How Old Newspapers Can Help You Search U.S. Census Records

Like detectives, we approach family history by gathering all of the clues and making a case for who our relatives were: their names, when and where they were born, pushing through all of the activities of their lives until their deaths.

Pulling all of the facts and clues together helps us rediscover who each one of our relatives really were. What happened while they were alive—what do we really know about them?

The U.S. census is a terrific tool—basic for building an American family tree. It gives us a snapshot of our family at the time of recording. The census looks in on them one day of their lives, every ten years, over their lifetime. Couple this census information with old family letters, perhaps a journal, and birth, marriage & death certificates, and we begin to discover the basic facts about each person.

Add newspapers to our research and we can go beyond the basic genealogical facts: we get to learn their stories.

Newspapers were published every day. They tell us what happened each day in their town, their state, in the world. Old newspapers tell us what was happening in our relatives’ lives every day of their lives.

Since a census record is a one-day look at the family, we complement those basic facts with newspaper articles to fill in the details and get the rest of their stories, as shown in the following two examples.

William T. Crow (1802 – )

Here is the listing for William T. Crow and his wife Elizabeth Crow (1806- ) in the 1880 census.

photo of the 1880 census listing for William and Elizabeth Crow, from FamilySearch.org

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Digging deeper into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I found this old 1800s newspaper article about William Crow.

notice about William T. Crow, Aberdeen Weekly News newspaper article 2 October 1885

Aberdeen Weekly News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 2 October 1885, page 2

This article fills in more of the details of their lives:

  • He was a judge
  • Her maiden name was Elizabeth Blackwell
  • They married on 26 February 1826
  • They were close to the 60th anniversary of their wedding day
  • They had 6 children and 47 grandchildren living in 1885
  • 1 daughter died during childhood
  • 2 sons “sleep in soldiers’ graves”
  • They lived near Carnesville, Georgia, and all of the children lived within 1½ miles of the family home

That’s a lot of family information packed into one short paragraph. Marriage records in newspapers are a fantastic resource to trace your family tree.

Hannah Lyman (1743-1832)

Hannah (Clark) Lyman lived in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Her census record gives us a start at her story.

Here she is in the 1830 census, living in Northampton, Massachusetts.

photo of the 1830 Census listing for Hannah Lyman, from FamilySearch.org

Credit: FamilySearch.org

She is there—and the check marks tell us that there were others, unnamed, living in the house with her at that time.

Once again I turned to GenealogyBank’s historical newspapers to get more of her story, and found this 1800s news article published just two years after the census was taken.

obituary for Hannah Lyman, Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 21 March 1832

Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 21 March 1832, page 3

Like the trendy saying “it takes a village,” it takes multiple genealogical resources to fill in the details of the lives of our ancestors.

And wow—do newspapers deliver!

This newspaper article from GenealogyBank’s deep backfile of historical newspapers builds on her brief mention in the census, and tells us the core facts of her life along with a terrific family story of her memories of the “great earthquake of Nov. 18, 1755.”

Details—stories.

Newspapers tell us so much about our family history.

The Real Duncan Hines—The Man, Not the Cake Mix

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena uses old newspapers and other online resources to learn more about Duncan Hines—whose real-life accomplishments were so much more than just getting his name onto boxes of cake mix.

When you hear the words “Duncan Hines” you may visualize a homemade cake. Today, most people recognize the Duncan Hines name as one gracing the front of cake mix boxes, but Duncan Hines was a real person who had an interesting foray into the food and hospitality businesses.

photo of a box of Duncan Hines cake mix

Photo: Mixer and box of Duncan Hines cake mix. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.

In today’s world if you want a recommendation for a hotel or a restaurant you look for a website. Prior to the Internet you most likely used a guide from an organization like AAA (the American Automobile Association) to choose where to stay on a vacation or work-related trip. But whom did your family rely on for such advice in the mid-20th century?

The Traveling Foodie

Duncan Hines didn’t start out to become an everyday name associated with food and lodging. He didn’t even start out working in the food industry. Duncan Hines (1880-1959) was a traveling salesman for a printer who, as he racked up miles crossing the country for his work, ate at lots of restaurants. In 1935 he shared his recommendations in a Christmas card and quite by accident stumbled upon a new venture.*

That Christmas card eventually became a business. The Duncan Hines brand was not unlike the multiproduct brand names we see in the food industry today. Products associated with famous chefs or homemaking experts like Rachel Ray or Martha Stewart follow in Hines’s footsteps. His coveted reviews of restaurants expanded to hotels—he even rented out signs that proclaimed an establishment recommended by him. Eventually his name graced a multitude of food products including the well-known cake mixes of today.

Hine’s Ratings & Recommendations Books

Adventures in Good Eating, his multi-edition book of restaurant recommendations, blossomed into regular newspaper columns that included recipes from restaurants he had reviewed.

Duncan Hines: Adventures in Good Eating, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 24 August 1948

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 24 August 1948, page 9

The success of Adventures in Good Eating led to Hines’s hotel guide entitled Lodging for a Night (digitized on Internet Archive at http://archive.org/stream/lodgingfornight00hinerich#page/n5/mode/2up).

There is no doubt that Hines became a celebrity in his own right. Lodging for a Night includes a warning that “a surprising number” of imposters who claim to be his family had been known to ask for free food and lodging. Hines warns proprietors to refuse such offers (pg. xiv).

photo of the cover of the Duncan Hines book "Lodging for a Night"

Photo: Book cover of Lodging for a Night by Duncan Hines. Credit: Internet Archive.

Hines’s descriptions of hotels are reminiscent of conversing with a good friend. He not only provides some of the basic information a traveler would need but also includes comments about the proprietors—like in the listing for the Sutter Hotel in Yuba City, California. Hines writes: “If you want to see what a man with brains can do with a hotel that 2 year ago was not any too good, drop in and meet Mr. Hass” (p. 61). In his write-up of the Oak Creek Lodge in Flagstaff, Arizona, Hines reports that the owners are Carl and Ethel Meyhew, along with their son and daughter (p. 19).

Duncan Hines was a well-respected figure, and that respect led him to lecture on food issues (such as warning against eating a poor breakfast), as seen in this 1954 article from a Texas newspaper.

Duncan Hines Warns about Poor Breakfasts, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 October 1954

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 October 1954, page 2

At one time the Duncan Hines name was on a multitude of products, everything from ice cream to baking mixes to hams. For a man who was once a traveling salesman, his Christmas card idea turned into an industry that Americans are still familiar with today.

photo of an ad for Duncan Hines smoked hams

Photo: Duncan Hines ad for smoked hams. Credit: Internet Archive.

Dig into the online archives now to learn more about the life of Duncan Hines, read more of his restaurant reviews in Adventures in Good Eating in the newspaper, and more.

___________________

* Duncan Hines. He is the traveler’s authority on where to eat by Phyllis Larsh. Life. 8 July 1946. Page 16-17. Available at http://books.google.com/books?id=JEoEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PP1&dq=Duncan%20hines%20life%20magazine&pg=PA16#v=onepage&q=Duncan%20hines&f=false.

Lineage, Hereditary, Heritage & Patriotic Societies Have Genealogy Resources

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to learn about lineage, hereditary, heritage and patriotic societies, lists a number of these societies, and provides their website links in case you want to find out more.

The listings and records kept by various genealogical societies can be a gold mine for family historians.

But there are so many American lineage, hereditary, heritage and patriotic societies, you’d be hard pressed to find them all. And if you attempt to search on the keywords “genealogy” or “lineage society” on the Web, you’ll find the results overwhelming!

This blog article makes searching these societies a more manageable task, by discussing several key categories and providing links to make your genealogy record searches more efficient. It also shows how articles from an online newspaper archive can provide more information about these types of societies.

Societies & American History

Many societies have a long history in America, with some of the oldest going back to the early days of our nation’s founding.

This article from a 1985 Louisiana newspaper lists heritage societies active in New Orleans that year. It reports that the oldest society in the area is the St. Andrew’s Society, founded in 1729 with membership open to men of Scottish ancestry.

A Master List of Heritage Societies, Times-Picayune newspaper article 20 January 1985

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 20 January 1985, page 73

Lineage societies restrict membership to lineal descendants. Some have “good character” requirements, or are by invitation only. Hereditary, heritage and patriotic societies have similar restrictions, or their groups may be open to those of shared interests.

Most of these societies ask for documentary evidence, establishing the birth and death of each generation, to link to the applicable ancestor. Marriages may or may not be required, as some societies recognize that making out-of-wedlock births ineligible is a deterrent to recruiting members. Certificates are generally preferred, but alternate proofs, such as genealogy books, biographies, family letters, and state or local histories, may be acceptable. To learn specifics about what is required to join, contact the registrar of a society and he/she may even assist you in acquiring the necessary documents.

The Oldest Society in America

The society thought to be America’s earliest is the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, founded around 1637. As noted in this 1916 South Carolina newspaper article, the society’s origins date to an earlier organization incorporated by King Henry VIII in 1537 (see www.ahac.us.com).

The Oldest Military Organization in America, Charleston News and Courier newspaper article 25 September 1916

Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 25 September 1916, page 4

Newer Society Organizations

Some of the newest society organizations in America include the:

  • National Society of Saints and Sinners (founded in 2010)
  • Sons and Daughters of World War II Veterans (2011)
  • Order of Descendants of the Justicians (2011)

(In case you are wondering, the Medieval Chief Justiciar (hence the term “Justicians”) was the modern-day equivalent of an English Prime Minister.)

Society Categories & Lists

Comprehensive lists of heritage and lineage societies can be found at these websites:

Most lineage, hereditary, heritage and patriotic societies can be lumped into broad categories pertaining to:

  • Ethnic or Religious Affiliations (associations with countries of origin, i.e., ancestral locations; customs; etc.)
  • Military (specific war, such as the American Civil War or American Revolutionary War)
  • Pioneers and Settlements (first families or early arrivals to areas)
  • Prestigious or Unusual Connections (descent from presidents, rulers, military officers, even those who owned taverns—or were accused of being a witch)

Here are some of the groups that caught my attention.

Ethnic and Religious Societies

Persons with shared countries of origin or religious affiliations might contact groups such as the:

  • Huguenot Society of America (www.huguenotsocietyofamerica.org/), whose members left France to escape religious persecution
  • Daughters of Norway (www.daughtersofnorway.org)
  • Any of the “Saint Societies” which mostly relate to ancestry from Great Britain (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales)

A few of the latter category, which may have branches in your area, include:

  • Saint Andrew’s Societies (open to lineal descendants of Scotland)
  • St. David’s Societies (Welsh descent)
  • St. George’s Societies (service in the Britannic Majesty’s Armed Forces)
  • Saint Nicholas Societies (Irish ancestry)

Military Societies

There are too many to list them all, but some better-known military societies include the:

  • Baronial Order of Magna Charta (formerly the Baronial Order of Runnemede) is also known as the Military Order of the Crusades (www.magnacharta.com/)
  • Order of Daedalians is the Fraternal and Professional Order of American Military Pilots. It was named after Daedalus, who achieved heavier-than-air flight (www.daedalians.org/)
  • Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War 1861-1865 (www.duvcw.org/) and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (http://hqudc.org/)
  • General Society of Colonial Wars (www.gscw.org/)
  • Hereditary Order of the Descendants of Loyalists and Patriots of the American Revolution (http://loyalistsandpatriots.org/)
  • Society of Descendants of Knights of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, for descendants of the Knights of the Garter, a prestigious honor bestowed upon knights as early as 1348 (http://www.brookfieldpublishingmedia.com/KG/KG.aspx)
  • Society of the Cincinnati, founded in 1783 by officers of the Continental Army and their French counterparts (http://societyofthecincinnati.org/), reports that it is the nation’s oldest patriotic organization
  • Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), founded in 1890 (www.dar.org), and their counterpart, Sons of the American Revolution, founded in 1876 (www.sar.org)

The illustration below, from an 1898 Alabama newspaper, portrays the prominent officers of the DAR.

illustrations of prominent officers of the Daughters of the American Revolution society, Age-Herald newspaper article 21 February 1898

Age-Herald (Birmingham, Alabama), 21 February 1898, page 6

You can discover much of the history and learn about former members of these societies in the newspaper archives. Just search the society name in the “Include Keywords” field.

American Pioneer and Settlers’ Societies

These organizations celebrate arrivals at, or settlements in, particular areas prior to a certain date. In addition to the list below, search newspapers and the Web for “Pioneer” or “First Family of” in connection with a location, such as “California” or “Indiana.”

Some examples of pioneer and settlers’ societies are the:

Occupational & Unusual Societies

Although they range from the ridiculous to the macabre, these are some of the most noteworthy societies.

Presidents

Prisoners & Outlaws

Royal Bastards

  • Descendants of the Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Kings of Britain (http://royalbastards.org/) grants membership to individuals who can prove descent from an illegitimate son or daughter of a king, an illegitimate son or daughter of the child of a king, or an illegitimate son or daughter of the grandchild of a king of England, Scotland, Wales, Great Britain or the United Kingdom.

Saints and Sinners

Tavern Keepers

  • One of the more unusual organizations, Flagon and Trencher Society (www.flagonandtrencher.org/) resulted from a speech on genealogy in which Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr. commented that there was a lineage society for every group except Colonial tavern keepers. Shortly thereafter, the society was formed by Sheppard and Dr. Kenn Stryker-Rodda. Membership is open to anyone (even children) who “can prove direct descent from a person conducting a tavern, inn, ordinary, or other type of hostelry prior to 4 July 1776 (within the area which became the first 13 states).” Brewers do not qualify. The society’s name is derived from the terms “flagon” (a drink container) and “trencher” (a wooden plate or platter used to serve food in a tavern). The annual meeting is a luncheon held in a Colonial tavern.

Whalers

Witch Societies (Accused)

  • If you think you are descended from an unfortunate person imprisoned, persecuted or placed on trial for witchcraft, then consider contacting the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches (hwww.adeaw.us/).

If you have an interest in any of these societies and want to learn more, contact them directly via the website links provided. The process of documenting your eligibility, plus interactions with other members and officials of the society, may well help you with your own family history research.

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 5: State Vital Records in the U.S.

A growing number of states in the U.S. are putting their vital records online, making it easier for genealogists to obtain these records.

collage of genealogy records available online from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History

Credit: West Virginia Division of Culture and History

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History is a prime example of how these state projects are revolutionizing family history research in the 21st Century.

West Virginia has put up millions of genealogical documents including:

wedding records for Joseph Strother and Amelia Davenport available online from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History

Credit: West Virginia Division of Culture and History

With a click you can see the original vital records registers for the Mountain State.

Take for example the marriage of Joseph Strother and Amelia Davenport on 5 June 1808 in Charles Town, West Virginia.

wedding records for Joseph Strother and Amelia Davenport available online from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and GenealogyBank

Credit: West Virginia Division of Culture and History and GenealogyBank

West Virginia has given us easy online access to the original entry in the 1808 marriage register for this couple’s marriage.

photo of the wedding register for Joseph Strother and Amelia Davenport available online from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History

Credit: West Virginia Division of Culture and History

Brief and to the point: we get the date of their marriage, their names and the name of the minister that performed the wedding.

Couple that information with their marriage announcement that we find in GenealogyBank and we get the rest of the story.

wedding announcement for Joseph Strother and Amelia Davenport, Farmer’s Repository newspaper article 10 June 1808

Farmer’s Repository (Charleston, West Virginia), 10 June 1808, page 2

The marriage announcement tells us that the minister, Rev. Mr. Mines, is of Leesburg (Loudoun County), Virginia.

Now we know where to look for the church registers of that denomination.

From the marriage announcement we also learn that the groom, Joseph Strother, is of Madison County, Virginia, and that the bride, Miss Amelia Davenport, is the daughter of Major A. Davenport of Jefferson County, West Virginia.

This is critical information for genealogists.

Now we know where to dig deeper for information about the Strother and Davenport families: Jefferson, Loudoun and Madison counties.

Newspapers are the cutting-edge source for genealogists. GenealogyBank has made it easy to find facts like these details of the Strother-Davenport wedding. Combine this newspaper information with states like West Virginia putting digital copies of the original birth, marriage and death registers online—and it’s easy to see that this is a great time for genealogists!

For reference, here is a list provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of all the state websites offering vital records across the United States: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w.htm

Take a Music Break & Listen to ‘I’m My Own Grandpa’

Take a break today and listen to this old country song performed by Dennis Warner.

Click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7x1ETPkZsk.

photo of Dennis Warner performing "I’m My Own Grandpa"

Credit: YouTube

You’ll need a pad and pencil to work out all the genealogy connections in this funny ballad loaded with connections on the old family tree. The song lyrics to “I’m My Own Grandpa” are below for reference.

Many, many years ago when I was 23

I was married to a widder who was pretty as could be

The widder had a grown up daughter who had a hair of red

My father fell in love with her and soon they were wed

 

This made my dad my son in law, which changed my very life

For my daughter was my mother in law, she was my father’s wife

To complicate the matter even though it brought me joy

I soon became the father of a bouncing baby boy

 

I’m my own grandpa

I’m my own grandpa

It sounds funny, I know,

but it really is so

I’m my own grandpa

 

My little baby then became a brother in law to dad

And so became my uncle though it made me very sad

For if he was my uncle then that also made him the brother

Of the widder’s grown up daughter who of course was my step mother

 

My father’s wife then had a son, that kept them on the run

and he became my grandchild for he was my daughter’s son

My wife is now my mother’s mother and it makes me blue

Because although she is my wife, she’s my grandmother too

 

I’m my own grandpa

I’m my own grandpa

It sounds funny, I know,

but it really is so

I’m my own grandpa

 

Oh if my wife is my grandmother then I’m her grandchild

And every time I think of it, it nearly drives me wild

For now I have become the strangest case you ever saw

As husband of my own grandmother, I’m my own grandpa

 

I’m my own grandpa

I’m my own grandpa

It sounds funny, I know,

but it really is so

I’m my own grandpa

Top Genealogy Websites: Alabama Genealogy Resources

If you’re researching your family roots in Alabama, I suggest you rely on two online sources—GenealogyBank and FamilySearch—to find digitized newspapers and genealogy records from the “Heart of Dixie.”

Concentrating your Alabama genealogy research on these two websites will give you the documentation you need to learn about your family’s stories—and the specifics of their birth, marriage and death dates.

collage of Alabama genealogy records and newspapers from FamilySearch and GenealogyBank

Credit: FamilySearch and GenealogyBank

You want to focus on the best genealogy websites—the ones that have the information you need to trace your ancestry from Alabama.

GenealogyBank has the most extensive newspaper archive of Alabama newspapers online.

Search Alabama Newspaper Archives (1816 – 1992)

Search Alabama Recent Obituaries (1992 – Current)

FamilySearch has 14 collections of early Alabama records free online.

Search Alabama Census, Probate & Vital Records

Let’s look at the marriage of Joseph A. Gilbert and Margianna Whiddon on 4 August 1859 in Mobile, Alabama.

collage of records about the 1859 wedding of Joseph A. Gilbert and Margianna Whiddon, from FamilySearch and GenealogyBank

Credit: FamilySearch and GenealogyBank

Looking in GenealogyBank’s historical Alabama newspaper archive we find their marriage announced in the Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama), 11 August 1859, page 2.

The newspaper article tells us:

  • The date of the marriage: 4 August 1859 at 8 p.m.
  • The exact place of the marriage: “the residence of Levi H. Norton”
  • Groom: Joseph A. Gilbert, formerly of Greenville, Butler County, Alabama
  • Bride: Margianna Whiddon, “adopted daughter of the officiating gentleman”

Great genealogical information—we have the who, what, when and where.

Let’s dig deeper and find out exactly who the “officiating gentleman” at the wedding was.

Looking at the Alabama marriage certificates online records on FamilySearch we can easily find the marriage certificate for Joseph Gilbert and Margianna Whiddon.

photo of the 1859 Alabama marriage certificate for Joseph Gilbert and Margianna Whiddon

Credit: FamilySearch

Who performed the wedding?

Looking at the signature of the Justice of the Peace, it appears to be L.H. Hardin or L.H. Nordin.

“L.H. Nordin” —that looks a lot like the Levi H. Norton named in the marriage announcement published in the Mobile Register. Their wedding was performed at his home.

So—we have the “officiating gentleman’s” name from the old newspaper and, although very difficult to read, confirmed again in the signature on the marriage certificate.

The marriage certificate gives us the basic facts given in the newspaper marriage announcement: their names and the date and place of the wedding, plus it tells us who performed the wedding.

The old newspaper announcement adds the important details that the officiator was her adopted father and that Joseph Gilbert was from Greenville, Butler County, Alabama.

By using only the best genealogy resources online we can find the facts we need to document our family and, importantly, the crucial details that fill in the stories of their lives…while focusing our ancestry research and saving time.

Note that this article is part of our ongoing series covering the top genealogy websites. To read the previous articles in this series visit the links below:

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 1: Google

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 2: Google Books & Internet Archive

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records

Newspaper Articles Fill Blanks in Family History

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspapers to find stories about a member of his extended family, the 19th century philanthropist John Huntington—a founding donor of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

While growing up, one of my favorite family weekend trips was to visit the Cleveland Museum of Art. I would marvel at the art, the sculpture, and of course as a young boy, the Armor Court which displayed suits of armor. Later, during my college years, the Museum was my favorite destination as an escape from the pressures of studying. I’d make the 1½ hour drive over to Cleveland and enjoy the art, especially my all-time favorite painting, Water Lilies (Agapanthus) by Claude Monet. Years later during my mother’s 90th birthday family reunion in Cleveland, I was proud that my son and daughter-in-law took our young grandsons to visit the Museum as well.

Amazingly, just a few days ago I learned I had yet another family reason to appreciate the Museum: I discovered that one of my ancestors was a founding donor to establish the Museum.

portrait of philanthropist John Huntington

Portrait of John Huntington. Credit: from the author’s collection.

I made this discovery while in the midst of a review of those family tree branches that I had not fully researched. I began work on one of my Bohemian ancestors, Frank Joseph Ptak, who married Margaret Alice Walker. I realized that I had never researched the Walker family, so I began there. After utilizing a few resources, such as the marvelous online database of the Cleveland Public Library’s Cleveland Necrology File, I was deep into searching the newspapers of the time on GenealogyBank.com.

I was diligently reading marriage announcements, obituaries, and a few interesting stories regarding a street assault or two, when a sentence at the bottom of the marriage announcement titled “Dalbey-Leek” caught my eye.

wedding announcement for Dorothy Leek and Sherman Dalbey, Plain Dealer newspaper article 6 June 1937

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 6 June 1937, page 97

As you can see the line stated: “The bride is a grand niece of the late John Huntington, philanthropist.” Having been a fundraiser myself in an earlier career, I just had to look into this philanthropist. This was especially true since I knew Margaret Alice Walker’s mother was Ann H. (Huntington) Walker.

I took a chance and searched directly on John Huntington, narrowing my search to Ohio newspapers, and my very first result was more than I had hoped for.

Magnificent Donation to the City of Cleveland by John Huntington, Plain Dealer newspaper article 4 February 1893

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 February 1893, page 1

There in the fourth paragraph as “Item 2” were John’s specific legacies to his family members, and he nicely listed each of his brothers and sisters—which included Ann Walker!

I researched further and soon found a very complete article which, while reporting John Huntington’s death in London, England, contained the subheading that included this information: “One of the First Men to Make a Fortune from The Standard Oil Company.”

John Huntington Dead, New York Tribune newspaper obituary, 12 January 1893

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 12 January 1893, page 5

This article also contained reports of his birth date, town, father, his father’s occupation, his living children, and even the report of how his son Arthur had been killed by a train. This article helped me discover the birth records for John Huntington in the United Kingdom, his marriage record, and records for several of his family members.

Out of interest, I searched the newspapers to see if there was an account of the death of Arthur Huntington as mentioned in the New York Tribune. I discovered a gruesome, but complete, accounting of the accident that led to his death.

Both Legs Cut Off, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 April 1891

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 April 1891, page 2

I have to admit the headline “Both Legs Cut Off” sent shivers through me. The next day, on 27 April 1981, the Plain Dealer reported the grim news that Arthur had died from his extensive injuries.

In need of some more cheerful news to finish my day’s research, I came across a delightful article. It reported that the mayor of Cleveland, Newton Baker, was going to dedicate the Cleveland Museum of Art by sitting in the moonlight and having a slice of watermelon on the marble steps.

Watermelon Will Dedicate Museum, Plain Dealer newspaper article 27 June 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 June 1915, page 13

I remember walking up those steps many times, but I don’t recall seeing any watermelon seeds!

The Marketing Finesse of Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkham

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena researches old newspaper articles and advertisements to show how, more than a century ago, Lydia Estes Pinkham used marketing techniques to promote her medicinal “vegetable compound” that may inspire today’s businesses.

Looking for marketing ideas for your business? You may want to take a look at old newspapers for inspiration.

Consider the work of Lydia Estes Pinkham.

Mrs Lydia E. Pinkham of Lynn Mass. Medical Vegtable Compound - Watertown Daily Times

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 12 August 1880, page 4.

Who Is Lydia Pinkham?

Who is Lydia Pinkham you ask? She was a wife and mother living in Lynn, Massachusetts, when the Depression of 1873 threatened to ruin her family financially. Lydia had a recipe for a medicinal elixir that she had previously shared with family and friends. She started manufacturing and bottling this “medicine” in an effort to better her family’s financial position.

Faces Sell

Lydia Pinkham was a master marketer. Her marketing plan included placing an image of herself on her product’s bottles. By putting her face on the label she established a credibility with her target audience, women. She had several medicines; her vegetable compound was likely the most popular and had an alcohol content that was as high as 20%.[ii] At a time where visiting a physician was expensive and women suffered in silence through a variety of ailments—or ingested medicines that had deadly ingredients—Pinkham’s medicine provided some hope.

Customer Testimonials

Lydia also produced pamphlets, which were really thinly disguised recipe books, which not only gave suggestions of what products a woman should use but provided women’s own stories of being cured. In the pamphlet titled Food and Health, there are numerous testimonials that include women’s names and addresses. The pamphlet says of these testimonials: “…you will find letters from many classes of women, young and old, mother and daughter. They are genuine expressions of gratitude from one woman to another.”[iii]

Lydia Pinkham Obituary - Western Recorder Newspaper

Western Recorder (Lawrence, Kansas), 24 May 1883, page 4.

Establish Expertise

Pinkham encouraged her customers to write to her with their health questions. This service became so popular that these letters were being answered years after Pinkham’s death and signed by “Mrs. Pinkham.” When a photo of the gravestone of Lydia Pinkham was published in a 1905 issue of the magazine Ladies’ Home Journal it caused some to question the validity of these letters. Even though Lydia’s 1883 obituary had run in newspapers all around the country, it seems some people believed that Lydia was still answering these letters long after her death. At the end of this 1907 California newspaper article “Mrs. Pinkham” clarifies that she is actually the daughter-in-law of the real Mrs. Lydia Pinkham.

Tumors Conquered - Lydia Pinkham's Vegtable Compound Newspaper Article

Evening News (San Jose, California), 1 May 1907, page 6.

Advertise!

Newspapers ran all kinds of advertisements for Pinkham’s products including those with images and names of women customers singing the product’s praises. Were these women real or just figments of the company’s marketing machine? It appears that they were real women and although they may seem quite personal to us today, these testimonies are really not that different from postings online on medical support group boards, mailing lists, or review websites.

For Older Women - Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 27 June 1930, section 2 page 22.

Enjoy Enduring Business Success

Did Lydia’s marketing work? The evidence of her company’s success is that you can still purchase her reformulated products, manufactured by a different company, today. Marketing techniques that Lydia used in the 19th century, including customer testimonials, are still an effective way to spread the news about products in today’s market.


[i] From Food and Health, page 2. Testimonial by Mrs. Mary Dipietro of Canton, Ohio. < http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/4089243?n=4&imagesize=1200&jp2Res=.25&printThumbnails=no> Available online in the Lydia Estes Pinkham Collection http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/4089243 on the Harvard University Library’s Open Collections Program Women Working, 1800-1930 at http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww/pinkham.html.

[ii] The Name that Launched a Million Bottles. The Annette & Irwin Eskind Biomedical Library, http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/biolib/hc/nostrums/pinkham.html.

[iii] From Food and Health. Available online in the Lydia Estes Pinkham Collection http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/4089243 on the Harvard University Library’s Open Collections Program Women Working, 1800-1930 at http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww/pinkham.html.

Deciphering 19th Century Handwriting and Type in Records & Newspapers

19th Century newspapers and handwritten records (such as the census) can be hard to read.

If you are having difficulty deciphering the handwriting or type, read through the issue of a newspaper or page in the census to see if other words on the page can give you clues to the editor’s or census taker’s writing style.

For example: here we have Eliza Markham living with her husband and family in Gerry, Chautauqua County, New York, as recorded in the 1855 New York State Census.

photo of the listing of the Markham family in the 1855 New York State Census

Credit: FamilySearch.org
1855 New York State Census
https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K6SG-7SG

Look carefully at the handwritten entry for Eliza Markham.

photo of the listing of Eliza Markham in the 1855 New York State Census

Credit: FamilySearch.org
1855 New York State Census
https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K6SG-7SG

Is her name “Eliza” or “Eleru”?

Is this a 19th Century name you’re not familiar with—or is it simply a handwriting style you don’t recognize?

Not so simple is it?

As you look at each handwritten letter in her name, you have to think through the options. Some letters are easier to read then others.

What you want to do is to carefully review the other words on the page to become more familiar with the census taker’s handwriting.

Let’s examine each letter in this name:

  • “E” – the initial letter has flourishes that make you wonder, but it is probably an “E”
    “l” – yes, the second letter is clearly a lower-case “l”
  • “i” – the “i” can be a little tricky—I don’t see a dot over the “i”…is this an “e” instead?
  • “z” – is that fourth letter an “r”? Would that fit? Looking at it again, it is probably the letter “z” written in the printed style instead of the cursive style
  • “a” – what about this open-topped final letter—is it the letter “u” or an “a”?

In trying to determine if that final letter is a “u” or an “a,” look at other examples on that same page:

  • Repeatedly the final “a” in Markham is written with an open top, much like a “u”
  • The daughter’s name “Alvira” on the seventh line is written with an open-topped final “a”
  • The family’s one-year-old son—and the father—also have a final open-topped “a” in their name

So, we can conclude from this handwriting pattern that her name was “Eliza.”

You will want to verify this by comparing the name to other genealogy records created in her lifetime.

Newspaper editors set and reset the pieces of type needed for each day’s newspaper. Broken type, ink spots, and gremlins of all sizes made their way into print and became a permanent part of the surviving newspapers—just like the imperfections in the handwritten records made by thousands of census takers a century ago.

FamilySearch Wiki has a handy multi-page chart of common spelling and transcription errors that were common in 19th Century printed newspapers and in handwritten documents like the census.

The “Intended” column shows what the letter was supposed to be, while the “Common Mistakes” column shows how the letter may appear.

a common-letter mistakes chart from FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch Wiki

See the FamilySearch common letter mistakes charts here: https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Spelling_Substitution_Tables_for_the_United_States_and_Canada

With these handy charts—and the patience to examine other examples on the page you’re viewing—you’ll find it gets easier deciphering difficult-to-read 19th Century newspapers and handwritten records.

Case Study: Using Old Newspaper Articles to Learn about Your Ancestors

Old newspapers provide the stories of our ancestors’ lives, helping to flesh out the names and dates on our family trees.

What kind of family history can be found in historical newspapers? Let’s pick a typical, ordinary family and find out.

For example, what can I discover about the Crofoot family that lived in Connecticut back to colonial times? Did they appear in the old newspapers?

Let’s see.

I’ll do a search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for the family surname Crofoot.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search page for Crofoot

Let’s take a look at some of the surname search results.

Here is a wedding announcement article I found in an old newspaper for Ephraim Crofoot.

wedding announcement for Ephrim Crofoot and Elizabeth Winship, Connecticut Mirror newspaper article 1 May 1830

Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, Connecticut), 1 May 1830, page 3

OK. The core facts: Ephraim Crofoot married Miss Elizabeth W. Winship about April 1830 in Middletown, Connecticut.

Here is another reference to Ephraim Crofoot I found in an old newspaper death notice.

death notice for Esther Elizabeth Crofoot, Constitution newspaper article 4 October 1848

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 4 October 1848, page 3

Ephraim’s daughter Esther Elizabeth, aged 17 years, died 29 September 1848. Calculating back, this means she was born about 1831.

OK. That piece seems to fit nicely in the family puzzle, since Ephraim was married the year before in 1830. Esther Elizabeth probably was the daughter of Ephraim and Elizabeth W. (Winship) Crofoot. We’ll need to do more genealogy research to confirm that.

Here is another old newspaper reference to a child of Ephraim’s: Thomas S. Crofoot.

death notice for Thomas Crofoot, Constitution newspaper article 25 August 1852

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 25 August 1852, page 3

This death notice tells us that Ephraim’s son, Thomas S. Crofoot, was 19 years, 4 months old when he died in August 1852. Calculating back, that would put his birth at about April 1833. Again, that fits Ephraim’s 1830 marriage.

There is another clue: this newspaper article refers to his father as “the late Ephraim Crofoot, Esq.”

So—had our Ephraim Crofoot died by August 1852?

More genealogical facts to double check.

But, look at this old newspaper article. It is another marriage announcement for an Ephraim Crofoot, to a Betsey Sampson.

wedding announcement for Ephraim Crofoot and Betsey Sampson, Constitution newspaper article 27 February 1850

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 27 February 1850, page 3

Is this the same Ephraim Crofoot? A different Ephraim Crofoot?

Had something happened to Elizabeth (Winship) Crofoot? Had she died? Was there a divorce?

It takes time to piece together all the genealogical clues and facts that document a family tree. As you can see, there are many articles in old newspapers that can help us discover the stories of our ancestors’ lives.

In the weeks ahead I will continue to report on my findings about the Crofoot family and provide similar case study examples from other typical American families to help you better understand how to find newspaper articles about your ancestors—and how you can use them to fill in your family tree.