How to Use a Thesaurus as a Genealogy Keyword Tool

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary talks about how important it is to try many variations when using keywords for your genealogy searches—and explains how helpful a thesaurus is for finding those variations.

A thesaurus is a marvelous writing tool—and an essential search tool for genealogists. Why?

When writers, and particularly journalists, go out of their way to be creative, they don’t use expected terms to describe ordinary events.

graphic showing how a thesaurus can be useful in finding word variations

Source: Mary Harrell-Sesniak

These writers turn to a thesaurus, such as the renowned (celebrated, famous, notable) lexicon compiled by Dr. Peter Mark Roget of London in 1852. His Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases revolutionized the modern construction of words—although he was not the first or the last to do so.

portrait of Peter Mark Roget by Thomas Pettigrew, 1843

Portrait: Peter Mark Roget by Thomas Pettigrew, 1843. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

A search of GenealogyBank’s archives finds references to Stevens’s Thesaurus in 1724, Beveridge’s Thesaurus in 1733, a Thesaurus Medicus in 1784, Tyronis’s Thesaurus in 1812, and a whole slew of others—including clubs and organizations devoted to synonyms and antonyms.

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screenshot showing GenealogyBank's search results for a search on the word "thesaurus"

(Note: if you are a Wikipedia contributor please expand their Thesaurus article, as not one of these earlier thesauri is mentioned in the article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thesaurus.)

One Reason Why Search Queries Fail

Queries can fail if you don’t employ search substitutions—a variation of the word or name you are searching for might work when the original search word or name found no results.

What if the writer, who wrote about your cherished ancestor, was bored with using the same terms repeatedly?

He/she might have concluded that the terms “marry” and “married” are easily exchanged for “matrimony,” “nuptials,” “wedding” and “union.”

Obituarists (or in some cases obscurantists) are also prone to employing “passed away” or “expired” for “death” or “died.”

In many search engines (and especially on the Web) you will miss desired results if you don’t try variations.

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Searching for Revolutionary War Ancestors

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll soon learn (ascertain, discover, find) that I am an active American Revolutionary War researcher. I scour archives for patriots and frequently post transcriptions online (see Facebook’s Revolutionary War Research page). There’s even an online index, and later this year I hope to publish an updated reference of this work with the full transcriptions.

Finding early obits and articles about specific patriots can be challenging, so I started cross-referencing searches.

“Revolutionary War,” “American Revolution,” “patriot” and “pensioner” achieved great results, but then one day I found an article about a Revolutionary War ancestor that didn’t include any of those terms. Then I started reading more from the target time period, and concluded that I needed to broaden my selection of keywords.

Revolutionary War Search Keywords

Ever hear of the “shot heard around the world”?

Many think the phrase has something to do with baseball (Bobby Thomson’s home run to win the National League pennant in 1951), but its first known use was to describe the Battles of Lexington and Concord that began the Revolutionary War in 1775. This phrase, along with the “Skirmish at the North Bridge,” appear in numerous articles without incorporating the terms “war” or “American Revolution.”

article about Mr. Gladstone, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 9 October 1876

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 9 October 1876, page 2

Ancestor Name Variations

One day I became curious about people who served with famed Captain John Paul Jones during the Revolutionary War, and noticed that some wordsmiths of the past liked to call him Paul Jones and others referred to him as John Paul Jones. In these two obituaries from 1792, for example, one calls him “Paul Jones” and the other “John Paul Jones.”

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results page for a search on "John Paul Jones"

So when searching for this famous patriot, I now search on both variations of his name.

And my keyword options don’t stop there. I’ve maintained a list of over 50 ways to search for Revolutionary War participants, including the words and phrases “entered the service of his country,” “spirit of ’76” and “Whig.”

Genealogy Keyword Search Tips

To increase the prospects of keyword search success, data-mine search engines with obvious words and consider these tips:

  • Start with obvious keywords.
  • Use a thesaurus to find alternatives and search on those variations.
  • Don’t rely on modern-day expressions for keyword ideas.
  • Observe what was written in articles of the past by reading early newspapers.
  • Keep a list of what you find.
  • Always think like a wordsmith of the past!

Related Keyword Search Tip Articles:

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Find Pictures of Your Ancestors’ Home in Old Newspapers

Do you have old family traditions, places and/or heirlooms?

Like Abe Lincoln, did your family live in a log cabin? Do you have a picture of it?

pictures of the Dalton family and their log cabin, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 16 July 1922

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 16 July 1922, page 7

If you are related to Robert Dalton of Palo Pinto County, Texas, then GenealogyBank’s newspaper collection has a photograph of their old log cabin (built in the 1870s) along with photos of the family.

Our Historical Newspaper Archives are invaluable for finding old family homesteads, traditions, family photos and images that are preserved here—but might have been long lost to the family.

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Find the details of your family history; in many cases, newspapers are likely your only source for these important memories.

Dig in—see if you can find pictures of your ancestors’ home and discover more about your family history today.

Related Articles:

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Patriot Day: Remembering 9/11

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to learn more about the history of Patriot Day, and discusses current commemorative events on this day.

Every generation has certain historic days that are seared into their collective memories—days that we each know exactly where we were and what we were doing when we got the news. For folks in my parents’ generation, one of those days was 7 December 1941, “a date which will live in infamy”—the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. For many of us “Boomers” it is 22 November 1963, the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. Unfortunately we added 11 September 2001, the day of the attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and the crash of Flight 93 near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to this list.

September 11th is now officially known as Patriot Day, or more fully “Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance.” While not a single one of us will ever forget, or be the same, after “9/11,” it is a powerful testament that this day has also taken on aspects of service to America as well as remembrance.

photo of American flags flying at half staff on Columbus Circle, Washington, D.C., on Patriot Day 11 September 2013

Photo: American flags flying at half staff on Columbus Circle, Washington, D.C., on Patriot Day 11 September 2013. Source: T. H. Kelly; Wikimedia Commons.

I turned to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to learn more about the history of this day and how it has been commemorated in the U.S.

Legislation Signed for Patriot Day

President George W. Bush signed the congressional resolution creating Patriot Day on 18 December 2001, as reported in this Connecticut newspaper article.

Bush Signs Bill Naming Sept. 11 Patriot Day, Daily Advocate newspaper article 19 December 2001

Daily Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 19 December 2001, page 14

Later, on 21 April 2009, President Obama signed into law the “Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act,” which designated September 11th as our “National Day of Service and Remembrance” as well as Patriot Day.

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Past Commemorative Events

In this 2011 article from a Michigan newspaper, Chris Sizemore, executive director of Volunteer Kalamazoo, said it well:

9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance is a great chance to reclaim the unifying spirit that Americans had after the tragedy of Sept. 11. Stronger neighborhoods make for stronger communities, and in turn, a stronger nation.

10 Years Later -- Events to Commemorate 9-11 Terrorist Attacks, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 4 September 2011

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 4 September 2011

Similarly, this 2013 Texas newspaper article explained that in their community there would be a memorial service at 8:30 a.m. on Sept 11th, which would include the observation of our national moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. (EDT).

We Will Never Forget -- Remembering Patriots Killed, Injured on 9-11-2001, Meridian Tribune newspaper article 28 August 2013

Meridian Tribune (Meridian, Texas), 28 August 2013

The September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance began in 2002 and now reaches every community across America.

Current Commemorative Events

If you visit the website http://www.nationalservice.gov you can easily find volunteer opportunities to help in your community. The site offers anyone the option of entering your interests (they give the examples of September 11, Disaster Preparation, Military Families, Veterans, etc.). You can then add your city, state, or ZIP Code and your volunteer opportunities will be listed for you. When I entered my ZIP Code and “September 11” I received dozens of opportunities listed.

There is also the 9/11 Day organization at http://www.911day.org. This organization reports that in 2013 more than 47 million people throughout the United States and in 150 other countries observed 9/11 by volunteering.

In my own hometown there will be a community remembrance celebration sponsored by such diverse organizations as our local community college, city government, JROTC, an American Legion Post, and the Guardian Riders.

You can follow and stay up-to-date on what you would like to do as a volunteer on September 11 Day of Service and Remembrance on Twitter @nationalservice, @ServeDotGov, and @911day, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/911day.

Related 9/11 Articles:

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Top Genealogy Websites Update: Internet Archive Book Images + Flickr

Last year I wrote about Internet Archive, spiking it out as one of the top genealogy websites online.

Recently there has been a new development that I wanted to alert you to.

a collage of images from Internet Archive

Source: Internet Archive

Kalev H. Leetaru, the Yahoo! Fellow in Residence of International Values, Communications Technology, has used his position to mine the old images and photos in the Internet Archive and is putting them on Flickr, making it easy for us to find illustrations and photographs published in books over the last 200 years.

He has uploaded over 2.6 million images from the Internet Archive of old published books and put them online.

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Why is this important to genealogists?

This new Flickr search feature lets you quickly find images, etchings, photographs, etc., of your ancestors that were published in books.

See this new image search tool here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/

Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

Source: Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

Here’s how it works.

In this example I am searching for illustrations pertaining to the Starbird family.

Looking at the results, I selected the image on the right.

Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images – Irvin Starbird

Source: Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

Clicking on the image brings up the details about the book it was originally published in.

Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images – Irvin Starbird

Source: Flickr – Internet Archive Book Images

This image was published in:

History of Wayne, Pike and Monroe counties, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: R. T. Peck & co., 1886. Page 760.

Clicking on the “View Book Page” hyperlink, I can then see the image as it appeared in the original book.

Internet Archive -- Irvin Starbird

Source: Internet Archive

The image is the portrait of Irvin Starbird (1842-1897) of Preston, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Along with his portrait, I was able to read his biography which contained extensive genealogical details about the family.

The Internet Archive Book Images site has put more than 2.6 million of these old images on Flckr.

Bookmark the Internet Archive search page on Flickr here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out our “Top Genealogy Websites” post series to learn more about the best online resources for your ancestry research:

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Early American Colonial History Timeline Infographic

Beginning in the 16th century, settlers from many European countries came to North America, including: Finland, Germany, Holland (the Netherlands), Ireland, Scotland, Sweden—and especially England, France and Spain. These settlers arrived seeking a better life, profit, and religious freedom. England eventually exerted control over the new land, and established the 13 colonies that became the United States.

If you are exploring your ancestry all the way back to the Colonial period in U.S. history, this Infographic will help—providing a timeline and facts to help you better understand the times your ancestors lived in.

Here’s a timeline of key historical events in Colonial America. (Note: this article continues after the Infographic.)

Click here for the larger version of the Settling America Infographic.

Early American Colonial History Timeline

Settling America Infographic

Settling America: Explore Your Ancestry in Colonial America

Does your family history in America begin before the United States became a country?

After Christopher Columbus’ voyages, many European countries came to the New World—but eventually Great Britain became the dominant power in North America.

This timeline shows some of the key events in the settling of America, as settlements and colonies became the 13 British colonies—leading to the original 13 United States.

Colonial America Timeline

1492: Christopher Columbus first arrives in the New World
1534: France’s New France Colony (Canada, Louisiana Territory)
1565: Spain’s St. Augustine—the oldest continuously-occupied city in the U.S. (Florida)
1585: England’s Roanoke Colony, the “Lost Colony” (North Carolina)
1607: England’s Jamestown Settlement (Virginia)
1614: Holland’s New Netherland Colony (Mid-Atlantic States)
1620: England’s Plymouth Colony founded by the Pilgrims (Massachusetts)
1625: Holland’s New Amsterdam settlement established on the southern tip of Manhattan Island
1630: Puritans from the Massachusetts Bay Colony establish Boston and 10 other settlements
1636: England’s Connecticut Colony, Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
1638: Sweden’s New Sweden Colony (Mid-Atlantic States)
1656: First Quakers arrive in New England
1664: England captures the New Amsterdam settlement on Manhattan Island
1665: England renames New Amsterdam “New York City”
1667: England takes over Holland’s New Netherland Colony and renames it “New York”
1681: England’s Pennsylvania Colony
1687: Protest by New England settlers and merchants against “arbitrary” taxes
1690: Spain colonizes Texas
1690: Publick Occurrences, the first newspaper in America, is published in Boston
1754: Beginning of the French and Indian War, France and its Indian allies versus Great Britain, its Colonial militia, and Indian allies
1763: Treaty of Paris ends the French and Indian War—France loses most of its North American territory to Great Britain, with its Louisiana Territory going to Spain

Colonial Newspapers Online

Long-established American families have family trees that stretch back to the Colonial Era in the 17th and 18th centuries. Finding vital statistics and other genealogical information about these early Colonial ancestors from that time period can be difficult, as some vital records simply were not officially kept before and during the 1700s, or have been destroyed through war, accident or the passage of time.

Fortunately, GenealogyBank offers a rich genealogy resource for family historians tracing their family trees back to Early American times: an online collection of 27 Colonial newspapers, providing obituaries, birth notices, marriage announcements, and personal stories to get to know your pioneering ancestors and the times they lived in better.

Download our printable PDF list of Colonial newspapers for easy access to our historical archives right from your local desktop to begin researching your genealogy back to the Colonial period. The list shows the individual Colonial newspaper titles we house in our historical archives, ranging from the first newspaper ever published in America up to publications from the late 1800s. After you’ve downloaded the PDF, click the newspaper titles to be taken directly to the search landing page for that publication. Just click on the graphic below to start your download.

list of Colonial-era newspapers available from GenealogyBank

Sources

Related American Colonial Ancestry Articles:

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Old Newspapers Tell the History of Two Manhattan Taverns

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan searches old newspapers to find the history of two taverns in Manhattan that archaeologists recently excavated.

I recently read an article on the website Archaeology about an archaeological dig in Lower Manhattan at 50 Bowery.* They have unearthed the remains of two historic taverns built on the same location.  The older of the two, the “Bull’s Head,” was from the colonial-era. It was “built in the 1740s by a butcher near New York City’s first slaughterhouse.” The second tavern, the “Atlantic Garden” which opened in 1858, was “a tourist destination in its day—it was known for its German food and beer, and as a place for music and parties.”

I wanted to know more about the history of the two taverns, so I turned to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to learn more.

Genealogy Tip: When searching through the newspaper archives, I entered phrases (enclosed in quotation marks) into the Include Keywords field to find the exact phrase in the newspaper articles. In this case I ran two searches, one with “Bull’s Head” and one with “Atlantic Garden.”

Interesting Tavern Tidbits

I found an article in a German American newspaper that discussed the origins of the area.

article about Manhattan's Bull's Head Tavern, New Yorker Volkszeitung newspaper article 23 November 1919

New Yorker Volkszeitung (New York, New York), 23 November 1919, page 14

I only have an elementary understanding of the language, so I went to Google Translate and typed in the German paragraph that I was interested in. A loose translation told me that the tavern was opened in 1760.

I also learned that:

Most of the guests were cattle drivers because of the proximity to the slaughter houses. However, Washington had rested there after the British troops marched along the Bowery Road to exit the city.

The abundance of cattle drivers explains all the newspaper notices I found announcing cattle and horse auctions taking place at the tavern, such as this ad from a 1780 newspaper.

ad for a livestock auction, Royal American Gazette newspaper advertisement 8 August 1780

Royal American Gazette (New York, New York), 8 August 1780, page 2

I also found an interesting reference to the story about George Washington, in another newspaper. This article explained that Washington had used the tavern as one of his headquarters during the Revolutionary War.

Atlantic Garden Changes Hands, New York Herald newspaper article 3 January 1895

New York Herald (New York, New York), 3 January 1895, page 10

Land History

Note that this article also reports: “It is said that $1,000,000 was offered for the property by the Third Avenue Railroad Company when the company was looking for ground for a new power house.” Assuming that the offer was made about 1880 and adjusting for inflation, the railroad was willing to pay about $17 million for the premium Manhattan location!

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Then I found this well-written newspaper article, telling about the history of this plot of land in New York City.

Famous Old Tavern on Astor House Site, Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 28 January 1902

Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 28 January 1902, page 3

I learned that originally the land was owned by the Trinity Church. It was covered in trees and was a beautiful spot to build a gathering place for the local drovers (people who drive sheep or cattle to the market) as they came into town.

The old newspaper article provided this description:

The Bull’s Head [Tavern] was built in the old Dutch style, with plenty of solid bricks and gables; and it had a number of trees around it, under the shade of which, in fine weather, the worthy burghers and butchers smoked their pipes and swallowed their schnapps. The land on which the tavern stood belonged to Trinity church, then as now a wealthy corporation, and the tavern itself had for a time been a farm-house on the Trinity farm. But the trustees of the Church accepted Van der Burgh’s proposition to lease the farm-house for tavern purposes, and so the first prominent inn of the city was started—indirectly, at least—under the auspices of a church.

A church would seem to be an odd landlord for such a raucous establishment! The article says this of Adam Van der Burgh:

His voice was loud, but pleasant; his laugh contagious; his appearance emblematic of good cheer, and he knew almost everybody, especially the butchers and politicians—the two most needful classes for him to know.

As Van der Burgh’s tavern thrived, he soon attracted the ire of the local women “who went so far as to hold a meeting, and to protest against the alienating influences” of the place. He weathered that storm, but went too far when he built the first race track in New York immediately in front of his tavern. This drew the wrath of his landlord the Trinity Church. In response, Van der Burgh closed the race track “and, apparently from spite, abandoned the Bull’s Head tavern.”

The Tavern Keepers

This newspaper article explained that during the American Revolution, the tavern was owned by John Jacob Astor’s brother Henry.

The Astor Butcher Trust, Evening News newspaper article 19 October 1900

Evening News (San Jose, California), 19 October 1900, page 7

In addition to owning the Bull’s Head Tavern, Henry Astor was a butcher. A brilliant idea came to him: he beat the competing butchers by “riding far out along the Bowery land, meeting the drovers as they brought their cattle to town and buying their stock, which he sold to the other butchers at his own price.”

I found this illustration, showing what the Bull’s Head Tavern looked like in 1820.

illustration of Manhattan's Bull's Head Tavern, New York Herald-Tribune newspaper article 11 October 1894

New York Herald-Tribune (New York, New York), 11 October 1894, page 2

In 1825, the tavern was moved from the Bowery to Twenty-Fourth Street and Third Avenue. I learned this from the following newspaper article announcing the closing of the Bull’s Head Tavern. After 80 years in its second location, the tavern was closed down completely and the furnishings and fixtures were auctioned off.

Passing of Bull's Head Tavern, Springfield Republican newspaper article 24 May 1905

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 24 May 1905, page 11

In the meantime, back at 50 Bowery, the spot was used as a stove factory before the Atlantic Garden was opened in 1858.

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As the next newspaper article reported, soon after William Kramer opened the Atlantic Garden it became the recruiting station for the German regiments during the Civil War. Next door was the Thalia Theater where German language operas were sung. A passageway was built between the theater and the Garden to facilitate the opera patrons running over “for a bite and a sip between the acts.”

Atlantic Garden to Pass, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 20 June 1909

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 20 June 1909, page 13

According to another newspaper article, Atlantic Garden became the center of German life in the city and was “a resort modeled after the amusement gardens of German cities.”

This old newspaper article also reported that the Atlantic Garden was about to be closed in 1911—slated to be torn down in preparation for a modern theatre and eight-story office building.

article about Manhattan's Atlantic Garden tavern, Grand Forks Daily Herald newspaper article 20 August 1911

Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 20 August 1911, page 7

Historical Professional Parallels

And that brings us back to the archaeology article I read recently, that spurred me to do this research. Just as the archaeologists dug through the earth to find “liquor bottles, plates, and mugs,” we dug through a few hundred years’ worth of newspaper articles to learn more about the people and buildings. Long-dead Van der Burgh, Astor, and Kramer left their mark in more ways than one. Their objects will fascinate those on-site. And a brief glimpse into their lives fascinates us. Well done, men!

Most genealogists know that newspapers help tell the stories of our ancestors’ lives—but, as this article has shown, newspapers also tell us about the times and places our ancestors lived in.

Genealogy Tip: Even though this research was about taverns in New York City, note the variety of states where relevant newspaper articles were found, including: California, Massachusetts, Minnesota and North Dakota. This is a reminder that you should begin your search with a broad geographical scope; you never know where a newspaper article was published that might be about your ancestor or area of interest.

_________

* “Historic Taverns Unearthed in New York City.” Archaeology.com. May 5, 2014. Accessed June 1, 2014. http://archaeology.org/news/2083-140505-bowery-tavern-beer.

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Using Obituaries to Pay It Forward: Boomerang Effect

I am always looking at Kemps, wanting to know if they are related to me or not.

Since Kemp is a pretty rare surname, I like to pull recent “Kemp” obituaries and trace back their family line to see if the person is a relative of mine. If he is—terrific; I’ll add his line to my family tree. But if he’s not I am still glad I took the time since the more “Kemp” family trees I can plant, trace and put online, the faster I will have found and documented my family and at the same time made it easier for other Kemps to discover their family history.

It will take a while, but I’d like to think that I can organize and account for all Kemps—and by putting the genealogical information I find online, I am making a lasting contribution for further genealogy research, sort of creating an extended Kemp family forest.

Researching Further with Recent Obituaries

Here’s what I do.

I go to GenealogyBank’s Recent Newspaper Obituaries collection and pull a recent Kemp obituary to see which Kemp line that person belongs to.

For example, here is the obituary for Fred Benny Kemp, who died one week ago.

obituary for Fred Benny Kemp, Avenue News newspaper article 29 August 2014

Avenue News (Essex, Maryland), 29 August 2014

I took this recent Kemp obituary and plugged the information into my online family tree. Looking at the old newspapers, the census and similar sources, I quickly pulled together his family tree.

No, Fred Benny Kemp is not related to my Kemp line—but the tree is planted online so future family historians can build on the family tree I started.

Digging Deeper into the Kemp Story

But wait—there’s more.

Fred Benny Kemp was in World War II—a gunner on a B-24 Liberator bomber.

Hey—so was my Dad.

Maybe there is a connection after all.

Googling for more information, I found this video interview on YouTube uploaded by WBAL – Baltimore, Maryland, in 2012:

http://youtu.be/LLmG3dqBC5c

Here is the key quote:

In World War Two I flew a B-24 with the 450 Bomb Group, 722nd Bomb Squadron.

Hey—that sounds familiar.

I double checked, and my Dad was in the 450 Bomb Group—but in the 723rd Squadron. Both were stationed in Manduria, Italy.

Had their paths in life ever crossed?

Had they met each other?

Almost—but they didn’t meet.

According to the video interview, Fred Kemp’s B-24 left his air base in Manduria, Italy, on 25 February 1944, when he was shot down and remained a POW for the duration of the war. Since my Dad was transferred to Manduria four months later on 11 June 1944 they never met.

Search All Your Surname Obituaries

Using GenealogyBank’s obituaries to research “all” Kemps who have lived in America is a fun way to pay it forward and help other genealogists. It was also good to see that these two Kemps—though not related—had similar experiences in the war. If I hadn’t picked his obituary at random, I never would have learned the rest of this story.

Do you ever research your extended family tree using obituaries? If so, what nuggets have you found? Please share with us in the comments.

Related Obituary Research Articles & Video Tutorial:

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Your Immigrant Ancestor: Genealogy Research Tips

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog post, Gena shows how historical newspapers can help you learn more about your immigrant ancestors and what their immigration experience was like.

What is your ethnic background? Who was your first immigrant ancestor? Newspapers are a great resource for learning more about our individual ancestors as well as the social history of their time. How did your ancestor come to the United States? What was life like when they arrived? Whether you use the newspaper for photos, passenger lists, articles, or some historical background, there’s a good chance you can learn more about your immigrant ancestor by searching an online newspaper database such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Immigrants Arriving in America

Ellis Island wasn’t the only arrival port for immigrants in the United States, but over time it has become synonymous with immigration. This short notice and image of Ellis Island in a 1907 North Dakota newspaper proclaims that a million Europeans a year entered the United States.

Ellis Island, Landing Place of Immigrants, Evening Times newspaper article 16 July 1907

Evening Times (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 16 July 1907, page 12

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Ship lists printed in the newspaper are a great source of information, such as this example from an 1897 New York newspaper.

Incoming Steamers, New York Tribune newspaper article 24 May 1897

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 24 May 1897, page 12

Once you have searched on your immigrant ancestor’s name, the passenger ship they sailed to America on or their country of origin, narrow your search on GenealogyBank’s Search Results page by using the category “Passenger Lists” to focus on just those types of articles.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results page showing the "Passenger Lists" category

In the absence of finding a passenger list with your ancestor’s name and the ship they arrived on, consider the ports and modes of transportation available to them. Research their lives in the United States in your effort to learn more about their journey.

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Photos Tell a Story

Images are one way to search historical newspapers. GenealogyBank’s Search Results page lets you narrow your search to articles that contain images by clicking on the “Photos & Illustrations” category.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results page showing the "Photos & Illustrations" category

Exploring old photos in newspapers is a great way to learn more about immigrants during the time period that your ancestor came to America. All types of images of newly arrived immigrants graced the pages of newspapers.

photos of immigrants, Anaconda Standard newspaper article 26 December 1920

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 26 December 1920, page 1

Photos of immigrants wearing their native costumes can be found in newspapers, and there can also be photos telling the stories of individual families. For example, the following photo focuses on one particular Dutch family and its 15 members, mostly children of the family. Whoever wrote this newspaper caption had a great sense of humor when they proclaimed: “No nation can beat the Dutch in this wonderful matter of human productivity.” Note that the father’s complete name, Hendrik Feyen, is listed. As a whole, they are referred to as the Feyen family and the wife/mother is referred to only by her first name. When conducting searches for your ancestor, make sure to conduct multiple searches and take into account variations of your ancestors’ names.

Family of Hollanders (the Feyen family) Added to U.S. Population, Twin Falls News newspaper article 26 April 1921

Twin Falls News (Twin Falls, Idaho), 26 April 1921, page 6

If your family immigrated as a group, make sure to search on every name in that family group including a search on just the surname. It’s important not to make assumptions about newspaper articles. For example, in this article about immigrant women traveling to meet up with fiancés living in the United States, the names of the women—but not their beaus—are listed, and where they are from. It would be easy to assume that women would not be mentioned as readily as male partners, but that is not always the case.

article about immigrants Emma Mayenberg and Elsie Becker, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 13 October 1922

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 13 October 1922, page 16

Other types of articles about an individual may not be obvious sources of immigration information. Don’t forget about interviews with older family members and what those can tell you about the person’s life. Anyone who had an unusual story, lived to a ripe old age, or was married for 50+ years may have found themselves the subject of a biographical newspaper article that included their immigration experiences.

GenealogyBank’s Ethnic Newspaper Archives

Searching all possible newspapers is a great idea for researching your ancestor—but don’t forget that GenealogyBank’s Ethnic Newspaper Archives are especially helpful because it’s in the ethnic newspapers that an immigrant community might be written about in more detail than a newspaper serving the general public. Readers of ethnic newspapers would be interested in people from their homeland, so it makes sense that the story of your immigrant ancestor might be featured there.

What’s your ethnic background? Good chance you can learn more about your immigrant ancestor as well as what immigration was like by searching historical newspapers.

Related Immigrant Ancestor Articles:

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Garland County (AR) Public Library Closing Genealogy Room

The Washington Times recently reported that the Garland County (Arkansas) Public Library has decided to focus on providing the public with online genealogy record collections, and to transfer the majority of their print book and hardcopy genealogical materials to two institutions: the Garland County Historical Society and the local genealogical society—the Melting Pot Genealogical Society.

photo of the bookshelves in the reading room of the Melting Pot Genealogical Society

Source: Melting Pot Genealogical Society

Why did the library staff decide to do that?

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According to the Washington Times report, John Wells, the Library Director of the Garland County Public Library, said:

We’ve noticed a dramatic decrease in the use of that [Genealogy & Local History] room. You’d walk by, and no one was in there. A lot of what was used in genealogical research is now available online. They’re not using that stuff here when they can sit at home and do it all day long.

article about the Garland County (AR) Public Library closing its Genealogy Room, Washington Times newspaper article 31 August 2014

Source: Washington Times (Washington, D.C.) 31 August 2014

So with that in mind the three libraries put their heads together and decided to consolidate the physical genealogy library materials where they would be getting more use.

Is this a new trend?

Anyone know of this happening in other public libraries?

Related Library Articles:

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Connecticut Archives: 151 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

Connecticut, the southernmost state in New England, is the third smallest state in the nation—yet the fourth most densely populated. The state is named after the large river (the Connecticut River) which flows through its middle, emptying into Long Island Sound. This name comes from an Algonquian Indian word for “long tidal river.”

photo of Western Barndoor Hill, Connecticut

Photo: Western Barndoor Hill, Connecticut. Credit: Sphilbrick; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your ancestry from Connecticut, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online Connecticut newspaper archives: 151 titles to help you search your family history in “The Constitution State,” providing coverage from 1755 to Today. There are more than 8 million newspaper articles and records in our online CT archives to trace your family tree!

Dig deep into the online archives and search for obituaries and other news articles about your ancestors in these recent and historical Connecticut newspapers online. Our CT newspapers are divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries (obituaries only).

Search Connecticut Newspaper Archives (1755 – 2002)

Search Connecticut Recent Obituaries (1988 – Current)

Here is our complete list of online Connecticut newspapers in the archives. Each newspaper title in this list is an active link that will take you directly to that paper’s search page, where you can begin searching for your ancestors by surnames, dates, keywords and more. The CT newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range Collection
Ansonia, Derby, and Seymour Valley Gazette 12/6/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge Amity Observer: Web Edition 11/5/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge Amity Observer 12/6/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bridgeport Connecticut Post 5/21/2001 – 6/30/2002 Newspaper Archives
Bridgeport Republican Farmer 4/25/1810 – 8/11/1876 Newspaper Archives
Bridgeport American Telegraphe 4/8/1795 – 6/6/1804 Newspaper Archives
Bridgeport Connecticut Courier 8/3/1814 – 6/14/1826 Newspaper Archives
Bridgeport Spirit of the Times 10/6/1830 – 9/26/1832 Newspaper Archives
Bridgeport Bridgeport Herald 3/7/1805 – 1/9/1806 Newspaper Archives
Bridgeport Bridgeport Advertiser 6/5/1806 – 1/5/1809 Newspaper Archives
Bridgeport Bridgeport Gazette 6/27/1810 – 1/9/1811 Newspaper Archives
Bridgeport Bridgeport News 3/15/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bridgeport Connecticut Post 9/18/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bridgeport Bridgeport News, The: Web Edition 3/14/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bristol Bristol Press 12/28/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cheshire Cheshire Herald 10/22/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Danbury Danbury Gazette 8/3/1813 – 4/19/1814 Newspaper Archives
Danbury Republican Journal 7/1/1793 – 1/6/1800 Newspaper Archives
Danbury Connecticut Intelligencer 1/31/1810 – 11/7/1810 Newspaper Archives
Danbury Day 5/19/1812 – 12/15/1812 Newspaper Archives
Danbury News-Times 3/14/1996 – Current Recent Obituaries
Darien Darien Daily Voice 5/28/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Darien Darien Times 6/19/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Darien Darien News-Review 10/15/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Easton Easton Daily Voice 6/30/2010 – 6/7/2012 Recent Obituaries
Easton Easton Courier 12/1/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fairfield Fairfield Gazette 10/26/1786 – 9/23/1789 Newspaper Archives
Fairfield Fairfield Citizen News 1/17/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fairfield Fairfield Daily Voice 5/3/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fairfield Fairfield Sun 9/18/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Glastonbury Rivereast News Bulletin 9/4/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Greenwich Greenwich Post 10/2/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Greenwich Greenwich Daily Voice 6/30/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Greenwich Greenwich Citizen 11/8/2002 – 4/17/2013 Recent Obituaries
Greenwich Greenwich Time 8/8/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hamden Hamden Journal 12/7/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hartford Connecticut Courant 10/29/1764 – 12/28/1876 Newspaper Archives
Hartford Hartford Daily Courant 2/3/1840 – 10/25/1914 Newspaper Archives
Hartford American Mercury 7/12/1784 – 6/25/1833 Newspaper Archives
Hartford Connecticut Mirror 7/10/1809 – 12/15/1832 Newspaper Archives
Hartford Times 1/1/1817 – 9/2/1876 Newspaper Archives
Hartford Religious Inquirer 11/10/1821 – 11/7/1835 Newspaper Archives
Hartford Patriot and Eagle 3/7/1835 – 12/30/1837 Newspaper Archives
Hartford Hartford Gazette 1/13/1794 – 3/19/1795 Newspaper Archives
Hartford Times and Weekly Advertiser 1/12/1829 – 12/28/1829 Newspaper Archives
Hartford Hartford Times 2/6/1832 – 8/16/1864 Newspaper Archives
Hartford Connecticut Observer 1/11/1825 – 10/3/1831 Newspaper Archives
Hartford Commercial Record 1/25/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hartford Hartford News 4/4/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hartford Hartford Courant 7/9/1991 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hartford Hartford Advocate 11/7/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kensington Berlin Citizen 6/2/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Litchfield Litchfield Monitor 12/21/1784 – 7/1/1807 Newspaper Archives
Litchfield Litchfield Republican 5/19/1819 – 6/13/1856 Newspaper Archives
Litchfield Witness 8/14/1805 – 6/24/1807 Newspaper Archives
Litchfield Litchfield Gazette 3/16/1808 – 5/17/1809 Newspaper Archives
Litchfield Litchfield Journal 4/8/1818 – 10/20/1818 Newspaper Archives
Litchfield Sun 4/25/1835 – 4/13/1839 Newspaper Archives
Manchester Journal Inquirer 3/8/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Meriden Record-Journal 12/8/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries
Meriden North Haven Citizen 3/18/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Middlefield Town Times 6/30/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Middletown Middlesex Gazette 11/8/1785 – 1/23/1834 Newspaper Archives
Middletown Constitution 12/29/1841 – 12/30/1879 Newspaper Archives
Middletown Sentinel and Witness 1/1/1823 – 8/7/1833 Newspaper Archives
Middletown Daily Constitution 7/10/1872 – 8/5/1876 Newspaper Archives
Middletown Connecticut Spectator 4/20/1814 – 4/10/1816 Newspaper Archives
Milford Milford Mirror 11/30/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Monroe Monroe Courier 3/8/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mystic Mystic Pioneer 3/12/1859 – 3/2/1867 Newspaper Archives
Mystic Mystic River Press 1/11/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
New Britain Herald 12/1/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
New Canaan New Canaan Daily Voice 5/28/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
New Canaan New Canaan News-Review 11/5/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
New Canaan New Canaan Advertiser 8/8/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
New Haven New Haven Register 10/23/1878 – 12/31/1900 Newspaper Archives
New Haven Columbian Register 1/5/1813 – 12/30/1876 Newspaper Archives
New Haven Connecticut Journal 10/23/1767 – 2/24/1835 Newspaper Archives
New Haven Connecticut Herald 11/1/1803 – 3/30/1889 Newspaper Archives
New Haven Daily Herald 3/12/1836 – 12/30/1843 Newspaper Archives
New Haven New Haven Palladium 7/19/1861 – 12/31/1863 Newspaper Archives
New Haven New-Haven Gazette, and Connecticut Magazine 2/15/1786 – 6/18/1789 Newspaper Archives
New Haven New-Haven Gazette 5/13/1784 – 2/9/1786 Newspaper Archives
New Haven Visitor 10/30/1802 – 10/25/1803 Newspaper Archives
New Haven New-Haven Chronicle 4/25/1786 – 9/11/1787 Newspaper Archives
New Haven Connecticut Gazette 9/20/1755 – 1/12/1767 Newspaper Archives
New Haven Black Coalition Weekly 3/6/1972 – 9/14/1972 Newspaper Archives
New Haven Fairfield County Weekly 2/17/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
New Haven New Haven Register 1/3/1988 – Current Recent Obituaries
New Haven New Haven Advocate 11/5/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
New London Connecticut Gazette 11/18/1763 – 5/29/1844 Newspaper Archives
New London New London Daily Chronicle 4/26/1848 – 12/31/1864 Newspaper Archives
New London Morning News 11/8/1844 – 4/25/1848 Newspaper Archives
New London New London Democrat 3/21/1845 – 4/12/1873 Newspaper Archives
New London People’s Advocate 8/26/1840 – 4/26/1848 Newspaper Archives
New London Bee 6/14/1797 – 6/23/1802 Newspaper Archives
New London Weekly Oracle 10/22/1796 – 12/30/1799 Newspaper Archives
New London Republican Advocate 1/2/1822 – 12/10/1828 Newspaper Archives
New London New London Daily Star 1/5/1857 – 8/16/1860 Newspaper Archives
New London New-London Summary 9/29/1758 – 9/23/1763 Newspaper Archives
New London True Republican 7/1/1807 – 2/24/1808 Newspaper Archives
New London Day, The: Archive 7/24/2003 – 12/29/2006 Recent Obituaries
New Milford New Milford Spectrum 10/10/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Newtown Newtown Bee 1/1/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Norwalk Independent Republican 6/17/1802 – 4/6/1803 Newspaper Archives
Norwalk Norwalk Citizen News 12/13/2002 – 11/11/2013 Recent Obituaries
Norwalk Norwalk Daily Voice 4/1/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Norwich Norwich Courier 11/30/1796 – 8/16/1876 Newspaper Archives
Norwich Norwich Aurora 5/15/1839 – 9/29/1876 Newspaper Archives
Norwich Norwich Packet 11/11/1773 – 2/9/1802 Newspaper Archives
Norwich Connecticut Centinel 2/16/1802 – 10/13/1807 Newspaper Archives
Norwich Norwich Republican 10/1/1828 – 4/15/1835 Newspaper Archives
Norwich Weekly Register 11/29/1791 – 8/19/1795 Newspaper Archives
Norwich Norwich Morning Bulletin 10/16/1860 – 8/13/1887 Newspaper Archives
Norwich Native American 3/4/1812 – 6/23/1813 Newspaper Archives
Norwich True Republican 6/20/1804 – 11/5/1806 Newspaper Archives
Norwich Religious Messenger 6/11/1831 – 9/8/1832 Newspaper Archives
Norwich Canal of Intelligence 2/21/1827 – 10/28/1829 Newspaper Archives
Norwich Bulletin 1/28/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Oxford Oxford Gazette 3/6/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Redding Redding Pilot 1/1/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ridgefield Ridgefield Press 6/12/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sharon Rural Gazette 6/9/1800 – 7/13/1801 Newspaper Archives
Shelton Shelton Extra 3/6/2008 – 3/17/2011 Recent Obituaries
Shelton Shelton Herald 12/6/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Southbury Voices 8/2/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Southington Plainville Citizen 8/27/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Southington Southington Citizen 5/14/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Stamford Stamford Advocate 4/5/1829 – 9/24/1903 Newspaper Archives
Stamford Advocate 1/17/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Stamford Stamford Daily Voice 6/30/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Stonington Impartial Journal 10/8/1799 – 3/6/1804 Newspaper Archives
Stonington Journal of the Times 10/10/1798 – 9/17/1799 Newspaper Archives
Stonington-Port Patriot 7/24/1801 – 2/11/1803 Newspaper Archives
Stratford Stratford Star 12/6/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Suffield Impartial Herald 6/14/1797 – 6/11/1799 Newspaper Archives
Torrington Register Citizen 10/25/2007 – 8/2/2009 Recent Obituaries
Trumbull Trumbull Times 12/6/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Waterbury Republican-American 6/25/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Watertown Town Times 8/31/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Weston Weston Forum 12/17/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Weston-Easton Weston-Easton Daily Voice 5/28/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Westport Westport News 9/17/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Westport Westport Daily Voice 5/11/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Willimantic Willimantic Journal 10/5/1865 – 12/13/1866 Newspaper Archives
Wilton Wilton Daily Voice 5/28/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wilton Wilton Bulletin 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Windham Windham Herald 3/12/1791 – 12/31/1812 Newspaper Archives
Windham Advertiser 5/7/1818 – 3/11/1819 Newspaper Archives
Windham Register 3/13/1817 – 1/1/1818 Newspaper Archives
Windham Political Visitant 5/15/1820 – 5/15/1820 Newspaper Archives

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