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!

Mayflower Hat Maker: Degory Priest

Are you a descendant of Mayflower passenger Degory Priest?
If you are, then please tell us your line.

Painting: “The Mayflower Compact, 1620,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Painting: “The Mayflower Compact, 1620,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1899. Source: Library of Congress.

According to Wikipedia, Degory Priest:

was a hat maker from London who married Sarah, sister of Pilgrim Isaac Allerton in Leiden. He was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact in November 1620 and died less than two months later.

Searching in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I can easily find hundreds of articles about descendants of other Mayflower Pilgrims such as Thomas Rogers, Stephen Hopkins or Dr. Samuel Fuller – but, articles about Degory Priest descendants – not so much.

I only found six persons who mentioned their descent from him in their obituaries, such as this one for Patricia Sayward.

obituary for Patricia Sayward, Amesbury News newspaper article 17 March 2009

Amesbury News (Amesbury, Massachusetts), 17 March 2009

Patricia A. (Woodward) Sayward’s (1929-2009) obituary tells us that “she was a descendant of Degory Priest” and that she had two ancestors who fought at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. She was active in both the Mayflower Society and the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Here are the other five individuals I found whose obituaries mentioned that they were descendants of Degory Priest:

If you are a descendant of Degory Priest – or any other Mayflower passenger – please tell us about it in the comments section.

Related Mayflower Genealogy Articles:

Did You Miss These Mayflower Stories?

GenealogyBank is an outstanding source for documenting your Mayflower family lines.

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

Painting: “Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor” by William Formby Halsall, 1882. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

We have posted a number of blog articles about tracing your family history back to the Mayflower and its passengers. Take a moment and read these key articles for tips on researching your family history.

Mayflower Articles:

Light a Candle for Thanksgiving

Plymouth, England, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, are already beginning celebrations (which will culminate in 2020) for the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower, with special events on both sides of the Atlantic.

“As one small candle may light a thousand,
so the light here kindled has shown unto many
–Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford

photo of an "Illuminate and Thanksgiving" poster

Source: Mayflower400UK.com

Thousands are expected to parade through Plymouth, England, this year carrying candles and lanterns as they gather at the Mayflower steps there in the harbor where the original ship left for America in 1620.

photo of candles lit on a wharf

Source: Baylor University

Are you planning to light a candle and join in the Thanksgiving commemoration this year?

Related Thanksgiving Articles:

Genealogy Research: Conquering Your File Cabinets

Here’s a tip for you.
I have five multi-drawer file cabinets packed with correspondence and genealogical notes gathered over the past 50 years.

Keeping this old genealogical correspondence in just one spot means that I am the only one with access to it. I decided that it’s time to get it online and, where appropriate, available to everyone.

photo of genealogy correspondence

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

I want to make the change from paper files to online files – and where possible, to go paperless.

Where to start?
I started with the first file drawer – evaluating the files, one folder at a time.

Looking at the information I quickly decided on a few guidelines:

  • Only post material of lasting value
  • Don’t post correspondence from living people
  • Don’t post notes, data about living people

Online family tree sites let you post scanned items as photographs and as PDF documents. So – I can scan and post a one-page letter as a JPEG file, or – if I have multiple pages – I can scan and save them all in one file as a PDF document.

photo of a genealogy letter

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

I can take that compact PDF file and add it to my online family tree, attaching it to the person who wrote the letter to me as well as to the historical persons mentioned in the correspondence.

screenshot of a genealogy letter online

Source: FamilySearch.org

That correspondence is now preserved and is instantly discoverable by me and by anyone else researching the same family lines.

Once I have the file scanned – and online – I can then decide if I need to keep the original paper copy or if I can opt to go paperless and toss the paper copy.

Genealogy Tip: Put your old family history notes online – preserve them and make them available to others. You’ll be glad you did.

Related Articles:

Time to Graduate to a Smartphone?

A smartphone – why would I need a smartphone?
We never even use our land line.
I can remember a time when – if the phone rang at night – everyone froze.
A call at night could only mean one thing: bad news.

These days, I use my cell phone to send/receive calls and text messages.
Isn’t that enough?

Mom mastered the computer – she could send e-mail and was a wiz scanning and sending photos.
She was hi-tech.

Dad? Not so much.

Forty years ago, learning how to use a computer was a lot like learning to climb the sheer side of a cliff.

Tough, painful and scary.

I was sure I wouldn’t make it – but then, there we were at the top – and there was no going back. Tech has evolved, and is quickly taking us right along with it.

Do I really need a smartphone?
I decided it was time to find out.

My smartphone arrived this week.

First reaction: Wow – why did I wait so long!?
This is an amazing tool.

Easy to use.
It pulls all of my information together in one handy tool: e-mail, text, phone, photos, the Internet – everything.

Now – wherever I am – I am connected.

Phone quality is excellent.

But – could I read anything on it?
Turns out – I can.

When the GenealogyBank Blog post arrived in my inbox today – with one click I was reading it.

picture of a smartphone displaying a newspaper article

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

Simple, easy and I could read it while sitting in the car waiting for my wife – I didn’t have to be home reading it on my laptop.
This is going to be handy – a real time-saver.

Would I be able to read a GenealogyBank newspaper article on my iPhone?

Turns out – I can!
Here is a marriage article I pulled up about one of my cousins.

photo of a smartphone

Photo: Thomas Jay Kemp. Source: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 20 July 1952, section V, page 6

Wow – this is so clear and easy to read.
With a swoosh of my fingers I can easily enlarge or reduce the image.

Searching is a snap.

Going hi-tech is a lot of fun too.

How are you using your iPhone?

Related Article:

Veterans Day: Saluting Amos Barnes, Revolutionary War Vet

Our nation has long been grateful to our veterans, starting with the American Revolutionary War.

obituary for Amos Barnes, New Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 12 January 1841

New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 12 January 1841, page 3

When Amos Barnes died in 1840 newspapers remembered him – giving the details of his life, his family and his service to the nation in a detailed obituary.

  • He died 6 December 1840 in Conway, New Hampshire
  • He had served as a lieutenant and was a Revolutionary War pensioner
  • He was 83 years old
  • His funeral sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. Wides, based on Job 7:16
  • He was born in Groton, Massachusetts, the youngest of 11 children
  • His father died in the French & Indian War
  • At age 6 the family moved to Concord, New Hampshire
  • At age 18 he enlisted in the Army
  • He marched to Mystic, Connecticut
  • June 1775 – he was in the Battle of Bunker Hill
  • He marched to New York; then to Canada; then to Mont Independence
  • December 1776 – he was with George Washington in Newtown, Pennsylvania
  • December 1776 – Battle of Trenton
  • His enlistment over, with an honorable discharge, he returned home to Concord, New Hampshire
  • Re-enlisted January 1778, serving with George Washington in Valley Forge
  • Served as Orderly Sergeant for the next two years
  • June 1778 – Battle of Monmouth
  • Winter 1779 – Valley Forge
  • 1779-1780 – Sullivan campaign
  • January 1780 – discharged, returned to Concord, New Hampshire
  • November 1787 – moved to Conway, New Hampshire
  • [17 July 1790] – married Polly Eastman, “second daughter of the late Richard Eastman, Esq. who, with several children, still survive…”
  • Described as “a very intelligent, industrious and honest man through life”
  • Served in “the last war [War of 1812], in defence of free trade and sailor’s rights”
  • He was a Jeffersonian Republican, “a firm supporter of Gen. Jackson and Mr. Van Buren”
  • He voted in the last election
  • Late in life “with intense anxiety and fervent prayer” he turned to a deeper faith in Christ

Compact and filled with the details of his life, his obituary – like all veterans’ obituaries – makes us pause and remember his life and his service to our country.

photo of the tombstone for Amos and Polly Barnes

Source: Find-a-Grave, Memorial # 44819194

Amos Barnes and his wife Polly were buried in the North Conway Cemetery, North Conway, New Hampshire.

Today on Veterans Day we honor and remember the efforts of all who have served our nation, from the Revolutionary War down to the troops that serve today.

Find their stories in newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Newspapers have recorded the lives of all Americans for the last three centuries, from 1690 to today.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from recent and 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/

Related Articles:

How to Find Ancestors’ U.S. Military Records in Newspapers

With Veterans Day approaching, people’s thoughts are turning to their family members and ancestors who served in the U.S. military. A great resource for family history research is military records in old newspapers.

For a Soldier Died Today

Source: YouTube. Just a Common Soldier. By A. Lawrence Vaincourt, narrated by Tony Lo Bianco.

America has always honored its history and the men and women who served in the military, and newspapers have printed articles and military records from the American Revolutionary War to the present day. Here are examples of some of the military records you can find by searching newspaper collections such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Veterans’ Obituaries

Newspapers printed obituaries of the nation’s veterans. America’s men and women left their everyday lives to respond to the call to serve. Often the details of their service were permanently recorded in their obituary.

veterans' obituaries from old newspapers

Source: GenealogyBank.com

War Casualty Lists

Newspapers reported on the wars and battles as they happened. War casualty reports were common in newspapers across America.

casualty list, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 6 August 1918

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 6 August 1918, page 1

Sometimes the soldier might be listed as missing-in-action and not found until years later.

Newspapers recorded information about the missing soldiers.

articles about Lt. Alvin Beethe

Source: GenealogyBank.com

U.S. Military Draft Records

War efforts require the mobilization of troops to serve. Newspapers recorded the draft details too. Genealogists often use these old newspaper articles as census substitutes, as they listed all eligible men living in the newspaper’s area of readership.

article about a draft list, Perry Republican newspaper article 26 July 1917

Perry Republican (Perry, Oklahoma), 26 July 1917, page 1

U.S. Military Reunions

After the wars were over, veterans would gather in reunions of local military units to remember their fallen comrades and to recall their permanent friendships.

These military reunions are recorded in old newspapers.

articles about military reunions

Source: GenealogyBank.com

War Stories

It is common for veterans’ families to say they asked their Dad or Grandfather to tell them what it was like during the war – but, the veterans never spoke about it.

Fortunately, newspapers recorded their war stories.

Here is an example story from the Revolutionary War from a veteran named Oliver Cromwell.

article about Revolutionary War veteran Oliver Cromwell, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 11 April 1905

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 11 April 1905, page 5

As this newspaper article noted: “though feeble, his lips trembling at every word, when he spoke of [General George] Washington his eyes sparkled with enthusiasm.”

In that interview, Cromwell told of his Revolutionary War service crossing the Delaware “with his beloved commander…on the memorable Christmas night [in] 1776.”

The old newspaper article adds that Cromwell: “took part in the battle of Trenton, and helped to ‘knock the British about lively at Princeton.’ He also fought at the battles of Short Hills, Brandywine, Monmouth and Springfield, where he was severely wounded, and saw the last man killed at York town.”

Soldiers’ Personal Letters Home

Sometimes a newspaper published the last letter a soldier sent home, like this one Lieutenant Edwin A. Abbey wrote to his parents on Good Friday, 6 April 1917 – just four days before he was killed on 10 April 1917 in WWI’s Battle of Vimy Ridge in France.

We are going up to an attack in a short time, and I am going to leave this note, to be sent to you, in case, by God’s will, this is to be my final work.

article reprinting a letter from Lieutenant Edwin A. Abbey, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 23 December 1917

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 23 December 1917, page 2

Where else would you find this soldier’s letter?

Newspapers have been published every day of our ancestors’ lives for the last three centuries. They record the stories of their lives in peacetime and wartime.

The archive of old newspapers in GenealogyBank is packed with thousands of these firsthand eyewitness accounts of military service, from the American Revolutionary War down to today, adding a personal touch to the facts of many of the military battles that they fought in.

Related Military Records Articles:

Faithful Family Pets: Researching Dogs Named Fido

I was reading an article in Reader’s Digest by Brandon Specktor (“Unlikely Legacies of U.S. Presidents.” Reader’s Digest November 2015, pages 176-182) that credits Abraham Lincoln’s dog Fido as the poster dog that made that name “synonymous with the family pooch” across the country.

I wondered how common Fido had been as a dog’s name before President Lincoln’s time. To get a read on that I went to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, since they let me search across millions of pages of daily newspapers from across the country, starting from 1690.

I quickly found hundreds of old newspaper articles about dogs that were named Fido from the 1700s down to today. From the serialized children’s stories that routinely appeared in the old newspapers – to news accounts – it was common for the family dog’s name to be Fido.

Fido was everywhere.

For example, here is an early newspaper article about a dog named Fido living in Boston in 1791 – and he was missing.

missing dog ad, Independent Chronicle newspaper advertisement 1 September 1791

Independent Chronicle (Boston, Massachusetts), 1 September 1791, page 3

Time and time again the news accounts referred to the faithfulness of Fido, the family dog.

Like this story of Fido traveling over 300 miles to be with his family that had moved.

montage of a newspaper clipping about a dog named Fido, Marietta Journal newspaper article 9 November 1893

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 9 November 1893, page 1

It seems that a family from Reynolds, Georgia, had moved to South Florida.

article about a dog named Fido, Marietta Journal newspaper article 9 November 1893

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 9 November 1893, page 1

The dog “much prized by the family” had “followed hard by until he reached Jasper, Fla., a distance of nearly 300 miles.”

There the family made camp in Jasper for the night and in the morning they prepared to leave – but couldn’t find their dog Fido.

They continued heading further south in Florida without their family pet.

What happened to Fido?

The article continues that the dog – after finding the family had left Jasper – returned all the way to their former home in Reynolds, Georgia. “He found the old home desolate…[and] went to a neighbor’s house where he had often hovered around the hearth. They recognized the dog, emaciated in form, and gave him food.”

They contacted the dog’s family down in Florida and “imagine the surprise and joy of his owner when informed of the dog’s safe return to his [Georgia] home.”

Stories of faithful dogs traveling hundreds of miles to be with their family have been published in newspapers for centuries.
Dogs and families bond.

When you write the stories of your family, be sure to include the story of Fido the family dog too. Don’t let your family’s pet stories be lost.

Find them.
Document them.
Put them into your online family history so that they will be easily found by the family for generations to come.

Related Articles:

Genealogy Puzzle: What Do These 3 Obituaries Have in Common?

What do the obituaries of Daniel Coit Gilman (1831-1908) of Norwich, Connecticut; Richard Y. Cook (1845-1917) of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania; and James J. Lovitt (1838-1892) have in common?

montage of the obituaries of Daniel Coit Gilman, Richard Y. Cook and James J. Lovitt

Source: GenealogyBank.com

Answer: they all described their immigrant ancestors.

It is common for an obituary to name the spouse, children, parents and siblings of the deceased – but to get details about their more distant ancestral lineage is a real bonus.

Genealogy Tip: Be sure to check the obituaries of each of the relatives of the ancestor you are researching. While one might be brief, the obituary of another immediate relative just might give you family history information taking you back to the family’s immigrant ancestors.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from recent and 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/

Related Articles:

Is That My Dad? Newspapers Solve an Old Photo Mystery

Like many of you, I am actively on Facebook. I particularly like a group that posts items from the history of Springdale, Connecticut. Springdale is a section of Stamford, Connecticut; I lived and worked there for many years.

Last month a reader posted this old school photo from a play.

photo of a Springdale School play from 1936

Source: Facebook

Hmm…according to the posting, this old photo of a Springdale School play was from 1936.
I needed to look closely at this – my Dad could possibly be in this photo.

That looked like it might be him in the third row.

photo of William Kemp

Source: Facebook

So – I reached out to the extended Facebook network for their collective opinions. I posted other photos of my Dad from that time period and asked: Was it him?

Some thought yes – some thought it could be, but said the hair was too dark.

I continued to work back through the many postings on this Springdale page in Facebook – and then I found this old newspaper clipping listing the names of the pupils in the play.

an article about a Springdale School play, Stamford Advocate newspaper article May 1936

Stamford Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), May 1936

This old newspaper article described a Springdale School play in May 1936. The time was right. There was my Dad’s name – misspelled – but there it was.

Hmm…and the newspaper article described a “Sunbonnet Chorus” and the “Overall Boys’ Chorus.” That accurately described the way these students were dressed.

So – could this old newspaper article be confirmation that that was my Dad in the old Facebook photo? Did the Springdale School present the Otis Carrington play Polished Pebbles every year, – or was 1936 the first and only time it was performed?

Then yesterday another old newspaper clipping was posted to Facebook.

Here was the proof.
It was my Dad in the newspaper photo – cowboy hat, dungarees and all.

photo of the pupils in a Springdale School play, Stamford Advocate newspaper article May 1936

Source: Facebook, Stamford Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), May 1936

Thanks to these old newspaper clippings I could confirm that was him, as well as the names of dozens of other students that were in the school play.

My tough old Dad – World War II hero and all – at age 13 was a star in a school play!

Great story.
Great photo of my father.

And now our family has another photo and story for our family history – and we only have it because it was preserved in the pages of old newspapers.

Dig in and find your old family stories preserved in old newspaper collections, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

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