Saturday, January 17, 2015

Albert Ward Cobb, Esq, Goes Home to Sing-Sing

Back in 2011, I wrote about how my father, Harold Burk, held onto stuff from his time working as a travel agent and then a checkroom concession owner at two fancy Manhattan hotels, the Savoy Plaza Hotel (earlier, the Hotel Savoy; later, the Savoy Hilton and, later still, torn down to make way for the GM building) and the Hampshire House Hotel.

Among his boxes, I found two pocket notebooks and a number of letters and documents pertaining to Mr. A. Ward Cobb. According to my research, Albert Ward Cobb (born 27 March 1870) and his sister Emmie (Emily) were among the children of Marcius L. Cobb, a lawyer and banker. M.L. Cobb was Vice-President of the First National Bank in Sing Sing, New York (see document at left).

Next week, the books and documents of Mr. Cobb, Esquire, will be going home to Sing Sing (the village, NOT the prison), better known as Ossining, New York.

The Ossining Historical Society tells me that the Cobb family was prominent in the area and they would be delighted to have this small cache to be catalogued and archived as part of the history of the town's families.

Albert Ward Cobb was 10 years old in 1880, according to the Census, living in Sing Sing with his father, M. L. Cobb, a lawyer of 58 yrs old, and mother, Annie G. Cobb, 50 years old.
Albert grew up and married Fannie McCan and by the time of the 1930 Census, the couple was living at the Hotel Plaza, 1 West 58th Street, Manhattan. Albert was 60 and Fannie was 47. NO children are listed. This was a very prestigious address, actually on the corner of Fifth Avenue, directly across the street from the Savoy Plaza.

It's not much of a leap to see that the Cobb family's few documents were left in care of the hotel and then passed into the hands of my father some 30 years later. Thanks to genealogical research, I can explain the provenance of these records when I pass them into the care of the Ossining Historical Society.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over, Week 2: Interviewing My Family Photos

Family photos CAN talk! We just have to ask the right interview questions. As I was inventorying my genealogy boxes for "Week 1" of the Do-Over, I saved the box with info on my immediate family for "Week 2."

In between school photos and family portraits, I found a long-forgotten set of b/w snapshots with this notation in my mother's handwriting: "Chanukah 19XX - December."

 That answered my first "interview" question--when and why my parents, my sisters, and I were together with all these relatives from my father's side of the family tree.

It was holiday time, so a basement-full of Mahler and Burk and Markell children (and adults) were gathered to celebrate, drinking what looks like a year's supply of chocolate milk and having a fun afternoon.

Second interview question: What do I know about these photos, either from my own memories or from what the images show or suggest? Well, I clearly remember the special party dress I wore (you can't see it in these particular snaps). And I can definitely identify several aunts and uncles (and great-aunts and uncles) and maybe a couple of cousins.

Other folks, however, are a mystery, as is the exact location--I think it's a community room or rec center, judging by the non-residential look of the room. If only Mom had noted the place, that would have been sooooooo helpful.

These relatives must be part of my father's family tree, but who's who?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over, Week 1 Recap: What's in the Box? My Inventory Sheet

Out of 19 archival boxes of family history documents and photos, I've inventoried exactly ONE this week. I also have to inventory surname/ancestor file folders, but one thing at a time.

My inventory sheet is a basic MS Word table, with four headings. I plan to place one copy in the box, with names highlighted in yellow (or color coded, if I'm feeling ambitious). Will also place a copy of the inventory in the file of each surname/family represented in the box.

Here's a sample of what I did for the Dorothy & Daisy box, which contains photos of my mother (Daisy Schwartz Burk) and her twin sister (Dorothy Schwartz) as children and teenagers. My entries are more than bare bones--they have to be descriptive enough that a future genealogist can match the item on this list with the actual item in the box. But I've also labeled each item in the box so it can be matched with the list or identified on its own.
MS Word table showing an excerpt of my inventory for the Genealogy Do-Over

While I was inventorying the box, I rescanned a few things in higher resolution. Shown here, photos of Mom around the time of her high school graduation.

This box also contains documents describing Dorothy's military career as a WAAC during WWII, one of several in our family serving in the war effort. Dorothy received the Bronze Star for meritorious service, and I'm happy to have all the documents pertaining to her award in one place and inventoried for posterity.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tombstone Tuesday: Spotting Mr. & Mrs. Work's Tombstone in the Background

Hubby's Larimer ancestors are somehow related to the Work and Short families. I know a few of the connections (from newspaper stories about their reunions a century ago) but not how they originally came together (in Northern Ireland, most likely).
Months ago, when I was working on hubby's Larimer line, I went to the Findagrave page for his 3d great-grand uncle, Wright Larimer, son of Isaac Larimer and Elizabeth Woods Larimer.

In one of the two photos on that page, I happened to notice a tombstone for Samuel M. Work and his wife, Catherine Ray Work. (My red arrow shows what I saw in the photo.) I intended to do more work on the surname Work (pun intended).

In low-tech fashion, I e-mailed the link to myself and tagged the message with the color I use for genealogy. And moved on to other things.

Today I was clearing out old e-mails when I spotted that tag, clicked on the link, and investigated. Clicking to see all "Work" graves in Bethel Cemetery in Bremen, where Wright Larimer is buried, I found 23--including Samuel, who's shown in the background above. There are many names of people who I've listed in the family tree but haven't yet fleshed out or traced back to their birthplaces.

Thanks to this Findagrave photo volunteer (who I thanked), I have lots more leads to explore in Ohio and Pennsylvania as I search for the Larimer/Work/Short families' entry into colonial America and their original homes in Northern Ireland.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over, Week 1: It's Inventory Time!

Thanks to Geneabloggers' Thomas MacEntee for suggesting this year's Genealogy Do-Over.

The idea is to retrace family trees from scratch . . . using new research . . . fresh eyes . . . the latest techniques . . . and to collect supporting documents that will back up the names/dates and relationships. In other words, don't just do it over, do it right this time.

My first step (throughout January) is to take inventory of everything I've collected in nearly 20 years of family history research. That includes:
  • Original marriage licenses, birth certificates, death certificates, and other vital records.
  • Obituaries, diplomas, commencement booklets, wedding/engagement announcements, birth announcements, and other announcements or invitations.
  • Newspaper and newsletter articles about family members (birth, death, anniversary, business accomplishments, bankruptcies, etc.).
  • Ship manifests.
  • Digital documents.
  • Scraps of paper with phone numbers, addresses, notes about cousins knowing cousins, etc.
Photos are a rich source of genealogical detail, and I plan to inventory mine, family by family. They're already in special sleeves and stored in archival boxes (see above), separated by surname and individual. Now I need a master list of each person, each family, and each box so I can quickly put my hands on a photo of Dad that might be in Burk box #2 (of 3 or more), for example.

After I take inventory, I'll begin the indexing process. It's not enough to know what I have, I need to know who each item relates to. I'm an experienced indexer by this time, having indexed all the names in 500+ pages of Farkas Family Tree documents stretching back 30 years. I've also indexed the names in my late father-in-law's 25 years of diaries. So this is just more of the same, on a larger scale.

Oh, the places I'll go! The people I'll meet! Do-Over, Week 1, here I come.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top 10 Genealogy Lessons Learned in 2014 - Part 2

More lessons learned from my genealogical adventures in 2014. NOT in priority order:
5. Be prepared when visiting or calling cemeteries. With an alphabetical listing of surnames printed from my gen software, I made several cemetery visits this year to eyeball burial sites. Most cemeteries were kind enough to do lookups or give me detailed plot maps, which I compared with my alpha list to be sure I visited as many family graves as possible. Also, I photographed hundreds of stones near my family's graves for two reasons: In case I later learn that they're in-laws or other relatives, and to post on Findagrave for the benefit of others. Not being able to visit certain cemeteries, I've called and asked questions--and found out that, for instance, Rosa Markell (marker at left) was originally buried in one plot but was moved to another when her stone was erected. Lesson: Do my homework before making a cemetery visit, have names/dates in hand, have a camera handy, show appreciation to cemetery staff, and follow-up by posting and/or correcting on Findagrave.

4. Dig deep for resources at the local level. At the start of this year, I followed the URL on the Emmet County Genealogical Society's bookmark (which I received at a FGS conference) and unearthed a goldmine of info about hubby's McClure ancestors--details that don't show up in an ordinary Google or Bing search. A new link on that site leads to online newspaper archives at the Greenwood Cemetery in Petoskey, Michigan, a potential source of obits and other info about the McClures. I also made small donations to county gen societies in exchange for receiving photocopies of surname info in their written files, and will follow up other local resources such as land-office info. Lesson: List the counties or county seats where ancestors lived and search out those genealogical and historical societies.

3. Mine newspapers for every scrap of info. Accessing newspaper databases, I've obtained dozens of obits and marriage announcements this year. I look for each person's obits (or engagement/marriage) on multiple days (often there are two obits, on day of death and on day of burial) and I search multiple news sources (both town and county-seat newspapers, for instance). Some newspapers printed much more detailed obits or wedding announcements, including the full names of out-of-town guests who are relatives! Obits and wedding announcements are also valuable for noticing who is NOT listed. Lesson: Keep plugging in those names, analyze every name/location mentioned, and be flexible about spelling and dates.

2. Context counts. Because I created memory booklets about my maternal and paternal ancestors this year, I did a lot of research to understand why and how they did what they did (leaving the old country, traveling from or to a certain port, settling in a particular area, etc). World history and hyperlocal events definitely influence individuals: My grandparents fled pogroms and persecution in Eastern Europe, along with millions of other immigrants who sought a better life in America. Names, dates, places, and relationships are data points that must be linked by stories of why and how--and that's why context counts. Even the context of a century-old photo makes a difference in telling the story. Lesson: Time-lines and family trees must be analyzed in the context of what was happening at the time.

1. Never give up! This is a lesson reinforced every time a distant cousin finds me via my blog or Facebook or Ancestry or Findagrave and we exchange info. Luck plays an important role in genealogy. We just never know when a vital scrap of knowledge will pop up and solve a mystery that's stumped us for years. Lesson: Life in the "past lane" requires patience and perseverance. Plus good records so when that key item drops into my life, I can put my hands on the rest of the puzzle pieces and figure things out.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top 10 Genealogy Lessons Learned in 2014 - Part 1

Everybody loves "top 10" lists. This is the first of two posts about my top 10 list of genealogy lessons learned in 2014, a year of cousin connections as well as ongoing mysteries. In no particular order:

10. Ancestor landing pages work. Several cousins contacted me in 2014 after searching for family names and landing on my ancestor pages. At left, my 23-month readership for each landing page. (Mystery photos, Mayflower page, and 52 Ancestors pages are less than a year old.) Even when I don't blog about a particular family for months, the landing page still attracts views. Lesson: Consider additional ancestor landing pages and be sure to update as needed.**

9. Facebook genealogy pages are fantastic sources of ideas and info. There are more than 4,100 genealogy pages on Facebook, and I've joined a couple of dozen to learn more about genealogy resources in specific areas (like New York City) and to ask questions. That's how I learned where to send for certain naturalization papers, marriage documents, and more. Simply reading the posts by researchers and experts has enriched my family history knowledge. Plus I've actually connected with cousins through the surname lists on some of these county genealogy pages. Lesson: Click to join more Facebook genealogy pages! Scroll through posts for general knowledge, post questions, and give back by posting responses and links where appropriate.

8. Every old photo album reveals a story--beyond the individual photos. Lucky me: Given access to my late father-in-law's early, intact photo albums for scanning purposes, I've uncovered new stories and relationships that he never mentioned. Like the summer his dad bought a 1917 Ford and drove from Ohio to Chicago to see relatives. Between the captions and the number and order of the photos in the album, we confirmed genealogical suspicions about who's who, who was really important to this family, and where people fit on the family tree. Not to mention learning about this family's daily life by taking a magnifying glass to the photos. Lesson: Analyze the sequence and number of photos, as well as the content of each photo and each caption.

7. Try creative online searches. So much new info becomes available online every week (and not just on Ancestry or Family Search) that it's hard to keep up. But when I research "new" relatives, I do a general Web search for "first name last name" AND "last name, first name" at the very least. If too many results pop up, sometimes I add "AND genealogy" to the names or add the city or state or a meaningful year. Also I've had incredible luck with newspaper databases this year, again being creative because "first name last name" doesn't always work. Also try Linkpendium, browse the geographic link pages, and search from there. Lesson: Cast a wide net on searches, since ancestors often moved around or did interesting things (like get married or arrested) in unexpected places. And somebody who has the same surname but isn't familiar may actually be a distant relative or know a distant relative.

6. Spend the money to obtain original documents for key relatives. No, I'm not a billionaire (or even a millionaire), but sometimes there's no other way to find out a female ancestor's maiden name or other vital info on vital records, short of visiting an office or archive in person. This year I've paid for microfilms from Family Search to see NYC death records and purchased nearly a dozen original marriage documents in search of the Roth and Lebowitz family connections, not to mention several UK birth and death records. What I learned illuminated family relationships and helped me sketch out my cousins' family trees. Of course I also wound up with my share of puzzles, too. Lesson: Figure out what I need and what I hope to learn before I write the check, and then if it makes sense, order the documents and cross my fingers that my ancestors told the truth.

More lessons learned in Part 2.

** A few days after writing this, I added a new Farkas & Kunstler landing page :)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Postcards, Circa 1910

These fun vintage Christmas postcards were all sent to my husband's Wood family in Toledo, Ohio, in the early 1900s. (Not from Grandma--she was a family friend.)

Some were from aunts and uncles, some from cousins, some from friends.

Happy holidays!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Surname Saturday: Sharing the Stories Too

In 2014, I didn't just smash brick walls--I also shared family history stories with the next generation.

At left, the contents page from a 16-page "memory booklet" I created to trace my grandparents' family histories (Teddy Schwartz and Minnie Farkas).

My goal was to tell the family stories I had gathered in the historical, geographical, political, economic, and social context of their lives. In addition, I wanted to present old photos that younger relatives had never seen or had long ago forgotten.

By reading the narrative, looking at the maps, and looking at the photos, future generations will understand what our ancestors were leaving behind and why, where they went and why, and how their courageous journeys turned out. After all, they both came from parts of Eastern Europe that changed hands almost as often as the weather changes in New England. And their travels to the New World were driven by hopes and dreams, not to mention political and economic necessity.

The sections on Grandma and Grandpa's family backgrounds were my chance to present the family tree as far back as I know it on both sides (with connections to the Simonowitz, Gross, and Kunstler families). Also I included maps of where they were born and where they lived on the Lower East Side.

I told the story of teenaged Minnie coming to America with one older brother and two preteen siblings, to be reunited with their parents after two years of separation. And I told the story of teenaged Teddy arriving at Ellis Island on his own, finding work as a runner for the steamship lines, and helping one brother and one sister come to New York from Hungary. I saved the story of how they met and married for a separate section, to build a little drama and keep readers turning the page.

The section titled "What was the world like.....?" was an opportunity to portray just how much the world has changed since these ancestors were born in 1886-7. The United States had only 38 states at that point! President Cleveland dedicated Lady Liberty in 1886. Queen Victoria was celebrating her 50th year on the throne of England; light bulbs were novelties, not yet mainstream; horse-drawn conveyances filled city streets. These facts are eye-openers for relatives who were born digital.

Every page included 2-3 photos or documents (like their marriage cert). I put the captions into a separate "who's who" section to save space. The "where and when" appendix is a timeline of each grandparent's life, in table form. I printed the booklets (I made four) in color so the maps and photos would be eye-catching and invite readers to browse once or twice before filing on a bookshelf.

In 2015, I plan to do similar booklets for hubby's maternal and paternal lines. Crossing my fingers that I can find the time and the skill to make a DVD of at least one family tree's photos!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

52 Ancestors #52: My Schwartz Family from Ungvar

I'm honoring Great-grandpa Herman Yehuda Schwartz and Great-grandma Hana (or Hani) Simonowitz Schwartz in this final post of the "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" series, a wonderful weekly challenge by Amy Johnson Crow that has attracted hundreds of participating blogs.

My Schwartz family was based in the market town of Ungvar, Hungary, which is now known as Uzhorod, Ukraine. It's a busy town at the base of the Carpathian mountains that passed from one empire or nation to another as the map of Eastern Europe was redrawn again and again in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Three of Hani and Herman's grown children left Ungvar before 1906 to make their homes in New York: Sam (originally called Simon), his younger brother Tivadar (hi, Grandpa Teddy!), and their younger sister Mary. I know, from photos and postcards that have been passed down to me, that the Schwartz siblings in America stayed in touch with their family in Ungvar year after year.
The patriarch of the Schwartz family, Herman, died sometime before 1926, when his granddaughter Viola was born. Matriarch Hani died in the 1930s, after teaching her granddaughter Viola the basics of sewing and cooking and baking.

Tragically, the Ungvar-based Schwartz siblings and their spouses and children were all victims of the Holocaust. The only survivor was Viola (my Grandpa Teddy's niece), who returned to her hometown after the war and built a new life in Ukraine and, later, in Israel. This final post in the "52 Ancestors" series is dedicated with love to Viola and her family.