Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, a.k.a. Mrs. Bess Houdini

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 discover interesting stories about the life of Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, a.k.a. Mrs. Houdini – the wife of the famous magician.

Even if you have no interest in magic, chances are you have a passing knowledge of the master of magic himself, Harry Houdini (1874-1926). Popularized by film and known for his logic-defying tricks and escape stunts, Houdini is synonymous with magic. But how much do you know about his wife, Bess Houdini? Chances are very little.

Born Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner (1876-1943), Bess was interesting in her own right but spent most of her life in the shadow of her famous husband.

photo of Bess Houdini, c. 1900-1910

Photo: Bess Houdini, c. 1900-1910. Source: Findagrave; Wikipedia.

Newspapers are a great resource for finding the stories of your ancestors, whether they were famous or obscure. Here are six things you may not know about Bess Houdini, all discovered by searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

1) She assisted her husband throughout their marriage.

It’s fairly well known that Bess assisted her husband during his magic act. It’s less well known that she also assisted him when he conducted shows debunking the work of spiritual mediums – people who claimed they could communicate with the dead.

article about the magician Harry Houdini, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 5 March 1924

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 5 March 1924, page 4

2) She was a performer before she met Houdini – and carried on after his death.

However, Bess’s talent was not limited to helping her husband with his act; she was an entertainer prior to her marriage and continued on after Houdini’s death. She started her career in a song and dance act on Coney Island known as “The Floral Sisters.” It was while doing this act that she met Harry’s younger brother Theo, and then Harry himself. They were married on 22 June 1894 when Bess was 18.

Enter Last Name

Bess continued performing after her husband’s untimely death in 1926. In this 1928 newspaper article she is said to “…take up the magician’s wand laid down by her husband’s dying hand.” One of the tricks she performed was where “she ‘froze’ an Indian ‘medicine man’ in a cake of ice.” It took 26 minutes to freeze the man in the ice block using solidified carbon dioxide gas, and he remained in that state for 15 minutes before the ice was chopped away to expose his face.

Mrs. Houdini to Continue His Craft, Rockford Republic newspaper article 13 January 1928

Rockford Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 13 January 1928, page 18

3) Newspaper articles about her are numerous, including those with her marital advice.

In this 1928 newspaper article, Bess gave some of her relationship advice and stories from her own marriage. Mrs. Houdini’s relationship revelation was that she kept some secrets from Harry – including the fact that she did not know how he did some of his magic tricks.

Magicians' Wives Like Magic Pretty Well, Plain Dealer newspaper article 5 August 1928

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 5 August 1928, page 103

She elaborated the point in another 1928 newspaper article:

Mrs. Houdini admits that while it is the magician’s business to mystify an audience it is the wife’s business to mystify the magician to the extent of convincing him that she understands his tricks whether she does or not.

article about Bess Houdini, Evening Tribune newspaper article 23 August 1928

Evening Tribune (San Diego, California), 23 August 1928, page 14

4) She tried to contact Houdini from the grave.

If there’s one thing most people know about Bess, it is her yearly attempts to contact Harry from the grave. A supernatural skeptic, Harry had promised Bess that if it was possible to contact the dead he would appear to her. So Bess tried for 10 years to contact Harry after his death. Not only did Bess try, but others also tried – including one who claimed success (see the 1929 newspaper article below). However, all attempts failed, and eventually Bess called it quits.

Four years into her yearly ritual, under the defeatist headline “Mrs. Houdini Gives Up,” Bess said of communicating with Houdini beyond the grave:

If I had succeeded in communicating with Houdini I would shout it from the housetops,” she told [the] Associated Press, “and I would carry a message of hope to all burdened souls, but I have none. There is nothing there.

article about Bess Houdini, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 23 March 1930

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 23 March 1930, page 6

Despite that 1930 headline, Bess kept trying to contact Harry from beyond the grave for another six years. Finally, in 1936 – ten years after her husband’s death – she made her last attempt. That final séance on the roof of a Hollywood hotel ended with Bess remarking: “He has not come. I turn out the light.” (Referring to an electric light that she had kept lit since his death 10 years prior.)

article about Bess Houdini, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 2 November 1936

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 2 November 1936, page 1

A more light-hearted comment about her repeated attempts to communicate with her dead husband is quoted in one of Bess’s obituary notices:

Ten years is long enough to wait for any man.

Mrs. Houdini's Futile Trysts with Her Husband's Ghost, Oregonian newspaper article 7 March 1943

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 7 March 1943, page 51

5) While she couldn’t contact the deceased Harry Houdini, someone else claimed to have succeeded.

Arthur Ford, a minister from the First Spiritualist Church, claimed success in contacting Houdini more than once. One such claim came during a séance where John W. Stafford, an assistant editor of the Scientific American, and Mrs. Houdini were present. Ford claimed he had received the secret code that Harry Houdini had confided to Bess he would use to verify it was he who was contacting her from beyond the veil. Ford provided that code during the séance, part of which was a name from a song that Bess used to sing in her act, “Rosabelle.”

Enter Last Name

According to the report in this 1929 newspaper, Ford said to Bess:

The same man who came Saturday night is coming again. He says, Hello, Bess, my sweetheart. He says he wants to repeat the code you used in your mind reading act with him.

First of all, he says, Rosabelle. Do you know what that means?

Mrs. Houdini replied in a weak voice, Yes.

Then the words of the code came through Ford: Answer tell pray answer look tell answer answer tell.

Houdini's Spirit Talks to Widow, San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram newspaper article 9 January 1929

San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram (San Luis Obispo, California), 9 January 1929, page 3

At the time Bess confirmed that Ford had indeed contacted Harry and provided the correct code. Later though she recanted, perhaps due to friendly reminders that the “secret” message had been published previously in a biography about Houdini.

6) She died en route to New York aboard a train.

Bess Houdini died on 11 February 1943 aboard a train traveling through Needles, California. In ill health, she was hoping to make it to New York before her demise. Knowing that she was gravely ill, just prior to her death, she granted a last interview to journalists where she talked of hoping to see Harry Houdini again after death – and put a premature stop to anyone who would later claim supernatural contact with her.

obituary for Bess Houdini, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 12 February 1943

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 12 February 1943, page 17

She made that point emphatically at the end of the interview:

obituary for Bess Houdini, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 12 February 1943

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 12 February 1943, page 17

While the love story of Harry and Bess is sometimes held up as one of the greatest of all time, the couple was ultimately denied the right to be laid to rest next to each other. Harry was buried, along with members of his family, in the Jewish cemetery Machpelah in Ridgewood, New York, while Bess, a Catholic, was buried at Gates of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, New York.

Genealogy Tip: The research I did into Mrs. Houdini’s life in newspapers was a good example of searching by trying all variations of a woman’s name. I found articles with her listed as Mrs. Houdini, Beatrice Houdini, and Bess Houdini.

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Utah Archives: 25 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Although Utah is the 13th largest state in the nation, it is the 10th least-densely populated. The state capital, Salt Lake City, is also the world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The LDS Church operates the nonprofit genealogy organization FamilySearch.org – which makes Salt Lake City one of the leading centers in the world for family history research, including the world famous Family History Library (open to the public free of charge).

photo of Zion Canyon at sunset, Zion National Park, Utah

Photo: Zion Canyon at sunset, Zion National Park, Utah. Credit: Diliff; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your family roots in Utah, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online UT newspaper archives: 25 titles to help you search your family history in the “Beehive State,” providing news coverage, family stories and vital statistics from 1851 to Today. There are currently more than 2.5 million newspaper articles and records in our online Utah archives!

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

Search Utah Newspaper Archives (1851 – 1945)

Search Utah Recent Obituaries (1988 – Current)

photo of a state welcome sign in Utah

Photo: Utah state welcome sign. Credit: Wikimedia Commons; Bernard Gagnon, 8 March 2009

Here is a list of online Utah newspapers in the 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 UT newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range* Collection
Bountiful Davis County Clipper 3/9/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Castle Dale Emery County Progress 11/27/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Logan Herald Journal 3/1/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ogden Hilltop Times: Hill Air Force Base 10/18/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ogden Standard-Examiner 5/22/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Park City Park Record 9/10/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Price Sun Advocate 8/2/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Provo Daily Herald 2/27/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Richfield Richfield Reaper 8/18/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Roosevelt Uintah Basin Standard 7/24/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Telegram 1/30/1902 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Tribune 1/9/1875 – 12/28/1893 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Deseret News 1/11/1851 – 12/29/1886 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Daily Telegraph 1/12/1866 – 7/3/1868 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Broad Ax 8/31/1895 – 6/6/1899 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Deseret Evening News 7/6/1868 – 9/19/1921 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Inter-Mountain Advocate 12/14/1894 – 4/30/1897 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Telegraph 10/9/1865 – 10/4/1866 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Salt Lake City Beobachter 4/6/1930 – 4/6/1930 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Intermountain Catholic 10/5/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Deseret News 4/7/1988 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Salt Lake City Weekly 6/11/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Tribune 9/26/1990 – Current Recent Obituaries
Topaz Topaz Times 9/17/1942 – 8/31/1945 Newspaper Archives
Vernal Vernal Express 5/19/2010 – 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 Utah newspaper links will be live.

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Virginia Archives: 147 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Virginia has long played a prominent role in American history. The first permanent English settlement in the New World was established in Virginia in 1607 (Jamestown), Virginia was one of the original 13 states that formed the United States, four of the nation’s first five presidents came from Virginia (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe), and the state’s current capital was once capital of the Confederate States of America (Richmond).

photo of a Virginia state welcome sign featuring the state bird (cardinal) and state tree and flower (dogwood)

Photo: a Virginia state welcome sign featuring the state bird (cardinal) and state tree and flower (dogwood). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your family roots in Virginia, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online VA newspaper archives: 147 titles to help you search your family history in the “Old Dominion,” providing news coverage, family stories and vital statistics from 1736 to Today. There are currently more than 54 million newspaper articles and records in our online Virginia archives!

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

Search Virginia Newspaper Archives (1736 – 1986)

Search Virginia Recent Obituaries (1985 – Current)

Here is a list of online Virginia newspapers in the 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 VA newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range* Collection
Abingdon Washington County News 2/1/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Alexandria Alexandria Gazette 7/11/1808 – 12/30/1876 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Alexandria Herald 6/3/1811 – 6/29/1825 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Alexandria Daily Advertiser 12/8/1800 – 7/9/1808 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Times; and District of Columbia Daily Advertiser 4/10/1797 – 7/31/1802 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Alexandria Expositor 11/26/1802 – 6/1/1807 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Virginia Journal and Alexandria Advertiser 2/12/1784 – 5/21/1789 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Alexandria Expositor for the Country 12/1/1803 – 3/4/1805 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Columbian Mirror and Alexandria Gazette 12/5/1792 – 12/6/1800 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Columbian Advertiser and Commercial, Mechanic, and Agricultural Gazette 8/2/1802 – 11/22/1802 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Virginia Gazette and Alexandria Advertiser 9/3/1789 – 8/1/1793 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria People’s Advocate 4/11/1876 – 9/9/1876 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Vienna-Oakton Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Alexandria Mount Vernon Gazette 2/13/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Alexandria Alexandria Gazette Packet 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Alexandria Centre View 2/21/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Altavista Altavista Journal 10/8/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Amherst Nelson County Times 3/19/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Amherst Amherst New Era Progress 3/10/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Appomattox Times-Virginian 10/8/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Arlington Arlington Catholic Herald 9/28/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Arlington Arlington Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ashburn Farm, Ashburn Village, Landsdown, Bluemont Ashburn Connection 2/26/2002 – 5/21/2009 Recent Obituaries
Bedford Bedford Bulletin 11/25/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Boydton Midland Express 3/3/1893 – 3/3/1893 Newspaper Archives
Bristol Bristol Herald Courier 12/27/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Broadway North Fork Journal 6/27/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Brookneal Union Star 10/2/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Burke Burke Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cascades, Countryside, Potomac Falls, Sterling Cascades Connection 3/26/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Charlottesville Jeffersonian Republican 4/19/1855 – 12/22/1880 Newspaper Archives
Charlottesville Daily Progress 4/17/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chase City News-Progress 2/23/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chatham Star-Tribune 10/2/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Culpeper Culpeper Star-Exponent 1/26/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Danville Danville Register & Bee 1/29/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Dayton Shenandoah Journal 11/13/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Dumfries Virginia Gazette and Agricultural Repository 10/13/1791 – 12/19/1793 Newspaper Archives
Elkton Valley Banner 6/28/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Emporia Independent-Messenger 7/8/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fairfax Fairfax Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fairfax Station, Clifton Fairfax Station-Clifton Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fincastle Fincastle Mirror 7/11/1823 – 2/18/1825 Newspaper Archives
Fincastle Herald of the Valley 9/17/1821 – 7/4/1823 Newspaper Archives
Fincastle Fincastle Weekly Advertiser 5/8/1801 – 7/10/1801 Newspaper Archives
Fincastle Herald of Virginia and Fincastle Weekly Advertiser 12/5/1800 – 12/5/1800 Newspaper Archives
Floyd Floyd Press 7/19/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Franklin Tidewater News 10/3/2014 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fredericksburg Virginia Herald 9/6/1787 – 11/25/1829 Newspaper Archives
Fredericksburg Virginia Express 11/17/1803 – 7/12/1804 Newspaper Archives
Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star 1/1/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Front Royal Warren Sentinel 9/17/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Galax Galax Gazette 11/18/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Goochland Goochland Gazette 6/4/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Great Falls Great Falls Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Harrisonburg Northern Augusta Journal 11/20/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Harrisonburg Daily News-Record 6/10/1993 – Current Recent Obituaries
Herndon Herndon Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hillsville Carroll News 4/30/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Independence Declaration 1/24/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
King George Journal Press 5/20/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Laurel Hill Laurel Hill Connection 2/26/2002 – 6/10/2009 Recent Obituaries
Lawrenceville Brunswick Times-Gazette 7/8/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Leesburg Genius of Liberty 1/11/1817 – 12/26/1820 Newspaper Archives
Leesburg Washingtonian 2/6/1810 – 7/16/1811 Newspaper Archives
Leesburg True American 12/30/1800 – 12/30/1800 Newspaper Archives
Leesburg Leesburg Today 8/29/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lexington Virginia Telegraphe 1/10/1804 – 2/3/1808 Newspaper Archives
Lexington Rockbridge Repository 8/21/1801 – 8/6/1805 Newspaper Archives
Lexington News-Gazette 12/10/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Luray Page News and Courier 1/13/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lynchburg Lynchburg Press 5/13/1809 – 4/24/1818 Newspaper Archives
Lynchburg Lynchburg Weekly Gazette 10/13/1798 – 7/20/1799 Newspaper Archives
Lynchburg Lynchburg Weekly Museum 8/21/1797 – 5/19/1798 Newspaper Archives
Lynchburg News & Advance 3/11/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Madison Madison County Eagle 3/26/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Manassas Prince William Today 2/21/2013 – Current Recent Obituaries
Manassas News & Messenger 5/2/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Marion Smyth County News & Messenger 1/31/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Marion Bland County Messenger 4/1/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
McLean Fairfax Sun Gazette 5/6/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
McLean McLean Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mechanicsville Mechanicsville Local 7/27/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Merrifield Arlington Sun Gazette 4/3/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Newport News Daily Press 1/1/1989 – Current Recent Obituaries
Norfolk American Beacon 8/7/1815 – 12/30/1820 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Norfolk Gazette and Publick Ledger 7/17/1804 – 9/17/1816 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Virginia Chronicle 7/28/1792 – 12/18/1794 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Commercial Register 8/16/1802 – 1/11/1803 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Norfolk and Portsmouth Journal 9/28/1787 – 5/6/1789 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Norfolk and Portsmouth Chronicle 9/26/1789 – 6/2/1792 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Norfolk and Portsmouth Herald 10/8/1807 – 6/19/1820 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Norfolk and Portsmouth Gazette 9/23/1789 – 10/8/1789 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Virginian-Pilot 4/1/1990 – Current Recent Obituaries
Orange Orange County Review 3/3/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Petersburg Petersburg Daily Courier 9/21/1814 – 6/22/1815 Newspaper Archives
Petersburg Petersburg Intelligencer 5/29/1798 – 9/22/1815 Newspaper Archives
Petersburg American Star 6/23/1817 – 12/23/1817 Newspaper Archives
Petersburg National Pilot 2/1/1900 – 2/1/1900 Newspaper Archives
Petersburg Progress-Index 10/31/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Powhatan Powhatan Today 4/2/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Reston Reston Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Richlands Richlands News-Press 1/6/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Richmond Richmond Times Dispatch 1/27/1903 – 12/31/1986 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Enquirer 5/9/1804 – 8/22/1876 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Whig 6/22/1824 – 12/29/1874 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Enquirer 10/25/1844 – 4/28/1870 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Examiner 4/8/1861 – 8/29/1866 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Virginia Argus 5/9/1795 – 10/19/1816 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Virginia Patriot 12/26/1809 – 8/3/1819 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Commercial Compiler 12/18/1816 – 4/20/1820 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Southern Illustrated News 9/13/1862 – 9/10/1864 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Chronicle 5/23/1795 – 8/27/1796 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Virginia Gazette, and General Advertiser 12/7/1791 – 7/14/1809 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Impartial Observer 5/1/1806 – 7/2/1807 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Virginia Star 5/11/1878 – 12/23/1882 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Virginia Gazette and Weekly Advertiser 3/2/1782 – 3/4/1796 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Daily Whig 12/27/1833 – 2/15/1882 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Planet 2/21/1885 – 1/13/1900 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Recorder 11/10/1802 – 8/6/1803 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Spirit of ‘Seventy-Six 9/20/1808 – 7/11/1809 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Reformer 1/27/1900 – 1/27/1900 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Times-Dispatch 8/19/1985 – Current Recent Obituaries
Roanoke Roanoke Times 1/1/1990 – Current Recent Obituaries
South Hill South Hill Enterprise 1/7/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Springfield Springfield Connection 10/15/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Stafford Stafford County Sun 4/17/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Stanardsville Greene County Record 3/3/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Staunton Staunton Eagle 8/14/1807 – 10/3/1810 Newspaper Archives
Staunton Staunton Political Censor 6/22/1808 – 2/22/1809 Newspaper Archives
Staunton Staunton Spy 9/21/1793 – 2/1/1794 Newspaper Archives
Staunton Political Mirror 6/3/1800 – 8/11/1801 Newspaper Archives
Staunton Observer 8/4/1814 – 8/18/1814 Newspaper Archives
Staunton Spirit of the Press 5/18/1811 – 5/18/1811 Newspaper Archives
Strasburg Northern Virginia Daily 12/17/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Suffolk Suffolk News-Herald 10/2/2014 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warrenton Palladium of Liberty 8/23/1817 – 12/22/1820 Newspaper Archives
Waynesboro News Virginian 2/3/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Williamsburg Virginia Gazette 3/18/1736 – 12/30/1780 Newspaper Archives
Winchester Republican Constellation 7/20/1811 – 7/31/1819 Newspaper Archives
Winchester Winchester Virginian 4/18/1828 – 9/6/1836 Newspaper Archives
Winchester Winchester Gazette 6/27/1798 – 1/15/1820 Newspaper Archives
Winchester Philanthropist 3/25/1806 – 2/28/1809 Newspaper Archives
Winchester Winchester Star 4/30/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wirtz Smith Mountain Eagle 10/6/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Woodstock Shenandoah Valley-Herald 6/24/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wytheville Wytheville Enterprise 2/1/2011 – 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 Virginia newspaper links will be live.

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Solve the Robert ‘Believe It or Not!’ Ripley Ancestry Brick Wall (Part II)

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary follows up on an article she wrote back in January 2013 and, thanks to helpful suggestions from some of her readers, tries to uncover more of the Robert Ripley genealogy mystery.

Early in 2013, the GenealogyBank Blog published my article on Robert L. Ripley (see Solve the Robert ‘Believe It or Not!’ Ripley Ancestry Brick Wall), and – believe it or not – we’re still working on his ancestry. Knowing that Ripley’s family history was a mystery, in that 2013 article I asked readers to help break through a brick wall in the Ripley family tree. Their answers were informative, although much of his ancestry continues to be elusive.

What I want to do now is provide an update to this genealogical quest to uncover Ripley’s family history. First, I suggest you click on the link to read my previous Ripley article, to see what clues I could present to my readers at that time. Next, read the comments several readers left at the end of that article, providing additional clues. Let’s look at some of those follow-up clues now, to make what progress we can in smashing through this Ripley brick wall.

photo of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley, c. 1940

Photo: Robert Ripley, c. 1940. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Ripley Brick Wall

As I explained in my 2013 article about the Ripley genealogy mystery:

I can’t seem to crack the brick wall in his genealogy. He left no descendants and was only married briefly to actress Beatrice Roberts. I can’t discover his family history any further back than his maternal grandmother.

Prefers “Robert” to “Leroy”

Leroy Robert Ripley (c.1890-1949), (who went by “Robert” or “Robert L.”), did many things in his career, including work as a cartoonist, a sportswriter and amateur anthropologist.

article by Robert Ripley about Honus Wagner and Larry Lajoie, Evening Star newspaper article 18 October 1914

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 18 October 1914, page 64

Conflicting Birth Dates

Ripley’s World War I draft registration reports that he resided at 136 W. 65 Street in New York. He was 25 and recorded his birth on the registration form as 15 February 1892 in Santa Rosa, California. What is interesting about this is that, at other times, he reported his birth date as 25 December 1890 and 26 December 1890 (thought by some genealogists to be his real date of birth). Wikipedia reports Ripley’s birth date as 22 February 1890.

Enter Last Name

Ripley described himself as an artist, writer and cartoonist working for associated newspapers at 170 Broadway. As his mother had died several years earlier, he reported that he supported a brother and was single. He signed his name as Robert LeRoy Ripley. Although recording errors are common, it would be interesting to find his birth record to confirm the actual day and year on which he was born.

article about Robert Ripley, Oregonian newspaper article 29 November 1936

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 29 November 1936, page 62

No Descendants

Ripley was married briefly to Beatrice Roberts in 1919. She was only 14 at the time of their marriage, and the couple separated after just three months. They finally divorced in 1926, and had no children. Ripley never remarried, and died childless.

obituary for Robert Ripley, San Diego Union newspaper article 28 May 1949

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 28 May 1949, page 1

Ripley’s Parents

Robert Ripley was the son of Isaac Davis Ripley (1854-1904) and Lillie Belle Yoka, Yocka or Yocke (1868-1915). His parents married on 3 October 1889 in Sonoma, California (California County Marriages 1850-1952, database at familysearch.org) and are buried at Odd Fellows Lawn Cemetery in Santa Rosa, California (see findagrave.com).

Ripley’s Father

In 1870, the Belpre (Washington County) Ohio Census reports that Isaac was possibly residing in the household of Jason and Phelia A. Stubs (or Stubbs or Stutes). Isaac was 16 at that time and attended school. (See http://ohgen.net/ohwashin/OMP-2.htm, Ohio Historical Society, Newspaper Microfilm Reel # 38487 – marriage license for Jason Stubbs and Phelia A. Hunter of Belpre on 8 May 1865.)

Once he reached California, various Great Registers (see familysearch.org) report that Isaac Davis Ripley worked as a carpenter. His birth place is consistently reported as Ohio, which is confirmed by the 1900 Santa Rosa (California) Census reporting him being born in Ohio in September of 1854.

His Mother and Maternal Grandparents

Lillie Belle was the daughter of Nancy Yocke (1828-?) and an unknown father from Germany.

In 1880, Lillie lived with her widowed mother, according to the Analy (Sonoma County) California Census. Her mother was listed as a housekeeper. She had been born in Tennessee and her parents were both from North Carolina. Lillie was the only child in the household. Her birth was shown as Missouri and her parents as having been born in Tennessee and Germany.

At the time of Lillie’s marriage to Isaac Davis Ripley in 1889, he was 35 and she was 20.

One of the readers of my 2013 article, Donna Bailey, wrote:

Well, this article [Miami News (Miami, Florida), 13 May 1962, from Google News Archives] helps explain a little. It states that Lillie Belle was born on the Santa Fe Trail in a covered wagon on the way to California. And Isaac ran away from home at age 14, which explains why he is at the Stutes home in 1870 already on his way to California, which he does show up in voter lists in Yuba in 1874.

Donna later wrote again, adding more information:

Some more clues. There is a marriage record for a Phillip Yoka and a Nancy A. Card, married in Washington Township, Johnson County, MO, on 4 Dec. 1870. According to her grave at Find a grave [Sebastapol Memorial Lawn Cemetery], Nancy’s middle name was Ann, so this could be our Nancy.

I checked the marriage record and it seems consistent with other records. It does note that the officiant was Justice of the Peace William Fisher, so it is unlikely that a church record exists. I also checked the Miami News article. It gives us the clue that Isaac Davis Ripley was born of old American stock in West Virginia, which differs from records reporting Ohio. Perhaps his roots were from that state.

His Two Siblings

When Robert Ripley died on 27 May 1949, he left the bulk of his estate in trust to his two siblings, Douglas and Ethel “Effie” Ripley. Effie (1885-1965) married Fred Marion Davis (1884-1957) and is buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Francisco next to her husband, who was a veteran of World War II. We still have not located the final resting place of Douglas.

Enter Last Name

His Sister

Another reader named Mallory wrote:

Ethel (Effie) Davis was married to Fred Davis – she was alive in 1947 and apparently in 1949 when she and her husband flew back to NY from the funeral of her brother [Robert Ripley]. She and her other brother Douglas inherited the majority of the estate. Effie was dead before 1971. The family home still exists… Ethel was born in 1893, her brother Douglas in 1904. The father Isaac died in 1905. Robert (Leroy) had to work to help support his mom and sister. There are two nephews named Robert and Douglas (not sure who their parents were) – they show up in local newspaper clippings.

The Renewed Ripley Brick Wall Challenge

So readers, there you have it.

With the genealogy research we’ve done since my 2013 article was posted, we have learned that Robert Ripley’s father, Isaac Davis Ripley, ran away from home – and we have learned the probable identity of his Yocke grandfather, a German named Philip.

But that’s about it – so I am opening up the Ripley brick wall challenge again. Can any of our readers help us get back further on Ripley’s family tree?

Related Article:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Legendary Lives: Car Manufacturer Henry Ford

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 discover more about the life and accomplishments of automobile magnate Henry Ford.

For many Americans who are familiar with the Ford Motor Company, the name Henry Ford (1863-1947) is synonymous with his innovations. While his implementation of the assembly line (a more streamlined process in factory work), and introduction of the affordable Model T automobile, are well-known – he also implemented ideas that better served his employees.

Portrait of Henry Ford, c. 1919

Illustration: portrait of Henry Ford, c. 1919. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Admiration for Thomas Edison

For the interested researcher, perusing newspaper articles about Henry Ford printed during his lifetime does not disappoint. Just searching for news articles about him published in 1914, the year he introduced his employee profit-sharing plan, nearly 1,700 articles can be found in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives – including quite a few that mention his association with inventor Thomas Edison. One such article includes a quote from Henry Ford proclaiming that Thomas Edison is the “greatest man of the times.”

Thomas A. Edison [Is] the Greatest of Men, Says Henry Ford, Head of the Automobile Kingdom, Tulsa World newspaper article 25 January 1914

Tulsa World (Tulsa, Oklahoma), 25 January 1914, section 2, page 1

Profit-Sharing Plan for Ford Employees

In 1914 he raised the daily salary of workers to $5 via a profit-sharing plan that increased 90% of his employees’ pay from the previous level of $2.34 per day. Ford not only increased wages, he shortened the work day to eight hours.

Henry Ford Gives $10,000,000 to His 26,000 Employees, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 5 January 1914

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 5 January 1914, page 1

Henry Ford, Birdwatcher?

Birdwatching? Well, everyone has a hobby and not surprisingly, Ford was mentioned numerous times in the newspaper for his hobby (he was an avid birdwatcher) and the bird preserve he established near Detroit, Michigan.

article about Henry Ford's bird preserve in Michigan, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 7 July 1912

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 7 July 1912, page 7

The story of how his bird preserve came to be is recounted in the following 1914 newspaper article. Ford had invited Jefferson Butler, Secretary of the Michigan Audubon Society, to his Michigan farm and asked how he could make the lives of birds happier. According to the article:

“Ford wanted to share profits with the birds who were saving the crops of the farmers from destruction [by eating insects] and making it possible for mankind to get something to eat.”

Enter Last Name

That meeting led to Ford creating a bird preserve where he provided shelters, food and even “tepid water” via electric heaters for the birds.

article about Henry Ford and his love of birdwatching, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 24 May 1914

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 24 May 1914, page 5

Hi! My Name Is Henry Ford

Not all of the newspaper articles about Henry Ford are related to his accomplishments, hobbies, or even automobiles. Just as today, our ancestors enjoyed reading celebrity stories. Everyone loves a story where two people share a common name but are not related, especially when one of those people is famous. In the following newspaper article from 1914, the meeting of two Henry Fords from Michigan – one the industrialist millionaire and the other an editor of the Galesburg Argus newspaper – is documented.

Michigan's Two Henry Fords Meet at Popular Florida Winter Resort, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 15 March 1914

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 15 March 1914, page 2

And as all good genealogy researchers know, same name doesn’t mean same family. The last sentence of this old news article clarifies that these two Fords are not related.

Henry Ford’s Death

Toward Henry’s later years, his son Edsel was at the helm of the Ford Motor Company – but after Edsel’s death in 1943, Henry returned to running the company. The elder Ford, suffering from ill health, finally relinquished control of the company to his namesake grandson in September 1945. Less than two years later, Henry Ford died on 7 April 1947. His obituary, like that of any well-known figure, named his accomplishments – but also listed his perceived failings including an unsuccessful attempt to stop World War I.

obituary for Henry Ford, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 8 April 1947

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 8 April 1947, page 1

Henry Ford’s Genealogy

The Ford family tree is online.

Newspapers = Stories

As these historical articles have shown, newspapers are a great way to find not only someone’s vital statistics, but the stories of their life as well. Dig into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and find your ancestors’ stories. Start your 30-day trial now!

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Native American Newspapers for Genealogy Research

When births, marriages and deaths occur, Native American families make sure that they are written up and documented in their local newspapers. Family and tribal historians want to data mine GenealogyBank’s entire Historical Newspaper Archives looking for these events by searching on the names of the individuals – but also by searching on the tribal affiliations of the persons involved.

montage of newspaper articles about Native Americans

Genealogy Tip: Search for your Native American ancestors using not only individual names, but also the names of their tribal affiliations to locate all articles about your family.

As part of its online collection of deep back runs digitized from more than 7,000 different newspapers spanning 1690 to today, GenealogyBank has a specific collection of Native American newspapers, fantastic for researching Indian roots from several tribes, from all around the country.

Currently, our Native American newspaper titles include:

Genealogy Tip: Make sure to begin searching for your Native American ancestors with a wide search of our entire archives, then narrow down to specific locations and newspapers – including our collection of Native American newspapers – to increase your chances of success.

Related Native American Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Where in Ireland Are Your Irish Ancestors From? Search Newspapers

Newspapers recorded every day of our ancestors’ lives – and that is a good thing for genealogists.

Time and time again old documents, from death certificates to the census, simply state that someone like John Clifford was born “in Ireland” – and never tell us where in Ireland. Often it is newspapers that are critical to our finding the name of the community or the county in Ireland where our Irish immigrant ancestors were born.

For example, this old 1800s obituary for John Clifford tells us where in Ireland he was from.

obituary for John Clifford, New York Herald newspaper article 4 November 1880

New York Herald (New York City, New York), 4 November 1880, page 8

Thanks to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, we know that he was born in Killeshandra, County Cavan, Ireland.

Government and other official passenger lists routinely list that the waves of Irish immigrants were born in “Ireland” without any further details – but it is in newspapers that we can find two other key facts (origin and destination) that were not recorded in the passenger lists genealogists are familiar with.

Enter Last Name

I am just amazed every time I read these Irish American passenger lists in online newspapers and see that they tell me where these new arrivals had lived in Ireland, and where they were going to live in America.

How in the world did the editors of New York City’s Irish American newspapers find the time to interview and document the incoming Irish immigrants, and keep doing it for over a century?

Irish immigrants passenger list, Irish Nation newspaper article 27 May 1882

Irish Nation (New York City, New York), 27 May 1882, page 8

Irish American newspapers were diligent about reporting the great migration of Irish immigrants to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Newspapers like the Irish Nation and Irish World regularly published lists of Irish passengers that came over on the passenger ships each week.
These published ship passenger lists did not include every Irish immigrant – but for the tens of thousands that were interviewed and documented by the newspapers, these lists give us the critical place of origin and where they were heading after their arrival in America, valuable information that is just not found in any other genealogical source.

One of my colleagues, Duncan Kuehn, closely compared some of the passenger lists published in newspapers to the corresponding federal passenger lists. She found that for the passengers interviewed and listed by the newspapers, their names were often more complete – and often, additional names of accompanying family members were given in the newspaper account that did not appear in the federal lists.

It would be even better if the newspapers had interviewed every single passenger, but we’re grateful for the excellent job they did on the ones that were documented.

Genealogists must use these newspaper passenger lists to learn more about their ancestors’ stories.

Start searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and begin documenting and recording your family history. If you have Irish ancestry, try searching our special Irish American newspaper archives first.

Related Irish American Genealogy Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Maine Archives: 48 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Yesterday Maine celebrated the 195th anniversary of its statehood – it was admitted into the Union on 15 March 1820 as the 23rd state. Originally part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Maine is the largest of the six New England states – but is only the 39th largest state in the country, and the 41st most populous.

photo of the coast of Maine near Acadia National Park

Photo: the coast of Maine near Acadia National Park. Credit: Someone35; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your family roots in Maine, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online ME newspaper archives: 48 titles to help you search your family history in “The Pine Tree State,” providing news coverage, family stories and vital statistics from 1785 to Today. There are currently more than 2 million newspaper articles and records in our online Maine archives!

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

Search Maine Newspaper Archives (1785 – 1950)

Search Maine Recent Obituaries (1992 – Current)

Here is a list of online Maine newspapers in the 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 ME newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range* Collection
Augusta Age 1/6/1832 – 8/29/1861 Newspaper Archives
Augusta Kennebec Gazette 9/11/1801 – 7/31/1805 Newspaper Archives
Augusta Herald of Liberty 2/13/1810 – 9/2/1815 Newspaper Archives
Augusta Kennebec Journal / Kennebec Journal Sunday 11/14/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bangor Bangor Weekly Register 11/25/1815 – 6/21/1831 Newspaper Archives
Bangor Bangor Daily News 12/14/1992 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bath Maine Gazette 12/8/1820 – 12/29/1820 Newspaper Archives
Belfast Waldo Patriot 12/30/1837 – 12/21/1838 Newspaper Archives
Belfast Hancock Gazette 7/6/1820 – 12/28/1820 Newspaper Archives
Biddeford Justice de Biddeford 5/14/1896 – 3/2/1950 Newspaper Archives
Brunswick Maine Intelligencer 9/23/1820 – 12/29/1820 Newspaper Archives
Bucksport Gazette of Maine Hancock Advertiser 7/25/1805 – 4/10/1812 Newspaper Archives
Castine Eagle 11/14/1809 – 3/19/1812 Newspaper Archives
Eastport Eastport Sentinel 8/31/1818 – 8/15/1832 Newspaper Archives
Falmouth Falmouth Gazette and Weekly Advertiser 1/1/1785 – 3/30/1786 Newspaper Archives
Hallowell American Advocate 8/23/1809 – 1/28/1835 Newspaper Archives
Hallowell Maine Cultivator and Hallowell Gazette 10/4/1839 – 3/10/1870 Newspaper Archives
Hallowell Hallowell Gazette 2/23/1814 – 12/26/1827 Newspaper Archives
Hallowell Kennebec Gazette 11/14/1800 – 8/28/1801 Newspaper Archives
Kennebunk Weekly Visiter 6/24/1809 – 6/30/1821 Newspaper Archives
Kennebunk Annals of the Times 1/13/1803 – 1/3/1805 Newspaper Archives
Kennebunk Eagle of Maine 7/1/1802 – 9/30/1802 Newspaper Archives
Lewiston Sun-Journal 1/29/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Madawaska St. John Valley Times 8/6/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Paris Jeffersonian 7/11/1827 – 6/14/1831 Newspaper Archives
Portland Eastern Argus 9/8/1803 – 12/30/1880 Newspaper Archives
Portland Portland Daily Press 9/3/1870 – 3/9/1882 Newspaper Archives
Portland Portland Advertiser 1/3/1824 – 1/30/1864 Newspaper Archives
Portland Daily Eastern Argus 1/1/1863 – 3/17/1888 Newspaper Archives
Portland Gazette 4/16/1798 – 12/30/1828 Newspaper Archives
Portland Portland Daily Advertiser 8/13/1840 – 8/23/1898 Newspaper Archives
Portland Eastern Herald 1/2/1792 – 12/27/1802 Newspaper Archives
Portland Cumberland Gazette 7/20/1786 – 12/26/1791 Newspaper Archives
Portland Freeman’s Friend 9/19/1807 – 6/9/1810 Newspaper Archives
Portland Oriental Trumpet 12/15/1796 – 11/5/1800 Newspaper Archives
Portland Independent Statesman 7/14/1821 – 5/6/1825 Newspaper Archives
Portland Jeffersonian 2/24/1834 – 7/25/1836 Newspaper Archives
Portland Herald of Gospel Liberty 4/27/1810 – 6/21/1811 Newspaper Archives
Portland Maine Sunday Telegram 3/6/1994 – Current Recent Obituaries
Portland Portland Press Herald 3/1/1994 – Current Recent Obituaries
Saco Freeman’s Friend 8/21/1805 – 8/15/1807 Newspaper Archives
Sanford Justice de Sanford 2/26/1925 – 12/27/1928 Newspaper Archives
Sanford Sanford News 1/21/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Waterville Morning Sentinel / Sunday Sentinel 11/14/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wiscasset Lincoln Intelligencer 11/1/1821 – 10/24/1822 Newspaper Archives
Wiscasset Wiscasset Telegraph 12/10/1796 – 3/9/1799 Newspaper Archives
Wiscasset Lincoln Telegraph 2/15/1821 – 10/18/1821 Newspaper Archives
Wiscasset Wiscasset Argus 12/30/1797 – 1/13/1798 Newspaper Archives

*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 Maine newspaper links will be live.

Related Article about Maine:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

The Bible: It Just Might Save Your Life – Literally

The Word of God has been known to save the lives of many on a daily basis.

And then there is John Brotherton, 1729-1809 (MD4H-4T5). The Bible saved his life – literally.

In the mid-1700s Brotherton was in fierce hand-to-hand combat when a bayonet pierced through his belt, several layers of clothing, and 52 pages of his pocket Bible. That Bible slowed down the bayonet and saved his life.

obituary for John Brotherton, Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 22 November 1809

Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 22 November 1809, page 3

obituary for John Brotherton, Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 22 November 1809

Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 22 November 1809, page 3

According to Brotherton’s obituary in the Hampshire Gazette, when he left “his native cottage” to join the British Army, he “took with him a small Bible, determining to make it the companion of his marches.” Faith made Brotherton a better man. His family was deeply religious and John himself was described as a man of “boldness and intrepidity” with a demeanor that was “gentle” and “without offense,” setting him apart from his fellow soldiers.

John Brotherton served with his regiment during the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763). (In America this is called the French & Indian War.) While we don’t know the specific battle when that pocket Bible saved his life, John’s newspaper obituary tells us that he fought in Germany against the French at the Battle of Minden in 1759.

Painting: Battle of Minden, 1759, by Richard Caton Woodville (1825-1855)

Illustration: Battle of Minden, 1759 – by Richard Caton Woodville (1825-1855). Source: Wikipedia Commons.

This battle illustration gives us a good idea of the fierce, hand-to-hand fighting that John Brotherton experienced during the Seven Years’ War.

Enter Last Name

Brotherton served in the military faithfully, returned home, and lived to be 80 years old.

Thanks to GenealogyBank, John’s gripping war survival story is passed on to us today.

According to his obituary, one of Brotherton’s brothers was given this special lifesaving Bible at the time of his death.

Does the family still have this heirloom Bible? Do they know why there is a large gash in it? Do they know the details of John’s military service and how this Bible saved his life?

Obituaries showcase our ancestors lives. While some obituaries may only give us a line or two about our deceased relatives, many include important personal stories. Brotherton’s miracle inspires us all to value life, and be thankful for the things that keep us alive. Family history helps connect us to the stories of our past.

GenealogyBank lets us dig deeper into the times our ancestors grew up in, and find the details of their day-to-day lives. We all have a John Brotherton in our family tree. We only need to do the genealogy research to find their story.

GenealogyBank’s deep newspaper archive of over 1.7 billion records holds story after story about the people who built America, along with their births, marriages, and deaths. Find your ancestors’ stories today to discover who they were, what they did and what they lived through. Find your John Brotherton.

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

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Related Articles:

Amazing Survival Stories of Last Moments on the ‘Titanic’ Ship
My Ancestors’ Life Stories as Told in Old Newspapers
3 True-Life Love Stories to Brighten Your Valentine’s Day

 

The Nelson Shipwreck & Captain Hagney: Name Research Tips

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan searches old newspapers to learn more about Captain Hagney and the sinking of the schooner “Nelson” on Lake Superior in 1899, using various search tips to get good results.

Searching newspapers for an ancestor’s name that doesn’t seem to have a standard spelling can be a challenge for family historians. Here is an interesting case study about the captain of a sunken ship that may help you research those difficult ancestor names. Recently this ship, the schooner Nelson, was found under more than 200 feet of water in Lake Superior. There were several newspaper articles about the shipwreck discovery, but they had various spellings of the captain’s name – including “Haganey” and “Hagginey.”

The Story of the Sinking of the Nelson

The shipwreck story goes like this. On 15 May 1899, the schooner Nelson was overloaded with coal, in addition to the 10 people on board. There was a terrific storm on Lake Superior and ice accumulated on the ship, causing it to sit even lower in the water. The waves began to crash over the edges of the ship. The Nelson was being towed by the steamer A Folsom along with the Mary B Mitchell. At some point the towing line either broke or was cut. Shortly after, the Nelson tilted and the stern popped up out of the water as the entire vessel almost immediately went under. The captain placed his crew, his wife, and his toddler son into the lifeboat. Then he dove into the water to join them. Unfortunately, the lifeboat was still tethered to the Nelson and it was dragged down to the bottom of the lake by the sinking ship. The captain, who never reached the lifeboat, watched helplessly as his ship and family were lost. He clung to a piece of the wreckage and was found unconscious along the shore. The storm’s violent 50 mile-per-hour winds prevented any rescue efforts by the other two ships. Nine lives were lost; only the captain survived.

My Search for the Captain

This is a compelling story of a heroic effort by the captain of the Nelson that just wasn’t enough to save his family or crew, and I wanted to learn more details.

As always, I searched for contemporary records to find out more. I started by looking into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. I ran this search:

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box showing a search for the schooner "Nelson"

I entered the name of the ship in quotation marks as a keyword. You do not necessarily need to use a person’s name to search on GenealogyBank – a keyword search is often effective. I also entered a date range from the date of the accident to several months after the event. When the search results came back I sorted the results with the oldest article first, as I prefer to read articles in chronological order.

I found many newspaper articles from all over the United States telling the story of the accident. Here are three of those articles.

This article refers to Captain “Haganney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Elkhart Weekly Review newspaper article 17 May 1899

Elkhart Weekly Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 17 May 1899, page 1

This historical newspaper article refers to Captain “Hagney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Anaconda Standard newspaper article 15 May 1899

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 15 May 1899, page 1

This old news article also refers to Captain “Hagney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Bay City Times newspaper article 15 May 1899

Bay City Times (Bay City, Michigan), 15 May 1899, page 3

Using these old newspaper articles, I discovered that much of the information in the present-day articles about the discovery of the shipwreck reflected the information given in those 1899 articles. However, I found some inconsistencies as well. Perhaps most importantly, the old articles make no mention of the captain’s heroic effort to save his family and crew. A typical comment from those 1899 articles is that “The Nelson disappeared as suddenly as one could snuff a candle,” suggesting that the captain did not have time to do anything. I also find that Captain Haganey/Hagginey (as spelled in the modern newspaper articles) is spelled differently in the 1899 articles:  “Haganney” and “Hagney.”

Enter Last Name

After learning about the shipwreck, I now wanted to know more about the captain himself – but there were so many spellings of his name I wasn’t sure which was correct. A quick search of census records on FamilySearch.org told me that he was the son of John and Mary Hagney from Oswego, New York. He also had siblings: Ellen, Thomas, William, and Mary.

Going back to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I narrowed my search using the name as it appeared in the census: “Hagney.” This search turned up several articles that told me a great deal about the captain.

One of the first I found was this very sad newspaper article. It appears that on the same day the Nelson when down with Captain Hagney’s entire family, his friends from New York were frantically trying to reach him with the sad news that his mother had just died. The unfortunate man lost his one remaining parent and his wife and child.

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Saginaw News newspaper article 15 May 1899

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 15 May 1899, page 6

The Captain Searches for His Family

Immediately after the Nelson accident, Captain Hagney refused to give up hope. As this old news article explains, he wasn’t willing to give up on his family – and spent hours and days combing the beach for any sign of his loved ones:

Capt. Hagney is now engaged in patrolling the beach with the help of the crews of life saving stations here and at Deer Park. The broken yawl, some parts of the cabin, a lady’s hat, a man’s cap and a mattress are all that have yet been found.

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Plain Dealer newspaper article 19 May 1899

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 May 1899, page 10

Hagney was understandably distraught, as reported in these next two newspaper articles. This Ohio newspaper article’s headline, “Capt. Hagney in Bad Shape,” says it all, and reports that he had been hospitalized:

The doctors class his trouble as nervousness and insomnia.

article about Captain Hagney's trauma after the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Plain Dealer newspaper article 24 May 1899

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 24 May 1899, page 8

This Michigan newspaper article reports that Hagney’s condition is serious.

article about Captain Hagney's trauma after the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Saginaw News newspaper article 24 May 1899

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 24 May 1899, page 2

The Previous Life of Captain Hagney

The 1900 census shows him safely ensconced at the home of a family member in Toledo, Ohio, where he was working as an agent for the seamen’s union.* As tragic as all of this was, I still wanted to know more about Hagney. He had a life before the shipwreck of the Nelson and one after, so I ran some more searches. I started with changing the spelling from Hagney to Hageny. I figured this would be a common misspelling even though I hadn’t seen it in any of the records so far. This search did produce results, and I found a series of articles about his life back in New York a decade before the accident.

Enter Last Name

Ten years previously, in 1889, Andrew got into some difficulty with the law. As this New York newspaper reports, there was a trial after some union trouble involving strikes, “scabs” and violence:

Andrew Hageny, William Putman, and Michael Donovan were charged with a murderous assault upon Jesse Josephs, mate of the schooner John Scheutte of Toledo, at the dock in this port…Josephs was dragged a mile into the suburbs, pounded with belaying pins and thrown into the cellar of a burned house; he managed to crawl to an adjoin house.

They were all found guilty of assault in the second degree, with a second, upcoming trial for coercion and conspiracy in forcing some “scabs” to leave another ship.

article about Andrew Hagney being convicted for assault, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 20 July 1889

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 20 July 1889, page 5

This “Andrew Hageny” seems to be the same man as the later Captain Andrew Hagney of the Nelson, based on location, occupation, and name, but more evidence is always wanted – so I kept searching the archives. I found this earlier newspaper article about the assault on sailor Jesse Josephs, and learned that Andrew Hageny’s brother Thomas was also involved. This lends credence to the belief that this Andrew Hageny is the same as the later Captain Andrew Hagney, since I knew from my earlier research on the census that Andrew Hagney had a brother named Thomas.

article about Thomas Hagney being charged for assault, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 17 May 1889

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 17 May 1889, page 3

But how did Andrew become a ship’s captain with this background of conviction for assault, especially when we find that he had been sentenced to four years in prison?

Intrigued, I kept searching for answers – and found this newspaper article two years into Andrew’s prison sentence, indicating that Governor Hill had promised to pardon him.

article about Andrew Hagney being pardoned by Governor Hill, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 25 November 1891

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 25 November 1891, page 8

And that was indeed what happened – Governor Hill pardoned him. So that was how he got out of prison early, and presumably set about setting his affairs in order. I was unable to find any newspaper articles reporting Andrew getting in trouble with the law again. He must have worked hard and stayed out of trouble, because in a few years he was entrusted as a ship’s captain.

The Post-Shipwreck Life of Captain Hagney

But what happened to Captain Andrew Hagney after the shipwreck of the Nelson? Was he able to recover from the trauma? It took some searching to find a newspaper article to answer this question. I had to go back to the other spellings of his name, and eventually found his obituary by searching under the spelling “Haganey.”

obituary for Andrew Hagney, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 23 February 1912

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 23 February 1912, page 10

Captain Andrew Hagney appears to have remained in Toledo for the rest of his short life. He remarried and fathered three more children. He died at age 52 in 1912, while visiting his in-laws in New Mexico.

Captain Hagney’s life was full of tragic and challenging experiences. While it must have been difficult to live, searching for his life story provides an opportunity for us to learn about ancestor name search tips, and demonstrates how much we can learn about the lives of our ancestors simply by continuing to dig in the archives..

Genealogy Tips:

Many of us have ancestors with unusual names, or names that appear in records with different spellings. When searching on GenealogyBank, the search engine will look for exactly what you type. Therefore, if you know of an alternative spelling of your ancestor’s name – or if you can guess at one – you may end up finding even more articles. And if you stumble across an article that seems to be about your ancestor, but the name was spelled differently than you thought, it could still be them. Keep searching for additional information to help you determine if that record or article is the right person.

Another thing you might notice is the location of these articles. They appear from places all over the United States: Cleveland, Ohio; Saginaw, Michigan; Watertown, New York; Elkhart, Indiana; Anaconda, Montana; and Bay City, Michigan. While some of these locations make sense because Andrew had a connection with them, some do not – such as Montana and Indiana. Keep in mind that news travels, and reports about the ancestor you are looking for could be in any newspaper in the country. If you don’t find what you are looking for in your ancestor’s local area, don’t hesitate to search nationwide. This is always a good approach to take, even if your initial searches do find articles in your ancestor’s hometown, because many more articles might be out there. Best of luck in your family history searches!

—————-

* “United States Census, 1900,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MMD2-KFQ: accessed Dec. 2014), Andrew Hagney in household of Robert V. French, Port Lawrence Township, Precinct F Toledo city Ward 10, Lucas, Ohio, United States; citing sheet 8A, family 159, NARA microfilm publication T623, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; FHL microfilm 1241298.

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank