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.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Genealogy Free or Fee, Extra! Extra! Free Newspaper Sites



When you need a genealogical clue (name or date or relationship), maybe you don't need to actually pay for a record. Consider searching for your ancestor in one of the free newspaper sites. You might get lucky, as I have (more than once) during my Genealogy Go-Over.

For example, here is the headline from a newspaper story about my father's Markell cousin and his bride. Danny and May were at my parents' wedding in 1946 and my parents probably attended the Markell wedding the following year. This marriage announcement, found via the free news site Fulton History, included details about the bride's and groom's families.

Go ahead and try searching for your ancestors in one of these free newspaper sites. You might find a birth announcement, marriage announcement, obituary, social news, or other item that the editors thought was newsworthy. If the state or locality you seek isn't covered by one of these sites, try doing an online search for "state AND newspaper archive" or "city AND newspaper archive" or a similar phrase to locate other possibilities.
  • Fulton History is a free site with many thousands of newspapers scanned in from New York and beyond. The image here shows page one of 11 pages filled with newspaper names/dates, if you want to browse by location and time period. Or use the search function to find surnames by place (my search for "Markell and New Rochelle" is an example). More papers are being added week by week to this excellent and entirely free site.
  • Chronicling America is a free site from the Library of Congress, a database of nearly 12 million newspaper pages available from across the country (see image at top for an excerpt). The collection is not comprehensive, but with more than 2000 papers represented, you may find one that will help you learn more about your ancestors.
  • University of Illinois Library listing of historical newspapers available online shows which are free and which are not. Check out this long list of links, which includes international as well as U.S. newspaper archives.
  • Wikipedia has a list of online newspaper archives, both U.S. and international, both free and free. I've clicked on some of these and not all the links work, but it might point you in the direction of a collection that will be useful.
  • Check your local library or state library, which very likely has access to one or more newspaper archives and databases. The Connecticut State Library, for example, has a finding aid that shows what it owns and where the files are. This library is digitizing newspapers from around the state and adding them to the Chronicling America database. Maybe your state library is doing something similar and making the files available free with your local library card (or with a state library card)?
  • West Georgia Historic Newspapers (a library link shared by Michelle G. Taggart of A Southern Sleuth) has a number of papers from 1843-1942. She's had good luck with these papers. If you have Georgia ancestors, this might be a good resource for you.
For more "Genealogy, Free or Fee" ideas, see my summary page.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sentimental Sunday: Remembering Moms

On Mother's Day and every day

Remembering hubby's Mom, Marian McClure Wood (left).

Remembering my Mom, Daisy Schwartz Burk (right).

With love!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Genealogy, Free or Fee--Ask for Help

Floyda Mabel Steiner McClure
One of the mysteries of my husband's family is when and where his grandma, Floyda Steiner McClure (1878-1948) was divorced from her first husband, Aaron Franklin Gottfried. This first marriage (119 years ago, in 1898) was kept quiet because divorce was so unusual in those days.

In fact, I only learned about the first marriage because Floyda disclosed it on her marriage license for her second marriage, to hubby's grandpa Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970). Two years ago, a social media genealogy buddy recommended that I call the Wyandot county courts and ask for help. Without a date, however, I was told it would take time to locate the records, unless I could come in person.

Today I was working on my Genealogy Go-Over and posted again on an Ohio FB gen page, asking for ideas. Folks urged me to call the probate court one more time. I did, giving a succinct description of what I wanted and asked for their help, explaining that I needed the info for genealogy, not for legal purposes.

Probate said they didn't have anything, but Clerk of Courts might have the divorce info. They sent my call over, and I spoke with a lovely lady who took down the names and possible dates and asked me to call back in 15 minutes. I set the timer and tried to be patient until callback time.

Eureka! She found Floyda's entire divorce file, which was settled during the April Term of 1901. At 10 cents per page plus postage, I won't pay more than $3 to solve this long-standing genealogical mystery. That qualifies as almost free, wouldn't you say? UPDATE: RESULTS OF DIVORCE DECREE ARE BELOW!

As part of my Genealogy, Free or Fee series, I urge you to ask for help! Who to ask: Check the Family Search wiki to see what department might have the relevant record. I couldn't find enough detail for locating divorce decrees from 1901ish, so I had to keep looking for someone to ask. Ask in Facebook genealogy groups, or try calling the courthouse or archives directly with your question.

Be polite, be patient, and offer to mail a check or money order with SASE, to keep things simple for the nice people in the records department or wherever. Respect the time of the people on the other end. They don't need to hear our long family history sagas. Most are genuinely happy to help solve mysteries if we come to the point about what we're seeking and give them enough info to find the records or files. Just ask for help.

For more in this series of Genealogy, Free or Fee, check the summary page here.

UPDATE! According to the dozen pages of legal documents sent by the court, Floyda initiated the divorce in early 1901, alleging extreme cruelty by her husband. She requested and was granted $215 in alimony as a lump sum in May, 1901. In today's dollars, that would be worth $5,921. Floyda won back the right to use her maiden name and she ultimately remarried in 1903, to Brice Larimer McClure. Floyda and Brice are my hubby's maternal grandparents.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Sepia Saturday: Theodore Schwartz in the Bronx

Theodore Schwartz and his youngest granddaughter
For Sepia Saturday, a photo that my niece found, showing her mother with our Grandpa Teddy (Theodore Schwartz, 1887-1965). This was taken on Carpenter Avenue in the Bronx, a block west of White Plains Road, where the elevated subway ran. Teddy loved playing checkers with his youngest granddaughter, in particular. The look of love on Teddy's face makes me smile!

This month is the 130th anniversary of Teddy's birth (and the 52nd anniversary of his death). Even though I have lots of info on Teddy, I recently searched Reclaim the Record's index of marriages from NYC and sent for the three-page marriage document for my grandparents from the Municipal Archives. The check has been cashed and I hope the papers are on the way.

In addition,  Reclaim the Records has posted printed (unindexed) lists of NYC voters from 1924. Of the 8 Bronx districts covered by the lists made available, Teddy lived in one. I found him at 651 Fox Street, registered along with several of his neighbors.

Interestingly, Grandma Hermina Farkas (1886-1964) was eligible to vote by this time, but she wasn't yet registered.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Postcard to Wallis at Age 7

Another colorful postcard sent to my hubby's uncle, Wallis W. Wood. The date is March 27, 1912, and the Wood family was living in the Lancelot Avenue home in Cleveland built by James Edgar Wood, which still stands today. Wallis was 7 when this postcard arrived. His older brother Edgar (my late dad-in-law) was 9, younger brother John was 4, and youngest brother Ted was 2.


This postcard was sent from Columbus Ohio and signed from "Uncle Jim," James Sills Baker (1866-1937), the husband of "Aunt Ada," meaning Adelaide Mary Ann Slatter (1868-1947). Jim and Ada lived in Toledo for years, but moved to the Cleveland area sometime between 1910 and 1920. "Aunt Ada" was the sister of Wallis's mother, and as usual, this postcard indicates that the family was focused on remaining in touch despite living miles apart.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

NERGC 2017 Last day

My last day of #NERGC2017 featured a New York City double-header. First: Susan Miller's 8:30 session on "NYC Municipal Archives." Susan offered a virtual tour of the many valuable records available at the archives, including some (like the Almshouse Records) not well-known but useful.

I scribbled lots of notes on my syllabus page! Top tip: Remember that NYC became a five-borough city only in 1898, and Bronx County wasn't formed till 1914 (before, it was part of NY County, meaning lumped with Manhattan).

Next, Jane Wilcox's session on "New York Gateway," all about immigration, emigration, and migration to and through New York, city and state. Not records, but really interesting historical context about who came when and where, also why.

Top tip: consider how ancestors got from point A to point B. Hubby's Bentley ancestors, for instance, were in Oswego in the 1800s but wound up in Indiana. How? I need to look at waterways, which many used to go to the midwest.

Thank you to the NERGC volunteers and committee and speakers! And a safe trip home to my gen blogger friends, whose company I enjoyed.

Friday, April 28, 2017

NERGC 2017 Day 2

Well what a wonderful day 2 here at NERGC. My first session was Maureen Taylor's talk about dating photos using fashion tips.

Wonderful 8:30 talk and lots of fun guessing "why" as well as "when" the fashions were from. Top tip: remember that older folks (ladies in particular) may be wearing clothes from a few years earlier, not the more daring fashions of contemporary time. Motivated me to look more closely at my "mystery" photos!
Next session I attended was Michael Strauss's fascinating session on 1930s-1940s records that aren't well known but are available (usually via NARA).

Top tip from that session was--check the finding aids and try to conceive of where/when your ancestor would have come in contact with one of the government programs of that time, whether unemployment or CCC or even as a business hiring unemployed folks vis NRA. Really intriguing session!

Lunch: Table topics were fascinating, and after deliberating, I sat at a DNA discussion table. We chatted about Gedmatch.com, DNA testing older relatives, considering more indepth testing, and everyone's pet peeve--people who test but post no trees and answer no emails about matching.

The afternoon began with Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer's "Grandma Married Whom?!" all about evaluating gen info on the Internet. She showed some great examples illustrating why it's important to question stuff posted online. You mean I'm not really descended from Charlemagne? Bummer.

I had just a few minutes to skip over to Warren Bittner's talk, "Writing to Engage," which was still going on, lucky me! He had some great suggestions for vivid and active writing. Our choice of words can really bring our ancestors alive, in a literary sense, for future generations.

Next was Pam Stone Eagleson's interesting presentation about resolving conflicting evidence. Rarely does every source agree on every point. So how do we decide which name is correct or which date is correct? Consider the quality of the evidence (original/derivative source, direct/indirect source, etc). Think about when the document was created and why. Excellent advice.

Finally, I enjoyed Juliana Szucs' talk about Ancestry's arrival records. Very practical, "how to" review of what records are available, how to search (wildcards and all), and the human dimension of immigration. Top tip: Search in the specific record collection and vary spellings and dates to find elusive immigrant ancestors.

Stay tuned for day 3. Can't believe the conference is nearing its end.



NERGC 2017 - Thursday


My Day 1 of #NERGC2017 began by meeting some blogging buddies (in person!) and then Mary Tedesco's inspirational opening talk. Genealogy is more popular than ever and we have so many more tools than when I began 19 years ago.

Mary pointed out that microfilm technology revolutionized genealogy by unlocking documents that were once only available in person.

Now DNA is revolutionizing our way of thinking about building family trees as well as expanding our knowledge of ancestors. The conference was buzzing about DNA!

I attended Carol McCoy's excellent talk on finding elusive ancestors who seem to be missing from the census. She showed that some ancestors are really there, simply misindexed or not on the correct page. Top tip: Compare the census images and indexes from multiple sources (Family Search and Ancestry and Heritage Quest, for example).

My wonderful friends Mary and Ray helped me set up the projector in room 3 for my talk Planning a Future for Your Family's Past. Lots of good questions from the audience about protecting photos, in particular, and how to resolve potential fights over family artifacts when more than one person wants them. My top tip: Start now to caption your photos so the next generation will know who's who!

Next, I attended Kathryn Smith Black's presentation, "Lawyer or Sawyer? Using the British Census." Good techniques for finding my hubby's UK ancestors. Especially liked audience participation guessing what the handwriting says on these old census forms!

Then my conference day ended with the blogging SIG, led by Heather Rojo. Great fun to visit with bloggers from around New England and swap stories, tips, plans. And the conference is in full swing...more posts to come as the sessions continue.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

NERGC 2017 Preview

NERGC 2017 is about to begin! Before leaving home, I created a game plan of which sessions I want to attend (#1 and #2 pick per time period). Also I printed out syllabus materials only for those sessions, ready to make notes as the speakers talk. The full syllabus is on my laptop if I want to review during the conference.

Easy-breezy ride to the hotel and a short walk to the conference center. At right is the view from the center.

Registration is open so I picked up my name tag and tote bag and tickets. I was especially grateful for the handy day-by-day pages created by the organizers, each listing the events of one day with a meeting room map on the back. Very convenient!

Can't wait to see old gen buddies and meet new gen buddies. See you at "Bloggers' Central" in the exhibit hall.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Motivation Monday: Genealogy, Free or Fee--Part 8, Why I Paid

The persistent folks over at Reclaim the Records have opened the flood gates on records that most mortals don't know about and can't easily access. Thanks to them, I have a new insight into family history during my Genealogy Go-Over. And yes, I decided to pay.

In planning family research strategy, I think certain documents must be in my possession. I have a few documents proving my parents' marriage, plus their wedding album. What I didn't have was three pages of documents that all New York City brides and grooms had to fill out in applying for a license to marry. Those documents are covered by the indexes obtained, with a lot of effort, by Reclaim the Records and now posted on Archive.org.

Although I didn't know exactly what the three pages would look like, I knew one key fact: Both bride and groom personally provided the information--meaning it's all first-hand data. That was the clincher: I decided that the $15 fee was worthwhile.

So I browsed the links to year-by-year NYC marriage indexes on Archive.org. Once I found the right year (1946), here's how I proceeded:
  • Which county in NYC? I chose Bronx, because that's where the bride lived (I didn't know for sure where the groom lived at that point--needed a clue!).
  • Clicked on the Bronx index.
  • Checked the left-hand column, grooms in alphabetical order, and looked for the correct month.
  • My father's surname, Burk, was listed on a page marked "Aug-Dec" (see image).
  • Hi, Dad! Found his name, copied the number and date.
  • Followed the easy instructions on the bottom of the index intro, such as this one
  • Happily wrote a check for $15 plus included SASE. And in my letter describing what I was requesting, I included a sentence that Reclaim the Records suggested: "I was made aware of this information through the not-for-profit group Reclaim The Records, and their work to put genealogical data online for free public use."
Less than two weeks later, I had my parents' affadavit (see at right), license, and certificate. Now I was looking at my father's very own handwriting. He listed his address as the same apartment building where his mother, brother, and sister lived. I had suspected but couldn't prove till now that Dad moved in with his mother and brother after he returned from WWII. More proof of the close-knit nature of the Burk family!

Money well spent, IMHO, to confirm with first-hand data what my parents said about their occupations, their parents, place of birth of parents, etc. Plus both Mom & Dad signed their names, a poignant touch for me.

Now I'm waiting for my maternal grandparents' documents to arrive. Maybe there will be some surprises! If not, the money is a good investment in getting first-hand data from key documents in my direct line.

For more Genealogy, Free or Fee posts, see my summary page.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sentimental Sunday: Virtual Field Trip to the Wood Homestead of 1914

On April 10, 1914, Ada (Adelaide Mary Ann) Slatter Sills in Toledo mailed this pretty Easter postcard to her nephew, Wallis W. Wood, in Cleveland. (Wallis was a younger brother of my late father-in-law. Ada was the older sister of Wallis's mother, Mary Slatter.)

Thanks to postcards like these, I have compiled a listing of addresses for Wally and the Wood family from 1907-1918. The address for 1914 was 456 E. 124 Street in Cleveland.

The color photo (left) shows what the house looked like in 2016. Now see the b/w photo of two young Wood brothers standing in front of their house on Lancelot Avenue (at right) in 1911.

The homes were literally around the corner from each other in Cleveland. Apparently my husband's great-grandpa, James Edgar Wood, built the same style home many times during his long career as a carpenter and home builder in Cleveland.

Taking relatives on virtual field trips like this helps keep family history alive and relevant for the next generation!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Motivation Monday: Preparing for NERGC 2017


In just a couple of weeks, NERGC 2017 will take place--April 26-29 in Springfield, MA.

To prepare, I have two sets of genealogy calling cards, as shown above. The top one lists my family tree research and the bottom one lists my husband's family tree research. On the reverse side of each is contact info.

I can exchange cards with other conference attendees and post on bulletin boards, etc, hoping to connect with researchers who are chasing the same ancestors (if I'm lucky).

My feeling is that listing specific places when known (such as "Botpalad" for my Hungarian ancestors and "Elkhart/Wabash, Indiana" for hubby's Larimer family) helps other researchers quickly narrow down potential matches.

There are so many interesting sessions and tracks at this year's conference! I can't miss Mary Tedesco's opening keynote, "What Can Our Ancestors Teach Us About Genealogy?" on Thursday at 10 am.

My talk is part of the Thursday afternoon track, Genealogy Heirlooms in the Attic, which kicks off at 1:30 pm with Pam Stone Eagleson, "Using Bibles in Genealogical Research" (session T-106).

My session, "Planning a Future for Your Family's Past," follows at 3 pm (session T-114), with info about how to organize and store genealogy materials, decide what to keep and what to give away, write a genealogical "will," and share family history with heirs.

Next is Edwin W. Strickland's presentation, "Saving the Past for the Future: Preserving Family Objects" (session T-121), starting at 4:30 pm.

See you there? Please say hello!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Surname Saturday: Proof of Mary Slatter and "Melancholia"

During my Gen Go-Over, I've been determined to find out whether my husband's great-great-grandma Mary Shehen Slatter was in two notorious London insane asylums.

Mary's death date was a mystery for years. I proved that her husband John Slatter (1838-1901) had come to America by 1888 (I have him listed in a Cleveland city directory for that year and later years). John remarried in America, his second wife died in 1895, and John himself died at the Cleveland home of his younger daughter, Mary Slatter Wood, in 1901.

But what was the fate of Mary Slatter? Chasing down the many Slatters in UK civil death registers, I found a listing of a Mary Slatter dying at age 52 in April, 1889. Of course I wondered why Mary's husband would be in America while she was dying in the London area, but the age and location was approximately correct to be great-great-grandma Mary.

Have your tissue box handy. Now I have proof of Mary's unfortunate fate. And one reason the proof works is because I can match mother and children's names/dates to the documents, as well as developing a rough timeline of what happened, when, and why. Researching one name (Mary Slatter) is a lot more difficult than researching a few family members! So think in terms of families, not ancestors in isolation.

As I wrote in January, I discovered that Mary's five children had been admitted to a London workhouse. Then I found the registry for a Mary Slatter admitted to Banstead Asylum. My sweet cousin in London visited the London Metropolitan Archives and examined the ledgers in person. She told me that Mary had actually been admitted to Colney Hatch Asylum before being moved to Banstead Asylum--and that both asylums were horrific places to be confined.

Recently, my cousin returned to the archives and gave me more specifics from the Colney Hatch Admission Register, which is available only to in-person visitors. What she learned, plus other documents I've uncovered, proves that my husband's great-great-grandma was the Mary Slatter admitted to these asylums.

Cousin Anna found that Mary Slatter, wife of a laborer and living in Whitechapel, was admitted to Colney Hatch on June 1, 1874, suffering from "melancholia" with a symptom of "imagines she is dead." Oh, dear.

"Time insane" was listed as 3 weeks. Now the timing becomes critical: Mary's children were admitted to the workhouse on May 18, 1874, just weeks before Mary's admission to Colney Hatch. If Mary was incapacitated, where would her children be cared for? Apparently, the workhouse.

More proof: Cousin Anna read the "Whitechapel Union Register of Lunatics and Idiots" and learned that Mary Slatter had, in fact, been admitted to Colney Hatch from a workhouse, "passed from St. Saviours." This is significant (I'll explain in a moment) but also the notation that "Children at Forest Gate Sch"--meaning Forest Gate School.

When the five children were admitted to the workhouse in May, 1874, the matron of Forest Gate School referred them there. Other evidence shows that the children were enrolled at Forest Gate School. And all the children's names from the workhouse register match the names/ages of Mary's children.

Now about St. Saviour. (Get a fresh hanky.) Mary was admitted to workhouses in the parish of St. Saviour multiple times in 1873-4 (the earliest I've so far found is September, 1873). Sometimes with her children! So the notation in Colney Hatch Asylum's register that Mary was coming from a "workhouse, passed from St. Saviours," exactly fits great-great-grandma Mary's situation as I've reconstructed it.

(See bottom of post for final proof, Mary Slater [sic] being discharged from workhouse on June 1, 1874 as "insane." That was the same day Mary was admitted to Colney Hatch Asylum. It's always good to investigate alternative spellings like Slater and Slattery, not just the name as actually known.)

At top of this post is the workhouse admission register from January 17, 1874, showing Mary and her children. This indicates that she was a servant and her "master" admitted her. From my admittedly modern perspective, I wonder whether the point of being admitted was to have food and shelter for a night or more? And where on earth is John Slatter, Mary's husband, during all this time??

Here's the answer and more proof. Mary and her children were again admitted to a workhouse, in April 22, 1874, as shown below. Names/dates match. Residence: "No Home." She is married, wife of John, "deserted." And the children? You can't see in this excerpt, but the children were sent to . . . Forest Gate School. There is no longer any doubt about the sad life and fate of hubby's g-g-grandma, Mary Shehen Slatter. RIP.

One reason I do genealogy is to honor the memory of ancestors, who paved the way for us to live our lives. I had no idea what my husband's Slatter family endured, and even though I am typing through my tears, I am also proud that their descendants had full and productive lives. Mary Shehen Slatter's bandmaster sons were renowned in Canada. Her two daughters made homes in Ohio and raised families of their own. If only g-g-grandma Mary had known what would become of her children and their children, perhaps this would have given her a bit of peace and comfort.

Mary "Slater" discharged from workhouse on June 1 as "insane" - same day as admission to asylum.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Tuesday's Tip, Genealogy: Free or Fee, part 7--Redo Your Searches (Again)

Doing my Gen Go-Over, I've been rechecking dates, places, and relationships on my tree and my hubby's tree.

I can't check every ancestor every week or even every month, but I redo searches of my direct line (and my husband's) at least every year just in case.

In many cases, I find new data has been posted since my last search. More than once, I've broken down a brick wall by retracing my steps and redoing my searches, no matter that I'd used the same sites and strategy a year earlier.

Among the free sites, I usually begin with Family Search and Find a Grave, because so many new records are posted on these sites, week after week. Also, I'm on a mission to link my ancestors on F-A-G so others will be aware of the parent-child-spouse relationships.

Recently I redid a search on Find A Grave for my husband's McClure family. Up popped this memorial for great-great-aunt Adaline. The kind volunteer who posted the memorial did his own research to uncover her obit and explain her name. Having these details gave me new clues to trace the McClure family's spread from Ohio to Michigan. (Of course, I submitted an "edit" for relationship linking to parents.)

After finding Adaline on F-A-G, I looked to the left of that screen and clicked to "Find all Cooks" in the same cemetery and county. That's where I located Adaline's husband's first family, all linked to each other but not to Adaline (until I submitted the edit).

As an Ancestry subscriber, I redid the search there too and immediately, a few new hints popped up for Adaline and her husband. It's like priming the pump: You can get the hint system working in your favor by browsing the "dormant" parts of your tree every now and then.

In addition to sites mentioned in parts 1-6 of this series, here are more sites to try during a Do-Over or Go-Over. Admittedly, searches sometimes wind up on a paid site, but you still may learn enough from previews to continue the search on other sites if you're not a subscriber. Good luck!
  • Family Tree Magazine's 25 Best Genealogy Websites for Beginners is a mix of free and fee. From this list, one site I particularly like is Chronicling America, with free access to newspapers from 25 states. 
  • Family History Daily's 50 Free Genealogy Sites includes must-see megasites like Cyndi's List plus more targeted sites like Fulton History, which allows searching through New York-area newspapers. Fulton History has yielded news and social items for several folks in my trees.
  • The US government has a page of genealogy links to sites like state archives listed on the National Archives page. Worth a look - click around to see what states you want to search.
  • Don't forget Steve Morse, and his one-step webpage links for searching Ellis Island and Castle Garden, state and federal records, and much, much more. (This site alerts you when the results of one-step searches lead to fee-based sites, by the way.)

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.