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Reading the ads

In just about every county, in most cities and many small towns, there is one source a genealogist can count on at least for background information about the time and the place.

It’s the newspapers.

Published once a week or once a day, sometimes less and sometimes more, their columns were filled with the news that warms the cockles of a genealogist’s heart.1

The Legal Genealogist was poking around in some old California newspapers last night in anticipation of this Saturday’s all-day seminar of the California Genealogical Society in Berkeley, and noticed one thing that — I suspect — tends not to be a main focus when we look at newspapers for genealogical information.

I mean, I’m sure we all devour the news columns of any local paper published in the areas where our families lived. We want all the juicy stories — the comings and goings — the births and weddings and anniversaries and deaths.

And I hope we all know that the legal notices can also be chock full of important details: letting us know about a court case that was pending or naming the heirs who are getting notice of an estate that’s being settled.

These are the parts of the paper that, I hope, we all read line by line page by page.

But what about the regular plain paid advertisements?

How often do our eyes skip over those, our minds already on fast-forward-past-the-ads?

Don’t do it.

Read the ads too. You might be surprised at how much genealogical information you can find in the advertising columns as well.

Case in point: the June 1, 1874 issue of the Oakland Evening Tribune.

There are ads right there on the first page of that newspaper that the modern eye really wants to skip over.

But if we let our modern eye do that, here’s what we miss:

• That F. Chappallet was a dealer in wood and coal, and his business was on Eighth Street, between Broadway and Franklin.2

• That Thomas O. Neil was a dealer in foreign and domestic wines and liquors, an agent for William Woodward’s wines and brandies and Diamond O.J. Whisky, His business was on the southeast corner of Washington and Seventh Street.3

• That James R. Smith was the proprietor of the Overland House, a “New Complete and Commodious Hotel at the Northwest corner of Broadway and First street… located within a convenient distance of the Overland and San Jose trains” with rooms that were “pleasant and newly furnished.” Oh, and he was “late of the Oakland House.”4

• That A. Strobel was the manager of the Fredericksburg Lager at 962 Broadway. You could buy beer there in 10-gallon kegs.5

• That Mack Webber’s Orange Flower Cologne was “unequaled for the toilet” and available at the corner of Broadway and Eleventh Street.6

• That Oakland had a new Cornet Band with A. Piepenburg as its leader, offering the best music furnished for balls, parties, picnics, and parades even on shortest notice, from a business at 461 Sixth Street, between Broadway and Washington.7

• That one-half acre lots were being offered by the Berkeley Villa Association in “the new town of Berkeley.” You just needed $20 down and could pay it off at $10 a month. The land was within one-half mile of the State University,… beautifully situated, commanding a magnificent view of San Francisco Bay and its surroundings.8

And that’s just on one page. There’s more on every page. The charges for a furnished room. The business dealings of so many people who came to town after the 1870 census and were gone before the 1880 census. How much land was selling for. Where people would have bought their beer or their ice cream or stabled their horses.

Now you can find the Oakland Tribune on microfilm at the California State Library. Current issues from 2001 are at GenealogyBank. And essentially the whole run from 1874 is online at (which can also be accessed through FindMyPast) and at and Ancestry. All of the online sites are by subscription.

But however and wherever you find it… don’t overlook the ads.

There are some genealogical gems in there.

The business of California, and of ordinary Californians, in the advertising columns.


  1. Whatever those are, and whyever they would need warming…
  2. Advertisement, Oakland Evening Tribune, 1 June 1874, p. 1, col. 2; digital images, ( : accessed 20 Sep 2017).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid. And I assume that means he used to run that place, not that he was dead. At least I hope not.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., p. 1, col. 3.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., p. 1, col. 4.
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