Tracing Female Ancestors: The Mother of All Genealogy Research

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, to help celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, Gena provides genealogy search tips to find information about your female ancestors.

There’s no doubt that tracing female ancestors can be difficult and sometimes near impossible. Unlike men who were documented via different types of transactions throughout their lives, women can seemingly disappear just by marrying an unknown-to-you spouse or spouses.

Let’s face it, finding a certified Mother of the Year might be easier than finding most of our female ancestors, but consider the following genealogy search tips to help you find success as you embark on your family history research.

Mother of the Year (Mrs. Elias Compton), Boston Herald newspaper article 12 April 1939

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 12 April 1939, page 1

Finding Dear Old Mom in the News

First, consider the relationship your ancestress had to others. She may have been a wife or several men’s wife. Maybe she was a mother and a grandmother. Likely as a younger woman she was a student, perhaps a volunteer, and a church or organization member. Don’t forget that she was also somebody’s daughter and friend. She can be in all kinds of different newspaper articles based on her activities and relationships at the time.

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As you consider all this, remember that her name will “change” according to her relationship and time. A non-married woman will be listed by her given name and surname (a.k.a. maiden name), while a married woman might be listed as Mrs. [insert husband’s first name or initials and surname]. A widow may revert back to using her given name, so that Mrs. John Smith or Mrs. J. W. Smith becomes Mrs. Grace Smith after his death.

An example of this is the obituary for Mrs. Emily Ann Smith, a widow who was living with her daughter Mrs. W. E. Gilchrist when she died. Note she is not referred to as “Mrs. Sanford Smith.”

obituary for Emily Smith, Daily Register Gazette newspaper article 17 December 1921

Daily Register Gazette (Rockford, Illinois), 17 December 1921, page 6

Rarer is a news article such as this next one, in which the deceased is referred to by both her own name (Mary Smith Keenan) and her married name (Mrs. James Keenan). Because this is rare, make sure that you are searching all variations of a female ancestor’s name—because some articles will have her name one way, and some will have it another; very few will have both versions.

obituary for Mary Smith Keenan, St. Albans Daily Messenger newspaper article 5 February 1906

St. Albans Daily Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont), 5 February 1906, page 7

Start Research with the Basics

As you research, use a timeline of dates and places to help you find newspaper articles that you may miss just searching by a name, due to misspellings or name variations. Find the corresponding newspaper articles for your timeline that document the major events in her life: birth, engagement, wedding, children’s births, major anniversary milestones, and death.

This engagement notice from 1939 for the appropriately named Mary Love Jones gives great information—not only about her but other women in her life: her mother, sister, aunts, and other family and friends. Note that not all of the women are listed by their given names. Plus, this article provides a photograph of Mary as a young woman—what a great find if she’s one of your ancestors!

engagement notice for Mary Jones and Truett Bishop, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 29 October 1939

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 29 October 1939, section III, page 6

Avoid Making Assumptions about Your Female Ancestors

Stay away from making assumptions about your ancestor’s life. Don’t fall into the old “she was just a housewife” syndrome. You might be surprised to find what she was involved in during her lifetime.

For example, I love this front page montage of photos of teachers and women from the local PTA of Greensboro, North Carolina. What a great find for a descendent who may not be aware of their ancestor’s school involvement.

article about women in the local PTA, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 15 May 1938

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 15 May 1938, page 37

Another great example of “women’s work” making it into the newspaper is this article about  Red Cross volunteer Mrs. D. P. Beyea, who spoke to groups about her experience nursing soldieries overseas during World War I. Known as the “Little Mother of the First Division,” she is said to have been one of the first to volunteer. You get a sense of her accomplishments from the newspaper article and a reminder that a woman’s activities may have depended on the time period.

article about WWI nurse Mrs. D. P. Beyea, Lexington Herald newspaper article 9 November 1919

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 9 November 1919, section 5, page 1

Again, the issue of name is important here. The old news article isn’t clear whether D. P. (later listed as D. Pirie) is her husband’s initials or her own. A newspaper search on just one version of her name might easily miss this informative article.

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Use Clues in Newspaper Articles to Find More Information

Continuing our genealogy search for Mrs. D. Pirie Beyea by searching Google, we can learn even more about her life. For example: click here to see a copy of her lecture brochure digitized and made available through the University of Iowa Libraries Digital Library. This is a great brochure complete with personal information, charming photos, and testimonials by those who heard her speak.

Genealogy Search Tip: Once you find your ancestor listed by a certain name or involved in an activity in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, make sure to continue your search in Google and Google Books for any other mentions of them.

Consider Your Ancestor’s Activities

It’s hard to know what activities your ancestor may have been a part of since some groups that would have been familiar in her time are all but unknown today. Consider that she may have been a member of a group that was an auxiliary to one her husband was a member of (The Daughters of Rebekah, Order of the Eastern Star, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic), a religious benevolent group (Dorcas Society, Relief Society), a cause she believed in (Women’s Christian Temperance Union, National American Woman Suffrage Association), a heritage association (Daughters of the American Revolution, Colonial Dames, Daughters of the Confederacy), or just a local group that may have done anything from hold cultural events to provide a social outlet. These groups may have had articles published in the newspaper that listed members or officers, meetings, special events, or persuasive missals.

The following newspaper article reports on the Spinsters, a social group for young unmarried women.

Miss King to Head Thalian Spinsters, Greensboro Record newspaper article 12 September 1939

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 12 September 1939, page 7

The historical news article above is from this newspaper’s “Women’s Activities” page which has some great articles about women’s groups, wedding notices, and personals that list names of women and mentions of vacations and visits.

Women's Activities page, Greensboro Record newspaper 12 September 1939

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 12 September 1939, page 7

There’s So Much Genealogy to Explore

Having trouble finding genealogical information about your foremothers? Newspaper collections are an excellent place to start because newspapers recorded the happenings of a community. Can’t find anything about your female ancestors? Remember to search the archives for your ancestress with applicable name variations—and keep checking back: GenealogyBank adds more newspapers daily. Even though you may not find anything about your ancestry today, tomorrow could reveal your “aha” genealogy moment.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Related Articles about Tracing Your Female Ancestry:

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33 San Francisco Newspapers for Genealogy Research Online

First settled in 1776, San Francisco’s population exploded in 1849 when the California Gold Rush began. “The City by the Bay” has remained a thriving cultural and financial center—not just of California but of the entire United States—ever since.

photo of the skyline of San Francisco, California

Photo: skyline of San Francisco, looking over the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands. Credit: Paul.h; Wikipedia.

Are you researching your family history from San Francisco? GenealogyBank’s online SF newspaper archives contain 33 titles to help you research your genealogy in this important California city, providing news coverage from 1849 to Today.

Dig in and search for obituaries and other news articles about your ancestors in these historical and recent San Francisco newspapers online:

Search San Francisco, California, Newspaper Archives (1849-1972)
Search San Francisco, California, Recent Newspaper Obituaries (1985-Current)

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Here is our complete list of online San Francisco newspapers, divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries (obituaries only). Each San Francisco 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.

Discover a variety of genealogy records and news stories in these 31 San Francisco historical newspapers to explore your ancestry:

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Search recent obituary records for your relatives in these 2 San Francisco newspapers:

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 newspaper links will be live.

More Articles about San Francisco:

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How to Research Historical Events for Genealogy with Newspapers

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 guest blog post, Duncan shows three real-life examples in which she helped genealogists find newspaper articles about their ancestors, explaining the tips and techniques that got her successful results.

Some of the best information we find in family history research is news that helps us learn the motivations behind our ancestors’ actions. After all, these family members are so much more than just names and dates on a family tree. Finding out what our ancestors did and the events they were involved in—and their possible motivation—helps us better understand them as real people, not just collections of data.

The best sources to look for these details of our ancestors’ lives are the journals and letters they wrote. The next best source is old newspapers. They were the Facebook of the day and the gossip rag too. Searching through newspapers using the names of our ancestors can bring back many valuable results. We can also search for news articles about events in our ancestors’ lives that don’t mention our ancestors by name.

I’ve included several examples here of how to find these valuable articles and stories that provide a window into our ancestors’ lives.

The Explosion That Killed Emanuel Urban

A GenealogyBank member was looking for an article about a nitroglycerin explosion that killed her relative Emanuel Urban in September 1904 in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. I ran a search for the name Emanuel Urban but got back no results. She is confident that the date and location of the event are correct, but I couldn’t find any relevant historical newspaper articles. Perhaps the name wasn’t mentioned in the old news articles about the explosion. How can we search on GenealogyBank without using a name?

Tips for Searching the Newspaper Archives

I ran the search like this:

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for a search on nitroglycerin and explosion

Why did I formulate the newspaper archives search like this? I put nitroglycerin OR nitro-glycerin in the last name field and explosion in the first name field because I wanted the words to appear very close to each other in the news articles. Since I don’t know if the newspaper articles use nitroglycerin or nitro-glycerin, I can search for both using the word OR (both letters capitalized) between them (this is called a “Boolean Operator”).

Nitroglycerin has a tendency to explode! Without some keywords and a narrow date range, I would get too many search results. To avoid this, I narrowed the results by entering “Upper Sandusky” in the keyword field. Using quotation marks around the name Upper Sandusky will make sure it appears exactly as I typed it.  I also added the date range of September 1904 to October 1904 to further narrow the results.

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Search News Nationwide

What I didn’t do is select just one state’s newspapers to look through. And it is a good thing I searched nationwide. Upper Sandusky is a city in Ohio, but only two of the six search results were published in Ohio newspapers. The others were published in Idaho, Illinois, Michigan and Washington, D.C., newspapers.

Your Ancestor’s Name Might Have Been Misspelled

Surprisingly, several of the historical news articles mention Emanuel Urban by name. So why didn’t I find his name when I ran the search the first time? Apparently the newspaper editors couldn’t get the spelling of the name correct. I found Emanuel Urban under the following names: Emanuel Urcan, Irban, Urican, Hurcan, and even Samuel Green. Who knows how the name Emanuel Urban became Samuel Green!

Explosion Is Fatal to Five, Daily Illinois State Journal newspaper article 5 September 1904

Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 5 September 1904, page 1

West Virginia Train Robbery

Another GenealogyBank member was searching for articles about an event she had personally been involved in as a young girl in the late 1940s. She was traveling by train with her grandmother when the train was robbed somewhere in West Virginia. She wanted to find some newspaper articles about it so that she could learn more about the event. Her name would not be mentioned in the newspaper articles and she wasn’t sure how to search for information about the incident.

I ran this search:

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for a search on train robbery and West Virginia

This search found 35 articles, most of which were about the exact train robbery she remembered! Here is one article that has pictures of some of her fellow passengers:

photos of the victims of a West Virginia train robbery, Boston Traveler newspaper article 10 March 1949

Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 March 1949, page 27

Try Using Different Keywords in Your Searches

Of course if I entered different keywords into the genealogy search engine, I might be able to find even more old news articles. For example now that I know the date of the train robbery, I could run an archive search like this:

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for a search on train and Martinsburg

This search returned 78 newspaper results! There are certainly more details and stories that could be gathered from these articles.

Passenger Train Robbed; One Shot, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 10 March 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 10 March 1949, page 1

You will notice that my previous record search used the keywords “West Virginia” and robbery. The above article has neither term, which is why it did not show up on that first search. It abbreviates West Virginia to W.Va., and uses the term robbed rather than robbery.

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James Nealand & the Gunpowder Mill

A GenealogyBank member was looking for an ancestor named James Nealand who was killed in an explosion at a gunpowder mill in Hazardville, Connecticut, during the Civil War. He knew there were multiple spellings of the name Nealand, but hadn’t been able to find newspaper articles under any of the known spellings. I tried the following search:

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for a search on powder mill and explosion

Search without a Surname

I was able to find six articles relating to the event. I even found James Nealand. His name had been misspelled as James Kneeland.

Explosion of a Powder Mill, Boston Evening Transcript newspaper article 24 July 1862

Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, Massachusetts), 24 July 1862, page 1

Even if your ancestors weren’t directly involved in any big events, they were affected by the major historical events around them. Researching more about how these important events affected your ancestors’ neighbors and community will help you learn more about the people you are interested in. For example, while researching a small community in South Dakota, I found that the neighbors of the person I was researching had their house destroyed in a devastating tornado. If I had only searched for the people I was directly interested in, I would have missed out on knowing about this tornado that surely affected them too.

Genealogy Tip: When searching newspapers to learn more about your ancestors, don’t forget to look for the events they were involved in—or at least affected by—as well. Genealogy is more fun and complete when you learn not just about your ancestors’ individual lives—but also the communities where they resided and the times in which they lived.

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6 Tips for Name Research with Obituaries: Who Are the Survivors?

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena takes a close look at obituaries and funeral notices and shows how the other names mentioned—survivors of the deceased, pall bearers, those sending flowers, etc., provide important clues that can steer your family history research in new, and sometimes unexpected, directions.

What information are you looking for when you search newspapers for an obituary? That’s a hard question: you might be looking for an obituary to reveal a death date, or the name of the cemetery where the deceased is buried. Maybe you are just trying to find out more about the person’s life, or perhaps you are hoping for some confirmation of something you already suspect.

While all parts of an obituary are genealogy gold, the names found in an obituary—especially the list of those that survived the recently departed—can yield valuable clues for your genealogy research.

1) Research the Lists of the Living

A survivors list in an obituary or death notice is helpful because it verifies who was still alive at the time the obituary was published. If you are trying to determine the identity of two similarly-named individuals, or need to learn who was still alive at the time of your ancestor’s death, an obituary’s survivors list can be invaluable.

The following obituary for Mrs. F. J. Frost (notice her first name is not revealed, a good reminder that women may be simply listed as a “Mrs.”) provides a wonderful listing of her children and grandchildren, and their residences. These are fantastic family history clues for your further genealogy research.

obituary for Mrs. F. J. Frost, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 11 January 1939

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 11 January 1939, page 7

Remember that obituaries for an individual may be published in newspapers from states other than where the deceased resided, so make your initial search a wide one. In this case, for example, the deceased is from California but her son is a resident of Brownsville, Texas, where the obituary was printed. Interestingly, the last paragraph is all about the son and not the mother, even though it’s her obituary.

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2) Note the Names of Other Departed

In some cases the other name/s included in a death notice or obituary may be that of a family member but not an actual survivor. In the following example reporting the death of Herbert T. Tait, it identifies him as the husband of the late Arabella—although her name appears in his obituary, she is clearly not a survivor.

death notice for Herbert Tait, Plain Dealer newspaper article 11 March 1911

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 March 1911, page 13

3) Remember Survivors Are Everywhere

Sure the list of survivors (typically a spouse, children, grandchildren, parents and siblings) can be found in most obituaries—but don’t forget to scan for the names of pall bearers or those sending flowers, especially in notices printed after the funeral. These names might be family members but may be more difficult to pick out due to unfamiliar surnames.

In this death notice for Mr. Isadore C. Block we find names for his wife, sisters and brother. Pall bearers are also listed—and while none of their surnames match the listed family members, it would be important to research each one because they might represent a cousin, nephew, or in-law.

death notice for Isadore C. Block, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 2 March 1935

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 2 March 1935, section II, page 10

4) Tracing Women’s Names in Obits

Verifying relationships can be challenging in cases where all the women are listed by married surnames or entirely by their husband’s name. One of the difficulties in tracing female ancestors is finding those who married several times when you are unaware of each husband’s surname.

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In this very brief notice we learn of Mrs. Hattie J. Miller’s death and her survivors, including her sisters Mrs. Frances J. Cohn, Mrs. Erma B. Miller, and Mrs. Selma B. Rothschild. No spouse or children are listed for Mrs. Miller. Luckily her brothers are also listed, providing us with a possible maiden name for Hattie and her sisters: Beirsdorf.

death notice for Hattie J. Miller, Hyde Park Herald newspaper article 14 December 1928

Hyde Park Herald (Chicago, Illinois), 14 December 1928, page 30

5) Not All Survivors Are Family

As you look for names in an obituary don’t forget to note any mentions of membership organizations. Those groups might include very good friends that could have honored the deceased in their own way through a special meeting, donation to the family, or some kind of memorial in their records.

In this notice of the death of Alfred R. Huddy, he is listed as being a member of the O.U.A.M. and the V. of F. W. of the U.S., possibly meaning the Order of United American Mechanics and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, respectively. With this information, additional ancestor research should be conducted in the newspapers (look for article about the person and their group’s activities) and in archival collections for membership lists, records, and images.

obituary for Alfred R. Huddy, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 19 April 1918

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 19 April 1918, page 11

6) But What’s Their Name???? Finding Unlisted Relatives

There’s probably nothing more frustrating than seeing vague references in obituaries to survivors like “he leaves 5 children and 10 grandchildren…” Or this obituary for William E. Rivers, which tells more about his medical history than the names of those he left behind. His obituary and a subsequent notice don’t provide his wife’s name, although she survived him. Further research into his family tree would include a search for Mrs. William E. Rivers, Mrs. W. E. Rivers, and other variations of his name prior to and after his death in 1917. In addition to newspaper research, a genealogist could check the census and city directories for this family.

obituary for William E. Rivers, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 21 July 1917

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 21 July 1917, page 5

Genealogy Tip: It can be tempting to focus solely on information about the deceased in an obituary, death or funeral notice. However, take time to analyze everything about that article including all of the names mentioned. Those other people’s names can uncover important familial relationship connections that will assist you in your family history searches, and ultimately help you get to know your ancestor better.

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How to Find Ancestors’ Graves: Cemetery Research with Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott explains the five steps he takes to add an important and emotional aspect to his genealogy research: visiting the cemeteries and recording the gravesites of his ancestors.

As fans of genealogy and family history, there are some wonderful opportunities we can use to follow up on those tidbits of information we discover in newspaper obituaries.

As a personal example, I had been struggling with the family of one of my ancestors, Elijah Poad. It wasn’t until I found his obituary published in a 1910 Montana newspaper that I was able to move forward with my genealogy research, thanks to the listing of his family members and their hometowns. This obituary reported the locations of three brothers, a sister, and a son—five avenues of future research for me to explore.

Elijah Poad Dead, Anaconda Standard newspaper obituary 16 September 1910

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 16 September 1910, page 9

Certainly the names, dates of the deceased, hometowns, and family members listed in an obituary are important family history clues.  There is another important research path that I urge all genealogists to consider after finding their ancestor’s obituary: what we can do when we discover that often-elusive name of the cemetery where their grave is located.

Many obituaries state the cemetery where the deceased was buried. In the example above, Elijah Poad’s obituary didn’t report the name of his cemetery—but the family clues it provided led me to additional research, and eventually I did discover the location of his final resting place.

Whether you find the name of your ancestor’s cemetery in an obituary or through other ancestry research, the question remains: what do you do next?

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The following are my top five steps for cemetery follow-up from newspaper obituaries:

1) Have a plan to share what you discover. Before you even begin to work on family information from the obituaries you find, I suggest you have a plan for how to make the best use of these genealogy research discoveries. Sharing is always a nice way to multiply your efforts, so have a plan in place for how you want to do this. For me this means sharing my findings on the BillionGraves.com website. Through their partnership with MyHeritage.com, they have a goal to document every cemetery in the world!

2) Visit the cemetery if you can. While we certainly cannot get to every cemetery that holds the memorials for every one of our ancestors, I suggest that you plan a cemetery trip to each of them that you can—it’s well worth the time and effort. There is something very moving about standing at the gravesite of an ancestor when your genealogy research has discovered their history.

3) Document the location of the graves with maps of the cemetery. Fewer and fewer cemeteries have onsite staff, so you’ll probably have to explore for your ancestor’s gravesite on your own. I store our family tree electronically, and one of the things I always do is scan and attach cemetery maps that I have for each ancestor. I scan a map of the full cemetery as well as section maps and sometimes I add explicit instructions for how to find the grave itself.

I discovered how important this can be from personal grave-hunting experience. It had been several years since I had attended the funeral for a grandparent, but finding myself in that town on business, I decided to stop by the cemetery and pay my respects. I was sure I remembered where the graves were, but I found them only after walking around in the rain for a good hour, making several cell phone calls to other relatives to see if they remembered. So now on our family tree are very specific directions on how to locate these graves.

4) Photograph the gravesites of your ancestors and others. We all know the perils that are aligned against cemeteries everywhere. Time, weather, acid rain and, sadly (all-too-often) vandalism are taking their toll on headstones everywhere. You can see from the following examples why photographs are so important. The first photo is the headstone of Vaclav Knechtl, my great-great grandfather. You can see it is in Czech and, unfortunately, the years of acid rains in Cleveland, Ohio, are taking a terrible toll.

photo of the headstone for Vaclav Knechtl

Photo: headstone for Vaclav Knechtl. Credit: Scott Phillips.

This next photograph shows the headstone of my great-great grandmother Karolina Vicha, which is in remarkably good condition.

photo of the headstone for Karolina Vicha

Photo: headstone for Karolina Vicha. Credit: Scott Phillips.

Sadly, the tombstone for her husband Josef has been almost totally destroyed by time, weather, and possibly vandals.

photo of the headstone for Josef Vicha

Photo: headstone for Josef Vicha. Credit: Scott Phillips.

Now whenever I am in a cemetery, I not only take photos of my ancestors’ graves, but I also spend a few extra minutes snapping photos of adjacent graves for the BillionGraves project.

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5) Get involved and help with cemetery restoration and clean-up. My final step is to get involved and help where and how you can with the local cemeteries. It might be through the local nonprofit that supports the cemetery (you can see an example of this at http://www.wcfcle.org), it might be by joining one of the excellent nonprofits that support cemetery history and preservation such as the Association for Gravestone Studies, or it might be by volunteering for clean up, etc., when needed. You can also report any necessary maintenance issues to the owners of the cemetery.

As you can see from the following two photos, your involvement can make a difference. When I went to visit my father’s sister’s grave, this is what I found.

photo of the neglected gravesite of Scott Phillip's ancestor Peggy Phillips

Photo: neglected gravesite of author’s ancestor Peggy Phillips. Credit: Scott Phillips.

This is what the gravesite looks like now after the maintenance folks did their magic. Quite a difference!

photo of the restored gravesite of Scott Phillips' ancestor Peggy Phillips

Photo: restored gravesite of author’s ancestor Peggy Phillips. Credit: Scott Phillips.

From a newspaper obituary or other family history documents, you can enhance your genealogy experiences many fold simply by locating your ancestor’s gravesite, having a follow-up plan, and helping out those who came before us!
Do you visit any of your ancestors’ cemeteries? I’d enjoy reading about your ancestor grave-hunting experiences through your comments here.

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5 Fave Genealogy Articles: ‘Titanic,’ Women, Ads, Ephemera & Food

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena reflects on some of her favorite genealogy topics that she’s researched for the GenealogyBank Blog.

One great thing about working as a writer is that you have the opportunity to research and learn about a variety of subjects. Through my work on the GenealogyBank Blog I’ve had the opportunity to write about some of my favorite genealogy topics and expand my knowledge of records and history in the process. What are my favorite GenealogyBank Blog articles? Check out the following personally-chosen list.

Titanic

photo of the Titanic departing Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912

Photo: the Titanic departing Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912. Credit: F. G. O. Stuart; Wikipedia.

One of my interests is the sinking of the Titanic. I probably share that interest with many of my fellow genealogists, who find the study of Titanic history fascinating. Probably no surprise to regular readers of this blog, the two aspects that I am particularly interested in are: the food that was served on the Titanic; and the women, passengers and staff who were aboard that fateful voyage. Luckily for me I was able to write some articles about this, including Tracing Titanic Genealogy: Survivor Passenger Lists & More which looks at some of the Titanic passenger lists with names that you can find in historical newspapers in the days and weeks after the tragedy. The subject of food on the Titanic could fill a whole book, and it has, but I took a brief look at what passengers ate in the article Eating on the Titanic: Massive Quantities of Food on the Menu.

photo of the First Class Reception Room on the Titanic

Photo: First Class Reception Room on the Titanic. Credit: National Maritime Museum, Flickr: The Commons.

Women: Tracing Your Female Ancestry

photo of the family of B. F. Clark

Photo: “Family of B. F. Clark, 219 N. 4th Street.” Credit: Library of Congress.

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I’ve had the opportunity to write about female ancestors quite a bit, including how to trace them, and unique sources to use. One of my favorite articles about female ancestors on the GenealogyBank Blog is one that I didn’t write. A must-read for every genealogist is Mary Harrell-Sesniak’s 8 Genealogy Tips for Tracing Female Ancestry. Do yourself a favor and read and re-read this important post to better understand how to find your female ancestors. If you want to learn more about name variations, another one of Mary’s articles, Ancestral Name Searches: 4 Tips for Tracing Surname Spellings, is very helpful. Sometimes it’s the way we search that makes it difficult to find our ancestors in the newspaper.

Researching Old Newspaper Advertisements

personal ads for missing husbands, Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisements 12 September 1907

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 12 September 1907, page 8

I have to admit that the one aspect of newspaper research I would have never guessed that I would enjoy is the advertisements. It’s here that you can learn everything, from what your ancestor valued by perusing the Lost and Found advertisements, to the heartbreaking advertisements women placed looking for missing (or perhaps purposely absent) husbands. Think old newspaper advertisements have nothing to do with “real” genealogy? Take a look at some of the rich content newspaper ads provide in my articles How to Use Newspaper Lost & Found Ads for Genealogy Research and Missing Men: Lost Husband Ads in Newspapers for Genealogy.

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Ephemera

photo of an old letter

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

I love ephemera. It’s such an important part of genealogy but it’s something not many family historians are familiar with. Ephemera are loosely defined as items that were not meant for long-term archiving. Such items might be letters, postcards, images, maps, posters, even newspapers. Ephemera tend to be things that are thrown away. Not only are newspapers an important source for genealogy researchers, they even give us a look at our ancestors’ ephemera. For example, letters of all kinds are published in the newspaper. You can learn more about researching correspondence in the newspaper from the article Genealogy Tips for Researching Letters in Newspapers. Another helpful article, Dear Mother: Family Letters and Your Genealogy, points out that not all family letters remain private between the writer and recipient. In some cases, letters were printed in the newspaper giving us a glimpse into our ancestors’ lives. Probably one of my favorite projects was researching the article Finding Ancestors’ Names Can Be Child’s Play: Paper Doll Comics. I was very surprised to learn that children (and in some cases adults) were encouraged to send in paper doll fashion designs. These were published along with the name and address of the creator. Just one more way kids were documented in the newspaper.

Food History

photo of a book filled with newspaper recipe clippings

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

A question I’m often asked at genealogy presentations is: why should a family historian care about food history? The answer is quite simple: food history helps us better understand our ancestors, and brings interest to the stories of their lives. When I ask family historians to think about a Thanksgiving from the past, it’s the people who were there, the stories, and the memories of what was served that flood their memories. Those stories deserve to be written down to be enjoyed by our descendants. Want to know more about food history? Check out these articles: Rationing Thanksgiving Dinner during World War I; The First Foodie: Clementine Paddleford; and Find Grandma’s Recipes in Old Newspaper Food Columns. Take some time to peruse recipe columns in the newspaper from your grandma’s and great-grandma’s hometown to see if she submitted her favorite recipe to the newspaper, and if you happen across one join GenealogyBank’s Old Fashioned Family Recipes board and share it with the Pinterest community.

Why read the GenealogyBank Blog? Because it is where you will learn more about genealogy, history, and newspaper research. Whether it’s tips, new ideas, new content or personal research examples, you’ll find them here (check out this one written by Scott Phillips about a GenealogyBank member’s discovery: A Fascinating Genealogy Success Story: Mystery of Missing Ancestors Solved). The GenealogyBank Blog provides you with continuing education for your newspaper research and genealogy in general.

Have a favorite GenealogyBank Blog post? Let me know what it is in the comments section below.

Happy reading!

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Are You Related to John Chapman, a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, to celebrate today being National Arbor Day, Mary explores the family tree—and some of the stories—of the legendary Johnny Appleseed.

In honor of today being National Arbor Day, let’s explore the life, legacy and ancestry of John Chapman, who is more widely known by his nickname “Johnny Appleseed” (26 September 1774 – 18 March 1845). Although the famous American arborist never had children of his own, his New England ancestry has several items of interest.

drawing of Johnny Appleseed

Illustration: Johnny Appleseed, from H. S. Knapp’s 1862 book “A History of the Pioneer and Modern Times of Ashland County.” Source: Wikipedia.

Johnny Appleseed’s Family

Born as John Chapman in Leominster, Massachusetts, Johnny was the son of Nathaniel and Elizabeth (Simonds) Chapman, who married on 8 February 1770. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Appleseed.)

He had one older sister, Elizabeth, and a younger brother named Nathaniel (or Nathanael), both named after their parents. Johnny shares a name with his grandfather John Chapman (1714 – 1761), who passed away about 13 years prior to his birth.

Johnny’s life with his mother was short-lived. She died in 1776 shortly after giving birth to his brother Nathaniel.

Familysearch.org has several references to Johnny Appleseed’s family tree in their databases:

Within the context of history, several events framed the circumstances in the family’s life—most notably the American Revolution and the settling of Ohio.

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Johnny’s father Nathaniel was a Minuteman who fought at the Battle of Concord on 19 April 1775, and later served in a more official capacity.

Four years after his mother died, Johnny’s father remarried. On 24 July 1780 Nathaniel Chapman married his second wife: Lucy Cooley, daughter of George and Martha (Hancock) Cooley. Lucy became the maternal figure in Johnny’s life, but since she bore an additional 10 children, her focus may not have been on Johnny. (See https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FC8R-64G.)

Johnny’s Younger Life & First Plantings

No documents chronicle the facts of Johnny’s younger life, despite much having been written speculating about his passion for apple trees. Some theories are that his father, a farmer, instilled a love of trees in his son—resulting in Johnny becoming the nation’s premier nurseryman/arborist on the frontier.

Johnny lived a life of devout faith and considered himself a missionary of Swedish native Emanuel Swedenborg (1688 – 1772). (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emanuel_Swedenborg.)

Some accounts report that Johnny used apple seeds from Potomac cider mills for his first plantings, located in the Wilkes-Barre area of Pennsylvania. He may have lived in Pittsburgh around 1794 during the time of the Whiskey Rebellion—a farmers’ uprising against paying taxes on the whiskey they made from grain and corn.

As land opened up the family ventured west to the frontier of Ohio, settling in Monroe Township. Johnny is thought to have joined them by 1805, although he may have gone there earlier, planting apple trees. Some trees he gave away, or bartered to pioneer settlers for useful implements. When he sold trees, it was reportedly for the sum of a “fippenny” or “fip-penny-bit,” the equivalent of about six cents a tree—as explained in this newspaper article.

Money of the Past, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article  27 April 1898

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 27 April 1898, page 8

Fact or Fiction: Was Johnny Appleseed Truly an Eccentric?

After his death, newspapers described Johnny as an eccentric with shabby dress. Some accounts report that he used a tin pot as a hat, and these descriptions are colorful, if somewhat exaggerated. For example, this 1891 newspaper article states:

One of the quaintest, queerest and most original characters that ever trod the trackless wastes of the western wilderness was Jonathan Chapman, known as old Johnny Appleseed…His pinched and grizzled features were covered by a growth of very shaggy beard. His hair was quite long and very much faded by constant exposure to wind and weather…But old Johnny’s crowning glory was an old tin mush pot that had a long handle. This battered old culinary utensil he wore for a hat.

article about Johnny Appleseed, People newspaper article 23 August 1891

People (New York, New York), 23 August 1891, page 6

This 1857 newspaper article describes how Johnny purchased his seeds in large quantities from nurseries near the Ohio River.

article about Johnny Appleseed, Sandusky Register newspaper article 17 September 1857

Sandusky Register (Sandusky, Ohio), 17 September 1857, page 1

Johnny’s Death

Johnny Appleseed died on 18 March 1845, at the age of 70. A transcription of his obituary from the Fort Wayne Sentinel of 22 March 1845 was located at the Obit of the day website. It seems to confirm that the old adage from Benjamin Franklin was really true: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!”

Appleseed’s obituary states:

In the most inclement weather he might be seen barefooted and almost naked except when he chanced to pick up articles of old clothing. Notwithstanding the privations and exposure he endured, he lived to an extreme old age, not less than 80 [70] years at the time of his death—though no person would have judged from his appearance that he was 60.

Are You Related to Johnny Appleseed?

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If you’re a plant lover or self-described arborist, I’d like to plant some seeds about kinship to Johnny Appleseed. He has ancestral connections to many early American settlers of the Northeast. According to numerous online family trees, the surnames in Johnny’s extended family include:

  • Barker
  • Blodgett
  • Carter
  • Chandler
  • Chapman
  • Davis
  • Dresser
  • Eggleton
  • Fowle
  • Green
  • Jasper
  • King
  • Lawrence
  • Morse
  • Perley
  • Phippen or Phipping
  • Richardson
  • Simonds or Symonds
  • Smith
  • Stearns
  • Stone
  • Tarbell
  • Thorley
  • Trumbull
  • Walter

And if you explore reports of his famous cousins, Johnny Appleseed is connected to many former residents of our nation’s White House, including: First Lady Abigail (Smith) Adams, John Quincy Adams, Barbara (Pierce) Bush, George H. W. Bush, George Bush, Calvin Coolidge, Lucretia (Randolph) Garfield, Richard Nixon and William Howard Taft.

In addition, Famouskin.com reports a kinship relationship with suffragette Susan B. Anthony, nurse Clara Barton, Wild Bill Hickok, actress Raquel Welch, and Walt Disney, among others.

For more information on John Chapman’s life, see:

Johnny Appleseed’s Last Surviving Tree

Since Johnny had no progeny of his own, it seems appropriate to commemorate his last surviving tree. This 1961 newspaper article has a long feature on Johnny which I recommend reading, including a picture of “the last surviving apple tree planted by Johnny Appleseed.”

a photo of the last surviving apple tree planted by Johnny Appleseed, Plain Dealer newspaper article 30 May 1961

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 30 May 1961, page 1

I hope you’ll celebrate National Arbor Day by eating an apple or drinking cider. Who knows—the fruit may be a descendant from one of Johnny Appleseed’s famous trees!

If you’re related to John Chapman, please tell us how your family is connected in the comments section.

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Extra! Extra! 5 Million More Newspaper Articles Recently Added!

Every day, GenealogyBank is working hard to digitize more U.S. newspapers and obituaries, expanding our online archives to give you the largest newspaper archives for family history research available on the web. We just completed adding 5 million more newspaper articles to the online archives, vastly increasing our news coverage of life in America from coast to coast!

screenshot of GenealogyBank's home page announcing that five million more newspaper articles have been added to its historical newspaper archives

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

  • A total of 51 newspaper titles from 22 U.S. states, with many newspaper additions from Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania
  • 25 of these titles are newspapers added to GenealogyBank for the first time
  • Newspaper titles marked with an asterisk (*) are new to our online archives. Note that many of these totally new archive additions are German American newspapers.
  • 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. Note that some of these newly added newspapers date back to the mid-1800s.
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To see our newspaper archives’ complete title lists, click here.

State    City                 Title                                                    Date Range

AL       Mobile             Alabama Staats-Zeitung                     1/10/1900 – 10/11/1902

AZ       San Manuel     Pinal Nugget*                                     3/5/2013 – Current

CA      Riverside         Riverside Daily Press                          10/1/1938 – 12/31/1945

CA      San Francisco  California Chronik*                            4/28/1866 – 11/3/1866

CA      S. L. Obispo    San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram        7/1/1915 – 9/30/1921

CT       Bridgeport       Connecticut Post                                 9/21/2001 – 6/30/2002

GA      Atlanta               Emory Wheel: Emory University*      8/25/2002 – Current

GA      Augusta           Augusta Chronicle                              11/26/1983 – 11/22/2003

GA      Columbus        Columbus Daily Enquirer                   2/25/1926 – 4/10/1930

GA      Macon             Macon Telegraph                                11/6/1925 – 12/31/1928

ID        Boise               Idaho Statesman                                 2/16/1925 – 9/30/1927

IL        Alton               Telegraph*                                          1/1/2010 – Current

IL        Belleville         Belleviller Post und Zeitung*             1/11/1899 – 1/11/1899

IL        Chicago           Chicagoer Freie Presse*                      2/6/1872 – 2/6/1872

IL        Chicago           D.A. Burgerzeitung*                          12/30/1921 – 12/30/1921

IL        Springfield      Daily Illinois State Journal                  8/1/1942 – 3/31/1950

IN        Elkhart              Elkhart Truth                                       1/2/1902 – 12/30/1920

IN        Evansville        Evansville Courier and Press              1/23/1936 – 12/31/1937

IA        Davenport       Wochentliche Demokrat*                   1/2/1902 – 1/2/1902

KY      Lexington        Lexington Herald                                11/1/1924 – 5/31/1927

MD      Baltimore        Katholische Volkszeitung*                 2/10/1872 – 7/8/1876

MD      Baltimore        Sun                                                      1/27/1916 – 3/4/1916

MA      Boston             Boston American                                4/11/1952 – 9/30/1961

MA      Boston             Boston Herald                                     2/17/1974 – 9/28/1975

MA      Springfield      Springfield Republican                       2/1/1853 – 9/2/1875

MI       Detroit             Herold*                                               4/14/1911 – 11/24/1911

NJ        Woodbury       Woodbury Daily Times                       9/20/1900 – 3/16/1922

NY      Binghamton    Binghamton Univ. Pipe Dream*         11/1/2005 – Current

NY      New York       Jewish Messenger                               7/3/1857 – 12/28/1883

NY      New York       New Yorker Volkszeitung                  5/1/1919 – 12/31/1922

NY      New York       Sonntagsblatt Der NY Volkszeitung*            1/29/1928 – 1/29/1928

NY      New York       Sozialist*                                             4/11/1885 – 12/14/1889

NY      New York       Vorwarts                                             12/10/1892 – 7/29/1916

NC      Charlotte         Charlotte Observer                              11/1/1924 – 3/31/1926

NC      Greensboro      Greensboro Record                             10/11/1950 – 10/12/1950

NC      Win.-Salem     Winston-Salem Journal                       10/1/1921 – 8/31/1927

OH      Cincinnati        Cincinnati Republikaner*                   12/1/1858 – 3/23/1861

OH      Columbus        Lutherische Kirchenzeitung*              1/1/1910 – 1/1/1910

OH      Englewood      Englewood Independent*                  10/23/2012 – Current

OH      West Union     People’s Defender*                             11/12/2013 – Current

PA       Harrisburg       Christlicher Botschafter*                    1/3/1935 – 1/3/1935

PA       Philadelphia    Daily Pennsylvanian: U. of Penn.*     3/19/1991 – Current

PA       Pittsburgh        Volksblatt und Freiheits-freund*       11/3/1934 – 11/3/1934

PA       Pittston            Sunday Dispatch*                               10/12/2013 – Current

PA       State College   Centre Daily Times                             1/2/1973 – 11/29/1974

PA       Wilkes-Barre   Weekender*                                        10/8/2013 – Current

TX       San Antonio    Freie Presse fur Texas*                       5/12/1915 – 5/12/1915

UT       Salt Lake City Salt Lake City Beobachter*                4/6/1930 – 4/6/1930

WA     Bellingham      Bellingham Herald                              1/1/1926 – 12/31/1928

WA     Seattle             Seattle Daily Times                             4/2/1912 – 1/9/1916

WI       La Crosse        Nord Stern*                                        4/10/1908 – 4/10/1908

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A Genealogist’s Guide to Old Latin Terms & Abbreviations

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary explains some of the old terms—many of them derived from Latin—that genealogists encounter during their family history research.

Throughout history, terms come and terms go—and thankfully for most people, archaic expressions disappear. That is, thankfully for everyone except family historians. We encounter a plethora of long forgotten archaic terms while doing our genealogy research, mostly in what some consider a dead language: Latin!

To be honest, I was never fond of Latin.

I remember a particularly tense parent-teacher conference when I was a girl, during which the teacher implied that I wasn’t well-suited for the subject. My mother, who was then at the height of her passion for genealogy, disagreed—and so I continued studying Latin, under extreme duress.

In later years, I discovered that I shared my mom’s passion for genealogy—and when I started seeing old documents with Latin phrases such Caesar’s “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (“We came, We saw, We conquered”), my early education studying the Latin language started paying off.

So now, I’d like to share some tips for understanding old Latin terms you may encounter in your own genealogy research.

Dates: “Instant,” “Ultimo” and “Proximo”

The three most common old Latin terms for dates are: instant, ultimo, and proximo, which refer to the present month, last month and next month respectively.

  • Instant (often abbreviated “inst.”): This term refers to a recent occurrence in the present or current month.
  • Ultimo (often abbreviated “ult.”): Ultimo or Ultimo Mense is a Latin term/phrase that refers to an occurrence from the previous month.
  • Proximo (often abbreviated “prox.”): Proximo refers to something that will occur next month.

Notice in the following obituary, the death date is reported as “the 29th ultimo.” Since the obit was published on 5 October 1838, this is saying Elizabeth Grady died 29 September 1838.

obituary for Elizabeth Grady, Charleston Courier newspaper article 5 October 1838

Charleston Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 5 October 1838, page 2

Genealogy Tip: References should be interpreted as relative, and not exact. Sometimes notices are copied from newspaper to newspaper, and if a notice was republished more than 30 days from its first publication, the interpretation would be incorrect. As a result, always verify death dates with official documents and even tombstones. (See the related Blog article Understanding Terms Found in Historical Newspapers).

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Widows and Widowers: “Consort” and “Relict”

Two similar historical Latin terms often found in old obituaries are consort and relict; as noted in the following examples, they tell a researcher specifically if a woman was a widow prior to her death, or if her husband became a widower after she died.

  • Consort comes from the Latin word “consortium,” meaning partnership. It indicates that the husband survived the wife (i.e., her death ended the marriage partnership).

Notice in this example, Mrs. Ann Parrott is referred to as the “consort” of Mr. James Parrott.

death notice for Ann Parrott, Easton Gazette newspaper article 2 April 1824

Easton Gazette (Easton, Maryland), 2 April 1824, page 3

  • Relict is derived from the Latin “relictus” or “relicta,” which translate as widower or widow.

Notice in this newspaper clipping example, Margaret is referred to as the “relict,” or widow, of the late William McCarron.

death notice for Margaret McCarron, Irish American Weekly newspaper article 10 January 1852

Irish American Weekly (New York, New York), 10 January 1852, page 2

Genealogy Tip: If a Latin term ends in “us,” then it refers to a male; if it ends in an “a,” it generally refers to a female. For example, “avus” refers to grandfather, “avia” to grandmother, and “avi” is used to indicate grandparents. “Proavus” means great grandfather and “proava” means great grandmother. If you search the Latin word list at Genproxy.co.uk, you’ll notice that Latin even has specific words to specify if someone was a 2nd great grandparent.

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Single Status: “Caelebs”

As seen in the previous examples, relationship statuses can be specific in Latin. However, I must give a word of caution—meanings and interpretations change over time.

To illustrate, let’s examine the Latin word caelebs, which is related to the word celibate.

Most genealogy researchers define caelebs as a man who was single—so if you didn’t explore further, you might assume that caelebs indicated someone who had never been married.

However, try entering caelebs into the Perseus Latin Dictionary at Tufts University. Did you see that its definition includes “widower”?

And now search early newspapers for the term. This 1807 newspaper article implies that the definition includes a man (or in the case of caelibia, a woman), in search of a wife.

article about caelebs, Gazette newspaper article 13 November 1809

Gazette (Portland, Maine), 13 November 1809, page 1

Another newspaper article, this one from 1977, reports that a 14th century definition for the equivalent of caelebs—bachelor—applied to candidates for knighthood, and those who had earned an academic degree.

article about caelebs, Springfield Union newspaper article 5 May 1977

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 5 May 1977, page 19

Latin Terms Describing Death Status

Legal documentation may include abbreviations regarding the status of a decedent.

Did a person have heirs? Were the children legitimate or illegitimate, and did some or all children die within the lifetime of a parent?

Here is a list of frequently used abbreviations—to understand them better, acquaint yourself with some of the more common terms, such as “decessit” and “obdormio,” which mean died or fell asleep, “legitima” (legitimate), “sine” (without), “matris” and “patris” (mother and father), and “prole” (issue or offspring).

Common Latin Phrase Abbreviations

  • aas (anno aetatis suae): died in the year of his/her age
  • dsp (decessit sine prole): indicates a person died without issue; i.e., no children
  • dspl (decessit sine prole legitima): died without legitimate issue
  • dspm (decessit sine prole malus): died without sons
  • dspml (decessit sine prole malus legitima): died without legitimate sons
  • dspms (decessit sine prole malus suivre): died without surviving sons
  • dsps (decessit sine prole suivre): died without surviving issue
  • dvm (decessit vita matris): died in the lifetime of the mother
  • dvp (decessit vita patris): died in the lifetime of the father
  • ob caelebs (obdormio caelebs): died single or as a bachelor
  • osp (obiit sine prole): died without issue or children
  • q.s. (quod suivre): which follows
  • q.v. (quod vide): which see
  • sp (sine prole): without issue or children
  • spf (sine prole femina): without daughters
  • spl (sine prole legitima): without legitimate issue
  • spm (since prole mascula): without sons
  • sps (sine prole superstite): without surviving issue
  • vf (vita fratris): in the lifetime of his brother
  • viz (videlicet): namely
  • vm (vita matris): in the lifetime of his mother
  • vp (vita patris): in the lifetime of his father
  • vs (vita sororis): in the lifetime of his sister

Strategies for Translating Latin

With all Latin terms, apply strategies to make sure you interpret a document correctly.

  • Read the entire document or article to see if a phrase was reiterated in English.
  • Examine the syntax within the presented context.
  • See if there is a corresponding or follow-up document to verify information (such as in a probate file).

Also, consult a variety of resources, such as these:

Do you have a question about a Latin phrase you’ve encountered in your family history research? If so, please ask it in the comments section and we’ll try to answer it for you.

More articles about old terms found in historical newspapers:

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Newspapers Break through Genealogy Brick Wall, Solving 100-Year Mystery

Louise A., of Longview, Washington, had a mystery on her hands. A dedicated genealogist, she had been tracing her family history and building her family tree—but had hit a brick wall. There was a 100-year-old mystery in her family history that she couldn’t solve in her genealogy research: what had ever happened to her long lost great-uncle, Fred Day?

Our Letter from Louise

Louise wrote to GenealogyBank describing her research frustration—and her exciting genealogy breakthrough.

As the beginning of her email explained:

A note to give you a BIG “thank you” for your service! I had searched off and on for eight years trying to solve the 100-year-old mystery in my family of a great uncle that disappeared while fishing along the Columbia River in Oregon, or so the story went. In all the searching in local and state archives, plus checking with records offices anywhere I could think of, the ONLY record I found was a certificate of marriage, to my great aunt in 1909.

Eight frustrating years of research, and no answers. The family story Louise heard as a child had always been vague, about some “fishing accident” involving her great-uncle Fred, but never any details.

How Newspapers Helped Crack the Case

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Then one day Louise turned to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, figuring that in a collection of more than 6,500 newspapers and over one billion records, there was sure to be something she could find out about her great-uncle. She found articles about a Fred Day, all right, but not the Fred Day who was her great-uncle. Then an idea hit her.

As Louise’s note explained:

The other day I happened to think to put in my great-aunt’s name, “Bertha Day.” Bingo! Here came article after article of the disappearance of “Frisco” Day in 1910!

I could barely believe my eyes! He did not disappear while fishing, but disappeared by driving drunk as a chauffeur, taking a woman to catch a ferry late at night, and ran off a trestle into the Columbia River slough!

Here’s the first news article Louise found, in which she began, at long last, to discover the truth of her relative’s disappearance. The old article begins with these shocking headlines:

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 12 June 1910

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 12 June 1910, page 3

The newspaper article’s opening three paragraphs lay out the story:

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 12 June 1910

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 12 June 1910, page 3

The headlines of the next news article speculate that Louise’s great-uncle Fred “Frisco” Day and a woman—Mabel Monto—were the victims of the car crash. Although the bodies had not yet been recovered, a Portland saloonkeeper, Tice Adkins, served the couple drinks and saw them get into the red car and drive off into the pouring rain.

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day, Oregonian newspaper article 12 June 1910

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 12 June 1910, page 1

The newspaper article supplies these details about the fatal accident that claimed Louise’s great-uncle’s life:

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day, Oregonian newspaper article 12 June 1910

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 12 June 1910, page 1

Great-Aunt Shares Her Story

That same newspaper had another article about Frisco Day’s accident.

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day and his wife Bertha's grief, Oregonian newspaper article 12 June 1910

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 12 June 1910, page 8

This historical newspaper article describes the grief of Louise’s great-aunt:

He [Frisco Day] was expected to return on Friday night at a late hour, and even before hearing of the accident, Mrs. Day had become much worried over the non-appearance of her husband. When she was informed that her husband might have been one of the party which met a tragic death she was prostrated with grief. She remained downtown with friends hoping against hope as clue after clue was followed out, each pointing more strongly than the other to her husband as one of the probable victims.

Mrs. Day is scarcely out of her teens and was married to Frisco Day in Portland less than six months ago. She said last night: “My husband never failed to telephone me when he was detained longer than usual and I felt sure something terrible had happened to him even before I heard of the accident on the bridge over the Oregon Slough. He never stayed away from me any longer than was absolutely necessary, and I am heartbroken to think he is lying out there beneath the water dead.”

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Missing Bodies & More

The next day’s newspaper reports that the car was recovered but no bodies found. However, police investigations confirmed that Day and Monto were the only two people in the car, and that both certainly drowned in the accident.

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day, Oregonian newspaper article 13 June 1910

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 13 June 1910, page 1

News of Frisco Day’s accident and the recovery of the auto were reported in a wide range of newspapers. For example, this Utah newspaper printed this story:

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper article 13 June 1910

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 13 June 1910, page 1

A Washington newspaper ran this short notice editorializing about Frisco Day’s accident:

article about the fatal car accident of Frisco Day, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 14 June 1910

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 14 June 1910, page 6

Thanks to these old newspaper articles, Louse found out what happened to her great-uncle Frisco Day all those years ago, finally breaking through the brick wall that had her stumped in her genealogy research. But since his body had not been recovered, she still lacked closure—and kept searching through the newspaper archives to see if she could discover more. Then she found what she was looking for—this newspaper article, reporting that his body was finally recovered in 1913, nearly three years after he was killed in the accident.

article about the recovery of the body of Frisco Day, Oregonian newspaper article 15 February 1913

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 15 February 1913, page 4

The historical newspaper article reports:

The skeleton, which was identified by letters in his pockets, was taken to Portland.

As Louise wrote:

The papers had the final story of finding his body almost three years later, in 1913. What a scandal it must have been and my great-aunt had only been married to him for a few months. It was absolutely fascinating to read all these stories and finally solve this mystery! I know without these newspapers being available, I never would have known what happened to him and why he was never mentioned while my great-aunt was living.

Again, thank you for this service!

Genealogy Search Tips: We thank Louise for sharing her family story with us and our readers. Her genealogy brick wall breakthrough presents some helpful family history lessons.

  • Always include old newspapers in your family history searches. Louise spent years searching local and state archives, but government records don’t have all the information—sometimes, the only place you’ll find the true story of what actually happened to your ancestor is in the pages of an old newspaper.
  • Try searching on different variations of your ancestor’s name in the newspaper archives, including initials and nicknames. Also, try searching for the names of close relatives. In this case, her search for Fred Day came up empty—but if she had searched on his nickname “Frisco” she would have found him right away. The key to her research success was searching on the name of Fred’s wife, Bertha Day.
  • Don’t limit your initial ancestor search geographically—cast a wide net. Although Frisco Day’s accident on the Columbia River was a local Oregon/Washington story, newspapers as far away as California, Utah and Florida picked up the news story.
  • Be persistent. Louise had tried to unravel the mystery of her great-uncle’s disappearance for eight years before busting through her brick wall. What a good feeling—to finally fill in a missing piece of your family tree, a satisfying reward after much patient ancestor searching!

Congratulations to Louise on finding the story of her long lost relative!

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