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. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Military Monday: Is This Dad's WWII Jacket?

This morning I woke up to an unexpected surprise, in the form of an email from a gentleman in New England. He wrote:
"I recently bought an old military field coat with the name H.D. Burk and B4446 written in it. Some basic research tells me it's from a Harold Burk who was born in 1909 and enlisted in the Army in 1942. A quick Google search also returned a link to your blog...Does this sound like the correct Harold Burk?"
My Dad, Harold Burk (1909-1978), enlisted in the U.S. Army at Camp Upton, NY on March 7, 1942, 75 years ago this week. I took out Dad's dog tags and sure enough, the number matched!

I wrote back to say "yes," this sounds like Dad. The handprinted name looks like his writing, and I felt a pang just looking at it. I asked how this gentleman, Mr. G, went about researching the jacket. He sent me to the WWII US Army Enlistment website, which contains info on nearly 9 million people.

At left is the search box from the site, where I did what Mr. G did--I entered the laundry number (part of Dad's serial number) and his surname. Up popped a few details about Dad's enlistment. I had already documented his service, using his discharge papers, among other sources, but now I have another resource to try when researching other ancestors who served in WWII, thanks to Mr. G.

(Try it for any of your ancestors who served in WWII! Even if you don't have a serial number or laundry number, go ahead and fill in other details on the search form, then weed through the results.)

My Dad served in Europe with the 3163d Signal Service Company, as a clerk, and spent April of 1945 in Paris after the liberation. He's the serviceman on the right in this photo at a bistro.

Mr. G gave me more info about the jacket: It's an M-1943 Field Coat, which became standard for the Army during the war, especially for soldiers in colder climates. How my Dad's survived all these years, and in such great shape, I can't imagine.

What a wave of emotion seeing Dad's WWII jacket and handprinted name, and knowing that the collector, Mr. G, wanted to find out more about the man who wore it seven decades in the past.

I'm grateful to Mr. G for getting in touch, especially as this fits in nicely with my Genealogy Go-Over, reexamining documents and artifacts with an eye toward telling more stories about my ancestors. Thanks to Mr. G for permission to post his photos of Dad's jacket!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Free or Fee Genealogy, Part 2

Birth, marriage, death records really are vital records, since they have vital details for genealogical research. But they're not the only records I feel are vital for my Genealogy Go-Over and for ongoing discoveries about ancestors in my family tree.

Naturalization papers are a treasure trove of info, really important when I don't know someone's home town or birth date, and of course the names of witnesses can be the icing on the cake. When an ancestor is in my direct line, I usually do my best to get his or her naturalization, even if I have to pay for it, so I can double-check against other documents in my possession. Still, ordering from NARA takes time, not just money.

My favorite free source is Family Search, and even if I have to order a low-cost microfilm of naturalizations, it's a bargain and doesn't take much time. Many naturalizations are currently available through my Ancestry subscription, but not all. I used to have Fold3 access, which put many naturalizations at my finger tips.

Since many of my ancestors (maybe yours too) came through Ellis Island or Castle Garden and stayed in the New York/New Jersey area, I use Italiangen.org to see what naturalization documents are available before I make up my mind about paying.

Naturalizations in other countries aren't as easy to obtain from a distance. I was elated to discover last year that my great-uncle Abraham Berk's naturalization file could be requested from the Canadian authorities for the princely sum of $5 . . . until I realized that only Canadian residents could make the request. May I say how lucky I am that a friendly genealogy blogger in Canada graciously volunteered to place the order? Only a few weeks later, she scanned and sent me pages and pages of fascinating details from his file, including the document shown here, confirming his home town and other key details. Wow.

BONUS: After sharing my previous post on this subject with the Genealogy Do-Over community on Facebook, commenters there and on my blog offered more ideas about ways to save money on vital records and other genealogical documents. Here are some of their ideas:

  • Check to see if there's a Facebook genealogy page for the locality where your ancestor was living or born/married/died. A volunteer might know of a local source for the document you're seeking or be willing to get it for you.
  • Consider a "road trip" to get multiple documents from local authorities, if feasible.
  • Check with the local genealogical society or historical society about whether some documents are in their files. (It works: I've saved some money this way, paying the local society for photocopies and a small donation.)
  • Do a thorough online search--some places have put parish records and census records online, for example.
  • Request help from the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness folks, paying for copies etc.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Thrifty Thursday: Free or Fee Genealogy?

During my Genealogy Go-Over, I'm carefully checking what I know and don't know, looking at my evidence, and filling in the gaps by obtaining vital records and other documents.

Since money doesn't happen to grow on my family tree, I have to pick and choose what I will pay for. Fee or free genealogy? It's not always a straightforward decision.

Increasingly, documents that I purchased even a year or two ago are showing up on free genealogy sites like Family Search and on fee-based genealogy sites like Ancestry.


A case in point is the above marriage document for hubby's grandparents, Brice Larimer McClure and Floyda Mabel Steiner. I sent a check to buy a copy two years ago, when doing the original "Do-Over" program. I considered it to be a good investment because it revealed that Grandma Floyda had been married once before. That sent me to the newspaper archives to learn more...and I fleshed out this ancestor's life a bit.

Since that time, more Ohio vital records have been made available through Family Search. And in fact, the very clear image above is not from the copy I purchased but the free version available on Family Search.


I'm still collecting documents for my Go-Over. Being a long-time Ancestry subscriber, I always check there first. But if it's not on Ancestry, where would it be? Here's my thought process on deciding what to pay for (and I'd be interested in yours, readers).

In general:
  1. Try Family Search. Best free site to start looking for most documents! Two years ago, this license wasn't available through a Family Search name/date search. I checked the wiki to see what documents are available from the time and place. I learned from the Wyandot county part of the Ohio wiki that marriage documents weren't always filed as required by law before 1908. I knew Grandma Floyda was married in 1903. I called the county clerk first and she kindly checked in the database. Once I knew the document was available, I was almost ready to send money but first I checked a few more sites.
  2. Try Cyndi's List. This will point to fee-based and free sites that might have a document or information. I looked at "Ohio" but no luck with a Wyandot county site for a freebie on Floyda's marriage or divorce docs.
  3. Try Linkpendium.com. This will tell me whether some other local source might be holding certain documents. In this case, no luck on holdings that would include Grandma Floyda's marriage or divorce paperwork for free.
In the end, I decided to spend the money for Grandma Floyda's marriage document. I had no way of knowing when or if Family Search would have that document available, either online or via microfilm.

Now, with Reclaim the Records, there are more ways to obtain documents than even a couple of years ago.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lara Diamond's "Jewish Genealogical Research in Ukraine"

Lara Diamond gave a dynamic talk today, hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Connecticut, about how to research Jewish ancestors in Ukraine. She writes the blog Lara's Jewnology and is an expert in tracing Jewish roots.

Luckily, I arrived early and snagged one of the last empty seats. My Schwartz ancestors lived in Ungvar, Hungary (now Uzhhorod, Ukraine), and I wanted to hear Lara's tips. I came away with lots of great ideas!

Although I've explored JewishGen's Sub-Carpathian SIG, which is loaded with detailed documents, Lara also mentioned other sites I haven't yet checked, including:
Thank you to Lara and to the JGSCT for a wonderful afternoon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Meet NERGC Speaker Jennifer Zinck, Expert on DNA Results



Jennifer Zinck
DNA is one of the most talked-about topics in genealogy these days—and expert Jennifer Zinck is diving into the details of DNA results during two NERGC workshops. As a researcher, writer, and speaker who specializes in the intersection of traditional and genetic genealogy, Jennifer frequently makes presentations on topics including beginner and intermediate genealogy, genetic genealogy, using DNA for unknown parentage, and technology for genealogy. She serves as the President of the Connecticut Professional Genealogists Council, is a member of the Genetic Genealogy Standards Committee, and participates in professional organizations including ISOGG and the Association of Professional Genealogists.

At NERGC, Jennifer will be conducting two hands-on workshops about DNA results and a presentation about online research. The first DNA workshop is on Wednesday, April 26, from 6 - 8 pm, and the second (already sold out) takes place on Thursday, April 27, from 9 – 11 am. Titled “After the Test: Exploring AncestryDNA Results,” the workshop is designed to help participants make sense of their results, use third-party tools to turn DNA into a powerful tool for genealogy, and plan to contact DNA matches. 

Jennifer is also presenting “Tools and Techniques for Finding Family Online” on Saturday, April 29, from 3:15 – 4:15 pm. This will be a hands-on program in the technology classroom, guiding participants through people-finder websites, databases, searches, and social media for locating individuals. Jennifer will be at the DNA Special Interest Group meeting on Thursday evening, starting at 7:15 pm, if you want to chat further!And don't forget--the deadline for early-bird registration savings is February 28th.

1. What tools and discoveries keep your genealogical journey exciting, day after day?

I am always excited to meet new cousins. There is something about connecting with others who share some of the same roots that fascinates me. I think the most exciting documents are typically found hiding in manuscript collections. These records add interest and excitement to the stories of our ancestors and can often break down brick walls.  

2. What have you learned about researching family history that you wish you had known when you first began doing genealogy?

Cite your sources and write as you go! I have learned these two lessons the hard way, with many thanks to Elissa Powell and Barbara Mathews. By writing as I go along, I often surprise myself about the details I have been able to glean from a particular document. Take the time to really evaluate each piece of information included in each source and you will be amazed at the problems you can solve.

3. If you had an hour of time travel to visit with anyone on your family tree (past, present, or even future), who would you pick, and why?

I think about this difficult question often. Most of the time I would visit with my maternal grandmother but sometimes I choose her mother's mother's mother, Lois Chalker Walston. Lois was probably born in 1804 in Guilford, Connecticut and I don't know much about her life before she married her husband in 1831. After 15 years of searching, last year I was finally able to identify her mother thanks to a manuscript in Dr. Alvan Talcott's collection of papers at the New Haven Museum. I would like to know more about her life as a child and if she had any relationships with her Chalker or Benton grandparents.

4. Who is your most surprising, inspiring, pitiable, or endearing ancestor?

Each and every ancestor is equally inspiring to me. Without any one of them, I would not be here.

5. What are the top things you want attendees to remember from your NERGC workshop about DNA results?

Have patience and be open-minded and flexible. Genetic genealogy is a new and rapidly-evolving field. What you think you know today may not be the case tomorrow! DNA results are not the easiest to learn to work with but keep at it and the pieces will all eventually fall into place.

6. What is your game plan for getting the most out of the NERGC conference?

I have looked through the lectures in the schedule and there is an amazing line-up. I prioritized the sessions that I would like to attend and planned my volunteer time accordingly. I am the chairperson of the Ancestor Roadshow in addition to presenting a lecture and two workshop sessions so I will have plenty to keep me occupied throughout the conference. Thursday night, I have invited Blaine Bettinger and Diahan Southard to co-host the DNA Special Interest Group with me, so that is sure to be a blast. I will be hosting a DNA table topic at the NEAPG Luncheon on Friday. I always make sure that I allocate mealtimes and some evenings to visit with friends, both old and new. That's one of the best parts of NERGC!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Treasure Chest Tuesday: Valentines in the Family

For Valentine's Day, a selection of valentines sent to ancestors on both sides of the family.

At right, the inside of the first valentine sent by my Dad (Harold Burk, 1909-1978) to my Mom (Daisy Schwartz, 1919-1981), in 1946.

They were engaged on New Year's Eve and had to wait to set a wedding date because of the housing shortage after WWII, with Dad and so many other GIs returning from the service and settling down.

At left, a holiday postcard from hubby's family. This was sent by Nellie (Rachel Ellen) Wood Kirby (1864-1954) in Chicago to her young nephew, Wallis W. Wood (1905-1957) in Cleveland, around 1910ish.

I also have to include a different postcard sent by Aunt Nellie to her nephew Wally, shown at right.

Happy Lincoln's birthday!




Saturday, February 11, 2017

Surname Saturday: Mary Slatter, Melancholy and Demented?

Last month, I wrote about discovering in the Banstead Asylum records a woman named Mary Slatter who was possibly my husband's great-great-grandmother. I was doing a Genealogy Go-Over and learned that more records had become available, so I dove in.

The only way to find out more was to see these records in person, since they're not available in any other format. My wonderful cousin Anna in London was kind enough to visit the London Metropolitan Archives, where she read the admission and discharge registers.

If this was indeed Mary Shehen Slatter, her life was even sadder than the family could have imagined. Get out your hanky. Here's what the records say:
  • Mary was admitted to Banstead Asylum on September 28, 1877, at age 40. (This is within a year or two of the age I would expect her to have been at that point.) She was married, the wife of a laborer, and she was from Whitechapel (these facts fit exactly with the Mary Slatter I'm trying to find).
  • Mary's "previous place of abode" was--oh, dear--Colney Hatch Asylum. In other words, she was institutionalized before she even got to Banstead. Colney was notorious, another place to hold paupers, originally meant to be more humane but then resorting to straight jackets and other restraints. Wait, there's more.
  • Mary's form of mental disorder was characterized as "Melancholy and demented." 
  • Mary's cause of insanity was described as "Misfortune and destitution."
  • The duration of Mary's previous attacks of insanity was 3 years, 4 months.
  • Mary died young of phthisis--meaning tuberculosis--on April 19, 1889, at age 52.
Now my cousin is going to view the Colney Hatch records in person to try to learn more about whether this is indeed our Mary Shehen Slatter.

From what I know about hubby's g-g-grandmother, this could very well be her sad fate. The family was chronically impoverished, I have confirmed from the records and from later comments made by Mary's children as adults.


Mary's first-born child, Thomas John Slatter, didn't live to the age of 11. He was born in 1860 (see him in the 1861 UK census excerpt here, with the Slatter family listed in Whitechapel) and he died sometime before the 1871 UK census. * Was this why Mary was first institutionalized?

I hope the Colney Hatch records will give me more insight into Mary's life. Also, I've sent for Mary Slatter's death cert to see what it says. UPDATE: Mary's death cert is a single line in a ledger. It says "date of death is April 19, 1889; place: "Middlesex Lunatic Asylum, Banstead; female, age 52, wife of a labourer, Whitechapel; cause of death is phthisis." No place of burial mentioned, no maiden name. Since the Mary I'm seeking was the wife of a labourer in Whitechapel, the death cert supports my theory but doesn't prove that Mary Slatter in Banstead was Mary Shehen Slatter, hubby's g-g-grandma.

* Elizabeth, in a comment below, notes that Thomas seems to be alive and living with his grandparents in the 1871 census. Thanks to her help, I have clues to dig deeper!