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!

Resources to Trace African American Slave Ancestry

FamilySearch recently announced it is working with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society and the California African American Museum to crowdsource the online indexing of 1.5 million Freedman’s Bureau records that FamilySearch has put online.

This is a great resource to start learning about African American slaves in early American history. Is it possible to find out more about these slaves – the actual stories of their individual lives? Can we know what happened to each one?

photo of a slave cabin

Photo: slave cabin. Source: Library of Congress.

In some cases, yes – we can.

There are two key sources for these African American slave stories.

Slave Stories in Newspapers

Some of these black slave stories can be found in old newspapers. GenealogyBank’s 1.8 billion news stories are available – with unlimited downloads – at a nominal monthly or annual fee, making them easily available to genealogists everywhere.

a montage of newspaper articles about former slaves

As the nation grew so did newspapers – and newspapers recorded and preserved our ancestors’ stories.

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For example, in newspapers we can learn the story of 79-year-old “Uncle Reuben” Taylor who grew up a slave on a farm near Baltimore, Maryland, was freed in 1863, and launched his career over the next 57 years delivering coal in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) 31 December 1920, page 7 tells us that he then retired to live with his daughter in Chicago.

Dig in and find your ancestors’ stories in GenealogyBank’s newspaper vault 1690 to Today.

a montage of newspaper articles from African American newspapers

Note that GenealogyBank also has a special search for our expansive online collection of more than 260 African American newspapers, which contains some of the earliest black publications such as Frederick Douglass’ Paper, an early anti-slavery newspaper by abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Access our African American newspaper archive here: http://www.genealogybank.com/static/african-american-heritage.html

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938

The Library of Congress has digitized and put online the collection of all 2,300+ first-person interviews with former slaves that were conducted by the Federal Writers’ Project from 1936-1938.

a photo of three ex-slaves interviewed for the by the Federal Writers’ Project from 1936-1938

Source: Library of Congress

These one-on-one slave interviews are invaluable.

The typescripts retain the tone of the person being interviewed. Reading the pages, you quickly can “hear” them speaking to you today.

Robert Bryant lived in Herculaneum, Mississippi – here is his story.
Find his story – and the story of thousands of others in this online collection.

ex-slave Robert Bryant's story as told to the Federal Writers’ Project

Source: Library of Congress

Real people. Real stories. Real lives.
These stories give you the opportunity to glimpse the life of a slave – as told one story at a time.

Get to know them – read and experience their stories.

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Google Remembers Olympian & Surfer Duke Kahanamoku

This week’s Google Doodle honors famed five-time Olympic medalist, Hawaiian athlete and swimmer, Duke Kahanamoku (1890-1968), who was born 24 August 1890 in Hawaii. He was known as the “Father of Surfing.”

a Google Doodle of Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku

Source: Google

Here is a 1965 interview with him by Bruce Brown at the start of the first annual Duke Kahanamoku invitational surfing competition. Source: YouTube.com

There are hundreds of old news articles in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives that detailed his remarkable surfing career – which lasted more than 50 years.

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article about Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku, Oregonian newspaper article 24 September 1917

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 24 September 1917, page 10

Discover more about Kahanamoku’s life and amazing success in professional surfing in the historical archives now: http://genealogybank.com/explore/all?lname=Kahanamoku&fname=Duke

GenealogyBank is your source for more than 300 years of America’s history.

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Calvert Family Bible Worth Share of $300 Million!

What’s your old family Bible worth? For the Calvert family of Mason, Lewis and Bracken counties in Kentucky, their family Bible was invaluable.

Old Family Bible of Calverts Found, Lexington Herald newspaper article 10 March 1911

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 10 March 1911, page 9

According to a 1911 article from the Lexington Herald, their old family Bible was the proof the descendants of Obadiah Calvert needed to connect their line back to the original Calvert family of Maryland. With the pending probate court action, the confirmed descendants would share in the $300,000,000 estate!

Do you have an old family Bible?

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A word to the wise: Don’t let the information in your family Bible become lost to the family – as this Calvert family’s information almost was. Scan and upload copies of each page of the family register information and preserve it online.

Do it today.

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Was Your Ancestor’s Marriage Certificate Filed Late?

Everyone is familiar with the regulations that couples wanting to be married need to register and obtain a marriage certificate. This document permits them to be wed by a justice of the peace, minister or other authorized official.

Pastors Liable to Heavy Fines, Oregonian newspaper article 2 September 1906

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 2 September 1906, page 36

Perhaps less well known is the question: Who returns the signed and completed marriage certificate to the town hall or county registrar?

That was the responsibility of the minister or person performing the wedding.
But – sometimes they never filed the paperwork with the government, or filed it very late.

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The Oregonian reported on this problem in 1906, reporting that: “In years gone by…many marriage certificates were never returned at all.”

The old news article went on to cite multiple examples of late filing of the documents.

article about Rev. Ghormley being fined for filing marriage certificates late, Oregonian newspaper article 2 September 1906

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 2 September 1906, page 36

For example, the Greenwood-Mitchell marriage certificate wasn’t filed until six years after their marriage. Cases like this can make it difficult for genealogists to locate their ancestors’ marriage certificate.

Genealogy Tip:

When you are searching for a birth, marriage or death certificate, remember: they are often filed in chronological order by the date that they are received in the clerk’s office, not necessarily the date of the event. Be sure to search for several years after you believe the event occurred to make sure you find the certificate. Registrars often received “Delayed Registrations” years after the event occurred.

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Did Your Ancestor Fight at the Battle of Monmouth?

Did your ancestor fight at the Battle of Monmouth during the Revolutionary War?

Painting: “Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth,” by Emanuel Leutze

Painting: “Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth,” by Emanuel Leutze, before 1854. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

My cousin Joel Pratt (1752-1844) did and his obituary records some of his personal recollections of that battle.

obituary for Joel Pratt, Times newspaper article 30 November 1844

Times (Hartford, Connecticut), 30 November 1844, page 1

We learn that in the Battle of Saratoga and the Battle of Monmouth, “…he carried the colors of his regiment.”

At the battle of Monmouth…he saw Gen. Lafayette …say, with his foreign accent, “Hold up your heads, my lads, we’ll pick at the fine clothes by and by.”

That must have been really cool.
Calling the Brits the “fine clothes” – the men would have loved that; a touch of Mel Gibson or John Wayne. A great line – glad I found it recorded in his obituary.

I wonder who else fought with him at the Battle of Monmouth? Are there more memories of the battle recorded in their obituaries?

Did these soldiers’ letters or diaries from that battle survive? Are these personal writings available and online today? Perhaps some of these old documents even mention my cousin, Joel Pratt.

One way you can find the answers to those questions is by searching the old newspapers by keyword for mention of the Battle of Monmouth.

screenshot of the GenealogyBank search box showing a search for the "Battle of Monmouth"

For example, a quick keyword search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for “Battle of Monmouth” generated over 3,300 search results.

screenshot of the search results in GenealogyBank for the search "Battle of Monmouth"

Great – that gives me a lot of relevant historical newspaper articles to go through.

I can sort this list of old newspaper articles chronologically and read about the battle as it happened – or I can read through them by topic. For example, I can look at the 70 obituaries that are cited to see what information is given in each one.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results for a search for the "Battle of Monmouth" showing how many obituaries there are

This obituary of Adam Hoffains (1756-1827) was published in the Boston Recorder (Boston, Massachusetts), 24 August 1837, page 135.

His obituary tells us that:

He was in the battle of Monmouth and was one of twelve who survived the battle, of a whole company. He was also at the battle of Bunker Hill.

In Captain Ephraim Whitaker’s (1755-1846) obituary published in the North American (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 16 July 1846, page 1, we learn that he was also in the Battle of Monmouth.

The battle of Monmouth was fought on one of the hottest and most sultry days in June (28th). Captain W. bore his full share in the heat, burden and danger of the day; he received a shot through his cap and another through his canteen, spilling the liquor with which it had been supplied in the morning.

Solomon Parsons (1757-1831) was also in the Battle of Monmouth. His obituary published in the Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 24 May 1831, page 3, records:

He enlisted at the age of 20, and was at the battle of Saratoga and taking of Burgoyne. He continued in the army till the battle of Monmouth, in June, 1778, when he was discharged on account of the wounds he received on that occasion.

Going through each obituary, you learn about the lives of real men, the real stories of those that fought in the battle with Joel Pratt.

Newspapers are published every day, 365 days a year.
Look and find your ancestors’ stories and the experiences of those who fought with them.

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The Evertons’ Genealogy Workshop 50 Years Ago Hooked Me

It was 50 years ago this week – 25 July 1965 to be specific – that George and Ellen (Nielsen) Everton conducted their genealogy workshop in the lower-level auditorium of the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Connecticut.

photo of George and Ellen (Nielsen) Everton

Photo: George and Ellen (Nielsen) Everton. Credit: FamilySearch.org – KWZM-YNM George Baugh Everton, Sr. Memories Page

They were road warriors who routinely conducted classes and day-long genealogical workshops, teaching the basics of genealogy across the country. Their firm – Everton Publishers was founded in 1947 –was active in publishing the long-running Genealogical Helper magazine, how-to books, charts, forms and other support materials for family historians.

The Evertons were terrific – funny, upbeat and personable – as they taught the basics of genealogy research. I had been working on my family history for several years, and this genealogy workshop was a game-changer for me.

I was working at the Ferguson Library then, where I was “apprenticed” to Grace Hope Walmsley (1885-1971), the long-serving genealogy reference librarian there.

article about librarian Grace Hope Walmsley retiring, Stamford Advocate newspaper article 28 February 1968

Stamford Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 28 February 1968, page 14

Up to that point I had kept my family tree and genealogy notes on the familiar yellow pads of paper, which I kept in a folder in my desk.

Miss Walmsley was a skilled genealogist and teacher. Working with her got me started in genealogy. The Ferguson Library’s Genealogy & Local History Room was always busy – and I learned from her about the books, documents and resources that were needed to document a family history.

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During a break in the Everton’s genealogy workshop in 1965, they announced that they were giving away door prizes to the youngest and the oldest person attending the seminar.

As one of the hosts of the family history event, I was standing along the side of the auditorium. George Everton said: “The winner of the door prize for the youngest person in the room is easy – it’s him” – pointing in my direction.

I turned around to see whom he was pointing at – and realized he meant me! Ha.

I went up to the front and he gave me a 12-generation family tree chart – which I started filling out and have never looked back.
I was hooked.

I had been getting my genealogy skills from on-the-job training – but now the Evertons opened up more techniques, tools and a sense of what was possible. Their wonderful genealogy workshop was invaluable to me.

Take the time to be trained in genealogy.
There are online classes and webinars available 24/7 on the Internet.

Watch and learn at sites like:

Both of these sites have hundreds of live and taped classes on a wide range of topics – from Hungarian research to the core basics in Genealogy Boot Camp. Also, watch GenealogyBank’s genealogy tutorial webinars on Youtube and the Learning Center.

Check with your local genealogical society and see when their next meeting or event will be. Getting together with other genealogists is an easy way to learn new approaches and improve your research skills.

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Will You Mention Your Ancestors in Your Obituary?

Have you noticed how many obituaries include details about the ancestors of the deceased?

George Green’s obituary summarizes his life, compactly detailing his accomplished life in a paragraph or two – and prominently, we learn that he “had deep roots in Michigan.”

According to his obituary:

He was officially recognized as a direct descendant of a Michigan Sesquicentennial Pioneer, William Weaver, who came by ox car in 1835 from Hartland, Niagara County in upstate New York with wife, Mary Earl Willets and settled in what became Somerset two years prior to official statehood.

These are terrific genealogical details.

George Green’s obituary is a good example of a well written, informative genealogical biographical sketch.

obituary for George Green, Detroit News newspaper article 19 July 2015

Detroit News (Detroit, Michigan), 19 July 2015

Esther Mary (Blair) Crane’s obituary tells us in the opening sentences that she was a descendant of John Alden of Mayflower fame.

obituary for Esther Crane, Commercial Appeal newspaper article 18 July 2015

Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee), 18 July 2015

Esther Crane – I didn’t know her, but right away I know that she was my cousin because of her link to John Alden – and I want to know more about my newly discovered deceased relative. I want to make sure that she is included in our family tree and that her story is remembered and told.

I truly appreciate it when these genealogical details are included in an obituary, making it easier for me to trace the members in our family tree.

I can quickly see that Detroit native George Green had roots in Niagara County, New York, and that Esther was my cousin.

Don’t you wish that every one of your relatives’ obituaries gave this many genealogical details?

What does this say about your obituary?
What are your plans?
Do you want to have the details of your heritage included in your obituary?

Tell us what you’re thinking of including in your obituary.

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Getting Genealogy Records Online: My Clean-Up Plan

Looking at my genealogy research notes and files accumulated over the past 50+ years, I am wondering: what should I do with all this stuff?

montage of family history papers from the Kemp family

Photo: Thomas Jay Kemp

I have five four-drawer file cabinets packed with notes, clippings, letters, photos and the like.

While my children and extended family are interested in our family history, they are sprinkled across the country – and just aren’t prepared to transport and ingest this much material into their homes and busy lives.

So – what to do?
I have started to tackle my messy genealogy records problem, one file folder at a time.

Getting Started

I am taking the time to go through the file cabinets, item by item.
My goal is to become as “paperless” as possible by digitizing all this genealogy research material and putting it online.

My main “backup” sites for my family history are two of the online family tree sites: FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. I also use Scribd and Pinterest.

I am finding one immediate benefit from doing this. I haven’t looked at many (most?) of these files for years. Looking at these genealogy records and research notes again now, I can reevaluate the information with the knowledge about the family gained over the years. I can quickly make sure that the most accurate information is in my twin online family trees.

I am finding that some of the details – perhaps a complete date, a stray fact or a footnote – did not make it online. Now I can take the time to make sure that online genealogy record is complete.

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I have saved letters from distant relatives and genealogists wondering if we are related. What should I do with them?

Reading through these letters again, I am deciding if they have genealogy value – and as long as they don’t mention living people, I am scanning them and putting them online.

On FamilySearch I can upload a multipage letter as one PDF document. Click here to see an example of a two-page letter I uploaded to that site written by a cousin. Other sites do not permit you to upload PDF files, so I converted her letter to the image .JPEG format to upload it and preserve it online.

For longer items like the handwritten cookbook of my great-grandmother Marcia Amanda (Young) Richmond, I uploaded the PDF file for the entire cookbook to Scribd.com. Click here to see my great-grandmother’s cookbook for some good family recipes.

Note: You can also upload and share family recipe articles on Pinterest. GenealogyBank has a shared Old Fashioned Family Recipes board you can join to share your family recipes.


I scan and put every photo I can online in order to make it easy for the family to find these images of our ancestors – and I put them on multiple sites.

For example: this photo of my great-grandmother Marcia Amanda (Young) Richmond is on Pinterest, FamilySearch and Ancestry.

photo of Marcia Richmond

Photo: Kemp family papers

This “Summer Clean-up” of my files is making sure that the online copies of my family history are more accurate and complete.

By scanning and uploading the documentation to multiple websites – and double-checking the personal information I have entered into my online family history – I will make it easier for the family to find and know about their history.

And – importantly – I will be able to reduce the thousands of genealogy records and notes that I’ve saved down to the core enduring historical material that the family will want to preserve.

What plans are you making to preserve and pass down your family history information?

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Genealogy Tip: Search a Wide Date Range in GenealogyBank

Newspapers often published commemorative articles celebrating milestones. Take for example the 50th wedding anniversary of Elizabeth Kern and Valentine Humburg. They were both born in Germany, married 3 April 1854 in New York, and settled in San Jose, California, six years later.

article about the Humburgs celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, San Jose Mercury News newspaper article 3 April 1904

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 3 April 1904, page 2

This detailed newspaper article names their five children and their nine grandchildren – and, as a bonus, includes photographs of the couple.

If you were searching just on the marriage date of the Humburgs in the 1854 newspapers in New York City, you would not find this great article about their marriage printed 50 years later in a newspaper across the country.

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Genealogy Tip: After you’ve tried a search on a specific date in GenealogyBank’s archives for an important event in your ancestors’ lives, search on a wide date range to see if a commemorative article was published many years later about that same important event.

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Genealogy Surprise: My Ancestor’s Journal of War Stories!

I didn’t expect to find this.
My family is obscure – generally unknown to history. Sure, their obituaries and marriages made the paper – and when something unusual happened to them, that made the newspaper too.

But – this was quite a find.

article about Jacob Robinson's Mexican-American War journal, Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics newspaper article 30 October 1847

Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 30 October 1847, page 2

It turns out that my cousin Jacob Sawyer Robinson (1814-1886), who was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, had enlisted in Col. Alexander Doniphan’s Missouri Regiment during the Mexican-American War – AND he kept a journal.

I didn’t know he was a soldier in the Mexican-American War.
His journal made its way to the editor of the Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics and the editor announced that he would be serializing the journal in his newspaper.

The editor told his readers:

Although his horse-back sketches may not be so well connected as a journalist under different circumstances might prepare, yet they will be found interesting.

This is terrific. What a valuable family history find.
My cousin had joined the military and kept a journal!

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The newspaper started the serialization on New Year’s Day 1848. According to the editor, Jacob Robinson “was probably the only New-England man in that expedition.”

From the Wikipedia article on Alexander William Doniphan:

In 1846, at the beginning of the Mexican–American War, [Col. Alexander] Doniphan was commissioned a Colonel of the 1st Regiment of Missouri Mounted Volunteers, and served in several campaigns, including General Stephen W. Kearny’s capture of Santa Fe and an invasion of northern Mexico (present day northern New Mexico).

photo of Colonel Alexander William Doniphan

Photo: Colonel Alexander William Doniphan, between 1844 and 1860. Credit: Mathew Brady; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Northern New Mexico – Santa Fe – hey, I lived in that area for several years. Now I really want to read his journal entries.

article about Jacob Robinson's Mexican-American War journal, Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics newspaper article 1 January 1848

Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 1 January 1848, page 2

The published excerpts from Robinson’s journal start with his entry on 22 June 1846. When his unit got word that they would be leaving for Santa Fe, they reacted with “a joyous shout [that] rings in [his] memory yet.”

Amazing. I don’t know if anyone in my family still has a copy of Robinson’s journal. Until I found these newspaper articles, I did not even know he had kept a journal of his war experiences. Thanks to the old newspapers preserved in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, now we have it – we have his story as he wrote it down in his personal journal.

Genealogy Tip: Keep digging – the old newspapers published more than obituaries and wedding announcements. They just might have published your ancestor’s journal from the Mexican-American War!

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