New Papers From South Carolina!

Do you have ancestors from Sumter, South Carolina, or an interest in the history of South Carolina? We’re happy to announce that we’ve added The Sumter Item and The Watchman and Southron to our archives, with issues dating back to 1881. The Watchman and Southron was a weekly (later a semiweekly) paper that was published through 1930 when it was absorbed by the Sumter Daily Item, which in turn became The Sumter Item.

The city and county of Sumter are named after Gen. Thomas Sumter, a Revolutionary War hero. South Carolina history is also closely tied to Civil War history. It was the first state to secede from the Union in 1860 and the state where the first shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor in April 1861. It’s also the place where some of the last shots of the Civil War took place. The Battle of Dingle’s Mill was a Civil War skirmish that took place when Potter’s raiders confronted Confederate forces on April 9, 1865, in Sumter County. This fighting is especially noteworthy because the Civil War officially ended the same day, but the word of the Confederate surrender had not yet reached Sumter where fighting continued until April 25th.

The Sumter Item is the oldest continuously family-owned paper in South Carolina, and one of the oldest in the country. It has been run by the Osteen family for five generations and was started by patriarch Hubert Graham Osteen. The Osteen family has chronicled the changing news in Sumter over the decades.

When the first automobiles arrived in Sumter in the early 1900s, The Sumter Item reported on several attempts by residents to climb the courthouse steps in their new automobiles. After several accidents, city leaders realized that they needed to enact safety measures and speed limits.

Prohibition took effect in Sumter in 1916 (four years before Congress mandated Prohibition nationally). Despite impassioned arguments against the use of alcohol, some Sumter residents operated underground, producing liquor despite the constant threat of police raids.

In April 1924, a tornado with a path 135 miles long struck Sumter causing multiple casualties. The tornado destroyed buildings, burying people in rubble and carving a path that resembled “a forest after an artillery barrage.” 

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, The Sumter Item published a special edition announcing the attack. In the following days, Sumter was on a high state of alert. Soldiers stood guard over public buildings and a Sumter bridge. The Item kept residents informed about local soldiers serving in the war.

If you have ancestors from Sumter, search the pages of this archive for things like death notices or wedding announcements. The society columns are another place to search for colorful details about your family. Start searching the pages of The Watchman and Southron and The Sumter Item today on Newspapers.com!

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Boomers and Sooners: The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889

In 1889, as many as 50 thousand settlers poured into Oklahoma hoping to stake claim to a portion of nearly two million acres opened for settlement by the U.S. Government. Many had campaigned the federal government to open the land for settlement and were known as Boomers. The land, formerly occupied by Native Americans, was considered Unassigned Lands after the federal government forcibly relocated many Native American tribes. On April 22, 1889, at noon sharp, a bugle sounded, and hopeful settlers surged across the territory line. The number of settlers surpassed available land and they soon realized that some snuck into Oklahoma ahead of the April 22nd open date. This gave them a leg up on the law-abiding settlers and first in line for the most desirable land. Those early homestead seekers were known as Sooners.

In 1887, the Dawes Act was one of many federal laws that slowly stripped Native Americans of their tribal lands and paved the way for the Oklahoma Land Rush. It authorized the government to break up the tribal lands and allot them to individual Native Americans in parcels of 40, 80, and 160 acres. Only Native Americans who accepted the land could become U.S. citizens and any remaining land would be made available for public sale.

The Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, also known as the “sooner clause,” opened these Unassigned Lands to settlers, but specified that anyone who entered Indian Territory ahead of time would be denied land. There were, however, a group of “legal Sooners” who had permission to enter the territory ahead of time. This group included government employees, railroad workers, and others with special permission. In some instances, legal Sooners took advantage of their position to drive off early settlers, sending them back to the line, only to turn back and stake claim to the same property.

In the weeks leading up to the land grab, wagon trains snaked through neighboring states, many making their way to border towns. One newspaper reported a line of wagons 60 miles long! It wasn’t just men hoping to stake a claim, women were among those hoping to establish a homestead on some of the best unoccupied public lands in the country.

The mood was jubilant in border towns as crowds awaited the noon hour on the 22nd. Some abandoned their horses in favor of trains, hoping to get there faster. One newspaper reported that men packed the roofs of rail cars after the coaches filled up. Settlers had two ways to initiate a claim. The first was to file a claim at the land office, the second was to personally settle on a piece of land. If a conflict arose between two parties trying to claim the same land, priority went to those physically on the land.

When the clock struck 12:00 on the 22nd, the mad rush began. Those who snuck into the territory early concealed themselves in ravines and bushes, and when the bugle sounded “seemed to rise right up out of the ground” to claim the property. Thousands poured into Guthrie, Oklahoma, which saw it’s population go from 10 in the morning to 15,000 by nightfall.  Oklahoma City experienced similar growth and there were more than 11,000 filings for homestead land by the end of the day. Bitter resentment arose towards Sooners who entered the territory early. This led to many court cases for years to come where litigants protested hundreds of claims. The loss of tribal lands further marginalized Native Americans who saw additional land rushes take more tribal lands in subsequent years.

In 1890, the Unassigned Lands became the Oklahoma Territory and in 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state. To learn more about the Oklahoma Land Rush, search newspapers.com today!

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The Deadliest Natural Disaster in U.S. History: The Galveston Hurricane of 1900

On September 8, 1900, the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history occurred when the low-elevation island of Galveston, Texas, was struck by a category four hurricane that resulted in 135 mph winds and a deadly tidal surge. The hurricane, also known as the Great Galveston Storm, leveled 3,600 buildings and killed an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 people. Primitive forecasting techniques and ignored warnings contributed to the high number of fatalities.

Salt Lake Herald 9.10.1900

Galveston was the largest city in Texas at the turn of the century. It had a bustling shipping port and was among the richest urban areas in the United States. It had a population of 37,000 that swelled each summer when vacationers flocked to the island to enjoy the beaches.

Hurricane forecasting science at the turn of the century was not very sophisticated. The U.S. Weather Bureau relied on warnings from arriving ships or telegraphed warnings from islands in the Caribbean. In early September 1900, Cuban meteorologists sent warnings of an impending storm headed for the U.S. which were largely ignored. The U.S. Weather Bureau eventually issued a hurricane warning but predicted the storm would pass over Florida and continue north along the Eastern Seaboard. The storm headed into the Gulf of Mexico, however, and the first storm warnings in Galveston were not issued until September 7th. Few people heeded the warnings.

The morning of September 8th dawned cloudy and with a powerful surf. Soon the skies turned dark and the winds picked up. The Furniss family of St. Louis, Missouri was vacationing at the Beach Hotel in Galveston with their three daughters, unaware that a deadly hurricane was taking aim at the city. Galveston sat just nine feet above sea level and as the hurricane came ashore, a 15-foot storm surge rolled in.

The Atlanta Constitution 9.9.1900

When the storm hit, the hotel was completely demolished, and the Furniss family presumed dead. Their only other child, an 18-year-old son, was home in Missouri when he received news of the disaster. He quickly traveled to Galveston to search for his family. Upon arrival, a local militia involuntarily enlisted him into service to search for survivors and bury the dead. Thousands of bodies were strewn about the island and mountains of debris piled everywhere. The heat and humidity created a terrible stench and workers initially tried to bury vast numbers of the dead at sea. However, the tide just washed the bodies back to shore. Eventually, they burned the dead instead. The bodies of the Furniss family were among those finally found and buried at sea.  

St. Louis Glove-Democrat 9.15.1900

Another tragedy occurred at the St. Mary’s Orphans Asylum, which sat directly on the shore. It was built to take advantage of the fresh sea breezes which nuns hoped would protect the children from Yellow Fever and other illnesses that had killed their parents. As the storm intensified, the nuns gathered all 93 children and moved to the second floor to escape the rising water. As an added protection, the nuns tied themselves to small groups of children. Eventually, the storm ripped the orphanage from its foundation, trapping the children. Tragically, all were lost except three boys who clung to a tree.

As the stories of the devastation emerged, a nationwide relief effort sprang up to help the people of Galveston. To prevent a similar tragedy from happening again, Galveston built a 17-foot seawall and brought in tons of sand to raise the city’s elevation as much as 18 feet near the seawall, with a downward slope toward the bay. Buildings that managed to survive the hurricane were lifted to the new ground level.

If you would like to learn more about the Great Galveston Storm of 1900, search Newspapers.com today or see additional clippings on the Galveston Hurricane in our Topic Pages.

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Egg Phosphates & Ice Cream Sodas: Visiting a 19th-Century Soda Fountain through Newspapers

Have you ever come across an old newspaper ad and wondered about the products listed? Take a look at this 1896 ad for the “finest” ice cream parlor and soda fountain in Blair, Nebraska.

Soda fountain ad, 1896 NebraskaSoda fountain ad, 1896 Nebraska Thu, Aug 27, 1896 – 5 · The Pilot (Blair, Nebraska) · Newspapers.com


While some of the offerings are familiar, the ad had us asking questions like: What’s a “phosphate”? Were milkshakes the same back then as they are now? How popular were ice cream sodas? And what exactly was a soda fountain in the first place?

To answer our questions, we headed to the historical papers on Newspapers.com to learn about 19th-century soda fountains and some of the vintage drinks they served. If you’re interested in making some of the drinks yourself, stay tuned till the end for some recipes!

A Quick History of Soda Fountains

First off, what were soda fountains? The simplest answer is that a soda fountain was an apparatus that dispensed carbonated water (known as “soda water” in the United States). But the term eventually expanded to also mean the area inside a business (often a counter) where a person could order a fountain drink.

The soda fountain machine was invented in Europe in the late 1700s, and by the early 1800s soda water had become a trend in the United States, with sellers adding fruits and syrups for flavor. But the late 19th century saw increased customer demand for fancier drinks beyond flavored soda water.

Soda fountains were frequently found at pharmacies but were also located inside department stores, bakeries, ice cream parlors, restaurants, and more. The employees who worked behind the counters were known as “soda fountain clerks” or “soda water jerkers” (and later “soda jerks”).

From their 18th-century origins, soda fountains remained popular in the United States through the 1950s, when drive-ins and car culture led to their decline.

Now that we have a better idea of what a soda fountain was, let’s go back to that 1896 ad and learn about some of the drinks!

What on Earth Was a “Phosphate”?

“Phosphates,” also known as “phosphate sodas,” were made by mixing acid phosphate (phosphoric acid and mineral salts) with soda water and flavoring. The acid phosphate gave the drink a tart or sour taste. This newspaper clipping from 1892 Missouri gives advice on the “proper” way to make a phosphate:

How to make a phosphate, 1892How to make a phosphate, 1892 Sun, Aug 7, 1892 – 11 · The Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri) · Newspapers.com


Phosphate sodas came in a wide variety of flavors, but lemon phosphates, cherry phosphates, and egg phosphates were a few of the most common. Fruit flavors make sense given the tartness of phosphates, but egg?

Egg phosphates and other egg-based drinks were actually quite popular at 19th-century soda fountains. Egg phosphates were made of raw egg, soda water, phosphate, and orange, lemon, or chocolate syrup. Other common egg drinks a person could order included eggnog, egg flip, egg lemonade, and more.

Milkshakes . . . Hold the Ice Cream

While the milkshake listed in the Nebraska soda fountain ad may seem self-explanatory, it’s likely not the drink you’re thinking of. A milkshake’s name was originally much more literal—a beverage made of milk shaken together with crushed or shaved ice, flavoring, and sometimes raw egg. This 1888 clipping explains it:

The milk-shake, 1888The milk-shake, 1888 Sun, Aug 19, 1888 – Page 17 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) · Newspapers.com


Eventually, ice cream began making its way into the milkshake, creating the dessert we’re familiar with today. But as this ad from 1930 shows, some businesses still saw the need to specify that their milkshakes included ice cream well into the 20th century.

Ice Cream Sodas Take the Lead

While milkshakes had their moment of popularity, they were overshadowed by what was arguably the most popular offering at a 19th-century soda fountain: ice cream soda (now often called an ice cream float).

Photo: Ice cream soda, 1906Eating ice cream soda, 1906 Sun, Aug 12, 1906 – Page 24 · Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha, Nebraska) · Newspapers.com


While a version of ice cream soda existed before the Civil War, that older version was made of flavored soda water mixed with cream and ice. The new ice cream soda—likely created in the 1870s—replaced the cream and ice with ice cream. The drink quickly gained popularity and spread around the country, and by the 1890s no soda fountain’s menu was complete without it.

Other Soda Fountain Drinks

The soda fountain’s beverage options didn’t stop with phosphates, milkshakes, and ice cream sodas.

The plethora of soda fountains in any given city meant businesses competed for customers by offering an ever-growing menu of drinks—with upward of 50 (sometimes 100) options at the larger fountains. Some of the beverages (like the Moxie and Coca-Cola mentioned in our 1896 Nebraska ad) were commercially manufactured name-brand drinks. But many soda fountain offerings were invented and made in-house. This 1892 clipping gives an idea of a few of them:

Some of the drinks sold at a Kansas City soda fountain, 1892Some of the drinks sold at a Kansas City soda fountain, 1892 Sun, Aug 7, 1892 – 11 · The Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri) · Newspapers.com


Since many beverages offered at soda fountains were served cold, it’s no surprise that soda fountains typically did their best business in the summer. But they attracted customers in colder months too with offerings like “hot soda water,” beef tea, coffee, and hot chocolate.

Vintage Recipes

If you’re interested in vintage soda fountain drinks, these newspaper clippings give some insight into how they were made!

Search on Newspapers.com to find more soda fountain history and vintage drink recipes! And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this.

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Let Me Leave You My Calling Card

Want to take a peek into a fascinating social custom from the Victorian era? Calling cards (also called visiting cards or visiting tickets) were all the rage in the 19th century and represented an indispensable way to communicate. The cards did much more than just announce a visit, they relayed important social messages. For example, a calling card with a folded corner, or a card in a sealed envelope sent clear messages that accompanied strict etiquette protocols. By the early 1900s, calling cards fell out of fashion. Today’s business cards are a leftover relic from the calling card era.  

Calling Card of Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant

Calling cards first became popular in Europe in the 18th century and were favored by royalty and nobility. Their popularity spread across Europe and to the United States and soon calling cards became essential for the fashionable and wealthy. Society homes often had a silver tray in the entrance hall where guests left their cards. A tray full of cards (with the most prominent cards on top) was a way to display social connections.

Both men and women used calling cards and they were distinguishable by size. Men’s cards were long and narrow so they could fit in a breast pocket. Women’s cards were larger and during the Victorian era, became more ornate and embellished. According to this article from 1890, a typical society woman handed out nearly three thousand cards each year.

Victorian Calling Card

When wishing to arrange a visit, a caller generally waited in a carriage while a servant delivered the calling card to a household. If delivering the card in person, it was customary to fold the upper right-hand corner. This indicated that the caller made the effort to deliver the card personally. The visitor then returned home and within a few days would likely receive a calling card in return, sometimes with a short note written on the back. This usually extended an invitation to visit. Visits were generally short, formal, and at designated visiting hours. If a calling card wasn’t acknowledged, or worse, returned in a sealed envelope, it meant the offer to visit was rejected.

When leaving a calling card, different messages could be communicated by folding different corners of the card.

  • The lower left-hand corner to express condolences
  • The upper left-hand corner to express congratulations
  • The lower right-hand corner indicated the caller was planning a long trip and did not expect an acknowledgment

If the household contained more than one woman, a gentleman caller folded a corner to indicate he intended to visit the entire household. A woman also followed strict protocol when leaving calling cards. She never left her card at a home where a bachelor resided without also including her husband’s card. When leaving after a visit, a woman generally left two of her husband’s cards – one for the master of the house and one for the mistress.

The social rules were enough to make your head spin, but upper-crust society was schooled in the practice, and newspapers published calling card etiquette rules for others to navigate.

By the early 1900s, calling cards began to decline in popularity just as the use of business cards was on the rise. A change in formal social customs and new-fangled telephones led to a steady decrease in arranged visits. Businesses, which adopted the calling card custom, continue to use them today. If you would like to learn more about calling cards and their impact on the social customs from earlier days, search Newspapers.com!

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New Papers from the Pine Tree State!

If you have ancestors from Maine or an interest in the history of Maine, we are pleased to announce that we’ve added The Bangor Daily News, the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, and The Weekly to our archives! In 1900, the Bangor Daily News merged with the Bangor Whig and Courier and we have both archives with papers dating back to 1832!

Maine is the “Pine Tree State” and these newspapers chronicle how the lumber industry played a part in the growth and prosperity of the city. Bangor lies along the Penobscot River and logs harvested from the Maine North Woods could be floated downstream to the city’s sawmills. By the 1860s, Bangor was home to the world’s largest lumber port. All that lumber also provided materials for the growing shipbuilding industry, which thrived in Bangor. 

During the Civil War, the 2nd Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first to march out of Maine in 1861. They fought in the First Battle of Bull Run. Bangor residents felt the acute impact of war. The 1st Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment that mustered out of Bangor lost more men than any other Union regiment in the War with 683 deaths.

Bangor Daily Whig and Courier: May 14, 1861

The war left some children orphaned and the Bangor Children’s Home was established. The orphanage started in 1839 as the Bangor Females Orphan Asylum, but after the war, it was re-purposed to admit boys with a new and larger building dedicated in 1869.

On April 30, 1911, a fire started in a hay shed and spread throughout Bangor. The Great Fire of 1911 claimed the high school, banks, the post office, Custom House, churches, nearly a hundred businesses, and close to 300 homes.

The Bangor Daily News: May 1, 1911

The library, which was also destroyed, held books that contained historical records and genealogies of early Bangor residents. The press that produced the Bangor Daily News did not burn, but the building was without electricity. Nonetheless, the editors printed a paper just hours after the fire, setting it all by hand.

In December 1962, Bangor was hit with a huge snowstorm that dumped 37 inches. Howling winds caused snowdrifts 20 feet tall! For the first time in its 130-year history, the Bangor Daily News was unable to deliver a paper on December 31, 1962.

If you are searching for ancestors from Bangor, search for obituaries and marriage or birth announcements. Family reunion notices also provide a wealth of genealogical information. Start searching The Bangor Daily News, the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, and The Weekly today on Newspapers.com

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Unusual Drinks to Try this National Root Beer Float Day

“The soda jerk was a local folk hero” Sun, Jul 1, 1984 – Page 24 · The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois) · Newspapers.com

It’s National Root Beer Float Day!

Did you know August 6th is National Root Beer Float Day? This familiar summer favorite originated in 1893 Colorado, all thanks to Frank J. Wisner and his moonlight imaginings.

Frank J. Wisner's creation, the Frank J. Wisner’s creation, the “Black Cow Mountain,” is today’s root beer float Tue, Aug 19, 2003 – 2 · The Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida) · Newspapers.com “Black Cow” drink is root beer and a scoop of vanilla ice cream Sun, Jul 15, 1934 – 7 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · Newspapers.com

Milk and Soda

Perhaps the success of the “Black Cow” inspired these other combinations. Take this 7-Up ad from 1948, which marketed its product with a surprising “health” angle. Have you tried this mix before?

7-Up and Milk ad7-Up and Milk ad Sun, Jun 13, 1948 – 9 · Casper Star-Tribune (Casper, Wyoming) · Newspapers.com

7-Up wasn’t the only drink to have gotten the dairy treatment. Fans of Laverne and Shirley may recall Laverne’s taste for Pepsi and Milk. Those who enjoy this mix compare the taste to a “melted” root beer float, so perhaps it’s not so hard to see the appeal.

Pepsi and milk in Pepsi and milk in “Laverne and Shirley,” and other milk flavor combos Mon, Jun 3, 1985 – 8 · The Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

Sweet and Creamy

Let’s step away from soda for the moment. Prunes, anyone? Prune milk and milkshakes may have been a popular refreshment choice in the 40s and 50s, though they seem to have fallen out of favor since.

Chilled prune juice and malted milk make a Chilled prune juice and malted milk make a “health and appetite inspiring” drink Wed, Jun 12, 1940 – 54 · Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com Nutritious prune milk shake for a hot summer's dayNutritious prune milk shake for a hot summer’s day Wed, Jun 12, 1940 – 54 · Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

Let’s Get Savory

Fruity milkshakes and creamy sodas may not be so odd, in the end, even if most haven’t had the staying power of the root beer float. But some combinations just seem bizarre. Please share if this recipe for “Beef Fizz” makes a regular appearance in your home.

Beef fizz drink recipe, 1964Beef fizz drink recipe, 1964 Sun, Aug 9, 1964 – 75 · The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah) · Newspapers.com

Maybe it’s best to stick with the root beer float.

Root Beer Float Recipes

Not to worry! If this post has given you a craving, here are some tasty-sounding variations you might give a try today:

Tasty root beer float variations from around the country, 1984Tasty root beer float variations from around the country, 1984 Wed, Nov 14, 1984 – 32 · Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

Do you have a favorite unusual drink that hits the spot on a summer evening? Tell us about it in the comments! And try a search on Newspapers.com for more recipes and articles like this.

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August 15, 1945: The 75th Anniversary of V-J Day

On August 14, 1945, at 7:00 p.m., President Harry S. Truman summoned reporters to the White House for a special announcement. He read a statement from the Emperor of Japan which announced in part, “The unconditional surrender of Japan.” Three years, eight months, and seven days after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, WWII was finally over!

V-J Day (short for Victory in Japan Day) came at a steep price. The United States counted some 418,500 military and civilian deaths during the war. Worldwide, that number neared 60 million! For just a moment, in August 1945, a war-weary world set aside mourning to celebrate the end of WWII. People poured into the streets and church bells rang out. President Truman declared a two-day holiday, and on August 15th, the United States celebrated V-J Day.

In New York City, thousands flocked to Times Square. Alfred Eisenstaedt, a photographer for Life magazine, pulled out his camera to capture the exuberance of the crowd. His iconic shot of a sailor kissing a nurse captured a defining moment in history.

In Tinley Park, Illinois, Mildred Pritza recalled hearing the news, “We cried, we hugged. Bells were ringing. Everyone went outside and everyone was hugging…There was real cohesiveness in the nation with everyone working for a shared goal.” The country was united in spirit and purpose and V-J day was a celebration of shared sacrifice. Pritza, who had never worked before the war, recalled her job building crankshafts for airplanes for $1.09 an hour. With her husband in the Navy and a new baby to care for, she did what was necessary.

In Plainfield, New Jersey, police officer Cornelius Coffey was assigned traffic patrol and said the city had the worst traffic jam he’d ever seen as everyone came out to celebrate. He chose to ignore the 10 p.m. wartime curfew for youngsters that night.

News of the Japanese surrender came at 4:00 p.m. PST in Spokane, Washington. The Spokesman-Review reported that crowds spilled into the streets, and at first there was a stunned silence. “Then automobile horns began to blow. In a few moments, their blasts became a solid wave of sound in downtown streets. Their noise drowned out the shouting and even the noise of the siren atop city hall. A storm of confetti swirled down from windows of high buildings as office workers gave vent to their joy.”

On the island of Oahu, the bells in Kawaiahaʻo church pealed, bringing a flashback memory to many who heard the same bells ring out a warning on December 7, 1941. The roof of the Honolulu Advertiser building was crowded that December morning in 1941, as dazed and stricken citizens watched black smoke rise from the distance. Now 1,347 days later, the same rooftop was filled with people tossing shredded paper to the street below in celebration.

Do you remember V-J Day? Have you heard V-J Day stories shared in your family? To read more about the end of WWII and to see more stories on V-J Day, search Newspapers.com today!

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Top Strategies for Searching for Your Ancestor by Name in the Newspaper

Tue, Mar 31, 1908 – 5 · The Honolulu Advertiser (Honolulu, Hawaii) · Newspapers.com


Have you ever searched for an ancestor’s name on Newspapers.com but gotten no matches, even though you just know they must be in there somewhere? Sometimes the problem may be that you’re searching for a name or spelling that’s different from how it appeared in the newspaper—preventing our search from returning the matches you’re looking for.

So we’ve put together some strategies for uncovering name and spelling variations that you can try in your searches!

A Bit of Background

You may know how your ancestor’s name was spelled in legal documents, the census, or letters they sent, but that spelling might not be what was used in the newspaper. Why?

Sometimes it might be a spelling mistake by the journalist or typesetter. (Think how many times your own name has been misspelled by others!) Sometimes the name’s spelling was provided by a family member who didn’t how their relative actually spelled their name. Illiteracy and low-literacy rates used to be higher, so it’s possible your ancestor wasn’t sure of the exact spelling of their name. Other times, the person might have gone by a nickname or “Americanized” name, rather than their birth name.

All these reasons (and more!) mean that it’s worth trying some variations if the “correct” spelling of your ancestor’s name isn’t returning search matches!

Example of two brothers who spelled their surname differently, 1939Example of two brothers who spelled their surname differently, 1939 Thu, Jul 20, 1939 – 1 · Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas) · Newspapers.com


Name Variations

We’ll start with some name variations to try searching for:

  • Nicknames. Did you ancestor have a name that often has a nickname associated with it? Your ancestor Margaret may be in the newspaper as “Maggie.” And don’t forget that some nicknames that are no longer common may have been popular during your ancestor’s lifetime—for example, “Sally” as a nickname for Sarah. And if your ancestor was born outside the United States or came from an ethnic community within the U.S., remember to check for nicknames common to that culture as well, such as “Paco” for Francisco. Did your ancestor have a nickname that was specific to them? Search for that too. “Babe Ruth” shows up in the newspaper by his famous nickname much more than by George Herman Ruth Jr. Consider nicknames related to vocations as well. Your doctor ancestor Henry Taylor could be in the newspaper as “Doc Taylor.”
  • Middle names. Did your ancestor go by their middle name? This was (and still is) a common practice if there was a parent, grandparent, or other family member with the same given name. And don’t forget that if they did use their middle name, they may be using a nickname for that middle name on top of that. Mary Avaline Conner, for example, is found in the newspapers as “Avie Conner”—a nickname for her middle name!
  • English versions of names from other languages. Some people with names that weren’t common in mainstream American culture went by an anglicized version of their name. If your ancestor’s name was Giuseppe, try searching in the newspaper for “Joseph” or “Joe.” Similarly, it may also be worth a shot to search for direct translations of a non-English name. Your ancestor’s surname may have been Schmidt in Germany but been translated as the English equivalent “Smith” when they came to the U.S.
  • “Americanized” versions of diverse naming structures. If your ancestor came from a country, territory, or ethnic community that uses a different naming structure, this might affect what name appeared in a newspaper. For example, Maria Lopez de Vega may appear in an American newspaper as “Maria Lopez” or “Maria Vega.”


Spelling Variations

Other times, you may have the right name for your ancestor, it’s just not spelled in the newspaper the way you think. Here are some examples of spelling variations to consider.

  • Common alternative spellings. Names can be spelled in a variety of different ways, so be sure to check for common alternative spellings. Check for your ancestor Katherine under “Catherine,” “Kathryn,” or any of the other spellings.
  • Common misspellings. Your ancestor’s name, especially if it’s unusual, may have simply been misspelled in the newspaper. While it’s impossible to guess all the ways it might have been misspelled, there are some common spelling mistakes you can look for. Check for double letters added or deleted, substitution of vowels (or consonants) that sound similar, silent letters left out, etc. Try saying the name out loud and searching all possible phonetic spellings for the way it sounds—keeping in mind that the way your family pronounces the name now might not be how your ancestor (or the journalist!) pronounced it.
  • Mistakes when spelling verbally. Even if your ancestor verbally spelled out their name for the newspaper, some letters sound similar when said aloud: B and P sound similar enough that your ancestor spelling out “P-O-U-N-D” might have been misheard as saying “B-O-U-N-D.”
  • Dropped prefixes. Name prefixes like “O,” “Mc,” “Mac,” and a host of others may have been dropped, either intentionally by your ancestor or unintentionally by the person writing the article. If your ancestor’s surname was O’Reilly, try searching just for “Reilly” (and vice versa—if their surname was Reilly, check for “O’Reilly” as well).
  • Transliteration from a non-English alphabet. If your ancestor’s name was transliterated from a non-English alphabet such as Cyrillic, Arabic, or Chinese, there will be a vast number of possibilities for the way it was spelled in English—both by your ancestor and by a journalist or editor who may not have had a familiarity with the language. Some alphabets have standardized guidelines for transliteration into the English alphabet, but it’s worth trying out as many phonetic spellings for the name as you can think of.
  • Abbreviations & initials. Newspapers sometimes shortened names to save space. Try searching “Wm” for William, “Chas” for Charles, and so on. You should also try searching for them by their initials: search “J.D. Smith” for John Doe Smith, for example.


Typos & Other Errors

Sometimes, you can’t find the name due to typos or OCR error. Here are a couple to consider in your searches. (Note: OCR is the technology Newspapers.com uses to “read” a newspaper page to identify matches.)

  • Typesetting and typing mistakes. Try a search that takes into account possible typesetting errors, like transposing the first letters of a name. Search for an ancestor with the surname Wright under “Rwright,” for instance. Similarly, if your ancestor came from a time of typewriters or even computers, try searching for their name with common typos, like mistyping an adjacent letter on a keyboard (e.g., “Fryer” for someone whose name is Dryer).
  • Letters with similar shapes. Depending on the typeface used in the newspaper and the quality of the page image, OCR might misread letters in a name. Take this into consideration and try searching for a name using letters that have a similar shape: a lowercase “y” for a “g,” for example. Keep in mind that this might extend to multi-letter combinations as well. Your ancestor’s name may have been “C-a-r-r-i-e,” but the OCR might mistake this as “C-a-m-e.”

Final Tips

Here are two final tips to help you in your search:

  • Make a list of every variation of the name and spelling that you (and your family and friends) can think of. Check off each name as you complete the search.
  • Use wildcards in your Newpapers.com search to help account for spelling variations in names. Learn more about wildcards here.

Good luck on your search! Remember that “correct” spelling doesn’t count when it comes to searching for names in newspapers. It doesn’t matter so much how you think your ancestor’s name was spelled, or even really how they spelled it. What matters most is how the newspaper spelled it. Don’t automatically discount a newspaper mention of a person that seems likely to be your ancestor just because the newspaper spelled the name differently than you’re expecting!

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Get started searching for your ancestors on Newspapers.com. And if you have any more tips, share them in the comments!

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A Summer of Ghost Towns

Summer vacation plans have changed for many this year. If you’re headed out on a road trip, consider stopping by one of the hundreds of ghost towns across America. Deserted, rickety homes, and public buildings pique our curiosity and leave us wondering what life was like before they were abandoned. Fortunately, historic newspapers help reveal those secrets. We’ve scoured our archives to learn about a few ghost towns, but if your travel plans don’t include one of these, just bring along your device and access Newspapers.com to learn about others!

Bodie, California
Los Angeles Evening Express January 10, 1881

Bodie, California: In 1859, four prospectors discovered gold in the hills north of Mono Lake, 75 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe. The discovery brought a surge of prospectors but within a few years the gold ran out, and most moved on to seek their fortune elsewhere. In 1875, a mine cave-in revealed large amounts of the precious mineral and Bodie once again became a boomtown. At one point, the population numbered near 10,000. The town had a reputation for being lawless with frequent murders and crime. “Bad Man From Bodie” became a synonym for any rough-edged prospector. By 1881, the mine was running out of gold and the population of Bodie dwindled to just 800. Eventually, the small amount of gold mined couldn’t support the population and the town became a ghost town. In 1960, California announced that Bodie would become a state park, and today visitors can get a glimpse of what life was like in an 1800s California mining town.

Grafton, Utah

Grafton, Utah: The first settlers arrived in Grafton in 1859, sent by Brigham Young, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, to cultivate the Southern Utah territory. The town was built along the Virgin River where residents grew cotton and other crops. Grafton was prone to flash floods and irrigation challenges.

Deseret News – Feb. 12, 1862

In 1862, a raging flood destroyed most of Grafton, and the town was rebuilt about a mile upstream. Constant challenges plagued settlers who eventually abandoned Grafton. The picturesque ghost town, complete with adobe schoolhouse that doubled as a church has been the backdrop for numerous movies including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In 2000, a partnership purchased Grafton in order to preserve the historic ghost town.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in 1996

Cahawba, Alabama: Cahawba was an antebellum river town and the capital of Alabama from 1819-1826. When the capital was relocated to Tuscaloosa in 1826, scores of residents left town. A new railroad line brought people back to Cahawba in 1859, but during the Civil War, the Confederate government dismantled the railroad and used the rails to expand an area of track elsewhere. They also turned a cotton warehouse into a Union prison called Castle Morgan.

Union Prisoner describes Castle Morgan – The Racine Advocate April 26, 1865

In 1865, a flood forced many to leave Cahawba, and shortly after the war ended, Cahawba became a ghost town. Within 10 years, many of the buildings were dismantled and moved away. In 1973, Cahawba was added to the National Register of Historic Places and is now an archeological park. Efforts are ongoing to preserve its history.

Rhyolite Ghost Town

Rhyolite, Nevada: In 1904, about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, a couple of prospectors discovered a hillside covered with greenish rock with chunks of yellow. The rocks resembled the back of a bullfrog, but the metal was in fact gold! The ensuing gold rush brought thousands to the area known as the Bullfrog Mining District and the town of Rhyolite sprung to life overnight. In its heyday, the town had saloons, an ice-cream parlor, hospitals, an opera house, swimming pools, banks, hotels, and schools.

Los Angeles Herald – Oct. 28, 1906

One landmark building is the bottle house. It was built in 1906 utilizing 50,000 bottles. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 restricted capital in the mining industry and within a few years, Rhyolite was on the decline. The lone remaining resident of Rhyolite died in 1924. Rhyolite is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management.

Kennicott, Alaska: In the summer of 1900, prospectors were exploring an area near the Kennicott Glacier when they discovered copper in an outcropping of rock. They staked a claim and opened the Kennecott mine (a worker misspelled the glacier’s name) Between 1911-1935 miners pulled nearly 600,000 tons of copper and 9 million ounces of silver from the mountain. A company-owned town with bright red buildings perched above the rubble field arose.

Daily Sitka Sentinel – October 25, 1989

Nearby, a second town called McCarthy sprung up. By 1938, both towns were abandoned. Many left their furniture and possessions in their homes, creating a sort of time capsule. The same year, the railroad discontinued service to the area. Many of the homes and mining buildings still remain, and in 1986, the mine was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Have you visited an awesome ghost town? Tell us about it in the comments below. Search Newspapers.com today to learn more about the history of ghost towns.  

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