Catawba Pottery: A Living Tradition

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over nine years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” In this blog post, Duncan searches old newspapers to learn more about the Catawba Indian tribe in South Carolina and their traditional pottery.

A collection of online newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is a great resource for researching your family history. While I often do this, I also sometimes search newspapers just for fun, learning more about something that interests me.

For example, I recently wanted to see how much I could learn about a somewhat obscure topic by reading old newspaper articles. I know a little about the Catawba Indian tribe in South Carolina. But I knew very little about their traditional pottery until I researched it in GenealogyBank’s newspapers.

photo of Rachel Brown, a Catawba potter, c. 1908

Photo: Rachel Brown, a Catawba potter, c. 1908. Credit: National Geographic; Wikimedia Commons.

The Catawba Indian Nation has been in existence for a very long time. The first European contact that can be verified was in 1540 by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. Sadly, the language died out in the 1950s (although currently there are attempts to revive it). However, despite many challenges, the tribe is federally recognized and, although small in number, still living in the Rock Hill area of South Carolina.

They have a long history of being allies to the Americans. As early as the Revolutionary War, when a group of Catawbas joined the Patriot cause, they have played a role in the formation of our country.

Among the other significant contributions they have made, the Catawba are well known for their impressive pottery skills. The pottery is distinctive in black and tan mottled patterns and the absence of any finish – it is never glazed or painted.

article about Catawba Indian pottery, Post and Courier newspaper article 23 November 1992

Post and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 23 November 1992, page 3

According to this article:

Catawba pottery is molded by hand. Rings of clay are stacked on top of each other while they dry. Tall vases have to be shaped and dried in stages so the piece won’t collapse. Then, the potter scrapes the clay.

Rubbing stones, found in creek bottoms and passed from generation to generation, are used to smooth the form for firing. Then the piece is placed in a pit and burned. The pots come out with unpredictable motley colors, ranging from brown to red to black, and a smooth, shiny finish.

The Catawba coil long ropes of clay into pipes and jars, as well as intricate shapes – including human-like faces and animal forms. They do not use potter’s wheels, making their pottery entirely by hand.

article about Catawba Indian pottery, Charleston News and Courier newspaper article 15 November 1977

Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 15 November 1977, page 14

According to this article that was promoting a special exhibit of Catawba pottery made by the Catawba Cooperative:

Mystery and tradition surround Catawba Indian pottery, an art form many centuries old.

Created much the same way it has been for generations, the pottery is made by Catawba women on the tribe’s reservation near Rock Hill [South Carolina]. The clay used in the process is dug from secret locations along the banks of the Catawba River.

Pottery-making is generally a family business, with the men and some children collecting the clay and the women and children forming it into pottery – although the gender roles are not strictly exclusive. Often the pottery-making tools have been handed down for multiple generations and are prized possessions.

At the turn of the century, Catawba families sold their pottery at roadsides and in markets. Judging from the number of ads in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, it appears that Catawba pottery really hit a high note in the 1970s like many other traditional arts and crafts.

Several Catawba potters have been duly acknowledged as fine artists – the most notable being Sara Ayers, who won the South Carolina Folk Heritage Award.

Keeping an ancient tradition alive – such as the Catawba hand-made pottery – is hard work, especially in the context of an entire culture that is being threatened. Inevitably, the people involved encounter difficulties. For example, there was some bad blood between the Catawba Cooperative and Sara over the Catawba identity. Sara had left the reservation and the Catawba Cooperative seemed to feel she was a traitor.

article about Catawba Indian pottery, Charleston News and Courier newspaper article 25 November 1977

Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 25 November 1977, page 15

According to this article:

Last week, the News and Courier told the story of the Charleston exhibitors, the 18 women of the Catawba Cooperative. Theirs is a good and proud story of people banding together to save part of a heritage and to help themselves commercially by it.

This week is the story of Sara Ayers. It also is a good story of a proud Indian woman, who, years ago and alone, created a small market for Catawba pottery. In the process, she made some money and a name for herself in crafts circles around the country.

The Catawba Cooperative and Sara Ayers do not like each other very much right now. Their combined stories tell us something quite sad about what happens to individuals when as a people, they lose a culture.

Another difficulty the Catawba potters faced was due to a land dispute, in which many of the Catawba were barred from entering the land (that used to be part of their reservation) where their traditional clay pits are located.

article about Catawba Indian pottery, Post and Courier newspaper article 26 December 1991

Post and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 26 December 1991, page 26

Despite these challenges, the Catawbas – and their distinctive pottery – have endured. According to the Catawba Indian Nation website:

Due to the importance of pottery in the Catawba culture the tribe is committed to making sure that there are always Catawba potters to teach this skill to others so that this 6,000 year old tradition can continue to be passed on to future generations.

Do you have any Native American ancestry in your family tree? If so, please tell us about it in the comments section.

Related Native American Genealogy Articles:

User Success Story: Debby Abad Breaks Through Her Brick Wall!

Every genealogist has experienced it: hitting the dreaded “brick wall” – when you reach a dead end in your family history research, unable to find any more records to fill in the missing names, dates or places of your ancestor’s story.

On the other hand, few genealogy stories are more encouraging than hearing of someone smashing through their brick wall, finally getting the answers they spent years searching for with equal measures of determination and frustration.

photo of a brick wall

Photo: brick wall. Credit: Pawel Wozniak; Wikimedia Commons.

It took Debby Abad 15 years, but she finally broke through her own brick wall. Here’s how she did it.

As Debby explains:

I have been searching for information on my great grandmother Nannie Willis, and my great uncle Cary Sprouse, for the last 15 years. Without a date, I could not apply for a death record.

Debby had been a member of GenealogyBank and found information about other members of her family, but after thoroughly searching its Historical Newspaper Archives could not find any articles about Nannie or Cary’s deaths – so she didn’t renew her membership.

Two years later, Debby learned that GenealogyBank is constantly adding new content every single day, adding millions more genealogy records and newspaper articles every month. Having been frustrated everywhere else she had looked, Debby decided to come back and give GenealogyBank one more try – and was glad she did!

As Debby wrote to us:

You can imagine my surprise when these articles popped up! I now had dates and could locate death records for my uncle and grandmother!!

Imagine her delight when she did a new search on her great grandmother Nannie Willis – and up popped the elusive record she had spent years looking for: her great grandmother’s obituary.

obituary for Nannie Willis, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper article 9 February 1951

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 9 February 1951, page 34

Finally she knew the date of Nannie’s death: 7 February 1951. Not only did this obituary give her this important information, it was filled – as obituaries often are – with many more family history clues: the names of Nannie’s three surviving sons and the married names of her two surviving daughters, plus the fact that Nannie had 24 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren and 2 great-great-grandchildren. Armed with this information, Debby now had many more directions in which to pursue her family history research.

Perhaps even more dramatic was what happened when Debby searched for her great uncle Cary Sprouse, trying once again to find out when – and how – he died. When this article popped up, Debby at long last had her answers.

obituary for Cary Sprouse, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper article 13 August 1917

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 13 August 1917, page 7

There it was, the long-sought date of Cary’s death: 11 August 1917. And, like Nannie’s obituary, this article gives other family history clues: Cary was survived by his wife and three children, and his surviving brother and two sisters are named along with the cities where they lived. Now Debby had even more directions to pursue her family history research.

This article about her great uncle’s death makes an important point about using old newspapers for family history research: government records can give names and dates, but to learn something about our ancestors as people, and the individual lives they lived, we need their stories – and these stories are found in old newspapers.

Sometimes the stories we learn about our ancestors are not pretty, but they are real – and they’re our ancestors’ stories. In this case, Cary died a gruesome death by electrocution while trying to locate and fix a live wire that had fallen to the ground. The article gives some grisly details of Cary’s death, including the poignant detail of his having been found “lying prone upon his face with fingers on both hands dug into the ground” due to the agony of the electricity burning through his right foot and leg.

Not a comforting picture. But now, as Debby looks at Cary’s name and dates on her family tree, she at least knows the story of his death and can take comfort in the fact that he died doing his job, trying to restore power to his community.

Our congratulations to Debby for breaking through her genealogy brick wall, and our thanks for sharing her story with us and giving us permission to tell that story to our readers.

As we often remind readers here in the GenealogyBank Blog, it pays to redo your searches periodically in GenealogyBank. Just because you didn’t find something a week, month, or several months ago, doesn’t mean we don’t have something on your ancestors now. There is a feature on the newspapers’ search box that lets you search just on the content added since a certain time:

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search box showing the "added since" feature

GenealogyBank adds millions of new records monthly, so keep searching. And good luck!

Have you had success breaking through a genealogy brick wall in your family history research? If so, please tell us about it in the comments section.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from recent and historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

Related Brick Wall Articles:

Family Holiday Traditions

Many of us have holiday traditions that have persisted for years – and have even been passed down through the generations.

Dr. Charles Crouch and his family of Petersburg, Virginia, had a long-running family tradition: they sent the Abner T. Holt family of Macon, Georgia, a fruit cake every Christmas – for 57 years!

article about a fruitcake tradition between the Crouch and Holt families, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 21 December 1919

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 21 December 1919, page 12

It was a tradition that began during the Civil War when Abner T. Holt fought at the Battle of Gettysburg while serving in Company C of the 2nd Battalion of the Georgia Infantry.

According to the National Park Service Soldiers & Sailors Database:

“2nd Independent Infantry Battalion was assembled at Norfolk, Virginia, in April, 1861. The unit contained four companies; two from Macon, one from Columbus, and one from Griffin. It served in North Carolina, then returned to Virginia during the Seven Days’ Battles and fought at Malvern Cliff under General J.G. Walker. Transferred to A.R. Wright’s Brigade, the battalion was active in the campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia from Fredericksburg to Appomattox. It reported 2 killed and 26 wounded at Chancellorsville and lost more than forty-five percent of the 173 engaged at Gettysburg. The unit surrendered 8 officers and 74 men in April, 1865. Its commanders were Majors Thomas Hardeman, Jr., C.J. Moffett, and George W. Ross.”

This holiday tradition between the Crouch and Holt families captured the public imagination. One year when the fruit cake went missing it was a breaking story in the local newspaper.

article about a fruitcake tradition between the Crouch and Holt families, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 5 January 1908

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 5 January 1908, page 8

We use GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to find our ancestor’s obituaries, birth notices and wedding announcements. We can also use it to find their traditions and stories too!

Related Holiday Articles:

Kentucky Archives: 102 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Kentucky became the young nation’s 15th state when it joined the Union on 1 June 1792. Famous for its horse farms, horse racing, and bourbon distilleries, Kentucky is the 37th largest state in the country and the 26th most populous.

photo of a horse farm in bluegrass country, south of Paris, Kentucky

Photo: horse farm in bluegrass country, south of Paris, Kentucky. Credit: Peter Fitzgerald; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your ancestry from Kentucky, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online KY newspaper archives: 102 titles to help you search your family history in the “Bluegrass State,” providing coverage from 1794 to Today. There are more than 43.5 million articles and records in our online Kentucky newspaper archives!

Dig deep into our online archives and search for historical and recent obituaries and other news articles about your Kentucky ancestors in these KY newspapers. Our Kentucky newspapers are divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries (obituaries only).

Search Kentucky Newspaper Archives (1794 – 1984)

Search Kentucky Recent Obituaries (1984 – Current)

photo of the Kentucky State Capitol Building, Frankfort, KY

Photo: Kentucky State Capitol Building, Frankfort, KY. Credit: RXUYDC; Wikimedia Commons.

Here is a list of online Kentucky newspapers in the historical archives. Each newspaper title in this list is an active link that will take you directly to that paper’s search page, where you can begin searching for your ancestors by surnames, dates, keywords and more. The KY newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range * Collection
Ashland Daily Independent 05/12/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Barbourville Mountain Advocate 09/13/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bardstown Kentucky Standard 09/29/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bardstown Western American 09/06/1803 – 12/21/1804 Newspaper Archives
Bardstown Bardstown Repository 06/29/1814 – 10/30/1816 Newspaper Archives
Bardstown Candid Review 07/14/1807 – 08/27/1810 Newspaper Archives
Bedford Trimble Banner 09/29/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bowling Green Daily News 07/02/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Campbellsville Central Kentucky News-Journal 10/03/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Carrollton Carrollton News-Democrat 07/14/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Columbia Adair Progress 04/27/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Corbin News Journal 01/04/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Corbin Times-Tribune 05/15/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Covington Kentucky Post 04/02/1990 – Current Recent Obituaries
Covington Kentucky Post 07/01/1895 – 04/17/1920 Newspaper Archives
Cynthiana Cynthiana Democrat 10/08/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Danville Advocate-Messenger 08/01/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Danville Mirror 09/03/1804 – 10/24/1804 Newspaper Archives
Danville People’s Friend 01/30/1819 – 01/30/1819 Newspaper Archives
Elizabethtown News-Enterprise 04/30/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Frankfort Frankfort Argus 02/03/1808 – 11/12/1834 Newspaper Archives
Frankfort Guardian of Freedom 06/19/1798 – 05/26/1804 Newspaper Archives
Frankfort Kentucky Journal 12/05/1795 – 12/05/1795 Newspaper Archives
Frankfort Palladium 12/25/1798 – 09/06/1816 Newspaper Archives
Frankfort Western World 07/07/1806 – 06/08/1810 Newspaper Archives
Frankfort Commentator 07/10/1818 – 02/15/1831 Newspaper Archives
Franklin Franklin Favorite 02/23/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Georgetown Georgetown News-Graphic 09/08/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Georgetown Telegraph 09/25/1811 – 12/22/1813 Newspaper Archives
Glasgow Glasgow Daily Times 02/09/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Grayson, Olive Hill Journal-Times 07/05/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Harlan Harlan Daily Enterprise 11/17/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Harrodsburg Kentucky People 03/18/1870 – 08/25/1871 Newspaper Archives
Hazard Hazard Herald 06/28/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Henderson Gleaner 04/14/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hodgenville Larue County Herald News 11/26/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
LaGrange Oldham Era 10/17/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lancaster Political Theatre 11/18/1808 – 07/26/1809 Newspaper Archives
Lawrenceburg Anderson News 01/02/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lebanon Lebanon Enterprise 11/20/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Leitchfield Grayson County News Gazette 10/17/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Leitchfield Record 08/20/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lexington Kentucky Gazette 03/15/1794 – 12/28/1837 Newspaper Archives
Lexington Lexington Herald 03/20/1904 – 12/31/1982 Newspaper Archives
Lexington Lexington Standard 01/27/1900 – 01/27/1900 Newspaper Archives
Lexington Morning Herald 01/01/1896 – 03/19/1904 Newspaper Archives
Lexington Lexington Herald-Leader 01/25/1984 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lexington Lexington Herald-Leader: Blogs 05/08/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lexington Reporter 03/12/1808 – 06/15/1831 Newspaper Archives
Lexington Stewart Kentucky Herald 07/14/1795 – 09/15/1801 Newspaper Archives
Lexington True American 06/03/1845 – 10/21/1846 Newspaper Archives
Lexington Western Monitor 08/03/1814 – 12/20/1817 Newspaper Archives
Lexington American Statesman 07/20/1811 – 08/14/1813 Newspaper Archives
Lexington Independent Gazetteer 04/19/1803 – 11/16/1805 Newspaper Archives
Lexington Lexington Leader 06/16/1901 – 09/15/1981 Newspaper Archives
Lexington Lexington Public Advertiser 03/13/1822 – 10/09/1824 Newspaper Archives
Lexington Lexington Herald-Leader 03/01/1951 – 01/15/1984 Newspaper Archives
Liberty Casey County News 08/27/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
London Sentinel Echo 09/18/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Louisville Bulletin 09/24/1881 – 09/24/1881 Newspaper Archives
Louisville Louisville Anzeiger 03/28/1923 – 05/31/1928 Newspaper Archives
Louisville Louisville Times 09/01/1913 – 09/04/1913 Newspaper Archives
Louisville Ohio Falls Express 07/11/1891 – 07/11/1891 Newspaper Archives
Louisville Louisville Eccentric Observer 04/21/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Louisville Weekly Courier-Journal 05/19/1879 – 07/29/1889 Newspaper Archives
Louisville Western Courier 11/16/1813 – 09/26/1816 Newspaper Archives
Louisville Daily Louisville Public Advertiser 01/22/1830 – 12/28/1830 Newspaper Archives
Louisville Louisville Correspondent 05/11/1814 – 06/28/1817 Newspaper Archives
Louisville Louisville Daily Courier 01/19/1853 – 10/26/1868 Newspaper Archives
Madisonville Messenger 05/14/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Maysville Eagle 01/19/1815 – 01/14/1846 Newspaper Archives
Maysville Ledger Independent 07/11/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Maysville Tri-weekly Maysville Eagle 03/12/1845 – 12/15/1846 Newspaper Archives
Middlesboro Middlesboro Daily News 06/01/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Monticello Wayne County Outlook 07/03/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Morehead Morehead News 08/31/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
New Castle Henry County Local 10/09/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Nicholasville Jessamine Journal 10/08/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Owensboro Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer 09/01/1988 – Current Recent Obituaries
Owenton Owenton News-Herald 01/12/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Paris Western Citizen 12/24/1808 – 12/27/1815 Newspaper Archives
Paris Rights of Man 08/30/1797 – 01/10/1798 Newspaper Archives
Prestonsburg Floyd County Times 07/21/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Richmond Globe 01/24/1810 – 10/17/1810 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Register 07/15/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Richmond Luminary 01/18/1812 – 03/08/1816 Newspaper Archives
Russellville Mirror 11/01/1806 – 01/05/1809 Newspaper Archives
Russellville News-Democrat & Leader 12/13/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Russellville Weekly Messenger 01/26/1819 – 12/29/1827 Newspaper Archives
Shelbyville Sentinel-News 10/10/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Shepherdsville Pioneer News 10/08/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Somerset Commonwealth-Journal 08/05/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Springfield Springfield Sun 07/08/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Stanford Interior Journal 08/31/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Taylorsville Spencer Magnet 07/18/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Washington Republican Auxiliary 08/15/1807 – 08/15/1807 Newspaper Archives
Washington Union 03/08/1814 – 05/09/1817 Newspaper Archives
Washington Weekly Messenger 06/23/1803 – 10/06/1803 Newspaper Archives
Whitley City McCreary County Record 06/07/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Williamstown Grant County News and Express 04/15/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Winchester Winchester Sun 08/25/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Winchester Winchester Advertiser 08/05/1814 – 06/28/1817 Newspaper Archives

*Date Ranges may have selected coverage unavailable.

You can either print or create a PDF version of this Blog post by simply clicking on the green “Print/PDF” button below. The PDF version makes it easy to save this post onto your desktop or portable device for quick reference – all the Kentucky newspaper links will be live.

Related Resource:

Mayflower Hat Maker: Degory Priest

Are you a descendant of Mayflower passenger Degory Priest?
If you are, then please tell us your line.

Painting: “The Mayflower Compact, 1620,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Painting: “The Mayflower Compact, 1620,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1899. Source: Library of Congress.

According to Wikipedia, Degory Priest:

was a hat maker from London who married Sarah, sister of Pilgrim Isaac Allerton in Leiden. He was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact in November 1620 and died less than two months later.

Searching in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I can easily find hundreds of articles about descendants of other Mayflower Pilgrims such as Thomas Rogers, Stephen Hopkins or Dr. Samuel Fuller – but, articles about Degory Priest descendants – not so much.

I only found six persons who mentioned their descent from him in their obituaries, such as this one for Patricia Sayward.

obituary for Patricia Sayward, Amesbury News newspaper article 17 March 2009

Amesbury News (Amesbury, Massachusetts), 17 March 2009

Patricia A. (Woodward) Sayward’s (1929-2009) obituary tells us that “she was a descendant of Degory Priest” and that she had two ancestors who fought at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. She was active in both the Mayflower Society and the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Here are the other five individuals I found whose obituaries mentioned that they were descendants of Degory Priest:

If you are a descendant of Degory Priest – or any other Mayflower passenger – please tell us about it in the comments section.

Related Mayflower Genealogy Articles:

Did You Miss These Mayflower Stories?

GenealogyBank is an outstanding source for documenting your Mayflower family lines.

Painting: “Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor” by William Formby Halsall, 1882

Painting: “Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor” by William Formby Halsall, 1882. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

We have posted a number of blog articles about tracing your family history back to the Mayflower and its passengers. Take a moment and read these key articles for tips on researching your family history.

Mayflower Articles:

Thanksgiving Traditions

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn more about some of the Thanksgiving traditions families enjoy this time of year.

Family history isn’t just about the gathering of our ancestors’ names, dates, places, and stories. Family history is also about recording our present-day lives, including our traditions, for the benefit of future generations. What traditions does your Thanksgiving Day include? Besides eating the Thanksgiving turkey what else does your family enjoy? Do you spend time cheering a favorite football team, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, or do you prefer to get a jump on your Christmas shopping?

Thanksgiving is a day of traditions, some long established and others unique to our individual families. Here are a few holiday traditions I learned more about by searching in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

The Food

Obviously the main tradition for Thanksgiving is the feast. We collectively associate Thanksgiving with foods such as turkey, stuffing or dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Looking for some traditional recipes? This article from a 1955 newspaper provides some tips about cooking the Thanksgiving turkey and two different types of stuffing, using bread or cornbread.

article about Thanksgiving recipes, San Diego Union newspaper article 10 November 1955

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 10 November 1955, page 26

Now, you may be asking why we partake in these specific foods on Thanksgiving. Well the old newspapers have answers for this question. What I like about this 1936 version of Thanksgiving food history is that it addresses the fact that turkey may not have been an option for everyone’s holiday dinner because of expense – an important statement as people were in the midst of the Great Depression. The author writes that families may have substituted “chicken, duck, beef, rabbit, or even pork and were glad to get it.”

article about Thanksgiving turkey, National Labor Tribune newspaper article 21 November 1936

National Labor Tribune (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), 21 November 1936, page 4

What other foods does your family have for Thanksgiving? What is the history of that recipe in your family?

Shopping

Are you eagerly awaiting the deals that “Black Friday” brings? For some, online shopping has replaced the frenzied crowds associated with the number one shopping day of the year – but for some families, shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving is a tradition. I had assumed that this November sale day was a more modern idea – but judging from this 1915 newspaper article, there was a push in the early 20th century to have shoppers begin their holiday shopping early so as to not overwhelm stores as the Christmas holidays approached. The article states:

It was started as a measure to bring relief to overworked employees in the shops. The call was not only to do Christmas shopping early and thus modify the heavy strain upon the shop workers, but throughout the year to do shopping early in the week, and early in the day, so that there might be no congested period later.

Publicity for this effort included newspaper articles, signs, and even slides shown at the motion picture theatres.

Focusing on one day of sales to overwhelm stores, as Black Friday does today, was certainly not the idea behind this original early-shopping campaign; there was a concentrated effort back then to make people think about when they shop and to consider doing their Holiday shopping in November.

article about doing Christmas shopping right after Thanksgiving, Oregonian newspaper article 8 November 1915

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 8 November 1915, page 9

The term Black Friday was in use by the 1960s, but the practice of holiday shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving predates the phrase. This 1927 newspaper article announces that Christmas display windows would debut on Thanksgiving Day, and that sales would begin the next day. Shoppers were urged to get their shopping done early to avoid the hassles of the past:

In former years, when the public, through some peculiar psychological twist, felt that no Christmas shopping could be done until within a week [or] 10 days of the holiday, merchants were slow to put their complete lines of holidays [sic] wares on display. The buying public has forced it upon them.

article about doing Christmas shopping right after Thanksgiving, Repository newspaper article 23 November 1927

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 23 November 1927, page 2

Football

For some families an impromptu game of football in the back yard or watching a game on the television is part of their Thanksgiving Day. If you are a football fan, you may not be too surprised to learn that football and Thanksgiving have been linked since the beginning of the sport. College and professional teams have played on Thanksgiving Day since the late 19th century.

One early mention of this tradition comes from the New York Herald, referring to Thanksgiving Day 1880 when the Princeton and Yale football teams would engage in “one of their stubborn old time contests.”

article about college football games, New York Herald newspaper article 13 November 1880

New York Herald (New York, New York), 13 November 1880, page 6

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Love a parade? If you do, you might be a big fan of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The Macy’s parade in New York City debuted for Christmas 1924. That first parade, watched by 250,000 spectators, included costumed employees and floats. The success of that first effort ensured that the parade would become a yearly holiday tradition. It wasn’t until 1927 that the first balloon became part of the festivities. That balloon was cartoon character Felix the Cat.*

This 1940s description of the parade comes from Bobby Sutherland, whose writing appeared on the children’s page of the Richmond Times Dispatch. He describes the parade as starting:

at 110th Street and Broadway at 1 P.M. on Thanksgiving Day…The parade goes down to Central Park West and then south to Macys, which is at Thirty-fourth Street and Broadway. There’s always lots of bands and balloons. I’m told by some of the boys in my classes that it some times takes two hours for this parade to pass.

article about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper article 3 November 1940

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 3 November 1940, page 50

A 1959 newspaper article heralded the approximately 1.3 million people who watched the 33rd annual parade in person, and countless others who watched it broadcast on TV. That year, balloon figures included a turkey, a space man and Popeye.

article about Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Advocate newspaper article 27 November 1959

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 27 November 1959, page 72

It is estimated that the parade now attracts 3.5 million people to New York City each year.**

Your Thanksgiving Traditions

What are your family’s Thanksgiving traditions? Do you participate in some of the time-honored traditions that Thanksgiving is famous for, or do you do something different? Tell us about them in our comments section below.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

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* Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – the History. NYC Tourist. http://www.nyctourist.com/macys_history1.htm
** Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – the History. NYC Tourist. http://www.nyctourist.com/macys_history1.htm

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Days of Thanksgiving Celebrated by Our Ancestors

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary searches old newspapers to learn more about Days of Thanksgiving that have been proclaimed throughout American history.

While planning Thanksgiving celebrations, most of us dream of the bountiful feast set upon our tables: turkey, corn, mashed potatoes, pie and all of those other goodies made for the day.

We do this to commemorate the first successful harvest of the Mayflower passengers and the Wampanoag Indians at the Plymouth Plantation in 1621.

Painting: “The First Thanksgiving,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Painting: “The First Thanksgiving,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, c. 1912-1915. Credit: U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

That first Thanksgiving celebration lasted three days. The Wampanoags brought five deer as gifts, which were consumed along with other food that has never been documented.

1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation

Much has been written about Thanksgiving, including President George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation on 3 October 1789, given in response to a request by Congress. Since few have ever read it, I searched GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to find the proclamation as it was printed in the newspapers of that time.

In three paragraphs, President Washington proclaimed “a day of public Thanksgiving and Prayer” to take place on November 26.

article about President George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 14 October 1789article about President George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 14 October 1789

article about President George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 14 October 1789

Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 14 October 1789, page 3

First Mention of Thanksgiving in a Newspaper?

I was curious about the first mention of Thanksgiving in a newspaper prior to Washington’s proclamation.

Would you be surprised to learn it occurred in the earliest newspaper to be published in our country: Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestik?

Richard Pierce of Boston had great hopes for this publication, but it was shut down by the authorities after the initial printing on 25 September 1690. Luckily the full copy of this first American newspaper can be found in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

The article reports:

The Christianized Indians in some parts of Plimouth, have newly appointed a day of Thanksgiving to God for his Mercy in supplying their extream and pinching Necessities under their late want of Corn, & for His giving them now a prospect of a very Comfortable Harvest. Their Example may be worth Mentioning.

article about Indians in Plymouth, Massachusetts, celebrating Thanksgiving, Public Occurrences newspaper article 25 September 1690

Public Occurrences (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 September 1690, page 1

Other Thanksgiving Proclamations

Ordinary subjects of Colonial America were not allowed to decide when to set aside a day of Thanksgiving. Magistrates and other leaders – such as Joseph Dudley, Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay – issued proclamations stating the reasons and guidelines for special days of Thanksgiving.

This 1704 Thanksgiving Proclamation was to celebrate “Victory over their Enemies in the Summer past,” referring to England’s victories in the War of the Spanish Succession. In his order declaring 23 November 1704 a “Day of General Thanksgiving throughout this Province,” the governor prohibited “all Servile Labour” on that special day, exhorting everyone:

to Celebrate the Praises of GOD, for all His Benefits and Blessings, And to devote themselves [to] a Thank-Offering to Him in a right Ordered Conversation.

an article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 13 November 1704

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 November 1704, page 2

Day of Fasting and Prayer

One of the more intriguing early proclamations is this one, in part concerning captives taken from Deerfield, Massachusetts, in a 1704 raid by French and Native American forces. The attackers killed 44 Deerfield villagers and 12 of their militia defenders, and 112 settlers were taken as captives to Canada.

Since calling for a day of thanks would be inappropriate on this occasion, Governor Dudley called for “a day of Publick FASTING and PRAYER” to appease God in hopes of gaining “Remission of our great and manifold Sins that have justly displeased God” and caused the settlers’ misfortune.

In his proclamation, Governor Dudley expressed hope that the day of fasting and prayer would grant them their most fervent wishes:

The Designs of the barbarous Savages against us defeated; Our exposed Plantations preserved; And the poor Christian Captives in their hands, returned.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Fasting and Prayer, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 5 February 1705

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 February 1705, page 1

Day of Thanksgiving for the Captives’ Return

By the end of 1706, many of the captives had been “redeemed” (recovered by the English, either through paying ransom or via prisoner exchanges). This newspaper report of January 1707 notes:

The People of this County are fill’d with Joy, for the Arrival of the Captives…Wednesday the 8th Currant [i.e., this month] was a Day of Thanksgiving there [Deerfield], to Praise GOD for His great Goodness.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 20 January 1707

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 20 January 1707, page 4

I am entirely grateful for the captives’ return, as among them were members of my Belden, Burt and Foote families. Click here to see a list of the Deerfield captives of 1704.

Other Days of Thanksgiving

While contemplating the meaning of Thanksgiving, take the time to explore early newspapers to learn more about the many days of Thanksgiving set aside for our ancestors. Here are two more examples I found.

On 20 September 1704, Governor Dudley once again celebrated English victories in the War of the Spanish Succession by announcing that October 18 would be a day of Thanksgiving because it had:

pleased Almighty God in his Great Goodness to preserve Her Majesties Sacred Person, and to prosper Her Arms in the Just War, wherein Her Majesty and Her Allies are Engaged for the preservation of the Liberties of Europe.

The Governor ordered:

That a General THANKSGIVING to Almighty God, for these His Mercies be Observed throughout this Province, within the several Towns and Districts thereof, on Thursday the Eighteenth Day of October next; and do strictly forbid all Servile Labour thereupon; Exhorting both Ministers and People to Solemnize the said Day after a Religious manner, and to offer up sincere and hearty Praises to GOD.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 1 October 1705

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 1 October 1705, page 2

In this next example, Governor Dudley on 27 December 1705 called for yet another day of Thanksgiving to celebrate English victories in the War of the Spanish Succession, this one scheduled for January 24.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 31 December 1705

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 31 December 1705, page 4

Why not take a little time during this Thanksgiving break to search the old newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to learn more about early Thanksgiving celebrations and enrich your understanding of this very special day of thanks?

Happy Thanksgiving and blessings to you and your families!

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November Update: GenealogyBank Just Added 5 Million More Records!

Every day, GenealogyBank is working hard to digitize more newspapers and obituaries, expanding our collection to give you the largest newspaper archives for family history research available online. We just completed adding 5 million more U.S. genealogy records, vastly increasing our content coverage from coast to coast!

screenshot of GenealogyBank's home page showing the announcement that 5 million more records were added in November

Here are some of the details about our most recent U.S. newspaper additions:

  • A total of 27 newspaper titles from 16 U.S. states
  • 12 of these titles are newspapers added to GenealogyBank for the first time
  • We’ve shown the newspaper issue date ranges so that you can determine if the newly added content is relevant to your personal genealogy research

To see our newspaper archives’ complete title lists, click here.

State City Title Coverage Added Collection
Arizona Tombstone Daily Tombstone 06/03/1886 – 06/09/1886 Newspaper Archives
Arizona Tombstone Tombstone Daily Epitaph 06/02/1886 – 12/07/1889 Newspaper Archives
Arizona Tombstone Tombstone Daily Prospector 04/12/1889 – 11/22/1889 Newspaper Archives
Arizona Tombstone Tombstone Epitaph Prospector 04/25/1889 – 04/25/1889 Newspaper Archives
California Chowchilla Chowchilla NewsNew! 05/17/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Connecticut Ansonia, Derby, Seymour Valley Gazette, The: Web Edition Articles New! 11/05/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Idaho Lewiston Lewiston Tribune 11/28/1971 – 12/31/1973 Newspaper Archives
Indiana Crown Point Crown Point StarNew! 02/05/2015 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kansas Prairie Village Prairie Village PostNew! 10/13/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Louisiana New Orleans New Orleans Item 08/28/1911 – 08/18/1915 Newspaper Archives
Louisiana New Orleans New Orleans States 09/25/1922 – 09/25/1922 Newspaper Archives
Louisiana New Orleans Times-Picayune 04/07/1858 – 06/14/1976 Newspaper Archives
Maryland Baltimore Sun 07/20/1914 – 09/05/1914 Newspaper Archives
Massachusetts Fairhaven AdvocateNew! 02/26/2015 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mississippi Biloxi Daily Herald 10/01/1954 – 10/30/1954 Newspaper Archives
New Jersey Bergen County Cliffview PilotNew! 06/28/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
New Jersey Jersey City Jersey Journal 01/17/1966 – 12/31/1969 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Winston-Salem Winston-Salem Journal 06/23/1915 – 06/23/1915 Newspaper Archives
Pennsylvania Philadelphia Philly WeeklyNew! 12/05/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pennsylvania Sanatoga Sanatoga PostNew! 11/13/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
South Carolina Charleston Charleston News and Courier 12/14/1924 – 02/28/1946 Newspaper Archives
South Carolina Charleston Evening Post 02/02/1976 – 02/28/1977 Newspaper Archives
Texas Houston Houston Chronicle 10/15/1901 – 12/31/1904 Newspaper Archives
Wisconsin Bay View South Shore NOWNew! 01/21/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wisconsin Greenfield Greenfield-West Allis NOWNew! 08/20/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wisconsin Milwaukee Packer PlusNew! 05/06/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wisconsin Muskego, New Berlin Muskego-New Berlin NOWNew! 02/04/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries

Family History Research: Finding Blue Ribbon Winners at the Fair

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary demonstrates an important genealogy search tip: stories about your ancestors can be found in all parts of the newspaper. Consider, for example, articles about blue ribbon contest winners at country fairs.

An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is a great resource for genealogy research. But don’t just stop at the obvious choices: birth notices, wedding announcements, and obituaries. Stories about your ancestors can be found in all parts of the newspaper. Consider, for example, articles about the local, county or state fair.

It’s the rare family that didn’t attend a country fair – and many had a family member who won a blue ribbon. Perhaps the local newspaper wrote a nice article about your ancestor when he or she won the blue ribbon at the local fair.

illustration of a blue ribbon

It may have been your Aunt Be, Uncle Mo, Cousin Shirley or Grandpa Joe. Do yourself a favor and go look for these sweet tidbits of family memorabilia. They were almost always featured in old newspapers.

When researching old newspaper articles about fairs, don’t stop at the obvious keyword searches such as: livestock, quilts, and pies. Many other fun and unusual awards were bestowed. Here are some of my picks of Americana blue ribbon awards.

Horsemanship

Starting from a very early time, country fairs offered financial prizes for horsemanship.

In 1855 there were not enough contestants for the prize at an Illinois county fair, so the judges announced there would be no financial premium (a first place prize of $50 had been offered originally).

article about a horsemanship contest at the county fair, Daily Illinois State Register newspaper article 29 September 1855

Daily Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois), 29 September 1855, page 2

However, the judges did present two ribbons among five ladies who rode for the honors, “accompanied by their knights.” Misses Poorman, Archer, Cass and Orr, along with Mrs. Rosette, “rode around the ring many times” in front of the spectators. Miss Cass took home the blue ribbon and Miss Poorman the red.

By the early 1920s, photos accompanied the newspaper articles about ribbon winners at the fair. This one depicts Miss Katherine Kennedy Tod riding her horse Sceptre; they won the blue ribbon “in the saddle horse class ridden by boy or girl not over sixteen.”

photo of Katherine Tod on her horse Sceptre, Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper article 23 October 1921

Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado), 23 October 1921, page 42

If you search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives as well as the Web, you’ll find that Miss Tod won a number of other prizes for horsemanship in her riding career.

Blue Ribbon Babies

Who doesn’t love a baby photo!

Many babies of yesteryear were dressed in their cutest garb and taken to the fair – and entered in contests.

photo of Anna McNamara and her daughter Nancy, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper article 1 November 1921

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 1 November 1921, page 3

In 1921, Mrs. Anna McNamara displayed her two-year-old daughter Nancy at the Long Island fair.

She won for being the prettiest and healthiest of the babies out of hundreds entered – and don’t you adore the little shoes and her mama’s hat. Just an observation, but perhaps the lack of a beaming smile tells us the little girl struck too many poses that day.

Root Beer – Better than Beer

I’m sure many people from 1920 – and even today – would agree that root beer is better than beer. Becker Products won the blue ribbon at the Utah State Fair in 1920 for its root beer, and this photograph appeared in the local newspaper. This image was timely, coming as it did right before the country entered into the prohibition of liquor.

photo of the display booth for Becker Products at the Utah State Fair, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper article 10 October 1920

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 10 October 1920, page 15

Scientific American’s Flying Machines (Heavier than Air) Trophy

Although not a blue ribbon contest per se, when aviation fever hit the United States there were many prizes awarded. One was a magnificent trophy from the Scientific American valued at $2,500 that was awarded in 1907. The prestige of blue ribbon trophies was echoed in this article’s text:

The trophy is valued at $2,500 and its beauty at once brings to the lips the words “Blue Ribbon of the Air.”

article about an aviation trophy offered by Scientific American, Plain Dealer newspaper article 7 September 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 7 September 1907, page 2

It’s thought that these prizes spurred the rapid advancement of air travel in the United States. If this is one of your interests, go look for more details in the old newspapers. There are many lovely reports, including the names of winners.

Bicycle Races

Aviation wasn’t the only transportation method of contests.

In 1901, Bobbie Walthour of Atlanta, Georgia, won a six-day bicycle race that ended at Park Square Garden. Once again, the prestige of blue ribbon trophies was echoed in this article’s text:

Hardly a foot separated Stinson from the leader [Walthour], and these two demonstrated beyond question that they were far superior to even the redoubtable foreigners who came to America for the purpose of winning these blue ribbon events of the indoor season.

article about a bicycle race, Boston Herald newspaper article 6 January 1901

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 6 January 1901, page 1

Needlework and Quilts

Let’s not forget blue ribbon quilts and needlework. Notice that in 1936, there were dozens and dozens of winners reported in this Texas newspaper. A special “Quilt of States” drew merited attention. It was constructed with blocks embroidered in state flowers with the colors and shields of each location.

Let’s hope this quilt has been lovingly preserved somewhere.

Exhibition of Needlework Is Good, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 6 December 1936

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 6 December 1936, page 14

As part of your family history research in old newspapers, include searches for articles about blue ribbon contests and award winners at country fairs. You just might discover a story about your ancestor that you won’t find in any government record, vital statistics archive, or other genealogy resource.

Have you found a blue ribbon winner in your family tree? If so, please let us know in the comments section.

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