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.

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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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Mining for Historical News & Genealogy Clues in the Archives

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to find stories about how Mother Nature affected his ancestors’ lives—and discovers some important genealogy clues.

With the strength of this current winter, I don’t have to remind you that our dear Mother Nature can have a significant impact on our families and ourselves. Just the other day I got my car stuck in the snow in my own driveway! While I was “mumbling” about it to myself, I got to thinking about how long, harsh winters would have been even more challenging for our ancestors. That evening I decided to take a look at my family tree and see how Mother Nature’s hand had impacted some of my family members. Instinctively I turned to GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives and, naturally, I wasn’t disappointed.

Ancestor Obituary Clue

While researching one branch of my Phillips family, I uncovered an obituary about my ancestor Elijah Poad in a 1910 Montana newspaper.

Elijah Poad Dead, Anaconda Standard newspaper obituary 16 September 1910

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

Elijah had married Catherine Phillips, and shortly thereafter they emigrated from Great Britain to settle in the United States. Certainly one of my first questions was: “What would cause a Cornishman from St. Blazey, Cornwall, to go to Montana in 1885?”

Mining in Montana

I think I found my answer when I read another article from the Anaconda Standard, this one from 1899. This article begins “E. Poad, a miner at the Gagnon, was seriously injured yesterday by getting a fall in the mine.” While there wasn’t “gold in them thar hills,” there was silver and copper in the Montana hills—and the discovery of both had caused a huge rush to the Anaconda area, including my miner ancestor. Mother Nature at her finest, offering the temptation of riches!

(Elijah Poad) Seriously Injured, Anaconda Standard newspaper article 8 June 1899

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 8 June 1899, page 8

More Mining for Genealogy Clues

While I was still reading the Anaconda Standard, another article from 1899 caught my eye due to its headline: “The Mesabi Range. Tremendous Possibilities of the Great New Region.” This was indeed a very interesting find to me. You see, my wife’s grandfather, Pasquale D’Aquila, had emigrated from Italy to Canada and then to the United States. I have found his border crossing record from 1915 at Eastport, Idaho. As the miner he was, could Pasquale have heard talk just like the news in this article about the iron ore riches of the Mesabi Range in Minnesota? Could an article just like the one I was reading have been what drew him there? Yes, or no, it is certainly evident that once again Mother Nature was wielding her influence.

The Mesabi Range (Montana), Anaconda Standard newspaper article 26 December 1899

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 26 December 1899, page 12

News Flashback: the Polio Epidemic

It wasn’t long after this that I came upon a totally different and far less desirable impact of Mother Nature. I discovered two articles side-by-side in a 1952 Ohio newspaper. They had huge headlines blaring “Ohio Now Has 232 ‘Sure’ Polio Cases” and “‘Iron Lung’ Supply Runs Short Here.”

articles about the polio outbreak in Ohio and especially Cleveland, Plain Dealer newspaper articles 19 July 1952

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 July 1952, page 4

Now here was an impact of Mother Nature that I did not need an ancestor to illustrate for me, since I vividly recall the polio epidemics of my youth. I remember all too well that, just as the first article reported, “Swimming pools have been closed and other precautionary measures taken.” Our local swimming hole was posted with a sign in big, red letters that read: “Closed due to polio.” I also remember that the mother of one of my best friends was confined to a wheelchair due to polio, and I’ll never forget the ever-present (at least in my mind) threat of living your life in an “iron lung.”

I next found an article from a 1962 California newspaper with an even larger headline.

Dr. Sabin Hails Anti-Polio Clinics Set for Sunday, San Diego Union newspaper article 18 October 1962

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 18 October 1962, page 12

How well I remember these clinics! I recall standing in a long line in the hot sun, with my entire family, awaiting our turn to get our “sugar cube” and incessantly questioning my father as to whether or not it was true that we would not get a “shot” but rather a sugar cube as we were told! (I really hated any shots as a kid!) And to think, especially now, that Dr. Sabin forwent patenting his discovery in order to keep the cost down and make his “wonder drug” available to everyone.

Then for some reason I searched the newspaper archives on “historic blizzard,” but when I saw there were 95 results I got too depressed at the thought of reading about any more winter. That’s when I made the only rational decision any genealogy fan could make.

I went back to the 1910 obituary that I had found in the newspaper for Elijah Poad since it also included this line: “He was 78 years of age and leaves, besides his brother in Helena, a brother in Dodgeville, Wis., a brother in England, a sister in Linden, Wis., and a son in Butte.” You see, while I have Elijah’s siblings in our family tree, I had no genealogy clues—until this obituary—as to where to search for them. Thank you, Mother Nature!