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. He began his career in 1963 as the Assistant to the Librarian, in the Genealogy & Local History Room at the Ferguson Library (Stamford, CT). His motto is: It is a Great Day for Genealogy!

Bunker Hill Drummer Boy

Every Christmas we hear the familiar lyrics of “The Little Drummer Boy” Christmas classic popularized in the 1950s and still popular today.

Pa rum pum pum pum,
Rum pum pum pum,
Rum pum pum pum

Drummer boys have resonated with Americans for centuries.

painting: “Yankee Doodle,” aka “The Spirit of ’76,” by Archibald Willard

Painting: “Yankee Doodle,” aka “The Spirit of ’76,” by Archibald Willard. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Rufus Kingsley (1763-1846) was one of three drummer boys at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The town of Kingsley, Pennsylvania, was named for this Connecticut-born Revolutionary War veteran.

obituary for Rufus Kingsley, Centinel of Freedom newspaper article 23 June 1846

Centinel of Freedom (Newark, New Jersey), 23 June 1846, page 4

Kingsley’s obituary recalled his popularity:

Many of our readers will recollect the enthusiasm with which the old veteran, with his ancient drum, was hailed when presented to the audience.

He gave us a touch of the music which awakened the American combatants on the morning of that memorable battle…The stirring note of his old drum will be heard no more.

Tragically his wife of 60 years, Lucinda Cutler, died three days later.

Don’t let their stories be lost.

GenealogyBank’s over 1 billion records are your best source to find their stories.

Document every drummer boy in your family tree and pass down their stories.

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/

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She Had the Best Laugh!

What a great tribute.

This obituary for Effie Mae Sanders says:

She had the best laugh – loud and hearty and she was always cheerful. No one could walk past the house without a ‘hello’ from Effie.

obituary for Effie Mae Sanders, Gettysburg Times newspaper article 6 March 2014

Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania), 6 March 2014

Yes, her obituary gives the facts: when and where she was born; whom she married; the groups she belonged to; the details of her death and who the survivors were.

But…it is her story that sticks with us.
The way this obituary characterized her life – capturing her persona and making us wish that we had known her too.

She “loved to cook…to try new recipes and share them with her friends. And she had a lot of friends.”

She was always worrying about those who were sick. She would call them and pray for them. Effie said ‘no matter how many health problems I have, there are always those worse off than me.’ She was a friend to everyone she met and loved by many more.

Find the stories of every one of your relatives.

What a terrific person.
Effie Mae Sanders (1930-2015) would have been 85 years old this month.

She was “a joyful woman.”

Use GenealogyBank to find and document your family’s stories so that they are told and remembered, just like Effie Mae’s.

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/

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Want to Involve the Grandkids in Family History? Tip #3

With families gathering for the Holidays, you’ll be able to spend time with the grandkids. Want to get them interested in family history? Make it fun!

front page of the Rockford Register Star newspaper 1 December 2005

Rockford Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 1 December 2005, page 1

Try this.

Show them the front page of a newspaper from the day they were born.

That’s easy – GenealogyBank’s archive goes back 325 years. They’ll be amazed to see what the news was on the day they were born.

Then go through the newspaper page by page and see what the prices were like, and see what was playing at the movies. Get a feel for life on that day.

Then challenge them to find the front page of the newspapers on the days that their ancestors were born.

montage of the front pages of various newspapers

Source: GenealogyBank.com

Why not save each newspaper and make an album of these pages? You could label them with the name of each ancestor and save them in a scrapbook.

Add a photograph of your ancestor – and a copy of their birth or marriage certificate.

If you found one or two front pages each time your grandkids visit, before you know it you’d have a terrific family history album – which they helped to create – that effectively tells your family’s story and the times in which your ancestors lived.

Genealogy Tip: Want to involve the Grandkids in family history? Tip #3: Make it fun!

Create a family history that will make your history come alive for your grandchildren.

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Squirrels Came to the Rescue of Washington’s Troops in Valley Forge

The difficult winter of 1777-1778 nearly destroyed the Army when General George Washington and the American Continental Army were camped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The damp and cold conditions, combined with disease, malnutrition and exposure, killed 2,500 of Washington’s 12,000 soldiers.

That tough winter was much colder than it has been so far this year in the eastern states. According to John Ludwig Snyder (1746-1860) – who was there with Washington at Valley Forge – it was an especially brutal winter, as recounted in his obituary when the Revolutionary War veteran died “in the 114th year of his age.”

obituary for John Ludwig Snyder, Sun newspaper article 9 April 1860

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 9 April 1860, page 1

It was so cold at Valley Forge that the men resorted to using squirrels to protect themselves from the freezing temperatures.

According to Snyder’s obituary:

He has said that the winter of that year was the coldest he ever experienced. Our troops, he has said, shot squirrels and drew their skins over their feet for shoes.

The Wikipedia entry on Valley Forge describes the camp’s shelters:

The first properly constructed hut appeared in three days. One other hut, which required 80 logs, and whose timber had to be collected from miles away, went up in one week with the use of only one axe. These huts provided sufficient protection from the moderately cold, but mainly wet and damp conditions of a typical Pennsylvania winter of 1777–1778. By the beginning of February, construction of 2,000 huts was completed. They provided shelter, but did little to offset the critical shortages that continually plagued the army.

I had two ancestors that served that winter with George Washington in Valley Forge.

Private Moses Starbird, a private in the Continental Army, had extensive service in the American Revolutionary War – including Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

This is an example of the cabin he would have stayed in. This replica stands in the Valley Forge National Park in Pennsylvania, approximately 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

photo of a replica cabin, Valley Forge National Park, Pennsylvania

Photo: replica cabin, Valley Forge National Park, Pennsylvania. Credit: Djmaschek; Wikimedia Commons.

Want to Involve the Grandkids in Family History? Tip #2

Make your family stories memorable. If you had an ancestor who camped with George Washington at Valley Forge, show them this photo of the replica cabin and read John Ludwig Snyder’s firsthand account from his obituary, telling that it was so cold and supplies were so low that they had to use squirrels for warm shoes.

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She Was the Bringer of Cake – Ways to Involve the Grandkids in Family History

Kids love to eat.
Do you have an old favorite family recipe the kids all love?
Bring the message home to them that they can thank “Cousin Jennie Pearl Ewer” for that cake recipe.

Take a moment to tell them who she was and how her recipe has passed down in the family.

Old Family Recipe Wins Again at Fair, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 12 October 1963

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 12 October 1963, section 3, page 2

Document your old family recipes: write them down, take photos, and add them to your family tree.

That’s what I did.

My great-grandmother entered her favorite recipes into a handwritten book she started in 1887. That cookbook has been passed down in the family.

screenshot of a page from FamilySearch website showing Marcia Richmond's cookbook

Source: FamilySearch

For example, here is a recipe she credited to her cousin Jennie Pearl (Drew) Ewer (1873-1933).

Jennie Ewer's chocolate cake recipe

Source: Marcia Amanda (Young) Richmond Cookbook

Take it a step further.
I added that recipe to Jennie (Drew) Ewer’s page in the family tree.

Now when I whip up that cake recipe I can ask the kids if they remember who was responsible for this cake – and if they can find me her recipe attached to her page in the family tree.

They’ll remember her – she was the bringer of cake – and with a click they will pull up her page in the family tree.

And, they’ll want a piece of her chocolate cake!

Jennie Ewer's chocolate cake recipe

Source: FamilySearch

Make family history fun – and let me know how you enjoy this chocolate cake.

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Tough First Winter for Our Mayflower Ancestors

Our Mayflower ancestors must have been a tough bunch, building the new Plymouth Colony during that first difficult winter of 1620-1621 when so many of them died due to illness and exposure.

Painting: “Pilgrims Going to Church” by George Henry Boughton, 1867

Painting: “Pilgrims Going to Church” by George Henry Boughton, 1867. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

It is recorded that 45 of the 102 original Mayflower passengers died during that first winter. The toll was especially hard on the women: of the 18 adult women who came over on the Mayflower, 13 died during that first winter (and another in May).

Despite the harsh winter conditions, they built seven homes – and four “common houses” – in Plymouth, left the shelter of the Mayflower, and settled into life in their new colony.

The extreme difficulty of that first winter was described in an article columnist John Chamberlain wrote for Thanksgiving in 1966.

article about the first winter the Mayflower Pilgrims spent in Plymouth Colony, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 24 November 1966

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 24 November 1966, page 6

It wasn’t easy – but they persevered.

Document your hearty ancestors of all generations by finding their records and stories in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

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Genealogy Tip: What’s His Name Again?

Genealogists pay careful attention to names, searching diligently to find the complete names of every relative.

But sometimes those names have been changed.

Recently actor David Hasselhoff changed his name to a shortened version: David Hoff.

It might be that one of your ancestors or cousins did the same thing – and it is also likely that changing it took some effort on their part, a process often reported in the local newspaper.

article about name changes, Salem Observer newspaper article 26 April 1828

Salem Observer (Salem, Massachusetts), 26 April 1828, page 1

For example, in 1828 in Massachusetts it took an act of the state Senate and House, passed by both houses and signed into law by the governor, to change your name.

In this article from the Salem Observer we learn that:

  • Joseph Dowding Bass Eaton became Joseph Bass Eaton
  • George Watson Patrick became George Watson
  • Henry Augustus Emery Humphrey (a minor son of George Humphrey) became Henry Smith Humphrey
  • Samuel Smith became Samuel James Hall Smith
  • William C. Johnson became William Johnson Cochrane
  • Nathaniel Russell Sturgis, Jr. became Russell Sturgis
  • Etc.

Men, women and even minor children had their names legally changed.

Genealogy Tip: Individuals wanting to change their names had to take legal action to make it official. The laws varied from state to state and over the centuries – but the legal action of the state legislature or court was routinely published in newspapers across the country.

Search GenealogyBank’s 300+ years of old newspapers in our Historical Newspaper Archives to see if the names of your relatives were ever changed.

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Start Saving Those Family Photos & Stories – Now – One at a Time!

So, you’ve been researching and documenting your family history for a few years now and have a long list of places to visit and facts to track down.

Where should you start? What are the most important things that you should do first?

For me, the two most urgent items that you should act on – now – are: 1) scanning all of your old family photos; and 2) finding & writing down your family stories.

photo of an old photograph being scanned

Source: FamilySearch.org

Why? Because these are in your control.

Global services like GenealogyBank and FamilySearch are putting millions of original records online. They are there ready for you 24/7 as you have time to do the research.

What is not online – and not preserved – are your old family photos and stories.

Family Photos

Your old family photos are unique to you. You might have the only surviving copy of that photo – and only you can identify the people in the image, provide the context, and tell why they are important to your family’s history.

Genealogy Tip: Organize yourself and decide to scan and upload a few photos every day. Maybe it’s three per day – maybe you can do more. You decide, and go to work.

Family Stories

You know the stories: start now to write them down.

Here’s a tip: pace yourself. Write down one story at a time.

I was talking with my brother over the weekend and he mentioned the time when we were both stationed in the Navy on the USS Albert T. Harris in the 1960s. As we talked the memories came back. After we spoke I took a moment to grab a photo of that ship from Wikipedia and write up a brief story of our memories of that experience while they were fresh in my mind – just a few paragraphs.

photo of the USS Albert T. Harris (DE-447)

Photo: USS Albert T. Harris (DE-447). Source: Wikipedia.

Looking at the old photo of the ship brought back memories of being on board and the experiences we had. I was surprised to learn from Wikipedia that the ship was decommissioned in 1968 and destroyed in 1969.

Now I had one more story written down.

I didn’t try to write the entire story of everyone in the family all at once. But I am finding that by writing one piece of the story at a time, I am painlessly pulling together a more complete family history.

Over months of now and again writing up each story, I am in fact pulling together what will become our family history.

There are family stories that I don’t know – but I am finding those in the old newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Time and time again I’ve found a piece here and a piece there to pull together our family history over the past 300 years.

montage of family history records

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

What details are in the obituaries of my relatives; in their wedding announcements? Newspapers covered every day of their lives: the milestone dates they celebrated and all of the days in between.

I have learned so much about the family – and used each newspaper clipping to generate the “story” that goes with it. Carefully sift through the newspapers and find the articles about your family.

By using the old newspaper articles and old family photos to trigger your memories, you can pace yourself and write up your family’s stories – one episode at a time.

Start now and soon you’ll be surprised at just how complete and interesting your family history is.

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Old Family Recipes Found in Library’s Collection

You are probably looking at your file of old family recipes as you plan for the holidays. In addition to your collection of recipes, there just might be old family recipes in the collections of a library.

photo of cookbooks in the Una Abrahamson Collection at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Photo: cookbooks in the Una Abrahamson Collection at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Source: Guelph Mercury.

For example, the Guelph Mercury recently reported about an important collection of family recipes dating back to the 1700s found in the Una Abrahamson Collection at the University of Guelph. The Collection contains over 2,700 cookbooks – and the overall University Library has over 17,000 cookbooks.

It includes handwritten and printed cookbooks.

The University recently announced the discovery of a bound book found in the Collection: The Johnson Family Treasury: A Collection of Recipes and Remedies, 1741-1848. According to the Guelph Mercury article:

It’s a wonderful source of food and medical history – food found in Shakespeare: plumb broth, pease pottage, roasted pig, neck of mutton. There are also newer foods like oranges, limes and Indian pickles, reflecting an age of colonialism. Plus it contains remedies for all manner of human ailments.

To read the full article by the Guelph Mercury (Guelph, Ontario, Canada), 18 November 2015, click here.

Do you have old recipes that have been passed down in your family? Please tell us about them in the comments section.

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Family Holiday Traditions

Many of us have holiday traditions that have persisted for years – and have even been passed down through the generations.

Dr. Charles Crouch and his family of Petersburg, Virginia, had a long-running family tradition: they sent the Abner T. Holt family of Macon, Georgia, a fruit cake every Christmas – for 57 years!

article about a fruitcake tradition between the Crouch and Holt families, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 21 December 1919

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 21 December 1919, page 12

It was a tradition that began during the Civil War when Abner T. Holt fought at the Battle of Gettysburg while serving in Company C of the 2nd Battalion of the Georgia Infantry.

According to the National Park Service Soldiers & Sailors Database:

“2nd Independent Infantry Battalion was assembled at Norfolk, Virginia, in April, 1861. The unit contained four companies; two from Macon, one from Columbus, and one from Griffin. It served in North Carolina, then returned to Virginia during the Seven Days’ Battles and fought at Malvern Cliff under General J.G. Walker. Transferred to A.R. Wright’s Brigade, the battalion was active in the campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia from Fredericksburg to Appomattox. It reported 2 killed and 26 wounded at Chancellorsville and lost more than forty-five percent of the 173 engaged at Gettysburg. The unit surrendered 8 officers and 74 men in April, 1865. Its commanders were Majors Thomas Hardeman, Jr., C.J. Moffett, and George W. Ross.”

This holiday tradition between the Crouch and Holt families captured the public imagination. One year when the fruit cake went missing it was a breaking story in the local newspaper.

article about a fruitcake tradition between the Crouch and Holt families, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 5 January 1908

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 5 January 1908, page 8

We use GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to find our ancestor’s obituaries, birth notices and wedding announcements. We can also use it to find their traditions and stories too!

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