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Feature Article: Discovering New Genealogy Facts Every Day: Hey, I Didn't Know That!

On the second floor landing of our home we have a family photo wall that fills the entire landing.

Walking up the stairs you see different relatives or family heirlooms that catch your eye, and you briefly remember them and the lives they lived.


Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

The other day I found myself looking at an item from my cousin Robert Kemp (1821-1897). It was one of several pieces of sheet music we have from his musical troupe "Father Kemp and His Old Folks."

I have a copy of his autobiography written in 1868, copies of his published song books, posters and the like.

So I decided to look in the old newspapers to see what more I could learn about him.

In GenealogyBank I quickly found thousands of articles, concert reviews and advertisements. His singing group gave more than 6,000 concerts across the country and Europe, reaching millions of listeners.

His obituary gave me more of the details.


Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), 17 May 1897, page 4

This detailed obituary filled in some of the important events in his life, such as this early business:

"When 20 years old he came to Boston and engaged in the boot and shoe business on Hanover St., with a Mister Mansfield, under the firm name of Mansfield & Kemp."

It says he moved to Reading, Massachusetts, in 1854 where he started his singing group.

In his 1868 journal/autobiography Robert wrote:

"It occurred to me to revive old memories by singing some of the tunes which strengthened the religious faith of our grandfathers and grandmothers, and had often been the medium through which our sturdy and pious ancestors had lifted their hearts in thankfulness to their Maker, for planting their home in the land of liberty."

His obituary tells of the formation of his musical troupe:

"To this end the attics of the neighbors were ransacked, and Cape Cod and Salem contributed of their stores of ancient finery. Nearly every costume contributed was historical; none of them were less than 50 years old, while some were in use more than 200 years before."

"The first public performance was given at Lyceum Hall, Reading, that filled it to suffocation. Mrs. Kemp [Elizabeth Jane (Alden) Kemp (1824-1888)] appeared then and ever afterward as Martha Washington."


Photo: Father Kemp and His Old Folks, 1858.
Source: Reading Public Library (Reading, Massachusetts).

In the above photograph, that is Robert "Father Kemp" Kemp in the center of the front row and his wife in the white bonnet just behind him in the second row. Their daughter Elizabeth Davis (Kemp) Dewey (1844-1926) is in the black dress seated at the right side of that row.

According to his obituary, in the 1870s:

"Father Kemp determined to settle down once more to the peaceful pursuit of selling boots and shoes in Boston town, and the following 21 years of his life were not marked by any extraordinary events."

I found an advertisement for his shoe business where he tied in his fame with the Old Folks troupe.


Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 19 June 1868, page 4

But wait—there's more.

Looking closely at that newspaper page there is a second advertisement just below his.


Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 19 June 1868, page 4

Using similar wording, it asks: "Where is Nathan Kemp?" and then gives the answer: "He is to be found now at Mansfield's Boot and Shoe Emporium...Great Competition!"

Nathan? Who was Nathan Kemp?

Robert Kemp's father was Nathan Kemp (1783-1823)—but so far, I don't have another Nathan Kemp on that side of the family tree.

I will keep on digging, and let you know what I find.