Sunday, August 13, 2017

Saturday Night Genea-Fun: How Many in My Genea-Database?

Randy Seaver's latest Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge this week is: How many people are in your gen software database or online tree(s)?

Since I'm a new user of RootsMagic 7, I tried this challenge using the largest tree in my database: Hubby's Wood/Larimer/Slatter/McClure/Steiner tree.

As shown above, this tree has 2665 people and--I'm happy to see--19,084 citations. I'm going to organize my citations and format them correctly, without being too slavish. Sure, I want other people to be able to replicate my research and locate specific records or details. But I agree with the philosophy of Nancy Messier's "My Ancestors and Me" blog: "Done is better than perfect."

Shown at right, my Ancestry tree overview for the same family tree. Number of people is identical, because the synch is up-to-date. I try not to add people until I've investigated the relationship and sources to be reasonably certain these ancestors really belong on the tree.

Note that the number of hints is three times the number of people! When I have a moment, I'll whittle that down by clicking to "ignore" hints for ancestors like "wife of brother-in-law of third cousin once removed of husband's uncle." Then I can concentrate on vetting the hints of people more closely aligned with the tree.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Friday's Faces from the Past: Did Uncle Benji Smile?

It's up to us, before we join our ancestors, to keep the stories, photos, and memories of past generations alive for the benefit of future generations.

Here are just a few methods I've tried.
  • Tell ancestor stories with dramatic flair. Our ancestors really did lead lives that were courageous (pioneers), happy (family or success), sad (early death), challenging (bankruptcy), or something in between. Find the drama and accentuate it to bring these ancestors to life. My maternal grandma threw a suitor's engagement ring out the window when she refused an arranged marriage. Isn't that dramatic? Hubby's grandpa was a master mechanic who worked on an early automobile model, making his mark on history in a small but significant way. Telling dramatic stories over and over does, I'm happy to say, make an impression.
  • Put an ancestor's face on a T-shirt. I think Benjamin McClure looks ancestral (and characteristically resolute) on this T-shirt worn by his great-great-grandson. Did "Uncle Benji" ever smile? I can ask every younger relative who sees this shirt. In private, I bet he did. But this was his public face, as a civic leader. 
  • Make copies of ancestor photos and give them to siblings, cousins, grandkids. Include a note explaining who's who. Pick a special date--for instance, St. Paddy's Day, for Irish ancestors--and make inexpensive photos to send inside a greeting card. The more relatives who come to recognize ancestors by face and name, the better. Okay, I'm still the only person who can identify most older ancestors in photos, but I'm hoping that someday relatives will be able to pick out at least one or two individuals they didn't know before. Plus I'm glad to know that these photo copies are widely dispersed within the family, not simply stuck inside my files.
  • Tell stories about what ancestors didn't talk about. My immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents never spoke of the trip from their home towns in Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania to New York City. But knowing the name of the ships, the time of year, and length of the voyages, and the distance between the home towns and the ports of departure, I can weave together a pretty decent narrative for each one. No, they didn't come "cabin class." So this kind of story illustrates determination and perseverance (occasionally desperation).  
  • Remind young relatives who and what ancestors left behind. None of my immigrant grandparents or great-grandparents ever returned to their home towns after arriving in New York. Younger relatives are taken aback when reminded that these ancestors often left home at an early age (Grandpa Teddy Schwartz was 14), knowing that the journey would be one-way only. Imagine. 
I've seen examples of even more creative ideas, including ancestor playing cards, that are future possibilities. What ideas have you tried for getting the younger generation interested in the lives of their ancestors?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Weighing the Evidence on Grandpa's Birthplace

Six of my Burk (aka Berg/Berk/Birk/Burke) ancestors came to North America from Lithuania. The oldest of the siblings, Abraham, settled in Montreal. All the others lived for decades in New York City.

In birth order, they were:
  • Abraham Berk (1877-1962)
  • Nellie Block (1878-1950)
  • Isaac Burk (1882-1943) - Hi, Grandpa!
  • Meyer Berg (1883-1981)
  • Jennie Birk (1890-1972)
  • Max (Matel) Berk (1892-1953)
Where, exactly, were these Litvak ancestors from? I've been weighing the evidence, following the Evidence Explained principles. Fortunately for me, the evidence is quite compelling in favor of one birthplace for all the siblings.

Of course I'm putting the most weight on primary (original) sources created by "someone with first hand knowledge . . . created at or about the time an event occurred." Primary information (from original sources) tends to be more reliable, even though the person who provided the info may not remember correctly or may answer inaccurately for some other reason.

I've assembled the following evidence about the siblings' birthplace.
  1. Abraham Berk's Canadian naturalization petition listed Gordz, Kovno, Russia as his birthplace. When Abraham entered America in 1919 to visit his brother Isaac, he said he was born in Gorst-Kovna-Russia. Abraham provided all this info.
  2. Nellie Block never declared any birthplace that I can find, unfortunately. I don't believe she ever married, nor did she apply for Social Security or naturalization. 
  3. Isaac Burk told US border officials in 1904 that he was born in Gerst, Russia, when he entered America from Canada. His 1939 naturalization papers and WWII draft registration show Lithuania as his birthplace (Isaac provided the info). Grandpa Isaac was buried in a cemetery plot that's part of the Sons of Telsh society. That adds to the indirect evidence in a small way.
  4. Meyer Berg's passenger manifest from 1903 shows Gelsen, Kovno as his most recent residence. His WWI draft record shows Gorsd, Russia as his birthplace; his WWII draft record shows Gorso, Russia as his birthplace. Meyer's naturalization petition from 1920 shows his birthplace as Kovna, Russia. Meyer provided this info.
  5. Jennie Birk's 1966 passport lists Lithuania as her birthplace. Her husband Paul Salkowitz listed Gardzai, Lithuania, as his birthplace on naturalization papers, but didn't show anything for her birthplace. Best of all, Jennie's marriage license from 1919 shows Garsden, Russia as her birthplace, info provided by her.
  6. Max Berk's 1920 naturalization petition shows Kovno, Russia as his birthplace. His 1906 passenger manifest shows Korst as his last residence. Max provided this info.

According to the Jewish Genealogy Communities Database, nearly all of these places are, essentially, other names for one place: Gargzdai, Lithuania (sometimes not spelled correctly or only spelled phonetically).

This evidence leads me to conclude that Grandpa Isaac and his siblings came from Gargzdai. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Plus I'm going to change the family tree so that every one of the siblings shows this as their birthplace.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Sorting Saturday: Happily Testing RootsMagic

During the IAJGS Conference last week, I had the opportunity to learn more about gen software that actually, for real, synchs with Ancestry, including downloading media (such as photos and documents attached to individuals).

Yes, I do have an existing gen program, but it's got every bell and whistle on the planet except synching, which wasn't available four years ago when I bought that old software.

Meanwhile, during my Genealogy Go-Over, I've been building my Ancestry trees and "sharing trees" with close cousins, so I have access to their names/photos/documents. I like the convenience of adding somebody else's photo of great uncle Moe to my Ancestry tree with one click. I'm accustomed to the Ancestry interface and navigating the site in search of more clues.

Now I wanted to be able to download all of that to my Mac with no rigamarole. So I plunked down cash to buy RootsMagic 7 at the conference special price last week.

Success! Granted, the interface doesn't look at all fancy (see an excerpt, above). Still, it gets the job done, has useful features that help me manage my people and trees, and it's fairly user-friendly.

Best of all, my attachments were easily downloaded along with every tree (see the purple oval marking the "media" tab). I can browse them, open, do whatever I want. Yay!

By the way, trees that were "shared" with me by other Ancestry users could also be downloaded by RootsMagic. That was a bonus I didn't expect.

I'm still testing all the features, and I'm very happy so far with the experience. Simply being able to vacuum up all my Ancestry trees to have on my home Mac forever was worth the money, no matter what else I use the software for.

Going forward, I'll continue to build my trees using Ancestry, and then synch using RootsMagic. It's just easier for me, it allows cousins to immediately see the latest info I've gathered, and I gain peace of mind that my Ancestry data will be duplicated on my own Mac.

Of course, I've also backed up the RootsMagic trees on an external hard drive for extra security. Can't have too many backups!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

IAJGS Day 5: Resources and Queries

My last day at #IAJGS2017 began with another L-O-N-G visit to the Resource Room. Thank you to all the volunteers and vendors who made this possible! I found a newspaper mention of an ancestor's divorce in 1915 (a clue I'm going to follow up by contacting the courthouse for more details). Also found news items about an ancestor active in the early motion picture distribution business, as well as a sad obit for a young child in my husband's family tree. What a productive research session it was.

Next, I attended Judy Baston and Renee Steinig's session, "It's All in How You Ask: Discussion Group Queries." Sure, we've all been posting and answering queries for years, right? But Judy and Renee had some good pointers, based on their years of experience moderating discussion lists.

Takeaway #1: Just because Facebook is the new thing in town, keep your subscriptions to discussion groups on Jewish Gen and the SIGs. Having access to both FB groups and traditional discussion groups means you can tap the knowledge and advice of a large pool of people.

Takeaway #2: The message police (AKA Judy and Renee) say--Don't quote at length from print or online publications, don't "flame" others, and "go easy on the alphabet soup" in queries and posts.

Why?

Not every participant in every country will know abbreviations like SSDI (Social Security Death Index) or ALD (All Lithuania Database). For clarity, spell it out!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

IAJGS Day 4: Litvak, More Litvak, and Search Tips

My Litvak immersion day started with Carol Hoffman's outstanding session, "Your Litvak Roots," followed by Judy Baston's super-valuable session, "Enhancing Your Litvak Research."

Both my paternal grandpa (Isaac Burk) and paternal grandma (Henrietta Mahler) may have clues hiding in the Litvak SIG databases. This morning was my opportunity to get better at finding those clues! Carol also explained about the areas covered by these databases.

One great take-away from Carol's session was: When you use the search box on the home page of the Litvak SIG home page, remember that it does not search the All-Lithuania Database. Another useful tip: If you find an ancestor held an internal passport (issued between the wars), send for it because there will be 7 or more pages filled with personal details.

By the time Judy took the microphone, the room was almost entirely full. Her talk was also specific and practical, describing the databases and search capabilities, and the constant flow of new records being found, translated, and added. Judy reinforced Carol's suggestion to use the interactive map, blow it up to see tiny villages surrounding larger towns, and expand your search to these other villages in case ancestors recorded births or married there, for instance. (Her reminder: Use current spelling of the area, not the old-fashioned name.)

She also explained the various search possibilities, including "fuzzy," "fuzzier," and "fuzziest." (Really! And really good to know how these work!) In addition, Judy urged the audience to check out Miriam Weiner's Routes to Roots Foundation for the existence of records in Eastern Europe.

Then I crossed the foyer to see Banai Lynn Feldstein's "Search as an Art." One key tip: Don't assume that a particular site uses US Soundex for its searches. She reminded the audience that Jewish Gen, for instance, uses Daitch-Mokotoff, as does Ancestry's Jewish Collection. (Read more about D-M and Soundex here.)

Banai echoed what so many other speakers have said, over and over (with good reason): Indexing may be incorrect or incomplete--always read the original image! She showed a few examples of why indexers sometimes get it wrong, urging us to click and read the image for ourselves.

Just for a change, I actually left the hotel and walked around, despite the 95 degree weather. Now I'm taking advantage of the Resource Room (it's ProQuest day).

One final session of the day: C. Ann Staley's "A Gold Mine To Be Discovered," about many overlooked resources--often free--that can provide clues or actual info. Her handout is incredible, and the session was extremely valuable. One resource I've used and wish I could find more of is Brag Books, usually county "histories" with (somewhat inflated, at times) biographies of leading citizens. She reminded us that these were paid bios submitted by the citizens, so use with caution. Another top tip: Look for WPA Historical Records Surveys in state archives. These might have housing surveys, church records, all kinds of detailed surveys done in the 1930s, with clues and actual data for genealogists. One final tip from this session: When using period newspapers, browse/read the entire newspaper to get context for your ancestor's life. Very meaty session!

Thursday will be another exciting day. Can't wait.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

IAJGS Day 3 - Blogging Breakfast and Much More

Day 3 began with a bloggers' breakfast, sharing ideas and chatting about the blogging experience. Lots of conversation and friendly tips. Thank you!

After breakfast, my first stop was Hal Bookbinder's "Why Would Our Ancestors Leave a Nice Place Like the Pale?" He reviewed the history of the Pale (including why it's called 'pale,' from the Latin 'palus,' a stake marking boundary). Why leave? Pogroms (into the 20th century), lack of opportunity, travel more possible, and other immigrants beckoned relatives and neighbors to the new world.

Mid-morning was my scheduled mentoring time, and I chatted with several attendees about their brick walls.

Then I scampered off to Emily Garber's "Beyond the Manifest." She took the audience along on a really interesting journey through the Genealogical Proof Standard and how she was able to determine (via research and up to proof standards) where her family came from. Lubin or Labun? I won't spoil the ending. Let me quote what she told the audience: "Trust no one! Records lie!"



Next, I visited with Sherlock Cohn, the Photo Genealogist, in the midst of the Exhibit Hall. Got a question about an old family photo? Sherlock can help! Although she didn't have a deerstalker hat or a pipe today, she did have ideas and suggestions for wringing as much info as possible from an old family photo. Her talk is tomorrow at 9:45 am.

And the day's not over yet! I admit, the Resource Room tempted me to spend time using all the databases that I don't have at home. Found a few records and newspaper articles.

And then it was time to see my distant cousin Mark Strauss's talk, "The DNA of Family: The Strauss Experience." He told the moving story of visiting ancestral towns in Slovakia, finding clues to possible Strauss relatives, and then a couple of years later, discovering the actual links via DNA matches.

One take-away: Check vital records in the surrounding towns, because sometimes births and other events were recorded in the next town, not the home town. A second key take-away: Never give up. Mark said that when he finds good DNA matches, he writes an email with specific details, requesting a response. If he doesn't hear from the match, he writes again in a couple of months. And persistence pays off.

Monday, July 24, 2017

IAJGS Day 2: Research Tricks and Preservation Tips

Day 2 of the Intl Jewish Genealogy Conference has been as busy and productive as Day 1. Bright and early, Mindie Kaplan spoke about researching common surnames...like Kaplan (or Kaplin or Caplan--you get the idea). Alternative spellings can help us find the right person in the haystack.

One top take-away: Find one ancestor in a city directory then use that address to search for who else lives there! Great idea.
Next was Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer, "For Future Generations," a nuts-and-bolts session about preserving photos and documents for the future. She had some fabulous suggestions, including making sure that all media is readable. Who has a projector to view 35 mm slides any more?

So move media to the most recent technology and keep upgrading to avoid being unable to see something just a few years in the future. And do keep trying to view technology, just to be sure it's there.

Then I wedged myself into the audience of Marion Werle's "You Found the Records, Now What?" No wonder it was so crowded. Records analysis is a hot topic and Marion showed us, step by step, how to pick a record apart and figure out what type of source, how reliable the content might be, and how to reconcile conflicting info. Of course, look at the original record whenever possible.

Another take-away: Formulate a specific research question you want to answer, to guide and focus your efforts.

My session, "Planning a Future for Your Family's Past," drew well and included some good questions and comments from the audience. One question that came up: What if none of the descendants wants to continue to research the family's history? My answer: As long as a descendant is interested enough to agree to be custodian of the genealogy collection that you've put together over the years, that's a start. Even if that descendant isn't passionate about genealogy now, he or she may become more intrigued later (a decade or more from now). We want our research and photos and artifacts to survive for future generations, no matter whether the research goes on after we join our ancestors.

More posts soon!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

IAJGS Day 1: From Railways to DNA

Day 1 of the Intl Jewish Genealogy Conference has been exciting, informative, and friendly. My morning began on a high note with Phyllis Kramer, "The Immigrant Voyage." In addition to discussing the reasons for immigrating out of Eastern Europe, she showed a fascinating slide "Ironways and Ports of Euope" which helped explain how my ancestors actually got to the ports where they boarded steamships for America. Top take-away was that after 1911, arrivals had to be verified with a Certificate of Arrival before an ancestor could be naturalized.

Next was Hal Bookbinder, "Ships of Our Ancestors," continuing the theme of the travails of travels from ancestral homelands to America. He confirmed that after 1874, all immigrants arrived from Europe on steamships, making the voyage much, much shorter than earlier. My top take-away was to search immigrant banks for a sign of ancestors putting away money to pay for tickets to bring those still in the homeland to America.

After lunch, Hal Bookbinder's session "The Changing Borders" gave me a solid appreciation of how often and how drastically borders in Eastern Europe/Russia changed over the last 1000 years. No wonder my maternal grandfather sometimes said he was born in Hungary and sometimes said he was born in Czechoslovakia. The maps were fascinating and Hal's historical knowledge made this a really interesting session. Take-away: Don't confine searches to "Russia" or an area we think we know as the homeland--look at historical maps and keep an open mind.

Next was a great session listening to Lara Diamond show "Real-World Examples of Endogamy." As she says, all is not doom and gloom, even if it seems we all have thousands of close cousins. She gave a lot of excellent tips for closely examining DNA matches and trying to find out how these people might be related to me. My take-away: Look at the large shared segments, not just overall cM numbers.

Final session for me was Phyllis Kramer again, "Found the Town, Now What?" Phyllis is such an engaging speaker that I had to see her again! Of all the excellent sessions on Sunday, this had it all--great advice, insider tips, and specific search techniques to try, plus lots of links. Thanks to Phyllis, now I know that JRI-Poland has Lithuania and Ukraine info too, which I need for my research! More genealogy adventures tomorrow.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Sorting Saturday: Benjamin's Woodcut Portrait Lives On

Always looking for ways to keep ancestors alive for future generations, I consulted with my sis-in-law, a savvy sewer. We wanted to put the 1890s woodcut portrait of her 2d great-grandpa, Benjamin McClure (1812-1896), onto a T-shirt for the youngest relatives.

Her solution was to use iron-on fabric transfer paper. The process is fairly easy, and you'll find many types of iron-on transfer papers in craft stores.

At right, two types of transfers I've used (among many other good brands). Some transfers are actually fabric with a paper backing to go through the printer, be cut to size, and then be stitched onto a T-shirt or other fabric item. Others are paper with special coating that adheres to fabric when ironed on.

Before you buy, read the package to decide which transfer paper is right for the fabric or T-shirt you'll be using. Check whether the transfer requires a laser copier/printer or inkjet printer. And find out whether the final product can be washed.

The directions vary slightly from brand to brand. Some transfers require you to create a mirror image of your image (via software, printer, or copier) if text is involved or you want the fabric version to look exactly as the original. This is important! Unless you begin with a mirror image, any text on the image will be reversed and unreadable (see photo above for "mirror image" version of Benjamin McClure and his name/dates, before he was ironed onto the T-shirt shown at top).

I'm sorting other portraits to see which we want to put on T-shirts, aprons, or other fabric items as holiday gifts for the family--keeping the memory of our ancestors alive into the next generation and beyond.