Ancestor Weddings: Genealogy Tips for Finding the Dress

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary searches old newspapers to find a variety of pictures and articles about our ancestors’ wedding dresses.

Historical newspapers not only give you the names and dates you need to fill in your family tree – they provide your ancestors’ stories, to help you better understand the lives they led and the times they lived in. You can use old newspapers to explore many aspects of your ancestors’ lives. For example, your ancestors’ wedding dresses and other wedding attire are great fun to research in historical newspapers.

GenealogyBank has an entire search category devoted to Marriage Records & Engagement Announcements in Newspapers, many of which describe your ancestors’ wedding garments – but don’t stop there. Look in other parts of the historical newspapers, such as advertisements, fashion pages, photos, illustrations, and the occasional obituary.

wedding announcement for Mae Robinson and Gordon Jackson, Broad Ax newspaper article 8 March 1924

Broad Ax (Chicago, Illinois), 8 March 1924, page 1

Many old newspaper articles and advertisements feature what were then the latest popular wedding fashion styles, such as this 1936 ad, which notes:

Perhaps the most unusual wedding dress we’ve seen this season, is the rich ribbed ottoman dress with a new wide puffed shoulder, at $89.50. For it, we’ve designed the veil garlanded with silver leaves – and silver with white is a new and quite unusual fashion. $30.

ad for wedding gowns, Boston Herald newspaper article 11 March 1936

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 11 March 1936, page 3

Dame Fashion

A somewhat forgotten term to use in your newspaper search is the keyword “dame fashion.”

As noted in this fashion column of 1883, bride and bridesmaid dresses were discussed “ad libitum” back then, along with the latest trends and embellishments. For example, this author wrote:

Iridescent beads are used a little in white dresses, but not much, although they are still seen on colored costumes. Amber beads in brown and old gold combinations are much used, but hardly ever on other colors. Where silver brocade is used for wedding dresses, occasionally silver fringe, hardly as heavy as bullion, but partaking of its brilliance, is employed.

article about wedding fashions, Truth newspaper article 11 November 1883

Truth (New York, New York), 11 November 1883, page 2

Missing Wedding Dress Heirlooms

For many brides, tradition dictates wearing a family gown – but if you’re wondering why Great Grandma’s wedding dress didn’t pass through the family, perhaps she was buried in it!

Such was the case with Mrs. Mary Brown of Danville, Kentucky, who passed away in 1907 at the age of 90. For the burial, she was dressed in her wedding dress of 70 years earlier. This was most likely a loving tribute – but from a practical standpoint, one has to wonder if the younger women of the family were relieved they were now able to choose a more modern bridal gown style.

obituary for Mary Brown, Lexington Herald newspaper article 19 August 1907

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 19 August 1907, page 2

Wedding Dress Rentals

Another reason why heirloom wedding dresses sometimes don’t exist is that they were often rented.

Notice in 1901 that this Philadelphia merchant ran a prosperous business hiring out wedding dresses to those with limited finances. All sizes and shapes of bridal gowns were available. Three or four brides a day paid fees from $3 to $10 for gowns, or up to $25 for a more elegant “queenly” option, reminiscent of a Parisian design.

Due to the cost, this particular selection went out very little, except to be shown to prospective customers.

article about wedding gown rentals, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 28 July 1901

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 28 July 1901, page 5

Did Grandma Wear White?

An astonishing fact about our ancestors is that not every bride wore white. The same newspaper article reported a virtual rainbow of colors:

The prevailing color of the garments is of course white, but in the world of those who hire wedding dresses, blue and pink weddings are not infrequent, and even yellow and green have been known… He had even a red wedding gown, a bright, startling affair of some kind of soft, fluffy material. Beside the red was a gown of black and white, a very pleasing white silk, and over this a silk mousseline, over which in turn were many yards of black velvet ribbon, with narrow threads of black lace running up and down…

Multiple Wedding Dresses

It’s normal to think that our female ancestors only had one wedding dress – but if one could afford it, attire was commonly procured for each wedding event: from the bridal showers to the ceremony to the honeymoon.

Mme. Nilsson’s engagement to Count de Casa Miranda illustrates the point. At the Registrar’s office this wedding diva planned to wear a pale blue surah dress, embroidered with point d’Angelterre and a bonnet to match:

The wedding dress at the religious ceremony will be a very pale heliotrope peluche, with gauze in front, trimmed with a delicate lilac claire de lune, jet collar, high, trimmed with pearls; tulle bonnet to match, trimmed with pearls and a bunch of tea roses.

wedding announcement for Mme. Nilsson and Count de Casa Miranda, New York Herald newspaper article 9 July 1885

New York Herald (New York, New York), 9 July 1885, page 5

Dating Photographs and Heirlooms

Don’t underestimate the value of a newspaper in dating family treasures.

From early time periods, milliners, merchants, dress makers and tailors advertised goods and services in the papers. For instance, in 1834, splendid white crape robes and lace veils were advertised by this New York merchant.

clothing ad, Evening Post newspaper advertisement 13 October 1834

Evening Post (New York, New York), 13 October 1834, page 2

Bridal dresses from other cultures fascinated our ancestors as they do us today, so even if you can’t find an ancestral photo, look for examples among photos and illustrations.

photo of a Korean bride, Baltimore American newspaper article 20 August 1905

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 20 August 1905, page 6

Share Your Family Wedding Photos

Lastly, don’t forget to share your family wedding photos on social media and popular genealogy sites. Include pictures of your ancestors that you find in newspapers, such as Belle Wyatt Willard Roosevelt (1892-1968), the daughter-in-law of President Theodore Roosevelt, who was fortunate to be featured in a historical newspaper article in 1914.

wedding photo of Belle Wyatt Willard Roosevelt, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 26 June 1914

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 26 June 1914, page 9

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Mother of the Year Awards in the News

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 about various “Mother of the Year” awards throughout the country.

Did you ever read about some sort of honor or award in the newspaper and wonder what it was all about? With Mother’s Day fast approaching I remembered that “Mother of the Year” is one award that I have often seen in various news articles describing numerous women. But what does the title Mother of the Year mean? Some research in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives reveals interesting facts and stories about this family honor.

The Genesis of American Mother of the Year

While many different groups have named mothers to this lofty title, there is one group that is in charge of the official American Mother of the Year award. The Golden Rule Foundation, founded by retailer James Cash Penney (JCPenney stores), started the American Mothers Committee. According to the American Mothers website:

“The idea of a Mothers Committee began in 1933 when America was in the middle of a Great Depression, and women were taking on many roles in society in order to make ends meet for their families. Businessman J.C. Penney enlisted four prominent New Yorkers, including famous clergyman and author Norman Vincent Peale, to form a committee under his Golden Rule Foundation called the American Mothers Committee. He believed mothers were key to the family and by honoring them the entire nation would be strengthened.”

The first Mother of the Year award, initially called the Typical American Mother, was presented in 1935 by Honorary Chairwoman Sara Delano Roosevelt (mother of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) to Lucy Keen Johnson (Mrs. Fletcher Johnson), formerly of Georgia. Of the award, Mrs. Johnson said she accepted it “not for myself alone but for millions of American mothers who are making our land a great nation.” Mrs. Johnson was the mother of six children and grandmother to 14.

article about Mother of the Year Lucy Keen Johnson, Boston Herald newspaper article 13 May 1935

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 May 1935, page 10

Making the Grade as the Best Mom

So what qualifications must a Mother of the Year have? Well this article from a 1949 Texas newspaper explains how one can be nominated for the Texas Mother of the Year. The winner of that honor would then compete with other state mothers for the national title awarded by the Golden Rule Foundation.

article about nominations for the Texas Mother of the Year award, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 16 January 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 16 January 1949, section 3, page 4

According to this old newspaper article, an individual or a group could nominate a mother who had the following four qualifications:

  • She must be a successful mother, as evidenced by the character, achievements and maturity of her children.
  • She must embody traits of courage, cheerfulness, spiritual and moral strength, patience, affection, kindness, understanding, [and] homemaking.
  • She must have a sense of social and world relations, and must have been active for her own community’s betterment or in some other service for public benefit.
  • She should be equipped to make friends readily and to meet people easily in connection with her duties as the American Mother of the Year.

The following 1958 California nominations announcement for Mother of the Year includes the additional qualifications of being an active member of a religious body, exemplifying the precepts of the Golden Rule, and having no children under the age of 15 years.

article about nominations for the California Mother of the Year award, Los Angeles Tribune newspaper article 14 February 1958

Los Angeles Tribune (Los Angeles, California), 14 February 1958, page 10

A Little Motherly Advice

It probably comes as no surprise that once a Mother of the Year was crowned, she offered her motherly advice in subsequent newspaper articles, such as this example from a Washington paper.

The 1949 American Mother of the Year, 60-year-old Pearle Owens Gillis from Texas – who was the mother of six and foster mother of eight – gave this motherly advice: “A mother should stay with her children, and not work outside the home when the children are very young.” She went on to say that for her, she would rather raise children than anything else.

article about 1949 American Mother of the Year Pearle Owens Gillis, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 25 April 1949

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 25 April 1949, page 13

Mrs. Gillis’s predecessor, 1948 American Mother of the Year Helen Gartside Hines of Springfield, Illinois, was an author who penned her advice in the form of newspaper articles like this one from an Illinois paper, entitled “Child Training in Home Urged.” In this historical newspaper article, which many modern-day teachers will agree with, she makes the point that parents cannot assume that schools and churches will do everything to train children – some of that training needs to happen in the home:

Two principles which, in my opinion, children should be taught very early are respect for authority and a consideration for the rights of others. If they haven’t learned this before they enter our public schools they are a real discipline problem to their teachers and a menace to the other children.

Another of her ideas still rings true today:

Children have no prejudice, racial or religious. Children take people for what they are. It is only as they absorb the ideas of their elders that they begin to make distinctions and to assume a superiority over minority groups. Here again the pre-school training in the home can set the pace for all their after life.

parenting advice from 1948 American Mother of the Year Helen Gartside Hines, Register-Republic newspaper article 7 May 1948

Register-Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 7 May 1948, page 10

Mrs. Hines had ten children, nine of which served in World War II – including two daughters.

Other Mothers of the Year

While I have focused on the American Mother of the Year program in this article, there were of course other groups who named women as their choice for “Mother of the Year.” One example is this short article from a 1949 California newspaper announcing Mrs. Catherine T. Loeffler as the 1949 Catholic Mother of the Year by the National Catholic Conference on Family Life. This Massachusetts mother had 12 children, 10 of which were still living. Six of her children had chosen a religious vocation, including five of her sons who were priests.

article about 1949 Catholic Mother of the Year Catherine T. Loeffler, San Diego Union newspaper article 7 May 1949

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 7 May 1949, page 4

In some cases a Mother of the Year may have overcome some obstacles. This 1958 Texas newspaper article announces the Dallas Polio Mother of the Year awardee, Mrs. A. J. MacMaster, who became a victim of polio at the age of three. Her advice to others was to “Forget yourself, think of others.” Mrs. MacMaster, an attorney, had advanced educational degrees including a master’s degree from Yale and a law degree.

article about 1958 Dallas Polio Mother of the Year Mrs. A. J. MacMaster, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 2 January 1958

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 2 January 1958, section 3, page 1

While some groups who named a Mother of the Year were national or statewide, others were much smaller, like this instance of the Tyler Street Methodist Church Mother of the Year for Mother’s Day 1949. Their honoree was 73-year-old Mrs. C. H. C. Anderson, who is described as “tiny and vivacious.” She was to receive a flower bouquet as her award.

article about 1949 Mother of the Year Mrs. C. H. C. Anderson, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 7 May 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 7 May 1949, section 2, page 14

Is Your Mother a Mother of the Year?

You can nominate her for the official title by going to the American Mothers website.

Did you or a woman in your family tree ever receive recognition for being an exemplary mom? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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Utah Archives: 25 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Although Utah is the 13th largest state in the nation, it is the 10th least-densely populated. The state capital, Salt Lake City, is also the world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The LDS Church operates the nonprofit genealogy organization – which makes Salt Lake City one of the leading centers in the world for family history research, including the world famous Family History Library (open to the public free of charge).

photo of Zion Canyon at sunset, Zion National Park, Utah

Photo: Zion Canyon at sunset, Zion National Park, Utah. Credit: Diliff; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your family roots in Utah, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online UT newspaper archives: 25 titles to help you search your family history in the “Beehive State,” providing news coverage, family stories and vital statistics from 1851 to Today. There are currently more than 2.5 million newspaper articles and records in our online Utah archives!

Dig deep into our archives and search for historical and recent obituaries and other news articles about your Utah ancestors in these recent and historical UT newspapers online. Our Utah newspapers are divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries (obituaries only).

Search Utah Newspaper Archives (1851 – 1945)

Search Utah Recent Obituaries (1988 – Current)

photo of a state welcome sign in Utah

Photo: Utah state welcome sign. Credit: Wikimedia Commons; Bernard Gagnon, 8 March 2009

Here is a list of online Utah newspapers in the archives. Each newspaper title in this list is an active link that will take you directly to that paper’s search page, where you can begin searching for your ancestors by surnames, dates, keywords and more. The UT newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range* Collection
Bountiful Davis County Clipper 3/9/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Castle Dale Emery County Progress 11/27/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Logan Herald Journal 3/1/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ogden Hilltop Times: Hill Air Force Base 10/18/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ogden Standard-Examiner 5/22/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Park City Park Record 9/10/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Price Sun Advocate 8/2/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Provo Daily Herald 2/27/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Richfield Richfield Reaper 8/18/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Roosevelt Uintah Basin Standard 7/24/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Telegram 1/30/1902 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Tribune 1/9/1875 – 12/28/1893 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Deseret News 1/11/1851 – 12/29/1886 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Daily Telegraph 1/12/1866 – 7/3/1868 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Broad Ax 8/31/1895 – 6/6/1899 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Deseret Evening News 7/6/1868 – 9/19/1921 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Inter-Mountain Advocate 12/14/1894 – 4/30/1897 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Telegraph 10/9/1865 – 10/4/1866 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Salt Lake City Beobachter 4/6/1930 – 4/6/1930 Newspaper Archives
Salt Lake City Intermountain Catholic 10/5/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Deseret News 4/7/1988 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Salt Lake City Weekly 6/11/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salt Lake City Salt Lake Tribune 9/26/1990 – Current Recent Obituaries
Topaz Topaz Times 9/17/1942 – 8/31/1945 Newspaper Archives
Vernal Vernal Express 5/19/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries

*Date Ranges may have selected coverage unavailable.

You can either print or create a PDF version of this Blog post by simply clicking on the green “Print/PDF” button below. The PDF version makes it easy to save this post onto your desktop or portable device for quick reference—all the Utah newspaper links will be live.

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The Life & Death of the Legendary Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt

Early in the morning of 6 January 1919, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, the nation’s 26th president (1901-1909), quietly died in his sleep. His death ended one of the most remarkable lives and careers in American history. Ranked by historians as one of the nation’s greatest presidents, Roosevelt had also been a state legislator, police commissioner and governor (of New York), assistant secretary of the navy, and vice president (under William McKinley). In addition, Roosevelt was a war hero, gaining fame for leading the heroic charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

photo of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, 1915

Photo: ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, 1915. Credit: Pach Brothers photography studio; U.S. Library of Congress.

Along with all those accomplishments, Roosevelt was also a naturalist, author, editor, orator, explorer, horseman and big-game hunter. Roosevelt was born 27 October 1858 into great wealth to a long-established, aristocratic family. He went on to fight for reform and progressive causes during his long political career. A weak and sickly child, he built himself into a strong, vigorous man through strenuous activity.

Posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2001 for his bravery on the battlefield, he was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for helping to end the Russo-Japanese War. In short, Roosevelt was a larger-than-life figure, one widely respected and admired in America and worldwide.

article about the death of Theodore Roosevelt, Belleville News Democrat  newspaper article 6 January 1919

Belleville News Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 6 January 1919, page 1

Teddy Roosevelt’s obituary, published on the front page of the Belleville News Democrat on 6 January 1919, included these details of the many attributes and accomplishments of this great man’s incredible life:

The death of Col. Theodore Roosevelt is a shock to the entire nation. Outside of the White House, he was easily the first citizen of the United States. His name is a household word in every civilized country, and Roosevelt made a secure place for himself in the history of nations.

Col. Theodore Roosevelt was born in New York City on October 27th, 1858. He was of Dutch descent, being a member of one of the old aristocratic families of New York City and State. He traced his lineage back to the Revolution and long before that period on American soil. His parents were wealthy and belonged to the capitalistic or aristocratic class, although Roosevelt himself was always extremely democratic in his ways and principles. Roosevelt was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, but never played religion very strongly.

photo of Theodore Roosevelt, age 11, 1870

Photo: Theodore Roosevelt, age 11, 1870. Credit: U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

He entered Harvard College in 1876 and was graduated in the class of 1880.

He took up the study of law, but in 1881 was elected to the New York Legislature, and was twice re-elected.

In his second term in the Legislature, he was the candidate of his party for speaker, the majority of the assembly, however, being democratic.

During his third term he served as chairman of the committee on cities and of the special committee which investigated the abuses in the government of New York City.

He early took a stand for good government and honest and clean and decent politics.

He was a delegate to the state convention in New York State in 1884 to choose delegates to the Republican National Convention, and was selected as one of the four delegates-at-large from New York to the National Convention.

Later in the same year, he went to North Dakota and spent most of his time there for several years on a ranch, engaged in cattle raising. The change was made in the interests of his health. He had been weak and sickly and was advised by his physician to go west and live in the open air and sunshine and live the simple life.

photo of Theodore Roosevelt, 1885

Photo: Theodore Roosevelt, 1885. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

He adopted the habits of the cowboys and roughed it, according to the customs which prevailed in those days in the wild and wooly West. He acquired the art of riding on horseback, and became an expert rifle and revolver shot. During most of his waking hours he lived in his saddle. This life on the margin of civilization was too slow for him, however. Regaining his health and becoming robust and strong, he yearned for the streets and avenues of his native city, where the bright lights burn.

In 1886 he was the Republican nominee for mayor of New York City.

He was appointed a member of the United States Civil Service Commission in May, 1889, by President Benj. Harrison.

He resigned this position in 1895 in order to accept the Presidency of the Police Commission of New York City under Mayor Strong.

In April, 1897, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy by President William McKinley.

Upon the outbreak of the war with Spain in 1898, he resigned his post and became Lt. Col. of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry.

He now began to cash in on the apprenticeship which he had served in the Wild West. He raised the regiment known as the Rough-Riders.

He was promoted to the colonelcy of the regiment, and was popular with the rank and file of men who reposed great confidence in his leadership.

photo of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, 1898

Photo: Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, 1898. Credit: B. J. Falk; U.S. Library of Congress.

He was in the fights at Las Guasimas and San Juan. His name as a fighter was won at the battle of San Juan Hill.

He was mustered out with his regiment at Montauk, Long Island, in September, 1898. He was nominated shortly afterwards as the Republican candidate for governor of New York and elected in November, 1898.

He was unanimously nominated for Vice President of the United States by the Republican National Convention of 1900 and elected. He succeeded to the Presidency upon the death of President McKinley, by assassination, in Buffalo, on September 14th, 1901.

Painting: President Theodore Roosevelt; official White House portrait by John Singer Sargent, 1903

Painting: President Theodore Roosevelt; official White House portrait by John Singer Sargent, 1903. Credit: The White House Historical Association.

He was nominated for President by the Republicans in 1904 and was elected by a tremendous popular and electoral majority. He beat Alton B. Parker, the Democratic nominee.

While Roosevelt was President the Panama Canal was built and the war between Japan and Russia was fought. He took a hand in the settlement of that bloody conflict and was awarded a Noble Peace Prize for his activities.

The country was rent by panics and strikes during the Roosevelt administration, and he gained notoriety by successfully winding up a coal miners’ strike in the anthracite regions in Pennsylvania which threatened to drag the country into civil war.

Roosevelt was a forceful character and an aggressive man. He believed in the policy of maintaining a big standing army and a powerful navy in our country. He was an advocate of the strenuous life and lived it.

He lived every minute of his life. He split the Republican Party in two in 1912 because the Republican National Convention of that year refused to nominate him for President instead of Taft. He organized the Bull Moose Party on a progressive platform and later closed up the breach by returning to the original fold.

Roosevelt was distinctly a physical force man. In his opinion nature and destiny achieve their purposes through the strongest agency. He had no use for weak men and detested half-hearted measures. He fought the Wilson administration on the ground that it was too slow.

He believed that we should have entered the European War against Germany four years ago.

He was a physical culture expert, having built himself up from a sickly child to a man whose vigor and virility challenged the respect and admiration of the world.

His children were of the same type.

He was a historian. He wrote many books on history. His “History of the Naval War of 1812” was written while he was yet a Harvard student.

He was a biographer. He wrote a biography of “Oliver Cromwell,” his own autobiography and others.

He was an essayist. He wrote more books than many authors whose fame rests upon their writings alone. His essays, in particular, and later his orations, were always a key to his actions.

He was a great critic. He raised hell most of the time. He knew where to hit and hit hard.

He was a good hater and had a good command of English. The results are well known.

He was a natural scientist, a big-game hunter, and explorer and discoverer. His achievements in natural science alone were enough to make him a man of note. He killed lions and tigers and elephants in the wilds of Africa, and discovered the River of Doubt in South Africa.

He was the holder of more than a dozen college degrees, and won fame as an editor on the “Outlook” and the “Metropolitan Magazine.” During the last year he has been an editorial writer for the “Kansas City Star.”

He was a practical reformer, a veteran colonel of cavalry, a former Governor, a former Vice President and a former President.

photo of the grave of President & Mrs. Roosevelt in Youngs Memorial Cemetery, Oyster Bay, New York

Photo: grave of President & Mrs. Roosevelt in Youngs Memorial Cemetery, Oyster Bay, New York. Credit: Shadow2700; Wikimedia Commons.

His death marks the end of a notable career, and the most strenuous life in America has reached its illustrious close. The whole nation mourns the loss of Theodore Roosevelt. Had he lived to see the day he might have been the next Republican nominee for President of the United States, and it is not improbable that he would have been re-elected.

Note: FamilySearch International ( and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at:

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Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor Propels U.S. into WWII

This Sunday marks the 73rd anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack against the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941 that triggered the U.S. entry into World War II.

photo of the USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Photo: the USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Credit: Victor-ny; Wikimedia Commons.

Speaking to a solemn joint session of Congress on 8 December 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made this famous declaration:

Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

U.S. Declares War on Japan, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 8 December 1941

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 8 December 1941, page 1

Although the Japanese attack was a stunning example of military planning and execution, and resulted in a smashing victory, it was indeed smeared with infamy—for the two nations were not at war, and the attack was completely unprovoked and came with absolutely no warning. In fact, one hour after the attack commenced two Japanese officials met with the U.S. secretary of state in Washington, D.C., to submit a formal reply to an overture made to the Japanese government on November 26 to maintain peace.

article about men enlisting for WWII, Boston Traveler newspaper article 8 December 1941

Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 8 December 1941, page 1

The attack on Pearl Harbor dealt a severe blow to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. All eight battleships were damaged and four sunk, 10 other ships were damaged or sunk, over 300 aircraft damaged or destroyed, and more than 2,400 men killed. The Japanese military only lost 29 aircraft, 5 midget submarines, and 64 men killed. It appeared the Japanese had triumphantly achieved their objective of crippling the U.S. fleet so that it could not oppose their expansion in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific.

photos of the U.S. reaction to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 December 1941

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 December 1941, page 12

The Japanese victory was not total, however. Perhaps most importantly, the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s three aircraft carriers were not in Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack and escaped harm. Naval warfare in WWII established that the era of the battleship was over; the aircraft carrier ruled supreme, and in that sense the U.S. fleet was very lucky. Also, the Japanese concentrated on attacking warships and aircraft and ignored the support facilities on the shores of Pearl Harbor, essentially leaving that vital military facility intact to help the U.S. Pacific Fleet recover and prepare to carry the war to the Japanese.

Idahoans on Duty with Pacific Fleet, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 8 December 1941

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 8 December 1941, page 2

The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, 8 December 1941, the U.S. declared war on Japan. Nazi Germany and Italy, Japan’s allies, then declared war on the U.S. America was now fully engaged in WWII, a contest that would test the strength and resolve of the entire nation for 3½ years before victory was finally won—after the loss of more than 400,000 U.S. military personnel.

obituary for Hal Perry, killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Advocate newspaper article 11 December 1941

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 11 December 1941, page 1

Historical newspapers ( are not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors—they also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers. Were you or any of your family stationed at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941? Please share your stories with us in the comments.

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100th Anniversary of the Panama Canal: History in the News

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 blog post, Duncan searches old newspapers to learn more about one of humankind’s greatest engineering feats: the building of the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal recently turned 100 years old. This prompted me to learn more about the history of this important waterway.

photo of the SS Ancon passing through the Panama Canal on 15 August 1914, the first ship to use the canal

Photo: SS Ancon passing through the Panama Canal on 15 August 1914, the first ship to use the canal. Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Early Transportation History

The only way for ships in the Atlantic Ocean to access the western coast of the Americas was to go the long way round—either around the southern tip of South America, or an even longer distance around the horn of Africa. Either route was fraught with danger and took an exceptionally long time. The narrow neck of land connecting North and South America was quickly targeted as a possible transportation alternative.

In the 1500s, Spain was particularly interested in reducing the amount of time it took to transport silver mined in Peru to Atlantic fleets. This would give them an economic and militaristic advantage over their enemies and rivals. To accomplish this, they created a trail system across the Isthmus of Panama—Spanish fleets shipped the silver from Peru to the west coast of Panama, and mule trains followed the trails to the east coast, bringing the silver to waiting ships. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t easy, but it was better than nothing.

Enter Last Name

The Darien Disaster

Later, Scotland launched an early attempt to gain economic advantage by creating a shortcut for goods across the Isthmus of Panama. They wagered an absurd amount of money on the project termed the “Darien Scheme” (and later renamed the “Darien Disaster”). They set up an outpost in 1698 in the hopes of creating an overland route to transport goods and shorten the amount of time it took to carry items from Europe to the western coast. Conditions in the area were vastly different from what they were prepared for and horribly inhospitable. They slugged it out for less than two years before abandoning the project.

Meanwhile, the Spanish continued their efforts to make an even better route across Panama to maintain their economic success—and their enemies took notice. This 1762 newspaper article foretold “our” (British) troops’ plans to attack the Isthmus of Darien (Panama) and thwart the Spanish advantage.

article about a planned British attack on the Spanish outpost in Panama, Boston Evening-Post newspaper article 6 December 1762

Boston Evening-Post (Boston, Massachusetts), 6 December 1762, page 2

The Spanish were persistent in their efforts and, as this article reported, they had established a new colony in the Isthmus of Panama by 1777.

article about the Spanish estabishing an outpost in Panama, Virginia Gazette newspaper article 12 December 1777

Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Virginia), 12 December 1777, page 1

The Panama Railroad

By the time gold was discovered in California in 1848, the railroad was a significant technological advancement. Naturally, this idea was applied in Panama: build a railroad across this challenging terrain to quickly transport goods and prospectors from the East coast and Europe and deposit them on the Pacific coast, to complete their journey by ship. They used old Spanish trails that had been in use for over three centuries.

Actually, the idea of a railroad across Panama had been in existence for many years before the California Gold Rush. The Columbian and French governments had both shown interest. The U.S. had made some effort under Andrew Jackson in the 1830s, but it wasn’t until 1855 that a cross-Panama railroad came to fruition. It is amazing that they were able to accomplish this feat. The heavens dump around 150 inches of rain each year on the landscape. Laying track in such hot, wet conditions must have been a miserable experience. But the real threat came from disease, especially malaria and yellow fever. Workers dropped like flies. Completing the Panama Railway was certainly a cause for celebration.

article about the completion of the Panama Railway, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 31 January 1855

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 31 January 1855, page 2

However, traversing the troublesome landmass necessitated loading and unloading cargo, a painfully labor- and time-intensive undertaking for the railroad. There were calls for a canal through the isthmus to allow large cargo ships to alleviate this difficulty. The French rose to the occasion and dispatched the famous Ferdinand de Lesseps—designer of the newly completed Suez Canal—to lead their nation to triumph. They rushed to start the project in 1881, without sufficient understanding of the geology or hydrology of the area.

Enter Last Name

At first the idea was simply to cut away the land leaving a sea level passageway. Attempts at this seemingly simple idea soon showed that the copious rainfall quickly filled these efforts of the exhausted laborers, with mud and large landslides causing problems. The wedge of land to be removed changed from a narrow slip, just wide enough to allow a ship’s passage, to an impossibly large width to prevent the frequent landslides. This was all being attempted with primitive steam shovels that quickly rusted to uselessness in the persistent rain. If that wasn’t disheartening enough, the swampy conditions were ripe for mosquitoes and therefore deadly malaria and yellow fever. Thousands of workers died and the project went bankrupt. Meanwhile, the American media had a heyday over the “Panama Canal Fiasco” or the “Panama Affair.”

The Panama Canal Fiasco, Springfield Republican newspaper article 13 January 1889

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 13 January 1889, page 2

Despite a later attempt to revive the project, the weary French eventually sold out to America for a bargain basement price.

article about the French selling their Panama Canal project to the U.S., Forth Worth Morning Register newspaper article 8 January 1902

Forth Worth Morning Register (Fort Worth, Texas), 8 January 1902, page 2

After the smoke had cleared from the expected congressional infighting over the viability of the project and the wisdom of purchasing the project from the French, there remained the matter of obtaining Colombian authorization (Panama was Columbian territory at the time).

When Columbia refused to ratify a treaty granting such permission, President Theodore Roosevelt and the U.S. got around this obstacle by promising support to Panamanian rebels seeking independence from Columbia. U.S. warships moved into position off the Panamanian coast on 2 November 1903, and Panama declared independence the next day. Three days later, on 6 November 1903, the newly-recognized nation of Panama signed a treaty granting the U.S. the right to build and administer a canal.

With that, the U.S. got to work. Fortunately, by that time technology had advanced and we were able to complete the project by building a lock system—but not before even more people died of illness and accident. (As a side note, it is good to know that the Panama Affair did contribute to a better understanding of mosquito-borne illnesses and their prevention.)

Panama Canal Opens

After much labor, the Herculean task of building the Panama Canal was completed, and it was officially opened on 15 August 1914.

Great Panama Canal Open for Commerce, State newspaper article 16 August 1914

State (Columbia, South Carolina), 16 August 1914, page 1

Of course, this is a simplified and selective account of the scandal-soaked history of the canal. It doesn’t mention that the treaty we signed with Columbia (which was refused by that country) was actually with a French representative. It doesn’t detail the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that the U.S. was involved in with the rebellion that created the country of Panama—all in order to accomplish our goal of building the canal. It doesn’t mention the Panamanian protests after WWII and international pressure which led—eventually—to the release of the canal to Panama beginning in 2000. Nor does it go in depth into the scandals, illnesses, and accidents that make a study of the canal so interesting.

Hopefully, this article gives a little insight into the history of the Panama Canal and whets your appetite for your own research. The significance of the Panama Canal cannot be overstated. World commerce depends on fast, dependable transportation, which the canal provides.

Also, it is hoped that this article offers insights into what can be found in and learned from the old newspapers contained in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.

Related Articles about Early Transportation:

69th Anniversary: President Franklin D. Roosevelt Died in Office

Tomorrow marks the 69th anniversary of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt; on the afternoon of 12 April 1945 the nation’s 32nd president died of a cerebral hemorrhage. His life ended just as the great Allied victory in World War II that he had worked so hard for was in sight. In his remarkable and unprecedented four terms and 12 years in the White House, Roosevelt steered the United States through two of the greatest traumas in its history: the Great Depression and World War II.

By consolidating the power of the presidency and inserting the government into many aspects of the country’s civic and economic affairs, Roosevelt was both beloved and hated. Since the 1951 ratification of the Twenty-second Amendment limits U.S. presidents to only two terms, it is safe to say we will never see another presidency like his. Historians consistently rank Roosevelt as one of America’s greatest presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

The Day FDR Died

Although confined to a wheelchair ever since paralysis struck him in 1921, Roosevelt was a hearty, energetic man. The enormous strain of leading the nation during World War II took its toll on him, however, and his health seriously deteriorated in 1945. Despite this, his sudden death was unexpected. He died in the “Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he had gone for the gentle weather and therapeutic waters for a respite. He was sitting for a portrait when he complained of a “terrible headache,” fainted, and never regained consciousness. He was 63.

News of Roosevelt’s Death Hits the Headlines

Historical newspapers are a great resource for exploring your ancestors’ lives—and to get a glimpse into the times they lived in. Here is a collection of front-page headlines to show how newspapers broke the tragic news of Roosevelt’s death to America. (Note: all of the newspaper articles used to illustrate this Blog post come from GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.)

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Plain Dealer newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 13 April 1945, page 1

Enter Last Name

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Boston Herald newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dallas Morning News newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Greensboro Daily News newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Augusta Chronicle newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Daily Illinois State Journal newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 13 April 1945, page 1

Enter Last Name

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Advocate newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Daily Northwestern newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Daily Northwestern (Evanston, Illinois), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Marietta Journal newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Oregonian newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Repository newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 13 April 1945, page 1

front page news about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Seattle Daily Times newspaper articles 13 April 1945

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 13 April 1945, page 1

Discover more about FDR’s presidency and family life in GenealogyBank’s archives now:

Eleanor Roosevelt, Norman Rockwell & Steve McQueen Obituaries

During this November week in American history a famous First Lady, a painter, and an actor died:

  • Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, American First Lady, died at 78 on 7 November 1962
  • Norman Perceval Rockwell, American painter, died at 84 on 8 November 1978
  • Terence Steven “Steve” McQueen, American actor, died at 50 on 7 November 1980

Newspapers are filled with profiles and obituaries that help us better understand the lives of our ancestors—and the famous people who lived during their times. You can use historical newspapers to research their public careers and trace their family trees. Who knows? You just might discover that you are related to the celebrity of your interest. The following old newspaper articles about these three famous Americans are great examples of how newspapers can be used to investigate the lives of the famous—as well as the not-so-famous—people that make up our family trees.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)

Eleanor Roosevelt achieved many firsts in her long, active lifetime. Her list of accomplishments is equally long. The wife of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she is the longest-serving First Lady in American history (1933-1945), playing an active role throughout her husband’s unprecedented 12-year, 4-term presidency—a record that will never be broken now that U.S. presidents are constitutionally limited to 2 terms.

Eleanor Roosevelt was the first First Lady to hold press conferences. As a women’s rights activist she was upset that most newspapers only had male reporters; she insisted that only women reporters could attend her press conferences—forcing many newspapers to hire female reporters. She was the first First Lady to write a syndicated news column, which she wrote six days a week from 1936 until she died. She was also the first First Lady to speak at a national convention.

Her support for humanitarian causes she believed in (such as women’s rights, civil rights, and child welfare) continued unabated after her husband’s sudden death on 12 April 1945. She traveled constantly, meeting world leaders, and influencing opinions and policies. She avidly supported the United Nations, and was the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Asked in her 75th year why she wouldn’t slow down, Roosevelt replied: “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die. Therefore, I think it a necessity to be doing something which you feel is helpful in order to grow old gracefully and contentedly.”

This obituary for Eleanor Roosevelt was published in a Georgia newspaper on 8 November 1962.

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Famous First Lady, Dead, Marietta Journal newspaper obituary 8 November 1962

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 8 November 1962, page 1

Along with many photos showing her at various stages in her life, this obituary provided details of her illness and death, and contained tributes from influential leaders.

For example, President Kennedy called Mrs. Roosevelt: “one of the great ladies in the history of this country.”

United Nations Ambassador Adlai E. Stevenson said: “I have lost an inspiration. She would rather light candles than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world.”

A tribute on the Marietta Journal’s editorial page offered this praise: “Her greatness is embodied in a life of service to humanity. Her name will long remain an inspiration to those who recognize that there is no loftier aim than serving one’s fellow man.”

In October 1984 the nation celebrated the 100th anniversary of Eleanor Roosevelt’s birth by restoring and dedicating her home as a National Historic Site. The U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp.

This 1984 article began:

“She had no gift for small talk and was painfully shy. Her plain looks dismayed her and fed her grim sense of inadequacy.

“But Eleanor Roosevelt blossomed into one of the most liberated women of the century, wielding an influence over American policy and thought that would make many presidents itch with envy.”

Eleanor Roosevelt Was a Role Model for the Future, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 October 1984

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 October 1984, page 1

The news article went on to say that during FDR’s years as president, “she played a major role, serving as a conduit for the viewpoints of women, blacks, the young, and helpless.”

And this: “Her public activities continued long after FDR’s death in 1945. President Truman appointed her to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations. In 1948, she pushed through the U.N. General Assembly, with Soviet approval, the Declaration of Human Rights.

“She continued work on her favorite causes—child welfare, displaced persons, peace, minority and women’s rights—and continued globetrotting.

“Her opinion was sought by world leaders, including Truman. Kennedy nominated her for the Nobel Peace Prize. Her last ‘working’ trip to Europe was in 1962, nine months before she died of a form of aplastic anemia.”

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)

Norman Rockwell was one of the most popular and beloved artists in American history. A painter and illustrator who focused on everyday scenes of American life, especially family and childhood, his work reached a wide audience by gracing the cover of The Saturday Evening Post for more than four decades, as well as numerous other publications such as Popular Science and the Boy Scouts’ Boys’ Life. Rockwell also illustrated books and calendars.

His scenes often captured the innocence of childhood, such as this cover for The Saturday Evening Post.

photo of the painting "No Swimming" by Norman Rockwell, used on the cover of the 4 June 1921 edition of "The Saturday Evening Post"

Illustration: No Swimming by Norman Rockwell, used on the cover of the 4 June 1921 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. Credit: Wikipedia.

A fine tribute to Rockwell is provided by the opening paragraph of this 1978 newspaper advertisement run by the Norman Rockwell Museum, offering the official commemorative plate entitled “Norman Rockwell Remembered”:

“In more than 2,000 artworks, Norman Rockwell honored America, creating a pictorial history of our times…illuminating our lives with gifted warmth and insight.”

ad for a commemorative plate in honor of Norman Rockwell, Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisement 3 December 1978

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 3 December 1978, page 53

This obituary for Norman Rockwell was published in a North Carolina newspaper on 9 November 1978.

Artist Rockwell Dies at 84, Greensboro Daily News newspaper obituary 9 November 1978

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 9 November 1978, page 1

Although Rockwell did paint some works about serious social issues in America such as racism (for example, his The Problem We All Live With was about integrating schools), he was best known for his sentimental views of American family life. This obituary contained this quote from Rockwell:

“Maybe as I grew up and found the world wasn’t the perfectly pleasant place I had thought it to be, I unconsciously decided that if it wasn’t an ideal world, it should be, and so painted only the ideal aspects of it—pictures in which there were no slatterns or self-centered mothers, in which, on the contrary, there were only Foxy Grandpas who played baseball with the kids and boys fished from logs and got up circuses in the backyard.”

Steve McQueen (1930-1980)

Steve McQueen was an enormously popular American actor during the 1960s and 1970s, often playing tough characters that were cool and defied authority. That defiance extended to movie directors—he was notoriously difficult to work with—yet his popularity with the ticket-buying public kept him constantly in demand. In fact, in 1974 McQueen was the highest-paid actor in the world.

McQueen starred in such films as Bullitt, Papillon, The Magnificent Seven and The Towering Inferno. He loved speed, and was an accomplished motorcycle and racecar competitor. He often performed his own stunts, including the amazing motorcycle riding in The Great Escape—thanks to careful editing, in one scene McQueen is performing his own character’s riding as well as the German chasing him on another motorcycle!

Steve McQueen died at the age of 50 due to cancer and related complications. This obituary was published in a Massachusetts newspaper on 8 November 1980.

Heart Attack Claims Steve McQueen at 50, Boston Herald newspaper article 8 November 1980

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 8 November 1980, page 2

This obituary related how McQueen’s acting was shaped by his own rebellious youth:

“Although he was often described as a rebel and nonconformist, his screen image was an updating of a Hollywood leading man tradition going back through Gary Cooper to silent film heroes—friendly Americans, smiling loners who become skillfully violent when pushed too far.

“It was founded in part on his own experiences, particularly his knockabout youth.

“Born Terrence Steven McQueen, he was placed in a Chino, Calif., boys home as a juvenile delinquent at 14. At 15 he ran away to sea.

“As he told it, before he was 24 he had been in and out of jails for fighting and theft, served a month on a Southern chain gang and was jailed briefly in Cuba.”

The obituary reported how McQueen himself connected his acting with his rough background, especially when discussing the character Josh Randall from the television Western Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958-1961), the role that made him a Hollywood star:

“One of the strengths of Wanted was Randall’s unromantically practical attitude toward heroics. McQueen, who often spoke in the argot of the 50s village hipster he once was, referred to Randall as ‘an uncomplicated cat.’

“When the villain had him cornered and outnumbered, McQueen’s Randall would smile disarmingly and back off, figuring he’d live to get his man some other day, an outlook McQueen credited to his own hard-earned survival skills.

“He even rewrote his dialogue to make Randall fit his own experience of men who live close to danger.

“‘I couldn’t play some happy-jack who shoots it out with four men without batting an eyelash. I’ve been whipped, man, and in real life I tell guys who outnumber me: You’re right, you’re right.’”

Although he gained fame and fortune playing tough guys, McQueen didn’t want to be confined to those roles, as reported in this 1980 newspaper article.

[Steve] McQueen Didn't Always Play the Hero, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 November 1980

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 November 1980, page 53

According to this newspaper article:

“McQueen clearly wanted to expand if not destroy his image during the final years of his life. As far back as 1970, he was turning his back on the rugged image he earned in such action films as The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and Bullitt to tackle the role of a none-too-bright scalawag in The Reivers.

“By the time of this year’s The Hunter—ironically, his celluloid swan song—McQueen was willing to indulge in subtle parody of the role that first brought him fame: Josh Randall, the super-efficient bounty hunter he essayed in the 1958-61 television series that brought him to stardom, Wanted: Dead or Alive.

“‘I guess you could say I’ve come full circle,’ McQueen conceded during the Hunter filming. ‘I feel like this is where I came in.’”

Dig into GenealogyBank and discover more about the lives of your favorite famous people. Please share any interesting facts that you find out about them in the comments section.

Top Genealogy Websites: Utah Genealogy Resources for Records

Are you researching your family roots in Utah? Here are two good sources of Utah genealogy information online—GenealogyBank and vital records put up by the state itself—to help with your family history research in the “Beehive State.”

collage of genealogy records from the Utah Division of Archives & Records Service

Credit: Utah Division of Archives & Records Service

Utah county and state genealogical records are going online. The state’s Division of Archives & Records Service is putting up indexes and digital copies of original records ranging from birth certificates to probate records, and all types of records in between.

Utah has put up a wider variety of records than perhaps any other state in the U.S.

Utah Death Records

Utah has digitized and is in the process of putting online their death records from 1904-1961. These are Series 20842 (Index to Series 81448).

According to its website there are also these records. (Note: the series without links are not available online, but can be searched in person at the Utah Division of Archives & Records Service office.)

  • Reports from Summit County (Utah). County Coroner, Series 3716, contains the death certificates that are associated with the individual deaths investigated in this coroner record.
  • Military death certificates from the Department of Administrative Services. Division of Archives and Records Service, Series 3769, includes death certificates for military personnel killed in World War II and the Korean War, whose bodies were transported back to Utah for burial.
  • Death certificates electronic index from the Department of Health. Office of Vital Records and Statistics, Series 20842, is a computerized index for the death certificates.
  • Burial record from Vernal (Utah)Series 25360, contains death certificates from Uintah County beginning in 1905.

Utah Birth Records

Utah has an index to Birth Certificates 1905-1906 and has additional Birth Certificates 1907-1912 that are not indexed but can be browsed.

According to its website there are also these related birth records online:

  • Birth certificates from Weber County (Utah). County Clerk, Series 20896, includes all live births occurring in the state of Utah as recorded by the Office of Vital Records and Statistics.
  • Birth certificate indexes from the Department of Health. Office of Vital Records and Statistics, Series 81437, indexes the birth certificates (1904-1934) by Soundex code number.
  • Out-of-state births from the Department of Health. Office of Vital Records and Statistics, Series 81442, are birth certificates from other states sent to the Utah Office of Vital Records and Statistics for statistical compilation of Utah residents that were born in other states.
  • Native American birth certificates from the Department of Health. Office of Vital Records and Statistics, Series 81444, are a separate file of birth certificates issued for Indians.
  • Delayed certificates of birth from the Department of Health. Office of Vital Records and Statistics, Series 81445, are birth certificates that are registered with Vital Records a year or more after the date of birth.
  • Amendments to birth records from the Department of Health. Office of Vital Records and Statistics, Series 81446, are forms used to change information on birth certificates, either through error, name change, or subsequent sex change.
  • Birth registers from Emery County (Utah). County Clerk, Series 84038, contains birth certificates filed with the Bureau of Vital Statistics beginning in 1904—but do not become public until 100 years after birth. The researcher should contact the agency.
  • Birth and death records from Weber County (Utah). Vital Statistics Registrar, Series 85146, contains the official copy of birth certificates.

More Utah Records for Genealogy

Utah has also put an extensive collection of records online ranging from cattle brand registration books to naturalization records to probate records. See its complete list of records here.

Utah Newspapers for Genealogy

GenealogyBank has an extensive collection of Utah newspapers online dating from 1851 to 1922 & 1988 to Today.

Search Utah Newspaper Archives (1851 – 1922)

Search Utah Recent Obituaries (1988 – Current)

Discover a variety of genealogy records and news stories in these 8 Utah newspapers:

Search recent obituary records for your relatives in these 15 Utah newspapers:

Click on the image below to download a printable list of the Utah newspapers in GenealogyBank for your future reference. You can save to your desktop and click the titles to go directly to your newspaper of interest.

Utah Newspaper Archives at GenealogyBank

Feel free to share this list of Utah newspapers on your blog or website using the embed code provided below.

Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):

SSDI Quiz: Understanding the U.S. Social Security Death Index

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary provides a fun quiz to see how well you know the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA)—and the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) it maintains, an important resource for genealogists. Mary uses old newspaper articles to learn more about the SSA and SSDI.

One of the exciting features of GenealogyBank is the ability to search the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). This important genealogical database is updated by the United States Social Security Administration (SSA). GenealogyBank’s SSDI search page provides an easy way to access this data.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)

Not all the fields on the search page have to be filled in, and some of GenealogyBank’s SSDI features are the ability to:

  • specify a specific date or a range for a decedent’s birth and death
  • specify by zip code or last known residence, or non-U.S. location

Data from the U.S. SSDI is frequently misinterpreted. If you think you are well versed in the subject, try this handy Social Security Genealogy Quiz and then check your answers below.

Social Security Genealogy Quiz

When did the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) system start?

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on 14 August 1935, but taxes for the system were not collected until January of 1937. For more information about the history of the Social Security system in America, see

Roosevelt Signs Security Act as Cameras Grind, San Diego Union newspaper article 15 August 1935

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 15 August 1935, page 1

Who is covered by the Social Security program?

Many groups are/were exempt, including railroad workers, and certain employees of state and local governments and schools.

The railroad workers are covered by the Railroad Retirement Program, and contribute a portion of their wages to both systems with a calculation adjustment done at retirement. It’s a bit complicated, so please see U.S. Social Security Administration: An Overview of the Railroad Retirement Program.

Prior to 1983, when Congress changed the law, various municipalities and other groups had opted out of the Social Security system. For example, the Texas counties of Galveston, Brazoria, and Matagorda opted out of the system prior to 1983, and are covered under an independent system. After 1984, municipalities who had not previously opted out of the system were required to be covered by the SSA, along with civilian federal employees.

Does that include the President, Senators and Congressmen?

Yes. The SSA’s Frequently Asked Questions website states:

“All members of Congress, the President and Vice President, Federal judges, and most political appointees, were covered under the Social Security program starting in January 1984.”

Here we see the SSDI record for President Richard M. Nixon.

Social Security Death Index (SSDI) record for President Richard M. Nixon

Is the SSDI’s birth and death information reliable?

After 1974, proof was required to obtain a Social Security number (SSN). For persons who entered the system prior to that date, one should cross-reference birth dates with other records. Death dates are more reliable, as proof of death (such as a death certificate) has to be submitted in order to claim a death benefit.

Proof Now Required for Social Security, Chicago Metro News newspaper article 6 July 1974

Chicago Metro News (Chicago, Illinois), 6 July 1974, page 3

Does the SSDI report the location where a person passed away?

No. It reports the last known place of residence, or the final address where Social Security benefits were sent.

What are the three parts of a Social Security number (XXX-XX-XXXX)?

The three parts are, in order:

  1. the 3-digit area number (XXX),
  2. the 2-digit group number (XX)
  3. and the 4-digit serial number (XXXX).

The SSA maintains a table explaining the assignment of the numbers. For instance, Alabama was assigned numbers from 416-424, and Louisiana 433-439. However, the location doesn’t necessarily indicate a residence, and could indicate a variety of locations—ranging from where one applied for a card (not necessarily one’s residence) to an office that processed the application.

According to the document Meaning of the Social Security Number (Nov. 1982, Vol. 45, No. 11): Table 1.–Assignment of area numbers by State:

“Until 1972, the area number indicated the location (state, territory, or possession) of the Social Security office that issued the number. When the numbering system was developed, one or more area numbers were allocated to each State based on the anticipated number of issuances in the State. Because an individual could apply for a SSN at any Social Security office, the area code did not necessarily indicate where the person lived or worked. Since 1972…[the] area code now indicates the person’s State of residence as shown on the SSN application.

“The group number has no special geographic or data significance. It is used to break the numbers into blocks of convenient size for SSA’s processing operations and for controlling the assignments to the States.

“The last four digits, the serial number, represent a numerical series from 0001-9999 within each group…”

Will the SSA run out of Social Security numbers (SSNs)?

It is not known how many Social Security numbers have been issued. However, the nine-digit system allows for nearly one billion SSNs, so the current system has not run out of numbers.

Does the SSA reuse numbers?

No, although some people claim they do.

Does GenealogyBank have the ability to make corrections in the SSDI?

No. The Social Security’s Death Master File Data is supplied to publishers of the SSDI, so corrections have to be addressed with the U.S. SSA. GenealogyBank has no method to process updates to this government-supported system.

Does the SSA have a smart phone app?

Yes, although it does not include the Social Security Death Index.

On 6 May 2013 Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, announced:

“…the agency is offering a new mobile optimized website, specifically aimed at smartphone users across the country. People visiting the agency’s website,, via smartphone (Android, Blackberry, iPhone, and Windows devices) will be redirected to the agency’s new mobile-friendly site. Once there, visitors can access a mobile version of Social Security’s Frequently Asked Questions, an interactive Social Security number (SSN) decision tree to help people identify documents needed for a new/replacement SSN card, and mobile publications which they can listen to in both English and Spanish right on their phone.”

For more information, see:

Note: if you experience issues with the SSA app on your smartphone, you can give Social Security a call (1-800-SSA-1213) to get help troubleshooting the issue.

Additional Social Security Resource for Genealogy

Acquiring Records from Social Security for Genealogical Research