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!

The Bible: It Just Might Save Your Life – Literally

The Word of God has been known to save the lives of many on a daily basis.

And then there is John Brotherton, 1729-1809 (MD4H-4T5). The Bible saved his life – literally.

In the mid-1700s Brotherton was in fierce hand-to-hand combat when a bayonet pierced through his belt, several layers of clothing, and 52 pages of his pocket Bible. That Bible slowed down the bayonet and saved his life.

obituary for John Brotherton, Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 22 November 1809

Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 22 November 1809, page 3

obituary for John Brotherton, Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 22 November 1809

Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Massachusetts), 22 November 1809, page 3

According to Brotherton’s obituary in the Hampshire Gazette, when he left “his native cottage” to join the British Army, he “took with him a small Bible, determining to make it the companion of his marches.” Faith made Brotherton a better man. His family was deeply religious and John himself was described as a man of “boldness and intrepidity” with a demeanor that was “gentle” and “without offense,” setting him apart from his fellow soldiers.

John Brotherton served with his regiment during the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763). (In America this is called the French & Indian War.) While we don’t know the specific battle when that pocket Bible saved his life, John’s newspaper obituary tells us that he fought in Germany against the French at the Battle of Minden in 1759.

Painting: Battle of Minden, 1759, by Richard Caton Woodville (1825-1855)

Illustration: Battle of Minden, 1759 – by Richard Caton Woodville (1825-1855). Source: Wikipedia Commons.

This battle illustration gives us a good idea of the fierce, hand-to-hand fighting that John Brotherton experienced during the Seven Years’ War.

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Brotherton served in the military faithfully, returned home, and lived to be 80 years old.

Thanks to GenealogyBank, John’s gripping war survival story is passed on to us today.

According to his obituary, one of Brotherton’s brothers was given this special lifesaving Bible at the time of his death.

Does the family still have this heirloom Bible? Do they know why there is a large gash in it? Do they know the details of John’s military service and how this Bible saved his life?

Obituaries showcase our ancestors lives. While some obituaries may only give us a line or two about our deceased relatives, many include important personal stories. Brotherton’s miracle inspires us all to value life, and be thankful for the things that keep us alive. Family history helps connect us to the stories of our past.

GenealogyBank lets us dig deeper into the times our ancestors grew up in, and find the details of their day-to-day lives. We all have a John Brotherton in our family tree. We only need to do the genealogy research to find their story.

GenealogyBank’s deep newspaper archive of over 1.7 billion records holds story after story about the people who built America, along with their births, marriages, and deaths. Find your ancestors’ stories today to discover who they were, what they did and what they lived through. Find your John Brotherton.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering 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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An Irish Immigrant’s Obituary Tells Her Coming to America Story

Ellen Canning O’Rourke (1910-2011) was born in Anskert, near Mohill in County Leitrim, Ireland. She died in Hamden, Connecticut, on 16 December 2011 at age 101. As a little girl she lived through the “Irish Troubles” in County Leitrim, and had keen memories of those events – and her coming to America and finding work here. Her recollections were recorded in her obituary.

obituary for Ellen O'Rourke, New Haven Register newspaper article 17 December 2011

New Haven Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 17 December 2011

She and her family emigrated in 1930 and she went to work as a “domestic live-in.”

“Ellen stated that before her job she had only seen money” – not actually had any of her own.
Think of that.

She “viewed coming to America to work as a gift.”

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As a ten-year-old, “she remembered the names of the dead neighbors and the ballads to their memory” from the Battle of Selton Hill, 11 March 1921. According to Wikipedia, British troops had “surrounded and then attacked the IRA camp on 11 March. Six IRA volunteers were killed. The RIC suffered no losses. The IRA dead were Connolly, Seamus Wrynne, Joseph O’Beirne (or Beirne), John Reilly, Joseph Reilly, and Capt. ME Baxter.”

You owe it to yourself and your family to dig through GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to find the obituaries and news stories about your family. If you have Irish ancestry, try searching our special Irish American newspaper archives first.

Document them.
Don’t let your family’s stories be lost.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering 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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Remembering Genealogists Charles & Edna Townsend

I thought about Charles and Edna Townsend today – they were pillars of the genealogical community.

a collage of genealogical records including the obituary for Charles Townsend

Source: GenealogyBank.com and eBay, Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Sarasota, Florida), 16 May 2002

I first met them in the 1960s when they stopped by the library where I worked. Charles Delmar Townsend (1911-2009) and his wife Edna Carolyn Waugh (1908-1989) were prolific genealogists, writers and publishers. They were good people dedicated to family history research.

They are best remembered for their two journals: Ancestral Notes from CHEDWATO (1954-1968) and the Car-Del Scribe (1964-1988).

The name of their publishing company – CHEDWATO – is an acronym from their names.

CH – Charles
ED – Edna
WA – Waugh
TO – Townsend

They had deep New England ancestral roots. We were distant cousins, so I decided to look up their online family trees to remind myself of our mutual ancestors.

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I quickly realized that they had never created an online family tree. Digging deeper I located Charles’s obituary in GenealogyBank in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Sarasota, Florida). Within minutes I started pulling together his family tree running back several generations, and found that I am related to both him and his wife multiple times over.

Here were two of America’s important genealogists, but their time was mostly before the current era of instant family history online. I took the time and added their details to several of the online family tree sites.

Don’t let your story be lost.
Find and document your family in GenealogyBank and put your family history permanently online.

Do it now.

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His Life for His Son’s: The Story of My Cousin Isaac Smith

I recently found compelling newspaper articles about a local New York baker who lost his life while saving his drowning son.

A distant cousin wrote me last week and mentioned that a mutual cousin of ours, Isaac Smith, had died while trying to rescue his son back in the 1800s. I thought, that sounds like a story that a newspaper would pick up – so I headed to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to find the rest of that story.

I quickly found not one – but three articles on this tragedy.

article about W. Isaac Smith drowning while strying to save his son, New York Herald newspaper article 24 June 1895

New York Herald (New York, New York), 24 June 1895, page 5

The drowning happened at a company picnic at Oakland Beach in Rye, New York.

According to the newspaper article, Isaac never took time off from his bakery. The picnic he organized was his first break from work in ten years. The news article goes on to describe the grim details of his death while rescuing his drowning son.

article about W. Isaac Smith drowning while trying to save his son, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 24 June 1895

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 24 June 1895, page 1

According to the other two articles I found, Isaac died of a heart attack – likely brought on by the urgency, fear and stress of finding and rescuing his son Gordon Smith, who was 15 years old.

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Thanks to these old newspaper articles, my connection to William Isaac Smith went beyond the dates and places. The details and people involved in saving Gordon Smith’s life helped me see into the lives of my relatives in a unique way that is now preserved forever. These newspaper articles provided more than the “facts” so that I could see my relatives as they lived – and died. I got the details of this tragedy – but also sprinkled through there were the details of William Isaac Smith’s character, work ethic and business success that led him to open not just one bakery, but two more in neighboring towns.

article about W. Isaac Smith drowning while trying to save his son, New York Herald Tribune newspaper article 24 June 1895

New York Herald Tribune (New York, New York), 24 June 1895, page 7

Isaac ran a “wholesale bakery” in White Plains that branched out with bakeries in Tarrytown and Port Chester. By the young age of 43, he had provided financial security for his wife and children, and served his employees faithfully. These newspaper clippings on the accident provide amazing details that I would not have found anywhere else – describing not just this tragic incident, but details of the character of my cousin.

GenealogyBank has become a core “go-to,” reliable resource for learning about and writing the history of your family. Newspapers are the only place that genealogists can find the stories of their relatives.

Beyond the dates and places and news of the day are the stories of our grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Only GenealogyBank provides access to over 1.7 billion newspaper records that tell the stories our ancestors cannot. Thanks to our digital archival technology, our records can be made available to you at the click of a mouse. Sign up today and discover stories you might otherwise never have known about your family. Start your 30-day trial now!

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World War II Japanese American Relocation Camp Newspapers

GenealogyBank has added newspapers published in the Japanese American Relocation Camps during World War II.

photo of the Mochida family awaiting the evacuation bus to Japanese American relocation camps during WWII

Photo: Mochida family awaiting the evacuation bus. Source: National Archives photograph; Wikimedia Commons.

Birth, Marriage and Death Notices

These newspapers from Arkansas, California, Colorado and Utah contain birth, marriage, and death records that are very useful for genealogists to trace Japanese lineage.

For example, here is an old obituary from the Tulean Dispatch for Hiromi Homanishi, who was from Puyallup, Washington.

article about the funeral service for Hiromi Hamanishi, Tulean Dispatch newspaper article 17 February 1943

Tulean Dispatch (Newell, California), 17 February 1943, page 1

Here is another historical newspaper article, from the Denson Tribune, listing the names of evacuees and providing birth notices and names of Japanese American servicemen as well.

article about evacuees from Japanese American relocation camps during WWII, Denson Tribune newspaper article 17 September 1943

Denson Tribune (Denson, Arkansas), 17 September 1943, page 6

WWII-Era Departures

During World War II evacuees were prevented from returning to California, Oregon and Washington state – but they were permitted to relocate to other parts of the United States. Notice that the news article above names the residents who opted to leave their camp in Denson, Arkansas, for employment in towns across America.

Some Japanese American young men joined the U.S. military. The newspaper article above names some of them when they were returning to visit family and friends in the camp.

GenealogyBank’s deep newspaper archive has newspapers from the 1600s to today that cover the small towns and big cities across America. We now have these newspapers from World War II that documented life in the Japanese American relocation camps.

Here is a list of those newspapers that contain information on Japanese American relocation camps:

State City Newspaper Date Range
Arkansas Denson Denson Tribune 03/19/1943–06/02/1944
California Manzanar Manzanar Free Press 07/14/1943–09/06/1944
California Newell Newell Star 02/15/1945–02/15/1945
California Newell Tulean Dispatch 03/31/1943–03/31/1943
Colorado Amache Granada Pioneer 06/09/1943–06/09/1943
Utah Topaz Topaz Times 10/30/1942–2/9/1943

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Looking for His Obituary – There Was His Face Looking Back at Me

Genealogists benefit from having access to GenealogyBank’s deep newspaper archives with their millions of obituaries, because obituaries detail the lives of our family – immediate relatives as well as distant cousins. Obituaries can include dates of birth, marriage information, and even where a missing relative might be buried – but it’s a real bonus when they contain a picture of them.

The Springfield Republican published the obituary of Joseph Merrick in 1898. In this primary record we learn about his personality, his livelihood, and – because of this etching – I am also able to see him and get a better sense of who he was.

obituary for Joseph Merrick, Springfield Republican newspaper article 23 February 1898

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 23 February 1898, page 10

The obituary goes on to detail all of the places Joseph lived. It lists his birth in West Springfield, Massachusetts, and tells how he became one of the early entrepreneurs in the Connecticut Valley. These are good clues to help me locate other records on Joseph, and they help me form a timeline of his life.

It tells his story.

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At GenealogyBank, we are interested in the story. Joseph Merrick started off as a young milkman at the age of 20, and died having a post office named after him. His is only one of the more than 1 billion stories contained in GenealogyBank. With over 1.7 billion documents in our archives, your ancestors have plenty of stories to tell. Sign up today and discover their stories.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering 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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Newspapers Can Find Relatives You Didn’t Know You Had

I think I’ve discovered two relatives I never knew existed – in the city where I grew up!

I’ve been doing Genealogy for a long time and thought I had “met” them all at one point or another, and then I came across this old newspaper article.

Yale & Towne Dramatic Society to Give Play, Stamford Advocate newspaper article 1 May 1929

Stamford Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 1 May 1929, page 15

In May of 1929, employees from the Yale & Towne Manufacturing company came together to put on a production of the play “Arnold Goes into Business.”

Look closer at this enlargement of the main cast.

Yale & Towne Dramatic Society to Give Play, Stamford Advocate newspaper article 1 May 1929

Stamford Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 1 May 1929, page 15

Who are these guys: John and Mrs. Marie Anna Kemp?
Mrs. Marie Anna Kemp plays the part of Irma’s mother, Catherine Gleason,
and
John Kemp plays the part of Irma’s father H. A. Cooper.

Now if this surname was Smith or Brown, I wouldn’t have noticed it – but Kemp is a fairly unusual name. I like to research all Kemp ancestral lines to run them back a few generations to see if we are related or not.

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If these are my relatives, I have never heard of them. I asked my 91-year-old father if he had any idea who they were, and he had never heard of them either.

According to the old news article: “Every member of the cast…is a Yale & Towne employee.” That tells me they must live in or near Stamford.

My grandfather, Willard H. Kemp, did work for Y&T and his father was John Henry Kemp – but in 1929 he was 63 years old and was employed full-time in the Post Office. He didn’t retire until 1931 when he was 65 years old, and he never worked for Y&T. So this John Kemp could be him – but he doesn’t match the other clues given in the article or the other facts in his personal history.

So – who were John Kemp and “Mrs. Marie Anna Kemp”?

I looked in the 1920 and the 1930 census – no mention of any other John or Marie Anna Kemp living anywhere in the state of Connecticut.

So – just when I thought I’d tracked them all down, here is a newspaper article alerting me to two more possible relatives in our Kemp family tree.

I’ll have to dig deeper into GenealogyBank’s archive of 1.7 billion records to find out more about them. And it’s the same for you: you have ancestors that are waiting to be discovered. Sign up today and begin your search!

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Alabama Revolutionary War Veteran Dead at 106

In 1853, centenarian William Wicker passed away in Pike County, Alabama. He was 106. This American Revolutionary War veteran had been one of the first settlers to move to Alabama after its introduction into the union on 14 December 1819.

obituary for William Wicker, Daily Alabama Journal newspaper article 28 January 1853

Daily Alabama Journal (Montgomery, Alabama), 28 January 1853, page 2

Wicker enlisted into the military at 17, along with his father Robert Wicker. They served together with various South Carolina regiments during the length of the Revolutionary War. Wicker’s biggest firefight came during the Battle of Eutaw Springs, the last major Southern conflict against the British. After the Revolutionary War ended, Wicker lived in South Carolina and Georgia, before spending his final years in Alabama.

The Battle of Eutaw Springs is remembered as one of the bloodiest Southern battles during the Revolutionary War. Disney picked up this story and produced a television series in the 1950s known as The Swamp Fox, detailing the achievements of Wicker’s commanding officer General Francis Marion – who was known as the “Swamp Fox.” While Wicker’s likeness is not put directly into the show, most of the episodes cover events similar to the ones he would have been present for.

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From a young age, William Wicker knew he wanted to defend his country. Thanks to the Daily Alabama Journal, William Wicker’s memory lives on in old news print. Did any of your ancestors serve in the Revolutionary War? Where did they ultimately settle down? Perhaps like William, they too are some of the early settlers of the American South and Midwest.

Join GenealogyBank today to access over 1.7 billion records and find your ancestors’ stories. Start your 30-day trial now: http://bit.ly/1BChPbI

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering 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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GenealogyBank Is the Only Source of This Irish Passenger List Information

I am just amazed every time I see these Irish American passenger lists in GenealogyBank’s online newspapers and see that they tell me where these new arrivals had lived in Ireland, and where they were going to live in America. That information is NOT in any other passenger list source. How in the world did the editors of New York City’s Irish American newspapers find the time to interview and document the incoming Irish immigrants, and keep doing it for over a century?

passenger list, Irish Nation newspaper article 20 May 1882

Irish Nation (New York, New York), 20 May 1882, page 7

Irish American newspapers were diligent about reporting the great migration of Irish immigrants to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Newspapers like the Irish Nation, Irish Voice, and Irish World regularly published lists of Irish passengers that came over on the passenger ships that week.

Genealogy Tip: What’s special about these Irish passenger lists for genealogists is the information provided: the passenger’s name; county of origin in Ireland; and their destination here in the United States.

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These published lists did not include every Irish immigrant – but for the tens of thousands that were interviewed and documented by the newspapers, these lists give us the critical place of origin and where they were heading, valuable information that is just not found in any other source. One of my colleagues, Duncan Kuehn, closely compared some of the passenger lists published in newspapers to the corresponding federal passenger lists. She found that for the passengers interviewed and listed by the newspapers, their names were often more complete – and often, additional names of accompanying family members were given in the newspaper account that didn’t appear in the federal lists. It would be even better if the newspapers had interviewed every single passenger, but we’re grateful for the excellent job they did on the ones that were documented. Genealogists must use these lists.

For example, in an issue of the Irish Nation from 1882, we see the following passenger lists.

passenger list, Irish Nation newspaper article 7 January 1882

Irish Nation (New York, New York), 7 January 1882, page 8

The first three passengers arriving on the steamer England on 29 December 1881 are:

  • Patrick Mitchel, from County Sligo – his destination was New York
  • Peter Judge, also from County Sligo, was heading to Baltimore, Maryland
  • Patrick Rourke, from County Clare, was going to Wisconsin

For genealogists having difficulty finding where in Ireland their Irish roots came from, this information tells them the answer. GenealogyBank is an imperative tool for Irish American research. Missing an Irish relative? Sign up for GenealogyBank today and find them. Start your 30-day trial now!

Click here to search GenealogyBank’s Irish American Newspaper Archives.

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Captain Alden Howell: Last Confederate Officer

When Alden Howell passed away in 1947 at the age of 106, he was the last surviving commissioned officer of the Army of the Confederate States of America.

obituaryr for Alden Howell, San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram newspaper article 21 March 1947

San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram (San Luis Obispo, California), 21 March 1947, page 9

It’s a good thing that there were multiple obituaries about this centenarian. Each historical obit gives us more of the details of his life.

For example, see this old obituary in the Greensboro Record.

obituary for Alden Howell, Greensboro Record newspaper article 21 March 1947

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 21 March 1947, page 10

We learn that he was a captain of “Company B of North Carolina’s Sixth Regiment,” that when he enlisted he had been “attending law school,” and that after the war he resumed his studies and received “his degree in 1866.”

We also pick up this critical piece of genealogical information: he “was a descendant of John Alden,” the famous ship’s cooper on the Mayflower, signer of the Mayflower Compact, and best known for marrying Priscilla Mullins. A great clue.

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In his ripe old age Howell was called upon to give advice, as reported in the Morning Olympian.

Confederate Veteran (Alden Howell) Gives Advice on Life, Morning Olympian newspaper article 19 February 1941

Morning Olympian (Olympia, Washington), 19 February 1941, page 1

“Don’t get mad. Don’t use cuss words. Never complain.”

Good advice – even now.

Even in this feel-good news article we pick up more genealogical details. He was an attorney and banker in Waynesville, North Carolina. He retired “15 years ago and moved [to Los Angeles],” and this critical statement: “He and his seven-year-old grandson, Kenneth Brimmer, jointly cut a birthday cake Tuesday” – a good clue that both he and his grandson were born on February 18th.

Genealogy Tip: Track down every newspaper article. Don’t stop with the first news article or obituary you find about your relative. Each one might contain the critical clue or fact that you need to build your family tree. Take those clues, verify the facts and document your family history.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering 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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