a pretty blonde, looked beautiful in her wedding costume of blue crepe
with silver accessories." The 1936 description of my grandmother gives
me an image I did not already have.
[Illinois] Dispatch of 2 January 1936 contains a brief mention of my
grandparents' 17 December 1935 wedding. Other than Grandma's attire,
the clipping did not contain any new clues or leads. This week we will
see how the information fits with other known facts and look at some
ways to determine the original source of an undocumented newspaper
What the Clipping Told Me
The location of the marriage (approximately eighty miles from where my
grandparents lived at the time) would have been a significant clue had
I not already known it. Other details in the wedding announcement were
consistent with information Grandma had told me years before. What the
newspaper refers to as "a wedding dinner at the home of the groom's
brother, Ralph Neill" was called a charivari by Grandma (but still
involving Uncle Ralph and his wife). The newspaper indicates that the
Neills will "go to housekeeping in the spring near Stillwell." Grandma
told me that they did not have any money and they went back home to
live with their respective families until Grandpa could rent a farm.
And their big celebration was the splitting of a bottle of pop and a
Snickers bar. The newspaper doesn't mention that.
of pop and a candy bar story are not provable, but a little bit of
internet sleuthing indicated that Snickers bars had been on the market
for several years by the time Grandma was married in 1935. If Snicker's
bars had not gone on the market until the 1940s, it would have been a
different situation. Fortunately the other details in the announcement
dovetailed with information I already had.
What Did I Cut Off?
When I copied the notice from the newspaper, I included more than just
the wedding announcement. Unfortunately, I did not include the entire
column to the left. That column, which I only partially copied,
contained a reference to Cecil Trautvetter, my grandmother's brother.
While I cut off part of the column, at least the copy I made included
his name. The reference appears to be in a local "gossip column," but
still may be worth checking out.
right hand side of the announcement (again another partial column) is
an ad, which could have come in handy had I not written down the date
of the paper.
What is that Movie?
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had a movie showing in nearby Quincy,
Illinois. That much I had managed to
copy. Again other details were missing, like the complete movie title.
All I could make out was "To... Ha... with music and lyrics by Irvin[g]
Berl[in]" (his name I could surmise despite my age and unfamiliarity
with his work, the movie title would require some sleuthing on my
part--Depression era movies are before my time).
clipping been undated, this would have been a significant clue. A
search for Fred Astaire on the Internet Movie Database
(http://www.imdb.com) located a list of his movies with "Top Hat" being
released in 1935 and co-starring Ginger Rogers. The attire of Rogers
and Astaire in the promotional picture made more sense once I knew the
How Did They Spell It?
There were seven misspellings in the brief write-up. Grandma's maiden
name was consistently spelled as "Trautretter" and Neill was spelled
correctly every time except in the headline where it was listed as
"Niell." A few other errors must have slipped right past the
A scan of
the newspaper item can be viewed here
Clues to the Actual Location
My grandparents were married three counties away from where they
resided. If a vital record cannot be located on your ancestor, but the
date of the event is known, consider searching for a notice of the
event in their "hometown" paper, or in the newspaper from where they
were living at the time of the event. A write-up in their local
newspaper may provide the location where the event actually took place
as it did for my grandparents.
Your Eyes Peeled
A reference to another family member was missed in my attempt to locate
the desired item. When researching a small town newspaper it is always
an excellent idea to read all the gossip or correspondents' columns for
other family references. The reference may be inconsequential, but
sometimes significant clues can be obtained, particularly ones to
relatives making visits "home."
The undated Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie would have allowed me to
date the notice had the paper's date been unknown.
the location of the paper been unavailable, several references would
have been helpful:
- The city of Quincy, Illinois--where the movie was showing
- The towns of Coatsburg, Loraine, Stillwell, Marcelline,
Stillwell, Roseville, and Carthage, which are all mentioned in the
gossip columns. Since no state is listed, it is assumed these locations
are in Illinois and probably known to the reader. Hopefully they are
centrally located and relatively near to Quincy. It still will take
some doing to determine the paper in which the notice appeared. In some
cases, searches of every name census indexes at Ancestry.com may even
help pinpoint the newspaper's location, especially for those
individuals who appear to live in the area in which the paper was
This newspaper reference was located the old-fashioned way: manual
searching. As more and more newspapers are digitized, indexes are
created by scanning the newspaper. Keep in mind that these indexes are
created by optical scanners. Some letters will be read incorrectly, due
to poor printing originally, faded ink, or low-quality microfilming.
When these factors are combined with incorrect spellings, searches can
become even more frustrating. If the date of an event is known, it may
still be necessary to perform a page-by-page search of the newspaper.
News items usually appear in a large daily paper in a few days, but
news items on the "common" man and woman are rare. Small-town weekly
papers usually include items within a few issues, but I always look for
two months after the event. Sometimes things like planting and harvest
get in the way of sending something to the local paper.
If the newspaper clipping is the "real deal" and not a photocopy, look
at the back of the item for additional clues. I was able to determine
the origin of a mid-1930s clipping by analyzing the classified
advertisements on the back. The street names indicated to me that the
obituary was not from one of the small town weekly papers in the area,
but rather was likely from the "big city" daily nearly fifty miles from
where the individual lived and died.
If the newspaper's date and place are unknown, consider searching
nationwide census indexes for the names of individuals listed in the
clipping. Determining if these individuals are clustered in a specific
geographic area may get you on the path to locating the document's
John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of
Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also
on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael
is currently a member of the board of the Federation of Genealogical
Societies (FGS -www.fgs.org ) He
conducts seminars and lectures nationally on a wide variety of
genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several
genealogical publications, including "Ancestry" Magazine and
"Genealogical Computing." You can e-mail him at email@example.com or
visit his website at: www.rootdig.com,
but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.