Days of Thanksgiving Celebrated by Our Ancestors

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

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

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

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

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

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

1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation

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

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

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

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

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

First Mention of Thanksgiving in a Newspaper?

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

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

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

The article reports:

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

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

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

Other Thanksgiving Proclamations

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

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

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

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

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

Day of Fasting and Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day of Thanksgiving for the Captives’ Return

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

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

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

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

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

Other Days of Thanksgiving

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

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

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

The Governor ordered:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving and blessings to you and your families!

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Thanksgiving Traditions & Memories: My Grandmother’s Pies

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to find recipes and learn more about one of our favorite parts of Thanksgiving: pies!

One of my earliest Thanksgiving memories is of my grandmother and great-grandmother waking up before everyone and starting the meal preparations at 4 a.m. On that annual feast day, multiple tables would be heavy with all kinds of food, including pies – all kinds of pies. I must admit that back then the only pie I cared about was pumpkin, but there were other choices on that table as well, including mincemeat, apple, and cherry.

photo of a pumpkin pie

Photo: pumpkin pie. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture; Wikimedia Commons.

Who doesn’t like pie? Pie is something our ancestors ate and in fact has been around since the ancient Egyptians. This time of the year focuses on pie as a dessert, but originally most pies were made of meat, appearing in England around the 12th century. Fruit pies came around later in the 1500s. Pie was even a food eaten by the earliest English settlers to America.*

So what pies are your family favorites? Are you a pie baker? Looking to try something new this Thanksgiving? Here are a few pie recipes from yesteryear, as found in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Prize-Winning Pie Recipes

You can’t go wrong with an award-winning pie recipe, and old newspapers are full of examples from competitions hosted by newspaper food columns, food companies, and other groups. For those who are fans of cherry pie, this recipe from Karan Ann Gunning of Mulberry, Indiana, won the 27th National Cherry Pie Baking Contest in 1959.

photo of a slice of cherry pie

Photo: slice of cherry pie. Credit: Evan-Amos; Wikimedia Commons.

Aside from frozen cherries, the filling consists of sugar, tapioca, red food coloring, almond extract, lemon juice and butter. The pie crust is completed with a cherry decoration.

article about a prize-winning recipe for cherry pie

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 26 February 1959, section 5, page 16

Newspaper food columns did more than provide recipes and tips; they also held contests (see Newspaper Recipe Contests: Was Your Ancestor a Contest Winner?).

The winner of this 1934 Trenton Evening Times (New Jersey) contest is a rhubarb pie topped off with a meringue.

photo of a rhubarb pie

Photo: rhubarb pie. Credit: Hayford Peirce; Wikimedia Commons.

Miss Grace Martin from Trenton won the top prize of $5 for her recipe, while the other recipe winners brought home $1.

article about a prize-winning rhubarb pie recipe, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 5 July 1934

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 5 July 1934, page 13

Thanksgiving Means Pumpkin Pie

At Thanksgiving time, the best pie is obviously pumpkin pie.

photo of a slice of pumpkin pie

Photo: slice of pumpkin pie. Credit: Evan-Amos; Wikimedia Commons.

Let’s face it, what’s not to like about this traditional holiday favorite? And speaking of traditional – this 1910 newspaper article gives the pumpkin pie recipe “the Pilgrim mothers used to make.”

article about a pumpkin pie recipe, Grand Forks Daily Herald newspaper article 30 November 1910

Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 30 November 1910, section 2, page 9

This 1953 newspaper article provides a pumpkin pie recipe that uses canned pumpkin to make two versions of the pie. One version, referred to as a “refrigerator pie,” involves a double boiler and gelatin.

article about pumpkin pie recipes, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 1 November 1953

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 1 November 1953, section vi, page 6

Now, if you’re tired of the same old pumpkin pie, consider a variation – like one of my favorites: the Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. This interesting recipe for the chiffon pie includes a crust of saltine crackers.

photo of a pumpkin chiffon pie, Boston Herald newspaper article 16 November 1972

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 November 1972, page 26

article about a pumpkin chiffon pie recipe, Boston Herald newspaper article 16 November 1972

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 November 1972, page 26

I’m Not Eating That

Ok let’s face it. Everyone has a favorite pie which means there is probably a pie you dislike. So here are a few recipes that would probably cause me to skip dessert this year if they were served.

I don’t come from a big cranberry-eating family, so I was a little surprised to see this Cranberry Pie recipe from 1942.

photo of a cranberry-pecan pie

Photo: cranberry-pecan pie. Credit: BenFrantzDale; Wikimedia Commons.

But in light of food rationing during World War II it makes sense why this pie would have been suggested. The article advises:

In view of sugar rationing, it might be well this year to double up on the cranberries and dessert by serving the cranberries in a pie.

The other recipe adds orange juice to pumpkin pie, which is not the pumpkin pie I’m used to.

article about a pumpkin pie recipe, Advocate newspaper article 4 December 1942

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 4 December 1942, page 18

Mincemeat Pie

Another pie that I often hear associated with the holidays is mincemeat.

photo of a mincemeat pie

Photo: mincemeat pie. Credit: Alcinoe; Wikimedia Commons.

According to the History Channel website, mincemeat originated in the 13th century when the Crusaders brought back exotic spices and ingredients from the Holy Land. Those spices were combined with “fruit and meat to make their supply of protein last longer.” The spices became associated with Christmas and the gifts presented to the Christ child by the Three Wise Men.** Now, my guess is that mincemeat pie is not as popular today as it once was. A few generations back, it was regularly served in my family. One side made this pie with meat and the other with only fruit. If you’re confused about what mincemeat pie really is, this 1995 nutrition column provides some direction.

article about mincemeat pie, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 19 December 1995

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 19 December 1995, page 10

If your holiday tradition includes mincemeat pie, these 1911 examples include some recipes with meat as an ingredient and others with strictly fruit.

article about mincemeat pie recipes, Oregonian newspaper article 19 November 1911

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 19 November 1911, section 5, page 6

And because Thanksgiving is so busy with all the prep work and cooking, I think this recipe for mincemeat pie is probably the best one of them all because of its simplicity.

article about a mincemeat pie recipe, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 19 November 1959

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 19 November 1959, page 18

What pie are you preparing this Thanksgiving? Is it from a recipe that’s been in the family a long time? Share your pie memories – and recipes – with us in the comments section.


* History of Pies. American Pie Council.
** Mincemeat: It’s What’s for (Christmas) Dinner, History.

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Light a Candle for Thanksgiving

Plymouth, England, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, are already beginning celebrations (which will culminate in 2020) for the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower, with special events on both sides of the Atlantic.

“As one small candle may light a thousand,
so the light here kindled has shown unto many
–Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford

photo of an "Illuminate and Thanksgiving" poster


Thousands are expected to parade through Plymouth, England, this year carrying candles and lanterns as they gather at the Mayflower steps there in the harbor where the original ship left for America in 1620.

photo of candles lit on a wharf

Source: Baylor University

Are you planning to light a candle and join in the Thanksgiving commemoration this year?

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November Update: GenealogyBank Just Added 5 Million More Records!

Every day, GenealogyBank is working hard to digitize more newspapers and obituaries, expanding our collection to give you the largest newspaper archives for family history research available online. We just completed adding 5 million more U.S. genealogy records, vastly increasing our content coverage from coast to coast!

screenshot of GenealogyBank's home page showing the announcement that 5 million more records were added in November

Here are some of the details about our most recent U.S. newspaper additions:

  • A total of 27 newspaper titles from 16 U.S. states
  • 12 of these titles are newspapers added to GenealogyBank for the first time
  • We’ve shown the newspaper issue date ranges so that you can determine if the newly added content is relevant to your personal genealogy research

To see our newspaper archives’ complete title lists, click here.

State City Title Coverage Added Collection
Arizona Tombstone Daily Tombstone 06/03/1886 – 06/09/1886 Newspaper Archives
Arizona Tombstone Tombstone Daily Epitaph 06/02/1886 – 12/07/1889 Newspaper Archives
Arizona Tombstone Tombstone Daily Prospector 04/12/1889 – 11/22/1889 Newspaper Archives
Arizona Tombstone Tombstone Epitaph Prospector 04/25/1889 – 04/25/1889 Newspaper Archives
California Chowchilla Chowchilla NewsNew! 05/17/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Connecticut Ansonia, Derby, Seymour Valley Gazette, The: Web Edition Articles New! 11/05/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Idaho Lewiston Lewiston Tribune 11/28/1971 – 12/31/1973 Newspaper Archives
Indiana Crown Point Crown Point StarNew! 02/05/2015 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kansas Prairie Village Prairie Village PostNew! 10/13/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Louisiana New Orleans New Orleans Item 08/28/1911 – 08/18/1915 Newspaper Archives
Louisiana New Orleans New Orleans States 09/25/1922 – 09/25/1922 Newspaper Archives
Louisiana New Orleans Times-Picayune 04/07/1858 – 06/14/1976 Newspaper Archives
Maryland Baltimore Sun 07/20/1914 – 09/05/1914 Newspaper Archives
Massachusetts Fairhaven AdvocateNew! 02/26/2015 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mississippi Biloxi Daily Herald 10/01/1954 – 10/30/1954 Newspaper Archives
New Jersey Bergen County Cliffview PilotNew! 06/28/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
New Jersey Jersey City Jersey Journal 01/17/1966 – 12/31/1969 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Winston-Salem Winston-Salem Journal 06/23/1915 – 06/23/1915 Newspaper Archives
Pennsylvania Philadelphia Philly WeeklyNew! 12/05/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pennsylvania Sanatoga Sanatoga PostNew! 11/13/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
South Carolina Charleston Charleston News and Courier 12/14/1924 – 02/28/1946 Newspaper Archives
South Carolina Charleston Evening Post 02/02/1976 – 02/28/1977 Newspaper Archives
Texas Houston Houston Chronicle 10/15/1901 – 12/31/1904 Newspaper Archives
Wisconsin Bay View South Shore NOWNew! 01/21/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wisconsin Greenfield Greenfield-West Allis NOWNew! 08/20/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wisconsin Milwaukee Packer PlusNew! 05/06/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wisconsin Muskego, New Berlin Muskego-New Berlin NOWNew! 02/04/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries

Genealogy Research: Conquering Your File Cabinets

Here’s a tip for you.
I have five multi-drawer file cabinets packed with correspondence and genealogical notes gathered over the past 50 years.

Keeping this old genealogical correspondence in just one spot means that I am the only one with access to it. I decided that it’s time to get it online and, where appropriate, available to everyone.

photo of genealogy correspondence

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

I want to make the change from paper files to online files – and where possible, to go paperless.

Where to start?
I started with the first file drawer – evaluating the files, one folder at a time.

Looking at the information I quickly decided on a few guidelines:

  • Only post material of lasting value
  • Don’t post correspondence from living people
  • Don’t post notes, data about living people

Online family tree sites let you post scanned items as photographs and as PDF documents. So – I can scan and post a one-page letter as a JPEG file, or – if I have multiple pages – I can scan and save them all in one file as a PDF document.

photo of a genealogy letter

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

I can take that compact PDF file and add it to my online family tree, attaching it to the person who wrote the letter to me as well as to the historical persons mentioned in the correspondence.

screenshot of a genealogy letter online


That correspondence is now preserved and is instantly discoverable by me and by anyone else researching the same family lines.

Once I have the file scanned – and online – I can then decide if I need to keep the original paper copy or if I can opt to go paperless and toss the paper copy.

Genealogy Tip: Put your old family history notes online – preserve them and make them available to others. You’ll be glad you did.

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Family History Research: Finding Blue Ribbon Winners at the Fair

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

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

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

illustration of a blue ribbon

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Ribbon Babies

Who doesn’t love a baby photo!

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

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

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

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

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

Root Beer – Better than Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bicycle Races

Aviation wasn’t the only transportation method of contests.

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

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

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

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

Needlework and Quilts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Researching Your Female Ancestor: Women in the WCTU

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows how you can research your female ancestor by searching old newspapers for articles about the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

Having trouble learning about the lives of your female ancestors? A good place to find their stories is an online collection of old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Go beyond the obvious articles (birth notices, wedding announcements, obituaries) to find stories about the lives they led, causes they cared about, events they participated in, and groups they supported.

For example, what groups did 19th century women belong to? Their memberships most likely included organizations whose missions they were passionate about. One group that consisted of women who disavowed alcohol was the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), founded in 1873.

photo of WCTU members of the New Hampshire chapter, 1888

Photo: WCTU members of the New Hampshire chapter, 1888. Credit: Keene Public Library; Historical Society of Cheshire County.

According to the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union website, the group:

was organized by women who were concerned about the destructive power of alcohol and the problems it was causing their families and society.

Member activities included trying to convince saloon owners to voluntarily close their doors. According to their website, the WCTU is today “the oldest voluntary, non-sectarian woman’s organization in continuous existence in the world.”*

Illustration: Woman’s Christian Temperance Union logo, scanned from a 1920 WCTU temperance flyer

Illustration: Woman’s Christian Temperance Union logo, scanned from a 1920 WCTU temperance flyer. Credit: WCTU; Wikimedia Commons.

Their most well-known leader was their second national president, Frances E. Willard, who led the organization for 19 years (1879-1898). She joined the WCTU shortly after its founding and during her tenure promoted other causes that impacted women such as suffrage, equal pay for equal work, and the eight hour work day.**

photo of Frances E. Willard, taken sometime before 1898

Photo: Frances E. Willard, taken sometime before 1898. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Frances Willard was famous in her day, well-known to all, and so looked up to that a statue in her likeness was presented to Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol by Illinois in 1905. Hers was the first likeness of a woman displayed in the Hall.

obituary for Frances E. Willard, Pawtucket Times newspaper article 18 February 1898

Pawtucket Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island), 18 February 1898, page 9

The Frances Willard House and Museum in Evanston, Illinois, includes a library and archive with items of interest to genealogists. You can learn more by visiting their website.

The 19th and 20th century WCTU did more than just try to convince saloon owners to stop selling alcohol and men to stop drinking. Some of their efforts are still visible today.

Drinking Fountains

One of the first orders of business for the WCTU was to encourage the installation of drinking fountains in cities across the United States. It was thought that these fountains would provide clean water for everyone and give men a place to get a drink of water – thus avoiding the local saloon.

article about the WCTU installing drinking fountains, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 20 June 1941

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 20 June 1941, page 3

Some of these fountains still exist. A list of currently known fountains is found on the WCTU website.


As mentioned previously, temperance wasn’t the only issue the WCTU was passionate about. The WCTU lent their voices to other social ills they believed victimized women. They joined with other Protestant women to speak against the Mormon practice of polygamy. WCTU’s leader Frances Willard even wrote the introduction to the anti-polygamy tome The Women of Mormonism; or The Story of Polygamy as Told by the Victims Themselves by Jennie Anderson Froiseth (1882). It’s clear what the WCTU leader thought about this “twin relic of barbarism” when she writes:

surely it is time that the Christian women of this nation arouse themselves to organized action against this sum of all curses…***

Although the Mormon Church’s sanctioning of the practice of polygamy ended in 1890, the WCTU was still speaking against polygamy in the early 20th century. This 1906 Massachusetts newspaper article reports on a meeting of the WCTU:

As a result of one of the most startling anti-Mormon addresses ever heard in Boston, the delegates to the World’s convention of the W.C.T.U., assembled in Tremont Temple yesterday afternoon, unanimously passed a resolution placing that body on record to employ every means in its power to force the adoption of an anti-polygamy amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

article about the WCTU and the Sixteenth Amendment, Boston Journal newspaper article 20 October 1906

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 20 October 1906, page 1

Was Your Ancestor a Teetotaler?

Your 19th and early 20th century Christian female ancestors may have taken up the cause of prohibition. Their devotion to this cause may have included membership in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union – but how do you learn more? The first place to look is their local newspapers. Newspapers listed WCTU events, and members elected to offices and committees – reports in which you may find your ancestors’ names. In some cases, their obituaries may also include mention of their membership in the WCTU, such as this example of Martha Sprague’s obituary in a 1916 New York newspaper.

obituary for Martha Sprague, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 30 December 1916

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 30 December 1916, page 5

Genealogy Tip: Don’t forget to search for your married female ancestor by her husband’s name, such as in the above example, where Martha Sprague is identified in the headline as “Mrs. C. H. Sprague” (her husband was Charles H. Sprague).

In this article from an 1874 Indiana newspaper, several different WCTU group members are mentioned.

article about members and meetings of the WCTU, Indianapolis Sentinel newspaper article 31 October 1874

Indianapolis Sentinel (Indianapolis, Indiana), 31 October 1874, page 3

Other Resources

A search on ArchiveGrid, an archival collection catalog, can also help you track down your female ancestors who belonged to the WCTU. Use the keyword WCTU to find relevant collections. To get the most of your search, consult their How to Search page.

Another good genealogy resource is community cookbooks. The WCTU used cookbooks to raise funds for their activities, as did other women’s organizations. You can find these cookbooks on digitized book websites like Google Books, and in library and archive collections.

The WCTU Today

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union is still in existence and continues to be dedicated to issues that affect families, such as substance abuse. You can learn more at the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union website. Their website also includes links to some affiliate chapters. In the case of the California chapter, an archive page contains images and a history of the WCTU in Southern California.

Was your ancestor a member of the WCTU? Add to her life story by documenting her membership and the events she was a part of, as preserved in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.


* The Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Accessed 16 June 2015.
** Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Frances Willard. Accessed 18 June 2015.
*** Froiseth, Jennie A. The Women of Mormonism, Or, the Story of Polygamy As Told by the Victims Themselves. Chicago: Bryan Bros. Pub. Co, 1883. Available on Google Books.p. xviii. FA902D0%40W.

Related Women’s Genealogy Articles:

Is There a Pirate in Your Family Tree?

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

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

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

illustration of a pirate

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

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

Pirate John Quelch (1666-1704)

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

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

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

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

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

Pirate Narratives

Encounters with pirates were the tabloid sensations of yesteryear.

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

stories about pirates, Hallowell Gazette newspaper article 12 June 1822

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

Obituaries That Mention Pirates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Famous Pirates

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

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

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

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

Believe It or Not

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

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

obituaries, Concord Observer newspaper article 17 January 1820

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

Any Pirates in Your Family History?

Please share your genealogical pirate stories in the comments section.

Time to Graduate to a Smartphone?

A smartphone – why would I need a smartphone?
We never even use our land line.
I can remember a time when – if the phone rang at night – everyone froze.
A call at night could only mean one thing: bad news.

These days, I use my cell phone to send/receive calls and text messages.
Isn’t that enough?

Mom mastered the computer – she could send e-mail and was a wiz scanning and sending photos.
She was hi-tech.

Dad? Not so much.

Forty years ago, learning how to use a computer was a lot like learning to climb the sheer side of a cliff.

Tough, painful and scary.

I was sure I wouldn’t make it – but then, there we were at the top – and there was no going back. Tech has evolved, and is quickly taking us right along with it.

Do I really need a smartphone?
I decided it was time to find out.

My smartphone arrived this week.

First reaction: Wow – why did I wait so long!?
This is an amazing tool.

Easy to use.
It pulls all of my information together in one handy tool: e-mail, text, phone, photos, the Internet – everything.

Now – wherever I am – I am connected.

Phone quality is excellent.

But – could I read anything on it?
Turns out – I can.

When the GenealogyBank Blog post arrived in my inbox today – with one click I was reading it.

picture of a smartphone displaying a newspaper article

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

Simple, easy and I could read it while sitting in the car waiting for my wife – I didn’t have to be home reading it on my laptop.
This is going to be handy – a real time-saver.

Would I be able to read a GenealogyBank newspaper article on my iPhone?

Turns out – I can!
Here is a marriage article I pulled up about one of my cousins.

photo of a smartphone

Photo: Thomas Jay Kemp. Source: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 20 July 1952, section V, page 6

Wow – this is so clear and easy to read.
With a swoosh of my fingers I can easily enlarge or reduce the image.

Searching is a snap.

Going hi-tech is a lot of fun too.

How are you using your iPhone?

Related Article:

Veterans Day: Saluting Amos Barnes, Revolutionary War Vet

Our nation has long been grateful to our veterans, starting with the American Revolutionary War.

obituary for Amos Barnes, New Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 12 January 1841

New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 12 January 1841, page 3

When Amos Barnes died in 1840 newspapers remembered him – giving the details of his life, his family and his service to the nation in a detailed obituary.

  • He died 6 December 1840 in Conway, New Hampshire
  • He had served as a lieutenant and was a Revolutionary War pensioner
  • He was 83 years old
  • His funeral sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. Wides, based on Job 7:16
  • He was born in Groton, Massachusetts, the youngest of 11 children
  • His father died in the French & Indian War
  • At age 6 the family moved to Concord, New Hampshire
  • At age 18 he enlisted in the Army
  • He marched to Mystic, Connecticut
  • June 1775 – he was in the Battle of Bunker Hill
  • He marched to New York; then to Canada; then to Mont Independence
  • December 1776 – he was with George Washington in Newtown, Pennsylvania
  • December 1776 – Battle of Trenton
  • His enlistment over, with an honorable discharge, he returned home to Concord, New Hampshire
  • Re-enlisted January 1778, serving with George Washington in Valley Forge
  • Served as Orderly Sergeant for the next two years
  • June 1778 – Battle of Monmouth
  • Winter 1779 – Valley Forge
  • 1779-1780 – Sullivan campaign
  • January 1780 – discharged, returned to Concord, New Hampshire
  • November 1787 – moved to Conway, New Hampshire
  • [17 July 1790] – married Polly Eastman, “second daughter of the late Richard Eastman, Esq. who, with several children, still survive…”
  • Described as “a very intelligent, industrious and honest man through life”
  • Served in “the last war [War of 1812], in defence of free trade and sailor’s rights”
  • He was a Jeffersonian Republican, “a firm supporter of Gen. Jackson and Mr. Van Buren”
  • He voted in the last election
  • Late in life “with intense anxiety and fervent prayer” he turned to a deeper faith in Christ

Compact and filled with the details of his life, his obituary – like all veterans’ obituaries – makes us pause and remember his life and his service to our country.

photo of the tombstone for Amos and Polly Barnes

Source: Find-a-Grave, Memorial # 44819194

Amos Barnes and his wife Polly were buried in the North Conway Cemetery, North Conway, New Hampshire.

Today on Veterans Day we honor and remember the efforts of all who have served our nation, from the Revolutionary War down to the troops that serve today.

Find their stories in newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Newspapers have recorded the lives of all Americans for the last three centuries, from 1690 to today.

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

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