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!

Getting Your Ancestor’s Obituary and a Bonus, Too

GenealogyBank’s deep backfile newspaper archives are packed with stories—over 1.6 billion of them.

I like it when old obituaries give key details in the lives of our ancestors. It’s always a bonus when you find that a photo was included with their obituary.

Here are some examples:

obituary for Alphonso Boone, Oregonian newspaper article 4 April 1915

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 4 April 1915, page 16

obituary for Mrs. O. H. Adams, Oregonian newspaper article 6 March 1902

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 6 March 1902, page 4

obituary for Ida Gevurtz, Morning Oregonian newspaper article 26 April 1921

Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 26 April 1921, page 4

These great stories and photos were found in the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) Newspaper Archives (1861–1987). Dig into our Newspaper Archives (1690 – 2010) and see what you find.

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Find Pictures of Your Ancestors’ Home in Old Newspapers

Do you have old family traditions, places and/or heirlooms?

Like Abe Lincoln, did your family live in a log cabin? Do you have a picture of it?

pictures of the Dalton family and their log cabin, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 16 July 1922

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 16 July 1922, page 7

If you are related to Robert Dalton of Palo Pinto County, Texas, then GenealogyBank’s newspaper collection has a photograph of their old log cabin (built in the 1870s) along with photos of the family.

Our Historical Newspaper Archives are invaluable for finding old family homesteads, traditions, family photos and images that are preserved here—but might have been long lost to the family.

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Find the details of your family history; in many cases, newspapers are likely your only source for these important memories.

Dig in—see if you can find pictures of your ancestors’ home and discover more about your family history today.

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Top Genealogy Websites Update: Internet Archive Book Images + Flickr

Last year I wrote about Internet Archive, spiking it out as one of the top genealogy websites online.

Recently there has been a new development that I wanted to alert you to.

a collage of images from Internet Archive

Source: Internet Archive

Kalev H. Leetaru, the Yahoo! Fellow in Residence of International Values, Communications Technology, has used his position to mine the old images and photos in the Internet Archive and is putting them on Flickr, making it easy for us to find illustrations and photographs published in books over the last 200 years.

He has uploaded over 2.6 million images from the Internet Archive of old published books and put them online.

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Why is this important to genealogists?

This new Flickr search feature lets you quickly find images, etchings, photographs, etc., of your ancestors that were published in books.

See this new image search tool here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/

Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

Source: Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

Here’s how it works.

In this example I am searching for illustrations pertaining to the Starbird family.

Looking at the results, I selected the image on the right.

Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images – Irvin Starbird

Source: Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

Clicking on the image brings up the details about the book it was originally published in.

Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images – Irvin Starbird

Source: Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

This image was published in:

History of Wayne, Pike and Monroe counties, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: R. T. Peck & co., 1886. Page 760.

Clicking on the “View Book Page” hyperlink, I can then see the image as it appeared in the original book.

Internet Archive -- Irvin Starbird

Source: Internet Archive

The image is the portrait of Irvin Starbird (1842-1897) of Preston, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Along with his portrait, I was able to read his biography which contained extensive genealogical details about the family.

The Internet Archive Book Images site has put more than 2.6 million of these old images on Flckr.

Bookmark the Internet Archive search page on Flickr here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out our “Top Genealogy Websites” post series to learn more about the best online resources for your ancestry research:

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Using Obituaries to Pay It Forward: Boomerang Effect

I am always looking at Kemps, wanting to know if they are related to me or not.

Since Kemp is a pretty rare surname, I like to pull recent “Kemp” obituaries and trace back their family line to see if the person is a relative of mine. If he is—terrific; I’ll add his line to my family tree. But if he’s not I am still glad I took the time since the more “Kemp” family trees I can plant, trace and put online, the faster I will have found and documented my family and at the same time made it easier for other Kemps to discover their family history.

It will take a while, but I’d like to think that I can organize and account for all Kemps—and by putting the genealogical information I find online, I am making a lasting contribution for further genealogy research, sort of creating an extended Kemp family forest.

Researching Further with Recent Obituaries

Here’s what I do.

I go to GenealogyBank’s Recent Newspaper Obituaries collection and pull a recent Kemp obituary to see which Kemp line that person belongs to.

For example, here is the obituary for Fred Benny Kemp, who died one week ago.

obituary for Fred Benny Kemp, Avenue News newspaper article 29 August 2014

Avenue News (Essex, Maryland), 29 August 2014

I took this recent Kemp obituary and plugged the information into my online family tree. Looking at the old newspapers, the census and similar sources, I quickly pulled together his family tree.

No, Fred Benny Kemp is not related to my Kemp line—but the tree is planted online so future family historians can build on the family tree I started.

Digging Deeper into the Kemp Story

But wait—there’s more.

Fred Benny Kemp was in World War II—a gunner on a B-24 Liberator bomber.

Hey—so was my Dad.

Maybe there is a connection after all.

Googling for more information, I found this video interview on YouTube uploaded by WBAL – Baltimore, Maryland, in 2012:

http://youtu.be/LLmG3dqBC5c

Here is the key quote:

In World War Two I flew a B-24 with the 450 Bomb Group, 722nd Bomb Squadron.

Hey—that sounds familiar.

I double checked, and my Dad was in the 450 Bomb Group—but in the 723rd Squadron. Both were stationed in Manduria, Italy.

Had their paths in life ever crossed?

Had they met each other?

Almost—but they didn’t meet.

According to the video interview, Fred Kemp’s B-24 left his air base in Manduria, Italy, on 25 February 1944, when he was shot down and remained a POW for the duration of the war. Since my Dad was transferred to Manduria four months later on 11 June 1944 they never met.

Search All Your Surname Obituaries

Using GenealogyBank’s obituaries to research “all” Kemps who have lived in America is a fun way to pay it forward and help other genealogists. It was also good to see that these two Kemps—though not related—had similar experiences in the war. If I hadn’t picked his obituary at random, I never would have learned the rest of this story.

Do you ever research your extended family tree using obituaries? If so, what nuggets have you found? Please share with us in the comments.

Related Obituary Research Articles & Video Tutorial:

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Garland County (AR) Public Library Closing Genealogy Room

The Washington Times recently reported that the Garland County (Arkansas) Public Library has decided to focus on providing the public with online genealogy record collections, and to transfer the majority of their print book and hardcopy genealogical materials to two institutions: the Garland County Historical Society and the local genealogical society—the Melting Pot Genealogical Society.

photo of the bookshelves in the reading room of the Melting Pot Genealogical Society

Source: Melting Pot Genealogical Society

Why did the library staff decide to do that?

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According to the Washington Times report, John Wells, the Library Director of the Garland County Public Library, said:

We’ve noticed a dramatic decrease in the use of that [Genealogy & Local History] room. You’d walk by, and no one was in there. A lot of what was used in genealogical research is now available online. They’re not using that stuff here when they can sit at home and do it all day long.

article about the Garland County (AR) Public Library closing its Genealogy Room, Washington Times newspaper article 31 August 2014

Source: Washington Times (Washington, D.C.) 31 August 2014

So with that in mind the three libraries put their heads together and decided to consolidate the physical genealogy library materials where they would be getting more use.

Is this a new trend?

Anyone know of this happening in other public libraries?

Related Library Articles:

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Why You Should Dig Deep into the Obituary Archives

George Foster Sawyer served in the U.S. Navy and died in La Spezia, Italy, in 1852. He was a native of Burlington, Vermont.

Hmm…so where do you look for his obituary?

Since Sawyer was a native of Vermont, you’d expect to find his obituary in a Vermont or other newspaper from New England.

I did find an obituary for him in a Vermont paper, but it was brief and to the point.

Weekly Eagle 26 July 1852 Deaths

Weekly Eagle (Brattleboro, Vermont), 26 July 1852, page 3

I was hoping to find more information about Sawyer, so I kept on looking around in the obituary archives.

Then I found another obituary for him, this one published in a New York newspaper. It gives us more of the details of his life, like the name of the ship he served on, the date it sailed—and even the fact that his ancestors served in the American Revolutionary War.

Plattsburgh Republican 24 July 1852 George Foster Sawyer

Plattsburgh Republican (Plattsburgh, New York), 24 July 1852, page 3

It turns out his obituary was picked up by newspapers up and down the coast, each giving a little bit more information than the short Vermont obituary.

Genealogy Tip: Keep digging in the obituary archives—don’t limit your search to just the hometown area of the deceased. Obituaries can be published in newspapers you would never expect, far from where your ancestor lived or died.

Articles Related to Obituaries:

Revolutionary War Veteran’s Obituary Was Short—but Said a Lot

William Walcutt was there—a stalwart throughout the American Revolutionary War. He enlisted at Valley Forge 7 May 1778 “while yet a youth.” He was only 17 years old, having turned 17 just a month and a half earlier.

When he died at the age of 73, his one-paragraph obituary detailed his military service during the Revolutionary period.

obituary for William Walcutt, Ohio State Journal newspaper article 29 June 1833

Ohio State Journal (Columbus, Ohio), 29 June 1833, page 3

The soldier’s obituary states that he fought at the battles at Lexington and Trenton, and was later captured at the battle of Camden. It also reports the key fact that he:

…afterwards joined Morgan’s celebrated corps of grenadiers, served throughout the glorious campaign in the Southern States, and was present at the capture of Yorktown, and the surrender of Lord Cornwallis.

Brigadier General Daniel Morgan’s Southern campaign was one of the decisive turning points of the war, especially the Battle of Cowpens.

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According to Wikipedia:

“Morgan chose to make his stand at Cowpens, South Carolina…As the British forces approached, the Americans, with their backs turned to the British, reloaded their muskets. When the British got too close, they turned and fired at point-blank range in their faces. In less than an hour, [British Colonel Banastre] Tarleton’s 1,076 men suffered 110 killed and 830 captured. The captives included 200 wounded. Although Tarleton escaped, the Americans captured all his supplies and equipment, including the officers’ slaves. Morgan’s cunning plan at Cowpens is widely considered to be the tactical masterpiece of the war and one of the most successfully executed double envelopments of all of modern military history.”

When William Walcutt died in Columbus, Ohio, he was honored and remembered for his service in the American Revolution with an inscription telling about it on his tombstone.

photo of the tombstone of William & Anna Macy Walcutt

Photo: tombstone of William & Anna Macy Walcutt. Source: US GenWeb, Ohio.

The inscription reads:

William Walcutt of Maryland, 1761-1833. A soldier of the Revolution. Joined the Army at Valley Forge under Gen. Morgan. Participated in all the principal battles and was present at the surrender of Cornwallis.

Don’t let your Revolutionary War ancestors be forgotten. Find their stories in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives, and preserve and pass them down in the family.

Related Revolutionary War Articles:

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Because GenealogyBank Is Growing, Be Sure to Search Again Later

Recently, I checked in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for a few of my Sawyer relatives in Grafton County, New Hampshire—and didn’t find them. Bummer.

When I search in GenealogyBank and do not find my target relatives, I make a quick note to try again in a few weeks to see if I can find articles about them later.

Why?

Because GenealogyBank updates its archives and keeps adding millions of articles—in fact we update over 3,000 newspapers every day. What is not there today might be added to GenealogyBank tomorrow.

Case in point: Not finding my Sawyer family, I next decided to recheck GenealogyBank for the Schell family of North Adams, Massachusetts.

I had searched for them in the past, but found nothing.

Bang—this time I found them.

I discovered quite a few articles about H. Horton Schell’s business and fraternal association activities, several obituaries and this wedding announcement.

wedding announcement for Marion Spencer and Harlan Schell, Springfield Republican newspaper article 12 February 1935

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 12 February 1935, page 7

Great. This article gives me the details of the wedding of my cousin Harlan Horton Schell (1907-2001) along with a photograph of his wife Marion Rudman Spencer (1908-1992).

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Digging deeper, I found the obituary of her father, Albert Edmund Spencer (1876-1965). Good catch, as this gives me his middle name: “Edmund.” That’s a good clue for further searches.

obituary for Albert Spencer, Boston Herald newspaper article 5 February 1965

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 February 1965, page 29

Continuing to search, I found this much longer obituary with many more details about his life and family.

obituary for Albert Spencer, Springfield Union newspaper article 5 February 1965

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts). 5 February 1965, page 7

See: http://bit.ly/1phoLVG

Genealogy Search Tip: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. GenealogyBank’s search page includes an “Added Since” feature with a drop-down menu that lets you search on content added in the past one, two or three months.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for its newspaper archives

Good luck with your own genealogy searches!

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Genealogy: A Brief History of Obituaries & Death Notices

Newspapers have been publishing obituaries for hundreds of years, making it easy for bereaved family and friends to learn the details of the life of the deceased as well as the funeral arrangements.

GenealogyBank has put this information from the past 300 years online, allowing genealogists to find their relatives within a few clicks.

300 years?

That’s a lot of obituaries, resulting in the largest collection online.

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Have obituaries really changed much over the course of three centuries?

Yes—of course they have, and so have newspapers.

But the basic rule of thumb has always been true: famous people get long obituaries and not-so-famous people get short ones.

Back in the days before the linotype machine (invented in 1886), the type for printing each day’s newspaper was set by hand. That took time and so, realistically, newspapers were generally only four pages long.

Fewer pages meant that there had to be a balance between the length of the news articles and the number and size of the advertisements. That’s why you see old obituaries that are brief—just one line announcing that some individuals had died—with longer, more detailed obituaries about people the editor thought would be of more general interest.

For example, look at the information packed into this brief obituary:

obituary for Ephraim Crofoot, Constitution newspaper article 3 March 1852

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 3 March 1852, page 3

This is a short obituary, but we learn that Ephraim Crofoot died on 24 February 1852 in Middletown, Connecticut. We also learn that he was 51 years old and likely was a lawyer, as indicated by the title “Esq.” [Esquire] following his name.

Now look at these obituary examples:

various obituaries, New Hampshire Sentinel newspaper article 28 April 1826

New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 28 April 1826, page 3

The opening paragraph has three brief obituaries:

  • In this town, of consumption, Dr. Joseph Wheeler, aged 46
  • Mrs. Sarah Sturtevant, wife of the late Mr. Cornelius S., aged 88
  • An infant child of Mr. John Phelps

Now contrast that last brief obituary for the infant child of John Phelps with the final obituary in this column—also for an infant who had died:

In Fitzwilliam, an infant daughter of Mr. Geo. Damon. Deacon Oliver Damon and wife have lived in Fitzwilliam 42 years, and this [is] the first instance of mortality that has occurred in his family or among his descendants (25 in all) during that time. Printers in Massachusetts are requested to notice this death.

Both were infants that died. Neither obituary gave the name of the child. One obituary was so brief it only gave the name of the father, even though the child died in Keene, New Hampshire, where the newspaper was published.

The other obituary named the father as well, but also provided more details. This infant’s death was “news”—this was the first death in the family of Deacon Oliver Damon in 42 years. This was big and the editor knew his readers would want to know about it. He even inserted the line “Printers in Massachusetts are requested to notice this death,” indicating to other newspaper editors the importance of this obituary in case they wanted to run it in their own newspapers.

The New Hampshire Sentinel published on 28 April 1826 may have only been four pages long, but the editor used his judgment as to how much copy (how many lines) he would give to each story.

Obituaries can be long or short. The size of the obituary was determined by the importance of the person who had died, the story to be told, and the time the newspaper editor and reporters had to research and write about the deceased. As towns grew into cities it became common for the family itself to write the obituary, so that the newspaper would publish more information about their relatives.

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Inside the newspaper industry these user-supplied obituaries became known as “Death Notices”—articles written by the family or friends and supplied to newspapers. The articles written by the newspaper staff continued to be called “Obituaries.”

Obituary columns in newspapers have carried all types of headers: Obituaries, Deaths, Died, In Remembrance, Memorials, etc.

For genealogists and the general public, the terms Death Notice and Obituary are synonymous. Most family historians refer to all biographical articles about the recently deceased as obituaries, regardless of who wrote them or how long/short they are.

Over time newspapers came to view these family-supplied articles as paid classified advertisements, and they began charging accordingly. It is customary now for most newspapers to charge by the word count, the inclusion of photographs, and the number of insertions.

Obituaries are critical for genealogists. Long or short, they contain the information and clues we need to document our family tree.

Related Newspaper Obituary Articles:

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New Family Story Find: My 18th Century Uncle Jonathan Dore

Last year I wrote about my relative Elizabeth (Meader) Hanson (1684-1737) who, along with her children, was kidnapped by Abenaki Indians on 7 September 1724 and taken to the Indians’ village along the St. Francis River in Canada. They were held there for over two years. (See: Find & Preserve Your Family’s Stories.)

Powerful. Memorable. That story has been told and retold in our family for the past 290 years. Every night when we were young we asked our grandfather to tell us that story. We loved it. It was real—it was our family story.

Indian Raids Continued

Recently I found this 1749 newspaper article with a report from Timothy Brown about his attempts to learn more about—and to free—captives still held by the Indians.

He was able to get in and around the Abenaki village and learned about multiple captives, including this specific reference:

There is also a Boy who was taken from Rochester in New Hampshire, with the Indians at St. Francois, his Name is Jonathan Dore.

article about Jonathan Dore being taken captive by Abenaki Indians, Boston Post Boy newspaper article 10 July 1749

Boston Post Boy (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 July 1749, page 2

Jonathan Dore?
Rochester, New Hampshire?
St. Francis Indians?

This is sounding just like the story of my relative Elizabeth Hanson, who was also taken prisoner by the Abenaki Indians from St. Francis.

This Jonathan Dore has to be one of my relatives, too—the same Jonathan Dore who was my 5th-great uncle.

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New England Had Had Enough

The Abenaki and the French were taking American women and children captive so that they could sell them back to their families.

It was time to stop these atrocities—and that was one of the reasons the French & Indian War was launched (1754-1763).

Attack on Fort William Henry

During the war there was an attack on Fort William Henry in August of 1757.

The following account comes from Terror in Rochester by Linda Sargent, 2008:

“The fort was manned by the British, including many New Hampshire men. The siege had ended and the British had surrendered the fort to the French who were being aided by the Indians. There are various accounts of what happened next, but British soldiers were massacred after they had surrendered.

“One man who managed to escape from the fort was from Dover, NH. When he returned to Dover, he told how he had been pursued by Indians. One of them had caught up to him and lifted his tomahawk.

“When their eyes met, under the war paint and Indian dress he recognized the eyes of a young boy he had known well when he worked as a teamster logging on the Salmon Falls River and visiting at the Dore’s home in Rochester. He knew this white Indian was Jonathan Dore. Jonathan recognized him, as well, and dropped his tomahawk to his side and left. No one believed the man’s story when he returned to Dover.”

See: http://bit.ly/Vj2ZVD

Jonathan Dore had been sighted again, 11 years after he was taken by the Abenaki.

New Englanders Settle the Score

The Abenaki had been terrorizing New Englanders for decades. The old scores were settled on 4 October 1759 when Robert Rogers and his Rangers attacked the Indians’ village.

The following account comes from Wikipedia:

“Rogers and about 140 men entered the village, which was reportedly occupied primarily by women, children, and the elderly, early that morning, slaughtered many of the inhabitants where they lay, shot down many who attempted to flee, and then burned the village. Rogers and his men endured significant hardships to reach the village from the British base at Fort Crown Point in present-day New York, and even more hardship afterwards. Chased by the French and vengeful Indians, and short on rations, Rogers and his men returned to Crown Point via the Connecticut River valley.”

Jonathan Dore Witnessed Rogers’ Attack on the Abenaki Village

Digging deeper into GenealogyBank’s archives, I found out more of the story.

Jonathan Dore, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 5 January 1905

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 5 January 1905, page 2

The above historical newspaper clipping is only part of the long account about Jonathan Dore that appeared in the Aberdeen Daily News. The whole article gives a good overview of what had happened to Jonathan Dore.

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According to the article, Jonathan Dore (1734-1797)—my 5th-great uncle—was kidnapped on “Salmon Falls Road in Rochester [New Hampshire]” by the Abenaki on 26 June 1746, when he was only 12 years old!

Jonathan Dore married an Abenaki Indian woman and they had two children. When Major Robert Rogers attacked their village in 1759 to avenge the attack on Fort William Henry, Jonathan Dore “witnessed the massacre.”

Everyone in the village was killed and it was set on fire. “Among the ruins he found the bodies of his wife and children. He buried them in one grave and with them his attachment to the Indians.”

In 1760 Jonathan Dore returned home to Rochester, New Hampshire. His family had moved across the Salmon Falls River to Lebanon, Maine, where he also settled.

The newspaper article concluded:

He settled in Lebanon, Me., married again and spent there the remainder of his days, famous for his marksmanship, especially with the bow and arrow, and known to every one as “Indian Dore.”

Wow—we would have loved to have heard that family story as kids!

Our “uncle” was not much older than we were when he was captured by the Indians, and then held captive for over 13 years—what a great story.

Preserve your family’s stories.

Find them in the old newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives—preserve those stories and pass them down to the rising generation.

Related Family Story Articles:

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