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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
Documents (Historical) See also individual categories. www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/documents/ 

  • American State Papers
  • Historical maps including: burial & cemetery maps, old land & property maps, and military & war battle maps
  • Pension records including: Revolutionary War pension records, Civil War pension records, and World War I & World War II pensions and Widows’ Claims
  • U.S. Congressional Serial Set
  • U.S. government land grants
Downloads (free) Getting Started Climbing
Your Family Tree”
by Thomas Jay Kemphttp://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/learning-center/how-to-search-genealogybank-ebook/
Elections & Political News www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=political_elections
Ethnic Newspapers (See African American, Hispanic American, and Irish American newspaper collections) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/ethnic/african_american/www.genealogybank.com/static/hispaniccontent.html
www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/ethnic/irish_american/
Featured Articles www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/learning-center/
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/ask_the_genealogist/
Funeral Sermons (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Genealogies (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Google+ (See the Social Media entry below) https://plus.google.com/b/109950473464458943527/+Genealogybank/posts
Hispanic American Newspapers www.genealogybank.com/static/hispaniccontent.html
Historical Books (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Historical Documents (See the Documents entry above) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/documents/
Illustrations & Photos www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=photos_illustrations
Invitations (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Irish American Newspapers www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/ethnic/irish_american/
Learning Center www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/learning-center/
Legal News, Probate & Court Records www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=legal_probate_court
Letters Found in Newspapers www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=newspaper_letters
List of Newspapers www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/sourcelist/
Maps (In addition to searching the newspaper archives, see also the Historical Books and the Historical Documents & Records collections) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=historical_mapswww.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/

www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/documents/

Marriage Records www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=marriage_engagement
Memoirs (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Military Records (In addition to searching the newspaper archives, see also the Historical Documents & Records collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/documents/
Newsletter sign-up (free) www.facebook.com/GenealogyBank/app_247174568712874
Newspapers Recently Added: www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newcontent.html

Source List (all newspapers): www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/sourcelist/

Obituaries (Historical: pre-1977) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=historical_obituaries
Obituaries (Recent: 1977 to present) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/obituaries/
Passenger Lists www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=passenger_lists
Pensions www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/documents/
Photos & Illustrations www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=photos_illustrations
Pinterest (See the Social Media entry below) http://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=genealogybank
Playbills (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Poems & Songs www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=poems_songs
Political News & Election Results www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=political_elections
Q&A www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/ask_the_genealogist/
School & Academic Records of Merit (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Searching The basic search is at www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/. See the links in this table for specialty searches.
Sermons (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Shopping (See the Store entry below) http://store.genealogybank.com/
Social MediaSearch for GenealogyBank on a variety of social media sites. Blog: http://blog.genealogybank.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GenealogyBank
Google+: https://plus.google.com/s/genealogybank
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=genealogybank
Twitter: https://twitter.com / @genealogybank
YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/GenealogyBank
Social Security Death Index (SSDI) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/ssdi/
Songs & Poems www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=poems_songs
Stock & Commodity Prices www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=commodity_stocks
Store: Shop the GenealogyBank store for a variety of books and special offers. http://store.genealogybank.com/
Tables & Charts www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/?type=tables_charts
Tax Bills & Records (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Testimonials www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/information/testimonials.html
Theater Programs & Playbills (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Tips (See articles on the GenealogyBank Blog as well: http://blog.genealogybank.com) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/learning-center/
Town Meeting Reports (See the Historical Books collection) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/books/
Twitter (See the Social Media entry above) https://twitter.com / @genealogybank
U.S. 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 15thCongress. 
Videos (See the Learning Center and GenealogyBank’s YouTube channel) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/learning-center/www.youtube.com/user/GenealogyBank
Webinars (free) www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/learning-center/ 

Sampling:

  • How To Search GenealogyBank
  • Newspapers: Critical Resource to Complete Your Family Tree
  • Newspaper for Genealogists
  • Obituaries: Clues to Look For
YouTube Channel (See Social Media entry above) https://www.youtube.com/user/GenealogyBank

GenealogyBank Site & Corporate Links

Compiled by Guest Blogger
Mary Harrell-Sesniak

(June 2014)

About Genealogy Bank: Here you’ll read that GenealogyBank is a leading online genealogical resource from parent company NewsBank, inc. www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/information/about_us/index.html 
Account Information www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/account/
Contacting GenealogyBank: You can do this in a multitude of ways, from calling to e-mailing to networking on social media sites.
Learning Center: Not only is this free, but it includes a wide variety of resources. http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/learning-center/
Membership See Account Information for info on your own membership. Special offers are often found in the GenealogyBank store—and don’t forget memberships can be given as gifts.
Parent Company (NewsBank) GenealogyBank is a division of NewsBank, one of the world’s premier information providers. (See www.newsbank.com.)
Privacy Policy www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/information/privacy_policy.html
Sitemap: Use this link to navigate the entire site. www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/information/sitemap.html 
Terms of Use: Use this link to learn how you may use the GenealogyBank website for personal use. www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/information/terms_of_use.html

You can either print or create a PDF version of this Blog post by simply clicking on the green “Print/PDF” button below. The PDF version makes it easy to save this post on your desktop or portable device for quick reference—all the links in the GenealogyBank cheat sheets will be live.

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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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How to Research Old Diaries & Personal Journals for Genealogy

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary gives examples of how your ancestors’ diaries and journals—some available online in various collections—are invaluable to your family history research.

As family historians, we turn to newspapers to corroborate vital records—but often neglect to venture further with our research by exploring charming, firsthand accounts from our ancestors’ diaries and journals. Not only do these personal writings add to the fabric of our research, they enrich genealogical studies by adding unique perspectives into specific time periods, activities and historical events.

Some entries from diaries and journals, as well as complete autobiographies and memoirs, can be found in GenealogyBank’s Historical Book Archives, and others appear as feature pages in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

screenshot of GenealogyBank’s search page for its Historical Book Archives

Screenshot: GenealogyBank’s search page for its Historical Book Archives

I think you’ll enjoy reading some old-time intimate diaries.

The excerpts I’ve chosen from diaries found online present a variety of stories. Two are from brides, one is about shipwreck and imprisonment, another is about young school boys who get in trouble writing diaries, and the last is a description of the First Battle of the Marne during World War I.

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Bridal Diaries (1886 and 1921)

This 1886 article from an Illinois newspaper presents “A Leaf from a Bride’s Diary.” In her witty and entertaining diary entries, this bride recounts the story of her elopement, her impression of the justice of the peace, and her hilariously failed attempt at baking her first pie.

A Leaf from a Bride's Diary, Hyde Park Herald newspaper article 5 June 1886

Hyde Park Herald (Chicago, Illinois), 5 June 1886, page 2

She writes of her elopement with George:

We did not have dear papa’s consent, nor much of anything else.

She was not much impressed with the justice of the peace who married them, remarking:

He looked to me like a man who would snort around the cemetery and tear up the greensward when his wife died in the early spring, and friends would have to chain him to a tree somewhere till his grief had spent itself, and then in the early fall he would lower the top of his old concertina plug hat, and marry a red-eyed widow with a baritone voice and two sons in the penitentiary.

The young bride resolved to make the best of things:

To-day I am a wife with my joyous girlhood, my happy home and the justice of the peace behind me. Life is now real, life is earnest, for we have no girl [servant]. We will not keep a girl at first, George says, for if we did she would have to board at home, as we have only one room, and it is not a very good room either. We take our meals at a restaurant, and the bill of fare is very good.

Her first attempt at baking a pie ended in disaster. She “put in quite a lot of soda or baking powder,” put the pie in the oven, and started sewing while she waited for it to bake. Suddenly:

While thus engaged the oven door was blown off the hinges and the air was filled with subtle odor of some kind which I could not describe. We pulled the pie off the ceiling.

cartoon showing a young bride's failed attempt at baking her first pie, Hyde Park Herald newspaper article 5 June 1886

Hyde Park Herald (Chicago, Illinois), 5 June 1886, page 2

While perusing this next perfunctory diary, take note that some brides are more interested in the “haul” of their shower and wedding gifts than the feelings of friends and family, and that wedding planning has always had its challenges!

extracts from a young bride's diary, Montgomery Advertiser newspaper article 13 November 1921

Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), 13 November 1921, page 4

A Tale of a Shipwreck and Imprisonment (1795)

The Diary of Donald Campbell (1751-1804) was first published in 1795 and, due to its popularity, republished several times. Follow Campbell’s fascinating story of a journey to India, where he was shipwrecked and imprisoned. Luckily, Campbell was released and wrote his story for us to enjoy centuries later.

extract from a historical book: “A Narrative of the Extraordinary Adventures, and Sufferings by Shipwreck & Imprisonment, of Donald Campbell, Esq. of Barbreck. With the Singular Humors of His Tartar Guide, Hassan Artaz.” 1801 edition, page 260.

Historical book: “A Narrative of the Extraordinary Adventures, and Sufferings by Shipwreck & Imprisonment, of Donald Campbell, Esq. of Barbreck. With the Singular Humors of His Tartar Guide, Hassan Artaz.” 1801 edition, page 260.

For more information on Campbell, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Campbell_(traveller).

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School Boys Get in Trouble at School over Diaries (1880)

After receiving a diary from his Uncle Joe, Robert Cummings documented how his days passed. After a friend was caught writing in his diary at school, the frustrated teacher threw it into the fire—making this activity all the more desirous to these young diarists.

In his first entry, Robert certainly sounds committed to keeping a diary:

January 1. This is New Year’s Day. Uncle Joe gave me this diary to-day. I am going to write in it every night just before going to bed. Every boy and girl ought to keep a diary so when he gets a man he can see what he did so when he was a boy. This is New Year’s Day, and there ain’t no school to-day, and I have played with Billy all day. Billy is my goat. I got up and ate breakfast, then I harnessed Billy and saw Uncle Joe and he gave me this diary. He says it is the best thing a boy can do to keep a diary, but he says it is the hardest thing a boy can do. I don’t see where the hard comes in.

extract from Robert Cummings's diary, Portland Daily Press newspaper article 20 March 1880

Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 20 March 1880, page 1

An Account of WWI’s First Battle of the Marne (5-12 September 1914)

Although the author of this diary was only described as an unnamed “citizen of Crepy-en-Valois,” this gripping account from the French newspaper Petit Parisien was reprinted in papers across the world.

Diary of Battle of Marne, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 18 September 1914

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 18 September 1914, page 2

For more information on the First Battle of the Marne, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Battle_of_the_Marne.

As you can see from these examples, diaries and journals provide an extraordinary glimpse into our ancestors’ lives, giving us details of their everyday experiences and, occasionally, insight into important events they participated in or witnessed firsthand. Dig in and find everything from great-great grandma’s first pie to war stories from the battlefield and beyond.  Be sure to include these genealogical treasures in your family history research. True personal stories direct from your ancestors add more interest and meaning to your family tree.

Here are some online sources to locate diaries for genealogy research:

Please share reports of exciting diaries or journals you have located in your genealogy work—either within a personal family collection or online—in the comments section below.

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Where to Find Passenger Lists to Trace Your Immigrant Ancestors

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary explains how ships’ passenger lists can help you trace your ancestors’ journeys to and arrivals in America—and she provides dozens of links to passenger list websites.

Tracing the ship journeys of your immigrant ancestors is an undertaking all family historians should do. A helpful resource for this kind of research is ships’ passenger lists, which can report your ancestors’ full names, what countries they came from, and when they arrived in America.

photo of passengers on the deck of the steamship Comus

Photo: passengers on the deck of the steamship Comus. Credit: Library of Congress.

Since there is no comprehensive online genealogy resource featuring all the passenger lists, researching them is a time-consuming task. To complicate matters, some old passenger records have been lost or destroyed. Don’t despair, however—there is hope for research success: many passenger lists have been transcribed or digitized, and are available for online searching.

What’s more, passenger lists were routinely published in the newspapers of the time; any comprehensive collection such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives will contain thousands of passenger lists.

Filby’s Records

One of the most comprehensive studies for pre-1820 arrivals in America is Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, which was compiled by William P. Filby and Mary Keysor Meyer (Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1981). Known as “Filby’s” to researchers, this body of work consists of 15 volumes and contains over 4.5 million names. It’s available at select libraries and in several subscription services.

As the FamilySearch Wiki reports, Filby’s includes “published lists of immigrants’ names taken from newspapers, naturalization oaths, indenture lists, headright grants, and other records.”

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Passenger Lists in Newspapers

Since a primary portion of the records in Filby’s study came from newspaper reports, be sure to explore GenealogyBank’s Passenger Lists in Newspapers 1704-1984 collection. Because shipping was a mainstay of early commerce, newspapers routinely advertised sailings and reported the arrivals of passengers and goods from foreign and domestic ports.

screenshot of GenealogyBank’s search form for passenger lists

Photo: screenshot of GenealogyBank’s search form for passenger lists

The information you’ll uncover in passenger lists varies. Some accounts include little more than the ship or shipmaster’s name for both incoming and outgoing vessels. Other records reveal a count of passengers and the names of most of the passengers. In some cases, the passengers traveling in steerage were not reported.

If you’re lucky, passenger list records will report full names, or refer to travelers by title, as seen in this passenger list published in a 1793 Massachusetts newspaper.

passenger list from the ship George Barclay, Massachusetts Mercury newspaper article 23 April 1793

Massachusetts Mercury (Boston, Massachusetts), 23 April 1793, page 3

Here is another example of a passenger list, this one published in an 1895 New York newspaper.

passenger list from the ship Normannia, New York Tribune newspaper article 18 July 1895

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 18 July 1895, page 6

Domestic Passenger Lists

Many websites feature, or refer to, passenger lists. Some have searchable databases, lists or links to other websites.

Here are some helpful passenger list websites:

  • Castle Garden at the Castle Clinton National Monument. Located in Battery Park in Manhattan, New York, Castle Garden was the main point of entry for some eight million immigrants from 1855 to about 1892, until Ellis Island was constructed. http://www.castlegarden.org/
  • The Ellis Island Immigrant Station was constructed in the Port of New York between 1890 and 1892. Its completion changed the immigration process from a state responsibility to the federal government. http://www.ellisisland.org/
  • FamilySearch Historical Record Collections include over 30 archives pertaining to California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New England, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Washington. The collection continues to expand; one of the newest databases is Washington, Seattle, Passenger and Crew Lists of Airplanes, 1947-1954 at https://familysearch.org/search/collection/2299373. To search other passenger lists, enter “passenger” at https://familysearch.org/search/.
  • Oregon: Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at Astoria, Portland, and other Oregon Ports, Apr. 1888 – Oct. 1956, and Passenger Lists of Airplanes Arriving at Portland, Oreland, Nov. 1947 – Oct. 1952 http://www.archives.gov/research/microfilm/m1777.pdf
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Foreign Passenger Lists

Manifests were created at the port of embarkation, so you may wish to research foreign records. The following is a brief list of online resources for tracing your immigrant ancestry in passenger lists.

If you have other passenger list links to share, please tell us in the comments section!

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30 Activities, Games & Ideas for Family Reunion Fun!

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary presents 30 ideas to help make your family reunion a great success and ensure that everyone has a fun and memorable time.

Family reunions are great opportunities for genealogists: a chance to meet relatives, share heirlooms, and hear—and record—family stories. They are also events for everyone to enjoy and have a lot of fun!

photo of the Pershing family reunion, Idlewild Park, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, 8 September 1923

Photo: Pershing family reunion, Idlewild Park, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, 8 September 1923. Credit: Eli R. Pershing; Library of Congress.

Whether your family reunion is to be held at someone’s home, a historical site, a tourist attraction (such as DisneyWorld) or on a cruise ship, you’ll want to engage children and adult attendees in memorable activities.

The possibilities are endless, but if you can’t think of any fun family reunion ideas, try these timeless favorites.

1) Cooking contests: This is always a family favorite, whether you challenge family with a chili cook-off or an old-fashioned pie eating contest.

photo of cakes and pies at a family reunion in Mayodan, North Carolina

Photo: cakes and pies at a family reunion in Mayodan, North Carolina. Credit: Carol M. Highsmith; Library of Congress.

2) Family diary and letter reading: Take turns reading inspirational (or juicy) passages of old family diaries and letters.

3) Family bingo: Instead of numbers, make up cards identifying ancestors or historical facts.

4) Family feuds: Pit one family against another, whether by playing “tug of war” or by engaging teams in a version of the TV show.

5) Family food and cookbooks: Serve Grandma’s favorite pie, or dishes from earlier reunions. Compile the recipes into a heritage cookbook.

photo of a homesteader and his children eating barbeque at the Pie Town, New Mexico, fair c.1940

Photo: a homesteader and his children eating barbeque at the Pie Town, New Mexico, fair c.1940. Credit: Russell Lee; Library of Congress.

6) Tell family stories: This works well around a campfire or by candlelight—especially if there are any family ghost stories.

7) Family trivial pursuit: Everyone submits unusual or unknown facts about themselves that are read aloud without identifying the family member. Teams compete against each other—and to get the ideas flowing, create categories such as: “What I did while visiting my grandparents”; “How I got into trouble”; “Love and marriage”; “Oh my gosh”; “Home town trivia”; “Veterans”; “When and where”; and “My funniest or most embarrassing moment.”

8) Fashion shows and hat parades: Supply hats and clothing from historical periods for children to play dress-up. The more unusual they are the better. Each participant wears a badge that says on the outside “Who am I?” and, when flipped over, identifies the ancestor or time period. The child gets a point if they fooled the guesser, and the adult guesser gets a point for a correct answer. Have participation prizes for the children and a separate grand prize for the adult with the highest score.

photo of First Lady Grace Coolidge and children dressed in colonial clothing, White House, Washington, D.C. (1923-1929)

Photo: First Lady Grace Coolidge and children dressed in colonial clothing, White House, Washington, D.C. (1923-1929). Credit: Harris & Ewing; Library of Congress.

9) Family field trips: Take caravans to see places of family interest. Use cars, busses or even arrange a hay ride. Your relatives will love walking in the steps of their ancestors.

photo of a young driver in an old car at a family reunion in North Carolina

Photo: young driver in an old car at a family reunion in North Carolina. Credit: Carol M. Highsmith; Library of Congress.

10) Gencaching: This is a type of hide-and-go-seek treasure hunting, and similar to geocaching, whereby items are hidden and family members hunt for them. To avoid using a GPS, hide small items around a park or room.

11) Greeting cards: Have family members sign greeting cards for those who could not attend because of scheduling conflicts, financial limits, health reasons or otherwise. A modern equivalent is to include remote visitors, by using Skype or a smartphone’s FaceTime or conference settings.

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12) Jigsaw puzzles: Turn family photos into jigsaw puzzles or create one out of a large-format family tree chart. A twist on this is to give each family several pieces and ask them to complete the puzzle. The family member that finishes first gets a humorous prize.

photo of a family in Fort Yukon, Alaska

Photo: family portrait, Fort Yukon, Alaska. Credit: Library of Congress.

13) Map makers: Use maps as display items or table cloths—and encourage family members to mark hometowns or where they were born or married. Another option is to plot the migration path of your ancestors. A twist would be to repurpose a map as a type of dartboard attached to cork. If someone hits their hometown a bullseye is awarded, with lesser points awarded for being within range.

14) Memory quilts: Have handicraft-inclined family members piece together autographed quilt squares into souvenir pillows and blankets.

article about family reunions, Salem Observer newspaper article 24 November 1860

Salem Observer (Salem, Massachusetts), 24 November 1860, page 4

15) Record oral histories: Interview family members about their memories. To get started, bill this as “everything you always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask.” Starter question include: “What is your earliest memory?”; “What do you remember about your grandparents?”; “Would you tell us about serving your country during the war?”; “How did you meet your spouse?” and “Who came to your wedding?”

16) Photo displays: Display photos and artifacts at the reunion, including: Bibles, medals, family jewelry, and quilts.

photo of a family portrait c.1890

Photo: family portrait c.1890. Credit: Underwood & Underwood; Library of Congress.

17) Photo identification (ancestors and living family): Take a historical photo and do a guessing game as to the person, time or place. One of the cutest ideas is: “Guess the baby.”

18) Picture memory game: Make two copies of a variety of ancestor/family photos. Turn upside down and mix them up. Participants then take turns turning over two cards that they think will match. If guessed correctly, another turn is granted; if not the next person or team gets to try.

19) Ancestor picture trading cards: Search the Web for sites to make ancestor trading and playing cards. Some are sold at a reasonable cost and they make for wonderful game prizes or souvenirs.

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20) Quizzes: Print copies of quizzes from GenealogyBank blogs (see list below) and see who does the best.

21) Reenactments: Write sketches about veteran ancestors for family members to act out—and if possible, dress in period costumes.

22) Sack races: This can be done individually or in pairs. If you prefer teams, two participants each insert a leg into a shared sack or pillowcase. The winning team is the one who crosses the finish line first.

photo of a boys’ sack race, Labor Day celebration, Ridgway, Colorado, c.1940

Photo: boys’ sack race, Labor Day celebration, Ridgway, Colorado, c.1940. Credit: Russell Lee; Library of Congress.

23) Silent auctions: To offset the reunion expenses, auction re-gifted family treasures. Ideas include: an old family photo, Grandpa’s golf club, Mom’s skillet or a child’s artwork.

24) Sing-alongs: Combine traditional and family favorites into a songfest that includes hymns and patriotic music. Engage a family musician to play an instrument or use recordings. This works well if you provide sheet music or songbooks.

25) Display old family slide shows: Display slide shows to run in the background for inside gatherings. Collect photos in advance or sneak in ones taken during the event. To have fun, try body-switching. For example, grandpa’s face could be added to the body of his favorite pet.

26) Design t-shirts: Design a t-shirt prior to the event, or use markers to create them during the reunion.

27) Telephone game: All relatives get in a line, and then the first person whispers a family secret into the next person’s ear. The secret is repeated and passed along until the last person states what words actually reached them. Messages always get garbled in this game, and answers can be hilarious.

28) Family history time capsules: Create time capsules with written family stories, photos and artifacts, along with memories from the current event (for example, the schedule of events). Send the time capsules home with families to bury on their properties. Another idea for those on a cruise is to launch a “message in a bottle” and see how long it takes until it comes back to the family.

29) Videotape your family reunion: Take videos of family activities and request that relatives state their names and relationship to others. You don’t want your great grandchildren wondering who “Butch” was in your video.

30) “Where?” or “What is this?” game: Engage attendees in identification guessing games of antique items. If you don’t have real items use photos, such as fire bellows, lanterns, manual typewriters, suspenders and spinning wheels, which will especially fascinate the youngsters.

photo of a woman using a spinning wheel c.1907

Photo: woman using a spinning wheel c.1907. Credit: Paul Gunter; Library of Congress.

Be sure to share activities, games and ideas from your past family reunions in the comments section below. We’d love to read about them!

GenealogyBank Blog Posts That Feature Quizzes:

Related Family Reunion Article:

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