Ancestors and Product Endorsements In Historical Newspapers

Recently, while browsing surnames on Chronicling America, I decided to go down a genealogical rabbit hole about which I had wondered.

Modern society is used to celebrity product endorsements. They’ve been around forever. We are also well versed in websites like Trip Advisor, Google Reviews and Yelp to help us choose which products and services to buy. It’s also very likely that we’ve posted our own reviews somewhere online.

What about in the “olden days”? Those days before television or radio. Those days when newspapers were a prime source of information of every kind?

As I meandered through “Alberty” hits coming up in those historical newspapers, this advertisement, featuring Barbara Alberty, among others, came up in the 24 February 1901 issue of the St. Louis Republic:

Source: Chronicling America

Barbara Alberty is the young lady at whom the blue arrow is pointing. Just below and to the left of her image is a short blurb about her:

Miss Barbara Alberty, of Wisconsin.

Miss Barbara Alberty, of Seventh and Walnut streets, Appleton, Wis., says: “For years I have suffered with backache and severe pains in the side. I doctored so much that I became discouraged.

“A school friend told me how very much Peruna had benefited her and I sent out for a bottle, which did more to relieve me that all the other medicine I had ever taken. In fact I was completely cured in two weeks.” – Barbara Alberty

My first question, aside from what was in Peruna, is – who is Barbara Alberty? Was she a real person and is she part of my husband’s extended Alberty family?

Since this newspaper ad was from 1901 and identified Barbara’s home as Appleton, Wisconsin, I went to the 1900 census:

Source: Ancestry

Sure enough, the family of Mike and Anna Alberty were enumerated on Walnut Street in Appleton, Wisconsin. At first glance, it is apparent that this family likely is not related as Mike Alberty was born in Belgium. If he is a relative, he would probably be a very, very distant cousin with the common ancestor somewhere in Belgium, Italy or Germany.

Next, it turns out that Peruna was marketed as a cure for catarrh and asthma. The doctor peddling it, Dr. Hartman of Columbus, Ohio, got quite rich from its sales, but when interviewed by Samuel Hopkins Adams of Collier Magazine in1904, he stated: They see my advertising. They read the testimonials. They are convinced. They have faith in Peruna. It gives them a gentle stimulant, and so they get well.

Hmm. What a surprise – a snake oil doctor!

However, aside from the fact that he was a sham, it appears that real people gave testimonials and probably shared a photo with a local salesman, agreeing to have their picture and statement included in ads to be published around the country.

I was unable to find Celeste Covell, Anna Wells or Anna Carsten, who are also featured in the ad. There were women of those names, but not living in the stated cities during the 1900 census.

Alvina Groth, living in Appleton like Barbara Alberty, was also not found. However, there was 34 year old Augusta Groth living on College Avenue there. Perhaps Augusta was Augusta Alvina? I wonder if she was the friend who told Barbara Alberty about the product?

The same testimonial came up in a number of other newspaper editions besides the St. Louis Republic.

In any case, if you are looking at old newspapers, be sure to read the advertisements. You just might find an ancestor featured in one. If Barbara Alberty was part of the family, I would have a good idea of what she looked like as a 24 year old woman in 1901.

I love poring over old newspapers. They are really a lot of fun to read. Be sure to visit Chronicling America regularly, as they are constantly adding historical newspapers to their collection. It is a fabulous resource for family stories and social happenings that would be lost to time.

4 thoughts on “Ancestors and Product Endorsements In Historical Newspapers”

  1. I too love old newspapers…I could spend hours just reading them rather than focussing on my actual genealogy work!

    Interesting re the endorsements. I have seen them in old Canadian newspapers as well. One that appears regularly is from a woman who has the same surname as my husband, but, like you, I could make no definite connection.

    Re: Peruna – while snake oil, it does show how the placebo effect can work, depending on the seriousness of the condition. The psychology of this must be fascinating.

  2. Excellent post about the breadth of information one can find in newspapers. Through one such ad, with an endorsement, I learned that one of my third great grandfathers offered therapy for stuttering and stammering — something I would never have known but for that ad.

  3. Great post about what ads can reveal. I have an ad that describe what a great tailor my great-grandfather was. Of course, he paid for the ad–what else would he have said about himself!

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