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 Genealogy Records Online: My Clean-Up Plan

Looking at my genealogy research notes and files accumulated over the past 50+ years, I am wondering: what should I do with all this stuff?

montage of family history papers from the Kemp family

Photo: Thomas Jay Kemp

I have five four-drawer file cabinets packed with notes, clippings, letters, photos and the like.

While my children and extended family are interested in our family history, they are sprinkled across the country – and just aren’t prepared to transport and ingest this much material into their homes and busy lives.

So – what to do?
I have started to tackle my messy genealogy records problem, one file folder at a time.

Getting Started

I am taking the time to go through the file cabinets, item by item.
My goal is to become as “paperless” as possible by digitizing all this genealogy research material and putting it online.

My main “backup” sites for my family history are two of the online family tree sites: FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. I also use Scribd and Pinterest.

I am finding one immediate benefit from doing this. I haven’t looked at many (most?) of these files for years. Looking at these genealogy records and research notes again now, I can reevaluate the information with the knowledge about the family gained over the years. I can quickly make sure that the most accurate information is in my twin online family trees.

I am finding that some of the details – perhaps a complete date, a stray fact or a footnote – did not make it online. Now I can take the time to make sure that online genealogy record is complete.


I have saved letters from distant relatives and genealogists wondering if we are related. What should I do with them?

Reading through these letters again, I am deciding if they have genealogy value – and as long as they don’t mention living people, I am scanning them and putting them online.

On FamilySearch I can upload a multipage letter as one PDF document. Click here to see an example of a two-page letter I uploaded to that site written by a cousin. Other sites do not permit you to upload PDF files, so I converted her letter to the image .JPEG format to upload it and preserve it online.

For longer items like the handwritten cookbook of my great-grandmother Marcia Amanda (Young) Richmond, I uploaded the PDF file for the entire cookbook to Scribd.com. Click here to see my great-grandmother’s cookbook for some good family recipes.

Note: You can also upload and share family recipe articles on Pinterest. GenealogyBank has a shared Old Fashioned Family Recipes board you can join to share your family recipes.


I scan and put every photo I can online in order to make it easy for the family to find these images of our ancestors – and I put them on multiple sites.

For example: this photo of my great-grandmother Marcia Amanda (Young) Richmond is on Pinterest, FamilySearch and Ancestry.

photo of Marcia Richmond

Photo: Kemp family papers

This “Summer Clean-up” of my files is making sure that the online copies of my family history are more accurate and complete.

By scanning and uploading the documentation to multiple websites – and double-checking the personal information I have entered into my online family history – I will make it easier for the family to find and know about their history.

And – importantly – I will be able to reduce the thousands of genealogy records and notes that I’ve saved down to the core enduring historical material that the family will want to preserve.

What plans are you making to preserve and pass down your family history information?

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Genealogy Tip: Search a Wide Date Range in GenealogyBank

Newspapers often published commemorative articles celebrating milestones. Take for example the 50th wedding anniversary of Elizabeth Kern and Valentine Humburg. They were both born in Germany, married 3 April 1854 in New York, and settled in San Jose, California, six years later.

article about the Humburgs celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, San Jose Mercury News newspaper article 3 April 1904

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 3 April 1904, page 2

This detailed newspaper article names their five children and their nine grandchildren – and, as a bonus, includes photographs of the couple.

If you were searching just on the marriage date of the Humburgs in the 1854 newspapers in New York City, you would not find this great article about their marriage printed 50 years later in a newspaper across the country.

Genealogy Tip: After you’ve tried a search on a specific date in GenealogyBank’s archives for an important event in your ancestors’ lives, search on a wide date range to see if a commemorative article was published many years later about that same important event.

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Genealogy Surprise: My Ancestor’s Journal of War Stories!

I didn’t expect to find this.
My family is obscure – generally unknown to history. Sure, their obituaries and marriages made the paper – and when something unusual happened to them, that made the newspaper too.

But – this was quite a find.

article about Jacob Robinson's Mexican-American War journal, Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics newspaper article 30 October 1847

Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 30 October 1847, page 2

It turns out that my cousin Jacob Sawyer Robinson (1814-1886), who was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, had enlisted in Col. Alexander Doniphan’s Missouri Regiment during the Mexican-American War – AND he kept a journal.

I didn’t know he was a soldier in the Mexican-American War.
His journal made its way to the editor of the Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics and the editor announced that he would be serializing the journal in his newspaper.

The editor told his readers:

Although his horse-back sketches may not be so well connected as a journalist under different circumstances might prepare, yet they will be found interesting.

This is terrific. What a valuable family history find.
My cousin had joined the military and kept a journal!

The newspaper started the serialization on New Year’s Day 1848. According to the editor, Jacob Robinson “was probably the only New-England man in that expedition.”

From the Wikipedia article on Alexander William Doniphan:

In 1846, at the beginning of the Mexican–American War, [Col. Alexander] Doniphan was commissioned a Colonel of the 1st Regiment of Missouri Mounted Volunteers, and served in several campaigns, including General Stephen W. Kearny’s capture of Santa Fe and an invasion of northern Mexico (present day northern New Mexico).

photo of Colonel Alexander William Doniphan

Photo: Colonel Alexander William Doniphan, between 1844 and 1860. Credit: Mathew Brady; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Northern New Mexico – Santa Fe – hey, I lived in that area for several years. Now I really want to read his journal entries.

article about Jacob Robinson's Mexican-American War journal, Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics newspaper article 1 January 1848

Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 1 January 1848, page 2

The published excerpts from Robinson’s journal start with his entry on 22 June 1846. When his unit got word that they would be leaving for Santa Fe, they reacted with “a joyous shout [that] rings in [his] memory yet.”

Amazing. I don’t know if anyone in my family still has a copy of Robinson’s journal. Until I found these newspaper articles, I did not even know he had kept a journal of his war experiences. Thanks to the old newspapers preserved in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, now we have it – we have his story as he wrote it down in his personal journal.

Genealogy Tip: Keep digging – the old newspapers published more than obituaries and wedding announcements. They just might have published your ancestor’s journal from the Mexican-American War!

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Find the True Life Stories of Our Revolutionary War Ancestors

GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives have not only the stories of our Revolutionary War ancestors – but daily news reports of the war itself.

newspaper articles about the American Revolutionary War from GenealogyBank's archives

With newspapers in GenealogyBank’s collection spanning the entire 1700s, you can find thousands of exclusive historical news articles about Revolutionary War battles, politics and day to day life as it was reported in the newspapers of the time. Track your ancestor as he went from battle to battle…and then through the years after the war.

Where else can you find these stories of the American Revolutionary period – recorded as our ancestors lived them?

Related Revolutionary War Articles:

Researching Contested & Special Military Pension Applications

From its earliest days, the U.S. government has granted pensions to soldiers or their surviving relatives in cases where the soldier was killed or “disabled by known wounds in the…war.” Those early pensions were not granted for a lifetime of service in the military – as we think of pensions today – but instead were granted based on a clear demonstration of need, as shown in the pension application. Think of these as long-term disability claims rather than pensions.

In this special military pension appeal request, the widow of Captain Morgan appealed to the government on behalf of her six children and herself, knowing that his death did not meet the specific requirements of the pension act (he did not die of wounds received in battle, but rather of exhaustion afterward). The House committee examining her claim stated that it “is within the spirit of [the] provisions” of the pension law. The Committee on Pensions and Revolutionary claims presented a bill to the 14th Congress to grant her a pension.

military pension request of Elizabeth Morgan

Source: Historical Documents, GenealogyBank.com; “Pension granted to the widow of a captain in the army who died in service.” Communicated to the House of Representatives, January 26, 1816. American State Papers, 036 Claims Vol. 1, number 285.

In his pension request, Lieutenant William Monday appealed to the 9th Congress for a pension – but the committee members hearing his request did not agree and encouraged him instead “to withdraw his petition, and the papers accompanying the same.”

He did not receive a pension, but his application gives us important details about his service during the American Revolutionary War.

military pension request by William Monday

Source: Historical Documents, GenealogyBank.com; “Application for a pension by a dismissed officer.” Communicated to the House of Representatives, December 16, 1806. American State Papers, 036 Claims Vol. 1, number 176.

After the Revolutionary War the U.S. gave pensions to disabled soldiers, their widows and children. Congress also granted bounty land warrants to the able-bodied troops that survived the war. These land warrants were certificates redeemable for government lands.

In his special bounty land warrant request, Samuel Frazer confirmed that he served in the Revolutionary War but had a problem when he went to claim his land. He found that his land warrant was redeemed on 24 January 1792 by William Thomas. He appealed to the 7th Congress to correct this error, stating that “he had given no authority whatever for that purpose.”

The Committee of Claims acknowledged that “…warrants have doubtless been issued, in many instances, on forged powers of attorney…” but did not act to grant him a new bounty land warrant because it said it was impossible to determine the facts of the case, and left that determination up to the courts.

bounty land request by Samuel Frazer

Source: Historical Documents, GenealogyBank.com; “Bounty land warrant.” Communicated to the House of Representatives, January 12, 1803. American State Papers, 028 Public Lands Vol. 1, number 71.

Genealogy Tip: Get details on the lives of your ancestors from a range of sources, including contested and special pension applications. You want to find those ancestors who received pensions and bounty lands, as well as those that applied for them but had their cases rejected by Congress. You will find these contested and special pension applications in the Historical Documents section of GenealogyBank.com.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's Hostorical Documents search page

Find your ancestors’ stories.
Search GenealogyBank today.

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Hungarian-Born Revolutionary War Vet Dies

I found this interesting obituary for John Baker (1741-1826).

obituary for John Baker, Boston Traveler newspaper article 3 May 1826

Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 3 May 1826, page 3

It says that Baker:

was a native of Hungary, came to this country with [British General John] Burgoyne, and deserted from his army and joined the Americans, in whose service he continued his aid till the close of the revolution.

Is there more to know?

On its website, the Johannes Schwalm Historical Association describes itself this way:

JSHA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to researching those German auxiliary troops (generically called Hessian) who remained in America after the Revolutionary War, became loyal citizens, made cultural contributions and were the progenitors of any thousands of Americans living today.

An article in Hessians, the JSHA journal, gives more possible details about John Baker:

John Baker (Johann Becker) a so-called Hessian, is said to be buried in Westfield [Massachusetts]. He could have been Johann Becker, drummer (tambour) with Captain Ahler’s Company of the von Rhetz Regiment of the Brunswick Army. He was from Friedersdorf and born in 1749. He deserted (date unknown) and joined the American forces.

Article citation: Webler, Robert M. “German (so called Hessian) soldiers who remained in Massachusetts and neighboring states, particularly after the Battles of Bennington and Saratoga.” Hessians: Journal of the Johannes Schwalm Historical Association, Issue number 9 (2006), pages 82–88.

A Reminder: Records do not always agree. In this example, the obituary pegs his birth year as about 1841, while the Hessians article suggests “He could have been Johann Becker, drummer… [who] was from Friedersdorf and born in 1749.”

Since this might not be the same person and we don’t know the basis for Webler’s statement that Baker was born in 1749, I have used the earlier birth year suggested by his obituary notice for his life dates.

Are you a descendant of Revolutionary Ward soldier John Baker? If so, please contact us – we’d like to know more.

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GenealogyBank’s Detailed Revolutionary War Burial Lists

GenealogyBank has a strong collection of Revolutionary War records. We have thousands of newspapers that were published before, during and after the war that permanently recorded the troops that served: their battles during the war, and their accomplishments throughout the rest of their lives.

The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) was founded in 1890 and chartered by Congress in 1896. First Lady Caroline Lavina Scott Harrison, wife of U.S. President Benjamin Harrison, was its first President General. From the earliest days of the organization, the DAR has worked to document every person that fought in the Revolutionary War – and in particular, to document where each veteran was buried.

Because the DAR was chartered by Congress, their annual reports were published in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set. GenealogyBank has the entire run of these reports in our Historical Documents section.

Here is a typical entry.
This example is the entry for Phineas Bronson (1764-1845) who died in Illinois.

entry for Phineas Bronson from the Seventy-Fifth report of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution

Seventy-Fifth report of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (Washington, D.C.), 1973, page 30

This entry tells us that Phineas Bronson was born on 9 November 1764 and died on 25 October 1845; he “served in 3rd Company, 2d Regiment, under Maj. Benjamin Walbridge and Col. Zebulon Butler”; and he was a pensioner. The entry further informs us that he was buried in the Princeville Cemetery in Princeville, Peoria County, Illinois.

Phineas Bronson was born in Connecticut. See his birth record here. You can read more about the 2nd Connecticut Regiment in the Revolutionary War here.

An earlier DAR Report tells us that the Peoria Chapter of the DAR (Peoria, Illinois), under the direction of Mrs. James N. Butler, the chapter regent, had seen to it that Bronson’s grave was marked with a DAR memorial plaque.

record of Phineas Bronson's grave being marked with a DAR memorial plaque, from the Sixteenth report of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution

Sixteenth report of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (Washington, D.C.), 1914, page 130

That plaque still marks his grave.

photo of Phineas Bronson's gravesite

Find-a-Grave, FamilySearch partner site

Genealogy Tip: GenealogyBank is your go-to resource for your ancestors that served in the Revolutionary War. Like the example in this article, you can learn: what regiment your ancestor fought in; who his commanding officers were; his birth and death dates; the name of the cemetery where he was buried; and whether his grave was marked with a plaque by the local DAR Chapter.

Don’t let your ancestors’ stories be lost.
Find their stories – document them and pass them down.

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You Can Find the Names of Your Ancestors’ Ancestors in Obituaries

Joanna (Kellogg) Goodman’s (1742-1831) obituary does just this – it provides the name of her ancestor from 170 years before her. Her old 1800s obituary states:

She was a great-grand daughter of Joseph Kellogg [1626-1708], one of the first settlers of Hadley, and she and her ancestors lived on the narrow lot, south of the road to Northampton, which was granted to Joseph Kellogg, 170 years ago.

obituary for Joanna (Kellogg) Goodman, Boston Recorder newspaper article 7 September 1831

Boston Recorder (Boston, Massachusetts), 7 September 1831, page 143

These are some great details about her family history – telling us about her ancestor Joseph Kellogg, and that she lived on the same property that had been in the family for 170 years.

Joanna’s gravestone still stands in the Old Hadley Cemetery in Hadley, Massachusetts.
Click here to see it.

Note this old obituary calls her the “relict” of her husband Stephen Goodman – a once-common term for “widow.”

Our obituary archives can give you the names of your ancestors’ ancestors, allowing you to trace your family tree centuries back. Find and document the lives of your ancestors in GenealogyBank’s Historical Obituary Archives (1704–1999) and Recent Obituary Archives (1977–Today) now.

Find and document your ancestors’ stories – don’t let them be lost to your family.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from recent and historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

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1869 Medal of Honor Recipient Getting New Burial

Charles Schroeter received the Medal of Honor for “Gallantry in action” during a fight with Apache Indians in Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains in 1869.

Despite this recognition, no one claimed the old soldier’s ashes when he was cremated following his death in January 1920. His ashes lay in an unmarked crypt in San Diego for nearly a century until his story finally came to light. In July, Schroeter will be buried at Miramar National Cemetery with full military honors.

“General Staff Corps and Medals of Honor.” Serial Set, Vol. No. 7609, Report Senate Document 58 (Washington, D.C.), 23 July 1919

Source: GenealogyBank’s Historical Documents, “General Staff Corps and Medals of Honor.” Serial Set, Vol. No. 7609, Report Senate Document 58 (Washington, D.C.), 23 July 1919

This is one of those very unusual cases where the person’s death occurred decades ago – but because of his modern reburial, his obituary is included in GenealogyBank’s Recent Obituaries collection.

obituary for Charles Schroeter, San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper article 30 May 2015

San Diego Union-Tribune (San Diego, California) 30 May 2015

Charles Schroeter had served in the Civil War in the U.S. Cavalry, 1st Division. According to his obituary:

After the Civil War ended, Schroeter enlisted again, this time in the newly formed 8th U.S. Cavalry Regiment. He headed west, to Arizona, to fight in the Indian Wars and protect American settlers and their wagon trains. It was the 1869 Campaign of the Rocky Mesa that resulted in his Medal of Honor. Schroeter and other troopers were dispatched to respond to an Apache attack. At the end of the deadly battle in Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains, 32 cavalrymen were nominated for the top combat medal.

Throughout history, 3,493 Medals of Honor have been awarded. Of those, [Don] Morfe estimated there are still about 200 ‘lost souls’ whose grave sites are unknown — like Schroeter’s was until recently.

GenealogyBank has more than 1.7 billion records that tell your ancestor’s story. Dig in – find and pass down your family’s stories.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from recent and historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

Family Reunites after 90-Year Mystery in Springfield Solved

In this video, librarian Irene Nolan (Hamden Public Library, Connecticut) shares the story of how a family – separated for more than 90 years – was brought together once again with information from GenealogyBank.

This librarian was helping a family research their family tree. They had their grandfather’s first and last names. That was enough for Nolan to begin her search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Within 10 minutes she had located valuable genealogical information about the grandfather and his surviving relatives that facilitated the family’s reunion after nine decades of separation.

We can do this.
Start now and find your family – all of them – by finding their stories in old newspapers.

Tell us what you find out about your family in the comments section.

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