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!

My Favorite Genealogy TV Programs & Family History Videos

There are so many powerful genealogy TV shows and family history videos.

photo of a bucket of popcorn

Source: Phys.org

Here are a few family history—and general history—videos that are of particular interest to me. From time to time I like to re-watch these videos—it’s that time again—so I am watching these in the last weeks of this summer. I thought you’d like to grab the popcorn and watch them too.

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A Celebration of Family History
http://bit.ly/1r1PKTn

This was the evening keynote session of the 2010 National Genealogical Society annual conference. A powerful, short video about genealogy research—with memorable remarks by David McCullough and Henry B. Eyring. This program sums up what drives us as genealogists to do what we have done for the past 100 years.

The Civil War (series by Ken Burns)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Civil_War_(TV_series)

The Ken Burns series The Civil War first aired September 23 to 27, 1990. Powerful—it is just as riveting now as it was 24 years ago. The impact of David McCullough’s narration and Shelby Foote’s historical insights clearly frame the war, year by year.

John Adams (HBO miniseries)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Adams_(miniseries)

Inspiring miniseries that speaks to the life and hardships of John Adams and America at the time of the American Revolution.

Who Do You Think You Are?
http://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/who-do-you-think-you-are

Watch every episode of this long-running genealogy TV show, which is now in its 5th season here in the United States. Each segment is aimed at demonstrating how easy, fun and compelling family history is. This popular family history show is must-watch TV.

Connections (BBC, PBS)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connections_(TV_series)

This popular TV series showed how seemingly unrelated events, inventions and discoveries were each essential for progress to be made and new tools to be created. It tied historical events together in a way not demonstrated in any other program.

History Detectives (PBS)
http://video.pbs.org/program/history-detectives/

Each episode focuses on a family heirloom, with the goal of seeing exactly how the heirloom fit into the family’s personal history and the history of the area at large. Family traditions, newspapers and old documents are all researched to determine the true history of each artifact.

What other genealogy and history shows should we be watching this summer? Let us know in the comments and we’ll make sure to add the program to our Genealogy TV Shows board on Pinterest.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Genealogy TV Shows on Pinterest.

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Tax Lists in Newspapers for Genealogy

Most genealogists use newspaper birth notices, marriage announcements, and obituaries in their family history research—but there are many other good sources of family information in newspapers, such as tax lists.

For example, the town of Tamworth, New Hampshire, took out this ad in the Sun (Dover, New Hampshire), an area newspaper, in 1816. It was an advertisement to publish their local real estate tax list as a public notice that taxes were due, who the taxpayers were and how much each person owed. In addition to all that, this list describes the property owned and the buildings thereon.

tax list, Sun newspaper article 10 February 1816

Sun (Dover, New Hampshire), 10 February 1816, page 3

Click here to see the original newspaper article: http://bit.ly/1lDvFzx

This is a great find for family historians.

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For example: we see that John Ames owned “73 acres of land adjoining land of James Stephenson, and others.”

That is good—now we know the name of one of his neighbors. This is a helpful clue that could come in handy, since it is very true that young men and women did marry the girl/boy next door.

The property description continues, stating that Ames had “1 dwelling-house 21 ft. by 26 [feet], and 1 barn.”

Amazing—now we can really start to visualize life there in Tamworth.

The dimensions of each home are given, and we are told if each family had a barn or other out buildings on their property.

  • John Ames’ home was 21’ x 26’ and he had a barn, all on 73 acres of land.
  • Andrew Brier had 30 acres of land, a 15’ x 16’ home and a barn.
  • Isaac Medar had 100 acres of land, a 30’ x 40’ home and a barn.

You can quickly get a sense that they lived a rural life there in Tamworth. They lived on large parcels of land. We know how big the homes were. We can see whether or not they had a barn or other buildings on the property. Notice too that both men and women are listed as land owners.

Every landowner in the town is listed.

The list of property owners is so long it is printed on pages 3 and 4.

Bottom Line: These published tax lists are an extra census of the town, with the bonus that it describes each home, other buildings and acreage owned.

Related Articles about Tax Records for Genealogy:

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Rescue Mission: 4-Step Plan for Preserving Family Bible Records

In your genealogy work, are you looking to give back to the community? Are you willing to pitch in and help preserve original family history records?

Why not help rescue old Family Bibles, by digitally scanning them and putting them online?

National and local genealogical societies, libraries, and individuals have all worked at this.

It’s time for us to do more to preserve our family records. We have all the modern tools—let’s do this.

Here is a genealogy preservation project that you can tackle yourself or accomplish as a group: a rescue effort that genealogical societies should start working on with renewed effort—today!

photo of a Family Bible

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

Today’s families are often overwhelmed with caring for the accumulation of so many things gathered over a lifetime. Our elderly friends and relatives are leaving behind important family records as they downsize, move into assisted living, or pass away.

Modern families have to make quick decisions about which records and items are valuable and which can be given to Goodwill.

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Family Bibles can range from oversized, heavy tomes that are protected with large brass clasps, to slightly smaller versions—that can be nearly as heavy—and all are worn with age. Today’s families just might not be aware that these old copies of the “Good Book” likely contain more than the old gospel messages: each might contain a firsthand, handwritten account of their family’s genealogy.

Often these old Family Bibles have records from the 1700s to the 20th Century. Information that might not be easily found anywhere else.

Let’s get the word out and let everyone know just how valuable the family history information in these old Bibles really is.

4-Step Family Bible Rescue Mission Plan

1) Reach out through your clubs, churches and to your neighbors. Use social media, radio talk shows and events at your public library to promote your “rescue effort.”

2) Arrange with your local public library to host a “Scan It Night,” and encourage local residents to bring in their Family Bibles so that the information can be scanned, put online and preserved.

3) Scan the Family Bibles to create digital copies. Use your ingenuity to see what you can accomplish. Here’s one approach:

  • Scan the front and back of the two title pages found in most old Bibles: at the front and at the New Testament.
  • Scan all of the family registry pages, including the blank pages. That way future researchers will know you didn’t miss a page.
  • Then transcribe and type up the family information.

4) Put the digitized Family Bible records online to preserve them and make them easy to find.

  • Add the scanned pages to the online family tree sites—that way the information is permanently linked to the person.
  • Put the images on social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, or Flickr.
  • Create your own blog and put this information online.
  • Assemble the images and your transcription in a Word document, save it as a PDF file, and upload it to the free site Scribd.com.

There are many approaches that you can take to make sure your family’s past is preserved for future generations. Find the best one for you.

These old family records need to be preserved.

Let’s each do what we can to make sure these old genealogy records are not lost.

Related Family Bible Articles

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Weird News of Odd & Bizarre Happenings: Raining Frogs?

Census and other government records can give us dates and facts about our ancestors, but where do you turn to find their personal stories, an account of something fantastic, exciting or odd that they experienced? If you are lucky, you may possess your ancestors’ journals or family letters. Even if you don’t have these, however, you still have a great source for stories about your ancestors: an archive of historical newspapers, such as the 6,500 titles in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.

For example, if James Edward Van Voorhes is one of your ancestors, you won’t find in his census, marriage or death records an account of a truly bizarre experience he had one rainy day—but you will learn about it in the newspaper, because he wrote the following letter to the editor telling of a very bizarre happening.

A Rain of Frogs, Plain Dealer newspaper article 8 May 1922

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 8 May 1922, page 6

Can you imagine witnessing something as astonishing as raining frogs happening? What a great family story! In thinking of James getting down from his horse, huddling under the protection of a covered bridge during a heavy rainstorm, and staring in disbelief as the clouds suddenly rained frogs onto the road before him, you’ve shared an extraordinary sight your ancestor once experienced, seen the world in one vivid moment through his eyes—and in that way brought him a little closer to you.

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Here is another account of this bizarre phenomenon of raining frogs.

A Rain of Frogs in Arizona, Oregonian newspaper article 8 July 1871

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 8 July 1871, page 4

The writer goes on to say:

Several of the party took some [frogs] from their hat-rims. Our unexpected visitors were all of one size, about a quarter of an inch long from nose to rump, very lively, and apparently in the best condition. Their fall had been broken by the springy, resilient nature of the grass. It is not probable that several hundred thousand, perhaps millions, of frogs had suddenly been hatched into life in the ground by the rain, or, if they had, that in their infantile glee they jumped five feet eleven inches from the earth to the top of our heads merely to show how the game of leap-frog should be played. Nor had they any such caudal appendages as are generally attached to juvenile rana. They came from above, in company with the rain; and this fact was made clear by holding out the hand and seeing them fall upon it, as well as finding them on our hat-rims.

Stories, wonderful stories, that “smack of the incredible.” Newspapers are filled with them—the unusual, the odd, the bizarre, the humorous.

a collage of newspaper articles reporting incidents of it raining frogsEven if the weird or humorous stories you find are not about one of your ancestors, they make interesting reading and may give you a chuckle, adding to the fun of browsing through an archive of historical newspapers while doing your family history research. Keep an eye out for such odd stories—you never know what you’ll find!

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What Do You Plan to Do with Your Old Family Heirlooms?

Maybe you have an old cedar chest, or other large object, as one of your prized family heirlooms.

photo of a cedar chest

Source: Abernethy’s

We have an old chest that was owned by my grandmother, Adelaide Mildred (Wright) Kemp (1893-1949), and it was said that it had been passed down to her mother, Ida Estelle (Smith) Wright (1873-1963).

Now if the only family heirloom we had was one object, we might be able to handle that—but wait, there’s more.

Much more.

There are also old photos—large ones, framed—and dishware, glasses, books, and on and on.

What do you do when your home has become the designated family museum—and you start looking to the future wondering what will become of these treasured heirlooms?

Start by taking a photograph of each heirloom and upload that to your online family tree. Record which relative owned the object and tell the object’s story. What is it? Who owned it? And why is it important to the family?

That’s a start.

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But, as you look to the future, what is your plan if other family members are not interested in these old heirlooms?

What is the best way to preserve these pieces of your family history?

What solutions do you have for heirloom preservation?

What is your plan?

Please share and give all of us the benefit of your best thinking on this.

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Family History Fact Finding: True Family Stories in Newspapers

GenealogyBank has really been great for finding the personal stories of each family member.

I have been systematically going through the old newspapers looking for my Revolutionary War ancestors, and the other day I decided to look for my more recent ancestors and cousins.

A quick search found this article.

article about an accident at the St. John Wood Working Company, Stamford Advocate newspaper article 12 November 1886

Stamford Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 12 November 1886, page 2

The historical newspaper article reports:

A young man named Kemp, employed at St. John, Hoyt & Co.’s planing mill, got his right arm badly injured by an accident on Tuesday last [9 November 1886]. It got caught in a dove-tailing machine, which lacerated the flesh and broke the bone. It is said the arm will be saved, though perhaps in a more or less disabled condition.

I recognized that this was my cousin George Andrew Kemp (1864-1935) even though the article did not give his full name.

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illustration of the St. John Wood Working Company, Hardwood and Cabinet Department

Image: St. John Wood Working Company, Hardwood and Cabinet Department. Source: “Picturesque Stamford – 1892,” Stamford Historical Society.

Digging deeper I found this follow-up newspaper article.

article about an accident by George Kemp at the St. John Wood Working Company, Stamford Advocate newspaper article 18 February 1887

Stamford Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 18 February 1887, page 2

According to the 1800s news article:

George A. Kemp, who about three months ago had his arm badly lacerated, has through the surgical treatment of Drs. Hungerford and A. M. Hurlbutt, and under the skillful care of Dr. Geib, come out with a magnificent arm, with a new joint which will answer for an elbow. He is now able to resume his work at the same place—the St. John Wood-Working Co.

Confirmation.

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Great—it was George Andrew Kemp, and the second article gave information about the surgical procedure and the physicians who performed it.

We have a family story that George had hurt his arm and was handicapped for the rest of his life.

Thanks to these articles in old newspapers, we have confirmation and more of the details of his personal story. We did not know that he was only 22 years old at the time of the accident, or that this handicap would last for the rest of his adult life.

Family history also tells us that while he was no longer able to work in the wood shop, the accident didn’t slow him down. He opened his own business and sold goods as a traveling salesman, delivering kerosene and doughnuts with his horse and wagon for the next 49 years. He died in 1935 at age 71 years of age.

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Best Family Tree Software & Websites to Share Your Genealogy

If a genealogist falls in the forest—does she make a sound? What are you doing to ensure that your decades of family history research are preserved and passed down so that others can build on your expertise?

photo of a family tree chart

Photo: family tree. Credit: Wikipedia.

For centuries genealogists relied on family tree charts that were carefully prepared on paper, a time-consuming and laborious process. These paper documents were then copied and distributed to other members of the family. Paper tree charts were costly to prepare, and their reproduction and distribution added to the expense.

In more recent times, genealogists have moved on from typewriters and copy machines to the Internet as the mechanism for distributing copies of their ancestry research to interested family members around the globe.

Here are the basic tools you need to share and distribute your family history research online.

Computer-Based Family History Software

There are dozens of family history software programs that genealogists use to organize their research. These programs make it easy to incorporate photographs, research notes and commentary into one family tree that can easily be printed in whole or in part and distributed to others—or simply shared online.

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Three of the leading family history programs are:

With any one of these family tree software programs it is easy to record your information and then, with a few clicks, print out the standard family tree charts or reports you need to communicate your family’s history to the other members of the family.

family history reports

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp

These genealogy software programs easily prepare and print out family history reports that name all of the descendants of a designated ancestor up to the present day. Or you can do the process in reverse: start with a person from today and lay out the preceding generations one by one, going back in time through both sides of that person’s family tree.

These printed paper family tree reports can be given to relatives at family gatherings. Alternatively, you can save these genealogy reports electronically as PDF or Word files that can be easily emailed to interested relatives.

Family History Websites

There are a number of good social media sharing websites where genealogists can store, collaborate, share and distribute their family history research. Here are a few of these online sites where you might consider uploading your own family history.

Scribd.com

Genealogists use online sites like Scribd.com as convenient free sites where they can upload, share and preserve their genealogy research findings.

Genealogy Tip: Before using a site like Scribd.com, be sure to set the reporting features on your genealogy software so that your family history report will not include any information about still-living members of the family. Use that edited report when you upload it online. That way the privacy of your living relatives is protected.

family history reports for Edward and Mary Rutledge

Credit: Scribd.com

Scribd.com lets you upload your family history report and present it as an online version of your family history. Online sites like this are easily searched from any computer, smartphone, iPad, or any other device. The Scribd.com report uses the standard genealogical report styles so that this document has a professional, clean look. And, since it is online, every name—in fact every word­—of the report is then searchable online.

Genealogists often find that as they continue their research, or receive feedback from relatives, they discover additional details to add to the family tree. With new family information in hand they might regret having already published and distributed their research as expensive paper documents. That is not a problem with Scribd.com.

With just a few clicks on Scribd.com, genealogists can update their family history reports and have the current, most accurate version of their family history online. Or if you prefer you can designate this updated report as a “2nd Edition” with a new publication date. However you post it, your latest findings will be instantly available to all genealogists and, importantly, preserved online.

Pinterest

There are other online sites that make it easy to present and share your family history.

Pinterest.com is an excellent site for sharing photographs about your family and where they lived.

With Pinterest you can create separately-themed “Boards” that illustrate part of your family’s story. I organize my boards by places where the family has lived or by topics that are important to our story.

Visit Thomas Jay Kemp’s profile on Pinterest.


Credit: Pinterest

I then use the notes field to describe each old family photograph, including the details of why this picture is significant to the family.

Pinterest board showing scenes from Ireland

Credit: Pinterest

Pinterest is a handy way for me to illustrate my family history in an organized way, all shared online. By adding notes, I can update and add more context to these images—sharing them through this Wikipedia-like source of online photographs.

Online Family Trees

As technology has improved, genealogists have moved to the next step and are sharing their family trees online. Genealogists welcome the opportunity to permanently store their information in the “cloud” of online family trees. This protects your family history information from any unexpected loss, such as your home computer suddenly failing, and puts the information securely online where the rising generation can find it. There are many websites where you can post your family tree online: FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage.com, OneGreatFamily.com, Ancestry.com, and other sites.

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Perhaps the most popular is FamilySearch.org.

This free family history site makes it easy to post your family tree online, along with your genealogy data, photographs and reports.

familiy history reports for Kemp ancestors

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp, Scribd.com & FamilySearch

With just a click you can easily bring together your genealogy research reports, along with your old family photos, and link them to your ancestor’s page on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

family tree entries for Kemp ancestors

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp & FamilySearch

By putting your genealogy online you make it easy to update, ensuring that your latest research is accurately recorded, permanently online, and easily accessible to you and all of your cousins around the globe 24/7.

By adding digital copies of your old family photos, documents and reports, you are able to share these one-of-a-kind items with your cousins without risking the original copies.

Genealogy Tip: Posting your family tree online is a smart way to share and preserve your family history information, making your research findable by your children, grandchildren and their children. They are expecting to find online information rather than the paper copies genealogists have relied on in the past.

As genealogists we enjoy researching and documenting our family history. These modern tools allow us to quickly share our research with the rest of the family, in paper formats as well as digital copies posted online.

Make every effort to share your family history online. It will make your own genealogy work easier, and future generations will thank you for it.

Make sure the family history records you organize and leave to posterity make a sound.

Related Articles about Sharing Your Ancestry:

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Where Was George Washington? Revolutionary War Fact Checking

One of my family traditions tells us that George Washington made his headquarters, from 4 July to 19 August 1781, at the home of my 5th Great-Grandfather, Joseph Appleby (1732-1792) in Greenburgh, New York, in the Dobbs Ferry section of town, during the American Revolutionary War.

Joseph Appleby served as a 2nd lieutenant in the First Regiment of Westchester County, New York Militia.

I found this interesting 1935 newspaper article reporting that in 1935 Messmore Kendall (1872-1959) was living in a house in Dobbs Ferry—and erroneously stated that was the house that George Washington used as his headquarters in 1781, not the home of my ancestor Joseph Appleby.

article about Messmore Kendall and George Washington, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 27 August 1935

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 27 August 1935, page 8

Kendall took great pride in his home’s supposed connection to George Washington and its key role in the American Revolution.

It was an impressive home.

photo of Philipse Manor

Photo: Philipse Manor. Source: Library of Congress.

Kendall served as the national vice-president of the Sons of the American Revolution and as the president of the Empire State Chapter of the NSSAR. In 1894 he had a monument erected in front of his house commemorating its place in history.

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Kendall collected dozens of historic heirlooms previously owned by George Washington and had them on display at his home.

It was a nice story—but it was not true.

A Historic American Building Survey Report issued 29 March 1934, written by Thomas Hotchkiss (Re: Messmore Kendall Residence), stated that:

The 1894 monument…incorrectly alleges that Washington and Rochambeau met at this house [Philipse Manor] to plan the Yorktown Campaign in 1781. As explained authoritatively…these commanders of the allied armies occupied the Appleby and Odell houses respectively on country roads back in the hills, and conveniently held their conference there surrounded by their troops.

It turns out that Kendall lived at the Philipse Manor built by Frederick Philipse. His great-grandson, Frederick Philipse, was a Tory and “his lands and houses” were seized and sold. The manor house was purchased by Philip Livingston.

See: Historic American Building Survey, Report HABS No. 4-105
http://www.historicmapworks.com/Buildings/index.php?state=NY&city=Dobbs%20Ferry&id=25738

Genealogy Tip: Historical claims can be wrong—even when they make it into print in a newspaper, such as Kendall’s claim about his home being a former headquarters of George Washington.

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The Appleby home which George Washington did use as his headquarters stood on what is now Secor Road in Dobbs Ferry, New York. The WFAS radio station offices are now located on this site.

photo providing an aerial view of the Appleby farm

Photo: aerial view of the Appleby farm. Source: Google Earth.

There is a video interview with Mary Sudman Donovan, Ph.D., Village Historian of Dobbs Ferry, New York. See the interview on YouTube here:

Donovan is the author of the book George Washington at “Headquarters, Dobbs Ferry” July 4 to August 19, 1781. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2009.

photo of the cover of Mary Donovan's book "George Washington at 'Headquarters, Dobbs Ferry' July 4 to August 19, 1781

Find and document your family’s stories in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Carefully review the facts you are gathering. Evaluate them and seek out corroborating sources.

Make sure that the stories about your ancestors are accurate, preserved and passed down in the family.

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William Richmond Family Bible: Horace Richmond (1852-1940)

The Family Bible I bought on eBay has arrived and I have been going through the family registry pages name by name, sorting out how each person is related and fits into the family tree.

Here is the entry for William Richmond’s son, Horace William Richmond, born October 2nd 1852.

photo of the family registry page of the Richmond Bible, showing entry for Horace William Richmond

Source: Richmond Family Bible in possession of Thomas Jay Kemp

Tracing My Family Tree with the Census

With the names from the family registry in hand, I began by orienting myself to the family in the census.

I found Horace Richmond—then 8 years old—living with his family in Cedar Rapids, Linn County, Iowa.
See: FamilySearch 1860 Census page here: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M825-X8C

Here he is again in the 1870 Census, still living in Cedar Rapids.
See: FamilySearch 1870 Census page here: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MDVX-GBC

By 1900 he is living in Maryville, Nodaway County, Missouri.
See: FamilySearch 1900 Census page here: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M38M-X7F

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Turning to Old Newspapers for Family Stories

Now that I know a little more about Horace, I looked in GenealogyBank to see what I could learn about him in our Historical Newspaper Archives.

I quickly found this story about Horace Richmond that made the front page of the Kansas City Times.

article about Horace Richmond, Kansas City Times newspaper article 24 November 1885

Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri), 24 November 1885, page 1

Horace Tricked by a Bond Scam

This 1800s newspaper reported that Horace Richmond was working as a clerk at E.K. Hurlbut’s store in Maryville, Missouri.

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One day Eugene Evans tricked Richmond into cashing a $50 bill which “on close investigation on the following Monday morning, proved to be a $50 Missouri defense bond issued during the [Civil] war.” Evans was arrested and soon confessed what he had done and appealed for the mercy of the court. The court accepted “a plea of petit larceny, and Evans told the court he would never be caught again.”

Here is an example of what that bond looked like:

photo of a $50 defense bond from Missouri from the Civil War

Source: Silver Towne Auctions

Horace Wins Whist Tournament

Here is another article that reported on Horace Richmond.

article about Horace Richmond, Kansas City Times newspaper article 30 November 1890

Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri), 30 November 1890, page 19

He won the whist tournament sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. I.V. McMillan of North Maryville, Missouri.

Whist was a popular card game of the 19th century with origins back to the 16th century in England.

To Be Continued…

I’ll continue looking for personal stories about the family members listed in the Bible, and report back to you on what I find.

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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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