The ABCs of Old Time Occupations

Have you come across an occupation in a census record that you’ve never heard of before? Many of our ancestors held jobs that are rare or no longer exist today. We’ve scoured our archives to learn more about those jobs and what our ancestors did to earn a living. Here are a few of the occupations we found:

AArtificial Flower Maker: This intricate job required long hours and a lot of skill. The detailed artificial flowers embellished bonnets, dresses, and hats.


BBath Attendant: In the early 20th century, school children in cities like New York and Chicago were bathed at school. Often the children came from tenements with no access to washing facilities. This 1909 article invited women to apply for the position and described the qualifications needed to become a bath attendant.

CCorset Factory Worker: Factories became common during the Industrial Revolution. In this 1910 help wanted ad, a corset factory was hiring women between the ages of 16-40 to work in the factory.


DDaguerreotypist: A daguerreotypist was an early photographer who used a now-obsolete process to create images on a silvered copper surface. In this 1846 article, a traveling daguerreotypist offered to create miniature likenesses in Joliet, Illinois.

EEsquire: Today the term esquire describes a lawyer, but that wasn’t always the case. If your 19th-century ancestor was an esquire, it meant that he held a title of office, such as a lawyer, sheriff, justice of the peace, etc.


FFellmongers: A fellmonger is a person who removes hair or wool from hides in preparation for making leather.


GGlazier: A glazier cut, installed, and removed glass in windows, display cases, and more.

HHokey-Pokey Man: The Hokey-Pokey man was a vendor with a pushcart that sold cheap, low-quality ice cream in the late 1800s through early 1900s. The Hokey-Pokey man was popular with children in tenement neighborhoods. In this 1910 article, a San Francisco Hokey-Pokey man found out he would likely inherit a fortune.

IIce Cutter: Before refrigeration was invented, ice cutters went to lakes and rivers during the winter and cut out blocks of ice for use in the summer. Workers transported ice to ice houses where it was kept cold with straw or sawdust. It would stay frozen for many months.

JJapanner: Japanned leather was a process to coat leather with a Japanese varnish and then dry it on a stove, producing a smooth, shiny surface like patent leather.


KKnocker-Upper: A knocker-upper was the equivalent of a human alarm clock. They roamed the streets with a tall wand used to tap on windows to awaken workers in the morning.


LLeech Collector: Leech collectors, often women, gathered leeches for medicinal use. Doctors believed that bloodletting could cure disease, so leeches were placed on patients to suck infected blood out. The practice was especially popular in Europe. 


MMillwright: A millwright was responsible for designing, installing, maintaining, and repairing mill machinery. This 1902 article reported on a labor dispute when millwrights demanded an eight-hour workday, but employers wanted ten.


NNeedle-Pointer: A needle pointer was a person who filed the points of needles. According to this 1822 article, breathing in steel dust caused health problems for needle-pointers, forcing most to end their careers by the age of 35.

OOrdinary Keeper: An Ordinary Keeper was an innkeeper. The terms “ordinary” and “tavern” used to be used interchangeably. Early records from Maine cautioned Ordinary Keepers about serving too much liquor.


PPinsetter: Bowling became popular in the 20th century and before automated pinsetters were invented, workers handset the bowling pins each time they were knocked down. This 1943 article describes how a pinsetter might set 132 games a night and be paid 9 cents a game.


QQuarrier: A quarrier was a quarry worker.


RRag Man: A rag man walked the streets with a cart, collecting old rags and other discarded items. He then brought them to a junk shop where they were resold. This 1894 article describes the job of a rag men and gives a detailed description of a junk shop.


SSaddler: A saddler was in charge of making, repairing, and selling saddles. This 1872 article describes what a saddler’s shop might have looked like.


TTeamster: A teamster drove a team of oxen, horses, or mules, pulling a wagon. A man who drove a team of oxen was called a bullwhacker. Teamsters transported cargo and supplies. This 1875 article described the duties of a teamster.


UUptwister: An uptwister was a textile industry worker that was in charge of winding yarn onto a revolving spindle.


VVitner: A vitner is a wine merchant. This 1859 article talks about the South Carolina grape industry and the oldest vitner in the South.


WWhitesmith: A whitesmith works with metals like tin, copper, and brass.



XXylographer: A xylographer is a person who makes engravings on wood, especially for printing.


YYeoman: A yeoman was a farmer that owned his land.


ZZincographer: A zincographer worked in the printing industry etching images on zinc plates. The line drawings used in newspapers before photography (like this 1893 example), were created by zincographers.


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No Matches? 5 Strategies to Try Next on Newspapers.com™

Newspapers.com homepage

Have you ever searched for an ancestor’s name on Newspapers.com™ but not gotten a hit, even though you suspect a match should be there?

There are a few reasons why this can happen: Maybe the person wasn’t mentioned in the paper by the name or spelling you’re searching for. Or maybe our site doesn’t currently have the paper where their name appears. But another possible reason has to do with OCR.

What is OCR?

All the newspaper pages on Newspapers.com have been indexed using Optical Character Recognition (OCR). This means that a computer has tried to identify the words on each page and produce a digital version to search. When the newspaper image is clean and in good condition, this process is very accurate and can make searching papers easy. For older papers or other papers where the image is less clear, the OCR processing may miss words or read them incorrectly.

In the majority of instances, the Newspapers.com Search can correctly locate the names and words you’re searching for—thanks to OCR. However, given the condition of some historical newspapers, OCR has limits as it tries to decipher text from papers dating back as far as the 1600s!

So is it a lost cause if one of your Newspapers.com searches doesn’t return the matches you want due to the idiosyncrasies of OCR?

No! We’ve gathered our top 5 strategies for those occasional times when the OCR can’t identify the name you’re searching for.

1. Substitute letters (and numbers) with similar shapes.

Depending on the newspaper’s typeface and the quality of the image, the OCR might mistake certain characters for others that look similar. The trick here is to make an educated guess about what the OCR thinks it’s seeing and then adjust your search terms to reflect that. This often means substituting letters (and numbers) that have a similar shape.

Common letter & number substitutes

Common substitutes to try include y & g, b & h, c & e, t & f, l & 1, and s & 8. 

Keep in mind that this might extend to multi-letter combinations as well, such as rn & m and rr & n.

So while your ancestor’s name may have been C-a-r-r-i-e Smith, the OCR might read it as C-a-m-e Smith in some instances. Searching for both variations will likely return more matches in your search results.

2. Search with wildcards.

In addition to searching with similarly shaped letters and numbers, you can also try using a “wildcard” to replace a letter (or multiple letters) that the OCR might be misreading.

              READ MORE: Learn about using wildcards

Two wildcards you can use on Newspapers.com are the question mark [?] and asterisk [*].

Use a question mark to replace a single letter. For example, if the person you’re searching for has the surname “Johnson” but you think the OCR might be misinterpreting the lowercase h as another letter, you can search [Jo?nson] to return a wider set of results.

Use an asterisk to replace multiple letters. If you think there’s a possibility the OCR may be misreading a multi-letter combination, try searching with an asterisk. For instance, with our earlier “Carrie Smith” example, you can try searching for [Ca*ie Smith] to account for a possible OCR issue.

3. Search without quotation marks.

Although placing quote marks around multi-word search terms is useful in many cases, it can be less helpful when dealing with a potential OCR issue.

Using quote marks around your search terms forces Search to return results for that exact phrase. But if the OCR is misreading one (or more) of the letters in your search terms, searching for an exact phrase may actually cause it to miss a match. Removing the quote marks around your search terms will give the search more flexibility, increasing the chances of finding what you’re looking for.

4. Search for other names or for related terms.

Sometimes when OCR is the issue, you may need to use a different search strategy altogether. If the OCR isn’t picking up a name you’re searching for, instead try searching for the name of someone else who is likely to have appeared in the same newspaper article. For example, when trying to find someone’s obituary, try searching for the name of their spouse, parents, children, siblings, or another relative. While the OCR might have missed the name you were originally trying to find, the odds are good that it will still pick up a different name on the same page.

A similar approach is to search for a word or phrase that might be used in an article about the person, such as the name of an organization, club, or church they belonged to. Then use the Newspapers.com search filters to narrow your results by time and location until you find a likely match.

5. Browse the paper.

As convenient and accurate as Search is on Newspapers.com, in rare cases you might need to browse a newspaper instead. So if a search isn’t locating a match you suspect should be there, determine which newspaper editions seem like the best candidates and then go through them page by page until you find what you’re looking for.

Newspapers.com makes browsing easy as well. Select the “Browse” tab at the top of the site, then narrow by location, paper, and date until you find the issue you want to browse. Once you’ve started reading, use the arrows or film strip at the bottom of the Viewer to move to the next page of the paper.

              READ MORE: Learn about browsing on Newspapers.com

Newspapers.com Browse
Newspapers.com Browse

We hope you find these strategies and tips useful! If you have any to add, share them with us in the comments!

Get started searching for your ancestors on Newspapers.com™! And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more content like this!

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A Step-By-Step Guide to Newspaper Family History Research

14 Jul 1934, Sat The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) Newspapers.com


Newspapers can be an incredible resource for family history research. Not only do they have birth, marriage, and death announcements, but they are a valuable source of stories, photos, and more.

If you’re just learning how to use newspapers to do family history research, we’ve come up with a step-by-step guide to help you get started. This guide will help you organize your research before, during, and after your newspaper search!

(Our guide is meant to provide general suggestions to help you organize your newspaper family history research. Be sure to personalize our advice to fit your own research needs. And for help learning about Newspapers.com™ site basics, visit our Help Center.)

Before you get started: Pick one ancestor to research at a time.

We recommend researching just one person at a time to help focus your research and minimize distractions. You will often need to try a variety of newspaper searches to find the ancestor you’re looking for; and when you stick to one person, it becomes easier to keep track of potential searches you want to try.

Tip: If you discover information about another ancestor while researching your focus person, be sure to clip or save that newspaper article and make a note to come back to it when you have time to research that other ancestor.

Step 1. Write down what you already know about your ancestor.

Write down the things you already know about your ancestor. Gathering the known facts will allow you to narrow your newspaper search and help you differentiate your ancestor from other people who have the same name. For example, if you already know your ancestor was born in 1880, you can filter out newspaper matches for their name in the years before their birth, making the number of search results more manageable.

23 Jan 1921, Sun The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) Newspapers.com


Facts to write down before you start newspaper research (if you know them) include:

  • The person’s full name and any known nicknames
  • Important dates in their life (birth, marriage, death, military service, immigration)
  • Names of close family members or other key individuals in the ancestor’s life
  • Locations they lived (you’d be surprised by how many discoveries are made by searching an address!)

Step 2. Consider what you want to learn about your ancestor.

Setting goals and objectives is often helpful in family history research. So before you start searching newspapers, consider what you want to learn about your ancestor. Is their birthdate a mystery? Are you not sure of their father’s name? Is there a family story you’ve always heard and want to substantiate?

Clarifying what you want to find out will help you decide the best way to set up your newspaper search. For example, if your goal is to find your ancestor’s marriage date, you may want to start by searching for a marriage announcement in the Newspapers.com Marriage Index collection.

Examples of things you may want to learn:

  • Dates of important life events
  • Locations of important life events
  • Names of your ancestor or their parents/siblings/etc.
  • Life stories and anecdotes
  • The general history of the time and place they were living

Step 3. Choose strategies for how you plan to learn about your ancestor.

Now that you know what you want to learn about your ancestor from newspapers, it’s time to plan how you’re going to find it. This includes thinking about things like which specific newspapers or cities you want to search in first. Though you may need to adjust your strategy as you go along, starting out with a plan in mind will help provide structure and organization to your research.

In forming your research strategy, consider things like:

  • In which geographic locations am I most likely to find newspaper mentions of my ancestor? (e.g., cities, counties, states, countries)
  • Am I aware of a local newspaper that my ancestor is likely to be mentioned in?
  • What year range am I most likely to find my ancestor mentioned in?
  • What are alternative search terms I might need to try if my first search doesn’t work? (E.g., what are nicknames, alternative spellings, or name abbreviations that my ancestor might be mentioned under?)

LEARN MORE: Tips for searching with name and spelling variations in newspapers

Tip: Keep in mind that people can be mentioned in newspapers in locations you’d never expect and from years long after their deaths. For instance, one young woman was born in West Virginia and died in Idaho in 1893. But her marriage announcement appeared in a Pennsylvania newspaper! Her parents had lived in Pennsylvania before their deaths, and a paper there published news of her engagement. 

Step 4. Document (and clip!) what you are learning from your newspaper search.

Once you begin finding newspaper mentions about you ancestor, be sure to document what you’ve learned! It would be frustrating to discover something about your ancestor, only to forget the specifics later because you didn’t document your discovery!

When researching on Newspapers.com, one easy way to document your discoveries is through our clipping tool. If you think you might want to refer to a newspaper article in the future—clip it! Even experienced newspaper researchers sometimes come across a discovery, fail to clip it, and then can’t find it again. (If you find yourself in this situation, you can select “Recently Viewed” in the dropdown box below your username to see the last few newspaper pages you viewed).

Making a clipping on Newspapers.com
Making a clipping on Newspapers.com

You can view all your clippings on your Clippings page (accessible under the “Clippings” tab at the top of our site, or by clicking your username and selecting “My Clippings” from the dropdown box). And if you title your clippings—which we always recommend—you can search for them on your Clippings page, making locating them again a snap. You can even filter your clippings by options such as date or newspaper. You also have the option to adjust the privacy settings on your clippings.

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

Discoveries you’ll want to document include:

  • Names, dates & locations
  • Stories & anecdotes
  • Photos
  • Local/national news events that may have affected your ancestor’s life
  • Clues that might lead you to further avenues of research

And don’t forget to save what you find to your tree on Ancestry® if you have one!

LEARN MORE: How to save a clipping to Ancestry

Step 5. Reflect on what you want to learn in the future.

When you’ve gone through all your newspaper search results, it’s time to think about what else you can do to learn about your ancestor in the newspaper.

Things to consider:

  • Are there other names or search terms you might be able to use to find your ancestor?
  • Are there any parts of your ancestor’s life that need more research?
  • Is there anything you couldn’t discover now but may want to come back to in the future?
  • Did any new questions about your ancestor come up as you were researching?
  • What next steps can you take to discover more about your ancestor?
  • Has something you’ve learned in a newspaper suggested a non-newspaper record you could search? (e.g., a marriage announcement leading you to a marriage registry)
24 Dec 1927, Sat Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Honolulu, Hawaii) Newspapers.com


Other things to keep track of

Other things you’ll want to keep track of while you do newspaper family history research include:

  • Citations! Make sure you keep track of where you found your information. Clippings and downloaded PDF images on Newspapers.com come with the newspaper title and date included, but you may want to keep track of this information separately as well.
  • Tech-y stuff. Did you save all your newspaper downloads in a particular file on your computer? Did you title all your clippings a consistent way so that you could search for them later? Make a note so you’ll remember.

More resources

We hope this guide has been helpful. Family history research is challenging at times, but newspapers can provide richness and depth not available with traditional records!  

Here are some of our other family history blog posts that may help you in your newspaper research:

Get started searching for your ancestors on Newspapers.com™! And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more content like this!

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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!

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Search the World’s Largest Archive of Historical Wedding Announcements

We are thrilled to announce the launch of the first phase of our Newspapers.com Marriage Index collection. The Marriage Index collection is a searchable archive of more than 50 million U.S. wedding announcements! We’ve teamed up with Ancestry® to train machine learning algorithms to scour more than 600 million pages of digitized newspapers to extract wedding announcements.

Wedding announcements often contain detailed genealogical information, including the names of family members, biographical details, addresses, and more. These key details can break down genealogical brick walls and open up new research avenues.

How Does it Work?

Using OCR (optical character recognition), we’ve converted our archive of newspapers into machine-readable text. We’ve trained computers to identify keywords often associated with wedding announcements. The computer then draws a text box around that announcement. If you hover over the announcement and then click on the text box, you will see a dialogue box pop up. It has the information we’ve indexed. That indexed information is searchable in our Marriage Index. Occasionally you might notice an incorrect date or misspelled names. This is a result of the OCR conversion process. You can correct the facts by clicking on “Add alternate info” within the dialogue box. Your updates will then become searchable for other users. You then have the option to electronically clip the announcement and save it or attach it to your Ancestry® tree.

The first phase of this release contains information from more than 200 million records from over 50 million lists and wedding announcements from the United States dating from 1800-1999.

  • List marriage announcements were usually a weekly list of couples that had applied for a marriage license that week. The lists usually contained the names of the bride and groom only. See an example of a list announcement here.
  • Non-list marriage announcements might contain detailed information about the bride and groom, photographs, addresses, the names of relatives, the wedding officiant, and wedding guests. See an example of a non-list announcement here.

You will soon see wedding announcement hints to your Ancestry® tree. These hints can lead to personal discoveries and genealogical breakthroughs! We will continue to update this index with additional wedding announcements and international wedding announcements in the future. Start searching our Marriage Index collection today on Newspapers.com.

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Newspaper Marriage Announcements: Using the Language of Love to Break Down Genealogical Walls

Have you found a marriage announcement on Newspapers.com that led to a genealogy breakthrough? For some of us (like me), uncovering long sought after information is like opening a gift on Christmas morning! Marriage announcements can be short and succinct or long and rich in detail. As a genealogist, I’ve spent hours poring through marriage records on Newspapers.com. I have some tips that might help you read between the lines of your marriage announcements and might help you make new personal discoveries within your family tree.

The Bride’s Maiden Name: A marriage announcement is often a great way to uncover the holy grail of genealogy for women – her birth name! A birth name can open the door to further research for the bride and her family. Here’s a marriage announcement from London revealing the bride’s birth name that dates back to 1701!

Parents’ Names: Marriage announcements often include the name of the parents for both the bride and groom. Now you can go back one more generation in your research!  

Photographs: The first photos started appearing in newspapers in the late 1800s, and by the 1900s, many papers included a picture of the bride. What a treasure to find a photo of your ancestor!

Address: It’s hard to imagine now, but it used to be common to give an address for the bride and/or groom, like in this announcement from 1875. An address allows you to search land records, census records, and nearby relatives – remember families often stuck together back then. (Pro tip: enter the address in Google Earth to see if the house still stands. If it does, you can explore the neighborhood virtually)!

Wedding Announcement 1933

The Wedding Party: I love a wedding announcement full of lots of juicy details like this one. I mean, who doesn’t want to know how many yards of silk it took to make the wedding gown? A detailed wedding announcement often mentions everyone in the bridal party, and sometimes even guests. Chances are, many of those named are relatives. I’ve gone so far as to build a tree for everyone mentioned, and each time, I have discovered new cousins and siblings. It takes effort, but if you’re up against a brick wall, it just might lead to a breakthrough. Pay special attention to those who have traveled from out-of-town to attend the wedding. They are probably family!

Who Performed the Wedding? Marriage announcements usually give the name of who officiated at the wedding. You aren’t likely to find church records in the newspapers, but if you have the name of the person who performed the wedding, you can research the congregation, and that can lead to church records. Church records often list the name of the bride and groom’s parents and sometimes the mother’s birth name. This can unlock new research possibilities.

The Seattle Star: January 18, 1917

Then and Now, Weddings Can be Full of Drama: While searching for family wedding announcements one day, I came across this dramatic clipping! It shares the story of a young immigrant who left Greece for an arranged marriage in America. The groom ended up rejecting her, and she sued him for $5,000 for breach of contract. The article is full of genealogical information for the family – both in Greece and in the United States. This article is more of an announcement for the wedding that didn’t happen!

One Final Tip: While searching for wedding announcements, we sometimes tend to search in a limited range of dates. You might be missing out on so much more. For example, I’ve come across dozens of clippings like this that describe women’s groups getting together to model old wedding dresses. These women modeled their mother’s, grandmother’s, and great-grandmother’s dresses. In many cases, they give the names of the original bride and the year she was married. Who would have thought to search for a wedding more than a hundred years after it happened? What a treasure trove of information!

Ready to dive in and find your ancestors’ marriage announcements? Start searching Newspapers.com today!

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

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


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

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

A Bit of Background

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

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

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

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


Name Variations

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

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


Spelling Variations

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

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


Typos & Other Errors

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

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

Final Tips

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

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

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

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

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Before Ellis Island: Entering America Through Castle Garden 1855-1890

Since the founding of America, millions of people hoping for a brighter future left their home countries and immigrated to the United States. The number of immigrants increased dramatically after the Civil War with nearly 12 million arriving between 1870-1900. More than 70% of all immigrants entered through New York City. Castle Garden opened in 1855 as the primary immigration processing center and operated as such until Ellis Island’s opening in 1892 (though from 1890-1892, the center was moved to the U.S. Barge Office). We’ve scoured our newspaper archives to find the stories behind some of those immigrants’ arrivals.

Castle Garden Opens August 1, 1855 as “Emigrant Landing Depot”

The Arrival Experience: This story, published in 1855 described the arrival experience for immigrants. They registered their names, recorded the amount of money they carried, and were shown to a bathhouse where up to 24 bathed at the same time.

The Boston Globe – September 6, 1884

Children Traveling Alone: Like many families, the Slinsbys’ couldn’t afford passage for the entire family at the same time. In 1884, Maggie and Mary, 9 and 10-years-old, arrived at Castle Garden with their names painted on heavy cardboard signs attached with a “profusion of green ribbons” to their bodies. They were reunited with their parents in Ohio. In 1887, Irish immigrants living in Cleveland were finally able to send for their children who had been staying with a grandmother. Castle Garden sent a telegraph to their parents informing them that after a rough and stormy journey, the two children, ages 9 and 11, had arrived safely. In this clipping, the Superintendent at Castle Garden tagged three children after their arrival and shipped them to their father who was living in Chicago. This 1887 clipping tells the story of a 10-year-old girl who arrived at Castle Garden from Ireland. Her mother and two brothers left her in the care of nuns until they could afford to pay for her passage to join them six years later. This final clipping tells the story of a mother desperately searching for her daughters after they arrived at Castle Garden. We’re so anxious to learn what became of them, but we can’t find any follow-up stories (maybe one of you genealogical sleuths can help).

New-York Tribune – June 14, 1884

Beware of Swindlers: Sometimes unscrupulous individuals preyed upon new immigrants. Language barriers, poverty, and fear left many immigrants vulnerable. In this clipping, a swindler sold railroad tickets to several immigrants who later learned the tickets were fraudulent. This sad story tells the tale of an immigrant who showed up at Castle Garden hoping to find a way back to Hungary after he lost his fortune of $500 in America. 

Reunion with Loved Ones: In 1890, a woman from Russia arrived at Castle Garden to reunite with her sweetheart who arrived two years earlier and sent money for her passage. The journey took more than a month and her funds ran out. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, she finally made her way to Minnesota. Read her story here. In another instance, a Prussian man prepared for the arrival of his wife and five children in 1897. He rented a home in Maryland and purchased some furniture, but sadly suffered a fatal fall just hours after they reunited. This final clipping tells the story of Michael O’Brien, an Irish immigrant, who left his family to seek his fortune in America. He sent letters and money until one day when communication suddenly ceased. His worried wife and four children sailed for America, arriving at Castle Garden in 1878. The determined woman searched for O’Brien, only to learn that he had remarried and had another child. He undoubtedly had some explaining to do.

Do you have ancestors that arrived at Castle Garden? Use historic newspapers to learn about their experiences. Search Newspapers.com today!

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10 Words to Master When Researching Women in Newspapers

Researching your female ancestors is often tricky, but historical newspapers can help you break through those frustrating brick walls. So we’re launching a 3-part series on how to do newspaper research into the women in your family tree.

Last week, we shared our top search tips for finding your female ancestor in the papers on Newspapers.com. In this final post, we’ll be focusing on some vocabulary that you’re likely to come across while researching your female relatives.

Fri, Dec 8, 1911 – 1 · The McLouth Times (McLouth, Kansas) · Newspapers.com


Have you ever been reading about a female ancestor in the newspaper and seen them called a “relict”? Learning words like this can help us wring every last bit of information from a newspaper piece we find about our relative.

Brush up on 10 genealogy vocab words you might encounter while researching your female ancestors!

  1. Consort: Spouse.
  2. Dower: A widow’s legal share of her deceased husband’s estate.
  3. Executrix: A woman appointed by the deceased to carry out the terms, directions, and requests in a will. The feminine version of “executor.”
  4. Goodwife. A title (similar to Mrs.) used before the surname of a married woman. Or, the female head of a household.
  5. Granddame/grande dame: Grandmother. Or, an influential or prestigious woman, often elderly.
  6. Matron: A married woman, often of a mature age.
  7. Nee/née: “Born.” Used to indicate a woman’s maiden name.
  8. Relict: Widow.
  9. Spinster: An unmarried woman, often older than what is considered the usual marriage age.
  10. Testatrix: A woman who has written a will. The feminine version of “testator.”

Got any more genealogy vocab words you think might be helpful? Share them with us in the comments!

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Top 5 Tips for Finding Your Female Ancestor in the Newspaper

Researching your female ancestors is often tricky, but historical newspapers can help you break through those frustrating brick walls. So we’re launching a 3-part series on how to do newspaper research into the women in your family tree.

Last week, we suggested 10 newspaper sections for finding information about the women in your family tree. In this second post, we’ll be sharing our top search tips for finding your female ancestor in the papers on Newspapers.com.

Sun, Jul 4, 1915 – Page 11 · The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) · Newspapers.com


Anyone who’s tried to research a female ancestor in the newspaper learns quickly that it’s often much more difficult than simply looking for the woman’s legal name. We wish it were that easy! But the way women were written about in old newspapers can prove a challenge to those of us doing family history today. Even though Newpspapers.com has amazing search and filtering capabilities, you have to search for the right keywords to turn up matches for the woman you’re looking for.

But don’t despair! We’ve got 5 top tips to increase your chances of finding your female ancestor on Newspapers.com!

1. Search for every variation of her name.

And we mean every variation. The name recorded on a census or other government record may or may not be the name used in the newspaper. And even if it was, the newspaper may have misspelled it!

Start off by searching for the woman’s legal name, but also try alternative spellings, nicknames, name abbreviations, initials, common misspellings, married name, maiden name, middle name . . . all of them. If she has a relatively uncommon last name, try searching by surname alone. And if she had a step-father, try searching with his last name as well, even if she didn’t legally adopt it.

Once you’ve found a name that returns the search results you want, it’s tempting to stop there. But don’t forget to go back and search the other variations! Your female ancestor may have been referred to in more than one way in the paper.

And be sure to keep a running list of what names you’ve searched for so you don’t repeat or forget searches!

Mary Avaline Conner appears in a newspaper as “Avie Conner”Mary Avaline Conner appears in a newspaper as “Avie Conner” Thu, Aug 2, 1888 – Page 3 · Medicine Lodge Cresset (Medicine Lodge, Kansas) · Newspapers.com


2. Search by her husband’s or male relatives’ names.

Because of societal expectations and traditions, married women were often written about in historical newspapers using their husband’s name (e.g., Mrs. John B. Smith) or husband’s initials (Mrs. J. B. Smith). So if the female ancestor you’re looking for was married, try searching for her husband’s name. And if she was married more than once, search for the names of all her husbands.

You should also search using the name of her father, brothers, or other close male relatives. You might find her referenced in newspaper pieces as so-and-so’s daughter, sister, or mother. Plus, looking for her father gives you the added benefit of perhaps being able to learn about your female ancestor’s childhood. Was her father in a major accident when she was a child? That would’ve shaped the life of her and her family.

Obituary in which the woman is referred to by her husband’s nameObituary in which the woman is referred to by her husband’s name Mon, May 21, 1906 – Page 9 · The Scranton Truth (Scranton, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com


3. Research your non-direct ancestors.

When doing family history research, it can be easy to get caught up in only researching our direct ancestors. But when researching women in the newspaper, it can pay off to research people even in our non-direct (collateral) lines.

If you’re researching your great-grandmother, for example, don’t only look for her name in the paper; look for her siblings as well. Because even though her siblings aren’t your own direct ancestors, they were all closely related to your great-grandma, and information about her can turn up in articles about any of them.

4. Search by Address

At various points in the past, some newspapers included the address or street name of the person they were writing about. So if you know the address where your female ancestor was living, try a search using the address or street name, rather than a person’s name.  

Even if you don’t find your own ancestor mentioned, you might find something about a neighbor that helps you learn about your own family. For example, a newspaper piece about a next-door neighbor’s party may reveal that their neighbor (your ancestor!) couldn’t make it because they were in the hospital.

Plus, it never hurts to gain a better understanding of what the neighborhood where your ancestor was living was like. You may even discover information about the family that lived in the house before or after your ancestor that sheds some light on your own relatives.

Example of newspaper photo with address in the captionExample of newspaper photo with address in the caption Sat, Mar 10, 1928 – Page 6 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com


5. Save your searches

Once you’ve found a search on Newspapers.com that returns results about your female ancestor, hit the “Save/Notify” button. Not only will this save the search so you can come back to it later, but it will also automatically notify you whenever Newspapers.com adds newspaper content that has matches for your search.

READ MORE: Learn how to save your search

Even if you can’t find a search that returns matches for the person you’re looking for, you’ll still want to save the search. This way, you’ll be notified if content is ever added to our site that does have a match.

If you prefer to check back on a search yourself, rather than being automatically notified, be sure to sort your search results by “Date Added.” By doing this, you’ll see new matches first, rather than older ones you may have already looked at.


We hope these tips give you some new ways to find information about your relatives! Come back next week to learn some common terms you might come across when doing newspaper research into your female ancestors.

Got any search tips of your own? Share them with us in the comments!

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