Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how recipe contests that ran in local newspapers can turn out to be a surprisingly good source of genealogy information about your female ancestors.
Have you ever won a contest sponsored by your local newspaper? Newspapers run all kinds of promotions aimed at encouraging new readership and subscribers. Contests commonly run by newspapers include photo contests, recipe contests, writing contests and coloring contests. By participating in these newspaper contests you can win tickets to an event, have your artwork featured in a special edition, or even win a cash award. The added bonus of winning a newspaper contest is that your name and perhaps even your picture will appear in the newspaper.
Newspaper contests can include all generations. Many years ago my oldest son was one of the “winners” in a newspaper coloring contest. All of the winners had their picture taken with their award-winning entry, and these photographs were published in the local paper. Since that time I’ve had other adults tell me about winning coloring contests sponsored by their local newspapers when they were children.
Are you looking for genealogy records about female family members? A newspaper recipe contest may be the one place your ancestor had her name published—and possibly her picture.
In some cases the winning recipes would have been featured in additional publications after their initial run in the newspaper. Some newspapers even went on to publish a cookbook featuring the recipes submitted from their contest winners.
The Daily News Cook Book (1896) is a cookbook of menus originally contributed to the Chicago Record newspaper’s daily contest for “menu for a day.” Many of the menus end with the name and street address of the woman submitting it. The recipes in this cookbook were contributed not only by women from the Chicago area, but also from other parts of the United States—as shown in the following example, a contribution from a Mrs. Tebbetts in San Diego, California.
The Los Angeles Times was another newspaper that conducted recipe contests and then published cookbooks based on entrees. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, A. L. Wyman was one of their food writers and tested over 7,000 entrees for their 1923 recipe contest. Entrees, both the winning and the losing, were then compiled into the Los Angeles Times Prize Cook Book.*
The great thing about recipe contests was that even women who lived out of town, and for that matter out of state, may have been featured. This is a good reminder that while it is important to search for your ancestor and their place of residence in a database, sometimes a search on a name alone without a location may yield unanticipated results—your ancestor’s name may pop up in a source far from home.
This 1922 newspaper article points out that the week’s recipe winners included those from other Louisiana cities in addition to New Orleans. The two winners from New Orleans, one winning for her deviled kidney dish and the other for her Bordelaise sauce, had their names and street addresses published.
While newspapers held their own recipe competitions, they also reported on other recipe contests. This 1928 newspaper article reports on a contest held by the food company Libby, and says that winning recipes would be published in future advertisements for that company. The winner’s names and addresses are provided—key clues to help you trace your family history.
All kinds of food companies sponsored recipe contests. Consider this one from Sapphire Sardine Company, offering cash prizes for recipes that featured sardines as the principal ingredient.
While newspapers documented the times and events in our ancestors’ lives, they also served a social function. As you research female ancestors, consider the activities they may have pursued in looking for mentions of their name. Are recipe contests a source of genealogy? Yes, they place your ancestor in a specific place in time. Like more traditional genealogical sources they are a names list that can be used to pursue other leads.
*“The Wyman Test,” by Leilah Bernsteon, July 5, 2000 available online http://articles.latimes.com/2000/jul/05/food/fo-47809