Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega shows how engagement, wedding and anniversary announcements in old newspapers provide a wealth of genealogical information to help with your family history research. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
What should you be searching for when conducting family history research in newspapers? Vital record events are some of the most common newspaper articles about our ancestors, such as birth notices and obituaries. There’s another broad category of newspaper articles that is extremely helpful to genealogists: engagement, wedding and anniversary announcements. Falling in love and getting married can result in multiple articles rich in genealogical data.
Whether you are tracing an ancestor’s courtship, marriage, or wedding anniversary, you can find it in the newspaper. And once you find these news articles, make sure to carefully note mentions of family members, dates, places and other information that you can follow up with additional research in newspapers and other ancestry records.
Researching Courtship & Engagement
Engagement notices are a good example of newspaper articles with surprising information in addition to the names of the happy betrothed couple. Street addresses, former city residences, parents’ and other relatives’ names, occupations, alumni information, and pending nuptial dates can be found in these announcements. This engagement notice titled “News of Engagement Interests Society Folk” from 1914 would interest present-day descendants of these couples.
20th century engagement announcements often included a photo of the bride-to-be. One good weekend project would be to find the engagement notices for more recent generations in your family to include in your genealogy.
A bridal shower for one friend may also be the perfect place to announce another’s wedding engagement. This unique event provides the researcher with information about those closest to their ancestor.
Genealogy Tip: If you know the marriage date for an ancestor, don’t narrow your search to that date. You may miss an engagement notice printed months or even a year prior to the big day.
Tracing Marriage Licenses & Weddings
Don’t forget that you may be able to use newspapers to follow your ancestral couple from engagement to marriage license, and then from wedding to milestone anniversaries. In this 1927 San Francisco newspaper article listing vital record events, names of those applying for marriage licenses as well as those being issued licenses span San Francisco and nearby cities.
Genealogy Tip: Don’t assume that a marriage license means the couple went through with a wedding.
Newspaper articles about weddings can be full of surprises. They may include not only the names of the couple, their respective families, and details of the day – but they can also provide information about occupations and future residences. In this 1900 recounting of the wedding of Edmond Hughes and Edith Wakeman in Bismarck, North Dakota, we not only learn about the wedding but the character of the bride (“charming, accomplished and worthy”) and groom (“a young man of integrity and ability”), as well as where they will honeymoon, and then reside.
Your Ancestors’ Wedding Anniversaries
How long was your ancestor married? If they stuck it out for the long ride, that accomplishment might be found in the newspaper. Typically, milestone wedding anniversaries like 25th, 50th or even beyond can be found.
What’s interesting about the following historical newspaper article is that it not only marks the occasion of the 25th wedding anniversary of Rev. E. N. Maynard, but notes that it’s the second time he’s been married 25 years. His first marriage “nearly 60 years ago” lasted 25 years and ended with the death of his wife. The Reverend then married again to Susan Paine “considerably his junior” and that marriage was now at the 25-year mark. What I love most about this article is all the great genealogical information found for both wives – including their names and who their fathers were – as well as the age for Rev. E. N. Maynard. Notice too that the article mentions that Maynard had no children from his first wife, but now has two daughters, a son and a grandson.
Genealogy Tip: Newspapers may include articles about parties given to honor a couple for their milestone wedding anniversary. Search for these news articles to find mentions of out-of-town family members in attendance.
Some couples make 25 years of marriage look like child’s play. Consider this couple, Mr. and Mrs. Henry G. Lay, who were 100 and 99 years old at their 75th wedding anniversary in 1924.
And of course once you’ve successfully been married for such a long time, people are going to wonder what your secret to marital bliss is. This anniversary notice from a 1938 Kentucky newspaper may sum it up best.
Be sure to search old newspapers for engagement, wedding and anniversary announcements when researching your ancestors – one more reason why newspapers are an essential genealogy resource for finding your family’s stories.