Saturday, March 30, 2019

Whoa, Nellie! Oh, Henry! Researching My Great Aunt

Center, Nellie Block. Right, Jennie Birk. Left: Which brother?
My great aunt Nellie Block was the oldest sister of paternal Grandpa Isaac Burk. She's the lady in the center of this undated photo. From the meager paperwork I've assembled, she may possibly have come to America from their hometown of Gargzdai, Lithuania, before her other siblings made the journey.

I haven't yet found her on a passenger manifest, so I can't confirm exactly when she crossed the Atlantic. She didn't travel with her brother Meyer Berg, who arrived in May, 1903, or her brother Max Birk, who arrived in 1906. She didn't travel with my Grandpa Isaac or his older brother Abraham, who both went to Canada first. She didn't travel with younger sister Jennie, who arrived in 1909. In each case, I found these siblings on the manifest without her, seeming to be alone in their trans-Atlantic crossing.

Here's what I do know. When my Grandpa sailed to Canada and later crossed into America in 1904, he listed "Sister Nella Block" as the nearest relative he was going to meet in New York City. At that time, the address for Nellie was the apartment where the Mahler family lived--their daughter Henrietta Mahler became the bride of Isaac Burk in 1906. So it seems there was a previous family connection between the Burk and Mahler families. (That connection continued, clearly, because Jennie was a boarder in the Mahler apartment in the 1910 census. More about that in a later post.)

Whoa, Nellie! Check That Date

Nellie Block's gravestone shows her Hebrew name as "Neshi, daughter of Solomon." (This tallies with what I know of the father's name.) It also shows her as 85 years of age when she died. Date carved in stone? Not necessarily correct.

Here's what two Census documents say:

  • 1905 New York Census, age 27 (census taken in June)
  • 1910 US Census, age 31 (census taken in April)

I am actively searching for her in the 1915 NY Census, 1920 US Census, 1930 Census, or 1940 Census, using variations on her name, because I am 99% positive she remained in New York City.

Based on what I have in hand, I believe she was born in 1879 and was actually 71 (not 85) when she died on December 22, 1950. Why the family would have her age as 85 is a mystery.

Oh, Henry! Where Nellie Lived

Two Census documents show Nellie lived as a boarder in tenements on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where so many other immigrants began their new lives. Her address in 1905 was 62 Henry Street, a tenement building that no longer exists, where she was a boarder in someone else's apartment. Her address in 1910 was 46 Henry Street, boarding in a tenement just a one-minute walk from her previous address, as shown in the map above.

That area has been going through a resurgence; I found an article here about what Henry Street used to be like a century ago.

Oh Henry! was the name of a popular candy bar introduced about 100 years ago and still on the market today. Whether Nellie ever tasted one, I have no idea. It would be so sweet to learn more about Great Aunt Nellie!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Grandpa's Siblings: Researching Holes in Their Stories

My paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk (1882-1943), was born in Gargzdai, Lithuania, and had at least five siblings. Based on old photos in the family, there was probably a much younger brother who remained in Lithuania when Isaac and his siblings Max, Jennie, Meyer, and Nellie came to America and older brother Abraham came to Canada.

As part of my genealogy go-over, I'm reviewing the holes in their stories and doing more research to fill in. Today, I'm looking at Max (originally Matel) Birk (1892-1953), the youngest of siblings who left Lithuania.

Burke, Berk, Burk, Birk, Berg, Block

Grandpa Isaac (who died long before I was born) spelled his surname Burk. The other siblings went by variations: Abraham went by Burke or Berk, Max went by Birk, Meyer went by Berg, Nellie went by Block, and Jennie went by Birk. No wonder genealogists go a little batty. Yes, I know these fit the Soundex category for Burk, but I also have to spell creatively where Soundex isn't an option.

The Search Is On!

The July, 1906 passenger list for the S.S. Ryndam out of Rotterdam shows Max being met by his brother Isaac Burk (my grandpa) in New York City. That's where the paper trail evaporates for a while.

I already found Max's WWI draft registration form, shown at top. He was a jeweler in Chicago in 1917, living at 3525 W. 12 St. He was naturalized in Chicago in 1923, I know from his naturalization papers, and then living at 3525 Roosevelt Dr.

But when did Max arrive in Chicago? When did he return to New York City, where he was married in 1936? The search is on for the missing years. So far, no luck finding Max in New York City directories, but that's another avenue I'll pursue shortly.

Census and City Directories

After no luck finding Max/Matel in the US Census for 1910 and 1920 (in Family Search and in Ancestry, plus Heritage Quest as well), I struck out looking for Max in the 1905 and 1915 New York State Census. These searches were via indexing, so shortly I'll try browsing the Census near where his siblings lived in NYC during those Census periods. He may have been mis-indexed and only by browsing will I find him, if he's in NY.

Heritage Quest has lots of city directories, but not from Chicago. That's why I used my Connecticut State Library card for remote access to Fold3 for free, from home, to look at Chicago city directories for the early 1900s. 

I found Max in the 1923 Chicago directory, a jeweler, right where he should be in the listings for Birk (see below), at the same address as on his naturalization papers. He's not in the 1915-6-7 Chicago directories, however. I'm still looking in the Chicago directories via Ancestry for a variation on Max's surname.

Max was living in Chicago in 1920, at 2525 W. 12th Street, according to his naturalization papers. My next step is to browse the 1920 census for Chicago in that area, and to look for additional Chicago directories from the 1920s to see when he stops appearing. UPDATE: Browsing Census images on HeritageQuest is going to take time, since the address could be in one of several wards.  I made a note of EDs and wards so I can stop and pick up in the same place along the way.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

With My Library Card, Finding Out "Who's in the Paper"

Most of my mother's Farkas family lived in and around New York City from the early 1900s to the 1980s (and for some, beyond). For them, the New York Times was the "paper of record" for key family events announced via paid notices. In particular, it was a way to let relatives and friends know when and where a funeral would be held, via a paid death notice.

This week's #52Ancestors prompt by Amy Johnson Crow motivated me to finish searching for the death notices of my Farkas great aunts and great uncles. As it happened, none of the family deaths occurred during the big multi-paper New York City strike, December 1962-March 1963, or the later Times strike of 1965.

My parents were accustomed to buying at least two papers a day (morning and evening) and a third on Sunday for the color comics (remember Dondi?), so they really felt the loss of printed news and paid notices.

Searching for Free with My Library Card

Happily for me, I can search the New York Times for free, from home, with my local library card, to gather those paid notices. How? Here in Connecticut, a local library card allows me to access databases, like ProQuest newspapers and HeritageQuest, through the Connecticut State Library. And no more microfilm!

As shown above, I entered the name of my ancestor in the search box and narrowed the period to be searched to the 1940s. Even though I know his exact death date, death notices might be printed on that day or a day or two later. I didn't want to restrict my search too much.

Then I selected the sort for "most recent" articles to be presented first, since he died in the late 1940s.

After only a few clicks, I had his paid death notice. Repeating the process, I quickly found the paid death notices of a handful of his other siblings. I used these to verify the date of burial, as well.

Reading for More than Family Names

As shown at right, in some cases the paid death notices included a tribute from an employer or a trade association.

Here, my great uncle Albert was being remembered by the American Cloak and Suit Manufacturers Assn, which he had served as President and as an executive board member.

Although I was aware of Albert's occupation, from family stories and from documents like Census records and draft cards, I would never have known about his work for the industry without this extra notice in the newspaper.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Farkas Family Tree Says: Go Fish!

My mother's Farkas Family Tree loved planning outings for the whole family.

I know this because I am lucky enough to have 30+ years of monthly minutes from their meetings. Also, even though I was just a tyke, I have memories of going on a number of these outings years after the traditions began.

Something's Fishy: A New Tradition

Formed in 1933 to keep the bonds strong between the eleven adult children (and many grandchildren) of Moritz Farkas and Leni Kunstler Farkas, the Farkas Family Tree began a new tradition in 1938 when one of the members suggested that a fishing trip be held on June 19th.

Faster than you can say flounder, the boat was chartered, to carry 50 passengers for a grand total of $50. The next set of minutes, on September 12, 1938, reported: "Our June fishing trip had been a huge success and all who attended requested an encore."

Encore Fishing Trips

Building on the momentum from the first year, the Family Tree decided to hold a second fishing trip on June 4, 1939. The minutes from one week later say it was "a wet success. A number of people disappointed us, owing to weather and illnesses. We were indebted for $50. The expenses came to $68, and collections amounted to $56." The tree association made up the difference.

During World War II, gas shortages and tire shortages forced the tree to suspend many of its annual outings, not just the fishing trip but also some summer picnics and/or summer beach trips.

The Entertainment Committee, charged with arranging fishing trips, reported in May, 1946, that no fishing was possible that year because boats were not available. A summer picnic was arranged, however.

Skipping ahead to 1949, the minutes of June 5th report "on a most successful fishing trip...Many fish and many kinds of fish were caught" not to mention all the eating and drinking on the boat. Dozens of fish were fried at a member's house that evening and "those who didn't realize how tired they were played gin [rummy] until midnight." The minutes even note who caught the first fish, who caught the most fish, who caught the largest fish, and who caught the first flounder.

Remember the Flounder

Sis and I went on several family fishing trips during the late 1950s and early 1960s. My father (Harold Burk) was brought up in the heart of New York City, and he loved these outings for the opportunity to feel the wind on the water. He was delighted to introduce his little girls to fishing, using a hook knotted onto a nylon line.

I remember catching a flounder using one of these hand-held fishing lines and being so excited I could hardly wait for Dad to pull it up for me. Sis actually caught more fish than I did, but we both had a fun time. Being a picky eater, I wouldn't even taste the flounder we caught when they were cooked up later. Some kids just don't know what's good!

As the tree meetings became fewer and farther between, so did the fishing trips. The last report of a fishing trip was in the Historian's Report of 1964, which was "successful both in the number of people who attended and the number of fish so skillfully wrested from the deep." That was the end of a popular tradition.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

James Elmer Larimer's Civil War Telescope

Civil War telescope of James E. Larimer

James Elmer Larimer (b. 1840 in Pennsylvania, d. 1923 in Elkhart, Indiana) was my husband's first cousin, 4x removed.

James's father died at age 40, having been accidentally thrown from a horse.

His mother later left Indiana to go with her brother to gold-rush California, and never returned east. She fretted about leaving her children behind, but was determined to pioneer in California with her family.

James was a child at the time, and he didn't join his mother. His siblings went west to California after they were grown, but not James. Just months after the start of the Civil War, he enlisted in the Union Army.

James E. Larimer in the Civil War 

Thanks to documents such as his pension record, I can see James enlisted in Company A, Ohio 17th Infantry Regiment, on 13 Aug 1861. He was 21 years of age, and had no way of knowing that he would remain in the Union Army (with different units and at different ranks) until just after the war ended, in the spring of 1865.

Civil War Pension record for James E. Larimer and his widow, Rhoda Amelia Ward Larimer
The Larimer Telescope

Not long ago, I heard from a collector who was researching the name engraved on a Civil War-era telescope: J.E. Larimer.

From the engraving, it appears to be the telescope used by my hubby's cousin, James E. Larimer!

At top, a view of the telescope when extended for use. Below, the telescope retracted. At right, part of the engraving, which also mentions the 17th Regiment, Larimer's unit.

Thanks to Justin McLarty for these photos of the telescope, which is now more than 150 years old.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"Hennery Brown Eggs" Cost 73 Cents in 1934

Tivador Theodore Schwartz (1886-1965) in the Bronx, New York
From about 1917 until the late 1940s, my maternal Grandpa Tivador Theodore Schwartz (1887-1965) and maternal Grandma Hermina Farkas Schwartz (1886-1964) owned one small dairy grocery store after another in the Bronx, New York.

They would operate a store for a number of years, sell it, and buy or open another in a busier or more convenient neighborhood. It was not an easy way to make a living, keeping the store open early and late, even on weekends, to accommodate local shoppers.

The first record I have is of their 1917 grocery store at 985 Avenue St. John, near Southern Boulevard in the Bronx (thanks to Grandpa's WWI draft registration card). The store shown at top, with Grandpa Teddy at the counter, is a later store. This one was located at 679 Fox Street, just a few steps from the apartment building where my Schwartz grandparents lived. (The address was written on the back of the photo, and another copy of the photo included a 1934 date.)

"Hennery Brown Eggs" at Teddy's Dairy Store 

Teddy's Dairy sold at least five different types of eggs in 1934, ranging in price from 63 cents for "good using eggs" to 79 cents for "brown eggs." Apparently "hennery brown eggs" at 73 cents were different from and less desirable (meaning cheaper) than the more generic-sounding "brown eggs."

Assuming eggs were priced by the dozen, the "hennery brown eggs" that sold for 73 cents in 1934 (85 years ago) would cost $13.89 in 2019! Try the inflation calculator for yourself here.

Selling the "Gold Mine"

At right, the outside of Teddy's Dairy, circa 1934. Grandpa is standing at the right, near his name on the window, "Notary: T. Schwartz." The store was still in this location in 1940.

Standing on the other side of the display window is Grandpa's long-time assistant, John. According to family legend, John called the store "a gold mine" and eventually bought the business from my grandparents.

Once they retired from retailing, Grandpa and Grandma went on a much-delayed honeymoon. Married in 1911, parents by 1912, parents again in 1919, they finally got to Florida to relax and recuperate from selling eggs more than 35 years after their small family wedding.

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for the #52Ancestors prompt of "12."

Monday, March 18, 2019

From Photo CDs to Family Hands

If you're lucky, a family member has one or two or, say, two dozen photo CDs. You know, the kind you got in the "old" days when you brought photographic film into the local store to be developed and pick up prints, along with a CD of the images, digitally ready for viewing. The old CDs actually had software that ran the photos as a show.

That was then. This is now: Who has a CD reader built into a PC or Mac any more? Time to retrieve those digital photos before the CDs are unreadable.

Old Digital Images Meet New Technology

Happily for me, Sis has saved all these old photo CDs from the turn of the century up through 2010 or so, when she ditched her film camera for digital.

So rather than having to scan snapshots, I took each CD and put it in my external CD drive, hooked up to my Mac. Copied each one, which takes less than 90 seconds, and named it according to what I saw on the images.

You know what else is great about these CDs? Don't need no stinkin' negatives when I have high-quality images directly from the developer!

Name and Date That File! 

Each image on each CD has a number and date attached by the developer (see at right for one example).

So as I cleaned images up, I added the month and year to each new image name.

Admittedly, not every photo is worth cleaning up and saving. In fact, I usually cleaned up only 6 or so out of 24 (or 36) images on a CD. I didn't delete any of the other images! I just opened and fixed the few photos from each CD that showed recognizable people, or something else meaningful.

I cropped, lightened or darkened, straightened, and otherwise tinkered with the best images from each CD, leaving the original exactly as it came off the CD. Then I renamed the cleaned-up images with the names of people in them (such as "Marian_Halloween_2009").

Share Those Images Now

I'm not waiting until I look at every single image on every single CD. After cherry-picking the best 6 or so from 4 different CDs, I emailed those cleaned-up versions to family members now.

Later, I'll put all on flash drives to send to relatives. But why make them wait? They're happy to see faces from the past. Me too. As I open and check more images from more CDs, relatives will be surprised to see the past in their inboxes. The more people who have these images, the more who can pass those images along to the next generation and beyond.


Sharing family photos, stories, and other details is a great way to not only interest relatives in genealogy but also keep family history "in the family" for future generations. For more ideas on safeguarding family history, please take a look at my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Fáilte to Ancestors from the Emerald Isle

It's that time of year again, when I send younger relatives St. Patrick's Day cards, along with my updated list of their Irish ancestors. In the past, I've noted Larimer, O'Gallagher, Smith, Shehen, and McClure (lived in Donegal area for several generations, but family originally from Isle of Skye).

This year, I'm saying fáilte to a new Irish ancestor in the long list I send with my cards. "New" means "new to me" now that I've extended the Wood family tree far back enough to find the clue, thanks to a hint from Ancestry's new ThruLines feature.

Zerviah Wood Senior's Mother-in-Law

Hubby's 4th great-grandma was Rhoda Eldridge (1730-1799), married to Zerviah Wood (1731-1817). ThruLines suggested that Rhoda's mother--Zerviah's mom-in-law--was Hannah O'Kelley or Killey (1703-1734). Several records indicated that connection and I added her to the tree, continuing to research for more confirmation.

Judging by her name, Hannah O'Kelley was most likely descended from a family from the Emerald Isle.

Jeremiah O'Kelly, Son of David "The Irishman"

Records were admittedly sketchy back in the 1600s, but two compiled family histories mention that Hannah's father, Jeremiah O'Kelley (16??-1728) was the son of an immigrant, David O'Kelley or O'Killia (1645?-1697). David's nickname in the Cape Cod area where he lived was "the Irishman."

David "the Irishman" O'Kelley was probably my husband's 7th great-grandpa. More research is in my future to confirm the details!

For St. Patrick's Day, I'm saying fáilte to this newest on the list of Wood ancestors from Ireland.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Cleaning Up Online Trees, One Ancestor at a Time

One ancestor at a time. Because I use my Ancestry trees as my main tree (and sync to my RootsMagic software as backup, then backup my backup), I'm cleaning up my online trees. (Also known as a Genealogy Go-Over.)

Trying to be systematic, I'm working backward from my husband on his tree (and from me on my tree).

As shown above on hubby's grandma, my goal is to have a MyTreeTag for each ancestor AND sources attached as media for each main fact.*

My process, generation by generation, is:

  • Starting with parents and grandparents, I'm adding a MyTreeTag (new Ancestry feature) to indicate that these people are verified. Ancestry defines that as "I have done my best to verify the facts of this ancestor’s life with records which are attached." All true. I'm reluctant to say "Complete" because, despite thorough research, something new is liable to pop up someday. But verified indicates I've attached proper sources and used them to support the facts in the ancestor's timeline.
  • When I don't have enough records attached, I'm doing a search to turn up more records. If little shows up, I'm tagging these ancestors actively researching or, in some cases, unverified. Several are, unfortunately, still hypothesis, meaning I'm still testing whether they truly belong where I put them on the tree.
  • Ancestor by ancestor, I'm taking a screen shot of each source and uploading it as media visible by anyone who wants to see my source for a given fact. This makes my sources public and viewable. At a glance, someone can click and see a birth, marriage, or death cert--and save it or download it if desired. I don't mind sharing records I've spent money on! Others have been generous enough to do this, and I'm paying it forward by sharing mine.
Another by-product of this ancestor-by-ancestor go-over is that Ancestry hints tend to pop up on people I'm looking at. Woo-hoo!

This is a good project for when I have 10 minutes here or 10 minutes there. Inch by inch, making progress.

*UPDATE: Before attaching any sources as images visible on public trees, must check that they will not violate copyright or terms of service for the site.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Ancestors Had Large Families, Descendants Had Small Families

My pre-1900 ancestors and those of my husband usually had large families. Their late 19th/early 20th century descendants had markedly smaller families. It's a familiar pattern, repeated over and over again, with fewer children in each succeeding generation.

Wood Family: 17 Kids

Hubby's paternal great-grandfather Thomas Haskell Wood (1809-1890) and great-grandmother Mary Amanda Demarest (1831-1897) had 17 children together.

Unfortunately, 7 of the children didn't survive to adulthood. Of their grown children, one had 10 children but most had only a handful of kids. Rachel "Nellie" Wood had 2 children with her first husband, Walter A. Lewis, for instance. Families were smaller still in the following generation.

Descendants tell me that when the oldest of Thomas's and Mary Amanda's children were grown, married, and raising families, their much younger siblings were still in school.

McClure Family: 10 Kids

Hubby's maternal great-great-grandfather Benjamin McClure (1812-1896) and his wife Sarah Denning (1811-1888) had 10 children together. Two didn't survive to adulthood (still checking on the fate of one of them).

None of their grown children had as many children. One married but had no children. By the next generation, the largest number of kids was six; one in this next generation married but had no children.

Mahler Family: 8 Kids

On my father's side of the family, great-grandfather Meyer Mahler (1861-1910) and great-grandma Tillie Rose Jacobs (185?-1952) had 8 children together. All but one survived to adulthood.

Three of the adults had no children, the rest had 5 or fewer children, the usual pattern. By the time Meyer & Tillie's grandchildren were marrying, the families were even smaller.

Farkas Family: 11 Kids

On my mother's side of the family, great-grandpa Moritz Farkas (1857-1936) and great-grandma Leni Kunstler (1865-1938) had 11 children together. Two of the sons never married (and were "bachelor brothers"), one son married but had no children, and the other 8 married and had either 2 or 3 children apiece.

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for this #52Ancestors prompt.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Uncle Sidney, the Bachelor Burk

Uncle Sidney Bernard Burk (1914-1995) wasn't born with that name, nor was he born in New York City like his three siblings. No wonder it took me a little time to find his birth record.

The breakthrough came when a local genealogy club hosted an expert on French-Canadian genealogy, who explained how to search the Drouin collection through Ancestry. I have no French-Canadian family, but I hoped to pick up some general tips. Then I remembered that my father's brother Sidney was born in Montreal. Maybe his birth is in the Drouin collection?

Samuel B. Berk in the Drouin Collection

When I got home, I searched the Drouin collection for "S. Berk" because that was the way the family's surname was spelled at the time. (Of course, being flexible with spelling helps in any search.)

Up popped a record for "Samuel B. Berk" born on April 26, 1914, recorded by a rabbi from a Montreal synagogue. Who was Samuel?

The parents were listed as Isaac Berk and Henrietta Mahler (allowing for a little of that creative spelling thing). Those are my father's parents, so Samuel must have been the name of my Dad's little brother. Most likely the name Samuel was chosen to honor Isaac Berk's father, Solomon Elias.

Naturalization Confirms Birth
Next, I looked for Uncle Sidney's naturalization. As shown above, his birthday is April 26, 1914, and all the other facts match what I know about him. Now I was sure that Samuel B. Berk was Sidney Bernard Burk.

My guess is that my uncle's Hebrew name was Samuel, honoring some ancestor of his parents, and so the rabbi used that name in recording the birth. Still, his English name was always Sidney. All Census documents, all border crossing documents, all official documents other than his birth cert show him as Sidney (or Sydney, that creative spelling thing again).

Travel Agent Who Loved to Travel

My uncle served in WWII and later became a travel agent. For years, he worked with my father in the Burk Travel Service based in New York's swanky Savoy Plaza Hotel, later known as the Savoy Hilton Hotel. After the hotel was torn down and the agency closed, Uncle Sidney worked for a commercial travel agency.

A lifelong bachelor, Uncle Sidney enjoyed visiting his paternal cousins in England and going on agent junkets near and far. At top is his postcard to Dad from Rome, part of a fast-paced agents' trip to encourage tourism to key cities.

Sidney was always close to his brother Harold (my Dad) and his sisters Millie and Miriam, who all married and had children. He outlived his siblings and died in Florida at the age of 81.

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for this #52Ancestors prompt of "Bachelor Uncle."

Meet NERGC Speaker Dave Robison

Dave Robison
Are you searching for ancestors who spelled their names in creative ways, never the same way twice? Or perhaps you're planning to interview a relative about family history? Then don't miss Dave Robison's presentations at this year's NERGC conference, full of great ideas to take your genealogy research to the next level.

Dave is a professional genealogist and owner of Old Bones Genealogy of New England. Not only is he President of the Connecticut Society of Genealogists, he is also President of the Western Massachusetts Genealogical Society, a past president of the New England Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists (NEAPG), and the Registrar for the Pomeroy Chapter of the Massachusetts Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (MASSAR).

In my role as an official NERGC blogger, I caught up with Dave during a rare break in his busy schedule. He answered a few questions about his involvement in genealogy.

1. One of your presentations is about interviewing relatives to record the past for future generations. What happened when you first interviewed your own relatives?

Initially, I interviewed an aunt simply for a reason to have a conversation! For a variety of reasons, we were driving back from an event at my sister’s in upstate New York. We just got to talking about how she met my uncle, what was life like for them in the mid-50s, what was it like raising 5 children all born within 6 years, where did she go to school, where did she work before her marriage to my uncle, and on and on. It was a 4 hour drive so we talked a lot.

2. What inspired you to become a professional genealogist and help others explore their family trees?

I grew up in a household where, at a very young age, if I asked a question of my mother, her response was, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” When I’d ask my father, his response, “Go ask your mother!” That’s bit of an exaggeration, but basically it was the culture of our little family. Of course, I’d be all ears at holidays and other occasions when a larger group of relatives got together. I learned that my maternal grandmother, Hazel, was raised by her grandparents because her own mother had died, that her cause of death had been “milk leg,” that her grandfather (my 2nd great grandfather) came from England, that my father was in the US Navy during WW II but never heard any details, and lots of other stories that I couldn’t connect until I grew a bit older.

As a genealogist, many of these tidbits surfaced and when I had time, I’d run down the details. For example, “milk leg,” it turns out, must have been their euphemism for cervical cancer as that was the cause of death of my grandmother’s mother. In the 1950’s, no one would dare say the word “cervical” out loud! I discovered this when I went to the Worcester, Massachusetts City Hall and ordered her death certificate.

There are hundreds of family history jewels where I only had hints. Here’s the best story: My father was born in Evergreen, Conecuh County, Alabama. I contacted the Conecuh County Historical Society to request information. I was strongly advised that if I was going to do any family history research in Evergreen, I should contact Mrs. Sarah R. Coker who had been researching the families of Evergreen and surrounding communities for decades. “Write clearly” I was advised, as Mrs. Coker was elderly and had vision problems. I quickly fired off a letter that I printed in large fonts to make sure she could read it. About 2 weeks later, Mrs. Sarah R. Coker replied. She was delighted that I finally contacted her. She was my paternal great-aunt, my paternal grandfather’s sister. By the way, I had never met, spoken to or seen a picture of my paternal grandfather who had died in 1964. When I visited her in her home in Evergreen, she regaled me with stories and shared mountains of research. Wow!

3. Do you have a favorite ancestor story from your family's past? 

I would have to say that currently, my favorite story begins with one of my many pilgrim ancestors who found their way to Plymouth Colony. In Springfield, Massachusetts, there’s a statue of one of the founders, Deacon Samuel Chapin who came to what was then called the Agawam Plantation (later renamed “Springfield”) at the behest of William Pynchon, a wealthy businessman from Springfield, Birmingham, England. The statue stands in Merrick Park next to the main branch of the Springfield Library. My sister and I attended grammar school about a block away and often ran over to Merrick Park to play or run through the many museums that are next door in what is known as “The Quadrangle.” By the way, the new national museum dedicated to Dr Seuss is here at the Quadrangle. At any rate, Diane and I had no real idea who the Deacon was or what his history might be. 

Years later, as I was researching ancient local families, I discovered a pattern of family names in a certain section of the Springfield Cemetery. The “Ancient Burying Grounds” from the original settlement had been moved there in 1848 as it was right on the river bank and had suffered from many floods but was also going to be split off as a result of the railroad coming through separating the city from that area. The railroad, ironically was being built by a prominent Chapin descendant, Chester William Chapin. Many coincidental names began to come together and as it turns out, I  am the 8th great grandson of the Deacon! I use this story in many of my genealogy classes and my favorite closing for the story is to ask the class, “…and what does that get me??” They toss out a few suggestions, but the real answer is this: “A good genealogy story!”

4. What tools and discoveries keep genealogy fresh and exciting for you, even after years in the field?

First, I have to state for everyone’s benefit that you don’t know what you don’t know. So the discoveries keep on coming! Naturally, the internet is a useful tool but understanding that it isn’t the only tool is critical. The discoveries just keep on coming, whether it’s a new collection that gets added to a website, a new discovery at an archive or repository, a DNA connection to someone who knows a great deal about a newly discovered branch of my family or just the chance to talk with people whose names and dates I’ve had for years but have finally able to connect with.

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

I’ve been heavily involved with NERGC for the past 2 or 3 conferences with many duties. I’m still involved but not to the extent of previous years so I hope to actually get to attend the presentations that interest me! I won’t be pulled in dozens of directions. So my game plan is simple: Make sure that the societies I represent fully comply with our volunteer hours commitment and beyond that, attend as many sessions as possible including luncheons and dinners, network with as many colleagues as possible, meet other genealogists who I may not have had a chance to meet in the past, and seek out the dozens of colleagues I know from interaction on webinars and social media whom I’ve never met in person.
Dave Robison is presenting two programs at this year's NERGC conference:

Session T-113, The Interview: Recording the Past for the Future (Thursday, 4:30-5:30 pm) - sponsored by the Connecticut Society of Genealogists
Session S-150, Speelin Duzn't Cownt - and Other Online Search Rules (Saturday, 1:45-2:45 pm) - sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Genealogical Society

Monday, March 4, 2019

Trying ThruLines and MyTreeTags

The new Ancestry ThruLines feature is a step forward in understanding how DNA matches *might* fit on a family tree. This feature also suggests "potential ancestors" to add to a tree.

The key is to understand that names, dates, relationships all depend on the accuracy of other people's trees. As with any info found online or provided by someone else, it's up to me to investigate and verify or disprove each potential ancestor and possible DNA match.

Pick Your Ancestor 

ThruLines is arranged by most recent ancestor and stretches back to most distant ancestor. Above, a snippet of the 100 ancestors/"potential ancestors" on my husband's ThruLines page. That makes it easy to investigate links to specific ancestors of interest. I can be as systematic as I like in drilling down into my husband's father's side or mother's side, in a particular generation.

As shown, one of these "potential ancestors" is not marked as male or female, and is actually "private" because he or she is listed on a family tree not made public by the owner.

How Private?

Well, not that private. I blocked out the info, but it was easy to figure out exactly who this "potential ancestor" was and the gender, too, without contacting the owner of the private tree. It was listed in the "private tree" notification above.

To check, I returned to my tree and looked at the outstanding hints for this branch. One second later, I had the details from sources other than the private tree, sources more objective and verifiable. So it actually helped me get a generation back. Unfortunately, there were NO DNA matches associated with this ancestor (nor for the spouse).

And in case I wasn't sure, right next to this "private" "potential ancestor" was listed his wife, Hannah O'Killey. Just in time for St. Paddy's Day, a possible new Irish ancestor to research and confirm.

Interestingly, the person who posted Hannah O'Killey's info on a public tree is NOT a DNA match for my husband, which is a disappointment and raises the question of whether this is an actual ancestor for one or both of us. My husband has no DNA matches through Hannah, according to Ancestry. Hmm.

Finding a Match

To find an actual DNA match in ThruLines, I started at the most recent ancestor and worked my way backward to hubby's great-granddaddy, Thomas Haskell Wood. That's where I finally found two cousins previously unknown to me, each of whom had more than 20 centimorgans in common with my husband.

Although neither of these cousins had anything new on their trees, at least I now know who they are and can be in touch to share info.

For the vast majority of the 100 ancestors on hubby's ThruLines page, Ancestry shows NO DNA matches.

Check Those TreeTags

Working through the ancestors on my own ThruLines page, it quickly became clear that my "potential ancestors" were highly speculative. I noticed suggested ancestors plucked from trees I already knew were not supported by good sources.

Here's where Ancestry's other new feature, MyTreeTags, would be very, very useful.

The idea is to be able to indicate the research status of a particular person on a tree. For instance, I could note that someone is a "hypothesis" (meaning I'm testing whether someone fits, based on DNA or other evidence).

Or I could note someone is "unverified" (meaning I got the info from somewhere but have done nothing to check its accuracy).

After looking, I can see that some of the trees that appear in hints or "potential ancestor" suggestions have inaccurate info and few if any sources other than other trees.

To be helpful, I've contacted tree owners in the past to say, for example, that although my grandma is shown on their tree, it's highly unlikely that she is actually related to the people on their tree. Dates, places, names don't add up, I point out tactfully. I invite them to please look at my tree and the documented evidence that proves who she is. Of course, I can't rule out that maybe there's something I don't know about my grandma?!

Usually I hear nothing, or I get a note saying their tree is a work in progress, with hypotheticals. Or the note says the tree is being built for a friend who had a couple of clues, and my info will be passed along to the friend for consideration. Those trees are often left as is, unfortunately.

As I work on my public trees, I'm going to try to use MyTreeTags to alert others when someone is a hypothesis or unverified, in particular, as a red flag to verify before accepting anything as a fact!

Friday, March 1, 2019

At the Wyandot County Courthouse

Many of my husband's ancestors are buried in the Old Mission Cemetery in Upper Sandusky, Wyandot County, Ohio (shown above). Yes, this is the cemetery with the famously incorrect gravestone for Christiana Haag, showing a death date of February 31, 1869.

Wyandot County Courthouse

We visited a few years ago and also went to the nearby Wyandot County Courthouse, which has a place in movie history: It was featured in  the 1993 feature film The Shawshank Redemption.

While at the courthouse, my hubby and I searched for records of the STEINER family. We quickly found records showing his great-great grandpa Edward George Steiner and great-grand uncle Samuel D. Steiner had been been charged with aiding and abetting the felony burglary of a store-house. We never found proof of conviction, or any other resolution. End of that story.

Probate at the Courthouse

Great-grandpa Edward George Steiner and his wife Elizabeth Jane Rinehart had eight children in all. The five siblings who survived to adulthood were close throughout their lives. All are, in fact, buried at Old Mission Cemetery, near their parents.

Using Family Search to browse the unindexed, image-only book of files at the Wyandot County Probate Court, we found hubby's grandpa Brice Larimer McClure and grandma Floyda Steiner McClure named as fiduciaries for the estate of Minnie Steiner Halbedel. (See image above.)

Floyda and Minnie were born 10 years apart but still maintained close bonds. I wasn't at all surprised that Minnie's estate records show so many family members in her bequests.

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