Old Music in Historical Newspapers: Tips for Finding Songs

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary provides newspaper search tips to find articles and musical scores about the songs our ancestors enjoyed

When doing your family history research, have you ever wondered about the old music your American ancestors enjoyed?

What were the popular melodies and tunes of earlier days, what were their origins, and what musical discoveries can we find in historical newspapers?

Yankee Doodle

A fun place to start is by researching one of the more ubiquitous tunes in American history: “Yankee Doodle.” Just think—our parents, grandparents and great grandparents knew the same lyrics to this song. What a wonderful shared experience that is.

Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.

To find a wide assortment of news articles about “Yankee Doodle” and amusing renditions of this popular American song, enter the title into GenealogyBank’s search engine. This search returns over 64,000 “best matches,” so you may wish to sort the results by date from the earliest to newest, or vice versa.

One of the earliest newspaper articles, from 1769, reports that the British military used the song as a type of verbal bantering or taunting of the colonists.

According to the article:

…the Officer of the Guard, in a sneering Manner, called upon the Musicians to play up the Yankee Doodle Tune, which completed the Conquest of the Military, and afforded them a temporary Triumph.

New-York Journal (New York, New York), 14 September 1769, page 2

New-York Journal (New York, New York), 14 September 1769, page 2

Limiting Music Searches by Categories

With so many search results, I looked for ways to narrow the focus. A promising option was the “Poems & Songs” category with over 1,200 historical newspaper articles to explore.

search results for "Yankee Doodle" in GenealogyBank

Adding Keywords to Your Article Search

To learn about specifics, I incorporated keywords such as “origins.”

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A newspaper article from 1861 reported that “Yankee Doodle’s” music was derived from the “Lucy Locket” nursery rhyme. I wasn’t familiar with it—but if you hum “Lucy Locket,” you’ll find it has the same musical syntax, or structure, as “Yankee Doodle.”

Lucy Locket lost her pocket
Kitty Fisher found it;
Not a bit of money in it
Only binding ’round it.

 
After the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord, the patriots came up with their own lyrics. An early version was titled “The Yankee’s Return from Camp,” used as a battle march.

The old song has direct references to George Washington (then a Captain) and Capt. Isaac Davis. See article on Capt. Isaac Davis at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Davis_(soldier).

Photos & Illustrations

You’ll discover a number of musical scores in the “Poems & Songs” category on GenealogyBank’s search results page, and there are others in the “Photos & Illustrations” category. By examining these, I found a promising lead from 1910 that was reprinted three years later, in 1913.

Historical Music Sheet Tab in Historical Newspapers Genealogy Bank

This sheet tab reference isn’t actually from the “Yankee Doodle” song itself, but instead a composition called “The Boys That Fight the Flames” by George M. Cohen. He composed it as part of his play, Fifty Miles from Boston.

Forgotten Old Songs

The “Photos & Illustrations” category is also a wonderful place to find musical scores of forgotten pieces. Although not familiar with “Life’s a Bumper,” I might try playing this song on my piano.

Bellows Falls Gazette (Bellows Falls, Vermont), 14 December 1839, page 1

Bellows Falls Gazette (Bellows Falls, Vermont), 14 December 1839, page 1

Search Tips for Finding Old Music

This blog post is just the tip of the iceberg on musical discoveries found in newspapers. Try these steps and be sure to share your own tips for researching the music of our ancestors in old newspapers.

  • Do a general search for a song title
  • Sort by Best Matches, Oldest Items or Newest Items
  • Narrow by the category “Poems & Songs”
  • Experiment with other categories, such as “Photos & Illustrations”
  • Repeat the previous steps by adding keywords, such as “origins” or a composer’s name

Related Music Articles:

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A Genealogist’s Guide to Old Latin Terms & Abbreviations

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary explains some of the old terms—many of them derived from Latin—that genealogists encounter during their family history research.

Throughout history, terms come and terms go—and thankfully for most people, archaic expressions disappear. That is, thankfully for everyone except family historians. We encounter a plethora of long forgotten archaic terms while doing our genealogy research, mostly in what some consider a dead language: Latin!

To be honest, I was never fond of Latin.

I remember a particularly tense parent-teacher conference when I was a girl, during which the teacher implied that I wasn’t well-suited for the subject. My mother, who was then at the height of her passion for genealogy, disagreed—and so I continued studying Latin, under extreme duress.

In later years, I discovered that I shared my mom’s passion for genealogy—and when I started seeing old documents with Latin phrases such Caesar’s “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (“We came, We saw, We conquered”), my early education studying the Latin language started paying off.

So now, I’d like to share some tips for understanding old Latin terms you may encounter in your own genealogy research.

Dates: “Instant,” “Ultimo” and “Proximo”

The three most common old Latin terms for dates are: instant, ultimo, and proximo, which refer to the present month, last month and next month respectively.

  • Instant (often abbreviated “inst.”): This term refers to a recent occurrence in the present or current month.
  • Ultimo (often abbreviated “ult.”): Ultimo or Ultimo Mense is a Latin term/phrase that refers to an occurrence from the previous month.
  • Proximo (often abbreviated “prox.”): Proximo refers to something that will occur next month.

Notice in the following obituary, the death date is reported as “the 29th ultimo.” Since the obit was published on 5 October 1838, this is saying Elizabeth Grady died 29 September 1838.

obituary for Elizabeth Grady, Charleston Courier newspaper article 5 October 1838

Charleston Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 5 October 1838, page 2

Genealogy Tip: References should be interpreted as relative, and not exact. Sometimes notices are copied from newspaper to newspaper, and if a notice was republished more than 30 days from its first publication, the interpretation would be incorrect. As a result, always verify death dates with official documents and even tombstones. (See the related Blog article Understanding Terms Found in Historical Newspapers).

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Widows and Widowers: “Consort” and “Relict”

Two similar historical Latin terms often found in old obituaries are consort and relict; as noted in the following examples, they tell a researcher specifically if a woman was a widow prior to her death, or if her husband became a widower after she died.

  • Consort comes from the Latin word “consortium,” meaning partnership. It indicates that the husband survived the wife (i.e., her death ended the marriage partnership).

Notice in this example, Mrs. Ann Parrott is referred to as the “consort” of Mr. James Parrott.

death notice for Ann Parrott, Easton Gazette newspaper article 2 April 1824

Easton Gazette (Easton, Maryland), 2 April 1824, page 3

  • Relict is derived from the Latin “relictus” or “relicta,” which translate as widower or widow.

Notice in this newspaper clipping example, Margaret is referred to as the “relict,” or widow, of the late William McCarron.

death notice for Margaret McCarron, Irish American Weekly newspaper article 10 January 1852

Irish American Weekly (New York, New York), 10 January 1852, page 2

Genealogy Tip: If a Latin term ends in “us,” then it refers to a male; if it ends in an “a,” it generally refers to a female. For example, “avus” refers to grandfather, “avia” to grandmother, and “avi” is used to indicate grandparents. “Proavus” means great grandfather and “proava” means great grandmother. If you search the Latin word list at Genproxy.co.uk, you’ll notice that Latin even has specific words to specify if someone was a 2nd great grandparent.

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Single Status: “Caelebs”

As seen in the previous examples, relationship statuses can be specific in Latin. However, I must give a word of caution—meanings and interpretations change over time.

To illustrate, let’s examine the Latin word caelebs, which is related to the word celibate.

Most genealogy researchers define caelebs as a man who was single—so if you didn’t explore further, you might assume that caelebs indicated someone who had never been married.

However, try entering caelebs into the Perseus Latin Dictionary at Tufts University. Did you see that its definition includes “widower”?

And now search early newspapers for the term. This 1807 newspaper article implies that the definition includes a man (or in the case of caelibia, a woman), in search of a wife.

article about caelebs, Gazette newspaper article 13 November 1809

Gazette (Portland, Maine), 13 November 1809, page 1

Another newspaper article, this one from 1977, reports that a 14th century definition for the equivalent of caelebs—bachelor—applied to candidates for knighthood, and those who had earned an academic degree.

article about caelebs, Springfield Union newspaper article 5 May 1977

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 5 May 1977, page 19

Latin Terms Describing Death Status

Legal documentation may include abbreviations regarding the status of a decedent.

Did a person have heirs? Were the children legitimate or illegitimate, and did some or all children die within the lifetime of a parent?

Here is a list of frequently used abbreviations—to understand them better, acquaint yourself with some of the more common terms, such as “decessit” and “obdormio,” which mean died or fell asleep, “legitima” (legitimate), “sine” (without), “matris” and “patris” (mother and father), and “prole” (issue or offspring).

Common Latin Phrase Abbreviations

  • aas (anno aetatis suae): died in the year of his/her age
  • dsp (decessit sine prole): indicates a person died without issue; i.e., no children
  • dspl (decessit sine prole legitima): died without legitimate issue
  • dspm (decessit sine prole malus): died without sons
  • dspml (decessit sine prole malus legitima): died without legitimate sons
  • dspms (decessit sine prole malus suivre): died without surviving sons
  • dsps (decessit sine prole suivre): died without surviving issue
  • dvm (decessit vita matris): died in the lifetime of the mother
  • dvp (decessit vita patris): died in the lifetime of the father
  • ob caelebs (obdormio caelebs): died single or as a bachelor
  • osp (obiit sine prole): died without issue or children
  • q.s. (quod suivre): which follows
  • q.v. (quod vide): which see
  • sp (sine prole): without issue or children
  • spf (sine prole femina): without daughters
  • spl (sine prole legitima): without legitimate issue
  • spm (since prole mascula): without sons
  • sps (sine prole superstite): without surviving issue
  • vf (vita fratris): in the lifetime of his brother
  • viz (videlicet): namely
  • vm (vita matris): in the lifetime of his mother
  • vp (vita patris): in the lifetime of his father
  • vs (vita sororis): in the lifetime of his sister

Strategies for Translating Latin

With all Latin terms, apply strategies to make sure you interpret a document correctly.

  • Read the entire document or article to see if a phrase was reiterated in English.
  • Examine the syntax within the presented context.
  • See if there is a corresponding or follow-up document to verify information (such as in a probate file).

Also, consult a variety of resources, such as these:

Do you have a question about a Latin phrase you’ve encountered in your family history research? If so, please ask it in the comments section and we’ll try to answer it for you.

More articles about old terms found in historical newspapers:

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Get Your Genealogy Facts Straight: Proof-Checking Tips for Records

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena provides some advice about verifying genealogy records, especially in the case of a newspaper article contradicting other family history information you have found during your research.

Probably one of the most iconic newspaper images to ever appear is that of President Harry S. Truman holding up an early edition of the Chicago Tribune that boldly proclaimed the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Of course, that newspaper headline announcement from the 1948 presidential election was premature and involved some wishful thinking. Today, everyone knows the name of President Harry S. Truman; few remember his opponent Gov. Thomas E. Dewey.

Clearly, newspapers sometimes make mistakes.

Occasionally, genealogists find a newspaper article that conflicts with what they know about an ancestor. What’s a researcher to do when they come across a newspaper article that doesn’t match their family history records?

Cross-Check with Records from Catalogs

Genealogical records of all types contain mistakes—just ask anyone who has ever been an informant on a death certificate. Even if you can correctly provide all of the information for your deceased loved one’s death certificate, there’s still the chance of errors creeping in from the reporting physician, the funeral home, or even the typist.

Enter Last Name










One of our jobs as family historians is to collect and verify facts about our ancestors. Those facts may come in the form of an original or derivative document that has primary information, information supplied by a witness to the event, or secondary information supplied by someone who was not an eyewitness. Obviously the further removed from the eyewitnesses and the event, the more chances something is going to have errors. With any genealogical evidence you find, you will want to gather more than one example if possible because mistakes can and do happen.

As with all genealogy research, it’s important to not rely on just one source. While we are lucky to live in an era where we have a wealth of online materials available to us, some genealogy records are not and will never be online. So record the family information you find in newspaper articles, and then search through archival and library catalogs for paper records that haven’t been digitized, like diaries and journals, occupational records, church records, court records and other documents created by the community and its members at the time of the event. Consult catalogs such as WorldCat, ArchiveGrid, and the Family History Library Catalog to find these materials.

As you use these catalogs, search or browse on the place your ancestor was from to find what records exist for that community. And remember: because these catalogs are frequently updated, check back and record your results in a research log to keep track of search dates and keywords used.

Look at the Next Day’s Publication

Let’s face it, mistakes happen with newspaper articles and they can even happen when an article has been proof-read numerous times. There’s a chance that the difference between your existing genealogy record and a newspaper article was an error that the newspaper corrected in the following day’s issue. Make sure to look for the newspaper’s correction column to see if a correction was reported.

Enter Last Name










Newspapers have long reported corrections to their articles, as can be seen in this example from a 1730 Massachusetts newspaper.

newspaper corrections, New-England Weekly Journal newspaper article 16 March 1730

New-England Weekly Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 March 1730, page 2

Sometimes in the rush to get a story out to beat the competition, or due to the pressure of looming deadlines, a newspaper article might be published with a glaring mistake. Today, we are all familiar with the fate of the Titanic and its loss of over 1,500 people. However, details were sketchy if not totally incorrect in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy—as clearly shown in this example.

article about the sinking of the Titanic, Riverside Daily Press newspaper article 15 April 1912

Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, California), 15 April 1912, page 1

Thorough research of the Titanic disaster would include not only numerous newspaper accounts that were printed for days and weeks after the sinking, but also other records created at the time of the sinking and even after.

Do you have a newspaper article that conflicts with a genealogy record? Just like the game “telephone,” records are going to conflict as information is passed from one person to another. Faulty memories, transcription errors and more can cause problems in any record. But by utilizing the proof-checking steps mentioned above you can get beyond that difficulty and come up with a sound genealogical conclusion based on actual facts.

Genealogy Tip: Newspapers are essential to family history research, providing stories about your ancestors’ lives that you just can’t find anywhere else. But as with all genealogy research, gather as many records from as many sources as you can, so that you can cross-check the data and establish the facts.

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5 Time-Saving Computer Keyboard Shortcuts for Busy Genealogists

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary presents some of the best keyboard shortcuts that save time when you’re doing online genealogy research.

If you’ve been staying indoors to escape the bitter cold of this season’s Polar Vortex, chances are you’ve been surfing the Web on that ever-popular ancestor hunt that we genealogists enjoy so much.

Many of you are accomplished family searchers and know your way around a computer keyboard and the Internet—but I’ve observed that some family historians are unfamiliar with basic Mac and PC desktop keyboard shortcuts that can save you time and effort as you scour the web searching for your ancestors.

Let’s talk about that, as some of the more overlooked keyboard shortcuts are easy to do!

photo of a wireless keyboard for an Apple computer

Photo: Apple wireless keyboard. Credit: Wikipedia.

1)      Easy Keyboard Scrolling

On some computer keyboards, the Page Up and Page Down arrow keys are not conveniently located, so I’d like to present an alternate method.

To scroll down a webpage easily, press the Spacebar.

To scroll up a webpage, hold the Shift key and then press the Spacebar. It’s easy!

Scroll down:

  • Spacebar

Scroll up:

  • Shift and Spacebar

Tip: The Spacebar tricks save time by not having to take your hand off the keyboard.

2)      Easy Screen Zooming

Ever find yourself squinting at a tiny image on a webpage, such as a tombstone (like this one from my family collection)?

photo of a tombstone

Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak

If so, then zoom in and out with your computer screen to attain the best viewing size.

Hold the Control key (aka “Ctrl” on a PC) and tap the Plus (+), Minus (-) or Zero (0) keys.

On an Apple Mac, do the same, but utilize the Command key (aka “Cmd” or “⌘”).

One sequence zooms in, one zooms out, and the last one returns the image to the original viewing size.

Zoom in:

  • [PC] Ctrl and Plus (Ctrl +)
  • [Apple] Command and Plus (⌘ +)

Zoom out:

  • [PC] Ctrl and Minus (Ctrl -)
  • [Apple] Command and Minus (⌘ -)

Original size:

  • [PC] Ctrl and Zero (Ctrl 0)
  • [Apple] Command and Zero (⌘ 0)

Tip: On a laptop keyboard, you probably do not have to hold the Shift key to access the Minus and Plus keys when doing this shortcut, despite them being located above the hyphen (-) and equal (=) signs and appearing as though a Shift key is necessary.

3)      Full Computer Screen Viewing

Although this feature can vary from browser to browser, sometimes you can temporarily eliminate the Menu or Search Bar. What a great help this can be if you wish to view an image that will not fit on the screen.

Full screen:

  • [PC] F11 or (Alt and V, F)
  • [Apple] Control and Command and T (^ ⌘ T)

Note: In the PC example, F11 is one of the Windows Function keys. (If it doesn’t exist on your keyboard, you can sometimes press Alt and V to access a menu, and then F to access Full Screen mode.) In the Apple example, the ^ ⌘ indicates that you should hold the Control key and the Command key before tapping the letter T.

Tip: To get out of Full Screen mode, repeat the shortcut sequence, or press the Escape key (aka “Esc”). If this feature doesn’t work for you, search your browser’s help page or look for the feature in the browser’s menu.

4)      Easy Finding of Search Results

When confronted with busy pages of text on a website, finding an ancestor’s name can be like searching for a needle in a haystack.

To get around scanning every line for query results, try using the Find feature. Hold the Control key (PC) or Command key (⌘) (Apple) and tap the letter F. Once the Search Bar appears, enter the desired text.

Find:

  • [PC] Ctrl and F
  • [Apple] Command and F (⌘ F)
photo of a webpage with text highlighted, demonstrating the find feature

Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak

Tip: Most web browsers will show you the number of occurrences of your search term on the page, as well as highlight the results.

5)      Reopening a Webpage

One of the most aggravating blunders is when a webpage is accidentally closed before you are through with it. Depending upon your browser, you may be able to reopen it.

Open a closed webpage:

  • [PC] Ctrl and Shift and T
  • [Apple] Command and Shift and T (⌘ Shift T) or ⌘ Z in certain versions of Safari

Tip: If this trick doesn’t work, try searching your browser’s history to find the webpage. Read this article to learn how to access your browsing history in all popular web browsers: http://www.wikihow.com/View-Browsing-History. Alternatively, you may wish to switch to another browser, or upgrade yours to the latest version.

Browser Keyboard Shortcut Resources

There are literally hundreds more browser keyboard shortcuts that I was unable to address in this blog article, so I’ve provided you links to find many more helpful time-saving tips.

According to the website W3Schools, the most widely used browsers (listed in order of usage) are: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari.

Here are links to the support and keyboard shortcut pages of these four popular browsers:

Here’s one more link to find additional keyboard shortcuts:

I’d like to mention that getting great results isn’t about participating in a popularity contest. If your browser works for you, stick with it. However, if you can’t find what you are looking for, do as many seasoned genealogists do: experiment with alternatives.

Results often vary!

Lastly, please keep your software up-to-date, as older versions may not accommodate the same features and are often more vulnerable to security issues.

Upcoming Seminar: “Beyond Your Normal Web Search”

If you enjoyed this blog article and plan to be in the Houston, Texas, area on 26 April 2014, I’ll be presenting an expanded version of these computer tips during a seminar at the 2014 Houston East Family Search Conference at Summerwood.

I hope these time-saving keyboard shortcuts help in your genealogy research. If you have a favorite keyboard shortcut of your own, please share with us in the comments.

3 Genealogy Goals for 2014: Tasks & Tips for a Great New Year

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena describes three goals to get your 2014 genealogy research off to a great start: document your home sources, share your research, and update your family history information.

Wow! 2013 seemed to fly by and now it’s already 2014. What genealogy goals did you accomplish last year? What are your research resolutions for this year? While you may still not get that 500-page family history tome written, or trace your family tree back to 1500, there are some smaller tasks you can accomplish in a reasonable amount of time in the upcoming New Year. No need to feel dread when you think of all you want to do. There are still little things that will help you accomplish your overall genealogy goals.

To get you started, here are three ideas for reasonable genealogy tasks in 2014.

Document Your Home Sources

Home sources are the things that make up one of the first steps in putting together a family history. By definition a home source is simply any item with genealogical value that is housed in your home (though it could also be a close family member’s home for our purposes). I know, you’re probably thinking you don’t have any home sources. Even if this is so, expand your idea of a home source by considering items that will one day tell your descendants about their ancestors (you!). Also, include in your definition of a home source anything you have gathered through your own research such as photos, document copies, and books.

photo of various home sources of genealogy information: old photos and letters

Credit: from the author’s collection.

One day you won’t be around to convey the importance of these home sources to your family. So plan now to document these items. How can you do that? Digitize these items using a scanner or a camera, then write a description and history of the item. Let family members know the provenance (if any), stories behind the item, and care instructions. Take this information and put together a scrapbook or upload the information to a cloud storage website, and share it with family members.

In some cases it can be difficult to find the information we need to document an inherited item. A good case in point is those closely-cropped newspaper clippings that get passed down. Typically there is no information about the name of the newspaper or the date the article appeared. Take keyword phrases from those newspaper articles and use them to search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Once you locate the name of the newspaper and date, make sure to include that information when you digitize that clipping. Remember that some items, like newspaper clippings, degrade over time—so it’s important to preserve them now by scanning or photographing them.

photo of an old newspaper clipping

Credit: from the author’s collection.

Physical items, whether they are a prized heirloom, vintage family photos or newspaper clippings, help interest non-genealogists in their family story. Consider taking some time this year to preserve, document, and share them.

Start Sharing

Have you shared your family history research? What about those photos you scanned at your aunt’s home? Did you show everyone those cemetery photographs so that they can learn more about where their great-grandparents are buried?

Sharing your family history today is a lot different than in years past. Today, with the assistance of social media websites, cloud computing, and family tree websites, we can share all types of images with family far and wide.

Need ideas of where to share your family history information? How about using a social network website like Pinterest to upload family photographs? You can create virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest for cemetery photos, a specific family line, or photos of heirlooms. Invite family members to pin to these boards so that they can share what they know about the family. Need help learning more about Pinterest? See my GenealogyBank blog article 3 Steps to Using Pinterest for Your Family History.

screenshot of some of GenealogyBank's boards on Pinterest

Consider uploading documents and images to an online cloud storage website like Dropbox, Sugar Sync, Google Drive, or Microsoft’s SkyDrive. Share these private folders with family members. Once shared, they can then download what you have uploaded.

Don’t want to use social media or maybe you’re leery of uploading your family tree? Privacy, time, and effort are all considerations in online sharing of family information. Even if you don’t want to use online resources for sharing your family tree, don’t forget to make copies of documents, images and family history narratives that you have written. However you decide to share, remember that getting your family history in the hands of family members is beneficial. It helps to ensure that your genealogy research lives on after you have passed, and it provides a backup should something happen to your copy.

Review Your Genealogy Research

The beginning of the year is a good time to consider going back and reviewing those ancestors you researched when you first started working on your family history. Why? Since that time, new resources both on and off line have been made available, and most likely family members have shared additional information with you since you first started your research.

Choose one single family and then go through each person in that family and make sure that you have every census where they should appear, trace them in city directories, find appropriate newspaper articles, and verify everyone’s vital records information. As you enter all of your new findings in your genealogy database, make sure to cite your sources so that you and others you share your research with will know where to find that information.

Looking to work on your genealogy in 2014? Don’t get bogged down with large unrealistic goals. Genealogy should be fun. Choose a few small manageable tasks to kick off 2014. Take some time to document your home sources, share your research, and update your family history information. Here’s hoping you have many great genealogy discoveries in 2014!