The Past Tells the Future of Genealogy: Is Anything Really New?

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspaper articles to discover that what was new in genealogy 100 or more years ago is still new today.

There is nothing new except that which has been forgotten.

~ Marie Antoinette

This is certainly true in genealogy in a variety of ways. Naturally, we as genealogists spend a great deal of time and effort looking for that which has been forgotten or almost forgotten. We strive to discover, or rediscover actually, family history information every day.

On the other hand, I find it interesting when I hear some of the genealogy “pundits” trumpet all the newest “discoveries” in genealogy, often claiming that they are a harbinger of the end of genealogy as we know it. Some of these latest proclamations had me wondering, so I decided to see what was new (and old, which might have been forgotten) in genealogy through the historical newspapers in the database of GenealogyBank.com.

After a few quick searches, I encountered some terrific genealogy headlines and articles. Every one of them brought home the point that not all that much has changed in the world of genealogy! See if you can place the date of each of the following newspaper articles. Were these historical stories from yesteryear or news articles from today’s newspapers?

  • “Genealogy Study Rapidly Growing.” How often have we heard this? I especially appreciated this newspaper article’s subheadings: “In Recent Years Americans Have Been Making Great Study of the Family Tree” and “Genealogists Working Along New Lines and Startling Results Follow.” Sounds just like something I’d read in the news today.
Genealogy Study Rapidly Growing, San Jose Mercury News newspaper article 16 March 1912

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), 16 March 1912, page 2

This newspaper article was published in 1912!

  • “Forum on computers, genealogy scheduled.” This one really could be from today, the type of article found in just about every genealogy society newsletter and newspaper column on “local happenings.” It is interesting to see the name of Genealogical Computing magazine in this article, and it is fun to see how far we have come in such a short time.
Forum on Computers, Genealogy Scheduled, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 22 September 1984

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 22 September 1984, page 20C

While this sounds like today’s genealogy news, this newspaper article was published in 1984!

  • “Of the New Genealogy, Its Enlarged Field of Study. How Genealogy as a Science May Help Us to Help Ourselves.” I wondered if this article might be discussing the role of DNA testing in genealogy today, but not quite… I enjoyed this article especially since it was on a topic near-and-dear to me: that of the needed link between genealogy and the academic world. Plus, this article is about an address given at the 60th anniversary of the New England Historic Genealogist Society by Charles K. Bolton.
Of the New Genealogy, Springfield Republican newspaper article 3 November 1909

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 3 November 1909, page 15

This newspaper article was published in 1909!

  • “Genealogy business booming national one.” With the business of genealogy booming, it seems to offer good career opportunities. This article was from an advice column and the author seemed to have a pretty decent grasp of genealogy, which was fun to see.
Genealogy Business Booming National One, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 July 1981

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 July 1981, page 33

While this would be good career advice for genealogists today, this newspaper article was actually published in 1981!

  • “Who Was Your Grandfather?” I thought perhaps this was an article for the newest television spinoff of Who Do You Think You Are?
Who Was Your Grandfather? New-Hampshire Patriot newspaper article 27 August 1851

New-Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 27 August 1851, page 3

While this headline seems right out of today’s news, it’s actually about finding an heir for the deceased Jennings—and the newspaper article was published in 1851!

  • “Old Tombstone Wanted.” Once again, this headline could be from practically any newspaper today; as I read the article I can almost feel the angst of the writer as he pleaded for anyone in the local community who may have known anything at all about the tombstone he was searching for.
Old Tombstone Wanted, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 23 October 1900

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 23 October 1900, page 2

While this newspaper article refers to “a genealogical chain” and “the genealogist and all his vagaries,” it was actually published in 1900!

  • “Cousin George’s Decision” The subtitle of this article “He Thought His New Found Relatives Were a Very Shoddy Lot” made me think that this story’s moral is as valid today as when the article was written.
Cousin George's Decision, Daily Alaska Dispatch newspaper article 24 January 1900

Daily Alaska Dispatch (Juneau, Alaska), 24 January 1900, page 2

However, this newspaper article was published in 1900!

  • “Genealogy of Slang.” This article earned its way to being copied and placed on my bulletin board. After all who knows when it might come in handy for me to use the word “Gellibagger”?
Genealogy of Slang, Repository newspaper article 15 March 1890

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 15 March 1890, page 5

While using slang in genealogy might seem like a modern topic, this newspaper article was published in 1890!

Thanks to this trip through the past using historical newspapers, we can see that: 1) genealogy has been in the news a long time; and 2) what was new then is sometimes new today. Truly, “Nothing in Genealogy is as new as that which has been forgotten.” The past is often one of the best places to look for clues to the future.

Genealogy Records You Can Find In Newspaper Archives Infographic

Genealogy Records in Newspaper Archives

Is the Infographic image above too small? See the larger version.

Newspapers offer a variety of genealogy records that you can use to trace back your family tree. Learn about the types of genealogy records that can be found in newspapers and discover the family history information that each record type contains below.

Obituaries

Obituaries are an excellent source of genealogical information. Obits contain your deceased ancestor’s date of death and burial place, and often provide details about their spouse, children, parents as well as other extended family.

Passenger Lists

From passenger ships arriving at naturalization ports to stage coaches traveling across the frontier, several types of passenger lists are printed in newspapers. These lists contain the names of our traveling ancestors.

Birth Records

Birth records in newspapers include birth announcements and birth notices. These records contain the name of the newborn, time, date and place of birth as well as information about the infant’s parents, siblings and grandparents.

Legal Records

Many types of legal records are made public in newspapers. Probate records, court case records and name change records contain valuable genealogical information such as ancestors’ names, relatives, places of residence and more.

Photographs

Newspapers record many of life’s special moments. As such, you can find pictures of your ancestors in wedding photos, family reunion photos, birthday photos and old photo illustrations and sketches often printed in newspapers.

Marriage Records

Engagement announcements and marriage records are commonly printed in newspapers. These records give the name of the bride and groom, and provide details about the wedding including family members and friends in attendance.

New & Improved Newspaper Search!

With GenealogyBank’s new newspaper search functionality you can easily search each of the genealogy record types covered here to discover more about your family history.

Search now at: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/

Click the options in the left navigation to search by record types.

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The Story of Perkins Swain: A Genealogist’s Online Research Discoveries

Online genealogy research is endlessly fascinating—you never know what you will find. I was doing some family history research in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archive when this double obituary caught my eye. Baltimore Patriot (Baltimore, Maryland), 25 July 1834, page 3.

Just a short, simple notice, 4½ lines long—and yet what a sad story it tells.

Sally Swain, 27-year-old wife of Perkins Swain, died on 17 June 1834 in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. Her husband, Perkins Swain, age 37, “was in [his] usual health at the funeral of his deceased wife”—but abruptly died seven days later. No doubt, of a broken heart.

Can you imagine the grief of the pallbearers? They were probably family members, or at least friends and neighbors, who sadly carried the body of young Sally Swain to her grave on June 17th while her grieving yet healthy husband, Perkins, stood nearby. And then suddenly, just seven days later, those same pallbearers were carrying the body of her husband to join Sally’s gravesite.

Who were this couple struck down by tragedy? This story of a perfectly-healthy husband dying seven days after his young wife’s funeral made me want to research more about them and learn about their lives.

Digging deeper into my genealogy research online, I found a marriage announcement that Perkins Swain married Sally Weymouth in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, in a November 1823 newspaper. Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 15 November 1823, page 3.

Looking at the free collection of New Hampshire marriage certificates online at FamilySearch, I quickly found their marriage certificate. They were married on 23 October 1823 by the Rev. William Blaisdell. FamilySearch.org is a handy genealogy site. It has put up the entire U.S. Census, as well as birth and marriage certificates from all 50 states and many foreign countries. This free website by the Family History Library is well worth a visit to find great genealogical information that can aid in your research. Checking further in GenealogyBank, I found a newspaper probate article showing that Perkins Swain had known tragedy earlier in his life, when he and his brother Gorham were orphaned at age 5 and 4 respectively. The Sun (Dover Gazette & County Advertiser) (Dover, New Hampshire), 21 December 1805, page 4.
Enlarging the first paragraph, we find some interesting details about Perkins Swain’s life.
In this probate notice, Thomas Balch is acting as guardian for the young orphans. We discover that their father was William Swain, “late of Gilmanton,” a tailor who died without leaving a will. Did he die unexpectedly? And why is there no mention of the mother? These are tantalizing questions that require further family history research.

This probate notice also tells us that the two young boys have inherited an estate of 100 acres in Gilmanton.

Continuing to look further in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archive for details about Perkins Swain, I found this public auction notice that perhaps completes the story of his life.
New Hampshire Patriot (Concord, New Hampshire), 19 October 1835, page 3.

A year after his death, the homestead farm of Perkins Swain is being publicly auctioned on Nov. 2, 1835. This farm is a 100-acre parcel in Gilmanton, New Hampshire—the same piece of land we learned about in the probate notice of 1805.

Isn’t it amazing how many details we’ve found out about Perkins Swain, who died in 1834? We have found his marriage and death notices, his marriage certificate, the probate notice when he was orphaned at age 5, and the public auction notice of his farm after his death. With more online genealogy research, we could no doubt uncover even more details about Perkins Swain and his family.

There are so many digitized newspaper articles, historical documents and government records available online today—terrific research resources for genealogists.

This is a great day for genealogy.

Georgia Genealogical Society Hosts Free GenealogyBank Webinar

Ever wanted a quick course on getting the most out of GenealogyBank?
Now you can do that.
Join us online Monday, December 19th at 8:00 p.m. (EST), as Tom Kemp—GenealogyBank’s Director of Genealogy Products—gives a free webinar:

“Using GenealogyBank.com Effectively and Efficiently”
This free one-hour webinar is sponsored by the Georgia Genealogical Society.

Learn how to navigate the 5,850+ newspapers and over 1 billion records on GenealogyBank.

Genealogists, family historians and hobbyists are invited to attend this complimentary webinar while Tom shows the best approaches to using GenealogyBank. He will explain what family history information you can find on our genealogy site, and answer your questions. Sign up today to ensure your seat at the free webinar now: http://bit.ly/rQQpaQ

GenealogyBank.com Celebrates Fourth Anniversary Online — Reports 256% Growth in Family History Records

GenealogyBank has added over 570 million historical newspaper articles, obituaries and other vital records in the past four years – growing 256% – going from 160 million records to over 730 million articles, records & documents.

This is huge. Search GenealogyBank now.

This week GenealogyBank, a leading provider of historical and recent newspapers for family history research, is celebrating its fourth anniversary online. GenealogyBank has added over 570 million historical newspaper articles, recent obituaries and other vital records in the past four years, GenealogyBank is the fastest growing newspaper site for family history research and an ideal resource for exploring the real stories behind the lives of past generations.

“We now have 256% more family history information online today than when we launched and we only plan to continue growing, with new documents digitized every month.”

GenealogyBank‘s 4,600+ newspapers provide a firsthand glimpse into the everyday lives of millions of Americans who lived from 1690 to the present day. In addition to names, dates, places and events, newspapers offer real-life stories of the triumphs, challenges and turning points that formed communities and shaped lives. GenealogyBank‘s exclusive newspaper content — from all 50 states — can help family history researchers dig deeper into their family’s past. “Most importantly,” adds Kemp, “GenealogyBank provides substantial runs from big-city dailies, regional weeklies and small-town papers from across America. There is literally coverage from every day of the week across a 300-year span.”

“With the easiest to use Social Security Death Index available–as well as government documents, rare books, military records, newspapers and more — GenealogyBank has truly become the ‘go-to’ place for primary source family history information.”

Membership in GenealogyBank includes access to more than 730 million records including an estimated one billion names from all 50 states, each of which can be viewed as a single document and printed.

Millions of additional records are added monthly. Here is a list of just some of the newspapers we are adding in November.
Newspapers Going Live November 2010 – on www.GenealogyBank.com

List of Illinois Newspapers Online – 1818 to 2010

News: Latest list of Illinois newspapers live on GenealogyBank – 1818 to 2010.

Illinois Newspapers Online

Search backrun of Illinois historical newspapers here:
Search Illinois Obituaries here:

Best Source for Finding Old Marriage Records!

GenealogyBank is your best source for finding old marriage records.

Newspapers regularly published marriage announcements – like this one from the Weekly Pelican (New Orleans, LA) 26 Oct 1889.

Whether you’re looking for a wedding announcement published in 1802, 1862 or 1962 – GenealogyBank is your most comprehensive source.

TIP: Focus your search by the type of article.
In this example in the Historical Newspapers section – limit your search to only the marriage notices. Click on the highlighted topic and only the wedding and marriage announcement articles will appear in your search – saving you time.

Find and document your ancestors in GenealogyBank – the best source for old newspapers & documents on the planet.

Period!

Newspapers are crucial to documenting your family history

Genealogists rely on multiple sources to document a family tree.
One source does not give all of the facts – so researchers must look at multiple family history records to gather the details for each family.

For example – James Edwin Ayres (1817-1893) and his wife Ann (Ford) Ayres (1817-1901) are listed in the 1850 census for Greenburgh, Westchester County, New York.
TIP: You may search the census for free at FamilySearch.org

On closer inspection we see that there is an age gap between the children. James H. Ayres – born about 1842

Sarah Ayres – born about 1844

and Frederica Ayres born about 1849

It appears that there might be another child that was probably born in 1846 and who died before 1850.
A quick search of GenealogyBank shows that was the case.
In the Hudson River Chronicle (Sing Sing, New York) – 12 December 1848 we find an obituary notice for Lovina Ayres stating that she was born 7 August 1846 and died 26 November 1848.
TIP: Newspapers are essential for finding and documenting every person on your family tree.
GenealogyBank keeps on growing.
Search it now!

Search the census for free at FamilySearch.org
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Tell us your success story.

We hear from GenealogyBank researchers all the time about their success in finding their family in historical newspapers and documents.

Do you have an interesting story to tell?
Would you be willing to be interviewed about it?

If so, please contact me directly at: TKemp@NewsBank.com

We want to hear from you.

Here is what others have told us:

Genealogy is my #1 hobby and profession. After hearing about your site, I signed up for a year. I have spent hours at libraries finding and copying obituaries and now some of them I can find just by typing in a name! I’m also finding the less common marriage notices and newspaper articles that I did not even think to search for because I did not know they existed until they came up on my screen!
Michael W. McCormick Adams County, PA, Enduring Legacy Genealogy, LLC

I have never heard of this site before, just saw it on Facebook and decided to check it out. This is my dream come true! In 5 minutes I’ve found more articles about my g-g-g grandfather than I ever thought possible! I’m sold….
Joan Morrison

[....] I found something very valuable on your site, [...] the story of my ggrandparents getting back together after 20 years being apart back in 1901-2 time. I believe it was in one of the TX papers, don’t know why it was in it, because my ggrandfather went out to Wisconsin to seek his fortune after marrying my ggrandmother in Nova Scotia. He left after 2 weeks marriage (she was already pregnant but didn’t know it, with my grandmother) and her parents did not like him, so they kept all his letters from her. He went to Massachusetts to see a friend and he asked about her and was told she lived not too far away, never married. He went to her house, and the rest is history as they say.
Margaret Sessions, Florida

I have been a subscriber since February 2008. I really like your site. I have been able to locate news articles about my ancestors in a matter of minutes. I had been looking for an article on my great grandfather’s death in a train accident for at least twenty years without any luck. I found it in about ten minutes searching GenealogyBank. THANK YOU!
Keith Parrish

Your site…I am delighted I found it. Such a wide variety from major city newspapers I’ve never found anywhere, especially with regard to the period of history in which I am most interested. Keep adding, and thank you, from a very much pleased subscriber.
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Nancie Brunk

I’ve been having a ball finding articles about my family. The biggest find for me…was discovering my gr-grandfather’s uncle in Congressional records as well as in newspapers. He had left home as a child and didn’t return home again until after his father died. It was reported in the newspapers that his elderly mother (my gr-gr-gr-grandmother!) almost went into shock after not seeing him for nearly 37 years. GenealogyBank gave me great insight into his life as a fisherman turned world traveler and the names of his children that he had with his Russian wife and his locations in Russia and Japan back in the 1800s! How cool is that??? :) I can’t wait to see what papers you will put up next. Keep up the great work!
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Genealogybank is a fantastic resource. I literally have pulled 100s of newspaper articles in the past year from the 1780s to the 1920s that have helped me reconstruct families, and much eye opening information. Over this holiday I reconstructed another family using it and am now matching old photos back to these folks from over 100 years ago. Whereas most databases give you the vital records, GenealogyBank fills in the life stories. I have been getting a kick out of the horse trader and express man brothers and their stories that made the paper. They amused (and not so amused) the folks of Springfield, Mass, for several years in the Springfield Republican. Although I have not found photos of them yet, I have now correctly identified their sisters and some nieces and nephews after decades of not knowing for sure who the people were.
Ken Piper, Facebook

I recently learned my early ancestors traveled with a French group called The Ravel Family. They were a circus family but performed in theatres in New York City, Boston, Havana, New Orleans and other U.S. cities and countries. It turns out, The Ravel Family were world famous and had a great reputation. My 2nd great-grandfather, Leon Giavelli (stage name of Javelli) performed high wire acts that no others dared try…I found all of this out just from typing ‘Giavelli’ in your search engine; I have been very busy downloading newspaper articles and advertisements of my family and I owe it all to you!
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-Mary McCanney Finley

I found a letter written by my third great grandfather – the first thing I’ve ever seen written by the man. This letter was published in the Albany (New York) Argus in February of 1819. Wonderful!
Most of the content found at GenealogyBank is unique, not found on other sites. You may search it for free to see how many records there are for your family. If it looks good, sign-up to see the full records.
Honestly, if you have colonial ancestry, you can’t afford not to use this new resource. For the first time ever, you will be able to access newspapers and documents not previously indexed or in many cases, accessible at all. What makes this collection unique is that much of the data is from the American Antiquarian Society in Worchester, Massachusetts. This organization holds the earliest American printed materials, including newspapers – and now, for the first time, much of this material is accessible to you and I – all in digital format.
-Leland MeitzlerGenealogyBlog.com

Congratulations on a terrific website! I can’t leave it – I found several newspaper items I’ve not before seen and I still have more on the list to view. I’m one of your first subscribers.
Thank you so much for your dedication. It paid off tremendously. I’m going back now.
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…they are the kind of resources that help you to not only use source documents to learn more about your ancestry, but they also help you to put ‘meat on the bones’ of your genealogy as you work to create a family history. Now, individuals have access to a wide array of great resources, which are centralized and available through a single subscription service. GenealogyBank is quickly becoming a major player in the field.
Internet Genealogy, January 2007

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I almost fell off my chair last week, and not because I’m naturally clumsy. I was trying out the new GenealogyBank database … and saw a headline ‘Boy From Holy Land Working Way Through University of Texas.’ I clicked, and there was a picture of my grandfather. The slightly melodramatic 1924 Dallas Morning News article told how my Lebanese ancestor – who lived in an orphanage – respected his elders, studied into the wee hours and worked in a dairy all summer to earn money for college. Despite ‘lacking in dash and brilliance’ (in the reporter’s opinion), he was in the band, played football and won a debate contest.
I never met my grandfather, but he sounds a lot like my dad (except my dad is brilliant). It was a totally unexpected discovery, and just goes to show you can find information in surprising places.
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I subscribed today and have only stopped twice – once to eat a quick dinner and now for this note to thank you for this wonderful site. Already I have found 30 newspaper references in 1700-1800 for my ancestor in New York. I can’t thank you enough for putting this out there for us. What an accomplishment! I’m so glad it came along while I’m still here. I turned 87 this September. The program sent me hurrying along to finish my family history!
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I have never believed in paying for websites, but I finally broke down and subscribed to Genealogybank.com. I was thrilled to have found numerous articles on my family in the Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer. Thanks for your great website.
-Barbara Turner Woodbury, NJ

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