Researching Your Pilgrim Ancestry from Mayflower Ship Passengers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post—just in time for Thanksgiving—Mary searches old newspapers to trace ancestry all the way back to the Pilgrims, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean on board the Mayflower in 1620 for a fresh start in the New World.

Although endlessly rewarding, it is true that tracing ancestry is a time-consuming process requiring much patience—especially if one wishes to connect to the Mayflower passengers, those 102 Pilgrims who sailed from Leiden, Holland, in September 1620 bound for the New World—anchoring off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in November 1620.

Painting: Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, William Halsall, 1882

Painting: Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, William Halsall, 1882. Credit: Pilgrim Hall Museum & Wikipedia.

Tragically, only half the Plymouth Rock settlers survived their first winter in the New World—and if any are your progenitors, you could conceivably be required to compile from 12-18 generations of documentary evidence to trace your Pilgrim ancestry and prove you are a descendant. Fortunately, there are many ways to research the Mayflower voyage and the Pilgrims, even if you can’t visit Leiden or Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts (although please put these stops on your genealogical travel shortlist).

I traveled to Leiden, Holland, several years ago to conduct first-hand research on my Mayflower Pilgrim ancestry, and found this Dutch marriage record for future Mayflower ship passengers Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris from 1611.

marriage certificate for future Mayflower passengers Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris, 1611

Marriage certificate for future Mayflower passengers Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris, 1611, from the collection of Mary Harrell-Sesniak

However, as I say, you don’t need to travel to research your Mayflower Pilgrim ancestry—you can do it from the comfort of your own home, relying on your computer and the Internet, using several helpful websites and having access to online historical newspapers.

Common genealogical advice suggests that you start your family history research with yourself and work backwards to prove ancestry. However, with Mayflower genealogy research, you might want to work “down the research ladder,” instead of up, as it could very well save you a few steps.

Approved List of Mayflower Ship Passengers

Start at the top of your family tree by looking for surnames matching Mayflower passengers, shown on the accepted list of eligible ancestors compiled by Pilgrim lineage societies, most notably the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (www.themayflowersociety.com/).

John Alden Bartholomew Allerton Isaac Allerton
Mary (Norris) Allerton Mary Allerton Remember Allerton
Elinor Billington Francis Billington John Billington
William Bradford Love Brewster Mary Brewster
William Brewster Peter Browne James Chilton
Mrs. James Chilton Mary Chilton Francis Cooke
John Cooke Edward Doty Francis Eaton
Samuel Eaton Sarah Eaton Moses Fletcher
Edward Fuller Mrs. Edward Fuller Samuel Fuller
Samuel Fuller (son of Edward) Constance Hopkins Elizabeth (Fisher) Hopkins
Giles Hopkins Stephen Hopkins John Howland
Richard More Priscilla Mullins William Mullins
Degory Priest Joseph Rogers Thomas Rogers
Henry Samson George Soule Myles Standish
Elizabeth Tilley John Tilley Joan (Hurst) Tilley
Richard Warren Peregrine White Resolved White
Susanna White William White Edward Winslow

Publications by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants

And if that surname research strategy fails, research Mayflower descendants to the fifth generation to try and find a match to your family. Many publications exist, including the famous pink or gray Pilgrim lineage books published by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants—many of which are available at libraries. As accepted references, these Society publications allow you to bypass submitting proofs for any Mayflower descendant they’ve already established.

photo of publications from the General Society of Mayflower Descendants

Credit: from the library of Mary Harrell-Sesniak

The silver books trace the first five generations of Mayflower descendants.

The smaller pink books are Mayflower Families in Progress (MFIP), and are produced as new information becomes available.

Newspaper Evidence for Peregrine (or Peregrin) White and His Descendants

An extraordinary amount of newspaper articles and obituaries mentioning Mayflower ancestry exist in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives.

Although not my Mayflower ancestor, I’m fascinated by Peregrine White. He was the son of William and Susanna White, who crossed the ocean on the Mayflower with his older brother Resolved. Susanna was pregnant with Peregrine during the Atlantic crossing, and he became the first Plymouth Colony baby of English ancestry when he was born on 20 November 1620 on board the Mayflower in Provincetown Harbor. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peregrine_White.)

After William White died—as so many did, during the Colony’s first winter—Susanna married widower Edward Winslow, of whom much is written. After reaching manhood, Peregrine married Sarah Bassett, and if you are one of their descendants, you have a multitude of cousins.

One of your relatives is their grandson George Young (1689-1771), son of their daughter Sarah White (1663-1755) and Thomas Young (1663-1732).

George Young’s lineage was noted in this 1771 obituary.

death notice for George Young, Boston Post-Boy newspaper article 13 May 1771

Boston Post-Boy (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 May 1771, page 3

Being such a small colony of settlers, the Mayflower Pilgrim’s children intermarried. As reported in this 1821 newspaper article, John Alden was a descendant of his grandfather by the same name—and also of Peregrine White, via his grandmother. He is thought to have married twice, first to Lydia Lazell and later to Rebecca Weston, although neither of his wives are mentioned in this obituary. Note how many of John Alden’s descendants were living when he died at the ripe old age of 103.

obituary for John Alden, Daily National Intelligencer newspaper article 12 April 1821

Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), 12 April 1821, page 3

Elder James White, who founded the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Battle Creek, Michigan, was another direct descendant of the Mayflower Pilgrims. His religious affiliation and his Mayflower ancestry were reported in this 1881 newspaper obituary.

obituary for Elder James White, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 9 August 1881

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 9 August 1881, page 1

Reporting Trend in Pilgrim Descendants’ Obituaries

Do you notice a trend in these obituaries? The importance of being a descendant of a Mayflower passenger tends to overshadow all other aspects of an individual’s life!

For example, Ellen Gould Harmon was the spouse of Elder James White—and her obituary from 1915 makes more notice of his roots than her own.

obituary for Ellen White, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 17 July 1915

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 17 July 1915, page 1

Are You My Mayflower Cousin?

Although I have not located Peregrine White ancestry in my own family tree, if you trace to any of the following Mayflower passengers, then you and I are cousins:

  • William Brewster and Mary (maiden name unknown)
  • Giles Hopkins and Catherine Whelden
  • Stephen Hopkins and Mary (maiden name unknown)
  • John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley
photo of the gravesite of Giles Hopkins

Photo: Grave of Giles Hopkins, Cove Burying Ground (Eastham, Massachusetts). Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

We are in good company. By 1909, one writer’s conservative estimate calculated that by the 10th generation, any of the Mayflower ship passengers could have had at least 3,500,000 descendants! Since most Mayflower descendants are now of the 13th, 14th, 15th or 16th generation, that number has skyrocketed.

The rising number of Mayflower Pilgrim descendants is reported in this 1909 newspaper article.

article about descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 18 December 1909

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 18 December 1909, page 8

If you think you are a Mayflower ship passenger descendant, this article from the New England Historic Genealogical Society may be of interest:

“The Society of Mayflower Descendants: Who they are, where to find them, how to apply”

http://www.americanancestors.org/the-society-of-mayflower-descendants-pt1/

For tips on how to research your Mayflower genealogy using GenealogyBank visit: http://blog.genealogybank.com/tag/mayflower

Have you traced your ancestry back to one of the Mayflower ship passengers? If so, please tell us about it in the comments section. We’d love to know who your Mayflower ancestors are.

Remembering Daniel Boone, Dr. Seuss & Paul Newman with Newspapers

During this September week in American history three famous octogenarians died who had a big impact on America:

  • Daniel Boone, American explorer, died at 85 on 26 September 1820
  • Theodor Seuss Geisel (better known as “Dr. Seuss”), American children’s book author, died at 87 on 24 September 1991
  • Paul Newman, American actor, died at 83 on 26 September 2008

Newspapers are filled with obituaries and profiles that help us better understand the lives of our ancestors—and the famous people who lived during their times. The following newspaper articles about these three famous Americans are good examples.

Daniel Boone (1734-1820)

Daniel Boone, who died 26 September 1820, is one of the most famous figures in American history, a legendary frontiersman, hunter and explorer credited with opening up the area now known as Kentucky to white settlers. In his long, adventurous life, Boone was an officer in the American Revolutionary War; a captive of the Shawnees, who later adopted him into their tribe; and a successful politician, serving three terms in the Virginia General Assembly. When he died in Missouri in 1820, all of America mourned.

The St. Louis Enquirer published Boone’s obituary four days after he died. Today Daniel Boone is regarded as the quintessential American folk hero, and in this contemporary obituary we can see that he was held in high regard during his own time. When the Missouri General Assembly learned of Boone’s passing they sadly adjourned for the day, pledging to wear black armbands for 20 days as a sign of respect and mourning.

obituary for Daniel Boone, St. Louis Enquirer newspaper article 30 September 1820

St. Louis Enquirer (St. Louis, Missouri), 30 September 1820, page 3

The obituary erroneously states that Boone was 90 when he died (he was 85). It reports that up until two years before his death, Boone “was capable of great bodily activity,” and notes that “Since then the approach of death was visible, and he viewed it with the indifference of a Roman philosopher.”

Here is a profile of Daniel Boone published in 1910, burnishing his legacy and legend, calling him a “courier of civilization.”

Daniel Boone: Pathfinder, Mighty Hunter and Courier of Civilization, Oregonian newspaper article 17 April 1910

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 17 April 1910, section 6, page 2

The old newspaper article states: “He found more profit in the woods than in tilling the soil, and for months at a time he was away hunting beaver, otter, bear, deer, wolves and wildcats. Garbed in hunting shirt of deerskin, with leggings and moccasins of the same material, and with powder horn, bullet pouch, scalping knife and tomahawk, the world afforded him plenty. The bare ground or the bushes furnished him a bed, and the sky was his canopy. His skill with a gun or in throwing a tomahawk was marvelous. Of Indian fighting he had enough to satisfy.”

Theodor Seuss Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”) (1904-1991)

Best known as the author and illustrator of beloved children’s books, Theodor Seuss Geisel was also a novelist, poet and cartoonist. His vivid imagination, crazy rhymes, and colorful illustrations graced 46 children’s books, creating such enduring characters as “The Cat in the Hat” and “Horton” the elephant. Generations of American children grew up learning to read from such classics as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and Horton Hears a Who!

In this obituary, published two days after Geisel’s death on 24 September 1991, we learn how the wild animals that peopled his imagination and stories came from his childhood experiences in the zoo.

'Seuss' Author Dies in Sleep, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 26 September 1991

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 26 September 1991, page 1

Dr. Seuss’s obituary states:

“The world of Geisel’s imagination was nourished by his childhood visits to the zoo in Springfield, Mass. He was born in Springfield on March 4, 1904, the son of Theodor R. Geisel, the superintendent of parks, and Henrietta Seuss Geisel.

“Superintendent Geisel, the son of an émigré German cavalry officer who founded a brewery in Springfield, expanded the zoo and liked to show it off to his son.

“‘I used to hang around there a lot,’ Geisel recalled in an interview. ‘They’d let me in the cage with the small lions and the small tigers, and I got chewed up every once in a while.’”

Geisel did very little merchandising of his popular characters during his lifetime—but that all changed after he died, as reported in this 1997 newspaper article.

'Cat in the Hat' Joins Commercial Scene, Register Star newspaper article 7 February 1997

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 7 February 1997, page 18

The newspaper article quotes Herbert Cheyette, Geisel’s longtime agent:

“Ted had been very reluctant to do it [merchandizing his characters],” he says. “His primary reaction was, ‘Why should I spend my time correcting the work of other people when I could do my own work creating new books?’ He said to me more than once, ‘You can do this after I’m dead.’

“In fact, Geisel’s death at 87 made merchandizing his characters a copyright necessity rather than a luxury; a case of use it or lose it, Cheyette says.”

Paul Newman (1925-2008)

Paul Newman was an Academy Award-winning American actor who appeared in more than 60 movies during his long career. Gifted, handsome, famous and wealthy, Newman shunned the Hollywood lifestyle and preferred his home life with his wife Joanne Woodward, to whom he was married 50 years—right up to his death. Newman also was a great philanthropist, co-founding a food company called “Newman’s Own” that donated more than $330 million to charity during his lifetime.

Paul Newman died on 26 September 2008; the following obituary was published the very next day.

obituary for Paul Newman, Sun newspaper article 27 September 2008

Sun (Lowell, Massachusetts), 27 September 2008

Newman’s obituary states:

“Newman, who shunned Hollywood life, was reluctant to give interviews and usually refused to sign autographs because he found the majesty of the act offensive, according to one friend.

“He also claimed that he never read reviews of his movies.

“‘If they’re good you get a fat head and if they’re bad you’re depressed for three weeks,’ he said.

“Off the screen, Newman had a taste for beer and was known for his practical jokes. He once had a Porsche installed in [Robert] Redford’s hallway—crushed and covered with ribbons.”

The following 1998 newspaper article reports on one of Newman’s charitable endeavors: he published a cookbook featuring favorite recipes from his famous actor friends.

What's on the Menu When Hollywood's Elite Meet to Eat, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 8 November 1998

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 8 November 1998, page 52

The news article reports:

“But it’s not all about dropping names. Newman introduces several recipes by recounting fond memories of meals enjoyed. He also tells about his life as the only man in his house along with his actress wife, Joanne Woodward, and five daughters, and waxes poetic about his ‘relationship’ with food.”

Obituaries provide personal details about someone’s life that we can’t find elsewhere—whether they are our ancestors or famous people we’re interested in. GenealogyBank features two collections of obituaries:

Dig into these obituary archives today and see what you can discover!

Researching Old Occupations in Your Family Tree with Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott turns to old newspaper articles to teach his grandsons about some of the occupations their ancestors once had.

From census forms to marriage records, and from birth records to death certificates, many of our ancestors are identified by their occupational jobs.

Whenever I discover an ancestor’s occupation I always make certain that I add this information to my online family tree. Recently I was talking with our young grandsons about our family history, and made mention of a couple of the old occupations our ancestors held. Many of these old job titles, not surprisingly, were very foreign concepts to them. To help them out and enhance my never-ending attempt to capture the tapestry that is our family, together we opened up GenealogyBank.com for some help understanding what our relatives did for a living.

Old Occupation 1: Lamplighter

First we looked up the occupation of a cousin from Cleveland, Ohio, who was a lamplighter. For some reason I have always conjured up rather romantic visions of lamplighters. Reality set in as I read the first article I found, from an 1894 New York newspaper.

Bridge Car Lamplighters Article in the New York Herald Newspaper

New York Herald (New York, New York), 24 June 1894, section 4, page 1.

This article explained how relentless and demanding this lamplighter’s job was, as he had to light every lamp on a train—only to then move immediately to the next train and its lamps.

Then I came upon an article from a 1916 Rhode Island newspaper.

John Finn Lamplighter Accident Fire Pawtucket Times

Pawtucket Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island), 11 December 1916, page 10.

This historical newspaper article detailed the unfortunate experience of one John Finn, a lamplighter who accidently lighted his own clothes on fire, then jumped into a nearby pond to save himself! We chuckled and quickly decided that the work of a lamplighter was far from a romantic job!

Old Occupation 2: Cooper

The next old occupation that caught our attention was “cooper.” Although I knew that many of our Bohemian ancestors were coopers, this was a totally unknown job to our grandsons. While I explained that a cooper was a person who made barrels, we looked further. Our first discovery about this old job was an article from an 1898 Ohio newspaper.

Max Wolf Cooper Explosion Article in Cincinnati Post Newspaper

Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, Ohio), 5 December 1898, page 1.

This story explained the unfortunate injury to one Max Wolf, a cooper who was working on a huge beer barrel with a 2,200-gallon capacity that exploded.

Next our occupational search brought us to an article from an 1880 Ohio newspaper.

Standard Oil Coopers Plain Dealer Newspaper

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 February 1880, page 1.

This 1800s news article contained an explanation of the cooper shop of the Standard Oil Company’s refinery, its “millions of oak staves,” its employment of “an army of men,” and the blue barrels with white tops coming out of the shop for hours on end.

Old Occupation 3: Grave Digger

We then moved on to another old family occupation: grave digger. Our first discovery on this occupation was an article from a 1906 Indiana newspaper.

Fritz Borchart Gravedigger Elkhart Truth Newspaper

Elkhart Truth (Elkhart, Indiana), 15 January 1906, page 6.

The news article’s subtitle stated: “Grave Digger at St. Louis Cemetery Becomes Insane Because of Nature of His Work.” Needless to say, that was enough to have us move on to something different.

Old Occupation 4: Miners

At this point I proposed we look into a more recent occupation of a family member, and suggested that we look up “miners.” Our first article was from an 1894 New York newspaper—but it wasn’t any more cheerful than the previous article.

Miners Mesaba Iron Range New York Herald Newspaper

New York Herald (New York, New York), 4 May 1894, page 3.

While this one sparked my interest, I decided we might need something a bit lighter for the boys. Soon we were scanning articles from the mines of Ishpeming, Michigan, to Hibbing, Minnesota—mines where family members worked over the generations to extract riches from the earth—that were more upbeat.

It wasn’t long before our conversation turned to the need for a good education to get a good job—and I realized that while we were looking at old family jobs, a positive impact had been made on these young men!

So tell me please. What are some of the different occupations in your family tree?

You might also be interested in these previous blog articles about early American jobs:

Find the Oldest People to Ever Live, as Reported in Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary looks through newspaper articles to find stories about the oldest people to have ever lived—and issues a challenge to readers to find even greater claims of longevity in the newspapers.

With the Baby Boomers aging and advances in medicine, longevity is a hot topic in the news these days. There’s a lot of talk about how long people lived in the past—and speculation about how long people will live in the near future.

Newspapers are a great resource to research how long our ancestors lived—and a good way to keep up with current health, medicine and aging issues going forward. According to knowledgeable sources, the oldest verified person to have ever lived attained the astonishing age of 122 years, 164 days!

Her name was Jeanne Calment (1875-1997), a resident of France. According to this 1997 Georgia newspaper article, she was interred in Trinquetaille Cemetery in Arles, France.

Honoring the Eldest, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 7 August 1997

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 7 August 1997, page 53

Several groups track longevity, including Wikipedia on this Oldest People webpage. Guinness World Records tracks the oldest person by specific activities. Some oldest-person GWR listings include the oldest person to have a total hip replacement, the oldest person to obtain a pilot’s license, and the oldest person to sail around the world.

Those Guinness senior citizen records are all interesting, but it is more intriguing to focus on overall longevity.

Jeanne Calment, who received her certificate from Guinness Records in 1988 at the age of 113, passed away on 4 August 1997. This 1988 South Dakota newspaper article shows her in her ripe old age holding a large certificate noting her birth on 21 February 1875.

Guinness Record, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 15 June 1988

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 15 June 1988, page 2

After her in the rankings of greatest longevity are three other centenarian women: Sarah Knauss (119 years), Lucy Hannah (117 years) and Marie-Louise Meilleur (117 years), although some verification of their ages is disputed.

Another entry in the greatest-longevity rankings whose age is disputed is Carrie White, who was supposedly 116 when she died in 1991. She was said to have been born in 1874, a time “when Ulysses S. Grant was president and Gen. George Armstrong Custer was still two years away from his last stand” according to this 1991 newspaper article from Illinois.

Oldest Woman, Register Star newspaper article 15 February 1991

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 15 February 1991, page 6

In 1998, when Sarah Knauss was informed of her honor as the oldest person alive, she reacted with a simple “So what?” according to this 1998 Illinois newspaper story found in the online archives.

Woman Unfazed by Oldest Designation, Register Star newspaper article 19 April 1998

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 19 April 1998, page 3

Genealogical Challenge: Find the Oldest People to Ever Live

But who’s really counting when you are a centenarian of distinction?

We are, that’s who! So readers, we challenge you to verify the life of a centenarian older than any of the women mentioned above—or, alternatively, find the oldest claimed age at death. You’ll find an outrageous assortment of longevity claims reported in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives, though certainly none as old as the Bible figure Methuselah—who reportedly attained an age of 969 years!

By browsing this collage of obituaries, you can review a succession of extraordinary longevity claims.

collage of obituaries claiming extreme old age

Collage of obituaries claiming extreme old age

It’s as if each newspaper wanted the bragging rights for the oldest centenarian. Did Andy Roark and Cato Pidgeon really attain the age of 130 years? Was it possible for Nancy Lawton to reach 140, and who was R. Sarman, reported to have lived to 160?

  • Andy Roark: 130 years
  • Cato Pidgeon: 130 years
  • John Hannah: 136 years
  • Nancy Lawton: 140 years
  • Antionio Infante: 150 years
  • Mary Tecuyas: 150 years
  • R. Sarman: 160 years

I tried to verify these age claims, but was not successful. See if you can verify any of these ages—or, if not, see what other incredible age claims you can find in the newspapers.

Follow these guidelines and let us know what you find in the comments on our FaceBook or Blog page. There are two ways to participate in this longevity challenge.

Part 1: Verify a previously unknown oldest person

Submit evidence to prove and verify a centenarian’s age older than Jeanne Calment.

Show supporting documentation, supported by generally accepted genealogical records (GAGR).

These may include civil and church registration, census, family records, and other documentation to show longevity. Tombstone photos alone do not suffice as evidence, as errors in birth years are often caused by confusion between persons of the same name.

Part 2: Find the oldest person as reported in an obituary

Even if you can’t verify the longevity, let’s see who can find the oldest reported person in an obituary or other newspaper article. No evidence is required—just an obituary or newspaper article from GenealogyBank, printed around the time of death. Recollections or reprints from long afterwards do not count.

Let’s see who can come up with the most convincing proof of extreme longevity—and who can come up with the most incredible and unbelievable claim of extreme old age!

Good luck! We look forward to your responses.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

The Works of Benjamin Franklin (1817)

painting of Benjamin Franklin, by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis

Painting: Benjamin Franklin, by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis (1725–1802). Credit: National Portrait Gallery; Wikipedia.

How the 5 Ws & FAV(orites) in Newspapers Can Help Genealogists

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott explains how he adds his own personal touch to the “5 Ws” (Who, What, When, Where & Why) of newspaper journalism to enliven his family history research.

Recently I wrote here on the GenealogyBank.com blog about how much I love the 5 Ws (Who, What, When, Where & Why) of good, high-quality newspaper reporting for my genealogy and family history work. There is little better than finding an interesting article in one of the thousands of GenealogyBank.com newspapers that contains your ancestor’s name, and then topping that off by finding that the reporter adhered to the newspaperwoman/man’s mantra of the 5 Ws. Most decidedly, to me, it just doesn’t get much better than this! However, since none of us genealogy-crazy folks ever leave something well enough alone, I like to add my own FAVs to the 5 Ws. Now, while I know this won’t win me a Pulitzer or anything, my FAVs do help my family search efforts.

My FAV(orites) are this: Fun, Adventure, and Value.

First, FUN: One of my key precepts as a genealogist is that we must always keep the fun in our work. If we hope to attract the interest of others to genealogy and family history, one of the easiest ways to do this is by making it fun! Whenever I am doing genealogy research in newspapers I am reminded that my father always began his day, every day, with the funny pages of the newspaper. Although a businessman through-and-through, he said the news and business of the day could wait while he started his day with a smile and a chuckle. I have wonderful memories of my dad in his crisp white shirt and tie, coffee mug in hand, and seeing his eyes sparkling as he laughed at the funnies. So it is from these vivid memories that I keep the fun in my genealogy in a variety of ways. One of which is that whenever I am searching old newspapers I make sure to check the funnies.

If nothing else I enjoy seeing how some of my favorites have changed over the years, like good old Dagwood Bumstead of the “Blondie” comic; I found this example in a 1938 newspaper. That day’s comic featured a coal-fired furnace (like my grandparents’ home had), old-fashioned telephone switchboard (which I recall from my old hometown), and much more all in one comic. Times like this give me what I call “a minute vacation” and the fun refreshes me for the work ahead.

"Blondie" comic strip, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper 11 December 1938

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 11 December 1938, page 115

Second, ADVENTURE: I also love discovering in old newspaper articles the adventures that our ancestors had. As a matter of fact, just two days ago I was beginning my genealogy research on the Fortelka family branch in our family tree when I discovered Frank Fortelka aka “The Bohemian Cyclone”!

Pugilism: The Cyclone Will Fight, Plain Dealer newspaper article 11 April 1895

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 April 1895, page 3

Not only did I get to follow The Cyclone’s career as a boxer, but also his career after that when he became a member of the “thin blue line” as a police officer for the city of Cleveland, Ohio. I also learned that The Cyclone was known to use his fisticuffs abilities against ne’re-do-wells in that city, often being reported to take on groups of twenty or more, successfully subdue them, and bring them to justice—with only his fists! Wow, talk about a real-life adventure and superhero! Then I got treated to his photograph, along with his wife’s picture for good measure, in a 1947 newspaper article about the golden wedding anniversary of The Bohemian Cyclone and his wife.

Ex-Boxer and Wife Married 50 Years, Plain Dealer  newspaper article 26 October 1947

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 October 1947, page 16

Third, VALUE: Another of my mantras in my genealogy work is to capture the persona, not just the data, of my ancestors. I believe that nothing adds more value to my family tree quite like the insight into the real persona of my ancestors that I gain from newspaper articles. I find great value in newspapers’ photographs, in-depth information, stories, and articles on the times my ancestors lived, and much, much more. The last time I looked at my family tree I found that I have more than 320 newspaper articles attached to the profiles of my family members and ancestors! Now that is what I call adding value. Of course, while I love the value these impart to me, I am even more thrilled when their value is realized by others.

For instance, whenever I get to share a newly discovered newspaper account about one of our ancestors with my 93-year-old Mother I get to see the happiness in her eyes and hear the excitement in her voice. Now that, my friends, is adding real value!

photo of Scott Phillips' mother

From the author’s collection

So tell me—what do you add to the 5 Ws in newspaper journalism as you work on your family tree?

Frakturs & Family Bibles Can Provide Proof of Marriage

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about using family Bible records and an interesting folk art called “frakturs” to document early family history.

I was recently asked to be part of a “Brick Wall” genealogical panel, whereby researchers submit a series of questions regarding their seemingly unsolvable ancestral proofs.

Many family researchers get stuck at dead-ends due to the loss of church and civil records, and don’t know where to turn next in pursuing their family history.

So if you can’t find an official genealogical proof document, what should you do? One good solution is to look for a family record, such as notes recorded in family Bibles. Another good genealogical resource is a fraktur, a type of folk art, mostly created to commemorate births, baptisms, and marriages.

Frakturs (or Fraktur Schrift) was originally an early type of black letter printing (or calligraphy) found in Germany. Later it expanded into a delightful type of decorative pictorial or manuscript art, popularized by Pennsylvania Mennonites at Ephrata, as described in this 1955 article from GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives.

The Art of 'Fractur' Made Pennsylvania Walls Bright, Boston Herald newspaper article 9 October 1955

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 9 October 1955, page 38

Fraktur examples are often found in museums, and are advertised for high amounts on popular auction sites such as eBay. Numerous artifacts are in private collections, such as this framed fraktur which was given by one of my ancestors to her spouse in commemoration of their marriage.

photo of a marriage fraktur

Framed marriage fraktur

Beyond delving into family collections, how might one locate family Bibles and frakturs?

An easy method is to search military pension records. If a spouse survived her veteran husband and wished to collect a pension, proof of marriage was required.

Typically, a widow would submit a church record or a letter from a town clerk certifying a civil registration. In this example from 1840, James P. Terry of Somers, Tolland, Connecticut, certified the marriage of Stephen Chapel and Lucy Russel on 25 October 1795.

marriage certification for Stephen Chapel and Lucy Russel 25 October 1795

Revolutionary War Pension File W.1888, page 10

However, if a civil or court record was unavailable (perhaps lost to fire or other disaster), the surviving family member might resort to submitting original pages from the family Bible or a fraktur.

A few of these proof-of-marriage document submissions were returned to the families—but many were not, and numerous examples still exist within the National Archives. Most are digitized (generally in black and white) within pension files, such as this one for Revolutionary War soldier John Tomlin and his wife Jane Chamblin.

marriage fraktur for John Tomlin and Jane Chamblin

Fraktur commemorating the births and marriage of John Tomlin and Jane Chamblin. Revolutionary War Pension File W.6302, page 18.

As descendants find their ancestors’ frakturs, they are often posted on websites. You can find these posted frakturs using my “visual” method.

How to Find Your Family’s Fraktur

1)      Open your favorite search engine (mine is Google).

2)      Search for “fraktur” or “Bible” followed by a keyword such as a surname, or a phrase such as “Revolutionary War.”

3)      Click on the “Images” tab at the top of the resulting search results page—and voilà: pages and pages of images of frakturs appear. Some will be links to books and references, but most will direct you to digitized images. (Note: if using Google Chrome, you can explore additional searching options under the “More” or “Search Tools” options.)

4)      Bookmark the images you are interested in for later reference, or add them to a Pinterest.com board. Pinterest is a “content sharing service that allows members to ‘pin’ images, videos and other objects to their pinboard.”

Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”:

screenshot of Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”

screenshot of Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”

Search results for family “Bible records”:

screenshot of Google Images search results for “Bible records"

screenshot of Google Images search results for “Bible records”

You can search Pinterest for genealogy links, such as GenealogyBank’s Pinterest boards at

http://pinterest.com/genealogybank/, or my recently established Frakturs and Family Bible Records Pinterest board at http://pinterest.com/compmary/frakturs-and-family-bible-records/.

For more information on frakturs, visit the Ephrata Cloister website.

N.H.’s Old Man of the Mountain Collapsed 10 Years Ago Today

The “Old Man of the Mountain” was a granite rock formation in the White Mountains of New Hampshire that looked like the rugged profile of a man’s face. First discovered in 1805, the 40-foot-high face had been N.H.’s state emblem since 1945. But centuries of freezing and thawing eventually did the Old Man in.

News of the collapse of Old Man of the Mountain rock formation—ten years ago today—spread with shock throughout the U.S. on Saturday morning, 3 May 2003.

newspaper article and stamp illustration of New Hampshire's "Old Man of the Mountain"

Newspaper article: Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 4 May 2003, page 4. Stamp illustration: Wikipedia.

It was like hearing that your aged father or grandfather had died. We thought the Old Man of the Mountain would live forever. Yes, we knew about the rehabilitation efforts the state had been doing on the rock formation—the therapy to keep him going. It felt like every new approach would “work” and keep him going well into the new millennium.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

The Old Man of the Mountain lost his fight with age and time and passed with a great, earth shattering crash. The news of the collapse stunned everyone for days—even now hearing of it brings back the old memories.

The news of the demise of the great stone face was reported in the newspapers, and on radio and TV. Family members called one another to share the news, speaking in quiet reverence—still shocked by the fact that the “Old Man” had died.
Whether it is the recent loss of a beloved member of the family or an obituary from 300 years ago, you will find over 220 million obituaries and death records in GenealogyBank.

Gather your family’s stories, save them, and pass them down.

Don’t let your story be lost.

Sunday Blue Laws, Old Family Memories & U.S. Legislative History

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott explains how “Blue Laws” turned Sundays into very special family days during his childhood.

Sundays always loom large for me each week. I love them now and I really loved them when I was growing up. I am not sure about you, but for me Sunday was a significant family day. I have marvelous memories of our Sundays when I was a youngster. Mom, Dad, grandpa and grandma always said keeping Sundays as family days had a lot to do with what are called “Blue Laws.”

Do you remember these old laws? They are the laws that regulated commerce—and historically other activities—on Sundays. I well remember going to church as a youngster and having everything in town closed up tighter than a drum. Not a single shop was open in my hometown except after twelve noon—and then it was only our one pharmacy and only for a limited number of “essential” items.

So it was that we went right home from church, I fought with my sisters over who got the Sunday newspaper funny pages first, and reveled in the aromas from the kitchen while Mom prepared Sunday supper. If we were lucky the day included a leisurely Sunday Drive and almost always grandparents or other family members over to our house to share in this important meal. Then, if we had been “good” all week, we gathered in the basement around the TV and as a family watched our favorite programs like Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and Bonanza. I remember well my Dad relishing in what he called “do-nothing Sunday afternoons” because all the stores were closed.

While I was working on my family history the other day, I happened across an old article from a 1978 newspaper that explained some of the history of Blue Laws. I was interested to see that, at least according to this newspaper article, the first Blue Law was enacted all the way back in 321 AD by Roman emperor Constantine. Now that is old!

Blue Laws Not New to World, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 18 December 1978

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 18 December 1978, page 65

This got me intrigued and it wasn’t long until I came across an article from a 1919 newspaper (published on a Sunday by the way) reporting that the origin of the term Blue Laws came from the fact that they were originally printed on blue paper. However, this “fact” as reported here has been relegated to the category of myth, although this article does highlight the extensive Blue Laws during the 1600s that were some of the most restrictive laws in American history.

The Origin and Nature of the Early Blue Laws Afford Amusing Reading, Sun newspaper article 21 December 1919

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 21 December 1919, part 3 page 11

I was enchanted by another historical article in a 1925 newspaper from a regular column that featured “Sunday Drives.” That really took me back, and made me happy to realize that Sunday drives were evidently universal enough to warrant a regular column in such a large newspaper.

Sunday Auto Drive on the Highways of Dallas County, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 17 May 1925

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 17 May 1925, page 1

It was also fun to read an article from a 1961 newspaper about Walt Disney’s first color television show. That took me back to our big, old black and white TV, antennas on the roof, adjusting rabbit ears on top of the set, fiddling with the horizontal and vertical knobs, waiting for tubes to warm up, and finally the grand day we got our first color TV. As best I can recall we always had just one TV until the day I came home from college.

Disney Opens Color TV, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 24 September 1961

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 24 September 1961, page 111

Today, most Blue Laws have been repealed and my Sundays aren’t quite as calm and relaxing as they were in my youth. However, there are still remnants of Blue Laws around us. For instance, in my home state of Indiana you still cannot buy a car on Sunday nor can you purchase alcoholic beverages by the bottle. Sunday drives are a bit shorter now with near $4-a-gallon gas prices, but they still happen. I’m happy to say Sunday Supper still demands full attention in our home—and I always do my best to keep it a family day, especially around Easter.

How about you? Do you remember Blue Laws and do you think they helped make Sundays special and more family oriented? Are there any Blue Laws where you live? I hope you will let me know!

Help Solve a Genealogy Mystery: Who Is Uncle L in My Old Photo?

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott asks our readers for help in deciphering the writing on the back of an old photo identifying his “Uncle L.”

As I would imagine many of you do, I have some intriguing old photographs that unfortunately don’t have any identification on them. However, the one I have in my family history stash that makes me the craziest actually does have writing on it. The old black and white picture has a wonderfully clear full sentence on the back, which identifies my father around the age of 2 or 3 and—here is the kicker—a second, older fellow identified as Uncle L. Uncle L?

photo of Scott Phillips's father and uncle

From the author’s collection

Yep! The old family photo is as clear as a bell (as you can see here), except for the name of this mysterious uncle!

back of photo of Scott Phillips's father and uncle, showing inscription

From the author’s collection

Every so often I pull that old photo out and try again to identify this mysterious member of my family that I know nothing about. As my family tree continues to grow, becoming more refined and better documented, I keep hoping for a breakthrough. So far though, I have had no luck in identifying this Uncle L. I brought that old family photo out the other day and decided to try some lateral thinking via GenealogyBank.com and its newspaper archives.

To me the handwriting on the back of the photo might be read as Uncle “Lew” or “Len.” Unfortunately there is no Lew or Len in any of my Dad’s immediate family, nor his father’s family. So I branched out to look at some relations of my grandmother’s who lived nearby.

I began my genealogy research with the knowledge that the passenger list from Ellis Island shows my grandmother coming to America to live with her brother-in-law Thomas Martin. He happened to be living on the same street as she and my grandfather would later live on for decades. I still have many warm and wonderful memories of that home from my youth.

My new search began with this brother-in-law and fellow traveler, Thomas Martin. I learned many interesting facts about him from GenealogyBank’s newspapers, such as his job as a lamplighter—which conjured up many images of a great job, until I thought of winter and rainy evenings—and his later job as a street car motorman. However, nothing I found about Thomas helped me identify my mystery uncle.

So I broadened my search on the Martin surname and it wasn’t long before I discovered that a descendant had married a Starr family member related to Floyd Starr, the founder of the amazing Starr Commonwealth for Boys in Albion, Michigan.

Starr Commonwealth--the Miracle Home--Is Rebuilding Many Boys, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 16 November 1919

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 16 November 1919, page 14

While I truly enjoyed reading this old news article, which provides a great history of the charitable youth program, it still offered me no one with a given name that comes close to my mystery uncle’s name.

I branched my researching out some more and soon found another family member farther down the street, the Newell family. The Newell family matriarch, Marjorie, was another sister of my grandmother’s, so the search was back on. I discovered lots of interesting information about Marjorie in the newspaper archives, such as her old marriage announcement.

Marjorie Cottle Becomes Wife of T. J. Newell, jr., Plain Dealer newspaper article 14 May 1944

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 14 May 1944, page 47

While offering good genealogical information on Marjorie, this historical marriage announcement also led me to another interesting story about her soon-to-be brother-in-law being awarded the Purple Heart after an air raid in WWII.

Hero, Minus Foot, Is Glad He Did Bit, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 July 1943

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 July 1943, page 1

However, once again I had nothing that solved my mystery about Uncle L.

I moved on to the last family member who lived in the States. This was my grandmother’s brother Thomas Cottle who lived just a couple of blocks away. I searched his family, his wife’s family the Morrells, his wife’s brother Wilbert, and his brother-in-law’s wife’s family the Ricks. Again I gained much useful information for my family tree, but my mystery uncle remains just that.

While I refuse to call this treasured family photograph a brick wall, I am back to staring closely at the photo and analyzing the name. Does it begin with an L, a T, or possibly even a script Q?

What do YOU think? Take a good look yourself, post a comment and let me know…PLEASE!

Rosa Parks Statue: Honoring an American Civil Rights Pioneer

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person on an Alabama bus 58 years ago, her act of defiance against racist laws sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and accelerated the Civil Rights Movement, forever changing America. In a ceremony Wednesday in Washington, D.C., which was attended by dozens of her relatives, the deceased Civil Rights pioneer was honored by the unveiling of a life-size statue in the nation’s Capitol building.

photo of Civil Rights pioneer Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Civil Rights pioneer Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The recent statue unveiling marks an important moment in black history as Rosa Parks is the first African American woman to be honored in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall with a life-sized statue. Many congressional leaders praised her courage and example during Wednesday’s dedication ceremony, including President Obama.

During his remarks, President Obama said: “In a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world.”

Rosa Parks & the Montgomery Bus Boycott

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat on Dec. 1, 1955, it wasn’t because she was too old or tired. Although her resistance came at the end of another long working day as a seamstress in the Montgomery Fair department store, Parks was only 42 and a strong, healthy woman.

No, what prompted her refusal that day was that Parks had simply had enough of the city’s segregation laws that gave whites more rights than blacks.

Boycott Busses in Montgomery, Alabama, Crusader newspaper article 9 December 1955

Crusader (Rockford, Illinois), 9 December 1955, page 8

News of her arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white person quickly spread throughout the African American community in Montgomery, and a protest was organized: blacks refused to ride the city’s buses until the segregation laws were changed. A young minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., led the protest and soon rose to prominence in the nation’s Civil Rights Movement.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted 381 days before the segregation laws were finally changed and African Americans once again rode Montgomery’s buses.