Dad’s Hole in One Story Featured in the Newspaper

Going through Dad’s old papers I found that he had shot a hole-in-one playing golf. In fact he had certificates for four of them. How he liked to golf.

I wondered if these perfect shots were written up in the newspapers – yes, they were.

article about golf, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 20 August 1982

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 20 August 1982, page 31

In the Dallas Morning News, golfer Doris Gray was asked what was “her secret” for shooting nine holes in one. She said: “I just aim for the flag.”

Enter Last Name

93-year-old Ralph Blake (1914-2008) had a successful career in banking and was a decorated war hero who fought in World War II. But, look closer and there in his obituary is a long, full mention of his multiple holes in one.

obituary for Ralph Blake, Republican American newspaper article 8 January 2008

Republican American (Waterbury, Connecticut), 8 January 2008

Everybody has a story.
Big ones – little ones – memorable ones.

GenealogyBank helps you find your family’s stories – all of them.
Find the stories of your ancestors.

Start your 30-day trial now!

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Washington Archives: 87 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Washington, which joined the Union as the nation’s 42nd state in 1889, was named in honor of the country’s first president, George Washington. It is the 18th largest state in the country and the 13th most populous, with more than half of the state’s population living in the Seattle metropolitan region.

photo of Seattle, Washington

Photo: Seattle, Washington. Credit: Joshulove; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your family roots in Washington, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online WA newspaper archives: 87 titles to help you search your family history in “The Evergreen State,” providing news coverage, family stories and vital statistics from 1889 to Today. There are currently more than 67 million newspaper articles and records in our online Washington archives!

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

Search Washington Newspaper Archives (1889 – 1984)

Search Washington Recent Obituaries (1985 – Current)

Here is a list of online Washington newspapers in the 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 WA newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range* Collection
Aberdeen Daily World 1/20/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Arlington Arlington Times 10/4/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Auburn Auburn Reporter 2/11/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bainbridge Island Bainbridge Island Review 1/29/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bainbridge Island Bainbridge Islander 11/11/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bellevue Bellevue Reporter 7/13/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bellevue King County Journal 1/8/2003 – 1/20/2007 Recent Obituaries
Bellevue Eastside Journal 12/4/1999 – 1/13/2003 Recent Obituaries
Bellingham Bellingham Herald 10/2/1903 – 3/31/1952 Newspaper Archives
Bellingham Bellingham Reveille 2/1/1905 – 2/4/1905 Newspaper Archives
Bellingham Bellingham Herald 9/4/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bellingham Bellingham Herald, The: Blogs 1/15/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bonney Lake Bonney Lake & Sumner Courier-Herald 2/5/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bothell, Kenmore Bothell-Kenmore Reporter 3/2/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bremerton Kitsap Sun: Web Edition Articles 8/27/2014 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bremerton Kitsap Sun 1/2/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bremerton Kitsap Sun: Blogs 3/18/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bremerton Bremerton Patriot 3/11/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Brewster Quad City Herald 10/6/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Camas Camas-Washougal Post-Record 6/14/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cashmere Cashmere Valley Record 8/8/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Centralia Chronicle 10/31/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chelan Lake Chelan Mirror 8/6/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Colville Statesman-Examiner 6/9/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Coupeville South Whidbey Record 1/29/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Coupeville Whidbey News-Times 1/28/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Deer Park Deer Park Tribune 4/16/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Eastsound Islands’ Sounder 2/14/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Edmonds My Edmonds News 11/6/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ellensburg Daily Record 10/23/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Enumclaw Enumclaw Courier-Herald 1/29/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Everett Daily Herald 6/11/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Federal Way Federal Way Mirror 1/30/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Forks Forks Forum 12/15/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Friday Harbor Journal of the San Juan Islands 2/9/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Issaquah Issaquah & Sammamish Reporter 1/1/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kennewick Tri-City Herald 2/21/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kent Kent Reporter 2/3/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kent South County Journal 12/3/1999 – 1/11/2003 Recent Obituaries
Kingston Kingston Community News 10/1/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kirkland Kirkland Reporter 2/4/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Leavenworth Leavenworth Echo 8/1/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Long Beach Chinook Observer 8/15/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Longview Daily News 11/1/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lopez Island Islands’ Weekly 3/19/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lynnwood Lynnwood Today 6/18/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Maple Valley, Covington Maple Valley & Covington Reporter 2/4/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Marysville Marysville Globe 2/9/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mercer Island Mercer Island Reporter 2/9/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Montesano Vidette 1/27/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Moses Lake Columbia Basin Herald 4/6/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mount Vernon Skagit Valley Herald 1/2/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mountlake Terrace MLTnews 11/17/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Naval Base Kitsap Northwest Navigator Kitsap-Everett 12/10/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ocean Shores North Coast News 3/24/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Olympia Morning Olympian 3/15/1891 – 5/30/1952 Newspaper Archives
Olympia Olympia Daily Recorder 5/13/1902 – 1/5/1923 Newspaper Archives
Olympia Olympian 1/15/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Oroville Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune 10/6/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pasco Tri-City Herald 11/13/1947 – 12/31/1948 Newspaper Archives
Port Angeles Peninsula Daily News 4/27/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Port Orchard Port Orchard Independent 1/27/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Poulsbo North Kitsap Herald 1/28/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Quincy Crescent Bar Chronicle 5/21/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Redmond Redmond Reporter 2/11/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Renton Renton Reporter 2/10/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sammamish Sammamish Reporter 3/11/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Seattle Seattle Daily Times 12/20/1895 – 12/31/1984 Newspaper Archives
Seattle Hokubei Jiji 10/14/1916 – 2/28/1918 Newspaper Archives
Seattle World 1/4/1899 – 1/4/1899 Newspaper Archives
Seattle Seattle Republican 1/19/1900 – 1/19/1900 Newspaper Archives
Seattle Seattle Times 1/6/1985 – Current Recent Obituaries
Seattle Seattle Post-Intelligencer 1/1/1986 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sequim Sequim Gazette 1/2/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Silverdale Central Kitsap Reporter 2/14/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Snoqualmie Snoqualmie Valley Record 2/3/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Spokane Spokesman-Review 7/3/1994 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tacoma Tacoma Daily News 7/1/1889 – 7/6/1909 Newspaper Archives
Tacoma News Tribune 1/1/1992 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tukwila Tukwila Reporter 8/18/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Vancouver Columbian 5/27/1994 – Current Recent Obituaries
Vashon Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber 2/5/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wenatchee Wenatchee World 1/1/1996 – Current Recent Obituaries
Westport South Beach Bulletin 6/5/2014 – Current Recent Obituaries
Whidbey Island Naval Base Northwest Navigator Whidbey 12/3/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Whidbey Island Naval Base Whidbey Crosswind 5/11/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Yakima Yakima Herald-Republic 12/11/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries

*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 Washington newspaper links will be live.

Related Link:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, a.k.a. Mrs. Bess Houdini

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 discover interesting stories about the life of Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner, a.k.a. Mrs. Houdini – the wife of the famous magician.

Even if you have no interest in magic, chances are you have a passing knowledge of the master of magic himself, Harry Houdini (1874-1926). Popularized by film and known for his logic-defying tricks and escape stunts, Houdini is synonymous with magic. But how much do you know about his wife, Bess Houdini? Chances are very little.

Born Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner (1876-1943), Bess was interesting in her own right but spent most of her life in the shadow of her famous husband.

photo of Bess Houdini, c. 1900-1910

Photo: Bess Houdini, c. 1900-1910. Source: Findagrave; Wikipedia.

Newspapers are a great resource for finding the stories of your ancestors, whether they were famous or obscure. Here are six things you may not know about Bess Houdini, all discovered by searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

1) She assisted her husband throughout their marriage.

It’s fairly well known that Bess assisted her husband during his magic act. It’s less well known that she also assisted him when he conducted shows debunking the work of spiritual mediums – people who claimed they could communicate with the dead.

article about the magician Harry Houdini, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 5 March 1924

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 5 March 1924, page 4

2) She was a performer before she met Houdini – and carried on after his death.

However, Bess’s talent was not limited to helping her husband with his act; she was an entertainer prior to her marriage and continued on after Houdini’s death. She started her career in a song and dance act on Coney Island known as “The Floral Sisters.” It was while doing this act that she met Harry’s younger brother Theo, and then Harry himself. They were married on 22 June 1894 when Bess was 18.

Enter Last Name

Bess continued performing after her husband’s untimely death in 1926. In this 1928 newspaper article she is said to “…take up the magician’s wand laid down by her husband’s dying hand.” One of the tricks she performed was where “she ‘froze’ an Indian ‘medicine man’ in a cake of ice.” It took 26 minutes to freeze the man in the ice block using solidified carbon dioxide gas, and he remained in that state for 15 minutes before the ice was chopped away to expose his face.

Mrs. Houdini to Continue His Craft, Rockford Republic newspaper article 13 January 1928

Rockford Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 13 January 1928, page 18

3) Newspaper articles about her are numerous, including those with her marital advice.

In this 1928 newspaper article, Bess gave some of her relationship advice and stories from her own marriage. Mrs. Houdini’s relationship revelation was that she kept some secrets from Harry – including the fact that she did not know how he did some of his magic tricks.

Magicians' Wives Like Magic Pretty Well, Plain Dealer newspaper article 5 August 1928

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 5 August 1928, page 103

She elaborated the point in another 1928 newspaper article:

Mrs. Houdini admits that while it is the magician’s business to mystify an audience it is the wife’s business to mystify the magician to the extent of convincing him that she understands his tricks whether she does or not.

article about Bess Houdini, Evening Tribune newspaper article 23 August 1928

Evening Tribune (San Diego, California), 23 August 1928, page 14

4) She tried to contact Houdini from the grave.

If there’s one thing most people know about Bess, it is her yearly attempts to contact Harry from the grave. A supernatural skeptic, Harry had promised Bess that if it was possible to contact the dead he would appear to her. So Bess tried for 10 years to contact Harry after his death. Not only did Bess try, but others also tried – including one who claimed success (see the 1929 newspaper article below). However, all attempts failed, and eventually Bess called it quits.

Four years into her yearly ritual, under the defeatist headline “Mrs. Houdini Gives Up,” Bess said of communicating with Houdini beyond the grave:

If I had succeeded in communicating with Houdini I would shout it from the housetops,” she told [the] Associated Press, “and I would carry a message of hope to all burdened souls, but I have none. There is nothing there.

article about Bess Houdini, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 23 March 1930

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 23 March 1930, page 6

Despite that 1930 headline, Bess kept trying to contact Harry from beyond the grave for another six years. Finally, in 1936 – ten years after her husband’s death – she made her last attempt. That final séance on the roof of a Hollywood hotel ended with Bess remarking: “He has not come. I turn out the light.” (Referring to an electric light that she had kept lit since his death 10 years prior.)

article about Bess Houdini, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 2 November 1936

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 2 November 1936, page 1

A more light-hearted comment about her repeated attempts to communicate with her dead husband is quoted in one of Bess’s obituary notices:

Ten years is long enough to wait for any man.

Mrs. Houdini's Futile Trysts with Her Husband's Ghost, Oregonian newspaper article 7 March 1943

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 7 March 1943, page 51

5) While she couldn’t contact the deceased Harry Houdini, someone else claimed to have succeeded.

Arthur Ford, a minister from the First Spiritualist Church, claimed success in contacting Houdini more than once. One such claim came during a séance where John W. Stafford, an assistant editor of the Scientific American, and Mrs. Houdini were present. Ford claimed he had received the secret code that Harry Houdini had confided to Bess he would use to verify it was he who was contacting her from beyond the veil. Ford provided that code during the séance, part of which was a name from a song that Bess used to sing in her act, “Rosabelle.”

Enter Last Name

According to the report in this 1929 newspaper, Ford said to Bess:

The same man who came Saturday night is coming again. He says, Hello, Bess, my sweetheart. He says he wants to repeat the code you used in your mind reading act with him.

First of all, he says, Rosabelle. Do you know what that means?

Mrs. Houdini replied in a weak voice, Yes.

Then the words of the code came through Ford: Answer tell pray answer look tell answer answer tell.

Houdini's Spirit Talks to Widow, San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram newspaper article 9 January 1929

San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram (San Luis Obispo, California), 9 January 1929, page 3

At the time Bess confirmed that Ford had indeed contacted Harry and provided the correct code. Later though she recanted, perhaps due to friendly reminders that the “secret” message had been published previously in a biography about Houdini.

6) She died en route to New York aboard a train.

Bess Houdini died on 11 February 1943 aboard a train traveling through Needles, California. In ill health, she was hoping to make it to New York before her demise. Knowing that she was gravely ill, just prior to her death, she granted a last interview to journalists where she talked of hoping to see Harry Houdini again after death – and put a premature stop to anyone who would later claim supernatural contact with her.

obituary for Bess Houdini, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 12 February 1943

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 12 February 1943, page 17

She made that point emphatically at the end of the interview:

obituary for Bess Houdini, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 12 February 1943

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 12 February 1943, page 17

While the love story of Harry and Bess is sometimes held up as one of the greatest of all time, the couple was ultimately denied the right to be laid to rest next to each other. Harry was buried, along with members of his family, in the Jewish cemetery Machpelah in Ridgewood, New York, while Bess, a Catholic, was buried at Gates of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, New York.

Genealogy Tip: The research I did into Mrs. Houdini’s life in newspapers was a good example of searching by trying all variations of a woman’s name. I found articles with her listed as Mrs. Houdini, Beatrice Houdini, and Bess Houdini.

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Utah Archives: 25 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Although Utah is the 13th largest state in the nation, it is the 10th least-densely populated. The state capital, Salt Lake City, is also the world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The LDS Church operates the nonprofit genealogy organization FamilySearch.org – which makes Salt Lake City one of the leading centers in the world for family history research, including the world famous Family History Library (open to the public free of charge).

photo of Zion Canyon at sunset, Zion National Park, Utah

Photo: Zion Canyon at sunset, Zion National Park, Utah. Credit: Diliff; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your family roots in Utah, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online UT newspaper archives: 25 titles to help you search your family history in the “Beehive State,” providing news coverage, family stories and vital statistics from 1851 to Today. There are currently more than 2.5 million newspaper articles and records in our online Utah archives!

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

Search Utah Newspaper Archives (1851 – 1945)

Search Utah Recent Obituaries (1988 – Current)

photo of a state welcome sign in Utah

Photo: Utah state welcome sign. Credit: Wikimedia Commons; Bernard Gagnon, 8 March 2009

Here is a list of online Utah newspapers in the 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 UT newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range* Collection
Bountiful Davis County Clipper 3/9/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Castle Dale Emery County Progress 11/27/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Logan Herald Journal 3/1/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ogden Hilltop Times: Hill Air Force Base 10/18/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ogden Standard-Examiner 5/22/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Park City Park Record 9/10/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Price Sun Advocate 8/2/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Provo Daily Herald 2/27/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Richfield Richfield Reaper 8/18/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Roosevelt Uintah Basin Standard 7/24/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Telegram 1/30/1902 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Tribune 1/9/1875 – 12/28/1893 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Deseret News 1/11/1851 – 12/29/1886 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Daily Telegraph 1/12/1866 – 7/3/1868 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Broad Ax 8/31/1895 – 6/6/1899 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Deseret Evening News 7/6/1868 – 9/19/1921 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Inter-Mountain Advocate 12/14/1894 – 4/30/1897 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Telegraph 10/9/1865 – 10/4/1866 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Salt Lake City Beobachter 4/6/1930 – 4/6/1930 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Intermountain Catholic 10/5/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Deseret News 4/7/1988 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Salt Lake City Weekly 6/11/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Tribune 9/26/1990 – Current Recent Obituaries
Topaz Topaz Times 9/17/1942 – 8/31/1945 Newspaper Archives
Vernal Vernal Express 5/19/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries

*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 Utah newspaper links will be live.

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

7 Tips on How to Find Elusive Ancestors in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary provides seven practical tips for searching hard-to-find ancestors in old newspapers.

While reading my mother’s Book of Ancestors recently I noticed she had little to say about one of our ancestors, because that person had kept himself out of the public records.

Forebears who didn’t hold public office, own property, or were married in churches or synagogues with lost or private records, are difficult to document. These elusive ancestors can also be difficult to find in historical newspapers, but sometimes they can be found in creative ways. This article gives seven search tips to help find those tricky ancestors in old newspapers.

illustration of Sherlock Holmes with a magnifying glass

1) Pay Attention to “Please Copy” Notices

When something noteworthy occurs such as a birth or death, news is first printed locally.

If that person has ties to other areas, then other newspapers may carry the story. Newspapers may do this either on their own accord, or at the request of the original publisher. What you want to watch out for is a “please copy” notice, which can be a valuable clue that your ancestor had ties to another part of the country where you might find additional articles or records about him or her.

In the newspaper article below from New Orleans, Louisiana, we see many examples of “please copy” notices.

  • Jesse Sands, formerly of Pittsburg, and his wife Jessie M. Olmsted, passed away within two days of each other. The end of their death notice says: “Newburg, N.Y. and Pittsburg, Pa. papers please copy.” So for these two ancestors, you want to include New Orleans, Newburg and Pittsburgh in your searches.
  • J. West Murphy died in Louisiana, but was described as “late of Philadelphia.” The end of his death notice says: “Philadelphia papers please copy.”
  • The end of Virginia B. Harrison’s death notice says: “Philadelphia and Cincinnati papers please copy.”
  • The end of John Gunderman’s death notice says: “St. Louis papers please copy.”

Because these death notices were originally published in a New Orleans newspaper, you want to search that area for more news about your ancestor. But thanks to these “please copy” notices, you are given additional locations for further searching.

death notices, Times-Picayune newspaper article 23 August 1853

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 23 August 1853, page 2

2) Know Your Resource: Understanding the Differences between Small Town & Metropolitan Newspapers

Depending upon the population of a town or city, news will vary. Reasons include:

  • Unless a person was well known, there may be inadequate space to present long articles in newspapers from areas of high population.
  • In smaller towns this is not the same issue, so there is a tendency toward longer descriptions of events such as weddings and arrests.
  • In smaller towns, you may also see more “gossipy” news.
  • If a lengthy feature was carried in a hometown paper, another may feel it only deserves minimal coverage, or the opposite may be true. Minimal coverage in one newspaper may result in extended details in another.
  • Some publishers may wish to sensationalize or downplay news. Once while researching a hometown newspaper, I found that a neighboring town paper was happy to publish the lurid details of a person’s arrest. It was not published in his hometown newspaper, perhaps to protect the family.
Enter Last Name

3) Name Variations

People are usually known by a variety of monikers, both formal and informal. Keep in mind that this is the rule, rather than the exception, so don’t ever limit searches to just one version of a name. Include titles, nicknames, initials, middle names without first names, and other variations. For example:

  • John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith
  • J. J. Smith or J. J. J. Smith
  • Jacob or Jingleheimer Smith
  • Mr. Smith or simply Smith
  • Thomas Edison or Mr. Edison
  • The Wizard of Menlo Park
  • Mary Stillwell
  • Dot Stillwell (her childhood nickname)
  • Thomas Edison’s first wife
  • Mrs. Edison
  • Mina Edison or Mina Miller
  • Thomas Edison’s second wife

4) Spelling Variations and Name Changes – Consider Using a Wildcard

One of the most vexing issues occurs with spelling variations, which occur all too often.

An example can be noted with my husband’s birth surname of Szczesniak. Since others were prone to misspelling it, the family had it legally shortened to Sesniak. Unfortunately, that didn’t work as typos are frequent. One of the most common is to change the ending to “ck,” rather than “ak.”

Name changes can be informal. A woman I know was named Jane. It’s a fine name, but prone to various putdowns, including “plain Jane.” Rather than be labeled with this throughout her life, she elected to change the spelling to Jayne.

We see similar variations in the given name of Mary. I use the traditional spelling, but there are many variations including:

  • Mamie, Maria, Mariah, Marie, May, Meg, Merry, Merrie, Moll, Mollie, Molly, Pollie, Polly, etc.

If you wish to search newspapers and databases for similar spellings, sometimes a wildcard will work.

There are two types: an asterisk “*” which searches for any number of characters in a name; or a question mark “?” which replaces just one letter. For example:

  • Merr* would query the database for any name beginning with Merr, such as Merry or Merrie, followed by any combination of letters. If a woman were named Merriweather, it would also find it.
  • Sebasti?n would return both Sebastian or Sebastien.

Also see prior articles on ancestor name research tips for tips on searching for first names, surnames, name spelling variations and more.

5) Overcoming Language Barriers in Foreign-Language Newspapers

Many online collections of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, contain foreign-language newspapers. GenealogyBank, for example, has some newspapers in French, German, Italian and Spanish.

What do you do if you find your ancestor’s name in a foreign-language newspaper, but are not sure what the article is saying about him or her?

There are a number of free online translators available, where you can type in the text from the foreign-language newspaper and receive an English translation.

For example, what if you found this article about your ancestor Georg Clifforeye?

Heiratete seine Grossmutter.

CALAIS, Me., 28 Oktober. Der 18 Jahre alte Georg Clifforeye heiratete seine Grossmutter Rebecca Louise Garnett von St. Stephen N.B., Canada, und begab sich dann mit ihr nach seiner Wohnung, aber kaum war er dort angelangt, erschien Rev. Gaucher, der has liebende Paar getraut hatte und verlangte den Trauschein, wobei er ihm die $10 Traugebühren retournierte und die Heirat für illegal erklärte, wegen der…

By plugging this text into Google Translate or Bing Translator, we uncover a startling story about the young man attempting to marry his grandmother!

wedding announcement, New Yorker Volkszeitung newspaper article 29 October 1922

New Yorker Volkszeitung (New York, New York), 29 October 1922, page 2

6) Social Notices Provide Many Clues

Many newspapers carried social notices, such as the below example from the Dallas Morning News, reporting the comings and goings of many friends and relatives.

Enter Last Name

These social columns in newspapers provide wonderful research clues to track your ancestor’s activities as well as personal relationships.

social column, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 June 1904

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 June 1904, page 10

7) Broaden Your Searches

Lastly, if you are in the habit of narrowing ancestor searches with specific dates, get in the habit of broadening the ranges.

Marriage details can extend for months, if not years. Look for engagement notices, bridal showers, banns notices, wedding descriptions, honeymoon reports and even “the happy couple has returned” articles.

Death reporting can also extend over long time periods. Right after passing, you’ll find death notices and obituaries, but some may be published long afterward. I’ve seen an obituary as long as one year after someone died. Also watch for legal notices pertaining to probate, which can occur many years after your ancestor died.

Don’t forget to think outside the box. Some reports are made in error. Even with their mistakes, they can contain valuable personal information. One of my favorite examples was addressed in my article The Lessons of Daniel Boone’s Obituary: Check and Double Check.

I hope these seven search tips will help you break through some brick walls and find those elusive ancestors who didn’t leave many records behind – but may well be found in the pages of old newspapers. Good luck with your family history research!

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Pearls of Life Wisdom from Pink Mullaney’s Obituary

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan shares some of the funny and at times insightful comments from the obituary of Mary “Pink” Mullaney about a life well-lived.

Sometimes you read an obituary and mourn that you didn’t get a chance to know the person who died. Such is the case with Mary “Pink” Mullaney. Her well-written obituary helps the reader come to know her – and she sounds like a fantastic person to know!

The quirky opening line of her obituary sets the stage: “If you’re about to throw away an old pair of pantyhose, stop.” You immediately know that this isn’t going to be an ordinary obituary, which is good because Pink Mullaney was no ordinary person.

Never throw away old pantyhose. Use the old ones to tie gutters, childproof cabinets, tie toilet flappers, or hang Christmas ornaments.

The obituary for Mrs. Mullaney ran in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Her six children must miss her terribly. Surely there was rarely a dull moment growing up with her as a mother!

obituary for Mary "Pink" Mullaney, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper article 4 September 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 4 September 2013, page 5

Put picky-eating children in the box at the bottom of the laundry chute, tell them they are hungry lions in a cage, and feed them veggies through the slats.

Pink lived for 85 years. She outlived her husband, Dr. Gerald L. Mullaney, and six of her nine siblings.

Keep the car keys under the front seat so they don’t get lost. Make the car dance by lightly tapping the brakes to the beat of songs on the radio. Offer rides to people carrying a big load or caught in the rain or summer heat. Believe the hitchhiker you pick up who says he is a landscaper and his name is “Peat Moss.”

She had 17 grandchildren at the time of her death. If other descendants have been born since, they truly missed out on knowing such a lovely person.

Let a dog (or two or three) share your bed. Say the rosary while you walk them. Go to church with a chicken sandwich in your purse. Cry at the consecration, every time. Give the chicken sandwich to your homeless friend after mass. Go to a nursing home and kiss everyone.

obituary for Mary "Pink" Mullaney, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper article 4 September 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 4 September 2013, page 5

Pink trusted everyone in ways that many of us would find shocking in today’s society. However, her old-fashioned ways seemed to have served her well in life, and she must have been well-loved by all who knew her.

Give to every charity that asks. Choose to believe the best about what they do with your money, no matter what your children say they discovered online. Allow the homeless to keep warm in your car while you are at Mass.

Take magazines you’ve already read to your doctor’s office for others to enjoy. Do not tear off the mailing label, “Because if someone wants to contact me, that would be nice.”

obituary for Mary "Pink" Mullaney, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper article 4 September 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 4 September 2013, page 5

Friends (and strangers she would love to have met) can visit with Pink’s family at the Feerick Funeral Home on Thursday.

When Pink died, her family asked that donations in her honor be made to the Dominican High School or Saint Monica Parish, or “any charity that seeks to spread the Good News of Pink’s friend, Jesus.”

Truly the world lost a bright light on 1 September 2013, when Pink passed away.  But how good it was that a bit of her personality was captured by her family and shared in this funny and thought-provoking obituary. At first, we laugh at some of Pink’s odd behaviors and insights. And then we realize just how right she was. Thank you, Pink.

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 Obituary Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Virginia Archives: 147 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Virginia has long played a prominent role in American history. The first permanent English settlement in the New World was established in Virginia in 1607 (Jamestown), Virginia was one of the original 13 states that formed the United States, four of the nation’s first five presidents came from Virginia (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe), and the state’s current capital was once capital of the Confederate States of America (Richmond).

photo of a Virginia state welcome sign featuring the state bird (cardinal) and state tree and flower (dogwood)

Photo: a Virginia state welcome sign featuring the state bird (cardinal) and state tree and flower (dogwood). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your family roots in Virginia, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online VA newspaper archives: 147 titles to help you search your family history in the “Old Dominion,” providing news coverage, family stories and vital statistics from 1736 to Today. There are currently more than 54 million newspaper articles and records in our online Virginia archives!

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

Search Virginia Newspaper Archives (1736 – 1986)

Search Virginia Recent Obituaries (1985 – Current)

Here is a list of online Virginia newspapers in the 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 VA newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range* Collection
Abingdon Washington County News 2/1/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Alexandria Alexandria Gazette 7/11/1808 – 12/30/1876 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Alexandria Herald 6/3/1811 – 6/29/1825 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Alexandria Daily Advertiser 12/8/1800 – 7/9/1808 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Times; and District of Columbia Daily Advertiser 4/10/1797 – 7/31/1802 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Alexandria Expositor 11/26/1802 – 6/1/1807 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Virginia Journal and Alexandria Advertiser 2/12/1784 – 5/21/1789 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Alexandria Expositor for the Country 12/1/1803 – 3/4/1805 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Columbian Mirror and Alexandria Gazette 12/5/1792 – 12/6/1800 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Columbian Advertiser and Commercial, Mechanic, and Agricultural Gazette 8/2/1802 – 11/22/1802 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Virginia Gazette and Alexandria Advertiser 9/3/1789 – 8/1/1793 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria People’s Advocate 4/11/1876 – 9/9/1876 Newspaper Archives
Alexandria Vienna-Oakton Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Alexandria Mount Vernon Gazette 2/13/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Alexandria Alexandria Gazette Packet 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Alexandria Centre View 2/21/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Altavista Altavista Journal 10/8/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Amherst Nelson County Times 3/19/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Amherst Amherst New Era Progress 3/10/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Appomattox Times-Virginian 10/8/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Arlington Arlington Catholic Herald 9/28/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Arlington Arlington Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ashburn Farm, Ashburn Village, Landsdown, Bluemont Ashburn Connection 2/26/2002 – 5/21/2009 Recent Obituaries
Bedford Bedford Bulletin 11/25/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Boydton Midland Express 3/3/1893 – 3/3/1893 Newspaper Archives
Bristol Bristol Herald Courier 12/27/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Broadway North Fork Journal 6/27/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Brookneal Union Star 10/2/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Burke Burke Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cascades, Countryside, Potomac Falls, Sterling Cascades Connection 3/26/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Charlottesville Jeffersonian Republican 4/19/1855 – 12/22/1880 Newspaper Archives
Charlottesville Daily Progress 4/17/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chase City News-Progress 2/23/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chatham Star-Tribune 10/2/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Culpeper Culpeper Star-Exponent 1/26/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Danville Danville Register & Bee 1/29/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Dayton Shenandoah Journal 11/13/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Dumfries Virginia Gazette and Agricultural Repository 10/13/1791 – 12/19/1793 Newspaper Archives
Elkton Valley Banner 6/28/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Emporia Independent-Messenger 7/8/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fairfax Fairfax Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fairfax Station, Clifton Fairfax Station-Clifton Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fincastle Fincastle Mirror 7/11/1823 – 2/18/1825 Newspaper Archives
Fincastle Herald of the Valley 9/17/1821 – 7/4/1823 Newspaper Archives
Fincastle Fincastle Weekly Advertiser 5/8/1801 – 7/10/1801 Newspaper Archives
Fincastle Herald of Virginia and Fincastle Weekly Advertiser 12/5/1800 – 12/5/1800 Newspaper Archives
Floyd Floyd Press 7/19/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Franklin Tidewater News 10/3/2014 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fredericksburg Virginia Herald 9/6/1787 – 11/25/1829 Newspaper Archives
Fredericksburg Virginia Express 11/17/1803 – 7/12/1804 Newspaper Archives
Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star 1/1/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Front Royal Warren Sentinel 9/17/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Galax Galax Gazette 11/18/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Goochland Goochland Gazette 6/4/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Great Falls Great Falls Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Harrisonburg Northern Augusta Journal 11/20/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Harrisonburg Daily News-Record 6/10/1993 – Current Recent Obituaries
Herndon Herndon Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hillsville Carroll News 4/30/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Independence Declaration 1/24/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
King George Journal Press 5/20/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Laurel Hill Laurel Hill Connection 2/26/2002 – 6/10/2009 Recent Obituaries
Lawrenceville Brunswick Times-Gazette 7/8/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Leesburg Genius of Liberty 1/11/1817 – 12/26/1820 Newspaper Archives
Leesburg Washingtonian 2/6/1810 – 7/16/1811 Newspaper Archives
Leesburg True American 12/30/1800 – 12/30/1800 Newspaper Archives
Leesburg Leesburg Today 8/29/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lexington Virginia Telegraphe 1/10/1804 – 2/3/1808 Newspaper Archives
Lexington Rockbridge Repository 8/21/1801 – 8/6/1805 Newspaper Archives
Lexington News-Gazette 12/10/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Luray Page News and Courier 1/13/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lynchburg Lynchburg Press 5/13/1809 – 4/24/1818 Newspaper Archives
Lynchburg Lynchburg Weekly Gazette 10/13/1798 – 7/20/1799 Newspaper Archives
Lynchburg Lynchburg Weekly Museum 8/21/1797 – 5/19/1798 Newspaper Archives
Lynchburg News & Advance 3/11/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Madison Madison County Eagle 3/26/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Manassas Prince William Today 2/21/2013 – Current Recent Obituaries
Manassas News & Messenger 5/2/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Marion Smyth County News & Messenger 1/31/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Marion Bland County Messenger 4/1/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
McLean Fairfax Sun Gazette 5/6/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
McLean McLean Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mechanicsville Mechanicsville Local 7/27/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Merrifield Arlington Sun Gazette 4/3/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Newport News Daily Press 1/1/1989 – Current Recent Obituaries
Norfolk American Beacon 8/7/1815 – 12/30/1820 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Norfolk Gazette and Publick Ledger 7/17/1804 – 9/17/1816 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Virginia Chronicle 7/28/1792 – 12/18/1794 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Commercial Register 8/16/1802 – 1/11/1803 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Norfolk and Portsmouth Journal 9/28/1787 – 5/6/1789 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Norfolk and Portsmouth Chronicle 9/26/1789 – 6/2/1792 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Norfolk and Portsmouth Herald 10/8/1807 – 6/19/1820 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Norfolk and Portsmouth Gazette 9/23/1789 – 10/8/1789 Newspaper Archives
Norfolk Virginian-Pilot 4/1/1990 – Current Recent Obituaries
Orange Orange County Review 3/3/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Petersburg Petersburg Daily Courier 9/21/1814 – 6/22/1815 Newspaper Archives
Petersburg Petersburg Intelligencer 5/29/1798 – 9/22/1815 Newspaper Archives
Petersburg American Star 6/23/1817 – 12/23/1817 Newspaper Archives
Petersburg National Pilot 2/1/1900 – 2/1/1900 Newspaper Archives
Petersburg Progress-Index 10/31/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Powhatan Powhatan Today 4/2/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Reston Reston Connection 2/26/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Richlands Richlands News-Press 1/6/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Richmond Richmond Times Dispatch 1/27/1903 – 12/31/1986 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Enquirer 5/9/1804 – 8/22/1876 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Whig 6/22/1824 – 12/29/1874 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Enquirer 10/25/1844 – 4/28/1870 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Examiner 4/8/1861 – 8/29/1866 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Virginia Argus 5/9/1795 – 10/19/1816 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Virginia Patriot 12/26/1809 – 8/3/1819 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Commercial Compiler 12/18/1816 – 4/20/1820 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Southern Illustrated News 9/13/1862 – 9/10/1864 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Chronicle 5/23/1795 – 8/27/1796 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Virginia Gazette, and General Advertiser 12/7/1791 – 7/14/1809 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Impartial Observer 5/1/1806 – 7/2/1807 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Virginia Star 5/11/1878 – 12/23/1882 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Virginia Gazette and Weekly Advertiser 3/2/1782 – 3/4/1796 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Daily Whig 12/27/1833 – 2/15/1882 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Planet 2/21/1885 – 1/13/1900 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Recorder 11/10/1802 – 8/6/1803 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Spirit of ‘Seventy-Six 9/20/1808 – 7/11/1809 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Reformer 1/27/1900 – 1/27/1900 Newspaper Archives
Richmond Richmond Times-Dispatch 8/19/1985 – Current Recent Obituaries
Roanoke Roanoke Times 1/1/1990 – Current Recent Obituaries
South Hill South Hill Enterprise 1/7/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Springfield Springfield Connection 10/15/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Stafford Stafford County Sun 4/17/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Stanardsville Greene County Record 3/3/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Staunton Staunton Eagle 8/14/1807 – 10/3/1810 Newspaper Archives
Staunton Staunton Political Censor 6/22/1808 – 2/22/1809 Newspaper Archives
Staunton Staunton Spy 9/21/1793 – 2/1/1794 Newspaper Archives
Staunton Political Mirror 6/3/1800 – 8/11/1801 Newspaper Archives
Staunton Observer 8/4/1814 – 8/18/1814 Newspaper Archives
Staunton Spirit of the Press 5/18/1811 – 5/18/1811 Newspaper Archives
Strasburg Northern Virginia Daily 12/17/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Suffolk Suffolk News-Herald 10/2/2014 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warrenton Palladium of Liberty 8/23/1817 – 12/22/1820 Newspaper Archives
Waynesboro News Virginian 2/3/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Williamsburg Virginia Gazette 3/18/1736 – 12/30/1780 Newspaper Archives
Winchester Republican Constellation 7/20/1811 – 7/31/1819 Newspaper Archives
Winchester Winchester Virginian 4/18/1828 – 9/6/1836 Newspaper Archives
Winchester Winchester Gazette 6/27/1798 – 1/15/1820 Newspaper Archives
Winchester Philanthropist 3/25/1806 – 2/28/1809 Newspaper Archives
Winchester Winchester Star 4/30/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wirtz Smith Mountain Eagle 10/6/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Woodstock Shenandoah Valley-Herald 6/24/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wytheville Wytheville Enterprise 2/1/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries

*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 Virginia newspaper links will be live.

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Great Advice from an Interview with a Very Old Man

I like newspaper articles where the oldest person in town is interviewed and gives their best advice for living well to an old age. They tell it as they lived it.

Here is the advice Sam Cox (1819-1922) gave on his 102nd birthday as “he sat in his home yesterday afternoon smoking a cigar and shaking hands with those who called.”

interview with Samuel Cox, Sunday Herald newspaper article 28 August 1921

Sunday Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 28 August 1921, page B1

He said:

“…A man ought to live as long as he can and do all the good possible for his neighbors.”

“Live moderately, work hard, but don’t overdo.”

“Be moderate in the use of tobacco and intoxicants.”

“Eat plenty of good, hearty food.”

“Abstain from sweets.”

“Keep out in the open air; take long walks and don’t be afraid to expand the lungs in song.”

“Above all, don’t worry.”

“Be happy and make others happy.”

“Get plenty of sleep, and be up early in the morning for the day’s work.”

Enter Last Name

Great advice.

Newspapers are not only a great way to find your ancestors’ vital statistics – they are a tremendous resource for discovering great advice and the stories of their lives as well. Dig into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and find your ancestors’ stories. Start your 30-day trial now!

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Solve the Robert ‘Believe It or Not!’ Ripley Ancestry Brick Wall (Part II)

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary follows up on an article she wrote back in January 2013 and, thanks to helpful suggestions from some of her readers, tries to uncover more of the Robert Ripley genealogy mystery.

Early in 2013, the GenealogyBank Blog published my article on Robert L. Ripley (see Solve the Robert ‘Believe It or Not!’ Ripley Ancestry Brick Wall), and – believe it or not – we’re still working on his ancestry. Knowing that Ripley’s family history was a mystery, in that 2013 article I asked readers to help break through a brick wall in the Ripley family tree. Their answers were informative, although much of his ancestry continues to be elusive.

What I want to do now is provide an update to this genealogical quest to uncover Ripley’s family history. First, I suggest you click on the link to read my previous Ripley article, to see what clues I could present to my readers at that time. Next, read the comments several readers left at the end of that article, providing additional clues. Let’s look at some of those follow-up clues now, to make what progress we can in smashing through this Ripley brick wall.

photo of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley, c. 1940

Photo: Robert Ripley, c. 1940. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Ripley Brick Wall

As I explained in my 2013 article about the Ripley genealogy mystery:

I can’t seem to crack the brick wall in his genealogy. He left no descendants and was only married briefly to actress Beatrice Roberts. I can’t discover his family history any further back than his maternal grandmother.

Prefers “Robert” to “Leroy”

Leroy Robert Ripley (c.1890-1949), (who went by “Robert” or “Robert L.”), did many things in his career, including work as a cartoonist, a sportswriter and amateur anthropologist.

article by Robert Ripley about Honus Wagner and Larry Lajoie, Evening Star newspaper article 18 October 1914

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 18 October 1914, page 64

Conflicting Birth Dates

Ripley’s World War I draft registration reports that he resided at 136 W. 65 Street in New York. He was 25 and recorded his birth on the registration form as 15 February 1892 in Santa Rosa, California. What is interesting about this is that, at other times, he reported his birth date as 25 December 1890 and 26 December 1890 (thought by some genealogists to be his real date of birth). Wikipedia reports Ripley’s birth date as 22 February 1890.

Enter Last Name

Ripley described himself as an artist, writer and cartoonist working for associated newspapers at 170 Broadway. As his mother had died several years earlier, he reported that he supported a brother and was single. He signed his name as Robert LeRoy Ripley. Although recording errors are common, it would be interesting to find his birth record to confirm the actual day and year on which he was born.

article about Robert Ripley, Oregonian newspaper article 29 November 1936

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 29 November 1936, page 62

No Descendants

Ripley was married briefly to Beatrice Roberts in 1919. She was only 14 at the time of their marriage, and the couple separated after just three months. They finally divorced in 1926, and had no children. Ripley never remarried, and died childless.

obituary for Robert Ripley, San Diego Union newspaper article 28 May 1949

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 28 May 1949, page 1

Ripley’s Parents

Robert Ripley was the son of Isaac Davis Ripley (1854-1904) and Lillie Belle Yoka, Yocka or Yocke (1868-1915). His parents married on 3 October 1889 in Sonoma, California (California County Marriages 1850-1952, database at familysearch.org) and are buried at Odd Fellows Lawn Cemetery in Santa Rosa, California (see findagrave.com).

Ripley’s Father

In 1870, the Belpre (Washington County) Ohio Census reports that Isaac was possibly residing in the household of Jason and Phelia A. Stubs (or Stubbs or Stutes). Isaac was 16 at that time and attended school. (See http://ohgen.net/ohwashin/OMP-2.htm, Ohio Historical Society, Newspaper Microfilm Reel # 38487 – marriage license for Jason Stubbs and Phelia A. Hunter of Belpre on 8 May 1865.)

Once he reached California, various Great Registers (see familysearch.org) report that Isaac Davis Ripley worked as a carpenter. His birth place is consistently reported as Ohio, which is confirmed by the 1900 Santa Rosa (California) Census reporting him being born in Ohio in September of 1854.

His Mother and Maternal Grandparents

Lillie Belle was the daughter of Nancy Yocke (1828-?) and an unknown father from Germany.

In 1880, Lillie lived with her widowed mother, according to the Analy (Sonoma County) California Census. Her mother was listed as a housekeeper. She had been born in Tennessee and her parents were both from North Carolina. Lillie was the only child in the household. Her birth was shown as Missouri and her parents as having been born in Tennessee and Germany.

At the time of Lillie’s marriage to Isaac Davis Ripley in 1889, he was 35 and she was 20.

One of the readers of my 2013 article, Donna Bailey, wrote:

Well, this article [Miami News (Miami, Florida), 13 May 1962, from Google News Archives] helps explain a little. It states that Lillie Belle was born on the Santa Fe Trail in a covered wagon on the way to California. And Isaac ran away from home at age 14, which explains why he is at the Stutes home in 1870 already on his way to California, which he does show up in voter lists in Yuba in 1874.

Donna later wrote again, adding more information:

Some more clues. There is a marriage record for a Phillip Yoka and a Nancy A. Card, married in Washington Township, Johnson County, MO, on 4 Dec. 1870. According to her grave at Find a grave [Sebastapol Memorial Lawn Cemetery], Nancy’s middle name was Ann, so this could be our Nancy.

I checked the marriage record and it seems consistent with other records. It does note that the officiant was Justice of the Peace William Fisher, so it is unlikely that a church record exists. I also checked the Miami News article. It gives us the clue that Isaac Davis Ripley was born of old American stock in West Virginia, which differs from records reporting Ohio. Perhaps his roots were from that state.

His Two Siblings

When Robert Ripley died on 27 May 1949, he left the bulk of his estate in trust to his two siblings, Douglas and Ethel “Effie” Ripley. Effie (1885-1965) married Fred Marion Davis (1884-1957) and is buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Francisco next to her husband, who was a veteran of World War II. We still have not located the final resting place of Douglas.

Enter Last Name

His Sister

Another reader named Mallory wrote:

Ethel (Effie) Davis was married to Fred Davis – she was alive in 1947 and apparently in 1949 when she and her husband flew back to NY from the funeral of her brother [Robert Ripley]. She and her other brother Douglas inherited the majority of the estate. Effie was dead before 1971. The family home still exists… Ethel was born in 1893, her brother Douglas in 1904. The father Isaac died in 1905. Robert (Leroy) had to work to help support his mom and sister. There are two nephews named Robert and Douglas (not sure who their parents were) – they show up in local newspaper clippings.

The Renewed Ripley Brick Wall Challenge

So readers, there you have it.

With the genealogy research we’ve done since my 2013 article was posted, we have learned that Robert Ripley’s father, Isaac Davis Ripley, ran away from home – and we have learned the probable identity of his Yocke grandfather, a German named Philip.

But that’s about it – so I am opening up the Ripley brick wall challenge again. Can any of our readers help us get back further on Ripley’s family tree?

Related Article:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

BOGO: Search for One Relative & Find Another One as a Bonus

I was searching for newspaper articles about my cousin Cyrus Lane (1824-1911) from Sanbornton, New Hampshire, and quickly found an announcement of his marriage

wedding announcements for Cyrus Lane and Sarah Plummer, also for Oliver Piper and Judith Lane, New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette newspaper article 30 November 1848

New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord, New Hampshire), 30 November 1848, page 3

But wait – there’s more.

Here was an added bonus.

Following the report of Cyrus’s marriage to Sarah H. Plummer on 25 October 1848, there is this next announcement: “also, Oct. 30, Mr. Oliver P. Piper to Miss Judith C. Lane, all of S.”

Enter Last Name

This refers to his sister, Judith Clifford Lane (1826-1899).
Wow – that must have been a time of family gathering and joy with two weddings within a week.

Newspapers reported the news of our ancestors.
Dig in to GenealogyBank and find your ancestors’ stories.

Start your 30-day trial now!

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank