Natural curiosity and a little investigating can set you on the road to discovering some fun facts about the past presidents of the United States. Do you know what British newspapers had to say about George Washington? Or what Abraham Lincoln was like as a teenager?
All sorts of information like this can be found in historical records. Records can illuminate the life stories of people in the past in ways that history books often miss. When we take the time to put multiple records together, comparing dates, relationships, and locations, records can reveal how unique all people really are—not just famous past presidents.
Click a name, or read on to discover what FamilySearch records can tell you about these famous United States presidents!
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, or JFK as he was called, grew up in a large and fiercely competitive family. His father encouraged high achievement, expecting success from his children at an early age. John F. Kennedy is shown here with 8 of his siblings in this 1940 United States census record.
Few people probably know that, from childhood, John had chronic health challenges. His bad back is well known, but illness did not detract from John’s active, achieving lifestyle.
Although John did not qualify for the military for health reasons, he earned a commission with a friend’s help and served in the navy during World War II as a lieutenant on a patrol torpedo boat. Once when his boat was rammed while on patrol, he rescued his crew members and then swam over three miles to a nearby island. Grit and determination saved his life that day.
Whether you know a lot or a little about JFK’s assassination, a look at his official death notice is a fascinating opportunity. Kennedy was on a campaign trip to Dallas, Texas, in support of Governor John Connally, when he was shot. The death notice shows the time of the shooting on November 22 (as it was reported), the place of death, and place of injury, as well as a description of the wounds.
Other records of interest:
Kennedy on a New York passenger list from 1935 Kennedy traveling as a United States citizen and congressman in 1948 An image of the Eternal Flame at Arlington National Cemetery President Theodore Roosevelt Jr.
Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest president to come into office (at age 42). Although he was from a prominent family and groomed to be a leader, his life was not easy.
A Massachusetts marriage record shows Roosevelt’s first marriage, to Alice Hathaway Lee, in 1880. Their daughter was born four years later, as shown in a New York birth record. They named their child Alice Lee Roosevelt. Two days later, Roosevelt’s wife and his mother both died of different ailments on the same day and in the same house.
With the weight of these deaths, Theodore left state politics for a time and moved out West, working as a sheriff and rancher. This time in his life shaped both Roosevelt’s character and his career as a writer. (See books such as Sheriff’s Work on a Ranch for Roosevelt’s own record of his ranch life.)
By 1900, when Roosevelt was governor of New York, his second marriage to a childhood friend helped him build a family again. A 1900 census record shows Theodore, his wife Edith, his daughter Alice, and 5 other children born from this second marriage.
Other records of interest:
A monument erected to the memory of Roosevelt (and Edith) Record showing that Roosevelt’s widow was entitled to a pensionAn obituary record for Roosevelt, also mentioning two of his sons that served in WWI.President Ulysses S. Grant
Many of us know Ulysses S. Grant as both a president and the general that led the Union Army in winning the American Civil War. But did you know that General Grant’s birth name was actually Hiram Ulysses Grant? The change to his name is a story worth repeating and has everything to do with records.
When Ulysses was 17, an Ohio congressman made a mistake while nominating Ulysses for an appointment to West Point, the military academy. The congressman erringly used “Ulysses S. Grant” on the future general’s application.
When Ulysses was accepted, the congressman entered Grant’s name on the official register as Cadet U. S. Grant. That name stuck, and Grant’s nickname subsequently became “Sam.” (It was assumed that the U. S. stood for “Uncle Sam.”)
Despite many efforts to correct the record, Grant’s name varies in multiple instances. In the United States census of 1870, Ulysses is shown as “U. S. Grant,” age 48. (Also listed are his wife, Julia, and two of his children.)
Here, in an enlistment register written after his West Point graduation, he is shown as Ulysses S. Grant.
In a record created after his death by the Grand Army of the Republic, a duty station was named after General Grant, and we see the addition of “Simpson” as his middle name.
Such name variations are not uncommon in historical records. When you find the story of a person’s life, the variations make the person all the more interesting.
Other records of interest:
A short book in the FamilySearch Catalog called Abe Lincoln in Indiana gives a unique perspective into young Abraham Lincoln’s life as he came of age in Indiana. It was there on the frontier, in a makeshift cabin, that Lincoln’s mother died when he was nine years old.
The record tells us that, as a teenager, Abe perfected his reading, handwriting, and spelling because his childhood education had been minimal. Although young, Lincoln did all the writing for his family and indeed for everybody in the neighborhood.
Reading meant more to Abe than anything else that came from attending school. It opened him up to the world of knowledge found in books. Reading became the obsession of his youth and continued for many years as he grew into manhood and pursued law and politics as careers.
Did you know that Lincoln wrote poetry as well as prose? The following example is excerpted from Abe Lincoln in Indiana.
Other records of interest:
1860 United States Census showing Abraham and Mary Lincoln with their children. United States General Index to Pension Files (showing Mary Lincoln was entitled to pension for Abraham Lincoln’s service.) President George Washington
General Washington, who led the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, was a national hero before he became president.
In the United States Revolutionary War Rolls, General Washington was referred to as “his Excellency George Washington Esquire, General and Commander in Chief.”
When Washington finally retired from public life in 1797, he was a healthy man. Little did he know that an untimely death was just two years away.
News of Washington’s passing was published in other countries than the United States. One obituary, published in the Hereford Journal from Herefordshire, England, can be found in the British Newspaper Archives, which is a FamilySearch record collection.
The obituary mentions “the death of that great and good character, General Washington, who died of an inflammation in his throat . . . at his seat at Mount Vernon, in the 68th year of his age after an illness of only 24 hours.”
It goes on to say, “Any [speech] on this truly distinguished character would be superfluous,” and noted that Washington “displayed in his own person the rare combination of talents at once military and pacific, that would do honor to the first General and the first Statesmen of any age or country.”
The article continues in this manner for several more paragraphs.
Could anything be more fitting from a former adversary nation than to mark the passing of so great a statesman and one so loved by his fellow countrymen?
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