My Ancestor’s Menu: Researching Food History in Newspapers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Thanksgiving Day, Tom Turkey Is a Member of Everyone’s Family

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott begins his Thanksgiving celebration early by searching on “Tom Turkey” and looking through some of the more than 12,000 historical newspaper articles his search returned.

Happy Thanksgiving 2012! I will freely and readily admit that Thanksgiving is my all-time favorite holiday. I particularly love that it is noncommercial and focused on family, thanks, and food. What an awesome combination, especially for us genealogy and family history fans.

I was looking up a family member just the other day when thoughts of my upcoming Thanksgiving Day menu crept into my head. Since we have 20 family members coming from across the U.S. to share the holiday with us, I have been thinking a lot about Thanksgiving lately. Because I cook our turkeys outdoors on our barbeque grills, the name of “Tom Turkey” popped into my mind. Struck by this inspiration, I decided to do a search for this temporary family member in GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives. Wow: I was treated to over 12,000 hits, and in I dove!

The first article I opened offered advice that farmers should “Keep One Tom Turkey for Every Six Hens.” Now, even my love of Thanksgiving isn’t going to lead me to open a turkey farm in my backyard, so while I’ll keep that advice in mind, I also decided to keep on reading.

Keep One Tom Turkey for Every Six Hens, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 1 February 1922

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 1 February 1922, page 7

Next I came across something quite useful, an article entitled “Return Engagements for Mr. Tom Turkey.” Naturally it was a delicious-looking set of recipes and ideas for leftover turkey, and I copied them down and am going to try one of them out this year. That is, if there actually are any leftovers on Friday after our Thanksgiving feast!

Return Engagements for Mr. Tom Turkey, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 29 November 1953

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 29 November 1953, page 6

Then I discovered a very enjoyable old newspaper article entitled “Thanksgiving Advice.” It suggested that I should look for a “young Tom Turkey,” that I should skip the “5 cents a pound” premium price for a “Little Rhody turkey” from Rhode Island, and instead go for birds from Vermont or maybe Michigan. Plus the article told me that I need to look for “small red pumpkins” for the best pumpkin pie for our Thanksgiving dessert.

Thanksgiving Advice, Times-Picayune newspaper article 25 November 1906

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 25 November 1906, page 6

Soon my heart softened as I read a wonderful story entitled “Tom Powers and the Turkey.” I encourage you to read it—it’s a truly delightful story about the spirit of Thanksgiving. I still smile as I think back on it.

Tom Powers and the Turkey, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 22 November 1891

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 22 November 1891, page 14

I could have gone on and on, but I have some tough decisions to make about whether or not to add the gizzards into the turkey stuffing. Plus I have to decide where best to place the tape recorder so that I can capture our Thanksgiving blessings around the table for future generations.
Happy Thanksgiving 2012 to everyone and have a delightful day with Tom Turkey in your family!

You Want to Be Prepared as Thanksgiving Approaches

Now that it is November, the holidays will be here before you know it.

You want to prepare now.

That’s what Rose Briggs did. Her hard work set the tone for how Thanksgiving has been celebrated since 1921.

Rose’s Thanksgiving preparation is just one of the many great stories in GenealogyBank’s online newspaper archives.

collage of a newspaper photograph of Rose Briggs and an article about a 1776 Thanksgiving proclamation

Collage of a newspaper photograph of Rose Briggs and an article about a 1776 Thanksgiving proclamation

Rose Thornton Briggs (1893-1981) was always prepared for every Thanksgiving. She made the costumes and saw to the details of the annual “Pilgrim March” which was held on “every Friday in August” starting in 1921. In 1941 she added the tradition of also marching on Thanksgiving Day. Up through 1971 she participated in every one of those marches.

The Pilgrim March consists of 52 marchers, all in costume—each one representing a different Mayflower passenger that survived that first winter. All of the costumes were designed by Miss Briggs. She researched and prepared the costumes, working to make them as historically accurate as possible.

GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives let you read about the accomplishments of this energetic woman, who made a lasting contribution and changed the way Thanksgiving is celebrated annually in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The following newspaper article was published in the Boston Herald a decade before Rose Briggs passed away.

Rose Briggs, 78, Keeps Settlers' Heritage Alive, Boston Herald newspaper article 25 November 1971

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 November 1971, page 60

This Thanksgiving, let’s remember to also give thanks for Rose Thornton Briggs’ vision, creativity and hard work.

You can find other great Thanksgiving stories in GenealogyBank’s online newspapers.

For example, a “Thanksgiving proclamation” was published in the New-England Chronicle just months after the Declaration of Independence was issued and while the country was at war with England.

Proclamation for a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer, New-England Chronicle newspaper article 28 November 1776

New-England Chronicle (Boston, Massachusetts), 28 November 1776, page 2

The proclamation ended with the stirring words:

God Save the United States of America! New-England Chronicle newspaper article 28 November 1776

New-England Chronicle (Boston, Massachusetts), 28 November 1776, page 2

Tracing Famous ‘Mayflower’ Passenger Peregrine White’s Family Tree

Newspapers tell the story of the everyday lives of our ancestors. GenealogyBank is the best genealogy resource for online newspapers available anywhere, with a massive collection of content spanning nearly 400 years of American history.

The historical newspaper article in the upper right is an obituary of Peregrine White, “the First Englishman born in New England”—he was born on board the Mayflower in Cape Cod Harbor in November 1620! Peregrine White’s obituary appeared in the Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 24 July-31 July 1704, page 2. The newspaper article below it is about a family reunion including four generations of Peregrine White’s descendants who gathered in McMinnville, Oregon. This family reunion newspaper article was published in the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 30 May 1915, Section 3, page 9.
Peregrine White’s descendants were understandably proud to have such a famous ancestor, a Mayflower ship passenger, in their family tree. This past summer, when Mary Alice (Haskell) Morey (1928-2011) died, her obituary prominently mentioned that she was a direct descendant of Peregrine White.Her obituary was printed by the Natick Bulletin & TAB (Natick, Massachusetts), 22 July 2011, page 18. Read her complete obituary in GenealogyBank.

With over 250,000 newspaper articles at GenealogyBank related to the Mayflower you can learn so much more about Peregrine White and his descendants, as well as discover who the other Pilgrims were that arrived in America as passengers on the famous ship. Research Mayflower ship passenger lists and explore our Pilgrim ancestors’ lives with newspaper articles about Plymouth Colony. Maybe you have ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower too?

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all genealogists around the world!

Discovering Thanksgiving Family History in Newspaper Articles

From the earliest days of the nation our presidents and governors have proclaimed annual days of “publick Thanksgiving and Prayer” in gratitude for their families, lives and success in the New World.Then as now we pause as families gather to give thanks.
Lucky for us many of these holiday family gatherings were recorded in newspapers, providing a valuable genealogical resource to trace our family histories and fill in details on our family trees.

Here is a newspaper article about a family gathering for Thanksgiving the year the American Civil War finally ended. It was originally printed by the Providence Press and reprinted by the New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 28 December 1865, page 1.

This terrific newspaper article describes four generations of the McIntyre family that gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving Day in 1865, providing many family details. For example, we learn about the physical stature and ability of 82-year-old Daniel McIntyre of York, Maine (Only 72 pounds! No gray hair! Still works the fields! Still reads the newspaper without glasses!) and his good wife (“his bigger and better half”) who was more than three times his size. The newspaper article supplies interesting details such as the fact they had 12 children, 11 of whom were still living and 10 that attended the Thanksgiving gathering along with their children.

A quick search of familysearch.org shows that it was their first child, Nancy McIntyre (c. 1811-1838) who was the child mentioned in the newspaper article that had passed away. The newspaper article also speaks of Mary (Staples) McIntyre’s good cooking that was greatly enjoyed by the grandchildren. Clearly she liked her own cooking—and for those of you who might be thinking of cutting back over Thanksgiving, consider that Mary at 225 pounds outlived her good husband of 72 pounds by 11 years!

GenealogyBank has more articles about the McIntyres from York, Maine—there is Rufus McIntyre who served in Congress, and a George S. McIntyre whose “reputation for mathematics” caused him to be called a “born mathematician.” Guess over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend I’ll sort out how all of these McIntyres are related.

It is really amazing what you can find in GenealogyBank’s newspapers archive, with its 5,700 newspapers from all 50 states. With hundreds of millions of newspaper articles all digitized and easily searched, you can start uncovering your own family reunion articles: documenting each member of the family, the old family stories, the details of their lives, perhaps even some favorite family recipes!