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.

Love & Marriage: Newspaper Engagement & Wedding Announcements

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows how engagement, wedding and anniversary announcements in old newspapers provide a wealth of genealogical information to help with your family history research.

What should you be searching for when conducting family history research in newspapers? Vital record events are some of the most common newspaper articles about our ancestors, such as birth notices and obituaries. There’s another broad category of newspaper articles that is extremely helpful to genealogists: engagement, wedding and anniversary announcements. Falling in love and getting married can result in multiple articles rich in genealogical data.

Whether you are tracing an ancestor’s courtship, marriage, or wedding anniversary, you can find it in the newspaper. And once you find these news articles, make sure to carefully note mentions of family members, dates, places and other information that you can follow up with additional research in newspapers and other ancestry records.

Researching Courtship & Engagement

Engagement notices are a good example of newspaper articles with surprising information in addition to the names of the happy betrothed couple. Street addresses, former city residences, parents’ and other relatives’ names, occupations, alumni information, and pending nuptial dates can be found in these announcements. This engagement notice titled “News of Engagement Interests Society Folk” from 1914 would interest present-day descendants of these couples.

engagement announcements, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 3 May 1914

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 3 May 1914, page 14

20th century engagement announcements often included a photo of the bride-to-be. One good weekend project would be to find the engagement notices for more recent generations in your family to include in your genealogy.

engagement announcements, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 4 October 1931

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 4 October 1931, section III, page 3

A bridal shower for one friend may also be the perfect place to announce another’s wedding engagement. This unique event provides the researcher with information about those closest to their ancestor.

engagement announcement for Elizabeth Metzger, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 August 1932

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 August 1932, page 33

Genealogy Tip: If you know the marriage date for an ancestor, don’t narrow your search to that date. You may miss an engagement notice printed months or even a year prior to the big day.

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Tracing Marriage Licenses & Weddings

Don’t forget that you may be able to use newspapers to follow your ancestral couple from engagement to marriage license, and then from wedding to milestone anniversaries. In this 1927 San Francisco newspaper article listing vital record events, names of those applying for marriage licenses as well as those being issued licenses span San Francisco and nearby cities.

marriage license announcements, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 28 September 1927

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 28 September 1927, page 10

Genealogy Tip: Don’t assume that a marriage license means the couple went through with a wedding.

Newspaper articles about weddings can be full of surprises. They may include not only the names of the couple, their respective families, and details of the day – but they can also provide information about occupations and future residences. In this 1900 recounting of the wedding of Edmond Hughes and Edith Wakeman in Bismarck, North Dakota, we not only learn about the wedding but the character of the bride (“charming, accomplished and worthy”) and groom (“a young man of integrity and ability”), as well as where they will honeymoon, and then reside.

wedding announcement for Edmond Hughes and Edith Wakeman, Bismarck Tribune newspaper article 13 June 1900

Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, North Dakota), 13 June 1900, page 3

Your Ancestors’ Wedding Anniversaries

How long was your ancestor married? If they stuck it out for the long ride, that accomplishment might be found in the newspaper. Typically, milestone wedding anniversaries like 25th, 50th or even beyond can be found.

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What’s interesting about the following historical newspaper article is that it not only marks the occasion of the 25th wedding anniversary of Rev. E. N. Maynard, but notes that it’s the second time he’s been married 25 years. His first marriage “nearly 60 years ago” lasted 25 years and ended with the death of his wife. The Reverend then married again to Susan Paine “considerably his junior” and that marriage was now at the 25-year mark. What I love most about this article is all the great genealogical information found for both wives – including their names and who their fathers were – as well as the age for Rev. E. N. Maynard. Notice too that the article mentions that Maynard had no children from his first wife, but now has two daughters, a son and a grandson.

wedding anniversary announcement for E. N. Maynard and Susan Maynard, Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 29 May 1895

Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 29 May 1895, page 5

Genealogy Tip: Newspapers may include articles about parties given to honor a couple for their milestone wedding anniversary. Search for these news articles to find mentions of out-of-town family members in attendance.

Some couples make 25 years of marriage look like child’s play. Consider this couple, Mr. and Mrs. Henry G. Lay, who were 100 and 99 years old at their 75th wedding anniversary in 1924.

wedding anniversary announcement for Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lay, Repository newspaper article 20 January 1924

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 20 January 1924, page 68

And of course once you’ve successfully been married for such a long time, people are going to wonder what your secret to marital bliss is. This anniversary notice from a 1938 Kentucky newspaper may sum it up best.

wedding anniversary announcement, Lexington Herald newspaper article 13 June 1938

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 13 June 1938, page 4

Be sure to search old newspapers for engagement, wedding and anniversary announcements when researching your ancestors – one more reason why newspapers are an essential genealogy resource for finding your family’s stories.

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Tamales: One of My Family’s Favorite Hispanic Foods

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to find recipes for one of her family’s favorites: tamales.

Every now and then my family goes out and purchase tamales to have for dinner. It’s one of those Hispanic food traditions we look forward to. While some families like ours purchase the tamales, others have a generational tradition of getting together and making dozens of tamales for family and friends. Eating tamales is one example of a family food tradition that’s been passed down through the generations.

photo of tamales

Photo: tamales. Credit: the author.

What Are Tamales?

Never had tamales? Tamales can be traced way back to 7000 B.C., when Aztec women accompanied men into battle to cook for them. Today tamales, depending on where and who is making them, can vary ingredient-wise and what the tamale is wrapped in. In fact, tamales even differ regionally in the United States. Tamales are made from a corn-based meal that is stuffed with fruits, meats, cheese or chili peppers, and then wrapped in a corn husk, banana leaf, or parchment paper and steamed. Some people serve the tamales covered in a red or green sauce, while others may eat them without a sauce topping. Tamales may be spicy hot, made with no chili peppers, or even be sweet. People may think of tamales as a traditional food made at home but actually, in the United States, tamales have been sold since the late 1800s.

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Tamale Recipes Anyone?

Maybe store bought tamales aren’t good enough, and you want to try cooking your own homemade. Preparing tamales can be a lot of work – but so worth it! Here’s one recipe from 1899 for chicken tamales.

tamales recipe, Daily Herald newspaper article 11 June 1899

Daily Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi), 11 June 1899, page 3

Another tamale recipe provided by famed New York food writer Craig Claiborne not only provides a recipe but includes the family history behind it. Mable Grimes talks about using her mother’s recipe during the Great Depression and making 150-200 a week to sell for 50 cents a dozen.

article about Mable Grimes and her Texas tamales, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 27 May 1971

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 27 May 1971, section E, page 15

Tamales for Sale

Like I mentioned before, making tamales is hard work; that’s why some people prefer to purchase them instead of cooking them from scratch at home. Buying them pre-made doesn’t seem to be a more recent idea; here’s an advertisement from Idaho in 1912.

tamales for sale ad, Idaho Statesman newspaper advertisement 21 December 1912

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 21 December 1912, page 9

Probably my favorite advertisement for tamales is this 1893 one from Southern California that includes a poem:

Tamales, they say, are hotter today,
Hotter than they were last week.
To have them just right
You must try them each night,
Tamales each night you must eat.

tamales for sale ad featuring a poem about tamales, Riverside Independent Enterprise newspaper advertisement 24 September 1893

Riverside Independent Enterprise (Riverside, California), 24 September 1893, page 1

That tamale maker doesn’t just want to sell you tamales once in a while; he wants to sell them to you “every evening.”

What Else Is for Dinner?

What other foods are served with tamales? In our family we typically serve pozole, a hominy and pork-based soup, but you might also want to add marzipan, buñuelos (a fried dough ball), champurrado (a chocolate-based drink served warm), and turron (a honey-based candy) to the dinner table. A holiday food served around Christmas time is Rosca de Reyes (a sweet, round bread decorated with candies or crystallized fruit to celebrate Epiphany).

article about Rosca de Reyes including a recipe, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 8 December 1971

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 8 December 1971, page 53

GenealogyBank’s Hispanic American Newspaper Archives include English- and Spanish-language newspapers from across the United States. You can find traditional Hispanic recipes printed in these newspapers for all types of foods.

For example, are you looking for a recipe for buñuelos? Browsing the San Antonio, Texas, newspaper Prensa we find these articles: “Buñuelos de Molde en Forma de Rosa” (12 February 1944); “Buñuelos de Manzanas” (9 November 1935); and “Buñuelos de Viento” (1 November 1925). In this column below, “Recetas de Cocina,” there is a recipe for Buñuelos de Queso Fresco (Fresh Cheese).

recipe for Buñuelos de Queso Fresco, Prensa newspaper article 28 December 1925

Prensa (San Antonio, Texas), 28 December 1925, page 5

Whether you serve tamales with pozole, and buñuelos for dessert, or something entirely different, here’s wishing you many happy family food traditions and memories.

Related Recipe Articles:

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Old Fashioned Valentine’s Day Treats & Sweets

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 Valentine’s Day menus and recipes that our ancestors enjoyed.

Valentine’s Day is Saturday, and one item associated with that holiday is food. According to the website History, it was after 1840 that Valentine’s Day became associated with gift giving. British chocolatier Richard Cadbury introduced the idea of “eating chocolates,” a byproduct from the making of drinking chocolate. He even designed boxes for the candies to come in. He’s credited with creating the heart-shaped box that served as a beautiful gift package for the chocolates and provided a storage place for memorabilia.*

So what’s on your Valentine’s Day menu? Will your gift shopping involve the traditional heart-shaped box, or will you settle for a quiet night and a home-cooked romantic meal? If you’re having a night in, there are plenty of ideas for Valentine’s Day-themed foods in old newspaper articles to inspire you.

Valentine’s Day Menus

This 1928 Valentine’s-theme menu includes two gelatin recipes, one savory and one sweet: a heart-shaped salad and a strawberry soufflé.

recipe for a Valentine's Day heart-shaped salad, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 11 February 1928

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 11 February 1928, page 11

recipe for a Valentine's Day souffle, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 11 February 1928

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 11 February 1928, page 11

Like other holiday foods, Valentine’s Day food is associated with certain colors, mostly red and pink. This old newspaper article from 1951 proclaims that “Food for Valentine’s Day is probably as much fun to prepare as for any party because it is so pink and pretty.” While that may or may not be true, there’s no doubt that most people like the types of food described in these recipes, namely cookies and pie. The cookies described here are fairly easy to make, using a devil’s food cake mix as their base. Red food dye, cranberry sauce and heart shapes help the meringue add to the dessert tray.

Valentine Foods Fun to Prepare, Oregonian newspaper article 12 February 1951

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 12 February 1951, page 13

This 1941 Nebraska newspaper provides three possible menus for a Valentine luncheon, all with a different dessert. Depending on which menu you choose you could have “strawberry ice cream in meringue shells,” “red raspberry chiffon pie,” or “maraschino ice cream and petite fours.”

Add Color to Valentine's Day Table, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 31 January 1941

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 31 January 1941, page 17

Start with Oysters & Salad, Then Eat Candy

Probably one of my favorite Valentine menus found in the newspaper is this one from 1915 entitled “Queen of Hearts Cook Book.” In this early 20th century menu, oysters served on heart-shaped croustades are followed by a Love Apple Salad. From there the couple can have St. Valentine Sandwiches cut into heart shapes, and then they can move on to a dessert of heart-shaped candies dipped in chocolate. Of course like many Valentine menus, the ability to make all kinds of food heart-shaped is imperative. In this case the author instructs for the sandwiches: “…you will need a heart-shaped cutter which can be bought for about five cents.”

recipe for Valentine's Day, Boston Herald newspaper article 14 February 1915

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 14 February 1915, page 40

Obviously Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to serve heart-shaped foods. That tradition continues today and even my local pizza restaurants get in on the action by serving heart-shaped pizzas.

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Bring on the Chocolate

Sure you can buy chocolate candies – but why not whip up a chocolate dessert?

In this 1977 collection of recipes, those who love chocolate can choose either Chocolate Amaretto Kisses or Thicker No-Egg Chocolate Cake. While there is a recipe for His Valentine Cookies which can be served with either jam, jelly, caviar or grated cheese, my guess is the men might prefer the Myers’s Jamaican Rum Pie.

photo of desserts for Valentine's Day, Advocate newspaper article 10 February 1977

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 10 February 1977, page 86

recipe for amaretto kisses, Advocate newspaper article 10 February 1977

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 10 February 1977, page 86

recipe for chocolate cake, Advocate newspaper article 10 February 1977

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 10 February 1977, page 86

recipe for Valentine's Day cookies, Advocate newspaper article 10 February 1977

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 10 February 1977, page 86

recipe for Jamaican rum pie, Advocate newspaper article 10 February 1977

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 10 February 1977, page 86

Do you have a traditional, old fashioned Valentine’s Day recipe? I’d love to hear about it. Please share in the comments below.

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* Celebrating Valentine’s Day with a Box of Chocolates. History. http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/celebrating-valentines-day-with-a-box-of-chocolates. Accessed 8 February 2015.

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Come Join GenealogyBank at RootsTech 2015! (Conference Tips for Those Attending—and Those Watching Online)

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog post, Gena gives advice on how to get the most out of RootsTech 2015, the largest genealogy conference in the U.S.

RootsTech is the largest gathering of family historians in the United States and promises to be THE place to be, even virtually, in February.

announcement that GenealogyBank will be at booth 1129 during the RootsTech 2015 genealogy conference

Last year, 13,000 genealogists gathered at the Salt Palace Convention Center representing 31 countries. And for those unable to attend in person, there were 150,000+ views of live-streaming conference sessions. This year’s conference, 12-14 February 2015, promises to be bigger and better than ever with an estimated 18,000 in attendance and 50,000 “attending” online. Plan to join in for one of the biggest genealogy events of the year!

photo of the Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City, Utah

Photo: Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City, Utah. Credit: Luana Darby.

GenealogyBank will once again be at RootsTech, staffing a booth to greet you and answer your most pressing genealogy questions.

Whether you are going to RootsTech in person or following along at home, here’s how you can get the most out of this important family history event.

Download the Free RootsTech App

Prepare for attending RootsTech by downloading the free RootsTech 2015 App. With the RootsTech conference app you can create your class schedule, learn more about the presenters and exhibitors, follow the conference via social media channels, and network with others. The conference app is available for Apple, Android, and other mobile devices.

Stop by the GenealogyBank Booth #1129

A must for any conference experience is a stroll or two around the Expo Hall, and RootsTech will be no different. It’s in the Expo Hall that you can view new products and services, ask questions, and learn what’s new in the world of genealogy.

While you’re in the Expo Hall, stop by the GenealogyBank booth (#1129) and say hello. We will have computers and friendly staff to help you learn more about using GenealogyBank.com, help you search for ancestors, and give you genealogy tips and tricks to help you succeed.

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Set a Conference Course of Action

One of the comments I hear most at conferences is how exhausting it can be. It can be exciting to have the opportunity to learn so much over the course of a weekend but it can also be overwhelming.

Make a plan before you get to the RootsTech conference and decide on your priorities. What are your must-attend lectures, who do you need to speak to in the Expo Hall, and who do you need to network with? And while you may feel like you want to “get your money’s worth,” make sure to schedule down time (time to reflect and rest).

Don’t forget to plan out your meals and bring snacks and water with you. In the excitement of being around all that genealogy, it can be easy to forget to eat. Make a plan for meals before you get there and decide whether you are going to eat from the snack bar or one of the conveniently located restaurants within walking distance of the Salt Palace. For those who are not from Utah, Salt Lake is a dry climate so make sure to drink lots of water to keep hydrated.

photo of Assembly Hall, inside Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah

Photo: Assembly Hall, inside Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah. Credit: Gary W. Clark.

To learn more about where to dine, as well as attractions to see and things to do in downtown Salt Lake City, see the Visit Salt Lake website.

photo of the Handcart Pioneer Monument, inside Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah

Photo: Handcart Pioneer Monument, inside Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah. Credit: Gary W. Clark.

Follow the RootsTech Social Media Buzz

Not able to attend RootsTech in person? Whether you are physically there or participating from home, use Twitter to follow along. The RootsTech Twitter account is @RootsTechConf. Participants will be tweeting and tagging images on Instagram using the #RootsTech hashtag. You can also follow along on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RootsTech.

One of the innovative aspects of RootsTech is their commitment to provide free video streaming sessions so that more people around the world can benefit from their family history and technology conference. From their website you can watch selected conference presentations live. Not able to watch the presentation at the scheduled time? No problem, each streamlined presentation is archived so that you can view it at your convenience. To learn about what presentations will be viewable from home see the free online broadcast schedule. Currently, you can view presentations from the 2014 conference.

Did You Know Salt Lake Has a Library?

Obviously the answer to that question is “of course!” Probably one of the biggest benefits of attending a conference in Salt Lake City is the opportunity to visit the Family History Library in person. I’ve written previously about visiting the Family History Library in my GenealogyBank Blog article Planning a Trip to Salt Lake City for Your Family History Research?

My biggest piece of advice about going to the Family History Library is this: do your homework before you leave home. Utilize the Family History Library Catalog and look up what you want to research so that you can be more efficient while you’re at the Library. If you have limited time to search during your visit, stick to resources that do not circulate to Family History Centers such as books and some microforms.

Going to RootsTech 2015? Have a great time! Genealogy conferences are exciting and energizing. You will definitely come away with ideas and resources to help you in the search for your ancestors. And be sure to stop by and say hi at GenealogyBank’s booth #1129. We look forward to seeing you in Salt Lake soon!

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‘It Is Well with My Soul’: the Story of Horatio Spafford

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena tells the moving story of how Horatio Gates Spafford wrote the famous hymn “It Is Well with My Soul” after undergoing severe hardships and tragedy.

Like many songs, the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul” was born out of personal experience.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Its composer, Horatio Gates Spafford, was a Chicago lawyer who – although previously successful – had suffered setbacks when his considerable real estate investments were lost during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. His finances took another hit during the Panic of 1873 financial crisis. After two rough years, he decided to alleviate some of his family’s stress by giving them a change of scenery.

photo of Horatio Gates Spafford

Photo: Horatio Gates Spafford. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Spafford Family Vacation

Plans were made for the family (including Horatio, his wife Anna, and their four daughters) to journey to Europe in November 1873 via the French iron steamship Ville du Havre. Horatio accompanied them to New York, but at the last minute had to change his plans because of a business obligation. He sent his family on ahead, promising to join them in time. Wife Anna and daughters Annie (b. 1862), Margaret Lee (b. 1864), Elizabeth (b. 1868), and Tanetta (b. 1871) set sail on November 15th.

His family never reached their destination – and he never saw his four daughters again.

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Disaster at Sea

Ironically, the Ville du Havre’s captain – acting as confident as a familiar future captain on another “unsinkable” ship 39 years later – assured Anna Spafford and other passengers that his ship was very safe and the voyage would be an easy one. A week into the voyage, on 22 November 1873, the liner collided with the British clipper Loch Earn. Even as the ship was struck, sounding like an explosion according to passengers, the captain told everyone “it’s nothing, nothing.” As the ship began to take on water, the crew assured passengers that the ship was too safe to sink.*

But they were wrong; the Ville du Havre sank in just 12 minutes, killing an estimated 226 people – including all four of the Spafford daughters. Anna survived the shipwreck by clinging to a floating plank.

Illustration: “The Sinking of the Steamship Ville du Havre” by Currier & Ives, c.1873

Illustration: “The Sinking of the Steamship Ville du Havre” by Currier & Ives, c.1873. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

As anyone can imagine, the accounts of the Ville du Havre sinking are terrifying. Heartbreakingly, in the last moments of daughter Annie Spafford’s life she is recorded as proclaiming: “Don’t be afraid. The Sea is His and He made it.” As Anna was thrown into the sea, she felt her baby Tanetta pulled out of her arms by the rough waves.** All four daughters drowned. When Anna was finally rescued she was unconscious, floating on a piece of debris.

This New York newspaper reported the tragedy.

article about the shipwreck of the Ville du Havre, Daily Graphic newspaper article 1 December 1873

Daily Graphic (New York, New York), 1 December 1873, page 6

The old news article included an eyewitness account of the shipwreck.

eyewitness account of the shipwreck of the Ville du Havre, Daily Graphic newspaper article 1 December 1873

Daily Graphic (New York, New York), 1 December 1873, page 6

The historical newspaper article also reported the names of those saved, including Anna Spafford.

The rescue ship Tremountain took the survivors to Cardiff. During this voyage Anna said few words. A friend who had also survived the sinking, clergymen Thoeophile Lorriaux, was with her when she finally uttered the words: “God gave me four daughters. They have been taken. One day I shall understand why. I will understand why.”***

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Once Anna arrived in Cardiff she sent a telegram to her husband in Chicago that must have devastated him:

Saved, but saved alone. What shall I do?

Inspiration and Solace: the Hymn

Horatio left Chicago to meet Anna, who was staying with friends in France. At one point during the voyage, the ship’s captain summoned Horatio to his cabin and explained that he had determined the exact spot where the Ville du Havre had gone down. He let Horatio know that they were at that moment passing that very spot. Horatio then returned to his own cabin and, leaning for strength on his tremendous faith in God, wrote his famous hymn.

article about Horatio Spafford writing the hymn "It Is Well with My Soul," Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 6 November 1902

Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 6 November 1902, page 5

The article included this description.

article about Horatio Spafford writing the hymn "It Is Well with My Soul," Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 6 November 1902

Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 6 November 1902, page 5

The Aftermath

That tragedy for both Anna and Horatio changed their lives. It had a profound impact on their belief in what they were to do with their lives, and also impacted their theology. Understandably, it also had an impact on those who heard the hymn and the story behind it. The above news article concluded with a story of a gentleman, who had lost much in the Panic of 1893, hearing the background of Spafford’s hymn during a church service. Moved by both the story and the words of the hymn, the gentleman declared:

I will never again complain of my lot. If Spafford could write such a beautiful resignation hymn when he had lost all his children, and everything else save his wife and character, I ought surely to be thankful that my losses have been so light.

article about Horatio Spafford writing the hymn "It Is Well with My Soul," Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 6 November 1902

Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 6 November 1902, page 5

Horatio Gates Spafford died of malaria in 1888 in Jerusalem. His wife Anna followed his death in 1923, survived by the two daughters who were born after the shipwreck tragedy that changed their lives.

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* Geniessee, Jane Fletcher. American Priestess. The Extraordinary Story of Anna Spafford and the American Colony in Jerusalem. New York: Doubleday. p. 55.
** Ibid, p. 56.
*** Ibid, p. 60.

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How to Use a Dictionary to Help with Your Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena discusses several different types of dictionaries, providing links to online versions – and shows how they can help with your family history research.

Have you ever started reading an old document or newspaper article about your ancestor and come across a word that made you scratch your head? Maybe there was a phrase your ancestor used in a piece of correspondence or their journal that you are curious about. I know there have been times when I come across an unfamiliar term – or even something I didn’t recognize as a word – and wondered what it meant. Words and their meanings from a different era can make understanding context difficult, and can lead you to make bad assumptions and wrong conclusions. It’s at times like these that you need to “look it up!” and break out some dictionaries.

ad for the Century Dictionary, Cyclopedia and Atlas, Plain Dealer newspaper advertisement 22 October 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 22 October 1907, page 5

What dictionary might help? You’d be surprised at all the different types of dictionaries that exist that can help the family historian. You may be able to pick one up inexpensively at a library book sale or used book store – or there may be a free online version.

Medical Dictionaries

Did your ancestor die of the grippe or maybe ague? What’s a myocardial infarction? Having a good medical dictionary at your disposal can help you better understand your ancestor’s ailments and ultimately their death certificate.

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Medical terminology, like language itself, changes over time. So having access to definitions of archaic medical terms is very helpful.

Rudy’s List of Archaic Medical Terms: A Glossary of Archaic Medical Terms, Diseases and Causes of Death is a great resource for looking up causes of death on death certificates. This website defines itself as: “a collection of archaic medical terms and their old and modern definitions. The primary focus of this web site is to help decipher the Causes of Death found on Mortality Lists, Certificates of Death and Church Death Records from the 19th century and earlier.” What is great about the site are the entries that include a copy of a death certificate so that you can compare the writing. While there’s a benefit to using the online version, for the most up-to-date entries, you can download a copy of the glossary for a small fee.

Links to other websites that explain medical terms can be found on Cyndi’s List – Medical & Medicine – Diseases & Medical Terms.

photo of the Riverside County Historical Courthouse in Riverside, California

Photo: Riverside County Historical Courthouse in Riverside, California. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.

Legal Dictionaries

For the non-attorney, legal jargon found in the court cases of our ancestors can be challenging at best. I’ve had times where I wish I could call a lawyer and ask them to sit with me and explain some concepts so that I could better evaluate what a case was really about. A legal dictionary can assist you at times when you’re trying to make sense of the world your ancestor lived in. The Law Dictionary is an online version of Black’s Law Dictionary, a dictionary everyone should refer to for better understanding of legal terms.

The Georgetown Law Library Digital Dictionaries: 1481-1916 provides access to a wide variety of legal dictionaries that can be browsed or searched.

Slang Dictionaries

Some of my favorite dictionaries are slang dictionaries. I know it’s easy to hear the phrase “slang dictionary” and discount it as something that is too modern to be of use when researching your family history. However, slang dictionaries have been around since the 17th century and are an excellent resource for learning about the common word usage of a particular era and how the meanings of some words have changed over time. A slang dictionary is the perfect resource to better understand early correspondence or journal entries. This type of dictionary can assist you as you read newspaper articles that utilize verbiage from a different time. It can also help when you’re writing the story of your great-grandparents and want to use language and phrases from their time period.

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Like any dictionary, a slang dictionary can be found online and in your favorite bookstore. Digitized book websites house various reference tools including slang dictionaries. Internet Archive has the 1909 text Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang, and Phrase, and the 1912 work A Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English.

Slang dictionaries from the 19th century can also be found on Google Books.

Military Dictionaries

Military dictionaries exist online and in physical book form. The DOD Dictionary of Military Terms can be browed or searched online as well as downloaded. It’s a great resource if you need to know what a beach party is or a Presidential Call-up.

The Oxford Essential Dictionary of the U.S. Military has a website with an index to entries. You can browse the index, but need a subscription to look at definitions.

Dictionaries for specific military conflicts include the Historical Dictionary of the Korean War by Paul M. Edwards, the Historical Dictionary of the Spanish-American War by Donald H. Dyal, and the Historical Dictionary of World War I by Ian V. Hogg.

What dictionaries are on your bookshelf? Start your own reference collection for your personal library to help with your family history research for a better understanding your ancestors and the times they lived in.

Related article:

How to Use a Thesaurus as a Genealogy Keyword Tool

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Researching Newspapers to Trace the Life of Moses G. Wilson

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn more about a relative on her family tree who – she discovered – was very much involved in the war in Missouri against the Mormons during the 1830s.

Family history can seem deceptively easy when searching for your ancestors in an online newspaper archive. Type a name into a search box and you are rewarded with stories that can help you better understand your family history. Learning about specific individuals is one way to go about newspaper research, but it’s not the only way to research your ancestors.

The Time & the Place

For me, what I love about newspapers is their ability to help me better understand not only my ancestor’s own life – but their time and place. Getting to know what was going on and what they were a part of, often in reports that don’t even mention my ancestor by name, is an essential part of family history research.

a portrait of Lilburn Boggs, governor of Missouri (1836-1840)

Painting: portrait of Lilburn Boggs, governor of Missouri (1836-1840) – he signed the infamous “Extermination Order” against the Mormons, and was an acquaintance of a relative on my family tree: Moses G. Wilson. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Moses G. Wilson & the Mormon War

One of my long-term genealogy research projects involves Moses Greer Wilson (1795-c.1868). I was first introduced to Moses via a research trip I took to Texas 13 years ago. I was researching a branch of my paternal family tree when I “found” Moses, who was the second husband of my 4th great-grandmother, Sophia Bell Lewis Wilson. I’m not descended through that marriage so I didn’t pay too much attention to researching him. After all, the information I really needed involved their son-in-law, my 3rd great-grandfather.

During that Texas trip we found copious amounts of deeds and other materials about Moses Wilson, but due to the high cost of courthouse photocopies (remember this was before smartphones and other mobile devices, back when we thought having a laptop was a big deal) and the fact that he wasn’t our focus, we ended up limiting the info we collected about him.

Fast forward about 10+ years, when I received an email from another genealogy researcher about Moses. She shared his timeline with me that included the years previous to his marrying my ancestor, his second wife. One of the timeline facts involved his living in Jackson County, Missouri, in the 1830s.

For anyone who is Mormon or familiar with Mormon history, the 1830s in Jackson County, Missouri, were tumultuous years for the Mormon Church and its members. As I started Googling about Moses, I realized that he wasn’t simply present during that time – he was one of the ringleaders in the effort to remove the Mormons from Missouri. A brigadier general in the Missouri Militia who participated in the Mormon War, he was also acquainted with Governor Lilburn Boggs – who ultimately signed the infamous Mormon Extermination Order.* I learned that Moses was even accused of beating a Mormon boy.

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As I started collecting the research and analyzing it, all I could think of was: “this guy was married to my 4th great-grandmother?” She divorced her first husband because of abuse, and somehow this guy didn’t seem much better.

As you can imagine, this long-term project has yielded quite a bit of information due to Moses’ involvement in this historical event involving the Mormons in Missouri. However, it was through newspaper research that I started to gain even more perspective.

The Newspaper Accounts of the Mormon Conflict

One bit of warning here. It’s important to know that, just like today, journalism can be quite tainted. It’s not uncommon for some of these historical newspaper stories to be overdramatized and include falsehoods. However, there’s no denying that what occurred in Missouri during that time was very dramatic, and violent. People died on both sides of the Mormon conflict.

There’s much to tell about this story of the war between the Mormons and the people of Missouri. You can get a sense of the problem from the following two newspaper articles reporting on the tensions between Jackson County Mormons and their neighbors – including Moses G. Wilson.

In June of 1834 this news article was published, describing the fear that those living in Jackson County felt regarding the Mormons. There’s even a mention of a local merchant in Independence who ordered an artillery piece to defend his property. Moses was a merchant in Independence at that time, and it’s possible this could be a reference to him.

article about the conflict with the Mormons in Missouri, Arkansas Weekly Gazette newspaper article 24 June 1834

Arkansas Weekly Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 24 June 1834, page 1

This next newspaper article, published in July of 1834, warns that:

It is a lamentable fact, that this matter is about to involve the whole upper country [of Missouri] in civil war and bloodshed. We cannot (if a compromise is not agreed to before Saturday next) tell how long it will be before we shall have the painful task of recording the awful realities of an exterminating war.

article about the conflict with the Mormons in Missouri, Southern Patriot newspaper article 14 July 1834

Southern Patriot (Charleston, South Carolina), 14 July 1834, page 2

We’re Related to Him?

In conducting historical research we are admonished to not look at the lives of previous generations through our modern-day lens. Quite frankly, in a case like this it’s difficult. But it is important to keep in mind that Moses probably saw these new residents, the Mormons, as a threat. Those early Mormons worried their neighbors by being “peculiar.” They voted in a block and they tended to prefer dealing with their own kind.

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In this September 1838 article, we see that the conflict with the Mormons was continuing.

article about the Mormon War in Missouri, Times-Picayune newspaper article 14 September 1838

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 14 September 1838, page 2

According to this old news article, a local Missouri sheriff attempted to arrest Lyman Wight, one of the Mormon leaders – but found him protected by a large group of armed Mormon men. Wight is quoted as telling the sheriff:

…that he would not be taken alive – that the law had never protected him, and he owed them no obedience – that the whole State of Missouri could not take him.

The article concludes with the opinion of the editor of the Western Star, a Missouri newspaper:

article about the Mormon War in Missouri, Times-Picayune newspaper article 14 September 1838

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 14 September 1838, page 2

While I may be less than thrilled about Moses’ role in this bitter history, it’s important for me to learn more about his life and the life of his wife, my ancestress. Newspapers provide me that opportunity, and I look forward to more research on this project!

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* Wilson, Moses Greer. The Joseph Smith Papers. http://josephsmithpapers.org/person/moses-greer-wilson. Accessed 5 October 2014.

Articles Related to Mormons:

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Nellie Tayloe Ross: the Nation’s First Female Governor

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn more about one of the pioneering women in American history: Nellie Tayloe Ross, the first woman governor in U.S. history.

It would seem fitting that the first U.S. state to inaugurate a female governor was Wyoming. Wyoming, whose motto is the “Equality State,” approved female suffrage prior to statehood in 1869. In 1924, after the untimely demise of her husband, then-Wyoming governor William Ross, Nellie Tayloe Ross was asked by the Democratic National Committee if she would run for governor.

photo of Nellie Tayloe Ross, 1922

Photo: Nellie Tayloe Ross, 1922. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

While she was discouraged by others close to her, in the end Nellie – who had two sons to support and bills to pay – decided to add her name to the ballot. The race would be tough for a Democratic woman since Wyoming was largely a Republican state and many did not see politics as a place for women. On top of that, her campaign relied largely on friends and advertisements since the recent widow was not ready to actively promote herself.

However, Nellie won the election on 4 November 1924 and was inaugurated on 5 January 1925.

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Two Women Running to Be Nation’s First Governor

During that 1924 election year, Wyoming wasn’t the only state looking to elect a female governor. In Texas, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson was also campaigning to become the nation’s first female governor.

This article from the Evening Star reminds readers that Wyoming was first in granting women’s suffrage: “Thirty-four years ago, Wyoming Territory felt sufficiently grown up to put on the long pants of statehood, and the strangely assorted group of cowmen, homesteaders, prospectors, and lawyers who framed her progressive laws cudgeled their brains for some gesture with which to demonstrate their superiority over the backward and decadent East.”

article about Nellie Ross and the Wyoming election of 1924, Evening Star newspaper article 18 October 1924

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 18 October 1924, page 4

In the 1924 election, Texas’ Ma Ferguson was elected governor in her state’s race. Interestingly, her husband had also been governor years earlier but was impeached. That didn’t stop Miriam from winning her race and becoming the first female governor of Texas. However, Nellie was inaugurated in Wyoming 15 days before Ferguson was in Texas, giving her the title of the nation’s first woman governor.

Nellie, the Governor

After her overwhelming win, Nellie continued to work on some of her husband’s projects including enforcement of prohibition. In addition she promoted her own agenda that included “…requiring cities, counties, and school districts to have budgets; stronger state laws regulating banks…obtaining more funds for the university; improving safety for coal miners; protecting women in industrial jobs; and supporting a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would cut back on child labor.”*

Nellie’s brief stint as Governor of Wyoming (she was governor for two years) was not without its detractors. One might expect that many men who believed that politics was no place for women would be hyper vigilant to point out her foibles and mistakes, but women were also among those who were unhappy with her performance. Their complaints included that she had not done enough to assist women in the political sphere, including her lack of female political advisors.**

One issue that women’s clubs had with Nellie was her position on prohibition. In this article boldly titled “California Women Snub Nellie Ross” about a Southern California chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), they had “by resolution…declared Mrs. Nellie Tayloe Ross inconsistent in avowing herself a prohibitionist and at the same time campaigning in the California presidential primary in behalf of the candidacy of Governor Al Smith, of New York.” They want on to say: “We deplore the position taken by Mrs. Nellie Tayloe Ross, former governor of Woyming [sic], who is now in California proclaiming herself a prohibitionist and in favor of enforcement of the prohibition laws of the United States and yet is speaking publicly in support of the presidential candidacy of Governor Al Smith, of New York, whose record on nullification of the prohibition law and whose personal sentiments in opposition to prohibition are well known to the people of the entire nation.”

article about Nellie Ross and prohibition, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 20 April 1928

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 20 April 1928, page 1

Public Life after Being Governor

After Nellie served two years as governor, she continued a high-profile life that included the lecture circuit. In this 1930 South Dakota engagement reported by the Aberdeen Daily News, she was addressing the issue of women in politics. She said: “Political emancipation in the 19th amendment gives recognition of women as thinking, intelligent human beings.” She went on to talk about the fact that it wasn’t easy for women to enter roles that had been traditionally held by men. She stated that “men have felt the responsibility resting upon them for so many years…that it is hard for them to allow women to enter in.”

article about a speech by Nellie Ross, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 27 June 1930

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 27 June 1930, page 7

Nellie went on to be the vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee and then, in 1933, was the first woman appointed to head the U.S. Mint, a job she held for 20 years until 1953.

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There’s no doubt that Nellie enjoyed many firsts in her life. She was written about in newspapers throughout the United States for the various events and activities she took part in. She also made the news in 1976 when she turned 100 years old.

article about Nellie Ross turning 100, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 26 November 1976

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 26 November 1976, page 2

Nellie died at 101 years of age in Washington D.C. Although she had been Wyoming’s governor for only two years, her title of first woman governor was one that was repeated in almost every newspaper article about her throughout her life – including her obituary.

obituary for Nellie Ross, San Diego Union newspaper article 21 December 1977

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 21 December 1977, page 36

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

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* Rea, Tom. The Ambition of Nellie Tayloe Ross. WyoHistory.org. http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/ambition-nellie-tayloe-ross. Accessed 28 December 2014.

** Ibid

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3 New Year’s Genealogy Resolutions for 2015

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” It’s the time of year for making New Year’s Resolutions, and in this blog article Gena suggests three good resolutions for genealogists in 2015.

It’s almost time to ring in 2015! So what did you accomplish with your genealogy in 2014? What family stories did you tell? What places did you research? Any new family tree facts uncovered? Maybe you’re like me and wondering where 2014 went…

With the New Year soon approaching, it’s time to get serious about your family history. The perfect time to resolve to record your family history for the next generation is here. There’s no better time than now. Here are some ideas to get you started preserving your genealogical findings.

photo of the New Year ball drop event in New York City’s Times Square, 2012

Photo: New Year ball drop event in New York City’s Times Square, 2012. Credit: Replytojain; Wikimedia Commons.

1) Resolve to Get Your Genealogy Finds Organized

Recently someone asked me to help with her genealogy. When I asked to see her pedigree chart she provided me with various scraps of paper, all with unsourced facts. Frankly, I have done the same thing in my research. The ancestor hunt is more exciting than stopping to properly document and organize what information is found. But it’s writing everything down in one place – fact, source, and comments – that you will be grateful for later on.

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So today make the resolution to get rid of those scraps of paper and record all your genealogy information in one place. How will you record everything you find? Will it be by using a genealogy software package like RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree, or Family Tree Maker (just to name a few)? Will you use a note keeping program like Microsoft OneNote or Evernote, which would allow you access from any of your mobile devices? Will you go back to basics and simply use 3-ring binders, divider tabs, paper and forms? Decide which recording method you will actually use and then stick with it. Make sure you know how you will record each family fact you find during your genealogy research. How will you utilize your system away from home, at the library, archive, or family member’s home? Consider how you can use your smartphone or tablet’s capabilities to help you track and keep your genealogical findings in one place. Decide today and then skip the scraps.

2) Resolve to Learn Genealogy Research Methodologies

How can learning be a family history resolution? My experience has been that many brick walls are more easily knocked down by learning research methodologies. The more you learn about how to research and what’s available, the easier it is to solve those family mysteries.

So how do you learn more about genealogy? You can make a commitment to do more of what you are doing right now: read. The GenealogyBank Blog provides information about not only searching the GenealogyBank website, but tips to help you find success with your family history research in general. Use a RSS reader like Feedly or Flipboard to subscribe to this blog and others. RSS readers allow you to add the website addresses of your favorite blogs, and then they provide you a list of blog posts to read. Using a RSS reader and subscribing to RSS feeds is like putting together your own genealogy newspaper with articles on genealogy tips, resources, and more.

To subscribe to our RSS feed, click on the orange square with three white lines at the very bottom of this article, after the comments section. Next to the box it says “Subscribe to RSS.”

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Of course, you can learn more about genealogy in all kinds of ways. One suggestion might be the most surprising: research more. That’s right, spend some more hours researching. And don’t only focus on your family. Ask yourself a question about a famous or infamous person and then start looking it up in old newspapers like GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, or via Google Books. Take time to read old issues of your ancestor’s local newspaper for ideas about what was happening at that time, and the names of people in their community. Take some time to browse unindexed images in FamilySearch for your favorite state. I looked over 1930s death certificates from California and learned a lot about diseases, industrial accidents, nearby cemeteries and funeral homes, occupations, and more. That type of deep genealogy research can help you become more familiar with a resource, and in turn help you better solve your research questions.

3) Resolve to Free Your Family Photos

I can’t be the only one. You know who you are. You have great photos of family, ancestors, and documents – and they are trapped on storage cards, smartphones and even your computer. Sure it’s easy to take the family photo and save it somewhere, but not so easy to do something with it.

Let this be the year that you organize old family photos into folders, name individual photos, and then share, share, share. It really doesn’t matter how you share your photos: it can be on cloud storage websites like Dropbox, Microsoft One Drive or Sugar Synch; burn them to a CD; or save to flash drives. Just do it! Then once your pictures are saved to multiple places, share them with others. Give them to family, share to your website or blog, or make family tree scrapbooks. The more people you provide with your old family photos, the better. Consider putting together something for a local historical society, your genealogy society’s newsletter, or a town’s history project. That ensures that your family history survives long after a disaster occurs or you become an ancestor!

What will you resolve to do in 2015? Really, working on your family history shouldn’t be like a goal – such as losing weight – that’s often forgotten by many come Valentine’s Day. Family history is your passion; ensure that that passion will be felt long after you are gone.

Happy 2015!

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WWI Christmas Truce: When the Guns Stopped Firing

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena tells a remarkable story: how the power of Christmas – with its hope of “peace on earth, good will to men” – temporarily stopped the fighting during WWI in 1914.

By December 1914, Germany, Britain, France, and other European nations had been fighting since August. Trenches were dug on the Western front in September and those trenches, now home to soldiers, meant a holiday that would be cold, wet, and miserable tinged with the constant threat of death. What was first thought of as a “great adventure” by many young men must have quickly turned into a harsh cold reality as the casualties rose.

Then Christmas time approached, and something wonderful happened.

Illustration: the “Illustrated London News” depiction of the WWI Christmas Truce of 1914: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches.”

Illustration: the “Illustrated London News” depiction of the WWI Christmas Truce of 1914: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches.” The subcaption reads: “Saxons and Anglo-Saxons fraternising on the field of battle at the season of peace and goodwill: Officers and men from the German and British trenches meeting and greeting one another; a German officer photographing a group of foes and friends.” Credit: A. C. Michael; Wikimedia Commons.

Pope Benedict Calls for Christmas Truce

In an attempt to stop the fighting for Christmas that year, Pope Benedict called on the warring nations to declare a Christmas truce. Initially, Germany was reportedly agreeable to a truce – but only if the other countries agreed.

article about the WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Elkhart Daily Review newspaper article 11 December 1914

Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 11 December 1914, page 1

Pope’s Plea Denied

But not every country was in agreement about the Christmas truce, so the discussion of a lull in the fighting ended. By mid-December 1914 the American newspapers announced that an official cease fire was not to be.

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The following newspaper article reported:

The thundering roll of heavy guns will be the Christmas chimes of Europe. It’s [sic] carols will be the cries of dying men. Across the sky toward which wise men looked for the star which guided them to a manger will dart the aircraft of hostile powers – the latest man-made engine for aiding the destruction of fellow men.

Thousands may die upon battlefields on this Christmas Day when the message of ‘Peace on earth, good will to men,’ is being again repeated in other parts of the world.

article about the WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 13 December 1914

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 13 December 1914, page 1

Andrew Carnegie Comments

Interestingly enough, though America was not yet engaged in World War I, there was an American industrialist who was against a Christmas-time truce. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie weighed in with the opinion that a truce where the fighting would end momentarily and then commence after the holidays was “unchristianlike and immoral.” Instead he called for supporting President Woodrow Wilson in promoting and securing a permanent peace: “It is terrible that so many widows and orphans are being made because a few men wanted war.” (An interesting aside is that this newspaper article ends with the comment that Carnegie walked to the White House to see the President, but the President was out golfing.)

article about the WWI Christmas truce, Elkhart Daily Review newspaper article 11 December 1914

Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 11 December 1914, page 1

Brief Christmas 1914 Truce

While an official truce did not occur, many WWI soldiers took matters into their own hands, setting aside their weapons and reaching out to their enemies in the spirit of the season. There were in fact mini truces all along the trenches that Christmas. While some mythology surrounds the details, there is no doubt that there was an unofficial cease fire, and soldiers from opposite sides did interact peacefully in “No Man’s Land” for Christmas 1914. Recollections of those involved told of gift giving, singing, kicking balls around, and other friendly interactions.

photo of British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the WWI Christmas truce of 1914

Photo: British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the WWI Christmas truce of 1914. Credit: Robson Harold B.; Wikimedia Commons.

This report from a Rhode Island newspaper announces “British and Germans Exchange Gifts During a Christmas Truce on Firing Line.” The article reports:

On Christmas morning two British soldiers, after signalling truce and good-fellowship from the perilous crown of their trench, walked across to the German line with a plate of mince pies and garniture and seasonable messages… and were sent back with packets of Christmas cards – quite sentimental – wreathed with mistletoe and holly, for distribution among their fellows.

article about WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Pawtucket Times newspaper article 31 December 1914

Pawtucket Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island), 31 December 1914, page 11

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Initially American newspapers reported that an unofficial truce would be declared in the trenches so that the men could eat their Christmas dinners in peace. While those in charge were providing their fighting men with some small luxuries (reportedly the French government sent their soldiers champagne), an unofficial momentary truce was about all that these soldiers could hope for.

article about WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Times-Picayune newspaper article 26 December 1914

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 26 December 1914, page 6

Unfortunately, those fighting in World War I would see not only the Christmas of 1914 come and go with no peaceful solution to the war, but they would see three more Christmases bring fighting and lives lost – for some countries, almost wiping out an entire generation.

But for a brief time, that December 1914, soldiers on both sides laid down their weapons and enjoyed a little “peace on earth,” if only just for a short while.

photo of a cross erected in Belgium in 1999 to commemorate the WWI Christmas truce of 1914

Photo: a cross erected in Belgium in 1999 to commemorate the WWI Christmas truce of 1914. The inscription reads: “1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget.” Credit: Redvers; Wikimedia Commons.

Various stories of the Christmas truce can be found in historical newspapers and online. A dramatic narration done by Walter Cronkite accompanied by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir tells the story of the World War I Christmas truce and can be found on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRq–pTnlog.

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