The WWI Soldier Girl: Hazel Blauser Carter

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to uncover the story of Hazel Carter, who disguised herself as a man in order to follow her husband into battle in WWI – and almost made it.

During the American Civil War, an untold number of women disguised themselves as men and fought on the front lines. These women risked their lives looking for adventure, higher wages, involvement in a cause they believed in, or to follow sweethearts or family members into battle. While it may be difficult to fathom how a woman could get away with passing herself as a man during the Civil War day in and day out, stories and books have been written about the women who did just that.

One might assume that as time marched on, women were less successful disguising themselves as men in order to go to war. After all, weren’t there medical examinations that would have uncovered this type of charade? Well, believe it or not – women tried to pose as male soldiers as recently as World War I!

Hazel Carter, WWI Soldier Girl

Hazel Blauser was born in 1894 and lived in Douglas, Arizona. On 12 December 1916 she married John Carter. John was serving with the 18th infantry, stationed in Douglas, when his unit was called up to go to France. Hazel decided that she would not be left behind. After saying her goodbyes to John, she headed off to a barber where she had her long hair shorn. Then, dressed in an old uniform, she went down to the military base where the soldiers were gathered and tried to get lost in the crowd of young men.

photo of Hazel Carter

Photo: Hazel Carter. Source: National Archives and Records Administration; Wikimedia Commons.

As she explained in this Nebraska newspaper article:

I marched aboard the troop train at Douglas without my husband’s knowledge and to the port from which we sailed without being detected.

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 6 August 1917

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 6 August 1917, page 5

Once on board the troop ship and out to sea, a rumor began circulating that there was a woman aboard. One account says it was because someone heard Hazel’s voice. She was discovered after being asked to remove her shirt. Hazel was then held in a stateroom and transported back to the United States without ever being allowed to step foot on French soil.

Once Hazel was back in the United States her story made newspaper pages across the nation. The adventure of the woman dressed as a WWI soldier was reported, including the fact that she was provided women’s clothes and a wig when she arrived in the United States prior to being sent home to Arizona. In some old newspaper articles she was even referred to as Private Hazel Carter (retired).

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Riverside Daily Press newspaper article 17 July 1917

Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, California), 17 July 1917, page 1

Writing Her Story in the Newspaper

Hazel was able to capitalize on her brief stint with fame by writing four articles about her adventure that were serialized in newspapers. Hazel detailed everything from her decision to follow her husband, to how she was able to hide on the troop train and her eventual boarding of the transport ship and how she “nearly got away with it.”

Her military adventure must have seemed like a grand story – except perhaps to her husband, who lost his rank of corporal and was threatened with court martial due to his wife’s attempt to be with him.

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 19 August 1917

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 19 August 1917, page 4

In her fourth installment of her article series, she reports that her mother had not known that Hazel had left Douglas until she was gone. Her mother wrote to Hazel:

If you wanted to be a soldier and fight with your man, it was all right with us. We’re proud of you. You’re an honor to the blood, and that has been fighting blood since before the Civil War.

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 26 August 1917

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 26 August 1917, page 27

Hazel’s mom wasn’t the only one that was proud of her. Her grandfather H. Clark, a veteran of the Civil War, was quoted as saying:

I knew she would do it…That girl sure has grit. I wish she could stay and fight the Germans. You ought to have seen her in uniform. She made a better looking soldier than John, I do believe. She can handle a rifle better than most men. They sure should have let her stay.

In addition to her family’s approval, Hazel had the admiration of her hometown, the city of Douglas, Arizona. A Michigan newspaper article announced that when she arrived home from her adventure, she would be “met by a guard of honor and a brass band.”

article about Hazel Carter disguising herself as a man to go fight in WWI, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 30 July 1917

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 30 July 1917, page 8

Hazel wasn’t the only woman to try to join the war effort dressed as a man during WWI. Another young woman, Freda Hart, also tried to disguise herself with the intent of joining the military but was “outed” before she could board a train for Washington, D.C. Hazel and Freda’s stories are recounted in this historical newspaper article with a title emphasizing their boyish haircuts, referring to their “sacrifice of tresses.”

article about Hazel Carter and Freda Hart disguising themselves as men to go fight in WWI, Boston Herald newspaper article 11 November 1917

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 11 November 1917, page 61

While Hazel’s story makes it sound as though women weren’t involved in the war effort or on the battlefronts, nothing could be further from the truth. Did women help in the war effort? Absolutely! Women joined groups like the Red Cross as nurses, the Salvation Army and YWCA. Women even joined the military as nurses and clerical workers and were sent to France. Hazel remarked that she did try to join the Red Cross, only to be turned down.

A Story That Ends Too Soon

Does this love story between Hazel and John end “happily ever after”? Unfortunately, no. Hazel died about a year later, in July 1918 in New Mexico. Her husband, fighting the war in France, never saw her again after her discovery on his WWI troop ship. His last words to her can be found memorialized in one of the newspaper articles she wrote about her adventure:

Don’t let a little thing like that discourage you, honey. Go home and take a run down to Kentucky to see mother. Tell her I am well and doing all right. No Boche bullet is going to get me. Then if you still want to come over, join the Red Cross. I’ll work night and day to see you are sent somewhere near us. Be good, kiddie. Wait for me.

Hazel’s body was transported back to Douglas by the Red Cross, where she was provided with a military-like funeral that included a flag draped over her casket, a military chaplain officiating and soldiers as her pallbearers.

Hazel’s story is just one example of the rich family history you can find in old newspapers. What will you discover about your family in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives?

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The 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of the RMS Lusitania

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn more about the tragic sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania by a German submarine, an act which almost propelled the neutral U.S. into World War I.

First launched in 1906, the RMS Lusitania was part of the British Cunard line of luxury passenger ships. For a short time, the Lusitania was the fastest ship in the world, with such amenities as electric lights and the wireless telegraph. On 1 May 1915, with World War I raging in Europe, the Lusitania set sail from New York to Liverpool, England, filled with passengers.

Warning Issued before Lusitania Departed

But – most likely unknown to most of those passengers – the Lusitania was also carrying supplies and ammunition for the British war effort. After 101 roundtrip crossings, this journey may not have seemed too different from the previous ones – except for a warning directed to all those on board. However, this crossing will forever remain different in the annals of history – for the Germans sank the Lusitania on 7 May 1915, nearly drawing the neutral U.S. into WWI.

Illustration: sinking of the Lusitania; engraving by Norman Wilkinson for the 15 May 1915 issue of “The Illustrated London News"

Illustration: sinking of the Lusitania; engraving by Norman Wilkinson for the 15 May 1915 issue of “The Illustrated London News.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

New York newspapers had carried a warning from the German embassy alerting potential Lusitania passengers that sailing through a war zone under the flags of Great Britain or its allies could mean possible destruction of the ship. Civilian passengers on board would be traveling at their own risk. Perhaps those who purchased passage on the Lusitania thought the warning was an idle threat, figuring that civilians could simply not be in danger from military actions.

According to this South Dakota newspaper article about the German warning: “Not a single passenger cancelled his sailings.” While the old newspaper article reports that the U.S. State Department took the warning seriously, it goes on to say that: “The Cunarder [sic] officials laughed at the passengers’ fears.” Referring to the speed of the ship, the officials stated that: “the Lusitania could show her heels to any submarine.”

article about the warning Germany gave before the Lusitania departed from New York, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 1 May 1915

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 1 May 1915, page 1

The Sinking of the Lusitania

Six days after departing from New York, on May 7th off the coast of Ireland, a German submarine U-20 under the command of Walther Schweiger fired a torpedo at the Lusitania.

article about Germany sinking the Lusitania, Lexington Herald newspaper article 8 May 1915

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 8 May 1915, page 1

Unlike the Titanic disaster just three years prior, the Lusitania sank very quickly in only 18 minutes – not enough time for her nearly 2,000 passengers to climb safely into lifeboats. Only 767 of the 1,960 people aboard survived. The torpedoed ship tragedy took the lives of approximately 128 out of 139 Americans on board. Only 37.7% of passengers survived the sinking, leaving a large number of women and children among the dead.* A list and biographies of the passengers and crew aboard the Lusitania can be found on The Lusitania Resource website.

article about Germany sinking the Lusitania, Gulfport Daily Herald newspaper article 8 May 1915

Gulfport Daily Herald (Gulfport, Mississippi), 8 May 1915, page 1

One of those who perished was American genealogist Lothrop Withington, who was returning to England on the Lusitania to continue researching a 17th century registry of wills.

article about Germany sinking the Lusitania, Plain Dealer newspaper article 9 May 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 May 1915, page 6

Sinking Almost Draws U.S. into WWI

After pressure from President Woodrow Wilson, Germany promised to only sink passenger ships after proper warning and safeguards for passengers. English, Irish and eventually U.S. propaganda posters evoked the needless drowning of women and children to encourage or guilt men into joining the military.

Here’s an example of such a recruitment poster, showing a heartbreaking scene of a woman Lusitania passenger drowning with her infant child.

photo of a U.S. WWI enlistment poster spurred by Germany's sinking of the Lusitania

Photo: U.S. WWI enlistment poster spurred by sinking of the Lusitania. Source: U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

While England was hoping this tragedy would bring the United States into the war, it would be another two years before President Wilson decided to send Americans to fight. Wilson had won a second presidential term running with the slogan “He kept us out of war.” This slogan didn’t resonate with everyone, as this political commentary shows. Among its many grievances, this editorial includes anger over the sinking of the Lusitania.

editorial opposed to President Woodrow Wilson running for a second term, Tucson Daily Citizen newspaper article 15 July 1916

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 15 July 1916, page 4

After events like the sinking of the Lusitania and the intercepted Zimmerman Telegram, which revealed that Germany offered U.S. territory to Mexico in return for assisting Germany in the war effort, the United States finally entered the war on 6 April 1917.

article about the U.S. declaring war on Germany and entering WWI, Patriot newspaper article 22 March 1917

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 22 March 1917, page 1

Were any of your ancestors on board the Lusitania when it was sunk by a German submarine? If so, please tell us about it in the comments section


* Passenger and Crew Statistics. The Lusitania Resource. Accessed 5 May 2015.

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WWI Christmas Truce: When the Guns Stopped Firing

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena tells a remarkable story: how the power of Christmas – with its hope of “peace on earth, good will to men” – temporarily stopped the fighting during WWI in 1914.

By December 1914, Germany, Britain, France, and other European nations had been fighting since August. Trenches were dug on the Western front in September and those trenches, now home to soldiers, meant a holiday that would be cold, wet, and miserable tinged with the constant threat of death. What was first thought of as a “great adventure” by many young men must have quickly turned into a harsh cold reality as the casualties rose.

Then Christmas time approached, and something wonderful happened.

Illustration: the “Illustrated London News” depiction of the WWI Christmas Truce of 1914: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches.”

Illustration: the “Illustrated London News” depiction of the WWI Christmas Truce of 1914: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches.” The subcaption reads: “Saxons and Anglo-Saxons fraternising on the field of battle at the season of peace and goodwill: Officers and men from the German and British trenches meeting and greeting one another; a German officer photographing a group of foes and friends.” Credit: A. C. Michael; Wikimedia Commons.

Pope Benedict Calls for Christmas Truce

In an attempt to stop the fighting for Christmas that year, Pope Benedict called on the warring nations to declare a Christmas truce. Initially, Germany was reportedly agreeable to a truce – but only if the other countries agreed.

article about the WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Elkhart Daily Review newspaper article 11 December 1914

Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 11 December 1914, page 1

Pope’s Plea Denied

But not every country was in agreement about the Christmas truce, so the discussion of a lull in the fighting ended. By mid-December 1914 the American newspapers announced that an official cease fire was not to be.

The following newspaper article reported:

The thundering roll of heavy guns will be the Christmas chimes of Europe. It’s [sic] carols will be the cries of dying men. Across the sky toward which wise men looked for the star which guided them to a manger will dart the aircraft of hostile powers – the latest man-made engine for aiding the destruction of fellow men.

Thousands may die upon battlefields on this Christmas Day when the message of ‘Peace on earth, good will to men,’ is being again repeated in other parts of the world.

article about the WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 13 December 1914

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 13 December 1914, page 1

Andrew Carnegie Comments

Interestingly enough, though America was not yet engaged in World War I, there was an American industrialist who was against a Christmas-time truce. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie weighed in with the opinion that a truce where the fighting would end momentarily and then commence after the holidays was “unchristianlike and immoral.” Instead he called for supporting President Woodrow Wilson in promoting and securing a permanent peace: “It is terrible that so many widows and orphans are being made because a few men wanted war.” (An interesting aside is that this newspaper article ends with the comment that Carnegie walked to the White House to see the President, but the President was out golfing.)

article about the WWI Christmas truce, Elkhart Daily Review newspaper article 11 December 1914

Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 11 December 1914, page 1

Brief Christmas 1914 Truce

While an official truce did not occur, many WWI soldiers took matters into their own hands, setting aside their weapons and reaching out to their enemies in the spirit of the season. There were in fact mini truces all along the trenches that Christmas. While some mythology surrounds the details, there is no doubt that there was an unofficial cease fire, and soldiers from opposite sides did interact peacefully in “No Man’s Land” for Christmas 1914. Recollections of those involved told of gift giving, singing, kicking balls around, and other friendly interactions.

photo of British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the WWI Christmas truce of 1914

Photo: British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the WWI Christmas truce of 1914. Credit: Robson Harold B.; Wikimedia Commons.

This report from a Rhode Island newspaper announces “British and Germans Exchange Gifts During a Christmas Truce on Firing Line.” The article reports:

On Christmas morning two British soldiers, after signalling truce and good-fellowship from the perilous crown of their trench, walked across to the German line with a plate of mince pies and garniture and seasonable messages… and were sent back with packets of Christmas cards – quite sentimental – wreathed with mistletoe and holly, for distribution among their fellows.

article about WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Pawtucket Times newspaper article 31 December 1914

Pawtucket Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island), 31 December 1914, page 11

Initially American newspapers reported that an unofficial truce would be declared in the trenches so that the men could eat their Christmas dinners in peace. While those in charge were providing their fighting men with some small luxuries (reportedly the French government sent their soldiers champagne), an unofficial momentary truce was about all that these soldiers could hope for.

article about WWI Christmas truce in 1914, Times-Picayune newspaper article 26 December 1914

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 26 December 1914, page 6

Unfortunately, those fighting in World War I would see not only the Christmas of 1914 come and go with no peaceful solution to the war, but they would see three more Christmases bring fighting and lives lost – for some countries, almost wiping out an entire generation.

But for a brief time, that December 1914, soldiers on both sides laid down their weapons and enjoyed a little “peace on earth,” if only just for a short while.

photo of a cross erected in Belgium in 1999 to commemorate the WWI Christmas truce of 1914

Photo: a cross erected in Belgium in 1999 to commemorate the WWI Christmas truce of 1914. The inscription reads: “1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget.” Credit: Redvers; Wikimedia Commons.

Various stories of the Christmas truce can be found in historical newspapers and online. A dramatic narration done by Walter Cronkite accompanied by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir tells the story of the World War I Christmas truce and can be found on YouTube here:–pTnlog.

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1918 Surrender of Germany Ends WWI & Veterans Rejoice

No one called it World War I at the time—for it did not seem possible there could ever be a second. Instead, they called it the “Great War” or the “War to End All Wars.” In a little over four years of combat, more than 70 million soldiers were mobilized around the world and over 9 million were killed. Finally, German officials signed an armistice in November 1918, and on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the ceasefire began and hostilities ended.

photo of American soldiers of the U.S. 64th Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, celebrating the news of the Armistice, 11 November 1918

Photo: American soldiers of the U.S. 64th Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, celebrating the news of the Armistice, 11 November 1918. Source: U.S. National Archive; Wikimedia Commons.

Nearly a century has now passed since the end of WWI, and the modern world may be losing sight of how traumatized the world was in 1918. But the press certainly knew it then, as the headline from the following newspaper article flatly declares: “Curtain Rolls Down on Most Stupendous Tragedy of History.”

WWI irrevocably changed the world. It ushered in the era of modern warfare, with such innovations as tanks, chemical weapons and airplanes. It destroyed two powerful empires, the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman, and the Russian Empire was torn down by revolutionary forces that eventually led to the Soviet Union. Germany was shackled, causing resentment that helped fuel the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. After the conflict ended the world’s map was redrawn, especially in Central Europe and the Middle East. Despite the conviction of many that the “War to End All Wars” had taught humanity a lasting if distressing lesson (and the League of Nations was formed to implement this lesson), WWII began just 21 years later.

The signing of the armistice ending WWI was, of course, huge news all around the world, as shown by this front page newspaper article.

article about the armistice ending World War I, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 11 November 1918

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 11 November 1918, page 1

Do you have any family stories about your ancestors who fought in, or were affected by, World War I? Tell us about them in the comments section.

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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:

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:

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.

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:

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:

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.

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 offers ten Jewish American newspapers in its database for all genealogists to use.

The ten Jewish American newspapers on 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 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

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