Our Ancestors’ Riddles and Jokes of the 1830s

Introduction: In this article, Mary Harrell-Sesniak searches old newspapers to find jokes, riddles and “conundrums” our ancestors enjoyed in the 1830s. Mary is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background.

Just for fun, I went looking in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for old jokes our ancestors told in the 1830s. I found lots of humor in the old papers, such as this conundrum from 1837.

A riddle, Sun newspaper article 10 November 1837
Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 10 November 1837, page 2

Turns out our forebears had a great sense of humor!

During the 1800s, and even into the 1900s, conundrums and puzzles became all the rage. Quips were interspersed among news stories in the papers, and occasionally our ancestors would see ads enticing them to learn how to write humorous items.

There are so many good jokes and riddles that I decided to take a look at them decade by decade. I also made a quiz to see how many of these conundrums and puzzles our readers can figure out. Some you may recognize as common today, but most you’ll have to ponder. Today we’ll see humor from the 1830s – more decades to follow.

A quiz about riddles and jokes from the 1830s

The same jokes were often printed in newspapers around the country. If you go look for them at GenealogyBank, you’ll be sure to find them. If you enjoy these jokes, take them to your next reunion to share with the group.

You’ll find an answer key to the above quiz at the end of this article.

A riddle, Jerseyman newspaper article 19 September 1838
Jerseyman (Morristown, New Jersey), 19 September 1838, page 1
Riddles, Portland Advertiser newspaper article 22 April 1833
Portland Advertiser (Portland, Maine), 22 April 1833, page 4
A riddle, Albany Argus newspaper article 21 December 1838
Albany Argus (Albany, New York), 21 December 1838, page 1

The answer key:

The answer key to a quiz about 1830s jokes and riddles

Hope you enjoyed these challenging conundrums from the past!

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2 thoughts on “Our Ancestors’ Riddles and Jokes of the 1830s

  1. I am trying to complete a riddle that I only remember part of:

    “…six sat and seven flew. Answer me this riddle and answer me true.”

  2. Did they really say this in the old days?

    Why is a hot cake like a caterpillar?
    Because it makes all the butter-fly.

    That one is the worst…

    Not bad for old men though.

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