5 Ways to Learn about Ancestors You Can’t Find in the Newspaper

Mon, May 9, 1904 – 1 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com


Finding an ancestor mentioned by name in a newspaper can feel like hitting the family history jackpot. We even have a blog post with strategies for doing so.

READ MORE: Top strategies for finding your ancestor by name in the newspaper

But it’s not possible to find all our ancestors this way, either because the right newspaper hasn’t been digitized yet or because the person was never mentioned in a newspaper in the first place.

Even if you can’t find your ancestor by name, you can still use newspapers to learn about their lives. So we’ve compiled 5 ways newspapers can help you discover more about the ancestors you can’t find mentioned.

1. Learn about the area in which your ancestor lived by browsing their local newspaper.

Learning about the time and place in which your ancestors lived can tell you a lot about what their lives may have been like. Newspapers are perfect for this kind of research, since they serve as a kind of time capsule of the past. So take time to look through your ancestor’s local newspaper to find out what life was like in the neighborhood, city, or state they lived in.

Sun, Oct 15, 1922 – 21 · The Honolulu Advertiser (Honolulu, Hawaii) · Newspapers.com


On Newspapers.com, an easy way to find your ancestor’s local newspaper is by going to the Papers page and searching for the city they lived in. If we don’t currently have papers from that location, try using our newspaper Map to locate the nearest paper.

Once you’ve found the newspaper you want to use, pick some issues of the paper to look at. We recommend you pick a few issues from a variety of years in your ancestor’s life. (You could even pick significant dates in their lives, such as the day they were born, started school, got married, passed away, and so on.) The more issues you look at, the more detailed your understanding will be. But if you feel overwhelmed, start by looking at just one.

Browse through national and local news stories, ads, articles about the economy, the entertainment and leisure sections, war news, transportation schedules, and more to learn about the context of your ancestor’s life. From photos, to weather reports, to letters to the editor—practically every part of the newspaper can help you envision what the city was like when your ancestor lived there.

Thu, Dec 7, 1922 – 2 · La Prensa (San Antonio, Texas) · Newspapers.com


You might be surprised at how much you can learn about an ancestor’s life from seemingly unimportant newspaper sections. A local grocery ad, for example, could tell you which foods your ancestor may have eaten based on availability and affordability.

READ MORE: Discover more newspaper sections that can teach you about your ancestors

2. Explore newspapers specific to your ancestor’s social demographics.

If your ancestor belonged to a particular religion, race, ethnicity, or other social demographic, try browsing newspapers published during their lifetime that served that community. These might include Jewish or Catholic newspapers, Black papers, or Spanish- or German-language papers—just to name a few.

Newspapers that served a specific social demographic often reported on news and issues that were left out of mainstream papers. Reading these community-specific papers can give you an entirely different perspective on what your ancestor may have experienced.

Sat, Mar 22, 1919 – Page 1 · The Kansas City Sun (Kansas City, Missouri) · Newspapers.com


Some of these papers focused primarily on local happenings, but others were national in scope. For instance, the Pittsburgh Courier and Kansas City Sun, two historically Black papers, published news about Black Americans from all over the United States, not just Pittsburgh or Kansas City.

3. Read newspaper accounts of people in circumstances similar to your ancestor’s. 

Another approach is to look for newspaper accounts of people whose life circumstances were similar to your ancestor’s.

For example, did your ancestor immigrate through Ellis Island or Angel Island? Newspapers have numerous firsthand accounts of such journeys. Were your family members farmers in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl? Newspapers extensively covered what life was like during that time. Did you have an ancestor who worked for women’s suffrage? Newspapers can tell you what that movement was like on a local, state, and national level. Did one of your family members fight in World War II? Newspapers can help you better understand wartime experiences through photos, letters, articles, and more.

READ MORE: How to find your WWII soldier’s story in newspapers

4. Look for newspaper photos.

Even if the photo isn’t of your ancestors, newspaper photos from their lifetime can help you picture them and the area they lived in. Newspaper photos (or illustrations if it was before the photo age) can help answer questions like: What were people wearing? What were the hairstyles? What did the town or city itself look like? What did local businesses, factories, and farms look like? How did a natural disaster affect the city? How did residents celebrate holidays? And much more!

Thu, Feb 5, 1925 – Page 37 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) · Newspapers.com


5. Set a search alert.

Even with the above tips, we know that you’re probably still hoping to find your ancestor mentioned by name in the newspaper. So we recommend setting a search alert on Newspapers.com so you’ll be automatically informed by email when we add a newspaper page that has results that match criteria you specify. To do this, simply set up the search you want (for example, “John Doe” in Kansas newspapers), then select the +Alert button on the search results page.

Location of the +Alert button
Location of the +Alert button

Good Luck!

We hope you find these ideas helpful! Even if you’re lucky enough to have already found your ancestor mentioned by name in the newspaper, the journey doesn’t have to stop there. Newspapers can help you piece together the stories that create a more detailed picture of your ancestor’s life! 

Start researching your ancestors on Newspapers.com! And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more helpful tips and historical content like this!

Like this post? Try one of these!

Share using:

8 Delicious Holiday Dishes to Try This December

Looking for some vintage recipes to try this holiday season? We searched the historical papers on Newspapers.com to find these 8 recipes for delicious December dishes!

(Click on any of the recipes below to see a larger version on our site.)

1. Biscochitos (from 1967)

Biscochitos (or bizcochitos) are anise-flavored cookies from New Mexico that are popular during Christmas.

Recipe: Bizcochitos (1967)Recipe: Bizcochitos (1967) Tue, Nov 28, 1967 – Page 14 · Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, New Mexico) · Newspapers.com


2. Cheese Blintzes (from 1959)

Similar to a filled pancake or crepe, cheese blintzes are a part of some Hanukkah celebrations.

Recipe: Cheese blintzes (1959)Recipe: Cheese blintzes (1959) Fri, Oct 9, 1959 – Page 5 · The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) · Newspapers.com


3. Risgrynsgröt (from 1959)

Risgrynsgröt is a Swedish rice pudding eaten during the winter months, especially around Christmas.

Recipe: Risgrynsgrot (1959)Recipe: Risgrynsgrot (1959) Sat, Sep 19, 1959 – 4 · The Herald-Press (Saint Joseph, Michigan) · Newspapers.com


4. Lebkuchen (from 1934)

Lebkuchen are a traditional German Christmas spice cookie.

Recipe: Lebkuchen (1934)Recipe: Lebkuchen (1934) Fri, Feb 2, 1934 – 2 · Iron County Miner (Hurley, Wisconsin) · Newspapers.com


5. Sweet Tamales (from 1959)

Sweet tamales are a dessert made in parts of Mexico (and elsewhere), particularly at Christmastime.

Recipe: Sweet Tamales (1959)Recipe: Sweet Tamales (1959) Thu, Dec 24, 1959 – Page 6 · Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona) · Newspapers.com


6. Applesauce Cake (from 1958)

Apple-based dishes and desserts are a common feature of Hanukkah meals.

Recipe: Applesauce cake (1958)Recipe: Applesauce cake (1958) Fri, Oct 3, 1958 – Page 7 · The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) · Newspapers.com


7. Christmas Pudding (from 1896)

Christmas pudding is a boiled or steamed pudding traditionally served at Christmas in the United Kingdom.

Recipe: Christmas pudding (1896)Recipe: Christmas pudding (1896) Wed, Dec 2, 1896 – 4 · The North-Eastern Daily Gazette (Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, England) · Newspapers.com


8. Bonelos Dago (from 1966)

Bonelos dago (or Buñelos dagu) are yam-based fried donuts popular in Guam during the Christmas season and are typically eaten dipped in syrup.

Recipe: Bonelos Dago (1966)Recipe: Bonelos Dago (1966) Sun, Dec 11, 1966 – 9 · Guam Daily News (Agana Heights, Guam) · Newspapers.com


Find more recipes like these on Newspapers.com. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this!

Like this post? Try one of these!

Share using:

10 Vintage Thanksgiving Recipes Perfect for Small Gatherings

Tue, Nov 22, 1921 – Page 3 · The Logansport Morning Press (Logansport, Indiana) · Newspapers.com


Will your Thanksgiving gathering be smaller this year? Your favorite recipes might make too much food for a dinner with fewer guests. So we searched the historical papers on Newspapers.com to find vintage Thanksgiving recipes for small groups. Check them out! One of them just might become a new favorite!

(Click on any of the recipes below to see it in the original newspaper.)

1. Roast Half Turkey with Apple Stuffing (from 1959)

Roast Half Turkey with Apple Stuffing recipe, 1959Roast Half Turkey with Apple Stuffing recipe, 1959 Sat, Nov 28, 1959 – Page 11 · The New York Age (New York, New York) · Newspapers.com


2. Stuffed Broiling Chicken (from 1948)

Stuffed Broiling Chicken recipe, 1948Stuffed Broiling Chicken recipe, 1948 Sun, Nov 21, 1948 – Page 95 · The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) · Newspapers.com


3. Glazed Ham and Sweet Potatoes (from 1959)

Glazed Ham and Sweet Potatoes recipe, 1959Glazed Ham and Sweet Potatoes recipe, 1959 Thu, Mar 26, 1959 – 5 · The Hydro Review (Hydro, Oklahoma) · Newspapers.com


4. Marmalade Stuffed Yams (from 1959)

Marmalade Stuffed Yams, 1959Marmalade Stuffed Yams, 1959 Wed, Nov 11, 1959 – 38 · The Times (Munster, Indiana) · Newspapers.com


5. Squash, New Style (from 1937)

“Squash, New Style” recipe, 1937 Fri, Nov 19, 1937 – 8 · Republican and Herald (Pottsville, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com


6. Panned Broccoli—plus, Wilted Spinach & Cranberry Coleslaw (from 1951)

Panned Broccoli, Wilted Spinach & Cranberry Coleslaw recipes, 1951Panned Broccoli, Wilted Spinach & Cranberry Coleslaw recipes, 1951 Sun, Nov 18, 1951 – 71 · Johnson City Press (Johnson City, Tennessee) · Newspapers.com


7. Spiced Raisin Stuffing (from 1937)

Spiced Raisin Stuffing recipe, 1937Spiced Raisin Stuffing recipe, 1937 Tue, Nov 23, 1937 – 35 · The Times (Munster, Indiana) · Newspapers.com


8. Cranberry Glazed Biscuits (from 1956)

Cranberry Glazed Biscuits recipe, 1956Cranberry Glazed Biscuits recipe, 1956 Thu, Dec 27, 1956 – 25 · The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey) · Newspapers.com


9. Baked Fresh Pears (from 1953)

Baked Fresh Pears recipe, 1953Baked Fresh Pears recipe, 1953 Thu, Nov 12, 1953 – 22 · The Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine) · Newspapers.com


10. Pumpkin Pie (from 1948)

Pumpkin Pie recipe, 1948Pumpkin Pie recipe, 1948 Thu, Nov 18, 1948 – Page 22 · The News-Review (Roseburg, Oregon) · Newspapers.com


Find more vintage recipes on Newspapers.com. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this!

Like this post? Try one of these!

Share using:

How (and Why) to Use Our Clipping & Embed Tools

The Clipping and Embed tools on Newspapers.com make it easy to save and share what you find on our site. Here’s what you need to know:

Clippings

What Is a Clipping?

Have you ever cut out an article from a physical copy of a newspaper? Clippings on Newspapers.com are the same concept—but on our site you use virtual scissors to save the newspaper content that interests you.

Why Use Clippings?

Clippings are a convenient way to keep track of the things you discover on Newspapers.com, as well as a great way to share what you find with others.

Newspapers.com “Share” options

One reason to using clippings is that when you share a clipping, others can see the article (and the newspaper page it came from) for free, even if they don’t subscribe to Newspapers.com. You can share clippings by selecting the “Share” button, which makes it easy to share by email or on Facebook and Twitter. You can also share a clipping by copying and pasting its URL, or by embedding it in a blog, website, online article, etc. (See below for more about our Embed feature.)

Another advantage to using clippings is that each clipping is saved with the newspaper’s title and date permanently attached. If you choose to print a clipping, that important information is printed as well.

How to Make a Clipping

  1. Select the “Clip” button (the scissor icon) at the top of the viewer
  2. Move and resize the clipping box around what you want to clip
  3. Add a title or description for the clipping
  4.  Select the blue “Clip” button
Clippings sort and filter options

Once you’ve clipped something, it is saved to your Clippings list on our site, where you can easily find it again. To access your clippings, just select the “Clippings” link at the top of any page on our site. You can also get to your clippings by selecting your member name in the upper right of the site and then selecting “My Clippings.

From your Clippings list, you can choose to view clips by “Me” or “Everyone.” Clippings can be sorted by the date they were clipped or by the date of the paper they were clipped from. Additional filters can be applied as you choose.

Privacy Settings

By default, clippings you make are “public” (other people will see what you’ve clipped on the Clippings list, in search, or on your profile). You can hide your clippings from the public with the privacy settings found on the Clipping Settings page under Account Details. These settings change the default setting for new clippings. You can also change the privacy settings for an individual clipping when you create or edit it.


Embed

What Does It Mean to Embed a Clipping?

Embedded clippings are a simple way to include newspaper content from our site in your website, blog, online article, etc.

Below are examples of a clipping we’ve embedded in this article using two different styles: “embed” and “advanced embed.” Notice that if you click on one, it takes you to the original clipping on Newspapers.com.

Embed:

“Must Quit Kissing” (1918 flu pandemic) Tue, Oct 8, 1918 – 10 · Knoxville Sentinel (Knoxville, Tennessee) · Newspapers.com


Advanced embed:


Why Embed a Clipping?

Although you can download newspaper articles from our site as an image file (.jpg), the Embed tool is often more useful when publishing online.

If you use a .jpg file in your blog, website, online article, etc., only the image is shown. But embedding a clipping creates a clickable image that will allow your readers to also view the clipping (and the newspaper page it came from) on our site for free, whether they subscribe to Newspapers.com or not.

Embedded clippings also automatically include the newspaper citation information below the image, so that’s one less step for you!

How to Embed a Clipping

(Note: Only public clippings can be embedded.)

Embed options on Newspapers.com
  1. Use our Clipping tool to clip the newspaper content you want to embed
  2. From the “Share” options, select “Embed”
  3. Choose the size you prefer for the embedded image: large, medium, or small
  4. If you desire, you can select “Advanced embed,” which uses an iframe tag and includes more information
  5. Copy and paste the embed code into your blog, website, online article, etc.

If you need the clipping’s URL (e.g., for an in-text link), that is available from the Embed options as well.

We hope this “how to” has been helpful. For more help using Newspapers.com, visit our Help Center.

Share using:

How YOU Can Make a Difference in Holocaust Research!

History Unfolded

Looking for an easy way to make a big difference? Newspapers.com invites you to participate in the History Unfolded project run by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum!

What is History Unfolded?

History Unfolded is a project that seeks to expand our knowledge of how American newspapers reported on Nazi persecution during the 1930s and ’40s so we can better understand what Americans knew about the Holocaust as it was happening.

To help achieve this, the History Unfolded project asks people like you to search local newspapers from the 1930s and ’40s for Holocaust-related news and opinions and then submit them online to the museum.

How Are the Articles Used?

The newspaper articles you submit will be used to help support the museum’s current initiative on Americans and the Holocaust. Material from History Unfolded has been included in the “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibition at the museum, a companion online exhibition, a traveling version of the exhibition, and lesson materials.

The articles will also be made available to scholars, historians, and the public.

Who Can Contribute?

Everyone! History buffs, students, teachers . . . All you need is an interest in the Holocaust and access to a newspaper from the 1930s or ’40s, either online (using Newspapers.com, for example) or through a physical archive, such as a library. Simply create an account with History Unfolded, and away you go!

How Do I Contribute?

History Unfolded has created a list of more than 40 Holocaust-related events to focus on. Choose one of these events to research, then search for content related to that topic in an American newspaper of your choice from the 1930s or ’40s.

After you find an article related to one of the events, submit it online to the museum through the project’s website.

Can I See an Example?

Curious to see an example before you get started?

Of the many topics on History Unfolded that you can help research, some explore different aspects of the massive 1938-1941 European refugee crisis (topics such as “Evian Conference Offers Neither Help, Nor Haven” and “Jewish Refugees Desperately Seek Safe Harbor,” for instance).

As Jews and others sought safety from Nazi persecution and violence, some of these refugees fled (or tried to flee) to the United States. But restrictive immigration laws—combined with isolationism, xenophobia, racism, and antisemitism exacerbated by the Great Depression—meant refugees faced a complicated response in America.

How did American newspapers cover the country’s multi-faceted reaction to European refugees? Here are just a few examples that citizen historians like you have discovered and submitted to History Unfolded:  

These newspaper discoveries have helped shed light on this significant era of our history. What might you uncover on these or other topics with a little digging?

Newspapers.com & History Unfolded

You can contribute to this important project whether or not you use Newspapers.com to do so. But using Newspapers.com makes it even easier to submit the articles you find.

Simply use Newspapers.com to create a clipping of an article you’ve found, then submit that clipping through the submission form on the History Unfolded website. The submission form has a special tool created specifically for Newspapers.com users that makes submitting your clipping a snap.

Your assistance with this project will help shape our understanding of the Holocaust and the lessons it holds for us today.

For more information on how to get involved, visit the History Unfolded website. Or use this link to contact History Unfolded with any questions.

Share using:

Unsolved: The Wallingford Shoebox Murder

A mutilated corpse in a shoebox. Nationwide press coverage. A possible connection to a major historical event. Not to mention, a ghost . . .  

A baffling 130-year-old unsolved murder from Connecticut has all this and more.

Is your interest piqued? Join us as we use the historical papers on Newspapers.com to uncover the details of the strange and tragic Wallingford Shoebox Murder mystery.

Mon, Aug 9, 1886 – 1 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com


A Strange & Gruesome Discovery

On Sunday, August 8, 1886, Edward Terrell took his dog out berry hunting on the outskirts of the Connecticut town of Wallingford. They were on a little-used wooded path when the dog discovered a large wooden shoebox partially hidden in the bushes and became agitated. As Terrell neared the box to investigate, however, he was overwhelmed by the stench coming from it.

Perhaps with the memory of a dead body he had discovered a few weeks prior on his mind, the man left the box unopened and returned with a few others. When the group of men pried opened the box, they at first thought it held a dead animal. What it actually contained would send shockwaves through Wallingford for weeks.

Inside, wrapped in tar paper, was the nude torso of a man, with the head, arms, and legs cut off. Bloody straw lined the box’s interior.

The authorities were quickly sent for, and word of the discovery spread like wildfire among the town’s population of approximately 6,000.

Tue, Aug 10, 1886 – 2 · The Morning Journal-Courier (New Haven, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com


What the Body Revealed

The medical examiner’s autopsy determined that the torso likely belonged to a man around age 25, weighing approximately 150 pounds. The time of death was placed 5-10 days prior.

From the amount of blood in the box, it was believed that the body had been placed inside immediately after the head and limbs were severed, and the cuts appeared to have been done by a knife or other non-serrated blade. Apart from the obvious dismemberment, there were no other visible wounds on the corpse. Speculation in the press that it had been the work of medical students was quickly discounted.

The body was buried the day after the discovery, but first the stomach was removed and sent to New Haven for examination. The analysis of the stomach would later reveal the presence of arsenic, leading to the conclusion that the man had been poisoned.

Sat, Aug 28, 1886 – 4 · The Morning Journal-Courier (New Haven, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com


Possible Victims

With no head, the corpse proved impossible to identify. At first, the most common theory was that it was Albert J. Cooley, a veteran who had recently collected a large sum of pension money and hadn’t been seen since. (Cooley would soon be spotted alive, eliminating him as a possible victim.) Another potential victim was Charles Hall—an arsonist speculated to have been killed by his accomplices. Other missing men were investigated as well, but none were ever identified as the body.

Potential Clues

Over the following days and weeks, the investigation turned up a variety of potential clues.

The main piece of evidence was the box the torso was discovered in. It was a large wooden shoebox, about 30×18 inches (sometimes reported as 30×12 inches). Marked on the outside was the type of shoes it had originally contained. Also on the exterior were the remains of an address, but most of this had been removed, leaving only the manufacturer’s mark.

A week or so after the discovery, the constable on the case found pieces of scalp with dark hair near the box’s original location. Almost 2 months later, a farmer discovered arms and legs wrapped in tar paper that were assumed to belong to the corpse.

But these and other potential clues ultimately led nowhere. For instance, reports that a mysterious bag had been discovered in a local well came to nothing, because by the time the authorities had arrived to investigate, the bag had disappeared—if it had ever actually been there.

Thu, Aug 19, 1886 – 2 · The Morning Journal-Courier (New Haven, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com


Prospective Witnesses

People claiming to have information relevant to the case came forward, but their stories didn’t provide any useful leads.

One was a boy who claimed to have seen the box more than a week before Terrell discovered it. Another was a young woman who reported that a stranger dressed in bloody clothes and carrying a large bundle had knocked on her door about a week prior, asking for the location of a certain pond. Never having heard of the pond in question, the woman directed him to a nearby river and reportedly saw him pass by a while later in clean clothes and without the bundle.

In October, a local woman was arrested and questioned but was released after it was determined she couldn’t shed light on the case.

A Startling Chicago Connection

The mysterious story made the local news every day in the first weeks, also getting coverage from major papers as far away as California. However, as is often the case in historical newspapers, the details of the murder differed from paper to paper.

After months of no solid leads, the murder dropped out of even local newspapers, except for occasional articles teasing new leads—which never seemed to actually materialize.

Sat, Aug 21, 1886 – 2 · The Morning Journal-Courier (New Haven, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com


Then 6 months after the murder, in February 1887, the Wallingford Shoebox Mystery made it back into national newspapers. Investigation into the provenance of the shoebox—and of a valise (small suitcase) thought to be connected to the case—had led detectives to Chicago.

Seizing on the Chicago connection, newspapers speculated that the dead man was a suspect in the infamous Haymarket bombing of May 1886. The theory, which was tenuous at best, claimed that the man had been killed in Chicago after the bombing and his body shipped to Wallingford for disposal—supposedly because Connecticut had a reputation for unsolved murders.

Mon, Apr 25, 1887 – 4 · The Meriden Daily Republican (Meriden, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com


The Case Goes Cold

After the rush of articles trying to tie the dead man to the Haymarket Riot, the Shoebox Murder mostly faded from newspapers in the following decades—apart from an annual mention in local papers on its anniversary and its being used as a comparison for other baffling local cases. In all, the state spent $686 (roughly $20,000 today) on the case but never discovered the identities of the murderer or the victim.

Then 40 years after the murder, in 1926, the police chief who had worked the case claimed in a newspaper interview that he knew the truth behind the unsolved mystery. However, he refused to reveal what he knew, allegedly to protect the murderer’s family. Although his claim didn’t reveal the perpetrator, it did lead one woman to come forward to question whether the victim could have been her father.

Sat, Aug 7, 1926 – 8 · The Journal (Meriden, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com


After the murder passed out of living memory, it only sporadically appeared in the papers until its 100th anniversary in the mid-1980s. However, reminders of the case lingered in local newspaper mentions of Wallingford’s “Shoe Box Road,” which had been named for the grisly discovery.

A Haunting in Wallingford

Most recently, in 2016, the murder was featured in an episode of the ghost-hunting reality show Kindred Spirits, which investigated a haunting in Wallingford. But unfortunately, the shoebox ghost didn’t use his television debut to reveal who he was or who had murdered him, leaving the case unsolved to this day.

Read news coverage of the Wallingford Shoebox Mystery on Newspapers.com. Or explore our archive of true crime stories.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this!

Like this post? Try one of these!

Share using:

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.

Like this post? Try one of these!

Share using:

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!

***

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

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this.

Like this post? Try one of these!

Share using:

Vegetables & Victory: Why Gardening Was So Popular in WWII America

Wed, Feb 17, 1943 – 5 · The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, South Carolina) · Newspapers.com


Would you “garden for victory?” During World War II, Americans were encouraged to grow vegetable gardens to help with the home-front war effort. These “Victory Gardens” flourished around the country during the war years, providing an estimated 40 percent of the fresh vegetables Americans ate.

Curious about these gardens? We looked through WWII-era papers on Newspapers.com to learn more about wartime Victory Gardens in the United States!

Victory Gardens before WWII

America’s World War II Victory Gardens were actually a revival of a World War I gardening effort supported by the U.S. government. Starting in 1917, the government had successfully encouraged Americans to grow vegetables at home to free up food for soldiers and allies overseas. When the war ended, however, many people no longer saw a reason to maintain their gardens.

Thu, Jun 6, 1918 – Page 2 · San Bernardino News (San Bernardino, California) · Newspapers.com


But when war broke out again in Europe in 1939, some Americans began to predict there would again be a need for more vegetable gardens, even though the United States hadn’t officially entered the war yet. Interest in wartime gardens began to grow, despite some opposing arguments that they were unnecessary and potentially harmful to farmers’ livelihoods.  

Revival of Victory Gardens

Then, with the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the beginning of food rationing shortly afterward, war gardens began taking off in the United States. 1942 saw a sharp increase in the number of newspaper articles about growing wartime gardens—usually called Victory Gardens but also sometimes referred to as “war gardens” or “gardens for defense.”

Many of the newspaper gardening articles from the spring of 1942 focused on the need for efficiency. Numerous articles emphasized that Americans should avoid repeating the “mistakes” of World War I, when people were so enthusiastic about war gardens that they tore up lawns and parks to put in vegetable gardens without considering factors like soil quality. Some articles even discouraged inexperienced gardeners from planting Victory Gardens altogether to avoid inefficiency and waste.

Sun, Jan 18, 1942 – 43 · The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) · Newspapers.com


Victory Gardens Reach their Peak

But as World War II lengthened, even amateur gardeners were encouraged to grow Victory Gardens, and 1943 and 1944 saw home vegetable gardens reach their peak popularity.

During this time, Victory Gardens were often portrayed as a patriotic duty. Americans were told that growing a vegetable garden would help free up food for soldiers, and that eating local produce would reduce the strain on America’s transportation network. In many cases, Victory Gardens served as morale boosters as well, helping home gardeners feel they were contributing to the war effort.

Tue, Mar 30, 1943 – Page 6 · McComb Daily Journal (McComb, Mississippi) · Newspapers.com


As Victory Gardens grew in popularity, cities and states created their own committees and initiatives to support local gardening efforts, which were now actively encouraged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and President Roosevelt. Some cities offered lower water rates for Victory Gardens, while other communities sponsored Victory Garden contests.

Newspapers published a huge amount of gardening content during these years—from how-to guides, to garden diagrams, to planting schedules. Newspapers also published helpful columns about how to can and preserve Victory Garden produce, and the Boston Globe even offered to test people’s garden soil for free. Inevitably, wartime gardening made its way into newspaper ads as well—with Victory Garden imagery and slogans being used to sell products from seeds to beer.

Wed, Mar 31, 1943 – 4 · Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com


Of course, not everyone had room to grow a backyard garden. City dwellers grew gardens where they could, from window boxes to rooftops. Other Victory Gardens were grown at schools and workplaces, or in community plots established both in and outside of cities. Some newspapers even pitched in to try to help people find places to plant gardens by publishing surveys to identify unused plots.

Victory Gardens’ Decline

1945 was the beginning of the end for Victory Gardens. With the war winding down, fewer people saw a need for home gardens, even though the government was still encouraging people to plant them. And once the war ended, Americans planted even fewer Victory Gardens in 1946 and 1947.

But wartime gardens had produced very real results. In 1942 there had been an estimated 16 million Victory Gardens in the United States; by 1944, this number had grown to 20 million. And these home gardens had produced a huge amount of food each year—roughly 8 million tons, or more than 40 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables eaten by Americans.

Sun, Apr 11, 1943 – Page 15 · Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada) · Newspapers.com


Do you have any memories or family stories about Victory Gardens? Share them with us in the comments!

Learn more about WWII Victory Gardens by searching Newspapers.com! And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this!

Like this post? Try one of these!

Share using:

Spring Cleaning Used to be Unavoidable—Here’s Why

Sun, Mar 22, 1931 – 3 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · Newspapers.com


Do you feel the call of spring cleaning when the weather starts to warm up? While today it’s largely personal preference whether we spring clean or not, it was a practical necessity up until about 100 years ago.

Why Was Spring Cleaning Necessary?

Until the 20th century, homes in the United States were typically heated with wood or coal during the winter, and candles and oil lamps were used to light rooms at night—all of which left soot and smoke coating walls, windows, and other surfaces. Few roads were paved back then, so dirt, manure, and other detritus would get tracked indoors. Bugs and vermin were a problem in many homes as well.

Families did their best to keep their homes clean during the winter months, but cold temperatures and bad weather prevented a thorough cleaning, since many cleaning methods necessitated taking furnishings, carpets, and bedding outdoors. So when spring came with its sunshine and warmer weather, it was time to clean the home of the accumulated winter grime.

Sun, Mar 26, 1905 – Page 59 · Evening Star (Washington, District of Columbia) · Newspapers.com


Depending on the area of the country, spring cleaning was typically done during April or May, when the weather was warm enough that the family would no longer need a sooty fire or stove to heat their home. The weather also needed to be pleasant enough that household furnishings could be shifted outdoors to be cleaned and windows opened to air out the home.

What Did Spring Cleaning Involve?

Spring cleaning in past centuries was labor intensive, and the task fell almost exclusively to women—who either did the cleaning themselves or (income permitting) oversaw the work of others. The children of the house were often also pressed into service, but husbands were not usually involved due to traditional gender roles.

Common spring cleaning tasks of the time included:

These spring cleaning tips we found in 19th-century papers on Newspapers.com give a sense of what the process was like during that era:

Sat, Jun 12, 1869 – 4 · New England Farmer (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com
Sat, May 13, 1871 – 3 · Aurora of the Valley (Newbury, Vermont) · Newspapers.com
Thu, May 23, 1872 – 6 · The Clinton Public (Clinton, Illinois) · Newspapers.com


Why Did Spring Cleaning Change?

In the late 19th century and early 20th, spring cleaning began to change. The invention of modern appliances—notably the vacuum cleaner—and mass-produced cleaning products made routine cleaning easier. And the widespread adoption of electricity, gas furnaces, central air, and paved roads greatly reduced the indoor dirt and grime that had made a thorough spring cleaning so essential.

By the mid-20th century, spring cleaning had become more of a tradition than a necessity in the U.S.—a reality that was reflected in a number of newspaper columns that questioned the need for an annual spring cleaning.

Thu, May 16, 1940 – 2 · The Gotebo Record (Gotebo, Oklahoma) · Newspapers.com


Today, spring cleaning remains a part of American culture, with a 2019 survey revealing that 77 percent of Americans commit to spring cleaning every year. Are you one of them? Let us know in the comments!

Learn more about spring cleaning history by searching Newspapers.com! And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this!

Like this post? Try one of these!

Share using: