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!

Christina Applegate Finds Family with GenealogyBank on WDYTYA

Genealogists are relying on newspaper archives more and more to document the stories of their ancestors and trace their family trees. In last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? American actress Christina Applegate used an old article found in GenealogyBank’s Trenton Sunday Times Advertiser (Trenton, New Jersey), 26 August 1934, to learn more about her family history. Notice the family resemblance with her grandmother and great-aunt: Lavina and Delilah Shaw.

collage of a photo of American actress Christina Applegate and a newspaper clipping of her ancestors

Image Credit: Wikipedia and GenealogyBank.com

Dig into GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives and see what you can find out about your ancestry now!

Disclaimer: GenealogyBank is not affiliated with TLC TV Network or the Who Do You Think You Are? television program.

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 1: Google

I have been working on my family history for 50 years now. So much has changed—family researchers today have a much different task then we had decades ago.

Looking at the online genealogy tools available today, I would like to focus on the top 13 websites that will save you time and money so that your family research is preserved, well documented and readily available to the rising generation of your extended family tree.

Over the next several blog posts in our ongoing content series I will show which genealogy websites are the best and why you need to be using them to trace and document your family tree. All of these genealogy websites are world-class, the crème de la crème.

a Google logo

Credit: Google.com

Top Genealogy Website #1 – Google

Yes, there are millions of genealogy-relevant items on the open Internet. Beginners and advanced researchers can quickly find valuable records about their target ancestors online—and doing a search on Google’s search engine is an excellent way to find these ancestry records.

screenshot of a Google search for Willard Henry Kemp

Credit: Google.com

A Google search for my grandfather, Willard Henry Kemp, pulls up 22.3 million search results.

I can see that the first few results have accurately pointed me to online records that I can use. But—there are 22.3 million of these suggested matches! There must be a way to cut through this huge amount and get to the family records I really want to use.

Let’s try that Google search for my grandfather again.

Helpful Genealogy Search Tool: the Phrase “~genealogy”

Use this handy tool ~genealogy to fine-tune your Google searches.

This tool tells the Google search engine that you want to focus on genealogy records and resources, narrowing your search results to those records. Use it in your Google searches to save time and get the most useful records for your family tree research.

This time I will search for information about my grandfather in Google by putting his name in quotation marks (to exactly match his name) and I will add: ~genealogy.

screenshot of Google search for Willard Henry Kemp adding phrase "~genealogy"

Credit: Google.com

This time the Google search engine returned 35 targeted search results. That is a lot easier to review than 22.3 million.

I can quickly open and evaluate these records and then try alternate Google searches to expand my search results, such as:

  • “Willard Kemp” ~genealogy
  • Kemp and Stamford ~genealogy
  • etc.

I highly recommend you try a Google search to get an idea of what information might be out there on the web about your target ancestor—and then use the phrase ~genealogy to make the search results more manageable. Using Google is a great way to start exploring your family history.

Next article: #2 The Online Digital Book Sites

FamilySearch Family Tree Adds Important New ‘Attach Record’ Feature

FamilySearch.org has released a new “Search & Attach Record” feature this week that lets you easily search and attach genealogy records to each person on your family tree.

For example, let’s look at Allen Pierce Richmond (1826-1912) on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Here he is on the Family Tree.

By clicking on his name, we can pull up his page of information on the Family Tree.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Here is how the new Search and Attach Records feature works.

First, notice the Search Records button on the right side.

screen shot of the new "Search and Attach Records" feature on FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Clicking on that button will pull up a list of possible genealogy record matches—much like Ancestry’s “shaky leaves.”

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

You then select the genealogy records that pertain to your target ancestor. You are able to open and see each of these documents to confirm that they are your ancestor’s records.

For example, if we click on the reference for the 1910 Census that page immediately opens up.

screenshot of 1910 Census from FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch.org

After confirming that this is the correct Allen P. Richmond, we can immediately add this census record as a hyperlinked source to his page on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

With a click we can switch from the digital image of the 1910 Census to the index page for that household in the 1910 Census.

Click on the bright blue “Attach to Family Tree” button.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

This will pull up a decision box that lets you select the correct person to attach this 1910 Census page to.

Notice that this box has two options:

  • Possible Matches—where FamilySearch suggests matches
  • History List—where you can see the drop-down list of persons you recently viewed in your family tree

By selecting our target Allen Pierce Richmond (1826-1912) a confirmation screen will appear asking: “Is This Your Person?”

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

This step gives you the opportunity to review and confirm that you are accurately attaching this 1910 Census page to the correct Allen Pierce Richmond.

It also gives you the opportunity to add an explanation why you are attaching this document—perfect for those difficult-to-read old genealogy records. This space lets you explain how you reached your conclusion that this was his census record.

Click the blue attach button.

Now this census record has been attached as a source on Allen Pierce Richmond’s page on the FamilySearch Family Tree.

screenshot of FamilySearch Family Tree for Allen Pierce Richmond

Credit: FamilySearch.org

The 1910 Census attached to Allen Pierce Richmond on your Family Tree is permanently hyperlinked there in the list of “Sources” on his page in the tree. With one click the digital copy of the 1910 Census page will open right up.

Now you or any genealogist can see the sources you used to document your Family Tree on FamilySearch.

If you don’t agree with the conclusions and documentation that a genealogist adds to your ancestor, you can easily add the additional documentation that you find so that all of the genealogy records are attached to the person on the tree.

Quick, easy and permanent.

This new FamilySearch Family Tree feature will be heavily used and relied upon by genealogists.

Old Tombstones Recently Unearthed from Forgotten Illinois Cemetery

Genealogists are always digging.

So are backhoe operators.

It was a good thing that the Fosterburg Water District was digging for a waterline in Prairietown, Illinois, because while digging they found a long-abandoned historic cemetery.

Amazing.

No one had remembered that there was an old cemetery there. The tombstones had fallen and over the years were buried and forgotten.

Old Tombstone from Prairietown, Illinois Cemetery

Credit: John Badman, The Telegraph (Alton, Illinois), 28 June 2013.

Credit: John Badman, The Telegraph (Alton, Illinois), 28 June 2013.

The dig for the waterline unearthed these long-lost gravestones. Anthropologist Dawn E. Cobb from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency began studying why these tombstones were there. She looked at old Illinois maps and quickly found that there was a cemetery located at that spot in 1873, and a church was shown there on an 1892 map.

Years ago St. Mary’s Roman Catholic parish was merged with a parish in Macoupin County, Illinois. Now she is investigating how many people were buried there and researching the old records to find their names and genealogical details. Read the entire story in The Telegraph (Alton, Illinois), 28 June 2013: http://bit.ly/1aZp9Ac.

How many small cemeteries are gone from our memories?

How many tombstones have tipped over—with solid genealogical information buried—waiting to be rediscovered?

Historic Cemeteries and Unmarked Graves Newspaper Articles

Take the time this summer to research and found out where the old cemeteries were in your area 150 and 200 years ago. Are they all still accounted for?

Let us know if you rediscover a “lost” cemetery and what you found in the comments.

Deciphering 19th Century Handwriting and Type in Records & Newspapers

19th Century newspapers and handwritten records (such as the census) can be hard to read.

If you are having difficulty deciphering the handwriting or type, read through the issue of a newspaper or page in the census to see if other words on the page can give you clues to the editor’s or census taker’s writing style.

For example: here we have Eliza Markham living with her husband and family in Gerry, Chautauqua County, New York, as recorded in the 1855 New York State Census.

photo of the listing of the Markham family in the 1855 New York State Census

Credit: FamilySearch.org
1855 New York State Census
https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K6SG-7SG

Look carefully at the handwritten entry for Eliza Markham.

photo of the listing of Eliza Markham in the 1855 New York State Census

Credit: FamilySearch.org
1855 New York State Census
https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K6SG-7SG

Is her name “Eliza” or “Eleru”?

Is this a 19th Century name you’re not familiar with—or is it simply a handwriting style you don’t recognize?

Not so simple is it?

As you look at each handwritten letter in her name, you have to think through the options. Some letters are easier to read then others.

What you want to do is to carefully review the other words on the page to become more familiar with the census taker’s handwriting.

Let’s examine each letter in this name:

  • “E” – the initial letter has flourishes that make you wonder, but it is probably an “E”
    “l” – yes, the second letter is clearly a lower-case “l”
  • “i” – the “i” can be a little tricky—I don’t see a dot over the “i”…is this an “e” instead?
  • “z” – is that fourth letter an “r”? Would that fit? Looking at it again, it is probably the letter “z” written in the printed style instead of the cursive style
  • “a” – what about this open-topped final letter—is it the letter “u” or an “a”?

In trying to determine if that final letter is a “u” or an “a,” look at other examples on that same page:

  • Repeatedly the final “a” in Markham is written with an open top, much like a “u”
  • The daughter’s name “Alvira” on the seventh line is written with an open-topped final “a”
  • The family’s one-year-old son—and the father—also have a final open-topped “a” in their name

So, we can conclude from this handwriting pattern that her name was “Eliza.”

You will want to verify this by comparing the name to other genealogy records created in her lifetime.

Newspaper editors set and reset the pieces of type needed for each day’s newspaper. Broken type, ink spots, and gremlins of all sizes made their way into print and became a permanent part of the surviving newspapers—just like the imperfections in the handwritten records made by thousands of census takers a century ago.

FamilySearch Wiki has a handy multi-page chart of common spelling and transcription errors that were common in 19th Century printed newspapers and in handwritten documents like the census.

The “Intended” column shows what the letter was supposed to be, while the “Common Mistakes” column shows how the letter may appear.

a common-letter mistakes chart from FamilySearch

Credit: FamilySearch Wiki

See the FamilySearch common letter mistakes charts here: https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Spelling_Substitution_Tables_for_the_United_States_and_Canada

With these handy charts—and the patience to examine other examples on the page you’re viewing—you’ll find it gets easier deciphering difficult-to-read 19th Century newspapers and handwritten records.

Case Study Part 3: Finding Old Newspaper Articles about Family

Continuing my search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for the history of the Crofoot family (see: “Case Study: Using Old Newspaper Articles to Learn about Your Ancestors” & “Case Study Part 2: How to Find Old Newspaper Articles about Family”) I found  information about the death of Ephraim Crofoot.

When we found the obituary of Thomas S. Crofoot published in August 1852, the newspaper article referred to his father as “the late Ephraim Crofoot, Esq.”

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 25 August 1852, page 3 Thomas Crofoot Death Notice

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 25 August 1852, page 3.

This clue told us that Ephraim Crofoot had died before August 1852.

Digging deeper into the archives I found Ephraim Crofoot’s obituary that stated he died on 24 February 1852 at the age of 51.

Constitution Newspaper March 3, 1852 Ephraim Crofoot Death Notice

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

A week later a notice appeared in the same newspaper alerting everyone that probate proceedings for Ephraim Crofoot’s estate had begun on 28 February 1852.

Constitution Newspaper 1852 Ephraim Crofoot Probate Notice

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 10 March 1852, page 4.

So far we have found quite a bit of genealogical information and clues about Ephraim Crofoot and his family in the newspaper archives including information about his marriages, children and death. It takes time to piece together the clues and facts that document a family tree.

In the weeks ahead I will continue to report on my findings about the Crofoot family and provide similar examples from other typical families to help you better understand the kinds of information that you can discover about your family history in old newspaper articles.

Case Study Part 2: How to Find Old Newspaper Articles about Family

As I continued to look in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for the history of the Crofoot family (see: “Case Study: Using Old Newspaper Articles to Learn about Your Ancestors”) I found another clue.

Connecticut Journal Newspaper Esther Crofoot Death Notice 1829

Connecticut Journal (New Haven, Connecticut), 10 March 1829, page 3.

Another wife?

This historical obituary was for Mrs. Esther Crofoot who was the “wife of Ephraim C.”

Notice the newspaper editor simply gave his name as “Ephraim C.,” not repeating the surname Crofoot. The context was clear to the reader in this death notice, but these on-the-fly abbreviations can make it difficult to find every article about our target family.

So—we have an Ephraim Crofoot with a wife Esther, most likely married in the 1820s.

Earlier we found that an Ephraim Crofoot married Elizabeth W. Winship in 1830 and Betsey Sampson in 1850.

Is it the same Ephraim Crofoot in all three marriages?

It takes time to piece together the genealogical clues and facts that document a family tree.

In the weeks ahead I will continue to report on my newspaper findings about the Crofoot family and provide similar examples from other typical families.

Case Study: Using Old Newspaper Articles to Learn about Your Ancestors

Old newspapers provide the stories of our ancestors’ lives, helping to flesh out the names and dates on our family trees.

What kind of family history can be found in historical newspapers? Let’s pick a typical, ordinary family and find out.

For example, what can I discover about the Crofoot family that lived in Connecticut back to colonial times? Did they appear in the old newspapers?

Let’s see.

I’ll do a search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for the family surname Crofoot.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search page for Crofoot

Let’s take a look at some of the surname search results.

Here is a wedding announcement article I found in an old newspaper for Ephraim Crofoot.

wedding announcement for Ephrim Crofoot and Elizabeth Winship, Connecticut Mirror newspaper article 1 May 1830

Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, Connecticut), 1 May 1830, page 3

OK. The core facts: Ephraim Crofoot married Miss Elizabeth W. Winship about April 1830 in Middletown, Connecticut.

Here is another reference to Ephraim Crofoot I found in an old newspaper death notice.

death notice for Esther Elizabeth Crofoot, Constitution newspaper article 4 October 1848

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 4 October 1848, page 3

Ephraim’s daughter Esther Elizabeth, aged 17 years, died 29 September 1848. Calculating back, this means she was born about 1831.

OK. That piece seems to fit nicely in the family puzzle, since Ephraim was married the year before in 1830. Esther Elizabeth probably was the daughter of Ephraim and Elizabeth W. (Winship) Crofoot. We’ll need to do more genealogy research to confirm that.

Here is another old newspaper reference to a child of Ephraim’s: Thomas S. Crofoot.

death notice for Thomas Crofoot, Constitution newspaper article 25 August 1852

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 25 August 1852, page 3

This death notice tells us that Ephraim’s son, Thomas S. Crofoot, was 19 years, 4 months old when he died in August 1852. Calculating back, that would put his birth at about April 1833. Again, that fits Ephraim’s 1830 marriage.

There is another clue: this newspaper article refers to his father as “the late Ephraim Crofoot, Esq.”

So—had our Ephraim Crofoot died by August 1852?

More genealogical facts to double check.

But, look at this old newspaper article. It is another marriage announcement for an Ephraim Crofoot, to a Betsey Sampson.

wedding announcement for Ephraim Crofoot and Betsey Sampson, Constitution newspaper article 27 February 1850

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 27 February 1850, page 3

Is this the same Ephraim Crofoot? A different Ephraim Crofoot?

Had something happened to Elizabeth (Winship) Crofoot? Had she died? Was there a divorce?

It takes time to piece together all the genealogical clues and facts that document a family tree. As you can see, there are many articles in old newspapers that can help us discover the stories of our ancestors’ lives.

In the weeks ahead I will continue to report on my findings about the Crofoot family and provide similar case study examples from other typical American families to help you better understand how to find newspaper articles about your ancestors—and how you can use them to fill in your family tree.

Effort to Mark 1,200 Unmarked Civil War Veterans’ Graves Hits Snag

American volunteers are out in cemeteries across the country, working to document the lives of bygone generations whose graves were not permanently marked with a tombstone. When these dedicated good Samaritans identify a veteran, the volunteers often request a headstone from the National Cemetery Administration which is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Per the Department’s instructions: “The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) furnishes upon request, at no charge to the applicant, a Government headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world.”

illustration of government headstones available for the graves of military veterans

Credit: Department of Veterans Affairs

There are multiple styles of markers and tombstones that can be selected. These can be personalized with a symbol reflecting the veteran’s religious faith.

illustration of the religious symbols available for the government headstones furnished for the graves of military veterans

Credit: Department of Veterans Affairs

Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, has been using this VA program to place tombstones on the unmarked graves of Civil War veterans. As a team of volunteers documents each vet, they request a headstone to honor his service in the American Civil War.

Watch a New York Times video report about the volunteer effort to mark these Civil War graves:

This volunteer team estimates that there are over 8,000 Civil War graves in the National Historic Landmark Green-Wood Cemetery, many of them unmarked. The historic New York cemetery has gotten tombstones for over 3,000 formerly unmarked Civil War veterans’ graves, but they have had a problem getting the next 1,200 tombstones.

The Daily News reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs has changed its policy and is now requiring that the tombstone application be filed by a relative and not by a group such as the volunteers working at the Green-Wood Cemetery. See the complete news article “Department of Veterans Affairs blocks historic Green-Wood cemetery from giving Civil War vets tombstones.” Daily News (New York City, New York,) 9 July 2013.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer has gotten involved in this controversy, stating: “To require the permission of a direct descendant of men who died well over one hundred years ago is a nonsensical policy and it must be reversed.”

If the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t reverse this decision, then the volunteers and cemeteries will have to raise the funds to pay for these Civil War veterans’ grave markers.

Where to Put That Old Family Journal Online?

Do you have an old family journal or diary from your ancestor? What are you doing with it?

Curt Balmer transcribed his great-grandfather’s journal.

The old journal is a record of John Balmer (1819-1898) and Margaret Ann (Carey) Balmer (1831-1890). The Balmers were born in Ireland and moved to Ontario, Canada. John’s journal recorded how he worked to earn the money he needed to pay for the cross-Atlantic voyage, as well as details of the couple’s life together and experiences in Canada.

Curt Balmer asked how he could post his ancestor’s journal on the Internet. He wanted to get it preserved and made available online so that family members for generations could read it and know their ancestors’ stories. He asked for suggestions on where and how he could post the journal online.

Here are just two of the suggestions I made about where to post the transcript of the family journal online.

First, upload a copy of your family journal transcript to a free website like Scribd.com.

screenshot of John Balmer's journal on Scribd.com

Credit: Scribd.com

You can see John Balmer’s journal on Scribd.com here: http://bit.ly/135xACz

Scribd lets you upload any book you create and want to share online.

This is a good website for sharing the documents you create with others.

With just one or two clicks you can upload a transcript like this one of John Balmer’s journal.

My second suggestion is to post the journal onto an online family tree website like FamilySearch.

screenshot of John Balmer's journal on FamilySearch.org

Credit: FamilySearch.org

This is easy to do.

Simply find your ancestor on the FamilySearch family tree. If he is not there, add him.

Then click on the “stories” button and copy & paste your journal transcript, pasting it to his story box on that site.

With just a few clicks John Balmer’s autobiography has been easily preserved for your family online on Scribd and on FamilySearch.

What other websites or apps would you suggest for preserving the transcription of this old family autobiography/journal online? Please share them with us in the comments.