The Importance of Old Newspaper Advertisements to Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the value of a resource in newspapers that is often overlooked by genealogists: the classified ads.

“Be sure to drink your Ovaltine. Ovaltine? A crummy commercial.”—Ralphie Parker from the movie A Christmas Story.

Advertisements: they often seem the bane of our existence. On television, advertisements scream at us every few minutes, interrupting our favorite shows. When you pick up a magazine it seems that more than half the pages are filled with ads for everything from food and household cleaners to prescription medications. Now in the world of Web 2.0, advertisements invade every aspect of our Internet experience, even as a necessary evil when using free apps.

In today’s world advertisements are impersonal and contain little family information—but this was not always the case. Ads from an earlier era were different, more personally connected to their audience, and can provide helpful information for family historians. This is especially true of advertisements from old newspapers.

When you think of the “important” sections of the newspaper for family history research, what do you think of? Vital record announcements, obituaries, and human interest stories may come to mind as sources of genealogical information. But what about those parts of the newspaper that aren’t considered “content rich”? What about advertisements?

As a genealogist researching your family history, why should you care about newspaper advertisements? Well, advertisements in newspapers from yesteryear can help researchers in two ways. The obvious way is that they can provide the name of an ancestor’s business—but they also provide us with social history background that can be crucial in reconstructing an ancestor’s time and place.

Consider this strip of ads from an old Kansas newspaper.

classified ads, Coffeyville Herald newspaper 25 April 1908

Coffeyville Herald (Coffeyville, Kansas), 25 April 1908, page 4

From these old advertisements we learn the name of proprietors of goods ranging from clothes and hats to fish, and even ice cream. An additional benefit of historical newspaper advertisements is that they provide a peek into activities long since extinct. Consider the millinery and phyrography store. Phyrography is when someone decorates a wood or leather surface by burning the design into the surface with a type of heated metallic “pen.”

Here are some old classified ads from an 1851 Georgia newspaper.

classified ads, Savannah Republican newspaper 18 June 1851

Savannah Republican (Savannah, Georgia), 18 June 1851, page 1

Here we see not only classified ads but a listing of merchant names. Must-have information for our ancestors including fares and stops for the Central Rail-Road and some ship lines are also found on this page. Further down, readers can see that there are notices of public land sales in Arkansas. Do you have an ancestor who started out in Georgia and ended up in Arkansas? Maybe they saw this notice for the land sale and headed west.

In some cases, historical advertisements can be found with other types of notices, as illustrated in this Civil War-era newspaper from Texas.

classified ads, Standard newspaper 9 May 1863

Standard (Clarksville, Texas), 9 May 1863, page 1

The advertisements and announcements on this page include notices from administrators of wills, a physician who will begin his practice, and information from the War Department. There are old ads for medicinal drugs that are for sale, presumably at a local pharmacy: opium, morphine, Blue Mass (a remedy that “cured” all sorts of problems including pains from childbirth, tuberculosis, constipation, and syphilis—one of its ingredients was mercury), ipicac, and Dovers Powders (a remedy for colds and fevers that contained opium) are just some of the “medicines” you could pick up.

One of the great things about this series of advertisements is that it is a reflection of the times. Note the short notice asking families to save rags because they are needed to make paper. Five cents a pound is offered for rags. During the Civil War, the South experienced all types of shortages including paper. This notice gives insight into these wartime shortages.

Can advertisements provide genealogists with answers about their ancestors? Yes! Not only can they provide proof of an ancestor’s occupation but they can also provide a sense of their era. These advertisements provide a much-needed history lesson for our genealogy. While it can be tempting to skip over some sections of a newspaper, don’t skip the old advertisements. They provide insight into your ancestor’s life.

Genealogy Advice from Charles K. Bolton: Go Beyond Names & Dates

More than one hundred years ago the renowned Boston Athenaeum librarian and author Charles Knowles Bolton (1867-1950) counseled genealogists to document their family histories by putting the generations in the context of their times.

Of the New Genealogy, Springfield Republican newspaper article 3 November 1909

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 3 November 1909, page 15

At what generation was “white sugar” a staple in the family diet?

What were their political views?

What about the economics of their lives—“Farming out the paupers, paying the minister in produce, co-operation in building and in reaping, the work of the middle man in buying and selling cattle…”?

Today Charles K. Bolton might have asked when the family got a car, a radio, or a television. Who was the first to go to college? What were their occupations? Did they live in multi-generational households or as separate families? Did they serve in the wars? How were they impacted by the hurricane? What color was their hair? What was the color of their eyes?

Birth, marriage, and death records, the census—all of these key genealogy records give the facts as they stood on one day of our ancestors’ lives. Newspapers can provide more, giving the context of every day of their lives: the family details that Bolton was advising family historians to include.

Bolton called on genealogists to put their family history in context, encouraging us to write about our family not as “saints” but as the people that they were and the times that they lived in.

“To know of right living in our ancestors encourages us to higher ideals. To learn of ancestral weakness or disease prepares us to work intelligently to overcome unfortunate inheritances.”

Some of Bolton’s writing style is archaic today, but the core message is still relevant. When you write your family history, tell who each person was and what life was like in their times. Make it seamless and put their lives in context.

We can do this deeper and more meaningful genealogy research and GenealogyBank can help, with more than 1.3 billion online records to provide the family details and context you need.

To read Bolton’s remarks, click the link below:

Bolton – Genealogy Talk

Italian Immigrant Ancestor Helped Carve Mount Rushmore!

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows what he found in newspapers about a friend’s ancestor who helped carve Mount Rushmore.

Almost all of us have stories of immigrant ancestors who came to the United States and toiled to make a better life for themselves and their families. Many, like mine, did so in relative anonymity. However, not too long ago I came across one immigrant to America who did his toiling in plain sight…and I mean really in plain sight!

photo of Luigi Del Bianco carving the left eye of Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore

Luigi Del Bianco carving the left eye of Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore. Photograph credit: Windows Live Photo Gallery.

A few weeks ago I was working on my wife’s Italian ancestry, especially her immigrant grandparents who came to America from the Molise district of central Italy. As I was working on this, I received an email from Lou Del Bianco. Lou’s family also came from Italy to the United States in search of the proverbial “better life.” While my wife’s ancestors were miners and agricultural laborers, Lou’s grandfather, Luigi Del Bianco, was different. He was a classically-trained sculptor, who as a young man studied in Austria and Venice.

Lou had quite a story to tell and he was interested in having it promoted on my website (http://OnwardToOurPast.com) and on my Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/OnwardToOurPast). Once I heard the basics of Lou’s story, I was hooked!

So naturally the first thing I did was click over to GenealogyBank.com to see what I might find on Lou’s grandfather, Luigi. As usual, I was not disappointed and I was able to add to Lou’s knowledge about his grandfather and his work.

The first story that I found was an article explaining Luigi’s arrival on his job: as Chief Carver on Mount Rushmore! Yep, the Mount Rushmore! As I said, this story is about one immigrant who “did his toiling in plain sight”!

According to the newspaper article, Luigi was the right-hand man to Gutzon Borglum, the driving force and lead on the Mount Rushmore project.

Borglum Aide Arrives to Assist in Rushmore Work, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 4 May 1933

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota) 4 May 1933, page 10

While there were over 400 men working on the giant carving, Luigi was one of only two trained sculptors, and as a result was named as the Chief Carver by Borglum. He spent an amazing seven years carving on the Mount Rushmore monument from 1933 to 1940.

As I continued to search in GenealogyBank.com’s online newspaper archives, I found some great stories about the carving of the Mount Rushmore memorial. I enjoyed an old news article published in the Tampa Tribune from 1927, when the Mount Rushmore project was still little more than an idea in Borglum’s head.

Start Soon Carving Head of Washington on Mount Rushmore, Tampa Tribune newspaper article 31 March 1927

Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida), 31 March 1927, page 23

The following historical newspaper article reports the hilarious exchange of telegrams between Borglum and President Calvin Coolidge regarding the history that President Coolidge wanted carved on Mount Rushmore, and Borglum’s attempt to cut the wordy President’s text down to size.

For Intimate Correspondence, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 29 May 1930

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 29 May 1930, page 6

Here is an old news article reporting that Luigi kept a life-size cast of the fist and arm of famed Italian heavyweight boxing champion Primo Carnera in his studio—a  model which folks often mistook for a sledgehammer!

Hills Sculptor Knew Carnera as Youth in Italy, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 29 June 1933

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 29 June 1933, page 2

I have since learned even more about Luigi Del Bianco, this amazing Italian American immigrant, who—although  not well known—accomplished some of the best known work in our entire nation, artistic carving that millions of tourists have viewed with awe and wonder.

In addition to reading about Luigi on GenalogyBank.com you can also discover more about his life and work at http://www.luigimountrushmore.com, or you can see how the hit television show Cake Boss recently baked a Mount Rushmore cake in honor of Luigi on Lou’s website at http://www.findlou.com.

Who Do You Think You Are? Sourcing GenealogyBank

Gather round the telly, grab some popcorn and let the kids stay up!

Special alert to our GenealogyBank members in the United Kingdom and beyond: please pay careful attention to the next television episode featuring Samantha Womack on Who Do You Think You Are? being broadcast on BBC-TV in the UK.

We received word that GenealogyBank’s newspaper archive was used to trace Womack’s family tree and is one of the sources credited in this WDYTYA episode. Yea!

Samantha Womack is the star of the UK hit television series “EastEnders.”

At the Playhouses, Evening Journal newspaper article 6 August 1904, plus photo of actress Samantha Womack

Photo of actress Samantha Womack plus newspaper article published by the Evening Journal (Jersey City, New Jersey), 6 August 1904, page 3

Tune in to BBC and watch this new WDYTYA episode on Wednesday, August 15.

To read the newspaper article used to trace the Womacks in the upcoming show, see the article “At the Playhouses” published in the Evening Journal (Jersey City, New Jersey), 6 August 1904, page 3.

 

Finding Your “Roots” at Alex Haley Museum Opening

Alex Haley home dedicated as a genealogy library and museum.

When 17-year-old violinist Joseph Matthews performed at the dedication of the Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center, he had no idea he would discover his family roots. Joseph, a high school senior from Memphis, Tennessee, was among hundreds who participated in two days of festivities at the Interpretive Center located behind Mr. Haley’s boyhood home in Henning, Tennessee. The center was dedicated on Friday, 13 August, 2010.

Mr. Haley, who passed away in 1992, received a Pulitzer Prize for his 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The book tells of his ancestors being sold into slavery in West Africa and their migration from North Carolina to Tennessee. The following year a TV series of Roots, described as “eight straight days of the Super Bowl,” aired and remains the highest rated TV miniseries in television history. Among the significant impact of Roots was a surge in interest throughout the world in family history research.

TIP: Search the Largest Collection of African American newspapers is in GenealogyBank.

Inside the museum Joseph and his family visited a FamilySearch center sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Through the free online program FamilySearch.org, Joseph explored his ancestral lines. “Basically we were able to type in my grandmother’s mother’s and father’s name, and from there we searched their records and we were able to find information about their parents as well as their siblings, birthdates, wedding dates, things of that nature,” said Matthews. “We made a couple of steps to where we can make some pretty good discoveries in the future as to our family lineage. We’re going to find out a lot more about our family and where we came from.”

According to Art Johnson, FamilySearch area manager, the placement of the FamilySearch center within the Alex Haley Museum is a perfect fit, “I think it’s a great opportunity to simply share the message of family history and genealogy to individuals that come in and commemorate the accomplishments and successes of Mr. Haley’s life. It’s an opportunity to simply bring people in and help them understand their heritage the way that Mr. Haley did.”
William Haley, Alex’s son, said that resources available through
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are very valuable in searching African-American ancestry. “I always send them to the LDS Church. I say, ‘Well find an LDS Church with a history portion and go in there and they will help you find out who you are and it doesn’t matter what country or anything, they will help you.’ Folks are very surprised at that, but it’s true.”

This is one of several related projects supported by the Church. In 2001, FamilySearch released the Freedman’s Bank records on CD, a unique searchable database documenting several generations of African-Americans immediately following the Civil War. In 2006, FamilySearch participated in the
Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society’s (AAHGS) national conference in Salt Lake City. An African-American family history conference is held in Salt Lake City each year.

The Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center and FamilySearch center are located in Henning, Tennessee, about 45 miles northeast of Memphis.

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Who Do You Think You Are?

Mark your calendars.

It is not often that prime time television has a series about family history.
Friday, March 5th – NBC is starting the popular series: Who Do You Think You Are?

Gather the family – watch the show and then dig in to GenealogyBank to find your ancestors. Discover the stories of their lives.

Wow! Meryl Streep, Stephen Colbert and other celebrities trace their heritage

Those “Wow” moments in genealogy.

GenealogyBank readers write us all the time with their “WoW” moments – telling us what they found.

This new PBS television series let’s you see the wow moments as Meryl Streep; Stephen Colbert and other celebrities discover their roots for the first time. The genuine awe and surprise is real.

Faces of America” – is filled with “Wow” moments – watch this

The series starts this coming Wednesday – February 10th and runs through March 3rd in the 8-9pm (ET) time slot.

The series will trace the ancestry of:

Meryl Streep, Stephen Colbert, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Queen Noor, Yo-Yo Ma, Louise Erdrich, Kristi Yamaguchi, Mario Batali, Eva Lonigoria Parker, Malcolm Gladwell, Elizabeth Alexander and Mike Nichols.

It’s not often that genealogy is in the spotlight – get your family & friends to watch – maybe they’ll catch the genealogy bug too.

It’s a great day for genealogy!

Sign up for GenealogyBank now and see what you’ll find about your family!

Wow!

Elizabeth Gladys Dean (1912-2009) Last Titanic Survivor Dies

Elizabeth Gladys Dean was born on 12 Feb 1912. Her parents sold their family business in England and planned to emigrate to America like so many others from the UK before them.

Along with her mother Georgette Eva Dean, father Bertram Frank Dean and brother Bertram Dean they boarded the Titanic just a few weeks later to settle in their new home in Kansas. Her father perished in the sinking of the Titanic and the family returned to England to mourn their loss.

The newspapers of the day gave the grim listss of those that perished and those that survived.
(Boston Journal 12 April 1912)

Macon (GA) Weekly Telegraph 18 April 1912

Elizabeth Gladys Dean’s obituary appears in GenealogyBank.com

In fact GenealogyBank has the obituaries and stories of over 1,000 of the Titanic passengers that died in 1912 and the survivors that have died since.

Deseret News, The (Salt Lake City, UT) – May 31, 2009
Last survivor of the Titanic dies, aged 97

LONDON — Millvina Dean, the last survivor of the sinking of RMS Titanic, died Sunday in her sleep, her friend Gunter Babler said. She was 97.

Babler said Dean’s longtime companion, Bruno Nordmanis, called him in Switzerland to say that Dean died at her nursing home in southern England, on the 98th anniversary of the launch of the ship that was billed as “practically unsinkable.”

He said staff discovered Dean in her room Sunday morning. Babler said she had been hospitalized with pneumonia last week but she had recovered and returned to the nursing home.

A staff nurse at Woodlands Ridge Nursing Home in Southampton said no one could comment until administrators came on duty Monday morning.

Dean was just over 2 months old when the Titanic hit an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912. The ship sank in less than three hours.

Dean was one of 706 people — mostly women and children — who survived. Her father was among the 1,517 who died.

Babler, who is head of the Switzerland Titanic Society, said Dean was a “very good friend of very many years.”
“I met her through the Titanic society but she became a friend and I went to see her every month or so,” he said.

The pride of the White Star line, the Titanic had a mahogany-paneled smoking room, a swimming pool and a squash court. But it did not have enough lifeboats for all of its 2,200 passengers and crew.

Dean’s family were steerage passengers setting out from the English port of Southampton for a new life in the United States. Her father had sold his pub and hoped to open a tobacconists’ shop in Kansas City, Missouri, where his wife had relatives.

Initially scheduled to travel on another ship, the family was transferred to the Titanic because of a coal strike. Four days out of port and about 600 kilometers (380 miles) southeast of Newfoundland, the ship hit an iceberg. The impact buckled the Titanic’s hull and sent sea water pouring into six of its supposedly watertight compartments.

Dean said her father’s quick actions saved his family. He felt the ship scrape the iceberg and hustled the family out of its third-class quarters and toward the lifeboat that would take them to safety. “That’s partly what saved us — because he was so quick. Some people thought the ship was unsinkable,” Dean told the British Broadcasting Corp. in 1998.

Wrapped in a sack against the Atlantic chill, Dean was lowered into a lifeboat. Her 2-year-old brother Bertram and her mother Georgette also survived.

“She said goodbye to my father and he said he’d be along later,” Dean said in 2002. “I was put into lifeboat 13. It was a bitterly cold night and eventually we were picked up by the Carpathia.”

The family was taken to New York, then returned to England with other survivors aboard the rescue ship Adriatic. Dean did not know she had been aboard the Titanic until she was 8 years old, when her mother, about to remarry, told her about her father’s death. Her mother, always reticent about the tragedy, died in 1975 at age 95.

Born in London on Feb. 2, 1912, Elizabeth Gladys “Millvina” Dean spent most of her life in the English seaside town of Southampton, Titanic’s home port. She never married, and worked as a secretary, retiring in 1972 from an engineering firm.

She moved into a nursing home after breaking her hip about three years ago. She had to sell several Titanic mementoes to raise funds, prompting her friends to set up a fund to subsidize her nursing home fees. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, the stars of the film “Titanic,” pledged their support to the fund last month.

For most of her life Dean had no contact with Titanic enthusiasts and rarely spoke about the disaster. Dean said she had seen the 1958 film “A Night to Remember” with other survivors, but found it so upsetting that she declined to watch any other attempts to put the disaster on celluloid, including the 1997 blockbuster “Titanic.”

She began to take part in Titanic-related activities in the 1980s, after the discovery of the ship’s wreck in 1985 sparked renewed interest in the disaster. At a memorial service in England, Dean met a group of American Titanic enthusiasts who invited her to a meeting in the U.S.

She visited Belfast to see where the ship was built, attended Titanic conventions around the world — where she was mobbed by autograph seekers — and participated in radio and television documentaries about the sinking.

Charles Haas, president of the New-Jersey based Titanic International Society, said Dean was happy to talk to children about the Titanic. “She had a soft spot for children,” he said. “I remember watching as little tiny children came over clutching pieces of paper for her to sign. She was very good with them, very warm.”

In 1997, Dean crossed the Atlantic by boat on the QEII luxury liner and finally visited Kansas City, declaring it “so lovely I could stay here five years.” She was active well into her 90s, but missed the commemoration of the 95th anniversary of the disaster in 2007 after breaking her hip.

Dean had no memories of the sinking and said she preferred it that way. “I wouldn’t want to remember, really,” she told The Associated Press in 1997. She opposed attempts to raise the wreck 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) from the sea bed.

“I don’t want them to raise it, I think the other survivors would say exactly the same,” she said in 1997. “That would be horrible.”

The last survivor with memories of the sinking — and the last American survivor — was Lillian Asplund, who was 5 at the time. She died in May 2006 at the age of 99. The second-last survivor, Barbara Joyce West Dainton of Truro, England, died in October 2007 aged 96.
Reprinted by permission: Copyright (c) 2009 Deseret News Publishing Company

Wow – I love GenealogyBank.

We routinely hear from genealogists telling about their success – “Wow, look what I found!”

We really love to hear those stories and today it is my turn.
Last week I was stunned to find that one of my cousins had posted early photographs of our family online.
There they were – the actual pictures of my third great-grandfather Isaac Garcelon (1790-1872)
and his parents William (1763-1851)
and Maria (Howe) Garcelon (1763-1850).
I could see why they were so bundled up.
They were from Lewiston, Androscoggin County, Maine. Having grown up in New England I am used to cold weather – the snow would stay on the north side of my grandparent’s home until April almost every year.
This find got me to searching in GenealogyBank to find out more about them. I simply searched the name: William Garcelon and quickly found death notices for William Garcelon (1763-1851) that were published in two newspapers, one in Massachusetts and one in Maine.
The Boston Evening Transcript 23 Jan 1851

and in the Portland Daily Advertiser (29 Jan 1851).

Then I quickly spotted the marriage announcement of William’s nephew – Captain Asa Garcelon (1796-1859) that was published in the Eastern Argus (Maine) 16 March 1825.

Notice that every one of these articles appeared in out-of-town or out-of-state newspapers.

TIP: Colonial and 19th Century Newspapers often printed out of town birth, marriage and death notices. GenealogyBank makes them easy to find because it let’s you search all 3,700 newspapers for your ancestors.

TIP: Be flexible in your searches and remember that their obituaries or marriage notices just might have been printed in out of state newspapers – like the wedding announcement of Nicholas Goodson and Sarah Matthews in Isle of Wight County, Virginia – that was published in the Maine newspaper – the Eastern Argus in 1825. Like cable news television stations today – newspapers carried news from across the country.

There were no articles telling if Nicholas Goodson was ever arrested.

It is a great day for genealogy. What an opportunity we have to find these historic artifacts, articles and documents about our family.

Tip: Search GenealogyBank now.
What will you find?

Even more Genealogy Blogs …

Earlier this week I wrote: A genealogy blog? What’s that?

I told you about key genealogy blogs that you read daily. But wait, there’s more.
Here are even more genealogy blog sites that are must reading:
Tracing the Tribe: The Jewish Genealogy Blog – knowledgeable blogger Schelly Talalay Dardashti has one foot planted in her home in Israel and another with her relatives and family here in the States. Her articles go beyond resources focused on Jewish research and cover technology and opportunities that will help genealogists researching other lines as well. Schelly will be speaking on genealogy blogs at the Southern California Genealogical Jamboree next weekend in Burbank.
The Genealogue: Genealogy News You Can’t Possibly Use is one of the funniest and informative sites out there. Written much in the spirit of TV’s Colbert Report this is must reading for genealogists. Here is his official portrait on his blog … and be sure to click here and read his About Me page.
Another must read site is: Roots Television Megan’s Roots World written by Megan Smolenyak – the prolific lecturer and author. Her brief blog posts are tech savvy – often speak to DNA research – or to her break through research findings. She is a key leader in genealogy today.
Click here to learn more about her presentations at the Southern California Genealogical Jamboree next weekend.

It was Megan’s Roots Television that arranged for Dick Eastman’s interview with me about GenealogyBank. This short upbeat interview gives a good look at the “Wow” value of GenealogyBank - and that was a year ago at the 2007 FGS Conference. We’ve added more than 30 million items to GenealogyBank since then. Click here to watch the video.
Everyone reads Genea-Musings by Randy Seaver – his daily posts focus on his research on the Seaver family, new technology and items he has spotted on other blogs – in the news and beyond – all of it useful.
GenWeekly has been published since 2004 by Steve Johns, Kristin Bradt and Illya D’Addezio. Illya is also the publisher of Genealogy Today which has regular columns; articles; a newsletter and databases that genealogists read, use and rely on.
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