Family Reunions: Planning & Researching Notices in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary provides some good advice for planning your next family reunion, and searches old newspapers to show how reunion notices about past family gatherings can fill in details on your family tree.

As winter is waning, start thinking about organizing your family’s annual reunion—and if you desire a strong attendance, don’t delay.

Not only are they a lot of fun, but family reunions are a goldmine to genealogists. Present-day family reunions provide a great opportunity to talk to your extended family, while records and newspaper notices about past family reunions can fill in details on your family tree—and provide plenty of clues for further family searches.

Imagine the fun and lively family history conversations that were had at this large family reunion:

photo of a reunion of the Highsmith family

Photo: Photographer Carol M. Highsmith’s family reunion at the log cabins where her Grandfather and Great Grandfather were born in Wentworth, North Carolina. Source: Carol M. Highsmith. Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Family Reunion Planning Tips

To make sure your family reunion is a success, plan it carefully, including:

  • choose historical locations to visit—or, if possible, as the site of your reunion;
  • try to line up an interesting speaker or two;
  • have many activities for all age groups, especially the children; and
  • send out printed or online invitations with as many details as possible, including transportation and lodging advice.

Ask family members to contribute memories, family history records and genealogies. To make the reunion memorable, do it in a grand style.

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Family Records of Past Family Reunions

If you’ve done genealogy research into past family gatherings, present those stories at your upcoming reunion. Whether your family was large or small, or met formally or informally, many members kept records such as letters, diaries, etc., of these family reunions in the past to document what occurred. Try to track down these old records of past family reunions and look for the following information:

  • Where and when were they held?
  • Was the scheduling connected with a particular date, such as a wedding anniversary or date of settling to an area?
  • Who were the organizers, secretaries and presidents of the family association?
  • Were the speeches transcribed?
  • What activities were there?
  • Can you locate the menus or food choices?
  • Were family charts or family histories created?

Query family members for archived records, and network with genealogy societies, historical societies, libraries and archives (state and national) to see if mementos still exist.

Family Reunion Notices in Historical Newspapers

A helpful—and often overlooked—source of information about past family reunions is the family reunion notice in historical newspapers. Many of these past family reunions were important locally and therefore newsworthy, and were reported in the local newspaper.

Be sure to look for family reunion notices when searching a collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.

How to Search for Reunion Notices in Newspapers

The first thing you’ll want to enter on the newspaper search page, of course, is your family surname. Combine that with each of these related keywords to see which combination gives you the best results:

  • anniversary
  • wedding anniversary
  • annual reunion
  • clan gathering
  • descendants
  • family reunion
  • grand gathering
  • marriage celebration
  • progenitor

To find some interesting family reunion notices to show you, I entered “family reunion” in the keyword field on GenealogyBank’s search page, and chose a date range of 1700-1875.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for "family reunion"

This newspaper search turned up many interesting family reunion notices. Some centered on special occasions, such as a progenitor’s birthday. Others celebrated family milestones, such as honoring the first of the family (progenitors) who settled in an area.

An example of the latter type of reunion notice is this one, a family gathering to honor Edward Rawson, who was the secretary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

According to the following notice, his clan held their first annual reunion in 1872.

article about the Rawson family reunion, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 11 October 1872

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 11 October 1872, page 2

One of the most widely-reported reunion announcements was for a gathering of the descendants of John Eliot (c.1604-1690), described as the “Apostle to the Indians.” If you examine the 228 query results from a search in GenealogyBank, you’ll soon discover a wealth of history surrounding him.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results page for a search on "eliot family reunion"

Some newspaper family reunion notices consist of invitations, and others may be brief or detailed recaps of the actual reunion.

And don’t neglect to consider other types of reunions and social gatherings, as not all were centered on families. Organizations, military groups and even towns, such as Otisfield, Maine, brought people together for camaraderie and celebration.

Social Gathering at Otisfield, Portland Daily Press newspaper article 3 June 1873

Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 3 June 1873, page 2

Here’s another example of a newspaper reunion notice, this one for a gathering of the McMillan family.

Reunion of the McMillan Family, Cincinnati Daily Gazette newspaper article 19 August 1871

Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 19 August 1871, page 1

To help you find reunion notices about your family, I’ve compiled this list of reunion notices I found while doing research for this Blog article. The accompanying notes are a brief summary of information reported in each notice.

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Guide to Family Reunion Notices through 1875

(from GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives)

Compiled by Mary Harrell-Sesniak

March 2014

Ackley, (Rev.) Uriah and wife Sarah (reports names of people married by this minister)
Camden Democrat (Camden, New Jersey), 23 October 1869, page 4

Aldrich family (of New York to Michigan; family members mentioned)
Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 17 September 1875, page 3

Allen, Amos D. (60th birthday celebration)
Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 28 May 1875, page 3

Ambrose, Mr. (descendants of a Kentucky slave who escaped to Illinois)
Evening Post (New York, New York), 20 September 1865, page 1

Arnim family (from Berlin, Germany)
Indianapolis Sentinel (Indianapolis, Indiana), 25 February 1875, page 7

Babcock family (3rd annual reunion at Bemus Point, 14 September 1875; officers named)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 24 September 1875, page 8

Bancroft family (reunion held in Massachusetts)
New Orleans Times (New Orleans, Louisiana), 3 September 1875, page 6

Bancroft, Joseph (a descendant of Thomas Bancroft, born in England in 1622, who married first Alice Bacon, and second Elizabeth Metcalf, & perhaps a 3rd time; multiple generations and attendees mentioned)
Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 20 August 1875, page 3

Barton, Candace (of Belchertown; describes a memory of the Battle of Lexington)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 12 August 1870, page 8

Bates, Deborah (see Capron)
Benham family (to be held at Angelica, New York; brothers H. L. Benham of Indianapolis & A. M. Benham of San Francisco attending)
Indianapolis Sentinel (Indianapolis, Indiana), 30 August 1875, page 8

Black, Archibald
Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 July 1866, page 2

Boyd, Samuel (50-year anniversary celebration of 1825 marriage; mentions Merchant Samuel; children named)
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 23 September 1875, page 2
Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 25 September 1875, page 2

Bradbury, Jacob
American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland), 20 June 1848, page 2

Broadbent, Abigail (100th birthday celebration; mother of 8 children)
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 13 June 1873, page 4

Brooks family (held at Brooksdale)
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 2 October 1875, page 3

Brown, Thomas (hosted by Chauncy Brown of Aubun, New York; mentions attendees)
Auburn Daily Bulletin (Auburn, New York), 16 August 1872, page 4

Burwell, Samuel
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 24 August 1870, page 8

Cannell family (held at old homestead in Newburgh Twp.; mentions Eli Connell)
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 July 1873, page 3

Capron, Deborah Bates (daughter of Gamaliel Bates and Mary Carver of Hanover, Massachusetts; held at Attleboro, Massachusetts; mentions Ezekial and Reform Bates)
Providence Evening Press (Providence, Rhode Island), 19 November 1869, page 3

Clapp family (ancient family; mentions speakers and describes coat of arms)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 25 August 1870, page 4

Conant, S. (of Springfield, Illinois; turned 75 years old on 27 February 1876)
Daily Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois), 28 February 1876, page 4

Crowell, George (reunion celebrating 10th wedding anniversary)
Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 3 July 1875, page 1
Jackson Citizen (Jackson, Michigan), 6 July 1875, page 4

Cummings, William (of Cape Elizabeth; eldest family members named)
Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 6 September 1875, page 1

Cutter, A.
Cincinnati Commercial Tribune (Cincinnati, Ohio), 12 May 1870, page 8

Darling, Reed S. (reunion at Pawtucket, Rhode Island)
Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 8 September 1875, page 1
Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 10 September 1875, page 1

Darnell or Darnall, Charles & Martha (of Maryland & Fleming Co., Kentucky)
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 6 August 1868, page 4

De Forest, Gideon (of Edmeston, Otsego Co., New York; many names mentioned)
San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 29 September 1874, page 3

Denison family (of Mystic, Connecticut)
Norwich Aurora (Norwich, Connecticut), 6 October 1869, page 3

Eastman, (Rev.) T. B. (son of Samuel Eastman and Anna Robinson)
Indianapolis Sentinel (Indianapolis, Indiana), 25 February 1875, page 7

Edwards, Jacob (of Dudley)
Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, Massachusetts), 27 August 1866, page 2

Edwards, Jonathan
Richmond Whig (Richmond, Virginia), 19 July 1870, page 3
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 23 July 1870, page 1
Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts), 29 July 1870, page 2
Macon Weekly Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 2 August 1870, page 1
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 13 August 1870, page 2
Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), 8 September 1870, page 1

Eliot, John (described as the “Apostle to the Indians”; reunion in Guilford, Connecticut; husband of Hannah Mumford)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 27 July 1875, page 6
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 29 July 1875, page 4
Daily Albany Argus (Albany, New York), 30 July 1875, page 2
Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 31 July 1875, page 3
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 3 August 1875, page 2
San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 5 August 1875, page 1
Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), 17 August 1875, page 4

Fabricius, Frank
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 15 July 1875, page 6

Fay, Sylvester and Mary (of Southboro, Massachusetts, Mary being 91 and interested in the Franco-Prussian War)
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 9 September 1870, page 1

Forest (see De Forest)

Fuller, Rufus and Charlotte (of Leicester; Charlotte was probably a Warren)
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 16 August 1872, page 1

Gates (Mrs. & Mrs. Strong Gates of Appleton, Wisconsin, visited Mrs. Wild of Chicago)
Sunday Times (Chicago, Illinois), 14 November 1875, page 8

Gaylord family (reunion hosted by David Gaylor of Wallingford)
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 4 September 1875, page 3

Gilbert, J. H. (held on Christmas Day)
Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 29 December 1875, page 3

Glazier family (to be hosted at West Boylston by Henry Glazier)
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 17 June 1871, page 3

Goff, Shubael (of Rehoboth)
Providence Evening Press (Providence, Rhode Island), 30 August 1875, page 2

Griffith family (related to Jeremiah and Mary; stories about settling & log cabins)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 28 August 1874, page 8

Griffith, Jeremiah and Mary (settled in Griffith’s Point near Jamestown, New York on 26 March 1806)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 8 August 1873, page 5

Ham, Ebenezer (of Lewiston, Maine)
Evening Post (New York, New York), 1 September 1868, page 1
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 5 September 1868, page 8

Harrison family (of New Haven Co., Connecticut)
Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 27 September 1873, page 4

Harrison family (1873 notice mentions they were of Brandford Point; 1875 notice reports the 3rd annual meeting and mentions Colonial roots & some attendees)
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 19 September 1873, page 2
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 11 September 1875, page 2

Hollister, Nelson (celebration lasted two days)
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 24 November 1864, page 2

Holmes, P. B. (of Greenland, with family from Boston & Portsmouth)
Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 11 September 1875, page 2

Hoodless, William Raithby and Margaret E. Lansing (William born 17 June 1800, Lincolnshire, England)
Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 25 December 1875, page 3

Howe family (contains Col. Frank E. Howe’s speech)
Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), 4 September 1871, page 1

Howe, Joseph (held at the Revere House in Boston; mentions some officers)
New York Tribune (New York, New York), 31 August 1871, page 1

Hutchison, Ira (a doctor of Cromwell)
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 8 September 1873, page 4

Jones, Thomas (reunion held in Cleveland)
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 May 1871, page 3

Knickerbockers (St. Nicholas Society, aka Descendants from Holland)
New York Herald (New York, New York), 29 December 1864, page 8

Little, Barzallai or Barzilla (of Middlefield; a Revolutionary War patriot; descendants known for singing ability)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 3 February 1870, page 4
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 4 February 1870, page 8
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 21 December 1871, page 8
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 22 December 1871, page 8

Lowe, G. W. (of Owosso)
Jackson Citizen (Jackson, Michigan), 11 July 1871, page 1

Lyman, Richard
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 12 August 1869, page 1
Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 14 August 1869, page 2

Mathews, James (held 1 September 1875)
Washington Review and Examiner (Washington, Pennsylvania), 15 September 1875, page 3

Maynard, Holland (of Northboro’, Massachusetts; died in 1818)
Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 August 1870, page 4
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 6 August 1870, page 8

McMillan, Hugh (describes emigration from Ireland to Charleston, South Carolina, and leaving for Ohio, Illinois and Indiana to “escape the contaminating influences of slavery”)
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 19 August 1871, page 1

Merriam, Ebenezer (a printer of West Brookfield)
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 2 June 1858, page 2

Mills, John (of Auburn, New York)
Auburn Daily Bulletin (Auburn, New York), 18 November 1875, page 4

Otisfield, Massachusetts (invitation to all town residents & descendants to renew and make new acquaintances)
Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 3 June 1873, page 2
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 13 June 1873, page 4

Page Family Association (names officers and visitors; 4th reunion in 1875)
Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 14 July 1875, page 4

Painter, Peter (Christmas Day celebration)
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 31 December 1874, page 1

Pease, Cummings and Thankful (of Enfield, Connecticut; Thankful was probably a Clelland)
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 13 August 1873, page 3

Pepper, (Deacon) Jacob
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 20 August 1869, page 4
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 21 August 1869, page 8

Perce, Jeremiah (a grocer; mentions a child abduction)
Sunday Times (Chicago, Illinois), 25 July 1875, page: 1

Perkins, Erastus
Cabinet (Schenectady, New York), 19 March 1850, page 2

Preston, Ira (of Wallingford, Connecticut, to Shelby, Oakland Co., Michigan)
Jackson Citizen (Jackson, Michigan), 11 July 1871, page 1

Rawson, Edward (of Old Newbury; secretary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; 1st annual reunion held in 1872)
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 28 September 1872, page 4
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 11 October 1872, page 2
Providence Evening Press (Providence, Rhode Island), 14 October 1872, page 3
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 26 September 1873, page 3
Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 6 October 1873, page 2
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 1 August 1874, page 7
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 14 August 1874, page: 4
Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), 17 September 1874, page 1
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 19 September 1874, page 1
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 14 August 1875, page 4

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Reed family (mentions Col. Reed [Horatio?] of the Army of the Khedive in Egypt)
Daily Albany Argus (Albany, New York), 8 September 1875, page 2

Richards, John (family reunion to celebrate his 100th birthday)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 24 August 1867, page 8

Rockwell, Jabez and Eunice (of Norwich, Connecticut; held at Providence on Christmas Day)
Norwich Aurora (Norwich, Connecticut), 8 January 1873, page 3

Rodman, John (romantic story)
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 12 November 1875, page 1
Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 17 November 1875, page 1

Russell, C. P. (families of five sisters)
Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 27 December 1872, page 4

Sapp, Matilda Boosinger (“An old lady who has smoked fifty years and still lives”; 100th birthday reunion; born 10 March 1775 in Philadelphia; daughter of Conrad and Catherine Boosinger)
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 March 1875, page 4
Cincinnati Commercial Tribune (Cincinnati, Ohio), 26 March 1875, page 8
Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 April 1875, page 6

Smith family (to be held in New York)
Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 23 August 1875, page 2

Stanley, Herbert (a temperance minister)
Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph (Gloucester, Massachusetts), 2 August 1873, page 2

Sweezy family (see Swezey; held at Fair Point 8 September 1875; various names mentioned)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 1 October 1875, page 8

Swezey family (see Sweezy; held on 4 September 1874)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 16 October 1874, page 6

Terrell family (held 1 September 1875 at home of Eli B. Terrell of Woodbury)
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 2 October 1875, page 2

Tuttle family (first reunion in 230 years)
Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 6 September 1873, page 4
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 2 September 1874, page 2
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 2 September 1874, page 4

Tuttle, John
North American (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 20 July 1865, page 1
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 22 July 1865, page 2
Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 29 July 1865, page 1

Tuttle, William (from England to Boston in 1635 in the ship Planta)
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 28 July 1873, page 4
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 30 July 1873, page 2
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 2 August 1873, page 3
Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 6 August 1873, page 2

Warren, Judge (family reunion to celebrate his 70th birthday; contains a conversation about temperance and drinking)
Caledonian (St. Johnsbury, Vermont), 5 June 1874, page 1

Willoughby family
Farmer’s Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire), 25 August 1875, page 2

Wright, Elliot and Louisa (held at Swanzey; veteran Elliot Wright “sleeps on southern soil having given his life for his country”)
New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 16 September 1875, page 2

‘Ah-Ha!’ Moment: GenealogyBank Member’s Favorite Family Find

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott tells an incredible story of a brother and sister who bumped into each other—after an absence of 42 years—and as each began telling stories about their childhood, it dawned on each other that the “stranger” they were talking to was actually their sibling!

All of you that follow me here on the GenealogyBank blog, on my website at Onward To Our Past®, or on the Onward To Our Past® Facebook page, know how much I love all the genealogy information found in the massive newspaper database of GenealogyBank.com. Over and over these newspapers have been the source of a wide variety of truly amazing “Ah-Ha!” genealogy moments for me, such as the time I discovered a newspaper article that revealed the occupation of my great grandfather. Another time, again thanks to an old newspaper article, I was thrilled to find a photo of an ancestor that is the only known photograph we have of him.

I recently asked the good folks at GenealogyBank.com what they heard from their subscribers using their service—did other family historians have similar genealogy research success stories?

In just a few minutes I received the following testimonial from a member of the GenealogyBank.com support team. This was written by M. F. of New Hampshire:

I use GenealogyBank to search out additional “color” to add to the family tree, so that there is more than just names, dates, and places. I love looking at the anniversary stories, the wedding announcements, and the gossip columns. When I found this story involving some members of the family tree, I just had to share with you.

A Serendipitous Family Reunion

When I checked out the article M. F. had found, I could plainly see why this GenealogyBank.com subscriber was so excited.

Brother (Simard) and Sister (Marquis) Meet after 42 Years, Boston Herald newspaper article 9 August 1939

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 9 August 1939, page 26

Not only was this story extremely moving about a brother and sister serendipitously meeting, after 42 years, but also there was a marvelous family photograph of both the brother and sister in the article.

photo of siblings August Simard and Adele Marquis reuniting, Boston Herald newspaper article 9 August 1939

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 9 August 1939, page 26

Talk about an “Ah-Ha!” moment! Not only a great family reunion story, but also a photo of the siblings, details about the lives of both individuals, and the fact that there was another brother living, at that time, in Green Island, Canada. It must have been amazing when the brothers and their sister got together after more than 40 years! I hope they had a nice big pot of tea and plenty of scones on hand, because I am thinking they had an incredible amount to share.

The touching family story shared by M. F. is a wonderful example of just one of the hidden treasures that await all of us who love genealogy and family history in the more than 6,500 historical newspapers of GenealogyBank.com that stretch from 1690 to Today and cover all 50 of our United States. Perhaps the best part of all is the newspaper reporter’s adherence to those wonderful 5 W’s of good newspaper reporting that give us genealogy fans answers to those always crucial questions of Who, What, Where, When, and Why!

Members: Share Your Favorite “Ah-Ha!” Moments

So let me know in the comments section below: what has been your favorite “Ah-Ha!” moment from GenealogyBank.com? Thanks! I bet you have some great family discoveries!

Christmas Family Reunion Articles Are Rich Genealogy Resources

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena searches old newspapers to show how much valuable family history information is provided by family reunion stories newspapers routinely printed around Christmas time.

The end of the year seems like the perfect time to renew acquaintances and hold reunions with family and friends. Even though families find it difficult to find time to get together throughout the year for other events like birthdays or anniversaries, Christmas is a time when people are more likely to make the effort to take a trip home. The other benefit of the Holiday season is that for many who normally would have to take vacation time off from work to travel, the Christmas/New Year’s holidays may mean some flexibility with work obligations. So the Holiday season is a great time to plan a family reunion.

The idea of a December family reunion is not a new one. Sure, it’s made easier with modern transportation conveniences, but it was a common occurrence in the late 19th to early 20th century, as shown by many newspaper stories at that time. These Christmas family reunion articles are a great way for family historians to catch a glimpse into the daily lives of their ancestors. A bonus for the genealogist is that these family reunion articles often included the names of all those in attendance. Even short newspaper announcements can contain genealogically rich information that could be of assistance to descendants.

I did a search for Christmas family reunions in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, and found many delightful examples.

Newspapers report on the lives of a community as well as the celebrities and leaders of a nation. So it’s not surprising that a Christmas family reunion in the White House was newsworthy. For Christmas 1910, newspapers nationwide reported that President Howard Taft had a reunion with his three children, Robert, Helen and Charles, at the White House—complete with a turkey dinner. The only thing missing was the Christmas tree because, as the article notes, the children were “older.”

Christmas at White House: Tafts to Hold Family Reunion and Partake of Turkey Dinner, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 25 December 1910

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 25 December 1910, page 2

While there are countless examples of newspaper articles detailing a family reunion, this one in the Social Affairs column of a 1903 newspaper caught my eye. In the historical newspaper article we find the mention of 13 separate family gatherings. One of the stories, reporting on the dinner at A. Galloway’s, mentions who was there (four generations were present), and reports that the Christmas reunion was leading up to some noteworthy wedding anniversaries. The A. C. Galloways and the A. Galloways would be celebrating their 67th and 56th wedding anniversary in 1904, respectively. It might seem like a breach of etiquette to modern readers but the addition of the words “if they live” came after that statement. If one needed any more hints revealing how old these two couples were, the last sentence of the article notes: “The combined ages of the four is 334 years.”

article about a Christmas family reunion hosted by A. Galloway, Daily Telegram newspaper article 28 December 1903

Daily Telegram (Adrian, Michigan), 28 December 1903, page 2

Maybe you are planning a family reunion of your own this season. Chances are it won’t be as large as this one, reported in a 1922 newspaper. Mrs. M. J. Nash had 91 family members attend her Christmas reunion! Lucky for any of her present-day descendants, the list of those who attended was printed in the newspaper.

The newspaper article concludes by saying she gave everyone in attendance a gift “by which to remember her.”

[Christmas Family Reunion]: Ninety-one Relatives Gather at Home of Mrs. M. J. Nash, Oregonian newspaper article 31 December 1922

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 31 December 1922, section 3, page 9

The old newspaper article about Mrs. Nash’s Christmas family reunion wasn’t the only one I found that included the names of other family members in attendance. This 1921 Christmas reunion article for the family of Mr. and Mrs. John Stanford included the names of those who attended and the number of children they had. As a genealogist, this historical newspaper article is very appealing since it also provides the couple’s street address and a sentence reporting on a family photo that was taken and who was in the photo: “A picture of the host and hostess, with their sons and daughters, grouped about them, was also another feature, and this should be a pleasant reminder for the parents of the event.”

Christmas [Stanford Family] Reunion Delightful Affair, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 28 December 1921

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 28 December 1921, page 6

Did your ancestor hold a Christmas family reunion? This fact may not be known to your present-day family—but if it did occur there’s a good chance it and the names of all gathered can be found in their local newspaper. Finding such an article full of relatives’ names would be a great genealogy gift to receive, something that would make any family historian smile.

4th of July Holiday: A Time for Family Reunions & Genealogy Fun

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott celebrates the Fourth of July holiday by researching old newspaper articles to discover some July 4th reunions celebrated in times past.

I love holidays and I especially love the 4th of July! Fireworks, picnics, and family reunions! What a great combination for all of us, and especially those of us who are genealogy “infected”! All my life July 4th was a time to gather family around and have a wonderful long weekend while celebrating the birth of the United States!

I hope you and your family had fun this past holiday weekend celebrating our great nation and enjoying quality time together.

When I began planning my picnic menu for this year’s 4th of July party (should I go with hamburgers, hot dogs, or brats?) I decided to spend a few moments searching GenealogyBank.com’s historical newspaper archives to see what some of the past July Fourth celebrations were like that “made the papers.”

The first article I found in my search, published in the “Society” column of a 1912 Pennsylvania newspaper, really perked up my interest as a genealogist. The historical news article listed the names of dozens of the reportedly more than 100 family members of three of the oldest families of the county who gathered for their annual 4th of July reunion. Seeing all those persons’ names and hometowns made me wish I were related!

Three Families in July Fourth Reunion, Patriot newspaper article 6 July 1912

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 6 July 1912, page 3

Next, I enjoyed another family reunion article and wished I had ancestors who lived in Mason, Fleming, and/or Lewis counties in Kentucky. This 1912 Kentucky newspaper reported on a nice assortment of many of the “Old Settlers” of the area.

Old Settlers Will Meet July Fourth, Lexington Herald newspaper article 22 May 1912

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 22 May 1912, page 2

I became a bit envious when I read an article from a 1913 Oklahoma newspaper. This piece explained that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had changed his mind and agreed to go to the Gettysburg battlefield and address the Veterans Encampment there. Can you imagine being at Gettysburg and walking amongst Civil War veterans, hearing their first-hand stories? Wow, what a 4th of July that would make for anyone who loves genealogy and history!

Wilson to Visit Gettsyburg Vetson July Fourth, Daily Oklahoman newspaper article 29 June 1913

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 29 June 1913, page 1

Then I got a good chuckle from an article in an 1875 Ohio newspaper. This enjoyable item recounted the 4th of July festivities surrounding the annual gathering of telegraphers. I enjoyed reading that this group knew “how to have a frolic in a sensible and respectable manner” and sported badges with coded messages. Despite their apparent good manners and fun times, I’d be willing to bet that this is a group that doesn’t meet anymore.

Reunion of the Cleveland, Buffalo, Toledo and Erie Telegraphers, Plain Dealer newspaper article 6 July 1875

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 6 July 1875, page 4

Of course reading all these wonderful old newspaper articles about 4th of July family reunions and gatherings only made me pine a bit for some of my family reunions in times gone by. The last several decades or so have found us in a cabin in the north woods of Minnesota where we enjoy the holiday, often in its weather extremes. I have great memories ranging from the incredibly HOT 4th of July when the beach sand was so burning we couldn’t walk on it barefoot to get to our clambake fire—all the way to the other extreme of the 4th of July in 1996, when we all watched the fireworks in winter jackets, hats, and mittens after trimming a small, nearby pine tree with Christmas lights to celebrate the cold!

Before wrapping up my Fourth of July reunion research, I took a few more minutes to look in our old family photo albums for some more memories of the holiday. Aside from a whole lot of my really bad photos of fireworks that didn’t quite work out (thank goodness for digital photography now), I did find two photos that really took me back. One is of my dad and mom enjoying the 4th in their favorite place—a swimming pool.

photo of Scott Phillips' parents celebrating July Fourth by a swimming pool

The second photo was from a 1986 4th of July reunion with my in-laws in northern Minnesota.

photo of Scott Phillips celebrating July Fourth with his in-laws in northern Minnesota

Both these family photos bring memories of happy, happy times gone by. I hope you enjoy them; I have included them here as my way of saying: I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July holiday—and Happy Birthday to the United States of America!

By the way—what did you grill this 4th of July? Tell us in the comments.

There Are Some Obituaries Everyone Needs to Read

I. D. Lilly, a retired trucker and promoter of the largest family reunion ever held, died in March of this year. He was an active participant in the famous West Virginia family’s gatherings, and served on the Lilly Family Reunion Board of Directors.

In 2009 some 2,585 Lilly relatives gathered in Flat Top, West Virginia. It was such a large reunion that Guinness’ Book of World Records named it the largest family reunion ever held.

Don’t you wish that your family was as organized and connected as the Lilly family?

Ira Dupuy Lilly’s obituary appeared in GenealogyBank and was published in the Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Florida), 22 April 2013, page B-4. Here is that obituary in full; it’s well worth reading.

His Family’s Reunions Set World Records

On Aug. 9, 2009, the Lilly family set the Guinness world record for the biggest family reunion. Within that group of 2,585, meeting for three days in a big pasture on Flat Top, W.Va., was I.D. Lilly, a former Orlando trucking company owner.

Before his death on March 27 at age 93, Lilly would earn family-reunion recognition for traveling the farthest, being the oldest and being one-half of the longest-married couple to attend the reunion. He died of complications related to dementia.

Before his mind began to abandon him, Lilly came to the reunions with a tent, a table and some chairs so relatives, near and far, could sit down and catch up.

“He would tell you about his Aunt Sally Ann and he would pull out his family tree,” said his daughter Barbara Savino, 65, of Longwood. “He had 102 cousins — can you imagine?”

So big is the Lilly family that just about anybody can find themselves on the family tree.

“This part of West Virginia, people call it Lillyland. There’s a Lilly everywhere you turn,” Savino said.

So important is the reunion, Savino said, that the governor of West Virginia often makes an appearance.

The family reunion is held on 38 acres of land that includes a kitchen and dining area, covered bleachers, stage and restrooms — all built for the purpose of the reunion. There are booths for family members selling jewelry, quilts, children’s toys and souvenir embroidered T-shirts and caps. The Lilly genealogist has a booth where she can show everyone where they fit on the family tree.

There are games and prizes for kids and a potluck buffet that would include a butterscotch pie baked by Lilly’s wife of 65 years, Allegra.

The reunion to I.D. Lilly was about home, heritage and linage. It was about staying connected to family no matter how far removed the relation or how far away the relatives. It was about walking into the kitchen and dining area and seeing the pictures of his ancestors on the wall, where his face will join the gallery of ghosts this summer.

His father and two brothers are on the wall. So is his mother, the woman who ran the general store in Cool Ridge. From her, he learned the lesson of selfless generosity.

Lilly moved to Orlando from West Virginia, in the late 1950s, when he started Laskco Inc., a trucking company. Through the years, Lilly helped out his drivers and mechanics whenever they ran out of money or into hard times.

Once, his wife came home and found her washing machine missing because Lilly gave it to an employee who needed one, Savino said.

“That’s the West Virginia style,” his daughter said. “If somebody needed something, he would just help them.”

The Lilly family reunion produces an annual program that is 160 pages thick. This year, there will be a tribute page to Ira Dupuy Lilly for his contributions on the Lilly Family Reunion Board of Directors.

After his death, Lilly’s body was flown back home to Beckley, W.Va., and the Sunset Memorial Park where so many of his relatives are buried. His interment on April 2 wasn’t in the family plot, but an above-ground mausoleum.

A Navy pilot who flew a blimp during World War II in search of German submarines, I.D. Lilly couldn’t abide being laid to rest underground.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Ira Dupuy Lilly is survived by his sons Larry Lilly, of Cool Ridge, W.Va., and Alan Lilly, of Orlando; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Rose & Quesenberry Funeral Home, Beckley, W.Va., handled funeral arrangements.

Which of Your Ancestors Would You Invite to Your Family Reunion?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary fantasizes about being able to invite some of her famous ancestors—including flight pioneers the Wright brothers—to a family reunion.

I’ve got a number of friends who get excited about fantasy football.

Whereas this is quite a snoozer for me, I see their point. They love to discuss and theorize about favorite football players—which is not unlike family historians when they get together, who assert their knowledge about favorite genealogical finds. And genealogists love to discuss their favorite ancestors!

Nobody can really speak for their ancestors, of course, but you can—in a round-about way—introduce them at your next family reunion. Someone could present a written report on their favorite ancestor, or the more theatrical members at your reunion could re-enact times and events surrounding your more noteworthy (or notorious) ancestors.

So if you could invite any relation (direct or otherwise) to your next family reunion, who would it be?

The Wright Brothers

One of my choices would be my latest cousin discovery: aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright, who share Edmund Freeman (1737-1813) and Martha Otis (1737-1790) as mutual ancestors.

I’d love to ask the Wright brothers if they were apprehensive about their flying machine when it first took flight. I’ve read the patents and various reports about their incredible aviation invention, but it would be wonderful to get their first-hand accounts.

Patent No. 821, 393 of 2 May 1906 (available for viewing at Google Patents):

To all whom it may concern:

Be it known that we, ORVILLE WRIGHT and WILBUR WRIGHT, citizens of the United States, residing in the city of Dayton, county of Montgomery, and State of Ohio, have invented certain new and useful Improvements, in Flying-Machines, of which the following is a specification.

Our invention relates to that class of flying-machines in which the weight is sustained by the reactions resulting when one or more aeroplanes are moved through the air edgewise at a small angle of incidence, either by the application of mechanical power or by the utilization of the force of gravity.

This old newspaper article from 1903 reports that the Wright brothers’ flying machine flew three miles against the wind.

A Flying Machine Goes Three Miles against the Wind, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article, 18 December 1903

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 18 December 1903, page 1

If Orville Wright were alive, I’d love to see him fly his hydro-aero-boat invention. This 1913 newspaper article describes him, not as an aviator, but as a “noted birdman,” and reports that Wilbur Wright had been stricken with scarlet fever. What fun that Orville’s flying boat was tested on “Mad River”!

Orville Wright Perfects New Flying Boat, Evening Times newspaper article 5 December 1913

Evening Times (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 5 December 1913, page 10

Accused Witch Lydia Gilbert

Another on my list of ancestors I’d invite to my family reunion would be accused witch Lydia, wife of Thomas Gilbert. This travesty occurred in October of 1651, reportedly in Hartford, Connecticut (not Salem, Massachusetts). At the time, Lydia and her husband were living in the household of Henry Stiles. A neighbor, Thomas Allyn, was present when a gun discharged, slaying Stiles. Allyn was found guilty of “homicide by misadventure” but three years later, Lydia and others were accused at a Court of Oyer and Terminer of having caused the deed by witchcraft.

Poor Lydia. Wouldn’t you love to hear from her and to reassure her that witchcraft trials were finally put to rest when Governor Phils dissolved this particular Court on 29 October 1692. (Note: that didn’t put an end to all Courts of Oyer and Terminer, a term easily searchable in GenealogyBank. Such courts were authorized to oversee certain criminal cases.)

GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives don’t date to 1651 (although they do contain the first newspaper published in America, Publick Occurrences, in 1690), but there are various references to witch trials contained in the old newspapers, including this photo of the Old Witch House taken in 1914.

Oldest Building in Salem, Mass., Anaconda Standard newspaper article 26 June 1914

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 26 June 1914, page 1

Oyster Cracker Inventor Adam Exton and Wife Elizabeth Aspden

Although not household names today, British immigrants Adam Exton (1823-1887) and wife Elizabeth Aspden (1821-1894) were well known in Trenton, New Jersey, during their lifetime. Adam Exton was the inventor of the oyster cracker, a recipe which became immensely popular. I’d love to invite both of them to my family reunion as well.

I’d like to inquire why Adam Exton didn’t patent this particular invention, as it was soon stolen—and to this day some still disclaim him as the inventor of the delicious invention. However, this piece of family provenance is substantiated in a 1917 newspaper article written by his nephew, also named Adam Exton, who worked in the cracker factory and knew his uncle personally.

Life History of Oyster Crackers, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 31 May 1917

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 31 May 1917, page 4

If you’d like to know more about this topic, search the Web for “Adam Exton’s cracker factory.” The factory still exists and has been renovated into condominiums, known as the Trenton Lofts.

So as family reunion season approaches, consider inviting a few “virtual” ancestors to the party, and don’t forget to search GenealogyBank’s historical archives for the family trivia. You might even uncover a news report of a previous family reunion. When I input “family reunion” into GenealogyBank’s search box, almost 100,000 matches return! Many of these old news articles include old family reunion photos that show the whole family the way they were in the past. What great find to share with the rising generation at your next family get-together so that the young ones can see their ancestors’ faces.

GenealogyBank search box for "family reunion"

GenealogyBank search box for “family reunion”

So which ancestors would you place on your “fantasy ancestral team”? Please share your more extraordinary ancestral finds with us!