Genealogy Humor: 7 Funny and Odd Inheritances & Bequests

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

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

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

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

1) A Dollar in Four Monthly Payments

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

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

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

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

2) Home for Non-Smoking Clergymen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) An Astronomical Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

4) She Left Her Body to Favorite Nephew

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

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

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

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

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

5) Don’t Miss the Banquet

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

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

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

6) Dinner on the House

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

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

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

7) Delayed Support for Kitties & Puppies

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

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

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

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

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RootsTech 2016 Registration Is Now Open!

Early bird registration is now open for RootsTech 2016 – the largest genealogy conference in North America. This year’s RootsTech conference is expected to draw well over 23,000 attendees to Salt Lake City, Utah.

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More than 200 live genealogy sessions will start on Wednesday, February 3rd, and continue through Saturday, February 6th.

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North Carolina Archives: 169 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

One of America’s original 13 states, North Carolina’s state flag has two dates that commemorate NC’s drive for independence from Britain. On 20 May 1775 citizens of Mecklenburg County, NC, approved the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence – supposedly the first declaration of independence made in the Thirteen Colonies. Then on 12 April 1776, North Carolina instructed its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence from Britain – the first former colony to do so.

photo of the Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina

Photo: Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina. Credit: Ken Thomas; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your ancestry from North Carolina, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online NC newspaper archives: 169 titles to help you search your family history in “The Tar Heel State,” providing coverage from 1775 to Today. There are more than 78 million articles and records in our online North Carolina newspaper archives!

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

Search North Carolina Newspaper Archives (1775 – 1993)

Search North Carolina Recent Obituaries (1988 – Current)

illustration of the state flag of North Carolina

Illustration: state flag of North Carolina. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Here is a list of online North Carolina newspapers in the historical 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 NC newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range* Collection
Ahoskie Roanoke-Chowan News Herald 07/10/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Albemarle Stanly News and Press 01/02/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Andrews Andrews Journal 12/04/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Apex Apex Herald 01/04/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Apex, Holly Springs Southwest Wake News 06/01/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Asheboro Randolph Guide 04/06/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Asheboro Courier-Tribune 04/06/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Belhaven Beaufort-Hyde News 07/27/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Blowing Rock Blowing Rocket 05/06/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Boone Mountain Times 02/04/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Boone Watauga Democrat 01/14/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bryson City Smoky Mountain Times 02/06/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Burgaw Pender Chronicle 10/28/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Burgaw Pender-Topsail Post & Voice 11/10/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cary Cary News 02/13/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cashiers Crossroads Chronicle 03/18/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chapel Hill Chapel Hill News 05/03/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chapel Hill Chapel Hill Herald 01/27/1995 – Current Recent Obituaries
Charlotte Charlotte Semi-Weekly Observer 12/15/1916 – 12/15/1916 Newspaper Archives
Charlotte Africo-American Presbyterian 12/21/1899 – 12/21/1899 Newspaper Archives
Charlotte Charlotte Observer 01/01/1992 – Current Recent Obituaries
Charlotte Charlotte Observer 03/13/1892 – 12/31/1935 Newspaper Archives
Charlotte Charlotte News 12/11/1888 – 09/29/1922 Newspaper Archives
Charlotte Carolina Israelite 02/01/1944 – 12/01/1958 Newspaper Archives
Charlotte Charlotte Post 02/03/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Charlotte Charlotte Observer, The: Blogs 11/09/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Clayton Clayton News-Star 08/10/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Clemmons Clemmons Courier 01/06/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cleveland Cleveland Post 01/18/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Clinton Sampson Independent 07/07/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Davidson 01/01/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Durham Herald-Sun 01/01/1995 – Current Recent Obituaries
Durham Chronicle, The: Duke University 01/25/1994 – Current Recent Obituaries
Durham Durham News 09/03/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Edenton Chowan Herald 07/12/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Edenton Edenton Gazette 02/26/1806 – 02/26/1821 Newspaper Archives
Edenton State Gazette of North Carolina 05/11/1793 – 02/20/1799 Newspaper Archives
Elizabeth City Daily Advance 11/09/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Elizabethtown Bladen Journal 03/05/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Elkin Tribune 09/19/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Farmville Farmville Enterprise 07/13/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fayetteville Fayetteville Observer 01/18/1988 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fayetteville Carolina Observer 12/09/1824 – 02/23/1863 Newspaper Archives
Fayetteville North Carolina Chronicle or Fayetteville Gazette 02/01/1790 – 07/19/1790 Newspaper Archives
Fayetteville American 04/26/1816 – 04/26/1816 Newspaper Archives
Forest City Daily Courier 01/01/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Franklin Franklin Press 02/19/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fremont Wayne-Wilson News Leader 07/06/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fuquay-Varina Fuquay-Varina Independent 10/14/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Garner Garner News 10/21/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Garner, Cleveland Garner-Cleveland Record 01/05/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Greensboro News & Record: Blogs 01/24/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Greensboro News & Record 01/01/1990 – Current Recent Obituaries
Greensboro Greensboro Record 03/17/1906 – 03/16/1984 Newspaper Archives
Greensboro Greensboro News and Record 03/19/1984 – 11/10/1989 Newspaper Archives
Greensboro Greensboro Daily News 01/03/1906 – 12/31/1982 Newspaper Archives
Greensboro Yes! Weekly 03/16/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Greenville Daily Reflector 08/30/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Grifton Times-Leader 07/20/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Halifax North-Carolina Journal 08/01/1792 – 09/11/1797 Newspaper Archives
Hampstead Topsail Voice 09/10/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hayesville Clay County Progress 09/19/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Henderson Daily Dispatch 04/10/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hertford Perquimans Weekly 07/13/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hickory Hickory Daily Record 02/10/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
High Point High Point Enterprise 04/14/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Highlands Highlander 02/28/2013 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hillsborough Hillsborough Recorder 03/10/1824 – 05/10/1865 Newspaper Archives
Hillsborough News of Orange County 08/27/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Holly Springs Holly Springs Sun 07/10/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Jamestown Jamestown News 01/12/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kannapolis Independent Tribune 05/27/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kannapolis Kannapolis Citizen 04/01/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kenansville Duplin Times 09/29/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kenansville Duplin Today – Pink Hill Review 03/08/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Laurinburg Laurinburg Exchange 01/02/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lenoir News-Topic 11/12/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lincolnton Lincoln Republican 01/23/1840 – 05/25/1842 Newspaper Archives
Lincolnton Lincoln Courier 05/02/1846 – 02/15/1851 Newspaper Archives
Littleton Lake Gaston Gazette-Observer 07/08/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Littleton True Reformer 07/25/1900 – 07/25/1900 Newspaper Archives
Louisburg Franklin Times 12/19/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lumberton Robesonian 01/01/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Marion McDowell News 02/12/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mebane Mebane Enterprise 09/17/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Milton Milton Gazette and Roanoke Advertiser 05/03/1822 – 04/21/1825 Newspaper Archives
Monroe Enquirer-Journal 10/01/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mooresville Mooresville Tribune 02/16/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Morehead City Carteret County News-Times 04/16/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Morganton News Herald 01/12/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mount Olive Mount Olive Tribune 10/06/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mt. Airy Mt. Airy News 11/02/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Murfreesboro Hornets’ Nest 10/01/1812 – 07/22/1813 Newspaper Archives
Murphy Cherokee Scout 04/20/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Nashville Nashville Graphic 01/06/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
New Bern True Republican, and Newbern Weekly Advertiser 04/02/1810 – 08/07/1811 Newspaper Archives
New Bern Newbern Sentinel 03/21/1818 – 12/21/1836 Newspaper Archives
New Bern North-Carolina Gazette 03/24/1775 – 07/14/1775 Newspaper Archives
New Bern Newbern Herald 01/20/1809 – 02/26/1810 Newspaper Archives
New Bern Morning Herald 09/17/1807 – 12/30/1808 Newspaper Archives
New Bern Carolina Federal Republican 01/12/1809 – 04/25/1818 Newspaper Archives
New Bern State Gazette of North Carolina 08/09/1787 – 02/07/1788 Newspaper Archives
Newton Observer News Enterprise 09/06/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pilot Mountain Pilot 02/20/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Princeton Princeton News-Leader 05/30/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Raleigh Star 11/03/1808 – 09/29/1852 Newspaper Archives
Raleigh Midtown Raleigh News 01/16/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Raleigh Raleigh Register 06/04/1819 – 12/28/1821 Newspaper Archives
Raleigh Raleigh Extra 06/18/1995 – Current Recent Obituaries
Raleigh North Raleigh News 07/21/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Raleigh Gazette 12/16/1893 – 02/19/1898 Newspaper Archives
Raleigh Observer 02/24/1877 – 09/11/1880 Newspaper Archives
Raleigh Semi-Weekly Standard 01/14/1852 – 03/08/1868 Newspaper Archives
Raleigh Dispatch 12/21/1991 – 04/10/1993 Newspaper Archives
Raleigh News & Observer, The: Web Edition Articles 05/06/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Raleigh News & Observer, The: Blogs 12/07/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Raleigh North-Carolina Minerva 11/26/1799 – 12/31/1804 Newspaper Archives
Raleigh News & Observer 01/01/1991 – Current Recent Obituaries
Red Springs Red Springs Citizen 09/10/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Reidsville Eden Daily News 02/13/2013 – Current Recent Obituaries
Reidsville Reidsville Review 03/25/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Richlands Richlands-Beulaville Advertiser News 10/28/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald 08/15/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Robbinsville Graham Star 01/28/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Rockingham Richmond County Daily Journal 05/05/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Rocky Mount Rocky Mount Telegram 09/03/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Roxboro Courier-Times 11/22/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salisbury Salisbury Post 12/01/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sanford Sanford Herald 02/17/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Shallotte Brunswick Beacon 05/18/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Smithfield Smithfield Herald 01/19/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Snow Hill Standard Laconic 07/13/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Southern Pines Pilot 10/08/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Spring Hope Spring Hope Enterprise & The Bailey News 08/03/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Spruce Pine Mitchell News-Journal 06/12/2013 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. Pauls St. Pauls Review 09/04/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Statesville Statesville Record & Landmark 02/06/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Swansboro Tideland News 09/03/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sylva Sylva Herald & Ruralite 10/21/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tabor City Tabor-Loris Tribune 03/14/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tarboro Daily Southerner 01/23/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tarboro Tarboro Press 01/04/1840 – 03/02/1844 Newspaper Archives
Thomasville Thomasville Times 01/01/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Troy Montgomery Herald 06/20/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tryon Tryon Daily Bulletin 05/14/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wadesboro Anson Record 06/19/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wallace Wallace Enterprise 01/06/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Walnut Cove Stokes News 12/20/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warrenton Warren Record 07/08/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warsaw Warsaw-Faison News 01/06/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Washington Washington Daily News 10/02/2014 – Current Recent Obituaries
Washington American Recorder 04/28/1815 – 05/27/1825 Newspaper Archives
Weaverville Weaverville Tribune 04/30/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
West Jefferson Jefferson Post 09/25/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Whiteville News Reporter 04/22/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Williamston Martin County Enterprise and Weekly Herald 07/14/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wilmington StarNews 01/31/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wilmington Wilmington Gazette 01/01/1801 – 01/13/1816 Newspaper Archives
Wilmington Wilmington Centinel and General Advertiser 06/18/1788 – 06/18/1788 Newspaper Archives
Wilmington True Republican or American Whig 01/03/1809 – 11/07/1809 Newspaper Archives
Wilmington Cape-Fear Recorder 11/28/1818 – 04/11/1827 Newspaper Archives
Wilson Wilson Daily Times 10/10/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Windsor Bertie Ledger-Advance 07/13/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Winston-Salem Winston-Salem Journal 11/14/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries
Winston-Salem Twin City Sentinel 12/27/1906 – 12/27/1906 Newspaper Archives
Winston-Salem Winston-Salem Journal 08/30/1898 – 12/31/1929 Newspaper Archives
Yadkinville Yadkin Ripple 09/19/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Yanceyville Caswell Messenger 08/27/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Zebulon Eastern Wake News 11/12/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries

*Date Ranges may have selected coverage unavailable.

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Elijah Sold Shoes Straight from His Saddlebags

No shoe stores in Boston in the late 1700s? According to Elijah Leathe’s obituary, “he was about the first who carried shoes, in saddle bags, to market to Boston, there being then no shoe stores.”

obituary for Elijah Leathe, Boston Traveler newspaper article 22 December 1835

Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 22 December 1835, page 3

This old 1800s newspaper article added that “He peddled them out from a bench, north side Faneuil Hall.”

illustration of Boston's Faneuil Hall as it appeared in 1776

Illustration: Faneuil Hall as it appeared in 1776. Source: Wikipedia.

Can it be true that there were no shoe stores in the late 1700s in Boston? Anyone know for sure if this is a fact?

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

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Civil War Newspaper Research: Personal Notices & Letters

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

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

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

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

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

Restricted Messages

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

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

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

“Please Copy” or Answer Instructions

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

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

Reprisals and Hidden Identities

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

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

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

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

Search tips to locate hidden identities:

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

Civil War Soldier News

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

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

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

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

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

Letters to Congressmen

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

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

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

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

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

Civil War Vital Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Civil War Marriage Records

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

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

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

marriage announcement, Richmond Enquirer newspaper article 16 April 1864

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun Facts About St. Augustine

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

Credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory


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

Credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory


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

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Genealogy Tip:

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

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

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

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

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Groundbreaking Study Tracing Back DNA 210,000 Years!

The Scotsman newspaper recently reported that the company ScotlandsDNA “has completed the first stage of…research tracing the beginnings of a family tree for ‘all men on Earth.’”

masthead for the newspaper "The Scotsman"

Source: The Scotsman

Read the full article from The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland), 7 August 2015, here:

This important new DNA study shows that the branching of the DNA tree evolved slowly over time – but then that evolution abruptly changed. According to the article:

About 4,500 years ago, many new branches suddenly appear over a very short period.

illustration of a section of DNA

Illustration: a section of DNA. Source: Wikipedia.

According to Alistair Moffat who ran this study:

DNA research showed this was highly likely to indicate an invasion by a warrior elite, small bands of highly aggressive and sexually predatory men sailing by small boats to Britain and Ireland over a short space of time around 2,500 BC from Spain, Portugal and southern France.

He went on to say:

This is noticeable across the whole Tree but particularly clear under the very British and European Y chromosome haplogroup, R1b S145, where a staggering 25 new branches are found.

map showing the spread of European Y chromosome haplogroup, R1b S145

Source: Wikipedia

According to Wikipedia the R1b line “is believed to have originated in Asia” and “had been in Europe before the end of the Ice Age.”

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ScotlandsDNA’s study of the “Y” chromosome DNA concludes that all “men” descend from a common ancestor.

chart showing the evolutionary tree of human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups

Source: Wikipedia

Have you taken a DNA test?
What did you learn from your test results?

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The Three Stooges’ Story Told in Their Obituaries

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over nine years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” In this blog post, Duncan searches GenealogyBank’s obituaries collection to learn more about the zany comedy act “The Three Stooges.”

The Three Stooges, active from 1925 to 1970, were one of the most endearing and entertaining comedy acts that many of us grew up watching. The characters of Moe, Larry, and Curly made us laugh. They were prolific producers of short comedy films – at their peak, they produced eight shorts every year! I recently spent some time learning more about these beloved comedians by finding their obituaries in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

The dynamic trio originally got their start as stooges (Moe Howard, Shemp Howard, and Larry Fine) for Ted Healy. Shemp and Ted didn’t work well together and Shemp moved on to other projects. Jerome a.k.a. “Curly,” Moe and Shemp’s younger brother, then took Shemp’s place and the trio eventually left Healy to form their own comedy act, “The Three Stooges.” Curly remained one of the Stooges until his debilitating stroke in 1946. He was known for his high-pitched voice and childlike antics. He died in a care center on 18 January 1952.

obituary for Jerome "Curly" Howard, Oregonian newspaper article 20 January 1952

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 20 January 1952, page 11

Shemp returned to the act after Jerome’s stroke to fill in for his brother. What was supposed to be a temporary gig lasted for several years. Shemp filled in until his death of heart failure on 22 November 1955. Other stooges filled in for Shemp in the following years.

obituary for Sam (Shemp) Howard, Sacramento Bee newspaper article 23 November 1955

Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), 23 November 1955, page 1

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Larry provided the voice of reason for the group, although his character wasn’t very reasonable. He died on 24 January 1975 of a stroke.

obituary for Larry Fine, San Diego Union newspaper article 25 January 1975

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 25 January 1975, page 15

While most of the Stooges struggled with finances, Moe was a wise businessman and invested his earnings. His onscreen character was a bully, but that didn’t reflect his true personality. He was 77 when he died of lung cancer on 4 May 1975.

obituary for Moe Howard, San Diego Union newspaper article 6 May 1975

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 6 May 1975, page 10

As people have indexed some of the Stooges’ obituaries as part of the GenealogyBank and FamilySearch agreement, memories of happy childhood experiences have flooded back. While The Three Stooges have all died, they continue to bring joy to others through the lasting legacy of their comedy.

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

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Anniversary of President McKinley’s Assassination

Suddenly, President William McKinley (1897-1901) – one of only four American presidents killed in office – is in the news again. This week, his name was removed from North America’s highest mountain peak, located in Alaska.

This weekend, Americans will be marking the anniversary of the assassination of President McKinley, who was shot by “anarchist” Leon Czologsz at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, on 6 September 1901. The nation was traumatized as they had been with the murder of President Lincoln just 36 years before. With the shock of both shootings – and that of President Garfield in 1881 – still firmly in their minds, Americans looked to their daily newspapers to learn the latest news of McKinley’s condition.

article about the assassination of President William McKinley, Plain Dealer newspaper article 7 September 1901

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 7 September 1901, page 1

McKinley lingered, then passed away the following week on 14 September 1901.

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When national leaders such as Presidents Lincoln, McKinley and Kennedy, and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., are assassinated, the nation responds by renaming streets, schools and monuments for our fallen leaders.

photo of Mt. McKinley (now Denali), Alaska

Photo: Mt. McKinley (now Denali), Alaska. Source: National Park Service.

In 1917 President Woodrow Wilson honored McKinley’s memory by signing “the Mount McKinley National Park Act, which required the park to be ‘dedicated and set apart as a public park for the benefit and enjoyment of the people under the name of the Mount McKinley National Park.’” (USA Today, 31 August 2015).

But Mount McKinley is no more. On Aug. 30, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that the name of North America’s highest mountain is being changed back to its original name, Denali, which in the Athabaskan languages of Alaska Natives means “the high one.”

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DNA Testing Confirms President Harding’s ‘Love Child’

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows how DNA testing has been used recently to prove that the old rumor about President Warren G. Harding’s “love child” was true.

DNA testing is growing in popularity, with more and more genealogists using it to break through brick walls in their family history research. Historians, too, are using DNA testing to unlock mysteries from the past – most recently, to prove that the old rumor about President Warren G. Harding’s “love child” was true.

photo of Warren G. Harding, by Harris & Ewing, c. 1920

Photo: Warren G. Harding, by Harris & Ewing, c. 1920. Credit: Library of Congress.

Long before Monica Lewinsky, Mimi Alford and rumors of other adulterous affairs carried on at the White House by Presidents Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, President Warren Harding was embroiled in multiple controversies – some of which came to light after his death. Government bribery via the Teapot Dome Scandal, an affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips (Mrs. James Phillips, a woman who successfully blackmailed him), and the later-discredited whispers that Mrs. Harding may have had a part in her husband’s mysterious death, all continue to blacken Harding’s legacy. And then there was the case of Nan Britton, who claimed to have had a nearly seven-year affair with Harding while he was married – and that he fathered her daughter Elizabeth.

DNA Testing Reveals Secrets from the Past

In an age before mobile devices that record and track your every move, lying about where you were, what you were doing, and who you were with was much easier. Without any way to “prove” a claim of an affair or resulting paternity, it was a matter of “he said” v. “she said.” Today, DNA testing is the ultimate game-changer. As far as familial relationships are concerned, DNA keeps no secrets.

In today’s world, it comes as no surprise to most of us to hear that a president had an affair (or multiple affairs) but in an earlier era, the truth was often easily covered up.

In the early 1910s, Nan Britton, a Marion, Ohio, teenager, was infatuated with local newspaper owner – and later U.S. senator – Warren G. Harding, who also happened to be her father’s friend. Harding, 31 years Britton’s senior, was carrying on an affair with local woman Carrie Fulton Phillips when the teenaged Britton began her obsession. When she was 20, Harding began his affair with Britton, which led to the birth of their daughter Elizabeth in 1919 – shortly before Harding was elected president. Britton would later claim that Harding provided financial support for their child but failed to mention her in his will, leaving Britton fighting unsuccessfully for her daughter’s inheritance when President Harding died suddenly during a trip to California in 1923.

Nan Britton’s Infamous Book

After Harding’s death stopped his financial support, Britton tried unsuccessfully to get Harding family members to provide ongoing compensation for his child. Britton then chose a route that modern-day readers are well-acquainted with: writing a tell-all book. The President’s Daughter (1927) told the story of her affair with Harding and their child. While Britton may have believed she was doing the right thing by her child, she probably didn’t anticipate the fallout she would experience from this decision to write a book about the affair.

article about Nan Britton and her daughter Elizabeth, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 6 November 1927

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 6 November 1927, page 2

Britton’s book met with controversy prior to its publication, including the printing plates being seized and attempts to block its release. In response, she started her own organization, The Elizabeth Ann Guild, which published her book. The Elizabeth Ann Guild’s purpose was to spotlight an important issue: the plight of “illegitimate” children.

ad for Nan Britton's book "The President's Daughter," Evansville Courier and Press newspaper advertisement 28 February 1928

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 28 February 1928, page 7

Embroiled in Lawsuits

Those who write tell-all books often suffer the side effects of revealing very personal details. Imagine the Roaring ’20s and a woman, a self-proclaimed mistress at that, writing a book about “lurid” details that seek to tarnish the reputation of a U.S. president. Aside from being ridiculed for her paternity claims, Britton was involved in subsequent lawsuits having to do with her best-selling book.

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One such suit involved her mentor (and what some believe to be the primary author of her book), Richard Wightman. In the following 1928 newspaper article, Patricia Wightman claimed her husband Richard – not Britton – wrote The President’s Daughter, which led to the demise of their marriage. Mrs. Wightman claimed:

…that her husband took Miss Britton into their home at Saybrook while he wrote the book from information supplied by Miss Britton, who acted as typist and secretary for him.

The book, and her husband’s involvement with Miss Britton, caused Patricia to leave and “live in a shack” before moving on to live in an exclusive hotel. She proclaimed that she:

…asked my husband not to have anything to do with the book…because it was scandalous and was an attack on the memory of a dead President.

article about Richard Wightman ghost-writing Nan Britton's book "The President's Daughter," Winston-Salem Journal newspaper article 3 March 1928

Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), 3 March 1928, page 1

According to a news report a few weeks later, Britton was named as a co-respondent in the Wightman divorce.

article about Nan Britton being involved in the Wightman divorce, Winston-Salem Journal newspaper article 26 March 1928

Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), 26 March 1928, page 3

That was not the only lawsuit Britton was a party to. A book that claimed her allegations of an affair with Harding were false was published. Titled The Answer to the President’s Daughter, this work led to a lawsuit brought by Britton for libel. Another book that also aimed to discredit Britton was written by Harding’s campaign manager and attorney general, Harry M. Daugherty. Titled The Inside Story of the Harding Tragedy, it claimed to “refute Nan Britton’s claim that President Harding was the father of her daughter” as well as exonerate Mrs. Harding against claims that she murdered her husband.

article about Harry M. Daugherty writing a book to defend President Harding, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 29 December 1931

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 29 December 1931, page 1

Later Years

In the 1960s, the discovery of love letters from Harding’s affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips led to renewed interest in Britton’s story, resulting in follow-up newspaper articles. Britton knew the Phillips family and had gone to school with their daughter.

article about Nan Britton's affair with President Harding, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 24 February 1965

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 24 February 1965, page 8

In this old news article, Britton lays out her life in the years after the president’s death that included living under assumed names and working hard to support her daughter. She also revisits her relationship with Harding and the subsequent financial need to write a tell-all book after his death:

…her motive for publishing the story of her love-life with Harding was grounded on the need for legal and social recognition and protection of all children born out of wedlock. She stated that in her opinion “there should be no so called ‘illegitimates’ in this country.”

While love letters from President Harding to Britton do not survive, those he wrote to Phillips do and have recently been released to the public, digitized and available on the Library of Congress website.

Nan Britton spent her life standing by her presidential love story and faced much ridicule for it. In this case the final “proof” endures in the genetic genealogy of a family. Britton died in 1991 in Oregon, still viewed with contempt by some who believed she told lies that tarnished Harding’s reputation. Her daughter Elizabeth died in 2005, ten years before the 2015 DNA test that proved the story that her mother consistently told all those years was the truth.

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