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!

Are You Sure That Is How to Spell Your Ancestor’s Name?

Portraits of my Starbird ancestors hang on our wall on the landing at the top of the staircase. Over the years I have chained the family back from Martha Jane (Starbird) Richmond (1836-1905) to Robert Starbird (1782- ) to Moses Starbird (1743-1815) to John Starbird (1701-1753) to Thomas Starbird (1660-1723).

photo of the Starbird family

Photo: Starbird family. Source: Thomas Jay Kemp.

All of them lived in Dover, New Hampshire, at some time in their lives, and by the 19th century several of the Starbird lines were living in Gray, Maine.

Looking in the deep Historical Newspaper Archives of GenealogyBank, I can quickly find multiple Starbird articles from across centuries of American history.

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For example, here is a probate notice regarding Catharine Starbird, widow of Moses Starbird, published in 1838.

article about a probate proceeding involving Catharine Starbird, Portland Weekly Advertiser newspaper article 1 May 1838

Portland Weekly Advertiser (Portland, Maine), 1 May 1838, page 1

Here is an article about John Starbird (1742-1802), who served in the Continental Army. Both he and his brother (my ancestor) Moses Starbird (1743-1815) fought at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.

article about John Starbird, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 30 December 1779

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 30 December 1779, page 3

So far so good.

Their name was “Starbird” and I am finding “Starbird” articles in the old newspapers.
Good. This is straightforward.

FamilySearch recently added to their site the “England and Wales, Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008.” Great—an index to all of the births in England. I thought: let me search there to see if I can determine where in England the Starbird family came from.

This should be easy family tree research.

Bang.

screenshot of a search on FamilySearch for the surname "Starbird"

Source: FamilySearch

What? There was only one “Starbird” birth in all of England, going all the way back to 1837?

How could that be?

Looking deeper into GenealogyBank, I found this old obituary notice.

obituary for John Starboard, Weekly Eastern Argus newspaper article 26 April 1805

Weekly Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine), 26 April 1805, page

This is for a son of John “Starboard” from Gray, Maine.
Oh—that’s it.
The name could have been spelled “Starbird” or “Starboard.”

When I think of it—I pronounce both words exactly the same way.

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So—let’s do a quick double-check in the FamilySearch index to British birth records with this new spelling.

This time the search results were zero.

Zero “Starboard” births and only one “Starbird” birth—what is going on here?

I can find a ton of “Starbird” references in America but none in Britain.
Is there another spelling of the surname?

I have seen where some genealogists have suggested that Thomas Starbird (1660-1723) of Dover, New Hampshire, was the son of Edward Starbuck (1604-1690) who was also from Dover.

Would Thomas really have changed his name from Starbuck to Starbird?

Alfred A. Starbird, author of Genealogy of the Starbird-Starbard Family (Burlington, Vermont: The Lane Press), looked at this—especially since another Starbird historian said that Thomas Starbird had changed his name from Starbuck—but concluded “nothing has been found to support this claim.”

The title of his book gives us another variant spelling of this surname: “Starbard.” So, I tried that spelling in the FamilySearch—again zero references.

So—what about the spelling “Starbuck”?
I repeated the search, and that spelling produced over 5,000 English birth records.

Is it that simple—Thomas simply changed his name from Starbuck to Starbird?
Would that be a logical name change?
Is there another explanation?

Have any of our readers found a record proving who the parents of Thomas Starbird (1660-1723) of Dover, New Hampshire, were? If so, I would like to know.

Do you know any current men named Starbird or Starbuck who are willing to take a DNA test? That might be the only way we find the answer to this question.

What say you?

I’d be interested in your comments.

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Man Overboard! Mayflower Pilgrim John Howland’s Story

Did you know that Mayflower Pilgrim John Howland almost didn’t make it to America?

article about Pilgrim John Howland being swept overboard from the Mayflower, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 21 May 1897

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 21 May 1897, page 10

This old newspaper article reports his narrow escape:

…with a roll of ye ship [John Howland was] throwne into the sea, but it pleased God that he caught hould of the topsail halliards, which hunge overboard and ran out of length; yet he held his hould (though he was sundry fathoms under water) till he was held up by the same rope to the brim of the water, and then with a boat hooke and other means got into the ship again and his life saved.

There is a painting by Mike Haywood – “Pilgrim Overboard” – that commemorates this event.

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It is a good thing that John Howland was rescued from the sea—not only for his sake—but because he has more living descendants today than any other Mayflower passenger.

Wow – I didn’t know about his near-drowning.

There are so many of our old family stories that simply have not been passed down to us today. Rediscover your family’s stories in GenealogyBank’s more than three centuries of historical newspaper archives.

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Scary Mayflower Fact: Storm Cracked Ship’s Main Beam

I didn’t realize that the Mayflower had such a difficult time when the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic in 1620.

article about the Mayflower, Boston Herald newspaper article 25 November 1970

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 November 1970, page 26

A long voyage—yes, I knew that.
The ship got off course—yes, I knew that too.

But multiple severe storms, including one that cracked and buckled the Mayflower’s main beam? No, I didn’t remember that part of the story.

Luckily the Pilgrims had brought along nails, screws and other items for building homes in the New World, and were able to use a “great iron scrue” to “force the beam back into place.”

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Think of the main beam of a house. The main beam at the midpoint of a ship—“amidships” —is the key beam holding the ship together. This was serious ship damage.

That is a great true story.

You want to know about these ancestral stories—find them, save them and pass them down in the family. You’ll find them in the old, deep GenealogyBank Historical Newspaper Archives.

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New Discovery about Mayflower Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins

Did you know Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins vacationed in Bermuda before he came over on the Mayflower? I didn’t know that!

Original Mayflower Voyager (Stephen Hopkins) Previously Shipwrecked at St. George's, Bermuda, Boston Herald newspaper article 16 June 1957

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 June 1957, page 61

Well, it wasn’t exactly a vacation—but Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins lived on the island of Bermuda for over a year, from 1609 to 1610.

Eleven years before he left England headed for America in 1620 on board the Mayflower, Hopkins left 2 June 1609 on the ship Sea Venture headed for Jamestown with supplies and a new governor for the colony. The Sea Venture hit a storm on 24 July 1609 and was shipwrecked off of Bermuda. Hopkins and others on board survived and remained for over a year on Bermuda while building a new seaworthy boat that they could use to complete their trip to Jamestown. Soon after he arrived in Jamestown, the colony was evacuated back to England.

Key Skills Learned, Critical for the Mayflower Voyage

Stephen Hopkins picked up critical skills and experience on that ill-fated 1609 voyage. He was one of the few Mayflower Pilgrims with experience at sea. He had survived a shipwreck, and knew what it took to be resourceful in extreme conditions in order to build a seaworthy ship to continue the voyage to America.

Perhaps the most critical skill he learned in 1609-1610 was to speak multiple Native American languages. He gained invaluable experience in getting to know and work with Native Americans. This experience would be pivotal 10 years later when the Pilgrims worked with Squanto and the local Native Americans in Plymouth Colony.

Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins liked his experience in Bermuda and Jamestown so much that he really wanted to go back to America.

So in 1620 he left along with 130 +/- other passengers and crew on the Mayflower to make the 66-day trip to America. It is estimated that today there are as many as 30 million Americans who are Mayflower descendants, although most are unaware of their ancestral tie to the founding of the country.

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No Historical Coincidence?

They say there are no accidents or coincidences in life—that somehow seeming coincidences actually were critical to the way history turned out. One of those fortuitous coincidences was that Squanto and other members of his tribe were brought to England where they were trained in English to become interpreters. His language skills and life experience in England were critical to the success of the Pilgrim Colony, and helped frame the 50 years that followed of relative peace between the colonists and the Native Americans. Not many people have such a critical impact on the life and history of other people during their own lifetimes, let alone an impact that we revere to this day.

Newspapers Contain Our Long-Lost Family Stories

You can learn so much about your family in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Historical newspapers contain the stories and details of the lives of every one of our ancestors, many of them lost for generations.

Dig in and find your family’s stories—don’t let them remain lost to the family.

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Mayflower Pilgrim Thomas Rogers: Are You a Descendant?

Joseph Atwood Ordway (1852-1904) is a descendant of Mayflower passenger Thomas Rogers—and he thought so much of that genealogical fact, it was included in his obituary.

Death of Joseph A. Ordway, Springfield Republican newspaper article 6 May 1904

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 6 May 1904, page 12

This is a detailed obituary that gives us a lot of family history information about Joseph:

  • His date and place of birth: 12 May 1852 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
  • His date and place of death: 5 May 1904 in Springfield, Hampden, Massachusetts, United States
  • One of his brothers was “the late” General Albert Ordway (1843-1897) who served in the Civil War.
  • He was survived by his wife: Carrie L. Ordway
  • He had two sisters: Mary Emma Ordway (1849- ) and Annie Freeman Ordway (1857- ) who became Mrs. Charles E. Folsom (Charles Edward Folsom, Jr., 1855-1926)
  • He had one surviving brother: Frank Foster Ordway (1862- )

Obituaries give good core research information for genealogists.

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I particularly like that Joseph’s obituary mentioned he was a Mayflower descendant. I am also a descendant of the Pilgrim Thomas Rogers.

Knowing that enables me to start with Joseph Atwood Ordway and trace his lineage back to his Mayflower ancestor.

This is a quick way to speed up your genealogy research and ensure that all of your cousins are found and documented in the family history.

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Mayflower Heritage: Jack Howland Loved His!

Take pride in your Mayflowerheritage—just like Jack Howland did.

painting: “Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor” by William Halsall, 1882

Painting: “Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor” by William Halsall, 1882. Source: Pilgrim Hall Museum; Wikimedia Commons.

According to Howland’s obituary:

His Mayflower heritage was something that he was immensely proud of. He served as historian and archivist for the Pilgrim John Howland Society for many years. This role allowed him to communicate with fellow descendants from across the country and around the world. Jack was also captain of the Maine Mayflower Society. Annual trips to Plymouth were something that he always enjoyed.

His Mayflower heritage was such a part of him that after high school, when he joined the Navy, he served on the USS Plymouth Rock (LSD-29).

photo of the USS Plymouth Rock underway, 8 April 1963

Photo: USS Plymouth Rock underway, 8 April 1963. Source: Wikipedia.

His obituary went on to say that:

He took particular pleasure in recreating the journey of his ancestor, John Howland, back to Plymouth in 2003 aboard the shallop Elizabeth Tilley. In 2010 he was awarded the Lura Sellew Medal, the highest honor that the Pilgrim John Howland Society bestows for service to the organization and the memory of the pilgrim John Howland.

The Pilgrim John Howland Society is an organization of descendants of John and Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland who were passengers on the Mayflower.

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Remarkably, the home that John and Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland lived in during their old age is still standing. It was the home of their son, Jabez Howland.

photo of the Jabez Howland House in Plymouth, Massachusetts

Photo: Jabez Howland House in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Source: Swampyank;Wikimedia Commons.

According to Wikipedia they both lived in this home:

…after their own house burned. John Howland died in 1674 and Elizabeth lived there until the house was sold in 1680 and Jabez Howland moved to Rhode Island. Elizabeth moved to the home of her daughter, Lydia (Howland) Browne, in Swansea, where she died in 1687.

Take the time to research and document all of the descendants of your Mayflower ancestors.

Search out and read their stories and share them.

You can read Jack’s obituary in the Eagle Tribune (Lawrence, Massachusetts) 2 November 2011.

obituary for Jack Howland, Eagle Tribune newspaper article 2 November 2011

Eagle Tribune (Lawrence, Massachusetts), 2 November 2011

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How to Standardize Your Geographic Locations

You’ve been working on your family history for years and have gathered a lot of information.

You keep careful notes and are consistent in putting down full bibliographic citations so that others may quickly know where you found each of your facts.

But—how are you adding the places of birth, marriage or death for your ancestors?

Photo showing the view of Elm Street in Manchester, New Hampshire, looking south

Photo: View of Elm Street in Manchester, New Hampshire, looking south. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s a tip: write out the complete geographic location for each event.

Instead of writing:
Manchester, NH

You want to render it as:
Manchester, Hillsborough, New Hampshire, United States

Also acceptable:
Manchester, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, United States

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What you want to avoid are abbreviations, because they can often be misunderstood.

For example: which state has the abbreviation AR?
Is that Arizona? Arkansas? No, it can’t be Arkansas—isn’t that AK?

Actually, Arizona is AZ, Arkansas is AR and Alaska is AK.

It’s easy to know if you use those geo location abbreviations often, but when we don’t we often have to look the abbreviation up to get it right.

Over the history of the United States, abbreviations have not always been consistent. People used any abbreviation that seemed correct to them. Newspapers often used an unconventional abbreviation, such as Con for Connecticut. We’re not accustomed to that today—but it must have been acceptable over a century ago.

The accepted style for writing geographic locations is to not use abbreviations and to include the name of the county and of the country. Use the corresponding geographical jurisdictions when documenting places in other countries.

You never want to simply enter the name of the town.

For example, don’t just use: Haverhill.

You understand where that is.
Many of your family lived there—but will other relatives know where that is?
What if your relative now lives across the country—will they recognize where Haverhill is?

Is that Haverhill, Essex, Massachusetts, United States—or, not far away, Haverhill, Grafton, New Hampshire, United States?

Why include the name of the country?
Now that genealogy has gone global, it is customary to include the name of the country to make the entries more precise.

When genealogists are less familiar with the geography, having it spelled out is helpful.

For example:
Sydney (or)
Sydney, Cumberland, New South Wales

Most of us would instantly recognize this is in Australia, but could it be misunderstood as somehow being part of Wales?

Enter it as:
Sydney, Cumberland, New South Wales, Australia—then there is no misunderstanding.

Make your family history crystal clear.

Use the town, county, state and country to describe all of the localities in your family history.

Let’s be consistent in all of our records and leave a clear record that everyone will easily understand.

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Salvatore Buchetto’s Obituary Celebrates His Well-Lived Life

Obituaries often celebrate lives well lived—but rarely with the enthusiasm this recent obituary does.

obituary for Salvatore Buchetto, Advocate newspaper article 17 October 2014

Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 17 October 2014

You’ll want to read the full copy of this one. Click here: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/stamfordadvocate/obituary.aspx?n=salvatore-buchetto&pid=172835303&fhid=11211#sthash.f8Roq5Qv.dpuf

His obituary states: “Sal measured out at 73 1/2 inches, and a bouncing 232 pounds, 9 ounces.”

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After reading a few lines from Salvatore’s obituary, you quickly realize that he was someone very special to many people.

His newspaper obituary reports:

For 39 years, an eccentric, electric force of nature in the Stamford Public Schools, beloved by classes and respected by peers, teaching science at Burdick and Cloonan Middle Schools. His performance in front of the blackboard was the stuff of legend, often extending out of the classroom to capture the imagination of students and fellow teachers. A Mad Scientist and Arm Wrestling Champion on the school stage, he was famous for memorable experiments that combined sports cars and mannequins; leaf-blowers and popsicle stick houses; a bed of nails and school principals; and rooftops and egg drops.

Sal Buchetto was a father, a grandfather, a very popular teacher—and a childhood friend of mine. His family lived just behind our house. We called him “Chuck.” There was a gang of 3-5 of us. We’d cut through his yard, go across the street, cut through another yard, then through the woods, get through a hole in the fence, then through another yard and down through that street—and on to school.

We were everywhere—building forts, afterschool sports and tracking the moons of Jupiter on our telescopes. I still have that telescope; I don’t think I’ve used it for over 50 years.

One day his Mom had us over for dinner.
She served pasta, on huge plates.
She filled the plate.

I thought: this is great—a huge amount of food.
She asked if we wanted more, so I said: yes.
She filled the plate again.
Wow. Two helpings, each about the size of the serving bowl we’d get at home.
Great—what a meal.

But wait—there’s more.
She then brought out the main course.
More? I was already stuffed.
Wasn’t the pasta the main course?

Well, no.
Out came the chicken, then there was another main course—a third course? Sausage, more meat, salad…an endless stream of food.
Then dessert.

Wow.

The Buchettos had a living room that no one was allowed to enter—except THAT day.
All of the furniture was white.
The couches were covered in plastic.
It was like a museum, but that day his Mom let us go in—and there it was: their brand new color TV!

Wow—television in color. How good was that!
We watched Bonanza—yeah, a little grainy—but it was in color.
What would they think of next?

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Here’s a transcription of Salvatore Buchetto’s obituary:

Buchetto, Salvatore R.

“Salvatore Robert Buchetto lived, larger than life, from October 12, 1948 through October 15, 2014. For 39 years, he was an eccentric, electric force of nature in the Stamford Public Schools, beloved by classes and respected by peers, teaching science at Burdick and Cloonan Middle Schools. His performance in front of the blackboard was the stuff of legend, often extending out of the classroom to capture the imagination of students and fellow teachers. A Mad Scientist and Arm Wrestling Champion on the school stage, he was famous for memorable experiments that combined sports cars and mannequins; leaf-blowers and popsicle stick houses; a bed of nails and school principals; and rooftops and egg drops.

“The son of Peter and Ann Buchetto, Sal was born in and grew up in Stamford. He graduated from Southern Connecticut University with a BS in Science, and followed that up by earning two Masters in education, one each from Southern Connecticut University and the University of Bridgeport. After retiring from Stamford schools, Sal would return to both his universities, schooling the next generation of teachers in his Graduate Education Classes. His marathon, free-form sessions left his audience on the edge of their seat — hesitant to take a bathroom break for fear of missing a single educational, entertaining word of his considerable experience and unique techniques.

“He is survived by family who were ever amazed and energized by his vitality: his wife Toni, daughter Kamera Dukes and granddaughter Michaela Dukes; and good family friend Abraham Davis; Sal’s sister Vita Chichester and her sons and their families: Dan, Jenn and Lucas; Keith, Tracy, Sammi and Lia; Peter, Jessica, Max, Nicole and Zack; nephew Mark Servidio and his family; sister in law Rita Orgera and her children: Ryan, Alexis and Kendall; sister-and-brother-in-law Aly and Dan McNamara, and their children and families: Tyler, Casey, Brian and Zoe; and Sara, Kyle and Cole; brother-in-law Bill Ruedaman; and sister-in-law Kim Orgera, her daughter Tessa and her children: Chance, Yancy and Dylan. Sal now joins his son Kris in heaven. Sal was also predeceased by his brother in law Daniel Chichester, Sr.; his sister Rachel and brother-in-law Babe Servidio; his brother Peter Buchetto; and brother in law Bo Orgera.

“Devoted to a malfunctioning series of TR-6 autos, Sal single-handedly supported the used parts industry for that model over the years. An accomplished photographer, his “Photography by Salvatore” business captured the romance of hundreds of newly wedded couples. He supported Native American causes through his visits to state casinos, and was widely-read through his frequent contributions to the Stamford Advocate editorial page on a wide variety of serious and satirical topics. In tribute to Sal, it’s rumored that big screen TVs across the state will be dimmed to half-brightness, and take-out cups of coffee will be served only half full. (It is expected that profits at County TV, Best Buy, Dunkin Donuts and Donut Delight will drop significantly.) Sal was a long time member of Grace Evangelical Church on Courtland Avenue, and loved Jesus.

“There will be a visitation at Cloonan Middle School auditorium this Sunday, October 19th, from 2 to 4 PM. A memorial service will immediately follow from 4 to 5:15 PM, conducted by Pastor Scott Taylor. The family requests those attending to dress in festive red, white and blue.

“Mr. Buchetto’s dynamic, unmatchable influence lives on through the countless students whose lives he inspired over 4 decades. Sal measured out at 73 1/2 inches, and a bouncing 232 pounds, 9 ounces. To leave an online condolence please visit www.leopgallagherstamford.com

Obituaries in newspapers provide us with rich genealogical information, personal stories and life details like no other source.

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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.

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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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