Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shows how old newspapers can help you better understand your family heirlooms, focusing on some Gaudy Dutch pottery she inherited from her grandmother.
The first step in compiling your family history begins in your home: gathering all the family documents, letters, photos, and heirlooms you can find. The goal of many genealogists is to go beyond the names and dates on their family tree; they want to get to know their ancestors as real people—the lives they led and the times they lived in.
Heirlooms help fill in some of your family’s stories—and in order to better understand these precious objects that have been passed down through the generations, research in old newspapers such as GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives can be really beneficial.
Pottery Heirloom from My Grandmother
Among the heirlooms from my grandmother’s estate were several items described as “Gaudy Dutch” pottery. There were several plates and an assortment of cups and saucers, each hand-painted and of a unique design.
We divided these old pottery pieces among family members, without knowing their personal history.
Yes, we knew that they had passed from our great grandmother to her daughter, but nobody could ascertain how many generations of the family had owned them—much less used them to sip tea. At the time, I remember being impressed that these pieces had come all the way from the Netherlands.
History of Gaudy Dutch Pottery
However, after doing some newspaper research I realized that my assumption was incorrect: Gaudy Dutch pottery did not come from the Netherlands after all. Actually, this type of pottery was made in England for export to the American market, primarily between 1810-1820, with some examples made through 1842.
The style is known primarily as Gaudy Dutch, but similar styles can be found under other names, such as Gaudy Welsh and Gaudy Ironstone. Only 16 patterns of Gaudy Dutch were ever made: Butterfly, Carnation, Dahlia, Double Rose, Dove, Grape, Leaf, Oyster, Primrose, Single Rose, Strawflower, Sunflower, Urn, War Bonnet, Zinnia, and once called No Name. (Can you guess which pattern I have? See answer at bottom.)
You can view photos of Gaudy Dutch pottery and learn more here: Kovels Price Guides.
The descriptive term “gaudy” came from its Japanese Imari-style patterning, but the other half of the name, “Dutch,” derived its popularity from German settlers, known as Pennsylvania Dutch. Dutch did not indicate an origin from the Netherlands, but from Germany (as “Deutsch” means German). (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_Dutch.)
Researching Heirlooms in Newspapers
How can you use historical newspapers to research your family heirlooms? Well, for one thing, early advertisements provide a uniquely interesting environment to explore the history of heirlooms.
Although I knew that the name of my pottery was not originally “Gaudy Dutch,” I still searched by that keyword in very early newspapers—and quickly discovered absolutely nothing.
For my next queries I incorporated descriptions, such as “painted tea cups,” and these search results were a little more fruitful. Although I’ll never know for certain, I suspect the painted cups and saucers of this 1817 Massachusetts newspaper advertisement were for my type of earthenware.
Further newspaper archive queries into later time periods turned up a number of helpful articles, such as this one.
Tea Time and Our Ancestors
How many cups of tea have been poured into my Gaudy Dutch teacup, I’ll never know—but I do know that the custom of tea drinking will forever be entwined in the fabric of American history.
Yes, there was a time, during the Boston Tea Party (1773), when Patriots hurled tea into Boston Harbor. But our American ancestors returned to imbibing their favorite non-alcoholic drink: tea. I like to think that this cup kept someone company on a cold winter’s night, was there during extended birthing of children, and even during the best of times!
I hope you’ll consider researching your family heirlooms in newspapers. You never know what you’ll find! If you do learn something interesting, share it with us in the comments section. We’d love to hear your story, and see if it inspires others.
What Gaudy Dutch Pattern Is It?
It is “Single Rose”; follow this link from Google’s image search to see the diversity of the “Single Rose” pattern of Gaudy Dutch pottery. To see other samples, search images by their specific pattern names.
Do you have special pottery and dishes passed down from your ancestors? Share with us in the comments.