Genealogy Research Tip: Dig Deep into Records to Uncover Clues

Genealogy Research Tip: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Carefully read every genealogy record of your ancestor’s life—you never know what you will find. I recently made some surprising discoveries about the Morse family after digging deep into genealogy records online.

I found the obituary of Daniel Morse, published in the Cherry Valley Gazette (Cherry Valley, New York), 15 June 1819, page 3. It’s a simple obituary, just one line: “At Herkimer in an apoplectic fit, Daniel Morse, Esq. formerly of Brookfield, Mass. aged 60.”

Daniel Morse Obituary - Cherry Valley Gazette Newspaper June 15, 1819

Cherry Valley Gazette (New York), June 15, 1819

Then I found another version of Morse’s obituary, published the next day in the Commercial Advertiser (New York City, New York), 16 June 1819, page 2.

Daniel Morse Obituary - Commercial Advertiser Newspaper June 06, 1819

Commercial Advertiser (New York City, NY), June 16, 1819

This obituary is even shorter than the first one, omitting the cause of death and his age, simply stating: “At Herkimer, N.Y. Daniel Morse, Esq. formerly of Brookfield, Mass.”

Another New York City newspaper ran Morse’s obituary two days later. That death notice appeared in the Spectator (New York City, New York), 18 June 1819, page 3.

Daniel Morse Obituary - The Connecticut Mirror Newspaper June 21, 1819

The Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, CT), June 21, 1819

Three days after that, the exact same death notice was published in a newspaper from a neighboring state, The Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, Connecticut), 21 June 1819, page 3.

Again, no mention of the cause of death, but his age is included: “At Herkimer N.Y. Daniel Morse, Esq. aged 60, formerly from Brookfield Ma.”

So here we have four obituaries, and from them we have some basic genealogical facts:

  • His name
  • His age
  • Where he died
  • A hint about his occupation (“Esquire” often meant lawyer)
  • His former place of residence

But we don’t know more about him—or his family—than that.

Digging deeper into my genealogy research with GenealogyBank, I wanted to see if there is more information about him.

There is.

Daniel Morse Funeral Sermon Outline June 04, 1819

A Sermon of the Funeral of Daniel Morse, June 04, 1819

I found a copy of the sermon preached at his funeral.
Wow—the actual funeral sermon?
Yes, word for word.

What a terrific genealogical find this turns out to be—a document packed with family history information.

For starters, we learn that the funeral service was held on 4 June 1819, led by Rev. Hezekiah N. Woodruff, A.M., Pastor of the churches of Herkimer and Little Falls, New York. This gives us a good clue where we might find church records about Daniel Morse and his family.

This 16-page funeral sermon outline pamphlet includes extensive biographical material about Morse, as well as information about his family.

On page 13 of the funeral sermon outline pamphlet I read that:

  • Daniel was born on 2 August 1759
  • His wife was Lois Groat, born 18 March 1758
  • Both were born in Massachusetts
  • They married in August 1782 and had “several children”
  • They moved to Herkimer, New York, in 1800
Clipping from Daniel Morse Funeral Sermon - Married Lois Groat

The narrative goes on to describe the final days before he died 4 June 1819.

Clipping from Daniel Morse's Funeral Sermon - Dies of apoplectick fit

Reading more, I discovered that the pamphlet also contained a lengthy extract of the funeral sermon for his wife Lois (Groat) Morse! Suddenly, the second paragraph just leapt off the page at me: Lois died just a few weeks after her husband because of a fit of her own, a “paralytick” one.

Clipping from Daniel Morse Funeral Sermon - Lois His Wife Dies

Wanting to know more, I turned to a new search in GenealogyBank, looking for her obituary.

I found it in the New York Columbian (New York City, New York), 6 July 1819, page 2.

Lois Morse Obituary - New York Columbian Newspaper July 06, 1819

New York Columbian (New York City, NY), July 6, 1819

Now we know much more about Daniel Morse and his wife.

When I started searching I quickly found Daniel’s death notice. It was a lucky break that GenealogyBank also had scanned in his funeral sermon.

But, don’t judge a book by its cover. The title page states that it is the funeral sermon of Daniel Morse—it does not say that it also includes the funeral sermon of his late wife, Lois (Groat) Morse.

Daniel Morse Funeral Sermon Outline June 04, 1819

A Sermon of the Funeral of Daniel Morse, June 04, 1819

I had no idea that his wife Lois died less than four weeks after her husband. And since the title page of his funeral sermon made no mention of his wife, it was only by carefully reading the entire funeral sermon pamphlet that I learned the rest of the story.

The brief biographies of both of the Morse’s, Daniel’s funeral sermon, along with a lengthy extract from the sermon preached at Lois’s funeral, are welcome additions to the family record.

So now we not only know when and where the Morse’s died, we learned the tragic circumstances of how close in time their deaths were. They’ve become more than just names and dates on a family tree—we’ve come to know something about them as real people.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Always be prepared to go beneath the surface—dig deeper with your family history searches and find as many genealogy records about your ancestors as you can. And then read them all, thoroughly. You never know what you’ll find!

GenealogyBank’s Historical Books Section: Another Rich Resource for Genealogists

In addition to its core of 5,850 online newspapers, GenealogyBank has other family history resources to offer genealogists.

As GenealogyBank combs through archives and repositories for the oldest American newspapers, we find many one-of-a-kind early printed items of high genealogical value. These can range from one-page keepsakes to small printed books.

We digitize these and put them in the “Historical Books” section of GenealogyBank.

Old Family Genealogy Records & Funeral Sermon

These historical books and other non-newspaper items were printed between 1800 and 1900; most of them were printed before 1840. These publications can be one page or hundreds of pages long. All of these historical printed materials are of high genealogical interest and are a permanent family treasure to be passed down and kept. Here is a list of some of the books and other printed materials you can discover in our Historical Books archive:

  • Rare books including autobiographies, biographies, genealogies and memoirs
  • Historical maps and atlases
  • Directories and subscribers lists
  • Ad cards and vintage advertisements
  • Church and funeral sermons
  • Travel literature
  • Invitations
  • Old concert and play programs

Imagine finding a copy of the actual sermon preached at the funeral of an ancestor, or the invitation to the 25th anniversary party for your 2nd great-grandparents.

Mr. & Mrs. A.W. Putnam 25th Anniversary of their Marriage Invitation

The best way to search our historical books collection is by surname.

Click on the “Historical Books” section and then enter only the surname of the family that you want to research.  For example, type in: Bristow.

Searching Surnames in GenealogyBank's Historical Books Archive

This will pull up 12 relevant results, ranging from a biography of Benjamin Bristow to the “Patriotic Concert” concert program of popular American composer George Frederick Bristow (1825-1898).

Benjamin Bristow Concert Program & Biography

Dig deeply and mine GenealogyBank for all of its valuable content.

You especially want to sift through the Historical Books collection, with its wide variety of printed ephemera.

Funerals

I attended a funeral today for an old family friend that we have known for over 44 years, Axel Ohrn. Seeing people I have not seen in decades Axel’s funeral was a reunion as family and friends gathered from around the state of Connecticut to remember and honor him. He was 98 years old.


Newspapers over the past three centuries routinely carry obituaries and death notices that alert us that a person has died. They also routinely carry news accounts of the funerals themselves. GenealogyBank has more than 130 million obituaries, death notices, published funeral news accounts and sermons.
Here are some examples from the 29 May 1905 Montgomery (AL) Advertiser.





In the 1700s and 1800s it was common for families to print a copy of the funeral sermon as a keepsake and remembrance of the deceased.

GenealogyBank has many funeral sermons online like this one printed in 1804 on the death of Jonathan Homer, Jr. (1783-1804).
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Funeral Sermons – a core genealogical resource

GenealogyBank.com has over 7,000 funeral sermons – full text digital copies and excerpts.

These are a core source for genealogists searching for the details of their ancestor’s lives in Colonial America and the early Federalist period. (Photo, Ian Britton. FreeFoto.com).
It was common in Colonial America to have a funeral sermon printed and distributed “at the request of the family” to the mourners.
These slim pamphlets can range from six to thirty pages. While it was common for these to be printed – they were printed in small press runs, so it can be difficult for genealogists to locate copies. In many cases only one copy of the sermon – with its critical biographical information survives.

In my experience the earliest published funeral sermons that survive were for ministers and their wives. This practice expanded to include older members of the community and by the late 1700s to early 1800s it was common to see printed funeral sermons for children, men, women of all backgrounds and occupations.

Clergy routinely printed and circulated their sermons on all topics as a way to encourage the faithful to live better lives. I always assumed that the reason their funeral sermons survived while the others that may have been printed didn’t is that ministers/their wives were more widely known then regular townspeople.
Their funeral and other sermons were likely circulated to clergy in other cities; seminaries; townspeople in prior towns where they had been stationed etc. The wider the circulation – the more likely a copy would be preserved.
These sermons would not just be homilies to promote religious values but “news” – that people would want to read to be informed and reminded of the lives well lived by the ministers that had served them over the years. This would give more opportunities for people to have kept them – making it more likely for these fragile pamphlets to have survived.
Newspaper accounts of funerals vary – some give the complete sermon and some stories give brief details of the service – like this account of Mark Twain and his wife “listening” to the funeral service of her mother – Olivia (Lewis) Langdon, by telephone. (Inter-Ocean, 12 Jan 1891).
Another newspaper account gave the details of the “Most Impressive Funeral Service Ever Held” – the funeral of the Rev. Thomas Allen Horne. It was also the most unusual since he realized that he would soon pass away and had recorded his sermon to be played at the funeral.

His powerful remarks, in his own voice, made “grown men weep” and “women faint”. The family had a recording of the Rev. Horne and his late wife singing the old hymn “There is a Better Land“.

Tip: Click & Read this:

Imagine the impact in 1890 of listening to the funeral sermon of the deceased – recorded in his own voice; the shock in 1890 of hearing the recorded voices of he & his wife singing their funeral hymn – the poignant, personal remarks in his sermon – again recorded in his own voice. No doubt, that would have been the “Most Impressive Funeral Service Ever Held”.

Click Here to read the entire story: Charlotte (NC) News 15 March 1890.

GenealogyBank has thousands of funeral sermons – elegies, memorials etc. Many of these are full digital copies and others are the full sermon or excerpts that appeared in the newspapers.
Here are some typical examples of what you will find in GenealogyBank.
Harris, Thaddeus Mason, (1768-1842). A tribute of filial respect, to the memory of his mother, in a discourse, delivered at Dorchester, Feb. 8, 1801, the Lord’s day after her decease. Charlestown, MA: Printed by Samuel Etheridge, 1801. 20p.
The biographical and genealogical details of the late Rebekah (Mason) Wait (1738-1801) begin on page 16. We learn that she was born on 28 Dec 1738 – the daughter of Thaddeus Mason “of Cambridge, who survives her, in his 95th year.”

On page 17 we learn that she was married twice. She married her first husband, William Harris of Cambridge, MA on 20 Aug 1767. He died 30 Oct 1778. She married her second husband, Samuel Wait of Malden, MA on 2 Mar 1780. She died on 2 Feb 1801 “leaving behind her a widowed husband and five children (four by her first marriage and one by the second) to mourn their loss.”

Maxcy, Jonathan, (1768-1820). A funeral sermon, occasioned by the death of Mr. John Sampson Bobo a member of the Junior Class in the South-Carolina College, who was unfortunately drowned in the Congress River, near Columbia. Columbia, SC: Faust, 1819. 16p.

Moore, Martin, (1790-1866). Death of the saints precious in God’s sight a sermon delivered in Natick, June 13, 1819, occasioned by the death of Mrs. Hannah Coolidge, wife of Mr. William Coolidge, aetatis 40. Dedham, MA: Mann, 1819. 15p.

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So, what do you have on Long Island?

A friend of mine asked – “What do you have on Long Island?”

We started looking in GenealogyBank to see what we had – turns out we have quite a bit.

We found millions of articles, obituaries and records from the 1700s to today. There are over 330 New York newspapers in GenealogyBank – we spotted this early obituary of Mary Youngs (ca. 1784-1810) printed in the Long Island (NY) Star (22 Feb 1810).
I didn’t know that Long Island had it’s own newspaper that early in the century. GenealogyBank also includes the obituaries from Newsday right up to today’s paper.

We also found this sermon – that was preached in Hempstead, Long Island in 1813. It certainly gives the tenor of the sermons from 200 years ago.

We found many articles about the Blizzard of 1898 – including this one about Abram Decker who was saved from freezing to death in the snowstorm by the persistence of his “devoted wife”. This story was picked up and printed by the Idaho Daily Statesman, 18 Aug 1898.

Wow, what a story. His wife searching for him through 15′ snow drifts – finally spotting his foot above the snow and her efforts to rescue him by taking the railings from a fence to build a bonfire – lit by the flame in her lantern, to keep him warm. The fire got the attention of two farmers who came to their rescue. Now that’s an incredible family story.

Tip: Don’t limit your search to just one state – Remember that the articles you’re looking for may have appeared in a newspaper in another state – in this example the story was picked up and printed in a paper clear across the country in Idaho.

We found millions of articles about Long Islanders from the 18th Century to today.

What will you find in GenealogyBank?

To celebrate GenealogyBank’s success over the past two years, GenealogyBank is now offering a 30-day trial for only $9.95. Give it a try right now.