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 Humor: 7 Funny and Odd Inheritances & Bequests

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary reminds us that humor can be a fun part of family history research by sharing seven strange bequests she ran across in old newspapers.

They say that in order to be remembered long after you’re gone, make an unusual bequest in your will.

Writers and editors love to feature oddities, and genealogists love to read them – so go ahead and enjoy these odd and unusual inheritances and bequests. Search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to find boatloads of these news stories to tickle your funny bone. You’ll be sure to have a good laugh.

Here are seven of my favorite funny “final requests.”

1) A Dollar in Four Monthly Payments

In 1908, the appropriately-named Catherine E. Heckler of Portland, Oregon, left her husband a dollar payable in four monthly installments of 25 cents. She didn’t call him her husband, but rather “the individual who married me in 1905 in San Diego, Cal., and who got from me thousands of dollars and when he could get no more deserted me.”

article about Catherine E. Heckler's bequest, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 2 November 1908

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 2 November 1908, page 7

Hope Mr. Heckler didn’t spend his inheritance all in one place!

2) Home for Non-Smoking Clergymen

Philanthropist Ann Jane Mercer, who died in 1886, left her residence to establish a home for Presbyterian clergymen who were “decayed by age, or disabled by infirmity and who do not use tobacco in any form or shape.”

article about Ann Jane Mercer's bequest, Plain Dealer newspaper article 14 April 1886

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 14 April 1886, page 1

This wonderful cause doesn’t sound that odd, but as this 1909 newspaper article reports, there were some strange aspects to the bequest. For one, it says of Ann Mercer’s insistence that the home only be used by clergymen who were nonsmokers:

This provision was the more singular because the bulk of the Mercer fortune was made on raising tobacco.

Another thing: it turned out that nonsmoking clergymen were scarce.

In the twenty-one years since the institution’s foundation four clergymen have entered its portals.

By 1909 only one clergyman was using the home, and the board of managers decided to put him up in a hotel at their expense.

Finally Rev. Mr. Jones was left alone, so he was sent to the hotel, where thoughtless young men, summer visitors, have been blowing cigaret smoke around his aged head.

article about Ann Jane Mercer's bequest, Plain Dealer newspaper article 3 September 1909

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 3 September 1909, page 5

3) An Astronomical Challenge

Mrs. Gruzman was interested in the planets. Her big idea was to bequeath a prize of 100,000 francs to the Institute of France (science section) for the person who could discover interplanetary or astral communications.

article about Mrs. Gruzman's bequest, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 24 January 1892

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 24 January 1892, page 2

A ten-year limit was set to collect the prize, with the other stipulation that a reply from outer space was necessary. If the Institute of France did not accept the legacy, the price would divert to the Institute of Milan or the Institute of New York.

What do you suppose happened to the money when nobody collected?

4) She Left Her Body to Favorite Nephew

One has to wonder what Charles Brower of Downingtown thought of his aunt’s will.

He was literally to inherit her body. By reading this newspaper article you’ll get her intent, but the wording was strange. Her will instructed the nephew to bring a double team of horses to Pottstown to fetch her. Apparently she didn’t want her estranged husband to bury her, so her nephew returned her body to Downingtown as requested.

Enter Last Name

Let’s hope she left some money for his corpse-carrying troubles.

article about Mrs. Steele's bequest, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 1 June 1896

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 1 June 1896, page 4

5) Don’t Miss the Banquet

If your ancestors were heirs of Albert Karutz, let’s hope they attended his funeral when he passed in 1909. As an inducement, he offered in his will a $500 funeral banquet with “liquid refreshments” – but heirs who failed to show up were to be disinherited!

article about Albert Karutz's funeral banquet, Times-Picayune newspaper article 26 August 1909

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 26 August 1909, page 3

6) Dinner on the House

One has to wonder if Karutz’s 1909 bequest inspired Ratke Siedenburg in 1910. He set aside $500 for friends to dine together within three months after his death. The executor was to choose the location as well as the lucky dozen diners.

article about Ratke Siedenburg's funeral banquet, Oregonian newspaper article 8 November 1910

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 8 November 1910, page 1

7) Delayed Support for Kitties & Puppies

This next bequest left $1,100 to found a homeless shelter for cats and dogs, but the money wasn’t to be touched until the year 2163. Wonder how much the trust is worth today, if it even still exists?

article about a bequest to establish a cat and dog shelter, St. Albans Daily Messenger newspaper article 18 July 1918

St. Albans Daily Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont), 18 July 1918, page 3

So there you have it. Strange and odd bequests are not that unusual. Have any of you encountered any funny or odd bequests in your ancestry research? If so, we’d love to hear about it; tell us in the comments section.

Related Articles:

Civil War Newspaper Research: Personal Notices & Letters

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary shows that one of the ways ordinary citizens and families communicated across enemy lines during the Civil War was by having personal notices and even letters published in newspapers – and these are a great resource for family historians.

It’s often said that “Where there is a will, there is usually a way.” This is true even during the most challenging times – such as during the American Civil War, when in the midst of terrible fighting, communications still found their way across enemy lines. Families either smuggled letters, sent them via flags of truce, or – what is not often realized – published them in local newspapers.

illustration: the 1863 Civil War Battle of Chickamauga, by Kurz & Allison, c. 1890

Illustration: the 1863 Civil War Battle of Chickamauga, by Kurz & Allison, c. 1890. Credit: Library of Congress.

Thanks to digitized newspaper collections online, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, genealogists can search these old newspapers to find very personal communications from and about their ancestors.

Restricted Messages

Some newspapers during the Civil War, such as the Daily National Republican of Washington, D.C., limited the types of notices its readers could publish. In this old news article example, readers could only submit information regarding health or whereabouts to friends and relatives.

  • E. Cunningham and family of New York City relayed a message to Mr. and Mrs. Bernard F. McKenna. They were well and wished to hear the same from them.
  • Charles Horsfield of Wilmington, North Carolina, learned that his mother had died on the 15th of July, an important genealogical date if an obituary was not published.
  • Letitia Donahue of New York City was desperate to hear news of her husband Sam. He was formerly of Atlanta, Georgia – but if you notice the reference to Augusta, this is an important clue as to his possible whereabouts.
personal ads, Daily National Republican newspaper advertisements 28 August 1863

Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), 28 August 1863, page 2

“Please Copy” or Answer Instructions

Whenever you spot a “please copy” notice, there is a connection to the location. It may be a residence, place where someone works, or – in the case of a soldier – a place where they were stationed.

Many of these newspaper notices also gave instructions as to how one could answer. This clue indicates that they had access to a particular newspaper, even if they lived elsewhere.

Reprisals and Hidden Identities

One of the more proactive newspapers during the Civil War was the Richmond Enquirer in Virginia, which exchanged personals with various northern papers.

Divided families often printed notices – but if they feared reprisals, either for themselves or for loved ones, they would disguise identities by using nicknames or initials. In this example, E. S. C. requested to hear from Mrs. M. J. Ebbs. They were well and sent their love to Alice.

personal ad to M. J. Ebbs, Richmond Enquirer newspaper advertisement 16 April 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 16 April 1864, page 1

Search tips to locate hidden identities:

  • Search without a surname
  • Search by initials with or without a surname
  • Search by nicknames and locations

Civil War Soldier News

Not surprisingly, many newspaper notices were about missing Civil War soldiers.

In the same issue of the Richmond Enquirer, there was a message to Lieut. J. M. Podgett of the 18th Georgia reporting that Britton W. Riggons was well and comfortable at Camp Douglas in Illinois.

Another notice, to Charles B. Linn, notes that messages were getting through and that “things” were sent back. He was welcome to respond to “W. S. R.” via the Richmond Enquirer or the New York News.

personal ad to Charles Linn, Richmond Enquirer newspaper advertisement 16 April 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 16 April 1864, page 1

Letters to Congressmen

Many letters published in newspapers during the Civil War are full of pathos and desperation, such as the following example.

personal ad to Joseph Segar, Richmond Enquirer newspaper advertisement 27 October 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 27 October 1864, page 1

After learning that Dr. Frederick Griffith had been captured about the 20th of September, Wat H. Tyler, M.D., wrote his Congressman Joseph Segar.

What is exciting about this discovery is that the capture is reported in official records, but not how assistance was requested. Griffith was exchanged on 19 March 1865, most likely a direct result of Tyler’s letter. Be sure to visit their Findagrave memorials:

Civil War Vital Records

When you cannot locate a vital record from the Civil War era, a genealogist might find direct or indirect evidence of that record in newspaper notices. In this example, the widow was visiting the Angier House and her husband’s loss was noted.

personal notice about Mrs. Woodbury, Plain Dealer newspaper article 12 July 1862

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 12 July 1862, page 4

This sad notice is important because it connects three generations, and substitutes for an obituary.

In this next example, M. Jane Richardson wrote her father to report that her husband had died on 1 October 1864 of diphtheria, and that Little Nora had no hope of recovering either. She was in deep distress and asked her father to come see her.

personal ad to Mr. Burton, Richmond Enquirer newspaper advertisement 27 October 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 27 October 1864, page 1

Civil War Marriage Records

What is wonderful for genealogists searching these Civil War-era newspapers is that not all notices were sad.

Many marriage notices were published at that time. In this one, G. L. M. married Miss A. L. on Wednesday, March 30, 1864, possibly in New York.

Genealogical Challenge: Try to figure out whom this marriage notice was about and let us know in the comments!

marriage announcement, Richmond Enquirer newspaper article 16 April 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 16 April 1864, page 1

Civil War research is a fascinating topic – and it doesn’t have to be limited to official records.

You can date early photographs using revenue stamps, learn about regiments through their uniforms, and explore the fascinating articles and letters found in historical newspapers.

Related Civil War Articles & Resources:

450th Anniversary of St. Augustine, the Oldest City in the U.S.

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary celebrates the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine, Florida – the oldest city in the United States.

This week, St. Augustine, Florida – the oldest continuously-occupied European settlement in the continental United States – celebrated the 450th anniversary of its founding.

photo of a re-enactor at the 450th anniversary celebration at St. Augustine, Florida, dressed in Spanish costume

Photo: re-enactor at the 450th anniversary celebration at St. Augustine, Florida, dressed in Spanish costume. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

Although this tropical area in what is now the state of Florida was settled by Native Americans much earlier, “San Agustin” was founded by Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés on 8 September 1565. Many family roots can be traced there – and even if yours can’t, many of our ancestors visited the historical city, a popular tourist attraction with breathtaking beaches.

photo of Cherokee women at the 450th anniversary celebration at St. Augustine, Florida

Photo: Cherokee women at the 450th anniversary celebration at St. Augustine, Florida; they were there to give a blessing to Native Americans of all tribes who had been imprisoned there. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

This map shows how our ancestors would have driven there a mere 100 years ago.

map of auto routes in the Southern U.S., Miami Herald newspaper article 30 August 1915

Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 30 August 1915, page 5

Fun Facts About St. Augustine

  • Augustine is about 13 square miles in area, but home to about 13,000. That’s about 1,000 residents every square mile, not including the 5,000,000 annual visitors.
  • It was explored as early as 1513 by Ponce de Leon, but it took more than 50 years to become a settlement. His desire was to find the legendary Fountain of Youth.
  • Agustin, son of Agustin and Francisca, was born there in 1606. His is the first African American birth recorded in the continental United States.
  • Augustine today has an attraction called the Fountain of Youth, a wax museum, a Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, and three forts in the area (Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Matanzas and Fort Mose).
  • Fort Mose was established in 1738 as the first legally free black settlement in North America.
  • The Castillo, which has had several names in its history, has the distinction of being the oldest masonry fort in North America and is the only remaining 17th century fort.
photo of Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, St. Augustine, Florida

Credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

See: https://floridamemory.com/items/show/140584

  • It hosts the narrowest street in the U.S. at only 7 feet wide (Treasury Street), and the oldest wooden schoolhouse – which was built in 1716.
  • The first Catholic Congregation in North America was established at Cathedral Basilica.
  • There are ghost stories about many of the historical sites in the area, from the lighthouse to the cemeteries. If you want to learn about them, take one of the many haunted ghost tours – or examine your photos closely. Many visitors report seeing strange people, faces and orbs in their photos!
photo of The Tower Room, oldest house in the U.S., St. Augustine, Florida

Credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

See: https://floridamemory.com/items/show/158399

If you search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for “St. Augustine Florida,” you’ll find over 138,000 references – very good resources for hunting North Florida family roots.

Genealogy Tip:

St. Augustine’s church the Cathedral Basilica has records dating back to 1594. Some of these are early African American slave records.

photo of the Ponce de Leon building in St. Augustine, Florida

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 10 February 1905, page 12

Does your family have roots traced back to St. Augustine, Florida? Tell us about them in the comments section.

Related Articles & Resources:

Ancestor Weddings: Genealogy Tips for Finding the Dress

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary searches old newspapers to find a variety of pictures and articles about our ancestors’ wedding dresses.

Historical newspapers not only give you the names and dates you need to fill in your family tree – they provide your ancestors’ stories, to help you better understand the lives they led and the times they lived in. You can use old newspapers to explore many aspects of your ancestors’ lives. For example, your ancestors’ wedding dresses and other wedding attire are great fun to research in historical newspapers.

GenealogyBank has an entire search category devoted to Marriage Records & Engagement Announcements in Newspapers, many of which describe your ancestors’ wedding garments – but don’t stop there. Look in other parts of the historical newspapers, such as advertisements, fashion pages, photos, illustrations, and the occasional obituary.

wedding announcement for Mae Robinson and Gordon Jackson, Broad Ax newspaper article 8 March 1924

Broad Ax (Chicago, Illinois), 8 March 1924, page 1

Many old newspaper articles and advertisements feature what were then the latest popular wedding fashion styles, such as this 1936 ad, which notes:

Perhaps the most unusual wedding dress we’ve seen this season, is the rich ribbed ottoman dress with a new wide puffed shoulder, at $89.50. For it, we’ve designed the veil garlanded with silver leaves – and silver with white is a new and quite unusual fashion. $30.

ad for wedding gowns, Boston Herald newspaper article 11 March 1936

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 11 March 1936, page 3

Dame Fashion

A somewhat forgotten term to use in your newspaper search is the keyword “dame fashion.”

As noted in this fashion column of 1883, bride and bridesmaid dresses were discussed “ad libitum” back then, along with the latest trends and embellishments. For example, this author wrote:

Iridescent beads are used a little in white dresses, but not much, although they are still seen on colored costumes. Amber beads in brown and old gold combinations are much used, but hardly ever on other colors. Where silver brocade is used for wedding dresses, occasionally silver fringe, hardly as heavy as bullion, but partaking of its brilliance, is employed.

article about wedding fashions, Truth newspaper article 11 November 1883

Truth (New York, New York), 11 November 1883, page 2

Missing Wedding Dress Heirlooms

For many brides, tradition dictates wearing a family gown – but if you’re wondering why Great Grandma’s wedding dress didn’t pass through the family, perhaps she was buried in it!

Such was the case with Mrs. Mary Brown of Danville, Kentucky, who passed away in 1907 at the age of 90. For the burial, she was dressed in her wedding dress of 70 years earlier. This was most likely a loving tribute – but from a practical standpoint, one has to wonder if the younger women of the family were relieved they were now able to choose a more modern bridal gown style.

obituary for Mary Brown, Lexington Herald newspaper article 19 August 1907

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 19 August 1907, page 2

Wedding Dress Rentals

Another reason why heirloom wedding dresses sometimes don’t exist is that they were often rented.

Notice in 1901 that this Philadelphia merchant ran a prosperous business hiring out wedding dresses to those with limited finances. All sizes and shapes of bridal gowns were available. Three or four brides a day paid fees from $3 to $10 for gowns, or up to $25 for a more elegant “queenly” option, reminiscent of a Parisian design.

Due to the cost, this particular selection went out very little, except to be shown to prospective customers.

article about wedding gown rentals, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 28 July 1901

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 28 July 1901, page 5

Did Grandma Wear White?

An astonishing fact about our ancestors is that not every bride wore white. The same newspaper article reported a virtual rainbow of colors:

The prevailing color of the garments is of course white, but in the world of those who hire wedding dresses, blue and pink weddings are not infrequent, and even yellow and green have been known… He had even a red wedding gown, a bright, startling affair of some kind of soft, fluffy material. Beside the red was a gown of black and white, a very pleasing white silk, and over this a silk mousseline, over which in turn were many yards of black velvet ribbon, with narrow threads of black lace running up and down…

Multiple Wedding Dresses

It’s normal to think that our female ancestors only had one wedding dress – but if one could afford it, attire was commonly procured for each wedding event: from the bridal showers to the ceremony to the honeymoon.

Mme. Nilsson’s engagement to Count de Casa Miranda illustrates the point. At the Registrar’s office this wedding diva planned to wear a pale blue surah dress, embroidered with point d’Angelterre and a bonnet to match:

The wedding dress at the religious ceremony will be a very pale heliotrope peluche, with gauze in front, trimmed with a delicate lilac claire de lune, jet collar, high, trimmed with pearls; tulle bonnet to match, trimmed with pearls and a bunch of tea roses.

wedding announcement for Mme. Nilsson and Count de Casa Miranda, New York Herald newspaper article 9 July 1885

New York Herald (New York, New York), 9 July 1885, page 5

Dating Photographs and Heirlooms

Don’t underestimate the value of a newspaper in dating family treasures.

From early time periods, milliners, merchants, dress makers and tailors advertised goods and services in the papers. For instance, in 1834, splendid white crape robes and lace veils were advertised by this New York merchant.

clothing ad, Evening Post newspaper advertisement 13 October 1834

Evening Post (New York, New York), 13 October 1834, page 2

Bridal dresses from other cultures fascinated our ancestors as they do us today, so even if you can’t find an ancestral photo, look for examples among photos and illustrations.

photo of a Korean bride, Baltimore American newspaper article 20 August 1905

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 20 August 1905, page 6

Share Your Family Wedding Photos

Lastly, don’t forget to share your family wedding photos on social media and popular genealogy sites. Include pictures of your ancestors that you find in newspapers, such as Belle Wyatt Willard Roosevelt (1892-1968), the daughter-in-law of President Theodore Roosevelt, who was fortunate to be featured in a historical newspaper article in 1914.

wedding photo of Belle Wyatt Willard Roosevelt, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 26 June 1914

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 26 June 1914, page 9

Related Articles:

Our Ancestors’ Age-Old Sayings from 100 Years Ago, Part II

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary presents some of the enlightening and entertaining sayings she found from 100 years ago while browsing through newspapers from the year 1915.

The allure of genealogy makes genealogists curious – or perhaps it is the desire to return to simpler days that keeps us avidly researching our family trees!

Whatever the reason, family historians love to read historical news accounts of the past – and one of the most enjoyable discoveries is reading the old sayings and quotes of our ancestors.

ancestor's saying: "The sweet music that children make in a home has nothing to do with piano lessons."

What were our ancestors reading about and saying 100 years ago? To find out, I explored the year 1915 in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. What I found were hundreds of wonderful old sayings and good time-tested advice in the newspapers read by our ancestors.

Some of these old sayings were offered in jest. Some are inappropriate by today’s standards, but others we truly should revive. The following are all from 1915, a mere 100 years ago! (Earlier this month we posted Part I of this series: see Our Ancestors’ Age-Old Sayings from 100 Years Ago, Part I.)

Good Advice

  • It’s so much easier to pay compliments than bills. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 5 January 1915, page 12
  • Let’s not attempt to light our paths through life by burning the candle at both ends. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 14 October 1915, page 23
  • Once a coward, always a liar. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 5 January 1915, page 12
  • One way to sidetrack bad luck is to be prepared for it. –Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 2 January 1915, page 6
  • Opinions and visits should not be forced upon people. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 27 November 1915, page 6
  • Politeness is one luxury that all may indulge in. –Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida), 13 March 1915, page 8
  • Worry is a bad bedfellow. Kick it out. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 28 March 1915, page 27

Keen Observations

  • Poetry is the pastry of literature; prose the corn bread and bacon. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 15 February 1915, page 4
  • Procrastination is the thief of a good time. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 15 February 1915, page 4
  • Revenge is a boomerang that often returns to the borrower and puts him in the hospital. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 11 March 1915, page 9
  • Silence may be golden or it may be an admission of guilt. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 19 February 1915, page 6
  • The chronic kicker is always looking for something to boot. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 15 February 1915, page 4
  • The world cannot come to an end because it is round. –Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida), 20 March 1915, page 6
  • There are times when even the parson imagines there is no earthly hope for the choir. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 13 May 1915, page 6
  • Trying to dodge work tires more men than hard labor. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 23 March 1915, page 11

ancestor's saying: "Trying to dodge work tires more men than hard labor."

  • There comes a time in the life of every man when he feels justified in kicking himself. –Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 28 January 1915, page 6
  • Weak solutions may be all right in chemistry, but they don’t go in politics. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 11 March 1915, page 12
  • When men grow suddenly good it’s dollars to doughnuts they are thinking of running for office. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 18 March 1915, page 14
  • Words of wisdom are few, but there are many echoes. –Cleburne Morning Review (Cleburne, Texas), 5 January 1915, page 2
  • You have a right to express your opinion of the weather, but what’s the use? –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 6 March 1915, page 10
  • You may lead the landlord to your house, but you can’t always make him repair it. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 18 March 1915, page 14
  • Your neighbors have a lot of nerve to imagine that they are as good as you are. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 5 January 1915, page 12

Genealogical Musings

  • People boast of their ancestors only after the world has forgotten their records. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 19 February 1915, page 6
  • Usually when people say nice things about a man he is too dead to appreciate them. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 11 August 1915, page 5

Gossiping Hurts

  • Gossips believe all they hear, and what they merely think they often take for granted. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 14 October 1915, page 23
  • If a woman chases her children out of the room when another woman calls, there is gossip in the air. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 27 February 1915, page 8
  • A good deal of conversation should be canned and the can thrown away. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 25 July 1915, page 67

Hankering for Happiness

  • Our idea of an unhappy man is a proud person with last year’s automobile. –Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida), 22 April 1915, page 6
  • Self-made men don’t always make themselves agreeable. –Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 6 August 1915, page 4
  • Were it not for clouds, people would be unable to appreciate sunshine. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 9 August 1915, page 4

ancestor's saying: "Were it not for clouds, people would be unable to appreciate sunshine."

  • Self-pity is what many people relish most. They delight to revel in imaginary grievances and to roll their wounded sensibilities about in a large ball. –Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida), 20 March 1915, page 6
  • Some people are never happy unless they are in a position to make others miserable. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 5 January 1915, page 12
  • Somehow intellect doesn’t seem to have much to do with happiness. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 15 February 1915, page 4

On Love, Courtship & Marriage

  • After a young man has called on a girl at least three nights in one week she imagines there is an odor of orange blossoms in the air. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 18 March 1915, page 10
  • Almost any young man will do anything a pretty sister asks – that is, if she happens to be some other fellow’s sister. –Rockford Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 11 February 1915, page 2
  • Every woman is a conundrum that keeps some men guessing. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 11 March 1915, page 12
  • Fewer marriages would be failures if love were blind only in one eye. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 18 March 1915, page 14
  • If love were contagious girls would work overtime trying to catch it. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 18 March 1915, page 10
  • It’s up to the lovesick youth to take his from a spoon. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 1 January 1915, page 14
  • Look not for peace in family jars. –Rockford Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 11 February 1915, page 2
  • The early maid catches the bridal train. –Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 2 January 1915, page 6
  • Women are so tender-hearted they will not even deliberately step on a mouse. –Cleburne Morning Review (Cleburne, Texas), 31 January 1915, page 2

Money Matters

  • It’s a wise man to pick a fool whose money he can spend. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 13 December 1915, page 1
  • Poverty has its good points. A poor man never has the gout. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 19 February 1915, page 6
  • Poverty may pinch an honest man, but it never lands him in jail. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 7 January 1915, page 16
  • When a man offers you something for nothing, you will save money by going out of your way to avoid accepting it. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 11 March 1915, page 12

ancestor's saying: "When a man offers you something for nothing, you will save money by going out of your way to avoid accepting it."

  • The man who tells others how to make a fortune in a short time is seldom able to show a bank balance of more than three figures. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 3 March 1915, page 10
  • Those who offer bargains get rich quicker than those who seek them. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 5 January 1915, page 12
  • What the average woman thinks she would do if she had plenty of money is nothing in comparison to what she does do because she hasn’t got it. –Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 2 January 1915, page 6

Parental Insight

  • Of course it is all right to establish nurseries in the movie theaters. It is hard on a baby to stay at home by itself. –Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida), 22 April 1915, page 6
  • The sweet music that children make in a home has nothing to do with piano lessons. –Cleburne Morning Review (Cleburne, Texas), 21 September 1915, page 4
  • The trouble with too many children is that the education of their parents has been neglected. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 13 December 1915, page 1

If you want to search for more ancestor sayings in old newspapers, try some of these keywords – and don’t forget to tell us in the comments section about some of the gems you find.

  • Gathered Jests
  • Good Advice
  • Pellets of Thoughts
  • Pointed Paragraphs
  • Tips from Texas
  • Waifs of Wisdom
  • Week’s Wit

Related Sayings Articles:

Our Ancestors’ Age-Old Sayings from 100 Years Ago, Part I

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary presents some of the enlightening and entertaining sayings she found from 100 years ago while browsing through newspapers from the year 1915.

The allure of genealogy makes genealogists curious – or perhaps it is the desire to return to simpler days that keeps us avidly researching our family trees!

Whatever the reason, family historians love to read historical news accounts of the past – and one of the most enjoyable discoveries is reading the old sayings and quotes of our ancestors.

"Laughter is merely a smile set to music."

What were our ancestors reading about and saying 100 years ago? To find out, I explored the year 1915 in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. What I found were hundreds of wonderful old sayings and good time-tested advice in the newspapers read by our ancestors.

Some of these old sayings were offered in jest. Some are inappropriate by today’s standards, but others we truly should revive. The following are all from 1915, a mere 100 years ago!

Good Advice

  • Blessed is he who keeps his troubles to himself. –Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 10 March 1915, page 6
  • Do not fail to exercise your influence if you would keep it good and strong. –Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida), 20 March 1915, page 6
  • Don’t expect two favors in return for one. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 18 March 1915, page 14
  • Don’t force your advice upon people whose friendship you care to retain. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 28 March 1915, page 27
  • Folly, as she flies, should be swatted. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 25 July 1915, page 67
  • Hot pokers and heated arguments should be quickly dropped. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 1 January 1915, page 14
  • If your friends annoy you, sick ’em on your enemies. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 25 July 1915, page 67

Keen Observations

  • A cozy corner is a handy place in which to sweep the dirt. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 18 March 1915, page 10
  • A few short weeks and the house cleaning microbe will get busy again. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 11 March 1915, page 12
  • Art is long, but spot cash is what the artist longs for. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 1 January 1915, page 14
  • By covering up their tracks some men get credit for walking in the straight and narrow path. –Rockford Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 11 February 1915, page 2
  • By the time the average man reaches the age of fifty he knows a lot of things he would like to get rid of at 99 percent less than cost. –Cleburne Morning Review (Cleburne, Texas), 5 January 1915, page 2
  • Concealed knowledge is as useful as buried treasure. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 5 January 1915, page 12
  • For our part, we would rather get up in the world than go down in history. –Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida), 10 April 1915, page 8
  • Haste makes some people waste a lot of other people’s time. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 23 March 1915, page 11

"Haste makes some people waste a lot of other people's time."

  • Good luck is but another name for common sense. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 25 July 1915, page 67
  • If religions were good for the complexion men would seldom get their share of beauty. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 7 January 1915, page 16
  • If you are looking for trouble, probably you began by finding fault. –Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida), 29 May 1915, page 6
  • It’s a poor mirror that will not enable a man to see his best friend. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 3 January 1915, page 28
  • Maybe you also have met men who favor a safe and sane Fourth of July because it promises not to cost them anything. –Bridgeton Evening New (Bridgeton, New Jersey), 17 September 1915, page 5
  • Most of us are overloaded with good intentions. –Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida), 4 August 1915, page 6
  • People who are always saying “Listen!” never have anything of importance to say. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 27 November 1915, page 6

Genealogical Musings

  • Goodness is only a relative term – and one that is always on the tongue of relatives. –Bridgeton Evening News (Bridgeton, New Jersey), 17 September 1915, page 5
  • If you fuss about the weather it may be a sign that you are getting old. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 7 January 1915, page 16
  • Many a man charges his misdeeds up to his ancestors. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 22 April 1915, page 17

Gossiping Hurts

  • Gossip is a deadly gas that is often fatal to friendships. –Cleburne Morning Review (Cleburne, Texas), 12 February 1915, page 2
  • Eliminate politics, religion and the weather and there wouldn’t be much to talk about. –Cleburne Morning Review (Cleburne, Texas), 5 January 1915, page 2

Hankering for Happiness

  • Be satisfied with the best you can get. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 27 November 1915, page 6
  • Few people are wise enough to know that ignorance is bliss. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 11 March 1915, page 9
  • Bright people look upon the bright side of life. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 27 February 1915, page 8

"Bright people look upon the bright side of life."

  • Happy is the girl who thinks her father is the best man on earth. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 9 August 1915, page 4
  • Laughter is merely a smile set to music. –Cleburne Morning Review (Cleburne, Texas), 5 January 1915, page 2
  • Many a man is unhappy only because he believes himself so. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 9 August 1915, page 4

On Love, Courtship & Marriage

  • A man can get his wife’s attention by talking in his sleep. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 14 October 1915, page 23
  • A woman is seldom as fussy with her children as she is with her husband. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 28 March 1915, page 27
  • A woman’s accounts on how she spent the “house money” are only equaled in inventive genius by a man’s accounts of how he spent his time. –Bridgeton Evening New (Bridgeton, New Jersey), 17 September 1915, page 5
  • Diamonds are trumps in the game of love. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 11 March 1915, page 12
  • A woman may not accept a proposal of marriage, but she always admires the good judgment of the man who made it. –Cleburne Morning Review (Cleburne, Texas), 12 February 1915, page 2

"A woman may not accept a proposal of marriage, but she always admires the good judgment of the man who made it."

  • Falling in love is easy, but falling out again – aye, that’s what hurts. –Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 6 August 1915, page 4
  • It is easier to fall in love or into a river than it is to climb out. –Cleburne Morning Review (Cleburne, Texas), 5 January 1915, page 2
  • True domestic happiness is founded on the rock of the cradle. –Cleburne Morning Review (Cleburne, Texas), 5 January 1915, page 2
  • True love is always able to dispense with the valuable advice of outsiders. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 27 November 1915, page 6
  • What most married men would rejoice to see is a war tax on old bachelors. –Cleburne Morning Review (Cleburne, Texas), 5 January 1915, page 2

Money Matters

  • A close friend is one who won’t lend you money. –Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 5 May 1915, page 3
  • A man would rather have fortune smile on him than give him the laugh. –Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 2 January 1915, page 6
  • And it’s surprising how many bargains we see in the shop windows when we are broke. –Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 1 January 1915, page 14
  • Fortune is said to knock at every man’s door, but it’s difficult to make a man believe it. –Cleburne Morning Review (Cleburne, Texas), 21 September 1915, page 4
  • He is a fortunate man who can catch up with his ambitions and his debts. –Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 28 January 1915, page 6
  • It’s a strong friendship that can stand a loan. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 11 March 1915, page 9

Parental Insight

  • A crying shame – the neighbor’s baby. –Miami Herald (Miami, Florida), 6 March 1915, page 10
cartoon about parenting, Times-Picayune newspaper cartoon 18 November 1915

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 18 November 1915, page 16

  • Before asking children questions in public, be sure of their answers. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 15 February 1915, page 4
  • Children need fewer critics and more good models. –Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 9 August 1915, page 4

If you want to search for more of these old sayings spoken by our wise ancestors in historical newspapers, try some of these keywords – and don’t forget to tell us in the comments section about some of the gems you find.

  • Gathered Jests
  • Good Advice
  • Pellets of Thoughts
  • Pointed Paragraphs
  • Tips from Texas
  • Waifs of Wisdom
  • Week’s Wit

Related Sayings Articles:

Memorable Aging & Birthday Quotes from Famous People

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary shares some of the interesting and/or funny quotes about birthdays and aging that she found in old newspapers.

While researching birthdays and aging in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I came across some delightful quotes from famous people. Some are modern, some are historical and others are just plain hysterical!

cartoon about birthdays, Omaha World-Herald newspaper cartoon 6 February 1898

Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 6 February 1898, section 3, page 23

Have fun using these quotes in blogs or while making “Happy Birthday” cards. If you have some of your own birthday quotes to share, please post them in the comments section of this blog.

Famous People Birthday & Gift Quotes

  • “I love a card. You know, cards? At birthdays? I collect them.” –Adele
  • “I binge when I’m happy. When everything is going really well, every day is like I’m at a birthday party.” –Kirstie Alley
  • “I like to go to anybody else’s birthday, and if I’m invited I’m a good guest. But I never celebrate my birthdays. I really don’t care.” –Mikhail Baryshnikov
  • “A friend never defends a husband who gets his wife an electric skillet for her birthday.” –Erma Bombeck
cartoon about birthday gifts, Plain Dealer newspaper cartoon 19 April 1896

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 April 1896, page 26

  • “There are 364 days when you might get unbirthday presents…and only one for birthday presents, you know.”–Lewis Carroll (AKA Charlie Lutwidge Dodgson)
  • “I don’t pay attention to the number of birthdays. It’s weird when I say I’m 53. It just is crazy that I’m 53. I think I’m very immature. I feel like a kid. That’s why my back goes out all the time, because I completely forget I can’t do certain things anymore – like doing the plank for 10 minutes.” –Ellen DeGeneres who was born 26 January 1958
  • “A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday but never remembers her age.” –Robert Frost
birthday cartoon, Omaha World-Herald birthday cartoon 20 April 1902

Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 20 April 1902, page 31

  • “In 1993 my birthday present was a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.” –Annette Funicello
  • “There is still no cure for the common birthday.” –John Glenn
  • “All the world is birthday cake, so take a piece, but not too much.” –George Harrison
article about birthdays in Hollywood, Evening Star newspaper article 26 August 1934

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 26 August 1934, page 49

  • “Money is appropriate, and one size fits all.” –William Randolph Hearst on suggestions for gifts
  • “The way I see it, you should live every day like it’s your birthday.” –Paris Hilton
  • “You know you’re getting older when the candles cost more than the cake.” –Bob Hope
  • “Your children need your presence more than your presents.” –Jesse Jackson
  • “My biggest hero, Gregory Peck, was my birthday present on April 14, 1973. I just sat and stared at him.” –Loretta Lynn
  • “Any time women come together with a collective intention, it’s a powerful thing. Whether it’s sitting down making a quilt, in a kitchen preparing a meal, in a club reading the same book, or around the table playing cards, or planning a birthday party, when women come together with a collective intention, magic happens.” –Phylicia Rashad
  • “I’m not going to be caught around here for any fool celebration. To hell with birthdays!” –Norman Rockwell
  • “I wish people would stop talking about my birthday.” –George Bernard Shaw
article about birthdays, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 31 July 1938

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 31 July 1938, page 18

  • “Love the giver more than the gift.” –Brigham Young
  • “I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “You know you’re getting old when you get that one candle on the cake. It’s like, ‘see if you can blow this out.’” –Jerry Seinfeld
  • “The last birthday that’s any good is 23.” –Andy Rooney


Famous People Quotes on Aging

  • “It’s sad to grow old, but nice to ripen.” –Brigitte Bardot
  • “A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.” –John Barrymore
  • “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be!” –Robert Browning
  • “Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.” –Truman Capote
  • “Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.” –Fred Astaire

quote about aging from Fred Astaire

  • “I can’t go back to yesterday – because I was a different person then.” –Lewis Carroll (AKA Charlie Lutwidge Dodgson) from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.” –Maurice Chevalier
  • “We turn not older with years, but newer every day.” –Emily Dickinson
  • “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” –George Eliot
  • “I’ll keep singing ’till I die.” –Bing Crosby
quote about aging from Bing Crosby, Evening Star newspaper article 28 June 1933

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 28 June 1933, page 10

  • “All my possessions for one moment of time.” –Queen Elizabeth
  • “The years teach much which the days never knew.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “An old young man will be a young old man.” –Benjamin Franklin (AKA Poor Richard)
  • “At twenty years of age, the will reigns; at thirty, the wit; and at forty, the judgment.” –Benjamin Franklin (AKA Poor Richard)
  • “Youth is pert and positive, Age modest and doubting; So ears of corn when young and bright, stand bold upright, But hang their heads when weighty, full and ripe.” –Benjamin Franklin (AKA Poor Richard)
article about Benjamin Franklin, Daily Inter Ocean newspaper article 20 October 1895

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 20 October 1895, page 25

  • “Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • “Old age is fifteen years older than I am.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • “Middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle.” –Bob Hope
  • “Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.” –Victor Hugo
  • “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” –Abraham Lincoln
  • “Whatever poet, orator, or sage may say of it, old age is still old age.” –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • “The older you get the stronger the wind gets – and it’s always in your face.” –Jack Nicklaus
  • “Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” –Satchel Paige
  • “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” –Satchel Paige
  • “It takes a long time to become young.” –Pablo Picasso
  • “I was forced to live far beyond my years when just a child, now I have reversed the order and I intend to remain young indefinitely.” –Mary Pickford
  • “Youth is just wasted on young people.” –George Bernard Shaw
  • “To me, fair friend, you never can be old, For as you were when first your eye I eye’d, Such seems your beauty still.” –William Shakespeare
  • “In childhood be modest, in youth temperate, in manhood just, in old age prudent.” –Socrates
article about Socrates, Camden Mail and General Advertiser newspaper article 21 May 1834

Camden Mail and General Advertiser (Camden, New Jersey), 21 May 1834, page 4

  • “May you live all the days of your life.” –Jonathan Swift
  • “Too bad that youth is wasted on the young.” –Mark Twain.
  • “The first half of life consists of the capacity to enjoy without the chance; the last half consists of the chance without the capacity.” –Mark Twain
  • “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” –Mae West
  • “Those whom the gods love grow young.” –Oscar Wilde
  • “My happiest memory of childhood was my first birthday in reform school. This teacher took an interest in me. In fact, he gave me the first birthday presents I ever got: a box of Cracker Jacks and a can of ABC shoe polish.” –Flip Wilson
  • “The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” –Oprah Winfrey
  • “From our birthday, until we die, is but the winking of an eye.” –William Butler Yeats

Memorable Songs & Books

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

–Bob Dylan from the song “May You Stay Forever Young”

They say it’s your birthday
It’s my birthday too, yeah
They say it’s your birthday
We’re gonna have a good time
I’m glad it’s your birthday
Happy birthday to you

–John Lennon & Paul McCartney from the song “Birthday”

Time is on my side, yes it is
Time is on my side, yes it is

–Jerry Ragovoy (AKA Jimmy Norman) from the Rolling Stones’ song “Time Is on My Side”

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

–Dr. Seuss (AKA Theodor Seuss Geisel) from the book “Happy Birthday to You!”

Related Articles:

Tips for Researching Birthdays & Birthday Notices in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary finds birthday articles and notices in old newspapers to show how they can help with your family history research.

I suppose there are people who don’t celebrate birthdays, but they’re hard to find. Who wouldn’t want to partake in this annual celebration of life?

The Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson was the exception. In 1900, he bequeathed his birthday to Adelaide Ide, a little girl who had “carelessly” been born on Leap Day (29th February). Many accounts claim that she had been born on Christmas Day, but one of the wonderful things about historical newspaper articles is that they correct mistakes like this.

Not wishing for Adelaide to be cheated out of birthdays every three years out of four, Stevenson wrote:

I, Robert Louis Stevenson, in a sound state of mind and body, having arrived at an age when I no longer have any use for birthdays, do give and bequeath my birthday, on the 13th of November, to Miss Adelaide Ide, to be hers from this year as long as she wishes it. Robert Louis Stevenson.

article about Robert Louis Stevenson, Daily Illinois State Register newspaper article 3 June 1900

Daily Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois), 3 June 1900, page 10

What a delightful birthday idea!

Genealogical Stories in Newspaper Birthday Notices

Newspaper articles round out our genealogical stories, so use them lavishly to learn how family celebrated festive affairs such as birthdays. Many articles, such as this one from 1895, suggest hints for planning a child’s big day.

article about birthday cakes, Evening Star newspaper article 2 February 1895

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 2 February 1895, page 12

This next newspaper article, from 1892, reminds us that high teas were in favor – but it also demonstrates that many birthday customs have not changed. As is practiced today, the child’s name was written in frosting on the birthday cake, which was decorated with candles to match her age plus one to grow on.

article about birthday cakes and parties, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 6 November 1892

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 6 November 1892, page 13

Life Milestones

Birthday articles with the most impressive genealogical data spotlight celebrants who attain impressive milestones, such as this 1894 newspaper article reporting on the 105th birthday of Hannah Chard. This article notes where she was born, her birth date, her maiden name and some of her progeny. Facts and narratives are reported, such as how she gathered cannonballs at the Revolutionary War battlefield in Pennsylvania from the Battle of Brandywine.

birthday notice for Hannah Chard, New York Herald newspaper article 14 April 1894

New York Herald (New York, New York), 14 April 1894, page 14

This 1800s newspaper article alludes to several timelines in Hannah’s life. Although she was of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, Hannah came to live with a Quaker family around the age of five after her father passed away, and her husband’s death is reported as occurring 12 years earlier. If you were searching for pertinent dates, an old news article like this provides important leads.

We also learn that Hannah enjoyed exceptional health at the age of 105, despite taking great comfort in smoking a clay pipe four times a day!

An interesting genealogy aside: I have an ancestor who also found cannonballs at the Battle of Brandywine battlefield.

photo of a cannonball from the Battle of the Brandywine found by Mary Harrell-Sesniak's ancestor, Edith Scott

Photo: cannonball from the Battle of the Brandywine found by the author’s ancestor, Edith Scott. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

Surprise Birthday Parties

Surprise birthday parties frequently make the news, and those newspaper articles can identify family relationships helpful to your family history research, or sometimes describe gifts that may have become family heirlooms.

This 1880 newspaper article does both, noting three generations of family in attendance and a special chair.

Mrs. Evelene Laverty turned 75 in 1880, and she was kept out of the house before being surprised by her son-in-law with upwards of thirty relatives and friends at her surprise birthday party. Two of the people attending were her brother and sister-in-law, the Darlings, a useful tidbit when searching for maiden names. Their daughter, Mrs. R. C. Dart, was also present.

birthday notice for Eveline Laverty, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 3 January 1880

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 3 January 1880, page 5

Surprise birthday parties are not always given by family members.

In this 1883 newspaper article, we learn about E. B. Myers, a school teacher at Elkhart, Indiana. When his students realized it was his birthday, they surprised him with a pair of elegant slippers and a lovely note:

Mr. Myers will please accept the accompanying gift as a token of the high esteem and regard of his pupils.

birthday notice for E. B. Myers, Elkhart Daily Review newspaper article 15 March 1883

Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 15 March 1883, page 3

Genealogy Tips for Researching Birthdays in the News

To recap, newspaper birthday notices may contain:

  • addresses (home & location of the party)
  • attire worn and decorations
  • dates (birthday & date of the festivity)
  • food, refreshments, activities & the entertainment
  • birthday gifts & presents
  • guest lists, family members & their relationships
  • photographs
  • Cross-reference birthday notices with birth and vital records, to see if someone fudged on an age
  • Cross-reference names to see how they are related
  • Search other years for similar announcements
  • Search for nicknames, particularly in classified advertisements

Foreign Birthday Terms

If an ancestor was an immigrant or child of an immigrant, search by foreign language birthday keywords. Remember that although different countries may share a language, the term in one location may vary from another. Here are some examples:

  • Dutch: verjaardag
  • French : anniversaire, fête, la jour de naissance
  • German: geburtstag
  • Irish: lá breithe
  • Spanish: ¡feliz cumpleaños!

Fun Genealogy Activity

If you’re working on your family genealogy or planning a summer reunion, search old newspaper headlines for memorable events that occurred on the day someone was born, or on a milestone birthday. You never know what interesting facts you might discover about their date of birth.

If you’ve found an unusual birthday notice doing your newspaper research, please share it with us in the comments.

Related Articles:

Mary’s Musings: Humorous Observations about Excited Genealogists

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary shares some of her humorous musings on how excited genealogists get about genealogy.

As we head into summer, I’d like to share some of my genealogy funnies to brighten your day (or night).

As fellow genealogists you know how excited we get doing genealogy, so perhaps you will relate to these humorous musings. If you think of more, please let me know – as one thing I’ve learned about family historians, we all love a good laugh!

Genealogists get so excited…

  • at counting ancestors, I’m surprised they get any sleep at all! (Certainly more fun than counting sheep in your sleep.)
  • at discovering birth records, I’m surprised they don’t throw baby showers for their ancestors!
  • at discovering black sheep ancestors, I’m surprised they don’t consider if they are the same for their generation!
  • at displaying genealogy, I’m surprised to see households with modern décor!
  • at finding family Bible records, I’m surprised they don’t recreate the missing ones.

Genealogy Saying: Genealogists get so excited •	at finding family Bible records, I’m surprised they don’t recreate the missing ones.

  • at finding mistakes in online trees, I’m surprised they don’t charge offenders with a crime. (“Fraudulent trees will be sent to the genealogy police!”)
  • at learning old medical terms, I’m surprised they don’t report them during medical appointments. (“Hey Doc, can you please prescribe something for my bone shave, dropsy and podagra?”)
  • at meeting new folks, I’m surprised they don’t introduce their children as descendants and their parents as ancestors.
  • at meeting new grandchildren, I’m surprised they don’t present baby blankets decorated with family trees.
  • at navigating old maps, I’m surprised their glove compartments have room for modern ones.
  • at noting family resemblances, I’m surprised there aren’t photo collages showing all of the connections. (“Do you see that Susie has 2nd Great Grandmother’s nose, Johnny has his Grandpa’s eyes and Little Arthur has elongated hands like 3rd Great Grandpa’s?”)
  • at organizing family reunions, I’m surprised they have time to get to know their neighbors!
  • at passing on heirlooms, I’m surprised their children receive modern gifts! (“Oh gee thanks Grandma. I love this old wooden train better than that video game I’ve had my eye on!”)
  • at pinning on Pinterest, I’m surprised when they create boards on other subjects!

graphic showing various genealogy-related Pinterest boards

  • at breaking through brick walls, I’m surprised there isn’t a lineage society for high achievers. (Suggestion: Solver of the 10-Ancestor Brick Wall Society.)
  • at proving dead-ends, I’m surprised they don’t throw a party to celebrate! (“Please attend a party on the 15th in honor of solving my 35th dead-end!”)
  • at proving vital records, I’m surprised they don’t throw birthday parties for their ancestors!
  • at putting together the pieces of the ancestral puzzle, I’m surprised they ever see daylight!
  • at querying databases, I’m surprised genealogy sites don’t crash on a regular basis.
  • at reading ancestral diaries, I’m surprised they don’t conjure up better details for the duller ones!
  • at reading blogs, I’m surprised they don’t petition school boards to add them to required curriculum!
  • at reading early documents, I’m surprised we don’t all speak in Old English.
  • at reading obituaries, I’m surprised family historians don’t write their own!
  • at reading old newspapers, I’m surprised someone hasn’t started a daily subscription of old news!
  • at reading wills, I’m surprised more don’t address genealogy records in their own will. (“Item one: I leave all of my worldly possessions to the person who promises to preserve the family genealogy!”)
  • at recording ancestral birthdays, I’m surprised they celebrate their own!
  • at remembering ancestral data, I’m surprised they can remember anything else at all!
  • at researching the family tree, I’m surprised their smart phones have apps for other purposes.
  • at saving genealogical finds, I’m surprised their hard drives aren’t totally full!
  • at seeing family photographs, I’m surprised there isn’t a national genealogists’ photo club.
  • at studying DNA, I’m surprised that little ID card in their wallets doesn’t have results recorded on it!

humorous graphic showing a "genealogist's ID card"

  • at studying DNA, I’m surprised they don’t have a genetic test run on every new family member!
  • at taking tombstone photos, I’m surprised they don’t take selfies more in front of them.
  • at tracing lineages, I’m surprised they raise anything but pedigreed pets!
  • at tracking down people, I’m surprised they aren’t all working as private investigators!
  • at traveling to family homesteads, I’m surprised their family members ever get to visit fun places like the beach!

humorous photo showing a genealogist's "happy husband"

  • at visiting cemeteries, I’m surprised most don’t have a personal cemetery in their backyard!
  • at visiting family sites, I’m surprised to hear the GPS has room for other trip destinations!
  • at visiting cemetery graveyards, I’m surprised they don’t all plan their funerals in advance.
  • at visiting libraries, I’m surprised they don’t attend self-help groups when the libraries are closed.
  • at working on their family trees, I’m surprised there’s room to sit at their tables for a meal.
  • at writing genealogy blogs, I’m surprised they take time out for eating & drinking!
  • upon finding military records, I’m surprised more genealogists are not re-enactors!
  • upon finding old family homesteads, I’m surprised they haven’t purchased more of them.
  • upon finding reprobate ancestors, I’m surprised when genealogists don’t have a “Wall of Shame” on their Facebook pages! [“Who are you? Why can’t I find you? You know if you hide, I’ll find you! Ancestors wanted Dead or Alive!”]
  • upon finding tombstones, I’m surprised they don’t have a wall in their home of cemetery photographs!
  • upon trying old recipes, I’m surprised their kitchens aren’t full of antique cookware!
  • when bragging about genealogy, I’m surprised genealogists don’t pull ancestral photos out of wallets! (“If you think your kid is special, take a look at my Great Great Grandparents’ offspring!”)
  • when finding new cousins, I’m surprised there’s anyone else in their address books!
  • when they can’t solve genealogical brick walls, I’m surprised they don’t consult psychics!
  • when they solve brick walls, I’m surprised doctors don’t prescribe genealogy as a cure for depression!

humorous cartoon showing a happy genealogist ready to travel

  • when traveling for genealogical purposes, I’m surprised the gadgets leave any room for clothing. (“Packing list: camera, computer, files, flashdrive & backup drive, GPS, maps, notebook, scanner, smart phone loaded with apps, tablet & clothing – Oops, no room!”)

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Researching Kids with Vintage Newspaper Ads of 100 Years Ago

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary shows how historical newspaper advertisements offer a fascinating insight into the stories of our ancestors’ lives – such as these old ads concerning children.

If you’re like most genealogists, you thrive by living vicariously through the lives of ancestors.

montage of ancestor photos with the caption: "Genealogists thrive on living vicariously through the lives of their ancestors."

We amass hordes of vital statistics on our ancestors – and then we look for detailed data about what happened in their lives. Who were their relatives, what did they do for a living, where did they live, when did all of this happen and why did they do what they did?

And for some of our ancestors, historical newspaper advertisements offer a fascinating insight into the personal stories of their lives.

Take, for instance, children.

Ads for Children

As every parent knows, we do our best to provide for our children – so it should come as no surprise to find old newspapers advertisements that are targeted toward children’s well-being. From schools to medical treatments, there is a wealth of information to be gleaned about what life was like back in their times.

Early American Schools

According to an article on the History of Public Schools at Wikipedia, by 1918 every U.S. state required students to complete elementary school. So what were parents to do if they wanted to arrange for more education beyond that level?

They turned to tutors and private educational institutions, such as the many featured in these 1915 Pennsylvania newspaper advertisements.

ads for schools and colleges, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper advertisements 11 September 1915

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 11 September 1915, page 5

Of course, not every advertisement was for a traditional school, and not every ad was for children.

ad for the International School of Photo-Play Training, Oregonian newspaper advertisement 9 April 1915

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 9 April 1915, page 2

At the International School of Photo-Play Training in Portland, Oregon, you could learn movie acting. The allure of high salaries, such as Mary Pickford’s $2,000 a week or Charlie Chaplin’s $1,250 weekly pay, was a strong draw.

Mary Pickford was a huge star in 1915.

photo of Mary Pickford, Tulsa World newspaper article 7 February 1915

Tulsa World (Tulsa, Oklahoma), 7 February 1915, page 8

Juvenile Apparel (Clothing)

What would you guess your ancestors paid for their children’s clothing?

I’m not certain what the average national salary was a hundred years ago. The Social Security Administration maintains a chart of average salaries in the U.S., starting in 1951 (when it was $2,799.16), so it couldn’t have been much back in 1915 (see http://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/AWI.html).

So in 1915 newspaper advertisements, when you see prices for juvenile apparel starting at a few dollars per item, that was considered expensive by many people. Note the Saturday specials for Joel Gutman & Company of Baltimore, Maryland, in the ad below:

  • Boys’ and girls’ footwear was on sale for $1.90, with high and lace shoes selling for $2.15
  • Boys’ suits were priced from $7.50 to $8.50, and overcoats from $10.00 to $13.00
  • Girls’ cloth dresses ranged from $1.67 to $2.85
  • Girls’ coats from $5.97 to $8.37
ad for children's clothing from Joel Gutman and Company, Sun newspaper advertisement 9 January 1915

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 9 January 1915, page 4

Medicine and Quackery

If you want to have a good laugh – or can handle being shocked at what happened in the past – take a look at the medical treatments available to our ancestors. Many of the medical treatments of yesteryear, such as the opiate paregoric (powdered opium), promised to cure everything from diarrhea to colic (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paregoric).

As seen in the ad below for castoria (castor oil) warning parents “Don’t Poison Baby,” the dangers of paregoric were known 100 years ago. Surprisingly, you could purchase it without a subscription until 1970, so it ended up in many household medicine cabinets.

ad for castoria (castor oil), Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper advertisement 7 July 1915

Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado), 7 July 1915, page 5

If your children were “vertically challenged,” parents could arrange for magnetic wave treatments.

Dr. Charles I. White, who (in my humble opinion) should be added to the many lists of quack doctors, promised to double the growth of children by electrical treatment. Let’s hope none of your family was drawn in by the spurious medical advertisement shown below.

ad for the "magnetic wave" medical device, Riverside Independent Enterprise newspaper advertisement 16 January 1915

Riverside Independent Enterprise (Riverside, California), 16 January 1915, page 3

Delve into historical newspaper classified ads and let us know if you find information that helped with your family history research.

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