Thursday, February 28, 2019

Meet NERGC Speaker Mel E. Smith

Are you looking for an elusive divorce record in New England? Or trying to find out whether your ancestors ever stood in a Connecticut courtroom? Mel E. Smith of the Connecticut State Library knows just how to chart a path through these and so many other records in the library's collection!

As Librarian II in the History & Genealogy Unit of the Connecticut State Library, Mel serves as a reference librarian and supervises the microfilm and ephemera collections. He has been instrumental in the creation of many databases that library patrons find valuable in their research. In addition, he is a member of the Connecticut Professional Genealogist’s Council and the Salmon Brook Historical Society.

In my role as an official NERGC blogger, I asked Mel how he got interested in family history, which genealogy challenges he finds especially rewarding, and more.

1. Growing up, did your relatives talk about the family tree? Were you drawn to a specific ancestor or a special family photo?

My father was one of ten children, and as such, I had twenty-four first cousins.  The Smith family would often gather together for holidays or birthday celebrations and I remember at an early age telling my younger brother who everyone was, and how they were related to us. I guess that the genealogy bug caught me early on.

It was my maternal grandmother (Gram to me) who told me stories of her Putnam family of New Hampshire and their links to the Salem witch trials. It was from these early stories that she made history come to life as past family members actually played an important, even infamous, part in American history. One of my most treasured possessions is the hand-written genealogy that she gave me for Christmas one year when I was in my teens.

If I had to pick one ancestor who I have been drawn to, it would be my Great-Great Uncle Charles F. Blackington who served in the Union Army from the State of Maine during the Civil War. After the war, he moved out west for health reasons and served as a self-taught country doctor, miner/prospector, and sheriff in Colorado and New Mexico. I have discovered a great deal of interesting stories about him in the rough and tumble environment he found himself in. I hope that even though Charles never had any children survive to adulthood, that as a result of my historical research, I can provide information about his life to my children so that they have a better understating of his life and remember with pride an American original.

2. Books, genealogy, history--which of these is your first love, and why?

I would have to say books (kind of a natural for a librarian right?), followed by history and genealogy. Books can take you to any point in history and open up an entirely new world of wonder for a young reader. I have always loved reading about history of all kinds. I think I developed this love early as my father was very interested in history as well.  But genealogy ties my love of books and history all together by making it personal! 

3. You will be leading one NERGC session on finding New England divorce records and another on Connecticut court records. Why are these types of records often so difficult to locate?

That is a very good question! Court records can be very daunting to some family historians because they do not understand the amazing, varied, amount of genealogical data that can be found in criminal or civil court records. A second reason court records may be difficult to use is the sheer number and types of different courts systems, and confusion regarding the location and access of the actual records.

4. In your role at the Connecticut State Library, what types of genealogy inquiries do you find especially challenging or rewarding?

I love my job at the Connecticut State Library because it allows me to assist people in finding information about their long ago (or not so long ago) ancestors. Each day can be like the first day on the job as the questions that are asked, while similar, can lead us on a different adventure of family discovery.

I must say that two types of questions really get me going. The first pertains to a family, any family, that had lived in Connecticut for a generation or longer, and then settles out of state. Connecticut served as a springboard for so many settlers that went to other locations in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, other places points West, and even to Canada! It is always a thrill to help patrons find their family as they moved through time across this wonderful country of ours.

The second question that I often get pertains to those individuals that are researching adoption cases. These types of cases can be very challenging due to the nature of the records, as they may be restricted depending upon the time period. Another reason adoption cases are difficult is the lack of information about the case. In Connecticut one must know the birth name of the child in order to have a good chance of finding the relevant adoption record. Another reason is the vast number of probate courts that once existed in Connecticut that might have processed the adoption. Adoption cases can be frustrating, but very rewarding when you are able to lead a patron to the names of the biological parents.     

5. What is your game plan for getting the most out of this year's NERGC conference?

The NERGC conference allows me the opportunity to sit back and learn new ways or techniques of conducting genealogical search to better assist my patrons, as well as furthering my own personal research. Whether it be attending as many sessions that I can, or taking part in a special workshop or luncheon, I always learn something new and exciting about the field of genealogy. 

One other way that I learn is to talk to other conference-goers to see what they are seeing and value in the field of genealogy. As the field is constantly evolving and changing (and I would say for the better), it is always important to learn what worked for others in breaking down a genealogical brick wall.

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Mel Smith is presenting two programs at NERGC, both on Saturday:
  • Session S-105, Finding Your New England Family in Divorce Records (8:30-9:30 am)
  • Session S-137, Finding Your Family in Connecticut Court Records (4:45-5:45 pm)

Friday, February 22, 2019

Happy Twin Birthday!

So excited to be celebrating another twin birthday! Happy birthday to my special Sis. And many more!

Here we are in our twin bonnets, out for an outing in the twin baby buggy. Lots of blonde hair sticking out of those bonnets.

This photo was taken alongside the Bronx apartment building where we grew up, one block from a big park. It felt like suburbia back in the day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Family Photos: The Man Who Wasn't There

Excerpt from 1916 wedding photo of Alex Farkas and Jennie Katz in New York City
Earlier this month, I wrote about using city directories to track ancestors through the years, noting not only who was where and when but who was missing in a given year.

Same goes for family photos. I have several group photos taken at family weddings. But sometimes a key ancestor is missing, as in the 1916 wedding photo shown above (with an excerpt of the caption page superimposed). This is my #52Ancestors story of the man who wasn't there.

Name that Farkas ancestor

If you squint, you can see someone long ago wrote numbers in white ink on people's hats or lapels. At one time, there was surely an identification key. But 103 years later, no one has it or remembers ever seeing it.

Interestingly, the bride and groom weren't numbered. So when I added the numbers (following the numbering system used on the original), I called the bride A and the groom B. The groom is my great uncle Alex Farkas, the bride is my great aunt Jennie Katz. I also recorded the occasion, date, and geographic location on this numbered photo for future generations to know.

One of my favorite cousins had already identified all the Farkas siblings in this photo. I typed up the list by number (see excerpt above, superimposed on photo). My Grandma Minnie Farkas Schwartz is #19 and Grandpa Teddy Schwartz is #20.

We had a question about one of the Farkas siblings, and another cousin chimed in to confirm who it was. The many blanks on the caption page are, we suspect, members of the bride's side and some friends, whose names and faces none of us know. No one is left on the bride's side to ask, and they had no children.

The man who wasn't there

Stepping back from the identifications, it was clear one Farkas sibling was not in the photo: Albert Farkas (1888-1956). Why was he not at his older brother's wedding?
I searched his time-line again and noticed that he was inducted into the US Army in August, 1918, to serve in WWI (see above). But that didn't explain his absence from a photo in December, 1916.

Clicking to search for more, I found a registration form (above) from the U.S. Consulate in Canada, indicating that Albert Farkas had registered as an American citizen living in Vancouver in November, 1912. He was still there in October, 1916, but this certificate was to expire within months.

Write it down or risk losing it

Asking around, I found one cousin who remembered the story: Albert left Vancouver in 1917 because, with Canada already at war, he was going to be called to serve in their military. So Albert came home to New York City and wound up drafted when America entered the war soon afterward.

I added this explanation to the bottom of my page of identifications because someday, when I join my ancestors, someone might notice Albert's absence from this family photo. If I don't write it down, it could be forgotten and fall into the category of one of those family history mysteries we all puzzle over.

It would be a shame to have the identifications lost for a second time. That's why I've sent my first and second cousins a three-page .pdf file of this photo with numbers, a page of captioned names, and an unnumbered version of the photo, asking them to share with their descendants. I want to keep the names and faces alive into the future.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Taking Care of 102 Year Old Photos

Yesterday was the day. I slit open the package of special archival acid-free buffered tissue paper I purchased at the end of last year, intended for interleaving within photo albums. This was on my genealogy to-do list for 2019, and now it is checked off!

Above, a photo of my late father-in-law's 1917 photo album, with the archival box in which I store it (note identifying label on the box).

This 1917 album is the oldest I've been entrusted with, as the genealogist of this generation. I've also been entrusted with my late father-in-law's 1926 Tufts College album.

It's up to me to safeguard these old photo albums so they survive for future descendants to enjoy. Each album has its own archival box, so it doesn't get jostled or damaged. But without interleaving between the pages, items on the pages might deteriorate or rub off on each other. That's why I needed to work on interleaving.

Along the way, I learned a couple of lessons about how to carefully place interleaving paper between pages of albums. Of course, begin by washing/drying hands and putting all materials on a clean, dry surface, far from liquids, foods, perfumes, etc. Then:
  1. Start from the back of the album and work your way forward. That way, the paper doesn't slip out or shift as easily. 
  2. Turn pages gently so they don't rip or flake as you slip in the archival paper.
  3. If pages have multiple overlapping items glued down, place a small piece of interleaving paper between these so they don't rub off on each other or discolor each other. Then place one piece of paper over all.
  4. Don't overstuff between album pages! 
  5. If archival papers hang off too much, carefully cut off the edges (leaving a small margin all around the album) at the end of the project. I used the extra paper cut off to "stuff" next to one album so it doesn't rattle in the box.
Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for this week's #52Ancestors prompt of "family photo."

Friday, February 15, 2019

Who Can See Your Family History Media?

 Facts on Great-Grandma Tillie Jacobs Mahler's family tree, with attached media
Genealogy record sets disappear from websites from time to time! And if one of my family history "facts" is linked to a source that disappears, I'll be sorry. Several highly experienced genealogy folks have suggested capturing the source image (original, not transcription or index) for download to my computer. I'm starting to do that.

This way, the digital media will be in my genealogy file folders (arranged by surname and/or family) and in my genealogy software.

Just as important, I'm making sure these media images (Census, vital records, and more) will be visible to anyone who finds my public family trees. I welcome cousins browsing my trees and would love to imagine them clicking to see the media image for themselves. In reality, this is a long shot, but at least the media are visible because the trees are public.

Download, then upload family history media

After I download an image related to a source (such as a Census page), I rename it and save it in the proper digital folder. I also add it to my genealogy software.

The next step is to upload that source as an image to support the related fact on my online tree. You can see what that looks like on my paternal great-grandma's Ancestry tree, shown above in excerpted form. You can see a thumbnail preview of the uploaded media next to the related facts.

Census pages are unlikely to be totally withdrawn from public view, IMHO, because they are so widely available. Especially when the transcription or indexing is squirrelly, I will occasionally attach a blowup of the relevant section as the media rather than the entire page to support a fact. I did this for the 1900 US Census and 1905 NY Census in my tree, above.

Media for possible cousins and future genealogists

OK, I'm late to this party. I was delighted at the distant cousin who not only attached actual Census pages and other media but summarized the contents in the comments area--especially full street addresses or other details. I know he's a careful researcher and I can see at a glance where he says our common ancestors lived or died. Thank you!

When researching common surnames like WOOD, having the ability to quickly check an original source is a big plus. I like to think I'm helping my husband's cousins and future genealogists by attaching the media and not relying solely on links to source citations.

I'm approaching this as a long series of bite-sized projects. One ancestor at a time, I'm capturing, downloading, uploading, and attaching source media. One at a time, not all at once. No tree ever grew in a day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Why I Use Genealogy Software (It's Not Why You Think)

RootsMagic is my genealogy software of choice for one big reason: It syncs with Ancestry, my research/tree site of choice.

But unlike most researchers, I don't do my work in the software and then upload to Ancestry.

On the contrary, I prefer to work in Ancestry (including research and uploading photos/documents) and then download to my computer, via my sync with RootsMagic.

My Technology May Not Be Their Technology

Why? My mind is constantly thinking way ahead to what happens when I someday join my ancestors.

On that faraway day, even though my Mac computer will remain on my desk, it may as well be a pile of bricks as far as my genealogy heir(s) are concerned.

I'll bet none of the next generation will be bothered to open my genealogy software, let alone learn how it works. They'll have their own technology preferences, and any specialized genealogy software on my desktop Mac is unlikely to appeal to the mobile-first younger generation. Just ask your younger relatives and see if they agree.

With this in mind, I don't think of my genealogy software as the primary place to keep my tree and media. In a sense, my computer-based software acts like a backup to my Ancestry tree.

A Family Tree Grows Online

I believe descendants and relatives (and cousins I don't yet know about) are far more likely to find my public family tree on Ancestry, if they have any interest at all.

As I wrote in my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Pastonline trees should be noted in any genealogical "will." For my part, I'm leaving my genealogical heirs a bit of money for an Ancestry subscription so they can noodle around and see how the tree works. They can use mobile or desktop devices, whatever suits their fancy.

Of course, I sync with RootsMagic very frequently so I always have the latest version of my tree on my computer, including all media. This is because I work on the Ancestry tree (multiple trees, actually) every week, sometimes every day. New documents become available, or new photos surface in the family--those are good reasons to add to my online tree and share with those who have been invited to see it. Also, I like to look at DNA hints and compare those trees with mine on Ancestry. It's just convenient to have the latest tree online.

Way in the future, my heirs can decide if they want their own genealogy software. If not, they and I can rest easy, knowing the tree and documentation are on Ancestry for the family to see at any time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

See You at Family Tree Live in London, April 26-27

Family Tree magazine has cooked up Family Tree Livea big new genealogy show in London on Friday and Saturday, April 26-27!

There will be more than 60 lectures, with three choices of expert speakers or panels per each time slot. For hands-on learning, the show also offers dozens of workshops, including a special track about DNA for genealogy.

You can buy tickets and prebook your seat in lectures and workshops right now!

It's new, it's live, and I'm thrilled to be on the program as a speaker and panelist during three sessions. Please say hello if you come to one of these talks:
  • #Genealogy and #familyhistory: How to use social media for genealogy (at 12:15 pm on Friday, April 26) - I'll decode the hashtags and show you how to get the most out of using Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest for genealogy, whether you want to join the conversation or follow to lurk and learn.
  • Planning a future for your family's past: Do you have a genealogical will? (at 10:00 am on Saturday, April 27) - After a brief overview of organizing genealogy files so they look like a legacy, I'll explain why and how to prepare a genealogical 'will' to keep old photos and documents safe for future generations.* 
  • Crash course in writing your family history (at 11:30 am on Saturday, April 27) - Gill Blanchard, Diane Lindsay, and I will offer practical ideas and tips for writing your family's history so descendants will know the more about the lives lived by their ancestors--not just names and dates.
* You can find out even more by reading my best-selling genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Valentine Leads Me to Relearn Two Lessons

My husband's uncle, Wallis Wood (1905-1957), received a lot of penny postal greeting cards from "Aunt Nellie."

Most, like the Valentine's Day card at left, included the name and/or signature of "Uncle Arthur" (as shown below).

"Aunt Nellie" was Ellen Rachel "Nellie" Wood (1864-1954).

Nellie was a younger sister of Wallis's father. I know a lot about her. I've even written about her here, at least a dozen times over the years.

But this post is not really about the valentine. It's about how I had to relearn two key lessons.
Aunt Nellie married twice

For this week's #52Ancestors prompt of "love," I thought it would be fun to write a bit more about Nellie's two marriages: Her first to Walter and her second to Arthur.

Not long after Y2K, I added Nellie and her two husbands to my Wood family tree. So I clicked on the tree to check on what I know. Uh-oh.

Sources? What sources?

I found their names on the tree. I even had a marriage date and place for her Nellie's first wedding. But no sources.

Not good. I had put Nellie, Walter, and Arthur on my tree before I was consistent about citing my sources.

Now I'm forced to retrace my steps to demonstrate how I "know" what I think I know about Nellie, Walter, and Arthur. But that's not my only lesson.

Always read the original!

Nellie's first marriage, at the age of 20, was to Walter Alfred Lervis Sr. (1860-1897). Or so I had recorded all those years ago. I even had a specific date. But alas, no certificate attached.

After well more than an hour of finding nothing on the usual sites, I decided to look for Walter's son, whose existence I had noted on my tree, along with his wife's name.

Yay! I found his marriage cert. Gulp.

His father's surname is clearly shown, on the original cert, as Walter Lewis. Plugging that in, I immediately came up with Nellie and Walter's marriage cert. It showed LEWIS. Not Lervis. For all these years, I've had this man listed with an incorrect surname. Until now. Shame on me!

Capture the source as an image

Why blog about my mistakes? This re-do has one big advantage: Now that I've found the documentation, I'm doing screen shots and adding the media to my tree as genealogical proof.

This way, if the certs or other sources are ever withdrawn from public view or are otherwise unavailable, the images proving my sources will be on the tree. As images, not just links to online sources.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Meet NERGC Speaker Bryna O'Sullivan

Bryna O'Sullivan - NERGC 2019 Speaker
Do you have a New England patriot in your family tree? Maybe you need ideas for reading genealogy documents written in French? Pro genealogist Bryna O'Sullivan is an expert in both of these areas! I've seen her speak at Connecticut genealogy events, and she really knows her stuff.

Now Bryna is presenting two programs at the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium (NERGC) conference in New Hampshire, April 3-6, 2019. She's a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, and she applies her academic background in history, church history, and French to the genealogy projects she undertakes. Please visit her website, Charter Oak Genealogy, to learn more.

In my role as an official NERGC blogger, I asked Bryna a few questions about how she got started in family history, who's in her family tree, and making the most of the NERGC experience.

1. What kindled your early interest in genealogy, and why did you decide to become a professional genealogist?

Surprisingly enough, my interest didn’t start with the traditional “family tree” project. My elementary school had (and still has) a unit on the Mayflower as a way to introduce students to American history. Seeing how intrigued I was by the unit, my great-grandmother shared that we were descended from one of the Mayflower’s passengers and a little bit about our family’s history. I wanted to know more about the stories. It was enough to get me started. Although I researched inconsistently through school, the early love has stayed with me and only grown over time. As an aside, I was actually able to go full circle and conduct a genealogy workshop at the school several weeks ago.

Becoming a professional genealogist was a way for me to tie together my love of those stories, my love of the French language and a desire to make a difference. Every day, I’m lucky enough to help my clients access their past. Sometimes, it’s through translating historic documents. Other times, it’s through preparing a lineage society application. But in each case, I’m able to give them a deeper sense of where they came from and what that can mean for their lives.

2. One of the programs you're presenting is about proving service for a New England patriot. Do you have a patriot in your family tree?

I actually have “patriots” – defined by the Daughters of the American Revolution as “one who provided service or direct assistance in achieving America’s independence” -  on multiple lines of my family tree. My “patriot” ancestors include one of the surveyors of Connecticut’s Western Reserve, a Maryland plantation owner, a militia officer in Quebec and several others. While I’ve not yet proved all of them to DAR standards, I’ve loved to chance to delve into their history and learn more about their lives.

3. What have you learned about genealogy research that you wish you had known when you first started out?

Although there’s very little I wish I had known in advance, as learning is part of the process, there’s one thing that my family did right for which I’m very grateful. My family has always told stories and tied them into our current experiences. Most were positive. When I was studying the Connecticut River, my great-grandmother told me about the ancestor who was a riverboat captain. My mother shared stories about pranks her father played as a child.

However, many stories were not. My grandmother spoke about the French officer who saved my grandfather’s life in the Second World War. Another relative mentioned how an ancestor had died at the Battle of Petersburg. These stories gave incredible gifts: they provided the details I needed to research my family further, but more importantly, a sense of where we had come from, that we had survived tough things, and that we could keep going. Too many families don’t share these stories on the belief that they don’t matter. They do.

4. If you could visit with one ancestor in your family tree, who would you choose, and why?

I was lucky enough to grow up with her! My great-grandmother, who started my interest in family history, joined the US Navy during World War I. As a yeoman (F), she was one of the first women to enlist in the United States military. I attended several events that honored veterans with her when I was a child. How she handled the reaction from World War II vets who assumed she was lying about her service provided a powerful lesson about public perception and standing up for yourself. It was far from her only lesson.

5. What is your game plan for getting the most out of your NERGC experience?

For me, one of the joys of NERGC is learning more about what genealogists are interested in discovering. I’ve carefully blocked out time to work in the Ancestor Roadshow to get a little more one on one discussion.
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Bryna O'Sullivan is presenting two programs at NERGC, both on Friday:

Session F-135, Tips & Tricks for French Language Documents (1:45-2:45 pm)
Session F-134, Prove New Service for a New England Patriot (4:45-5:45 pm)

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

FREE: City Directories on HeritageQuest


Did you know you can access US city directories via HeritageQuest Online, for free? In Vermont, Los Angeles, New York City, and in many other areas, all you need to access the free HeritageQuest genealogy databases from home is a public library card.

In my previous post, I discussed how I used city directories to solve a family mystery. HeritageQuest has lots of town and city directories . . . ready to be searched or browsed from your own keyboard, in your bunny slippers, at any hour.

Does your local library offer HeritageQuest?

Check your local or state library's website or ask your friendly neighborhood librarian about how to access HeritageQuest from home. Usually all you need is a library card number.

Once you log in, go to the "Search" section of the HeritageQuest site (as shown at left).

There you'll see several choices of databases to search--including, as shown at top, the many city directories.

Now you'll have three choices of databases: "people," "publications," and "city directories" (see image at right).

Search name and family member

Click on "city directories" to search by name, with a family member (which sometimes helps), indicate gender, and indicate residence year.

Dates can be approximate--the results usually cover a range of years. Go ahead and click, it's free with your library card. You never know who you will find (or, as in the case of the family mystery I was researching, who you will not find).

--

This is a brief excerpt from my how-to presentation, Getting the Most Out of HeritageQuest Online. For more about my talks, please click here.

HeritageQuest is only available in Connecticut with a free state library card, by the way, due to budget limitations.

Monday, February 4, 2019

City Directories: Who's There? Who's Missing?



City directories were published frequently, making them an important source of info during years that fall between the Census. There's some element of luck--are directories available for the town or city where an ancestor lived? Are the directories available for the years being researched? But when the answer to both questions is yes, directories are fabulous for showing who was there, at that time and place. Equally important, a directory can indicate who is NOT there.

I just used directories to help solve a long-standing family history mystery. It all started with the complicated marital affairs of my husband's grandfather, James Edgar Wood. As I wrote yesterday, he married Mary Slatter in 1898, and when she died in 1925, he married Alice Hopperton Unger. In the spring of 1928, James divorced Alice. Later that year, James married Carolina "Carrie" Foltz Cragg (an in-law of his nephew).

Looking for Carrie Wood's Listing  

What became of Carrie? She wasn't with James when he died. In fact, his death cert says he was widowed, and lists his deceased wife as Mary (the first wife). The informant was James's oldest son, who presumably was aware of at least one of the two marriages after Mary Slatter Wood's death. Like I said, it was complicated. Anyway...

My next stop was the Census, where Carrie was shown with James in 1930 in Jackson, Michigan, the same city where they were married in 1928.

Next, I looked at the city directories for Jackson, Michigan. Carrie was listed with James up to the year 1933. See the entry, at top, for that year.

But Carrie was missing from James's listing in 1935 in Jackson. Where did she go?

The wonderful cousin who's our long-time Wood genealogist suggested I look in Toledo (where James was born and where one of Carrie's grown children lived) or Cleveland (that's where James died). I found no Carrie Wood in the Toledo city directory, not even in the household of her daughter and son-in-law, who were listed in the directories. Then I tried something different.

Breakthrough Via Carrie's Grown Children

I looked at Carrie's other two children in the 1930s. One was married in 1935 in Jackson, MI. His actual marriage license was available and when I looked closely, I noticed one of the witnesses was . . . Carrie, his mom! There was her address--in Toledo, living with a daughter. Carrie was missing from the Toledo city directory, but she was noted on her son's marriage license in Jackson, where she must have gone for the wedding.

Now I returned to Family Search and looked for the death of Carolina Wood in Toledo, Ohio, between 1935 and 1939. I chose 1939 as the end date because that was when James died.

Immediately, up popped the death certificate for Caroline Wood. She had been diagnosed with cancer in 1933 and died in October, 1935, in Toledo.

This is definitely the correct Carrie because her daughter is the informant and lists Carrie's father's name, country of birth, and so on. The details are a good match, except for the name being "Caroline" instead of "Carolina." Carrie's address at the time of her death was the same as that of her daughter, the informant. So when Carrie became ill, it seems she went to live with her daughter, who took care of her until her death.

And to think it was Carrie's absence from the Jackson city directories after 1933 that provided a crucial clue in the trail of research that led to finding her final resting place in Woodlawn Cemetery, Toledo.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

"He Said, She Said" in Grandpa's Divorce

This is a photo of my husband's grandpa, James Edgar Wood (1871-1939). At the time of this photo, he was married to grandma Mary Slatter Wood (1869-1925), and they made their home in Cleveland, Ohio. After Mary died, James married his nephew's mother-in-law: Carolina "Carrie" Foltz Cragg (1871-?). The marriage was arranged to put a widow and a widower together, so neither would be alone, I was told by my husband's genealogist cousin.

Surprise! Wife #2 Before Wife #3

Several years ago, I unexpectedly discovered that James was married to wife #2 before he married Carrie. Wife #2 was Alice Hopperton Unger (1884-1930), who married James in Cleveland in September, 1926.

My late father-in-law (James's oldest son) said--in a 1980s interview--he believed his father married his housekeeper and there was some "hanky-panky" involved. With hindsight, it sounds like he was thinking of Alice, not Carrie, but he never named the woman and didn't have much to say about the whole thing.

Not so long ago, I found Alice's death cert and learned that she died in 1930 of heart problems. James married wife #3 in October, 1928. Obviously, James's marriage #2 was somehow dissolved before Alice's death and his marriage to wife #3. I narrowed the time frame to 1927-8 and began searching for divorce papers. I really wanted to know more to help round out our understanding of James as a person, and his relationships to people around him.

Surprise! James vs Alice AND Alice vs James 

Don't hesitate to look for divorce records. I called the clerk of the court at Cuyahoga County's to ask about divorce records from 1927-8. I was told to send an email with specific details. A few weeks later, the county clerk called me to say they had located the divorce records! They popped a photocopy in the mail to me for free. Twenty-five pages of divorce records! Surprisingly, not only did James try to divorce Alice, Alice filed her own petition for divorce soon afterward.

According to the paperwork, James filed for divorce on March 12, 1927. He complained that he and Alice had been separated since February, 1927. He charged she was "guilty of gross neglect of duty and extreme cruelty" toward him, saying she "refused to provide this plaintiff with his meals, laundry and care and neglected her household duties." He further complained that Alice "refused to bear children for him."

Bear in mind that James was 57 years old at the time he filed for divorce, and Alice was 43. James's youngest child was already 17. Hard for me to believe that James really wanted children with Alice,  or that Alice was eager to have children, but this is only speculation. I believe James's complaint relates to the "hanky-panky" my father-in-law remembered (his words, not mine).

For her part, Alice sued James for divorce in April, 1927. She said James hit her, causing her to leave their home the very next day; he was "quarrelsome" and was "penurious," not wanting to spend "for the necessities of life." Leading up to the separation, Alice had been ill and unable to perform household duties, yet James "refused and neglected to provide any help or assistance in the care of his household and was abusive in his talk."

Unfortunately, in this "he said, she said" situation, we can't really know the truth of what happened between James and Alice. All we have is the dueling divorce petitions.

James Wins Divorce, Alice Wins Alimony

By spring of 1928, the two divorce petitions were consolidated into one. James prevailed, winning his divorce and holding onto all the property he had brought into their brief marriage. Alice won a lump-sum alimony payment of $300 (the equivalent of $4,100 today). The payment was reduced to $250 if James paid within 30 days. Alice was most likely even sicker by this point and needed the money right away. .

Six months after the divorce from wife #2, James married wife #3, Carrie Cragg, and they moved to Jackson, MI. What happened to Carrie? I'm still searching for her death, because Carrie did not apparently accompany James when he returned to Cleveland and died in the home of his older son in 1939.

What About Carrie?

Were James and Carrie divorced? Not that I can find. Was he too ill for Carrie to care for? Or did Carrie not want to go to Cleveland with James at the end of his life? Where and when did Carrie die?

Turns out, she went back to Toledo, where she died (informant for death cert was one of her children). Why she and James split up, I don't know.

Thanks, as always, to Amy Johnson Crow for this week's #52Ancestors challenge.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Looking for Teddy's Dairy in 1940

Click here to look for NYC building photos in the tax records
Wouldn't it be fun to go back in time and see what the residences and businesses of our ancestors looked like in, say, 1940? My ancestors on both sides were in New York City at the time, mainly in the Bronx, and I'm lucky that at least some photos are available in books (like Lloyd Ultan's The Beautiful Bronx, 1920-1950).

But not every building on every block is in those books. Even the New York Public Library's excellent digital photographic collection doesn't have every building on every street.

It turns out there is a super source of photographs of NYC buildings from 1940. It's free and it's online.

Photos in the NYC Municipal Archives

The NYC Municipal Archives holds these building photos, part of a database of 1940s tax records for all five boroughs. The photos were originally used to support property value assessments for every building in the city.

Now the digitized collection is a wonderful resource for genealogists whose ancestors lived in (or had a business in) New York City at that time. It's like Street View on Google Maps but set in the past of 1940, and only in black-and-white.

Searching For a Building Photo

The main portal to the photos allows visitors to choose a specific borough as the first step. At top, my choice of the Bronx. The next step is to browse or search for a building photo.

To search, you need the specific block and lot number of the property. That's not the same as the address. To find block and lot, click on the link on "NYCityMap" link and enter the street address and borough. Above is the result I got when I searched for 679 Fox Street, the Bronx address of the small grocery store called Teddy's Dairy, operated by Grandpa Teddy Schwartz and Grandma Minnie Farkas Schwartz in 1940.

Finding Teddy's Dairy

To see the actual photo, I plugged the block and lot number into the search box of the tax-photo page for the Bronx. Up came a black-and-white image of an apartment building with ground-floor retail space (see below). People are walking along, oblivious to the camera, and cars are parked along the curbs. It's an ordinary day in 1940.

Which storefront is Teddy's Dairy? The signs in the 1940 photo aren't crystal-clear. So I used Street View on Google Maps to confirm that the address is the corner store, with the entrance slightly up the street on the left. Today, that space is occupied by a food store, as it was in 1940, when my grandparents ran the corner store.

High-quality photos are for sale, but anyone can look at any building photo with a few clicks. More photographic time-travel is in my future as I click merrily through the Archives to see the buildings where these and other NYC ancestors lived and worked in 1940.

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for this week's #52Ancestors prompt of "At the Library."