GenealogyBank Made 2013 Best 101 Genealogy Websites List!

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott—sparked by an award announcement he read—reminisces about some of the great family history discoveries he’s found in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives.

Congratulations on the great news! I just read that GenealogyBank.com, one of my all-time favorite “Go To” genealogy and family history websites, has been selected one of the “101 Best Websites for Genealogy in 2013” by Family Tree Magazine again! You can find the list online on the “Best U.S. Genealogy Websites of 2013” page on the Family Tree Magazine website.

I was happy to see this selection for such a super genealogy website, especially when I know that Family Tree Magazine has the largest circulation of any genealogy/family history magazine in America. I’m going out now to get my copy—the new issue of the magazine went on sale at newsstands nationwide today—to read all about the inclusion of GenealogyBank.com in the “101 Best.” This is certainly well deserved recognition for a terrific genealogy website.

Personally, I access GenealogyBank.com on almost a daily basis. Not only do I look up articles of interest on my ancestors, but with the constant growth and daily additions to GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives, I am always finding new and exciting gems for my family tree.

As I think back, GenealogyBank.com has provided me with some of the most memorable discoveries for my ancestry and in my genealogy work.

I will never forget the excitement and feelings of wonder when I first subscribed to GenealogyBank.com and quickly discovered an article in an 1897 Ohio newspaper titled simply “His Commission.”

His Commission: Joseph K. Vicha Receives It from the Governor and Expects to Assume the Duties of His Office Today, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 4 January 1897

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 January 1897, page 10

I had been working for years trying to find any clues that might lead to my great-grandfather, Joseph Vicha. This was especially meaningful since my then 90-year-old Mother had asked me to “find my grandfather” for her. This old newspaper article was the first lead I found, and it included such details as his work, approximate age, his activities in the Bohemian community, and even that he had received this position through an appointment by the governor of Ohio. It opened the doors to dozens more articles that have resulted in me gaining a much fuller picture of my great-grandfather. It was through a lead in one of these follow-up articles that I was able to locate an actual image of my great-grandfather. To this day it is the only known photograph of great-grandfather Vicha the family has ever seen.

photo of Joseph K. Vicha

Photo: Joseph K. Vicha. Credit: from the author’s collection.

I have used GenealogyBank.com to find the serious side of my ancestors’ lives, such as death notices, estate matters, divorces and more. I have also found the positive through births, marriages, anniversaries, and even stories of surviving when the ship they were on was torpedoed by a U-Boat!

I have even found stories that amazed me. One of my favorite family stories was this discovery in a 1915 Ohio newspaper titled “I Fed Her; I Petted Her; I Trusted Her; But Never Again!” This wonderful newspaper article that covered the story, complete with a pen and ink image of my ancestor, Joseph Kapl, (and “Minnie” the elephant too), related how he, as a zookeeper, was almost trampled to death by Minnie the circus elephant!

article about zookeeper Joseph Kapl and Minnie the elephant, Plain Dealer newspaper 23 March 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 23 March 1915, page 4

I constantly work to weave what I call the tapestry of our family history. I attempt to find and join the threads of our family’s cultures, values, and histories together into a tapestry that will represent all we are and all we have been, for the future generations. I couldn’t do that without the wonderful stories I find in newspapers thanks to GenealogyBank.com.

Congratulations again on being named one of the “101 Best Websites for Genealogy in 2013.” To me you will always be my #1!

SSDI Quiz: Understanding the U.S. Social Security Death Index

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary provides a fun quiz to see how well you know the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA)—and the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) it maintains, an important resource for genealogists. Mary uses old newspaper articles to learn more about the SSA and SSDI.

One of the exciting features of GenealogyBank is the ability to search the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). This important genealogical database is updated by the United States Social Security Administration (SSA). GenealogyBank’s SSDI search page provides an easy way to access this data.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)

Not all the fields on the search page have to be filled in, and some of GenealogyBank’s SSDI features are the ability to:

  • specify a specific date or a range for a decedent’s birth and death
  • specify by zip code or last known residence, or non-U.S. location

Data from the U.S. SSDI is frequently misinterpreted. If you think you are well versed in the subject, try this handy Social Security Genealogy Quiz and then check your answers below.

Social Security Genealogy Quiz

When did the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) system start?

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on 14 August 1935, but taxes for the system were not collected until January of 1937. For more information about the history of the Social Security system in America, see www.ssa.gov/history/hfaq.html.

Roosevelt Signs Security Act as Cameras Grind, San Diego Union newspaper article 15 August 1935

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 15 August 1935, page 1

Who is covered by the Social Security program?

Many groups are/were exempt, including railroad workers, and certain employees of state and local governments and schools.

The railroad workers are covered by the Railroad Retirement Program, and contribute a portion of their wages to both systems with a calculation adjustment done at retirement. It’s a bit complicated, so please see U.S. Social Security Administration: An Overview of the Railroad Retirement Program.

Prior to 1983, when Congress changed the law, various municipalities and other groups had opted out of the Social Security system. For example, the Texas counties of Galveston, Brazoria, and Matagorda opted out of the system prior to 1983, and are covered under an independent system. After 1984, municipalities who had not previously opted out of the system were required to be covered by the SSA, along with civilian federal employees.

Does that include the President, Senators and Congressmen?

Yes. The SSA’s Frequently Asked Questions website states:

“All members of Congress, the President and Vice President, Federal judges, and most political appointees, were covered under the Social Security program starting in January 1984.”

Here we see the SSDI record for President Richard M. Nixon.

Social Security Death Index (SSDI) record for President Richard M. Nixon

Is the SSDI’s birth and death information reliable?

After 1974, proof was required to obtain a Social Security number (SSN). For persons who entered the system prior to that date, one should cross-reference birth dates with other records. Death dates are more reliable, as proof of death (such as a death certificate) has to be submitted in order to claim a death benefit.

Proof Now Required for Social Security, Chicago Metro News newspaper article 6 July 1974

Chicago Metro News (Chicago, Illinois), 6 July 1974, page 3

Does the SSDI report the location where a person passed away?

No. It reports the last known place of residence, or the final address where Social Security benefits were sent.

What are the three parts of a Social Security number (XXX-XX-XXXX)?

The three parts are, in order:

  1. the 3-digit area number (XXX),
  2. the 2-digit group number (XX)
  3. and the 4-digit serial number (XXXX).

The SSA maintains a table explaining the assignment of the numbers. For instance, Alabama was assigned numbers from 416-424, and Louisiana 433-439. However, the location doesn’t necessarily indicate a residence, and could indicate a variety of locations—ranging from where one applied for a card (not necessarily one’s residence) to an office that processed the application.

According to the document Meaning of the Social Security Number (Nov. 1982, Vol. 45, No. 11): Table 1.–Assignment of area numbers by State:

“Until 1972, the area number indicated the location (state, territory, or possession) of the Social Security office that issued the number. When the numbering system was developed, one or more area numbers were allocated to each State based on the anticipated number of issuances in the State. Because an individual could apply for a SSN at any Social Security office, the area code did not necessarily indicate where the person lived or worked. Since 1972…[the] area code now indicates the person’s State of residence as shown on the SSN application.

“The group number has no special geographic or data significance. It is used to break the numbers into blocks of convenient size for SSA’s processing operations and for controlling the assignments to the States.

“The last four digits, the serial number, represent a numerical series from 0001-9999 within each group…”

Will the SSA run out of Social Security numbers (SSNs)?

It is not known how many Social Security numbers have been issued. However, the nine-digit system allows for nearly one billion SSNs, so the current system has not run out of numbers.

Does the SSA reuse numbers?

No, although some people claim they do.

Does GenealogyBank have the ability to make corrections in the SSDI?

No. The Social Security’s Death Master File Data is supplied to publishers of the SSDI, so corrections have to be addressed with the U.S. SSA. GenealogyBank has no method to process updates to this government-supported system.

Does the SSA have a smart phone app?

Yes, although it does not include the Social Security Death Index.

On 6 May 2013 Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, announced:

“…the agency is offering a new mobile optimized website, specifically aimed at smartphone users across the country. People visiting the agency’s website, www.socialsecurity.gov, via smartphone (Android, Blackberry, iPhone, and Windows devices) will be redirected to the agency’s new mobile-friendly site. Once there, visitors can access a mobile version of Social Security’s Frequently Asked Questions, an interactive Social Security number (SSN) decision tree to help people identify documents needed for a new/replacement SSN card, and mobile publications which they can listen to in both English and Spanish right on their phone.”

For more information, see: http://www.ssa.gov/pressoffice/pr/ssa-mobile-pr.html.

Note: if you experience issues with the SSA app on your smartphone, you can give Social Security a call (1-800-SSA-1213) to get help troubleshooting the issue.

Additional Social Security Resource for Genealogy

Acquiring Records from Social Security for Genealogical Research

Top Genealogy Websites: Alabama Genealogy Resources

If you’re researching your family roots in Alabama, I suggest you rely on two online sources—GenealogyBank and FamilySearch—to find digitized newspapers and genealogy records from the “Heart of Dixie.”

Concentrating your Alabama genealogy research on these two websites will give you the documentation you need to learn about your family’s stories—and the specifics of their birth, marriage and death dates.

collage of Alabama genealogy records and newspapers from FamilySearch and GenealogyBank

Credit: FamilySearch and GenealogyBank

You want to focus on the best genealogy websites—the ones that have the information you need to trace your ancestry from Alabama.

GenealogyBank has the most extensive newspaper archive of Alabama newspapers online.

Search Alabama Newspaper Archives (1816 – 1992)

Search Alabama Recent Obituaries (1992 – Current)

FamilySearch has 14 collections of early Alabama records free online.

Search Alabama Census, Probate & Vital Records

Let’s look at the marriage of Joseph A. Gilbert and Margianna Whiddon on 4 August 1859 in Mobile, Alabama.

collage of records about the 1859 wedding of Joseph A. Gilbert and Margianna Whiddon, from FamilySearch and GenealogyBank

Credit: FamilySearch and GenealogyBank

Looking in GenealogyBank’s historical Alabama newspaper archive we find their marriage announced in the Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama), 11 August 1859, page 2.

The newspaper article tells us:

  • The date of the marriage: 4 August 1859 at 8 p.m.
  • The exact place of the marriage: “the residence of Levi H. Norton”
  • Groom: Joseph A. Gilbert, formerly of Greenville, Butler County, Alabama
  • Bride: Margianna Whiddon, “adopted daughter of the officiating gentleman”

Great genealogical information—we have the who, what, when and where.

Let’s dig deeper and find out exactly who the “officiating gentleman” at the wedding was.

Looking at the Alabama marriage certificates online records on FamilySearch we can easily find the marriage certificate for Joseph Gilbert and Margianna Whiddon.

photo of the 1859 Alabama marriage certificate for Joseph Gilbert and Margianna Whiddon

Credit: FamilySearch

Who performed the wedding?

Looking at the signature of the Justice of the Peace, it appears to be L.H. Hardin or L.H. Nordin.

“L.H. Nordin” —that looks a lot like the Levi H. Norton named in the marriage announcement published in the Mobile Register. Their wedding was performed at his home.

So—we have the “officiating gentleman’s” name from the old newspaper and, although very difficult to read, confirmed again in the signature on the marriage certificate.

The marriage certificate gives us the basic facts given in the newspaper marriage announcement: their names and the date and place of the wedding, plus it tells us who performed the wedding.

The old newspaper announcement adds the important details that the officiator was her adopted father and that Joseph Gilbert was from Greenville, Butler County, Alabama.

By using only the best genealogy resources online we can find the facts we need to document our family and, importantly, the crucial details that fill in the stories of their lives…while focusing our ancestry research and saving time.

Note that this article is part of our ongoing series covering the top genealogy websites. To read the previous articles in this series visit the links below:

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 1: Google

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 2: Google Books & Internet Archive

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records

Newspaper Articles Fill Blanks in Family History

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspapers to find stories about a member of his extended family, the 19th century philanthropist John Huntington—a founding donor of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

While growing up, one of my favorite family weekend trips was to visit the Cleveland Museum of Art. I would marvel at the art, the sculpture, and of course as a young boy, the Armor Court which displayed suits of armor. Later, during my college years, the Museum was my favorite destination as an escape from the pressures of studying. I’d make the 1½ hour drive over to Cleveland and enjoy the art, especially my all-time favorite painting, Water Lilies (Agapanthus) by Claude Monet. Years later during my mother’s 90th birthday family reunion in Cleveland, I was proud that my son and daughter-in-law took our young grandsons to visit the Museum as well.

Amazingly, just a few days ago I learned I had yet another family reason to appreciate the Museum: I discovered that one of my ancestors was a founding donor to establish the Museum.

portrait of philanthropist John Huntington

Portrait of John Huntington. Credit: from the author’s collection.

I made this discovery while in the midst of a review of those family tree branches that I had not fully researched. I began work on one of my Bohemian ancestors, Frank Joseph Ptak, who married Margaret Alice Walker. I realized that I had never researched the Walker family, so I began there. After utilizing a few resources, such as the marvelous online database of the Cleveland Public Library’s Cleveland Necrology File, I was deep into searching the newspapers of the time on GenealogyBank.com.

I was diligently reading marriage announcements, obituaries, and a few interesting stories regarding a street assault or two, when a sentence at the bottom of the marriage announcement titled “Dalbey-Leek” caught my eye.

wedding announcement for Dorothy Leek and Sherman Dalbey, Plain Dealer newspaper article 6 June 1937

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 6 June 1937, page 97

As you can see the line stated: “The bride is a grand niece of the late John Huntington, philanthropist.” Having been a fundraiser myself in an earlier career, I just had to look into this philanthropist. This was especially true since I knew Margaret Alice Walker’s mother was Ann H. (Huntington) Walker.

I took a chance and searched directly on John Huntington, narrowing my search to Ohio newspapers, and my very first result was more than I had hoped for.

Magnificent Donation to the City of Cleveland by John Huntington, Plain Dealer newspaper article 4 February 1893

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 February 1893, page 1

There in the fourth paragraph as “Item 2” were John’s specific legacies to his family members, and he nicely listed each of his brothers and sisters—which included Ann Walker!

I researched further and soon found a very complete article which, while reporting John Huntington’s death in London, England, contained the subheading that included this information: “One of the First Men to Make a Fortune from The Standard Oil Company.”

John Huntington Dead, New York Tribune newspaper obituary, 12 January 1893

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 12 January 1893, page 5

This article also contained reports of his birth date, town, father, his father’s occupation, his living children, and even the report of how his son Arthur had been killed by a train. This article helped me discover the birth records for John Huntington in the United Kingdom, his marriage record, and records for several of his family members.

Out of interest, I searched the newspapers to see if there was an account of the death of Arthur Huntington as mentioned in the New York Tribune. I discovered a gruesome, but complete, accounting of the accident that led to his death.

Both Legs Cut Off, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 April 1891

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 April 1891, page 2

I have to admit the headline “Both Legs Cut Off” sent shivers through me. The next day, on 27 April 1981, the Plain Dealer reported the grim news that Arthur had died from his extensive injuries.

In need of some more cheerful news to finish my day’s research, I came across a delightful article. It reported that the mayor of Cleveland, Newton Baker, was going to dedicate the Cleveland Museum of Art by sitting in the moonlight and having a slice of watermelon on the marble steps.

Watermelon Will Dedicate Museum, Plain Dealer newspaper article 27 June 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 June 1915, page 13

I remember walking up those steps many times, but I don’t recall seeing any watermelon seeds!

New Mexico Governor Wants More Federal Cemeteries

New Mexico Governor Susan Martinez is pushing to increase the number of federal military cemeteries in her state from two to ten.

Fort Bayard New Mexico National Cemetery

Photo: Fort Bayard, New Mexico National Cemetery. Credit: Wikipedia.

New Mexico is the fifth largest U.S. state in land mass, with 122,000 square miles. Given the long distances most state residents must travel to visit the two existing federal military cemeteries, Governor Martinez wants to create eight more cemeteries dispersed across the state to make it easier for family and friends to visit the gravesites. Read the full story about how Gov. Susana Martinez wants to build small veterans cemeteries throughout state in the Current-Argus (Carlsbad, New Mexico), 17 July 2013.

One of the state’s two existing federal military cemeteries is located at Fort Bayard, New Mexico, in the southwestern area of the state. That cemetery has burials from the 1800s to today.

The other federal military cemetery is the Santa Fe National Cemetery located in the city limits of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Burials there began in the mid-1800s.

New Mexico residents in the southern part of the state also use the Fort Bliss National Cemetery located in El Paso, Texas. The earliest grave in that cemetery dates from 1883.

Be sure to use the U.S. Veterans Administration’s National Gravesite Locator to search for details about the servicemen & women and their spouses buried in these federal military cemeteries.

Adeline Kemp - National Gravesite Locator Map

Credit: National Gravesite Locator.

These military cemeteries permit the burial of the service member and their spouse. The online index gives you the core information: each person’s name; dates of birth and death; name and rank of the person that served in the military; and the name and contact information for the military cemetery. All of this is available 24/7 online. This government cemetery website is updated daily.

For more information about cemetery websites see also the blog post: “Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records.”

How to Spot and Avoid 9 Common Genealogy Mistakes & Errors

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary discusses 9 common mistakes made when doing family history research, and suggests ways to avoid them.

Family history researchers are often frustrated by the mistakes of others—particularly when there is an obvious error in identity, such as the mistake explained in this 1914 Virginia newspaper article. It points out that a member of the Gwathmey family was incorrectly identified as having been a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth.

Rchmond Times Dispatch Newspaper Gwathmey Family Genealogy

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 17 May 1914, page 41.

This sounds like an obvious mistake, and one that could have been corrected with simple subtraction. Unfortunately, once a mistake is written in a book or newspaper article, the mistake is often carried into other research—forever frustrating the more serious genealogists.

Genealogical mistakes are not often easy to sort out, so let’s discuss some strategies.

1. Abbreviations Are Not Always What They Seem

Two of my favorites are “NA” and “NMI.”

In the case of the first abbreviation, “NA” might indicate non applicable, naturalized, Native American or even Navy, demonstrating the importance of finding the “key” explaining what an abbreviation actually means.

Another abbreviation that sometimes causes confusion is the use of “NMI” in place of a middle name. It is not an actual moniker, but rather used to indicate that a person has no middle initial—no middle name.

2. Age-Related Mistakes

  • Women who are too old to be mothers.

Although Mrs. Steve Pace, of Rose Hill, Virginia, reportedly gave birth to her 17th child in 1939 at the age of 73 (see the Wikipedia article “Pregnancy Over Age 50”), it is rare for women to give birth over the age of 50.

If a woman continued to give birth through her 40s, then it is possible that a report of her having a child as an older woman may be correct.

However, whenever you see such an older mother-child relationship claim, examine the possibility that the family may have been raising an orphan or a grandchild.

  • Persons who were born too young or old to have served during a military event.

If you are researching an ancestor for a lineage society, such as the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution, start by figuring out the beginning and ending dates of the event.

For example, the American Civil War occurred between 1861 and 1865.

Although there are examples of very young veterans, most of the younger set did not serve in a military capacity—unless they were older. One exception was Civil War Missouri veteran George Huffman, who enrolled as a volunteer in the 13th Missouri Infantry on 4 November 1861 at the age of 14. He re-enlisted on 8 February 1864, and was considered to have been the youngest veteran to have re-enlisted that year—as explained in this 1864 Massachusetts newspaper article.

Lowell Daily Citizen & News Newspaper George Huffman Civil War

Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts), 2 September 1864, page 2.

For the most part, however, it is safe to assume that someone—other than a drummer or bugler—must have been at least 15 when he enlisted for combat service. Therefore, it is unlikely that a combat veteran actually served in the Civil War if he was born after the year 1850.

Now, if a child served in a non-military capacity, then you might find evidence of children as young as seven involved in a war—such as Nathan Futrell, a young boy who served in the American Revolutionary War.

Greensboro Daily News Newspaper Nathan Futrell Revolutionary War

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 3 January 1971, page 24.

You can also apply an age factor to determine the likelihood of an older person serving in the military.

3. All Applicable Genealogy Records Have Not Been Found

Just because you can’t find a genealogical proof doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist. For example, many military records were burned, so look to other types of records for evidence.

In other words, if an original record is missing you might be able to find alternate records. In the case of a missing military record, look for a petition for a pension, or a list of enlistments, reprinted in an old newspaper article. Other possible genealogical sources: a family diary or letter, or church bulletin, that references military service.

4. Children Listed without Parents May Not Be Orphans

Just because a child is not recorded with a parent on a census record doesn’t necessarily indicate that both parents are deceased.

On one of the 1850 U.S. Federal Census records, I noted that the children of my ancestor Permelia Ann (Davis) Drake were living in different households.

Not finding their mother, I at first assumed that she had died. It turned out that she was very much alive, and recorded in the census with her second husband, Samuel Bassett. It’s not clear why the children were with the neighbors in 1850, but perhaps they were mother’s helpers or farm helpers working to support the family.

5. Informants Are Not Always Correct

A primary record is one that was recorded at the time of the event. A secondary record is one that is recorded later, generally from an informant. In the case of a death certificate, the date and place of death is primary evidence, but the birth date of the decedent, along with the stated parents, is not necessarily correct.

In my family, my great-grandfather’s parents were recorded on his death certificate as his natural parents, when in fact court records and other records establish that he had been adopted.

6. Just Because Two People with the Same Name Reside in the Same Area Does Not Necessarily Mean They Are Related (Coincidences Happen)

In the case of my ancestor William Harrell of Virginia (and Indiana) of the late 1700s and early 1800s, it turns out there are three men by the same name. Now that descendants have submitted results from DNA studies, it is clear that they were not closely related.

7. Spelling Errors

Alternate spellings are the norm, rather than the exception.

For example, my Ebling ancestors can be found with the surname spelling Ebeling, Hebling and even Heblinger. As a result, I always browse a book’s index to see if there are similar spellings. When searching online or in a search box, such as at GenealogyBank, I frequently use a wildcard such as a question mark (?) or asterisk (*) when searching for ancestor names.

  • The ? is used to take the place of one letter
  • The * is used to take the place of several letters

For example:

  • Eb*ing* would find Ebling, Ebeling and Eblinger
  • ?Eb*ing* would find all of the above, and include Hebling or Heblinger
  • Cath?rine would find both Catherine and Catharine

8. Transpositions (Reversing or Mixing Up Letters and Numbers)

Many people, including myself, are prone to transpositions. The year 1787, for example, might be unintentionally entered as 1778, or even 1877.

To overcome this tendency, be sure to closely examine recorded figures, such as the reported age at death. Several genealogy programs calculate this figure, and may even note it during an error check.

9. Widows and Widowers May Not Necessarily Be Widowed

In the event of a divorce, separation or bigamy, a spouse might be recorded as widowed on an official record. This may be to handle a delicate issue, or simply to accommodate a census form that didn’t have other options.

These are just a few common genealogical errors. If you have some that you have observed, please share them with us on Facebook or our blog page in the comments section!

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records

Continuing our series on the top genealogy websites that will save you time and get you 24/7 access to the data you need and will rely on in your family history research, our next category is the best websites for cemetery and burial records: National Gravesite Locator, Find-A-Grave, and BillionGraves.

National Gravesite Locator Search Adeline Kemp

Credit: National Gravesite Locator, http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/

This important website, created by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, lets genealogists quickly locate military and veterans’ burials from 1997 to today. This cemetery website is updated daily and includes all persons buried in the hundreds of officially-designated U.S. federal and state military cemeteries.

National Gravesite Locator Map - Adeline Kemp

Credit: National Gravesite Locator, http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/

These military cemeteries permit the burial of the service member and their spouse. The online index gives you the core genealogical information: each person’s name; dates of birth and death; name and rank of the person that served in the military; and the name and contact information for the military cemetery. All of this is available at your fingertips 24/7 online. This cemetery website is updated daily.

Billiongraves Find a Grave

Credit: Find-A-Grave, http://www.findagrave.com/
Credit: BillionGraves, http://billiongraves.com/

These essential online cemetery websites rely on crowdsourcing to grow. As the above photo shows, individual genealogists take pictures of the graves that interest them and upload them to these two websites.

“Many hands make light work,” allowing these cemetery websites to grow quickly.

BillionGraves has over 4.2 million photographs of individual gravestones.

Find-A-Grave has roughly the same number of tombstone images, but also has included indexes to the names of persons buried in cemeteries across the country—boosting its name count to over 102 million “grave records.”

Billion Graves Sarah Whitehouse

Credit: Billion Graves, http://billiongraves.com/

Find A Grave Addie Estelle Morris Huse

Credit: Find-A-Grave, http://www.findagrave.com/

Genealogists using Find-A-Grave routinely add an image of the tombstone, and also old family photographs and a biography of the deceased. Since this content is all online photographs, documents and similar items may be added to each individual’s memorial page by all interested persons.

Find A Grave John Henry Kemp

Credit: Find A Grave, http://www.findagrave.com

I decided to test how easy it is to add photographs of a tombstone and of the deceased to these cemetery websites. Bang. Within just a few minutes I was registered on Find-A-Grave and uploaded a photo of my great-grandfather John Henry Kemp’s grave along with his portrait.

This was simple and easy to do.

I encourage all genealogists to hold nothing back: put all of your family’s information, documents, and photographs on cemetery sites like these, and on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.

It is essential that we preserve and protect our family history information by putting our genealogy records on multiple websites. Ensure that the information about your family tree that you have gathered over years of genealogy research is not lost, but is permanently available for you and the rising generations.

The Marketing Finesse of Mrs. Lydia E. Pinkham

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena researches old newspaper articles and advertisements to show how, more than a century ago, Lydia Estes Pinkham used marketing techniques to promote her medicinal “vegetable compound” that may inspire today’s businesses.

Looking for marketing ideas for your business? You may want to take a look at old newspapers for inspiration.

Consider the work of Lydia Estes Pinkham.

Mrs Lydia E. Pinkham of Lynn Mass. Medical Vegtable Compound - Watertown Daily Times

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 12 August 1880, page 4.

Who Is Lydia Pinkham?

Who is Lydia Pinkham you ask? She was a wife and mother living in Lynn, Massachusetts, when the Depression of 1873 threatened to ruin her family financially. Lydia had a recipe for a medicinal elixir that she had previously shared with family and friends. She started manufacturing and bottling this “medicine” in an effort to better her family’s financial position.

Faces Sell

Lydia Pinkham was a master marketer. Her marketing plan included placing an image of herself on her product’s bottles. By putting her face on the label she established a credibility with her target audience, women. She had several medicines; her vegetable compound was likely the most popular and had an alcohol content that was as high as 20%.[ii] At a time where visiting a physician was expensive and women suffered in silence through a variety of ailments—or ingested medicines that had deadly ingredients—Pinkham’s medicine provided some hope.

Customer Testimonials

Lydia also produced pamphlets, which were really thinly disguised recipe books, which not only gave suggestions of what products a woman should use but provided women’s own stories of being cured. In the pamphlet titled Food and Health, there are numerous testimonials that include women’s names and addresses. The pamphlet says of these testimonials: “…you will find letters from many classes of women, young and old, mother and daughter. They are genuine expressions of gratitude from one woman to another.”[iii]

Lydia Pinkham Obituary - Western Recorder Newspaper

Western Recorder (Lawrence, Kansas), 24 May 1883, page 4.

Establish Expertise

Pinkham encouraged her customers to write to her with their health questions. This service became so popular that these letters were being answered years after Pinkham’s death and signed by “Mrs. Pinkham.” When a photo of the gravestone of Lydia Pinkham was published in a 1905 issue of the magazine Ladies’ Home Journal it caused some to question the validity of these letters. Even though Lydia’s 1883 obituary had run in newspapers all around the country, it seems some people believed that Lydia was still answering these letters long after her death. At the end of this 1907 California newspaper article “Mrs. Pinkham” clarifies that she is actually the daughter-in-law of the real Mrs. Lydia Pinkham.

Tumors Conquered - Lydia Pinkham's Vegtable Compound Newspaper Article

Evening News (San Jose, California), 1 May 1907, page 6.

Advertise!

Newspapers ran all kinds of advertisements for Pinkham’s products including those with images and names of women customers singing the product’s praises. Were these women real or just figments of the company’s marketing machine? It appears that they were real women and although they may seem quite personal to us today, these testimonies are really not that different from postings online on medical support group boards, mailing lists, or review websites.

For Older Women - Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 27 June 1930, section 2 page 22.

Enjoy Enduring Business Success

Did Lydia’s marketing work? The evidence of her company’s success is that you can still purchase her reformulated products, manufactured by a different company, today. Marketing techniques that Lydia used in the 19th century, including customer testimonials, are still an effective way to spread the news about products in today’s market.


[i] From Food and Health, page 2. Testimonial by Mrs. Mary Dipietro of Canton, Ohio. < http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/4089243?n=4&imagesize=1200&jp2Res=.25&printThumbnails=no> Available online in the Lydia Estes Pinkham Collection http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/4089243 on the Harvard University Library’s Open Collections Program Women Working, 1800-1930 at http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww/pinkham.html.

[ii] The Name that Launched a Million Bottles. The Annette & Irwin Eskind Biomedical Library, http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/biolib/hc/nostrums/pinkham.html.

[iii] From Food and Health. Available online in the Lydia Estes Pinkham Collection http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/4089243 on the Harvard University Library’s Open Collections Program Women Working, 1800-1930 at http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww/pinkham.html.

Using Historical Newspapers to Research My Civil War Ancestry

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspapers to find stories about his Civil War cousin, Captain James Ham, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Five Forks just as the war was drawing to a close.

 Earlier this month (July 1-3) our nation commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. I well recall the awe I felt when, as a youngster, my family and I visited those hallowed grounds during the centennial of the Civil War back in 1963. That experience was the one that sparked my deep interest in American Civil War history, which continues to this day.

As pure luck would have it, while I was enjoying all the recent publicity regarding the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, I happened to make the discovery of a cousin in my ancestry, James Ham, who was a veteran of the Civil War.

Gravestone of James Ham - A Civil War Veteran

Photo: gravestone of Captain James Ham in Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Pennsylvania. Credit: Patricia Bittner.

James was born in Launceston, Cornwall, in the United Kingdom. I discovered that after running into trouble with the law for “assaulting an officer in the execution of his duties” and receiving a 12-month sentence, he emigrated from Cornwall. It wasn’t long before I found that he established himself in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.

As I was following his listing from the 1860 U.S. Census, I also came upon the fact that James Ham served in the Civil War. He rose to the rank of captain in the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry, in their M Company. It was very enjoyable to find, while searching the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank.com, an article from an 1889 Maryland newspaper reporting on the dedication of a monument at Gettysburg to “my” Captain Ham’s regiment, with a description of the huge crowds that attended this event.

Pennsylvania Veterans' Day Newspaper Article - Sun 1889

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 12 September 1889, page Supplement 2.

Monument 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry Civil War

Photo: Civil War monument at Gettysburg dedicated to the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry. Credit: from the author’s collection.

The more I followed my leads, the more I was able to improve my understanding of the life, and unfortunate death, of my Civil War ancestor. It wasn’t long before I came upon the fact that Captain Ham was wounded in Virginia at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, and died from those battle wounds on April 5, 1865. Now, as much as I like to think I know a lot about the Civil War, I was not familiar with the Battle of Five Forks—so I turned again to research the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank.com.

This time there were hundreds of old newspaper articles for me to pick from. My knowledge was really expanded by reading an impressive article from an 1865 Wisconsin newspaper. This was a very detailed account of the battle, and the reporter wrote paragraph after paragraph that put me right in the action of many of the cavalry charges.

Civil War Battle of Five Forks Newspaper Article - Milwaukee Sentinel

Milwaukee Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 7 April 1865, page 1.

Shortly thereafter I found an article in a 1908 Idaho newspaper that would make any genealogist’s and/or historian’s heart jump. This old news article contains a story of family letters, history, a dash of good luck, and perseverance in the discovery of the fate of the battle flag carried for a time by Union General Sheridan during the battle.

Old Battle Flag Sheridan Carried at Five Forks Is Found Newspaper Article - Idaho Statesman

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 23 March 1908, page 4.

Then my attention was captured by an article published in an 1880 New York newspaper which reported that General Sheridan was being called to court in order to explain why he relieved General Warren of his command after the Battle of Five Forks. The subheading really caught my eye: “Eight Days Previous to the Surrender at Appomattox.” I had read the date of death of my ancestor but I had not, until that point, realized that he was killed in action only days before the Civil War ended.

Sheridan Warren Civil War Battle of Five Forks Newspaper Article - NY Herald

New York Herald (New York, New York), 27 October 1880, page 8.

I am now in the second phase of seeking even more information about this Civil War ancestor as I have placed a research request with the Wayne County (Pennsylvania) Historical Society (http://waynehistorypa.org). One of their researchers is hard at work hopefully finding more clues, data, and details about Captain James Ham and his family. Plus after my very first conversation with the researcher, I have been “forced” to place Wayne County, Pennsylvania, on my “Genealogy Must-Visit List” since the researcher casually mentioned to me that the Museum holds dozens of personal letters written from Captain Ham back to his wife and family during the Civil War!

I think I better start packing right now. I figure at least two days reading for sure! Can you imagine what those letters might hold?

Do you have comparable success stories about researching your Civil War ancestor? Tell us about them in the comments section.

Case Study Part 3: Finding Old Newspaper Articles about Family

Continuing my search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for the history of the Crofoot family (see: “Case Study: Using Old Newspaper Articles to Learn about Your Ancestors” & “Case Study Part 2: How to Find Old Newspaper Articles about Family”) I found  information about the death of Ephraim Crofoot.

When we found the obituary of Thomas S. Crofoot published in August 1852, the newspaper article referred to his father as “the late Ephraim Crofoot, Esq.”

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 25 August 1852, page 3 Thomas Crofoot Death Notice

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 25 August 1852, page 3.

This clue told us that Ephraim Crofoot had died before August 1852.

Digging deeper into the archives I found Ephraim Crofoot’s obituary that stated he died on 24 February 1852 at the age of 51.

Constitution Newspaper March 3, 1852 Ephraim Crofoot Death Notice

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 3 March 1852, page 3.

A week later a notice appeared in the same newspaper alerting everyone that probate proceedings for Ephraim Crofoot’s estate had begun on 28 February 1852.

Constitution Newspaper 1852 Ephraim Crofoot Probate Notice

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 10 March 1852, page 4.

So far we have found quite a bit of genealogical information and clues about Ephraim Crofoot and his family in the newspaper archives including information about his marriages, children and death. It takes time to piece together the clues and facts that document a family tree.

In the weeks ahead I will continue to report on my findings about the Crofoot family and provide similar examples from other typical families to help you better understand the kinds of information that you can discover about your family history in old newspaper articles.