Holiday Genealogy Gift Ideas Pt. 2: Old Fashioned Recipe Book

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary presents the second in a series of genealogy holiday gift ideas: a project to create a recipe book of vintage dishes your ancestors might have prepared.

If you’re looking for a fun gift idea for the holidays, put together an anthology of your ancestors’ holiday recipes. You can find thousands of recipes in old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Assemble them as gifts or surprise the family by cooking a meal with vintage recipes.

Here are some ideas:

  • Make an old fashioned cookbook
  • Create recipe cards
  • Assemble dry ingredients for soups into clear jars & attach the recipe card with glue or string to the exterior
  • Bake sweets & treats the way Grandma did
  • Put on your apron & cook the meal the old fashioned way (or do it faster with modern conveniences)

To demonstrate how simple it is to find old fashioned recipes in historical newspapers, I’ve assembled a selection from the GenealogyBank archives to get you started—such as this one for strawberry ice cream. Doesn’t this sound delicious!

1897 Strawberry Ice Cream

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint of milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 pint double cream
  • 1 quart perfectly ripe strawberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • liquid carmine for coloring (vegetable dye or extracts)
strawberry ice cream recipe, New York Tribune newspaper article 24 June 1897

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 24 June 1897, page 5

1918 Health Bread

In 19th century America, homemakers made their own bread. Here is an old health bread recipe invented by a woman from Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Ingredients:

  • 3 pints potato water
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes
  • 1 cake yeast foam
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 sifter dark rye flour
  • 2 cups white flour
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 1 tablespoon beef fat or Crisco
health bread recipe, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 21 January 1918

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 21 January 1918, page 3

1898 German Christmas Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 7 ½ ounces butter plus a small amount to grease a pan
  • 10 ounces powdered sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 14 ounces sifted flour
  • icing
German Christmas cookies recipe, Daily Illinois State Journal newspaper article 21 December 1898

Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 21 December 1898, page 7

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1850 Corn Bread

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ pints sifted meal
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 1 teacup sugar
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon saleratus (baking powder)
corn bread recipe, Jackson Citizen newspaper article 15 May 1850

Jackson Citizen (Jackson, Michigan), 15 May 1850, page 1

The following 1878 recipes for lemon and sweet potato pies came from the same publication. The recipe article also included tantalizing cream cake, snow ball cake and early frosting recipes.

1878 Lemon Pie (1st variation)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 1 egg
  • butter the size of a walnut
  • 1 crust

1878 Lemon Pie (2nd variation)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • piece of butter the size of a small egg
  • 1 egg
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 crust
lemon pie recipe, Daily Inter Ocean newspaper article 27 July 1878

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 27 July 1878, page 11

1878 Sweet Potato Pie

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup finely-mashed sweet potatoes
  • sugar to taste
  • 1 crust (no top)
sweet potato pie recipe, Daily Inter Ocean newspaper article 27 July 1878

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 27 July 1878, page 11

1855 Rabbit, Hare or Venison Soup

Soup is best simmered over a hot stove. Start the soup six hours prior to serving.

Ingredients:

  • 3 large, young and tender rabbits or 4 small ones
  • 6 mild onions
  • half a grated nutmeg
  • fresh butter or cold roast veal gravy
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon whole pepper (pepper corn)
  • 1 teaspoon sweet marjoram leaves
  • 4 or 5 blades mace
  • 3 large sliced carrots
  • 4 quarts boiling water
  • 6 grated hard boiled egg yolks
  • diced bread or buttered toast

Additional ingredients required for hare or venison soup:

  • 2 glasses Sherry or Madeira wine
  • 1 sliced lemon
rabbit soup recipe, California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences newspaper article 28 June 1855

California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences (Sacramento, California), 28 June 1855, page 205

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1874 Beef, Chicken, Oyster or Veal Soup

This recipe was “extracted from the manuscript recipe book of an old and famous Virginia housekeeper,” who, unfortunately, was not named in the newspaper article.

Ingredients:

  • meat of one’s choosing, such as a large shank bone of beef
  • a lump of butter
  • a selection of herbs & vegetables of one’s choosing
  • water
  • salt & other condiments
  • flour
soup recipe, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 24 March 1874

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 24 March 1874, page 2

1878 Vinegar

If you’ve ever wondered how to make vinegar, try this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • potatoes
  • 1 pound sugar
  • 2 ½ gallons water
  • hop yeast or whiskey
vinegar recipe, Daily Inter Ocean newspaper article 27 July 1878

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 27 July 1878, page 11

Now, before we end on a “sour” note from the vinegar recipe, you really must know that America’s favorite Snickerdoodles are not a modern-day invention.

1932 Snickerdoodle

Where do snickerdoodles come from?

A “Culinary Jingles” column from the Lexington Herald of 27 May 1932 reminds us that snickerdoodle is an adaptation of a foreign recipe, much like a quick coffee cake. The author of this newspaper article reported the origin was Dutch, but my Dutch contacts at Facebook tell me this is wrong. It is not a Dutch recipe, but more likely of German or Pennsylvania Dutch origin.

Oh darn! Guess you can’t always believe what you read. I was imagining the ancestors sitting by an Amsterdam canal exchanging holiday greetings while munching on their favorite snickerdoodles! (Note to self: change that mental image to Germans along the Rhine!)

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ tablespoons butter
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 ½ cups self-rising flour
  • 1 ½ tablespoons cinnamon mixed with 1 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
snickerdoodle recipe, Lexington Herald newspaper article 27 May 1932

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 27 May 1932, page 12

Happy Holidays to one and all, eat well and good luck with your holiday gift projects!

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Oklahoma Archives: 55 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Yesterday was the 107th anniversary of Oklahoma’s statehood: on 16 November 1907 the Union admitted its 46th state when Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory combined to form the new state of Oklahoma. Residents throughout the state celebrated with wild jubilation and a “red letter” campaign.

As explained in an article published by the Hobart Daily Republican (Hobart, Oklahoma) on 16 November 1907:

The commercial bodies and immigration organizations of the state have assisted in making this a “red letter day” in fact as well as in name by printing thousands of red letters announcing the resources and opportunities of the new commonwealth. These have been distributed all over the state and are being mailed by Oklahomans today to their relatives and friends in other states.

photo of the Ouachita Mountains in southeastern Oklahoma

Photo: Ouachita Mountains in southeastern Oklahoma. Credit: Okiefromokla; Wikipedia.

Also, did you know that the name of the state originated from a Muskogean Indian word? “Oklahoma” comes from the Choctaw words “oklah homma,” which means “red people.” Many Indian tribes including Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole reside in Oklahoma today because Oklahoma was designated by the U.S. government as “Indian territory” in the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

If you are researching your ancestry from Oklahoma, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online Oklahoma newspaper archives: 55 titles to help you search your family history in the “Sooner State,” providing coverage from 1871 to Today. There are more than 2.8 million newspaper articles and records in our online OK archives! Oklahoma is particularly rich in Native American newspapers given the state’s history, which resulted in one of our nation’s largest populations of American Indian people.

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

Search Oklahoma Newspaper Archives (1871 – 1923)

Search Oklahoma Recent Obituaries (1982 – Current)

Here is our complete list of online Oklahoma 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 OK newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range Collection
Ada Ada Evening News 10/29/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Altus Altus Times 1/14/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Alva Alva Review-Courier 9/5/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Antlers Antlers American 10/14/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ardmore Daily Ardmoreite 12/1/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bartlesville Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise 10/18/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bethany Bethany Tribune 12/7/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chickasha Express Star 3/31/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Claremore Claremore Daily Progress 7/3/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Duncan Duncan Banner 4/26/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Durant Durant Daily Democrat 5/29/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Edmond Edmond Sun 10/24/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Enid Enid News and Eagle 8/1/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fairland American 10/4/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Frederick Frederick Press-Leader 12/3/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Grove Grove Sun 2/25/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Guymon Guymon Daily Herald 5/30/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hobart Hobart Daily Republican 1/4/1907 – 6/30/1920 Newspaper Archives
Hobart Hobart Weekly Chief 7/2/1908 – 12/31/1908 Newspaper Archives
Hobart Hobart Democrat 1/10/1908 – 7/1/1909 Newspaper Archives
Langston Langston City Herald 11/14/1891 – 3/30/1893 Newspaper Archives
Lawton Lawton Constitution 10/1/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
McAlester McAlester News-Capital & Democrat 12/4/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Miami Miami District Daily News 8/19/1917 – 1/31/1923 Newspaper Archives
Miami Miami Record-Herald 7/28/1899 – 10/9/1903 Newspaper Archives
Miami Miami Weekly Herald 9/23/1899 – 11/20/1903 Newspaper Archives
Miami Miami News-Record 12/3/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Midwest City Midwest City Sun 7/10/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Moore American 1/3/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Muskogee Muskogee Daily Phoenix and Times-Democrat 2/18/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Norman Norman Transcript 9/19/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Nowata Nowata Star 10/3/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Oklahoma City Daily Oklahoman 1/25/1898 – 12/31/1913 Newspaper Archives
Oklahoma City Guide 10/6/1898 – 8/1/1903 Newspaper Archives
Oklahoma City Oklahoman 11/1/1982 – Current Recent Obituaries
Oklahoma City Oklahoman, The: Web Edition Articles 12/14/2013 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pauls Valley Pauls Valley Daily Democrat 9/8/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pawhuska Pawhuska Journal-Capital 10/17/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Perry Perry Republican 1/1/1914 – 12/28/1922 Newspaper Archives
Perry Noble County Sentinel 10/3/1901 – 9/1/1904 Newspaper Archives
Perry Perry Daily Journal 12/4/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Poteau Poteau Daily News & Sun 7/29/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pryor Daily Times 12/26/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Shawnee Shawnee News-Star 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Stillwater Stillwater News Press 9/11/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tahlequah Cherokee Advocate 4/29/1871 – 7/3/1897 Newspaper Archives
Tahlequah Tahlequah Daily Press 12/29/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tulsa Tulsa World 1/1/1911 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Tulsa Tulsa World 1/1/1989 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tulsa Native American Times 10/27/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tuttle Tuttle Times 3/29/2006 – 1/27/2010 Recent Obituaries
Vinita Vinita Daily Journal 11/10/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Waurika Waurika News Democrat 2/11/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Weatherford Weatherford Daily News 11/27/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Woodward Woodward News 4/26/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries

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 Oklahoma newspaper links will be live.

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Man Overboard! Mayflower Pilgrim John Howland’s Story

Did you know that Mayflower Pilgrim John Howland almost didn’t make it to America?

article about Pilgrim John Howland being swept overboard from the Mayflower, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 21 May 1897

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 21 May 1897, page 10

This old newspaper article reports his narrow escape:

…with a roll of ye ship [John Howland was] throwne into the sea, but it pleased God that he caught hould of the topsail halliards, which hunge overboard and ran out of length; yet he held his hould (though he was sundry fathoms under water) till he was held up by the same rope to the brim of the water, and then with a boat hooke and other means got into the ship again and his life saved.

There is a painting by Mike Haywood – “Pilgrim Overboard” – that commemorates this event.

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It is a good thing that John Howland was rescued from the sea—not only for his sake—but because he has more living descendants today than any other Mayflower passenger.

Wow – I didn’t know about his near-drowning.

There are so many of our old family stories that simply have not been passed down to us today. Rediscover your family’s stories in GenealogyBank’s more than three centuries of historical newspaper archives.

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Scary Mayflower Fact: Storm Cracked Ship’s Main Beam

I didn’t realize that the Mayflower had such a difficult time when the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic in 1620.

article about the Mayflower, Boston Herald newspaper article 25 November 1970

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 November 1970, page 26

A long voyage—yes, I knew that.
The ship got off course—yes, I knew that too.

But multiple severe storms, including one that cracked and buckled the Mayflower’s main beam? No, I didn’t remember that part of the story.

Luckily the Pilgrims had brought along nails, screws and other items for building homes in the New World, and were able to use a “great iron scrue” to “force the beam back into place.”

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Think of the main beam of a house. The main beam at the midpoint of a ship—“amidships” —is the key beam holding the ship together. This was serious ship damage.

That is a great true story.

You want to know about these ancestral stories—find them, save them and pass them down in the family. You’ll find them in the old, deep GenealogyBank Historical Newspaper Archives.

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1918 Surrender of Germany Ends WWI & Veterans Rejoice

No one called it World War I at the time—for it did not seem possible there could ever be a second. Instead, they called it the “Great War” or the “War to End All Wars.” In a little over four years of combat, more than 70 million soldiers were mobilized around the world and over 9 million were killed. Finally, German officials signed an armistice in November 1918, and on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the ceasefire began and hostilities ended.

photo of American soldiers of the U.S. 64th Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, celebrating the news of the Armistice, 11 November 1918

Photo: American soldiers of the U.S. 64th Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, celebrating the news of the Armistice, 11 November 1918. Source: U.S. National Archive; Wikimedia Commons.

Nearly a century has now passed since the end of WWI, and the modern world may be losing sight of how traumatized the world was in 1918. But the press certainly knew it then, as the headline from the following newspaper article flatly declares: “Curtain Rolls Down on Most Stupendous Tragedy of History.”

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WWI irrevocably changed the world. It ushered in the era of modern warfare, with such innovations as tanks, chemical weapons and airplanes. It destroyed two powerful empires, the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman, and the Russian Empire was torn down by revolutionary forces that eventually led to the Soviet Union. Germany was shackled, causing resentment that helped fuel the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. After the conflict ended the world’s map was redrawn, especially in Central Europe and the Middle East. Despite the conviction of many that the “War to End All Wars” had taught humanity a lasting if distressing lesson (and the League of Nations was formed to implement this lesson), WWII began just 21 years later.

The signing of the armistice ending WWI was, of course, huge news all around the world, as shown by this front page newspaper article.

article about the armistice ending World War I, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 11 November 1918

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 11 November 1918, page 1

Do you have any family stories about your ancestors who fought in, or were affected by, World War I? Tell us about them in the comments section.

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Henry Ford & the Model T: History That Changed the World

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 searches old newspapers to learn about Henry Ford and his assembly line-produced Model T that changed the world.

The Model T Ford, introduced on 1 October 1908, is one of the most influential cars of all time. Henry Ford perfected the assembly line system to create an affordable car for the emerging middle class. In fact, some argue that the Model T created the middle class.

photo of a Model T Ford, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1910

Photo: Model T Ford, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1910. Source: Harry Shipler; Wikimedia Commons.

Assembly Lines Enable Mass Production

The Ford Motor Company’s streamlined assembly line was able to produce the Model T at a record pace and for a reasonable price. Initially the car cost $850, changing the automobile from a luxury item only the rich could afford to a staple of many Americans’ lives.

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Newspaper Ads Fuel Demand

Along with innovations in the factory, Henry Ford was a genius at promotion, using newspapers all across the country to advertise his Model T Ford. As this 1909 newspaper ad proclaims:

If you are looking for a car that combines the desirable qualities of power, speed, quiet running, ease of riding, simplicity of operation and low cost of maintenance, you will find the Model ‘T’ Ford in a class by itself.

ad for a Ford Model T car, Baltimore American newspaper advertisement 21 February 1909

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 21 February 1909, page 37

The new car was so popular that the Ford Motor Company had to work hard to keep up with demand for the Model T.

ad for Ford Model T cars, Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper advertisement 30 October 1908

Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado), 30 October 1908, page 2

Drive Testing & Road Trips

Henry Ford promoted his newest model by taking it on a road trip to show that the lighter Model T could perform just as well as heavier cars. Personally, I was fascinated by the description of the roads in this article, described as being buried by six inches of dust prior to a rain storm that created a muddy mess.

New Car (Ford Model T) a Success, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 18 October 1908

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 18 October 1908, page 10

The widespread availability of cars made the family trip a national pastime. Road trips became opportunities for families to reconnect and spend time together. Even shorter outings to local sites of interest became more popular since it could all be done in a day. People were more likely to move further from where they grew up since it became more convenient to go home for a visit. Shipping also became possible and local specialties could be sold to a wider audience.

As mentioned before, the roads of the time were inadequate by today’s standards. The roughness of the roads made travel difficult and uncomfortable. In buying a car, purchasers were looking for something sturdy enough to handle a constant beating from the road—and also something that wouldn’t transfer that beating to them. To test the Model T’s abilities they took it on long-distance trips.

article about the Ford Model T car, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 5 September 1909

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 5 September 1909, page 11

They performed grueling driving tests.

article about the Ford Model T car, Rockford Republic newspaper article 4 March 1909

Rockford Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 4 March 1909, page 6

They tried racing in the Model T.

(Note: this newspaper photo of a stripped-down Model T with no roll bars, windshield, airbags, seatbelts, or even much of a passenger cabin to speak of makes every medic cringe, despite the car’s top speed of just 45 miles per hour.)

article about the Ford Model T car, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 14 August 1910

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 14 August 1910, page 7

Despite all the abuse they put the car through, the Model T remained sturdy enough to stay at the top of the sales charts—although the commentator in the following news article is clearly not a Model T fan.

article criticizing Ford cars, Perry Republican newspaper article 21 October 1915

Perry Republican (Perry, Oklahoma), 21 October 1915, page 4

Car Options & Accessories

The Model T had a crank start. It was open to the elements, although it had a roll-top of sorts. Ford sold the car in the most basic state, but then offered all sorts of accessories—including a stethoscope-type attachment to listen to the engine and check for damage, a grill to turn the engine into a barbeque of sorts, and so on. This was a brilliant move by Ford to cash in on his customers’ aftermarket needs, and allowed owners to customize their car to their requirements and desires.

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Keeping Up with the Joneses

Locally, it was a big deal when someone purchased a Model T or took a trip in one. Numerous articles appear talking about Mr. So-and-So’s new purchase or car trip that specifically mention the Model T by name.

article about William Sparks touring in his Ford Model T car, Evening Star newspaper article 29 August 1909

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 29 August 1909, page 16

Here’s another example, listing all the people who have recently bought Fords in the Washington, D.C., area.

(Note: this list has a seemingly high number of doctors purchasing the car. It makes sense when you remember that this was during the time of the traveling doctor. A car would be a wonderful way for him or her to get to the patient quicker.)

article listing local people who bought Ford Model T cars, Evening Star newspaper article 10 October 1909

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 10 October 1909, page 22

The Model T’s design changed over time, but remained the most popular car of its era.

New Style Body on Ford Model T, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 20 October 1912

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 20 October 1912, page 21

Lasting Impact on Modern Life

Car collectors and enthusiasts today are still excited about the Model T. Historians write about its impact on our modern life. If you ever wonder why it was such a big deal, just imagine your life without your car. Modern life depends on it. And the assembly line system which produced the Model T is what makes it possible for most of us to own a car today.

article about car enthusiasts and their Ford Model T automobiles, Register Star newspaper article 22 September 2007

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 22 September 2007, page 12

Do you have any photos of your ancestors driving around in their Model T?

photo of a family in Indiana with their Ford Model T car

Photo: ancestors in Indiana on their farm with their Model T. Source: from the personal photo collection of Amanda Miller.

Share your Model T family pictures and stories in the comments section.

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New Discovery about Mayflower Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins

Did you know Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins vacationed in Bermuda before he came over on the Mayflower? I didn’t know that!

Original Mayflower Voyager (Stephen Hopkins) Previously Shipwrecked at St. George's, Bermuda, Boston Herald newspaper article 16 June 1957

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 June 1957, page 61

Well, it wasn’t exactly a vacation—but Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins lived on the island of Bermuda for over a year, from 1609 to 1610.

Eleven years before he left England headed for America in 1620 on board the Mayflower, Hopkins left 2 June 1609 on the ship Sea Venture headed for Jamestown with supplies and a new governor for the colony. The Sea Venture hit a storm on 24 July 1609 and was shipwrecked off of Bermuda. Hopkins and others on board survived and remained for over a year on Bermuda while building a new seaworthy boat that they could use to complete their trip to Jamestown. Soon after he arrived in Jamestown, the colony was evacuated back to England.

Key Skills Learned, Critical for the Mayflower Voyage

Stephen Hopkins picked up critical skills and experience on that ill-fated 1609 voyage. He was one of the few Mayflower Pilgrims with experience at sea. He had survived a shipwreck, and knew what it took to be resourceful in extreme conditions in order to build a seaworthy ship to continue the voyage to America.

Perhaps the most critical skill he learned in 1609-1610 was to speak multiple Native American languages. He gained invaluable experience in getting to know and work with Native Americans. This experience would be pivotal 10 years later when the Pilgrims worked with Squanto and the local Native Americans in Plymouth Colony.

Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins liked his experience in Bermuda and Jamestown so much that he really wanted to go back to America.

So in 1620 he left along with 130 +/- other passengers and crew on the Mayflower to make the 66-day trip to America. It is estimated that today there are as many as 30 million Americans who are Mayflower descendants, although most are unaware of their ancestral tie to the founding of the country.

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No Historical Coincidence?

They say there are no accidents or coincidences in life—that somehow seeming coincidences actually were critical to the way history turned out. One of those fortuitous coincidences was that Squanto and other members of his tribe were brought to England where they were trained in English to become interpreters. His language skills and life experience in England were critical to the success of the Pilgrim Colony, and helped frame the 50 years that followed of relative peace between the colonists and the Native Americans. Not many people have such a critical impact on the life and history of other people during their own lifetimes, let alone an impact that we revere to this day.

Newspapers Contain Our Long-Lost Family Stories

You can learn so much about your family in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Historical newspapers contain the stories and details of the lives of every one of our ancestors, many of them lost for generations.

Dig in and find your family’s stories—don’t let them remain lost to the family.

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Helga Estby’s Sad, Forgotten Walk across America

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 uncover the remarkable story of Helga Estby’s walk across America with her daughter in 1896—a story that was almost forgotten.

Do you ever read a book that quickly becomes a favorite because of the incredible story it tells? When this happens for me, it goes beyond just being an enjoyable read to something I want to do more research about to learn the events behind the story. I’ve had a few books affect me that way, and one of them is the story of Helga Estby as told in the book Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk across Victorian America by Linda Lawrence Hunt.

photo of Helga Estby (seated) and her daughter Clara

Photo: Helga Estby (seated) and her daughter Clara. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Helga Estby, a Norwegian immigrant residing in the state of Washington, lived during a time when women were doing all kinds of things that pushed the prevailing gender stereotypes. Women were climbing Pikes Peak (Victorian Women Hike to the Summit of Pikes Peak!), biking across the world, and taking on the challenge of traveling around the world in fewer than 80 days.

In many cases, women were doing these things to simply prove they could. In other cases there was a financial reward for meeting the challenge. In 1896, when Helga read in the newspaper about a challenge that would award $10,000 to any woman who walked across the United States, she decided this was the answer to her family’s financial problems.

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Walking the Walk

In an effort to save her family’s home and gain the money they needed to pay their mortgage and taxes, Helga and her teenage daughter Clara set off from Spokane County, Washington, to walk across the United States. They hoped to arrive in New York City safe—and leave much richer. They commenced their adventure on 5 May 1896 with little to help them except a revolver (for protection) and a plan. As part of the deal they were required to walk the entire way across the U.S. (3,500 miles) and they were to earn money for their expenses along the route. As the women traveled they took on various jobs, including selling photos of themselves, in order to earn money. Their story and progress was printed in newspapers across the country.

This update from the Denver Post reports that the mother-daughter team expected to reach New York City in a little over two months’ time. At that point in September 1896 they had been walking almost four months.

Walking to New York (Helga and Clara Estby), Denver Post newspaper article 4 September 1896

Denver Post (Denver, Colorado), 4 September 1896, page 2

They Did It!

The two women faced all kinds of problems as they walked across America, including injury. Today, most of us would consider a drive across the United States to be quite an undertaking—but just imagine walking the whole way, with no instant communications! Despite the hardships, the women completed the entire walk, arriving in New York City in December 1896.

Newspapers heralded the women’s completion of their 3,500 mile (in some newspaper reports it’s erroneously listed as 4,600 mile) pedestrian journey. This front page article from the Cleveland Leader proclaims that the women arrived in New York at 1:30 p.m. on 23 December 1896.

A Successful Feat on Foot (Helga and Clara Estby), Cleveland Leader newspaper article 24 December 1896

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 24 December 1896, page 1

No Prize at the End of the Road

Their remarkable feat should have been celebrated and rewarded—but just the opposite happened. The challenge had been to walk across America in less than seven months. By leaving on May 5 and arriving on December 23, Helga and her daughter missed the deadline by 19 days. The sponsor of the challenge refused to pay the promised award for the remarkable journey.

Despite their determination and persistence, and all the privations the two women had suffered, the long journey was all done for nothing. Not only had the women walked all that way for no reward, they also did not have the money to travel back home. To make matters worse, Helga learned that diphtheria had struck her family during her absence; her son Olaf was sick with it, and her daughter Bertha had died.

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This article from the Omaha World Herald reports the women’s efforts to get help from the office of charities commissioners in New York. It also includes a recounting by Helga about the unfortunate family’s years of misfortune:

For eight years we have had misfortunes. It was eight years ago that I fell one night over an obstacle in the streets of Spokane and was so badly injured that it made me sick for two years. Then I had an operation which laid me up a while and then cured me. About seven years ago my husband fell and fractured his knee cap. Afterward a horse fell on him and completely laid him up. Five years ago my daughter Ida went blind. She was treated in a hospital and is about well. Then my eldest boy got inflammatory rheumatism. Two years ago our house burned down, and as we had no insurance on it we only built up the kitchen part of it. Six weeks ago my eldest son, Olaf, had diphtheria. He was in a hospital near Spokane. He got out and went to our house. Now my daughter Bertha is dead.

They Were Brave Women (Helga and Clara Estby), Omaha World Herald newspaper article 7 May 1897

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 7 May 1897, page 7

By the time the pair finally made it back home they had been gone 13 months. Once home, there was no jubilant homecoming celebration to welcome the downtrodden travelers back. Two of Helga’s children were dead from diphtheria and the family was still in financial ruin. Prevailing attitudes about women leaving their children to pursue such a dream were not favorable from the community—or from her husband and children.

While Helga’s intention was to write her story and publish it, thus making some money for her family, family pressure stood in her way. The family was so angry about her leaving them and the tragedies that happened in her absence that after Helga died her daughters saw to it that her writings were destroyed. If it were not for a defiant daughter-in-law who saved a few scrapbooks, the story of Helga’s trek across America would be lost to the family today.

Helga died in 1942 having never collected the $10,000 promised for her feat. Her notoriety continued after her long, fruitless walk. This 1905 Tacoma Daily News article summarized her journey.

Walks to Gotham -- (Helga Estby) Gets No Money, Tacoma Daily News newspaper article 25 November 1905

Tacoma Daily News (Tacoma, Washington), 25 November 1905, page 21

Helga’s Story Is Finally Told

Fast forward to 1984 when a young descendent of Helga’s enters his story “Grandma Walks from Coast to Coast” in a history writing contest, in which he tells the incredible tale of his great-great-grandmother who walked across the United States in 1896. This essay gets the attention of author Linda Lawrence Hunt, who then sets about trying to find the historical facts, largely through newspaper research, of this remarkable journey.*

Helga’s incredible story is one that is the perfect example of family history research. Without documentation, fantastic family stories can be lost within a few generations. And it’s through research—and, very importantly, newspaper research—that we can recreate our ancestors’ lives. I highly recommend reading Hunt’s book about Helga, and taking to heart something about your own family history that was said by that daughter-in-law who saved the story of Helga for her family: “take care of this story.”**

—————–

* Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk across Victorian America. Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 2003. p. xi.
** Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk across Victorian America. Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 2003. p. 240.

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Mayflower Pilgrim Thomas Rogers: Are You a Descendant?

Joseph Atwood Ordway (1852-1904) is a descendant of Mayflower passenger Thomas Rogers—and he thought so much of that genealogical fact, it was included in his obituary.

Death of Joseph A. Ordway, Springfield Republican newspaper article 6 May 1904

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 6 May 1904, page 12

This is a detailed obituary that gives us a lot of family history information about Joseph:

  • His date and place of birth: 12 May 1852 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
  • His date and place of death: 5 May 1904 in Springfield, Hampden, Massachusetts, United States
  • One of his brothers was “the late” General Albert Ordway (1843-1897) who served in the Civil War.
  • He was survived by his wife: Carrie L. Ordway
  • He had two sisters: Mary Emma Ordway (1849- ) and Annie Freeman Ordway (1857- ) who became Mrs. Charles E. Folsom (Charles Edward Folsom, Jr., 1855-1926)
  • He had one surviving brother: Frank Foster Ordway (1862- )

Obituaries give good core research information for genealogists.

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I particularly like that Joseph’s obituary mentioned he was a Mayflower descendant. I am also a descendant of the Pilgrim Thomas Rogers.

Knowing that enables me to start with Joseph Atwood Ordway and trace his lineage back to his Mayflower ancestor.

This is a quick way to speed up your genealogy research and ensure that all of your cousins are found and documented in the family history.

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Household Cleaning Tips from Our Ancestors in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn about how our ancestors cleaned their homes.

How did your great-grandmother know how to cook dinner, clean her house, or launder the family clothes? You may instantly reply that she learned from her mother. While that might be partially true, over time the technology of housework and what tools where available changed. Doing things the way your mother or grandmother did didn’t always work.

So aside from learning from family or perhaps while working as a domestic, women took to cookbooks and the newspaper to learn how best to clean, launder, cook, and tend to their families. Newspapers weren’t just the recorder of the day’s news—they were also the compiler of information that women used on a day-to-day basis.

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Polishing the Stove and Getting Rid of Bugs

Old newspapers provide a great look at what our female ancestors had to think about and what might be expected of them in their household chores. For example, in this 1905 Household Affairs column, one of the tips has to do with cleaning in tight corners using a paint brush. It goes on to point out that the paint brush can also be used to polish the ornamental work on a stove.

household cleaning tips, Savannah Tribune newspaper article 19 August 1905

Savannah Tribune (Savannah, Georgia), 19 August 1905, page 6

This housekeeping column also addresses what to do with bugs and their eggs. The tip recommends soaking your furniture in kerosene which would eliminate the pests. Obviously, in some cases, these household tips could be dangerous to put into practice. While kerosene or gasoline would rid your home of unwanted pests they could also kill the human inhabitants, as documented in this 1885 incident in Buffalo, New York, that killed a man and injured his wife when gasoline was spread throughout the home to kill moths.

Blown Up by Gasoline, Plain Dealer newspaper article 20 May 1885

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 20 May 1885, page 7

Ammonia and Stale Bread

One interesting aspect of reading household cleaning tips from vintage newspapers is the type of cleaning products they recommend. In this column, Household Talks, a mixture of ammonia and water is mentioned as a cleaning agent—but more interestingly, the advice for cleaning wall paper is to take “stale German Rye bread” and rub it in downward strokes along the wall paper. It is further advised to change or turn the bread often. According to the column, this stale bread is also used by artists to clean charcoal drawings.

household cleaning tips, New York Tribune newspaper article 21 April 1897

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 21 April 1897, page 5

Most modern people think of bread crumbs when thinking of what to do with stale bread. Who knew it was good for cleaning your house?

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Use the Power of the Rain and the Sun

Today, we have the convenience of washing machines to clean linens, sheets, bedspreads, rugs, and pillows. But what did your ancestress do to freshen up beds stuffed with feathers? Well, according to Mrs. S. O. Johnson, one answer would be to let the rain clean the pillows and mattress. She writes in 1869:

…old feather beds and pillows are greatly improved by putting them on a clean grass plat during a heavy shower; let the beds become thoroughly wetted, turning them on both sides. Let them lie out till thoroughly dry, then beat them with rods; this will lighten up the feathers and make them much more healthful to sleep upon. It removes dust and rejuvenates the feathers.

Hints on House Cleaning, Washington Reporter newspaper article 28 April 1869

Washington Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania), 28 April 1869, page 7

It makes sense that our ancestors were accustomed to hanging clothes out to dry at a time before the advent of gas or electric dryers. But aside from the drying effect that hanging clothes and bedding would have, it was believed that the sunshine had some sort of “chemical effect.” Shirley Dare writes in 1893 that:

…the direct rays of the sun have a strong chemical effect on the particles of decaying matter. Its powerful chemical action is seen in bleaching stains from linen in a few hours which sharp acids would fail to remove. It is a similar potency which as we say, ‘sweetens’ clothes and bedding hung out in the sun.

She recommends that twice yearly all clothing, bedding and carpets should be placed out in the sun.

Just Skip the Housework

While not all household tips found in old newspapers are applicable today, this one found in a 1915 Texas newspaper is advice that is important for all modern families to remember. The aptly titled “Don’t Worry over Household Duties” suggests having other activities to do aside from household chores, and proclaims:

…don’t allow yourself to become nervous and upset over your household affairs. Nothing disastrous will occur even if you don’t get all the work finished that you expected to do.

Don't Worry over Household Duties, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 30 June 1915

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 30 June 1915, page 4

This advice is one of the best household tips I’ve ever heard!

What old fashioned cleaning methods did your ancestors pass down in your family? Share your household tips with us in the comments.

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