Old Holiday Poems, Songs & Hymns in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post—just in time as the Holiday Season is now upon us—Mary searches old newspapers to find poems, carols and hymns from holidays past, to revive them and bring them into this year’s celebrations.

During this magical time of the year many people enjoy singing carols and hymns, and reading joyful poems, of Christmas, Hanukkah and other holidays.

illustration for "The Night before Christmas," Boston Herald newspaper article 12 December 1897

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 12 December 1897, page 36

You’ll find a delightful assortment of holiday poems and songs in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives, many of them little-known compositions that have faded over the years. But this holiday season why don’t we revive them, and take the time to read some of these poems to cherished children, grandchildren and other family members! It’s a wonderful way to honor the words of our poetic ancestors while sharing quality time with our loved ones.

In this blog post I’ve cut and pasted some of my favorite holiday poems, carols & hymns from old newspapers, and have included excerpts for easier reading.

“Christmas Carol” by Martin Luther

In an 1859 newspaper I found a reprint of this “Christmas Carol” that Martin Luther wrote for his son Hans in 1540. Isn’t it wonderful that such history still exists?

“Christmas Carol” by Martin Luther, Portland Weekly Advertiser newspaper article 4 January 1859

Portland Weekly Advertiser (Portland, Maine), 4 January 1859, page 4

From Heaven above to earth I come,

To bear good news to every home:

Glad tidings of great joy I bring,

Whereof I now will say and sing:

 

To you, this night, is born a child

Of Mary, chosen mother mild;

This little child, of lowly birth,

Shall be the joy of all your earth.

 

’Tis Christ our God, who far on high

Hath heard your sad and bitter cry;

Himself will your Salvation be,

Himself from sin will make you free…

 

Glory to God in highest Heaven,

Who unto man His Son hath given!

While angels sing, with pious mirth,

A glad New Year to all the earth.

“Christmas Hymn”

I found this “Christmas Hymn” by an unknown author in an 1837 newspaper.

“Christmas Hymn,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette newspaper article 16 January 1837

Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 16 January 1837, page 2

Hail happy morn—hail holy child,

Hail mercy’s sacred spring!

Upon whose birth the angels smiled,—

Our Saviour and our King!

Oh! like the star whose guiding rays

The Eastern sages bless’d,

Thy love, Oh! Lord, shall light our ways,

And give the weary rest…

 

Adoring angels filled the sky,

And thus their song began,

“Glory to God who dwells on high,

And peace on earth to man.”

“A Christmas Hymn” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“A Christmas Hymn” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was printed in an 1844 newspaper.

“A Christmas Hymn” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Centinel of Freedom newspaper article 31 December 1844

Centinel of Freedom (Newark, New Jersey), 31 December 1844, page 1

…It is the calm and solemn night!

A thousand bells ring out, and throw

Their joyous peals abroad, and smite

The darkness.—charmed and holy now!

The night that erst no shame had worn,

To it a happy name is given;

For in that stable lay, new-born,

The peaceful Prince of earth and heaven.

In the solemn midnight

Centuries ago!

“The Snow Man” by Gracie F. Coolidge

“The Snow Man,” a poem by Gracie F. Coolidge, was published in an 1884 newspaper.

“The Snow Man” by Gracie F. Coolidge, Grand Forks Daily Herald newspaper article 24 December 1884

Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 24 December 1884, page 2

…He sees through the window the children bright,

And hears them merrily singing

Round the Christmas tree with its glory of light.

When out from the chimney, in bear-skins white,

Comes good St. Nicholas springing!

 

And the Snow-man laughs so hard at that,

That when his laughter ceases,

A pipe, a coat, and an old straw hat,

Two lumps of coal and a flannel cravat,

Are all that is left of the pieces!

“Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas To-night” by Phillips Brooks

“Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas To-night,” a poem by Phillips Brooks, was published in a 1908 newspaper.

“Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas To-night” by Phillips Brooks, Patriot newspaper article 24 December 1908

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 24 December 1908, page 6

Christmas in lands of the fir tree and pine,

Christmas in lands of the palm tree and vine;

Christmas where snow peaks stand solemn and white,

Christmas where corn-fields lie sunny and bright;

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas to-night!

 

Christmas where children are hopeful and gay,

Christmas where old men are patient and gray,

Christmas where peace, like a dove in its flight,

Broods o’er brave men in the thick of the fight.

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas to-night!

 

For the Christ-child who comes is the Master of all;

No palace too great—no cottage too small.

The angels who welcome Him sing from the height,

“In the city of David a King in His might.”

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas to-night!

 

…So the stars of the midnight which compass us round,

Shall see a strange glory and hear a sweet sound,

And cry, “Look! the earth is aflame with delight,

O sons of the morning rejoice at the sight.”

Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas to-night!

“Hanukkah Lights” by Morris Rosenfeld

“Hanukkah Lights,” a poem by Morris Rosenfeld, was published in a 1921 newspaper.

“Hanukkah Lights” by Morris Rosenfeld, Jewish Chronicle newspaper article 23 December 1921

Jewish Chronicle (Newark, New Jersey), 23 December 1921, page 4

Oh, ye little candle lights!

You tell tales of days and nights,

Stories with no end;

You tell us of bloody fight,

Heroism, power, might,

Wonders, how they blend.

 

When I see you flickering,

Colors diff’rent checkering;

Dreamlike speaks your gleam:

“Judah, hast fought once upon,

Conquest, glory thou hast won”—

God! is that a dream?…

“The Night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore

Finally, I’d like to leave you with the most famous of all Christmas poems, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” popularly known as “The Night before Christmas.”

For many of us, including my own family, the reading of “The Night before Christmas” is a well-honored tradition. After Christmas Eve service when I was a child, we would put on our jammies, hang our stockings with care, and mother would read us the poem before father would scoot us off to bed.

When the now-famous Christmas poem was first published in an 1823 newspaper, the author chose to remain anonymous—but he was no match for members of society, who became obsessed with wanting to identify the penman of that memorable poem. Eventually, Clement Clarke Moore (15 July 1779-10 July 1863), acknowledged authorship. It turned out he was just a kindly gentleman who enjoyed writing poetry, and this one had been written as a present for his children.

If you search old newspapers, you’ll find many renditions of Moore’s popular Christmas poem. The writer of this 1897 newspaper article did a wonderful job explaining the background of the poem, including a picture of Moore, his house, and a signed copy of the poem from Moore’s notebook.

“The Night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, Boston Herald newspaper article 12 December 1897

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 12 December 1897, page 36

Here is a picture of the house where Moore wrote his famous poem.

“The Night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, Boston Herald newspaper article 12 December 1897

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 12 December 1897, page 36

And here is the poem, with an image from his personal notebook!

“The Night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, Boston Herald newspaper article 12 December 1897

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 12 December 1897, page 36

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

 

And mama in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap;

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

 

…But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa to all of my genealogy friends and your families!

4th of July Holiday: A Time for Family Reunions & Genealogy Fun

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott celebrates the Fourth of July holiday by researching old newspaper articles to discover some July 4th reunions celebrated in times past.

I love holidays and I especially love the 4th of July! Fireworks, picnics, and family reunions! What a great combination for all of us, and especially those of us who are genealogy “infected”! All my life July 4th was a time to gather family around and have a wonderful long weekend while celebrating the birth of the United States!

I hope you and your family had fun this past holiday weekend celebrating our great nation and enjoying quality time together.

When I began planning my picnic menu for this year’s 4th of July party (should I go with hamburgers, hot dogs, or brats?) I decided to spend a few moments searching GenealogyBank.com’s historical newspaper archives to see what some of the past July Fourth celebrations were like that “made the papers.”

The first article I found in my search, published in the “Society” column of a 1912 Pennsylvania newspaper, really perked up my interest as a genealogist. The historical news article listed the names of dozens of the reportedly more than 100 family members of three of the oldest families of the county who gathered for their annual 4th of July reunion. Seeing all those persons’ names and hometowns made me wish I were related!

Three Families in July Fourth Reunion, Patriot newspaper article 6 July 1912

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 6 July 1912, page 3

Next, I enjoyed another family reunion article and wished I had ancestors who lived in Mason, Fleming, and/or Lewis counties in Kentucky. This 1912 Kentucky newspaper reported on a nice assortment of many of the “Old Settlers” of the area.

Old Settlers Will Meet July Fourth, Lexington Herald newspaper article 22 May 1912

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 22 May 1912, page 2

I became a bit envious when I read an article from a 1913 Oklahoma newspaper. This piece explained that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had changed his mind and agreed to go to the Gettysburg battlefield and address the Veterans Encampment there. Can you imagine being at Gettysburg and walking amongst Civil War veterans, hearing their first-hand stories? Wow, what a 4th of July that would make for anyone who loves genealogy and history!

Wilson to Visit Gettsyburg Vetson July Fourth, Daily Oklahoman newspaper article 29 June 1913

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 29 June 1913, page 1

Then I got a good chuckle from an article in an 1875 Ohio newspaper. This enjoyable item recounted the 4th of July festivities surrounding the annual gathering of telegraphers. I enjoyed reading that this group knew “how to have a frolic in a sensible and respectable manner” and sported badges with coded messages. Despite their apparent good manners and fun times, I’d be willing to bet that this is a group that doesn’t meet anymore.

Reunion of the Cleveland, Buffalo, Toledo and Erie Telegraphers, Plain Dealer newspaper article 6 July 1875

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 6 July 1875, page 4

Of course reading all these wonderful old newspaper articles about 4th of July family reunions and gatherings only made me pine a bit for some of my family reunions in times gone by. The last several decades or so have found us in a cabin in the north woods of Minnesota where we enjoy the holiday, often in its weather extremes. I have great memories ranging from the incredibly HOT 4th of July when the beach sand was so burning we couldn’t walk on it barefoot to get to our clambake fire—all the way to the other extreme of the 4th of July in 1996, when we all watched the fireworks in winter jackets, hats, and mittens after trimming a small, nearby pine tree with Christmas lights to celebrate the cold!

Before wrapping up my Fourth of July reunion research, I took a few more minutes to look in our old family photo albums for some more memories of the holiday. Aside from a whole lot of my really bad photos of fireworks that didn’t quite work out (thank goodness for digital photography now), I did find two photos that really took me back. One is of my dad and mom enjoying the 4th in their favorite place—a swimming pool.

photo of Scott Phillips' parents celebrating July Fourth by a swimming pool

The second photo was from a 1986 4th of July reunion with my in-laws in northern Minnesota.

photo of Scott Phillips celebrating July Fourth with his in-laws in northern Minnesota

Both these family photos bring memories of happy, happy times gone by. I hope you enjoy them; I have included them here as my way of saying: I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July holiday—and Happy Birthday to the United States of America!

By the way—what did you grill this 4th of July? Tell us in the comments.

George Washington Proclaimed a Day of Thanksgiving 26 November 1789

Today’s Wall Street Journal (21 November 2012) has an op-ed editorial by Melanie Kirkpatrick: Thanksgiving, 1789 about the nation’s first Thanksgiving proclamation.

It was also President Washington’s first proclamation—he had been sworn in as the nation’s first president just a few months earlier, on 30 April 1789. Washington’s proclamation making Thanksgiving an officially recognized American holiday was printed in newspapers around the country including the New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) 22 October 1789, page 1. Read the entire proclamation here.

It’s as timely today as it was then.

GenealogyBank wishes you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving.

A General Thanksgiving, New Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 22 October 1789

New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 22 October 1789, page 1

1799 Newspaper Announcing Death of George Washington: Free Download!

The old Colonial newspapers let us look back and see our country’s news as it happened. We get to see the early American history as it unfolded in our ancestors’ day.

Imagine the utter shock in 1799 upon hearing the grim news that General George Washington was dead—America’s military leader during the Revolutionary War and the nation’s first President. George Washington died on Dec. 14, 1799, at the age of 67.

The people would have been galvanized by the news of President Washington’s death.

They would remember exactly when and where they were when they first heard about it.

The Saturday Evening Post Newspaper

They would go and get a newspaper to learn about how George Washington died and get all the details surrounding his death. Then they would read the newspaper, read it again, and save it for their children and grandchildren.

They would never forget this tragic loss in our country’s history.

Here is a copy of the Colonial newspaper that area residents of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, read cover to cover to learn about the death of George Washington. It was published by the Oracle of Dauphin and Harrisburgh Advertiser (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 30 December 1799.

Most of this historical newspaper issue is about the death of George Washington. It includes his obituary, information about his funeral and much more.

Today is a federal holiday originally enacted by Congress in 1879 to close government offices in the District of Columbia, at the time known as “Washington’s Birthday.” In remembrance of President George Washington on this Presidents Day 2012, we are offering a free download of this important early American newspaper that covers his death.

The Story of Perkins Swain: A Genealogist’s Online Research Discoveries

Online genealogy research is endlessly fascinating—you never know what you will find. I was doing some family history research in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archive when this double obituary caught my eye. Baltimore Patriot (Baltimore, Maryland), 25 July 1834, page 3.

Just a short, simple notice, 4½ lines long—and yet what a sad story it tells.

Sally Swain, 27-year-old wife of Perkins Swain, died on 17 June 1834 in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. Her husband, Perkins Swain, age 37, “was in [his] usual health at the funeral of his deceased wife”—but abruptly died seven days later. No doubt, of a broken heart.

Can you imagine the grief of the pallbearers? They were probably family members, or at least friends and neighbors, who sadly carried the body of young Sally Swain to her grave on June 17th while her grieving yet healthy husband, Perkins, stood nearby. And then suddenly, just seven days later, those same pallbearers were carrying the body of her husband to join Sally’s gravesite.

Who were this couple struck down by tragedy? This story of a perfectly-healthy husband dying seven days after his young wife’s funeral made me want to research more about them and learn about their lives.

Digging deeper into my genealogy research online, I found a marriage announcement that Perkins Swain married Sally Weymouth in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, in a November 1823 newspaper. Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 15 November 1823, page 3.

Looking at the free collection of New Hampshire marriage certificates online at FamilySearch, I quickly found their marriage certificate. They were married on 23 October 1823 by the Rev. William Blaisdell. FamilySearch.org is a handy genealogy site. It has put up the entire U.S. Census, as well as birth and marriage certificates from all 50 states and many foreign countries. This free website by the Family History Library is well worth a visit to find great genealogical information that can aid in your research. Checking further in GenealogyBank, I found a newspaper probate article showing that Perkins Swain had known tragedy earlier in his life, when he and his brother Gorham were orphaned at age 5 and 4 respectively. The Sun (Dover Gazette & County Advertiser) (Dover, New Hampshire), 21 December 1805, page 4.
Enlarging the first paragraph, we find some interesting details about Perkins Swain’s life.
In this probate notice, Thomas Balch is acting as guardian for the young orphans. We discover that their father was William Swain, “late of Gilmanton,” a tailor who died without leaving a will. Did he die unexpectedly? And why is there no mention of the mother? These are tantalizing questions that require further family history research.

This probate notice also tells us that the two young boys have inherited an estate of 100 acres in Gilmanton.

Continuing to look further in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archive for details about Perkins Swain, I found this public auction notice that perhaps completes the story of his life.
New Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 19 October 1835, page 3.

A year after his death, the homestead farm of Perkins Swain is being publicly auctioned on Nov. 2, 1835. This farm is a 100-acre parcel in Gilmanton, New Hampshire—the same piece of land we learned about in the probate notice of 1805.

Isn’t it amazing how many details we’ve found out about Perkins Swain, who died in 1834? We have found his marriage and death notices, his marriage certificate, the probate notice when he was orphaned at age 5, and the public auction notice of his farm after his death. With more online genealogy research, we could no doubt uncover even more details about Perkins Swain and his family.

There are so many digitized newspaper articles, historical documents and government records available online today—terrific research resources for genealogists.

This is a great day for genealogy.

Happy Birthday GenealogyBank!

Wow—GenealogyBank is five years old this week and has it grown fast!
Celebrate with our special offer to you – click for special offer. When we launched in October 2006, GenealogyBank had 160 million records. Now it has over 1 billion.

It Our genealogy website has grown from 2,700 newspapers to more than 5,700, with coverage from all 50 states spanning three centuries—from 1690 to today making it one of the most comprehensive resources for genealogical research online.

Newspapers are the essential core tool for documenting your family history and GenealogyBank’s unique resources historical archive collections make that possible. Over 95% of the newspaper content on our genealogy website cannot be found anywhere else on the Internet.

Since the day GenealogyBank launched, we have been adding more genealogical content to our site continuously—including more newspapers, obituary collections, government records, and historical books and documents.

Come and see what you’ll discover about your family!
Celebrate with our special offer to you – click for special offer.

California – Sutro Library Announces Closing Saturdays; Some Fridays

Sutro Library announces Friday, Saturday closing schedule.

The Sutro Library, the most extensive genealogy collection west of Salt Lake City and the San Francisco branch of the California State Library, announces changes in its days of operation. As of July 1, 2009, Saturday hours have been discontinued.

In compliance with the Governor’s furlough order, Sutro Library will close three Fridays this month: July 10, 17, and 24.

Beginning August 1, 2009 and continuing until June 2010, the library will close the first, second, and third Fridays of each month.

Regular service hours for Sutro are Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., excluding furlough Fridays and state holidays.

Sutro Library offers the most extensive genealogy collection west of Salt Lake City; a comprehensive local history collection; Adolph Sutro’s rare book and manuscript collections; genealogical, family and local history catalogs; and special indexes, guides, and bibliographies. Library materials can be accessed through the California State Library’s Main Catalog, and Sutro staff is available to assist in-house customers.

Items from the Sutro Library may be borrowed on interlibrary loan through local public libraries. For additional information or directions to the library, visit, phone (415) 731-4477, or e-mail. Laura Parker, Public Information Officer; California State Library; 900 N Street, Suite 300; Sacramento, CA 94237; (916) 651-6798.

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