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

Newspapers Help Smash a Genealogy Brick Wall

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 describes how she used old newspapers to help one of her clients smash through a brick wall blocking their family history research.

Recently a client contacted me for some help identifying the parents of his ancestor Samuel Langston (names have been changed). He had done an excellent job finding information about Samuel. He had looked for Sam in all the most likely places: census returns, vital records, city directories, etc. Impressively, he had kept detailed accounts of each record he found and the information it contained. However, he had reached a brick wall when it came to Samuel’s parents.

Photo: brick wall

Photo: brick wall. Credit: Pawel Wozniak; Wikimedia Commons.

Not one of the records he had located had provided the names of those elusive parents. The only information he had been able to find was their birthplaces, from Sam’s census returns. Supposedly, Sam’s father was born in New York and his mother was born in England.

Genealogy Tip: Keeping good research records will increase the likelihood that you can resolve a genealogy brick wall. Often the clue you need has already been found in the records you looked at. You just didn’t recognize it when you saw it. Keeping records that can be easily reviewed is priceless.

I got to work by confirming that he had located all the records possible, and discovered that two important records had not yet been found: a marriage certificate or license for Sam and his wife, and Sam’s obituary.

Marriage Certificate

I started by pulling the marriage records. The information in this record is provided by the bride and groom and would likely list the correct names of Sam’s parents. However, the marriage certificate I found only listed the names of the bride and groom and their marriage data. The witnesses were not obviously related, and no license was found.

Genealogy Tip: In the beginning it may not be obvious if the name found in a record refers to the person you are searching for or not. Don’t disregard these records. There may be clues that you find later that can confirm their identity.

Newspaper Obituary

The one good source for genealogy information that my client hadn’t exhausted was old newspapers, so I began searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

After finding the marriage certificate, I turned to old newspapers to search for Sam’s obituary. My client had found an obituary for Sam’s widow, Jenny, and he had ordered Sam’s death certificate. The death certificate was filled out by Sam’s son, who did not know his grandparents’ names. The obituary I found for Sam was written a few days after his death in 1927. More family members had gathered and there was an increased likelihood that someone could have provided the missing information. Sadly, Sam’s parents’ names were not recorded in the obituary either.

However, three other items of information were found in the obituary. First, it confirmed that Sam had been associated with a particular mine in Utah. Second, it agreed with the census returns in stating that Sam had been born in Illinois – and went even further by providing a birth town. Third, it provided the name of Sam’s only surviving family member, a sister, identified by initials (Mrs. J. F. Dennison). Two of these items of information were vitally important in cracking the case. And one of them was a red herring.

Genealogy Tip: Prior to the 1960s, look for women in newspapers under both their own name and their husband’s name. A woman may be listed as Sandra Smith or Mrs. Andrew Smith.

More Newspaper Articles Found

I continued to search the newspaper archives for any possible detail about Sam Langston. I found multiple articles about his business dealings with the mine. I found several about his association with a fraternal organization. I could not locate any articles that listed Sam’s parents’ names, but I did find one very short article 26 years prior to Sam’s death that mentioned a family reunion of sorts in 1901. Sam was identified by name and by his employment with the mine. Listed with him were three sisters, one of which was the Mrs. J. F. Dennison I had found in Sam’s obituary. Another sister was listed by her married name, Mrs. Abe Johnson. The last sister was a widow listed under her own name, Carrie Hatchet. Carrie’s name was the clue that broke the case open.

Genealogy Tip: Some old newspaper articles may not appear to be valuable at first glance, but become crucial later. Keep all articles that pertain to the individuals you are searching for. Many will contain small clues that can benefit your research later.

Widowed Sister’s Name Breaks Case Open

I was able to trace Carrie back through the census returns and other records to find her with her mother in northern Utah. I had found the mother’s name at last! Listed in the household were her two other sisters and Samuel. To ensure that this was in fact the correct family, I traced each of the sisters through the records to ensure that they were the same women that were listed in the 1901 reunion article I had found. Having confirmed that these three sisters were the correct people, I felt confident that the Sam who died in 1927 and was married to Jenny was the same person who appeared in the 1870 and 1880 census returns with his sisters and their mother.

Genealogy Tip: The easiest way to confirm a person’s identity is by their relationships. Historically, people could willfully or inadvertently alter names, ages, or other dates without difficulty. However, a sister is nearly always a sister.

Red Herring

So which clue was the red herring? It was the information in Sam’s obituary that gave his birth town in Illinois. As I went on to discover, Sam was not born in Illinois. In addition, his father was not born in New York – and Sam had been born a few years earlier than he stated in records after he married. Sorting through misinformation and throwing out the errors is an important part of genealogy.

With more research, I was able to prove that Sam was actually born in England, like his parents and most of his sisters. They had all immigrated to Utah in the mid 1860s and shortly after the family’s arrival, the parents had divorced – which is why it’s so hard finding records with the father’s name. As the children left home, the younger ones told the story that they were born in the United States and their father had been born in New York. It is unclear why the younger children chose to tell that story, though perhaps it was to claim U.S. citizenship.

It is also unclear what, if any, relationship Sam had with Illinois or why he claimed to be younger than he actually was. His mother had died shortly after the 1880 census and the siblings had only periodic contact. Fortunately, they did gather together in 1901 and the newspaper recorded a one-sentence announcement that led to the discovery of information about Sam’s parents.

Genealogy Tip: Don’t get stuck in the details. People lie and misremember information. People change details based on the situation and outside pressures. An underage girl may claim to be a year or two older in order to get married without parental consent. An immigrant may claim to be a native citizen. Look for trends and patterns.

Once again, information in newspapers was vital in breaking through a brick wall in my client’s research. Be sure to use old newspapers to help solve your own genealogy brick walls!

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Explore Your Ancestors’ Lives in Old Newspapers

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 shows how all the different types of articles found in old newspapers can be a great source of family history information.

Census and other government records are a good starting point for family history research – but to go beyond the names and dates, to learn more about your ancestors’ individual lives and find their stories, search an online newspaper collection like GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

montage of newspaper articles

Source: GenealogyBank.com

Which life events can be discovered or verified in newspaper articles?

It is said that each person gets 15 minutes of fame in his or her lifetime. If fame is based on the appearance of a person’s name in the newspaper, I submit that our ancestors got much more than 15 minutes. Here are a few of the events in a person’s life that could have appeared in the newspapers.

Births

Birth announcements were quickly discovered to be a financial benefit to newspapers. People loved to see their name in print and would buy the paper just to see it. Neighbors enjoyed reading the good news, which offset the daily shock and horror stories that often filled the newspaper. And birth announcements were quick and easy to report, which saved the newspaper from reporting expenses.

Marriages

Local papers were quick to publish the good news of their inhabitants. Although discovered later, marriage announcements proved to be as beneficial for newspapers as birth announcements – and for all the same reasons. Besides the “feel good” side of marriage announcements, many jurisdictions required a publication of marriage to prevent marriage fraud (bigamy).

Divorces

Articles relating to divorce can range from a full expose on the scandal to a simple line in the court case list. There may also appear articles announcing the cancellation of a wife’s line of credit under her husband’s name. While these cancellations don’t necessarily mean that a divorce occurred, they do provide a clue to look for one. In cases of abandonment, courts often required a posting in the newspaper so that the missing spouse might be located prior to judgment.

Deaths

Several different types of articles could be generated at the expiration of a life. If it was a particularly tragic event, such as the result of an accident or crime, several articles may appear in the paper – initially, and as follow-ups. Obituaries or death notices would run to alert friends and family of the funeral. The settlement of the descendant’s estate would also include running a newspaper notice in order to alert creditors to collect their dues.

Name Changes

Many courts required those wishing to change their name legally to publish an announcement in the newspaper for several weeks in order to alert any potential creditors to the new identity.

Employment

Advertisements for the sale of work equipment can provide clues to an ancestor’s employment. In addition, ads for the individual’s business may have run in the local paper to drum up new business or alert shoppers to sales. Reporting on business was big business to the newspapers. A change in ownership or location, or an alteration of the articles of incorporation, was routinely reported in the papers. Business people were a major sector of newspaper readers. Farmers needed to know the weather forecasts and the going price of grain. Insurance salesmen would use a local tragedy to encourage the neighbors to purchase insurance before it happened to them.

Addresses

Articles providing clues about the whereabouts of individuals can vary. Notices of uncollected letters at the post office or delinquent taxpayers can provide clues to your ancestors’ location. There are also ads for the sale and purchase of homes or land. Some newspapers would include farewell articles to well known residents when they moved out. Newspapers also ran ads promoting their own newspaper by listing the names of residents who moved away but still subscribed to the newspaper.

Significant Events

Even your (mostly) law abiding ancestors got speeding tickets, had things stolen from them, helped out in their neighbor’s barn fire, discovered missing livestock, etc. Of course for your less law-abiding ancestors, there were plenty of articles enumerating their crimes. All of these events and many more were reported in newspapers. Local events are the heart and soul of many newspapers.

Daily Life Events

Less significant events were also reported in newspapers, such as out-of-town visitors, church picnics, graduation parties, reorganization of the local Mason lodge, new officers in the PTA, and so on. Reporting on local events sold newspapers!

Court Cases

As mentioned with name changes, many court cases required notices to appear in the local newspapers. The court also functioned as a source of local entertainment during our ancestors’ time, and a list of that day’s hearings would run in the newspapers – much like TV listings did in the second half of the 1900s.

Immigration

Many newspapers in port towns would reprint ships’ passenger lists. This was intended to alert the locals of the arrival of friends and acquaintances. Passengers from the old country brought in news from home in addition to letters and other items. Included on the passenger list would also be names of important arriving businessmen that shrewd locals might want to be introduced to for reasons of commerce. Of course, ships also carried freight that would be of interest to the locals. Therefore, the coming and going of ships and their passengers made for promising material to sell newspapers.

There is far more family history information to be found in old newspapers than you may initially realize. Not only can they provide the vital statistics of birth, marriage, and death, they often provide more color and context for your ancestors than you would otherwise know.

Are you attending the RootsTech Genealogy Conference?

GenealogyBank is helping to sponsor the upcoming RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, 3-6 February, 2016. If you’re attending, come visit us at booth #523 to discuss genealogy in general, or any specific questions you have about your own family history research.

For more information about RootsTech, visit the website at: http://www.rootstech.org/?lang=eng

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Catawba Pottery: A Living Tradition

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 old newspapers to learn more about the Catawba Indian tribe in South Carolina and their traditional pottery.

A collection of online newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is a great resource for researching your family history. While I often do this, I also sometimes search newspapers just for fun, learning more about something that interests me.

For example, I recently wanted to see how much I could learn about a somewhat obscure topic by reading old newspaper articles. I know a little about the Catawba Indian tribe in South Carolina. But I knew very little about their traditional pottery until I researched it in GenealogyBank’s newspapers.

photo of Rachel Brown, a Catawba potter, c. 1908

Photo: Rachel Brown, a Catawba potter, c. 1908. Credit: National Geographic; Wikimedia Commons.

The Catawba Indian Nation has been in existence for a very long time. The first European contact that can be verified was in 1540 by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. Sadly, the language died out in the 1950s (although currently there are attempts to revive it). However, despite many challenges, the tribe is federally recognized and, although small in number, still living in the Rock Hill area of South Carolina.

They have a long history of being allies to the Americans. As early as the Revolutionary War, when a group of Catawbas joined the Patriot cause, they have played a role in the formation of our country.

Among the other significant contributions they have made, the Catawba are well known for their impressive pottery skills. The pottery is distinctive in black and tan mottled patterns and the absence of any finish – it is never glazed or painted.

article about Catawba Indian pottery, Post and Courier newspaper article 23 November 1992

Post and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 23 November 1992, page 3

According to this article:

Catawba pottery is molded by hand. Rings of clay are stacked on top of each other while they dry. Tall vases have to be shaped and dried in stages so the piece won’t collapse. Then, the potter scrapes the clay.

Rubbing stones, found in creek bottoms and passed from generation to generation, are used to smooth the form for firing. Then the piece is placed in a pit and burned. The pots come out with unpredictable motley colors, ranging from brown to red to black, and a smooth, shiny finish.

The Catawba coil long ropes of clay into pipes and jars, as well as intricate shapes – including human-like faces and animal forms. They do not use potter’s wheels, making their pottery entirely by hand.

article about Catawba Indian pottery, Charleston News and Courier newspaper article 15 November 1977

Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 15 November 1977, page 14

According to this article that was promoting a special exhibit of Catawba pottery made by the Catawba Cooperative:

Mystery and tradition surround Catawba Indian pottery, an art form many centuries old.

Created much the same way it has been for generations, the pottery is made by Catawba women on the tribe’s reservation near Rock Hill [South Carolina]. The clay used in the process is dug from secret locations along the banks of the Catawba River.

Pottery-making is generally a family business, with the men and some children collecting the clay and the women and children forming it into pottery – although the gender roles are not strictly exclusive. Often the pottery-making tools have been handed down for multiple generations and are prized possessions.

At the turn of the century, Catawba families sold their pottery at roadsides and in markets. Judging from the number of ads in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, it appears that Catawba pottery really hit a high note in the 1970s like many other traditional arts and crafts.

Several Catawba potters have been duly acknowledged as fine artists – the most notable being Sara Ayers, who won the South Carolina Folk Heritage Award.

Keeping an ancient tradition alive – such as the Catawba hand-made pottery – is hard work, especially in the context of an entire culture that is being threatened. Inevitably, the people involved encounter difficulties. For example, there was some bad blood between the Catawba Cooperative and Sara over the Catawba identity. Sara had left the reservation and the Catawba Cooperative seemed to feel she was a traitor.

article about Catawba Indian pottery, Charleston News and Courier newspaper article 25 November 1977

Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 25 November 1977, page 15

According to this article:

Last week, the News and Courier told the story of the Charleston exhibitors, the 18 women of the Catawba Cooperative. Theirs is a good and proud story of people banding together to save part of a heritage and to help themselves commercially by it.

This week is the story of Sara Ayers. It also is a good story of a proud Indian woman, who, years ago and alone, created a small market for Catawba pottery. In the process, she made some money and a name for herself in crafts circles around the country.

The Catawba Cooperative and Sara Ayers do not like each other very much right now. Their combined stories tell us something quite sad about what happens to individuals when as a people, they lose a culture.

Another difficulty the Catawba potters faced was due to a land dispute, in which many of the Catawba were barred from entering the land (that used to be part of their reservation) where their traditional clay pits are located.

article about Catawba Indian pottery, Post and Courier newspaper article 26 December 1991

Post and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 26 December 1991, page 26

Despite these challenges, the Catawbas – and their distinctive pottery – have endured. According to the Catawba Indian Nation website:

Due to the importance of pottery in the Catawba culture the tribe is committed to making sure that there are always Catawba potters to teach this skill to others so that this 6,000 year old tradition can continue to be passed on to future generations.

Do you have any Native American ancestry in your family tree? If so, please tell us about it in the comments section.

Related Native American Genealogy Articles:

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.

Occupation

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/

Related Articles:

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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