Our Ancestors’ Stories Live in Old Newspaper Ads Too

I like to look at every mention of each ancestor that I am researching—and that includes newspaper classified ads.

While looking through the Newark Daily Advertiser for 1835 I was surprised to see this unusual paid advertisement.

ad from E. Allen in support of Julia Moore, Newark Daily Advertiser newspaper advertisement 3 July 1835

Newark Daily Advertiser (Newark, New Jersey), 3 July 1835, page 3

What is with this odd newspaper advertisement?

This is to certify, that the bearer, Julia Moore…[is] perfectly honest, never having had the slightest cause for suspicion.

Something must have been wrong if E. Allen felt compelled to take out an ad attesting to Julia Moore’s honesty.

Wait—here’s another one.

ad from M. Seguine in support of Julia Moore, Newark Daily Advertiser newspaper advertisement 3 July 1835

Newark Daily Advertiser (Newark, New Jersey), 3 July 1835, page 3

This old newspaper ad tells us that Julia lived with the Seguine household “for two months during the fall of 1834.” The subscriber went on to state:

I found her perfectly honest, and industrious: she had every opportunity of being dishonest, if she had been so inclined, but I never have had the least cause for suspicion.

OK. There must be more to this story if both subscribers took out ads testifying to the honesty of Julia Moore.

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Digging deeper into the newspaper archives I found the answer—in the classified ads.

ad about Julia Moore offering reward for stolen cap, Newark Daily Advertiser newspaper advertisement 27 June 1835

Newark Daily Advertiser (Newark, New Jersey), 27 June 1835, page 3

Julia Moore, a young Irish girl of about 13 years old, was accused of stealing an elaborate woman’s hat from her employer when she left for a different job. The former employer bluntly attacks the honesty of the young girl, and also tries to push that suspicion onto her friends that “refuse to tell where she is.”

Now the situation is clearer. Not only was Julia’s reputation insulted in the June 27th ad, but so was the good name of “her friends”—the Allen and Seguine households—causing them both to take out ads six days later attesting to her honesty.

This discord gives us a lot of genealogical information:

  • Her name, Julia Moore
  • She had a sister
  • She was born in Ireland, and in 1835 was about age 13
  • She had lived in Newark at the Seguine home for two months in 1834
  • In 1835 she lived with the Allen household where her sister also lived
  • Her former employer wanted a missing cap back, or information about the cap and about the girl

Life in America was difficult for this young 13-year-old immigrant. There is no mention of her parents, only her sister. This must have been a terrifying time for her in the face of her former employer’s accusations, and hopefully her concerns were tempered by the kindness of these other two families.

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Was Julia’s story passed down in the family?

Do her descendants understand the hard life their immigrant ancestor lived at age 13?

Imagine her fear, her lost childhood, and the realities of having to deal with an unjust employer. This is a gritty story that a 13-year-old would quickly understand today. I hope that Julia’s story was passed down, and that the family today tells and retells her story, honoring her grit in the face of this painful episode—and that they know about the great kindness shown her in her youth.

Genealogy Tip: Don’t let your family’s stories be lost. Track down every lead in the newspapers, looking through every page right down to the classified ads.

GenealogyBank’s deep newspaper archive is your best source to find and preserve your family’s stories.

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Old Newspaper Ads, Your Immigrant Ancestors & U.S. Migrations

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 find advertisements that encouraged families to move to other parts of the U.S. for a better life—and shows how these ads can help you better understand the lives your ancestors lived and the decisions they made.

As genealogy and family history fans, we all know the concept of “chain migration,” which is loosely defined as the process of immigrants moving from their homeland to new lands and communities, building upon familiar and familial social relationships from the Old Country. This certainly was true in the case of many of my immigrant ancestors.

But what happened once those immigrants got to their destination in the United States? While some put down lifelong roots in the community they first arrived in, many moved on to other destinations in America. What were some of the influences on these migratory movements within the U.S.?

Newspaper Advertisements Influenced Migrations

Some of the answers can be found in simple newspaper advertisements. Just as letters home might have influenced some people to come to the States, once here they were subjected to the constant allure of a better life in other parts of the country.

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Here are some examples of historical newspaper advertisements that influenced our immigrant ancestors’ migrations to other parts of America.

Arkansans Urged to Migrate West

With the bold headline “Westward, Ho!” this 1845 advertisement tells of a meeting to be held in Napoleon, Arkansas, “to organize a company of emigrants, to remove to California.”

ad urging westward migration, Arkansas Weekly Gazette newspaper article 29 September 1845

Arkansas Weekly Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 29 September 1845, page 3

Montana Riches: Land of Opportunity for Millions!

Some of the people and organizations looking to entice emigrants to move used a method that had worked in the Old Country: they wrote letters to the editor, which in many cases sure resembled an advertisement to me.

For example, take a look at this 1882 letter to the editor headlined “ROOM FOR MILLIONS.” The author of this “letter,” one James S. Brisbin writing from Keogh, Montana, covers a range of items in this letter/advertisement, including the weather, parks, the wealth of the mines in the area, and more. He states:

But not only are stock raisers, farmers and miners needed in the West, but artisans and skilled labor of all kinds. Towns are everywhere springing up, and the services of workmen of every grade are in great demand.

And just for good measure he closes his letter by reminding readers that Montana is only a four-day train ride from the East Coast, and ends with this statement: “Only four days from want and misery to wealth and joy.” Well, how could you not move there?

article urging migration to Montana, New York Herald newspaper advertisement 10 February 1882

New York Herald (New York, New York), 10 February 1882, page 9

Telegraphers Needed

This 1905 advertisement for The Morse School of Telegraphy promises immediate employment upon graduation and a salary of $40-$60 a month “east of the Rockies” and $75-$100 a month “west of the Rockies.” For that big of a difference in salary, I’d say there was probably a waiting line for telegraphers heading out West!

ad offering employment to telegraphers, Morning Olympian newspaper advertisement 2 August 1905

Morning Olympian (Olympia, Washington), 2 August 1905, page 3

The Allure of Arizona Gold

The following 1907 newspaper article reads like an ad. While not an actual advertisement, it surely advertises what opportunities might await folks interested in moving to Kofa, Arizona. Kofa, which is an acronym for “King of Arizona,” held the richest gold mine in the history of the Southwestern United States.

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It may have been an article just like this that enticed one of my own immigrant ancestors, Elijah Poad, to seek his fortune in Kofa. As a Cornish miner, he would have been well suited to the work. However, the one note this article leaves out is the fact that there was no water in Kofa, so they had to bring it in by mule teams. While Elijah did live in Kofa for a few years, he then followed many of his fellow Cornish miners and became a Yupper in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan mining copper, then on to Linden, Wisconsin, to mine lead, and finally to Anaconda, Montana, to mine for silver and other minerals.

article urging migration to Arizona for the Kofa gold rush, Tucson Daily Citizen newspaper article 12 December 1907

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 12 December 1907, page 7

Workers Wanted All across America

This 1922 newspaper article tells readers that there are workers needed across the U.S., and reports what jobs are available where. Almost every category of employment seems to be mentioned in this article.

Jobs Now Plentiful in U.S., Saginaw News newspaper article 15 December 1922

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 15 December 1922, page 28

Eastward Migration, Also

Not all the U.S. migration advertisements urged westward expansion, however—some encouraged migrants to head east. For example, this 1920 ad in a Colorado newspaper encourages land-seekers to head east to Michigan. It starts out with the statement “Big opportunity in Michigan.” The old advertisement continues and promises “Big money in grains, stock, poultry, or fruit.”

ad urging migration to Michigan, Denver Post newspaper advertisement 18 August 1920

Denver Post (Denver, Colorado), 18 August 1920, page 21

Many of the ancestors in my family tree moved around the United States, especially in pursuit of better economic opportunities. Did your ancestors move around the country—and if so, do you think they might have been influenced by old newspaper advertisements like these? Leave me a comment, as I’d enjoy knowing your thoughts and experiences.

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How to Use Newspaper Lost & Found Ads for Genealogy Research

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

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

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

What Went Missing? People, Pets, Possessions…

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

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

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

Curiosities of Advertising, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 15 October 1855

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

Newspaper Ads for Lost Pets

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

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

Have You Seen My Glasses?

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

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

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

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

Found It!

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

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

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

Unfortunate Losses

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

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

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

Lost Item Lists from Railway Cars

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

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

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

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

Lost and Found Ads Are a Valuable Genealogy Resource

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

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

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