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!

Revolutionary War Ancestors’ Life Stories Are in Old Newspapers

So many Americans have fought and died to found and preserve our nation’s freedom.

It often comes as a surprise to genealogists to discover that newspapers reported—in detail—about the lives of the men who fought in the American Revolutionary War.

Estimates are that 92,000 Americans and French troops fought 314,000 British troops, Hessian troops and loyalists. Of that number 25,000 Americans died in the war and an estimated 25,000 more were wounded.

Once again David beat Goliath.

Our ancestors fought and won their independence from Britain…and we want to know their stories.

Militia lists, bounty land warrants and town monuments document their names, but it is often in newspapers that we find their personal stories.

Newspapers tell us about their life before, during and after the Revolutionary War.

obituary for Isaac Van Wart, Barre Gazette newspaper article 31 July 1840

Barre Gazette (Barre, Massachusetts), 31 July 1840, page 2

Newspapers tell us gripping Revolutionary War stories like this one of Isaac Bassett and the men in his regiment who were told “not to fire on the enemy till they could see the [whites] of their eyes…”

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article about the Battle of Bunker Hill, Boston Centinel newspaper article 5 August 1818

Boston Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 August 1818, page 1

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These words have been passed down to us for over 200 years.

Newspapers let us personalize these stories to our own families.

And newspapers can tell us the unexpected details of their lives. Like this obituary of John Peters, who died at age 100 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1832.

And newspapers can tell us the unexpected details of their lives. Like this obituary of John Peters, who died at age 100 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1832.

obituary for John Peters, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 1 May 1832

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 1 May 1832, page 2

With a name like John Peters it would be easy to assume that he was born in America or England, causing us to spend years looking for his birthplace in those countries.

Searching through the usual Revolutionary War records we might not ever find it mentioned that “He was born in Portugal near Lisbon” or that he immigrated “to this country shortly after the earthquake in 1755,” but his newspaper obituary provides this information.

Wow—that was an unexpected genealogy find.

This patriot’s 1800s obituary is filled with details about his life, his character and his service to the nation. From throwing tea into Boston Harbor to fighting in many of the most famous Revolutionary War battles – these are exactly the details we need to understand who he was and what he was like—and the information pointing us to where he was born.

As we think about Memorial Day, July 4th and documenting the lives of our ancestors, it is essential that we uncover every newspaper article—every fact and every clue—so that we can accurately record their information and preserve and permanently pass down their stories for future generations.

Onward.

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Family Bibles for Genealogy Research: What to Look For

The Richmond Family Bible I bought on eBay recently arrived in the mail.

photo of the Richmond Family Bible

Photo: Richmond Family Bible. Source: Thomas Jay Kemp.

It was exactly as the seller had described it.

The eBay description had read:

Cover is well worn and torn.
A few pages are loose, most still intact.
Pages have spots throughout.
This is a family Bible which belonged to the William Richmond (1820-1871) family.
Bible has handwritten pages of marriages, births and deaths.
Also includes two typed pages detailing history written in the Bible as well as a brief family history dating back to 1040.

OK—I got what I paid for when I bought this family Bible. It was well packaged and arrived safely, so this eBay transaction worked very well. I have found and bought other long-lost family history items on eBay in the past and never had a problem with any of these online auctions.

Let’s get acquainted with this family Bible.

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The first thing you want to do is look at the title page and the verso (back) of the title page.

photo of the title page of the Richmond Family Bible

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

The title page clearly shows that this Bible was printed in New York in 1848 by the American Bible Society.

You need to also check the verso of the title page to see if there is additional copyright information printed there. Usually the verso repeats the year of publication, but sometimes there is different dating: imprint dates of publication or other clues as to when the book was actually printed.

The verso of the title page is blank in this Bible.

Your next step then is to examine the title page of the New Testament.

photo of the Richmond Family Bible, showing the title page of the New Testament

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

Looking at the title page for the New Testament we see that the publication information is the same as the Bible’s title page. And again in this case, the verso is blank.

You want to be sure to check the date of publication on both title pages. As publishers printed and assembled Bibles for distribution, they sometimes printed an extra supply of either the Old Testament or the New Testament—in order to bind and sell either part separately, or together as a large family Bible.

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Knowing the most recent publication date helps you to verify the information written in the Bible. Any information entered into the family registry pages for the decades before the Bible was printed would have been written in the Bible from memory, or perhaps copied from another family Bible or document. Entries made after the date of publication were likely made when the Bible was first purchased, or over time as each birth, marriage or death occurred.

photo of the Richmond Family Bible showing the family registry page

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

For example: looking at the deaths recorded in the family registry, we want to examine the date of each person’s death and look to see if the handwriting style or color of the ink varies from entry to entry. These clues suggest which entries were all made at the same time and which entries were made at different times—indicating that they might have been made contemporary to the event.

In this family registry none of the entries were dated before 1848, the date the Bible was printed, making it likely that the entries were made around the time each event occurred.

Do you have an old family Bible as one of your heirlooms? Take it out and examine it closely, using the tips in this article, to see what family clues you can discover.

Related Family Bible Articles:

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Finding Family Heirlooms & Artifacts with eBay

It’s been years since I looked at eBay to find family heirlooms and artifacts. In the past, I have made some spectacular family history finds.

For example, I once found an old family letter written by Jonathan Huse (1767-1853) to his mother, and an 1813 sampler created by his daughter Sarah Araline Huse (1807-1825) when she was only 6 years old.

photo of a sampler by Sarah Araline Huse, 1813

Photo: sampler by Sarah Araline Huse, 1813. Source: Huse Family Papers.

Wow—if the family has lost track of some of its treasured heirlooms, eBay is a good place to find them again.

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My Recent eBay Family Find

Looking at eBay last week, I spotted this old family Bible first owned by William Richmond (1820-1871).

photo of a family Bible first owned by William Richmond

Photo: family Bible first owned by William Richmond. Source: eBay.

The eBay seller described this Bible as:

Cover is well worn and torn.
A few pages are loose, most still intact.
Pages have spots throughout.
This is a family Bible which belonged to the William Richmond (1820-1871) family.
Bible has handwritten pages of marriages, births and deaths.
Also includes two typed pages detailing history written in the Bible as well as a brief family history dating back to 1040.

OK—these details, along with close-up photos of some of the Bible’s pages shown in the seller’s eBay posting, were encouraging. I didn’t have “William P. Richmond (1820-1871)” in my family tree, but there is a Richmond line there—and based on the evidence provided by this online auction, it sure looked like he is a relative.

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Did this Heirloom Belong to My Ancestor?

I dug a little further on the large family tree sites FamilySearch and Ancestry, to see what more information they had on William Richmond and the other family members that were named in the close-up photos that the eBay seller had included in his posting.

These people were not included in either family tree site.

That really got my attention.

So—I didn’t have this family in my tree and it was not in the two large online tree sites. Hmm…

I poked a little further and decided this could be a good find for us—the family Bible of a previously undocumented family—that could be part of my family tree.

I was for many years the editor of the Richmond Family News Journal (1972-), a family history publication. So I had more than a passing interest in this Bible and the family records it contains. Even if this was not part of my Richmond line, I wanted the information because I like to document all Richmond family lines to assist everyone working on their family history.

So—I decided to buy this Bible on eBay.

My bid won and I received the news that the family Bible had already been shipped and that I should receive it soon.

To Be Continued…

When I do, I will report on what genealogy gems I find in the Bible in my upcoming posts.

Have you ever found old family heirlooms, documents and papers on eBay? If so, what types of artifacts have you found?

Please let us know.

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Trace Your Immigrant Ancestors with Newspaper Passenger Lists

Be sure to check passenger lists that were routinely printed in newspapers—they have critical genealogical information about your immigrant ancestors that you need for your family history research.

Look at this typical example, published in the Irish Nation newspaper in New York City.

This passenger list reports on the Irish passengers who arrived in New York City on board various ships recently arrived from Europe. Look at the entry for Jane Williamson.

passenger list, Irish Nation newspaper article 7 January 1882

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

This passenger list newspaper article tells us that Jane Williamson, from County Antrim, Ireland, arrived on 28 December 1881 on board the steamer England. It also says that her ultimate destination in America was Cincinnati, Ohio.

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I looked at the original passenger list online, and found that it has no mention of the facts that Jane was from County Antrim or that she was heading to Cincinnati.

  • For the entry “Place of Last Residence” it was blank.
  • For the entry “Province of Last Residence” it read: “Unknown.”
  • For the entry “City or Village of Destination” it read: “United States.”

How did the Irish Nation newspaper get more complete information about Jane Williamson for its newspaper article than was contained in the original passenger list?

Did they pay arriving Irish immigrants for self-reporting this information? Did they devote a lot of reporters’ time to getting all the facts—and do this for the hundreds and hundreds of Irish immigrants that arrived every day?

What a great resource for genealogists who are tracing their ancestral roots overseas!

The federal passenger lists contain part of the story—to get the rest of the story, you need to turn to old newspapers.

It is essential to check the deep newspaper archives on GenealogyBank to get more of the details about your ancestors and their immigration to the United States.

Keep digging and discover the stories of your ancestors’ lives.

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Family Stories Are Important for Children’s Health & Happiness

Everyone loves to hear their old family stories.

We constantly hear from our GenealogyBank members of the powerful family stories that they have found in old newspapers. Stories drive us to keep researching and piece together the fabric that makes our family histories come alive.

the painting “Boyhood of Raleigh,” 1871, by John Everett Millais

Painting: “Boyhood of Raleigh,” 1871, by John Everett Millais (1829-1896). Source: Wikipedia.

It turns out that these family stories are even more important to our children’s health and well-being than we had previously realized. Recently researchers have found that:

The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.

So—genealogy is not just fun—it is an important predictor of our “children’s emotional health.”

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I encourage you to read the entire article about the importance of sharing your family’s stories with your children, titled “The Stories That Bind Us” by Bruce Feiler, published in the New York Times (New York, New York), 15 March 2013. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

Also, make sure to follow our “Genealogy for Kids” Pinterest board for more interesting articles like this and to get fun ideas to introduce the youngest leaves on your family tree to their ancestry: http://www.pinterest.com/genealogybank/genealogy-for-kids/

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Our Ancestors’ Stories Live in Old Newspaper Ads Too

I like to look at every mention of each ancestor that I am researching—and that includes newspaper classified ads.

While looking through the Newark Daily Advertiser for 1835 I was surprised to see this unusual paid advertisement.

ad from E. Allen in support of Julia Moore, Newark Daily Advertiser newspaper advertisement 3 July 1835

Newark Daily Advertiser (Newark, New Jersey), 3 July 1835, page 3

What is with this odd newspaper advertisement?

This is to certify, that the bearer, Julia Moore…[is] perfectly honest, never having had the slightest cause for suspicion.

Something must have been wrong if E. Allen felt compelled to take out an ad attesting to Julia Moore’s honesty.

Wait—here’s another one.

ad from M. Seguine in support of Julia Moore, Newark Daily Advertiser newspaper advertisement 3 July 1835

Newark Daily Advertiser (Newark, New Jersey), 3 July 1835, page 3

This old newspaper ad tells us that Julia lived with the Seguine household “for two months during the fall of 1834.” The subscriber went on to state:

I found her perfectly honest, and industrious: she had every opportunity of being dishonest, if she had been so inclined, but I never have had the least cause for suspicion.

OK. There must be more to this story if both subscribers took out ads testifying to the honesty of Julia Moore.

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Digging deeper into the newspaper archives I found the answer—in the classified ads.

ad about Julia Moore offering reward for stolen cap, Newark Daily Advertiser newspaper advertisement 27 June 1835

Newark Daily Advertiser (Newark, New Jersey), 27 June 1835, page 3

Julia Moore, a young Irish girl of about 13 years old, was accused of stealing an elaborate woman’s hat from her employer when she left for a different job. The former employer bluntly attacks the honesty of the young girl, and also tries to push that suspicion onto her friends that “refuse to tell where she is.”

Now the situation is clearer. Not only was Julia’s reputation insulted in the June 27th ad, but so was the good name of “her friends”—the Allen and Seguine households—causing them both to take out ads six days later attesting to her honesty.

This discord gives us a lot of genealogical information:

  • Her name, Julia Moore
  • She had a sister
  • She was born in Ireland, and in 1835 was about age 13
  • She had lived in Newark at the Seguine home for two months in 1834
  • In 1835 she lived with the Allen household where her sister also lived
  • Her former employer wanted a missing cap back, or information about the cap and about the girl

Life in America was difficult for this young 13-year-old immigrant. There is no mention of her parents, only her sister. This must have been a terrifying time for her in the face of her former employer’s accusations, and hopefully her concerns were tempered by the kindness of these other two families.

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Was Julia’s story passed down in the family?

Do her descendants understand the hard life their immigrant ancestor lived at age 13?

Imagine her fear, her lost childhood, and the realities of having to deal with an unjust employer. This is a gritty story that a 13-year-old would quickly understand today. I hope that Julia’s story was passed down, and that the family today tells and retells her story, honoring her grit in the face of this painful episode—and that they know about the great kindness shown her in her youth.

Genealogy Tip: Don’t let your family’s stories be lost. Track down every lead in the newspapers, looking through every page right down to the classified ads.

GenealogyBank’s deep newspaper archive is your best source to find and preserve your family’s stories.

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Old-School Social Networking: Social Brief Columns in Newspapers

Newspapers have been the chief “social networking” tool for over 300 years—and that’s a good thing for genealogists.

Newspapers’ social columns reported on the comings and goings of members of the local community, providing personal details that give a glimpse into the daily lives of our ancestors.

For example, here we have word that Dorothy Easton was visiting her sister Mrs. K. Summers in San Francisco.

article about Dorothy Easton, Western Outlook newspaper article 3 July 1915

Western Outlook (Oakland, California), 3 July 1915, page 3

This mention is just a one-liner buried in a social briefs column—just one line—but it is loaded with great genealogical clues:

  • the year is 1915
  • one sister is Dorothy
  • she’s not married
  • her surname is Easton
  • she lives in Los Angeles
  • the other sister is called “K”
  • she’s married
  • her surname is Summers
  • she lives in San Francisco

This social brief notice could be the critical clue to learn the maiden name, hometown and more about the family of K. Summers.

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Notice that the Western Outlook groups these briefs by town, with headings such as “San Francisco Items” and “Oakland Jottings.” Newspapers were written to sell. Editors made them personal by including these local social briefs to excite the local readers. Picture the impact of seeing your name or your neighbor’s name written up in the paper. That was big news.

You would take the newspaper over to give to them, talk about it with them, and mention it to your wider circle of friends. It is exactly like social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) today. It holds your attention; you comment on it and share it.

Here is another example of newspaper social networking, from 1879.

article about Carrie Carpenter, Daily Gazette newspaper article 18 November 1879

Daily Gazette (Rockport, Illinois), 18 November 1879, page 4

This notice provides great clues to more family information:

  • the year is 1879
  • Carrie Carpenter is single
  • she opened her own school in Stephenson County
  • her mother is Mrs. Mary L. Carpenter
  • her mother is County Superintendent of Public Schools
  • she has a sister

This article appeared on page 4, under the masthead of the newspaper just like the previous example from the Western Outlook, but in this case the social brief notices are not grouped and labeled by the town the persons mentioned lived in, or by an organization or topic.

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While the format varies from newspaper to newspaper, it has been very common for the past three centuries to include these local social briefs of such high interest to the public.

Genealogy Tip: Be sure to perform a broad search for your target ancestor, including all of GenealogyBank’s deep newspaper archive. By limiting a search to only the newspapers in your town or state, you might miss key articles (like these social briefs) about your ancestor that appeared in a newspaper from across the country.

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Multilingual America: The Land of 420 Languages!

How many languages are spoken in the United States?

You might think that number is 25 or 100—but it is actually 420 different languages!

According to a handy new infographic from FreePeopleSearch.org (see link below), 214 of those languages are indigenous to the U.S.—like Navajo and Cherokee—and 206 are immigrant languages—like French and German.

GenealogyBank reflects that linguistic diversity and has hundreds of newspapers that were published in German, French, Spanish and even one in Japanese.

For one example of our foreign language newspapers, see this article on German American Newspapers for Genealogy at GenealogyBank.

a list of the German-American newspapers in GenealogyBank's online newspaper archives

And here is an article about GenealogyBank’s Hispanic newspapers: Periódicos en Español—Hispanic American Newspapers Online. GenealogyBank has the largest collection of Spanish-language newspapers published in the U.S.

a list of the Hispanic-American newspapers in GenealogyBank's online newspaper archives

GenealogyBank’s deep newspaper archive is your best source for foreign language newspapers in the U.S.

Infographic: Many Languages One America

Please include attribution to FreePeopleSearch.org with this graphic.

Many languages,one america, an infographic from FreePeopleSearch.org

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Recent DNA Breakthrough: Oldest Genome in New World Recovered

DNA is unlocking the distant past of our family history. Researchers have looked again at previously found prehistoric skeletons and remains to see if they could harvest DNA. They were successful with the skeleton of an18-month-old boy from the Clovis period who died more than 12,000 years ago. His remains were found in 1968 in Montana.

According to a recent CBS News report, the DNA test results showed that: “The boy’s genome also showed his people were direct ancestors of many of today’s native peoples in the Americas, researchers said. He was more closely related to those in Central and South America than to those in Canada. The reason for that difference isn’t clear, scientists said.” The genome is the oldest ever successfully recovered from the New World.

Clearly this was no random burial. The boy was found buried with over 125 artifacts, with the objects and the skeleton “covered with powdered red ochre, a natural pigment, indicating a burial ceremony.”

a CBS News report of 12,000-year-old DNA being uncoded

Credit: CBS News

Read the entire story here: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/12000-year-old-baby-dna-unlocks-clues-to-earliest-americans/

Dr. Spencer Wells is a leading population geneticist and Director of the Genographic Project sponsored by National Geographic and IBM.

a photo of Dr. Spencer Wells, a leading population geneticist and Director of the Genographic Project sponsored by National Geographic and IBM

Photo: Dr. Spencer Wells. Credit: National Geographic.

Watch this quick clip of his remarks at RootsTech 2014:

Watch his complete presentation from the Friday morning session of RootsTech 2014. Speed forward to the 33 minute mark to begin watching his remarks: http://bcove.me/ckiw2y5e

It’s OK to Plant Trees in Winter—Family Trees, That Is

Let’s make 2014 the Year of the Tree: family trees.

I encourage you to plant new family trees every month in this New Year.

photo of a frozen tree

Credit: Wikipedia

Like you, growing my family tree and documenting each person in it keeps me busy. More and more information is constantly going online for us to search and add to our family histories. For example, every week GenealogyBank adds millions of additional records including obituaries, birth notices, marriage announcements and other useful articles.

My family tree easily has over 20,000 different names. As I find obituaries for others with the same surnames I am working on, it is interesting for me to see if that person is related to my family.

In a typical day, I’ll pick an obituary for any random “Kemp” or “Varney” and trace back that person’s lineage, chaining through obituaries, marriage and engagement announcements, and the census records to see if they hook into my family tree.

I take that information and plant it on several of the online family tree sites, putting all of my research notes and links online. This makes it easy for me to navigate my sprouting forest of family trees so that I can quickly refer back to them.

In time I can see if any name on these growing sprouts is related to me or not. Having all of the information online also allows other researchers on the same family lines to collaborate by adding to and documenting these lines with sources and photographs. It is essential that we put everything we can online. I limit this to only the deceased members of my family tree, and do not put information about my living relatives online in order to protect their privacy.

Perhaps a certain “Kemp” I found is a relative or not. As I chain back in time the number of individuals and surnames double and double again and again. While this person might not be related to me at first glance, by looking deeper I might find that this person is a cousin through another side of the family tree.

This is especially true in smaller geographic areas. For example, I have found that today I am related to almost everyone that lived in pre-1820 eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire. While they were not all related at that time, adding in the generations over the past 200 years has multiplied the odds that there is now a direct relationship to all of them today on my family tree.

By taking the time to organize, document and sprout mini-family trees online, I increase the odds of my linking up all of my extended family members over time.

Play it forward and plant more family trees online throughout the year. It will benefit you and all of your genealogy colleagues.

Make 2014 the Year of the Tree.