Halloween Fashion History: Costumes & Decorations of Yesteryear

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find Halloween inspirations from costumes and decorations of yesteryear.

They say that what once was old, is new again. That may be true in many cases but—judging from photos in historical newspapers—not with Halloween costumes.

To be truly original this year, think about going retro!

Spirit of Hallowe'en, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper photo 29 October 1922

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 29 October 1922, page 27

If the Halloween fashions that follow don’t unlock your creative spirit, search historical newspapers for your own costume inspirations. There are many, many illustrations of Halloween costumes and holiday decorations of yesteryear.

Search Tip: widen your Halloween search with these variant spellings: Hallow’een, Hallowe’en, Hallow E’en, All Hallow’s Eve, Holly Eve, and Holler Eve.

Early 20th Century Children’s Costumes

The youth of a century ago were often presented in flowing gowns and distinctive hats, some pointy, some ruffled, and some reminiscent of specific eras.

photo of children wearing Halloween costumes, Oregonian newspaper article 31 October 1915

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 31 October 1915, page 14

This youngster’s hat is certainly distinctive!

photo of a child wearing a Halloween costume, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 October 1917

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 October 1917, page 11

Just as we see today, trick-or-treaters back then imitated characters from popular films. Long before Disney’s “Ariel” or Star War’s “Yoda,” this little girl dressed as the rage of her day: “Sis Hopkins.” She was the pigeon-toed character from Posey County, Indiana, immortalized in Rose Melville’s play. (See advertisement at Wikipedia.)

photo of a child wearing a Halloween costume, Baltimore American newspaper article 2 November 1922

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 2 November 1922, page 16

In 1900, you could attend a matinee performance of the “pastoral comedy hit” for 25 cents in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania—and when Sis Hopkins was first released as a film in 1919, admission was still the same price.

ticket ads for "Sis Hopkins," Patriot newspaper advertisement 2 January 1900 & Plain Dealer newspaper advertisement 1 January 1919

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 2 January 1900, page 5 (left); Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 1 January 1919, page 12 (right)

Other Halloween costumes in the early 1900s reflected earlier times in America’s history. Notice how in 1920, Miss Lillian Gallway, a little Texan girl, was outfitted as a “soldierette” of Continental Days. As a genealogist, I would love to see trick-or-treaters knock on my door in outfits like hers.

photo of a child wearing a Halloween costume, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 25 January 1920

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 25 January 1920, page 3

Classic Women’s Halloween Fashion: Pumpkin Attire

Pumpkins have always been in vogue—even adorning the top of hats and capes. This 1912 image’s caption reads:

“A jack-o’-lantern hat of crepe paper is the latest novelty for wear by the young lady who will attend the Hallowe’en eve festivities. The hat is topped by an imitation jack-o’-lantern and a fan of the same material to match.”

photo of a woman wearing a Halloween costume, Grand Rapids Press newspaper article 28 October 1912

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 28 October 1912, page 7

What a grand cape this woman wore in 1915! It was cut from orange-colored material and consisted of a long coat, skirt and pantalets edged with fur or marabou.

illustration of a woman wearing a Halloween costume, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 October 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 October 1915, page 9

Early American Halloween Decorations & Activities

From goblins to witches, the costumes of yesteryear certainly have changed—and not only that, decorations and activities have varied as well. Here is a sampling to help you with this year’s Halloween party planning.

Why not set up a tub for apple bobbing, as these ladies enjoyed in 1903? The caption reads: “Diving for apples in a tub of water—one of the jolliest Halloween games.”

photo of women bobbing for apples on Halloween, Boston Journal newspaper article 18 October 1903

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 18 October 1903, section 2, page 1

Stencils are always popular, so try applying antique styles, such as these from 1911, to your windows.

Halloween stencils, Plain Dealer newspaper article 29 October 1911

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 29 October 1911, page 52

This article from 1916 presents ideas for Halloween plans. Pumpkin favors, black cats, chrysanthemum favors and noise makers “for the parade” only cost 10¢.

illustration of Halloween costumes and decorations, Plain Dealer newspaper article 15 October 1916

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 15 October 1916, page 11

Old Halloween Customs

Lastly, think about adopting the interpretive customs and activities of your ancestors.

Are you of Scottish ancestry? Did you know they used to burn nuts, thought to be charms, at Halloween? The method of this old custom is described in this newspaper article from 1855.

description of Halloween custom in Scotland, Daily Ohio Statesman newspaper article 4 November 1855

Daily Ohio Statesman (Columbus, Ohio), 4 November 1855, page 1

Perhaps you have Mexican ancestry. This article about “Old Mexico and Hallow ’Een” depicts a Halloween parade and reports that:

“People in the States can not form any adequate idea—save from personal observation—of what ‘Hallow Eve’ means to all classes of Mexicans. For three days and nights commencing on that night of mystery and spells, the entire population completely abandons itself to feasting and frolicking, rejoicing and making merry.”

Old Mexico and Hallow'een, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 25 October 1896

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 25 October 1896, page 25

And if you are truly of early American stock, perhaps you should greet this year’s little goblins and princesses as a Colonial Dame, as recommended in 1913 “for dainty maidens who have been invited to a Halloween party.”

The news article provides these suggestions:

“Any brocaded or flowered material may be used for the pannier, while plain pink or blue or lavender should be used for the underskirt. The hair should be dressed high with curls and powdered, and a long stick with ribbons may be carried to complete this charming effect.”

illustration of a woman wearing a Halloween costume, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 26 October 1913

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 26 October 1913, page 28

In lieu of hand-dipped candles, do consider a set of electric candles to adorn your ring lantern. They are a lot less flammable!

Have a good time exploring old newspapers for Halloween inspirations from history. I hope you and your family have a fun Halloween!

Does GenealogyBank Have Newspapers from Non-U.S. Countries?

We are often asked if GenealogyBank includes newspapers published in other countries, such as Canada, various countries in Europe, or in the Americas. No, we don’t.

But, there is a bright side.

U.S. newspapers routinely published news of marriages and deaths from overseas that they felt were of high interest to their U.S.-based readers. These were selective, so look to see if there were any news articles that targeted your relatives.

For example, look at this 1766 obituary from a Rhode Island newspaper.

Margaret Pullen obituary, Newport Mercury newspaper article 1 September 1766

Newport Mercury (Newport, Rhode Island), 1 September 1766, page 1

Newport, Rhode Island, is a seaport town that had many people involved in the sea. Because of this maritime involvement, news from the Caribbean islands was of high interest to the readers of Rhode Island newspapers like the Newport Mercury. This obituary of Mrs. Margaret Pullen, who died at age 100 in Antigua, would have been of interest in the Newport, RI, area—not only for her longevity and good health, but also because she was from the Caribbean, and for her family’s support of Queen Anne (1665-1714) who had been popular in the colonies.

Here is another obituary from the island of Antigua that was published in a U.S. newspaper.

James Hutchison obituary, Maryland Journal newspaper article 25 April 1788

Maryland Journal (Baltimore, Maryland), 25 April 1788, page 2

James Hutchison died 28 February 1788 a wealthy man. The obituary mentions that his sister Margaret of Paisley, Scotland, is the sole executrix of his will.

Publishing genealogy records from overseas is also common with ethnic U.S. newspapers like the Irish American Weekly (New York City, New York).

collage of marriage and death notices from Irish American newspapers

Collage of marriage and death notices from Irish American newspapers

The Irish American Weekly routinely published news of marriages and deaths from back in Ireland. Did it capture every Irish marriage? No—but it did publish tens of thousands of Irish marriage announcements and death notices. It is essential that you look there and in the other Irish American newspapers in our online archives to discover the marriage and death records of your Irish ancestors.

There is also a wealth of genealogical material to research your Hispanic ancestry in our Hispanic American newspapers. Dig in and trace your family tree around the world now!

Have You Participated in a DNA Study for Ancestry Research?

Have you tried a genetic DNA study as an approach to learning more about your family history?

If so, have you made family connections that you wouldn’t have found otherwise?

It is essential that you participate in a DNA study as soon as possible. Doing so will save time, and give you a clearer picture of your family history that will bridge the gaps where other genealogical records simply have not survived.

In the past, I avoided participating in a genetic DNA study because of the high cost and the sense that it wouldn’t prove anything about my ancestry.

Well, times have changed.

The cost of participating in DNA studies has dropped to very affordable levels and the results are surprising. DNA testing will allow you to clearly see how distinct groups with your surname are or are not related to you.

Genetic DNA Testing for Genealogy Image

Image Credit: Image by jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Imagine being able to sort through records for our family searching not just the surname coupled with a place of birth—but being able to narrow our search to the correct DNA haplogroup, Y-DNA 12 or deeper identifiers so that we can limit our search results to only our relatives.

If you were not sure which Miller, Stark or Sawyer individuals written up in thousands of obituaries were your relatives, knowing which DNA group they fell in would quickly help you to focus on the ones that you are related to.

A few months ago I heard from a researcher in Scotland who was spearheading a study of “Kemp” lines from Ireland, and in particular the Kemp families of County Cavan, Ireland. He wanted to determine if they were all related or if they actually were separate, unrelated families.

A quick search of other DNA projects found a Kemp study already underway, organized by Andrew Kemp in Australia. Efforts were made to find more Kemp men from all parts of the world who would be willing to participate. Seventy-five agreed and the results are still coming in.

I have been researching my Kemp family from County Cavan for the past 50 years. In piecing together the family tree I found that over the past 250 years my family—like so many Irish American families—has been continuously growing and migrating around the world, settling in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and all across the United States.

As I looked at the big picture I could see that there were large concentrations of Kemp families in England, Germany, Sweden and almost everywhere I looked. Were they all related? It is going to take a long time to examine each Kemp household and see how they connect to each other. Since the bulk of the historical family records simply did not survive, there just aren’t records that would prove how these Kemp groups were or were not related—until now.

Unbelievable.

The results of the genetic DNA study were clearly showing which of the Kemp groups are in fact related.

For example: there is the Johann Conrad Kemp group. He was born in Germany in 1685 and settled in Frederick County, Maryland. The DNA study reports that his descendants are in the E1b1b1 haplogroup.

There is a Kemp family group in County Cork, Ireland. A look at the results for all of the descendants participating in this DNA study shows that they are in the R1b1a2 group.

So—the County Cork group and the Germany/Frederick County Kemp groups are not related.

Knowing where not to look for family connections will save genealogists a lot of time.

What about the large Kemp family in England? Over 25 living descendants have participated in this DNA project and all of them are also in the R1b1a2 haplogroup.

So the County Cork, Ireland, Kemp family group clearly should look to England to document their family connections.

There is a Kemp line in the Bahamas. Since that is a part of the British Commonwealth, perhaps they are also descended from a Kemp line in England. But, DNA testing shows that they fall in the I1 haplogroup common to Scandinavia. So, another completely separate Kemp family line.

Where did my Scotch-Irish County Cavan Kemp line fall?

They are all in the R1a1 haplogroup.

So—they are not related to the English, Maryland/German or Bahamian Kemp groups.

But, look at this genetic testing find: they are related to the Kemp family of Wake County, North Carolina.

The Wake County Kemp family descends from Richard Kemp who was born about 1715 in Scotland and settled in Wake County. His descendants have spread across the southern states. They are in the R1a1a haplogroup.

There are no surviving old genealogical records that can help genealogists connect the multiple Kemp lines, but DNA is now clearly showing us which groups are or are not related.

In the decades ahead we will be able to use the basic DNA haplogroups and full DNA sequencing as additional data that we can search on to extend our family trees.

What a great day for genealogy!

Gin Marriages, Gretna Greens & Your Ancestor’s Marriage Records

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena explains why gin marriage laws and Gretna Greens may have something to do with your ancestors’ marriage records appearing in unexpected newspapers from the 1920s and 1930s.

Where did you get married? Was it a town near where you lived? Did you run away to get married?

We often feel frustrated when we can’t find our ancestor’s marriage records in the most obvious place: the town they lived in. But let’s face it, not everyone gets married where they live. Maybe your ancestor chose to go to a “Gretna Green.”

What’s a Gretna Green?

Named after a city in Scotland, Gretna Greens are cities where couples run off to get married. According to the website The Gretna Wedding Bureau, Scotland historically has had lax requirements for marriage: a couple only had to be over 16 years of age and declare themselves husband and wife in front of witnesses. Because it was easy to get married in Scotland, people from neighboring countries flocked to marry there. Gretna Green was the first post along the route from England to the Scottish border, so it was a convenient wedding destination for eloping couples. Even today, Gretna Green, Scotland, continues to be a popular wedding destination.

There are Gretna Greens all over the United States. One of the most popular Gretna Greens is Las Vegas, NV. But even less glitzy places are popular wedding destinations for a whole host of reasons, especially places where couples can get married quickly without the requirement of blood tests, medical examinations or a marriage license. A Gretna Green might be the answer for couples who want to skip the hassle and expense of a traditional wedding and any disapproving family members.

Some people don’t want to wait to get married—for a variety of reasons.

Typically there is some time involved between the excitement of getting engaged and the actual wedding date. However, born out of a belief that those who married hastily, and perhaps while under the influence of alcohol, were more likely to divorce, some states enacted waiting periods between the time a marriage license was filed and the day the wedding could take place.

One state that enacted such a law was California. In 1927 California passed a “gin marriage” law. This law required a three-day waiting period from the time the couple purchased their marriage license until they could actually tie the knot.

Couples Must Give Notice of Bans, San Diego Union newspaper article 21 May 1927

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 21 May 1927, page 11

As with any good intention there were some unanticipated results with this marriage legislation. While the law stopped couples from marrying quickly in California, it drove them to nearby out-of-state Gretna Greens such as Yuma, Arizona, and Las Vegas, Nevada, where they could secure “quickie” weddings. During one year of enforcement of California’s marriage law, Yuma—then a town of 5,000 residents—recorded 17,000 marriages! During the years of California’s gin marriage law, both Yuma and Las Vegas became the hip place for Hollywood stars and everyday people to get married.

Government officials started becoming wise to couples crossing state borders to marry in states with no gin marriage laws. In reaction, more laws affecting marrying couples were passed. Some of those laws required blood tests to check for venereal disease, as in the following example.

Gin-Marriage Ban, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 30 January 1939

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 30 January 1939, section 2, page 4

Here is another historical newspaper article about a gin marriage law, this one in New York.

Gin Marriage Law Reduces Gretna Green's Dawn Rites, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 26 May 1938

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 26 May 1938, section 1, page 11

This old newspaper article points out how effective the gin marriage law has been in curbing drunken couples from impulsively getting married in the middle of the night:

“At last the 3 a.m. marriage evil became intolerable. Dozens of young squirts with a snootful of bubble-water were wont to shoot to nearby Gretna Greens toward dawn, rout out sleepy but fee-hungry clerks and Justices, and become spliced before they had any notion what day it was, if any at all. This made dandy copy for the gaudier press, but it distressed the quieter element who still believed that marriages were not properly made in a tub of Scotch and soda.

“Jane Todd acted with her bill, and the law soon read that seventy-two hours had to elapse between license and the vows. Now a quick checkup reveals that it works fine.”

Can’t find an ancestor’s marriage record from the late 1920s or the 1930s? Maybe they decided to elope to a nearby Gretna Green. After all, who wants to wait when you’re in love?

GenealogyBank.com has 1883 Pensioner List Online

GenealogyBank.com is pleased to announce that it has the five volume List of Pensioners – 1883 online. This basic reference set is actively used by genealogists.

List of Pensioners on the Roll January 1, 1883; giving the name of each pensioner, the cause for which pensioned, the post office address, the rate of pension per month, and the date of original allowance. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1883. Senate Document. Serial Set Vol. No. 2078, Session Vol. No.5; Report: S.Exec.Doc. 84 pt. 1-5.

The List of Pensioners – lists the pensioners by State/Town. Volume 5 includes the lists of pensioners that lived overseas.

Each entry gives:
Name of Pensioner
Pension Certificate Number
Date of the Original Pension
Reasons why the person received the pension
The monthly pension payment
Post Office where the pensioner receives their mail

Tip: This is a crucial source for identifying pensioners from all wars still living in 1883 and it pinpoints where they were living – anywhere in the US or around the world.

Connecticut; District of Columbia; Maine; Massachusetts; New Hampshire; New Jersey; Rhode Island; Vermont

New York; Pennsylvania;

Illinois; Iowa; Ohio

Alaska; Arizona; California; Colorado; Dakota; Idaho; Indiana; Kansas; Michigan; Minnesota; Montana; Nebraska; Indian Territory (Oklahoma); Nevada; New Mexico; Oregon; Utah; Washington; Wisconsin; Wyoming

Alabama; Arkansas; Delaware; Florida; Georgia; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maryland; Mississippi; Missouri; North Carolina; South Carolina; Tennessee; Texas; Virginia; West Virginia.

Countries of the World – including Hawaii which was listed as the “Sandwich Islands”.

Africa; Austria; Belgium; Brazil; Denmark; England; France; Germany; Ireland; Italy; Madeira Island (Portugal); Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Netherlands; New Zealand; Norway; Peru; Romania; Russia; Scotland; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Wales; West Indies; Foreign – Address Unknown.
.

Archivists that have recently passed away

These archivists have recently passed away.

Sister Veronica Grzelak. (1926-2009)
Archivist for Immaculate Heart of Mary Province for ten years
Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, CT) – May 3, 2009

Nicholson, Harman C.B. (1920-2009)
Archivist to the Chief of the Highland Clan MacNicol (Scotland)
Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA) – April 29, 2009

Rehberg, Lois E. (Lawrie). (1923-2009)
Bay View Historical Society and Archives
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI) – May 6, 2009

Smiley, Jane Rittenhouse. (1919-2009)
Librarian and archivist for Swarthmore’s Friends Historical Library
Poughkeepsie Journal (NY) – April 29, 2009

Tavener, Gilbert Y., Rev. Dr. (1921-2009)
St. George’s School, Gilbert Y. Taverner Archives, named in his honor
Concord Journal (MA) – April 27, 2009

"Family Historian" Susan Boyle wows them on UK "Idol" TV Show

“Family Historian” Susan Boyle wows them on UK “Idol” TV Show!

Susan Boyle is the woman with a dream that lives in Blackburn, in West Lothian near Edinburgh – a short distance from East Lothian, Scotland where my Kemp family hails from. Now 47, she lives at home with her cat Pebbles.

All her life, since she was twelve, she has had the dream of being a professional singer as successful as Elaine Paige and signing, performing before a large audience.

Saturday night in Glasgow she got her chance on UK’s version of the American Idol TV show - Britains Got Talent.

Her performance was stunning, overwhelming and deeply emotional.

A triumph for her and for us. She sings of the dreams, the dreams in all of us – and no doubt the dreams of our ancestors, both realized and unfulfilled. Her moving presentation has been viewed live by millions and by well over 10 million more people in just the last few days via the Internet. She captivated her audience with this haunting anthem of dreams, seemingly almost lost and for her now realized at this time in her life.

You will want to watch this – again and again
Click Here to see her performance.

Is Susan Boyle a genealogist?
I don’t know – but she made history for her family Saturday night.
:)

In the words of Susan Boyle herself, this presentation was “just so emotional; unbelievable and emotional; fantastic.”

I dreamed a dream from Les Miserables.
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.

Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used
And wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung No wine untasted.

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame.

And still I dream he’ll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms
We cannot weather…

I had a dream my life would be
So different form this hell
I’m living so different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed
The dream I dreamed.

Thanks to Elaine Maddox for sending this to me.

Search Old Charleston, SC Newspapers 1723-1975

GenealogyBank has set up a handy site for searching Charleston, South Carolina’s historical newspaper archive: 1723-1975.

Click Here to Search all of the newspapers here

Or click on the individual titles below to search a specific newspaper
Carolina Gazette 1723-1828
Charleston Courier 1803-1822
Charleston Evening Gazette 1785-1786
Charleston Mercury 1854-1859
Charleston Morning Post 1786-1787
Chronicle of Liberty 1783
City Gazette 1787-1842
Columbian Herald 1784 – 1796
Daily Evening Gazette 1795 – 1795
Echo du Sud 1801
Evening Courier 1798
Investigator 1812-1814
Oracle 1784 – 1824
South Carolina State Gazette 1794 – 1828
South-Carolina Weekly Advertiser 1783
South-Carolina Weekly Gazette 1783 – 1786
Southern Evangelical Intelligencer 1819 – 1820
Southern Patriot 1831 – 1848
Strength of the People 1809 – 1810
Telegraph 1795 – 1922
Times 1790 – 1820

Alex Haley’s family tree grows via DNA study

USA Today (7 April 2009) is reporting that a DNA study has extended the branches of Alex Haley’s family tree.

The clue came when a “78-year-old man in Scotland named Thomas Baff, … took the DNA test to help his daughter” who was working on the family history.

You may read the story here.