Odd & Hilarious Names: You Responded with Your Funniest Finds

Last week, we posed this question to our GenealogyBank friends on Facebook: “What’s the funniest name or surname you’ve ever come across?”

Well, your responses were wonderful: 98 of you have commented so far sharing your funniest name finds! We enjoyed some laughs reading these names so much that we decided to compile them into one list to give everyone a chuckle. Some of these people’s names seem too outlandish or funny to be real—but, time and again, you appended messages swearing that this is “really, truly” a name you’ve encountered in your family history research.

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Here is that list of funny names—and thank you all, readers, for sharing these crazy names with us. The parents of these people clearly had a sense of humor! If anyone reading this has more funny names to contribute, please join in on the fun by posting them in the comments section below or on Facebook. (Keep the names family-friendly, please.)

And we couldn’t leave without contributing one hilarious name we encountered while doing research in this 1799 Massachusetts newspaper. Joseph Maxfeld ran an ad announcing the dissolution of his partnership—with a man named Preserved Fish!

ad announcing the dissolution of the firm Fish and Maxfeld, Columbian Courier newspaper advertisement, 1 May 1799

Columbian Courier (New Bedford, Massachusetts), 1 May 1799, page 1

Here’s the list of odd and funny names you shared:

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Do You Celebrate Birthday Traditions Like Your Ancestors Did?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find stories about birthday traditions celebrated by our ancestors.

Chances are you celebrate some of your birthday traditions the way your ancestors did—and not just extravagant gatherings with cakes, balloons and presents. Many cultures have unique and fun ways to commemorate a birthday.

photo of a Chinese birthday party

Photo: Chinese birthday party. Source: Library of Congress.

Birthday Traditions

This list of birthday traditions came from the following websites:

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Birthday traditions around the world:

  • Do you pull one’s earlobes for each year of one’s life? Then you might come from Argentina.
  • Does your family host barbeques with fairy bread for the children? Then you may have Australian roots.
  • Is a one-year-old surrounded with toys and watched to see which one is picked first? In China, the selection is said to represent a future life pursuit. The child typically receives gifts with tigers which are said to protect children, and noodles are served at lunch.
  • Do you receive a cake shaped like a man? Then perhaps you are connected to Denmark.
  • Is a girl’s 15th birthday celebrated with a waltz, 14 young dancing couples and a new pair of shoes from her father? This is reported to be a tradition in Ecuador.
  • How about a wooden wreath placed on a table with candles representing your age during a Geburtstagsparty (birthday party)? This is common in Germany.
  • In many Hispanic cultures there are fiestas, complete with traditional food and piñatas filled with candy. Guests take turns trying to break it open with a stick while blindfolded.
  • The Irish are known to tip a child upside down and bump him/her gently on the floor.
  • In Jordan, many make a wish while cutting the cake with the wrong side of the knife.
  • In parts of Russia, pies are baked with greetings carved into the crust.
  • In Vietnam, a birthday is called a tet, and it is said that many celebrate them on New Year’s Day rather than on the actual birthday.

This boy celebrated his third birthday with a piñata.

article about Tony Perez's birthday party, Prensa newspaper article 12 October 1945

Prensa (San Antonio, Texas), 12 October 1945, page 2

Birthdays of Leaders, Presidents & Royalty in the News

Early reports in newspapers focus more on celebrations of leaders and royalty than ordinary citizens. The birthdays of presidents, and in particular George Washington, were frequently observed with parades and special dinners. At least one party was held at a tavern in his honor. This 1782 newspaper article notes that the entertainment for Washington’s birthday was elegant, and the whole festivity was conducted with exquisite propriety and decorum. One can almost imagine the toasts said in his name!

article about a celebration for George Washington's birthday, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 21 February 1782

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 21 February 1782, page 2

This earlier article from 1711 notes a special present for the Prince of Prussia’s mother—she was to receive a thousand ducats annually “on the Birth-day of the young Prince.”

article about the birthday of Frederick William, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 21 May 1711

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 21 May 1711, page 2

This is one of my favorite birthday announcements. In 1820 the Emperor of Russia issued an imperial Ukase abolishing all the war taxes that had been imposed eight years earlier.

article about the Emperor of Russia's birthday, Arkansas Weekly Gazette newspaper article 20 May 1820

Arkansas Weekly Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 20 May 1820, page 3

Researching Birthdays of Our Ancestors

Although GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives search page doesn’t have a specific category for birthdays, you can be successful by searching for ancestors in other ways. A fun way is to research a celebration in the Photos & Illustrations category.

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If you get lucky, you’ll find a photo of a child or adult and a description of the birthday festivities. Try entering your ancestor’s name and then include “birthday” in the keyword field.

Many accounts, including this one for Miss Cora Van Fleet’s 17th birthday party, include a list of attendees.

article about Cora Van Fleet's birthday, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 1 November 1914

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 1 November 1914, page 21

Since early newspapers rarely described birthdays for ordinary citizens, also try searching for descriptions of parties within news article stories. Although this account from 1833 was entirely from the author’s imagination, one can appreciate the frivolity and excitement one might feel from receiving a birthday party invitation delivered by sleigh.

article about Aura's birthday, Salem Gazette newspaper article 15 October 1833

Salem Gazette (Salem, Massachusetts), 15 October 1833, page 1

Coming of Age Parties

If your ancestors celebrated a coming of age party, such as a quinceanera (15th birthday party for Mexican females) or Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah (Jewish parties typically at age 12 or 13), you may find accounts in the papers, including Henry Sahlein’s from 1863.

article about Henry Sahlein's barmitzvah, Jewish Messenger newspaper article 16 January 1863

Jewish Messenger (New York, New York), 16 January 1863, page 21

And finally, I’ll leave you with this happy image, to remind us all how much fun birthday parties can be!

photo of Norma Horydczak and friends at her 8th-year birthday party

Photo: Norma Horydczak and friends at her 8th-year birthday party. Source: Library of Congress.

Do you have a special tradition to celebrate birthdays in your family? If so, please share it with us in the comments section.

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Remembering the Young: Children’s Death Records in the News

I was reading this old newspaper and noticed that obituary after obituary was for young children.

children's obituaries, Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics newspaper article 28 August 1875

Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 28 August 1875, page 3

So many reports of very young children dying early deaths in this old newspaper article:

  • Martha Banks, aged 1 year, 11 months and 2 days
  • Arthur Lincoln Vaughan, aged 6 months and 12 days
  • Caroline E. Hein, aged 11 months and 13 days

August 1875 was clearly a brutal month for children and their families in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

It is so tragic that their lives ended at such a young age.

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It would be easy for this information to be lost, leaving these children’s short lives forgotten. It’s comforting to know that I can find these death records in GenealogyBank, knowing that these youngest members of the family will not be lost to the family history we are compiling—that their lives, though painfully short, are permanently recorded in the family tree.

Because newspaper editors were so good about including their age in years, months and days, it is easy to compute their dates of birth from the information contained in the death records.

Make every effort to find and document every person in your family tree.

We can do this.

Related Articles about Genealogy Research and Children:

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Filling In My Family Tree with Stories in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott shares some of the family stories he’s learned by searching through old newspapers—stories that help him get to know his ancestors better than just the names and dates on a family tree.

Everyone who enjoys working on their family history knows that nothing enhances your family tree and attracts more family to your work than the stories you weave together in your research! My family tree is full of interesting stories—and I am always on the lookout for more of them to add to our family history every opportunity I get. One of the best places I have found for discovering these stories is in historical newspapers—and GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives are my “go to” source for those newspapers.

GenealogyBank’s newspapers have given me some of the biggest leads in my genealogy work, as well as having added real sparkle to, and interest in, our family tree.

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My Great Grandfather the Union Man

It was a newspaper discovery that really helped me break down the brick wall that was my maternal great grandfather, Joseph K. Vicha. My breakthrough genealogical find was this 1896 newspaper article that stated: “J. K. Vicha of the Clothing Salesmen’s union was nominated and elected by acclamation.” With this tidbit of knowledge that my great grandfather had been the president of the Central Labor Union, I was able to begin following his career through the years.

article about Joseph Vicha being elected president of the Central Labor Union, Plain Dealer newspaper article 9 January 1896

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 January 1896, page 3

It was then with particular interest that I read an article from the same date but published in a different Cleveland newspaper, titled “Peanut Reform. How the Central Labor Union Regards the School Bank.” It seems that with my great grandfather as president, the Central Labor Union was protesting the establishment of savings accounts at public schools…something that I well remember from my own younger school days. I guess he must not have been successful in his protest on this matter!

article about the Central Labor Union protesting the establishment of savings accounts at public schools, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 9 January 1896

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 January 1896, page 8

My Mother’s First Engagement

Another fascinating fact I found concerned my own mother. While I was looking for any possible newspaper articles regarding her marriage to my dad, I happened to find this 1942 article. It was a brief story regarding an engagement announcement made by my grandmother for my mother, Laverne Evenden. However, I quickly noticed it was to a man she never ended up marrying. What a fun family find! Plus it brought a great opportunity for me to hear the whole story of what happened from my mom later on.

engagement notice for Laverne Evenden and Lincoln Christensen, Plain Dealer newspaper article 4 January 1942

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 January 1942, page 50

My Cousin & Minnie

Of course one of my all-time favorite story finds in the newspaper for my family tree—as regular readers of this blog have heard me talk about before—was the story of one of my cousins, Joseph Kapl, who as a zookeeper was almost trampled to death by the “loveable” Minnie the elephant!

article about zookeeper Joseph Kapl and Minnie the elephant, Plain Dealer newspaper article 23 March 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 23 March 1915, page 4

The West Side “Dean”

In one instance I was able to find, in an obituary, wonderful details about the life of another of my ancestors, Dr. J. J. Kotershall. While I am accustomed to finding worthwhile genealogical information in obituaries, Dr. Kotershall’s held some real gems. His 1945 obituary explained that he was “instrumental in bringing to Cleveland the city’s first X-ray units in 1903.” It also reported: “Born in Cleveland of Bohemian parentage, Dr. Kotershall had spent the major part of his practice among the Bohemian, Slavic, Polish, and German groups on the West Side.” The old news article even listed where he attended college and conducted his internship. It was a real gold mine.

obituary for Dr. Joseph Kotershall, Plain Dealer newspaper article 11 December 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 December 1945, page 6

Pictures of the Pretty Twins

On another occasion I was working on a branch of our family tree that included two sisters, Josephine and Florence. I had the feeling they might be twins since their births were listed as the same on the 1920 U.S. Census. Then I discovered a 1937 article with the headline “Twins Choose Dissimilar Careers.” This old newspaper article confirmed my suspicion that the sisters were indeed twins, plus it featured photographs of the twins as well—and provided a very complete review of their formative years. The best, however, might have been the fact that it also listed their parents and home address.

article about the twins Florence and Josephine Kotershall, Plain Dealer newspaper article 7 June 1937

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 7 June 1937, page 3

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A Genuine Country Fair

In addition to our ancestors’ stories that we can find in newspapers, there are also those stories we can discover that add to our understanding of places and events in our own lives. For instance, as a youngster I remember when the week of the county fair was something that my buddies and I looked forward to all year long. The rides, the midway, the games, the booths, the animals, and naturally the food! In just a few minutes of searching in the newspapers I found an 1896 article showing that the fair began as the “West Cuyahoga County Fair” and was advertised in the newspaper back then as “a genuine country fair.”

article about the West Cuyahoga County Fair in Ohio, Plain Dealer newspaper article 16 September 1896

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 September 1896, page 10

As this 1927 newspaper advertisement shows, it is evident that the fair had become “the” fair since it was billed as simply the “Cuyahoga County Fair” complete with horse racing and the King’s Rodeo.

ad for the Cuyahoga County Fair in Ohio, Plain Dealer newspaper advertisement 28 August 1927

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 August 1927, page 10

It was even more fun when I came across a 1967 news article. Oh, how that one brought back memories! My best boyhood friend Matt and I would marvel at the sideshow barkers while we tried to make up our minds as to which show we would spend some of our hard-earned paper route money to see! Those were the days!

article about the sideshow barkers at the Cuyahoga County Fair in Ohio, Plain Dealer newspaper article 18 August 1967

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 August 1967, page 8

Over and over, newspapers provide us with key leads, great stories, and many details about the times of both our own lives and our ancestors.

What are some of your favorite stories you have found in the newspapers as you work on your genealogy and family history? I’d love to hear them so please leave a comment!

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Old Family Photos Reveal More about Our Family Stories

Here’s a tip for your family history research: Use old photos of your ancestors to generate family stories.

photo of John and Mary (Brown) Kemp

Photo: John and Mary (Brown) Kemp. Source: Kemp family records.

Start the Conversation

This past weekend I took this old family photo off the wall to scan it and add it to my family history collection online.

It shows my great-grandparents John and Mary (Brown) Kemp and was taken in the late 1930s. I asked my Dad what he could tell me about this old photo of my ancestors.

He described his grandparents and the old black and white photo—even where the bench was in the backyard in Stamford, Connecticut. He said that the gate on the left side of the photo opened up to Frank Street and added:

Behind the low bushes in the background is a driveway leading to their garage. I don’t know why they had a garage—my grandfather never owned a car. He rode a bicycle to work.

Wow—my great-grandparents never owned a car!
That seems odd in modern society.

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My Dad went on:

On the right is one of the several cherry trees that were along the tall back fence that separated their property from the playground field of the Rogers Junior High School. When I walked over to visit my grandparents I would climb that fence and play with the kids in the playground.

Still looking for your old family photos? Be sure to check GenealogyBank’s “Search Photos” search page to find photos of your family.

Show those old photos of your ancestors to your relatives and see what additional family details and stories you discover.

Please write in and tell us what surprises you find out in your genealogy research.

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Newspaper Crossword Puzzles & More Games Our Ancestors Played

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog post, Gena shows some crossword puzzles and other games from old newspapers, giving a glimpse into the times our ancestors lived in—and, potentially, providing genealogy help because some of the names and addresses of contest winners were published in the newspaper.

Newspapers provide so much more than the news. Sure, there are the obituaries, legal notices, and vital record announcements that are so valuable to family historians. And as genealogists we all know the value of newspaper advertisements, social pages, and shipping news.

But there are also the bits that we don’t normally consider having historical or genealogical value. It’s important to remember that all parts of the newspaper contain not only a snapshot of our ancestor’s time—but even the possibility of names and information appearing in places in the newspaper you wouldn’t expect. One section that may not seem important is that containing games and puzzles.

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Today, everyone is glued to their smartphones playing online games individually or with friends. Most likely you know someone who passes time playing Angry Birds, Candy Crush or Words with Friends. For our nineteenth and twentieth century ancestor, participating in a newspaper game or puzzle might have resulted in their name, and perhaps even address, being published.

Lone Ranger’s Nephew’s Horse: the Crossword

Although not the only type of puzzle found in the newspaper, crossword puzzles are probably the one we are most familiar with. The first crossword puzzle, which looks slightly different than the crosswords of today, appeared in the New York World in 1913. By the end of the 1920s, crosswords were found in newspapers nationwide.* While we might most associate the New York Times with newspaper crosswords, they actually didn’t print their first puzzle until 1942.**

Here’s an early crossword puzzle, from a 1915 Cleveland newspaper.

crossword puzzle, Plain Dealer newspaper article 10 January 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 January 1915, page 5

Crosswords were strategically placed in the newspaper, often next to advertisements. This placement forced readers to see advertisements, and potentially generate revenue for advertisers and the newspaper, as they searched for their beloved puzzle.***

It’s probably no surprise to learn that puzzles, and clues to those puzzles, change over time and reflect current events. According to the book Curious History of the Crossword: 100 Puzzles from Then and Now by Ben Tausig, puzzle clues from the World War II era included geography questions and foreign currencies. In some cases, puzzles found in the newspaper focused on current events, as in this 1945 Military Maze which includes military titles held by men who would be marching in World War I Armistice Day parades.

word puzzle, San Diego Union newspaper article 11 November 1945

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 11 November 1945, page 3

Puzzle Contests

Working a puzzle isn’t just a solitary pursuit. In some cases the puzzle was also a contest. Newspaper contests provided cash prizes to children and adults.

puzzle contest, Boston Journal newspaper article 25 October 1910

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 October 1910, page 8

In some cases prize award announcements might include names and addresses of winners, as does this 1924 Dallas newspaper article announcing that Miss Hazel Cobb, living at 5201 Live Oak Street in Dallas, had won first prize due to her correct answers.

Dallas Woman (Hazel Cobb) Wins Crossword Puzzle Prize, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 12 October 1924

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 12 October 1924, page 1

Children and Their Puzzles

Puzzle pages could also be found on newspaper pages dedicated to children. Marketing to kids has always been a successful advertising tactic, and with a page dedicated to kids that includes their names, social activities, games and jokes, the paper guaranteed itself revenue. This Massachusetts Boys and Girls Page from 1944 is a great example of what newspapers offered their child readers, including puzzles, riddles, stories, quizzes and scientific facts. One of the most interesting pieces on the page is the Defense Blunder which shows a cartoon of two women talking in the forest. Children are asked to name the mistake the women are making—keeping in mind that World War II was going on at the time. The answer reminds the children that forest saboteurs might be hiding listening for information, and they may be trying to set fire to precious timber/lumber supplies.

The Boys and Girls Page, Springfield Republican newspaper article 19 March 1944

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 19 March 1944, page 42

What newspaper games did your ancestors play? Better yet, what prize did they win by participating in newspaper games and contests?

Do you love solving crossword puzzles like your ancestors? Search the newspaper archives to find thousands of printable crosswords to have fun sharpening your wordsmith skills.

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* American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Brief History of Crossword Puzzles, http://www.crosswordtournament.com/more/wynne.html. Accessed 26 August 2014.
** About.com 20th century History. The first Crossword Puzzle. http://history1900s.about.com/od/1910s/qt/firstcrossword.htm. Accessed 26 August 2014.
*** Curious History of the Crossword: 100 Puzzles from Then and Now by Ben Tausig. p. 13.

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History of American Mail: Letters of Our Ancestors & the News

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan explores the history of American mail and shows how the mail system and newspapers have been closely connected—with the postal system delivering newspapers, and newspapers doing the work of the post office by alerting readers to unclaimed mail. These “uncollected mail” lists in old newspapers are a valuable genealogy resource for family history researchers.

The postal system and newspapers—especially lists of uncollected mail—have long been connected in American history, and provide another avenue of research for family history researchers.

Mail in Colonial America

The first organized mail service in colonial America began in 1692, mostly to get mail to and from Europe. The first postmaster was Andrew Hamilton, the governor of New Jersey. Then England purchased the project in 1707 and appointed Andrew’s son John as the Crown’s official postmaster.

England had a long history of interfering in colonial American communications. For example, there was the Stamp Act, the closure of colonial newspapers that seemed to criticize the Crown, and the search and seizure of private papers.

Ever the innovator, Benjamin Franklin instituted the penny post concept. Mail was delivered to the post office and the recipient was to pick it up there. However, for a penny, Franklin would have it delivered to the person’s home or office. However, Franklin was removed from his position as postmaster due to his revolutionary leanings.

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Franklin was also a newspaper man. At that time newspapers were produced as a way for printers to make a little on the side when the press didn’t have any other work. These newspapers were often sent by post to distant locations. Franklin was an advocate of getting the mail (and the news) out on time, and with the best business practices he knew.

Genealogy Tip: Newspapers published lists of people who had letters waiting for them in the post office. Checking these lists can help you pin down your ancestor to a place and time.

Letters in the Post-Office at Newport, Newport Mercury newspaper article 15 July 1765

Newport Mercury (Newport, Rhode Island), 15 July 1765, page 3

History of the American Postal Service

As things heated up between England and the American colonies, mail services became even more challenging. One way to subdue an enemy is to prevent communications between those in charge and the troops on the ground. Since the Crown owned the mail system, they held the advantage in communications.

The Battle of Concord was in April of 1775. The following month the primary business for the Continental Congress was to establish a mail system. Benjamin Franklin was the obvious choice for the first postmaster. Originally, the main purpose of the postal service was to get news and information out for military purposes.

Newspapers of the time, which focused on business and politics, were anxious to get information from other states. Many newspapers lacked much actual news reporting and simply parroted months-old news from other papers. They would subscribe to distant newspapers and would copy the articles word for word into their own paper. The lack of any copyrights allowed this to occur without even an attribution of the original writer or publishing newspaper. In fact, there was rarely an acknowledgement of the author in the original paper. News was published anonymously. (It wasn’t until World War I that the author of each article was regularly listed. This was a military move to ensure that the author was held accountable for the information he or she disseminated that might go against the censorship laws.)

During this time the paper’s printer was also the publisher, editor, and news collector all wrapped into one. Using other newspapers’ articles allowed them to publish more information with limited investment. This early newspaper practice means that you may find information about your ancestor in distant newspapers.

Genealogy Tip: Begin your searches in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives nationwide rather than just selecting one state’s papers to view, since news was published far away in places you wouldn’t expect.

Newspapers not only used the mail service to gather information, but also to disseminate it. Readers could subscribe to a newspaper regardless of where they lived and have it delivered via the postal service. This increased the number of potential readers for a paper, thereby increasing the print load and profits of a newspaper service. This eventually led to the need to hire more staff and to increase the speed of the printing process. The news could become a business in its own right instead of a side job to keep the printing press busy.

This map shows an old trail that was used for “mail and express service” in Missouri.

trail map of Howard County, Missouri, Kansas City Star newspaper article 11 November 1915

Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), 11 November 1915, page 4

Uncollected Mail

Originally, mail was delivered to the post office and recipients stopped by to collect it. In the city, large companies hired clerks to make the mail run, carting mail to and from the post office multiple times a day. In rural areas, the post office became a place to gather, especially in more isolated areas. Going to get the mail was a big deal. Families dressed up to go to town to collect the mail and spend time socializing with their neighbors. However, not everyone could make it out every month to check for mail. When an item of mail remained uncollected at the post office, an advertisement was run in the local paper to alert the intended recipient. This is a valuable resource for modern-day genealogists.

uncollected mail list, Illinois Weekly State Journal newspaper article 11 March 1842

Illinois Weekly State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 11 March 1842, page 1

Genealogy Tip: These lists show the names of people (women and men) who lived in the area. This can help a family history researcher establish the location of an ancestor.

This resource is especially beneficial in instances where two or more people who initially appear to be one and the same can now be separated, thanks to these mail lists.  In addition, the appearance of a name over several months can indicate that the person in question may have moved, was ill, was temporarily out of the area, or possibly even dead. This is an alert for the genealogist to do more investigation into their ancestor’s life during the time the name appears. Because women also received mail, their name may be listed. They may even be listed by their own name and not by the more commonly used feminized version of their husband’s name: Mariah Johnson rather than Mrs. Simon Johnson.

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It would be especially helpful to find the name of an ancestor in a list of letters remaining at the post office in the place they had just moved from. For example, if you know Simon Johnson was living in Crawford County, Indiana, after 1845—but you weren’t sure where he moved from—you could search for Simon Johnson’s name in the postal lists. Finding his name in a Randolph County, North Carolina, mail list prior to 1845 would not prove that he came from there. However, it does provide a clue to begin searching for him in the records in that area.

One thing to keep in mind is that the lists were often alphabetized by the last name. This means the name will appear last name first: “Johnson, Mariah.”

Genealogy Tip: Entering a first and last name into GenealogyBank’s search engine will allow for the name to appear in reverse order, so no special search techniques are needed. However, you can narrow the results by entering a keyword such as “letters,” “post office,” or “mail.” Use only one keyword at a time and remember that the word must appear in the article exactly as you typed it.

unclaimed mail list, Salt Lake Daily Telegraph newspaper article 17 May 1866

Salt Lake Daily Telegraph (Salt Lake City, Utah), 17 May 1866, page 3

Unfortunately for us, the actual “unclaimed” letters did not appear in the newspapers. Although many letters were republished in newspapers because of their informative nature, that was done by consent and not because they were unclaimed. The unclaimed letters lists were simply lists of people’s names.

Expanding the American Mail Service

The goal of the postal system has always been to reach every person. As the population spread across the newly created country, the mail system improved roads to reach them. As the postal roads became safer and more passable, more people moved to outlying areas. And so a chicken and egg situation was created. Did migration expand the postal system or did the postal system increase migration? The answer is: “yes.”

Newspapers were certainly not the only pieces of mail that went through the postal system. But to give an idea of how many newspapers were being delivered around the country, Richard R. John in Spreading the News claims that the post office delivered 2.7 newspapers per person in 1840!* Outside of the largest urban areas, the news was still delivered weekly at this point. But that is still a lot of mail!

By 1847, stamps were minted and the sender now paid the postage. Building on Franklin’s penny post delivery system, the postal service delivered the mail for two cents. In 1863, urban mail was delivered for free—if the city had adequate sidewalks and street lighting in addition to named streets and house numbers. Sixty-five percent of the American population lived outside of these metropolises in the 1890s when rural mail delivery finally became free.** Mail boxes began in 1912 and were required by 1923.

Here’s subscription information for the Idaho Statesman in 1898, giving terms for delivery by mail or carrier.

subscription rates for the Idaho Statesman, Idaho Statesman newspaper advertisement 10 August 1898

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 10 August 1898, page 2

Lost Mail a.k.a. Dead Letters

Sometimes, mail was lost or became undeliverable. The “dead letter office” began in 1825 to gather all of these documents. The local post office was required to advertise the existence of the mail in the newspaper before forwarding it on to the dead letter office. Once there, any valuables were removed and the rest of the letter was burned. This office has a long and interesting history that can be found in the newspaper archives.

Genealogy Tip: Enter the phrase “dead letter office” into the “Include Keywords” field in the search box to find articles.

Here is a sampling of dead letter office articles.

In 1925 in just one post office, 200 letters had been sent in “absolutely blank envelopes,” 600 parcels had been mislabeled, and an astonishing 20,000 letters in one year had been forwarded to the dead letter office!

article about the post office's "dead letter office," Repository newspaper article 31 May 1925

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 31 May 1925, page 8

Here is an excellent and informative article from 1846.

article about the post office's "dead letter office," St. Albans Messenger newspaper article 29 April 1846

St. Albans Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont), 29 April 1846, page 1

Here is a picture of a dead letter office from 1985.

article about the post office's "dead letter office," Advocate newspaper article 1 November 1985

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 1 November 1985, page 30

So don’t forget to include mail lists in your searches. These informative lists are another example of how valuable newspapers are to family history research.

——————

* Richard R John, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 4.
** The United States Postal Service, An American History 1775-2006 (Washington DC: Government Relations, 2012), p. 22.

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Preserve and Protect Your Family History

In Europe and America genealogy has long been a one-person task, with the family historian recording and maintaining the family’s history.

Along the way that person hopefully made copies of the history and gave them to other members of the family. Typed or published, these would be kept and passed down in families. Did copies of your family history make it down to you?

Genealogy an Asian Tradition

In China, Korea and Japan these family histories or clan genealogies would be maintained at a designated temple that centralized the recording and maintaining of that family’s records. Copies were often made and passed down in the family to the current generation, with the copy at the Temple serving as a physical backup.

photo of a Chinese genealogy book

Source: FamlySearch.org

These genealogies can easily go back one thousand years—or, as in the case of the Confucius family, go back for 2,500 years. The Confucius family history is recorded for more than 80 generations and is maintained by the Confucius Genealogy Compilation Committee, which has 450 branches around the world. That’s a lot of genealogists documenting one family history.

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Publishing Family Histories

Family histories are often some of the oldest surviving “books” in countries all over the world. In Ireland the Leabhar na nGenealach was written in 1649-1650. It is a massive nine-volume record of families in all parts of Ireland and Gaelic Scotland.

Publishing and disseminating copies of your family history is essential, but it doesn’t stop there. Genealogists who spend decades compiling and organizing their research and then publish it in book form immediately go back to work the next day, picking up and extending the branches of the family tree from where their published book left off. In too many cases the life’s work and research notes of a solitary genealogist are never published and are simply lost when that person dies.

Why do genealogists not publish?

Typically a genealogist thinks his work is never done.

There is always one more obituary or marriage record that needs to be found. That obituary in turn gives clues for an additional search and then another.

Is there a middle ground?

Yes—today’s technology lets us put our research online in real time.

Every day as we research, we can put our results online so that our latest hunches and conclusions can be shared and immediately vetted by cousins researching the same family lines.

These online trees are effective and have created a new opportunity for genealogists. Sourcing has become easy on these sites, making it possible for anyone wanting to verify the data to just click and see the original sources.

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Game-changer

So—instead of a life’s work being lost, your family history research can be permanently preserved online. This is a major breakthrough. This is a game-changer. Research doesn’t have to be lost and recompiled over and over with each new generation.

This is important. Genealogists no longer have to rely on a library with published genealogies, reading them one by one to track a family history. This can now be done online. It’s true that—just like with a published genealogy—some of the conclusions might be wrong, but unlike the print edition of a family history, these online family trees all include links to the sources used to compile the family history.

Want to double check a person in your tree? With a click you can be reading the actual obituary in GenealogyBank or a birth certificate from Indiana.

Are you participating?
Are you putting your family information online—or are you keeping it protected in your cave at home?
I am online.

I am putting up all of the generations and family members in my family tree who have passed away—but, I do not put the current, living generation online so as to protect their privacy.

Will I still publish our family history as a book?

Yes, absolutely.

But—who knows when I will “finish” that book?

Thankfully, until that day gets here my research and notes are safely online on websites that I can control. I use two online family tree sites. One is set up so that only I can make changes in the text and the relationships. The other is set up so that anyone can add the relatives that they are more familiar with, letting me benefit from their expertise.

I can easily go online to change and edit my online tree. On the sites that make the online tree a group effort, I can track as others add to my data. By putting everything online, my data is preserved and secure and I can see/benefit from the research others are doing.

What approach are you taking to preserve and protect your family history?

Related Articles about Records Preservation:

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Where Did My Ancestors Work? Newspapers Reveal Occupations

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott shows how old newspapers can tell you a lot about your ancestors’ occupations and workplaces, and thereby better understand their lives and the times in which they lived.

Everyone works. They say the only things you can’t avoid are death and taxes, but I’d have to add “working” to that list. And in our genealogy this is a good thing. Searching for information about our ancestors’ occupations and work can add significantly to our family trees. This is especially true when you work with the thousands of newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

We can gain some exciting and interesting insights into the lives of our ancestors when we add their occupations to our usual family research. As a matter of fact, my family tree is peppered with some wonderful discoveries that came as the result of researching the occupations and workplaces of my ancestors.

One of the aspects of my youth that I regret is that I neither paid close enough attention to, nor asked enough questions about, the work of several of my ancestors who are now gone.

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Uncle Chuck

One example is my uncle Chuck. I remember from my youth and family stories that he worked for a company with the name of Acme-Cleveland, but not much more. So not long ago I decided to do some research to see if I could learn more about one of my favorite uncles.

When I searched on the company name “Acme Cleveland,” GenealogyBank’s search results page showed 2,600 hits. One of those results was this 1978 newspaper article which gave a detailed history of the company, explaining that its roots go all the way back to 1896. It also mentioned that the headquarters were at one time considered “to be one of the most modern manufacturing plants in the United States.” This is a fact I never knew when we would drive by and I would always shout in the car, as though my parents and sisters didn’t know: “That’s where Uncle Chuck works!” In the last paragraph of this old newspaper article they even quoted my uncle.

National Acme Division of Acme-Cleveland, Plain Dealer newspaper article 19 July 1978

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 July 1978, page 23

 My Great-Great-Grandfather Frederick Evenden

In another instance, I decided to do some occupational research on my mother’s family. She lost her dad when she was only 12 so I didn’t have much to go on—but one of the stories my mother had shared was that her paternal grandfather, Frederick Evenden (1851-1918) had worked for a firm by the name of Chandler and Rudd. I began my newspaper search and soon found several advertisements for Chandler and Rudd published in an 1876 newspaper. It immediately sounded like a wonderful grocery store. Listed in the advertisements were enticing entries for cheese, nuts, fruit, etc. What a cornucopia of edible offerings!

food ads for grocer Chandler & Rudd, Cleveland Leader newspaper advertisements 28 November 1876

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 November 1876, page 8

Then I found this Chandler and Rudd advertisement in a 1907 newspaper for Easter week. It was fun to see they were offering some of the same Easter treats we can get today, such as Cream Easter Eggs, Marshmallow Eggs, and Chocolate Covered Almonds, plus some others I was unfamiliar with—like Sunshine Candies, Nut Puffs, and Chocolate Covered Fig Squares.

Easter ad for grocer Chandler and Rudd, Plain Dealer newspaper article 18 March 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 March 1907, page 9

My Grandfather-in-Law Pasquale D’Aquila

On my wife’s side of the family we are blessed to have many family members who owed their livelihoods to the iron mining industry. My wife’s paternal grandfather, Pasquale D’Aquila, was one of those men who toiled away in the austere conditions of the open pit iron ore mines of Northern Minnesota. This was only after he had spent a few years in the mines of Minas Gerais, Brazil; then Western Canada; and then Montana. Sadly, Pasquale passed away long before I joined the family, so I did some newspaper research on what it was like in the mines in his day.

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I first found this 1902 newspaper article. In addition to saying Hibbing, Minnesota, was “what is known in the expressive vernacular of the street as a ‘crackerjack,’” the article also stated: “Hibbing is at present the theater of greatest iron mining activity on the planet.”

Hibbing Theater of Big Iron Production, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 19 October 1902

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 19 October 1902, page 2

But of course it wasn’t all “crackerjack”—the mining work was hard and dangerous, as were other types of work such as railroads and sawmills. This 1903 newspaper article reported that more than 1,000 “casualties among the working people of Minnesota” had occurred in the past year.

Many Accidents During the Year, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 3 October 1903

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 3 October 1903, page 2

Sometimes it was dangerous just getting to work in the mines in those days, as reported in this 1911 newspaper article. The Scranton Mine was one of the mines Pasquale worked in, and the article explained an accident in detail—and reported that the men involved were John Lampi, Emil Jackson, and John Fari.

article about a train accident at the Scranton Mine, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 11 November 1911

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 11 November 1911, page 3

Here’s another mining accident, reported in this 1916 newspaper article. The Albany Mine was another mine in which Pasquale worked, and this article explained how a dozen railroad cars, each filled with 50 tons of ore, broke loose and wrecked in the mine.

article about a train accident at the Albany Mine, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 5 November 1916

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 5 November 1916, page 8

This 1918 newspaper article reported another danger my ancestor faced: the scourge of Spanish influenza. This article explained that the area was under consideration for the imposition of martial law to combat the spread of this flu. The article detailed the situation in Grand Rapids, Gilbert, Hibbing, Aitkin, and Virginia, Minnesota, even listing an entire paragraph of the names of all those who died from the flu in Grand Rapids alone. No doubt, it had to have been a challenging life in a tough environment.

article about the Spanish flu, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 12 November 1918

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 12 November 1918, page 9

These many articles from the historical newspapers of GenealogyBank have added immensely to my family tree and my genealogy work. So when you get into your family history work, be sure to do some of your searching on the occupations and companies of your ancestors. These articles really add some wonderful depth and richness to your family tree!

Do you know what type of work your ancestors did for a living? Share their occupations with us in the comments.

Related Ancestor Occupation Research Articles:

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Researching Recent Obituaries to Extend My Family Tree

I was born in New Hampshire and my family has lived there for the past 350+ years. I probably have a cousin in every town in the state. This is especially true in Sanbornton, New Hampshire—I don’t think I could throw a rock there in any direction and not hit a relative.

So—I use that to my advantage in tracing my family history.

photo of the Bay Meeting House, Sanbornton, New Hampshire, built in 1836

Photo: Bay Meeting House, Sanbornton, New Hampshire, built in 1836. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In my experience I am related to everyone in Sanbornton, so from time to time I search the Recent Obituaries in GenealogyBank to find a cousin I’d never known.

I quickly picked one from the list: Ellen (Sanborn) Merriam (1920-2010).

obituary for Ellen Merriam, Tri-Town Transcript newspaper article 23 April 2010

Tri-Town Transcript (Topsfield, Massachusetts), 23 April 2010

Here was a line that brought back memories:

Born in Laconia, N.H., she was the daughter of the late Howard W. and Elenora (Currier) Sanborn. She was raised on a rural farm in Sanbornton, N.H., and educated in Sanbornton and nearby Tilton. She loved animals especially horses, and was a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, earning her degree in Geology.

It immediately brought to mind days gone by in Sanbornton. She went to school there and lived on a rural farm. Wasn’t every home on a “rural farm” back then?

I could picture that farm: the potbellied stove in the kitchen; the snow; the view across the fields; the quiet, secure surroundings.

She attended UNH. My parents and grandparents all attended the University of New Hampshire. Some of my earliest memories are riding the back roads to Durham, New Hampshire, and seeing the University. Eating lunch along the river and getting those giant ice cream cones from the UNH Dairy.

She was “a long time member of the Maple Street Congregational Church.” When we lived in nearby Lower Gilmanton there was only one church—and of course it was a Congregational Church. It was an image you would see in every town.

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I looked at Ellen’s family history and, using multiple sources, I quickly found that her parents—Howard Weaver Sanborn (1887-1957) and Elenora B. Currier (1895-1985) along with her five brothers and sisters—all lived on a farm in Sanbornton. As did her grandparents John Brewer Sanborn (1849-1940) and Asenath Quimby (1850-1891).

Sanborns had lived in Sanbornton since its founding in 1770.

Our family still owns the farm that my 5th-great-grandfather William Huse (1760-1839) purchased when he settled there after the Revolutionary War to raise his family.

I doubt I ever met Ellen Louise (Sanborn) Merriam, but by reading her obituary it feels like I’ve known her all my life.

I like to find Sanbornton obituaries so that I can document every cousin in my family tree.

Genealogy Tip: Don’t only search for specific relatives in GenealogyBank—search for the small towns where your ancestors lived. You just might discover a cousin you’ve never met before.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank recently announced an agreement to make over a billion records from 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 about our partnership at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

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