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.

Little-Known WWII Facts: German POWs in the U.S.

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 about a part of World War II that many people don’t know: there were hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war (POWs) that were kept in the U.S. during the war.

When I was growing up, I – like many youthful book lovers – read the novel Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green. This fictionalized account dealt with a relationship between an American Jewish girl and an escaped German prisoner from a Prisoner of War (POW) camp in the United States during World War II. This little-remembered history was explored in that book and later the accompanying TV adaptation.

Like many works of fiction, Summer of My German Soldier was loosely based on historical events. During World War II, the United States was home to approximately 400,000 Prisoners of War. Roughly 379,000 were German military personnel. These prisoners were housed in 900 camps scattered throughout the U.S.*

POWs Working and Living in America

For many people, the idea of POW camps on American soil may seem bizarre. This is a part of World War II history not often discussed in high school history classes. During the war, the Allies captured POWs and had to house them somewhere. In many places in the U.S., these prisoners became a part of everyday American life – actually working on individual family farms as well as for larger employers. We associate the idea of prisoners with being locked up and hidden from a community – but not so with the POWs who spent time in the United States during and shortly after WWII. With American men off fighting the war, American women and these POWs helped make up the labor force needed on the home front.

What types of agricultural work did prisoners do? This brief 1946 newspaper article provides one example, reporting on 3,121 German POWs who were assigned to sugar beet thinning in southern Idaho.

article about WWII German POWs in the U.S., Idaho Statesman newspaper article 14 March 1946

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 14 March 1946, page 11

POWs assisted with the shortage of laborers by working on all types of farms. This 1944 article explains that German POWs were brought into Lepanto, Arkansas, by the War Food Administration’s Bureau Office of Labor to pick cotton.

article about WWII German POWs in the U.S., Bellingham Herald newspaper article 3 December 1944

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington) 3 December 1944, page 8

American Resentment for Treatment of German POWs

With the recent release of the movie Unbroken and other similar accounts, we have a better understanding of how our POWs were mistreated at the hands of the Axis powers. So how were enemy soldiers treated in the United States? Prisoners of War housed in America were treated according to the rules of the Geneva Convention. Housing, food and work conditions for POWs were equal to that for our own U.S. soldiers. While this angered some citizens, the Joint Chiefs had hoped that this treatment would be reciprocated for our own POWs held by Germans.** Many Americans considered this fair treatment too good for enemy soldiers. There was much opposition to the perceived “cushy” life that POWs lived in the U.S.

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In this letter to the newspaper editor from PFC Robert J. Kuhn, a U.S. soldier and former POW captured in Africa and held in “Italian and German concentration camps,” Kuhn voices his dismay at the preferential treatment of German POWs and their interaction with American women. In his letter, sent from “somewhere in Italy,” he recounts reading in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes about German POWs living in the United States:

…and then I read: “American soldier gets letter from girlfriend now engaged to German soldier – POW from camp in America” – couldn’t believe it. Then I saw in another one: “German prisoners in America have sit-down strike for day.” Also “POW go on excursions in America.” “POW in America have morale dance.”

Did American prisoners of war have German frauleins? Did we go to dances? Did we go on excursions? And above all, did we sit down and strike? No! No! No!

He continues on by mentioning, approvingly, that French women who cavorted with German soldiers had their heads shaved as punishment. His sentiments are understandable, and one can easily see how outrageous it was to American soldiers to find out that enemy soldiers were interacting with American families – and, in some cases, dating American women during their imprisonment!

letter to the editor about WWII German POWs in the U.S., Dallas Morning News newspaper article 9 November 1944

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 9 November 1944, section 2, page 2

Some German POWs Escaped

Over 2,000 German POWs tried to escape while being held in the United States. Most POW escapees were caught fairly quickly – but there were a few who eluded capture for months, years, and in at least one case, decades. Many German POW who escaped didn’t get too far before they were caught or voluntarily surrendered.

This 1946 newspaper article tells of the escape of Helmut von der Au (in some articles his name is spelled von Der Aue) from Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky. At the time of the writing of this newspaper article, von der Au had already escaped twice before. He had an advantage over other German POWs who tried to escape from camps in the United States because he could speak English. He had a plan for what he would do in a successful escape: “He would steal a P-38 (Lightning) fighter plane and fly to Greenland.” A lawyer prior to the war, von der Au was apprehended three days after his latest escape when he surrendered to police in Uniontown, Kentucky, less than 10 miles from where he began. He walked up to Police Chief Gilbert Page, still in his prisoner uniform, and asked to be returned to camp because he was hungry.

article about escaped WWII German POW Helmut von der Au, Times-Picayune newspaper article 4 January 1946

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 4 January 1946, page 26

Helmut von der Au’s story doesn’t end there. He eventually is sent to Mississippi where he is one of many prisoners who helps out on a plantation. Over time he becomes well acquainted with the plantation owner’s wife and the two fall in love. Running off together seemed like a good idea at the time, but the couple is eventually caught and his American lover, Mrs. Edith Rogers, was held for aiding in the escape of an enemy of the United States.

According to this 1946 newspaper article, the “…27-year-old, dashing German officer met Mrs. Rogers, 37-year-old Mississippi society woman, as a member of a war prisoner labor detail assigned to the 1000-acre Bolivar county plantation of her husband, Joseph R. Rogers. He and Mrs. Rogers became such close friends, von Der Aue explained to federal authorities…that after a number of drinks they decided to leave and be married.”

article about escaped WWII German POW Helmut von der Au, Advocate newspaper article 8 January 1946

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 8 January 1946, page 11

Edith Rogers wasn’t the only American woman to fall in love with a German POW. Joan McBride, with the help of her husband James McBride, assisted Rudolph Joseph Soelch, a former bodyguard for Hermann Goering, escape from the camp he was being held at in Southern California. For six months Soelch lived as “Mr. McBride” and worked in Detroit alongside Joan. Joan’s husband left her when she proclaimed her love for the German POW. Eventually they were apprehended and Soelch was repatriated back to Germany and told never to enter the United States again.

article about escaped WWII German POW Rudolph Joseph Soelch, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 18 September 1946

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 18 September 1946, page 11

Repatriation of POWS after the End of WWII

World War II came to a close with Japan’s surrender on 2 September 1945. Now the work of repatriation of all POWs living in the United States would begin.

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January 1946 newspapers announced that former Axis soldiers would be sent back to their home countries in four months. (In reality it took longer.) The newspaper article below explains that later that month Japanese POWs would be sent out of the U.S. mainland but would not go directly home. Some would be sent to Hawaii for assignments. The historical news article ends by asserting that some POWs did not want to go home. Understandably, due to high unemployment and conditions in their homeland, some German POWs wanted to stay in the United States.

article about the repatriation of WWII POWs held in the U.S., Advocate newspaper article 7 January 1946

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 7 January 1946, page 8

While there were German POWs who eventually returned to the United States to live permanently, there were undoubtedly some cases where they wanted to return as soon as possible – like in the case described in this 1946 newspaper article, where a young POW stowed away on a ship so that he could return to the United States because “he liked it so much.”

article about WWII German POW Host Haufe, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper article 6 October 1946

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 6 October 1946, page 16

World War II History and Family History

As family historians, we seek to learn more about our family’s lives. As you research your military family and ancestors, don’t forget about those on the home front. I’ve had family members tell me stories of living near POW camps and the experiences they had living in close proximity and interacting with the “enemy.” Now’s the time to seek out these remembrances, or to record your own.

To learn more about World War II history on the American home front, check out GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

In addition to the news reports and first-hand accounts that can be found in old newspapers, several books have been written about POW camps in the United States. They include:

  • Buck, Anita. Behind Barbed Wire: German Prisoners of War Camps in Minnesota. St. Cloud, Minn: North Star Press of St. Cloud, 1998.
  • Fiedler, David. The Enemy among Us: POWs in Missouri during World War II. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 2003.
  • Krammer, Arnold. Nazi Prisoners of War in America. Chelsea, MI: Scarborough House, 1996.
  • Marsh, Melissa A. Nebraska POW Camps: A History of World War II Prisoners in the Heartland. Charleston: The History Press, 2014.

Did you or any of your family members have any contact with POWs held in America during WWII? Please tell us your stories in the comments section.


* HistoryNet. German POWs: Enemies In Our Midst. http://www.historynet.com/german-pows-enemies-in-our-midst.htm. Accessed 17 February 2015. This resource includes a map with POW camp locations.
** HistoryNet. German POWs: Coming Soon to a Town Near You. http://www.historynet.com/german-pows-coming-soon-to-a-town-near-you.htm. Accessed 17 February 2015.

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Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, a.k.a. Mrs. Bess Houdini

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 discover interesting stories about the life of Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, a.k.a. Mrs. Houdini – the wife of the famous magician.

Even if you have no interest in magic, chances are you have a passing knowledge of the master of magic himself, Harry Houdini (1874-1926). Popularized by film and known for his logic-defying tricks and escape stunts, Houdini is synonymous with magic. But how much do you know about his wife, Bess Houdini? Chances are very little.

Born Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner (1876-1943), Bess was interesting in her own right but spent most of her life in the shadow of her famous husband.

photo of Bess Houdini, c. 1900-1910

Photo: Bess Houdini, c. 1900-1910. Source: Findagrave; Wikipedia.

Newspapers are a great resource for finding the stories of your ancestors, whether they were famous or obscure. Here are six things you may not know about Bess Houdini, all discovered by searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

1) She assisted her husband throughout their marriage.

It’s fairly well known that Bess assisted her husband during his magic act. It’s less well known that she also assisted him when he conducted shows debunking the work of spiritual mediums – people who claimed they could communicate with the dead.

article about the magician Harry Houdini, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 5 March 1924

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 5 March 1924, page 4

2) She was a performer before she met Houdini – and carried on after his death.

However, Bess’s talent was not limited to helping her husband with his act; she was an entertainer prior to her marriage and continued on after Houdini’s death. She started her career in a song and dance act on Coney Island known as “The Floral Sisters.” It was while doing this act that she met Harry’s younger brother Theo, and then Harry himself. They were married on 22 June 1894 when Bess was 18.

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Bess continued performing after her husband’s untimely death in 1926. In this 1928 newspaper article she is said to “…take up the magician’s wand laid down by her husband’s dying hand.” One of the tricks she performed was where “she ‘froze’ an Indian ‘medicine man’ in a cake of ice.” It took 26 minutes to freeze the man in the ice block using solidified carbon dioxide gas, and he remained in that state for 15 minutes before the ice was chopped away to expose his face.

Mrs. Houdini to Continue His Craft, Rockford Republic newspaper article 13 January 1928

Rockford Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 13 January 1928, page 18

3) Newspaper articles about her are numerous, including those with her marital advice.

In this 1928 newspaper article, Bess gave some of her relationship advice and stories from her own marriage. Mrs. Houdini’s relationship revelation was that she kept some secrets from Harry – including the fact that she did not know how he did some of his magic tricks.

Magicians' Wives Like Magic Pretty Well, Plain Dealer newspaper article 5 August 1928

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 5 August 1928, page 103

She elaborated the point in another 1928 newspaper article:

Mrs. Houdini admits that while it is the magician’s business to mystify an audience it is the wife’s business to mystify the magician to the extent of convincing him that she understands his tricks whether she does or not.

article about Bess Houdini, Evening Tribune newspaper article 23 August 1928

Evening Tribune (San Diego, California), 23 August 1928, page 14

4) She tried to contact Houdini from the grave.

If there’s one thing most people know about Bess, it is her yearly attempts to contact Harry from the grave. A supernatural skeptic, Harry had promised Bess that if it was possible to contact the dead he would appear to her. So Bess tried for 10 years to contact Harry after his death. Not only did Bess try, but others also tried – including one who claimed success (see the 1929 newspaper article below). However, all attempts failed, and eventually Bess called it quits.

Four years into her yearly ritual, under the defeatist headline “Mrs. Houdini Gives Up,” Bess said of communicating with Houdini beyond the grave:

If I had succeeded in communicating with Houdini I would shout it from the housetops,” she told [the] Associated Press, “and I would carry a message of hope to all burdened souls, but I have none. There is nothing there.

article about Bess Houdini, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 23 March 1930

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 23 March 1930, page 6

Despite that 1930 headline, Bess kept trying to contact Harry from beyond the grave for another six years. Finally, in 1936 – ten years after her husband’s death – she made her last attempt. That final séance on the roof of a Hollywood hotel ended with Bess remarking: “He has not come. I turn out the light.” (Referring to an electric light that she had kept lit since his death 10 years prior.)

article about Bess Houdini, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 2 November 1936

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 2 November 1936, page 1

A more light-hearted comment about her repeated attempts to communicate with her dead husband is quoted in one of Bess’s obituary notices:

Ten years is long enough to wait for any man.

Mrs. Houdini's Futile Trysts with Her Husband's Ghost, Oregonian newspaper article 7 March 1943

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 7 March 1943, page 51

5) While she couldn’t contact the deceased Harry Houdini, someone else claimed to have succeeded.

Arthur Ford, a minister from the First Spiritualist Church, claimed success in contacting Houdini more than once. One such claim came during a séance where John W. Stafford, an assistant editor of the Scientific American, and Mrs. Houdini were present. Ford claimed he had received the secret code that Harry Houdini had confided to Bess he would use to verify it was he who was contacting her from beyond the veil. Ford provided that code during the séance, part of which was a name from a song that Bess used to sing in her act, “Rosabelle.”

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According to the report in this 1929 newspaper, Ford said to Bess:

The same man who came Saturday night is coming again. He says, Hello, Bess, my sweetheart. He says he wants to repeat the code you used in your mind reading act with him.

First of all, he says, Rosabelle. Do you know what that means?

Mrs. Houdini replied in a weak voice, Yes.

Then the words of the code came through Ford: Answer tell pray answer look tell answer answer tell.

Houdini's Spirit Talks to Widow, San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram newspaper article 9 January 1929

San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram (San Luis Obispo, California), 9 January 1929, page 3

At the time Bess confirmed that Ford had indeed contacted Harry and provided the correct code. Later though she recanted, perhaps due to friendly reminders that the “secret” message had been published previously in a biography about Houdini.

6) She died en route to New York aboard a train.

Bess Houdini died on 11 February 1943 aboard a train traveling through Needles, California. In ill health, she was hoping to make it to New York before her demise. Knowing that she was gravely ill, just prior to her death, she granted a last interview to journalists where she talked of hoping to see Harry Houdini again after death – and put a premature stop to anyone who would later claim supernatural contact with her.

obituary for Bess Houdini, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 12 February 1943

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 12 February 1943, page 17

She made that point emphatically at the end of the interview:

obituary for Bess Houdini, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 12 February 1943

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 12 February 1943, page 17

While the love story of Harry and Bess is sometimes held up as one of the greatest of all time, the couple was ultimately denied the right to be laid to rest next to each other. Harry was buried, along with members of his family, in the Jewish cemetery Machpelah in Ridgewood, New York, while Bess, a Catholic, was buried at Gates of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, New York.

Genealogy Tip: The research I did into Mrs. Houdini’s life in newspapers was a good example of searching by trying all variations of a woman’s name. I found articles with her listed as Mrs. Houdini, Beatrice Houdini, and Bess Houdini.

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American Family Migrations & the U.S. Interstate Highway System

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena explains that understanding transportation is an important part of getting to know our ancestors’ world – and focuses on the development of the Interstate Highway System.

Migration is something we must consider as we trace our ancestors’ lives. Our ancestors were mobile – maybe not nearly as much as we are today, but they traveled across seas, and then often went further inland to set up their new homes. Knowing where and how they arrived is important to finding genealogical documents and records. How they migrated is determined by the time period and modes of travel then available. As time and technology marched on, our ancestors’ opportunities to travel and move about increased.

photo of Interstate Highway 295 in New Jersey

Photo: Interstate Highway 295 in New Jersey. Credit: Famartin; Wikimedia Commons.

Just as we do now, future genealogists will also have to consider what their ancestors had available to them as they traveled. Although the first aircraft took off in the early 1900s, commercial flight didn’t become affordable and largely available until after World War II – just one of numerous considerations in looking at how 20th century ancestors migrated.

Along with airplanes, another mode of transportation we take for granted is the automobile. While motorized vehicles have been with us since the 1800s, it wasn’t until well after World War II that America became more accessible through the building of the U.S. interstate highway system. This mobility allowed families to migrate easier. The highway system also made it possible for people to travel great distances simply for pleasure, or to visit extended family members. This transportation milestone is an important part of the social history we can document in telling the story of our more recent family.

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President Eisenhower and the Building of the Interstate Highway System

While President Dwight D. Eisenhower is the man behind the building of the interstate highways, the bill making the national highway system possible was passed in 1944 under the Roosevelt administration. Unfortunately, the legislation did not specify a way to begin building it.

As the Federal Highway Administration’s website explains:

“After taking office in January 1953, President Eisenhower made revitalizing the Nation’s highways one of the goals of his first term. As an army Lieutenant Colonel in 1919, Eisenhower had accompanied a military convoy across the United States and saw the poor condition of our Nation’s roads. Later, during his World War II stint as Commander of the Allied Forces, his admiration for Germany’s well-engineered Autobahn highway network reinforced his belief that the United States needed first-class roads.” *

The 1962 newspaper article below, complete with a map showing the 41,000 miles of highways, declares enthusiastically:

…when completed in 1972, will connect all the states and link 90 per cent of the cities of 50,000 or more population…When the system is complete, it will be possible to drive from one end of the country coast to coast and border to border, without a slowdown, and without encountering a traffic light or stop sign.

Features of the highway that we take for granted are heralded in this article and include: “control of access” prescribed on and off ramps; “grade separations” or overpasses and underpasses; medians; and paved shoulders. All of these safety features were meant to allow a smooth flow of traffic and lessen possible accidents.

map of the U.S. Interstate Highway System, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 May 1962

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 May 1962, section 5, page 1

National Defense a Key Consideration

While many of us consider the interstate highways a tool to get us to where we are going, the highway system wasn’t only built with the general public in mind. In the shadow of the Cold War and the belief in an imminent nuclear attack, the highways could also move military vehicles and troops across the nation easily. This 1962 article points out that the highways were built as a part of national defense.

article about the U.S. Interstate Highway System, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 May 1962

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 May 1962, section 5, page 2

Interstate Highway System Named in Honor of President Eisenhower

Shortly after Eisenhower died, it was proposed by Rep. Glenn Cunningham (R-Neb) that the interstate system be named after him and referred to as the “Eisenhower Interstate Highway System” rather than the “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” as it was originally known. This honor acknowledged the important role that President Eisenhower had in the creation of this most important highway system that is still vital to most of our lives today.

article about naming the U.S. Interstate Highway System in honor of President Eisenhower, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 8 May 1969

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 8 May 1969, page 8

To learn more about the Interstate Highway System, see the website at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/homepage.cfm.

How did the building of the interstate impact your family?


* Why is President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the “Father of the Interstate System”? – Frequently Asked Questions – Eisenhower Interstate Highway System website: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/faq.htm#question2

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Newspaper Sewing & Crafting Patterns and Our Crafty Ancestors

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 the quilt, clothing, craft and other patterns newspapers offered our ancestors for home projects.

We often think of the newspaper as a place to get news. But the newspaper offered so much more to the community it served. Newspapers were an important avenue of entertainment for generations of our families, and appealing to an entire family of readers helped ensure the ongoing success of the newspaper. In some cases the newspaper sold or gave away products, and provided readers a reason to keep the newspaper long after the news stories were old and dated.

Previously on the GenealogyBank Blog, I’ve written articles about the recipes and cookbooks printed by newspapers. Another way the newspaper appealed to women readers and subscribers was by offering sewing and crafting patterns. Patterns were provided for free, printed right in the newspaper, or offered for a minimal cost through mail-order.

Sewing Patterns Used for Newspaper Marketing

There’s no doubt that offering sewing patterns appealed to our women ancestors. The advertisement below from a 1914 newspaper is meant to flatter female readers – and the over-exaggeration of its text demonstrates that print advertising hasn’t changed much over the years. This newspaper advertisement proclaims:

Our announcement of the Big Gift to Women Readers has already made a stir. Trust the women in any community to recognize a real opportunity. They know that Embroidery Transfer Patterns cost at least ten cents each and every woman knows that a chance to secure 165 of the latest and most select patterns practically for nothing is a real opportunity. To have at hand this wonderful and complete outfit of embroidery patterns will contribute much to the happiness in the home.

embroidery patterns, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 24 April 1914

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 24 April 1914, page 12

At the bottom of the ad, under the heading “How to Secure Your Gifts,” instructions are given making it clear why this embroidery pattern give-away was such a clever promotion for the Macon Telegraph newspaper:

Bring to this office six of the Ideal Art Pattern Coupons. (One coupon is printed each day on another page of this paper.) You must bring six of different dates (they need not be consecutive) together with the small expense items amounting to 68 cents. The 68 cents is merely to cover cost of packing and shipping the package.

That’s just one example of sewing patterns provided by newspapers to their readers. Other examples include everything from needle arts and quilting, to clothing and crafts. While pattern companies advertised their latest offerings in newspapers, newspapers themselves also offered patterns for sale.

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Bible History Quilt

One type of pattern offered by newspapers was for quilt blocks. A quilt containing numerous blocks ensured that readers would want to purchase subsequent newspapers to get each pattern. And if a reader missed a week? She could then order that quilting block pattern from the newspaper for a small fee – in the case of the pattern below, 10 cents each. The following example is the Bible History Quilt, a design by prolific quilt pattern designer Ruby McKim which included 24 blocks, each one published by the newspaper on consecutive Sundays.

This news article shows a crude drawing of what the finished Bible quilt would look like, and includes some general directions about how to transfer the pattern to blocks of fabric.

quilt block patterns for the Bible History Quilt, Plain Dealer newspaper article 9 October 1927

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 October 1927, page 61

Block 1 of this quilt, with its scroll design and the words “God, Heavens, Earth, Air, Water, Life,” symbolized the creation story in the book of Genesis. Each Sunday a new block was introduced that symbolized a well-known Bible story and characters.

quilt block pattern for the Bible History Quilt, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 16 October 1927

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 16 October 1927, page 19

Here’s a picture of a Bible History Quilt showing the first block.

photo of a quilt block from the Bible History Quilt

Photo: quilt block from the author’s collection. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.

Audubon Bird Quilt

Another example of a quilt block series is the Audubon Bird Quilt. Here is block #10 from that series.

quilt block pattern for the Audubon Bird Quilt showing an oriole, Plain Dealer newspaper article 9 December 1928

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 December 1928, page 58

Clothing Patterns

Patterns for crafts and the decorative arts were plentiful in the newspaper, but they didn’t represent the only kind of pattern available. Practical clothing patterns for your family could be ordered from the newspaper as well. These patterns differ from the quilt patterns mentioned above (which were actually printed in the newspaper and didn’t have to be ordered). The clothing patterns were advertised in the newspaper for purchase, and then mailed to the reader.

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This sewing pattern, advertised under the heading “Today’s Pattern,” is for overalls and a playsuit.

sewing patterns for overalls and a playsuit, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 10 February 1944

Macon Telegraph (Macon Georgia), 10 February 1944, page 16

In some cases multiple clothing patterns can be found together, like this example from 1946 that has a slim-looking “smart-house frock” to sew and mittens to knit, tucked in between articles and the comics section.

sewing patterns for a dress and mittens, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 31 October 1946

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 31 October 1946, page 16

While the quilt patterns shown above were offered for free, most newspaper patterns were for sale and as such they read like an advertisement. Newspapers did what they could to market these patterns for sale to their readers. Good examples of their marketing prowess are this World War II-era summer dress pattern and a “colorful new Pattern Book” for 10 cents that is touted with this advertising copy:

It’s filled with simple, fabric-saving designs for active service, for ‘on leave’ glamor, for the home front.

dress pattern, Morning Olympian newspaper article 2 June 1942

Morning Olympian (Olympia, Washington), 2 June 1942, page 2

Home Décor, Memorials & More

Newspaper patterns weren’t just limited to sewing or needlework. Craft patterns were also offered, which differed depending on the time of the year and what was happening in the world. During World War II, for example, these patriotic figures for outdoor memorials and lawn decorations were advertised for the “home craftsmen.”

craft patterns, Oregonian newspaper article 16 May 1943

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 16 May 1943, page 111

Did your ancestors purchase patterns from the newspaper? Do you have a family heirloom that was made from one of those patterns? Share your stories with us in the comments below.

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Legendary Lives: Car Manufacturer Henry Ford

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 discover more about the life and accomplishments of automobile magnate Henry Ford.

For many Americans who are familiar with the Ford Motor Company, the name Henry Ford (1863-1947) is synonymous with his innovations. While his implementation of the assembly line (a more streamlined process in factory work), and introduction of the affordable Model T automobile, are well-known – he also implemented ideas that better served his employees.

Portrait of Henry Ford, c. 1919

Illustration: portrait of Henry Ford, c. 1919. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Admiration for Thomas Edison

For the interested researcher, perusing newspaper articles about Henry Ford printed during his lifetime does not disappoint. Just searching for news articles about him published in 1914, the year he introduced his employee profit-sharing plan, nearly 1,700 articles can be found in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives – including quite a few that mention his association with inventor Thomas Edison. One such article includes a quote from Henry Ford proclaiming that Thomas Edison is the “greatest man of the times.”

Thomas A. Edison [Is] the Greatest of Men, Says Henry Ford, Head of the Automobile Kingdom, Tulsa World newspaper article 25 January 1914

Tulsa World (Tulsa, Oklahoma), 25 January 1914, section 2, page 1

Profit-Sharing Plan for Ford Employees

In 1914 he raised the daily salary of workers to $5 via a profit-sharing plan that increased 90% of his employees’ pay from the previous level of $2.34 per day. Ford not only increased wages, he shortened the work day to eight hours.

Henry Ford Gives $10,000,000 to His 26,000 Employees, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 5 January 1914

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 5 January 1914, page 1

Henry Ford, Birdwatcher?

Birdwatching? Well, everyone has a hobby and not surprisingly, Ford was mentioned numerous times in the newspaper for his hobby (he was an avid birdwatcher) and the bird preserve he established near Detroit, Michigan.

article about Henry Ford's bird preserve in Michigan, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 7 July 1912

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 7 July 1912, page 7

The story of how his bird preserve came to be is recounted in the following 1914 newspaper article. Ford had invited Jefferson Butler, Secretary of the Michigan Audubon Society, to his Michigan farm and asked how he could make the lives of birds happier. According to the article:

“Ford wanted to share profits with the birds who were saving the crops of the farmers from destruction [by eating insects] and making it possible for mankind to get something to eat.”

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That meeting led to Ford creating a bird preserve where he provided shelters, food and even “tepid water” via electric heaters for the birds.

article about Henry Ford and his love of birdwatching, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 24 May 1914

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 24 May 1914, page 5

Hi! My Name Is Henry Ford

Not all of the newspaper articles about Henry Ford are related to his accomplishments, hobbies, or even automobiles. Just as today, our ancestors enjoyed reading celebrity stories. Everyone loves a story where two people share a common name but are not related, especially when one of those people is famous. In the following newspaper article from 1914, the meeting of two Henry Fords from Michigan – one the industrialist millionaire and the other an editor of the Galesburg Argus newspaper – is documented.

Michigan's Two Henry Fords Meet at Popular Florida Winter Resort, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 15 March 1914

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 15 March 1914, page 2

And as all good genealogy researchers know, same name doesn’t mean same family. The last sentence of this old news article clarifies that these two Fords are not related.

Henry Ford’s Death

Toward Henry’s later years, his son Edsel was at the helm of the Ford Motor Company – but after Edsel’s death in 1943, Henry returned to running the company. The elder Ford, suffering from ill health, finally relinquished control of the company to his namesake grandson in September 1945. Less than two years later, Henry Ford died on 7 April 1947. His obituary, like that of any well-known figure, named his accomplishments – but also listed his perceived failings including an unsuccessful attempt to stop World War I.

obituary for Henry Ford, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 8 April 1947

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 8 April 1947, page 1

Henry Ford’s Genealogy

The Ford family tree is online.

Newspapers = Stories

As these historical articles have shown, newspapers are a great way to find not only someone’s vital statistics, but the stories of their life as well. Dig into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and find your ancestors’ stories. Start your 30-day trial now!

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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.

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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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