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!

GenealogyBank Is the Only Source of This Irish Passenger List Information

I am just amazed every time I see these Irish American passenger lists in GenealogyBank’s 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. That information is NOT in any other passenger list source. 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?

passenger list, Irish Nation newspaper article 20 May 1882

Irish Nation (New York, New York), 20 May 1882, page 7

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, Irish Voice, and Irish World regularly published lists of Irish passengers that came over on the passenger ships that week.

Genealogy Tip: What’s special about these Irish passenger lists for genealogists is the information provided: the passenger’s name; county of origin in Ireland; and their destination here in the United States.

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These published 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, valuable information that is just not found in any other 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 didn’t 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 lists.

For example, in an issue of the Irish Nation from 1882, we see the following passenger lists.

passenger list, Irish Nation newspaper article 7 January 1882

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

The first three passengers arriving on the steamer England on 29 December 1881 are:

  • Patrick Mitchel, from County Sligo – his destination was New York
  • Peter Judge, also from County Sligo, was heading to Baltimore, Maryland
  • Patrick Rourke, from County Clare, was going to Wisconsin

For genealogists having difficulty finding where in Ireland their Irish roots came from, this information tells them the answer. GenealogyBank is an imperative tool for Irish American research. Missing an Irish relative? Sign up for GenealogyBank today and find them. Start your 30-day trial now!

Click here to search GenealogyBank’s Irish American Newspaper Archives.

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Captain Alden Howell: Last Confederate Officer

When Alden Howell passed away in 1947 at the age of 106, he was the last surviving commissioned officer of the Army of the Confederate States of America.

obituaryr for Alden Howell, San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram newspaper article 21 March 1947

San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram (San Luis Obispo, California), 21 March 1947, page 9

It’s a good thing that there were multiple obituaries about this centenarian. Each historical obit gives us more of the details of his life.

For example, see this old obituary in the Greensboro Record.

obituary for Alden Howell, Greensboro Record newspaper article 21 March 1947

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 21 March 1947, page 10

We learn that he was a captain of “Company B of North Carolina’s Sixth Regiment,” that when he enlisted he had been “attending law school,” and that after the war he resumed his studies and received “his degree in 1866.”

We also pick up this critical piece of genealogical information: he “was a descendant of John Alden,” the famous ship’s cooper on the Mayflower, signer of the Mayflower Compact, and best known for marrying Priscilla Mullins. A great clue.

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In his ripe old age Howell was called upon to give advice, as reported in the Morning Olympian.

Confederate Veteran (Alden Howell) Gives Advice on Life, Morning Olympian newspaper article 19 February 1941

Morning Olympian (Olympia, Washington), 19 February 1941, page 1

“Don’t get mad. Don’t use cuss words. Never complain.”

Good advice – even now.

Even in this feel-good news article we pick up more genealogical details. He was an attorney and banker in Waynesville, North Carolina. He retired “15 years ago and moved [to Los Angeles],” and this critical statement: “He and his seven-year-old grandson, Kenneth Brimmer, jointly cut a birthday cake Tuesday” – a good clue that both he and his grandson were born on February 18th.

Genealogy Tip: Track down every newspaper article. Don’t stop with the first news article or obituary you find about your relative. Each one might contain the critical clue or fact that you need to build your family tree. Take those clues, verify the facts and document your family history.

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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Congratulations! FamilySearch.org Celebrates 120 Years

FamilySearch International recently observed the 120th anniversary of the formation of its forerunner, the Genealogical Society of Utah. FamilySearch is the largest worldwide Internet genealogy service in the world. For more details, read the full article at “FamilySearch Celebrates 120 Years.”

a timeline of the history of FamilySearch.org

Source: FamilySearch

The Genealogical Society of Utah was formed in 1894 by Wilford Woodruff (1807-1898), a native of Connecticut, to help the residents of Utah “to seek out their ancestors and preserve their family trees for future generations.”

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The article quotes Paul Nauta of FamilySearch public affairs:

Today, the vast collection of historical records and other family history services for preserving and sharing information are available for free to anyone at FamilySearch.org and the famous Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Here’s a quick overview of FamilySearch’s history from their announcement:

  • During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the society pioneered the use of microfilm to preserve and provide access to the world’s genealogical records.
  • In 1963, the society completed the Granite Mountain Records Vault for long-term storage of microfilmed records. More than 2.4 million rolls of film from more than 120 countries and principalities are stored there today.
  • In 1984, the society pioneered one of the first desktop genealogy management software programs, Personal Ancestral File. It also developed GEDCOM, a software code for sharing genealogical data.
  • In 1999, it launched the free website FamilySearch.org, which is available today in 10 languages.
  • In 2007, FamilySearch began crowd-sourcing family history by creating a website where volunteers could index records to make them searchable. Over 1 billion records have been indexed in just seven years.
  • In 2013, FamilySearch introduced Family Tree and Memories, which let you build, preserve, and share your family trees, photos, stories, and historical documents collaboratively.

Today, FamilySearch is used by tens of millions of people around the world “to build, preserve, share, and research their family histories and records.”

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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Revolutionary War Soldier Andrew Wallace – Dead at 105

In 1772 at the age of 42, Andrew Wallace shipped off for North America from Scotland – and just a few years later he was fighting in the American Revolutionary War for his new country.

obituary for Andrew Wallace, Elyria Republican newspaper article 19 February 1835

Elyria Republican (Elyria, Ohio), 19 February 1835, page 1

According to this old soldier’s obituary, Andrew “was engaged in some of the most memorable battles of the Revolutionary War,” and fought honorably. To the end of his life, he was honored by all for his military service. His most heroic moment on the battlefield came when General Marquis de Lafayette “was wounded at the battle of Brandywine [and] Wallace assisted in rescuing him from his perilous situation, and carried him off the field of battle to a friend’s house nearly two miles distant.” By the war’s close, Wallace was a decorated and honored sergeant.

Painting: “Nation Makers” by Howard Pyle, depicting a scene from the Battle of Brandywine

Painting: “Nation Makers” by Howard Pyle, depicting a scene from the Battle of Brandywine. Source: Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania; Wikimedia.

Wallace lived to be 105. A few weeks before his death, the Peale Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, hosted Andrew as a living exhibit meant to be the “connecting link between the olden and modern age.”

Andrew Wallace, at Peale's Museum, Richmond Whig newspaper article 2 December 1834

Richmond Whig (Richmond, Virginia), 2 December 1834, page 1

Wait – this is interesting.
The article states that Andrew “fought at the battle of Culloden…”
Battle of Culloden? That was in Scotland in 1746 when the British were putting down Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites.

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Thousands attended Wallace’s funeral at the old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, where he was buried. The Evening Post reported that even though he “lived and died in the Catholic faith…on his death-bed he asked to be buried with the honors of a mason and a soldier.” His request was honored and although “the weather was wet and stormy…there was an exceedingly brilliant display of military, the masonic fraternity, citizens and others.” The Church extended the extraordinary honor of having him buried in the same tomb as the revered Bishop John Connolly (1750-1825), the Second Bishop of New York. Andrew Wallace was beloved by many and had a great love for the country that took him in so many years prior.

Funeral of Andrew Wallace, Evening Post newspaper article 26 January 1835

Evening Post (New York, New York), 26 January 1835, page 2

Our veterans, old and new, have rendered us such great service and should be remembered every day. GenealogyBanks’ archive of over 1.7 billion historical documents holds the untold stories of your veteran ancestors; sign up today and discover them.

Genealogy Tip: Quite often, a person’s death is reported by many different newspapers in multiple states. Be sure to make a wide search for the obituaries of your ancestors. Do not limit your search to just the newspapers published in their home town.

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Your Wife – She Just Might Save Your Life

Marriages create life. They connect family trees and create orchards of ancestors.

And sometimes your wife pulls you out of a snowbank.

Saved by His Wife: Decker Was Caught in the Big Snowstorm, Idaho Daily Statesman newspaper article 18 February 1898

Idaho Daily Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 18 February 1898, page 2

That was the case for Abram Decker, 35, of Sussex County, New Jersey, in 1898.

The Idaho Daily Statesman reports that Decker went to town late one night for groceries in bad weather, and didn’t return. Because they lived far from Newton, what should have been a simple trip for groceries became dangerous due to the distance and the freezing weather.

Patient but worried, his wife waited until early the next morning to go out and search for him; she feared the worst as she fought her way “through snow drifts in some places 15 feet deep.” The Statesman reports that when she found a single foot sticking out of the snow, Abram’s wife identified her frozen husband and saved his life by building a large fire to warm him and bring neighbors to their aid. Decker had collapsed from exhaustion, overtaken by the distance and weather. Thankfully his loving wife saved him from certain doom.

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Genealogy is not just the births, marriages, and deaths; it’s the in-between that truly connects us to our ancestors. Stories like Abram Decker’s brave wife often fail to be passed down in the family – but they really are memorable and should be preserved.

GenealogyBank helps preserve the color and details that fill in our ancestors’ lives. Family stories like this and many others in our archive are waiting to be found. Sign up for GenealogyBank today and add color to your family tree.

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Revolutionary Patriot George Shell Fought Two Wars Simultaneously

When Revolutionary War patriot George Shell died in 1818, newspapers in Maine, Massachusetts, and New York carried the news – but they each gave him a single-line obituary.

obituary for George Shell, Weekly Eastern Argus newspaper article 25 August 1818

Weekly Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine), 25 August 1818, page 3

obituary for George Shell, Salem Gazette newspaper article 18 August 1818

Salem Gazette (Salem, Massachusetts), 18 August 1818, page 3

obituary for George Shell, Columbian newspaper article 15 August 1818

Columbian (New York, New York), 15 August 1818, page 3

However, Revolutionary War veteran George Shell deserved much more; the man fought two wars simultaneously, as detailed in this longer obituary found in another old newspaper.

obituary for George Shell, Albany Gazette newspaper article 15 August 1818

Albany Gazette (Albany, New York), 15 August 1818, page 2

Shell faithfully served in his local Albany, New York, regiment – against the wishes of his father, “who was attached to the royal cause.” So Shell had to fight two wars simultaneously, against the British and his own family. Upon his return to Albany, Shell found himself abandoned and rejected by the family patriarch; George’s father would never forgive him.

However, Shell created a new family for himself in the capital city. He ran a local barber shop and kept the men of Albany looking clean, sharp, and dapper. His funeral drew a significant crowd upon his death, reflecting his service to the town and the esteem his fellow citizens had for him.

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Thanks to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, we learn that no one’s life story is truly one line. George Shell was a respected barber who stood up for his beliefs and fought for his country during its war for independence. While many simply fought the British army, George also bore the cross of a family who abandoned him because they supported the crown. Thanks to the preserved records of the Albany Gazette, we know the depth of this veteran’s sacrifice. We feel enriched and motivated to sacrifice for what we know is right.

Sign up to GenealogyBank today and find your ancestors’ stories!

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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Genealogy Case Study: Researching Isaac Fernald

I recently was researching a man from Oregon named Isaac Fernald (1814-1871), and found information related to him in a variety of places online.

Isaac’s Death Reported in the News

I began my search with GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, and I found Fernald’s obituary in his home town newspaper: the Portland Daily Press.

obituary for Isaac Fernald, Portland Daily Press newspaper article 1 April 1871

Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 1 April 1871, page 3

I noticed this interesting phrase – “as has been before stated” – in his obituary, which is a good clue to look for earlier newspaper references to his death that were likely printed between the date of death (25 February 1871) and the date of the obituary (1 April 1871).

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Digging deeper in GenealogyBank, I quickly found this reference to his accidental death in Cardenas, Cuba.

obituary for Isaac Fernald, Boston Journal newspaper article 28 February 1871

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 28 February 1871, page 2

I also found this report, which adds the detail that Fernald’s fatal accident happened on a “side track of the railroad at Cardenas.”

obituary for Isaac Fernald, Boston Daily Advertiser newspaper article 1 March 1871

Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), 1 March 1871, page 2

In addition, I found this report of his funeral services.

article about the funeral services for Isaac Fernald, Portland Daily Press newspaper article 3 April 1871

Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 3 April 1871, page 3

Each newspaper article reports more of the details.

Why was he in Cuba?
It turns out that he had traveled there on business before.

Ship Passenger Lists

I know that FamilySearch has put the passenger lists for U.S. ports online, so I looked there for reference to Fernald’s travels to Cuba. I found him listed several times. For example, here he is reported returning to the U.S. onboard the steamship Cahawba, returning on 1 April 1860. His occupation is listed as “merchant.”

New York Passenger Lists 1820-1891, showing entry for Isaac Fernald

Source: FamilySearch, New York Passenger Lists 1820-1891

I also know that the Prints & Graphics Division of the Library of Congress has put their massive collection of ship photographs and images online. Checking there, I was able to find this sketch of the Cahawba that was drawn at about the same time that Isaac Fernald had traveled to Cuba.

drawing of the  U.S. steamship "Cahawba"

Illustration: U.S. transport Cahawba. Source: Library of Congress.

Genealogy Tip: After you find your ancestor’s obituary, be sure to keep on digging. There are several types of historical records easily accessible online that contain relevant information about our ancestors. By making the extra research effort you will find additional details of the story of your ancestor’s life.

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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John M’Donogh – Loyal American Patriot ’till Death

Deemed an upstanding citizen by the Salem Gazette, two-time American war veteran John M’Donogh passed away, losing a long fight with disease on 19 March 1809.

M’Donogh is noted for serving directly under a young General George Washington during the French & Indian War. M’Donogh fought during British General Braddock’s failed expedition in 1755 against the French, in which a 23-year-old Washington led troops, including M’Donogh, into battle on the Monongahela River.

obituary for John McDonogh, American and Commercial Daily Advertiser newspaper article 22 March 1809

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland), 22 March 1809, page 2

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M’Donogh also served for the Maryland 3rd Regiment during the Revolutionary War, under Captain Cox. “One of the patriotic band of Baltimore,” Captain Cox led M’Donogh and other troops into battle at Germantown and Brandywine. M’Donogh survived, and went on to lead an exceptional life in Baltimore.

obituary for John McDonogh, Providence Gazette newspaper article 8 April 1809

Providence Gazette (Providence, Rhode Island), 8 April 1809, page 3

GenealogyBank makes it easy for me to learn about John M’Donogh and other Revolutionary War heroes; see what’s inside the archives on your ancestor’s story. Start your 30-day trial now!

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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Gershom Beach Dead at 77 – the Forgotten Paul Revere

Gershom Beach, a blacksmith in Rutland, Vermont, was 77 when he passed away on 2 September 1805, according to his obituary.

obituary for Gershom Beach, Middlebury Mercury newspaper article 5 February 1806

Middlebury Mercury (Middlebury, Vermont), 5 February 1806, page 3

Born 24 September 1728 in Cheshire, Connecticut, Gershom Beach was credited as being one of the original settlers of Rutland, Vermont.

Beach is most noted for his Paul Revere-style message delivery for Colonel Ethan Allen at the battle for Fort Ticonderoga during the Revolutionary War, described in an article published by the Rockford Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 14 March 1930, page 6.

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Beach rallied the famous Green Mountain Boys by covering 60 miles of country in one day, carrying Colonel Ethan Allen’s message. According to the article: “He walked and ran 60 miles in 24 hours.” He went from town to town calling on the men in each town to join Col. Allen to take Fort Ticonderoga: “Even when he reached Hands Point, the rendezvous, ahead of the men he had summoned, he slept only a few hours.”

His life proved one man can make a difference. Beach’s heroic ride was detailed in a 1939 poem “Vermont’s Paul Revere” that describes this major turning point in the Revolutionary War.

The poem begins this way:

poem about Gershom Beach, Boston Herald newspaper article 29 June 1939

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 29 June 1939, page 14

And ends like this:

poem for Gershom Beach, Boston Herald newspaper article 29 June 1939

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 29 June 1939, page 14

Genealogy Tip: Gershom Beach’s brief obituary is just a few lines long, but with a small amount of digging in GenealogyBank you can find the rest of Beach’s interesting life story.

GenealogyBank has over 1.7 billion records and adds more newspaper archives daily. Interested in learning more about what GenealogyBank knows about your ancestors? Sign up today at GenealogyBank.com

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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Historical Italian American Newspapers Online

Per favore, provalo!

photo of street vendors in Manhattan’s Little Italy

Photo: street vendors in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Source: Wikipedia.

See: Street vendors at the Feast of San Gennaro in Manhattan’s Little Italy.

GenealogyBank is pleased to announce that these historical Italian American newspapers are available in our online archives.

State City Newspaper Start End
CA San Francisco Corriere del Popolo 1916 1962
NY New York Cristoforo Colombo 1892 1893
NY New York Eco d’Italia 1890 1896
NY New York Fiaccola Weekly 1912 1921
NY New York Progresso Italo-Americano 1884 1889
PA Philadelphia Momento 1917 1919

This collection of online newspapers is a terrific resource for Italian American genealogists.

Whether you’re looking for an old Italian marriage announcement or an obituary, GenealogyBank’s deep historical newspaper archives are your source.

collage of articles from Italian American newspapers

Two examples from GenealogyBank: a marriage notice from
Progresso Italo-Americano (New York City, New York), 2 August 1889, page 1 and an obituary from Corriere del Popolo (San Francisco, California), 25 December 1947 page 8

Please – give it a try!

Per favore, provalo!

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