Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Genealogy--Free or Fee: Detailed NYC Marriage Records Worth Paying For

If you have ancestors who were married in New York City starting in 1908, I recommend that you click on the index records obtained by Reclaim the Records and crack open your piggy bank. Yes, there's a $15 fee--but you'll get first-hand info provided by your ancestors, invaluable for a Genealogy Do-Over or Go-Over. (NOTE: These index books are now on Ancestry. You still have to mail away for the actual records.)

Thanks to Reclaim the Records, you'll know to request all three documents in the file: (1) marriage license, (2) application for license, and (3) affidavit. I showed step-by-step how to do the research in my original post about obtaining these documents for my parents' marriage. These days, there's a much longer wait--up to 8 weeks--because so many people are submitting requests. But eventually your SASE will land in your mailbox. Then the fun begins.

Yesterday, I received the documents for great-aunt Mary Schwartz and her husband, Edward Wirtschafter. Their daughter told me that the couple eloped on Christmas Eve of 1913, getting married at City Hall without first telling the family.

Here's their affidavit, which must be completed to receive a marriage license. Edward and Mary signed this themselves (my cousin and I have seen their signatures before).

Also, judging by Edward's handwriting, he may have filled out the form for both bride and groom. (I know from the handwriting on my parents' form that my father filled out both sides of the form, so Edward could very well have done the same.)



Note the faint stamp "Duplicate" at top and bottom of the affidavit? A clue as to why I got the unexpected bonus of one extra document: A paper signed by the rabbi who married Mary and Edward on December 28. One of the witnesses was the bride's oldest brother in America, Sam Schwartz.

So the couple married in a civil ceremony and then married again four days later in a religious ceremony, with at least one family member present. This adds a new dimension to the "elopement" story, a new dimension that wasn't in the original family story.

In all, my $15 investment either revealed or confirmed places of birth, parents' names for bride and groom, home addresses, occupations, etc. Plus I now know that Mary's brother stood up for her at the religious ceremony. I got my money's worth on this set of records!

For more posts in my series Genealogy, Free or Fee, see this summary.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Remembering the Dads on Father's Day

For Father's Day, I want to remember, with love, some of the Dads on both sides of the family.

My husband's Dad was Edgar James Wood (1903-1986) and his Mom was Marian McClure (1909-1983). My late father-in-law is shown in the color photo below, arm and arm with my hubby on our wedding day!

Edgar's father was James Edgar Wood (1871-1939), shown below right, who married Mary Slatter (1869-1925). And James's father was Thomas Haskell Wood (1809-1890), who married Mary Amanda Demarest (1831-1897).


My Dad was Harold Burk (1909-1978)--shown below left with my Mom, Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981), on their wedding day.

Researching the life of my paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk (1882-1943), started me on my genealogical journey 19 years ago. Isaac is pictured below right with my grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk (1881-1954), in 1936.

Isaac's father was Elias Solomon Birk, a farmer in Kovno, Lithuania, who married Necke [maiden name still not certain]. I never knew Elias was a farmer until my newly-discovered cousin told me she learned that from her grandfather, my great-uncle.


Happy Father's Day to all the Dads of cousins in all branches of our family trees!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Great Uncle Mayer Petitioned for Naturalization 99 Years Ago

Declaration of Intention dated 6 June 1918
Now that my mother's address book has helped me trace several "elusive" siblings of my paternal grandpa Isaac Burk, I've sent for documents to fill out their life stories. I began with my great uncle Mayer Berg (1883-1981), who was a year younger than my grandpa.

One lesson learned is: NARA doesn't have everybody's naturalization documents. A day after I submitted an online request and payment for Mayer Berg's naturalization papers, the archivists emailed me. They did not have Mayer's paperwork, but the Bronx authorities probably did. Thanks for the tip!

Another lesson learned: Pick up the phone before mailing a check. I called the Bronx County Clerk's office, and the officials kindly confirmed that they held Mayer's documents. I got a "package deal" because the petition and declaration were in a single file, so I didn't have to send for them separately (which would have cost more).

Snail mail was faster than usual: I received Mayer's naturalization documents in barely a week. It's dated June 6, 1918.

Just think, this great uncle was standing in a Bronx courthouse 99 years ago, filling out his final paperwork, declaration of intention for US citizenship. Mayer took his Oath of Allegiance on November 23, 1920. I'm going to give these documents to Mayer's granddaughter when we meet this week!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sorting Saturday: Daisy's Decoupage

My mother (Daisy Schwartz Burk, 1919-1981) loved to crochet and embroider, and even did a bit of needlepoint and petit-point in her twenties.

But she never did any decoupage. Nope, even though I remember her showing off this unusual, personalized metal lunch box made into a special purse.

My Sis read my original post (in italics, below) and corrected my faulty memory. It seems back in the early 1970s or so, one of Mom's bosses had this one-of-a-kind decoupage purse made especially for her as a Christmas gift. While Mom admired it, the darn thing was heavy and a bit clunky. Maybe Mom never even used it, Sis says. My guess is she used it a couple of times when going to work, just so the boss could see that she appreciated his thoughtfulness.

My lesson learned: Always ask family before recording the history of a so-called heirloom.

Which brings up a question for Sis: If Mom never made this decoupage piece, why the heck do we still have it in our possession after all these decades?

MY ORIGINAL STORY, now debunked by Sis:

In her late 40s, she (Mom) became interested in the craze for decoupage and decided to create a purse from a black metal lunch box (the kind with a domed lid for a thermos).

Here's the result, featuring magazine pictures she liked, cut out, and added in painstaking layers. Mom would be happy to know how much her descendants treasure these hand-crafted items, now family heirlooms!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sentimental Sunday: Pages from the Story of Wood and Slatter

The Story of James Edgar Wood and Mary Slatter Wood is written, photos and maps are in place, and I'm going to bring the .pdf to be color-laser-printed in the local copy shop. In all, I needed 21 pages to tell the story of hubby's paternal grandparents James, Mary, their family backgrounds, along with a brief overview of what happened to their four sons (including my late father-in-law, who took these photos of the 1917 Ford).

Just in time for the June Genealogy Blog Party, here are two pages from this newest family memory booklet, and a few lessons learned along the way toward preserving this family history:
  • Maps help readers follow along as ancestors migrate or take a trip (as in the page at top, a 1917 trip from Cleveland to Chicago).
  • Photos personalize the story and bring readers face to face with faces and places from the family's past. I included lots of photos!
  • Include quotes from ancestors to keep their voices alive for descendants who never met them. I had quotes from interviews, letters, a diary.
  • Include a timeline to give descendants a better sense of what happened, where, and when. I constructed this last, after I pieced together the entire story.
  • Include sources for that rare reader who asks: "How do we know that?" The actual booklet has a few document excerpts but full documents are sitting in my files.
  • Caption all photos. I have 2 pages of captions at the end of the booklet, with lots of details, including a reminder of the relationships between people in the photo and the readers ("Mary Slatter's older sister" is an example, plus an explanation that Mary Slatter was my husband's paternal grandmother). 
Don't forget to include a family tree! I included one in the back of the booklet, showing this branch and how it extends back three generations on James's side and on Mary's side.

This is only one way I'm sharing my family's history with the next generation. More ideas are in my genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Friday's Faces from the Past: Cousins Try to Name Names

Now that I'm in touch with more descendants of my paternal Burk family, I'm asking them to help identify who's who in this party photo from the late 1930s or early 1940s. I can't tell when, where, or why this party took place.

At far right in the foreground is my father, Harold Burk (#3). Seated near the center is his mother, Henrietta Mahler Burk (#1) and his father, Isaac Burk (#2).

My grandfather Isaac's family had distinctly different ways of spelling their shared surname when they came to America from Lithuania, reminding me to be flexible when I search and consider Soundex variations:

Berg, Berk, Birk, Burk, Burke

Monday, May 29, 2017

Motivation Monday: Telling the Story of Wood and Slatter

Sample page from my Wood/Slatter family memory booklet
Hubby's family has a reunion planned for this summer. That's motivated me to prepare a new family memory booklet, telling the story of his paternal grandparents, Mary Slatter Wood and James Edgar Wood.

It's quite a story, with the Wood family's generations-old tradition of working in wood and their Mayflower connection, plus the Slatter family's Whitechapel roots and their illustrious bandmaster relatives. The family knew very little of this background when I began researching more than a decade ago.

Now, thanks to century-old photo albums, field trips side-by-side with my husband cranking microfilm readers and pulling courthouse documents, and a Genealogy Go-Over to double-check data and records, we know a lot about these ancestors. There's still a lot we won't ever know (exactly how and when Mary and James met, for example). But it's time to begin the writing process, and include plenty of photos to bring these ancestors alive for the generations to come.

The table of contents for THE STORY OF JAMES EDGAR WOOD AND MARY SLATTER WOOD currently reads:
  1. James Edgar Wood's Family Background
  2. Mary Slatter's Family Background
  3. What Was the World Like When James & Mary Were Born (circa 1870)? (To give younger relatives a sense of daily life before the automobile, electricity, etc.)
  4. James & Mary's Life in Cleveland
  5. James as Carpenter and Home Builder (see sample page, above)
  6. Driving the 1917 Ford to Chicago (documented in a family photo album)
  7. At Home with the Wood Family (with photos and quotes from descendants)
  8. How the Woods and Slatters Stayed in Touch (postcards to/from cousins, border crossings showing visits)
  9. What Happened to Mary and James (moving, later life, remarriage, burial)
  10. What Happened to the Wood Brothers (brief overview of their adult lives)
  11. Where, When, and Sources (timeline and sources used to confirm details)
  12. Photo Captions (names/dates/places or as much is known)

Rather than spend a fortune printing a bound book, I'll have the 20-odd pages of this booklet printed on good paper using the laser color printer at my local office supply store. Then I'll insert them into a clear report cover for presentation. If we want to add or change something later on, it's easy to remove the spine and switch out one or more pages.

As suggested by my good friend Mary, I'm including my sources. But instead of putting them in the main narrative, I'm relegating them to a section in the back of the booklet, to avoid slowing the flow (and to keep younger readers engaged).

My goal is to bring the story of Wood and Slatter alive for future generations with a colorful booklet combining facts and photos into a narrative that flows. It's part of my promise to "share with heirs," as I explain in my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Genealogy, Free or Fee: Checklist for Ancestor Resources

What do you or your family have in your hands that will further your genealogical research? During my nine years of blogging, I've told stories of using all sorts of everyday records and artifacts to identify ancestors, understand relationships, locate cousins, and fill out my family tree with more than just names and dates.

This checklist is a starting point for thinking creatively about resources you or your family may have that will help you further your genealogical research. Especially if you're participating in the Genealogy Do-Over (or, like me, a Gen Go-Over), I hope this checklist will spark some ideas.

It's not for BINGO. When I was a beginner, I thought the goal was to check off as many items as possible. Nope. The real goal is to think creatively about detail-rich sources that make sense for our research.

Not all of these sources are available in every family. Not all will have valuable details that can add to our knowledge of ancestors. But you may get lucky! And if the items are already in your family's possession, they're free. Can't beat that price.

Here are only a few examples of using some of the everyday resources on this checklist to advance genealogy research. I wish you luck in your research!
  • "Address books" -- within the past week, I used Mom's address book to tear down the brick wall that has long surrounded my paternal grandfather's siblings.
  • "Baby books" -- my husband's baby book enabled me to fine-tune death dates of some older relatives and learn more about relationships by seeing who gave what baby gift and when.
  • "Diaries" -- my late dad-in-law's diaries are sometimes more accurate in pinpointing birth and death dates than gravestones. His entries also helped me identify elusive cousins.
  • "Letters and postcards" -- hubby's family's postcards showed where and when his grandparents and father lived during the early 1900s, and the signatures told me who was in touch with which relatives (and when). Also, letters written to/from my paternal aunt helped me crack the case on my grandfather Isaac's sister.
Note: Other Genealogy, Free or Fee posts are available here.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Genealogy, Free or Fee: Search for Clues in Family Hands

Some of the best free sources of clues to elusive ancestors are in the hands of your family. Several times during my Genealogy Go-Over, I've smashed brick walls because of something that was in the possession of a cousin--a letter/envelope, an address book, a photo, a funeral notice--that pointed me in the direction of solving the mystery.

Today's "free or fee" tip is a reminder to ask siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles (plus, of course, grandparents, if they're alive!) to look for photos and documents. Something as seemingly insignificant as an address book or a letter in an envelope can be an incredible source of information to confirm a name or reveal a relationship. Even if we've asked before, we should ask again.

For example, Mom's address book (unearthed barely a week ago) has proven to be an absolute gold mine of clues to elusive ancestors. It turned up in a box in the attic of a relative, filed with lots of other things from decades ago. This address book was one of two clues I used yesterday to demolish yet another brick wall in my father's Burk family.

A Burk cousin very kindly let me see a handwritten letter to his mother from "Aunt Jenny Salkowitz" in Lakeland, Florida. Wait, the name and return address looked familiar. Yes, they matched a name and address in Mom's address book. So who, exactly, were Aunt Jenny and her husband Paul?

Five years ago, I noticed a "Jenny Birk" living with Grandpa Isaac Burk's in-laws in the 1910 Census. After that, no trace of her. Now I suspected that "Aunt Jenny" was actually Jenny Burk or Birk, sister to my Grandpa Isaac Burk. How to prove it?

Using the Census, I found Jenny and Paul Salkowitz in New York City from 1920 through 1940. At one point, this couple was living in the same apartment building as Isaac Burk's in-laws--the same building where "Jenny Birk" lived as a boarder in 1910! So far, so good.

What about Jenny Salkowitz's maiden name? I tried the free ItalianGen.org site, and there I found "Jenie Burk" in the bride's index for 1919. Clicking to see the groom's name, I found "Paul Salkofsky." Names were close enough, and the marriage year fit what they told the Census takers. (Remember, we have to be creative and flexible about names and dates when searching.)

I plugged this info into Family Search, and up popped a transcribed summary of their marriage record, showing that Jennie Burk's father was Elias Burk (the name of Isaac Burk's father). Quicker than you can say, "Jackpot," I sent $15 to the NYC Municipal Archives to request the three-page marriage application, affidavit, and license with much more detail.

So the proof will cost me $15 but the rest of the research was free--and it all began with Mom's address book and a letter held by my cousin for more than 50 years. The clues were in family hands all along! I just needed to get the clues into my hands.

This is part of my ongoing series, Genealogy, Free or Fee. Links to other entries are here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Treasure Chest Thursday: Mom's Address Book Solves a Burk Mystery

Mom's old address book turned up the other day, quite by accident. When she was alive, I never saw this address book, so I never asked who these people were. As soon as I turned the pages, however, I knew her handwritten entries (from the 1950s) were going to help me solve at least one big family mystery.

Interestingly, the mystery is not in her family tree but in my father's Burk family tree. 

My paternal grandpa Isaac Burk (1882-1943) had two brothers that I know of: Abraham Berk/Burke (1877-1962) and Myer or Meyer Burke (dates unknown). The brothers have also used Birk as a surname spelling over the years.

In the 1905 NY Census, I found Grandpa Isaac (shown incorrectly as Isidore Burke), a carpenter living as a boarder with his future in-laws. The other boarder in the same apartment was Meyer Burke, a cutter (and Isaac's brother, I presumed). For years, I searched for Meyer, but never could find him again.

Meyer Berg's WWII draft registration
Now take a look at the address book snippet at top. Directly under Abraham Berk in Mom's address book is a couple, Anna & Meyer Berg, living in the Bronx. That's where many of Dad's relatives lived in the 1930s-1950s.

It's not much of a leap to guess that Meyer Berg is the brother of Isaac and Abraham--meaning he's my great uncle, an ancestor I've tried to trace for a decade. Mom knew where he was all along!
Meyer Berg's WWI draft registration

Keeping Mom's address book at hand, I quickly dug deeper and found:
Meyer Berg's marriage info from ItalianGen.org
  • Meyer Berg's WWII draft registration card shows him at 2080 Grand Ave. in the Bronx, with the same phone number as in Mom's address book. An exact match!
  • Meyer Berg's WWI draft registration card shows him as a cutter, born in "Gorsd, Russia." That's an approximate spelling of Isaac & Abraham's home town in Lithuania.
  • Meyer appears to have been born about 1883 and I know he married in 1907. Needless to say, I've just sent for his marriage documents.
  • Meyer was naturalized in about 1920, according to the 1925 NY Census. I'm trying to locate those documents now.
  • Other entries in Mom's address book match exactly the names of Meyer's children and their spouses. 

Lesson #1. Be really flexible about spelling, Soundex style. Burk, Burke, Berk, Birk, Berg. Three brothers with names spelled differently in Census data and other records.

Lesson #2. Ask relatives now about unfamiliar names in old address books. Before it's too late to ask! Maybe the answer will help solve a family mystery. Or if you have a relative's old address books, read them carefully to see who's who and where and when.