Veterans Day Special: How to Trace Your Veteran Ancestors

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—in celebration of today being Veterans Day—Gena searches old newspapers to help fill in the story of an ancestor’s military service during World War I.

As our thoughts on this Veterans Day turn to the nation’s military personnel, you may be thinking about one of your ancestors who was a veteran—and wondering how you could find out more about him or her.

Quick question: if you are researching a soldier where should you search? Your most immediate answer might include searching a familiar genealogy subscription website or ordering military and pension records. While those are important places to start, have you considered searching old newspapers?

Hometown newspapers provide information about young men and women who have gone off to war. In some cases these mentions of people can be numerous. Search for these old newspaper articles to add to the official military records you have already gathered to help tell your ancestor’s story.

As an example, let’s look at the military life of Sgt. Ernest L. Clayton from Blackwells, Georgia. Sgt. Clayton was a World War I soldier serving in France. His WWI draft registration card from 1 June 1917 indicates that he was a college student prior to his service.

Fast forward to April 1918 and we see from the local news section of the Cobb County Times that Sgt. Ernest Clayton, from Camp Gordon, spent his Sunday in town with his friends. Camp Gordon, now known as Fort Gordon, is in Augusta, Georgia, and was established in 1917.

a notice about Sergeant Ernest Clayton, Cobb County Times newspaper article 11 April 1918

Cobb County Times (Marietta, Georgia), 11 April 1918, page 4

It’s important to remember that many times these smaller city newspapers did contain short mentions of the comings and goings of community members. In those hometown newspapers you can find details of the soldier and his or her family.

Think of older newspapers as the Facebook of their time. Just as we would now share important news of our family through Facebook posts, our ancestors shared their highlights with the local newspaper. It wasn’t too long ago that newspapers even printed the letters that families received from their military-serving family members. The following article is a letter from Sgt. Clayton to his sister, and has a photo of him in uniform.

Letter from Home Folks Adds Much to Life of a Soldier [Ernest Clayton], Cobb County Times newspaper article 24 October 1918

Cobb County Times (Marietta, Georgia), 24 October 1918, page 1

As an introduction to the letter, the newspaper editor let the community know that Clayton was a part of Battery B, 320th Field Artillery, and that he fought in the Battle of Saint Mihiel on 12-15 September 1918. This introduction indicated that he was already in the military when he filled out his draft registration, having entered in May 1917.

In his letter written from France, Clayton talked about how letters from home helped keep his spirits up. He wrote: “You know we soldiers grow tired and weary and if we don’t have any greetings from home and dear old America sometimes, we feel like death would be sweet. But when we are so discouraged and ‘all in’ as we call it, a bunch of mail encourages us very much, and we feel just like singing that dear old song: ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty.’”

There’s no doubt that having a soldier fighting in a war could be nerve wracking for family members on the home front. Not knowing how their son or daughter was doing, especially in a time when communication methods were limited, was an enormous stress. Receiving erroneous news must have been even more difficult to recover from.

World War I on the Western Front ended on 11 November 1918 with the signing of the armistice in France between the allies and Germany. That day was originally commemorated as Armistice Day (it became known as Veterans Day in the U.S. after World War II).

That fateful day took on special meaning for the Clayton family after Sgt. Clayton was unofficially listed as killed in action during the last days of the war. To the family’s great relief, that news of his death turned out to be erroneous!

They received a letter (which the family shared with the local newspaper) that Clayton wrote them on 23 November 1918—after the war had ended, and after he was supposedly dead. He wrote the letter from a hotel room in France, where he was enjoying some rest after 100 days on the firing line. He wrote that he anticipated arriving back home from the war in January 1919.

Sgt. E. L. Clayton Was Not Killed in Action, Cobb County Times newspaper article 19 December 1918

Cobb County Times (Marietta, Georgia), 19 December 1918, page 1

This Veterans Day, spend some time looking for your veteran ancestor in old newspapers. Remember that military service information can be found in more than just the official government military records! You can often find much more information about your veteran ancestor in letters, photos, draft lists, pension lists and other types of articles published in old newspapers.

Genealogy Tip: Make sure to search various versions of a person’s name when using a search engine. In searching for Sgt. Clayton, I searched on just the surname Clayton, as well as E. L. Clayton, Ernest Clayton, and other variations. I also searched for the names of his parents and sister.

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 6: Search Cemeteries Online

A few weeks ago I wrote about online cemetery records (See: Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records). In that article I wrote about the U.S. Veterans Administration’s Nationwide Gravesite Locator, Find-A-Grave, and BillionGraves.

Now I want to show how you can help your family history research by using information from these three websites: Find-A-Grave, GenealogyBank and Nationwide Gravesite Locator.

As shown in my earlier blog article, I gave Find-A-Grave a try by registering and adding the tombstone photo of my great-grandfather John Henry Kemp (1866-1944).

Registering with Find-A-Grave triggered a mini-avalanche of requests by family members and genealogists from around the country asking if I could take photos of their relatives’ tombstones at cemeteries in my local area. In the past week I’ve received almost 20 requests so far and they are still coming in: requests for me to take photos of gravestones in cemeteries all around my county.

Find-A-Grave has a “Request A Photo” feature that lets you ask nearby genealogists to take a photo of your target ancestor’s tombstone and post it to Find-A-Grave.

screenshot of the "Request A Photo" page from the website Find-A-Grave

Credit: Find-A-Grave

So I decided to give it a try and volunteered to be a gravesite photographer.

I received a request to photograph the tombstone of Daniel J. Clifford. They said that he was buried at the Connecticut State Veterans Cemetery in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1997.

First, I did a quick search on GenealogyBank and immediately pulled up Clifford’s obituary, giving me more details about him. He was 86 years old when he died and yes, he was buried in the Connecticut State Veterans Cemetery.

obituary for Daniel Clifford, Hartford Courant newspaper article 25 October 1997

Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 25 October 1997, page B3

Next, I searched Nationwide Gravesite Locator to get a quick summary of Clifford’s military service and burial site.

screenshot of record for Daniel Clifford from website Nationwide Gravesite Locator

Credit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

It shows that he was a Tec 5 in the U.S. Army and served in WWII. It also tells us that he was buried in Section 81-G, Site 02 in the State Veterans Cemetery.

That is a great feature of the network of military cemeteries: service members are not buried randomly—they are buried in neat, orderly rows. With that section and site number it is easy to go directly to Daniel Clifford’s grave.

So—I headed out this morning to do just that. Armed with my iPad, I went to see if I could actually do this. As you drive into the cemetery you can see the small markers indicating the sections. There was Section 81-G.

Walking the rows I was able to quickly find tombstone 02 in Section 81-G. Notice that the stones have the location code engraved on the back of the tombstone.

photo of the rear of Daniel Clifford's tombstone

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp

Simple.

Here is his gravestone.

photo of the front of Daniel Clifford's tombstone

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp

Sharp, clear and easy to read.

Find-A-Grave, Nationwide Gravesite Locator and GenealogyBank are essential tools genealogists rely on to get details of the lives of every member of their family.

Now—another word. I took these tombstone photos for Find-A-Grave with my iPad.

Imagine that.

When I first looked at an iPad I could see no practical value in having one. I could do everything I needed with my laptop—why would I need this extra tool? I quickly found that its always-on Apple software lets me check e-mail anytime, without having to wait for the laptop to crank up.

Now I see that it can actually take photos. Good ones, too.

It was easy to work with. When using it at the cemetery I could easily see the tombstone in the full screen image. It was even easier to frame the photo and to take the picture.

Wow. That was simple.

I have been working on my family history for the past 50 years. There’s always something new to learn.

Last year I learned how to text, to keep in touch with the kids—and now I have an iPad.

Couple this technology with such core tools as Find-A-Grave, Nationwide Gravesite Locator and GenealogyBank, and it’s clearly “A Great Day for Genealogy!”

Read these other blog articles about top genealogy websites:

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 1: Google

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

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

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 4: BillionGraves Smartphone App for Finding Graves

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 5: State Vital Records in the U.S.

New Mexico Governor Wants More Federal Cemeteries

New Mexico Governor Susan Martinez is pushing to increase the number of federal military cemeteries in her state from two to ten.

Fort Bayard New Mexico National Cemetery

Photo: Fort Bayard, New Mexico National Cemetery. Credit: Wikipedia.

New Mexico is the fifth largest U.S. state in land mass, with 122,000 square miles. Given the long distances most state residents must travel to visit the two existing federal military cemeteries, Governor Martinez wants to create eight more cemeteries dispersed across the state to make it easier for family and friends to visit the gravesites. Read the full story about how Gov. Susana Martinez wants to build small veterans cemeteries throughout state in the Current-Argus (Carlsbad, New Mexico), 17 July 2013.

One of the state’s two existing federal military cemeteries is located at Fort Bayard, New Mexico, in the southwestern area of the state. That cemetery has burials from the 1800s to today.

The other federal military cemetery is the Santa Fe National Cemetery located in the city limits of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Burials there began in the mid-1800s.

New Mexico residents in the southern part of the state also use the Fort Bliss National Cemetery located in El Paso, Texas. The earliest grave in that cemetery dates from 1883.

Be sure to use the U.S. Veterans Administration’s National Gravesite Locator to search for details about the servicemen & women and their spouses buried in these federal military cemeteries.

Adeline Kemp - National Gravesite Locator Map

Credit: National Gravesite Locator.

These military cemeteries permit the burial of the service member and their spouse. The online index gives you the core 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 24/7 online. This government cemetery website is updated daily.

For more information about cemetery websites see also the blog post: “Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records.”

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.

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.

Remembering Our American Veterans on Memorial Day 2013

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, as we head into the Memorial Day weekend, Gena writes about how her family honors the veterans buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Southern California.

On Monday, Americans will pause to remember those who have died while serving their country. Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, was first officially celebrated on 30 May 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery. Up until the time of World War I, the day was meant to honor those who served in the Civil War. Succeeding wars have given Americans many more lives to honor.

Do you have plans this Memorial Day 2013? Whether it’s researching a military ancestor or taking part in a community remembrance, there are numerous ways to spend this Memorial Day holiday. For the last four years, Memorial Day has had a significant meaning for my family. For us, preparations for Memorial Day begin the first Saturday in May when my sons’ Boy Scout Troop starts fundraising. The donations they seek fund a project that has come to have great meaning for the Scouts: buying U.S. flags to adorn American veterans’ graves. These flags, each approximately two feet tall, are placed at the head of the gravestones at the Riverside National Cemetery in Southern California every Memorial Day. Each year the Scouts add to their collection of flags; this year they hope to increase the number of flags to 2,500.

Boy Scout placing U.S. flag on a veteran's grave at Riverside National Cemetery

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

The Saturday before Memorial Day, Boy Scouts and their families get together and place these flags, one by one, at the same space right above each gravestone. As they place each flag they pause to say the name of the veteran buried there and what war or battle they fought in. The Scoutmasters have instilled in the Scouts that this is a sacred duty, remembering those who served their country—the ceremonious tradition of paying respects to our fallen soldiers is not to be taken lightly. As each American flag is placed to mark the soldiers’ graves you can hear boys exclaim things like “wow, this person fought in World War I” or “he was in the Navy like my dad.” I’ve seen entire families take a few minutes to read the gravestone and reflect on the person buried beneath.

photo of U.S. flags placed on veterans' graves at Riverside National Cemetery

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

As a genealogist, this Boy Scout activity every year is one of my favorites. Generations ago, it wasn’t so uncommon for families to visit cemeteries, gather around the resting place of a family member, enjoy the park-like surroundings, and maybe even have a picnic. Today this is a rare occurrence and for most children, cemeteries are places that hold a morbid curiosity at best.

This Memorial Day project for my sons’ Boy Scout Troop helps them connect with cemeteries and the very real lives of the people who are buried there—which in turn leads to an interest in past lives and their own ancestors’ stories. I want families to see genealogy as an exciting pursuit—not one that is merely about gathering names, dates and places, but rather a pursuit that is active and centers on the stories of everyday lives.

Our Troop isn’t the only group at the Riverside National Cemetery on the Saturday before Memorial Day. Girl Scout groups, veterans, and church congregations are there as well, placing U.S. flags with a common goal: to honor all the veterans buried in those 900+ acres. With the Riverside National Cemetery being the most active in the National Cemetery system, it is an awesome task. Those fields of American flags will serve as a visual reminder of the lives buried there when Memorial Day activities commence Monday morning.

U.S. flags placed on veterans' graves at Riverside National Cemetery

Photo credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega

The Tuesday after Memorial Day, I will be at the cemetery with my kids pulling each flag out of the ground while we stop and read each name etched on the corresponding gravestone. Those flags will then be cleaned and placed into storage so that they can be used by the Troop again next year when we prepare for Memorial Day 2014.

Oliver Cromwell: An African American Revolutionary War Hero

Oliver Cromwell was no ordinary soldier of the American Revolution. This military hero’s discharge was signed by General George Washington “stating that he was entitled to wear the badges of honor by reason of his honorable services.”

Cromwell’s story first appeared in a newspaper interview conducted when he was 100 years old by a reporter of the Burlington Gazette (Burlington, New Jersey) in 1905, which was reprinted by the Trenton Evening Times. As the newspaper article noted: “though feeble, his lips trembling at every word, when he spoke of [General George] Washington his eyes sparkled with enthusiasm.”

The archive of old newspapers in GenealogyBank is packed with thousands of these firsthand accounts of military service in the Revolutionary War, adding a personal touch to the facts of many of these early American military battles.

In that 1905 interview, Cromwell told of his Revolutionary War service crossing the Delaware “with his beloved commander…on the memorable Christmas night [in] 1776.”

The old newspaper article adds that Cromwell: “took part in the battle of Trenton, and helped to ‘knock the British about lively at Princeton.’ He also fought at the Revolutionary War battles of Short Hills, Brandywine, Monmouth and Springfield, where he was severely wounded, and saw the last man killed at York town.”

interview with African American Revolutionary War veteran Oliver Cromwell, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 11 April 1905

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 11 April 1905, page 5

A few days after Cromwell’s death, the local Burlington Gazette published an editorial calling for the erection of a monument in honor of the Revolutionary War hero.

“And thus, one by one, the men who purchased with their blood the liberty we now enjoy, are going off the stage…We suggest whether it would not be proper to erect some suitable monument over his grave…it will be pleasant to know that the people of Burlington felt sufficient interest in him, to mark the spot where his ashes are buried.”

The reprint in the Trenton Evening Times notes: “Unfortunately no such monument was ever erected and there is nothing to indicate the last resting place of Oliver Cromwell.”

Oliver Cromwell lived in a different time and place, and life was more difficult than it would have been for him now. He was African American, one of the many that served in the American Revolution. Though honored by General Washington, his pension was revoked by a local pension agent. “Tears fell from his eyes when he told of his discharge being taken from him by the pension agent.”

In 1984, this plaque was placed on the property where his home once stood.

plaque indicating spot where African American Revolutionary War veteran Oliver Cromwell's house once stood

Photo from the official Burlington County, New Jersey, website

His grave has been located in the cemetery at Broad Street Methodist Church in Burlington, New Jersey. The local historical society was named in his honor in 1983.

Oliver Cromwell (1752-1853), one of “the men who purchased with their blood the liberty we now enjoy,” was “respected by our citizens” then and remembered to this day.

See what other American Revolutionary War veterans’ stories you can find in GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives. There are many more stories of Revolutionary War heroes like Oliver Cromwell waiting for you to discover.

Civil War Find: The “Fighting” 1st Tennessee Cavalry’s Reunion

The nice thing about newspapers is that they record everything that happens: births, deaths, and everything in-between. A lot of that “in-between stuff” are the stories of our ancestors’ lives that help us get to know them better.

In general, Americans are a social people. We form groups, make plans, organize, and hold meetings. Milestones are often celebrated with anniversary gatherings and reunions.

Fighting First, Reunion of the First Tennessee Cavalry Regiment, Knoxville Daily Journal, 01 September 1895

Knoxville Daily Journal (Knoxville, Tennessee), 1 September 1895, page 13

These reunions—like the ninth annual reunion of the First Tennessee Cavalry held in 1895—were reported in the local newspaper.

Here is one such reunion story about a gathering of former veterans from that famed Tennessee Civil War regiment that fought in the Union army. This long newspaper article was published in the Knoxville Daily Journal (Knoxville, Tennessee), 1 September 1895, page 13.

This historical news article covers the basics, such as the names of the Tennessee regiment’s officers and the order of the activities in the meeting.

Reading down the article, we find that the “secretary was ordered to prepare a complete roster of the survivors of the regiment, together with rank and post office address.”

Great! Note to self: track down a copy of that roster.

The last half of the old newspaper article is a “very brief history of the First Tennessee Cavalry.” This historical news article provides great genealogical information we can use to trace our military ancestry, gives a glimpse into these Tennessee Union soldiers’ lives, and provides some Civil War history.

brief history of the Civil War's 1st Tennessee Cavalry Regiment, Knoxville Daily Journal, 01 September 1895

Knoxville Daily Journal (Knoxville, Tennessee), 1 September 1895, page 13

Genealogy Search Tip: Did your ancestor serve in the Civil War or other American wars? Then search in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives for newspaper articles and military records about the unit your veteran ancestor served with: its campaigns, reunions, history, etc.

Newspapers are packed with the stories of our ancestors’ lives.

Last Veteran of the War of 1812, Hiram Cronk—Died in 1905!

In the month of May we celebrate Memorial Day, a time to honor the men and women who died fighting our country’s wars—and, by extension, all veterans. During this week back in 1905 America was celebrating the remarkable story of a very special veteran—for on 13 May 1905, Hiram Silas Cronk died, the last surviving veteran of the War of 1812.

Hiram Cronk Featured in Duffy’s Whiskey Ads

On the day the old American solider turned 105, two weeks before his death, a whiskey company used Cronk’s longevity to help market its product. This newspaper advertisement was published by the Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 29 April 1905, page 2:

newspaper ad for Duffy's whiskey featuring Hiram Cronk, Evening Press newspaper 29 April 1905

Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 29 April 1905, page 2

The Death & Funeral of Hiram Cronk

The now famous Hiram Cronk died as he had lived, quietly on his farm in New York, but his death and funeral were reported in newspapers all across the United States. The city of New York lavished a state funeral on the venerable veteran, with full military honors. Tens of thousands paid their respects by filing past Hiram Cronk’s body lying in its coffin in the rotunda of New York City Hall.

Cronk’s death was seen as the passing of an era, for his lifetime embraced almost the entirety of the country’s history. He was born in 1800 during the administration of the nation’s second president John Adams; fought in the War of 1812; lived the entire length of the 19th century as the U.S. became a world power and one of the richest nations on earth; and died just nine years before the outbreak of World War I—with all its modern weaponry including tanks, airplanes and poison gas.

The Life & Family of Hiram Cronk

Until almost the very end of his life, Cronk received little publicity or fame for his U.S. military service in the War of 1812. After the war he earned his living as a shoemaker, then later bought some land in New York and became a farmer. In 1825 he married Mary Thornton; the couple had seven children and were married 60 years, Mary dying in 1885. He had 14 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren at the time of his death. One of his descendants, Jane, lived to over 100 years of age as well, making the two “serial centenarians.”

Cronk Finally Becomes Famous for His Good Genes

It was not until 1900, when the start of a new century coincided with his 100th year, that newspapers began to pay Hiram Cronk much attention. Typical of the notices that ran that year is this pension notice, published by the Springfield Daily Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 4 May 1900, page 11:

notice about Hiram Cronk being 100 years old, Springfield Daily Republican newspaper, 4 May 1900

Springfield Daily Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 4 May 1900, page 11

When Cronk was 101 the following article was published, emphasizing that he was the last surviving veteran of the War of 1812, and giving some interesting personal information—such as the fact that longevity ran in his family, and that he had used tobacco and strong liquor all his life!

This newspaper article was published by the Inter Ocean and reprinted by the Daily Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 3 June 1901, page 4:

article about Hiram Cronk being the last survivor of the War of 1812, Daily Picayune newspaper, 3 June 1901

Daily Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 3 June 1901, page 4

The news article goes on to report further on Cronk and his family’s genealogy:

“At the age of 101 years Mr. Cronk is still hale and hearty and, all things considered, remarkably active. He lives within a short distance of his birthplace. Except for his absence during the war, he has seldom left the vicinity.

“Cronk’s family is locally famous for longevity. Four brothers and a sister lived to be over 90 years old, and one to the age of 98. A family reunion was held on Hiram Cronk’s 100th birthday. It was attended by over 100 descendants and relatives.

“The veteran is a lifelong Democrat. He cast his first vote for Andrew Jackson and his last for Grover Cleveland. When asked why he has not since voted the old gentleman remarks good-naturedly: ‘When I got down to Grover I calculated it was time to quit and call it a half day.’

“From a very early age Cronk has been a habitual user of tobacco. He both chews and smokes. Recently he has threatened to break the habit. He is afraid, he says, that the use of the weed may become a habit with him. He has drunk strong liquor throughout his life, but always in moderation.

“The veteran has every attention and bids fair to live for some time yet. He makes his home with his youngest daughter, a mere chit of a girl of 80.”

Three days after Cronk turned 104 this newspaper article was published by the Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 2 May 1904, page 6:

article about Hiram Cronk turning 104, Boston Journal newspaper, 2 May 1904

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 2 May 1904, page 6

Note that last line, a theme that reverberated when Cronk passed away the next year: “With his death will be broken a link that binds us to a glorious past.”

Publicity for Hiram Cronk—and the resulting fame—really increased in the winter of 1904-05, when the old man became seriously ill and death seemed imminent, as reported in this news article published by the Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), on the front page of its 24 December 1904 issue:

article about Hiram Cronk dying, Evening Press newspaper, 24 December 1904

Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 24 December 1904, page 1

The article about the old soldier goes on to say:

“He had run the whole gamut of personal and business vicissitude, has found some consolation in the lean years and a greater joy in the last years, and was a cheery old optimist through all. Since last April the sluggishness has made itself felt and a natural sleep has, from day to day, taken up a greater number of the hours. Now he is sleeping his life away to the last sleep of all.”

Conk’s Funeral Is Arranged while He Is Still Living!

Alarmed at Cronk’s deteriorating condition, New York City’s Board of Aldermen took the unusual step of arranging a grand funeral for the aged veteran—even though he was still alive! This newspaper article was published by the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota) on the front page of its 21 December 1904 issue:

article about arranging funeral for Hiram Cronk, Duluth News Tribune newspaper, 21 December 1904

Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 21 December 1904, page 1

The news article goes on to say:

“…in the state of New York and in view of his honorable part in many battles of the War of 1812, it would be fitting that the chief city of the Empire State lead in honoring him by a soldier’s burial and that his remains lie in state in the City Hall.

“Alderman McCall said that while he approved of the spirit of the resolution he thought it would be better to wait for the hero to die before providing for his funeral. The resolution finally was adopted by the following amendment:

“ ‘That in the event of the death of Mr. Cronk, the president of the Board of Alderman take cognizance of the fact and appoint a committee to provide for a public funeral and other honors of the dead hero.’”

As you might expect, this business of arranging a funeral for a man still living was much remarked upon in the nation’s press, as the following humorous notices show.

This notice was published by the Springfield Daily Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 6 January 1905, page 13:

“The New York Board of Aldermen are planning to give a public funeral to Hiram Cronk when he dies. He is the only survivor of the War of 1812 in New York. The news of such an honor may prove so exciting to the old man that it will kill him.”

This notice was published by the Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 23 April 1905, page 6:

“Hiram Cronk, the last survivor of the War of 1812, was 105 last Wednesday [correction: his birthday was April 29], but he refuses to die, although the New York aldermen have voted him a public funeral when he will accept. With such an inducement one would expect a rush for the tomb.”

This notice was published by the Daily Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 25 April 1905, page 6:

“Some months ago the New York Board of Aldermen voted to give Hiram Cronk, the last survivor of the War of 1812, a public funeral. In spite of this inducement to die, Mr. Cronk decided to remain among us a while longer, and celebrated his 105th birthday on Wednesday last [correction: his birthday was April 29]. He won’t lose the State funeral by declining to accept it at this time; he can have it whenever it will be convenient to him.”

There was a big celebration on April 29, 1905, when Cronk turned 105, as explained in this newspaper article published by the Sunday World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 30 April 1905, page 8:

article about celebrating Hiram Cronk's 105th birthday, Sunday world Herald newspaper, 30 April 1905

Sunday World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 30 April 1905, page 8

The news article goes on to say:

“Hiram Cronk, the only survivor of the War of 1812, was one hundred and five years old on April 29 and a patriotic celebration took place at his home at Ava, Oneida County, New York.

“Every society in the United States of the Sons and Daughters of the War of 1812 sent a delegation to Ava, and all patriots’ military bodies and American citizens sent him greetings, gifts or tokens to show that his services for the country were and are appreciated.

“Mr. Cronk was so weak during the winter that he was not expected to survive and elaborate funeral arrangements had been made, but he recovered thanks to Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey. By a special act of the New York City administration his remains, when he dies, will be interred in Mount Victory, a soldiers’ plot in Cypress Hills Cemetery.”

Hiram Cronk Dies at Age 105

Exactly two weeks after his 105th birthday, Hiram Cronk died. This newspaper article was published by the Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 13 May 1905, page 9:

article about the death of Hiram Cronk, Evening Press newspaper, 13 May 1905

Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 13 May 1905, page 9

The news article goes on to say:

“The body of Mr. Cronk will lie in state in the City Hall of New York and will be buried in Mt. Victory, Cypress Hills Cemetery, in Brooklyn, where more than half a hundred of his fellow soldiers in the War of 1812 have been laid at rest.”

The nation mourned the death of Hiram Cronk, recognizing it truly was the passing of an era, as expressed in this newspaper article published by the Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), May 15, 1905, page 8:

article about Hiram Cronk's death being the end of an era, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, 15 May 1905

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), May 15, 1905, page 8

The news article goes on to say:

“It calls to mind the brevity of our national existence. The [nineteenth] century-born Cronk was born during the Presidency of the elder Adams, when the total population was about that of Pennsylvania today, and when the cost of government was far less than the total appropriations just signed by Governor Pennypacker. He fought in the ranks against the troops of the same George III who ruled when the Revolution took place, a fact which so many intelligent people seem to have forgotten. He completed his career as a soldier before Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo and at a time when this nation was still an experiment.

“Who could have imagined that this country would develop in wealth in the lifetime of a single man until it should become the richest on earth? That the population should grow to be the greatest of all non-Oriental nations, for we must place Russia essentially among the Eastern peoples? Who could have supposed that the life of one man would span that development in human activities which covered a period almost from the birth of steam as an active agent in human affairs?

“In view of these things what may not be the possibilities of the future?”

This comment was published by the Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 15 May 1905, page 6:

“The world of sentiment and patriotic affection seems poorer through the death of Hiram Cronk, the last pensioner of the War of 1812, and undoubtedly the final survivor. The one human link that bound us of today with that struggle for the defense of our rights on the sea has gone. Now let us carefully cherish the naval relics that are left to us.”

A grand parade escorted Hiram Cronk’s body to New York City Hall on May 17 so that it could lie in state for mourners to pay their respects, as reported in this newspaper article published by the Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 17 May 1905, page 10:

article about Hiram Cronk's body lying in state, Evening Press newspaper, 17 May 1905

Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 17 May 1905, page 10

The news article goes on to say:

“New York, May 17.—The body of Hiram Cronk, who lived to be the last survivor of the War of 1812, was brought here today from Boonville, N.Y., and will be laid away in Cypress Hills Cemetery with full military honors. The funeral will be held tomorrow and in the meantime the body will lie in state in the City Hall. Accompanying the body were Mr. Cronk’s three surviving sons and one daughter. They were Philander Cronk, 81 years old; William, 72 years old; John, 66 years old; and the daughter, Mrs. Sarah Rowley, 71 years old.

“As the funeral cortege moved from the Grand Central Station to the City Hall it afforded an imposing and unusual spectacle. Led by a police escort of mounted officers, a detachment from the United States regular Army, the Society of 1812 and the Old Guard in uniform, came the hearse bearing the old warrior’s body. Around it, in hollow square formation, marched the members of the U.S. Grant Post, G.A.R. Then followed the Washington Continental Guard from Washington, D.C., the Army and Navy Union, and carriages with members of the Cronk family. Carriages with Mayor McClellan and members of the city government brought up the rear.”

Details of Hiram Cronk’s body lying in state, as well as his funeral the following day on May 18, were reported in this newspaper article published by the Pawtucket Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island) on the front page of its 18 May 1905 issue:

article about Hiram Cronk's funeral, Pawtucket Times newspaper, 18 May 1905

Pawtucket Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island), 18 May 1905, page 1

The news article goes on to say:

“New York, May 18.—The body of Hiram Cronk, the last veteran of the War of 1812 to pass away, was buried today in Cypress Hills Cemetery with impressive military honors. Nearly threescore other soldiers who fought in the war of almost a century ago had lain for many years in the cemetery where their oldest comrade was placed today.

“Since yesterday, when it was brought from Boonville, the body has been in the City Hall. All day yesterday, last evening and this forenoon there was a constant stream of men, women and children moving past the flower and bunting-covered casket in the city building—the first which had rested there since the body of Gen. Grant lay in state. One hundred and fifty policemen were required to keep the crowd moving and to keep clear the plaza in front of the building.

“From the City Hall to the cemetery the body was escorted by a detail of mounted police, the Fourteenth Regiment, and a troop from the Second Brigade, National Guard of New York; delegations from U.S. Grant Post, G.A.R., and carriages containing relatives of the dead soldier and a committee from the Board of Aldermen representing the city. All along the route over which the funeral cortege passed the streets were lined with people. At the cemetery Marcus B. Taylor, chaplain of the Veteran Corps, conducted the burial service according to the Grand Army ritual.”

With a volley of military gunfire and the playing of taps, Hiram Cronk was finally laid to rest, as reported in this newspaper article published by the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 19 May 1905, page 2:

article about Hiram Cronk's funeral, Belleville News Democrat newspaper, 19 May 1905

Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 19 May 1905, page 2

The news article goes on to say:

“More than 50,000 New Yorkers, with bared heads, filed past the flower-covered bier in which the dead soldier lay in the City Hall. The expenses of the unusual, but befitting honors to him, are borne by the city.

“The catafalque rested in the rotunda of the City Hall, draped with flags and flowers, while the building was draped in black. It was the first time since the death of Gen. Grant that a body has laid in state in the City Hall.

“After the body had been lowered into the grave, at Cypress Hills Cemetery, a squad of soldiers fired a volley over the grave and a bugler sounded taps. Hiram Cronk was with the army of the dead.”

Newspaper Genealogy Research Discoveries: 7 Brothers Meet at Last

Family reunions are special occasions, but the Jones family reunion in the fall of 1881 in Lewiston, Maine, was especially noteworthy: although they ranged in age from 47 to 72 years old, this reunion was the first time all seven Jones brothers were together in one place at the same time!

This happened because the oldest brother (Ebenezer, born in 1809) married Rebecca Adams in 1831 and settled in Newport, Vermont, while the rest of the family relocated to Lewiston, Maine, before the youngest brother (Luther) was born in 1833.

The family had tried several times over 40 years to have a complete family reunion, but they led busy lives and always one brother or another missed each reunion. Finally, the stars must have fallen into proper alignment, everything clicked into place, and the joyous family occasion happened at last.

Can you imagine the smiles on all the faces? At that remarkable—and long awaited—reunion of all the living members of the family, the seven brothers sat at the table in the order of their ages. To make the reunion complete, the brothers’ one remaining sister, Mrs. Albert Frost, joined them.

This heartwarming family reunion story illustrates two important points about using newspapers to research your genealogy. First of all: you never know what you will find once you start looking through a newspaper archive. Even if the Jones family is not related to you, little discoveries like this story—and newspapers are full of them—add the human touch to your genealogy pursuit, and make your research fun and interesting.

For the second point, look closely at the family reunion newspaper article below: notice that it was originally printed in the Lewiston Journal (Maine), but was reprinted in the Huntsville Gazette—an Alabama paper! This special family reunion story was so popular it was also reprinted by the Sun (Maryland) and Omaha Herald (Nebraska) newspapers as well. Perhaps the newspaper editors thought this amazing story would interest their readers, or maybe someone in those areas was related to the Jones family, and editors are always looking for news items that have connections to their readers.

The lesson here is to expand the geographic scope of your newspaper search if your initial search didn’t turn up enough information. The newspaper archive you’re looking in may not have the issue of the Lewiston Journal this article first appeared in, but it might have the Huntsville Gazette issue where the article was reprinted. It is a good thing that GenealogyBank has brought together the largest collection of U.S. newspapers available online—5,700 of them from all 50 states—with a powerful search engine, making it easy to search through this large newspaper archive to research your genealogy.

What will you discover?

This family reunion story, was printed by the Huntsville Gazette (Alabama), 5 November 1881, page 4.