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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Newspapers Break through Genealogy Brick Wall, Solving 100-Year Mystery

Louise A., of Longview, Washington, had a mystery on her hands. A dedicated genealogist, she had been tracing her family history and building her family tree—but had hit a brick wall. There was a 100-year-old mystery in her family history that she couldn’t solve in her genealogy research: what had ever happened to her long lost great-uncle, Fred Day?

Our Letter from Louise

Louise wrote to GenealogyBank describing her research frustration—and her exciting genealogy breakthrough.

As the beginning of her email explained:

A note to give you a BIG “thank you” for your service! I had searched off and on for eight years trying to solve the 100-year-old mystery in my family of a great uncle that disappeared while fishing along the Columbia River in Oregon, or so the story went. In all the searching in local and state archives, plus checking with records offices anywhere I could think of, the ONLY record I found was a certificate of marriage, to my great aunt in 1909.

Eight frustrating years of research, and no answers. The family story Louise heard as a child had always been vague, about some “fishing accident” involving her great-uncle Fred, but never any details.

How Newspapers Helped Crack the Case

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Then one day Louise turned to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, figuring that in a collection of more than 6,500 newspapers and over one billion records, there was sure to be something she could find out about her great-uncle. She found articles about a Fred Day, all right, but not the Fred Day who was her great-uncle. Then an idea hit her.

As Louise’s note explained:

The other day I happened to think to put in my great-aunt’s name, “Bertha Day.” Bingo! Here came article after article of the disappearance of “Frisco” Day in 1910!

I could barely believe my eyes! He did not disappear while fishing, but disappeared by driving drunk as a chauffeur, taking a woman to catch a ferry late at night, and ran off a trestle into the Columbia River slough!

Here’s the first news article Louise found, in which she began, at long last, to discover the truth of her relative’s disappearance. The old article begins with these shocking headlines:

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 12 June 1910

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 12 June 1910, page 3

The newspaper article’s opening three paragraphs lay out the story:

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 12 June 1910

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 12 June 1910, page 3

The headlines of the next news article speculate that Louise’s great-uncle Fred “Frisco” Day and a woman—Mabel Monto—were the victims of the car crash. Although the bodies had not yet been recovered, a Portland saloonkeeper, Tice Adkins, served the couple drinks and saw them get into the red car and drive off into the pouring rain.

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day, Oregonian newspaper article 12 June 1910

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 12 June 1910, page 1

The newspaper article supplies these details about the fatal accident that claimed Louise’s great-uncle’s life:

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day, Oregonian newspaper article 12 June 1910

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 12 June 1910, page 1

Great-Aunt Shares Her Story

That same newspaper had another article about Frisco Day’s accident.

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day and his wife Bertha's grief, Oregonian newspaper article 12 June 1910

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 12 June 1910, page 8

This historical newspaper article describes the grief of Louise’s great-aunt:

He [Frisco Day] was expected to return on Friday night at a late hour, and even before hearing of the accident, Mrs. Day had become much worried over the non-appearance of her husband. When she was informed that her husband might have been one of the party which met a tragic death she was prostrated with grief. She remained downtown with friends hoping against hope as clue after clue was followed out, each pointing more strongly than the other to her husband as one of the probable victims.

Mrs. Day is scarcely out of her teens and was married to Frisco Day in Portland less than six months ago. She said last night: “My husband never failed to telephone me when he was detained longer than usual and I felt sure something terrible had happened to him even before I heard of the accident on the bridge over the Oregon Slough. He never stayed away from me any longer than was absolutely necessary, and I am heartbroken to think he is lying out there beneath the water dead.”

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Missing Bodies & More

The next day’s newspaper reports that the car was recovered but no bodies found. However, police investigations confirmed that Day and Monto were the only two people in the car, and that both certainly drowned in the accident.

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day, Oregonian newspaper article 13 June 1910

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 13 June 1910, page 1

News of Frisco Day’s accident and the recovery of the auto were reported in a wide range of newspapers. For example, this Utah newspaper printed this story:

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper article 13 June 1910

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 13 June 1910, page 1

A Washington newspaper ran this short notice editorializing about Frisco Day’s accident:

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 14 June 1910

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 14 June 1910, page 6

Thanks to these old newspaper articles, Louse found out what happened to her great-uncle Frisco Day all those years ago, finally breaking through the brick wall that had her stumped in her genealogy research. But since his body had not been recovered, she still lacked closure—and kept searching through the newspaper archives to see if she could discover more. Then she found what she was looking for—this newspaper article, reporting that his body was finally recovered in 1913, nearly three years after he was killed in the accident.

article about the recovery of the body of Frisco Day, Oregonian newspaper article 15 February 1913

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 15 February 1913, page 4

The historical newspaper article reports:

The skeleton, which was identified by letters in his pockets, was taken to Portland.

As Louise wrote:

The papers had the final story of finding his body almost three years later, in 1913. What a scandal it must have been and my great-aunt had only been married to him for a few months. It was absolutely fascinating to read all these stories and finally solve this mystery! I know without these newspapers being available, I never would have known what happened to him and why he was never mentioned while my great-aunt was living.

Again, thank you for this service!

Genealogy Search Tips: We thank Louise for sharing her family story with us and our readers. Her genealogy brick wall breakthrough presents some helpful family history lessons.

  • Always include old newspapers in your family history searches. Louise spent years searching local and state archives, but government records don’t have all the information—sometimes, the only place you’ll find the true story of what actually happened to your ancestor is in the pages of an old newspaper.
  • Try searching on different variations of your ancestor’s name in the newspaper archives, including initials and nicknames. Also, try searching for the names of close relatives. In this case, her search for Fred Day came up empty—but if she had searched on his nickname “Frisco” she would have found him right away. The key to her research success was searching on the name of Fred’s wife, Bertha Day.
  • Don’t limit your initial ancestor search geographically—cast a wide net. Although Frisco Day’s accident on the Columbia River was a local Oregon/Washington story, newspapers as far away as California, Utah and Florida picked up the news story.
  • Be persistent. Louise had tried to unravel the mystery of her great-uncle’s disappearance for eight years before busting through her brick wall. What a good feeling—to finally fill in a missing piece of your family tree, a satisfying reward after much patient ancestor searching!

Congratulations to Louise on finding the story of her long lost relative!

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Our Ancestors’ Easter Parades & Spring Fashions

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 learn about our ancestors’ spring fashions—and the popular Easter parades they strolled in to show off those fine new clothes.

What are your memories of Easter? Egg hunts, baskets overflowing with chocolate bunnies, posing for a photograph with an oversized rabbit, or maybe waking up early for church services? My Easter holiday memories revolve around food (probably not a surprise there): dyeing eggs, eating ham and of course chocolate. Judging from my Twitter and Facebook friends it would seem that one shared fond memory of Easter, especially for the women, is the new clothes they would receive for Easter.

The Easter Wardrobe

Easter is one of the ways we mark spring, which in turn marks the changing of the wardrobe from those heavy, bulky winter outfits to much lighter and more colorful spring ensembles. Easter was also a good time to pick out a nice dress that included all of the accessories like gloves and hats, as discussed in this 1891 New Jersey newspaper article.

Easter Dress Parade, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 29 March 1891

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 29 March 1891, page 2

There’s no doubt that our ancestors could have perused the newspaper for ideas about what they wanted in a new Easter outfit. In this full-page article from a Minnesota newspaper, we see some examples of 1921 Easter fashion.

The New Easter Dresses, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 13 March 1921

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 13 March 1921, page 3

Here are more Easter historical fashions, from 1938. New Easter clothes weren’t just reserved for the women—children and even men used that time as a good excuse to invest in a new suit of clothing.

ad for Easter dresses, Omaha World Herald newspaper advertisement 15 April 1938

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 15 April 1938, page 2

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Everyone Loves an Easter Parade

Once you had your new Easter outfits, it was time to show them off—and what better way than a celebratory holiday parade? The tradition of Easter parades in the United States dates back to at least 1870, when the first New York City parade on Fifth Avenue began. This illustration from an 1892 New York newspaper article sums up the yearly New York event: “Beauty and Fashion Out in All the Glories of Fine Raiment to Celebrate the End of the Penitential Season.”

illustration of New York's Fifth Avenue Easter Parade, New York Herald newspaper article 18 April 1892

New York Herald (New York, New York), 18 April 1892, page 3

There’s no doubt that New York City’s Fifth Avenue parade was synonymous with an Easter parade. It is even immortalized in a 1933 Irving Berlin song and 1948 movie with the same title.

Easter Parade

In your Easter bonnet,

With all the frills upon it,

You’ll be the grandest lady

In the Easter Parade.

I’ll be all in clover,

And when they look you over,

I’ll be the proudest fella

In the Easter Parade.

On the avenue, Fifth Avenue,

The photographers will snap us,

And you’ll find that you’re

In the rotogravure.

Oh, I could write a sonnet,

About your Easter bonnet,

And of the girl I’m taking

To the Easter Parade.*

(The mention of a “rotogravure” in the above lyric refers to a printing process used by newspapers to print images.)

photo of the Fifth Avenue Easter Parade, New York City, 1900

Photo: Fifth Avenue Easter Parade, New York City, 1900. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Bureau of Public Roads.

The whole idea behind an Easter parade is to see and be seen. Other cities also hosted Easter parades both as official events as well as impromptu group walks. Consider this 1915 Pennsylvania newspaper article from Wilkes-Barre, recalling the previous day’s parade. It starts by noting:

Were you in the Easter parade yesterday? If not, why not? The day was almost ideal, cool and breezy, but you could have worn your winter outfit with discretion and joined right in the procession.

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The old newspaper article goes on to comment on the women’s and men’s outfits.

Streets Crowded by Easter Parade in Wilkes-Barre, Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader newspaper article 5 April 1915

Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), 5 April 1915, page 1

This description of the Atlantic City Easter Fashion Parade, from a 1922 Oregon newspaper article, is wonderful:

Under skies of azure blue with a bright sun beaming down 200,000 men, women and children decked out in all the glory of their spring finery strolled along Atlantic City’s famous board walk today…

This post-World War I parade even included a dignitary in the audience: General John J. Pershing, who led the American forces during the war.

200,000 in Parade of Easter Finery, Oregonian newspaper article 17 April 1922

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 17 April 1922, page 1

Share Your Easter Memories

Did your city have an Easter parade? Did you celebrate your new Easter outfits by strolling downtown for all to see? What are your Easter memories? Share them with us in the comments section below. Happy Easter to you and yours!

__________

* SongLyrics. Irving Berlin Always –Easter Parade Lyrics. Accessed 14 April 2014. http://www.songlyrics.com/irving-berlin-always/easter-parade-lyrics/.

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Researching the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 in the News

It was early on a Wednesday morning, with most of the residents of San Francisco peacefully sleeping, when disaster suddenly struck the City by the Bay. At 5:13 a.m. on 18 April 1906 an earthquake tremor for about 20 seconds was followed by a major 7.9 magnitude earthquake that shook the city for over 40 seconds, jolting terrified residents awake as buildings collapsed around them.

photo of the massive flames that engulfed San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake

Photo: massive flames engulf San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake. Credit: Harry Sterling Hooper; Wikipedia.

Earthquake Leaves 80% of San Francisco Destroyed

Worse still, the powerful quake twisted and broke gas and water lines across San Francisco. Huge fires erupted and burned continuously for three days. Without water, firefighters were helpless to stop the blazing inferno. In their desperation they resorted to dynamiting buildings to create firebreaks, but these explosions caused additional fires, causing more harm than good.

photo of the fires raging after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Register Star newspaper article 18 April 2005

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 18 April 2005, page 3

At the time of the disaster San Francisco was the greatest city on the West Coast America’s ninth largest with a population of 410,000, a bustling center of commerce and art. Three days after the earthquake of 1906 struck, 500 city blocks—over 25,000 buildings—had been smashed or burned; the earthquake and fire combined to destroy over 80 percent of the city.

Because so many bodies burned in the fierce, towering flames that leapt from building to building, the actual death toll will never be known, but it is estimated that more than 3,000 people died in the tragedy. Around 300,000 people, or nearly three out of every four residents, were left homeless after the smoke cleared. San Francisco would of course rebuild, but many beautiful buildings and civic treasures, and thousands of residents, were gone forever.

photo of San Francisco burning after the 1906 earthquake; view from the St. Francis Hotel

Photo: San Francisco burning after the 1906 earthquake, view from the St. Francis Hotel. Credit: Library of Congress.

News of the S.F. Earthquake Hits the Headlines

News of the earthquake flashed over the telegraph wires before the city’s telegraph buildings were destroyed, and made the front pages of newspapers everywhere.

article about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Cincinnati Post newspaper article 19 April 1906

Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, Ohio), 19 April 1906, page 1

This news report was published by a Rhode Island newspaper.

Earthquake Levels San Francisco, Evening Times newspaper article 18 April 1906

Evening Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island), 18 April 1906, page 1

As this historical newspaper article reports:

Shortly after daylight, while the residence portion of the city was slumbering and the streets were practically deserted save for those whose duties required their presence at the break of day, there came a rumbling that startled the sleepers from their beds and in a moment more the buildings were crumbling about their heads.

Pandemonium ensued. Half-clad men and women rushed from their houses, many of the latter dragging shrieking children by the arms. In many cases the refugees met death in the streets.

Earthquake Survivors Tell Their Personal Stories

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After some of the refugees had gotten safely out of San Francisco their stories started to appear in the press, providing many grim details of the death, destruction and panic caused by the massive earthquake and fire. This personal account of the earthquake was published by a North Carolina newspaper.

article about a survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 20 April 1906

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 20 April 1906, page 1

This first-person account provides the following details:

I returned to my room and got my clothing; then walked to the offices of the Western Union in my pajamas and bare feet to telegraph to my wife in Los Angeles. I found the telegraphers on duty, but all the wires were down. I sat down on the sidewalk, picked the broken glass out of the soles of my feet and put on my clothes. All this I suppose took 20 minutes. Within that time, below the Palace Hotel, buildings for more than three blocks were a mass of flames, which spread to other buildings.

People by the thousands were crowded around the ferry station. They clawed at the iron gates like so many maniacs. They sought to break the bars, and failing in that turned on each other. After a maddening delay, we got aboard the boat and crossed the bay.

Looters Pillage the City

This old news article reports that, sadly, some unscrupulous people took advantage of the earthquake victims, looting in the aftermath:

article about looters pillaging San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 20 April 1906

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 20 April 1906, page 3

This newspaper article provides these details:

The scene at the Mechanics Pavilion during the early hours and until noon, when the injured and dead were removed because of the threatened destruction of the building by fire, was one of indescribable sadness. Sisters, brothers, wives and sweethearts searched eagerly for some missing dear one. Thousands of persons hurriedly went through the building inspecting the cots on which the sufferers lay, in the hope that they would find some loved one that was missing.

The dead were placed in one portion of the building and the remainder was devoted to hospital purposes. After the fire forced the nurses and physicians to desert the building the eager crowds followed them to the Presidio and the children’s hospital, where they renewed their search for missing relatives.

Were your ancestors impacted by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fires? Along with news reports of the disaster, another way newspapers can help you research  your ancestors is the steady stream of casualty reports and lists that were published for weeks after the earthquake struck.

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Earthquake Casualties

This report, published in a Texas newspaper, tells of the fate of locomotive engineer William Burnip, 55, whose “remains were dug from the ruins of the house by his son.”

article about the casualties from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Beaumont Journal newspaper article 22 May 1906

Beaumont Journal (Beaumont, Texas), 22 May 1906, page 1

Earthquake Survivor Stories Continue to Run

Long after the disaster, newspapers published stories about the survivors. San Francisco long marked the earthquake’s anniversary with a dawn ceremony, to which all of the earthquake survivors were invited.

As the following newspaper article reports:

…the annual observance that culminates with a dawn wreath-laying at Lotta’s Fountain, a landmark that served as a meeting point for those trying to find families and friends after the disaster.

This article shows a picture of Herbert Hamrol, a survivor of the 1906 earthquake who was 102 years old in 2005.

article about the survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Register Star newspaper article 18 April 2005

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 18 April 2005, page 3

If your ancestors were alive during a great historical event, tragedy, or natural disaster, old newspapers such as GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives are a great way to learn more about the times your ancestors lived in—and possibly learn details about their actual personal experiences.

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Tips on How to Search for Your Ancestors’ Hometowns & Townships

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 guest blog post, Duncan shows how to find information about your ancestral hometown using GenealogyBank’s collections of historical documents and old newspapers, as well as a couple of other helpful websites.

GenealogyBank is not only a great resource to find information about your ancestors’ lives—you can learn about their hometowns as well.

For example, I am curious to see if I can find any information about a tiny township that my family is from, located in rural Indiana. This township has an unusual name that I have always found slightly amusing: Whiskey Run, Crawford County, Indiana.

How to Search for Hometowns with GenealogyBank

I begin my search by typing “Whiskey Run” in the last name field (see below). The quotation marks keep the words together as a phrase. GenealogyBank’s search engine allows you to enter names or words into the first and last name fields.

screenshot of a search on GenealogyBank for Whiskey Run, Indiana

This archive search brings back quite a few results: 714! I’m a bit surprised to see so many for such an unusual name. There are 30 results in the Historical Documents collection that I want to look through first.

screenshot of the search results page in GenealogyBank for a search on Whiskey Run, Indiana

How to Search the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

GenealogyBank’s Historical Documents collection largely consists of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, along with other government documents. The Serial Set was organized in 1817 as the official collection of reports and documents of the United States Congress. This large multivolume resource contains various congressional reports and documents from the beginning of the federal government right up to the present day. The collection is published in a “serial” fashion, hence its name. Containing a combination of legislative and executive publications, the Serial Set has tremendous value as a primary source for American history.

Normally, any mention of politics or Congress would be enough to put me to sleep, but these government documents have been some of my best finds. They contain all sorts of information relating to pensions, land disputes, military service, etc. I even found a firsthand account of a many-great grandfather’s experience in the Civil War. Where else, but a journal, could you find such outstanding information!

Let’s see what we can find in these 30 Historical Documents about Whiskey Run.

There are various pages relating to the functions of the township. A few are of particular interest. Here’s one: this page tells me the population of the various townships in Crawford County in 1880.

screenshot of a historical document from GenealogyBank showing the population of Whiskey Run, Indiana, in 1880

And here is another that tells me the public library had 350 books in 1886. Not bad for such a small township.

screenshot of a historical document from GenealogyBank showing the number of books in the town library of Whiskey Run, Indiana, in 1886

A quick tip for navigating through the pages of these historical documents: I can easily move forward or backward in the document by clicking on the page numbers along the left hand side of the page, as shown here:

screenshot of a historical document from GenealogyBank about Whiskey Run, Indiana

I can also move through the document sequentially by using the “Previous Page” and “Next Page’ tools along the top right side of the image, as shown here:

screenshot of some navigation tools from GenealogyBank

Searching the Newspaper Archives

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While I found some interesting tidbits about the township in these Historical Documents, I haven’t struck gold yet. I want to go back and search through the Newspaper Archives now. I click on “Search All Collections” in the upper left hand corner to return to the main search results page.

screenshot of navigation tools from a search results page in GenealogyBank

Now that I am back to the main results page, I can see that 680 of the 714 results for “Whiskey Run” were in the Newspaper Archives.

screenshot of the search results page in GenealogyBank for a search on Whiskey Run, Indiana

I click into the Newspaper Archives collection to narrow my results. After scrolling to the bottom of the search results page, I narrow my search by typing Indiana in the keyword field. (I did not select just the state of Indiana when I began my search because that would have restricted my results to newspapers published only in the state of Indiana.) Newspaper articles can get picked up by many newspapers and be published literally anywhere in the United States.

I want to find articles about Whiskey Run of Indiana—not articles about running to get some booze, or the similarly-named townships in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Entering the word Indiana in the Include Keywords field will search for articles that mention both Whiskey Run and Indiana. So now my newspaper archives search looks like this:

screenshot of a search in GenealogyBank for Whiskey Run and Indiana

Glancing through the new search results, I notice that there must have been a race horse in Indiana with the name Whiskey Run. To eliminate those articles from my search results, I add the term “race” in the Exclude Keywords field like this:

screenshot of a search in GenealogyBank for Whiskey Run and Indiana, excluding the word "race"

Now I have 20 articles left to explore about the township in my search results. I like to sort them with the oldest articles first so that I can read them chronologically. I arrange them by using the “Sort by” drop-down menu in the upper right hand corner of the results page, as shown here:

screenshot of a sorting feature provided by GenealogyBank for its search results

Now that I have everything sorted just the way I like, I can begin looking through the remaining results. Whiskey Run township was a sparsely populated township so it doesn’t take me long to look through these results. If the township were more popular there would have been many more articles written about it, in which case I could add, subtract, and adjust my keywords to get down to a reasonable number of results. I could also add a date range if I was only interested in a specific time period.

Once I pull up an article by clicking on its headline or image snippet, I can search for any word in the text. To change the word that is being highlighted in the article, I can type the new word into the find box and click on “Find,” like this:

screenshot of a find feature in GenealogyBank

My Ancestral Hometown Research Findings

I found a few news articles that list Whiskey Run as one of the strange place names in America. (I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks so.) I found articles talking about the inhabitants and happenings in Whiskey Run. But I really struck gold with this article about the history and name of the county and township.

article about Whiskey Run, Indiana, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 1 June 1924

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 1 June 1924, page 6

According to the old news article:

“The story goes that down on the stream one day an Indiana (sic) named ‘Whiskey’ killed a man named ‘Run’ who had a jug of whiskey with him. Then he ran away with Run’s whiskey. So the pioneers generally spoke of the stream as ‘Whiskey Run.’”

Since this newspaper article came out during the time of alcohol prohibition, I’m a little suspicious of this legend. A fast moving, low turbulence stream was called a “run” and several of my ancestors were arrested for making moonshine in the hills around the stream with the same name. I suspect that the township’s name probably had a different origin. But this makes for a fun story.

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I learned many important historical facts about the Indiana town from this long article. Of particular interest was that Liberty Township was carved out of Whiskey Run in 1842. This helps me to know that the branch of the family that appears in Liberty around this time may not have moved after all. The area they were living in simply got annexed into Liberty Township. Good to know!

The results of my search on GenealogyBank were a bit surprising since Whiskey Run is such a small, rural township, and I was glad to find so much good information. To flesh out my ancestral hometown research, I could use two additional resources.

FamilySearch

The first is the Family History Research Wiki from FamilySearch. This is a free resource that usually gives me great background information on an area and explains how to find and access relevant documents. Unfortunately, Whiskey Run is too small to appear in this resource, but I can still look up Crawford County. Here I can find where the land, tax, and vital records are stored. It has lots of valuable information for me as I research this area.

HistoryPin.com

Another great resource is a new find for me. This site, History Pin.com, is a place for users to submit their historical photos of an area. Nothing came up for Whiskey Run, but I did find some spectacular images from the nearby township of English and the town of Corydon.

GenealogyBank’s collection of newspapers and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set can be an excellent way to learn more about the area in which your ancestors lived, even if it was a tiny township in a rural area. Try an ancestral hometown search yourself and let us know what you find out!

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Assassination of President Lincoln: History of an Epic Tragedy

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post—to commemorate the fact that this week marks the 149th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln—Scott searches old newspapers to see how this traumatic news was reported to our ancestors in the nation’s newspapers.

The American Civil War effectively ended with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on 9 April 1865 (see 149th Anniversary: Civil War Ends with Lee’s Surrender to Grant). Although the last battle of the Civil War was not fought until 13 May 1865, it seemed in mid-April of 1865 that America’s long internal struggle was finally over.

Then, just five days after General Lee’s surrender, tragedy struck the evening of 14 April 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln was shot by Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth while watching the popular play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in the nation’s capital. The President died the next morning from his wounds at the nearby Petersen House located at 453 10th St., Washington, D.C.

a lithograph by Currier & Ives of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, 1865

Illustration: lithograph by Currier & Ives of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, 1865. Source: Library of Congress.

This traumatic news gripped the nation back then, and as genealogists and family historians it is interesting to think about how this news was reported to the public, and to wonder what its effects on our families and ancestors might have been.

To find the answers, I searched on Lincoln’s assassination in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.

Enter Last Name










Lincoln’s Assassination Hits the Newspaper Headlines

Right away, I found this article from a New York newspaper with these shocking headlines. The article provides a series of dispatches that the newspaper received, from the assassination attempt up to President Lincoln’s death at 7:22 a.m. on 15 April 1865.

Can you imagine how this tragedy must have gripped every one of our American ancestors?

Assassination of President Lincoln, Albany Evening Journal newspaper article 15 April 1865

Albany Evening Journal (Albany, New York), 15 April 1865, page 2

This Maine newspaper uses similar headlines and carries the latest dispatches from Washington regarding Lincoln’s last day alive, the assassination scene, and details of the assassination attempts on Secretary Seward and his son.

President Lincoln Assassinated, Daily Eastern Argus newspaper article 15 April 1865

Daily Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine), 15 April 1865, page 2

Newspapers in the South reflected the same shock and sadness, as you can see from this Virginia newspaper.

editorial about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 15 April 1865

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 15 April 1865, page 2

As you can imagine, the news of Lincoln’s assassination riveted the entire nation.

Lincoln’s Funeral Train

Then came the Lincoln funeral train, which passed through 444 communities in 7 states; many Americans went to see the train carrying the body of the President (and that of his young son, Willie) from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Illinois, to pay their final respects. After departing from Washington, D.C., Lincoln’s funeral train passed through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and finally Illinois.

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This Vermont newspaper article outlines the plans for the funeral train.

Transportation of President Lincoln's Remains to Springfield, North Star newspaper article 29 April 1865

North Star (Danville, Vermont), 29 April 1865, page 2

My Ancestors Watched as Lincoln’s Train Passed

At this time in our nation’s history, most of my ancestors who had immigrated to the United States were living in Cleveland, Ohio, and many of them may have seen the following newspaper article. With incredible detail, this article explains not only the order of the reception of the funeral train in Cleveland, but also the exact times the pilot engine (an advance train engine checking the tracks, etc.) and the cortege train would leave each of the 19 stations in the Cleveland area. It also instructs that every business be closed that day, flags were to be at half-mast, and “the bells of the city will be tolled during the moving of the procession.”

I clearly remember my grandmother relating stories to me of her parents and aunts and uncles all going to see Lincoln’s funeral train that day.

Reception of President Lincoln's Remains, Plain Dealer newspaper article 27 April 1865

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 April 1865, page 3

This article from a New York newspaper provides many details about the movements and stops of Lincoln’s funeral train.

article about President Abraham Lincoln's funeral train, New York Tribune newspaper article 1 May 1865

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 1 May 1865, page 5

More Interesting Facts about Lincoln

In my reading on Lincoln’s assassination I found two particularly interesting facts that I need to research more. The first is that the President’s funeral train actually stopped in the small town of Michigan City, Indiana, adjacent to where I live now.

The second interesting fact is that trains played a prominent role in the life of President Abraham Lincoln even before he was sworn in as president, as explained in this 1861 article from a Pennsylvania newspaper. It reports the story of an assassination plot targeting Lincoln as the president-elect made his way to the nation’s capital to be sworn in. Luckily the plot was uncovered and Lincoln, in disguise, was spirited past the conspirators in Baltimore, Maryland, and—as we all know—was successfully sworn in to become America’s 16th president.

article about a plot to assassinate President-Elect Abraham Lincoln, Washington Reporter newspaper article 28 February 1861

Washington Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania), 28 February 1861, page 2

Now, I am betting that is a great story all on its own for a future Blog article! Stay tuned!

Related Articles about Abraham Lincoln:

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Tracing ‘Titanic’ Genealogy: Survivor Passenger Lists & More

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 find out more about the tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic—and shows how helpful those articles can be with your own family history research.

The Titanic was fast sinking. After she went down the cries were horrible. This was at 2:20 a.m. by a man’s watch who stood next to me. At this time three other boats and ours kept together by being tied to each other. The cries continued to come over the water. Some of the women implored Officer Lowe, of No.14, to divide his passengers among the three other boats and go back to rescue. His first answer to those requests was, “You ought to be damn glad you are here and have got your own life.” —Affidavit of Titanic first-class passenger Daisy Minahan*

photo of the Titanic departing Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912

Photo: the Titanic departing Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912. Credit: F. G. O. Stuart; Wikipedia.

Quite often, in the frantic rush to get the story of a disaster out to the public, the initial news reports are not correct. Today we know only too well what happened on that frigidly cold night in April 1912 when the Titanic hit an iceberg and subsequently sank. At the beginning of its doomed voyage on April 10th there were 2,224 passengers and crew aboard the Titanic when it sailed from England, but in the earliest hours of April 15th there were only 700 survivors.**

Few details about the Titanic sinking existed for the newspapers to report on the morning of April 15th. In an era before more modern technologies, the wireless and its brief messages via Morse code were all that the newspapers had to go on. In this example from a South Carolina newspaper, the first paragraph reports that the Titanic sent out a distress call reporting they were sinking and “women were being put off in the life boats.”

Readers may notice that this news article reports the distress call Titanic sent out was “CQD,” not the more familiar “SOS.” CQD was a distress call used prior to SOS that indicated “All Stations Distress.” Although this newspaper article indicated CQD was sent out by the Titanic wireless operators, they actually used both distress signals in their radio pleas for help.***

Queen of Ocean (Titanic) May Be Sinking, State newspaper article 15 April 1912

State (Columbia, South Carolina), 15 April 1912, page 1

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Some of these very early newspaper reports about the sinking of the Titanic had few correct facts. In this example from a California newspaper, not only does the article report that all Titanic passengers are safe—it says that the “Disabled Ship Is Proceeding under Own Steam.”

All People on the Steamship Titanic Are Safe, Evening News newspaper article 15 April 1912

Evening News (San Jose, California), 15 April 1912, page 1

As time went on, first-hand accounts of Titanic survivors who were rescued by the steamship Carpathia began to appear in the newspapers. These published Titanic survivor stories were important in helping the public on both sides of the ocean better understand the tragedy. For example, in this article from a Pennsylvania newspaper, an unnamed Carpathia passenger tells of witnessing the Titanic lifeboats approach the Carpathia. Describing the survivors as they came aboard the rescue ship, this witness stated:

There were husbands without wives, wives without husbands, parents without children and children without parents. But there was no demonstration. No sobs, scarcely a spoken word. They seemed to be stunned.

Lifeboats Leave Titanic as the Ship's Band Plays, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 19 April 1912

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 19 April 1912, page 4

Little by little, lists of names of those rescued Titanic passengers and those who had perished were printed in the newspapers. This list from a North Dakota newspaper shows the third-class passengers rescued and taken aboard the Carpathia.

List of Third Class Passengers Taken from Titanic, Grand Forks Daily Herald newspaper article 18 April 1912

Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 18 April 1912, page 2

For those awaiting news of loved ones, these piecemeal Titanic survivor lists that appeared must have made the pain unbearable—unless your family member or friend’s name appeared on one of the early lists, in which case the relief was surely overwhelming.

List of Titanic Survivors Rescued from the Sea, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 18 April 1912

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 18 April 1912, page 2

Because these lists of names from the Titanic were printed as soon as they were acquired, mistakes were made and later corrections had to be published. In this Titanic victims list from the ship MacKay Bennett, names of shipwreck victims according to their “class” are accounted. Those deceased passengers whose names were previously misspelled are now corrected.

Titanic Dead List Revised, Belleville News Democrat newspaper article 24 April 1912

Belleville News Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 24 April 1912, page 2

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This California newspaper article names 27 bodies that were recovered from the icy waters of the North Atlantic. In some cases the names didn’t appear on the passenger list, so it was assumed they were the bodies of Titanic crew members. Obviously, identifying all of the shipwreck victims was not easy since many of them were “clad only in sleeping garments.”

Cable Ship Sends List of Bodies Identified (from the Titanic), San Diego Union newspaper article 23 April 1912

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 23 April 1912, page 1

What happened to the victims of the Titanic? The steamship MacKay Bennett, charted by the White Star Line, recovered over 300 bodies. Some bodies were placed in coffins and transported back to Halifax where they were either released to family for burial, or buried in three Titanic cemeteries in Halifax. Those that were too damaged or decomposed were reburied at sea.****

For a list of victims and their burial sites, including lists for each Titanic cemetery, see the Encyclopedia Titanica, http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-victims-list/.

While some may believe that the Titanic’s 700 survivors were lucky, not all went on to live happily ever after. Daisy Minahan, whose testimony was shared above, was admitted to a sanitarium for pneumonia shortly after the disaster and then died of tuberculosis seven years later at the young age of 40.*****

Eight former Titanic passengers committed suicide later in their lives. One of the Titanic crew, Violet Jessop, survived the Titanic sinking and then survived the sinking of her sister ship, the HMHS Britannic, four years later.

Thankfully, after the sinking of the Titanic inquiries in England and the United States resulted in additional passenger ship safety measures such as lifeboat drills and the inclusion of enough lifeboats for all passengers, iceberg monitoring, and changes to ship design. While too late for those who lost their lives on the once-deemed unsinkable ship, it did help prevent tragedies of the same magnitude.

Please share in the comments section any Titanic stories you’ve run across in your own family history research.

Related Titanic articles:

_____________________

* United States Inquiry Day 16. Affidavit of Daisy Minahan. Titanic Inquiry Project. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.titanicinquiry.org/USInq/AmInq16Minahan01.php.
** About RMS Titanic. Encyclopedia Titanica. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/.
*** Rescue at Sea. CQD and SOS. American Experience. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/rescue/peopleevents/pandeAMEX88.html.
**** Titanic victims buried at sea shown in unique photograph by Philip Hind. Encyclopedia Titanic. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-news/titanic-victims-buried-at-sea-shown-in-unique-photograph.html.
***** Miss Daisy E. Minahan. Encyclopedia Titanica. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/daisy-minahan.html.

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69th Anniversary: President Franklin D. Roosevelt Died in Office

Tomorrow marks the 69th anniversary of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt; on the afternoon of 12 April 1945 the nation’s 32nd president died of a cerebral hemorrhage. His life ended just as the great Allied victory in World War II that he had worked so hard for was in sight. In his remarkable and unprecedented four terms and 12 years in the White House, Roosevelt steered the United States through two of the greatest traumas in its history: the Great Depression and World War II.

By consolidating the power of the presidency and inserting the government into many aspects of the country’s civic and economic affairs, Roosevelt was both beloved and hated. Since the 1951 ratification of the Twenty-second Amendment limits U.S. presidents to only two terms, it is safe to say we will never see another presidency like his. Historians consistently rank Roosevelt as one of America’s greatest presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

The Day FDR Died

Although confined to a wheelchair ever since paralysis struck him in 1921, Roosevelt was a hearty, energetic man. The enormous strain of leading the nation during World War II took its toll on him, however, and his health seriously deteriorated in 1945. Despite this, his sudden death was unexpected. He died in the “Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he had gone for the gentle weather and therapeutic waters for a respite. He was sitting for a portrait when he complained of a “terrible headache,” fainted, and never regained consciousness. He was 63.

News of Roosevelt’s Death Hits the Headlines

Historical newspapers are a great resource for exploring your ancestors’ lives—and to get a glimpse into the times they lived in. Here is a collection of front-page headlines to show how newspapers broke the tragic news of Roosevelt’s death to America. (Note: all of the newspaper articles used to illustrate this Blog post come from GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.)

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Plain Dealer newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 13 April 1945, page 1

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front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Boston Herald newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dallas Morning News newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Greensboro Daily News newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Augusta Chronicle newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Daily Illinois State Journal newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 13 April 1945, page 1

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front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Advocate newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Daily Northwestern newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Daily Northwestern (Evanston, Illinois), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Marietta Journal newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Oregonian newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Repository newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Seattle Daily Times newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 13 April 1945, page 1

Discover more about FDR’s presidency and family life in GenealogyBank’s archives now: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/?lname=Roosevelt&fname=Franklin+D.

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How to Use Newspaper Lost & Found Ads for Genealogy Research

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how lost and found ads in old newspapers can turn up a surprising amount of information about your ancestors—and provide a glimpse into their lives that you won’t find in government records and vital statistics.

Lost anything lately? While in today’s world we have multiple options for asking strangers for help in recovering or returning property, our ancestors used newspaper lost and found ads.

These old newspaper advertisements can be a surprisingly rich resource for your family history searches—sometimes providing an ancestor’s full name, current address, and some details about their life. Some of the more unusual lost and found ads also add interest to your genealogy research.

What Went Missing? People, Pets, Possessions…

What can be discovered about your ancestry in a lost and found ad? Depending on the time period, these newspaper advertisements may notify a community about missing people such as a runaway slave—or even a missing husband, as I wrote about previously (see Missing Men: Lost Husband Ads in Newspapers for Genealogy). One would expect to see pleas for the return of jewelry or wallets, but classified ads can run the gamut from the valuable to the ordinary, from cash to umbrellas.

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The topic of what can be discovered in lost and found ads was addressed in this 1855 Virginia newspaper article. It remarks that:

Lost dogs and runaway apprentices, however, are the most frequent subjects of advertisements.

Curiosities of Advertising, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 15 October 1855

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 15 October 1855, page 4

Newspaper Ads for Lost Pets

Lost dogs are a popular subject of lost and found ads. What is listed in a lost and found column can change depending on the time period and the type of community the newspaper serves. Rural area advertisements may differ from that of more populated, urban places.

Take for instance this “Lost, Found, Strayed” column from a 1927 Virginia newspaper, where you can see a typical lost dog advertisement—but there is also one for a stray cow! Look for these advertisements to have all kinds of animals including lost dogs, cats, birds, horses, cows, pigs—basically all manner of livestock and pets.

Have You Seen My Glasses?

I also like that one of these lost and found ads proves that people don’t really change; as long as there have been reading glasses, people have been losing them.

newspaper lost and found ads, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper advertisements 18 October 1927

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 18 October 1927, page 16

Remember that a “lost” item might actually be a stolen item. If you know that an ancestor had an animal or valuable object taken, you may want to see if they placed an advertisement seeking its return.

Found It!

Found ads can be interesting as well. Consider these two similarly worded, deliberately vague ads from a 1919 Washington newspaper. In order to claim their property, the owner of the missing item was required to pay the cost of the advertisement.

newspaper lost and found ads, Morning Olympian newspaper advertisements 12 February 1919

Morning Olympian (Olympia, Washington), 12 February 1919, page 4

Unfortunate Losses

Some of the lost and found notices in newspapers are heartbreaking. You can sympathize with the despair of a loss such as the one reported in this ad, placed by a widow. Imagine the heartbreak of losing a great amount of much-needed money and realizing that it was unlikely to ever be returned! The address and phone number of this woman is listed, making it easier for descendants to identify her.

newspaper lost and found ads, San Diego Union newspaper advertisements 22 September 1930

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 22 September 1930, page 14

Lost Item Lists from Railway Cars

While we assume a single individual is responsible for placing a lost or found newspaper ad, it makes sense that occasionally a public transportation company placed an advertisement listing items found. This advertisement lists everything found on the cars of the United Railways and Electric Company.

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Reading this lost and found ad, one gets a sense of the diversity of items brought onto these railway cars. This type of ad serves a social history function, giving us a glimpse at life in a different time. This particular advertisement lists a wide range of items—from what you would expect someone losing on public transportation (like an umbrella or a rain coat) to items you wouldn’t expect (a hatchet and a saucepan).

newspaper lost and found ad, Baltimore American newspaper advertisement 5 August 1911

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 5 August 1911, page 1

Lost and Found Ads Are a Valuable Genealogy Resource

Searching newspaper lost and found ads can provide important information for your family history. Like some of the other resources that we rely on for our genealogy research today, these ads won’t be a resource for future genealogists since they’re no longer in use. When I recently searched my local newspapers for the lost and found column, they were nonexistent. Luckily for us, they are abundant in old newspapers like the online collection of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives—and lost and found ads are just one example of the many types of newspaper classifieds that can aid our search for our family’s story.

Newspaper Search Tip: Initials matter! In my searches through lost and found ads I saw names, addresses, and phone numbers. However, because an ancestor may have had to be brief when placing an ad, depending on what they had to pay per word or letter, it’s likely they may have abbreviated as much as possible—including their name. That’s why searching for your ancestor by different name variations is so important, including their initials.

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149th Anniversary: Civil War Ends with Lee’s Surrender to Grant

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to learn more about Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant that effectively ended the American Civil War.

All of us have studied it, memorized the date, and (if we’ve been lucky) visited the place where it occurred: Appomattox Court House, Virginia, the site of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General U. S. Grant, effectively ending the United States Civil War on 9 April 1865.

Although General Lee’s surrender was 149 years ago now, that momentous historical event still seems fresh in the public’s mind—and it must have been incredible news to our American ancestors all those many years ago.

I decided to take a look in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives to see how the news of General Lee’s surrender was announced via the nation’s newspapers, and learn what has happened to Appomattox Court House since that fateful day.

Just six days before the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, surrendered, this Richmond newspaper was still giving its readers news about the war.

Vigorous Assault upon the Enemy's Works near the Appomattox, Richmond Whig newspaper article 28 March 1865

Richmond Whig (Richmond, Virginia), 28 March 1865, page 1

Just days before Generals Lee and Grant were to meet at Appomattox, the Battle of Five Forks was raging as reported in this Albany newspaper. One of my ancestors, Captain James Ham of the Pennsylvania Cavalry, was mortally wounded in this action and died five days before Lee’s surrender. I wonder how his family received the news about the war’s end, coming so soon after they had received word of his death.

article about the Civil War's Battle of Five Forks, Albany Evening Journal newspaper article 3 April 1865

Albany Evening Journal (Albany, New York), 3 April 1865, page 2

After Lee surrendered on April 9, it didn’t take long for word to spread across America, as you can imagine.

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The headlines of this Boston newspaper article say it all.

Surrender of General Lee and His Entire Army, Boston Herald newspaper article 10 April 1865

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 April 1865, page 2

That same day and in the same city, readers of this Boston newspaper saw this article, including this paragraph:

The joy of our population this morning, as the intelligence of the surrender of Lee’s army spread, hardly knew bounds. Men embraced each other with the most extravagant demonstrations of feeling; staid, quiet citizens forgot their equanimity for the moment and found themselves cheering in the streets for Gen. Grant and the Potomac Army; workmen in shore gave voice to a joyous outburst of patriotic exultation, and everywhere the same accordant strains of heartfelt rejoicing were heard.

article about Civil War General Lee surrendering to General Grant, Boston Evening Transcript newspaper article 10 April 1865

Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 April 1865, page 2

Readers of a New York newspaper saw these headlines.

Surrender of Lee and His Whole Army to Grant, New York Herald newspaper article 10 April 1865

New York Herald (New York, New York), 10 April 1865, page 1

On the same day and across the country in California, this San Francisco newspaper reported the important news.

article about Civil War General Lee surrendering to General Grant, San Francisco Bulletin newspaper article 10 April 1865

San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 10 April 1865, page 2

Twenty years later, as you can see in this 1885 Aberdeen newspaper article “The Interesting Story of Appomattox Retold,” the details of Lee’s surrender to Grant were still being reported. I remember as a young student reading these types of Civil War stories and realizing for the first time that Appomattox Court House was the name of a town, and that Lee and Grant had actually met in the home of the Wilmer McLean family.

Grant and Lee--The Interesting Story of Appomattox Retold, Aberdeen Weekly News newspaper article 17 April 1885

Aberdeen Weekly News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 17 April 1885, page 3

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The fortunes of Appomattox Court House waned after the war, as you can read in this 1884 New York newspaper article. It reports that the town was almost deserted and the McLean home had been:

…taken down, brick by brick, for removal to the World’s Fair, but for some reason the plan was not carried out, and the bricks and timbers are still stored in the vacant houses in the neighborhood.

article about Appomattox Court House, Virginia, New York Tribune newspaper article 10 June 1894

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 10 June 1894, page 16

Luckily for all of us, as you can read in this 1903 Dallas newspaper article, bills had been introduced in Congress to provide funding to buy and save the historic McLean house in Appomattox before it was sold to a Chicagoan who planned to move it there and use it as his residence.

McLean House at Appomattox, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 22 February 1903

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 22 February 1903, page 23

And of course as a genealogist, it would be hard not to note the remarkable role played by one of the Appomattox surrender’s lesser known but critically important players, Ely Parker. You might not recognize the name so I’d recommend you take a look at this wonderful obituary for this full-blooded Seneca Indian who actually penned Grant’s terms for surrender. This obituary appeared in an 1895 Cleveland newspaper.

obituary for Ely Samuel Parker, Plain Dealer newspaper article 1 September 1895

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 1 September 1895, page 1

Today Appomattox Court House, Virginia, and the McLean House are part of our National Parks system and well worth a visit.

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