Thursday, July 30, 2020

Beyond Civil War Service and BMD

Searching for Larimer name inside
"History of Miami County, Indiana"
I'm still working on my booklet about my husband's Civil War ancestors. In addition to birth, marriage, and death dates plus considerable readily-available information about their military service, I want to paint a fuller picture of each man's early life. That means going beyond the basics, beyond the Census, to learn more.

The Larimer Brothers Enlisted Together

For instance, I'm writing a page each about Harvey Heath Larimer and Jacob Wright Larimer, brothers who enlisted together in the 151st Indiana Volunteer Infantry in 1865. Harvey was the baby of the family, barely 17 when he left Indiana with the infantry regiment. Jacob was not even 19 at the time. Both came home safely--their regiment was never in a formal battle!

I knew these young men were born in the 1840s and grew up on their father's farm in Miami County, Indiana. I have their Census info, but little else for the early years and the immediate aftermath of their service. So I wondered: What was the area like? What was the Larimer family's involvement in Miami County during that period?

Adding Local Color

A simple online search turned up an 1887 history of that county, available for free and name searchable. Not only does the book describe the county's development over time, it also features a number of Larimer entries (see excerpt at top) from the period I'm exploring. The content is quite informative, although the exact dates are not always accurate (I compared with other documentation).

Thanks to this book, I learned more about Harvey and Jacob's father as an early settler...about their mother joining the first Methodist Church...about sister Sarah's marriage, one of the first in their township...about brother George building the first hotel in town as the railroad was being completed. And so on.

Interesting background (taken with a grain of salt) that helps me write an engaging narrative which I hope descendants will actually want to read!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Creative Thinking Solves an Immigration Mystery

Scheine "Jennie" Birk is on line 18
Today, a UK cousin solved a long-time mystery in my Burk family: Exactly when did my great aunt Jennie Birk (1890-1972) arrive in the Big Apple from her native Gargzdai, Lithuania?

In 1910, Jennie was living as a boarder in the New York City apartment of the Mahler family (actually, they were in-laws of Jennie's brother Isaac Burk, my paternal grandpa). She told the Census enumerator she came to the United States in 1909.

Searching Creatively

For weeks, my cousin and I have been searching for "Jennie Birk" and various creative spelling variations in the Ellis Island passenger lists. We even looked at arrivals to different East Coast ports, just in case.

Then my cousin had the really creative and brilliant idea to search according to her Hebrew name. Jennie's gravestone shows her name in Hebrew as Shayna (I'm using the phonetic spelling here).

Sure enough, he found "Scheine Birk" on a list of detained aliens held from the S.S. Rotterdam. The date was September 7, 1909. The list is shown at top, and you can see Scheine (Jennie) on line 18. She was discharged to her older brother Isaac, meaning my Grandfather Isaac! Before doing the happy dance, I wanted to take a closer look.

Checking Both Pages of the Passenger List

My next step was to find Jennie's full entry in the two-page passenger listing. After patiently browsing for 15 minutes, looking page by page through the Rotterdam's passengers, I found Scheine Birk.

On page 1 of her two-page entry, I learned that she had most recently lived in Gorscht and her father was Elyl Birk, in Gorscht, Kovno (meaning Lithuania, which is correct). She was 20 years old, single, no occupation, final destination New York City. Overwritten in dark ink above her entry was a series of numbers--corresponding to her naturalization from September 14, 1942.

On page 2 was a physical description: 4 feet 11 inches tall, brown eyes, brown hair. Birthplace: Russia, Gorscht.

She said she was going to her brother, Mayer Berg, at 205 E. 106 Street in Manhattan. Uh-oh. Now I had an inkling of why she was detained.

Correlate Known Facts with Possibilities

Checking what I already know about the Burk family in New York City, I confirmed that Mayer Berg (1883-1981) still lived in Manhattan, just not at that address. He had married three years earlier and moved with his bride to another apartment several blocks away.

Surely Jennie was detained because Mayer didn't come to collect her at Ellis Island. At that time, women who arrived alone would only be discharged to a male relative, for their own safety and protection.

However, Ellis Island officials must have notified the family. According to the record of detained aliens shown at top, my grandpa Isaac Burk actually collected his younger sister.

Grandpa Isaac gave his address as 77 E. 109 Street in Manhattan. This was the exact home address where my Dad (Harold Burk) was born just weeks later.

Unquestionably, Scheine Birk is Jennie Birk, my great aunt. My cousin's creative thinking solved this long-standing immigration mystery!

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Looked for Civil War Service, Found Flu Victim

Civil War record of John W. McClure - including date/place of death
In my quest to investigate the Civil War veterans in my husband's family tree, I spent hours tracking down the Union Army service of his Indiana-born 2d great-uncle, John N. McClure (1840-1919).

John, his older brother Theodore Wilson McClure (1834-1927) and his younger brother Train Caldwell McClure (1843-1934) all enlisted in the Union Army. My research shows that their lives diverged after the war.

Initially, I had few specifics about John's military record, let alone his post-war experiences. The trail had gone cold after 1910, when he told the Census he was a Union Army vet. His wife was a widow in 1920, living in the Indiana State Soldiers' Home. This helped me narrow his possible death date to after April 15, 1910 (Census Day) and before January 1 of 1920 (Census Day)

I used a wide array of resources to dig into his history, including Ancestry, Indiana state military databases, Find a Grave, Family Search, Fold3, and newspaper databases. I needed every one of those resources to uncover his past, trace his movements, and learn where, when, and why he died.

Civil War Records

John enlisted as a private in Company A of the 89th Indiana Infantry on December 28, 1863. This was the same regiment in which his brother Train served. Three days after enlisting, John married Rebecca Jane Coble (1846-1928) before shipping out with his unit.

The 89th Indiana Infantry was involved in the Battle of Nashville; the siege and occupation of Mobile, Alabama; the Red River campaign to take Shreveport; and the capture of Fort Blakely, Alabama. According to Indiana's Civil War database, John later transferred to Company E of the 26th Indiana Infantry (which occupied Mobile, Alabama) and was discharged on January 15, 1866.

Shown at top is the best Civil War record I found. It reported his invalid status in 1874 and . . . his death date and place in 1919. This allowed me to find John's obit and then his Find a Grave memorial.

From the Hoosier State to the Beaver State

The obit published in the Oregon Journal of April 30, 1919 was headlined: "Civil War Veteran of Forest Grove Dies at His Home." In addition to providing an exact birth and death date, and confirming his military service with the 89th and 26th Indiana Infantries, the obit said he had moved to Oregon eight years earlier. No cause of death listed, and only one son mentioned in the obit.

What was he doing in Oregon? Looking at his children in the 1910 Census, I noticed his youngest daughter was in Oregon. So that's most likely why John and his wife Rebecca moved to there.

There was NO John N. McClure on Find a Grave in the cemetery mentioned in the obit. There was a John V. McClure. Turns out, his gravestone is incorrectly marked but this is definitely the correct man. Thanks to the kind Find a Grave volunteer who created John's memorial and fleshed it out, I now could see his death certificate.

Death During the Pandemic

I was surprised to learn what happened to this ancestor in 1919. The date should have been a clue, given that we are currently living through a pandemic being compared to what happened a century ago.

John N. McClure died of influenza, at age 78, in the midst of the flu pandemic of 1918-9. 

This ancestor grew up in the early settlements around Wabash, Indiana, survived dozens of Civil War battles, returned to farming, later worked as a railroad engineer, and was part of the boom times in Oregon. RIP, Great-Great-Uncle John, you will not be forgotten.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Old Country Images as Cousin Bait

Excerpt of results from image search for "Ungvar"

My maternal grandfather Theodore "Teddy" Schwartz (1887-1965) was born and raised in Ungvar, Hungary--known these days as Uzhhorod, Ukraine. He left in 1902 and he never returned to the "old country," although his son visited twice during the 1930s.

Ungvar was a bustling market town--really a city, and so well documented! A simple search for images of Ungvar turned up hundreds of vintage photos, old and new postcards, travel posters, vacation photos, and much more. Actually, any image tagged as Ungvar wound up being included in my search results.

Ungvar Tag as Cousin Bait

At top, a snippet of the images in my pages of results. These results included numerous old photos I have posted in blogging about ancestors from Ungvar. In this small excerpt, you see a photo of one of my Schwartz great aunts and her husband, along with a link to my blog as the source.

Could such images, tagged as Ungvar, serve as cousin bait for distant relatives researching the "old country" where our mutual ancestors lived? That's my hope.

The Kossuth Connection

Kossuth Lajos "space" in Ungvar, 1915
The 1915 photo above was among the first results in my search. I smiled when I read the name of this wide street, as printed on the postcard: Kossuth Lajos. Kossuth was a legendary politician and orator who advocated for Hungarian freedom.

In 1905, my Schwartz and Farkas ancestors organized a benevolent society in New York City, named for Kossuth's son Ferenc, also a freedom fighter.

The 1915 street scene gives me another sense of connection between the old country of my grandfather's birth (Ungvar) and his home in the new world (New York City).

"Old Country" is this week's #52Ancestors prompt. Thank you to Amy Johnson Crow for these thought-provoking genealogy prompts!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Hubby's Ancestors in the Civil War: Part 3, Teenaged Thomas

After taking steps to identify potential Civil War veterans in my hubby's family tree, I found 21 likely possibilities to investigate.

I used Ancestry's Civil War collections, Family Search records for Massachusetts, state records, newspaper databases, city directories, and other sources to get a better picture of these ancestors' lives.

One by one, I'm writing about these ancestors for a family history booklet for the grandsons who are riveted by the Ken Burns Civil War documentary.

My first ancestor of focus was a teenager from the Wood branch of the family tree.

Thomas F. Wood of New Bedford

Thomas F. Wood (1843-1925) was my husband's 1st cousin, twice removed. He was born and buried in the whaling center of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Pvt Thomas F. Wood
Civil War documentation
The son of tinplate worker Isaiah Wood and Mary T. White, Thomas also became a tinplate worker during his teenage years. When the Civil War erupted, Thomas took up arms (with his parents' permission, as shown on the documentation at right).

Private Thomas F. Wood of the Militia 

Searching local newspapers of the time, I found Thomas listed as a private in a local volunteer militia group called the New Bedford City Guards.

This militia was soon recruited into the Union Army for a nine-month enlistment. Thomas joined Company E of the Massachusetts 3d Infantry Regiment. He was mustered in on September 23, 1862 at Camp Joe Hooker, Lakeville, Mass, 20 miles north of his home in New Bedford. (This camp, named for "Fighting Joe" Hooker, even had its own newspaper, the Camp Gazette!)

Civil War Service in the Mass 3d Infantry Regiment

Thomas and his fellow soldiers were moved further north to Boston, where they boarded steamers and disembarked days later at New Bern, North Carolina. His regiment made several expeditions in the area, including Foster's Expedition to Goldsboro, North Carolina in December of 1862. This operation successfully burned down a bridge to disrupt key supply lines of the Confederacy.

In April of 1863, Thomas and his regiment helped to provide relief to Union Army troops at Little Washington, North Carolina. According to another Union soldier's diary of the time, the massed Union forces engaged with the Confederate Army on April 9, 1863 and used artillery to push back the Southern troops.

Thomas was mustered out of the 3d Regiment on June 26, 1863, again at Camp Hooker in Lakeville, Massachusetts. But that wasn't the end of his Civil War service.

Civil War Pension Card for Thomas F. Wood
of New Bedford, Massachusetts
Civil War Service in the 15th Unattached Company

Thirteen months after Thomas left the 3d Mass Infantry Regiment, he enlisted as a sergeant in the 15th Unattached Company. This 100-day enlistment began on July 29, 1864. He was mustered out on November 5, 1864.

Sgt. Wood served with the 15th at Fort Warren on George's Island, an important post guarding the entrance to Boston Harbor.

Post-War Life

After his military service, Thomas returned to civilian life. In the 1865 Massachusetts Census, he was again a tinplate worker, living at home with his parents. He married Ellen L. Dean in 1868.

Changing his career with the times, Thomas became a steam and gas fitter (according to 1900 Census). His Civil War pension card indicates that he filed for invalid status in 1905.

In his 60s, he was a partner in a steam factory (1910 Census). He did not list any occupation in the 1920 Census, when in his mid-70s, but he did say he owned his New Bedford home "free"--without a mortgage.

After Thomas's death in April of 1925, his widow Ellen L. Dean Wood received his Civil War pension until she died on July 1, 1926. Her death date was shown in the city directory of New Bedford, Massachusetts (see below).

From 1926 City Directory of
New Bedford, MA

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Hubby's Ancestors in the Civil War: Part 2 (Mayflower Connection)
In Part 1 of this series, I applied multiple criteria to screen for potential Civil War ancestors in my husband's family tree: (1) organizing male ancestors according to birthdate to identify those of military age in the 1860s, (2) eliminating men who died before the war and who were not in America at the time, and (3) prioritizing ancestors closer to the main tree.

This reduced the number of possible Civil War veterans to research from 71 men to 33 men.

Next, I peeked at the 1910 U.S. Census to see which ancestors said they were veterans--a clue, not definitive evidence. This gave me positive clues for a good number, but what about those not alive in 1910?

Quick-and-Dirty Search for Civil War Activities

For ancestors who died before the 1910 Census, I did a quick-and-dirty search on Ancestry. Did these men register for the Civil War draft? If so, did they actually serve?

Between checking the 1910 Census and my quick-and-dirty search, I reduced the number of possible Civil War veterans from 33 to 20 [correction: 21, now that I've identified Lemuel C. Wood, Jr. as a vet]. This list included great-great uncles, cousins of various types, and two men married to great-great-aunts.

Mayflower Connections 

Along the way to profiling my husband's Civil War veterans, I filled in many blanks on the family tree and looked at family connections to prioritize my research.

A name that made the initial list due to his birth year was Thomas F. Wood (1843-1925), my husband's 1st cousin, twice removed. He was born and died in the whaling center of New Bedford, Massachusetts, the son of Isaiah Wood and Mary T. White.

As I climbed Thomas's family tree, I saw that his grandfather Isaiah Wood was descended from Mayflower passenger Mary Norris and her husband, Thomas Cushman of the Fortune. Thomas's grandmother Harriet Taber was descended from Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke.

Having made these connections, I immediately determined that Thomas F. Wood was to be the focus of my first Civil War investigation. More in Part 3!

Friday, July 17, 2020

Which of Hubby's Ancestors Were in the Civil War? Part 1

The 1910 US Census asked about veteran status.
UA = Union Army service during the Civil War.
Thank you, Ken Burns, for getting the younger generation interested in ancestors who fought in the U.S. Civil War!

A young relative just mentioned watching the popular Ken Burns documentary series The Civil War for the first time.

Me: "Hey, I'm writing a family history booklet about your Civil War ancestors."

Young relative: "Wow, we had ancestors in the Civil War?"

Me: "More than one! Wait till you hear their stories." [Doing the genealogy happy dance--a descendant asking about ancestor stories!]

First Step: Who Was Old Enough to Serve?

From previous research, I'd already identified 10 ancestors of my husband who served in the Union Army. That was just a start.

Now I needed to go through his family tree in a systematic way to see who else might have served in the Civil War. Given the migration patterns in my husband's family (including Ohio Fever that attracted Northeastern ancestors to settle the Ohio River area), I expected to find NO service for the Confederacy, only for the Union side.

My first step was to use RootsMagic7 to sort the family tree by birthdate. I printed the report and used a red pen to mark men eligible for the draft or enlistment. As a rough guide, I was going to investigate those born between the mid-1820s and the late 1840s.

The initial list included 71 men of eligible age for military service.

Second Step: Ancestral Relationship and Location

After deleting a few male ancestors who died just before the Civil War, I examined ancestral relationships and locations. My goal was to eliminate men who had an indirect connection to the family tree and men who lived in another country during the Civil War years.

Name by name, I dropped ancestors such as "father-in-law of niece of 1c2r" as well as ancestors who arrived in America after 1865.

This shortened the list to 33 male cousins and great-great-uncles of eligible age who were living in the United States from 1860 to 1865.

Third Step: The 1910 US Census Clue

Before doing serious Civil War research, I took a quick shortcut to see, as a clue in the 1910 US Census, which of the men on the list had indicated they were veterans.

This clue only works if the male ancestor was still alive in 1910 (he served as late as 1865, so he would not be a spring chicken). And of course it only works if the man or his relative knew enough to tell the enumerator about his military service. Remember, this is a CLUE, still to be verified by further research.

See the snippet at top? The 3d column from the far right on the 1910 Census was a question about whether the person was a veteran.

For Union Army veterans, like my husband's ancestor in this example, the enumerator would write "UA." The National Archives posted this list of veterans' codes for 1910:

  • "UN" for Union Navy
  • "UA" for Union Army
  • "CA" for Confederate Army
  • "CN" for Confederate Navy

In Part 2, I'll describe my next steps in determining which of my husband's ancestors were in the Civil War, where, and when.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Union Army Pensions and Reunions Were Both Newsworthy

Train Caldwell McClure (second from left in top row) at Union Army reunion on Aug. 18, 1922
In researching Union Army veterans in my husband's family tree, I was interested to see newspapers reporting on military pensions. Not surprisingly, Civil War reunions were also newsworthy, especially decades after the war's end.

Train Caldwell McClure's Union Army Pension

Hubby's great-great-uncle Train Caldwell McClure (1843-1934) enlisted in Company A of the 89th Indiana Infantry Regiment at the end of July, 1863, in his hometown of Wabash, Indiana. He was mustered out in Mobile, Alabama, on July 19, 1865, having fought in key battles such as capturing Mobile and defending it from the Confederate Army.

On November 22, 1892, the Indianapolis Journal reported that Train was one of dozens of Indiana veterans to be granted military pensions for their Civil War service.

On July 15, 1898, the Indiana State Journal reported on new pension amounts. Train's pension went up from $6 monthly to $8 monthly (see excerpt at left).  In today's dollars, $8 = $247. Not such a tiny pension after all.

Train Caldwell McClure's Civil War Reunions

Train went home to Wabash, Indiana after the war. He married Gulia E. Swain (1847-1920) in 1867. As their family expanded to four children, he operated an oil mill (extracting oil from crops) and later worked as a janitor.

According to news accounts, Train participated in more than one Civil War reunion of Union Army veterans. At top, a clip from the News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Indiana, dated September 23, 1922, shows Train with a dozen other vets at a luncheon reunion on August 18, 1922. The caption notes that their ages totaled 1,040 years. This was nearly 60 years after the Civil War ended, and veterans were all in their 70s and 80s by then.

Train also went from Wabash, Indiana to Washington, D.C., to attend the First Reunion of the Survivors of the Army of the Tennessee on September 21-23, 1892. I located his name among the attendees from the 89th Regiment (above) in a book about the reunion (via Google Books, see cover at left).

Wabash to Washington is a trip of 600 miles. Since Wabash was a major railroad hub, Train could change trains [no pun intended] and arrive in Washington without too much hassle.

BTW, Train is not as uncommon a name as I originally thought. I wrote five years ago about how he came to have that name.
"Newsworthy" is this week's prompt for #52Ancestors.

Local Knowledge, Part 4: Big Apple, Fine Print

Brooklyn directory dated August, 1941
had listings "corrected to July 10, 1941"
Read the fine print to date a source.

That's my local knowledge tip for today.

It actually works for every source in every location.

But in New York City, finding the date of a phone directory takes a bit more effort, because the entire city population is NOT listed in a single, massive directory. No, New York has five boroughs, each of which has its own quite large phone book.

Five boroughs, five phone books, and--just to make things more interesting--five different cutoff dates for listings. Which borough did your ancestor live in, and when? The fine print matters in the Big Apple.

August Cover Date Means . . . ?

In my previous post about searching free NYC telephone directories, I showed a sample from a 1941 Brooklyn phone directory. The snippet at top is a repeat because I want to emphasize that the cover date was August, 1941.

I clicked to the official page 1 of that directory to read the fine print. It said: "This issue corrected to July 10, 1941."

So what? If I search the August edition for an ancestor who moved to a new Brooklyn address on or after July 11, I either won't find that person or I'll find outdated information. A missing listing might mean . . . passed away, or married, or changed name, or moved away.

Or if someone's missing, it might mean no phone (ever or only for that particular year). That was the explanation when I couldn't find ancestors who, it turned out, were living as boarders in someone else's apartment. I discovered them in an earlier directory and in a later directory, both times in their own apartment.

Five Boroughs, Five Cut-off Dates for 1940

Looking at the 1940 phone directories digitized and posted online by the New York Public Library, I was surprised to see that each borough's directory had a different cut-off date for listings.
  • Manhattan (1940 directory): "This issue corrected to November 9, 1939."
  • Bronx (Winter 1939-40 directory): "This issue corrected to October 19, 1939."
  • Brooklyn (Winter 1939-40 directory): "This issue corrected to January 4, 1940." 
  • Queens (Winter 1939-40 directory): "This issue corrected to December 13, 1939." 
  • Staten Island (Winter 1939-40 directory): This issue corrected to January 9, 1940."
I had ancestors in four of these five boroughs, so I needed to know where to look and check the dates of each edition. "New York City, 1940" wasn't enough.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Local Knowledge, Part 3: Free Big Apple Directories

Easy access to free New York City phone books via

Knowing that May 1 of every year was Moving Day in New York City helped me understand the timing of moves for siblings of my paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk (1882-1943). That was Part 1 of my series on local knowledge of Big Apple genealogy resources.

In Part 2 of my series, I used free NYC Municipal Archives tax records to find clear b/w photos of the buildings where ancestors lived in 1940.

Now for Part 3. I wanted to look up my grandpa's New York-based siblings in 1940s phone directories, relying on local knowledge for free access.

New York Public Library's Virtual Resources

The New York Public Library is a fabulous source of genealogical resources, not only for researching New York ancestors but well beyond. Many of its resources have been digitized and posted online, available for free without a library card on a 24/7 basis.

The library's digital collection includes New York City directories, which it has been scanning and posting in recent years. This makes valuable genealogical info widely available to anyone, anywhere, who wants to search for a person or a business in the Big Apple, going back as far as 1786. These directories also feature interesting advertising and street maps of the time (context!).

Actually, the library's virtual collection includes both city directories (pre-telephone era) and phone directories--the latter for the five boroughs (Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island).

Not all borough directories are posted and not all years are available, but this an excellent source to tap if your ancestors lived or worked in New York City.

Steve Morse's Super-Easy Search 

My favorite way to search 1940 NYC phone directories for free is through Steve Morse's One-Step access to the books, borough by borough (snippet at top shows a sample from my research).

If you use this one-step access, select a borough on the drop down menu at top left of the search screen. Then click the arrows to progress through pages, or do a name search, or skip to the proper alphabetical page for the name you want.

The snippet shows my search for grandpa Isaac's brother Max Birk, who lived in Brooklyn in 1940. I specified "Brooklyn" as the borough and typed in "Birk" as the name. Steve Morse's super-easy search tool brought me to the page showing Max Birk at 602 Avenue T in Brooklyn, NY. This is the correct address for that time, as it matches Max's 1940 Census location.

By the way, I searched the 1940 Bronx phone book for Paul and Jennie Salkowitz (Jennie was Max and Isaac's sister). They weren't listed. Why? The light bulb went on: According to the 1940 U.S. Census, Jennie and her husband were boarders in somebody else's apartment. No way to have a phone of their own! They moved shortly afterward (on Moving Day, May 1, I'm willing to wager) and had a phone number in later directories.

Internet Archive: Browse Page by Page

There's a third way of accessing some NYC phone directories for free: via Internet Archive. The collection here is more limited. Happily, I did find a 1941 Brooklyn, NY phone directory for free.

Shown here is Max Birk's entry in this Brooklyn phone book, located by browsing page by page. Note the directory's specific date: August, 1941. That's a clue to check the dates on your sources, especially fast-changing phone directories in fast-growing cities like New York. More about dates in Part 4 of my series.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Local Knowledge, Part 2: Big Apple Building Photos

Tax photo of building where great-aunt Jennie and
great-uncle Paul lived in 1941-2.
This is part 2 in my series about local knowledge helping me research my Big Apple ancestors. Previously, I wrote about May 1 being Moving Day all over the five boroughs of New York City. This was a factor in understanding the locations of my grandpa Isaac Burk and his siblings who lived in the city.

Google Maps Street View

At this point, I had the address where my great aunt Jennie Birk Salkowitz moved with her husband, Paul Salkowitz, after they left the apartment building on Valentine Avenue in the Bronx where my grandpa Isaac resided.

Jennie's new residence at 276 East 203d Street was a short walk from her brother's apartment, really just a few steps around the corner.

What did this residence on 203d Street look like? Checking the Street View on Google Maps, I saw a building constructed long after World War II was over. In other words, Jennie and Paul's residence had been torn down and replaced some time ago.

I switched to Plan B, using local knowledge to find out what Jennie's residence looked like 80 years ago.

Digitized Municipal Archives Tax Photos

In November of 2018, the New York City Department of Records and Info Services announced it had just posted more than 700,000 photos of buildings all around the five boroughs. The b/w photos were taken between the years of 1939 and 1941, primarily for property tax purposes--very clear and well marked. It was like a visual time capsule being opened eight decades later.

The news spread widely over social media and genealogy groups. When the release originally took place, I looked up several other ancestral residences, so I was familiar with the routine. At the time, Steve Morse had not yet posted his nifty shortcut to finding a New York City building in this tax photo archive.

Not using the shortcut, I first clicked to the main NYC Municipal Archives Online Gallery of 1.6 million images, then to the tax photos. Next, I looked for the Bronx section of the tax photos.

Here, I followed instructions to find the block and lot number of the street address. That search didn't give me a specific page, so I tried again with only the block number and then quickly and easily browsed photo sets until I came to the page shown at top of this post.

Now I could see that Jennie and Paul had moved to a neat three-family home along a side street. It was a quieter street yet still only steps from where Jennie's brother lived.

Isaac had other siblings living in New York City. I needed more info to find them in the early 1940s. Once more, local knowledge came to my rescue, as I'll show in Part 3.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Local Knowledge, Part 1: Moving Day in the Big Apple

Grandpa and his sister lived
around the corner from each other
in the Bronx, NY in 1942
Today is yet another hot, summery day in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, a good time to stay safe at home and delve into the whereabouts of siblings of my paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk (1882-1943).

During the early 1940s, these ancestors lived in and around New York City, based on addresses I've researched in the 1940 Census, World War II draft registration cards, and directories. This is where local knowledge of Big Apple customs and resources comes in handy.

Moving Day in the Big Apple

For decades, it was well known in New York City that May 1st was Moving Day (yes, with capital letters). Nearly all rental leases expired as of 9 am on that day. In a city filled with apartment dwellers, families spent the weeks before May 1 talking with new landlords who might be willing to negotiate rents or offer a free month as an incentive to move. Renters also signed contracts to have moving companies lug furniture to the new place on Moving Day.

Why is Moving Day important? Wherever my Big Apple ancestors lived on Census Day (April 1st in 1940), they didn't necessarily live in the same place on or after May 1st! With Moving Day in mind, I wasn't surprised to find my grandfather Isaac's sister Jennie (and other siblings) at one address in the 1940 Census and another address soon afterward.

Jennie Moves Around the Corner

In 1940, Jennie Birk Salkowitz (1890-1972) and her husband Paul Salkowitz (1889-1957) lived as boarders with another family in the same giant Bronx apartment building as my grandpa Isaac Burk and his wife, Henrietta Mahler Burk (1881-1954). The address was 3044 Valentine Avenue, a short walk from the most elegant street in the Bronx, the Grand Concourse.

By spring of 1941, Jennie and Paul had moved to a new address around the corner (literally) from Isaac, at 276 East 203d Street in the Bronx. I can be fairly sure of the timing, because the 203d Street address is on Paul's WWII draft registration card, dated April of 1942. With Moving Day on May 1 of every year, Paul and Jennie had to have moved to the new address during May of 1941.

As shown on the map at top, Isaac and Jennie lived only a two minute walk from each other, suggesting a good relationship between brother and sister (and confirmed by other evidence).

My next step was to see what this new residence looked like. Again, local knowledge helped me in my quest! More in Part 2.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Start from Scratch on Multiple Sites For Family Mysteries

Marriage record of John Slatter & Louisa A. Hexter
Transcription on Find My Past, image on Family Search
I've long wondered where and when my husband's great-grandfather John Slatter remarried, to second wife Louisa. Periodically I've gone over my searches using the big genealogy sites and on Ohio sites, as well as newspaper sites.

Still, I had only three main clues: (1) 1894/5 Cleveland city directories showing the couple at John's home address and partners in his wallpaper cleaning business, (2) the brief 1895 Cleveland obit for Louisa, which listed her age, home address, and included the note "Cincinnati papers please copy," and (3) Louisa M Slatter sharing a headstone with John Slatter in Cleveland, Ohio.

Starting from Scratch on Multiple Sites

Knowing each genealogy site features its own search algorithms, its own transcriptions, and its own collections, I began this research again from scratch.

This time, I did my first search on Find My Past (I have access to North American records, thanks to my membership at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society). I searched only for John Slatter, estimated birth year, birth place, residence in Cleveland, and wife's name of Louisa. To narrow the search, I focused on birth-marriage-death records.

On the first page of marriage results, I found a transcribed marriage license from Allegheny county, Pennsylvania, for a 52-year-old man named John Slatter, born in England. The bride was 41-year-old Louisa A. Hexter born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Image was available on Family Search.

I quickly switched to Family Search and began the search from scratch, adding what I found at Find My Past. The marriage license was the first result (see top of post). After checking the transcription, I clicked to see the actual document. The details clinched it: this was indeed hubby's great-grandfather!

John Slatter, a fresco cleaner, had been married before but "marriage was dissolved by the death of his wife." (First wife Mary Shehen Slatter had died 18 months earlier, in a London-area insane asylum.)

Louisa Hexter, no occupation, had previously been married but was now widowed. Louisa's birth year of 1849 is what I would have expected, given her age at death. Her birthplace was Cincinnati, which matches the clue from her obit ("Cincinnati papers please copy").

Finally, I redid the search from scratch on Ancestry, where I again found the Pennsylvania county marriage records and the image showing John and Louisa's 1890 marriage. The license solved the "where and when" mystery, but raised one more question.

Wait . . . Where?!

John and Louisa received their marriage license and were wed on the same day, by Alderman Gripp, on October 20, 1890, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Wait, where? Bride and groom lived in Cleveland. I would not have thought to search in Pennsylvania, even though it borders Ohio.

Pittsburgh, it turns out, was a Gretna Green, where marriages could take place immediately and at reasonable cost. The city was an easy train trip from Cleveland, where John and Louisa lived.

Thanks to searching from scratch on multiple genealogical resources, I solved this long-standing family mystery.


The #52Ancestors prompt for week 28 is "multiple."

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Known and Unknown, Gone But Not Forgotten

Dear ancestors:

You are gone, but you are not forgotten.

Whether I know your name or not, whether I ever met you, you are part of my family history!

The more I learn about you, the better I can keep your memory alive for future generations.

Even if there are no known photos or drawings of you . . . even if I only know your given name . . . even if I met you just once when I was a bitty baby . . . I want you on my family tree, to be remembered and honored, today and tomorrow, for all the years to come.

With love from your family genealogist,


Monday, July 6, 2020

John Slatter Reinvents Himself in Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland cemetery card for John Slatter (1838-1901)
My husband's great-grandfather John Slatter (1838-1901) was born in Oxford, England. He made his way to London, where he married Mary Shehen (1837-1889) in 1859. John and Mary had six children between 1860 and 1869. He worked as a porter and laborer, according to the 1861 and 1871 UK Census records.

John Slatter Disappears

Beginning in 1873, Mary Shehen Slatter and five of the six children were in and out of workhouses in the notoriously poor area of Whitechapel, London, England. By mid-1874, Mary was diagnosed with melancholia. She spent the rest of her life in asylums. She died of phthisis (tuberculosis) in Banstead Asylum in 1889. Mary told authorities that her husband John Slatter abandoned her and their children.

In fact, I haven't yet found John Slatter in UK records after 1871. He seems to have disappeared, perhaps to avoid being responsible for his family or to seek work elsewhere (?). I will never know why, only that I haven't found him in the UK census of 1881. Nor have I located John in the US census of 1880. Too bad the 1890 US census burnt up. But I did have a clue to where John went later in his life.

John Slatter Reinvents Himself

Thanks to my late father-in-law, I had a cemetery card referencing John Slatter's burial in Woodland Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio (shown at top of this post). I quickly found his obit: he died at the Cleveland home of his youngest daughter, Mary Slatter Wood (1869-1925).

This surprised me, as John had been absent from Mary's life during much of her childhood--and she, as young as five, had been in and out of workhouses and might be understandably upset with him. Then again, Mary was a loving soul, I gather from what her son said about her (in interviews conducted many decades later).

John reinvented himself in Cleveland. I found the earliest mention of him in the 1888 Cleveland directory. He was a plasterer (working solo), living at 251 1/2 St. Clair. Since this directory covered the period August 1887 to July 1888, he could have arrived as early as 1887 to be included. At this point, I haven't yet found his voyage across the Atlantic, despite searching for him arriving either in Canada or a US port. Clearly, he left the UK before his first wife died in 1889.

John Slatter Partners Up

Great-grandpa John didn't work solo for very long. In the 1891 directory, he's listed with the Slatter & Mead firm, specializing in wall paper with partner Samuel W. Mead. Same in 1892, but at a new location: 433 1/2 St. Clair, just down the street from their previous address. By 1893, John is solo again, listed as a wall paper cleaner at 433 1/2 St. Clair in Cleveland.

In the 1895 Cleveland directory, John is not solo--he's partnered with his 2d wife, Louisa M. (maiden name not known).

The firm is listed as "John Slatter & Co," featuring John and Louisa Slatter at 433 1/2 St. Clair.

By the time this directory was published, however, it was already outdated: Louisa Slatter died on February 24, 1895, at the age of 46. John was again solo, listed in the 1897, 1898, and 1899 Cleveland directories as a wall paper hanger or cleaner at 433 1/2 St. Clair.

The Cleveland directory for 1900 does not list John Slatter. From the obit, I know he moved in with his daughter Mary and son-in-law James E. Wood in Cleveland early in 1901. For the final six months of his life, due to debilitating illness, John Slatter was in the care of this daughter.

Two years after John died, Mary gave birth to the first of four sons--Edgar James Wood (1903-1986), my late father-in-law, who saved the Cleveland cemetery card for his grandfather he must have inherited from his mother.

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

Thursday, July 2, 2020

For Kids of All Ages: Family History Coloring Book

Family history coloring book created for a young relative
With the pandemic keeping me close to home, I had time this week to follow the easy how-to instructions in Lisa Alzo's excellent article in Family Tree Magazine about creating a genealogy coloring book.

I quickly got hooked and wound up creating not one but two family history coloring books. One is for a preschooler on my side of the family and the other is for a kindergartener on my husband's side.

Each "book" consists of about a dozen pages printed on sturdy paper. Each page features an ancestor, a married couple, or a family from our family's past. The pages are held together in a report binder, easily removed for coloring.

I used the "pencil sketch" tool in my image software, as Lisa suggests, to create a black-and-white version of each old photo (see left).

I captioned each photo in large lettering, using full names and relationships. Moritz Farkas, shown here, is the great-great-great-grandpa of the youngster who gets this coloring book. On the cover is a pencil sketch of myself (aka Auntie M) and my hubby cuddling the cutie-pie who will color these pages.

My hope is that coloring the people, clothing, and backgrounds will make the names and faces more familiar to this youngest generation. And maybe while coloring, the kids will ask a question or listen to a story or two about our family's history.

To encourage the parents to actually let the children scribble (ooops, I mean color) each page, I'm sending the coloring book file electronically as well as mailing a printed version. Then parents can reprint a page or the entire coloring book whenever they wish.

Maybe this will wind up to be a multi-generational arts project?! It's certainly an easy way to make family history fun for all ages.