I owe the idea for this post to the excellent genealogy speaker Thomas McEntee of High Definition Genealogy. I heard Thomas speak through the live feed from the Southern California Genealogy Society‘s Jamboree this past weekend. Thomas was addressing online privacy in his talk “Staying Safe Online.” Interspersed with some advice about online safety and privacy, he talked about our ancestors’ privacy in the U.S. More privacy, or less? One example he gave of a lack of privacy was the custom of printing warnings in the local paper, often from a husband, informing the town that he would no longer pay any debts of his spouse. Thomas mentioned that sometimes, the spouse printed a response in an ad of her own, treating us to an early 19th century version of The Jerry Springer Show. I am grateful to Thomas for that tip, as well as for all the work he does for the GeneaBloggers.
The 1802 version of the Jerry Springer Show
Yes, my ancestors participated in this highly un-private activity in 1802. I found it in the same issue where I had found the husband’s ad a couple of years ago.
My ggggg-grandfather Nathan Aldrich paid for the following ad in the Providence Gazette on May 8 and May 15, 1802 (1):
WHEREAS, Marcy, wife of me the subscriber, hath separated herself from me, and at sundry Times has unnecessarily run me into debt : These are therefore to forbid all Persons trusting her on my Account, as I am determined to pay no Debts of her contracting from the Date hereof.
Cumberland, May 5, 1802.
My ggggg-grandmother Marcy Aldrich placed an ad in the May 8 and May 15, 1802 issues of the Providence Gazette (2):
My unworthy Husband, NATHAN ALDRICH, having thought proper to stigmatize my Character in a public Paper, a brief Reply seems necessary. I was reduced to the hard Necessity of making my Escape from the most brutal Treatment; he had threatened my Life, and actually kicked me, and bruised me with his Fist. Add to this that he left my Bed one year previous to my quitting his Cottage, and neglected to provide for me the common Necessaries of Life.
Cumberland, May 14, 1802.
Since I have never found any trace of Marcy after her 1803 divorce, this was very interesting. She was still in Cumberland after leaving him; she may have been at her father’s house. And I notice that after the separation she seems to be calling herself by her maiden name, Ballou. In fact, this is now the best source I have for her maiden name, the evidence for which I had painstakingly pieced together indirectly.
Access Rhode Island newspapers
- While spotty, there is a growing collection of Rhode Island newspapers online at the paid site, GenealogyBank.com. You can link to the page of Rhode Island newspaper titles and years here. Indexing is automated through OCR, which works if the type is clear and recognizable, and not well at all if the image is blurry, wrinkled, or faded. I never have found Marcy’s note in any index; I only found it by going page by page.
- If you are a member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, you have access to two compilations of early newspapers, 19th Century U.S. Newspapers and Early American Newspapers, Series I 1690-1876. These can be accessed from the “External Databases” page after logging in at the NEHGS website.
- Rhode Island papers on the paid site NewspaperArchive are limited to Newport. Likewise, Ancestry.com has very limited Rhode Island newspaper offerings. Library of Congress’ free Chronicling America site has no digitized Rhode Island content, but does offer a list of 750 Rhode Island newspapers with some holdings information in their Directory of Newspapers (drill down to find libraries where the paper might be held).
- If you are in Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Historical Society has a thorough microfilm collection of surviving Rhode Island newspapers. However, indexing is lacking, and the few indices I’ve found there tend to cover important persons and stories only. I use the microfilm to look up specific dates only.
- If you know the name of a newspaper you are interested in, you can check out the holdings of the free Google News Archives. The site works adequately for paging through issues of papers but I haven’t had much luck with searching there. I should add that while my pictures, here, are from Google News, I first found the article using the indexing at GenealogyBank. But GenealogyBank does not allow their images to be reproduced.
One more newspaper article about Nathan Aldrich
One Massachusetts article from The Liberator (found on 19th Century U.S. Newspapers) redeems Nathan Aldrich a bit in my eyes (3). The West Wrentham Anti-Slavery Society met right in Sheldonville, where he lived, and in September, 1839, some members attended a meeting of the county-wide society, the Norfolk County Anti-Slavery Society, which happened to be held in Wrentham. There was a controversial and extremely close vote about the right of the female members to vote during the meeting. The votes of each member present were recorded in the newspaper, which is why Nathan’s name was mentioned. He voted against the right of the female members to vote at meetings. I find no other Nathan Aldriches in the county during this period; I think it is him. Of course, he loses points for voting against the rights of the women members.
Nathan’s second wife Chloe died in middle age, a fact which is carefully recorded by Nathan in his family bible. He then married a neighbor, Lois Grant, cousin of Chloe. Nathan is buried at the Sheldonville Cemetery between Chloe and Lois. I always assumed that wouldn’t have gone that way if he was quite the person described in the advertisement, above. I would chalk it up more to he and Marcy not being suited to each other. If I could ever learn more about Marcy, it might reveal more about the whole sad situation.
I wonder, based on my own research, if unhappy marriages leave more clues behind than happy marriages. But for sure, newspapers can reveal snippets of the lives of our ancestors. If you have advice about finding Rhode Island newspapers, please leave it in the comments.
- “Whereas, Marcy” (advertisment), Providence Gazette (Providence, RI), 08 May 1802, online archive at Genealogy Bank (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 10 Apr 2011), page 4.
- “My unworthy Husband” (advertisment), Providence Gazette (Providence, RI), 15 May 1802, online archive at Genealogy Bank (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 8 Jun 2013), page 3.
- “Norfolk County Anti-Slavery Society,” The Liberator, (Boston, MA) [Friday], [September 20, 1839]; online archive at 19th Century U.S. Newspapers (Article GT3005844982) (accessed through http://www.americanancestors.org/external-databases/ : accessed 9 Jun 2013), pg. 150; Issue 38; col B
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