Effort to Mark 1,200 Unmarked Civil War Veterans’ Graves Hits Snag

American volunteers are out in cemeteries across the country, working to document the lives of bygone generations whose graves were not permanently marked with a tombstone. When these dedicated good Samaritans identify a veteran, the volunteers often request a headstone from the National Cemetery Administration which is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Per the Department’s instructions: “The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) furnishes upon request, at no charge to the applicant, a Government headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world.”

illustration of government headstones available for the graves of military veterans

Credit: Department of Veterans Affairs

There are multiple styles of markers and tombstones that can be selected. These can be personalized with a symbol reflecting the veteran’s religious faith.

illustration of the religious symbols available for the government headstones furnished for the graves of military veterans

Credit: Department of Veterans Affairs

Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, has been using this VA program to place tombstones on the unmarked graves of Civil War veterans. As a team of volunteers documents each vet, they request a headstone to honor his service in the American Civil War.

Watch a New York Times video report about the volunteer effort to mark these Civil War graves:

This volunteer team estimates that there are over 8,000 Civil War graves in the National Historic Landmark Green-Wood Cemetery, many of them unmarked. The historic New York cemetery has gotten tombstones for over 3,000 formerly unmarked Civil War veterans’ graves, but they have had a problem getting the next 1,200 tombstones.

The Daily News reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs has changed its policy and is now requiring that the tombstone application be filed by a relative and not by a group such as the volunteers working at the Green-Wood Cemetery. See the complete news article “Department of Veterans Affairs blocks historic Green-Wood cemetery from giving Civil War vets tombstones.” Daily News (New York City, New York,) 9 July 2013.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer has gotten involved in this controversy, stating: “To require the permission of a direct descendant of men who died well over one hundred years ago is a nonsensical policy and it must be reversed.”

If the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t reverse this decision, then the volunteers and cemeteries will have to raise the funds to pay for these Civil War veterans’ grave markers.

4th of July Holiday: A Time for Family Reunions & Genealogy Fun

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott celebrates the Fourth of July holiday by researching old newspaper articles to discover some July 4th reunions celebrated in times past.

I love holidays and I especially love the 4th of July! Fireworks, picnics, and family reunions! What a great combination for all of us, and especially those of us who are genealogy “infected”! All my life July 4th was a time to gather family around and have a wonderful long weekend while celebrating the birth of the United States!

I hope you and your family had fun this past holiday weekend celebrating our great nation and enjoying quality time together.

When I began planning my picnic menu for this year’s 4th of July party (should I go with hamburgers, hot dogs, or brats?) I decided to spend a few moments searching GenealogyBank.com’s historical newspaper archives to see what some of the past July Fourth celebrations were like that “made the papers.”

The first article I found in my search, published in the “Society” column of a 1912 Pennsylvania newspaper, really perked up my interest as a genealogist. The historical news article listed the names of dozens of the reportedly more than 100 family members of three of the oldest families of the county who gathered for their annual 4th of July reunion. Seeing all those persons’ names and hometowns made me wish I were related!

Three Families in July Fourth Reunion, Patriot newspaper article 6 July 1912

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 6 July 1912, page 3

Next, I enjoyed another family reunion article and wished I had ancestors who lived in Mason, Fleming, and/or Lewis counties in Kentucky. This 1912 Kentucky newspaper reported on a nice assortment of many of the “Old Settlers” of the area.

Old Settlers Will Meet July Fourth, Lexington Herald newspaper article 22 May 1912

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 22 May 1912, page 2

I became a bit envious when I read an article from a 1913 Oklahoma newspaper. This piece explained that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had changed his mind and agreed to go to the Gettysburg battlefield and address the Veterans Encampment there. Can you imagine being at Gettysburg and walking amongst Civil War veterans, hearing their first-hand stories? Wow, what a 4th of July that would make for anyone who loves genealogy and history!

Wilson to Visit Gettsyburg Vetson July Fourth, Daily Oklahoman newspaper article 29 June 1913

Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), 29 June 1913, page 1

Then I got a good chuckle from an article in an 1875 Ohio newspaper. This enjoyable item recounted the 4th of July festivities surrounding the annual gathering of telegraphers. I enjoyed reading that this group knew “how to have a frolic in a sensible and respectable manner” and sported badges with coded messages. Despite their apparent good manners and fun times, I’d be willing to bet that this is a group that doesn’t meet anymore.

Reunion of the Cleveland, Buffalo, Toledo and Erie Telegraphers, Plain Dealer newspaper article 6 July 1875

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 6 July 1875, page 4

Of course reading all these wonderful old newspaper articles about 4th of July family reunions and gatherings only made me pine a bit for some of my family reunions in times gone by. The last several decades or so have found us in a cabin in the north woods of Minnesota where we enjoy the holiday, often in its weather extremes. I have great memories ranging from the incredibly HOT 4th of July when the beach sand was so burning we couldn’t walk on it barefoot to get to our clambake fire—all the way to the other extreme of the 4th of July in 1996, when we all watched the fireworks in winter jackets, hats, and mittens after trimming a small, nearby pine tree with Christmas lights to celebrate the cold!

Before wrapping up my Fourth of July reunion research, I took a few more minutes to look in our old family photo albums for some more memories of the holiday. Aside from a whole lot of my really bad photos of fireworks that didn’t quite work out (thank goodness for digital photography now), I did find two photos that really took me back. One is of my dad and mom enjoying the 4th in their favorite place—a swimming pool.

photo of Scott Phillips' parents celebrating July Fourth by a swimming pool

The second photo was from a 1986 4th of July reunion with my in-laws in northern Minnesota.

photo of Scott Phillips celebrating July Fourth with his in-laws in northern Minnesota

Both these family photos bring memories of happy, happy times gone by. I hope you enjoy them; I have included them here as my way of saying: I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July holiday—and Happy Birthday to the United States of America!

By the way—what did you grill this 4th of July? Tell us in the comments.

‘Gencaching’ Challenge: Find Historical Maps in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shows some of the unique historical maps that can be found in old newspapers, and proposes a fun “gencaching” game to find more of these maps.

Some of the greatest tools of genealogical research are historical maps—but one place we often forget to search for them is old newspapers.

Perhaps it is because we don’t expect to find historical maps in newspaper archives. Some old maps, such as the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (published 1867-2007), and one by Waldseemüller (the first to name the continent as America), are mentioned in historical newspaper articles but not shown.

notice about map-maker Waldseemüller, Irish World newspaper article 20 February 1892

Irish World (New York, New York), 20 February 1892, page 7

However, many other historical maps were published in newspapers. So what types of old maps can we expect to find in newspapers?

Delve into GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives and you’ll note an extraordinary and unique set of cartographic images used to illustrate articles and advertisements.

These historical maps include—but are not limited to—battles, explorations, relief expeditions, and transportation routes, along with proposed and completed municipal, state and national projects. The renditions offer an exciting opportunity to further your family history research, as the majority of these maps printed in old newspapers were not published in books.

Since they were often overlooked, newspaper maps were usually not indexed or cataloged by libraries and historical societies.

“Gencaching” Game to Find Historical Maps

For me, newspaper map searching is a bit like geocaching, the popular activity of treasure hunting using a GPS (global positioning system) to find items hidden away by others—only what you are looking for was placed by the newspaper publishers of yesterday.

To extend this concept to a lineage society or genealogy friend activity, try constructing a “find and seek, or gencaching” game by using GenealogyBank’s search engine to create clues regarding map treasures, such as landmarks that are no longer existent.

If you find some unusual treasure maps, we invite you to share your “gencaching” finds on our blog page in the comments section. Historical map finds that you share with us may be the subject of a follow-up GenealogyBank blog post.

Here are some of the historical maps—and mentions of maps—that I found in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives.

The Great San Francisco Conflagration

San Francisco suffered a massive fire on 3-4 May 1851, as noted in this California newspaper article.

The Effect of the Conflagration, Weekly Pacific News newspaper article 15 May 1851

Weekly Pacific News (San Francisco, California), 15 May 1851, page 1

This massive fire devastated an area known as the Burnt District, and articles and maps were published across the country about the disaster, including this one from a New York newspaper. In this historical San Francisco map, one sees a simple and clear presentation of the burned areas showing the specific street names.

map of the 1851 San Francisco fire, Spectator newspaper article 23 June 1851

Spectator (New York, New York), 23 June 1851, page 1

Historical Military Maps

One can find military skirmish and old battle maps published in newspapers during times of war, including this one from the American Civil War published in an 1864 Pennsylvania newspaper.

map of the 1864 Civil War battle at Spotsylvania, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 14 May 1864

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 14 May 1864, page 1

This old Civil War map depicts the “Scene of the Great Battle of Tuesday, May 10th, between Generals Grant and Lee” at Spotsylvania during the Great Virginia Campaign. Note that the basic layout shows landmarks, such as the church and old court house, along with the Po River.

This next example, from a 1918 Oregon newspaper, is a historical map of a battle line from World War I. The sector occupied by the American Army in the Lorraine region of France was noted as being close to the German border.

map of WWI battle line in France, Oregonian newspaper article 4 February 1918

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 4 February 1918, page 4

Expeditions and Exploration Maps

As our ancestors explored unchartered territories, expeditions were exciting news. You’ll find numerous newspaper articles about these adventures and explorers, including this piece mentioning the Duke of Abruzzi, Amundsen, Cook, Hedin, Nansen, Perry, and others.

Filling in Blank Spots on the World's Map, Oregonian newspaper article 23 August 1908

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 23 August 1908, page 2

So, it should not surprise us that in 1879 a ship named the Jeanette departed San Francisco Bay with 10,000 people waving and cheering. Perhaps your ancestors were in that enthusiastic crowd—or explorers aboard the ship?

If so, they saw Lt. Commander George Washington DeLong and his small crew of 33 civilians, officers and enlisted men take off for the North Pole—not knowing that only a few of those brave explorers would make it back two years later.

The jubilant sending-off of the Jeanette—and an explanation of the purpose of the voyage—were reported in this 1879 New York newspaper article.

Off to the Pole, New York Herald newspaper article 9 July 1879

New York Herald (New York, New York), 9 July 1879, page 3

Once in the Arctic, the crew became shipwrecked and suffered great hardships.

What a harrowing experience it must have been to be stuck in the ice, and even more horrifying when the ice’s crushing weight destroyed the Jeanette’s hull. They were forced to transport three small lifeboats with equipment and supplies overland, with a plan to sail for the Lena River Delta on the Siberian coast. Despite becoming separated and suffering more hardships, some members of the ship’s crew survived. During a return trip, they were able to locate important items, including the log book.

This 1881 Massachusetts newspaper article is one of many that tell the story.

The Jeanette: Her Shipwrecked Crew Heard From, Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 21 December 1881

Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 21 December 1881, page 1

You’ll also find numerous newspaper articles and maps pertaining to Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, the first expedition leader to traverse the Northwest Passage, as well as the first to reach the South and North Poles.

Amundsen Off on Air Jaunt to North Pole, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 12 May 1926

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 12 May 1926, page 1

Civic Project Proposals

When researching civic projects read all the discussion pieces you can find in the newspapers, and complete follow-up research to verify project rejections and changes. Whenever proposals adversely affect an area, opponents typically offer counter-proposals—and you’ll find their arguments covered in the newspapers as well.

One of the advantages of project proposal newspaper articles is that they may describe earlier time periods, as seen in this 1860 series from a New York newspaper titled “Sketch of Building Operations in Progress in the City.”

Sketch of Building Operations Now in Progress in the City, Commercial Advertiser newspaper article 9 July 1860

Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York), 9 July 1860, page 1

Maps of Transportation Projects

As railroads, steamships and other transportation systems expanded, newspapers provided maps. One of the lesser-known projects was Philadelphia’s 1872 Moyamensing Avenue Railroad project, as shown in this map from a Pennsylvania newspaper.

map of the 1872 Moyamensing Avenue Railroad project in Philadelphia, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 4 March 1872

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 4 March 1872, page 7

Other Types of Maps in Newspapers

In addition to the examples of newspaper maps shown in this blog article, you’ll find historical maps showing the results of natural disasters, aerial views, reliefs, and even tourist attractions—such as this 1922 map of Pikes Peak and the city of Colorado Springs from a Colorado newspaper.

map of Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper article 20 August 1922

Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado), 20 August 1922, page 25

The more noteworthy or unusual the event or place, the more likely it is that you will find a newspaper article with an accompanying map.

So head to GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives and start researching historical maps and articles about maps. You may wish to limit the query to the Photos & Illustrations category, and add keywords such as the type of map (aerial, relief, illustration, etc.).

GenealogyBank also offers a newspapers search page specifically for Historical Maps.

GenealogyBank's Historical Maps search page

GenealogyBank’s Historical Maps search page

Good luck with your map searches and remember to share your unique finds with us. Your map just might get featured in an upcoming blog post. Happy hunting!

Abraham Lincoln: The Life of a Legend Infographic

Click the image for the even bigger full-size version of the Lincoln Infographic
Abraham Lincoln Family Tree Genealogy Infographic


Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809, at Sinking Springs farm in Hodgenville, KY, inside a log cabin.



Abraham Lincoln’s father was Thomas Lincoln. He was born January 6, 1778, and died January 17, 1851. He was a carpenter, farmer and manual laborer of meager means.

Abe’s mother was Nancy (Hanks) Lincoln. She was born February 5, 1784, and died October 5, 1818. Lincoln was 9 years old when his mother died due to an illness.


Lincoln had an older sister and a younger brother. His sister Sarah (Lincoln) Grigsby was born February 10, 1807. She married Aaron Grigsby on August 2, 1826. She was 20 years old when she died January 20, 1828, during childbirth. The two were very close, sharing a deep affection for each another. A friend and brother-in-law to Abe, Nathaniel Grigsby, stated the following about his sister-in-law Sarah:

“She could, like her brother, meet and greet a person with the kindest greeting in the world, make you easy at the touch of a word, an intellectual and intelligent woman.”

Abe’s brother Thomas Lincoln Jr. was born in 1812 and only lived three days before he died.


Thomas Lincoln remarried on December 2, 1819 to Sarah Bush. She was born December 13, 1788, and died April 12, 1869. Her previous husband, Daniel Johnston, died a couple of years before Nancy (Hanks) Lincoln’s death.

After marrying Thomas, Sarah took care of his children Sarah and Abe. It is said that she was a good mother and treated Sarah and Abe as her own children. She and Abe were reportedly close.

Sarah also brought along three children from her previous marriage to Daniel, and they became Abe’s new stepsiblings: Elizabeth Johnston (13 years old), Matilda Johnston (10), and John Johnston (9). Since Abe and John were close in age they became playmates.


At the age of 33 Abe married Mary Todd, a bright belle from a wealthy family, on November 4, 1842. It was the first and only marriage for both Mary and Abe. The couple remained married 22 years until Lincoln’s death.


The couple had four sons. The first son was Robert Todd Lincoln. He was born August 1, 1843, and died July 26, 1926, at the ripe old age of 82. He was an American lawyer and served as Secretary of the War Department.

Their second son, Edward Baker Lincoln, was born March 10, 1846, and died February 1, 1850, at the age of 3. A week after Eddie’s death, Mary and Abraham wrote a poem (though authorship is sometimes questioned) entitled “Little Eddie.” It was printed in the Illinois State Journal newspaper.

Their third child, William Wallace Lincoln, was born December 21, 1850. He died February 20, 1862, at the age of 11 due to illness. Abe was deeply affected by his death and did not return to work for three weeks.

Thomas Lincoln was Abe and Mary’s youngest son. He was born April 4, 1853, and died July 15, 1871, at the age of 18. He was nicknamed “Tad” by Abe who found Thomas “as wriggly as a tadpole” when he was a baby.


Kentucky 1809-1816

From 1809-1816 Lincoln lived in Kentucky on two farms. He first resided on Sinking Spring farm where he was born, and later moved a few miles away to Knob Creek.

Indiana 1816-1830

Because of disputed titles to Thomas Lincoln’s Kentucky land, the Lincolns headed north to settle in the wilderness of southern Indiana in December of 1816. Lincoln was 7 upon his arrival in Indiana and would remain there until 1830, well into his early adulthood.

Illinois 1831-1861

In 1831 the Lincolns headed west by ox-cart teams to Illinois. This would be Lincoln’s home for the next 30 years, until 1861. However, he did take an extended leave from 1847-1849, renting out his home in Springfield, IL, while staying in Washington, D.C., to serve his term in Congress.

Washington, D.C. 1847-1849, 1861-1865

In February of 1861, after Lincoln was elected president, he and his family moved into the White House in Washington, D.C.


Abraham Lincoln was a man of many jobs. As a young man he ferried people and cargo down rivers on flatboats and steamboats. Later Abe worked as a clerk in general stores, and operated two stores he co-owned with William Franklin Berry. He was also employed as a postmaster and worked many odd jobs, including chopping wood, splitting rails, surveying, and mill working. In 1837 he began his law practice, which he continued for over 20 years.

Political Career

His career in politics began in 1834 when he was elected to the Illinois state legislature. After his initial term he was elected again in 1836, 1838, and 1840. In 1846 he was elected to the U.S. Congress as a Whig and served one term, from 1847 to 1849. On November 6th, 1860, Lincoln was elected as the 16th United States president as a Republican.



Lincoln had a soft spot for animals of all types, especially cats. When his wife Mary was asked if Abe had a hobby, she replied: “cats.” The Lincolns’ pets included a dog, cats, rabbits and two goats.


Lincoln loved to make people laugh and he was an excellent storyteller. Anyone who met him commented on his steady supply of anecdotes and jokes. His ability to charm and disarm was a key ingredient to his success in politics.


Lincoln had very limited formal education but he was self-taught and a voracious reader. He was known to walk for miles to borrow books from neighbors. Lincoln’s favorite reads as a boy included Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington, Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Aesop’s Fables.

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.”  —Abraham Lincoln


Abraham Lincoln is the only U.S. president to hold a patent for an invention. It is filed as No. 6,469. He invented a floatation system to lift riverboats that were stuck on sandbars.

Presidential Timeline

The dates below mark some of the most notable milestones during Lincoln’s presidency.

April 12, 1861: Civil War Begins

After the first Confederate shots were fired on Union forces at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, Lincoln declared war on the rebellious states. The bloody conflict between the North and the South lasted until June 2, 1865.

January 1, 1863: Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation marked an important turning point in the Civil War, transforming the Union’s goal from one of preserving the nation’s unity into a fight for human freedom. The proclamation declared that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

November 19, 1863: Gettysburg Address Delivered

On November 19, 1863, just four months after the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address speech at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Newspapers throughout the country carried accounts of the Gettysburg Address and it was widely praised in the North. The speech remains one of the most famous and oft-recited in American history.

November 8, 1864: Re-elected as President

On November 8, 1864, Lincoln won the presidential election by over 400,000 popular votes. He was the first U.S. president to be re-elected since Andrew Jackson in 1832.

April 14, 1865: Assassinated at Ford’s Theatre

Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. He was shot in the back of the head while watching the popular comedy Our American Cousin. The assassin was well-known stage actor John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln was the first U.S. president to be assassinated.


Lincoln died at the age of 56 on April 15, 1865, in the Peterson House at 453 10th Street, NW, Washington, D.C., from Booth’s gunshot to the back of his head.

There is so much more to the story of Abraham Lincoln’s legendary life. Discover the details of Lincoln’s life in over 1 billion historical records at GenealogyBank.com.
















Image Credits

BerryLincolnStore.jpg by Amos Oliver Doyle / CC BY-SA 3.0

Abraham Lincoln’s U.S. Patent.jpg by David and Jessie / CC BY 2.0

Gettysburg Address, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division #cw0127p1

Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):

Remembering Our American Veterans on Memorial Day 2013

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, as we head into the Memorial Day weekend, Gena writes about how her family honors the veterans buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Southern California.

On Monday, Americans will pause to remember those who have died while serving their country. Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, was first officially celebrated on 30 May 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery. Up until the time of World War I, the day was meant to honor those who served in the Civil War. Succeeding wars have given Americans many more lives to honor.

Do you have plans this Memorial Day 2013? Whether it’s researching a military ancestor or taking part in a community remembrance, there are numerous ways to spend this Memorial Day holiday. For the last four years, Memorial Day has had a significant meaning for my family. For us, preparations for Memorial Day begin the first Saturday in May when my sons’ Boy Scout Troop starts fundraising. The donations they seek fund a project that has come to have great meaning for the Scouts: buying U.S. flags to adorn American veterans’ graves. These flags, each approximately two feet tall, are placed at the head of the gravestones at the Riverside National Cemetery in Southern California every Memorial Day. Each year the Scouts add to their collection of flags; this year they hope to increase the number of flags to 2,500.

Boy Scout placing U.S. flag on a veteran's grave at Riverside National Cemetery

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

The Saturday before Memorial Day, Boy Scouts and their families get together and place these flags, one by one, at the same space right above each gravestone. As they place each flag they pause to say the name of the veteran buried there and what war or battle they fought in. The Scoutmasters have instilled in the Scouts that this is a sacred duty, remembering those who served their country—the ceremonious tradition of paying respects to our fallen soldiers is not to be taken lightly. As each American flag is placed to mark the soldiers’ graves you can hear boys exclaim things like “wow, this person fought in World War I” or “he was in the Navy like my dad.” I’ve seen entire families take a few minutes to read the gravestone and reflect on the person buried beneath.

photo of U.S. flags placed on veterans' graves at Riverside National Cemetery

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

As a genealogist, this Boy Scout activity every year is one of my favorites. Generations ago, it wasn’t so uncommon for families to visit cemeteries, gather around the resting place of a family member, enjoy the park-like surroundings, and maybe even have a picnic. Today this is a rare occurrence and for most children, cemeteries are places that hold a morbid curiosity at best.

This Memorial Day project for my sons’ Boy Scout Troop helps them connect with cemeteries and the very real lives of the people who are buried there—which in turn leads to an interest in past lives and their own ancestors’ stories. I want families to see genealogy as an exciting pursuit—not one that is merely about gathering names, dates and places, but rather a pursuit that is active and centers on the stories of everyday lives.

Our Troop isn’t the only group at the Riverside National Cemetery on the Saturday before Memorial Day. Girl Scout groups, veterans, and church congregations are there as well, placing U.S. flags with a common goal: to honor all the veterans buried in those 900+ acres. With the Riverside National Cemetery being the most active in the National Cemetery system, it is an awesome task. Those fields of American flags will serve as a visual reminder of the lives buried there when Memorial Day activities commence Monday morning.

U.S. flags placed on veterans' graves at Riverside National Cemetery

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

The Tuesday after Memorial Day, I will be at the cemetery with my kids pulling each flag out of the ground while we stop and read each name etched on the corresponding gravestone. Those flags will then be cleaned and placed into storage so that they can be used by the Troop again next year when we prepare for Memorial Day 2014.

A Civil War Captain in My Family Tree?! Share Your Surprises

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about his genealogy surprise: he was researching a branch of his family tree and discovered a Confederate captain from the Civil War!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of working on our genealogy is the surprises we discover. If you are like me, you have had your fair share of finding something in your family history research that you either weren’t looking for at the time, or were shocked at what you actually did find. Recently that happened to me while I was working on our daughter-in-law’s family branch. Here is that story. And after telling you about my latest genealogy adventure, I’d love to hear about your biggest genealogy surprises!

I had been at work on our daughter-in-law’s family tree for some time when I got a bit stumped on one of the female members back in the early 1800s. The family was from southern Ohio and their daughter Mary A. Dillon seemed to have disappeared on me. That is to say, she disappeared until a colleague happened to mention that he thought she might have married a fellow by the name of Scovell. A quick check with the Lawrence County, Ohio, Genealogy Society and I confirmed the marriage of our Mary A. Dillon to one William Tiley Scovell. Once I had a place and a name I was off to the newspaper archives and other databases of GenealogyBank.com to see what else I could find.

Well, the last thing I was expecting to find in my family tree was a Civil War Confederate captain who was so in demand that Southern generals were competing to have his services! Plus, none other than General Robert E. Lee, the top man himself, was deciding where Scovell could best serve the Confederacy.

I’ve long known that we have a Civil War veteran or two in our family tree, but never anyone above the rank of private and certainly no one who was in demand quite like Captain Scovell. A riverboat captain before the war, Scovell evidently was extremely adept at getting ships, men, and cargo up and down—as well as across—rivers.

In my first search I found an 1895 newspaper article explaining that Captain Scovell had just passed away—at that time he was the second-to-last surviving member of the Grivot Rifles of the Fifteenth Louisiana Infantry.

William Scovell obituary, Times-Picayune newspaper article 4 July 1895

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 4 July 1895, page 11

From this old newspaper article I gained excellent information, leads, and insight into the Civil War career of William T. Scovell and began looking further.

Next I discovered, in GenealogyBank.com’s Historical Documents collection, the Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, which showed William T. Scovell “taking rank” on June 5, 1862, in Louisiana.

reference to William Scovell in the Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865

U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865. Volume II. Serial Set Vol. No. 4611; S.Doc. 234 pt. 2.

Next I found an additional 1895 newspaper article about Scovell.

Liked by Lee and Jackson, Idaho Register newspaper article 18 October 1895

Idaho Register (Idaho Falls, Idaho), 18 October 1895, page 2

This historical newspaper article was wonderful since it explained that Captain Scovell’s services were argued over by Generals Stonewall Jackson and Early, with the decision over Scovell’s assignment coming from General Robert E. Lee himself. It also offered the information that Captain Scovell was one of the CSA officers in charge of the infamous burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, on July 30, 1864.

Then I discovered a real bit of genealogy treasure. In a 1922 newspaper I read a “Succession Notice” for “Mrs. Mary A. Dillon, widow of William T. Scovell.”

succession notice for Mary Dillon, New Orleans States newspaper article 8 January 1922

New Orleans States (New Orleans, Louisiana), 8 January 1922, page 35

This historical succession notice was for the probate of the estate of Mary. I have since sent to Louisiana for instructions and information on how I can access this will and estate file since the old news article wonderfully contains the court name, parish, division, date, file number, deceased, attorney, and executor. What an abundance of information in one short article!

photo of the crypt of William T. Scovell and Mary Dillon in Louisiana

Photo: the Louisiana crypt for William T. Scovell, his wife Mary Dillon, and their family. Credit: from the author’s collection.

From almost nothing I am now deeply involved in learning about our family’s Civil War luminary and it brings me back to the question I asked in the beginning of this article.

Tell me…what is the biggest surprise that you have found doing your genealogy and family history?

What about the Kids? Researching Your Family Tree’s Children

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the family history challenge of researching your ancestors’ lives when they were children.

My sons have had the opportunity to visit more cemeteries and hear more genealogy presentations than most family historians. They’ve been a captive audience as I give genealogy talks to conferences, societies, and libraries. They even have a few of my genealogy presentations memorized. Unimpressed by the family history topics I cover, my youngest always asks: “why don’t you ever talk about researching kids?”

old photo of children from Gena Philibert-Ortega's collection

Old photo of children, from the author’s collection

It’s a fair question considering that all of our ancestors started life as children. My guess is that most family historians would reply that children don’t leave a record trail, or that their lives aren’t as documented as adults—and that is why genealogists don’t spend much time researching their ancestors’ early years.

But there are instances where children do leave a paper trail. A visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois, reinforced this fact to our family when we viewed a photographic exhibit of Civil War soldiers. Boys as young as 9 years served in the Civil War, and some of them were photographed.

photo of an unidentified young Civil War soldier in Union uniform and forage cap, from the Library of Congress

Photo: Unidentified young Civil War soldier in Union uniform and forage cap. Credit: Library of Congress.

From: Library of Congress. Flickr, The Commons. Accessed 23 March 2013.


While children are too young to leave the type of documentation reserved for adults, they do leave behind records. A birth record or church christening announcement may start your search, depending on the time period. School records are another choice for researching kids. Don’t forget the variety of articles found in a local newspaper.

Obviously the era the child grew up in will determine what mentions could be found in the newspapers. But some ideas include:


What organizations or clubs did the child belong to? By learning more about the history of the place your ancestor was from, you may identify groups that they may have taken part in, including organizations that were social, educational, ethnic or religious in nature.

The Boy Scouts of Black Wolf and B.P., Lexington Herald newspaper article 25 September 1910

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 25 September 1910, page 4

Although far from comprehensive, here is a list of some groups from the 20th century:


In a previous blog article, “Searching Family History: Old School Records in the Newspaper,” I explored the types of newspaper articles that listed teachers and students.

As explained in that blog article, there are numerous types of articles mentioning children. From their achievements and awards, to sporting events and even misdeeds, you can find mentions of school children in local newspapers. One of the pluses to digitized newspapers is that a search of just a name can assist you in finding these mentions. Consider limiting your search by date as you explore GenealogyBank, allowing you to focus on an ancestor’s early years.

Letters to Santa

Reading letters to Santa from the late 19th and early 20th centuries reminds one how much better off materially most people are now.

Letters to Santa from the Children, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 16 December 1906

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 16 December 1906, page 9

These letters range from requests for toys or food to desperate pleas for almost anything their parents couldn’t afford. These letters often include the child’s name and, in some cases, an address. What a great find to see the requests of your family member to the jolly guy in the red suit!

Dear Old Santa Claus, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 21 December 1899

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 21 December 1899, page 2

Social History

As with any genealogy research, consider social history when learning more about children from past generations. Use the newspapers as a local history source to get a sense of what organizations and activities your ancestors may have been involved in during their younger years. Read histories of the time to learn more about what childhood was like during their era. By learning more about the locality of your ancestor, you can learn more about what types of activities they may have enjoyed. Gaps in specific family records can be filled with broader social history information.

Keep your own children’s interests in mind! Including stories about their ancestors’ childhoods will stimulate present and future generations of children to take more interest in the family history you are documenting and preserving.

The Disappearance—and Mysterious Reappearance—of Matthew Brayton

Here’s a 19th century mystery concerning a certain Matthew Brayton, who disappeared as a small boy, was held an Indian captive for 34 years, then one day reappeared.

But, was it really him?

An Indian Captive Reclaimed after Thirty-five Years’ Absence, Evening Post newspaper article 3 December 1859

Evening Post (New York City, New York), 3 December 1859, page 1

This is a gripping story about a young boy being kidnapped and then returning home as an adult. You will want to read all of An Indian Captive Reclaimed after Thirty-five Years’ Absence – Incidents of his Life in the Evening Post (New York City, New York), 3 December 1859, page 1.

On 20 September 1825 Matthew Brayton set off from home to gather the family’s cows. He was about eight years old—and wouldn’t be heard from again for 34 years. Kidnapped by the Indians, he was one of thousands of Indian captives in America from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Imagine his family’s joy when he finally turned up again!

A great, heartwarming story of a missing boy finally returned home, except—it apparently isn’t true.

Digging deeper into genealogy records we find Matthew Brayton’s obituary and even his photograph—and the true story comes to light.

Mathew Brayton obituary, Salem Register newspaper article 23 February 1863

Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 23 February 1863, page 2

Matthew Brayton’s old obituary, printed in the Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 23 February 1863, page 2, gives us the rest of the story.

After returning from his long Indian captivity, Matthew Brayton lived with his supposed father, Elijah Brayton, for the next nine months. Then in June 1860 he told his “father” that he really wasn’t Matthew Brayton at all. Was this a 19th century scam? Perhaps—but Matthew Brayton didn’t give any further details of why he had lied about who he was.

Perhaps he simply didn’t want to “manage the farm that Mr. Brayton had promised to give him.” After telling the Braytons the truth, Matthew left their farm and joined the 4th Michigan Cavalry as “Matthew Brayton.” He died a few years later in 1863 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Here is a photograph of him in uniform.

photo of Mathew Brayton in Civil War uniform

Credit: Find-A-Grave

Genealogy Search Tip: Just because something is in print doesn’t make it true.

Don’t stop at the first story you find about your ancestor. Keep digging and make sure you uncover all of the facts.

Find the stories of your family’s history. Document them, preserve them and pass them down.

World War I Articles Recall Memories of Doughnuts & Lassies

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the women volunteers in the Salvation Army during WWI, the “lassies,” who served doughnuts to the American troops on the front lines.

Do you have an ancestor that fought in World War I? As genealogists, the mention of that war brings to mind the World War I Draft Registration. Those draft registration cards provide some important clues for researchers, but one question I always have is: what was life like for our ancestors back in WWI? What was day-to-day life like for our soldiering ancestors?

To invoke a much-used quote originated during the American Civil War, “war is hell.” During that hellish time in the trenches of WWI, however, there were groups trying to make soldiers’ lives a little less difficult. For those Americans who served on the front lines in France, one good experience of the war might have had nothing at all to do with warfare. It was something that, during a time of great distress, brought back fond remembrances of home. That memory involved doughnuts.


Yes, doughnuts and the young women who served them during WWI, volunteering their time with the Salvation Army. It’s not uncommon during wartime for various organizations to step up and provide services to U.S. soldiers. During World War I, the Salvation Army sent approximately 500 volunteers to Europe who helped with everything from teaching Bible classes to playing music, providing meeting space for religious services, and cooking and serving food. These men and women followed the soldiers to the battle front and were often in danger as they served.

WWI poster of Salvation Army women volunteers serving doughnuts to American troops

Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Catalog

See: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/94513700/

In their 1919 book The War Romance of the Salvation Army (available on Google Books), Evangeline Booth and Grace Livingston Hill write about the World War I activities of the Salvation Army. They describe how the women of the Salvation Army began providing doughnuts to soldiers on the front lines. The story is told that the Salvation Army was serving a group of soldiers in Montiers, France. The Salvation Army women volunteers, referred to as “lassies,” noticed the low morale of the men as they endured the endless rain and hard training. The women believed that some home cooking would boost morale.

After various suggestions, it was decided that doughnuts would do the trick. That first experiment yielded 150 doughnuts for 800 U.S. soldiers waiting in line. One soldier who had a doughnut that day is said to have exclaimed “Gee! If this is war, let it continue!” While doughnuts probably were a welcome respite to the men fighting in World War I, my guess is that the fact they were cooked and served by young women probably helped sweeten the deal. A nameless, older Salvation Army worker is quoted as reminiscing that “…it wasn’t the doughnut at all that made the Salvation Army famous, but the wonderful girls that the Salvation Army brought over there; the girls that lay awake at night after a long hard day’s work scheming to make the way of the doughboy easier…” (page 77).

postcard showing Salvation Army women vounteers during WWI serving doughnuts to American troops

Postcard from the author’s collection

Serving doughnuts and coffee was dangerous work for these women, who had all volunteered to go overseas and serve—as described in this 1919 WWI newspaper article.

Make Doughnuts in Shell Fire, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 18 May 1919

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 18 May 1919, page 24

Stella Carmichael, a Salvation Army “lassie,” recollects that what she and her fellow women volunteers did “no woman in the United States thought of doing.” She notes in the article that they would work 18 to 20 hours “constantly baking doughnuts and filling coffee.” She and her fellow lassies knew the importance of their work: “every one of us did our part cheerfully. The boys needed us, and Lord, how the world needed the boys.”

This June marks the 75th Annual National Doughnut Day. Interested in making some Salvation Army doughnuts? The Salvation Army blog, Doing the Most Good, provides a recipe of the doughnuts made for soldiers in both world wars.

The Importance of Old Newspaper Advertisements to Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the value of a resource in newspapers that is often overlooked by genealogists: the classified ads.

“Be sure to drink your Ovaltine. Ovaltine? A crummy commercial.”—Ralphie Parker from the movie A Christmas Story.

Advertisements: they often seem the bane of our existence. On television, advertisements scream at us every few minutes, interrupting our favorite shows. When you pick up a magazine it seems that more than half the pages are filled with ads for everything from food and household cleaners to prescription medications. Now in the world of Web 2.0, advertisements invade every aspect of our Internet experience, even as a necessary evil when using free apps.

In today’s world advertisements are impersonal and contain little family information—but this was not always the case. Ads from an earlier era were different, more personally connected to their audience, and can provide helpful information for family historians. This is especially true of advertisements from old newspapers.

When you think of the “important” sections of the newspaper for family history research, what do you think of? Vital record announcements, obituaries, and human interest stories may come to mind as sources of genealogical information. But what about those parts of the newspaper that aren’t considered “content rich”? What about advertisements?

As a genealogist researching your family history, why should you care about newspaper advertisements? Well, advertisements in newspapers from yesteryear can help researchers in two ways. The obvious way is that they can provide the name of an ancestor’s business—but they also provide us with social history background that can be crucial in reconstructing an ancestor’s time and place.

Consider this strip of ads from an old Kansas newspaper.

classified ads, Coffeyville Herald newspaper 25 April 1908

Coffeyville Herald (Coffeyville, Kansas), 25 April 1908, page 4

From these old advertisements we learn the name of proprietors of goods ranging from clothes and hats to fish, and even ice cream. An additional benefit of historical newspaper advertisements is that they provide a peek into activities long since extinct. Consider the millinery and phyrography store. Phyrography is when someone decorates a wood or leather surface by burning the design into the surface with a type of heated metallic “pen.”

Here are some old classified ads from an 1851 Georgia newspaper.

classified ads, Savannah Republican newspaper 18 June 1851

Savannah Republican (Savannah, Georgia), 18 June 1851, page 1

Here we see not only classified ads but a listing of merchant names. Must-have information for our ancestors including fares and stops for the Central Rail-Road and some ship lines are also found on this page. Further down, readers can see that there are notices of public land sales in Arkansas. Do you have an ancestor who started out in Georgia and ended up in Arkansas? Maybe they saw this notice for the land sale and headed west.

In some cases, historical advertisements can be found with other types of notices, as illustrated in this Civil War-era newspaper from Texas.

classified ads, Standard newspaper 9 May 1863

Standard (Clarksville, Texas), 9 May 1863, page 1

The advertisements and announcements on this page include notices from administrators of wills, a physician who will begin his practice, and information from the War Department. There are old ads for medicinal drugs that are for sale, presumably at a local pharmacy: opium, morphine, Blue Mass (a remedy that “cured” all sorts of problems including pains from childbirth, tuberculosis, constipation, and syphilis—one of its ingredients was mercury), ipicac, and Dovers Powders (a remedy for colds and fevers that contained opium) are just some of the “medicines” you could pick up.

One of the great things about this series of advertisements is that it is a reflection of the times. Note the short notice asking families to save rags because they are needed to make paper. Five cents a pound is offered for rags. During the Civil War, the South experienced all types of shortages including paper. This notice gives insight into these wartime shortages.

Can advertisements provide genealogists with answers about their ancestors? Yes! Not only can they provide proof of an ancestor’s occupation but they can also provide a sense of their era. These advertisements provide a much-needed history lesson for our genealogy. While it can be tempting to skip over some sections of a newspaper, don’t skip the old advertisements. They provide insight into your ancestor’s life.