Military Records in Newspapers: How They Help Make Your Genealogy Complete

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how he used military records that he found in old newspapers to fill in some of the gaps in his family history.

Certainly none of us likes war. It tears families apart, causes untold destruction, and all too often results in the loss of life or severe injury. However, there is one benefit to us as genealogy fans—and that is the fact that military service, notes, casualty lists, etc., were often reported in historical newspapers. As a result those military records are available to help us fill gaps in our family history, providing many excellent details about our ancestors.

Here are just a few examples of the dozens of military details I have been able to find in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Often during wartimes, things that may seem mundane during times of peace become newsworthy—such as an enlisted man getting a furlough. That was the case with this article I discovered in a 1942 Ohio newspaper. This news article contains some terrific detail on one of my mom’s favorite uncles, Charles G. Evenden. In just a few short sentences, I learned his rank (First Sergeant.), his years of service (24), his brother’s name and address, plus the fact that he was seeing his mother in nearby Lorain.

Then there was the icing on the cake! In the upper corner of the page is his photograph, which happens to be the only one we have of him in our family tree. What a family history treasure to discover in an old newspaper!

Greater Clevelanders at Home on Furloughs from WWII, Plain Dealer newspaper article 16 August 1942

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 August 1942, page 16

Recently, I have been working to gain a more detailed look into the actions of my dear father’s unit during World War II. He was in the 83rd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, which is often called “the Ohio Division.” Unfortunately, his record file at the National Archives was lost during the 1973 fire. However, I have been very pleased at the amount of information I have discovered in local newspapers that reported on the activities of the 83rd. This article, from a 1945 Canton newspaper, provided me with quite a detailed description of many of the movements of the 83rd after their landing in Normandy, France.

WWII Fighting Divisions: 83rd Infantry, Repository newspaper article 19 November 1945

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 19 November 1945, page 18

I was very proud to read of the hard fighting and success achieved by my father’s division, especially the conclusion of this news article:

Crossing the Rhine [River], the Ohioans cleaned up several enemy pockets, then drove for the transportation center of Hamm. Taking that vital place, the 83rd slipped into high gear and began to speed through the Reich.

In 14 days of its push from the Rhine to the Elbe [River], the Ohioans captured 24,000 Germans and liberated 75,000 Allied prisoners of war.

Then an article from a 1945 Cleveland newspaper gave me some remarkably fine detail about the movements of the 83rd as they approached the Elbe River, a destination that my father had mentioned to me.

article about the movements of the 83rd Infantry Division in WWII, Plain Dealer newspaper article 10 April 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 April 1945, page 1

I am still reading more of the dozens of articles that resulted from my search on the 83rd Infantry Division, amazed at how much I am learning about the performance of my father’s division during WWII.

In addition to my searches on the 83rd, I learned more about a troubling aspect of my father’s wartime experience by trying a different approach. This time, I searched the old newspapers for a place name: Langenstein Concentration Camp. This newspaper article from a 1994 Illinois newspaper gives as stark a description of this concentration camp as did my father the one and only time he ever spoke of the fact that he was one of this camp’s liberators. Among other things, it states: “The smell of death was there.” The smell was the first thing my father had mentioned.

article about the liberation of the Langenstein Concentration Camp during WWII, Register Star newspaper article 29 May 1994

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 29 May 1994, page 4

Unfortunately, death is also a part of war, and I was saddened when I discovered this obituary in a 1945 Ohio newspaper. It informed me that an ancestor, Pfc. Norman Sloan, had been killed in action in Germany, leaving a wife and 6-week-old daughter.

obituary for Norman Sloan, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 February 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 February 1945, page 83

Looking further I found an additional article from the same Cleveland newspaper, a longer casualty list article giving details about Pfc. Sloan’s death and his family, and providing a photograph as well.

obituary for Norman Sloan, Plain Dealer newspaper article 22 February 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 22 February 1945, page 11

Using the information from this newspaper article, I was able to trace his burial as listed by the American Battle Monuments Commission, which in turn helped me find a photo of his grave marker in the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Henri-Chapelle, Belgium. While a bittersweet find, it was wonderful to be able to add so much information to my family history.

photo of the gravestone of Pfc. Norman James Sloan, Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, Belgium

Photo: gravestone of Pfc. Norman James Sloan, Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, Belgium. Credit: Mr. Desire Philippet.

Newspaper articles can provide immense help when you’re researching your veteran ancestor. I hope you have, or will, search old newspapers for battle reports, casualty lists, service records, pension lists, etc.—and let me know what you have found as a result.

2014 New Year’s Resolution: Find All My Ancestors’ Obituaries

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how he is putting his New Year’s genealogy resolution into action: using historical newspapers to find obituaries for all his American ancestors.

Happy New Year! It is always a terrific feeling to start a whole New Year with a clean slate that holds untold potential! Nowhere do I feel this potential more than in working on my genealogy, ancestry, and family history.

Each year at this time, like most of you I am sure, I spend a few minutes making my New Year’s resolutions. I make my personal resolutions and then I also make a few genealogy-related resolutions. Among others this year I included the following:

I resolve to find an obituary for every one of my ancestors in America!

A tall genealogical order you say? I agree, but if I am going to take the time to make a New Year’s resolution I want it to be something that I can really sink my teeth into and enjoy all year long. Plus having just renewed my GenealogyBank.com subscription, I feel as though I already have a head start on my resolution because this collection of more than 6,500 online newspapers contains over 220 million obituaries and death records.

Here is how I am going to achieve success with this resolution in 2014: one person in our family tree at a time. I will start by moving back in time from my own entry on our tree. Just as a note, I created—and continue to build—our family tree using Family Tree Builder software, and I maintain it on a site through MyHeritage.com so that it is quite easy for me to review each document, photo, etc., which has been attached to our family members. These include any obituaries that I have already discovered. A quick review of some entries was all it took for me to realize that I was missing quite a few obituaries in order to make my family tree more complete.

Sadly, I have the obituaries for both my mother and father because I was asked to write them, so I moved back one more generation and found that I did not have an obituary for my maternal grandfather, Allan Vincent Evenden. While I was surprised that I had overlooked getting this entry for our family tree, once I thought about it I realized that I had fallen into the trap of having received firsthand knowledge of the event without following up and documenting it for future generations! You see, my mom lost her dad when she was only 13 and I had heard the story of his passing during the depths of the Great Depression not only from my mom, but also from my grandmother.

Let the ancestor obituary search begin!

And so I decided to put my New Year’s resolution in action, and began searching GenealogyBank’s newspapers.

It didn’t take me long to find a notice in a 1933 Ohio newspaper announcing the funeral for my grandfather and requesting his Masonic brethren to attend and “Please bring your auto.”

funeral notice for Allan Evenden, Plain Dealer newspaper article 21 August 1933

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 21 August 1933, page 17

This newspaper funeral notice rang a bell in my memory and led me to my jewelry box. There I pulled out the only heirloom passed down to me by my grandmother: my grandfather’s pocket watch. As you can see in this photo, there on the fob is a Masonic symbol which, after reading the above notice, gained new importance to me. By the way, the photo attached to the fob is the only photo we have of my grandfather, so this heirloom is quite a gem to me!

photo of the pocket watch and fob once belonging to Allan Vincent Evenden

Photo: watch and fob of Allan Vincent Evenden. Credit: Scott Phillips.

Genealogy Tip: Get the whole story

Then as I looked further for more information on my grandfather I was given a fun little genealogy lesson. My next discovery was again in the Plain Dealer, from 1942. It announced the marriage engagement of my mother, Laverne, the daughter of Mrs. Allan V. Evenden, on Christmas Day 1942 to Mr. Lincoln Nels Christensen. Whoops! While that is my mom and this engagement did occur, for some reason the marriage didn’t. So remember to always do that “reasonably exhaustive search” when you are working on your genealogy. It is important that we make sure to get the whole story from beginning to end.

engagement notice for Laverne Evenden and Lincoln Christensen, Plain Dealer newspaper article 4 January 1942

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 January 1942, page 50

Finding the obituaries of Grandma & Aunt Em

Then my New Year’s resolution dealt me my second genealogy lesson of the day. You see, one of my pet peeves has always been that up until college, all my history teachers ended their history lessons just before the timeframe they lived. Well, I discovered with my next family tree review that I was guilty of the same error! After attaching my grandfather’s funeral notice to our family tree, I clicked on my grandmother’s record and discovered I had made that same mistake—I had ended too soon. I was with my grandmother when she passed away and I had not documented the history I had lived. I was able to quickly correct my oversight when I found my grandmother’s obituary in the Plain Dealer from 1970. As an added genealogy bonus, there on the same page of search results was an obituary for my Aunt Em, another one that I had missed!

obituary for Mae Anne Evenden, Plain Dealer newspaper article 14 August 1970

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 14 August 1970, page 23

obituary for Emily Vanek, Plain Dealer newspaper article 11 June 1980

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 June 1980, page 83

I couldn’t be more thrilled with how my 2014 New Year’s resolution is working out, and it is only the first week of January. While it might take me all year to find all of my American ancestors’ obituaries, I already know that it is one of the best genealogy resolutions I have ever made!

What has been the best genealogy New Year’s resolution you have ever made? Add your comment here and let me know.

Valentine’s Day History Facts & My Sweet Genealogy Karma

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott turns to old newspapers to research the history of St. Valentine’s Day—and shares a personal Valentine’s Day story.

Nothing much beats holidays as a way to get everyone talking about family, memories, stories, and family history. Certainly Valentine’s Day is no exception! I’ve been blessed to have my “Valentine” with me now for over 38 years and I sure am glad she said that she would be my valentine all those years ago.

In the case of my wonderful wife, each year about this time I would go out to find one of those fancy satin hearts filled with chocolates. Why? Well, when we were dating she told me, very early in our relationship, “I’ll know the man who really loves me because he will buy me one of those fancy hearts filled with chocolates for Valentine’s Day.” Needless to say I bought one for her every year after that.

Every year, that is, until recently when she said to me: “OK honey, I know you love me so you can stop now.” So now I have to be creative and come up with something new and different each Valentine’s Day. That got me to thinking this year about what the history of Valentine’s Day was, what gifts might have been like in the past, etc. I admit I never really knew much about this holiday, so I gave GenealogyBank.com a look for some information about this romantic day and maybe even find some potential ideas for my wife’s gift.

Historical Origins of Valentine’s Day

My first hit helped explain the history of the Valentine’s Day holiday. There in a 1925 newspaper was an intriguing, full-page article describing the origins of Valentine’s Day. The first thing I learned was that it is actually St. Valentine’s Day, named after the long-ago martyred Saint Valentine.

Why We Call It St. Valentine's Day, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 February 1925

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 February 1925, page 1

I certainly appreciated one of the cartoons that accompanied the old news article, even if I have been lucky enough to never have to visit a pawnshop prior to my shopping trips for chocolate-filled hearts.

Valentine's Day cartoon, Dallas Morning News newspaper 8 February 1925

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 February 1925, page 1

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

My next hit was closer to my adopted hometown when I saw the byline of Chicago, but alas this 1929 newspaper article was about the infamous St. Valentine’s Day gangster massacre.

Link Capone with Chicago Massacre, Boston Herald newspaper article 15 February 1929

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 15 February 1929, page 1

Ugh…not romantic in the least, although it is a very interesting event in our national history. So I was off in search of more newspaper articles about Valentine’s Day.

My Sweet Genealogy Karma

Then I found it! At least, to me as a genealogist, I found it. It was in a 1910 newspaper: there was an advertisement entitled “For Your Valentine: Candy Hearts and Heart Shaped Boxes.”

Valentine's Day candy ad, Plain Dealer newspaper 11 February 1910

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 February 1910, page 14

I smiled when I saw that the price of satin heart boxes ran from 20 cents to $4, but it was the name of the company that ran the advertisement, The Chandler & Rudd Company, that actually caught my eye. You see back in 1910 my great grandfather, Frederick George Evenden, was a Master Tea Blender for none other than The Chandler & Rudd Company. Yep, the very same company as the one in the advertisement—and during the time that he worked there.

So for all these years my buying chocolate-filled hearts was simply karma! Karma sent from my great grandfather to my wife, giving her vibes to instruct me to go for what he personally knew was the really good stuff for Valentine’s Day! Sadly, Chandler & Rudd closed just two years ago, but if they were still open I’d be on the phone with them right now to buy her a sweet bit of the past.

So with a tip o’ my hat to my great grandfather Evenden, this year I am going back to getting my Sweetie some of those fancy chocolate candies in a heart-shaped box this Valentine’s Day for sure.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day to you and your family!