History of Fireworks in America: News from 1700s Forward

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog post, Gena searches old newspapers to find stories about the history of fireworks and their use for celebrations in America.

With the recent Fourth of July celebrations for Independence Day in America, we all have been seeing and hearing a lot of fireworks lately.

photo of Fourth of July fireworks over the nation’s Capitol

Photo: Fourth of July fireworks over the nation’s Capitol. Source: Library of Congress.

Letter from John Adams

It seems that the idea to celebrate our nation’s independence has always included fireworks. In a 3 July 1776 letter to his wife Abigail, future President John Adams declared:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.*

(Note: Adams was referring to the unanimous vote by the Continental Congress on 2 July 1776 in support of a resolution of independence from Great Britain. The formal Declaration of Independence was ratified 4 July 1776, which is why we celebrate Independence Day on the Fourth of July.)

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Adams’ letter was reprinted in various newspapers well into the 19th century. It was even recalled in this 1893 California advertisement which proclaims: “Boys, how are you going to celebrate the glorious Fourth? With Fireworks of course, like true and patriotic little Americans.” Adams’ letter ran across the top of the ad, above a cartoon of Uncle Sam handing fireworks to little boys, promising them a supply of fireworks “with every Boy’s Suit sold in the Juvenile Department, no matter what price suit it may be.” More than one company used the award of fireworks as a motivator to get kids to sell or buy their product.

ad for fireworks, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper advertisement, 25 June 1893

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 25 June 1893, page 14

While we celebrate the 4th of July and not the 2nd as stated in Adams’ letter, the spirit is still the same: revelries including fireworks are all part of the holiday festivities.

The History of Fireworks

The history of fireworks predates those first July celebrations here in the United States of America. Most historians believe that fireworks originated in China prior to 1000 A.D., when bamboo would be heated until it exploded. Fireworks evolved to include ingredients used for gunpowder.**  No matter when they were actually discovered, fireworks have long been a part of various celebrations in the United States.

Do you think that our ancestors had plain, not-so-exciting fireworks? Well you would be wrong. Fireworks makers have always been creative. Consider this 1901 newspaper article’s description of fireworks: balloon fireworks that, when released into the air, pop and leave behind

elephants and fish and as many animals as Noah had in the ark to float around, with rockets and roman candles shooting out of them. They can be bought with attachments which will make music too.

This old newspaper article further describes fireworks

rising like the Eiffel tower of fire to an immense height, with a grand explosion, from a gorgeous veil of feathery plumes reaching nearly to the ground, embellished with topaz and emerald comets intertwining in their flight. Amid the clouds they display a broad, swelling spread of liquid gold in streamers of glittering radiance, with feathery edges gradually spreading and dissolving into a cloud of sparkling mist. Bursting in midheaven, they form an aurora…shower of electric jewels of emeralds and sapphire tints falling slowly to the earth.

What a great fireworks show!

Fireworks for 1901, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 3 July 1901

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 3 July 1901, page 3

Explosive Danger

There’s no doubt fireworks are dangerous. Reading late 19th and early 20th century newspapers, it becomes clear that some of the concerns still held today by city officials and firefighters existed during our ancestors’ time. While the dangers of fireworks are many—everything from the manufacture to the handling, storage and subsequent igniting of the device—fireworks have been known to result in fires, injuries, and even death.

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Because of this associated danger, various laws including the banning of displays have been a part of fireworks history in the United States. Even in my lifetime, here in California we have gone from setting off fireworks in our driveways, to fireworks being banned for individual sale, to municipalities cancelling fireworks displays because of budget shortfalls and drought conditions. Reading through historical newspapers, it seems that life hasn’t changed too much.

Consider this newspaper article about an explosion at a fireworks factory in 1904. The explosion killed three people and injured six.

Three Lives Lost in a Fire Following Explosion of Fireworks, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 28 June 1904

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 28 June 1904, page 1

While the explosion occurred on the building’s first floor where the fireworks factory was located, two of the victims killed were actually working on the third floor for a hat company. A newspaper article appearing a few days later provided information from the coroner’s inquest including drawings of some of the witnesses.

Inquest Fails to Determine Cause of Fireworks Horror, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 3 July 1904

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 3 July 1904, page 5

Fireworks Aren’t Just for the 4th of July

While fireworks are probably most associated with the Fourth of July, then as now they are set off for other celebratory occasions or events. State fairs, amusements parks and baseball stadiums all use fireworks as a way to make a day out more memorable.

fireworks ad for the Utah State Fair, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper advertisement 27 September 1917

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 27 September 1917, page 13

Our ancestors even used fireworks to commemorate Christmas. In this advertisement for Christmas trees, fireworks feature prominently—a combination many of us would find odd today.

ad for Christmas trees and fireworks, Charleston News and Courier newspaper advertisement 3 January 1895

Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 3 January 1895, page 4

Fireworks have helped us celebrate occasions throughout our country’s history. Read more about how your ancestor’s hometown celebrations played out by searching in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

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*From the National Park Service webpage “National Mall Independence Day Celebration” at http://www.nps.gov/foju/historyandculture.htm. Accessed 2 July 2014.
**From the A&E History webpage “Fireworks’ Vibrant History” by Jennie Cohen at http://www.history.com/news/fireworks-vibrant-history. Accessed 2 July 2014.

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News from Soccer’s Previous World Cups in Old Newspapers

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 shows some of soccer’s most famous and infamous moments from previous World Cups, as reported in newspapers.

To celebrate this year’s exciting World Cup, let’s relive some of the most talked-about moments in World Cup history, as shown in old newspaper articles.

Even though it is known worldwide as the “Beautiful Game,” soccer unfortunately sometimes makes headlines because of violent incidents, cheating and other unsavory elements that make news around the globe.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

There will always be some dirty soccer playing, like this year when Uruguay’s Luis Suarez bit Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini during the World Cup in Brazil. Similar behavior was seen when France’s Zinedine Zidane headbutted Italian defender Marco Materazzi in his career-ending game during the final of the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

article about Italy winning soccer's 2006 World Cup, Register Star newspaper article 10 July 2006

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 10 July 2006, page 25

No Butts about It--Zidane Song Tops French Charts, Register Star newspaper article 3 August 2006

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 3 August 2006, page 18

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Occasionally there are fights between players, such as during the 1990 World Cup in Italy when the Netherlands’ Frank RijKaard spat at Germany’s Rudi Voeller and the two had an altercation.

article about the 1990 World Cup in Italy when the Netherlands’ Frank RijKaard spat at Germany’s Rudi Voeller, State Times Advocate newspaper article 27 June 1990

State Times Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 27 June 1990, page 45

Cheating

Lamentably, there is even cheating in soccer sometimes. What he later called the “hand of God” goal by Diego Maradona is one example. It happened during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, when the Argentine forward illegally used his hand to score an infamous goal against England.

Soccer Player (Maradona) Admits Cheating, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 November 1986

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 November 1986, page 52

Injuries

Very rarely, there are horrific accidents like this year’s injury to Brazilian star Neymar da Silva Santos Jr., who was kneed in the back and suffered a broken vertebra—such incidents, of course, make it into the newspapers. Another accident happened during the 1982 World Cup in Spain, when Germany’s goalkeeper Toni Schumacher ran full speed into French defender Patrick Battiston, breaking his jaw, damaging vertebrae, and knocking out several teeth. The unfortunate Frenchman nearly died on the field due to “improper medical attention.”

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article about French defender Patrick Battiston being injured in soccer's 1982 World Cup, Oregonian newspaper article 25 June 1986

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 25 June 1986, page 87

Game Drama

There can be other drama with the players besides cheating or their hurting each other on the field. During the 1998 World Cup final in France, Brazil’s superstar Ronaldo was mysteriously missing from the team roster until just before the game with France. The rumor was that he had experienced a seizure in the locker room.

Reports--Ronaldo Did Not Have Convulsions, Register Star newspaper article 18 July 1998

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 18 July 1998, page 24

Soccer Winners & Losers

In addition to news about the soccer players, the World Cup results often make it into the headlines. For example, there are the shocking upsets—such as Brazil’s defeat to Uruguay during the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, and West Germany’s upset win over the powerful Hungarian team during the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.

Uruguay Edges Brazil for Title, Oregonian newspaper article 17 July 1950

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 17 July 1950, page 23

West Germans (Reds, Too) Celebrate Soccer Triumph, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 6 July 1954

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 6 July 1954, page 13

Gunned Down by Gamblers?!

The most shocking event in World Cup history is of course the murder of Colombian defender Andres Escobar in 1994. He was gunned down by gamblers back home in Colombia just days after the Americans beat Colombia during the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. due to an accidental goal Escobar knocked into his own net.

article about Colombian defender Andres Escobar being killed after soccer's 1994 World Cup, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 3 July 1994

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 3 July 1994, page 7

Most of the time, the World Cup makes the news because of the exciting games, the fantastically athletic players, the cultural treats provided by the home country, and the rapturous reactions of the devoted fans. But occasionally, as this article has shown, there is a darker side to the World Cup—and that of course makes it into the newspapers.

Hope you enjoyed this year’s World Cup and that your team did well!

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Deadly Duel: Vice President Burr Kills Alexander Hamilton

The remarkable life and brilliant career of one of America’s leading Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, was cut short in the early morning hours of 11 July 1804 when he was shot in a duel with Aaron Burr, the sitting vice president of the United States.

portrait of Alexander Hamilton, by John Trumbull

Portrait: Alexander Hamilton, by John Trumbull. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Although the men had been bitter political and personal enemies for years, the exact cause of their fatal disagreement—as well as the circumstances of the actual duel—remain vague and uncertain. What is indisputable is that Hamilton was struck in the lower abdomen and died around 2:00 p.m. the next day, robbing America of one of its keenest political and legal minds.

painting of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, by J. Mund

Painting: an imaginative depiction of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, by J. Mund. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804)

Hamilton had been the senior aide-de-camp to General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War; Washington later rewarded his service by appointing Hamilton the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury. An economist and philosopher, Hamilton played a leading role in shaping the federal government during its formative years, and later became the leader of the Federalist Party. Other highlights of his career included being elected to the Continental Congress, founding the Bank of New York, and authoring many of the Federalist Papers. As is often the case with powerful and influential men, Hamilton had many admirers and supporters, and more than a few enemies—none more so than Aaron Burr.

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Hamilton vs. Burr

The animosity between the two men began in 1791, when Burr won the Senate seat occupied by Hamilton’s father-in-law, Philip Schuyler. In 1800, Hamilton played a key role in ensuring that the House of Representatives chose Thomas Jefferson as president instead of Burr, who had tied Jefferson in the Electoral College vote. Then, in 1804, Burr—knowing Jefferson would not favor him to continue as vice president—campaigned to become New York governor, but Hamilton again played a key role in his defeat, endorsing Burr’s opponent and the eventual winner, Morgan Lewis. The sense of rivalry and disdain between Hamilton and Burr was sharp and did not need much of a spark to ignite into deadly conflict.

That spark came quickly after the New York election. Burr took offense at some remarks Hamilton allegedly had made during a dinner party and demanded an apology. What those exact remarks were is not certain, and Hamilton said he could not recall them and refused to apologize. Burr “demanded satisfaction” and a duel was arranged for the morning of 11 July 1804.

There were only two witnesses to the fatal duel, and they both turned their backs so that they could honestly say they saw no guns fired, and therefore not be implicated in the incident. Two shots rang out, although who fired first is uncertain. Hamilton had said the night before that he would deliberately miss Burr, and in fact his shot struck a tree above his opponent’s head. Burr, however, did not miss—his bullet cut through Hamilton’s internal organs and smashed into his spine, paralyzing him and leaving little doubt the wound was mortal. After much suffering, he died from the shot the next day.

article about Alexander Hamilton being killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, United States’ Gazette newspaper article 12 July 1804

United States’ Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 12 July 1804, page 2

GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives are not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors—they also help you understand the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers.

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260k+ Wyoming Newspaper Records for Your Genealogy Research

Wyoming became the Union’s 44th state on 10 July 1890. The 10th largest state in the United States, Wyoming is the least populated. Wyoming is proud of some of the “firsts” in its history as a territory. In 1872 Yellowstone National Park was established, the world’s first national park. Three years prior to that Wyoming achieved another first that women suffragists were especially proud of: on 10 December 1869 Wyoming women were given the right to vote—the first U.S. state or territory to grant women suffrage. In applying for statehood, Wyoming’s state constitution specifically sanctioned women suffrage. Because of this fact Wyoming’s official state nickname is the “Equality State.”

photo of Castle Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Photo: Castle Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your ancestry from Wyoming, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online Wyoming newspaper archives: 9 titles containing more than 260,000 digitized historical records from the 1800s to today to help you search your family history in this large, mountainous Western state.

Dig deep into the Wisconsin archives and search for obituaries and other news articles about your ancestors in these recent and historical WY newspapers online. Our Wyoming newspapers are divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries (obituaries only).

Search Wyoming Newspaper Archives (1868 – 1921)

Search Wyoming Recent Obituaries (1997 – Current)

Here is our complete list of online Wyoming newspapers in the online archives. Each newspaper title in this list is an active link that will take you directly to that paper’s search page, where you can begin searching for your ancestors by surnames, dates, keywords and more. The WY newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range Collection
Casper Star-Tribune 11/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cheyenne Wyoming State Tribune 1/1/1917 – 12/31/1921 Newspaper Archives
Cheyenne Wyoming Commonwealth 7/20/1890 – 11/14/1891 Newspaper Archives
Cheyenne Wyoming Tribune-Eagle 10/1/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries
Knight Frontier Index 4/14/1868 – 4/14/1868 Newspaper Archives
Laramie Daily Boomerang 1/2/1890 – 6/30/1890 Newspaper Archives
Laramie Laramie Boomerang 2/9/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Riverton Riverton Ranger 4/3/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Worland Northern Wyoming Daily News 1/3/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries

You can either print or create a PDF version of this Blog post by simply clicking on the green “Print/PDF” button below. The PDF version makes it easy to save this post onto your desktop or portable device for quick reference—all the Wyoming newspaper links will be live.

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Best Family Tree Software & Websites to Share Your Genealogy

If a genealogist falls in the forest—does she make a sound? What are you doing to ensure that your decades of family history research are preserved and passed down so that others can build on your expertise?

photo of a family tree chart

Photo: family tree. Credit: Wikipedia.

For centuries genealogists relied on family tree charts that were carefully prepared on paper, a time-consuming and laborious process. These paper documents were then copied and distributed to other members of the family. Paper tree charts were costly to prepare, and their reproduction and distribution added to the expense.

In more recent times, genealogists have moved on from typewriters and copy machines to the Internet as the mechanism for distributing copies of their ancestry research to interested family members around the globe.

Here are the basic tools you need to share and distribute your family history research online.

Computer-Based Family History Software

There are dozens of family history software programs that genealogists use to organize their research. These programs make it easy to incorporate photographs, research notes and commentary into one family tree that can easily be printed in whole or in part and distributed to others—or simply shared online.

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Three of the leading family history programs are:

With any one of these family tree software programs it is easy to record your information and then, with a few clicks, print out the standard family tree charts or reports you need to communicate your family’s history to the other members of the family.

family history reports

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp

These genealogy software programs easily prepare and print out family history reports that name all of the descendants of a designated ancestor up to the present day. Or you can do the process in reverse: start with a person from today and lay out the preceding generations one by one, going back in time through both sides of that person’s family tree.

These printed paper family tree reports can be given to relatives at family gatherings. Alternatively, you can save these genealogy reports electronically as PDF or Word files that can be easily emailed to interested relatives.

Family History Websites

There are a number of good social media sharing websites where genealogists can store, collaborate, share and distribute their family history research. Here are a few of these online sites where you might consider uploading your own family history.

Scribd.com

Genealogists use online sites like Scribd.com as convenient free sites where they can upload, share and preserve their genealogy research findings.

Genealogy Tip: Before using a site like Scribd.com, be sure to set the reporting features on your genealogy software so that your family history report will not include any information about still-living members of the family. Use that edited report when you upload it online. That way the privacy of your living relatives is protected.

family history reports for Edward and Mary Rutledge

Credit: Scribd.com

Scribd.com lets you upload your family history report and present it as an online version of your family history. Online sites like this are easily searched from any computer, smartphone, iPad, or any other device. The Scribd.com report uses the standard genealogical report styles so that this document has a professional, clean look. And, since it is online, every name—in fact every word­—of the report is then searchable online.

Genealogists often find that as they continue their research, or receive feedback from relatives, they discover additional details to add to the family tree. With new family information in hand they might regret having already published and distributed their research as expensive paper documents. That is not a problem with Scribd.com.

With just a few clicks on Scribd.com, genealogists can update their family history reports and have the current, most accurate version of their family history online. Or if you prefer you can designate this updated report as a “2nd Edition” with a new publication date. However you post it, your latest findings will be instantly available to all genealogists and, importantly, preserved online.

Pinterest

There are other online sites that make it easy to present and share your family history.

Pinterest.com is an excellent site for sharing photographs about your family and where they lived.

With Pinterest you can create separately-themed “Boards” that illustrate part of your family’s story. I organize my boards by places where the family has lived or by topics that are important to our story.

Visit Thomas Jay Kemp’s profile on Pinterest.


Credit: Pinterest

I then use the notes field to describe each old family photograph, including the details of why this picture is significant to the family.

Pinterest board showing scenes from Ireland

Credit: Pinterest

Pinterest is a handy way for me to illustrate my family history in an organized way, all shared online. By adding notes, I can update and add more context to these images—sharing them through this Wikipedia-like source of online photographs.

Online Family Trees

As technology has improved, genealogists have moved to the next step and are sharing their family trees online. Genealogists welcome the opportunity to permanently store their information in the “cloud” of online family trees. This protects your family history information from any unexpected loss, such as your home computer suddenly failing, and puts the information securely online where the rising generation can find it. There are many websites where you can post your family tree online: FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage.com, OneGreatFamily.com, Ancestry.com, and other sites.

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Perhaps the most popular is FamilySearch.org.

This free family history site makes it easy to post your family tree online, along with your genealogy data, photographs and reports.

familiy history reports for Kemp ancestors

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp, Scribd.com & FamilySearch

With just a click you can easily bring together your genealogy research reports, along with your old family photos, and link them to your ancestor’s page on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

family tree entries for Kemp ancestors

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp & FamilySearch

By putting your genealogy online you make it easy to update, ensuring that your latest research is accurately recorded, permanently online, and easily accessible to you and all of your cousins around the globe 24/7.

By adding digital copies of your old family photos, documents and reports, you are able to share these one-of-a-kind items with your cousins without risking the original copies.

Genealogy Tip: Posting your family tree online is a smart way to share and preserve your family history information, making your research findable by your children, grandchildren and their children. They are expecting to find online information rather than the paper copies genealogists have relied on in the past.

As genealogists we enjoy researching and documenting our family history. These modern tools allow us to quickly share our research with the rest of the family, in paper formats as well as digital copies posted online.

Make every effort to share your family history online. It will make your own genealogy work easier, and future generations will thank you for it.

Make sure the family history records you organize and leave to posterity make a sound.

Related Articles about Sharing Your Ancestry:

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Researching Legal, Probate & Court Records Found in Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how those small-print legal notices found in the back of newspapers—often ignored by most readers—can provide important clues to help you break through your genealogy brick walls.

When reading your daily newspapers, are there certain sections you skip over? For many people there is the tendency to skip over the legal notices, typically found in the back of the paper, densely squeezed together and printed in a too-small font. As readers we may think: “why should I read the legal notices?” But as genealogists it would be a mistake to skip over them—they can be a great source of family history information.

Legal notices are notifications placed in the newspaper that alert the community of judicial actions. These can be matters involving estates, divorces, taxes, and land transactions. A 1957 Wisconsin statute states that a legal notice is defined as “…every summons, order, citation, notice of sale, or other notice and every other advertisement of any description required to be published by law or in pursuance of any law or of any order of any court.”* These public legal notices can lead you to records found at the courthouse, a county assessor or recorder’s office, and even additional newspaper articles.

How to Find Legal Notices on GenealogyBank

One way to search for your ancestor in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives is to use the search engine, either the basic or the advanced search, to enter a name, perhaps a place, and even a date or date range. But don’t forget that GenealogyBank allows you to narrow your search results further by article type. Using the list found on the left hand side of your results page, choose the  Legal, Probate & Court option to search for your ancestor in legal notices.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results page showing the Legal, Probate and Court records search option

Probate Notices in Newspapers

So what is of genealogical value in these legal notices? Plenty. Consider the notices of probate actions. One of my friends was researching her grandfather who had died and left a will. Problem was, the county courthouse serving the area where he died required payment for a search of the probate index—and then, after she paid, responded by telling her there was no court case. She knew there was a probate case because her father had been the executor of the will. So what do you do when an official entity tells you there isn’t a case? I suggested she turn to newspapers and search in the legal notices section. Sure enough, she was able to find the probate case—and with a copy of that legal notice, went back to the court clerks who were then able to provide her with the file.

probate notices, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper articles 25 January 1908

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 25 January 1908, page 9

Probate notices in newspapers can provide you names, dates, and information that you can follow up with at the courthouse. In the case of these notices from 1908 in Minnesota, the name of the deceased, the person administering the probate, the judge, and the next court date are listed.

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Genealogy Tip: Even if your ancestor left no will, there still could have been a probate case. Did they own land, a home, or owe money? Make sure to check for the existence of a probate.

Divorce Notices in the News

I’ve written about newspaper divorce notices on this blog before (see How to Find Your Ancestor’s Divorce Records in the Newspaper). Divorces notices can show up in various newspaper articles, but don’t forget that a notice requiring an appearance in court will be found in the legal notices. In these examples from 1914 Philadelphia, the defendant is told that their spouse has “filed a libel in the Court of Common Pleas…praying a divorce against you.” Those who do not show up on the date provided in this notice are forewarned “you will be liable to have a divorce granted in your absence.” Notice that in these examples, the court date and address of the defendant are listed.

divorce legal notices, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper articles 22 May 1914

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 22 May 1914, page 16

Are you new to court research? On GenealogyBank’s Legal, Probate & Court Records search box, there is a link you can click to get court record search tips.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's Legal, Probate and Court records search page showing the Search Tips link

Trustee’s Sale Notices

One of the genealogical benefits of legal notices is that our women ancestors do appear in these postings. Unfortunately, many of these notices are about the more difficult periods of a person’s life, as in this example of listings of Trustee’s Sales. As you can see, both the wife and the husband are listed in these sale notices. These 1891 examples are a good reminder that our ancestors may have been facing difficult financial times, just as many people faced in the more recent housing market collapse. If you find a notice where your ancestor’s home or property is being foreclosed on, you may want to conduct additional research to determine if there was a larger economic collapse that affected their lives. While we are most familiar with the Great Depression of the 1930s, other similar economic crises have happened in U.S. history. For example, two years after these newspaper notices appeared, there was a financial panic in 1893 that included the closing of many banks and high unemployment rates.

Auction Sales by Trustee, Kansas City Times newspaper article 29 January 1891

Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri), 29 January 1891, page 9

Legal notices in newspapers help tell the story of our ancestors’ lives. While they are often ignored, these legal notices contain rich information including names, street addresses, and dates with the court that can help us find additional documentation to fill out the details on our family trees.

________

*Burke, James J. Wisconsin Statutes, 1957: Embracing All General Statutes in Force at the Close of the General Session of 1957. Racine, 1957, p. 3551.

Related Legal & Court Record Articles:

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Meanings of Family Surnames: Exploring Origins of Last Names

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary discusses the origins and meanings of various family surnames, and shows how including the origins of your family surnames in your genealogy research may reveal intriguing clues about your ancestry.

Ever wonder about the origin of your family surname? If so, you are not alone.

Many people would like to learn about their family surname, but don’t know where to look for more information. Fortunately, historical and modern newspapers frequently have articles about last names. Look for these articles in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Crispin’s French Origins

Many newspaper articles discuss the meaning of specific surnames, such as this 1871 piece on the surname Crispin. The patron saint of shoemakers was St. Crispin, which is derived from the French term “crepin,” which means a shoemaker’s last (mechanical form in the shape of a foot). (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last.)

article about the family surname Crispin, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 8 September 1871

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 8 September 1871, page 4

Other historical newspaper articles discuss the etymology or nomenclature of surnames, which is the study of their origins. Where did particular names come from? How were they assigned? Is there a special meaning behind them? All of these are interesting components for your genealogical research and can lead to a deeper understanding of your familial roots.

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The First English Surnames

This 1893 newspaper article reports that the first English surname was adopted in the reign of King Edward the Confessor of England, who ruled between 1042 and 1066. If correct, this first surname was probably for a nobleman and most likely established to carry on hereditary rights (titles, and later property).

article about various firsts in history, Bay City Times newspaper article 30 June 1893

Bay City Times (Bay City, Michigan), 30 June 1893, page 1

This 1823 newspaper article also reports that surnames were first adopted in the 11th century in England, and “for the distinction of families in which they were to continue hereditary.”

The old news article notes that the term “surname” came not from the word “sire,” but from a French concept indicating a super-addendum (or additional name added to one’s religious or Christian name). Of course, surnames weren’t just required for Christians, but for every culture and religion.

Origin of Surnames, Rhode-Island American newspaper article 4 November 1823

Rhode-Island American (Providence, Rhode Island), 4 November 1823, page 1

Patronymics and Matronymics

As human populations grew, there needed to be a system to identify individuals. Each country chose their own method, and within a society, a religious group or individualized group, some might have chosen their own unique system.

One early naming identification method was to associate a son’s surname with a father’s first name, and a daughter’s with her mother’s.

This is known as patronymics and matronymics, and if you ever come across a person with just one name, this is called mononymics (usually associated with rulers or famous individuals). See Wikipedia’s article on patronymics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patronymic.

A Look at Surnames around the World

Depending upon cultural customs, a specific spelling or pattern for the name was designated.

In most cases the surname was modified, but in some cases the name was constructed differently. In some parts of Asia for example, the surname is given first, rather than last—and in other places, another word is inserted to indicate the family relationship.

Hebrew: One culture where you will find examples of this practice of word insertion in names is with the Jews. Hebrew names are often expressed with the use of “ben,” meaning son of, or with “bint,” meaning daughter of.

article about Jewish surnames, Rhode-Island American newspaper article 4 November 1823

Rhode-Island American (Providence, Rhode Island), 4 November 1823, page 1

Ireland: Watch for names such as Fitzgerald—the “fitz” indicates that someone was the son of Gerald. According to Behind the Name’s website, this particular surname came from the Anglo-Norman French and was introduced to Ireland at the time of William the Conqueror. See http://surnames.behindthename.com/name/fitzgerald.

Netherlands: Dutch patronymics can carry on for several generations. The Dutch Wikipedia explanation is that a “Willem Peter Adriaan Jan Verschuren would be Willem, son of Peter, son of Adriaan, son of Jan Verschuren.” See Dutch surnames at http://surnames.behindthename.com/names/usage/dutch.

Poland: A common way to express a son’s last name is by the use of “wicz” at the end. Correspondingly, “ówna” or “’anka” may be used for an unmarried daughter, and “owa” or “’ina” for a married woman or widow.

Wikipedia’s article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_name gives the example of a man with the last name of Nowak. His unmarried daughter would use Nowakówna and his wife or widow would use Nowakowa.

If you encounter a name ending in “ski,” the person is a male. If you see “ska” at the end, the person is female. There are many other variations, including “wicz,” “owicz,” “ewicz,” and “ycz” which can be added to a name, along with diminutives (similar to calling someone “little” as a pet name). See About.com’s article at http://genealogy.about.com/cs/surname/a/polish_surnames.htm for more examples.

Scandinavia: “Son” or “dotter” or “dottir” is a common addition for boys and girls names, and there are slight spelling variations from country to country. Although most of Scandinavia no longer practices patronymics, you may still see it in Iceland.

Examples: a daughter of a man named Sven might use the surname Svensdottir, and Leif Ericson, the famous Norse explorer, has a name that identifies him as the son of an Eric (Erik the Red.) See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leif_Erikson.

Naming People in Norway, National Advocate newspaper article 28 November 1828

National Advocate (New York, New York) 28 November 1828, page 2

Spain/Portugal: Although it doesn’t mean son, “ez” (Spain) and “es” (Portugal) are used to indicate males, such as with the names Gonzales or Hernandez. See the article on Spanish patronymics at http://spanishlinguist.us/2013/08/spanish-patronymics/.

Wales: Over time, there have been several variations of name usage in Wales. Sometimes you’ll find that the surnames of children were an unmodified version of the father’s name. A son Rees might be named James Rees. Another option related to the terms “ap” (son of) or “verch/ferch” (daughter of). The name Madog ap Rhys would be interpreted as Madog, the son of Rhys, and Maredudd ferch Rhys would be Maredudd, the daughter of Rhys.

To complicate matters, a name might indicate if a woman were the first or second wife of a man, or a widow.

For an in-depth explanation, see Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn’s article “Women’s Names in the First Half of 16th Century Wales (with particular attention to the surnames of married women)” at www.s-gabriel.org/names/tangwystyl/welshWomen16/.

These are just some of the many types of matronyms and patronyms that you might find while researching your ancestry, so be sure to investigate your ancestral countries further.

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Naming by Association (towns, physical attributes, etc.)

We can thank the practice of taxation for other methods of assigning surnames, some of which are attributed to the English poll taxes of 1377, 1379 and 1381.

See “The English Poll Taxes, 1377-1381” by George Redmonds, 28 March 2002, published online by American Ancestors.org at www.americanancestors.org/the-english-poll-taxes-1377-1381/.

In order to keep track of who owed what taxes, names were recorded on the tax rolls in a variety of ways. Some people were associated with their villages, others by trades or occupations, and others by distinguishing features or attributes such as a very tall, or blind, man.

Most Common Surnames by Country

If you are stuck on the origins of your last name, consider the commonality of names in specific places.

Most of us are aware that Smith and Jones are among the most familiar U.S. surnames, but what about other countries?

Wikipedia’s article List of the Most Common Surnames in Europe has an interesting list, some of which I’ve included below. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_most_common_surnames_in_Europe.

  • Belgium: Peeters (meaning the rock, similar to Petros, Peterson, Peters, Perez)
  • England: Smith (a tradesman)
  • France: Martin
  • Germany: Miller
  • Greece: Nagy (meaning great) or Papadopoulos
  • Ireland: Murphy or Of Murchadh (a personal name meaning descendant of Murchadh or “sea hound/warrior”)
  • Italy: Rossi and Russo (red-haired)
  • Luxembourg: Schmit (blacksmith, metal worker, equivalent to Smith)
  • Netherlands: De Jong (equivalent of Young)
  • Northern Ireland: Wilson
  • Norway: Hansen (son of Hans)
  • Poland: Nowak (meaning new man)
  • Scotland: Smith
  • Spain: Garcia (means brave in battle)
  • Sweden: Anderssen (son of Anders)
  • Wales: Jones (of Medieval English origins, derived from the given name John, which in turn is derived from the Hebrew name Yochanan/Johanan)

Genealogical Facts a Surname Might Reveal

Be sure to include the origins of your family surnames in your genealogy research, as they may reveal intriguing clues about your ancestry:

  • Country of origin or hometown
  • Occupation
  • Parentage
  • Physical and mental attributes
  • Religion

An example in my own research is the surname Exton. This family came to America from Euxton, England, an obvious spelling variation. And my maiden name, Harrell, has Norman-French origins. Although a legend, Madame Marie Harel or Harrell is thought to have been the creator of Camembert Cheese in 1791. This is a family favorite of ours today, so perhaps there is a connection!

Genealogy Tip: don’t forget to consider spelling variations in your surname research. My earlier blog article Ancestral Name Searches: 4 Tips for Tracing Surname Spellings provides some examples of how names change over time.

Resources for Researching Surnames

Related Family Surname Research Articles

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Fourth of July Trivia: Quiz Your History IQ

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, to add to your Fourth of July celebrations, Mary presents a fun quiz of Independence Day and Founding Fathers trivia.

As 4th of July celebrations are more American than apple pie, I thought our GenealogyBank Blog readers might enjoy an Independence Day trivia quiz.

photo of fireworks behind the Washington Monument, 4 July 1986

Photo: fireworks behind the Washington Monument, 4 July 1986. Credit: Lono Kollars; Wikimedia Commons.

Perhaps the more historical-minded genealogists already know the answers, but if not, try figuring out these questions about July 4th on your own. Some answers may surprise you. (The answers are shown below.)

Enter Last Name










1) What year were fireworks first used to celebrate the 4th of July?

A) 1776
B) 1777
C) 1826
D) 1876

2) Why were captured enemy Hessians allowed to participate in the celebrations at Philadelphia on the 4th of July in 1777?

A) The American troops wished to raise morale by humiliating them.
B) They were waiters who served food to the American officers.
C) They were talented musicians.
D) Their capture and subsequent parading through Philadelphia was reenacted.

3) How many rockets were shot in celebration on that glorious day in 1777?

A) 10
B) 13
C) 16
D) 20

4) What saying was reiterated three times on 4 July 1777?

A) Hip, Hip, Hurray!
B) Long live America!
C) Long live Congress!
D) The Glorious Fourth of July!

5) Which of these presidents died on the 4th of July (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and/or James Monroe)?

A) Adams & Jefferson
B) Adams & Monroe
C) Jefferson & Monroe
D) Adams, Jefferson & Monroe

6) Who died first, Adams, Jefferson or Monroe?

A) Adams
B) Jefferson
C) Monroe

7) What were Jefferson’s last words?

A) “God bless America.”
B) “No, doctor, nothing more.”
C) “May God have mercy on America.”

8) Another Founding Father died on the 4th of July. He was known as the penman of our Bill of Rights. Who was he?

A) Fisher Ames
B) William Blount
C) Thomas Fitzsimmons
D) Robert Morris

9) Which of these persons was not born on the 4th of July?

A) Tom Cruise
B) Malia Obama
C) Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips (Abigail Van Buren, aka “Dear Abby”)
D) Neil Simon (playwright)

10) Why do some people insist that the 2nd of July is our true Independence Day?

A) It was the day the resolution was passed in Congress to declare our independence.
B) It was the day we won a major victory against the British.
C) It was the day the peace treaty was signed ending the war.

Searching for the Answers

Enter Last Name










Here are the answers to the Fourth of July trivia questions. I came up with many of these questions and answers based on research in old newspapers. An online collection, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is a great way to learn more about our Colonial and Revolutionary ancestors—and the times they lived in. For example, this 1777 newspaper article provides answers to the first four trivia questions.

article about Fourth of July celebrations in Philadelphia in 1777, Virginia Gazette newspaper article 20 July 1777

Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Virginia), 20 July 1777, page 2

The answer to the fifth trivia question can be found in this 1907 newspaper article.

Three Presidents Died on the Fourth of July, Grand Rapid Press newspaper article 4 July 1907

Grand Rapid Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 4 July 1907, page 3

The Answers

  • Question 1: B. 1777 was the first year that America celebrated its Declaration of Independence with fireworks.
  • Question 2: C. The Hessian band was used to entertain the troops.
  • Question 3: B. Thirteen rockets were shot in honor of the thirteen Colonies.
  • Question 4: D. “The Glorious Fourth of July” was repeated three times.
  • Question 5: D. Presidents Adams and Jefferson died on the 50th anniversary of 4 July 1776 (1826) and President Monroe died on 4 July 1831.
  • Question 6: B. Jefferson. Shortly before he died, Adams reportedly said “Thomas Jefferson survives,” but he was mistaken—as Jefferson had passed away earlier that same day.
  • Question 7: B. These are Jefferson’s recorded last words, refusing the laudanum being offered by his doctor.
  • Question 8: A. Fisher Ames (9 April 1758 – 4 July 1808) was a Representative to Congress from the 1st Congressional District of Massachusetts.
  • Question 9: A. Although he appeared in the movie Born on the 4th of July, Tom Cruise was actually born on July 3 in 1962.
  • Question 10: A. July 2 was the day that the Declaration of Independence resolution passed Congress. July 4 was the official date printed on the document.

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Find Genealogy Gems Online in These 26 Idaho Newspapers

Idaho became the nation’s 43rd state on 3 July 1890. The 14th largest state in the U.S., Idaho is a mountainous region known as the “Gem State” because of the incredible variety of gemstones that have been found there.

photo of the Owyhee Mountains in Idaho

Photo: Owyhee Mountains in Idaho. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your ancestry from Idaho, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online Idaho newspaper archives: 26 titles to help you search your family history in what is sometimes called the “Potato State,” providing coverage from 1864 to Today. There are more than 4.5 million newspaper articles and records in our online archives.

Dig deep into the archives and search for obituaries and other news articles about your ancestors in these recent and historical ID newspapers online. Our Idaho newspapers are divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries (obituaries only).

Search Idaho Newspaper Archives (1864 – 1931)

Search Idaho Recent Obituaries (1992 – Current)

Here is our complete list of online Idaho newspapers in the archives. Each newspaper title in this list is an active link that will take you directly to that paper’s search page, where you can begin searching for your ancestors by surnames, dates, keywords and more. The ID newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range Collection
Blackfoot Blackfoot Register 7/10/1880 – 3/22/1884 Newspaper Archives
Blackfoot Morning News 8/2/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Boise Idaho Statesman 7/26/1864 – 8/15/1931 Newspaper Archives
Boise Evening Bulletin 2/21/1903 – 2/21/1903 Newspaper Archives
Boise Idaho Statesman 1/26/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bonners Ferry Bonners Ferry Herald 10/5/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Challis Challis Messenger 3/17/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Coeur d’Alene Idaho Spokesman-Review 7/3/1994 – 11/28/2007 Recent Obituaries
Coeur d’Alene Coeur d’Alene Press 10/1/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Idaho Falls Idaho Register 4/4/1885 – 10/31/1916 Newspaper Archives
Idaho Falls Idaho Falls Times 7/9/1891 – 9/16/1920 Newspaper Archives
Idaho Falls Citizen 3/11/1907 – 4/1/1907 Newspaper Archives
Idaho Falls Post Register 1/2/1992 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kellogg Shoshone News-Press 4/6/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lewiston Lewiston Morning Tribune 1/1/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Moscow Moscow-Pullman Daily News 1/1/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Nampa Idaho Press-Tribune 7/1/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Payette Independent Enterprise 5/16/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pocatello Idaho State Journal 6/27/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Priest River Priest River Times 6/5/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salmon City Idaho Recorder 12/12/1889 – 5/4/1892 Newspaper Archives
Sandpoint Bonner County Daily Bee 3/2/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Silver City Owyhee Avalanche 8/19/1865 – 12/28/1900 Newspaper Archives
Silver City Owyhee Daily Avalanche 10/19/1874 – 4/26/1876 Newspaper Archives
Twin Falls Twin Falls News 4/8/1918 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Twin Falls Times-News 8/19/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries

You can either print or create a PDF version of this Blog post by simply clicking on the green “Print/PDF” button below. The PDF version makes it easy to save this post onto your desktop or portable device for quick reference—all the ID newspaper links will be live.

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Where Was George Washington? Revolutionary War Fact Checking

One of my family traditions tells us that George Washington made his headquarters, from 4 July to 19 August 1781, at the home of my 5th Great-Grandfather, Joseph Appleby (1732-1792) in Greenburgh, New York, in the Dobbs Ferry section of town, during the American Revolutionary War.

Joseph Appleby served as a 2nd lieutenant in the First Regiment of Westchester County, New York Militia.

I found this interesting 1935 newspaper article reporting that in 1935 Messmore Kendall (1872-1959) was living in a house in Dobbs Ferry—and erroneously stated that was the house that George Washington used as his headquarters in 1781, not the home of my ancestor Joseph Appleby.

article about Messmore Kendall and George Washington, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 27 August 1935

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 27 August 1935, page 8

Kendall took great pride in his home’s supposed connection to George Washington and its key role in the American Revolution.

It was an impressive home.

photo of Philipse Manor

Photo: Philipse Manor. Source: Library of Congress.

Kendall served as the national vice-president of the Sons of the American Revolution and as the president of the Empire State Chapter of the NSSAR. In 1894 he had a monument erected in front of his house commemorating its place in history.

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Kendall collected dozens of historic heirlooms previously owned by George Washington and had them on display at his home.

It was a nice story—but it was not true.

A Historic American Building Survey Report issued 29 March 1934, written by Thomas Hotchkiss (Re: Messmore Kendall Residence), stated that:

The 1894 monument…incorrectly alleges that Washington and Rochambeau met at this house [Philipse Manor] to plan the Yorktown Campaign in 1781. As explained authoritatively…these commanders of the allied armies occupied the Appleby and Odell houses respectively on country roads back in the hills, and conveniently held their conference there surrounded by their troops.

It turns out that Kendall lived at the Philipse Manor built by Frederick Philipse. His great-grandson, Frederick Philipse, was a Tory and “his lands and houses” were seized and sold. The manor house was purchased by Philip Livingston.

See: Historic American Building Survey, Report HABS No. 4-105
http://www.historicmapworks.com/Buildings/index.php?state=NY&city=Dobbs%20Ferry&id=25738

Genealogy Tip: Historical claims can be wrong—even when they make it into print in a newspaper, such as Kendall’s claim about his home being a former headquarters of George Washington.

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The Appleby home which George Washington did use as his headquarters stood on what is now Secor Road in Dobbs Ferry, New York. The WFAS radio station offices are now located on this site.

photo providing an aerial view of the Appleby farm

Photo: aerial view of the Appleby farm. Source: Google Earth.

There is a video interview with Mary Sudman Donovan, Ph.D., Village Historian of Dobbs Ferry, New York. See the interview on YouTube here:

Donovan is the author of the book George Washington at “Headquarters, Dobbs Ferry” July 4 to August 19, 1781. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2009.

photo of the cover of Mary Donovan's book "George Washington at 'Headquarters, Dobbs Ferry' July 4 to August 19, 1781

Find and document your family’s stories in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Carefully review the facts you are gathering. Evaluate them and seek out corroborating sources.

Make sure that the stories about your ancestors are accurate, preserved and passed down in the family.

Related Articles:

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