Thursday, October 11, 2018

Sports: Leaping Rooftops, Bronx Bombers, and Skating

Leaping across rooftops, no safety net in sight. That was my big-city-born-and-bred father's childhood "sport."

Harold Burk (1909-1978), my Dad, grew up in New York City's Jewish Harlem, on 109th Street near Fifth Avenue. As a teen, he and his friends would dare each other to leap across the rooftops of the 6 story tenements built close together in the neighborhood. When he told me this story, he seemed a bit amazed that he had survived--me too! No net, and no cape (it was before the invention of Superman).

Dad became a travel agent (at right, in his lobby office at the Savoy Plaza Hotel in New York City) and soon after marrying Mom, Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981), they moved to the Bronx. Only a short subway ride away from Yankee Stadium! No wonder Dad loved the Yankees as his spectator sport of choice. Every summer, he'd take his daughters to a few ball games. We were lucky enough to see many of the Yankee greats of the 1960s, stars like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. When not at the stadium, he would listen on those tinny 1960s transistor radios.

Of course, I still root for the Yankees (in vain, recently). But my personal spectator sport of choice is figure skating. Note I said "spectator sport" (meaning I don't actually skate, just attend skating events or watch on TV). Now you know why Winter Olympics, not Summer Olympics, are my favorite. 

#52Ancestors - Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for this week's prompt.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

10 Generations Back: Last Wood Generation Born in England

This week's #52Ancestors challenge is 10 and there is no way I can go back that
far in my mother's or father's family trees.

However, my husband is a Mayflower descendant four times over and we can go back beyond 10 generations on his father's side. The Wood family intermarried with the Cushman family (Cushman of the Fortune married Mary Allerton and that's the basic Mayflower connection). Thank you to cousin Larry for uncovering new details as he traces the Wood tree year after year after year...

The tenth generation back is John Wood Jr. (1620-1704). This was the last Wood generation of my husband's family to be born in England. John Jr. was christened in St. George the Martyr Church, Surrey, England, on March 10, 1621, as shown at top. I was amazed to discover that this church was built in the 12th century.

John Jr.'s exact birth date is a mystery. His cemetery stone, not legible, only indicates 1620 as the birth year. We do know he married (for the third time) to Mary Peabody (1639-41?-1719) around 1656 in what is now Newport county, Rhode Island. John Jr. died in the same part of Rhode Island, as did his wife. Both are buried in the John Wood cemetery plot.

On my husband's mother's side, we can go back 9 generations to James Andrew McClure (1660?-?). In checking for anything new on this ancestor, I came across a fairly new (June, 2018) memorial on Find-a-Grave, saying that James died "at sea, on trip to America" in 1732, age 71-2.

Of course I wrote the originator of this memorial to ask about the source and any details. We already knew the McClure family left Donegal and sailed together to Philadelphia, Halbert with his wife Agnes and numerous children. I didn't realize Halbert's father James was with them. Maybe this will open up more research possibilities.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Family History Month: Start Writing About Ancestors Now!

Family History Month is a good time to start writing about our ancestors. Genealogy research is never complete, in my humble opinion, but we can make headway on writing about family history if we focus.

This is not about the big picture--it's about sharing one specific aspect of our family's past with relatives and descendants. Not a formal genealogy, but something that conveys both the facts and the human face of our ancestors.

Here are some quick tips to prepare:
  • Choose one of the above to focus on. Maybe you want to write about your maternal grandparents or about a set of siblings in your father's family. Or you have an heirloom, like the ceramic zebras above, created by my late mother-in-law, with a backstory of interest to children and grandchildren.
  • Gather your info (documents, photos, etc.) and your memories.
  • Write bullet points of what you currently know. 
  • Rearrange the bullets into a logical organization (chronological order, for instance).
  • Make notes about each bullet and also jot notes about what you want to double-check or ask other relatives.
  • Create a quick timeline if it will help guide you through the story and help readers understand what happened when. Or use a timeline as the basis for writing about a couple or an event.
Now . . . start anywhere in the story and write. Really, it doesn't matter where you begin to write because you can move sentences and paragraphs around after you get words on paper.

If you like, pick a detail that seems particularly dramatic or interesting, write a few sentences, and then fill in the story around it. Every family had high points, low points, times of happiness and times of sorrow. Try to tell the story to show who these ancestors were, beyond mere facts of birth-marriage-death dates. The important thing is to share what you know now.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Family History Month: Top Priority Is Captioning Old Photos

If you, like me, inherited a batch of family photos without names or dates, you'll understand why my top priority this month is captioning old photos. We may be the only people who still know the names of these people and can tell a few of the stories. This is the time to put names to faces so the info is not lost, and future generations will know something about the family's past!

Above, an example of an old photo I scanned, showing my Grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk and three of her four children. My Dad is "Harold," the toddler with curly hair at bottom right. I kept a version of this digital image with no names and a version where I added names and a date. No last names (because no room) but this is in the Burk/Mahler archival box with a more detailed explanation of who's who.

There are many ways to caption, including (but not limited to) these ideas. You can write a caption on plain paper, lay it on a scanner above or below the original photo, and scan or copy both together for a neat, easy-to-read version that can be stored with the original. Or simply photocopy the original and write, in colored ink, each person's name on the copy, then store the copy with the original.

Another way to caption is to put each photo in its own archival sleeve. Then handwrite the caption on an adhesive label and stick it to the outside of the sleeve, as shown at right.

Ideally, explain the relationship between the person in the photo and yourself. Don't just write "Mama" (as on the back of one photo I inherited). Turned out that wasn't a Mama in my direct line, but it was the mother of a cousin in England!

Even after 20 years of research and asking cousins for help, I have some mystery photos. I've stored them in an archival box labeled by side of the family. The box called "Unknown photos, Marian's family" is separate from a similar box for unknown photos of my husband's ancestors.

Happy captioning!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Family History Month: Why I Love Archival Boxes

I really love archival boxes for storing family history materials like photos, original documents, and more. Some of my genealogy buddies love three-ring binders, others love file folders.* All have their strong points, I know because I've tried 'em all.

Twenty years ago when I began my genealogy journey, I created file folders with surname labels. I still use them for photocopies of originals, research notes, and assorted stuff that doesn't need special protection. One half of my file drawer is devoted to folders for "his family" and one half is devoted to folders for "my family."

I organize my folders according to family groupings. This means husband-wife surnames with separate folders are together inside one big accordion hanging file. For instance, my father-in-law Wood and mother-in-law McClure have separate folders inside a single hanging file for that family unit. In the same accordion file I have another file folder for Wood siblings. Yes, this accordion folder holds a lot of folders and papers!

But archival boxes are my preference for everything that's original and precious, important enough to protect for the long term. Why?

First, take a look at the photo at top. Which looks more valuable to the next generation, a bunch of stuff in a torn envelope with a scribbled label or a stack of neat archival boxes with proper labels? This alone might save family artifacts from a fate too horrible to contemplate (after I join my ancestors).

Also:
  • Archival boxes come in various sizes and shapes. I bought one especially for my father-in-law's college photo album, another for the big family wedding portrait from 1925. 
  • My father's WWII dog tags, insignia, etc. are in an archival box because they are odd-sized and enclosed in his old leather pouch, which I wanted to preserve as is.
  • Old movies and CDs can go into one archival box, marked by surname. (Remember to separate negatives from prints and store separately, to avoid deterioration.)
  • Documents and photos lay flat for storage, in individual sleeves for extra protection, inside each box. 
  • Archival boxes with metal corners can be stacked several high without crushing the contents.
  • Boxes are easy to label by surname and number. You can't see in the above photo, but I have a pencil-mark #1 and #2 next to the WOOD label on those two boxes. Other WOOD boxes have more descriptive labels like "WOOD negatives 1940s-1960s" so I can keep track of what's where.
  • Some day, when I join my ancestors, my heirs will know exactly which box has which family's materials. Everything is neat and ready to be transported to a new home. For now, I can easily shift boxes around and find what I need without a lot of fuss.
For more on preservation and storage ideas, see the links at Cyndi's List and the National Archives. And please take a look at my Amazon best-selling genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, with details about keeping your genealogy collection safe for future generations to enjoy. Thank you!
* Whether you love folders, binders, or archival boxes, gotta have a label maker for easy-to-read labels that jump out at a glance!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Remembering Harold Burk, 1909-1978

Elementary school graduation photo of Harold Burk (1909-1978)
My Dad, Harold Burk, was born at home in Manhattan on a Friday, the 29th of September, 1909. He was the son of Isaac Burk, a cabinetmaker from Lithuania and Henrietta Mahler from Latvia. They married in New York City in 1906 and Harold was their second child, first son.

When Dad was born, automobiles were already on the streets of New York. William H. Taft was the 27th President of the United States. The whole world was riveted by the race to reach the North Pole. And the year's top song hit was Shine On, Harvest Moon.

He was a big fan of the New York Botanical Gardens and introduced his children to the joys of smelling the roses at the Bronx Botanical Garden. And he loved the Yankees, taking his girls to see Maris, Mantle, and other superstars at Yankee Stadium every summer. In later life, Dad loved baking traditional apple pies every fall, complete with "sky high" home-made crusts. Always a city dweller, he enjoyed walking in the city and seeing the sights.


Dad's business, Burk Travel Service, is listed in the Manhattan (NYC) directory from 1948-1960. It was located at the ritzy Savoy Plaza Hotel. When the hotel changed owners, it was listed in phone books as being in the Savoy Hilton Hotel (see above).

By the time Dad died on the 18th of August in 1978, technology had revolutionized travel in many ways, including speed and convenience--an important development for him, as a travel agent.

Missing you and remembering you with love, Dad, on your birthday.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Couldn't Keep 'Em Down on the Farm

My husband's maternal McClure family came to America specifically to buy land and farm during the 1730s. Until they couldn't keep 'em down on the farm any longer, about 150 years later.

The patriarch, Halbert McClure (1684-1764) led a group of his sons, a daughter, and several brothers making the journey from Donegal to Philadelphia in the 1730s. Originally from the Isle of Skye before being forced to relocate to Donegal, the McClures had enough money to pay for their Atlantic voyage. After landing in Philadelphia, the family walked to the colony of Virginia and plunked down cash for hundreds of acres of fertile farmland.

In hubby's direct line, Halbert's son Alexander McClure (1717-1790) and grandson John McClure (1781-1834?) both were farmers. John, however, ventured from Virginia into Ohio to be a pioneer farmer. John's son, Benjamin McClure (1812-1896) was born in Adams County, Ohio and he became a pioneer farmer in Wabash county, Indiana. Benjamin was my husband's 2d great-grandpa.

At top is a land ownership map showing where Benjamin's 80 acres were located in Paw Paw township in 1875. Benjamin was a civic leader as well as a farmer, and served as an Elder in the Presbyterian Church in Wabash county. Benjamin was the end of the line as far as career farmers in his branch of the McClure family.

Benjamin's son (hubby's great-grandpa) William Madison McClure (1849-1887) worked for "the railway" (according to 1880 census). Another of Benjamin's sons, John N. McClure, was a farmer and then later went to work for the railroad. A third son, Train Caldwell McClure, was an oil mill operator (1880 census). The oldest son, Theodore Wilson McClure, was a farmer and storekeeper in 1880 but became a day laborer by 1900, according to Census records.

William Madison McClure had four children and none of them had anything to do with farming. In fact, all moved to more urban settings. The oldest daughter, Lola (1877-1948), became a teacher and married a civil engineer.

The oldest son grew up to be hubby's Grandpa Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970). He was a master mechanic, first with the railroad and then with industrial firms in Cleveland, Ohio.

The younger daughter, Lucille Ethel McClure (1880-1926) moved to Chicago and married a farmer turned plumber, who worked on new construction in the booming economy of the Windy City.

The younger son, Hugh Benjamin McClure (1882-1960), began as a shipping clerk and then worked as a salesman before owning his own successful manufacturing firm in Peoria, Illinois.

The next generations had nothing to do with farming, either. Just couldn't keep this McClure family down on the farm after 150 years.

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for the #52Ancestors prompt about "on the farm" (or, in this case, "not on the farm").

Sunday, September 23, 2018

"Gershwin Winner Plays for Meals"

My late father-in-law, Edgar James Wood, died 32 years ago today. He was born on August 13, 1903, and died on September 23, 1986. I remember him with fondness, although I knew him for too short a time.

Ed's day job was as insurance adjuster for an Ohio insurance firm. His real passion, for many decades, was playing piano as a professional musician.

Just a few days ago, the gentleman behind the blog Gershwin 100 found me by doing a search for a song he knew by name: Love Is a Boundless Ocean.

My father-in-law Ed had copyrighted that song in October, 1932. He wrote the music and his friend, George W. Teare, wrote the lyrics. The song was good enough to win Ed the opportunity to play in a Cleveland concert with the famous composer George Gershwin. The family was aware Ed had won a Gershwin contest. But we never saw the newspaper article with the full story until this blogger kindly sent it along.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer of January 21, 1934, Gershwin judged dozens of songs submitted to a contest sponsored by the newspaper. The contestants played their songs, one by one, as Gershwin listened and offered encouraging suggestions. He then announced that one would be played in his concert that evening. "We've chosen 'Love Is a Boundless Ocean' as the one best suited for our purpose," Gershwin explained.

The newspaper article actually adds a lot of color to my husband's family history. The reporter writes that Ed first paled and then flushed when announced as the winner. His comment was: "I'm stunned." Yet he immediately agreed when Gershwin asked him to play the winning song himself that evening at the concert.

Ed later told the reporter that he used to work in insurance, but was unemployed at that moment. He said, and I quote, that he now "plays to eat." Thus, the headline of the newspaper article:

"Gershwin Winner Plays for Meals"


Remember, this was deep in the Depression. Ed had a lot of experience playing piano to make his way through life, having played at Tufts to pay for college expenses and on ocean liners crossing the Atlantic during the Roaring Twenties.

According to the 1930 Census, Ed had worked as an insurance adjuster, and was living at the same Cleveland address (as a boarder) noted in the newspaper article of 1934. Even though he had been born in Cleveland and lived with his parents until going to college, his father had remarried (twice) after his mother died. His father moved to Jackson, Michigan, so Ed was a boarder in Cleveland for a number of years.

Now fast-forward a few weeks later in 1934, when Ed was working and met his future wife (Marian Jane McClure, 1909-1983) in that insurance office. On their first date, he took her to a party where he played piano for the guests. One thing led to another, and Ed and Marian married in 1935. In later years, they celebrated Valentine's Day as the anniversary of their "first date."

Ed never lost his job again, and he never stopped playing piano. He played on the morning of the day he died, we know from reading his diary. Thinking of my father-in-law with great affection on this day. And happy that my genealogy blog attracted the eye of the Gershwin blogger!

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Fidelity Bond "Story" - A Reliable Source?

On December 5, 1931, Harold Burk (my Dad, 1909-1978) applied for a Fidelity Bond. Or at least, his application is in my possession. It's a most unusual source and I only believe some of what he listed on this form. Here's the story.

To work with transportation tickets and ultimately attain his goal of becoming a travel agent, Dad had to be bonded. In those days, a blank train or plane ticket was like a blank, signed check--ready to be filled in (by hand, of course) and used for transportation. Therefore, anyone who sold such tickets needed to be bonded, providing insurance in case of theft or fraud.

As you can see on the right, Dad wrote that he was born on 29 September 1909, which is correct.

Also, he listed his home address as 1580 Crotona Park East (an apartment building in a nice section of the Bronx, NY). I confirmed that with the 1930 US Census. In the Census, and on the form, he's shown as living with his parents. Correct so far.

At the bottom of p. 1, Dad lists three personal references. The instructions say not to list any relatives. In fact, the first name listed is a neighbor of Dad's family, living in the same Bronx apartment building. Believable. And confirmable via the 1930 Census.

Names #2 and #3 are his uncles by marriage. Louis Volk was married to Dad's aunt Ida Mahler. Joseph Markel [should be Markell] was married to Dad's aunt Mary Mahler.

In both cases, Dad says he's known these two references for four years, suggesting around 1927. Uh, no. Dad had known Louis Volk and Joseph Markell since they married into the family during the very early 1920s. Very likely these uncles were happy to be used as references and not mention the family connection. They were living at the same addresses in 1931 as in the 1930 Census, by the way.

Then on the back of the document, Dad listed his parents' net worth, separately. He said his father, (my grandpa) Isaac Burk (1882-1943) was a furniture maker (true) and was worth $250. Maybe...

His mother, (my grandma) Henrietta Mahler (1881-1954) supposedly had a financial net worth of $350. Huh? I can't imagine where this figure came from. Maybe the Mahler family would be willing to pool their resources in case Dad had to prove this part of the application. They were known to help each other out with money on many an occasion.

This application was filled out during the Depression, so it's a stretch to think my grandparents had liquid assets of $600 between them. Never did they own a car or a home. Maybe they had a savings account, but it was probably not very fat. Now you know why I needed more than a grain of salt as I looked at this document.

Thank you to Amy Johnson Crow for her #52Ancestors prompt "unusual source", which prompted me to to reexamine this document yet again.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Learning at the New York State Family History Conference

Wow, it was a wonderful conference experience yesterday at the New York State Family History Conference, held for the first time in Tarrytown, New York.

Not only did I get to see friends from multiple genealogy clubs and societies around the Northeast, I had the opportunity to learn from some of the best genealogy experts in the business.


My first session of the day was Cherie Bush's New York Records and Resources at FamilySearch.org.


Cherie demonstrated some of FamilySearch's most valuable features and highlighted several record sets that researchers should check for New York-area ancestors. (One record set that appeared in her list was something I need to investigate: Bronx Probate, 1914-1931.)

She also reminded us of smart ways to use the FamilySearch site, especially the super-valuable wiki. Here is her slide about which record sets to check first when researching birth, death, maiden name, and parents. (Cherie invited the audience to photograph any and all slides. Thank you!)
Next, Diahan Southard and David Nicholson presented The Science of Genetic Genealogy. Blaine Bettinger was in the audience, having just finished his session, "Shared Matches and Genetic Networks."

My top takeaway: The software used for matching people is getting much, much more sophisticated. Living DNA is planning to offer matching that will not just show where we are from and who we match, but also how each match relates to us. In essence, the software would automate the match-analysis process that Blaine Bettinger described in his talk. Sounds promising!
After lunch, I snagged a seat in Thomas Jones's session, Genealogical Documentation: The What, Why, Where, and How. He reviewed, in detail, how to develop citations for sources we use in our genealogy research, saying: "Undocumented genealogy is useless because it can't be checked."

Many of us inherited handwritten family trees with no sources, leading to months or years of research for verification. If we properly cite our sources, those who come after us will be able to retrace our steps and also evaluate the quality of the sources we used. The idea is to allow later researchers to build on our work, rather than having to go back and check it over.

Mid-afternoon, a fun highlight was joining other Virtual Genealogical Association members for a group photo outside the exhibit hall. It was a pleasure to meet them in person--many for the first time!
My final session of the day was Judith Herbert's Ancestors of Meager Means and Even Less Fame in 19th Century NYC. She provided an in-depth explanation of why and how to conduct a surname study, with the case study of an ancestor. Very time-consuming, detailed research and analysis technique that can't be used if the name is Smith or Jones (or, as in my husband's case, Wood) because of the unwieldy number of people who would have to be evaluated.

The entire audience laughed when Judith showed a death cert where the spaces for names of father and mother had a dash. Helpful, Judith noted, only if your ancestor's given name was "dash."

Friday, September 14, 2018

Preview: New York State Family History Conference

The New York State Family History Conference has begun--but I won't be joining the festivities until the final day.

The Saturday schedule of #NYSFHC is jam-packed with excellent speakers and topics. I'm thinking of attending these sessions, depending on crowd size and last-minute decisions...

  • 9:15 am - Cherie Bush will explain dozens of free databases and resources in FamilySearch's New York State collection. Given the number of New York City and State ancestors in my tree (and a few in hubby's tree), this is a top pick for me.
  • 11 am - Carmen Nigro of the NY Public Library will discuss "Genealogy in Context: Using History to Find (more than just) Family Facts." The library has so many resources for putting family history into historical context! Gotta learn more.
  • Lunch and exhibit time - So many interesting exhibitors, so little time.
  • 1:45 pm - Hoping to squeeze into the room to see Thomas Jones, the guru of documentation and narration. Need I say more?
  • 2:45 - Photo meet with friendly fellow members of the Virtual Genealogical Association.
  • 3:15 - Judith Herbert will show some resourceful ways to research "Ancestors of Meager Means and even Less Fame in 19th Century NYC." My immigrant ancestors who arrived toward the end of the 1800s had little money and little fame. This should be a good session for me.
See you there?! [Updated to reflect new speaker for NYPL]

Monday, September 10, 2018

Father and Son Share a Birthday

My Facebook genealogy persona, Benjamin McClure, is my husband's great-great-grandfather.

Benjamin was born on April 30, 1812, only 6 weeks before the start of the War of 1812. He died on February 21, 1896.

Benjamin married Sarah Denning (1811-1888) on July 30, 1831. Both were 19 years old.

Who else in this family tree was born or married in April? Getting an answer was a cinch, using my RootsMagic 7 software.

On the "reports" part of the menu, I selected "calendar" and entered April, as shown in the screen shot at top. I requested both birthdays and anniversaries.

Turns out that Sarah and Benjamin's son, Theodore Wilson McClure (1834-1927) was born on his father's 22nd birthday, which was April 30, 1834.

Theodore was baptized in June of 1835, in West Union, Ohio, I learned from the Presbyterian Church records on Ancestry (snippet above).

And, thanks to the calendar function on my RM7 software, I could see at a glance that Theodore Wilson McClure got married on April 15, 1858, to Louisa Jane Austin (1837-1924). He was 23, she was 21. I imagine his parents both attended the ceremony, which was in Wabash, Indiana, where Benjamin was a well-respected landowner, farmer, and civic leader.

Following the prompts for Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors series has encouraged me to use more functions of my software and to consider so many different aspects of my ancestors' lives. Thank you!