Tips for Researching Birthdays & Birthday Notices in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary finds birthday articles and notices in old newspapers to show how they can help with your family history research.

I suppose there are people who don’t celebrate birthdays, but they’re hard to find. Who wouldn’t want to partake in this annual celebration of life?

The Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson was the exception. In 1900, he bequeathed his birthday to Adelaide Ide, a little girl who had “carelessly” been born on Leap Day (29th February). Many accounts claim that she had been born on Christmas Day, but one of the wonderful things about historical newspaper articles is that they correct mistakes like this.

Not wishing for Adelaide to be cheated out of birthdays every three years out of four, Stevenson wrote:

I, Robert Louis Stevenson, in a sound state of mind and body, having arrived at an age when I no longer have any use for birthdays, do give and bequeath my birthday, on the 13th of November, to Miss Adelaide Ide, to be hers from this year as long as she wishes it. Robert Louis Stevenson.

article about Robert Louis Stevenson, Daily Illinois State Register newspaper article 3 June 1900

Daily Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois), 3 June 1900, page 10

What a delightful birthday idea!

Genealogical Stories in Newspaper Birthday Notices

Newspaper articles round out our genealogical stories, so use them lavishly to learn how family celebrated festive affairs such as birthdays. Many articles, such as this one from 1895, suggest hints for planning a child’s big day.

article about birthday cakes, Evening Star newspaper article 2 February 1895

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 2 February 1895, page 12

This next newspaper article, from 1892, reminds us that high teas were in favor – but it also demonstrates that many birthday customs have not changed. As is practiced today, the child’s name was written in frosting on the birthday cake, which was decorated with candles to match her age plus one to grow on.

article about birthday cakes and parties, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 6 November 1892

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 6 November 1892, page 13

Life Milestones

Birthday articles with the most impressive genealogical data spotlight celebrants who attain impressive milestones, such as this 1894 newspaper article reporting on the 105th birthday of Hannah Chard. This article notes where she was born, her birth date, her maiden name and some of her progeny. Facts and narratives are reported, such as how she gathered cannonballs at the Revolutionary War battlefield in Pennsylvania from the Battle of Brandywine.

birthday notice for Hannah Chard, New York Herald newspaper article 14 April 1894

New York Herald (New York, New York), 14 April 1894, page 14

This 1800s newspaper article alludes to several timelines in Hannah’s life. Although she was of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, Hannah came to live with a Quaker family around the age of five after her father passed away, and her husband’s death is reported as occurring 12 years earlier. If you were searching for pertinent dates, an old news article like this provides important leads.

We also learn that Hannah enjoyed exceptional health at the age of 105, despite taking great comfort in smoking a clay pipe four times a day!

An interesting genealogy aside: I have an ancestor who also found cannonballs at the Battle of Brandywine battlefield.

photo of a cannonball from the Battle of the Brandywine found by Mary Harrell-Sesniak's ancestor, Edith Scott

Photo: cannonball from the Battle of the Brandywine found by the author’s ancestor, Edith Scott. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

Surprise Birthday Parties

Surprise birthday parties frequently make the news, and those newspaper articles can identify family relationships helpful to your family history research, or sometimes describe gifts that may have become family heirlooms.

This 1880 newspaper article does both, noting three generations of family in attendance and a special chair.

Mrs. Evelene Laverty turned 75 in 1880, and she was kept out of the house before being surprised by her son-in-law with upwards of thirty relatives and friends at her surprise birthday party. Two of the people attending were her brother and sister-in-law, the Darlings, a useful tidbit when searching for maiden names. Their daughter, Mrs. R. C. Dart, was also present.

birthday notice for Eveline Laverty, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 3 January 1880

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 3 January 1880, page 5

Surprise birthday parties are not always given by family members.

In this 1883 newspaper article, we learn about E. B. Myers, a school teacher at Elkhart, Indiana. When his students realized it was his birthday, they surprised him with a pair of elegant slippers and a lovely note:

Mr. Myers will please accept the accompanying gift as a token of the high esteem and regard of his pupils.

birthday notice for E. B. Myers, Elkhart Daily Review newspaper article 15 March 1883

Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 15 March 1883, page 3

Genealogy Tips for Researching Birthdays in the News

To recap, newspaper birthday notices may contain:

  • addresses (home & location of the party)
  • attire worn and decorations
  • dates (birthday & date of the festivity)
  • food, refreshments, activities & the entertainment
  • birthday gifts & presents
  • guest lists, family members & their relationships
  • photographs
  • Cross-reference birthday notices with birth and vital records, to see if someone fudged on an age
  • Cross-reference names to see how they are related
  • Search other years for similar announcements
  • Search for nicknames, particularly in classified advertisements

Foreign Birthday Terms

If an ancestor was an immigrant or child of an immigrant, search by foreign language birthday keywords. Remember that although different countries may share a language, the term in one location may vary from another. Here are some examples:

  • Dutch: verjaardag
  • French : anniversaire, fête, la jour de naissance
  • German: geburtstag
  • Irish: lá breithe
  • Spanish: ¡feliz cumpleaños!

Fun Genealogy Activity

If you’re working on your family genealogy or planning a summer reunion, search old newspaper headlines for memorable events that occurred on the day someone was born, or on a milestone birthday. You never know what interesting facts you might discover about their date of birth.

If you’ve found an unusual birthday notice doing your newspaper research, please share it with us in the comments.

Related Articles:

Genealogy Humor: Unusual & Funny Names of People (Part II)

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shares some of her readers’ responses to an earlier blog article she wrote about the odd and humorous names she’s run across while researching family history in old newspapers.

After publishing my Unusual & Funny Names of People blog article on 7 November 2013, readers wrote in droves, sharing additional funny—or should I say hilarious—names. Some were submitted directly to our blog, and others via Facebook pages such as the RootsWeb Genealogist page at

We are chuckling over their submissions, and hope you will too!


Several submitters recounted tales of fun surnames reflecting colors.

“Sometimes when women get married, their new names are comical, too, like one I found recently whose last name was White, but when she married her name became Sarah White Rice.” —K. Campbell

“I encountered two families, the Browns and the Greens, who named their children various colours. I remember one of the Brown’s first names was Green. Other names were Orange, Violet, Purple, and Red but I’m sure there was another. There was another family who named their daughters Ruby and Sapphire, so when their son came along, of course they called him Emerald.” —A. Smulders

Here is an item from a “Personal and Social” column from 1897, mentioning John Green Brown (see It also mentions another unusual name: Miss Scrap Wright.

Personal and Social, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 5 October 1897

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 5 October 1897, page 5

That made me think about all the reports of men and women marrying their Miss or Mr. Wrights!

I once found a Purley Wright, and wonder if anyone has ever encountered a Purley White?


D. Peters reported these names: “Actress Poppy Montgomery and her siblings Poppy Petal, Rosie Thorn, Daisy Yellow, Lily Belle, Marigold Sun, and their brother Jethro Tull.”

She was referring to Australian-born Poppy, who was born with a much longer name: Poppy Petal Emma Elizabeth Deveraux Donahue. If interested, be sure to read her Wikipedia bio at

photo of Poppy Montgomery, Register Star newspaper article 26 March 2006

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 26 March 2006, page 83


In my earlier funny names blog article, I enquired if there were ever people by the names of R. U. A. Crook and Justin Case? I didn’t discover a Crook with those initials, but just as I suspected—there really was someone by the name of Justin Case!

“In 2009 there was an individual who lived in the same area as where I was working. He was indeed named ‘Justin Case.’” —S. Moore

And A. Smulders reported: “I transcribed the name Ah Choo once.” She also reported seeing some names which sounded like profanity! She didn’t repeat them, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

Food Names

I’m wondering if this next woman’s middle initial was B?

“My favorite name on my family tree is Barbara Cue.” —Kathy

Miss Barbara Cue, Lt. Lane Engaged, Boston Herald newspaper article 29 April 1945

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 29 April 1945, page 82

“I found Mr. FUDGE in a South Carolina census today. Still looking for the NUTS, DIVINITY and PEANUT BRITTLE.” —M. Vanderpool Gormley

Musicians and Cartoonists

Artists have long been known to adopt unusual monikers. Dizzy Gillespie, Chubby Checkers and Fats Domino are some that come to mind, but M. Kates reported a person by the name of “Octave Piano,” which is one I hadn’t heard.

There was also a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, Jay Norwood Darling, who shortened his Darling surname to “Ding.” If you’ve ever visited Florida’s Captiva Island, perhaps you’ve visited the National Wildlife Refuge named after him. See

Cartoon Award, Times-Picayune newspaper article 4 May 1943

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 4 May 1943, page 6

Native American Names

The descriptive nature of Indian names, such as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, is always intriguing.

However, I’ve found one a bit more graphic than usual. This man from Bullhead was elected a tribal councilman of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in 1967, and he is also recorded on line 71 of this 1940 Census. If anyone has insight on the origin of the surname Kills Pretty Enemy, please enlighten us!

Agard Is Re-Elected Chairman, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 22 October 1967

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 22 October 1967, page 8

Double Meanings, Interchangeable Names and Relationships

One of my earlier blog articles was about someone named “B. A. Husband,” and a “Husband” reader responded: “Thanks for posting this. It was fun to see my name in there.”

When I enquired, “So, are you a wife who is a husband? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.),” she replied:

“LOL. I am a Husband who is also an ex-wife and a future wife…Us Husband women are the only women that can be both husbands and wives at the same time. I don’t mind if you use my comments at all Mary.” —S. Husband

“I ran across a woman a while back whose name was Polly Esther Cotton. I had to look at it twice to make sure it wasn’t an error. It still could have been a misspelling of the last name, I suppose…We have an artist here in town whose name is Mack Truck (real name; the local librarian told me about him).” —K. Campbell

“I went to high school with a girl named Harley Davidson…A friend’s mother was named Dimple Dottie.” —L. Boyd McLachlan

“And in the 1960s I went to grammar school with a boy named Rusty Bell.” —S. Moore

I wasn’t able to find a historical newspaper account for a Rusty Bell, but I did find three at Find-A-Grave, along with the grave of a gospel preacher named Ding Dong Bell:

“I knew a woman years ago named Gwen and she married a man named Gwen, so her married name was Gwen Gwen.” —D. Peters

Here Is an Assortment of Other Contributions from Readers!

“In researching the family who adopted my father-in-law, a ways back there was a marriage into the Snow line; while Fielding Snow is not so funny, other members of the lineage had a real sense of humor. One I found was Frost And Snow (‘And’ was his middle name), Mourning Snow, and Fountain Snow.” —N. Morris Boyd

“I have a Manely Peacock in my family tree. He was a captain in the Union Army. My gg-gm’s sister’s maiden name was Sarah Madara. My favorite isn’t in my family tree however. I came across this name on FamilySearch: Morris Morris, born in Morristown, Morris County, NJ. I wonder what he named his cat?!” —M. Guenther

“I found an Icy North in a census record. Went to school with the Flower sisters, Iris, Rose and Daisy.” —G. Marshall

“I have a Major Buchanan; yes she was a girl.” —S. O’wen

“In the Dutch [family] trees, you often see a difference of one letter between genders. Cornelis for male, Cornelia for female. End result: Aunt and Uncle Corny. We had a family around the corner from us whose kids were named April, May, and August.” —A. Smulders

Genealogical Challenge

Thanks to everyone who shared their findings and brightened our day! If you run across more funny names during your family history research, please share them with us.

Next on the Funny Genealogy Names series will be hysterical town names! I’ve got a whole slew of funny place names in Texas, including the town of Ding Dong. When I publish it, I’ll be sure to let you know how someone stole their bell!