Tips & Tricks to Search Online Newspapers at GenealogyBank

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shows some of the search techniques she uses when researching GenealogyBank’s newspapers collection—to help our readers do more efficient searches and save them time with their family history research.

Every American family has a heritage to celebrate—whether it is a connection with a specific event, such as the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620; a military event, such as the Civil War of 1861-1865; a particular country of origin; or person of interest, such as a president, suffragette or abolitionist.

I’m lucky to have proved connections in my family history to many of the above (alas, no president), and like most family researchers have jumped for joy at finding the documented proof.

Once we find the genealogical connections (sometimes with the help of others’ research), we feel enormous satisfaction. However, many genealogists don’t realize that search engines can be tweaked to shorten searches and make family history research more efficient— in particular the genealogy search engine within GenealogyBank.

The trick to more efficient searching is to experiment with specific targeted keywords, related to events or ancestry, along with adding wildcards (more on that below) that accommodate for variations.

Keyword Search: Lineal Descendancy

Let’s start with searches related to specific descendants, using the keywords “lineal descendant,” with or without an added surname.

In this example (long before lineage societies became popular), we read that Mr. Michael Kett, a Quaker, was a lineal descendant from Robert Kett, described as the famous tanner and political reformer in the reign of King Edward the Sixth.

Michael Kett obituary, Providence Gazette newspaper article 27 March 1784

Providence Gazette (Providence, Rhode Island), 27 March 1784, page 2

Doesn’t an ancestral report like that get a genealogist excited!

Most of us are happy to research to an immigrant’s arrival in America, but this gentleman had reportedly traced his ancestry to King Edward VI of England, whose brief life occurred between 1537 and 1553, having been crowned at the young age of nine.

Search Newspapers for Events

Another suggested query is to incorporate the word descendant with a specific event, such as the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620.

Enclosing the search in quotes, “Mayflower descendant,” produces a different result than if you searched on each term without the quotation marks. The difference is that when you simply input terms without quotes, the search engine will find results whenever the two words are located anywhere within the same article—but if you enclose the terms in quotation marks, the terms have to be next to each other in an article in order to show up on the search results page.

Note: generally the “s” is ignored, along with capitalization, so don’t worry about entering “Mayflower descendants” or “mayflower descendant”; either will suffice.

Mayflower Descendants, Daily Inter Ocean newspaper article 14 April 1896

Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 14 April 1896, page 10

This obituary for Sarah Harlow of 13 March 1823 mentions that she was a descendant from “Mr. Richard Warren, who came in the Mayflower, in 1620, of the 4th generation.” It was found without using quotation marks around the words Mayflower and descendant.

Sarah Harlow obituary, Repertory newspaper article 13 March 1823

Repertory (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 March 1823, page 4

Accommodating Spelling Variations with Wildcards

Try variations of queries that accommodate spelling variations, by using either a question mark (?) or an asterisk (*). Known as wildcards, the first option replaces a single character in a word, and the other takes the place of several characters.

For example, “Harrell” can be spelled in a variety of ways, such as “Harrall” or “Herrell.”

If you want to search for all of these variations at once, substitute vowels with question marks. In addition, many early newspapers sometimes abbreviated “Samuel” as “Saml,” so try entering the given name as “Sam*” or “Sam*l.”

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box looking for Samuel Harrell

When I search for American Revolutionary War patriots, I often find the war described in various ways. One article might mention the Revolution, and another might describe someone as a Revolutionary War patriot. The solution is to abbreviate the term and add a specific surname.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box looking for Gilman

Don’t forget that you can direct the genealogy search engine to ignore certain words using the “Exclude Keywords” box.

If you are looking for one of George Washington’s namesakes, it might be useful to ignore the title President, whether it is abbreviated or spelled in full. And if you are repeating a previous search, you might wish to limit the query to the content added to GenealogyBank since your last search. Simply select the “Added Since” drop-down arrow, and limit by date.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box looking for George Washington

These newspaper search techniques usually carry over to your favorite Internet search engines.

Many search engines, such as Google Chrome, have advanced search options. However, if you can’t spot how to do that, you can still succeed. Without complicating things, you can apply what is known as a Boolean operator to a search query.

The three most common Boolean operators are AND, OR and NOT (in capitals).

  1. AND is usually a given in searches, but if you wish to be specific for search engines that ignore certain terms, be sure to add it.
  2. NOT is equivalent to adding a minus sign (-), and indicates that you want a search that does not include something.
  3. OR is an option that tells the search engine to find one thing or another.
  • Harrell OR Herrell OR Harrall
  • “George Washington” NOT President
  • “George Washington” -President
  • George Washington AND Adams

Occasionally you’ll find additional operators, such as the mostly undocumented NEAR in Bing, or AROUND in Google, as well as the ability to search by date ranges.

  • “Susan Smith” 1940…1950 (finds references for this person between two dates)
  • “Egbert Jones” 38…48 (finds a range of numbers connected with this person, such as a specified age)

You’ll need to experiment with the various search engines, and browse their help features. Click here to find a reference on search operators from GoogleGuide’s list: http://www.googleguide.com/advanced_operators_reference.html.

In addition, you’ll find that many popular social network and e-mail programs have additional shortcuts and search options that can be useful for searching.

Please let us know your favorite search techniques in GenealogyBank. Other readers may find them useful!

Dear Mother: Family Letters and Your Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how your ancestors’ letters can help with your family history research—and how you can find them.

Have you ever used a letter in your family history research? Letters from friends and family as well as those from businesses and organizations can provide information for your genealogy that can’t be found in standard genealogical resources.

Letters from Familial Archives

In the introduction to their book Women’s Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present, editors Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J. Adler remark: “Like women talking over the back fence, the telephone, the breakfast plates, or the business lunch, women’s letters rarely just exchange information. Instead they tell stories; they tell secrets…they—usually without meaning to—write history.”[i]

photo of an old letter

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

Letters from family and friends can provide wonderful clues for your family history. In the case of my own family history research, a letter held by a distant cousin from my 5th great-grandfather listed the names of his children and their birthdates. He also provided insight into his everyday life as an elderly widower living with one of his daughters.

Letters in Manuscript Collections

While some researchers may be fortunate to have inherited the familial archives, not everyone is lucky enough to have copies of family correspondence. Even if you have no access to the letters penned by your ancestors you may want to search for letters written to and from friends, neighbors and community members where your ancestor lived. These pieces of correspondence, found in manuscript collections, can provide social history information about events that affected your ancestor as well as the possibility of mentioning your family members.

photo of old letters

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

To find a manuscript collection for the place your ancestor lived in, use a website like ArchiveGrid or the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC) and search on the name of the place your ancestor was from (for example, city and state), not just the name of your ancestor. Look through these results to find any mention of correspondence for the time and place your ancestor was from. State historical societies are another good place to search for letters.

Letters in Newspapers

There can be other places to find correspondence. Surprisingly, one place to find letters is the newspaper. Remember that a newspaper is the voice of a community and as such all types of news can be found there, including letters. In some cases the letters are intended to be published in the newspaper, as in the case of Letters to the Editor.

Letters to the Editor, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 12 June 1915

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 12 June 1915, page 8

In others, the recipient has shared a letter they received that they thought would be of interest to their neighbors. During war time soldiers’ letters home were sometimes shared in the newspaper, as in this feature “Letters from Over There.” These published correspondences can provide you with a glimpse of what life was like for those in your ancestor’s community.

Letters from Over There, Baltimore American newspaper article 26 August 1918

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 26 August 1918, page 7

Even children are represented in letters published in newspapers, as in the case of letters to Santa.

Letters to Santa Claus, Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper article 20 December 1903

Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado), 20 December 1903, page 12

Don’t assume that just because you did not inherit your ancestor’s letter correspondence that none exists. Check out archives, libraries and newspapers for more information about your ancestor’s life.


[i] Women’s Letters. America from the Revolutionary War to the Present. Edited by Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J Adler. Page 1. Available on Google Books http://books.google.com/books?id=y8cGGFpBnBEC&lpg=PA415&dq=%22lydia%20E%20Pinkham%22&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=%22lydia%20E%20Pinkham%22&f=false.

Remembering ‘Roots’ Author Alexander Murray Palmer Haley

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

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

He was 55 years old when Roots was published.

Alex Haley Roots Book Cover

Image credit: Wikipedia.org

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

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

One man can make a big difference.

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

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.

How Is Your Local Genealogical Society Doing?

photo of a presentation made during the 2013 RootsTech genealogical conference

Credit: RootsTech

The Reading Eagle (Reading, Pennsylvania) ran an interesting article about the dropping membership of the Berks County Genealogical Society.

According to the article this local genealogical society is feeling the impact of dropping memberships at the same time interest in genealogy is soaring. Instead of joining local genealogical societies, new genealogists seem to be going directly to the Internet to ask questions, learn the basics of genealogical research and search for their ancestors.

The national genealogical conferences like the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Genealogical Society annual conferences have seen a drop-off in attendance since 11 September 2001. Meanwhile the annual RootsTech conferences have seen a surge in attendance during the three years this family history conference has been held.

At the same time, online weekly webinars like the Legacy Family Tree Webinars have 1,000 people attending, and podcasts like the Genealogy Guys Podcast are seeing each episode downloaded over 4,000 times. That is way more than the number of genealogists attending the annual meeting of a large city or state genealogical society…and they are pulling that many of us every week.

How is your local genealogical society doing?

Is it growing?

Is there excitement?

Is it fresh?

Is there a buzz?

When I attended my first genealogical society meetings 50 years ago in the early 1960s—the meetings of the Stamford Genealogical Society (now called the Connecticut Ancestry Society)—the focus was on outreach and training. Their chief projects were having the genealogical society members submit their family tree charts (which were put in binders and cross indexed), and producing the quarterly journal. They were good, effective meetings. We all looked forward to them. It was like an extended family.

The genealogy world changed in 1976 with the publication of Alex Haley’s Roots and the launch of the companion television series in 1977. Genealogy has not been the same since. We went from 200 genealogical societies in the United States to over 4,000 societies.

FamilySearch Indexing has well over 100,000 indexers, all volunteers, who are creating over 1 million indexed genealogy records every day.

How is your local genealogical society doing?

What is your society doing to keep itself fresh and exciting?

Share your ideas and best practices.

Post them here today in the comments.

What about the Kids? Researching Your Family Tree’s Children

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the family history challenge of researching your ancestors’ lives when they were children.

My sons have had the opportunity to visit more cemeteries and hear more genealogy presentations than most family historians. They’ve been a captive audience as I give genealogy talks to conferences, societies, and libraries. They even have a few of my genealogy presentations memorized. Unimpressed by the family history topics I cover, my youngest always asks: “why don’t you ever talk about researching kids?”

old photo of children from Gena Philibert-Ortega's collection

Old photo of children, from the author’s collection

It’s a fair question considering that all of our ancestors started life as children. My guess is that most family historians would reply that children don’t leave a record trail, or that their lives aren’t as documented as adults—and that is why genealogists don’t spend much time researching their ancestors’ early years.

But there are instances where children do leave a paper trail. A visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois, reinforced this fact to our family when we viewed a photographic exhibit of Civil War soldiers. Boys as young as 9 years served in the Civil War, and some of them were photographed.

photo of an unidentified young Civil War soldier in Union uniform and forage cap, from the Library of Congress

Photo: Unidentified young Civil War soldier in Union uniform and forage cap. Credit: Library of Congress.

From: Library of Congress. Flickr, The Commons. Accessed 23 March 2013.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/5229153190/

While children are too young to leave the type of documentation reserved for adults, they do leave behind records. A birth record or church christening announcement may start your search, depending on the time period. School records are another choice for researching kids. Don’t forget the variety of articles found in a local newspaper.

Obviously the era the child grew up in will determine what mentions could be found in the newspapers. But some ideas include:

Organizations

What organizations or clubs did the child belong to? By learning more about the history of the place your ancestor was from, you may identify groups that they may have taken part in, including organizations that were social, educational, ethnic or religious in nature.

The Boy Scouts of Black Wolf and B.P., Lexington Herald newspaper article 25 September 1910

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 25 September 1910, page 4

Although far from comprehensive, here is a list of some groups from the 20th century:

School

In a previous blog article, “Searching Family History: Old School Records in the Newspaper,” I explored the types of newspaper articles that listed teachers and students.

As explained in that blog article, there are numerous types of articles mentioning children. From their achievements and awards, to sporting events and even misdeeds, you can find mentions of school children in local newspapers. One of the pluses to digitized newspapers is that a search of just a name can assist you in finding these mentions. Consider limiting your search by date as you explore GenealogyBank, allowing you to focus on an ancestor’s early years.

Letters to Santa

Reading letters to Santa from the late 19th and early 20th centuries reminds one how much better off materially most people are now.

Letters to Santa from the Children, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 16 December 1906

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 16 December 1906, page 9

These letters range from requests for toys or food to desperate pleas for almost anything their parents couldn’t afford. These letters often include the child’s name and, in some cases, an address. What a great find to see the requests of your family member to the jolly guy in the red suit!

Dear Old Santa Claus, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 21 December 1899

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 21 December 1899, page 2

Social History

As with any genealogy research, consider social history when learning more about children from past generations. Use the newspapers as a local history source to get a sense of what organizations and activities your ancestors may have been involved in during their younger years. Read histories of the time to learn more about what childhood was like during their era. By learning more about the locality of your ancestor, you can learn more about what types of activities they may have enjoyed. Gaps in specific family records can be filled with broader social history information.

Keep your own children’s interests in mind! Including stories about their ancestors’ childhoods will stimulate present and future generations of children to take more interest in the family history you are documenting and preserving.

Genealogy Tools & Resources Review: Best Bang for Your Buck!

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows the method he uses at the end of each year to evaluate all the genealogy tools and resources he used, to help him prepare his genealogy budget for the new year.

About this time of year I go through my annual exercise of evaluating the benefits, or “bang-for-my-bucks,” that I derived from the money I spent on genealogy tools and resources during the past year to indulge all my family history pursuits. I do this as the first step toward building my genealogy tool budget for the upcoming year.

More Bang for Your Buck, Greensboro News and Record newpaper headline 5 August 1984

Greensboro News and Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 5 August 1984, page 144

2013 is no exception and, due to a variety of reasons, I decided that I was going to adhere to the “brutally honest” approach in my genealogy tools and resources review.

Each year I make up a simple table and list all the genealogy software and website subscriptions I spent money on for family history research and write them down in the far left-hand column. Then I begin to take stock of each of them. If you’d like to do a similar analysis for your genealogy tools and resources, feel free to use my spreadsheet as a model for your own evaluation.

Download the Genealogy Tools Evaluation Spreadsheet.

My evaluation criteria are simple and few. The following are the four I used for this year’s review:

  1. How often have I used the genealogy resource or tool in the past year?
  2. How successful have I been at finding useful genealogical information for my family tree from this genealogy resource or tool?
  3. How many times have I had an “AH-HA” moment of discovery using the genealogy resource or tool? And, of course,
  4. How much did I spend on this genealogy tool or resource?

I proceed to place a value of 0, 1, or 3 points for each of the first three evaluation criteria for each item in my list and the dollar amount in the fourth. Then just in case of a tie, I have a column on the far right-hand side that asks: Is this genealogy resource or tool fun to use? I really like to have fun with my family history, so I place a premium on those genealogy research tools and resources that offer me not only useful information, but some enjoyment as well. This column, since it is a tie-breaker, simply gets a “-” or a “+” sign.

When all was said and done, after this exercise my genealogy tools budget for 2013 was remarkably easy to assemble.

My review includes every subscription and membership that I purchased during the year for any genealogy or history society, museum, software program, database, or association. In my case (simply for example) I have such diverse line items as MyHeritage.com (the software I use for my family tree and our family social network website), the British Newspaper Archive, Ohio Genealogical Society, Ancestry.com, Ohio History Society, Cornwall Family History Society, Minnesota Historical Society, Association of Professional Genealogists, National Genealogical Society, Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Ontario, Canada Genealogical Society, and almost two dozen additional state and local societies—in addition to GenealogyBank. I include them all from my largest individual annual outlay of $299 for Ancestry to my smallest for a local genealogical society that still only charges $10 a year. (I do not enter the costs I incur each year for experts, long distance assistants, translators, and genealogy tourism/travel in this evaluation spreadsheet because I have a different analysis I use for these outlays.)

You might find it interesting to know that GenealogyBank.com was one of the very top-rated genealogy resources in my analysis.

screenshot of an Excel spreadsheet

The following are the answers from the table I constructed:

  1. I used GenealogyBank.com at least every week and some weeks every day: 3 points.
  2. Over and over, on almost every log-in, I discovered extremely useful, critical, and unique information for my family tree: 3 points.
  3. My “AH-HA” moments were numerous, ranging from articles that provided needed background, obituaries that listed previously missing family members (especially married names of daughters and nieces), and the intensely precious newspaper photos that in several cases make up the only family photo we have of a particular family member: 3 points.
  4. I pay for my GenealogyBank.com subscription on the annual plan, so I notice when I have to part with the fee of $55.95—but I actually do it with a smile because if I divide this total by month, day, article found, or “AH-HA” moment, it works out to pennies a discovery. Well worth it!

Oh, and one of my favorite parts is that GenealogyBank.com also gets a “+” in the “fun column.” I have had more fun finding my family history discoveries and learning new and exciting aspects of the times of my ancestors through GenealogyBank’s newspaper collections than I have had on any other genealogy-oriented site. In fact I always find myself looking forward to logging in, ready for another session.

So GenealogyBank came out of my analysis with a score of 9+, the highest possible score. Renewal for sure!

We all know that genealogy can be an expensive hobby, but in this case there is no second-guessing my use of GenealogyBank.com as one of my premier, must-have sites.

I hope you found my genealogy resource and tool review method helpful. Good luck with your own family history searching in 2013!

A Peek into Yesteryear: Using Scrapbooks for Genealogy Research

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena describes how scrapbooks can be a surprising and valuable resource for your family history research.

Did you ever keep a scrapbook? I’m not referring to the modern-day scrapbooks that are essentially decorated photograph albums. I’m referring to the type of scrapbook that held postcards, letters, favorite poems, photos and newspaper clippings. When I was young I would fill my scrapbook with all the events I was a part of, like band concerts, school graduations, and church activities. I would include postcards I had received from family members, and newspaper clippings I found interesting (I still have a clipping my grandmother gave me about how to cook a bat).

photo of a scrapbook

As a family history researcher I have found scrapbooks from past generations that included genealogically significant information such as newspaper clippings of births, marriages, and deaths. I’m always amazed at the dedication some people have put into documenting their community and their family through scrapbooks. Scrapbooks tell a story, a fact that was reinforced for me a few years back when I was helping a client preserve her childhood scrapbook that included valentines given to her by elementary school classmates. Some of those classmates were Japanese Americans who would later be held at the Manzanar internment camp during the World War II years.

photo of a scrapbook showing newspaper clippings

In her book Scrapbooks: An American History, Jessica Helfand describes scrapbooks as being a “visual autobiography.” Looking at the scrapbooks I own, it’s easy to see that they are autobiographies and community histories. Scrapbooks contain visual representations of what was important to the owner. Scrapbooks can hold a variety of genealogical treasures, even in cases where the scrapbook’s original owner was not related to you.

Consider some of the items that get pasted into scrapbooks: letter correspondence, newspaper articles, and photos. These all document the interests and life of the scrapbook owner, and include people from his or her community: neighbors, family members, and friends and associates from school, church and work. As virtual autobiographies scrapbooks should be part of a genealogical search, even in cases where they are not your ancestor’s but rather from someone who lived in their community. In one scrapbook that I own that dates from 1930 to 1950, there is a newspaper clipping showing the names of a graduating class as well as photographs, correspondence, thank-you notes and invitations, all documenting the life of a community.

photo of a scrapbook showing an old letter

While we often think of scrapbooking as an individual pursuit, it’s important to remember that individuals weren’t the only ones who kept scrapbooks. Organizations also kept scrapbooks that documented the people, history, and achievements of their group. So while an individual’s scrapbook may provide you with social history and even a possible mention of an ancestor, an organizational scrapbook will provide information about a group that your ancestor was a part of, allowing you to better document their activities.

photo of a scrapbook showing a picture of a high school graduation

How do you find scrapbooks to use in your genealogy research? They can be housed in manuscript collections found at libraries, historical societies, museums and archives. To find scrapbooks you can use a union catalog like ArchiveGrid. A recent search on the keyword “scrapbook” resulted in over 36,000 results.

Other combined library catalogs also exist. When I searched the catalog for Online Archive of California, which includes museums, archives, universities and public libraries in California, I found scrapbooks for organizations and groups such as:

You can also search an individual repository’s catalog for the keyword “scrapbook.”

Individuals, organizations, and other types of groups created scrapbooks that they filled with items they were interested in and didn’t want to forget, as well as ephemera that documented the activities and events of the life of their community. Many are often packed with old newspaper clippings that provide a wealth of genealogical information. Scrapbooks are just one more example of a genealogy resource that can tell your family’s history. Be sure to include them in your family history searches.

Note: all photos are from the author’s collection.

Ancestry Believe It or Not: Genealogy Scams, Fakes & Forgers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about genealogical fakes and frauds, and cautions readers to be careful in documenting their family history.

You can’t always believe what you read—or can you?

Genealogy, when done right, is a pursuit requiring patience, with family relationships being carefully established and well documented. But be wary when constructing your family tree; examine each piece of evidence with a critical eye.

Exaggerations abound in genealogy, many of which can be categorized under the “Believe It or Not” phrase made famous by Robert. L. Ripley (1890-1949).

In order to “prove” more impressive ancestry than they actually have, scoundrels and frauds sometimes doctor documents, create fictitious Bible records, and even sell services to unsuspecting family researchers.

Some of the more notorious genealogy fakes and forgers were Gustave Anjou, Harriet de Salis and Horatio Gates Somerby.

Gustave Anjou (1863-1942), a.k.a. Swedish native Gustaf Ludvig Jungberg

Anjou immigrated to America from Sweden, after being released from incarceration in 1886, reportedly on a forgery charge. He became active in genealogical societies in the New Jersey and New York areas, and proceeded to sell his services as a researcher to wealthy citizens. His specialty was fabricating descent from royal lineages.

Some of his more infamous works included supposed lineages for the families of Andrews, Dent, Duff, Grant, Houston, Hurd, Longyear, Shapleigh, Wyckoff, and many more genealogical frauds. He also published a reference on the Ulster Country, New York, Probate Records. For a more thorough list of his junk genealogies, conduct a search in WorldCat or Google Books.

Gustave Anjou’s passport photo (1924)

Gustave Anjou’s passport photo (1924)

Even Anjou’s name is a sham or half-truth. His passport application of 1924 reported his father as “Charles Gustave Marie Anjou” and that he was born in Paris, France. This fabrication was derived from his parents’ names, Carl Gustaf Jungberg and housekeeper, Maria Lovia Hapberg, along with the Anjou reference from his fiancée (later wife), Anna Maria Anjou. The passport application noted he was naturalized in 1918 and that he was following the occupation of genealogist.

Gustave Anjou’s passport application (1924)

Gustave Anjou’s passport application (1924)

References to Anjou’s association with genealogy can be found in New York City records:

  • The New York City Directory of 1910 reported: “British-Am Record Soc, 116 Nassau R [Residence] 1116—C. Percy Hurditch, Pres; Gustave Anjou, Sec.”
  • The New York City Directory of 1912 reported: “Am Genealogical Soc., 116 Nassau R 1117—Gustave Anjou, Sec.”

In the following historical newspaper article, we can see the ripple effect of Anjou’s fraudulent genealogy work. A New Orleans newspaper’s Genealogical Department ran a feature called “Who’s Who and Their Forbears,” and innocently quoted Anjou’s work assuming it was authentic.

Who’s Who and Their Forbears, Times-Picayune newspaper article 11 August 1912

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 11 August 1912, page 34

Mrs. Harriet de Salis, nee Bainbridge

De Salis was a noted cookbook author. The title of one of her publications, Tempting Dishes for Small Incomes published in 1903, seems to hold a “secret message” about her second career: junk genealogy. Her culinary skills apparently didn’t generate enough income, so she turned to providing a fraudulent genealogy service, much like Anjou.

Some of her noted counterfeits were submitted by her eager clients to the New England Historical and Genealogical Register (NEHGR) . Unfortunately for de Salis, NEHGR researchers typically investigate exuberant ancestral claims, as seen in this 1943 response pointedly remarking on de Salis’s “vivid imagination”:

“The wills of ‘Edward’ and ‘Valentine’ [Woodman] appear to have been the offspring of Harriet de Salis’ vivid imagination—at least no such wills can now be found. After this auspicious beginning she proceeded to construct a wondrous pedigree making Nicholas the ancestor of the two New England progenitors and deducing his descent from all the ancient and gentle family of Woodman of Surrey.”

The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. 97, p. 282 (1943).

Little mention of de Salis appears in GenealogyBank. Her death date and obituary were not located in its vast historical newspaper archives. Interestingly, however, there is a mention of de Salis in GenealogyBank’s United States Congressional Serial Set archives, referring to her 1888 oyster cookbook.

mention of Harriet De Salis's 1888 oyster cookbook in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, Part XVIII. Report of the Commissioner for the year ending June 30, 1892. Date: Monday, January 1, 1894. Publication: Serial Set Vol. No.3264; Report: H.Misc.Doc. 209.

Horatio Gates “H. G.” Somerby (1805-1872)

Somerby, a native of Newburyport, Massachusetts, moved to England, where he fabricated genealogies for Americans wishing to establish English origins.

WorldCat and Google Books report a variety of publications on families that feature suspect genealogical work done by Somerby, such as The Blakes of Somerset, John Cotton of Boston, The Searstan Family of Colchester, Pedigree of Lawrence, A Sketch of the Family of Dumaresq, and Notices of the Sears Family.

GenealogyBank’s newspapers report that a man by the name of “Horatio B. Somerby” was a witness at a forgery trial. Although the middle initial is incorrect, it may be a typo. One has to wonder about the association with a noted forger, especially one with New England connections, and suspect this is really Horatio G. Somerby.

forgery trial report, Boston Herald newspaper article 13 October 1848

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 October 1848, page 2

GenealogyBank has a brief notice of his death in London, but this death notice makes no mention of his background in fraudulent genealogy.

Horatio Somerby death notice, Salem Register newspaper article 5 December 1872

Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 5 December 1872, page 2

There are numerous examples of scammers, frauds, fakes and forgers in genealogical research, so remember the famous words of Ripley: “Believe It or Not,” and be careful documenting your family history to keep it real!

Ephemera: A Surprisingly Fertile Genealogical Resource

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about an unusual—but a personal favorite—source of family history information: ephemera.

As I research my family history I look forward to finding unusual sources that reveal different aspects of my ancestor’s life beyond what an online index provides. One unusual source I find myself searching for is ephemera. In fact, I LOVE ephemera.

What’s ephemera you ask? Well one of the official definitions is “paper items (such as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles” (from Miriam Webster). At first glance that may seem to refer to only a few items but, according to the Ephemera Society of America, the Encyclopedia of Ephemera lists 500 categories of ephemera. Vintage ephemera can provide details of your ancestor’s life, even vital record information, or a specific place and time for them.

ephemera example: wedding anniversary invitation

Ephemera example: wedding anniversary invitation. From the author’s collection.

In genealogical terms it can include everything from your grandparents’ World War II ration books, a Christmas card your great-grandparents sent out, newspaper clippings of obituaries and marriage announcements, to the letters your 4th great-grandfather wrote from the battlefield during the Civil War. But it’s even more than that. In some cases it may be tidbits that provide social history information like a World War I recruitment poster or a menu from the first restaurant in your hometown.

ephemera example: restaurant menu

Ephemera example: restaurant menu. From the author’s collection.

Not everyone fully embraces ephemera in genealogical research. Why? These types of historical records can be difficult to find. In searching for ephemera that has your ancestor’s name on it you will need to start with home sources. When I refer to a home source, I’m not just suggesting looking for items in your home. Ask your family members about any types of items they may have inherited. In some cases family members may not realize what genealogical treasures they have. It might take several discussions where you reminisce or conduct an interview before they remember some of the items they have been holding on to.

I recently blogged about a letter I found in my childhood stamp collection that was given to me by my maternal grandmother. She had given me the letter to keep because of its interesting stamp. As I read this long-forgotten letter, I realized it contained important genealogical information from her own research on an English family line from the 1800s.

Cast your genealogical fishing line far and wide, and reach out to a distant unknown cousin who may have an heirloom or a forgotten item in their home. Utilizing social media can help get the word out about your research. Consider using a blog, website, Twitter or Facebook as just some of the ways to help other researchers find you.

ephemera example: graduation exercises brochure

Ephemera example: graduation exercises brochure. From the author’s collection.

Ephemera can also be found in collections housed at archives, libraries, societies and museums. One way to find these types of historical collections is to search either the repository’s catalog or a union catalog (one that includes multiple repositories), such as ArchiveGrid or the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). When researching collections, search on the place your ancestor was from to find materials that might have originated with an acquaintance or neighbor. Also consider groups and organizations your ancestor was a member of when searching through collections.

ephemera example: postcard

Ephemera example: postcard. From the author’s collection.

Do you have ephemera from your family or someone else’s? Consider sharing this by scanning and posting it on the Internet. Several non-genealogy blogs share ephemera they have found or collected. Check out Forgotten Bookmarks, Paper Great, and Permanent Record for ideas of how others are sharing ephemera. By sharing their genealogical finds and collections they make it possible for descendants to be reunited with their family history.