Finding Mom This Mother’s Day

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega celebrates Mother’s Day by providing three tips for researching your mom’s life in old newspapers. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.

So often in genealogy we focus on those long-dead, generations-passed ancestors – but what about our more immediate family? Their stories often get lost in our quest to trace our family lines as far back as we can.

Family history should be about documenting all of your family history, the past and the present. Have you thought about documenting your mom’s life using newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives? Here are three ideas for where to start this Mother’s Day.

Photo: portrait of a woman in Berwyn, Maryland
Photo: portrait of a woman in Berwyn, Maryland. Credit: Theodor Horydczak; Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Search for Her before She Was Your Mom

What was your mom like before having kids? Children always seem surprised that their mothers lived any sort of life before they came along, so researching her younger years might be interesting for her kids and grandkids. Consider activities she may have participated in during her school years, through church groups, or in her community.

While children aren’t mentioned a lot in the newspapers they may be found in articles about school activities – like the newspaper article that I was featured in when I was in 5th grade because I held a position in my elementary school’s student leadership. Chances are your mom may not remember these types of newspaper mentions about her from decades ago.

An article about Martha Swanson, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 19 May 1940
Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 19 May 1940, section IV, page 4

Don’t forget that you need to expand your search beyond her name so that you are looking at newspaper articles that document groups she was a member of or events she was a part of. For example, she may have been in her high school marching band and although there are newspaper articles about the band during her school years, the individual members are not named. So, try searching on the name of her high school or the name of the church or youth group she attended.

An article about the Redlands High School band, San Diego Union newspaper article 15 November 1977
San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 15 November 1977, page 4

Look Up Her Birth Date

What is your mom’s birth date? Do you know what was happening the day she was born? A search for historical newspapers published on her birth date might provide an interesting look at what was going on in the world that day.

Front page news, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper 21 July 1969
Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 21 July 1969, page 1

While the front page may have historical events worth noting, don’t forget other items in the newspaper that will provide a nostalgic look back at the past – such as the price of groceries or what television or radio shows were popular on the day your mother was born.

A food ad, Arkansas Democrat newspaper advertisement 17 July 1969
Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas), 17 July 1969, page 32

You might want to combine your historical newspaper finds with a family history interview. If you have grandparents who are still alive you could also interview them about those events happening when your mom was born. Expand your search to other historical events your mom lived through, consider everything from war food rationing, to declarations of war, to natural disasters. I mentioned in a previous article about my mom who was a high school student during the Kennedy assassination. I asked her to tell that story to her grandchildren, my kids, so they could hear “history” first hand. Now we need to document her story in writing and include historical newspaper articles.

Trace Her Maternal Line

Why stop at mom? Take some time to trace her maternal line in old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. In your search for each female ancestor you may get lucky and find newspaper articles that mention multiple generations – such as an article for a celebration like a wedding or anniversary, or even a multi-generation photo. The resulting research, compiled with genealogical facts and photographs, is a nice present for her or others in your family.

An article about a family reunion, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 5 May 1939
Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 5 May 1939, page 11

Need some ideas for finding your female ancestors in the newspaper? You might want to take a look at some of our previous articles exploring that topic on the GenealogyBank Blog.

Take some time this Mother’s Day to trace your mom in the newspaper. Who knows what you might find?

Happy Mother’s Day!

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