History of American Mail: Letters of Our Ancestors & the News

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan explores the history of American mail and shows how the mail system and newspapers have been closely connected—with the postal system delivering newspapers, and newspapers doing the work of the post office by alerting readers to unclaimed mail. These “uncollected mail” lists in old newspapers are a valuable genealogy resource for family history researchers.

The postal system and newspapers—especially lists of uncollected mail—have long been connected in American history, and provide another avenue of research for family history researchers.

Mail in Colonial America

The first organized mail service in colonial America began in 1692, mostly to get mail to and from Europe. The first postmaster was Andrew Hamilton, the governor of New Jersey. Then England purchased the project in 1707 and appointed Andrew’s son John as the Crown’s official postmaster.

England had a long history of interfering in colonial American communications. For example, there was the Stamp Act, the closure of colonial newspapers that seemed to criticize the Crown, and the search and seizure of private papers.

Ever the innovator, Benjamin Franklin instituted the penny post concept. Mail was delivered to the post office and the recipient was to pick it up there. However, for a penny, Franklin would have it delivered to the person’s home or office. However, Franklin was removed from his position as postmaster due to his revolutionary leanings.

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Franklin was also a newspaper man. At that time newspapers were produced as a way for printers to make a little on the side when the press didn’t have any other work. These newspapers were often sent by post to distant locations. Franklin was an advocate of getting the mail (and the news) out on time, and with the best business practices he knew.

Genealogy Tip: Newspapers published lists of people who had letters waiting for them in the post office. Checking these lists can help you pin down your ancestor to a place and time.

Letters in the Post-Office at Newport, Newport Mercury newspaper article 15 July 1765

Newport Mercury (Newport, Rhode Island), 15 July 1765, page 3

History of the American Postal Service

As things heated up between England and the American colonies, mail services became even more challenging. One way to subdue an enemy is to prevent communications between those in charge and the troops on the ground. Since the Crown owned the mail system, they held the advantage in communications.

The Battle of Concord was in April of 1775. The following month the primary business for the Continental Congress was to establish a mail system. Benjamin Franklin was the obvious choice for the first postmaster. Originally, the main purpose of the postal service was to get news and information out for military purposes.

Newspapers of the time, which focused on business and politics, were anxious to get information from other states. Many newspapers lacked much actual news reporting and simply parroted months-old news from other papers. They would subscribe to distant newspapers and would copy the articles word for word into their own paper. The lack of any copyrights allowed this to occur without even an attribution of the original writer or publishing newspaper. In fact, there was rarely an acknowledgement of the author in the original paper. News was published anonymously. (It wasn’t until World War I that the author of each article was regularly listed. This was a military move to ensure that the author was held accountable for the information he or she disseminated that might go against the censorship laws.)

During this time the paper’s printer was also the publisher, editor, and news collector all wrapped into one. Using other newspapers’ articles allowed them to publish more information with limited investment. This early newspaper practice means that you may find information about your ancestor in distant newspapers.

Genealogy Tip: Begin your searches in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives nationwide rather than just selecting one state’s papers to view, since news was published far away in places you wouldn’t expect.

Newspapers not only used the mail service to gather information, but also to disseminate it. Readers could subscribe to a newspaper regardless of where they lived and have it delivered via the postal service. This increased the number of potential readers for a paper, thereby increasing the print load and profits of a newspaper service. This eventually led to the need to hire more staff and to increase the speed of the printing process. The news could become a business in its own right instead of a side job to keep the printing press busy.

This map shows an old trail that was used for “mail and express service” in Missouri.

trail map of Howard County, Missouri, Kansas City Star newspaper article 11 November 1915

Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), 11 November 1915, page 4

Uncollected Mail

Originally, mail was delivered to the post office and recipients stopped by to collect it. In the city, large companies hired clerks to make the mail run, carting mail to and from the post office multiple times a day. In rural areas, the post office became a place to gather, especially in more isolated areas. Going to get the mail was a big deal. Families dressed up to go to town to collect the mail and spend time socializing with their neighbors. However, not everyone could make it out every month to check for mail. When an item of mail remained uncollected at the post office, an advertisement was run in the local paper to alert the intended recipient. This is a valuable resource for modern-day genealogists.

uncollected mail list, Illinois Weekly State Journal newspaper article 11 March 1842

Illinois Weekly State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 11 March 1842, page 1

Genealogy Tip: These lists show the names of people (women and men) who lived in the area. This can help a family history researcher establish the location of an ancestor.

This resource is especially beneficial in instances where two or more people who initially appear to be one and the same can now be separated, thanks to these mail lists.  In addition, the appearance of a name over several months can indicate that the person in question may have moved, was ill, was temporarily out of the area, or possibly even dead. This is an alert for the genealogist to do more investigation into their ancestor’s life during the time the name appears. Because women also received mail, their name may be listed. They may even be listed by their own name and not by the more commonly used feminized version of their husband’s name: Mariah Johnson rather than Mrs. Simon Johnson.

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It would be especially helpful to find the name of an ancestor in a list of letters remaining at the post office in the place they had just moved from. For example, if you know Simon Johnson was living in Crawford County, Indiana, after 1845—but you weren’t sure where he moved from—you could search for Simon Johnson’s name in the postal lists. Finding his name in a Randolph County, North Carolina, mail list prior to 1845 would not prove that he came from there. However, it does provide a clue to begin searching for him in the records in that area.

One thing to keep in mind is that the lists were often alphabetized by the last name. This means the name will appear last name first: “Johnson, Mariah.”

Genealogy Tip: Entering a first and last name into GenealogyBank’s search engine will allow for the name to appear in reverse order, so no special search techniques are needed. However, you can narrow the results by entering a keyword such as “letters,” “post office,” or “mail.” Use only one keyword at a time and remember that the word must appear in the article exactly as you typed it.

unclaimed mail list, Salt Lake Daily Telegraph newspaper article 17 May 1866

Salt Lake Daily Telegraph (Salt Lake City, Utah), 17 May 1866, page 3

Unfortunately for us, the actual “unclaimed” letters did not appear in the newspapers. Although many letters were republished in newspapers because of their informative nature, that was done by consent and not because they were unclaimed. The unclaimed letters lists were simply lists of people’s names.

Expanding the American Mail Service

The goal of the postal system has always been to reach every person. As the population spread across the newly created country, the mail system improved roads to reach them. As the postal roads became safer and more passable, more people moved to outlying areas. And so a chicken and egg situation was created. Did migration expand the postal system or did the postal system increase migration? The answer is: “yes.”

Newspapers were certainly not the only pieces of mail that went through the postal system. But to give an idea of how many newspapers were being delivered around the country, Richard R. John in Spreading the News claims that the post office delivered 2.7 newspapers per person in 1840!* Outside of the largest urban areas, the news was still delivered weekly at this point. But that is still a lot of mail!

By 1847, stamps were minted and the sender now paid the postage. Building on Franklin’s penny post delivery system, the postal service delivered the mail for two cents. In 1863, urban mail was delivered for free—if the city had adequate sidewalks and street lighting in addition to named streets and house numbers. Sixty-five percent of the American population lived outside of these metropolises in the 1890s when rural mail delivery finally became free.** Mail boxes began in 1912 and were required by 1923.

Here’s subscription information for the Idaho Statesman in 1898, giving terms for delivery by mail or carrier.

subscription rates for the Idaho Statesman, Idaho Statesman newspaper advertisement 10 August 1898

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 10 August 1898, page 2

Lost Mail a.k.a. Dead Letters

Sometimes, mail was lost or became undeliverable. The “dead letter office” began in 1825 to gather all of these documents. The local post office was required to advertise the existence of the mail in the newspaper before forwarding it on to the dead letter office. Once there, any valuables were removed and the rest of the letter was burned. This office has a long and interesting history that can be found in the newspaper archives.

Genealogy Tip: Enter the phrase “dead letter office” into the “Include Keywords” field in the search box to find articles.

Here is a sampling of dead letter office articles.

In 1925 in just one post office, 200 letters had been sent in “absolutely blank envelopes,” 600 parcels had been mislabeled, and an astonishing 20,000 letters in one year had been forwarded to the dead letter office!

article about the post office's "dead letter office," Repository newspaper article 31 May 1925

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 31 May 1925, page 8

Here is an excellent and informative article from 1846.

article about the post office's "dead letter office," St. Albans Messenger newspaper article 29 April 1846

St. Albans Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont), 29 April 1846, page 1

Here is a picture of a dead letter office from 1985.

article about the post office's "dead letter office," Advocate newspaper article 1 November 1985

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 1 November 1985, page 30

So don’t forget to include mail lists in your searches. These informative lists are another example of how valuable newspapers are to family history research.

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* Richard R John, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 4.
** The United States Postal Service, An American History 1775-2006 (Washington DC: Government Relations, 2012), p. 22.

Related Articles about Researching Old Letters & Mailings:

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Preserve and Protect Your Family History

In Europe and America genealogy has long been a one-person task, with the family historian recording and maintaining the family’s history.

Along the way that person hopefully made copies of the history and gave them to other members of the family. Typed or published, these would be kept and passed down in families. Did copies of your family history make it down to you?

Genealogy an Asian Tradition

In China, Korea and Japan these family histories or clan genealogies would be maintained at a designated temple that centralized the recording and maintaining of that family’s records. Copies were often made and passed down in the family to the current generation, with the copy at the Temple serving as a physical backup.

photo of a Chinese genealogy book

Source: FamlySearch.org

These genealogies can easily go back one thousand years—or, as in the case of the Confucius family, go back for 2,500 years. The Confucius family history is recorded for more than 80 generations and is maintained by the Confucius Genealogy Compilation Committee, which has 450 branches around the world. That’s a lot of genealogists documenting one family history.

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Publishing Family Histories

Family histories are often some of the oldest surviving “books” in countries all over the world. In Ireland the Leabhar na nGenealach was written in 1649-1650. It is a massive nine-volume record of families in all parts of Ireland and Gaelic Scotland.

Publishing and disseminating copies of your family history is essential, but it doesn’t stop there. Genealogists who spend decades compiling and organizing their research and then publish it in book form immediately go back to work the next day, picking up and extending the branches of the family tree from where their published book left off. In too many cases the life’s work and research notes of a solitary genealogist are never published and are simply lost when that person dies.

Why do genealogists not publish?

Typically a genealogist thinks his work is never done.

There is always one more obituary or marriage record that needs to be found. That obituary in turn gives clues for an additional search and then another.

Is there a middle ground?

Yes—today’s technology lets us put our research online in real time.

Every day as we research, we can put our results online so that our latest hunches and conclusions can be shared and immediately vetted by cousins researching the same family lines.

These online trees are effective and have created a new opportunity for genealogists. Sourcing has become easy on these sites, making it possible for anyone wanting to verify the data to just click and see the original sources.

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Game-changer

So—instead of a life’s work being lost, your family history research can be permanently preserved online. This is a major breakthrough. This is a game-changer. Research doesn’t have to be lost and recompiled over and over with each new generation.

This is important. Genealogists no longer have to rely on a library with published genealogies, reading them one by one to track a family history. This can now be done online. It’s true that—just like with a published genealogy—some of the conclusions might be wrong, but unlike the print edition of a family history, these online family trees all include links to the sources used to compile the family history.

Want to double check a person in your tree? With a click you can be reading the actual obituary in GenealogyBank or a birth certificate from Indiana.

Are you participating?
Are you putting your family information online—or are you keeping it protected in your cave at home?
I am online.

I am putting up all of the generations and family members in my family tree who have passed away—but, I do not put the current, living generation online so as to protect their privacy.

Will I still publish our family history as a book?

Yes, absolutely.

But—who knows when I will “finish” that book?

Thankfully, until that day gets here my research and notes are safely online on websites that I can control. I use two online family tree sites. One is set up so that only I can make changes in the text and the relationships. The other is set up so that anyone can add the relatives that they are more familiar with, letting me benefit from their expertise.

I can easily go online to change and edit my online tree. On the sites that make the online tree a group effort, I can track as others add to my data. By putting everything online, my data is preserved and secure and I can see/benefit from the research others are doing.

What approach are you taking to preserve and protect your family history?

Related Articles about Records Preservation:

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Where Did My Ancestors Work? Newspapers Reveal Occupations

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott shows how old newspapers can tell you a lot about your ancestors’ occupations and workplaces, and thereby better understand their lives and the times in which they lived.

Everyone works. They say the only things you can’t avoid are death and taxes, but I’d have to add “working” to that list. And in our genealogy this is a good thing. Searching for information about our ancestors’ occupations and work can add significantly to our family trees. This is especially true when you work with the thousands of newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

We can gain some exciting and interesting insights into the lives of our ancestors when we add their occupations to our usual family research. As a matter of fact, my family tree is peppered with some wonderful discoveries that came as the result of researching the occupations and workplaces of my ancestors.

One of the aspects of my youth that I regret is that I neither paid close enough attention to, nor asked enough questions about, the work of several of my ancestors who are now gone.

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Uncle Chuck

One example is my uncle Chuck. I remember from my youth and family stories that he worked for a company with the name of Acme-Cleveland, but not much more. So not long ago I decided to do some research to see if I could learn more about one of my favorite uncles.

When I searched on the company name “Acme Cleveland,” GenealogyBank’s search results page showed 2,600 hits. One of those results was this 1978 newspaper article which gave a detailed history of the company, explaining that its roots go all the way back to 1896. It also mentioned that the headquarters were at one time considered “to be one of the most modern manufacturing plants in the United States.” This is a fact I never knew when we would drive by and I would always shout in the car, as though my parents and sisters didn’t know: “That’s where Uncle Chuck works!” In the last paragraph of this old newspaper article they even quoted my uncle.

National Acme Division of Acme-Cleveland, Plain Dealer newspaper article 19 July 1978

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 July 1978, page 23

 My Great-Great-Grandfather Frederick Evenden

In another instance, I decided to do some occupational research on my mother’s family. She lost her dad when she was only 12 so I didn’t have much to go on—but one of the stories my mother had shared was that her paternal grandfather, Frederick Evenden (1851-1918) had worked for a firm by the name of Chandler and Rudd. I began my newspaper search and soon found several advertisements for Chandler and Rudd published in an 1876 newspaper. It immediately sounded like a wonderful grocery store. Listed in the advertisements were enticing entries for cheese, nuts, fruit, etc. What a cornucopia of edible offerings!

food ads for grocer Chandler & Rudd, Cleveland Leader newspaper advertisements 28 November 1876

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 November 1876, page 8

Then I found this Chandler and Rudd advertisement in a 1907 newspaper for Easter week. It was fun to see they were offering some of the same Easter treats we can get today, such as Cream Easter Eggs, Marshmallow Eggs, and Chocolate Covered Almonds, plus some others I was unfamiliar with—like Sunshine Candies, Nut Puffs, and Chocolate Covered Fig Squares.

Easter ad for grocer Chandler and Rudd, Plain Dealer newspaper article 18 March 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 March 1907, page 9

My Grandfather-in-Law Pasquale D’Aquila

On my wife’s side of the family we are blessed to have many family members who owed their livelihoods to the iron mining industry. My wife’s paternal grandfather, Pasquale D’Aquila, was one of those men who toiled away in the austere conditions of the open pit iron ore mines of Northern Minnesota. This was only after he had spent a few years in the mines of Minas Gerais, Brazil; then Western Canada; and then Montana. Sadly, Pasquale passed away long before I joined the family, so I did some newspaper research on what it was like in the mines in his day.

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I first found this 1902 newspaper article. In addition to saying Hibbing, Minnesota, was “what is known in the expressive vernacular of the street as a ‘crackerjack,’” the article also stated: “Hibbing is at present the theater of greatest iron mining activity on the planet.”

Hibbing Theater of Big Iron Production, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 19 October 1902

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 19 October 1902, page 2

But of course it wasn’t all “crackerjack”—the mining work was hard and dangerous, as were other types of work such as railroads and sawmills. This 1903 newspaper article reported that more than 1,000 “casualties among the working people of Minnesota” had occurred in the past year.

Many Accidents During the Year, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 3 October 1903

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 3 October 1903, page 2

Sometimes it was dangerous just getting to work in the mines in those days, as reported in this 1911 newspaper article. The Scranton Mine was one of the mines Pasquale worked in, and the article explained an accident in detail—and reported that the men involved were John Lampi, Emil Jackson, and John Fari.

article about a train accident at the Scranton Mine, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 11 November 1911

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 11 November 1911, page 3

Here’s another mining accident, reported in this 1916 newspaper article. The Albany Mine was another mine in which Pasquale worked, and this article explained how a dozen railroad cars, each filled with 50 tons of ore, broke loose and wrecked in the mine.

article about a train accident at the Albany Mine, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 5 November 1916

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 5 November 1916, page 8

This 1918 newspaper article reported another danger my ancestor faced: the scourge of Spanish influenza. This article explained that the area was under consideration for the imposition of martial law to combat the spread of this flu. The article detailed the situation in Grand Rapids, Gilbert, Hibbing, Aitkin, and Virginia, Minnesota, even listing an entire paragraph of the names of all those who died from the flu in Grand Rapids alone. No doubt, it had to have been a challenging life in a tough environment.

article about the Spanish flu, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 12 November 1918

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 12 November 1918, page 9

These many articles from the historical newspapers of GenealogyBank have added immensely to my family tree and my genealogy work. So when you get into your family history work, be sure to do some of your searching on the occupations and companies of your ancestors. These articles really add some wonderful depth and richness to your family tree!

Do you know what type of work your ancestors did for a living? Share their occupations with us in the comments.

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Researching Recent Obituaries to Extend My Family Tree

I was born in New Hampshire and my family has lived there for the past 350+ years. I probably have a cousin in every town in the state. This is especially true in Sanbornton, New Hampshire—I don’t think I could throw a rock there in any direction and not hit a relative.

So—I use that to my advantage in tracing my family history.

photo of the Bay Meeting House, Sanbornton, New Hampshire, built in 1836

Photo: Bay Meeting House, Sanbornton, New Hampshire, built in 1836. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In my experience I am related to everyone in Sanbornton, so from time to time I search the Recent Obituaries in GenealogyBank to find a cousin I’d never known.

I quickly picked one from the list: Ellen (Sanborn) Merriam (1920-2010).

obituary for Ellen Merriam, Tri-Town Transcript newspaper article 23 April 2010

Tri-Town Transcript (Topsfield, Massachusetts), 23 April 2010

Here was a line that brought back memories:

Born in Laconia, N.H., she was the daughter of the late Howard W. and Elenora (Currier) Sanborn. She was raised on a rural farm in Sanbornton, N.H., and educated in Sanbornton and nearby Tilton. She loved animals especially horses, and was a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, earning her degree in Geology.

It immediately brought to mind days gone by in Sanbornton. She went to school there and lived on a rural farm. Wasn’t every home on a “rural farm” back then?

I could picture that farm: the potbellied stove in the kitchen; the snow; the view across the fields; the quiet, secure surroundings.

She attended UNH. My parents and grandparents all attended the University of New Hampshire. Some of my earliest memories are riding the back roads to Durham, New Hampshire, and seeing the University. Eating lunch along the river and getting those giant ice cream cones from the UNH Dairy.

She was “a long time member of the Maple Street Congregational Church.” When we lived in nearby Lower Gilmanton there was only one church—and of course it was a Congregational Church. It was an image you would see in every town.

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I looked at Ellen’s family history and, using multiple sources, I quickly found that her parents—Howard Weaver Sanborn (1887-1957) and Elenora B. Currier (1895-1985) along with her five brothers and sisters—all lived on a farm in Sanbornton. As did her grandparents John Brewer Sanborn (1849-1940) and Asenath Quimby (1850-1891).

Sanborns had lived in Sanbornton since its founding in 1770.

Our family still owns the farm that my 5th-great-grandfather William Huse (1760-1839) purchased when he settled there after the Revolutionary War to raise his family.

I doubt I ever met Ellen Louise (Sanborn) Merriam, but by reading her obituary it feels like I’ve known her all my life.

I like to find Sanbornton obituaries so that I can document every cousin in my family tree.

Genealogy Tip: Don’t only search for specific relatives in GenealogyBank—search for the small towns where your ancestors lived. You just might discover a cousin you’ve never met before.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank recently announced an agreement to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more about our partnership at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

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Oh Baby! News about Twins, Triplets, Quadruplets & More

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find stories about multiple births—and adds a personal touch by discussing her own twins.

I recently wrote about querying historical newspaper articles for baby and birth records, but focused on singleton research (see: Genealogy Tips for Baby Research). Within GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, you’ll find numerous extraordinary reports of multiple births and large families, some of which I’d love to share.

History of Family Size and Fertility

Statistics show increased birth rates for today’s mothers, but don’t seem to factor in the large families of yesteryear.

During the 18th Century, the average family size was probably between 10-11 children, a statistic that dropped to 3.19 by 1987. (See New York Times Archives of 2 June 1988: “Size of U.S. Family Continues to Drop, Census Bureau Says.”)

Without birth control, women who continued to get pregnant remained fertile well into their 40s, resulting in many mouths to feed. At her death in 1769, Mrs. Ruth Skinner of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, had a family of 196, including 13 of her own children and their resulting progeny.

obituary for Ruth Skinner, Boston Post-Boy newspaper article 24 April 1769

Boston Post-Boy (Boston, Massachusetts), 24 April 1769, page 2

Premature Births

Contrary to popular opinion, premature babies did survive in earlier times, but until I researched the issue I didn’t realize how many babies survived before the invention of the infant incubator.

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For example, this 1884 newspaper article reported that the Richard Lawlis family of Red Bank, New Jersey, had a family of 12 children. One extraordinary premie, born four years earlier, survived after only weighing 2½ pounds at birth, and another just-born premie was a diminutive 1-pounder, who was so small the child could be “exhibited in an ordinary lamp chimney.”

article about Mrs. Richard Lawlis giving birth to a premature baby, Columbus Daily Enquirer newspaper article 13 February 1884

Columbus Daily Enquirer (Columbus, Georgia), 13 February 1884, page 2

Twins and Triplets

Twins and triplets were greeted with as much enthusiasm in early days as they are today. This contradicts the notion that multiple births are a modern-day invention caused by fertility drugs.

In 1767, there was a report of the remarkable births of six sets of triplets born in England, Germany and Denmark. The woman in Denmark had also given birth to triplets previously, in 1761!

birth announcements for triplets, New-Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 2 October 1767

New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 2 October 1767, page 3

In 1879 a mother-daughter combination from a Massachusetts family was blessed with five children born within one hour, in the same house. The mother had triplets and her daughter, twins. As some might joke, what do you suppose was in the water in that neighborhood?

birth announcements, Times newspaper article 6 March 1879

Times (Troy, New York), 6 March 1879, page 2

As technology improved, newspapers printed photos of twins and triplets, and often ran stories following what happened to multiples throughout their childhood. Weren’t Helen, Dewey and Ida McKinley darling in their matching outfits! Do you notice anything special about Dewey? He was one of the many boys at that time whose mothers dressed him as a little girl when young.

article about the McKinley triplets, Boston Journal newspaper article 3 March 1904

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 3 March 1904, page 3

“Children Ride Free” Discounts

We always greet discounts for children as a blessing, but as this 1846 article reported, the “free child” bonus could get out of hand. Children could ride free on some stagecoaches in those days, but if a mother of three sets of twins bought tickets, along with other mothers averaging three children each, the driver would only make pennies. As the writer reported:

On some occasions I have known an omnibus to be so swarmed with the infantile race that the top layer of them would touch the roof, and even then the driver would stop at every corner to take in more.

article about babies being allowed to ride for free on stagecoaches, Commercial Advertiser newspaper article 13 November 1846

Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), 13 November 1846, page 1

Quadruplets

While reports of twins and triplets can be found in historical newspapers, sometimes one even finds accounts of quadruplets.

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The Cantwell quads were born in Delaware in 1893. The four boys, whose weights ranged from four pounds to five pounds nine ounces, were reported to be “well formed and in perfect health.”

Gave Birth to Quadruplets, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 5 March 1893

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 5 March 1893, page 7

Although rare, it is possible for multiples to be born on separate days. The condition may be indicative of a mother with multiple wombs. Mrs. Pickworth of England delivered two boys on the 4th of March 1814 and an additional two on the 6th. Unfortunately, later reports indicated that they did not survive.

birth announcements, Providence Patriot newspaper article 28 May 1814

Providence Patriot (Providence, Rhode Island), 28 May 1814, page 3

Quintuplets

The odds of having quintuplets are about 1 in 60,000,000, and when these special arrivals are born, they are reported across the country. One of the more famous sets was the Dionne quints, who—as this article reports—were featured in movies.

article about the Dionne quintuplets, Riverside Daily Press newspaper article 2 March 1937

Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, California), 2 March 1937, page 2

A lesser-known set was the Irish quints, born in 1909 in Wisconsin.

Five Babies Born, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 22 May 1909

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 22 May 1909, page 1

My Twin Family Story

My husband and I are the parents of fraternal twins, but their birth was something of a miracle. These two darlings were born without fertility drugs and after being told we might not become parents.

photo of the Harrell-Sesniak twins

Photo: the Harrell-Sesniak twins. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

Our twins were a surprise from a genealogical standpoint as well. I remember their genealogist grandmother reporting she had never located any direct ancestors who were twins. On my father’s side there were twins five and seven generations before them, which dispels the myth about skipping a generation!

Fun Facts about Twins

  • The older you are, the more likely you are to have fraternal twins. This is due to differences in a follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) that affects ovulation.
  • If there are twins in the family, you’re more likely to have twins.
  • If you’ve given birth to fraternal twins, you’re twice as likely to do it again.
  • The more pregnancies you have, the greater the chance of having twins.
  • Body type affects the likelihood of having twins. The smaller you are, the less likely you are to have multiple births.
  • Twins are more common for African Americans than Caucasians, and less common for Hispanics and Asians.

Hilarious Questions That Parents of Multiples Encounter

Mothers of multiples (including myself) report having heard silly questions from strangers admiring their children. These are some of my favorites.

  • Are they related? (Of course!)
  • Are they real twins? (Of course!)
  • Are they paternal twins? (Did you mean fraternal twins?)
  • Did you plan to have twins? (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone could plan this!)
  • Can they read each other’s minds? (Can anyone read someone’s mind?)
  • When one cries, does it wake the other one? (Yes!)
  • What do you do when they cry at the same time? (It was never easy. You do what you can to comfort two at once.)
  • Which one is the evil twin? (Seriously, no child is evil. All children are blessings!)
  • The most hilarious and often-presented comment we ever heard about our fraternal girl and boy twins was: “Are they identical?” I usually chuckled with this response: “No of course not! If one is a boy and one is a girl, there has to be something different!”
  • The second-funniest comment occurred when my daughter was dressed in pink and my son in blue: “Which one is the girl and which one is the boy?”
  • My son always had a wonderful answer to “Which one of you was born first?” He would reply: “She was, but only because I kicked her out.”

Articles on Multiple Births

Do you have twins, triplets or quadruplets in your family tree? Share with us in the comments.

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Nicodemus, Kansas: the History of America’s Black Towns

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog post, Gena discusses the historic role that African American towns have played in American history, and shows how ethnic newspapers—such as those in GenealogyBank’s African American Newspaper Archives—can help you explore your family history and this part of America’s past.

Browsing through search results on GenealogyBank for our family history research, we may not always take the time to understand the communities that a newspaper represented. We typically are more focused on finding an ancestor’s name than researching the newspaper where their name is printed. The newspaper search results we peruse might be from newspapers in a city or county we are not familiar with. In other cases it may be a newspaper that serves a specific ethnic or religious community. And in some cases the newspaper may represent something even more.

If you search the newspaper titles for Kansas available on GenealogyBank, one city that is represented is Nicodemus. Nicodemus, Kansas, is a historic black town, settled by African Americans at the end of Civil War Reconstruction. Founded in 1877 and now a historic site, Nicodemus is the oldest and one of the few remaining Black settlements west of the Mississippi.*

plat map for Nicodemus, Kansas, a historic black town

Illustration: Nicodemus plat map. Source: Library of Congress.

Historical Black Towns

Nicodemus is not unique—since colonial times, African Americans have founded and settled “self-segregated” towns. These towns, especially after the Civil War, provided a place of safety and opportunity for families.** When the promises of Reconstruction didn’t happen, black towns provided African Americans with the opportunity that full citizenship offered Caucasians, including the ability to own businesses and land, hold public office and vote undisturbed in elections. According to the Library of Congress, at the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1863, less than 8 percent of African Americans lived outside of the Southern United States. Even though the majority of African Americans still live in the South, there was a migration of some 60,000 African Americans in the 1870s to Kansas and the Oklahoma Indian Territories.***

African American Newspapers

The founding of historical black towns goes hand-in-hand with ethnic newspapers. According to Professor Rhonda Ragsdale, whose research on black towns led to her starting the website The Black Towns Project, newspapers played a huge role in the development of black towns. The men who founded these towns were involved in real estate and newspapers. In addition, they advertised in ethnic newspapers looking for potential settlers for their new towns.

The newspapers found in GenealogyBank’s African American Newspaper Archives encompass all types of newspapers, from religious, to ethnic papers serving a larger city, to those serving specifically black towns.

screenshot of the search page for GenealogyBank's African American Newspaper Archives

For example, GenealogyBank has two newspapers for Nicodemus, Kansas: the Nicodemus Cyclone and the Nicodemus Enterprise.

front page of the Nicodemus Cyclone newspaper 6 April 1888

Nicodemus Cyclone (Nicodemus, Kansas), 6 April 1888, page 1

To learn more about Nicodemus, see the Nicodemus National Historic Site page from the National Park Service, and the African American Mosaic: Nicodemus Kansas page from the Library of Congress. A list of historically black towns can be found at the website The Black Towns Project. Archives and libraries to help in your research include: The Black Towns Project Archive and Reading Room in Ada, Oklahoma; the Oklahoma History Center; and The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Other historically black towns are also represented in GenealogyBank’s online collection, including newspapers for Langston, Oklahoma, and Mound Bayou, Mississippi.

Have an ancestor who lived in a black town? Professor Ragsdale confirms that “ethnic newspapers are an unexplored goldmine.” Your first stop needs to be researching newspapers that document the town’s community and history. You can learn more about GenealogyBank’s African American newspaper collection, which spans 1827-1999, by browsing the collection’s homepage.

——————-

* Nicodemus National Historic Site. “Go to Kansas.” http://www.nps.gov/nico/index.htm Accessed 25 August 2014.
** The Black Towns Project. About the Project. http://www.blacktownsproject.org/ Accessed 25 August 2014.
*** The Library of Congress. African American Mosaic. http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/african/afam008.html Accessed 25 August 2014

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Researching Recent Obituaries for All My ‘Mayflower’ Cousins

There is more than one way to find your relatives in GenealogyBank’s massive archive of Recent Obituaries.

I’ve noticed that genealogists often go to the Recent Obituaries collection when they are researching a specific relative that died in the past 40 years. They search, find them and go.

But wait—there’s more.

There is another valuable approach you can take with the Recent Obituaries that lets us find relatives even when we don’t know their names—and even if we have never heard of them before!

Obituaries are handy resources for genealogists. They speak about the person, their interests and what was important to them. Many obituaries mention that the deceased had a sense of family and history. I often see obituaries that say so and so loved genealogy, and then name the ancestors that fought in the Revolutionary War, or who had come to America on the Mayflower.

Enter Last Name










Tracing Your Mayflower Ancestry

Having studied this for the past 50 years, I’ve concluded that nearly all Americans with ancestral roots prior to 1820 that lived in upper New England (Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and probably Rhode Island) have at least one ancestor that came over on the Mayflower.

I know I do.

I have seven Mayflower ancestors (including Thomas Rogers) and I want to track down and document all of the descendants of my Pilgrim ancestors.

The Recent Obituaries archive is a terrific way to do this.

Typically I will enter the name of a Mayflower passenger and the word “Mayflower” in the Include Keywords searchbox.

For example, here’s a search for “Thomas Rogers” and “Mayflower.”

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box, showing a search for "Thomas Rogers" and "Mayflower"
This GenealogyBank search pulled up a lot of accurate search results, like this one for Mary-Jane Earle Hensley.

obituary for Mary-Jane Earle Hensley, Daily News Record newspaper article 3 October 2012

Daily News Record (Harrisonburg, Virginia), 3 October 2012

This is a great genealogical find.

According to this obituary, not only was Mary-Jane a descendant of Thomas Rogers—but “She published a book on Thomas Rogers, Mayflower Pilgrim, in 1980.”

By building on the information in her obituary I can use other newspaper articles, census and other records to chain backwards on the family tree to Thomas Rogers. This way I can extend and complete our family history and document each person as I go from person to person in the tree.

You can do this with other clues in an obituary.

Did the family come from a very small town?

Do you share a Revolutionary War ancestor or other famous relative?

Build on those clues and rely on GenealogyBank’s Recent Obituaries to accurately document your family tree. To learn more about how to use obituaries for genealogy research, watch our tutorial on YouTube: “Obituaries: Clues to Look For.”

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank yesterday announced an agreement to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

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Massive Online U.S. Obituaries Project Will Make It Easier to Find Your Ancestors

announcement of a partnership between FamilySearch and GenealogyBank to index obituaries

FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank (GenealogyBank.com) today announced an agreement to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. It will be the largest—and perhaps most significant—online U.S. historical records access initiative yet. Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present. The completed online index will be fairly comprehensive; for example, it will cover 85% of U.S. deaths from the last decade. The indexed death records collection will easily become one of the most popular online databases ever.

Obituaries Provide Information—and Stories

Obituaries can solve family puzzles, tell stories, dispel myths, and provide tremendous help with family history research.

Finding your ancestors’ names in obituaries has never been easier. Through the FamilySearch and GenealogyBank partnership, the valuable information contained in obituaries—including the name of the deceased, surviving family members’ names, their family relationships, locations, and dates—will be indexed, making it easier for genealogists to discover new relatives and gain a deeper understanding of their family’s past.

A single obituary can include the names and relationships of dozens of family members. For example, this obituary for James Thayer Geddes sheds light on where he lived during his lifespan, his education, his career choices and his personal interests, as well as providing information connecting five generations of ancestors and descendants in his family tree.

obituary for James T. Geddes, Rutland Herald newspaper article 9 October 2006

Rutland Herald (Rutland, Vermont), 9 October 2006

Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch, explained that obituaries are extremely valuable because they tell the stories of our ancestors’ lives long after they are deceased. He invites online volunteers to help unlock the “treasure trove” of precious family information locked away in newspaper obituaries.

“Billions of records exist in U.S. obituaries alone,” Brimhall said. “The average obituary contains the names of about ten family members of the deceased—parents, spouse, children, and other relatives. Some include much more. Making them easily searchable online creates an enormously important source for compiling our family histories. The number of people who will benefit from this joint initiative is incalculable.”

GenealogyBank’s growing collection currently has over 7,100 historical U.S. newspapers, spanning more than 200 years. The death notices in these publications go beyond names and dates. They can provide insightful firsthand accounts about an ancestor that simply are not available from censuses or vital records alone.

“Obituaries, unlike any other genealogy resource, have the ability to add incredible dimensions to an individual’s family history research. They contain a wealth of information including facts and details that help capture the legacy of those who have passed on,” said Dan V. Jones, GenealogyBank Vice President. “The unique life stories written, dates documented, and generations of family members mentioned are often only found within an obituary, which makes them such an invaluable resource. Obituaries have the unique power to tell a story and enable individuals to learn more about their family relationships. GenealogyBank is proud and excited to partner with FamilySearch in bringing these obituaries to researchers all over the world.”

Volunteers Are Key to Project’s Success

The success of the massive U.S. obituary indexing campaign will depend on online volunteers. The obituaries are fairly simple to read, since they are digital images of the typeset, printed originals that appeared in the newspaper, but require human judgment to sort through the rich historical data and family relationships recorded about each person. Information about online volunteering is available at FamilySearch.org/indexing. A training video, indexing guide, detailed instructions, as well as telephone and online support, are available to help new volunteer indexers if needed.

Work has already begun by tens of thousands of volunteers to transcribe the information from GenealogyBank’s vast U.S. obituary collection to make it quickly searchable online. Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

About FamilySearch

FamilySearch International is the largest genealogy organization in the world. FamilySearch is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. To help in this great pursuit, FamilySearch and its predecessors have been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for over 100 years. Patrons may access FamilySearch services and resources free online at FamilySearch.org or by using over 4,600 family history centers in 132 countries, including the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.


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