What Old Newspapers Reveal about the Last of the Czars

If you were living in 1918 and saw a newspaper story about the murder of the Romanovs, would you have known who they were? How would you have felt about the news if you read it when it first broke?

Thanks to numerous books, plays, movies, and mini-series, most people today are familiar with the story of the Romanovs, the Russian royal family headed by Czar Nicholas II who were brutally executed in 1918, ending the country’s monarchy.

But that’s today. What about back then?

We headed to the historical newspapers on Newspapers.com to help us find out how people living in the United States and Canada at the time of the Romanov executions would have experienced the news of their deaths.

Would people living in the U.S. and Canada have known who the Romanovs were?

While we can’t speak for everyone living in those countries at the time, it’s pretty safe to say that if you were a newspaper reader, you would have known who the Romanovs were.

Since Russia was a world power, its monarch naturally drew the attention of newspapers. People could read about Nicholas II’s personal life, from his marriage, to the births of his children, to his visits to foreign royalty. And they likewise could read about Russian politics under his rule, from the Russo-Japanese War, to civil unrest and revolution, to World War I.

Newspaper headlines announce Nicholas II's abdication as czar (The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 03.17.1917)
Newspaper headlines announce Nicholas II’s abdication as czar (The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 03.17.1917)

There was fairly consistent newspaper coverage of the Romanovs throughout the years of Nicholas II’s reign, with the exception of a few years that had major spikes in coverage. The first was 1905, an eventful year in Russian politics headlined by a revolution attempt and Nicholas’s issuing of the October Manifesto (which promised an elected parliament).

The other two years that saw spikes in newspaper coverage of the Romanovs were 1917, when Nicholas II abdicated and was exiled, and 1918, when the family was executed. The abundance of newspaper coverage about the executions is probably self-explanatory, but the Romanovs’ lives in exile prior to their deaths seemed to fascinate newspapers almost as much.

How did Americans and Canadians back then feel about the Romanovs?

Nicholas II and Alexandra (The Pittsburgh Post, 11.26.1905
Nicholas II and Alexandra (The Pittsburgh Post, 11.26.1905)

Most people likely formed their opinions about the Romanovs based on newspaper stories—the main source of news at the time. So a look at how newspapers were portraying the Romanovs can help us understand how they would have been seen by the general public in the U.S. and Canada.

Nicholas was often portrayed by the American and Canadian press as an inept, weak ruler who was easily influenced by those around him. The more negative portrayals showed him as an arrogant, superstitious despot who cared nothing for the people he ruled, overly dependent on his wife and on incompetent advisors. The more positive portrayals, however, often wrote about him as a quiet family man who had the misfortune of being born into a role he wasn’t suited for.

As for his wife, Alexandra, the more flattering depictions portrayed her as an intelligent and spiritually-minded woman who was a loving wife and mother. The negative newspaper accounts tended to show her as a pro-German sympathizer who controlled her husband and was unhealthily obsessed with mysticism. 

As for the children—4 daughters and a son—newspapers paid the most attention to Alexei (Alexis), the long-awaited male heir. Although the royal family tried to keep Alexei’s hemophilia a secret, rumors of the boy’s poor health still made it into the American and Canadian media. This in turn led to articles predicting that Alexei’s likely early death would spell the end for the Romanov dynasty.

Did people know about Rasputin?

Newspaper interpretation of Rasputin and Czar Nicholas II (The Shreveport Times, 08.16.1914)
Rasputin and Nicholas II (The Shreveport Times, 08.16.1914)

Yes. Rasputin was a controversial, scandalous figure, and controversies and scandals have always been popular news items. News about Rasputin seemed to have taken a few years to reach the U.S. and Canada (he joined the Russian court around 1905, yet didn’t begin appearing in Western newspapers until about 1911). But once he became known in North America, he was a figure of fascination, and his mystical power over Alexandra and Nicholas was widely written about both before and after his murder in 1916. 

How much did people in 1918 know about the deaths of the Romanovs?

Not much—at least, not much accurate information. Because so much was kept secret by the Bolsheviks, news of the Romanovs’ deaths left Russia slowly, and the details that were reported were often far from what we now understand to have happened. This lack of concrete news opened the gates for a flood of rumors and unsubstantiated news.

Article incorrectly reports Romanov family is safe (The Morning Leader, 07.29.1918)
Article incorrectly reports Romanov family is safe (The Morning Leader, 07.29.1918)

Most initial reports indicated that while Nicholas had been killed, his family was still alive—which we now know was not true. Another oft-published item from around that time claimed that Alexei had died from exposure a few days after Nicholas’s murder—also incorrect. Fictitious accounts of Nicholas’s execution also circulated widely in newspapers, as did a plethora of tell-all articles of dubious veracity written by people claiming to have been connected to the royal family. To top it off, every few months articles would crop up claiming that there was a chance Nicholas was still alive.

There were so many conflicting accounts about what happened that even when a somewhat accurate account was published, there was no way for newspaper readers to be able to discern that this particular article was any more or less true than the numerous others.

The mystery of what really happened to the Romanovs lasted for decades, until the discovery of their bodies was made public in 1989. Even today, there are still things we don’t know about the Romanovs’ deaths, but one thing’s for certain: We know much, much more than people did in 1918.

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5 Tips for Finding an Ancestor with a Common Name in the Newspaper

What do you do when you want to look for your ancestor in the newspaper, but your ancestor has a common name? How do you know if the John Smith you found mentioned in a newspaper article is your John Smith?

This can be a frustrating roadblock to navigate, so to help you in your search, we’ve come up with 5 tips for finding a person with a common name in the papers on Newspapers.com.

1. Use our search filters.

We’ll start with the most obvious tip first: Use the Newspapers.com search filters to narrow down your matches. (Watch this video to learn how to use our filters.)

If you go to our search bar and type John Smith, you’ll get more than 100 million results, which is far too many to go through one by one. So try adding filters in addition to your search terms. For example, if you know John Smith lived in Kansas between 1909 and 1930, add filters for that location and date range. This simple method will help get the number of search results down to a more manageable number.

Search filters on Newspapers.com
Search filters on Newspapers.com

Keep in mind, however, that any time you add filters to a search, you are excluding potential matches. While a newspaper article about your ancestor is most likely to appear in a newspaper from the town he lived in during the time he lived there, if he traveled to a different city to visit a relative, he may also appear in that town’s newspaper. Or he might be mentioned in a newspaper long after his death in an article about one of his descendants.

2. Learn everything you can about your ancestor.

If your ancestor has a common name, the thing that will help you distinguish them in the newspaper is obviously not going to be their name—it’ll be other things about them. So the more you know about your ancestor, the more likely you will be to recognize them when you come across them in a newspaper. Traditional records, such as censuses, vital records, wills, and land records, are a good place to find personal information about your ancestor that you can use in your newspaper search.

Example of a WW2 draft card, which can provide useful information in learning about an individual (via Fold3)
Example of a WW2 draft card, which can provide useful information in learning about an individual (via Fold3)

Details that may help you distinguish your ancestor include when and where they lived (even down to their address, if possible), as well as their spouse’s, parents’, and children’s names. Every detail can help—even their profession, physical description, and the clubs and church they belonged to.

So if your ancestor John Smith lived in a town with another John Smith, you may be able to tell them apart by the details provided in a newspaper article. For instance, if you know your John Smith was a doctor, then an article in the town paper mentioning a “Dr. John Smith” is more likely to be about your ancestor than an article talking about a lawyer named John Smith. Similarly, if you know he was 30 years old in 1912, then you’ll also know that an article from 1912 about a John Smith’s 50th wedding anniversary isn’t going to be about your ancestor.

3. Learn who their family, friends, and neighbors were.

Your ancestor may have had a common name, but there were likely people in their circle who had more distinguishable names. So try searching for your ancestor in conjunction with family, friends, and neighbors who had less common names.

For example, our commonly named John Smith may have married a woman with a more uncommon surname, like Chuba. So if you search for him in conjunction with his in-laws’ surname, you may turn up mentions of him in the newspaper. Similarly, maybe his father or brother had a less common first name than “John,” so if you find their names and his mentioned together in an article, this is a good sign you’ve found whom you’re looking for.

A Smith family photo (Nebraska State Journal, 12.25.1915)
A Smith family photo from a newspaper (Nebraska State Journal, 12.25.1915)

And don’t stop at family members. If you know the name of a family friend or neighbor (things like censuses and city directories can alert you to who lived nearby), you can search for that person in the newspaper and see if your ancestor pops up in conjunction with them. For example, if your John Smith lived next door to a Thomas Bieber for many years, and you find a John Smith mentioned in a newspaper social column about the Bieber’s Christmas party, there’s a good probability that it’s your John Smith.

4. Try searching without a name.

If the person’s name is the problem, try searching without one—or with only part of it. To search without a name, gather all the information possible about the person, like we mentioned in previous tips, and then search using these criteria.

So instead of searching for the name “John Smith,” search for things you know about him. If you know Dr. John Smith lived in Topeka, Kansas, between 1909 and 1930 and was married to a woman with the maiden name Chuba, you could try searching for doctors living in Topeka during that time period who were mentioned in the newspaper in conjunction with the Chuba family.

Example of a Newspapers.com search that doesn't use the individual's full name
Example of a Newspapers.com search that doesn’t use the individual’s full name

This method requires a lot of experimenting with different keywords and testing out different searches, but you never know what you may turn up this way!

5. Pay attention to newspaper patterns.

If you’re confused about which John Smith is which in a town’s newspaper, it would’ve been confusing for people in your ancestor’s day too. So newspapers had to find a method to distinguish people with the same name in their articles. One way they sometimes did this was by including an address in conjunction with a name. But they also differentiated people by styling their names differently.

Newspapers often stuck to naming patterns when mentioning residents so that their readers could know who was being written about. John Smith may have been written about in the newspaper as “John Smith,” “Jno. Smith,” “John A. Smith,” “J. A. Smith,” “Johnny Smith,” “Jack Smith,” “Dr. Smith,” or some other variation. So your ancestor might not be “John Smith” in the newspaper at all—he might be “J. A. Smith,” while the other John Smith in town was written about as “John Smith.”

Of course, newspapers didn’t always stick strictly to naming patterns, but when you are able to find a pattern, it can be a major help in identifying your ancestor. So if you are able find your ancestor mentioned in the newspaper at least once, pay attention to how the paper styled their name!

Good luck!

List of some of the John Smiths in and around Kansas City circa 1888 (via the Kansas City Daily Gazette, 08.11.1888)
List of some of the John Smiths in and around Kansas City circa 1888 (via the Kansas City Daily Gazette, 08.11.1888)

Unfortunately, having an ancestor with a common name often means you have to spend a lot more time combing search results to find them in the newspaper. Sometimes, the best you can do is narrow your search results down to a manageable number, and then go through each result, ruling them out one by one. You may even have to do quite a bit of research into someone who isn’t your ancestor, just so you know for sure that they aren’t the person you’re looking for.

But the time and effort you spend will be well worth it when you do finally find a newspaper mention of your ancestor!

Let us know in the comments if you have any other tips for finding ancestors with common names!

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How Newspapers Captured D-Day on the Home Front

On June 6, 1944, newspaper front pages throughout the United States were filled with one thing: D-Day. Huge headlines, countless articles, and striking images all told the story of the critical invasion taking place in France.

But alongside the gripping news from overseas, newspapers also documented another side to D-Day, one closer to home: They captured how the people of their communities reacted to news of the invasion.

Below, we’ve gathered a sampling of 12 of these home front reactions from around the United States, as well as Canada, England, and Australia. Click on any image, article excerpt, or headline below to view the full thing on our site.

  • Windsor Daily Star, 06.06.1944
    Windsor Daily Star, 06.06.1944

Explore more D-Day newspaper coverage on our Topic Page! Or search Newspapers.com for other D-Day content.

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19 Incredible Photos from 1919 You’ve Never Seen Before

Historical newspapers are full of amazing photographs. Unfortunately, many old newspaper photos have been long forgotten—not given a second thought since the day they were first published decades (or centuries!) ago. But thanks to the digitization of historical newspapers on sites like Newspapers.com, these photos are no longer lost to time!

To highlight a few of these remarkable historical photos, we decided to look back 100 years—to 1919. So we combed century-old newspapers on our site to find 19 incredible historical images from 1919 that you’ve probably never seen before. Some are tied to major news events—like the Boston Molasses Disaster or the first transatlantic flight—but others simply document the lives of everyday people in the year that followed World War I.

Of course, behind every photograph is a story. To learn more about any of the photos below, click on the image to view the original caption or article on our site.

Find other cool photographs in the papers on Newspapers.com! And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

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How Do I Find an Obituary on Newspapers.com?

Obituaries are an invaluable genealogical resource, so they are often the first thing a family historian looks for in a newspaper. But finding an ancestor’s obituary can sometimes be tricky. So we’ve created an in-depth guide to help you find obituaries in the historical newspapers in our archives.

Why are obituaries important?

First, let’s talk about why you’d want to look for an ancestor’s obituary in the first place.

Example of an obituary with a photo included [Florence Bulletin, 02.25.1915]
Example of an obituary with a photo included [Florence Bulletin, 02.25.1915]

Obituaries can tell you information that may be hard to find through other sources, though the types of information published in obituaries can vary widely. Many have basic information like the person’s name (sometimes including maiden name for married women), age, birth date and place, and death date and place. But others may also include nicknames, cause of death, spouse’s name, children’s names, names of extended family members, employment history, education, volunteer activities, religion, military service, personality, photos, and more! All this information can be especially important if your ancestor lived in a time before statewide vital recordkeeping.

Obituaries also provide clues to other types of records you should look for. For instance, if the person’s obituary mentions military service, you can begin looking for enlistment records or pension files. And if the obituary indicates the person died in a different county than where they lived (perhaps because they were at a hospital or staying with family), this information could point you to the location of their death certificate.

Of course, it is important to keep in mind that the information in obituaries may not always be accurate. The newspaper may have gotten information wrong or misspelled names, or the surviving family members may have misremembered facts. This means it is always important to find corroborating records when possible; but still, obituaries are a great jumping off point.

Will there be an obituary for my ancestor?

Before you start looking for an obituary, it’s important to understand some historical context that may affect whether you will be able to find an obituary for your ancestor.

First of all, although obituaries have been published in newspapers since the 1600s, they only became common beginning in the early to mid-1800s. So your earlier ancestors likely would not have had an obituary published in newspapers.

Example of a death notice for a man who died away from his hometown [Bridgeport Telegram, 01.24.1918]
Example of a death notice for a man who died away from his hometown [Bridgeport Telegram, 01.24.1918]

In addition, not every person had an obituary written about them. The better-known and more prominent a person was in a community, the more likely they were to get an obituary. Plus, a well-known person would be more likely to have a longer, more-detailed piece written about them after death, while the average resident may only get a few lines.

On top of all that, small-towns papers were more likely than large-city papers to publish obituaries about their residents. Populations of big cities were too large for papers to write full obituaries for every resident. Small-town papers, on the other hand, had space to write about more of the residents.

What information do I need before I start looking for an obituary?

Since the papers on Newspapers.com are all fully searchable, you need less information to find a person’s obituary than in the past, when you had to look through physical papers or microfilm. If you are willing to spend time combing through search results, all you really need is the person’s name.

However, to make your search easier and faster, the best information to know in addition to the person’s name is their date and place of death. But other information is helpful as well, such as other locations where the person lived, any nicknames or aliases they had, and names of their spouse and close family members.

How do I start?

If you’re searching for your ancestor on Newspapers.com, one of the best first steps is to make sure you understand how to use our search, including the search filters. If you want to learn more about best practices for searching on our site, watch this tutorial video.

The next step is to search for your ancestor’s name. It will probably be the rare case when you type in your ancestor’s name and the first search result is their obituary. So there are two ways to approach finding the obituary: start with a broad search and then narrow your results, or start with a narrow search and broaden your results.

Example of an obituary reprinted years after the person's death [The Messenger and Intelligencer, 09.09.1909]
Example of an obituary reprinted years after the person’s death [The Messenger and Intelligencer, 09.09.1909]

If you want to start broad (recommended if your ancestor had a relatively unique or uncommon name), enter your ancestor’s name into our search bar. Scroll through some of the search results to see if there are any likely hits for your ancestor. If there aren’t, try adding the year of your ancestor’s death. Again, skim the results to see if there are any hits. If there still aren’t, try adding the state where your ancestor died. Continue adding time, location, and other filters until you either find what you’re looking for or exhaust the possibilities. 

If your ancestor had a fairly common name, starting narrow and going broad is likely a better approach. From the search bar, type in your ancestor’s name, add the year of death, and the location where they died. Then, if a match doesn’t show up in your search results, gradually broaden or remove the filters to reveal more possible matches.

Keep in mind that while filters can be extremely helpful in narrowing down your search results to a manageable amount, any time you use a filter, you are excluding possible matches. Here are a few important things to remember about using filters:

  1. While an obituary may have appeared in the newspaper as early as the day of the person’s death, many obituaries may not appear for a few days or even weeks. So don’t narrow your date filters too far.
  2. Searching papers in the location where your ancestor died is a good initial strategy, but remember that their obituary may have instead appeared in the location where they spent the majority of their life, or where they had living family members.
  3. Even if you think you know which newspaper the obituary is in, it’s often worth a shot to search other newspapers in the area. And if the town is near the state line, try searching nearby newspapers in the neighboring state. You can use our Newspapers Map to see which papers are available for any geographical area.

If your search returns too many results to sort through even with filters, you can try using additional search terms such as “obituary,” “death,” “died,” “dead,” “funeral,” “memorial,” “in remembrance,” etc.

I can’t find the obituary. Any more tips?

If the tips above don’t lead you to the obituary, there are some more advanced strategies you can try.

One is to try searching for your ancestor using nicknames, alternative names, initials, and misspellings. In older newspapers, men were often referred to by initials or abbreviations, and women were often referred to by their husbands’ names (e.g., Mrs. John Smith). If you’ve found other newspaper mentions of the ancestor you are trying to find an obituary for, look at how the newspaper styled the name, and then try a search using that same spelling. Noticing patterns like this can be a big help.

Example of an obituary where the woman is referred to by her husband's name [The Scranton Truth, 05.21.1906]
Example of an obituary where the woman is referred to by her husband’s name [The Scranton Truth, 05.21.1906]

Another strategy is to search using the names of a relative or two who would likely appear in the person’s obituary, such as a spouse or child. The Newspapers.com search uses OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to find matches. This means that a computer has tried to identify the words on each page and produce a digital version to search. But OCR, as accurate as it is, isn’t perfect, especially if the text on the page is less clear for some reason. So if you search for an obituary using the name of a close family member, it may turn up matches that the OCR wasn’t able to identify the first time.

You can also try an advanced keyword search using wildcards and Booleans. Wildcards are especially helpful if your ancestor has a name that is commonly misspelled. And Booleans are helpful if you want to really focus your search. Refer to this blog post for more help on how to use wildcards and Booleans.

If you can’t find an obituary, you can also try searching for other types of newspaper content related to your ancestor’s death. For example, some families would print a “card of thanks” in the newspaper after the funeral to thank the community for their condolences. You can also look for legal notices such as those about the person’s estate and probate. And if the person died in an accident, murder, or other unexpected manner, there may be a newspaper article about the death rather than an obituary.

What do I do if I STILL can’t find the obituary?

It may be the case that the newspaper with your ancestor’s obituary hasn’t been added to our archives yet. This is where our Save/Notify feature comes in handy. Located to the right of the search bar on your search results page, this feature allows you to save your searches so you can repeat them more easily in the future. And, even better, we will email you to let you know when new papers are added to our site that contain matches for your saved searches. You can learn more about this feature in our help center or in this blog post.

Man reads his own obituary in 1919! [The Oregon Daily Journal, 11.13.1919]
Man reads his own obituary in 1919! [The Oregon Daily Journal, 11.13.1919]

As mentioned earlier, OCR isn’t always perfect. So if you are certain there should be an obituary for your ancestor, but a keyword search on Newspapers.com isn’t bringing it up, try looking the old-fashioned way—by reading newspapers page by page.

Start by browsing in the newspaper located closest to where your ancestor died, beginning with the issue the day after their death. Then gradually expand the time period and location you are looking at. You’ll soon notice patterns that will help you look through the newspaper more quickly—such as that a newspaper published its obituaries on the same page of each issue, or that it published them on the same day each week. This method is obviously time consuming, but it may be worth it if you really want that obituary!

Happy Searching!

We hope this has been useful in helping you find your ancestor’s obituary. If you have any tips we missed that you think might help others, be sure to post them in the comments!

And get started finding your ancestors’ obituaries by searching Newspapers.com!

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80 Years of Incredible College Basketball Headlines

Because 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the best-known college basketball tournament, we’ve compiled headlines from every 10th championship game since the tournament began in 1939. How many of these games are you familiar with?

1939: Evanston, IL

Oregon Webfoots defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes, 46-33

Quick facts: First NCAA tournament; Oregon’s only national championship for men’s basketball to date

“Zippy Zone Defense Baffles Ohio” Tue, Mar 28, 1939 – 1 · The Coos Bay Times (Marshfield, Oregon) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

1949: Seattle, WA

Kentucky Wildcats defeat the Oklahoma State Cowboys, 46-36

Quick facts: Kentucky’s second title in as many title games; Second year of Kentucky’s back-to-back winning streak (1948 & 1949)

“Kentucky Whips Oklahoma A. & M.” Sun, Mar 27, 1949 – 9 · The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro, Kentucky) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

1959: Louisville, KY

California Golden Bears defeat the West Virginia Mountaineers, 71-70

Quick facts: First title for the Golden Bears

“Bears Nip Mountaineers” Sun, Mar 22, 1959 – 33 · The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

1969: Louisville, KY

UCLA Bruins defeat the Purdue Boilermakers, 92-72

Quick facts:  Part of the UCLA glory years, during which the team won 10 NCAA titles between 1964 and 1975

“Bruins Win Unprecedented 3rd Straight Title” Sun, Mar 23, 1969 – Page 51 · The San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

1979: Salt Lake City, UT

No. 2 seed Michigan State Spartans defeat No. 1 seed Indiana State Sycamores, 75-64

Quick facts: First title game for both teams, and first title for Michigan State; Beginning of the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird rivalry; First tournament where all teams were seeded

“Magic Man Turns ISU’s Cinderella Story into Rags” Tue, Mar 27, 1979 – Page 6 · The Call-Leader (Elwood, Indiana) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

1989: Seattle, WA

No. 3 seed Michigan Wolverines defeat No. 3 seed Seton Hall Pirates, 80-79

Quick facts: First title for Michigan; Overtime victory

“Michigan Wins First NCAA Title in OT” Tue, Apr 4, 1989 – 14 · The Herald-Palladium (Saint Joseph, Michigan) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

1999: St. Petersburg, FL

No. 1 seed UConn Huskies defeat No. 1 seed Duke Blue Devils, 77-74

Quick facts: First title for UConn; Big upset, as Duke had an incredibly strong team, while UConn was a 9.5-point underdog

“Duke Stumbles on Its Last Step” Tue, Mar 30, 1999 – Page 27 · Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, North Carolina) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

2009: Detroit, MI

No. 1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels defeat No. 2 seed Michigan State Spartans, 89-72

Quick facts: North Carolina had a 55-34 lead at halftime, which was the largest halftime lead in the tournament’s history as well as the most points scored in the first half

“UNC-onquerable: Tar Heels Rout Spartans” Tue, Apr 7, 2009 – 9 · Rocky Mount Telegram (Rocky Mount, North Carolina) · Newspapers.com

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

Find more newspaper coverage of your favorite college basketball championships over the years by searching Newspapers.com!

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3 Amazing Female Detectives You’ve Never Heard Of

Nancy Drew, Miss Marple, Veronica Mars, Lis Salander, Jessica Fletcher, Dana Scully, Clarice Starling . . . Female detectives are relatively easy to find in fiction. There’s even a brand-new Nancy Drew movie out.

But for all their growing prevalence on screen and in literature, women detectives are hard to find in history books. So we searched the historical papers on Newspapers.com to bring you the amazing stories of 3 real-life female detectives you’ve probably never heard of.

Maud West

Maude WestMaude West Fri, Mar 3, 1922 – Page 17 · The Charlotte News (Charlotte, North Carolina) · Newspapers.com


~Who was she?~

Maud West was a well-known private detective in London in the early decades of the 20th century. Reputed to be London’s only female detective, West opened her agency in 1905 and hired both male and female detectives. For the next 30 years, she investigated a host of crimes, from blackmail and theft, to cheating spouses and even German spies. She claimed to have investigated cases around the world, including in Paris, the South of France, Monte Carlo, Nairobi, and New York.

Famous as a master of disguise, West went undercover as a servant, society woman, nurse, secretary, waitress, fortune teller, and more. She excelled at disguising herself as a man and impersonated everyone from a lowly sailor to a titled Englishman. West reportedly said that she frequently took on male disguises because “A woman […] cannot stand about like a man may.”

~Notable Case~

In an article that ran in multiple newspapers in 1926, West recounted a case in which a young American woman hired West to investigate her husband. West, using various disguises, trailed him on a long journey that stretched from Paris, to Dover, to London, and then all the way to New York. In New York, she discovered that the “strange American’s eccentricity had turned to medical surgery,” and he had in fact traveled to New York to participate in an illegal human dissection.

~Read more about Maud West in the newspaper~

Isabella Goodwin

Isabella GoodwinIsabella Goodwin Mon, Mar 4, 1912 – Page 4 · Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, New York) · Newspapers.com


~Who was she?~

Isabella Goodwin was New York’s first woman police detective. The widow of a policeman with four children to raise, Goodwin was hired as a police matron in 1896. Sometime around 1910, Goodwin was transferred to the detective bureau to assist in investigations, though there is newspaper evidence that she was already helping with investigations by 1902.

In the detective bureau, Goodwin primarily focused on investigating charlatans and swindlers, including fortune tellers, healers, spiritualists, mediums, and astrologers, sometimes going undercover. After proving instrumental in solving a robbery case in 1912, Goodwin was promoted to detective sergeant, first grade, and became the first woman in the New York police department to hold this position. She later also served as assistant to the Special Deputy Commissioner in charge of the Women’s Precinct.

Goodwin remarried in 1921, and in 1924 resigned from the police department after 28 years of service.

~Notable Case~

The case that made Isabella Goodwin famous occurred in 1912. A group of so-called “taxicab bandits” attacked two bank messengers in Manhattan in broad daylight and got away with $25,000 (more than $600,000 today). Goodwin went undercover as a servant in a boarding house and was able to gather the information needed for the police to arrest the men.

~Read more about Isabella Goodwin in the newspaper~

Frances Benzecry

Frances BenzecryFrances Benzecry Sat, Mar 2, 1912 – 3 · New-York Tribune (New York, New York) · Newspapers.com


~Who was she?~

Frances Benzecry was a detective for the medical societies of Brooklyn and Manhattan. A graduate of New York Normal College, Benzecry was hired as a medical detective sometime around 1905. She investigated all manner of fake medical practitioners and healers, who were often suspected of operating without a license.

To catch them, she frequently submitted to their phony treatments and thus gained a reputation as the “most doctored woman in New York.” Benzecry reportedly had more than 75 aliases, but her best known one was “Belle Holmes,” and she was sometimes mentioned in the newspapers by that name. Since her cases occasionally overlapped with those of Isabella Goodwin, the two worked together on multiple occasions. 

~Notable case~

In 1911, Frances Benzecry (along with Isabella Goodwin) gathered evidence and testified against Willis Vernon Cole, who was arrested and tried for practicing Christian Science healing without a medical license. Benzecry visited his office pretending to have trouble with her eyes and back and paid Cole to cure her through prayer. Cole was initially found guilty, but after a series of high-profile trials, he won on appeal, setting a legal precedent for religious healing.  

~Read more about Frances Benzecry in the newspaper~

Newspapers are full of accounts of female detectives in history. Search Newspapers.com to find articles, photos, and more on this topic. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

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3 Ways You Can Learn About Your Irish Immigrant Ancestors Using Newspapers

March is Irish-American Heritage Month, but for many Americans with Irish ancestry, tracing family lines back to Ireland can be difficult. Take a lack of Irish genealogical records and add an abundance of individuals with the same name, and you have an almost certain recipe for hitting that infamous brick wall. If traditional genealogical records haven’t turned up the answers you’re looking for, newspapers can be another avenue to explore.

Many people’s first step when using newspapers for family history is to search for the names of their ancestors. Newspapers.com is especially helpful when it comes to searching for individuals, as our search filters for date, location, and more make narrowing down your results easier than ever.

But what if your ancestor’s name doesn’t turn up in a newspaper search? Or what if you can’t be sure that the Michael Kelly you found mentioned in a newspaper is actually the Michael Kelly you’re related to? One of the wonderful things about newspapers is that they can help you learn about your ancestor’s life even if you don’t find them mentioned by name.

Here are 3 ways you can use newspapers to learn about your Irish immigrant ancestors.

Genealogical map of Ireland, 1916. Go HERE to access the full-size image [Elmira Star-Gazette, 03.17.1916]
Genealogical map of Ireland, 1916. Go HERE to access the full-size image [Elmira Star-Gazette, 03.17.1916]

1. Newspapers can help you learn about your ancestor’s life back in Ireland.

Understanding what conditions were like in Ireland at the time your ancestors immigrated may help you understand why they left.

A good place to start is by looking at Irish newspapers. Newspapers.com currently has more than a dozen Irish papers, primarily from Dublin but encompassing some other counties as well. We also have papers from Northern Ireland. Publication years for our papers from both these areas range from the late 18th to the late 19th century.

So if your ancestors were living in Ireland during that time, try browsing one of these newspapers to read articles and see ads showing what life was like back then. Find out about conditions for tenant farmers, learn what the Irish were saying about the issue of home rule, and much more. You can also look through our collection of newspapers from England, as they also commonly carried news from Ireland.

One of the primary reasons immigrants left Ireland was the Potato Famine, which lasted roughly 1845 to 1849. If your ancestors were in Ireland during this devastating time, learning about this tragedy can help you understand more about what your relatives likely experienced. One way to do this is by searching for articles related to the famine on Newspapers.com. Or, for a shortcut, head to our Irish Potato Famine Topic Page, which is a free curated collection of newspaper clippings related to that topic. 

2. Newspapers can help you learn about your ancestors’ lives in their destination city.

Do you know where your Irish ancestors lived after immigrating to the United States? If so, you can explore newspapers from that city or state for the time period your ancestors lived there to get a sense of what their life may have been like after their arrival. From our Newspapers Map, you can see which papers are available on the site for a certain date and location.

Once you’ve found the newspaper you want to use, pick some issues of the paper to look at. The more issues you look at, the more detailed your understanding of the city will be. But if you feel overwhelmed, start by looking at just one.

From images, to weather reports, to police blotters, 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. If you’re lucky enough to know the name of the street where your ancestors lived, search the newspaper for that street name to build a picture of what their neighborhood was like.

Irish immigrant family arriving in New York [Elmira Star-Gazette, 12.05.1929]
Irish immigrant family arriving in New York [Elmira Star-Gazette, 12.05.1929]

If you aren’t sure where in the U.S. your Irish ancestors immigrated, you can look at newspapers from common port and destination cities for Irish immigrants. These include places like Boston, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Canada was also a popular destination, since it was cheaper to sail there, so some Irish landed in Canada before eventually moving to the United States. This means a search through the Canadian papers on Newspapers.com may provide additional insights into your Irish immigrant ancestors. 

If your Irish ancestors came through Ellis Island, as many later immigrants did, you can visit our Ellis Island Topic Page to explore newspaper clippings about this busy immigration station.

3. Newspapers can help you learn about the Irish immigrant experience.

Newspapers are also helpful for learning about the Irish immigration experience in general. Even a simple search on our site for phrases like “Irish immigrant” or “Irish immigration” returns thousands of search results that you can comb for information and experiences. For instance, if you have ancestors who came over around the turn of the 19th century, this article excerpt from 1900 New York may give you some insight into what it was like for them:

Newspapers will show you both the lows and highs of being an Irish immigrant in the United States. You’ll see articles about discrimination, poverty, and poor living conditions, but also about immigrants coming together to celebrate Irish traditions, building a community in a new country, and finding success. This kind of color will help bring your ancestors’ experiences to life.

Explore Further

We’ve been focusing on immigrants to the United States in this post. But if your Irish ancestors immigrated to England, Canada, or Australia instead, you can use these same methods to learn about their life in those locations. Just use our newspaper collections from those countries!

These tips are also useful even if you’ve already found vital records for the ancestor you’re looking for. Names and dates are essential to genealogy, but the journey doesn’t stop there. Newspapers can help you find the stories that will really flesh out your understanding of what your ancestor’s life may have been like.  

Do you have any tips for finding Irish ancestors? Share them with us in the comments! Or start looking for your Irish immigrant ancestors on Newspapers.com.

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How Did Early Americans Celebrate Presidents’ Day?

Presidents’ Day isn’t a holiday that many Americans today associate with major celebrations. Though some parts of the country hold parades or other festivities, people are probably more likely to associate it with a day off school or big sales.

But this wasn’t always the case. What we now commonly call Presidents’ Day was, until fairly recently, a holiday to commemorate George Washington’s birthday. And it turns out that in America’s early days, it was one of the nation’s biggest national holidays!

Curious how Americans of centuries past observed Washington’s birthday? Historical newspapers have got you covered!

This article, for instance, describes a celebration of Washington’s birthday in 1784, when he was still alive.

“Early Honors to Washington” Sun, Feb 23, 1896 – Page 13 · The Times (Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com


Things apparently got pretty loud at celebrations of Washington’s birthday during President James Monroe’s administration (1817–1825):

“Great George’s Day; How Washington’s Birthday Was Celebrated of Old” Wed, Feb 22, 1888 – 7 · Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, New York, United States of America) · Newspapers.com


Boston’s first official public celebration of Washington’s birthday was reportedly in 1856. Luckily, the February weather cooperated because there was a lot planned for that day:

“Washington’s Birthday in Boston” Wed, Feb 21, 1900 – 5 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States of America) · Newspapers.com


However, this 1888 newspaper article documented what appeared to be a diminishing enthusiasm for celebrating our first president’s birthday in the late 19th century:

“Great George’s Day; How Washington’s Birthday Was Celebrated of Old” Wed, Feb 22, 1888 – 7 · Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, New York, United States of America) · Newspapers.com


Though the popularity of public celebrations for Washington’s birthday was declining, people still hosted private parties. These party ideas come from 1905, and colonial-themed accessories, cherries, and miniature hatchets were the order of the day:

“For Washington’s Birthday” Sun, Feb 19, 1905 – Page 36 · The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com


But perhaps one of the most persistent—and delicious—traditions associated with George Washington’s birthday is cherry pie, stemming from the legend of him chopping down a cherry tree as a youth: 

“Cherry Pie Is Good Reminder for Washington’s Birthday” Thu, Feb 23, 1950 – 11 · Republican and Herald (Pottsville, Pennsylvania, United States of America) · Newspapers.com


And cherry pie is a tradition that a lot of us can probably get behind. Happy birthday, George Washington! And Happy Presidents’ Day!

Learn more about George Washington’s birthday by searching Newspapers.com. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

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This Is How Newspapers Helped Us Find Love—And Deception—Before Online Dating

 “A good magician and magnetic healer wishes to meet a little blond song and dance or elocution lady, from 20 to 30 years; if suited will make you a kind husband and nice home in the West; give height and weight in first letter.”

If this profile popped up today on a dating website, would it be a hit or a miss for you? What if you were a single woman living in Minnesota in 1903, which is when and where this ad was published? Would your perspective be different?

Lonely Hearts’ Long History

Before the days of online dating and swiping right or left on dating apps, placing marriage ads in newspapers was one option for lonely Americans seeking companionship. Today, these ads are often called lonely hearts ads, but they used to be known as personal or matrimonial ads.

From the 1600s—when the first known lonely hearts ad appeared in a newspaper—through the 20th century, ads seeking marriage (and other types of relationships) flourished in the papers. The ads were as varied as the people who placed them:

(The Atlanta Constitution, 10.23.1898)
(The Atlanta Constitution, 10.23.1898)
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 04.16.1899)
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 04.16.1899)
(The Minneapolis Tribune, 01.31.1904)
(The Minneapolis Tribune, 01.31.1904)

Some ads weren’t placed by individuals at all, but rather by marriage agencies seeking spouses for their clients:

(The Anaconda Standard, 07.17.1904)
(The Anaconda Standard, 07.17.1904)

Scams, Murders, and Marriage Ads

However, seeking a spouse through the newspaper was inevitably a risky venture. In addition to running lonely hearts ads, newspapers also ran stories of people who were conned—and even murdered—because of marriage ads in newspapers. These headlines give the general idea:

READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the San Francisco Examiner, 11.29.1906
READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the San Francisco Examiner, 11.29.1906
READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the Nashville Tennessean, 01.23.1938
READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the Nashville Tennessean, 01.23.1938
READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the Austin Statesman, 05.08.1908
READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the Austin Statesman, 05.08.1908

Backlash and Criticism

Perhaps due to the number of people swindled though lonely hearts ads, newspaper columns criticizing the ads likewise abounded. The Chicago Tribune even went so far in 1884 as to fill more than 5 columns with “The Interesting Results of the Experiment of a Venturesome Reporter” who placed a fake marriage ad in the paper and then analyzed the responses of 36 women who replied to it.

That same article observed:

(Chicago Tribune, 12.28.1884)
(Chicago Tribune, 12.28.1884)

Presumably not all marriage ads ended in disappointment or disaster, though success stories are few and far between in the newspapers. But a woman in 1909 seemed happy enough with the results. According to an article in the Lincoln Daily Star, the woman traveled from Michigan to Nebraska in response to a matrimonial ad, and upon her arrival the potential husband “received her with open arms.”

Modern Lonely Hearts

Though not as popular today, lonely hearts ads are not entirely a thing of the past. Print publications (and websites) featuring these types of ads still exist, although the advent of online dating has made them less common.

Perhaps one takeaway from reading the lonely hearts ads of decades and centuries past is that we really aren’t all that different from our ancestors. Then as now, people sought relationships for companionship, stability, and comfort—among a host of other motivations, good or bad.

And whether it’s swiping right or answering a newspaper ad, either method is an easier route to marriage than this guy’s approach:

READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the Daily News (New York), 07.06.1931
READ THE FULL ARTICLE in the Daily News (New York), 07.06.1931

Search Newspapers.com to find out more about lonely hearts ads. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more interesting historical content like this!

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