Early 19th Century Vital Data from the National Intelligencer

The National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser began publication 31 October 1800. In 1810, the Washington Advertiser portion of the name was dropped, and the paper continued as the National Intelligencer until 1869. It then merged with the Washington Express to become the Daily National Intelligencer and Washington Express, which ended publication 10 January 1870.[1]

In 1938, NGSQ began publishing abstracts of vital data published in that newspaper, organized first by year, then alphabetically by surname. Those abstracts continued to be published through 1975, becoming NGSQ’s longest running series.[2]

In 1976 the entire series was reprinted as Marriage and Death Notices from the National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), 1800–1850, NGS Special Publication No. 41,[3] which is now available as a searchable database on the NGS website.

Though many of these marriage and death notices concern those who lived in the vicinity of Washington, DC, and those of some national prominence, many others capture the vital events of those of little prominence throughout the country, like these from 1836:

Tubman, Richard, of Augusta, Ga., died July 16, 1836, near Lincolnton, N. C., in the 70th yr. of his age. He was a native of Md., from whence he moved to Augusta in 1793. (Aug. 5, 1836)[4]

Vickers, Henry, of Greenville, S. C., died Feb. 17, 1836, after being thrown from a horse. (March 15, 1836)[5]

Wachter, John George, died Oct. 29, 1836 in the 52nd year of his age. He was a native of Whiterburg, Germany, but resident of this city for the past 20 yrs. (Nov. 1, 1836)[6]

Winterbottom, Mr., was killed near Germantown, Pa., when he leaped from a railroad car Sept. 22, 1836. (Sept. 26, 1836)[7]

Young, Rachel, relict of the late William Young, of Philadelphia, formerly of Rockland, Delaware, died Sept. 25, 1836. (Sept. 30, 1836)[8]

As with nearly all abstracts or transcriptions, some errors creeped in from time to time. And as with all databases, it is best used as a guide to access more reliable resources contemporary with the event described. Consider the following example, an 1805 marriage announcement. The first version is from the 1976 NGS Special Publication and its online database [emphasis added]:

ALDEY, Perrin, aged 105, and Mrs. Ann TANKESLEY, aged 90, were married Aug. 30 in Charlotte Co., Va. This is the third marriage for both. (Aug. 30 [1805])[9]

That abstract, however, differs slightly from the one published in NGSQ in 1938, specifically regarding the marriage date:

Aldey, Perrin, age 105 and Mrs. Ann Tankesley, age 90, married July 30, 1805 in Charlotte County, Va.; third marriage for both. (Aug. 30 [1805]).[10]

Hmm. So which marriage date is correct? Thankfully, both versions give the information needed to find the original. The date in parentheses at the end of each entry is the date of publication. Using that date, images of the original newspaper were searched online at the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America database. There we can see that the original marriage notice appeared as follows:

Married.—On Tuesday the 30th ult. in Charlotte county, (Virg.) Mr. Perrin Aldey, aged one hundred and five years, to Mrs. Ann Tankesley, aged ninety—she is his third wife, and he her third husband.[11]

Ult., of course, is an abbreviation of ultimo, referring to the last month (July). If the marriage had occurred in August, the notice would have referred to 30th inst. or instant. The inclusion in this listing of Tuesday as the day of the week on which the marriage occurred further confirms this interpretation. 30 August 1805 was a Friday, but 30 July 1805 was a Tuesday. If a researcher used only the online database in her research, she would have been misled.

Another caveat of the online NGS database is that its search engine currently searches by surname only. In the somewhat rare instances in which 19th century people had no surname, they will not be found via the search engine. The following death notice is such an example, found only by browsing the NGSQ Archives:

Martha, age 120, widow of Zacharia, one of the nobility of the Mohegan Indian tribe, and many years an agent of that tribe to the General Assembly of Conn., died at Mohegan, near New London. (June 26, 1805).[12]

Errors and caveats notwithstanding, the value of the National Intelligencer database cannot be ignored. It includes tens of thousands of marriage and death notices from across the country in the first half of the 19th century, a period when many areas had no vital registrations. Be sure to make full use of your membership by accessing and using this rich resource.


[1] “About the National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser (Washington City [D.C.], 1800–1810,” Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045242/ : 22 Feb. 2018).

[2] Frank J. Metcalf, “Vital Records Extracted from the National Intelligencer, Washington, D. C., 1805 [and Part of 1806],” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 26 (June 1938) through George A. Martin, “Vital Statistics from the National Intelligencer, 1836,” NGSQ 63 (Sep. 1975), with gaps; PDFs, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 9 Feb. 2018).

[3] George A. Martin and Frank J. Metcalf, Marriage and Death Notices from the National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), 1800–1850; NGS Special Publication No. 41 (Washington, D.C.: National Genealogical Society, 1976).

[4] George A. Martin, “Vital Statistics from the National Intelligencer, 1836,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 63 (Sep. 1975), 222; PDF, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 9 Feb. 2018).

[5] George A. Martin, “Vital Statistics from the National Intelligencer, 1836,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 63 (Sep. 1975), 223; PDF, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 9 Feb. 2018).

[6] George A. Martin, “Vital Statistics from the National Intelligencer, 1836,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 63 (Sep. 1975), 223; PDF, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 9 Feb. 2018).

[7] George A. Martin, “Vital Statistics from the National Intelligencer, 1836,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 63 (Sep. 1975), 226; PDF, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 9 Feb. 2018).

[8] George A. Martin, “Vital Statistics from the National Intelligencer, 1836,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 63 (Sep. 1975), 227; PDF, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 9 Feb. 2018).

[9] George A. Martin and Frank J. Metcalf, Marriage and Death Notices from the National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), 1800–1850; NGS Special Publication No. 41 (Washington, D.C.: National Genealogical Society, 1976), 9 (1805); PDF, National Intelligencer (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/the_national_intelligencer : 22 Feb. 2018).

[10] Frank J. Metcalf, “Vital Records Extracted from the National Intelligencer, Washington, D. C., 1805 [and Part of 1806],” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 26 (June 1938), 33; PDF, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 9 Feb. 2018).

[11] The National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser, 30 August 1805, page 3, column 2; image at Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045242/1805-08-30/ed-1/seq-3/ : 22 Feb. 2018).

[12] Frank J. Metcalf, “Vital Records Extracted from the National Intelligencer, Washington, D. C., 1805 [and Part of 1806],” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 26 (June 1938), 33; PDF, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngsq_archives : 9 Feb. 2018).

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