Shipwreck of the ‘Essex’ Whaleship: A Real-Life Moby Dick

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches through old newspapers and other sources to learn about the incredible story of the whaleship “Essex,” which was sunk by a huge sperm whale in 1820!

Longer ago than I care to admit, my English teacher suggested (OK, it was actually required) that I read the classic American novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. While I found this book to be a better adventure story than most of my required reading, I must admit that as a youth I was not the biggest fan of Mr. Melville’s style. Then a few days ago a friend of mine mentioned that November 20th is the 193rd anniversary of the sinking of the whaleship Essex by a giant whale, and that I might find that shipwreck story interesting.

I took up that suggestion, and first I decided to check the newspapers of GenealogyBank.com to see what might have been reported regarding the Essex. My first discovery was a tremendous article in an 1822 New Hampshire newspaper.

The Essex Whale-Ship, New Hampshire Observer newspaper article 18 March 1822

New Hampshire Observer (Concord, New Hampshire), 18 March 1822, page 2

This article is amazing and I was immediately captivated by this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story. It seems that the Essex, a whaleship out of Nantucket, Massachusetts, was “stove” or rammed in the South Pacific by, believe it or not, a huge sperm whale!

The tragic story of the few crew members (only 8 of 20) who survived the sinking of the Essex is almost beyond comprehension. They had to sail thousands of miles of open water in three small boats in a desperate attempt to reach South America, with short supplies of food and water that soon gave out—forcing the men to rely on cannibalism and drinking their own urine in order to stay barely alive. Their ordeal lasted three months and over 4,000 miles.

The ship’s captain, George Pollard, Jr., had left two letters on a deserted island in a tin box, fearing he would not survive the ordeal (he eventually did). I found his public letter that was later reprinted in the newspaper (the other was for his wife) to be truly heartrending.

letter from Captain George Pollard Jr., New Hampshire Observer newspaper article 18 March 1822

New Hampshire Observer (Concord, New Hampshire), 18 March 1822, page 4

I looked further and my next discovery was far more recent, having been published by a Georgia newspaper in 2000.

book review of Nathaniel Philbric's book "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex," Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 4 June 2000

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 4 June 2000, page 53

I was curious to see what was being reported in 2000 about a shipwreck that happened way back in 1820. It turns out the article was a book review of a new book by noted history author Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. Although the review got the date of the disaster wrong (the Essex was sunk in 1820, not 1821), it explained that the Essex tragedy may well have been an inspiration for Melville’s classic. Given my love of history, I immediately bought Philbrick’s book and began reading a truly fascinating account of this period in American history, as well as the details of the Essex and her crew’s ordeal.

As I read Philbrick’s book, which I highly recommend, I discovered that he based much of his book on something that each of us as genealogists can hope for and relate to: a long-lost family notebook. It seems that one of the few shipwreck survivors, Thomas Nickerson—who was a cabin boy on the Essex—was encouraged to write down his recollections of this tragedy, and did so in 1876. However, for more than a century his notebook lay undetected, until it was discovered in an attic by Ann Finch of Hamden, Connecticut.

I found the story of Ann Finch’s amazing notebook discovery in a 1981 Texas newspaper.

Woman Finds [Thomas Nickerson's] Manuscript; One Whale of a Discovery, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 19 February 1981

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 19 February 1981, page 2

Edouard Stackpole, an expert from the Nantucket Historical Association, verified the notebook’s authenticity and historical value.

Author Philbrick does a tremendous job of introducing the readers of his book to the crew of the Essex, and it was her crew that began to captivate me. Soon the genealogist in me took over and I decided to do some genealogical investigating.

The genealogy detail was there to be found. On the free website FamilySearch.org, I found the 1850 United States Census for Nantucket, listing Thomas Nickerson as a “mariner.” The 15-year-old cabin boy was now a 45-year-old married man.

listing for Thomas Nickerson of Nantucket in the 1850 U.S. Census

Credit: FamilySearch.org

He was still listed as a mariner in the 1855 Massachusetts State Census for Nantucket.

listing for Thomas Nickerson of Nantucket in the 1855 Massachusetts State Census

Credit: FamilySearch.org

I even found his listing on the 1883 Nantucket Death Register; the ancient mariner died of “old age.”

listing for Thomas Nickerson in the 1883 Nantucket Death Register

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Further investigation of the life of Thomas Nickerson led me to an article published in an 1879 Michigan newspaper.

article about the sinking of the whaling ship "Essex," Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 24 October 1879

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 24 October 1879, page 2

Here I learned that cabin boy Nickerson ultimately became a captain later in his life, and I enjoyed this account  of the story of the great whale that did in the Essex and, as a consequence, so many of Nickerson’s crew mates.

This account of the whale attack contained the following exciting description. After the whale first struck the ship, it rushed back for a second attack.

article about the sinking of the whaling ship "Essex," Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 24 October 1879

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 24 October 1879, page 2

The old news article concludes with this description of the then 74-year-old Nickerson, who by that time had been living with the horrible memories of the Essex ordeal for almost 59 years.

article about the sinking of the whaling ship "Essex," Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 24 October 1879

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 24 October 1879, page 2

Now I am off to continue my genealogical investigations into the surviving crew members of the ill-fated Essex. I think my next crewmember is going to be boatsteerer Benjamin Lawrence.

But before I begin learning about Mr. Lawrence, I need to look further into a certain “Mocha Dick”! You see I also happened to discover an article published in an 1839 New York newspaper, which tells the story of another fearsome sperm whale, this one an albino who was “white as wool” and supposedly had over 100 fights with whalers before he was finally killed.

"Mocha Dick," of the Pacific, Auburn Journal and Advertiser newspaper article 12 June 1839

Auburn Journal and Advertiser (Auburn, New York), 12 June 1839, page 1

I suspect the story of Mocha Dick was another influence on Melville’s imagination when he wrote his great epic Moby-Dick, which was published in 1851.

What a tremendous shipwreck story with so much more to learn! It’s time to dig deeper into these historical newspapers and find out more about the rest of the survivors.

Extra! Extra! Newspaper Archives Grow by 31+ Million Articles

It’s always exciting to see more and more newspapers going online—millions of them. We’ve just added a wide assortment of brand new newspaper titles, as well as expanded our existing titles to give you more coverage to research your roots from coast to coast.

photo of a stack of newspapers

Credit: Wikipedia

This month has been busy for our team. GenealogyBank added more than 31.5 million articles from over 3,000 newspapers published in all 50 states!

Wow—a great month!

Here are just a handful of the over 3,000 newspapers that were expanded in the online archives this month. The newspapers marked with an asterisk * are brand new newspaper additions to GenealogyBank.

State City Newspaper Date Range Collection
California Fresno Fresno Morning Republican* 7/3/1888–6/30/1896 Newspaper Archives
Colorado Denver Denver Rocky Mountain News 6/28/1908–9/30/1917 Newspaper Archives
Florida Bradenton Manatee River Journal 1/4/1923–9/20/1923 Newspaper Archives
Florida Tampa Tampa Tribune 12/1/1925–3/31/1926 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Cornelia Northeast Georgian, The* 04/12/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Georgia Dawsonville Dawson News & Advertiser* 06/05/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Illinois Rockford Morning Star 7/25/1925–6/26/1959 Newspaper Archives
Illinois Rockford Register Star 12/2/2007–11/30/2008 Newspaper Archives
Illinois Rockford Rockford Weekly Gazette 8/13/1868–8/13/1868 Newspaper Archives
Indiana Batesville WRBI – 103.9 FM* 01/29/2010–Current Recent Obituaries
Louisiana Baton Rouge State Times Advocate 9/24/1981–4/29/1990 Newspaper Archives
Louisiana New Orleans Times-Picayune 2/12/1978–5/21/1978 Newspaper Archives
Massachusetts Boston Boston Herald 3/1/1990–7/31/1991 Newspaper Archives
Massachusetts Jamaica Plain Jamaica Plain Gazette* 10/06/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Michigan Adrian Daily Telegram 1/20/1898–8/1/1906 Newspaper Archives
Michigan Sault Ste. Marie Evening News 5/30/1903–1/24/1920 Newspaper Archives
Nebraska Omaha Omaha World Herald 5/1/1906–6/30/1906 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Jewish Messenger* 03/13/1857–12/18/1868 Newspaper Archives
New York New York New Yorker Volkszeitung 12/22/1910–12/12/1920 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Vorwarts 04/14/1917–04/14/1917 Newspaper Archives
New York Watertown New York Reformer 10/19/1854–6/4/1857 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Daily News 9/1/1949–8/15/1954 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Raleigh Observer* 2/24/1877–9/11/1880 Newspaper Archives
Ohio Canton Repository 5/13/1884–10/2/1921 Newspaper Archives
Pennsylvania Erie Erie Tageblatt 04/05/1912–12/12/1916 Newspaper Archives
Pennsylvania Waynesboro Record Herald 2/22/1919–3/28/1919 Newspaper Archives
South Carolina Beaufort Beaufort Gazette, The* 01/10/2002–Current Recent Obituaries
Virginia Richmond Richmond Times Dispatch 11/1/1954–9/30/1972 Newspaper Archives

How Old Newspapers Can Help You Search U.S. Census Records

Like detectives, we approach family history by gathering all of the clues and making a case for who our relatives were: their names, when and where they were born, pushing through all of the activities of their lives until their deaths.

Pulling all of the facts and clues together helps us rediscover who each one of our relatives really were. What happened while they were alive—what do we really know about them?

The U.S. census is a terrific tool—basic for building an American family tree. It gives us a snapshot of our family at the time of recording. The census looks in on them one day of their lives, every ten years, over their lifetime. Couple this census information with old family letters, perhaps a journal, and birth, marriage & death certificates, and we begin to discover the basic facts about each person.

Add newspapers to our research and we can go beyond the basic genealogical facts: we get to learn their stories.

Newspapers were published every day. They tell us what happened each day in their town, their state, in the world. Old newspapers tell us what was happening in our relatives’ lives every day of their lives.

Since a census record is a one-day look at the family, we complement those basic facts with newspaper articles to fill in the details and get the rest of their stories, as shown in the following two examples.

William T. Crow (1802 – )

Here is the listing for William T. Crow and his wife Elizabeth Crow (1806- ) in the 1880 census.

photo of the 1880 census listing for William and Elizabeth Crow, from FamilySearch.org

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Digging deeper into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I found this old 1800s newspaper article about William Crow.

notice about William T. Crow, Aberdeen Weekly News newspaper article 2 October 1885

Aberdeen Weekly News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 2 October 1885, page 2

This article fills in more of the details of their lives:

  • He was a judge
  • Her maiden name was Elizabeth Blackwell
  • They married on 26 February 1826
  • They were close to the 60th anniversary of their wedding day
  • They had 6 children and 47 grandchildren living in 1885
  • 1 daughter died during childhood
  • 2 sons “sleep in soldiers’ graves”
  • They lived near Carnesville, Georgia, and all of the children lived within 1½ miles of the family home

That’s a lot of family information packed into one short paragraph. Marriage records in newspapers are a fantastic resource to trace your family tree.

Hannah Lyman (1743-1832)

Hannah (Clark) Lyman lived in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Her census record gives us a start at her story.

Here she is in the 1830 census, living in Northampton, Massachusetts.

photo of the 1830 Census listing for Hannah Lyman, from FamilySearch.org

Credit: FamilySearch.org

She is there—and the check marks tell us that there were others, unnamed, living in the house with her at that time.

Once again I turned to GenealogyBank’s historical newspapers to get more of her story, and found this 1800s news article published just two years after the census was taken.

obituary for Hannah Lyman, Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 21 March 1832

Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 21 March 1832, page 3

Like the trendy saying “it takes a village,” it takes multiple genealogical resources to fill in the details of the lives of our ancestors.

And wow—do newspapers deliver!

This newspaper article from GenealogyBank’s deep backfile of historical newspapers builds on her brief mention in the census, and tells us the core facts of her life along with a terrific family story of her memories of the “great earthquake of Nov. 18, 1755.”

Details—stories.

Newspapers tell us so much about our family history.

What Can I Find in GenealogyBank about My Cousin Maid Marion?

No, I don’t mean Robin Hood’s love interest from the 16th century.

I’m referring to my cousin Marion Morgan Kemp (1862-1963) who owned villas in France, New York and Rome.

Years ago I contacted the authorities in Osmoy, France, where she died and received a copy of her death certificate.

photo of the death certificate for Marion Morgan Kemp (1862-1963)

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp

Since Marion lived most of her life overseas, I wondered if I could find more details of her life in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

I quickly found many old newspaper articles about her that gave me a better sense of Marion’s social and civic activities. She not only hosted many events, but also during World War II—after the Allies retook Rome in June of 1944—she lent her personal villa for the use of President Roosevelt’s representative in Rome.

If you read the news article about the villa takeover carefully, you’ll see that her 60-room villa was highly sought after, causing “a scramble among high Allied officers who wanted it.” President Roosevelt’s personal representative, Myron Taylor, won the right to occupy her prized villa when he showed up with a personal letter from Marion—turns out they had known each other for many years.

collage of news articles about Marion Kemp, from GenealogyBank

Credit: GenealogyBank

Notice where the above three articles about Marion appeared:

  • “Mrs. Coolidge Honored,” Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 14 August 1949, page 16.
  • “Sporting Tea in Stable,” Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 9 April 1905, page 8.
  • “Myron Taylor Wins Row over Mansion in Rome,” Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 4 July 1944, page 3.

These are terrific articles, published in newspapers from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Not locations where I had expected to find more information about my ancestor, but pleasant surprises nonetheless.

I had almost limited my record search to only New York newspapers, since that is one of the cities where she owned a home—but I went with a full search of GenealogyBank. It’s a good thing I did— I otherwise wouldn’t have discovered the interesting news articles I found that gave me a glimpse into her life.

Genealogy Search Tip: Cast a wide net when searching newspapers and gather in all of the articles about your family. You never know what you might find out about your ancestors.

Hispanic American Newspapers for Genealogy at GenealogyBank

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the extensive online collection of Spanish American newspapers available on GenealogyBank, and gives examples showing how these newspaper articles can help you research your Hispanic family members.

Researching an immigrant ancestor or an immigrant community in the United States? Take a look at the ethnic newspapers available in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. For genealogists doing research in an area where ethnic newspapers were published, that resource should be an integral part of your family history research. These ethnic newspapers printed news from back home, interviewed friends and family, reported on social events and activities, and provided a place for those new to America or with limited English language skills to feel connected.

Those with Hispanic ancestors and family will appreciate the collection of over 350 Spanish-language newspapers available online at GenealogyBank. The Hispanic collection’s newspaper coverage crosses the country and spans from the very early 1800s to the 1970s. The early Hispanic American newspapers are fantastic resources to learn what life was like for your immigrant ancestors.

Currently, states with news coverage include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin.

For many genealogists, an introduction to newspaper research begins with looking for family obituaries. According to the chapter “Newspapers” found in the genealogy classic The Source (edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking): “Where major local newspapers often overlooked or carried one-line death notices of [immigrants], the person often received detailed notice in his or her ethnic newspaper.” The lesson here is to exhaust all newspapers for an area, local regional papers as well as ethnic newspapers, as you begin your obituary search.

Here’s a good example of a full obituary found in an ethnic newspaper. In this obituary for Dona Rumaldita A Vallejos, we learn some important family details as well as the cause of her death during the Spanish Flu epidemic.

obituary for Dona Rumaldita A Vallejos, Anunciador newspaper article 14 December 1918

Anunciador (Trinidad, Colorado), 14 December 1918, page 1

One reason some researchers may shy away from foreign-language newspapers is the language gap. Don’t let a newspaper article in your ancestor’s native tongue stop you. Remember that there are many online tools to help you translate a newspaper article. In the case of an obituary, you can quickly become familiar with the most commonly used words  (names for family relationships, words for birth, death, occupation, etc.) after using Google Translate, a foreign-language dictionary, or genealogical word lists available from sources such as FamilySearch, to translate words in foreign languages.

Don’t forget that newspapers aren’t just for finding information about a person’s death—they also document celebrations for the living. Consider this brief Spanish-language marriage announcement for Raymundo Rivera and Matilde Rodriguez.

marriage announcement for Raymundo Rivera and Matilde Rodriguez, Prensa newspaper article 22 April 1951

Prensa (San Antonio, Texas), 22 April 1951, page 5

Here’s another marriage announcement in Spanish that includes more information, including where the happy newlywed couple will ultimately reside.

Rose Maria de Leon & Segundo Barbosa Prince marriage announcement, Prensa newspaper article 19 June 1958

Prensa (San Antonio, Texas), 19 June 1958, page 12

Don’t forget about researching the younger members of a family. Articles about Hispanic traditions and social events such as quinceaneras can be found in American Spanish-language newspapers. I love the following article from 1950 with the photo of an Albuquerque teen and its proclamation that she is the most beautiful 15-year-old in America. A nice added detail is that she is a redhead.

notice about Jackie Lee Barnes, Prensa newspaper article 8 January 1950

Prensa (San Antonio, Texas), 8 January 1950, page 6

American Spanish-language newspapers can be a boon to a Hispanic family history researcher. As you scour them for clues in your genealogy research, make sure that you also look for English-language newspapers for additional articles about your Hispanic family members.

Click the image below to go to the list of Hispanic American newspapers currently available on GenealogyBank for future reference. Feel free to share this list on your blog or website using the embed code provided below.

List of Hispanic American Newspapers at Genealogy Bank

Finding Out about My Ancestor Jeremy Hanson Using Newspapers

Using GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives for my genealogy research just gets better and better!

Every time I dive back into GenealogyBank’s newspapers I look for articles about my family. With over 1.4 billion records to select from—and more added every day—there are still a lot of family finds yet to be discovered.

Recently I was looking for more information in GenealogyBank about my ancestor Jeremy Hanson from Gilmanton, New Hampshire.

Since he lived in New Hampshire and “Jeremy” is a fairly unique name, I started by searching on just his first and last name—limiting my search to only New Hampshire and Massachusetts newspapers.

Finding My Ancestor’s Farm in the Newspaper

I soon found this real estate ad about a Jeremy Hanson who was selling his farm in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, in 1829.

real estate ad for the farm of Jeremy Hanson, New Hampshire Patriot newspaper advertisement 9 November 1829

New Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 9 November 1829, page 3

Since many of my ancestor Jeremy Hanson’s children were born in Gilmanton, this old news article is probably about him.

The real estate ad says that his farm was “one mile south of the Academy…on the road that leads to Concord.”

Gilmanton Academy?

I drove past that Academy thousands of times growing up in New Hampshire.

photo of Gilmanton Academy, New Hampshire

Photo: Gilmanton Academy. Credit: Wikipedia.

“One mile south of the Academy…on the road that leads to Concord.” A quick Internet search can find that location.

screenshot of Google Maps showing the area around Concord, New Hampshire

Credit: Google Maps

So—now we know where his farm stood in 1829.

Look at some of the details provided in the old real estate ad:

  • 135 acres of “good land”
  • 80 acres are divided into mowing fields, pasture and tillage land

I recognize that type of division.

Our property when I was growing up was further south of where Jeremy’s farm was located, closer to the intersection of State Routes 107 and 129. We had fields that had been planted and mowed since the days of the Revolutionary War. No doubt the Mudgett family that owned our property in days gone by knew Jeremy Hanson back in the day.

There are more details in the historical ad:

  • “Good orchards that make 15 barrels of cider yearly”—so they must have loved their homemade cider
  • “A well of never failing water”—sounds terrific. It’s good to see the ad copy used by people selling a home in 1829. He didn’t just have a well, he had “A well of never failing water.”
  • A home that was a 30’x40’ one-story house
  • A “well finished barn 22 x 49, sound and good”

We can picture exactly how big these two buildings were.

There were also three more buildings on his property:

  • A “wood and corn house, 24 by 30 two stories”
  • A “shed 30 feet long”
  • And “one more out building 15 by 20”

This is impressive. Since I’ve walked these hills and farms for years, I can picture how Jeremy’s farm must have looked.

Finding My Ancestor’s Occupations in Newspapers

Looking at the other newspaper search result hits, I found this article about Jeremy Hanson, the town clerk in Lincoln, New Hampshire.

notice about Jeremy Hanson, the town clerk in Lincoln, New Hampshire, New Hampshire Patriot newspaper article 21 April 1842

New Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 21 April 1842, page 3

This fits: my records show that several of Jeremy’s children died in Lincoln, Grafton County, New Hampshire.

In another old newspaper article Jeremy is named as the tax collector.

notice mentioning Jeremy Hanson as a tax collector in New Hampshire, New Hampshire Patriot newspaper article 21 December 1843

New Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 21 December 1843, page 4

Newspapers tell us our family’s story, giving us the details of our ancestors’ lives.

Wow—it’s a great day for genealogy!

How to Spot and Avoid 9 Common Genealogy Mistakes & Errors

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary discusses 9 common mistakes made when doing family history research, and suggests ways to avoid them.

Family history researchers are often frustrated by the mistakes of others—particularly when there is an obvious error in identity, such as the mistake explained in this 1914 Virginia newspaper article. It points out that a member of the Gwathmey family was incorrectly identified as having been a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth.

Rchmond Times Dispatch Newspaper Gwathmey Family Genealogy

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 17 May 1914, page 41.

This sounds like an obvious mistake, and one that could have been corrected with simple subtraction. Unfortunately, once a mistake is written in a book or newspaper article, the mistake is often carried into other research—forever frustrating the more serious genealogists.

Genealogical mistakes are not often easy to sort out, so let’s discuss some strategies.

1. Abbreviations Are Not Always What They Seem

Two of my favorites are “NA” and “NMI.”

In the case of the first abbreviation, “NA” might indicate non applicable, naturalized, Native American or even Navy, demonstrating the importance of finding the “key” explaining what an abbreviation actually means.

Another abbreviation that sometimes causes confusion is the use of “NMI” in place of a middle name. It is not an actual moniker, but rather used to indicate that a person has no middle initial—no middle name.

2. Age-Related Mistakes

  • Women who are too old to be mothers.

Although Mrs. Steve Pace, of Rose Hill, Virginia, reportedly gave birth to her 17th child in 1939 at the age of 73 (see the Wikipedia article “Pregnancy Over Age 50”), it is rare for women to give birth over the age of 50.

If a woman continued to give birth through her 40s, then it is possible that a report of her having a child as an older woman may be correct.

However, whenever you see such an older mother-child relationship claim, examine the possibility that the family may have been raising an orphan or a grandchild.

  • Persons who were born too young or old to have served during a military event.

If you are researching an ancestor for a lineage society, such as the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution, start by figuring out the beginning and ending dates of the event.

For example, the American Civil War occurred between 1861 and 1865.

Although there are examples of very young veterans, most of the younger set did not serve in a military capacity—unless they were older. One exception was Civil War Missouri veteran George Huffman, who enrolled as a volunteer in the 13th Missouri Infantry on 4 November 1861 at the age of 14. He re-enlisted on 8 February 1864, and was considered to have been the youngest veteran to have re-enlisted that year—as explained in this 1864 Massachusetts newspaper article.

Lowell Daily Citizen & News Newspaper George Huffman Civil War

Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts), 2 September 1864, page 2.

For the most part, however, it is safe to assume that someone—other than a drummer or bugler—must have been at least 15 when he enlisted for combat service. Therefore, it is unlikely that a combat veteran actually served in the Civil War if he was born after the year 1850.

Now, if a child served in a non-military capacity, then you might find evidence of children as young as seven involved in a war—such as Nathan Futrell, a young boy who served in the American Revolutionary War.

Greensboro Daily News Newspaper Nathan Futrell Revolutionary War

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 3 January 1971, page 24.

You can also apply an age factor to determine the likelihood of an older person serving in the military.

3. All Applicable Genealogy Records Have Not Been Found

Just because you can’t find a genealogical proof doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist. For example, many military records were burned, so look to other types of records for evidence.

In other words, if an original record is missing you might be able to find alternate records. In the case of a missing military record, look for a petition for a pension, or a list of enlistments, reprinted in an old newspaper article. Other possible genealogical sources: a family diary or letter, or church bulletin, that references military service.

4. Children Listed without Parents May Not Be Orphans

Just because a child is not recorded with a parent on a census record doesn’t necessarily indicate that both parents are deceased.

On one of the 1850 U.S. Federal Census records, I noted that the children of my ancestor Permelia Ann (Davis) Drake were living in different households.

Not finding their mother, I at first assumed that she had died. It turned out that she was very much alive, and recorded in the census with her second husband, Samuel Bassett. It’s not clear why the children were with the neighbors in 1850, but perhaps they were mother’s helpers or farm helpers working to support the family.

5. Informants Are Not Always Correct

A primary record is one that was recorded at the time of the event. A secondary record is one that is recorded later, generally from an informant. In the case of a death certificate, the date and place of death is primary evidence, but the birth date of the decedent, along with the stated parents, is not necessarily correct.

In my family, my great-grandfather’s parents were recorded on his death certificate as his natural parents, when in fact court records and other records establish that he had been adopted.

6. Just Because Two People with the Same Name Reside in the Same Area Does Not Necessarily Mean They Are Related (Coincidences Happen)

In the case of my ancestor William Harrell of Virginia (and Indiana) of the late 1700s and early 1800s, it turns out there are three men by the same name. Now that descendants have submitted results from DNA studies, it is clear that they were not closely related.

7. Spelling Errors

Alternate spellings are the norm, rather than the exception.

For example, my Ebling ancestors can be found with the surname spelling Ebeling, Hebling and even Heblinger. As a result, I always browse a book’s index to see if there are similar spellings. When searching online or in a search box, such as at GenealogyBank, I frequently use a wildcard such as a question mark (?) or asterisk (*) when searching for ancestor names.

  • The ? is used to take the place of one letter
  • The * is used to take the place of several letters

For example:

  • Eb*ing* would find Ebling, Ebeling and Eblinger
  • ?Eb*ing* would find all of the above, and include Hebling or Heblinger
  • Cath?rine would find both Catherine and Catharine

8. Transpositions (Reversing or Mixing Up Letters and Numbers)

Many people, including myself, are prone to transpositions. The year 1787, for example, might be unintentionally entered as 1778, or even 1877.

To overcome this tendency, be sure to closely examine recorded figures, such as the reported age at death. Several genealogy programs calculate this figure, and may even note it during an error check.

9. Widows and Widowers May Not Necessarily Be Widowed

In the event of a divorce, separation or bigamy, a spouse might be recorded as widowed on an official record. This may be to handle a delicate issue, or simply to accommodate a census form that didn’t have other options.

These are just a few common genealogical errors. If you have some that you have observed, please share them with us on Facebook or our blog page in the comments section!

The Marketing Finesse of Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkham

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 and advertisements to show how, more than a century ago, Lydia Estes Pinkham used marketing techniques to promote her medicinal “vegetable compound” that may inspire today’s businesses.

Looking for marketing ideas for your business? You may want to take a look at old newspapers for inspiration.

Consider the work of Lydia Estes Pinkham.

Mrs Lydia E. Pinkham of Lynn Mass. Medical Vegtable Compound - Watertown Daily Times

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 12 August 1880, page 4.

Who Is Lydia Pinkham?

Who is Lydia Pinkham you ask? She was a wife and mother living in Lynn, Massachusetts, when the Depression of 1873 threatened to ruin her family financially. Lydia had a recipe for a medicinal elixir that she had previously shared with family and friends. She started manufacturing and bottling this “medicine” in an effort to better her family’s financial position.

Faces Sell

Lydia Pinkham was a master marketer. Her marketing plan included placing an image of herself on her product’s bottles. By putting her face on the label she established a credibility with her target audience, women. She had several medicines; her vegetable compound was likely the most popular and had an alcohol content that was as high as 20%.[ii] At a time where visiting a physician was expensive and women suffered in silence through a variety of ailments—or ingested medicines that had deadly ingredients—Pinkham’s medicine provided some hope.

Customer Testimonials

Lydia also produced pamphlets, which were really thinly disguised recipe books, which not only gave suggestions of what products a woman should use but provided women’s own stories of being cured. In the pamphlet titled Food and Health, there are numerous testimonials that include women’s names and addresses. The pamphlet says of these testimonials: “…you will find letters from many classes of women, young and old, mother and daughter. They are genuine expressions of gratitude from one woman to another.”[iii]

Lydia Pinkham Obituary - Western Recorder Newspaper

Western Recorder (Lawrence, Kansas), 24 May 1883, page 4.

Establish Expertise

Pinkham encouraged her customers to write to her with their health questions. This service became so popular that these letters were being answered years after Pinkham’s death and signed by “Mrs. Pinkham.” When a photo of the gravestone of Lydia Pinkham was published in a 1905 issue of the magazine Ladies’ Home Journal it caused some to question the validity of these letters. Even though Lydia’s 1883 obituary had run in newspapers all around the country, it seems some people believed that Lydia was still answering these letters long after her death. At the end of this 1907 California newspaper article “Mrs. Pinkham” clarifies that she is actually the daughter-in-law of the real Mrs. Lydia Pinkham.

Tumors Conquered - Lydia Pinkham's Vegtable Compound Newspaper Article

Evening News (San Jose, California), 1 May 1907, page 6.

Advertise!

Newspapers ran all kinds of advertisements for Pinkham’s products including those with images and names of women customers singing the product’s praises. Were these women real or just figments of the company’s marketing machine? It appears that they were real women and although they may seem quite personal to us today, these testimonies are really not that different from postings online on medical support group boards, mailing lists, or review websites.

For Older Women - Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 27 June 1930, section 2 page 22.

Enjoy Enduring Business Success

Did Lydia’s marketing work? The evidence of her company’s success is that you can still purchase her reformulated products, manufactured by a different company, today. Marketing techniques that Lydia used in the 19th century, including customer testimonials, are still an effective way to spread the news about products in today’s market.


[i] From Food and Health, page 2. Testimonial by Mrs. Mary Dipietro of Canton, Ohio. < http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/4089243?n=4&imagesize=1200&jp2Res=.25&printThumbnails=no> Available online in the Lydia Estes Pinkham Collection http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/4089243 on the Harvard University Library’s Open Collections Program Women Working, 1800-1930 at http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww/pinkham.html.

[ii] The Name that Launched a Million Bottles. The Annette & Irwin Eskind Biomedical Library, http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/biolib/hc/nostrums/pinkham.html.

[iii] From Food and Health. Available online in the Lydia Estes Pinkham Collection http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/4089243 on the Harvard University Library’s Open Collections Program Women Working, 1800-1930 at http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww/pinkham.html.

List of 25 Historical U.S. Newspapers Going Online!

It’s exciting to see so many more old U.S. newspapers being added to GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives. The following list includes newspapers where we have tracked down and added back issues to fill in some gaps, as well as historical newspapers that have just been added to our collection, as indicated by an asterisk (*). Many of the U.S. newspaper titles we recently added to our online archives date back to the 1800s, providing the perfect material for you to dig in deeply and discover your early American ancestry from coast to coast.

State City Newspaper Date Range
Alaska Anchorage Anchorage Daily News 12/1/1970–12/3/1972
California Fresno Fresno Republican Weekly 9/23/1876–12/28/1899
California Riverside Press and Horticulturist 6/27/1885–6/27/1885
California Riverside Riverside Daily Press 07/12/1919–10/19/1922
California Riverside Riverside Independent Enterprise 03/29/1920–12/24/1920
Colorado Denver Denver Rocky Mountain News 9/22/1899–10/31/1900
Florida Tampa Tampa Tribune 08/02/1914–06/19/1922
Illinois Rockford Register Star 1/3/1991–9/17/2007
Illinois Rockford Register-Republic 4/7/1958–9/21/1977
Illinois Springfield Daily Illinois State Register 1/1/1859–6/30/1859
Indiana Evansville Evansville Courier and Press 3/4/1925–12/31/1937
Kansas Wichita Wichita Eagle 1/1/1965–10/31/1965
Massachusetts Boston American Traveller 07/08/1865–11/30/1867
Massachusetts Boston Boston Herald 1/21/1858–1/10/1987
Massachusetts Boston Boston Traveler 06/14/1861–01/15/1869
Michigan Bay City Bay City Times 05/14/1893–07/14/1906
Michigan Saginaw Saginaw News 2/3/1892–2/3/1892
Nebraska Omaha Omaha World Herald 4/29/1938–11/30/1981
New Jersey Jersey City Jersey Journal 7/28/1917–7/28/1917
New York New York Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper 11/14/1857–10/12/1861
New York New York New Yorker Volkszeitung 05/07/1900–06/13/1909
Ohio Canton Repository 8/17/1919–3/23/1943
Pennsylvania Erie Erie Tageblatt 05/16/1901–03/31/1913
South Carolina Charleston Charleston News and Courier 07/08/1916–06/22/1919
South Carolina Columbia State* 1/1/1963–12/31/1964

Nautical Terms & Phrases Found in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary provides another fun quiz to test your knowledge of nautical terms and phrases you may encounter in your family history research—and provides examples from historical newspapers.

Sailing ships, steamships, and sea travel were a big part of our ancestors’ lives, something genealogists often encounter when searching their family history. This blog article provides a fun quiz to see how well you know old nautical terms and phrases, then defines the terminology using examples from historical newspapers.

When researching ancestral voyages in newspapers, you’ll find that maritime language varies vastly from that on land.

That is, unless you reside in a nautical community such as Nantucket, Massachusetts.

A newspaper article from the Idaho Register in 1916 reported that “Nantucket speech is a museum of nautical expression.” A departing guest might hear, “Well, a fair wind to you,” and “women’s work” was referred to as “tending the kettle halyards.” Unless you know maritime terminology, you might not realize that a halyard is a rope (known on a boat as a line) used to hoist items, such as sails.

So what is a kettle halyard? That stumps me, but I suspect it was a kettle attached to a halyard, either for hoisting fish aloft for drying purposes, or to assist in bringing newly caught fish into the boat.

In 1841, a Nantucket mariner wrote his will strewn with nautical language. Obed Gardner wrote that he had “cruised with wife Huldy Jane since 1811,” and he wanted her and son Jotham to be “captain and mate in bringin’ to port” whatever he left. His story was told in that 1916 Idaho Register newspaper article.

Made His Will in Sea Terms, Idaho Register newspaper article 19 September 1916

Idaho Register (Idaho Falls, Idaho), 19 September 1916, page 6

Perhaps you are an expert in the language of the sea? Test your nautical knowledge with this handy terminology quiz and review the definitions below. You are welcome to share the nautical terms quiz and this blog article, with proper credit to me and GenealogyBank.

quiz of nautical terms and phrases found in old newspapers

Nautical Locations and Directions: Sailors use different terms to refer to the front, middle or back of a boat or ship. Some common ship terms are:

  • Abeam: middle of the boat or ship
  • Aft, astern or stern: the back or toward the back
  • Bow or foreship: front or toward the front
  • Midship or amidship: middle or toward the middle (half way between the bow and the stern)
  • Port and starboard: the left & right sides, respectively, as you face forward
What's Your Answer? Repository newspaper article 27 December 1939

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 27 December 1939, page 18

Blunderbuss: A blunderbuss is a type of flared firearm (weapon); the term later came to describe a clumsy person. In 1720, a “Sale by Publick Vendue” described various appurtenances “lately belonging to the Ship Thomas and Benjamin” that had been shipwrecked off the coast of South Carolina, including blunderbusses. There were also references to hooks, spears, horns, compasses and a poop lanthorn, which is explained below

Sale by Publick Vendue, Boston Gazette newspaper article 23-30 May 1720

Boston Gazette (Boston, Massachusetts), 23-30 May 1720, page 3

Brig or Brigantine: Brigs were an early and popular ship design. Most brigantines were square-rigged with two masts, as seen in this Library of Congress photograph of Oliver Perry’s brig Niagara. An alternate term definition is a ship’s prison.

photo of Oliver Perry's flagship "Niagara," Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Old newspapers contain numerous references to sea voyages, including one from 1738 reporting that the brig Sally and the ship Constantine (a larger vessel) were bound for London.

notice about the departure of the ships "Constantine" and "Sally," American Weekly Mercury newspaper article 5-12 October 1738

American Weekly Mercury (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 5-12 October 1738, page 3

This 1917 newspaper article described the process of discipline on a ship. Insubordinate sailors were tried before a court called a “mast” and the worst punishment was to be sent to “the brig.”

notice of a ship's brig, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 2 November 1917

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 2 November 1917, page 3

Capsized or Capsizing: When a watercraft overturns, it is known as capsizing. In 1910, the sloop yacht Black Command, a type of one-masted sailboat, capsized off Solomon’s Island, forcing passengers into Chesapeake Bay.

Capsized off Solomon's Island, Baltimore American newspaper article 18 July 1910

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 18 July 1910, page 12

Deck and Poop Deck: A deck is a floor of a ship. Some of the more common decks are: the bridge (captain’s or navigational equipment deck), main, upper, lower, promenade (walking area), tween or between (empty deck between two others), flush (an open unobstructed deck), quarter (near the main mast), weather (exposed to the weather), and the poop deck.

The poop deck is located at the aft or rear of a ship and its placement is typically elevated. The term poop is derived from the Latin term puppis, or stern portion of a ship.

Japanese Ship after Crash off Capes, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 3 October 1922

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 3 October 1922, page 15

Galley, Mess & Mess Hall: The galley or ship’s kitchen is where food is prepared, and the mess is the food, as seen in the following description from a 1917 newspaper article. Dining halls for soldiers and sailors are often called mess halls. This old newspaper article mentions that an enlisted sailor might be called a “jackie” by his family, but was always referred to as a “bluejacket” on board the ship—a nautical term which comes from his blue jacket uniform.

notice about a ship's galley and mess, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 2 November 1917

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 2 November 1917, page 3

Keel: The keel is the structure on the bottom of a vessel’s hull (main body), which counterbalances the boat’s weight should it lean (known as listing) too far to one side. Without a keel, ships often capsize. In 1901, Commodore Perry’s brig Porcupine from the War of 1812 was located by Dr. Schuyler C. Graves. Not much was left, but he was able to secure the keel and put it on display.

All That Remains of Commodore Perry's Warship, Grand Rapids Press newspaper article 19 October 1901

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 19 October 1901, page 13

Lanthorn and Poop Lanthorn: This nautical term refers to a portable lantern (lamp) or signaling device. In the above example for blunderbuss, there is a reference to the poop lanthorn which indicates a lamp secured on the poop deck. The below photo depicts an early American lanthorn from my family. A recently discovered family note indicates provenance relating to the Miesse family of Berks County, Pennsylvania.

photo of a ship's lanthorn

Photo: Harrell family lanthorn. Credit: from the author’s collection.

Mast: The mast is the pole that supports the sails on the ship, but it is also a term for the court that insubordinate sailors face while at sea. See the above example for brig.

Mizzen or Mizzenmast: The mizzen is a type of mast located behind or aft of the ship’s mainmast. The term also refers to the lowest sail on the mizzenmast.

In 1898, Miss Cowan, described as a “Yankee girl,” climbed the mizzen rigging (ropes and equipment supporting or attached to the mast). As she did not have her bicycle outfit with her, Captain Storer lent her one of his outfits.

Yankee Girl Went Aloft, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 2 March 1898

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 2 March 1898, page 3

For more information on rigging and sails, see the Wikipedia articles at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rigging and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sail.

Sloop: A sloop is a type of sailboat with one mast and two sails (known as the mainsail and jib), although the term can also refer to a small square-rigged sailing warship with more masts. See the above illustration for capsizing.

Sternchaser or Stern-chaser: The following nautical term definition comes from a 1939 newspaper article.

notice of a ship's sternchaser, Repository  newspaper article 27 December 1939

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 27 December 1939, page 18

There are many more nautical terms you’ll find in newspapers. Let us know if you encounter one that you do not understand. Also, please share any nautical term definitions you have come across in your genealogy research with us in the comments.