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.