Researching the Not-So-Romantic History of Eloping

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 stories of our ancestors eloping—and discovers that the word “elope” meant different things at different times.

Anyone who has ever planned a traditional American wedding knows this feeling. As you arrange the wedding, there comes a point after trying on wedding dresses, choosing attendants without making anyone angry, arguing over a manageable guest list, deciding between dried-out chicken meals, and listening to the “good advice” of family and friends, that the thought comes to you:

What if we just eloped?

For some, eloping is a sweet temptation that eventually gets pushed aside in favor of saying “I do” in front of family and friends. For others it’s an idea that makes sense. The cost of a wedding, having been previously married, older brides and grooms, or the stress from trying to negotiate a party that involves close family members who may be divorced and don’t like each other—any of these factors can make anyone want to skip the formalities and go straight to the courthouse or to a Gretna Green.*

So we know why people elope now—but why did our ancestors elope? Well it turns out that in many cases, our ancestors eloped for some of the same reasons people do today. Money, especially during the Great Depression or times of war, made the expense of a traditional wedding impractical. In some cases, the family may have objected to their daughter or son’s intended and so eloping seemed to be the only answer. And of course there may be more nefarious reasons to elope as well, reasons that are all exposed in old newspapers such as GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.

What Does It Mean to Elope?

If you’re researching your ancestors’ elopement in old newspapers, then one thing to consider is that the meanings of words can change throughout time. For example, the word elope can be traced back to 1338, when it was defined as the act of a wife leaving her husband to run off with her lover. This meaning continued until 1800, when elope came to mean lovers who run away to get married to each other, not to get away from a spouse.** Aside from the meaning of running off with a lover, elope can also mean to slip away or leave.

“Pay No Debts” Ad for Runaway Wife

As we search old newspapers it becomes apparent that our modern idea of eloping, maybe influenced by classic love stories, is different from what eloping meant in older times.

Consider this article from a 1793 Maryland newspaper. It is an advertisement placed by Michael Humbert, who states that his wife Elizabeth has eloped for a second time. He warns against:

all Persons, of either trusting or lending her, on my account, as I am determined to pay no debts by her contracted.

ad from Michael Humbert warning he will not pay the debts of his runaway wife, Washington Spy newspaper advertisement 31 May 1793

Washington Spy (Elizabethtown, Maryland), 31 May 1793, page 4

He additionally warns readers:

All persons whatever are hereby positively forbid to harbour her on any account whatever, as they shall answer for the contrary at their peril.

This type of advertisement is similar to ones you might see in 20th century newspapers, in which a person proclaims that they are only responsible for their own debts and not those of other family members. In the case of Michael Humbert’s ad, the word elope most likely means that she has just left him, not necessarily that she went off with a lover—but maybe…

Age Doesn’t Matter in Elopements?

Although eloping is sometimes a romantic notion, other times it might just be criminal. Consider the following story about a married man who runs off with his teenaged coworker. And in case you tend to think that nothing bad happened in the “good old days,” this article is from an 1895 Minnesota newspaper (though I’m sure there are earlier examples).

Eloped at Fifteen--A Married Man (A. H. Garfield) of Aberdeen Said to Have Eloped with a Pretty Girl (Bessie Moore) in Her Teens, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 13 August 1895

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 13 August 1895, page 1

A music dealer named A. H. Garfield left “an estimable wife and three children” to elope with his “pretty assistant” Bessie Moore, who was only 15. The article concludes:

Garfield has committed a penitentiary offense, and if caught will certainly receive all the law allows, possibly more, as the people here are very indignant.

He’s Not Right for You

Obviously, one reason to elope is that your family doesn’t share your enthusiasm for your beloved. This simple 1905 notice about a Kentucky couple who ran off to Cairo, Illinois, echoes that feeling.

Eloped (J. A. Stanley and Jennie Lee Sands) to Illinois, Lexington Herald newspaper article 16 March 1905

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 16 March 1905, page 8

Where Did She Go?

While one of the definitions of the word “eloped” is running away, in today’s world those who elope may simply go to a courthouse or a different location to get married. But in some cases we find in old newspaper articles that those who disappeared were thought of as having possibly eloped with a lover.

In the case reported in this 1901 Rhode Island newspaper, the mystery of where Maggie went was solved, and luckily it was a happier ending than the one her family and friends had imagined: she hadn’t been murdered or kidnapped—she had eloped with John Watson and gone East.

Maggie (Hoel) Eloped (with John Watson), Pawtucket Times newspaper article 1 January 1901

Pawtucket Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island), 1 January 1901, page 1

Genealogy Research Tips

Did someone in your family elope? If you are unable to find marriage records in the place your ancestor lived, consider that they may have eloped, either for “romantic” reasons or because of practicalities like finances. Expand your search to include known Gretna Greens or nearby towns. Don’t assume that an ancestor who eloped left no records. Marriage licenses and newspapers published after the fact can help you fill in the story of your ancestor’s married life.

________________

*To learn more about Gretna Greens, see my article “Gin Marriages, Gretna Greens & Your Ancestor’s Marriage Records” on the GenealogyBank Blog.

**Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, by Robert K. Barnhart (Editor). Chambers. (1999).

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, aka Frederick Douglass

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 about one of the great figures in American history: the African American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass.

I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.

—Frederick Douglass

Exactly 119 years ago today, on 20 February 1895, America suddenly and unexpectedly lost one of its most impressive abolitionists, reformers, orators, writers, statesmen, and advocates for equal rights of all people: Frederick Douglass.

photo of Frederick Douglass

Photo: Frederick Douglass. Credit: Wikipedia.

Wanting to know more about this great African American, I turned to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to look for old articles to learn about his life and times. I was not disappointed with my research findings.

This obituary of Frederick Douglas appeared in an 1895 New York newspaper. All of us genealogy fans can always appreciate a well-written obituary, and this certainly is one.

Death of Frederick Douglass, Irish American Weekly newspaper obituary 25 February 1895

Irish American Weekly (New York, New York), 25 February 1895, page 4

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey

Born about 1817 as an African American slave on the eastern shore of Maryland, Frederick Douglass was born with the name of Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. He proceeded to spend his life breaking just about every mold people tried to force him to fit.

Runaway Slave & Man of Many Names

Douglass tried to escape slavery twice before he was finally successful, but once free, he was a wanted man. As a result, he had to change his name from Bailey, to Johnson, and then to Douglass—and as genealogy fans we can appreciate Douglass writing his autobiography, which helps us understand his changing name history.

Rising to Be a Famous American Abolitionist

Just how impressive was Frederick Douglass? Take a look at this article from a 1909 Chicago newspaper with its subheading calling Douglass “…One of the Sublimest and Most Noble Characters…”

The 92nd Anniversary of the Birth of Frederick Douglass, Broad Ax newspaper article 13 February 1909

Broad Ax (Chicago, Illinois), 13 February 1909, page 1

Douglass rose from the hardship of being born into slavery and the cruelty of being removed from his mother’s care as an infant (which was a customary practice in slavery at the time), to finally managing to escape to freedom—and became, at the time, America’s premier African American voice against slavery. One of my favorite quotes by Douglass is captured in this article from a 1952 Kansas newspaper. It is short, but really powerful:

I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity.

Frederick Douglass' Statement, Plaindealer newspaper article 11 July 1952

Plaindealer (Kansas City, Kansas), 11 July 1952, page 7

Facing Abolitionist Opponents

While we all wish this was the case throughout American history, we all know it certainly was not. For an unvarnished view of just how challenging Frederick Douglass’s anti-slavery stand was, I strongly suggest that you look up and read this article from a 1930 Kansas newspaper.

The Truth about the Great Frederick Douglass, Plaindealer newspaper article 30 August 1930

Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas), 30 August 1930, section: illustrated feature section, page 3

Running an entire page, this article often graphically relates what kinds of perils Douglass faced in his quest to speak out against slavery. Here is one horrifying example:

At Pendleton, Ind., the mob tore down the platform on which he was speaking. When the mob attacked him, he defended himself with a club until his arm was broken and he was battered into unconsciousness. When he regained it, with is arm in a sling, he insisted on speaking again.

Strong Advocate for Women’s Rights

Slavery was not the only cause that Frederick Douglass fought for. As you can read in this article from an 1848 Washington, D.C., newspaper, he supported the Women’s Rights Movement as well. Douglass spoke (he was the only African American invited to speak) at the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, where he continued his strong advocacy for equal rights for women.

article about Frederick Douglass speaking at the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, Daily National Intelligencer newspaper article 16 August 1848

Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), 16 August 1848, page 2

Frederick Douglass Meets President Lincoln

This article from an 1864 Louisiana newspaper reported on Douglass meeting with President Abraham Lincoln. In a speech he gave afterward, Douglass said:

Now, you will want to know how I was impressed by him [Lincoln]. He impressed me as being just what every one of you have been in the habit of calling him—an honest man.

article about Frederick Douglass meeting President Abraham Lincoln, New Orleans Tribune newspaper article 26 July 1864

New Orleans Tribune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 26 July 1864, page 2

This old article from an 1891 Nebraska newspaper reported that Frederick Douglass advised President Lincoln on the Emancipation Proclamation, and was appointed the U.S. Minster to Hayti (now Haiti).

He (Frederick Douglass) Advised the (Emancipation) Proclamation, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 7 August 1891

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 7 August 1891, page 4

His Home a National Historic Site

Moving toward more current times, the Douglass family home, known as Cedar Hill, became a National Historic Site and a part of our National Park Service, as you can read in this article from a 1972 Wisconsin newspaper.

(Frederick) Douglass Honored, Milwaukee Star newspaper article 24 February 1972

Milwaukee Star (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 24 February 1972, page 10

Frederick Douglass’ Newspaper

Note: one of the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank’s collection is the very newspaper edited and published by Frederick Douglass himself! It is the Frederick Douglass’ Paper (Rochester, New York), where you can read entire issues of this newspaper from 1847 to 1860.

I’d encourage you to take some time, delve into the newspapers of GenealogyBank’s online collection, and really investigate Frederick Douglass, one of America’s finest!

‘Ah-Ha!’ Moment: GenealogyBank Member’s Favorite Family Find

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott tells an incredible story of a brother and sister who bumped into each other—after an absence of 42 years—and as each began telling stories about their childhood, it dawned on each other that the “stranger” they were talking to was actually their sibling!

All of you that follow me here on the GenealogyBank blog, on my website at Onward To Our Past®, or on the Onward To Our Past® Facebook page, know how much I love all the genealogy information found in the massive newspaper database of GenealogyBank.com. Over and over these newspapers have been the source of a wide variety of truly amazing “Ah-Ha!” genealogy moments for me, such as the time I discovered a newspaper article that revealed the occupation of my great grandfather. Another time, again thanks to an old newspaper article, I was thrilled to find a photo of an ancestor that is the only known photograph we have of him.

I recently asked the good folks at GenealogyBank.com what they heard from their subscribers using their service—did other family historians have similar genealogy research success stories?

In just a few minutes I received the following testimonial from a member of the GenealogyBank.com support team. This was written by M. F. of New Hampshire:

I use GenealogyBank to search out additional “color” to add to the family tree, so that there is more than just names, dates, and places. I love looking at the anniversary stories, the wedding announcements, and the gossip columns. When I found this story involving some members of the family tree, I just had to share with you.

A Serendipitous Family Reunion

When I checked out the article M. F. had found, I could plainly see why this GenealogyBank.com subscriber was so excited.

Brother (Simard) and Sister (Marquis) Meet after 42 Years, Boston Herald newspaper article 9 August 1939

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 9 August 1939, page 26

Not only was this story extremely moving about a brother and sister serendipitously meeting, after 42 years, but also there was a marvelous family photograph of both the brother and sister in the article.

photo of siblings August Simard and Adele Marquis reuniting, Boston Herald newspaper article 9 August 1939

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 9 August 1939, page 26

Talk about an “Ah-Ha!” moment! Not only a great family reunion story, but also a photo of the siblings, details about the lives of both individuals, and the fact that there was another brother living, at that time, in Green Island, Canada. It must have been amazing when the brothers and their sister got together after more than 40 years! I hope they had a nice big pot of tea and plenty of scones on hand, because I am thinking they had an incredible amount to share.

The touching family story shared by M. F. is a wonderful example of just one of the hidden treasures that await all of us who love genealogy and family history in the more than 6,500 historical newspapers of GenealogyBank.com that stretch from 1690 to Today and cover all 50 of our United States. Perhaps the best part of all is the newspaper reporter’s adherence to those wonderful 5 W’s of good newspaper reporting that give us genealogy fans answers to those always crucial questions of Who, What, Where, When, and Why!

Members: Share Your Favorite “Ah-Ha!” Moments

So let me know in the comments section below: what has been your favorite “Ah-Ha!” moment from GenealogyBank.com? Thanks! I bet you have some great family discoveries!

Hammet Achmet: Washington’s Waiter & Revolutionary War Patriot

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary presents the fascinating story of Hammet Achmet, who grew up a slave in George Washington’s household, served as a drummer in the Revolutionary War, then became a freedman and drum maker.

Piecing together the life of a patriot from the American Revolutionary War is challenging—but piecing together the life of an African American minority patriot is even more so. That is, unless the person distinguished himself in a special way.

Such was the case with Hammet (or Hamet) Achmet (c. 1752, Africa – 1842, Connecticut), who was captured and enslaved as a young child, and later became something of a celebrity—having served as George Washington’s personal waiter.

George Washington’s Slave & Close Companion

Achmet grew up in the Washington family’s household as a black slave. However, he was later freed, either for serving in the American Revolutionary War, or according to the terms of George Washington’s will.

In his youth, Achmet had the responsibility of holding his horse as Washington prepared to ride. Achmet was affable and the two of them shared a life-long relationship. As an adult, he attended the Washington family at meals. After George Washington’s death in 1799, Achmet was given a lock of the president’s hair, which he kept in a tiny silver box shaped like a coffin. This treasure, along with one of Washington’s waistcoats and a small rapier (dress sword) with the initials G.W., were heirlooms Achmet carefully guarded throughout his life.

As an African American slave he was never taught to read or write, but Achmet was very intelligent. He could speak four or five languages, a useful skill for anyone in early America with its melting pot of immigrants. Although of a diminutive size (4′ 6”), Achmet served his new country faithfully as a Revolutionary War drummer.

In 1900 his life was chronicled in a book by Emilie T. Stedman, whose family knew him personally. Stedman’s book makes for marvelous historical reading and features her original drawings. You can read her book for free online, Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington, here: https://archive.org/details/hammetachmetserv00sted.

photo of the cover of Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

In addition to the interesting information about him in Stedman’s book, we can expand our understanding of Achmet’s story with newspaper accounts that chronicle his fascinating life.

An African American Drummer in the Revolutionary War

Many people today assume that a drummer’s duties were easy during the Revolutionary War—but the music corps, including fifers, drummers, and other musicians, toiled for long days with complicated assignments. Several guides still exist which describe their schedule and music. (See link at the end of this article.)

Up before dawn, the war musicians signaled the wake-up, or “Reveille,” by playing “The Drummer’s Call.” If the troops were going on march, this musical selection reverted to one called “The General.” Because they never knew if the enemy was listening, these easily understood auditory signals reduced the need to call out orders to the troops.

The military musicians had to learn at least a dozen routines because each separate activity, from Roll Call to Assembly, had its own special composition. There were even unique sets for officer activities, and a special one for the Retreat, during which the men received their evening’s orders.

drawing of a drum and swords from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

Illustration: from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington.” Credit: Library of Congress.

Drummers accompanied or led the troops to battle, acting much like modern-day cheerleaders at a pep rally. Imagine having to focus on playing your music correctly, avoiding injury, and inspiring the trembling soldiers to face the enemy with determined energy! Being a drummer during battle was no easy task, and Achmet performed his responsibilities as well as the best of them.

Achmet Receives Revolutionary War Pension

After the Revolutionary War, Achmet applied for and received a pension (S.38107). His first request was done as a resident of Connecticut on 28 June 1818.

In his pension application, Achmet stated that he had served under Capt. Throop in Col. Return Jonathan Meig’s regiment, and signed the statement with his mark. Supporting statements were made by veterans who remembered seeing Achmet at the Valley Forge Winter Encampment; Phillipsburg, New Jersey; the Battle of Stony Point, New York (16 July 1779); and elsewhere. One wrote this about Achmet:

I saw the same little black drummer who is now before me, marching with said division of said army.

The pension was eventually granted on the basis that Achmet was an invalid (or too frail to work).

The Drum Maker

Once Achmet was a free man, he made his living manufacturing drums and toys, and selling used shoes to a gun factory.

text from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

From: Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington.” Credit: Library of Congress.

Some remembered that Achmet would wear his old uniform, and his persistent drumming was often heard. He liked to recount stories about the dinners and grand company held in “Massa Washington’s mansion,” and sometimes showed off the president’s waistcoat.

Hammet Achmet’s Family Life

Achmet’s first wife was named Jane (c. 1774 – 1827), by whom there was a child. Jane was much younger than her husband but died before he did.

Their marriage was sometimes a rocky one, as we can infer from this historical newspaper advertisement in which Achmet is warning the public not to trust his wife, stating that he will not pay any more of the debts she incurs!

ad placed by Hamet Achmet warning he would not pay his wife's debts, Middlesex Gazette newspaper advertisement 5 July 1821

Middlesex Gazette (Middletown, Connecticut), 5 July 1821, page 3

When Jane sensed her impending death, “she prepared her shroud and mourning for her husband and granddaughter.” This obituary noted she was a professor of religion (meaning a type of preacher, not to be confused with a professor at a school).

obituary for Jane Achmet, Middlesex Gazette newspaper article 2 May 1827

Middlesex Gazette (Middletown, Connecticut), 2 May 1827, page 3

Achmet’s second wife, whose name might have been Ann, was Caucasian with darkened skin.

text from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

From: Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington.” Credit: Library of Congress.

They married at the Methodist parsonage. This young bride had a temper, and after one fight she cut off Achmet’s curls while he slept—a serious affront, as this was rarely done.

Here is Stedman’s drawing depicting Achmet’s cottage.

drawing of Hammet Achmet's cottage, from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

Illustration: from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington.” Credit: Library of Congress.

A Colorful Personality

Stedman’s book provides many details about Achmet and recounts fun anecdotes, including how he responded when asked to join Phineas T. Barnum’s Circus.

To learn the answer, read the story here: https://archive.org/details/hammetachmetserv00sted

Achmet’s Obituary

When Hammett (or Hamet) Achmet passed away, this same obituary appeared in numerous newspapers.

obituary for Hamet Achmet, Boston Courier newspaper article 5 December 1842

Boston Courier (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 December 1842, page 3

Research Links

I Met Abraham Lincoln: True Stories in Historical Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—in honor of today being Presidents’ Day—Gena searches old newspapers to find amazing stories about people who were still alive in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s who had met Abraham Lincoln.

Did your ancestor meet a famous person? Maybe they had occasion to hear a great orator or speak with an author. Did they rub elbows with someone infamous? I’m always fascinated by the history that our ancestors, even our more recent ancestors, witnessed.

Do you have an ancestor who met, heard or saw Abraham Lincoln? There could be a variety of reasons a 19th century ancestor encountered the 16th president of the United States. As president during the American Civil War, Lincoln gave speeches and visited the troops so it’s possible that a person living in the 1860s may have had an encounter with him.

photo of President Abraham Lincoln, 8 November 1863

Photo: President Abraham Lincoln, 8 November 1863, by Alexander Gardner. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

But did you ever consider that some of those same people may have lived into the20th century and had occasion to tell their story about meeting Lincoln? Many Civil War soldiers or contemporaries of Lincoln would have been at least middle-aged to quite elderly when the 20th century rolled in. There were some alive at the beginning decades of the 20th century who were able to boast about meeting Lincoln.

So what if we up the ante? What about people who were still alive in the mid-20th century? The chances of someone who had met or personally saw Lincoln would have dwindled by then. However, a search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives shows that there were still people at that late date who could tell of meeting what many believe is the greatest president who ever lived.

Samuel J. Seymour, Last Living Witness to Lincoln’s Assassination

In 1956 an elderly man appeared on the television game show I’ve Got a Secret. This TV show featured a celebrity panel who, when presented with a special guest, tried to guess what secret the person held. The featured guests’ secrets included things that were amazing or unusual about that person. Those who stumped the panel received a cash prize. Samuel J. Seymour spent about five minutes on the show while two of the panelists asked questions that led them to guessing his secret. (A side note: while many younger readers wouldn’t recognize most of the celebrities that appeared on the show, on the day of Seymour’s guest spot there was a very recognizable face—that of famous actress and comedian Lucille Ball—who was on the panel, but she didn’t get a chance to question Mr. Seymour.)

Seymour was a 5-year-old boy when he was taken to Ford’s Theatre on 14 April 1865—the night that President Lincoln was shot. While he did not know initially that Lincoln was shot, and did not see the actual shooting, he did remember years later the fear he felt that night. He also remembered feeling concerned about the man (John Wilkes Booth) that he saw fall onto the stage. In the chaos of the moment—and because he was so young—Seymour didn’t realize that Booth had in fact shot the President when he saw the actor suddenly leap down onto the stage.

Of the lasting effect of being at Ford’s Theatre that night, Mr. Seymour said: “…I sometimes still relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do.”

Imagine that—a man in the 1950s carrying the memory of President Lincoln’s assassination!

I Saw Lincoln Shot, Plain Dealer newspaper article 7 February 1954

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 7 February 1954, page 192

You can view the actual portion of this episode of I’ve Got a Secret featuring Samuel Seymour on YouTube.

Richard R. Davis, Civil War Soldier

The following 1936 newspaper article, written just three years shy of Mr. Davis’s 100th birthday, tells of his Civil War career and his meeting Abraham Lincoln one day when the president came and spoke to the troops. Of that talk, Mr. Davis remembered that Lincoln “told us then that we were fighting to preserve the Union of States and of our sacrifice.” After speaking, Lincoln walked amongst the troops with his son.

Davis recounts that when he tussled the hair of Lincoln’s son the boy grinned and said: “Do you think I’m a child? Say, I’m a pretty big fellow.”

Richard Davis: Civil War Veteran Who Met Lincoln, Druid newspaper article 1 December 1936

Druid (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), 1 December 1936, page 1

Davis actually saw Lincoln several times, and also met other noteworthy figures of the time such as Generals Grant and Hooker. The reporter writes that it’s obvious that Lincoln was a hero to Davis and that his time serving in the Civil War was a “highlight of his journey along life’s highways.”

Meeting Presidential Candidate Lincoln

Because some young people who met Lincoln went on to live long lives, we do have stories of the Great Emancipator told by witnesses well after most who knew Lincoln had died. For example, Perry Green Brock—who died in 1949 at the age of 105 years—told of meeting candidate Lincoln in 1856 in Kentucky when he was a boy. Brock later fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War but doesn’t mention what he thought of Lincoln during that time. He was quoted in the following newspaper article as saying that the South would have won if “us rebels hadn’t run out of shells.”

Perry G. Brock, Who Met Lincoln, Passes at 105, Dallas Morning News newspaper obituary 24 November 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 24 November 1949, section III, page 6

Did your ancestor meet Abraham Lincoln or another famous person? If so, research the encounter in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, then write the story and preserve it for future generations. If your ancestor did indeed meet Abraham Lincoln, please share the details about the encounter with us in the comments. We’d love to hear your family story.

Related Articles about Abraham Lincoln:

102 Year Old Ex-Slave Once Shook Abraham Lincoln’s Hand

Abraham Lincoln: The Life of a Legend Infographic

3 True-Life Love Stories to Brighten Your Valentine’s Day

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 three heart-warming love stories sure to brighten your Valentine’s Day.

Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra, Edward and Wallis Simpson. We tend to think of historical or fictional characters when we think of great love stories—but what about the true-life love stories from your own family history? When I think about my more immediate family history I think of my paternal grandparents and how they fell in love as teenagers; my grandmother was just 16 years old when they wed. They had been married 47 years when my grandmother died, a loss my grandfather never got over.

Do you know your ancestors’ love story? Search online newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, to see if their story was ever printed in the local paper.

Love at First Sight

Did your ancestors have a case of love at first sight? Sometimes Cupid hits a couple hard and they make a quick decision to marry. Such is the case described in this 1905 newspaper article about Margery Parker and M. J. Young, who met at a social gathering and then three days later got married!

Courted Three Days, She (Margery Parker) Is Now a Bride, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 13 April 1905

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 13 April 1905, page 1

The newspaper article explains that “on Sunday evening the young couple gave their friends in this city the slip” and went to the home of the bride’s sister. From there they went to the Baptist parsonage and were married with her sister and brother-in-law as witnesses.

Love Reunited

Do you have an immigration love story in your family history? Immigrating to a new country isn’t easy. Besides leaving the familiar and starting over, you also run the risk of not being allowed into the country when you arrive. The following story is a familiar one that involves a young couple and their baby. The father came to the United States and started a new life before sending for his intended and their baby. However, there was a hiccup in those plans when Elsie Ekberg stepped off the ship at Ellis Island. She was detained and an investigation was held to see if this 20-year-old unmarried mother really had someone here in the U.S. waiting for her. Luckily Harold Ericson telegrammed officials that Elsie “was already his wife in all but the formality of a wedding.”

Unwed Mother (Elsie Ekberg) Wins Entry into America, Oregonian newspaper article 26 May 1922

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 26 May 1922, page 1

I’m sure Elsie must have been relieved when Harold stepped forward. She said: “If all men were true blue to the girls they profess to love, this world would be a paradise.”

Love Growing Old Together

When we think of love stories we often think of young couples—but those young couples eventually grow old together, and in some cases they are still as much in love as they were when they were young. The next newspaper article is a wonderful example of that. Married for 69 years, this New York couple tells the story of how they met and also gives marital advice. The Maxwells knew each other as children and fell in love when Halley’s Comet went by—and were still in love as Haley’s comet was making its return appearance. “Halley’s Comet swung by us that year [1835]. Now it is back again and she still loves me,” Mr. Maxwell proclaimed.

Some of their marriage advice is “old-fashioned.” (Mrs. Maxwell explains that it’s best not to let those “…suffragette ideas get in your mind. They are dangerous.”) However, she does have advice about men that is relevant today: she would never marry a man who drank because it would “drive away his good self.”

Longest Recorded Is the Love Affair of This Happy Old Couple (James and Mary Maxwell), Grand Rapids Press newspaper article 25 May 1910

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 25 May 1910, page 9

My favorite piece of advice is from her husband, James A. Maxwell, who says to bridegrooms:

In the first place keep your mouth closed. You’ve been mixing up with men so long you don’t understand women. You’ll try to treat her as you would a man partner. When she criticizes or argues or complains you’ll want to talk back to her as you would to a man. Don’t do it, I warn you. Kings of nations can make speeches; kings of homes can keep silence—or they are not kings.

He ends his relationship advice with:

My wife was pretty, but I didn’t marry her on that account. Be sure your girl is good and true. You can find it out by watching her. Then make up your mind to stick to her. You’ll love her more as each year goes by. I love my wife sixty-nine times more than I did when we were first married.

Your Family History Love Story Here

So what’s your ancestors’ love story? Have one that has been passed down the generations? Maybe you have a more recent ancestor that you personally remember was so in love. Write those old love stories down and preserve them for your family.

This Valentine’s Day we want to honor those family love stories. Please share your family history love story in the comments below.

Valentine’s Day History: A Look Back at Old Love Poems & More

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches through old newspapers to find valentine poems and other romantic messages from Valentine’s Day celebrations of the past.

an 1890 Valentine Day's card

Illustration: “To My Valentine,” 1890. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2010645777/

Ask any child if they know a valentine poem, and they’re likely to recite this couplet:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.

Love Poem History in Newspapers

If you research early newspapers, such as the online collection in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, you’ll discover quaint “Roses are red” valentine traditions—along with many variations on the theme. Many of these old love poems have delighted children and amorous suitors for a very long time.

One of the earliest “Roses are red” newspaper references was in this 1874 review of Fantoccini, a book fashioned after a puppet show by the same name.

a review of the book "Fantoccini," Springfield Republican newspaper article 1 September 1874

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 1 September 1874, page 3

Roses Are Red Alice

The author of this newspaper article panned Fantoccini for mimicking the “Alice” books, and criticized this version of “Roses are red” as an example of how “any number of well-meaning idiots have been moved to think that they could do as well” as the Alice in Wonderland books.

Roses are red
Diddle, diddle,
Violets are blue;
You love not me,
Diddle, diddle,
Though I love you.
Could them three flowers
Diddle, diddle,
Alter their dyes,
Then might we love
Diddle, diddle,
Contrariwise.

Turn of the 19th Century Valentine’s Day Trends

An 1899 Valentine’s Day trend was to send a valentine with a small object attached. One such Valentine’s Day card had an artificial violet and featured this poem:

Roses are red, violets are blue;
Sugar is sweet and so are you.
So please accept this small bouquet
That I have picked for you today.

article about Valentine's Day cards, Evening Star newspaper article 11 February 1899

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 11 February 1899, page 2

As cards became commercialized, shop clerks often assisted shoppers in their frantic searches for the perfect valentine card. These clerks were often amused at the suitors’ choices, as not everyone chose wisely!

In 1907, a sentimental young man purchased a valentine with this plea:

Come rest in my bosom my own stricken deer.

I hope his love interest fell for that line, although he might have been better off with this fashionable seller of the day:

The light that lies in woman’s eyes has been my heart’s undoing.

As this article notes, the old favorite was also offered on 1907 cards:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue;
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.

article about Valentine's Day cards, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 14 February 1907

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 14 February 1907, page 4

Anonymous Valentine Admirers

Have you ever sent or received an anonymous Valentine’s Day card?

In 1909, valentines overwhelmed the mail carriers, but “cupids” were also prone to depositing a card at a young woman’s door, ringing the bell and then fleeing off into the darkness before being discovered.

Valentines--Yes, Thousands of Them, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 14 February 1909

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 14 February 1909, page 2

Valentine Telegrams

There once were even valentine telegrams—certainly a relic of the past to any of today’s youth.

Western Union used to offer suggestions as to what to write. Many valentine poems and sayings reflected the era they were written in, such as these hipster valentine telegrams from 1954. These messages were always printed in upper case, as that was the only typeface option available for telegrams:

  • “MY HEART’S A-FIRE. FOR YOU I PINE. SAY YES-YES-YES MY VALENTINE.”
  • “ROSES ARE RED, VIOLETS ARE BLUE: THERE’S NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU-YOU-YOU.”
  • “MAN, YOU’RE GROOVY, CHICK O’MINE: BE MY REAL COOL VALENTINE.”
  • “LET IT RAIN. LET IT DRIZZLE. KISS ME, BABE, AND HEAR ME SIZZLE.”
article about Valentine's Day telegrams, Oregonian newspaper article 12 February 1954

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 12 February 1954, page 15

Then of course there were singing telegrams that suitors could use to woo their valentines, which, according to this 1938 Texas newspaper article, originated in New York. Popular for multiple holidays, the telegraph company accommodated special requests—including special tunes and parodies.

article about singing telegrams, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 31 August 1938

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 31 August 1938, page 3

Valentine Newspaper Advertisements

Was your family particularly romantic on Valentine’s Day? If so, see if they may have placed valentine advertisements in newspapers. Search your hometown papers, but remember to be creative, as the suitors rarely used their full names!

Valentine's Day newspaper ads, Springfield Union newspaper advertisements 14 February 1983

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 14 February 1983, page 25

Romantic Ideas & Inspiration

If you’re feeling like “Roses are red, Violets are blue” doesn’t express the perfect sentiment for your sweetheart, you can always find inspiration by searching old newspapers for romantic poetry.

Valentine's Day poem, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 14 February 1984

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 14 February 1984, page C2

That reference to “Elizabeth Barrett” reminds me of one of my favorite love poems of all time: this timeless verse by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Springfield Republican newspaper article 16 July 1874

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 16 July 1874, page 3

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Military Records in Newspapers: How They Help Make Your Genealogy Complete

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how he used military records that he found in old newspapers to fill in some of the gaps in his family history.

Certainly none of us likes war. It tears families apart, causes untold destruction, and all too often results in the loss of life or severe injury. However, there is one benefit to us as genealogy fans—and that is the fact that military service, notes, casualty lists, etc., were often reported in historical newspapers. As a result those military records are available to help us fill gaps in our family history, providing many excellent details about our ancestors.

Here are just a few examples of the dozens of military details I have been able to find in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Often during wartimes, things that may seem mundane during times of peace become newsworthy—such as an enlisted man getting a furlough. That was the case with this article I discovered in a 1942 Ohio newspaper. This news article contains some terrific detail on one of my mom’s favorite uncles, Charles G. Evenden. In just a few short sentences, I learned his rank (First Sergeant.), his years of service (24), his brother’s name and address, plus the fact that he was seeing his mother in nearby Lorain.

Then there was the icing on the cake! In the upper corner of the page is his photograph, which happens to be the only one we have of him in our family tree. What a family history treasure to discover in an old newspaper!

Greater Clevelanders at Home on Furloughs from WWII, Plain Dealer newspaper article 16 August 1942

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 August 1942, page 16

Recently, I have been working to gain a more detailed look into the actions of my dear father’s unit during World War II. He was in the 83rd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, which is often called “the Ohio Division.” Unfortunately, his record file at the National Archives was lost during the 1973 fire. However, I have been very pleased at the amount of information I have discovered in local newspapers that reported on the activities of the 83rd. This article, from a 1945 Canton newspaper, provided me with quite a detailed description of many of the movements of the 83rd after their landing in Normandy, France.

WWII Fighting Divisions: 83rd Infantry, Repository newspaper article 19 November 1945

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 19 November 1945, page 18

I was very proud to read of the hard fighting and success achieved by my father’s division, especially the conclusion of this news article:

Crossing the Rhine [River], the Ohioans cleaned up several enemy pockets, then drove for the transportation center of Hamm. Taking that vital place, the 83rd slipped into high gear and began to speed through the Reich.

In 14 days of its push from the Rhine to the Elbe [River], the Ohioans captured 24,000 Germans and liberated 75,000 Allied prisoners of war.

Then an article from a 1945 Cleveland newspaper gave me some remarkably fine detail about the movements of the 83rd as they approached the Elbe River, a destination that my father had mentioned to me.

article about the movements of the 83rd Infantry Division in WWII, Plain Dealer newspaper article 10 April 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 April 1945, page 1

I am still reading more of the dozens of articles that resulted from my search on the 83rd Infantry Division, amazed at how much I am learning about the performance of my father’s division during WWII.

In addition to my searches on the 83rd, I learned more about a troubling aspect of my father’s wartime experience by trying a different approach. This time, I searched the old newspapers for a place name: Langenstein Concentration Camp. This newspaper article from a 1994 Illinois newspaper gives as stark a description of this concentration camp as did my father the one and only time he ever spoke of the fact that he was one of this camp’s liberators. Among other things, it states: “The smell of death was there.” The smell was the first thing my father had mentioned.

article about the liberation of the Langenstein Concentration Camp during WWII, Register Star newspaper article 29 May 1994

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 29 May 1994, page 4

Unfortunately, death is also a part of war, and I was saddened when I discovered this obituary in a 1945 Ohio newspaper. It informed me that an ancestor, Pfc. Norman Sloan, had been killed in action in Germany, leaving a wife and 6-week-old daughter.

obituary for Norman Sloan, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 February 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 February 1945, page 83

Looking further I found an additional article from the same Cleveland newspaper, a longer casualty list article giving details about Pfc. Sloan’s death and his family, and providing a photograph as well.

obituary for Norman Sloan, Plain Dealer newspaper article 22 February 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 22 February 1945, page 11

Using the information from this newspaper article, I was able to trace his burial as listed by the American Battle Monuments Commission, which in turn helped me find a photo of his grave marker in the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Henri-Chapelle, Belgium. While a bittersweet find, it was wonderful to be able to add so much information to my family history.

photo of the gravestone of Pfc. Norman James Sloan, Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, Belgium

Photo: gravestone of Pfc. Norman James Sloan, Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, Belgium. Credit: Mr. Desire Philippet.

Newspaper articles can provide immense help when you’re researching your veteran ancestor. I hope you have, or will, search old newspapers for battle reports, casualty lists, service records, pension lists, etc.—and let me know what you have found as a result.

This Is the House That Sears Built: Historic Sears Kit Homes

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 learn about a building proposition our ancestors knew well: prefabricated home kits sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co.

How did you buy your last home? Was it an older home that you purchased from a family who had spent years making it their own? Did you buy it brand new, built to your specifications? Maybe because of the economic downturn in the last few years you picked up a foreclosure.

While these are the ways we purchase homes now, there was a time when you could order your home as a kit from Sears! Yes, that will surprise many people who, when they think of an old Sears, Roebuck and Co. ad, have something like this 1925 full-page newspaper advertisement in mind.

full-page ad from Sears, Roebuck and Co., Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisement 27 September 1925

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 27 September 1925, page 9

Sears, the retailer of clothing, household items, and Craftsman tools—selling home kits? Yes, and they weren’t the only retailer who offered build-your-own homes to consumers. While today we often associate Sears with the catalog which began in the 1890s, in the past your family may have bought a lot more than tools, furniture, and clothes at Sears. They may have bought a new prefabricated home delivered by train!

In a 1932 publication, Sears boasted that they were the “biggest home building organization on earth.”* According to the Sears Archives, between “1908-1940 Sears, Roebuck, and Co., sold about 70,000-75,000 homes through their mail-order Modern Homes program.” Customers could also purchase garages, farm buildings and—for those purchasing small cottages—an outhouse. The Modern Home program catalog offered consumers a range of homes from the palatial to the very simple. These Sears homes were like the Ford of their times, mass produced and shipped with everything, or almost everything, the would-be home builder needed. Because of the way the Sears houses were produced, the building and construction materials were less expensive resulting in a more inexpensive home for the buyer.

In this full-page 1926 newspaper advertisement, we not only learn more about the Sears Homes and what is offered, but we are provided a glimpse into how the homeowner can put together their home kit and reduce the costs.

full-page ad for prefabricated homes from Sears, Roebuck and Co., Plain Dealer newspaper advertisement 31 October 1926

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 31 October 1926, page 19

Innovations, such as numbering the materials to correspond with the plans, helped simplify the building process. Homes are touted as being built on the “skyscraper principle.” The Sears Archives website writes that “balloon style” framing, drywall and asphalt shingles allowed for these homes to be built relatively easier and quicker. What’s interesting is that the addition of drywall and asphalt shingles also had the added bonus of being fire resistant.

ad for prefabricated homes from Sears, Roebuck and Co., Plain Dealer newspaper advertisement 20 September 1927

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 20 September 1927, page 8

A similar historical newspaper advertisement from 1927 explains to readers that they are furnished with “free architectural service” and everything one would need “except masonry, for a complete home.” Not only that but Sears also offered, until 1933 when the program was discontinued, to lend money with a “small interest charge” so that you could afford your new Sears home. One promotional piece boasted that you could own a home for low monthly prices, just like rent.**

In 1982 this Texas newspaper “asked readers to tell us about Sears homes in Texas,” made from home kits that were described in the Sears 1908 catalog as “the greatest building proposition ever made.”

Sears Originals: Catalog Homes That Readers Have Known and Still Love, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 27 February 1982

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 27 February 1982, page 54

More than 30 readers responded, with stories about how much they loved their Sears homes. One satisfied Sears homeowner, Edith Sides of Dallas, lived in a home that was built in 1911 and sold to her stepfather in 1917. The family has owned the Sears kit house ever since. Edith, 74, told the newspaper:

You know how many times I’ve watched “Gone with the Wind”? Six times. And I always remember what Scarlett’s father told her: Keep the land. I have. And you know what? I think my house compares favorably with Tara.

Did someone on your family tree own a Sears kit home? Check historical newspapers (for the year that home was available) to find advertisements highlighting your ancestor’s style of home. You can also look for the exact home specifications from the Sears Archives website. Several books are available that are reprints of early Sears home catalogs and histories. Check out Google Books for titles and previews. You might also be interested in the book, The Houses That Sears Built: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Sears Catalog Homes, by Rosemary Thornton.

Have questions about a Sears home? Sears Homes Enthusiasts are available to answer questions about these homes. You can find a list of them and their interests on the Sears Archives website.

______________

*Sears House Designs of the Thirties. Sears, Roebuck, and Co. Dover Publications 2003. pg. 2.

**Sears House Designs of the Thirties. Sears, Roebuck, and Co. Dover Publications 2003. pg. 5.

Remembering Alex Haley: ‘Roots,’ Kunta Kinte & Genealogy

History of Roots by Alex Haley

Today is the 22nd anniversary of the death of Alex Haley (1921-1992), the author who wrote the popular African American novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The publication of Haley’s novel in 1976, and the subsequent ABC television miniseries based on his book that aired in January 1977, spurred tremendous interest in genealogy in the United States.

photo of the cover of the first edition of Alex Haley’s novel “Roots”

Photo: cover of the first edition of Alex Haley’s novel “Roots.” Credit: Wikipedia.

Haley’s award-winning novel was a fictionalized account of his own African American family history, tracing his roots all the way back to an African ancestor, Kunta Kinte, who was kidnapped in the Gambia in the 1760s, shipped across the Atlantic and sold into slavery in Maryland. Haley spent ten years researching his black genealogy, relying on both oral history and documentation to support his claim that he was a seventh-generation descendant of Kunta Kinte.

Both the book and the television miniseries were enormously popular and successful. The novel was translated into 37 languages and has sold millions of copies around the world. Haley was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize for his book in 1977. The eight-part TV miniseries fascinated the American public and was watched by a then-record 130 million viewers.

Genealogy Research Suddenly Skyrockets!

After reading Roots and watching the television miniseries, Americans—both black and white—wanted to find out more about their own family roots. Requests to the National Archives for genealogical material quadrupled the week after the TV show ended. The number of genealogical societies in the U.S. skyrocketed. Libraries and government offices received a steady stream of requests to review books, official records, and microfilm collections.

In the spring of 1977 this newspaper article reported on the growing popularity of genealogy.

Many Are Climbing Family Trees, Morning Star newspaper article 19 April 1977

Morning Star (Rockford, Illinois), 19 April 1977, page 14

According to the article:

The increasing trend toward genealogical research apparently started three or four years ago, picked up stimulation in the Bicentennial year [1976] and was spurred again by Alex Haley’s “Roots” and the tremendously successful ABC television series based on his book.

That series, the most-watched ever on television, led thousands of blacks and whites alike to a search for their own roots. The National Archives reported that its mail requests quadrupled in the week after the series.

A decade later, newspaper articles such as this one were still crediting Haley for the public’s interest in genealogy.

article about Alex Haley and his novel "Roots" spurring interest in genealogy, Springfield Union newspaper article 13 October 1986

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 13 October 1986, page 2

Ten days before he died, Haley gave a talk at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. A local newspaper, the Afro-American Gazette from nearby Grand Rapids, published this remembrance after his death.

Alex Haley--the End of an Era, Afro-American Gazette newspaper article 1 March 1992

Afro-American Gazette (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 1 March 1992, page 1

The news article begins this way:

Alex Haley was a man of vision—a man who knew [that], as individuals and a nation, [we] must know where we have been in order to know where we are going.

And when he died…he left that vision behind as a legacy to a world starving for truth, starving for direction, starving for peace and understanding.

Alex Haley’s Obituary

This obituary, published the day after Haley died, said he “inspired people of all races to search for their ancestors” and stated:

Mr. Haley’s warmhearted and rich descriptions of his ancestors’ lives set off a wave of interest in genealogy, lasting long after the book faded from best-seller lists.

Author Alex Haley, Won Pulitzer, (Dies) at 70, Boston Herald newspaper article 11 February 1992

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 11 February 1992, page 53

To find out more about Alex Haley’s life and influence—and to begin your own search for your family roots—dig into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, a collection of more than 6,500 newspapers featuring the largest obituary archive online. Also, search our African American newspaper collection to trace your black family history.