Old Obituary Tells War of 1812 Veteran’s Story

Here is the old obituary of Captain Ambrose Spencer (1795-1814), a young man who fought and died fighting the British during the War of 1812.

This obituary from the 1800s was a good newspaper research find.

obituary for Ambrose Spencer, Green Mountain Farmer newspaper article 30 August 1814

Green Mountain Farmer (Bennington, Vermont), 30 August 1814, page 3

The veteran’s obituary was published in this Bennington, Vermont, newspaper because his brother John Canfield Spencer (1788-1855) was “of this village.”

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Per the obituary, Captain Ambrose Spencer served with Major General Jacob Jennings Brown (1775-1828) during the war.

Portrait of General Jacob Jennings Brown (1775-1828)

Portrait: General Jacob Jennings Brown (1775-1828). Source: Wikipedia.

Spencer was wounded during the Battle of Lundy’s Lane (a.k.a. Battle of Niagara Falls) on 25 July 1814, as was General Brown.

Painting: “American Infantry Attacks at Lundy’s Lane,” by Alonzo Chappell, 1859

Painting: “American Infantry Attacks at Lundy’s Lane,” by Alonzo Chappell, 1859. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

We learn from the historical obituary that they didn’t think Spencer’s wound was critical, and so—on “a cold and wet day”—he was moved 2 ½ miles “up the Niagara river, and then returned to his former place, with his bed and bedding wet entirely thro’!”

Not good conditions for his recovery.

Add to that, that the “British Indians were hovering about the house where he lay and disturbed his last moments by their menaces.”

On 5 August 1814 the young captain died.

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Don’t let them be lost.

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Divorce Records in Newspapers: Genealogy Research Tips

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott describes how divorce announcements in old newspapers helped him fill in his family tree.

Early on in my work as a genealogist I made the decision to subscribe to GenealogyBank.com to see what they might have in their online Historical Newspaper Archives that could help me with my family history research. I subscribed as a member well over four years ago now and it is still one of the genealogy databases I use most often for my research, and continually tops my annual review of my best genealogy investments. The wide range and the natural diversity of what those newspapers report often hold significant clues to helping me break down my genealogy brick walls.

While all of the marriage and wedding newspaper articles are of course helpful in tracing my family lines, so are the news articles that cover the other end of the spectrum: divorce notices and court proceedings.

It seems that today there is a lot of talk about the prevalence of divorce in our modern society, and that this is a recent development. However, when we look at a few historical newspaper articles we can see that divorce is not a new phenomenon at all—it has been the situation for some time.

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Old News Shows Divorce Isn’t New

As I began my genealogy research on this topic one of my first discoveries was an 1890 Ohio newspaper article that began with these lines:

Never before in the history of the state courts in this county has the divorce branch of the court been so busy. It must be that the tie binding the marriage relation to society is growing more and more frail.

Sounds like a comment that might be made today—but it was another line in the article’s headline that really captured my attention. It said: “Mrs. Vicha, Who Had a Husband Living.” Mrs. Vicha is on my family tree; it seems a couple of my own ancestors were adding to this growing trend of divorce, but I will talk more about this a bit later.

More and More Divorce Cases Begun and Decrees Granted, Plain Dealer newspaper article 11 October 1890

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 October 1890, page 6

Three years later, this 1893 article lamented: “The divorce business is on the increase in the Cuyahoga county courts, new cases being filed faster than the old ones are disposed of.”

Divorce Grind, Plain Dealer newspaper article 20 May 1893

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 20 May 1893, page 4

A few years later, this 1905 Georgia newspaper published an article titled “Record Breaking Divorce Session. Thirty Divorce Suits Acted Upon in Three Hours Time Yesterday by Superior Court.” As you might expect this was not welcome news, and the article included the following statement: “It would seem as if there was a divorce epidemic in the city.”

Record Breaking Divorce Session, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 29 October 1905

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 29 October 1905, page 6

Ten years later, a 1915 Washington newspaper published this article headlined “Olympia’s Divorce Record. During Year [There] Has Been One Divorce For Every Four Marriages in Thurston County.” One of the items of note in this article is the final sentence which reads:

But for each divorce granted it is estimated that the average will run close to one minor child left without the double protection of both parents, showing that divorce is responsible in a way for the rapidly increasing populations of children’s homes.

Olympia's Divorce Record, Olympia Daily Recorder newspaper article 27 December 1915

Olympia Daily Recorder (Olympia, Washington), 27 December 1915, page 1

I make this introduction to illustrate the fact that divorce has been fairly common for generations and as such we, as genealogists, need to be aware of that and always on the lookout for it as a possibility in our family trees. Plus, oftentimes you can find some very good information from a divorce proceeding that has been reported in the newspaper.

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A Double Marriage, Divorce & Attempted Murder

Let me go back to the case of Mrs. Vicha mentioned above, who apparently was not exactly single at the time she married Mr. Vicha. He was one of my ancestors, Frantisek (later Frank) Vicha. The Mrs. in the case was Katie Slamsidlova. Reading this historic news article whet my genealogy appetite to take a look and see whether I might find a reported prior marriage for Katie. The divorce article reported that Frank testified: “He solemnly avers that when he married Mrs. Vicha she already had a husband whose name was Krejci.”

It didn’t take long before I was able to find out that, while Katie married my ancestor Frank Vicha in 1883, in 1877 she had also married a Frank. The only problem was the first Frank had the surname of Krejci. So it would appear that Frank Vicha’s testimony in the divorce case had been correct, at least as far as Katie’s prior marriage. However there was another small matter I discovered in that 1890 newspaper article. It was this line: “Again Vicha says that after the marriage his wife favored another man and gave birth to a child whom he disowned, but which is now dead.”

This time the records said something quite different. Yes, there was a child, born in 1885, and it was a boy with the given name of Charles. The birth record lists Katherine Slamsidlova Vicha and Frank Vicha as parents. Oh, and this child happened to live to 1971. To add to the mysterious ways of this case, I also found that in 1917 Frank applied for a military pension based on his service fighting the Northern Cheyenne during the “Indian Wars” and listed Charles as one of his sons. To add one more oddity, Katherine continued to live with members of the extended Vicha family and continued to use the Vicha surname up to and including it being on her death record.

I don’t want to forget to add one more item of interest. I found this 1895 article that contained this line:

Frank Vicha is on trial in the criminal court for attempting to shoot his divorced wife, Kate Slamincha [sic].

article about Frank Vicha's trial for attempted murder, Plain Dealer newspaper article 10 December 1895

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 December 1895, page 5

Great-Grandpa Vicha

Here is another example of learning family history from divorce proceedings reported in newspapers. In the earliest days of my genealogy work I was understandably pleased when I came across this 1887 article that was simply titled “Licensed to Marry.” This article reported that a marriage license was issued at the Probate Court Office the day before for Joseph K. Vicha and Anna Knechtl. Joseph and Anna are my maternal great-grandparents.

marriage license announcement for Joseph Vicha and Anna Knechtl, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 29 April 1887

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 29 April 1887, page 5

Unfortunately, according to family lore, this marriage ended in divorce—but as can often happen, this unfortunate fact provided me with continued good information for my genealogy.

This great grandfather of mine is my “brick wall.” He disappeared from any United States Census after 1900 and his last listing in the City Directories of Cleveland is in 1907. It wasn’t until I discovered the divorce proceedings in the archives of the Court of Common Pleas for Cuyahoga County, Ohio, that I learned a divorce had been granted to my great grandmother Anna on 22 June 1911 “after an absence of 3 years” by Joseph. These files, as you can see from the excerpt included here, have many details of interest to a genealogist.

photo of the divorce record for Anna Knechtl and Joseph K. Vicha

Photo: divorce record for Anna Knechtl and Joseph K. Vicha. Credit: Scott Phillips.

To add an interesting twist, this divorce proceeding was after Joseph had quitclaimed his half-interest in the family home to his wife for only $1, according to the online records of the Recorders Office for Cuyahoga County.

I was about to call it a day when I made one more discovery: an article from a 1901 Ohio newspaper. Listed under “New Cases” for the Cleveland courts was this: “76192 – D. H. Tolman vs. J. K. Vicha. Appeal.”

article about a court case involving Joseph Vicha and D. H. Tolman, Plain Dealer newspaper article 19 October 1901

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 October 1901, page 9

This simple listing rang two bells in my memory. The first memory was from an old Ohio history book I had read that had mentioned the name of D. H. Tolman in very negative terms.

This was borne out when I read an article from a 1913 Georgia newspaper that began with this sentence: “Daniel H. Tolman, ‘King of the Loan Sharks,’ must serve six months in the penitentiary for usury.”

article about D. H. Tolman being sentenced for loan sharking, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 30 November 1913

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 30 November 1913, section: Holiday Number, page 9

The second memory was of my mother’s voice telling me a story long ago of her missing grandfather. She had asked her Uncle Ed why he never went looking for his father, Joseph Vicha. His response to my mother was: “Why would I? What if I found him and he owed someone a lot of money?” I wonder if Uncle Ed knew something he wasn’t telling?

So don’t keep secrets!

I’d enjoy reading any comments you have about what genealogy information and clues you have found from old divorce records in newspapers.

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Help Wanted-Female Classified Ads: Working Women Ancestors

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog post, Gena shows how “Help Wanted-Female” ads in historical newspapers can help you learn more about the employment opportunities that were available to your women ancestors—and learn about the places and eras they lived in.

What type of work did your female ancestor do? We often assume that our women ancestors were just “housewives” and didn’t work outside of the home. But for many women and girls, some sort of outside work was not an option—it was a financial necessity.

photo of a secretary at her typewriter, 1912

Photo: secretary at typewriter, 1912. Source: Miami University Libraries.

Early Newspaper Classifieds

So how did your female ancestor find employment? One option would have been the local newspaper’s Help Wanted advertisements. Prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, those classified advertisements were very specific. They didn’t just provide qualifications the employer was looking for; they sometimes specified race, gender, and even age. Classified ads often included the headings “Help Wanted-Female” and “Help Wanted-Male.” In the 1970s this segregation of ads was deemed illegal, and Help-Wanted ads evolved to the advertisements we are accustomed to reading today.

photo of women weavers at work, c. 1910

Photo: weavers at work, c. 1910. Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Help Wanted-Female Ads

Help Wanted-Female advertisements were not just employers looking for any qualified woman to apply for their job offerings. These ads were in some cases very specific about what type of female employee they wanted.

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For example, while these 1885 Help Wanted ads from New York include jobs like cooking and cleaning—they also contain ads that request women of a certain religion or ethnic background. While an obvious sign of discrimination to us, these employment requirements were a common practice in the nineteenth century. In cases of families looking for household help, they may have added such requirements to their ads in hopes of finding someone that mirrored their own familial background, or spoke their language. No doubt, such requirements were sometimes added to Help Wanted ads due to stereotypical beliefs that a certain ethnic or racial group produced better housekeepers and cooks, or were less likely to steal.

help wanted-female ads, New York Herald newspaper advertisements 1 October 1885

New York Herald (New York, New York), 1 October 1885, page 12

photo of women typists and accountants, c. 1920

Photo: typists and accountants, c. 1920. Source: George Eastman House Collection.

Help Wanted advertisements were not just segregated according to gender but also, in some cases, age or race. All of these advertisements from 1921specifically request a female: one wants an “Italian, Spanish or French” woman, one wants a “middle-aged” woman, one wants a “young” woman, and two want “white” women.

help wanted-female ads, Trenton Evening Times newspaper advertisements 13 July 1921

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 13 July 1921, page 18

photo of a maid doing laundry, San Diego, California, 1941

Photo: maid doing laundry, San Diego, California, 1941. Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Social History in the Classifieds

One of the reasons I love classified advertisements is that they provide some social history information that can assist in learning more about the place and era of your ancestor. The 1885 ad above reflects how American jobs have changed over time, and provides a look at what types of employment women and girls could expect to engage in. In this particular Help Wanted column, one advertisement is searching for a “Girl who can mount hat birds…”

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To understand this advertisement you need to know a little bit about late nineteenth century fashion history. Women during this time period were sporting hats decorated with bird feathers and entire stuffed birds. These practices resulted in the killing of large numbers of birds in the name of fashion. Later, the production of these hats fell out of favor after concentrated bird conservation efforts targeted women’s demand for the style.

help wanted-female ad, New York Herald newspaper advertisement 1 October 1885

New York Herald (New York, New York), 1 October 1885, page 12

In another Help Wanted example, from 1915, we find an advertisement looking for girls to work in a cigar factory. While today we associate cigar making with Cuba and the Caribbean, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, cigar making thrived in the United States and was seen as “women’s work” in cities such as Harrisburg, where this Help Wanted advertisement for the Harrisburg Cigar Company is from. This ad starts with announcing that they are looking for girls over 16 years of age to “strip” tobacco (remove the center stem in the tobacco leaf). Other jobs found in making cigars are also listed, including rollers, bunchmakers and packers.

help wanted-female ads, Patriot newspaper advertisements 26 November 1915

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 26 November 1915, page 11

Situations Wanted

Women didn’t just find work through the Help Wanted ads; they may have also placed an ad in the Situations Wanted column to find a particular employment opportunity. This was a good tactic especially if the woman had a child and needed a live-in situation, was older, or did not speak English.

situation wanted-female ads, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper advertisements 1 June 1906

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 1 June 1906, page 9

Did your female ancestor have a job? She just might have—and by reading the classifieds in the local newspaper of her hometown and era, you may get a sense for what types of employment were available to her.

Do you know what your early female ancestors did for a living? Please share the positions the women in your family occupied with us in the comments.

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Genealogy Tips for Baby Research

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary provides search tips to find information about babies in your family history research.

If you think about it, genealogy isn’t about ancestors—it’s about babies, because without progeny or descendants, genealogy simply couldn’t exist.

graphic illustrating the saying "Babies are the key to making us ancestors."

As the new grandparents of baby Eliza, my husband and I are thankful for this, as new family members are the key to making us ancestors!

photo of Mary Harrell-Sesniak's granddaughter Eliza

Photo: Baby Eliza with Grandpa Tom. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

Fortunately, GenealogyBank has an entire section of its Historical Newspaper Archives devoted to research of these little family blessings. To access this content, select the Birth Records category on the newspaper search page.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search page showing the Birth Records category

Sometimes you may not find a hoped-for newspaper birth announcement, so I’d like to share some genealogy search tips for better research success.

Civil Registration Laws

Family history researchers are often disappointed when a courthouse doesn’t have a birth record. Mainly this is due to civil registration laws, which were instituted at varying times. Even when required by law, many parents and physicians did not comply by registering babies, so early newspaper birth announcements are important resources.

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Newspaper Announcements Placed by Parents

Most birth announcements are placed by parents or hospitals. They often divulge the day of the blessed event, along with details about the parental names and family address. If you are lucky, you may also locate a notice of baptism. In either case, if the announcement was published shortly after birth, then the baby’s name may not be included—so this is a clue to locating an elusive notice.

Genealogy Search Tip: If you can’t find a birth announcement by searching on the child’s name, try searching the parents’ names, the family’s home address—or the date of the birth.

For example, notice that in these birth announcements from 1912 the parents’ names and home addresses are given, but not the babies’ names—in each case the child is only called “a daughter” or “a son.”

birth announcements, Oregonian newspaper article 6 August 1912

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 6 August 1912, page 12

Notice that this birth announcement for Nora Maria Meyers states that her baptism was performed at the hospital.

birth announcement for Nora Meyers, Anaconda Standard newspaper article 3 February 1921

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 3 February 1921, page 3

Genealogy Search Tip: Contrary to popular belief, not all baptisms were performed in churches or religious institutions.

Newspaper Announcements by Others

Don’t be surprised to find birth announcements placed by members of the family other than the parents, or even a mention of a new birth in a family reunion notice or obituary. As you see from this classified advertisement from 1969, the proud grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents had the birth announcement published to welcome little James into the world.

birth announcement for James McCoy, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 24 January 1969

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 24 January 1969, page 4

Expand Searches to Other Locations

Most researchers limit searches to a home town, but as seen in the example above, it’s entirely possible that a notice might be placed in a city newspaper where the child was not born. James was born at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, California, but his birth announcement was published in Dallas, Texas. If the query had been limited to California, the announcement would have been missed.

Genealogy Search Tip: If you can’t find a birth location, consider if the parents were stationed elsewhere by the military.

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Small Town vs. Large Town Newspapers

Although there are exceptions, small town or city newspapers are able to include expanded details about births that larger publications have to eliminate. Some smaller newspapers many even include notices from surrounding areas, such as these birth announcements from a Fort Wayne, Indiana, newspaper published in 1918 that have birth news from the towns of Angola, Waterloo and Warsaw.

birth announcements, Fort Wayne News Sentinel newspaper article 26 September 1918

Fort Wayne News Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana), 26 September 1918, page 11

Genealogy Search Tip: If you can’t find a birth announcement in your ancestor’s home town, consider if a neighboring town’s newspaper may have published one.

Search Terms in Foreign-Language Newspapers

If your ancestor’s family was an immigrant family or lived in a multicultural community, try incorporating foreign terms in your newspaper search for birth announcements. Long ago, many immigrant communities published local newspapers in Old World languages. For example, this 1928 announcement from Maine was published by a French-language newspaper, and reports the births of two sons (indicated by “fils”). I found this birth announcement by searching for the French word “naissance,” which translates into English as “birth.”

birth announcements, Justice de Sanford newspaper article 25 October 1928

Justice de Sanford (Sanford, Maine), 25 October 1928, page 6

Genealogy Search Tip: To learn the equivalent terms for the word “birth” used in foreign-language newspapers, search glossaries or use a translator such as Google Translate.

This Google service will translate the word “birth” into a variety of foreign languages. Now enter the translated word into GenealogyBank’s search box and select the Birth Records category.

Interesting Facts about Babies Found on the Web

  • A baby is born into the world about every three seconds.
  • The U.S. sees over four million arrivals every year.
  • Babies have more bones than adults, who have 206. Several of a baby’s bones fuse over time, which results in the smaller adult number.
  • Babies have more taste buds than adults. Some appear in different places of the mouth, but eventually disappear.
  • Babies do not have kneecaps.
  • Babies born in May are the heaviest.
  • The heaviest baby reported to have survived was a 22-pound 8-ounce Italian baby born in 1955. In 1879, a woman in Canada gave birth to a 23-pound 1.92-ounce baby that died shortly after birth. These weights are typically what a one-year-old might weigh! (See the newspaper article below for a fun report.)

Giant Baby

If you search historical newspapers you’ll find reports of many unique baby records, including this article from 1893—when a baby weighing 23 ¾ pounds was born to “giants.” He reportedly was 2 ½ feet in length and had a “cute little pink foot” measuring 5 ½ inches. Perhaps this report was a slight exaggeration, as we notice that neither the parents nor the child was named in the article.

The Largest Baby Ever Born, Plain Dealer newspaper article 21 April 1893

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 21 April 1893, page 4

For more fun baby facts, see the Online Nurse Practitioner Schools’ Website at http://onlinenursepractitionerschools.com/40-truly-amazing-facts-about-babies/

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8 Million More Genealogy Records Just Added to GenealogyBank!

Every day, GenealogyBank is working hard to digitize more newspapers and obituaries, expanding our extensive historical collections to give you the largest newspaper archives for family history research available online. We just completed adding 8 million more U.S. genealogy records, vastly increasing our content coverage from U.S. coast to coast!

screenshot of GenealogyBank's home page showing announcement that 8 million more genealogy records have been added

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

  • A total of 35 newspaper titles from 20 U.S. states
  • 17 of these titles are newspapers added to GenealogyBank for the first time
  • Newspaper titles marked with an asterisk (*) are new to our online archives
  • We’ve shown the newspaper issue date ranges so that you can determine if the newly added content is relevant to your personal genealogy research

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

State City Title Date Range Collection
Alaska Anchorage Anchorage Daily News: Web Edition Articles* 12/17/2007–Current Recent Obituaries
Arizona Rivers Gila News Courier* 09/12/1942–09/05/1945 Newspaper Archives
California Newell Newell Star* 12/31/1944–11/26/1945 Newspaper Archives
California San Francisco Corriere del Popolo 03/14/1916–12/20/1962 Newspaper Archives
California San Francisco San Francisco Chronicle 4/1/1917–8/27/1939 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Marietta Marietta Journal 2/22/1990–8/30/1998 Newspaper Archives
Idaho Boise Idaho Statesman* 1/1/1934–6/30/1987 Newspaper Archives
Idaho Hunt Minidoka Irrigator* 01/01/1944–07/28/1945 Newspaper Archives
Indiana South Bend South Bend Tribune: Web Edition Articles* 03/10/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Kentucky Louisville Louisville Anzeiger* 03/28/1923–05/31/1928 Newspaper Archives
Massachusetts Boston Boston American 4/30/1953–11/14/1960 Newspaper Archives
Michigan Flint Flint Journal 8/19/1915–8/31/1915 Newspaper Archives
New Jersey Egg Harbor City Egg Harbor Pilot 10/08/1864–10/08/1864 Newspaper Archives
New Jersey Jersey City Jersey Journal 11/4/1914–11/4/1914 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Arbeiter Zeitung 12/12/1874–11/01/1895 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Cristoforo Colombo 07/28/1892–07/28/1892 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Eco D’Italia 01/12/1890–11/19/1896 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Fiaccola 04/11/1918–04/11/1918 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Fur Worker 10/17/1916–04/01/1930 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Gaelic American* 10/07/1905–09/28/1907 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Jewish Messenger 03/07/1879–01/21/1898 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Ognisko* 07/14/1887–06/22/1889 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Progresso Italo-Americano 04/08/1886–12/15/1889 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Vorwarts 01/18/1919–01/18/1919 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Charlotte Charlotte Observer* 8/1/1928–3/22/1929 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Daily News 3/16/1974–3/16/1974 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Record 11/29/1929–11/29/1929 Newspaper Archives
North Dakota Grand Forks Evening Times 1/14/1910–3/7/1914 Newspaper Archives
Oregon St. Benedict St. Josephs-Blatt* 01/03/1938–01/03/1938 Newspaper Archives
Pennsylvania Philadelphia Momento* 01/27/1917–12/27/1919 Newspaper Archives
South Carolina Murrells Inlet Waccamaw Times* 05/30/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
South Dakota Yankton Dakota Freie Presse* 02/24/1920–02/24/1920 Newspaper Archives
Texas Corpus Christi Corpus Christi Caller-Times: Web Edition Articles* 05/22/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Wisconsin Milwaukee Milwaukee Herold* 01/01/1921–01/01/1921 Newspaper Archives
Wyoming Heart Mountain Heart Mountain Sentinel* 08/25/1942–10/23/1945 Newspaper Archives

More Articles about GenealogyBank’s Newspaper Archives:

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My Ancestors’ Life Stories as Told in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott shares some of the family stories he’s learned about his ancestors by searching old newspapers.

Stories are what make our family trees and all the work we do in our genealogy truly come alive! If you are like me, the stories about your ancestors were the initial spark that ignited your interest in conducting your genealogy research and discovering the amazing stories of your family’s history. The old family stories you discover and preserve also spark the interest of others to begin their own genealogy work, or perhaps to carry on your family history work.

The stories of the lives of our ancestors can come to us from a variety of sources. Many come firsthand from our elders and other members of our extended family, often aunts, uncles, and cousins who enjoy sharing all kinds of memories. Another great place to find the stories of our ancestors is in old newspapers, which is a big reason why I keep on subscribing to GenealogyBank.com. Let me tell you some of the family stories I have found in newspapers.

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The Charvat Family Tragedy

Of course there are the sensational stories that capture the attention of the reporters. I happened to come across one of these while working on a branch of my family tree recently: the Charvat family. After going through the more mundane aspects of genealogy such as census records, I moved on to newspapers and found this 1951 article. It was a true tragedy.

Not only did this unfortunate little girl of 14 lose her mother to murder and her father to suicide, but the story related that she “tiptoed to her door and opened it when she heard her father and mother arguing. She saw them struggling over a shotgun. She saw shooting.” The article goes on to say that the mother and father had argued previously over the husband’s desire for his wife to “follow the European way by staying home.”

From a genealogy perspective, this article not only provided quite a bit of information on the deaths of the parents, but also informed me of the jobs of those parents, that they only had the one child, gave the name of the grandmother, and the home address that matched their listing in the 1940 U.S. Census.

Girl (Corrine Charvat), Orphaned by Murder, Suicide, Is Shock Victim, Plain Dealer newspaper article 21 July 1951

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 21 July 1951, page 4

Joseph Kapl & Minnie the Elephant

There are also the extremely humorous stories you find occasionally. One of my all-time favorite funny stories that I discovered in the newspapers was this 1915 article titled “I Fed Her; I Petted Her; I Trusted Her; But Never Again!” This story detailed how my ancestor, Joseph Kapl, was a zookeeper who was entrusted with the care of Minnie the elephant at the old Brookfield Zoo in Cleveland, Ohio. It seems that Joseph was attacked and almost trampled by this elephant! Now there is a story you don’t read every day in your genealogy! You can read more about this humorous family story in my previous blog post “Family Search Uncovers Circus Elephant Story.”

article about zookeeper Joseph Kapl, Plain Dealer newspaper article 23 March 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 23 March 1915, page 4

From Banking to WWII

There are also some wonderful articles that I have found in newspapers’ Business Section that are filled with valuable family history information. One example I found is this 1943 article, which continued my work on my Kapl family line. This old news article provided me with some very nice details regarding the career of Joseph H. Kapl, who was the son of the zookeeper. It seems that Joseph must have decided that banking would be safer than dealing with elephants!

Kapl Is Head of Branch, Plain Dealer newspaper article 8 January 1943

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 8 January 1943, page 9

Going back further in time, I learned about another ancestor from this 1896 newspaper article. In this historical news article I discovered that my great grandfather, Joseph Vicha, was an officer of the Central Labor Union—and he not only addressed a crowd of striking garment workers in Cleveland, but he did it in “Bohemian.” All key pieces of information for our family tree.

article about Joseph Vicha, Plain Dealer newspaper article 27 April 1896

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 April 1896, page 10

Even an apparently mundane newspaper article can hold genealogy treasures for us as well. This 1942 article about registration for WWII included a list of inductees from the previous week, which included one of my cousins, Allan R. Evenden. This tidbit of information allowed me to begin researching his military records for our family tree.

article about WWII registration of soldiers, Plain Dealer newspaper article 5 April 1942

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 5 April 1942, page 33

Grandma’s Letter in the Cleaning Column

Another article I discovered even caused me to chuckle a bit. This 1961 article came with the pretty bland title of “Bleach Ineffective on Cement Spots.” It just goes to show you never know where in the newspaper your ancestor might turn up!

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It turns out that my grandmother, “Nana,” had written in to the cleaning column in the newspaper asking how to remove dark spots in her new cement breezeway. She said in her letter “I thought it needed a good sweeping, but I have scrubbed with soap and swept, but it is no different.” I actually laughed out loud when I read that since my mind went back to my many visits to my grandmother’s home, at her request, to apply yet another of her home remedies combined with lots of elbow grease to try and get those spots out of her new cement. I guess Nana was using the equivalent of the Royal “we” when she said “she” scrubbed and swept those spots.

Bleach Ineffective on Cement Spots, Plain Dealer newspaper article 2 September 1961

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 2 September 1961, page 41

I could continue on and on with many more family stories I’ve discovered in the newspaper archives through the years, but instead I’ll ask you: what are some of the best stories you have uncovered in newspapers that now bring your family tree to life?

Related Articles about Family Stories:

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Getting Your Ancestor’s Obituary and a Bonus, Too

GenealogyBank’s deep backfile newspaper archives are packed with stories—over 1.6 billion of them.

I like it when old obituaries give key details in the lives of our ancestors. It’s always a bonus when you find that a photo was included with their obituary.

Here are some examples:

obituary for Alphonso Boone, Oregonian newspaper article 4 April 1915

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 4 April 1915, page 16

obituary for Mrs. O. H. Adams, Oregonian newspaper article 6 March 1902

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 6 March 1902, page 4

obituary for Ida Gevurtz, Morning Oregonian newspaper article 26 April 1921

Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 26 April 1921, page 4

These great stories and photos were found in the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) Newspaper Archives (1861–1987). Dig into our Newspaper Archives (1690 – 2010) and see what you find.

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How to Use a Thesaurus as a Genealogy Keyword Tool

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary talks about how important it is to try many variations when using keywords for your genealogy searches—and explains how helpful a thesaurus is for finding those variations.

A thesaurus is a marvelous writing tool—and an essential search tool for genealogists. Why?

When writers, and particularly journalists, go out of their way to be creative, they don’t use expected terms to describe ordinary events.

graphic showing how a thesaurus can be useful in finding word variations

Source: Mary Harrell-Sesniak

These writers turn to a thesaurus, such as the renowned (celebrated, famous, notable) lexicon compiled by Dr. Peter Mark Roget of London in 1852. His Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases revolutionized the modern construction of words—although he was not the first or the last to do so.

portrait of Peter Mark Roget by Thomas Pettigrew, 1843

Portrait: Peter Mark Roget by Thomas Pettigrew, 1843. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

A search of GenealogyBank’s archives finds references to Stevens’s Thesaurus in 1724, Beveridge’s Thesaurus in 1733, a Thesaurus Medicus in 1784, Tyronis’s Thesaurus in 1812, and a whole slew of others—including clubs and organizations devoted to synonyms and antonyms.

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screenshot showing GenealogyBank's search results for a search on the word "thesaurus"

(Note: if you are a Wikipedia contributor please expand their Thesaurus article, as not one of these earlier thesauri is mentioned in the article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thesaurus.)

One Reason Why Search Queries Fail

Queries can fail if you don’t employ search substitutions—a variation of the word or name you are searching for might work when the original search word or name found no results.

What if the writer, who wrote about your cherished ancestor, was bored with using the same terms repeatedly?

He/she might have concluded that the terms “marry” and “married” are easily exchanged for “matrimony,” “nuptials,” “wedding” and “union.”

Obituarists (or in some cases obscurantists) are also prone to employing “passed away” or “expired” for “death” or “died.”

In many search engines (and especially on the Web) you will miss desired results if you don’t try variations.

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Searching for Revolutionary War Ancestors

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll soon learn (ascertain, discover, find) that I am an active American Revolutionary War researcher. I scour archives for patriots and frequently post transcriptions online (see Facebook’s Revolutionary War Research page). There’s even an online index, and later this year I hope to publish an updated reference of this work with the full transcriptions.

Finding early obits and articles about specific patriots can be challenging, so I started cross-referencing searches.

“Revolutionary War,” “American Revolution,” “patriot” and “pensioner” achieved great results, but then one day I found an article about a Revolutionary War ancestor that didn’t include any of those terms. Then I started reading more from the target time period, and concluded that I needed to broaden my selection of keywords.

Revolutionary War Search Keywords

Ever hear of the “shot heard around the world”?

Many think the phrase has something to do with baseball (Bobby Thomson’s home run to win the National League pennant in 1951), but its first known use was to describe the Battles of Lexington and Concord that began the Revolutionary War in 1775. This phrase, along with the “Skirmish at the North Bridge,” appear in numerous articles without incorporating the terms “war” or “American Revolution.”

article about Mr. Gladstone, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 9 October 1876

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 9 October 1876, page 2

Ancestor Name Variations

One day I became curious about people who served with famed Captain John Paul Jones during the Revolutionary War, and noticed that some wordsmiths of the past liked to call him Paul Jones and others referred to him as John Paul Jones. In these two obituaries from 1792, for example, one calls him “Paul Jones” and the other “John Paul Jones.”

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results page for a search on "John Paul Jones"

So when searching for this famous patriot, I now search on both variations of his name.

And my keyword options don’t stop there. I’ve maintained a list of over 50 ways to search for Revolutionary War participants, including the words and phrases “entered the service of his country,” “spirit of ’76” and “Whig.”

Genealogy Keyword Search Tips

To increase the prospects of keyword search success, data-mine search engines with obvious words and consider these tips:

  • Start with obvious keywords.
  • Use a thesaurus to find alternatives and search on those variations.
  • Don’t rely on modern-day expressions for keyword ideas.
  • Observe what was written in articles of the past by reading early newspapers.
  • Keep a list of what you find.
  • Always think like a wordsmith of the past!

Related Keyword Search Tip Articles:

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Find Pictures of Your Ancestors’ Home in Old Newspapers

Do you have old family traditions, places and/or heirlooms?

Like Abe Lincoln, did your family live in a log cabin? Do you have a picture of it?

pictures of the Dalton family and their log cabin, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 16 July 1922

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 16 July 1922, page 7

If you are related to Robert Dalton of Palo Pinto County, Texas, then GenealogyBank’s newspaper collection has a photograph of their old log cabin (built in the 1870s) along with photos of the family.

Our Historical Newspaper Archives are invaluable for finding old family homesteads, traditions, family photos and images that are preserved here—but might have been long lost to the family.

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Find the details of your family history; in many cases, newspapers are likely your only source for these important memories.

Dig in—see if you can find pictures of your ancestors’ home and discover more about your family history today.

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Early American Colonial History Timeline Infographic

Beginning in the 16th century, settlers from many European countries came to North America, including: Finland, Germany, Holland (the Netherlands), Ireland, Scotland, Sweden—and especially England, France and Spain. These settlers arrived seeking a better life, profit, and religious freedom. England eventually exerted control over the new land, and established the 13 colonies that became the United States.

If you are exploring your ancestry all the way back to the Colonial period in U.S. history, this Infographic will help—providing a timeline and facts to help you better understand the times your ancestors lived in.

Here’s a timeline of key historical events in Colonial America. (Note: this article continues after the Infographic.)

Click here for the larger version of the Settling America Infographic.

Early American Colonial History Timeline

Settling America Infographic

Settling America: Explore Your Ancestry in Colonial America

Does your family history in America begin before the United States became a country?

After Christopher Columbus’ voyages, many European countries came to the New World—but eventually Great Britain became the dominant power in North America.

This timeline shows some of the key events in the settling of America, as settlements and colonies became the 13 British colonies—leading to the original 13 United States.

Colonial America Timeline

1492: Christopher Columbus first arrives in the New World
1534: France’s New France Colony (Canada, Louisiana Territory)
1565: Spain’s St. Augustine—the oldest continuously-occupied city in the U.S. (Florida)
1585: England’s Roanoke Colony, the “Lost Colony” (North Carolina)
1607: England’s Jamestown Settlement (Virginia)
1614: Holland’s New Netherland Colony (Mid-Atlantic States)
1620: England’s Plymouth Colony founded by the Pilgrims (Massachusetts)
1625: Holland’s New Amsterdam settlement established on the southern tip of Manhattan Island
1630: Puritans from the Massachusetts Bay Colony establish Boston and 10 other settlements
1636: England’s Connecticut Colony, Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
1638: Sweden’s New Sweden Colony (Mid-Atlantic States)
1656: First Quakers arrive in New England
1664: England captures the New Amsterdam settlement on Manhattan Island
1665: England renames New Amsterdam “New York City”
1667: England takes over Holland’s New Netherland Colony and renames it “New York”
1681: England’s Pennsylvania Colony
1687: Protest by New England settlers and merchants against “arbitrary” taxes
1690: Spain colonizes Texas
1690: Publick Occurrences, the first newspaper in America, is published in Boston
1754: Beginning of the French and Indian War, France and its Indian allies versus Great Britain, its Colonial militia, and Indian allies
1763: Treaty of Paris ends the French and Indian War—France loses most of its North American territory to Great Britain, with its Louisiana Territory going to Spain

Colonial Newspapers Online

Long-established American families have family trees that stretch back to the Colonial Era in the 17th and 18th centuries. Finding vital statistics and other genealogical information about these early Colonial ancestors from that time period can be difficult, as some vital records simply were not officially kept before and during the 1700s, or have been destroyed through war, accident or the passage of time.

Fortunately, GenealogyBank offers a rich genealogy resource for family historians tracing their family trees back to Early American times: an online collection of 27 Colonial newspapers, providing obituaries, birth notices, marriage announcements, and personal stories to get to know your pioneering ancestors and the times they lived in better.

Download our printable PDF list of Colonial newspapers for easy access to our historical archives right from your local desktop to begin researching your genealogy back to the Colonial period. The list shows the individual Colonial newspaper titles we house in our historical archives, ranging from the first newspaper ever published in America up to publications from the late 1800s. After you’ve downloaded the PDF, click the newspaper titles to be taken directly to the search landing page for that publication. Just click on the graphic below to start your download.

list of Colonial-era newspapers available from GenealogyBank

Sources

Related American Colonial Ancestry Articles:

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