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.

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American State Papers (See the Historical Documents & Records collection: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/documents/) The collection comprises 28 physical volumes of legislature and executive documents of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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Are You Related to John Chapman, a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, to celebrate today being National Arbor Day, Mary explores the family tree—and some of the stories—of the legendary Johnny Appleseed.

In honor of today being National Arbor Day, let’s explore the life, legacy and ancestry of John Chapman, who is more widely known by his nickname “Johnny Appleseed” (26 September 1774 – 18 March 1845). Although the famous American arborist never had children of his own, his New England ancestry has several items of interest.

drawing of Johnny Appleseed

Illustration: Johnny Appleseed, from H. S. Knapp’s 1862 book “A History of the Pioneer and Modern Times of Ashland County.” Source: Wikipedia.

Johnny Appleseed’s Family

Born as John Chapman in Leominster, Massachusetts, Johnny was the son of Nathaniel and Elizabeth (Simonds) Chapman, who married on 8 February 1770. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Appleseed.)

He had one older sister, Elizabeth, and a younger brother named Nathaniel (or Nathanael), both named after their parents. Johnny shares a name with his grandfather John Chapman (1714 – 1761), who passed away about 13 years prior to his birth.

Johnny’s life with his mother was short-lived. She died in 1776 shortly after giving birth to his brother Nathaniel.

Familysearch.org has several references to Johnny Appleseed’s family tree in their databases:

Within the context of history, several events framed the circumstances in the family’s life—most notably the American Revolution and the settling of Ohio.

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Johnny’s father Nathaniel was a Minuteman who fought at the Battle of Concord on 19 April 1775, and later served in a more official capacity.

Four years after his mother died, Johnny’s father remarried. On 24 July 1780 Nathaniel Chapman married his second wife: Lucy Cooley, daughter of George and Martha (Hancock) Cooley. Lucy became the maternal figure in Johnny’s life, but since she bore an additional 10 children, her focus may not have been on Johnny. (See https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FC8R-64G.)

Johnny’s Younger Life & First Plantings

No documents chronicle the facts of Johnny’s younger life, despite much having been written speculating about his passion for apple trees. Some theories are that his father, a farmer, instilled a love of trees in his son—resulting in Johnny becoming the nation’s premier nurseryman/arborist on the frontier.

Johnny lived a life of devout faith and considered himself a missionary of Swedish native Emanuel Swedenborg (1688 – 1772). (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emanuel_Swedenborg.)

Some accounts report that Johnny used apple seeds from Potomac cider mills for his first plantings, located in the Wilkes-Barre area of Pennsylvania. He may have lived in Pittsburgh around 1794 during the time of the Whiskey Rebellion—a farmers’ uprising against paying taxes on the whiskey they made from grain and corn.

As land opened up the family ventured west to the frontier of Ohio, settling in Monroe Township. Johnny is thought to have joined them by 1805, although he may have gone there earlier, planting apple trees. Some trees he gave away, or bartered to pioneer settlers for useful implements. When he sold trees, it was reportedly for the sum of a “fippenny” or “fip-penny-bit,” the equivalent of about six cents a tree—as explained in this newspaper article.

Money of the Past, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article  27 April 1898

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 27 April 1898, page 8

Fact or Fiction: Was Johnny Appleseed Truly an Eccentric?

After his death, newspapers described Johnny as an eccentric with shabby dress. Some accounts report that he used a tin pot as a hat, and these descriptions are colorful, if somewhat exaggerated. For example, this 1891 newspaper article states:

One of the quaintest, queerest and most original characters that ever trod the trackless wastes of the western wilderness was Jonathan Chapman, known as old Johnny Appleseed…His pinched and grizzled features were covered by a growth of very shaggy beard. His hair was quite long and very much faded by constant exposure to wind and weather…But old Johnny’s crowning glory was an old tin mush pot that had a long handle. This battered old culinary utensil he wore for a hat.

article about Johnny Appleseed, People newspaper article 23 August 1891

People (New York, New York), 23 August 1891, page 6

This 1857 newspaper article describes how Johnny purchased his seeds in large quantities from nurseries near the Ohio River.

article about Johnny Appleseed, Sandusky Register newspaper article 17 September 1857

Sandusky Register (Sandusky, Ohio), 17 September 1857, page 1

Johnny’s Death

Johnny Appleseed died on 18 March 1845, at the age of 70. A transcription of his obituary from the Fort Wayne Sentinel of 22 March 1845 was located at the Obit of the day website. It seems to confirm that the old adage from Benjamin Franklin was really true: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!”

Appleseed’s obituary states:

In the most inclement weather he might be seen barefooted and almost naked except when he chanced to pick up articles of old clothing. Notwithstanding the privations and exposure he endured, he lived to an extreme old age, not less than 80 [70] years at the time of his death—though no person would have judged from his appearance that he was 60.

Are You Related to Johnny Appleseed?

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If you’re a plant lover or self-described arborist, I’d like to plant some seeds about kinship to Johnny Appleseed. He has ancestral connections to many early American settlers of the Northeast. According to numerous online family trees, the surnames in Johnny’s extended family include:

  • Barker
  • Blodgett
  • Carter
  • Chandler
  • Chapman
  • Davis
  • Dresser
  • Eggleton
  • Fowle
  • Green
  • Jasper
  • King
  • Lawrence
  • Morse
  • Perley
  • Phippen or Phipping
  • Richardson
  • Simonds or Symonds
  • Smith
  • Stearns
  • Stone
  • Tarbell
  • Thorley
  • Trumbull
  • Walter

And if you explore reports of his famous cousins, Johnny Appleseed is connected to many former residents of our nation’s White House, including: First Lady Abigail (Smith) Adams, John Quincy Adams, Barbara (Pierce) Bush, George H. W. Bush, George Bush, Calvin Coolidge, Lucretia (Randolph) Garfield, Richard Nixon and William Howard Taft.

In addition, Famouskin.com reports a kinship relationship with suffragette Susan B. Anthony, nurse Clara Barton, Wild Bill Hickok, actress Raquel Welch, and Walt Disney, among others.

For more information on John Chapman’s life, see:

Johnny Appleseed’s Last Surviving Tree

Since Johnny had no progeny of his own, it seems appropriate to commemorate his last surviving tree. This 1961 newspaper article has a long feature on Johnny which I recommend reading, including a picture of “the last surviving apple tree planted by Johnny Appleseed.”

a photo of the last surviving apple tree planted by Johnny Appleseed, Plain Dealer newspaper article 30 May 1961

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 30 May 1961, page 1

I hope you’ll celebrate National Arbor Day by eating an apple or drinking cider. Who knows—the fruit may be a descendant from one of Johnny Appleseed’s famous trees!

If you’re related to John Chapman, please tell us how your family is connected in the comments section.

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A Genealogist’s Guide to Old Latin Terms & Abbreviations

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary explains some of the old terms—many of them derived from Latin—that genealogists encounter during their family history research.

Throughout history, terms come and terms go—and thankfully for most people, archaic expressions disappear. That is, thankfully for everyone except family historians. We encounter a plethora of long forgotten archaic terms while doing our genealogy research, mostly in what some consider a dead language: Latin!

To be honest, I was never fond of Latin.

I remember a particularly tense parent-teacher conference when I was a girl, during which the teacher implied that I wasn’t well-suited for the subject. My mother, who was then at the height of her passion for genealogy, disagreed—and so I continued studying Latin, under extreme duress.

In later years, I discovered that I shared my mom’s passion for genealogy—and when I started seeing old documents with Latin phrases such Caesar’s “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (“We came, We saw, We conquered”), my early education studying the Latin language started paying off.

So now, I’d like to share some tips for understanding old Latin terms you may encounter in your own genealogy research.

Dates: “Instant,” “Ultimo” and “Proximo”

The three most common old Latin terms for dates are: instant, ultimo, and proximo, which refer to the present month, last month and next month respectively.

  • Instant (often abbreviated “inst.”): This term refers to a recent occurrence in the present or current month.
  • Ultimo (often abbreviated “ult.”): Ultimo or Ultimo Mense is a Latin term/phrase that refers to an occurrence from the previous month.
  • Proximo (often abbreviated “prox.”): Proximo refers to something that will occur next month.

Notice in the following obituary, the death date is reported as “the 29th ultimo.” Since the obit was published on 5 October 1838, this is saying Elizabeth Grady died 29 September 1838.

obituary for Elizabeth Grady, Charleston Courier newspaper article 5 October 1838

Charleston Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 5 October 1838, page 2

Genealogy Tip: References should be interpreted as relative, and not exact. Sometimes notices are copied from newspaper to newspaper, and if a notice was republished more than 30 days from its first publication, the interpretation would be incorrect. As a result, always verify death dates with official documents and even tombstones. (See the related Blog article Understanding Terms Found in Historical Newspapers).

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Widows and Widowers: “Consort” and “Relict”

Two similar historical Latin terms often found in old obituaries are consort and relict; as noted in the following examples, they tell a researcher specifically if a woman was a widow prior to her death, or if her husband became a widower after she died.

  • Consort comes from the Latin word “consortium,” meaning partnership. It indicates that the husband survived the wife (i.e., her death ended the marriage partnership).

Notice in this example, Mrs. Ann Parrott is referred to as the “consort” of Mr. James Parrott.

death notice for Ann Parrott, Easton Gazette newspaper article 2 April 1824

Easton Gazette (Easton, Maryland), 2 April 1824, page 3

  • Relict is derived from the Latin “relictus” or “relicta,” which translate as widower or widow.

Notice in this newspaper clipping example, Margaret is referred to as the “relict,” or widow, of the late William McCarron.

death notice for Margaret McCarron, Irish American Weekly newspaper article 10 January 1852

Irish American Weekly (New York, New York), 10 January 1852, page 2

Genealogy Tip: If a Latin term ends in “us,” then it refers to a male; if it ends in an “a,” it generally refers to a female. For example, “avus” refers to grandfather, “avia” to grandmother, and “avi” is used to indicate grandparents. “Proavus” means great grandfather and “proava” means great grandmother. If you search the Latin word list at Genproxy.co.uk, you’ll notice that Latin even has specific words to specify if someone was a 2nd great grandparent.

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Single Status: “Caelebs”

As seen in the previous examples, relationship statuses can be specific in Latin. However, I must give a word of caution—meanings and interpretations change over time.

To illustrate, let’s examine the Latin word caelebs, which is related to the word celibate.

Most genealogy researchers define caelebs as a man who was single—so if you didn’t explore further, you might assume that caelebs indicated someone who had never been married.

However, try entering caelebs into the Perseus Latin Dictionary at Tufts University. Did you see that its definition includes “widower”?

And now search early newspapers for the term. This 1807 newspaper article implies that the definition includes a man (or in the case of caelibia, a woman), in search of a wife.

article about caelebs, Gazette newspaper article 13 November 1809

Gazette (Portland, Maine), 13 November 1809, page 1

Another newspaper article, this one from 1977, reports that a 14th century definition for the equivalent of caelebs—bachelor—applied to candidates for knighthood, and those who had earned an academic degree.

article about caelebs, Springfield Union newspaper article 5 May 1977

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 5 May 1977, page 19

Latin Terms Describing Death Status

Legal documentation may include abbreviations regarding the status of a decedent.

Did a person have heirs? Were the children legitimate or illegitimate, and did some or all children die within the lifetime of a parent?

Here is a list of frequently used abbreviations—to understand them better, acquaint yourself with some of the more common terms, such as “decessit” and “obdormio,” which mean died or fell asleep, “legitima” (legitimate), “sine” (without), “matris” and “patris” (mother and father), and “prole” (issue or offspring).

Common Latin Phrase Abbreviations

  • aas (anno aetatis suae): died in the year of his/her age
  • dsp (decessit sine prole): indicates a person died without issue; i.e., no children
  • dspl (decessit sine prole legitima): died without legitimate issue
  • dspm (decessit sine prole malus): died without sons
  • dspml (decessit sine prole malus legitima): died without legitimate sons
  • dspms (decessit sine prole malus suivre): died without surviving sons
  • dsps (decessit sine prole suivre): died without surviving issue
  • dvm (decessit vita matris): died in the lifetime of the mother
  • dvp (decessit vita patris): died in the lifetime of the father
  • ob caelebs (obdormio caelebs): died single or as a bachelor
  • osp (obiit sine prole): died without issue or children
  • q.s. (quod suivre): which follows
  • q.v. (quod vide): which see
  • sp (sine prole): without issue or children
  • spf (sine prole femina): without daughters
  • spl (sine prole legitima): without legitimate issue
  • spm (since prole mascula): without sons
  • sps (sine prole superstite): without surviving issue
  • vf (vita fratris): in the lifetime of his brother
  • viz (videlicet): namely
  • vm (vita matris): in the lifetime of his mother
  • vp (vita patris): in the lifetime of his father
  • vs (vita sororis): in the lifetime of his sister

Strategies for Translating Latin

With all Latin terms, apply strategies to make sure you interpret a document correctly.

  • Read the entire document or article to see if a phrase was reiterated in English.
  • Examine the syntax within the presented context.
  • See if there is a corresponding or follow-up document to verify information (such as in a probate file).

Also, consult a variety of resources, such as these:

Do you have a question about a Latin phrase you’ve encountered in your family history research? If so, please ask it in the comments section and we’ll try to answer it for you.

More articles about old terms found in historical newspapers:

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101 Genealogy Proverbs: Family Sayings from around the World

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary presents 101 of the funniest, quirkiest, or most touching proverbs about genealogy that she’s encountered in her career as a family historian.

Since posting the article 101 Funny Quotes and Sayings for Genealogists on the GenealogyBank Blog, we’ve noticed that family historians share our affinity for quotes—especially ones related to genealogy and family. These genealogy quotes and sayings continue to generate comments and be shared on social media sites such as Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest.

Hopi proverb: "When the grandmothers speak, the earth will be healed."

As a continuation, I’d like to share a special type of quote from around the world: proverbs.

(Proverb: A short pithy saying in frequent and widespread use that expresses a basic truth or practical precept.)

Based in ancient cultures, these adages pass from generation to generation, using metaphors and analogies to instill societal values. Many proverbs are shared among the cultures of the world—but some are unique to individual regions, so if known, the name of the country follows the quote.

No matter where your ancestry originated, I hope you’ll enjoy some of my favorite genealogy-related proverbs.

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African Genealogy Proverbs & Sayings

This region has generated more family history proverbs than most, due primary to beliefs regarding ancestors and ancestor worship.

  • “A child doesn’t belong to the mother or father; a child belongs to his ancestors.”
  • ”A parent should not give up modeling their children, because the ancestors never give up on us.”
  • ”As you do for your ancestors, your children will do for you.”
  • ”Blessings of ancestors are greater than those of living human beings.”
  • “Children are the reward of life.” (Congo)
  • “Dreams are voices of ancestors.”
  • “If you know his father and grandfather you may trust his son.” (Moroccan)
  • “If you lie, the ancestors will punish you.”
  • “It is better to be kind to your neighbors, than to cross the world to offer incense to your ancestors.”
  • “Many births mean many burials.” (Kenya)
  • “More precious than our children are the children of our children.” (Egypt)
  • “No man can outwit the ancestors.”

African proverb: "No man can outwit the ancestors."

  • “Old men and women in the village are books of history and wisdom.”
  • “Open your ears to the ancestors and you will understand the language of spirits.”
  • “Remember the wisdom of your ancestors in order to become wise.”
  • “Silence brings wisdom of the ancestors.”
  • “The ancestors may annoy you, but don’t make the mistake of annoying them back, or they may annoy you forever.”
  • “The future emerges from the past.” (Senegal)
  • “To neglect one’s ancestors would bring ill-fortune and failure in life.”
  • “Treat the world well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was willed to you by your children.” (Kenya)
  • “We have not inherited this land from our ancestors; rather we have borrowed it from our children.” (Kenya)

Kenyan proverb: "We have not inherited this land from our ancestors; rather we have borrowed it from our children."

  • “When you live next to the cemetery, you cannot weep for everyone.”
  • “Without history, [there is] no life.” (Nigeria)

Asian and Indonesian Genealogy Proverbs & Sayings

  • “A house without children is a graveyard.” (India)
  • “Children yoke parents to the past, present and future.” (Japan)
  • “Consider the past and you shall know the future.” (China)
  • “Don’t take the straight path or the winding path. Take the path your ancestors have taken.” (Cambodia)
  • “Dream of a funeral and you hear of a marriage.” (China)
  • “Everything in the past died yesterday, and everything in the future is born today.” (China)
  • “Fruits of the same tree have different tastes; children of the same mother have various qualities.” (China)
  • “It is difficult to repay the gifts you get at a wedding or a funeral.” (China)
  • “Learn about the future by looking at the past.” (India/Tamil)
  • “Married couples who love each other tell each other a thousand things without talking.” (China)
  • “Only fools seek credit from the achievements of their ancestors.” (China)
  • “The baby has not been born yet, and yet you assert that his nose is like his grandfather’s.” (India)
  • “The old should be treated with due respect. Children should be treated with gentleness.” (Japan)
  • “The only things that were missing at the rich man’s funeral were mourners.” (China)
  • “The past is the future of the present.” (Japan)
  • “The past remembered is a good guide for the future.” (China)
  • “To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.” (China)

Chinese proverb: "To forget one's ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root."

  • “To understand your parents’ love, you must raise children yourself.” (China)
  • “You can be cautious about the future but not the past.” (China)
  • “When you have children yourself, you begin to understand what you owe your parents.” (Japan)
  • “Who has children cannot long remain poor; who has none cannot long remain rich.” (China)
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European Genealogy Proverbs & Sayings

  • “All of the Earth’s treasures can’t bring back a lost moment.” (France)
  • “An ounce of blood is worth more than a pound of friendship.” (Spain)
  • “Beloved children have many names.” (Hungary)
  • “Between husband and wife, one doesn’t put the spoon.” (Portugal)
  • “Children act in the village as they have learned at home.” (Sweden)
  • “Children travel from the heart to the heart.” (Sweden)
  • “Closeness without conflict only exists in the cemetery.” (Finland)
  • “Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.” (Italy)
  • “Everything goes by favor and cousinship.” (France)
  • “From our ancestors come our names, but from our virtues come our honors.” (Latin)

Latin proverb: "From our ancestors come our names, but from our virtues come our honors."

  • “Funeral sermon, lying sermon.” (Germany)
  • “Happy nations have no history.” (Belgium).
  • “He that hath no children doth bring them up well.” (England)
  • “He who has no fools, knaves, or beggars in his family was begot by a flash of lightning.” (England/Old English)
  • “He who teaches children learns more than they do.” (Germany)
  • “How did you rear so many children? By being fondest of the little ones.” (Portugal)
  • “If the family is together, the soul is in the right place.” (Russia)
  • “If nothing is going well, call your grandmother.” (Italy)
  • “If you want to be a hundred you must start young.” (Russia)
  • “Life is short, but there’s a lot to be done.” (Russia)
  • “Man learns from the cradle to the grave.” (Welsh)
  • “May you never forget what is worth remembering, or remember what is best forgotten.” (Ireland)
  • “No matter how tall your grandfather was, you have to do your own growing.” (Ireland)
  • “Praise borrowed from ancestors is but very sorry praise.” (Denmark)
  • “Take an onion with you to the funeral.” (Sweden)
  • “The glory of ancestors should not prevent a man from winning glory for himself.” (Serbia)
  • “The grandson wants to remember what the father wished to forget.” (Spain)
  • “The Irish forgive their great men when they are safely buried.” (Ireland)
  • “The ones who brag most of their ancestors are unworthy of them.” (Denmark)
  • “The only real equality is in the cemetery.” (Germany)
  • “The remembrance of past sorrows is joyful.” (Britain)
  • “There was already twenty in the family, so my grandmother had a baby.” (Spain)
  • “Those who dislike cats will be carried to the cemetery in the rain.” (Netherlands)
  • “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” (Russia)
  • “You have a lifetime to work, but children are only young once.” (Poland)
  • “You live as long as you are remembered.” (Russia)

Middle Eastern Genealogy Proverbs & Sayings

  • “A cemetery never refuses a corpse.” (Lebanon)
  • “All strangers are relations to each other.”
  • “Attend funerals and avoid weddings.”
  • “Burial is the way to honor the dead.”
  • “Four things come not back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity.”
  • “Every day of your life is a page of your history.” (Arabian)
  • “Whoever has no children has no light in his eyes.” (Persia/Iraq)

Arabian proverb: "Every day of your life is a page of your history."

  • “How great the grandfathers are, but how regretful what they left behind.”
  • “When the judge’s mule dies, everyone goes to the funeral; when the judge himself dies, no one does.”

Caribbean, North and South American Genealogy Proverbs

  • “A beautiful funeral does not necessarily lead to paradise.” (Creole)
  • “A people without a history is like the wind over buffalo grass. (Native American/Sioux)
  • “Arriving and leaving, hoping and remembering, that’s what life consists of.” (Haiti)
  • “Home is the father’s kingdom, the children’s paradise, the mother’s world.” (American)
  • “Regard Heaven as your father, Earth as your mother, and all things as your brothers and sisters.” (Native American)
  • “Remember that your children are not your own, but are lent to you by the Creator.” (Native American)
  • “The daughter-in-law wipes away what the mother-in-law has seen.” (South American)
  • “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” (Native American/Haida)
  • “When the grandmothers speak, the earth will be healed.” (Native American/Hopi)
  • “When your own funeral is approaching, you don’t pick and choose your grave diggers.” (Jamaica)

Other Ancestry & Family-Related Proverbs & Sayings

  • “A wedding is like a funeral, but with musicians.” (Hebrew)
  • “Come for your inheritance and you may have to pay for the funeral.” (Hebrew)
  • “Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set.” (Proverbs 22:28)
  • “He who does not research has nothing to teach.” (Unknown)
  • “Hold on tight to the words of your ancestors.” (New Zealand)
  • “If you do not honor your parents, your children will not honor you.” (Hebrew)
  • “My fathers planted for me, and I planted for my children.” (Hebrew)
  • “Study the past if you would divine the future.” (Unknown)
  • “Walk in the valley of our ancestors, learn of the history, and marvel at the beauty.” (New Zealand)
  • “Who dances at the wedding, weeps at the funeral.” (Hebrew)

If you have some favorite genealogy-related proverbs, please share them with us in the comments section.

Sites to Research Proverbs:

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Ancestral Name Searches: 4 Tips for Tracing Surname Spellings

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary explains that ancestral surnames may have been spelled differently in the past—or been completely different altogether—and provides tips for searching for these ancestral name variations.

Earlier this year, I asked some Facebook friends to help with family research on surnames. This type of research can be tricky; some ancestral surnames had spelling variations—or were completely different names.

My friends answered with a range of responses: some reported minor spelling changes in their ancestors’ surnames, while others told of rather dramatic aberrations. After all, who would ever correlate the Bedenbaugh family with the name “Pitebag,” the Cal family with the name “Carroll,” or the Von Der Burg family with the name “Funderburg”!

My Question about Researching Surnames

This was my original Facebook request, with my friends’ replies summarized in the following chart:

I’m looking for ancestral surnames with many alternate spelling variations. For instance, Smith can be spelled Smyth or Smythe. Harrell can be Herrall, Horrall, Herald, etc. Also, looking for names of emigrants that were Americanized. Thanks in advance!

From Surname Variations / Comments
Cindi S. Amick: Emig, Emmick, Emmigh, Amig, Amik
Angela H. Ammons: Amonds, Emmons, Almons, Aman. Ammonds in Germany; Americanized to Ammons.
Jim B. Becherer: My “Becherer” ancestor changed it to Baker, although there are records where he was Becker and his tombstone is Bakar.
Cindi S. Bedenbaugh came from a Pitebag. That’s another one that has always been curious.
Victoria N. Calley, Colley, Collier, Callie, Cally, Colly
Judi C-T. Carroll, Carrell, Corall, Coral, Cal
Marge I. Cilley, Celley, Cealy, Seley, Sealey, Selley, so on, so on
Judy J-L. Cosky: Coskey, Kosky, Koskey, Koski, Koskie, Cuskie, Cusky—came across my ancestral name spelled all these ways on various documents.
Judy J-L. Deegan, Deagan, Dagen, Degan, and Deegen
Cindi S. Dominick, Dominy, Daming, and the oldest variation on this name that I could find: Durnermubhor?
Mary H-S. Ebling, Ebeling, Hebling, Eblinger
Sandy G. Finkenbinder: My grandmother was a Finkenbinder. It started in Germany as Fintboner, Finkboner, Finkbeiner, Finkenbeiner, Finkenbinder.
Cindi S. Fulmer, Folmer, Follmer, Volmer, Vollmer
Mary H-S. Harrell, Harel, Herald, Herrald, Horall, Horrell, Horald
Tammy H. Henney, Heney, Hanney, Hanny, Henny, Heaney, Haney…started as Hennig
Cindi S. Krell, Krelle, Crell, Crelle, Krehl, Kreil, Kreel, Creel, Crehl
Jim B. Langendoerfer: Within the space of two pages, the same census taker for the 1860 Census for Wayne County, PA, listed the four Langendoerfer brothers as: John Longdone, Winesdale (actually Wendell) Langerford, Jacob Longendoff, [and] Nicholas Longendiffer. He probably spoke to each of them on the same day along the same stretch of road. He never realized they were all saying the same name.[Cindi S.] It was a cold day and a little nip helped the census taker make his rounds…lol
Mary H-S. Miesse, Measey, Mease, Mise, Meise, spelled as Mȕsse in Germany
Leanne L. Ouderkerk: Ouderkirk, Oudekerk, Oudekirk, Oderkirk, Odekirk from Holland to New York mid 1600s
Monica C. Peats, Peets, Peetz, Pietz, Peet, Peat, Pyatt, Piatt…
Lisa F. Penny, Penney, Pinny, Pinney
Jessica R. Shultz, Schultz, Shulse, Shultze, Sholtz, Schulse…
Heidi N. Smith can also be an Americanized version of Schmidt, Schmeid, Schmitt, etc.
Mary H-S. Smith, Smyth, Smythe
Tammy H. Sweezey, Sweazy, Sweasey, Swazy, Swazey, Swasey, Sweezy, Swasy. From Germany via France.
Trish W. Von Der Burg family (Funderburg, Funderburgh, Funderburk, etc.)

So Which Surname Spelling Is Correct?

Although some genealogists may disagree, I believe the correct answer is: “most of them!”

Names morph, or change, on documents for a variety of reasons. Obvious reasons include ignorance (simply didn’t know the correct spelling) and sloppiness (typographical and handwriting issues)—but more complex reasons include other considerations.

In general, Old World names (given and last names) are, more often than not, converted from one spelling to another over time. Sometimes this evolves from alphabetical considerations, and other times from pronunciation or Anglicization issues.

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1) Alphabetical Conversions

Alphabetical conversions occur when a letter from a foreign alphabet doesn’t exist in English—such as ones with accents or umlauts (ȕ). An example from the chart is the name Miesse, which was spelled in Germany as Mȕsse. In 17th and 18th century church and civil records, this name is predominantly recorded with an umlaut, but English-speaking settlers had to convert the ȕ to “i,” “ea” and “ie.”

2) Surname Anglicization for Legal Reasons

Families might deliberately change or Anglicize the spellings of their surnames. Sometimes this occurs in daily practice (not formalized), but at other times during a court filing.

An example in the Sesniak family occurred when the name was legally changed from the traditional Polish spelling of Szczesniak. As my husband Tom explains:

On first try, nobody could pronounce or spell our last name, so my father had it shortened. Uniquely, he kept the same pronunciation by dropping two zs and a c. Although it broke all family tradition and upset the grandparents [who did not join in the court filing], it was the right thing to do. They were rooted to their Polish community, but it was only a small part of America. Although they never lost their ethnic pride, my parents’ family immediately went from being Polish to Polish American.

3) Name Pronunciation Dilemmas

Whenever a surname is pronounced differently from what its written form would suggest, expect to find spelling variations—such as this example from my Irish ancestry.

Our family Bible recorded the name as Hoowee—causing some Fisher family cousins to doubt its authenticity. After visiting Ireland, we discovered that the name is spelled both as Hoowe and Hoowee in records.

photo of the name "Hoowee" spelled in the Mathias Fisher family Bible

Photo: the name “Hoowee” spelled in the Mathias Fisher family Bible. Source: in the possession of Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

Why it was changed, we’ll never know—but after discovering it is often pronounced “Who ee” rather than “How,” my theory is that the version “Hoowee” was chosen because it better reflected the correct pronunciation.

4) Recording Considerations

When examining records, always consider who recorded the information.

Was there an enumerator or interviewer—or did a family member write the information in original handwriting?

If a spelling variation came from a family member, perhaps this person was not very literate. If it came from an enumerator, the name might have been written the way the enumerator heard it (phonetically or otherwise). Or perhaps a spelling was altered to reflect a personal cultural background.

Enumerator name variations are commonly reported by census researchers. (See the Langendoerfer example in the chart.)

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The Ellis Island Myth

One of the most written-about American experiences is the arrival of immigrants to Ellis Island—but one of the most incorrectly repeated statements is that names were changed (or Anglicized) upon arrival at Ellis Island.

photo of the Immigrant Building, Ellis Island, New York Harbor, c.1904

Photo: Immigrant Building, Ellis Island, New York Harbor, c.1904. Source: Underwood & Underwood; Library of Congress.

This widely repeated myth is easily dispelled by focusing on the steps undertaken when passengers arrived in the port.

During the interview process, immigrants’ names were verified to see that they matched the names recorded on ship manifests, which had been created in foreign, not American, ports. If there were exceptions, it would arise if an immigrant disagreed with the recorded spelling.

(For an in-depth explanation, see the New York Public Library article at www.nypl.org/blog/2013/07/02/name-changes-ellis-island,)

What Are Your Family Spelling Variations?

If you’ve only uncovered 1-2 spelling variations for your family surname, I hope this article will inspire you to find more—and to consider reasons how and why they changed.

Please share your surname spelling examples with us in the comments section.

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More Genealogy Humor: Funny Quotes & Sayings for Genealogists

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary follows up on one of her earlier blog posts by presenting more of the funniest, quirkiest, or most touching sayings about genealogy that she’s encountered in her career as a family historian.

After the GenealogyBank Blog article Genealogy Humor: 101 Funny Quotes & Sayings for Genealogists was posted, we noticed many of you liked them so much that you shared the humorous quotes across social media sites such as Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest to spread the laughter around the genealogical community.

So here are a few more funny genealogy sayings to give you a chuckle and brighten your day!

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Funny Genealogy Expressions & Slogans

  • Definition of genealogy: When a step backward is true progress!
  • Don’t let your family tree suffer from root rot!
  • Finding a new ancestor is a blast from the past!
  • Genealogist’s favorite game: Ancestor Hide and Seek.
  • Genealogist’s favorite game show: Family Feud.
  • Genealogist’s hunting season: 12 Midnight 1 January — 11:59 P.M. 31 December.
  • Genealogist’s least favorite activity: Pruning the family tree!

funny genealogy saying: "Genealogists are always in a family way!"

  • Genealogists are always in a family way!
  • Genealogists are family tree huggers!
  • Genealogists are forebear hunters!
  • Genealogy is not done until the “past lady” sings!
  • Genealogy is simply TREEific!
  • Genealogy disease: Gensomnia.
  • How a genealogist greets a stranger: “Are you sure we aren’t related?”
  • How a genealogist greets another genealogist. “Would you like to join my famclub?”
  • How a genealogist introduces his children: “I’d like you to meet my descendants!”
  • How a genealogist introduces his parents: “Have you met my ancestors?”
  • I’m ancestrally challenged!
  • If you want to have some fun, say “Who’s your daddy?” to a room full of genealogists and watch the heads turn.
  • It’s hard to be humble with ancestors like mine!

funny genealogy saying: "Money doesn't grow on trees--but ancestors do!"

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  • Money doesn’t grow on trees—but ancestors do!
  • Murphy’s law of genealogy: After solving a dead end ancestor mystery that consumed your entire adult life, your sister reports, “I could have told you that!”
  • Murphy’s law of genealogy: Paying for a vital record and then finding it right under your nose!
  • Old genealogists never die. They just haunt archives.
  • Organization to help with genealogy addiction: AA (Ancestors Anonymous).
  • Popular sign in a cemetery: “Dead End.”
  • The best ancestors want to be found!
  • The “mother lode” of genealogy is discovering a great grandmother’s maiden name.

funny genealogy saying: "Time and genealogy wait for no man!"

  • Time and genealogy wait for no man!
  • To a genealogist, the expression “Mother Nature” takes on a whole new meaning!
  • Transcribers of headstones generally work the graveyard shift!
  • True genealogists wonder why the Academy Awards don’t have a category for best microfilm!
  • Ultimate success to a genealogist: Proving that Elvis isn’t dead!
  • What a genealogist should not say on a blind date: “Isn’t it great? I did your tree and we’re related!”
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you find the certainty of ancestral death and tax records exciting. (Paraphrased from Ben Franklin’s “Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”)
  • If you think Castle Garden is something out of a fairy tale, you’re probably not a genealogist!

More Family History Funnies from Our Readers

The following hilarious comments were shared by readers after the first funny genealogy quotes blog post went live. If you have some of your own humorous quotes and sayings for genealogists, please share them with us in the comments!

1) Here is an old epitaph bromide: On an old tombstone was the following quote,
“Pause stranger, when you pass me by, As you are now so once was I. As I am now, so you will be. So prepare for death and follow me.”
Below that epitaph someone scratched the following, “To follow you I’m not content, Until I know which way you went.”  —from David on 7 March 2014.

2) Headstone epitaph: “This is the damndest thing I’ve ever done.”  —from George on 26 January 2014.

3) “You know you’re a genealogist when you watch a movie that has a scene in a graveyard, and you’re distracted from the plot by trying to transcribe the tombstones.” —from Kay on 23 January 2014.

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