Remembering ‘Roots’ Author Alexander Murray Palmer Haley

Alex Haley (1921-1992) was a famous African American author who had more impact on genealogy than any other person in the past 50 years. He was born 11 August 1921. Haley would be almost 92 years old if he were alive today.

After the release of his book Roots: The Saga of an American Family (New York City, New York: Doubleday) 37 years ago—on 17 August 1976—and the launch of the eight-part television mini-series on ABC-TV in January 1977, the genealogy world was forever changed.

He was 55 years old when Roots was published.

Alex Haley Roots Book Cover

Image credit: Wikipedia.org

From that point on the number of genealogical societies in the U.S. skyrocketed from 400 societies to over 4,000. Public libraries and state archives across the country were flooded with family history researchers using their book and microfilm collections.

Some major milestones to keep in mind: the first laptop wasn’t invented until 1981 (Osborne); Google was launched in 1995; and GenealogyBank was born 19 October 2006.

One man can make a big difference.

Recently Alex Haley’s nephew Christopher Haley participated in a DNA study and was surprised to learn about his Scottish roots. Hosted by Megan Smolenyak, this episode of Roots Television shows the family reunion of the Haley and Baff families:

Deadwood Dick: Chasing a Cornish-American Legend

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott digs into old newspapers to see if the Wild West’s legendary character “Deadwood Dick” was a real person or just a myth.

Early in my family history and genealogy work I made, what was for me, a remarkable discovery. I found that I had a significant branch of second cousins in Cornwall in the United Kingdom.

I had not known about my Cornish relatives and they were equally unaware of me. It wasn’t long before I had the opportunity to meet this grand branch of my family and it was an extraordinary occasion! We spent several wonderful days together and those treasured family memories will now be with me forever. Given all the family photographs, stories, catching up on lifetimes, pub visits, heirlooms, and tromping around parish churches and graveyards, my head was filled with family history. I guess it should come as no surprise that I placed one item in a remote drawer of my “mental filing cabinet,” to be explored at a later date.

Not long ago this tidbit came roaring back into my consciousness and I decided I needed to investigate. The name I had filed away was “Deadwood Dick”; when I was in Cornwall many people had asked me if I was familiar with this famous Cornish-American immigrant. To begin my investigation, I opened up GenealogyBank.com and started searching for historical records containing his name. As usual, I was not disappointed!

I logged in and searched on “Deadwood Dick.” To my surprise I was greeted with more than 3,800 articles in the Newspaper Archive section of my results. I then clicked on the subcategory Obituaries. Quickly I noted that Deadwood had been reported as dead a number of times, including 1906, 1911 and 1920, along with a couple of other dates! As a genealogist I smiled when I read these different death accounts, and also found varying family histories attributed to good old Deadwood.  They ranged from Deadwood being: the nephew of the governor of Illinois; a shop owner in Belle Fourche; and a postmaster in Deadwood, the latter two places both in the Dakota Territory.

So I read on. What I discovered about this Cornish-American immigrant was quite a story! You see Deadwood was the inspiration for dime novels, or what were also known as the yellow-backed series of action books, featuring the exploits and adventures of Deadwood Dick.

But was the legendary Deadwood Dick a real person?

An old article from the Daily People newspaper proclaimed: “Deadwood Dick a Myth.” As they say in the game shows: “Buzz…wrong answer!” This newspaper article was certainly not going to establish that Deadwood was a real person.

Deadwood Dick a Myth, Daily People newspaper article 26 April 1903

Daily People (New York, New York), 26 April 1903, page 6

Soon I found a delightful old news article published by the Jackson Citizen Patriot lamenting “Dime Novels of Our Youthful Days.” Seems no matter what the time in history, we always miss things from our youth—and in this case it was the exciting stories of Deadwood Dick.

Diime Novels of Our Youthful Days, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 16 August 1922

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 16 August 1922, page 2

Then I discovered, from an old newspaper article published by the Sun, that Deadwood Dick was the subject of a successful stage play. But still the question remained: was he a real person? I kept on with my investigation.

"Deadwood Dick" at Blaney's, Sun newspaper article 26 November 1907

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 26 November 1907, page 9

I was really enjoying taking a trip into America’s past, through newspapers, trying to discern who and/or what Deadwood Dick really was. Then I found a newspaper article that answered my question: Deadwood was indeed a real person!

I found his story in an article published by the Kansas City Star, entitled: “‘Deadwood Dick’ Cashes in His Chips in Life’s Game.”

"Deadwood Dick" Cashes in His Chips in Life's Game, Kansas City Star newspaper article 16 February 1920

Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), 16 February 1920, page 20

This account confirmed that a man named Richard Bullock was the original and very real Deadwood Dick. He spent time as a guard on the gold bullion stagecoaches that carried gold ore from the mines of South Dakota to Omaha, Nebraska. The article said that Richard emigrated from “England,” the common misnomer in those times for any portion of the United Kingdom.

My additional research has confirmed that Richard Bullock, a.k.a. Deadwood Dick, was born about 20 August 1847 near Saint Columb Major in Cornwall. He was a member of the Methodist Choir before he emigrated from Cornwall in his early 20s to find his future in America.

From choirboy to a man of mythological proportions and the stuff of early action novels!

All I can say is I am sure happy I pulled that memory out of the old filing cabinet and looked for Deadwood Dick stories in GenealogyBank’s newspapers. You just never know what you will find!

William Montgomery Clemens (1860-1931)

Genealogists who made a difference

William Montgomery Clemens (1860-1931)
was a prolific genealogist and writer. Nephew to the more famous Samuel Clemens (1835-1910) – he was also a newspaper man and author. William M. Clemens started writing for the Pittsburgh Leader in 1879 and continued his research & writing for more than five decades.

(Illus. Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain – 2nd from right).

(Click here to see original Obituary – Trenton Evening Times 25 Nov. 1931)


A prolific writer, he was the author of well over 100 books and hundreds of essays and newspaper articles.


His regular column – “Notes on American Ancestry and Revolutionary Records” regularly appeared as the “Genealogical Department” in the Columbia, SC newspaper – the State.


Click Here to search all of the back issues of the State (Columbia, SC) newspaper 1891-1922

Over 80 of Clemens’ genealogy columns appeared in the Star.

Each one has genealogical details & information for families from across the country.

He regularly received questions from his readers and posted them to this column.

GenealogyBank has added a new feature – Ask the Genealogist!

Have a question about GenealogyBank or hit a brick wall with your family history research? Write us and let us know.

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Linda Fay Kaufman, genealogist, 1940-2009

Remembering one of our own: Linda Fay Kaufman, genealogist, 1940-2009

Enthusiastic genealogist Linda Fay Kaufman (1940-2009) has passed away.
She put her family history research online and actively corresponded with genealogists across the country. A search of the genealogy lists shows her posts as recently as the last few months.

Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis, MN) – April 12, 2009
Kaufman, Linda Fay Born in Hanover, NH on July 15, 1940, died peacefully on March 30, 2009 surrounded by family at North Memorial Hospital.


She is survived by husband Stan, daughters Eleanor Kaufman (Chicago, IL) and Elizabeth Shiroma (St. Paul, MN), son-in law Ian Shiroma, grandson Ryan Shiroma, sisters Marcia Fay (Bethlehem, PA) and Norma Bigos (Baltimore, MD), nephew Jon Bigos (Baltimore, MD), and extended family across the U.S.

A graduate of Newton High School and Wellesley College in Massachusetts, Linda studied classical languages and literature in graduate school at Yale University. During this time, she met Stan, and they married in 1964.

Linda taught at Vassar College and at the Thomas School for Girls. In 1969, she embarked with Stan for universities in Germany, first in Heidelberg and then in Mainz. In Heidelberg, she taught English to German-speaking adults.

Later, she worked in the University’s Library of Southeast Asian studies, organizing and cataloging documents in the many languages of that region. At the University in Mainz, she assisted in the Comparative Literature Department.

In 1976, Linda and Stan moved to Minnesota, and adopted their first daughter Elizabeth the next year; their second daughter Eleanor was born in 1979. When the children were in school, Linda held several accounting positions. She then became a Certified Professional Accountant and developed a small practice of her own, specializing in tax returns with international involvement. She especially enjoyed her work assisting recent immigrants in the Somali community.

During the past decade, Linda conducted extensive genealogy research on her New England family roots. She developed comprehensive family websites, collaborated with many others, and responded to world-wide inquiries from fellow genealogists and distant relatives.

Linda will be remembered lovingly by her family and the many people whose lives she touched. A gathering in her honor will be held later in the spring. In lieu of flowers, the family prefers donations to Green Belt Movement (http://greenbeltmovement.org) or Books for Africa (http://www.booksforafrica.org/)

Edition: METRO
Page: 5B
Copyright (c) 2009 Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities

Did you know GenealogyBank has more than 130 million obituaries and death records – from Newspapers 1690 to Today; Government Reports like the US Army Register and hundreds of other sources?

Click Here and Start Searching Now

Wow – I love GenealogyBank.

We routinely hear from genealogists telling about their success – “Wow, look what I found!”

We really love to hear those stories and today it is my turn.
Last week I was stunned to find that one of my cousins had posted early photographs of our family online.
There they were – the actual pictures of my third great-grandfather Isaac Garcelon (1790-1872)
and his parents William (1763-1851)
and Maria (Howe) Garcelon (1763-1850).
I could see why they were so bundled up.
They were from Lewiston, Androscoggin County, Maine. Having grown up in New England I am used to cold weather – the snow would stay on the north side of my grandparent’s home until April almost every year.
This find got me to searching in GenealogyBank to find out more about them. I simply searched the name: William Garcelon and quickly found death notices for William Garcelon (1763-1851) that were published in two newspapers, one in Massachusetts and one in Maine.
The Boston Evening Transcript 23 Jan 1851

and in the Portland Daily Advertiser (29 Jan 1851).

Then I quickly spotted the marriage announcement of William’s nephew – Captain Asa Garcelon (1796-1859) that was published in the Eastern Argus (Maine) 16 March 1825.

Notice that every one of these articles appeared in out-of-town or out-of-state newspapers.

TIP: Colonial and 19th Century Newspapers often printed out of town birth, marriage and death notices. GenealogyBank makes them easy to find because it let’s you search all 3,700 newspapers for your ancestors.

TIP: Be flexible in your searches and remember that their obituaries or marriage notices just might have been printed in out of state newspapers – like the wedding announcement of Nicholas Goodson and Sarah Matthews in Isle of Wight County, Virginia – that was published in the Maine newspaper – the Eastern Argus in 1825. Like cable news television stations today – newspapers carried news from across the country.

There were no articles telling if Nicholas Goodson was ever arrested.

It is a great day for genealogy. What an opportunity we have to find these historic artifacts, articles and documents about our family.

Tip: Search GenealogyBank now.
What will you find?

Robin Dombrowsky, 1951-2007

Robin Dombrowsky a well known genealogy librarian has passed away. She was an active promoter of genealogy through her many articles and popular lectures. She was active in genealogy even while getting her MLS at the University of South Florida. She was the Supervisor of the Reference Department at the Palm Harbor (FL) Public Library.

She will be missed.

Her obituary appeared in the St. Petersburg Times – courtesy of GenealogyBank

St. Petersburg Times (FL) – December 7, 2007
DOMBROWSKY, Robin Dianne, 56, of Clearwater, was the Supervisor of Adult References at the Palm Harbor Public Library. She is survived by her husband of 12 years, Gregory Dominguez; her sister, Ann Boray; and nephew, Connor Boray, of Carol Stream, IL. Visitation will be Friday, Dec. 7, from 2-5 pm, at Curlew Hills Funeral Home, Palm Harbor, with a Memorial Gathering at 6 pm, at the Palm Harbor Public Library. Curlew Hills Funeral Home 727-789-2000

Finding People with Common Names

Finding people with unusual names can be very difficult but it is easy to find them on GenealogyBank.

Today I was looking for Henry B. Platter and his good wife, Rachel (Bittinger) Platter. The Bittingers are my cousins and many of them are from Garrett County, Maryland.

Now, Platter is an unusual name. It would be easy for a search online to bring back every record that spoke about cooking, kitchens, plates or platters.

On GenealogyBank, I was able to instantly zero in on records
about them.

With just a few clicks I was able to find a dozen documents
about the Platter family. I began opening them one by one.
The first hit came from the historical documents and was a pension request by Henry’s wife, Rachel Platter. I quickly discovered Henry had served in the Civil War, a private in Company A, Second Regiment, P.H.B. Maryland Infantry and received a pension of $72 a month (certificate No. 1045070). (This is from: Pensions and increase of pensions for certain soldiers and sailors of the Civil War. Feb 5, 1925: Serial Set Vol. No. 8392, Session Vol. No.A68th Congress, 2nd SessionH.Rpt. 1385).

This is a terrific document – it gave me a lot of details about the family. The record showed that he and Rachel had married on March 12, 1867. That would have been hard to find anywhere else.

It also states that he died on October 4, 1923 leaving her in need of assistance; how long he had served in the Civil War and that his disability was caused during the war.

This document showed that she owned her own home, the value was $500. Perhaps her house looked like this one. It is a picture of her nephew Charles “Wooly” Henry & Sarah (Hoover) Bittinger and their family in front of the family home in New Jerusalem, Garrett County, MD.

It was taken in 1937 just a few years after Rachel Platter had requested a pension. Perhaps Rachel had a similar home.
(Photo by Arthur Rothstein; Library of Congress Photo LC-USF34- 026095-D).

Wow. It’s great that
GenealogyBank has been digitizing so many documents. I never would have found this one on my own. It was easy to find it online at GenealogyBank.

Their names, marriage and death dates, military service; details about their house, their income – bingo, there it was – all this family history in one document.

GenealogyBank added over 42.5 Million family history records last year and added another 2 million just this week. It now has over 216 million historical newspaper articles, obituaries, government and historical documents online. records and documents online.

Give it a try right now. It’s available at a great “get acquainted” rate – only $9.95 for 30 days.

I found documents that gave me the details I needed for my cousins in the back hills of Maryland ….. what will you find?