Making an All-Inclusive Family Tree through Newspaper Research

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about expanding his family tree research to be inclusive of all family relations, and uses old newspapers to accomplish this goal.

When I embarked on my initial family tree work I made an important decision: I was going to be as inclusive in my ancestry work as possible. It was an easy decision and it was actually made by my children. Quite naturally, they wanted to know both sides of their ancestry. To them it made no difference that my wife’s grandparents weren’t “my blood” because they were “their blood”!

I quickly saw that this would be true for every marriage in my tree and thanked my children profusely. In hindsight this decision to go all-inclusive with our family tree has paid huge dividends in many of my family history and genealogy efforts.  It’s led to research successes such as finding my ancestral home village in Bohemia through a clue I discovered as a result of researching my great grandfather’s sister’s marriage!

Recently while I was researching my family tree I found myself sighing over the fact that I really knew far too little about my brother-in-law’s father, Lee Tressel.

photo of the Phillips-Tressel wedding

Photo: the wedding of Scott Phillips’s sister and her husband, Dick Tressel. The bride’s parents are on the left; Lee Tressel and his wife, Eleanor, are on the right. Credit: from the author’s collection.

Unfortunately, Lee passed away at the young age of 56 in 1981, long before I was smart enough to have spent an appropriate amount of time gathering his stories and memories of his life and career to add to our family tree. While I knew Lee and had spent some time with him, I believed that there had to be more I did not know about this accomplished football player, coach, mentor, and family man. So off I went to GenealogyBank.com to help me fill the void in our family tree—and it did a superb job!

One of my earliest discoveries in this family research project was a 1996 newspaper article that recapped Lee’s induction, as a member of the inaugural class, into the College Football Hall of Fame. It was inspiring to see his name alongside such football luminaries as Terry Bradshaw and Walter Payton.

Payton, Bradshaw Lead List of Hall of Fame Inductees, Marietta Journal newspaper article 18 May 1996

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 18 May 1996, page 22

As I continued my genealogy search, I was treated to a 1969 newspaper article that included a wonderful photo. This was a truly smile-inducing old news article since it not only talked about Lee, but also about his son, Dick, my now brother-in-law, playing for him at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.

Father-Son Act Closes at B-W, Plain Dealer newspaper article 21 November 1969

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 21 November 1969, page 54

Soon my searching brought me to another historical newspaper article from Cleveland, Ohio. While it was bittersweet to be reading Lee’s obituary, there were genealogy and family history treasures to be found throughout this article.

Friends, Rivals Alike Remember B-W's Tressel as a Gentleman, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 April 1981

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 April 1981, page 61

Not only was there a very nice review of Lee’s sports coaching career, there was also a quote from our old family friend and my first childhood hero, Cleveland Browns’ Pro Football Hall of Fame member Lou “The Toe” Groza. I was even more thrilled when I saw that this news article included a photograph of Lee from his playing days. Now, I am not saying Lee played the game in the olden days, but I will say you can see him wearing a leather helmet. No wonder he knew the game so well! It was also heartwarming to read a quote by the Browns’ coach, Sam Rutigliano, who said “Lee represented all the things I believe in—in coaching, as a father, a friend and a husband. He was all the things I’d like to be.” Quite an accolade I’d say.

I came across several more articles talking about how Lee thought it was a real thrill to be able to coach two of his sons on the gridiron, both my brother-in-law, Dick, and Dick’s youngest brother and my schoolmate, Jim. I kept on searching and was taken aback by my next genealogy find.

I couldn’t quite figure out why GenealogyBank.com was directing me to an article published on 20 November 1933 in the Repository of Canton, Ohio, but as always I took a quick look. I found myself reading an article about Lee’s father (who was also named Lee) and the tragic loss of his brother, Charles Gene Tressel, at the age of 11. He died of “lockjaw” from stepping on a chicken bone. This one took me right back to my summer visits to the old Tressel family farm in rural Ohio.

Tetanus Attack Fatal, Repository  newspaper article 20 November 1933

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 20 November 1933, page 10

In just about an hour I had taken a lovely trip back in time, gained valuable information on this family member, and even discovered tidbits of family information I had never expected. That is one of the things I like best about using newspapers in my genealogy research: finding the unexpected!
What kind of interesting family information have you found unexpectedly in old newspapers?

Frakturs & Family Bibles Can Provide Proof of Marriage

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about using family Bible records and an interesting folk art called “frakturs” to document early family history.

I was recently asked to be part of a “Brick Wall” genealogical panel, whereby researchers submit a series of questions regarding their seemingly unsolvable ancestral proofs.

Many family researchers get stuck at dead-ends due to the loss of church and civil records, and don’t know where to turn next in pursuing their family history.

So if you can’t find an official genealogical proof document, what should you do? One good solution is to look for a family record, such as notes recorded in family Bibles. Another good genealogical resource is a fraktur, a type of folk art, mostly created to commemorate births, baptisms, and marriages.

Frakturs (or Fraktur Schrift) was originally an early type of black letter printing (or calligraphy) found in Germany. Later it expanded into a delightful type of decorative pictorial or manuscript art, popularized by Pennsylvania Mennonites at Ephrata, as described in this 1955 article from GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives.

The Art of 'Fractur' Made Pennsylvania Walls Bright, Boston Herald newspaper article 9 October 1955

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 9 October 1955, page 38

Fraktur examples are often found in museums, and are advertised for high amounts on popular auction sites such as eBay. Numerous artifacts are in private collections, such as this framed fraktur which was given by one of my ancestors to her spouse in commemoration of their marriage.

photo of a marriage fraktur

Framed marriage fraktur

Beyond delving into family collections, how might one locate family Bibles and frakturs?

An easy method is to search military pension records. If a spouse survived her veteran husband and wished to collect a pension, proof of marriage was required.

Typically, a widow would submit a church record or a letter from a town clerk certifying a civil registration. In this example from 1840, James P. Terry of Somers, Tolland, Connecticut, certified the marriage of Stephen Chapel and Lucy Russel on 25 October 1795.

marriage certification for Stephen Chapel and Lucy Russel 25 October 1795

Revolutionary War Pension File W.1888, page 10

However, if a civil or court record was unavailable (perhaps lost to fire or other disaster), the surviving family member might resort to submitting original pages from the family Bible or a fraktur.

A few of these proof-of-marriage document submissions were returned to the families—but many were not, and numerous examples still exist within the National Archives. Most are digitized (generally in black and white) within pension files, such as this one for Revolutionary War soldier John Tomlin and his wife Jane Chamblin.

marriage fraktur for John Tomlin and Jane Chamblin

Fraktur commemorating the births and marriage of John Tomlin and Jane Chamblin. Revolutionary War Pension File W.6302, page 18.

As descendants find their ancestors’ frakturs, they are often posted on websites. You can find these posted frakturs using my “visual” method.

How to Find Your Family’s Fraktur

1)      Open your favorite search engine (mine is Google).

2)      Search for “fraktur” or “Bible” followed by a keyword such as a surname, or a phrase such as “Revolutionary War.”

3)      Click on the “Images” tab at the top of the resulting search results page—and voilà: pages and pages of images of frakturs appear. Some will be links to books and references, but most will direct you to digitized images. (Note: if using Google Chrome, you can explore additional searching options under the “More” or “Search Tools” options.)

4)      Bookmark the images you are interested in for later reference, or add them to a Pinterest.com board. Pinterest is a “content sharing service that allows members to ‘pin’ images, videos and other objects to their pinboard.”

Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”:

screenshot of Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”

screenshot of Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”

Search results for family “Bible records”:

screenshot of Google Images search results for “Bible records"

screenshot of Google Images search results for “Bible records”

You can search Pinterest for genealogy links, such as GenealogyBank’s Pinterest boards at

http://pinterest.com/genealogybank/, or my recently established Frakturs and Family Bible Records Pinterest board at http://pinterest.com/compmary/frakturs-and-family-bible-records/.

For more information on frakturs, visit the Ephrata Cloister website.

Researching Ancestors Who Were Committed to Asylums, Using Old Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post Gena writes about how difficult it can be finding information about an ancestor who was committed to an asylum (i.e., state  hospital)—and how using old newspapers can help.

When I look at the latter years of one set of my paternal 2nd great-grandparents, I see a similarity. They both had divorced and later remarried, and their latter years were marked by the same outcome: they spent their final years in a state hospital, called an “asylum” in those days.

Asylums served the needs of more than just mentally disabled people: they also served as a place for the elderly who needed care. In an American era before rest homes and specialized elder care, asylums were available to care for elderly persons whose family could not—or would not—care for them. While we often associate the words “insane asylum” with mental illness, historically many different types of people were locked up in asylums who were anything but mentally ill. For example, besides the elderly, women who didn’t conform to society’s ideas of what a woman should be were sometimes locked up at the whim of their husbands or other male family members.

vintage postcard of the Arkansas Insane Asylum

Vintage postcard: Arkansas Insane Asylum. Credit: from the author’s collection.

Researching your ancestor who was committed to an asylum can be difficult due to the lack of sources, as well as privacy law restrictions. This is where social history sources can help your family history research.

In the case of my paternal 2nd great-grandmother, Malinda Randall Montgomery Bean, she spent less than a year in the Oregon State Hospital located in Salem, Oregon, in the 1940s. (To learn more about the Oregon State Hospital, visit their museum online at Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health.)

I knew a little bit about Malinda from interviewing family members but I wanted to know more. I was especially interested in her life between the years after her second husband died in 1935 and her own passing nine years later. I knew from family sources that she suffered dementia in her later years, which helped explain why she lived her last months in the state hospital.

To find out more about Malinda’s life I took a genealogy trip to Oregon, researched at the Oregon State Archives, visited the grounds of the hospital (still in existence), and found her burial place. Because I was limited in what I could learn about my ancestor’s life during her time at the state hospital, I researched old newspapers to understand the life of asylum patients during the early 1900s.

One gets a sense of the normalcy of sending the elderly to live out their final years at a state facility from this 1911 newspaper article, which is about the Oregon State Hospital asking families to not send their elderly to the hospital due to concerns about overcrowding, and instead take care of them at home or have the county care for them.

Asylum to Close to Many Insane, Oregonian  newspaper article 24 March 1911

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 24 March 1911, page 6

Reading a later newspaper article from 1940 lamenting the crowding of the facility gives me a sense of what my great-great-grandmother’s living conditions must have been like at the end of her life. One danger from the overcrowding is mentioned in the news article: fire. The old newspaper article states “The main building, built in 1883, is tinder dry, and its floors are soaked with the oil of many cleanings.” It goes on to say that the elderly are housed on the first floor just in case they need to escape during such a tragedy.

State Hospital Visit Reveals Crowded Conditions, Oregonian newspaper article 14 April 1940

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 14 April 1940, page 85

Besides problems with overcrowding in the asylums, there were other dangers for those living in institutionalized care. For example: right before my ancestor was a resident at the Oregon State Hospital, some cooks from the facility were charged in the deaths of 47 inmates. They served residents roach poison mixed in their food!

Asylum Cooks Provide Bail, Oregonian  newspaper article 25 November 1942

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 25 November 1942, page 27

Malinda “Lennie” Bean died on 19 March 1944 of bronchopneumonia and “senility” at the age of 79 years. Her family paid for her final arrangements and her subsequent burial in a nearby cemetery. According to her death certificate she had lived in the Oregon State Hospital for 9 months and 29 days.

Although doing genealogy research on an ancestor who spent time in an asylum can be difficult, don’t forget the power of incorporating social history—found in historical newspaper articles— to help you better understand their lives and the times in which they lived.

Heber Springs, Arkansas, ‘Jacksonian’ Is Rich in Family Stories

Heber Springs, Arkansas, may be only seven square miles in size and have a population just a little more than 7,000, but this small town is big enough to have its own newspaper, the “Jacksonian”—and GenealogyBank has it available online to help with your family history searches in “The Natural State.”

photo of the welcome sign for Heber Springs, Arkansas

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The newspaper articles and obituaries in these historical small town newspapers often give genealogical details not usually found in the big city newspapers.

For example, let’s look at the wealth of family history detail found in Mary A. (Gennoe) Moore’s obituary.

obituary for Mary Moore, Jacksonian newspaper article 19 January 1893

Jacksonian (Heber Springs, Arkansas), 19 January 1893, page 5

From this old obituary we learn these vital statistics:

  • Name: Mary A. Moore
  • Maiden name: Gennoe
  • Date of death: Thursday, 12 January 1893
  • Place of death: at her home in Heber Springs, Arkansas
  • Date of birth: 18 February 1832
  • Birthplace: Tennessee
  • Husband: I. R. Moore
  • Date of marriage: 22 February 1857

We also learn the following personal details about her life:

  • Both she and her husband grew up in the same community
  • They had known each other since childhood
  • In November 1857 the married couple moved near Springfield, Missouri
  • In January 1866 they moved to Boone County, Arkansas
  • In 1884 they moved to Yell County, Arkansas
  • Around 1889 they moved to Heber Springs, Arkansas
  • They had eight children, seven of whom survived Mary
  • Children: J. R. B., T. C., and I. W. Moore, and Mrs. Nancy E. Wilson lived in Heber Springs
  • Children: Mrs. P. D. L. Baity, Mrs. Sarah P. Hastings, and J. F. Moore lived in Dardanelle

The rest of this old obituary described the funeral and the deep feelings everyone in this small community had for “Grandma Moore.”

Where else but in newspapers can we find this much detail about the lives of our ancestors?

Sure—we probably have the tradition passed down that they were born in Tennessee, and later moved to Heber Springs. But, would we know that they also lived in Springfield, Boone County and Yell County? Would we know the dates of Mary’s birth and marriage, or the names and places of residence of her seven surviving children?

So much family history information in just one historical obituary!

Find and document your family’s history in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives. Preserve and pass down the information to the rising generation.

GenealogyBank search form for the "Jacksonian" newspaper

GenealogyBank search form for the “Jacksonian” newspaper

Find out the details of your ancestors’ lives by searching this old Heber Springs newspaper online. Search the Jacksonian newspaper archive now.

What Counties & Towns in Ireland Did Our Ancestors Come From?

Genealogists know the frustration of tracking down your Irish immigrant ancestor’s birth, marriage or death certificate, hoping that it will be the document that finally tells you where in Ireland your family came from—only to be disappointed once again.

Irish American death certificates

Irish American death certificates

So many census registrars simply wrote “Ireland” on the form, giving no additional clues about the town or county. This practice can present a challenge to those of us seeking to locate the towns or counties in Ireland where our Irish immigrant ancestors came from.

You can see this problem in the 1892 New York state census, which is online. Here is a typical entry, for the Scully family. The census tells us that the family members were born in “Ireland” and now live in Albany, New York.

1892 New York Census: Scully

1892 New York Census: Scully

Credit: “New York, State Census, 1892,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/X366-VPR. Accessed 21 Mar 2013, Kate Scully, 1892.

How are we going to find out exactly where in Ireland the Irish family members were born? Irish American Newspapers!

It has been my experience that Irish American newspapers are the genealogist’s most reliable source for finding information about our Irish ancestors’ birthplaces. Will every Irish obituary or marriage record give these details? No—but many of these old Irish American newspaper records do.

Let’s turn to historical Irish American newspapers to try and find the birth place of the first Scully member listed in the NY census.

Searching GenealogyBank for references to Catherine Scully of Albany, I found her obituary published in the Irish World News (New York City, New York), 2 December 1893, page 5.

Catherine Scully obituary, Irish World News newspaper article 2 December 1893

Irish World News (New York City, New York), 2 December 1893, page 5

Bingo. This old newspaper obituary tells us that she was born in Ballingarry, which is in County Tipperary, Ireland.

And there are more genealogical clues…It tells us that:

  • She died 3 November 1893 at her home in Albany, New York
  • She was a widow—her husband was Andrew Scully
  • Her maiden name was Hayde
  • She was a Catholic, and was buried at St. Agnes’ Cemetery
  • Her four surviving children were: Ellen, John, Lawrence and Patrick
  • She was a member of the Ladies’ Catholic Benevolent Association, Branch 25

Now that we know she was born in Ballingarry, County Tipperary, Ireland, in 1846, we can look for images of the Irish town from 150 years ago.

The search for images of Ballingarry was easy: Wikipedia has an engraving of a street scene from the town in 1848.

What a treasure to have an image of this Irish town from the time when she was born!

illustration of Ballingarry, Ireland

Illustration: Ballingarry in 1848. Credit: Wikipedia.

Hey—could that be her on the right side of this image standing with her father?

Every genealogist wants to know exactly where in Ireland—or any country—their family came from.

Newspapers are a great resource for finding those family facts. Dig into GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives online and find the details and stories of your ancestors’ lives.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s ‘My Day’ Newspaper Column: A Public Diary

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about Eleanor Roosevelt’s popular and long-running newspaper column, “My Day.”

When you think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt what comes to mind? Maybe it’s the fact that he was the only U.S. president to be elected to four terms. Maybe you’re familiar with the programs he helped to establish during the Depression, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Maybe you remember the words from his speech after the attack on Pearl Harbor, calling it “a date which will live in infamy.” Our 32nd president led the nation during the difficult times of the Great Depression and World War II.

What do you know about his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt? She was a crusader for many political and social issues, including women’s and civil rights. Mrs. Roosevelt has a long list of accomplishments in her own right apart from being a first lady. Starting in late 1935 she became one of the most-documented first ladies in U.S. history, due to the fact that she began a syndicated newspaper column that she personally wrote. Eleanor worked on her column “My Day” six days a week, from 1935 to 1962, writing about her daily activities and giving her views on a range of subjects.

This 1935 newspaper notice announced the upcoming “My Day” newspaper column.

Roosevelt Columns, Plain Dealer newspaper article 30 December 1935

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 30 December 1935, page 7

Many of Eleanor Roosevelt’s newspaper columns read like diary entries. In some cases, they resemble a letter to a dear friend—filled with her thoughts, conversations and opinions.

Her newspaper columns addressed many different topics; not all were especially poignant. For example, in one early column she discusses how much sleep she got and describes eating a tray of food by herself in her room. But looking at the totality of the columns helps paint a picture of the United States through the mid-20th century, reflecting the important issues our families faced such as war, poverty and racism. These “My Day” columns provide researchers with a social history of life during this time.

One issue that Eleanor Roosevelt was passionate about was civil rights. In her 21 February 1936 column, she mentions that she and her husband enjoyed a concert by African American singer Marian Anderson.

My Day in the White House by Eleanor Roosevelt, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 21 February 1936

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 21 February 1936, page 6

Three years later in February 1939 Eleanor Roosevelt quit the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) over their refusal to allow Marian Anderson to perform in Constitution Hall. At that time the Hall was segregated and the DAR refused to allow African Americans to perform there.

In her resignation letter, Mrs. Roosevelt stated:

“However, I am in complete disagreement with the attitude taken in refusing Constitution Hall to a great artist. You have set an example which seems to me unfortunate, and I feel obliged to send in to you my resignation. You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization has failed.”

You can view a copy of that DAR resignation letter on the National Archives website.

Thanks to the support of Eleanor Roosevelt and other like-minded individuals, Marian Anderson eventually sang at Constitution Hall at the invitation of the DAR in 1942.

photo of Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson

Photo: Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson in Japan. Credit: Flickr: The Commons, U.S. National Archives.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s 27-year newspaper column spanned her time as first lady, when she became a widow, and when she worked with the United Nations. One of her only breaks from writing the columns was in the days following her husband’s death on 12 April 1945.

In her last column, which ran 26 September 1962, Eleanor was once again addressing the issue of civil rights. In that column she discussed the issue of desegregating the schools, saying:

“In the same way, we must realize that however slow the progress of school integration in the South, analogous situations exist over and over again in the Northern states. There the problem of school desegregation is closely tied to desegregation of housing; certainly we are not doing any kind of job that we could hold out as an example to our Southern neighbors.”

With that discussion Eleanor’s “My Day” column came to an end.* She died two months later on 7 November 1962 at the age of 78.

* “My Day” by Eleanor Roosevelt, 26 September 1962. Available on the website My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt. Prepared by the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project.

Find Your Female Ancestors This Women’s History Month

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena helps celebrate Women’s History Month by providing search tips to help you find your female ancestors in old newspapers.

One of the biggest roadblocks genealogists find when researching female ancestors is the lack of resources that document their lives. This is especially true of government records, which don’t always tell us what we want to know about our ancestresses’ lives. Fortunately, there is a good source for information about the women members of our family: old newspapers. The great thing about using historical newspapers is that they document the lives of common people and their everyday events, special occasions and activities—for women as well as men.

Where can you find your female ancestor in the newspaper? A complete discussion of all newspaper article types would be too lengthy for a blog post—but to start with let’s consider the following three categories (Death, Milestones & Activities) that you can find in the newspaper pages of GenealogyBank.

One caution before you start your female ancestor search. As you will notice from the following articles, it’s important to consider how you will search for your female ancestor’s name. Until very recently married women were most likely identified by their husband’s names. So searching for Mary Jane Smith might not yield any hits, but a search for Mrs. Aaron Smith or Mrs. A.P. Smith very well might. As you search, keep an Internet research log and note the variations of your ancestor’s name that you find and the date of the newspaper. GenealogyBank adds more newspapers to its online archive collections daily, so what you don’t find today might appear tomorrow or next week.

Female Ancestor Death Records in Newspapers

An obvious place to start researching any ancestor’s life is with their death. While we often equate death with obituaries, remember that other types of notices and articles about someone’s death may also exist in newspapers.

This list of death notices from a Philadelphia newspaper provides information about each individual’s death and funeral.

death notices, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 8 March 1904

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 8 March 1904, page 7

Throughout this list many women are identified—such as Anne C. Winkworth, wife of the late Thomas A. Winkworth, who died in her 80th year.

death notice for Anne C. Winkworth, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 8 March 1904

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 8 March 1904, page 7

Major Life Milestones in Newspapers

Milestone wedding anniversaries are something to celebrate and newspapers have done that with photos and articles about the wedding anniversary couple. If your ancestors celebrated 50 or more years of marriage, you may want to see if their golden anniversary was documented in the newspaper.

This old wedding anniversary article from a Portland newspaper doesn’t give us too many clues about Mrs. Austin H. Gates—in fact, her birth name is never printed. However, we are provided with her photo, as well as her descendants’ names.

Mr. and Mrs. Austin H. Gates Celebrate 50th Wedding Anniversary, Oregonian newspaper article 20 March 1908

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 20 March 1908, page 6

Do you have an ancestor who lived to be the ripe old age of 100 years or beyond? That significant milestone is often documented in the newspaper, as in this old Philadelphia newspaper article reporting that Mrs. Eliza Stranahan survived an entire century—from 1800-1900!

Mrs. Eliza Stranahan Today Celebrates Her 100th Birthday Anniversary at Sharon, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 5 September 1900

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 5 September 1900, page 4

As you create a timeline of your female ancestor’s life, note any milestones she may have achieved and look for these in the newspaper.

Women’s Activities Are Recorded in Newspapers

What organizations, activities or events was your female ancestor a part of? Her name could appear in articles associated with those activities.

Women were members of all types of groups. Consider church groups, auxiliaries to male membership organizations, benevolent groups, and social causes as you search for records of your ancestor.

In this small article about the Women’s Relief Corps in Wilkes-barre, Pennsylvania, an auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic, the occasion of their elections provides us with the names of members.

Officers Elected by Women's Relief Corrps, Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader newspaper article 3 December 1912

Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader (Wilkes-barre, Pennsylvania), 3 December 1912, page 13

Women and their church activities were often published in the local newspaper. In this article highlighting the fundraising efforts of female church members, even a few street addresses are included. It’s interesting to note that even though the women failed in their three-day fast (most suffered from thirst and hunger after a dozen hours), the article was still published.

women Fast to Raise Money to Repair Their Church, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 19 November 1899

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 19 November 1899, page 26

The great thing about old newspapers is that your ancestor didn’t have to be wealthy or famous to be mentioned. Newspapers document communities, and it is in that documentation that you just might find mentions of your female ancestors.

Enjoy the Women’s History Month celebrations and good luck with your own female ancestry research!

Tracing My Unknown Ancestor in the Martin Family

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott discovers the name of an ancestor he never knew about—and turns to old newspapers to fill in this blank on his family tree.

Recently my sister phoned me to ask some questions about certain members of our family who had passed through Ellis Island. As I was talking to her, I pulled up some of the documents I had for our grandparents and started reciting facts and information about them. As I was wrapping up our phone call a bell was ringing in my mind telling me something wasn’t quite right.

I looked at all the information again and there it was: on her Ellis Island documentation, my future grandmother had listed her brother-in-law, Thomas Martin of Cleveland, Ohio, as her contact in the U.S. Since I knew that her sister, my Great Aunt Rose, had married a Martin, finding this contact listing was not a surprise. As I looked at our family tree, however, I could see that the Martin her sister had married was named William, not Thomas.

photo of Rose Cottle Martin Jones and Ina Cottle Phillips

The author’s Great Aunt Rose Cottle Martin Jones on the left, with her sister (and the author’s grandmother) Ina Cottle Phillips on the right. Photo from the author’s collection.

So who was the Thomas Martin my grandmother had listed at Ellis Island?

I needed to look into this! I went to GenealogyBank.com first to see what I might discover. As the old saying goes, “be careful what you wish for.” This family history search led me down a very long—but delightful—path.

First I discovered the old obituary for William Martin, my Great Aunt Rose’s husband. It was quite a genealogical find.

William Martin obituary, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 October 1933

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 October 1933, page 23

In just its seven short lines, it provided my great aunt’s name complete with her maiden name. It also gave the names of their two daughters (Edna and Dorothy) and William’s three siblings (Grace, Charlotte and Jessie). The obituary listed the street address where William and Mary Rose lived. I was about ready to move on, when that last item caught my attention.

I went back to the Ellis Island passenger manifest that I had been reading to my sister, and noted that the street address listed for Thomas Martin happened to be the very same as the street address given in William’s obituary. Nice way to close that circle! The link was looking quite strong, but still a puzzle remained: there was no mention of a brother named Thomas in the obituary.

Next, I started a search on the three siblings listed in William’s obituary. First up, I searched on Grace Bowhay. What I found was mention of her name in her sister Charlotte’s obituary.

Charlotte Martin obituary, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 September 1944

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 September 1944, page 78

This old obituary not only made reference to Grace Bowhay and siblings Jessie and William, but also listed the so-far elusive Thomas (deceased). Oh, and don’t let me forget to tell you that it also included three additional siblings: three sisters (complete with married names) all still residing in England!

With Thomas Martin being such a common name combination, I decided to make a quick check of the Cuyahoga County Recorder’s Office website for Thomas Martin. Sure enough, not only did I get a “hit,” but it was for the purchase of a home on—again—the same street as all the other notices. Plus, the property record informed me that this Thomas had a wife, Mary.

While I am still on the trail of Thomas Martin and have more searching to do, I am more convinced than ever that I am on the right path! And I am bound and determined to find this ancestor that I never knew about and add more information to our family tree!

Understanding Terms Found in Historical Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary explains some of the unusual or archaic terms often found in historical newspapers, and provides examples from period newspapers.

When I first started searching historical newspapers to help with my family history research, certain terms that I found in old papers confused me.

In the beginning, I found myself wondering: what was a “relict” or a “consort,” and why were there so many references to “inst.” or “instant,” and “ult.” or “ultimo”? It took some time to sort all these terms out, and I found various genealogical dictionaries useful.

Knowing that some of you may be having the same confusion about this terminology, I’d like to share some examples and definitions of the more commonly-found terms in old newspapers, with some insight on genealogical clues that these terms may provide.

MEANINGS OF GENERAL NEWSPAPER TERMS

Communicated (often abbreviated Com.): When reading old newspapers, you may spot the word communicated or its abbreviation, com. It can occur at the beginning of an article, or more typically it will be abbreviated at the end of the article, and indicates that the item was written by someone other than a staff writer, and “communicated” to the newspaper for publication. A notice at the beginning of the newspaper article will often look like this:

the term "communicated" from an old newspaper

Whenever you see the term communicated or its abbreviation com., look for additional articles in other newspapers. You never know if the first article you found is complete—often it has been edited from the original, and if you find that original article it may contain more family history information than the edited version of the article you found.

Here is an example where the abbreviation com. has been inserted at the end of the newspaper article. Note also that this example has a “Request to Insert,” explained next.

the abbreviation "com." from the Newburyport Herald newspaper 7 August 1838

Newburyport Herald (Newburyport, Massachusetts), 7 August 1838, page 3

Requests to Insert: An often overlooked clue in old newspapers is a request for printers to republish a notice in other locations. Generally, this indicates that a person or family once resided elsewhere, or has a familial or business connection outside of the published location, and therefore readers in that additional location will have an interest in news about the individual or family. This is a great clue to steer your family history searches to locations you might not have considered otherwise.

Mastheads: Typically located at the top of the front page, the masthead is the printed matter consisting of the name of the newspaper, along with details of its publication (date, location, etc.).

Here is an example of a masthead from a New Hampshire newspaper:

masthead, New-Hampshire Patriot newspaper 20 January 1823

New-Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 20 January 1823, page 1

When saving important proofs for genealogical purposes, it is advisable to review the masthead. You may also learn something interesting, such as that Isaac Hill, printer of the New-Hampshire Patriot & State Gazette, was also a publisher of the “Laws of the United States.”

DEFINITIONS OF RELATIONSHIP REFERENCE TERMS

Banns or Bans (or Publishing of the Banns): This is an ancient matrimonial term, originating from the Middle Ages. A Banns proclamation was typically published on three consecutive Sundays prior to a wedding. The requirement was abolished by the Roman Catholic Church in 1983, but is still used in some parts of the world. Original Banns certificates are rare, but you may be able to locate a few in some archives.

In this 20th century newspaper notice, the entire announcement is about a couple’s wedding banns:

Voellinger-Ehrstein wedding, Belleville News Democrat newspaper article 28 March 1921

Belleville News Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 28 March 1921, page 2

In this 19th century newspaper article, we see an amusing story about how important the banns requirement was:

amusing wedding story, Daily Advertiser newspaper article 22 August 1807

Daily Advertiser (New York, New York), 22 August 1807, page 3

Because he had no proof the banns had been “regularly published” as required, the Minister postponed the wedding until the following day. However, the groom would not be deterred! He pulled off his hat, handed it to his bride-to-be, and took off running at “full speed.” He returned “in exactly two hours and thirty-five minutes, to the great joy of the betrothed damsel” with the requisite proof that the banns had indeed been published—whereupon the Minister performed the ceremony!

Consort: A consort is a partner, and in the case of a death, a female who leaves a surviving spouse. An easy way to remember the term consort is to think of a marriage as a “consortium” between a husband and wife. A corresponding term is relict (see the next entry), along with spinster or bachelor, for persons who remain single.

In this example from an 1802 newspaper announcing Eleanor Harris’s death, she is described as the “consort” of Thomas Harris. Note the representation of the “s” as an “f,” common in 18th and early 19th century newspapers, so that “consort” actually reads “confort.” Also note that her death date is reported as “the 8th instant” (again, with the “s” spelled with an “f” so that it actually reads “inftant”). I’ll explain what “instant” means shortly.

Eleanor Harris obituary, Republican newspaper article 22 February 1802

Republican (Baltimore, Maryland), 22 February 1802, page 3

Relict (relictus): Relictus is a Latin term meaning having inherited or been bequeathed. Ergo, the relict is the survivor (usually a widow) of the marriage union.

The first sentence of this 1907 newspaper article reads: “Mrs. Prudence Hale, relict of the late Marshall Hale, died early yesterday morning at the home of her son…” It is lamentable that the typesetter misspelled her late husband’s name as Marshall “Hall” in the headline.

Noble Woman's Useful Life Ended, San Jose Mercury News newspaper article 21 January 1907

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 21 January 1907, page 1

DEFINITONS OF TIME FRAME TERMS IN NEWSPAPERS

Rather than print a specific date, old newspapers sometimes refer to a date by using terms such as instant, proximo and ultimo. Occasionally they do this for religious reasons, which I’ll explain shortly.

Instant (often abbreviated inst.): This term refers to a recent occurrence in the present or current month. In the consort example above, Eleanor Harris’s death date is reported as “the 8th instant.” Since her death notice was published on 22 February 1802, this means she died on 8 February 1802.

Proximo (often abbreviated prox.): Proximo refers to something that will occur in the future, or next month, as seen in this advertisement for the British armed ship Louisa, which was scheduled to sail on the “20th proximo.” Since this announcement was published on 27 February 1800, this means the Louisa will sail on 20 March 1800.

shipping notice about British ship Louisa, Georgia Gazette newspaper article 27 February 1800

Georgia Gazette (Savannah, Georgia), 27 February 1800, page 2

Ultimo (often abbreviated ult.): Ultimo or Ultimo Mense is a Latin term/phrase that refers to an occurrence from last month.

For example, in one old newspaper death notice Lt. Elliott’s death was specified as December 6, and in another (published in January), his death was reported as having occurred on “the 6th ult,” which is another way of saying December 6.

Boston Courier (Boston, Massachusetts), 23 December 1841, page 4:

  • “DIED, In Chester, N. H. Dec 6, Lieut Jacob Elliott, 86, a soldier of the revolution.”

Bellows Falls Gazette (Bellows Falls, Vermont), 10 January 1842, page 3:

  • “In Chester, N. H. very suddenly on the 6th ult. Lieut. Jacob Elliott, 86…”

Whenever you find an “ultimo” reference, cross-reference the date with vital records, since the newspaper in this case is reporting on an event that happened the previous month and is not immediate. Reports were often reprinted from one paper to another, and after sufficient time had passed the original date may have become unclear. In addition, some historical newspapers occasionally used the “ultimo” reference to refer to an event from two months prior.

In this notice from 1842, one’s first inclination is to record Mr. Basset’s death as having occurred in December of 1841, since the death notice was published in January and referred to the “23d ult.” However, upon further examination, I’ve uncovered some citations that report his death as having occurred in November.

Abel Basset death notice, Bellows Falls Gazette newspaper article 10 January 1842

Bellows Falls Gazette (Bellows Falls, Vermont), 10 January 1842, page 3

I suggest you consider recording “ultimo” dates as approximations (died circa or about).

New and Old Style References for Dates (often abbreviated N.S. and O.S.): Another reason that dates in historical newspaper notices may not be specific pertains to beliefs held by various religions, such as the Society of Friends, aka Quakers.

Since the commonly-used names for months are based upon pagan Gods (e.g., January from Janus, February from Februus, etc.), the early Quakers deemed it sacrilegious to use such names. Instead, the Quakers referred to months by the order in which they appeared during the year.

In this example from a 1788 newspaper, the time of the yearly meeting is recorded as being “from the 12th [Day] of the fifth Month, 1788, to the 19th Day of the same inclusive.”

notice about a Quaker yearly meeting, New-York Morning Post newspaper article 30 September 1788

New-York Morning Post (New York, New York), 30 September 1788, page 2

The conversion for Quaker dates is complicated, so if you find it necessary to record one, seek out a calendar converter and undertake further research. Mistakes are all too common.

Prior to 1752 (when the American colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar), the first month of the year was not January; the year started with the Spring Equinox in the middle of March.

The reason the calendar changed (from the Julian to the Gregorian system) was to accommodate for leap years. After several centuries the equinoxes were not falling on the calendar at the proper time, so various days were removed and the first of the year became January 1. When it was necessary to explain an old or new style date, an abbreviation of N.S. or O.S. was added.

In this 1822 newspaper article, both dating systems are used to give John Stark’s birth date: “Aug. 28, 1728, old style, corresponding to Aug. 17, N.S.”

John Stark obituary, Republican Chronicle newspaper article 29 May 1822

Republican Chronicle (Ithaca, New York), 29 May 1822, page 3

You may wish to consult one of my early RootsWeb Review articles, “Dates and Calendars through the Ages,” located at http://ftp.rootsweb.ancestry.com/pub/review/2007/0606.txt

You may also find it helpful to read “Quaker Dating before 1752” at the Swarthmore Friends Historical Library Website at www.swarthmore.edu/academics/friends-historical-library/quaker-meeting-records/quaker-calendar.xml.

I hope these definitions and genealogy tips helped you gain a better understanding of the newspaper terminology often found in old newspapers. Have you discovered any perplexing newspaper terms in your genealogy research? Share them with us in the comments!

A Wife & Mother’s Plea in the Newspaper after the War of 1812

The War of 1812 had been over for more than a year, and Catharine Logan had heard nothing from her husband or son since they marched off to fight the British in the summer of 1812. For four years she’d been waiting and hoping for news about her missing family…so she wrote a letter to the editor of the National Advocate newspaper pleading for information to “relieve the distresses of an anxious parent and wife.”

To the Public, National Advocate newspaper article 8 November 1816

National Advocate (New York City, New York), 8 November 1816, page 3

In search of her loved ones, Catharine had been to Sacket’s Harbor in Jefferson County, New York—the site of two battles in the War of 1812 and the location of an important shipyard for building warships.

Nothing. She found no information about them at Sacket’s Harbor.

So Catharine pressed on in her search for her missing family, going next to Plattsburgh, New York, the site of the decisive Battle of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain that was fought in 1814.

painting of naval battle on Lake Champlain by B. Tanner, 1816

Illustration: Naval Battle on Lake Champlain, by B. Tanner, 1816. Credit: Wikipedia.

Still she found no information about either her husband or son.

Having searched for her family in vain Catharine next turned to the newspapers, writing a letter to her local newspaper editor—because she felt “induced in this public manner to appeal to the generous and humane—that any persons, who may have seen or heard of them, may give me information.”

Look closely at the note the editors added to her letter. They encouraged other newspaper editors to print Catharine’s letter to give it a wider circulation:

Catharine Logan's plea for information, National Advocate newspaper article 8 November 1816

National Advocate (New York City, New York), 8 November 1816, page 3

And fellow newspaper editors responded:

  • 13 November 1816: Catharine’s letter appeared on the front page of the Baltimore Patriot (Baltimore, Maryland) and on page 3 of the National Standard (Middlebury, Vermont)
  • 14 November 1816: the Baltimore Patriot (Baltimore, Maryland) repeated it on page 4
  • 20 November 1816: the National Standard (Middlebury, Vermont) repeated it on page 1 and again a week later on 27 November 1816 on page 4; and again on 1 January 1817 on page 4
  • 26 November 1816: the Vermont Gazette (Bennington, Vermont) ran it on page 2
  • 2 December 1816: the Irish American newspaper The Shamrock (New York City, New York) published it on page 371
  • 16 December 1816: it was published in Spooner’s Vermont Journal (Windsor, Vermont) on page 3

Newspapers carried the news back in the 1800s. Newspaper editors up and down the United States East Coast took compassion on Catharine Logan and spread the word about her search for her missing husband and son.

You can find great stories about your ancestors in letters to the editor, missing person ads, and other articles found old newspapers. These articles offer stories that bring the names and dates on your family tree alive and let you get to know them as real people.

Genealogist Challenge:

Did Catherine ever reunite with her long-lost husband and son? What happened to Timothy and Peter Logan, and where did they go?