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  • Writer's pictureTheFormidableGenealogist

The Billboard

Updated: May 23, 2023

Any listener of popular music has heard of the Billboard charts--the industry's weekly listing of the top songs and albums in the U.S. It's published by Billboard magazine, which has a much longer and different history than what I expected.

I recently worked on a genetic genealogy case that used details found in early issues of the magazine to connect the biological, geographical, and chronological dots.

The magazine began in 1894 as Billboard Advertising: Monthly Resume of All that is New, Bright, and Interesting on the Boards. "Devoted to the interests of advertisers, poster printers, bill posters, advertising agents, and secretaries of fairs." In simpler terms, it was a trade magazine for American entertainment. By the 1940s, The Billboard's tagline was "The World's Foremost Amusement Weekly." It included details of outdoor amusements--like fairs and carnivals--throughout the U.S. Among the pages of a 1941 issue was exactly what I was looking for: the name of a man from the east coast; the city in Alabama in which the show employing him was scheduled; and the dates during which the show was there. The child whose paternity I was trying to solve would have been conceived during the two-month window that the carnival was in town. Without supporting documentary evidence, sometimes DNA data just can't solve the research question on its own.

We Formidables talk non-stop about the relevance of newspaper articles and clippings to ancestor research. Trade publications can also offer a wealth of details--but probably aren't indexed or even digitized.

Fortunately for my search, this website has back issues of The Billboard magazine. There are other such websites whose archives are coincidentally useful for family history. Consider trying to find trade or industry periodicals for your ancestors. I recently wrapped up another case where I untangled a large family of first-generation Irish electricians. They were frequently mentioned in the trade pubs, and the members of the family would work on the same jobs and attend the banquets.

Interestingly, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum had other documents to support the details of my carnival case. They have a digital archive, which contained an accounting ledger for the show promoter. What would ordinarily be considered the smallest detail offered one of the biggest clues.


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