About Mary Harrell-Sesniak

Mary Harrell-Sesniak, MBA, brings to the GenealogyBank Blog a blend of technical and genealogical research skills. In addition to having been a columnist with RootsWeb Review, she was president of a computer training/consulting firm for 15+ years, worked as an editor and has authored several genealogy books. You’ll find her an active contributor to a variety of online forums, RootsWeb’s WorldConnect, Findagrave.com and indexing projects.

Holiday Genealogy Gift Ideas Pt. 2: Old Fashioned Recipe Book

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary presents the second in a series of genealogy holiday gift ideas: a project to create a recipe book of vintage dishes your ancestors might have prepared.

If you’re looking for a fun gift idea for the holidays, put together an anthology of your ancestors’ holiday recipes. You can find thousands of recipes in old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Assemble them as gifts or surprise the family by cooking a meal with vintage recipes.

Here are some ideas:

  • Make an old fashioned cookbook
  • Create recipe cards
  • Assemble dry ingredients for soups into clear jars & attach the recipe card with glue or string to the exterior
  • Bake sweets & treats the way Grandma did
  • Put on your apron & cook the meal the old fashioned way (or do it faster with modern conveniences)

To demonstrate how simple it is to find old fashioned recipes in historical newspapers, I’ve assembled a selection from the GenealogyBank archives to get you started—such as this one for strawberry ice cream. Doesn’t this sound delicious!

1897 Strawberry Ice Cream

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint of milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 pint double cream
  • 1 quart perfectly ripe strawberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • liquid carmine for coloring (vegetable dye or extracts)
strawberry ice cream recipe, New York Tribune newspaper article 24 June 1897

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 24 June 1897, page 5

1918 Health Bread

In 19th century America, homemakers made their own bread. Here is an old health bread recipe invented by a woman from Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Ingredients:

  • 3 pints potato water
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes
  • 1 cake yeast foam
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 sifter dark rye flour
  • 2 cups white flour
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 1 tablespoon beef fat or Crisco
health bread recipe, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 21 January 1918

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 21 January 1918, page 3

1898 German Christmas Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 7 ½ ounces butter plus a small amount to grease a pan
  • 10 ounces powdered sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 14 ounces sifted flour
  • icing
German Christmas cookies recipe, Daily Illinois State Journal newspaper article 21 December 1898

Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 21 December 1898, page 7

Enter Last Name

1850 Corn Bread

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ pints sifted meal
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 1 teacup sugar
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon saleratus (baking powder)
corn bread recipe, Jackson Citizen newspaper article 15 May 1850

Jackson Citizen (Jackson, Michigan), 15 May 1850, page 1

The following 1878 recipes for lemon and sweet potato pies came from the same publication. The recipe article also included tantalizing cream cake, snow ball cake and early frosting recipes.

1878 Lemon Pie (1st variation)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 1 egg
  • butter the size of a walnut
  • 1 crust

1878 Lemon Pie (2nd variation)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • piece of butter the size of a small egg
  • 1 egg
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 crust
lemon pie recipe, Daily Inter Ocean newspaper article 27 July 1878

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 27 July 1878, page 11

1878 Sweet Potato Pie

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup finely-mashed sweet potatoes
  • sugar to taste
  • 1 crust (no top)
sweet potato pie recipe, Daily Inter Ocean newspaper article 27 July 1878

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 27 July 1878, page 11

1855 Rabbit, Hare or Venison Soup

Soup is best simmered over a hot stove. Start the soup six hours prior to serving.

Ingredients:

  • 3 large, young and tender rabbits or 4 small ones
  • 6 mild onions
  • half a grated nutmeg
  • fresh butter or cold roast veal gravy
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon whole pepper (pepper corn)
  • 1 teaspoon sweet marjoram leaves
  • 4 or 5 blades mace
  • 3 large sliced carrots
  • 4 quarts boiling water
  • 6 grated hard boiled egg yolks
  • diced bread or buttered toast

Additional ingredients required for hare or venison soup:

  • 2 glasses Sherry or Madeira wine
  • 1 sliced lemon
rabbit soup recipe, California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences newspaper article 28 June 1855

California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences (Sacramento, California), 28 June 1855, page 205

Enter Last Name

1874 Beef, Chicken, Oyster or Veal Soup

This recipe was “extracted from the manuscript recipe book of an old and famous Virginia housekeeper,” who, unfortunately, was not named in the newspaper article.

Ingredients:

  • meat of one’s choosing, such as a large shank bone of beef
  • a lump of butter
  • a selection of herbs & vegetables of one’s choosing
  • water
  • salt & other condiments
  • flour
soup recipe, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 24 March 1874

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 24 March 1874, page 2

1878 Vinegar

If you’ve ever wondered how to make vinegar, try this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • potatoes
  • 1 pound sugar
  • 2 ½ gallons water
  • hop yeast or whiskey
vinegar recipe, Daily Inter Ocean newspaper article 27 July 1878

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 27 July 1878, page 11

Now, before we end on a “sour” note from the vinegar recipe, you really must know that America’s favorite Snickerdoodles are not a modern-day invention.

1932 Snickerdoodle

Where do snickerdoodles come from?

A “Culinary Jingles” column from the Lexington Herald of 27 May 1932 reminds us that snickerdoodle is an adaptation of a foreign recipe, much like a quick coffee cake. The author of this newspaper article reported the origin was Dutch, but my Dutch contacts at Facebook tell me this is wrong. It is not a Dutch recipe, but more likely of German or Pennsylvania Dutch origin.

Oh darn! Guess you can’t always believe what you read. I was imagining the ancestors sitting by an Amsterdam canal exchanging holiday greetings while munching on their favorite snickerdoodles! (Note to self: change that mental image to Germans along the Rhine!)

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ tablespoons butter
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 ½ cups self-rising flour
  • 1 ½ tablespoons cinnamon mixed with 1 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
snickerdoodle recipe, Lexington Herald newspaper article 27 May 1932

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 27 May 1932, page 12

Happy Holidays to one and all, eat well and good luck with your holiday gift projects!

Related Recipe Articles:

Also, see this article:

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Holiday Genealogy Gift Ideas Pt. 1: Visual Family Timelines

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary presents the first in a series of genealogy holiday gift ideas: a project to create a historical visual timeline of one or more of your ancestors’ lives.

The countdown clock to the winter holidays is ticking, and if you want to have time to prepare a genealogy gift for your family, you had better get started.

But if you’re like most people, finishing a family history by a looming deadline is a daunting task. So don’t overwhelm yourself—pick a “doable” genealogy project, one that can be completed in a weekend and long before Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukkah.

Places of My Ancestor’s Life Booklet

The first genealogy gift idea I’m presenting (there will be more in upcoming blog articles) is a project to create a historical visual timeline of one or more of your ancestors’ lives. You can do this by taking images, presenting them in chronological order, and making them into a small booklet.

I’m lucky to have an impressive collection of images from my family’s past, but don’t worry if you don’t have the same—let GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and public images from the National Archives tell your tale by supplementing the story with period images of places your family frequented.

photo of an old house with the caption "If These Four Walls Could Talk, They'd Tell a Thousand Tales"

Source: from the Harrell-Sesniak photo collection

1) Step one is to pick a creative title. If you are stumped, you are welcome to select one of these.

  • Ancestral Home Towns
  • If Walls Could Talk
  • Life in the Past Lane
  • Gleanings from Grandma & Grandpa’s Lives
  • Now and Then: A Look at Where They Lived and Where We Live
  • Old House Tales
  • The Past Is Present Again
  • What Did Our Ancestors’ Home Towns Look Like?

2) Figure out where your ancestors were during specific eras. Create a timeline showing birth, marriage and death dates, but focus on the “dash,” or what occurred between birth – death. (See Linda Ellis’ copyrighted poem at her website www.linda-ellis.com/the-dash-the-dash-poem-by-linda-ellis-.html.)

3) Target hometown hangouts. Did your family get married in a special church or synagogue, or attend special events such as rodeos or the World’s Fair? Did they conduct business at the market, sail from a wharf, or travel cross country in a wagon train? Use these clues to match locations to events that corresponded to their lives.

Enter Last Name

If you can’t find anything pertinent, find something from a person who had a strong influence in their lives. For example, this photo was taken on a family visit to Poland in 1999. Our guide was a history professor who said that Oskar Schindler lived in the apartment building to the left. If your family was affected by the Holocaust, you have my permission to use it in your visual timeline with proper credit.

photo of the Krakow, Poland, apartment building where Oskar Schindler lived

Photo: the Krakow, Poland, apartment building (on left) where Oskar Schindler lived, taken in 1999. Source: from the Harrell-Sesniak photo collection

4) Are any sites still there that would be familiar to your family? Search for un-copyrighted images in public archives and older newspaper archives. You might also try searching HistoryPin to find images and see what these places looked like in the past. Then contrast those images with current photographs that you have taken yourself or have permission to use. Tip: network on social media sites to see if any friends can take out-of-your-area photos for you to use.

5) Add historical maps to pinpoint events and locations during your ancestors’ lives. Everyone loves to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors and you’ll find an interesting selection in GenealogyBank’s Historical Maps section.

map showing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's trip to the Pacific coast, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 4 October 1937

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 4 October 1937, page 2

6) Compile your image findings into sequential order. Add appropriate captions, and consider keeping them short to inspire the younger set to pursue genealogy.

7) Create a family history scrapbook, or upload this new family heirloom to an online service that creates photo books on demand. Your family will enjoy this special genealogy gift for many years to come.

The following are examples to inspire you.

Massachusetts

If your family came early to America, they probably went through Massachusetts or settled in one of that state’s many historic cities. Perhaps they visited the house shown below, that was built in 1666 and still owned by the Moulton family in 1905. Its style is reminiscent of the John Howland House, built the same year in Plymouth.

article about the Moulton family home, Patriot newspaper article 13 October 1905

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 13 October 1905, page 12

New Jersey

Because of its delightful history, the Trenton Times ran a series on “Old Landmarks Around Town.” If you have Trenton roots, take time to read them. Example Number 48 below, reprinted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, displays a Quaker meeting house that existed when Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776.

article about the Quaker meeting house in Trenton, New Jersey, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 29 July 1897

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 29 July 1897, page 3

Pennsylvania

There are few states in our country with more history than Pennsylvania, and especially Philadelphia. So pull photos of Philly’s past, along with supplemental articles and advertisements.

Enter Last Name

An example is this advertisement for the Franklin Restaurant and Cafe which opened in 1842 at 105 Chestnut Street. Although no longer there, click the link to see where this address is in relation to the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing.

The Franklin Restaurant and Cafe, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 13 June 1842

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 13 June 1842, page 1

By 1897, many of Philadelphia’s early landmarks were disappearing. This old news article mentions a familiar view at the southeast corner of Broad and Chestnut Streets.

The caption notes that there was a railroad ticket office in this building, and that it was the setting for the old Cornucopia Restaurant which fed the populace in large numbers. If your family was in this area during the 19th Century, it is likely they partook of at least one meal in this establishment, or met at the tavern that had been there previously. Taverns were popular meeting places and served as backdrops for many of the meetings of our founding fathers.

Old Landmarks Disappearing, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 29 July 1897

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 29 July 1897, page 3

Diaries and Journeys

If you find enough material from your ancestors’ home towns, stop there. However, an interesting addition would be to add images from journeys made across country, or quotes from period diaries such as this one:

13th Oct. (1858). A drive of six miles brought us to Paint Rock, where we pass into Tennessee. Near Paint Rock we pass the chimney rocks, a great curiosity; they are in North Carolina. The Paint Rock is said to be 1000 feet high and appears to lean over the road, in fact looks dangerous, but I presume it was planted there until eternity by our Creator. Day’s travel 18 miles. We take the road to Dewetts Bridge, and camp for the day.

—from the diary of John C. Darr

See: http://www.argenweb.net/pope/wagon.html

If your family journeyed west or elsewhere, get inspired by weaving their travels into your tale. Include memories of the adventure, and if you are not fortunate to have a family diary, quote one from the time period. Add images such as prairies, wagon trains or even locomotives, many of which are found in old newspapers.

article about antique trains, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 9 July 1893

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 9 July 1893, page 23

Happy Holidays to one and all, and good luck with your holiday genealogy gift projects!

Related Genealogy Gifts Articles:

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Your Top Genealogy Challenges & Frustrations

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary shares some of the responses her social media friends gave when she asked the question: “Just what frustrates everyone about genealogy?”

Earlier this year, the GenealogyBank blog published my article “Why Do You Love Genealogy?” The responses were engaging and it was clear that there is a world of genealogy addicts out there. So I decided to query my social media friends again: Just what frustrates everyone about genealogy?

The responses were enlightening and immediate—over 200 responses about the ups and downs of genealogy. Surprisingly, there weren’t as many frustrations about barking up the wrong tree as I imagined. Most were about brick walls, dead-ends, missing information, and how people share or misreport genealogy.

I couldn’t include them all, so have picked some of the more enlightening answers to share. They are grouped by topic and the initials indicate the name of the respondent.

Enter Last Name










Brick Walls & Dead Ends

  • 30+ years of researching and I still have the same 3 brick walls! – G.W.

genealogy comment: "30+ years of researching and I still have the same 3 brick walls!"

  • Both (brick walls and dead-ends). – S.A.
  • Definitely both!!! – K.B.
  • Brick wall! – J.H.S.
  • Brick walls, [ancestors] missing from a census, obituary without parents’ names, no death record, obituary that says so-and-so died yesterday and no more, disappearing from all records…to name a few. But none of it deters the obsession. – D.B.
  • Dead ends. – D.G., J.S., M.M., N.S., T.L.M. & V.S.F.
  • Dead ends! People who seem to have appeared out of nowhere. One in particular is Aldenderfer, a name contrived from German meaning “high” or “small” village. So, people from the altendoerf were from the small village: small villages = altendoerfers. So, how do I find the small village in Germany for someone who arrived in the middle 1700s? – V.G.E.
  • I’d swear [Elizabeth] didn’t exist except that she managed to be on 2 censuses after she married. – L.H.
  • For me it’s dead ends, and the fact that conducting a reasonably exhaustive search just seems never to be done, and with so many zillions of places to look. – B.C.
    (My response) “I think the key word is reasonable, although most of us don’t like to stop until we find what we are looking for!”
  • For me, it is the dead ends. My great grandparents had to have had parents and perhaps siblings. Where are you? I’m looking for you! Sigh. – S.E.

genealogy comment: "Where are you? I'm looking for you!" -- Said by every genealogist to their missing ancestors!

  • I’m frustrated with a dead end, although all of the above answers are good answers, too! My great grandma supposedly came to the U.S. from Ireland in 1890 but didn’t marry ’til 1908. There is no record of her in the U.S. for those 18 years…or before that in Ireland. I am beginning to think she has something to hide. My mother describes her as a secretive woman. This is my brick wall. I’m happy to listen to any other theories! I’ve accused her of just about everything! – S.W.P.
  • Keep looking and the dead ends remain… – H.T.
  • Mom’s Grandfather didn’t leave a paper trail to track him. – J.K.
  • My experience has been one brick wall after another. So frustrating! – A.R.
  • I think that feeling of “I’ll find something…just keep looking for it” has kept me looking…so instead of giving it a rest, I keep hitting my own head into the brick wall. – T.L.M.

Locations & Websites That Stymie Researchers

  • Distance. If I could be in those other courthouses and libraries a few hundred miles [away] or across the ocean. – A.G.
  • KY TN AR – H.H.P.
  • Regarding U.S.A., lack of access to needed files and nationwide lack of ability to visit most states to find answers. – J.E.G.
  • Not being able to find a town of origin. – D.H.
  • Researching in New Jersey. – M.P.C.
  • Sites that claim you can search records for free…but you have to pay to actually see the records. – P. L.
  • The difficulty of obtaining records that I know exist because they’re far away or only available in an archive or library that can’t or won’t digitize or do research. – A.G.
  • Venezuela. – M.M.
  • When I absolutely know someone was born and lived in a place but there is no record at all, that’s so frustrating! – L.B.W.

Ancestors’ Names

  • All the common names used over and over again! – K.L.
  • Common names drive me crazy. Go look for a John White from Indiana who served in the Civil War. Or what should be uncommon names like McFetridge that are spelled 600 different ways and sometimes 3 or 4 [ways] on the same document. – B.N.
  • Dealing with [common] surnames…that have SO many branches that are not connected, at least that can be proven! I could have added just about every comment here ahead of me! So frustrating sometimes, but so fun to search and rewarding when you do find something useful! – D.K.B.

genealogy comment: "My biggest genealogy challenge are the many endless generations with the same names!"

  • 7 or 8 different spellings for one person’s first and last names. I can’t find his records in any immigration site. I think he came over in a rowboat. – E.J.K.
  • My two greatest brick walls: [both] shown in only two census records and then poof! – D.R.
  • Endless gens with the same 3 names: William, Robert, and James. – H.H.P.
  • Family using fake names. – I.R.D.
  • Good common names are my nemesis: John Smith, etc. – N.G.
  • I had 2 [men of the same name] born within a few years of each other in the same area. First cousins. I have 5 [others with the same name], of course they are all related to each other and some with close birthdates. And finally, 13 [with the same exact name] all related to each other. Headache keeping them straight! – G.S.O.
  • I have 5 gens with the same two names and each gen had several sons…ALL with the same 3 names. – H.H.P.
  • Last names. One of them is Son and one of the first names is Abraham. Pop that name in Google and you’ll have enough biblical references to keep you busy sorting through until the Second Coming. – D.H.R.
  • Mine are the brick walls AND the same names within the same branch of family. I know it was [a] tradition to name them after relatives, but my god it is murder trying to figure out which John goes with which Mary or Polly. – C.W.W.
  • My biggest frustration is finding a record with the right name/info that is reasonably and plausibly my ancestor, but not being able to verify it with certainty! – K.F.
  • My frustration is that my last name is [common]! – M.Y.
  • Researching a common name of a brick wall family. – D.L.C.
  • My granddad, great granddad and great great granddad are all named William Smith. – G.W.O.
  • I have Smiths too. – D.R.
  • My line, William, has 5 sons, 1 named William, like him. The 5 sons had boys – each named 1 son William (after their Grandfather). Those boys had sons – each named a son William…and it goes on and on and on. – M.O.S.
  • My nightmare is trying to find my Grandma. She was born in Mexico under one name but used a combination of the 2 here in the states. – S.V.
  • Same here, dead ends, and duplicate names! – L.B.W.
  • The names [are common ones] from Ireland. Do you have any idea how many of them there are? And they all have a father named Patrick and a mother named Mary. Argh. – M.C.
  • The same names in the same era, especially with surnames I once thought were weird or unusual. – A.F.
  • My Dad’s last name [is common]…my Mother’s maiden name is Smith. But then, it does make for interesting research! – M.Y.
  • Try working in the 13th century; all men are William and all wives name their daughters
    after themselves and there aren’t last names yet! – P.J.

Other Genealogy Frustrations

  • Cost of these [genealogy] programs…$119 for data search. – A.P.
  • For me it’s the organizing. I’m so focused on finding and saving items that I have to force myself to stop researching and make some organizing sense of it all. – L.T.
  • Organizing. – J.J.
  • What frustrates me most about genealogy? Unlabeled photos! – I.R.

Records (Census)

  • Lack of info…The missing 1890 census. – I.R.D.
  • Yes, the 1890 census. – G.G.T.
  • Oh yes, the missing 1890 census, I was swearing at it earlier today. Also the destroyed Irish Census and other Irish records. I’m finally “across the pond” and am hitting dead ends because of that fire. – S. C.
  • Illiterate people writing down census info. I’ve got some names from NC I can’t even figure out [because of] how they are spelled. Batrass = Beatrice. – D.R.
  • I have to agree with you there too. I couldn’t locate one branch of my husband’s Perry family. I stumbled across them looking for someone else. The census taker had the name listed as Harry. WOW! – C.W.W.
  • Here’s a fun one: I spent ages pulling my hair out trying to find my Grandmother on the 1930 Census, she was 6 years old, there was the whole rest of the family where was she??? Finally I gave up and ordered a copy of her birth certificate, found out she was born in 1933. (She died in ’92, btw.) – S.C.
  • That sounds like you were there for my most recent search on [my] family in Canada. – B.C.

Records (Deciphering)

  • Illegible handwriting drives me insane. Conflicting information is my other pet peeve. – P.R.C.
  • Inability to read a document is frustrating. – T.K.
  • Records that sort-of match up, but not enough to know whether it’s actually the same person. I’ve got relatives that, through the censuses, have a 5- or 6-year span of birth years. – M.H.
  • I like deciphering the old script, inverting a photostat of an aging parish register. I will not let a challenge defeat my research. – A.D.

genealogy comment: "Genealogists do not like to let challenges defeat their research!"

Records & Family Trees (errors, missing and otherwise)

  • All the “winkie winkie” looks between county clerks when they say records were burned. I really think lots of county courthouses just cleaned house and burned them out back. – N.G.
  • Another whammy is when you hit the mother-load of items (cards with names) inside a box wrapped with the memorial book for your great grandfather. But your great grandmother threw away the envelopes for all those cards. The cards that only have first names or last names, some of which appear to be related. – I.R.
  • As it is, because of a fire in ’73, there isn’t much there, but they say he was born [elsewhere], which is the closest I have gotten to his place of birth. – G.W.O.
  • It’s the dumb errors. – M.F.
  • Just to make things more interesting, my granddad lied about both his age and place of birth. If I [hadn’t] stumbled upon his discharge papers, I would never have been able to find any of his military papers. – G.W.O.
  • Knowing that people have sold photos and family bibles to the highest bidder to be used in a craft project. – H.T.
  • My “worst” brick wall is so bad, largely in part to one person making an error on an online tree and then everyone else copying it. So, I guess poor research is my biggest frustration. – S.C.
  • My Great Grandfather’s sibs; I just want pictures! – D.R.
  • One surname is Bryan. Why oh why does everyone want a T on the end??? – D.R.
  • The assumptions people make with no documentation! – K.C.B.

Relatives & Researchers

  • A small gripe…some folks know I do genealogy, and they call and ask about grandma and great grandma. Two days later they call and I think they want more info, but no: my little bit of info, [plus] the Internet, and they say they have the family tree all done now. They spent about a week on it. I’ve been on this quest years…many, many years. – A.G.
  • All the lies that have been told over the years…there’s a never-ending supply. – K.L.
  • Ignore the “lies” or error in research; do your own research, without any preconceived notions. – A.D.

genealogy comment: "Genealogists: do your own research, without any preconceived notions based on the research of others!"

  • Family members that don’t tell you the truth, but [instead] their version of it. – J.B.
  • For me [it] is when I make a connection and people dispute it. – L.J.S.
  • For me it’s fictitious pedigrees others have made using people with the same name or making up lineage to obtain property. – J.E.
  • It’s the fellow “researchers” who won’t reply when you reach out to them with no more intent than to just say “hello, we may be related and pursuing the same goals.” – D.R.
  • My cousin did the same to me, refused to let me know when my great-grandmother died, and my mother has continued to remind me for 34 years [that] I was at the beach and missed the funeral! – S.S.
  • My frustration button is pushed when I send someone all the info and docs and they publish it without any mention of who actually did the research, and then they get treated like a god and won’t acknowledge any of his mistakes…argh. – R.L.
  • Credit where credit is due. – T.K.
  • When someone with a private tree copies info that you have worked very hard to obtain, and when you try to ask them to share their info you hear nothing from them. – M.D.
  • People that don’t share. – M.M.
  • People who don’t share after you have graciously shared with them. – L.M.
  • Relatives that won’t talk or SHARE!!! – L.N.B.
  • Uncooperative family members that refuse to give you information. – C.R.
  • When newly-discovered family members ask for heritage items but can never seem to share with you. – H.P.M.
  • When people deliberately withhold information from you just because they can. – T.J.

Sources (or lack thereof!)

  • Here’s one: newspapers or other articles that are clipped out and no “source” information attached…no date, no city/state, no publication name. I am happy to go find them again…but man, needle in a haystack! Now, [for] every newspaper article I find, I save the full page from the website. – S.C.
  • Posted trees/pedigrees with no valid documentation. – B.E.

Time & Money (not enough hours in the day)

  • For me it’s two things: finding the time to research, and finding the focus. I start with one person, find others who are interesting and leap around. – C.M.N.
  • For me it is my inability to be able to devote enough time at one sitting. I work full-time and have a family so I rarely get more than a couple hours at a time. – R.T.F.
  • Many years and hoops [to jump through] and, yes, the costs. – D.S.B.
  • Not enough time to get it all done, and money to travel for searches. – B.J.A.

Wishing They’d Asked…

  • Not asking my relatives when they were younger about family history; now they’re all gone. – L.B.W. (My response:) “You are so right about that. If we could only ask a few more questions, we’d all be happy!”
  • Not having asked my relatives questions before they died because I wasn’t interested at the time! – G.G.T.
  • Not having my grandparents and parents around to share it with. – L.C.
  • It makes you question the information that you have. In my case it’s my paternal grandmother and her entire line. All I have is a handwritten piece of paper that my Dad apparently wrote (I was a teenager when he died and I had no idea until after his death that it even existed). – T.L.M.
  • Totally agree, 3 of [my] Grandparents died before I was smart enough to realize I should ask and record the answers. My remaining Grandma gets grilled every visit, tape recorder on! Although, the tall tales some of my relatives passed along are sometimes more frustrating than not having information from them. – S.C.

A Few Last Remarks!

  • What is reasonable to a perfectionist and genealogist? And I would wager that most of us that consider ourselves even amateur genealogists are raging perfectionists. – B.C.

genealogy comment: "I would wager that most genealogists are raging perfectionists!"

  • My greatest gift was my maternal grandmother who lived to 102 and knew everyone’s business in her country neighborhood. We were related to most of them! She loved to tell all about them. I sure miss her. – N.G.
  • The greatest frustration in this, my remaining years, is the disinterest in [our] ancestors of those who share my ancestry. It’s a risk. – T.K.
  • I’ve been hunting for the 20th century death of a family member for almost a year. Got it today – I’m smiling! – A.D.
  • What frustrates me about genealogy? ALL OF THE ABOVE! – D.R.

Got any more genealogy challenges or frustrations to add? Share them with us in the comments.

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Are You Celebrating Mother-in-Law Day?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to learn more about a special day coming up this Sunday: Mother-in-Law Day.

They say that there is a holiday for everything—so it should come as no surprise that Mother-in-Law Day is a time-honored tradition, at least in parts of Texas.

Modeled on the more-familiar counterparts of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Mother-in-Law Day was the inspiration of newspaper editor Gene Howe of Amarillo, Texas. He apparently adored his wife’s mother and, using the power of the press, created this special day in her honor.

However, many unkind rumors exist about its origins.

One is that it was started after Mr. Howe discovered his mother-in-law in tears about an unkind remark printed in his newspaper. Mrs. W. F. Donald, his wife’s mother, denied this, so the original story is true—Mr. Howe just had a natural affection for this kind woman in his life.

His mother-in-law said:

Gene never did anything to offend me in his life. I’ve lived with the Howes for fourteen years, and he’s the finest son-in-law anywhere.

article about Mother-in-Law Day, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 26 December 1937

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 26 December 1937, page 4

The first observance was on 5 March 1934 in Amarillo. Two years later Texas Governor James V. Allred signed a proclamation making the special day a statewide observance.

article about Mother-in-Law Day, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 5 March 1936

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 5 March 1936, page 11

Mother-in-Law Day was moved to the fourth Sunday in October—which is this upcoming Sunday.

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So what is the perfect gift for a mother-in-law? Certainly none of those unkind jokes floating around the universe. If I had to pick one special present, it would be an outing with family, and especially our little granddaughter. Of course, your mother-in-law may prefer timeless favorites such as a nice card, flowers or chocolates which are always in vogue!

So don’t forget to honor your mother-in-law in a special way—and if you can, please let us know how her day went.

article about mothers-in-law, Evening Star newspaper article 5 April 1938

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 5 April 1938, page 33

Some of you may be wondering if there is a Father-in-Law Day. Yes there is. It’s always on July 30.

Perhaps you missed it—so this year be sure to mark your calendar for Mother-in-Law Day this Sunday, October 26, and also add next year’s counterpart for the kind father-in-law in your life.

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Do You Celebrate Birthday Traditions Like Your Ancestors Did?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find stories about birthday traditions celebrated by our ancestors.

Chances are you celebrate some of your birthday traditions the way your ancestors did—and not just extravagant gatherings with cakes, balloons and presents. Many cultures have unique and fun ways to commemorate a birthday.

photo of a Chinese birthday party

Photo: Chinese birthday party. Source: Library of Congress.

Birthday Traditions

This list of birthday traditions came from the following websites:

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Birthday traditions around the world:

  • Do you pull one’s earlobes for each year of one’s life? Then you might come from Argentina.
  • Does your family host barbeques with fairy bread for the children? Then you may have Australian roots.
  • Is a one-year-old surrounded with toys and watched to see which one is picked first? In China, the selection is said to represent a future life pursuit. The child typically receives gifts with tigers which are said to protect children, and noodles are served at lunch.
  • Do you receive a cake shaped like a man? Then perhaps you are connected to Denmark.
  • Is a girl’s 15th birthday celebrated with a waltz, 14 young dancing couples and a new pair of shoes from her father? This is reported to be a tradition in Ecuador.
  • How about a wooden wreath placed on a table with candles representing your age during a Geburtstagsparty (birthday party)? This is common in Germany.
  • In many Hispanic cultures there are fiestas, complete with traditional food and piñatas filled with candy. Guests take turns trying to break it open with a stick while blindfolded.
  • The Irish are known to tip a child upside down and bump him/her gently on the floor.
  • In Jordan, many make a wish while cutting the cake with the wrong side of the knife.
  • In parts of Russia, pies are baked with greetings carved into the crust.
  • In Vietnam, a birthday is called a tet, and it is said that many celebrate them on New Year’s Day rather than on the actual birthday.

This boy celebrated his third birthday with a piñata.

article about Tony Perez's birthday party, Prensa newspaper article 12 October 1945

Prensa (San Antonio, Texas), 12 October 1945, page 2

Birthdays of Leaders, Presidents & Royalty in the News

Early reports in newspapers focus more on celebrations of leaders and royalty than ordinary citizens. The birthdays of presidents, and in particular George Washington, were frequently observed with parades and special dinners. At least one party was held at a tavern in his honor. This 1782 newspaper article notes that the entertainment for Washington’s birthday was elegant, and the whole festivity was conducted with exquisite propriety and decorum. One can almost imagine the toasts said in his name!

article about a celebration for George Washington's birthday, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 21 February 1782

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 21 February 1782, page 2

This earlier article from 1711 notes a special present for the Prince of Prussia’s mother—she was to receive a thousand ducats annually “on the Birth-day of the young Prince.”

article about the birthday of Frederick William, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 21 May 1711

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 21 May 1711, page 2

This is one of my favorite birthday announcements. In 1820 the Emperor of Russia issued an imperial Ukase abolishing all the war taxes that had been imposed eight years earlier.

article about the Emperor of Russia's birthday, Arkansas Weekly Gazette newspaper article 20 May 1820

Arkansas Weekly Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 20 May 1820, page 3

Researching Birthdays of Our Ancestors

Although GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives search page doesn’t have a specific category for birthdays, you can be successful by searching for ancestors in other ways. A fun way is to research a celebration in the Photos & Illustrations category.

Enter Last Name










If you get lucky, you’ll find a photo of a child or adult and a description of the birthday festivities. Try entering your ancestor’s name and then include “birthday” in the keyword field.

Many accounts, including this one for Miss Cora Van Fleet’s 17th birthday party, include a list of attendees.

article about Cora Van Fleet's birthday, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 1 November 1914

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 1 November 1914, page 21

Since early newspapers rarely described birthdays for ordinary citizens, also try searching for descriptions of parties within news article stories. Although this account from 1833 was entirely from the author’s imagination, one can appreciate the frivolity and excitement one might feel from receiving a birthday party invitation delivered by sleigh.

article about Aura's birthday, Salem Gazette newspaper article 15 October 1833

Salem Gazette (Salem, Massachusetts), 15 October 1833, page 1

Coming of Age Parties

If your ancestors celebrated a coming of age party, such as a quinceanera (15th birthday party for Mexican females) or Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah (Jewish parties typically at age 12 or 13), you may find accounts in the papers, including Henry Sahlein’s from 1863.

article about Henry Sahlein's barmitzvah, Jewish Messenger newspaper article 16 January 1863

Jewish Messenger (New York, New York), 16 January 1863, page 21

And finally, I’ll leave you with this happy image, to remind us all how much fun birthday parties can be!

photo of Norma Horydczak and friends at her 8th-year birthday party

Photo: Norma Horydczak and friends at her 8th-year birthday party. Source: Library of Congress.

Do you have a special tradition to celebrate birthdays in your family? If so, please share it with us in the comments section.

Related Articles about Births & Birthdays:

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Oh Baby! News about Twins, Triplets, Quadruplets & More

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find stories about multiple births—and adds a personal touch by discussing her own twins.

I recently wrote about querying historical newspaper articles for baby and birth records, but focused on singleton research (see: Genealogy Tips for Baby Research). Within GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, you’ll find numerous extraordinary reports of multiple births and large families, some of which I’d love to share.

History of Family Size and Fertility

Statistics show increased birth rates for today’s mothers, but don’t seem to factor in the large families of yesteryear.

During the 18th Century, the average family size was probably between 10-11 children, a statistic that dropped to 3.19 by 1987. (See New York Times Archives of 2 June 1988: “Size of U.S. Family Continues to Drop, Census Bureau Says.”)

Without birth control, women who continued to get pregnant remained fertile well into their 40s, resulting in many mouths to feed. At her death in 1769, Mrs. Ruth Skinner of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, had a family of 196, including 13 of her own children and their resulting progeny.

obituary for Ruth Skinner, Boston Post-Boy newspaper article 24 April 1769

Boston Post-Boy (Boston, Massachusetts), 24 April 1769, page 2

Premature Births

Contrary to popular opinion, premature babies did survive in earlier times, but until I researched the issue I didn’t realize how many babies survived before the invention of the infant incubator.

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For example, this 1884 newspaper article reported that the Richard Lawlis family of Red Bank, New Jersey, had a family of 12 children. One extraordinary premie, born four years earlier, survived after only weighing 2½ pounds at birth, and another just-born premie was a diminutive 1-pounder, who was so small the child could be “exhibited in an ordinary lamp chimney.”

article about Mrs. Richard Lawlis giving birth to a premature baby, Columbus Daily Enquirer newspaper article 13 February 1884

Columbus Daily Enquirer (Columbus, Georgia), 13 February 1884, page 2

Twins and Triplets

Twins and triplets were greeted with as much enthusiasm in early days as they are today. This contradicts the notion that multiple births are a modern-day invention caused by fertility drugs.

In 1767, there was a report of the remarkable births of six sets of triplets born in England, Germany and Denmark. The woman in Denmark had also given birth to triplets previously, in 1761!

birth announcements for triplets, New-Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 2 October 1767

New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 2 October 1767, page 3

In 1879 a mother-daughter combination from a Massachusetts family was blessed with five children born within one hour, in the same house. The mother had triplets and her daughter, twins. As some might joke, what do you suppose was in the water in that neighborhood?

birth announcements, Times newspaper article 6 March 1879

Times (Troy, New York), 6 March 1879, page 2

As technology improved, newspapers printed photos of twins and triplets, and often ran stories following what happened to multiples throughout their childhood. Weren’t Helen, Dewey and Ida McKinley darling in their matching outfits! Do you notice anything special about Dewey? He was one of the many boys at that time whose mothers dressed him as a little girl when young.

article about the McKinley triplets, Boston Journal newspaper article 3 March 1904

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 3 March 1904, page 3

“Children Ride Free” Discounts

We always greet discounts for children as a blessing, but as this 1846 article reported, the “free child” bonus could get out of hand. Children could ride free on some stagecoaches in those days, but if a mother of three sets of twins bought tickets, along with other mothers averaging three children each, the driver would only make pennies. As the writer reported:

On some occasions I have known an omnibus to be so swarmed with the infantile race that the top layer of them would touch the roof, and even then the driver would stop at every corner to take in more.

article about babies being allowed to ride for free on stagecoaches, Commercial Advertiser newspaper article 13 November 1846

Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), 13 November 1846, page 1

Quadruplets

While reports of twins and triplets can be found in historical newspapers, sometimes one even finds accounts of quadruplets.

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The Cantwell quads were born in Delaware in 1893. The four boys, whose weights ranged from four pounds to five pounds nine ounces, were reported to be “well formed and in perfect health.”

Gave Birth to Quadruplets, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 5 March 1893

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 5 March 1893, page 7

Although rare, it is possible for multiples to be born on separate days. The condition may be indicative of a mother with multiple wombs. Mrs. Pickworth of England delivered two boys on the 4th of March 1814 and an additional two on the 6th. Unfortunately, later reports indicated that they did not survive.

birth announcements, Providence Patriot newspaper article 28 May 1814

Providence Patriot (Providence, Rhode Island), 28 May 1814, page 3

Quintuplets

The odds of having quintuplets are about 1 in 60,000,000, and when these special arrivals are born, they are reported across the country. One of the more famous sets was the Dionne quints, who—as this article reports—were featured in movies.

article about the Dionne quintuplets, Riverside Daily Press newspaper article 2 March 1937

Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, California), 2 March 1937, page 2

A lesser-known set was the Irish quints, born in 1909 in Wisconsin.

Five Babies Born, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 22 May 1909

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 22 May 1909, page 1

My Twin Family Story

My husband and I are the parents of fraternal twins, but their birth was something of a miracle. These two darlings were born without fertility drugs and after being told we might not become parents.

photo of the Harrell-Sesniak twins

Photo: the Harrell-Sesniak twins. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

Our twins were a surprise from a genealogical standpoint as well. I remember their genealogist grandmother reporting she had never located any direct ancestors who were twins. On my father’s side there were twins five and seven generations before them, which dispels the myth about skipping a generation!

Fun Facts about Twins

  • The older you are, the more likely you are to have fraternal twins. This is due to differences in a follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) that affects ovulation.
  • If there are twins in the family, you’re more likely to have twins.
  • If you’ve given birth to fraternal twins, you’re twice as likely to do it again.
  • The more pregnancies you have, the greater the chance of having twins.
  • Body type affects the likelihood of having twins. The smaller you are, the less likely you are to have multiple births.
  • Twins are more common for African Americans than Caucasians, and less common for Hispanics and Asians.

Hilarious Questions That Parents of Multiples Encounter

Mothers of multiples (including myself) report having heard silly questions from strangers admiring their children. These are some of my favorites.

  • Are they related? (Of course!)
  • Are they real twins? (Of course!)
  • Are they paternal twins? (Did you mean fraternal twins?)
  • Did you plan to have twins? (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone could plan this!)
  • Can they read each other’s minds? (Can anyone read someone’s mind?)
  • When one cries, does it wake the other one? (Yes!)
  • What do you do when they cry at the same time? (It was never easy. You do what you can to comfort two at once.)
  • Which one is the evil twin? (Seriously, no child is evil. All children are blessings!)
  • The most hilarious and often-presented comment we ever heard about our fraternal girl and boy twins was: “Are they identical?” I usually chuckled with this response: “No of course not! If one is a boy and one is a girl, there has to be something different!”
  • The second-funniest comment occurred when my daughter was dressed in pink and my son in blue: “Which one is the girl and which one is the boy?”
  • My son always had a wonderful answer to “Which one of you was born first?” He would reply: “She was, but only because I kicked her out.”

Articles on Multiple Births

Do you have twins, triplets or quadruplets in your family tree? Share with us in the comments.

Related Articles about Babies:

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Genealogy Tips for Baby Research

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary provides search tips to find information about babies in your family history research.

If you think about it, genealogy isn’t about ancestors—it’s about babies, because without progeny or descendants, genealogy simply couldn’t exist.

graphic illustrating the saying "Babies are the key to making us ancestors."

As the new grandparents of baby Eliza, my husband and I are thankful for this, as new family members are the key to making us ancestors!

photo of Mary Harrell-Sesniak's granddaughter Eliza

Photo: Baby Eliza with Grandpa Tom. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

Fortunately, GenealogyBank has an entire section of its Historical Newspaper Archives devoted to research of these little family blessings. To access this content, select the Birth Records category on the newspaper search page.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search page showing the Birth Records category

Sometimes you may not find a hoped-for newspaper birth announcement, so I’d like to share some genealogy search tips for better research success.

Civil Registration Laws

Family history researchers are often disappointed when a courthouse doesn’t have a birth record. Mainly this is due to civil registration laws, which were instituted at varying times. Even when required by law, many parents and physicians did not comply by registering babies, so early newspaper birth announcements are important resources.

Enter Last Name










Newspaper Announcements Placed by Parents

Most birth announcements are placed by parents or hospitals. They often divulge the day of the blessed event, along with details about the parental names and family address. If you are lucky, you may also locate a notice of baptism. In either case, if the announcement was published shortly after birth, then the baby’s name may not be included—so this is a clue to locating an elusive notice.

Genealogy Search Tip: If you can’t find a birth announcement by searching on the child’s name, try searching the parents’ names, the family’s home address—or the date of the birth.

For example, notice that in these birth announcements from 1912 the parents’ names and home addresses are given, but not the babies’ names—in each case the child is only called “a daughter” or “a son.”

birth announcements, Oregonian newspaper article 6 August 1912

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 6 August 1912, page 12

Notice that this birth announcement for Nora Maria Meyers states that her baptism was performed at the hospital.

birth announcement for Nora Meyers, Anaconda Standard newspaper article 3 February 1921

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 3 February 1921, page 3

Genealogy Search Tip: Contrary to popular belief, not all baptisms were performed in churches or religious institutions.

Newspaper Announcements by Others

Don’t be surprised to find birth announcements placed by members of the family other than the parents, or even a mention of a new birth in a family reunion notice or obituary. As you see from this classified advertisement from 1969, the proud grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents had the birth announcement published to welcome little James into the world.

birth announcement for James McCoy, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 24 January 1969

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 24 January 1969, page 4

Expand Searches to Other Locations

Most researchers limit searches to a home town, but as seen in the example above, it’s entirely possible that a notice might be placed in a city newspaper where the child was not born. James was born at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, California, but his birth announcement was published in Dallas, Texas. If the query had been limited to California, the announcement would have been missed.

Genealogy Search Tip: If you can’t find a birth location, consider if the parents were stationed elsewhere by the military.

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Small Town vs. Large Town Newspapers

Although there are exceptions, small town or city newspapers are able to include expanded details about births that larger publications have to eliminate. Some smaller newspapers many even include notices from surrounding areas, such as these birth announcements from a Fort Wayne, Indiana, newspaper published in 1918 that have birth news from the towns of Angola, Waterloo and Warsaw.

birth announcements, Fort Wayne News Sentinel newspaper article 26 September 1918

Fort Wayne News Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana), 26 September 1918, page 11

Genealogy Search Tip: If you can’t find a birth announcement in your ancestor’s home town, consider if a neighboring town’s newspaper may have published one.

Search Terms in Foreign-Language Newspapers

If your ancestor’s family was an immigrant family or lived in a multicultural community, try incorporating foreign terms in your newspaper search for birth announcements. Long ago, many immigrant communities published local newspapers in Old World languages. For example, this 1928 announcement from Maine was published by a French-language newspaper, and reports the births of two sons (indicated by “fils”). I found this birth announcement by searching for the French word “naissance,” which translates into English as “birth.”

birth announcements, Justice de Sanford newspaper article 25 October 1928

Justice de Sanford (Sanford, Maine), 25 October 1928, page 6

Genealogy Search Tip: To learn the equivalent terms for the word “birth” used in foreign-language newspapers, search glossaries or use a translator such as Google Translate.

This Google service will translate the word “birth” into a variety of foreign languages. Now enter the translated word into GenealogyBank’s search box and select the Birth Records category.

Interesting Facts about Babies Found on the Web

  • A baby is born into the world about every three seconds.
  • The U.S. sees over four million arrivals every year.
  • Babies have more bones than adults, who have 206. Several of a baby’s bones fuse over time, which results in the smaller adult number.
  • Babies have more taste buds than adults. Some appear in different places of the mouth, but eventually disappear.
  • Babies do not have kneecaps.
  • Babies born in May are the heaviest.
  • The heaviest baby reported to have survived was a 22-pound 8-ounce Italian baby born in 1955. In 1879, a woman in Canada gave birth to a 23-pound 1.92-ounce baby that died shortly after birth. These weights are typically what a one-year-old might weigh! (See the newspaper article below for a fun report.)

Giant Baby

If you search historical newspapers you’ll find reports of many unique baby records, including this article from 1893—when a baby weighing 23 ¾ pounds was born to “giants.” He reportedly was 2 ½ feet in length and had a “cute little pink foot” measuring 5 ½ inches. Perhaps this report was a slight exaggeration, as we notice that neither the parents nor the child was named in the article.

The Largest Baby Ever Born, Plain Dealer newspaper article 21 April 1893

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 21 April 1893, page 4

For more fun baby facts, see the Online Nurse Practitioner Schools’ Website at http://onlinenursepractitionerschools.com/40-truly-amazing-facts-about-babies/

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How to Use a Thesaurus as a Genealogy Keyword Tool

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary talks about how important it is to try many variations when using keywords for your genealogy searches—and explains how helpful a thesaurus is for finding those variations.

A thesaurus is a marvelous writing tool—and an essential search tool for genealogists. Why?

When writers, and particularly journalists, go out of their way to be creative, they don’t use expected terms to describe ordinary events.

graphic showing how a thesaurus can be useful in finding word variations

Source: Mary Harrell-Sesniak

These writers turn to a thesaurus, such as the renowned (celebrated, famous, notable) lexicon compiled by Dr. Peter Mark Roget of London in 1852. His Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases revolutionized the modern construction of words—although he was not the first or the last to do so.

portrait of Peter Mark Roget by Thomas Pettigrew, 1843

Portrait: Peter Mark Roget by Thomas Pettigrew, 1843. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

A search of GenealogyBank’s archives finds references to Stevens’s Thesaurus in 1724, Beveridge’s Thesaurus in 1733, a Thesaurus Medicus in 1784, Tyronis’s Thesaurus in 1812, and a whole slew of others—including clubs and organizations devoted to synonyms and antonyms.

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screenshot showing GenealogyBank's search results for a search on the word "thesaurus"

(Note: if you are a Wikipedia contributor please expand their Thesaurus article, as not one of these earlier thesauri is mentioned in the article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thesaurus.)

One Reason Why Search Queries Fail

Queries can fail if you don’t employ search substitutions—a variation of the word or name you are searching for might work when the original search word or name found no results.

What if the writer, who wrote about your cherished ancestor, was bored with using the same terms repeatedly?

He/she might have concluded that the terms “marry” and “married” are easily exchanged for “matrimony,” “nuptials,” “wedding” and “union.”

Obituarists (or in some cases obscurantists) are also prone to employing “passed away” or “expired” for “death” or “died.”

In many search engines (and especially on the Web) you will miss desired results if you don’t try variations.

Enter Last Name










Searching for Revolutionary War Ancestors

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll soon learn (ascertain, discover, find) that I am an active American Revolutionary War researcher. I scour archives for patriots and frequently post transcriptions online (see Facebook’s Revolutionary War Research page). There’s even an online index, and later this year I hope to publish an updated reference of this work with the full transcriptions.

Finding early obits and articles about specific patriots can be challenging, so I started cross-referencing searches.

“Revolutionary War,” “American Revolution,” “patriot” and “pensioner” achieved great results, but then one day I found an article about a Revolutionary War ancestor that didn’t include any of those terms. Then I started reading more from the target time period, and concluded that I needed to broaden my selection of keywords.

Revolutionary War Search Keywords

Ever hear of the “shot heard around the world”?

Many think the phrase has something to do with baseball (Bobby Thomson’s home run to win the National League pennant in 1951), but its first known use was to describe the Battles of Lexington and Concord that began the Revolutionary War in 1775. This phrase, along with the “Skirmish at the North Bridge,” appear in numerous articles without incorporating the terms “war” or “American Revolution.”

article about Mr. Gladstone, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 9 October 1876

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 9 October 1876, page 2

Ancestor Name Variations

One day I became curious about people who served with famed Captain John Paul Jones during the Revolutionary War, and noticed that some wordsmiths of the past liked to call him Paul Jones and others referred to him as John Paul Jones. In these two obituaries from 1792, for example, one calls him “Paul Jones” and the other “John Paul Jones.”

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results page for a search on "John Paul Jones"

So when searching for this famous patriot, I now search on both variations of his name.

And my keyword options don’t stop there. I’ve maintained a list of over 50 ways to search for Revolutionary War participants, including the words and phrases “entered the service of his country,” “spirit of ’76” and “Whig.”

Genealogy Keyword Search Tips

To increase the prospects of keyword search success, data-mine search engines with obvious words and consider these tips:

  • Start with obvious keywords.
  • Use a thesaurus to find alternatives and search on those variations.
  • Don’t rely on modern-day expressions for keyword ideas.
  • Observe what was written in articles of the past by reading early newspapers.
  • Keep a list of what you find.
  • Always think like a wordsmith of the past!

Related Keyword Search Tip Articles:

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How to Research Old Newspaper Headlines for Family History

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary shows how searching for headlines in old newspapers turns up articles that provide a glimpse into our ancestors’ world and their daily lives.

From iconic happenings of the past to lesser-known events, reading old newspaper headlines helps us share the day-to-day experiences of our ancestors. Reading the news that they read is one way to walk in their footsteps.

For example, imagine being in Vermont on 8 November 1860, picking up your local paper, and seeing this newspaper headline announcing Abraham Lincoln as the new president.

Glorious News! Abraham Lincoln Elected President!! St. Albans Messenger newspaper article 8 November 1860

St. Albans Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont), 8 November 1860, page 2

So why not become a newspaper headline hunter and query GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to see what was happening in your ancestors’ lives? Knowing the events that were happening that affected their lives, and the news that they were talking about with their family and friends, helps provide a glimpse into their world and into the past.

Enter Last Name










Abolishing Slavery

Headline hunters weave fascinating circumstances into life stories. They’re constantly on the search for a bold or unusual newspaper headline that leads to something interesting.

In their search for headlines, they select major historical events, along with what was happening in the outside world during particular time periods. Sometimes they’ll stumble on a major event they never heard of, leaving one to wonder why it is not included more in history books.

For example, manumission (the freeing of slaves) occurred in many parts of the world long before the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution (adopted 6 December 1865) abolished slavery in the U.S.—and the movement continued long after.

For example, a search on the terms “slavery abolished” pulled up this 1794 newspaper article about the French Colonies.

article about slavery being abolished in the French Colonies, Farmers’ Library newspaper article 13 May 1794

Farmers’ Library (Rutland, Vermont), 13 May 1794, page 3

That search also found this 1879 article about African King Mtesa (or Mutesa) of the Kingdom of Buganda abolishing slavery throughout his dominions.

Slavery Abolished in Africa, Cincinnati Commercial Tribune newspaper article 13 September 1879

Cincinnati Commercial Tribune (Cincinnati, Ohio), 13 September 1879, page 2

Women’s Suffrage

Another movement not fully addressed in history books is women’s suffrage, underscoring the importance of newspaper research to clarify historical events.

A search on the term “suffragettes” found this old newspaper headline.

article about suffragettes being arrested in Great Britain, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 1 March 1908

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 1 March 1908, page 5

This headline reports that women were humiliated, harassed and often treated as criminal offenders. Imagine how a young girl of today would feel if she learned that her great grandmother was jailed, merely for wanting to vote!

These two headlines introduce articles reporting that California granted females the right to vote in 1911, but the quest for national equality took until 26 August 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted.

Suffrage Wins in California, Boston Journal newspaper article 13 October 1911

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 October 1911, page 12

Tennessee Approves Suffrage Amendment, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 18 August 1920

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 18 August 1920, page 3

For an interesting timeline of how the women’s suffrage movement progressed, see the National Women’s History Museum’s Woman Suffrage Timeline (1840-1920).

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Timely Timelines

You can locate many interesting timelines in newspapers, either as feature articles or related to historical events. Search for them using the keywords “timeline,” “this day in history” or “famous headlines.”

article about historical newspaper headlines, Boston Record American newspaper article 29 October 1961

Boston Record American (Boston, Massachusetts), 29 October 1961, page 39

You may wish to construct your own timeline with historical newspaper headlines. Pick a subject and locate pertinent newspaper headlines and their corresponding articles. Categories are only limited by your imagination.

  • Art & Artists
  • Civil Rights
  • Disasters (Hindenburg, Titanic, volcanoes, etc.)
  • Famous People (explorers, presidents & first ladies, the rich & famous, etc.)
  • Laws (age of majority, child labor, education, immigration, manumission & slavery, suffrage, etc.)
  • Entertainment (movies, music, plays, etc.)
  • Eras (Roaring Twenties, Victorian Age, etc.)
  • Genealogy Research (Alex Haley’s Roots, lineage societies, technological advances, etc.)
  • Great Discoveries (gold, medical advances, vaccines, etc.)
  • Migrations (immigration, westward expansion)
  • Sports & Events (competitions, Olympics, World Series, world fairs, etc.)
  • States, Territories & County Formations
  • Wars & Military Events

Here’s a timeline of important events that the Charlotte Observer published in 1907.

timeline of important historical events, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 30 May 1907

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 30 May 1907, page 8

Your genealogy software may have overlays or add-ons to create a timeline, or you can make one in a spreadsheet or with one of the free tools found on the Web. Many timeline “how-to” articles are written for teachers, but the concept applies equally to family historians.

Here are two helpful timeline articles:

Before & After Headlines

An effective tool for teaching family history is to compare before and after newspaper headlines.

For example, here is a newspaper ad from the steamer company White Star Line, advertising cross-Atlantic voyages on its huge new ship Titanic (misspelled as “Titantic”), just two months before the steamer’s ill-fated maiden voyage.

cruise ad from the White Star Line for their new steamer "Titanic," Evening Star newspaper advertisement 13 February 1912

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 13 February 1912, page 17

By contrast, here is one of the many shocking headlines the world saw after the “unsinkable” Titanic hit an iceberg and sank in the early morning hours of 15 April 1912.

Ship's Band Plays "Nearer My God to Thee" as Titanic Sinks, Winston-Salem Journal newspaper article 19 April 1912

Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), 19 April 1912, page 1

Here is another jarring example of contrasting old newspaper headlines. The first is a straightforward headline about the “famous dirigible navigator” Dr. Hugo Eckener arriving in America for a series of conferences on expanding dirigible service between Europe and the U.S. Eckener announced that the Hindenburg dirigible would soon resume its transatlantic flights, and declared:

By the end of the summer, I am certain we will have convinced anyone who has any doubts about the safety of Zeppelin flights across the Atlantic.

Eckener Arrives on Air Mission; Will Visit Akron, Repository newspaper article 10 January 1937

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 10 January 1937, page 3

Less than four months after Eckener made his remark, the world saw headlines such as this in its newspapers.

Fire Wrecks Hindenburg, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 6 May 1937

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 6 May 1937, page 1

Please share with us any of your favorite or surprising historical newspaper headlines found at GenealogyBank!

Related Articles about Newspaper Research for Family History:

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Vintage Ads & Our Ancestors’ Shopping

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary finds vintage advertisements and articles in old newspapers and historical books to gain insights into a part of our ancestors’ lives: shopping.

Take a walk down the “past lane” of our ancestors’ shopping lives by delving into historical newspapers.

You’ll find marvelous articles and vintage advertisements to gain insight into purchases that surrounded them in their daily lives.

Vintage Advertisements

Iconic imagery, such as this 1900 advertisement, puts a face to historical eras and displays important visuals of clothing, hairstyles and accessories. They’re marvelous pieces of history—and as such, are highly sought-after collectibles.

Doesn’t this ad inspire you to slurp a Coca-Cola while dolled up in frilly plumes and pearls?

a vintage ad for Coca-Cola

Source: Wikipedia’s article “Advertising” displaying a vintage Coca-Cola advertisement

Advertisements in Historical Books

Advertisements abound across every historical newspaper, and are also located within GenealogyBank’s impressive collection of advertising ephemera. Use the Historical Books search page to search the books collection for vintage advertisements.

search page for GenealogyBank's Historical Books collection

Try entering a business name if you know where your family worked—and if you don’t, query the search engine for a type of trade. You’ll be amused at what you find.

vintage ad for the Excelsior Hat Store

Popular Shopping Items

The popular items of yesterday have certainly changed, so explore newspaper feature pages for intriguing reports. Don’t forget newspaper shipping reports. As so many goods arrived by ships, you’ll soon discover what were the interests of the day.

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Most people would assume that tea was the popular drink of the 18th Century. It was, but another beverage was highly sought after: cocoa.

Doesn’t this report confirm what chocaholics already suspect—that our forefathers and mothers loved chocolate as much as we do? I imagine the shortage of cocoa might have been alarming news for some.

article about a cocoa shortage, American Weekly Mercury newspaper article 16 March 1727

American Weekly Mercury (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 16 March 1727, page 2

Types of Genealogy Discoveries from Vintage Ads

There is much more to advertisements than you can imagine—they can provide all sorts of family history information and clues.

You might identify information about:

  • where a family worked
  • their coworkers
  • wages
  • working conditions

And who knows, you might even make a startling discovery, such as this one about my Dutch ancestor, Andrew Vos.

His classified advertisement not only confirmed that he was an early and important importer of fine art, but also named the artwork in his inventory. What a thrill to consider that many grandmaster paintings, now only seen in museums, may have passed through his hands.

Original Paintings for Sale, Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser newspaper advertisement 27 April 1805

Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 27 April 1805, page 2

This 1805 newspaper ad also identified his place of business as 107 North Front Street in Philadelphia. Last year my husband and I were able to walk to the location, not far from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia. What a thrill to walk in the footsteps of an ancestor!

So take a chance. Explore early advertisements and news reports—and don’t forget to be creative when adding keywords. Look for business names, along with specific goods and services. Almost anything that our predecessors owned was advertised for sale—even houses from the Sears Catalog.

photo of twin houses bought from the Sears Catalog

Photo: twin houses bought from the Sears Catalog. Source: Library of Congress.

See: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2010640757/resource/

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Keywords to Include

Depending upon the target timeframe, consider using these keywords in your shopping searches:

  • Antiques
  • Bookmobile
  • Bring and Buy Sale
  • Business Names
  • Catalog or Catalogue (such as Sears)
  • Factory
  • Flea Market
  • Food (you could discover the price of milk)
  • Jumble Sale
  • Marché aux Puces
  • Market or Market House
  • Mercantile
  • Provisions
  • Sale
  • Salesmen
  • Sheriff Sales (useful to discover names of neighbors)
  • Trade Days
  • Trading Post
  • Trash and Treasure
  • Trunk Sale
Sheriff's Sales, New Brunswick Fredonian newspaper advertisement 5 February 1824

New Brunswick Fredonian (New Brunswick, New Jersey), 5 February 1824, page 1

We’d love for you to share your GenealogyBank “shopping” discoveries with us in the comment section!

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