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Feature Article: Do You Know All of Your Family's Stories?

Are you sure you have heard and recorded all of the stories of your family? I am amazed at the stories genealogists are finding every day—stories they never knew about their family.

The census, birth and death certificates, and other official records can supply us with the essential facts of our family history, but it's newspapers that go deeper and give us the stories—especially the long-lost details of our ancestors' daily lives.

As genealogists, our task is to sift through the old newspapers to find and document these family stories and make sure they aren't lost forever to our family.

Take for example the obituary of William J. Ion, a Kansas pioneer who died in 1917. What an incredible amount of detail found in just one newspaper article!


Welsh American (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), 15 August 1917, page 7.

This obituary tells us the facts that Ion was born 29 October 1846 in Castleton, Monmouthshire, South Wales, and died at his home just east of Jamestown, Kansas, on 4 March 1917.

Then flows the rest of his story:
  • His father died when he "was a boy"
  • At age ten he began working in the iron works of Ebbwvale
  • At 15 he came to America
  • Worked in the coal mines of Pittstown, Pennsylvania
  • Joined the Army during the Civil War, Company E, First Battalion, 16th Infantry, participating in the Siege of Atlanta and other battles
  • He was a corporal
  • Worked as a blacksmith in Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Lived in St. Clair County, Illinois, and Ray County, Missouri
  • In 1869 he headed west with a "two-yoke ox team" looking for suitable land for a homestead
  • When they arrived in Rook County, Kansas, four of them decided that the land looked better in Cloud County; they returned and William claimed his homestead in Grant township and lived there until his death in 1917
  • He built his cabin with the help of W. R. Ansdell, James Carter and James Kiggan
  • There was "for a long time" no door on the cabin
  • He said: "I would throw bones and scraps out in the yard and the wolves would gather round and howl over them"
  • "He could entertain a friend for hours with historical sketches, stories of pioneer days...and the early days in Kansas"
  • Treasurer of Grant township
  • Episcopalian
  • Could not read or write, but had memorized the details of history—which he could recite, keeping everyone focused on his stories
  • "There was such a large crowd of old friends and neighbors at the church that many were unable to gain admittance"
  • "a clean minded, upright citizen, a dutiful husband and a deeply affectionate father"
  • "he was a mighty good man"
He was born in 1846 and died in 1917, but finding these additional facts tells us so much more about William Ion the person, "a mighty good man."

Dig into GenealogyBank's old newspaper archives and learn about your ancestors.
Find and preserve their stories.
Get to know them.