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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 (Continued)
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will connect the clergyman to his church, and researchers can then determine if the church still exists, if it has been replaced by another institution or if it is defunct, and where its records are now located.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.
|This uncertainty about spelling of names in old newspapers is something which genealogists should both be aware of and beware of.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
- ↑ For an explanation of divorced women's names, see Emily Post, Etiquette (1940 edition),p.593.
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 email@example.com
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