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.

How to Use My 5 FETCH Goals for Newspaper Genealogy Research

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott explains how he uses the acronym “FETCH” to remind him of his five goals when using historical newspapers for his family history research.

The beginning of a New Year is always such a grand time! Everyone is celebrating all that we accomplished in the year gone by, planning and resolving for the coming year, and looking at that clean slate of a whole year that stretches before us.

You can even see this feeling come through in an article published way back in 1791 in this Massachusetts newspaper, with its rousing opening sentence: “To our country, brilliant hath been the year that is just expired.”

And the centuries-old newspaper article ends with this wish: “Events have verified the fondest predictions of the friends of the General Government—and whilst we most cordially congratulate our countrymen on them—we devoutly wish that in the Year, this day commencing, they may experience a consummation of similar and more extensive BLESSINGS!”

New Year's Day, Columbian Centinel newspaper article 1 January 1791

Columbian Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 1 January 1791, page 126

The beginning of a New Year is also a perfect time to do some planning for your genealogy, ancestry, and family history. This was brought to my mind recently when someone asked me: “Scott, I see you using historical newspapers in your genealogy all the time. What are your goals when you do this?”

It wasn’t a hard question to answer since on the corner of one of my computer monitors I have a little piece of paper with the word FETCH typed on it as follows:

  • Focus on the 5 Ws
  • Expand out
  • Take your time
  • Capture all your leads
  • Have fun!

FETCH serves as a daily reminder to keep my top 5 goals in mind when I use newspapers in my genealogy research.

I use this acronym because every morning during my school years my father would begin his day by kindly asking: “Hey Scott, would you please fetch me the newspaper?” Years later I taught our wonderful Labrador retriever, Cinder, to fetch the newspaper. Now I am old-school and still enjoy the feeling of newsprint and ink in my hands, and like getting my printed newspaper at the end of my driveway each morning. So FETCH works perfectly for me!

Dick and Jane comic strip, Springfield Union newspaper 15 July 1984

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 15 July 1984, page 55

Let me expand a bit on how FETCH reminds me of my 5 research goals.

Focus on the 5 Ws: The five Ws of journalism are: who, what, where, when and why. Read my earlier blog article Newspapers: A Brief History, the 5 Ws & Why I LOVE Them to learn more about the importance of the 5 Ws in newspaper reporting, and why that rule is a Godsend to our genealogy work.

While there have been attempts to change the 5 Ws, as you can see in this 1946 article from an Illinois newspaper, they have stood the test of time and we as genealogy fans benefit from Who, What, Where, When, and Why every time we open a newspaper article for our family history research!

MacDougall Spreads Theory [about Journalism's 5 Ws], Daily Northwestern newspaper article 16 January 1946

Daily Northwestern (Evanston, Illinois), 16 January 1946, page 3

Expand out:Another one of the benefits of using newspapers in your genealogy work is the fact that by nature newspaperwomen and men are inquisitive, so the “E” reminds me to expand out from what or whom I was originally looking for in that article since it’s quite likely more material was included than I was expecting.

Take your time: Like the sports figures in this 1916 Ripley’s cartoon, I always do my best to take my time when I login to GenealogyBank. There is simply so much to learn and take in from adjoining articles, etc., that the time spent in old newspapers for your genealogy is never, ever wasted!

Ripley cartoon about Father Time, Idaho Statesman newspaper 31 December 1916

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 31 December 1916, Section: second, page 4

Capture all your leads: Again, the inquisitive nature of newspaper reporters can pay genealogists huge dividends since reporters often provide us with all kinds of family history information in their articles. Names, ages, family, friends, addresses, maiden names, and historical tidbits abound in old newspapers, and are there for the taking to help us move through our work!

Have fun: Being a genealogical historian, I love historical newspapers for all they have to offer in my genealogy. By taking some time for fun I learn more too! Looking at old advertisements, reading the news of the times of our ancestors, and becoming more accustomed to how language and words were used in days gone by can reap huge rewards in all aspects of our family history and genealogy. Plus it is impossible to pass up the chance to read some of the old comics such as Pogo, Mandrake the Magician, Little Orphan Annie, Bringing Up Father, and so many others, like those I recently found in this 1930 Georgia newspaper.

comic strips, Augusta Chronicle newspaper 1 January 1930

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 1 January 1930, page 7

So as you work on your genealogy remember first to FETCH your GenealogyBank.com newspapers. Then delve into the family history treasures that you will be sure to discover and enjoy!

3 Genealogy Goals for 2014: Tasks & Tips for a Great New Year

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena describes three goals to get your 2014 genealogy research off to a great start: document your home sources, share your research, and update your family history information.

Wow! 2013 seemed to fly by and now it’s already 2014. What genealogy goals did you accomplish last year? What are your research resolutions for this year? While you may still not get that 500-page family history tome written, or trace your family tree back to 1500, there are some smaller tasks you can accomplish in a reasonable amount of time in the upcoming New Year. No need to feel dread when you think of all you want to do. There are still little things that will help you accomplish your overall genealogy goals.

To get you started, here are three ideas for reasonable genealogy tasks in 2014.

Document Your Home Sources

Home sources are the things that make up one of the first steps in putting together a family history. By definition a home source is simply any item with genealogical value that is housed in your home (though it could also be a close family member’s home for our purposes). I know, you’re probably thinking you don’t have any home sources. Even if this is so, expand your idea of a home source by considering items that will one day tell your descendants about their ancestors (you!). Also, include in your definition of a home source anything you have gathered through your own research such as photos, document copies, and books.

photo of various home sources of genealogy information: old photos and letters

Credit: from the author’s collection.

One day you won’t be around to convey the importance of these home sources to your family. So plan now to document these items. How can you do that? Digitize these items using a scanner or a camera, then write a description and history of the item. Let family members know the provenance (if any), stories behind the item, and care instructions. Take this information and put together a scrapbook or upload the information to a cloud storage website, and share it with family members.

In some cases it can be difficult to find the information we need to document an inherited item. A good case in point is those closely-cropped newspaper clippings that get passed down. Typically there is no information about the name of the newspaper or the date the article appeared. Take keyword phrases from those newspaper articles and use them to search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Once you locate the name of the newspaper and date, make sure to include that information when you digitize that clipping. Remember that some items, like newspaper clippings, degrade over time—so it’s important to preserve them now by scanning or photographing them.

photo of an old newspaper clipping

Credit: from the author’s collection.

Physical items, whether they are a prized heirloom, vintage family photos or newspaper clippings, help interest non-genealogists in their family story. Consider taking some time this year to preserve, document, and share them.

Start Sharing

Have you shared your family history research? What about those photos you scanned at your aunt’s home? Did you show everyone those cemetery photographs so that they can learn more about where their great-grandparents are buried?

Sharing your family history today is a lot different than in years past. Today, with the assistance of social media websites, cloud computing, and family tree websites, we can share all types of images with family far and wide.

Need ideas of where to share your family history information? How about using a social network website like Pinterest to upload family photographs? You can create virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest for cemetery photos, a specific family line, or photos of heirlooms. Invite family members to pin to these boards so that they can share what they know about the family. Need help learning more about Pinterest? See my GenealogyBank blog article 3 Steps to Using Pinterest for Your Family History.

screenshot of some of GenealogyBank's boards on Pinterest

Consider uploading documents and images to an online cloud storage website like Dropbox, Sugar Sync, Google Drive, or Microsoft’s SkyDrive. Share these private folders with family members. Once shared, they can then download what you have uploaded.

Don’t want to use social media or maybe you’re leery of uploading your family tree? Privacy, time, and effort are all considerations in online sharing of family information. Even if you don’t want to use online resources for sharing your family tree, don’t forget to make copies of documents, images and family history narratives that you have written. However you decide to share, remember that getting your family history in the hands of family members is beneficial. It helps to ensure that your genealogy research lives on after you have passed, and it provides a backup should something happen to your copy.

Review Your Genealogy Research

The beginning of the year is a good time to consider going back and reviewing those ancestors you researched when you first started working on your family history. Why? Since that time, new resources both on and off line have been made available, and most likely family members have shared additional information with you since you first started your research.

Choose one single family and then go through each person in that family and make sure that you have every census where they should appear, trace them in city directories, find appropriate newspaper articles, and verify everyone’s vital records information. As you enter all of your new findings in your genealogy database, make sure to cite your sources so that you and others you share your research with will know where to find that information.

Looking to work on your genealogy in 2014? Don’t get bogged down with large unrealistic goals. Genealogy should be fun. Choose a few small manageable tasks to kick off 2014. Take some time to document your home sources, share your research, and update your family history information. Here’s hoping you have many great genealogy discoveries in 2014!

2014 New Year’s Resolution: Find All My Ancestors’ Obituaries

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how he is putting his New Year’s genealogy resolution into action: using historical newspapers to find obituaries for all his American ancestors.

Happy New Year! It is always a terrific feeling to start a whole New Year with a clean slate that holds untold potential! Nowhere do I feel this potential more than in working on my genealogy, ancestry, and family history.

Each year at this time, like most of you I am sure, I spend a few minutes making my New Year’s resolutions. I make my personal resolutions and then I also make a few genealogy-related resolutions. Among others this year I included the following:

I resolve to find an obituary for every one of my ancestors in America!

A tall genealogical order you say? I agree, but if I am going to take the time to make a New Year’s resolution I want it to be something that I can really sink my teeth into and enjoy all year long. Plus having just renewed my GenealogyBank.com subscription, I feel as though I already have a head start on my resolution because this collection of more than 6,500 online newspapers contains over 220 million obituaries and death records.

Here is how I am going to achieve success with this resolution in 2014: one person in our family tree at a time. I will start by moving back in time from my own entry on our tree. Just as a note, I created—and continue to build—our family tree using Family Tree Builder software, and I maintain it on a site through MyHeritage.com so that it is quite easy for me to review each document, photo, etc., which has been attached to our family members. These include any obituaries that I have already discovered. A quick review of some entries was all it took for me to realize that I was missing quite a few obituaries in order to make my family tree more complete.

Sadly, I have the obituaries for both my mother and father because I was asked to write them, so I moved back one more generation and found that I did not have an obituary for my maternal grandfather, Allan Vincent Evenden. While I was surprised that I had overlooked getting this entry for our family tree, once I thought about it I realized that I had fallen into the trap of having received firsthand knowledge of the event without following up and documenting it for future generations! You see, my mom lost her dad when she was only 13 and I had heard the story of his passing during the depths of the Great Depression not only from my mom, but also from my grandmother.

Let the ancestor obituary search begin!

And so I decided to put my New Year’s resolution in action, and began searching GenealogyBank’s newspapers.

It didn’t take me long to find a notice in a 1933 Ohio newspaper announcing the funeral for my grandfather and requesting his Masonic brethren to attend and “Please bring your auto.”

funeral notice for Allan Evenden, Plain Dealer newspaper article 21 August 1933

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 21 August 1933, page 17

This newspaper funeral notice rang a bell in my memory and led me to my jewelry box. There I pulled out the only heirloom passed down to me by my grandmother: my grandfather’s pocket watch. As you can see in this photo, there on the fob is a Masonic symbol which, after reading the above notice, gained new importance to me. By the way, the photo attached to the fob is the only photo we have of my grandfather, so this heirloom is quite a gem to me!

photo of the pocket watch and fob once belonging to Allan Vincent Evenden

Photo: watch and fob of Allan Vincent Evenden. Credit: Scott Phillips.

Genealogy Tip: Get the whole story

Then as I looked further for more information on my grandfather I was given a fun little genealogy lesson. My next discovery was again in the Plain Dealer, from 1942. It announced the marriage engagement of my mother, Laverne, the daughter of Mrs. Allan V. Evenden, on Christmas Day 1942 to Mr. Lincoln Nels Christensen. Whoops! While that is my mom and this engagement did occur, for some reason the marriage didn’t. So remember to always do that “reasonably exhaustive search” when you are working on your genealogy. It is important that we make sure to get the whole story from beginning to end.

engagement notice for Laverne Evenden and Lincoln Christensen, Plain Dealer newspaper article 4 January 1942

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 January 1942, page 50

Finding the obituaries of Grandma & Aunt Em

Then my New Year’s resolution dealt me my second genealogy lesson of the day. You see, one of my pet peeves has always been that up until college, all my history teachers ended their history lessons just before the timeframe they lived. Well, I discovered with my next family tree review that I was guilty of the same error! After attaching my grandfather’s funeral notice to our family tree, I clicked on my grandmother’s record and discovered I had made that same mistake—I had ended too soon. I was with my grandmother when she passed away and I had not documented the history I had lived. I was able to quickly correct my oversight when I found my grandmother’s obituary in the Plain Dealer from 1970. As an added genealogy bonus, there on the same page of search results was an obituary for my Aunt Em, another one that I had missed!

obituary for Mae Anne Evenden, Plain Dealer newspaper article 14 August 1970

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 14 August 1970, page 23

obituary for Emily Vanek, Plain Dealer newspaper article 11 June 1980

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 June 1980, page 83

I couldn’t be more thrilled with how my 2014 New Year’s resolution is working out, and it is only the first week of January. While it might take me all year to find all of my American ancestors’ obituaries, I already know that it is one of the best genealogy resolutions I have ever made!

What has been the best genealogy New Year’s resolution you have ever made? Add your comment here and let me know.

New Year’s Resolutions for Genealogists: Top 10 Goals for 2014

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary suggests 10 New Year’s resolutions that genealogists everywhere might want to consider for 2014.

Over the years, I’ve read and written many articles about genealogical resolutions. This year, I am dedicating my 10 resolutions for 2014 to my mother Meg Stevens (1928-2013) who, through her dedication to genealogy, added over 30,000 memorials to findagrave.com—a true random act of genealogical kindness (RAOGK).

On New Year’s Eve day she received a posthumous “thank you” from a grateful researcher, who was delighted that Mom had discovered the maiden name of her ancestor, Phoebe (Winslow) Armstrong. Thanks Mom! Great work, and I miss you!

a thank-you from Karen Weatherhead to genealogist Meg Stevens

Here are my top 10 New Year’s resolutions for genealogists this 2014.

1) Do a Random Act of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK).

Hopefully, my mother’s example will inspire you to join in the RAOGK movement. It truly makes a difference to genealogical research. You can do this on your own, or join a Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness group, such as this one at Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/raogkUSA/).

Here are some ideas to get you started doing genealogical good deeds!

  • Do you like to look up genealogical records? —Then answer someone’s query or add a memorial to an online site.
  • Do you like to type? —Then index a record.
  • Do you like photography? —Then visit a cemetery and post a photo online that shows the text of a fading headstone.
  • Are you a photo software guru? —Then touch up someone’s creased, crinkly or faded ancestral image.
  • Do you like to listen? —Then interview and video a veteran or a treasured family member!

2) Archive and protect family treasures!

Many heirlooms are improperly handled. To help prevent this, proper labeling and storage should be considered. In particular, be aware that acid can be transferred from boxes, envelopes and even your hands to your treasured family keepsakes.

  • Purchase acid-free materials for storage & labeling.
  • Be careful about how and where you label a photo (avoid writing on the back of the photo behind a person’s face).
  • Use gloves for proper handling of ephemera, photographs, textiles and heirlooms.
  • Weatherproof rooms where items are stored.
  • Minimize exposure to light, drafts and uneven temperatures.

3) Make backups of all electronic genealogical data.

When disaster strikes, all of your family history data can disappear in an instant—but if you have a digital backup, all is not lost!

  • Create a backup schedule and abide by it throughout the year.
  • Send your genealogy data offsite and give it to others for safekeeping.
  • Online trees preserve your ability to restore your family history, should your computer crash.

Genealogy Tip:

Read another of our blog posts to get even more tips about preserving genealogy records.

4) Address your genealogy in your will.

Another thing my mother did before she passed was to transfer her publishing rights to me. What a great gift (and honor). We did this via a written agreement, but another good idea is to address the disposition of your life-long family history research in your will. Here are some ideas to ensure your family history is preserved as you would like.

  • Leave the rights to your genealogical research to specific people in your will, and name your 2nd or 3rd choice in case the original inheritor is tempted to discard anything. Consider naming libraries and historical or genealogical societies in your hometown, as well as where your ancestors resided.
  • Leave notes in books and files as to how you want them preserved.
  • Leave the price tags of expensive resources you purchased in the books themselves.

5) Publish your genealogy, lest you perish before anything looks official.

If genealogy has become your lifelong passion, then pass it on to the next generation by consolidating your family history research into a nicely bound family history book. This is extremely important, as overwhelming hodgepodges of notes that don’t look official are more likely to be discarded than bound books!

Use a service within your genealogy software, a commercial printer, or publisher to create your family history book. Many office supply stores can add a hard or soft cover to your research. Also, consider a self-publishing service such as Createspace.com or lulu.com.

During her lifetime my mother wrote several books on her direct family, another one for my step-father’s family, and completed two annotated census records for Union County, Indiana. (I’ve already republished one, and hope to complete the others in the upcoming years.)

6) Be kind to others.

If someone took the time to share a genealogical discovery, be grateful, even if they’ve made a typo or error in fact. Too often in the genealogical community we encounter slammers and complainers, who undoubtedly make many mistakes of their own!

So please resolve to suggest genealogical corrections gently and in a positive manner. If you have come to a completely different genealogical conclusion than another researcher, follow resolution #5—publish your own version based upon the evidence. Eventually other genealogists will find it, and appreciate your efforts.

Remember this rule of thumb: even if you are 99% accurate, then you will make a typo or mistake

  • every 100 characters typed
  • as much as 14.4 minutes of a 24-hour day, or
  • as much as 9.6 minutes of 16 “awake” hours each day

7) Be a genealogy sharer, not a hoarder.

When Mom transferred her copyrights to me, she had one caveat: don’t keep her family history research tucked away in a closet or hoarded on a computer. “I want people to be able to find my genealogy,” she told me on more than one occasion.

And she followed her own advice. Having the only copy of an 18th century family Bible, she published it in a journal—and I later shared it online. See the copy at fishergenes.com (the handwriting on the transcription page is my mother’s): http://www.fishergenes.com/showmedia.php?mediaID=99&medialinkID=105

8) Head out to your homesteads and homelands!

There is no greater feeling than walking in the steps of an ancestor—and who knows, you might find that more than a trace of their existence still exists. Several years ago, my mother and I took a trip together to East Jersey Olde Towne and discovered that one of our ancestral homes is still there!

This photo shows the Jeremiah Dunn home (built c. 1750) to the left of the Church of the Three Mile Run and the Vanderveer House.

a photo of the Jeremiah Dunn House

Photo: Jeremiah Dunn home. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

Follow these links to see other views of my ancestor’s house.

Library of Congress Survey of the Jeremiah Dunn House, Stelton Road, Middlesex County, NJ

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/hhh.nj0587.sheet.00005a/

Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission East Jersey Olde Towne Village

http://www.co.middlesex.nj.us/culturalheritage/village2.asp

Custom Photography of Historical Sites and Events (lincolnbittner.com)

http://www.lincolnbittner.com/dunn_house.html

9) Give credit where credit is duenot just to authors, but to anyone who assists you via e-mail, mail or in person.

Unless you’ve never looked up something in a book or family tree, it’s impossible for your genealogy research to not be based upon the research or efforts of others (authors, librarians, online contributors, e-mail buddies, cousins and even anonymous finds).

So how do you thank them? Try this approach: cite sources as best you can, and use those powerful words of gratitude such as “Thank you” and “I appreciate your help!”

10) This one’s for you to completeso please share it with us in the comments!

My top genealogy resolution for 2014 is to: ___________________________________________.

Thank you everyone for sharing your genealogical successes and supporting this blog in 2013.

And remember my favorite saying: “Genealogy isn’t just a pastime; it’s a passion!”

3 Steps to Using Pinterest for Your Family History

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena explains how the social media website Pinterest can help with your family history research.

Are you a member of Pinterest? Pinterest is a social media website that allows you to gather images from your computer and the Internet to create virtual bulletin boards on subjects that interest you. On Pinterest you can find boards dedicated to holiday meals, decorating kitchens, collecting antiques, fashion, and many other topics. But Pinterest is more than just a place to pursue those types of interests. Pinterest is also a place where you can organize, learn, and share your family history.

So how does a website where users virtually “pin” images about the latest movie or fashion collection help you with genealogy? As you take a look at Pinterest, consider it a site to share family photographs and documents, to bookmark websites related to your family history, or to plan out your next genealogy research trip. At home, your physical bulletin board might be used to save important articles, phone numbers, or notes you don’t want to forget. Pinterest is just like that real-life bulletin board except it is virtual and can be accessed from any computer with Internet access. Best of all, you can invite other family members or researchers to pin with you via shared group boards.

Not convinced Pinterest is for you? Not sure how Pinterest can be used for genealogy? Consider the following three tips.

Tip #1: Follow Genealogy Boards, Starting with GenealogyBank

One of the benefits of using Pinterest is getting ideas and learning about new genealogy sources. Following Pinterest boards maintained by genealogists, family history-related companies, and repositories can help you. Take for instance the GenealogyBank boards. Currently GenealogyBank has 50 boards covering topics as diverse as Family Tree Wall Art & Decor, Old Newspaper Ads, American Fashion History, and Genealogy Books.

Genealogy Bank Pinterest Page

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Family Tree Wall Art & Decor on Pinterest.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Old Newspaper Ads on Pinterest.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board American Fashion History on Pinterest.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Genealogy Books on Pinterest.

These boards provide more than just images to look at. Consider the GenealogyBank board Genealogy Powerpoints, a must for any family history researcher. Here you will find links to presentations GenealogyBank genealogist Tom Kemp has given on subjects including Genealogy Research with Marriage & Anniversary Records, Top Genealogy Websites for the 21st Century, Newspapers: Critical Resources to Document your Family Tree, and Obituaries: Getting All the Clues. Pinterest is a great place to find resources and educational material about all facets of family history.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Genealogy Powerpoints on Pinterest.

GenealogyBank’s recipe board is a shared group Pinterest board, where we welcome collaboration from those who share our common interests. In my blog article Holiday Recipe Ideas for Good Old-Fashioned Cooking I wrote about GenealogyBank’s Old Fashioned Family Recipes board. Follow this board and we will invite you to share your family recipes.

Follow Genealogy Bank’s board Old Fashioned Family Recipes on Pinterest.

To start following GenealogyBank, go to our page on Pinterest and then click on the orange “Follow” button at the top. You can also follow me on Pinterest.

Tip #2: Start Pinning

So what should you pin? Well, basically, images from the Internet or even your own photographs that you have from your camera, smartphone or scanner. Think of Pinterest as a place to share images that you find and those that you own. For those with mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets, you can download the Pinterest app from the iTunes App Store (for Apple devices such as iPhone and iPad) or the Google Play store (for Android devices). Download the Pinterest button for your browser toolbar to make pinning images even easier. Make sure that when you pin an image you give credit to the person or website that it is from.

Here are some ideas to get you started on Pinterest:

  • Start a board where you share images of material items that were commonplace during your ancestor’s time. Pin images of what a kitchen was like in 1920 or what blacksmith tools your 3rd great-grandfather would have used.
  • Share images you have taken of the tombstones of your ancestors.
  • Start a board for a particular ancestor and then pin images of documents, photos, and other resources that help to tell the story of their life.
  • Pin images of books that you are interested in adding to your personal library. Need book ideas? Check out GenealogyBank’s Genealogy Books board.
  • Start a board with resources for a specific place that you research. Share your knowledge of local archives, libraries and museums that can assist other researchers.

Tip #3: Here’s the Best-Kept Secret: Using the Secret Boards

Not sure you want to share a board of your family history images? No problem. Pinterest offers members public and secret boards. Secret boards cannot be seen by others (unless you have a group secret board and then only those you allow to pin to the board can see it). Pinterest currently allows you to have up to six secret boards. (This is a recent addition of three extra boards that occurred during the holiday season). You can actually have access to additional secret boards if you are invited to pin on a secret board with another pinner. Use these boards to gather ideas for research or even set up virtual bookmarks for websites you need to look at further for genealogy clues. Currently I am using one of my secret boards to “bookmark” websites and digitized images I have found for one of my research projects. I love being able to see images to remind me where I’ve located resources and what I have yet to find.

Start a secret board with a cousin and use it to share photos and documents you’ve collected in your genealogy research. Use a secret board to plan out a genealogy research trip and include pins of libraries, archives and cemeteries you want to visit. Even consider using a secret board to interest the younger generation in their family history by pinning photos you have scanned.

Are you using Pinterest for your family history? Now is the time to give it a try. You’ll find it’s a great tool for sharing and storing images, and a good way to learn more about your family’s story.

Genealogy Humor: Unusual & Funny Names of People (Part II)

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shares some of her readers’ responses to an earlier blog article she wrote about the odd and humorous names she’s run across while researching family history in old newspapers.

After publishing my Unusual & Funny Names of People blog article on 7 November 2013, readers wrote in droves, sharing additional funny—or should I say hilarious—names. Some were submitted directly to our blog, and others via Facebook pages such as the RootsWeb Genealogist page at www.facebook.com/groups/17834741205/.

We are chuckling over their submissions, and hope you will too!

Colors

Several submitters recounted tales of fun surnames reflecting colors.

“Sometimes when women get married, their new names are comical, too, like one I found recently whose last name was White, but when she married her name became Sarah White Rice.” —K. Campbell

“I encountered two families, the Browns and the Greens, who named their children various colours. I remember one of the Brown’s first names was Green. Other names were Orange, Violet, Purple, and Red but I’m sure there was another. There was another family who named their daughters Ruby and Sapphire, so when their son came along, of course they called him Emerald.” —A. Smulders

Here is an item from a “Personal and Social” column from 1897, mentioning John Green Brown (see www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=39512930). It also mentions another unusual name: Miss Scrap Wright.

Personal and Social, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 5 October 1897

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 5 October 1897, page 5

That made me think about all the reports of men and women marrying their Miss or Mr. Wrights!

I once found a Purley Wright, and wonder if anyone has ever encountered a Purley White?

Flowers

D. Peters reported these names: “Actress Poppy Montgomery and her siblings Poppy Petal, Rosie Thorn, Daisy Yellow, Lily Belle, Marigold Sun, and their brother Jethro Tull.”

She was referring to Australian-born Poppy, who was born with a much longer name: Poppy Petal Emma Elizabeth Deveraux Donahue. If interested, be sure to read her Wikipedia bio at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poppy_Montgomery.

photo of Poppy Montgomery, Register Star newspaper article 26 March 2006

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 26 March 2006, page 83

Expressions

In my earlier funny names blog article, I enquired if there were ever people by the names of R. U. A. Crook and Justin Case? I didn’t discover a Crook with those initials, but just as I suspected—there really was someone by the name of Justin Case!

“In 2009 there was an individual who lived in the same area as where I was working. He was indeed named ‘Justin Case.’” —S. Moore

And A. Smulders reported: “I transcribed the name Ah Choo once.” She also reported seeing some names which sounded like profanity! She didn’t repeat them, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

Food Names

I’m wondering if this next woman’s middle initial was B?

“My favorite name on my family tree is Barbara Cue.” —Kathy

Miss Barbara Cue, Lt. Lane Engaged, Boston Herald newspaper article 29 April 1945

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 29 April 1945, page 82

“I found Mr. FUDGE in a South Carolina census today. Still looking for the NUTS, DIVINITY and PEANUT BRITTLE.” —M. Vanderpool Gormley

Musicians and Cartoonists

Artists have long been known to adopt unusual monikers. Dizzy Gillespie, Chubby Checkers and Fats Domino are some that come to mind, but M. Kates reported a person by the name of “Octave Piano,” which is one I hadn’t heard.

There was also a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, Jay Norwood Darling, who shortened his Darling surname to “Ding.” If you’ve ever visited Florida’s Captiva Island, perhaps you’ve visited the National Wildlife Refuge named after him. See http://www.fws.gov/dingdarling/.

Cartoon Award, Times-Picayune newspaper article 4 May 1943

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 4 May 1943, page 6

Native American Names

The descriptive nature of Indian names, such as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, is always intriguing.

However, I’ve found one a bit more graphic than usual. This man from Bullhead was elected a tribal councilman of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in 1967, and he is also recorded on line 71 of this 1940 Census. If anyone has insight on the origin of the surname Kills Pretty Enemy, please enlighten us!

Agard Is Re-Elected Chairman, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 22 October 1967

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 22 October 1967, page 8

Double Meanings, Interchangeable Names and Relationships

One of my earlier blog articles was about someone named “B. A. Husband,” and a “Husband” reader responded: “Thanks for posting this. It was fun to see my name in there.”

When I enquired, “So, are you a wife who is a husband? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.),” she replied:

“LOL. I am a Husband who is also an ex-wife and a future wife…Us Husband women are the only women that can be both husbands and wives at the same time. I don’t mind if you use my comments at all Mary.” —S. Husband

“I ran across a woman a while back whose name was Polly Esther Cotton. I had to look at it twice to make sure it wasn’t an error. It still could have been a misspelling of the last name, I suppose…We have an artist here in town whose name is Mack Truck (real name; the local librarian told me about him).” —K. Campbell

“I went to high school with a girl named Harley Davidson…A friend’s mother was named Dimple Dottie.” —L. Boyd McLachlan

“And in the 1960s I went to grammar school with a boy named Rusty Bell.” —S. Moore

I wasn’t able to find a historical newspaper account for a Rusty Bell, but I did find three at Find-A-Grave, along with the grave of a gospel preacher named Ding Dong Bell:
(See www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=85849251)

“I knew a woman years ago named Gwen and she married a man named Gwen, so her married name was Gwen Gwen.” —D. Peters

Here Is an Assortment of Other Contributions from Readers!

“In researching the family who adopted my father-in-law, a ways back there was a marriage into the Snow line; while Fielding Snow is not so funny, other members of the lineage had a real sense of humor. One I found was Frost And Snow (‘And’ was his middle name), Mourning Snow, and Fountain Snow.” —N. Morris Boyd

“I have a Manely Peacock in my family tree. He was a captain in the Union Army. My gg-gm’s sister’s maiden name was Sarah Madara. My favorite isn’t in my family tree however. I came across this name on FamilySearch: Morris Morris, born in Morristown, Morris County, NJ. I wonder what he named his cat?!” —M. Guenther

“I found an Icy North in a census record. Went to school with the Flower sisters, Iris, Rose and Daisy.” —G. Marshall

“I have a Major Buchanan; yes she was a girl.” —S. O’wen

“In the Dutch [family] trees, you often see a difference of one letter between genders. Cornelis for male, Cornelia for female. End result: Aunt and Uncle Corny. We had a family around the corner from us whose kids were named April, May, and August.” —A. Smulders

Genealogical Challenge

Thanks to everyone who shared their findings and brightened our day! If you run across more funny names during your family history research, please share them with us.

Next on the Funny Genealogy Names series will be hysterical town names! I’ve got a whole slew of funny place names in Texas, including the town of Ding Dong. When I publish it, I’ll be sure to let you know how someone stole their bell!