Your Uncle, My Uncle, Every American’s Uncle: Uncle Sam!

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to learn more about the origins and history of an American icon: Uncle Sam.

All of us who love genealogy and family history know that every family member seems to have their own “favorite uncle.” I have two favorite uncles: Uncle Chuck Clark and Uncle Jim Vanek. I bet you have a favorite uncle or two as well, so it is only fitting that the entire United States should also have a favorite uncle. And who should that be but “Uncle Sam,” of course!

World War I recruiting poster featuring Uncle Sam, by James Montgomery Flagg, 1916-1917

Illustration: World War I recruiting poster featuring Uncle Sam, by James Montgomery Flagg, 1916-1917. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

September is the month to celebrate Uncle Sam. For the past 25 years, every September 13th has been the National Day of the country’s favorite uncle. And while Uncle Sam Day has only been official since 1989, Uncle Sam has been with us a lot longer than that—and he makes for a colorful story.

Origins of Uncle Sam

This article from a 1910 Michigan newspaper begins with an Uncle Sam truism when it says: “There are nicknames and nicknames, but the most popular and best understood one in the United States is Uncle Sam.” Interestingly, this article also says that there are other national nicknames such as “John Bull” for the English and “Johnny Crapand” (crapand means a toad) for the French. I have to admit that while I do recall a rare use of “John Bull” now and again, the use of “Johnny Crapand” was a new one to me. But Uncle Sam still reverberates with national pride and recognition, even as these other nicknames have fallen out of fashion.

How Uncle Sam Began, Grand Rapids Press newspaper article 23 July 1910

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 23 July 1910, page 4

So where did the famous patriotic persona Uncle Sam come from? Was he just a figment of some talented artist somewhere or is he rooted in someone’s real history?

If you access the above article in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and read it fully, it gives an account of the possible origin of Uncle Sam:

One story is that at the time of the war of 1812 there lived at Troy, N.Y., a man named Samuel Wilson, familiarly known thereabouts as Uncle Sam, who was employed as an inspector of pork and beef bought by the government.

However, the article goes on to say: “The story is so clumsy and improbable that it may safely be classed as untrue.” So I decided to continue looking.

Enter Last Name










As I continued searching the old newspapers, I did note that there were no references to Uncle Sam prior to 1812. An article from an 1814 New York newspaper caught my eye. This article contrasts how soldiers were paid by the U.S. (“Uncle Sam”) and British (“John Bull”) governments. Although it was interesting to learn about “Chequer Bills” and the phrase “Ready Rhino,” there was nothing in the article about Uncle Sam’s origins.

Uncle Sam and John Bull, New-York Gazette newspaper article 6 December 1814

New-York Gazette (New York, New York), 6 December 1814, page 2

This 1817 Rhode Island newspaper article says the expression “Uncle Sam” began during the War of 1812 based on the initials “U.S.” stamped on soldiers’ knapsacks—and goes on to tell this amusing story:

The Indians at the west, from hearing it [Uncle Sam] often used, have imbibed the idea that it is actually the name of the President; and while at Sackett’s Harbor, a considerable number of Indians and Squaws crowded around the President, wishing, as they expressed it, ‘to shake hands with Uncle Sam.’

article about Uncle Sam, Providence Patriot newspaper article 23 August 1817

Providence Patriot (Providence, Rhode Island), 23 August 1817, page 1

Thirteen years later, this Pennsylvania newspaper ran an article about the origins of Uncle Sam. This story relates the earlier story from the War of 1812 and the inspector of meat for the U.S. Army, Samuel Wilson, looking over meat purchased by a government contractor, one Elbert Anderson. On the barrels of these provisions was stamped “E.A. – U. S.”

The old newspaper article goes on:

This work [hauling the meat] fell to the lot of a facetious fellow in the employ [of Samuel Wilson] who, on being asked by some of his fellow workmen the meaning of the mark (for the letters U.S. for United States, was almost then entirely new to them) said ‘he did not know, unless it meant Elbert Anderson, and Uncle Sam’—alluding, exclusively, then to the said ‘Uncle Sam’ Wilson. The joke took among the workmen, and passed currently; and Uncle Sam himself being present, was occasionally rallied by them on the increasing extent of his possessions.

The 1800s news article concludes:

It [the joke about Uncle Sam] originated precisely as above stated; and the writer of this article distinctly recollects remarking, at the time when it first appeared in print, to a person who was equally aware of its origin, how odd it would be should this joke eventually become a national cognomen.

Origin of Uncle Sam, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 15 May 1830

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 15 May 1830, page 1

Iconic Artwork of James Flagg

Over the decades, Uncle Sam flourished as a symbol of the United States of America. Perhaps the most memorable image of our Uncle Sam was drawn by the famous pen-and-ink artist James Montgomery Flagg for a recruiting poster during World War I, with a stern-faced Uncle Sam pointing his finger and saying “I want you for U.S. Army!” You can see this famous image above, and also reprinted in this 1992 Alabama newspaper article, along with the attribution of the name to “Uncle Sam” Wilson again.

article about James Flagg and Uncle Sam, Mobile Register newspaper article 29 June 1992

Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama), 29 June 1992, page 40

In 1960 James Flagg passed away, and his obituary stated:

His greatest work was his World War I recruiting poster of Uncle Sam pointing his finger and saying, ‘I want you.’

obituary for James Montgomery Flagg, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 28 May 1960

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 28 May 1960, page 13

Brief Biography of Uncle Sam

This 1961 article from a Massachusetts newspaper gives us further background on “Uncle Sam” Wilson. It says that he was born in 1766 and died in 1854. He ran away from home to fight in the Revolutionary War. After the war he became a successful merchant and meat packer in Troy, New York, was quite a popular fellow and was universally known as “Uncle Sam.”

Tribute to Uncle Sam, Springfield Union newspaper article 9 July 1961

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 9 July 1961, page 47

Who’s the Real Uncle Sam?

An article written by Blake Ehrlich in a 1961 Massachusetts newspaper brings to light the role of one Thomas Gerson in the life of Uncle Sam. Calling from his hospital bed to a reporter for the newspaper, Mr. Gerson explained he was the “Official Uncle Sam Historian and Director of Education for the Troy Area Committee for Uncle Sam.” It seems that Gerson, also “an editorial writer and feature man,” was on a mission to get the United States Congress to recognize his hometown hero, Samuel Wilson, as the “real” Uncle Sam. Interestingly, in this article we are introduced to yet another option for Uncle Sam’s origin. It seems Gerson was working to “triumph over the forces of evil from the state of Indiana, which tried to block the resolution with claims for its own Sam Wilson.”

The Man (Thomas Gerson) Who Carries a Torch for Uncle Sam, Boston Traveler newspaper article 3 November 1961

Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 3 November 1961, page 16

It seems that the image of Uncle Sam has changed over the years, according to writer Ehrlich, having first appeared as a cartoon character in The Lantern, a comic weekly drawn by a fellow named Bellew in 1852. That Uncle Sam was dressed in a beaver hat, boots, and striped pants and was “tall, thin, with a clean-shaven hatchet face, much like Sam Wilson.”  In the 1860s, cartoonist Thomas Nast added whiskers and a starry vest.

Enter Last Name










This 1961 Massachusetts newspaper article reported that historians in Indiana were still fighting Mr. Gerson’s efforts to recognize Troy’s Samuel Wilson as the one, true Uncle Sam, saying: “Indiana historians disagree, claiming the Troy meat packer was born in Wilmington, Del., and later moved to Merriam, Ind.”

Troy Bows to Mass. as Home of Archtype for 'Uncle Sam,' Boston Herald newspaper article 30 October 1961

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 30 October 1961, page 18

This 1961 New Jersey newspaper reprinted an article from the Congressional Quarterly in Washington, D.C. This article, headlined “Interest Increasing in National Shrine,” tells us that the quibble over the “real” Uncle Sam continued even as “The nation also is about to doff its hat to ‘Uncle Sam,’ although it isn’t quite sure who ‘Uncle Sam’ was.” The article goes on to explain that the dust-up between New York and Indiana continued, reporting:

The New York Congressional delegation backs Samuel Wilson, a meat dealer who supplied the troops during the War of 1812 and who died in New York. The Indiana delegation backs a Samuel Wilson who earned the title of ‘Uncle Sam’ in Troy, but who is buried in Merriam, Ind.

And for good measure Connecticut was now in the act, believing:

the original ‘Uncle Sam’ was Sam Huntington of Connecticut, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and President of the Continental Congress.

And finally, there’s this:

The Texans are touting for ‘Uncle Sam’ none other than Sam Houston, beard and all.

article about Uncle Sam, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 6 September 1961

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 6 September 1961, page 11

While Indiana, Texas, and Connecticut were touting their Uncle Sam versions, New York was fast at work. This 1959 Washington newspaper article reported that then-Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller was declaring September 13th as “Uncle Sam Day” following a resolution passed by the State Legislature.

N.Y. to Observe September 13 as Uncle Sam Day, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 27 March 1959

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 27 March 1959, page 5

This 1988 Alabama newspaper published a sarcastic article by well-known columnist James J. Kilpatrick, in which he excoriated the recently-adjourned 100th U.S. Congress for accomplishing almost nothing, saying: “We are well rid of this Congress. Be gone! And don’t come back any time soon.”

To drive home his point, Kilpatrick pointed to the creation of Uncle Sam Day as one of the very few things the Congress did manage to do.

article about Uncle Sam Day, Mobile Register newspaper article 6 November 1988

Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama), 6 November 1988, page 9

While it seems that Congress, in their infinite wisdom, decided for us who the “real” Uncle Sam was, I am now thinking I should really have some fun and start researching National Jukebox Week!

Related Articles about Famous American Icons:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

How to Research Old Diaries & Personal Journals for Genealogy

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary gives examples of how your ancestors’ diaries and journals—some available online in various collections—are invaluable to your family history research.

As family historians, we turn to newspapers to corroborate vital records—but often neglect to venture further with our research by exploring charming, firsthand accounts from our ancestors’ diaries and journals. Not only do these personal writings add to the fabric of our research, they enrich genealogical studies by adding unique perspectives into specific time periods, activities and historical events.

Some entries from diaries and journals, as well as complete autobiographies and memoirs, can be found in GenealogyBank’s Historical Book Archives, and others appear as feature pages in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

screenshot of GenealogyBank’s search page for its Historical Book Archives

Screenshot: GenealogyBank’s search page for its Historical Book Archives

I think you’ll enjoy reading some old-time intimate diaries.

The excerpts I’ve chosen from diaries found online present a variety of stories. Two are from brides, one is about shipwreck and imprisonment, another is about young school boys who get in trouble writing diaries, and the last is a description of the First Battle of the Marne during World War I.

Enter Last Name










Bridal Diaries (1886 and 1921)

This 1886 article from an Illinois newspaper presents “A Leaf from a Bride’s Diary.” In her witty and entertaining diary entries, this bride recounts the story of her elopement, her impression of the justice of the peace, and her hilariously failed attempt at baking her first pie.

A Leaf from a Bride's Diary, Hyde Park Herald newspaper article 5 June 1886

Hyde Park Herald (Chicago, Illinois), 5 June 1886, page 2

She writes of her elopement with George:

We did not have dear papa’s consent, nor much of anything else.

She was not much impressed with the justice of the peace who married them, remarking:

He looked to me like a man who would snort around the cemetery and tear up the greensward when his wife died in the early spring, and friends would have to chain him to a tree somewhere till his grief had spent itself, and then in the early fall he would lower the top of his old concertina plug hat, and marry a red-eyed widow with a baritone voice and two sons in the penitentiary.

The young bride resolved to make the best of things:

To-day I am a wife with my joyous girlhood, my happy home and the justice of the peace behind me. Life is now real, life is earnest, for we have no girl [servant]. We will not keep a girl at first, George says, for if we did she would have to board at home, as we have only one room, and it is not a very good room either. We take our meals at a restaurant, and the bill of fare is very good.

Her first attempt at baking a pie ended in disaster. She “put in quite a lot of soda or baking powder,” put the pie in the oven, and started sewing while she waited for it to bake. Suddenly:

While thus engaged the oven door was blown off the hinges and the air was filled with subtle odor of some kind which I could not describe. We pulled the pie off the ceiling.

cartoon showing a young bride's failed attempt at baking her first pie, Hyde Park Herald newspaper article 5 June 1886

Hyde Park Herald (Chicago, Illinois), 5 June 1886, page 2

While perusing this next perfunctory diary, take note that some brides are more interested in the “haul” of their shower and wedding gifts than the feelings of friends and family, and that wedding planning has always had its challenges!

extracts from a young bride's diary, Montgomery Advertiser newspaper article 13 November 1921

Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), 13 November 1921, page 4

A Tale of a Shipwreck and Imprisonment (1795)

The Diary of Donald Campbell (1751-1804) was first published in 1795 and, due to its popularity, republished several times. Follow Campbell’s fascinating story of a journey to India, where he was shipwrecked and imprisoned. Luckily, Campbell was released and wrote his story for us to enjoy centuries later.

extract from a historical book: “A Narrative of the Extraordinary Adventures, and Sufferings by Shipwreck & Imprisonment, of Donald Campbell, Esq. of Barbreck. With the Singular Humors of His Tartar Guide, Hassan Artaz.” 1801 edition, page 260.

Historical book: “A Narrative of the Extraordinary Adventures, and Sufferings by Shipwreck & Imprisonment, of Donald Campbell, Esq. of Barbreck. With the Singular Humors of His Tartar Guide, Hassan Artaz.” 1801 edition, page 260.

For more information on Campbell, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Campbell_(traveller).

Enter Last Name










School Boys Get in Trouble at School over Diaries (1880)

After receiving a diary from his Uncle Joe, Robert Cummings documented how his days passed. After a friend was caught writing in his diary at school, the frustrated teacher threw it into the fire—making this activity all the more desirous to these young diarists.

In his first entry, Robert certainly sounds committed to keeping a diary:

January 1. This is New Year’s Day. Uncle Joe gave me this diary to-day. I am going to write in it every night just before going to bed. Every boy and girl ought to keep a diary so when he gets a man he can see what he did so when he was a boy. This is New Year’s Day, and there ain’t no school to-day, and I have played with Billy all day. Billy is my goat. I got up and ate breakfast, then I harnessed Billy and saw Uncle Joe and he gave me this diary. He says it is the best thing a boy can do to keep a diary, but he says it is the hardest thing a boy can do. I don’t see where the hard comes in.

extract from Robert Cummings's diary, Portland Daily Press newspaper article 20 March 1880

Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 20 March 1880, page 1

An Account of WWI’s First Battle of the Marne (5-12 September 1914)

Although the author of this diary was only described as an unnamed “citizen of Crepy-en-Valois,” this gripping account from the French newspaper Petit Parisien was reprinted in papers across the world.

Diary of Battle of Marne, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 18 September 1914

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 18 September 1914, page 2

For more information on the First Battle of the Marne, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Battle_of_the_Marne.

As you can see from these examples, diaries and journals provide an extraordinary glimpse into our ancestors’ lives, giving us details of their everyday experiences and, occasionally, insight into important events they participated in or witnessed firsthand. Dig in and find everything from great-great grandma’s first pie to war stories from the battlefield and beyond.  Be sure to include these genealogical treasures in your family history research. True personal stories direct from your ancestors add more interest and meaning to your family tree.

Here are some online sources to locate diaries for genealogy research:

Please share reports of exciting diaries or journals you have located in your genealogy work—either within a personal family collection or online—in the comments section below.

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

How to Research Your Ancestor’s Part in Major Historical Events

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how researching the major historical events that happened in your ancestors’ lifetimes provides another way of better understanding them, their experiences, and the lives they led.

Think of an ancestor you are researching. What major historical events did they live through? Did they go west for the California Gold Rush? Maybe they were sick during the 1918 Flu Epidemic. Did your ancestor fight in World War I? One of the things that makes doing genealogy research fascinating is learning about the history that our ancestors were a part of, and finding out exactly what their role was and how they were affected.

The California Gold Rush

For example, was the ancestor you’re researching alive in 1849? Perhaps he read a newspaper article such as this and was caught up in the gold fever sweeping the country—in 1849 more than 90,000 prospectors came to California, and in all about 300,000 people flocked to California during the Gold Rush hoping to strike it rich. Was you ancestor one of them?

article about the California Gold Rush, Arkansas Weekly Gazette newspaper article 22 February 1849

Arkansas Weekly Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 22 February 1849, page 3

How can you learn more about an ancestor’s part in a historical event? Consider taking the following steps.

Enter Last Name










Create a Timeline

Start your research by creating a timeline for your ancestor. Insert the dates for what you know about their lives, such as a birth or death date. Then consider what major historical events happened in their lifetime that may have impacted them. If the ancestor was a young man during World War II, perhaps he registered for the draft or he served in the military. By including dates of important historical events you can get a better sense of what records you should be researching to find more information about your ancestor’s life.

articles about World War II, Advocate newspaper article 1 September 1944

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 1 September 1944, page 1

Not sure what historical events were going on during your ancestor’s lifetime? Seek out a general history timeline such as eHistory’s timelines or a specific timeline for a region like this one from Missouri Digital Heritage.

Also, take some time to read your ancestor’s hometown newspaper in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives. Look for front-page stories of historical events and any commentary about how it affected that community. Keep in mind that adding every historical event that happened during your ancestor’s lifetime to your timeline is not necessary; you want to include only those that most likely impacted their everyday lives.

One idea for creating a timeline for your ancestor can be found on the Armchair Genealogist’s blog post Four Steps to a Family History Timeline.

Enter Last Name










Survey the Available Resources

Let’s say you believe that your ancestor was involved in the Georgia land lotteries. So now what? Take some time to survey what resources are available for your research. You will want to look for historical records that mention your ancestor but also those that document that event for their community.

Start your research with GenealogyBank. Search on your ancestor’s name; don’t forget variations of their name and the possibility of misspellings, but don’t stop there. Continue to search their community newspaper for other clues as to how the event may have impacted their life. Make sure to consult, if you haven’t already, GenealogyBank’s Learning Center to ensure that you are finding everything possible in your searches. You can also peruse our Historical Events in America Pinterest board to review newspaper headlines and photographs of some of our nation’s most memorable historical moments as a starting point.

article about the Georgia land lottery, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 18 April 1827

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 18 April 1827, page 3

After newspapers, continue on to the FamilySearch Library Catalog. Search for both the city and the county your ancestor lived in and see what records exist for the time period they were living there. Once you identify some possible records, make sure to order the microfilm or check the digitized records online. To learn more about ordering microfilm from the FamilySearch Family History Library, see the FamilySearch Research Wiki article Ordering Microfilm or Microfiche.

Continue your survey of what’s available by searching the genealogy websites that you typically search, both fee-based and free. But don’t stop there. Also search for histories in digitized book websites like Google Books, and look for histories and archival collections in catalogs like WorldCat and ArchiveGrid.

Enter Last Name










Genealogy Research Q&A

As you start your research, come to it with specific questions that you want to answer and then create a research plan to help you answer those questions. Did my ancestor enlist in the military during World War I? Did my family have a homestead claim? Did my ancestor die of the flu? Make your questions to the point and not too complex. Once you start researching and gathering documents, you will want to have those documents guide you to answering additional questions.

Don’t forget that records often lead to additional records and questions. So record everything you find in a research log, either on paper, through a genealogy database program, or an online source.

Your ancestor has a place in history. By identifying their possible historical role and gathering newspaper articles and other documents that tell that story, you will add “flesh to the bones” of your ancestor and create a family history narrative your non-genealogist family members will be interested in and enjoy.

Rationing Thanksgiving Dinner during World War I

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—just in time for Thanksgiving—Gena searches old newspapers to learn about the Thanksgiving dinners our ancestors had during World War I.

For many Americans, the word Thanksgiving conjures up images of family, a bountiful feast, and spending the day eating. However, Americans weren’t always encouraged to eat everything and anything on Thanksgiving Day. During both World Wars, food was rationed and families on the home front were encouraged to make do with less. So what did that mean for the traditional Thanksgiving dinner?

photo of a poster for the U.S. home front during WWI urging households to conserve sugar

Poster: sugar conservation, from the U.S. Food Administration, 1917-1919. Credit: U.S. National Archives.

Food Rationing during Wartime

Food rationing is typically associated with World War II, when ration stamps were used—but World War I had its own version of rationing—and this was especially true at Thanksgiving time. In the First World War, families were encouraged to limit some foods so that the United States could feed its soldiers and allies. Overseas, our allies’ lands were devastated by the extensive fighting, and their ability to maintain crop production was limited.

Using propaganda posters, recipe booklets, and informational articles, American women were encouraged to alter the family’s diets by participating in such endeavors as “Meatless Monday,” growing a garden, and limiting the use of sugar. The government led the way in urging Americans to think about what they ate. Herbert Hoover and his U.S. Food Administration, established in August 1917, encouraged food conservation and helped to stabilize the price of wheat.

Newspapers provided families with recipe ideas to help them compile their holiday menus. Women turned to newspapers for recipes and ideas about the type of Thanksgiving they should serve, and newspapers helped women implement these new policies to conserve food.

No Oysters or Turkey for the Thanksgiving Dinner?

What do you typically serve for the Thanksgiving dinner? While portions of the Thanksgiving dinner menu have changed over time, some of the key dishes have always been served. In this 1917 California newspaper article, readers are cautioned that they should refrain from serving oysters on the half shell, Neufchatel cheese, and turkey for Thanksgiving.

Simple [Thanksgiving] Menu; Just as Much Enjoyment, San Jose Mercury News 28 November 1917

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 28 November 1917, page 9

Readers are told: “The family can substitute chicken, pale American cheese, and other becomingly simple dishes, and not only secure the same number of food calories as in the more expensive repast, but have just as much to eat and just as good a time eating it.” The author provides some alternative menus but first adds that “…the Thanksgiving dinner can materially aid the food supply by not turning the usual feast into a gastronomic contest.”

(Note: the term “Hooverize” in this article’s subtitle—a word your ancestor would have known all too well—referred to economizing food. Since Hoover was the head of the Food Administration, his name became synonymous with this effort.)

Cutting Back on Sugar

Sugar was one of the food items that Americans were encouraged to limit. Today, in a world where much of the food we eat is prepared or pre-packaged, we don’t realize how much sugar is in a Thanksgiving meal. Cranberry sauce, gelatin salads, desserts and even sugar for coffee and tea were foodstuffs that families had to reconsider during wartime. It’s no wonder that newspaper articles like this one discouraged that old standby, cranberry sauce. As pointed out in this old news article, cranberry sauce required large amounts of sugar that seemed, during this precarious time, to be wasteful.

Cranberries Unpopular on Thanksgiving Menu, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 10 November 1917

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 10 November 1917, page 1

Use It Up, Do Without

American citizens were encouraged to plant gardens to supply produce for their meals. For those unable to plant gardens, patronizing local merchants who produced and sold food was encouraged. This was a predecessor of today’s popular “Buy Local, Eat Local” trend.

The main theme of many of the newspaper articles promoting these ideas seems to be: a true American would gladly go without. Consider this 1918 newspaper article’s closing sentence: “Turkey may be lacking in some cases, and the four kinds of pie which once closed the feast may be the only tradition of the ante bellum days, but reminiscences of much to be thankful for will dominate the Thanksgiving day of every true American.”

Thanksgiving Dinner of Home Grown Food Advocated by Hoover, Wyoming State Tribune newspaper article 23 November 1918

Wyoming State Tribune (Cheyenne, Wyoming), 23 November 1918, page 2

What did Thanksgiving dinner look like for your family during World War I? Do you have any stories about your grandparents’ Thanksgiving menu? Please share them in the comments below.

Arlington National Cemetery Removing Mementos Left at Graves

Military cemeteries traditionally have a uniform look: clean, unadorned, orderly.

photo of Flanders Fields American Cemetery and Memorial

Credit: Flanders Fields American Cemetery and Memorial

The appearance of the military crosses was immortalized in the lines of the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by Canadian John McCrae during WWI on 3 May 1915:

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Now, a century later, there has been a growing trend by families and friends to decorate military gravestones of their loved ones in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. Military authorities are reminding families that this decorating is not allowed. Photographs and mementos left at the gravesites have been removed, and the historical landmark cemetery has returned to its traditional appearance—with silent rows of gleaming white crosses.

A London newspaper ran a story on this clean-up project at Arlington National Cemetery last month.

article about Arlington National Cemetery removing mementos left at gravesites,  Daily Mail newspaper article 10 October 2013

Credit: Daily Mail (London, United Kingdom), 10 October 2013

Read the entire news story from the Daily Mail (London, United Kingdom), 10 October 2013, here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2451626/Arlington-graves-stripped-personal-momentoes-controversial-clean-up.html

Here is a copy of McCrae’s handwritten poem.

photo of the handwritten original copy of John McCrae's poem “In Flanders Fields”

Credit: Wikipedia

Lt. Colonel McCrae died 28 January 1918 while serving in France during WWI. He is buried in Wimereux Military Cemetery in northern France.

photo of the tombstone of Lt. Colonel John McCrae

Credit: Wikipedia

Here is the complete text of the poem “In Flanders Fields.”

In Flanders fields the poppies grow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Veterans Day Special: How to Trace Your Veteran Ancestors

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—in celebration of today being Veterans Day—Gena searches old newspapers to help fill in the story of an ancestor’s military service during World War I.

As our thoughts on this Veterans Day turn to the nation’s military personnel, you may be thinking about one of your ancestors who was a veteran—and wondering how you could find out more about him or her.

Quick question: if you are researching a soldier where should you search? Your most immediate answer might include searching a familiar genealogy subscription website or ordering military and pension records. While those are important places to start, have you considered searching old newspapers?

Hometown newspapers provide information about young men and women who have gone off to war. In some cases these mentions of people can be numerous. Search for these old newspaper articles to add to the official military records you have already gathered to help tell your ancestor’s story.

As an example, let’s look at the military life of Sgt. Ernest L. Clayton from Blackwells, Georgia. Sgt. Clayton was a World War I soldier serving in France. His WWI draft registration card from 1 June 1917 indicates that he was a college student prior to his service.

Fast forward to April 1918 and we see from the local news section of the Cobb County Times that Sgt. Ernest Clayton, from Camp Gordon, spent his Sunday in town with his friends. Camp Gordon, now known as Fort Gordon, is in Augusta, Georgia, and was established in 1917.

a notice about Sergeant Ernest Clayton, Cobb County Times newspaper article 11 April 1918

Cobb County Times (Marietta, Georgia), 11 April 1918, page 4

It’s important to remember that many times these smaller city newspapers did contain short mentions of the comings and goings of community members. In those hometown newspapers you can find details of the soldier and his or her family.

Think of older newspapers as the Facebook of their time. Just as we would now share important news of our family through Facebook posts, our ancestors shared their highlights with the local newspaper. It wasn’t too long ago that newspapers even printed the letters that families received from their military-serving family members. The following article is a letter from Sgt. Clayton to his sister, and has a photo of him in uniform.

Letter from Home Folks Adds Much to Life of a Soldier [Ernest Clayton], Cobb County Times newspaper article 24 October 1918

Cobb County Times (Marietta, Georgia), 24 October 1918, page 1

As an introduction to the letter, the newspaper editor let the community know that Clayton was a part of Battery B, 320th Field Artillery, and that he fought in the Battle of Saint Mihiel on 12-15 September 1918. This introduction indicated that he was already in the military when he filled out his draft registration, having entered in May 1917.

In his letter written from France, Clayton talked about how letters from home helped keep his spirits up. He wrote: “You know we soldiers grow tired and weary and if we don’t have any greetings from home and dear old America sometimes, we feel like death would be sweet. But when we are so discouraged and ‘all in’ as we call it, a bunch of mail encourages us very much, and we feel just like singing that dear old song: ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty.’”

There’s no doubt that having a soldier fighting in a war could be nerve wracking for family members on the home front. Not knowing how their son or daughter was doing, especially in a time when communication methods were limited, was an enormous stress. Receiving erroneous news must have been even more difficult to recover from.

World War I on the Western Front ended on 11 November 1918 with the signing of the armistice in France between the allies and Germany. That day was originally commemorated as Armistice Day (it became known as Veterans Day in the U.S. after World War II).

That fateful day took on special meaning for the Clayton family after Sgt. Clayton was unofficially listed as killed in action during the last days of the war. To the family’s great relief, that news of his death turned out to be erroneous!

They received a letter (which the family shared with the local newspaper) that Clayton wrote them on 23 November 1918—after the war had ended, and after he was supposedly dead. He wrote the letter from a hotel room in France, where he was enjoying some rest after 100 days on the firing line. He wrote that he anticipated arriving back home from the war in January 1919.

Sgt. E. L. Clayton Was Not Killed in Action, Cobb County Times newspaper article 19 December 1918

Cobb County Times (Marietta, Georgia), 19 December 1918, page 1

This Veterans Day, spend some time looking for your veteran ancestor in old newspapers. Remember that military service information can be found in more than just the official government military records! You can often find much more information about your veteran ancestor in letters, photos, draft lists, pension lists and other types of articles published in old newspapers.

Genealogy Tip: Make sure to search various versions of a person’s name when using a search engine. In searching for Sgt. Clayton, I searched on just the surname Clayton, as well as E. L. Clayton, Ernest Clayton, and other variations. I also searched for the names of his parents and sister.

Harrybelle (Durant) Stark: The Last Casualty of WWI

Harrybelle (Durant) Stark (1891-1937) gave the last full measure of devotion to our country. She was the last casualty of World War I.

Born March 1891 in Pensacola, Florida, she was the daughter of Osmond P. (1856-1913) and Annette (Knowles) (1880- ) Durant.

photo of Harrybelle Stark

Credit: Stark family photograph

Harrybelle attended Saint Vincent’s Hospital School of Nursing in Birmingham, Alabama, and graduated as a nurse in the Class of 1911.

She enlisted in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps 24 August 1916, and was commissioned a lieutenant and sent overseas to serve at Evacuation Hospital No. 6, American Expeditionary Force, based in Souilly, France. It was there that she met and married her husband, Lt. George Frederick Stark (1895-1958), an Army aviator.

photo of Harrybelle Stark

Credit: Stark family photograph

WWI ended for the rest of the world on 11 November 1918—but for Harrybelle it would not end for another 19 years, until 16 April 1937.

Near the end of WWI her base was gassed by the Germans. In spite of the damaging effects of the gas she continued to serve and was discharged from the Army on 25 April 1919.

photo of a Purple Heart medal

Credit: Wikipedia

But the deteriorating effects of the gas were too much and she soon entered the Castle Point Veteran’s Hospital (Castle Point, New York) where she remained until her death

photo fo the Castle Point Veteran’s Hospital (Castle Point, New York)

Credit: VA Hudson Valley Health Care

As the last casualty of WWI she was buried 21 April 1937 at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

photo of Harrybelle Stark

Credit: Stark family photograph

Arlington National Cemetery Puts Tombstone Photos Online

Arlington National Cemetery has recently completed a massive effort to photograph all 400,000 tombstones and put the photos online.

photo of the front of Harrybelle Stark's tombstone

Credit: Arlington National Cemetery

This is a terrific genealogical resource. Genealogists can easily search for their deceased relatives and the website will display the gravestone and show you where on the cemetery map the person is buried.

Arlington National Cemetery. Search burials here:

http://public.mapper.army.mil/ANC/ANCWeb/PublicWMV/ancWeb.html

map of Arlington National Cemetery

Credit: Arlington National Cemetery

With a click you can pull up more details of the person’s military service and a close-up photograph of the front and back of the tombstone.

When you click on “Details,” it pulls up the accompanying tombstone photos with both a front and rear view. Notice the handy “Download Photo” button under each photograph. It’s a snap to download and keep these photos to add to your family collectibles.

photos of the front and back of Harrybelle Stark's tombstone

Credit: Arlington National Cemetery

This comprehensive effort by the Arlington National Cemetery is one of the best genealogy websites online today.

Find Grandma’s Recipes in Old Newspaper Food Columns

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena searches old newspapers to examine food columns that may have provided the recipes our ancestors used—and shows how those food columns that featured recipe contests may contain names and addresses helpful to our family history research.

What’s in your grandmother’s recipe box? Chances are there are a variety of recipes that are either handwritten on index cards or clipped from newspapers and magazines. Maybe you have some of those yellowed newspaper clippings stuffed in a recipe box or pasted in a cookbook.

photo of a recipe book with old newspaper recipe clippings pasted in

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

Newspaper food columns provided women with recipes by food writers, nutritionists and even neighbors. In some cases, food column contests solicited reader recipes centered on a specific theme. (For more about newspaper recipe contests see my earlier GenealogyBank Blog post, Newspaper Recipe Contests: Was Your Ancestor a Contest Winner?) Whether your ancestor actually participated in submitting a recipe or just cut out her favorites, these columns were an important way to add variety to the family’s dinner table.

Tongue and Pickles

Newspaper food columns provide us a glimpse of the food our families ate throughout the decades. This 1917 column from an Arizona newspaper is a compilation of money-saving recipes that were awarded prizes by the newspaper. Recipe columns published in the newspapers during war time would concentrate on saving money and, in the case of World War I and II, how to make do with limited quantities due to food rationing. In the paragraph introducing the recipes, the writer suggests that readers clip these columns and add them to cookbooks, or paste an envelope into a cookbook and then place clippings inside the envelope. In this article, notice that women’s names and addresses are included with their submissions—a potentially helpful clue for your family history research. The first recipe, provided by Miss Chloe Ray for Braised Tongue, even includes a suggestion for where to buy the tongue.

Recipes Which Help Reduce the Cost of Living, Tucson Daily Citizen newspaper article 2 March 1917

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 2 March 1917, page 5

In some cases newspaper columnists wrote articles with everything from recipes to food advice. “Jane Eddington,” the pen name for Caroline S. Maddocks, was a syndicated columnist with the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune started its food column in 1910 and Eddington penned her articles until her retirement in 1930. She was then succeeded by women who penned the food column under the moniker “Mary Meade” until 1974.*

In Eddington’s column for 5 September 1913, she discusses pickles and provides some recipes. Making pickles wasn’t a small job; these recipes call for over 100 cucumbers!

Recipes for Home Cooking, Plain Dealer newspaper article 5 September 1913

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 5 September 1913, page 11

Food and “Womanly” Advice

Some recipe columns were about much more than sharing recipes and meal ideas. In some cases they were advice columns. The Chicago Tribune said the purpose of its column was to “preach daily that cooking is a noble as well as an ancient duty.”**

In the following column from a 1909 Pennsylvania newspaper, “Womanly Answers to Womanly Questions,” recipes are but one form of advice given. Other advice has to do with other “womanly” issues like quilt cleaning. Lunch meal planning suggestions in this particular column include “sardines cut up with ham and pickles make a good filling for sandwiches” and desserts such as vinegar pie and fried apple turnovers.

Womanly Answers to Womanly Questions, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 24 September 1909

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 24 September 1909, page 11

Another recipe/advice column, written by Miss Lilian Tingle and entitled “Answers to Correspondence,” provides recipe help to readers. In this column from a 1917 Oregon newspaper, she provides everything from recipes for mushroom catsup to potato doughnuts to corned beef. Like the previous example, although recipes seem to be the main focus there is a homemaking question in between the recipes for how to care for houseplants. This column is a good example of how food preferences over time change, so that what was popular to eat at one time may not be to most people’s liking today.

food column, Oregonian newspaper article 4 November 1917

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 4 November 1917, page 7

Do you have a favorite food column in your local newspaper? Do you have clippings from your grandmother’s favorite column? Maybe your family still eats a family favorite clipped from an old newspaper. Recipe newspaper columns are just one place where we can find the names of the women in our families and better understand what they had for dinner.

photo of an old newspaper recipe clipping pasted into a cookbook

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

Share your favorite food column with us in the comments section. Better yet, if you have newspaper clippings or recipe cards with family recipes, take a picture of them and post them to our public Old Fashioned Family Recipes board on Pinterest. Get an invite to participate by following the board. We look forward to trying your favorite family recipes!

______________

* Serving Food News for 150 Years by Kristin Eddy. July 16, 1997. Chicago Tribune. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1997-07-16/entertainment/9707170320_1_food-page-pen-cake-mixes accessed 6 October 2013.

** Ibid.

Jewish American Newspapers for Genealogy at GenealogyBank

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about the ten Jewish American newspapers available in GenealogyBank’s online newspapers collection, and showcases some of the types of articles and information that can be found in these newspapers.

I spent a lot of my youth growing up in a small Ohio town whose lifeblood for the news was our local, community newspaper. Having this “paper route” was my first true job and other than one mix-up with an unhappy dachshund, it was a great job that gave me an early appreciation for how much people looked forward to their morning newspaper (and its timely delivery). So it is that I am pleased to see that GenealogyBank.com offers ten Jewish American newspapers in its database for all genealogists to use.

The ten Jewish American newspapers on GenealogyBank.com can be found in two locations on the website.

The following four Jewish American newspaper titles are in the Historical Newspaper Archives collection:

The following six titles are in the Recent Newspaper Obituaries collection:

One of the best features of these Jewish American newspapers is that they have a focus on local members of their respective communities. As an example, while major city dailies might skip the “breaking news” that student Arthur Feller earned his degree in engineering, the Jewish Journal covered the story.

Arthur Feller Earns Degree in Engineering, Jewish Journal newspaper article 27 September 1968

Jewish Journal (New Brunswick, New Jersey), 27 September 1968, page 10

As you can see, this is a genealogist’s delight because this news article gives us exceptional details into his life, career, education, Eagle Scout achievement, parents’ names, and even a photograph of this young Jewish man. And this is just a single example.

There are also wonderful historical insights for us genealogists to glean from these Jewish American newspapers as well. One example is this 1920 article from the Jewish Daily News, which explains that the Jewish immigrants at Ellis Island would be able to participate in Rosh Hashanah services thanks to the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society of America.

Rosh Hashanah Services for Immigrants, Jewish Daily News newspaper article 2 September 1920

Jewish Daily News (New York, New York), 2 September 1920, page 8

I was captivated by this 1917 article from the Jewish Daily News. This moving letter, written by a soldier fighting in the horrific trench warfare of World War I, gives us a sad but unique view into the meaning of Rosh Hashanah at such a challenging time.

A Jewish Soldier's Soliloquy on Rosh Hashanah, Jewish Daily News newspaper article 16 September 1917

Jewish Daily News (New York, New York), 16 September 1917, page 12

In my personal genealogy I have struggled to find information about some of my ancestors who were placed in an orphanage. Because of this, I was pleased to find several articles in the Jewish Chronicle that included names and details of some of the children living in this orphanage. One example is this 1941 article, which reported on the final preparations for a Bar Mitzvah at the Hebrew Orphanage and Sheltering Home in Newark. This article not only reports the names of the “Bar Mitzvah Boys” (Walter Levy and Abraham Feigenbaum), but also provides a fine photograph of these youngsters.

Orphanage Ready for Celebration of Bar Mitzvah Fete, Jewish Chronicle newspaper article 10 January 1941

Jewish Chronicle (Newark, New Jersey), 10 January 1941, page 1

Local, ethnic and community newspapers can be an excellent source of very specific and complete information to assist us in our genealogical journeys. I encourage you to use these ten Jewish American newspapers on GenealogyBank.com to help with your own family history research.

Here is a printable list of the Jewish American newspapers on GenealogyBank for future reference. Feel free to share this on your blog or website using the embed code provided below.

Jewish Newspaper Archives GenealogyBank

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

The History of the Great 1918 Flu Pandemic: We All Wore Masks

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena researches old newspaper articles to learn about the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, a three-year disaster that killed approximately 50 million people worldwide and unquestionably affected the lives of any of your ancestors living in the years 1918-1920.

Influenza is a disease, makes you weak all in your knees;
‘Tis a fever ev’ybody sure does dread;
Puts a pain in ev’y bone, a few days an’ you are gone
To a place in de groun’ called de grave.

—“Influenza,” lyrics found on American Memory: the John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip. Song sung by Ace Johnson, Clemens State Farm, Brazoria, Texas, April 16, 1939.

Earlier this year, despite having had a flu shot, I ended up catching the flu. Anyone who has had the flu knows how truly miserable it is. When you are suffering from it, you can easily understand how someone could die from its symptoms. Although still deadly, the flu does not strike the terror in people’s minds that it once did. In fact many people take a wait and see approach, frequently opting not to get the yearly influenza vaccination shot.

When many people think of our ancestors and the flu, they automatically think of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic—and with good reason. This was one of the deadliest flu pandemics in history.

What Is Spanish Influenza? Dr. Rupert Blue Tells about It, Times-Picayune newspaper article 6 October 1918

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 6 October 1918, page 1

From January 1918 to December 1920, this flu pandemic killed approximately 50 million people worldwide, nearly 675,000 in the United States alone.[i] By contrast, 16 million lives were lost during World War I, which was still ongoing during the Spanish flu pandemic’s first year. Why was this flu different from previous forms of influenza? One significant difference in this deadly strain was that young adults were affected just as much as the usual at-risk groups: young children and the elderly.[ii]

This influenza pandemic touched everyone’s lives whether they came down with the virus or not. Efforts to curb the spread of the flu disaster included requiring people to wear facemasks, and discouraging public meetings. The committee of the American Public Health Association decreed that non-essential meetings and gatherings in crowded rooms were dangerous. Some of the APHA recommendations included the closing of “saloons, dance halls, and cinemas.”[iii]

Influenza Mask Wearing Compulsory: Health Board, San Jose Mercury News newspaper article 11 December 1918

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 11 December 1918, page 1

The implementation of these public safety health precautions shows how seriously the influenza pandemic was taken. A startling example of this is described in the following article from a 1918 Washington newspaper, reporting that a public health officer shot a person on the street who refused to don a mask.

Refuses to Don Influenza Mask; Shot by Officer, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 28 October 1918

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 28 October 1918, page 2

The vast movement of troops caused by World War I meant that an illness that would normally be quickly contained instead had worldwide consequences. While the 1918 pandemic is the one that often gets remembered, there have been other epidemics including those of a more recent nature, like the recent Swine Flu. There is no doubt that the 1918 pandemic wasn’t the only one that may have affected your family. According to the website flu.gov there have been four flu pandemics since 1918.[i]

Do you have an ancestor who had the flu during the Spanish flu pandemic? Want to learn more about the history of that outbreak? Good sources for researching historical epidemics are the books Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence: From Ancient Times to the Present by George Childs Kohn, and America’s Forgotten Epidemic: The Influenza of 1918 by Alfred W. Crosby.

Don’t forget to search for old newspaper articles about the flu on GenealogyBank. By searching on the word “influenza” and narrowing your search by date and place you will be able to find articles of how the pandemics affected your ancestor’s community and other parts of the United States.


[i] Pandemic Flu History. Available at http://www.flu.gov/pandemic/history/index.html.

[ii] The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918. National Archives and Records Administration. Available at http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/influenza-epidemic/.

[iii] The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Available at http://virus.stanford.edu/uda/.