Saturday, March 28, 2015

Women's History Month 2015: Cookbooks

You didn't think I could get through a Women's History Month without talking about cookbooks, right?

From the collection of Gena Philibert-Ortega
Community cookbooks seem to me like an obvious source for researching female ancestors. Community cookbooks also known as charity, church or fundraising cookbooks were published by churches, schools, social movements and non-profit organizations. Community cookbooks have been around since the time of the American Civil War. These cookbooks were generally used as a way for women to raise funds for their causes. These cookbooks still exist and continue to fund the concerns and activities of women.

But, they do have their drawbacks such as difficulty in finding them and not all are archived.

Sure those are some drawbacks but that doesn't mean it's impossible.

What do these directories of women tell us? Like many genealogical sources, community cookbooks are at the very least a “names list.” They provide a name and a place. Community cookbooks vary on what information can be found in the cookbook. The standard is to have pages of recipes with the name of the woman who submitted that recipe. That name may include a notation of Mrs. and a husband’s name or initials, leaving only unmarried women identified by their full given names.

While that type of listing does happen, there are many cookbooks that include additional information ranging from just the name of the recipe contributor to family history information explaining the significance of the recipe to the family. Depending on the group who organized the cookbook you can find occupations, personal histories and even clues to ethnic backgrounds. I’ve seen church community cookbooks that include a detailed history of the church, names and dates of service of ministers and a list of the burials in the church cemetery. In some cases women from outside the community may have been invited to submit recipes.  This can provide you with additional family names.

Your ancestor’s community may be reconstructed from information found in the cookbook. Advertisements may have been sold to help offset the cost of printing. A benefit to both the advertiser and the women publishing the cookbook, advertisements can help you learn more about what existed in your ancestor’s community including ads for funeral homes and physicians.

So where can you find them? Start with digitized book websites like Google Books, Internet Archive and Hathi Trust. Search library catalogs and even eBay

Oh and check out my blog, Food.Family.Ephemera for more about community cookbooks.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Women's History Month 2015: Manuscripts

Ok, there's a lot of things I love about research. But one of my favorite sources is manuscript collections.
Brooklin, Maine OES. In possession of Gena Philibert-Ortega

I've written about these collections before and I want to encourage everyone to make it a goal to visit an archive and look at a manuscript collection for the place your ancestor lived. These collections hold such great information that gets overlooked in our focus on researching via the Internet.

Now I love research on the Internet but there's nothing like going to an archive, smelling that old paper smell, and reading the writing of someone from a much earlier time.

My favorite place to find manuscript collections? ArchiveGrid. Search on your ancestor's city or county first then try their religion, occupation, or membership group.

Honestly, research in manuscript collections and you will be hooked.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Women's History Month 2015: Images of her Life

Library Company of Philadelphia
I love adding images to narratives about female ancestors. Photos help tell a story and they make it more interesting for those who aren't big fans of genealogy (I know it's hard to believe such people exist). But we aren't always so lucky to have inherited photographs to tell that story. So what then?

Think about using images of the place she lived, maps, activities she enjoyed, photos of events. Get creative with how you tell the story of her life. My resource for today is one of my favorite websites, Flickr the Commons.

Now, I didn't say Flickr. Flickr the Commons is a part of Flickr but its goal is to share public domain photos from  the world's institutions.

The tagline for Flickr:The Commons   is “Help us catalog the world’s public photo archives.” While this does describe the social media aspect of The Commons, it is far more than that. The Commons currently has digitized photos from archives around the world including The Royal Library, Denmark;  National Library of Ireland;  the National Archives UK, State Library of Queensland, Australia; National Archives of Norway; as well as United States repositories such as The Library of Congress; Center for Jewish History, NYC; New York Public Library; Library of Virginia and the George Eastman House.

Photos uploaded to The Commons have no known copyright restrictions. Library of Virginia explains the term “no known copyright restrictions” on their website as:

…the Library is unaware of any current copyright restrictions on the works so designated, either because the term of copyright may have expired without being renewed or because no evidence has been found that copyright restrictions apply. The user of the images must understand that the Library of Virginia cannot guarantee that private or commercial use of the images shared on The Commons will not violate the rights of unidentified copyright holders, and the Library cannot be responsible for any liability resulting from the use of these images. (

The Commons provides a way for you to search  photographs that can help to tell the story of an ancestor's military experience, what the place they came from looked like, or even how people dressed during that time. Search by keyword or by institution. There's so much to be found.

To get started, consider searching on an event that took place during your ancestor's lifetime like World War I for example.

Take a look and the find images to tell her story.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Women's History Month 2015: What's For Dinner Genealogy Style

It's the three words I hear everyday, day in and day out. Doesn't matter if I'm not at home or if I'm sick. If I'm lucky, I hear it after lunch but I have heard it before breakfast.

No, I didn't make this. Sometimes the answer to what's for dinner is to go out.

What's for dinner?

Moms (and dads) know this phrase well. If I'm particularly tired of it, I like to say something like "I don't know, what are you making me?"

Dinner can be a lot like genealogy. Most likely you have a few standard dishes you eat often, maybe weekly. They are the old standbys that are easy to fix and may not cost a lot. At our house that includes spaghetti, enchilada casserole, tacos, pizza, and chef salad.

The genealogy resources you use are most likely a lot like those old favorite dinners. You reach for those same websites or documents with each ancestor you research. (Though I'm guessing that you may not have explored everything on your favorite website.) You know how to find those documents. You're familiar with those resources.

But, there are time that I can't look at another plate of spaghetti. I want something different. I'm bored with making the same thing week after week.

In genealogy, that boredom equates with not finding the information you need, the proverbial brick wall. This Women's History Month, I've tried to give you ideas for resources. Start your research by reminding yourself of other types of sources that get ignored with our focus on  websites and digitized records. There are three books that are musts for your genealogical education. If you haven't read these three books, do it now!

Szucs, Loretto D, and Sandra H. Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006.

Meyerink, Kory L. Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, 1998.

Pfeiffer, Laura S. Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places. Orem, Utah: Ancestry, 2000. 

These books will assist you in learning more about what sources are out there and what they can tell you. Every genealogist should own these books or have access to them. The Source, is available on the Ancestry Wiki.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Women's History Month 2015: Home Sources and Auction Websites

Yesterday, I posted about ephemera. Two places to consider searching for ephemera are home sources and auction websites.

Vernon Street House in Keene New Hampshire. Keene Public Library and the Historical Society of Cheshire County.

Home Sources
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You have no home sources. I know, I get it. I have very little in the realm of home sources myself. What do you do if you weren't the lucky one in the family to inherit the stuff that details your family’s history? Most of the time a home source is defined as what we have in our own home but remember a home source may be located at  the home of another family member, both known and temporarily unknown to you. In addition, people not related to you may have had information about your family in their own home sources. These may include photo collections, correspondence, personal business papers and images. This is also why searching manuscript collections is important, finding the collections that came from other members of a community.

In order to find these items it’s important to let people know about your research and try to connect with other family members. This can be done through social network sites, online message boards, writing to a local genealogy society or sending emails to family members.

Auction Sites
I see auction websites as a repository of home sources because often they include discarded, genealogically relevant ephemera and heirlooms. While everyone has heard of eBay, there are other auction websites including one hosted by the thrift store Goodwill. eBay touts itself as the “world's largest online marketplace,” and rightly so given the auction site has become a place to buy anything from books to real estate, toys to ephemera and more. While many bidders use eBay to find collectibles, eBay can also be used as a genealogical resource.

People who sell items on eBay acquire them through various means, including yard sales, estate sales, traditional auctions and from their own private collection. Almost anything having to do with a personal family may be offered for sale on eBay. Ephemera found on eBay can include letters, documents, pictures, postcards, war memorabilia, and other personal affects. 

To find items pertinent to your family, I would suggest coming up with some specific search terms such as a surname and/or a location and checking on that search term often. You may also consider searching on phrases that describe your ancestor's occupation or religion. I have also found genealogical related items under the search terms “family letters,” “war letters” and “vintage photos or photographs.”

Another tactic to take in searching on eBay is to search on the category you are interested in. One way to search just ephemera is to go to from the eBay homepage and click on All Categories> Collectibles>Paper>Ephemera. From that search you can then choose a specific time period. Remember that the items are going to appear according to how the seller described it. So it’s important to try a number of categories that would describe what you are looking for. Some other category searches to consider are Postcards, Photographic Images, Historical Memorabilia and Paper, all categories under the heading Collectibles.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Women's History Month 2015: Ephemera

 Have you ever considered using ephemera in your search for your female ancestor? One example of using ephemera comes from Michael Popek, a bookseller who reports on the ephemera he finds used as bookmarks in the used books he purchases for his store. He documents these finds, many having genealogical importance, on his blog  Forgotten Bookmarks. Forgotten Bookmarks provide an important reminder that our family, and maybe even ourselves, place important, significant items in books as a way to mark our pages. While a fun look at history, ephemera is also an important resource.

All types of genealogically relevant ephemera exists for researching female ancestors. The concept of ephemera may be best understood by genealogists in relation to family history sources like scrapbooks. Scrapbooks, in the 19th century and even now, are places to hold the little pieces of paper that document events or a memory. Photos, ticket stubs, playbills, napkins, menus, newspaper clippings, flyers, programs, correspondence, valentines and greeting cards are all possible items encapsulated inside a scrapbook. 

From the collection of Gena Philibert-Ortega
I will never forget the aha moment I had about the importance of ephemera in genealogical research many  years ago at a presentation given by genealogist Birdie Monk Holsclaw. In that presentation Birdie talked about wanting to know more about an early 19th century car crash that killed the parents of a student attending the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind. Birdie, now deceased, had a long term project studying the early students who attended that school. As she researched, she got the notion that she should see if she could actually find the bill of sale for the car that the family was killed in. What are the chances that a bill of sale from the early 19th century would still exist? A record that most likely over time would be trashed because it had no further use beyond being a proof that the car was purchased. Well Birdie found out that the auto dealer who sold the car to that family had sent all of their bills of sale to a local archive for preservation. Birdie found that receipt which helped her learn more about the family’s car. Ephemera can provide genealogical answers.

Defining Ephemera
What is ephemera? Simply defined,  it is paper material items that were not meant to be archived or for long term use. According to The Ephemera Society of America’s website, “ephemera includes a broad range of minor (and sometimes major) everyday documents intended for one-time or sort-term use.” They report that 500 categories of ephemera can be found in the Encyclopedia of Ephemera.[i]
For the genealogist, not every type of ephemera will be of use because the nature of the item does not include information that would be value to the reconstruction of an individual’s life. However, some items of ephemera that would be of interest to genealogists include:

  • ·         Business cards
  • ·         Greeting cards
  • ·         Invitations
  • ·         Letters/Correspondence
  • ·         Menus
  • ·         Newspapers/newspaper clippings
  • ·         Postcards
  • ·         Receipts
  • ·         Magazines
  • ·         Business documents
  • ·         Event programs
  • ·         Membership cards

Where can you find ephemera? That isn't always so easy considering you want it to be relevant to your ancestor's life, but some places to start include:
  • Home Sources
  • Auction sites
  • Manuscript collections
  • Vintage paper sales/used book sales
  • Thrift, antique and used book stores
  • Online

Ephemera is an overlooked piece in the overall genealogical research process. Consider broadening your search to include the bits of information that can help move your research beyond solely names and dates.

[i] What is Ephemera? The Ephemera Society of America <