Tracing ‘Titanic’ Genealogy: Survivor Passenger Lists & More

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 find out more about the tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic—and shows how helpful those articles can be with your own family history research.

The Titanic was fast sinking. After she went down the cries were horrible. This was at 2:20 a.m. by a man’s watch who stood next to me. At this time three other boats and ours kept together by being tied to each other. The cries continued to come over the water. Some of the women implored Officer Lowe, of No.14, to divide his passengers among the three other boats and go back to rescue. His first answer to those requests was, “You ought to be damn glad you are here and have got your own life.” —Affidavit of Titanic first-class passenger Daisy Minahan*

photo of the Titanic departing Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912

Photo: the Titanic departing Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912. Credit: F. G. O. Stuart; Wikipedia.

Quite often, in the frantic rush to get the story of a disaster out to the public, the initial news reports are not correct. Today we know only too well what happened on that frigidly cold night in April 1912 when the Titanic hit an iceberg and subsequently sank. At the beginning of its doomed voyage on April 10th there were 2,224 passengers and crew aboard the Titanic when it sailed from England, but in the earliest hours of April 15th there were only 700 survivors.**

Few details about the Titanic sinking existed for the newspapers to report on the morning of April 15th. In an era before more modern technologies, the wireless and its brief messages via Morse code were all that the newspapers had to go on. In this example from a South Carolina newspaper, the first paragraph reports that the Titanic sent out a distress call reporting they were sinking and “women were being put off in the life boats.”

Readers may notice that this news article reports the distress call Titanic sent out was “CQD,” not the more familiar “SOS.” CQD was a distress call used prior to SOS that indicated “All Stations Distress.” Although this newspaper article indicated CQD was sent out by the Titanic wireless operators, they actually used both distress signals in their radio pleas for help.***

Queen of Ocean (Titanic) May Be Sinking, State newspaper article 15 April 1912

State (Columbia, South Carolina), 15 April 1912, page 1

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Some of these very early newspaper reports about the sinking of the Titanic had few correct facts. In this example from a California newspaper, not only does the article report that all Titanic passengers are safe—it says that the “Disabled Ship Is Proceeding under Own Steam.”

All People on the Steamship Titanic Are Safe, Evening News newspaper article 15 April 1912

Evening News (San Jose, California), 15 April 1912, page 1

As time went on, first-hand accounts of Titanic survivors who were rescued by the steamship Carpathia began to appear in the newspapers. These published Titanic survivor stories were important in helping the public on both sides of the ocean better understand the tragedy. For example, in this article from a Pennsylvania newspaper, an unnamed Carpathia passenger tells of witnessing the Titanic lifeboats approach the Carpathia. Describing the survivors as they came aboard the rescue ship, this witness stated:

There were husbands without wives, wives without husbands, parents without children and children without parents. But there was no demonstration. No sobs, scarcely a spoken word. They seemed to be stunned.

Lifeboats Leave Titanic as the Ship's Band Plays, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 19 April 1912

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 19 April 1912, page 4

Little by little, lists of names of those rescued Titanic passengers and those who had perished were printed in the newspapers. This list from a North Dakota newspaper shows the third-class passengers rescued and taken aboard the Carpathia.

List of Third Class Passengers Taken from Titanic, Grand Forks Daily Herald newspaper article 18 April 1912

Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 18 April 1912, page 2

For those awaiting news of loved ones, these piecemeal Titanic survivor lists that appeared must have made the pain unbearable—unless your family member or friend’s name appeared on one of the early lists, in which case the relief was surely overwhelming.

List of Titanic Survivors Rescued from the Sea, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 18 April 1912

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 18 April 1912, page 2

Because these lists of names from the Titanic were printed as soon as they were acquired, mistakes were made and later corrections had to be published. In this Titanic victims list from the ship MacKay Bennett, names of shipwreck victims according to their “class” are accounted. Those deceased passengers whose names were previously misspelled are now corrected.

Titanic Dead List Revised, Belleville News Democrat newspaper article 24 April 1912

Belleville News Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 24 April 1912, page 2

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This California newspaper article names 27 bodies that were recovered from the icy waters of the North Atlantic. In some cases the names didn’t appear on the passenger list, so it was assumed they were the bodies of Titanic crew members. Obviously, identifying all of the shipwreck victims was not easy since many of them were “clad only in sleeping garments.”

Cable Ship Sends List of Bodies Identified (from the Titanic), San Diego Union newspaper article 23 April 1912

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 23 April 1912, page 1

What happened to the victims of the Titanic? The steamship MacKay Bennett, charted by the White Star Line, recovered over 300 bodies. Some bodies were placed in coffins and transported back to Halifax where they were either released to family for burial, or buried in three Titanic cemeteries in Halifax. Those that were too damaged or decomposed were reburied at sea.****

For a list of victims and their burial sites, including lists for each Titanic cemetery, see the Encyclopedia Titanica, http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-victims-list/.

While some may believe that the Titanic’s 700 survivors were lucky, not all went on to live happily ever after. Daisy Minahan, whose testimony was shared above, was admitted to a sanitarium for pneumonia shortly after the disaster and then died of tuberculosis seven years later at the young age of 40.*****

Eight former Titanic passengers committed suicide later in their lives. One of the Titanic crew, Violet Jessop, survived the Titanic sinking and then survived the sinking of her sister ship, the HMHS Britannic, four years later.

Thankfully, after the sinking of the Titanic inquiries in England and the United States resulted in additional passenger ship safety measures such as lifeboat drills and the inclusion of enough lifeboats for all passengers, iceberg monitoring, and changes to ship design. While too late for those who lost their lives on the once-deemed unsinkable ship, it did help prevent tragedies of the same magnitude.

Please share in the comments section any Titanic stories you’ve run across in your own family history research.

Related Titanic articles:

_____________________

* United States Inquiry Day 16. Affidavit of Daisy Minahan. Titanic Inquiry Project. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.titanicinquiry.org/USInq/AmInq16Minahan01.php.
** About RMS Titanic. Encyclopedia Titanica. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/.
*** Rescue at Sea. CQD and SOS. American Experience. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/rescue/peopleevents/pandeAMEX88.html.
**** Titanic victims buried at sea shown in unique photograph by Philip Hind. Encyclopedia Titanic. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-news/titanic-victims-buried-at-sea-shown-in-unique-photograph.html.
***** Miss Daisy E. Minahan. Encyclopedia Titanica. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/daisy-minahan.html.

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69th Anniversary: President Franklin D. Roosevelt Died in Office

Tomorrow marks the 69th anniversary of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt; on the afternoon of 12 April 1945 the nation’s 32nd president died of a cerebral hemorrhage. His life ended just as the great Allied victory in World War II that he had worked so hard for was in sight. In his remarkable and unprecedented four terms and 12 years in the White House, Roosevelt steered the United States through two of the greatest traumas in its history: the Great Depression and World War II.

By consolidating the power of the presidency and inserting the government into many aspects of the country’s civic and economic affairs, Roosevelt was both beloved and hated. Since the 1951 ratification of the Twenty-second Amendment limits U.S. presidents to only two terms, it is safe to say we will never see another presidency like his. Historians consistently rank Roosevelt as one of America’s greatest presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

The Day FDR Died

Although confined to a wheelchair ever since paralysis struck him in 1921, Roosevelt was a hearty, energetic man. The enormous strain of leading the nation during World War II took its toll on him, however, and his health seriously deteriorated in 1945. Despite this, his sudden death was unexpected. He died in the “Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he had gone for the gentle weather and therapeutic waters for a respite. He was sitting for a portrait when he complained of a “terrible headache,” fainted, and never regained consciousness. He was 63.

News of Roosevelt’s Death Hits the Headlines

Historical newspapers are a great resource for exploring your ancestors’ lives—and to get a glimpse into the times they lived in. Here is a collection of front-page headlines to show how newspapers broke the tragic news of Roosevelt’s death to America. (Note: all of the newspaper articles used to illustrate this Blog post come from GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.)

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Plain Dealer newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 13 April 1945, page 1

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front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Boston Herald newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dallas Morning News newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Greensboro Daily News newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Augusta Chronicle newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Daily Illinois State Journal newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 13 April 1945, page 1

Enter Last Name










front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Advocate newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Daily Northwestern newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Daily Northwestern (Evanston, Illinois), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Marietta Journal newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Oregonian newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Repository newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Seattle Daily Times newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 13 April 1945, page 1

Discover more about FDR’s presidency and family life in GenealogyBank’s archives now: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/?lname=Roosevelt&fname=Franklin+D.

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How to Use Newspaper Lost & Found Ads for Genealogy Research

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how lost and found ads in old newspapers can turn up a surprising amount of information about your ancestors—and provide a glimpse into their lives that you won’t find in government records and vital statistics.

Lost anything lately? While in today’s world we have multiple options for asking strangers for help in recovering or returning property, our ancestors used newspaper lost and found ads.

These old newspaper advertisements can be a surprisingly rich resource for your family history searches—sometimes providing an ancestor’s full name, current address, and some details about their life. Some of the more unusual lost and found ads also add interest to your genealogy research.

What Went Missing? People, Pets, Possessions…

What can be discovered about your ancestry in a lost and found ad? Depending on the time period, these newspaper advertisements may notify a community about missing people such as a runaway slave—or even a missing husband, as I wrote about previously (see Missing Men: Lost Husband Ads in Newspapers for Genealogy). One would expect to see pleas for the return of jewelry or wallets, but classified ads can run the gamut from the valuable to the ordinary, from cash to umbrellas.

Enter Last Name










The topic of what can be discovered in lost and found ads was addressed in this 1855 Virginia newspaper article. It remarks that:

Lost dogs and runaway apprentices, however, are the most frequent subjects of advertisements.

Curiosities of Advertising, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 15 October 1855

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 15 October 1855, page 4

Newspaper Ads for Lost Pets

Lost dogs are a popular subject of lost and found ads. What is listed in a lost and found column can change depending on the time period and the type of community the newspaper serves. Rural area advertisements may differ from that of more populated, urban places.

Take for instance this “Lost, Found, Strayed” column from a 1927 Virginia newspaper, where you can see a typical lost dog advertisement—but there is also one for a stray cow! Look for these advertisements to have all kinds of animals including lost dogs, cats, birds, horses, cows, pigs—basically all manner of livestock and pets.

Have You Seen My Glasses?

I also like that one of these lost and found ads proves that people don’t really change; as long as there have been reading glasses, people have been losing them.

newspaper lost and found ads, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper advertisements 18 October 1927

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 18 October 1927, page 16

Remember that a “lost” item might actually be a stolen item. If you know that an ancestor had an animal or valuable object taken, you may want to see if they placed an advertisement seeking its return.

Found It!

Found ads can be interesting as well. Consider these two similarly worded, deliberately vague ads from a 1919 Washington newspaper. In order to claim their property, the owner of the missing item was required to pay the cost of the advertisement.

newspaper lost and found ads, Morning Olympian newspaper advertisements 12 February 1919

Morning Olympian (Olympia, Washington), 12 February 1919, page 4

Unfortunate Losses

Some of the lost and found notices in newspapers are heartbreaking. You can sympathize with the despair of a loss such as the one reported in this ad, placed by a widow. Imagine the heartbreak of losing a great amount of much-needed money and realizing that it was unlikely to ever be returned! The address and phone number of this woman is listed, making it easier for descendants to identify her.

newspaper lost and found ads, San Diego Union newspaper advertisements 22 September 1930

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 22 September 1930, page 14

Lost Item Lists from Railway Cars

While we assume a single individual is responsible for placing a lost or found newspaper ad, it makes sense that occasionally a public transportation company placed an advertisement listing items found. This advertisement lists everything found on the cars of the United Railways and Electric Company.

Enter Last Name










Reading this lost and found ad, one gets a sense of the diversity of items brought onto these railway cars. This type of ad serves a social history function, giving us a glimpse at life in a different time. This particular advertisement lists a wide range of items—from what you would expect someone losing on public transportation (like an umbrella or a rain coat) to items you wouldn’t expect (a hatchet and a saucepan).

newspaper lost and found ad, Baltimore American newspaper advertisement 5 August 1911

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 5 August 1911, page 1

Lost and Found Ads Are a Valuable Genealogy Resource

Searching newspaper lost and found ads can provide important information for your family history. Like some of the other resources that we rely on for our genealogy research today, these ads won’t be a resource for future genealogists since they’re no longer in use. When I recently searched my local newspapers for the lost and found column, they were nonexistent. Luckily for us, they are abundant in old newspapers like the online collection of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives—and lost and found ads are just one example of the many types of newspaper classifieds that can aid our search for our family’s story.

Newspaper Search Tip: Initials matter! In my searches through lost and found ads I saw names, addresses, and phone numbers. However, because an ancestor may have had to be brief when placing an ad, depending on what they had to pay per word or letter, it’s likely they may have abbreviated as much as possible—including their name. That’s why searching for your ancestor by different name variations is so important, including their initials.

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149th Anniversary: Civil War Ends with Lee’s Surrender to Grant

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to learn more about Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant that effectively ended the American Civil War.

All of us have studied it, memorized the date, and (if we’ve been lucky) visited the place where it occurred: Appomattox Court House, Virginia, the site of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General U. S. Grant, effectively ending the United States Civil War on 9 April 1865.

Although General Lee’s surrender was 149 years ago now, that momentous historical event still seems fresh in the public’s mind—and it must have been incredible news to our American ancestors all those many years ago.

I decided to take a look in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives to see how the news of General Lee’s surrender was announced via the nation’s newspapers, and learn what has happened to Appomattox Court House since that fateful day.

Just six days before the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, surrendered, this Richmond newspaper was still giving its readers news about the war.

Vigorous Assault upon the Enemy's Works near the Appomattox, Richmond Whig newspaper article 28 March 1865

Richmond Whig (Richmond, Virginia), 28 March 1865, page 1

Just days before Generals Lee and Grant were to meet at Appomattox, the Battle of Five Forks was raging as reported in this Albany newspaper. One of my ancestors, Captain James Ham of the Pennsylvania Cavalry, was mortally wounded in this action and died five days before Lee’s surrender. I wonder how his family received the news about the war’s end, coming so soon after they had received word of his death.

article about the Civil War's Battle of Five Forks, Albany Evening Journal newspaper article 3 April 1865

Albany Evening Journal (Albany, New York), 3 April 1865, page 2

After Lee surrendered on April 9, it didn’t take long for word to spread across America, as you can imagine.

Enter Last Name










The headlines of this Boston newspaper article say it all.

Surrender of General Lee and His Entire Army, Boston Herald newspaper article 10 April 1865

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 April 1865, page 2

That same day and in the same city, readers of this Boston newspaper saw this article, including this paragraph:

The joy of our population this morning, as the intelligence of the surrender of Lee’s army spread, hardly knew bounds. Men embraced each other with the most extravagant demonstrations of feeling; staid, quiet citizens forgot their equanimity for the moment and found themselves cheering in the streets for Gen. Grant and the Potomac Army; workmen in shore gave voice to a joyous outburst of patriotic exultation, and everywhere the same accordant strains of heartfelt rejoicing were heard.

article about Civil War General Lee surrendering to General Grant, Boston Evening Transcript newspaper article 10 April 1865

Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 April 1865, page 2

Readers of a New York newspaper saw these headlines.

Surrender of Lee and His Whole Army to Grant, New York Herald newspaper article 10 April 1865

New York Herald (New York, New York), 10 April 1865, page 1

On the same day and across the country in California, this San Francisco newspaper reported the important news.

article about Civil War General Lee surrendering to General Grant, San Francisco Bulletin newspaper article 10 April 1865

San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 10 April 1865, page 2

Twenty years later, as you can see in this 1885 Aberdeen newspaper article “The Interesting Story of Appomattox Retold,” the details of Lee’s surrender to Grant were still being reported. I remember as a young student reading these types of Civil War stories and realizing for the first time that Appomattox Court House was the name of a town, and that Lee and Grant had actually met in the home of the Wilmer McLean family.

Grant and Lee--The Interesting Story of Appomattox Retold, Aberdeen Weekly News newspaper article 17 April 1885

Aberdeen Weekly News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 17 April 1885, page 3

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The fortunes of Appomattox Court House waned after the war, as you can read in this 1884 New York newspaper article. It reports that the town was almost deserted and the McLean home had been:

…taken down, brick by brick, for removal to the World’s Fair, but for some reason the plan was not carried out, and the bricks and timbers are still stored in the vacant houses in the neighborhood.

article about Appomattox Court House, Virginia, New York Tribune newspaper article 10 June 1894

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 10 June 1894, page 16

Luckily for all of us, as you can read in this 1903 Dallas newspaper article, bills had been introduced in Congress to provide funding to buy and save the historic McLean house in Appomattox before it was sold to a Chicagoan who planned to move it there and use it as his residence.

McLean House at Appomattox, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 22 February 1903

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 22 February 1903, page 23

And of course as a genealogist, it would be hard not to note the remarkable role played by one of the Appomattox surrender’s lesser known but critically important players, Ely Parker. You might not recognize the name so I’d recommend you take a look at this wonderful obituary for this full-blooded Seneca Indian who actually penned Grant’s terms for surrender. This obituary appeared in an 1895 Cleveland newspaper.

obituary for Ely Samuel Parker, Plain Dealer newspaper article 1 September 1895

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 1 September 1895, page 1

Today Appomattox Court House, Virginia, and the McLean House are part of our National Parks system and well worth a visit.

Read More Articles about the Civil War:

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46th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Assassination

At 6:01 p.m. the evening of 4 April 1968, the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by an assassin while standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Though rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, Dr. King was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. He died young at only 39 years old. A stunned nation lost its leading proponent of nonviolence, the civil rights movement lost its most visible leader, and many Americans deeply mourned King’s death.

Dr. King had come to Memphis to lead a protest march supporting the city’s striking garbage workers, almost all of whom were black. The plane carrying him to Memphis on April 3 received a bomb threat, and that night he gave what turned out to be the last speech of his life, sounding eerily as though he had already transcended his own death:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now…I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

Historical newspapers are a great resource for exploring your ancestors’ lives—and the times they lived in. Here is a collection of old front-page headlines to show how newspapers broke the tragic news of MLK’s assassination to the nation. (Note: all of the newspaper articles used to illustrate this Blog post come from GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.)

front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Record American newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Record American (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 April 1968, page 1

front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Greensboro Daily News newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 5 April 1968, page 1

Enter Last Name










front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Boston Herald Traveler newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Boston Herald Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 April 1968, page 1

front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Centre Daily Times newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Centre Daily Times (State College, Pennsylvania), 5 April 1968, page 1

front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Commercial Appeal newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee), 5 April 1968, page 1

front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Morning Advocate newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Morning Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 5 April 1968, page 1

Enter Last Name










front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Aberdeen American-News newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Aberdeen American-News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 5 April 1968, page 1

front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Augusta Chronicle newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 5 April 1968, page 1

front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dallas Morning News newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 5 April 1968, page 1

Related Articles:

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Family Reunions: Planning & Researching Notices in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary provides some good advice for planning your next family reunion, and searches old newspapers to show how reunion notices about past family gatherings can fill in details on your family tree.

As winter is waning, start thinking about organizing your family’s annual reunion—and if you desire a strong attendance, don’t delay.

Not only are they a lot of fun, but family reunions are a goldmine to genealogists. Present-day family reunions provide a great opportunity to talk to your extended family, while records and newspaper notices about past family reunions can fill in details on your family tree—and provide plenty of clues for further family searches.

Imagine the fun and lively family history conversations that were had at this large family reunion:

photo of a reunion of the Highsmith family

Photo: Photographer Carol M. Highsmith’s family reunion at the log cabins where her Grandfather and Great Grandfather were born in Wentworth, North Carolina. Source: Carol M. Highsmith. Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Family Reunion Planning Tips

To make sure your family reunion is a success, plan it carefully, including:

  • choose historical locations to visit—or, if possible, as the site of your reunion;
  • try to line up an interesting speaker or two;
  • have many activities for all age groups, especially the children; and
  • send out printed or online invitations with as many details as possible, including transportation and lodging advice.

Ask family members to contribute memories, family history records and genealogies. To make the reunion memorable, do it in a grand style.

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Family Records of Past Family Reunions

If you’ve done genealogy research into past family gatherings, present those stories at your upcoming reunion. Whether your family was large or small, or met formally or informally, many members kept records such as letters, diaries, etc., of these family reunions in the past to document what occurred. Try to track down these old records of past family reunions and look for the following information:

  • Where and when were they held?
  • Was the scheduling connected with a particular date, such as a wedding anniversary or date of settling to an area?
  • Who were the organizers, secretaries and presidents of the family association?
  • Were the speeches transcribed?
  • What activities were there?
  • Can you locate the menus or food choices?
  • Were family charts or family histories created?

Query family members for archived records, and network with genealogy societies, historical societies, libraries and archives (state and national) to see if mementos still exist.

Family Reunion Notices in Historical Newspapers

A helpful—and often overlooked—source of information about past family reunions is the family reunion notice in historical newspapers. Many of these past family reunions were important locally and therefore newsworthy, and were reported in the local newspaper.

Be sure to look for family reunion notices when searching a collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.

How to Search for Reunion Notices in Newspapers

The first thing you’ll want to enter on the newspaper search page, of course, is your family surname. Combine that with each of these related keywords to see which combination gives you the best results:

  • anniversary
  • wedding anniversary
  • annual reunion
  • clan gathering
  • descendants
  • family reunion
  • grand gathering
  • marriage celebration
  • progenitor

To find some interesting family reunion notices to show you, I entered “family reunion” in the keyword field on GenealogyBank’s search page, and chose a date range of 1700-1875.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for "family reunion"

This newspaper search turned up many interesting family reunion notices. Some centered on special occasions, such as a progenitor’s birthday. Others celebrated family milestones, such as honoring the first of the family (progenitors) who settled in an area.

An example of the latter type of reunion notice is this one, a family gathering to honor Edward Rawson, who was the secretary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

According to the following notice, his clan held their first annual reunion in 1872.

article about the Rawson family reunion, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 11 October 1872

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 11 October 1872, page 2

One of the most widely-reported reunion announcements was for a gathering of the descendants of John Eliot (c.1604-1690), described as the “Apostle to the Indians.” If you examine the 228 query results from a search in GenealogyBank, you’ll soon discover a wealth of history surrounding him.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results page for a search on "eliot family reunion"

Some newspaper family reunion notices consist of invitations, and others may be brief or detailed recaps of the actual reunion.

And don’t neglect to consider other types of reunions and social gatherings, as not all were centered on families. Organizations, military groups and even towns, such as Otisfield, Maine, brought people together for camaraderie and celebration.

Social Gathering at Otisfield, Portland Daily Press newspaper article 3 June 1873

Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 3 June 1873, page 2

Here’s another example of a newspaper reunion notice, this one for a gathering of the McMillan family.

Reunion of the McMillan Family, Cincinnati Daily Gazette newspaper article 19 August 1871

Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 19 August 1871, page 1

To help you find reunion notices about your family, I’ve compiled this list of reunion notices I found while doing research for this Blog article. The accompanying notes are a brief summary of information reported in each notice.

Enter Last Name










Guide to Family Reunion Notices through 1875

(from GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives)

Compiled by Mary Harrell-Sesniak

March 2014

Ackley, (Rev.) Uriah and wife Sarah (reports names of people married by this minister)
Camden Democrat (Camden, New Jersey), 23 October 1869, page 4

Aldrich family (of New York to Michigan; family members mentioned)
Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 17 September 1875, page 3

Allen, Amos D. (60th birthday celebration)
Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 28 May 1875, page 3

Ambrose, Mr. (descendants of a Kentucky slave who escaped to Illinois)
Evening Post (New York, New York), 20 September 1865, page 1

Arnim family (from Berlin, Germany)
Indianapolis Sentinel (Indianapolis, Indiana), 25 February 1875, page 7

Babcock family (3rd annual reunion at Bemus Point, 14 September 1875; officers named)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 24 September 1875, page 8

Bancroft family (reunion held in Massachusetts)
New Orleans Times (New Orleans, Louisiana), 3 September 1875, page 6

Bancroft, Joseph (a descendant of Thomas Bancroft, born in England in 1622, who married first Alice Bacon, and second Elizabeth Metcalf, & perhaps a 3rd time; multiple generations and attendees mentioned)
Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 20 August 1875, page 3

Barton, Candace (of Belchertown; describes a memory of the Battle of Lexington)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 12 August 1870, page 8

Bates, Deborah (see Capron)
Benham family (to be held at Angelica, New York; brothers H. L. Benham of Indianapolis & A. M. Benham of San Francisco attending)
Indianapolis Sentinel (Indianapolis, Indiana), 30 August 1875, page 8

Black, Archibald
Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 July 1866, page 2

Boyd, Samuel (50-year anniversary celebration of 1825 marriage; mentions Merchant Samuel; children named)
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 23 September 1875, page 2
Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 25 September 1875, page 2

Bradbury, Jacob
American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland), 20 June 1848, page 2

Broadbent, Abigail (100th birthday celebration; mother of 8 children)
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 13 June 1873, page 4

Brooks family (held at Brooksdale)
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 2 October 1875, page 3

Brown, Thomas (hosted by Chauncy Brown of Aubun, New York; mentions attendees)
Auburn Daily Bulletin (Auburn, New York), 16 August 1872, page 4

Burwell, Samuel
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 24 August 1870, page 8

Cannell family (held at old homestead in Newburgh Twp.; mentions Eli Connell)
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 July 1873, page 3

Capron, Deborah Bates (daughter of Gamaliel Bates and Mary Carver of Hanover, Massachusetts; held at Attleboro, Massachusetts; mentions Ezekial and Reform Bates)
Providence Evening Press (Providence, Rhode Island), 19 November 1869, page 3

Clapp family (ancient family; mentions speakers and describes coat of arms)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 25 August 1870, page 4

Conant, S. (of Springfield, Illinois; turned 75 years old on 27 February 1876)
Daily Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois), 28 February 1876, page 4

Crowell, George (reunion celebrating 10th wedding anniversary)
Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 3 July 1875, page 1
Jackson Citizen (Jackson, Michigan), 6 July 1875, page 4

Cummings, William (of Cape Elizabeth; eldest family members named)
Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 6 September 1875, page 1

Cutter, A.
Cincinnati Commercial Tribune (Cincinnati, Ohio), 12 May 1870, page 8

Darling, Reed S. (reunion at Pawtucket, Rhode Island)
Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 8 September 1875, page 1
Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 10 September 1875, page 1

Darnell or Darnall, Charles & Martha (of Maryland & Fleming Co., Kentucky)
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 6 August 1868, page 4

De Forest, Gideon (of Edmeston, Otsego Co., New York; many names mentioned)
San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 29 September 1874, page 3

Denison family (of Mystic, Connecticut)
Norwich Aurora (Norwich, Connecticut), 6 October 1869, page 3

Eastman, (Rev.) T. B. (son of Samuel Eastman and Anna Robinson)
Indianapolis Sentinel (Indianapolis, Indiana), 25 February 1875, page 7

Edwards, Jacob (of Dudley)
Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, Massachusetts), 27 August 1866, page 2

Edwards, Jonathan
Richmond Whig (Richmond, Virginia), 19 July 1870, page 3
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 23 July 1870, page 1
Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts), 29 July 1870, page 2
Macon Weekly Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 2 August 1870, page 1
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 13 August 1870, page 2
Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), 8 September 1870, page 1

Eliot, John (described as the “Apostle to the Indians”; reunion in Guilford, Connecticut; husband of Hannah Mumford)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 27 July 1875, page 6
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 29 July 1875, page 4
Daily Albany Argus (Albany, New York), 30 July 1875, page 2
Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 31 July 1875, page 3
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 3 August 1875, page 2
San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 5 August 1875, page 1
Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), 17 August 1875, page 4

Fabricius, Frank
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 15 July 1875, page 6

Fay, Sylvester and Mary (of Southboro, Massachusetts, Mary being 91 and interested in the Franco-Prussian War)
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 9 September 1870, page 1

Forest (see De Forest)

Fuller, Rufus and Charlotte (of Leicester; Charlotte was probably a Warren)
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 16 August 1872, page 1

Gates (Mrs. & Mrs. Strong Gates of Appleton, Wisconsin, visited Mrs. Wild of Chicago)
Sunday Times (Chicago, Illinois), 14 November 1875, page 8

Gaylord family (reunion hosted by David Gaylor of Wallingford)
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 4 September 1875, page 3

Gilbert, J. H. (held on Christmas Day)
Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 29 December 1875, page 3

Glazier family (to be hosted at West Boylston by Henry Glazier)
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 17 June 1871, page 3

Goff, Shubael (of Rehoboth)
Providence Evening Press (Providence, Rhode Island), 30 August 1875, page 2

Griffith family (related to Jeremiah and Mary; stories about settling & log cabins)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 28 August 1874, page 8

Griffith, Jeremiah and Mary (settled in Griffith’s Point near Jamestown, New York on 26 March 1806)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 8 August 1873, page 5

Ham, Ebenezer (of Lewiston, Maine)
Evening Post (New York, New York), 1 September 1868, page 1
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 5 September 1868, page 8

Harrison family (of New Haven Co., Connecticut)
Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 27 September 1873, page 4

Harrison family (1873 notice mentions they were of Brandford Point; 1875 notice reports the 3rd annual meeting and mentions Colonial roots & some attendees)
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 19 September 1873, page 2
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 11 September 1875, page 2

Hollister, Nelson (celebration lasted two days)
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 24 November 1864, page 2

Holmes, P. B. (of Greenland, with family from Boston & Portsmouth)
Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 11 September 1875, page 2

Hoodless, William Raithby and Margaret E. Lansing (William born 17 June 1800, Lincolnshire, England)
Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 25 December 1875, page 3

Howe family (contains Col. Frank E. Howe’s speech)
Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), 4 September 1871, page 1

Howe, Joseph (held at the Revere House in Boston; mentions some officers)
New York Tribune (New York, New York), 31 August 1871, page 1

Hutchison, Ira (a doctor of Cromwell)
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 8 September 1873, page 4

Jones, Thomas (reunion held in Cleveland)
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 May 1871, page 3

Knickerbockers (St. Nicholas Society, aka Descendants from Holland)
New York Herald (New York, New York), 29 December 1864, page 8

Little, Barzallai or Barzilla (of Middlefield; a Revolutionary War patriot; descendants known for singing ability)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 3 February 1870, page 4
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 4 February 1870, page 8
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 21 December 1871, page 8
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 22 December 1871, page 8

Lowe, G. W. (of Owosso)
Jackson Citizen (Jackson, Michigan), 11 July 1871, page 1

Lyman, Richard
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 12 August 1869, page 1
Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 14 August 1869, page 2

Mathews, James (held 1 September 1875)
Washington Review and Examiner (Washington, Pennsylvania), 15 September 1875, page 3

Maynard, Holland (of Northboro’, Massachusetts; died in 1818)
Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 August 1870, page 4
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 6 August 1870, page 8

McMillan, Hugh (describes emigration from Ireland to Charleston, South Carolina, and leaving for Ohio, Illinois and Indiana to “escape the contaminating influences of slavery”)
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 19 August 1871, page 1

Merriam, Ebenezer (a printer of West Brookfield)
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 2 June 1858, page 2

Mills, John (of Auburn, New York)
Auburn Daily Bulletin (Auburn, New York), 18 November 1875, page 4

Otisfield, Massachusetts (invitation to all town residents & descendants to renew and make new acquaintances)
Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 3 June 1873, page 2
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 13 June 1873, page 4

Page Family Association (names officers and visitors; 4th reunion in 1875)
Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 14 July 1875, page 4

Painter, Peter (Christmas Day celebration)
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 31 December 1874, page 1

Pease, Cummings and Thankful (of Enfield, Connecticut; Thankful was probably a Clelland)
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 13 August 1873, page 3

Pepper, (Deacon) Jacob
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 20 August 1869, page 4
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 21 August 1869, page 8

Perce, Jeremiah (a grocer; mentions a child abduction)
Sunday Times (Chicago, Illinois), 25 July 1875, page: 1

Perkins, Erastus
Cabinet (Schenectady, New York), 19 March 1850, page 2

Preston, Ira (of Wallingford, Connecticut, to Shelby, Oakland Co., Michigan)
Jackson Citizen (Jackson, Michigan), 11 July 1871, page 1

Rawson, Edward (of Old Newbury; secretary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; 1st annual reunion held in 1872)
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 28 September 1872, page 4
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 11 October 1872, page 2
Providence Evening Press (Providence, Rhode Island), 14 October 1872, page 3
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 26 September 1873, page 3
Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 6 October 1873, page 2
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 1 August 1874, page 7
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 14 August 1874, page: 4
Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), 17 September 1874, page 1
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 19 September 1874, page 1
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 14 August 1875, page 4

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Reed family (mentions Col. Reed [Horatio?] of the Army of the Khedive in Egypt)
Daily Albany Argus (Albany, New York), 8 September 1875, page 2

Richards, John (family reunion to celebrate his 100th birthday)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 24 August 1867, page 8

Rockwell, Jabez and Eunice (of Norwich, Connecticut; held at Providence on Christmas Day)
Norwich Aurora (Norwich, Connecticut), 8 January 1873, page 3

Rodman, John (romantic story)
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 12 November 1875, page 1
Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 17 November 1875, page 1

Russell, C. P. (families of five sisters)
Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 27 December 1872, page 4

Sapp, Matilda Boosinger (“An old lady who has smoked fifty years and still lives”; 100th birthday reunion; born 10 March 1775 in Philadelphia; daughter of Conrad and Catherine Boosinger)
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 March 1875, page 4
Cincinnati Commercial Tribune (Cincinnati, Ohio), 26 March 1875, page 8
Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 April 1875, page 6

Smith family (to be held in New York)
Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 23 August 1875, page 2

Stanley, Herbert (a temperance minister)
Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph (Gloucester, Massachusetts), 2 August 1873, page 2

Sweezy family (see Swezey; held at Fair Point 8 September 1875; various names mentioned)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 1 October 1875, page 8

Swezey family (see Sweezy; held on 4 September 1874)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 16 October 1874, page 6

Terrell family (held 1 September 1875 at home of Eli B. Terrell of Woodbury)
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 2 October 1875, page 2

Tuttle family (first reunion in 230 years)
Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 6 September 1873, page 4
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 2 September 1874, page 2
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 2 September 1874, page 4

Tuttle, John
North American (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 20 July 1865, page 1
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 22 July 1865, page 2
Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 29 July 1865, page 1

Tuttle, William (from England to Boston in 1635 in the ship Planta)
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 28 July 1873, page 4
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 30 July 1873, page 2
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 2 August 1873, page 3
Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 6 August 1873, page 2

Warren, Judge (family reunion to celebrate his 70th birthday; contains a conversation about temperance and drinking)
Caledonian (St. Johnsbury, Vermont), 5 June 1874, page 1

Willoughby family
Farmer’s Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire), 25 August 1875, page 2

Wright, Elliot and Louisa (held at Swanzey; veteran Elliot Wright “sleeps on southern soil having given his life for his country”)
New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 16 September 1875, page 2

How to Research Your Ancestor’s Part in Major Historical Events

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how researching the major historical events that happened in your ancestors’ lifetimes provides another way of better understanding them, their experiences, and the lives they led.

Think of an ancestor you are researching. What major historical events did they live through? Did they go west for the California Gold Rush? Maybe they were sick during the 1918 Flu Epidemic. Did your ancestor fight in World War I? One of the things that makes doing genealogy research fascinating is learning about the history that our ancestors were a part of, and finding out exactly what their role was and how they were affected.

The California Gold Rush

For example, was the ancestor you’re researching alive in 1849? Perhaps he read a newspaper article such as this and was caught up in the gold fever sweeping the country—in 1849 more than 90,000 prospectors came to California, and in all about 300,000 people flocked to California during the Gold Rush hoping to strike it rich. Was you ancestor one of them?

article about the California Gold Rush, Arkansas Weekly Gazette newspaper article 22 February 1849

Arkansas Weekly Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 22 February 1849, page 3

How can you learn more about an ancestor’s part in a historical event? Consider taking the following steps.

Enter Last Name










Create a Timeline

Start your research by creating a timeline for your ancestor. Insert the dates for what you know about their lives, such as a birth or death date. Then consider what major historical events happened in their lifetime that may have impacted them. If the ancestor was a young man during World War II, perhaps he registered for the draft or he served in the military. By including dates of important historical events you can get a better sense of what records you should be researching to find more information about your ancestor’s life.

articles about World War II, Advocate newspaper article 1 September 1944

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 1 September 1944, page 1

Not sure what historical events were going on during your ancestor’s lifetime? Seek out a general history timeline such as eHistory’s timelines or a specific timeline for a region like this one from Missouri Digital Heritage.

Also, take some time to read your ancestor’s hometown newspaper in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives. Look for front-page stories of historical events and any commentary about how it affected that community. Keep in mind that adding every historical event that happened during your ancestor’s lifetime to your timeline is not necessary; you want to include only those that most likely impacted their everyday lives.

One idea for creating a timeline for your ancestor can be found on the Armchair Genealogist’s blog post Four Steps to a Family History Timeline.

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Survey the Available Resources

Let’s say you believe that your ancestor was involved in the Georgia land lotteries. So now what? Take some time to survey what resources are available for your research. You will want to look for historical records that mention your ancestor but also those that document that event for their community.

Start your research with GenealogyBank. Search on your ancestor’s name; don’t forget variations of their name and the possibility of misspellings, but don’t stop there. Continue to search their community newspaper for other clues as to how the event may have impacted their life. Make sure to consult, if you haven’t already, GenealogyBank’s Learning Center to ensure that you are finding everything possible in your searches. You can also peruse our Historical Events in America Pinterest board to review newspaper headlines and photographs of some of our nation’s most memorable historical moments as a starting point.

article about the Georgia land lottery, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 18 April 1827

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 18 April 1827, page 3

After newspapers, continue on to the FamilySearch Library Catalog. Search for both the city and the county your ancestor lived in and see what records exist for the time period they were living there. Once you identify some possible records, make sure to order the microfilm or check the digitized records online. To learn more about ordering microfilm from the FamilySearch Family History Library, see the FamilySearch Research Wiki article Ordering Microfilm or Microfiche.

Continue your survey of what’s available by searching the genealogy websites that you typically search, both fee-based and free. But don’t stop there. Also search for histories in digitized book websites like Google Books, and look for histories and archival collections in catalogs like WorldCat and ArchiveGrid.

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Genealogy Research Q&A

As you start your research, come to it with specific questions that you want to answer and then create a research plan to help you answer those questions. Did my ancestor enlist in the military during World War I? Did my family have a homestead claim? Did my ancestor die of the flu? Make your questions to the point and not too complex. Once you start researching and gathering documents, you will want to have those documents guide you to answering additional questions.

Don’t forget that records often lead to additional records and questions. So record everything you find in a research log, either on paper, through a genealogy database program, or an online source.

Your ancestor has a place in history. By identifying their possible historical role and gathering newspaper articles and other documents that tell that story, you will add “flesh to the bones” of your ancestor and create a family history narrative your non-genealogist family members will be interested in and enjoy.

Get Your Genealogy Facts Straight: Proof-Checking Tips for Records

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena provides some advice about verifying genealogy records, especially in the case of a newspaper article contradicting other family history information you have found during your research.

Probably one of the most iconic newspaper images to ever appear is that of President Harry S. Truman holding up an early edition of the Chicago Tribune that boldly proclaimed the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Of course, that newspaper headline announcement from the 1948 presidential election was premature and involved some wishful thinking. Today, everyone knows the name of President Harry S. Truman; few remember his opponent Gov. Thomas E. Dewey.

Clearly, newspapers sometimes make mistakes.

Occasionally, genealogists find a newspaper article that conflicts with what they know about an ancestor. What’s a researcher to do when they come across a newspaper article that doesn’t match their family history records?

Cross-Check with Records from Catalogs

Genealogical records of all types contain mistakes—just ask anyone who has ever been an informant on a death certificate. Even if you can correctly provide all of the information for your deceased loved one’s death certificate, there’s still the chance of errors creeping in from the reporting physician, the funeral home, or even the typist.

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One of our jobs as family historians is to collect and verify facts about our ancestors. Those facts may come in the form of an original or derivative document that has primary information, information supplied by a witness to the event, or secondary information supplied by someone who was not an eyewitness. Obviously the further removed from the eyewitnesses and the event, the more chances something is going to have errors. With any genealogical evidence you find, you will want to gather more than one example if possible because mistakes can and do happen.

As with all genealogy research, it’s important to not rely on just one source. While we are lucky to live in an era where we have a wealth of online materials available to us, some genealogy records are not and will never be online. So record the family information you find in newspaper articles, and then search through archival and library catalogs for paper records that haven’t been digitized, like diaries and journals, occupational records, church records, court records and other documents created by the community and its members at the time of the event. Consult catalogs such as WorldCat, ArchiveGrid, and the Family History Library Catalog to find these materials.

As you use these catalogs, search or browse on the place your ancestor was from to find what records exist for that community. And remember: because these catalogs are frequently updated, check back and record your results in a research log to keep track of search dates and keywords used.

Look at the Next Day’s Publication

Let’s face it, mistakes happen with newspaper articles and they can even happen when an article has been proof-read numerous times. There’s a chance that the difference between your existing genealogy record and a newspaper article was an error that the newspaper corrected in the following day’s issue. Make sure to look for the newspaper’s correction column to see if a correction was reported.

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Newspapers have long reported corrections to their articles, as can be seen in this example from a 1730 Massachusetts newspaper.

newspaper corrections, New-England Weekly Journal newspaper article 16 March 1730

New-England Weekly Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 March 1730, page 2

Sometimes in the rush to get a story out to beat the competition, or due to the pressure of looming deadlines, a newspaper article might be published with a glaring mistake. Today, we are all familiar with the fate of the Titanic and its loss of over 1,500 people. However, details were sketchy if not totally incorrect in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy—as clearly shown in this example.

article about the sinking of the Titanic, Riverside Daily Press newspaper article 15 April 1912

Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, California), 15 April 1912, page 1

Thorough research of the Titanic disaster would include not only numerous newspaper accounts that were printed for days and weeks after the sinking, but also other records created at the time of the sinking and even after.

Do you have a newspaper article that conflicts with a genealogy record? Just like the game “telephone,” records are going to conflict as information is passed from one person to another. Faulty memories, transcription errors and more can cause problems in any record. But by utilizing the proof-checking steps mentioned above you can get beyond that difficulty and come up with a sound genealogical conclusion based on actual facts.

Genealogy Tip: Newspapers are essential to family history research, providing stories about your ancestors’ lives that you just can’t find anywhere else. But as with all genealogy research, gather as many records from as many sources as you can, so that you can cross-check the data and establish the facts.

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You Found That Article Where? Newspaper Search Tips for Genealogists

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight 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 guest blog post, Duncan provides some newspaper search tips for genealogists, especially regarding locations.

Typically when we do genealogical research we go straight to the local jurisdiction, which is often at the county level. We get vital records, land deeds, and tax lists on a county level. Although the federal census is conducted nationwide, we can search it on a county or even city level. As genealogists, we tend to narrow our focus down to the smallest jurisdictional unit. This is typically a very effective strategy.

However, this local focus is not always the best approach when searching newspapers.

Search Nationwide First, Then Refine

If you took your local newspaper and organized all the articles in it by the location of the event being reported, you would find that the majority of the news comes from outside of the city, county or even state where the paper was published. This has been true throughout history. When searching for information in newspapers, I begin my searches by looking nationwide. But if I get too many search results, I then narrow my search by using date ranges and specific locations.

Here’s how I approach searching for family history information in newspapers.

  1. First, I begin my search with just the first and last name.
  2. Then I narrow the search by date range if I get too many results.
  3. Once I have searched with this criteria and I am still getting too many results, I narrow further by using the city or state name as a keyword.

It is important to keep in mind that GenealogyBank’s search engine is very specific and will only search for exactly what you type. This helpful feature prevents you from getting too many unrelated results back.

But it also means that you have to be creative in what you enter in the search box. This applies to the names and keywords fields. When I am searching nationwide for an article from San Francisco, California, there are a variety of keywords I could use: California, Calif, CA, San Francisco, San Fran, SF.

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Newspaper Search Tips

  • Use Quotations for Phrases: Whenever you enter a group of words that you want to find together, such as “San Francisco,” put the group in quotation marks.
  • Start Broad Then Refine: The default setting on GenealogyBank already searches nationwide for you. There is the option to select a state from the map at the bottom of the results page. However, doing so will often eliminate many of the newspaper articles you are looking for. Therefore, I recommend doing a nationwide search first and then, if necessary, using keywords such as the city or state name to narrow your results.
  • Explore Articles from Multiple States: Keep in mind as you look through the search results page that the location listed is the location of the newspaper and not the location of the article. Don’t hesitate to click on any newspaper article that looks like it might be relevant even if its listed location appears to be several states away from where your ancestor lived.
  • Use Keywords: You can add a series of keywords into the “Include Keywords” box. Keep in mind that adding too many keywords all at once may not be an effective research strategy. Add them one at a time until you get down to a reasonable number of results to search, around 100-200.
  • Exclude Keywords: You can also use the “Exclude Keywords” box to narrow results. Let’s say you were searching for a man named Eric Clapton, but you weren’t looking for the musician. Glance through the results and find words that often appear in articles about the musician. These may be things like: album, concert, or guitar. Enter those words into the “Exclude Keywords” box as follows: album OR concert OR guitar. This eliminates articles with those words.

Whom Will You Find?

Some genealogists may think that the person they are looking for was a poor farmer from a small town who would never have made the national news. You would be surprised what articles got picked up and how far away they went! I’ve included several examples in this Blog article to prove this point. Today it is less likely that small town news will travel nationwide, but the further back in history you go the more likely it is that local news could be published in distant newspapers.

Where’s My Ancestor in the News?

Keep in mind that local news articles can be published in any newspaper in the nation, in places where you might not logically think to look. Your ancestor may not have ever visited the area where the news was published. They may not have any friends or relatives residing in that location. Newspapers subscribed to other papers and published their articles if they thought the news would be interesting to their own readers. There were no copyright laws to stop them from republishing word for word—or even from embellishing—what was originally published elsewhere. Newspaper editors would also select news articles from other papers simply because they fit the space their paper had available.

Newspapers’ Historical Role in Daily Life

In the past, newspapers were the main form of mass communication, predating other social media like radio, TV, Facebook and Twitter. When families moved from one place to another, they would often keep their subscription to their hometown newspaper. If many people migrated from a certain location, the local paper in their new area would regularly run articles from their place of origin in order to cater to those readers.

Reading the newspaper and talking over the events was a highlight of a community’s week. Before TV, this was a common form of entertainment. Human nature is always looking for new and exciting experiences. This fact keep editors busy scouring other papers for information to republish. For genealogy researchers, this gives us multiple opportunities to find the articles we are searching for, even if the original newspaper’s archives no longer exist!

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Genealogical Gold in Republished Articles

Here is a great example of that. I once had a genealogist ask for help finding a photograph of one of her relatives that had appeared in the local newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She had looked through GenealogyBank’s collection of Pennsylvania newspapers and hadn’t been able to find the photo. I started by using just her ancestor’s last name because it was uncommon. I did not put any additional information in the search box. We found several copies of the photograph that had been published in newspapers all across the nation (Illinois, Massachusetts, Tennessee and North Carolina) and she was able to select the best copy for her records.

Here is a photo of her ancestor Mary Tauschman helping a pet duck cross the road, published in a Massachusetts newspaper.

photo of crossing guard Mary Tauschman, Springfield Union newspaper photograph 27 April 1969

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 27 April 1969, page 2

Searching Articles across U.S. States

Another time, I helped a genealogist who was searching for a report of her relative’s car accident in Forth Worth, Texas. We were able to find the article all the way up in a Massachusetts newspaper!

Her ancestor’s accident was indeed horrible—thank goodness for the quick action by her husband!

Swift Kick by Husband Saves Lady Driver's (Idell Schults) Life, Boston Record American newspaper article 13 December 1961

Boston Record American (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 December 1961, page 16

Here is another example. A large Mississippi family is photographed and named individually, but the photo appears in a Louisiana newspaper.

photo of the large family of William and Catherine Smith, Times-Picayune newspaper photograph 12 March 1922

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 12 March 1922, page 39

There is also the example I gave in a previous GenealogyBank Blog post about the death notice of my ancestor Zachariah Nicholson (see: Genealogy Records: A History of Regional Coverage in the U.S.). There is no reason this farmer’s death in Indiana would appear in a Michigan newspaper—yet here it is.

death notice for Zachariah Nicholson, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 19 January 1895

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 19 January 1895, page 7

Here is one more example: an announcement for a marriage in Omaha City, Nebraska, that is appearing in a Georgia newspaper.

Spilman-Gaylord wedding announcement, Marietta Journal newspaper article 9 September 1880

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 9 September 1880, page 3

Genealogy Search Tip: Start your newspaper search without a location, searching nationwide because you never know what paper published an article about your ancestor. If you get too many search results, start narrowing your search by using the state or city name as a keyword.

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A Fascinating Genealogy Success Story: Mystery of Missing Ancestors Solved

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott tells the story of how a fellow genealogists used old newspapers to finally break through her family history brick wall.

Here on the GenealogyBank blog, I recently wrote an article titled Ah-Ha! Moment: GenealogyBank Member’s Favorite Family Find. At the end of my article I asked readers to please share their own “Ah-Ha!” moments from their genealogy and family history work. I then learned about “Cowfordlady’s” genealogy “Ah-Ha!” moment, which had occurred earlier that same day.

GenealogyBank member Cowfordlady kindly shared her genealogy success story with us so that we could share it with all of you. It is a story about breaking through a genealogy brick wall similar to those we each encounter in our own family history work.

It is a great story and if I may use a quote from Paul Harvey, there is a lot to “the rest of the story.”

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Cowfordlady had been searching for some clues to two of her ancestors who were missing from the 1940 U.S. Census, so she turned to GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives in the hope of perhaps finding an obituary. What she found was indeed an “Ah-Ha!” moment of epic proportions. She overcame the challenges of assumed names, misspellings, cross-country movements, 15 missing years, murder, and more!

She had been unable to find information about her ancestors Flossie Sula (mother) and Louise (daughter) Cothern. Cowfordlady knew that Flossie Sula had married David William Cothern, and Louise was their only child. He died in 1930.

Cowfordlady knew only a few details about her ancestors’ lives after David died. As she tells it:

Flossie was a widow and about age 33 when she and Louise left West Green (Coffee County), Georgia, in/about 1931; Louise was about age 9 then.

After that, her ancestors’ trail turned cold, and they were not listed in the 1940 Census.

Not able to find any information about her ancestors in government records, Cowfordlady turned to GenealogyBank’s newspapers. She tried several searches using variations of her ancestors’ surname—and one such variation (“Cothren”) turned up an article that was the key to unlocking this genealogy puzzle.

It was a front-page story from a 1946 Louisiana newspaper that began to unravel the mystery. The discovery was a chilling one.

Father, Son (Emmett and Leroy Bennett) Face Murder Charges in Razor Slaying, Times-Picayune newspaper article 19 November 1946

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 19 November 1946, page 1

The key was this paragraph, revealing that the unfortunate “Mrs. Henderson” involved in this tragic murder story was in reality Cowfordlady’s missing ancestor, Flossie Sula Cothern (spelled “Cothren” in the article).

article about Flossie Sula Cothern, Times-Picayune newspaper article 19 November 1946

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 19 November 1946, page 9

Along with finally solving the mystery of her missing ancestors, this newspaper article had the added bonus of providing a photograph of Flossie Sula Cothern.

photo of Flossie Sula Cothern, Times-Picayune newspaper article 19 November 1946

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 19 November 1946, page 9

Flossie Sula and Louise Cothern had left Georgia with a father and son who lived near them: Emmett Bennett and his son Leroy. The four of them lived as a family for 15 years under the assumed name of Henderson until Emmett (in the company of Leroy) murdered Louise in 1946 in New Orleans while Flossie was at work.

Cowfordlady’s discoveries continued when she found another 1946 Louisiana newspaper article. It seems that while on the lam from the law, the apparent murderer of Louise possibly committed suicide by allowing himself to be hit by an express train.

Find Body of Man (Emmett Bennett) Wanted in Slaying of Orleans Girl, Advocate newspaper article 22 November 1946

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 22 November 1946, page 1

But that was not the end of this story!

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There is a follow-up in this 1946 Georgia newspaper article. It seems that the second suspect in this murder case, Leroy Bennett ( “Henderson”) had changed his mind about accepting extradition to Louisiana from Georgia—and his family then swore out a warrant against the detectives for kidnapping!

Kidnap Warrant Is Served on New Orleans Detectives Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 23 November 1946

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 23 November 1946, page 1

While the kidnapping charge was dismissed, the case carried on—as reported in this 1946 Louisiana newspaper article. While much of this article details the legal haggling over extradition and habeas corpus, there was this interesting sentence that reads:

Coffee County Sheriff R. C. Relihan said today that a mental health hearing for the young Bennett this week disclosed him to be mentally incompetent. He was placed in the custody of an uncle and attorneys.

N. O. Extradition Case Pondered, State Times Advocate newspaper article 27 November 1946

State Times Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 27 November 1946, page 6

As you can see, Cowfordlady went from near-zero information to uncovering an amazing story about her missing ancestors. Her experience shows the value of newspapers for family history research; they provide the stories that vital statistics, with all their names and dates, don’t tell.

And her technique of searching on variations of her ancestors’ name—and her dogged persistence—provide good lessons for us all!

There may be nothing finer in genealogy than when we see success such as Cowfordlady’s. What has your best genealogy success story been?

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