The following article was written by Thomas Jay Kemp, NewsBank’s Director of Genealogy Products. Mr. Kemp also offers a special price for readers of this newsletter near the end of the article:
It’s amazing to me how fast—and how large—GenealogyBank has grown since we launched 4½ years ago, on Oct. 19, 2006. Since the day we began, we’ve never stopped digitizing and adding more and more content. Our newspaper collection has grown from 2,700 titles to over 5,000. Our entire content is nearing one billion articles, documents and reports!
Every week we receive letters from researchers excited at having discovered new details about their family history in newspapers. All this got me to thinking…just what exactly have we built with this genealogy site? How does it all work together?
What can you expect to find in GenealogyBank?
Can you find the average person?
I decided to put our site to the test by going on a genealogy adventure. My approach was to pick a name completely at random and then see what I could find in GenealogyBank about that person.
I often start with the historic newspapers collection, since newspapers have so much to offer: obituaries, birth announcements, marriage notices, news articles, society columns, etc. Since my test here is to fully explore GenealogyBank, I decided to start someplace different: in the Historical Documents collection. Looking at the earliest congressional reports called the American State Papers, I found something interesting: the List of Lieutenants in the Navy in 1832:
(Click on any image to see a larger picture.)
(U.S. Congress, American State Papers: List of lieutenants in the Navy in 1832, and the sea service performed by each since his promotion. Communicated to the House of Representatives, June 16, 1832. American State Papers. 026, Naval Affairs Vol. 4; 22nd Congress, 1st Session Publication No. 483).
From that list an unusual name leaped out at me, and so I picked my target person: John P. Zantzinger:
It was a surname I had never heard of before.
So, what could I learn about him in GenealogyBank? Apparently, quite a bit.
I quickly found that he was listed in multiple documents—the names of the ships he served on—his rejected pay increase request for serving off the coast of Brazil—and other interesting details of his career and life.
I found his marriage to Susan R. Hipkins—recorded in the New York Daily Advertiser (New York, New York) on March 17, 1821, even though they were married in North Carolina! The marriage notice also gives us more family information: Susan was the daughter of Captain John Hipkins of Norfolk:
This article also filled in another important detail: his middle name was Paul. “John Paul”—a fitting name for a Navy officer!
Looking around some more I found an obituary with the sad news that 25 years after their marriage, his wife died at Fauquier White Sulphur Springs, Virginia, an area then well-known for the “restorative” powers of its natural sulphur springs:
Interestingly, this obituary was published in the New London Morning News (New London, Connecticut) on Sept. 18, 1846, even though Susan’s death occurred in Virginia.
I was seeing a pattern here. I was interested to see how birth, marriage and death notices were routinely picked up by newspapers around the country. This kind of personal information was news, and publishing it was good business: the wider the newspaper’s net to pull in this kind of information, the wider its circulation would be. America was a much smaller country 150 years ago; people were on the move and savvy editors wanted to bring the most interesting news to their readers.
TIP: a newspaper from across the country might have printed your ancestor’s marriage announcement or obituary. Don’t limit your search to just the newspapers in one city or state.
From another newspaper I learned that in 1828 Zantzinger, though still a lieutenant, was assigned to command the USS Dolphin. This article was printed by the Cadet and Statesman (Providence, Rhode Island) on Dec. 3, 1828:
I found another detail of his life in an article printed by the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.) on March 16, 1830: Zantzinger arrived as a passenger aboard the ship St. Peter, docking at Baltimore:
From the Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) of Nov. 6, 1832, I learned that Zantzinger was appointed Captain of the USS St. Louis, a “sloop of war”:
Later that year, according to the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.) of Dec. 13, 1832, Zantzinger was named to command the USS Natchez:
The following spring, Zantzinger had quite an adventure. I found an article in the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.) of May 13, 1833, that the Natchez, under Zantzinger’s command, set sail for Brazil—a trip that would prompt him to make a request of the U.S. government, as we shall later see. Here is that departure announcement:
Look closer at this article. It lists a “W. P. Zantzinger, Purser.” Since Zantzinger is such an uncommon surname, I thought: this has to be a relative! A little more digging around in GenealogyBank showed I was right.
Turns out this was his brother. I quickly found dozens of articles and documents about William P. Zantzinger—most of them generated by his financial issues and court-martial! Captain Zantzinger’s brother William has an interesting story of his own—but that’s a tale for another day. Right now, let’s get back to Captain Zantzinger’s own career and life.
In 1835 his ship the USS Natchez arrived in New York City, according to this article the Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland) printed on Oct. 7, 1835:
Another report from the American State Papers collection shows that Captain Zantzinger had requested payment from the U.S. government, stemming from his Brazil voyage. During the six months they were off the coast of Brazil he was appointed “Flag Captain” of the squadron, and he felt that the added responsibility deserved extra pay. And so, he petitioned Congress for an additional $320. As this report shows, his request was denied:
(On claim of Master Commandant John P. Zantzinger, for extra pay while acting as “flag captain” on the coast of Brazil. Communicated to the Senate, May 21, 1836. American State Papers 026, Naval Affairs Vol. 4; Report: Publication No. 639.)
In all I found hundreds of articles about John Paul Zantzinger and his extended family in this genealogy adventure I took as a test, providing many details about his career and life—and that of his family members. I was pleased to see that GenealogyBank is a powerful tool for searching the back files of U.S. newspapers, government documents and reports. You never know what you’ll find until you start exploring—there’s much to discover! Happy 5th Anniversary to GenealogyBank.
Huge Historical Newspaper Archive at GenealogyBank.com
One of the key sources for online newspapers is GenealogyBank.com. By providing access to rare and hard-to-find newspapers from 1690 to the present day, GenealogyBank gives researchers the opportunity to discover unique, long-forgotten information about their American ancestors.
Featuring more than 5,000 U.S. newspapers with over 1 billion names from all 50 states, GenealogyBank is one of the most extensive online historical newspaper archives available anywhere, designed specifically for family history research. Over 95% of our newspaper content is exclusive to GenealogyBank.
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