Thurgood Marshall Nominated: First Black Supreme Court Justice

This past weekend marked the anniversary of an important event in American history: on 13 June 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his historic nomination of Thurgood Marshall, whose great-grandfather had been a slave, to be the first African American Supreme Court justice in the nation’s history.

photo of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall

Photo: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Source: U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

As expected there was opposition to this bold move, especially from such conservative Southern politicians as Senator Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. However, Marshall’s impressive qualifications were too strong to be denied, and on August 30 the Senate confirmed him as an associate justice of the Supreme Court by a vote of 69-11. Marshall went on to serve the Court for 24 distinguished years.

His qualifications included serving as counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for a quarter-century, 23 of those years as chief legal officer. During that time his reputation as a keen legal mind was cemented by winning the monumental Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, the Supreme Court case that ruled school segregation was unconstitutional. Marshall argued more cases before the Supreme Court than any other lawyer in history.

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall as a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. After serving on that bench for four years, Marshall was appointed the U.S. solicitor general by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965—the 32nd U.S. solicitor general, and the first African American to hold that position. This was the post he occupied when President Johnson nominated him to the Supreme Court.

During his tenure on the bench of the Supreme Court, Marshall earned a reputation as a tireless supporter of minority rights, civil liberties, and protection of the downtrodden in American society. He relied heavily on constitutional protections of individual rights, supported abortion, and opposed the death penalty.

When he retired due to failing health in 1991, Marshall was succeeded by Justice Clarence Thomas, the nation’s second African American Supreme Court justice. Marshall died at the age of 84 on 24 January 1993.

First Negro Named to Supreme Court: Thurgood Marshall Appointed, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 13 June 1967

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 13 June 1967, page 1

This historical newspaper article reports:

Washington—(UPI)—President Johnson today named Thurgood Marshall to be the first Negro justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Mr. Johnson personally announced the selection to newsmen at the White House. Marshall stood beside him.

Marshall will succeed Justice Tom C. Clark on the court.

Justice Clark announced his retirement after his son, Ramsey Clark, was named attorney general.

The elder Clark ended his active service on the high tribunal after the court adjourned its term yesterday.

Marshall has been a trailblazer among Negroes throughout his career. His appointment as solicitor general in August 1965 was unprecedented for a member of his race.

Prior to that, the late President John F. Kennedy had appointed Marshall in 1962 as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia.

The new justice is the great-grandson of a slave who was brought to the United States from The Congo. His father was a steward at a fashionable Chesapeake Bay country club.

Before taking the government posts, Marshall won a widespread legal reputation in battling civil rights causes in the courts.

In 1935, Marshall compelled the admission of a Negro law student at the University of Maryland—a school where he himself had been denied entry.

In 1936, Marshall joined the legal staff of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and two years later became head of its legal operations.

Marshall’s biggest triumph came in 1954 when he won the historic United States Supreme Court case declaring school segregation unconstitutional.

Attorney General Ramsey Clark said Marshall’s elevation to the Supreme Court would add “a wealth of legal experience rarely equaled in the history of the court.”

The new justice was born in Baltimore July 2, 1908, and graduated cum laude from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania but only after having been expelled in his sophomore year for hazing freshmen.

Marshall then entered Howard University Law School in Washington. He recalls: “I got the horsin’ around out of my system. I heard lawbooks were to dig in. So I dug, way deep.”

The 58-year-old nominee is a six-footer who weighs around 210 pounds. His wife is the former Cecilia Suyat. They have two sons.

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Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: Shot after Victory Speech

Only 4½ years after his older brother, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated – and just two months after civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been gunned down – America awoke on 5 June 1968 to read the horrifying news that another of the nation’s young leaders had been attacked: Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He was shot three times by a Jordanian, Sirhan Sirhan, in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles right after giving a victory speech in the California Democratic presidential primary. Five others were wounded in the shooting as well.

photo of Robert F. Kennedy, 1964

Photo: Robert F. Kennedy, 1964. Credit: U.S. News & World Report; Library of Congress.

RFK had only entered the presidential primary in March, but was rapidly gaining momentum. Winning the California Democratic primary over his rival Senator Eugene J. McCarthy on June 4, Kennedy gave his victory speech to a gathering of about 2,000 buoyant supporters in the hotel’s ballroom. He ended his victory speech shortly after midnight and headed for the hotel’s kitchen, a shortcut to get to a press conference. At 12:15 a.m., 5 June 1968, Sirhan struck and Kennedy fell to the floor, bleeding and mortally wounded from the gunshots.

He clung to life for 26 difficult hours, but died early in the morning of June 6. He was 42 years old. America had lost another legendary leader, felled by an assassin. Sirhan later said he was angry over Kennedy’s support for Israel.

Here is the shocking newspaper front page editorial that readers in the Seattle, Washington, area saw that day.

article about the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Seattle Times newspaper article 5 June 1968

Seattle Times (Seattle, Washington), 5 June 1968, page 1

The lead news story reports:

Robert Kennedy’s Condition Remains Extremely Critical

Associated Press and United Press International

Los Angeles—Senator Robert F. Kennedy emerged from more than three hours of surgery in extremely “critical condition” today after he was shot in the head by a mysteriously silent gunman early this morning. The shooting occurred after he had won the California Democratic presidential primary.

The gunman was identified at midmorning as Sirhan Sirhan, 23, a Jordanian born in Jerusalem.

Kennedy was shot down about 4½ years after his brother, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated by a rifleman in Dallas, Tex.

An aide said all but a fragment of a bullet was removed from Kennedy’s brain and a second bullet, less serious, remains in the back of his neck.

Vital signs—pulse and breathing—are in good order, Frank Mankiewicz, Kennedy’s press secretary, told newsmen, but the next 24 to 36 hours will be critical. He said there “may have been some impairment of the blood supply to the center of the brain”—which controls pulse, blood pressure and tracking of the eye—but “not the thinking processes.”

A series of tests conducted on the senator “do not show measurable improvement” in his condition, which remains extremely critical, Mankiewicz reported at 2:15 p.m.

Mayor Samuel Yorty said identification of the gunman was made by the suspect’s brother, Adel Sirhan of Pasadena, who was traced through the death weapon.

The 42-year-old New York senator came from behind in California’s crucial primary to accrue a winning lead over Senator Eugene J. McCarthy around midnight. Kennedy had proclaimed his win to about 2,000 supporters at an Ambassador Hotel rally and was taking a shortcut through the kitchen to a meeting with newsmen when shots rang out.

With stunning rapidity at 12:15 a.m., a man police described as a Caucasian, 5 feet 6 inches and 140 pounds, with dark hair and complexion, emptied the chamber of an eight-shot .22-caliber pistol.

Kennedy fell, hit three times. Five others near him were wounded, none as badly as Kennedy.

Pandemonium broke loose. Roosevelt Grier, giant Negro tackle for the professional Los Angeles Rams, quickly grabbed the much smaller gunman, wrestled the gun from him and held him for police.

The man under arrest was arraigned secretly at 7 a.m. as John Doe and bail was set at $250,000. The arraignment was on six accounts of assault with intent to commit murder.

Police Chief Thomas Reddin said the man remained silent for hours, then broke that silence and proved to be “extremely articulate with an extensive vocabulary,” but he refused to identify himself or discuss the shooting.

Kennedy was taken first to Central Receiving Hospital, where a doctor said he was “practically dead” upon arrival.

Physicians there administered closed cardiac massage, oxygen and adrenalin. “At first he was pulseless,” a doctor who treated him said, “then his pulse came back and we began to hear a heartbeat and he began to breathe—a little erratically.”

The doctor, Victor Baz, said Ethel Kennedy, who accompanied her husband in the ambulance, was frightened. “She didn’t believe he was alive because she couldn’t see that he was responding. I put the stethoscope to her ears so she could listen and she was tremendously relieved.”

Kennedy was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital near downtown Los Angeles. There a team of six surgeons began brain surgery at 3:12 a.m. that lasted about 3 hours and 40 minutes.

Doctors said one bullet struck near the right ear and entered the brain. Another hit in the shoulder. A third apparently grazed his forehead.

The actual surgery here was performed by Drs. Maxwell Ambler of the University of California at Los Angeles Medical School and Nat Downes Reid and Henry Cuneo of the University of Southern California Medical School.

Kennedy’s brother, Edward, senator from Massachusetts, flew here from San Francisco and was taken by helicopter to Good Samaritan.

Wounds were suffered by Paul Schrade, 30, United Auto Workers official; William Weisel, 30, unit manager for the American Broadcasting Co.; Ira Goldstein, 19, a radio newsman; Irwin Stroll, 17; and Mrs. Elizabeth Evans. All but Weisel, of Washington, D.C., are from the Los Angeles area.

The gunman appeared in the kitchen area behind the bandstand of the Embassy Room, where Kennedy backers, including movie stars and students, were listening to their candidate’s light-hearted victory speech.

Kennedy finished his speech and began working his way off the platform and into the kitchen, followed by close associates and members of his family.

At that moment the gunman pushed through the throng, reached his arm around others in front of him and shot the senator.

Grier, the football player, grabbed the man’s arm. Joe LaHive, a local Kennedy campaigner, wrested the gun away. Grier and a former Olympic decathlon champion, Rafer Johnson, lifted the assailant and spread him on a steel kitchen table.

“Nobody hurt this man!” one of the athletes shouted. “We want to take him alive!”

Women were screaming, “Oh no!” “God, God, not again!”

Kennedy was stretched on the floor, his face covered with blood. “Give him room! Step back!” someone yelled.

Kennedy seemed to hear nothing. His face was blank, his eyes staring sightlessly.

Grier, Johnson and two or three others held the gunman on the table 10 feet away. Screams began to be heard in the ballroom as news of the shooting spread to the campaigners, who had been cheering their candidate two minutes before.

Kennedy was given emergency treatment by a doctor summoned from the ballroom.

The gunman, apparently unharmed, was rushed through the Ambassador lobby by police 10 minutes after the shooting. By this time the crowd knew that Kennedy had been shot.

“Kill him! Lynch him!” onlookers shouted. They milled forward to get at the man, but the police ran him down the stairs and got him to the central jail.

Learn more about Robert F. Kennedy’s life, political career and assassination in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives:

RFK Family Tree Chart

family tree for Robert F. Kennedy

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Mother of the Year Awards in the News

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn about various “Mother of the Year” awards throughout the country.

Did you ever read about some sort of honor or award in the newspaper and wonder what it was all about? With Mother’s Day fast approaching I remembered that “Mother of the Year” is one award that I have often seen in various news articles describing numerous women. But what does the title Mother of the Year mean? Some research in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives reveals interesting facts and stories about this family honor.

The Genesis of American Mother of the Year

While many different groups have named mothers to this lofty title, there is one group that is in charge of the official American Mother of the Year award. The Golden Rule Foundation, founded by retailer James Cash Penney (JCPenney stores), started the American Mothers Committee. According to the American Mothers website:

“The idea of a Mothers Committee began in 1933 when America was in the middle of a Great Depression, and women were taking on many roles in society in order to make ends meet for their families. Businessman J.C. Penney enlisted four prominent New Yorkers, including famous clergyman and author Norman Vincent Peale, to form a committee under his Golden Rule Foundation called the American Mothers Committee. He believed mothers were key to the family and by honoring them the entire nation would be strengthened.”

The first Mother of the Year award, initially called the Typical American Mother, was presented in 1935 by Honorary Chairwoman Sara Delano Roosevelt (mother of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) to Lucy Keen Johnson (Mrs. Fletcher Johnson), formerly of Georgia. Of the award, Mrs. Johnson said she accepted it “not for myself alone but for millions of American mothers who are making our land a great nation.” Mrs. Johnson was the mother of six children and grandmother to 14.

article about Mother of the Year Lucy Keen Johnson, Boston Herald newspaper article 13 May 1935

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 May 1935, page 10

Making the Grade as the Best Mom

So what qualifications must a Mother of the Year have? Well this article from a 1949 Texas newspaper explains how one can be nominated for the Texas Mother of the Year. The winner of that honor would then compete with other state mothers for the national title awarded by the Golden Rule Foundation.

article about nominations for the Texas Mother of the Year award, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 16 January 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 16 January 1949, section 3, page 4

According to this old newspaper article, an individual or a group could nominate a mother who had the following four qualifications:

  • She must be a successful mother, as evidenced by the character, achievements and maturity of her children.
  • She must embody traits of courage, cheerfulness, spiritual and moral strength, patience, affection, kindness, understanding, [and] homemaking.
  • She must have a sense of social and world relations, and must have been active for her own community’s betterment or in some other service for public benefit.
  • She should be equipped to make friends readily and to meet people easily in connection with her duties as the American Mother of the Year.

The following 1958 California nominations announcement for Mother of the Year includes the additional qualifications of being an active member of a religious body, exemplifying the precepts of the Golden Rule, and having no children under the age of 15 years.

article about nominations for the California Mother of the Year award, Los Angeles Tribune newspaper article 14 February 1958

Los Angeles Tribune (Los Angeles, California), 14 February 1958, page 10

A Little Motherly Advice

It probably comes as no surprise that once a Mother of the Year was crowned, she offered her motherly advice in subsequent newspaper articles, such as this example from a Washington paper.

The 1949 American Mother of the Year, 60-year-old Pearle Owens Gillis from Texas – who was the mother of six and foster mother of eight – gave this motherly advice: “A mother should stay with her children, and not work outside the home when the children are very young.” She went on to say that for her, she would rather raise children than anything else.

article about 1949 American Mother of the Year Pearle Owens Gillis, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 25 April 1949

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 25 April 1949, page 13

Mrs. Gillis’s predecessor, 1948 American Mother of the Year Helen Gartside Hines of Springfield, Illinois, was an author who penned her advice in the form of newspaper articles like this one from an Illinois paper, entitled “Child Training in Home Urged.” In this historical newspaper article, which many modern-day teachers will agree with, she makes the point that parents cannot assume that schools and churches will do everything to train children – some of that training needs to happen in the home:

Two principles which, in my opinion, children should be taught very early are respect for authority and a consideration for the rights of others. If they haven’t learned this before they enter our public schools they are a real discipline problem to their teachers and a menace to the other children.

Another of her ideas still rings true today:

Children have no prejudice, racial or religious. Children take people for what they are. It is only as they absorb the ideas of their elders that they begin to make distinctions and to assume a superiority over minority groups. Here again the pre-school training in the home can set the pace for all their after life.

parenting advice from 1948 American Mother of the Year Helen Gartside Hines, Register-Republic newspaper article 7 May 1948

Register-Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 7 May 1948, page 10

Mrs. Hines had ten children, nine of which served in World War II – including two daughters.

Other Mothers of the Year

While I have focused on the American Mother of the Year program in this article, there were of course other groups who named women as their choice for “Mother of the Year.” One example is this short article from a 1949 California newspaper announcing Mrs. Catherine T. Loeffler as the 1949 Catholic Mother of the Year by the National Catholic Conference on Family Life. This Massachusetts mother had 12 children, 10 of which were still living. Six of her children had chosen a religious vocation, including five of her sons who were priests.

article about 1949 Catholic Mother of the Year Catherine T. Loeffler, San Diego Union newspaper article 7 May 1949

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 7 May 1949, page 4

In some cases a Mother of the Year may have overcome some obstacles. This 1958 Texas newspaper article announces the Dallas Polio Mother of the Year awardee, Mrs. A. J. MacMaster, who became a victim of polio at the age of three. Her advice to others was to “Forget yourself, think of others.” Mrs. MacMaster, an attorney, had advanced educational degrees including a master’s degree from Yale and a law degree.

article about 1958 Dallas Polio Mother of the Year Mrs. A. J. MacMaster, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 2 January 1958

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 2 January 1958, section 3, page 1

While some groups who named a Mother of the Year were national or statewide, others were much smaller, like this instance of the Tyler Street Methodist Church Mother of the Year for Mother’s Day 1949. Their honoree was 73-year-old Mrs. C. H. C. Anderson, who is described as “tiny and vivacious.” She was to receive a flower bouquet as her award.

article about 1949 Mother of the Year Mrs. C. H. C. Anderson, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 7 May 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 7 May 1949, section 2, page 14

Is Your Mother a Mother of the Year?

You can nominate her for the official title by going to the American Mothers website.

Did you or a woman in your family tree ever receive recognition for being an exemplary mom? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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Remembering the Amazing Life of Maya Angelou

Calling someone a “Renaissance” person is an overused – and overblown – term these days. If a rock guitarist paints a portrait, the critics gush that he is a “Renaissance man.” However, America – and the whole world – truly did lose a Renaissance woman on 28 May 2014 when the remarkable Maya Angelou died.

Born in poverty on 4 April 1926 in St. Louis, Angelou experienced and accomplished more in her 86 years than is almost imaginable. In alphabetical order, she was an: activist, actress, artist, author, dancer, director, composer, cook, editor, journalist, mother, musician, nightclub performer, playwright, poet, professor, prostitute, producer, screenwriter, singer, speaker, streetcar conductor and waitress.

photo of Maya Angelou giving a speech during the Barack Obama 2008 presidential campaign, 18 September 2008

Photo: Maya Angelou giving a speech during the Barack Obama 2008 presidential campaign, 18 September 2008. Credit: Talbot Troy; Wikimedia Commons.

An advocate for women in general and African American women in particular, Angelou was also active in the Civil Rights Movement. She was a friend of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, and a mentor to Toni Morrison and Oprah Winfrey. She maintained a large circle of friends and associates, including prominent politicians, activists, entertainers and writers. Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.

photo of Maya Angelou reciting her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, 19 January 1993

Photo: Maya Angelou reciting her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, 19 January 1993. Credit: Office of the White House; Wikimedia Commons.

She produced and directed movies, plays and television programs. Angelou wrote seven autobiographies (including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969), several volumes of essays and poetry, and could speak seven languages. She was recognized, appreciated and praised, receiving more than 50 honorary degrees and dozens of awards – including nominations for a Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award, and Emmy Award; winning three Grammys; and receiving the National Medal of Arts, the Lincoln Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The astonishing extent of Angelou’s life accomplishments was mentioned prominently in her obituaries, such as this one from the Associated Press published in a Vermont newspaper – note she is immediately identified as a “renaissance woman.”

obituary for Maya Angelou, Bennington Banner newspaper article 29 May 2014

Bennington Banner (Bennington, Vermont), 29 May 2014

The Renaissance aspect of Angelou’s long life was also featured in the lead of this newspaper obituary.

obituary for Maya Angelou, Blade newspaper article 29 May 2014

Blade (Toledo, Ohio), 29 May 2014

Angelou spent much of her childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, and this Arkansas newspaper published an extensive obituary about her, with this lead.

obituary for Maya Angelou, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper article 29 May 2014

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 29 May 2014

Obituaries are a key resource for family history research. Although vital statistics can be found in government and other official records, it is newspaper articles – and especially obituaries – that go beyond the names and dates to provide the stories of our ancestors, to help us get to know them as real people.

For example, later in the above obituary comes this little tidbit from Angelou.

obituary for Maya Angelou, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper article 29 May 2014

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 29 May 2014

The obituary from the Ohio newspaper above provided this detail about her first name.

obituary for Maya Angelou, Blade newspaper article 29 May 2014

Blade (Toledo, Ohio), 29 May 2014

This obituary from a West Virginia newspaper provided a story about the close relationship that Angelou maintained with Coretta Scott King, widow of the slain civil rights leader.

obituary for Maya Angelou, Charleston Gazette newspaper article 29 May 2014

Charleston Gazette (Charleston, West Virginia), 29 May 2014

And finally, this obituary from a North Carolina newspaper provided an insight into Angelou’s character.

obituary for Maya Angelou, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 29 May 2014

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 29 May 2014

It isn’t just obituaries that provide stories about our ancestors. GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives – more than 6,700 titles from 1690 to today – have more than 3,400 articles about Maya Angelou.

Of particular interest in these online newspaper archives is GenealogyBank’s African American Newspaper Archives. From that collection we gain the following perspectives on Maya Angelou.

This African American Kansas newspaper said this of Angelou.

article about Maya Angelou, Wichita Times newspaper article 18 November 1976

Wichita Times (Wichita, Kansas), 18 November 1976, page 3

This African American New York newspaper reported on one of Angelou’s many speaking engagements.

article about Maya Angelou, Sojourner-Herald newspaper article 1 May 1998

Sojourner-Herald (Albany, New York), 1 May 1998, page 3

This African American Michigan newspaper reported on another of her speaking engagements.

article about Maya Angelou, Afro-American Gazette newspaper article 20 December 1993

Afro-American Gazette (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 20 December 1993, page 1

This African American newspaper from Wisconsin reviewed Angelou’s 1969 autobiography.

article about Maya Angelou, Soul City Times newspaper article 8 October 1970

Soul City Times (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 8 October 1970, page 13

As these examples from GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives have shown, obituaries and other newspaper articles can give us a fuller understanding of Maya Angelou’s remarkable life, broad experiences, and many achievements. Genealogy is about so much more than mere statistics; names and dates don’t tell the complete story of a person’s life. To better understand our ancestors’ lives and the times they lived in, we need the stories forever preserved in online newspaper archives.

Note: FamilySearch International ( 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:

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Household Cleaning Tips from Our Ancestors in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn about how our ancestors cleaned their homes.

How did your great-grandmother know how to cook dinner, clean her house, or launder the family clothes? You may instantly reply that she learned from her mother. While that might be partially true, over time the technology of housework and what tools where available changed. Doing things the way your mother or grandmother did didn’t always work.

So aside from learning from family or perhaps while working as a domestic, women took to cookbooks and the newspaper to learn how best to clean, launder, cook, and tend to their families. Newspapers weren’t just the recorder of the day’s news—they were also the compiler of information that women used on a day-to-day basis.

Polishing the Stove and Getting Rid of Bugs

Old newspapers provide a great look at what our female ancestors had to think about and what might be expected of them in their household chores. For example, in this 1905 Household Affairs column, one of the tips has to do with cleaning in tight corners using a paint brush. It goes on to point out that the paint brush can also be used to polish the ornamental work on a stove.

household cleaning tips, Savannah Tribune newspaper article 19 August 1905

Savannah Tribune (Savannah, Georgia), 19 August 1905, page 6

This housekeeping column also addresses what to do with bugs and their eggs. The tip recommends soaking your furniture in kerosene which would eliminate the pests. Obviously, in some cases, these household tips could be dangerous to put into practice. While kerosene or gasoline would rid your home of unwanted pests they could also kill the human inhabitants, as documented in this 1885 incident in Buffalo, New York, that killed a man and injured his wife when gasoline was spread throughout the home to kill moths.

Blown Up by Gasoline, Plain Dealer newspaper article 20 May 1885

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 20 May 1885, page 7

Ammonia and Stale Bread

One interesting aspect of reading household cleaning tips from vintage newspapers is the type of cleaning products they recommend. In this column, Household Talks, a mixture of ammonia and water is mentioned as a cleaning agent—but more interestingly, the advice for cleaning wall paper is to take “stale German Rye bread” and rub it in downward strokes along the wall paper. It is further advised to change or turn the bread often. According to the column, this stale bread is also used by artists to clean charcoal drawings.

household cleaning tips, New York Tribune newspaper article 21 April 1897

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 21 April 1897, page 5

Most modern people think of bread crumbs when thinking of what to do with stale bread. Who knew it was good for cleaning your house?

Use the Power of the Rain and the Sun

Today, we have the convenience of washing machines to clean linens, sheets, bedspreads, rugs, and pillows. But what did your ancestress do to freshen up beds stuffed with feathers? Well, according to Mrs. S. O. Johnson, one answer would be to let the rain clean the pillows and mattress. She writes in 1869:

…old feather beds and pillows are greatly improved by putting them on a clean grass plat during a heavy shower; let the beds become thoroughly wetted, turning them on both sides. Let them lie out till thoroughly dry, then beat them with rods; this will lighten up the feathers and make them much more healthful to sleep upon. It removes dust and rejuvenates the feathers.

Hints on House Cleaning, Washington Reporter newspaper article 28 April 1869

Washington Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania), 28 April 1869, page 7

It makes sense that our ancestors were accustomed to hanging clothes out to dry at a time before the advent of gas or electric dryers. But aside from the drying effect that hanging clothes and bedding would have, it was believed that the sunshine had some sort of “chemical effect.” Shirley Dare writes in 1893 that:

…the direct rays of the sun have a strong chemical effect on the particles of decaying matter. Its powerful chemical action is seen in bleaching stains from linen in a few hours which sharp acids would fail to remove. It is a similar potency which as we say, ‘sweetens’ clothes and bedding hung out in the sun.

She recommends that twice yearly all clothing, bedding and carpets should be placed out in the sun.

Just Skip the Housework

While not all household tips found in old newspapers are applicable today, this one found in a 1915 Texas newspaper is advice that is important for all modern families to remember. The aptly titled “Don’t Worry over Household Duties” suggests having other activities to do aside from household chores, and proclaims:

…don’t allow yourself to become nervous and upset over your household affairs. Nothing disastrous will occur even if you don’t get all the work finished that you expected to do.

Don't Worry over Household Duties, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 30 June 1915

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 30 June 1915, page 4

This advice is one of the best household tips I’ve ever heard!

What old fashioned cleaning methods did your ancestors pass down in your family? Share your household tips with us in the comments.

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Did Grandma & Grandpa Write Letters to Santa Claus as Kids?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find some of the cute, funny, and heartwarming letters our ancestors wrote to Santa Claus.

In our genealogical quests, we often overlook valuable sources of family history—such as time-honored childhood traditions like writing to Santa Claus (once known as Saint Nicholas).

I recommend you include “Letters to Santa,” published in hometown newspapers, as part of your genealogy research. Can you imagine finding a letter to Santa Claus written by Grandma or Grandpa when they were tots? It would certainly bring a jolly twinkle to your eyes this holiday season!

Yes—it’s very possible that you might find a letter to Santa your ancestor wrote in the historical newspaper archives—and you might even find one with a home address!

Fact: Many Letters to Santa Were Shipped to the North Pole

The U.S. Post Office, not knowing what to do with the abundance of letters to Santa they received throughout the Christmas season, often shared them with newspaper publishers. After air travel became feasible, many letters were (and still are) sent to the North Pole in Greenland, often causing overtime for postal workers. This article from 1950 reports that as of mid-November that year, over 70,000 letters had been received in Copenhagen, Denmark; by Christmas they were expecting about 200,000.

Mail for Santa Claus Keeps Postoffice in Denmark Busy, Boston Herald newspaper article 17 December 1950

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 17 December 1950, page 47

Letter to “Dear Old Man” (Santa Claus) from Tom (1888)

Here is an early letter to Santa published after the 1887 Christmas holiday. Although it doesn’t reveal “Tom’s” surname, it has an interesting description about the custom of using a chimney post office for the children’s letters.

The little boy made it clear he didn’t care for peppermint sticks, and had some interesting requests—including this instruction to Santa: “Don’t put my things in Jim’s stockings. My stockings are red, with holes in the knees.” Tom also advised Santa Claus: “Ma and Pa are always foolin’ about Christmas Eve, but come along and don’t mind them.”

The Letters Santa Claus Receives, Haverhill Bulletin newspaper article 2 January 1888

Haverhill Bulletin (Haverhill, Massachusetts), 2 January 1888, page 2

Santa’s Letter Box (1899)

The previous letter to Santa seems more of a novelty, as it was published in the newspaper after Christmas. Around the turn of the century, delightful children’s correspondence to Santa became a regular feature in many newspapers in the United States, and their letters were printed in the weeks leading up to Christmas. In the following 1899 newspaper article, you can read these letters to Santa:

Albany, Tex., Dec. 15.—Dear Santa Claus: Will you please send me a doll, if you have one to spare? I want one eighteen inches long, kid body and bisque head, light hair or dark will do. Yours truly, BESSIE TILGHMAN.

Oak Cliff, Tex., Dec. 15.—Dear Santa Claus: Please send me a toy cannon, train, magic lantern and a small boat, some candy, nuts of all kinds, apples, oranges and some fireworks. I am a little boy 6 years old. Your little friend, JULE BERAND.

Dallas, Tex., Dec. 17.—Dearest Santa: Though I look older, I am only 4 years old. I don’t want a doll, but I want a watering pot and a carpet sweeper, and some ginger-snaps and jaw-breakers. Yours lovingly, BROOKSIE T. SMITH.

Santa's Letter Box, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 December 1899

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 December 1899, page 5

Notice the letter authors are clearly identified by first and last name. Are any of these letters to Santa written by your ancestors?

Georgie Freeman and Charlotte Ostan from Evansville, Indiana (1905)

These children had been very good all year, one performing night work and carrying in meat, and the other who didn’t want her five-year-old brother Tony Ostan forgotten.

Letters to Santa Claus, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 15 December 1905

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 15 December 1905, page 6

Almira and Kenton Christopher from Belleville, Illinois (1919)

As we all know, many families have a tough time at Christmas. Not wanting to disappoint their children, Mom and Dad often make up cover stories to explain the lack of presents, as shown in the following letters to Santa Claus.

In 1919, the Christopher children wrote that they were sorry Santa’s reindeer were sick, and that he wouldn’t be coming this year. However—just in case—Almira did wish for a coat, hair ribbon, dress, cap, shoes, fruit and nuts, and some other items, including a little piano.

Among the presents Kenton hoped for were a popgun, new suit and cap, an auto, bicycle, football suit, and a tree. He also added, “Do not forget to leave something for my sisters, brother and parents.”

letters to Santa Claus, Belleville News Democrat newspaper article 15 December 1919

Belleville News Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 15 December 1919, page 7

Ruby Grace Coker from Marietta, Georgia (1923)

Some letters to Santa are purely fun, such as this one from a little girl who lived in Marietta, Georgia:

Dear Santa Claus—Christmas, I want you to bring me a doll that walk, talk and sleep. I want a pair of skates, and I want a box of water colors. Please bring some fruits, nuts and candy of all kinds. There is one more thing I want and that is a raincape. I won’t ask for anything else, because there is lots more little boys and girls that you have to see, but remember mother, daddy, brother and my little baby sister.—Your friend, Ruby Grace Coker.

letter to Santa Claus, Cobb County Times newspaper article 20 December 1923

Cobb County Times (Marietta, Georgia), 20 December 1923, page 6

Letters to Santa Claus Contest (1937)

With so many children’s letters to Santa sent to newspaper editors, the competition to be published was fierce. Not wanting to disappoint, some newspapers created contests—such as this one from the Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper, which offered a first place prize of $5 and a second place prize of $3, with six runners-up to receive $1 each. (I wasn’t able to locate the winning entries, but perhaps some of our readers would find them and report it on the blog.)

Letters to Santa Claus Entered in New Contest, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 12 December 1937

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 12 December 1937, page 2

Letters from the Echo of Richardson, Texas (1941)
In this collection of letters from 1941, many children told Santa Claus that they love him. (Don’t we all!)

Dear Santa Claus: I have been good. Please come to see me. Fill my stocking with fruit and candy and toys. Don’t bring me very much, but don’t forget other boys and girls. I love you, Ray Johnson.

Dear Santa Claus: I have been good. Please come to see me. Fill my stocking with fruit and candy and toys…I love you, Sylvia Jean Terry.

Letters to Santa Claus, Richardson Echo newspaper article 19 December 1941

Richardson Echo (Richardson, Texas), 19 December 1941, page 5

There are so many letters to Santa Claus in the newspapers, I hope you’ll take time to research them—and please let us know when you find any of these priceless family treasures!

Search Tips

Try entering your ancestor’s first and last name in combination with “letters to Santa” or “letter to Santa” in the “Include Keywords” field on GenealogyBank’s Newspaper Archives search page to get started.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page, looking for letters to Santa Claus

You might also try searching for your ancestors’ letters to Santa from the Newspaper Letters search page.

Christmas card from Mary Harrell-Sesniak to her blog readers

Hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

Merry Christmas!

The History of the Great 1918 Flu Pandemic: We All Wore Masks

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena researches old newspaper articles to learn about the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, a three-year disaster that killed approximately 50 million people worldwide and unquestionably affected the lives of any of your ancestors living in the years 1918-1920.

Influenza is a disease, makes you weak all in your knees;
‘Tis a fever ev’ybody sure does dread;
Puts a pain in ev’y bone, a few days an’ you are gone
To a place in de groun’ called de grave.

—“Influenza,” lyrics found on American Memory: the John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip. Song sung by Ace Johnson, Clemens State Farm, Brazoria, Texas, April 16, 1939.

Earlier this year, despite having had a flu shot, I ended up catching the flu. Anyone who has had the flu knows how truly miserable it is. When you are suffering from it, you can easily understand how someone could die from its symptoms. Although still deadly, the flu does not strike the terror in people’s minds that it once did. In fact many people take a wait and see approach, frequently opting not to get the yearly influenza vaccination shot.

When many people think of our ancestors and the flu, they automatically think of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic—and with good reason. This was one of the deadliest flu pandemics in history.

What Is Spanish Influenza? Dr. Rupert Blue Tells about It, Times-Picayune newspaper article 6 October 1918

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 6 October 1918, page 1

From January 1918 to December 1920, this flu pandemic killed approximately 50 million people worldwide, nearly 675,000 in the United States alone.[i] By contrast, 16 million lives were lost during World War I, which was still ongoing during the Spanish flu pandemic’s first year. Why was this flu different from previous forms of influenza? One significant difference in this deadly strain was that young adults were affected just as much as the usual at-risk groups: young children and the elderly.[ii]

This influenza pandemic touched everyone’s lives whether they came down with the virus or not. Efforts to curb the spread of the flu disaster included requiring people to wear facemasks, and discouraging public meetings. The committee of the American Public Health Association decreed that non-essential meetings and gatherings in crowded rooms were dangerous. Some of the APHA recommendations included the closing of “saloons, dance halls, and cinemas.”[iii]

Influenza Mask Wearing Compulsory: Health Board, San Jose Mercury News newspaper article 11 December 1918

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 11 December 1918, page 1

The implementation of these public safety health precautions shows how seriously the influenza pandemic was taken. A startling example of this is described in the following article from a 1918 Washington newspaper, reporting that a public health officer shot a person on the street who refused to don a mask.

Refuses to Don Influenza Mask; Shot by Officer, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 28 October 1918

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 28 October 1918, page 2

The vast movement of troops caused by World War I meant that an illness that would normally be quickly contained instead had worldwide consequences. While the 1918 pandemic is the one that often gets remembered, there have been other epidemics including those of a more recent nature, like the recent Swine Flu. There is no doubt that the 1918 pandemic wasn’t the only one that may have affected your family. According to the website there have been four flu pandemics since 1918.[i]

Do you have an ancestor who had the flu during the Spanish flu pandemic? Want to learn more about the history of that outbreak? Good sources for researching historical epidemics are the books Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence: From Ancient Times to the Present by George Childs Kohn, and America’s Forgotten Epidemic: The Influenza of 1918 by Alfred W. Crosby.

Don’t forget to search for old newspaper articles about the flu on GenealogyBank. By searching on the word “influenza” and narrowing your search by date and place you will be able to find articles of how the pandemics affected your ancestor’s community and other parts of the United States.

[i] Pandemic Flu History. Available at

[ii] The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918. National Archives and Records Administration. Available at

[iii] The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Available at

Finding Ancestors’ Names Can Be Child’s Play: Paper Doll Comics

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena addresses the problem that it’s often hard to find information about our ancestors when they were children. One solution? Look for their participation in fashion and coloring paper doll contests run by newspapers.

Previously in my article “What about the Kids? Researching Your Family Tree’s Children” I wrote about places to find children’s names in newspapers. I commented on how as researchers we genealogists often ignore the childhood of our ancestors because children did not generate the quantity of records that adults left behind.

The wonderful thing about newspapers is that they are the great equalizer: they record the stories of everyone whether rich or poor, young or old. While there can be no doubt that some people get more articles written about them than others, you can find ancestors’ names in all sorts of places in the newspaper—even in something as unexpected as a paper doll contest.

"Tillie the Toiler" paper doll

Credit: Windows Live Photo Gallery

It seems that today very few children read newspapers—or for that matter very few adults. But it wasn’t too long ago that children read the newspaper often, at the very least to check out the comics page, enter contests, and even acquire new toys to play with. One toy that could be found in the Sunday newspaper was paper dolls. According to the OPDAG (The Original Paper Doll Artists Guild) article “History of Paper Dolls” by Judy M. Johnson, the Boston Herald was printing newspaper paper dolls as early as the 1890s. Additional wardrobes for those paper dolls could be found in subsequent issues of the newspaper, adding to the child’s paper doll collection. During the Depression years, children could find many different newspaper paper dolls, most based on their favorite comics including “Boots and Millie” and “Jane Arden.”

Not only would the comic strip authors themselves provide dolls and wardrobes in the Sunday papers, they would solicit contributions from readers. One comic strip that encouraged readers to design outfits was “Tillie the Toiler.” Tillie, drawn by Russ Westover, ran in newspapers from 1921 to 1959. Tillie toiled at her jobs as a stenographer, secretary and model. Her life as a single working girl was the focus of the strip and the character of Tillie was also featured in a couple of movies.

Here’s a call to the young readers of “Tillie the Toiler” to submit designs for the Fashion Parade.

Dresses for Tillie! Plain Dealer newspaper article 29 January 1933

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 29 January 1933, page 1

I’m always on the lookout for unusual places to find ancestors’ names. Searching through those newspaper paper doll fashion contests can yield the names of the winners; those people chosen to have their doll and/or wardrobe published. Not only are the contest winners’ names and cities printed but sometimes even street addresses and, occasionally, the winners’ relationships to other budding fashionistas—such as in this example, where friends Zelene Des Champs and Ann Wolff from South Carolina submitted entries together.

"Tillie the Toiler" paper doll

Credit: from the author’s collection

Girls were not the only ones who submitted entries; boys and even married women from the United States and Canada submitted their doll and fashion drawings.

Aside from designing an outfit and having their name printed in the newspaper, children could also enter coloring contests featuring their favorite comic characters. In this 1933 newspaper article, Shirley Jean French is congratulated on her winning entry by “Tillie the Toiler” cartoonist Russ Westover. According to the 1930 U.S. census Shirley was 12 years old when she won the first-prize award. Of Shirley’s entry, Westover wrote that “Tillie has never been better dressed.”

winner of "Tillie the Toiler" coloring contest, San Diego Union newspaper article 27 August 1933

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 27 August 1933, page 11

While today’s American children may not be as engaged with newspapers as previous generations, for their grandparents and great-grandparents the Sunday comics page was not just a place to get a few laughs—it may have been a place to leave their mark on the world.

Genealogy Tip: Examine every part of a newspaper when doing your family history searches. You never know where a long-sought ancestor’s name might turn up—an obscure ad, a paper doll contest, a family recipe—providing a little more detail to help bring that name on your family tree to life.

1800s Newspaper Ad: Reward for Army Deserters

Fort Johnson in South Carolina was no different from Army bases across the country. From time to time soldiers deserted, as these men did on 3 January 1810. Captain A.B. Armistead wanted them back—and so he ran a newspaper ad offering “ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD for six Deserters, who deserted from this post on the 3d instant” and promising to pay “all expenses.”

reward ad for Army deserters, City Gazette & Daily Advertiser newspaper article 6 January 1810

The City Gazette & Daily Advertiser (Charleston, South Carolina), 6 January 1810, page 1

Armistead’s reward ad provided descriptions of the Army deserters.

description of Army deserters, City Gazette & Daily Advertiser newspaper article 6 January 1810

The City Gazette & Daily Advertiser (Charleston, South Carolina), 6 January 1810, page 1

In a note at the end of his 1800s newspaper reward ad, Armistead asked all of the newspapers in Georgia, North and South Carolina to print “this advertisement six times” and to send him the bill.

reward ad for Army deserters, City Gazette & Daily Advertiser newspaper article 6 January 1810

The City Gazette & Daily Advertiser (Charleston, South Carolina), 6 January 1810, page 1

Here are some of the descriptions of the Army deserters:

  • Charles Merul was “a native of South-Carolina, twenty three years of age, five feet ten inches high, has light complexion and dark hair; went off in citizens clothes”
  • Daniel Holloway was “a native of Virginia, twenty three years of age, five feet nine inches high, has fair complexion, blue eyes, and dark hair”
  • John Wynne “was born in Georgia”; the ad gives  a physical description of him, but the key identifiers were the pistols he was carrying, described as: “uncommon, particularly with respect to the locks and the fixing of the ramrod”

Old newspaper reward ads like this one, published in an attempt to reclaim military deserters, can be rich sources of genealogical information—often providing the names, origins, ages and physical descriptions of the missing soldiers. Historical newspapers had all the news of the day. Every day I am surprised by what I find doing genealogy research in the archives!

Name Research Tip: Search Variations of Family First & Last Names

It is generally rare for families to change the spelling of their names (although some immigrant families did so in an attempt to make their names sound more familiar to American ears, so be aware of this possibility).

When doing your family history research, however, you may encounter variations on the spelling of your family’s name for a reason that had nothing to do with the family: registrars often recorded names the way they heard them.

All my growing-up years I had to spell my last name because everyone wanted to write “Kent” instead of “Kemp.”


Because they were unfamiliar with my surname.

Kemp is an uncommon surname, and for that reason it is spelled differently in various records.

Some variations of my last name I’ve encountered: Kent, Kamp, Camp, etc.

You know by name research experience which names could be a problem.

In the past some immigrants did decide to simplify their names in an attempt to fit in better with American society, revising their original foreign-spelled name when there was an obvious English equivalent. Names were Anglicized: Mueller became Miller; Johansson became Johnson; etc.

Contrary to movie portrayals, it was not government policy to change people’s names.

There was no government official at Castle Garden or Ellis Island responsible for changing the names of incoming immigrants.

If you are having trouble finding your target ancestor searching by their surname, try searching on the first name.

In time Americans—whether they were government officials, teachers, etc.—became more familiar with immigrants’ first names and were more likely to record them spelled correctly. While they had difficulty with seemingly one-off surnames, there was a smaller supply of first names. It was easy for Americans to remember Johann, Guido or Ludwig. Although, of course, the first name could also be Anglicized: Johann becoming John; Tâm becoming Tom; etc.

For all these reasons, it is a good idea to try searching for variations of your ancestors’ first and last names when doing your family history research searches, to increase the chances of finding documents and records about them.

Let me give you a case in point.

I was recently searching the New Jersey State Archives for the death certificate of Isaac Meserole.

I went to the online index to New Jersey Death Certificates for 1878 to 1888 and searched for him.

I found several “Meserole” death certificates but not one for Isaac.

I knew Isaac had died in North Brunswick, Middlesex County, New Jersey, around 1882. So I searched using only his first name “Isaac”—leaving the surname field blank.

Bingo! His entry came right up, with his surname spelled as “Meseroll.” The registrar had written the name as he heard it.

Here is the entry for Isaac:

death certificate for isaac meserole for January 6, 1882, from the new jersey state archives

Death certificate for Isaac Meserole, 6 January 1882, from the New Jersey State Archives

This is a good research tip for when you search for ancestors on GenealogyBank or any online resource. Begin your family search with the correct spelling of your ancestor’s name. Then do follow-up searches, with name variations for both the first and last names, and see if you can find additional genealogy records. You may find that record you’ve long been searching for, but remained hidden because the ancestor’s name had been misspelled.