A 1930s Secret Santa: the Christmas Story of Mr. B. Virdot

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn more about a wonderful Christmas story from the midst of the Great Depression: one man in Canton, Ohio, decided to do something to help his struggling neighbors that Christmas. And he did it anonymously.

There’s no doubt the sting of the Great Depression years was felt by families of all socio-economic levels in the United States. The severe economic downturn was a great equalizer and affected everyone – from the formerly well-off, country club member business man to the common laborer. That pain of crushing poverty would have felt even harsher during the holidays.

In 1933 one man in Canton, Ohio, decided to do something to help his neighbors at Christmas. Secretly under an assumed name, this man placed a newspaper ad, opened a bank account with $750, and proceeded to give away this money to those in need. While many families after the fact wrote letters thanking him, it wasn’t until 70 years later that the identity of this mysterious “Secret Santa” and the full impact of his generosity were uncovered through family history research.

The Christmas Gift

A week prior to Christmas, on 18 December 1933 in the Canton Ohio Repository, an advertisement was published titled “In Consideration of the White Collar Man” that invites those having financial difficulties to receive a check by sending a letter to B. Virdot, General Delivery, providing information about their circumstances.

an ad to help people financially struggling at Christmas during the Great Depression, Repository newspaper advertisement 18 December 1933

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 18 December 1933, page 3

That newspaper advertisement was not the only mention of this holiday gift in the paper that day. On the front page, a story about B. Virdot provides more information about the advertisement which ran only that one day. It begins:

A Canton man who was toppled from a large fortune to practically nothing but whom returning prosperity has helped fight back to wealth and comfort, has a Christmas present waiting for 75 deserving fellow townsmen.

Enter Last Name

The old news article continues on to say that this Christmas gift is one with no “strings, no embarrassment,” $10 to 75 families in need.* The holiday gift is meant for “men, like the giver, have once held responsible positions, have been deprived of their income through general economic conditions, but who hesitate to knock at charity’s door for aid.” The historical news article explains that the name “B. Virdot” is fictitious but the donor is a local businessman who has known financial difficulties and, with the help of others, has recovered and now wants to share that gift with others.

Man Who Felt Depression's Sting to Help 75 Unfortunate Families, Repository newspaper article 18 December 1933

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 18 December 1933, page 1

News of this Christmas gift was carried in other newspapers, with coverage continuing well after the fact. For example, in the early part of 1934 notice of B. Virdot’s generosity was printed in this Pennsylvania newspaper.

Once Hit by Hard Times, He Now Opens His Purse, National Labor Tribune newspaper article 24 February 1934

National Labor Tribune (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), 24 February 1934, page 5

The Family History

Normally, the touching Christmas story would end there: impoverished families receive generous gift from anonymous donor. What more could be said, in a case like that with no real name to track down? Letters written requesting assistance are ephemeral, and easily thrown away once read.

Enter Last Name

Fast forward 70 years when Ted Gup, a writer and newspaper reporter, was given a suitcase by his mother. The suitcase, belonging to his maternal grandfather, held family history documents that were of interest to Gup. But once opened, he also found letters from 1933, written by 150 people whose surnames he recognized as coming from his hometown  of Canton, Ohio, and all addressed to B. Virdot – a name unknown to him.** Why did his grandfather have these letters?

Through research and talking with his mother, Gup learned the magnitude of those letters. The true identity and miraculous secret kept all those years was that “B. Virdot” was his grandfather, Sam Stone, a Jewish Romanian immigrant who knew all too well about hardship. Amazingly, his selfless act not only helped people he didn’t know but also helped once-wealthy businessmen who were his acquaintances – but they never knew the identity of their benefactor.

Gup’s book, A Secret Gift: How One Man’s Kindness – and a Trove of Letters – Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression (2011), tells the story of not only his own family but also the present-day families of those helped by the B. Virdot checks. The research used to piece together these stories includes methods familiar to family historians: oral interviews, vital records, land records, and of course newspapers.

Another Lasting Legacy

Often when we research family history its impact is felt by us and those family members that we share it with. One of the big lessons of the story of B. Virdot/Sam Stone and the research done by his grandson is that it’s a mistake to not take into consideration our ancestor’s community. Friends, neighbors and acquaintances all had an impact on their lives. Ted Gup, by following up with the descendants of those check recipients, many of whom knew nothing about that aspect of their ancestor’s life, also gave back something important to those families, as his grandfather had done 70 years ago. He gave them the story of an event in the family’s life. By providing them the information from the letter, written in their ancestor’s own words, and the research of what happened after the gift, those families received something much more valuable.

You can read more about Ted Gup’s book at his website A Secret Gift. Copies of some of the letters can be found on the website. The letters and Gup’s research were donated to the Stark County Historical Society at the William McKinley Presidential Library in Canton. A list of the letter writers can be found on their Curator’s Corner blog.

Related Articles:

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* Originally the checks were to be $10 to 75 families, but because of the demonstrated need, 150 families received a $5 check which still was generous for the time.
** Gup’s book explains that the letters in the suitcase represent everyone who received a check. It is not known if there were other letters from people who were not chosen to receive a check.

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December Update: GenealogyBank Added 3 Million More Records!

Every day, GenealogyBank is working hard to digitize more newspapers and obituaries, expanding our collection to give you the largest newspaper archives for family history research available online. We just completed adding 3 million more U.S. genealogy records, vastly increasing our content coverage from coast to coast!

screenshot of GenealogyBank's home page showing the accouncement of 3 million more genealogy records being added in December

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

  • A total of 39 newspaper titles from 20 U.S. states
  • 13 of these titles are newspapers added to GenealogyBank for the first time
  • Newspaper titles marked with an asterisk (*) are new to our online archives
  • We’ve shown the newspaper issue date ranges so that you can determine if the newly added content is relevant to your personal genealogy research

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

State City Title Date Range Collection
Alabama Dadeville Dadeville Record, The* 09/08/2010–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Eclectic Eclectic Observer, The* 04/04/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Luverne Luverne Journal, The* 06/03/2010–Current Recent Obituaries
Arizona Poston Poston Chronicle 02/26/1943–05/16/1945 Newspaper Archives
Arkansas McGehee Rohwer Outpost 10/24/1942–07/21/1945 Newspaper Archives
Arkansas McGehee Rohwer Relocator* 08/01/1945–11/09/1945 Newspaper Archives
California Altedena AltadenaPoint* 01/10/2008–Current Recent Obituaries
California Manzanar Manzanar Free Press 04/21/1945–05/26/1945 Newspaper Archives
California Newell Tulean Dispatch* 05/30/1942–10/30/1943 Newspaper Archives
California Sacramento Sacramento Bee 1/16/1959–1/17/1959 Newspaper Archives
California San Francisco Corriere del Popolo 03/13/1917–03/13/1917 Newspaper Archives
California San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram 1/2/1947–12/30/1950 Newspaper Archives
Colorado Amache Granada Bulletin* 10/14/1942–10/24/1942 Newspaper Archives
Colorado Amache Granada Pioneer 11/01/1941–09/08/1945 Newspaper Archives
Colorado Denver Rocky Shimpo 06/02/1944–12/31/1945 Newspaper Archives
Florida Miami Miami Herald 5/5/1926–11/30/1926 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Augusta Augusta Chronicle 6/4/1983–10/7/2003 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Columbus Columbus Daily Enquirer 4/1/1935–12/29/1940 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Macon Macon Telegraph 11/1/1938–8/28/1942 Newspaper Archives
Kansas Wichita Wichita Eagle 6/30/1971–11/30/1972 Newspaper Archives
Kentucky Lexington Lexington Herald 1/1/1935–1/31/1938 Newspaper Archives
Louisiana New Orleans Times-Picayune 1/22/1936–12/2/1936 Newspaper Archives
Michigan Cassopolis Cassopolis Vigilant* 07/23/2009–Current Recent Obituaries
Michigan Edwardsburg Edwardsburg Argus* 07/20/2009–Current Recent Obituaries
New Jersey Trenton Trenton Evening Times 2/15/1946–11/11/1973 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Arbeiter Zeitung 09/23/1892–12/23/1892 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Vorwarts 11/25/1922–11/25/1922 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Charlotte Charlotte Observer 1/1/1931–10/26/1933 Newspaper Archives
Ohio Bellville Bellville Star, The* 11/21/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Ohio Mechanicsburg Telegram, The* 02/24/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Pennsylvania Erie Erie Tageblatt 02/24/1914–02/24/1914 Newspaper Archives
Pennsylvania State College Centre Daily Times 1/2/1981–10/31/1984 Newspaper Archives
Utah Topaz Topaz Times 09/26/1942–08/31/1945 Newspaper Archives
Virginia Chase City News-Progress, The* 02/23/2012–Current Recent Obituaries
Washington Bellingham Bellingham Herald 11/28/1941–8/30/1945 Newspaper Archives
Washington Bremerton Kitsap Sun: Web Edition Articles* 08/27/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Washington Olympia Morning Olympian 4/1/1945–11/27/1950 Newspaper Archives
Wisconsin Appleton Appleton Volksfreund 06/23/1921–06/29/1922 Newspaper Archives
Wisconsin Milwaukee Wahrheit 01/05/1901–12/26/1903 Newspaper Archives

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Filling In My Family Tree with Stories in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott shares some of the family stories he’s learned by searching through old newspapers—stories that help him get to know his ancestors better than just the names and dates on a family tree.

Everyone who enjoys working on their family history knows that nothing enhances your family tree and attracts more family to your work than the stories you weave together in your research! My family tree is full of interesting stories—and I am always on the lookout for more of them to add to our family history every opportunity I get. One of the best places I have found for discovering these stories is in historical newspapers—and GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives are my “go to” source for those newspapers.

GenealogyBank’s newspapers have given me some of the biggest leads in my genealogy work, as well as having added real sparkle to, and interest in, our family tree.

Enter Last Name










My Great Grandfather the Union Man

It was a newspaper discovery that really helped me break down the brick wall that was my maternal great grandfather, Joseph K. Vicha. My breakthrough genealogical find was this 1896 newspaper article that stated: “J. K. Vicha of the Clothing Salesmen’s union was nominated and elected by acclamation.” With this tidbit of knowledge that my great grandfather had been the president of the Central Labor Union, I was able to begin following his career through the years.

article about Joseph Vicha being elected president of the Central Labor Union, Plain Dealer newspaper article 9 January 1896

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 January 1896, page 3

It was then with particular interest that I read an article from the same date but published in a different Cleveland newspaper, titled “Peanut Reform. How the Central Labor Union Regards the School Bank.” It seems that with my great grandfather as president, the Central Labor Union was protesting the establishment of savings accounts at public schools…something that I well remember from my own younger school days. I guess he must not have been successful in his protest on this matter!

article about the Central Labor Union protesting the establishment of savings accounts at public schools, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 9 January 1896

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 January 1896, page 8

My Mother’s First Engagement

Another fascinating fact I found concerned my own mother. While I was looking for any possible newspaper articles regarding her marriage to my dad, I happened to find this 1942 article. It was a brief story regarding an engagement announcement made by my grandmother for my mother, Laverne Evenden. However, I quickly noticed it was to a man she never ended up marrying. What a fun family find! Plus it brought a great opportunity for me to hear the whole story of what happened from my mom later on.

engagement notice for Laverne Evenden and Lincoln Christensen, Plain Dealer newspaper article 4 January 1942

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 January 1942, page 50

My Cousin & Minnie

Of course one of my all-time favorite story finds in the newspaper for my family tree—as regular readers of this blog have heard me talk about before—was the story of one of my cousins, Joseph Kapl, who as a zookeeper was almost trampled to death by the “loveable” Minnie the elephant!

article about zookeeper Joseph Kapl and Minnie the elephant, Plain Dealer newspaper article 23 March 1915

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

The West Side “Dean”

In one instance I was able to find, in an obituary, wonderful details about the life of another of my ancestors, Dr. J. J. Kotershall. While I am accustomed to finding worthwhile genealogical information in obituaries, Dr. Kotershall’s held some real gems. His 1945 obituary explained that he was “instrumental in bringing to Cleveland the city’s first X-ray units in 1903.” It also reported: “Born in Cleveland of Bohemian parentage, Dr. Kotershall had spent the major part of his practice among the Bohemian, Slavic, Polish, and German groups on the West Side.” The old news article even listed where he attended college and conducted his internship. It was a real gold mine.

obituary for Dr. Joseph Kotershall, Plain Dealer newspaper article 11 December 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 December 1945, page 6

Pictures of the Pretty Twins

On another occasion I was working on a branch of our family tree that included two sisters, Josephine and Florence. I had the feeling they might be twins since their births were listed as the same on the 1920 U.S. Census. Then I discovered a 1937 article with the headline “Twins Choose Dissimilar Careers.” This old newspaper article confirmed my suspicion that the sisters were indeed twins, plus it featured photographs of the twins as well—and provided a very complete review of their formative years. The best, however, might have been the fact that it also listed their parents and home address.

article about the twins Florence and Josephine Kotershall, Plain Dealer newspaper article 7 June 1937

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 7 June 1937, page 3

Enter Last Name










A Genuine Country Fair

In addition to our ancestors’ stories that we can find in newspapers, there are also those stories we can discover that add to our understanding of places and events in our own lives. For instance, as a youngster I remember when the week of the county fair was something that my buddies and I looked forward to all year long. The rides, the midway, the games, the booths, the animals, and naturally the food! In just a few minutes of searching in the newspapers I found an 1896 article showing that the fair began as the “West Cuyahoga County Fair” and was advertised in the newspaper back then as “a genuine country fair.”

article about the West Cuyahoga County Fair in Ohio, Plain Dealer newspaper article 16 September 1896

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 September 1896, page 10

As this 1927 newspaper advertisement shows, it is evident that the fair had become “the” fair since it was billed as simply the “Cuyahoga County Fair” complete with horse racing and the King’s Rodeo.

ad for the Cuyahoga County Fair in Ohio, Plain Dealer newspaper advertisement 28 August 1927

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 August 1927, page 10

It was even more fun when I came across a 1967 news article. Oh, how that one brought back memories! My best boyhood friend Matt and I would marvel at the sideshow barkers while we tried to make up our minds as to which show we would spend some of our hard-earned paper route money to see! Those were the days!

article about the sideshow barkers at the Cuyahoga County Fair in Ohio, Plain Dealer newspaper article 18 August 1967

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 August 1967, page 8

Over and over, newspapers provide us with key leads, great stories, and many details about the times of both our own lives and our ancestors.

What are some of your favorite stories you have found in the newspapers as you work on your genealogy and family history? I’d love to hear them so please leave a comment!

Related Articles about Family Stories in Newspapers:

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Where Did My Ancestors Work? Newspapers Reveal Occupations

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott shows how old newspapers can tell you a lot about your ancestors’ occupations and workplaces, and thereby better understand their lives and the times in which they lived.

Everyone works. They say the only things you can’t avoid are death and taxes, but I’d have to add “working” to that list. And in our genealogy this is a good thing. Searching for information about our ancestors’ occupations and work can add significantly to our family trees. This is especially true when you work with the thousands of newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

We can gain some exciting and interesting insights into the lives of our ancestors when we add their occupations to our usual family research. As a matter of fact, my family tree is peppered with some wonderful discoveries that came as the result of researching the occupations and workplaces of my ancestors.

One of the aspects of my youth that I regret is that I neither paid close enough attention to, nor asked enough questions about, the work of several of my ancestors who are now gone.

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Uncle Chuck

One example is my uncle Chuck. I remember from my youth and family stories that he worked for a company with the name of Acme-Cleveland, but not much more. So not long ago I decided to do some research to see if I could learn more about one of my favorite uncles.

When I searched on the company name “Acme Cleveland,” GenealogyBank’s search results page showed 2,600 hits. One of those results was this 1978 newspaper article which gave a detailed history of the company, explaining that its roots go all the way back to 1896. It also mentioned that the headquarters were at one time considered “to be one of the most modern manufacturing plants in the United States.” This is a fact I never knew when we would drive by and I would always shout in the car, as though my parents and sisters didn’t know: “That’s where Uncle Chuck works!” In the last paragraph of this old newspaper article they even quoted my uncle.

National Acme Division of Acme-Cleveland, Plain Dealer newspaper article 19 July 1978

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 July 1978, page 23

 My Great-Great-Grandfather Frederick Evenden

In another instance, I decided to do some occupational research on my mother’s family. She lost her dad when she was only 12 so I didn’t have much to go on—but one of the stories my mother had shared was that her paternal grandfather, Frederick Evenden (1851-1918) had worked for a firm by the name of Chandler and Rudd. I began my newspaper search and soon found several advertisements for Chandler and Rudd published in an 1876 newspaper. It immediately sounded like a wonderful grocery store. Listed in the advertisements were enticing entries for cheese, nuts, fruit, etc. What a cornucopia of edible offerings!

food ads for grocer Chandler & Rudd, Cleveland Leader newspaper advertisements 28 November 1876

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 November 1876, page 8

Then I found this Chandler and Rudd advertisement in a 1907 newspaper for Easter week. It was fun to see they were offering some of the same Easter treats we can get today, such as Cream Easter Eggs, Marshmallow Eggs, and Chocolate Covered Almonds, plus some others I was unfamiliar with—like Sunshine Candies, Nut Puffs, and Chocolate Covered Fig Squares.

Easter ad for grocer Chandler and Rudd, Plain Dealer newspaper article 18 March 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 March 1907, page 9

My Grandfather-in-Law Pasquale D’Aquila

On my wife’s side of the family we are blessed to have many family members who owed their livelihoods to the iron mining industry. My wife’s paternal grandfather, Pasquale D’Aquila, was one of those men who toiled away in the austere conditions of the open pit iron ore mines of Northern Minnesota. This was only after he had spent a few years in the mines of Minas Gerais, Brazil; then Western Canada; and then Montana. Sadly, Pasquale passed away long before I joined the family, so I did some newspaper research on what it was like in the mines in his day.

Enter Last Name










I first found this 1902 newspaper article. In addition to saying Hibbing, Minnesota, was “what is known in the expressive vernacular of the street as a ‘crackerjack,’” the article also stated: “Hibbing is at present the theater of greatest iron mining activity on the planet.”

Hibbing Theater of Big Iron Production, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 19 October 1902

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 19 October 1902, page 2

But of course it wasn’t all “crackerjack”—the mining work was hard and dangerous, as were other types of work such as railroads and sawmills. This 1903 newspaper article reported that more than 1,000 “casualties among the working people of Minnesota” had occurred in the past year.

Many Accidents During the Year, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 3 October 1903

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 3 October 1903, page 2

Sometimes it was dangerous just getting to work in the mines in those days, as reported in this 1911 newspaper article. The Scranton Mine was one of the mines Pasquale worked in, and the article explained an accident in detail—and reported that the men involved were John Lampi, Emil Jackson, and John Fari.

article about a train accident at the Scranton Mine, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 11 November 1911

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 11 November 1911, page 3

Here’s another mining accident, reported in this 1916 newspaper article. The Albany Mine was another mine in which Pasquale worked, and this article explained how a dozen railroad cars, each filled with 50 tons of ore, broke loose and wrecked in the mine.

article about a train accident at the Albany Mine, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 5 November 1916

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 5 November 1916, page 8

This 1918 newspaper article reported another danger my ancestor faced: the scourge of Spanish influenza. This article explained that the area was under consideration for the imposition of martial law to combat the spread of this flu. The article detailed the situation in Grand Rapids, Gilbert, Hibbing, Aitkin, and Virginia, Minnesota, even listing an entire paragraph of the names of all those who died from the flu in Grand Rapids alone. No doubt, it had to have been a challenging life in a tough environment.

article about the Spanish flu, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 12 November 1918

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 12 November 1918, page 9

These many articles from the historical newspapers of GenealogyBank have added immensely to my family tree and my genealogy work. So when you get into your family history work, be sure to do some of your searching on the occupations and companies of your ancestors. These articles really add some wonderful depth and richness to your family tree!

Do you know what type of work your ancestors did for a living? Share their occupations with us in the comments.

Related Ancestor Occupation Research Articles:

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How to Uncover Vital Record Clues in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott starts off searching old newspapers for clues to help him find his ancestor’s birth record—and finds so much information that he ends up filling out a new branch of his family tree!

We all know the frustration we feel when, in working on our genealogy, we can’t find an elusive—but important—vital record for one of our ancestors. I suggest that one good approach is to search for genealogical clues in the historical newspapers from your ancestor’s era.

The good news is that, at times, these clues are waiting to be found in all kinds of locations throughout the newspapers. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean, based on searches I’ve done in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Clues about the Birth of My Cousin

While I have a wealth of information on one of my first cousins twice removed, Joseph Vicha, I have been unable to find his actual birth document to verify the year he was born. So I set out to see what clues to his birth I might find in the newspapers. My first discovery was this divorce notice in an 1899 Cleveland newspaper, which provided me with two very useful genealogy clues. It seems that Mrs. Barbara Vicha was seeking a legal separation, divorce, and alimony from Joseph Vicha. This old news article not only lists their wedding date as 13 June 1896, it also notes that Barbara was seeking the return of her maiden name of Vomasta.

divorce notice for Joseph and Barbara Vicha, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 8 August 1899

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 8 August 1899, page 10

These two clues—her maiden name and their wedding date—enabled me to do a follow-up search at Ancestry.com, where I found the marriage license for their marriage—which in turn gave me the additional information of the year of his birth!

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Investigating More of My Family Tree

As is so often the case in genealogy, I then became interested in finding out more about not only Joseph, but his wife, Barbara (Vomasta) Vicha. One thing led to another and, several hours later, I had learned a substantial amount about this interesting family. It was like opening a picture window to life in the early Czech community of Cleveland, all through one family.

As I continued my genealogy research I discovered that Barbara remarried after her divorce from Joseph. Not surprisingly it was to another Czech, with the surname of Vlk. I then did a search on Barbara Vlk and found this helpful obituary in a 1936 Cleveland newspaper. It is for a man named John Vonasta [Vomasta], and mentions that he was the “beloved brother of Barbara Vlk.” This obituary also lists two nieces, complete with their married names: Edna Carroll and Gladys Baldy [Baldi].

obituary for John Vomasta, Plain Dealer newspaper article 9 October 1936

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 October 1936, page 23

I followed up these clues with a search of one of the City Directories for Cleveland, Ohio, dated 1891. In it I read that while the head of the household, Vaclav (later James) Vomasta, was a laborer, his son John Vomasta was listed as a cigar maker. Both were reported as living on Rock Street, which was deep in the heart of one of the largest Czech neighborhoods in Cleveland. It must have been a hardscrabble life for Vaclav since in the 1910 U.S. Census he is listed as a “(street) shovel” at the age of 65.

Discovering More Genealogy Clues…

There was another clue in John Vomasta’s obituary. Did you notice that last line? It reads: “New Haven (Conn.) papers please copy.” This was the Cleveland editors’ way of letting the New Haven editors know this obituary would be of interest to their own readers. Why would a Cleveland cigar maker’s death be of interest to readers in New Haven, Connecticut? This led me to additional searches, in which I discovered that John Vomasta was listed as a tenant in New Haven, Connecticut, in the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Censuses.

I wondered why a cigar maker might be drawn to New Haven, Connecticut—and so I did a bit of searching on the cigar industry there. GenealogyBank’s newspapers did not disappoint me as there were literally hundreds of search results on this topic. It seems that there was quite a flourishing cigar industry in New Haven in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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One example is this article from an 1899 New Haven newspaper. This article features F. D. Grave and his “Judge’s Cave” Cigar company. The occasion was the imminent move of his “well known cigar factory” to a “magnificent four-story building at Nos. 204 to 210 State Street,” and the “excellent dinner and musical entertainment” he gave for his 285 employees to celebrate the move. Could this have been where John Vomasta worked? After all, the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Census returns for him list his address as 440 State Street, just up the street from F. D. Grave’s cigar factory.

article about F. D. Grave and his "Judge's Cave" cigar company, New Haven Register newspaper article 6 January 1899

New Haven Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 6 January 1899, page 7

As I continued researching this family, I discovered a variety of life’s occurrences. One of the daughters, who was once Gladys Baldi, had remarried—only to have this husband tragically die in an automobile accident slightly less than 14 months after they were married. Wanting to be complete in my genealogy research, but not expecting to find much from a marriage of less than 1 ½ years, I was interested when I found this 2001 obituary for Gladys K. Glaser in a Kansas City newspaper. This obituary provided me with the fact that, in spite of the short duration of her second marriage, their union produced a daughter, in addition to the son she had from her first marriage. I also learned that at the time of her passing she had seven grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, a nephew—and her sister Edna was still alive.

obituary for Gladys Glaser, Kansas City Star newspaper article 19 February 2001

Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), 19 February 2001

With this helpful obituary providing me with Gladys’s survivors’ full names and places of residence, I now had many more clues to follow up on:

  • Sister Edna Carroll in Kelley Island, Ohio
  • Son (from Gladys’s first marriage) Bill Baldi in Shawnee, Kansas
  • Married Daughter (from Gladys’s second marriage) Bonnie Edwards in Kent, Ohio
  • Nephew Roger Carroll (Edna’s son) in Ravenna, Ohio
  • Plus those seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren to track down!

Just think: I began this search looking for one simple vital statistic that I found to be elusive: the birth year for my relative Joseph Vicha—but came away with a whole new branch of our family tree growing right before me, and many more clues for additional family history research.

Now before I get back to looking for Joseph Vicha’s birth document—which is what I started off trying to find and would still like to track down—let me ask: what have been some of the best clues in historical newspapers that you have found for your genealogy and family history?

Related Genealogy Clues Articles:

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GenealogyBank Just Added 6 Million More Genealogy Records!

Every day, GenealogyBank is working hard to digitize more newspapers and obituaries, rapidly expanding our content to give you the most comprehensive newspaper archives and largest obituary collection for family history research available online. We just completed adding 6 million more U.S. genealogy records, vastly increasing our content coverage from coast to coast!

screenshot of GenealogyBank's homepage announcing the addition of 6 million more genealogy records

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

  • A total of 42 newspaper titles from 19 U.S. states
  • 21 of these titles are newspapers added to GenealogyBank for the first time
  • Newspaper titles marked with an asterisk (*) are new to our online archives
  • We’ve shown the newspaper issue date ranges so that you can determine if the newly added content is relevant to your personal genealogy research

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

State City Title Date Range Collection
Alabama Birmingham Birmingham Courier* 08/19/1899–09/12/1903 Newspaper Archives
Alabama Cullman Nord Alabama Colonist* 07/01/1881–07/01/1881 Newspaper Archives
Alaska Anchorage Alaska Dispatch News* 07/10/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Alaska Anchorage Alaska Dispatch* 10/15/2009–Current Recent Obituaries
California Marin Sausalito Marin Scope* 09/16/2009–Current Recent Obituaries
California Novato Novato Advance* 08/26/2009–Current Recent Obituaries
California San Francisco Corriere del Popolo 01/04/1916–07/25/1935 Newspaper Archives
California San Francisco San Francisco Chronicle 12/5/1908–9/1/1927 Newspaper Archives
California San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram 4/6/1934–12/31/1937 Newspaper Archives
California San Rafael San Rafael News Pointer* 03/10/2010–Current Recent Obituaries
Connecticut Stamford Stamford Advocate 4/5/1829–12/31/1841 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Macon Macon Telegraph 5/1/1932–5/20/1934 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Marietta Marietta Journal 4/14/1871–11/15/1990 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Toccoa Toccoa Record, The* 06/24/2004–Current Recent Obituaries
Idaho Boise Idaho Statesman 8/16/1931–12/31/1933 Newspaper Archives
Iowa Perry Perry Chief* 06/06/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Iowa Story City Story City Herald* 06/11/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Kentucky Lexington Lexington Herald 10/4/1929–12/31/1930 Newspaper Archives
Louisiana New Orleans New Orleans States 6/1/1920–6/1/1920 Newspaper Archives
Mississippi Biloxi Daily Herald 1/21/1937–3/27/1937 Newspaper Archives
New Jersey Egg Harbor City Egg Harbor Pilot 06/22/1872–07/20/1872 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Arbeiter Zeitung* 11/28/1874–05/19/1878 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Cristoforo Colombo 02/04/1892–08/20/1892 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Eco D’Italia* 01/01/1890–12/31/1896 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Fiaccola* 09/05/1912–02/10/1921 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Freiheit* 12/26/1903–12/26/1903 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Fur Worker* 09/01/1917–04/01/1931 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Progresso Italo-Americano 01/09/1886–12/27/1889 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Vorwarts 01/02/1915–10/29/1921 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Charlotte Charlotte Observer 6/1/1928–5/31/1929 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Record 5/6/1908–5/6/1908 Newspaper Archives
Ohio Cleveland Sendbote* 01/05/1927–06/26/1952 Newspaper Archives
Oregon Cannon Beach Cannon Beach Gazette* 05/02/2008–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Hermiston Hermiston Herald, The* 02/28/2001–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Seaside Seaside Signal* 03/25/2010–Current Recent Obituaries
South Dakota Aberdeen Aberdeen American 11/5/1924–11/21/1924 Newspaper Archives
South Dakota Aberdeen Aberdeen Daily News 6/29/1911–1/23/2000 Newspaper Archives
South Dakota Aberdeen Aberdeen Journal 3/3/1922–3/3/1922 Newspaper Archives
South Dakota Eureka Eureka Post* 06/06/1912–06/06/1912 Newspaper Archives
Vermont St. Albans St. Albans Daily Messenger 3/31/2006–3/31/2006 Newspaper Archives
Washington Bellingham Bellingham Herald 5/2/1935–6/29/1937 Newspaper Archives
Wisconsin Milwaukee Milwaukee Herold und Seebote* 01/01/1901–01/01/1901 Newspaper Archives

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GenealogyBank Just Added 7 Million More Genealogy Records!

Every day, GenealogyBank is working hard to digitize more newspapers and obituaries, expanding our collection to give you the largest newspaper archives for family history research available anywhere online. We just completed adding 7 million more U.S. genealogy records, vastly increasing our content coverage from U.S. coast to coast!

screenshot of GenealogyBank's home page announcing addition of 7 million more genealogy records

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

  • A total of 52 newspaper titles from 21 U.S. states
  • 19 of these titles are newspapers added to GenealogyBank for the first time
  • Newspaper titles marked with an asterisk (*) are new to our online archives
  • We’ve shown the newspaper issue date ranges so that you can determine if the newly added content is relevant to your personal genealogy research

The list of our new newspaper additions is directly below. Also, see our entire list of newspaper archives by state to see all of our archived collections.

State City Title Date Range Collection
Arizona Tucson TucsonSentinel.com* 01/28/2010–Current Recent Obituaries
California Barstow Desert Dispatch* 03/16/2007–Current Recent Obituaries
California San Francisco Corriere del Popolo 09/05/1922–12/20/1945 Newspaper Archives
California San Francisco San Francisco Chronicle 9/19/1881–4/30/1915 Newspaper Archives
California San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram 4/2/1934–3/30/1937 Newspaper Archives
California Santa Monica Santa Monica Mirror* 01/07/2010–Current Recent Obituaries
Colorado Bayfield Pine River Times* 02/21/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Colorado Denver Denver Rocky Mountain News 5/1/1908–5/31/1908 Newspaper Archives
Florida Lake City Lake City Reporter* 11/01/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Georgia Elberton Elberton Star & Examiner, The* 08/02/2004–Current Recent Obituaries
Georgia Hartwell Hartwell Sun, The* 01/05/2012–Current Recent Obituaries
Georgia Lavonia Franklin County Citizen* 01/02/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Georgia Marietta Marietta Journal 1/29/1964–12/13/1991 Newspaper Archives
Idaho Boise Idaho Statesman 8/16/1929–12/30/1933 Newspaper Archives
Illinois Highland Highland News Leader* 04/03/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Kentucky Lexington Lexington Herald 10/1/1929–1/31/1930 Newspaper Archives
Louisiana Lafayette Acadiana Advocate, The* 12/13/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Louisiana New Orleans New Orleans Item 9/19/1911–9/19/1911 Newspaper Archives
Louisiana New Orleans New Orleans States 10/25/1922–10/25/1922 Newspaper Archives
Maryland Baltimore Katholische Volkszeitung 04/08/1871–09/02/1871 Newspaper Archives
Massachusetts Hopkinton Hopkinton Independent, The* 05/16/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Massachusetts Millbury Millbury-Sutton Chronicle* 05/03/2007–Current Recent Obituaries
Michigan Ann Arbor Ann Arbor News 4/16/1909–5/31/1917 Newspaper Archives
Michigan Detroit Herold 01/27/1911–01/27/1911 Newspaper Archives
Michigan Flint Flint Journal 1/26/1900–5/17/1920 Newspaper Archives
Michigan Muskegon Muskegon Chronicle 4/30/1880–5/26/1917 Newspaper Archives
Michigan Saginaw Saginaw News 12/23/1893–5/24/1895 Newspaper Archives
Mississippi Biloxi Daily Herald 1/1/1937–6/30/1942 Newspaper Archives
New Jersey Bridgeton Bridgeton Evening News 9/1/1896–5/7/1921 Newspaper Archives
New Jersey Egg Harbor City Egg Harbor Pilot 04/12/1862–07/27/1872 Newspaper Archives
New Jersey Jersey City Jersey Journal 7/14/1891–10/6/1922 Newspaper Archives
New Jersey Trenton Trenton Evening Times 12/30/1922–2/1/1946 Newspaper Archives
New Mexico Carlsbad Carlsbad Current-Argus* 01/28/2005–Current Recent Obituaries
New Mexico Deming Deming Headlight* 06/03/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
New York New York Cristoforo Colombo 08/28/1892–08/22/1893 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Jewish Messenger 04/29/1870–06/05/1891 Newspaper Archives
New York New York New Yorker Volkszeitung 05/25/1920–11/25/1922 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Progresso Italo-Americano* 09/21/1884–12/11/1889 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Sozialist 02/16/1889–02/16/1889 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Vorwarts 09/02/1893–12/30/1922 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Charlotte Charlotte Observer 7/1/1927–7/31/1927 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Spruce Pine Mitchell News-Journal* 06/12/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Ohio Bellevue RFD News* 10/01/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Ohio Cincinnati Catholic Telegraph, The* 03/06/2009–Current Recent Obituaries
Ohio Cleveland Cleveland Leader 9/5/1862–4/3/1885 Newspaper Archives
Ohio Cleveland Plain Dealer 1/1/1923–6/5/1923 Newspaper Archives
Ohio Fredericktown Knox County Citizen* 12/11/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
South Dakota Aberdeen Aberdeen Daily News 10/29/1925–5/19/1996 Newspaper Archives
Washington Bellingham Bellingham Herald 1/1/1935–6/30/1937 Newspaper Archives
Washington Olympia Morning Olympian 6/24/1940–12/30/1941 Newspaper Archives
Wisconsin Appleton Appleton Volksfreund 10/02/1919–02/17/1921 Newspaper Archives
Wisconsin La Crosse La Crosse Volksfreund 07/11/1906–07/11/1906 Newspaper Archives

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Sleuthing for Clues in the News to Solve Genealogy Mysteries

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how tiny clues in old newspapers can lead to big family history discoveries.

Every genealogist I have ever met seems to be a combination of Perry Mason, Jessica Fletcher, Columbo, Christine Cagney, Mary Beth Lacey, Thomas Magnum, and Sherlock Holmes—searching everywhere for clues, following each one (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant), and putting together the strongest case they can.

illustration of Sherlock Holmes in “The Five Orange Pips”

Illustration: Sherlock Holmes in “The Five Orange Pips.” Source: Wikimedia.org.

One of my favorite places to hunt for clues in my genealogy and family history is the online collection of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. There always seems to be some new discovery for me to delve into in order to make our family tree more complete.

Sleuthing for Clues in the News

Sometimes these genealogical clues are truly tiny—but when pursued, can lead to valuable information and additions to our family trees. Such was the case when I came across a small, three-sentence article in an 1897 newspaper.

article about Mary Lisy, Plain Dealer newspaper article 16 May 1897

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 May 1897, page 13

Having already identified that I had a couple in our family tree of Joseph and Mary Lisy, I decided this was worth investigating further. It certainly seemed to have all the elements of a highly interesting genealogy story. So my work began.

Enter Last Name










Investigating Joseph & Mary Lisy

In another Ohio newspaper the very next day was an even shorter article, this one containing only one sentence.

article about Mary Lisy, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 17 May 1897

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 May 1897, page 6

Now I had some nice pieces of information to further my ancestry research. First I learned that the court that heard this case was the Probate Court, and, second, that this Mary Lisy was a patient in a facility named Cleveland State Hospital.
I began to look for Mary Lisy in the Census records of the time and sure enough, in the 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 United States Census records is listed “Lisy, Mary, Inmate” at the Cleveland State Hospital for the Insane. I then continued to look in GenealogyBank’s newspapers to see if there might be something I could learn about the institution itself.

My initial archive search returned hundreds and hundreds of search results. Many, like this 1909 newspaper article, detail terrible conditions and chronic overcrowding in the Cleveland State Hospital.

Asylum Cramped, Governor Finds, Plain Dealer newspaper article 9 August 1909

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 August 1909, page 1

Then in the 1940 United States Census returns I discovered Mary Lisy, who—while still listed as an “inmate”—was now at Hawthornden State Hospital (Insane) and had been at this facility at least since 1935. While I was not familiar with this facility from any of my prior research, it didn’t take me long to find this 1941 newspaper article, which contains a lot of good information on the system of insane asylums in Ohio, including Hawthornden.

Ohio Insane Asylums Slated for Repairs, Repository newspaper article 10 January 1941

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 10 January 1941, page 12

Genealogy Sleuthing Stumbling Block

Then I had one of those “uh-oh, I knew this was going too smoothly” moments in my genealogy research. As I continued researching Joseph and Mary Lisy, I discovered that there were at least two men in Cleveland named Joseph Lisy who had almost identical birth years. Both also happened to have married women with the given name of Mary, who also had similar birth years. To make this matter even more confusing, all these folks were Bohemian as well.

Enter Last Name










One of the couples seemed to have had a fairly “normal” life, but the other couple had a darker life together—including this Mary having been in an asylum for decades, as shown in this 1901 newspaper article. This article detailed a court case in which Joseph Lisy was found guilty of failing to provide for his four minor children and was sentenced to the workhouse.

article about Joseph Lisy, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 February 1901

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 February 1901, page 12

This complication of multiple Joseph and Mary Lisy couples was a great learning experience for me and a good example of the need to get as much definitive documentation as we can find to ensure that our family trees are true and accurate.

Expanding My Genealogy Search

I branched out my research to include records from Cuyahoga County, the Ohio Probate Court, the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services, several local genealogical and history organizations, the diocese of Cleveland, several cemeteries, and, much to my luck, a cousin who was also struggling with this same dilemma. As they say “two heads are better than one,” and we all know this is certainly at its truest when it comes to genealogy and family history research.

It took some time to sift through all of the death listing for each Mary Lisy that we could find, but that is what we did. As we winnowed them down, one was discovered from 1960 that placed her death at the “Millcreek Psych. Ctr” in Knox County, Ohio. Of all the death listings for women named Mary Lisy, after the 1940 Census, this was the only one with any hint of an institution as the location of her death. It was from 1960, which means Mary had lived in Ohio insane asylums for over 60 years of her life, which was a sobering thought all by itself. Both my cousin and I agreed this was the most promising lead we had, so it was picked to be our first to pursue.

Then almost all at once the genealogy research started falling into place like dominos.

Pieces of the Family Mystery Come Together

Our first break came when a very helpful priest in the diocese provided a copy of the parish register for the marriage of Joseph and Mary, which gave us her maiden name of Bolf (Wolf).

photo of the marriage registry for Joseph Lisy and Mary Bolf

Photo: marriage registry for Joseph Lisy and Mary Bolf

Second, the archivist from the Cuyahoga County Probate Court sent me the files on the insanity hearings for Mary Lisy. Pages and pages of information—then in about the middle, penciled in the margin of one of the records was this: “nee Wolf.”

My cousin called to say that when she was speaking to her husband about this mystery, he mused aloud about why Mary would have been transferred to Hawthornden—which was not in Cuyahoga County, but rather in Summit County, Ohio. She said this didn’t click right away, but then like a bolt of lightning it struck her.

She recalled that the only children of Mary Lisy who were still alive in 1960 had been listed as living in Cuyahoga County, according to the 1940 Census. However, there was a cemetery listing in one obituary for a cemetery in Summit County, Ohio. The obituary for Edward Votypka was in a 1944 newspaper and nicely mentioned the cemetery by name.

obituary for Edward Votypka, Plain Dealer newspaper article 14 March 1944

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 14 March 1944, page 10

It was, as she said “a tenuous connection,” but she placed a call to the cemetery. There a wonderfully helpful staff member was able to verify that a family member had purchased 12 graves for a family plot. Not only were several of the children and other family members of Mary Lisy interred there, but one grave was the final resting place of Mary Lisy herself!

We are now tidying up the rest of our genealogy research on Mary and Joseph Lisy. And to think—this all came about from a three-sentence article in an 1897 newspaper!

What is the best and biggest genealogy and family history discovery you have made from a newspaper article? I’d love to learn about them so please leave your story in the comments here. Thanks for reading and Godspeed in your genealogy sleuthing!

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Extra! Extra! 12 Million More Newspaper Articles for Research!

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 12 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 announcement of the recent addition of 12 million articles and records to its digitized newspaper collection

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

  • A total of 73 newspaper titles from 24 U.S. states
  • 45 of these titles are newspapers added to GenealogyBank for the first time
  • Newspaper titles marked with an asterisk (*) are new to our online archives
  • We’ve shown the newspaper issue date ranges so that you can determine if the newly added content is relevant to your personal genealogy research

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

State City Title Date Range Collection
Alabama Mobile Alabama Staats-Zeitung 10/09/1902–02/08/1917 Newspaper Archives
California Fresno Fresno Morning Republican 10/17/1922–8/20/1925 Newspaper Archives
California Riverside Riverside Daily Press 10/1/1940–9/29/1945 Newspaper Archives
California San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram 1/3/1922–3/25/1931 Newspaper Archives
California Stockton Record, The: Blogs* 05/15/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Florida Miami Miami Herald 1/1/1923–3/31/1926 Newspaper Archives
Florida Miami Nuevo Herald 7/1/1977–4/30/1984 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Augusta Augusta Chronicle 12/2/1978–12/31/1981 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Columbus Columbus Daily Enquirer 4/10/1930–10/12/1931 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Macon Macon Telegraph 1/1/1929–6/22/1930 Newspaper Archives
Idaho Boise Idaho Statesman 10/1/1926–8/14/1931 Newspaper Archives
Illinois Chicago Chicagoer Freie Presse 07/02/1896–07/02/1896 Newspaper Archives
Illinois Chicago Illinois Staats Zeitung* 04/21/1898–04/21/1898 Newspaper Archives
Illinois Springfield Daily Illinois State Journal 8/1/1947–6/30/1950 Newspaper Archives
Indiana Indianapolis Indiana Lawyer* 11/05/2003–Current Recent Obituaries
Iowa Ames Iowa State Daily* 06/20/1995–Current Recent Obituaries
Kentucky Lexington Lexington Herald 6/1/1927–7/31/1928 Newspaper Archives
Maryland Baltimore Katholische Volkszeitung 01/06/1872–07/15/1876 Newspaper Archives
Massachusetts Boston Boston American 4/16/1953–3/28/1960 Newspaper Archives
Massachusetts Boston Huntington News, The* 09/24/2002–Current Recent Obituaries
Michigan Detroit Detroiter Abend-Post* 08/18/1929–08/18/1929 Newspaper Archives
Michigan Detroit Herold 01/06/1911–12/29/1911 Newspaper Archives
Mississippi Biloxi Daily Herald 7/1/1932–3/30/1940 Newspaper Archives
Missouri Sedalia Sedalia Democrat, The* 11/14/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Nebraska Omaha Tagliche Omaha Tribune* 06/25/1937–06/25/1937 Newspaper Archives
New Jersey Trenton Trenton Evening Times 6/19/1983–6/26/1983 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Jewish Messenger 01/15/1869–12/27/1901 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Sozialist 01/03/1885–11/12/1892 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Vorwarts 11/19/1892–12/27/1913 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Charlotte Charlotte Observer 4/1/1926–5/31/1927 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Franklin Franklin Press, The* 01/03/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
North Carolina Winston-Salem Winston-Salem Journal 11/12/1921–2/28/1929 Newspaper Archives
Ohio Clyde Clyde Enterprise* 12/17/2012–Current Recent Obituaries
Ohio Eaton Register Herald* 01/21/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Ohio Fairborn Fairborn Daily Herald* 01/12/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Ohio Georgetown News Democrat, The* 11/21/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Ohio Oberlin Oberlin News-Tribune* 11/01/2012–Current Recent Obituaries
Ohio Piqua Piqua Daily Call* 08/07/2012–Current Recent Obituaries
Ohio Troy Troy Daily News* 01/18/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Beaverton Beaverton Valley Times* 06/14/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Canby Canby Herald* 01/29/2009–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Clackamas Clackamas Review* 06/26/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Estacada Estacada News* 07/11/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Forest Grove Forest Grove News Times* 07/26/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Gresham Outlook, The* 06/27/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Hillsboro Hillsboro Tribune* 06/26/2008–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Lake Oswego Lake Oswego Review* 06/21/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Lake Oswego Southwest Community Connection, The* 08/28/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Lake Oswego West Linn Tidings* 06/21/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Madras Madras Pioneer* 10/17/2001–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Molalla Molalla Pioneer* 01/29/2009–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Newberg Newberg Graphic* 06/26/2008–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Portland Bee, The* 07/31/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Portland Boom! Boomers & Beyond* 01/29/2009–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Portland Portland Tribune* 01/02/2003–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Prineville Central Oregonian* 02/05/2001–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Sandy Sandy Post* 10/24/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Scappoose South County Spotlight, The* 09/30/2007–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Sherwood Sherwood Gazette* 02/01/2007–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Tigard Regal Courier* 10/29/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Tigard Tigard-Tualatin-Sherwood Times* 07/05/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Wilsonville Wilsonville Spokesman* 06/26/2008–Current Recent Obituaries
Oregon Woodburn Woodburn Independent* 06/26/2008–Current Recent Obituaries
Pennsylvania Philadelphia Nord Amerika* 07/10/1952–07/10/1952 Newspaper Archives
Pennsylvania State College Centre Daily Times 4/3/1974–7/31/1976 Newspaper Archives
Tennessee Knoxville Knoxville News Sentinel: Blogs* 06/01/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Washington Bellingham Bellingham Herald 1/1/1929–8/30/1930 Newspaper Archives
Washington Bremerton Kitsap Sun: Blogs* 03/18/2006–Current Recent Obituaries
Washington Olympia Morning Olympian 6/21/1934–1/10/1940 Newspaper Archives
Washington Seattle Seattle Daily Times 5/24/1903–11/26/1922 Newspaper Archives
Washington Tacoma Tacoma Daily News 7/1/1889–7/6/1909 Newspaper Archives
Wisconsin Appleton Appleton Volksfreund * 03/25/1920–09/21/1922 Newspaper Archives
Wisconsin La Crosse La Crosse Volksfreund* 01/03/1906–12/28/1907 Newspaper Archives

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 on your desktop or portable device for quick reference—all the links will be live.

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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.

Enter Last Name










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.

Enter Last Name










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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