Researching Legal, Probate & Court Records Found in Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how those small-print legal notices found in the back of newspapers—often ignored by most readers—can provide important clues to help you break through your genealogy brick walls.

When reading your daily newspapers, are there certain sections you skip over? For many people there is the tendency to skip over the legal notices, typically found in the back of the paper, densely squeezed together and printed in a too-small font. As readers we may think: “why should I read the legal notices?” But as genealogists it would be a mistake to skip over them—they can be a great source of family history information.

Legal notices are notifications placed in the newspaper that alert the community of judicial actions. These can be matters involving estates, divorces, taxes, and land transactions. A 1957 Wisconsin statute states that a legal notice is defined as “…every summons, order, citation, notice of sale, or other notice and every other advertisement of any description required to be published by law or in pursuance of any law or of any order of any court.”* These public legal notices can lead you to records found at the courthouse, a county assessor or recorder’s office, and even additional newspaper articles.

How to Find Legal Notices on GenealogyBank

One way to search for your ancestor in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives is to use the search engine, either the basic or the advanced search, to enter a name, perhaps a place, and even a date or date range. But don’t forget that GenealogyBank allows you to narrow your search results further by article type. Using the list found on the left hand side of your results page, choose the  Legal, Probate & Court option to search for your ancestor in legal notices.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results page showing the Legal, Probate and Court records search option

Probate Notices in Newspapers

So what is of genealogical value in these legal notices? Plenty. Consider the notices of probate actions. One of my friends was researching her grandfather who had died and left a will. Problem was, the county courthouse serving the area where he died required payment for a search of the probate index—and then, after she paid, responded by telling her there was no court case. She knew there was a probate case because her father had been the executor of the will. So what do you do when an official entity tells you there isn’t a case? I suggested she turn to newspapers and search in the legal notices section. Sure enough, she was able to find the probate case—and with a copy of that legal notice, went back to the court clerks who were then able to provide her with the file.

probate notices, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper articles 25 January 1908

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 25 January 1908, page 9

Probate notices in newspapers can provide you names, dates, and information that you can follow up with at the courthouse. In the case of these notices from 1908 in Minnesota, the name of the deceased, the person administering the probate, the judge, and the next court date are listed.

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Genealogy Tip: Even if your ancestor left no will, there still could have been a probate case. Did they own land, a home, or owe money? Make sure to check for the existence of a probate.

Divorce Notices in the News

I’ve written about newspaper divorce notices on this blog before (see How to Find Your Ancestor’s Divorce Records in the Newspaper). Divorces notices can show up in various newspaper articles, but don’t forget that a notice requiring an appearance in court will be found in the legal notices. In these examples from 1914 Philadelphia, the defendant is told that their spouse has “filed a libel in the Court of Common Pleas…praying a divorce against you.” Those who do not show up on the date provided in this notice are forewarned “you will be liable to have a divorce granted in your absence.” Notice that in these examples, the court date and address of the defendant are listed.

divorce legal notices, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper articles 22 May 1914

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 22 May 1914, page 16

Are you new to court research? On GenealogyBank’s Legal, Probate & Court Records search box, there is a link you can click to get court record search tips.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's Legal, Probate and Court records search page showing the Search Tips link

Trustee’s Sale Notices

One of the genealogical benefits of legal notices is that our women ancestors do appear in these postings. Unfortunately, many of these notices are about the more difficult periods of a person’s life, as in this example of listings of Trustee’s Sales. As you can see, both the wife and the husband are listed in these sale notices. These 1891 examples are a good reminder that our ancestors may have been facing difficult financial times, just as many people faced in the more recent housing market collapse. If you find a notice where your ancestor’s home or property is being foreclosed on, you may want to conduct additional research to determine if there was a larger economic collapse that affected their lives. While we are most familiar with the Great Depression of the 1930s, other similar economic crises have happened in U.S. history. For example, two years after these newspaper notices appeared, there was a financial panic in 1893 that included the closing of many banks and high unemployment rates.

Auction Sales by Trustee, Kansas City Times newspaper article 29 January 1891

Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri), 29 January 1891, page 9

Legal notices in newspapers help tell the story of our ancestors’ lives. While they are often ignored, these legal notices contain rich information including names, street addresses, and dates with the court that can help us find additional documentation to fill out the details on our family trees.

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*Burke, James J. Wisconsin Statutes, 1957: Embracing All General Statutes in Force at the Close of the General Session of 1957. Racine, 1957, p. 3551.

Related Legal & Court Record Articles:

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Meanings of Family Surnames: Exploring Origins of Last Names

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary discusses the origins and meanings of various family surnames, and shows how including the origins of your family surnames in your genealogy research may reveal intriguing clues about your ancestry.

Ever wonder about the origin of your family surname? If so, you are not alone.

Many people would like to learn about their family surname, but don’t know where to look for more information. Fortunately, historical and modern newspapers frequently have articles about last names. Look for these articles in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Crispin’s French Origins

Many newspaper articles discuss the meaning of specific surnames, such as this 1871 piece on the surname Crispin. The patron saint of shoemakers was St. Crispin, which is derived from the French term “crepin,” which means a shoemaker’s last (mechanical form in the shape of a foot). (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last.)

article about the family surname Crispin, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 8 September 1871

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 8 September 1871, page 4

Other historical newspaper articles discuss the etymology or nomenclature of surnames, which is the study of their origins. Where did particular names come from? How were they assigned? Is there a special meaning behind them? All of these are interesting components for your genealogical research and can lead to a deeper understanding of your familial roots.

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The First English Surnames

This 1893 newspaper article reports that the first English surname was adopted in the reign of King Edward the Confessor of England, who ruled between 1042 and 1066. If correct, this first surname was probably for a nobleman and most likely established to carry on hereditary rights (titles, and later property).

article about various firsts in history, Bay City Times newspaper article 30 June 1893

Bay City Times (Bay City, Michigan), 30 June 1893, page 1

This 1823 newspaper article also reports that surnames were first adopted in the 11th century in England, and “for the distinction of families in which they were to continue hereditary.”

The old news article notes that the term “surname” came not from the word “sire,” but from a French concept indicating a super-addendum (or additional name added to one’s religious or Christian name). Of course, surnames weren’t just required for Christians, but for every culture and religion.

Origin of Surnames, Rhode-Island American newspaper article 4 November 1823

Rhode-Island American (Providence, Rhode Island), 4 November 1823, page 1

Patronymics and Matronymics

As human populations grew, there needed to be a system to identify individuals. Each country chose their own method, and within a society, a religious group or individualized group, some might have chosen their own unique system.

One early naming identification method was to associate a son’s surname with a father’s first name, and a daughter’s with her mother’s.

This is known as patronymics and matronymics, and if you ever come across a person with just one name, this is called mononymics (usually associated with rulers or famous individuals). See Wikipedia’s article on patronymics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patronymic.

A Look at Surnames around the World

Depending upon cultural customs, a specific spelling or pattern for the name was designated.

In most cases the surname was modified, but in some cases the name was constructed differently. In some parts of Asia for example, the surname is given first, rather than last—and in other places, another word is inserted to indicate the family relationship.

Hebrew: One culture where you will find examples of this practice of word insertion in names is with the Jews. Hebrew names are often expressed with the use of “ben,” meaning son of, or with “bint,” meaning daughter of.

article about Jewish surnames, Rhode-Island American newspaper article 4 November 1823

Rhode-Island American (Providence, Rhode Island), 4 November 1823, page 1

Ireland: Watch for names such as Fitzgerald—the “fitz” indicates that someone was the son of Gerald. According to Behind the Name’s website, this particular surname came from the Anglo-Norman French and was introduced to Ireland at the time of William the Conqueror. See http://surnames.behindthename.com/name/fitzgerald.

Netherlands: Dutch patronymics can carry on for several generations. The Dutch Wikipedia explanation is that a “Willem Peter Adriaan Jan Verschuren would be Willem, son of Peter, son of Adriaan, son of Jan Verschuren.” See Dutch surnames at http://surnames.behindthename.com/names/usage/dutch.

Poland: A common way to express a son’s last name is by the use of “wicz” at the end. Correspondingly, “ówna” or “’anka” may be used for an unmarried daughter, and “owa” or “’ina” for a married woman or widow.

Wikipedia’s article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_name gives the example of a man with the last name of Nowak. His unmarried daughter would use Nowakówna and his wife or widow would use Nowakowa.

If you encounter a name ending in “ski,” the person is a male. If you see “ska” at the end, the person is female. There are many other variations, including “wicz,” “owicz,” “ewicz,” and “ycz” which can be added to a name, along with diminutives (similar to calling someone “little” as a pet name). See About.com’s article at http://genealogy.about.com/cs/surname/a/polish_surnames.htm for more examples.

Scandinavia: “Son” or “dotter” or “dottir” is a common addition for boys and girls names, and there are slight spelling variations from country to country. Although most of Scandinavia no longer practices patronymics, you may still see it in Iceland.

Examples: a daughter of a man named Sven might use the surname Svensdottir, and Leif Ericson, the famous Norse explorer, has a name that identifies him as the son of an Eric (Erik the Red.) See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leif_Erikson.

Naming People in Norway, National Advocate newspaper article 28 November 1828

National Advocate (New York, New York) 28 November 1828, page 2

Spain/Portugal: Although it doesn’t mean son, “ez” (Spain) and “es” (Portugal) are used to indicate males, such as with the names Gonzales or Hernandez. See the article on Spanish patronymics at http://spanishlinguist.us/2013/08/spanish-patronymics/.

Wales: Over time, there have been several variations of name usage in Wales. Sometimes you’ll find that the surnames of children were an unmodified version of the father’s name. A son Rees might be named James Rees. Another option related to the terms “ap” (son of) or “verch/ferch” (daughter of). The name Madog ap Rhys would be interpreted as Madog, the son of Rhys, and Maredudd ferch Rhys would be Maredudd, the daughter of Rhys.

To complicate matters, a name might indicate if a woman were the first or second wife of a man, or a widow.

For an in-depth explanation, see Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn’s article “Women’s Names in the First Half of 16th Century Wales (with particular attention to the surnames of married women)” at www.s-gabriel.org/names/tangwystyl/welshWomen16/.

These are just some of the many types of matronyms and patronyms that you might find while researching your ancestry, so be sure to investigate your ancestral countries further.

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Naming by Association (towns, physical attributes, etc.)

We can thank the practice of taxation for other methods of assigning surnames, some of which are attributed to the English poll taxes of 1377, 1379 and 1381.

See “The English Poll Taxes, 1377-1381” by George Redmonds, 28 March 2002, published online by American Ancestors.org at www.americanancestors.org/the-english-poll-taxes-1377-1381/.

In order to keep track of who owed what taxes, names were recorded on the tax rolls in a variety of ways. Some people were associated with their villages, others by trades or occupations, and others by distinguishing features or attributes such as a very tall, or blind, man.

Most Common Surnames by Country

If you are stuck on the origins of your last name, consider the commonality of names in specific places.

Most of us are aware that Smith and Jones are among the most familiar U.S. surnames, but what about other countries?

Wikipedia’s article List of the Most Common Surnames in Europe has an interesting list, some of which I’ve included below. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_most_common_surnames_in_Europe.

  • Belgium: Peeters (meaning the rock, similar to Petros, Peterson, Peters, Perez)
  • England: Smith (a tradesman)
  • France: Martin
  • Germany: Miller
  • Greece: Nagy (meaning great) or Papadopoulos
  • Ireland: Murphy or Of Murchadh (a personal name meaning descendant of Murchadh or “sea hound/warrior”)
  • Italy: Rossi and Russo (red-haired)
  • Luxembourg: Schmit (blacksmith, metal worker, equivalent to Smith)
  • Netherlands: De Jong (equivalent of Young)
  • Northern Ireland: Wilson
  • Norway: Hansen (son of Hans)
  • Poland: Nowak (meaning new man)
  • Scotland: Smith
  • Spain: Garcia (means brave in battle)
  • Sweden: Anderssen (son of Anders)
  • Wales: Jones (of Medieval English origins, derived from the given name John, which in turn is derived from the Hebrew name Yochanan/Johanan)

Genealogical Facts a Surname Might Reveal

Be sure to include the origins of your family surnames in your genealogy research, as they may reveal intriguing clues about your ancestry:

  • Country of origin or hometown
  • Occupation
  • Parentage
  • Physical and mental attributes
  • Religion

An example in my own research is the surname Exton. This family came to America from Euxton, England, an obvious spelling variation. And my maiden name, Harrell, has Norman-French origins. Although a legend, Madame Marie Harel or Harrell is thought to have been the creator of Camembert Cheese in 1791. This is a family favorite of ours today, so perhaps there is a connection!

Genealogy Tip: don’t forget to consider spelling variations in your surname research. My earlier blog article Ancestral Name Searches: 4 Tips for Tracing Surname Spellings provides some examples of how names change over time.

Resources for Researching Surnames

Related Family Surname Research Articles

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Find Genealogy Gems Online in These 26 Idaho Newspapers

Idaho became the nation’s 43rd state on 3 July 1890. The 14th largest state in the U.S., Idaho is a mountainous region known as the “Gem State” because of the incredible variety of gemstones that have been found there.

photo of the Owyhee Mountains in Idaho

Photo: Owyhee Mountains in Idaho. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your ancestry from Idaho, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online Idaho newspaper archives: 26 titles to help you search your family history in what is sometimes called the “Potato State,” providing coverage from 1864 to Today. There are more than 4.5 million newspaper articles and records in our online archives.

Dig deep into the archives and search for obituaries and other news articles about your ancestors in these recent and historical ID newspapers online. Our Idaho newspapers are divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries (obituaries only).

Search Idaho Newspaper Archives (1864 – 1931)

Search Idaho Recent Obituaries (1992 – Current)

Here is our complete list of online Idaho newspapers in the archives. 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. The ID newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range Collection
Blackfoot Blackfoot Register 7/10/1880 – 3/22/1884 Newspaper Archives
Blackfoot Morning News 8/2/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Boise Idaho Statesman 7/26/1864 – 8/15/1931 Newspaper Archives
Boise Evening Bulletin 2/21/1903 – 2/21/1903 Newspaper Archives
Boise Idaho Statesman 1/26/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bonners Ferry Bonners Ferry Herald 10/5/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Challis Challis Messenger 3/17/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Coeur d’Alene Idaho Spokesman-Review 7/3/1994 – 11/28/2007 Recent Obituaries
Coeur d’Alene Coeur d’Alene Press 10/1/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Idaho Falls Idaho Register 4/4/1885 – 10/31/1916 Newspaper Archives
Idaho Falls Idaho Falls Times 7/9/1891 – 9/16/1920 Newspaper Archives
Idaho Falls Citizen 3/11/1907 – 4/1/1907 Newspaper Archives
Idaho Falls Post Register 1/2/1992 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kellogg Shoshone News-Press 4/6/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lewiston Lewiston Morning Tribune 1/1/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Moscow Moscow-Pullman Daily News 1/1/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Nampa Idaho Press-Tribune 7/1/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Payette Independent Enterprise 5/16/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pocatello Idaho State Journal 6/27/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Priest River Priest River Times 6/5/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salmon City Idaho Recorder 12/12/1889 – 5/4/1892 Newspaper Archives
Sandpoint Bonner County Daily Bee 3/2/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Silver City Owyhee Avalanche 8/19/1865 – 12/28/1900 Newspaper Archives
Silver City Owyhee Daily Avalanche 10/19/1874 – 4/26/1876 Newspaper Archives
Twin Falls Twin Falls News 4/8/1918 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Twin Falls Times-News 8/19/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries

You can either print or create a PDF version of this Blog post by simply clicking on the green “Print/PDF” button below. The PDF version makes it easy to save this post onto your desktop or portable device for quick reference—all the ID newspaper links will be live.

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Where Was George Washington? Revolutionary War Fact Checking

One of my family traditions tells us that George Washington made his headquarters, from 4 July to 19 August 1781, at the home of my 5th Great-Grandfather, Joseph Appleby (1732-1792) in Greenburgh, New York, in the Dobbs Ferry section of town, during the American Revolutionary War.

Joseph Appleby served as a 2nd lieutenant in the First Regiment of Westchester County, New York Militia.

I found this interesting 1935 newspaper article reporting that in 1935 Messmore Kendall (1872-1959) was living in a house in Dobbs Ferry—and erroneously stated that was the house that George Washington used as his headquarters in 1781, not the home of my ancestor Joseph Appleby.

article about Messmore Kendall and George Washington, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 27 August 1935

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 27 August 1935, page 8

Kendall took great pride in his home’s supposed connection to George Washington and its key role in the American Revolution.

It was an impressive home.

photo of Philipse Manor

Photo: Philipse Manor. Source: Library of Congress.

Kendall served as the national vice-president of the Sons of the American Revolution and as the president of the Empire State Chapter of the NSSAR. In 1894 he had a monument erected in front of his house commemorating its place in history.

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Kendall collected dozens of historic heirlooms previously owned by George Washington and had them on display at his home.

It was a nice story—but it was not true.

A Historic American Building Survey Report issued 29 March 1934, written by Thomas Hotchkiss (Re: Messmore Kendall Residence), stated that:

The 1894 monument…incorrectly alleges that Washington and Rochambeau met at this house [Philipse Manor] to plan the Yorktown Campaign in 1781. As explained authoritatively…these commanders of the allied armies occupied the Appleby and Odell houses respectively on country roads back in the hills, and conveniently held their conference there surrounded by their troops.

It turns out that Kendall lived at the Philipse Manor built by Frederick Philipse. His great-grandson, Frederick Philipse, was a Tory and “his lands and houses” were seized and sold. The manor house was purchased by Philip Livingston.

See: Historic American Building Survey, Report HABS No. 4-105
http://www.historicmapworks.com/Buildings/index.php?state=NY&city=Dobbs%20Ferry&id=25738

Genealogy Tip: Historical claims can be wrong—even when they make it into print in a newspaper, such as Kendall’s claim about his home being a former headquarters of George Washington.

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The Appleby home which George Washington did use as his headquarters stood on what is now Secor Road in Dobbs Ferry, New York. The WFAS radio station offices are now located on this site.

photo providing an aerial view of the Appleby farm

Photo: aerial view of the Appleby farm. Source: Google Earth.

There is a video interview with Mary Sudman Donovan, Ph.D., Village Historian of Dobbs Ferry, New York. See the interview on YouTube here:

Donovan is the author of the book George Washington at “Headquarters, Dobbs Ferry” July 4 to August 19, 1781. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2009.

photo of the cover of Mary Donovan's book "George Washington at 'Headquarters, Dobbs Ferry' July 4 to August 19, 1781

Find and document your family’s stories in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Carefully review the facts you are gathering. Evaluate them and seek out corroborating sources.

Make sure that the stories about your ancestors are accurate, preserved and passed down in the family.

Related Articles:

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Planning Your Genealogy Trip: Summer Vacations for Genealogists

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena gives advice and provides online resources for planning your summer genealogy vacation.

What do you have planned this summer? Taking a vacation? How about a genealogy vacation? While it may be hard to convince the rest of your family that a vacation composed of genealogical research is a good idea, there are trips and tours to satisfy everyone’s interests and budget. Whether you want to focus on just genealogy research or you also want to see the world, there is something for you.

photo of a cruise ship

Photo: cruise ship. Credit: David Ortega.

Heritage Tours

Ever consider traveling to your ancestral home? Whether that’s here in the United States or “across the pond,” there may be a heritage tour that can help you see the sights and take in some family history research.

For example, Genealogy Tours of Scotland run by genealogist Christine Woodcock is an opportunity to do onsite research in Scotland, with assistance from local archivists and researchers. This annual trip includes 10 days of research at ScotlandsPeople Centre, the National Library, and more—as well as time for touring and experiencing the Scotland of your ancestors.

Various heritage tours exist worldwide. To find one in the area of your ancestor’s hometown, try Googling the name of the country and the phrase “heritage tours.” Some travel companies offer several heritage tours including the company Family Tree Tours.

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Going to the Promised Land

OK, maybe Salt Lake City is not “the” Promised Land, but it comes pretty close for family historians. Many genealogists dream of an opportunity to go to Salt Lake City to research in the Family History Library. It can be intimidating to go to a place and do family research when you’ve never been there before. A retreat might be the answer to help you not only navigate your way around the Library and maximize your research time, but also to benefit from the expertise of those who are familiar with the Library and Salt Lake City.

The Salt Lake Christmas Tour, sponsored by Family Roots Publishing, is in its 30th year and features genealogy professionals providing educational lectures and assistance at the Family History Library. This tour attracts a large group and many attendees participate year after year.

Want to go to Salt Lake but still be able to ask someone for help? Consider taking professional genealogist Michael John Neill’s annual Library Research Trip. For a nominal fee you can join Michael at the Family History Library for a week, with an optional morning educational presentation and assistance as you research throughout the day. You can read more about this year’s trip and plan for the 2015 trip at http://rootdig.blogspot.com/2013/10/salt-lake-family-history-library.html.

Genealogy Cruises

Where do you want to sail? A cruise is a great vacation idea—and when you add a vacation destination with a genealogy education you have the perfect get-away.

There are several genealogy cruises that you may want to consider. United States software company Legacy Family Tree’s yearly cruise combines exotic locales with speakers on a variety of topics. This year’s genealogy cruise is unique: it’s a back-to-back cruise opportunity with the first leg of the cruise, two weeks, starting in Japan and making its way to Hong Kong. On the second leg of the tour, you can concentrate on vacationing with stops at ports in Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. As of this time, classes and speakers have not been announced but you can read more about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on their website. If you’re unsure about being out to sea for two weeks to a month, then maybe a shorter cruise would be of more interest to you. Legacy announced that in 2015 they will have a one-week Western Caribbean cruise.

Another genealogy software company, Wholly Genes (the makers of The Master Genealogist), has its annual cruise this year in the late Fall. Organized by Heritage Books, this year’s cruise will leave from Los Angeles and visit the Mexican Riviera. You can learn more about the speakers on this cruise by visiting their website. This cruise will feature 17 hours of “genealogy, technology and DNA instruction.” I’ve been on a cruise to the Mexican Rivera in November and it’s a great time to leave the cold and enjoy some Mexican sunshine.

Are you a seasoned cruiser? Looking for more frequent genealogy cruise opportunities? Consider Australian-based Unlock the Past’s cruises. With multiple cruises each year, Unlock the Past and their international team of genealogy professionals has something for everyone. Cruises for the next three years include trips to the British Isles, Australia to the Baltic, and a Transatlantic voyage. If you’re not sold on the benefits of a genealogy cruise, I would suggest their web page 20 Reasons to Join an Unlock the Past History & Genealogy Cruise.

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Planning a Family Research Trip on Your Own

Maybe you like to strike out on your own. You might want to consider putting together your own genealogy trip that combines visiting your ancestral homeland with research opportunities.

How do you start? Make a list of all the travel details you will need to sort out, including transportation to your destination and transportation while you are there, as well as lodging and food. You may want to plan those details on your own with the help of a discount site like Kayak. For genealogy vacation destination ideas, be sure to check out our Genealogy Travel board on Pinterest.

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Next, figure out what family history research can be done while you are there. Identify nearby libraries, archives, and museums and what resources they have. Make sure to exhaust online digitized items that you are able to access from home so as to not waste your time while you are there. Email librarians and archivists with questions about on-site research. You might even consider contacting a local genealogist in the area for a consultation, or to get help navigating repositories while you are there. There is a real benefit from working with someone who knows all of the ins and outs of an area and the repositories.

However you decide to take your next genealogy trip, plan ahead to make the most of what is offered. And most of all plan to have lots of family research fun!

Travel Tip: When I’m taking a genealogy trip I try to pack as light as possible just in case I pick up some books or other research materials along the way. A SmartPhone or Tablet is a must. With this one tool you can take photos, scan images, audio or video record your travels or interviews, refer to your family tree through an app or via a cloud storage site like Dropbox, take notes, refer to research plans, get directions, and surf the Internet.

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A Genealogy Quotes ‘How-To’ Guide: Ideas, Creating & Sharing

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary gives advice and provides free resources so that you can make your own genealogy quote graphics to share on social media sites like Facebook.

We’ve noticed that many of our blog readers share our affinity for inspirational, humorous and memorable genealogy quotes!

Some of the quotes on the GenealogyBank blog are serious, but others are funny or whimsical. When they touch our readers’ hearts, they tend to be shared across social media sites such as Facebook or Pinterest.

If you haven’t yet tried making a quote graphic to share on your own social media page, I encourage you to try. There are dozens of free and easy sites where your can create genealogy quote graphics and unleash your creativity, such as Pinstamatic and Quozio.

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The hardest part will be choosing what to say—so if you’re stumped, here are a few suggestions.

Genealogy Quote Ideas

  • Quote a cherished family member. For instance, one of my Sesniak ancestors used to say: “You bet your boots,” indicating that he agreed with what had just been said.
Old saying: "You bet your boots!"

Quote graphic created on behappy.com

  • Select a quote from a celebrity or historical figure, such as Benjamin Franklin’s “A penny saved is a penny earned.” (See more ideas below.)
  • Start with an inspirational image and add an appropriate quote.
  • And don’t forget to search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for quotes. You might even find one from an ancestor, such as this one by Mary O. Stanton, published in an 1894 newspaper.
article about Mary Stanton, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 24 June 1894

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 24 June 1894, page 10

The San Francisco Chronicle created this illustration to accompany Stanton’s quote:

illustration to accompany an article about Mary Stanton, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 24 June 1894

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 24 June 1894, page 10

To see a more modern graphic design of Stanton’s quote, click here: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/195977021259910167/.

Free Quote Graphics Sites

The following sites have free options and may allow you to connect by using your Facebook account. If not, create an account with the site itself and try out the features.

Some of these quote sites allow you to upload your own background image, while others provide sample graphics. Subscription services may be required for advanced features, but I was able to make appealing genealogy quotes on all of the tested sites for free.

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Each quote site is different, and I am not recommending one over the other. If you have a site that you prefer over these, please let us know in the comments section.

Inspirational Quotes for Genealogy

Try unleashing your creativity with these sample quotes.

  • “The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are.” —Maya Angelou
  • “I sustain myself with the love of family.” —Maya Angelou
  • “The patriot blood of my father was warm in my veins.” —Clara Barton
quote from Clara Barton: "The patriot blood of my father was warm in my veins."

Quote graphic created on Pinstamatic.com

  • “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” —Pearl S. Buck
quote from Pearl Buck: "If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday."

Quote graphic created at behappy.me

  • “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” —Sitting Bull
quote from Sitting Bull: "Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children."

Quote graphic created at shareasimage.com

  • “A man finds room in the few square inches of the face for the traits of all his ancestors; for the expression of all his history, and his wants.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "A man finds room in the few square inches of the face for the traits of all his ancestors; for the expression of all his history, and his wants."

Quote created at picteller.com

  • “Ever since I watched Roots, I’ve dreamed of tracing my African ancestry and helping other people do the same.” —Henry Louis Gates
  • “When you start about family, about lineage and ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth.” —Alex Haley
quote from Alex Haley: "When you start about family, about lineage and ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth."

Quote graphic created at Pinstamatic.com

  • “Develop a healthy skepticism. Accept nothing unreservedly until proven.” —Donald Lines Jacobus. Genealogy As Pastime and Profession. (Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co, 1968)
  • “From time to time, the Tree of Liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots.” —Thomas Jefferson
  • “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” —Poet Emma Lazarus, inscribed beneath the monument at Ellis Island
inscription from the base of the monument at Ellis Island

Quote graphic created at Quozio.com

  • “I come from pioneer stock, developers of the West, people who went out into the wilderness and set up home with nothing but a pair of oxen.” —Joni Mitchell
  • “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” —Harriet Tubman
quote from Harriet Tubman: "I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves."

Quote graphic created on Quozio.com

Pinterest Genealogy Quotes Boards

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Revolutionary War Ancestors’ Life Stories Are in Old Newspapers

So many Americans have fought and died to found and preserve our nation’s freedom.

It often comes as a surprise to genealogists to discover that newspapers reported—in detail—about the lives of the men who fought in the American Revolutionary War.

Estimates are that 92,000 Americans and French troops fought 314,000 British troops, Hessian troops and loyalists. Of that number 25,000 Americans died in the war and an estimated 25,000 more were wounded.

Once again David beat Goliath.

Our ancestors fought and won their independence from Britain…and we want to know their stories.

Militia lists, bounty land warrants and town monuments document their names, but it is often in newspapers that we find their personal stories.

Newspapers tell us about their life before, during and after the Revolutionary War.

obituary for Isaac Van Wart, Barre Gazette newspaper article 31 July 1840

Barre Gazette (Barre, Massachusetts), 31 July 1840, page 2

Newspapers tell us gripping Revolutionary War stories like this one of Isaac Bassett and the men in his regiment who were told “not to fire on the enemy till they could see the [whites] of their eyes…”

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article about the Battle of Bunker Hill, Boston Centinel newspaper article 5 August 1818

Boston Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 August 1818, page 1

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These words have been passed down to us for over 200 years.

Newspapers let us personalize these stories to our own families.

And newspapers can tell us the unexpected details of their lives. Like this obituary of John Peters, who died at age 100 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1832.

And newspapers can tell us the unexpected details of their lives. Like this obituary of John Peters, who died at age 100 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1832.

obituary for John Peters, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 1 May 1832

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 1 May 1832, page 2

With a name like John Peters it would be easy to assume that he was born in America or England, causing us to spend years looking for his birthplace in those countries.

Searching through the usual Revolutionary War records we might not ever find it mentioned that “He was born in Portugal near Lisbon” or that he immigrated “to this country shortly after the earthquake in 1755,” but his newspaper obituary provides this information.

Wow—that was an unexpected genealogy find.

This patriot’s 1800s obituary is filled with details about his life, his character and his service to the nation. From throwing tea into Boston Harbor to fighting in many of the most famous Revolutionary War battles – these are exactly the details we need to understand who he was and what he was like—and the information pointing us to where he was born.

As we think about Memorial Day, July 4th and documenting the lives of our ancestors, it is essential that we uncover every newspaper article—every fact and every clue—so that we can accurately record their information and preserve and permanently pass down their stories for future generations.

Onward.

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Sleuthing for Clues in the News to Solve Genealogy Mysteries

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how tiny clues in old newspapers can lead to big family history discoveries.

Every genealogist I have ever met seems to be a combination of Perry Mason, Jessica Fletcher, Columbo, Christine Cagney, Mary Beth Lacey, Thomas Magnum, and Sherlock Holmes—searching everywhere for clues, following each one (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant), and putting together the strongest case they can.

illustration of Sherlock Holmes in “The Five Orange Pips”

Illustration: Sherlock Holmes in “The Five Orange Pips.” Source: Wikimedia.org.

One of my favorite places to hunt for clues in my genealogy and family history is the online collection of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. There always seems to be some new discovery for me to delve into in order to make our family tree more complete.

Sleuthing for Clues in the News

Sometimes these genealogical clues are truly tiny—but when pursued, can lead to valuable information and additions to our family trees. Such was the case when I came across a small, three-sentence article in an 1897 newspaper.

article about Mary Lisy, Plain Dealer newspaper article 16 May 1897

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 16 May 1897, page 13

Having already identified that I had a couple in our family tree of Joseph and Mary Lisy, I decided this was worth investigating further. It certainly seemed to have all the elements of a highly interesting genealogy story. So my work began.

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Investigating Joseph & Mary Lisy

In another Ohio newspaper the very next day was an even shorter article, this one containing only one sentence.

article about Mary Lisy, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 17 May 1897

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 May 1897, page 6

Now I had some nice pieces of information to further my ancestry research. First I learned that the court that heard this case was the Probate Court, and, second, that this Mary Lisy was a patient in a facility named Cleveland State Hospital.
I began to look for Mary Lisy in the Census records of the time and sure enough, in the 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 United States Census records is listed “Lisy, Mary, Inmate” at the Cleveland State Hospital for the Insane. I then continued to look in GenealogyBank’s newspapers to see if there might be something I could learn about the institution itself.

My initial archive search returned hundreds and hundreds of search results. Many, like this 1909 newspaper article, detail terrible conditions and chronic overcrowding in the Cleveland State Hospital.

Asylum Cramped, Governor Finds, Plain Dealer newspaper article 9 August 1909

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 9 August 1909, page 1

Then in the 1940 United States Census returns I discovered Mary Lisy, who—while still listed as an “inmate”—was now at Hawthornden State Hospital (Insane) and had been at this facility at least since 1935. While I was not familiar with this facility from any of my prior research, it didn’t take me long to find this 1941 newspaper article, which contains a lot of good information on the system of insane asylums in Ohio, including Hawthornden.

Ohio Insane Asylums Slated for Repairs, Repository newspaper article 10 January 1941

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 10 January 1941, page 12

Genealogy Sleuthing Stumbling Block

Then I had one of those “uh-oh, I knew this was going too smoothly” moments in my genealogy research. As I continued researching Joseph and Mary Lisy, I discovered that there were at least two men in Cleveland named Joseph Lisy who had almost identical birth years. Both also happened to have married women with the given name of Mary, who also had similar birth years. To make this matter even more confusing, all these folks were Bohemian as well.

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One of the couples seemed to have had a fairly “normal” life, but the other couple had a darker life together—including this Mary having been in an asylum for decades, as shown in this 1901 newspaper article. This article detailed a court case in which Joseph Lisy was found guilty of failing to provide for his four minor children and was sentenced to the workhouse.

article about Joseph Lisy, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 February 1901

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 February 1901, page 12

This complication of multiple Joseph and Mary Lisy couples was a great learning experience for me and a good example of the need to get as much definitive documentation as we can find to ensure that our family trees are true and accurate.

Expanding My Genealogy Search

I branched out my research to include records from Cuyahoga County, the Ohio Probate Court, the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services, several local genealogical and history organizations, the diocese of Cleveland, several cemeteries, and, much to my luck, a cousin who was also struggling with this same dilemma. As they say “two heads are better than one,” and we all know this is certainly at its truest when it comes to genealogy and family history research.

It took some time to sift through all of the death listing for each Mary Lisy that we could find, but that is what we did. As we winnowed them down, one was discovered from 1960 that placed her death at the “Millcreek Psych. Ctr” in Knox County, Ohio. Of all the death listings for women named Mary Lisy, after the 1940 Census, this was the only one with any hint of an institution as the location of her death. It was from 1960, which means Mary had lived in Ohio insane asylums for over 60 years of her life, which was a sobering thought all by itself. Both my cousin and I agreed this was the most promising lead we had, so it was picked to be our first to pursue.

Then almost all at once the genealogy research started falling into place like dominos.

Pieces of the Family Mystery Come Together

Our first break came when a very helpful priest in the diocese provided a copy of the parish register for the marriage of Joseph and Mary, which gave us her maiden name of Bolf (Wolf).

photo of the marriage registry for Joseph Lisy and Mary Bolf

Photo: marriage registry for Joseph Lisy and Mary Bolf

Second, the archivist from the Cuyahoga County Probate Court sent me the files on the insanity hearings for Mary Lisy. Pages and pages of information—then in about the middle, penciled in the margin of one of the records was this: “nee Wolf.”

My cousin called to say that when she was speaking to her husband about this mystery, he mused aloud about why Mary would have been transferred to Hawthornden—which was not in Cuyahoga County, but rather in Summit County, Ohio. She said this didn’t click right away, but then like a bolt of lightning it struck her.

She recalled that the only children of Mary Lisy who were still alive in 1960 had been listed as living in Cuyahoga County, according to the 1940 Census. However, there was a cemetery listing in one obituary for a cemetery in Summit County, Ohio. The obituary for Edward Votypka was in a 1944 newspaper and nicely mentioned the cemetery by name.

obituary for Edward Votypka, Plain Dealer newspaper article 14 March 1944

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 14 March 1944, page 10

It was, as she said “a tenuous connection,” but she placed a call to the cemetery. There a wonderfully helpful staff member was able to verify that a family member had purchased 12 graves for a family plot. Not only were several of the children and other family members of Mary Lisy interred there, but one grave was the final resting place of Mary Lisy herself!

We are now tidying up the rest of our genealogy research on Mary and Joseph Lisy. And to think—this all came about from a three-sentence article in an 1897 newspaper!

What is the best and biggest genealogy and family history discovery you have made from a newspaper article? I’d love to learn about them so please leave your story in the comments here. Thanks for reading and Godspeed in your genealogy sleuthing!

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Family Bibles for Genealogy Research: What to Look For

The Richmond Family Bible I bought on eBay recently arrived in the mail.

photo of the Richmond Family Bible

Photo: Richmond Family Bible. Source: Thomas Jay Kemp.

It was exactly as the seller had described it.

The eBay description had read:

Cover is well worn and torn.
A few pages are loose, most still intact.
Pages have spots throughout.
This is a family Bible which belonged to the William Richmond (1820-1871) family.
Bible has handwritten pages of marriages, births and deaths.
Also includes two typed pages detailing history written in the Bible as well as a brief family history dating back to 1040.

OK—I got what I paid for when I bought this family Bible. It was well packaged and arrived safely, so this eBay transaction worked very well. I have found and bought other long-lost family history items on eBay in the past and never had a problem with any of these online auctions.

Let’s get acquainted with this family Bible.

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The first thing you want to do is look at the title page and the verso (back) of the title page.

photo of the title page of the Richmond Family Bible

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

The title page clearly shows that this Bible was printed in New York in 1848 by the American Bible Society.

You need to also check the verso of the title page to see if there is additional copyright information printed there. Usually the verso repeats the year of publication, but sometimes there is different dating: imprint dates of publication or other clues as to when the book was actually printed.

The verso of the title page is blank in this Bible.

Your next step then is to examine the title page of the New Testament.

photo of the Richmond Family Bible, showing the title page of the New Testament

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

Looking at the title page for the New Testament we see that the publication information is the same as the Bible’s title page. And again in this case, the verso is blank.

You want to be sure to check the date of publication on both title pages. As publishers printed and assembled Bibles for distribution, they sometimes printed an extra supply of either the Old Testament or the New Testament—in order to bind and sell either part separately, or together as a large family Bible.

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Knowing the most recent publication date helps you to verify the information written in the Bible. Any information entered into the family registry pages for the decades before the Bible was printed would have been written in the Bible from memory, or perhaps copied from another family Bible or document. Entries made after the date of publication were likely made when the Bible was first purchased, or over time as each birth, marriage or death occurred.

photo of the Richmond Family Bible showing the family registry page

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

For example: looking at the deaths recorded in the family registry, we want to examine the date of each person’s death and look to see if the handwriting style or color of the ink varies from entry to entry. These clues suggest which entries were all made at the same time and which entries were made at different times—indicating that they might have been made contemporary to the event.

In this family registry none of the entries were dated before 1848, the date the Bible was printed, making it likely that the entries were made around the time each event occurred.

Do you have an old family Bible as one of your heirlooms? Take it out and examine it closely, using the tips in this article, to see what family clues you can discover.

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Westward Ho! How to Trace the Trails of Your Pioneer Ancestors

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary discusses online resources you can use to explore the history of your pioneer ancestors—and the trails they used to migrate west.

Many of us have pioneer ancestors in our family tree who participated in the westward expansion of the United States. Exploring the trails they crossed and reading their stories in old newspapers is not only a great way to learn more family history—it’s an interesting way to learn about an important period in our nation’s history.

Oregon Trail

While raising our family, we often discussed the Oregon Trail.

photo of the Oregon Trail, original cut and marker post; Scotts Bluff Summit Road, Gering, Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska (unknown date)

Photo: Oregon Trail, original cut and marker post; Scotts Bluff Summit Road, Gering, Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska (unknown date). Source: Library of Congress.

Some of our knowledge of the Oregon Trail came from history books—but to be honest, more lore was derived from playing the famous “The Oregon Trail” video game distributed by Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC). We used this game to supplement computer skills for youth who attended our training center’s summer computer camps.

Even the youngest ones joined in the fusion of history and computer skills. They’d start by outfitting wagons in Independence, Missouri, to make the trek of 2,200 treacherous miles to the Oregon Territory. You never knew which group would make it, or what pitfalls would beset them. Sometimes there were skirmishes with Native Americans; other times, the wagon broke down or they ran out of food and starved. All in all, it was a great method to make early American history come alive!

Pioneer Conestoga Wagon Treks West, Notas de Kingsville newspaper article 16 September 1954

Notas de Kingsville (Kingsville, Texas), 16 September 1954, page 4

Pioneer Trail Stories Found in Old Newspapers

Much like curling up with a good juicy novel, you can make your family history come alive by playing your own “trail” game with historical newspapers.

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Amazing stories of pioneer families traveling on various trails during the westward expansion, along with diaries, maps, advertisements and journals, can be researched to document what was happening when.

As noted in this 1846 newspaper article regarding prairie caravans, many pioneers followed one of four great trails that radiated west:

  • Missouri River Trail
  • Oregon Trail
  • Mexican Trail
  • Texas Trail
Prairie Caravans--Trade in the Far West, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 9 May 1846

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 9 May 1846, page 2

Being able to make a living was essential to our ancestors’ survival, so note that commerce centered around the trading of buffalo robes, pelts, horses, mules, buckskins, moccasins, curiosities and trinkets with American Indians. If traveling to Oregon, one would pick a certain season to travel—if going to Texas, one would pick a different season to begin the journey west.

So how many of us really know what it was like to travel on a wagon train? How large were they? What was the experience really like? Historical newspapers hold many answers to these and other questions about our pioneer ancestors and their experiences pioneering the rugged frontier in America.

map of the Oregon Trail

Map: the Oregon Trail. Source: Wikipedia.

This 1848 newspaper article describes a California-bound encampment consisting of 100 wagons, with an average of five persons per wagon. The next paragraph notes that a great number of Mormons were crossing the Missouri River at St. Joseph.

article about pioneers using the Oregon Trail, Newburyport Herald newspaper article 2 June 1848

Newburyport Herald (Newburyport, Massachusetts), 2 June 1848, page 2

These details from newspaper articles put “meat on the bones” of an ancestral story—you just have to find the articles that tell the stories. Don’t forget to put a face to the occurrences. Even if you don’t have a photo of a direct forebear, you can get a fairly good idea of what people at that time looked like or how they dressed from newspaper articles about other pioneers.

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For example, here’s a picture of Ezra Meeker (born c. 1830) from a 1922 newspaper article that reported he went to Oregon around 1850—not via a wagon train, but in an ox-cart.

article about pioneer Ezra Meeker, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 27 October 1922

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 27 October 1922, page 18

These old newspaper articles about America’s pioneer days report various aspects of U.S. history. For example, this Apache scout—because of his knowledge of Native American trails—was recruited in the hunt for Pancho Villa after he raided New Mexico in 1916.

article about an Apache scout, Patriot newspaper article 12 May 1916

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 12 May 1916, page 2

Pioneer Stories in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

Don’t forget that one of GenealogyBank’s more compelling resources, the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, is full of firsthand accounts of activities related to American development. This excerpt from 1900 describes, in minute details, several explorations into Alaska via foot and river trails. It’s an amazing account that I hope you’ll take time to explore.

Compilation of Narratives of Explorations in Alaska 18 April 1900

Compilation of Narratives of Explorations in Alaska 18 April 1900. Source: U.S. Congressional Serial Set, Vol. 3896.

Source: Serial Set Vol. No.3896; Report: S.Rpt. 1023; Compilation of narratives of explorations in Alaska. April 18, 1900. Reported from the Committee on Military Affairs by Mr. Carter and ordered to be printed.

Origins of “Oregon”

You’ll find lots of stories about your pioneer ancestors in GenealogyBank—as well as interesting tidbits about American history. For example: do you know how Oregon got its name?

This 1826 newspaper article reports that “Oregon” was a Native American word meaning “River that flows to the west.”

article about Oregon, Connecticut Observer newspaper article 26 January 1826

Connecticut Observer (Hartford, Connecticut), 26 January 1826, page 4

More Resources for Trail Genealogy Research

The following is a small sampling of resources to research the thousands of American trails that your pioneer ancestors may have traveled during the westward expansion.

American Trails

article about pioneers and westward expansion in the U.S., Weekly Council Bluffs Bugle newspaper article 13 April 1859

Weekly Council Bluffs Bugle (Council Bluffs, Iowa), 13 April 1859, page 2

Mormon Pioneer Trails

Trail of Tears (Removal of Native Americans from their eastern homelands 1838-1839)

map of the Trail of Tears

Map: Trail of Tears. Source: National Park Service.

With these resources, as well as the material contained in GenealogyBank, you should be able to make many interesting family history discoveries about your pioneer ancestors, weaving together the stories of their westward travels. Good luck with your genealogy research and let us know what you discover about your American ancestry!

Related Pioneer Ancestry Articles:

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