Tips on How to Search for Your Ancestors’ Hometowns & Townships

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this guest blog post, Duncan shows how to find information about your ancestral hometown using GenealogyBank’s collections of historical documents and old newspapers, as well as a couple of other helpful websites.

GenealogyBank is not only a great resource to find information about your ancestors’ lives—you can learn about their hometowns as well.

For example, I am curious to see if I can find any information about a tiny township that my family is from, located in rural Indiana. This township has an unusual name that I have always found slightly amusing: Whiskey Run, Crawford County, Indiana.

How to Search for Hometowns with GenealogyBank

I begin my search by typing “Whiskey Run” in the last name field (see below). The quotation marks keep the words together as a phrase. GenealogyBank’s search engine allows you to enter names or words into the first and last name fields.

screenshot of a search on GenealogyBank for Whiskey Run, Indiana

This archive search brings back quite a few results: 714! I’m a bit surprised to see so many for such an unusual name. There are 30 results in the Historical Documents collection that I want to look through first.

screenshot of the search results page in GenealogyBank for a search on Whiskey Run, Indiana

How to Search the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

GenealogyBank’s Historical Documents collection largely consists of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, along with other government documents. The Serial Set was organized in 1817 as the official collection of reports and documents of the United States Congress. This large multivolume resource contains various congressional reports and documents from the beginning of the federal government right up to the present day. The collection is published in a “serial” fashion, hence its name. Containing a combination of legislative and executive publications, the Serial Set has tremendous value as a primary source for American history.

Normally, any mention of politics or Congress would be enough to put me to sleep, but these government documents have been some of my best finds. They contain all sorts of information relating to pensions, land disputes, military service, etc. I even found a firsthand account of a many-great grandfather’s experience in the Civil War. Where else, but a journal, could you find such outstanding information!

Let’s see what we can find in these 30 Historical Documents about Whiskey Run.

There are various pages relating to the functions of the township. A few are of particular interest. Here’s one: this page tells me the population of the various townships in Crawford County in 1880.

screenshot of a historical document from GenealogyBank showing the population of Whiskey Run, Indiana, in 1880

And here is another that tells me the public library had 350 books in 1886. Not bad for such a small township.

screenshot of a historical document from GenealogyBank showing the number of books in the town library of Whiskey Run, Indiana, in 1886

A quick tip for navigating through the pages of these historical documents: I can easily move forward or backward in the document by clicking on the page numbers along the left hand side of the page, as shown here:

screenshot of a historical document from GenealogyBank about Whiskey Run, Indiana

I can also move through the document sequentially by using the “Previous Page” and “Next Page’ tools along the top right side of the image, as shown here:

screenshot of some navigation tools from GenealogyBank

Searching the Newspaper Archives

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While I found some interesting tidbits about the township in these Historical Documents, I haven’t struck gold yet. I want to go back and search through the Newspaper Archives now. I click on “Search All Collections” in the upper left hand corner to return to the main search results page.

screenshot of navigation tools from a search results page in GenealogyBank

Now that I am back to the main results page, I can see that 680 of the 714 results for “Whiskey Run” were in the Newspaper Archives.

screenshot of the search results page in GenealogyBank for a search on Whiskey Run, Indiana

I click into the Newspaper Archives collection to narrow my results. After scrolling to the bottom of the search results page, I narrow my search by typing Indiana in the keyword field. (I did not select just the state of Indiana when I began my search because that would have restricted my results to newspapers published only in the state of Indiana.) Newspaper articles can get picked up by many newspapers and be published literally anywhere in the United States.

I want to find articles about Whiskey Run of Indiana—not articles about running to get some booze, or the similarly-named townships in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Entering the word Indiana in the Include Keywords field will search for articles that mention both Whiskey Run and Indiana. So now my newspaper archives search looks like this:

screenshot of a search in GenealogyBank for Whiskey Run and Indiana

Glancing through the new search results, I notice that there must have been a race horse in Indiana with the name Whiskey Run. To eliminate those articles from my search results, I add the term “race” in the Exclude Keywords field like this:

screenshot of a search in GenealogyBank for Whiskey Run and Indiana, excluding the word "race"

Now I have 20 articles left to explore about the township in my search results. I like to sort them with the oldest articles first so that I can read them chronologically. I arrange them by using the “Sort by” drop-down menu in the upper right hand corner of the results page, as shown here:

screenshot of a sorting feature provided by GenealogyBank for its search results

Now that I have everything sorted just the way I like, I can begin looking through the remaining results. Whiskey Run township was a sparsely populated township so it doesn’t take me long to look through these results. If the township were more popular there would have been many more articles written about it, in which case I could add, subtract, and adjust my keywords to get down to a reasonable number of results. I could also add a date range if I was only interested in a specific time period.

Once I pull up an article by clicking on its headline or image snippet, I can search for any word in the text. To change the word that is being highlighted in the article, I can type the new word into the find box and click on “Find,” like this:

screenshot of a find feature in GenealogyBank

My Ancestral Hometown Research Findings

I found a few news articles that list Whiskey Run as one of the strange place names in America. (I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks so.) I found articles talking about the inhabitants and happenings in Whiskey Run. But I really struck gold with this article about the history and name of the county and township.

article about Whiskey Run, Indiana, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 1 June 1924

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 1 June 1924, page 6

According to the old news article:

“The story goes that down on the stream one day an Indiana (sic) named ‘Whiskey’ killed a man named ‘Run’ who had a jug of whiskey with him. Then he ran away with Run’s whiskey. So the pioneers generally spoke of the stream as ‘Whiskey Run.’”

Since this newspaper article came out during the time of alcohol prohibition, I’m a little suspicious of this legend. A fast moving, low turbulence stream was called a “run” and several of my ancestors were arrested for making moonshine in the hills around the stream with the same name. I suspect that the township’s name probably had a different origin. But this makes for a fun story.

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I learned many important historical facts about the Indiana town from this long article. Of particular interest was that Liberty Township was carved out of Whiskey Run in 1842. This helps me to know that the branch of the family that appears in Liberty around this time may not have moved after all. The area they were living in simply got annexed into Liberty Township. Good to know!

The results of my search on GenealogyBank were a bit surprising since Whiskey Run is such a small, rural township, and I was glad to find so much good information. To flesh out my ancestral hometown research, I could use two additional resources.

FamilySearch

The first is the Family History Research Wiki from FamilySearch. This is a free resource that usually gives me great background information on an area and explains how to find and access relevant documents. Unfortunately, Whiskey Run is too small to appear in this resource, but I can still look up Crawford County. Here I can find where the land, tax, and vital records are stored. It has lots of valuable information for me as I research this area.

HistoryPin.com

Another great resource is a new find for me. This site, History Pin.com, is a place for users to submit their historical photos of an area. Nothing came up for Whiskey Run, but I did find some spectacular images from the nearby township of English and the town of Corydon.

GenealogyBank’s collection of newspapers and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set can be an excellent way to learn more about the area in which your ancestors lived, even if it was a tiny township in a rural area. Try an ancestral hometown search yourself and let us know what you find out!

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Ancestral Name Searches: 4 Tips for Tracing Surname Spellings

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary explains that ancestral surnames may have been spelled differently in the past—or been completely different altogether—and provides tips for searching for these ancestral name variations.

Earlier this year, I asked some Facebook friends to help with family research on surnames. This type of research can be tricky; some ancestral surnames had spelling variations—or were completely different names.

My friends answered with a range of responses: some reported minor spelling changes in their ancestors’ surnames, while others told of rather dramatic aberrations. After all, who would ever correlate the Bedenbaugh family with the name “Pitebag,” the Cal family with the name “Carroll,” or the Von Der Burg family with the name “Funderburg”!

My Question about Researching Surnames

This was my original Facebook request, with my friends’ replies summarized in the following chart:

I’m looking for ancestral surnames with many alternate spelling variations. For instance, Smith can be spelled Smyth or Smythe. Harrell can be Herrall, Horrall, Herald, etc. Also, looking for names of emigrants that were Americanized. Thanks in advance!

From Surname Variations / Comments
Cindi S. Amick: Emig, Emmick, Emmigh, Amig, Amik
Angela H. Ammons: Amonds, Emmons, Almons, Aman. Ammonds in Germany; Americanized to Ammons.
Jim B. Becherer: My “Becherer” ancestor changed it to Baker, although there are records where he was Becker and his tombstone is Bakar.
Cindi S. Bedenbaugh came from a Pitebag. That’s another one that has always been curious.
Victoria N. Calley, Colley, Collier, Callie, Cally, Colly
Judi C-T. Carroll, Carrell, Corall, Coral, Cal
Marge I. Cilley, Celley, Cealy, Seley, Sealey, Selley, so on, so on
Judy J-L. Cosky: Coskey, Kosky, Koskey, Koski, Koskie, Cuskie, Cusky—came across my ancestral name spelled all these ways on various documents.
Judy J-L. Deegan, Deagan, Dagen, Degan, and Deegen
Cindi S. Dominick, Dominy, Daming, and the oldest variation on this name that I could find: Durnermubhor?
Mary H-S. Ebling, Ebeling, Hebling, Eblinger
Sandy G. Finkenbinder: My grandmother was a Finkenbinder. It started in Germany as Fintboner, Finkboner, Finkbeiner, Finkenbeiner, Finkenbinder.
Cindi S. Fulmer, Folmer, Follmer, Volmer, Vollmer
Mary H-S. Harrell, Harel, Herald, Herrald, Horall, Horrell, Horald
Tammy H. Henney, Heney, Hanney, Hanny, Henny, Heaney, Haney…started as Hennig
Cindi S. Krell, Krelle, Crell, Crelle, Krehl, Kreil, Kreel, Creel, Crehl
Jim B. Langendoerfer: Within the space of two pages, the same census taker for the 1860 Census for Wayne County, PA, listed the four Langendoerfer brothers as: John Longdone, Winesdale (actually Wendell) Langerford, Jacob Longendoff, [and] Nicholas Longendiffer. He probably spoke to each of them on the same day along the same stretch of road. He never realized they were all saying the same name.[Cindi S.] It was a cold day and a little nip helped the census taker make his rounds…lol
Mary H-S. Miesse, Measey, Mease, Mise, Meise, spelled as Mȕsse in Germany
Leanne L. Ouderkerk: Ouderkirk, Oudekerk, Oudekirk, Oderkirk, Odekirk from Holland to New York mid 1600s
Monica C. Peats, Peets, Peetz, Pietz, Peet, Peat, Pyatt, Piatt…
Lisa F. Penny, Penney, Pinny, Pinney
Jessica R. Shultz, Schultz, Shulse, Shultze, Sholtz, Schulse…
Heidi N. Smith can also be an Americanized version of Schmidt, Schmeid, Schmitt, etc.
Mary H-S. Smith, Smyth, Smythe
Tammy H. Sweezey, Sweazy, Sweasey, Swazy, Swazey, Swasey, Sweezy, Swasy. From Germany via France.
Trish W. Von Der Burg family (Funderburg, Funderburgh, Funderburk, etc.)

So Which Surname Spelling Is Correct?

Although some genealogists may disagree, I believe the correct answer is: “most of them!”

Names morph, or change, on documents for a variety of reasons. Obvious reasons include ignorance (simply didn’t know the correct spelling) and sloppiness (typographical and handwriting issues)—but more complex reasons include other considerations.

In general, Old World names (given and last names) are, more often than not, converted from one spelling to another over time. Sometimes this evolves from alphabetical considerations, and other times from pronunciation or Anglicization issues.

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1) Alphabetical Conversions

Alphabetical conversions occur when a letter from a foreign alphabet doesn’t exist in English—such as ones with accents or umlauts (ȕ). An example from the chart is the name Miesse, which was spelled in Germany as Mȕsse. In 17th and 18th century church and civil records, this name is predominantly recorded with an umlaut, but English-speaking settlers had to convert the ȕ to “i,” “ea” and “ie.”

2) Surname Anglicization for Legal Reasons

Families might deliberately change or Anglicize the spellings of their surnames. Sometimes this occurs in daily practice (not formalized), but at other times during a court filing.

An example in the Sesniak family occurred when the name was legally changed from the traditional Polish spelling of Szczesniak. As my husband Tom explains:

On first try, nobody could pronounce or spell our last name, so my father had it shortened. Uniquely, he kept the same pronunciation by dropping two zs and a c. Although it broke all family tradition and upset the grandparents [who did not join in the court filing], it was the right thing to do. They were rooted to their Polish community, but it was only a small part of America. Although they never lost their ethnic pride, my parents’ family immediately went from being Polish to Polish American.

3) Name Pronunciation Dilemmas

Whenever a surname is pronounced differently from what its written form would suggest, expect to find spelling variations—such as this example from my Irish ancestry.

Our family Bible recorded the name as Hoowee—causing some Fisher family cousins to doubt its authenticity. After visiting Ireland, we discovered that the name is spelled both as Hoowe and Hoowee in records.

photo of the name "Hoowee" spelled in the Mathias Fisher family Bible

Photo: the name “Hoowee” spelled in the Mathias Fisher family Bible. Source: in the possession of Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

Why it was changed, we’ll never know—but after discovering it is often pronounced “Who ee” rather than “How,” my theory is that the version “Hoowee” was chosen because it better reflected the correct pronunciation.

4) Recording Considerations

When examining records, always consider who recorded the information.

Was there an enumerator or interviewer—or did a family member write the information in original handwriting?

If a spelling variation came from a family member, perhaps this person was not very literate. If it came from an enumerator, the name might have been written the way the enumerator heard it (phonetically or otherwise). Or perhaps a spelling was altered to reflect a personal cultural background.

Enumerator name variations are commonly reported by census researchers. (See the Langendoerfer example in the chart.)

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The Ellis Island Myth

One of the most written-about American experiences is the arrival of immigrants to Ellis Island—but one of the most incorrectly repeated statements is that names were changed (or Anglicized) upon arrival at Ellis Island.

photo of the Immigrant Building, Ellis Island, New York Harbor, c.1904

Photo: Immigrant Building, Ellis Island, New York Harbor, c.1904. Source: Underwood & Underwood; Library of Congress.

This widely repeated myth is easily dispelled by focusing on the steps undertaken when passengers arrived in the port.

During the interview process, immigrants’ names were verified to see that they matched the names recorded on ship manifests, which had been created in foreign, not American, ports. If there were exceptions, it would arise if an immigrant disagreed with the recorded spelling.

(For an in-depth explanation, see the New York Public Library article at www.nypl.org/blog/2013/07/02/name-changes-ellis-island,)

What Are Your Family Spelling Variations?

If you’ve only uncovered 1-2 spelling variations for your family surname, I hope this article will inspire you to find more—and to consider reasons how and why they changed.

Please share your surname spelling examples with us in the comments section.

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How to Use Newspaper Lost & Found Ads for Genealogy Research

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how lost and found ads in old newspapers can turn up a surprising amount of information about your ancestors—and provide a glimpse into their lives that you won’t find in government records and vital statistics.

Lost anything lately? While in today’s world we have multiple options for asking strangers for help in recovering or returning property, our ancestors used newspaper lost and found ads.

These old newspaper advertisements can be a surprisingly rich resource for your family history searches—sometimes providing an ancestor’s full name, current address, and some details about their life. Some of the more unusual lost and found ads also add interest to your genealogy research.

What Went Missing? People, Pets, Possessions…

What can be discovered about your ancestry in a lost and found ad? Depending on the time period, these newspaper advertisements may notify a community about missing people such as a runaway slave—or even a missing husband, as I wrote about previously (see Missing Men: Lost Husband Ads in Newspapers for Genealogy). One would expect to see pleas for the return of jewelry or wallets, but classified ads can run the gamut from the valuable to the ordinary, from cash to umbrellas.

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The topic of what can be discovered in lost and found ads was addressed in this 1855 Virginia newspaper article. It remarks that:

Lost dogs and runaway apprentices, however, are the most frequent subjects of advertisements.

Curiosities of Advertising, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 15 October 1855

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 15 October 1855, page 4

Newspaper Ads for Lost Pets

Lost dogs are a popular subject of lost and found ads. What is listed in a lost and found column can change depending on the time period and the type of community the newspaper serves. Rural area advertisements may differ from that of more populated, urban places.

Take for instance this “Lost, Found, Strayed” column from a 1927 Virginia newspaper, where you can see a typical lost dog advertisement—but there is also one for a stray cow! Look for these advertisements to have all kinds of animals including lost dogs, cats, birds, horses, cows, pigs—basically all manner of livestock and pets.

Have You Seen My Glasses?

I also like that one of these lost and found ads proves that people don’t really change; as long as there have been reading glasses, people have been losing them.

newspaper lost and found ads, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper advertisements 18 October 1927

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 18 October 1927, page 16

Remember that a “lost” item might actually be a stolen item. If you know that an ancestor had an animal or valuable object taken, you may want to see if they placed an advertisement seeking its return.

Found It!

Found ads can be interesting as well. Consider these two similarly worded, deliberately vague ads from a 1919 Washington newspaper. In order to claim their property, the owner of the missing item was required to pay the cost of the advertisement.

newspaper lost and found ads, Morning Olympian newspaper advertisements 12 February 1919

Morning Olympian (Olympia, Washington), 12 February 1919, page 4

Unfortunate Losses

Some of the lost and found notices in newspapers are heartbreaking. You can sympathize with the despair of a loss such as the one reported in this ad, placed by a widow. Imagine the heartbreak of losing a great amount of much-needed money and realizing that it was unlikely to ever be returned! The address and phone number of this woman is listed, making it easier for descendants to identify her.

newspaper lost and found ads, San Diego Union newspaper advertisements 22 September 1930

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 22 September 1930, page 14

Lost Item Lists from Railway Cars

While we assume a single individual is responsible for placing a lost or found newspaper ad, it makes sense that occasionally a public transportation company placed an advertisement listing items found. This advertisement lists everything found on the cars of the United Railways and Electric Company.

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Reading this lost and found ad, one gets a sense of the diversity of items brought onto these railway cars. This type of ad serves a social history function, giving us a glimpse at life in a different time. This particular advertisement lists a wide range of items—from what you would expect someone losing on public transportation (like an umbrella or a rain coat) to items you wouldn’t expect (a hatchet and a saucepan).

newspaper lost and found ad, Baltimore American newspaper advertisement 5 August 1911

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 5 August 1911, page 1

Lost and Found Ads Are a Valuable Genealogy Resource

Searching newspaper lost and found ads can provide important information for your family history. Like some of the other resources that we rely on for our genealogy research today, these ads won’t be a resource for future genealogists since they’re no longer in use. When I recently searched my local newspapers for the lost and found column, they were nonexistent. Luckily for us, they are abundant in old newspapers like the online collection of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives—and lost and found ads are just one example of the many types of newspaper classifieds that can aid our search for our family’s story.

Newspaper Search Tip: Initials matter! In my searches through lost and found ads I saw names, addresses, and phone numbers. However, because an ancestor may have had to be brief when placing an ad, depending on what they had to pay per word or letter, it’s likely they may have abbreviated as much as possible—including their name. That’s why searching for your ancestor by different name variations is so important, including their initials.

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More Genealogy Humor: Funny Quotes & Sayings for Genealogists

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary follows up on one of her earlier blog posts by presenting more of the funniest, quirkiest, or most touching sayings about genealogy that she’s encountered in her career as a family historian.

After the GenealogyBank Blog article Genealogy Humor: 101 Funny Quotes & Sayings for Genealogists was posted, we noticed many of you liked them so much that you shared the humorous quotes across social media sites such as Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest to spread the laughter around the genealogical community.

So here are a few more funny genealogy sayings to give you a chuckle and brighten your day!

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Funny Genealogy Expressions & Slogans

  • Definition of genealogy: When a step backward is true progress!
  • Don’t let your family tree suffer from root rot!
  • Finding a new ancestor is a blast from the past!
  • Genealogist’s favorite game: Ancestor Hide and Seek.
  • Genealogist’s favorite game show: Family Feud.
  • Genealogist’s hunting season: 12 Midnight 1 January — 11:59 P.M. 31 December.
  • Genealogist’s least favorite activity: Pruning the family tree!

funny genealogy saying: "Genealogists are always in a family way!"

  • Genealogists are always in a family way!
  • Genealogists are family tree huggers!
  • Genealogists are forebear hunters!
  • Genealogy is not done until the “past lady” sings!
  • Genealogy is simply TREEific!
  • Genealogy disease: Gensomnia.
  • How a genealogist greets a stranger: “Are you sure we aren’t related?”
  • How a genealogist greets another genealogist. “Would you like to join my famclub?”
  • How a genealogist introduces his children: “I’d like you to meet my descendants!”
  • How a genealogist introduces his parents: “Have you met my ancestors?”
  • I’m ancestrally challenged!
  • If you want to have some fun, say “Who’s your daddy?” to a room full of genealogists and watch the heads turn.
  • It’s hard to be humble with ancestors like mine!

funny genealogy saying: "Money doesn't grow on trees--but ancestors do!"

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  • Money doesn’t grow on trees—but ancestors do!
  • Murphy’s law of genealogy: After solving a dead end ancestor mystery that consumed your entire adult life, your sister reports, “I could have told you that!”
  • Murphy’s law of genealogy: Paying for a vital record and then finding it right under your nose!
  • Old genealogists never die. They just haunt archives.
  • Organization to help with genealogy addiction: AA (Ancestors Anonymous).
  • Popular sign in a cemetery: “Dead End.”
  • The best ancestors want to be found!
  • The “mother lode” of genealogy is discovering a great grandmother’s maiden name.

funny genealogy saying: "Time and genealogy wait for no man!"

  • Time and genealogy wait for no man!
  • To a genealogist, the expression “Mother Nature” takes on a whole new meaning!
  • Transcribers of headstones generally work the graveyard shift!
  • True genealogists wonder why the Academy Awards don’t have a category for best microfilm!
  • Ultimate success to a genealogist: Proving that Elvis isn’t dead!
  • What a genealogist should not say on a blind date: “Isn’t it great? I did your tree and we’re related!”
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you find the certainty of ancestral death and tax records exciting. (Paraphrased from Ben Franklin’s “Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”)
  • If you think Castle Garden is something out of a fairy tale, you’re probably not a genealogist!

More Family History Funnies from Our Readers

The following hilarious comments were shared by readers after the first funny genealogy quotes blog post went live. If you have some of your own humorous quotes and sayings for genealogists, please share them with us in the comments!

1) Here is an old epitaph bromide: On an old tombstone was the following quote,
“Pause stranger, when you pass me by, As you are now so once was I. As I am now, so you will be. So prepare for death and follow me.”
Below that epitaph someone scratched the following, “To follow you I’m not content, Until I know which way you went.”  —from David on 7 March 2014.

2) Headstone epitaph: “This is the damndest thing I’ve ever done.”  —from George on 26 January 2014.

3) “You know you’re a genealogist when you watch a movie that has a scene in a graveyard, and you’re distracted from the plot by trying to transcribe the tombstones.” —from Kay on 23 January 2014.

GenealogyBank’s Genealogy Quotes Pinterest Boards

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

Genealogy Humor & Funnies

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Genealogy & Family Quotes

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Family Reunions: Planning & Researching Notices in Newspapers

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

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

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

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

photo of a reunion of the Highsmith family

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

Family Reunion Planning Tips

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

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

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

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Family Records of Past Family Reunions

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

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

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

Family Reunion Notices in Historical Newspapers

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

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

How to Search for Reunion Notices in Newspapers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Last Name










Guide to Family Reunion Notices through 1875

(from GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives)

Compiled by Mary Harrell-Sesniak

March 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forest (see De Forest)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Last Name










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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Research Your Ancestor’s Part in Major Historical Events

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

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

The California Gold Rush

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

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

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

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

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Create a Timeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Survey the Available Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Genealogy Research Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth or Not: Is Everything Really Bigger in Texas?

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

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

Photo: Big Tex. Credit: Wikimedia.

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

Largest City in U.S. is NYC

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

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A Dimebox & Ding Dong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Hilarious Texas Town Names (Frognot?)

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

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

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

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

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

The Genealogy of a Town

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

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

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

Town Research Tips

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

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

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

Further Reading about Town Names:

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

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

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

Clearly, newspapers sometimes make mistakes.

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

Cross-Check with Records from Catalogs

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

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

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

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

Look at the Next Day’s Publication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You Found That Article Where? Newspaper Search Tips for Genealogists

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this guest blog post, Duncan provides some newspaper search tips for genealogists, especially regarding locations.

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

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

Search Nationwide First, Then Refine

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

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

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

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

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

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Newspaper Search Tips

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

Whom Will You Find?

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

Where’s My Ancestor in the News?

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

Newspapers’ Historical Role in Daily Life

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

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

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Genealogical Gold in Republished Articles

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

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

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

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

Searching Articles across U.S. States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Free Guide for Irish Genealogy Research

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

12th-century Trim Castle in County Meath, Ireland

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

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

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

Irish Genealogy Brick Wall

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

This free Irish Genealogy research guide will help you.

Irish American Newspapers

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

Ireland Civil Registration Records

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

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

Additional Resources for Irish Genealogy

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

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

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