Newspaper Articles Fill Blanks in Family History

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspapers to find stories about a member of his extended family, the 19th century philanthropist John Huntington—a founding donor of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

While growing up, one of my favorite family weekend trips was to visit the Cleveland Museum of Art. I would marvel at the art, the sculpture, and of course as a young boy, the Armor Court which displayed suits of armor. Later, during my college years, the Museum was my favorite destination as an escape from the pressures of studying. I’d make the 1½ hour drive over to Cleveland and enjoy the art, especially my all-time favorite painting, Water Lilies (Agapanthus) by Claude Monet. Years later during my mother’s 90th birthday family reunion in Cleveland, I was proud that my son and daughter-in-law took our young grandsons to visit the Museum as well.

Amazingly, just a few days ago I learned I had yet another family reason to appreciate the Museum: I discovered that one of my ancestors was a founding donor to establish the Museum.

portrait of philanthropist John Huntington

Portrait of John Huntington. Credit: from the author’s collection.

I made this discovery while in the midst of a review of those family tree branches that I had not fully researched. I began work on one of my Bohemian ancestors, Frank Joseph Ptak, who married Margaret Alice Walker. I realized that I had never researched the Walker family, so I began there. After utilizing a few resources, such as the marvelous online database of the Cleveland Public Library’s Cleveland Necrology File, I was deep into searching the newspapers of the time on GenealogyBank.com.

I was diligently reading marriage announcements, obituaries, and a few interesting stories regarding a street assault or two, when a sentence at the bottom of the marriage announcement titled “Dalbey-Leek” caught my eye.

wedding announcement for Dorothy Leek and Sherman Dalbey, Plain Dealer newspaper article 6 June 1937

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 6 June 1937, page 97

As you can see the line stated: “The bride is a grand niece of the late John Huntington, philanthropist.” Having been a fundraiser myself in an earlier career, I just had to look into this philanthropist. This was especially true since I knew Margaret Alice Walker’s mother was Ann H. (Huntington) Walker.

I took a chance and searched directly on John Huntington, narrowing my search to Ohio newspapers, and my very first result was more than I had hoped for.

Magnificent Donation to the City of Cleveland by John Huntington, Plain Dealer newspaper article 4 February 1893

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 February 1893, page 1

There in the fourth paragraph as “Item 2” were John’s specific legacies to his family members, and he nicely listed each of his brothers and sisters—which included Ann Walker!

I researched further and soon found a very complete article which, while reporting John Huntington’s death in London, England, contained the subheading that included this information: “One of the First Men to Make a Fortune from The Standard Oil Company.”

John Huntington Dead, New York Tribune newspaper obituary, 12 January 1893

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 12 January 1893, page 5

This article also contained reports of his birth date, town, father, his father’s occupation, his living children, and even the report of how his son Arthur had been killed by a train. This article helped me discover the birth records for John Huntington in the United Kingdom, his marriage record, and records for several of his family members.

Out of interest, I searched the newspapers to see if there was an account of the death of Arthur Huntington as mentioned in the New York Tribune. I discovered a gruesome, but complete, accounting of the accident that led to his death.

Both Legs Cut Off, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 April 1891

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 April 1891, page 2

I have to admit the headline “Both Legs Cut Off” sent shivers through me. The next day, on 27 April 1981, the Plain Dealer reported the grim news that Arthur had died from his extensive injuries.

In need of some more cheerful news to finish my day’s research, I came across a delightful article. It reported that the mayor of Cleveland, Newton Baker, was going to dedicate the Cleveland Museum of Art by sitting in the moonlight and having a slice of watermelon on the marble steps.

Watermelon Will Dedicate Museum, Plain Dealer newspaper article 27 June 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 June 1915, page 13

I remember walking up those steps many times, but I don’t recall seeing any watermelon seeds!

Finding My Relative’s Story: The Search for Madge E. Richmond

The other day I asked myself: what can I realistically find about my relatives in GenealogyBank? How many details about my family can I discover?

So I decided to find out by searching GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives for a family member we know little about: Madge E. Richmond (1866-1942).

collage of newspaper articles about Madge Richmond

Collage of newspaper articles about Madge Richmond

Her Career as a Teacher

Madge Richmond was a teacher for 25 years; almost all of those years were spent teaching at the Technical High School in Springfield, Massachusetts.

photo of the entrance to the Technical High School in Springfield, Massachusetts

Photo: Technical High School, Springfield, Massachusetts. Credit: Temposenzatempo.

Beyond that we had the family traditions of her kindness, intellect and work ethic. We knew little else about her.

The family has two pictures of her—one as a young woman.

photo of Madge Richmond as a young woman

Credit: Portrait in possession of the family

The other picture of her was taken in the years after her retirement.

photo of Madge Richmond in her retirement years

Credit: Portrait in possession of the family

Madge Richmond was an “ordinary person”—your typical relative. She was beloved by the family and the school community where she worked, but otherwise she was an unknown person to the world at large.

What could I hope to discover about her in GenealogyBank?

Would newspapers have published anything about such a plain, ordinary person?

All of our relatives are special to us but—for the most part—unknown beyond our family and friends.

The Search for My Relative Begins

In my initial search on GenealogyBank I used only my relative’s name: Madge Richmond.

That first and last name search produced 331 record matches—far too many for me to sort through them all.

So I decided to try searching for my relative again, this time narrowing my search to only the newspapers in the New England states.

I did this simply by checking all the New England states on GenealogyBank’s newspaper search page.

Selecting New England states on GenealogyBank's newspaper search page

Selecting New England states on GenealogyBank’s newspaper search page

That refined search produced 80 search results.

OK—I can work with that. I began looking through the records.

Bang.

The very first record I opened was about was about her! Even better, the article included a photograph of her! It was her retirement notice in the local newspaper.

Will Retire Today, after Long Career in Public Schools, Springfield Republican newspaper article 19 June 1936

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 19 June 1936, page 6

Look at the last line in this newspaper article, a quote from the dedication of that year’s Tech School yearbook:

“To Madge Eleanor Richmond, whose steady poise, clear vision and wise judgment have distinguished her service in this school and have marked every association with faculty and students.”

So—now I know her middle name was “Eleanor.”

I’d always assumed her middle name was Eleanor—but now I have proof.

The old newspaper article explained that Madge was the head of the mathematics department, one of the most popular teachers at the school, and was retiring after teaching for nearly 25 years.

As I looked through more of the search results, I found dozens of mentions of Madge in news articles about school events, lists of faculty and the like. All of these stories, clues and little details I found in the newspaper archives helped me learn about a relative I didn’t know very well.

Here are some of the newspaper articles I found in GenealogyBank that gave me more of Madge’s life story.

These historical newspaper articles have given me a more complete picture of Madge’s life—and a very nice portrait of her.

Here are some of the key moments and events from her life, as captured in newspaper articles.

30 June 1911

newspaper article about Madge Richmond

“Miss Madge Eleanor Richmond was also elected teacher of mathematics in the technical high school. She has been a teacher in the Dover (N.H.) high school.”

Great. I knew she was a teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts, but I didn’t know that she was also a teacher in Dover, New Hampshire.

17 April 1914

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Union 20 April 1914

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 20 April 1914, page 9

OK—here’s another fact new to me: Madge was principal of Ansonia High School (Ansonia, Connecticut) for 12 years prior to coming to Springfield.

July-August 1915

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Daily News 12 July 1915

Springfield Daily News (Springfield, Massachusetts), 12 July 1915, page 4

More information: in the summer of 1915 she attended Cornell University.

4 July 1916

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 1 July 1916

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 1 July 1916, page 4

She liked Cornell so much that she and two friends went again the next year.

December 1917

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 30 December 1917

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 30 December 1917, page 8

She spent Christmas of 1917 with her brother and his wife: Dr. and Mrs. Allen Pierce Richmond of Dover, New Hampshire.

June-August 1919

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 27 June 1919

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 27 June 1919, page 3

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 29 August 1919

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 29 August 1919, page 4

In 1915 Madge attended the summer session at the University of Michigan. She also visited her brother Dr. A.P (Allen Pierce) Richmond in Dover, New Hampshire, and her sister Mrs. William Jordan (Abigail May Richmond) in Lisbon, Maine.

So, she also attended the University of Michigan.

That’s good to know.

15-16 November 1919

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 16 November 1919

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 16 November 1919, page 11

My grandmother— Madge’s niece—was an accountant at the American Optical Company in Southbridge, Massachusetts—and in Boston, Massachusetts?

I didn’t know that.

That’s a real find.

The social briefs in newspapers have been a real goldmine of information about Madge Richmond and the family!

21 May 1921

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 15 May 1921

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 15 May 1921, page 154

In 1921 she went to study at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 17 July 1921

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 17 July 1921, page 11

She left on 16 July 1921 for Colorado.

June 1929

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 23 June 1929

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 23 June 1929 page 36

In 1929 she would go down to St. Augustine, Florida, traveling through the Shenandoah Valley on the trip down and along the coast on the way back. She planned to stay at the St. Augustine Hotel.

January 1934

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 27 January 1934

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 27 January 1934, page 10

In 1934 she was named the Head of the Mathematics Department at Tech High School.

14 January 1942

Madge Richmond Dies in Hingham, Boston Herald newspaper obituary 20 January 1942

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 20 January 1942, page 17.

Services in Hingham for Former Teacher, Boston Herald newspaper article 22 January 1942

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 22 January 1942, page 21

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Boston Herald 21 June 1942

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 21 June 1942, page 23

And finally, in these three old newspaper articles, we learn of her death and the funeral arrangements.

That’s an incredible amount of genealogical and family history information I found in old newspaper articles—lots of stories, lots of details about her life—that have turned Madge Richmond from just another relative (with only name, birth and death dates) on the family tree into a member of the family that we know and understand better.

Dig into GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives to see what family history discoveries you can make and bring your family tree to life!

Researching Uncle Cledo’s Life Spurs Several ‘Oh Wow!’ Moments

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about several “Oh Wow!” genealogy moments he had when he researched a remarkable member of his extended family: the brilliant scientist Cledo Brunetti.

While I really enjoy every aspect of genealogy and family history, if you are like me, you really treasure and celebrate those amazing “Oh Wow!” moments when you make an unexpected research discovery.

For me one of these exciting genealogy research moments, which actually resulted in me doing my best Happy Dance (something like this that you do not want to witness), happened when I was looking through GenealogyBank.com for information on one of my wife’s great uncles, Cledo Brunetti. I had not done much work on my wife’s “Uncle Cledo,” but I had become intrigued by a number of family stories that this fellow was involved in sophisticated research on behalf of the United States. So off I went in search of the story of Uncle Cledo.

As I said, Oh Wow! My very first research discovery was a 1946 newspaper article that confirmed a whopping four of the family stories I had heard about Uncle Cledo.

Radar, Radio Pocket-Sized, Oregonian  newspaper article 9 February 1946

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 9 February 1946, page 1

First, it reported that Dr. Cledo Brunetti worked for the Bureau of Standards for the U.S. government. The old newspaper article went on to say that he was with a group instrumental in the development of the proximity fuse for American munitions, was involved in the creation of the first transistor radio (about the size of a pack of cigarettes), and had a hand in the invention of the very first printed circuits. Not a bad start to my ancestry research, especially since a subsequent newspaper article included the fact that Uncle Cledo was actually the Director of the Ordinance Division of the Bureau during World War II.

Then I opened another amazing research find! This 1947 news article reported that Uncle Cledo was introducing a “personal vest-pocket broadcasting station” for radio communications. One half was so small it fit in a tube of lipstick and the other half was on a calling card. This certainly seemed to be the beginnings of what I had been told was his development of the “Dick Tracy Wrist Radio.”

Radio Station Made to Fit Lipstick Tube, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 16 February 1947

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 16 February 1947, page 11

Best of all, this 1947 article featured a picture of Uncle Cledo!

photo of scientist Cledo Brunetti, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 16 February 1947

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 16 February 1947, page 11

Then surprise, surprise! In a 1948 newspaper I found an article entitled “Dick Tracy Radio May Come True” and who do you think was the inventor quoted? Yep, none other than Uncle Cledo and he was talking about having one made as a Christmas present for President Truman!

Dick Tracy Radio May Come True, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 11 August 1948

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 11 August 1948, page 14

A 1949 newspaper reported (with some wonderful photographs): “Dick Tracy’s Wrist Radio Comes True.” Yep, Uncle Cledo really did it!

Dick Tracy's Wrist Radio Comes True, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 20 February 1949

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 20 February 1949, page 26

Then I found a 1961 newspaper article that surprised even my wife, Mary Kay, Cledo Brunetti’s niece.

New U.S. Rocket Series Urged in Space Race, San Diego Union newspaper article 21 April 1961

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 21 April 1961, page 7

This old newspaper article quotes Uncle Cledo, in his role as president of the Grand Central Rocket Company, discussing his work on space rockets and how NASA could get a man on the moon—and his testifying before the House Space Committee in Washington D.C.

Wistfully, Mary Kay told me how much I would have loved meeting Uncle Cledo, and then she related how Uncle Cledo had given her and her family a private tour of the Lick Observatory while on a family vacation in California. It’s such a small world…my great uncle James Vanek was the man who accompanied the Warner & Swasey telescope parts on the train from Cleveland, Ohio, to the observatory where it was installed.

I thought I was done with my genealogy research on Uncle Cledo when I decided to do a quick Google search to augment my GenealogyBank.com information, and I found one more amazing item. It seems that ever since 1975 the world-premier award in nanotechnology, awarded by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is named the “Cledo Brunetti Award.”

What is the biggest Oh Wow! moment you have had in your genealogy efforts? I’d sure love to hear about it! Please share your ancestor stories in the comments.

Family Digs Up Old Grave to Find Family Bible and Claim Fortune

Over the past 50 years I have heard of many ways to source and document our ancestors.

Genealogists will “dig up” all types of sources but the solution that the Phillips family used has to be the most unusual.

I recently came across this, the most unusual genealogy sourcing story I have ever heard of. I found it in the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 15 April 1891, page 1.

Records Found in a Tomb newspaper article from the Plain Dealer 15 April 1891

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 15 April 1891, page 1

In 1891 the Phillips literally dug up their Family Bible that had been buried in the grave of a niece 25 years earlier.

This unusual story begins with Isaac Phillips (1766-1834), who was born in Easton, Massachusetts. He left his hometown in 1813 and moved to the South where he was “engaged in the slave trade and accumulated an enormous fortune.”  He kept his money—over $5 million at the time—at the Manhattan Bank of New York.

Isaac died in 1834, “his wife and only child having previously died.” For the next 70 years his relatives tried to prove their right to the fortune Isaac left behind. They had a lot of difficulty in tracking and documenting their genealogy and finally determined that the Family Bible had the answers.

But there was a problem: the Family Bible was buried in a cemetery. It seems that it was buried in the casket along with Isaac’s niece Susana Phillips, who died 4 June 1866.

The money was still safely in the bank, accumulating interest all the while. It was now worth more than $6 million—so the family secured permission to exhume Susana’s body and remove the Family Bible.

When they opened the grave the Family Bible was found and, although a little decayed, the family history “record [was] still perfectly legible” and gave them the information they needed to prove their genealogical connection and claim the family fortune.

Moral of the story: Keep an accurate and complete family history and preserve your documentation, like Family Bibles, that prove the record.

GenealogyBank Adds Irish Vital Records to Historical Newspaper Archive

Wow – I have found something I never noticed before in my genealogy research. A U.S. newspaper, the Irish American (New York City, New York), routinely published thousands of Irish marriage and death records from 1849 to 1914. No, not every Irish marriage and death record, but nonetheless an exceptionally wide coverage of marriages and deaths from across Ireland. This material is extensive enough that genealogists will want to thoroughly review this online newspaper for coverage of their family in Ireland.

Irish American genealogists quickly learn that Irish civil registration of deaths began in 1864. Wow! These Irish death records in the Irish American newspaper start in 1849 – 15 years before the official civil registration started.

Here is an example of deaths published in the 28 October 1849 issue of the Irish American.

Irish civil registration of marriages begins in 1864 for Catholic marriages and in 1845 for Protestant marriages. This collection starts in 1849 for Catholic and Protestant marriages.

Here is a typical example of an Irish marriage record: Thomas Mathews of Dunbar, County Louth, married Bride Somers of Court Brown, Askeaton, County Limerick, on 19 June 1895.

The Irish couple got married at the “Kingstown Catholic Church,” which is pictured in the center right of this 1895 image of Kingstown harbor. Kingstown is in Dublin County, Ireland.

Image credit: Library of Congress, digital ID pmsc.09881.

Reading further in this Irish marriage notice we learn that the bride was the eldest daughter of Michael Somers and the niece of John Fitzgibbon of Castlerea, County Roscommon. Wow – relatives in four counties are named: Louth, Dublin, Limerick, and Roscommon.

This is terrific information to help genealogists trace their Irish ancestry.

I never expected to find this depth of coverage of Irish marriages and deaths in a U.S. newspaper.

You just don’t see Irish vital records like this in American newspapers – but now you do in GenealogyBank.

Jacquelyn Ladd Ricker – 1935-2008

Long time office manager of the Connecticut Society of Genealogists has passed away.
A prolific genealogist and writer – she was a long time presence in Connecticut genealogical circles. She is best known for her republication of the Barbour Index to Connecticut Vital Records which was issued as a CD-ROM under the title: The Ricker Compilation of Vital Records of Early Connecticut Based on the Barbour Collection of Connecticut Town Vital Records and Other Statistical Sources.

Our condolences to the family.

Here is her obituary – posted by permission of GenealogyBank.com

Star-Gazette (Elmira, NY) – April 4, 2008
RICKER, Jacquelyn Ladd 1935-2008
Was born September 25th, 1935 in Elmira, NY, and passed away March 30th, 2008 in Payson, AZ. Mrs. Ricker graduated from Southside High School in Elmira, NY, and then attended Upsala College in East Orange, NJ. Mrs. Ricker returned to her native Elmira, and worked at the American Bridge Division of the U.S. Steel Corp in Elmira, where she met her husband.


After moving to Glastonbury, CT, she volunteered in several civic organizations while rearing their two sons. Then Mrs. Ricker began a career in genealogy and worked her way up to be Office Manager of the Connecticut Society of Genealogists. During this time, she became an active member in several genealogy organizations. She also became a prolific researcher of genealogy archives and was a noted author and editor of several genealogy publications. After retiring from The Connecticut Society of Genealogists, Mrs. Ricker moved to Payson, AZ with her husband and continued her extensive Genealogy research and publishing.

She also has been active with the Library Friends of the Payson Public Library, The Gila County Historical Society and The Zane Grey Cabin Foundation. Mrs. Ricker was predeceased earlier this year by her husband of nearly 50 years, David T. Ricker. Mrs. Ricker is survived by her sons, David W. Ricker of Dallas, TX, and Dr. Jonathan E. Ricker (Nancy) of Danville, KY. She is also survived by her mother, Arthea Johnson of Prescott, AZ; two brothers, William E. Ladd (Mary) of Scottsdale, AZ and Gary A. Ladd (Vivian); two grandchildren, Jeffrey L Ricker and Rachel E. Ricker, both of Danville, KY; four nephews and one niece.

A celebration of life will be held from 11:00 a.m. to noon Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008, at Messinger Payson Funeral Home, 302 W. Aero Dr., Payson, AZ. Memorial gifts may be sent in Mrs. Ricker’s honor to the Library of Friends, Payson Public Library, 328 N. McLane Rd., Payson, AZ 85541; Payson Humane Society, 812 S. McLane Rd, Payson, AZ 85541; RTA Hospice, 511 S. Mud Springs Rd., Payson, AZ 85541; and the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation, 201 N. McLane Rd., Payson, AZ 85541.

B-Ann Moorhouse (1925-2008)

Joy Rich, Editor, Dorot: The Journal of the Jewish Genealogical Society (New York), contacted me with the sad news that B-Ann Moorhouse has passed away.
She was a terrific genealogist. When I began researching in the 1960s I got to know her and always appreciated her kindness and assistance.

With permission I am reposting Joy’s announcement of her passing.

I write to you with a heavy heart about the passing of B-Ann Moorhouse. B-Ann was a professional genealogist (and a CG) for several decades. She was loved and respected by the enormous number of people whose lives she touched.

B-Ann was the epitome of kindness and graciousness. She believed in people and encouraged them to fulfill their potential. She was always eager to share – especially with the next generation of professional genealogists and with librarians and archivists – the astonishing amount of wisdom, knowledge, and insight she had in the field of genealogy, particularly concerning Irish and colonial American genealogy.

Another area of great interest to B-Ann was the history of African American families in Brooklyn. B-Ann was the founder in 1978 of the Ulster Historical Foundation’s Ulster Genealogical and Historical Guild, a research co-operative established to link people worldwide who shared a common interest in Irish genealogy. She also founded the Genealogy Workshop at the Brooklyn Historical Society, which, at the time, was named the Long Island Historical Society.

She authored numerous articles for genealogical publications, abstracted Kings County, New York, administration proceedings and typed them on an extremely temperamental computer, and created finding aids for New York City for several New York state censuses. B-Ann was given access to basements and storage rooms in New York City’s Municipal Archives (when it was still in the Tweed Courthouse), Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court, and the Long Island Historical Society. Left to her own devices, she proceeded to rummage around and found many hidden treasures that she brought to light.

B-Ann passed away on February 15, 2008, in Georgia. Her beloved niece, Ann, who assured me that B-Ann died peacefully, moved her there last year so that she could care for B-Ann in her last months. It will bring a smile to your lips to know that, under Ann’s care, our B-Ann of the small frame gained sixteen pounds in six months.

Soon before she moved to Georgia, Jim Garrity and I paid her what turned out to be our final visit. We took her for a stroll on the promenade in her Brooklyn Heights neighborhood and then out to dinner. We had a wonderful time. It is just one of so many good memories of her that we will have with us always.

B-Ann will be dearly missed by her friends and her family.

Joy Rich
Brooklyn, NY