Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy Family History New Year 2020

This pretty postal card was sent to my husband's uncle more than a century ago.

Let me wish you and your loved ones a very happy and healthy new year! It's a perfect time of year to share your own memories of holiday traditions as part of family history. (Actually, it's always the right time to share family history.)

I've reached a new blogging milestone: Never have I posted more entries than in 2019. Looking forward to more blogging in 2020, including Amy Johnson Crow's new #52Ancestors prompts.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Thank YOU to My Ancestors and Cousins

Ancestor collage - his & her family tree
In this last #52Ancestors post of 2019, I want to say a big thank YOU to my ancestors and their descendants.

Dear ancestors, if not for your courage, sacrifices, hopes, and dreams, I would not be here. I would not be discovering and saving your stories for future generations to know.

I've come to deeply appreciate the heritage you bequeathed to me, not to mention the strength and determination you showed in the lives you led.

It is my privilege and pleasure to get to know more about you, dear ancestors, through ongoing genealogical research. And to share your history with descendants near and far!

Dear cousins, my life has been truly enriched by being in touch with each and every one of you. Thank you so much!

To all of YOU, ancestors and descendants, I dedicate this post with sincere and heartfelt gratitude.


Amy Johnson Crow, thank you for another fun and rewarding year of #52Ancestors prompts. She just announced the entire year of 2020 prompts!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Holiday Wishes from Last Century

One hundred years ago, my husband's uncles in Cleveland, Ohio received these delightful Christmas postal cards from relatives.

Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season!

Monday, December 23, 2019

What Did Ancestors Say in 1950 US Census?

Question #33 on 1950 Census
I vividly remember the morning of April 2, 2012, when the 1940 US Census was released to the public. Although volunteers were racing to index the names as quickly as possible, no name search was available for several weeks.

To start, the only way to find ancestors in 1940 records was by address. Specifically, by scrolling through page by page of Census records in various Enumeration Districts (EDs). It was slow but also exciting when I finally found the handwritten entries for ancestors in my tree and my husband's tree!

The 1950 Census has lots of questions that will fill in gaps in genealogy for us all. No wonder I can hardly wait for the release of these records in April of 2022. Here are a few specifics I'm really curious about.

What About Women in the Military?

Excerpt from 1950 Enumerator Instructions
I'll be interested to see how the enumerator handled my aunt's WWII military service (she was a WAC). As shown at top, question #33 indicates that males over age 14 are to be asked about their military service. At left, instructions to enumerators reiterates that "each male 14 years old and over" be asked about military service.

I guess the Census officials never heard of WACs, WAVES, or WASPs. Not to mention SPARs, women Marines, female military nurses, and . . . and . . . more than 300,000 women who were actively serving in WWII.

Will there be an answer shown on my aunt's line in the Census? Knowing her pride in having served, she would certainly want to answer. She would even insist on answering! But will the enumerator have put a check mark in one of the boxes for her line? That's a mystery until April of 2022.

How Much Money Did They Make?
Question #31 on 1950 Census

My mother used to say that 1950 was a peak year for my father's income as a self-employed travel agent. She named a dollar figure too.

Well, the 1950 Census asks how much money each person earned in 1949. See the excerpt from the Census questionnaire here.

I can't wait to see what the enumerator was told about how much Dad earned "in his own business," as the question is phrased. BTW, enumerators were instructed to write $10,000+ if the income was above 10 grand per year. That was a good deal of money back in the day!

And I'll see how much money other relatives made during 1949, a year that was, I now understand, not a time of growth but actually a recessionary period. (Genealogy has made me intensely interested in the historical context of my ancestors!)

Prepping for 1950: Addresses and Priorities

Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub have written a primer on prepping for the 1950 Census release, following the same general guidelines as for the 1940 Census. Also watch their video here.

If you are lucky enough to know the exact street address of an ancestor in 1950, you can easily find the Enumeration District via Morse's One-Step Page. If you don't know the address, Morse recommends checking old city directories, family address books, and other sources. Then use his one-step links to get the ED.

Until the 1950 Census is indexed (I bet it will be done faster than in 2012), my plan is to prioritize who to find first. I'll create a simple list of people and the address where I think or know each is likely to be found.

And of course, I'll use the Census to examine or update the FAN club--friends, associates, neighbors--of my ancestors. This is a great opportunity to look more closely at "family friends" who may turn out to be cousins or closer, in reality.

Back to the future in 2022!

P.S.: I'm gathering all my 1950 US Census posts into one summary page, shown at top of this blog header. Here's a direct link.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Window into Postwar America: 1950 US Census

It's not even 2020, and I can barely contain my excitement for April of 2022. That's when the 1950 U.S. Census will be released--an important window into the demographics of postwar America.

And of course a really important source of information for genealogists!

This is the first Census that will show my mother and father together as a married couple. Three of my four grandparents were still alive, and one of my great-grandparents. Not to mention a plethora of aunts, uncles, cousins and possible cousins that I'll be able to research in greater depth.

What Questions Were Asked?

The 1950 census form was highly detailed. Everyone in the household was listed by name and relationship to head of household. Race, sex, marital status, age, where born, whether naturalized. If I don't already have someone's naturalization papers, this will be a clue to go looking!

Below, a set of questions asked of people aged 14 and older. Working? Looking for Work? Number of hours worked? Type of work and industry? Private worker, government worker, or without pay on family farm/biz?

For all people at each address, there were lots of questions about "where" -- where were they living a year ago, by county and state or foreign country. And what country were his/her mom and dad born in?! A double-check on birthplaces--fabulous clues! Where living a year ago--I'll be able to look for city directories in those places.

Also asked were detailed questions about income and military service--with check boxes to indicate a person's service in WWI, WWII, or another military action. This will give me more clues to follow up for my family's military service.

All About the Census, 1790-2000

Download free from this link 
As part of my research for a new presentation, I downloaded the U.S. government's very useful free booklet explaining all the questions asked in each Census through 2000.

The booklet, Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses from 1790 to 2000, can be downloaded for free in pdf format from this link.

Importantly, this booklet shows the questions/forms plus the instructions given to enumerators for each census.

Now I know why some of my ancestors were listed specifically as "cloakmakers" in the 1900 Census, for instance (see excerpt from enumeration instructions, below). Is it any wonder I'm so excited about the 1950 Census?

Excerpt from 1900 enumerators' instructions
PS: I'm gathering all my 1950 Census posts into a single summary page, shown on the header at top of this blog. You can visit the page via this link.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Looking Back on 2019 and Ahead to 2020

It's time for a look back at this year's genealogical progress and a look ahead at my genealogical FUTURE (#52Ancestors style).

At the start of 2019, my genealogy goals were to connect with more cousins, network with other family-history researchers, continue my genealogy education, develop additional presentations, follow up on DNA clues to ancestors, and write new family-history booklets.

So how much genealogical progress have I made this year? A lot, even as I look ahead to the FUTURE:
  • Through a DNA match, I connected with a paternal 2d cousin in Canada and shared 1940s photos of his grandfather! At least eight other solid DNA matches haven't responded to my outreach efforts, but I'll try again soon (FUTURE). I've also asked several more cousins to consider testing...and I hope they will agree. It's not an easy sell these days, with people concerned about privacy and what happens to their DNA results. 
  • Presenting lectures at the inaugural Family Tree Live in London gave me a chance to meet really lovely genealogy folks I previously knew only through social media. I came home with great tips about UK genealogy research, wonderful memories of a rewarding conference, and new genie friends. 
  • Participating in Twitter chats like #AncestryHour (2 pm EST on Tuesdays) and #GenChat (10 pm EST on alternate Fridays) has been fun as well as highly educational. I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve as a "guest expert" during a #GenChat in 2020 (FUTURE)! 
  • "Attending" the virtual conference of the Virtual Genealogical Association in November triggered lots of new ideas. I've also found their webinars both practical and informative (with great handouts). I'm excited about presenting a webinar for the VGA in November, 2020 (FUTURE)!
  • I created or heavily revised several presentations, including a new "intermediate" talk on cousin bait, a revised "all levels" talk on curating family-history materials, and a new "beginners" talk on US/state censuses (with a 1950 preview). In addition, I'm starting to develop a talk about Northeastern ancestors catching Ohio Fever (FUTURE) and a full talk about prepping for the 1950 Census. My 2020 speaking schedule has several programs booked, with return dates held for other groups (FUTURE).
  • Through more than 135 blog posts, I wrote about ancestors and discussed new-to-me resources and methodologies. Again in 2019, I participated in Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors genealogy prompt challenge, and was truly honored that she highlighted several of my posts in her recap emails. Blogging is fun, a first draft of family history, and excellent cousin bait. More blogging is in my FUTURE!
Not originally planned but done! I completed a booklet about three of my husband's ancestors (Denning, Larimer, McClure) who, caught up in Ohio Fever, became pioneers on the frontier along the Ohio River. This booklet began as a series of blog posts--a rough draft of family history that I  enhanced with more historical context and personal specifics of each ancestor's life.

Not originally planned but done! I also finished an 11-page illustrated booklet about the musical life of my late Dad-in-law, Edgar James Wood. It's going to descendants, along with his "fake book" of musical standards. I wrote the story behind his learning to play piano, playing with college jazz bands in the Roaring Twenties, and playing nights and weekends as a professional musician when his day job was insurance adjustor.

Planned but not done! For the past year, I've been slowly gathering photos, documents, and info to write a booklet about my Mom (Daisy Schwartz Burk) and her twin sister (Dorothy Helen Schwartz). My Sis says she will do this with me in 2020. Thanks, Sis, I really appreciate the help in the FUTURE.

Lots to look forward to in 2020!

Now there's only one more prompt to go in Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors series for 2019.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Writing Ed's Musical Family History

Page 2 of illustrations to accompany "Music in the Life of Edgar James Wood"
In the previous episode of "obsessed family historian," I said I was going to write a brief biographical booklet introducing the sheet music fake book created by my late father-in-law, Edgar James Wood (1903-1986).

Brief? Good grief. My original estimate was a couple of pages. Once I got going, I found more and more to say and show.

To create a narrative about Ed's musical life, as an intro to the fake book being given to his grandchildren this holiday season, here's what I did, step by step.

Start with the Research

What do I know about Ed and his piano-playing? I have a great deal of info on his life. Some of the sources I consulted included:

  • My paper files on Ed (including his copyright documents, passports, etc.)
  • My trees on Ancestry and MyHeritage (to check what happened when and locate passenger lists and other documents) 
  • A new Google search for his songs, which turned up published copyright notices like the one above!
  • My digitized photos of Ed's life (ranging from his Roaring Twenties period to the year before he died)
  • My archival boxes, which held treasures such as Ed's photo album from his 1926 European tour with the Dick Bowers Band and Ed's album of negatives (with captions!!) from his 1928 European tour, again crossing the Atlantic on Cunard's R.M.S. Berengaria.
  • Interviews with Ed conducted by my husband in the mid-1980s and later transcribed (easy to search for key words).
I typed out a few notes from these sources, showed them to my husband to get his recollections and any corrections. Then I arranged my notes in rough chronological order.

Create a Time Line

Next, before I began to write, I put together a simple two-column table of years on the left and events on the right. This timeline kept me on track and forced me to expand my research and add notes when I had little or nothing for a particular period.

Also, the time line revealed a conflict between what Ed remembered when interviewed in 1984/5 and what Ed's passenger lists revealed from my research. How did I resolve this conflict? I opened one of the archival boxes where I store Ed's photo albums. There, in his own handwriting, were captions dated 1926 for the trip I was referencing. It's not surprising that Ed was a year off when trying to recall events from nearly 60 years earlier, is it?

Write and Insert Subheads

I wanted to tell Ed's musical story chronologically, a sneaky way of spoon-feeding some of his family's history. But too much text can be daunting. To break up the pages, I inserted subheads that guide the reader through each stage of the story--and lead to the eventual reason for this musical bio, Ed's fake book:

  • Playing [piano] at home and at school
  • Playing at college
  • Playing all summer
  • Playing after college
  • Playing for Gershwin
  • Playing for his wife and his family
  • Playing from the fake book
Include Lots of Illustrations

Younger relatives, in particular, always enjoy illustrations. I had some they'd never seen! I scanned Ed's photo albums from the 1920s to show him with the band on the Lido in Venice, in Paris, on board the S.S. Rotterdam and the R.M.S. Berengaria.

I also included his passport, some news clippings about his musical exploits, and copyright publications. I arranged the illustrations with captions as shown in the sample page at top. Page one is a title page with a large, full-color photo of Ed playing piano for family caroling on Christmas, 1985. These pages all include a touch of color, and I'll have them color-laser-printed at the local copy shop, to catch the eye of younger descendants.

Present in an Easy-to-Keep Format

All pages (bio and sheet music) will be three-hole punched and inserted into a small loose-leaf binder, ready to be saved for posterity. Of course I'll use my trusty label-maker to add the title "The Musical Life of Edgar James Wood" on the front and "Ed Wood's Fake Book" on the spine. The binder is easy to flip through and easy to store on a bookshelf.

In all, the brief booklet I envisioned as a couple of pages turned out to be eleven pages: four pages of text, two pages of time line, and five pages of illustrations. But because I did this little by little over the course of a couple of weeks, it was fairly easy and very satisfying.

I can't wait for the family to open their fake books this holiday season and peek into their ancestor's musical life!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Edgar Wood's Untraditional Fake Book

Edgar J. Wood's untraditional fake book--created from scratch!
My late dad-in-law Edgar James Wood (1903-1986) played piano to pay for his college education at Tufts.

He also played piano with college jazz bands to pay for summer trips to/from Europe during the Roaring Twenties.

Impressing Gershwin

After leaving college one course short of graduation, Ed tried to break through as a professional musician in New York City.

However, he felt like a little fish in a big musical pond, he told his son 50 years later. So he returned home to Cleveland, Ohio, with the hope of being a bigger fish in a smaller musical pond.

In 1934, Ed won a prestigious songwriting contest judged by George Gershwin. The newspaper headline read: "Gershwin Winner Plays for Meals." Even though he was talented, Ed simply couldn't make a living playing piano during the Depression.

Fortunately, Ed landed a job as an insurance adjustor, and stayed with the same company for 30 years. During that time, he married, had a family, and still got to play piano professionally on weekends and holidays. He liked the extra income--and he really loved to play.

An Untraditional Fake Book

Performing with bands at dances, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other social events, Ed needed a wide-ranging repertoire. That's where his untraditional fake book comes in. ("Fake" because even if the musicians didn't know the song very well, they could fake it by following the basic melody--and fake because the real composers didn't get royalties on these non-officially-published versions.)
Edgar J. Wood (1903-1986) playing Christmas
carols on his Steinway Baby Grand Piano

Fifty years ago, Ed wrote out the musical notes by hand and typed in lyrics for dozens of old-time standards like The Sidewalks of New York, Deep in My Heart, and Silent Night. 

Today, commercial fake books are widely available--but back then, Ed chose the unconventional route of creating his own from scratch. He assembled all the songs he wanted into a loose-leaf binder to take when playing for an audience.

Flipping through the fake book, Ed could quickly read the notes and chords (and cue the guitarist or bassist) for nearly any song the band planned to play or was asked to play. Each song was on one side of the page, for his convenience, with chord changes noted here and there.

Sharing the Story Along with the Heirloom

The fake book has been in the family for a long time, but now it's about to have a new home. The original is being gifted to one of his grandchildren, along with a booklet telling the story of Ed's musical career (with photos, of course). I've scanned every page and created a replica fake book for other descendants to save, complete with the story of Ed's musical training and career.

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for this week's #52Ancestors prompt of "Tradition." Only two more prompts left in this year's challenge!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Surname Word-Cloud

Randy Seaver's challenge this week is to make a Surname Christmas Tree. A fun idea--one that I adapted for my own genealogical situation.

There are more than 80 surnames in my Jewish family tree. So I made a word-cloud in the shape of a heart rather than a tree.

Following Randy's how-to explanation, I first listed the names in a Word document and then sorted alphabetically, on the theory that a word-cloud generator would randomly assign names to different places in the shape.

Next, I selected one of the free word-cloud generation sites, chose the color theme, chose the shape (a heart, loosely interpreted as you can see), and set the gap between names at 2 spaces.

Then I uploaded my names, looked at the result, and played with a few of the settings (the font, for instance) until I liked the way the whole thing looked.

Finally, I downloaded the word-cloud as a .jpg and here it is!

Thanks, Randy, for this excellent holiday idea.

P.S.: I'm also listing all the surnames here as cousin bait:



Thursday, December 5, 2019

Artsy-Craftsy Marian Jane McClure Wood

Ceramic sculptures by Marian Jane McClure Wood, 1950s
Aren't these lively little creatures? They were all sculpted by my late mom-in-law, Marian Jane McClure Wood (1909-1983), the beloved only daughter of Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970) and Floyda Mabel Steiner McClure (1878-1948). Marian married my dad-in-law Edgar James Wood (1903-1986) in 1935.

When her children were in high school, Marian began studying ceramic art with a world-famous sculptor, Edris Eckhardt, who--like Marian--was born and raised in Cleveland. Edris was in the vanguard of glass sculpture, inventing new processes and making a name with her innovative techniques.

My mom-in-law found joy and satisfaction in learning from Edris how to depict the animal world through careful crafting. She studied proportions and anatomy, trying different sizes, shapes, and colors to create lifelike ceramic animals with a touch of personality.

Marian was so serious about her ceramic art that her husband and father build a kiln in the basement of the Wood family home in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. They had to install special wiring to operate the kiln. This enabled Marian to fire pieces at home, at her convenience.

To share the story of these sculptures with descendants, I've written a brief booklet liberally illustrated with photos of Marian's sculptures. Each of Marian's great-grandchildren will inherit one of these sculptures, along with the story, at some future time.

My goal is to write a page or two about every family heirloom, so the next generation understands why these items have been so treasured. This way, they'll inherit the provenance and the backstory along with the heirloom itself.

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Remembering the Twins' Centenary

Dorothy and Daisy Schwartz, circa 1921
One hundred years ago today, my mother and her twin sister were born, at home, at 651 Fox Street in the South Bronx, New York. My aunt Dorothy Schwartz (1919-2001) was older than my Mom, Daisy Schwartz Burk (1919-1981), by four minutes.

Their birth on December 4th was exactly six months after the U.S. Senate passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote--a right my mother and her sister exercised regularly once they were old enough to go to the polls. 

1920 Census for 651 Fox St., Bronx, NY - Schwartz family
When the 1920 Census was taken in their neighborhood, as of January 1st but actually enumerated on January 15th, the twins were listed as 0/12 years old (see above excerpt from Census).

Thinking of these beloved family members and missing them, still, on the 100th anniversary of their birth. I've been collecting photos, documents, and memories for a booklet about the twins--a project I'll complete and give to relatives in 2020. I want to tell their stories so future generations have a sense of who they were and what they did!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Chasing the Elusive Nellie Block

Great Aunt Nellie Block's residence in 1950
Nellie Block (?-1950) was the oldest sister of my paternal grandfather Isaac Burk (1882-1943).

I've been chasing her backstory for a long time. Thanks to records I found from 1904, 1905, 1910, and 1950, I know a bit about Nellie. Now I thought I would get some good clues from her death certificate.

At the time of her death, my great aunt was living in this tenement in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York. I searched the NYC Municipal Archives tax photos to see what her building looked like then, and it looks very much the same today.

Unfortunately, this was the most concrete piece of evidence I gleaned from Nellie's death cert.

Ordering Nellie's Death Certificate

Technically, only relatives can see a New York City death certificate from 1950. I therefore explained on the order form that I am Nellie's grand-niece, and included what I know about her. I sent $15 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope (an SASE, remember?).

After waiting six weeks, I got back a note asking for additional info: date of birth, place of birth, name of funeral home, name of cemetery. In other words, I had to tell the NYC Municipal Archives details that would prove I was her great niece--details that would, of course, be on her death cert.

Luckily, I knew enough about her that I was able to convince authorities to send me her death cert after another wait of six weeks. The cert arrived exactly four months after my original request. I ripped it open as soon as it arrived...hoping to learn some new news. I was encouraged to see that the informant was one of her younger brothers, Meyer Berg (1883-1981). Yes!

New News About Nellie 

Meyer told authorities that his sister Nellie was widowed. What? This was news to me. (But I have some ideas I can follow up...)

Nellie's occupation was "house wife." She worked in the fur trade when she first arrived, according to Census records. That was long before Social Security, so I'm not surprised she had no Social Security number. How was she making ends meet so many years later?

Nellie was born in Russia* and was still a citizen of Russia at the time of her death. Supposedly, she was living in New York City for 60 years, as you can see in this excerpt from the cert.

So no naturalization papers to find, no Social Security application to request. Another issue: I doubt she was in America as early as 1890.

The best guess, from info on Census records, is that she arrived between 1893 and 1899. She was the first of her siblings to arrive in North America, based on what I've found out about her brothers and sister.

This early arrival would, in my mind, lend credence to the idea of her being married already when she arrived in New York City. So far, I haven't been able to find her name on a passenger list for either Castle Garden or Ellis Island. Possibly she came through Canada, which is where two of her brothers arrived. I'll have to explore further.

Confusion Instead of Clues

According to Nellie's brother, the informant on this cert, her father was "Sholam Block" and her mother was "Norma Block." I definitely recognize these first names.

However, if Nellie was widowed after being married to a man named BLOCK, why would her parents be shown with the surname of BLOCK?

Or was BLOCK her maiden name, a sound-alike for the surnames used by her siblings--Burk/Berg/Birk/Burke? Why would she be using her maiden name if she was widowed? No wonder I'm confused.

Nellie's brother estimated her age as 85, and that's the age shown on her gravestone. He supplied NO birth date. The physician attending her death, however, estimated her age as 87. Yet Nellie herself claimed to be far younger than that. In the 1905 NY Census, she said she was 27 years old. In the 1910 US Census, she said she was 31 years old. That would mean she was in her 70s when she died in 1950.

Based on Nellie's own statements, her estimated birth year would be 1878 or 1879. If I believe her brother, Nellie's birth year was 1865 (making her 18 years his senior). If I believe the attending physician at Kings County Hospital, her birth year was 1863.

Since Nellie's youngest sibling was born in 1891, and the oldest sibling I can document was born in 1877, I hesitate to fix her birth year as early as 1863-5. Even knowing that ladies often say they are younger than they really are, it seems more reasonable to guesstimate Nellie's birth year as being in the 1870s.

To be continued as I continue my research!

*Actually, she was born in what is now Lithuania, but was then part of Russia.