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Newspaper Skill Challenge


The following fun newspaper article appeared in the Providence Evening Press on 29 April 1870.

Read the following story and see if you can answer the questions. You will have to do some detective work (ie. research) to find out the answers. In addition to answering the questions, determine what type of records would provide answers to the questions and where you will start. Also, are there any other clues in the article that would lead you to more information about this family? Because the type did not render well, the name of the town where the family lives is Somerville.

The answers will be posted next Friday, 1 November 2019.

House Break In Providence Evening Gazette-1870-04-29 p3
Click to Enlarge     
The Providence Evening Press, 29 April 1870, p. 3, col. 5; digital image, ( : accessed 24 October 2019), Rhode Island Newspapers, 1778-1938.                                                                    


What state is Somerville in? How do you know from the context of the article?

What is the full street address of the Gurney family? List one document you can use to find out. Extra credit for each additional type of document that will provide the same information.

What are the names of the daughters who were at home that night?

Who are the other people in the family not mentioned?

What does en deshabille mean? Why would a newspaper use the French phrase instead of English?

What was the occupation of Henry L. Gurney? From that, what can we guess he was doing in Washington?


Extra Credit:

How would you find out if the same house is standing today?


The answers will be posted next Friday, 1 November 2019.


Marian Pierre-Louis is a genealogy professional who specializes in educational outreach through webinars, internet broadcasts and video. Her areas of expertise include house history research, southern New England research and solving brick walls. Marian is the Online Education Producer for Legacy Family Tree Webinars where she produces online genealogy education classes. Once a month you'll find her as the evening host of Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.




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105 Cedar
1870 census
Emily, Catherine
Mary, Henry A.
undressed, more polite term
Asst. pilot
No idea

This looks like a fun exercise and you have good questions! But I don't have time for this now and probably won't before you publish the answers. Maybe I'll try to avoid looking at them and see if I can do it later. Thanks for the exercise!

1) Massachusetts. The original article was published by the Boston Traveler. (Somerville is near Boston.)

2) 100 Cedar Ave ... from 1881 Somerville City Directory. Several other directories and his newspaper death notices say he lived at the corner of Cedar & Highland.

3) Daughters Emily (28) and Catherine (20) are listed in the 1870 U.S. census.

4) His wife Mary C. (50) and son Henry A. (18) are also listed in the 1870 U.S. Census.

5) "en deshabille" means partially or shabbily clothed, a state of undress. It was fashionable to use French words/phrases at that time.

6) Henry L. Gurney was a pilot ... which would be a ship's pilot in those days. (The 1881 Somerville City Directory gives his workplace address as 41 Lewis Wharf.)

A long obituary on page 4 of the Jan. 8, 1892, Boston Globe said that in 1870 Gurney had been chosen secretary of the Boston Pilots Relief Society and five years later its president. "For five consecutive years he represented Boston and New York pilots in the nations capitol ..." Presumably, representing/lobbying for his profession and colleagues was the reason for his trip to D.C. that resulted in his absence from his home on that fateful night. (

7) The Globe obituary mentions Gurney's "wide and pleasant estate" on the corner of Cedar St. and Highland Ave. A look at Google Streetview shows relatively modern commercial buildings on all four corners.

Somerville's 1906 Annual Report mentions on page 329 that "The city has lost the use of the Gurney estate, situated at the corner of Highland avenue and Cedar street, which has been maintained as a playground, the owners refusing the use of same, and a sewer has been constructed on this property for the drainage of house lots." (

Checking records for several (but not all) houses near the corner of Cedar & Highland show "dates built" only as early as 1910 and 1920. So I'm thinking that the home is no longer standing (on its original site, at least). I have not found anything that says the home had been moved to another site.


You get an A+ for your answers!


Thanks! It was great fun looking up this info.

I have one disagreement/question: The "72" is not the house number but the order of visitation. The House Number field is empty and I understand that many enumerators did not fill this out but just used the street name.

Another question - I wasn't able to find the deed you referred to. You stated that Family Search had lots of Massachusetts land records but I only found links outside of Family Search to the Massachusetts records.


As regards the street number - yes, you are correct. I have revised my answer to reflect that.

As for the Massachusetts land records on FamilySearch - there are two sections to FamilySearch- the indexed records and the unindexed records. The land records are unindexed so you will not find them in a search.

But you can find them in the main list of available Massachusetts records. You will need to "browse" through these records. You can find them here -

You will find the index listing I referred to here:

And the original deed here:


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