About Gena Philibert-Ortega

Gena Philibert-Ortega holds a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a Master’s degree in Religion. Presenting on various subjects involving genealogy, women’s studies and social history, Gena has spoken to groups throughout the United States and virtually to audiences worldwide. Gena is the author of hundreds of articles published in genealogy newsletters and magazines including Internet Genealogy, Family Chronicle, GenWeekly, FGS Forum, APG Quarterly and the WorldVitalRecords newsletter. She is the author of the books, Putting the Pieces Together, Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra (Arcadia Publishing, 2007) and From the Family Kitchen (F + W Media, 2012). Gena is the editor of the Utah Genealogical Association’s journal Crossroads. An instructor for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, Gena has written courses about social media and Google. She serves as Vice-President for the So. California Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, board member of the Utah Genealogical Association and is a Director for the California State Genealogical Alliance. Her current research interests include social history, community, social history, community cookbooks, signature quilts and researching women’s lives.

How to Research Your Ancestor’s Part in Major Historical Events

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how researching the major historical events that happened in your ancestors’ lifetimes provides another way of better understanding them, their experiences, and the lives they led.

Think of an ancestor you are researching. What major historical events did they live through? Did they go west for the California Gold Rush? Maybe they were sick during the 1918 Flu Epidemic. Did your ancestor fight in World War I? One of the things that makes doing genealogy research fascinating is learning about the history that our ancestors were a part of, and finding out exactly what their role was and how they were affected.

The California Gold Rush

For example, was the ancestor you’re researching alive in 1849? Perhaps he read a newspaper article such as this and was caught up in the gold fever sweeping the country—in 1849 more than 90,000 prospectors came to California, and in all about 300,000 people flocked to California during the Gold Rush hoping to strike it rich. Was you ancestor one of them?

article about the California Gold Rush, Arkansas Weekly Gazette newspaper article 22 February 1849

Arkansas Weekly Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 22 February 1849, page 3

How can you learn more about an ancestor’s part in a historical event? Consider taking the following steps.

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Create a Timeline

Start your research by creating a timeline for your ancestor. Insert the dates for what you know about their lives, such as a birth or death date. Then consider what major historical events happened in their lifetime that may have impacted them. If the ancestor was a young man during World War II, perhaps he registered for the draft or he served in the military. By including dates of important historical events you can get a better sense of what records you should be researching to find more information about your ancestor’s life.

articles about World War II, Advocate newspaper article 1 September 1944

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 1 September 1944, page 1

Not sure what historical events were going on during your ancestor’s lifetime? Seek out a general history timeline such as eHistory’s timelines or a specific timeline for a region like this one from Missouri Digital Heritage.

Also, take some time to read your ancestor’s hometown newspaper in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives. Look for front-page stories of historical events and any commentary about how it affected that community. Keep in mind that adding every historical event that happened during your ancestor’s lifetime to your timeline is not necessary; you want to include only those that most likely impacted their everyday lives.

One idea for creating a timeline for your ancestor can be found on the Armchair Genealogist’s blog post Four Steps to a Family History Timeline.

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Survey the Available Resources

Let’s say you believe that your ancestor was involved in the Georgia land lotteries. So now what? Take some time to survey what resources are available for your research. You will want to look for historical records that mention your ancestor but also those that document that event for their community.

Start your research with GenealogyBank. Search on your ancestor’s name; don’t forget variations of their name and the possibility of misspellings, but don’t stop there. Continue to search their community newspaper for other clues as to how the event may have impacted their life. Make sure to consult, if you haven’t already, GenealogyBank’s Learning Center to ensure that you are finding everything possible in your searches. You can also peruse our Historical Events in America Pinterest board to review newspaper headlines and photographs of some of our nation’s most memorable historical moments as a starting point.

article about the Georgia land lottery, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 18 April 1827

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 18 April 1827, page 3

After newspapers, continue on to the FamilySearch Library Catalog. Search for both the city and the county your ancestor lived in and see what records exist for the time period they were living there. Once you identify some possible records, make sure to order the microfilm or check the digitized records online. To learn more about ordering microfilm from the FamilySearch Family History Library, see the FamilySearch Research Wiki article Ordering Microfilm or Microfiche.

Continue your survey of what’s available by searching the genealogy websites that you typically search, both fee-based and free. But don’t stop there. Also search for histories in digitized book websites like Google Books, and look for histories and archival collections in catalogs like WorldCat and ArchiveGrid.

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Genealogy Research Q&A

As you start your research, come to it with specific questions that you want to answer and then create a research plan to help you answer those questions. Did my ancestor enlist in the military during World War I? Did my family have a homestead claim? Did my ancestor die of the flu? Make your questions to the point and not too complex. Once you start researching and gathering documents, you will want to have those documents guide you to answering additional questions.

Don’t forget that records often lead to additional records and questions. So record everything you find in a research log, either on paper, through a genealogy database program, or an online source.

Your ancestor has a place in history. By identifying their possible historical role and gathering newspaper articles and other documents that tell that story, you will add “flesh to the bones” of your ancestor and create a family history narrative your non-genealogist family members will be interested in and enjoy.

Get Your Genealogy Facts Straight: Proof-Checking Tips for Records

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena provides some advice about verifying genealogy records, especially in the case of a newspaper article contradicting other family history information you have found during your research.

Probably one of the most iconic newspaper images to ever appear is that of President Harry S. Truman holding up an early edition of the Chicago Tribune that boldly proclaimed the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Of course, that newspaper headline announcement from the 1948 presidential election was premature and involved some wishful thinking. Today, everyone knows the name of President Harry S. Truman; few remember his opponent Gov. Thomas E. Dewey.

Clearly, newspapers sometimes make mistakes.

Occasionally, genealogists find a newspaper article that conflicts with what they know about an ancestor. What’s a researcher to do when they come across a newspaper article that doesn’t match their family history records?

Cross-Check with Records from Catalogs

Genealogical records of all types contain mistakes—just ask anyone who has ever been an informant on a death certificate. Even if you can correctly provide all of the information for your deceased loved one’s death certificate, there’s still the chance of errors creeping in from the reporting physician, the funeral home, or even the typist.

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One of our jobs as family historians is to collect and verify facts about our ancestors. Those facts may come in the form of an original or derivative document that has primary information, information supplied by a witness to the event, or secondary information supplied by someone who was not an eyewitness. Obviously the further removed from the eyewitnesses and the event, the more chances something is going to have errors. With any genealogical evidence you find, you will want to gather more than one example if possible because mistakes can and do happen.

As with all genealogy research, it’s important to not rely on just one source. While we are lucky to live in an era where we have a wealth of online materials available to us, some genealogy records are not and will never be online. So record the family information you find in newspaper articles, and then search through archival and library catalogs for paper records that haven’t been digitized, like diaries and journals, occupational records, church records, court records and other documents created by the community and its members at the time of the event. Consult catalogs such as WorldCat, ArchiveGrid, and the Family History Library Catalog to find these materials.

As you use these catalogs, search or browse on the place your ancestor was from to find what records exist for that community. And remember: because these catalogs are frequently updated, check back and record your results in a research log to keep track of search dates and keywords used.

Look at the Next Day’s Publication

Let’s face it, mistakes happen with newspaper articles and they can even happen when an article has been proof-read numerous times. There’s a chance that the difference between your existing genealogy record and a newspaper article was an error that the newspaper corrected in the following day’s issue. Make sure to look for the newspaper’s correction column to see if a correction was reported.

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Newspapers have long reported corrections to their articles, as can be seen in this example from a 1730 Massachusetts newspaper.

newspaper corrections, New-England Weekly Journal newspaper article 16 March 1730

New-England Weekly Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 March 1730, page 2

Sometimes in the rush to get a story out to beat the competition, or due to the pressure of looming deadlines, a newspaper article might be published with a glaring mistake. Today, we are all familiar with the fate of the Titanic and its loss of over 1,500 people. However, details were sketchy if not totally incorrect in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy—as clearly shown in this example.

article about the sinking of the Titanic, Riverside Daily Press newspaper article 15 April 1912

Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, California), 15 April 1912, page 1

Thorough research of the Titanic disaster would include not only numerous newspaper accounts that were printed for days and weeks after the sinking, but also other records created at the time of the sinking and even after.

Do you have a newspaper article that conflicts with a genealogy record? Just like the game “telephone,” records are going to conflict as information is passed from one person to another. Faulty memories, transcription errors and more can cause problems in any record. But by utilizing the proof-checking steps mentioned above you can get beyond that difficulty and come up with a sound genealogical conclusion based on actual facts.

Genealogy Tip: Newspapers are essential to family history research, providing stories about your ancestors’ lives that you just can’t find anywhere else. But as with all genealogy research, gather as many records from as many sources as you can, so that you can cross-check the data and establish the facts.

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Anniversary of Susan B. Anthony’s Death: Women’s Rights Crusader

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—in honor of March being National Women’s History Month—Gena commemorates the 108th anniversary of the death of women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony.

1920. That isn’t really that long ago. In the United States, women have had the right to vote in federal elections for less than 100 years. Depending on your age, there’s a good chance that your grandmother or great-grandmother spent part of her life without that right. Women today have many foremothers to thank for their work in securing suffrage. One woman, whose name is familiar to most of us, dedicated her life to suffrage—and like many of those who fought that fight, she never saw her dream fully realized.

On 13 March 1906 pioneering activist Susan B. Anthony died at the age of 86.

photo of women's rights advocate Susan B. Anthony at age 50

Photo: Susan B. Anthony at age 50. Credit: Wikimedia Commons by Stmarygypsy.

When she was 52, Anthony was arrested, tried and convicted for the crime of daring to vote in the 1872 Presidential Election. She persisted in her efforts with unwavering dedication, declaring a few years before she died that national women’s suffrage “…will come, but I shall not see it.”

Her words proved prophetic 14 years after her death, when the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on 18 August 1920, guaranteeing all American women the right to vote.

photo of a petition from E. Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and others asking for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing universal suffrage, ca. 1865

Photo: petition of E. Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and others asking for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing universal suffrage, ca. 1865. Credit: U.S. National Archives; Flickr The Commons.

Quaker by birth, social reform causes were not unknown to her. Susan B. Anthony spoke her mind about various causes during her life including slavery, which she spoke out against when she was only 17 years old.

History of Woman Suffrage

One of the results of her tireless work is a book series, History of Woman Suffrage, which Anthony co-authored with fellow suffragists Matilda Joslyn Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. This set is not only a good history of the cause; it provides valuable information to present-day researchers on the dates women received suffrage on a local and state level. The series is available online through digitized books websites including Google Books and Internet Archive.

Genealogy Tip: Be sure to consult this book series to better understand what voting records may be available for your female ancestors.

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Obituary of Susan B. Anthony

When she died, Susan B. Anthony’s obituary was published in newspapers throughout the United States. Her obituary listed her many life accomplishments, including: lecturing in 1847 on behalf of temperance; her work towards the abolition of slavery prior to the Civil War; and her taking a “prominent part in the passage of an act in New York giving married women the possession of their earnings and right of guardianship of their children.”

obituary for women's rights advocate Susan B. Anthony, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 13 March 1906

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 13 March 1906, page 3

Even in death Anthony was breaking down gender and race barriers. An African American woman, Mrs. R. Jerome Jeffrey, spoke at her funeral, and the honorary pall bearers were young women from the University of Rochester. Anthony helped to secure coeducation privileges for women at that institution just prior to her death.

Susan B. Anthony (Lies) in State in Church, Baltimore American newspaper article 15 March 1906

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 15 March 1906, page 9

Even though she did not live to see women gain the federal right to vote, she had worked with women in other states that did enjoy suffrage in state and local elections. Women in the Western states of Wyoming (1869), Utah (1870), Colorado (1893), and Idaho (1896) were some of the first to hold the right to vote in state elections.

In 1920 the 19th Amendment was ratified after a 41-year-long battle. Originally penned by Anthony and Stanton, the text for the 19th Amendment was known as the Anthony Amendment. Years of women’s, and some men’s, hard work which involved marches, pickets, demonstrations, arrests, and even being tortured ended with the adoption of this sentence:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Suffrage Now Is a Law, Kansas City Star newspaper article 1 September 1920

Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), 1 September 1920, page 2

Susan B. Anthony’s Grave

Susan B. Anthony is buried in the Anthony family plot at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York. Abolitionist Frederick Douglas is also buried at Mount Hope. You can view her gravestone on the website The Freethought Trail.

Interesting history fact: Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920, giving the amendment the 36 approval votes it needed to pass. However, some states didn’t ratify it until much later; the last state, Mississippi, didn’t ratify the 19th Amendment until 1984. That’s not a typo—it wasn’t until 1984!

11 March 1993: Janet Reno Becomes 1st Female U.S. Attorney General

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—in honor of March being National Women’s History Month—Gena celebrates the 21st anniversary of Janet Reno becoming the nation’s first female attorney general.

On 11 March 1993 Janet Reno accomplished a first that no other woman has done since: she was confirmed to serve as U.S. Attorney General, beginning her tenure as the second-longest-serving attorney general in our nation’s history. To this day, no other woman has served as Attorney General of the United States.

But that wasn’t the only first that Janet Reno accomplished. Searching on her in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives pulls up many news articles showing that her illustrious life was marked by many such milestones.

Janet Reno was born in Florida on 21 July 1938. After earning her chemistry degree from Cornell she attended Harvard Law School, where she was one of only 16 women in a class of 500. In this 1970 newspaper article looking back at Cornell’s graduating class of 1960, Janet Reno  is described as “now a partner in a Miami, Fla., law firm, is a prime mover in Miami’s civic affairs and is eyeing a career in politics.” According to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, she became a partner in a law firm that previously denied her a position because she was a woman.*

What Happened to (Cornell) Class of 1960? Omaha World Herald newspaper article 14 June 1970

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 14 June 1970, page 28

Prior to being nominated by then-President Bill Clinton for attorney general,  Reno served as  a partner in two law firms and then eventually went on to become the state attorney for Dade County (Florida).**

Janet Reno’s Senate hearing was different from those that we often read about: she received a standing ovation! After those two days of hearings she became the first women attorney general. She was praised by many, including Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) who attended Harvard Law School with Reno and stated she was “superbly qualified to be our nation’s top lawyer. She is an innovative, straightforward, brilliant prosecutor.”

Attorney General Hopeful (Janet Reno) Coasts through Hearing, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 10 March 1993

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 10 March 1993, page 16

Reno won unanimous approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee and started her tenure in March 1993, remaining in her position until 20 January 2001.

(Janet) Reno's Nomination Approved 18-0 by Judiciary Committee, Marietta Journal newspaper article 11 March 1993

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 11 March 1993, page 10

One can easily imagine the pressure of being the first woman in such an important post. In an article printed after her historic Senate confirmation, Reno said that she planned on tackling the job as her mother taught her: “to be prepared…You try to do the right thing, just don’t let it overwhelm you.” While she didn’t admit to feeling pressure as the first female attorney general she did say that she wanted “to do the women of America proud.”

New AG (Janet) Reno Begins Quickly, St. Albans Daily Messenger newspaper article 12 March 1993

St. Albans Daily Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont), 12 March 1993, page 1

After eight years as attorney general, Reno’s life didn’t cease to be busy. She competed in an unsuccessful bid to become governor of her home state of Florida and was narrowly defeated. That election was her last foray into political life.

Her post-public life has included work with groups like the Innocence Project, which uses DNA to exonerate those wrongly convicted, and she even stepped into the celebrity spotlight with guest spots on the television shows The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live.

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* Janet Reno, National Women’s Hall of Fame. Women of the Hall. http://www.greatwomen.org/women-of-the-hall/search-the-hall/details/2/121-Reno.

** Janet Reno, Women’s International Center, http://www.wic.org/bio/jreno.htm.

5 Free Online Resources for Tracing Your Irish Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—to help celebrate both the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday and the fact that March is Irish American Heritage Month—Gena describes five free websites that provide a wide range of resources to help you explore your Irish American ancestry.

Got Irish roots? Trying to find free online resources to research your Irish genealogy? Look no further because these five free websites can help you trace your Irish ancestors.

photo of a satellite image of Ireland

Photo: satellite image of Ireland. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz from the NASA Earth Observatory; Wikipedia.

1) FamilySearch

One of the first places to start any genealogy research project is FamilySearch and their Family History Library Catalog. FamilySearch is adding digitized and indexed records to their Historical Records Collection, where you can find Irish as well as other worldwide records. In addition, be sure to search the Library Catalog. From the Catalog, conduct a place search for where your Irish ancestor was from. As you search the results, note which ones are available by microfilm or digitized online. Microfilm and microfiche can be ordered online and sent to one of the over 4,500 Family History Centers worldwide (fees apply).

The Library Catalog isn’t the only thing available on FamilySearch. Check out the Research Wiki for information on resources and how to do research. Articles you may be interested in include:

2) Dept. of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s Irish Genealogy

A website from Ireland’s Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Irish Genealogy provides you a place to search various records from other websites in one place. By clicking on the Main Search link found at the top, you can search for historical records like the 1901 and 1911 censuses as well as the Castle Garden and Ellis Island records. You can read about what records are included by clicking on the What Is Available link. A separate page just for searching church records is also available. You may search these records by name, location and date or browse by location.

Under the “Research in Ireland” tab, make sure to read the page How Does This Site Work? Here you will find information about using wild cards in your search, variant spellings, and the advanced search features.

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3) The National Archives of Ireland

The National Archives of Ireland “holds the records of the modern Irish State.” While the majority of these records can only be searched at the actual Archives, they do have some records available online. Their Genealogy page provides researchers with access to the 1901 and 1911 censuses, Tithe Applotment Books 1823-1827, Soldiers’ Wills 1914-1917, and the Calendar of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1922, with promises of additional records to come.

Don’t forget to check out the National Archives card catalog under the tab “Search the archives.” It’s here that you can explore the holdings of the Archives. Search by keyword (not necessarily the name of your ancestor, think more in terms of searching on the name of the place they were from, an event they participated in, or their occupation, etc.). Find a must-have resource? No problem; even if you can’t make a trip to Dublin to visit in person, the Archives does have a list of researchers that can help.

4) Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)

The mission of the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is to “identify, preserve and make available Northern Ireland’s unique archival and community memory.” Records available online through PRONI include the Ulster Covenant archive, which has nearly a half million signatures and addresses of the men who signed the 1912 Ulster Covenant—and the women who signed a “parallel Declaration” (over 234,000 women). Freeholders’ records (people who voted or were entitled to vote) are also indexed and digitized on the website. Don’t forget to check out their indexed and digitized wills from 1858-1900. The first phase of this important project is complete and viewable.

photo of three men and a woman from Ireland

Photo: Group portrait of three men—two in military uniform, and one woman who is wearing a beret-style hat and a fur stole. Credit: Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. Flickr the Commons. http://www.flickr.com/photos/proni/10942071025/.

One of my favorite things about PRONI is their Flickr photo stream with over 2,000 vintage photos that have no known copyright restrictions. Click here to take a look at these photos.

Like many websites, PRONI includes helpful articles to assist you with your ancestry research. Make sure to start on their Family History page and read their web pages that provide more information about researching your Irish roots, including their Family History Key Sources page.

5) GENUKI

GENUKI is a “virtual reference library” for the United Kingdom and Ireland maintained by volunteers. Just like Cyndi’s List, GENUKI will help you identify additional resources for your genealogy research. Search by Region or by using their Quick Links and discover links to census, church, military, town and tax records. Make sure to use GENUKI to find and learn more about maps, statistics and the social life of your ancestors.

One of the Quick Links includes a Gazetteer for England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. Type in the place you are looking for and then see your results on a map or as a list complete with the county or nearby places.

GenealogyBank

There’s much for Irish researchers to find in the above free websites—but as you research, don’t forget to search GenealogyBank’s online Irish American Newspaper Archives for your ancestors. This collection features newspapers published in New York that documented Irish American lives, featuring birth, marriage and death information from Ireland years before civil registration began there in 1864.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for its Irish American Newspaper Archives

Here’s a good example of how helpful these Irish American newspapers can be. As is typical with census records, Catherine Scully was only listed in the 1892 New York state census as having come from “Ireland.” However, her obituary published in an Irish American newspaper gives the important detail family historians prize so much: where in Ireland she was born (Ballingarry, County Tipperary).

obituary for Catherine Scully, Irish Weekly World newspaper article 2 December 1893

Irish Weekly World (New York City, New York), 2 December 1893, page 3

Once you search this special collection of Irish American newspapers, conduct a broader search through GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives for newspapers in the community your ancestor eventually settled in.

Genealogy Tip: Not sure where to start researching your immigrant ancestors from Ireland? Always begin by researching their lives in the United States first, before tackling records in a foreign locale. Irish American newspapers are a great place to start!

Genealogy Tips for Researching Letters in Newspapers

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 show how much good family history information can be found in our ancestors’ letters published in newspapers.

Newspapers have a long history of publishing letters. Many of us are familiar, thanks to the movie National Treasure, with the “Mrs. Silence Dogood” letters that were actually penned by 16-year-old Benjamin Franklin. These 14 letters, published in his brother James’s newspaper New-England Courant during 1722, allowed the young Franklin to fulfill his dream of having his writing published. These letters were so convincing that several men proposed marriage to the “widow” who wrote them.

"Mrs. Silence Dogood" letter written by Benjamin Franklin, New-England Courant newspaper article 13 August 1722

New-England Courant (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 August 1722, page 1

For some people, letters published in the newspaper are the only opportunity they have to be a “published” author.

Correspondence is an important—yet often overlooked—resource for genealogy research. It’s through a letter found by a cousin that I learned more about a 4th great-grandmother’s family. Another letter published in a newspaper helped me to confirm a World War I solder’s service.

When you think of letters, think outside of the proverbial envelope. Yes, letters are often a home source or housed in archival collections. But remember that letters have long been published in the newspaper. Whether written specifically to the newspaper, or those that were never meant for public consumption, letters found in the newspaper can be an important addition to your family’s story. At the very least they provide a place and time for your ancestor. But they can also contain important details such as organizational affiliations, military service, and the names of other family members.

Did your ancestor write a letter that was published in the newspaper? There’s a good chance they did, considering the types of letters spotlighted in this article and others that we have discussed on this blog before, including letters to Santa and letters written home by soldiers.

All of the following examples are from GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.

Letters to the Editor

While we tend to stereotype Letters to the Editor as something people write when they are passionate about an issue or angry about an article, these letters can have varied content. I love this example written by James H. Baum honoring a fellow “Forty-sixth Regiment” Civil War soldier.

letter to the editor written by James H. Baum, Patriot newspaper article 6 June 1912

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 6 June 1912, page 6

Baum wrote:

“Ned” Whitman was an universal favorite. Everybody liked him, officers and men alike. He was approachable at all times and never wore his honors on his sleeves…Among all those I saw no soldier in our army was more graceful on horseback as “Ned” Whitman. Horse and rider, when in motion seemed as one.

Imagine finding this wonderful tribute about an ancestor written by someone who served beside him during the Civil War! This letter shows that we can sometimes find information about an ancestor by searching those who were part of their community.

What about a letter that listed an organization that your ancestor belonged to? Such is the case in the following written by H. J. LaQuillon, who was the secretary to Local No. 174, Brotherhood of American Railway Express Employees. His 1918 letter to the New Orleans Times-Picayune voices his displeasure about an article that was published having to do with unions.

letter to the editor written by H. J. LaQuillon, Times-Picayune newspaper article 1 December 1918

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 1 December 1918, page 10

This letter not only provides us with his organizational affiliation—an important clue to his occupation—but also a glimpse into his life.

Letter Writing Contests

Did someone in your family (an adult or child) enter a letter writing contest? Newspapers and other groups once held letter writing contests. In these types of articles you may see the name and address of the person, whatever prize they won, and perhaps a sample from their letter.

In this example of a New Jersey letter writing contest, sponsored by the newspaper and an exposition that was being held, women discuss what they learned or give their recommendations about the local exposition. In this article, the newspaper listed letter writing winners along with their addresses and prizes.

Prize Winners Picked; Letters to Be Printed, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 2 February 1916

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 2 February 1916, page 1

Then little by little the Trenton Evening Times printed the actual letters in the newspaper.

Times Food Show (Winning) Letters, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 16 March 1916

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 16 March 1916, page 12

While one of your ancestors may have taken part in a local letter writing contest, don’t forget that national contests may have also occurred with the results listed in the newspaper. This article is about a 1938 letter writing contest sponsored by American Beauty Flour. Winners were from Texas, Missouri, and Illinois. This Texas newspaper made a point of highlighting the Texas winners.

Hillsboro Woman Wins First in Flour Letter-Writing Contest, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 14 January 1938

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 14 January 1938, section III, page 4

Post Office Letters

One of my favorite sources of names in newspapers is the list of those who hadn’t picked up their mail at the post office. While you won’t see the actual letter in this type of article, you will get your ancestor’s name. Maybe your ancestor was a procrastinator, and thanks to that trait you can place them in a specific time and place because they had letters waiting for them!

This 1840 list includes nine different post offices in Connecticut along with the names of the postmasters.

list of people who have mail waiting for them at the Post Office, Times newspaper article 1 January 1840

Times (Hartford, Connecticut), 1 January 1840, page 4

Contrast the above article with this newspaper list that is separated according to gender and then includes letters that are “unmailable.”

Genealogy Tip: Many of these lists of unclaimed letters held at the post office can be found in the Tables & Charts archive of GenealogyBank.

list of people who have mail waiting for them at the Post Office, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 20 August 1879

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 20 August 1879, page 4

Newspapers are great sources for information on the common man, woman and child. There’s a good chance that even if your ancestor wasn’t featured in an article, their name was published because of a letter they wrote or a letter they forgot to pick up.

Genealogy Tip: In order to pick up a reference to an ancestor mentioned by someone in another city or state, make sure to conduct your initial search broadly, without limiting your results by place.

African American Slave Trade: Ships & Records for Genealogy

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 and other online resources to learn more about the African slave trade in early American history.

Throughout the course of the Atlantic Slave Trade, an estimated 12 million Africans were captured in their homeland and forcibly shipped across the Atlantic, on more than 35,000 voyages, starting in the 17th century* The African Diaspora scattered Africans throughout the Caribbean and Americas. The first slave ship to land in Colonial America went to Jamestown, Virginia, in August 1619. Eighteen years later, the first American slave ship, Desire, sailed out of Massachusetts. This forced migration caused the displacement, torture, enslavement and murder of many Africans.**

African slaves brought to the Americas were part of the “Middle Passage,” a voyage that began in Europe, stopped in Africa to unload supplies and pick up enslaved human cargo, and then traveled to American ports on the eastern coast to trade that human cargo for goods that were then shipped back to Europe.

History of the African Slave Trade in Early America and the United States Infographic (Note: the article continues after this infographic.)

History of the African Slave Trade in America

This troubling part of American history—and important part of African American history—can be uncovered and explored with patient historical research, including searching in old newspapers such as GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.

Laws Slow—but Don’t Stop—the African Slave Trade

It would seem that the African slave trade to America would have been stopped by a law passed by the U.S. Congress in March 1807 that stated:

“That from and after the first day of January, one thousand eight hundred and eight, it shall not be lawful to import or bring into the United States or the territories thereof from any foreign kingdom, place, or country, any negro, mulatto, or person of colour, with intent to hold, sell, or dispose of such negro, mulatto, or person of colour, as a slave, or to be held to service or labour.”***

Genealogy Tip:

Read more about U.S. legislation in the 1800s regarding slavery in GenealogyBank’s Historical Documents section which contains The American State Papers and more.

However, the Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves and a similar law passed in the United Kingdom didn’t end the practice of the slave trade. Slave ships illegally continued to bring their human cargo to U.S. ports, and American newspapers continued reporting on the occasional capture of a slave ship into the 1840s. (Two ships, the Wanderer and the Clotilde, are reported to have brought slaves to the United States well into the 1850s.) As with the passage of most laws, those who would break the law don’t end their criminal deeds; instead a black market thrives.

Slave Advertisements in Newspapers

Eighteenth-century newspapers found in GenealogyBank’s archives report of the comings and goings of slave ships, when the African slave trade was still legal. From advertisements to shipping news articles, researchers can find mentions of slave ships, names of their captains, and descriptions of the people on board.

In some cases advertisements for the upcoming sale of slaves included information on the ship they would be arriving on. In this example from a 1785 South Carolina newspaper, Fisher & Edwards advertise that the ship Commerce, under Captain Thomas Morton, will be arriving from Africa’s Gold Coast with “upwards of 200 prime slaves” for sale.

ad for a slave auction, South-Carolina Weekly Gazette newspaper advertisement 6 August 1785

South-Carolina Weekly Gazette (Charleston, South Carolina), 6 August 1785, page 3

An earlier South Carolina advertisement proclaims that the slaves aboard Captain Buncombe’s ship Venus are “mostly stout men.”

ad for a slave auction, South-Carolina Weekly Gazette newspaper advertisement 17 July 1784

South-Carolina Weekly Gazette (Charleston, South Carolina), 17 July 1784, page 4

Slave Ship “Shipping News” in Newspapers

Articles under “Shipping News” or “Marine List” headlines are a good place to start searching for information about slave ships, crew, and cargo.

In this example from a 1799 New York newspaper, we see updates on various ships including information about deaths on ships. We also see that the Gurbridge and Mary were bringing slaves, and to whom they were being brought.

shipping news, Commercial Advertiser newspaper article 31 July 1799

Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), 31 July 1799, page 3

Where to Find Records on the African Slave Trade & Slave Ships

  • After exhausting your research in newspapers, learn more about a particular slave ship by consulting the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database website, which houses information about slave ships from 1514 to 1866.

The National Archives (NARA) houses resources that can assist in your research:

African American Slave Trade Infographic Research Sources:

These online websites can be helpful, but research on the name of a slave ship should begin with historical newspapers. It’s in their advertisements and news articles that you will find mentions of the slave ships’ cargo, crew, and destination.

You are free to share the History of the African Slave Trade in Early America and the United States Infographic on your blog or website using the embed code below.

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* The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. http://www.slavevoyages.org/tast/index.faces. Accessed 23 February 2014.

** “March 2, 1807.” This Week in History, March. http://www.peacebuttons.info/E-News/images/peacehistorymarch.htm. Accessed 23 February 2014.

*** “An Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves into any Port or Place Within the Jurisdiction of the United States, From and After the First Day of January, in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eight.” The Avalon Project. Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/sl004.asp. Accessed 23 February 2014.

Researching the Not-So-Romantic History of Eloping

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 find stories of our ancestors eloping—and discovers that the word “elope” meant different things at different times.

Anyone who has ever planned a traditional American wedding knows this feeling. As you arrange the wedding, there comes a point after trying on wedding dresses, choosing attendants without making anyone angry, arguing over a manageable guest list, deciding between dried-out chicken meals, and listening to the “good advice” of family and friends, that the thought comes to you:

What if we just eloped?

For some, eloping is a sweet temptation that eventually gets pushed aside in favor of saying “I do” in front of family and friends. For others it’s an idea that makes sense. The cost of a wedding, having been previously married, older brides and grooms, or the stress from trying to negotiate a party that involves close family members who may be divorced and don’t like each other—any of these factors can make anyone want to skip the formalities and go straight to the courthouse or to a Gretna Green.*

So we know why people elope now—but why did our ancestors elope? Well it turns out that in many cases, our ancestors eloped for some of the same reasons people do today. Money, especially during the Great Depression or times of war, made the expense of a traditional wedding impractical. In some cases, the family may have objected to their daughter or son’s intended and so eloping seemed to be the only answer. And of course there may be more nefarious reasons to elope as well, reasons that are all exposed in old newspapers such as GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.

What Does It Mean to Elope?

If you’re researching your ancestors’ elopement in old newspapers, then one thing to consider is that the meanings of words can change throughout time. For example, the word elope can be traced back to 1338, when it was defined as the act of a wife leaving her husband to run off with her lover. This meaning continued until 1800, when elope came to mean lovers who run away to get married to each other, not to get away from a spouse.** Aside from the meaning of running off with a lover, elope can also mean to slip away or leave.

“Pay No Debts” Ad for Runaway Wife

As we search old newspapers it becomes apparent that our modern idea of eloping, maybe influenced by classic love stories, is different from what eloping meant in older times.

Consider this article from a 1793 Maryland newspaper. It is an advertisement placed by Michael Humbert, who states that his wife Elizabeth has eloped for a second time. He warns against:

all Persons, of either trusting or lending her, on my account, as I am determined to pay no debts by her contracted.

ad from Michael Humbert warning he will not pay the debts of his runaway wife, Washington Spy newspaper advertisement 31 May 1793

Washington Spy (Elizabethtown, Maryland), 31 May 1793, page 4

He additionally warns readers:

All persons whatever are hereby positively forbid to harbour her on any account whatever, as they shall answer for the contrary at their peril.

This type of advertisement is similar to ones you might see in 20th century newspapers, in which a person proclaims that they are only responsible for their own debts and not those of other family members. In the case of Michael Humbert’s ad, the word elope most likely means that she has just left him, not necessarily that she went off with a lover—but maybe…

Age Doesn’t Matter in Elopements?

Although eloping is sometimes a romantic notion, other times it might just be criminal. Consider the following story about a married man who runs off with his teenaged coworker. And in case you tend to think that nothing bad happened in the “good old days,” this article is from an 1895 Minnesota newspaper (though I’m sure there are earlier examples).

Eloped at Fifteen--A Married Man (A. H. Garfield) of Aberdeen Said to Have Eloped with a Pretty Girl (Bessie Moore) in Her Teens, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 13 August 1895

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 13 August 1895, page 1

A music dealer named A. H. Garfield left “an estimable wife and three children” to elope with his “pretty assistant” Bessie Moore, who was only 15. The article concludes:

Garfield has committed a penitentiary offense, and if caught will certainly receive all the law allows, possibly more, as the people here are very indignant.

He’s Not Right for You

Obviously, one reason to elope is that your family doesn’t share your enthusiasm for your beloved. This simple 1905 notice about a Kentucky couple who ran off to Cairo, Illinois, echoes that feeling.

Eloped (J. A. Stanley and Jennie Lee Sands) to Illinois, Lexington Herald newspaper article 16 March 1905

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 16 March 1905, page 8

Where Did She Go?

While one of the definitions of the word “eloped” is running away, in today’s world those who elope may simply go to a courthouse or a different location to get married. But in some cases we find in old newspaper articles that those who disappeared were thought of as having possibly eloped with a lover.

In the case reported in this 1901 Rhode Island newspaper, the mystery of where Maggie went was solved, and luckily it was a happier ending than the one her family and friends had imagined: she hadn’t been murdered or kidnapped—she had eloped with John Watson and gone East.

Maggie (Hoel) Eloped (with John Watson), Pawtucket Times newspaper article 1 January 1901

Pawtucket Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island), 1 January 1901, page 1

Genealogy Research Tips

Did someone in your family elope? If you are unable to find marriage records in the place your ancestor lived, consider that they may have eloped, either for “romantic” reasons or because of practicalities like finances. Expand your search to include known Gretna Greens or nearby towns. Don’t assume that an ancestor who eloped left no records. Marriage licenses and newspapers published after the fact can help you fill in the story of your ancestor’s married life.

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*To learn more about Gretna Greens, see my article “Gin Marriages, Gretna Greens & Your Ancestor’s Marriage Records” on the GenealogyBank Blog.

**Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, by Robert K. Barnhart (Editor). Chambers. (1999).

I Met Abraham Lincoln: True Stories in Historical Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—in honor of today being Presidents’ Day—Gena searches old newspapers to find amazing stories about people who were still alive in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s who had met Abraham Lincoln.

Did your ancestor meet a famous person? Maybe they had occasion to hear a great orator or speak with an author. Did they rub elbows with someone infamous? I’m always fascinated by the history that our ancestors, even our more recent ancestors, witnessed.

Do you have an ancestor who met, heard or saw Abraham Lincoln? There could be a variety of reasons a 19th century ancestor encountered the 16th president of the United States. As president during the American Civil War, Lincoln gave speeches and visited the troops so it’s possible that a person living in the 1860s may have had an encounter with him.

photo of President Abraham Lincoln, 8 November 1863

Photo: President Abraham Lincoln, 8 November 1863, by Alexander Gardner. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

But did you ever consider that some of those same people may have lived into the20th century and had occasion to tell their story about meeting Lincoln? Many Civil War soldiers or contemporaries of Lincoln would have been at least middle-aged to quite elderly when the 20th century rolled in. There were some alive at the beginning decades of the 20th century who were able to boast about meeting Lincoln.

So what if we up the ante? What about people who were still alive in the mid-20th century? The chances of someone who had met or personally saw Lincoln would have dwindled by then. However, a search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives shows that there were still people at that late date who could tell of meeting what many believe is the greatest president who ever lived.

Samuel J. Seymour, Last Living Witness to Lincoln’s Assassination

In 1956 an elderly man appeared on the television game show I’ve Got a Secret. This TV show featured a celebrity panel who, when presented with a special guest, tried to guess what secret the person held. The featured guests’ secrets included things that were amazing or unusual about that person. Those who stumped the panel received a cash prize. Samuel J. Seymour spent about five minutes on the show while two of the panelists asked questions that led them to guessing his secret. (A side note: while many younger readers wouldn’t recognize most of the celebrities that appeared on the show, on the day of Seymour’s guest spot there was a very recognizable face—that of famous actress and comedian Lucille Ball—who was on the panel, but she didn’t get a chance to question Mr. Seymour.)

Seymour was a 5-year-old boy when he was taken to Ford’s Theatre on 14 April 1865—the night that President Lincoln was shot. While he did not know initially that Lincoln was shot, and did not see the actual shooting, he did remember years later the fear he felt that night. He also remembered feeling concerned about the man (John Wilkes Booth) that he saw fall onto the stage. In the chaos of the moment—and because he was so young—Seymour didn’t realize that Booth had in fact shot the President when he saw the actor suddenly leap down onto the stage.

Of the lasting effect of being at Ford’s Theatre that night, Mr. Seymour said: “…I sometimes still relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do.”

Imagine that—a man in the 1950s carrying the memory of President Lincoln’s assassination!

I Saw Lincoln Shot, Plain Dealer newspaper article 7 February 1954

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 7 February 1954, page 192

You can view the actual portion of this episode of I’ve Got a Secret featuring Samuel Seymour on YouTube.

Richard R. Davis, Civil War Soldier

The following 1936 newspaper article, written just three years shy of Mr. Davis’s 100th birthday, tells of his Civil War career and his meeting Abraham Lincoln one day when the president came and spoke to the troops. Of that talk, Mr. Davis remembered that Lincoln “told us then that we were fighting to preserve the Union of States and of our sacrifice.” After speaking, Lincoln walked amongst the troops with his son.

Davis recounts that when he tussled the hair of Lincoln’s son the boy grinned and said: “Do you think I’m a child? Say, I’m a pretty big fellow.”

Richard Davis: Civil War Veteran Who Met Lincoln, Druid newspaper article 1 December 1936

Druid (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), 1 December 1936, page 1

Davis actually saw Lincoln several times, and also met other noteworthy figures of the time such as Generals Grant and Hooker. The reporter writes that it’s obvious that Lincoln was a hero to Davis and that his time serving in the Civil War was a “highlight of his journey along life’s highways.”

Meeting Presidential Candidate Lincoln

Because some young people who met Lincoln went on to live long lives, we do have stories of the Great Emancipator told by witnesses well after most who knew Lincoln had died. For example, Perry Green Brock—who died in 1949 at the age of 105 years—told of meeting candidate Lincoln in 1856 in Kentucky when he was a boy. Brock later fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War but doesn’t mention what he thought of Lincoln during that time. He was quoted in the following newspaper article as saying that the South would have won if “us rebels hadn’t run out of shells.”

Perry G. Brock, Who Met Lincoln, Passes at 105, Dallas Morning News newspaper obituary 24 November 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 24 November 1949, section III, page 6

Did your ancestor meet Abraham Lincoln or another famous person? If so, research the encounter in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, then write the story and preserve it for future generations. If your ancestor did indeed meet Abraham Lincoln, please share the details about the encounter with us in the comments. We’d love to hear your family story.

Related Articles about Abraham Lincoln:

102 Year Old Ex-Slave Once Shook Abraham Lincoln’s Hand

Abraham Lincoln: The Life of a Legend Infographic

3 True-Life Love Stories to Brighten Your Valentine’s Day

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 find three heart-warming love stories sure to brighten your Valentine’s Day.

Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra, Edward and Wallis Simpson. We tend to think of historical or fictional characters when we think of great love stories—but what about the true-life love stories from your own family history? When I think about my more immediate family history I think of my paternal grandparents and how they fell in love as teenagers; my grandmother was just 16 years old when they wed. They had been married 47 years when my grandmother died, a loss my grandfather never got over.

Do you know your ancestors’ love story? Search online newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, to see if their story was ever printed in the local paper.

Love at First Sight

Did your ancestors have a case of love at first sight? Sometimes Cupid hits a couple hard and they make a quick decision to marry. Such is the case described in this 1905 newspaper article about Margery Parker and M. J. Young, who met at a social gathering and then three days later got married!

Courted Three Days, She (Margery Parker) Is Now a Bride, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 13 April 1905

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 13 April 1905, page 1

The newspaper article explains that “on Sunday evening the young couple gave their friends in this city the slip” and went to the home of the bride’s sister. From there they went to the Baptist parsonage and were married with her sister and brother-in-law as witnesses.

Love Reunited

Do you have an immigration love story in your family history? Immigrating to a new country isn’t easy. Besides leaving the familiar and starting over, you also run the risk of not being allowed into the country when you arrive. The following story is a familiar one that involves a young couple and their baby. The father came to the United States and started a new life before sending for his intended and their baby. However, there was a hiccup in those plans when Elsie Ekberg stepped off the ship at Ellis Island. She was detained and an investigation was held to see if this 20-year-old unmarried mother really had someone here in the U.S. waiting for her. Luckily Harold Ericson telegrammed officials that Elsie “was already his wife in all but the formality of a wedding.”

Unwed Mother (Elsie Ekberg) Wins Entry into America, Oregonian newspaper article 26 May 1922

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 26 May 1922, page 1

I’m sure Elsie must have been relieved when Harold stepped forward. She said: “If all men were true blue to the girls they profess to love, this world would be a paradise.”

Love Growing Old Together

When we think of love stories we often think of young couples—but those young couples eventually grow old together, and in some cases they are still as much in love as they were when they were young. The next newspaper article is a wonderful example of that. Married for 69 years, this New York couple tells the story of how they met and also gives marital advice. The Maxwells knew each other as children and fell in love when Halley’s Comet went by—and were still in love as Haley’s comet was making its return appearance. “Halley’s Comet swung by us that year [1835]. Now it is back again and she still loves me,” Mr. Maxwell proclaimed.

Some of their marriage advice is “old-fashioned.” (Mrs. Maxwell explains that it’s best not to let those “…suffragette ideas get in your mind. They are dangerous.”) However, she does have advice about men that is relevant today: she would never marry a man who drank because it would “drive away his good self.”

Longest Recorded Is the Love Affair of This Happy Old Couple (James and Mary Maxwell), Grand Rapids Press newspaper article 25 May 1910

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 25 May 1910, page 9

My favorite piece of advice is from her husband, James A. Maxwell, who says to bridegrooms:

In the first place keep your mouth closed. You’ve been mixing up with men so long you don’t understand women. You’ll try to treat her as you would a man partner. When she criticizes or argues or complains you’ll want to talk back to her as you would to a man. Don’t do it, I warn you. Kings of nations can make speeches; kings of homes can keep silence—or they are not kings.

He ends his relationship advice with:

My wife was pretty, but I didn’t marry her on that account. Be sure your girl is good and true. You can find it out by watching her. Then make up your mind to stick to her. You’ll love her more as each year goes by. I love my wife sixty-nine times more than I did when we were first married.

Your Family History Love Story Here

So what’s your ancestors’ love story? Have one that has been passed down the generations? Maybe you have a more recent ancestor that you personally remember was so in love. Write those old love stories down and preserve them for your family.

This Valentine’s Day we want to honor those family love stories. Please share your family history love story in the comments below.