Difference between revisions of "Canada Newspaper Local News"

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It is helpful that the baby’s last name is clearly stated (which it often is not), since in modern families there may be some uncertainty on the subject. The residences of the grandparents will make some future genealogist happy, since it makes tracing them easier.  
 
It is helpful that the baby’s last name is clearly stated (which it often is not), since in modern families there may be some uncertainty on the subject. The residences of the grandparents will make some future genealogist happy, since it makes tracing them easier.  
  
It might be useful to consider the newspaper birth announcement as genealogical evidence. Many jurisdictions, particularly in Canada, restrict access to birth certificates. Will a newspaper birth announcement do in place of a certificate? Since it is contemporaneous with the event, and probably placed in the newspaper by the parents, it should have a high evidential value. In addition, a scanned copy of the newspaper birth announcement is a good illustration for the family history.
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It might be useful to consider the newspaper birth announcement as genealogical evidence. Many jurisdictions, particularly in Canada, restrict access to birth certificates. Will a newspaper birth announcement do in place of a certificate? Since it is contemporaneous with the event, and probably placed in the newspaper by the parents, it should have a high evidential value. In addition, a scanned copy of the newspaper birth announcement is a good illustration for the family history.  
  
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=== Marriages  ===
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Of the three forms of announcement in the BMD column, the marriage is the most common. Many people might omit births, for reasons of privacy or lack of general interest, and deaths were often announced using the printed death card. Marriages, however, could be announced two or three weeks after the event without spoiling the effect, and everyone in the community would want to join in the rejoicing for the happy couple. Weddings were actually news in a way that the other events were not.
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Early wedding announcements varied more than births did, but they had a basic form:
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{| width="600" cellspacing="1" cellpadding="1" border="1"
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| ''Miles-Hunking: In London, on the 9th inst., by the Rev. A. Brown, Mr. J. W. Miles, painter, to Lizzie, eldest daughter of Mr. Wm. Hunking. ('''St. Mary’s Argus''', 18 August 1881''
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|}
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<br> The two family names are given ''with the groom’s name always first''. The place is given, the date, the clergyman’s name and the names of the participants. This example includes the groom’s occupation, which is unusual. The bride’s first name is given, here using only a diminutive, with her father’s name following. As with the birth, the mother’s role in parenting is ignored.
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The form of the bride’s name (‘Lizzie, daughter of Wm. Hunking’) reflects the thinking of that time that a woman was ‘somebody’s daughter until she was somebody’s wife’ no matter what her age.
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Genealogically, this is a good announcement because the researcher has the full date and place. The fact that the clergyman’s name is given will lead to further research to confirm the date using the church records. The church can be located by looking the clergyman up in a city directory of the time. The directory will connect the clergyman to his church, and researchers can then determine if the church still exists, if it has been replaced by another institution or if it is defunct, and where its records are now located. In addition, Lizzie’s position in the family birth order is given, a help if not known from another source. The use of ‘eldest’ tells us Mr. Hunking had at least three daughters.
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{| width="600" cellspacing="1" cellpadding="1" border="1"
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| ''On Wednesday the 21st inst., by the Rev. Wm. Smart, Mr. Hiram Mott to the amiable Miss Selina King, both of Elizabethtown. ('''Brockville Gazette''', 30 October 1829)''
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|}
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<br> This charming announcement contains a one-word editorial on the subject of the new Mrs. Mott’s personality.
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Although marriage announcements in this form continue to be used today, especially in large urban newspapers, the general interest in hearing more about weddings led quickly to longer announcements. These were removed from the BMD column and placed either in a column of their own (sometimes confined to the Saturday or Sunday newspaper) or mixed in with other social news. These longer announcements grew and grew as time went on, until they became detailed accounts of the wedding which included descriptions of the clothes and flowers. Usually, only very small-town newspapers continue to publish these lengthy pieces now, although even such a large publication as ''The New York Times'' has wedding announcements which include information about the participants’ social background, occupations and even tales of how they met. In August 2002, the ''Times'' announced that its weddings page was changing it policy and would be renamed to ‘Weddings/Celebrations’ and would for the future include gay and lesbian weddings, and joining celebrations of a non-legal nature, which shows how things continue to evolve, as they have from the beginning of the BMD column.
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In the '''''Oshawa Daily Reformer''''' under the heading “Women’s Daily Interests” the following wedding appeared:
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{| width="600" cellspacing="1" cellpadding="1" border="1"
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| ''Lyon-Fice A quiet wedding took place yesterday afternoon at the King street United Church parsonage when Minnie May Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Fice, East Whitby, became the bride of Norman Victor Lyon, also of East Whitby. The young couple were attended by Miss Gertrude A. Fise, sister of the bride, and Mr. John G. Lindsay, both of East Whitby. Rev. C. W. DeMille officiated. (7 January 1927)''
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<br> This announcement includes two unusual spellings which modern readers will wonder about; the first is the small ‘s’ on ‘street’. It was a newspaper convention that street-names were spelled this way, and the compositor has done so even though in this case it is a proper name. The second is that the maid of honour’s name has been misspelled, as proper names often were in newspapers of that time. Although the Fice name is given three times in the short paragraph, it appears correctly twice and wrong once.
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{{tip|This uncertainty about spelling of names in old newspapers is something which genealogists should both be aware of and beware of.}}<br>
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Many weddings took place at the parsonage, not in church, at this time, as a way of saving money. The use of ‘quiet wedding’ was another convention in newspaper descriptions and meant that very few people were attending, as was natural in a parsonage wedding. The bride’s full Christian names are given, and she is still someone’s daughter. Both her parents are mentioned. The groom’s parents are not mentioned, although by this time it was possible they would be included. Later in the century, wedding accounts would certainly have told us their names too.
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Names of attendants (or witnesses) are given, and the maid of honour’s relationship to the bride. When this information was first included, only a blood relationship with one of the participants would be mentioned (as here, where Mr. Lindsay’s friendship with the groom is not specified). Now, if there is no blood relation, the phrase ‘friend of the groom’ or ‘friend of the bride’ would be added.
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This account is very valuable genealogically. We have the participants’ full names, residences, her father’s name (and the fact that both of her parents are still alive), and the date of the wedding. Regarding her parents, if one were dead, they would be referred to as ‘the late’, as in ‘Mr. Edward Fice and the late Mrs. Fice’.
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The fact that the account appears quickly (the day after the event) means that the details may have been given to the newspaper ahead of time, and that it was possible to print things in record time. Social pages in modern newspapers are usually typeset a day or two ahead of time.
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Although the civil registration record of this wedding is not yet available to genealogists in 2002, it may be possible to verify the date with the church records. (With care, however, as the King Street United Church no longer exists, but still operates under another name and location.) This would be wise, as there are probably some details in the original record not included in the newspaper.
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By the same token, the relationship between Minnie and Gertrude Fice would not be specified in the church record, or their father’s name given. It is therefore to the genealogist’s advantage to look at ''both'' records to obtain the maximum information.
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=== Engagement Announcements  ===
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Weddings generated many other newspaper items, beginning with the engagement announcement.
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''Mrs. George Boyes, Collingwood, announces the engagement of her youngest daughter, Florence, to Mr. Arthur Somerville Boddy, son of the late Mr. Wm. Boddy and Mrs. Boddy of Toronto. The marriage will take place quietly at Collingwood the middle of April. (Nottawa News in the '''Collingwood Bulletin''', 31 March 1927)''
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This short item is crammed with genealogical information. We learn:
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*Mrs. Boyes is a widow (otherwise, her husband would be included)
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*Her residence (Collingwood)
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*Florence’s place in the family birth order and that she has at least two sisters
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*Arthur’s full name
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*The fact that William Boddy is dead already
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*The probable date of the wedding
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One thing is ambiguous: whether it is Arthur Boddy or his mother who lives in Toronto.
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The researcher can then proceed to search April 1927 issues of the same newspaper for the wedding announcement, or failing that, church records in Collingwood.
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The form of name used for married women in this announcement is one which was adopted in the 19th century and continued until the present day. After marriage, a woman was always ‘Mrs. George Boyes’ and her own name might never appear in print again. The present writer has seen an obituary in the 1990s in which the dead woman’s own name was not mentioned at all, except in the form similar to ‘Mrs. George Boyes.’ This is dying out, however, and only the most old-fashioned or elderly women now adher to this form. Most women who conformed to the ‘Mrs. George Boyes’ form in the 1950s are now happy to use their own names, either as ‘Leona Boyes’ or even ‘Leona Baxter Boyes’ which is a common modern usage in genealogical circles.
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Some modern readers might think that the omission of the husband meant Mrs. Boyes was divorced. The form of her name tells us differently, as there were strict rules concerning formal names in announcements such as this. Until the 1970s, wording of engagement and marriage notices, as with the wording of wedding invitations, was regulated by conventions set forth in etiquette books and followed by newspapers as well as other printers. Now, people write their own announcements and invitations, and suppose it has always been done this way. The formal nature of the old announcements enables researchers to interpret the information being given exactly.<ref>For an explanation of divorced women's names, see Emily Post, Etiquette (1940 edition),p.593.</ref>
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Engagement announcements have the following uses genealogically:
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*They may yield a great deal of data, as in the example above
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*They will provide a hint where and when to look for the wedding information
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*They may provide a useful illustration for the family history
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They traditionally include some indication when the wedding will take place, a clue useful for researchers. Since the wedding may take place far from the original homes of the participants, a statement about its location is helpful. Had the above said, “The wedding will take place quietly in Regina in mid-April,” the research strategy would change.
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Many engagement announcements, especially in later times, will include a photograph. In the 1950s and 1960s it was often newspaper policy to include a photograph of the bride only in both engagement and wedding announcements, confirmation of the old joke that the groom was only a minor appendage at his bride’s big day. This is no longer true, and any modern account which omitted the groom would be regarded as eccentric.
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Formal double portraits of the engaged couple, part of the engagement announcement, can be taken from the newspaper and added to the family history. Now, these portraits tend to be more informal, and are often charming and friendly pictures which would be welcome illustrations in a published narrative.
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The danger in using engagement announcements is that they may not have led to a wedding at all. Many engagements are broken. Even including information about a broken engagement in biographies may be dangerous, unless all the characters involved are historical.
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=== Pre-Nuptial Parties  ===
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Following the formal announcement of the impending wedding, various pre-nuptial parties might be reported in the newspapers and will add to our genealogical treasure trove.
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'''''The Vancouver Daily Province''''' of 25 April 1947 included a column headed “For the Brides-Elect” which illustrates both the rather coy manner associated with weddings at the time, and the types of parties our forebears might have enjoyed associated with their weddings:
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{| width="600" cellspacing="1" cellpadding="1" border="1"
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| ''April is a month of showers, both those of the dewy nature which are part of the weatherman’s fare for this month of the year, and the bridal variety honoring those who will walk altarwards about the time May flowers are in full bloom.'' <br>
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''Among the brides-elect who are enjoying pre-nuptial parties is Miss Pamela Duncan who is being much feted prior to her marriage May 16 to Mr. John L. Menzies.'' <br>
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''Mrs. H. D. Burbidge will entertain at a tea next Friday in her honor while the following day Mrs. W. P. Barker will entertain after-five for the affianced pair. That evening the ushers at the wedding, Mr. Jack Simm, Mr. Arthur Ryan, Mr. Allen Ker and Mr.Basil Pinney will be hosts at the home of Col. and Mrs. E. J. Ryan.'' <br>
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''The evening of May 5, Miss Jacqueline Skinner will entertain and the next day Miss Joan Thompson will give a dessert party.'' <br>
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''The next day, Miss Anne Laird, who is to be a bridesmaid will entertain at a shower and May 8 another bridesmaid, Miss Joan Stratton, will be hostess at a bridge party. The maid of honor, Miss Jean Palfrey, has issued invitation for a dessert party May 9 and the next afternoon Bill Pearson who will serve as bestman will be host at an after-five party. That same day, Miss Lorna McKenzie and Miss Elaine Spinall will be co-hostesses at a luncheon for Miss Duncan. A tea hour party has been arranged by Miss Betsy Fripp for May 11.'' <br>
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''Prior to the wedding of Miss Phyllis Rae Nicolson and Mr. Gerald H. D. Hobbs next Thursday at the Chapel of St. James with Canon W. Cooper officiating, assisted by Rev. Lawrence Amor, a number of pre-nuptial parties have been held.'' <br>
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''This evening, Mr. P. A. D. Hobbs who will be bestman for his brother and Mrs. Hobbs will entertain at dinner. Sunday, Miss Jean Matheson will fete the bride she is to attend at a tea hour party. Next Tuesday, the groom-elect’s mother, Mrs. C. D. Hobbs, will entertain at luncheon.''
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<br> Modern readers will immediately notice some vocabulary which is either unfamiliar or no longer used the same way. This is a situation which arises in all reading of old newspapers, which are always written in a vernacular peculiar to their own time and, sometimes, to newspapers themselves.
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The term ‘bride-elect’ is one we rarely see now and simply means ‘prospective bride’. In our day we might use ‘fiancée’ although this word has taken on more the meaning of ‘live-in girlfriend’ in 2002. The ''Province'' also uses ‘groom-elect’ in the excerpt above, although this is not a common usage.
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This use of ‘elect’ was prevalent in the nineteenth century, when it was also used for anyone who was about to assume an office, whether actually elected to it by a vote or not—such as mayor-elect, chairman-elect or, in a famous joke from Gilbert and Sullivan’s ''The Mikado'', daughter-in-law-elect. The Crown Prince, Nanki-Poo has run away rather than marry Katisha, who always refers to herself as the Mikado’s ‘daughter-in-law-elect.’ When Nanki-Poo elopes with another woman, the new bride refers to herself as the ‘daughter-in-law-''elected''.’
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The ''Province’s'' social editor has an eccentric usage in ‘bestman’ which is always seen as two words elsewhere.
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Including the full text of a newspaper item such as these in a family history would be interesting because it gives a picture of the social life of an affianced couple in the late 1940s (in a certain stratum of society), some of it surprising. For example, men play a more prominent role: the ushers are jointly giving a party (not, it should be said, a stag party) for the Menzies-Nicolson couple, and the best man and his wife for the Hobbs-Matheson couple. Many of the parties include both men and women, unlike modern pre-wedding parties. The word pre-nuptial is used here in more than a legal context.
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Not all the pre-nuptial affairs are showers, but include lunches, teas, ‘after-fives’ (cocktail parties) as well as evening parties, which do not presume gift-giving, but only celebration.
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=== Weddings  ===
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Actual accounts of the wedding may include descriptions of the flowers and clothing, the bride’s dress getting detailed attention. <br>
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:''The bride was daintily attired in a gown of lilac georgette, with white accessories and madonna hat.&nbsp; She was attended by Mrs George harris, who wore an attractive swagger suit. ('''Medicine Hat News, '''11 October 1935)''}} <br>
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The unusual vocabulary (‘daintily attired’) is again in use. Some of the words—georgette, swagger suit—might require use of a thirties fashion dictionary. Extensive reading of weddings from the past reveals that many brides did not wear the huge white dresses which are universal today, but chose something more affordable, or which might be used again. The&nbsp;fabrics vary from time to time also, with satin popular in the 1930s, peau-de-soie everywhere in the 1960s and new man-made textiles appearing now. <br>
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An ad for Eaton’s from the same issue of the ''Medicine Hat News'' offers “Attractive celanese crepe affairs with long bias cut skirts neatly belted with charming novelty belts. A bewildering variety of delightful styles—puffed and cape sleeves—velvet touches—contrasting colours. Sizes 4 to 20. Each $1.95.” Aside from the cost, this ad offers a number of unknown things to think about (celanese crepe, cape sleeves, bias cut skirts) and an interesting range of sizes. It can also provide a discussion point for a family history interview; one observer said that her mother (who died in 1940) was very fond of cape sleeves, and pictures of this woman from the 1930s show her almost always wearing them. <br>
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Here is a more extensive wedding report from the same period:<br>
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{{Note|''Rosemary Connolly and John Gourley are Married Here: Lovely Wedding Solemnized in St. Patrick’s Church Followed by Breakfast at Cosmopolitan A lovely wedding of much interest took place at 9:30 o’clock this morning in St. Patrick’s church, when Rosemary, only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Connolly of Medicine Hat, was united in marriage to John Joseph Gourley, second son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Gourley of Calgary. The Rev. Father M. J. Fitzpatrick officiated. While Mrs. J. F. Kane, organist of the church, played the familiar wedding march from ‘Lohengrin’ the bridal party entered the church, the bride being given in marriage by her father. She was attired in a lovely lace-trimmed white satin gown, with veil and orange blossoms and long white silk gloves, her bouquet being of premier roses and lily-of-the-valley. The bridesmaid, Miss Alice Kuntz, wore maize-colored silk organdie with matching accessories and carried a bouquet of blue-shaded delphiniums. Two enjoyable vocal solos were presented by Mrs. C. P. Klein, of Calgary, and Mrs. Harold Scott, of Medicine Hat. Mr. Percy Giroux, of Calgary, acted as best man for Mr. Gourley. The ushers were Charles Connolly and Edward Kane. The altar was beautifully decorated with autumn flowers, while the front pews were marked by snapdragons and white satin streamers. Immediately following the ceremony, a wedding breakfast was served in the Cosmopolitan hotel. The guests were received by the bride’s mother, who wore a becoming gown of black crepe trimmed with lace, with hat to match. The centre table was decorated with sweet peas and centred by a three-tiered wedding cake. The toast to the bride was proposed by Father Fitzpatrick, and answered by the bridegroom. Those who attended the wedding breakfast were: Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Gourley, Mr. and Mrs. A. Connolly, Charles Connolly, Norman Connolly, Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Bechtel, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Winter, Mr. and Mrs. D. Nicholson, Mrs. Fred Mills, Miss Rose Galonski, Rev. J. M. Fitzpatrick, Miss Alice Kuntz, and Mrs. A. Gourley, Sr., Mrs. A. Gourley, Jr., Mrs and Mrs. G. Percey, Miss Peggy Gourley, Mrs. and Mrs. C. P. Klein, all of Calgary. Mr. and Mrs. Gourley are leaving on today’s 5:30 train for Lethbridge, where they will spend their honeymoon. They will make their home in Calgary. (Medicine Hat News, 25 September 1935)''}} <br>
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This account would certainly have been written ahead of time, to make the same day’s newspaper. In addition to elements of wedding reporting we have seen in the shorter versions above, here the reader is almost a participant, hearing the wedding march as the bride enters the church, with full descriptions of the principal frocks and flowers. The list of guests is useful, since it includes a number of relations. In that more formal age, most are referred to as ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ but what about the two who are not, Charles and Norman Connolly? The missing ‘Mr.’ makes it clear these are boys, not yet old enough for the title. Young women, such as Peggy Gourley, are more likely to have the ‘Miss’ added to their name despite their youth. <br>
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Mrs. Connolly’s black dress is most unusual, perhaps indicating that she is in mourning, although the wearing of mourning was no longer the rule in 1935. It was generally considered a ''faux pas'' to wear black at a wedding, even for a guest. <br>
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Flowers have fashions too. The orange blossoms on Rosemary’s veil are a relic of an earlier age, when brides always carried or wore them. Roses had become the flower of choice for bridal bouquets and remained so—in fact, are probably still the most commonly used flower. Auxiliary flowers in the bouquet change through time, to baby’s breath in the 1950s, stephanotis in the 1960s. Brides now have a greater choice, including wild flowers. The use of ‘garden flowers’ such as delphiniums and snapdragons in this wedding is a homely touch. In fact, the flowers at this wedding point to past customs in the use of orange blossoms and flowers from the garden, perhaps even picked by the bride and bridesmaids on the morning of the wedding, and to future usage in the florist-made formal bouquet carried by the bride. The interest in these customs make including the details in your family account more desirable. <br>
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Many wedding accounts include information about where the couple are going to live, which will be helpful to genealogists who are on the trail of lost relations. <br>
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Details missing from this piece but which we might find added to similar accounts are the titles of songs sung by the two soloists, and what was eaten at the breakfast. Meals following traditional morning weddings are always referred to as ‘breakfast’ because of the Roman Catholic tradition of including a full mass with the wedding rite. Anyone intending to participate in the eucharist would be expected to fast from midnight on, so the post-wedding meal would really be a time to break the fast. Many people in the period when railroads were most in use took a train journey to be married. This may have been done without letting their relations know ahead of time, but it may also have been planned by the whole family. Taking a short journey, getting married in a ‘quiet’ ceremony and then returning home was a way of avoiding the costs of a large wedding celebration and the elaborate planning required. People might simply go to a nearby town, to a railway hub, or to another city which would afford the pleasures of a honeymoon also. <br>
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Genealogists looking for marriage records for these people may have trouble finding them, because the town where the wedding was accomplished may have no other connections to the family or to the couple in question. One way out of this problem is to find a news item which tells about the wedding in the couple’s hometown newspaper. The town will be mentioned and the researcher can then look for the record there. <br>
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{{Note|''Samuel Earl and his wife, née Miss Prince, were passengers on Wednesday’s train from Salt Lake City, where they were married on the 8th. ('''The Alberta Star,''' 18 April 1908) ''}} <br>
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{{Note|''Miss Mabel Foster and Wilfred (Curly) Commodore were married in Medicine Hat, Saturday, Sept. 7. The bride’s aunt, Mrs. J. Wethereldt of Wild Horse gave a big wedding dinner for the bridal pair, relatives and friends on Sunday, Sept. 8. ('''Medicine Hat News''', 21 September 1935, in the Manyberries community news)''}} <br>
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The Commodore-Foster notice, which is from a rural community social column, shows that the family knew Mabel and Curly were going to be married, because Mabel’s aunt would have needed time to prepare the ‘big dinner’ the following day. An informal celebration following a ‘railway wedding’ would not be unusual and would have the same festive purpose as a formal reception, without the expense. <br>
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Readers of ''The Alberta Star'' would soon notice that a great many couples from Cardston, where the newspaper was published, went to Salt Lake City to be married. In fact, the social column reveals that a great many visitors from Cardston went to Salt Lake City all the time. It becomes clear that the community had a large Mormon population, and the editor of the paper was perhaps Mormon, too.
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The newspaper may be a source to indicate the return from the honeymoon (in the social column), for couples who have been away for a time. In that section of society which went in for formal visiting, a new bride would be expected to be ‘at home’ to everyone she knew, especially those who had attended her wedding. This occasion might be the cause of a newspaper item after the fact, to describe its success. <br>
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Some women would not have appreciated their ‘at home’ or similar social functions being reported in the newspaper and in all likelihood the newspaper would not notice them unless they requested it. There was a school of thought which said that ‘a lady’s name appeared in the newspaper only three times, when she was born, when she was married and when she died.’ This is not entirely accurate, since at the time, a baby’s name did not appear in the birth announcement, but the idea was that a lady did not court the publicity of newspaper social notes. This may have been applicable in the more rarified parts of Montreal or New York society, but for most people, having their doings noticed in the newspaper was a pleasure. <br>
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Researchers may be faced with a wedding announcement which says the couple was wedded ‘recently’ or (as with the Gosh wedding below) ‘the other day’ with no more enlightening date. In this case, you have a year of marriage only, without month or day. This must lead to further research to find an exact date, using civil registration or church records. In some cases, no more certain date will be found. <br>
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Newspapers of the past enjoyed publishing jokes, usually of a mild kind acceptable to everyone, such as this from the ''Alberta Star'' of 13 August 1909: “According to a Springfield, Ill. paper, Charles I. Gosh was married the other day to Anne B. Damm. The bride revised her name downwards.”
  
  

Revision as of 21:14, 22 March 2013

 
National Institute for Genealogical StudiesNational Institute for Genealogical Studies.gif

The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Newspaper Records  by Ryan Taylor, revised by Susanna de Groot, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Births, Marriages, and Obituaries

The part of the newspaper we think of first in genealogical terms is the birth-marriage-death column (BMD). For this reason, there is an assumption that this column exists in all newspapers and will be there for us to consult if we wish it.

Many also assume that everyone made a point of entering their loved ones’ birth and death notices in the newspaper. None of this is true.

Styles in the announcing of births, deaths and marriages change through time, it being fashionable to have lengthy and flowery, if uninformative, obituaries at one time (the turn of the 20th century), no obituaries at all (large cities in the 1930s) and, now, obituaries which list all family members and often the dead person’s occupation and interests.

Some of the extra wedding announcements, with full descriptions of showers and the wedding day itself, have gone now because newspapers no longer have the room to include them. If we find them for family members in their heyday in the mid-20th century, they make fine additions to the family history.

Pioneer newspapers might have no BMD column at all, these events being sufficiently publicised by word-of-mouth in a small community. The publisher of the first newspapers in New Hamburg, Ontario, wanted to fill his columns and thought that marriage announcements might be suitable, but no one was bringing them to him.

His solution was to visit the local clergy and ask if they had married anyone lately. The resulting columns would make a modern reader think that only a single clergyman at a time was performing weddings in the community.

While later BMD columns had paid insertions, these early ones were regarded as news items of sufficient interest to be included at no cost.

Some editors might not regard BMDs as worthy of space, and many newspapers would not include them. An alternative was for these bits of news to be incorporated into the social column or as news items.

Finding them requires careful reading of the social columns.

Births

Nineteenth century birth announcements are not very informative, but they do provide the basic information in the form:

At the Branch, on Monday the 14th inst., Mrs. Wm. Beach, of a son. (Brockville Gazette, 25 September 1829)
Eaton—In Toronto on the 7th inst., the wife of Mr. T. Eaton, of a son. (St. Mary’s Argus, 18 August 1881)

This at least provides the birthdate and place, and the father’s name. The form is somewhat incomprehensible, but the part omitted for reasons of space is ‘was delivered’ as in ‘was delivered of a son’. These very brief announcements provided the news and nothing more was considered necessary. The era’s view that the woman’s contribution was peripheral is obvious in the format. This family is indeed that of Timothy Eaton of department store fame.

Stillbirths were treated as births and not as deaths as they are now. The birth announcement would usually read as for a live birth, with the addition in parentheses (Stillborn). In the present day, stillbirths are presented in the deaths column with the usual account of surviving family members and funeral services, which are often private and conducted at the graveside. Many stillbirths were not recorded in the newspaper.

In the past, genealogists omitted reference to a stillbirth from the official record. Now, it is more likely they will want to include mention of the event in a narrative family history, although genealogies or generational charts may still omit them. For many decades after the turn of the 20th century, birth announcements were less common in newspapers. It is not clear why, although newspapers had begun charging for publication, which may be why, or it may be that people regarded the event as more private and the sending of printed or hand-lettered birth announcements through the mail had become the usual form. After World War II, there was a return to public announcement of births, which continues now.

Bennett: To Mr. & Mrs. Robert C. Bennett (née Maureen Constance Drummond), 6074 Argyle St., at Grace Hospital on April 19th, 1947, a son, Robert Lindsay. (Vancouver Province, 25 April 1947)

The full name of both parents now appears, including the mother’s maiden name, address, birthplace (hospital), date and baby’s name. The baby’s name may not be published if the parents have not made a final decision as yet.

It has taken a full week for the announcement to be published, in which time, presumably, all the close friends have already been informed, so the newspaper item may be regarded as a formality, or to include those outside the immediate family circle.

The address is included so that people might not confuse the family with any other Robert Bennetts, and to make it easier to send congratulatory messages. This form of birth announcement is much more useful genealogically than the brief nineteenth century version.

The current-day birth announcement will probably not include an address (fearing an avalanche of commercial importuning) but the other additions of 1947 will still be there. Other possibilities are the names of older siblings (‘a brother for Joel’) and happy grandparents or great-grandparents (‘a seventh grandchild for James and Hannah McKee’). Birth weights, of undoubted genealogical interest, may be given also.

The most recent change in birth announcements deals with parents who have different last names, either because they are not legally married or because the mother has retained her birth name.

Abicht-Warder: Walter and Hilary are pleased to announce the birth of Alexander Harry Lewis Abicht on August 11, 2002, at Kingston General Hospital. Alexander is the grandson of Marshall and Betty Warder of Kingston and Harry and Helga Abicht of Waterloo. (Globe and Mail, 24 August 2002)

It is helpful that the baby’s last name is clearly stated (which it often is not), since in modern families there may be some uncertainty on the subject. The residences of the grandparents will make some future genealogist happy, since it makes tracing them easier.

It might be useful to consider the newspaper birth announcement as genealogical evidence. Many jurisdictions, particularly in Canada, restrict access to birth certificates. Will a newspaper birth announcement do in place of a certificate? Since it is contemporaneous with the event, and probably placed in the newspaper by the parents, it should have a high evidential value. In addition, a scanned copy of the newspaper birth announcement is a good illustration for the family history.

Marriages

Of the three forms of announcement in the BMD column, the marriage is the most common. Many people might omit births, for reasons of privacy or lack of general interest, and deaths were often announced using the printed death card. Marriages, however, could be announced two or three weeks after the event without spoiling the effect, and everyone in the community would want to join in the rejoicing for the happy couple. Weddings were actually news in a way that the other events were not.

Early wedding announcements varied more than births did, but they had a basic form:

Miles-Hunking: In London, on the 9th inst., by the Rev. A. Brown, Mr. J. W. Miles, painter, to Lizzie, eldest daughter of Mr. Wm. Hunking. (St. Mary’s Argus, 18 August 1881


The two family names are given with the groom’s name always first. The place is given, the date, the clergyman’s name and the names of the participants. This example includes the groom’s occupation, which is unusual. The bride’s first name is given, here using only a diminutive, with her father’s name following. As with the birth, the mother’s role in parenting is ignored.

The form of the bride’s name (‘Lizzie, daughter of Wm. Hunking’) reflects the thinking of that time that a woman was ‘somebody’s daughter until she was somebody’s wife’ no matter what her age.

Genealogically, this is a good announcement because the researcher has the full date and place. The fact that the clergyman’s name is given will lead to further research to confirm the date using the church records. The church can be located by looking the clergyman up in a city directory of the time. The directory will connect the clergyman to his church, and researchers can then determine if the church still exists, if it has been replaced by another institution or if it is defunct, and where its records are now located. In addition, Lizzie’s position in the family birth order is given, a help if not known from another source. The use of ‘eldest’ tells us Mr. Hunking had at least three daughters.

On Wednesday the 21st inst., by the Rev. Wm. Smart, Mr. Hiram Mott to the amiable Miss Selina King, both of Elizabethtown. (Brockville Gazette, 30 October 1829)


This charming announcement contains a one-word editorial on the subject of the new Mrs. Mott’s personality.

Although marriage announcements in this form continue to be used today, especially in large urban newspapers, the general interest in hearing more about weddings led quickly to longer announcements. These were removed from the BMD column and placed either in a column of their own (sometimes confined to the Saturday or Sunday newspaper) or mixed in with other social news. These longer announcements grew and grew as time went on, until they became detailed accounts of the wedding which included descriptions of the clothes and flowers. Usually, only very small-town newspapers continue to publish these lengthy pieces now, although even such a large publication as The New York Times has wedding announcements which include information about the participants’ social background, occupations and even tales of how they met. In August 2002, the Times announced that its weddings page was changing it policy and would be renamed to ‘Weddings/Celebrations’ and would for the future include gay and lesbian weddings, and joining celebrations of a non-legal nature, which shows how things continue to evolve, as they have from the beginning of the BMD column.

In the Oshawa Daily Reformer under the heading “Women’s Daily Interests” the following wedding appeared:

Lyon-Fice A quiet wedding took place yesterday afternoon at the King street United Church parsonage when Minnie May Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Fice, East Whitby, became the bride of Norman Victor Lyon, also of East Whitby. The young couple were attended by Miss Gertrude A. Fise, sister of the bride, and Mr. John G. Lindsay, both of East Whitby. Rev. C. W. DeMille officiated. (7 January 1927)


This announcement includes two unusual spellings which modern readers will wonder about; the first is the small ‘s’ on ‘street’. It was a newspaper convention that street-names were spelled this way, and the compositor has done so even though in this case it is a proper name. The second is that the maid of honour’s name has been misspelled, as proper names often were in newspapers of that time. Although the Fice name is given three times in the short paragraph, it appears correctly twice and wrong once.


Many weddings took place at the parsonage, not in church, at this time, as a way of saving money. The use of ‘quiet wedding’ was another convention in newspaper descriptions and meant that very few people were attending, as was natural in a parsonage wedding. The bride’s full Christian names are given, and she is still someone’s daughter. Both her parents are mentioned. The groom’s parents are not mentioned, although by this time it was possible they would be included. Later in the century, wedding accounts would certainly have told us their names too.

Names of attendants (or witnesses) are given, and the maid of honour’s relationship to the bride. When this information was first included, only a blood relationship with one of the participants would be mentioned (as here, where Mr. Lindsay’s friendship with the groom is not specified). Now, if there is no blood relation, the phrase ‘friend of the groom’ or ‘friend of the bride’ would be added.

This account is very valuable genealogically. We have the participants’ full names, residences, her father’s name (and the fact that both of her parents are still alive), and the date of the wedding. Regarding her parents, if one were dead, they would be referred to as ‘the late’, as in ‘Mr. Edward Fice and the late Mrs. Fice’.

The fact that the account appears quickly (the day after the event) means that the details may have been given to the newspaper ahead of time, and that it was possible to print things in record time. Social pages in modern newspapers are usually typeset a day or two ahead of time.

Although the civil registration record of this wedding is not yet available to genealogists in 2002, it may be possible to verify the date with the church records. (With care, however, as the King Street United Church no longer exists, but still operates under another name and location.) This would be wise, as there are probably some details in the original record not included in the newspaper.

By the same token, the relationship between Minnie and Gertrude Fice would not be specified in the church record, or their father’s name given. It is therefore to the genealogist’s advantage to look at both records to obtain the maximum information.

Engagement Announcements

Weddings generated many other newspaper items, beginning with the engagement announcement.

Mrs. George Boyes, Collingwood, announces the engagement of her youngest daughter, Florence, to Mr. Arthur Somerville Boddy, son of the late Mr. Wm. Boddy and Mrs. Boddy of Toronto. The marriage will take place quietly at Collingwood the middle of April. (Nottawa News in the Collingwood Bulletin, 31 March 1927)

This short item is crammed with genealogical information. We learn:

  • Mrs. Boyes is a widow (otherwise, her husband would be included)
  • Her residence (Collingwood)
  • Florence’s place in the family birth order and that she has at least two sisters
  • Arthur’s full name
  • The fact that William Boddy is dead already
  • The probable date of the wedding

One thing is ambiguous: whether it is Arthur Boddy or his mother who lives in Toronto.

The researcher can then proceed to search April 1927 issues of the same newspaper for the wedding announcement, or failing that, church records in Collingwood.

The form of name used for married women in this announcement is one which was adopted in the 19th century and continued until the present day. After marriage, a woman was always ‘Mrs. George Boyes’ and her own name might never appear in print again. The present writer has seen an obituary in the 1990s in which the dead woman’s own name was not mentioned at all, except in the form similar to ‘Mrs. George Boyes.’ This is dying out, however, and only the most old-fashioned or elderly women now adher to this form. Most women who conformed to the ‘Mrs. George Boyes’ form in the 1950s are now happy to use their own names, either as ‘Leona Boyes’ or even ‘Leona Baxter Boyes’ which is a common modern usage in genealogical circles.

Some modern readers might think that the omission of the husband meant Mrs. Boyes was divorced. The form of her name tells us differently, as there were strict rules concerning formal names in announcements such as this. Until the 1970s, wording of engagement and marriage notices, as with the wording of wedding invitations, was regulated by conventions set forth in etiquette books and followed by newspapers as well as other printers. Now, people write their own announcements and invitations, and suppose it has always been done this way. The formal nature of the old announcements enables researchers to interpret the information being given exactly.[1]

Engagement announcements have the following uses genealogically:

  • They may yield a great deal of data, as in the example above
  • They will provide a hint where and when to look for the wedding information
  • They may provide a useful illustration for the family history

They traditionally include some indication when the wedding will take place, a clue useful for researchers. Since the wedding may take place far from the original homes of the participants, a statement about its location is helpful. Had the above said, “The wedding will take place quietly in Regina in mid-April,” the research strategy would change.

Many engagement announcements, especially in later times, will include a photograph. In the 1950s and 1960s it was often newspaper policy to include a photograph of the bride only in both engagement and wedding announcements, confirmation of the old joke that the groom was only a minor appendage at his bride’s big day. This is no longer true, and any modern account which omitted the groom would be regarded as eccentric.

Formal double portraits of the engaged couple, part of the engagement announcement, can be taken from the newspaper and added to the family history. Now, these portraits tend to be more informal, and are often charming and friendly pictures which would be welcome illustrations in a published narrative.

The danger in using engagement announcements is that they may not have led to a wedding at all. Many engagements are broken. Even including information about a broken engagement in biographies may be dangerous, unless all the characters involved are historical.

Pre-Nuptial Parties

Following the formal announcement of the impending wedding, various pre-nuptial parties might be reported in the newspapers and will add to our genealogical treasure trove.

The Vancouver Daily Province of 25 April 1947 included a column headed “For the Brides-Elect” which illustrates both the rather coy manner associated with weddings at the time, and the types of parties our forebears might have enjoyed associated with their weddings:

April is a month of showers, both those of the dewy nature which are part of the weatherman’s fare for this month of the year, and the bridal variety honoring those who will walk altarwards about the time May flowers are in full bloom.

Among the brides-elect who are enjoying pre-nuptial parties is Miss Pamela Duncan who is being much feted prior to her marriage May 16 to Mr. John L. Menzies.

Mrs. H. D. Burbidge will entertain at a tea next Friday in her honor while the following day Mrs. W. P. Barker will entertain after-five for the affianced pair. That evening the ushers at the wedding, Mr. Jack Simm, Mr. Arthur Ryan, Mr. Allen Ker and Mr.Basil Pinney will be hosts at the home of Col. and Mrs. E. J. Ryan.

The evening of May 5, Miss Jacqueline Skinner will entertain and the next day Miss Joan Thompson will give a dessert party.

The next day, Miss Anne Laird, who is to be a bridesmaid will entertain at a shower and May 8 another bridesmaid, Miss Joan Stratton, will be hostess at a bridge party. The maid of honor, Miss Jean Palfrey, has issued invitation for a dessert party May 9 and the next afternoon Bill Pearson who will serve as bestman will be host at an after-five party. That same day, Miss Lorna McKenzie and Miss Elaine Spinall will be co-hostesses at a luncheon for Miss Duncan. A tea hour party has been arranged by Miss Betsy Fripp for May 11.

Prior to the wedding of Miss Phyllis Rae Nicolson and Mr. Gerald H. D. Hobbs next Thursday at the Chapel of St. James with Canon W. Cooper officiating, assisted by Rev. Lawrence Amor, a number of pre-nuptial parties have been held.

This evening, Mr. P. A. D. Hobbs who will be bestman for his brother and Mrs. Hobbs will entertain at dinner. Sunday, Miss Jean Matheson will fete the bride she is to attend at a tea hour party. Next Tuesday, the groom-elect’s mother, Mrs. C. D. Hobbs, will entertain at luncheon.


Modern readers will immediately notice some vocabulary which is either unfamiliar or no longer used the same way. This is a situation which arises in all reading of old newspapers, which are always written in a vernacular peculiar to their own time and, sometimes, to newspapers themselves.

The term ‘bride-elect’ is one we rarely see now and simply means ‘prospective bride’. In our day we might use ‘fiancée’ although this word has taken on more the meaning of ‘live-in girlfriend’ in 2002. The Province also uses ‘groom-elect’ in the excerpt above, although this is not a common usage.

This use of ‘elect’ was prevalent in the nineteenth century, when it was also used for anyone who was about to assume an office, whether actually elected to it by a vote or not—such as mayor-elect, chairman-elect or, in a famous joke from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, daughter-in-law-elect. The Crown Prince, Nanki-Poo has run away rather than marry Katisha, who always refers to herself as the Mikado’s ‘daughter-in-law-elect.’ When Nanki-Poo elopes with another woman, the new bride refers to herself as the ‘daughter-in-law-elected.’

The Province’s social editor has an eccentric usage in ‘bestman’ which is always seen as two words elsewhere.

Including the full text of a newspaper item such as these in a family history would be interesting because it gives a picture of the social life of an affianced couple in the late 1940s (in a certain stratum of society), some of it surprising. For example, men play a more prominent role: the ushers are jointly giving a party (not, it should be said, a stag party) for the Menzies-Nicolson couple, and the best man and his wife for the Hobbs-Matheson couple. Many of the parties include both men and women, unlike modern pre-wedding parties. The word pre-nuptial is used here in more than a legal context.

Not all the pre-nuptial affairs are showers, but include lunches, teas, ‘after-fives’ (cocktail parties) as well as evening parties, which do not presume gift-giving, but only celebration.

Weddings

Actual accounts of the wedding may include descriptions of the flowers and clothing, the bride’s dress getting detailed attention.

The bride was daintily attired in a gown of lilac georgette, with white accessories and madonna hat.  She was attended by Mrs George harris, who wore an attractive swagger suit. (Medicine Hat News, 11 October 1935)}}

The unusual vocabulary (‘daintily attired’) is again in use. Some of the words—georgette, swagger suit—might require use of a thirties fashion dictionary. Extensive reading of weddings from the past reveals that many brides did not wear the huge white dresses which are universal today, but chose something more affordable, or which might be used again. The fabrics vary from time to time also, with satin popular in the 1930s, peau-de-soie everywhere in the 1960s and new man-made textiles appearing now.

An ad for Eaton’s from the same issue of the Medicine Hat News offers “Attractive celanese crepe affairs with long bias cut skirts neatly belted with charming novelty belts. A bewildering variety of delightful styles—puffed and cape sleeves—velvet touches—contrasting colours. Sizes 4 to 20. Each $1.95.” Aside from the cost, this ad offers a number of unknown things to think about (celanese crepe, cape sleeves, bias cut skirts) and an interesting range of sizes. It can also provide a discussion point for a family history interview; one observer said that her mother (who died in 1940) was very fond of cape sleeves, and pictures of this woman from the 1930s show her almost always wearing them.

Here is a more extensive wedding report from the same period:


This account would certainly have been written ahead of time, to make the same day’s newspaper. In addition to elements of wedding reporting we have seen in the shorter versions above, here the reader is almost a participant, hearing the wedding march as the bride enters the church, with full descriptions of the principal frocks and flowers. The list of guests is useful, since it includes a number of relations. In that more formal age, most are referred to as ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ but what about the two who are not, Charles and Norman Connolly? The missing ‘Mr.’ makes it clear these are boys, not yet old enough for the title. Young women, such as Peggy Gourley, are more likely to have the ‘Miss’ added to their name despite their youth.

Mrs. Connolly’s black dress is most unusual, perhaps indicating that she is in mourning, although the wearing of mourning was no longer the rule in 1935. It was generally considered a faux pas to wear black at a wedding, even for a guest.

Flowers have fashions too. The orange blossoms on Rosemary’s veil are a relic of an earlier age, when brides always carried or wore them. Roses had become the flower of choice for bridal bouquets and remained so—in fact, are probably still the most commonly used flower. Auxiliary flowers in the bouquet change through time, to baby’s breath in the 1950s, stephanotis in the 1960s. Brides now have a greater choice, including wild flowers. The use of ‘garden flowers’ such as delphiniums and snapdragons in this wedding is a homely touch. In fact, the flowers at this wedding point to past customs in the use of orange blossoms and flowers from the garden, perhaps even picked by the bride and bridesmaids on the morning of the wedding, and to future usage in the florist-made formal bouquet carried by the bride. The interest in these customs make including the details in your family account more desirable.

Many wedding accounts include information about where the couple are going to live, which will be helpful to genealogists who are on the trail of lost relations.

Details missing from this piece but which we might find added to similar accounts are the titles of songs sung by the two soloists, and what was eaten at the breakfast. Meals following traditional morning weddings are always referred to as ‘breakfast’ because of the Roman Catholic tradition of including a full mass with the wedding rite. Anyone intending to participate in the eucharist would be expected to fast from midnight on, so the post-wedding meal would really be a time to break the fast. Many people in the period when railroads were most in use took a train journey to be married. This may have been done without letting their relations know ahead of time, but it may also have been planned by the whole family. Taking a short journey, getting married in a ‘quiet’ ceremony and then returning home was a way of avoiding the costs of a large wedding celebration and the elaborate planning required. People might simply go to a nearby town, to a railway hub, or to another city which would afford the pleasures of a honeymoon also.

Genealogists looking for marriage records for these people may have trouble finding them, because the town where the wedding was accomplished may have no other connections to the family or to the couple in question. One way out of this problem is to find a news item which tells about the wedding in the couple’s hometown newspaper. The town will be mentioned and the researcher can then look for the record there.



The Commodore-Foster notice, which is from a rural community social column, shows that the family knew Mabel and Curly were going to be married, because Mabel’s aunt would have needed time to prepare the ‘big dinner’ the following day. An informal celebration following a ‘railway wedding’ would not be unusual and would have the same festive purpose as a formal reception, without the expense.

Readers of The Alberta Star would soon notice that a great many couples from Cardston, where the newspaper was published, went to Salt Lake City to be married. In fact, the social column reveals that a great many visitors from Cardston went to Salt Lake City all the time. It becomes clear that the community had a large Mormon population, and the editor of the paper was perhaps Mormon, too.

The newspaper may be a source to indicate the return from the honeymoon (in the social column), for couples who have been away for a time. In that section of society which went in for formal visiting, a new bride would be expected to be ‘at home’ to everyone she knew, especially those who had attended her wedding. This occasion might be the cause of a newspaper item after the fact, to describe its success.

Some women would not have appreciated their ‘at home’ or similar social functions being reported in the newspaper and in all likelihood the newspaper would not notice them unless they requested it. There was a school of thought which said that ‘a lady’s name appeared in the newspaper only three times, when she was born, when she was married and when she died.’ This is not entirely accurate, since at the time, a baby’s name did not appear in the birth announcement, but the idea was that a lady did not court the publicity of newspaper social notes. This may have been applicable in the more rarified parts of Montreal or New York society, but for most people, having their doings noticed in the newspaper was a pleasure.

Researchers may be faced with a wedding announcement which says the couple was wedded ‘recently’ or (as with the Gosh wedding below) ‘the other day’ with no more enlightening date. In this case, you have a year of marriage only, without month or day. This must lead to further research to find an exact date, using civil registration or church records. In some cases, no more certain date will be found.

Newspapers of the past enjoyed publishing jokes, usually of a mild kind acceptable to everyone, such as this from the Alberta Star of 13 August 1909: “According to a Springfield, Ill. paper, Charles I. Gosh was married the other day to Anne B. Damm. The bride revised her name downwards.”


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Newspaper Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.
  1. For an explanation of divorced women's names, see Emily Post, Etiquette (1940 edition),p.593.