About Duncan Kuehn

Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as Who Do You Think You Are? and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. She runs her own research company, “The Family Briar Patch

How to Research City Records to Find Your Urbanite Ancestors

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over nine years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” In this blog post, Duncan provides search tips to help research your ancestors who lived in cities and large towns.

Lots of people are and were attracted to big cities in the United States. This can be for the employment possibilities, the anonymity, the concentration of like-minded or ethnically similar individuals, the amenities, the energy, or plenty of other reasons. For genealogists, researching ancestors who dwelled in big cities presents different challenges from researching ancestors who resided in more rural environments. Trying to define the identities of similarly-named city dwellers can be complicated. Here is a look at some of the unique challenges and resources for urban research.

photo of the Chicago skyline at sunrise

Photo: Chicago skyline at sunrise. Credit: Daniel Schwen; Wikimedia Commons.


In rural areas it is a little easier to untangle the 25 Smith families that lived in Boone County than it is to untangle the 750 Smith families that lived in New York City.

Urban areas also have higher concentrations of ethnic and immigrant families. The record keepers did not always speak the language of these individuals, and their names can be wildly misspelled as the overworked clerk tried to hear through the accent. This is especially applicable in port cities, although all big cities are places of movement and migration.

Single people appear more commonly in big cities than in rural areas. Without other family members appearing in the same record, it can be challenging to know which John Parker is the one you are looking for.

To identify individuals in urban areas, it becomes much more important to know their occupation. This helps to separate out identities of similarly-named individuals as well as record entries where the name has been misspelled.

Cities have occupation records. These might come in the form of employment records for large corporations, membership records for social or occupational clubs or unions, and so on. These can be somewhat tricky to track down since the records do not belong to a governmental agency.

Home Address

Knowing their home address can also help. However, it is important to keep in mind that people moved quite frequently in cities. Often people were renting and would move on when the rent increased or their landlords called the lease. The first day of May is a traditional moving day. Although they may have moved frequently, city dwellers often tried to stay in the same area where they had friends, work, and other social ties. This is where maps become especially important. What may seem like major moves across two or three enumeration districts may actually only be down the block from the previous residence.

Municipal Records & City Directories

It isn’t just the people that cause difficulties. How we use records is different between rural and urban areas, and which records are most effective changes. In rural areas, land ownership records are often vital to resolving genealogical problems. In big cities, it is much less likely that the individuals owned land. On the other hand, it is much more likely that urbanite ancestors appeared in city directories and that those directories still exist.

Big cities generate more documents and records than rural areas. They were often the first to institute death and burial records to deal with the increased health hazards that exist in cities due to pollution and overcrowding. When an epidemic sweeps through a large city, the number of affected people is much greater. The demand for cemetery space increases and these municipal cemetery records are often well kept and available. Unlike a rural area where Grandpa Simon was buried in the back forty, cemeteries were well-defined and essential services in cities.

Also, health officials were beginning to track epidemics, and death records with the cause of death became an important part of their research. They also needed to track population growth, so birth records became important. These things happened much earlier in the cities than in the country.

Church Records

Churches existed in greater abundance in cities. This means it may be more difficult to track where an urbanite ancestor attended church, but it also means that the records may have been better preserved. They are not as likely to be stored in the secretary’s attic as is sometimes the case in more rural areas. Urban churches had to function more like a large corporation in order to deal with the number of parishioners. It may help to look in a newspaper for articles about church functions that mention your ancestor’s name. This is a quick way to narrow down the search for the right church.

Newspaper Records

While newspapers in big cities didn’t run the same country gossip columns for poor and middle class citizens, they still contain a lot of valuable information about these groups of people. Legal notices and police blotters in the newspapers can lead to research in valuable court records.

Our ancestors ran ads in newspapers. Newspapers were able to set low prices because they ran paid advertising. Even a small business owner or sole proprietor could take out an ad to increase business. There are also classified advertisements, which list a person’s address. If the person was selling work-related items such as welding tools, you may be able to get clues as to their occupation. Classified ads were the Facebook posts of the day. If a person was looking for tools, equipment, or other items they may have run a “wanted” ad. If they lost something, they may have run an ad with a reward for the recovery of the item. All of these are particularly useful in urban research.

Although big city research can be challenging, it is also easier than some people might think. Be patient and methodical – discover what city records are out there, and search them carefully. Good luck finding and documenting your urbanite ancestors!

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Court Records in Newspapers: A Gold Mine for Genealogy Research

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over nine years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” In this blog post, Duncan show how legal articles in old newspapers can tell you about some of the experiences your ancestors went through, and help steer additional research into their court cases and legal issues.

Court records are a gold mine for genealogists. A court record can be anything from a probate record, divorce decree, or guardianship case, to a criminal trial or civil action. Most of our ancestors were involved in the court system in one way or another. But how do you know what court records include your ancestors? Searching through old newspapers, such as those in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is a good way to find clues.

Americans were just as litigious in grandma’s time as they are now. Many people owned land, and that property would have to be distributed upon their death through a will (testate) or letters of administration in the absence of a will (intestate). Our ancestors were also called as witnesses in cases involving their neighbors. And so on.

These court records add a tremendous amount of texture to our understanding of our ancestors’ lives. Knowing more about who our ancestors were and what they were doing can increase our attachment and understanding of them. In addition, court records can also solve brick wall situations. For example, you may find that great-grandpa Connors and his son Jacob were sued for poaching on their neighbor’s property. If you were trying to connect Jacob to his father with documentation, you would have direct evidence of their relationship.

Information Contained in Court Records

Court documents will vary in what information is found within. For example, a probate record might include the names of the decedent’s heirs, what property they owned, clues about their lifestyle, etc. A divorce decree may list the minor children of a couple, the cause of the divorce, etc.

Not all of the records within each type of court document will have the same kind of information. For example, not all wills mention the names of all the heirs. One will I found simply left the decedent’s property “to be divided equally among my children.” However, other wills are highly detailed and informative. Some court document files can be hundreds of pages long!

Court records use legal verbiage, which can be confusing at times. Don’t let this deter you. There are many resources available to work through this challenging legal language. After a while, your comfort level with legal terms will increase and reading the court documents will become easier.

You will also begin to notice that certain phrases are repeated in court records. For example, a will often starts with the phrase, “In the name of God, Amen.” These types of phrases are called boilerplate, and recognizing them can help in reading the court documents. Becoming familiar with these common phrases and how they were used will increase your understanding of what the court document actually says. In the case of the beginning of a will, the phrase “In the name of God, Amen” does not indicate that your ancestor was highly religious; it was just a legal phrase used to begin a will. However, it does mean that your ancestor did not object to such language – which would mean they were not a Quaker or staunch atheist, for example.

Old Newspapers & Court Documents in the News

The main challenge researching your ancestors’ court records is finding them. You may not know a court case existed at all. You may not know in which jurisdiction to begin searching. You may not know what date to search. Unfortunately, most court records are not indexed. You can search through docket books and/or court minute books, but this can be a time consuming venture – especially if you aren’t sure a court case even existed.

Fortunately, there is an effective alternative: searching historical newspaper archives. Old newspapers often listed the cases seen before the court each week or term. Digitized newspapers online are easily searchable, and this often makes finding the court case a breeze!

The legal notices in a newspaper can take several forms. Here is one newspaper that organized the trial list by day:

article about court trials, Washington Reporter newspaper article 27 December 1876

Washington Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania), 27 December 1876, page 1

This newspaper organized its legal list by type of case, court, and room. It even included the case number (bless them!).

article about court trials, Plain Dealer newspaper article 20 May 1897

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 20 May 1897, page 8

This newspaper gave a short synopsis of what happened during the hearing:

article about court trials, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 7 June 1897

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 7 June 1897, page 8

Why were newspapers reporting this information? There are a number of reasons for making court case info public; three come immediately to mind. The first reason being that there was a legal requirement, in many cases, to publish the date of a hearing so that those who were affected could come to the courthouse and participate. Second, it has always been a part of the American justice system to have an open court, except in unusual circumstances. And lastly, before the advent of TV, this was actually a form of entertainment.

How to Find Court Records in GenealogyBank

To find legal information relating to your ancestors in the newspaper, some exceptional search techniques are required. For most genealogy research, you should not narrow a newspaper search down to just one paper. Searching for legal notices in the newspaper is the exception to this general research rule because the cases are often listed just by last name. Entering in “Robertson” without narrowing your search by a newspaper or region would yield far too many results to be practical.

Here are instructions for narrowing your results to a town or specific newspaper when searching GenealogyBank’s records. From the home page, go ahead and enter the last name only of the ancestor you’re researching.

screenshot of the search box on GenealogyBank's home page

Once the results page appears, select “Newspaper Archive (1690-2010).” Scroll down to the bottom of the page and select the state. Once the new results page has loaded, scroll down to the bottom of the page and select the city. If you still need to narrow it further, scroll down to the bottom of the page and enter the keyword “court,” a date range, or select a single newspaper. (Chose one, not all three.)

Once you find the correct jurisdiction, date, and possibly even case number from various newspaper articles, you can go search through the original case files to find the valuable information you are seeking. Some of these files have been digitized and are available on FamilySearch.org. Others you will need to track down by contacting the court in question and asking where their archives are kept.

Note that GenealogyBank also has a category dedicated to court records, case files and legal news that can help you narrow your search.

I hope you take advantage of court records in your family history research. The information found therein is exceptionally beneficial. Using newspapers to aid your search can make the process much simpler and more likely to yield positive results. Happy searching!

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The Three Stooges’ Story Told in Their Obituaries

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over nine years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” In this blog post, Duncan searches GenealogyBank’s obituaries collection to learn more about the zany comedy act “The Three Stooges.”

The Three Stooges, active from 1925 to 1970, were one of the most endearing and entertaining comedy acts that many of us grew up watching. The characters of Moe, Larry, and Curly made us laugh. They were prolific producers of short comedy films – at their peak, they produced eight shorts every year! I recently spent some time learning more about these beloved comedians by finding their obituaries in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

The dynamic trio originally got their start as stooges (Moe Howard, Shemp Howard, and Larry Fine) for Ted Healy. Shemp and Ted didn’t work well together and Shemp moved on to other projects. Jerome a.k.a. “Curly,” Moe and Shemp’s younger brother, then took Shemp’s place and the trio eventually left Healy to form their own comedy act, “The Three Stooges.” Curly remained one of the Stooges until his debilitating stroke in 1946. He was known for his high-pitched voice and childlike antics. He died in a care center on 18 January 1952.

obituary for Jerome "Curly" Howard, Oregonian newspaper article 20 January 1952

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 20 January 1952, page 11

Shemp returned to the act after Jerome’s stroke to fill in for his brother. What was supposed to be a temporary gig lasted for several years. Shemp filled in until his death of heart failure on 22 November 1955. Other stooges filled in for Shemp in the following years.

obituary for Sam (Shemp) Howard, Sacramento Bee newspaper article 23 November 1955

Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), 23 November 1955, page 1

Larry provided the voice of reason for the group, although his character wasn’t very reasonable. He died on 24 January 1975 of a stroke.

obituary for Larry Fine, San Diego Union newspaper article 25 January 1975

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 25 January 1975, page 15

While most of the Stooges struggled with finances, Moe was a wise businessman and invested his earnings. His onscreen character was a bully, but that didn’t reflect his true personality. He was 77 when he died of lung cancer on 4 May 1975.

obituary for Moe Howard, San Diego Union newspaper article 6 May 1975

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 6 May 1975, page 10

As people have indexed some of the Stooges’ obituaries as part of the GenealogyBank and FamilySearch agreement, memories of happy childhood experiences have flooded back. While The Three Stooges have all died, they continue to bring joy to others through the lasting legacy of their comedy.

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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Truly Personal Obituaries from the Recent Obituary Archives

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over nine years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” In this blog post, Duncan searches GenealogyBank’s recent obituaries collection and discoveries some truly interesting – and sometimes funny – passages in some of these obituaries.

Writing an obituary can be a painful and unexpected event. It can also be a healing one. More and more families are rejecting a dry, formulated writing style for their loved one’s obituary, taking instead a more personalized approach. It is challenging to compact a person’s life into a few lines. It is even more difficult to try to convey that person’s unique sense of being onto the printed page. Here are some marvelous examples of more personalized obituaries; I found these while browsing in GenealogyBank’s Recent Obituary Archives.

passage from Donna Smith's obituary urging people to be kind to one another

Humorous Life Philosophy

Sometimes an obituary shares a person’s philosophy.

Donna Smith’s obituary passed on this humorous life philosophy:

Do what’s right and do what’s good. Be kind and help others. The world can always use one more kind person. And if you can take it one step further, please do it for people grandpa’s age.

Donna Smith

obituary for Donna Smith, Salt Lake Tribune newspaper article 18 December 2014

Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), 18 December 2014

Jokes Help

The family, or even the person themselves, may try to lighten up the situation by making a joke.

In his obituary, Aaron Joseph Purmorts’s family stated that he:

died peacefully at home on November 25 after complications from a radioactive spider bite that led to years of crime-fighting and a years long battle with a nefarious criminal named Cancer, who has plagued our society for far too long. Civilians will recognize him best as Spider-Man, and thank him for his many years of service protecting our city. His family knew him only as a kind and mild-mannered Art Director, a designer of websites and t-shirts, and concert posters who always had the right cardigan and the right thing to say (even if it was wildly inappropriate).

Aaron Joseph Purmort

obituary for Aaron Joseph Purmort, Star Tribune newspaper article 30 November 2014

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 30 November 2014

Unusual Final Requests

Others leave behind unusual requests in their obituaries.

B. H. Spratt’s family suggested:

In lieu of flowers, tune-up your car and check the air pressure in your tires – he would have wanted that.

B. H. Spratt

obituary for B. H. Spratt, Florida Times-Union newspaper article 23 October 2011

Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Florida), 23 October 2011

Lisa Schomburger Steven’s family asked:

that you spend time with your children, take a walk on the beach with your loved ones and make a toast to enduring friendships lifelong and beyond. That is what Lisa would wish for you.

Lisa Schomburger Stevens

obituary for Lisa Schomburger Stevens, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 19 December 2005

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 19 December 2005

Tom Taylor Jr.’s family stated:

One of his last requests to his good friend Scott, was to contact the Cremation Society to ask for a refund because he knew he weighed at least 20 percent less than when he paid for his arrangements.

Thomas J. Taylor Jr.

obituary for Thomas J. Taylor Jr., Sun News newspaper article 27 August 2008

Sun News (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina), 27 August 2008

Tom Brady Fan

To make an obituary more personal, family members sometimes add a line about a person’s passions or strongly held beliefs.

Enter Last Name

Patricia M. Shong was a fervent New England Patriots fan. Her family stated this wish in her obituary:

She would also like us to set the record straight for her; Brady is innocent!

Patricia M. Shong

obituary for Patricia M. Shong, Worcester Telegram & Gazette newspaper article 24 May 2015

Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Massachusetts), 24 May 2015

Patricia’s defense of Tom Brady put a smile on everyone’s face, as reported at the end of her obituary.

obituary for Patricia M. Shong, Worcester Telegram & Gazette newspaper article 24 May 2015

Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Massachusetts), 24 May 2015

Another Football Fan

Michael Sven Vedvik’s family did their best to lighten things up by saying in his obituary:

We blame the Seahawks lousy play call for Mike’s untimely demise. Mike was greatly loved and will be dearly missed.

Michael Sven Vedvik

obituary for Michael Sven Vedvik, Spokesman-Review newspaper article 5 February 2015

Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), 5 February 2015

The Dog Ate It

Norma Brewer’s obituary contained this humorous remark:

Norma Rae Flicker Brewer, a resident of Fairfield, passed away while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. She never realized her life goal of reaching the summit, but made it to the base camp. Her daughter, Donna, her dog, Mia, and her cats, came along at the last minute. There is suspicion that Mrs. Brewer died from hypothermia, after Mia ate Mrs. Brewer’s warm winter boots and socks.

Norma Brewer

obituary for Norma Brewer, Connecticut Post newspaper article 31 January 2015

Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Connecticut), 31 January 2015

Losing a loved one is never easy. Helping others to see that person the way you did can help ease your sorrow at their passing. You may even consider helping your family out by writing your own obituary!

Do you have a touching or funny obituary you’ve come across in your genealogy research? If so please share your obituary finds with us in the comments.

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True Love Stories: 3 Married Couples with Lasting Bonds

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over nine years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” In this blog post, Duncan searches GenealogyBank’s recent obituaries collection and uncovers three heartwarming stories of couples who were married a very long time together – and died within hours of one another.

Being married for decades is a marvelously romantic experience. Few things are as adorable as seeing an elderly couple shuffling hand-in-hand down the sidewalk. Many elderly couples have been together longer than they were single. They form an inseparable bond and friends can’t think of one without the other. The death of one of them is devastating to the other.

For an astonishing percentage of long-married couples, the loss of one spouse means the other is soon to follow. Sometimes this even occurs when the second is unaware of the passing of the first. Here are three of these beautiful love stories that I found while looking through GenealogyBank’s online collection of Recent Newspaper Obituaries.

John and Marilyn Jenkins

John Jenkins served in the Navy during World War II. After returning home at the age of 19, he asked his mother to give legal permission for him to marry his high school sweetheart, Marilyn. The young couple worked at her parents’ grocery store for a time. John then got a job working at the post office. The work did not suit him and he quit without informing his wife. As many spouses can understand, this did not go over well with Marilyn when she later found out, and the couple argued. But eventually they worked things out and John found work in the insurance industry, while Marilyn worked as an elementary school teacher. John returned to the Navy for the Korean War.

obituary quote about an elderly couple who had their chairs moved together so that they could hold hands

The couple was quite social and loved to play games, square dance, and go camping. Even into their 70s, they were pulling a camper to Clearwater, Florida, to enjoy the outdoors. They also attended the Centenary Methodist Church and it played a big role in their lives. They had three children together.

However, their health eventually declined and they needed 24-hour care. John remained upbeat and optimistic, but Marilyn was in terrible pain.

According to their joint obituary:

Despite poor health and advancing years, [daughter Sue] Thomure believed her parents’ relationship remained an “epic” love story. “They were both very affectionate people,” she said. “They always loved hugs and kisses. They were outwardly affectionate with each other and with us. In fact, when they first started getting ill and elderly, their chairs were apart. We had to move their chairs next to each other so they could hold hands.”

obituary for John and Marilyn Jenkins, Daily Journal newspaper article 14 March 2015

Daily Journal (Park Hills, Missouri), 14 March 2015

After 67 years together, Marilyn died on 26 February 2015. Upon hearing the news, John replied: “Well, we done good and I’ll be along shortly.” By the next morning, he had indeed joined her in death.

Enrique and Emma Flores

Enrique and Emma dated for six years and were engaged for six years before finally marrying in 1953. Before marrying, they were able to save up for and completely furnish a home. Enrique served in the Army during the Korean War and made a career in the military, retiring in 1983. Emma spent most of her time raising their three children, but was also a substitute teacher. Although neither attended college, they valued education. Enrique even served as PTA president for their children’s school.

quote from an obituary about a loving couple that died within hours of each other

Religion played a major role in their lives. They said the rosary daily and it was one of the few things that Enrique could recall after dementia set it. Emma tried to care for Enrique but she struggled to care for his needs while battling through a second round of cancer, and he had to go into a nursing home. Her daughter took Emma to visit Enrique as often as she could.

According to their joint obituary, Enrique loved Emma’s visits:

[Enrique] would get so excited to see her and would always clap his hands. And he would repeatedly tell her, “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.”

These two long-time lovers were married for 69 years.

obituary for Enrique and Emma Flores, Corpus Christi Caller-Times newspaper article 2 March 2015

Corpus Christi Caller-Times (Corpus Christi, Texas), 2 March 2015

Sadly, it was Emma who died first on 1 March 2015. But within an hour of her death, the family was informed that Enrique had died at the nursing home without having received the news of his wife’s passing.

Marcus and Madelyn Yensen

I found a similarly touching love story in yet another joint obituary, this one for Marcus and Madelyn Yensen, a Salt Lake City couple that had been married for more than 74 years:

The pair met each other in 1940 at a dance studio when Marcus took a dance lesson from Madelyn. Just one month later, after a “whirlwind of romance’ – which included a date that ran past curfew and infuriated Madelyn’s mother – they were married, said their youngest son, Byron Yensen. “They were always together, and they were always very happy with each other,” [their daughter Carol] Bradford said.

obituary for Marcus and Madelyn Yensen, Deseret News newspaper article 25 April 2015

Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 25 April 2015

Marcus served in the Navy during WWII and then built a career as an engineer on the railroad. They had three children together. Madelyn was the social one while the more-quiet Marcus usually kept his thoughts to himself.

quote from an obituary about a loving couple that died within hours of each other

According to their obituary:

In his last months, Marcus had been fighting heart failure. Nurses told him he would die in March, but he clung to life, determined to at least live until April 1 so he could collect pension money for his wife, their youngest son said.

Marcus made it to April, clinging to life in a nursing home, but Madelyn died at home on April 7. Bradford went to the nursing home to tell her dad the sad news:

“I leaned over and whispered in his ear, ‘Mom has passed, and she’s waiting for you in heaven.’ I think after that, he knew he had accomplished what he needed, and he felt that he could let go.”

Marcus Yensen died at 9:30 that night.

“Being the gentlemen he always was, and showing the eternal love they had together, Marcus held the gates of heaven open so Madelyn could walk in first, then followed her.”

What is the longest marriage in your family tree? Do you have any heartwarming romantic stories to share? Tell us in the comments.

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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Anna Jarvis Worked Hard to Make Mother’s Day a National Holiday

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over nine years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan searches GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives to learn more about Anna Jarvis and her hard work getting Mother’s Day established as a national holiday.

Mother’s Day is this Sunday. It is time to get the shopping for mom’s gifts done. Buy a sweet card, get some flowers, maybe some nice jewelry or other token of your appreciation. You will probably call home or drive over for a visit with your mother. It is a day to celebrate mom. The fact that Mother’s Day is a National Holiday is thanks largely to the efforts of Anna Jarvis, whose story can be found in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

photo of Anna Jarvis

Photo: Anna Jarvis. Credit: Olairian; Wikimedia Commons.

Anna M. Jarvis spent seven years pushing for a national holiday to celebrate mothers, after her own mother died. Congress finally passed the requisite law on 8 May 1914, and President Woodrow Wilson issued the official proclamation the next day. Anna began her efforts in 1907, and had successfully convinced 5-6 million people to join in the feel-good festival honoring mothers as early as 1908. They wore a simple white carnation as a token of appreciation for mothers.

article about Anna Jarvis and the first celebration of Mother's Day in the U.S., Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 20 May 1908

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 20 May 1908, page 8

Anna desired the holiday to celebrate her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis. Ann was also a social activist and had been the founder of a “Mother’s Friendly Day to weld families split by the Civil War.” Ann gave birth to 13 children, many of whom died very young. Ann and Anna were very close and when Ann died 9 May 1905, Anna mourned deeply.

Three years later she made her initial push for a larger memorial service to honor all mothers. The idea was a success and 5-6 million people were estimated to have participated in the celebration. They made a visual show of appreciation for their mothers by wearing a single white carnation.

Anna eventually quit her job in order to campaign for a national holiday. The idea caught like wildfire and just seven years after she began her campaign, the second Sunday in May was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson for the purpose. Nearly every country around the globe also began instituting its own version of a Mother’s Day celebration. Although not the first to champion the idea for Mother’s Day, Anna was probably more successful instituting it than she ever imagined.

article about Anna Jarvis and Mother's Day, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 27 November 1948

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 27 November 1948, page 4

Despite being successful in her efforts to bring attention to motherhood, Anna was never able to participate in that experience herself because she never had children of her own.  Her endless efforts also led to personal financial challenges, because her seven-year campaign turned into a life-long no-holds-barred battle against the commercialization of the new national holiday, which absolutely horrified her. Anna’s simple, heartfelt symbolic gesture of honoring mothers with a single white carnation was quickly overshadowed in the landslide of marketing campaigns around the new celebration.

Anna was disgusted by the commercialization of Mother’s Day, the pre-printed store-bought cards, and the impersonal gifts. She campaigned hard, with the same energy she had devoted to the first seven years of getting the day recognized, to push her ideas of forgoing the shallow tokens in favor of making a heartfelt connection with one’s mother. It was a battle she did not win. Mother’s Day is one of the most lucrative holidays for phone companies, the travel industry, card makers, florists, spas, and more.

Anna “once threatened to sue Governor Al Smith of New York over plans for a gigantic Mother’s Day meeting in 1923.” She even “tangled with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt over a rival Mother’s Day committee.”

Sadly, Anna died a “lonely spinster…partially deaf, blind and penniless” at the age of 84.

obituary for Anna Jarvis, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 November 1948

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 November 1948, page 37

Perhaps this year a homemade card, a single white carnation, and some quality time together with mom might be the better way to celebrate mom and Anna Jarvis.

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The Almost-Immortal 122-Year-Old Jeanne Calment

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over nine years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan searches GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives to uncover the astonishing story of Jeanne Louise Calment – the only human in history verified to have lived 120 or more years!

Jeanne Louise Calment was born 21 February 1875 in Arles, France. She lived a remarkably full life and remained vibrant to the end, passing away on 4 August 1997 at the incredible age of 122 years, 164 days! Her entire lifespan is well documented with census and other records, and she is the only human in history verified to have lived 120 or more years.

article of Jeanne Calment celebrating her 122nd birthday, Register Star newspaper article 5 August 1997

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 5 August 1997, page 6

Jeanne was treasured in her hometown of Arles, where she lived her entire life. After the oldest woman on earth died the deputy mayor of Arles, Michel Vauzelle, commented in her obituary:

She was the living memory of our city. Her birthdays were a sort of family holiday, where all the people of Arles gathered around their big sister.

obituary for Jeanne Calment, Register Star newspaper article 5 August 1997

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 5 August 1997, page 6

As recounted in her obituary, Jeanne met Vincent van Gogh when selling art supplies to him at her father’s shop in 1888. She described him as “dirty, badly dressed, and disagreeable.” More than a century later, she made a brief appearance in the 1990 film Vincent and Me – becoming, at the age of 114, the oldest person to ever appear in a movie.

Jeanne didn’t have to change her last named when she married Fernand Nicolas Calment, her double cousin. According to Wikipedia, this situation occurred because their paternal grandfathers were brothers and their paternal grandmothers were also sisters, making them cousins on both sides.

Longevity ran in Jeanne’s family. Her father, Nicolas Calment (1838-1931) died just six day shy of 93; her mother, Marguerite Gilles (1838-1924) lived to be 86; and her brother, Francois Calment (1865-1962) lived to be 97.

However, the longevity line ended with Jeanne. She and her husband Fernand had one daughter, Yvonne, who died at the age of 35 of pneumonia leaving behind a young son, Frederic. Jeanne raised the little boy and he became a doctor before dying at age 36 in a car accident in 1963. Her husband had died back in 1942, so Frederic’s death left Jeanne entirely without family.

In 1965, at the ripe old age of 90, Jeanne sold her apartment. The buyer, Andre-Francois Raffray, must have thought he was making a great deal by purchasing it on contingency. Instead of paying the full amount upfront, he agreed to pay the elderly woman 2,500 francs per month until she died. But it was more of a gamble than he anticipated! After paying her faithfully for 30 years he died first, in 1995, and then his widow continued making the payments until Jeanne died in 1997.

Throughout Jeanne’s life, she remained positive. On the occasion of her 116th birthday, she stated:

I think I’ll probably die laughing.

article about Jeanne Calment celebrating her 116th birthday, Boston Herald newspaper article 22 February 1991

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 22 February 1991, page 12

Two years later, on her 118th birthday, this headline writer dryly noted “She’s in her very, very late teens.” The article reports:

Her doctors say her memory and sense of humor remain keen.

article about Jeanne Calment celebrating her 118th birthday, Register Star newspaper article 22 February 1993

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 22 February 1993, page 3

As Calment continued aging, reporters kept asking her about her remarkable longevity. As her obituary reports:

Every year on her birthday, Feb. 21, she regaled reporters with quips about her secret of longevity – the list changed every year and included laughter, activity and “a stomach like an ostrich’s.” Her most memorable explanation was that “God must have forgotten me.”

When she died, the town of Arles mourned. As Jeanne’s obituary reports:

In Arles, the flag at city hall was at half-staff Monday. Groups of people lingered in the streets to chat about Calment’s life and death.

“We ended up believing she was immortal,” said Felix Ramadier, a retired worker.

“It’s a bit of our heritage that went away today,” baker Andre Pons said.

What must it have been like to live to be the oldest person ever? Without a doubt, Jeanne had some interesting stories to share. What are you doing today to keep your recollections of the past alive for future generations? Please tell us in the comments section.

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FamilySearch’s Discovery Center: My Family’s Fun with Family History

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan describes a recent visit she made with her three children to FamilySearch’s new Discovery Center.

I’m a single mom of three kids: a 16-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl, and an 11-year-old boy. As the children of a genealogist, they are what is affectionately termed “genealogy orphans.” This means that I get so excited about my research that the kids have to drag me down to dinner instead of the other way around. It also means that family vacations often involve an archive – and my idea of a fun family activity is walking around a cemetery. Needless to say, they aren’t as fond of these genealogy activities as I am. In fact, I’m likely to get three simultaneous eye-rolls when I start a conversation with, “You will never guess what I just found!”

FamilySearch’s New Discovery Center

Recently a friend of mine, Randy Hoffman, told me about FamilySearch’s new Discovery Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was super excited! Randy is involved in the operation of the center and he described it as “a way to bring the fun back into family history” and a “great family activity.” I immediately signed up to go and happened to be one of the first groups to visit.

Strategically, I didn’t tell the offspring where we were going until just before we got there. Then I stated that we needed to do my friend a favor and find out if his recent project was any good. Being naturally helpful people, they were willing to go along with this as long as we didn’t spend too much time there.

Upon entering the brand new Discovery Center they were presented with their very own iPad to use during the tour. That won them over. My kids, like most, are suckers for technology. They were instructed to take a selfie, which they all managed easily. However, they had to help me get one that looked decent. Apparently, there is an art to taking a self-portrait. My daughter, as you can see below, had no trouble.

photo of Duncan Kuehn's daughter

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Discover My Story

Once we signed into our FamilySearch accounts, we snapped the iPads into the first docking station: “Discover My Story.” Our iPads projected information about our names onto a large screen. This elicited excitement. “Hey, look at this!” the youngest called out. He found that in the 2010 census there were only 16 other people named Jasher in the entire United States. He declared that all the Jashers of the country should get together and swap stories about having such a unique name.

map showing where people named "Jasher" live in the U.S.

Credit: FamilySearch.org

My oldest child, a newly licensed driver, was enamored by the price of gasoline over the years. He declared that he wouldn’t mind paying the five-cent price for a gallon back in Great-Grandpa’s day. There may even have been a hint of amazement in his voice that Great-Grandpa had, indeed, been telling the truth when he said, “Back in my day…”

graphic showing the price of various commodities in 1998

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Explore My Story

At another docking station was a mapping tool called “Explore My Story.” When you plugged in here, pins dropped all over the world map to indicate where each of your ancestors was from. Unfortunately, my map was fairly bland since my ancestors have been in the United States for many, many generations – and then my ancestry hops back to the United Kingdom. My kids on the other hand are half German from a fairly recent migration, so their maps had more variation. What was most interesting to me was the ability to click on a pin and get information about that ancestor. And guess what I found! Many of my ancestors had multiple stories attached to them – long, interesting stories. And photos! No way! How did I not know this? Probably because I am so busy researching other people’s trees. But I was sure excited to do some poking around in my own tree that weekend.

Experience My Story

I really enjoyed the time machine, or what they officially called “Experience My Story.” This room had a giant screen showing the interior of a house, and documented the changes in furniture and amenities over the years. I spent quite a bit of time in there going backward and forward in time to watch the changes.

Picture My Story

My kids, on the other hand, filtered in and out of that room. They had discovered the photo booth called “Picture My Story” and were capturing images of themselves in traditional dress from around the world. I was grateful the Discovery Center was an enclosed area (and we were the only ones there) because of their shrieks of laughter as each new photo got a bit more out of control, particularly from my selfie-obsessed daughter. Here’s a picture of me in an Armenian dress.

photo of Duncan Kuehn in an Armenian dress

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Record My Story

Our favorite station, and the one we spent the most time in, was “Record My Story.” We plopped down together on a couch in front of a large screen. On the screen were various topics to discuss. Our first choice was: “Embarrassing moments.” I related the experience I had in 6th grade when my long-time crush finally noticed me. He was just saying hello for the first time as we walked across the playground when I slipped on some ice. I had, unfortunately, chosen a skirt to wear that day in an effort to impress him. Skirts and ice don’t go well together and you can imagine the outcome. I lay there horrified as everyone laughed. It was a horrible happening then; great story now. And now my memorable life event is recorded for all time and eternity in audiovisual format.

We stayed at that station for at least half an hour, having a great time together recording our personal stories. My kids and I were laughing and trying to outdo each other for the funniest story. Finally, the friendly couple in charge of the center had to gently inform us that our time was up. And for the first time ever, my kids were sad to leave a genealogy-related activity. They asked if we could get the cousins and come back. According to Randy Hoffman, that has been a common response. One little girl even asked if she could have her eighth birthday party there! Since the goal was to put the family fun into genealogy, I would say the center is a raging success.

On the way out, we paused to take this family photo. The picture immortalizes the day we all had fun at a family history experience.

photo of Duncan Kuehn and her three children

Credit: FamilySearch.org

If you haven’t checked out the new Discover Center it’s worth a trip. The address is:

Joseph Memorial Building
Main Floor
15 East South Temple Street
Salt Lake City, UT

You can also schedule a visit here: http://www.scheduleonce.com/FamilySearchDiscoveryCenter

Have you had a recent family history experience that was fun for the whole family? Please tell us about it in the comments section!

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Pearls of Life Wisdom from Pink Mullaney’s Obituary

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan shares some of the funny and at times insightful comments from the obituary of Mary “Pink” Mullaney about a life well-lived.

Sometimes you read an obituary and mourn that you didn’t get a chance to know the person who died. Such is the case with Mary “Pink” Mullaney. Her well-written obituary helps the reader come to know her – and she sounds like a fantastic person to know!

The quirky opening line of her obituary sets the stage: “If you’re about to throw away an old pair of pantyhose, stop.” You immediately know that this isn’t going to be an ordinary obituary, which is good because Pink Mullaney was no ordinary person.

Never throw away old pantyhose. Use the old ones to tie gutters, childproof cabinets, tie toilet flappers, or hang Christmas ornaments.

The obituary for Mrs. Mullaney ran in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Her six children must miss her terribly. Surely there was rarely a dull moment growing up with her as a mother!

obituary for Mary "Pink" Mullaney, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper article 4 September 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 4 September 2013, page 5

Put picky-eating children in the box at the bottom of the laundry chute, tell them they are hungry lions in a cage, and feed them veggies through the slats.

Pink lived for 85 years. She outlived her husband, Dr. Gerald L. Mullaney, and six of her nine siblings.

Keep the car keys under the front seat so they don’t get lost. Make the car dance by lightly tapping the brakes to the beat of songs on the radio. Offer rides to people carrying a big load or caught in the rain or summer heat. Believe the hitchhiker you pick up who says he is a landscaper and his name is “Peat Moss.”

She had 17 grandchildren at the time of her death. If other descendants have been born since, they truly missed out on knowing such a lovely person.

Let a dog (or two or three) share your bed. Say the rosary while you walk them. Go to church with a chicken sandwich in your purse. Cry at the consecration, every time. Give the chicken sandwich to your homeless friend after mass. Go to a nursing home and kiss everyone.

obituary for Mary "Pink" Mullaney, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper article 4 September 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 4 September 2013, page 5

Pink trusted everyone in ways that many of us would find shocking in today’s society. However, her old-fashioned ways seemed to have served her well in life, and she must have been well-loved by all who knew her.

Give to every charity that asks. Choose to believe the best about what they do with your money, no matter what your children say they discovered online. Allow the homeless to keep warm in your car while you are at Mass.

Take magazines you’ve already read to your doctor’s office for others to enjoy. Do not tear off the mailing label, “Because if someone wants to contact me, that would be nice.”

obituary for Mary "Pink" Mullaney, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper article 4 September 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 4 September 2013, page 5

Friends (and strangers she would love to have met) can visit with Pink’s family at the Feerick Funeral Home on Thursday.

When Pink died, her family asked that donations in her honor be made to the Dominican High School or Saint Monica Parish, or “any charity that seeks to spread the Good News of Pink’s friend, Jesus.”

Truly the world lost a bright light on 1 September 2013, when Pink passed away.  But how good it was that a bit of her personality was captured by her family and shared in this funny and thought-provoking obituary. At first, we laugh at some of Pink’s odd behaviors and insights. And then we realize just how right she was. Thank you, Pink.

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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The Nelson Shipwreck & Captain Hagney: Name Research Tips

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan searches old newspapers to learn more about Captain Hagney and the sinking of the schooner “Nelson” on Lake Superior in 1899, using various search tips to get good results.

Searching newspapers for an ancestor’s name that doesn’t seem to have a standard spelling can be a challenge for family historians. Here is an interesting case study about the captain of a sunken ship that may help you research those difficult ancestor names. Recently this ship, the schooner Nelson, was found under more than 200 feet of water in Lake Superior. There were several newspaper articles about the shipwreck discovery, but they had various spellings of the captain’s name – including “Haganey” and “Hagginey.”

The Story of the Sinking of the Nelson

The shipwreck story goes like this. On 15 May 1899, the schooner Nelson was overloaded with coal, in addition to the 10 people on board. There was a terrific storm on Lake Superior and ice accumulated on the ship, causing it to sit even lower in the water. The waves began to crash over the edges of the ship. The Nelson was being towed by the steamer A Folsom along with the Mary B Mitchell. At some point the towing line either broke or was cut. Shortly after, the Nelson tilted and the stern popped up out of the water as the entire vessel almost immediately went under. The captain placed his crew, his wife, and his toddler son into the lifeboat. Then he dove into the water to join them. Unfortunately, the lifeboat was still tethered to the Nelson and it was dragged down to the bottom of the lake by the sinking ship. The captain, who never reached the lifeboat, watched helplessly as his ship and family were lost. He clung to a piece of the wreckage and was found unconscious along the shore. The storm’s violent 50 mile-per-hour winds prevented any rescue efforts by the other two ships. Nine lives were lost; only the captain survived.

My Search for the Captain

This is a compelling story of a heroic effort by the captain of the Nelson that just wasn’t enough to save his family or crew, and I wanted to learn more details.

As always, I searched for contemporary records to find out more. I started by looking into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. I ran this search:

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box showing a search for the schooner "Nelson"

I entered the name of the ship in quotation marks as a keyword. You do not necessarily need to use a person’s name to search on GenealogyBank – a keyword search is often effective. I also entered a date range from the date of the accident to several months after the event. When the search results came back I sorted the results with the oldest article first, as I prefer to read articles in chronological order.

I found many newspaper articles from all over the United States telling the story of the accident. Here are three of those articles.

This article refers to Captain “Haganney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Elkhart Weekly Review newspaper article 17 May 1899

Elkhart Weekly Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 17 May 1899, page 1

This historical newspaper article refers to Captain “Hagney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Anaconda Standard newspaper article 15 May 1899

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 15 May 1899, page 1

This old news article also refers to Captain “Hagney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Bay City Times newspaper article 15 May 1899

Bay City Times (Bay City, Michigan), 15 May 1899, page 3

Using these old newspaper articles, I discovered that much of the information in the present-day articles about the discovery of the shipwreck reflected the information given in those 1899 articles. However, I found some inconsistencies as well. Perhaps most importantly, the old articles make no mention of the captain’s heroic effort to save his family and crew. A typical comment from those 1899 articles is that “The Nelson disappeared as suddenly as one could snuff a candle,” suggesting that the captain did not have time to do anything. I also find that Captain Haganey/Hagginey (as spelled in the modern newspaper articles) is spelled differently in the 1899 articles:  “Haganney” and “Hagney.”

After learning about the shipwreck, I now wanted to know more about the captain himself – but there were so many spellings of his name I wasn’t sure which was correct. A quick search of census records on FamilySearch.org told me that he was the son of John and Mary Hagney from Oswego, New York. He also had siblings: Ellen, Thomas, William, and Mary.

Going back to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I narrowed my search using the name as it appeared in the census: “Hagney.” This search turned up several articles that told me a great deal about the captain.

One of the first I found was this very sad newspaper article. It appears that on the same day the Nelson when down with Captain Hagney’s entire family, his friends from New York were frantically trying to reach him with the sad news that his mother had just died. The unfortunate man lost his one remaining parent and his wife and child.

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Saginaw News newspaper article 15 May 1899

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 15 May 1899, page 6

The Captain Searches for His Family

Immediately after the Nelson accident, Captain Hagney refused to give up hope. As this old news article explains, he wasn’t willing to give up on his family – and spent hours and days combing the beach for any sign of his loved ones:

Capt. Hagney is now engaged in patrolling the beach with the help of the crews of life saving stations here and at Deer Park. The broken yawl, some parts of the cabin, a lady’s hat, a man’s cap and a mattress are all that have yet been found.

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Plain Dealer newspaper article 19 May 1899

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 May 1899, page 10

Hagney was understandably distraught, as reported in these next two newspaper articles. This Ohio newspaper article’s headline, “Capt. Hagney in Bad Shape,” says it all, and reports that he had been hospitalized:

The doctors class his trouble as nervousness and insomnia.

article about Captain Hagney's trauma after the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Plain Dealer newspaper article 24 May 1899

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 24 May 1899, page 8

This Michigan newspaper article reports that Hagney’s condition is serious.

article about Captain Hagney's trauma after the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Saginaw News newspaper article 24 May 1899

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 24 May 1899, page 2

The Previous Life of Captain Hagney

The 1900 census shows him safely ensconced at the home of a family member in Toledo, Ohio, where he was working as an agent for the seamen’s union.* As tragic as all of this was, I still wanted to know more about Hagney. He had a life before the shipwreck of the Nelson and one after, so I ran some more searches. I started with changing the spelling from Hagney to Hageny. I figured this would be a common misspelling even though I hadn’t seen it in any of the records so far. This search did produce results, and I found a series of articles about his life back in New York a decade before the accident.

Ten years previously, in 1889, Andrew got into some difficulty with the law. As this New York newspaper reports, there was a trial after some union trouble involving strikes, “scabs” and violence:

Andrew Hageny, William Putman, and Michael Donovan were charged with a murderous assault upon Jesse Josephs, mate of the schooner John Scheutte of Toledo, at the dock in this port…Josephs was dragged a mile into the suburbs, pounded with belaying pins and thrown into the cellar of a burned house; he managed to crawl to an adjoin house.

They were all found guilty of assault in the second degree, with a second, upcoming trial for coercion and conspiracy in forcing some “scabs” to leave another ship.

article about Andrew Hagney being convicted for assault, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 20 July 1889

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 20 July 1889, page 5

This “Andrew Hageny” seems to be the same man as the later Captain Andrew Hagney of the Nelson, based on location, occupation, and name, but more evidence is always wanted – so I kept searching the archives. I found this earlier newspaper article about the assault on sailor Jesse Josephs, and learned that Andrew Hageny’s brother Thomas was also involved. This lends credence to the belief that this Andrew Hageny is the same as the later Captain Andrew Hagney, since I knew from my earlier research on the census that Andrew Hagney had a brother named Thomas.

article about Thomas Hagney being charged for assault, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 17 May 1889

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 17 May 1889, page 3

But how did Andrew become a ship’s captain with this background of conviction for assault, especially when we find that he had been sentenced to four years in prison?

Intrigued, I kept searching for answers – and found this newspaper article two years into Andrew’s prison sentence, indicating that Governor Hill had promised to pardon him.

article about Andrew Hagney being pardoned by Governor Hill, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 25 November 1891

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 25 November 1891, page 8

And that was indeed what happened – Governor Hill pardoned him. So that was how he got out of prison early, and presumably set about setting his affairs in order. I was unable to find any newspaper articles reporting Andrew getting in trouble with the law again. He must have worked hard and stayed out of trouble, because in a few years he was entrusted as a ship’s captain.

The Post-Shipwreck Life of Captain Hagney

But what happened to Captain Andrew Hagney after the shipwreck of the Nelson? Was he able to recover from the trauma? It took some searching to find a newspaper article to answer this question. I had to go back to the other spellings of his name, and eventually found his obituary by searching under the spelling “Haganey.”

obituary for Andrew Hagney, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 23 February 1912

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 23 February 1912, page 10

Captain Andrew Hagney appears to have remained in Toledo for the rest of his short life. He remarried and fathered three more children. He died at age 52 in 1912, while visiting his in-laws in New Mexico.

Captain Hagney’s life was full of tragic and challenging experiences. While it must have been difficult to live, searching for his life story provides an opportunity for us to learn about ancestor name search tips, and demonstrates how much we can learn about the lives of our ancestors simply by continuing to dig in the archives..

Genealogy Tips:

Many of us have ancestors with unusual names, or names that appear in records with different spellings. When searching on GenealogyBank, the search engine will look for exactly what you type. Therefore, if you know of an alternative spelling of your ancestor’s name – or if you can guess at one – you may end up finding even more articles. And if you stumble across an article that seems to be about your ancestor, but the name was spelled differently than you thought, it could still be them. Keep searching for additional information to help you determine if that record or article is the right person.

Another thing you might notice is the location of these articles. They appear from places all over the United States: Cleveland, Ohio; Saginaw, Michigan; Watertown, New York; Elkhart, Indiana; Anaconda, Montana; and Bay City, Michigan. While some of these locations make sense because Andrew had a connection with them, some do not – such as Montana and Indiana. Keep in mind that news travels, and reports about the ancestor you are looking for could be in any newspaper in the country. If you don’t find what you are looking for in your ancestor’s local area, don’t hesitate to search nationwide. This is always a good approach to take, even if your initial searches do find articles in your ancestor’s hometown, because many more articles might be out there. Best of luck in your family history searches!


* “United States Census, 1900,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MMD2-KFQ: accessed Dec. 2014), Andrew Hagney in household of Robert V. French, Port Lawrence Township, Precinct F Toledo city Ward 10, Lucas, Ohio, United States; citing sheet 8A, family 159, NARA microfilm publication T623, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; FHL microfilm 1241298.

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