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.

Genealogy Conferences, Such as RootsTech: What to Expect

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary – who has attended many genealogy conferences – provides some tips to prepare for and enjoy the next genealogy conference you attend.

Are you planning on attending the upcoming RootsTech genealogy conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, 3-6 February, 2016? Or perhaps another genealogy conference later this year? If so, this article provides some tips to help you get the most out of whatever family history conference you attend.

Photo: RootsTech genealogy conference

Source: RootsTech.org

There are a few pilgrimages diligent genealogists take. Among them are:

  • Visiting cemeteries
  • Touring ancestral homelands
  • Researching at renowned libraries
  • Researching at state and national archives
  • Attending national genealogy conferences

All of these are exciting options, but the last choice is high on my list. Genealogy conferences are always exciting to attend. My experience is that they leave me refreshed and enthused about tackling portions of my family tree that need to be addressed.

If you’ve never attended a genealogy conference, this list is typical of what you can expect:


Register early, so that you can take advantage of early bird discounts. Information may be sent electronically or in the mail. Hotels may fill too, so if you wish to find one in close proximity do not delay. Many attendees reserve rooms a year in advance. They also reserve special events, such as dinners and classes.


Once you have arrived, get in the appropriate line to register. You’ll be given a name tag or other ID to get you into the event and exhibits. Some provide a holder and strap so it will hang around your neck.

Name Tags

If you subscribe to, or are a member of, a well-known genealogy organization, you may be given labels to attach to your credentials. Don’t be surprised to see people adorned with a half dozen or so examples of genealogical bling (i.e., things to attach to the name tag).

The Keynote Speech

The opening gathering will feature one or more keynote speakers. This is where you’ll hear first hand what’s on the mind of the great minds.

Not every keynote speaker will be a genealogist – but expect someone prominent. It may be a historian, CEO or renowned author. Sometimes there will be more than one, so arrive early to get a good seat. Sometimes you will be treated to exciting announcements and information about the latest trends affecting family history research.


Most national conferences offer a syllabus. It may be printed, recorded on a DVD or thumb drive, or downloadable in advance. If you are fortunate to receive it in advance, do your homework so that you can decide which presentations you wish to attend.

Speakers are required to create their handouts well in advance, but occasionally there will be changes. Be prepared to take notes and gather any additional materials within each setting.


This is where you’ll have to make some tough decisions. Smaller conferences may require you preregister for a presentation, but larger ones generally do not. The more popular speakers will be placed in the larger rooms. Many fill up and doors may be closed promptly once they reach standing-room-only capacity, so do not be late.

Regional Considerations

Some conventions follow themes. Others offer in-depth looks at regional issues, which is a real boon if held in an area of ancestral interest.


To come up to speed on a special topic, look for a class. Some are elementary and others are at the advanced levels.

Generally, classes are taught by accredited or certified genealogists who are at the top of their field. Some may charge for classes and most require preregistration. My recommendation is that the price is generally worth it if you want to become knowledgeable in a topic.

Families, Languages and Ethnic Considerations

Some conferences are limited to specific age groups, but a growing trend is to include family-friendly days. Genealogy is also becoming more diversified, so don’t be surprised to see programs with a multicultural approach or even in a foreign language.

Entertainment, Tours, Parties and Dinners

Entertainment and tours of local venues may be offered. I’ve been treated to choirs, scanning demonstrations and tours of industry headquarters. These can be a highlight of your event.

Not everyone will be invited to invitation-only parties. However, if you are an officer of a prominent organization or well known in your field, you may receive an invite – so pack proper attire.

During the day, there will be a limited amount of food for purchase in the exhibit halls. A nicer option would be to attend a banquet or dinner with a speaker program. Reservations will be required, as well as advanced fees. Many sell out early, as attendees tend to find these enjoyable.

Vendor Exhibits

One of the most fun places in a conference is the exhibit hall.

Here is where you will network with known and unknown companies, watch sales demonstrations, learn about the newest and greatest innovations, enter drawings for freebies, and purchase books and other materials.

You never know whom you’ll run into on the floor. You might just meet one of your favorite bloggers, an interesting author, or the CEO of a well-known genealogy company.

Closing Presentation

Due to flight schedules and long drives home, many elect to miss the closing ceremony – but if possible, stay to the very end. There are often interesting recaps and information that was not shared earlier. And don’t forget to go back into the conference hall. Vendors may not wish to take everything back with them!

Conference Tips

  • Take comfortable walking shoes. The exhibit hall may be hard concrete and you can expect to walk long distances between presentations.
  • Wear a backpack or carry a durable tote bag.
  • A notepad & pencil, tablet or laptop is essential for taking notes. A thumb drive, smart phone or camera may also be useful.
  • Some attendees will pull a roller board behind them to accommodate all of the materials.
  • Even if you are not connected with an organization, personal business cards are handy to exchange info or to use in a drawing.
  • Take along a snack and water bottle. Food choices may be limited and the fast food lines may be long.
  • If you are attending a winter conference, there may be a checkroom for coats and other items.
  • WIFI may be available, but if everyone is online at the same time, you may have issues.
  • Some venues offer shipping services. This is a great idea to keep your luggage manageable.

Can’t Make the Conference?

Many genealogy conferences allow family historians to attend sessions virtually via a home computer – and if they are recorded, many sessions are available for purchase. It’s always great to revisit a favorite presentation or review a class you weren’t able to attend in person.

Are You Attending the RootsTech Genealogy Conference?

GenealogyBank is helping to sponsor the upcoming RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, 3-6 February, 2016. If you’re attending, come visit us at booth #523 to discuss genealogy in general, or any specific questions you have about your own family history research.

For more information about RootsTech, visit the website at: http://www.rootstech.org/?lang=eng

Related RootsTech Article:

20 New Years’ Resolutions for Genealogy

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary – with tongue firmly in cheek – presents 20 New Year’s resolutions for genealogists as we head into 2016.

As we head from 2015 to 2016, remember to quickly document 2015, as it is now your past.

Illustration: cartoon showing an infant representing “New Year 1905” chasing “Old Man 1904” into history

Illustration: cartoon showing an infant representing “New Year 1905” chasing “Old Man 1904” into history. Credit: John T. McCutcheon; Wikimedia Commons.

But seriously, when asked by GenealogyBank for some timely genealogy resolutions for the New Year, my serious side left the building. Wouldn’t it be fun to use these resolutions!

  • Locate deceased relatives in order to figure out which ancestor is haunting the family house – or better yet, invite one to become the family ghost and leave you clues.
  • Resolve to donate a black sheep to the local petting zoo. Family historians will understand the innuendo.
  • Resolve to never purchase a house with a real brick wall. It’s very unlucky when trying to solve the family puzzles.
  • Add a genealogically oriented cornerstone to your home. Include the pertinent data as to the family name, its pronunciation, when you moved there, etc.
  • Find birth records to make genealogy quilts for family members with the names of your ancestors and their countries of origin.
  • Resolve to only donate to politicians who have supported funding for genealogy and historical preservation. While you’re at it, search military records to see which of your ancestors served this country.
  • Threaten to disinherit the family down-at-the-mouthers when they sneer at your genealogy.
  • Write your own glowing obituary – then add a clause to your will disinheriting anyone who dares replace it with another version.
  • Read newspaper archives and historical documents to create a genealogy quiz for the executor to distribute at the reading of your will. Anyone who can’t answer questions, such as “which ancestor built the house on 7th Street” or “what was Grandma’s maiden name” has to retake it until they get an A. Leave a bonus to the top scorer, along with all your family research material and a stipend to preserve it.
  • Create birth, marriage and death announcements for ancestors who missed out on having them.
  • If you hear a relative sneer with “blah, blah, blah” to your latest genealogy find, respond with: “thanks, I think I’ll ‘blog, blog, blog’ about your disinterest, so it will be out there when you finally get interested.”
  • Record the GPS coordinates of the family headstones and present the data to disinterested relatives. Make sure you take their photos to record their “Oh gee thanks” expressions!
  • Use historical books to find your living family’s doppelgangers (ancestor look-alikes) and frame their images in side-by-side frames.
  • In order to hook your grandchildren on genealogy, search family names to figure out how they are related to their favorite pop stars.
  • Create your multi-generational family tree and engrave it into your headstone! (No joke. Some genealogists have already thought of this.)
  • Engrave your headstone with a statement noting your better qualities. (“Loving mother, or grandmother, genealogy diva & the family favorite”)
  • Persuade your local library board to provide special parking places for family history researchers.
  • Petition your state legislature for vanity license plates that grant free & convenient parking for genealogists at all state and national archives.
  • Hire handwriting experts to determine just who mislabeled the family photos. If it turns out it was a living relative, label this person’s really bad photos accurately.
  • Lastly, to complete the family DNA tests – resolve to do it surreptitiously during a family get-together. Here’s how: cover your desserts and say “Everyone. Open your mouth and close your eyes, so you can have a little surprise.” Instead of inserting a tasty bite, take a cheek swab.

Remember: all New Year’s resolutions go in one year and out the other! Make this one a safe one!

Newspaper Archives of Grandma & Grandpa’s Tips from 100 Years Ago

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary searches old newspapers for glimpses into the lives our ancestors lived 100 years ago.

Sometimes advice columnists and Grandma & Grandpa knew best, but not always. So as we say goodbye to 2015, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at life 100 years ago through newspaper archives. You can be the judge as to whether this advice from 1915 still holds true today.

On Children

Turn children loose, as the following newspaper article suggests, because “we are all born wild and in the civilizing process have to be tamed more or less.” The article explains:

Turn them loose and let them live wild – climb trees, jump fences, chase squirrels, play with the dogs, dig in the garden, pick flowers, hop, skip and jump, and do all sorts of things that a natural human animal wants to do.

Sounds like reasonable advice, even by today’s standards.

article offering parental advice, Springfield Daily News newspaper article 29 December 1915

Springfield Daily News (Springfield, Massachusetts), 29 December 1915, page 4

Mrs. T. S. Thomas of Boston, Massachusetts, wanted advice on a tooth paste suitable for children and she was told to make a paste of chalk and orri root with a little teaberry flavoring.

recipe for tooth paste, Boston Journal newspaper article 25 September 1915

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 September 1915, page 9

Some lucky parents, such as those in Colorado Springs, Colorado, lived where there were dental clinics for children.

article about a children's dental clinic, Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper article 21 February 1915

Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado), 21 February 1915, page 29

On Corsets

Do girls of today know what a corset is, much less how constricting and uncomfortable they are? Often advertised in 1915 as free-breathing and welcoming to women, in truth they were quite uncomfortable.

ad for corsets, Trenton Evening Times newspaper advertisement 11 January 1915

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 11 January 1915, page 10

Edna Kent Forbes wrote in her “Beauty Chats” column that “if we had perfectly developed bodies…the best advice would be never to put ourselves into these harnesses” – but, if lacking bodily perfection, she recommends exercise.

article providing beauty tips, Boston Journal newspaper article 25 September 1915

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 September 1915, page 9

On Driving

Henry Ford really did change the world. Roadsters and racing cars were very much in vogue in 1915.

article about car racing, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 28 June 1915

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 28 June 1915, page 10

However, there were issues caused by the introduction of automobiles: lack of consistent driving rules for one, and tires that had to maneuver over rough surfaces. This newspaper article advises that if you ever come across some broken stone while driving, you might want to “take a short run at it – not too fast – and let the car coast over the stone with the clutch out.” This approach “adds just a little more to the life of the tires.”

article providing driving tips, Times-Picayune newspaper article 27 December 1915

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 27 December 1915, page 11

On Hair Care

Ah, the fortunes spent on hair care! In 1915, you could take care of ugly hairy growths on your skin by making a paste of water with powdered delatone. Apparently there were knockoffs sold which should be avoided. This newspaper article suggests: “You will not be disappointed with this treatment, providing you get real delatone.”

article about delatone, Flint Journal newspaper article 21 October 1915

Flint Journal (Flint, Michigan), 21 October 1915, page 6

If your hair was falling out, you were encouraged to avoid dandruff which caused hair roots to shrink and loosen. The cure was to purchase a “25-cent bottle of Danderine at any drug store, pour a little in your hand and rub well into the scalp.”

article about Danderine, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 5 February 1915

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 5 February 1915, page 18

Danderine was the basis for a lethal chemical formulation also known as Spanish Fly. See: http://comstockhousehistory.blogspot.com/2009/06/danderine-heavy-price-of-lustrous-hair.html

Also visit the National Museum of American History website at: http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_716473

If you didn’t like the color of your hair, you could always try sage tea dandy which was great for grey and lackluster hair, according to this next newspaper article.

Can’t imagine trying it though. One has to wonder if sage was enough to mask the sulphur stench, much less protect one from scalp damage or a lethal fire.

article about sage tea, Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper article 4 February 1915

Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado), 4 February 1915, page 6

On Tipping

Mary O’Connor Newell wrote an interesting advice article in 1915 on getting good tips. She felt that women guests should be showered with attention because: “if they tip at all, they tip handsomely.” In addition, “never neglect a tightwad because he is a tightwad. Shame him with faultless service.” You might also do well to assist newlyweds because “newly wed men love to make a splurge before their wives.”

article about tipping, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 18 April 1915

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 18 April 1915, page 2

On Women Who Earn More than Their Husbands

Columnist Peggy Quincy wrote: “My advice to Mrs. S. A. I., who is earning more than her husband, is to stop earning, at once.”

article about women earning pay, Boston Journal newspaper article 31 December 1915

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 31 December 1915, page 7

Should men and women of today be thankful they weren’t alive in 1915? Wonder how our descendants in 2115will feel about us when they look back at newspaper articles detailing life in 2015?

A Tale of 4 Early Obituaries: Are You Missing Their Clues?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary shows how small references and brief mentions in obituaries can provide clues to help your family history research.

Obituaries are the stalwart basis for genealogy research – but many family historians miss clues that are crying out for follow-up searches. Let’s look at some early obituaries from GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and see what lessons we can learn from them.

Genealogy Tip: When you find an obituary, read it differently to uncover its clues.

Instead of just focusing on names and dates, look for associations – such as locations and organizations. Take what you observe and use it in follow-up queries.

Take for example this 19th century obituary – really just a trio of early American death notices. It’s fairly typical for the time period, when a person’s entire existence seemed to be summarized in 1-3 lines.

This obituary briefly mentions:

  • the Shepards (Julia Ann and T. W.)
  • Abel Chapin
  • the Taylors (James and his wife)

But there’s more to uncover for each one of the deceased listed here.

death notices, Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 19 October 1831

Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 19 October 1831, page 3

#1 Julia Ann Shepard

Julia Ann Shepard’s young passing was at one year old. We learn the location where she died and her father’s name, albeit abbreviated.

Starting with Findagrave, a search located her at memorial #89027833.

Her Findagrave page had a small date error reporting that she passed in December rather than on October 15. So I did what many colleagues do, and sent the correction with a reason why the information was incorrect. It is now noted on the record.

#2 T. W. Shepard

I thought Julia Ann’s father might be Thomas W. Shepard. A search for Thomas or Thomas W. Shepard located little in GenealogyBank, so I resorted to the biggest clue of all: how he was named in the daughter’s death notice.

Turns out T. W. really did go by just his initials. This search found him.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box showing a search for T. W. Shepard

Source: GenealogyBank

He turned out to be an interesting fellow.

Among his many accomplishments was the inspiration for the New England Farmer and Horticultural Journal, published from 1822-1846.

article about T. W. Shepard founding the "New England Farmer" journal, Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 22 May 1822

Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 22 May 1822, page 2

This journal is mentioned repeatedly in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. As one of the earliest agricultural journals, it provides researchers with unparalleled insight into 19th century New England agriculture.

Another tidbit I unearthed about T. W. in the newspaper archives pertains to his religion. In 1821, he assisted in the publication of a sermon called “The Guilt and Danger of Religious Error.”

article about a sermon delivered by Rev. Joseph Lyman, Hampden Patriot newspaper article 12 December 1821

Hampden Patriot (Springfield, Massachusetts), 12 December 1821, page 4

What I wasn’t able to locate was T. W. Shepard’s obituary. Perhaps one of our readers will be able to find it.

#3 Col. Abel Chapin

The most intriguing information about Col. Abel Chapin is his rank. Can GenealogyBank confirm his military rank and let us know more about him?

A 1954 report from the Daughters of the American Revolution in GenealogyBank’s Historical Documents section reports that he served in Charles Chapin’s regiment in Ticonderoga, New York, during the American Revolutionary War.

a report of Revolutionary War soldiers' graves in Massachusetts produced by the Daughters of the American Revolution

Source: GenealogyBank

His Findagrave memorial notes that he was also in the War of 1812 and Shay’s Rebellion.

Old Massachusetts newspapers are sprinkled with various tidbits about Col. Abel Chapin. One fact I found amusing concerned his oxen. His largest ox weighed 3,028 pounds!

article about Col. Abel Chapin and his oxen, Boston Commercial Gazette newspaper article 24 September 1821

Boston Commercial Gazette (Boston, Massachusetts), 24 September 1821, page 2

According to a Google search quoting Tiller’s International: “Depending on the breed, an ox can weigh anywhere from about 500 to 3,000 pounds,” so Chapin’s ox was a mighty large animal – even by today’s standards.

#4 Rev. James Taylor and wife

According to the death notice, the Rev. James Taylor and his unnamed wife died within five days of each other, on 11October and 16 October, 1831.

However, curiosity makes one wonder if the close proximity of their deaths was a coincidence? Did she die of a broken heart or was there another cause?

Their online Findagrave memorials at Riverside Cemetery report her name was Elizabeth Terry and they both died of typhoid fever. A quick check of similar obituaries shows that typhus was prevalent in the area during this time period.

Findagrave memorial for Rev. James Taylor

Source: Findagrave

I noticed that their Findagrave memorial does not show the exact date of death, so I submitted a correction which will hopefully be addressed.

Searching in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives produced a few more items about this family, such as this report of a church service in which Rev. Taylor gave the sermon.

article about the installation of Rev. Joel Wright, Weekly Messenger newspaper article 25 October 1821

Weekly Messenger (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 October 1821, page 4

In some newspaper articles he was referred to as James Taylor, but others simply referred to him by his initials. Several newspaper notices report that he officiated at other ordinations.

I even found an 1807 newspaper article about his own ordination. How cool is that!

article about the ordination of Rev. James Taylor, Vermont Precursor newspaper article 7 August 1807

Vermont Precursor (Montpelier, Vermont), 7 August 1807, page 3

So there you have it: a virtual tale of four obituary discoveries, starting with the briefest of mentions in a death notice that led to follow-up searches uncovering more of their stories. Please share in the comments section how obituary clues have led you to other genealogical discoveries.

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

Related Obituary Articles:

Days of Thanksgiving Celebrated by Our Ancestors

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary searches old newspapers to learn more about Days of Thanksgiving that have been proclaimed throughout American history.

While planning Thanksgiving celebrations, most of us dream of the bountiful feast set upon our tables: turkey, corn, mashed potatoes, pie and all of those other goodies made for the day.

We do this to commemorate the first successful harvest of the Mayflower passengers and the Wampanoag Indians at the Plymouth Plantation in 1621.

Painting: “The First Thanksgiving,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Painting: “The First Thanksgiving,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, c. 1912-1915. Credit: U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

That first Thanksgiving celebration lasted three days. The Wampanoags brought five deer as gifts, which were consumed along with other food that has never been documented.

1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation

Much has been written about Thanksgiving, including President George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation on 3 October 1789, given in response to a request by Congress. Since few have ever read it, I searched GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to find the proclamation as it was printed in the newspapers of that time.

In three paragraphs, President Washington proclaimed “a day of public Thanksgiving and Prayer” to take place on November 26.

article about President George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 14 October 1789article about President George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 14 October 1789

article about President George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 14 October 1789

Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 14 October 1789, page 3

First Mention of Thanksgiving in a Newspaper?

I was curious about the first mention of Thanksgiving in a newspaper prior to Washington’s proclamation.

Would you be surprised to learn it occurred in the earliest newspaper to be published in our country: Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestik?

Richard Pierce of Boston had great hopes for this publication, but it was shut down by the authorities after the initial printing on 25 September 1690. Luckily the full copy of this first American newspaper can be found in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

The article reports:

The Christianized Indians in some parts of Plimouth, have newly appointed a day of Thanksgiving to God for his Mercy in supplying their extream and pinching Necessities under their late want of Corn, & for His giving them now a prospect of a very Comfortable Harvest. Their Example may be worth Mentioning.

article about Indians in Plymouth, Massachusetts, celebrating Thanksgiving, Public Occurrences newspaper article 25 September 1690

Public Occurrences (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 September 1690, page 1

Other Thanksgiving Proclamations

Ordinary subjects of Colonial America were not allowed to decide when to set aside a day of Thanksgiving. Magistrates and other leaders – such as Joseph Dudley, Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay – issued proclamations stating the reasons and guidelines for special days of Thanksgiving.

This 1704 Thanksgiving Proclamation was to celebrate “Victory over their Enemies in the Summer past,” referring to England’s victories in the War of the Spanish Succession. In his order declaring 23 November 1704 a “Day of General Thanksgiving throughout this Province,” the governor prohibited “all Servile Labour” on that special day, exhorting everyone:

to Celebrate the Praises of GOD, for all His Benefits and Blessings, And to devote themselves [to] a Thank-Offering to Him in a right Ordered Conversation.

an article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 13 November 1704

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 November 1704, page 2

Day of Fasting and Prayer

One of the more intriguing early proclamations is this one, in part concerning captives taken from Deerfield, Massachusetts, in a 1704 raid by French and Native American forces. The attackers killed 44 Deerfield villagers and 12 of their militia defenders, and 112 settlers were taken as captives to Canada.

Since calling for a day of thanks would be inappropriate on this occasion, Governor Dudley called for “a day of Publick FASTING and PRAYER” to appease God in hopes of gaining “Remission of our great and manifold Sins that have justly displeased God” and caused the settlers’ misfortune.

In his proclamation, Governor Dudley expressed hope that the day of fasting and prayer would grant them their most fervent wishes:

The Designs of the barbarous Savages against us defeated; Our exposed Plantations preserved; And the poor Christian Captives in their hands, returned.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Fasting and Prayer, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 5 February 1705

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 February 1705, page 1

Day of Thanksgiving for the Captives’ Return

By the end of 1706, many of the captives had been “redeemed” (recovered by the English, either through paying ransom or via prisoner exchanges). This newspaper report of January 1707 notes:

The People of this County are fill’d with Joy, for the Arrival of the Captives…Wednesday the 8th Currant [i.e., this month] was a Day of Thanksgiving there [Deerfield], to Praise GOD for His great Goodness.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 20 January 1707

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 20 January 1707, page 4

I am entirely grateful for the captives’ return, as among them were members of my Belden, Burt and Foote families. Click here to see a list of the Deerfield captives of 1704.

Other Days of Thanksgiving

While contemplating the meaning of Thanksgiving, take the time to explore early newspapers to learn more about the many days of Thanksgiving set aside for our ancestors. Here are two more examples I found.

On 20 September 1704, Governor Dudley once again celebrated English victories in the War of the Spanish Succession by announcing that October 18 would be a day of Thanksgiving because it had:

pleased Almighty God in his Great Goodness to preserve Her Majesties Sacred Person, and to prosper Her Arms in the Just War, wherein Her Majesty and Her Allies are Engaged for the preservation of the Liberties of Europe.

The Governor ordered:

That a General THANKSGIVING to Almighty God, for these His Mercies be Observed throughout this Province, within the several Towns and Districts thereof, on Thursday the Eighteenth Day of October next; and do strictly forbid all Servile Labour thereupon; Exhorting both Ministers and People to Solemnize the said Day after a Religious manner, and to offer up sincere and hearty Praises to GOD.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 1 October 1705

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 1 October 1705, page 2

In this next example, Governor Dudley on 27 December 1705 called for yet another day of Thanksgiving to celebrate English victories in the War of the Spanish Succession, this one scheduled for January 24.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 31 December 1705

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 31 December 1705, page 4

Why not take a little time during this Thanksgiving break to search the old newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to learn more about early Thanksgiving celebrations and enrich your understanding of this very special day of thanks?

Happy Thanksgiving and blessings to you and your families!

Related Thanksgiving Articles:

Family History Research: Finding Blue Ribbon Winners at the Fair

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary demonstrates an important genealogy search tip: stories about your ancestors can be found in all parts of the newspaper. Consider, for example, articles about blue ribbon contest winners at country fairs.

An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is a great resource for genealogy research. But don’t just stop at the obvious choices: birth notices, wedding announcements, and obituaries. Stories about your ancestors can be found in all parts of the newspaper. Consider, for example, articles about the local, county or state fair.

It’s the rare family that didn’t attend a country fair – and many had a family member who won a blue ribbon. Perhaps the local newspaper wrote a nice article about your ancestor when he or she won the blue ribbon at the local fair.

illustration of a blue ribbon

It may have been your Aunt Be, Uncle Mo, Cousin Shirley or Grandpa Joe. Do yourself a favor and go look for these sweet tidbits of family memorabilia. They were almost always featured in old newspapers.

When researching old newspaper articles about fairs, don’t stop at the obvious keyword searches such as: livestock, quilts, and pies. Many other fun and unusual awards were bestowed. Here are some of my picks of Americana blue ribbon awards.


Starting from a very early time, country fairs offered financial prizes for horsemanship.

In 1855 there were not enough contestants for the prize at an Illinois county fair, so the judges announced there would be no financial premium (a first place prize of $50 had been offered originally).

article about a horsemanship contest at the county fair, Daily Illinois State Register newspaper article 29 September 1855

Daily Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois), 29 September 1855, page 2

However, the judges did present two ribbons among five ladies who rode for the honors, “accompanied by their knights.” Misses Poorman, Archer, Cass and Orr, along with Mrs. Rosette, “rode around the ring many times” in front of the spectators. Miss Cass took home the blue ribbon and Miss Poorman the red.

By the early 1920s, photos accompanied the newspaper articles about ribbon winners at the fair. This one depicts Miss Katherine Kennedy Tod riding her horse Sceptre; they won the blue ribbon “in the saddle horse class ridden by boy or girl not over sixteen.”

photo of Katherine Tod on her horse Sceptre, Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper article 23 October 1921

Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado), 23 October 1921, page 42

If you search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives as well as the Web, you’ll find that Miss Tod won a number of other prizes for horsemanship in her riding career.

Blue Ribbon Babies

Who doesn’t love a baby photo!

Many babies of yesteryear were dressed in their cutest garb and taken to the fair – and entered in contests.

photo of Anna McNamara and her daughter Nancy, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper article 1 November 1921

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 1 November 1921, page 3

In 1921, Mrs. Anna McNamara displayed her two-year-old daughter Nancy at the Long Island fair.

She won for being the prettiest and healthiest of the babies out of hundreds entered – and don’t you adore the little shoes and her mama’s hat. Just an observation, but perhaps the lack of a beaming smile tells us the little girl struck too many poses that day.

Root Beer – Better than Beer

I’m sure many people from 1920 – and even today – would agree that root beer is better than beer. Becker Products won the blue ribbon at the Utah State Fair in 1920 for its root beer, and this photograph appeared in the local newspaper. This image was timely, coming as it did right before the country entered into the prohibition of liquor.

photo of the display booth for Becker Products at the Utah State Fair, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper article 10 October 1920

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 10 October 1920, page 15

Scientific American’s Flying Machines (Heavier than Air) Trophy

Although not a blue ribbon contest per se, when aviation fever hit the United States there were many prizes awarded. One was a magnificent trophy from the Scientific American valued at $2,500 that was awarded in 1907. The prestige of blue ribbon trophies was echoed in this article’s text:

The trophy is valued at $2,500 and its beauty at once brings to the lips the words “Blue Ribbon of the Air.”

article about an aviation trophy offered by Scientific American, Plain Dealer newspaper article 7 September 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 7 September 1907, page 2

It’s thought that these prizes spurred the rapid advancement of air travel in the United States. If this is one of your interests, go look for more details in the old newspapers. There are many lovely reports, including the names of winners.

Bicycle Races

Aviation wasn’t the only transportation method of contests.

In 1901, Bobbie Walthour of Atlanta, Georgia, won a six-day bicycle race that ended at Park Square Garden. Once again, the prestige of blue ribbon trophies was echoed in this article’s text:

Hardly a foot separated Stinson from the leader [Walthour], and these two demonstrated beyond question that they were far superior to even the redoubtable foreigners who came to America for the purpose of winning these blue ribbon events of the indoor season.

article about a bicycle race, Boston Herald newspaper article 6 January 1901

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 6 January 1901, page 1

Needlework and Quilts

Let’s not forget blue ribbon quilts and needlework. Notice that in 1936, there were dozens and dozens of winners reported in this Texas newspaper. A special “Quilt of States” drew merited attention. It was constructed with blocks embroidered in state flowers with the colors and shields of each location.

Let’s hope this quilt has been lovingly preserved somewhere.

Exhibition of Needlework Is Good, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 6 December 1936

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 6 December 1936, page 14

As part of your family history research in old newspapers, include searches for articles about blue ribbon contests and award winners at country fairs. You just might discover a story about your ancestor that you won’t find in any government record, vital statistics archive, or other genealogy resource.

Have you found a blue ribbon winner in your family tree? If so, please let us know in the comments section.

Related Articles:

Is There a Pirate in Your Family Tree?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary searches old newspapers to learn more about pirates – their legends, and their true stories.

As long as there have been newspapers, there have been stories published about pirates. You can certainly find lots of them in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Search Tip: Use these search terms to find pirate stories in the old newspapers: buccaneer, buried treasure, corsair, freebooter, marauder, raiders and privateer.

illustration of a pirate

Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division: LC-H824-T01-240

So avast ye family historians – is there a pirate in your family tree? Some of the stories I found in old newspapers will shiver ye timbers. Read on if you want to know more about this spine-tingling topic.

Pirate John Quelch (1666-1704)

Private ship owners were often commissioned to make reprisals or gain reparations for the British crown. They were called “privateers.” When they seized an enemy ship it was called a “prize” and all was perfectly legal. Proceeds were split, so it was a lucrative undertaking. But not all excursions went well.

Ponder Captain Daniel Plowman’s story. In 1703 he was commissioned a privateer by Governor Joseph Dudley, who happens to be one of my ancestors. His ship the Charles was authorized to attack French and Spanish ships off the coast of Newfoundland and Arcadia, but his crew soon mutinied and murdered him. See Wikipedia’s article about Quelch.

John Quelch, Plowman’s lieutenant, was elected leader and turned the Charles south to plunder Portuguese ships off the Brazilian coast. Legend has it that some of the pirates’ captured gold was later buried on New Hampshire’s Star Island. After looting and plundering for ten months, they returned to Marblehead, Massachusetts, where some of them were captured. Quelch and five others were executed and the rest put in jail. After languishing for 13 months, a pardon was granted to Charles James, William Wilder, John Dorrothy, John Pittman, John Carter, Dennis Carter and Charles King. Perhaps one of them is your ancestor.

article about the pardoning of some members of pirate John Quelch's crew, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 23 July 1705

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 23 July 1705, page 2

Pirate Narratives

Encounters with pirates were the tabloid sensations of yesteryear.

This gripping report describes actions with a pirate schooner, chases and even how a brig was “much cut up with musquetry.” During one encounter the captain was burned from a gun powder explosion but survived, with the fight leaving several pirates dead on the ship’s deck.

stories about pirates, Hallowell Gazette newspaper article 12 June 1822

Hallowell Gazette (Hallowell, Maine), 12 June 1822, page 2

Obituaries That Mention Pirates

Pirate encounters often followed men to their death by appearing in their obituaries.

James MacAlpine, who passed away in 1775, had been “taken by a French Pirate and carried into Rattan, where he lived six weeks entirely upon turtle…” Interestingly, this forced diet cured him of consumption which earlier had nearly killed him.

obituary for James MacAlpine, Pennsylvania Ledger newspaper article 1 April 1775

Pennsylvania Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 1 April 1775, page 2

This next obit from 1789 for Captain Luke Ryan reports that his ship Black Privateer had “captured more vessels belonging to Great Britain than any other single ship during the war.”

After being captured in 1781, Ryan was tried as a pirate and thrown into the Old Bailey prison. Although condemned to be executed on four different occasions, each time he was reprieved – though he ended up dying in prison.

obituary for pirate Luke Ryan, Massachusetts Centinel newspaper article 7 October 1789

Massachusetts Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 7 October 1789, page 26

Famous Pirates

Ever wonder if legendary pirates were real? Even if they stretch the truth, some of the anecdotal articles you can find in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives are marvelous.

For example, there is this 1789 account of one of Blackbeard’s legends. After a swordfight that went “pell mell,” Blackbeard supposedly “received a severe stroke on the shoulder” from a lieutenant from a “British ship of war” who had challenged the old pirate to single combat. “Hah, cried he, that’s well struck brother soldier!” A stronger blow followed that “severed his black head from his shoulders.” The old newspaper article reports that Blackbeard’s head was then boiled and a drinking cup made out of his skull. The cup was presented to a “keeper of a publick house, as a cup to drink punch out of.”

article about the pirate Blackbeard, Massachusetts Centinel newspaper article 26 August 1789

Massachusetts Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 26 August 1789, page 186

Believe It or Not

The depth of one’s imagination often runs wild when it comes to the subject of pirates.

In 1820 a man identified only as J— D— passed away, supposedly at the age of 103. He claimed to have been one of the crew of the “old noted pirate” Captain Kidd. Since Captain William Kidd (1645-1701) died 119 years earlier, it’s apparent that this claim merely came from JD’s vivid imagination.

obituaries, Concord Observer newspaper article 17 January 1820

Concord Observer (Concord, New Hampshire), 17 January 1820, page 3

Any Pirates in Your Family History?

Please share your genealogical pirate stories in the comments section.

Civil War Genealogy: Old Letters in Newspapers & Research Resources

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary expands on her earlier article about Civil War letters published in newspapers by sharing some additional Civil War research resources and tips.

A recent GenealogyBank Blog article of mine discussed personal communications of the Civil War period (see: Civil War Newspaper Research: Personal Notices & Letters). Desperate families crossed enemy lines, sent letters via flags of truce, or – more safely – exchanged messages via newspapers, especially when a loved one had become a prisoner of war.

The importance of these Civil War letters published in newspapers should not be discounted, because in many cases they are the only record of a person’s experience during the war, if not their military involvement.

photo of a group of Union soldiers of Company G, 71st New York Volunteers, 1861

Photo: group of Union soldiers of Company G, 71st New York Volunteers, 1861. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Along with those old newspaper letters, there are other Civil War resources to help genealogists with their family history research. Here are some additional considerations for searching Civil War records.

Searching for Civil War Soldiers

When searching for Civil War records, the first stop for many is the National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors Database.

Many early American military records are to be found in this database. This is a wonderful resource – but as with all genealogical military databases, it’s nearly impossible for it to be complete. During periods of upheaval, many records go astray or were lost for many reasons.

What Happened to Lucien Wheatly?

One Civil War soldier I could not locate in the Soldiers and Sailors Database is Lucien Wheatly of the Sixth Regiment Cavalry.

A letter in the Richmond Enquirer reported that nothing had been heard from him since 17 December 1863. The writer, who was not fully identified, reported that Wheatly was a prisoner of war at a prison called “Scott’s Factory,” but thought he might have been sent away.

missing person ad for Union soldier Lucien Wheatly, Richmond Enquirer newspaper advertisement 30 May 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 30 May 1864, page 4

This is an extremely important citation, because it pinpoints the soldier’s last known location. However, scant information is available on this prison. The website Civil War Richmond states it existed from 1862 to 1864 and that its location has never been determined.

Whenever you cannot locate a historical place, search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. I did an archives search, and found that there are only a few clues – but this one is important: Scott’s Factory was reportedly four or five miles from Smithfield.

article about a Civil War skirmish near Smithfield, Virginia, Richmond Enquirer newspaper article 3 February 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 3 February 1864, page 3

By triangulating the references in the old newspaper article (Chuckatuck Creek, Cherry Grove & Smithfield), a diligent researcher could possibly solve the prison’s location mystery, or at least narrow the possibilities. Perhaps someone more proficient in Virginia geography could use these clues to find Scott’s Factory. Google Maps shows Chuckatuck Creek to be about 12 miles south of Smithfield, and since the Union gunboat was to “go around and meet the Yankees at Cherry Grove,” perhaps one should follow the water routes.

Follow-up Searches for Lucien Wheatly

Whenever you can’t find an ancestor you’re researching, always perform a follow-up search using alternative dates. It’s not clear if there was more than one Lucien Wheatly, but I did locate the name twice in GenealogyBank’s collections, and also in several Web references.

  • Sanitary Inspector referenced in the 1890 Congressional Directory. Lived at 921 G Street N.W. (see Serial Set Vol. No.2819; 3 December 1890, Report: S.Misc.Doc. 9)
  • Cashier at an Illinois bank in 1892 (see Daily Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois), 26 May 1892, page 6)
  • Sales Representative from Chicago in 1911 (see The Thomas Edison Papers at Rutgers)

Follow the Letter Reprints

When a letter was published in old newspapers, there was often a reference to “please copy” elsewhere. This is a good clue that the subject of the letter had connections to the place indicated. Note that the letter concerning Lucien Wheatly shown above concluded:

Any one knowing his [Wheatly’s] whereabouts will confer a great favor on his friends by addressing, by personal in the Richmond Enquirer, J. & B. D., Daily News office.

As noted in that missing person ad from 1864, the Southern newspaper Richmond Enquirer and the Northern newspaper New York Daily News often exchanged reports. That exchange enabled soldiers’ families in both the South and the North to place ads that would be seen in the other region.

This exchange is explicitly referred to in this article from the Richmond Enquirer, which mentioned that the New York Daily News recently printed 96 personals, first published in the Richmond Enquirer, that were addressed to persons in the North. That same historical news article reprinted ads from the New York Daily News from Northerners trying to reach family in the South. Here is one from “Jack” intended for an Edward Huntley in Richmond.

Civil War missing person ads, Richmond Enquirer newspaper advertisements 30 May 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 30 May 1864, page 4

The message from Jack is intriguing because it reports an inheritance. Jack, whose surname was withheld to maintain anonymity, let Edward C. Huntley know how to collect his share from Aunt Sarah’s estate. Holmes was the executor. Jack shared a reference to where he was in the Catskills and mentioned he had tried to reach Richmond twice, but was unable.

Here is another old newspaper ad from a Northerner, first printed in the New York Daily News and reprinted in the Richmond Enquirer. In this ad, the mother of Samuel Livingston was seeking information about her missing son. We learn from this ad Samuel’s rank, company and regiment. The ad also makes reference to a Colonel Moore who was wounded and left on the battlefield at Oloustee [Olustee], Florida. According to research on the battle, this was Col. Henry Moore.

missing person ad for Union soldier Samuel Livingston, Richmond Enquirer newspaper advertisement 30 May 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 30 May 1864, page 4

Livingston appears in the National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors Database as follows.

listing for Samuel Livingston, National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors Database

Genealogy Search Tips

  • Assume that every database is incomplete or has mistakes.
  • Use historical newspapers to fill in the blanks – and when you solve a puzzle, be sure to share it with others.
  • If a paper mentions “please copy,” there is always a personal connection. The person may have lived, worked or served in that place, a relative may live there, or there could be another possibility that you have not yet considered.
  • Not every publication will report that a piece was copied (i.e., reprinted), so look to see if it exists elsewhere. Sometimes the information will have been changed or have additions.
  • During the Civil War period, we often encounter scanning issues with the early newspapers. As fortunate as we are that they survived, some text may be smeary or split across two lines, so a search engine may misread it.
  • Don’t assume relationships unless specified. Mrs. Samuel Livingston could have been a wife, daughter, in-law or other relation; we only know for certain because her ad says that any news “will be most thankfully received by his mother.”
  • Always perform a follow-up search using alternate dates. Also, vary a person’s name by title and name abbreviations.
  • Follow location trails. Many battle parks and Civil War prison sites would be thrilled to add to their list of soldiers and sailors.
  • Map your ancestor’s movements. Think about known routes via land or water if they went to visit relatives, and consider military and troop movements.
  • Enrich your genealogical experience by taking a road trip. You may find that this experience adds an important component to your knowledge.
  • As an exercise, search for related names and events in the Soldiers and Sailors Database. For example, there is quite a bit of information on the 47th New York Regiment in which Samuel Livingston served.

As an exercise, see how many prisoner of war reports you can find and reconnect to their family. Each one has a story, such as the example below about William Kean who was captured on 17 June 1864 while on picket duty. One can only imagine how that came about.

missing person ad for Confederate soldier William Kean, Richmond Enquirer newspaper advertisement 23 July 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 23 July 1864, page 2

Researching your Civil War ancestor? There are many good Civil War genealogy resources available online. Be sure to include old newspapers, such as those in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. In some cases, you may find that the clue you’re searching for about your ancestor never appeared in a government record – but was contained in a letter a loved one had printed in a newspaper in a desperate attempt to get news about a missing son or husband. Their hunt for information may be just what you need for your own searches!

Related Civil War Articles:

Victoria Claflin Woodhull – the 1st Woman to Run for U.S. President

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary tells the story of Victoria Claflin Woodhull – who in a long, full life replete with many controversies, earned the distinction of being the first woman to run for U.S. president.

Who, you may be wondering, was this lady? And could you be related to her? If so, she may well be one of the “black sheep” in your family history!

photo of Victoria Woodhull, c. 1860s

Photo: Victoria Woodhull, c. 1860s. Source: Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, Historical Photographs and Special Visual Collections Department, Fine Arts Library; Wikimedia Commons.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull was a woman full of gumption and a household name in her own time. As a spiritualist, suffragette, newspaper publisher, the first woman to ever run a stock brokerage – and the first woman to run for U.S. president – she became a very famous and controversial person. Read on to find out why.

memorial for women suffrage submitted by Victoria Claflin Woodhull

Brief Family & Marriage History

Victoria Claflin was born 23 September 1838 in Homer, Ohio, to Reuben Buckman “Buck” Claflin and Roxanna “Annie” Hummel. She was one of ten children and the family struggled financially. Buck was a school teacher who later kept a store, and his wife reportedly did not have much education. Victoria’s father often got into trouble, including the counterfeiting of money.

He even marketed his children as clairvoyants. From the age of 10, Victoria reported receiving psychic messages from the Greek statesman Demosthenes (384–322 B.C.). The family traveled from town to town until, at the age of 14, Victoria married her first husband, Canning H. Woodhull, a native of New York.

article about Victoria Claflin Woodhull and her family, Plain Dealer newspaper article 23 September 1938

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 23 September 1938, page 6

By 1855, they were living with his parents, Byron and Louisa Woodhull. The New York State Census reports a son Byron, and at the time Canning’s occupation was sailor. (See “New York, State Census, 1855,” database with images from FamilySearch at https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K6Q9-J8C: accessed 3 September 2015.)

They later had a daughter named Zulu Maud Woodhull.

The marriage ended in divorce and Canning’s death certificate, displayed on his Findagrave memorial at http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=42444970, reports he succumbed to intemperance in 1872.

Victoria’s second marriage was to James Harvey Blood on 14 July 1866. (See “Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-2013,” database with images, FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XZBW-4DX.)

He was a veteran of the Civil War who often went by an alias. Several reports indicate that at times, her first husband lived with them. Victoria’s second marriage also ended in a divorce.

A Fortune for a Fortune

As a psychic, Victoria met with millionaire railroad magnate and philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt. She told him his fortune which purportedly resulted in a large financial gain for Vanderbilt of $13 million in the gold market – and in exchange, Victoria was reportedly the benefactor of generous financing. She and sister Tennessee “Tennie” Claflin used this money to found the first female-owned bank and brokerage in the United States: Woodhull, Claflin & Company. In 1870, it was located at 44 Broad Street in New York and stayed in business until around 1876. The sisters also founded the first female-owned newspaper, called Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, which began publication in 1870 in New York.

Newspaper advertisements announced that Woodhull, Claflin & Company bought and sold gold and government bonds, supplied advances, took collections of deposits in all parts of the Union, and paid interest on daily balances. They even provided mail and telegraphic services.

ad for Woodhull, Claflin & Company, Commercial Advertiser newspaper advertisement 24 February 1870

Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), 24 February 1870, page 3

Legal Entanglements

In 1871, Victoria and Tennessee’s mother filed a petition to have Victoria’s husband arrested, alleging that Mr. Blood (who sometimes used the alias Dr. J. H. Harvey) encouraged Victoria to seek the attention of various married gentlemen for the purpose of blackmail.

article about Victoria Claflin Woodhull and her family, Springfield Republican newspaper article 6 May 1871

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 6 May 1871, page 4

Several other legal squabbles ensued, the most notable with the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. One of their first entanglements was when the sisters sued, claiming that they were portrayed in the novel My Wife and I, by his daughter, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Later he retaliated with a lawsuit of his own.

article about Victoria Claflin Woodhull and her sister Tennessee suing Henry Ward Beecher for libel, Houston Daily Union newspaper article 28 June 1871

Houston Daily Union (Houston, Texas), 28 June 1871, page 2

In 1872, the sisters were deterred from sailing to Europe when they were charged by Mr. L. C. Challis with sending defamatory letters through the mail.

Arrest of Woodhull and Claflin, Washington Reporter newspaper article 6 November 1872

Washington Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania), 6 November 1872, page 4

Female Presidential Candidate Hopeful

Many of these lawsuits were instituted by political enemies because earlier that year, Victoria announced she was running for U.S. president on the Reform ticket. Her running mate was noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

article about Victoria Claflin Woodhull running for U.S. president in the 1872 election, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 4 April 1870

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 4 April 1870, page 2

They were among good company – U.S. presidential candidates that year included Ulysses S. Grant, Horace Greeley and even Susan B. Anthony, who ran for vice president on the Independent ticket. Several authors report that Victoria’s name never appeared on an official ballot, as she was not yet 35.

list of the candidates in the 1872 U.S. presidential election, Stoughton Sentinel newspaper article 13 July 1872

Stoughton Sentinel (Stoughton, Massachusetts), 13 July 1872, page 5

Victoria lost her bid for the U.S. presidency, but went on to live a long, full life. She died at the age of 88 on 9 June 1927.

Are You Related?

I began this article with the question: Are you related to Victoria Claflin Woodhull? After reading these reports, perhaps you’re hoping you’re not – but as all genealogists know, if you root around your family tree, you’ll undoubtedly uncover some dirt.

Related Articles & Resources:

How to Find Your Ancestors’ Name Abbreviations & More

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary tackles a problem many genealogists encounter: how to find newspaper articles about your ancestors when editors often abbreviated or hyphenated your ancestors’ names.

So much has been written on searching newspapers for ancestors whose names have challenging spellings (see the links at the end of this article), but little has been written on dealing with ancestor name abbreviations and hyphenations. With narrow columns, newspaper editors often made adjustments in spacing to make an article fit. A wide variety of name abbreviations, hyphenations and spelling changes were used – as a result, genealogists’ queries often miss their targets.

Ancestor Name Abbreviations

Names are often shortened to accommodate character spacing issues, and this poses a challenge for genealogists searching old newspapers.

Using abbreviations was even seen as a problem in the 19th century.

An Age of Abbreviations, New York Herald newspaper article 13 December 1891

New York Herald (New York, New York), 13 December 1891, page 26

In 1826 there was a proposed New York state amendment that would have disqualified votes if a common abbreviation was used for the name on the ballot. The examples cited were “Alexr.,” “Wm.” and “Jno.” (Alexander, William and Jonathan). If these abbreviations were used on the ballot, then the proposed amendment would require that “it would be imperative to reject all votes.”

One state legislator rose to oppose the amendment, pointing out that use of abbreviations was common on ballots.

article about legislation concerning the use of abbreviations, Albany Argus newspaper article 7 February 1826

Albany Argus (Albany, New York), 7 February 1826, page 1

On a humorous note, the debate on abbreviations fell along geographical lines. Gen. Root was opposed to the proposed amendment based on the orthography and the dilemma of the many “Yankee electors” who “might be puzzled occasionally to write correctly the name of their candidate.”

article about legislation concerning the use of abbreviations, Albany Argus newspaper article 7 February 1826

Albany Argus (Albany, New York), 7 February 1826, page 1

Resources for Finding Name Abbreviations

Several guides can be found on the web for finding name abbreviations. I recommend browsing several, since in one you may find “Abraham” abbreviated as “Ab.,” while another guide might use “Abr.” or “Abram.”

More Abbreviations for Words & Terms

Lastly, don’t forget that other words were commonly abbreviated, and they aren’t always readily apparent.

Ancestor Name Hyphenations

Let’s look at common pitfalls and techniques to overcome hyphenation issues.

  • If a name was split at the edge of the page, one portion may be on one page and the remaining on the next. When this occurs the search engine may return an unwanted result or no results at all.
  • When a word is split in two, it can result in two words which a search engine misses. For example: if the word “carnation” was split, the result would be “car” and “nation.”
  • Search Tip: If your family names (given & surnames) can be broken into two words, such as “Newcomb,” search for the individual parts.
  • Another idea is to add a Boolean wildcard, such as an asterisk (*), to the end of a shortened named. For example: you could search for “New*” instead of “Newcomb.”
obituary for H. D. Newcomb, Evening Post newspaper article 18 August 1874

Evening Post (New York, New York), 18 August 1874, page 4

Customs & Common Expressions

Keep in mind that the customs of the day may have changed.

In the 16th and early 17th centuries, births from common families were rarely published in newspapers.

When they were, sometimes just a parent’s name was recorded. This article from 1800 notes:

It is fashionable in England to announce the Births among the Nobility. As the fashion is creeping into this country, we must of course follow it.

birth announcement for the Augustus family, Impartial Register newspaper article 23 October 1800

Impartial Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 23 October 1800, page 3

Search Tip: If you notice a particular expression, such as “true American blood,” incorporate it in your query along with a date and location. By doing this, I was able to locate other notices celebrating American births.

birth announcement for the Read family, Gazette of the United States newspaper article 28 October 1800

Gazette of the United States (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 28 October 1800, page 2

Newspaper Scanning Issues

Due to technical limitations, historical newspapers cannot always be scanned flat when they’re being digitized for posting online. Occasionally small portions of the old news articles are truncated, so vary your queries by searching specific:

  • Dates
  • Locations
  • Types of Events

For example, notice that the left-hand edge of this newspaper article was not scanned.

marriage announcements, Richmond Whig newspaper article 19 January 1841

Richmond Whig (Richmond, Virginia), 19 January 1841, page 3

Try some of these genealogy search tips to overcome abbreviation and hyphenation issues, and perhaps you’ll finally find that long-sought newspaper article about your elusive ancestor!

Related Name Search Articles: