3 Tips to Uncover Hidden Genealogy Clues in Obituaries

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how useful newspaper obituaries are for your family history research—and explains clues in obituaries that even some experienced genealogists might miss.

Obituaries are the newspaper articles that most genealogists cut their research teeth on. Even so, many genealogists don’t get all the information they could out of an obituary, or recognize the clues an obituary can provide for additional family searches. Could there be more to researching an ancestor’s death than just finding the obituary? My resounding answer is YES! As you look at your ancestor’s obituary consider some of the following research tips.

Analyze Obituaries for Genealogy Clues

When you look at an obituary don’t stop at the death date, place and the survivors. Analyze what is said that could point to other records or even additional articles. Of course there are and can be mistakes in obituaries but use the obituary as a clue to other possible records.

Take for instance this obituary for a Miss Emma Farlin from Butte, Montana.

obituary for Emma Farlin, Anaconda Standard newspaper article 7 September 1922

obituary for Emma Farlin, Anaconda Standard newspaper article 7 September 1922

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 7 September 1922, page 12

From this historical obituary you learn: she wasn’t married, her father founded a mine that he named after her, she was a teacher, where she taught, the names of six surviving relatives, the address of the family home where the funeral will be held, and the names of two of her classmates when she attended the Butte high school.

After reading this obituary I would put together a genealogy research plan that includes looking for employment records, searching censuses and city directories for family members mentioned in the obituary, and looking for additional newspaper articles after her death that might include information about the children she taught. I would also be curious about the mention of the two men she went to high school with long ago—why were they mentioned in her obituary? I would want to research them further to ascertain their connection to her, and see if that research helps me learn more about Emma’s life.

There’s More to Death than Just an Obituary

Although we automatically think of newspaper obituaries when we want to research an ancestor’s death, expand your search to include other types of newspaper articles that may also document an ancestor’s death. Not everyone had an obituary printed in the paper, but their name may be found in other newspaper articles such as a funeral notice, or a thank-you note from the family. Looking for a probate? Check the newspaper’s legal notices, those dense and small-typed notices found and often ignored at the end of the newspaper, for any probate notification.

Here is an example of a probate notice, from a newspaper’s legal notices section.

probate notice for estate of William Walker, Washington Bee newspaper article 9 May 1914

Washington Bee (Washington, D.C.), 9 May 1914, page 5

As you read your ancestor’s obituary, consider what other newspaper articles or official documents might have relevant genealogical information. In cases where a person died as a result of an accident or suspicious circumstances, a coroner’s inquest may be called and there may be court records available.

This newspaper article about the possible murder of a baby includes the names of the men serving on the inquest jury. In a situation like this tragic event, we can assume multiple articles about the suspicious death, and any justice served, were printed—and you’ll want to expand your search to track down all those articles.

coroner's inquest for the Wilson baby, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 18 April 1900

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 18 April 1900, page 1

Don’t Just Research That One Day

Once you find your ancestor’s obituary, don’t stop there. Depending on whether your ancestor lived in a rural area or a big city, and the time period involved, you may be able to dig up much more than just information on the actual death. Consider searching the days or even weeks leading up to their death—in cases where there was a lingering illness, or unusual circumstances, a series of articles may have been printed before your ancestor died.

This old news article gives some great information about those who were sick, many of them from the grip (flu). Details including who was hospitalized, who is feeling better, who isn’t, and the inclusion of some street addresses make this a valuable article to family historians.

list of sick people, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 9 March 1901

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 9 March 1901, page 5

There’s no doubt that searching for your ancestor’s newspaper obituary is a must for every genealogist. But remember that a death can lend itself to multiple articles—and that every article is a jumping-off place for additional genealogical research.

27 Colonial Newspapers to Trace Your Early American Ancestry

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

1754 political cartoon by Benjamin Franklin about the French and Indian War

Illustration: 1754 political cartoon by Benjamin Franklin urging the British Colonies in North America to join together to help the British win the French and Indian War (the segment labeled “N.E.” stands for the four New England colonies). Credit: U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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

Discover a variety of historical genealogy records and news stories in these 27 Colonial newspapers, listed alphabetically by state and then city. Each historical newspaper title in this list is an active link that will take you directly to that paper’s search page, where you can begin researching for your Colonial ancestry by ancestors’ surnames, dates, keywords and more.

State    City                 Title

CT       New London   Connecticut Gazette (11/18/1763 to 5/29/1844)

CT       New London   New-London Summary (9/29/1758 to 9/23/1763)

GA      Savannah         Georgia Gazette (4/7/1763 to 11/25/1802)

MD      Annapolis        Maryland Gazette (12/3/1728 to 2/16/1832)

MA      Boston             Boston Evening-Post (8/18/1735 to 4/24/1775)

MA      Boston             Boston News-Letter (4/24/1704 to 2/29/1776)

MA      Boston             Boston Post-Boy (4/21/1735 to 4/10/1775)

MA      Boston             New-England Courant (8/7/1721 to 6/25/1726)

MA      Boston             New-England Weekly Journal (3/20/1727 to 10/13/1741)

MA      Boston             Publick Occurrences (9/25/1690)

MA      Boston             Weekly Rehearsal (9/27/1731 to 8/11/1735)

NH      Portsmouth      New-Hampshire Gazette (10/7/1756 to 12/30/1851)

NY      New York       Independent Reflector (11/30/1752 to 11/22/1753)

NY      New York       New-York Evening Post (12/17/1744 to 12/18/1752)

NY      New York       New-York Gazette (2/16/1759 to 10/31/1821)

NY      New York       New-York Gazette, or Weekly Post-Boy (1/19/1747 to 12/31/1770)

NY      New York       New-York Weekly Journal (1/7/1733 to 12/3/1750)

PA       Germantown   Germantowner Zeitung (12/15/1763 to 3/19/1777)

PA       Philadelphia    American Weekly Mercury (12/22/1719 to 5/22/1746)

PA       Philadelphia    Pennsylvania Gazette (12/16/1736 to 12/27/1775)

PA       Philadelphia    Pennsylvania Journal (12/9/1742 to 9/18/1793)

PA       Philadelphia    Pennsylvanische Fama (3/10/1750 to 3/17/1750)

PA       Philadelphia    Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote (1/18/1762 to 5/26/1779)

RI        Newport          Newport Mercury (6/19/1758 to 12/30/1876)

RI        Newport          Rhode-Island Gazette (10/4/1732 to 3/1/1733)

RI        Providence      Providence Gazette (10/20/1762 to 10/8/1825)

VA      Williamsburg   Virginia Gazette (3/18/1736 to 12/30/1780)

Download our printable PDF list of Colonial newspapers for easy access to our historical archives right from your local desktop. Click the newspaper titles to be taken directly to the search landing page for that publication. Just click on the list below to start your download.

Feel free to embed our list of 1700s newspapers on your website or blog using the code below. Simply cut, paste and presto! You can easily share this fantastic collection for early American ancestry research with your visitors.

Got Pilgrim ancestry? Make sure to follow our Pinterest board about Mayflower Genealogy for tips on tracing your Pilgrim ancestry.

Genealogy Humor: 101 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 presents 101 of the funniest, quirkiest, or most touching sayings about genealogy that she’s encountered in her career as a family historian.

One thing I’ve noticed is that family historians have great senses of humor—and often come up with funny genealogy sayings.

So I searched high and low, and came up with my top list of 101 funny genealogy sayings. Most are similar to others that are displayed without attribution, so I’ve taken a few liberties in compiling what I consider the most humorous versions!

a screenshot of GenealogyBank’s “Genealogy Humor” Pinterest board

GenealogyBank’s “Genealogy Humor” Pinterest board

If I’ve omitted any funny genealogy quotes, be sure to add your personal favorites in the comments section so that we can all have a few more chuckles.

Funny Family Tree Sayings

  • If you shake your family tree, watch for the nuts to fall.
  • Some family trees have more sap than others (and mine certainly has more than its fair share).
  • Genealogists never fade away; they just lose their roots.
  • If you don’t tend your roots, the tree may wither away.
  • Family tree research is one giant step backwards and one giant step forward—usually at the same time.

Genealogy saying: "If you shake your family tree, watch for the nuts to fall."

Funny Genealogy Quotes & Definitions

  • Family history is all about recording “his story & her story.”
  • Definition of mythology: genealogy without documentation.
  • Genealogy is all about chasing your own tale.
  • Famous quote that applies (all too often) to questionable genealogy: “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” —Mark Twain
  • “Just the facts, Ma’am.” —(commonly, but incorrectly) attributed to Joe Friday of the TV show Dragnet.
  • “Genealogy: An account of one’s descent from an ancestor who did not particularly care to trace his own.” —Ambrose Bierce
  • Genealogists are time travelers.
  • A great genealogist is a time unraveler.
  • Genealogy: In the end, it’s all relative.
  • A genealogist is someone who knows that all grandparents are great grandparents!
  • Genealogy is sometimes about proving that bad family traits came from the other side of the tree!

Genealogy saying: "Genealogy is all about chasing your own tale."

Funny Sayings about Cousins & Other Relatives

  • Can a first cousin once removed be returned?
  • A cousin a day keeps the boredom away.
  • A great party is when everyone joins in the gene pool.
  • An inlaw is someone who has married into your family; an outlaw is an inlaw who resists letting you do their genealogy!
  • If your family members won’t talk about a particular relative, a seasoned genealogist knows they are keeping mum about something very interesting.
  • Moment of Truth for a genealogist: discovering you are your own cousin.
  • If you don’t know who the family black sheep is, it’s probably you.
Enter Last Name










Humorous Genealogy Quotes for Signs, Bumper Stickers and T-Shirts

  • Do you know where your great grandparents are?
  • After 30 days, unclaimed ancestors will be discarded or claimed by another family.
  • So many ancestors; so little time.
  • I brake for ancestors.
  • I chase dead relatives.
  • I’m ancestrally challenged.
  • Where there is a will, you’ll find a genealogist!
  • Genealogists do it in libraries or in trees.
  • Sign for a genealogist’s home office: Family research zone. Disturb at your peril.
  • I am addicted to genealogy.
  • Who’s your great great granddaddy?
  • I only research genealogy on days that end in “y.”
a screenshot of GenealogyBank’s “Genealogy & Family Quotes” Pinterest board

GenealogyBank’s “Genealogy & Family Quotes” Pinterest board

Good Advice for Genealogists

  • Remember that when a family member passes away, they take a library of memories with them. It’s a genealogist’s duty to record them before that happens.
  • Genealogy is like a magic mirror. Look into it, and pretty soon, interesting faces appear.
  • The kind of ancestors you have is not as important as the kindness of their descendants.
  • If you are the last living link between your grandparents and your grandchildren—don’t break the chain.
  • If you don’t want your descendants to put a twisted spin on your life story, write it yourself!
  • If you’re the family photographer (and not showing up in photos), your family historian descendants will become upset with you.
  • To get your family tree done the fastest, run for political office. Your opponents will have it completed way before the election, and then you can resign if you really didn’t wish to run in the first place.
  • Many genealogists neglect telling their own stories, while in the midst of telling the stories about others. Don’t let that happen to your family.
  • Your children may not thank you, but if you preserve the family genealogy your great great great great descendants will remember you as super-great!
  • If someone’s picture looks like they don’t belong in the family tree, well, maybe they don’t.
  • Some think it’s best to grow a family tree one leaf at a time—but as with the spring, you may find that many buds can be produced at the same time.
  • Don’t take life seriously. Every genealogist knows nobody gets out alive.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, search, search again. That is why we call it re-search.

Genealogy saying: "Genealogy is like a magic mirror. Look into it, and pretty soon, interesting faces appear."

Hilarious Observations about Genealogists

  • Genealogists don’t get Alzheimer’s, they just lose their census.
  • Eventually, all genealogists come to their census.
  • Housework avoidance strategy: Genealogy!
  • There’s a fine line between a packrat and a serious family historian.
  • A home with everything in its place, and a place for everything, means you’re not well suited for genealogy!
  • Can’t find enough ancestors? No problem. Let me adopt you. I’ve got more than enough to share.
  • Does your family coat of arms have too many or too few sleeves?
  • Taking your children to meet family at a reunion is often an effective form of birth control.
  • Genealogical paydirt is discovering the ancestor who was the family packrat!
  • Heredity might be better spelled as heir-edity.
  • I can’t find my ancestors, so they must have been in a witness protection program!
  • Motivated genealogists scan once—and then share across the Internet!
  • A genealogist’s bad heir day is when you can’t find what you are looking for.
  • A genealogist’s filing system usually incorporates the floor.

Genealogy saying: "There's a fine line between a packrat and a serious family historian."

Oxymorons, Enigmas & Theories about Genealogy

  • Oxymoron: “I love history, but I dislike genealogy.” Don’t you want to tell these people that genealogy is family history?
  • Genealogical enigma: How so many published trees record people who died before they were born.
  • Genealogy theorem: There is a 100% chance that those elusive ancestors weren’t interested in genealogy.
  • Genealogy theorem: The odds that you are related to yourself are probably not less than 100%.
  • Theory of relativity: If you go back far enough, we’re all related.
  • Murphy’s Law of Genealogy: Your ancestor’s maiden name will be recorded on the one record page that is missing.
Enter Last Name










Funny Cemetery Quotes

  • A genealogist is a person who leaves no stone unearthed.
  • A cemetery is a marble garden not to be taken for granite.
  • Selecting a tombstone is usually a monumental task.
  • Go ahead and honk your horn in the cemetery. It’s not possible to wake the dead.
  • A cemetery is where “down under” takes on an entirely new meaning.
a screenshot of GenealogyBank’s “Our Ancestors Said...” Pinterest board

GenealogyBank’s “Our Ancestors Said…” Pinterest board

You Know You’re a Genealogist if…

  • You know you’re a genealogist if the top item on your Christmas list is a genealogy subscription!
  • You know you’re a genealogist if your email contact list contains more distant cousins than immediate family.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you’ve ever tried to inspire the next generation by whispering in a newborn’s ear, “Genealogy is fun.”
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you evaluate the surnames of acquaintances (along with complete strangers) to see how they might be related.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you know all the maiden names of all your female friends—and if you don’t, you surreptitiously try to discover them.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you secretly celebrate a forebear’s birthday.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if the highlight of your last trip was a cemetery visit.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if no family member is ever treated as a black sheep (everyone is welcome).
  • You know you’re a genealogist when you realize your collection of DNA results is more important than your nick knacks.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you immediately understand these abbreviations: BC, DC, MC and VR.
  • Answer the first associated words that come to mind: Ellis, family and vital. If you answered Island, history and record, you know you’ve become a genealogist.
  • You might be a genealogist if you think family history is an ancestral game of hide and seek.
  • You might be a genealogist if dead people are more interesting to you than the living.
  • You might be a genealogist if you love living in the past lane.
  • You might be a genealogist if the phrase “relatively speaking” holds a truly unique meaning.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if a scanner and archival storage containers are more exciting gifts than jewelry (female) or football tickets (male).
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you know what inst. and ult. stand for.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you’ve ever repurposed your dining room table, and panic at anyone going near it.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if your vacation bucket list includes Fort Wayne, Salt Lake City, and Washington, D.C. (hopefully all in the same year).
  • You know your friend is not a genealogist if he/she doesn’t understand why these are top vacation destinations.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if there is a courthouse programmed into your GPS.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you’ve ever had your photo taken in front of a tombstone and you were actually smiling!
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you know more about the past than the present.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you know what a GEDCOM and an ahnentafel are.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you have no problem substituting your great great grandmother’s maiden name for your mother’s (in answer to a security question).
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you can name the county for most major cities in the United States! Admit it—many of you can assign these cities to their correct county: Atlanta, Cleveland, Newark, Houston, San Francisco…
  • If you think your family is normal, you probably aren’t a genealogist!
  • You know you’re hopelessly hooked on genealogy if you say “Honey, I’ll just be a few minutes on the computer,” and then find yourself awestruck by the sunrise.

Genealogy saying: "If you think your family is normal, you probably aren't a genealogist!"

I’d like to leave you with my favorite saying: “Genealogy isn’t just a pastime; it’s a passion!”

GenealogyBank’s Pinterest Boards

If you’d like to laugh a little and enjoy more genealogy sayings and quotes, be sure to visit these Pinterest boards.

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GenealogyBank Update: 13 Million Newspaper Articles Just Added!

Every day, GenealogyBank is working diligently to digitize more U.S. newspapers and obituaries, expanding our online archives to give you the largest newspaper archives for family history research available on the web. We just completed adding 13 million more newspaper articles to the archives, vastly increasing our coverage of life in America from coast to coast!

GenealogyBank's search box

Here are the details about our most recent U.S. newspaper additions:

  • A total of 29 newspaper titles from 17 U.S. states
  • 7 of these titles are newspapers added to GenealogyBank for the first time
  • Newspaper titles marked with an asterisk (*) are brand new to our online archives
  • We’ve shown the newspaper issue date ranges so that you can determine if the newly added content is relevant to your personal genealogy research

To see our newspaper archives’ complete title lists, click here.

State City Title Start Date End Date
CA Fresno Fresno Morning Republican 12/14/1890 12/31/1893
CA San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram 6/1/1907 9/30/1914
FL Miami Nuevo Herald 3/29/1976 12/31/1982
GA Columbus Columbus Daily Enquirer 1/1/1923 2/24/1926
GA Macon Macon Telegraph 3/12/1923 11/5/1925
GA Marietta Marietta Journal 11/27/1945 11/27/1945
ID Boise Idaho Statesman 1/1/1923 2/15/1925
IL Springfield Daily Illinois State Journal 1/4/1923 7/30/1947
IN Martinsville Reporter-Times, The* 02/02/2013 Current
IN Mooresville Mooresville-Decatur Times, The* 02/02/2013 Current
KS El Dorado Butler County Times-Gazette, The* 11/05/2013 Current
KY Lexington Lexington Herald 1/1/1923 10/31/1924
LA Baton Rouge Advocate 12/1/1985 12/31/1985
LA Baton Rouge State Times Advocate 11/2/1987 10/2/1991
MA Boston Boston Herald 12/2/1951 4/15/1992
MS Biloxi Daily Herald 1/1/1926 3/31/1928
NY New York Jewish Messenger 01/02/1857 12/26/1868
NY New York New Yorker Volkszeitung 04/01/1913 04/30/1923
NY Watertown Watertown Daily Times 7/14/1880 7/27/1921
NC Charlotte Charlotte Observer 1/1/1923 10/31/1924
NC Greensboro Greensboro Daily News 7/17/1921 2/29/1968
OH Columbus Lantern, The: Ohio State University* 08/03/1998 Current
OH Sidney Sidney Daily News, The* 09/15/2013 Current
PA Clarks Summit Abington Journal, The* 10/15/2013 Current
PA Dallas Dallas Post, The* 10/05/2013 Current
PA Erie Erie Tageblatt 05/05/1913 06/05/1916
VA Richmond Richmond Times Dispatch 4/11/1971 7/15/1983
WA Bellingham Bellingham Herald 1/1/1923 12/31/1925
WA Olympia Morning Olympian 9/7/1924 11/15/1924

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: Brief Genealogy & Family Tree Download

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post—in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day—Scott searches old newspapers to find out more about Dr. King’s family history—and includes a free MLK family tree download.

The year was 1968. If you lived it, you know it was a year quite like no other in U.S. history. Certain words and images are indelibly seared into our memories from 1968: Vietnam, Tet Offensive, anti-war riots, Robert F. Kennedy, Apollo, Nixon, “Prague Spring,” and Martin Luther King Jr. to name a few.

It was on 4 April 1968 that our world lost the legendary civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to an assassin’s bullet, as reported in this 1968 Louisiana newspaper.

Dr. King Fatally Shot by Assassin in Memphis, Times-Picayune newspaper article 5 April 1968

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 5 April 1968, page 1

The world was in shock and sadness over the assassination of MLK, and our entire nation was on edge.  As a country, we tried to come to grips with the murder of one of our most stalwart proponents of peaceful humanitarian change.

Since today is the national celebration of Dr. King’s life, as well as the 46th anniversary of his untimely death, I thought I would search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to see what I could learn about the genealogy and family history of this truly great American.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Father, the Reverend King Sr.

The first thing we need to recall is that while newspapers often referred to him as Dr. King, his full name was Martin Luther King Jr. His father was Rev. Martin Luther King Sr.

Rev. King Sr. outlived his son, dying in Atlanta of heart disease in 1984, as reported in this Texas newspaper. This obituary gives us more information about the family of Rev. King Sr., commenting that “his life was stained by repeated tragedy.” He not only lost his son, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1968 assassination, but his only other son, Rev. A. D. King, accidentally drowned in 1969, and his wife, Alberta Williams King, was killed by gunfire while playing the organ during a church service in 1974.

Rev. King Sr., 84, Dies of Heart Disease, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 12 November 1984

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 12 November 1984, page 1A

Rev. King Sr.’s faith and commitment is shown in the last two paragraphs of this obituary:

“But in his last years, King refused to speak with bitterness about his family’s losses. Nor did he swerve from his commitment to non-violence and his faith in the ultimate designs of a loving God.

“‘I do not hate the man who took the life of my dead son,’ he said at a bicentennial ceremony in Dallas in 1976. ‘I am not going to hate the young man who came and killed my wife. I am every man’s brother. I’m going on with my job.’”

The murder of Alberta King, wife of Rev. King Sr. and mother of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was reported in this 1974 Massachusetts newspaper.

Martin Luther King's Mother Slain in Church, Boston Herald newspaper article 1 July 1974

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 1 July 1974, page 1

MLK’s Personal “Preacher’s Kid” Story & Family Photo

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was part of a group called “preacher’s kids,” as shown in this 2006 Illinois newspaper article. This old newspaper article not only provides a view of what it is like to grow up as a “PK” or preacher’s kid, but also provides us with a photo of the King family in 1963, as well as a very nice biography of Dr. King which lists his wife, Coretta Scott, and his four children, Yolanda, Martin Luther III, Dexter, and Bernice.

Preacher's Kids; Martin Luther King Is Part of a Proud--and often Misunderstood--Group, Register Star newspaper article 14 January 2006

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 14 January 2006, page 9

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Daughter, the Reverend Bernice King

I then discovered an intriguing article from a 1991 South Dakota newspaper about Dr. King’s daughter Bernice. She is the only one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s four children to become a minister. The old newspaper article proclaims: “Bernice King is seeking her own mission and her own identity.” As with so many of our own families, it seems the passion for a profession followed through the branches and roots of the King family with Rev. Bernice King, who is currently the chief executive officer of The King Center.

[Bernice King] Going Her Own Way, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 20 January 1991

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 20 January 1991, page 35

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Grandfather, the Reverend A. D. Williams

It was also interesting for me to note, when I looked up Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s grave on Findagrave.com, that his maternal grandfather, A. D. Williams, was also a Reverend.

Honoring the Memory of MLK

Dr. King’s legacy was recognized and respected by the signing of the bill establishing a national holiday in his honor by then-President Ronald Reagan, as reported in this 1983 Washington newspaper article.

Reagan Signs Bill Setting King Holiday, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 2 November 1983

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 2 November 1983, page 1

His legacy was further elevated by the establishment of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C., on 28 August 2011.

a photo of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial

Photo: Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. Credit: U.S. National Park Service.

It was an article I found in a 1971 Alabama newspaper that really made me nostalgic. This article is all about songwriter Dick Holler and it reports: “Holler considers ‘Abraham, Martin and John’ his best song to date.” It goes on to say: “He said it only took about 10 minutes to write the song and that he had no idea it would be such a tremendous success.”

Former Mobilian [Dick Holler] Has Musical Success, Mobile Register newspaper article 30 December 1971

Mobile Register (Mobile, Alabama), 30 December 1971, page 30

While all of the memorials and tributes to Dr. King are wonderful, it is Dick Holler’s that I always carry close in my heart!

“Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked around and he’s gone.”
—Dick Holler

Take some time during today’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day commemoration to reflect upon this great civil rights leader and his legacy of faith, love, hope, and non-violence.

A Free Martin Luther King Jr. Family Tree Download

Start your own genealogy investigation into his life with this free Martin Luther King Jr. family tree template download that contains the names, DOB, and DOD (if applicable) of his parents, grandparents and great grandparents.

Martin Luther King Jr. Family Tree

Martin Luther King Jr. Family Tree 4 Generations

Feel free to share this family tree on your own website or blog using the embed code below.

MLK Genealogy Challenge

See if you can find out more about Martin Luther King Jr.’s ancestry dating back into the 1800s, and fill in some of the unknowns in his family tree. Our African American newspaper archives is a great place to start. Please be sure to share your MLK family history finds with us in the comments!

Related Posts:

Finding Dr. King’s Roots in Slavery

How do I find articles on Blacks in GenealogyBank?

Find Your Ethnic Ancestors with Historical Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena provides some search tips and advice to help you research your ethnic ancestors.

Are you searching for your ethnic ancestors and not having much luck finding information about them? Historical newspapers are a great resource for this type of family history research because they are the great equalizer. Whether for good or bad, depending on the time period, your ancestor could have been mentioned in the newspaper.

But, finding an ethnic ancestor isn’t as easy as conducting a singular search and then you’re done hunting your heritage. No, sometimes tracing your ethnic roots takes a little more than entering a name in a search engine. Consider the following tips to enhance your ethnic ancestry research.

GenealogyBank's search page for its African American newspapers collection

Search in Ethnic Newspaper Collections

Often when we are doing newspaper research we focus on a specific newspaper that we know existed in the city where an ancestor lived. But the reality is that there could have been multiple newspapers that reported on an area. In the city where I live, there are at least three major newspapers reporting on our area—and that’s not counting the numerous community and ethnic newspapers that also report our local news.

Ethnic communities often had their own newspapers, making them a valuable resource to trace your immigrant ancestry. Because of possible immigrant and racial prejudices, you may have a better chance of finding news about an ethnic ancestor in an ethnic newspaper than a generic area newspaper. For this reason, make sure that you don’t limit your search to just one newspaper. For each place your ethnic ancestors lived in the United States, look to see what ethnic newspapers existed for that time period.

a graphic promoting GenealogyBank's French-language newspaper collection

GenealogyBank houses various special ethnic newspaper collections and foreign language newspapers:

GenealogyBank houses various special ethnic newspaper collections and foreign language newspapers:

a list of GenealogyBank's German American newspapers

Because GenealogyBank is constantly adding to its online collections, it’s important to check back often with the GenealogyBank Blog or the Newsletter Archives section of the website’s Learning Center. Click here to search GenealogyBank’s complete newspaper title list.

How to Search for Your Ancestor

How do you search for an ancestor? The first obvious way is to search by your ancestor’s name. As you do this search, don’t forget all the possible combinations and misspellings of your ancestor’s name. Obviously if their name is terribly misspelled you could miss articles that document their lives. Keep a list of variations of their name and try each and every one. This list should be an active document that you add to as you find new “interesting” way to spell your ancestor’s name. Also, try searching on your ancestor’s name using wildcard characters such as an asterisk. See our other post about ancestor name research for additional tips.

a graphic promoting GenealogyBank's Hispanic American newspapers collection

In addition to their name, what other ways can you search for an ancestor? Instead of searching on an ancestor’s name only, combine your name search with various keywords and keyword phrases with dates. (A keyword or keyword phrase may be something like “railroad,” “St. Mary’s Catholic Church” or “Victoria Middle School.”)

In fact, on GenealogyBank’s search page you do not have to search with an ancestor’s name at all. You could focus your ancestor search on just keywords and dates. You can even exclude certain keywords from your ancestor search in order to narrow down your results.

GenealogyBank's search page for itsHistorical Newspapers collection

Think about alternative ways to search for an ancestor, like the name of an event, the name of the school or church they attended, or the name of their occupation. Even searching the names of their associates might help to uncover articles where they are mentioned. Make a timeline of the events they participated in and consider using some of those events as keywords for your search.

Get to Know the Newspaper

Probably one step we all tend to skip in our genealogy research is learning more about the resources we use. By learning more about that resource, you can better learn how to search it.

How do you get to know a particular newspaper? Take some time to read it, page by page, during the time period your ancestor lived in that area. What columns existed? In what sections are community members mentioned? What community groups are regularly discussed? Can you find specific news articles on certain days? What pages feature the obituaries and vital records announcements?

Reading and understanding the whole newspaper, not merely searching it out of context, can provide you not only with important information to help you search for your ancestor—it can also give you important social history information. Mentions of events or activities that went on while your ancestor was alive might give you some ideas for additional documents to research. Social history information can also be integrated into your family history narrative as you tell the story of your ancestor’s life.

search page for GenealogyBank's Irish American newspapers collection

Don’t Give Up

Ancestry research isn’t always as easy as simply entering a name and pushing the search button on the largest newspaper where your ancestor lived. Sometimes you’ll need to think in terms of your ancestor’s community and the times they lived in, to help you narrow down possible events and activities they took part in. Keeping a list of all possible variations of a name, and adding to that list, can help you not miss important articles. If you’re searching for an ethnic ancestor, see what ethnic newspapers were published for the time and area where your ancestor lived, and search those papers thoroughly.

a list of GenealogyBank's Jewish American newspapers collection

One of my favorite sayings is: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” I firmly believe this is true for genealogy research. Because we can’t know everything that may exist for an ancestor, be open to incorporating differing search strategies, enhance your family history research by studying your ancestor’s community, and search ethnic newspapers—and you will be closer to finding the information you need.

Related Ethnic Blog Articles

Guide to Ancestor Middle Name Research for Genealogy

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 a guide to understanding your ancestors’ middle names, and how to use middle names in your family history research.

As a genealogy consultant, I often get questions about the significance of middle names. This article will cover many of the common reasons behind middle names, and discuss their usefulness when doing family history research. (Since I am discussing the middle names of ancestors, I have used the past tense in this article—but the information can apply to the present day as well.)

Middle names can offer significant and important clues about your ancestors. Or not. Let’s cover the cautions first.

Things to Remember When Researching Middle Names

The first thing to keep in mind is that not everyone had a middle name. Nor does every middle initial have a name associated with it. Harry S. Truman is a well-known example of this; the “S” did not stand for a middle name. Sometimes this was done to distinguish family members with common names, such as George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. George H. W. Bush brings up another point: it is possible for someone to have multiple middle names. A friend of mine has seven!

a photo of U.S. President Harry S. Truman

Photo: U.S. President Harry S. Truman. Credit: Wikipedia.

Is It a Middle Name or First Name?

Some names that appear to be middle names are actually part of the first name. In my own family and circle of friends the following double first names appear: Rose Marie, Mary Beth, Alice Ann, Mary Jo, Terry Kay, and Mary Ann. While these are more common among females, there are similar male names. Conversely, some of what appear to be middle names may actually be part of the last name. This is common in Latino names or some European names like Van Wagonen or Mac Graw.

Some middle names were used like a first name. A person named John David Smith may have never been addressed as John at all. He may have used the name J. David Smith or just David Smith or even David J. Smith. Sometimes this is done when the first name is also the parent’s or a relative’s first name. For example, the world knows this famous British author as Rudyard Kipling—but his full name was Joseph Rudyard Kipling.

a photo of British author Rudyard Kipling

Photo: British author Rudyard Kipling. Credit: Wikipedia.

In the U.S. South, the first and middle name could be switched back and forth making it unclear which name was originally intended for which purpose. It was also not uncommon for several siblings in a family to have the same middle name or, less commonly, the same first name with different middle names.

How Middle Names Are Chosen

It’s also possible that middle names may have no significance at all. In some cases, the parents just picked them because they liked the name and/or it sounded good with the first name. Middle names may have been influenced by the culture at the time. During the 1970s and 80s many girls were given the middle name of Marie or Ann simply because they were popular. Parents may have liked an uncommon name but didn’t want to give it as a first name, so they chose it as a middle name. These could include common words being used as middle names, nature-inspired themes, virtues, and so on.

The middle name may be a common name used among the family. My own middle name is the same as my mother’s. One of my brothers carries the middle name of our father and grandfather. But neither name has any real significance. Incidentally, neither my brother nor I liked the middle names we were given, and the tradition with those particular names ended with us. As in my family, the name may be another family member’s first name. Both of my sons have middle names that are also the first name of an ancestor or living relative. It is not uncommon for a son to have for a middle name his father’s or grandfather’s first name. This can also happen with daughters although not as commonly.

Is It a Middle Name or Last Name?

Sometimes the ancestor’s middle name appears to be a surname. This can happen for males or females. A surname used as a middle name may come from the mother’s maiden name. This is yet another reason why it is important to conduct research on everyone in a family and not just your direct line. However, don’t assume the unusual middle name is the mother’s maiden name as there are other reasons why this could occur. When you find a surname used this way, do some research on others in the area with that last name. You may discover that the parents just used the name because they liked it. Or you may discover a hidden secret. The following are three middle name examples I have found in my own genealogy research.

Middle Name Research Case #1

My great grandmother’s middle name was Bell. Initially, I believed this was a misspelling of the name Belle, which means beautiful. But then I discovered her father also had the middle name Bell, as did several other relatives. I have found many Bell families living near them as well. I now suspect that the name was “borrowed” from the Bell family, but at this point I have not yet found a clear connection. They may have just been friends or there may be another reason.

Middle Name Research Case #2

On another line of the family I found the middle name Bowles. Searching the neighborhood I found a prominent man named William A. Bowles. William was also the given name of my ancestor. It is possible that my 4th Great Grandparents named their son William Bowles after this man. So I did a little digging into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for more information on this man. I have to admit, I didn’t like what I found.

William A. Bowles became somewhat famous. He moved into the Indiana area in 1830, just two years before my ancestor bearing his name was born. William A. Bowles was a Mexican-American War colonel, newspaper editor, and prominent community leader. This William Bowles may have been a founder of the Order of the Sons of Liberty, a great-sounding name for what in reality was an abhorrent group of the Knights of the Golden Circle—a secret society in favor of slavery and against the Union. The hope of gathering Bowles and his followers to the Southern cause was one of the reasons Confederate General John Hunt Morgan marched his troops into Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio during the summer of 1863, a Civil War expedition known as “Morgan’s Raid.”

I had initially held some hope that my grandparents named their son after this man, but that was prior to my research revealing the extent of his pro-slavery beliefs. However, their son proudly used his middle name Bowles as his first name in the census returns following the Civil War. While I can’t prove the motivation for using this name, I can guess at the political leaning of my ancestor and am disturbed by it. While I am disgusted by their probable pro-slavery, anti-Union beliefs, I now know more about them than I did before investigating William A. Bowles.

obituary for William A. Bowles, Elkhart Weekly Review newspaper article 10 April 1873

Elkhart Weekly Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 10 April 1873, page 4

Middle Name Research Case #3

Sometimes babies were named after prominent political or community leaders to attract support from them. A poor family of several multiple births (twins, triplets, etc.) named two of their sons after political leaders. This was obvious in the name of one boy: Theodore Roosevelt Spyhalski. The plan to curry President Roosevelt’s favor was answered when he, a fan of large families, sent the parents a signed self-portrait as a congratulatory letter. The second son’s name was less obvious: Samuel Jones Spyhalski. However, a quick search in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives shows that Samuel Jones was the mayor of Toledo, where the family was living. The plan worked very well when Mayor Jones offered a job to the struggling father and tried to help the family as much as possible.

So keep in mind that searching on an ancestor’s middle name may—in some cases—prove very helpful to your genealogy research, turning up family history information you might not have found otherwise, and sometimes leading you to additional, unexpected searches.

Do you have any genealogy stories or tips about researching ancestor middle names? If so, please share them in the comments.

List of 86 Online Boston Newspapers to Trace Your Family Roots

Founded by Puritan colonists in 1630, Boston has played a leading role throughout the history of the United States. The capital of Massachusetts and the largest city in New England, Boston was an integral part of the American Revolution—including such important events as the Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, Siege of Boston and the Battle of Bunker Hill.

the painting “The Destruction of the Tea at Boston Harbor” by Nathaniel Currier

Illustration: “The Destruction of the Tea at Boston Harbor” by Nathaniel Currier. Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Are you researching your family history from Boston? GenealogyBank’s online Boston newspaper archives contain 86 titles to help you research your ancestry in “Beantown,” providing coverage dating back to the Colonial Period, all the way to Today.

a photo of the official city seal of Boston, Massachusetts

Illustration: official city seal of Boston, Massachusetts. Credit: Wikipedia.

Dig in and search for obituaries, birth announcements, marriage notices and other interesting news articles about your Bostonian ancestors in these historical and recent Boston newspapers online:

Search Boston Newspaper Archives (1690-1992)

Search Boston Recent Obituaries (1997-Today)

The following complete list of our online Boston newspapers is divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries. Each newspaper title in this list is an active link that will take you directly to that paper’s search page, where you can begin searching for your ancestors by surnames, dates, keywords and more.

Discover a variety of genealogy records and news stories from Colonial and Revolutionary times that are exclusive to our extensive collection in these 81 Boston historical newspapers:

Search recent obituary records for your recently deceased relatives in these 5 Boston newspapers:

Click on the graphic below to download a PDF version of the list of our Boston Newspapers, for easy access to our online collection right from your desktop.

a graphic promoting GenealogyBank's online collection of Boston newspapers

It’s OK to Plant Trees in Winter—Family Trees, That Is

Let’s make 2014 the Year of the Tree: family trees.

I encourage you to plant new family trees every month in this New Year.

photo of a frozen tree

Credit: Wikipedia

Like you, growing my family tree and documenting each person in it keeps me busy. More and more information is constantly going online for us to search and add to our family histories. For example, every week GenealogyBank adds millions of additional records including obituaries, birth notices, marriage announcements and other useful articles.

My family tree easily has over 20,000 different names. As I find obituaries for others with the same surnames I am working on, it is interesting for me to see if that person is related to my family.

In a typical day, I’ll pick an obituary for any random “Kemp” or “Varney” and trace back that person’s lineage, chaining through obituaries, marriage and engagement announcements, and the census records to see if they hook into my family tree.

I take that information and plant it on several of the online family tree sites, putting all of my research notes and links online. This makes it easy for me to navigate my sprouting forest of family trees so that I can quickly refer back to them.

In time I can see if any name on these growing sprouts is related to me or not. Having all of the information online also allows other researchers on the same family lines to collaborate by adding to and documenting these lines with sources and photographs. It is essential that we put everything we can online. I limit this to only the deceased members of my family tree, and do not put information about my living relatives online in order to protect their privacy.

Perhaps a certain “Kemp” I found is a relative or not. As I chain back in time the number of individuals and surnames double and double again and again. While this person might not be related to me at first glance, by looking deeper I might find that this person is a cousin through another side of the family tree.

This is especially true in smaller geographic areas. For example, I have found that today I am related to almost everyone that lived in pre-1820 eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire. While they were not all related at that time, adding in the generations over the past 200 years has multiplied the odds that there is now a direct relationship to all of them today on my family tree.

By taking the time to organize, document and sprout mini-family trees online, I increase the odds of my linking up all of my extended family members over time.

Play it forward and plant more family trees online throughout the year. It will benefit you and all of your genealogy colleagues.

Make 2014 the Year of the Tree.

Did Your Ancestor Live to 100? Centenarians in the Newspaper

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about ancestors who lived to be 100—and how newspaper articles about them can help your family history research.

How old was your oldest ancestor? A 2011 Huffington Post article reported that the “Number of Centenarians Is Booming in U.S.” It went on to comment that the number of people who celebrate a triple digit birthday has doubled in the last 20 years and today numbers approximately 72,000 people. It is predicted that in the future the number of centenarians will likely at least double again.*

It’s no wonder that the number of people reaching 100 years of age is increasing; decreases in infant mortality, combined with better medical and preventative health care, have enhanced life expectancy. While there’s a greater chance of someone today knowing or being related to a centenarian, in an earlier time—lacking these modern improvements—living to be 100 years of age would have been something short of a miracle.

When one of our ancestors did reach the age of 100 it was a newsworthy event, most likely reported in the local newspaper. Searching through an online newspaper collection like GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives is a good way to find these centenarian articles—and they can be very helpful with your family history research.

Newspaper articles reporting these birthday milestones largely concentrated on the birthday celebration, often interviewing the honoree about historical events witnessed and their recommendations for longevity. Along with being interesting news stories, the added benefit to these articles is that they often include genealogically relevant information—including the date and place where the centenarian was born, their parents’ names, and other family information.

100 Years of History

One of the benefits of living a long life is the history that you witness. I like this article about Jabez Chapman, whose life was written up during his 99th year in 1895. This interview has him reminiscing about the War of 1812, the death of President George Washington, and his interactions with James Fenimore Cooper, the author of the classic novel Last of the Mohicans.

Near the 100 Mark: Jabez Chapman Ninety-nine Years Old, Idaho Register newspaper article 20 December 1895

Idaho Register (Idaho Falls, Idaho), 20 December 1895, page 3

If you want to know more about Chapman’s life, check out the timeline following him through federal and state censuses in the blog post titled Point of View: State Censuses Fill the Gaps, by Jean Chapman Snow. So you may be wondering: did Chapman make it to his 100th birthday? After finding his death certificate, Snow confirms that Jabez Chapman died at 100 years, 3 months and 16 days.

The Oldest Living Spinster

While some newspaper articles about those who are 100+ center around what history they’ve lived through or what famous people they met, in some cases it’s what the centenarians can still accomplish that is the biggest news. Consider this article from a 1905 Nebraska newspaper about Miss Eliza Williams. The article points out that she is in such good shape for her age that she is the first person up in the household and is able to dress herself. Once ready for the day she reads a hymn and a chapter from the Bible. The article gives the impression that she would do much more including sewing (which she gave up at 98 years of age), but her family persuaded her to “save her strength.”

Oldest Old Maid [Eliza Williams]: She Is Over 100 Years Old and Not Ashamed of It, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 23 August 1905

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 23 August 1905, page 7

Of course no discussion of those who have reached such a momentous milestone would be complete without getting some advice about what the centenarian’s secret is. Miss Eliza Williams replies to this question: “obedience to her parents, and not meddling with other people’s business when it could do her no good.”

What’s a Birthday without a Stiff Drink?

The great thing about being older is the ability to say what you want and not worry what people will think. That’s also what makes reading these articles about 100th birthdays so much fun. Consider this short but sweet newspaper article, including a photo, of the birthday “boy” John H. Whitmore, a former prison warden. Unfortunately, due to prohibition, he didn’t get the alcoholic beverage he would have preferred to celebrate with—but instead tried his first ice cream soda. Judging from his comments, ice cream sodas are not the preferred beverage of 100-year-old men.

First Soda on 100th Birthday, Miami District Daily News newspaper article 12 August 1919

Miami District Daily News (Miami, Oklahoma), 12 August 1919, page 5

Check Your Family Tree

Do you have someone in your family tree that lived to be 100 years old? It wasn’t too long ago that such a feat was rewarded with recognition in the newspaper. Just as we should research newspapers for milestone celebrations such as a 50th wedding anniversary, don’t forget to search for mentions of an ancestor who lived a long life or celebrated a milestone birthday.

Be sure to read our related Blog article: Find the Oldest People to Ever Live, as Reported in Newspapers and please share the names and ages of your centenarian ancestors in the comments.

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* Number of Centenarians Is Booming in U.S. by Matt Sedensky. April 26, 2011. Accessed 29 December 2013.