How to Spot and Avoid 9 Common Genealogy Mistakes & Errors

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary discusses 9 common mistakes made when doing family history research, and suggests ways to avoid them.

Family history researchers are often frustrated by the mistakes of others—particularly when there is an obvious error in identity, such as the mistake explained in this 1914 Virginia newspaper article. It points out that a member of the Gwathmey family was incorrectly identified as having been a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth.

Rchmond Times Dispatch Newspaper Gwathmey Family Genealogy

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 17 May 1914, page 41.

This sounds like an obvious mistake, and one that could have been corrected with simple subtraction. Unfortunately, once a mistake is written in a book or newspaper article, the mistake is often carried into other research—forever frustrating the more serious genealogists.

Genealogical mistakes are not often easy to sort out, so let’s discuss some strategies.

1. Abbreviations Are Not Always What They Seem

Two of my favorites are “NA” and “NMI.”

In the case of the first abbreviation, “NA” might indicate non applicable, naturalized, Native American or even Navy, demonstrating the importance of finding the “key” explaining what an abbreviation actually means.

Another abbreviation that sometimes causes confusion is the use of “NMI” in place of a middle name. It is not an actual moniker, but rather used to indicate that a person has no middle initial—no middle name.

2. Age-Related Mistakes

  • Women who are too old to be mothers.

Although Mrs. Steve Pace, of Rose Hill, Virginia, reportedly gave birth to her 17th child in 1939 at the age of 73 (see the Wikipedia article “Pregnancy Over Age 50”), it is rare for women to give birth over the age of 50.

If a woman continued to give birth through her 40s, then it is possible that a report of her having a child as an older woman may be correct.

However, whenever you see such an older mother-child relationship claim, examine the possibility that the family may have been raising an orphan or a grandchild.

  • Persons who were born too young or old to have served during a military event.

If you are researching an ancestor for a lineage society, such as the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution, start by figuring out the beginning and ending dates of the event.

For example, the American Civil War occurred between 1861 and 1865.

Although there are examples of very young veterans, most of the younger set did not serve in a military capacity—unless they were older. One exception was Civil War Missouri veteran George Huffman, who enrolled as a volunteer in the 13th Missouri Infantry on 4 November 1861 at the age of 14. He re-enlisted on 8 February 1864, and was considered to have been the youngest veteran to have re-enlisted that year—as explained in this 1864 Massachusetts newspaper article.

Lowell Daily Citizen & News Newspaper George Huffman Civil War

Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts), 2 September 1864, page 2.

For the most part, however, it is safe to assume that someone—other than a drummer or bugler—must have been at least 15 when he enlisted for combat service. Therefore, it is unlikely that a combat veteran actually served in the Civil War if he was born after the year 1850.

Now, if a child served in a non-military capacity, then you might find evidence of children as young as seven involved in a war—such as Nathan Futrell, a young boy who served in the American Revolutionary War.

Greensboro Daily News Newspaper Nathan Futrell Revolutionary War

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 3 January 1971, page 24.

You can also apply an age factor to determine the likelihood of an older person serving in the military.

3. All Applicable Genealogy Records Have Not Been Found

Just because you can’t find a genealogical proof doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist. For example, many military records were burned, so look to other types of records for evidence.

In other words, if an original record is missing you might be able to find alternate records. In the case of a missing military record, look for a petition for a pension, or a list of enlistments, reprinted in an old newspaper article. Other possible genealogical sources: a family diary or letter, or church bulletin, that references military service.

4. Children Listed without Parents May Not Be Orphans

Just because a child is not recorded with a parent on a census record doesn’t necessarily indicate that both parents are deceased.

On one of the 1850 U.S. Federal Census records, I noted that the children of my ancestor Permelia Ann (Davis) Drake were living in different households.

Not finding their mother, I at first assumed that she had died. It turned out that she was very much alive, and recorded in the census with her second husband, Samuel Bassett. It’s not clear why the children were with the neighbors in 1850, but perhaps they were mother’s helpers or farm helpers working to support the family.

5. Informants Are Not Always Correct

A primary record is one that was recorded at the time of the event. A secondary record is one that is recorded later, generally from an informant. In the case of a death certificate, the date and place of death is primary evidence, but the birth date of the decedent, along with the stated parents, is not necessarily correct.

In my family, my great-grandfather’s parents were recorded on his death certificate as his natural parents, when in fact court records and other records establish that he had been adopted.

6. Just Because Two People with the Same Name Reside in the Same Area Does Not Necessarily Mean They Are Related (Coincidences Happen)

In the case of my ancestor William Harrell of Virginia (and Indiana) of the late 1700s and early 1800s, it turns out there are three men by the same name. Now that descendants have submitted results from DNA studies, it is clear that they were not closely related.

7. Spelling Errors

Alternate spellings are the norm, rather than the exception.

For example, my Ebling ancestors can be found with the surname spelling Ebeling, Hebling and even Heblinger. As a result, I always browse a book’s index to see if there are similar spellings. When searching online or in a search box, such as at GenealogyBank, I frequently use a wildcard such as a question mark (?) or asterisk (*) when searching for ancestor names.

  • The ? is used to take the place of one letter
  • The * is used to take the place of several letters

For example:

  • Eb*ing* would find Ebling, Ebeling and Eblinger
  • ?Eb*ing* would find all of the above, and include Hebling or Heblinger
  • Cath?rine would find both Catherine and Catharine

8. Transpositions (Reversing or Mixing Up Letters and Numbers)

Many people, including myself, are prone to transpositions. The year 1787, for example, might be unintentionally entered as 1778, or even 1877.

To overcome this tendency, be sure to closely examine recorded figures, such as the reported age at death. Several genealogy programs calculate this figure, and may even note it during an error check.

9. Widows and Widowers May Not Necessarily Be Widowed

In the event of a divorce, separation or bigamy, a spouse might be recorded as widowed on an official record. This may be to handle a delicate issue, or simply to accommodate a census form that didn’t have other options.

These are just a few common genealogical errors. If you have some that you have observed, please share them with us on Facebook or our blog page in the comments section!

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records

Continuing our series on the top genealogy websites that will save you time and get you 24/7 access to the data you need and will rely on in your family history research, our next category is the best websites for cemetery and burial records: National Gravesite Locator, Find-A-Grave, and BillionGraves.

National Gravesite Locator Search Adeline Kemp

Credit: National Gravesite Locator, http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/

This important website, created by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, lets genealogists quickly locate military and veterans’ burials from 1997 to today. This cemetery website is updated daily and includes all persons buried in the hundreds of officially-designated U.S. federal and state military cemeteries.

National Gravesite Locator Map - Adeline Kemp

Credit: National Gravesite Locator, http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/

These military cemeteries permit the burial of the service member and their spouse. The online index gives you the core genealogical information: each person’s name; dates of birth and death; name and rank of the person that served in the military; and the name and contact information for the military cemetery. All of this is available at your fingertips 24/7 online. This cemetery website is updated daily.

Billiongraves Find a Grave

Credit: Find-A-Grave, http://www.findagrave.com/
Credit: BillionGraves, http://billiongraves.com/

These essential online cemetery websites rely on crowdsourcing to grow. As the above photo shows, individual genealogists take pictures of the graves that interest them and upload them to these two websites.

“Many hands make light work,” allowing these cemetery websites to grow quickly.

BillionGraves has over 4.2 million photographs of individual gravestones.

Find-A-Grave has roughly the same number of tombstone images, but also has included indexes to the names of persons buried in cemeteries across the country—boosting its name count to over 102 million “grave records.”

Billion Graves Sarah Whitehouse

Credit: Billion Graves, http://billiongraves.com/

Find A Grave Addie Estelle Morris Huse

Credit: Find-A-Grave, http://www.findagrave.com/

Genealogists using Find-A-Grave routinely add an image of the tombstone, and also old family photographs and a biography of the deceased. Since this content is all online photographs, documents and similar items may be added to each individual’s memorial page by all interested persons.

Find A Grave John Henry Kemp

Credit: Find A Grave, http://www.findagrave.com

I decided to test how easy it is to add photographs of a tombstone and of the deceased to these cemetery websites. Bang. Within just a few minutes I was registered on Find-A-Grave and uploaded a photo of my great-grandfather John Henry Kemp’s grave along with his portrait.

This was simple and easy to do.

I encourage all genealogists to hold nothing back: put all of your family’s information, documents, and photographs on cemetery sites like these, and on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.

It is essential that we preserve and protect our family history information by putting our genealogy records on multiple websites. Ensure that the information about your family tree that you have gathered over years of genealogy research is not lost, but is permanently available for you and the rising generations.

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 2: Google Books & Internet Archive

Here are the top two websites that will save you time and get you 24/7 access to online genealogical libraries with more than one million books: Google Books and Internet Archive. These are digital books that you will rely on to document your family tree, such as published family histories, local histories and historical periodicals.

Google Books: http://books.google.com

collage of images from Google Books about George Kemp

Credit: Google Books

Internet Archive: www.Archive.org

collage of images from Internet Archive

Credit: Internet Archive

Libraries have been aggressively digitizing and putting the world’s published genealogies, local histories and historical periodicals online. This makes it easy for genealogists to refer to these on their schedule—24/7—rain or shine.

Google Books has more than 1 million online genealogy books.

Internet Archive has more than 600,000 genealogy-specific books online.

By contrast, the typical genealogical collection in a public library might have 3,000 books. A state library might have a collection of 40,000 items of genealogy-specific books and materials.

The search engines for Google Books and Internet Archive let you search on every word in each book in their collections—so if your ancestor is mentioned, you will find him.

Both websites let you download and keep any page of these books, or a digital copy of the complete book. Tucking that in your research footnotes lets you show not only the citation, but also the actual pages where you got your information.

Since each digital book title has a permanent URL, you might choose instead to keep only the hyperlinked URL pointing to your source online instead of a fuller mention in your notes. Either way it will be easy for others to see how you reached your conclusions and retrace your steps.

If you will be using these genealogy books often you can download and keep complete copies of each one, forming your own on-call personal genealogical library.

Genealogical societies, public libraries, etc., should catalog these online book titles directly into their library online catalog or on a genealogy book list on their websites. This makes it easy for family history researchers in their area to quickly find the online local histories and genealogies that focus on their town or county.

Link to These Online Books

Search these online books looking for your ancestor.

collage of images from Internet Archive about William Sawyer

Credit: Internet Archive

When you find information that you want to source to your ancestor, footnote the citation with the hyperlink to the online page.

In this example we have an article about William Sawyer (1679-1759) in a book by William Sumner Appleton: Some Descendants of William Sawyer of Newbury, Mass. Boston, MA: Clapp, 1891. Page 3.

screenshot from FamilySearch: search for descendants of William Sawyer

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Add the bibliographic citation and the hyperlink URL to your online family tree.

genealogical information about William Sawyer

Credit: FamilySearch.org and Internet Archive

For example, with the hyperlink embedded in William Sawyer’s page on FamilySearch’s Family Tree all genealogists will be able to click on the source link and immediately open up this page in the online digital book.

Google Books and Internet Archive are two of the finest examples of 21st Century genealogical tools online.

These two online book collections make it easy for genealogists to research and link their research findings to their online family trees.

It is a great day for genealogy.

History of Trains & Railroads: Locomotives, Steam Engines & More

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers for articles and ads about trains and locomotives, and discusses how important railroads were in the lives of our ancestors.

Trains & Railroads Shaped Early America

The importance of train travel cannot be overstated in the development of America, and its effect on how and why our ancestors traveled on land. Stagecoaches were an early transportation option, but once locomotives and steam engines proved their worth, travel by stagecoach became less frequent.

picture of a locomotive, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper illustration 15 February 1892

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 15 February 1892, page 5

Our nation’s great westward expansion took off, and trains became the favored mode of transportation until automobiles and air travel took over. Reading old newspaper articles to explore the history of train travel is a good way to better understand our ancestors’ lives and the times they lived in.

Steam Powers the Way

Early trains were powered by steam, but it may surprise you to learn that steam power was not a 19th Century invention. English inventor Thomas Savery (c.1650-1715) is given the credit for inventing steam power for transportation. He didn’t work on steam-powered trains, but this 1848 Connecticut newspaper article notes he did develop a steam engine for a rowing ship.

Thomas Savery the Engineer, Connecticut Courant newspaper article 28 October 1848

Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 28 October 1848, page 165

Although Savery received his steam engine patent in 1698, the first steam-powered engine didn’t arrive in the American Colonies until 1752 or 1753. Evidence of such a machine can be found in this 1753 Massachusetts newspaper article reporting that the Town of Charlestown was:

“so kind as to bring over their fine Water-Engine, which was of great Service in suppressing and preventing the Progress of the Fire.”

notice about a Charlestown, Massachusetts, fire engine, Boston Gazette newspaper article 13 February 1753

Boston Gazette (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 February 1753, page 3

A screw-driven steamboat was invented around 1802 by John Stevens. A Wikipedia article mentions he created a steam carriage around 1826 that ran on a track, but he was not the only one working on the concept.

There are several early newspaper reports of inventors working on steam carriages, including this 1822 New Jersey newspaper article about a petition for a steam carriage being presented on behalf of Isaac Baker, of Ohio.

notice about a patent petition from Isaac Baker for a steam-carriage, New Brunswick Fredonian newspaper article 14 February 1822

New Brunswick Fredonian (New Brunswick, New Jersey), 14 February 1822, page 2

The illustration below, from an 1826 Massachusetts newspaper, shows a 12-horsepower “loco-motive engine” used by the Helton Railroad in England.

picture of a locomotive, Boston Traveler newspaper illustration 7 March 1826

Boston Traveler (Boston, Massachusetts), 7 March 1826, page 4

Early Train & Railroad Companies

If you’ve played that famous board game “Monopoly,” you can surely guess the first railroad thought to have provided regularly-scheduled service.

Yes, it was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O), chartered on 28 February 1827, to provide service from Baltimore, Maryland, to the Ohio River. It was capitalized with 15,000 shares at $100 each ($1,500,000), what must have seemed like a tremendous fortune at that time.

Perhaps your ancestors traveled on the great B&O, credited to have been the first U.S. company to offer scheduled passenger and freight service?

However, B&O was not the first charted train company. A search of GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives finds mention of other train companies. This 1825 Pennsylvania newspaper article reports a petition to incorporate and provide service from Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania, “to the nearest point on the Delaware.”

petition to construct a Pennsylvania railroad, National Gazette newspaper article 15 December 1825

National Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 15 December 1825, page 1

This advertisement was published in an 1856 South Carolina newspaper, showing the Virginia Springs Central Railroad’s announcement that its opening line will travel 56 miles. Until the rail line is completed, the company’s stage coaches will continue to operate at fares ranging from $10 to $13.

railroad ad, Charleston Courier newspaper advertisement 11 September 1856

Charleston Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 11 September 1856, page 3

We can all imagine the excitement generated by the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on 10 May 1869 at Promontory Summit, in Utah Territory!

To commemorate the final joining, the railroad placed a golden spike and a silver railroad tie. This article from an 1869 New York newspaper reports that that the last spike would be engraved as follows:

“The last spike. The Pacific Railroad—ground broke January 8, 1863, completed May–, 1869. May God continue the unity of our country as this railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.”

The Silver Tie and Golden Spike, Evening Post newspaper article

Evening Post (New York, New York), 15 May 1869, page 4

There were many other train “firsts,” such as this article from an 1898 Minnesota newspaper commemorating the first Minneapolis Locomotive crossing the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River “at this point.”

The First Minneapolis Locomotive, Minneapolis Journal newspaper article 12 February 1898

Minneapolis Journal (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 12 February 1898, page 14

Railroad Family History for Kids (and Adults)

The children of today may never know the joy of train travel, except as a novelty. To connect your children with this important part of American history, search the newspaper archives to see if any of their ancestors were connected with the railroad industry—that may spark their interest.

In addition to their surname, be sure to search for your railroad ancestors by their job title, such as conductor or switchman. Also search for railway pension records (which are in a separate system from Social Security).

Here is an example of an old newspaper article that may show your ancestors in the context of railroad travel. This 1857 Pennsylvania newspaper wedding announcement notes that the marriage of William C. Pitman and Miss F.A. Fuller occurred on a moving train that exceeded 40 miles per hour!

Pitman-Fuller wedding announcement, Public Ledger newspaper article 10 January 1857

Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 10 January 1857, page 5

This is just the tip of the iceberg for conducting research on how our ancestors were connected to trains, either by occupation or their desire to travel.

Websites and Documents of Interest

Cyndi’s List: Railroads >> Records: Administrative, Employment and Pensions

U.S. Railroad Retirement Board

“I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”

The original title of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” was “The Levee Song,” published in 1894 in a book of songs published by Princeton University titled Carmina Princetonia. If you search GenealogyBank you can locate several references to this famous song, including this one.

"I've Been Working on the Railroad" song, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 30 August 1920

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 30 August 1920, page 2

Have fun filling in the lives of your ancestors and the times they lived in with railroad and train stories. You never know what you’ll discover about your family history!

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 1: Google

I have been working on my family history for 50 years now. So much has changed—family researchers today have a much different task then we had decades ago.

Looking at the online genealogy tools available today, I would like to focus on the top 13 websites that will save you time and money so that your family research is preserved, well documented and readily available to the rising generation of your extended family tree.

Over the next several blog posts in our ongoing content series I will show which genealogy websites are the best and why you need to be using them to trace and document your family tree. All of these genealogy websites are world-class, the crème de la crème.

a Google logo

Credit: Google.com

Top Genealogy Website #1 – Google

Yes, there are millions of genealogy-relevant items on the open Internet. Beginners and advanced researchers can quickly find valuable records about their target ancestors online—and doing a search on Google’s search engine is an excellent way to find these ancestry records.

screenshot of a Google search for Willard Henry Kemp

Credit: Google.com

A Google search for my grandfather, Willard Henry Kemp, pulls up 22.3 million search results.

I can see that the first few results have accurately pointed me to online records that I can use. But—there are 22.3 million of these suggested matches! There must be a way to cut through this huge amount and get to the family records I really want to use.

Let’s try that Google search for my grandfather again.

Helpful Genealogy Search Tool: the Phrase “~genealogy”

Use this handy tool ~genealogy to fine-tune your Google searches.

This tool tells the Google search engine that you want to focus on genealogy records and resources, narrowing your search results to those records. Use it in your Google searches to save time and get the most useful records for your family tree research.

This time I will search for information about my grandfather in Google by putting his name in quotation marks (to exactly match his name) and I will add: ~genealogy.

screenshot of Google search for Willard Henry Kemp adding phrase "~genealogy"

Credit: Google.com

This time the Google search engine returned 35 targeted search results. That is a lot easier to review than 22.3 million.

I can quickly open and evaluate these records and then try alternate Google searches to expand my search results, such as:

  • “Willard Kemp” ~genealogy
  • Kemp and Stamford ~genealogy
  • etc.

I highly recommend you try a Google search to get an idea of what information might be out there on the web about your target ancestor—and then use the phrase ~genealogy to make the search results more manageable. Using Google is a great way to start exploring your family history.

Next article: #2 The Online Digital Book Sites

Using Historical Newspapers to Research My Civil War Ancestry

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspapers to find stories about his Civil War cousin, Captain James Ham, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Five Forks just as the war was drawing to a close.

 Earlier this month (July 1-3) our nation commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. I well recall the awe I felt when, as a youngster, my family and I visited those hallowed grounds during the centennial of the Civil War back in 1963. That experience was the one that sparked my deep interest in American Civil War history, which continues to this day.

As pure luck would have it, while I was enjoying all the recent publicity regarding the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, I happened to make the discovery of a cousin in my ancestry, James Ham, who was a veteran of the Civil War.

Gravestone of James Ham - A Civil War Veteran

Photo: gravestone of Captain James Ham in Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Pennsylvania. Credit: Patricia Bittner.

James was born in Launceston, Cornwall, in the United Kingdom. I discovered that after running into trouble with the law for “assaulting an officer in the execution of his duties” and receiving a 12-month sentence, he emigrated from Cornwall. It wasn’t long before I found that he established himself in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.

As I was following his listing from the 1860 U.S. Census, I also came upon the fact that James Ham served in the Civil War. He rose to the rank of captain in the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry, in their M Company. It was very enjoyable to find, while searching the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank.com, an article from an 1889 Maryland newspaper reporting on the dedication of a monument at Gettysburg to “my” Captain Ham’s regiment, with a description of the huge crowds that attended this event.

Pennsylvania Veterans' Day Newspaper Article - Sun 1889

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 12 September 1889, page Supplement 2.

Monument 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry Civil War

Photo: Civil War monument at Gettysburg dedicated to the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry. Credit: from the author’s collection.

The more I followed my leads, the more I was able to improve my understanding of the life, and unfortunate death, of my Civil War ancestor. It wasn’t long before I came upon the fact that Captain Ham was wounded in Virginia at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, and died from those battle wounds on April 5, 1865. Now, as much as I like to think I know a lot about the Civil War, I was not familiar with the Battle of Five Forks—so I turned again to research the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank.com.

This time there were hundreds of old newspaper articles for me to pick from. My knowledge was really expanded by reading an impressive article from an 1865 Wisconsin newspaper. This was a very detailed account of the battle, and the reporter wrote paragraph after paragraph that put me right in the action of many of the cavalry charges.

Civil War Battle of Five Forks Newspaper Article - Milwaukee Sentinel

Milwaukee Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 7 April 1865, page 1.

Shortly thereafter I found an article in a 1908 Idaho newspaper that would make any genealogist’s and/or historian’s heart jump. This old news article contains a story of family letters, history, a dash of good luck, and perseverance in the discovery of the fate of the battle flag carried for a time by Union General Sheridan during the battle.

Old Battle Flag Sheridan Carried at Five Forks Is Found Newspaper Article - Idaho Statesman

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 23 March 1908, page 4.

Then my attention was captured by an article published in an 1880 New York newspaper which reported that General Sheridan was being called to court in order to explain why he relieved General Warren of his command after the Battle of Five Forks. The subheading really caught my eye: “Eight Days Previous to the Surrender at Appomattox.” I had read the date of death of my ancestor but I had not, until that point, realized that he was killed in action only days before the Civil War ended.

Sheridan Warren Civil War Battle of Five Forks Newspaper Article - NY Herald

New York Herald (New York, New York), 27 October 1880, page 8.

I am now in the second phase of seeking even more information about this Civil War ancestor as I have placed a research request with the Wayne County (Pennsylvania) Historical Society (http://waynehistorypa.org). One of their researchers is hard at work hopefully finding more clues, data, and details about Captain James Ham and his family. Plus after my very first conversation with the researcher, I have been “forced” to place Wayne County, Pennsylvania, on my “Genealogy Must-Visit List” since the researcher casually mentioned to me that the Museum holds dozens of personal letters written from Captain Ham back to his wife and family during the Civil War!

I think I better start packing right now. I figure at least two days reading for sure! Can you imagine what those letters might hold?

Do you have comparable success stories about researching your Civil War ancestor? Tell us about them in the comments section.

Old Tombstones Recently Unearthed from Forgotten Illinois Cemetery

Genealogists are always digging.

So are backhoe operators.

It was a good thing that the Fosterburg Water District was digging for a waterline in Prairietown, Illinois, because while digging they found a long-abandoned historic cemetery.

Amazing.

No one had remembered that there was an old cemetery there. The tombstones had fallen and over the years were buried and forgotten.

Old Tombstone from Prairietown, Illinois Cemetery

Credit: John Badman, The Telegraph (Alton, Illinois), 28 June 2013.

Credit: John Badman, The Telegraph (Alton, Illinois), 28 June 2013.

The dig for the waterline unearthed these long-lost gravestones. Anthropologist Dawn E. Cobb from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency began studying why these tombstones were there. She looked at old Illinois maps and quickly found that there was a cemetery located at that spot in 1873, and a church was shown there on an 1892 map.

Years ago St. Mary’s Roman Catholic parish was merged with a parish in Macoupin County, Illinois. Now she is investigating how many people were buried there and researching the old records to find their names and genealogical details. Read the entire story in The Telegraph (Alton, Illinois), 28 June 2013: http://bit.ly/1aZp9Ac.

How many small cemeteries are gone from our memories?

How many tombstones have tipped over—with solid genealogical information buried—waiting to be rediscovered?

Historic Cemeteries and Unmarked Graves Newspaper Articles

Take the time this summer to research and found out where the old cemeteries were in your area 150 and 200 years ago. Are they all still accounted for?

Let us know if you rediscover a “lost” cemetery and what you found in the comments.

Case Study: Using Old Newspaper Articles to Learn about Your Ancestors

Old newspapers provide the stories of our ancestors’ lives, helping to flesh out the names and dates on our family trees.

What kind of family history can be found in historical newspapers? Let’s pick a typical, ordinary family and find out.

For example, what can I discover about the Crofoot family that lived in Connecticut back to colonial times? Did they appear in the old newspapers?

Let’s see.

I’ll do a search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for the family surname Crofoot.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search page for Crofoot

Let’s take a look at some of the surname search results.

Here is a wedding announcement article I found in an old newspaper for Ephraim Crofoot.

wedding announcement for Ephrim Crofoot and Elizabeth Winship, Connecticut Mirror newspaper article 1 May 1830

Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, Connecticut), 1 May 1830, page 3

OK. The core facts: Ephraim Crofoot married Miss Elizabeth W. Winship about April 1830 in Middletown, Connecticut.

Here is another reference to Ephraim Crofoot I found in an old newspaper death notice.

death notice for Esther Elizabeth Crofoot, Constitution newspaper article 4 October 1848

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 4 October 1848, page 3

Ephraim’s daughter Esther Elizabeth, aged 17 years, died 29 September 1848. Calculating back, this means she was born about 1831.

OK. That piece seems to fit nicely in the family puzzle, since Ephraim was married the year before in 1830. Esther Elizabeth probably was the daughter of Ephraim and Elizabeth W. (Winship) Crofoot. We’ll need to do more genealogy research to confirm that.

Here is another old newspaper reference to a child of Ephraim’s: Thomas S. Crofoot.

death notice for Thomas Crofoot, Constitution newspaper article 25 August 1852

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 25 August 1852, page 3

This death notice tells us that Ephraim’s son, Thomas S. Crofoot, was 19 years, 4 months old when he died in August 1852. Calculating back, that would put his birth at about April 1833. Again, that fits Ephraim’s 1830 marriage.

There is another clue: this newspaper article refers to his father as “the late Ephraim Crofoot, Esq.”

So—had our Ephraim Crofoot died by August 1852?

More genealogical facts to double check.

But, look at this old newspaper article. It is another marriage announcement for an Ephraim Crofoot, to a Betsey Sampson.

wedding announcement for Ephraim Crofoot and Betsey Sampson, Constitution newspaper article 27 February 1850

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 27 February 1850, page 3

Is this the same Ephraim Crofoot? A different Ephraim Crofoot?

Had something happened to Elizabeth (Winship) Crofoot? Had she died? Was there a divorce?

It takes time to piece together all the genealogical clues and facts that document a family tree. As you can see, there are many articles in old newspapers that can help us discover the stories of our ancestors’ lives.

In the weeks ahead I will continue to report on my findings about the Crofoot family and provide similar case study examples from other typical American families to help you better understand how to find newspaper articles about your ancestors—and how you can use them to fill in your family tree.

Civil War Music Makers: Finding Drummer Boys in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena researches old newspaper articles to find stories about the young boys that served a crucial role in the American Civil War: drummer boys.

With the recent commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, your family history research time may be focused on learning more about your Civil War ancestry. Reading history sources and American Civil War period newspapers online, you can immerse yourself in the battles, the politics surrounding the war, and even the movement of the troops. While most soldiers in the Civil War were adult men, some women, disguised as men, were involved in the combat as well. We also know that young boys suited up for battle, often filling the crucial role of drummer boy.

photo of Civil War drummer boy John Clem

Photo: Civil War drummer boy John Clem. Credit: Morris Gallery of the Cumberland, Nashville, Tennessee; Library of Congress; Wikipedia.

Whether they added years to their age in order to enlist or recruiters looked the other way, teenagers and even boys served and died for their respective sides during the Civil War.

Boys the Backbone of the Civil War, Oregonian newspaper article 30 May 1915

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 30 May 1915, page 3

Yes, boys served and died in battle in the Civil War. According to the PBS American Experience webpage “Kids in the Civil War,” as many as 20% of Civil War soldiers were under the age of 18 years. This is an amazing number of children participating in battle considering that over 3.2 million soldiers fought in the conflict, according to the Civil War Trust.

Many of these young boys played the battlefield music during the Civil War that stirred the troops and relayed important messages from the commanding officers. These young musicians bravely played their instruments as the opposing sides charged into battle. Looking through historical newspapers online in GenealogyBank, one can read various claims long after the Civil War ended about men said to be the youngest drummer boy during the war.

Youngest Drummer Boy in Union Army during the Civil War Is 62, Evening News newspaper article 9 November 1915

Evening News (San Jose, California), 9 November 1915, page 5

While some of the youngest Civil War drummer boys were 11 years old, there are even accounts of boys as young as 8 years of age joining on both sides of the conflict.

Youngest Civil War Drummer Boy Dies, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 6 February 1930

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 6 February 1930, page 14

What did these boys do during the Civil War? Some served as musicians for their respective companies. While it was thought this would have been the “safest” place for them, I don’t know of anyone who would want to go into battle with only a drum to defend yourself!

Civil War drummer boys like Johnny Clem, who went on to be the youngest non-commissioned officer in army history, sometimes dropped their drums and grabbed a gun during a battle to defend themselves and those around them. In an 1879 newspaper article Clem reportedly replied “Because I did not like to stand and be shot at without shooting back!” when asked about his shooting a Confederate colonel during the Battle of Shiloh.* According to his military service file index card, Clem was a musician in Company C of the 22nd Michigan Infantry.**

These boys, sometimes adopted by soldiers as “mascots,” played an important role on the battlefield during the Civil War. When the roar of fighting was too loud to hear a commanding officer’s orders, the drummer boys relayed those order via their drums. And just like their adult counterparts they suffered sickness, injury and even death during their military service.

Pvt. Clarence McKenzie was a 12-year-old drummer boy for the Brooklyn 13th Regiment when he was killed in June 1861 by friendly fire from a soldier in his own company. A statue of a drummer boy sits upon his final resting place at Green-Wood Cemetery. It is said that 3,000 people attended his funeral. You can read more about Pvt. McKenzie on the webpage “Brooklyn in the Civil War” found on the Brooklyn Public Library website.

Do you have any Civil War ancestors on your family tree? Dig into GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives and see what stories you can find about their military service during that great and terrible American conflict. And please share your Civil War genealogy discoveries with us in the comments. We love to hear your personal family stories!

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*Johnny Clem, “the Drummer-Boy of Chickamauga.” Grand Forks Weekly Herald (Grand Forks, ND). Thursday, October 16, 1879 .Volume: I . Issue: 17 Page: 2 . Available on GenealogyBank.

**Available at Fold 3, http://www.fold3.com/image/295053556/

Search Revolutionary War Records Online & Share Your Finds

With Memorial Day, Flag Day and July 4th fresh in our memory, genealogists often think about their Revolutionary War ancestors.

American Revolutionary War Newspapers Collage

Revolutionary War Newspaper Articles from GenealogyBank.com

Remember that GenealogyBank has a strong collection of historical newspapers and records from the 1700s and 1800s. Discover your early American ancestry in millions of records from the Revolutionary period.

Let’s honor the lives of each one of our Revolutionary War ancestors.

Between now and the end of the year we will be posting articles and obituaries about Revolutionary War soldiers. The American Revolutionary War started 238 years ago.

Write in and tell us about your Revolutionary War ancestor. Let’s recognize and remember 238 Revolutionary War soldiers in the days ahead. Let’s all do our part in making sure the memories of these brave Revolutionary War heroes are not lost.

Please post your genealogy research finds here in the blog’s comments section.