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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Why Do You Love Genealogy?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary shares comments that she and her fellow family historians have exchanged on social media about why they love genealogy.

I was browsing social media pages recently and saw that my friends were commenting about why they love genealogy. Everyone’s reasons for loving family history research varied, but the depth of the intrinsic rewards we feel was shared by all.

Here is my reason for loving genealogy research:

  • I’m following in the footsteps of my mother, great grandmother and great grandfather, who researched with a passion and left the family with a legacy of several family history books.

What a family treasure that anyone could only hope to equal, which explains my favorite saying: “Genealogy isn’t just a pastime; it’s a passion!”

genealogy saying: "I love genealogy!"

Below you’ll find excerpts of the quotes (with minor corrections). The initials indicate my social media friends. Hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

  • “One time I helped a police investigator find the family of a man who had died, who left very little information. He [the policeman] said the family was very grateful. That was rewarding.” —A.C.
  • “As my friend Christie says, ‘It’s a labor of love.’” —A.J.
  • “My grandmother died last year and I was really lucky that she’d humor me with questions. I’d bring DD coffee every Sunday and we’d chat—all her peers had gone—and sometimes we’d talk genealogy, but because I knew so much, I think she almost felt like she had somebody who knew the stuff she did and she could talk about events and people who mattered to her, without prompting, and be understood. That’s what validates what I do.” —A.M.
  • “At least we can all say ‘We know where we came from’ [because] we did the research…” —C.D.
  • “I do it because I want to put stories to names. I wanted to know who I am. And now when I try and not do it, I swear that I hear [my name] in my sleep: ‘Find me.’ You are never lost as long as one person remembers your name…” —C.F.
  • “My family and friends are genuinely appreciative of my genealogy research. I’ve never heard any criticism. I’ve reunited lost family members and distant cousins.” —C.H.
  • “It is for people who love history and want to know exactly where they came from. It is comforting.” —C.K.

genealogy saying: "Looking for dead people makes me happy!"

  • “After 25+ years…I just smile and say…looking for dead people makes me happy!” —C.L.J.Y.
  • “It’s very satisfying when you find lost cousins or other information. I just found a cousin here on one of the groups yesterday; her grandfather is the brother of my grandfather…So cool when this happens.” —C.M.S.C.
  • “[I love genealogy] because dead people are much more interesting than the live people that are around me.” —D.E.L.
  • “My Mom has been the ultimate source in my and my sister’s research. She remembers everything, has written things down, and saved pictures from my dad’s side of the family. She is so supportive to us and helps out so much. I wish everyone had someone as supportive as her. Thanks Mom!” —D.R.
  • “Genealogy is a favorite pastime, I love knowing our ancestors’ names, families, their work, etc. I have been working on my family and my husband’s. It is very rewarding.” —D.Y.
  • “I’ve found close cousins I had never known…I have laughed so much with them over the years! We met on the Internet searching for the same Great Grandparents! We didn’t know each other, but it’s like having a cool sister to laugh with on things we have in common! I can’t believe how similar we think about things!!! Genetics!” —E.R.
  • “When I was about 14 it was the Bicentennial year. My great Aunt showed me the grave of an ancestor who was from Lexington during the Revolution. That was what started the genealogy bug for me! I took a college class that year in genealogy, and started to ride my bike to local archives to research how I was related to that soldier, and the rest of my family tree. His name was Andrew Munroe, and his uncles were killed in the Lexington Battle, and Andrew was a Major by the end of the war.” —H.W.
  • “I think of this as more of an avocation than a hobby and if I don’t do it, who will?” —J.B.
  • “I am chuckling about all the comments about helping kids in school with their family history projects. My genealogy path started when a college class I was taking asked for such a project. Two years later, my son had the same project in fourth grade. Seven years later I am still working on it…” —J.C.M.

genealogy saying: "I research my ancestors so I'll know who to blame!"

  • “I research my ancestors so I’ll know who to blame!” —J.H.
  • “I do it for my children and their children and like-minded relatives with whom I share the stories. To know our ancestors’ strengths and talents is to know where ours come from and is inspiring to me.” —J.R.
  • “I started really getting into it after I met my husband. His family has been in this one county of Virginia since they came over on a boat. Lol. So jealous—I literally just have to go to the county library, ask about his family, and poof! the library has it all. Lol. Everyone wants to reap my rewards also. But I have the time and I love it, so I keep on. Lol!” —J.R.
  • “My dad asked me years ago to research his family. He remembered the stories he was told and shared many of them. May he rest in peace because he has since passed, but once I started the journey there was no turning back. Every new name holds promise of a new story. The one thing I didn’t comprehend when I started was that the research would open many history books to help me better understand how people lived in their respective eras. I feel like it is an exciting adventure with many mysteries.” —J.S.B.

genealogy saying: "Ancestors don't give me grief and they don't come with drama!"

  • “I was told by a sibling that I like my dead ancestors more than my living relatives. Of course I do!! They don’t give me grief and don’t come with drama!” —K.P.

genealogy saying: "Genealogy is like being a detective!"

  • “I’ve always been interested too, even as a teenager. It made U.S. History come alive in school! My mom and dad used to do genealogy together. They went to libraries and cemeteries every weekend. They were both very involved which is how I got interested at the age of 16. It is like being a detective, isn’t it?” —K.V.E.A.
  • “I love all these comments! I don’t have any profound reasons why I love researching, I just do! I didn’t care for history or genealogy when I was younger. Then my mother passed away eleven years ago. In cleaning out the attic in my childhood home, one of the first things I found was a statement of service in the Civil War. I was stunned and got the bug at that moment! I also found some tintypes and lots of old photos, unidentified and undated of course…So fascinating. Unfortunately, I got the bug after my parents passed away. How I wish I got it when they were alive especially since I had an older father who was born in 1902.” —L.H.

genealogy saying: "Genealogy is not a hobby, it's a calling!"

  • “I’ve also been doing this for over 40 years, started when I was 9. Anyone that knows me, knows right away that I am a Genealogist. It’s not a hobby, it’s a calling. I don’t discuss it unless someone asks or it’s pertinent to the conversation. But overall, I’ve found that MOST people find what we do fascinating…Sometimes, this passion of mine affects someone’s life tremendously. I had one family of my grandmother’s first cousin contact me after putting something out…She said, ‘this is my father-in-law’s family. He’s in his late 80s and I never knew ANYTHING about them. His father died when he was 2, his mother remarried, and they never saw his father’s family again. He always felt that he was the reason for that and carried the guilt around all his life.’ I contacted her back, shared with her that at the time of his father’s birth his grandparents were both dead, and his father’s siblings lived too far away for interaction to be feasible. The daughter-in-law was able to go back and tell him the story of the family and she said it was like a weight lifted off his shoulders, his whole personality changed and he was a happier man…he died 6 months later, but at peace! So when anyone has anything negative to say, which is rare, I hold that story close and smile.” —L.L.B.J.

genealogy saying: "I don't understand people who don't like genealogy. It's so satisfying to find a fact about someone in all the world papers!"

  • “I have found numerous lost cousins and a diamond ring that was passed down to one of my new cousins that belonged to my great gma. It’s so cool to look at it and know she had it on her finger. My quest continues to find a pic of her. I love [genealogy]. I don’t understand people who don’t like it. It’s so satisfying to find a fact about someone in all the world papers.” —L.O.R.
  • “I’m lucky to have a ton of support around me. Even my husband is actively helping me with my family research. I have yet to meet one person in my family that isn’t fascinated by the research.” —L.S.
  • “I studied history in college. Genealogy is a continuation of my love of studying the past…and it’s personal. Something I can pass on to my children and now my granddaughter.” —L.S.A.
  • “I have some good stories [from cousins] that I’ve met…that I didn’t know I had…Besides, I love skeletons. They make the world go round.” —M.F.C.
  • “I follow my family histories because I WANT to; like people who sit/partake in sports, fish, or knit/sew, it’s MY hobby. There are people who are history buffs, and those who are sports nuts and some who are GEN NUTS (which I’m one).” —M.J.W.M.

genealogy saying: "Genealogy is like playing detective!"

  • “It’s like playing detective. It’s fun learning the stories about our ancestors.” —N.H.S.
  • “Working on my family tree is comforting. I feel close to my mom and dad, who have been gone for a very long time.” —P.M.H.
  • “It’s not about the doubters—it’s about two other things. First, to ensure [we remember] those who would otherwise be forgotten in less than 100 years, and two, for those yet to come to know and understand their roots. And then they can decide for themselves if they care or not. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re wasting your time following after dead people. If they are family then you will have to include them too. Although they may wish to be forgotten in a generation or two, ask them about it!” —R.B.
  • “Always was fascinated with the past; [I] wanted to be an archeologist when I grew up but my teachers were not too happy with that aspiration! I love to do genealogy for several reasons. First, when I do research on my ancestors, I feel like I am bringing my family together again in the past and, since I freely share my discoveries with relatives, I feel it brings us together in the present. I also love it because it makes me feel part of a whole, a link in the chain that would not have a future without myself and my children. I love it because it makes me feel more connected to my country when so many of my ancestors were pioneers and founders of early settlements and churches and helped to build this country by participating in government positions and fighting in various wars for our freedom & protection. And most of all, I love it for the connection I feel with certain ancestors when I can be successful enough in my research to learn some of the personal aspects of their lives. I believe in some way they are always with us, living on in our cells, our blood & our genes.” —R.B.K.

genealogy saying: "Genealogy is more fun than most sports!"

  • “It’s more fun than most sports. I like to find new info.” —S.C
  • “[I] love [genealogy] and find it fascinating.” —S.H.
  • “Well, the journey into our past has been interesting, and I am blessed to share it with my cousin.” —S.H.E.
  • “I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I know that I have always been fascinated with my family history. I remember being a young teen and pondering my family origins. I asked a few questions of my grandmothers, but not nearly enough before they either passed or lost the ability to communicate. In reading her saved letters, I know that one of my grandmothers was the same way and her father before her. In letters written between them long before my birth, they discuss the family Bible and family records. He gave her a copy, which I never found. He also left the family Bible to one of his other children, which I’ve also failed to locate. Other than one of my grandmother’s half-sisters, no one else in the family seems to have any interest in it, including the family who now has (hopefully) or had (crossing fingers) the family Bible. Did some of you come to this later in life and develop an interest long after your childhood, or did you always wonder? I’ve often pondered whether those who don’t care just never had it in them in the first place, kind of like how people are born with the ability to either love cilantro or think it tastes like soap and therefore will never like it, no matter what.” —S.W.H.

genealogy saying: "Why do I love genealogy? I credit my old style Polish grandmother for my desire to know my family history!"

  • “I credit my old style Polish grandmother for my desire to know my family history. She and her mom “were” those black sheep, moved away, changed their names, pretended they were French rather than Kashubian/Polish…Oh, I had visions of her coming from a family of horse thieves or gypsies or some such thing. When I finally found the truth and reunited with her family, wouldn’t you know that the first thing I heard was, ‘Oh! We’ve been looking for you for a hundred years!’ I’m glad they didn’t give up looking, and perhaps it’s the Polish in me that doesn’t give up either.” —S.W.H.

genealogy saying: "If you don't know someone among your ancestors, they're not real!"

  • “An in-law, a wonderful and generous lady, told me that if I didn’t know someone among my ancestors, they were not real. My sister tells me she only wants to know about the dead relatives I discover if she was mentioned in the will, and [she and] I have fun kidding each other about this…” —T.K.
  • “It’s very nice to make older people especially happy.” —T.P.

genealogy saying: "Family history is simply the best!"

  • “Family history is simply the best!” —V.W.

Please tell us your delightful reasons why you love genealogy!

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Old Music in Historical Newspapers: Tips for Finding Songs

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary provides newspaper search tips to find articles and musical scores about the songs our ancestors enjoyed

When doing your family history research, have you ever wondered about the old music your American ancestors enjoyed?

What were the popular melodies and tunes of earlier days, what were their origins, and what musical discoveries can we find in historical newspapers?

Yankee Doodle

A fun place to start is by researching one of the more ubiquitous tunes in American history: “Yankee Doodle.” Just think—our parents, grandparents and great grandparents knew the same lyrics to this song. What a wonderful shared experience that is.

Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.

To find a wide assortment of news articles about “Yankee Doodle” and amusing renditions of this popular American song, enter the title into GenealogyBank’s search engine. This search returns over 64,000 “best matches,” so you may wish to sort the results by date from the earliest to newest, or vice versa.

One of the earliest newspaper articles, from 1769, reports that the British military used the song as a type of verbal bantering or taunting of the colonists.

According to the article:

…the Officer of the Guard, in a sneering Manner, called upon the Musicians to play up the Yankee Doodle Tune, which completed the Conquest of the Military, and afforded them a temporary Triumph.

New-York Journal (New York, New York), 14 September 1769, page 2

New-York Journal (New York, New York), 14 September 1769, page 2

Limiting Music Searches by Categories

With so many search results, I looked for ways to narrow the focus. A promising option was the “Poems & Songs” category with over 1,200 historical newspaper articles to explore.

search results for "Yankee Doodle" in GenealogyBank

Adding Keywords to Your Article Search

To learn about specifics, I incorporated keywords such as “origins.”

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A newspaper article from 1861 reported that “Yankee Doodle’s” music was derived from the “Lucy Locket” nursery rhyme. I wasn’t familiar with it—but if you hum “Lucy Locket,” you’ll find it has the same musical syntax, or structure, as “Yankee Doodle.”

Lucy Locket lost her pocket
Kitty Fisher found it;
Not a bit of money in it
Only binding ’round it.

 
After the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord, the patriots came up with their own lyrics. An early version was titled “The Yankee’s Return from Camp,” used as a battle march.

The old song has direct references to George Washington (then a Captain) and Capt. Isaac Davis. See article on Capt. Isaac Davis at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Davis_(soldier).

Photos & Illustrations

You’ll discover a number of musical scores in the “Poems & Songs” category on GenealogyBank’s search results page, and there are others in the “Photos & Illustrations” category. By examining these, I found a promising lead from 1910 that was reprinted three years later, in 1913.

Historical Music Sheet Tab in Historical Newspapers Genealogy Bank

This sheet tab reference isn’t actually from the “Yankee Doodle” song itself, but instead a composition called “The Boys That Fight the Flames” by George M. Cohen. He composed it as part of his play, Fifty Miles from Boston.

Forgotten Old Songs

The “Photos & Illustrations” category is also a wonderful place to find musical scores of forgotten pieces. Although not familiar with “Life’s a Bumper,” I might try playing this song on my piano.

Bellows Falls Gazette (Bellows Falls, Vermont), 14 December 1839, page 1

Bellows Falls Gazette (Bellows Falls, Vermont), 14 December 1839, page 1

Search Tips for Finding Old Music

This blog post is just the tip of the iceberg on musical discoveries found in newspapers. Try these steps and be sure to share your own tips for researching the music of our ancestors in old newspapers.

  • Do a general search for a song title
  • Sort by Best Matches, Oldest Items or Newest Items
  • Narrow by the category “Poems & Songs”
  • Experiment with other categories, such as “Photos & Illustrations”
  • Repeat the previous steps by adding keywords, such as “origins” or a composer’s name

Related Music Articles:

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Meanings of Family Surnames: Exploring Origins of Last Names

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary discusses the origins and meanings of various family surnames, and shows how including the origins of your family surnames in your genealogy research may reveal intriguing clues about your ancestry.

Ever wonder about the origin of your family surname? If so, you are not alone.

Many people would like to learn about their family surname, but don’t know where to look for more information. Fortunately, historical and modern newspapers frequently have articles about last names. Look for these articles in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Crispin’s French Origins

Many newspaper articles discuss the meaning of specific surnames, such as this 1871 piece on the surname Crispin. The patron saint of shoemakers was St. Crispin, which is derived from the French term “crepin,” which means a shoemaker’s last (mechanical form in the shape of a foot). (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last.)

article about the family surname Crispin, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 8 September 1871

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 8 September 1871, page 4

Other historical newspaper articles discuss the etymology or nomenclature of surnames, which is the study of their origins. Where did particular names come from? How were they assigned? Is there a special meaning behind them? All of these are interesting components for your genealogical research and can lead to a deeper understanding of your familial roots.

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The First English Surnames

This 1893 newspaper article reports that the first English surname was adopted in the reign of King Edward the Confessor of England, who ruled between 1042 and 1066. If correct, this first surname was probably for a nobleman and most likely established to carry on hereditary rights (titles, and later property).

article about various firsts in history, Bay City Times newspaper article 30 June 1893

Bay City Times (Bay City, Michigan), 30 June 1893, page 1

This 1823 newspaper article also reports that surnames were first adopted in the 11th century in England, and “for the distinction of families in which they were to continue hereditary.”

The old news article notes that the term “surname” came not from the word “sire,” but from a French concept indicating a super-addendum (or additional name added to one’s religious or Christian name). Of course, surnames weren’t just required for Christians, but for every culture and religion.

Origin of Surnames, Rhode-Island American newspaper article 4 November 1823

Rhode-Island American (Providence, Rhode Island), 4 November 1823, page 1

Patronymics and Matronymics

As human populations grew, there needed to be a system to identify individuals. Each country chose their own method, and within a society, a religious group or individualized group, some might have chosen their own unique system.

One early naming identification method was to associate a son’s surname with a father’s first name, and a daughter’s with her mother’s.

This is known as patronymics and matronymics, and if you ever come across a person with just one name, this is called mononymics (usually associated with rulers or famous individuals). See Wikipedia’s article on patronymics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patronymic.

A Look at Surnames around the World

Depending upon cultural customs, a specific spelling or pattern for the name was designated.

In most cases the surname was modified, but in some cases the name was constructed differently. In some parts of Asia for example, the surname is given first, rather than last—and in other places, another word is inserted to indicate the family relationship.

Hebrew: One culture where you will find examples of this practice of word insertion in names is with the Jews. Hebrew names are often expressed with the use of “ben,” meaning son of, or with “bint,” meaning daughter of.

article about Jewish surnames, Rhode-Island American newspaper article 4 November 1823

Rhode-Island American (Providence, Rhode Island), 4 November 1823, page 1

Ireland: Watch for names such as Fitzgerald—the “fitz” indicates that someone was the son of Gerald. According to Behind the Name’s website, this particular surname came from the Anglo-Norman French and was introduced to Ireland at the time of William the Conqueror. See http://surnames.behindthename.com/name/fitzgerald.

Netherlands: Dutch patronymics can carry on for several generations. The Dutch Wikipedia explanation is that a “Willem Peter Adriaan Jan Verschuren would be Willem, son of Peter, son of Adriaan, son of Jan Verschuren.” See Dutch surnames at http://surnames.behindthename.com/names/usage/dutch.

Poland: A common way to express a son’s last name is by the use of “wicz” at the end. Correspondingly, “ówna” or “’anka” may be used for an unmarried daughter, and “owa” or “’ina” for a married woman or widow.

Wikipedia’s article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_name gives the example of a man with the last name of Nowak. His unmarried daughter would use Nowakówna and his wife or widow would use Nowakowa.

If you encounter a name ending in “ski,” the person is a male. If you see “ska” at the end, the person is female. There are many other variations, including “wicz,” “owicz,” “ewicz,” and “ycz” which can be added to a name, along with diminutives (similar to calling someone “little” as a pet name). See About.com’s article at http://genealogy.about.com/cs/surname/a/polish_surnames.htm for more examples.

Scandinavia: “Son” or “dotter” or “dottir” is a common addition for boys and girls names, and there are slight spelling variations from country to country. Although most of Scandinavia no longer practices patronymics, you may still see it in Iceland.

Examples: a daughter of a man named Sven might use the surname Svensdottir, and Leif Ericson, the famous Norse explorer, has a name that identifies him as the son of an Eric (Erik the Red.) See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leif_Erikson.

Naming People in Norway, National Advocate newspaper article 28 November 1828

National Advocate (New York, New York) 28 November 1828, page 2

Spain/Portugal: Although it doesn’t mean son, “ez” (Spain) and “es” (Portugal) are used to indicate males, such as with the names Gonzales or Hernandez. See the article on Spanish patronymics at http://spanishlinguist.us/2013/08/spanish-patronymics/.

Wales: Over time, there have been several variations of name usage in Wales. Sometimes you’ll find that the surnames of children were an unmodified version of the father’s name. A son Rees might be named James Rees. Another option related to the terms “ap” (son of) or “verch/ferch” (daughter of). The name Madog ap Rhys would be interpreted as Madog, the son of Rhys, and Maredudd ferch Rhys would be Maredudd, the daughter of Rhys.

To complicate matters, a name might indicate if a woman were the first or second wife of a man, or a widow.

For an in-depth explanation, see Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn’s article “Women’s Names in the First Half of 16th Century Wales (with particular attention to the surnames of married women)” at www.s-gabriel.org/names/tangwystyl/welshWomen16/.

These are just some of the many types of matronyms and patronyms that you might find while researching your ancestry, so be sure to investigate your ancestral countries further.

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Naming by Association (towns, physical attributes, etc.)

We can thank the practice of taxation for other methods of assigning surnames, some of which are attributed to the English poll taxes of 1377, 1379 and 1381.

See “The English Poll Taxes, 1377-1381” by George Redmonds, 28 March 2002, published online by American Ancestors.org at www.americanancestors.org/the-english-poll-taxes-1377-1381/.

In order to keep track of who owed what taxes, names were recorded on the tax rolls in a variety of ways. Some people were associated with their villages, others by trades or occupations, and others by distinguishing features or attributes such as a very tall, or blind, man.

Most Common Surnames by Country

If you are stuck on the origins of your last name, consider the commonality of names in specific places.

Most of us are aware that Smith and Jones are among the most familiar U.S. surnames, but what about other countries?

Wikipedia’s article List of the Most Common Surnames in Europe has an interesting list, some of which I’ve included below. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_most_common_surnames_in_Europe.

  • Belgium: Peeters (meaning the rock, similar to Petros, Peterson, Peters, Perez)
  • England: Smith (a tradesman)
  • France: Martin
  • Germany: Miller
  • Greece: Nagy (meaning great) or Papadopoulos
  • Ireland: Murphy or Of Murchadh (a personal name meaning descendant of Murchadh or “sea hound/warrior”)
  • Italy: Rossi and Russo (red-haired)
  • Luxembourg: Schmit (blacksmith, metal worker, equivalent to Smith)
  • Netherlands: De Jong (equivalent of Young)
  • Northern Ireland: Wilson
  • Norway: Hansen (son of Hans)
  • Poland: Nowak (meaning new man)
  • Scotland: Smith
  • Spain: Garcia (means brave in battle)
  • Sweden: Anderssen (son of Anders)
  • Wales: Jones (of Medieval English origins, derived from the given name John, which in turn is derived from the Hebrew name Yochanan/Johanan)

Genealogical Facts a Surname Might Reveal

Be sure to include the origins of your family surnames in your genealogy research, as they may reveal intriguing clues about your ancestry:

  • Country of origin or hometown
  • Occupation
  • Parentage
  • Physical and mental attributes
  • Religion

An example in my own research is the surname Exton. This family came to America from Euxton, England, an obvious spelling variation. And my maiden name, Harrell, has Norman-French origins. Although a legend, Madame Marie Harel or Harrell is thought to have been the creator of Camembert Cheese in 1791. This is a family favorite of ours today, so perhaps there is a connection!

Genealogy Tip: don’t forget to consider spelling variations in your surname research. My earlier blog article Ancestral Name Searches: 4 Tips for Tracing Surname Spellings provides some examples of how names change over time.

Resources for Researching Surnames

Related Family Surname Research Articles

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