46th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Assassination

At 6:01 p.m. the evening of 4 April 1968, the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by an assassin while standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Though rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, Dr. King was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. He died young at only 39 years old. A stunned nation lost its leading proponent of nonviolence, the civil rights movement lost its most visible leader, and many Americans deeply mourned King’s death.

Dr. King had come to Memphis to lead a protest march supporting the city’s striking garbage workers, almost all of whom were black. The plane carrying him to Memphis on April 3 received a bomb threat, and that night he gave what turned out to be the last speech of his life, sounding eerily as though he had already transcended his own death:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now…I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

Historical newspapers are a great resource for exploring your ancestors’ lives—and the times they lived in. Here is a collection of old front-page headlines to show how newspapers broke the tragic news of MLK’s assassination to the nation. (Note: all of the newspaper articles used to illustrate this Blog post come from GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.)

front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Record American newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Record American (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 April 1968, page 1

front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Greensboro Daily News newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 5 April 1968, page 1

Enter Last Name










front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Boston Herald Traveler newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Boston Herald Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 April 1968, page 1

front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Centre Daily Times newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Centre Daily Times (State College, Pennsylvania), 5 April 1968, page 1

front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Commercial Appeal newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee), 5 April 1968, page 1

front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Morning Advocate newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Morning Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 5 April 1968, page 1

Enter Last Name










front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Aberdeen American-News newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Aberdeen American-News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 5 April 1968, page 1

front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Augusta Chronicle newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 5 April 1968, page 1

front-page news about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dallas Morning News newspaper articles 5 April 1968

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 5 April 1968, page 1

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Everyone’s a Wee Bit Irish around St. Patrick’s Day!

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, to celebrate March being Irish American Heritage Month, Mary explains that many of us have at least a little Irish in our family history—including President Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr.

With the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations this week, plus March being Irish American Heritage Month, everyone is feeling a wee bit Irish. And, as it turns out, quite a few of us have actual Irish roots—including U.S. President Barack Obama and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

Irish Diaspora

Population estimates vary, but most historians and researchers agree that the Irish Diaspora (persons of Irish heritage living outside of Ireland) is significant.

By some estimates, at least 10% of the world is Irish (according to the Irish tourism board)—and others report that there are at least seven times as many people of Irish descent in America as the entire population of Ireland! (See Huffington Post article.)

photo of Blarney Castle, Ireland

Photo: verdant scene from the top of Blarney Castle, Ireland. Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

So when everyone claims to be a wee bit Irish in March, especially on St. Patrick’s Day, you shouldn’t be surprised. Many Americans, including several prominent African Americans, can trace their roots to the Emerald Isle.

The Obamas’ Irish Ancestry

One of the first studies on President Barack and Michelle (Robinson) Obama’s ancestry was conducted by genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak (yes, she is a double Smolenyak).

She discovered that Mrs. Obama’s third great grandmother Melvinia was the granddaughter of Andrew Shields, a white Irish protestant immigrant, via his son Charles Shields.

The President’s direct immigrant Irish ancestor was Falmouth Kearney, a native of Moneygall in County Offaly. He left his homeland in 1850 to escape the great famine (which lasted 1845-1852). Once the people of Ireland learned this, there was much celebration and pride in being connected to the U.S. President. See:

DNA Study of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Family

Another historical figure connected to the Republic of Ireland is Martin Luther King, Jr. (15 Jan. 1929 – 4 April 1968).

photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Photo: Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C. Credit: Library of Congress.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s roots are a wee bit elusive, as traditional research methods using a path of documentary evidence have failed.

However, a DNA study conducted on his son Michael Luther King, III, indicated ties to the Mende people of Sierra Leone on his mother’s side, and Ireland on his father’s.

MLK’s Family Tree through the Paternal Line

  • Jacob Branham & wife Dinnah
  • |
  • Nathan King (a.k.a. Branham or Brannan) & wife Malinda
  • |
  • James Albert “Jim” King & Delia Lindsey
  • |
  • Martin Luther King, Sr. & Alberta C. Williams
  • |
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. & Coretta Scott

In the MLK family tree, note the name change from Branham or Brannan (and other spellings) to King. This occurred sometime between 1870 and 1880, when Nathan appeared on the U.S. Federal Census as a King. The reason for the name change is not clear, but perhaps the family wished to disassociate themselves with the oppressive slavery of the Branham family of Putnam County, Georgia.

No records have been located to prove which Branham family owned the slave plantation where the King ancestors lived, but in all likelihood it was Dr. Joel Branham (1799 – 1877) or his father Henry Branham (or both). The family is thought to have removed to Georgia from Virginia in the 1700s. By 1812 Henry Branham had become active in his community, and he ran for the State Legislature.

article abourt Henry Branham, Georgia Argus newspaper article 7 October 1812

Georgia Argus (Milledgeville, Georgia), 7 October 1812, page 2

The family’s opposition to the abolishment of slavery is indicated by this article of 1837, when Dr. Joel Branham opposed the election of President Martin Van Buren.

article about Joel Branham, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 17 September 1840

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 17 September 1840, page 2

The Mysterious Reference to James King & Ireland

Several genealogists have presented comprehensive articles discussing the King family’s connection to the Branhams and Ireland (see links below)—and surprisingly, they have identified one mysterious reference to Ireland in connection with Rev. King’s grandfather.

An examination of the records reports a bit more detail.

In 1910, the U.S. Federal Census reported that the James and Delia King family (James King was MLK’s grandfather) were renting a farm on the Jonesboro and Covington Road in the Stockbridge District of Henry County, Georgia. It was the first marriage for James and Delia, who had been married 15 years (so they were married c. 1895). There had been eight children, but only seven were still living. The eldest child could read and write, and the second child could read but not write, and neither James nor Delia could read or write.

The birthplace of Delia and all the children was reported as Georgia—but James King’s birthplace was reported as Ohio. Most interestingly, the birthplace of James King’s father was reported as Ireland.

photo of the 1910 U.S. Census record for James King, Sr.

Photo: 1910 U.S. Census record for James King, Sr. Credit: FamilySearch.org.

photo of the 1910 U.S. Census record for James King, Sr. household

For further reading on this interesting subject, see these articles:

Cluster Analysis of the Branham Irish Origins

So if you accept the theory that one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ancestors was a man named Branham from Ireland, how would one determine where the family originated?

Since early records are scant, a surname distribution map such as the one hosted by the Irish Times is useful. It works by enumerating names found on surveys, such as the 1847-64 Primary Valuation Survey.

Some might criticize this tool for being too late a time period. However, if a significant number of families were only found in a limited area, then a sampling of family (siblings and cousins of the immigrants whose descendants stayed in the area), could be examined.

By searching for Branham, the results showed six households under an alternate spelling of Brangham.

Other related spellings include Brannan, Brannon, Bringham, Brinham, Brennan, etc.—and when they were searched, a significant cluster appeared. It turns out that these families are associated with Northern Ireland, and in particular the counties of Londonderry, Antrim, Tyrone, Down, Armagh and Fermanagh.

Although not conclusive, this at least provides researchers who wish to trace the King Irish ancestry more of a target region.

Further Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honoring the Memory of MLK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Free Martin Luther King Jr. Family Tree Download

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

Martin Luther King Jr. Family Tree

Martin Luther King Jr. Family Tree 4 Generations

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

MLK Genealogy Challenge

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

Related Posts:

Finding Dr. King’s Roots in Slavery

How do I find articles on Blacks in GenealogyBank?

Curious & Funny Epitaphs of Famous People & the Not-So-Famous

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary presents some of the hilarious or unusual—and, in some cases, quite touching—epitaphs she has discovered.

Are you an expert on some of the more famous epitaphs found on tombstones?

To see if you are, take this handy Famous People’s Tombstone Epitaphs quiz—which you are welcome to share with your genealogy-loving and cemetery-sleuthing friends—and then check your answers below.

a quiz of epitaphs found on famous people's tombstones

Authors of Their Own Epitaphs

If you want to be certain you’ll be remembered in a unique way, then write your own epitaph. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) did it, so why not you? Besides, it’s a great way to make sure you get in the last words you want!

Thomas Jefferson’s Epitaph

Of the two, Thomas Jefferson’s epitaph is the more serious. Prior to his death on 4 July 1826, he wrote:

“Here lies Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and of the Statutes establishing religious toleration in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Thomas Jefferson's epitaph, Macon Weekly Telegraph newspaper article 2 January 1855

Macon Weekly Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 2 January 1855, page 2

Benjamin Franklin’s Epitaph

I prefer Dr. Franklin’s epitaph; he humorously described himself as “food for worms” prior to his passing on 17 April 1790.

Benjamin Franklin's epitaph, Massachusetts Centinel newspaper article 5 May 1790

Massachusetts Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 May 1790, page 58

William Shakespeare’s Epitaph

Another famous historical figure who wrote his own epitaph was William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Shakespeare’s tombstone inscription, which has been widely debated, suggests that a visitor might be cursed if he moved Shakespeare’s bones. One theory is that Shakespeare wished to scare away grave robbers; another is that as cemeteries filled, he wished to deter the custom of moving existing interments to make room for others. (See his grave from Holy Trinity Churchyard in Stratford-upon-Avon, England at www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=1450.)

Shakespeare wrote:

“Good friends, for Jesus’ sake, forbear
To dig the dirt inclosed here.
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
But curst be he that moves my bones.”

William Shakespeare's epitaph, Providence Gazette newspaper article 23-30 December 1769

Providence Gazette (Providence, Rhode Island), 23-30 December 1769, page 2

Sam Houston’s Epitaph

Then there is that famous Texan, Sam Houston (1793-1863). As a senator from Texas, he delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate defending the Compromise of 1850. Worried that slavery would split the Union, he declared: “I wish, if this Union must be dissolved, that its ruins may be the monuments of my grave, and the graves of my family. I wish no epitaph to be written to tell that I survived the ruin of this glorious Union.”

He died in the middle of the Civil War, and no epitaph was written for him. However, his gravesite memorial features a quote by Andrew Jackson: “The world will take care of Houston’s fame.”

a photo of Sam Houston’s gravesite memorial in Huntsville, Texas

Photo: Sam Houston’s gravesite memorial in Huntsville, Texas. Credit: Wikipedia.

Curious & Memorable Epitaphs of the Famous and Not-So-Famous

Some epitaphs are noteworthy because they were written for famous people—and others are memorable for their uniqueness. While researching this topic, I discovered that many epitaphs are simply urban legends and don’t exist in reality—but the epitaph examples below are real. Just follow the links to check the inscriptions with photographs of the tombstones at findagrave.com.

Lucille Ball’s Epitaph

“You’ve Come Home”

(Lake View Cemetery, Jamestown, New York:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7003071)

Deborah Marie Bennett’s Epitaph

“Life is short,
Eat dessert first”

(Mount Hope Cemetery, Pescadero, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=99693195)

Jonathan Blake’s Epitaph

“Here lies the body of
Jonathan Blake
Stepped on the gas
Instead of the brake”

(Uniontown Cemetery, Uniontown, Pennsylvania:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=39158322)

Mel Blanc’s Epitaph

“That’s All Folks”

(Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=100)

Rodney Dangerfield’s Epitaph

“There Goes the Neighborhood”

(Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=9556754)

Marguerite Dewey Daniels’s Epitaph

“She always said her
Feet were killing her,
But no one believed her.”

(Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=28457972)

Bette Davis’s Epitaph

“She Did It the Hard Way”

(Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=258)

Jack Dempsey’s Epitaph

“Heavyweight Champion of the World
A gentle man and a gentleman”

(Southampton Cemetery, Southampton, New York:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=275)

Murphy A. Dreher Jr.’s Epitaph

“This ain’t bad
Once you get used to it.”

(Star Hill Cemetery, Saint Francisville, Louisiana:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=95370531&PIpi=65389055)

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Epitaph

“So we beat our boats against
The current, borne back
Ceaselessly into the past”
The Great Gatsby

(Old Saint Mary’s Catholic Church Cemetery, Rockville, Maryland:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=344)

Robert Frost’s Epitaph

“I Had a Lover’s Quarrel with the World”

(Old Bennington Cemetery, Bennington, Vermont:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=371)

Sal Giardino’s Epitaph

“World’s Greatest Electrician”

[This tombstone looks like a light bulb.]
(Laurel Grove Memorial Park, Totowa, New Jersey:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=5103)

Merv Griffin’s Epitaph

“I will not be right back
After this message”

(Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=20909851)

Joan Hackett’s Epitaph

“Go Away—I’m Asleep”

(Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=1447)

William H. Hahn Jr.’s Epitaph

“I Told You I Was Sick”

(Princeton Cemetery, Princeton, New Jersey:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7968130)

Rita Hayworth’s Epitaph

“To yesterday’s companionship
And tomorrow’s reunion”

(Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=1253)

Coretta Scott King’s Epitaph

“And now abide faith, hope,
Love, these three; but the
Greatest of these is love.”
I Cor. 13:13

(Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, Atlanta, Georgia:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=582)

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epitaph

“Free at last, free at last,
Thank God Almighty
I’m free at last.”

(Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, Atlanta, Georgia:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=582)

Harvey Korman’s Epitaph

“You’re Born, You Suffer, and You Die”

(Woodlawn Cemetery, Santa Monica, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=27185449)

Jack Lemmon’s Epitaph

“Jack Lemmon in”

(Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=22822)

Paul G. Lind’s Epitaph

“WEMISSU”

[This tombstone looks like a scrabble board.]
(Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery, Portland, Oregon:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=27240724)

Sylvester B. McCracken’s Epitaph

“School is out
Teacher has gone home”

(Grace Lawn Cemetery, Elkhart, Indiana:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=43210077)

Lester Moore’s Epitaph

“Here lies Lester Moore
Four slugs from a .44
No les [sic], no more”

(Boothill Graveyard, Tombstone, Arizona:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=19899)

Leslie Nielsen’s Epitaph

“Let ’Er Rip”

[And on the bench:]
“Sit Down Whenever You Can”

(Evergreen Cemetery, Fort Lauderdale, Florida:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=62278982)

Dr. William P. Rothwell’s Epitaph

“This Is on Me”
—Rx

(Oak Grove Cemetery, Pawtucket, Rhode Island:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=11588247)

Billy Wilder’s Epitaph

“I’m a writer
But then
Nobody’s perfect”

(Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6295551)

Here is a collage of some more curious epitaphs, all found in historical newspapers.

a collage of epitaphs found in historical newspapers

If you know of some curious or funny epitaphs from cemeteries near you, please share them with us in the comments!

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Jackie Robinson & Rosa Parks Obituaries

During this October week in American history three pioneering activists died who had a big impact on American society:

  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton, American women’s rights activist, died at 86 on 26 October 1902
  • Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson, American baseball player and civil rights activist, died at 53 on 24 October 1972
  • Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, American civil rights activist, died at 92 on 24 October 2005

Newspapers are filled with obituaries and profiles that help us better understand the lives of our ancestors—and the famous people who lived during their times. You can use historical newspapers to research their public careers and trace their family trees. The following old newspaper articles about these three famous Americans are good examples.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)

An activist from an early age, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was involved in the abolitionist and temperance movements—but the cause to which she primarily devoted her considerable powers was women’s rights and their equality before the law, especially the right to vote. She was instrumental in organizing the first women’s rights convention: the Seneca Falls Convention, a two-day meeting convened on July 19, 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York.

Over 300 people attended the women’s rights convention, whose highlight was the reading and discussion of a statement of women’s rights called the Declaration of Sentiments, primarily written by Stanton. After much debate, the declaration (deliberately modeled after the Declaration of Independence) was signed by 100 of the participants: 68 women and 32 men.

Of the 12 resolutions debated and approved at the convention, the most controversial was the ninth, written by Stanton. It read: “Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.” Women’s suffrage was a divisive issue and many of the convention’s participants opposed its inclusion, fearing that an element this controversial would weaken support for women’s equality. However, others argued persuasively in favor of supporting women’s suffrage—and in the end the voting rights resolution was approved.

Stanton met another pioneering suffragist, Susan B. Anthony, in 1851, and the two women were close friends and allies in the women’s rights movement for the rest of Stanton’s life.

This obituary was published the day after Stanton died.

Woman's Rights Loses Venerable 'Mother' [Elizabeth Cady Stanton], Denver Post newspaper obituary 27 October 1902

Denver Post (Denver, Colorado), 27 October 1902, page 3

This old newspaper obituary included a tribute penned by Susan B. Anthony: “Through the early days, when the world was against us, we stood together. Mrs. Stanton was always a courageous woman, a leader of thought and new movement. She was a most finished writer and every state paper presented to Congress or the state legislatures in the early days was written by Mrs. Stanton. I cannot express myself at all as I feel, I am too crushed to say too much, but if she had outlived me she would have found fine words with which to express our friendship.”

This tribute to Stanton was published two days after she died.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 28 October 1902

Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 28 October 1902, page 6

It concluded: “Mrs. Stanton fell far short of her aim, in what she actually accomplished, just as Susan B. Anthony finds herself far short of the goal toward which she has struggled [the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, was not ratified until 1920]. The world is not ready to grant their contention in its fullness, and indeed is still to a great degree hostile toward it, but the two remarkable women long ago won recognition of the principle by which they were inspired, and through that recognition extended the power of women in public affairs to a wonderful degree, and made great progress toward establishing women in a position more equitable with that of men so far as property rights are concerned.

“Work like that carried on by Mrs. Stanton cannot cease with her life, nor can it end when Miss Anthony, her illustrious co-worker, passes away. It is everlasting, and will constantly bring fresh benefits to womankind.”

Jackie Robinson (1919-1972)

A superb all-around athlete and a man of strong principles, Jackie Robinson is most remembered as the African American who broke baseball’s color barrier when he started a game for the Brooklyn Dodgers on 15 April 1947. Despite vicious racial taunts and threats, Robinson played the game with great intensity and excellence, gradually winning the respect and admiration of most of his peers and helping to advance the cause of the Civil Rights Movement in America.

During his 10-year baseball career, Robinson played in six World Series, had a lifetime batting average of .311, won the Rookie of the Year award in 1947, and was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1949. He became the first African American player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame when he was accepted in 1962, in his initial year of eligibility.

After his professional baseball career ended, Robinson continued to break racial barriers with a series of firsts for an African American: baseball television analyst; vice-president of a major American corporation (Chock full o’Nuts); one of the co-founders of an African American-owned financial institution called the Freedom National Bank; owner of a construction company that built housing for low-income families.

Robinson died a much-respected figure on 24 October 1972 of complications from diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease at the young age (for a prime athlete) of 53. After his death tributes poured in for the man who had accomplished—and endured—so much.

This tribute, published in the newspaper the day after Robinson died, told a story about his minor league playing career with the Montreal Royals that showed how much testing Robinson had to endure.

Fear of Failure Motivated Jackie [Robinson], Springfield Union newspaper article 25 October 1972

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 25 October 1972, page 32

“There was the exhibition game against Indianapolis, and Paul Derringer, the one-time Cincinnati ace, was pitching against Montreal. He was a friend of [Montreal Manager Clay] Hopper’s and he said:

“‘Tell you what I’m gonna do, Clay. I’m gonna knock him (Robinson) down a couple of times and see what he’s made of.’

“Robinson had to eat dirt to avoid a high, inside pitch his first time up, but then picked himself up and singled. Derringer decked him again the next time up, but Robinson bludgeoned a screaming triple to left-center.

“‘He’ll do, Clay,’ Derringer hollered into the Montreal dugout.”

This tribute to Robinson was penned by famed sportswriter Red Smith.

Unconquerable Spirit [Jackie Robinson] Pierces Gloom in Philly, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 25 October 1972

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 25 October 1972, page 70

Calling Robinson the “black man’s fighter,” Smith wrote: “Jackie Robinson established the black man’s right to play second base. He fought for the black man’s right to a place in the white community, and he never lost sight of that goal. After he left baseball, almost everything he did was directed toward that goal. He was involved in foundation of the Freedom National Banks. He tried to get an insurance company started with black capital and when he died he was head of a construction company building houses for blacks. Years ago a friend, talking of the needs of blacks, said, ‘good schooling comes first.’

“‘No,’ Jackie said. ‘housing is the first thing. Unless he’s got a home he wants to come back to, it doesn’t matter what kind of school he goes to.’”

This Jackie Robinson obituary article was published the day after he died.

Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson Dead at 53, Plain Dealer newspaper obituary 25 October 1972

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 October 1972, page 61

It included a tribute to Robinson from the head of baseball: “Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said Robinson was unsurpassed in contribution to sports. ‘His entire life was courage. Courage as the black pioneer of the game. Courage in the way he fought for what he believed.’”

Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

When Rosa Parks, an African American woman in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up her bus seat to a white person on Dec. 1, 1955, her act of resistance ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott—which in turn accelerated the Civil Rights Movement and forever changed America. It was not that Parks was too physically tired to move that evening, though it was the end of another long day working as a seamstress in the Montgomery Fair department store. Nor was she old and infirm; at 42, she was a strong and healthy African American woman. She had simply had enough of the city’s segregation laws that gave whites more rights than blacks.

Her arrest for refusing white bus driver James Blake’s order to give up her seat on the bus galvanized the African American community in Montgomery. Thousands of leaflets were distributed calling for a boycott of the city’s buses until the Jim Crow segregation laws were changed. The boycott was led by a young minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., who soon rose to national prominence as a civil rights leader. After 381 days the segregation laws were finally changed and blacks once again rode Montgomery’s buses—but that victory was only the start of a movement much, much bigger.

The Civil Rights Movement gained momentum, and Rosa Parks went on to receive national recognition—including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

This 1955 news article reported on her arrest, fining, and the subsequent bus boycott.

Negro Woman [Rosa Parks] in Segregation Case Fined, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 5 December 1955

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 5 December 1955, page 44

The newspaper article about the Montgomery bus incident reported: “The woman was taken off a bus and jailed last Thursday night after refusing to leave a section reserved for white passengers. The [Montgomery] City Code requires segregation in all forms of public transportation and gives bus drivers police powers to enforce the law.

“Meanwhile, other Negroes boycotted city buses in protest against the woman’s arrest. Police cars and motorcycles followed the busses to avert trouble.”

This obituary and appreciation was published in the newspaper two days after Parks died.

Rosa Parks Inspired Generation, Register Star newspaper article 26 October 2005

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 26 October 2005, page 1

It reported: “Attorney Vernita Hervey, a civil rights activist, said Parks’ defiance of Alabama’s Jim Crow laws sparked an uprising that ‘probably was the defining moment in African-American collective action.’”

To honor Parks, this drawing graced the editorial page of the Register Star.

editorial cartoon paying respects to Rosa Parks, Register Star newspaper illustration 26 October 2005

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 26 October 2005, page 5

Today there is even an American holiday in Rosa Parks’ honor.

Newspaper Obituaries provide personal details about someone’s life that can’t be found elsewhere—whether they are stories about our ancestors or articles about famous people we’re interested in. GenealogyBank features two collections of online obituaries:

Dig into these obituary archives today and see what you can discover about your family tree and the famous people you admire most!