Every semester I teach a one-time class for an SFSU undergraduate course focused on genealogy where I provide a general overview on research tools and a hands-on classroom activity. This activity includes a worksheet that guides students through the primary and secondary sources on their tables and ultimately simulates the genealogical research experience.

While researching items for one of these worksheets, I made a wonderful discovery and thought it would be useful to share my discovery process with our readers as well as tips for conducting your own genealogical research.

It all began with this ginormous 1875 photo album of David B. Gamble’s trip to Europe. The photos offer no information other than the sites Gamble visited.

  • Cover of photo album titled "Souvenir of European Travel 1875."
  • Photos historic sites in Ireland inside album from 1875
  • Souvenir passenger list for "Amerique" and a photo of the ship to the right of it.

Tucked on the inside cover of the album is a souvenir passenger list. Lists like this one were usually distributed prior to sailing or during the voyage and provided a way for cabin passengers to make acquaintances with one another.[i] On the cover of this passenger list we learn the name of the ship, which port it departed from, where it was heading, and the date of departure. Inside, the passengers are listed alphabetically along with what I have guessed to be their place of residence. We can see that David isn’t the only Gamble listed. There’s also an Edwin P. Gamble. I became curious to find out how these two were related!

Using only the information provided in the passenger list, I set out to search for David P. Gamble through FamilySearch.org (a free genealogical database). Since I know he was in New York in 1875, I selected “Any” for Life Event and input New York plus the year but with a five-year cushion.

Tip: This 5-year range will help with pulling up records where the year may have been written or indexed incorrectly (for example, a 5 may have been mistakenly recorded in the index or abstract as a 6).

The second result seems the most promising as it has many of the fields matching what I searched: name and year. The record set is called “United States Passport Applications” so it could be related to this trip. Since the original has been digitized and is freely available through FamilySearch.org (noted by the camera icon on the right of the result), I don’t want to rely on the abstract (the information we see in the results list) and instead want to investigate the original myself. And after doing so, I deduce this record happens to be David’s passport application for his trip abroad in 1875. In this application we see that the name, year of application, and city of residence match what was cited in the souvenir passenger list so we can confirm this David is our person. We also learn quite a bit more about him like his birth date and birth place.


Passport application of David B. Gamble in 1875, courtesy of FamilySearch.org

Tip: When you have access to the original, always check a few records before and after the one you first find. Sometimes there will be more information on the person in question. Looking at the image after David’s application, we find that of Edwin P. Gamble with much of the same info confirming they were traveling together and not just two people with the same last name who both happened to be on the same ship.

Now that we know when David was born (1847 according to the passport application), we can switch the Life Event in the search menu for Birth and input in a location and a year range.

Tip: More results will appear if you broaden the location so in this case I searched by state. On other genealogical websites and databases, the opposite may be true where the narrower your location, the more relevant the results.

My goal with this new search was to find as many census records as I could for David since census records are full of information and a great place to start. I specifically wanted to find out how Edwin and David are related and the earliest census with both Edwin and David is 1860 since Edwin was born in 1852. What I immediately notice after finding the 1860 census is that David is in the same household as someone named “Edwin P.” and it’s the same age difference we determined from the passport applications. From this, we learn David and Edwin are quite possibly brothers!

Tip: Good to make note of any variant spellings of names which you can add to your search. In the 1860 census, we see the recorder spelled their surname as Gambell instead of Gamble.

Screenshot of Gambell family in 1860 U.S. Census, courtesy of FamilySearch.org.

Next I moved on to the 1870 census but had a hard time finding it with David B. Gamble as my search terms so I switched to searching for Edwin P. Gamble and had success. I noticed a few more people listed in the Gamble household in 1870. At first glance, it appeared there was no David but instead a Daniel. And the abstract for the census record reflects that. (See screenshot below) At closer inspection of the original, we can see how “Daniel” was mistaken for David: the circle of the second “d” is not closed completely which makes it look like two separate letters, “e” and “l”. This explains why I couldn’t find the 1870 census when searching for David!

Tip: If no results first appear for an ancestor, try searching for someone else in their family and finding the record that way.

I also notice someone with an incorrectly indexed name: Preston Alexander. In line 30 of the original, it reads as Proctor and is meant to be read as a surname not as a first name (which is how it’s implied in the abstract above). And then the wheels begin to turn in my mind when I take note of the occupation of the head of house, Edwin’s father James Gamble: Soap and Candle Manufacturer. Curious and curious-er.

One of the suggested records is that of Find A Grave, which is a database separate from FamilySearch.org with cemetery and tombstone information. The inscriptions provide vital information and sometimes information on the deceased’s ancestors and descendants as well as a biographical description, especially if they were a prominent figure in society.

Since I am interested in learning more about their father, James, and his soap business, I click on his Find A Grave record. and we find a biographical description full of information on this family. In the first line we learn that James Gamble is indeed the co-founder of Procter and Gamble! For as long as this item has been catalogued, there has been no mention that the previous owner, David B. Gamble, was related to that Gamble family who co-founded a company of which many brands are still used today.

This souvenir passenger list example goes to show that all you really need to get started on your genealogical research is a name, and where and when an event happened. This tiny ephemeral piece gave us all three clues leading to a curious connection to our modern world.

Feel free to share in the comments about your own curious connections!

Today’s post was written by the Sutro Library’s Genealogy Librarian, Dvorah Lewis.


[i] Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives provides documents and information on immigrants from primarily European countries to North America including souvenir passenger lists. – https://www.gjenvick.com/Passengers/FAQs/WhatArePassengerLists.html

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