Finding Ancestors’ Names Can Be Child’s Play: Paper Doll Comics

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena addresses the problem that it’s often hard to find information about our ancestors when they were children. One solution? Look for their participation in fashion and coloring paper doll contests run by newspapers.

Previously in my article “What about the Kids? Researching Your Family Tree’s Children” I wrote about places to find children’s names in newspapers. I commented on how as researchers we genealogists often ignore the childhood of our ancestors because children did not generate the quantity of records that adults left behind.

The wonderful thing about newspapers is that they are the great equalizer: they record the stories of everyone whether rich or poor, young or old. While there can be no doubt that some people get more articles written about them than others, you can find ancestors’ names in all sorts of places in the newspaper—even in something as unexpected as a paper doll contest.

"Tillie the Toiler" paper doll

Credit: Windows Live Photo Gallery

It seems that today very few children read newspapers—or for that matter very few adults. But it wasn’t too long ago that children read the newspaper often, at the very least to check out the comics page, enter contests, and even acquire new toys to play with. One toy that could be found in the Sunday newspaper was paper dolls. According to the OPDAG (The Original Paper Doll Artists Guild) article “History of Paper Dolls” by Judy M. Johnson, the Boston Herald was printing newspaper paper dolls as early as the 1890s. Additional wardrobes for those paper dolls could be found in subsequent issues of the newspaper, adding to the child’s paper doll collection. During the Depression years, children could find many different newspaper paper dolls, most based on their favorite comics including “Boots and Millie” and “Jane Arden.”

Not only would the comic strip authors themselves provide dolls and wardrobes in the Sunday papers, they would solicit contributions from readers. One comic strip that encouraged readers to design outfits was “Tillie the Toiler.” Tillie, drawn by Russ Westover, ran in newspapers from 1921 to 1959. Tillie toiled at her jobs as a stenographer, secretary and model. Her life as a single working girl was the focus of the strip and the character of Tillie was also featured in a couple of movies.

Here’s a call to the young readers of “Tillie the Toiler” to submit designs for the Fashion Parade.

Dresses for Tillie! Plain Dealer newspaper article 29 January 1933

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 29 January 1933, page 1

I’m always on the lookout for unusual places to find ancestors’ names. Searching through those newspaper paper doll fashion contests can yield the names of the winners; those people chosen to have their doll and/or wardrobe published. Not only are the contest winners’ names and cities printed but sometimes even street addresses and, occasionally, the winners’ relationships to other budding fashionistas—such as in this example, where friends Zelene Des Champs and Ann Wolff from South Carolina submitted entries together.

"Tillie the Toiler" paper doll

Credit: from the author’s collection

Girls were not the only ones who submitted entries; boys and even married women from the United States and Canada submitted their doll and fashion drawings.

Aside from designing an outfit and having their name printed in the newspaper, children could also enter coloring contests featuring their favorite comic characters. In this 1933 newspaper article, Shirley Jean French is congratulated on her winning entry by “Tillie the Toiler” cartoonist Russ Westover. According to the 1930 U.S. census Shirley was 12 years old when she won the first-prize award. Of Shirley’s entry, Westover wrote that “Tillie has never been better dressed.”

winner of "Tillie the Toiler" coloring contest, San Diego Union newspaper article 27 August 1933

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 27 August 1933, page 11

While today’s American children may not be as engaged with newspapers as previous generations, for their grandparents and great-grandparents the Sunday comics page was not just a place to get a few laughs—it may have been a place to leave their mark on the world.

Genealogy Tip: Examine every part of a newspaper when doing your family history searches. You never know where a long-sought ancestor’s name might turn up—an obscure ad, a paper doll contest, a family recipe—providing a little more detail to help bring that name on your family tree to life.

Finding the Historical Articles That Tell My Ancestor’s Story

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about finding old newspapers articles about a foreign-study program called “World Campus Afloat” that he once participated in—the same program, it turns out, that a family member had attended years earlier.

As a genealogical historian I often include what some people might call the “back story” on many of my ancestors. I, however, much prefer to call it the “front story.” I take great enjoyment and pride in being able to add more to my family members’ profiles on my family tree than just facts, figures, and dates. I think of each person’s profile as a quilt. As a result, I need to find and attach as many of the unique squares—the stories—that represent their lives. I believe a terrific place to find such ancestor stories is in the historical newspapers of the time.

So it was that I found myself using GenealogyBank.com while I was working on stitching up the “quilt” for one of our family members. I had made the discovery that they, too, had attended “Semester at Sea,” the same foreign-study program that I had, although they had done it many years before I attended. Not being familiar with this program’s roots, I decided to take a look for what was originally named the “University of the Seven Seas.” Not expecting much, I was amazed to find that my search provided me with over 240 results!

photo of the author, Scott Phillips, as a youth on board ship, participating in the World Campus Afloat program

Photo: the author as a youth (left) on board ship, participating in the World Campus Afloat program

The first article I read was a terrific find from the Springfield Union. It featured an article that covered more than half a page of newsprint and told a detailed story about the very first voyage ever undertaken by the University of the Seven Seas program, and featured the first Academic Dean and a local student as well.

SC Professor Back after Semester on High Seas, Springfield Union newspaper article 23 February 1964

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 23 February 1964, page 51

The next article I read was published in the Boston Herald. Again I found that the wonderful focus on detail provided by good newspaper reporting paid dividends: the news article listed dates of sailing, duration of the voyages, and ports of call. It also gave a bit of history, talked about the partners in the program at that time, and gave some personal insights by students.

New 'Semesters at Sea' Scheduled by Ship Line, Boston Herald newspaper article 19 April 1964

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 19 April 1964, page 264

My next discovery led me to the fact that the program officially changed names from the “University of the Seven Seas” to “World Campus Afloat.” Thanks to another capable newspaperwoman or man, this fact was nicely showcased in an old article published in the Trenton Evening Times and provided me with yet more detailed information.

Floating Campus Cruises the World, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 10 December 1967

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 10 December 1967, page 53

From a report in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set from the “Historical Documents” portion of the GenealogyBank.com database, I learned that a member of the program’s faculty testified on United States policy toward Asia in front of a subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee in 1966. It was interesting to read the biography of this individual, Dr. C. Y. Pan, and then to follow along and read his actual testimony.

United States Policy toward Asia, U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Vol. No.12725-3; Report: H.Doc. 488; 19 May 1966

U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Vol. No.12725-3; Report: H.Doc. 488; 19 May 1966

At this point I had lost all track of time and must have read more than 50 historical articles and scanned many more, but another one caught my eye and I had to keep going. It was published in the Greensboro Daily News, and when I opened the article—there was an old classmate of mine looking back at me from the newspaper photograph showing up on my computer screen!

New Program Lets Students Help Plan Courses, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 26 December 1972

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 26 December 1972, page 51

I was about to conclude my searching for the evening when I found one more article of interest. Sadly, it was an obituary for the actor Jeff Corey. Jeff had been our Actor-in-Residence, drama professor, and a wonderfully friendly, open, and approachable member of our shipboard faculty. This was certainly a bittersweet find.

Jeff Corey death notice, USA Today newspaper article 3 January 2003

USA Today (Arlington, Virginia), 3 January 2003

So not only did I find enough material to more fully tell the story about my family member as I had set out to do, but I also found out a great deal more about an educational organization we both attended. In doing so, I rekindled old memories of my own. What a tremendous side benefit to my family tree research!

Do you have anything like this in common with your ancestors? If so, please share with us in the comments. We love to hear your family stories.

My Ancestor’s Menu: Researching Food History in Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena searches through historical newspaper archives and finds old menus—and shows how these provide social history that helps us better understand our ancestors’ times.

When was the last time you ate out? How often did you eat out as a child? While for some of us eating in a restaurant was a rare treat growing up because of where we lived or finances, eating out in today’s world is a more common occurrence. For modern families whose time is overscheduled, sitting down to a meal that mom prepared (with love) can seem like something out of the 1950s. Increasingly we are relying on restaurants to help with our cooking chores. Although it can seem like going out to eat is more of a recent phenomenon, the truth is that our ancestors, depending on circumstance, may have enjoyed a meal out once in a while.

Probably not surprisingly, restaurants originated in France in the 18th century and catered to upper class patrons. Early Americans, typically men, had the opportunity to “eat out” as they traveled and stayed in taverns and inns. One restaurant that opened in the early 19th century and still exists today is the New York institution Delmonico’s, which originally opened in 1827 as a pastry shop. Early customers of Delmonico’s were treated to a vast selection of foods; its 1838 menu was 11 pages in length and included French dishes with their English translations.

Gossip from Gotham: Delmonico's--The Most Fashionable Restaurant of the Continent, San Francisco Bulletin newspaper article, 19 January 1884

San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 19 January 1884, page 4

One surprising aspect of researching ancestral food history in newspapers is that your assumptions may be proved wrong. A good example of this can be found in this 1898 newspaper article. It reports on Thanksgiving being served at local Cleveland (Ohio) hotels. Today, some families would never think of going to a restaurant for Thanksgiving, labeling it “untraditional”—and you might assume our ancestors felt that way, too. However, judging from this article it seems that eating Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant was something many of our ancestors did. This article states that “Hundreds of guests were entertained by the hostelries yesterday, for many Clevelanders preferred to dine down town rather than at their own homes.” The article goes on to provide names of those who dined at those hotels. What a great genealogical find to see the name of an ancestor and where they were eating on Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving at the Hotels, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 November 1898

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 November 1898, page 10

Restaurant menus found in newspapers show the types of food available to your ancestors. In this example of a 1909 Sunday dinner menu from South Dakota, 25 cents buys quite a meal!

Sunday Dinner at the Model Restaurant, Aberdeen American newspaper article 18 April 1909

Aberdeen American (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 18 April 1909, page 5

This 1903 Sunday dinner menu from Wichita, Kansas, costs 20 cents and includes dishes such as Irish Stew and Prime Beef.

Menu at the People's Restaurant, Colored Citizen newspaper article 31 October 1903

Colored Citizen (Wichita, Kansas), 31 October 1903, page 3

One great aspect of newspaper research is the reminder that fads can and do make comebacks. Case in point: calories printed on menus. Think that the printing of calories is a new idea to get all of us to make healthier food choices? Consider this article about the appearance of calories on menus—in 1918! Makes you wonder why the reporting of calories eventually fell out of favor. My guess is people want to enjoy their meal out without guilt.

Aha! A New One--Restaurants Put Calories Count on Menu, Times-Picayune newspaper article 12 May 1918

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 12 May 1918, page 9

Although today we are familiar with calories and how much is too much, the idea of watching your calories was a new one at the beginning of the 20th century. This article concludes with suggested total amounts of calories needed for different types of people, including laundresses who needed 3000 calories versus a secretary who needed just 2000.

Newspapers provide researchers with rich social history and help us better understand our ancestors’ times. Take an afternoon and peruse the food history printed in the newspaper of your ancestors’ hometown. You just might be surprised at what you find.

There Are Some Obituaries Everyone Needs to Read

I. D. Lilly, a retired trucker and promoter of the largest family reunion ever held, died in March of this year. He was an active participant in the famous West Virginia family’s gatherings, and served on the Lilly Family Reunion Board of Directors.

In 2009 some 2,585 Lilly relatives gathered in Flat Top, West Virginia. It was such a large reunion that Guinness’ Book of World Records named it the largest family reunion ever held.

Don’t you wish that your family was as organized and connected as the Lilly family?

Ira Dupuy Lilly’s obituary appeared in GenealogyBank and was published in the Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Florida), 22 April 2013, page B-4. Here is that obituary in full; it’s well worth reading.

His Family’s Reunions Set World Records

On Aug. 9, 2009, the Lilly family set the Guinness world record for the biggest family reunion. Within that group of 2,585, meeting for three days in a big pasture on Flat Top, W.Va., was I.D. Lilly, a former Orlando trucking company owner.

Before his death on March 27 at age 93, Lilly would earn family-reunion recognition for traveling the farthest, being the oldest and being one-half of the longest-married couple to attend the reunion. He died of complications related to dementia.

Before his mind began to abandon him, Lilly came to the reunions with a tent, a table and some chairs so relatives, near and far, could sit down and catch up.

“He would tell you about his Aunt Sally Ann and he would pull out his family tree,” said his daughter Barbara Savino, 65, of Longwood. “He had 102 cousins — can you imagine?”

So big is the Lilly family that just about anybody can find themselves on the family tree.

“This part of West Virginia, people call it Lillyland. There’s a Lilly everywhere you turn,” Savino said.

So important is the reunion, Savino said, that the governor of West Virginia often makes an appearance.

The family reunion is held on 38 acres of land that includes a kitchen and dining area, covered bleachers, stage and restrooms — all built for the purpose of the reunion. There are booths for family members selling jewelry, quilts, children’s toys and souvenir embroidered T-shirts and caps. The Lilly genealogist has a booth where she can show everyone where they fit on the family tree.

There are games and prizes for kids and a potluck buffet that would include a butterscotch pie baked by Lilly’s wife of 65 years, Allegra.

The reunion to I.D. Lilly was about home, heritage and linage. It was about staying connected to family no matter how far removed the relation or how far away the relatives. It was about walking into the kitchen and dining area and seeing the pictures of his ancestors on the wall, where his face will join the gallery of ghosts this summer.

His father and two brothers are on the wall. So is his mother, the woman who ran the general store in Cool Ridge. From her, he learned the lesson of selfless generosity.

Lilly moved to Orlando from West Virginia, in the late 1950s, when he started Laskco Inc., a trucking company. Through the years, Lilly helped out his drivers and mechanics whenever they ran out of money or into hard times.

Once, his wife came home and found her washing machine missing because Lilly gave it to an employee who needed one, Savino said.

“That’s the West Virginia style,” his daughter said. “If somebody needed something, he would just help them.”

The Lilly family reunion produces an annual program that is 160 pages thick. This year, there will be a tribute page to Ira Dupuy Lilly for his contributions on the Lilly Family Reunion Board of Directors.

After his death, Lilly’s body was flown back home to Beckley, W.Va., and the Sunset Memorial Park where so many of his relatives are buried. His interment on April 2 wasn’t in the family plot, but an above-ground mausoleum.

A Navy pilot who flew a blimp during World War II in search of German submarines, I.D. Lilly couldn’t abide being laid to rest underground.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Ira Dupuy Lilly is survived by his sons Larry Lilly, of Cool Ridge, W.Va., and Alan Lilly, of Orlando; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Rose & Quesenberry Funeral Home, Beckley, W.Va., handled funeral arrangements.

New DNA Ancestry Study Reveals We’re All Related?!

It’s nice to think that everyone is related—but as genealogists we have known that would be difficult to prove. Now science is proving that theory is correct.

illustration for DNA study showing that everyone on the planet is related

A new DNA study shows that everyone alive on the earth today shares common ancestors only 1,000 to 2,000 years ago.

What?

“Group Hug!”

Wow—what is this study telling us?

It is saying that we are all related and that science can prove it.

How is that possible?

With every generation the number of our ancestors doubles. We have 4 grandparents; 8 great-grandparents; 16 2nd-great-grandparents, and so forth.

But as we go back in time the reverse is true: the number of people who were alive on the earth keeps growing smaller.

A new DNA study shows that all Europeans descend from the “same set of ancestors only a thousand years ago.” This theory has long been proposed, and it has commonly been said that “everyone” in Europe is a descendant of Charlemagne—or that every Englishman alive today has royal ancestry.

UC-Davis Professor Graham Coop says that “we now have concrete evidence from DNA data” that we are all related, and “it’s likely that everyone in the world is related over just the past few thousand years.” Read the entire article: Europeans All Related by Genetic Footprint Dating Back Only 1,000 Years Ago.

This interesting finding will revolutionize the way we view “family” in much the same way that the 1873/1874 Galton-Walton study changed our view of surnames 140 years ago.

graph illustrating the Galton-Walton surname extinction study

Credit: Wikipedia

Their pioneering work showed us that it was likely for a surname to go extinct after 12 to 20 generations. Assuming that each generation begins every 30 years, then 20 generations would extend back to the 1400s.

Click here to read their study “On the Probability of the Extinction of Families” published in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain, volume 4, pages 138–144, printed in 1875.

This interesting genealogy study concluded that any given family would eventually no longer have male descendants in the male, surname line. They might have hundreds or thousands of female heirs, but no male descendants carrying the surname after 12 to 20 generations.

Their probability research showed that with each generation it was possible, even likely, that in the next generations there would be no male children born to a given household, or that the male children born would die without surviving male children. They concluded that it was likely after 12 to 20 generations—with wars, disease, or simply by chance—that there would be no more surviving males who could marry and pass down the family name. In genealogy-speak this is referred to as daughtering-out.

From the probability theories of 140 years ago to the more exact science of DNA today, we genealogists are getting a lot more to consider as we trace our family history.

Remembering Our American Veterans on Memorial Day 2013

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, as we head into the Memorial Day weekend, Gena writes about how her family honors the veterans buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Southern California.

On Monday, Americans will pause to remember those who have died while serving their country. Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, was first officially celebrated on 30 May 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery. Up until the time of World War I, the day was meant to honor those who served in the Civil War. Succeeding wars have given Americans many more lives to honor.

Do you have plans this Memorial Day 2013? Whether it’s researching a military ancestor or taking part in a community remembrance, there are numerous ways to spend this Memorial Day holiday. For the last four years, Memorial Day has had a significant meaning for my family. For us, preparations for Memorial Day begin the first Saturday in May when my sons’ Boy Scout Troop starts fundraising. The donations they seek fund a project that has come to have great meaning for the Scouts: buying U.S. flags to adorn American veterans’ graves. These flags, each approximately two feet tall, are placed at the head of the gravestones at the Riverside National Cemetery in Southern California every Memorial Day. Each year the Scouts add to their collection of flags; this year they hope to increase the number of flags to 2,500.

Boy Scout placing U.S. flag on a veteran's grave at Riverside National Cemetery

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

The Saturday before Memorial Day, Boy Scouts and their families get together and place these flags, one by one, at the same space right above each gravestone. As they place each flag they pause to say the name of the veteran buried there and what war or battle they fought in. The Scoutmasters have instilled in the Scouts that this is a sacred duty, remembering those who served their country—the ceremonious tradition of paying respects to our fallen soldiers is not to be taken lightly. As each American flag is placed to mark the soldiers’ graves you can hear boys exclaim things like “wow, this person fought in World War I” or “he was in the Navy like my dad.” I’ve seen entire families take a few minutes to read the gravestone and reflect on the person buried beneath.

photo of U.S. flags placed on veterans' graves at Riverside National Cemetery

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

As a genealogist, this Boy Scout activity every year is one of my favorites. Generations ago, it wasn’t so uncommon for families to visit cemeteries, gather around the resting place of a family member, enjoy the park-like surroundings, and maybe even have a picnic. Today this is a rare occurrence and for most children, cemeteries are places that hold a morbid curiosity at best.

This Memorial Day project for my sons’ Boy Scout Troop helps them connect with cemeteries and the very real lives of the people who are buried there—which in turn leads to an interest in past lives and their own ancestors’ stories. I want families to see genealogy as an exciting pursuit—not one that is merely about gathering names, dates and places, but rather a pursuit that is active and centers on the stories of everyday lives.

Our Troop isn’t the only group at the Riverside National Cemetery on the Saturday before Memorial Day. Girl Scout groups, veterans, and church congregations are there as well, placing U.S. flags with a common goal: to honor all the veterans buried in those 900+ acres. With the Riverside National Cemetery being the most active in the National Cemetery system, it is an awesome task. Those fields of American flags will serve as a visual reminder of the lives buried there when Memorial Day activities commence Monday morning.

U.S. flags placed on veterans' graves at Riverside National Cemetery

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

The Tuesday after Memorial Day, I will be at the cemetery with my kids pulling each flag out of the ground while we stop and read each name etched on the corresponding gravestone. Those flags will then be cleaned and placed into storage so that they can be used by the Troop again next year when we prepare for Memorial Day 2014.

Researching Ancestors Who Were Committed to Asylums, Using Old Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post Gena writes about how difficult it can be finding information about an ancestor who was committed to an asylum (i.e., state  hospital)—and how using old newspapers can help.

When I look at the latter years of one set of my paternal 2nd great-grandparents, I see a similarity. They both had divorced and later remarried, and their latter years were marked by the same outcome: they spent their final years in a state hospital, called an “asylum” in those days.

Asylums served the needs of more than just mentally disabled people: they also served as a place for the elderly who needed care. In an American era before rest homes and specialized elder care, asylums were available to care for elderly persons whose family could not—or would not—care for them. While we often associate the words “insane asylum” with mental illness, historically many different types of people were locked up in asylums who were anything but mentally ill. For example, besides the elderly, women who didn’t conform to society’s ideas of what a woman should be were sometimes locked up at the whim of their husbands or other male family members.

vintage postcard of the Arkansas Insane Asylum

Vintage postcard: Arkansas Insane Asylum. Credit: from the author’s collection.

Researching your ancestor who was committed to an asylum can be difficult due to the lack of sources, as well as privacy law restrictions. This is where social history sources can help your family history research.

In the case of my paternal 2nd great-grandmother, Malinda Randall Montgomery Bean, she spent less than a year in the Oregon State Hospital located in Salem, Oregon, in the 1940s. (To learn more about the Oregon State Hospital, visit their museum online at Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health.)

I knew a little bit about Malinda from interviewing family members but I wanted to know more. I was especially interested in her life between the years after her second husband died in 1935 and her own passing nine years later. I knew from family sources that she suffered dementia in her later years, which helped explain why she lived her last months in the state hospital.

To find out more about Malinda’s life I took a genealogy trip to Oregon, researched at the Oregon State Archives, visited the grounds of the hospital (still in existence), and found her burial place. Because I was limited in what I could learn about my ancestor’s life during her time at the state hospital, I researched old newspapers to understand the life of asylum patients during the early 1900s.

One gets a sense of the normalcy of sending the elderly to live out their final years at a state facility from this 1911 newspaper article, which is about the Oregon State Hospital asking families to not send their elderly to the hospital due to concerns about overcrowding, and instead take care of them at home or have the county care for them.

Asylum to Close to Many Insane, Oregonian  newspaper article 24 March 1911

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 24 March 1911, page 6

Reading a later newspaper article from 1940 lamenting the crowding of the facility gives me a sense of what my great-great-grandmother’s living conditions must have been like at the end of her life. One danger from the overcrowding is mentioned in the news article: fire. The old newspaper article states “The main building, built in 1883, is tinder dry, and its floors are soaked with the oil of many cleanings.” It goes on to say that the elderly are housed on the first floor just in case they need to escape during such a tragedy.

State Hospital Visit Reveals Crowded Conditions, Oregonian newspaper article 14 April 1940

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 14 April 1940, page 85

Besides problems with overcrowding in the asylums, there were other dangers for those living in institutionalized care. For example: right before my ancestor was a resident at the Oregon State Hospital, some cooks from the facility were charged in the deaths of 47 inmates. They served residents roach poison mixed in their food!

Asylum Cooks Provide Bail, Oregonian  newspaper article 25 November 1942

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 25 November 1942, page 27

Malinda “Lennie” Bean died on 19 March 1944 of bronchopneumonia and “senility” at the age of 79 years. Her family paid for her final arrangements and her subsequent burial in a nearby cemetery. According to her death certificate she had lived in the Oregon State Hospital for 9 months and 29 days.

Although doing genealogy research on an ancestor who spent time in an asylum can be difficult, don’t forget the power of incorporating social history—found in historical newspaper articles— to help you better understand their lives and the times in which they lived.

New HBO Series ‘Family Tree’ Begins May 12th

A hilarious new HBO series, Family Tree, makes its debut Sunday May 12th at 10:30 p.m.

logo for HBO's new series "Family Tree"

Credit: HBO “Family Tree”

This new show will be a gut-buster for genealogists. The central character, Tom Chadwick, has a rather unsure sense of his own identity. When he inherits a mysterious box of belongings from a great aunt he never met, Tom starts investigating his lineage and uncovers a whole world of unusual stories and characters, acquiring a growing sense of who he and his real family are.

Some very funny people will appear in this show: Ed Begley Jr., Fred Willard, Carrie Aizley, Bob Balaban, Maria Blasucci, Matt Griesser, Christopher Guest, Don Lake, Michael McKean, Lisa Palfrey, Jim Piddock, Kevin Pollak, Amy Seimetz, Meera Syal and Ashley Walters.

Watch these two trailers in the videos below to see just how funny this new HBO series will be.

Hmm…I might have to sign up for HBO to get this one!

Family Tree Season 1: Invitation to the Set

Family Tree Season 1: Trailer

What about the Kids? Researching Your Family Tree’s Children

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the family history challenge of researching your ancestors’ lives when they were children.

My sons have had the opportunity to visit more cemeteries and hear more genealogy presentations than most family historians. They’ve been a captive audience as I give genealogy talks to conferences, societies, and libraries. They even have a few of my genealogy presentations memorized. Unimpressed by the family history topics I cover, my youngest always asks: “why don’t you ever talk about researching kids?”

old photo of children from Gena Philibert-Ortega's collection

Old photo of children, from the author’s collection

It’s a fair question considering that all of our ancestors started life as children. My guess is that most family historians would reply that children don’t leave a record trail, or that their lives aren’t as documented as adults—and that is why genealogists don’t spend much time researching their ancestors’ early years.

But there are instances where children do leave a paper trail. A visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois, reinforced this fact to our family when we viewed a photographic exhibit of Civil War soldiers. Boys as young as 9 years served in the Civil War, and some of them were photographed.

photo of an unidentified young Civil War soldier in Union uniform and forage cap, from the Library of Congress

Photo: Unidentified young Civil War soldier in Union uniform and forage cap. Credit: Library of Congress.

From: Library of Congress. Flickr, The Commons. Accessed 23 March 2013.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/5229153190/

While children are too young to leave the type of documentation reserved for adults, they do leave behind records. A birth record or church christening announcement may start your search, depending on the time period. School records are another choice for researching kids. Don’t forget the variety of articles found in a local newspaper.

Obviously the era the child grew up in will determine what mentions could be found in the newspapers. But some ideas include:

Organizations

What organizations or clubs did the child belong to? By learning more about the history of the place your ancestor was from, you may identify groups that they may have taken part in, including organizations that were social, educational, ethnic or religious in nature.

The Boy Scouts of Black Wolf and B.P., Lexington Herald newspaper article 25 September 1910

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 25 September 1910, page 4

Although far from comprehensive, here is a list of some groups from the 20th century:

School

In a previous blog article, “Searching Family History: Old School Records in the Newspaper,” I explored the types of newspaper articles that listed teachers and students.

As explained in that blog article, there are numerous types of articles mentioning children. From their achievements and awards, to sporting events and even misdeeds, you can find mentions of school children in local newspapers. One of the pluses to digitized newspapers is that a search of just a name can assist you in finding these mentions. Consider limiting your search by date as you explore GenealogyBank, allowing you to focus on an ancestor’s early years.

Letters to Santa

Reading letters to Santa from the late 19th and early 20th centuries reminds one how much better off materially most people are now.

Letters to Santa from the Children, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 16 December 1906

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 16 December 1906, page 9

These letters range from requests for toys or food to desperate pleas for almost anything their parents couldn’t afford. These letters often include the child’s name and, in some cases, an address. What a great find to see the requests of your family member to the jolly guy in the red suit!

Dear Old Santa Claus, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 21 December 1899

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 21 December 1899, page 2

Social History

As with any genealogy research, consider social history when learning more about children from past generations. Use the newspapers as a local history source to get a sense of what organizations and activities your ancestors may have been involved in during their younger years. Read histories of the time to learn more about what childhood was like during their era. By learning more about the locality of your ancestor, you can learn more about what types of activities they may have enjoyed. Gaps in specific family records can be filled with broader social history information.

Keep your own children’s interests in mind! Including stories about their ancestors’ childhoods will stimulate present and future generations of children to take more interest in the family history you are documenting and preserving.

Genealogy Is Family Stories & Newspapers Are Full of Them

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott hears some interesting family stories from his 93-year-old mother and digs into old newspapers to learn more.

If you were at RootsTech 2013 or followed much of that genealogy conference online as I did, you know that speaker after speaker reminded us that stories are what make our genealogy come alive. I am sure you will agree with this sentiment. Few things in our family history work surpasses the impact and enjoyment of stories.

So it was natural that I got to thinking again about the multitude of stories that adorn my family tree. It is probably the item I ask for most often from people for our tree, right after I hound them for a photograph. Family stories can tell us so much about the lives and times of our ancestors. They offer us snapshots of life that are often filled with amazing tidbits and personal details.

photo of Scott Phillips and his 93-year-old mother

Photo: Scott Phillips’s mother sharing her stories with him. Credit: from the author’s collection.

When I am working on my genealogy early in the morning and it is too early to bother family members for a new story over the phone, I scan the newspaper for new information and stories that might be of interest. Since I am also a GOG—a Grizzled Old Genealogist—I still like my newspaper the old-fashioned way, delivered to my stoop each morning.

I begin my day, every day, the same way my father always began his day. That would be with the comics section of the newspaper! My Dad, God rest his soul, always said “The headlines and business news can wait. It’s more important to start your day off with a smile.” Then he would first open the paper to the funny pages.

Still to this day, I start my day the same way! Two things happen: I do indeed start my day with a smile and a chuckle; and in my mind’s eye I can see and hear my dad chuckle over his favorite comic, “Pogo” by Walt Kelly. My dad even had his favorite quote, uttered by Pogo himself, taped on his desk: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Pogo cartoon for Earth Day 1971, Anchorage Daily News newspaper 18 April 1971

Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska), 18 April 1971, page 4

Not long ago I was visiting with my 93-year-old Mother about all things family and asking her about stories from her youth in the Czech community of Cleveland, Ohio. One of the stories she shared gave me gooseflesh. She told me about living in fear at the time of the “Torso Murders” in Cleveland that instilled dread throughout her neighborhood and the entire city.

This story was new to me, so it didn’t take me long to pull up some articles on GenealogyBank.com and begin to research this story from the 1930s involving a set of serial murders which remain unsolved to this day. I dug into this story and was fascinated to learn that these murders greatly tarnished the career of one of America’s most famous “G-Men,” Elliot Ness.

The "Mad Butcher" Strikes Again, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 18 September 1938

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 18 September 1938, page 37

While I was reading my fourth newspaper article about the “Torso Murders” I was thrilled to find that one of my ancestors, Gordon Shibley, was a Cleveland Police Detective working to try and solve these horrible crimes. It was amazing and quite interesting to follow this strange murder case and read, in a 1936 article, about my ancestor’s efforts trying to solve these heinous crimes.

story about the "Torso Murders" in Cleveland in the 1930s, Plain Dealer newspaper article 12 September 1936

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 12 September 1936, page 1

As I was following this story as it unfolded in the newspapers of the day through GenealogyBank.com it was easy for me to check out, and add to, my family tree with additional items I uncovered. For example, I found other stories covering Detective Shibley’s experiences as a member of Cleveland’s “Thin Blue Line,” some family obituaries, wedding announcements, and many more family-related newspaper articles. I was able to more fully populate our family tree as I read and learned about some of Detective Shibley’s parents and siblings.

I have now become so intrigued with this historical murder case that I ordered a copy of the book In the Wake of the Butcher: Cleveland’s Torso Murders written by James Jessen Badal (Kent State University Press, 2001) for even more in-depth information on this family-linked story. I am excited to get this book—especially since I have been told there are multiple references to my detective ancestor in it.

My Mom finished her recollections by telling how her mother would admonish her and her brother each day, when they went to school or out to play, to be very careful. She said this warning continued for many years even when she and her brother headed just down the street to their highly-loved corner candy shop…the one operated by an uncle, which was half beer parlor and half candy store. Wow, did my ears perk up at hearing that! Here is yet another new family story I will get to investigate!

What is your favorite family story that you have been able to add to your family tree?