Feature Article: How to Do Genealogical Research; Damon Family Case Study

Sometime during the next few weeks, as we continue to add new content to our online archives, GenealogyBank will reach a milestone: we will have 1 billion more records than the total we launched our website with five years ago. Wow, that's a lot of additional genealogy records!

I wanted to see what I could find in GenealogyBank with all this added material—so I chose a family at random and set out on a genealogical research investigation.

Researching the Family of Minnie M. Damon

I picked Minnie M. Damon who married James W. Wright on 31 December 1890 in Keene, New Hampshire. With Christmas still in the air and New Year's Eve approaching, the couple was married by the Rev. C. E. Harrington.

A search in GenealogyBank found their marriage announcement in the New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 7 January 1891, page 8.

This marriage announcement is a great genealogical find. It gives terrific details about the wedding.

And—what about those "white silk slippers" the bride wore, the same ones her mother wore when she got married 38 years before? Does someone in the family still have them?

Hmm...they were married "at the home of the bride's mother."

Why no mention of the father? Had he died? Was there a divorce?

Genealogical Research Find 1: George Damon (Minnie's Father)

The next step in our genealogical research is to find out even more about Minnie's dad. Digging deeper into our online archives I found the death notice of the bride's father. He had died just six months earlier.

New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 4 June 1890, page 8.

George Damon was "aged 68 years 8 months and 27 days" when he died on 2 June 1890.

Next we want to subtract those figures from his death date to see when he was born.

George's date of birth works out to 6 September 1821.

There is a handy site for calculating these dates: see

Genealogical Research Find 2: Lucy Bowker/Damon (Minnie's Mother)

Digging deeper into our historical newspaper archives I found the marriage record of her parents: George and Lucy (Bowker) Damon.

Their marriage announcement was published in the Weekly Eagle (Brattleboro, Vermont), 20 September 1852, page 3.

Whoa—hold on: their marriage announcement was published in the Weekly Eagle, a Brattleboro, Vermont, newspaper?

But they lived in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. The newspaper even said that they were "all of" Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.

So, why did a Vermont newspaper publish the announcement of their wedding?

Because newspaper editors wanted to sell papers, that's why.

Brattleboro is only 40 miles from Fitzwilliam, as shown in the above map, and the Weekly Eagle was regularly bought and read by the residents there.

Genealogical Research Find 3: Elijah Bowker (Minnie's Maternal Grandfather)

And here is a newspaper article about Lucy Bowker's father, Captain Elijah Bowker, praising his life of service. It was published in the New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 28 June 1877, page 1.

What else could I find out about the Damon family in my genealogical research?

Branching Out the Damon Family Tree

I decided to do a broader genealogy search by searching on only the surname (Damon) and their hometown (Fitzwilliam).

Both "Damon" and "Fitzwilliam" are uncommon words. It is likely that all Damons from Fitzwilliam are related, but we need to sort them out to make sure.

This broad genealogy search produced a few hundred surname record results.

That is a reasonable amount of genealogy records to sift through, so I started reading through all of them.

Genealogical Research Find 4: Martha Damon (Minnie's Aunt)

One death record in particular caught my eye. It was published in the New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 28 April 1826, page 3.

There in the third paragraph: "In Fitzwilliam, an infant daughter [Martha Damon, 1825-1826] of Mr. Geo. Damon."

This little girl was the aunt of Minnie M. (Damon) Wright—the woman I started my investigation with.

Genealogical Research Find 5: George Damon and Deacon Oliver Damon (Minnie's Paternal Grandfather and Her Paternal Great-Grandfather)

The "Geo. [George] Damon" named in this death notice was Minnie's paternal grandfather [George Damon, 1796-1840] and the "Deacon Oliver Damon" [1758-1837] also named was her paternal great-grandfather.

OK. This newspaper obituary was for a two-year-old infant, and it would be easy to assume that such a notice would have minimal genealogical clues. But, I like to read every document.

As it turns out this obituary gives us lots of critical genealogical information:

"Deacon Oliver Damon and wife have lived in Fitzwilliam 42 years, and this [is] the first instance of mortality that has occurred in his family or among his descendants, (25 in all) during that time. Printers for Massachusetts are requested to notice this death."

As of 1826, there were 25 descendants of the family in that area and none of them had died over the previous 42 years.

Digging deeper into GenealogyBank's online archives I found more details in Deacon Oliver Damon's obituary, published by the New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 9 November 1837, page 3.

He was a Deacon of the Congregational Church, and he fought in the Revolutionary War.

Do you remember seeing in these obituaries the phrase "Printers in Mass. are requested to notice this death"? This note from the newspaper's editors gives a strong indication that the Damon family has a family connection to Massachusetts.

So, the next steps in our genealogical investigation are to sort through all of the "Damon" references in and around Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, and extend that search out to Massachusetts.

Genealogical Research Find 6: More Damons Found with a Broader Search

Here is Deacon Oliver Damon's mother's obituary: Lois (Maynard) Damon (1759-1828). It was published in the New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 9 January 1829, page 3.

A few weeks later, Lois (Maynard) Damon's obituary appeared in the Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 21 January 1829, page 3.

OK—the Massachusetts newspapers are picking up the news of this family.

Here is the obituary of Deacon Oliver Damon's father: Thomas Damon (1731-1813). It was published in the Independent Chronicle (Boston, Massachusetts), 29 November 1813, page 3.

This obituary tells us that Thomas Damon died "In East Sudbury, on Thursday last" at the age of 62.

Looking at a perpetual calendar for 1813, we can see that the "last" Thursday before Monday November 29th was Thursday, November 25th. Now we know the exact date of his death.

His wife Elizabeth (Stow) Damon (1729-1796) had died a few years earlier, as stated in the following obituary: "At East Sudbury, Mrs. Elizabeth Damon, wife of Thomas Damon, Aged 67."

Her obituary was published in a different Boston newspaper from her husband's: the Columbian Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 11 June 1796, page 2.

With just a few more clicks I found the obituary of Captain Thomas Damon (1703-1796). He had served in the Revolutionary War. This obituary was published in the Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 23 March 1796, page 3.

This obituary informs us: "At East Sudbury, Captain Thomas Damon, aged 93. He had lived with the wife of his youth 67 years, and has left her a sorrowful widow, aged 87 years."

His widow Abigail (Rice) Damon (1709-1806) lived another 10 years after her husband of 67 years, Captain Damon, died.

Her obituary states: "In East Sudbury, widow of Abigail Damon, Aged XCVII." It was published in the Columbian Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 1 March 1806, page 2.

Captain Thomas Damon was the son of Thomas and Lucy Ann (Emerson) Damon of Reading, Massachusetts.

Now that is interesting. Lots of Damons...


The only "Damon" I have ever heard of is the actor, Matt Damon.

In October 2009 the New England Historic Genealogical Society released their research on Matt Damon's ancestry.

It turns out that Matt Damon, like Minnie M. Damon—the woman I started my investigation with—is a descendent of Thomas and Lucy Ann (Emerson) Damon!

Here is how the Damon family tree flows, with the line leading to Minnie M. Damon and the line leading to Matt Damon:

Thomas Damon and Lucy Ann Emerson
John & Hannah (Gleason) Damon
Edmond & Esther (Hubbard) Damon
Jason & Lucy (Owen) Damon
Edmund H. & Sarah (Hicks) Damon
Albert N. & Hattie (Salisbury) Damon
Albert H. & Grace (Telfer) Damon
Albert H. & Roberta (Faye) Damon, Jr.
Kent Telfer & Nancy (Paige) Damon
Matt Damon
Thomas & Abigail (Rice) Damon
Thomas & Elizabeth (Snow) Damon
Oliver & Lois (Maynard) Damon
George & Martha (Collins) Damon
George & Lucy (Bowker) Damon
Minnie M. (Damon) & James Wright

So the genealogical record has shown that Minnie M. (Damon) Wright and Matt Damon are 5th cousins, three times removed! It would be hard, if not impossible, to piece this whole Damon lineage together with just government records. To complete your family history research, an online newspaper archive is essential, because newspapers give us the birth, marriage and death records we need, as well as the stories behind the dates, to know something about our ancestors' lives and understand their relationship to one another.