Help Solve a Genealogy Mystery: Who Is Uncle L in My Old Photo?

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott asks our readers for help in deciphering the writing on the back of an old photo identifying his “Uncle L.”

As I would imagine many of you do, I have some intriguing old photographs that unfortunately don’t have any identification on them. However, the one I have in my family history stash that makes me the craziest actually does have writing on it. The old black and white picture has a wonderfully clear full sentence on the back, which identifies my father around the age of 2 or 3 and—here is the kicker—a second, older fellow identified as Uncle L. Uncle L?

photo of Scott Phillips's father and uncle

From the author’s collection

Yep! The old family photo is as clear as a bell (as you can see here), except for the name of this mysterious uncle!

back of photo of Scott Phillips's father and uncle, showing inscription

From the author’s collection

Every so often I pull that old photo out and try again to identify this mysterious member of my family that I know nothing about. As my family tree continues to grow, becoming more refined and better documented, I keep hoping for a breakthrough. So far though, I have had no luck in identifying this Uncle L. I brought that old family photo out the other day and decided to try some lateral thinking via GenealogyBank.com and its newspaper archives.

To me the handwriting on the back of the photo might be read as Uncle “Lew” or “Len.” Unfortunately there is no Lew or Len in any of my Dad’s immediate family, nor his father’s family. So I branched out to look at some relations of my grandmother’s who lived nearby.

I began my genealogy research with the knowledge that the passenger list from Ellis Island shows my grandmother coming to America to live with her brother-in-law Thomas Martin. He happened to be living on the same street as she and my grandfather would later live on for decades. I still have many warm and wonderful memories of that home from my youth.

My new search began with this brother-in-law and fellow traveler, Thomas Martin. I learned many interesting facts about him from GenealogyBank’s newspapers, such as his job as a lamplighter—which conjured up many images of a great job, until I thought of winter and rainy evenings—and his later job as a street car motorman. However, nothing I found about Thomas helped me identify my mystery uncle.

So I broadened my search on the Martin surname and it wasn’t long before I discovered that a descendant had married a Starr family member related to Floyd Starr, the founder of the amazing Starr Commonwealth for Boys in Albion, Michigan.

Starr Commonwealth--the Miracle Home--Is Rebuilding Many Boys, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 16 November 1919

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 16 November 1919, page 14

While I truly enjoyed reading this old news article, which provides a great history of the charitable youth program, it still offered me no one with a given name that comes close to my mystery uncle’s name.

I branched my researching out some more and soon found another family member farther down the street, the Newell family. The Newell family matriarch, Marjorie, was another sister of my grandmother’s, so the search was back on. I discovered lots of interesting information about Marjorie in the newspaper archives, such as her old marriage announcement.

Marjorie Cottle Becomes Wife of T. J. Newell, jr., Plain Dealer newspaper article 14 May 1944

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 14 May 1944, page 47

While offering good genealogical information on Marjorie, this historical marriage announcement also led me to another interesting story about her soon-to-be brother-in-law being awarded the Purple Heart after an air raid in WWII.

Hero, Minus Foot, Is Glad He Did Bit, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 July 1943

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 July 1943, page 1

However, once again I had nothing that solved my mystery about Uncle L.

I moved on to the last family member who lived in the States. This was my grandmother’s brother Thomas Cottle who lived just a couple of blocks away. I searched his family, his wife’s family the Morrells, his wife’s brother Wilbert, and his brother-in-law’s wife’s family the Ricks. Again I gained much useful information for my family tree, but my mystery uncle remains just that.

While I refuse to call this treasured family photograph a brick wall, I am back to staring closely at the photo and analyzing the name. Does it begin with an L, a T, or possibly even a script Q?

What do YOU think? Take a good look yourself, post a comment and let me know…PLEASE!

Genealogy Tip: Search Surname & Year Only for More Results

I recently received an email from some GenealogyBank users, asking why they couldn’t find any newspaper articles about a tragic death that occurred in 1956:

“We are having trouble finding information about a couple of deaths in our area. A couple, Wilbert Arvo Pernu and Dagmar Charlotte Bolborg Pernu, died by asphyxiation on 8 December 1956 in St. Louis County, Minnesota. Dagmar’s third name is sometimes spelled Valborg. Her maiden name was Sather. She went by ‘June.’ We would like to find a newspaper article, if there was one. Can you help?”

They knew the full names of the deceased and the general facts of the fatal tragedy, including when and where it happened. Why were they having trouble getting results for their newspaper archives searches?

When searching through 1.4 billion newspaper articles, it can sometimes be difficult to get results matching your search terms because you never know how much information the newspapers included about your target ancestor in their articles. What names did they use? What key terms?

For best results, you want to look for the most unique information to use as your search terms.

In this example it is the couple’s surname “Pernu” and the fact that they died in December 1956.

I began the search with just those two clues, putting Pernu in the surname box and December 1956 in the date box on the search form.

That generated two possible matching news articles. One of the results was the article they needed.

Monoxide Kills Two in Stalled Auto, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 9 December 1956

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 9 December 1956, page 14

If this old news article about the tragedy was so easy to find, why did the email writers have such trouble finding it?

It was probably because they were typing in too much information in GenealogyBank’s search boxes.

There is a natural tendency to want to narrow our search results by typing in all of the information that we have about our target ancestor or the circumstances around an event.

But quite often: less is more.

Resist that desire to be very specific in your searches—try your initial searches using unique, minimal information.

Here are some of the reasons why, in this instance, a more specific newspapers archive search would not return the desired article about the tragic accident:

  1. The newspaper article did not include Wilbert Pernu’s middle name. If we had included it in our search, the results would not have found this article.
  2. If we had included the name of the wife (Dagmar Charlotte Bolborg Pernu), her maiden name (Slather), or that she went by the name “June,” then we also would not have found this article. Why? Because she was not named in the article; it simply referred to “Wilbert Pernu…and his wife.”
  3. Notice that they were tragically killed in Minnesota—but the article describing the events appeared in a South Dakota newspaper. If we had limited the search to only Minnesota newspapers we would not have found this article.
  4. I limited the search to the month and year (December 1956) and not to a specific date.

Genealogy Search Tip: Focus your search on the surname, especially when it is a distinctive surname. Use a wide date range, such as a year, and do not limit your search to a specific date. If you find that this search produces too many or too few search results, then you can narrow or expand your search until you find your target articles.

Tracing My Unknown Ancestor in the Martin Family

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott discovers the name of an ancestor he never knew about—and turns to old newspapers to fill in this blank on his family tree.

Recently my sister phoned me to ask some questions about certain members of our family who had passed through Ellis Island. As I was talking to her, I pulled up some of the documents I had for our grandparents and started reciting facts and information about them. As I was wrapping up our phone call a bell was ringing in my mind telling me something wasn’t quite right.

I looked at all the information again and there it was: on her Ellis Island documentation, my future grandmother had listed her brother-in-law, Thomas Martin of Cleveland, Ohio, as her contact in the U.S. Since I knew that her sister, my Great Aunt Rose, had married a Martin, finding this contact listing was not a surprise. As I looked at our family tree, however, I could see that the Martin her sister had married was named William, not Thomas.

photo of Rose Cottle Martin Jones and Ina Cottle Phillips

The author’s Great Aunt Rose Cottle Martin Jones on the left, with her sister (and the author’s grandmother) Ina Cottle Phillips on the right. Photo from the author’s collection.

So who was the Thomas Martin my grandmother had listed at Ellis Island?

I needed to look into this! I went to GenealogyBank.com first to see what I might discover. As the old saying goes, “be careful what you wish for.” This family history search led me down a very long—but delightful—path.

First I discovered the old obituary for William Martin, my Great Aunt Rose’s husband. It was quite a genealogical find.

William Martin obituary, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 October 1933

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 October 1933, page 23

In just its seven short lines, it provided my great aunt’s name complete with her maiden name. It also gave the names of their two daughters (Edna and Dorothy) and William’s three siblings (Grace, Charlotte and Jessie). The obituary listed the street address where William and Mary Rose lived. I was about ready to move on, when that last item caught my attention.

I went back to the Ellis Island passenger manifest that I had been reading to my sister, and noted that the street address listed for Thomas Martin happened to be the very same as the street address given in William’s obituary. Nice way to close that circle! The link was looking quite strong, but still a puzzle remained: there was no mention of a brother named Thomas in the obituary.

Next, I started a search on the three siblings listed in William’s obituary. First up, I searched on Grace Bowhay. What I found was mention of her name in her sister Charlotte’s obituary.

Charlotte Martin obituary, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 September 1944

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 September 1944, page 78

This old obituary not only made reference to Grace Bowhay and siblings Jessie and William, but also listed the so-far elusive Thomas (deceased). Oh, and don’t let me forget to tell you that it also included three additional siblings: three sisters (complete with married names) all still residing in England!

With Thomas Martin being such a common name combination, I decided to make a quick check of the Cuyahoga County Recorder’s Office website for Thomas Martin. Sure enough, not only did I get a “hit,” but it was for the purchase of a home on—again—the same street as all the other notices. Plus, the property record informed me that this Thomas had a wife, Mary.

While I am still on the trail of Thomas Martin and have more searching to do, I am more convinced than ever that I am on the right path! And I am bound and determined to find this ancestor that I never knew about and add more information to our family tree!

Valentine’s Day History Facts & My Sweet Genealogy Karma

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott turns to old newspapers to research the history of St. Valentine’s Day—and shares a personal Valentine’s Day story.

Nothing much beats holidays as a way to get everyone talking about family, memories, stories, and family history. Certainly Valentine’s Day is no exception! I’ve been blessed to have my “Valentine” with me now for over 38 years and I sure am glad she said that she would be my valentine all those years ago.

In the case of my wonderful wife, each year about this time I would go out to find one of those fancy satin hearts filled with chocolates. Why? Well, when we were dating she told me, very early in our relationship, “I’ll know the man who really loves me because he will buy me one of those fancy hearts filled with chocolates for Valentine’s Day.” Needless to say I bought one for her every year after that.

Every year, that is, until recently when she said to me: “OK honey, I know you love me so you can stop now.” So now I have to be creative and come up with something new and different each Valentine’s Day. That got me to thinking this year about what the history of Valentine’s Day was, what gifts might have been like in the past, etc. I admit I never really knew much about this holiday, so I gave GenealogyBank.com a look for some information about this romantic day and maybe even find some potential ideas for my wife’s gift.

Historical Origins of Valentine’s Day

My first hit helped explain the history of the Valentine’s Day holiday. There in a 1925 newspaper was an intriguing, full-page article describing the origins of Valentine’s Day. The first thing I learned was that it is actually St. Valentine’s Day, named after the long-ago martyred Saint Valentine.

Why We Call It St. Valentine's Day, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 February 1925

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 February 1925, page 1

I certainly appreciated one of the cartoons that accompanied the old news article, even if I have been lucky enough to never have to visit a pawnshop prior to my shopping trips for chocolate-filled hearts.

Valentine's Day cartoon, Dallas Morning News newspaper 8 February 1925

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 February 1925, page 1

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

My next hit was closer to my adopted hometown when I saw the byline of Chicago, but alas this 1929 newspaper article was about the infamous St. Valentine’s Day gangster massacre.

Link Capone with Chicago Massacre, Boston Herald newspaper article 15 February 1929

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 15 February 1929, page 1

Ugh…not romantic in the least, although it is a very interesting event in our national history. So I was off in search of more newspaper articles about Valentine’s Day.

My Sweet Genealogy Karma

Then I found it! At least, to me as a genealogist, I found it. It was in a 1910 newspaper: there was an advertisement entitled “For Your Valentine: Candy Hearts and Heart Shaped Boxes.”

Valentine's Day candy ad, Plain Dealer newspaper 11 February 1910

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 February 1910, page 14

I smiled when I saw that the price of satin heart boxes ran from 20 cents to $4, but it was the name of the company that ran the advertisement, The Chandler & Rudd Company, that actually caught my eye. You see back in 1910 my great grandfather, Frederick George Evenden, was a Master Tea Blender for none other than The Chandler & Rudd Company. Yep, the very same company as the one in the advertisement—and during the time that he worked there.

So for all these years my buying chocolate-filled hearts was simply karma! Karma sent from my great grandfather to my wife, giving her vibes to instruct me to go for what he personally knew was the really good stuff for Valentine’s Day! Sadly, Chandler & Rudd closed just two years ago, but if they were still open I’d be on the phone with them right now to buy her a sweet bit of the past.

So with a tip o’ my hat to my great grandfather Evenden, this year I am going back to getting my Sweetie some of those fancy chocolate candies in a heart-shaped box this Valentine’s Day for sure.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day to you and your family!

A Wife & Mother’s Plea in the Newspaper after the War of 1812

The War of 1812 had been over for more than a year, and Catharine Logan had heard nothing from her husband or son since they marched off to fight the British in the summer of 1812. For four years she’d been waiting and hoping for news about her missing family…so she wrote a letter to the editor of the National Advocate newspaper pleading for information to “relieve the distresses of an anxious parent and wife.”

To the Public, National Advocate newspaper article 8 November 1816

National Advocate (New York City, New York), 8 November 1816, page 3

In search of her loved ones, Catharine had been to Sacket’s Harbor in Jefferson County, New York—the site of two battles in the War of 1812 and the location of an important shipyard for building warships.

Nothing. She found no information about them at Sacket’s Harbor.

So Catharine pressed on in her search for her missing family, going next to Plattsburgh, New York, the site of the decisive Battle of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain that was fought in 1814.

painting of naval battle on Lake Champlain by B. Tanner, 1816

Illustration: Naval Battle on Lake Champlain, by B. Tanner, 1816. Credit: Wikipedia.

Still she found no information about either her husband or son.

Having searched for her family in vain Catharine next turned to the newspapers, writing a letter to her local newspaper editor—because she felt “induced in this public manner to appeal to the generous and humane—that any persons, who may have seen or heard of them, may give me information.”

Look closely at the note the editors added to her letter. They encouraged other newspaper editors to print Catharine’s letter to give it a wider circulation:

Catharine Logan's plea for information, National Advocate newspaper article 8 November 1816

National Advocate (New York City, New York), 8 November 1816, page 3

And fellow newspaper editors responded:

  • 13 November 1816: Catharine’s letter appeared on the front page of the Baltimore Patriot (Baltimore, Maryland) and on page 3 of the National Standard (Middlebury, Vermont)
  • 14 November 1816: the Baltimore Patriot (Baltimore, Maryland) repeated it on page 4
  • 20 November 1816: the National Standard (Middlebury, Vermont) repeated it on page 1 and again a week later on 27 November 1816 on page 4; and again on 1 January 1817 on page 4
  • 26 November 1816: the Vermont Gazette (Bennington, Vermont) ran it on page 2
  • 2 December 1816: the Irish American newspaper The Shamrock (New York City, New York) published it on page 371
  • 16 December 1816: it was published in Spooner’s Vermont Journal (Windsor, Vermont) on page 3

Newspapers carried the news back in the 1800s. Newspaper editors up and down the United States East Coast took compassion on Catharine Logan and spread the word about her search for her missing husband and son.

You can find great stories about your ancestors in letters to the editor, missing person ads, and other articles found old newspapers. These articles offer stories that bring the names and dates on your family tree alive and let you get to know them as real people.

Genealogist Challenge:

Did Catherine ever reunite with her long-lost husband and son? What happened to Timothy and Peter Logan, and where did they go?

Newspapers, Food & Family: Just like Nonna, Nana & Grandma Used to Make!

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about how old newspapers helped to connect two of his favorite passions: food and family.

As a genealogical historian, I have always enjoyed the intersections of food and family! To begin with, meals frequently offer wonderful opportunities for sharing time together. It makes little difference if it is Thanksgiving (my personal favorite), Shabbot, Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, or simply Tuesday night. This is one of the main reasons I added a set of pages for food and recipes on my website at Onward To Our Past® and why my bookshelf (which you can see at LibraryThing.com) contains such titles as The Food of A Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky, The Best of Czech Cooking by Peter Trnka, and A Taste of Croatia by Karen Evenden.

In my own family tree I happen to have three very long, strong, and prominent branches. One is from Cornwall in the United Kingdom, one is from Bohemia (now Czech Republic), and my wife’s family branch which is from the Molise district of Italy. I love foods from all three family lines, but I am particularly partial to Cornish pasty, Bohemian kolache and Italian gnocchi.

photo of Scott Phillips and family members enjoying a “pasty party” over the holidays

Scott Phillips and family members enjoy a “pasty party” over the holidays. Photo from the author’s collection.

During the recent holidays my daughter, who has become quite a chef, asked me about my family food favorites. Just for fun, she and I grabbed the iPad and dug into GenealogyBank.com to have a look at what we might find in the way of interesting additions to these food favorites of mine. We were pleasantly surprised!

We started, since she tends to bend towards the Italian family branch, with gnocchi, a marvelous Italian potato dumpling. We put the term in the search box and in an instant we were reading hundreds of articles and recipes for this unique food.

One of the stories we liked best came from the Idaho Statesman.

How to Cut Down Your Food Bill and Still Live Well, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 22 September 1918

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 22 September 1918, second section, page 9

We both enjoyed this story as it gave a very nice gnocchi recipe with the bonus of a delicious, easy accompanying sauce. However, we got a good chuckle out of the estimate that the meal described would only cost us “fifty cents.” Oh, and we decided to skip the step later in the article advising us to place some of our food on an “asbestos pad.”

My grandson must have heard us laughing and joined us. When we explained what we were doing, coupled with the fact that he is a bit of a dessert-hound, he immediately said “let’s look for kolache, Grandpa.” So we were off again. This time we were in search of kolache, a simple but delicious Bohemian dessert pastry. We began to scroll through some of the almost 2,000 articles that search term returned while I regaled my grandson and daughter with stories of my Czech Nana’s kolache.

The very first article we found was from my hometown newspaper, the Plain Dealer.

kolache recipe, Plain Dealer newspaper article 15 March 1951

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 March 1951, page 16

This article was titled “Fancy Breads and Rolls Are Enjoyed by Family at Easter.” That sounded right to me as my Nana Vicha only made kolache for special events. Then something really caught my eye. Two of the fillings that were suggested were apricot and prune. These were the only two fillings my grandmother ever made. No one could quite understand how excited I was, but I was madly writing down every step of these recipes and calculating when I could get enough kitchen time to try them out!

By this time our group had grown to a family crowd of nine. Multiple ideas and suggestions were offered and requested. My son’s plea caught my ear when I heard him say “how about pasty, Dad?” Now we were off to see what we could find about this fine Cornish meal-in-a-crust!

My grandson was duly impressed when I came across, and read, an account found in the Stoughton Sentinel all the way back in 1876.

The Cornish Pasty, Stoughton Sentinel newspaper article 22 April 1876

Stoughton Sentinel (Stoughton, Massachusetts), 22 April 1876, page 1

This article is a fine backgrounder on the Cornish pasty—or, as it informed us, the “Cornish fiddle”—plus it offered such varieties as mackerel pasty and squab pasty. While it provided a general recipe, we needed something a bit more detailed for our use so we continued to look—since we all agreed we’d skip the squab.

It wasn’t long before I found this article from the Oregonian.

100-Year-Old Cornish Pasty, Oregonian newspaper article 2 April 1939

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 2 April 1939, page 74

This article, “100-Year-Old Cornish Pasty,” offered a recipe handed down for over 100 years (not actually about a pasty that was 100 years old—much to the dismay of my grandson!) This was great, but I soon realized that unless I had time for an extra run to the grocery store and a day in the kitchen, we would be pasty-less. Or would we?

I led my “gang” into the kitchen, pulled open the freezer drawer and showed everyone eight beautiful pasties ready for the oven (courtesy of the really awesome Lawry’s Pasty Shop in Marquette, Michigan). Although this bakery is all the way in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the good news is that they are willing to ship nationwide. I heated up the oven, and in a wee bit over an hour there we all were, having a “right proper” pasty party!

As I was putting my grandson to bed that night he drowsily said to me “Gee, Grandpa, who would have thought old newspapers could taste so good?”

I just smiled and agreed!

How to Do Genealogy Research with German-Language Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about resources and techniques to help you find family history information in foreign-language newspapers, even if you’re not familiar with that language.

GenealogyBank’s recent announcement that it is adding Italian American newspapers in 2013 is a welcome addition—but it may also concern family history researchers who are nervous about navigating foreign languages.

However, there are certain resources and techniques you can use to find valuable genealogical information in foreign-language newspapers, even if you have limited—or no—familiarity with the language, as this article explains.

My roots include a number of German immigrants who settled in various parts of Pennsylvania. By using specific techniques, I have been able to locate information about these ancestors from the German American newspapers in GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives.

Some of these German-language newspapers include:

  • Cincinnati Volksfreund (Cincinnati, Ohio)
  • Der Wahre Amerikaner (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
  • Der Zeitgeist (Egg Harbor City, New Jersey)
  • Deutsche Porcupein (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
  • Egg Harbor Pilot (Egg Harbor City, New Jersey)
  • Highland Union (Highland, Illinois)
  • New Jersey Deutsche Zeitung (Newark, New Jersey)
  • Nordwestliche Post (Sunbury, Pennsylvania)
  • Reading Adler (Reading, Pennsylvania)
  • New Yorker Volkszeitung (New York, New York)
  • Northumberland Republicaner (Sunbury, Pennsylvania)
  • Unparteyische Harrisburg Morgenroethe Zeitung (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania)

When presented with a language hurdle in your genealogy research, try not to be intimidated.

By employing a free language translator such as Google Translate and consulting foreign genealogical word lists, you may be able to determine the gist of a notice, such as the two death notices shown in the following illustration. They report that the decedents died (“starb”) on last Sunday night (“Sontag Nacht”), and on last Monday morning (“Montag Morgen”), respectively.

death notices from German-language newspapers

Death notices from German-language newspapers

Some of my family’s notices were published in the Reading Adler (Reading, Pennsylvania), which published alternately in both English and German.

Daniel Miesse obituary, Reading Adler newspaper article 14 April 1818

Reading Adler (Reading, Pennsylvania), 14 April 1818, page 2

This particular German-language obituary relates to my ancestor Daniel Miesse (28 January 1743, Elsoff, Germany to 1 April 1818, Berks County, Pennsylvania), who died in Bern Township in the 76th year of his age. This death notice was a bit more challenging to understand, since several German terms did not translate directly. For example, the first word (“Berstarb”) stumped me, but I was able to figure out that it corresponded to the term “verstarb” (died).

An interesting explanation of the interchangeability of Germanic letters can be found in Family Search’s German Word List.

Its explanation notes that “spelling rules were not standardized in earlier centuries,” so variations are common. It is best to substitute letters, if you cannot make a definitive translation, or to do a reverse look-up by querying obvious terms. For example, choose a word in English that you might assume to be in a foreign notice. Then, translate it into your target language (e.g., German).

This blog article would not be complete without noting that search engines are often type-face-challenged; being persistent and varying your queries is central to finding ancestral notices in foreign-language newspapers.

While researching my genealogy, I sometimes query with German terms whose meanings I have learned over the years: “taufe” or “taufen” helps locate christenings; “heiraten” finds marriages; and husband or wife can be found by searching on the terms “mann,” “ehermann” and “gatte,” or “ehegattin,” “frau” and “gattin.”

Generally, search software does a fine job in responding to queries, by employing sophisticated “optical character recognition” (OCR) techniques—which is the process by which the computer makes an electronic conversion of scanned images.

However, it sometimes does not produce the desired results. Reasons vary, but foreign publications often used different type styles, such as German Fraktur, Blackletter and Gothic type, and foreign languages may include letters of the alphabet which do not exist in English.

And even old English presents a unique situation—since archaic spellings changed over time. The classic example is the interchangeable use of ff and ss, as seen in this 18th century spelling of possessed.

the word "possessed" as spelled in an 18th century newspaper

The word “possessed” as spelled in an 18th century newspaper

Hopefully, by employing these techniques, you will be able to successfully navigate a variety of foreign-language newspapers. Don’t be intimidated! Plunge right in—you may be agreeably surprised by what you find out about your family history.

‘You Can’t Take It with You’? Nelson A. Brucker Did

We’ve all heard that saying before. Conventional wisdom tells us: “you can’t take it with you when you go.”

But Nelson A. Brucker of Deadwood, South Dakota, did. He made arrangements before he died to have his money buried with him in an unmarked grave “in a secluded spot in the hills near his cabin.”

Brucker had no wife or children to leave his money to, and felt that his relatives were “so neglectful and unkind” that he didn’t want to leave his life’s savings to them. As for friends, the old miner once remarked: “I have no friends who have done anything for me to justify my giving them what little money I have.”

Hopefully he has a genealogist cousin today who isn’t neglecting him and has made sure to document Brucker’s life in their family history.

Hmm…I wonder if anyone ever found that unmarked grave and the money.

Money Buried with Him, Aberdeen American newspaper article 25 April 1907

Aberdeen American (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 25 April 1907, page 2

Missing Person Ads in Old Newspapers Describe Missing Ancestors

If you are tracking down a missing person and want others to help your search, you need to describe the missing person well. That’s what they did in this old runaway slave ad published in 1828.

$25 Reward: runaway slave ad, North Carolina Sentinel newspaper article 9 August 1828

North Carolina Sentinel (New Bern, North Carolina), 9 August 1828, page 2

Gilbo was a “Negro man” from the area “New Bern” who is described as being “between 25 and 30 years of age, light complexion, about five feet high and has an impediment in his speech when closely interrogated.”

So, not very tall.

The runaway slave ad said that he was wearing “an Osnaburghs shirt and trowsers, and cloth round Jacket.”

What does that look like?

Perhaps similar to this 19th century woodcut, in which a slave is wearing the exact same type of shirt, round coat and pants described in the 1828 missing slave advertisement:

19th century woodcut illustration of a slave

19th century woodcut illustration of a slave. Image credit: Eco.Soul.Intellectual.

According to Florence Montgomery (Textiles in America), osnaburg was made in blue, white, brown and white, with stripes, checks or solid colors.

This was known as “Negro cloth” and was coarse, unbleached or brown-colored cotton similar to today’s osnaburg. See the discussion on the Hart Cottage Quilts site: http://ugrrquilt.hartcottagequilts.com/rr5.htm

The missing slave advertisement said that Gilbo might be near the William Barrows plantation, on the road to Pembroke, since his wife was a slave on that plantation.

These small missing person ads can give a lot of descriptive information about our ancestors. Keep an eye out for these old advertisements when researching your family history in a newspaper archive!

Ancestry Believe It or Not: Genealogy Scams, Fakes & Forgers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about genealogical fakes and frauds, and cautions readers to be careful in documenting their family history.

You can’t always believe what you read—or can you?

Genealogy, when done right, is a pursuit requiring patience, with family relationships being carefully established and well documented. But be wary when constructing your family tree; examine each piece of evidence with a critical eye.

Exaggerations abound in genealogy, many of which can be categorized under the “Believe It or Not” phrase made famous by Robert. L. Ripley (1890-1949).

In order to “prove” more impressive ancestry than they actually have, scoundrels and frauds sometimes doctor documents, create fictitious Bible records, and even sell services to unsuspecting family researchers.

Some of the more notorious genealogy fakes and forgers were Gustave Anjou, Harriet de Salis and Horatio Gates Somerby.

Gustave Anjou (1863-1942), a.k.a. Swedish native Gustaf Ludvig Jungberg

Anjou immigrated to America from Sweden, after being released from incarceration in 1886, reportedly on a forgery charge. He became active in genealogical societies in the New Jersey and New York areas, and proceeded to sell his services as a researcher to wealthy citizens. His specialty was fabricating descent from royal lineages.

Some of his more infamous works included supposed lineages for the families of Andrews, Dent, Duff, Grant, Houston, Hurd, Longyear, Shapleigh, Wyckoff, and many more genealogical frauds. He also published a reference on the Ulster Country, New York, Probate Records. For a more thorough list of his junk genealogies, conduct a search in WorldCat or Google Books.

Gustave Anjou’s passport photo (1924)

Gustave Anjou’s passport photo (1924)

Even Anjou’s name is a sham or half-truth. His passport application of 1924 reported his father as “Charles Gustave Marie Anjou” and that he was born in Paris, France. This fabrication was derived from his parents’ names, Carl Gustaf Jungberg and housekeeper, Maria Lovia Hapberg, along with the Anjou reference from his fiancée (later wife), Anna Maria Anjou. The passport application noted he was naturalized in 1918 and that he was following the occupation of genealogist.

Gustave Anjou’s passport application (1924)

Gustave Anjou’s passport application (1924)

References to Anjou’s association with genealogy can be found in New York City records:

  • The New York City Directory of 1910 reported: “British-Am Record Soc, 116 Nassau R [Residence] 1116—C. Percy Hurditch, Pres; Gustave Anjou, Sec.”
  • The New York City Directory of 1912 reported: “Am Genealogical Soc., 116 Nassau R 1117—Gustave Anjou, Sec.”

In the following historical newspaper article, we can see the ripple effect of Anjou’s fraudulent genealogy work. A New Orleans newspaper’s Genealogical Department ran a feature called “Who’s Who and Their Forbears,” and innocently quoted Anjou’s work assuming it was authentic.

Who’s Who and Their Forbears, Times-Picayune newspaper article 11 August 1912

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 11 August 1912, page 34

Mrs. Harriet de Salis, nee Bainbridge

De Salis was a noted cookbook author. The title of one of her publications, Tempting Dishes for Small Incomes published in 1903, seems to hold a “secret message” about her second career: junk genealogy. Her culinary skills apparently didn’t generate enough income, so she turned to providing a fraudulent genealogy service, much like Anjou.

Some of her noted counterfeits were submitted by her eager clients to the New England Historical and Genealogical Register (NEHGR) . Unfortunately for de Salis, NEHGR researchers typically investigate exuberant ancestral claims, as seen in this 1943 response pointedly remarking on de Salis’s “vivid imagination”:

“The wills of ‘Edward’ and ‘Valentine’ [Woodman] appear to have been the offspring of Harriet de Salis’ vivid imagination—at least no such wills can now be found. After this auspicious beginning she proceeded to construct a wondrous pedigree making Nicholas the ancestor of the two New England progenitors and deducing his descent from all the ancient and gentle family of Woodman of Surrey.”

The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. 97, p. 282 (1943).

Little mention of de Salis appears in GenealogyBank. Her death date and obituary were not located in its vast historical newspaper archives. Interestingly, however, there is a mention of de Salis in GenealogyBank’s United States Congressional Serial Set archives, referring to her 1888 oyster cookbook.

mention of Harriet De Salis's 1888 oyster cookbook in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, Part XVIII. Report of the Commissioner for the year ending June 30, 1892. Date: Monday, January 1, 1894. Publication: Serial Set Vol. No.3264; Report: H.Misc.Doc. 209.

Horatio Gates “H. G.” Somerby (1805-1872)

Somerby, a native of Newburyport, Massachusetts, moved to England, where he fabricated genealogies for Americans wishing to establish English origins.

WorldCat and Google Books report a variety of publications on families that feature suspect genealogical work done by Somerby, such as The Blakes of Somerset, John Cotton of Boston, The Searstan Family of Colchester, Pedigree of Lawrence, A Sketch of the Family of Dumaresq, and Notices of the Sears Family.

GenealogyBank’s newspapers report that a man by the name of “Horatio B. Somerby” was a witness at a forgery trial. Although the middle initial is incorrect, it may be a typo. One has to wonder about the association with a noted forger, especially one with New England connections, and suspect this is really Horatio G. Somerby.

forgery trial report, Boston Herald newspaper article 13 October 1848

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 October 1848, page 2

GenealogyBank has a brief notice of his death in London, but this death notice makes no mention of his background in fraudulent genealogy.

Horatio Somerby death notice, Salem Register newspaper article 5 December 1872

Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 5 December 1872, page 2

There are numerous examples of scammers, frauds, fakes and forgers in genealogical research, so remember the famous words of Ripley: “Believe It or Not,” and be careful documenting your family history to keep it real!