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.

What Were Your Ancestor’s Last Words?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary takes a fascinating look at some of the last words people said before they died – both famous and not-so-famous.

When a person breathes their last, the grieving often ask: “What were his or her last words?”

For some people in these final cherished moments of life, their dying wish is to impart memorable quotes or words of wisdom to those left behind. These last words are great fun to read and contemplate.

Many are quoted in newspapers, so if you are lucky you might find your ancestor’s last words.

Religious Expressions

Many obituaries report the deceased’s devotion to, or love of, God.

One example was reported in this death notice for Miss Anna Harmon, who died at the age of 30. She said:

I wish I might – I hope I do resign myself to Christ, for time and for eternity!

obituary for Anna Harmon, Vermont Gazette newspaper article 24 January 1804

Vermont Gazette (Bennington, Vermont), 24 January 1804, page 3

In 1831, Caesar Low told his wife that he was going to die. His death notice reported that “spiritual light seemed to increase in his soul” and noted his last statements just before he died as follows:

“Glory to God – Hallelujah to God, hallelujah – Oh, my dear Father! My Heavenly Father! He is my Father.” Then pointing to heaven, he said: “Yes, I am coming, I am coming!” His final words were:

See Jesus! See Jesus! How shall I act in Heaven?

obituary for Caesar Low, Liberator newspaper article 29 October 1831

Liberator (Boston, Massachusetts), 29 October 1831, page 176

Instructions or Words of Wisdom

Although not reported in her obituary, noted abolitionist and suffragette Lucy Stone (1818-1893) left advice for her only daughter with her dying words, Alice Stone Blackwell.

obituary for Lucy Stone, Springfield Republican newspaper article 19 October 1893

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 19 October 1893, page 5

Lucy encouraged Alice to “make the world better,” which she did.

last words of Lucy Stone, Oregonian newspaper article 28 September 1986

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 28 September 1986, page 167

By the time of her mother’s death, Alice (1857-1950) had become editor of the Woman’s Home Journal and recording secretary for the National American Woman Suffrage Association. During her life she championed many causes, including Russian freedom and world peace – and unlike her mother, was able to celebrate the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920 (see the National Archives).

Enter Last Name

Alice’s last words were not recorded – but many would like to think she was thinking of her mother when she passed.

photo from the obituary for Alice Blackwell, Boston Herald newspaper article 16 March 1950

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 March 1950, page 27

Appropriate Sayings

Joseph Medill (1823-1899), editor of the Chicago Tribune (who must have read hundreds of last words during his career), appears to have contemplated his own final utterance. Shortly before he passed, his physician heard him comment: “My last words shall be, what is the news?”

obituary for Joseph Medill, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 17 March 1899

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 17 March 1899, page 2

Bat Masterson (1853-1921), another newspaper man, is quoted as having written a lengthy statement. It didn’t appear in his obituaries, but was widely cited years later.

obituary for Bat Masterson, Estrella newspaper article 5 November 1921

Estrella (Las Cruces, New Mexico), 5 November 1921, page 4

Masterson’s last words were:

There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose these ginks hold that because the rich man gets ice in the summer and the poor man gets it in the winter things are breaking even for both!

Bat Masterson's last words, Greensboro Record newspaper article 30 September 1964

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 30 September 1964, page 9

How It Feels to Die

Others use their last words to express feelings about death and dying.

Enter Last Name

For example, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) responded “beautiful” to a question about how she felt, and William Hunter (1718-1783), the famous Scottish physician and anatomist, said:

If I had strength enough left to hold a pen, I would write what a pleasant and easy thing it is to die.

article about some famous people's last words, Oregonian newspaper article 28 September 1986

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 28 September 1986, page 167

Jane Austen (1775-1817), author of Pride and Prejudice and other novels, didn’t feel the same. She was reportedly asked if there was anything she wanted. Her reply was:

Nothing but death.

Jane Austen's last words, Oregonian newspaper article 28 September 1986

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 28 September 1986, page 167

U.S. Presidents’ Last Words

Some of the most-quoted last words are from famous people, such as U.S. presidents.

Modern-day writers like to report that President John Adams, who died on the same day as President Thomas Jefferson on 4 July 1826, said for his final words: “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

As in all statements about history and ancestry, historical newspapers are one of the best ways to check the facts. For his last words, did Adams say, “Thomas Jefferson survives” or did he actually say “It is a great and glorious day”?

article about the last words of John Adams, Spectator newspaper article 14 July 1826

Spectator (New York, New York), 14 July 1826, page 1

Watch for a follow-up article offering more U.S. presidents’ last words, in celebration of the upcoming Presidents’ Day – and by all means, let us know what last words your ancestors are reported to have said!

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Wedding Belles! How to Find Your Ancestors’ Marriage Records

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary provides search tips for finding your ancestors’ marriage records in old newspapers.

When romance is in the air, newspapers report it in many surprising ways. By searching old newspapers, you’ll find copious details about your ancestors’ engagements, rehearsal dinners and weddings!

photo of a bride in her wedding dress

Photo: bride in wedding dress, 11 September 1929. Credit: Infrogmation; Wikimedia Commons.

Newspapers Provide Shower & Wedding Details

You might even find old newspaper articles on wedding showers, such as this one from 1910, when Grace (Floyd) Kannaman’s friends surprised her with one. Even though the wedding had already occurred, they couldn’t resist more festivities.

They dined on frappes and wafers, while entertaining themselves with the games “Ring on the String,” “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button,” “Jenkins Up,” and a clothes-pin race. Color-coded gifts were accompanied by poetical dedications, and recipes were pasted in a blue-bound book to become her “infallible household guide!” What a treasure that recipe book must have been to receive – and a great family heirloom to locate if it’s still around!

article about Grace Floyd's bridal shower, Sedan Times-Star newspaper article 1 September 1910

Sedan Times-Star (Sedan, Kansas), 1 September 1910, page 1

Notice how the wedding of Mr. Le Grand C. Cramer and Miss Nellie Almy was described in the following newspaper article as a virtual feast of details. This lengthy historical news article names family members, bridesmaids, groomsmen, the officiant and even the organist – and you get to read about the magnificent pearl and diamond earrings bestowed on Nellie by her groom.

Her bridal costume “consisted of a very rich Velour white-ribbed silk dress with court train, the front breadth elaborately trimmed with flowers and tulle, and the remainder of the dress also elaborately trimmed with waxed orange buds and tulle.” There was a matching veil and extraordinary gifts abounded. An imported camel’s hair shawl was “very cheap at twelve hundred dollars” and of the solid silverware “there seemed to be no end, either in quantity or variety.” The article went on to say that “Those who ought to be good judges say that no bride in this city has ever received such a large quantity of elegant presents as have been bestowed upon Mrs. Cramer.” (I imagine that was an understatement!)

wedding  notice for Le Grand C. Cramer and Nellie Almy, Providence Evening Press newspaper article 17 November 1871

Providence Evening Press (Providence, Rhode Island), 17 November 1871, page 2

The elite are usually proffered prime newspaper coverage for their weddings – but even if your ancestor wasn’t a society belle, you’ll likely uncover intriguing details and descriptions of her wedding.

In 1897, this wedding notice for J. C. Love and Hattie Upchurch reported that the church was “crowded to the doors” and that after the “knot had been tied, to be broken only by death” there was a “swell reception.”

wedding notice for J. C. Love and Hattie Upchurch, Gazette newspaper article 30 October 1897

Gazette (Raleigh, North Carolina), 30 October 1897, page 3

Ancestor Wedding Photographs

Don’t forget to hunt for photographs of marriage engagements and weddings.

Enter Last Name

Historical newspapers have always been prone to printing arrays of pictures. When you find weddings, you get a special treat – not only do you get to see the bride and sometimes the groom, but you also get a fashion show of earlier styles!

Genealogy Tip: As discussed in other articles on this blog, if you’ve got an undated photo, browse early newspapers to see if you can figure out the time period when similar clothing styles were popular. For example, read the article How to Date Family Photos with Vintage Fashion Ads in Newspapers.

Here is a 1913 photograph depicting a society belle with her groom. He was Frances Bowes Sayre (1885-1972), the lucky fellow who married President Woodrow Wilson’s daughter, Jessie (1887-1933). Her gown was magnificent – and if you search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for reports about their wedding, you’ll learn about the White House ceremony and their honeymoon in Europe.

wedding photo for Frances Bowes Sayre and Jessie Wilson, Evening Times newspaper article 29 November 1913

Evening Times (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 29 November 1913, page 8

This next photo example, from 1936, is a virtual collage of people – from the wedding party to family members and attendees. What a treasure it would be to include this wedding picture collage in the family scrapbook!

wedding photos, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 9 August 1936

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 9 August 1936, page 8

Search Tips for Ancestor Wedding Information in Old Newspapers

I’d like to leave you with some search tips, and invite you to share your own with us in the comments section.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search page

  • After exhausting these two, try other search categories. Occasionally you’ll find a honeymoon mentioned in the Passenger Lists category, or the unfortunate divorce filing in the Legal, Probate & Court category. Any of these can help with finding an elusive date of marriage.
  • Don’t forget to broaden date ranges when you do your newspaper searches. Engagement notices can appear in newspapers many years prior to a wedding. Although local wedding notices are usually printed not long after a wedding, out-of-town papers may report the wedding after a long delay. Even honeymoon stop-overs are reported when the happy couple visits relatives.
Enter Last Name

  • Research wedding legal requirements. An often overlooked query are banns, which had to be published prior to a wedding. This was done so that people could report concerns as to why a couple should not be married. The amusing anecdote in the following newspaper article showcases the process. In this instance, the groom had written to the church sexton with a request to publish the banns. Trying to be congenial, he concluded his letter: “So no more from your well wisher and Mary Williams.” This sexton unfortunately interpreted the man’s name as “William Wisher,” which was used in the published banns. Imagine the couple’s disappointment when they learned their wedding had to be postponed until after the corrected banns had been published!
article about wedding banns, Biloxi Herald newspaper article 16 December 1893

Biloxi Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi), 16 December 1893, page 3

  • Many records kept by organizations are only available at the source. Go to your family’s house of worship to see if any canonical records can be searched. One example comes from my own family. I tried to order my parents’ marriage certificate, but it is lost. So Mom and I went to the church where they were married, only to find that the official wedding book had been lost. The church finally located a report in the monthly newspaper which verified the details of their wedding.
  • Learn about religious customs. An example comes from those with ancestors belonging to the Society of Friends (or Quakers). Many of their accounts make for interesting reading. Recently, I spotted reports where members were directed to observe weddings. The intent was to make sure the ceremony was performed in a manner appropriate to the religion. When it wasn’t, there were follow-ups as to how the marriage had occurred out of unity and whether or not a member took appropriate steps to restore the relationship with the church.
  • If you can’t find a family wedding notice in a newspaper, focus on the groom. Enter his full name, and follow up with a search using his given name’s initials. As seen in the Sayre-Wilson wedding photo above, the bride wasn’t even mentioned by name – and the groom only as “F. B.” Sayre
  • A related tip is to search for the bride or groom’s father. It’s all too common to read reports that “a daughter or son of Mr. So & So was married recently.”
  • Many historical newspaper articles will have headlines reporting just the surnames of the wedding couple, so try searching without given names, such as “Smith-Kline marriage.”
  • If your primary objective is to determine a date and you’re striking out as to the exact date of the marriage, look for anniversary notices and obituaries. Many will report that a couple was married on a certain day, or that they were celebrating a special milestone such as a golden wedding anniversary.
article about wedding anniversaries, San Francisco Bulletin newspaper article 26 September 1866

San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 26 September 1866, page 3

  • From one’s engagement to the actual wedding, there are more steps associated with marriages than any other type of life event – so consider all of them as potential keywords. Browse the following list to find keywords that can be cross-referenced:
  • bachelor
  • banns
  • best man
  • betrothal or betrothed
  • bride
  • bridal
  • bridal party
  • bridal shower
  • bridegroom
  • bridesmaid
  • ceremony
  • civil ceremony
  • civil union
  • commitment ceremony
  • dowry
  • elope
  • eloped
  • elopement
  • engaged
  • engagement
  • engagement ring
  • fiancé or fiancée
  • flower girl
  • groom
  • groomsmen
  • guests
  • honeymoon
  • intended
  • intentions
  • maid of honor or matron of honor
  • marriage
  • marriage certificate
  • marriage license
  • married
  • marry
  • newlyweds
  • nuptials
  • officiant (minister, priest, rabbi, reverend, etc.)
  • proposal
  • ring
  • shotgun wedding
  • shower
  • spinster
  • trousseau
  • union
  • veil
  • vows
  • wedding
  • wedding party
  • witness and witnesses

Related Marriage & Divorce Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Funny Genealogy Quotes: End-of-the-Year Fun for Genealogists

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary helps end your year on a humorous note with these funny genealogy quotes.

When asked to suggest 2015 New Year’s resolutions for genealogists, I thought about reminding everyone to back up computers, check out new apps, index records, interview family members, read more historical newspapers, and share as many new finds as possible.

But then, most of you already know to do this, don’t you!

So, I thought – what does everyone really want to read to end their 2014?

Since this was the year of shared genealogy humor & quotes, I realized we all want to have more fun with our research – because after all, if genealogy wasn’t so much fun, we wouldn’t be so wrapped up in the chase!

genealogy saying: "You know you’re a genealogist if you refuse to live in a house with brick walls!"

So here we go. Here are some more fun “You know you’re a genealogist” quotes to end this wonderful year!

You know you’re a genealogist if…

  • you refuse to live in a house with brick walls!
  • 99.99% of your friends are family historians!
  • instead of downsizing, you’re planning on upsizing to store the genealogy stuff!
  • the first item in your will has to do with how your genealogy will be preserved!
  • the song “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” makes you dream about the White family roots!
  • you dream about ancestors!
  • you find really old newspaper news, really good news!
  • you have a special photo album just for historical markers & tombstones!
  • you keep a source book, or A to Zax, near your computer!

genealogy saying: "You know you’re a genealogist if, when you find a new birth record, you get so excited you think about throwing a baby shower!"

  • when you find a new birth record, you get so excited you think about throwing a baby shower!
  • you attend more holiday parties with gen-aholics than family!
  • you can name all of your forebears to the fifth generation!
  • you carry a magnifying glass, not for reading menus, but for genealogy!
  • you celebrate dead people’s birthdays!
  • you consider your “rejected” lineage society applications battle wounds!
  • you made it through the 52-week challenge, and are already working on next year’s!
  • you own clothing embroidered with surnames!
  • you put on a lucky hat to give yourself an edge at busting down brick walls!

genealogy saying: "You know you’re a genealogist if, when you overhear someone at a party talking about something being done “for bears,” you assume they’re talking about “forebears”!"

    Enter Last Name

  • when you overhear someone at a party talking about something being done “for bears,” you assume they’re talking about “forebears”!
  • you can’t fall asleep until you’ve found one more genealogy fact!
  • you know not to confuse epitaph with epithet, or interment with internment!
  • you know the expression “redoing your roots” has nothing to do with hair dye!
  • you know what autosomal, mitochondrial and haplogroup mean!
  • you read fairy tales to grandchildren, but change the names to ancestors! “Once upon a time, there were three bears, Jane Eliza McGillicutty Bear, her husband William Henry Mergatroyd Bear and their cute little baby, William Henry Mergatroyd Bear, the Second.”
  • you routinely take sneak peeks of genealogy while the family is watching sports!
  • you spend more on death certificates than on clothing!
  • you zoom in on old photos just to examine framed portraits spotted in the background!

genealogy saying: "You know you’re a genealogist if you never trash old records, knowing they can always be recycled and used for some other family history research!"

  • you never trash old records, knowing they can always be recycled and used for some other family history research!
  • your recycling bin never has much paper in it!
  • you’d rather have a genealogy library than a swimming pool!
  • you’re clueless about how to speak a foreign language, but have no problem translating a foreign language will!
  • you’re not offended to be called a tombstone tourist!
  • you’ve already purchased your headstone, so your family doesn’t get it wrong!
  • you’ve come down with a case of taphophilia, and aren’t worried about being contagious!
  • you’ve considered forming your own lineage society!
  • you’ve considered putting a family tree chart on your tombstone!

genealogy saying: "You know you’re a genealogist if you’ve considered storing your precious genealogy in the family safe!"

  • you’ve considered storing your precious genealogy in the family safe!
  • you’ve created a photo montage of yourself with an ancestor!
  • you’ve deleted a movie on your DVR to make space for a genealogy show!
  • your daily goals include solving someone else’s brick wall!
  • your house’s family room is a family “genealogy” room!
  • your research breaks only happen on days that don’t end in y!
  • your travel app alerts you to fare drops to cities with genealogy libraries!
  • your travel tote includes a portable scanner!
  • your will directs that a family tree chart be imprinted on your grave!

genealogy saying: "You know you’re a genealogist if you’ve driven 100 miles to track down a vital record!"

    Enter Last Name

  • you’ve driven 100 miles to track down a vital record!
  • you’ve gifted a teddy bear to a child named after one of their forebears!
  • you’ve gotten a speeding ticket because you were thinking about genealogy!
  • you’ve made your family plant a “family” tree!
  • you’ve memorized an epitaph!
  • you’ve sneaked a peak at GenealogyBank while pretending to watch sports!
  • you’ve stayed up late researching someone else’s family!
  • you’ve identified at least a dozen spelling variations for your surname!
  • your calendar records “this day in history” ancestral birthdays!

And I’d like to leave you with one more genealogy quote, sent in from my friend Linda Hodginson:

genealogy sayings: "You know you’re a genealogist if you know people who would want a book on tombstone rubbings!"

No wonder we are friends. I even own a book on tombstone sayings!

Happy New Year to all our readers!

If you have any fun “you know you’re a genealogist if…” sayings, please send them along for a future blog article!

Related Funny Genealogy Quotes Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Kids Holiday Gift Ideas: Craft Projects from Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find craft projects our ancestors might have made, such as cut-out patterns, paper dolls, soap box coasters, and paper airplanes.

Want a fun craft project for a child’s Christmas or holiday gift that can be completed in a weekend?

Search old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, for ideas about gifts our ancestors might have made. Newspapers’ Feature pages of the past often included patterns and craft projects that our grandparents made, and the projects have the added benefit of inspiring the young to pursue genealogy.

Coloring books, cut-out patterns, paper dolls or even paper airplanes are easily found in old newspapers. Assemble the patterns into a booklet or place the projects into a special Christmas stocking along with the required materials. You might even consider embellishing the stocking by adding some of the patterns to the fabric of the stocking.

If you don’t wish this to be a surprise, help your children make these crafts as gifts for others. Either way, the fun will last for hours!

Enter Last Name

Search Tips:

  • Search the newspapers’ Photos & Illustrations category with keywords such as:  “contest,” “cut out,” “paper dolls” or “paper planes.”
  • Some of the projects, including those for toy airplanes, were patented in their day. Search Google’s Patent Search for corresponding projects.

Here are some examples of fun children’s craft projects and activities from yesteryear.

Christmas Fireplace to Be Cut Out

Here’s a pattern from 1903 for your child to create a fireplace decorated for Christmas.

fireplace cut-out pattern for children, Baltimore American newspaper article 13 December 1903

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 13 December 1903, page 47

Prize Painting Contest

Use this kid’s craft pattern from 1904 to create your own mini contest. Add crayons or watercolors and fun prizes so that friends or siblings can play along. The caption reads:

For the four best paintings of the above picture two prize packages and two gold-plated Outlook Flag Pins are offered. Boys and girls who love painting should try what they can do with this picture, which has been made in outline especially for them.

outline scene for a children's painting contest, Boston Journal newspaper article 13 March 1904

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 March 1904, page 11

Paper Dolls to Paint and Cut Out

What child doesn’t love a paper doll?

paper doll cut-outs, Boston Journal newspaper article 29 December 1901

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 29 December 1901, page 2

Novelty Paper Dolls

Here’s a dapper-looking gentleman cut-out from 1902.

paper doll cut-outs, Boston Journal newspaper article 2 February 1902

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 2 February 1902, section: Fiction and Children’s, page 7

Soap Box Coaster

In this 1915 newspaper article, 11-year-old Albert Weld explained how he made a coaster for the soap box derby for only 30 cents—and for his prize-winning entry, the paper paid him $1.

Albert Weld's Coaster Cost 30 Cents; He Tells Each Step to Make It, Plain Dealer newspaper article 21 November 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 21 November 1915, page 69

This contest article also shows how every part of a newspaper can provide genealogical information about your ancestors. Imagine if Albert Weld was your ancestor, and you found this article. From it you learn:

  • Albert was 11 in 1915
  • He lived in Cleveland
  • His address: 1840 W. 52nd St.
  • He was in seventh grade at the Detroit school
  • His teacher was Miss Ward

Perhaps most wonderful of all, you get to read the short essay Albert wrote describing how he built his coaster for only 30 cents, including his plaintive final words: “I did this all myself, as I have no father or brother to help me.”

To top it all off, you get a picture of Albert, showing how he looked as an 11-year-old, even if the photo caption misspelled his first name as “Alfred.”

Enter Last Name

Here’s one from the Patent Office.

“Arrowplane” for Boys and Girls


Reg. U.S. Pat. Office. In the accompanying drawings, four airplanes are shown. Cut out carefully all parts, following black lines being sure not to tear the paper. From a piece of cardboard, about the thickness of a writing tablet back, cut out four long and four short strings same size as patterns shown. These are used to reinforce the front edges of the airplane and to give them proper balance for flight…

model airplane instructions

Model airplane instructions

If you tried any of these kids’ craft projects, please let us know how they went! Or share with us some of your own homemade toy projects.

After all, as the introduction to Albert Weld’s article above stated:

Home made toys are just as much fun to play with as those that are bought readymade, and they are such fun to make.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

Related Kids’ Craft Project Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

DIY Project: Your Own Holiday Family Advent Calendar

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary uses ideas and graphics from old newspapers to show how you can make your own Advent calendar for this holiday season.

One of the great joys of the holidays is the anticipation of what is to come!

My family celebrates Christmas, and one of my fondest memories is the childish expectation of seeing what is behind each door of the family Advent calendar. Day by day, we’d open a door or window to see what surprise awaited us. This family time was special and gave our parents an opportunity to discuss Christmas with us.

Christmas is only 25 days away, and the first door on the holiday Advent calendar can be opened tonight—so you have time today to make your own Advent calendar!

Many people receive their Advent calendars as gifts, and others elect to purchase them. However, they are very easy to make—so why not try making your own this year? Historical newspapers are a fun place to find a background setting or to locate clipart for the surprises behind each door.

Enter Last Name

Craft Supplies

Your family Advent calendar can be made with easy-to-find household supplies—or for more elaborate designs, these items can be found at a craft store:

  • Poster board, construction or craft paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Small craft embellishments

Calendar Style

Before starting, pick a style. As this newspaper article from 1972 demonstrates, you could craft poster board into a free-standing triptych reminiscent of a cathedral. Other ideas are to make wall calendars or to strap together construction paper using one page for each day of Advent.

article about Advent calendars, State Times Advocate newspaper article 2 December 1972

State Times Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 2 December 1972, page 13

Newspaper Images

Another idea is to find a traditional picture, either in your own collection or from GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

drawing of a Romanesque-style church in Cleveland, Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 October 1890

Cleveland Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 October 1890, page 8

This church image stems from an 1890 design of a Romanesque church located at the corner of Willson Avenue and Prospect Street in Cleveland, Ohio. Since many early structures are threatened with destruction, this also serves as an opportunity to introduce a history lesson. Follow this link to learn more about Cleveland history:

article about a Romanesque-style church in Cleveland, Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 October 1890

Cleveland Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 October 1890, page 8

Calendar Images

The choice of images for the Advent calendar is only limited by your imagination. Early newspaper advertisements, and particularly those for toys, are easily found and can be matched to the same year as your image.

toys ad, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper advertisement 13 December 1890

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 13 December 1890, page 1

Religious and more traditional selections can also be found in the newspaper archives. Search for nativity, bells, creche, manger and other appropriate keywords!

church images, Times-Picayune newspaper article 18 December 1898

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 18 December 1898, page 32

If you have been inspired to make your own holiday Advent calendar, or have fond memories of using one as a child, be sure to let us know in the comments section and share your ideas!

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Native American Genealogy: Research Tips & Resources

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary describes a special collection of Native American newspapers, and other online resources to help with your Native American family history research.

One of the challenging quests for family historians is researching indigenous American ancestry.

painting of the Seneca Chief Cornplanter by F. Bartoli, 1796

Painting: Seneca Chief Cornplanter, by F. Bartoli, 1796. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

It would be a genealogist’s dream come true to find documentation in court houses, churches or within tribal records—but alas, that’s often not possible. And when you do find documentation, it may be confusing or inaccurate, as shown in the following examples.

The Name “Refused to Answer”

This discovery came about while researching census records of South Florida. Members of local Native American tribes were asked for their family members’ names. Some, fearing the intent of the census taker, refused to answer—and as a result, “Refused to Answer” was entered as their name.

Enter Last Name


Then there are descriptive nicknames bestowed by non-Native American friends and acquaintances. In all likelihood, they were created in order to overcome hard to pronounce names or complicated spellings.

Ever hear of John Abeel or John O’Bail? These were two appellations given to a Seneca chief known as Cornplanter, but that wasn’t his real birth name. Cornplanter is reportedly a translation of his tribal name, spelled in a variety of ways including Gar-Yan-Wah-Gah or Gaiänt’wak.

obituary for the Seneca Chief Cornplanter, Commercial Advertiser newspaper article 4 March 1837

Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), 4 March 1837, page 2

Legends May Not Be Legends

Ever hear the expression “to lie like Sam Hyde (or Hide)”? Thought to be a legendary character, Sam was supposedly a Native American chief in New England whose stories grew to the size of an exaggerated “fish” or tall tale. Every time they were exchanged, the claims grew, including in this report from 1806 about an amazingly large squash that was “nothing to Sam Hyde’s Water-Melon.”

article about Sam Hyde, Portsmouth Oracle newspaper article 8 November 1806

Portsmouth Oracle (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 8 November 1806, page 3

Newspapers, you’ve got to love them! Not only do they repeat regional folklore and legendary tales, but they also serve to disprove them. Take, for example, Sam Hyde’s Wikipedia article, which has a number of inaccuracies. Part of this e-piece reports:

Sam Hide (or Hyde) is a historic or apocryphal character in the folklore of New England, used in the folk saying “to lie like Sam Hide.” There is no record of the death of a Sam Hide in the records of Dedham, Massachusetts, though he is said to have died in 1732…

Should we be surprised that his official death was not recorded in town records? No, because as a member of a tribe, he could not have been considered an official resident. However, GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives prove that Hyde was not the figment of someone’s imagination. He was real, and he died on 5 January 1732 in Dedham.

obituary for Sam Hide, Boston Gazette newspaper article 17 January 1732

Boston Gazette (Boston, Massachusetts), 17 January 1732, page 2

Federal Archives and Records Center

You can also find newspaper articles about resources for researching Native American ancestry, such as this article about the Federal Archives and Records Center at Fort Worth, Texas.

This interesting historical news article reports a wealth of information, including:

The 27,000 cubic feet of permanent records are kept in a huge warehouse building six football fields long, and on row after row of stacks stretching 13 shelves high. They include federal court records from a five-state region, along with documents relating to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the 60 tribes the government moved through Oklahoma at one time or another.

article about the Federal Archives and Records Center, Times-Picayune newspaper article 22 March 1981

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 22 March 1981, page 180

Native American Newspaper Research

So how can historical newspapers guide you along the elusive path of researching Native American Roots?

Enter Last Name

As seen in the above examples, there is information found in newspapers of general interest, particularly for the better known Indians. In addition, we are pleased to report that GenealogyBank is actively building its collection of Native American newspapers.

Currently, these newspaper titles are available:

Other Native American Genealogy Research Resources

  • DNA Studies

If you are curious as to whether you have Native American ancestry, review the information from the American Indian DNA Project (hosted by FamilyTreeDNA).

  • Dawes Commission & Dawes Rolls

A common starting point for researchers is the “Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes,” known as the Dawes Rolls. Organized in 1893, a government commission established a mechanism to enroll residents of the Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma) for government purposes. This serves as a type of census, and although this government compilation does not encompass every person of Native American ancestry, you may be fortunate to find your ancestors in one of the online databases.

  • This Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs website clarifies some common misconceptions about research:

“When people believe they may be of American Indian ancestry, they immediately write or telephone the nearest Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) office for information. Many people think that the BIA retrieves genealogical information from a massive national Indian registry or comprehensive computer database. This is not true. Most BIA offices, particularly the central [headquarters, Washington, D.C.] and area [field] offices, do not keep individual Indian records and the BIA does not maintain a national registry. The BIA does not conduct genealogical research for the public.”

  • This National Archives and Records Administration website reports:

“Among the billions of historical records housed at the National Archives throughout the country, researchers can find information relating to American Indians from as early as 1774 through the mid 1990s.”

  • Tribal Genealogy Research Resources

Many tribes maintain their own websites. If you suspect you are of a particular descent, go to the source. Many official tribe websites have lists of genealogy resources such as this page on Cherokee.org. There are also family research services that specialize in specific tribal genealogies such as Cherokee Roots, which can “offer expert assistance in finding your family’s connection to the Cherokee People.”

Related Native American Genealogy Articles & Resources:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank


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

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

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

Here are some ideas:

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

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

1897 Strawberry Ice Cream


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

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

1918 Health Bread

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


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

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

1898 German Christmas Cookies


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

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

Enter Last Name

1850 Corn Bread


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

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

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

1878 Lemon Pie (1st variation)


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

1878 Lemon Pie (2nd variation)


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

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

1878 Sweet Potato Pie


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

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

1855 Rabbit, Hare or Venison Soup

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


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

Additional ingredients required for hare or venison soup:

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

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

Enter Last Name

1874 Beef, Chicken, Oyster or Veal Soup

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


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

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

1878 Vinegar

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


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

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

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

1932 Snickerdoodle

Where do snickerdoodles come from?

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

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


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

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

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

Related Recipe Articles:

Also, see this article:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Holiday Genealogy Gift Ideas Pt. 1: Visual Family Timelines

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

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

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

Places of My Ancestor’s Life Booklet

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

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

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

Source: from the Harrell-Sesniak photo collection

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

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

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

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

Enter Last Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following are examples to inspire you.


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

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

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

New Jersey

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

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

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


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

Enter Last Name

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

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

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

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

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

Old Landmarks Disappearing, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 29 July 1897

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

Diaries and Journeys

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

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

—from the diary of John C. Darr

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

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

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

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

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

Related Genealogy Gifts Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Your Top Genealogy Challenges & Frustrations

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

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

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

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

Enter Last Name

Brick Walls & Dead Ends

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

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

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

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

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

Locations & Websites That Stymie Researchers

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

Ancestors’ Names

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

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

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

Other Genealogy Frustrations

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

Records (Census)

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

Records (Deciphering)

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

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

Records & Family Trees (errors, missing and otherwise)

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

Relatives & Researchers

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

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

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

Sources (or lack thereof!)

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

Time & Money (not enough hours in the day)

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

Wishing They’d Asked…

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

A Few Last Remarks!

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Are You Celebrating Mother-in-Law Day?

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

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

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

However, many unkind rumors exist about its origins.

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

His mother-in-law said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Last Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank