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!

Bloody News: Battles of Lexington & Concord Begin April 1775

Stirring front page news – as gripping as a breaking news bulletin on television today

Bloody News – This town has been in a continual alarm since Mid-day… the attack began at Lexington (about 12 miles from Boston) by the regular troops, the 18th Inft., before sunrise… From thence they proceeded to Concord where they made a general attack…

article about the Battles of Lexington and Concord, New Hampshire Gazette and Historical Chronicle newspaper article 21 April 1775

New Hampshire Gazette and Historical Chronicle (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 21 April 1775, page 1

The British had attacked: the Battles of Lexington and Concord began the fighting between Great Britain and its 13 American colonies that led to the Revolutionary War and the founding of a new nation.

article about the Battles of Lexington and Concord, New Hampshire Gazette and Historical Chronicle newspaper article 21 April 1775

New Hampshire Gazette and Historical Chronicle (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 21 April 1775, page 1

The reports continued to be published in Colonial newspapers up and down the coast. The newspapers printed them all – and the New Hampshire Gazette and Historical Chronicle added: “The foregoing is the different accounts we have receiv’d, but how far and what part is authentic, presume not to determine.”

This reads like any breaking news story today – when the reporters read every detail as the “raw news” comes in over the satellite feeds.

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The British had attacked and the committees of safety from colony to colony were responding and getting the word out – through the newspapers – that it was time to act.

Thanks to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives we can read the same newspapers our American colonial ancestors read and feel the impact of the news as they lived it. No other site has the depth of coverage found on GenealogyBank – spanning the news from 1690 to today.

Illustration: “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere"

Illustration: “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” Credit: National Archives’ Pictures of the Revolutionary War — Beginnings in New England, 1775-76; Wikimedia Commons.

In his long-famous poem, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote of that day:

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

April is National Poetry Month. Did you know GenealogyBank’s newspaper collection has a special search category for Poems & Songs? Come take a look today and see what poetic gems you can find.

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Great Advice from an Interview with a Very Old Man

I like newspaper articles where the oldest person in town is interviewed and gives their best advice for living well to an old age. They tell it as they lived it.

Here is the advice Sam Cox (1819-1922) gave on his 102nd birthday as “he sat in his home yesterday afternoon smoking a cigar and shaking hands with those who called.”

interview with Samuel Cox, Sunday Herald newspaper article 28 August 1921

Sunday Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 28 August 1921, page B1

He said:

“…A man ought to live as long as he can and do all the good possible for his neighbors.”

“Live moderately, work hard, but don’t overdo.”

“Be moderate in the use of tobacco and intoxicants.”

“Eat plenty of good, hearty food.”

“Abstain from sweets.”

“Keep out in the open air; take long walks and don’t be afraid to expand the lungs in song.”

“Above all, don’t worry.”

“Be happy and make others happy.”

“Get plenty of sleep, and be up early in the morning for the day’s work.”

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Great advice.

Newspapers are not only a great way to find your ancestors’ vital statistics – they are a tremendous resource for discovering great advice and the stories of their lives as well. Dig into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and find your ancestors’ stories. Start your 30-day trial now!

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BOGO: Search for One Relative & Find Another One as a Bonus

I was searching for newspaper articles about my cousin Cyrus Lane (1824-1911) from Sanbornton, New Hampshire, and quickly found an announcement of his marriage

wedding announcements for Cyrus Lane and Sarah Plummer, also for Oliver Piper and Judith Lane, New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette newspaper article 30 November 1848

New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord, New Hampshire), 30 November 1848, page 3

But wait – there’s more.

Here was an added bonus.

Following the report of Cyrus’s marriage to Sarah H. Plummer on 25 October 1848, there is this next announcement: “also, Oct. 30, Mr. Oliver P. Piper to Miss Judith C. Lane, all of S.”

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This refers to his sister, Judith Clifford Lane (1826-1899).
Wow – that must have been a time of family gathering and joy with two weddings within a week.

Newspapers reported the news of our ancestors.
Dig in to GenealogyBank and find your ancestors’ stories.

Start your 30-day trial now!

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Native American Newspapers for Genealogy Research

When births, marriages and deaths occur, Native American families make sure that they are written up and documented in their local newspapers. Family and tribal historians want to data mine GenealogyBank’s entire Historical Newspaper Archives looking for these events by searching on the names of the individuals – but also by searching on the tribal affiliations of the persons involved.

montage of newspaper articles about Native Americans

Genealogy Tip: Search for your Native American ancestors using not only individual names, but also the names of their tribal affiliations to locate all articles about your family.

As part of its online collection of deep back runs digitized from more than 7,000 different newspapers spanning 1690 to today, GenealogyBank has a specific collection of Native American newspapers, fantastic for researching Indian roots from several tribes, from all around the country.

Currently, our Native American newspaper titles include:

Genealogy Tip: Make sure to begin searching for your Native American ancestors with a wide search of our entire archives, then narrow down to specific locations and newspapers – including our collection of Native American newspapers – to increase your chances of success.

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Where in Ireland Are Your Irish Ancestors From? Search Newspapers

Newspapers recorded every day of our ancestors’ lives – and that is a good thing for genealogists.

Time and time again old documents, from death certificates to the census, simply state that someone like John Clifford was born “in Ireland” – and never tell us where in Ireland. Often it is newspapers that are critical to our finding the name of the community or the county in Ireland where our Irish immigrant ancestors were born.

For example, this old 1800s obituary for John Clifford tells us where in Ireland he was from.

obituary for John Clifford, New York Herald newspaper article 4 November 1880

New York Herald (New York City, New York), 4 November 1880, page 8

Thanks to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, we know that he was born in Killeshandra, County Cavan, Ireland.

Government and other official passenger lists routinely list that the waves of Irish immigrants were born in “Ireland” without any further details – but it is in newspapers that we can find two other key facts (origin and destination) that were not recorded in the passenger lists genealogists are familiar with.

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I am just amazed every time I read these Irish American passenger lists in 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.

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?

Irish immigrants passenger list, Irish Nation newspaper article 27 May 1882

Irish Nation (New York City, New York), 27 May 1882, page 8

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 and Irish World regularly published lists of Irish passengers that came over on the passenger ships each week.
These published ship passenger 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 after their arrival in America, valuable information that is just not found in any other genealogical 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 did not 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 newspaper passenger lists to learn more about their ancestors’ stories.

Start searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and begin documenting and recording your family history. If you have Irish ancestry, try searching our special Irish American newspaper archives first.

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Irish Ramsey Family – Descendants of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II?

In 1922 Irish American Ramsey descendants from all over the northeast gathered for a family reunion in Flemington, New Jersey.

Ramsey Family in Annual Gathering, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 13 August 1922

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 13 August 1922, page 2

According to this newspaper article:

The reunion was the largest the family has yet held.

The attendees must have been stunned to learn, during a family history presentation given at the reunion, that their Ramsey family originated with the Egyptian pharaohs named Ramesses. Apparently their family historian thought that they were related because the pharaoh’s name, Ramesses, sounds like Ramsey.

Wow – I thought I’d heard of everything.

photo of a statue of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II

Photo: statue of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II. Source: Wikipedia.

Just as Irish American genealogists quickly learn that not all Kellys are related and not all Moriartys are related, so too, it is not likely that the Ramsey family is related to Ramesses II – but…

There is a way to learn about who your ancestors and relatives are. Start digging in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and begin documenting and recording your family history. If you have Irish ancestry, try searching our special Irish American newspaper archives first.

If the Luck of the Irish is with you, you just might be descended from the pharaohs.

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Why I Subscribe to GenealogyBank: Family Stories

I am a subscriber to GenealogyBank and use it all the time because it has the stories of my family – millions of stories I can’t find anywhere else.

I want to find these stories and make sure they are preserved and passed down in the family. I want them remembered.

I have been working on my family history for more than 50 years – and yes – I have found my ancestors’ names, dates of birth, and places of death. That’s fundamental – core to compiling an accurate family history.

But GenealogyBank gives me much more.
It gives me the chance to find my ancestors’ stories: big ones, little ones – all kinds of stories that bring their lives to life.

montage of newspaper articles about family events

For example, I didn’t know that my Grandmother had worked as a bookkeeper in another state; that my Dad got married dressed in his World War II uniform (he was back from Europe, but hadn’t been discharged yet); or that my 2nd Great-Grandfather was expelled from the Methodist Church for praying too loudly.

I first thought that my family stories just wouldn’t be written up in a newspaper. I come from a long line of nobodies. But – after looking in GenealogyBank, I found out that I was wrong. I learned that newspapers wrote about regular people all the time – your ancestors and my ancestors.

I make it a point now to research every person in my family tree by searching old newspapers.
Do I find all of them?

No.
But – I am finding hundreds of articles: news stories that add color to the fabric of their lives.

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I have surnames in my family for which I have found that nearly “everyone” with that surname is related to me. Names like Garcelon, Fernald and Rutledge. Knowing that, I pull every newspaper article and look to see how the person connects to my family.

I want to document and pass down our family history.
I want to get to know my ancestors and relatives – not just their basic facts (their name, rank and serial number, so to speak) – but the stories of their lives.

That personal life information is pure gold – and it is only found in newspapers.
GenealogyBank is the essential tool in every genealogist’s arsenal.

Make full use of the historical archives.
Find your family’s stories – document them and pass them down.

GenealogyBank can help you learn more about the members of your family tree; see what’s inside the online archives on your ancestors’ stories. Start your 30-day trial now!

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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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