About Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp is the Director of Genealogy Products at GenealogyBank. Tom Kemp is an internationally known librarian and archivist – he is the author of over 35 genealogy books and hundreds of articles about genealogy and family history. He previously served as the Chair of the National Council of Library & Information Associations (Washington, DC) and as Library Director of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the New England Historic Genealogical Society. An active genealogist, he has been working on his own family history for 47 years. With the rapidly growing online archives at GenealogyBank – it is a great day for genealogy!

Remembering the Young: Children’s Death Records in the News

I was reading this old newspaper and noticed that obituary after obituary was for young children.

children's obituaries, Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics newspaper article 28 August 1875

Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 28 August 1875, page 3

So many reports of very young children dying early deaths in this old newspaper article:

  • Martha Banks, aged 1 year, 11 months and 2 days
  • Arthur Lincoln Vaughan, aged 6 months and 12 days
  • Caroline E. Hein, aged 11 months and 13 days

August 1875 was clearly a brutal month for children and their families in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

It is so tragic that their lives ended at such a young age.

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It would be easy for this information to be lost, leaving these children’s short lives forgotten. It’s comforting to know that I can find these death records in GenealogyBank, knowing that these youngest members of the family will not be lost to the family history we are compiling—that their lives, though painfully short, are permanently recorded in the family tree.

Because newspaper editors were so good about including their age in years, months and days, it is easy to compute their dates of birth from the information contained in the death records.

Make every effort to find and document every person in your family tree.

We can do this.

Related Articles about Genealogy Research and Children:

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Old Family Photos Reveal More about Our Family Stories

Here’s a tip for your family history research: Use old photos of your ancestors to generate family stories.

photo of John and Mary (Brown) Kemp

Photo: John and Mary (Brown) Kemp. Source: Kemp family records.

Start the Conversation

This past weekend I took this old family photo off the wall to scan it and add it to my family history collection online.

It shows my great-grandparents John and Mary (Brown) Kemp and was taken in the late 1930s. I asked my Dad what he could tell me about this old photo of my ancestors.

He described his grandparents and the old black and white photo—even where the bench was in the backyard in Stamford, Connecticut. He said that the gate on the left side of the photo opened up to Frank Street and added:

Behind the low bushes in the background is a driveway leading to their garage. I don’t know why they had a garage—my grandfather never owned a car. He rode a bicycle to work.

Wow—my great-grandparents never owned a car!
That seems odd in modern society.

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My Dad went on:

On the right is one of the several cherry trees that were along the tall back fence that separated their property from the playground field of the Rogers Junior High School. When I walked over to visit my grandparents I would climb that fence and play with the kids in the playground.

Still looking for your old family photos? Be sure to check GenealogyBank’s “Search Photos” search page to find photos of your family.

Show those old photos of your ancestors to your relatives and see what additional family details and stories you discover.

Please write in and tell us what surprises you find out in your genealogy research.

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Preserve and Protect Your Family History

In Europe and America genealogy has long been a one-person task, with the family historian recording and maintaining the family’s history.

Along the way that person hopefully made copies of the history and gave them to other members of the family. Typed or published, these would be kept and passed down in families. Did copies of your family history make it down to you?

Genealogy an Asian Tradition

In China, Korea and Japan these family histories or clan genealogies would be maintained at a designated temple that centralized the recording and maintaining of that family’s records. Copies were often made and passed down in the family to the current generation, with the copy at the Temple serving as a physical backup.

photo of a Chinese genealogy book

Source: FamlySearch.org

These genealogies can easily go back one thousand years—or, as in the case of the Confucius family, go back for 2,500 years. The Confucius family history is recorded for more than 80 generations and is maintained by the Confucius Genealogy Compilation Committee, which has 450 branches around the world. That’s a lot of genealogists documenting one family history.

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Publishing Family Histories

Family histories are often some of the oldest surviving “books” in countries all over the world. In Ireland the Leabhar na nGenealach was written in 1649-1650. It is a massive nine-volume record of families in all parts of Ireland and Gaelic Scotland.

Publishing and disseminating copies of your family history is essential, but it doesn’t stop there. Genealogists who spend decades compiling and organizing their research and then publish it in book form immediately go back to work the next day, picking up and extending the branches of the family tree from where their published book left off. In too many cases the life’s work and research notes of a solitary genealogist are never published and are simply lost when that person dies.

Why do genealogists not publish?

Typically a genealogist thinks his work is never done.

There is always one more obituary or marriage record that needs to be found. That obituary in turn gives clues for an additional search and then another.

Is there a middle ground?

Yes—today’s technology lets us put our research online in real time.

Every day as we research, we can put our results online so that our latest hunches and conclusions can be shared and immediately vetted by cousins researching the same family lines.

These online trees are effective and have created a new opportunity for genealogists. Sourcing has become easy on these sites, making it possible for anyone wanting to verify the data to just click and see the original sources.

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Game-changer

So—instead of a life’s work being lost, your family history research can be permanently preserved online. This is a major breakthrough. This is a game-changer. Research doesn’t have to be lost and recompiled over and over with each new generation.

This is important. Genealogists no longer have to rely on a library with published genealogies, reading them one by one to track a family history. This can now be done online. It’s true that—just like with a published genealogy—some of the conclusions might be wrong, but unlike the print edition of a family history, these online family trees all include links to the sources used to compile the family history.

Want to double check a person in your tree? With a click you can be reading the actual obituary in GenealogyBank or a birth certificate from Indiana.

Are you participating?
Are you putting your family information online—or are you keeping it protected in your cave at home?
I am online.

I am putting up all of the generations and family members in my family tree who have passed away—but, I do not put the current, living generation online so as to protect their privacy.

Will I still publish our family history as a book?

Yes, absolutely.

But—who knows when I will “finish” that book?

Thankfully, until that day gets here my research and notes are safely online on websites that I can control. I use two online family tree sites. One is set up so that only I can make changes in the text and the relationships. The other is set up so that anyone can add the relatives that they are more familiar with, letting me benefit from their expertise.

I can easily go online to change and edit my online tree. On the sites that make the online tree a group effort, I can track as others add to my data. By putting everything online, my data is preserved and secure and I can see/benefit from the research others are doing.

What approach are you taking to preserve and protect your family history?

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Researching Recent Obituaries to Extend My Family Tree

I was born in New Hampshire and my family has lived there for the past 350+ years. I probably have a cousin in every town in the state. This is especially true in Sanbornton, New Hampshire—I don’t think I could throw a rock there in any direction and not hit a relative.

So—I use that to my advantage in tracing my family history.

photo of the Bay Meeting House, Sanbornton, New Hampshire, built in 1836

Photo: Bay Meeting House, Sanbornton, New Hampshire, built in 1836. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In my experience I am related to everyone in Sanbornton, so from time to time I search the Recent Obituaries in GenealogyBank to find a cousin I’d never known.

I quickly picked one from the list: Ellen (Sanborn) Merriam (1920-2010).

obituary for Ellen Merriam, Tri-Town Transcript newspaper article 23 April 2010

Tri-Town Transcript (Topsfield, Massachusetts), 23 April 2010

Here was a line that brought back memories:

Born in Laconia, N.H., she was the daughter of the late Howard W. and Elenora (Currier) Sanborn. She was raised on a rural farm in Sanbornton, N.H., and educated in Sanbornton and nearby Tilton. She loved animals especially horses, and was a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, earning her degree in Geology.

It immediately brought to mind days gone by in Sanbornton. She went to school there and lived on a rural farm. Wasn’t every home on a “rural farm” back then?

I could picture that farm: the potbellied stove in the kitchen; the snow; the view across the fields; the quiet, secure surroundings.

She attended UNH. My parents and grandparents all attended the University of New Hampshire. Some of my earliest memories are riding the back roads to Durham, New Hampshire, and seeing the University. Eating lunch along the river and getting those giant ice cream cones from the UNH Dairy.

She was “a long time member of the Maple Street Congregational Church.” When we lived in nearby Lower Gilmanton there was only one church—and of course it was a Congregational Church. It was an image you would see in every town.

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I looked at Ellen’s family history and, using multiple sources, I quickly found that her parents—Howard Weaver Sanborn (1887-1957) and Elenora B. Currier (1895-1985) along with her five brothers and sisters—all lived on a farm in Sanbornton. As did her grandparents John Brewer Sanborn (1849-1940) and Asenath Quimby (1850-1891).

Sanborns had lived in Sanbornton since its founding in 1770.

Our family still owns the farm that my 5th-great-grandfather William Huse (1760-1839) purchased when he settled there after the Revolutionary War to raise his family.

I doubt I ever met Ellen Louise (Sanborn) Merriam, but by reading her obituary it feels like I’ve known her all my life.

I like to find Sanbornton obituaries so that I can document every cousin in my family tree.

Genealogy Tip: Don’t only search for specific relatives in GenealogyBank—search for the small towns where your ancestors lived. You just might discover a cousin you’ve never met before.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank recently announced an agreement to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more about our partnership at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

Related Obituaries Articles & Resources:

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Researching Recent Obituaries for All My ‘Mayflower’ Cousins

There is more than one way to find your relatives in GenealogyBank’s massive archive of Recent Obituaries.

I’ve noticed that genealogists often go to the Recent Obituaries collection when they are researching a specific relative that died in the past 40 years. They search, find them and go.

But wait—there’s more.

There is another valuable approach you can take with the Recent Obituaries that lets us find relatives even when we don’t know their names—and even if we have never heard of them before!

Obituaries are handy resources for genealogists. They speak about the person, their interests and what was important to them. Many obituaries mention that the deceased had a sense of family and history. I often see obituaries that say so and so loved genealogy, and then name the ancestors that fought in the Revolutionary War, or who had come to America on the Mayflower.

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Tracing Your Mayflower Ancestry

Having studied this for the past 50 years, I’ve concluded that nearly all Americans with ancestral roots prior to 1820 that lived in upper New England (Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and probably Rhode Island) have at least one ancestor that came over on the Mayflower.

I know I do.

I have seven Mayflower ancestors (including Thomas Rogers) and I want to track down and document all of the descendants of my Pilgrim ancestors.

The Recent Obituaries archive is a terrific way to do this.

Typically I will enter the name of a Mayflower passenger and the word “Mayflower” in the Include Keywords searchbox.

For example, here’s a search for “Thomas Rogers” and “Mayflower.”

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box, showing a search for "Thomas Rogers" and "Mayflower"
This GenealogyBank search pulled up a lot of accurate search results, like this one for Mary-Jane Earle Hensley.

obituary for Mary-Jane Earle Hensley, Daily News Record newspaper article 3 October 2012

Daily News Record (Harrisonburg, Virginia), 3 October 2012

This is a great genealogical find.

According to this obituary, not only was Mary-Jane a descendant of Thomas Rogers—but “She published a book on Thomas Rogers, Mayflower Pilgrim, in 1980.”

By building on the information in her obituary I can use other newspaper articles, census and other records to chain backwards on the family tree to Thomas Rogers. This way I can extend and complete our family history and document each person as I go from person to person in the tree.

You can do this with other clues in an obituary.

Did the family come from a very small town?

Do you share a Revolutionary War ancestor or other famous relative?

Build on those clues and rely on GenealogyBank’s Recent Obituaries to accurately document your family tree. To learn more about how to use obituaries for genealogy research, watch our tutorial on YouTube: “Obituaries: Clues to Look For.”

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank yesterday announced an agreement to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

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Old Obituary Tells War of 1812 Veteran’s Story

Here is the old obituary of Captain Ambrose Spencer (1795-1814), a young man who fought and died fighting the British during the War of 1812.

This obituary from the 1800s was a good newspaper research find.

obituary for Ambrose Spencer, Green Mountain Farmer newspaper article 30 August 1814

Green Mountain Farmer (Bennington, Vermont), 30 August 1814, page 3

The veteran’s obituary was published in this Bennington, Vermont, newspaper because his brother John Canfield Spencer (1788-1855) was “of this village.”

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Per the obituary, Captain Ambrose Spencer served with Major General Jacob Jennings Brown (1775-1828) during the war.

Portrait of General Jacob Jennings Brown (1775-1828)

Portrait: General Jacob Jennings Brown (1775-1828). Source: Wikipedia.

Spencer was wounded during the Battle of Lundy’s Lane (a.k.a. Battle of Niagara Falls) on 25 July 1814, as was General Brown.

Painting: “American Infantry Attacks at Lundy’s Lane,” by Alonzo Chappell, 1859

Painting: “American Infantry Attacks at Lundy’s Lane,” by Alonzo Chappell, 1859. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

We learn from the historical obituary that they didn’t think Spencer’s wound was critical, and so—on “a cold and wet day”—he was moved 2 ½ miles “up the Niagara river, and then returned to his former place, with his bed and bedding wet entirely thro’!”

Not good conditions for his recovery.

Add to that, that the “British Indians were hovering about the house where he lay and disturbed his last moments by their menaces.”

On 5 August 1814 the young captain died.

Find your family’s stories.

Document them in GenealogyBank.

Don’t let them be lost.

Articles Related to Ancestor War Stories:

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Getting Your Ancestor’s Obituary and a Bonus, Too

GenealogyBank’s deep backfile newspaper archives are packed with stories—over 1.6 billion of them.

I like it when old obituaries give key details in the lives of our ancestors. It’s always a bonus when you find that a photo was included with their obituary.

Here are some examples:

obituary for Alphonso Boone, Oregonian newspaper article 4 April 1915

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 4 April 1915, page 16

obituary for Mrs. O. H. Adams, Oregonian newspaper article 6 March 1902

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 6 March 1902, page 4

obituary for Ida Gevurtz, Morning Oregonian newspaper article 26 April 1921

Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 26 April 1921, page 4

These great stories and photos were found in the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) Newspaper Archives (1861–1987). Dig into our Newspaper Archives (1690 – 2010) and see what you find.

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Find Pictures of Your Ancestors’ Home in Old Newspapers

Do you have old family traditions, places and/or heirlooms?

Like Abe Lincoln, did your family live in a log cabin? Do you have a picture of it?

pictures of the Dalton family and their log cabin, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 16 July 1922

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 16 July 1922, page 7

If you are related to Robert Dalton of Palo Pinto County, Texas, then GenealogyBank’s newspaper collection has a photograph of their old log cabin (built in the 1870s) along with photos of the family.

Our Historical Newspaper Archives are invaluable for finding old family homesteads, traditions, family photos and images that are preserved here—but might have been long lost to the family.

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Find the details of your family history; in many cases, newspapers are likely your only source for these important memories.

Dig in—see if you can find pictures of your ancestors’ home and discover more about your family history today.

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Top Genealogy Websites Update: Internet Archive Book Images + Flickr

Last year I wrote about Internet Archive, spiking it out as one of the top genealogy websites online.

Recently there has been a new development that I wanted to alert you to.

a collage of images from Internet Archive

Source: Internet Archive

Kalev H. Leetaru, the Yahoo! Fellow in Residence of International Values, Communications Technology, has used his position to mine the old images and photos in the Internet Archive and is putting them on Flickr, making it easy for us to find illustrations and photographs published in books over the last 200 years.

He has uploaded over 2.6 million images from the Internet Archive of old published books and put them online.

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Why is this important to genealogists?

This new Flickr search feature lets you quickly find images, etchings, photographs, etc., of your ancestors that were published in books.

See this new image search tool here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/

Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

Source: Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

Here’s how it works.

In this example I am searching for illustrations pertaining to the Starbird family.

Looking at the results, I selected the image on the right.

Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images – Irvin Starbird

Source: Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

Clicking on the image brings up the details about the book it was originally published in.

Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images – Irvin Starbird

Source: Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

This image was published in:

History of Wayne, Pike and Monroe counties, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: R. T. Peck & co., 1886. Page 760.

Clicking on the “View Book Page” hyperlink, I can then see the image as it appeared in the original book.

Internet Archive -- Irvin Starbird

Source: Internet Archive

The image is the portrait of Irvin Starbird (1842-1897) of Preston, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Along with his portrait, I was able to read his biography which contained extensive genealogical details about the family.

The Internet Archive Book Images site has put more than 2.6 million of these old images on Flckr.

Bookmark the Internet Archive search page on Flickr here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out our “Top Genealogy Websites” post series to learn more about the best online resources for your ancestry research:

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Using Obituaries to Pay It Forward: Boomerang Effect

I am always looking at Kemps, wanting to know if they are related to me or not.

Since Kemp is a pretty rare surname, I like to pull recent “Kemp” obituaries and trace back their family line to see if the person is a relative of mine. If he is—terrific; I’ll add his line to my family tree. But if he’s not I am still glad I took the time since the more “Kemp” family trees I can plant, trace and put online, the faster I will have found and documented my family and at the same time made it easier for other Kemps to discover their family history.

It will take a while, but I’d like to think that I can organize and account for all Kemps—and by putting the genealogical information I find online, I am making a lasting contribution for further genealogy research, sort of creating an extended Kemp family forest.

Researching Further with Recent Obituaries

Here’s what I do.

I go to GenealogyBank’s Recent Newspaper Obituaries collection and pull a recent Kemp obituary to see which Kemp line that person belongs to.

For example, here is the obituary for Fred Benny Kemp, who died one week ago.

obituary for Fred Benny Kemp, Avenue News newspaper article 29 August 2014

Avenue News (Essex, Maryland), 29 August 2014

I took this recent Kemp obituary and plugged the information into my online family tree. Looking at the old newspapers, the census and similar sources, I quickly pulled together his family tree.

No, Fred Benny Kemp is not related to my Kemp line—but the tree is planted online so future family historians can build on the family tree I started.

Digging Deeper into the Kemp Story

But wait—there’s more.

Fred Benny Kemp was in World War II—a gunner on a B-24 Liberator bomber.

Hey—so was my Dad.

Maybe there is a connection after all.

Googling for more information, I found this video interview on YouTube uploaded by WBAL – Baltimore, Maryland, in 2012:

http://youtu.be/LLmG3dqBC5c

Here is the key quote:

In World War Two I flew a B-24 with the 450 Bomb Group, 722nd Bomb Squadron.

Hey—that sounds familiar.

I double checked, and my Dad was in the 450 Bomb Group—but in the 723rd Squadron. Both were stationed in Manduria, Italy.

Had their paths in life ever crossed?

Had they met each other?

Almost—but they didn’t meet.

According to the video interview, Fred Kemp’s B-24 left his air base in Manduria, Italy, on 25 February 1944, when he was shot down and remained a POW for the duration of the war. Since my Dad was transferred to Manduria four months later on 11 June 1944 they never met.

Search All Your Surname Obituaries

Using GenealogyBank’s obituaries to research “all” Kemps who have lived in America is a fun way to pay it forward and help other genealogists. It was also good to see that these two Kemps—though not related—had similar experiences in the war. If I hadn’t picked his obituary at random, I never would have learned the rest of this story.

Do you ever research your extended family tree using obituaries? If so, what nuggets have you found? Please share with us in the comments.

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