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

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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 Your Ancestor’s Part in Major Historical Events

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how researching the major historical events that happened in your ancestors’ lifetimes provides another way of better understanding them, their experiences, and the lives they led.

Think of an ancestor you are researching. What major historical events did they live through? Did they go west for the California Gold Rush? Maybe they were sick during the 1918 Flu Epidemic. Did your ancestor fight in World War I? One of the things that makes doing genealogy research fascinating is learning about the history that our ancestors were a part of, and finding out exactly what their role was and how they were affected.

The California Gold Rush

For example, was the ancestor you’re researching alive in 1849? Perhaps he read a newspaper article such as this and was caught up in the gold fever sweeping the country—in 1849 more than 90,000 prospectors came to California, and in all about 300,000 people flocked to California during the Gold Rush hoping to strike it rich. Was you ancestor one of them?

article about the California Gold Rush, Arkansas Weekly Gazette newspaper article 22 February 1849

Arkansas Weekly Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 22 February 1849, page 3

How can you learn more about an ancestor’s part in a historical event? Consider taking the following steps.

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Create a Timeline

Start your research by creating a timeline for your ancestor. Insert the dates for what you know about their lives, such as a birth or death date. Then consider what major historical events happened in their lifetime that may have impacted them. If the ancestor was a young man during World War II, perhaps he registered for the draft or he served in the military. By including dates of important historical events you can get a better sense of what records you should be researching to find more information about your ancestor’s life.

articles about World War II, Advocate newspaper article 1 September 1944

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 1 September 1944, page 1

Not sure what historical events were going on during your ancestor’s lifetime? Seek out a general history timeline such as eHistory’s timelines or a specific timeline for a region like this one from Missouri Digital Heritage.

Also, take some time to read your ancestor’s hometown newspaper in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives. Look for front-page stories of historical events and any commentary about how it affected that community. Keep in mind that adding every historical event that happened during your ancestor’s lifetime to your timeline is not necessary; you want to include only those that most likely impacted their everyday lives.

One idea for creating a timeline for your ancestor can be found on the Armchair Genealogist’s blog post Four Steps to a Family History Timeline.

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Survey the Available Resources

Let’s say you believe that your ancestor was involved in the Georgia land lotteries. So now what? Take some time to survey what resources are available for your research. You will want to look for historical records that mention your ancestor but also those that document that event for their community.

Start your research with GenealogyBank. Search on your ancestor’s name; don’t forget variations of their name and the possibility of misspellings, but don’t stop there. Continue to search their community newspaper for other clues as to how the event may have impacted their life. Make sure to consult, if you haven’t already, GenealogyBank’s Learning Center to ensure that you are finding everything possible in your searches. You can also peruse our Historical Events in America Pinterest board to review newspaper headlines and photographs of some of our nation’s most memorable historical moments as a starting point.

article about the Georgia land lottery, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 18 April 1827

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 18 April 1827, page 3

After newspapers, continue on to the FamilySearch Library Catalog. Search for both the city and the county your ancestor lived in and see what records exist for the time period they were living there. Once you identify some possible records, make sure to order the microfilm or check the digitized records online. To learn more about ordering microfilm from the FamilySearch Family History Library, see the FamilySearch Research Wiki article Ordering Microfilm or Microfiche.

Continue your survey of what’s available by searching the genealogy websites that you typically search, both fee-based and free. But don’t stop there. Also search for histories in digitized book websites like Google Books, and look for histories and archival collections in catalogs like WorldCat and ArchiveGrid.

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Genealogy Research Q&A

As you start your research, come to it with specific questions that you want to answer and then create a research plan to help you answer those questions. Did my ancestor enlist in the military during World War I? Did my family have a homestead claim? Did my ancestor die of the flu? Make your questions to the point and not too complex. Once you start researching and gathering documents, you will want to have those documents guide you to answering additional questions.

Don’t forget that records often lead to additional records and questions. So record everything you find in a research log, either on paper, through a genealogy database program, or an online source.

Your ancestor has a place in history. By identifying their possible historical role and gathering newspaper articles and other documents that tell that story, you will add “flesh to the bones” of your ancestor and create a family history narrative your non-genealogist family members will be interested in and enjoy.

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.

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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.

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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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Get Your Genealogy Facts Straight: Proof-Checking Tips for Records

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena provides some advice about verifying genealogy records, especially in the case of a newspaper article contradicting other family history information you have found during your research.

Probably one of the most iconic newspaper images to ever appear is that of President Harry S. Truman holding up an early edition of the Chicago Tribune that boldly proclaimed the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Of course, that newspaper headline announcement from the 1948 presidential election was premature and involved some wishful thinking. Today, everyone knows the name of President Harry S. Truman; few remember his opponent Gov. Thomas E. Dewey.

Clearly, newspapers sometimes make mistakes.

Occasionally, genealogists find a newspaper article that conflicts with what they know about an ancestor. What’s a researcher to do when they come across a newspaper article that doesn’t match their family history records?

Cross-Check with Records from Catalogs

Genealogical records of all types contain mistakes—just ask anyone who has ever been an informant on a death certificate. Even if you can correctly provide all of the information for your deceased loved one’s death certificate, there’s still the chance of errors creeping in from the reporting physician, the funeral home, or even the typist.

Enter Last Name










One of our jobs as family historians is to collect and verify facts about our ancestors. Those facts may come in the form of an original or derivative document that has primary information, information supplied by a witness to the event, or secondary information supplied by someone who was not an eyewitness. Obviously the further removed from the eyewitnesses and the event, the more chances something is going to have errors. With any genealogical evidence you find, you will want to gather more than one example if possible because mistakes can and do happen.

As with all genealogy research, it’s important to not rely on just one source. While we are lucky to live in an era where we have a wealth of online materials available to us, some genealogy records are not and will never be online. So record the family information you find in newspaper articles, and then search through archival and library catalogs for paper records that haven’t been digitized, like diaries and journals, occupational records, church records, court records and other documents created by the community and its members at the time of the event. Consult catalogs such as WorldCat, ArchiveGrid, and the Family History Library Catalog to find these materials.

As you use these catalogs, search or browse on the place your ancestor was from to find what records exist for that community. And remember: because these catalogs are frequently updated, check back and record your results in a research log to keep track of search dates and keywords used.

Look at the Next Day’s Publication

Let’s face it, mistakes happen with newspaper articles and they can even happen when an article has been proof-read numerous times. There’s a chance that the difference between your existing genealogy record and a newspaper article was an error that the newspaper corrected in the following day’s issue. Make sure to look for the newspaper’s correction column to see if a correction was reported.

Enter Last Name










Newspapers have long reported corrections to their articles, as can be seen in this example from a 1730 Massachusetts newspaper.

newspaper corrections, New-England Weekly Journal newspaper article 16 March 1730

New-England Weekly Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 March 1730, page 2

Sometimes in the rush to get a story out to beat the competition, or due to the pressure of looming deadlines, a newspaper article might be published with a glaring mistake. Today, we are all familiar with the fate of the Titanic and its loss of over 1,500 people. However, details were sketchy if not totally incorrect in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy—as clearly shown in this example.

article about the sinking of the Titanic, Riverside Daily Press newspaper article 15 April 1912

Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, California), 15 April 1912, page 1

Thorough research of the Titanic disaster would include not only numerous newspaper accounts that were printed for days and weeks after the sinking, but also other records created at the time of the sinking and even after.

Do you have a newspaper article that conflicts with a genealogy record? Just like the game “telephone,” records are going to conflict as information is passed from one person to another. Faulty memories, transcription errors and more can cause problems in any record. But by utilizing the proof-checking steps mentioned above you can get beyond that difficulty and come up with a sound genealogical conclusion based on actual facts.

Genealogy Tip: Newspapers are essential to family history research, providing stories about your ancestors’ lives that you just can’t find anywhere else. But as with all genealogy research, gather as many records from as many sources as you can, so that you can cross-check the data and establish the facts.

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You Found That Article Where? Newspaper Search Tips for Genealogists

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 guest blog post, Duncan provides some newspaper search tips for genealogists, especially regarding locations.

Typically when we do genealogical research we go straight to the local jurisdiction, which is often at the county level. We get vital records, land deeds, and tax lists on a county level. Although the federal census is conducted nationwide, we can search it on a county or even city level. As genealogists, we tend to narrow our focus down to the smallest jurisdictional unit. This is typically a very effective strategy.

However, this local focus is not always the best approach when searching newspapers.

Search Nationwide First, Then Refine

If you took your local newspaper and organized all the articles in it by the location of the event being reported, you would find that the majority of the news comes from outside of the city, county or even state where the paper was published. This has been true throughout history. When searching for information in newspapers, I begin my searches by looking nationwide. But if I get too many search results, I then narrow my search by using date ranges and specific locations.

Here’s how I approach searching for family history information in newspapers.

  1. First, I begin my search with just the first and last name.
  2. Then I narrow the search by date range if I get too many results.
  3. Once I have searched with this criteria and I am still getting too many results, I narrow further by using the city or state name as a keyword.

It is important to keep in mind that GenealogyBank’s search engine is very specific and will only search for exactly what you type. This helpful feature prevents you from getting too many unrelated results back.

But it also means that you have to be creative in what you enter in the search box. This applies to the names and keywords fields. When I am searching nationwide for an article from San Francisco, California, there are a variety of keywords I could use: California, Calif, CA, San Francisco, San Fran, SF.

Enter Last Name










Newspaper Search Tips

  • Use Quotations for Phrases: Whenever you enter a group of words that you want to find together, such as “San Francisco,” put the group in quotation marks.
  • Start Broad Then Refine: The default setting on GenealogyBank already searches nationwide for you. There is the option to select a state from the map at the bottom of the results page. However, doing so will often eliminate many of the newspaper articles you are looking for. Therefore, I recommend doing a nationwide search first and then, if necessary, using keywords such as the city or state name to narrow your results.
  • Explore Articles from Multiple States: Keep in mind as you look through the search results page that the location listed is the location of the newspaper and not the location of the article. Don’t hesitate to click on any newspaper article that looks like it might be relevant even if its listed location appears to be several states away from where your ancestor lived.
  • Use Keywords: You can add a series of keywords into the “Include Keywords” box. Keep in mind that adding too many keywords all at once may not be an effective research strategy. Add them one at a time until you get down to a reasonable number of results to search, around 100-200.
  • Exclude Keywords: You can also use the “Exclude Keywords” box to narrow results. Let’s say you were searching for a man named Eric Clapton, but you weren’t looking for the musician. Glance through the results and find words that often appear in articles about the musician. These may be things like: album, concert, or guitar. Enter those words into the “Exclude Keywords” box as follows: album OR concert OR guitar. This eliminates articles with those words.

Whom Will You Find?

Some genealogists may think that the person they are looking for was a poor farmer from a small town who would never have made the national news. You would be surprised what articles got picked up and how far away they went! I’ve included several examples in this Blog article to prove this point. Today it is less likely that small town news will travel nationwide, but the further back in history you go the more likely it is that local news could be published in distant newspapers.

Where’s My Ancestor in the News?

Keep in mind that local news articles can be published in any newspaper in the nation, in places where you might not logically think to look. Your ancestor may not have ever visited the area where the news was published. They may not have any friends or relatives residing in that location. Newspapers subscribed to other papers and published their articles if they thought the news would be interesting to their own readers. There were no copyright laws to stop them from republishing word for word—or even from embellishing—what was originally published elsewhere. Newspaper editors would also select news articles from other papers simply because they fit the space their paper had available.

Newspapers’ Historical Role in Daily Life

In the past, newspapers were the main form of mass communication, predating other social media like radio, TV, Facebook and Twitter. When families moved from one place to another, they would often keep their subscription to their hometown newspaper. If many people migrated from a certain location, the local paper in their new area would regularly run articles from their place of origin in order to cater to those readers.

Reading the newspaper and talking over the events was a highlight of a community’s week. Before TV, this was a common form of entertainment. Human nature is always looking for new and exciting experiences. This fact keep editors busy scouring other papers for information to republish. For genealogy researchers, this gives us multiple opportunities to find the articles we are searching for, even if the original newspaper’s archives no longer exist!

Enter Last Name










Genealogical Gold in Republished Articles

Here is a great example of that. I once had a genealogist ask for help finding a photograph of one of her relatives that had appeared in the local newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She had looked through GenealogyBank’s collection of Pennsylvania newspapers and hadn’t been able to find the photo. I started by using just her ancestor’s last name because it was uncommon. I did not put any additional information in the search box. We found several copies of the photograph that had been published in newspapers all across the nation (Illinois, Massachusetts, Tennessee and North Carolina) and she was able to select the best copy for her records.

Here is a photo of her ancestor Mary Tauschman helping a pet duck cross the road, published in a Massachusetts newspaper.

photo of crossing guard Mary Tauschman, Springfield Union newspaper photograph 27 April 1969

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 27 April 1969, page 2

Searching Articles across U.S. States

Another time, I helped a genealogist who was searching for a report of her relative’s car accident in Forth Worth, Texas. We were able to find the article all the way up in a Massachusetts newspaper!

Her ancestor’s accident was indeed horrible—thank goodness for the quick action by her husband!

Swift Kick by Husband Saves Lady Driver's (Idell Schults) Life, Boston Record American newspaper article 13 December 1961

Boston Record American (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 December 1961, page 16

Here is another example. A large Mississippi family is photographed and named individually, but the photo appears in a Louisiana newspaper.

photo of the large family of William and Catherine Smith, Times-Picayune newspaper photograph 12 March 1922

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 12 March 1922, page 39

There is also the example I gave in a previous GenealogyBank Blog post about the death notice of my ancestor Zachariah Nicholson (see: Genealogy Records: A History of Regional Coverage in the U.S.). There is no reason this farmer’s death in Indiana would appear in a Michigan newspaper—yet here it is.

death notice for Zachariah Nicholson, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 19 January 1895

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 19 January 1895, page 7

Here is one more example: an announcement for a marriage in Omaha City, Nebraska, that is appearing in a Georgia newspaper.

Spilman-Gaylord wedding announcement, Marietta Journal newspaper article 9 September 1880

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 9 September 1880, page 3

Genealogy Search Tip: Start your newspaper search without a location, searching nationwide because you never know what paper published an article about your ancestor. If you get too many search results, start narrowing your search by using the state or city name as a keyword.

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Free Guide for Irish Genealogy Research

Got Irish roots? Since March is Irish American Heritage Month and we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day last Monday, everyone is feeling a wee bit Irish this time of year. For Irish Americans, however, that sentiment is year-round, as feeling connected to Ireland is part of their family history.

12th-century Trim Castle in County Meath, Ireland

Photo: 12th-century Trim Castle in County Meath, the largest Norman castle in Ireland. Credit: Wikipedia; Andrew Parnell.

Have you been tracing your Irish genealogy, looking for good research sources for Irish genealogy records? If so, here is a free research guide to help you discover and document your Ireland genealogy.

Simply click the button below to “Like” us on Facebook to start your download. Note that you will need to be logged into Facebook.

Irish Genealogy Brick Wall

The brick wall that most Irish American genealogists hit is: trying to figure out where in Ireland your Irish immigrants came from. There are a lot of free Irish genealogy records available online, but first you need to know where in Ireland to concentrate—and that exact location is often hard to discover. Most U.S. census records, for example, only state that someone was from “Ireland” without specifying exactly where.

This free Irish Genealogy research guide will help you.

Irish American Newspapers

For one thing, it offers links to online Irish American newspapers, which published birth notices, marriage announcements, and obituaries that often give exact Irish locations. These newspapers also published Irish vital statistics years before official civil registration began in Ireland in 1864.

Ireland Civil Registration Records

The guide also provides links to these online collections of Irish vital statistics:

  • Irish Birth & Baptismal Records 1620-1881 (Church & Government)
  • Irish Marriage Records 1619-1898 (Church & Government)
  • Irish Death Records 1864-1870 (Church & Government)
  • Records from the General Record Office in the Republic of Ireland
  • Records from the General Record Office in Northern Ireland

Additional Resources for Irish Genealogy

In addition, the guide has links to these genealogy records:

  • U.S. Federal Census 1790-1940
  • U.S. State Census Records
  • 1901 & 1911 Irish Census Records
  • Tithe Applotment Books from Ireland
  • Griffith’s Valuation and the Ordnance Survey Maps

So download your free copy of the Guide to Research Sources for Irish Genealogy Records today and get a big boost for your Irish family history research! Just click the button below to “Like” us on Facebook to start your download.

A Fascinating Genealogy Success Story: Mystery of Missing Ancestors Solved

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott tells the story of how a fellow genealogists used old newspapers to finally break through her family history brick wall.

Here on the GenealogyBank blog, I recently wrote an article titled Ah-Ha! Moment: GenealogyBank Member’s Favorite Family Find. At the end of my article I asked readers to please share their own “Ah-Ha!” moments from their genealogy and family history work. I then learned about “Cowfordlady’s” genealogy “Ah-Ha!” moment, which had occurred earlier that same day.

GenealogyBank member Cowfordlady kindly shared her genealogy success story with us so that we could share it with all of you. It is a story about breaking through a genealogy brick wall similar to those we each encounter in our own family history work.

It is a great story and if I may use a quote from Paul Harvey, there is a lot to “the rest of the story.”

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Cowfordlady had been searching for some clues to two of her ancestors who were missing from the 1940 U.S. Census, so she turned to GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives in the hope of perhaps finding an obituary. What she found was indeed an “Ah-Ha!” moment of epic proportions. She overcame the challenges of assumed names, misspellings, cross-country movements, 15 missing years, murder, and more!

She had been unable to find information about her ancestors Flossie Sula (mother) and Louise (daughter) Cothern. Cowfordlady knew that Flossie Sula had married David William Cothern, and Louise was their only child. He died in 1930.

Cowfordlady knew only a few details about her ancestors’ lives after David died. As she tells it:

Flossie was a widow and about age 33 when she and Louise left West Green (Coffee County), Georgia, in/about 1931; Louise was about age 9 then.

After that, her ancestors’ trail turned cold, and they were not listed in the 1940 Census.

Not able to find any information about her ancestors in government records, Cowfordlady turned to GenealogyBank’s newspapers. She tried several searches using variations of her ancestors’ surname—and one such variation (“Cothren”) turned up an article that was the key to unlocking this genealogy puzzle.

It was a front-page story from a 1946 Louisiana newspaper that began to unravel the mystery. The discovery was a chilling one.

Father, Son (Emmett and Leroy Bennett) Face Murder Charges in Razor Slaying, Times-Picayune newspaper article 19 November 1946

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 19 November 1946, page 1

The key was this paragraph, revealing that the unfortunate “Mrs. Henderson” involved in this tragic murder story was in reality Cowfordlady’s missing ancestor, Flossie Sula Cothern (spelled “Cothren” in the article).

article about Flossie Sula Cothern, Times-Picayune newspaper article 19 November 1946

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 19 November 1946, page 9

Along with finally solving the mystery of her missing ancestors, this newspaper article had the added bonus of providing a photograph of Flossie Sula Cothern.

photo of Flossie Sula Cothern, Times-Picayune newspaper article 19 November 1946

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 19 November 1946, page 9

Flossie Sula and Louise Cothern had left Georgia with a father and son who lived near them: Emmett Bennett and his son Leroy. The four of them lived as a family for 15 years under the assumed name of Henderson until Emmett (in the company of Leroy) murdered Louise in 1946 in New Orleans while Flossie was at work.

Cowfordlady’s discoveries continued when she found another 1946 Louisiana newspaper article. It seems that while on the lam from the law, the apparent murderer of Louise possibly committed suicide by allowing himself to be hit by an express train.

Find Body of Man (Emmett Bennett) Wanted in Slaying of Orleans Girl, Advocate newspaper article 22 November 1946

Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 22 November 1946, page 1

But that was not the end of this story!

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There is a follow-up in this 1946 Georgia newspaper article. It seems that the second suspect in this murder case, Leroy Bennett ( “Henderson”) had changed his mind about accepting extradition to Louisiana from Georgia—and his family then swore out a warrant against the detectives for kidnapping!

Kidnap Warrant Is Served on New Orleans Detectives Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 23 November 1946

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 23 November 1946, page 1

While the kidnapping charge was dismissed, the case carried on—as reported in this 1946 Louisiana newspaper article. While much of this article details the legal haggling over extradition and habeas corpus, there was this interesting sentence that reads:

Coffee County Sheriff R. C. Relihan said today that a mental health hearing for the young Bennett this week disclosed him to be mentally incompetent. He was placed in the custody of an uncle and attorneys.

N. O. Extradition Case Pondered, State Times Advocate newspaper article 27 November 1946

State Times Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 27 November 1946, page 6

As you can see, Cowfordlady went from near-zero information to uncovering an amazing story about her missing ancestors. Her experience shows the value of newspapers for family history research; they provide the stories that vital statistics, with all their names and dates, don’t tell.

And her technique of searching on variations of her ancestors’ name—and her dogged persistence—provide good lessons for us all!

There may be nothing finer in genealogy than when we see success such as Cowfordlady’s. What has your best genealogy success story been?

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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.

Did You Miss These Helpful Irish American Genealogy Articles?

The GenealogyBank Blog has posted several articles on Irish American genealogy. Since March is Irish American Heritage Month and we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day last Monday, we thought you’d enjoy these links to the following articles. They should help you with your family history research into your Irish ancestry.

photo of the South Kildare plains, looking east at the Wicklow Hills, Ireland

Photo: South Kildare plains, looking east at the Wicklow Hills, Ireland. Credit: Wikipedia.

Links to Irish American Genealogy Blog Articles:

Online Irish American Newspapers

After reading the Blog articles listed above, try a search for your Irish American ancestors in GenealogyBank’s online Irish American Newspaper Archives. This collection features newspapers published in New York that documented Irish American lives, featuring birth, marriage and death information from Ireland years before civil registration began there in 1864.

search page for GenealogyBank's Irish American newspapers

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: