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!

Help Solve a Genealogy Mystery: Who Is Uncle L in My Old Photo?

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott asks our readers for help in deciphering the writing on the back of an old photo identifying his “Uncle L.”

As I would imagine many of you do, I have some intriguing old photographs that unfortunately don’t have any identification on them. However, the one I have in my family history stash that makes me the craziest actually does have writing on it. The old black and white picture has a wonderfully clear full sentence on the back, which identifies my father around the age of 2 or 3 and—here is the kicker—a second, older fellow identified as Uncle L. Uncle L?

photo of Scott Phillips's father and uncle

From the author’s collection

Yep! The old family photo is as clear as a bell (as you can see here), except for the name of this mysterious uncle!

back of photo of Scott Phillips's father and uncle, showing inscription

From the author’s collection

Every so often I pull that old photo out and try again to identify this mysterious member of my family that I know nothing about. As my family tree continues to grow, becoming more refined and better documented, I keep hoping for a breakthrough. So far though, I have had no luck in identifying this Uncle L. I brought that old family photo out the other day and decided to try some lateral thinking via GenealogyBank.com and its newspaper archives.

To me the handwriting on the back of the photo might be read as Uncle “Lew” or “Len.” Unfortunately there is no Lew or Len in any of my Dad’s immediate family, nor his father’s family. So I branched out to look at some relations of my grandmother’s who lived nearby.

I began my genealogy research with the knowledge that the passenger list from Ellis Island shows my grandmother coming to America to live with her brother-in-law Thomas Martin. He happened to be living on the same street as she and my grandfather would later live on for decades. I still have many warm and wonderful memories of that home from my youth.

My new search began with this brother-in-law and fellow traveler, Thomas Martin. I learned many interesting facts about him from GenealogyBank’s newspapers, such as his job as a lamplighter—which conjured up many images of a great job, until I thought of winter and rainy evenings—and his later job as a street car motorman. However, nothing I found about Thomas helped me identify my mystery uncle.

So I broadened my search on the Martin surname and it wasn’t long before I discovered that a descendant had married a Starr family member related to Floyd Starr, the founder of the amazing Starr Commonwealth for Boys in Albion, Michigan.

Starr Commonwealth--the Miracle Home--Is Rebuilding Many Boys, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 16 November 1919

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 16 November 1919, page 14

While I truly enjoyed reading this old news article, which provides a great history of the charitable youth program, it still offered me no one with a given name that comes close to my mystery uncle’s name.

I branched my researching out some more and soon found another family member farther down the street, the Newell family. The Newell family matriarch, Marjorie, was another sister of my grandmother’s, so the search was back on. I discovered lots of interesting information about Marjorie in the newspaper archives, such as her old marriage announcement.

Marjorie Cottle Becomes Wife of T. J. Newell, jr., Plain Dealer newspaper article 14 May 1944

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 14 May 1944, page 47

While offering good genealogical information on Marjorie, this historical marriage announcement also led me to another interesting story about her soon-to-be brother-in-law being awarded the Purple Heart after an air raid in WWII.

Hero, Minus Foot, Is Glad He Did Bit, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 July 1943

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 July 1943, page 1

However, once again I had nothing that solved my mystery about Uncle L.

I moved on to the last family member who lived in the States. This was my grandmother’s brother Thomas Cottle who lived just a couple of blocks away. I searched his family, his wife’s family the Morrells, his wife’s brother Wilbert, and his brother-in-law’s wife’s family the Ricks. Again I gained much useful information for my family tree, but my mystery uncle remains just that.

While I refuse to call this treasured family photograph a brick wall, I am back to staring closely at the photo and analyzing the name. Does it begin with an L, a T, or possibly even a script Q?

What do YOU think? Take a good look yourself, post a comment and let me know…PLEASE!

Macon, Georgia, Genealogy Resources Online

Are you researching your family history from Georgia? If you have ancestors from the “Peach State,” a good place to start looking is the city of Macon, located right near the geographic center of Georgia.

photo of Macon, Georgia

Photo: Macon, Georgia. Credit: Wikipedia.

GenealogyBank’s online newspaper archives have Macon, Georgia, covered from 1826 to today. That is well over 2.5 million articles about your Southern American ancestors. That’s a lot of birth, marriage and obituary newspaper articles—with the genealogical details about your ancestry you are looking for. There are also many local news stories in the newspapers that you can read to find out more about your ancestors’ lives and the times they lived in.

Here is the list of Macon, GA, newspapers currently available for researching in GenealogyBank:

Newspapers Coverage Collection
Macon Daily Herald 5/8/1865 – 5/8/1865 Newspaper Archives
Macon Sentinel 1/27/1900 – 1/27/1900 Newspaper Archives
Macon Telegraph 2/1/1860 – 3/11/1923 Newspaper Archives
Macon Telegraph 8/18/1994 – Current Recent Obituaries
Macon Weekly Telegraph 11/1/1826 – 6/3/1895 Newspaper Archives

In addition to the newspaper archives that GenealogyBank has put online, FamilySearch.org has put some of Georgia’s vital records online including:

Births
Georgia, Births and Christenings, 1754-1960 Index only
Marriages
Georgia Marriages, 1808-1967 Index only
Deaths
Georgia, Deaths, 1914-1927 Index and images
Georgia, Deaths 1928-1930 Index and images
Georgia, Death Index, 1933-1998 Index only

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!

941 Issues of German American Newspaper Erie Tageblatt Are Coming!

Here is some good news for genealogy researchers exploring their German ancestry. GenealogyBank is expanding its coverage of German American newspapers. In the next few weeks it will be adding another 941 back issues of the Erie Tageblatt, a German-language newspaper published in Erie, Pennsylvania. These additional issues will expand our digital archive of this German-language newspaper in the early 20th century, pushing its coverage up to 1907.

GenealogyBank search form for Erie Tageblatt newspaper

GenealogyBank search form for Erie Tageblatt newspaper

GenealogyBank’s coverage of French, Spanish, and German newspapers provides a genealogical resource with many obituaries, birth notices and marriage announcements to help you research your immigrant ancestors.

Charlotte Gitel’s obituary from 1907 is a good example of the detailed information found in a newspaper written for the German American community.

Charlotte Gitel obituary, Erie Tageblatt newspaper 1 August 1907

Erie Tageblatt (Erie, Pennsylvania), 1 August 1907, page 1

Genealogy Tip: Look for Symbols

Notice that the old newspaper puts a cross next to the name of the deceased to call attention that this is an obituary article. Newspapers across the country still use these small symbolic devices, such as a flag to show that a person was a veteran, or a fraternal order symbol, to make it easy for their readers to spot articles that might be of special interest to them.

Tracing the Bohutinsky Family Tree: Good Finds from Bad News

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about finding some bad news in his family history—and how this turned into good clues for his genealogy.

It seems that in genealogy even bad news can magically be transformed into good news, which is quite a feat when you think about it. Recently I decided that I was going to do some in-depth research on a branch of my family that I had not worked on before. It was during this research that I witnessed bad news turn good right before my eyes—and it was via GenealogyBank.com. Here is that story!

One of the more challenging branches of my family tree has been the Bohutinsky branch of our family. Research on this family branch remains a “work in progress,” but I do know that they appeared in Cleveland, Ohio, from Bohemia sometime prior to 1870. This means that they were amongst the earlier Bohemian immigrants to that area. Now let me tell you, not only does Bohutinsky get altered by misspellings, typographical errors, etc., but there are also branches that made the decision to change their surname from Bohutinsky to Bohntinsky, Botin, and even Bugg. Add to this the fact that some of the men chose to abandon their Bohemian given names and adopt Americanized given names—but then at times reverted back to their original Bohemian given names! Needless to say it has been a fun and complicated search.

As you might expect, it got even more challenging as I worked to find marriages and the ensuing families and paths for the female offspring in the family, but here is where truly bad news turned good.

One day as I was doing my research on the Bohutinsky line I happened upon a brief newspaper article from 1885.

James Bohutinsky domestic violence, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 3 October 1885

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 3 October 1885, page 8

I was sad to read the story that James (born Vaclav) Bohutinsky was “fined $5 and costs” in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas for striking his young married daughter and her “babe.” This was certainly not the type of thing I like to find in my family history, nor do any of us. Domestic violence is terrible, even if the defendant was, as the article stated, “a little old man.”

However, I soon discovered that this historical newspaper article provided some good news for me as well!

I was very pleased to find that the daughter’s given name of Barbara was reported, as was her married surname of Seitz. This was a wonderful genealogical discovery. I immediately switched my search from Bohutinsky to Seitz and started looking for Barbara.

I quickly found an old newspaper article published back in 1900 that leads me to believe Barbara might have been active in the Knights of the Maccabees, a fraternal organization that was formed in 1878.

Knight and Lady "Bees," Cleveland Leader newspaper article 18 January 1900

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 January 1900, page 7

This lengthy old newspaper article listed numerous officers in the organization, and buried in all those names I found mention that Barbara Seitz was “mistress-at-arms.”

Barbara Seitz, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 18 January 1900

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 January 1900, page 7

After consulting other genealogy resources such as Ancesty.com, I found the family on the 1900 United States Census.

Then, back on GenealogyBank.com, it wasn’t long before I came across a death notice from 1904 which listed the death of one Barbara Seitz at 153 Beechwood Avenue in Cleveland, at the age of only 37.

Barbara Seitz death notice, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 November 1904

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 November 1904, page 4

Although Barbara’s life and marriage were both cut short, I later found information about the “babe” that was referenced in the first article I had found. As a result of that I now know her name, and I am on the path of that daughter: Grace Seitz Vretman. So my ancestry search continues.

Yes, finding a historical newspaper article about domestic violence in my family history was dismaying, but the silver lining in that dark cloud was discovering an important family clue that has led to other searches for other members of my family.

I still have lots to learn about the Bohutinsky members of my family and especially the Bohutinsky/Seitz/Vretman branch, but it certainly has been nice to see that initial piece of bad news turn into something so good and helpful in my genealogy research!

Solve the Robert ‘Believe It or Not!’ Ripley Ancestry Brick Wall

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about two discoveries she made relating to Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley, and invites readers to join her in breaking through a brick wall in Ripley’s family history.

There is a wealth of discovery waiting to be found in historic newspapers. For one thing, old newspapers provide the stories that help you understand your ancestors and get to know them as real people.

For another thing, while researching your family history in a newspaper archive you occasionally stumble across interesting discoveries that have nothing to do with your family, things you never knew before—like what I found out about Robert L. Ripley and the origins of his “Believe It or Not!” publishing/radio/television/museum empire, and his involvement with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

In this article I want to talk about my Ripley discoveries, and then ask for your help in breaking through a brick wall I’ve hit in exploring his genealogy.

photo of Robert L. Ripley, Dallas Morning News newspaper article, 28 May 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 28 May 1949, page 1

Ripley’s First “Believe It or Not” Newspaper Cartoon

One day while looking through old newspapers I was fortunate enough to stumble upon this tantalizing treasure, explaining how Robert L. Ripley drew his first “Believe It or Not” cartoon.

On 19 December 1918, Ripley—a 27-year-old cartoonist for the New York Globe newspaper—was sitting in front of his drawing board with no new ideas. He was under deadline pressure to produce a cartoon for the next day’s paper, so “in desperation” he put together an assortment of odd sports occurrences to make a cartoon. He published it under the caption, “Believe It or Not.” He was interviewed on the subject of the cartoon’s origin years later, and his recollection was published in the New York Daily Mirror.

When Robert Ripley died in 1949 at the age of 58, his obituary reprinted that first cartoon recollection:

obituary for Robert L. Ripley, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 28 May 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 28 May 1949, page 1

Here is one of Robert Ripley’s early “Believe It or Not” cartoons with a sports theme:

Ripley's "Believe It or Not," State newspaper cartoon 22 October 1919

State (Columbia, South Carolina), 22 October 1919, page 8

How astonishing it is, that from a single case of writer’s block developed an empire of over 90 world-wide attractions, including wondrous museums and amazing aquariums!

Robert Ripley & “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Here’s another Ripley tidbit I uncovered while browsing through old newspapers, of historical importance: Ripley had a role in making “The Star-Spangled Banner” our official national anthem.

The lyrics come from a poem written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, entitled “Defence of Fort McHenry.” Key wrote his poem after witnessing the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812. Key’s poem was set to the tune of a popular British song, “The Anacreontic Song” (or “To Anacreon in Heaven”) and the resulting song came to be known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Although officially used by the Navy in the late 1800s, it wasn’t the country’s national anthem at that time. Nonetheless, crowds caught up in patriotic fever would rise and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

"The Star-Spangled Banner," Daily Register-Gazette newspaper article 2 January 1930

Daily Register-Gazette (Rockford, Illinois), 2 January 1930, page 2

And then one day, Robert L. Ripley started a national conversation about its use with this comment, noting that the U.S. “has no official national anthem”:

Ripley at Music Box, Oregonian newspaper article 5 November 1930

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 5 November 1930, page 10

The discussion about the country’s lack of a national anthem gained momentum. Several months later, President Herbert Hoover signed the act that made “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem, on 3 March 1931.

"Star Spangled Banner" Is Now National Anthem though Pacifists Object, Springfield Republican newspaper article 5 March 1931

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 5 March 1931, page 1

And for you curiosity-seekers, you can read the first publication of Francis Scott Key’s poem by searching the newspapers in GenealogyBank. It was published in the Baltimore Patriot (Baltimore, Maryland) on 20 September 1814. No, I’m not going to republish it in this blog—you can have the joy of looking up this amazing discovery yourself.

But readers, I need some help with Robert Ripley, whose ancestry is as elusive as spotting a shooting star on a cloudy night.

Help Me Uncover Robert Ripley’s Family Tree!

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

Here are the clues I’ve been able to find, if any of you determined genealogists want to take up the challenge and break through the Ripley genealogy brick wall:

  • See one of Findagrave.com’s earliest memorials, #1399, from Odd Fellows Lawn Cemetery in Santa Rosa, California
  • His parents, Isaac Davis Ripley (1854-1904) and Lillie Belle Yocka or Yocke (1868-1915), are also buried there; they married on 3 October 1889 in Sonoma, CA (California, County Marriages, 1850-1952 Database at familysearch.org)
  • Isaac was a carpenter born in Ohio (various California directories)
  • In 1870, a census reports that Isaac was possibly residing in the household of Jason and Phelia A. Stubs or Stutes in Belpre, Washington, OH, and attending school, age 16 (see http://ohgen.net/ohwashin/OMP-2.htm — Ohio Historical Society, Newspaper Microfilm Reel # 38487 — marriage license for Jason Stubbs and Phelia A. Hunter of Belpre on 8 May 1865)
  • Lillie was the daughter of Nancy Yocke (1828-?) and an unknown father from Germany (1880 Analy, Sonoma, CA, census)
  • Ripley’s siblings were Douglas and Ethel or Effie Ripley (obituary); it is unclear if they ever married, but are seen on a passenger list traveling together

We look forward to seeing who can crack this ancestry brick wall first, and promise to publish your results in the GenealogyBank blog! Please post your Ripley genealogy finds on GenealogyBank’s Facebook or blog pages as comments, or email us using our blog contact form at: http://blog.genealogybank.com/contact.

Genealogy Tip: Research Every Clue in Newspapers, Including the Social Columns

When using newspapers to find family history information, look at the entire paper—don’t stop with just the obvious articles such as obituaries and marriage notices. Look at all of the articles.

Genealogy is everywhere in a newspaper: even in the social columns, as in the following example.

social column, Times Picayune newspaper article 28 August 1917

Times Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 28 August 1917, page 4

Briefs, Locals, Chatter—social columns have different headings in newspapers around the country.

They often are just quick notes—passing comments, really, giving locals an update on the activities of their friends and neighbors in the community.

Although brief, these social updates can provide a surprising amount of family history. Look at the genealogical clues in the above newspaper article example from the Times Picayune social column:

  • Names: Marion Monroe, along with the name of her sister’s husband, her father and her brother.
  • Places: Biloxi, Mississippi, where Marion’s sister lived; New Orleans, Louisiana, where Marion and her parents lived; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Corpus Christi, Texas, where her brother had been stationed.
  • Details: Marion’s father was a judge in New Orleans; her brother was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Engineering Corps; the Monroe family lived on Philip Street in New Orleans.

Genealogists, like any detective, gather clues and track down all possible leads to learn everything they can about the target person.

Search newspapers thoroughly for your ancestor: read every clue.

Genealogy Records You Can Find In Newspaper Archives Infographic

Genealogy Records in Newspaper Archives

Is the Infographic image above too small? See the larger version.

Newspapers offer a variety of genealogy records that you can use to trace back your family tree. Learn about the types of genealogy records that can be found in newspapers and discover the family history information that each record type contains below.

Obituaries

Obituaries are an excellent source of genealogical information. Obits contain your deceased ancestor’s date of death and burial place, and often provide details about their spouse, children, parents as well as other extended family.

Passenger Lists

From passenger ships arriving at naturalization ports to stage coaches traveling across the frontier, several types of passenger lists are printed in newspapers. These lists contain the names of our traveling ancestors.

Birth Records

Birth records in newspapers include birth announcements and birth notices. These records contain the name of the newborn, time, date and place of birth as well as information about the infant’s parents, siblings and grandparents.

Legal Records

Many types of legal records are made public in newspapers. Probate records, court case records and name change records contain valuable genealogical information such as ancestors’ names, relatives, places of residence and more.

Photographs

Newspapers record many of life’s special moments. As such, you can find pictures of your ancestors in wedding photos, family reunion photos, birthday photos and old photo illustrations and sketches often printed in newspapers.

Marriage Records

Engagement announcements and marriage records are commonly printed in newspapers. These records give the name of the bride and groom, and provide details about the wedding including family members and friends in attendance.

New & Improved Newspaper Search!

With GenealogyBank’s new newspaper search functionality you can easily search each of the genealogy record types covered here to discover more about your family history.

Search now at: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/

Click the options in the left navigation to search by record types.

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50 Tennessee Newspapers Online for Your Genealogy Research

GenealogyBank has put more than 50 Tennessee newspapers online making it even easier for genealogists to find their old family stories and detailed information for their family tree.

Search millions of Tennessee newspaper articles in our online TN newspaper archives, including birth announcements, marriage notices, obituaries, and local news stories, to find out more about your ancestors from “The Volunteer State.”

collage of the Tennessee state seal and the Tennessee Herald masthead

Collage of the Tennessee state seal and the Tennessee Herald masthead

Click and start researching your ancestry now (each title is a link that will take you directly to that newspaper’s search page):

City Newspaper Date Range Collection
Athens Daily Post-Athenian 1/11/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Carthage Carthage Gazette 8/13/1808 – 7/1/1817 Newspaper Archives
Carthage Western Express 11/21/1808 – 11/21/1808 Newspaper Archives
Chattanooga Chattanooga Courier 2/10/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chattanooga Chattanooga Daily Rebel 8/9/1862 – 4/27/1865 Newspaper Archives
Chattanooga Chattanooga Times Free Press 4/1/1995 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chattanooga Justice 12/24/1887 – 12/24/1887 Newspaper Archives
Clarksville Clarksville Gazette 11/21/1819 – 12/23/1820 Newspaper Archives
Clarksville Tennessee Weekly Chronicle 1/27/1819 – 6/7/1819 Newspaper Archives
Clarksville Town Gazette 7/5/1819 – 11/8/1819 Newspaper Archives
Clarksville Weekly Chronicle 2/18/1818 – 9/16/1818 Newspaper Archives
Cleveland Cleveland Daily Banner 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Columbia Daily Herald 1/8/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cookeville Herald-Citizen 4/12/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Crossville Crossville Chronicle 9/1/1996 – Current Recent Obituaries
Crossville Glade Sun 6/2/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Dayton Herald-News 1/6/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Greeneville Greeneville Sun 9/14/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Jackson Jackson Headlight 1/27/1900 – 1/27/1900 Newspaper Archives
Kingston Roane County News 1/14/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Knoxville Daily Journal and Journal and Tribune 4/1/1888 – 12/31/1896 Newspaper Archives
Knoxville Knoxville Enlightener 1/31/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Knoxville Knoxville Gazette 12/7/1793 – 10/29/1806 Newspaper Archives
Knoxville Knoxville News Sentinel 1/4/1991 – Current Recent Obituaries
Knoxville Negro World 10/15/1887 – 11/26/1887 Newspaper Archives
Knoxville Wilson’s Knoxville Gazette 9/1/1818 – 9/1/1818 Newspaper Archives
Lafayette Macon County Times 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
LaFollette LaFollette Press 11/21/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lenoir City News-Herald 9/27/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Maryville Blount Today 2/1/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Maryville Daily Times 1/1/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries
Memphis Commercial Appeal 1/1/1968 – 12/31/1969 Newspaper Archives
Memphis Commercial Appeal 6/27/1990 – Current Recent Obituaries
Memphis Memphis Daily Avalanche 1/1/1866 – 4/30/1869 Newspaper Archives
Memphis Memphis Triangle 11/17/1928 – 7/27/1929 Newspaper Archives
Memphis Tri-State Defender 2/3/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Murfreesboro Murfreesboro Union 6/6/1939 – 6/6/1939 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Colored Tennessean 8/12/1865 – 7/18/1866 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Impartial Review 1/18/1806 – 8/16/1806 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Nashville Gazette 5/26/1819 – 2/14/1827 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Nashville Post 1/21/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Nashville Nashville Scene 11/23/1995 – Current Recent Obituaries
Nashville National Banner and Nashville Whig 1/1/1834 – 12/30/1836 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Review 11/10/1809 – 5/3/1811 Newspaper Archives
Nashville Tennessee Gazette 2/25/1800 – 5/30/1807 Newspaper Archives
Newport Newport Plain Talk 7/1/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Oak Ridge Oak Ridger 2/17/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries
Paris Paris Post-Intelligencer 7/5/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Rogersville Rogersville Review 12/16/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Rogersville Western Pilot 8/19/1815 – 8/19/1815 Newspaper Archives
Sevierville Mountain Press 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Shelbyville Tennessee Herald 12/19/1817 – 3/8/1820 Newspaper Archives
Sweetwater Advocate and Democrat 6/12/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tazewell Claiborne Progress 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wartburg Morgan County News 12/19/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries