Treasured Discovery: Only-Known Photos of Ancestors Found in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott tells about finding the only-known photos of two of his ancestors in old newspaper wedding announcements—and a surprising engagement notice that told him something he never knew about his own mother!

Summertime! The livin’ is easy and traditionally it is the time for weddings. My bride and I just celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary a short time ago and it got me to thinking about how much I have gained in my family history and genealogy work from searching for engagement notices and wedding announcements in GenealogyBank.com.

Mr. & Mrs. Scott Phillips Wedding Photo 1975

The author’s wedding photo from 1975.

As many of us go about developing and nurturing our family trees, I think you’ll agree that one of the best aspects of that work is discovering photographs of our ancestors. Let me tell you, few places that I have found beat newspaper engagement and wedding stories for personal photos—sometimes the only picture anyone in the family has of a particular ancestor. I have had terrific success in my family tree with these types of articles.

A great example was the newspaper article I recently found when researching my Havlic branch. I discovered the wedding announcement for Eleanor Anna Havlic as reported in the Plain Dealer on 30 September 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. Not only was I thrilled that there was a picture of my ancestor, but it showed some lovely period dress for a 1928 wedding. Additionally, I was treated to the names of parents, spouse, in-laws, addresses of both, the new couple’s home address, bridal party members, wedding date, and the name of their church.

Mrs Louis J Beran Old Marriage Announcement

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 30 September 1928, page 50.

Another nice find for me was the wedding story of another cousin, Margaret Tager, again in the Plain Dealer (27 August 1961) in Cleveland. Once more I was excited to find an old wedding photo that illustrated the current fashion, this time of the early 1960s, plus addresses, parents’ and in-laws’ names, the name of the church where the ceremony was held—and there was even a mention of where both the bride and groom attended college. As an added treat, the newspaper article explained where the couple honeymooned.

Margaret Ann Tager Marriage Announcement

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 August 1961, page 108.

In the case of both of the above family members, the old newspaper articles provided me with the only photos I have of these particular ancestors, which make them all the more important to my work, my family, and our family tree.

Oh, and don’t forget that every so often you just might find one of those “ah-ha” moments we all enjoy so much in genealogy. I had one myself not long ago.

After working on one of my grandparent’s branches I was having some fun searching different family surnames to see what I could find. As I was running my grandmother’s married name lo and behold I found an engagement announcement! I clicked on the article to find…my mother had been engaged one time before becoming engaged to, and then marrying, the man who was to become my father. This was a fact that had not been a topic of discussion in my life ever before.

Thank goodness my mom made the choice she did or I wouldn’t be here writing this today!

That was a close call…and a really fun discovery.

How to deal with heirloom, oversize portraits

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal (February 14-15, 2009 pp. R6) has a terrific article by Kathleen A. Hughes – “The Person over the Mantle”.

Hughes tells the experiences of families in preserving and displaying their old family portraits and her own change of heart in displaying the image of her 3rd Great Grandmother, Mary Plumb Fairchild.
Early on she was offered Mary’s portrait but decided that she didn’t want that “stern” looking woman over the mantle of her fireplace. Thirty years later she had a change of heart and looked into her genealogy and remembered that old family heirloom. Turns out that Mary Plumb Fairchild was “one of the first women to attend Oberlin College, and an early abolitionist. She died at 29 after giving birth to her fourth child”. Now not accepting the offer of the family portrait is one of her regrets – but the portrait is preserved and hangs in the home of a cousin across the country. (Portrait of Mary Plumb Fairchild is from the article).

We have a wall of old family portraits in our home along the landing at the top of the stairs – much like the walls at Hogwarts in a Harry Potter movie – they are hard to miss. The really oversize family portraits still hang at my uncle’s home in New Hampshire.

If you have early family portraits – be sure to make a digital copy of each one – identify them and post them online. eMail copies to members of your family. You could post them for free at Facebook.com; on Scribd.com or similar sites …. and you can join online genealogy sites like Ancestry.com and post the digital images there.

But – what do you do if you don’t have a portrait of any of your ancestors?

You could scour the Internet looking to see if a historic image of your relative is already online. You could also search sites like GenealogyToday – a terrific site that regularly posts funeral cards, early printed items and photographs etc.
Another source is old newspapers. I have found thousands of images – photos, etchings of people in 19th & 20th Century newspapers. GenealogyBank is a great source for tracking down old family photos that the family lost track of decades ago.

This image of Daniel Freeman is from the Omaha (NE) Sunday World Herald 26 June 1899.

Obituary key to finding missing heir – Tulsa, OK man receives $200,000

Nicholas Grod of Portland, Oregon used an online obituary to track down the rightful heir to a fortune in US Government bonds that he found hidden in his basement.

KATU-TV (Portland, OR) reports that last year Grod was cleaning out the basement of his Portland, Oregon home and found a homemade box wedged under a shelf. In it he found $200,000 in US Bonds, family photographs, a letter and clues to the person who had left them there.

Nicholas Grod used the Internet to track down the details about the previous owners of the house. He had reached a dead-end in the census – but “but an online obituary led Grod to a grandson named Thomas Fagg who lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma.”

From that online obituary Nicholas Grod made contact with Thomas Fagg, now 2,000 miles away, and sent him the box and valuables that he had found hidden in his basement.

Wow – Thomas Fagg was thrilled to receive those family photos – he didn’t have any pictures of his grandfather – he was also pleased to receive the bonds. “There are no words in the English language that can express the gratitude and admiration I have for this man for being so, so honest,” Fagg said.

You can see the entire KATU-TV interview with Nicholas Grod and Thomas Fagg at: http://www.katu.com/news/39350242.html?video=YHI&t=a