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.

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.

Enter Last Name










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.

GenealogyBank’s Genealogy Quotes Pinterest Boards

If you’d like to laugh a little and enjoy more genealogy sayings and quotes, be sure to follow our GenealogyBank Pinterest boards listed below.

Genealogy Humor & Funnies

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Family Reunions: Planning & Researching Notices in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary provides some good advice for planning your next family reunion, and searches old newspapers to show how reunion notices about past family gatherings can fill in details on your family tree.

As winter is waning, start thinking about organizing your family’s annual reunion—and if you desire a strong attendance, don’t delay.

Not only are they a lot of fun, but family reunions are a goldmine to genealogists. Present-day family reunions provide a great opportunity to talk to your extended family, while records and newspaper notices about past family reunions can fill in details on your family tree—and provide plenty of clues for further family searches.

Imagine the fun and lively family history conversations that were had at this large family reunion:

photo of a reunion of the Highsmith family

Photo: Photographer Carol M. Highsmith’s family reunion at the log cabins where her Grandfather and Great Grandfather were born in Wentworth, North Carolina. Source: Carol M. Highsmith. Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Family Reunion Planning Tips

To make sure your family reunion is a success, plan it carefully, including:

  • choose historical locations to visit—or, if possible, as the site of your reunion;
  • try to line up an interesting speaker or two;
  • have many activities for all age groups, especially the children; and
  • send out printed or online invitations with as many details as possible, including transportation and lodging advice.

Ask family members to contribute memories, family history records and genealogies. To make the reunion memorable, do it in a grand style.

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Family Records of Past Family Reunions

If you’ve done genealogy research into past family gatherings, present those stories at your upcoming reunion. Whether your family was large or small, or met formally or informally, many members kept records such as letters, diaries, etc., of these family reunions in the past to document what occurred. Try to track down these old records of past family reunions and look for the following information:

  • Where and when were they held?
  • Was the scheduling connected with a particular date, such as a wedding anniversary or date of settling to an area?
  • Who were the organizers, secretaries and presidents of the family association?
  • Were the speeches transcribed?
  • What activities were there?
  • Can you locate the menus or food choices?
  • Were family charts or family histories created?

Query family members for archived records, and network with genealogy societies, historical societies, libraries and archives (state and national) to see if mementos still exist.

Family Reunion Notices in Historical Newspapers

A helpful—and often overlooked—source of information about past family reunions is the family reunion notice in historical newspapers. Many of these past family reunions were important locally and therefore newsworthy, and were reported in the local newspaper.

Be sure to look for family reunion notices when searching a collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.

How to Search for Reunion Notices in Newspapers

The first thing you’ll want to enter on the newspaper search page, of course, is your family surname. Combine that with each of these related keywords to see which combination gives you the best results:

  • anniversary
  • wedding anniversary
  • annual reunion
  • clan gathering
  • descendants
  • family reunion
  • grand gathering
  • marriage celebration
  • progenitor

To find some interesting family reunion notices to show you, I entered “family reunion” in the keyword field on GenealogyBank’s search page, and chose a date range of 1700-1875.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for "family reunion"

This newspaper search turned up many interesting family reunion notices. Some centered on special occasions, such as a progenitor’s birthday. Others celebrated family milestones, such as honoring the first of the family (progenitors) who settled in an area.

An example of the latter type of reunion notice is this one, a family gathering to honor Edward Rawson, who was the secretary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

According to the following notice, his clan held their first annual reunion in 1872.

article about the Rawson family reunion, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 11 October 1872

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 11 October 1872, page 2

One of the most widely-reported reunion announcements was for a gathering of the descendants of John Eliot (c.1604-1690), described as the “Apostle to the Indians.” If you examine the 228 query results from a search in GenealogyBank, you’ll soon discover a wealth of history surrounding him.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results page for a search on "eliot family reunion"

Some newspaper family reunion notices consist of invitations, and others may be brief or detailed recaps of the actual reunion.

And don’t neglect to consider other types of reunions and social gatherings, as not all were centered on families. Organizations, military groups and even towns, such as Otisfield, Maine, brought people together for camaraderie and celebration.

Social Gathering at Otisfield, Portland Daily Press newspaper article 3 June 1873

Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 3 June 1873, page 2

Here’s another example of a newspaper reunion notice, this one for a gathering of the McMillan family.

Reunion of the McMillan Family, Cincinnati Daily Gazette newspaper article 19 August 1871

Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 19 August 1871, page 1

To help you find reunion notices about your family, I’ve compiled this list of reunion notices I found while doing research for this Blog article. The accompanying notes are a brief summary of information reported in each notice.

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Guide to Family Reunion Notices through 1875

(from GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives)

Compiled by Mary Harrell-Sesniak

March 2014

Ackley, (Rev.) Uriah and wife Sarah (reports names of people married by this minister)
Camden Democrat (Camden, New Jersey), 23 October 1869, page 4

Aldrich family (of New York to Michigan; family members mentioned)
Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 17 September 1875, page 3

Allen, Amos D. (60th birthday celebration)
Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 28 May 1875, page 3

Ambrose, Mr. (descendants of a Kentucky slave who escaped to Illinois)
Evening Post (New York, New York), 20 September 1865, page 1

Arnim family (from Berlin, Germany)
Indianapolis Sentinel (Indianapolis, Indiana), 25 February 1875, page 7

Babcock family (3rd annual reunion at Bemus Point, 14 September 1875; officers named)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 24 September 1875, page 8

Bancroft family (reunion held in Massachusetts)
New Orleans Times (New Orleans, Louisiana), 3 September 1875, page 6

Bancroft, Joseph (a descendant of Thomas Bancroft, born in England in 1622, who married first Alice Bacon, and second Elizabeth Metcalf, & perhaps a 3rd time; multiple generations and attendees mentioned)
Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 20 August 1875, page 3

Barton, Candace (of Belchertown; describes a memory of the Battle of Lexington)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 12 August 1870, page 8

Bates, Deborah (see Capron)
Benham family (to be held at Angelica, New York; brothers H. L. Benham of Indianapolis & A. M. Benham of San Francisco attending)
Indianapolis Sentinel (Indianapolis, Indiana), 30 August 1875, page 8

Black, Archibald
Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 July 1866, page 2

Boyd, Samuel (50-year anniversary celebration of 1825 marriage; mentions Merchant Samuel; children named)
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 23 September 1875, page 2
Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 25 September 1875, page 2

Bradbury, Jacob
American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland), 20 June 1848, page 2

Broadbent, Abigail (100th birthday celebration; mother of 8 children)
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 13 June 1873, page 4

Brooks family (held at Brooksdale)
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 2 October 1875, page 3

Brown, Thomas (hosted by Chauncy Brown of Aubun, New York; mentions attendees)
Auburn Daily Bulletin (Auburn, New York), 16 August 1872, page 4

Burwell, Samuel
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 24 August 1870, page 8

Cannell family (held at old homestead in Newburgh Twp.; mentions Eli Connell)
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 July 1873, page 3

Capron, Deborah Bates (daughter of Gamaliel Bates and Mary Carver of Hanover, Massachusetts; held at Attleboro, Massachusetts; mentions Ezekial and Reform Bates)
Providence Evening Press (Providence, Rhode Island), 19 November 1869, page 3

Clapp family (ancient family; mentions speakers and describes coat of arms)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 25 August 1870, page 4

Conant, S. (of Springfield, Illinois; turned 75 years old on 27 February 1876)
Daily Illinois State Register (Springfield, Illinois), 28 February 1876, page 4

Crowell, George (reunion celebrating 10th wedding anniversary)
Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 3 July 1875, page 1
Jackson Citizen (Jackson, Michigan), 6 July 1875, page 4

Cummings, William (of Cape Elizabeth; eldest family members named)
Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 6 September 1875, page 1

Cutter, A.
Cincinnati Commercial Tribune (Cincinnati, Ohio), 12 May 1870, page 8

Darling, Reed S. (reunion at Pawtucket, Rhode Island)
Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 8 September 1875, page 1
Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 10 September 1875, page 1

Darnell or Darnall, Charles & Martha (of Maryland & Fleming Co., Kentucky)
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 6 August 1868, page 4

De Forest, Gideon (of Edmeston, Otsego Co., New York; many names mentioned)
San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 29 September 1874, page 3

Denison family (of Mystic, Connecticut)
Norwich Aurora (Norwich, Connecticut), 6 October 1869, page 3

Eastman, (Rev.) T. B. (son of Samuel Eastman and Anna Robinson)
Indianapolis Sentinel (Indianapolis, Indiana), 25 February 1875, page 7

Edwards, Jacob (of Dudley)
Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, Massachusetts), 27 August 1866, page 2

Edwards, Jonathan
Richmond Whig (Richmond, Virginia), 19 July 1870, page 3
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 23 July 1870, page 1
Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts), 29 July 1870, page 2
Macon Weekly Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 2 August 1870, page 1
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 13 August 1870, page 2
Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), 8 September 1870, page 1

Eliot, John (described as the “Apostle to the Indians”; reunion in Guilford, Connecticut; husband of Hannah Mumford)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 27 July 1875, page 6
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 29 July 1875, page 4
Daily Albany Argus (Albany, New York), 30 July 1875, page 2
Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 31 July 1875, page 3
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 3 August 1875, page 2
San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 5 August 1875, page 1
Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), 17 August 1875, page 4

Fabricius, Frank
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 15 July 1875, page 6

Fay, Sylvester and Mary (of Southboro, Massachusetts, Mary being 91 and interested in the Franco-Prussian War)
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 9 September 1870, page 1

Forest (see De Forest)

Fuller, Rufus and Charlotte (of Leicester; Charlotte was probably a Warren)
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 16 August 1872, page 1

Gates (Mrs. & Mrs. Strong Gates of Appleton, Wisconsin, visited Mrs. Wild of Chicago)
Sunday Times (Chicago, Illinois), 14 November 1875, page 8

Gaylord family (reunion hosted by David Gaylor of Wallingford)
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 4 September 1875, page 3

Gilbert, J. H. (held on Christmas Day)
Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 29 December 1875, page 3

Glazier family (to be hosted at West Boylston by Henry Glazier)
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 17 June 1871, page 3

Goff, Shubael (of Rehoboth)
Providence Evening Press (Providence, Rhode Island), 30 August 1875, page 2

Griffith family (related to Jeremiah and Mary; stories about settling & log cabins)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 28 August 1874, page 8

Griffith, Jeremiah and Mary (settled in Griffith’s Point near Jamestown, New York on 26 March 1806)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 8 August 1873, page 5

Ham, Ebenezer (of Lewiston, Maine)
Evening Post (New York, New York), 1 September 1868, page 1
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 5 September 1868, page 8

Harrison family (of New Haven Co., Connecticut)
Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 27 September 1873, page 4

Harrison family (1873 notice mentions they were of Brandford Point; 1875 notice reports the 3rd annual meeting and mentions Colonial roots & some attendees)
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 19 September 1873, page 2
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 11 September 1875, page 2

Hollister, Nelson (celebration lasted two days)
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 24 November 1864, page 2

Holmes, P. B. (of Greenland, with family from Boston & Portsmouth)
Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 11 September 1875, page 2

Hoodless, William Raithby and Margaret E. Lansing (William born 17 June 1800, Lincolnshire, England)
Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 25 December 1875, page 3

Howe family (contains Col. Frank E. Howe’s speech)
Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), 4 September 1871, page 1

Howe, Joseph (held at the Revere House in Boston; mentions some officers)
New York Tribune (New York, New York), 31 August 1871, page 1

Hutchison, Ira (a doctor of Cromwell)
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 8 September 1873, page 4

Jones, Thomas (reunion held in Cleveland)
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 May 1871, page 3

Knickerbockers (St. Nicholas Society, aka Descendants from Holland)
New York Herald (New York, New York), 29 December 1864, page 8

Little, Barzallai or Barzilla (of Middlefield; a Revolutionary War patriot; descendants known for singing ability)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 3 February 1870, page 4
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 4 February 1870, page 8
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 21 December 1871, page 8
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 22 December 1871, page 8

Lowe, G. W. (of Owosso)
Jackson Citizen (Jackson, Michigan), 11 July 1871, page 1

Lyman, Richard
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 12 August 1869, page 1
Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 14 August 1869, page 2

Mathews, James (held 1 September 1875)
Washington Review and Examiner (Washington, Pennsylvania), 15 September 1875, page 3

Maynard, Holland (of Northboro’, Massachusetts; died in 1818)
Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 August 1870, page 4
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 6 August 1870, page 8

McMillan, Hugh (describes emigration from Ireland to Charleston, South Carolina, and leaving for Ohio, Illinois and Indiana to “escape the contaminating influences of slavery”)
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 19 August 1871, page 1

Merriam, Ebenezer (a printer of West Brookfield)
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 2 June 1858, page 2

Mills, John (of Auburn, New York)
Auburn Daily Bulletin (Auburn, New York), 18 November 1875, page 4

Otisfield, Massachusetts (invitation to all town residents & descendants to renew and make new acquaintances)
Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 3 June 1873, page 2
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 13 June 1873, page 4

Page Family Association (names officers and visitors; 4th reunion in 1875)
Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 14 July 1875, page 4

Painter, Peter (Christmas Day celebration)
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 31 December 1874, page 1

Pease, Cummings and Thankful (of Enfield, Connecticut; Thankful was probably a Clelland)
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 13 August 1873, page 3

Pepper, (Deacon) Jacob
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 20 August 1869, page 4
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 21 August 1869, page 8

Perce, Jeremiah (a grocer; mentions a child abduction)
Sunday Times (Chicago, Illinois), 25 July 1875, page: 1

Perkins, Erastus
Cabinet (Schenectady, New York), 19 March 1850, page 2

Preston, Ira (of Wallingford, Connecticut, to Shelby, Oakland Co., Michigan)
Jackson Citizen (Jackson, Michigan), 11 July 1871, page 1

Rawson, Edward (of Old Newbury; secretary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; 1st annual reunion held in 1872)
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 28 September 1872, page 4
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 11 October 1872, page 2
Providence Evening Press (Providence, Rhode Island), 14 October 1872, page 3
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 26 September 1873, page 3
Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 6 October 1873, page 2
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 1 August 1874, page 7
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 14 August 1874, page: 4
Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), 17 September 1874, page 1
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 19 September 1874, page 1
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 14 August 1875, page 4

Enter Last Name










Reed family (mentions Col. Reed [Horatio?] of the Army of the Khedive in Egypt)
Daily Albany Argus (Albany, New York), 8 September 1875, page 2

Richards, John (family reunion to celebrate his 100th birthday)
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 24 August 1867, page 8

Rockwell, Jabez and Eunice (of Norwich, Connecticut; held at Providence on Christmas Day)
Norwich Aurora (Norwich, Connecticut), 8 January 1873, page 3

Rodman, John (romantic story)
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 12 November 1875, page 1
Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 17 November 1875, page 1

Russell, C. P. (families of five sisters)
Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 27 December 1872, page 4

Sapp, Matilda Boosinger (“An old lady who has smoked fifty years and still lives”; 100th birthday reunion; born 10 March 1775 in Philadelphia; daughter of Conrad and Catherine Boosinger)
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 March 1875, page 4
Cincinnati Commercial Tribune (Cincinnati, Ohio), 26 March 1875, page 8
Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 April 1875, page 6

Smith family (to be held in New York)
Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 23 August 1875, page 2

Stanley, Herbert (a temperance minister)
Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph (Gloucester, Massachusetts), 2 August 1873, page 2

Sweezy family (see Swezey; held at Fair Point 8 September 1875; various names mentioned)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 1 October 1875, page 8

Swezey family (see Sweezy; held on 4 September 1874)
Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York), 16 October 1874, page 6

Terrell family (held 1 September 1875 at home of Eli B. Terrell of Woodbury)
Columbian Register (New Haven, Connecticut), 2 October 1875, page 2

Tuttle family (first reunion in 230 years)
Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 6 September 1873, page 4
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 2 September 1874, page 2
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 2 September 1874, page 4

Tuttle, John
North American (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 20 July 1865, page 1
National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 22 July 1865, page 2
Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 29 July 1865, page 1

Tuttle, William (from England to Boston in 1635 in the ship Planta)
Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 28 July 1873, page 4
Daily Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 30 July 1873, page 2
Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 2 August 1873, page 3
Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 6 August 1873, page 2

Warren, Judge (family reunion to celebrate his 70th birthday; contains a conversation about temperance and drinking)
Caledonian (St. Johnsbury, Vermont), 5 June 1874, page 1

Willoughby family
Farmer’s Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire), 25 August 1875, page 2

Wright, Elliot and Louisa (held at Swanzey; veteran Elliot Wright “sleeps on southern soil having given his life for his country”)
New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 16 September 1875, page 2

How to Research a Town’s Genealogy, & Funny Texas Town Names

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shares some of the unusual and funny Texas town names she’s discovered, and gives advice on how researching a town’s genealogy can help with your own family history searches.

My Lone Star friends, strangely enough, feel that everything is bigger in Texas! Perhaps they are right—or is this just a myth?

Myth or Not: Is Everything Really Bigger in Texas?

Texas has: the biggest economy (14th in the world if it were a sovereign nation); the biggest number of counties (256); the largest stadium scoreboard (at Texas A&M); and the biggest rodeo, complete with a mammoth 55-foot statue named Big Tex. (The statue was formerly 52 feet tall, but it was rebuilt after Big Tex met his doom at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo!)

photo of the "Big Tex" statue in Houston, Texas

Photo: Big Tex. Credit: Wikimedia.

But one thing that Texas doesn’t have is the biggest city in the U.S.

Largest City in U.S. is NYC

That honor goes to New York City [8.337 million people, 2012 figures], followed by Los Angeles [3.858 million], Chicago [2.715 million], and poor “little” Houston is only fourth with its 2.161 million.

Enter Last Name










A Dimebox & Ding Dong

Texas probably takes the record for the largest number of funny town names, such as Dimebox, where people used to put money in a box to post their mail. Later they hired a postmaster named, not surprisingly, Stamps!

obituary for David Stamps, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 2 December 1946

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 2 December 1946, section I, page 13

And then there is the Texas town of Ding Dong with its famous bell—a gift from the Santa Fe Railway. The town got its name when the Bell brothers (Zoast and Bust) hired a craftsman to paint a sign with two bells for them. He thought it would be funny if one bell was inscribed “Ding” and the other one “Dong.” Perhaps these were the brothers’ nicknames; in any event, the name stuck. Later someone got the bright idea of stealing the town bell, but it eventually turned up in a local cemetery. Guess what county Ding Dong is in? You got it—Bell County!

Ding Dong's (Texas) Missing Bell Found in Killeen Cemetery, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 15 June 1968

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 15 June 1968, section A, page 20

Wacky Texas Town Names: Nameless, Nada, Notrees, Towns and Uncertain

When you read town names like these, it makes you wonder if Texas is so big they ran out of names.

The residents of one nameless Texas town found themselves frustrated when their first six choices for a name were rejected by the post office—so they did the next best thing, and called their town Nameless, Texas.

And then there is Nada, originally called Vox Populi, a Latin term referring to the voice of the people. One might think the town’s early settlers were Hispanic, since nada means nothing or anything in Spanish. But this could lead a researcher astray, as the name was derived from Czechoslovakian settlers who used the word Najda, which translates as hope.

Enter Last Name










Then there is the town of Notrees. Click this link to view some Google images to decide for yourself if the chosen town name is appropriate. And to learn more about the municipalities of Towns and the scenic Uncertain, follow their links.

More Hilarious Texas Town Names (Frognot?)

Plenty of Frogs in Frognot (Texas) Town, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 25 February 1963

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 25 February 1963, section 4, page 1

All of the Texas town names in the following list are real. Some have links that explain more about their locations and history—and for the ones that don’t have links, search for them on the Internet and see what you can discover about their origins.

Alligator, Bacon, Bangs, Best, Bigfoot, Black Jack, Blanket, Bug Tussle, Cash, Cat Spring, Cheapside, Chocolate Bayou, Cistern, Cost, Cut and Shoot, Deadwood, Dinero, Earth, Echo, El Dorado, Energy, Frognot, Granny’s Neck, Gun Barrel City, Happy, Hogeye, Hoop and Holler, Humble (pronounced “umble”), Jolly, Kermit, Klondike, Loco, Looneyville, Muleshoe, Needmore, Nickel, Noodle, Oatmeal, Pep, Petty, Plum, Pointblank, Rainbow, Random, Ringgold, Salty, Santa, Smiley, Sour, Squeezepenny, Stairtown, Tarzan, Telegraph, Telephone, Trout, Turkey, Venus, Veribest, Welcome, Winters , Winnie, Twitty and Zipperlandville (just to name a few).

Makes you wonder if Carol Burnett ever performed her Tarzan call in Tarzan, Texas?

The Genealogy of a Town

It’s important to learn about your town’s name for genealogical purposes, as town names come and go. What they were called in their early days may be very different from their later days—or even today.

  • Q: For example, have you ever heard of Harrisburg, Texas (AKA Harrisburgh); Jernigan; Lake Bonneville; Mayaimi; Menotomy; New Wild Boar; Standing Peachtree; or Yerba Buena? These are all former aliases for well-known places (and in one case a famous lake).
  • A: These are the former names of Houston, Texas; Orlando, Florida; Salt Lake, Utah; Miami, Florida; Arlington, Massachusetts; New York City, New York; Atlanta, Georgia; and San Francisco, California.
article about Standing Peachtree, Georgia, Marietta Journal newspaper article 2 November 1951

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 2 November 1951, page 2

Town Research Tips

In order to construct the genealogy of your hometown, create a timeline, and search newspapers and historical records to determine the following:

  • Identify when the town was formed, and when it was incorporated or unincorporated.
  • Identify if the town had a previous Indian name (Native American).
  • Who were the original founders?
  • What was the impetus for the founding (attracting settlers, bounty land, gold rush, etc.)
  • Were there laws or regulations that affected the formation? For example, in Colonial periods, some towns could not be formed without a minister, and as seen in the history of Nameless, Texas, post office regulations can also come into play.
  • Identify any interim names and determine if there were towns that were merged into larger ones.

Whether your town has a normal, funny or unusual name, think about doing its genealogy—and if you’ve already researched your town’s genealogy, please share the story with us in the comments.

Further Reading about Town Names:

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Peculiar, Unusual, and Stranger-than-Fiction Obituaries

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find odd obituaries—some of which will give you a chuckle.

Reading obits is part of the everyday life of family historians—but some are almost stranger than fiction! Here are some unusual obituaries found in the online collection of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Untimely Death Notices

Some people die young—but more than one person has had their death reported numerous times while they were still alive!

The most famous of these was the humorist Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), better known by his pen name “Mark Twain.” Several times in his life, Twain’s death was “greatly exaggerated,” as he was prone to say. One erroneous report occurred in 1907, when his demise was supposedly met during a dense fog while aboard H. H. Roger’s yacht.

Report of His Death (Mark Twain) Greatly Exaggerated, Baltimore American newspaper article 5 May 1907

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 5 May 1907, page 16

Another tale was spun about American pioneer and frontiersman Daniel Boone (1734-1820), as noted in this GenealogyBank blog article: The Lessons of Daniel Boone’s Obituary: Check and Double Check. What an intricate literary fabrication the author of Boone’s obituary wove. If you read the obituary closely, he couldn’t possibly have known the details—since he reported Boone died alone:

 In this position, without a struggle, he breathed his last.

false report of the death of Daniel Boone, Providence Gazette newspaper article 19 September 1818

Providence Gazette (Providence, Rhode Island), 19 September 1818, page 3

This next obituary, from 1889, is another example of an untimely death notice.

Who would believe that an obituary could be published 18 years after a death? Perhaps Mr. Cartier’s wife needed closure—or, as the obituary mentioned, wished to silence “tongue waggers” (gossipers) who wouldn’t acknowledge that he had been lost at sea in 1871.

obituary for Justin Cartier, New York Herald newspaper article 20 May 1889

New York Herald (New York, New York), 20 May 1889, page 6

Misunderstood Diseases

Another oddity is the reporting of diseases that were not widely understood during the time period.

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Ever hear of Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disease characterized by tics and uncontrollable outbursts of cursing? Mr. Herrington most likely was a sufferer, as his greatest fault was his extravagant use of profanity. Thank goodness he enjoyed the company of a respectable family, despite his inability to control his condition.

obittuary for William Herrington, New York Tribune newspaper article 12 December 1898

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 12 December 1898, page 3

Sleeping diseases are often linked with folklore, as in this account of the “Sleeping Beauty.” Miss Golsey passed away in 1873 after being asleep for 24 years! Her obituary indicates a comatose condition, but doesn’t explain how she took nourishment during that long time period.

obituary for Susan Caroline Golsey, Cincinnati Daily Enquirer newspaper article 9 November 1873

Cincinnati Daily Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio), 9 November 1873, page 9

Persnickety Penmanship

Some notices might have been worded better if the wordsmith had taken care to proofread the work!

I call this persnickety penmanship, an affliction many writers encounter. But the resulting mistakes can be fun to read, as in this case where an obituary reported that a woman gave a dinner for the church organ and another for the church carpet—instead of for real people. At the end, the poor wording seems to indicate that it was unusual for her to be married and to take her children to church!

article about church suppers, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 13 August 1891

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 13 August 1891, page 6

Here’s an obituary reporting that a cast-iron wheel exploded after a long illness! Many readers probably took a double-take until they realized the reporter intermingled news items that should have been in two separate paragraphs!

The obituary reads:

A large cast-iron wheel, revolving 900 times a minute, exploded in the city lately, after a long and painful illness.

Jersey Journal newspaper article 20 October 1890

Jersey Journal (Jersey City, New Jersey), 20 October 1890, page 2

Laughed to Death

Laughing isn’t always safe—and if you search old newspapers, you find it is an all-too-common cause of death. Searching on the phrase “Laughed to Death” in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives returns over 140,000 articles, including these headlines:

  • “Actors Who Slay Their Auditors—The Man Who Laughed to Death” (1877)
  • “Telling Funny Stories Fatal to a New York Woman” (1911)

Here is another example:

Laughed Herself to Death, Daily Inter Ocean newspaper article 26 December 1878

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 26 December 1878, page 7

Practical Jokes

We know you can’t always believe what you read—so always look for retractions after the initial report.

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Believe it or not, this next piece describes an obituary that was printed as a practical joke.

Gus Mahler’s friends printed an obituary connecting him to a prophesy of his death on March 15. At first the joke seemed funny, but family felt it went too far. With friends like that, who needs enemies!

However, Mahler—according to his wife—was a practical joker himself, and she predicted that he would certainly get even with the jokers. Wouldn’t you like to know how he got his revenge on the pranksters?

obituary for Gus Mahler, New York Herald newspaper article 17 March 1893

New York Herald (New York, New York), 17 March 1893, page 4

If you’ve encountered any peculiar or stranger-than-fiction obituaries, please share them with us in the comments section.

Everyone’s a Wee Bit Irish around St. Patrick’s Day!

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, to celebrate March being Irish American Heritage Month, Mary explains that many of us have at least a little Irish in our family history—including President Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr.

With the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations this week, plus March being Irish American Heritage Month, everyone is feeling a wee bit Irish. And, as it turns out, quite a few of us have actual Irish roots—including U.S. President Barack Obama and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

Irish Diaspora

Population estimates vary, but most historians and researchers agree that the Irish Diaspora (persons of Irish heritage living outside of Ireland) is significant.

By some estimates, at least 10% of the world is Irish (according to the Irish tourism board)—and others report that there are at least seven times as many people of Irish descent in America as the entire population of Ireland! (See Huffington Post article.)

photo of Blarney Castle, Ireland

Photo: verdant scene from the top of Blarney Castle, Ireland. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

So when everyone claims to be a wee bit Irish in March, especially on St. Patrick’s Day, you shouldn’t be surprised. Many Americans, including several prominent African Americans, can trace their roots to the Emerald Isle.

The Obamas’ Irish Ancestry

One of the first studies on President Barack and Michelle (Robinson) Obama’s ancestry was conducted by genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak (yes, she is a double Smolenyak).

She discovered that Mrs. Obama’s third great grandmother Melvinia was the granddaughter of Andrew Shields, a white Irish protestant immigrant, via his son Charles Shields.

The President’s direct immigrant Irish ancestor was Falmouth Kearney, a native of Moneygall in County Offaly. He left his homeland in 1850 to escape the great famine (which lasted 1845-1852). Once the people of Ireland learned this, there was much celebration and pride in being connected to the U.S. President. See:

DNA Study of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Family

Another historical figure connected to the Republic of Ireland is Martin Luther King, Jr. (15 Jan. 1929 – 4 April 1968).

photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Photo: Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C. Credit: Library of Congress.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s roots are a wee bit elusive, as traditional research methods using a path of documentary evidence have failed.

However, a DNA study conducted on his son Michael Luther King, III, indicated ties to the Mende people of Sierra Leone on his mother’s side, and Ireland on his father’s.

MLK’s Family Tree through the Paternal Line

  • Jacob Branham & wife Dinnah
  • |
  • Nathan King (a.k.a. Branham or Brannan) & wife Malinda
  • |
  • James Albert “Jim” King & Delia Lindsey
  • |
  • Martin Luther King, Sr. & Alberta C. Williams
  • |
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. & Coretta Scott

In the MLK family tree, note the name change from Branham or Brannan (and other spellings) to King. This occurred sometime between 1870 and 1880, when Nathan appeared on the U.S. Federal Census as a King. The reason for the name change is not clear, but perhaps the family wished to disassociate themselves with the oppressive slavery of the Branham family of Putnam County, Georgia.

No records have been located to prove which Branham family owned the slave plantation where the King ancestors lived, but in all likelihood it was Dr. Joel Branham (1799 – 1877) or his father Henry Branham (or both). The family is thought to have removed to Georgia from Virginia in the 1700s. By 1812 Henry Branham had become active in his community, and he ran for the State Legislature.

article abourt Henry Branham, Georgia Argus newspaper article 7 October 1812

Georgia Argus (Milledgeville, Georgia), 7 October 1812, page 2

The family’s opposition to the abolishment of slavery is indicated by this article of 1837, when Dr. Joel Branham opposed the election of President Martin Van Buren.

article about Joel Branham, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 17 September 1840

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 17 September 1840, page 2

The Mysterious Reference to James King & Ireland

Several genealogists have presented comprehensive articles discussing the King family’s connection to the Branhams and Ireland (see links below)—and surprisingly, they have identified one mysterious reference to Ireland in connection with Rev. King’s grandfather.

An examination of the records reports a bit more detail.

In 1910, the U.S. Federal Census reported that the James and Delia King family (James King was MLK’s grandfather) were renting a farm on the Jonesboro and Covington Road in the Stockbridge District of Henry County, Georgia. It was the first marriage for James and Delia, who had been married 15 years (so they were married c. 1895). There had been eight children, but only seven were still living. The eldest child could read and write, and the second child could read but not write, and neither James nor Delia could read or write.

The birthplace of Delia and all the children was reported as Georgia—but James King’s birthplace was reported as Ohio. Most interestingly, the birthplace of James King’s father was reported as Ireland.

photo of the 1910 U.S. Census record for James King, Sr.

Photo: 1910 U.S. Census record for James King, Sr. Credit: FamilySearch.org.

photo of the 1910 U.S. Census record for James King, Sr. household

For further reading on this interesting subject, see these articles:

Cluster Analysis of the Branham Irish Origins

So if you accept the theory that one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ancestors was a man named Branham from Ireland, how would one determine where the family originated?

Since early records are scant, a surname distribution map such as the one hosted by the Irish Times is useful. It works by enumerating names found on surveys, such as the 1847-64 Primary Valuation Survey.

Some might criticize this tool for being too late a time period. However, if a significant number of families were only found in a limited area, then a sampling of family (siblings and cousins of the immigrants whose descendants stayed in the area), could be examined.

By searching for Branham, the results showed six households under an alternate spelling of Brangham.

Other related spellings include Brannan, Brannon, Bringham, Brinham, Brennan, etc.—and when they were searched, a significant cluster appeared. It turns out that these families are associated with Northern Ireland, and in particular the counties of Londonderry, Antrim, Tyrone, Down, Armagh and Fermanagh.

Although not conclusive, this at least provides researchers who wish to trace the King Irish ancestry more of a target region.

Further Reading: