Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Moritz and the Twins

My wonderful Sis just discovered this photo of my mother Daisy Schwartz and her twin sister Dorothy, holding hands with their grandfather, Moritz Farkas (1857-1936).

They are on Fox Street in the South Bronx, standing next to the fence of the elementary school that Mom and Auntie attended. Was this their first day of school in the mid-1920s? Or were they just taking a walk?

Moritz and his wife, Lena Kunstler Farkas, lived at 843 Whitlock Avenue in the Bronx, about a mile from this school. My Mom, Auntie, and Uncle lived with their parents at 651 Fox Street in the Bronx. Thank you, Sis, for sharing this photo.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Genealogy, Free or Fee, Pt 6: Message Boards for Gen Do-Over

Surname and locality message boards for genealogy are free, readily searchable, and easy to use. Back in the day, we all used them for genealogy. Now, if you're doing a genealogy go-over or genealogy do-over, remember to go back and check message boards again.

Sure, they seem so last century compared with Facebook genealogy groups and other social media tools. But they can be helpful, especially if you're trying to connect with a cousin or researcher who posted a query at some point in the past.

During a Do-Over or Go-Over, use message boards to search, not necessarily to post queries. Look for clues and connections that weren't there last time you searched, or were posted since you last searched.

I found my husband's genealogist-second cousin through a message board years ago. He was trying to locate descendants of hubby's great-grandfather, Thomas Haskell Wood. I was looking for Thomas Haskell Wood's ancestors. We had complementary information and I was the lucky beneficiary of his 30 years of research, including ancestors on the Mayflower and even earlier! (Thanks again, Cousin L.) 

This encouraged me to keep searching. As this screen shot taken today indicates, some queries are still being posted on Rootsweb message boards, for example. The vast majority are from years earlier. But keep in mind--even old queries include details like names and dates, which always come in handy, even if the researchers are no longer active on the message board. Or you may get lucky and, like me, connect with cousins through the message board.

Message boards are free and worth searching for surnames and locations. If you've ever posted, be sure to keep your email address current just in case a distant relative answers your query. If you want to post a message-board query, summarize what you already know in the post and be clear about what you want to know (follow the tips on my post here.)

Do-over or go-over, social media is so much quicker for new queries, because this is where most family researchers now flock. Use the search bar on Facebook (or check Katherine Willson's definitive listing of FB genealogy groups) to find genealogy pages and click to join, then post or answer. Good luck!

NOTE: All my Genealogy--Free or Fee posts are listed and linked in the landing page along my header here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Genealogy, Free or Fee, Part 5: Ask the Historian

A lot of genealogical treasures are not online. But local historians may be able to help you solve a mystery or two, at little or no cost (often, just the cost of copies and postage).

Case in point: My husband's Bentley ancestors lived in upstate NY. I need to connect his 3d great-grandfather, William Tyler Bentley (1795-1873), with a specific town and then trace further back.

I believe I have him in the 1830 census in Sandy Creek, Oswego county, NY. But is this the right guy? I searched for Sandy Creek and the website above popped up. Take a look at what the wonderful local historian, Charlene Cole, has at her fingertips:
I called her, she checked her records, and then she emailed me some documents from her surname files, contributed by a long-time researcher who was also tracking down the same Bentley family. By getting in touch with this other Bentley researcher, we were able to put more pieces of the puzzle together.

So Tuesday's Tip is: Try a web search for the town or county where an ancestor lived, and you may be lucky enough to locate the local historian who knows where the treasures are buried. Even if you don't locate the actual information you need, you will likely get a clue on how to proceed or the name of others who are in search of the same surname.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Military Monday: Edgar Wood Goes to Camp Perry

My late father-in-law, Edgar James Wood (1903-1986), had this pin from his time serving at Camp Perry, Ohio in the Citizens' Military Training Camp, National Defense.

The original idea behind such camps was to develop future military leaders in case of national defense.

Ed participated in training at Camp Perry some time between 1935-1940. He served part-time in Troop A of the National Guard, 107th Cavalry.

As shown on the map, the facility (location B) was on Lake Erie, about 50 miles or so from where Ed and family lived in Cleveland (location A). Today, Camp Perry is a conference center.

By the time WWII was declared, Ed had three children, and was not in the age bracket to serve first. He never was in the war, in fact. But his grandson treasures this pin as a memory of Ed's earlier service.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Erin Go Bragh - Hubby's Irish Roots

Happy St. Patrick's Day! My hubby has Irish (and Scots-Irish) ancestry that we can trace to the 17th century as they prepared for their journeys to America.
  1. His 5th great-grandparents, Halbert McClure (1684-1754) and Agnes (1690-1750?) were born in County Donegal, but the McClure clan was originally from Scotland's Isle of Skye. These Scotch-Irish McClures were the journey-takers who sailed to Philadelphia and then walked, as a family, down to Virginia so they could buy fertile land and farm it. Above, a transcription of the land purchase by Halbert McClure in 1747. Later, the McClure clan fanned out to Ohio and Indiana and beyond.
  2. His 5th great-grandparents, Robert Larimer (1719-1803) and Mary O'Gallagher Larimer (1721-1803) were from the north of Ireland. Robert is the ancestor who was shipwrecked while enroute to the New World, and was brought to Pennsylvania to work off the cost of his rescue. Larimer worked hard and then walked away to start a new life in the interior of Pennsylvania. Larimer descendants intermarried with the Short, McKibbin*, and Work families who were cousins from Ireland.
  3. His 5th great-grandparents, William Smith (1724-1786) and Janet (1724?-1805), were from Limerick. Their first son born in America was Brice Smith (1756-1828), who later settled in Fairfield County, Ohio. The name Brice has come down through the family, but this is the earliest instance documented in the family tree in America.
  4. His 2nd great-grandparents, John Shehen (1801?-1875) and Mary (1801?-?) were born in "Ireland" (that's all the info they told UK Census officials in 1841). Their children were born in Marylebone, London during the 1830s. In 1859, their daughter Mary Shehen married John Slatter Sr. in Oxfordshire. Mary Shehen Slatter is the ancestor I have been tracing through two different insane asylums, eventually dying at Banstead from tuberculosis in 1889. More on her saga very soon.
*Just in time for St. Paddy's Day, I heard from a McKibbin cousin who has Ohio naturalization papers from the McKibbin family, confirming their origin as County Down! Thank you so much, Marilyn.

P.S.: My wonderful daughter-in-law is adding to the festivities by having the family piece together a puzzle of different Irish places and themes (above is a sneak peek of our progress). A great way to remind the next generation of their Irish roots!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Free or Fee Genealogy, Part 4--Learn to Record-Strip

Do you record-strip?

Record-strip is a term used by the historians on a recent Backstory podcast about American history. They were referring to the practice of gleaning as much info as possible from each document and using those insights to develop a more nuanced view of an individual in historical context.

There's a difference between collecting documents for genealogy and actually record-stripping them. And doing a Genealogy Do-Over is forcing me to go back and reexamine my collection.

Years ago, when I was taking my first baby steps in genealogy, I was given a checklist of personal sources to use in researching my ancestors. Many were documents that an ancestor would have during the course of his or her life and many were documents to be obtained from authorities (for a fee) or to be created in the course of my research.

You can see an excellent checklist of suggested sources (free and fee) on Family Search. And these checklists are extremely valuable!

But as a baby genealogist, I didn't really know how to use the list. I enthusiastically set off in search of these documents and checked off each item for each ancestor, as you can see on the actual list excerpt here.

In other words, I was playing genealogy bingo, acquiring or creating the documents without understanding exactly why. When a document wasn't readily available, I thought about who in the family might have it or how I might acquire it, free or fee.

It didn't take long for me to realize that the point wasn't to acquire as many of those items as possible and check them off when I filed them away.

I didn't have the terminology or experience then, but now I can say the point is to record-strip the documents for specific details. What can each document tell me about my ancestor?


For example, "library cards" are on the list. What can those records show, apart from a love of learning or books? Maybe a nickname, maybe a clue to a neighborhood I didn't know my ancestor lived in. What about "funeral home receipts"? A hint about who had the money to pay for a certain ancestor's funeral, or the name of "next of kin" being a relative I didn't know about . . . you get the idea.

Before I can determine what is worth paying for, I need to step back and think: What will that record tell me? Do I have the info on another document or can I get it fairly easily from another source? Is the info "nice to know" or truly "need to know"?

So Tuesday's Tip is: Learn to record-strip each document and get full value from it, don't just play genealogy bingo.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Those Places Thursday: My Mahler Ancestors in Jewish Harlem

Professor Jeffrey Gurock recently published his authoritative The Jews of Harlem, with additional research and updates to his earlier book on the subject, When Harlem Was Jewish, 1870-1930. I got my hands on a copy of the new book after reading about it in the New York Times.

My Mahler ancestors lived in that area of upper Manhattan, during the period Prof. Gurock describes. This book gave me a window into their Jewish immigrant experience, arriving and living in the Lower East Side, then moving uptown to Harlem.

Prof. Gurock writes that the opening of the elevated subway (1904) brought many immigrants to Harlem, escaping the teeming crowds and cramped tenements of the Lower East Side. He also notes that the move allowed many to find work locally in Harlem rather than commuting to jobs in midtown or, more commonly, in lower Manhattan.

Interestingly, Prof. Gurock points out that the density of population in Jewish Harlem tenement neighborhoods was, in fact, quite intense. Later, as families had a bit more money, they moved to the "subway suburbs," including the Bronx.

My Mahler family followed this pattern. Great-grandpa Meyer E. Mahler (1861-1910) and great-grandma Tillie Jacobs Mahler (185?-1952) originally lived in the Lower East Side when they arrived from "Russia" (really Eastern Europe). Around the turn of the 20th century, they lived on Chrystie Street and a bit later at Allen Street. Then the "el" opened and life changed.

By 1905, the NY Census shows the Mahler family at 1956 Third Avenue, between 107th and 108th Streets--a walkup tenement in Jewish Harlem. Meyer Mahler worked as a tailor in 1909 at 63 E. 117th Street. I can imagine him walking to work there, half a mile north of his residence (in a building no longer standing).  

By 1910, the family was living at 7 E. 105th Street, a much less crowded area of Jewish Harlem, as I understand Prof. Gurock's explanation. Poor Meyer died of stomach cancer that year, but his widow and children remained at that address until well after WWI. The younger son, Morris Mahler, seems to have been the main breadwinner at that point, and he commuted to work outside Jewish Harlem.

By 1925, the NY Census shows that the Mahler family had moved to the "subway suburb" of the Bronx, living at 2347 Morris Avenue (the first of a few addresses in and around the Bronx). The timing corresponds with what Prof. Gurock writes in his chapter, "The Scattering of the Harlem Jewish Community, 1917-1930." 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Genealogy--Free or Fee, part 3

Sending for a Social Security application is not cheap. And yet I've sent for several, during my Genealogy Go-Over and earlier.

Here's an example from 2009. I wanted to confirm my maternal grandfather's home town and parents' names. At the time, these applications weren't indexed or available anywhere else. Today, you can often see some application info on Ancestry or other sites.

Above is what I received for my money eight years ago. Yes, Theodore (Teddy) Schwartz (1887-1965) was born in Ungvar, Hungary, on May 21, 1887. His parents were Herman and Hanna. And the address is where my grandparents lived for a few years, before selling their dairy store and moving around the corner from Tremont Ave. in the Bronx, NY.

In 2009, there was no electronic way to request these forms, and the wait seemed interminable (about 2 months). Today, just click to the website and have your plastic payment ready, which cuts a little time off the wait.

A better example is what I learned when I started the Gen Go-Over. I finally bought a copy of the application of my paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk (1882-1943). It revealed his mother's maiden name and his hometown. It also told me he was working for his brother-in-law, which I didn't know. Looking at the application, I suspect Isaac didn't write it himself but did sign it (I've seen his laborious signature on other documents).

The bottom line is: Try all the free possibilities first, including free access to the big genealogy websites through your public library or family history library. But if you absolutely, positively cannot get the details or the confirmation in any other way, and this information is critical to your research, do consider paying for this document, which contains info personally provided by your ancestor (even if he or she didn't actually write the information but only signed the paperwork).

My reasoning:
  • This is a good place to see an ancestor's parents' names. I needed to confirm Grandpa Isaac's parents' names, which were indistinct on his marriage license.
  • This is a good (sometimes the only) way to see a maiden name. That's what happened with Grandpa Isaac, among other ancestors. I fought hard to see the full SSA details of a cousin's ancestor, showing the maiden name of his mother, because without it, I couldn't get the final piece of the puzzle in place and prove the family relationship. Patience and perseverance will pay off if you have to fight to see redacted details.* It took me two appeals, but I won. And solved the puzzle!
  • This is sometimes a good way to learn or confirm hometown or homeland info. Grandpa Teddy and Grandpa Isaac show this in action. I appreciated using their SSA info to confirm other documentation.
  • This will give you a clue to home and work addresses that you can research in more depth. Suppose you can't find someone in the Census but you do know that person had a Social Security number, which you located via the Social Security Death Index or through another method. At least you'll have an address as of the date of this application. My 2d cousin found Teddy's address in a note her mother had squirreled away decades ago. Now that I knew when Teddy lived at that address, I could be more certain of when the young lady was in touch with Teddy. It helped us understand the close relationship between Teddy and his niece. 
  • Other details. Maybe, like me, you'll learn something surprising about the person's occupation or employer. I'm always hoping to flesh out my ancestors' lives so they're more than a name and a few dates.
I've written two other posts about Genealogy, Free or fee: Part 1 and Part 2 (more are in the works).

Please feel free to comment about your "free genealogy" experiences or what you believe is worth paying for! Thank you.

*The appeal is one way to see what has been blocked from view on a person's SSA. I don't think there's an appeal process for requesting a record that the authorities say doesn't exist or they can't find. But if you receive an application with names blocked from view, it's worth rereading the privacy rules and trying to appeal by sending documents to prove that the dates are beyond when any of these people would be living. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Military Monday: Is This Dad's WWII Jacket?

This morning I woke up to an unexpected surprise, in the form of an email from a gentleman in New England. He wrote:
"I recently bought an old military field coat with the name H.D. Burk and B4446 written in it. Some basic research tells me it's from a Harold Burk who was born in 1909 and enlisted in the Army in 1942. A quick Google search also returned a link to your blog...Does this sound like the correct Harold Burk?"
My Dad, Harold Burk (1909-1978), enlisted in the U.S. Army at Camp Upton, NY on March 7, 1942, 75 years ago this week. I took out Dad's dog tags and sure enough, the number matched!

I wrote back to say "yes," this sounds like Dad. The handprinted name looks like his writing, and I felt a pang just looking at it. I asked how this gentleman, Mr. G, went about researching the jacket. He sent me to the WWII US Army Enlistment website, which contains info on nearly 9 million people.

At left is the search box from the site, where I did what Mr. G did--I entered the laundry number (part of Dad's serial number) and his surname. Up popped a few details about Dad's enlistment. I had already documented his service, using his discharge papers, among other sources, but now I have another resource to try when researching other ancestors who served in WWII, thanks to Mr. G.

(Try it for any of your ancestors who served in WWII! Even if you don't have a serial number or laundry number, go ahead and fill in other details on the search form, then weed through the results.)

My Dad served in Europe with the 3163d Signal Service Company, as a clerk, and spent April of 1945 in Paris after the liberation. He's the serviceman on the right in this photo at a bistro.

Mr. G gave me more info about the jacket: It's an M-1943 Field Coat, which became standard for the Army during the war, especially for soldiers in colder climates. How my Dad's survived all these years, and in such great shape, I can't imagine.

What a wave of emotion seeing Dad's WWII jacket and handprinted name, and knowing that the collector, Mr. G, wanted to find out more about the man who wore it seven decades in the past.

I'm grateful to Mr. G for getting in touch, especially as this fits in nicely with my Genealogy Go-Over, reexamining documents and artifacts with an eye toward telling more stories about my ancestors. Thanks to Mr. G for permission to post his photos of Dad's jacket!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Free or Fee Genealogy, Part 2

Birth, marriage, death records really are vital records, since they have vital details for genealogical research. But they're not the only records I feel are vital for my Genealogy Go-Over and for ongoing discoveries about ancestors in my family tree.

Naturalization papers are a treasure trove of info, really important when I don't know someone's home town or birth date, and of course the names of witnesses can be the icing on the cake. When an ancestor is in my direct line, I usually do my best to get his or her naturalization, even if I have to pay for it, so I can double-check against other documents in my possession. Still, ordering from NARA takes time, not just money.

My favorite free source is Family Search, and even if I have to order a low-cost microfilm of naturalizations, it's a bargain and doesn't take much time. Many naturalizations are currently available through my Ancestry subscription, but not all. I used to have Fold3 access, which put many naturalizations at my finger tips.

Since many of my ancestors (maybe yours too) came through Ellis Island or Castle Garden and stayed in the New York/New Jersey area, I use Italiangen.org to see what naturalization documents are available before I make up my mind about paying.

Naturalizations in other countries aren't as easy to obtain from a distance. I was elated to discover last year that my great-uncle Abraham Berk's naturalization file could be requested from the Canadian authorities for the princely sum of $5 . . . until I realized that only Canadian residents could make the request. May I say how lucky I am that a friendly genealogy blogger in Canada graciously volunteered to place the order? Only a few weeks later, she scanned and sent me pages and pages of fascinating details from his file, including the document shown here, confirming his home town and other key details. Wow.

BONUS: After sharing my previous post on this subject with the Genealogy Do-Over community on Facebook, commenters there and on my blog offered more ideas about ways to save money on vital records and other genealogical documents. Here are some of their ideas:

  • Check to see if there's a Facebook genealogy page for the locality where your ancestor was living or born/married/died. A volunteer might know of a local source for the document you're seeking or be willing to get it for you.
  • Consider a "road trip" to get multiple documents from local authorities, if feasible.
  • Check with the local genealogical society or historical society about whether some documents are in their files. (It works: I've saved some money this way, paying the local society for photocopies and a small donation.)
  • Do a thorough online search--some places have put parish records and census records online, for example.
  • Request help from the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness folks, paying for copies etc.