His Life for His Son’s: The Story of My Cousin Isaac Smith

I recently found compelling newspaper articles about a local New York baker who lost his life while saving his drowning son.

A distant cousin wrote me last week and mentioned that a mutual cousin of ours, Isaac Smith, had died while trying to rescue his son back in the 1800s. I thought, that sounds like a story that a newspaper would pick up – so I headed to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to find the rest of that story.

I quickly found not one – but three articles on this tragedy.

article about W. Isaac Smith drowning while strying to save his son, New York Herald newspaper article 24 June 1895

New York Herald (New York, New York), 24 June 1895, page 5

The drowning happened at a company picnic at Oakland Beach in Rye, New York.

According to the newspaper article, Isaac never took time off from his bakery. The picnic he organized was his first break from work in ten years. The news article goes on to describe the grim details of his death while rescuing his drowning son.

article about W. Isaac Smith drowning while trying to save his son, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 24 June 1895

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 24 June 1895, page 1

According to the other two articles I found, Isaac died of a heart attack – likely brought on by the urgency, fear and stress of finding and rescuing his son Gordon Smith, who was 15 years old.

Enter Last Name

Thanks to these old newspaper articles, my connection to William Isaac Smith went beyond the dates and places. The details and people involved in saving Gordon Smith’s life helped me see into the lives of my relatives in a unique way that is now preserved forever. These newspaper articles provided more than the “facts” so that I could see my relatives as they lived – and died. I got the details of this tragedy – but also sprinkled through there were the details of William Isaac Smith’s character, work ethic and business success that led him to open not just one bakery, but two more in neighboring towns.

article about W. Isaac Smith drowning while trying to save his son, New York Herald Tribune newspaper article 24 June 1895

New York Herald Tribune (New York, New York), 24 June 1895, page 7

Isaac ran a “wholesale bakery” in White Plains that branched out with bakeries in Tarrytown and Port Chester. By the young age of 43, he had provided financial security for his wife and children, and served his employees faithfully. These newspaper clippings on the accident provide amazing details that I would not have found anywhere else – describing not just this tragic incident, but details of the character of my cousin.

GenealogyBank has become a core “go-to,” reliable resource for learning about and writing the history of your family. Newspapers are the only place that genealogists can find the stories of their relatives.

Beyond the dates and places and news of the day are the stories of our grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Only GenealogyBank provides access to over 1.7 billion newspaper records that tell the stories our ancestors cannot. Thanks to our digital archival technology, our records can be made available to you at the click of a mouse. Sign up today and discover stories you might otherwise never have known about your family. Start your 30-day trial now!

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World War II Japanese American Relocation Camp Newspapers

GenealogyBank has added newspapers published in the Japanese American Relocation Camps during World War II.

photo of the Mochida family awaiting the evacuation bus to Japanese American relocation camps during WWII

Photo: Mochida family awaiting the evacuation bus. Source: National Archives photograph; Wikimedia Commons.

Birth, Marriage and Death Notices

These newspapers from Arkansas, California, Colorado and Utah contain birth, marriage, and death records that are very useful for genealogists to trace Japanese lineage.

For example, here is an old obituary from the Tulean Dispatch for Hiromi Homanishi, who was from Puyallup, Washington.

article about the funeral service for Hiromi Hamanishi, Tulean Dispatch newspaper article 17 February 1943

Tulean Dispatch (Newell, California), 17 February 1943, page 1

Here is another historical newspaper article, from the Denson Tribune, listing the names of evacuees and providing birth notices and names of Japanese American servicemen as well.

article about evacuees from Japanese American relocation camps during WWII, Denson Tribune newspaper article 17 September 1943

Denson Tribune (Denson, Arkansas), 17 September 1943, page 6

WWII-Era Departures

During World War II evacuees were prevented from returning to California, Oregon and Washington state – but they were permitted to relocate to other parts of the United States. Notice that the news article above names the residents who opted to leave their camp in Denson, Arkansas, for employment in towns across America.

Some Japanese American young men joined the U.S. military. The newspaper article above names some of them when they were returning to visit family and friends in the camp.

GenealogyBank’s deep newspaper archive has newspapers from the 1600s to today that cover the small towns and big cities across America. We now have these newspapers from World War II that documented life in the Japanese American relocation camps.

Here is a list of those newspapers that contain information on Japanese American relocation camps:

State City Newspaper Date Range
Arkansas Denson Denson Tribune 03/19/1943–06/02/1944
California Manzanar Manzanar Free Press 07/14/1943–09/06/1944
California Newell Newell Star 02/15/1945–02/15/1945
California Newell Tulean Dispatch 03/31/1943–03/31/1943
Colorado Amache Granada Pioneer 06/09/1943–06/09/1943
Utah Topaz Topaz Times 10/30/1942–2/9/1943

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Looking for His Obituary – There Was His Face Looking Back at Me

Genealogists benefit from having access to GenealogyBank’s deep newspaper archives with their millions of obituaries, because obituaries detail the lives of our family – immediate relatives as well as distant cousins. Obituaries can include dates of birth, marriage information, and even where a missing relative might be buried – but it’s a real bonus when they contain a picture of them.

The Springfield Republican published the obituary of Joseph Merrick in 1898. In this primary record we learn about his personality, his livelihood, and – because of this etching – I am also able to see him and get a better sense of who he was.

obituary for Joseph Merrick, Springfield Republican newspaper article 23 February 1898

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 23 February 1898, page 10

The obituary goes on to detail all of the places Joseph lived. It lists his birth in West Springfield, Massachusetts, and tells how he became one of the early entrepreneurs in the Connecticut Valley. These are good clues to help me locate other records on Joseph, and they help me form a timeline of his life.

It tells his story.

Enter Last Name

At GenealogyBank, we are interested in the story. Joseph Merrick started off as a young milkman at the age of 20, and died having a post office named after him. His is only one of the more than 1 billion stories contained in GenealogyBank. With over 1.7 billion documents in our archives, your ancestors have plenty of stories to tell. Sign up today and discover their stories.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

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Oregon Archives: 61 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

On Valentine’s Day, Oregon celebrated the 156th anniversary of its statehood. Originally carved out of the Oregon Country, Oregon entered the Union as the 33rd state on 14 February 1859. Today, it is the 9th largest state in the nation, and the 27th most populous.

photo of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest of southwest Oregon

Photo: Kalmiopsis Wilderness in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest of southwest Oregon. Credit: U.S. Forest Service; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your family roots in Oregon, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online OR newspaper archives: 61 titles to help you search your family history in the “Beaver State,” providing news coverage, family stories and vital statistics from 1850 to Today. There are currently more than 58 million newspaper articles and records in our online Oregon archives!

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

Search Oregon Newspaper Archives (1850 – 1987)

Search Oregon Recent Obituaries (1988 – Current)

Here is our complete list of online Oregon 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 OR newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range* Collection
Albany Albany Democrat-Herald 7/11/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ashland Ashland Daily Tidings 1/5/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Astoria Daily Astorian 5/28/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Baker City Baker City Herald 1/1/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Beaverton Beaverton Valley Times 6/14/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bend Bulletin 7/1/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Brookings Curry Coastal Pilot 4/27/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Canby Canby Herald 1/29/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cannon Beach Cannon Beach Gazette 5/2/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Clackamas Clackamas Review 6/26/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Coos Bay World 3/2/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Corvallis Corvallis Gazette-Times 7/11/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Enterprise Wallowa County Chieftain 6/13/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Estacada Estacada News 7/11/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Eugene Oregon State Journal 3/12/1864 – 12/25/1880 Newspaper Archives
Eugene Register-Guard 12/22/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Forest Grove Forest Grove Leader 5/13/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Forest Grove Forest Grove News Times 7/26/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Gresham Outlook 6/27/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hermiston Hermiston Herald 2/28/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hillsboro Hillsboro Argus 2/4/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hillsboro Hillsboro Tribune 6/26/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hood River Hood River News 8/9/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
John Day Blue Mountain Eagle 8/1/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Keizer Keizertimes 9/10/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Klamath Falls Herald and News 12/1/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
La Grande Observer 6/19/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lake Oswego Southwest Community Connection 8/28/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lake Oswego Lake Oswego Review 6/21/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lake Oswego West Linn Tidings 6/21/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lakeview State Line Herald 7/12/1879 – 6/5/1880 Newspaper Archives
Lebanon Lebanon Express 5/5/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Madras Madras Pioneer 10/17/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Molalla Molalla Pioneer 1/29/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Newberg Newberg Graphic 6/26/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ontario Argus Observer 1/7/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pendleton East Oregonian 7/11/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Portland Oregonian 2/4/1861 – 12/31/1987 Newspaper Archives
Portland Weekly Oregonian 12/4/1850 – 11/15/1862 Newspaper Archives
Portland Portland New Age 4/14/1900 – 3/30/1907 Newspaper Archives
Portland Daily Oregon Herald 2/12/1871 – 10/9/1872 Newspaper Archives
Portland Democratic Standard 8/30/1854 – 2/16/1859 Newspaper Archives
Portland Liberator 3/7/1903 – 5/30/1903 Newspaper Archives
Portland Oregonian 1/3/1988 – Current Recent Obituaries
Portland Boom! Boomers & Beyond 1/29/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Portland Bee 7/31/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Portland Oregonian, The: Web Edition Articles 10/16/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Portland Portland Tribune 1/2/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Prineville Central Oregonian 2/5/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Redmond Redmond Spokesman 1/16/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Salem Capital Press 7/3/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sandy Sandy Post 10/24/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Scappoose South County Spotlight 9/30/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Seaside Seaside Signal 3/25/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sherwood Sherwood Gazette 2/1/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. Benedict St. Josephs-Blatt 1/3/1938 – 1/3/1938 Newspaper Archives
The Dalles Dalles Chronicle 3/1/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tigard Regal Courier 10/29/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Tigard Tigard-Tualatin-Sherwood Times 7/5/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wilsonville Wilsonville Spokesman 6/26/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Woodburn Woodburn Independent 6/26/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries

*Date Ranges may have selected coverage unavailable.

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 Oregon newspaper links will be live.

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February 2015 Update: GenealogyBank Just Added 26 Million Records!

Every day, GenealogyBank is working hard to digitize more U.S. newspapers and obituaries, expanding our burgeoning collection to give you the largest newspaper archives for family history research available online from the 1600s up to today. We’ve just added 26 million more U.S. genealogy records, vastly increasing our news coverage from coast to coast!

screenshot of GenealogyBank's homepage announcing the addition of 26 million more records in February 2015

Here are some of the details about our most recent U.S. newspaper additions:

  • A total of 49 newspaper titles from 19 U.S. states
  • 21 of these titles are newspapers added to GenealogyBank for the first time
  • Newspaper titles marked with an asterisk (*) are new to our online archives
  • We’ve shown the newspaper issue date ranges so that you can determine if the newly added content is relevant to your personal genealogy research

To see our newspaper archives’ complete title lists, click here.

State City Title Date Range Collection
Alabama Alabaster Alabaster Reporter* 08/10/2008–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Alexander City Alexander City Outlook, The* 01/12/2003–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Andalusia Andalusia Star-News, The* 07/02/2002–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Atmore Atmore Advance, The* 11/09/1999–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Brewton Brewton Standard, The* 10/08/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Clanton Clanton Advertiser* 06/24/2008–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Columbiana Pelham Reporter* 07/15/2009–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Demopolis Demopolis Times* 04/10/2002–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Greenville Greenville Advocate, The* 01/05/2000–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Madison Madison County Record* 04/30/2010–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Russellville Franklin County Times, The* 10/06/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Selma Selma Times-Journal, The* 10/02/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Tallassee Tallassee Tribune* 02/27/2013–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Troy Messenger, The* 08/01/1999–Current Recent Obituaries
Alabama Wetumpka Wetumpka Herald, The* 10/06/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Arkansas Denson Denson Tribune 10/01/1943–04/11/1944 Newspaper Archives
Arkansas McGehee Rohwer Outpost 06/23/1945–06/23/1945 Newspaper Archives
California San Francisco Corriere del Popolo 10/15/1918–10/09/1947 Newspaper Archives
California San Francisco San Francisco Chronicle 4/12/1944–12/31/1984 Newspaper Archives
California San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram 10/12/1953–10/12/1953 Newspaper Archives
Colorado Denver Denver Rocky Mountain News 11/29/1911–11/30/1919 Newspaper Archives
Florida Miami Miami Herald 1/1/1929–2/25/1929 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Columbus Columbus Daily Enquirer 7/25/1941–12/26/1942 Newspaper Archives
Georgia Macon Macon Telegraph 5/1/1944–12/31/1945 Newspaper Archives
Idaho Boise Idaho Statesman 11/19/1955–11/19/1955 Newspaper Archives
Illinois Highland Highland Union 10/25/1901–10/25/1901 Newspaper Archives
Illinois Springfield Daily Illinois State Journal 9/6/1934–6/30/1974 Newspaper Archives
Illinois Springfield State Journal-Register 7/1/1974–1/15/1986 Newspaper Archives
Illinois Springfield State Journal-Register* 8/12/1974–6/15/1979 Newspaper Archives
Kentucky Lexington Lexington Herald 8/1/1939–4/30/1940 Newspaper Archives
Michigan Dowagiac Dowagiac Daily News* 07/23/2009–Current Recent Obituaries
Mississippi Natchez Natchez Democrat, The* 07/14/1999–Current Recent Obituaries
New York New York Courrier des Etats-Unis 12/24/1873–12/30/1874 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Cristoforo Colombo 01/06/1891–09/03/1893 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Jewish Messenger 03/08/1872–09/12/1902 Newspaper Archives
New York New York New Yorker Volkszeitung 01/08/1894–03/21/1920 Newspaper Archives
New York New York Vorwarts 05/03/1913–08/16/1913 Newspaper Archives
North Carolina Charlotte Charlotte Observer 2/12/1933–12/31/1935 Newspaper Archives
Pennsylvania Erie Erie Tageblatt 09/09/1899–10/29/1914 Newspaper Archives
Pennsylvania Reading Der Pilger Durch Welt und Kirche 01/17/1874–01/17/1874 Newspaper Archives
Pennsylvania Reading Readinger Postbothe und Berks, Schuylkill und Montgomery Caunties Advertiser 07/13/1822–07/13/1822 Newspaper Archives
Rhode Island Providence Providence Journal* 12/23/1981–Current Recent Obituaries
Tennessee Elizabethton Elizabethton Star* 04/08/2014–Current Recent Obituaries
Utah Topaz Topaz Times 02/17/1945–02/17/1945 Newspaper Archives
Washington Bellingham Bellingham Herald 1/1/1948–1/30/1948 Newspaper Archives
Washington Olympia Morning Olympian 10/1/1951–10/31/1951 Newspaper Archives
Washington Seattle Seattle Daily Times 12/20/1895–12/30/1899 Newspaper Archives
Wisconsin Milwaukee Wahrheit 01/05/1895–01/08/1910 Newspaper Archives
Wisconsin Rice Lake Chronotype, The* 01/04/2001–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 newspaper links will be live.

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Newspapers Can Find Relatives You Didn’t Know You Had

I think I’ve discovered two relatives I never knew existed – in the city where I grew up!

I’ve been doing Genealogy for a long time and thought I had “met” them all at one point or another, and then I came across this old newspaper article.

Yale & Towne Dramatic Society to Give Play, Stamford Advocate newspaper article 1 May 1929

Stamford Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 1 May 1929, page 15

In May of 1929, employees from the Yale & Towne Manufacturing company came together to put on a production of the play “Arnold Goes into Business.”

Look closer at this enlargement of the main cast.

Yale & Towne Dramatic Society to Give Play, Stamford Advocate newspaper article 1 May 1929

Stamford Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 1 May 1929, page 15

Who are these guys: John and Mrs. Marie Anna Kemp?
Mrs. Marie Anna Kemp plays the part of Irma’s mother, Catherine Gleason,
and
John Kemp plays the part of Irma’s father H. A. Cooper.

Now if this surname was Smith or Brown, I wouldn’t have noticed it – but Kemp is a fairly unusual name. I like to research all Kemp ancestral lines to run them back a few generations to see if we are related or not.

Enter Last Name

If these are my relatives, I have never heard of them. I asked my 91-year-old father if he had any idea who they were, and he had never heard of them either.

According to the old news article: “Every member of the cast…is a Yale & Towne employee.” That tells me they must live in or near Stamford.

My grandfather, Willard H. Kemp, did work for Y&T and his father was John Henry Kemp – but in 1929 he was 63 years old and was employed full-time in the Post Office. He didn’t retire until 1931 when he was 65 years old, and he never worked for Y&T. So this John Kemp could be him – but he doesn’t match the other clues given in the article or the other facts in his personal history.

So – who were John Kemp and “Mrs. Marie Anna Kemp”?

I looked in the 1920 and the 1930 census – no mention of any other John or Marie Anna Kemp living anywhere in the state of Connecticut.

So – just when I thought I’d tracked them all down, here is a newspaper article alerting me to two more possible relatives in our Kemp family tree.

I’ll have to dig deeper into GenealogyBank’s archive of 1.7 billion records to find out more about them. And it’s the same for you: you have ancestors that are waiting to be discovered. Sign up today and begin your search!

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Alabama Revolutionary War Veteran Dead at 106

In 1853, centenarian William Wicker passed away in Pike County, Alabama. He was 106. This American Revolutionary War veteran had been one of the first settlers to move to Alabama after its introduction into the union on 14 December 1819.

obituary for William Wicker, Daily Alabama Journal newspaper article 28 January 1853

Daily Alabama Journal (Montgomery, Alabama), 28 January 1853, page 2

Wicker enlisted into the military at 17, along with his father Robert Wicker. They served together with various South Carolina regiments during the length of the Revolutionary War. Wicker’s biggest firefight came during the Battle of Eutaw Springs, the last major Southern conflict against the British. After the Revolutionary War ended, Wicker lived in South Carolina and Georgia, before spending his final years in Alabama.

The Battle of Eutaw Springs is remembered as one of the bloodiest Southern battles during the Revolutionary War. Disney picked up this story and produced a television series in the 1950s known as The Swamp Fox, detailing the achievements of Wicker’s commanding officer General Francis Marion – who was known as the “Swamp Fox.” While Wicker’s likeness is not put directly into the show, most of the episodes cover events similar to the ones he would have been present for.

Enter Last Name

From a young age, William Wicker knew he wanted to defend his country. Thanks to the Daily Alabama Journal, William Wicker’s memory lives on in old news print. Did any of your ancestors serve in the Revolutionary War? Where did they ultimately settle down? Perhaps like William, they too are some of the early settlers of the American South and Midwest.

Join GenealogyBank today to access over 1.7 billion records and find your ancestors’ stories. Start your 30-day trial now: http://bit.ly/1BChPbI

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

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GenealogyBank Is the Only Source of This Irish Passenger List Information

I am just amazed every time I see these Irish American passenger lists in GenealogyBank’s online newspapers and see that they tell me where these new arrivals had lived in Ireland, and where they were going to live in America. That information is NOT in any other passenger list source. How in the world did the editors of New York City’s Irish American newspapers find the time to interview and document the incoming Irish immigrants, and keep doing it for over a century?

passenger list, Irish Nation newspaper article 20 May 1882

Irish Nation (New York, New York), 20 May 1882, page 7

Irish American newspapers were diligent about reporting the great migration of Irish immigrants to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Newspapers like the Irish Nation, Irish Voice, and Irish World regularly published lists of Irish passengers that came over on the passenger ships that week.

Genealogy Tip: What’s special about these Irish passenger lists for genealogists is the information provided: the passenger’s name; county of origin in Ireland; and their destination here in the United States.

Enter Last Name

These published lists did not include every Irish immigrant – but for the tens of thousands that were interviewed and documented by the newspapers, these lists give us the critical place of origin and where they were heading, valuable information that is just not found in any other source. One of my colleagues, Duncan Kuehn, closely compared some of the passenger lists published in newspapers to the corresponding federal passenger lists. She found that for the passengers interviewed and listed by the newspapers, their names were often more complete – and often, additional names of accompanying family members were given in the newspaper account that didn’t appear in the federal lists. It would be even better if the newspapers had interviewed every single passenger, but we’re grateful for the excellent job they did on the ones that were documented. Genealogists must use these lists.

For example, in an issue of the Irish Nation from 1882, we see the following passenger lists.

passenger list, Irish Nation newspaper article 7 January 1882

Irish Nation (New York, New York), 7 January 1882, page 8

The first three passengers arriving on the steamer England on 29 December 1881 are:

  • Patrick Mitchel, from County Sligo – his destination was New York
  • Peter Judge, also from County Sligo, was heading to Baltimore, Maryland
  • Patrick Rourke, from County Clare, was going to Wisconsin

For genealogists having difficulty finding where in Ireland their Irish roots came from, this information tells them the answer. GenealogyBank is an imperative tool for Irish American research. Missing an Irish relative? Sign up for GenealogyBank today and find them. Start your 30-day trial now!

Click here to search GenealogyBank’s Irish American Newspaper Archives.

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What Were Your Ancestor’s Last Words?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary takes a fascinating look at some of the last words people said before they died – both famous and not-so-famous.

When a person breathes their last, the grieving often ask: “What were his or her last words?”

For some people in these final cherished moments of life, their dying wish is to impart memorable quotes or words of wisdom to those left behind. These last words are great fun to read and contemplate.

Many are quoted in newspapers, so if you are lucky you might find your ancestor’s last words.

Religious Expressions

Many obituaries report the deceased’s devotion to, or love of, God.

One example was reported in this death notice for Miss Anna Harmon, who died at the age of 30. She said:

I wish I might – I hope I do resign myself to Christ, for time and for eternity!

obituary for Anna Harmon, Vermont Gazette newspaper article 24 January 1804

Vermont Gazette (Bennington, Vermont), 24 January 1804, page 3

In 1831, Caesar Low told his wife that he was going to die. His death notice reported that “spiritual light seemed to increase in his soul” and noted his last statements just before he died as follows:

“Glory to God – Hallelujah to God, hallelujah – Oh, my dear Father! My Heavenly Father! He is my Father.” Then pointing to heaven, he said: “Yes, I am coming, I am coming!” His final words were:

See Jesus! See Jesus! How shall I act in Heaven?

obituary for Caesar Low, Liberator newspaper article 29 October 1831

Liberator (Boston, Massachusetts), 29 October 1831, page 176

Instructions or Words of Wisdom

Although not reported in her obituary, noted abolitionist and suffragette Lucy Stone (1818-1893) left advice for her only daughter with her dying words, Alice Stone Blackwell.

obituary for Lucy Stone, Springfield Republican newspaper article 19 October 1893

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 19 October 1893, page 5

Lucy encouraged Alice to “make the world better,” which she did.

last words of Lucy Stone, Oregonian newspaper article 28 September 1986

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 28 September 1986, page 167

By the time of her mother’s death, Alice (1857-1950) had become editor of the Woman’s Home Journal and recording secretary for the National American Woman Suffrage Association. During her life she championed many causes, including Russian freedom and world peace – and unlike her mother, was able to celebrate the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920 (see the National Archives).

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Alice’s last words were not recorded – but many would like to think she was thinking of her mother when she passed.

photo from the obituary for Alice Blackwell, Boston Herald newspaper article 16 March 1950

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 March 1950, page 27

Appropriate Sayings

Joseph Medill (1823-1899), editor of the Chicago Tribune (who must have read hundreds of last words during his career), appears to have contemplated his own final utterance. Shortly before he passed, his physician heard him comment: “My last words shall be, what is the news?”

obituary for Joseph Medill, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 17 March 1899

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 17 March 1899, page 2

Bat Masterson (1853-1921), another newspaper man, is quoted as having written a lengthy statement. It didn’t appear in his obituaries, but was widely cited years later.

obituary for Bat Masterson, Estrella newspaper article 5 November 1921

Estrella (Las Cruces, New Mexico), 5 November 1921, page 4

Masterson’s last words were:

There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose these ginks hold that because the rich man gets ice in the summer and the poor man gets it in the winter things are breaking even for both!

Bat Masterson's last words, Greensboro Record newspaper article 30 September 1964

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 30 September 1964, page 9

How It Feels to Die

Others use their last words to express feelings about death and dying.

Enter Last Name

For example, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) responded “beautiful” to a question about how she felt, and William Hunter (1718-1783), the famous Scottish physician and anatomist, said:

If I had strength enough left to hold a pen, I would write what a pleasant and easy thing it is to die.

article about some famous people's last words, Oregonian newspaper article 28 September 1986

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 28 September 1986, page 167

Jane Austen (1775-1817), author of Pride and Prejudice and other novels, didn’t feel the same. She was reportedly asked if there was anything she wanted. Her reply was:

Nothing but death.

Jane Austen's last words, Oregonian newspaper article 28 September 1986

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 28 September 1986, page 167

U.S. Presidents’ Last Words

Some of the most-quoted last words are from famous people, such as U.S. presidents.

Modern-day writers like to report that President John Adams, who died on the same day as President Thomas Jefferson on 4 July 1826, said for his final words: “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

As in all statements about history and ancestry, historical newspapers are one of the best ways to check the facts. For his last words, did Adams say, “Thomas Jefferson survives” or did he actually say “It is a great and glorious day”?

article about the last words of John Adams, Spectator newspaper article 14 July 1826

Spectator (New York, New York), 14 July 1826, page 1

Watch for a follow-up article offering more U.S. presidents’ last words, in celebration of the upcoming Presidents’ Day – and by all means, let us know what last words your ancestors are reported to have said!

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Captain Alden Howell: Last Confederate Officer

When Alden Howell passed away in 1947 at the age of 106, he was the last surviving commissioned officer of the Army of the Confederate States of America.

obituaryr for Alden Howell, San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram newspaper article 21 March 1947

San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram (San Luis Obispo, California), 21 March 1947, page 9

It’s a good thing that there were multiple obituaries about this centenarian. Each historical obit gives us more of the details of his life.

For example, see this old obituary in the Greensboro Record.

obituary for Alden Howell, Greensboro Record newspaper article 21 March 1947

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 21 March 1947, page 10

We learn that he was a captain of “Company B of North Carolina’s Sixth Regiment,” that when he enlisted he had been “attending law school,” and that after the war he resumed his studies and received “his degree in 1866.”

We also pick up this critical piece of genealogical information: he “was a descendant of John Alden,” the famous ship’s cooper on the Mayflower, signer of the Mayflower Compact, and best known for marrying Priscilla Mullins. A great clue.

Enter Last Name

In his ripe old age Howell was called upon to give advice, as reported in the Morning Olympian.

Confederate Veteran (Alden Howell) Gives Advice on Life, Morning Olympian newspaper article 19 February 1941

Morning Olympian (Olympia, Washington), 19 February 1941, page 1

“Don’t get mad. Don’t use cuss words. Never complain.”

Good advice – even now.

Even in this feel-good news article we pick up more genealogical details. He was an attorney and banker in Waynesville, North Carolina. He retired “15 years ago and moved [to Los Angeles],” and this critical statement: “He and his seven-year-old grandson, Kenneth Brimmer, jointly cut a birthday cake Tuesday” – a good clue that both he and his grandson were born on February 18th.

Genealogy Tip: Track down every newspaper article. Don’t stop with the first news article or obituary you find about your relative. Each one might contain the critical clue or fact that you need to build your family tree. Take those clues, verify the facts and document your family history.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

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