion (Los Angeles, California), 22 October 1910, page 2

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2) Read the Paper to Learn More about Your Ancestor’s Community

By learning more about your ancestor’s community, you can get a sense of their lives and even what records may be available. Don’t ignore news articles that don’t specifically mention your ancestor. Learning about their community can help you tell their story. For example, learning more about important industries where your ancestor lived can provide you with information about why they migrated or why they chose a particular industry for employment. In some cases an article might point to higher wages, safer working conditions, or even recruitment of migrants with specific skills.

This historical newspaper article, exploring the topic of pearl fishing in the Gulf of California, is one such example of learning more about a community. In the old news article we learn that the inhabitants of La Paz understand pearls—and it makes sense they would, since the article reports that the production value in 1908 was 3 million pesos and the annual export in pearl shells was 2 million pesos!

article about pearl fishing in the Gulf of California, Tucsonense newspaper article 1 October 1921

Tucsonense (Tucson, Arizona), 1 October 1921, page 5

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3) Don’t Assume These Newspaper Are Spanish Only: Bilingual Newspapers

It’s easy to assume that a newspaper targeting a Spanish-speaking community would be printed in Spanish. While this is for the most part true, one thing a researcher quickly learns is not to make assumptions.

Not all of the newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Hispanic American Newspapers archives are printed solely in Spanish. For example the Ideal, described as a national bilingual and bi-monthly newspaper, includes articles written in both English and Spanish. Looking at this issue from 1970 for Coachella, California, you can see that articles are printed in both languages side by side.

front page of the newspaper Ideal 15 December 1970

Ideal (Coachella, California), 15 December 1970, page 1

This small newspaper includes community events, local interest articles and advertisements that provide the researcher with a better sense of their family’s community.

Click here to see a list of GenealogyBank’s Hispanic American Newspapers published from 1808-1978. Here you will find a table (sorted by states) that includes a link to each newspaper’s search page, and lists the dates of available coverage for each newspaper.

Related Article:

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6 Tips for Name Research with Obituaries: Who Are the Survivors?

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena takes a close look at obituaries and funeral notices and shows how the other names mentioned—survivors of the deceased, pall bearers, those sending flowers, etc., provide important clues that can steer your family history research in new, and sometimes unexpected, directions.

What information are you looking for when you search newspapers for an obituary? That’s a hard question: you might be looking for an obituary to reveal a death date, or the name of the cemetery where the deceased is buried. Maybe you are just trying to find out more about the person’s life, or perhaps you are hoping for some confirmation of something you already suspect.

While all parts of an obituary are genealogy gold, the names found in an obituary—especially the list of those that survived the recently departed—can yield valuable clues for your genealogy research.

1) Research the Lists of the Living

A survivors list in an obituary or death notice is helpful because it verifies who was still alive at the time the obituary was published. If you are trying to determine the identity of two similarly-named individuals, or need to learn who was still alive at the time of your ancestor’s death, an obituary’s survivors list can be invaluable.

The following obituary for Mrs. F. J. Frost (notice her first name is not revealed, a good reminder that women may be simply listed as a “Mrs.”) provides a wonderful listing of her children and grandchildren, and their residences. These are fantastic family history clues for your further genealogy research.

obituary for Mrs. F. J. Frost, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 11 January 1939

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 11 January 1939, page 7

Remember that obituaries for an individual may be published in newspapers from states other than where the deceased resided, so make your initial search a wide one. In this case, for example, the deceased is from California but her son is a resident of Brownsville, Texas, where the obituary was printed. Interestingly, the last paragraph is all about the son and not the mother, even though it’s her obituary.

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2) Note the Names of Other Departed

In some cases the other name/s included in a death notice or obituary may be that of a family member but not an actual survivor. In the following example reporting the death of Herbert T. Tait, it identifies him as the husband of the late Arabella—although her name appears in his obituary, she is clearly not a survivor.

death notice for Herbert Tait, Plain Dealer newspaper article 11 March 1911

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 March 1911, page 13

3) Remember Survivors Are Everywhere

Sure the list of survivors (typically a spouse, children, grandchildren, parents and siblings) can be found in most obituaries—but don’t forget to scan for the names of pall bearers or those sending flowers, especially in notices printed after the funeral. These names might be family members but may be more difficult to pick out due to unfamiliar surnames.

In this death notice for Mr. Isadore C. Block we find names for his wife, sisters and brother. Pall bearers are also listed—and while none of their surnames match the listed family members, it would be important to research each one because they might represent a cousin, nephew, or in-law.

death notice for Isadore C. Block, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 2 March 1935

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 2 March 1935, section II, page 10

4) Tracing Women’s Names in Obits

Verifying relationships can be challenging in cases where all the women are listed by married surnames or entirely by their husband’s name. One of the difficulties in tracing female ancestors is finding those who married several times when you are unaware of each husband’s surname.

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In this very brief notice we learn of Mrs. Hattie J. Miller’s death and her survivors, including her sisters Mrs. Frances J. Cohn, Mrs. Erma B. Miller, and Mrs. Selma B. Rothschild. No spouse or children are listed for Mrs. Miller. Luckily her brothers are also listed, providing us with a possible maiden name for Hattie and her sisters: Beirsdorf.

death notice for Hattie J. Miller, Hyde Park Herald newspaper article 14 December 1928

Hyde Park Herald (Chicago, Illinois), 14 December 1928, page 30

5) Not All Survivors Are Family

As you look for names in an obituary don’t forget to note any mentions of membership organizations. Those groups might include very good friends that could have honored the deceased in their own way through a special meeting, donation to the family, or some kind of memorial in their records.

In this notice of the death of Alfred R. Huddy, he is listed as being a member of the O.U.A.M. and the V. of F. W. of the U.S., possibly meaning the Order of United American Mechanics and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, respectively. With this information, additional ancestor research should be conducted in the newspapers (look for article about the person and their group’s activities) and in archival collections for membership lists, records, and images.

obituary for Alfred R. Huddy, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 19 April 1918

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 19 April 1918, page 11

6) But What’s Their Name???? Finding Unlisted Relatives

There’s probably nothing more frustrating than seeing vague references in obituaries to survivors like “he leaves 5 children and 10 grandchildren…” Or this obituary for William E. Rivers, which tells more about his medical history than the names of those he left behind. His obituary and a subsequent notice don’t provide his wife’s name, although she survived him. Further research into his family tree would include a search for Mrs. William E. Rivers, Mrs. W. E. Rivers, and other variations of his name prior to and after his death in 1917. In addition to newspaper research, a genealogist could check the census and city directories for this family.

obituary for William E. Rivers, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 21 July 1917

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 21 July 1917, page 5

Genealogy Tip: It can be tempting to focus solely on information about the deceased in an obituary, death or funeral notice. However, take time to analyze everything about that article including all of the names mentioned. Those other people’s names can uncover important familial relationship connections that will assist you in your family history searches, and ultimately help you get to know your ancestor better.

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5 Fave Genealogy Articles: ‘Titanic,’ Women, Ads, Ephemera & Food

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena reflects on some of her favorite genealogy topics that she’s researched for the GenealogyBank Blog.

One great thing about working as a writer is that you have the opportunity to research and learn about a variety of subjects. Through my work on the GenealogyBank Blog I’ve had the opportunity to write about some of my favorite genealogy topics and expand my knowledge of records and history in the process. What are my favorite GenealogyBank Blog articles? Check out the following personally-chosen list.

Titanic

photo of the Titanic departing Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912

Photo: the Titanic departing Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912. Credit: F. G. O. Stuart; Wikipedia.

One of my interests is the sinking of the Titanic. I probably share that interest with many of my fellow genealogists, who find the study of Titanic history fascinating. Probably no surprise to regular readers of this blog, the two aspects that I am particularly interested in are: the food that was served on the Titanic; and the women, passengers and staff who were aboard that fateful voyage. Luckily for me I was able to write some articles about this, including Tracing Titanic Genealogy: Survivor Passenger Lists & More which looks at some of the Titanic passenger lists with names that you can find in historical newspapers in the days and weeks after the tragedy. The subject of food on the Titanic could fill a whole book, and it has, but I took a brief look at what passengers ate in the article Eating on the Titanic: Massive Quantities of Food on the Menu.

photo of the First Class Reception Room on the Titanic

Photo: First Class Reception Room on the Titanic. Credit: National Maritime Museum, Flickr: The Commons.

Women: Tracing Your Female Ancestry

photo of the family of B. F. Clark

Photo: “Family of B. F. Clark, 219 N. 4th Street.” Credit: Library of Congress.

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I’ve had the opportunity to write about female ancestors quite a bit, including how to trace them, and unique sources to use. One of my favorite articles about female ancestors on the GenealogyBank Blog is one that I didn’t write. A must-read for every genealogist is Mary Harrell-Sesniak’s 8 Genealogy Tips for Tracing Female Ancestry. Do yourself a favor and read and re-read this important post to better understand how to find your female ancestors. If you want to learn more about name variations, another one of Mary’s articles, Ancestral Name Searches: 4 Tips for Tracing Surname Spellings, is very helpful. Sometimes it’s the way we search that makes it difficult to find our ancestors in the newspaper.

Researching Old Newspaper Advertisements

personal ads for missing husbands, Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisements 12 September 1907

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 12 September 1907, page 8

I have to admit that the one aspect of newspaper research I would have never guessed that I would enjoy is the advertisements. It’s here that you can learn everything, from what your ancestor valued by perusing the Lost and Found advertisements, to the heartbreaking advertisements women placed looking for missing (or perhaps purposely absent) husbands. Think old newspaper advertisements have nothing to do with “real” genealogy? Take a look at some of the rich content newspaper ads provide in my articles How to Use Newspaper Lost & Found Ads for Genealogy Research and Missing Men: Lost Husband Ads in Newspapers for Genealogy.

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Ephemera

photo of an old letter

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

I love ephemera. It’s such an important part of genealogy but it’s something not many family historians are familiar with. Ephemera are loosely defined as items that were not meant for long-term archiving. Such items might be letters, postcards, images, maps, posters, even newspapers. Ephemera tend to be things that are thrown away. Not only are newspapers an important source for genealogy researchers, they even give us a look at our ancestors’ ephemera. For example, letters of all kinds are published in the newspaper. You can learn more about researching correspondence in the newspaper from the article Genealogy Tips for Researching Letters in Newspapers. Another helpful article, Dear Mother: Family Letters and Your Genealogy, points out that not all family letters remain private between the writer and recipient. In some cases, letters were printed in the newspaper giving us a glimpse into our ancestors’ lives. Probably one of my favorite projects was researching the article Finding Ancestors’ Names Can Be Child’s Play: Paper Doll Comics. I was very surprised to learn that children (and in some cases adults) were encouraged to send in paper doll fashion designs. These were published along with the name and address of the creator. Just one more way kids were documented in the newspaper.

Food History

photo of a book filled with newspaper recipe clippings

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

A question I’m often asked at genealogy presentations is: why should a family historian care about food history? The answer is quite simple: food history helps us better understand our ancestors, and brings interest to the stories of their lives. When I ask family historians to think about a Thanksgiving from the past, it’s the people who were there, the stories, and the memories of what was served that flood their memories. Those stories deserve to be written down to be enjoyed by our descendants. Want to know more about food history? Check out these articles: Rationing Thanksgiving Dinner during World War I; The First Foodie: Clementine Paddleford; and Find Grandma’s Recipes in Old Newspaper Food Columns. Take some time to peruse recipe columns in the newspaper from your grandma’s and great-grandma’s hometown to see if she submitted her favorite recipe to the newspaper, and if you happen across one join GenealogyBank’s Old Fashioned Family Recipes board and share it with the Pinterest community.

Why read the GenealogyBank Blog? Because it is where you will learn more about genealogy, history, and newspaper research. Whether it’s tips, new ideas, new content or personal research examples, you’ll find them here (check out this one written by Scott Phillips about a GenealogyBank member’s discovery: A Fascinating Genealogy Success Story: Mystery of Missing Ancestors Solved). The GenealogyBank Blog provides you with continuing education for your newspaper research and genealogy in general.

Have a favorite GenealogyBank Blog post? Let me know what it is in the comments section below.

Happy reading!

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Our Ancestors’ Easter Parades & Spring Fashions

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena searches old newspapers to learn about our ancestors’ spring fashions—and the popular Easter parades they strolled in to show off those fine new clothes.

What are your memories of Easter? Egg hunts, baskets overflowing with chocolate bunnies, posing for a photograph with an oversized rabbit, or maybe waking up early for church services? My Easter holiday memories revolve around food (probably not a surprise there): dyeing eggs, eating ham and of course chocolate. Judging from my Twitter and Facebook friends it would seem that one shared fond memory of Easter, especially for the women, is the new clothes they would receive for Easter.

The Easter Wardrobe

Easter is one of the ways we mark spring, which in turn marks the changing of the wardrobe from those heavy, bulky winter outfits to much lighter and more colorful spring ensembles. Easter was also a good time to pick out a nice dress that included all of the accessories like gloves and hats, as discussed in this 1891 New Jersey newspaper article.

Easter Dress Parade, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 29 March 1891

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 29 March 1891, page 2

There’s no doubt that our ancestors could have perused the newspaper for ideas about what they wanted in a new Easter outfit. In this full-page article from a Minnesota newspaper, we see some examples of 1921 Easter fashion.

The New Easter Dresses, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 13 March 1921

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 13 March 1921, page 3

Here are more Easter historical fashions, from 1938. New Easter clothes weren’t just reserved for the women—children and even men used that time as a good excuse to invest in a new suit of clothing.

ad for Easter dresses, Omaha World Herald newspaper advertisement 15 April 1938

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 15 April 1938, page 2

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Everyone Loves an Easter Parade

Once you had your new Easter outfits, it was time to show them off—and what better way than a celebratory holiday parade? The tradition of Easter parades in the United States dates back to at least 1870, when the first New York City parade on Fifth Avenue began. This illustration from an 1892 New York newspaper article sums up the yearly New York event: “Beauty and Fashion Out in All the Glories of Fine Raiment to Celebrate the End of the Penitential Season.”

illustration of New York's Fifth Avenue Easter Parade, New York Herald newspaper article 18 April 1892

New York Herald (New York, New York), 18 April 1892, page 3

There’s no doubt that New York City’s Fifth Avenue parade was synonymous with an Easter parade. It is even immortalized in a 1933 Irving Berlin song and 1948 movie with the same title.

Easter Parade

In your Easter bonnet,

With all the frills upon it,

You’ll be the grandest lady

In the Easter Parade.

I’ll be all in clover,

And when they look you over,

I’ll be the proudest fella

In the Easter Parade.

On the avenue, Fifth Avenue,

The photographers will snap us,

And you’ll find that you’re

In the rotogravure.

Oh, I could write a sonnet,

About your Easter bonnet,

And of the girl I’m taking

To the Easter Parade.*

(The mention of a “rotogravure” in the above lyric refers to a printing process used by newspapers to print images.)

photo of the Fifth Avenue Easter Parade, New York City, 1900

Photo: Fifth Avenue Easter Parade, New York City, 1900. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Bureau of Public Roads.

The whole idea behind an Easter parade is to see and be seen. Other cities also hosted Easter parades both as official events as well as impromptu group walks. Consider this 1915 Pennsylvania newspaper article from Wilkes-Barre, recalling the previous day’s parade. It starts by noting:

Were you in the Easter parade yesterday? If not, why not? The day was almost ideal, cool and breezy, but you could have worn your winter outfit with discretion and joined right in the procession.

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The old newspaper article goes on to comment on the women’s and men’s outfits.

Streets Crowded by Easter Parade in Wilkes-Barre, Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader newspaper article 5 April 1915

Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), 5 April 1915, page 1

This description of the Atlantic City Easter Fashion Parade, from a 1922 Oregon newspaper article, is wonderful:

Under skies of azure blue with a bright sun beaming down 200,000 men, women and children decked out in all the glory of their spring finery strolled along Atlantic City’s famous board walk today…

This post-World War I parade even included a dignitary in the audience: General John J. Pershing, who led the American forces during the war.

200,000 in Parade of Easter Finery, Oregonian newspaper article 17 April 1922

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 17 April 1922, page 1

Share Your Easter Memories

Did your city have an Easter parade? Did you celebrate your new Easter outfits by strolling downtown for all to see? What are your Easter memories? Share them with us in the comments section below. Happy Easter to you and yours!

__________

* SongLyrics. Irving Berlin Always –Easter Parade Lyrics. Accessed 14 April 2014. http://www.songlyrics.com/irving-berlin-always/easter-parade-lyrics/.

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