About Mary Harrell-Sesniak

Mary Harrell-Sesniak, MBA, brings to the GenealogyBank Blog a blend of technical and genealogical research skills. In addition to having been a columnist with RootsWeb Review, she was president of a computer training/consulting firm for 15+ years, worked as an editor and has authored several genealogy books. You’ll find her an active contributor to a variety of online forums, RootsWeb’s WorldConnect, Findagrave.com and indexing projects.

How to Research Old Newspaper Headlines for Family History

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary shows how searching for headlines in old newspapers turns up articles that provide a glimpse into our ancestors’ world and their daily lives.

From iconic happenings of the past to lesser-known events, reading old newspaper headlines helps us share the day-to-day experiences of our ancestors. Reading the news that they read is one way to walk in their footsteps.

For example, imagine being in Vermont on 8 November 1860, picking up your local paper, and seeing this newspaper headline announcing Abraham Lincoln as the new president.

Glorious News! Abraham Lincoln Elected President!! St. Albans Messenger newspaper article 8 November 1860

St. Albans Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont), 8 November 1860, page 2

So why not become a newspaper headline hunter and query GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to see what was happening in your ancestors’ lives? Knowing the events that were happening that affected their lives, and the news that they were talking about with their family and friends, helps provide a glimpse into their world and into the past.

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Abolishing Slavery

Headline hunters weave fascinating circumstances into life stories. They’re constantly on the search for a bold or unusual newspaper headline that leads to something interesting.

In their search for headlines, they select major historical events, along with what was happening in the outside world during particular time periods. Sometimes they’ll stumble on a major event they never heard of, leaving one to wonder why it is not included more in history books.

For example, manumission (the freeing of slaves) occurred in many parts of the world long before the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution (adopted 6 December 1865) abolished slavery in the U.S.—and the movement continued long after.

For example, a search on the terms “slavery abolished” pulled up this 1794 newspaper article about the French Colonies.

article about slavery being abolished in the French Colonies, Farmers’ Library newspaper article 13 May 1794

Farmers’ Library (Rutland, Vermont), 13 May 1794, page 3

That search also found this 1879 article about African King Mtesa (or Mutesa) of the Kingdom of Buganda abolishing slavery throughout his dominions.

Slavery Abolished in Africa, Cincinnati Commercial Tribune newspaper article 13 September 1879

Cincinnati Commercial Tribune (Cincinnati, Ohio), 13 September 1879, page 2

Women’s Suffrage

Another movement not fully addressed in history books is women’s suffrage, underscoring the importance of newspaper research to clarify historical events.

A search on the term “suffragettes” found this old newspaper headline.

article about suffragettes being arrested in Great Britain, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 1 March 1908

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 1 March 1908, page 5

This headline reports that women were humiliated, harassed and often treated as criminal offenders. Imagine how a young girl of today would feel if she learned that her great grandmother was jailed, merely for wanting to vote!

These two headlines introduce articles reporting that California granted females the right to vote in 1911, but the quest for national equality took until 26 August 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted.

Suffrage Wins in California, Boston Journal newspaper article 13 October 1911

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 October 1911, page 12

Tennessee Approves Suffrage Amendment, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 18 August 1920

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 18 August 1920, page 3

For an interesting timeline of how the women’s suffrage movement progressed, see the National Women’s History Museum’s Woman Suffrage Timeline (1840-1920).

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Timely Timelines

You can locate many interesting timelines in newspapers, either as feature articles or related to historical events. Search for them using the keywords “timeline,” “this day in history” or “famous headlines.”

article about historical newspaper headlines, Boston Record American newspaper article 29 October 1961

Boston Record American (Boston, Massachusetts), 29 October 1961, page 39

You may wish to construct your own timeline with historical newspaper headlines. Pick a subject and locate pertinent newspaper headlines and their corresponding articles. Categories are only limited by your imagination.

  • Art & Artists
  • Civil Rights
  • Disasters (Hindenburg, Titanic, volcanoes, etc.)
  • Famous People (explorers, presidents & first ladies, the rich & famous, etc.)
  • Laws (age of majority, child labor, education, immigration, manumission & slavery, suffrage, etc.)
  • Entertainment (movies, music, plays, etc.)
  • Eras (Roaring Twenties, Victorian Age, etc.)
  • Genealogy Research (Alex Haley’s Roots, lineage societies, technological advances, etc.)
  • Great Discoveries (gold, medical advances, vaccines, etc.)
  • Migrations (immigration, westward expansion)
  • Sports & Events (competitions, Olympics, World Series, world fairs, etc.)
  • States, Territories & County Formations
  • Wars & Military Events

Here’s a timeline of important events that the Charlotte Observer published in 1907.

timeline of important historical events, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 30 May 1907

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 30 May 1907, page 8

Your genealogy software may have overlays or add-ons to create a timeline, or you can make one in a spreadsheet or with one of the free tools found on the Web. Many timeline “how-to” articles are written for teachers, but the concept applies equally to family historians.

Here are two helpful timeline articles:

Before & After Headlines

An effective tool for teaching family history is to compare before and after newspaper headlines.

For example, here is a newspaper ad from the steamer company White Star Line, advertising cross-Atlantic voyages on its huge new ship Titanic (misspelled as “Titantic”), just two months before the steamer’s ill-fated maiden voyage.

cruise ad from the White Star Line for their new steamer "Titanic," Evening Star newspaper advertisement 13 February 1912

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 13 February 1912, page 17

By contrast, here is one of the many shocking headlines the world saw after the “unsinkable” Titanic hit an iceberg and sank in the early morning hours of 15 April 1912.

Ship's Band Plays "Nearer My God to Thee" as Titanic Sinks, Winston-Salem Journal newspaper article 19 April 1912

Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), 19 April 1912, page 1

Here is another jarring example of contrasting old newspaper headlines. The first is a straightforward headline about the “famous dirigible navigator” Dr. Hugo Eckener arriving in America for a series of conferences on expanding dirigible service between Europe and the U.S. Eckener announced that the Hindenburg dirigible would soon resume its transatlantic flights, and declared:

By the end of the summer, I am certain we will have convinced anyone who has any doubts about the safety of Zeppelin flights across the Atlantic.

Eckener Arrives on Air Mission; Will Visit Akron, Repository newspaper article 10 January 1937

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 10 January 1937, page 3

Less than four months after Eckener made his remark, the world saw headlines such as this in its newspapers.

Fire Wrecks Hindenburg, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 6 May 1937

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 6 May 1937, page 1

Please share with us any of your favorite or surprising historical newspaper headlines found at GenealogyBank!

Related Articles about Newspaper Research for Family History:

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Vintage Ads & Our Ancestors’ Shopping

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary finds vintage advertisements and articles in old newspapers and historical books to gain insights into a part of our ancestors’ lives: shopping.

Take a walk down the “past lane” of our ancestors’ shopping lives by delving into historical newspapers.

You’ll find marvelous articles and vintage advertisements to gain insight into purchases that surrounded them in their daily lives.

Vintage Advertisements

Iconic imagery, such as this 1900 advertisement, puts a face to historical eras and displays important visuals of clothing, hairstyles and accessories. They’re marvelous pieces of history—and as such, are highly sought-after collectibles.

Doesn’t this ad inspire you to slurp a Coca-Cola while dolled up in frilly plumes and pearls?

a vintage ad for Coca-Cola

Source: Wikipedia’s article “Advertising” displaying a vintage Coca-Cola advertisement

Advertisements in Historical Books

Advertisements abound across every historical newspaper, and are also located within GenealogyBank’s impressive collection of advertising ephemera. Use the Historical Books search page to search the books collection for vintage advertisements.

search page for GenealogyBank's Historical Books collection

Try entering a business name if you know where your family worked—and if you don’t, query the search engine for a type of trade. You’ll be amused at what you find.

vintage ad for the Excelsior Hat Store

Popular Shopping Items

The popular items of yesterday have certainly changed, so explore newspaper feature pages for intriguing reports. Don’t forget newspaper shipping reports. As so many goods arrived by ships, you’ll soon discover what were the interests of the day.

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Most people would assume that tea was the popular drink of the 18th Century. It was, but another beverage was highly sought after: cocoa.

Doesn’t this report confirm what chocaholics already suspect—that our forefathers and mothers loved chocolate as much as we do? I imagine the shortage of cocoa might have been alarming news for some.

article about a cocoa shortage, American Weekly Mercury newspaper article 16 March 1727

American Weekly Mercury (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 16 March 1727, page 2

Types of Genealogy Discoveries from Vintage Ads

There is much more to advertisements than you can imagine—they can provide all sorts of family history information and clues.

You might identify information about:

  • where a family worked
  • their coworkers
  • wages
  • working conditions

And who knows, you might even make a startling discovery, such as this one about my Dutch ancestor, Andrew Vos.

His classified advertisement not only confirmed that he was an early and important importer of fine art, but also named the artwork in his inventory. What a thrill to consider that many grandmaster paintings, now only seen in museums, may have passed through his hands.

Original Paintings for Sale, Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser newspaper advertisement 27 April 1805

Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 27 April 1805, page 2

This 1805 newspaper ad also identified his place of business as 107 North Front Street in Philadelphia. Last year my husband and I were able to walk to the location, not far from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia. What a thrill to walk in the footsteps of an ancestor!

So take a chance. Explore early advertisements and news reports—and don’t forget to be creative when adding keywords. Look for business names, along with specific goods and services. Almost anything that our predecessors owned was advertised for sale—even houses from the Sears Catalog.

photo of twin houses bought from the Sears Catalog

Photo: twin houses bought from the Sears Catalog. Source: Library of Congress.

See: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2010640757/resource/

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Keywords to Include

Depending upon the target timeframe, consider using these keywords in your shopping searches:

  • Antiques
  • Bookmobile
  • Bring and Buy Sale
  • Business Names
  • Catalog or Catalogue (such as Sears)
  • Factory
  • Flea Market
  • Food (you could discover the price of milk)
  • Jumble Sale
  • Marché aux Puces
  • Market or Market House
  • Mercantile
  • Provisions
  • Sale
  • Salesmen
  • Sheriff Sales (useful to discover names of neighbors)
  • Trade Days
  • Trading Post
  • Trash and Treasure
  • Trunk Sale
Sheriff's Sales, New Brunswick Fredonian newspaper advertisement 5 February 1824

New Brunswick Fredonian (New Brunswick, New Jersey), 5 February 1824, page 1

We’d love for you to share your GenealogyBank “shopping” discoveries with us in the comment section!

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Why Do You Love Genealogy?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary shares comments that she and her fellow family historians have exchanged on social media about why they love genealogy.

I was browsing social media pages recently and saw that my friends were commenting about why they love genealogy. Everyone’s reasons for loving family history research varied, but the depth of the intrinsic rewards we feel was shared by all.

Here is my reason for loving genealogy research:

  • I’m following in the footsteps of my mother, great grandmother and great grandfather, who researched with a passion and left the family with a legacy of several family history books.

What a family treasure that anyone could only hope to equal, which explains my favorite saying: “Genealogy isn’t just a pastime; it’s a passion!”

genealogy saying: "I love genealogy!"

Below you’ll find excerpts of the quotes (with minor corrections). The initials indicate my social media friends. Hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

  • “One time I helped a police investigator find the family of a man who had died, who left very little information. He [the policeman] said the family was very grateful. That was rewarding.” —A.C.
  • “As my friend Christie says, ‘It’s a labor of love.’” —A.J.
  • “My grandmother died last year and I was really lucky that she’d humor me with questions. I’d bring DD coffee every Sunday and we’d chat—all her peers had gone—and sometimes we’d talk genealogy, but because I knew so much, I think she almost felt like she had somebody who knew the stuff she did and she could talk about events and people who mattered to her, without prompting, and be understood. That’s what validates what I do.” —A.M.
  • “At least we can all say ‘We know where we came from’ [because] we did the research…” —C.D.
  • “I do it because I want to put stories to names. I wanted to know who I am. And now when I try and not do it, I swear that I hear [my name] in my sleep: ‘Find me.’ You are never lost as long as one person remembers your name…” —C.F.
  • “My family and friends are genuinely appreciative of my genealogy research. I’ve never heard any criticism. I’ve reunited lost family members and distant cousins.” —C.H.
  • “It is for people who love history and want to know exactly where they came from. It is comforting.” —C.K.

genealogy saying: "Looking for dead people makes me happy!"

  • “After 25+ years…I just smile and say…looking for dead people makes me happy!” —C.L.J.Y.
  • “It’s very satisfying when you find lost cousins or other information. I just found a cousin here on one of the groups yesterday; her grandfather is the brother of my grandfather…So cool when this happens.” —C.M.S.C.
  • “[I love genealogy] because dead people are much more interesting than the live people that are around me.” —D.E.L.
  • “My Mom has been the ultimate source in my and my sister’s research. She remembers everything, has written things down, and saved pictures from my dad’s side of the family. She is so supportive to us and helps out so much. I wish everyone had someone as supportive as her. Thanks Mom!” —D.R.
  • “Genealogy is a favorite pastime, I love knowing our ancestors’ names, families, their work, etc. I have been working on my family and my husband’s. It is very rewarding.” —D.Y.
  • “I’ve found close cousins I had never known…I have laughed so much with them over the years! We met on the Internet searching for the same Great Grandparents! We didn’t know each other, but it’s like having a cool sister to laugh with on things we have in common! I can’t believe how similar we think about things!!! Genetics!” —E.R.
  • “When I was about 14 it was the Bicentennial year. My great Aunt showed me the grave of an ancestor who was from Lexington during the Revolution. That was what started the genealogy bug for me! I took a college class that year in genealogy, and started to ride my bike to local archives to research how I was related to that soldier, and the rest of my family tree. His name was Andrew Munroe, and his uncles were killed in the Lexington Battle, and Andrew was a Major by the end of the war.” —H.W.
  • “I think of this as more of an avocation than a hobby and if I don’t do it, who will?” —J.B.
  • “I am chuckling about all the comments about helping kids in school with their family history projects. My genealogy path started when a college class I was taking asked for such a project. Two years later, my son had the same project in fourth grade. Seven years later I am still working on it…” —J.C.M.

genealogy saying: "I research my ancestors so I'll know who to blame!"

  • “I research my ancestors so I’ll know who to blame!” —J.H.
  • “I do it for my children and their children and like-minded relatives with whom I share the stories. To know our ancestors’ strengths and talents is to know where ours come from and is inspiring to me.” —J.R.
  • “I started really getting into it after I met my husband. His family has been in this one county of Virginia since they came over on a boat. Lol. So jealous—I literally just have to go to the county library, ask about his family, and poof! the library has it all. Lol. Everyone wants to reap my rewards also. But I have the time and I love it, so I keep on. Lol!” —J.R.
  • “My dad asked me years ago to research his family. He remembered the stories he was told and shared many of them. May he rest in peace because he has since passed, but once I started the journey there was no turning back. Every new name holds promise of a new story. The one thing I didn’t comprehend when I started was that the research would open many history books to help me better understand how people lived in their respective eras. I feel like it is an exciting adventure with many mysteries.” —J.S.B.

genealogy saying: "Ancestors don't give me grief and they don't come with drama!"

  • “I was told by a sibling that I like my dead ancestors more than my living relatives. Of course I do!! They don’t give me grief and don’t come with drama!” —K.P.

genealogy saying: "Genealogy is like being a detective!"

  • “I’ve always been interested too, even as a teenager. It made U.S. History come alive in school! My mom and dad used to do genealogy together. They went to libraries and cemeteries every weekend. They were both very involved which is how I got interested at the age of 16. It is like being a detective, isn’t it?” —K.V.E.A.
  • “I love all these comments! I don’t have any profound reasons why I love researching, I just do! I didn’t care for history or genealogy when I was younger. Then my mother passed away eleven years ago. In cleaning out the attic in my childhood home, one of the first things I found was a statement of service in the Civil War. I was stunned and got the bug at that moment! I also found some tintypes and lots of old photos, unidentified and undated of course…So fascinating. Unfortunately, I got the bug after my parents passed away. How I wish I got it when they were alive especially since I had an older father who was born in 1902.” —L.H.

genealogy saying: "Genealogy is not a hobby, it's a calling!"

  • “I’ve also been doing this for over 40 years, started when I was 9. Anyone that knows me, knows right away that I am a Genealogist. It’s not a hobby, it’s a calling. I don’t discuss it unless someone asks or it’s pertinent to the conversation. But overall, I’ve found that MOST people find what we do fascinating…Sometimes, this passion of mine affects someone’s life tremendously. I had one family of my grandmother’s first cousin contact me after putting something out…She said, ‘this is my father-in-law’s family. He’s in his late 80s and I never knew ANYTHING about them. His father died when he was 2, his mother remarried, and they never saw his father’s family again. He always felt that he was the reason for that and carried the guilt around all his life.’ I contacted her back, shared with her that at the time of his father’s birth his grandparents were both dead, and his father’s siblings lived too far away for interaction to be feasible. The daughter-in-law was able to go back and tell him the story of the family and she said it was like a weight lifted off his shoulders, his whole personality changed and he was a happier man…he died 6 months later, but at peace! So when anyone has anything negative to say, which is rare, I hold that story close and smile.” —L.L.B.J.

genealogy saying: "I don't understand people who don't like genealogy. It's so satisfying to find a fact about someone in all the world papers!"

  • “I have found numerous lost cousins and a diamond ring that was passed down to one of my new cousins that belonged to my great gma. It’s so cool to look at it and know she had it on her finger. My quest continues to find a pic of her. I love [genealogy]. I don’t understand people who don’t like it. It’s so satisfying to find a fact about someone in all the world papers.” —L.O.R.
  • “I’m lucky to have a ton of support around me. Even my husband is actively helping me with my family research. I have yet to meet one person in my family that isn’t fascinated by the research.” —L.S.
  • “I studied history in college. Genealogy is a continuation of my love of studying the past…and it’s personal. Something I can pass on to my children and now my granddaughter.” —L.S.A.
  • “I have some good stories [from cousins] that I’ve met…that I didn’t know I had…Besides, I love skeletons. They make the world go round.” —M.F.C.
  • “I follow my family histories because I WANT to; like people who sit/partake in sports, fish, or knit/sew, it’s MY hobby. There are people who are history buffs, and those who are sports nuts and some who are GEN NUTS (which I’m one).” —M.J.W.M.

genealogy saying: "Genealogy is like playing detective!"

  • “It’s like playing detective. It’s fun learning the stories about our ancestors.” —N.H.S.
  • “Working on my family tree is comforting. I feel close to my mom and dad, who have been gone for a very long time.” —P.M.H.
  • “It’s not about the doubters—it’s about two other things. First, to ensure [we remember] those who would otherwise be forgotten in less than 100 years, and two, for those yet to come to know and understand their roots. And then they can decide for themselves if they care or not. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re wasting your time following after dead people. If they are family then you will have to include them too. Although they may wish to be forgotten in a generation or two, ask them about it!” —R.B.
  • “Always was fascinated with the past; [I] wanted to be an archeologist when I grew up but my teachers were not too happy with that aspiration! I love to do genealogy for several reasons. First, when I do research on my ancestors, I feel like I am bringing my family together again in the past and, since I freely share my discoveries with relatives, I feel it brings us together in the present. I also love it because it makes me feel part of a whole, a link in the chain that would not have a future without myself and my children. I love it because it makes me feel more connected to my country when so many of my ancestors were pioneers and founders of early settlements and churches and helped to build this country by participating in government positions and fighting in various wars for our freedom & protection. And most of all, I love it for the connection I feel with certain ancestors when I can be successful enough in my research to learn some of the personal aspects of their lives. I believe in some way they are always with us, living on in our cells, our blood & our genes.” —R.B.K.

genealogy saying: "Genealogy is more fun than most sports!"

  • “It’s more fun than most sports. I like to find new info.” —S.C
  • “[I] love [genealogy] and find it fascinating.” —S.H.
  • “Well, the journey into our past has been interesting, and I am blessed to share it with my cousin.” —S.H.E.
  • “I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I know that I have always been fascinated with my family history. I remember being a young teen and pondering my family origins. I asked a few questions of my grandmothers, but not nearly enough before they either passed or lost the ability to communicate. In reading her saved letters, I know that one of my grandmothers was the same way and her father before her. In letters written between them long before my birth, they discuss the family Bible and family records. He gave her a copy, which I never found. He also left the family Bible to one of his other children, which I’ve also failed to locate. Other than one of my grandmother’s half-sisters, no one else in the family seems to have any interest in it, including the family who now has (hopefully) or had (crossing fingers) the family Bible. Did some of you come to this later in life and develop an interest long after your childhood, or did you always wonder? I’ve often pondered whether those who don’t care just never had it in them in the first place, kind of like how people are born with the ability to either love cilantro or think it tastes like soap and therefore will never like it, no matter what.” —S.W.H.

genealogy saying: "Why do I love genealogy? I credit my old style Polish grandmother for my desire to know my family history!"

  • “I credit my old style Polish grandmother for my desire to know my family history. She and her mom “were” those black sheep, moved away, changed their names, pretended they were French rather than Kashubian/Polish…Oh, I had visions of her coming from a family of horse thieves or gypsies or some such thing. When I finally found the truth and reunited with her family, wouldn’t you know that the first thing I heard was, ‘Oh! We’ve been looking for you for a hundred years!’ I’m glad they didn’t give up looking, and perhaps it’s the Polish in me that doesn’t give up either.” —S.W.H.

genealogy saying: "If you don't know someone among your ancestors, they're not real!"

  • “An in-law, a wonderful and generous lady, told me that if I didn’t know someone among my ancestors, they were not real. My sister tells me she only wants to know about the dead relatives I discover if she was mentioned in the will, and [she and] I have fun kidding each other about this…” —T.K.
  • “It’s very nice to make older people especially happy.” —T.P.

genealogy saying: "Family history is simply the best!"

  • “Family history is simply the best!” —V.W.

Please tell us your delightful reasons why you love genealogy!

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Old Music in Historical Newspapers: Tips for Finding Songs

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary provides newspaper search tips to find articles and musical scores about the songs our ancestors enjoyed

When doing your family history research, have you ever wondered about the old music your American ancestors enjoyed?

What were the popular melodies and tunes of earlier days, what were their origins, and what musical discoveries can we find in historical newspapers?

Yankee Doodle

A fun place to start is by researching one of the more ubiquitous tunes in American history: “Yankee Doodle.” Just think—our parents, grandparents and great grandparents knew the same lyrics to this song. What a wonderful shared experience that is.

Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.

To find a wide assortment of news articles about “Yankee Doodle” and amusing renditions of this popular American song, enter the title into GenealogyBank’s search engine. This search returns over 64,000 “best matches,” so you may wish to sort the results by date from the earliest to newest, or vice versa.

One of the earliest newspaper articles, from 1769, reports that the British military used the song as a type of verbal bantering or taunting of the colonists.

According to the article:

…the Officer of the Guard, in a sneering Manner, called upon the Musicians to play up the Yankee Doodle Tune, which completed the Conquest of the Military, and afforded them a temporary Triumph.

New-York Journal (New York, New York), 14 September 1769, page 2

New-York Journal (New York, New York), 14 September 1769, page 2

Limiting Music Searches by Categories

With so many search results, I looked for ways to narrow the focus. A promising option was the “Poems & Songs” category with over 1,200 historical newspaper articles to explore.

search results for "Yankee Doodle" in GenealogyBank

Adding Keywords to Your Article Search

To learn about specifics, I incorporated keywords such as “origins.”

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A newspaper article from 1861 reported that “Yankee Doodle’s” music was derived from the “Lucy Locket” nursery rhyme. I wasn’t familiar with it—but if you hum “Lucy Locket,” you’ll find it has the same musical syntax, or structure, as “Yankee Doodle.”

Lucy Locket lost her pocket
Kitty Fisher found it;
Not a bit of money in it
Only binding ’round it.

 
After the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord, the patriots came up with their own lyrics. An early version was titled “The Yankee’s Return from Camp,” used as a battle march.

The old song has direct references to George Washington (then a Captain) and Capt. Isaac Davis. See article on Capt. Isaac Davis at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Davis_(soldier).

Photos & Illustrations

You’ll discover a number of musical scores in the “Poems & Songs” category on GenealogyBank’s search results page, and there are others in the “Photos & Illustrations” category. By examining these, I found a promising lead from 1910 that was reprinted three years later, in 1913.

Historical Music Sheet Tab in Historical Newspapers Genealogy Bank

This sheet tab reference isn’t actually from the “Yankee Doodle” song itself, but instead a composition called “The Boys That Fight the Flames” by George M. Cohen. He composed it as part of his play, Fifty Miles from Boston.

Forgotten Old Songs

The “Photos & Illustrations” category is also a wonderful place to find musical scores of forgotten pieces. Although not familiar with “Life’s a Bumper,” I might try playing this song on my piano.

Bellows Falls Gazette (Bellows Falls, Vermont), 14 December 1839, page 1

Bellows Falls Gazette (Bellows Falls, Vermont), 14 December 1839, page 1

Search Tips for Finding Old Music

This blog post is just the tip of the iceberg on musical discoveries found in newspapers. Try these steps and be sure to share your own tips for researching the music of our ancestors in old newspapers.

  • Do a general search for a song title
  • Sort by Best Matches, Oldest Items or Newest Items
  • Narrow by the category “Poems & Songs”
  • Experiment with other categories, such as “Photos & Illustrations”
  • Repeat the previous steps by adding keywords, such as “origins” or a composer’s name

Related Music Articles:

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Meanings of Family Surnames: Exploring Origins of Last Names

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary discusses the origins and meanings of various family surnames, and shows how including the origins of your family surnames in your genealogy research may reveal intriguing clues about your ancestry.

Ever wonder about the origin of your family surname? If so, you are not alone.

Many people would like to learn about their family surname, but don’t know where to look for more information. Fortunately, historical and modern newspapers frequently have articles about last names. Look for these articles in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Crispin’s French Origins

Many newspaper articles discuss the meaning of specific surnames, such as this 1871 piece on the surname Crispin. The patron saint of shoemakers was St. Crispin, which is derived from the French term “crepin,” which means a shoemaker’s last (mechanical form in the shape of a foot). (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last.)

article about the family surname Crispin, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 8 September 1871

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 8 September 1871, page 4

Other historical newspaper articles discuss the etymology or nomenclature of surnames, which is the study of their origins. Where did particular names come from? How were they assigned? Is there a special meaning behind them? All of these are interesting components for your genealogical research and can lead to a deeper understanding of your familial roots.

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The First English Surnames

This 1893 newspaper article reports that the first English surname was adopted in the reign of King Edward the Confessor of England, who ruled between 1042 and 1066. If correct, this first surname was probably for a nobleman and most likely established to carry on hereditary rights (titles, and later property).

article about various firsts in history, Bay City Times newspaper article 30 June 1893

Bay City Times (Bay City, Michigan), 30 June 1893, page 1

This 1823 newspaper article also reports that surnames were first adopted in the 11th century in England, and “for the distinction of families in which they were to continue hereditary.”

The old news article notes that the term “surname” came not from the word “sire,” but from a French concept indicating a super-addendum (or additional name added to one’s religious or Christian name). Of course, surnames weren’t just required for Christians, but for every culture and religion.

Origin of Surnames, Rhode-Island American newspaper article 4 November 1823

Rhode-Island American (Providence, Rhode Island), 4 November 1823, page 1

Patronymics and Matronymics

As human populations grew, there needed to be a system to identify individuals. Each country chose their own method, and within a society, a religious group or individualized group, some might have chosen their own unique system.

One early naming identification method was to associate a son’s surname with a father’s first name, and a daughter’s with her mother’s.

This is known as patronymics and matronymics, and if you ever come across a person with just one name, this is called mononymics (usually associated with rulers or famous individuals). See Wikipedia’s article on patronymics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patronymic.

A Look at Surnames around the World

Depending upon cultural customs, a specific spelling or pattern for the name was designated.

In most cases the surname was modified, but in some cases the name was constructed differently. In some parts of Asia for example, the surname is given first, rather than last—and in other places, another word is inserted to indicate the family relationship.

Hebrew: One culture where you will find examples of this practice of word insertion in names is with the Jews. Hebrew names are often expressed with the use of “ben,” meaning son of, or with “bint,” meaning daughter of.

article about Jewish surnames, Rhode-Island American newspaper article 4 November 1823

Rhode-Island American (Providence, Rhode Island), 4 November 1823, page 1

Ireland: Watch for names such as Fitzgerald—the “fitz” indicates that someone was the son of Gerald. According to Behind the Name’s website, this particular surname came from the Anglo-Norman French and was introduced to Ireland at the time of William the Conqueror. See http://surnames.behindthename.com/name/fitzgerald.

Netherlands: Dutch patronymics can carry on for several generations. The Dutch Wikipedia explanation is that a “Willem Peter Adriaan Jan Verschuren would be Willem, son of Peter, son of Adriaan, son of Jan Verschuren.” See Dutch surnames at http://surnames.behindthename.com/names/usage/dutch.

Poland: A common way to express a son’s last name is by the use of “wicz” at the end. Correspondingly, “ówna” or “’anka” may be used for an unmarried daughter, and “owa” or “’ina” for a married woman or widow.

Wikipedia’s article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_name gives the example of a man with the last name of Nowak. His unmarried daughter would use Nowakówna and his wife or widow would use Nowakowa.

If you encounter a name ending in “ski,” the person is a male. If you see “ska” at the end, the person is female. There are many other variations, including “wicz,” “owicz,” “ewicz,” and “ycz” which can be added to a name, along with diminutives (similar to calling someone “little” as a pet name). See About.com’s article at http://genealogy.about.com/cs/surname/a/polish_surnames.htm for more examples.

Scandinavia: “Son” or “dotter” or “dottir” is a common addition for boys and girls names, and there are slight spelling variations from country to country. Although most of Scandinavia no longer practices patronymics, you may still see it in Iceland.

Examples: a daughter of a man named Sven might use the surname Svensdottir, and Leif Ericson, the famous Norse explorer, has a name that identifies him as the son of an Eric (Erik the Red.) See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leif_Erikson.

Naming People in Norway, National Advocate newspaper article 28 November 1828

National Advocate (New York, New York) 28 November 1828, page 2

Spain/Portugal: Although it doesn’t mean son, “ez” (Spain) and “es” (Portugal) are used to indicate males, such as with the names Gonzales or Hernandez. See the article on Spanish patronymics at http://spanishlinguist.us/2013/08/spanish-patronymics/.

Wales: Over time, there have been several variations of name usage in Wales. Sometimes you’ll find that the surnames of children were an unmodified version of the father’s name. A son Rees might be named James Rees. Another option related to the terms “ap” (son of) or “verch/ferch” (daughter of). The name Madog ap Rhys would be interpreted as Madog, the son of Rhys, and Maredudd ferch Rhys would be Maredudd, the daughter of Rhys.

To complicate matters, a name might indicate if a woman were the first or second wife of a man, or a widow.

For an in-depth explanation, see Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn’s article “Women’s Names in the First Half of 16th Century Wales (with particular attention to the surnames of married women)” at www.s-gabriel.org/names/tangwystyl/welshWomen16/.

These are just some of the many types of matronyms and patronyms that you might find while researching your ancestry, so be sure to investigate your ancestral countries further.

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Naming by Association (towns, physical attributes, etc.)

We can thank the practice of taxation for other methods of assigning surnames, some of which are attributed to the English poll taxes of 1377, 1379 and 1381.

See “The English Poll Taxes, 1377-1381” by George Redmonds, 28 March 2002, published online by American Ancestors.org at www.americanancestors.org/the-english-poll-taxes-1377-1381/.

In order to keep track of who owed what taxes, names were recorded on the tax rolls in a variety of ways. Some people were associated with their villages, others by trades or occupations, and others by distinguishing features or attributes such as a very tall, or blind, man.

Most Common Surnames by Country

If you are stuck on the origins of your last name, consider the commonality of names in specific places.

Most of us are aware that Smith and Jones are among the most familiar U.S. surnames, but what about other countries?

Wikipedia’s article List of the Most Common Surnames in Europe has an interesting list, some of which I’ve included below. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_most_common_surnames_in_Europe.

  • Belgium: Peeters (meaning the rock, similar to Petros, Peterson, Peters, Perez)
  • England: Smith (a tradesman)
  • France: Martin
  • Germany: Miller
  • Greece: Nagy (meaning great) or Papadopoulos
  • Ireland: Murphy or Of Murchadh (a personal name meaning descendant of Murchadh or “sea hound/warrior”)
  • Italy: Rossi and Russo (red-haired)
  • Luxembourg: Schmit (blacksmith, metal worker, equivalent to Smith)
  • Netherlands: De Jong (equivalent of Young)
  • Northern Ireland: Wilson
  • Norway: Hansen (son of Hans)
  • Poland: Nowak (meaning new man)
  • Scotland: Smith
  • Spain: Garcia (means brave in battle)
  • Sweden: Anderssen (son of Anders)
  • Wales: Jones (of Medieval English origins, derived from the given name John, which in turn is derived from the Hebrew name Yochanan/Johanan)

Genealogical Facts a Surname Might Reveal

Be sure to include the origins of your family surnames in your genealogy research, as they may reveal intriguing clues about your ancestry:

  • Country of origin or hometown
  • Occupation
  • Parentage
  • Physical and mental attributes
  • Religion

An example in my own research is the surname Exton. This family came to America from Euxton, England, an obvious spelling variation. And my maiden name, Harrell, has Norman-French origins. Although a legend, Madame Marie Harel or Harrell is thought to have been the creator of Camembert Cheese in 1791. This is a family favorite of ours today, so perhaps there is a connection!

Genealogy Tip: don’t forget to consider spelling variations in your surname research. My earlier blog article Ancestral Name Searches: 4 Tips for Tracing Surname Spellings provides some examples of how names change over time.

Resources for Researching Surnames

Related Family Surname Research Articles

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Fourth of July Trivia: Quiz Your History IQ

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, to add to your Fourth of July celebrations, Mary presents a fun quiz of Independence Day and Founding Fathers trivia.

As 4th of July celebrations are more American than apple pie, I thought our GenealogyBank Blog readers might enjoy an Independence Day trivia quiz.

photo of fireworks behind the Washington Monument, 4 July 1986

Photo: fireworks behind the Washington Monument, 4 July 1986. Credit: Lono Kollars; Wikimedia Commons.

Perhaps the more historical-minded genealogists already know the answers, but if not, try figuring out these questions about July 4th on your own. Some answers may surprise you. (The answers are shown below.)

Enter Last Name










1) What year were fireworks first used to celebrate the 4th of July?

A) 1776
B) 1777
C) 1826
D) 1876

2) Why were captured enemy Hessians allowed to participate in the celebrations at Philadelphia on the 4th of July in 1777?

A) The American troops wished to raise morale by humiliating them.
B) They were waiters who served food to the American officers.
C) They were talented musicians.
D) Their capture and subsequent parading through Philadelphia was reenacted.

3) How many rockets were shot in celebration on that glorious day in 1777?

A) 10
B) 13
C) 16
D) 20

4) What saying was reiterated three times on 4 July 1777?

A) Hip, Hip, Hurray!
B) Long live America!
C) Long live Congress!
D) The Glorious Fourth of July!

5) Which of these presidents died on the 4th of July (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and/or James Monroe)?

A) Adams & Jefferson
B) Adams & Monroe
C) Jefferson & Monroe
D) Adams, Jefferson & Monroe

6) Who died first, Adams, Jefferson or Monroe?

A) Adams
B) Jefferson
C) Monroe

7) What were Jefferson’s last words?

A) “God bless America.”
B) “No, doctor, nothing more.”
C) “May God have mercy on America.”

8) Another Founding Father died on the 4th of July. He was known as the penman of our Bill of Rights. Who was he?

A) Fisher Ames
B) William Blount
C) Thomas Fitzsimmons
D) Robert Morris

9) Which of these persons was not born on the 4th of July?

A) Tom Cruise
B) Malia Obama
C) Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips (Abigail Van Buren, aka “Dear Abby”)
D) Neil Simon (playwright)

10) Why do some people insist that the 2nd of July is our true Independence Day?

A) It was the day the resolution was passed in Congress to declare our independence.
B) It was the day we won a major victory against the British.
C) It was the day the peace treaty was signed ending the war.

Searching for the Answers

Enter Last Name










Here are the answers to the Fourth of July trivia questions. I came up with many of these questions and answers based on research in old newspapers. An online collection, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is a great way to learn more about our Colonial and Revolutionary ancestors—and the times they lived in. For example, this 1777 newspaper article provides answers to the first four trivia questions.

article about Fourth of July celebrations in Philadelphia in 1777, Virginia Gazette newspaper article 20 July 1777

Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Virginia), 20 July 1777, page 2

The answer to the fifth trivia question can be found in this 1907 newspaper article.

Three Presidents Died on the Fourth of July, Grand Rapid Press newspaper article 4 July 1907

Grand Rapid Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 4 July 1907, page 3

The Answers

  • Question 1: B. 1777 was the first year that America celebrated its Declaration of Independence with fireworks.
  • Question 2: C. The Hessian band was used to entertain the troops.
  • Question 3: B. Thirteen rockets were shot in honor of the thirteen Colonies.
  • Question 4: D. “The Glorious Fourth of July” was repeated three times.
  • Question 5: D. Presidents Adams and Jefferson died on the 50th anniversary of 4 July 1776 (1826) and President Monroe died on 4 July 1831.
  • Question 6: B. Jefferson. Shortly before he died, Adams reportedly said “Thomas Jefferson survives,” but he was mistaken—as Jefferson had passed away earlier that same day.
  • Question 7: B. These are Jefferson’s recorded last words, refusing the laudanum being offered by his doctor.
  • Question 8: A. Fisher Ames (9 April 1758 – 4 July 1808) was a Representative to Congress from the 1st Congressional District of Massachusetts.
  • Question 9: A. Although he appeared in the movie Born on the 4th of July, Tom Cruise was actually born on July 3 in 1962.
  • Question 10: A. July 2 was the day that the Declaration of Independence resolution passed Congress. July 4 was the official date printed on the document.

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A Genealogy Quotes ‘How-To’ Guide: Ideas, Creating & Sharing

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary gives advice and provides free resources so that you can make your own genealogy quote graphics to share on social media sites like Facebook.

We’ve noticed that many of our blog readers share our affinity for inspirational, humorous and memorable genealogy quotes!

Some of the quotes on the GenealogyBank blog are serious, but others are funny or whimsical. When they touch our readers’ hearts, they tend to be shared across social media sites such as Facebook or Pinterest.

If you haven’t yet tried making a quote graphic to share on your own social media page, I encourage you to try. There are dozens of free and easy sites where your can create genealogy quote graphics and unleash your creativity, such as Pinstamatic and Quozio.

Enter Last Name










The hardest part will be choosing what to say—so if you’re stumped, here are a few suggestions.

Genealogy Quote Ideas

  • Quote a cherished family member. For instance, one of my Sesniak ancestors used to say: “You bet your boots,” indicating that he agreed with what had just been said.
Old saying: "You bet your boots!"

Quote graphic created on behappy.com

  • Select a quote from a celebrity or historical figure, such as Benjamin Franklin’s “A penny saved is a penny earned.” (See more ideas below.)
  • Start with an inspirational image and add an appropriate quote.
  • And don’t forget to search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for quotes. You might even find one from an ancestor, such as this one by Mary O. Stanton, published in an 1894 newspaper.
article about Mary Stanton, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 24 June 1894

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 24 June 1894, page 10

The San Francisco Chronicle created this illustration to accompany Stanton’s quote:

illustration to accompany an article about Mary Stanton, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 24 June 1894

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 24 June 1894, page 10

To see a more modern graphic design of Stanton’s quote, click here: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/195977021259910167/.

Free Quote Graphics Sites

The following sites have free options and may allow you to connect by using your Facebook account. If not, create an account with the site itself and try out the features.

Some of these quote sites allow you to upload your own background image, while others provide sample graphics. Subscription services may be required for advanced features, but I was able to make appealing genealogy quotes on all of the tested sites for free.

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Each quote site is different, and I am not recommending one over the other. If you have a site that you prefer over these, please let us know in the comments section.

Inspirational Quotes for Genealogy

Try unleashing your creativity with these sample quotes.

  • “The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are.” —Maya Angelou
  • “I sustain myself with the love of family.” —Maya Angelou
  • “The patriot blood of my father was warm in my veins.” —Clara Barton
quote from Clara Barton: "The patriot blood of my father was warm in my veins."

Quote graphic created on Pinstamatic.com

  • “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” —Pearl S. Buck
quote from Pearl Buck: "If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday."

Quote graphic created at behappy.me

  • “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” —Sitting Bull
quote from Sitting Bull: "Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children."

Quote graphic created at shareasimage.com

  • “A man finds room in the few square inches of the face for the traits of all his ancestors; for the expression of all his history, and his wants.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "A man finds room in the few square inches of the face for the traits of all his ancestors; for the expression of all his history, and his wants."

Quote created at picteller.com

  • “Ever since I watched Roots, I’ve dreamed of tracing my African ancestry and helping other people do the same.” —Henry Louis Gates
  • “When you start about family, about lineage and ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth.” —Alex Haley
quote from Alex Haley: "When you start about family, about lineage and ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth."

Quote graphic created at Pinstamatic.com

  • “Develop a healthy skepticism. Accept nothing unreservedly until proven.” —Donald Lines Jacobus. Genealogy As Pastime and Profession. (Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co, 1968)
  • “From time to time, the Tree of Liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots.” —Thomas Jefferson
  • “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” —Poet Emma Lazarus, inscribed beneath the monument at Ellis Island
inscription from the base of the monument at Ellis Island

Quote graphic created at Quozio.com

  • “I come from pioneer stock, developers of the West, people who went out into the wilderness and set up home with nothing but a pair of oxen.” —Joni Mitchell
  • “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” —Harriet Tubman
quote from Harriet Tubman: "I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves."

Quote graphic created on Quozio.com

Pinterest Genealogy Quotes Boards

Start your own Pinterest quote board and be sure to follow ours at:

Related Genealogy Quotes Blog Articles:

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Westward Ho! How to Trace the Trails of Your Pioneer Ancestors

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary discusses online resources you can use to explore the history of your pioneer ancestors—and the trails they used to migrate west.

Many of us have pioneer ancestors in our family tree who participated in the westward expansion of the United States. Exploring the trails they crossed and reading their stories in old newspapers is not only a great way to learn more family history—it’s an interesting way to learn about an important period in our nation’s history.

Oregon Trail

While raising our family, we often discussed the Oregon Trail.

photo of the Oregon Trail, original cut and marker post; Scotts Bluff Summit Road, Gering, Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska (unknown date)

Photo: Oregon Trail, original cut and marker post; Scotts Bluff Summit Road, Gering, Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska (unknown date). Source: Library of Congress.

Some of our knowledge of the Oregon Trail came from history books—but to be honest, more lore was derived from playing the famous “The Oregon Trail” video game distributed by Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC). We used this game to supplement computer skills for youth who attended our training center’s summer computer camps.

Even the youngest ones joined in the fusion of history and computer skills. They’d start by outfitting wagons in Independence, Missouri, to make the trek of 2,200 treacherous miles to the Oregon Territory. You never knew which group would make it, or what pitfalls would beset them. Sometimes there were skirmishes with Native Americans; other times, the wagon broke down or they ran out of food and starved. All in all, it was a great method to make early American history come alive!

Pioneer Conestoga Wagon Treks West, Notas de Kingsville newspaper article 16 September 1954

Notas de Kingsville (Kingsville, Texas), 16 September 1954, page 4

Pioneer Trail Stories Found in Old Newspapers

Much like curling up with a good juicy novel, you can make your family history come alive by playing your own “trail” game with historical newspapers.

Enter Last Name










Amazing stories of pioneer families traveling on various trails during the westward expansion, along with diaries, maps, advertisements and journals, can be researched to document what was happening when.

As noted in this 1846 newspaper article regarding prairie caravans, many pioneers followed one of four great trails that radiated west:

  • Missouri River Trail
  • Oregon Trail
  • Mexican Trail
  • Texas Trail
Prairie Caravans--Trade in the Far West, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 9 May 1846

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 9 May 1846, page 2

Being able to make a living was essential to our ancestors’ survival, so note that commerce centered around the trading of buffalo robes, pelts, horses, mules, buckskins, moccasins, curiosities and trinkets with American Indians. If traveling to Oregon, one would pick a certain season to travel—if going to Texas, one would pick a different season to begin the journey west.

So how many of us really know what it was like to travel on a wagon train? How large were they? What was the experience really like? Historical newspapers hold many answers to these and other questions about our pioneer ancestors and their experiences pioneering the rugged frontier in America.

map of the Oregon Trail

Map: the Oregon Trail. Source: Wikipedia.

This 1848 newspaper article describes a California-bound encampment consisting of 100 wagons, with an average of five persons per wagon. The next paragraph notes that a great number of Mormons were crossing the Missouri River at St. Joseph.

article about pioneers using the Oregon Trail, Newburyport Herald newspaper article 2 June 1848

Newburyport Herald (Newburyport, Massachusetts), 2 June 1848, page 2

These details from newspaper articles put “meat on the bones” of an ancestral story—you just have to find the articles that tell the stories. Don’t forget to put a face to the occurrences. Even if you don’t have a photo of a direct forebear, you can get a fairly good idea of what people at that time looked like or how they dressed from newspaper articles about other pioneers.

Enter Last Name










For example, here’s a picture of Ezra Meeker (born c. 1830) from a 1922 newspaper article that reported he went to Oregon around 1850—not via a wagon train, but in an ox-cart.

article about pioneer Ezra Meeker, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 27 October 1922

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 27 October 1922, page 18

These old newspaper articles about America’s pioneer days report various aspects of U.S. history. For example, this Apache scout—because of his knowledge of Native American trails—was recruited in the hunt for Pancho Villa after he raided New Mexico in 1916.

article about an Apache scout, Patriot newspaper article 12 May 1916

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 12 May 1916, page 2

Pioneer Stories in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

Don’t forget that one of GenealogyBank’s more compelling resources, the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, is full of firsthand accounts of activities related to American development. This excerpt from 1900 describes, in minute details, several explorations into Alaska via foot and river trails. It’s an amazing account that I hope you’ll take time to explore.

Compilation of Narratives of Explorations in Alaska 18 April 1900

Compilation of Narratives of Explorations in Alaska 18 April 1900. Source: U.S. Congressional Serial Set, Vol. 3896.

Source: Serial Set Vol. No.3896; Report: S.Rpt. 1023; Compilation of narratives of explorations in Alaska. April 18, 1900. Reported from the Committee on Military Affairs by Mr. Carter and ordered to be printed.

Origins of “Oregon”

You’ll find lots of stories about your pioneer ancestors in GenealogyBank—as well as interesting tidbits about American history. For example: do you know how Oregon got its name?

This 1826 newspaper article reports that “Oregon” was a Native American word meaning “River that flows to the west.”

article about Oregon, Connecticut Observer newspaper article 26 January 1826

Connecticut Observer (Hartford, Connecticut), 26 January 1826, page 4

More Resources for Trail Genealogy Research

The following is a small sampling of resources to research the thousands of American trails that your pioneer ancestors may have traveled during the westward expansion.

American Trails

article about pioneers and westward expansion in the U.S., Weekly Council Bluffs Bugle newspaper article 13 April 1859

Weekly Council Bluffs Bugle (Council Bluffs, Iowa), 13 April 1859, page 2

Mormon Pioneer Trails

Trail of Tears (Removal of Native Americans from their eastern homelands 1838-1839)

map of the Trail of Tears

Map: Trail of Tears. Source: National Park Service.

With these resources, as well as the material contained in GenealogyBank, you should be able to make many interesting family history discoveries about your pioneer ancestors, weaving together the stories of their westward travels. Good luck with your genealogy research and let us know what you discover about your American ancestry!

Related Pioneer Ancestry Articles:

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GenealogyBank Cheat Sheets: Shortcuts to Key Website Resources

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary provides two handy “cheat sheets” —one for navigating GenealogyBank’s diverse resources, followed by one to help with contact information and membership.

Early in my career as a computer troubleshooter and trainer, I made software cheat sheets. Organized by functionality, rather than titles chosen by software developers, they helped me navigate menus and remember complicated sequences needed to complete tasks.

They became a frequent component of my support work with clients—and not surprisingly, one of my most requested resources.

Everyone loves a shortcut—so in this long-honored tradition from my past, here is a handy GenealogyBank Cheat Sheet for navigating GenealogyBank’s diverse resources, followed by one to help with contact information and membership. You are welcome to share these downloadable cheat sheets with others and store them locally for quick reference.

  • GenealogyBank Categories, Features & Resources cheat sheet, to help navigate the features found on the GenealogyBank website (www.genealogybank.com).
  • GenealogyBank Site & Corporate Links cheat sheet, to assist with contact and membership issues.

GenealogyBank Categories, Features & Resources

Compiled by Guest Blogger
Mary Harrell-Sesniak

(June 2014)

In addition to the following specialty categories,
more results may be found using general searches.

Academic Records (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Ads & Classified Advertising www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=ads_classifieds
African American Newspapers www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/ethnic/african_american/
Almanacs (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
American State Papers (See the Historical Documents & Records collection: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/documents/) The collection comprises 28 physical volumes of legislature and executive documents of Congress from 1789-1838. Categories include:

  • I. Foreign Relations
  • II. Indian Affairs
  • III. Finances
  • IV. Commerce and Navigation
  • V. Military Affairs
  • VI. Naval Affairs
  • VII. Post Office Department
  • VIII. Public Lands
  • IX. Claims
  • X. Miscellaneous
Articles (Featured Articles) (See articles on the GenealogyBank Blog as well: http://blog.genealogybank.com) Featured Articles, such as “Honoring Our Military Dead,” are located in the Learning Center.
Articles (Historical Newspapers) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=newspaper_articles
Atlases (See the Historical Books collection, which includes Old Maps & Atlases) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Autobiographies (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Biographies (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Birth Records www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=birth_records
Blog (In addition to this link, you’ll find links to the blog on GenealogyBank’s various social media sites.) http://blog.genealogybank.com 

(You’ll be able to search by any word in a blog post, or by author, and you can browse by date—see links at the bottom of the blog page.)

Books (Historical). This collection contains a variety of ephemera and specialty items, including:

  • Almanacs
  • Autobiographies & Memoirs
  • Biographies
  • Funeral Sermons, Eulogies & Elegy Poems
  • Genealogies
  • Old Academic Rewards of Merit
  • Old Maps & Atlases
  • Rare Old Books
  • Tax Bills
  • Theater Programs & Playbills
  • Town Meeting Reports
  • Vintage Ads & Prints
  • Vintage Invitations
www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Charts & Tables www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=tables_charts
Commodity & Stock Prices www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=commodity_stocks
Congressional Serial Set (See the Historical Documents & Records collection: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/documents/ Contains official reports and documents that the U.S. House and Senate have ordered to be printed since the 15th Congress.
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Sampling:

  • How To Search GenealogyBank
  • Newspapers: Critical Resource to Complete Your Family Tree
  • Newspaper for Genealogists
  • Obituaries: Clues to Look For
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GenealogyBank Site & Corporate Links

Compiled by Guest Blogger
Mary Harrell-Sesniak

(June 2014)

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Funeral Sermons: How to Research Funeral Records for Genealogy

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary explains that in earlier times funeral sermons were published and sold—and these documents often provide a wealth of family history information.

You’re probably wondering what’s so exciting about funeral sermons, a rather sobering subject. Until recently I agreed, but then I did some genealogy research using funeral sermons and discovered that there are exciting ancestral details to be culled from them.

In fact, I urge all family historians to find and examine funeral sermons about their ancestors whenever they can.

Funeral Sermons: a Long and Honored Tradition

In earlier days, funeral sermons were often published. Authors (especially ministers) delivered inspirational and memorable sermons, often including personal family details about the deceased. Afterward, friends and bereaved family members requested copies for keepsakes; the funeral sermons were printed and sold to them.

Although published sermons are rare nowadays, the practice is a long and honored tradition.

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Newspaper Advertisements for Funeral Sermons

Early newspapers ran ads announcing the availability of funereal sermons for purchase. In order to entice sales, most of these ads include pertinent genealogical details that we as genealogists can use as proof documents for lineage society applications.

This newspaper advertisement for Hezekiah Huntington’s funeral sermon is typical. Notice that it includes his date of death, where he died, the burial date and the minister’s name.

ad for the sale of the funeral sermon for Hezekiah Huntington, Connecticut Gazette newspaper advertisement 14 May 1773

Connecticut Gazette (New London, Connecticut), 14 May 1773, page 2

By comparison, this obituary for Hezekiah Huntington is a disappointment with its dearth of details—the entire obituary is one simple line:

At New-London, the hon. Hezekiah Huntington, Esq; of Norwich.

obituary for Hezekiah Huntington, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 25 February 1773

Massachusetts Spy (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 February 1773, page 217

Just think: the old newspaper ad for the funeral sermon—let alone the actual funeral sermon itself—provides more details than the obituary!

Where to Find Funeral Sermons

GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives are a good place to find old ads for funeral sermons. Also, the site’s Historical Books collection contains digitized funeral sermons and eulogies.

a screenshot of the search page for GenealogyBank’s Historical Books collection

Screenshot: search page for GenealogyBank’s Historical Books collection

To find genealogical information in early funeral sermons, try searching both the newspaper archives for historical advertisements about the funeral, as well as the Historical Books collection.

My Own Family History Discovery in a Funeral Sermon

When I decided to look at the funeral sermons in GenealogyBank’s Historical Books collection, I really wasn’t expecting to find anything about my own family. How wrong I was! While browsing the titles on the search results page, one heading jumped out at me: it named my 6th great grandfather, Joseph Starr, husband of Mary Benedict.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results page for funeral sermons

In all my years of genealogy research, I’ve never been able to find an obituary for Joseph Starr—so this 23-page funeral sermon was an exciting find. I already knew several things about my ancestor’s life, such as his occupation as a shoemaker, tanner and farmer, and military service with the 20th Regiment of Cap. Nehemiah Waterman’s Company during the American Revolutionary War.

New Details about My Ancestor Joseph Starr

photo of the cover of the funeral sermon for Captain Joseph Starr, 1802

Photo: cover of the funeral sermon for Captain Joseph Starr, 1802. Credit: GenealogyBank’s Historical Books.

This old funeral sermon confirmed some facts I already knew, but also added new details about Joseph Starr’s life. Some of these new research findings include:

  • Various vital record dates, including the year of his birth in 1726, his marriage in 1745, and his death on 3 April 1802.
  • Family details (11 children, 39 grandchildren and 24 great grandchildren—74 in all, 66 of whom were alive at the time of his death).
  • The name of the minister, as well as his church (Rev. John Ely, pastor of the 2nd Church of Danbury).
  • Joseph Starr was healthy and attended church. (“As he enjoyed a good state of health he was seldom absent from public worship.”)
  • I also learned about his personality. (“He was affable, benevolent and hospitable; being a man of but few words he was not disposed to meddle with other men’s matters, and consequently he had perhaps as many friends, and as few enemies as most men; He lived beloved, and died greatly lamented.”)
  • The publication had been requested by surviving friends.
  • There were also kind words directed to the widow, her family and attending friends.
photo of part of the funeral sermon for Captain Joseph Starr, 1802

Photo: part of the funeral sermon for Captain Joseph Starr, 1802. Credit: GenealogyBank’s Historical Books.

All in all, it was an exciting genealogy research find—and for me, a funeral sermon with so many personal life details trumps an obituary any day.

(For more information about Joseph Starr, see: the History of Danbury; a lengthy genealogy book on the Starr family; and Find A Grave memorials 21148746 and 21148747.)

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Genealogy Tips for Researching Published Sermons

  • The date associated with the sermon will be the publication date, not the date of death.
  • The sermon publication day and month may not be exact, but the year is correct. Many funeral sermons are recorded in the database as January 1, because the exact date of publication is not known. (For example, Joseph Starr died on 3 April 1802, yet his funeral sermon is indexed in the database as 1 January 1802 because the indexers had no way of knowing the actual date of publication.)
  • Look for other items in the publication. In the funeral sermon examples below, a copy of a will, letters, and a transcription of a tombstone were found.
  • Don’t forget to search for the newspaper advertisements that accompanied the sermons.
  • Prominent ancestors are more likely to have had published sermons than lesser known persons.
  • Others who died around the same time may be named in the body of the document, even if not included in the title. (In one of the examples below, Capt. Whittlesey passed away as the result of a hurricane, and the crew members of his ship were also named. In other instances, people who died the same week or month were also mentioned in passing.)

Funeral Sermon Examples

The following examples demonstrate the variety of genealogical and personal family information that can be found when researching published funeral sermons.

  • John Cushing: This 15-page sermon includes information about the widow and orphaned children.
photo of the funeral sermon for John Cushing, 1806

“A sermon, delivered at Ashburnham, May 22, 1806, at the interment of Mr. John Cushing, Jun. who expired at the house of his father. By Seth Payson, A.M. pastor of the church in Rindge. Published by request.”

  • Lydia Fisk: The title reveals that Mrs. Lydia Fisk was the consort of the Rev. Elisha Fisk and shows the Bible passages cited.
photo of the funeral sermon for Lydia Fisk, 1805

“A sermon, preached July 13, 1805. At the funeral of Mrs. Lydia Fisk, late consort of the Rev. Elisha Fisk, Pastor of the First Church in Wrentham. By Nathanial [i.e., Nathanael] Emmons, D.D. pastor of the church in Franklin.”

  • Alexander Hamilton: This funeral discourse includes a copy of his will, one of his papers and several letters.
photo of the funeral sermon for Alexander Hamilton, 1804

“A discourse, delivered in the city of Albany, occasioned by the ever to be lamented death of Gen. Alexander Hamilton, July 29, 1804. By Eliphalet Nott, A.M. pastor of the Presbyterian Church in said city. To which is added, a paper, written by Gen. Hamilton: containing, his motives and reflections on the causes that led to this fatal catastrophe. Also—his will, Bishop Moore’s letter—and a letter by the Rev. Mr. Mason.”

  • Mrs. Harris: On page 20, this document includes information about a family member’s gravestone.
photo of the funeral sermon for Mrs. William Harris, 1801

“A tribute of filial respect, to the memory of his mother, in a discourse, delivered at Dorchester, Feb. 8, 1801, the Lord’s day after her decease: by Thaddeus Mason Harris.”

  • Capt. William Whittlesey: The appendix mentions the tragic details of his death, along with the crew members who accompanied him.

photo of the funeral sermon for William Whittlesey, 1807

“The providence of God universal; a sermon, delivered at East Guilford, Feb. 1807. Occasioned by the death of Capt. William Whittlesey and others. By John Elliott, A.M. pastor of a church in Guilford. Published at the request of the mourners. [Two lines from Isaiah]”

Funeral sermons are an often-overlooked genealogical treasure, providing details about our ancestors’ lives perhaps not found anywhere else. Be sure to include them in your family history searches to discover more about the stories of your ancestors’ lives.

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