Sleuthing for Clues in the News to Solve Genealogy Mysteries

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how tiny clues in old newspapers can lead to big family history discoveries.

Every genealogist I have ever met seems to be a combination of Perry Mason, Jessica Fletcher, Columbo, Christine Cagney, Mary Beth Lacey, Thomas Magnum, and Sherlock Holmes—searching everywhere for clues, following each one (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant), and putting together the strongest case they can.

illustration of Sherlock Holmes in “The Five Orange Pips”

Illustration: Sherlock Holmes in “The Five Orange Pips.” Source: Wikimedia.org.

One of my favorite places to hunt for clues in my genealogy and family history is the online collection of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. There always seems to be some new discovery for me to delve into in order to make our family tree more complete.

Sleuthing for Clues in the News

Sometimes these genealogical clues are truly tiny—but when pursued, can lead to valuable information and additions to our family trees. Such was the case when I came across a small, three-sentence article in an 1897 newspaper.

article about Mary Lisy, Plain Dealer newspaper article 16 May 1897

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 May 1897, page 13

Having already identified that I had a couple in our family tree of Joseph and Mary Lisy, I decided this was worth investigating further. It certainly seemed to have all the elements of a highly interesting genealogy story. So my work began.

Enter Last Name










Investigating Joseph & Mary Lisy

In another Ohio newspaper the very next day was an even shorter article, this one containing only one sentence.

article about Mary Lisy, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 17 May 1897

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 May 1897, page 6

Now I had some nice pieces of information to further my ancestry research. First I learned that the court that heard this case was the Probate Court, and, second, that this Mary Lisy was a patient in a facility named Cleveland State Hospital.
I began to look for Mary Lisy in the Census records of the time and sure enough, in the 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 United States Census records is listed “Lisy, Mary, Inmate” at the Cleveland State Hospital for the Insane. I then continued to look in GenealogyBank’s newspapers to see if there might be something I could learn about the institution itself.

My initial archive search returned hundreds and hundreds of search results. Many, like this 1909 newspaper article, detail terrible conditions and chronic overcrowding in the Cleveland State Hospital.

Asylum Cramped, Governor Finds, Plain Dealer newspaper article 9 August 1909

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 August 1909, page 1

Then in the 1940 United States Census returns I discovered Mary Lisy, who—while still listed as an “inmate”—was now at Hawthornden State Hospital (Insane) and had been at this facility at least since 1935. While I was not familiar with this facility from any of my prior research, it didn’t take me long to find this 1941 newspaper article, which contains a lot of good information on the system of insane asylums in Ohio, including Hawthornden.

Ohio Insane Asylums Slated for Repairs, Repository newspaper article 10 January 1941

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 10 January 1941, page 12

Genealogy Sleuthing Stumbling Block

Then I had one of those “uh-oh, I knew this was going too smoothly” moments in my genealogy research. As I continued researching Joseph and Mary Lisy, I discovered that there were at least two men in Cleveland named Joseph Lisy who had almost identical birth years. Both also happened to have married women with the given name of Mary, who also had similar birth years. To make this matter even more confusing, all these folks were Bohemian as well.

Enter Last Name










One of the couples seemed to have had a fairly “normal” life, but the other couple had a darker life together—including this Mary having been in an asylum for decades, as shown in this 1901 newspaper article. This article detailed a court case in which Joseph Lisy was found guilty of failing to provide for his four minor children and was sentenced to the workhouse.

article about Joseph Lisy, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 February 1901

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 February 1901, page 12

This complication of multiple Joseph and Mary Lisy couples was a great learning experience for me and a good example of the need to get as much definitive documentation as we can find to ensure that our family trees are true and accurate.

Expanding My Genealogy Search

I branched out my research to include records from Cuyahoga County, the Ohio Probate Court, the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services, several local genealogical and history organizations, the diocese of Cleveland, several cemeteries, and, much to my luck, a cousin who was also struggling with this same dilemma. As they say “two heads are better than one,” and we all know this is certainly at its truest when it comes to genealogy and family history research.

It took some time to sift through all of the death listing for each Mary Lisy that we could find, but that is what we did. As we winnowed them down, one was discovered from 1960 that placed her death at the “Millcreek Psych. Ctr” in Knox County, Ohio. Of all the death listings for women named Mary Lisy, after the 1940 Census, this was the only one with any hint of an institution as the location of her death. It was from 1960, which means Mary had lived in Ohio insane asylums for over 60 years of her life, which was a sobering thought all by itself. Both my cousin and I agreed this was the most promising lead we had, so it was picked to be our first to pursue.

Then almost all at once the genealogy research started falling into place like dominos.

Pieces of the Family Mystery Come Together

Our first break came when a very helpful priest in the diocese provided a copy of the parish register for the marriage of Joseph and Mary, which gave us her maiden name of Bolf (Wolf).

photo of the marriage registry for Joseph Lisy and Mary Bolf

Photo: marriage registry for Joseph Lisy and Mary Bolf

Second, the archivist from the Cuyahoga County Probate Court sent me the files on the insanity hearings for Mary Lisy. Pages and pages of information—then in about the middle, penciled in the margin of one of the records was this: “nee Wolf.”

My cousin called to say that when she was speaking to her husband about this mystery, he mused aloud about why Mary would have been transferred to Hawthornden—which was not in Cuyahoga County, but rather in Summit County, Ohio. She said this didn’t click right away, but then like a bolt of lightning it struck her.

She recalled that the only children of Mary Lisy who were still alive in 1960 had been listed as living in Cuyahoga County, according to the 1940 Census. However, there was a cemetery listing in one obituary for a cemetery in Summit County, Ohio. The obituary for Edward Votypka was in a 1944 newspaper and nicely mentioned the cemetery by name.

obituary for Edward Votypka, Plain Dealer newspaper article 14 March 1944

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 14 March 1944, page 10

It was, as she said “a tenuous connection,” but she placed a call to the cemetery. There a wonderfully helpful staff member was able to verify that a family member had purchased 12 graves for a family plot. Not only were several of the children and other family members of Mary Lisy interred there, but one grave was the final resting place of Mary Lisy herself!

We are now tidying up the rest of our genealogy research on Mary and Joseph Lisy. And to think—this all came about from a three-sentence article in an 1897 newspaper!

What is the best and biggest genealogy and family history discovery you have made from a newspaper article? I’d love to learn about them so please leave your story in the comments here. Thanks for reading and Godspeed in your genealogy sleuthing!

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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.

Cole Porter, Bing Crosby & Leonard Bernstein: News & Obituaries

During this October week in American history three musical geniuses died who had a big impact on music—both in America and around the world:

  • Cole (Albert) Porter, American composer, died at 73 on 15 October 1964
  • Bing Crosby (Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby, Jr.), American singer and actor, died at 74 on 14 October 1977
  • Leonard Bernstein, American composer, conductor, and pianist, died at 72 on 14 October 1990

Newspapers are filled with obituaries and profiles that help us better understand the lives of our ancestors—and the famous people who lived during their times. You can use newspapers to research their public careers and trace their family trees. The following newspaper articles about these three famous Americans are good examples.

Cole Porter (1891-1964)

Cole Porter, best known for his musical Kiss Me, Kate, had a long, prolific career in musical theater. A composer and songwriter, he had a string of hits on Broadway in the 1920s and 1930s. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Porter wrote both the music and the lyrics for his songs, and his many hit songs include “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “You’re the Top.”

Porter’s career was interrupted in 1937 by a severe accident while horseback riding, leaving him disabled and in pain for the rest of his life.

Cole Porter Hurt in Riding Accident, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 25 October 1937

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 25 October 1937, page 14

He carried on, however, and his triumph Kiss Me, Kate in 1948 placed him at the top of his profession once again.

Cole Porter's 'Kiss Me, Kate' Wins Royal Salute, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 31 December 1948

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 31 December 1948, page 11

Along with his successful Broadway shows, Porter also wrote numerous film scores, to great acclaim. He wrote his last musical, Silk Stockings, in 1955, and his last songs for a film were for the Gene Kelly movie Les Girls in 1957.

The next year was a turning point in Porter’s life. His severely damaged right leg was finally amputated—and he never wrote another song again. He lived the last six years of his life quietly, primarily in seclusion, and died in Santa Monica, California, in 1964.

Cole Porter Dies; Leaves Legacy of World-Famed Music, Seattle Daily Times newspaper obituary 16 October 1964

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 16 October 1964, page 9

His obituary stated:

“Porter’s works revolutionized song writing in many ways. It was he who first broke away, successfully, from the restrictions of Tin-Pan Alley traditions that a popular song had to have a 16-bar verse and a 32-bar chorus. Some of his pieces almost doubled this.

“His lyrics were so good they were published as a book of poems. Their sophistication, wit and complex inner rhymes won him accolades as the foremost Indiana poet since James Whitcomb Riley.”

Bing Crosby (1903-1977)

Bing Crosby is a towering figure in American music, radio, and film history. From the 1930s to the 1950s Crosby had tremendous success, from multi-selling records, popular radio shows, and movie roles. As a recording artist alone, Crosby sold more than half a billion records! He is honored with three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for his records, movies, and radio shows.

The extent of Bing Crosby’s fame and popularity can be glimpsed in this 1949 newspaper article.

'Raffles' Changed His Mind about Robbing Bing Crosby, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 22 February 1949

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 22 February 1949, page 1

Bing Crosby died doing something he loved. Late on the afternoon of 14 October 1977, he and a partner defeated two Spanish pros after 18 holes of golf in Madrid, Spain. Immediately after securing the victory, Crosby had a heart attack and died on one of the greens of the golf course.

Bing Crosby Dead, Boston Herald newspaper obituary 15 October 1977

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 15 October 1977, page 1

His obituary described Crosby as “the golden-voiced singer-actor who serenaded three generations of lovers” and reported:

“Crosby was ‘happy and singing’ during the 4½ hour round of golf that was to be his last, one of his golfing partners said.”

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

Leonard Bernstein was one of the most famous musicians in the world, renowned for his composing, conducting, and piano playing. He gained his fame as the long-time music director of the New York Philharmonic orchestra, but in his long career he conducted most of the world’s best orchestras. He was equally well-known for his tremendous talent at the piano, often playing at the keyboard while conducting piano concertos.

Bernstein was also a gifted composer, achieving lasting fame for his music for the musical West Side Story, which opened on Broadway on 26 September 1957. The next day, this review noted that “the first-night audience gave it a rousing reception.”

'West Side Story' Linked to Bard, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 27 September 1957

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 27 September 1957, page 17

Bernstein, suffering from lung disease, conducted for the last time on 19 August 1990 at a concert with the Boston Symphony—a performance unfortunately marred by his suffering a coughing attack during the playing of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. On 9 October 1990 he announced he would no longer conduct; five days later he died from a heart attack.

Bernstein Dead at 72, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 15 October 1990

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 15 October 1990, page 1

Calling him “the impassioned American maestro,” Bernstein’s obituary noted some of his many achievements and the causes he supported:

“The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, he led an orchestra performance at a liberated concentration camp, raised money for the Black Panthers and on Christmas 1989 celebrated the demise of the Berlin Wall by conducting [in East Berlin, Germany] Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.”

Newspaper Obituaries provide personal details about someone’s life that we can’t find elsewhere—whether they are our ancestors or famous people we’re interested in. GenealogyBank features two collections of obituaries:

Dig into these obituary archives today and see what you can discover about your family tree and the famous people you admire most!

Missing Men: Lost Husband Ads in Newspapers for Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena explores a family history resource in old newspapers that may surprise you: missing husband ads.

The Internet, text messaging, email, cell phones, social media and instant messaging…today we take for granted the convenience and peace of mind that having access to a person at the drop of a hat—24 hours a day, 7 days a week—brings. When I was a teenager my parents knew that if I drove somewhere they would not hear from me again until I returned home. If I was going to be late I would find a telephone booth and call but there was no way to be in touch constantly. In today’s world, parents panic if they don’t get an immediate response from their cell phone-attached youngsters.

Imagine a time when, if someone left the house and didn’t return, there were few ways to track them down.

Immigrant Disappearances

I was confronted with this reality years ago when I researched a client’s grandfather who had come to the United States in the early 20th century to seek out a better life for his family. The idea, like for many immigrants, was that he would emigrate first to find work and then make enough money to bring his wife and children over to their new home.

Instead they never heard from him again. No one knew what happened to him. The family wasn’t sure if he had died en route or years after arriving in America. Back at the time he disappeared, there was little that could be done to find a person who simply vanished into thin air. In some cases leaving without a trace was seen as a preferable option to a difficult or expensive divorce proceeding. In other tragic cases, an unfortunate mishap or act of violence was the reason for an unintended disappearance.

Missing Husband Newspaper Ads

So what did 19th and 20th century wives do when their husbands left and never returned? They used the newspaper. Specific newspaper articles targeting missing husbands existed, as in the case of the Jewish Daily Forward, which for a time included a column entitled the “Gallery of Missing Men” that provided descriptions and photos of husbands who had deserted their wives.

Newspapers also provided women the option of taking out a personal advertisement in the classifieds asking for the public’s help in finding their missing husbands.

These missing husband newspaper ads might be a surprising source of family history information, helping you fill in some details about your ancestors that you can’t find elsewhere.

Consider these two advertisements found in a 1907 Texas newspaper from GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, both placed by women pleading for the public’s help in finding their husbands.

missing husband ads, Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisements 12 September 1907

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 12 September 1907, page 8

In the case of the second advertisement placed by Mrs. H. L. Hooyer, her husband Henry was a harness maker who one day disappeared. In a previous advertisement more details of H. L. Hooyer were given, including a physical description and what he was wearing when he disappeared.

missing husband ad for Henry Hooyer, Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisement 28 August 1907

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 28 August 1907, page 8

Mrs. H. L. Hooyer placed multiple advertisements in the Dallas Morning News looking for her husband. His union magazine also carried notices of his disappearance. An article in the October 1907 The Leather Worker’s Journal (available from Google Books) from the Dallas Chief of Police provided information as well as a $50 reward. (See: http://bit.ly/1gfsW1C)

missing husband ad for Henry Hooyer, The Leather Workers’ Journal, October 1907

The Leather Workers’ Journal, October 1907. Credit: Google Books.

Another personal notice in The Leather Workers’ Journal stated that the family feared Hooyer had been a victim of foul play, with an unconfirmed report of his drowning in Nebraska. Conducting a quick search for H. L. Hooyer in GenealogyBank confirms that he had been involved in at least one past criminal court case, as well as a civil case, months prior to his disappearance. Whether Henry did meet with an untimely death or not, his wife is listed in subsequent city directories and in the 1910 U.S. Census as a widow.

Find Lost Ancestors in Missing Person Ads

In an era when social media meant a daily or weekly newspaper, personal advertisements alerted the community to those who went missing. For wives who found themselves suddenly alone, the classifieds were one of their only options for seeking help locating their missing husbands.

Genealogy Search Tip: Remember, newspapers are full of family history information—which sometimes turns up in the most unexpected places. Don’t rule out the classified ads when searching newspapers; your distressed ancestor may have placed an ad for her missing husband, providing personal details to help fill out your family tree.

Find Grandma’s Recipes in Old Newspaper Food Columns

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena searches old newspapers to examine food columns that may have provided the recipes our ancestors used—and shows how those food columns that featured recipe contests may contain names and addresses helpful to our family history research.

What’s in your grandmother’s recipe box? Chances are there are a variety of recipes that are either handwritten on index cards or clipped from newspapers and magazines. Maybe you have some of those yellowed newspaper clippings stuffed in a recipe box or pasted in a cookbook.

photo of a recipe book with old newspaper recipe clippings pasted in

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

Newspaper food columns provided women with recipes by food writers, nutritionists and even neighbors. In some cases, food column contests solicited reader recipes centered on a specific theme. (For more about newspaper recipe contests see my earlier GenealogyBank Blog post, Newspaper Recipe Contests: Was Your Ancestor a Contest Winner?) Whether your ancestor actually participated in submitting a recipe or just cut out her favorites, these columns were an important way to add variety to the family’s dinner table.

Tongue and Pickles

Newspaper food columns provide us a glimpse of the food our families ate throughout the decades. This 1917 column from an Arizona newspaper is a compilation of money-saving recipes that were awarded prizes by the newspaper. Recipe columns published in the newspapers during war time would concentrate on saving money and, in the case of World War I and II, how to make do with limited quantities due to food rationing. In the paragraph introducing the recipes, the writer suggests that readers clip these columns and add them to cookbooks, or paste an envelope into a cookbook and then place clippings inside the envelope. In this article, notice that women’s names and addresses are included with their submissions—a potentially helpful clue for your family history research. The first recipe, provided by Miss Chloe Ray for Braised Tongue, even includes a suggestion for where to buy the tongue.

Recipes Which Help Reduce the Cost of Living, Tucson Daily Citizen newspaper article 2 March 1917

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 2 March 1917, page 5

In some cases newspaper columnists wrote articles with everything from recipes to food advice. “Jane Eddington,” the pen name for Caroline S. Maddocks, was a syndicated columnist with the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune started its food column in 1910 and Eddington penned her articles until her retirement in 1930. She was then succeeded by women who penned the food column under the moniker “Mary Meade” until 1974.*

In Eddington’s column for 5 September 1913, she discusses pickles and provides some recipes. Making pickles wasn’t a small job; these recipes call for over 100 cucumbers!

Recipes for Home Cooking, Plain Dealer newspaper article 5 September 1913

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 5 September 1913, page 11

Food and “Womanly” Advice

Some recipe columns were about much more than sharing recipes and meal ideas. In some cases they were advice columns. The Chicago Tribune said the purpose of its column was to “preach daily that cooking is a noble as well as an ancient duty.”**

In the following column from a 1909 Pennsylvania newspaper, “Womanly Answers to Womanly Questions,” recipes are but one form of advice given. Other advice has to do with other “womanly” issues like quilt cleaning. Lunch meal planning suggestions in this particular column include “sardines cut up with ham and pickles make a good filling for sandwiches” and desserts such as vinegar pie and fried apple turnovers.

Womanly Answers to Womanly Questions, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 24 September 1909

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 24 September 1909, page 11

Another recipe/advice column, written by Miss Lilian Tingle and entitled “Answers to Correspondence,” provides recipe help to readers. In this column from a 1917 Oregon newspaper, she provides everything from recipes for mushroom catsup to potato doughnuts to corned beef. Like the previous example, although recipes seem to be the main focus there is a homemaking question in between the recipes for how to care for houseplants. This column is a good example of how food preferences over time change, so that what was popular to eat at one time may not be to most people’s liking today.

food column, Oregonian newspaper article 4 November 1917

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 4 November 1917, page 7

Do you have a favorite food column in your local newspaper? Do you have clippings from your grandmother’s favorite column? Maybe your family still eats a family favorite clipped from an old newspaper. Recipe newspaper columns are just one place where we can find the names of the women in our families and better understand what they had for dinner.

photo of an old newspaper recipe clipping pasted into a cookbook

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

Share your favorite food column with us in the comments section. Better yet, if you have newspaper clippings or recipe cards with family recipes, take a picture of them and post them to our public Old Fashioned Family Recipes board on Pinterest. Get an invite to participate by following the board. We look forward to trying your favorite family recipes!

______________

* Serving Food News for 150 Years by Kristin Eddy. July 16, 1997. Chicago Tribune. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1997-07-16/entertainment/9707170320_1_food-page-pen-cake-mixes accessed 6 October 2013.

** Ibid.

The Leaves of Fall: Leaf Stories, Poems & Decorating Ideas

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott celebrates the colorful foliage of the autumn season by finding lots of leaf stories in old newspapers.

I am an unabashed lover of autumn and all it brings us! It is my favorite time to go out and take photographs at cemeteries. I love the crisp mornings coupled with the still-warm afternoon sunshine, walking in the woods, and perhaps most of all the leaves as they present us with all their magnificent fall colors.

One of our family’s favorite autumn pastimes when our children were young was for me to rake the leaves into a huge pile and then allow our children to make a massive leaf “fort.”

photo taken by Scott Phillips of his son in a leaf fort, circa 1979

Photo: the author’s son in his leaf fort, circa 1979. Credit: Scott Phillips.

The other day, I was enjoying the wonderful fall colors and delightful vistas—along with some wonderful autumn memories stirring in my mind’s eye—when I decided to take a look at the online historical newspapers of GenealogyBank.com to see if other folks shared my love of autumn. Let me just say it appears, much like the colors of our autumn leaves, to be a bit of a mixed bag.

Fall Fairy Tale

My first discovery was a delightful fairy tale from a 1917 South Dakota newspaper. Featuring autumn leaves, “Mr. Wind,” the “Breeze Brothers,” gnomes, and fairies, it is exactly the kind of story I would have enjoyed telling my children and I have now saved it so that I can read it to our grandsons.

Daddy's Evening Fairy Tale: Autumn Leaves, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 10 October 1917

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 10 October 1917, page 7

Decorating with Leaves

Next I came across a name that rang a bell with me. It was “Cappy Dick” in a 1954 issue of my hometown newspaper in Cleveland, the Plain Dealer. I recall looking forward to Cappy Dick’s “Hobby Club” ideas in the newspaper every week when I was a child. In this article, Cappy instructed his young fans to take a vase and “Brush shellac all over the surface. Then stick the bits of leaf to the shellac after first applying glue to the back of each leaf.” Reading it made me laugh out loud at the thought of how my mother and grandmother might have reacted had I ever dared take shellac, glue, and autumn leaves to any one of their precious vases.

Decorate a Vase or Jar with Leaves, Plain Dealer newspaper article 15 October 1954

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 15 October 1954, page 51

Moonshiners Make Crafty Use of Leaves

Still chuckling over my likely “shellacking” had I shellacked a vase, I came across an article from a 1928 North Carolina newspaper, during the height of Prohibition, that contained a unique take on autumn leaves. The article reported: “Officers in recent days have discovered that the moonshiners are taking advantage of the fall of autumn leaves in a unique way. A trench deep and long enough to contain about four barrels of beer is dug next to the log of a fallen tree in the depth of the woods…On top of these is (sic) laid sheets of iron roofing and then leaves are raked so that they gradually slope up to the top of the log as if blown by autumnal breezes. Four barrels like this were found during last week by the use of sticks to punch into the leaves.” I guess there were smart moonshiners in those days—but perhaps even smarter officers.

Officers Locate Horse Head in Barrel of Corn Beer in East Davidson County, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 12 December 1928

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 12 December 1928, page 13

Leaves Cause Broken Ankle

Mrs. Francis M. Whitlaw evidently did not take too kindly to autumn leaves, as reported in a 1908 Missouri newspaper. While it made me a bit sad that Mrs. Whitlaw broke her ankle due to the leaves, I found it an interesting bit of time-travel to read that she was treated by her doctor at “Rose & Gordon’s drug store” and was taken “in a carriage” to the hotel where her husband was the manager.

Autumn Leaves: An Accident, Kansas City Star newspaper article 9 November 1908

Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), 9 November 1908, page 4

Leaves Cause Fall Fatalities

Then I got a real shock when I read an article from an 1898 New York newspaper about a fatal train wreck caused by autumn leaves. While definitely a tragic story, I found the amazing details related to this autumn leaves event extremely interesting.

Wreck Caused by Autumn Leaves: Clogged Brakes, and Sent Lehigh Valley Train Dashing Down Mountainside to Collision, New York Herald newspaper article 12 November 1898

New York Herald (New York, New York), 12 November 1898, page 7

Poem about Leaves

I closed out my searching after making a delightful discovery in a 1911 Idaho newspaper. Oh what memories this lovely poem brought back! I could smell the wonderful aroma of burning leaves (now forbidden in our community) in the fall. I encourage you to read this nifty little poem. As the anonymous author writes, “such scented censer smoke” brings each of us “The glory of our olden dreams.”

A Poem: The Burning Leaves, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 29 October 1911

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 29 October 1911, page 4

I hope you enjoy the wonder of this autumn’s colorful leaf display, and indulge in some fun memories of your own as you rake the leaves. And if you have a moment, how about sharing your favorite autumn family memories here with me in the comments section? I’d certainly enjoy hearing them!

The Real Duncan Hines—The Man, Not the Cake Mix

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena uses old newspapers and other online resources to learn more about Duncan Hines—whose real-life accomplishments were so much more than just getting his name onto boxes of cake mix.

When you hear the words “Duncan Hines” you may visualize a homemade cake. Today, most people recognize the Duncan Hines name as one gracing the front of cake mix boxes, but Duncan Hines was a real person who had an interesting foray into the food and hospitality businesses.

photo of a box of Duncan Hines cake mix

Photo: Mixer and box of Duncan Hines cake mix. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.

In today’s world if you want a recommendation for a hotel or a restaurant you look for a website. Prior to the Internet you most likely used a guide from an organization like AAA (the American Automobile Association) to choose where to stay on a vacation or work-related trip. But whom did your family rely on for such advice in the mid-20th century?

The Traveling Foodie

Duncan Hines didn’t start out to become an everyday name associated with food and lodging. He didn’t even start out working in the food industry. Duncan Hines (1880-1959) was a traveling salesman for a printer who, as he racked up miles crossing the country for his work, ate at lots of restaurants. In 1935 he shared his recommendations in a Christmas card and quite by accident stumbled upon a new venture.*

That Christmas card eventually became a business. The Duncan Hines brand was not unlike the multiproduct brand names we see in the food industry today. Products associated with famous chefs or homemaking experts like Rachel Ray or Martha Stewart follow in Hines’s footsteps. His coveted reviews of restaurants expanded to hotels—he even rented out signs that proclaimed an establishment recommended by him. Eventually his name graced a multitude of food products including the well-known cake mixes of today.

Hine’s Ratings & Recommendations Books

Adventures in Good Eating, his multi-edition book of restaurant recommendations, blossomed into regular newspaper columns that included recipes from restaurants he had reviewed.

Duncan Hines: Adventures in Good Eating, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 24 August 1948

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 24 August 1948, page 9

The success of Adventures in Good Eating led to Hines’s hotel guide entitled Lodging for a Night (digitized on Internet Archive at http://archive.org/stream/lodgingfornight00hinerich#page/n5/mode/2up).

There is no doubt that Hines became a celebrity in his own right. Lodging for a Night includes a warning that “a surprising number” of imposters who claim to be his family had been known to ask for free food and lodging. Hines warns proprietors to refuse such offers (pg. xiv).

photo of the cover of the Duncan Hines book "Lodging for a Night"

Photo: Book cover of Lodging for a Night by Duncan Hines. Credit: Internet Archive.

Hines’s descriptions of hotels are reminiscent of conversing with a good friend. He not only provides some of the basic information a traveler would need but also includes comments about the proprietors—like in the listing for the Sutter Hotel in Yuba City, California. Hines writes: “If you want to see what a man with brains can do with a hotel that 2 year ago was not any too good, drop in and meet Mr. Hass” (p. 61). In his write-up of the Oak Creek Lodge in Flagstaff, Arizona, Hines reports that the owners are Carl and Ethel Meyhew, along with their son and daughter (p. 19).

Duncan Hines was a well-respected figure, and that respect led him to lecture on food issues (such as warning against eating a poor breakfast), as seen in this 1954 article from a Texas newspaper.

Duncan Hines Warns about Poor Breakfasts, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 October 1954

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 October 1954, page 2

At one time the Duncan Hines name was on a multitude of products, everything from ice cream to baking mixes to hams. For a man who was once a traveling salesman, his Christmas card idea turned into an industry that Americans are still familiar with today.

photo of an ad for Duncan Hines smoked hams

Photo: Duncan Hines ad for smoked hams. Credit: Internet Archive.

Dig into the online archives now to learn more about the life of Duncan Hines, read more of his restaurant reviews in Adventures in Good Eating in the newspaper, and more.

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* Duncan Hines. He is the traveler’s authority on where to eat by Phyllis Larsh. Life. 8 July 1946. Page 16-17. Available at http://books.google.com/books?id=JEoEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PP1&dq=Duncan%20hines%20life%20magazine&pg=PA16#v=onepage&q=Duncan%20hines&f=false.

Read the Obituaries of the Cast of ‘I Love Lucy’

The memorable comedy I Love Lucy ran from 15 October 1951 to 6 May 1957 and re-runs are still broadcast today.

photo of the four actors from the "I Love Lucy" TV show

Credit: Wikipedia

They were our television family, watched and enjoyed in living rooms across America.

Read more about the four veteran actors who starred in I Love Lucy in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. (Note: you must be logged into GenealogyBank to access the content via the links below.)

Lucille Ball (6 August 1911 – 26 April 1989)

Obituary: Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 April 1989, page 88.

Desi Arnaz (2 March 1917 – 2 December 1986)

Obituary: Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama), 3 December 1986, page 12.

Vivian Vance (26 July 1909 – 17 August 1979)

Obituary: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas) 18 August 1979, page 27.

William Frawley (26 February 1887 – 3 March 1966)

Obituary: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 4 March 1966, page D5.

Remembering James Dean, Woody Guthrie & Janis Joplin with Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott looks up profiles, news stories and obituaries in old newspapers to learn more about these three famous entertainers who died this week in American history.

During this week in history (30 September to 4 October) America lost three of its most iconic entertainment personalities. America, and indeed the whole world, lost film actor James Dean in 1955, singer Woody Guthrie in 1967, and singer Janis Joplin in 1970.

Newspapers are filled with obituaries and profiles that help us better understand the lives of our ancestors—and the famous people who lived during their times. The following newspaper articles about these three famous Americans are good examples.

James Dean (1931-1955)

Although he only starred in three movies in his short lifetime, James Dean was already being compared to Marlon Brando when he died. In 1955 Dean shot to stardom as a result of his starring role of Cal Trask in East of Eden, which earned him the first-ever posthumous nomination for an Academy Award. For most of us today, James Dean is best known for his role as Jim Stark in Rebel without a Cause. At the time of his death, Dean had just finished filming his now-famous role as Jett Rink in the film Giant, and had set off in his Porsche sports car to indulge in his passion for car racing at a racetrack in Salinas, California, in the upcoming weekend. Dean never made it to Salinas.

How did James Dean die so young? As you can read in this article from a 1955 Texas newspaper, a tragic automobile accident claimed the life of James Dean at the age of only 24.

Car Collision Kills Actor James Dean, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 1 October 1955

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 1 October 1955, page 1

Then just two days later, the Dallas Morning News again reported on the Dean tragedy, this time focusing on his funeral to be held in Dean’s home town of Fairmount, Indiana.

Funeral Services for Dean Planned in Indiana Saturday, Dallas Morning News newspaper article, 3 October 1955

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 3 October 1955, page 18

This newspaper article not only provides a fascinating look at the early life of James Dean, but also reports the stark reactions of his costars such as Elizabeth Taylor, who “took it the hardest” and was “crying unashamedly.”

I always thought James Dean was buried in Hollywood; now that I know he lies at rest just a couple hours from my home, I will be taking a future road trip to pay my respects to this marvelous actor and icon of youth angst. Interesting note: this same small Indiana town is also the hometown of another American cultural icon, Jim Davis, the cartoonist and creator of “Garfield.”

Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)

While some folks reading this might be more familiar with Arlo, the son of Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie, many musicians and music historians would agree with the claim in this 1971 New Jersey newspaper article that Woody is “generally considered America’s greatest balladeer.”

Okie Folk Poet [Woody Guthrie] Loved Underdog, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 27 June 1971

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 27 June 1971, page 102

Woody Guthrie wrote more than 1,000 songs, of which more than 400 are preserved in the Library of Congress (and dozens of which populate my iPad). He also wrote an autobiography Bound for Glory(also on my iPad), and has been acknowledged as a major musical influence on such modern-day musicians as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and dozens of others. His best known musical piece might well be “This Land Is Your Land.”

When he succumbed to his 15-year battle with Huntington’s disease on 3 October 1967, the news of Guthrie’s death was carried from coast-to-coast. This obituary from a 1967 Louisiana newspaper makes note of a fact still true about Woody today: “Many persons heard Guthrie’s songs without ever knowing his name. Among those who have recorded Woody’s songs are Bing Crosby, Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.”

Folk-Singer [Woody] Guthrie Dies, Times-Picayune newspaper obituary, 4 October 1967

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 4 October 1967, page 8

Being a born and raised Clevelander (home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), it was especially nice to read a 1987 news article from my hometown Cleveland newspaper that reported the 1988 Class of inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: not only was Woody Guthrie being honored—but also a singer whom he greatly influenced, Bob Dylan.

Lads, Boys, Girls, Bob [Dylan] in Hall, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 October 1987

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 October 1987, page 83

Oh, and just in case you are a fan of the website FindAGrave.com, I’ll let you in on a “secret.” There may be a memorial stone to Woody in his hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma, but Woody’s not there. His ashes were actually spread at Coney Island, New York.

Janis Joplin (1943-1970)

The year was 1970. America was at war; the Vietnam War was raging in its 11th year. The fight over the war raged across our nation’s home front. The divisions that this war caused throughout America were evident in families, public protests, college campuses, and beyond. Rock and roll music was a boiling caldron fueled by many of these divisions (for instance my parents would not allow rock and roll in my house). Into this scene burst some of America’s most noted rock artists.

One of these was one of my personal favorites, Janis Joplin. Her name is forever welded to “Mercedes Benz” in my mind, a song she recorded just two days before her untimely death in 1970 at the age of only 27. As you can see it was Page One news in this 1970 article from a Texas newspaper.

Singer Janis Joplin Found Dead in Hotel, Dallas Morning News newspaper obituary 5 October 1970

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 5 October 1970, page 1

As you can imagine there followed numerous articles that mourned the loss of this one-of-a-kind singer. Other newspapers seized the occasion to rail away at the excesses of America’s youth.

This 1970 article from a North Carolina newspaper reported that Janis had signed her will only three days before her death, and left half her estate to her parents and one quarter each to her brother and sister.

Janis Joplin Left Estate to Family, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 22 October 1970

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 22 October 1970, page 11

Janis had a unique voice and style. In this 1969 article from a California newspaper, reporter Carol Olten had this to say about Janis: “Janis Joplin never leaves doubts in anyone’s mind about being THE rock ’n’ roll woman. Any musicians who appear on stage with her have been more or less reduced to mashed potatoes.”

Janis Joplin Here Saturday, San Diego Union newspaper article 28 September 1969

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 28 September 1969, page 78

Janis was indeed quite the woman of rock and roll. As reported in this 1994 article from an Illinois newspaper, she was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the 1995 Class of inductees.

[Janis] Joplin, [Frank] Zappa Join Hall of Fame, Register Star newspaper article 17 November 1994

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 17 November 1994, page 35

By the way, whenever you are in Cleveland, Ohio, pay a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famewhere you can see some of Janis’s memorabilia and a whole lot more. From personal experience, I suggest you allow at least two days for your visit!

Obituaries provide personal details about someone’s life that we can’t find elsewhere—whether they are our ancestors or famous people we’re interested in. GenealogyBank features two collections of obituaries:

Dig into these obituary archives today and see what you can discover about your family and favorite celebrities!

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.