Betty Crocker: America’s Favorite Fictional Cook

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn more about an icon in American cooking: Betty Crocker.

Betty Crocker is a household name that almost everyone in America is familiar with. But do you know who the real Betty Crocker actually is? While her name is attached to a very “real” image of a woman, she – like many other famous food icons – is not a real person, but instead a marketing tool used to sell food products and recipes, and to instill trust in her brand.

How did Betty Crocker come to be such a famous brand? Well, according to author Susan Marks’ book Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food, it started with letters sent to the Gold Medal Flour Company. Homemakers would write cooking questions to the company and they in turn would send replies they gathered from their Home Service staff. While the advertising department, staffed by men, sent out the answers to these recipe-related questions, the department’s manager didn’t think women would take cooking advice in a letter signed by a man. Because they didn’t necessarily need a woman to fill a new job, they invented a fictional female character. They provided her with a name, asked current female staff to participate in a contest for the best signature, and Betty Crocker was “born.”*

So what year was Betty born? It might surprise you that she actually predates the 1950s, the decade that most people associate her with. She first appeared in a much earlier decade, the 1920s.

So you’re most likely familiar with products that carry the Betty Crocker image and red spoon logo, but how has “she” influenced American cooking over the years? Aside from answering consumers’ letters, she has been the star of her own radio show, shared recipes, and published numerous cookbooks during her long tenure.

Betty Crocker on the Radio

In the days prior to television – and with the advent of cable channels dedicated to food matters way in the future – Betty Crocker hit the air waves. She brought her cooking advice to the masses by presenting programs on the radio. The actress who portrayed Betty not only provided help to her listeners, she used the advice of older homemakers to pass along cooking tips to her audience.

According to this 1929 newspaper article, the “recipe exchange” was a feature of the Betty Crocker radio broadcast that included readers’ tips and recipes.

article about the Betty Crocker radio show, Riverside Daily Press newspaper article 13 February 1929

Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, California), 13 February 1929, page 10

She not only presented a cooking show, but she conducted a “cooking school” on air. Listeners could “graduate” via Betty Crocker’s radio show. Those who actively participated in all eight cooking lessons would receive a Gold Medal Radio Cooking School diploma at its conclusion. According to this 1926 newspaper article, the “cooking school had many thousands of members all over the United States, ranging in age from 14 to 90 years.” Women could enroll in the school for no fee. Their graduation was a matter of preparing and reporting on recipes. One of the graduates, an 80-year-old woman, had written to Betty Crocker “…and pleaded that she please be allowed to graduate as she had tried so hard and she had never been graduated from anything before in her life.” Like the other culinary students, her diploma was announced over the radio waves.

article about the Betty Crocker cooking school, Evening Star newspaper article 24 January 1926

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 24 January 1926, page 33

Betty Crocker Recipes

Newspapers are a source for all kinds of recipes: those written by newspaper staff, submitted by readers, and found in advertisements. Betty Crocker recipes are no exception and can be found throughout the decades in historical newspapers.

Women who listened to Betty Crocker’s radio show were able to add many new recipes to their repertoire. This one from 1928 is for Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies. To show how fool-proof the dessert recipe was, the text exclaims: “Of 278 women trying the recipe, not a single one failed her first attempt!”

Betty Crocker ad for Gold Medal Flour, Evening Star newspaper advertisement 15 November 1928

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 15 November 1928, page 31

Betty Crocker recipe for Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies, Evening Star newspaper article 15 November 1928

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 15 November 1928, page 31

During World War II various foods, including meat, were rationed. Betty Crocker recipes addressed those on the home front who needed to feed their families with reduced quantities or food substitutions. In this 1944 advertisement featuring a recipe for Yorkshire Pudding (or “Pig in a Poke”), the text of the advertisement for Gold Medal Flour states: “Betty Crocker offers this ‘meat-extender’ recipe to show you one way Gold Medal ‘Kitchen-tested’ Enriched Flour can add nourishment to your wartime meals.” An image on the lower left reminds consumers that food was integral to the war effort, stating “Food Fights for Freedom” and reminding them to “produce and conserve/share and play square.”

Betty Crocker recipe for "Pig in a Poke," Oregonian newspaper article 30 January 1944

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 30 January 1944, page 41

Betty Crocker recipes were meant to help sell various food-related products. A great marketing tool, they demonstrated how to take Betty Crocker cake mixes and turn the finished product into something special for your family to feast on. Consider this 1960 advertisement that utilizes Country Kitchen cake mixes and transforms them into desserts like Spumoni Cake, Hawaiian Velvet Cake, and Colonial Butter-Nut Cake.

Betty Crocker cake recipes, Oregonian newspaper article 11 September 1960

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 11 September 1960, page 130

Betty Crocker Cookbooks

Many family historians most likely either have a Betty Crocker cookbook or remember one in their family’s collection.

photo of a Betty Crocker cookbook

Photo: Betty Crocker cookbook, from the author’s collection. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.

Today we can download the Betty Crocker Cookbook app, but our elders were able to peruse Betty’s recipes in her cookbooks, such as Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book which was first published in 1950.

ad for a Betty Crocker cookbook, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 29 November 1950

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 29 November 1950, page 3

One of the benefits of this cookbook is the fact that it is published as a 3-ring binder which allows its owner to add additional recipes. This 1950 review of the cookbook exclaims: “One of its chief values is that it is looseleaf, enabling the housewife to add clippings from other sources.” The review goes on to explain that the photos and illustrations are helpful aids in preparing the recipes.

review of a Betty Crocker cookbook, Greensboro Record newspaper article 13 September 1950

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 13 September 1950, page 19

The Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book now referred to as the Betty Crocker Cookbook, is one of 250 cookbooks since 1950 that sport the Betty Crocker name.**

What are your memories of cooking with Betty Crocker? Do you own the Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book? Has your grandma passed down her Betty Crocker diploma? Share your memories in the comments below.

—————————

* Marks, Susan. Finding Betty Crocker: The secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food. Minneapolis, MC: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. Page 10-11.

** “The Story of Betty Crocker.” http://www.bettycrocker.com/menus-holidays-parties/mhplibrary/parties-and-get-togethers/vintage-betty/the-story-of-betty-crocker. Accessed 16 June 2015.

Share Your Recipes with Us!

GenealogyBank has a shared group Pinterest board where you can share your old family recipes. If you have a family recipe you’d like to share, send us a Pinterest group board request and you can pin your recipe on our board to share with the community.



Related Food & Cooking Articles and Resources:

True Ghost Stories from America’s Most Haunted Old Cemeteries?

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article – just in time for Halloween – Gena searches old newspapers to uncover eerie stories of ghostly sightings and hauntings at some of America’s oldest cemeteries.

In my work as a genealogist, I’ve been to cemeteries all over America. I’ve even written a book (Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra) about cemeteries in the Eastern Sierra mountain range of California. And because I’ve been to so many cemeteries I’ve also had diverse experiences on these visits – from a tender scene of a deer family grazing on the morning grass, to an opened grave and its skeleton inhabitant. But I have, luckily, never seen a ghost during my various cemetery trips.

illustration of a ghost in a cemetery

Source: Ghost Horror Collections

However, there have been plenty of ghost sightings by others who visit America’s cemeteries, and some of these cemeteries are rather notorious for their paranormal activity. Have you had a supernatural experience of your own at any of these famous haunted cemeteries?

New Orleans Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau

One of the more infamous New Orleans citizens was Marie Laveau. While today her name is synonymous with voodoo, it’s obvious from her obituary that she was a well-regarded citizen of her community – although there were those at the time who feared her strange priestess powers.

Her obituary reports:

On Wednesday the invalid sank into the sleep which knows no waking. Those whom she had befriended crowded into the little room where she was exposed, in order to obtain a last look at the features, smiling even in death, of her who had been so kind to them.

Known as the “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,” Laveau willingly administered to the sick.

According to her obituary:

Besides being very beautiful Marie was also very wise. She was skillful in the practice of medicine and was acquainted with the valuable healing qualities of indigenous herbs. She was very successful as a nurse, wonderful stories being told of her exploits at the sick bed. In yellow fever and cholera epidemics she was always called upon to nurse the sick, and always responded promptly.

obituary for Marie Laveau, Times-Picayune newspaper article 17 June 1881

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 17 June 1881, page 8

Marie’s obituary concludes:

All in all Marie Laveau was a most wonderful woman. Doing good for the sake of doing good alone, she obtained no reward, oft times meeting with prejudice and loathing, she was nevertheless contented and did not flag in her work…Marie Laveau’s name will not be forgotten in New Orleans.

Not only has her name not been forgotten, some people insist her healing powers remain active. Generations of visitors to her tomb in Saint Louis Cemetery have marked an “X” on its walls and made a wish for her to grant, returning with an offering after the wish was supposedly granted. Yes, some have reported feeling a presence at her tomb or a hand on their shoulder – this “ghost story” is about what Marie does for others from the beyond.

article about Marie Laveau's tomb in New Orleans, Advocate newspaper article10 August 1976

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 10 August 1976, page 28

However, unlike most ghost tales involving America’s old cemeteries, this one has had an unfortunate consequence. Years of those “X” marks have led to damage to her family tomb and the resulting closure of the cemetery to the public (to visit the cemetery now you must have family buried there or be part of a guided tour).

It’s now134 years later, and the last sentence of Marie’s obituary continues to ring true: “Marie Laveau’s name will not be forgotten in New Orleans.”

Celebrity Ghost Sightings

Even celebrities have been known to haunt America’s old cemeteries. Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Southern California is known for its celebrity burials. Some of the famous who reside there include Douglas Fairbanks, Jayne Mansfield, and Rudolph Valentino. As with any old cemetery it also has its share of ghost stories, including one non-resident ghost that comes to visit.

Marion Davies, film actress and longtime mistress of newspaperman William Randolph Hearst, died in September 1961 after succumbing to cancer. She was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in a family mausoleum that would later include her “niece” Patricia Lake.

obituary for Marion Davies, Springfield Union newspaper article 23 September 1961

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 23 September 1961, page 1

Hearst died almost 10 year prior to Davies and was buried in Northern California at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma. Still married when he died, Hearst had openly lived with Davies and is rumored to have fathered a child with her – Patricia Lake – who was raised by Davies’ sister. Davies played hostess and helped Hearst with financial matters, even providing him a million dollar check when his business was in trouble. All this happened while he was married to his wife Millicent, who escaped the day-to-day reality of the scandal by moving to New York to conduct her philanthropic work – out of sight of her husband’s affair.

obituary for William Randolph Hearst, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 15 August 1951

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 15 August 1951, page 1

With Hearst and Davies long gone, you’d think their story had come to an end — but not so. Some startled visitors to Hollywood Forever Cemetery have reported seeing the ghost of William Randolph Hearst haunting the gravesites of the mistress he loved and the daughter he could never publicly acknowledge.

Nevermore, Nevermore

It probably comes as no surprise that the final resting place for writer Edgar Allen Poe is haunted.

obituary for Edgar Allen Poe, Enquirer newspaper article 16 October 1849

Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 16 October 1849, page 4

Most people are familiar with the story of the mysterious visitor, the “Poe Toaster,” who for 75 years – starting in 1934 – visited Poe’s grave in the middle of the night on January 19 (the author’s birthday), drank a toast to him, and left three roses and the rest of the bottle of cognac.

article about the mysterious "Poe Toaster" who secretly visited Edgar Allan Poe's tomb for 75 years, Register Star newspaper article 23 January 2004

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 23 January 2004, page 25

Poe’s mysterious visitor made his last appearance in 2009, the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth. He – or it – was never identified, and perhaps never will be.

And while some have claimed that Poe’s ghost walks the cemetery catacombs, there are other ghostly residents that make Westminster Hall and Burying Ground (established in 1787) repeatedly named as one of the most haunted cemeteries.

The “Screaming Skull of Cambridge,” a head belonging to a murdered minister, is just one of the ghostly residents of this old Baltimore, Maryland, cemetery reported by visitors. The ghost story goes that his corpse would scream day and night, so his mouth was gagged in an effort to muffle the ongoing screams. When that didn’t work his body was decapitated and his skull was buried in a block of cement. Other reported ghosts roaming the old cemetery grounds include a teenage girl that can be seen praying by her grave, and a woman who spent time in an asylum who follows visitors around the cemetery. She is quite recognizable since she was buried in a strait jacket.

Ghosts in the Cemetery

Do you live by a haunted cemetery? Have you ever seen a ghost? If you want to research the cemetery you’ve visited, or learn more about the rumors you heard about a ghost sighting there, search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

There’s no doubt that genealogists spend a lot of time walking through old cemeteries and are the most likely folks to see the supernatural. Whether you enjoy seeking out haunted experiences or would rather stay safely away from such places, have a Happy Halloween!

Related Cemetery Articles:

Genealogy Puzzle: What Do These 3 Obituaries Have in Common?

What do the obituaries of Daniel Coit Gilman (1831-1908) of Norwich, Connecticut; Richard Y. Cook (1845-1917) of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania; and James J. Lovitt (1838-1892) have in common?

montage of the obituaries of Daniel Coit Gilman, Richard Y. Cook and James J. Lovitt

Source: GenealogyBank.com

Answer: they all described their immigrant ancestors.

It is common for an obituary to name the spouse, children, parents and siblings of the deceased – but to get details about their more distant ancestral lineage is a real bonus.

Genealogy Tip: Be sure to check the obituaries of each of the relatives of the ancestor you are researching. While one might be brief, the obituary of another immediate relative just might give you family history information taking you back to the family’s immigrant ancestors.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from recent and 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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Nebraska Archives: 42 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

A land of vast prairies, Nebraska was admitted into the Union as the nation’s 37th state on 1 March 1867. The 16th largest state in the country, Nebraska is the 37th most populous.

photo of Nebraska homesteaders, c. 1888

Photo: Nebraska homesteaders, c. 1888. Credit: Nebraska State Historical Society; U.S. Department of Agriculture; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your ancestry from Nebraska, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online NE newspaper archives: 42 titles to help you search your family history in the “Cornhusker State,” providing coverage from 1854 to Today. There are more than 76.6 million articles and records in our online Nebraska newspaper archives!

Dig deep into our online archives and search for historical and recent obituaries and other news articles about your Nebraska ancestors in these NE newspapers. Our Nebraska newspapers are divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries (obituaries only).

Search Nebraska Newspaper Archives (1854 – 1983)

Search Nebraska Recent Obituaries (1996 – Current)

illustration: state flag of Nebraska

Illustration: state flag of Nebraska. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Here is a list of online Nebraska newspapers in the historical archives. Each newspaper title in this list is an active link that will take you directly to that paper’s search page, where you can begin searching for your ancestors by surnames, dates, keywords and more. The NE newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

Did you know?

Our historical NE newspaper collection contains the Omaha Arrow which was the very first newspaper ever published in Omaha – back in 1854, when the Territory of Nebraska was first incorporated. Our NE archives also contain many old African American newspapers – for example, the Afro-American Sentinel was started by an ex-slave. Learn more at Wikipedia (see Print section).

City Title Date Range* Collection
Ashland Ashland Gazette 02/03/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Beatrice Beatrice Daily Sun 06/10/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bellevue Bellevue Leader 02/27/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bloomington Franklin County Guard 08/30/1872 – 08/13/1874 Newspaper Archives
Broken Bow Custer County Chief 10/04/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chadron Chadron Record 04/12/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Columbus Columbus Telegram 09/19/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
David City David City Banner-Press 09/13/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fremont Fremont Tribune 08/16/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Gering Gering Courier 11/06/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Grand Island Grand Island Independent 12/01/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries
Gretna Gretna Breeze 05/13/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hemingford Hemingford Ledger 11/07/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kearney Kearney Hub 05/30/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lexington Lexington Clipper-Herald 06/23/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lincoln Lincoln Journal Star 06/01/1996 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lincoln Lincoln Journal Star: Web Edition Articles 11/04/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Nebraska City Nebraska City News-Press 02/09/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Nebraska City Daily Nebraska Press 08/06/1868 – 12/28/1876 Newspaper Archives
North Platte North Platte Telegraph 05/03/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Omaha Progress 03/22/1890 – 03/07/1891 Newspaper Archives
Omaha Florence Courier 09/23/1858 – 10/14/1858 Newspaper Archives
Omaha Omaha World-Herald 08/24/1885 – 12/31/1983 Newspaper Archives
Omaha Enterprise 08/10/1895 – 07/03/1897 Newspaper Archives
Omaha Omaha World-Herald 09/04/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Omaha Omaha Morning Bee-News 09/09/1935 – 09/09/1935 Newspaper Archives
Omaha Danske Pioneer 10/17/1895 – 10/10/1901 Newspaper Archives
Omaha Omaha Star 01/07/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Omaha Afro-American Sentinel 02/22/1896 – 03/25/1899 Newspaper Archives
Omaha Omaha Herald 10/30/1878 – 06/30/1889 Newspaper Archives
Omaha Tagliche Omaha Tribune 06/25/1937 – 06/25/1937 Newspaper Archives
Omaha Omaha Arrow 08/04/1854 – 10/20/1854 Newspaper Archives
Papillion Suburban Newspapers 06/29/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Papillion Papillion Times 01/27/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Plattsmouth Plattsmouth Journal 05/02/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ralston Ralston Recorder 05/06/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Schuyler Schuyler Sun 10/20/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Scottsbluff Star-Herald 04/20/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Syracuse Syracuse Journal-Democrat 03/06/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wahoo Wahoo Newspaper 02/01/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Waverly Waverly News 04/21/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
York York News-Times 03/08/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries

*Date Ranges may have selected coverage unavailable.

You can either print or create a PDF version of this Blog post by simply clicking on the green “Print/PDF” button below. The PDF version makes it easy to save this post onto your desktop or portable device for quick reference – all the Nebraska newspaper links will be live.

Related Resource:

Is That My Dad? Newspapers Solve an Old Photo Mystery

Like many of you, I am actively on Facebook. I particularly like a group that posts items from the history of Springdale, Connecticut. Springdale is a section of Stamford, Connecticut; I lived and worked there for many years.

Last month a reader posted this old school photo from a play.

photo of a Springdale School play from 1936

Source: Facebook

Hmm…according to the posting, this old photo of a Springdale School play was from 1936.
I needed to look closely at this – my Dad could possibly be in this photo.

That looked like it might be him in the third row.

photo of William Kemp

Source: Facebook

So – I reached out to the extended Facebook network for their collective opinions. I posted other photos of my Dad from that time period and asked: Was it him?

Some thought yes – some thought it could be, but said the hair was too dark.

I continued to work back through the many postings on this Springdale page in Facebook – and then I found this old newspaper clipping listing the names of the pupils in the play.

an article about a Springdale School play, Stamford Advocate newspaper article May 1936

Stamford Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), May 1936

This old newspaper article described a Springdale School play in May 1936. The time was right. There was my Dad’s name – misspelled – but there it was.

Hmm…and the newspaper article described a “Sunbonnet Chorus” and the “Overall Boys’ Chorus.” That accurately described the way these students were dressed.

So – could this old newspaper article be confirmation that that was my Dad in the old Facebook photo? Did the Springdale School present the Otis Carrington play Polished Pebbles every year, – or was 1936 the first and only time it was performed?

Then yesterday another old newspaper clipping was posted to Facebook.

Here was the proof.
It was my Dad in the newspaper photo – cowboy hat, dungarees and all.

photo of the pupils in a Springdale School play, Stamford Advocate newspaper article May 1936

Source: Facebook, Stamford Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), May 1936

Thanks to these old newspaper clippings I could confirm that was him, as well as the names of dozens of other students that were in the school play.

My tough old Dad – World War II hero and all – at age 13 was a star in a school play!

Great story.
Great photo of my father.

And now our family has another photo and story for our family history – and we only have it because it was preserved in the pages of old newspapers.

Dig in and find your old family stories preserved in old newspaper collections, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

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Civil War Genealogy: Old Letters in Newspapers & Research Resources

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary expands on her earlier article about Civil War letters published in newspapers by sharing some additional Civil War research resources and tips.

A recent GenealogyBank Blog article of mine discussed personal communications of the Civil War period (see: Civil War Newspaper Research: Personal Notices & Letters). Desperate families crossed enemy lines, sent letters via flags of truce, or – more safely – exchanged messages via newspapers, especially when a loved one had become a prisoner of war.

The importance of these Civil War letters published in newspapers should not be discounted, because in many cases they are the only record of a person’s experience during the war, if not their military involvement.

photo of a group of Union soldiers of Company G, 71st New York Volunteers, 1861

Photo: group of Union soldiers of Company G, 71st New York Volunteers, 1861. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Along with those old newspaper letters, there are other Civil War resources to help genealogists with their family history research. Here are some additional considerations for searching Civil War records.

Searching for Civil War Soldiers

When searching for Civil War records, the first stop for many is the National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors Database.

Many early American military records are to be found in this database. This is a wonderful resource – but as with all genealogical military databases, it’s nearly impossible for it to be complete. During periods of upheaval, many records go astray or were lost for many reasons.

What Happened to Lucien Wheatly?

One Civil War soldier I could not locate in the Soldiers and Sailors Database is Lucien Wheatly of the Sixth Regiment Cavalry.

A letter in the Richmond Enquirer reported that nothing had been heard from him since 17 December 1863. The writer, who was not fully identified, reported that Wheatly was a prisoner of war at a prison called “Scott’s Factory,” but thought he might have been sent away.

missing person ad for Union soldier Lucien Wheatly, Richmond Enquirer newspaper advertisement 30 May 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 30 May 1864, page 4

This is an extremely important citation, because it pinpoints the soldier’s last known location. However, scant information is available on this prison. The website Civil War Richmond states it existed from 1862 to 1864 and that its location has never been determined.

Whenever you cannot locate a historical place, search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. I did an archives search, and found that there are only a few clues – but this one is important: Scott’s Factory was reportedly four or five miles from Smithfield.

article about a Civil War skirmish near Smithfield, Virginia, Richmond Enquirer newspaper article 3 February 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 3 February 1864, page 3

By triangulating the references in the old newspaper article (Chuckatuck Creek, Cherry Grove & Smithfield), a diligent researcher could possibly solve the prison’s location mystery, or at least narrow the possibilities. Perhaps someone more proficient in Virginia geography could use these clues to find Scott’s Factory. Google Maps shows Chuckatuck Creek to be about 12 miles south of Smithfield, and since the Union gunboat was to “go around and meet the Yankees at Cherry Grove,” perhaps one should follow the water routes.

Follow-up Searches for Lucien Wheatly

Whenever you can’t find an ancestor you’re researching, always perform a follow-up search using alternative dates. It’s not clear if there was more than one Lucien Wheatly, but I did locate the name twice in GenealogyBank’s collections, and also in several Web references.

  • Sanitary Inspector referenced in the 1890 Congressional Directory. Lived at 921 G Street N.W. (see Serial Set Vol. No.2819; 3 December 1890, Report: S.Misc.Doc. 9)
  • Cashier at an Illinois bank in 1892 (see Daily Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois), 26 May 1892, page 6)
  • Sales Representative from Chicago in 1911 (see The Thomas Edison Papers at Rutgers)

Follow the Letter Reprints

When a letter was published in old newspapers, there was often a reference to “please copy” elsewhere. This is a good clue that the subject of the letter had connections to the place indicated. Note that the letter concerning Lucien Wheatly shown above concluded:

Any one knowing his [Wheatly’s] whereabouts will confer a great favor on his friends by addressing, by personal in the Richmond Enquirer, J. & B. D., Daily News office.

As noted in that missing person ad from 1864, the Southern newspaper Richmond Enquirer and the Northern newspaper New York Daily News often exchanged reports. That exchange enabled soldiers’ families in both the South and the North to place ads that would be seen in the other region.

This exchange is explicitly referred to in this article from the Richmond Enquirer, which mentioned that the New York Daily News recently printed 96 personals, first published in the Richmond Enquirer, that were addressed to persons in the North. That same historical news article reprinted ads from the New York Daily News from Northerners trying to reach family in the South. Here is one from “Jack” intended for an Edward Huntley in Richmond.

Civil War missing person ads, Richmond Enquirer newspaper advertisements 30 May 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 30 May 1864, page 4

The message from Jack is intriguing because it reports an inheritance. Jack, whose surname was withheld to maintain anonymity, let Edward C. Huntley know how to collect his share from Aunt Sarah’s estate. Holmes was the executor. Jack shared a reference to where he was in the Catskills and mentioned he had tried to reach Richmond twice, but was unable.

Here is another old newspaper ad from a Northerner, first printed in the New York Daily News and reprinted in the Richmond Enquirer. In this ad, the mother of Samuel Livingston was seeking information about her missing son. We learn from this ad Samuel’s rank, company and regiment. The ad also makes reference to a Colonel Moore who was wounded and left on the battlefield at Oloustee [Olustee], Florida. According to research on the battle, this was Col. Henry Moore.

missing person ad for Union soldier Samuel Livingston, Richmond Enquirer newspaper advertisement 30 May 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 30 May 1864, page 4

Livingston appears in the National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors Database as follows.

listing for Samuel Livingston, National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors Database

Genealogy Search Tips

  • Assume that every database is incomplete or has mistakes.
  • Use historical newspapers to fill in the blanks – and when you solve a puzzle, be sure to share it with others.
  • If a paper mentions “please copy,” there is always a personal connection. The person may have lived, worked or served in that place, a relative may live there, or there could be another possibility that you have not yet considered.
  • Not every publication will report that a piece was copied (i.e., reprinted), so look to see if it exists elsewhere. Sometimes the information will have been changed or have additions.
  • During the Civil War period, we often encounter scanning issues with the early newspapers. As fortunate as we are that they survived, some text may be smeary or split across two lines, so a search engine may misread it.
  • Don’t assume relationships unless specified. Mrs. Samuel Livingston could have been a wife, daughter, in-law or other relation; we only know for certain because her ad says that any news “will be most thankfully received by his mother.”
  • Always perform a follow-up search using alternate dates. Also, vary a person’s name by title and name abbreviations.
  • Follow location trails. Many battle parks and Civil War prison sites would be thrilled to add to their list of soldiers and sailors.
  • Map your ancestor’s movements. Think about known routes via land or water if they went to visit relatives, and consider military and troop movements.
  • Enrich your genealogical experience by taking a road trip. You may find that this experience adds an important component to your knowledge.
  • As an exercise, search for related names and events in the Soldiers and Sailors Database. For example, there is quite a bit of information on the 47th New York Regiment in which Samuel Livingston served.

As an exercise, see how many prisoner of war reports you can find and reconnect to their family. Each one has a story, such as the example below about William Kean who was captured on 17 June 1864 while on picket duty. One can only imagine how that came about.

missing person ad for Confederate soldier William Kean, Richmond Enquirer newspaper advertisement 23 July 1864

Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 23 July 1864, page 2

Researching your Civil War ancestor? There are many good Civil War genealogy resources available online. Be sure to include old newspapers, such as those in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. In some cases, you may find that the clue you’re searching for about your ancestor never appeared in a government record – but was contained in a letter a loved one had printed in a newspaper in a desperate attempt to get news about a missing son or husband. Their hunt for information may be just what you need for your own searches!

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What’s Your Favorite Pumpkin Pie Recipe? Share It with Us!

I love pumpkin pie.
Every autumn, newspapers carry recipes for making this old seasonal dessert favorite.

Bailly's Recipe for Pumpkin Pie, Grand Rapids Press newspaper article 15 November 1905

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 15 November 1905, page 4

It turns out that pumpkin pie is as American as apple pie – even more so!

Pumpkin Pie More American than Apple, Chicago Metro News newspaper article 8 September 1977

Chicago Metro News (Chicago, Illinois), 8 September 1977, page 12

According to this old news article:

The truth is that apple pie may well be the nation’s best-selling dessert pie, but its origin lies across the Atlantic; whereas, the pumpkin variety is truly an American innovation. So, it seems more appropriate to coin the phrase ‘as American as pumpkin pie,’ in honor of its domestic heritage.

What’s your favorite pumpkin pie recipe?

For me, Stop & Shop’s, Stew Leonard’s, Marie Callender’s…their pumpkin pies are all great – ready when you are. But you can’t beat a homemade pumpkin pie.

Why not try a new pumpkin pie recipe this season? Search through GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and find an old pumpkin pie recipe to try.

Share Your Recipes with Us!

GenealogyBank has a shared Pinterest board where you can share your old family recipes. If you have a family recipe you’d like to share, send us a Pinterest group board request and you can pin your recipe on our board to share with the community.



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Genealogy Research with Newspapers: Stories in Classified Ads

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena provides several examples of classified ads from old newspapers to show how these often-overlooked genealogy resources can help tell our ancestors’ stories.

Newspaper classified ads. They are traditionally for glancing at when you need a job or a used car, right? Classified advertisements are one way newspapers make money, both from their readers and local businesses. Looking through generations of classifieds, the structure remains similar though the content of the advertisements changes over time. Reading the classifieds makes for a fascinating social history study of your ancestors’ place and time.

The more I scan old classified ads the more I find to like. I’ve written before about the classifieds (see links at the end of this article) and how they pertain to family history research. Here are a few more historical newspaper advertisements that may spark some ideas for your own genealogy searches.

The Personal Classified Ads

There’s no doubt I love the Personals. I’m fascinated by what people paid to print about themselves or their family in the newspaper, and often wonder how their story ended. These tidbits offer genealogy researchers interesting social history information. They can also provide genealogical information on all aspects of a person’s life – including if the person went missing.

This example of a missing person ad would be a great find for the modern-day family of Charles Martin Hallinen, who left Champaign, Illinois, about 1890 and then seemingly vanished without a trace. This old personals advertisement also serves as a reminder that information may not necessarily be in the location you think it should be. In the case of this ad about a missing Illinois man, I found it in a Nebraska newspaper – and also duplicates in newspapers from: Salt Lake City, Utah; San Francisco, California; Reno, Nevada; and Dallas, Texas. These personals advertisements covered the span of at least six months.

missing person ad for Charles Martin Hallinen, Omaha World-Herald newspaper advertisement 14 January 1900

Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 14 January 1900, page 10

Often as genealogists, we come across an ancestor that seems to just disappear. While their fading paper trail may be due to a lack of records, it’s quite possible that they did vanish for some reason (perhaps on purpose or as the result of a tragedy) and the newspaper might be the place to find information about that missing ancestor.

Another example of a Personals ad with genealogical value is this one placed by the family of Theodore Stevenson, who died 27 February 1900 – his family placed a newspaper ad to remember his passing 16 years later.

personal ad in remembrance of Theodore Stevenson, Patriot newspaper advertisement 6 March 1916

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 6 March 1916, page 9

Homes for Orphans

Sure you can acquire all kinds of things in the classifieds: clothing, automobiles, animals, employment, etc. But if you read between the lines of this 1919 personals advertisement, it reveals a sad story.

home wanted personal ad, Patriot newspaper advertisement 7 July 1919

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 7 July 1919, page 14

That’s not the only example I found of family tragedy; other old newspaper advertisements for homes for babies and young children can be found in various editions of the newspaper.

home wanted personal ads, Patriot newspaper advertisements 18 August 1919

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 18 August 1919, page 10

Don’t Take as Directed

There’s no better peek into our ancestors’ everyday lives than when you check out the ads for remedies and medicinal services. I’ve written before about Lydia Pinkham, who was a genius at marketing her medicinal remedies to women. She used the newspaper classifieds to sell her product via testimonials complete with photos, names and addresses of satisfied customers. She wasn’t the only one who used the classifieds to seek out new customers. Plenty of examples of questionable medical cures can be found in the newspaper.

Medicinal advertisements not only provided reasons why the reader should invest in a bottle of a particular tonic, but also explained everything that the tonic cured – and included glowing endorsements from satisfied “users.”

In this example for Dr. Folger’s Olosanonian, or “All-Healing Balsam,” an armor-wearing knight on his horse is stabbing a figure holding a flag labeled “consumption.” The old advertisement states that the “question is no longer asked can Asthma be cured?” and promises that Dr. Folger provides a cure “quicker than any remedy in the world.”

Endorsements found in this advertisement include Mrs. Robert P. Bell of Morristown, New Jersey, who was:

severely afflicted with asthma. Her physicians had given up on her but with one bottle of Olosanonian she could get up out of bed and dress herself, the first time she was able to in months.

ad for Dr. Folger's “All-Healing Balsam,” Gloucester Telegraph newspaper advertisement 29 October 1845

Gloucester Telegraph (Gloucester, Massachusetts), 29 October 1845, page 4

It makes you wonder how many desperately sick people put all their confidence in Dr. Folger and his miracle consumption cure.

Government Notices

The U.S. federal census is the go-to resource for anyone with American ancestors. It’s the best tool we have for locating families. But while we all use it, we don’t often give thought to how the information was obtained.

In this 1830 classified advertisement, we see the title Fifth Census of the United States. The ad states:

The Deputy Marshal respectfully informs the Inhabitants of Ward No. 3, that he will This Day commence his duties in that Ward, and requests that written answers to the Interrogatories published by the Marshal of this District, may be left for him in all places, where it may be inconvenient for some Member of the family personally to answer the same.

classified ad for the Fifth Census, Charleston Courier newspaper advertisement 29 July 1830

Charleston Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 29 July 1830, page 6

According to the United States Census Bureau website, marshals or their assistants visited every house or “made a personal inquiry of the head of every family in their district.” This was the first year that uniform printed schedules were used.*

Classifieds provided many different types of government notices including information about military service and public meetings.

Have You Found Your Ancestor in the Classifieds?

Take some time now to read the old classifieds in your ancestor’s hometown newspaper. What was going on during historical events or times of stress (wars, economic depressions)? What can you learn about your ancestor’s lifetime in the classifieds?

Please use the comments section below; I’d love to hear about your family history finds in the classified ads.

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* 1830 Overview. United States Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/overview/1830.html. Accessed 3 June 2015.

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Mayflower Genealogy: Finding Your Cousins Using Newspapers

Searching through GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives recently, I found this old newspaper announcement for Margaret (Rogers) Smith’s 81st birthday.

obituary for Margaret (Rogers) Smith, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 23 January 1938

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 23 January 1938, page 12

Margaret Anne (Rogers) Smith (1857-1943) didn’t come to America on the Mayflower ship – but according to this newspaper article her ancestor Thomas Rogers (c. 1572-Winter 1620/21) did.

Ding!
Hey – I am also descended from Mayflower Pilgrim Thomas Rogers.
That makes Margaret my cousin.
What more can I learn about her?

Could it be this easy to find my Mayflower cousins?
Yes – it is.

This historical newspaper article is packed with genealogical clues and information about Margaret, her siblings and children. That would make all of them my cousins too. Armed with these clues I then need to verify and prove each member of the family as I go back generation by generation to our common ancestor: Pilgrim Thomas Rogers.

For starters, the newspaper article gives me Margaret’s photo and tells me that she “celebrated her eighty-first birthday this week at her home at Prosper [Colin County, Texas].”

Wow – her photo. A great find. Nice smile.
So, she was 81 years old in January 1938 and living in Prosper, Colin County, Texas.
That should be easy to verify.

Here is a copy of her death certificate.

death certificate for Margaret (Rogers) Smith

Source: FamilySearch, “Texas, Deaths, 1890-1976,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-25246-83874-37?cc=1983324: accessed 3 September 2015), Death certificates > 1943 > Vol 073-079, certificates 036001-039400, Aug, Brazoria-Starr counties > image 314 of 3524; State Registrar Office, Austin.

Good, her death certificate shows that she was still living in Prosper, Texas, when she died, and it gives me her date of birth as 18 January 1857, in Colin County, Texas. Hmm… January 1857 – that was just 11 years after Texas became a state.

The old newspaper clipping also says her grandparents “were among the first settlers in this community.”

Another great genealogy clue.
So it looks like multiple generations of the family had moved from Tennessee to Texas.

The old newspaper article continues giving me the names of her surviving brothers, sisters and children. Perfect. Historical newspapers sure make it easy to research and fill in the entire family tree of my Mayflower ancestors.

My next step is to look at the records available in other newspapers in GenealogyBank, FamilySearch and other sources to verify each member of the family going back generation by generation.

Sometimes you actually can work your family tree from the top down – and in a case like this where the ancestral connection is in the surname line, you can work on your tree from the bottom up. As ever: Trust, but verify and confirm that she is in fact a descendant of Thomas Rogers of the Mayflower.

Genealogy Tip: Researching your Mayflower family lines? Use the old newspapers to find those who are self-identified as descendants of the same Pilgrim ancestors you are. Then link them back, generation by generation, to attach them to your extended Mayflower family tree.

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Researching Your Female Ancestor & the ‘Woman’s Exchange’

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows how newspaper articles about the charity organizations your female ancestor belonged to may give you valuable personal information about her that you can’t find anywhere else.

Having trouble researching your 19th or 20th century female ancestor? Have you considered her everyday life? Sure, government records such as birth, marriage, death and the census help to learn about your ancestor. But what about her everyday life? Who was she personally? What activities did she enjoy? What causes was she passionate about? What groups did she belong to?

photo of the Woman’s Exchange, Sarasota, Florida

Photo: Woman’s Exchange, Sarasota, Florida. Credit: Ebyabe; Wikimedia Commons.

Organizational records and documents that reveal membership activities are some of the least-used records in genealogy. Why? Well, often because they are more difficult to locate and access when doing genealogy research. These are archival records that are rarely digitized. So if you are unable to access those original records, where can you find this information about your ancestor?

The answer: old newspapers, such as those in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Newspapers document the activities of a community, including organizations and their members. Your ancestor’s hometown newspaper can be a rich source for learning about a female ancestor’s everyday activities and memberships.

Women took part in all types of membership groups that spanned politics, religion, leisure and social causes. Many women joined benevolent groups that provided service to others, including less fortunate women. Let’s take a look at one example: the Woman’s Exchange.

History of the Woman’s Exchange

The first Woman’s Exchange was founded in Philadelphia in 1832. Its premise was simple: “women helping women.” The female founders wanted to do something about the position women found themselves in when they were faced with supporting their family but unable to do so. Then, as today, women who have relied on a husband’s income may find themselves quickly spiraling into poverty due to a loss of income, marital separation, divorce or death of that husband. Author Kathleen Waters Sander writes in her book The Business of Charity that those founding women wanted to provide women a “discreet work alternative to protect peers from the ‘rough and unkind treatment to which they are frequently exposed in their efforts to obtain employment.’*

The Woman’s Exchange charity foundation that started in Philadelphia grew to other Exchanges across the United States. These businesses showcased consigned women’s goods while adjoining tea rooms provided meals and refreshment. Woman’s Exchange businesses benefitted both women who provided managerial and clerk functions as well as those who consigned items.

As with other organizations, the story of the Woman’s Exchange can be found in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. When researching the history of the Woman’s Exchange, it quickly becomes apparent that a variety of newspaper articles were published about the charity organization, many with the names of the women involved – these old news articles can provide a window into your ancestor’s life you won’t find anywhere else.

Interviews

Many organizations and their members find themselves at one time or another being the subject of a newspaper interview piece. These articles typically report on the history and services provided by the organization. For example, this syndicated interview published in a 1928 Kentucky newspaper with Mrs. Edward I. Cudahy, then president of the Chicago Woman’s Exchange, is such an article. An added bonus is that it includes her photograph.

article about the Chicago Woman's Exchange, Lexington Leader newspaper article 23 September 1928

Lexington Leader (Lexington, Kentucky), 23 September 1928, page 23

All types of women were involved in the Exchange movement: the women needing financial assistance who consigned goods; the society women who managed the enterprise and sat on its board; and the women (and men) who donated money as “subscribers.” In most cases, you are more likely to find newspaper articles that list the society women who administered these programs rather than the women who needed the financial benefits this marketplace provided. So, for example, it’s not unusual to find newspaper articles where the names of the women on the board, along with their position, are listed – as in this 1924 article from a California newspaper. The founder of the San Francisco Exchange, Mrs. M. H. (Katherine) de Young, is also named.

New Home of Woman's Exchange Open, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 9 February 1924

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 9 February 1924, page 68

Women involved in raising funds and administering the Exchange could also be found writing letters to newspapers requesting donations. In this 1907 appeal for subscribers to the Exchange in Charleston, South Carolina, we find the names of several women involved in the cause.

letter to the editor about the Charleston Woman's Exchange, Charleston News and Courier newspaper article 23 January 1907

Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 23 January 1907, page 3

Names Lists

As genealogists, we are always looking for “names lists.” Lucky for us, all kinds of newspaper articles can provide us those coveted lists of names. Old newspaper articles about annual meetings provide a who’s who of the movers and shakers in any organization, as well as information about the meeting itself.

Woman's Exchange, San Diego Union newspaper article 2 November 1888

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 2 November 1888, page 5

In addition to newspaper articles, search for other records documenting meetings of your ancestor’s organization. Further research involving annual meeting reports provides details about officers and others who are vital to the running of any organization. Such organizational records may be found through the organization, should it still exist, or archived at a local historical society or other repository.

Today about 20 Woman’s Exchanges are open for business in 12 states. These Exchanges still operate under the same premise of women helping women. In my recent visit to the Woman’s Exchange in St. Augustine, Florida, more than 100 registered consigners were benefitting from selling everything from jewelry and jams to potholders and the Exchange’s own community cookbook.

What organization was your female ancestor a member of? To get some ideas of what groups she may have belonged to, identify those affiliated with her religion, children’s school, and husband’s military service or occupation, as well as a cause she felt passionate about. It’s through this extra genealogy research work that you can find richer, more personal information about her – including her name – in the newspaper.

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* Sander, Kathleen Waters The Business of Charity: The Woman’s Exchange Movement, 1832-1900. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998 P. 11.

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