Oh Mother Where Art Thou? How to Find Females in Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena provides search tips to find your often-elusive female ancestors in old newspapers.

How do you find stories about your mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and other female ancestors in the newspaper? Sometimes that can be easier said than done, but here are a few tips to help you search for those elusive female ancestors.

What Types of News Articles Feature Women?

While the digitization of newspapers provides us the luxury of finding newspaper articles we weren’t specifically looking for, knowing what type of articles feature women can make it easier to focus your searches. It’s hard to imagine all the different types of articles a mother could be mentioned in, but reading copies of your ancestor’s local newspaper can be helpful. A few types of news articles to consider include the following.

Food & Recipe Newspaper Articles

What’s the best thing your mom cooks? Do you have memories of grandma’s homemade pies at Thanksgiving? Don’t forget that she could have been featured in the pages of the food section of the newspaper for her culinary prowess. Recipe contests sponsored by the newspaper or food companies, requests for recipes, or sharing a favorite recipe were all occasions for women to be published in the local newspaper.

For example, this article from a 1951 Texas newspaper about a pear recipe contest includes the names and addresses of the female judges and the winners. Even three-year-old Peggy Womack, who accompanied her mother to judge the entries, is mentioned.

article about a recipe contest, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 9 March 1951

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 9 March 1951, page 22

Genealogy Tip: Remember that women may be mentioned using their husband’s name so don’t forget to try searching for her as Mrs. John Smith or Mrs. J. A. Smith.

Women’s Interest Pages

Women’s Interest pages printed all types of articles about women’s activities including causes they supported and clubs they were a member of. You can find mentions of events and articles that report on meetings at members’ homes, complete with an address.

Enter Last Name

Such is the case on this Clubs page from a 1926 Washington newspaper, which includes mentions of the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union), sororities, fraternal auxiliaries like Order of the Eastern Star, and Soroptimists. Awards women won, their names, addresses and even two photos can be found on this page.

women's club page, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 22 August 1926

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 22 August 1926, page 60

Our female ancestors enjoyed club activities and membership in varied organizations. Identify membership organizations in the area your ancestor lived that she may have been a member of. Remember that she could have belonged to a group that believed in a cause she was passionate about (WCTU or League of Women Voters), was part of her church (Dorcas Society or Relief Society), or an auxiliary to an organization where her husband was a member (Women’s Relief Corp, Order of the Eastern Star).

There’s no doubt that being a mom and wife could get you in the paper as well. Whether it was for the birth of a baby, celebrating a wedding anniversary, attending a family reunion or even traveling with a child, your ancestress could be mentioned.

Great information about one family can be found in this report in a 1905 Idaho newspaper of the reunion attended in Texas by Mrs. J. F. Shellworth of Boise, Idaho. There are many names and much descendant information presented in this old newspaper article.

article about the Campbell family reunion, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 18 August 1905

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 18 August 1905, page 6

I have to admit my favorite part is the last paragraph that states:

Of this large family there is nor has been no stain on their moral characters, nor have any of them been arraigned before a court of justice as far back as the family history records.

article about the Campbell family reunion, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 18 August 1905

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 18 August 1905, page 6

Gossip & Social Columns

Don’t forget that gossip, social or “around town” articles provide opportunities for piecing together your female ancestor’s life. These short mentions often tell of the everyday activities she participated in like going shopping, traveling or even becoming ill.

For example, in this section of a 1904 Michigan newspaper entitled “News of Michigan Towns,” women are listed partaking in such activities as attending funerals, moving, attending club meetings, teaching, entertaining and in one instance passing away from a lengthy battle with consumption (TB):

Auburn, May 4.—Miss Lillie Miller, who has been suffering for the last six months with consumption, passed away April 30. Burial took place Monday morning at Midland. Miss Miller was with her parents during most of her sickness and death.

social column, Saginaw News newspaper article 4 May 1904

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 4 May 1904, page 3

It’s All in the Name

I have discovered that often when I wasn’t able to find something in a digitized newspaper it was because I wasn’t searching my ancestor’s name the way the newspaper printed it. It’s always when I think the name can’t possibly be printed as Miss Philibert or M. B. Philibert that I’m proven wrong.

Genealogy Tip: Create a list of variations of your ancestor’s name and then add various spellings and misspellings to that list.

Keep a list of those name variations handy, and on that list have two parts. In the first part, write out all the variations of the name she could have used throughout her life. Such a list for one of my paternal great-grandmothers looks like this:

  • Mary Bell Chatham
  • Mary Chatham
  • M.B. Chatham
  • Miss Chatham
  • Mary Bell Philibert
  • Mary Philibert
  • Mrs. Oscar Philibert
  • Mrs. O. J. Philibert

Now if I add all the creative ways Chatham and/or Philibert can be spelled, my list starts to look like this:

  • Mary Bell Chatham
  • Mary Chatham
  • M.B. Chatham
  • Miss Chatham
  • Mary Bell Philibert
  • Mary Philibert
  • Mrs. Oscar Philibert
  • Mrs. O. J. Philibert
  • Philbert
  • Philabert
  • Filabert
  • Philburt
  • Phillabert
Enter Last Name

So you get the idea of how many variations you may amass. Not sure how a name could possibly be misspelled? Ask a first or second grader. They will sound out the name and base their guess on phonetics, something that others may have done when spelling your ancestor’s name.

Before you give up on a genealogy search, always try another variation of your ancestor’s name.

Keep Track of Your Family History Research

As you research, keep a timeline of your female ancestor’s life so that you can determine what types of newspaper articles you might find during various times of her life, such as birth notices when she could be having children, or notices about her death. Along with that keep a research log and track your findings each time you research her in the newspaper. You will find a link to a free research log at the end of this article.

Because GenealogyBank is constantly adding new newspapers, you will need to conduct your search at least every month to find new results.

It’s no secret that I love the information that historical newspapers provide about our female ancestors. Finding mom (or grandma or great-grandma) is made easier when you know how to search. Honor your foremothers this week for Mother’s Day by locating stories about their lives in the newspaper.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Free Research Log Template

Not sure what a Research Log is or how to start one? No problem; with this free download from GenealogyBank you’ll be tracking your research in no time.

photo of a genealogy research log

Clicking on the link (or the graphic) will let you download the Research Log template as a full-size, working Excel spreadsheet that you can use to organize and track your genealogy research. This log is compliments of Duncan Kuehn, who provided the following instructions:

Crafting your genealogy research plan:

  • Title: Give your document a title. This will likely be the name of the person or family line that you are working on.
  • Objective: Craft a very specific research objective. The more specific you can be the more effective your search will be. An example of a poorly crafted object would be: “Continue the Johnson line.” A better objective would be: “Find out when Jacob Johnson was born.” An even better objective would be: “Find out when Jacob Johnson (probable son of James Johnson and Sally Kunz) was born (likely 1882-1885 in Hardin County, Kentucky or Randolph County, South Carolina).” Having a clear objective keeps your search focused. Having more information helps you narrow your search and determine if you have found the right information.
  • Date: Always enter a date for each entry. This will help you keep organized.
  • Goal:Follow this basic outline for setting goals. Each goal or search should occupy its own row in the research plan.
    • Confirm the known information.
    • Identify which sources might contain more information. Prioritize these by likelihood to contain the information, reliability, ease of accessibility, quality, etc.
    • Determine what possible documents might exist. For example, were birth certificates issued in the area at that time?
    • Try to find the document.
      • Check to see if any online resources have digitized the collection.
        • If not, check to see if an online index exists.
    • Check to see if any near-to-you repositories have the collection.
    • Check to see if any archives in the local jurisdiction have the collection.
  • Obtain the document and analyze the information.
  • Re-evaluate if the objective was met or not. If it was, then create a new research plan with a new objective. If not, determine what additional information is required and then identify which sources might contain that additional information.
  • Source: Write down what source you are using to find the information. For example, when confirming the information where did you look? Was it on your family tree? Did you locate the birth certificate in your possession? Write down this source and include as much information as possible. Who authored it? What page in the book was it found on? What was the call number of the book? What was the URL of the online document?
  • Repository: Write down where you found the source. Where was the document found? Was it in your possession? Did you locate it on FamilySearch? Was it in the local library? Write down as much information as you can here. If it is a place you intend to visit, be sure to include the address, phone number, website, etc.
  • Result: Write down what you searched for and what you found. Be very, very specific. For example: “I searched for Jacob Aman’s (born 1901 in South Dakota) birth certificate on Ancestry, but nothing was found.  I also used the spellings of Amman, Amann, Ammann, Anan, Amam, Amon, etc. I searched the time span of 1898-1903. I did not restrict it to a particular county.” That way when you think of or discover additional alternative spellings, such as Jakob or the initials J.B., you know to go back and try searching with the new information. When you do find information, record it here.
  •  #: Use this column to record the document number, include a link to the document that is stored on your computer, or list the document name as saved on your computer or in your paper files. You will want to access the document again. How will you find it? Enter that information in this column. Note: be sure to obtain a copy for yourself; don’t rely on finding the document again online, because URLs change, collections get culled and removed from websites, websites go defunct, etc.

Note: What is the difference between a genealogy research log and a research plan? A genealogy research plan includes the log, keeping all the information together. This prepares you for conducting the research: what documents exist, where can they be found? A research log would generally not include the goals of confirming the information, identifying the sources, locating where the source can be found, but instead would focus on the actual document search within a repository. This hybrid combines the best of both worlds to keep all the information in one place. I’ve called it a research plan because genealogists tend to focus on the document search when they need to focus on the preparatory work. The title is intended to remind them to slow down, focus their research, start at the beginning and work their way through. Once the document containing the information is found, the work is not done. Each fact needs to be confirmed by multiple sources. The evidence from each source needs to be properly evaluated. Finally, a written statement needs to be crafted to “prove” the answer, taking into account any evidence that contradicts the genealogist’s conclusion. Once this statement, paragraph, or report has been written, you are ready to move on – keeping in mind that new sources and evidence will be found and that might cause you to go back and revise your previous conclusions.


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Anna Jarvis Worked Hard to Make Mother’s Day a National Holiday

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over nine years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan searches GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives to learn more about Anna Jarvis and her hard work getting Mother’s Day established as a national holiday.

Mother’s Day is this Sunday. It is time to get the shopping for mom’s gifts done. Buy a sweet card, get some flowers, maybe some nice jewelry or other token of your appreciation. You will probably call home or drive over for a visit with your mother. It is a day to celebrate mom. The fact that Mother’s Day is a National Holiday is thanks largely to the efforts of Anna Jarvis, whose story can be found in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

photo of Anna Jarvis

Photo: Anna Jarvis. Credit: Olairian; Wikimedia Commons.

Anna M. Jarvis spent seven years pushing for a national holiday to celebrate mothers, after her own mother died. Congress finally passed the requisite law on 8 May 1914, and President Woodrow Wilson issued the official proclamation the next day. Anna began her efforts in 1907, and had successfully convinced 5-6 million people to join in the feel-good festival honoring mothers as early as 1908. They wore a simple white carnation as a token of appreciation for mothers.

article about Anna Jarvis and the first celebration of Mother's Day in the U.S., Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 20 May 1908

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 20 May 1908, page 8

Anna desired the holiday to celebrate her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis. Ann was also a social activist and had been the founder of a “Mother’s Friendly Day to weld families split by the Civil War.” Ann gave birth to 13 children, many of whom died very young. Ann and Anna were very close and when Ann died 9 May 1905, Anna mourned deeply.

Three years later she made her initial push for a larger memorial service to honor all mothers. The idea was a success and 5-6 million people were estimated to have participated in the celebration. They made a visual show of appreciation for their mothers by wearing a single white carnation.

Enter Last Name

Anna eventually quit her job in order to campaign for a national holiday. The idea caught like wildfire and just seven years after she began her campaign, the second Sunday in May was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson for the purpose. Nearly every country around the globe also began instituting its own version of a Mother’s Day celebration. Although not the first to champion the idea for Mother’s Day, Anna was probably more successful instituting it than she ever imagined.

article about Anna Jarvis and Mother's Day, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 27 November 1948

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 27 November 1948, page 4

Despite being successful in her efforts to bring attention to motherhood, Anna was never able to participate in that experience herself because she never had children of her own.  Her endless efforts also led to personal financial challenges, because her seven-year campaign turned into a life-long no-holds-barred battle against the commercialization of the new national holiday, which absolutely horrified her. Anna’s simple, heartfelt symbolic gesture of honoring mothers with a single white carnation was quickly overshadowed in the landslide of marketing campaigns around the new celebration.

Anna was disgusted by the commercialization of Mother’s Day, the pre-printed store-bought cards, and the impersonal gifts. She campaigned hard, with the same energy she had devoted to the first seven years of getting the day recognized, to push her ideas of forgoing the shallow tokens in favor of making a heartfelt connection with one’s mother. It was a battle she did not win. Mother’s Day is one of the most lucrative holidays for phone companies, the travel industry, card makers, florists, spas, and more.

Anna “once threatened to sue Governor Al Smith of New York over plans for a gigantic Mother’s Day meeting in 1923.” She even “tangled with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt over a rival Mother’s Day committee.”

Sadly, Anna died a “lonely spinster…partially deaf, blind and penniless” at the age of 84.

obituary for Anna Jarvis, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 November 1948

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 November 1948, page 37

Perhaps this year a homemade card, a single white carnation, and some quality time together with mom might be the better way to celebrate mom and Anna Jarvis.

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Mother of the Year Awards in the News

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

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

The Genesis of American Mother of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

Making the Grade as the Best Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Little Motherly Advice

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

Enter Last Name

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

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

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

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

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

Another of her ideas still rings true today:

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

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

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

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

Other Mothers of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Your Mother a Mother of the Year?

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

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

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Angela Cavallo Saves Her Son’s Life with Her Supermom Strength

We are all grateful for our mothers—but Tony Cavallo of Lawrenceville, Georgia, has been especially grateful for his mom, Mrs. Angela Cavallo.

She Lifted a Car to Save Her Son, Springfield Union newspaper article 14 April 1982

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 14 April 1982, page 25

Friday 11 April 1982 was a day like any other. Tony Cavallo was in the driveway fixing his 1964 Chevy Impala. Suddenly the jack collapsed and he was knocked unconscious, pinned under the car.

His mother came to the rescue with superhuman strength: with a prayer in her heart she reached down and lifted the car while the neighbor boy, Johnny Edwards, ran calling for help. “I was kicking him, saying ‘Get out, get out,’” while waiting for help to arrive, she said in an interview. Quickly the neighbors rushed to help and pulled Tony to safety.

Wow—with her phenomenal supermom strength she picked up the car and kept it off her son until help arrived. Now that’s the power of a mom’s love!

World’s Oldest Mom, age 110 – over 1,000 descendants

Happy Mother’s Day!

Clementine (Robicheaux) Breaux, the widow of Paul Breaux, must have set a record.

As of March 19, 1915 – she was still going strong at age 110 – the mother of 13 children and the matriarch of more than 1,000 descendants born in her lifetime. She lived in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana and her family lived there in Thibodaux and “scattered over the entire state” of Louisiana.

Even though she was 110 years old according to the article in the Duluth (MN) News Tribune (19 March 1915) she was still active.

Her eyesight was still good enough “to permit the threading of a needle” and she enjoyed “getting out in the yard and feeding the chickens and poultry.”

You learn the most amazing things about your family in these old newspapers.

GenealogyBank has over 3,800 newspapers from across the country. Give it a try right now.

So – here’s to our mothers everywhere, of all generations.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Clementine Breaux – 110 yrs. old – 1,000+ Descendants

Happy Mother’s Day!

Clementine (Robicheaux) Breaux, the widow of Paul Breaux, must have set a record.

As of March 19, 1915 – she was still going strong at age 110 – the mother of 13 children and the matriarch of more than 1,000 descendants born in her lifetime. She lived in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana and her family lived there in Thibodaux and “scattered over the entire state” of Louisiana.

Even though she was 110 years old according to the article in the Duluth (MN) News Tribune (19 March 1915) she was still active. Her eyesight was still good enough “to permit the threading of a needle” and she enjoyed “getting out in the yard and feeding the chickens and poultry.”

You learn the most amazing things about your family in these old newspapers.
GenealogyBank has over 3,400 newspapers from across the country. Give it a try right now.

So – here’s to our mothers everywhere, of all generations.

Happy Mother’s Day!