Thursday, December 31, 2020

New Years Greetings from the Past

Enjoy these colorful postal greetings sent by cousins and aunts/uncles to my husband's Wood family in Cleveland, Ohio, during the first two decades of the 20th century. 

May 2021 be a much better year for all!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Capturing Family History in the Making

Who doesn't love looking at photos? Especially when captioned by someone who was there! 

As the official family historian, I'm usually the person taking the photo but also make sure I appear in at least some of the photos. I curate the photos and copy the very best into a separate digital folder to use in two bite-sized projects during December. 

Yearly Book Shows "Our Life in Photos"

To capture family history in the making, I create a yearly photo book showing the adventures my hubby and I have had in the previous 12 months. It's a bite-sized, affordable project that will keep these family memories bright. Above, a few of these annual books showing "our life in photos." 

I begin the book in November, placing photos from my "best of" folder, along with informative, light-hearted captions, into preset layouts provided by the photo book company. At the end of December, as soon as I have the last holiday photos and captions in place, I click to order (with a coupon, naturally). These books are wonderful for browsing now and I hope they will be enjoyed later by future generations. My 2020 book is in the mail right now!

Annual Calendar Combines Family and Ancestor Photos

Another bite-sized, affordable project is creating a family photo calendar for the coming year (see center of photo above). All year long, relatives send me photos that I file in a special "calendar folder" to save until November or December, when I begin placing them into the coming year's calendar.

Again, I choose from preset layouts provided by the company. Much of the time, I place a large group photo on the top page of the month and scatter individual photos on selected dates for that month. I choose a good (or amusing) photo of each relative for his or her birthday, and a photo for each couple's wedding anniversary. Often the photos are quite recent, but I also like to change things up by including baby pictures of an adult.

The calendar helps family members remember birthdays and anniversaries...and be aware of the dates of special ancestors who are gone but not forgotten. So for instance, my mother's photo is placed on the date of her birthday, along with her name.

In the last few years, a niece has had the fun of putting the family calendar together. She brings a fresh creative approach and it's a pleasure to see what she does with the calendar as she mixes faces from today with photos from yesterday.  

Now the new year is almost here, and I'm feeling happy that this much-loved calendar tradition is continuing into the next generation. Twelve months of recent family history mixed with some blasts from the distant past!

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Genealogy Progress in the Pandemic Year of 2020

With only days to go until 2020 is in the history books, I'm looking back at the progress I made with my genealogy projects during this year of the coronavirus pandemic. I'm putting ever more emphasis on sharing what I know with relatives and preparing my trees, photos, and materials so they are in good shape to pass to the next generation years from now. 

In particular, I've been creating a variety of bite-sized projects while continuing to work on longer-term projects. Getting a small project finished in a short time gives me a sense of accomplishment and keeps my genealogy fun and engaging. If you can turn any of your research into a small project to share with family, I encourage you to try this in 2021!

During 2020 my progress included:

Complete though not planned: My original 2020 plan didn't include focusing on hubby's Civil War ancestors. But when younger relatives expressed interest, I dug into the research and wrote about 15 ancestors who fought for the Union and 3 who fought for the Confederacy. Thinking like a reader, I included an illustration with every ancestor bio, and complied an index in case someone wants to look up a specific person (maiden names included). 

Complete though not planned: A fun bite-sized project: I created a family history coloring book for each side of the family. It didn't take much time and it was a delightful, quick way to share ancestor photos and basic genealogical information, in a format that encourages children to color faces and backgrounds. I also sent adult recipients the coloring book electronically so they can reprint whenever they wish.

Nearly complete: My long-awaited "Daisy and Dorothy" booklet about Mom (Daisy Schwartz Burk, 1919-1981) and her twin sister (Dorothy Schwartz, 1919-2001) is almost finished. The goal is to give the next generation "insider" insights and tell family stories that bring the twins alive as people. My research revealed  details that I either didn't know or didn't remember, a real plus to completing this booklet.

Ongoing sharing: I accelerated my plan for posting photos, memories, and life stories of ancestors on multiple genealogy sites as cousin bait and to keep these names and faces alive for future generations by sharing. When I post a photo these days, I include names, dates, and sources directly on the images (as shown above from my small but growing WikiTree tree). I've also been using various tools to tease out faces and details from old images. And I've been lucky enough to have cousins who share family photos and letters that illuminate the surprisingly intertwined lives of our common ancestors! My resolution is to continue in 2021.

Improving research and sources: Some ancestors in my trees had limited sources attached from my original, basic research. Now I'm researching more widely, adding more sources, and including captioned images, where available, boosting my trees' credibility. Rotating newspaper databases instead of sticking with just one has helped me uncover new clues, as well. I'm very grateful to the parking lot angels who have been so helpful in obtaining digitized images visible at FHCs only. My resolution is to keep this going in 2021.

Curating my genealogy collection: Practicing what I preach, I'm continuing to curate my collection by sorting and distributing selected items to extended family or outside the family. A cousin was delighted to have a 1911 postcard written by his grandfather to my grandmother. I also donated 1950s theater programs and 1940s war-related ephemera to a university, among other items. I resolve to do more curation during 2021.

Preparing for the 1950 US Census release: The actual release isn't until April of 2022, but I've been carefully studying the enumeration instruction manual and the blank forms. When the Census is finally released, I want to be ready to find my ancestors in the unindexed, untranscribed records (starting with my parents, who were recorded together in one household for the first time). Plus the Census has some fascinating quirks and insights into mid-century life in postwar America.

New presentations! It's been great fun doing virtual presentations to audiences near and far since the spring. I've been updating and reformatting every program with colorful backgrounds and easy-to-read fonts suitable for digital devices of all sizes. Two brand-new talks scheduled for 2021 are: 

  • "Bring Family History Alive in Bite-Sized Projects" - this program will debut at the New England Regional Genealogy Conference in April. 
  • "Get Ready for the 1950 Census Release!" - this talk has been scheduled for the second half of 2021, before the 1950 Census is released. 
Genealogy community. I enjoyed participating in #GenChat, #AncestryHour, and #OurAncestors Twitter chats during 2020 and I look forward to being a #GenChat guest expert in 2021. Also it was fun to follow threads in the new #ANZAncestryTime chat, which takes place live on Twitter when I'm asleep. I really loved attending the 2020 Virtual Genealogy Association annual conference (2d year in a row) and have it on my 2021 calendar (more news soon). I've learned so much and felt great joy connecting with genie friends on FB, Twitter, blogs, webinars/conferences, and more. I resolve to continue participating during 2021.

This is my #52Ancestors "resolution" post for week 52. TY to Amy Johnson Crow for another year of interesting genealogy blog prompts! Another resolution is to continue with these prompts in 2021.

To my dear readers, may your 2021 be healthy, hopeful, peaceful, and filled with genealogy breakthroughs. The new year should bring safe opportunities to be with family and friends in person!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Postcards from Christmases Past


In the early 1900s, for Christmas and every holiday, my husband's father and brothers received postal greetings from aunts, uncles, and cousins near and far. Colorful illustrations on the front, handwritten notes on the back. Here are a few of the prettiest postcards from Christmases past. 

That's how the WOOD family stayed in touch even though they were separated by hundreds of Cleveland, Toledo, Chicago, Illinois...and beyond. 

These postcards are treasured examples of how our ancestors remained close at a time when there was no phone, no texting, no video calls, just the good ole postal service bringing greetings from one home to another.

From our family to yours, wishing you a healthy and hopeful Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Viewing Earle Larimer Freeland's Cigar Store

A century ago, my husband's 1c2r Earle Larimer Freeland (1877-1943) operated a store at 1247 1/2 St. Nicholas Avenue in upper Manhattan, New York City.

Earle was born in Goshen, Indiana, on December 22d, 143 years ago today, the older son of Emma O. Larimer Freeland (1848-1923) and James Freeland (1838-1920). After his parents moved the family to New York City early in the 20th century, Earle had a varied work career. I learned about his life by following him in the US and NY Census records and in city directories.

From Electrician to Merchant

After working as an electrician for a few years (according to Census data), Earle was listed as a variety store owner in the New York city directories of 1917 and 1918, operating at the St. Nicholas Avenue address.

 In the 1920 Census, he was listed as a retail merchant in a stationery store. In the 1922 New York City directory, he and his brother James were listed as Freeland Brothers, cigars, at 1247 St. Nicholas Avenue. Same in the 1925 NY Census (and in 1925 NY directory). In the 1928 New York directory, the store was listed as selling cigars and cigarettes. In the 1930 Census, he was shown as the owner of a stationery store. 

When Earle died in 1943, the informant--his brother--said Earle was the proprietor of a cigar store (as shown at left). 

Note: The birth date on this death record conflicts with what Earle said on his WWI and WWII draft registration cards, and his own Social Security application. Earle said he was born on December 22, 1877, and I believe his first-hand account instead of his brother's memory!

Looking at Earle's Store

To see what hubby's cousin's store looked like, I used the 1940 tax photos freely searchable on the NY Department of Records and Information Services site. 

It was an easy process to find the block and lot number for 1247 St. Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan. This building was at the corner of Broadway, a thriving area with lots of foot traffic and of course residents who might buy from the ground-floor stores.

Once I plugged in those details, I came to a page with two views of the building built in 1906 and still standing today. At top, a good look at the 38-unit apartment building with a row of stores on the street level. Earle's store was likely not the main store at the corner. My guess is he had one of the smaller stores to the right of the corner. Remembering Earle and his store on the anniversary of his birth.

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Thrill of Discovery, the Work of Writing

Isn't it exciting to discover something new about family history? I still remember cranking the old microfilm reader in a library and gasping audibly when I suddenly found my ancestor's record! 

Writing a Dorothy and Daisy Booklet

These days I've been clicking to do research as I work toward completing a family history booklet about my Mom and her twin sister (see cover of booklet at right). 

Mom and Dorothy lived in the Bronx, NY with their parents and brother until World War II began. Then their lives diverged during and after the war, with different career paths and different family situations.

Already, I've arranged 15 photos interspersed among 20 pages about the twins. I really want descendants to know more about these strong women in our family tree.

Fun and Work

Yet even during a pandemic year, when I have more time to focus on genealogy, I find that writing feels like work, whereas searching out new discoveries feels like fun

Just today, I made a small discovery: Dorothy's book about her WAC unit is listed in book about military women in World War II. I have the history she wrote, but it was just plain fun to find my aunt's postwar project acknowledged in this way! 

Sharing Discoveries Keeps Ancestors Alive

Future generations won't know very much more than the bare facts about the twins unless I stick to the hard work of writing about their lives and incorporating the fun discoveries I've made as well as memories of those who knew them so well. 

So I'm continuing to write one sentence at a time, and insert family photos one at a time, until I complete the joint story of Dorothy and Daisy. The finish line is in sight!

Thursday, December 17, 2020

A Winter Wedding for Hugh Benjamin McClure and Olivette van Roe


On this day 118 years ago, my husband's great uncle Hugh Benjamin McClure (1882-1960) married Olivette Van Roe (1885-1905). The groom was 20, the bride was 17.

Winter Wedding Weather in Wabash

What was the weather like on that wedding day in 1902?

I found a bit of info on (see image at top from my result here). 

Also I used newspaper sources to research the weather on that wedding day. 

The free Hoosier State Chronicles site has an issue of the Indianapolis Journal from that date--and on page 2, the weather forecast indicates below-average temperatures for that month and for that year.

I sure hope Hugh Benjamin and Olievette bundled up warmly for their winter wedding!

Understanding the weather and other elements in their lives helps me envision their activities  at a time and place so far removed from my own.

This is my #52Ancestors post for week 51, with a prompt of "winter."

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Mary Witnessed Family History -- It's in the Newspaper!

In my view, paying for a newspaper database subscription can a worthwhile investment, especially when I rotate from year to year. One year I might pay for GenealogyBank, next year I might pay for, etc. By rotating, I have time to search out and clip what I need for a full year, then redo my searches the following year in a different database. I always--yes, always!--find new discoveries.

This week, my discovery had to do with a witness to family history. The year was 1909, when my Hungarian-born great uncle Samuel Schwartz (1883-1954) married Anna Gelbman (1886-1940) on October 24th in Bridgeport, CT. I originally thought they married in the local synagogue, since the marriage license is signed by the rabbi [another Schwartz, though not a relative], showing the synagogue's address. 

"Very pretty home wedding" for Sam and Anna

But since I started a new database subscription, I found, with a quick search, a brief item in the Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer of October 27, 1909 that set me straight about Anna and Sam's wedding day. 

They were married at the home of Anna's parents in Bridgeport, CT, and "Miss Mary Shwartz [sic], a sister of the groom, was maid of honor." New news!

Mary Schwartz (1891-1959) was one of the younger sisters of Sam and Theodore Schwartz (1887-1965 -- hi grandpa!). My grandpa and his older brother left their birthplace in Ungvar, Hungary for New York City early in the 1900s. They worked and saved money to bring Mary to New York in 1906, when she was only 14. 

Mary was still a teenager when she was a maid of honor, not an official witness but an important part of her brother Sam's marriage to Anna. Whether my grandpa Theodore was there, I'll never know. My guess is yes, that Sam would be thrilled to have two siblings there, the only family members ever to come to America. 

By the way, Anna Gelbman was born in the United States. Had she married her foreign-born husband Sam before October 19, 1909, she would have lost her U.S. citizenship. But he was naturalized on October 19th, which is the exact date the couple applied for their marriage license. Not a coincidence!

Anna and Mary remained close

I know from descendants that Mary remained quite close to her sister-in-law Anna for all their lives. They were, after all, only 5 years apart in age. Unfortunately, Anna died of cancer when she was just 54, not long before what would have been her 31st wedding anniversary. 

This is my #52Ancestors post for week 50. Only two more weeks to go in Amy Johnson Crow's 2020 #Genealogy challenge! 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Bite-Sized Ancestor Bios with Title, Brief Sources, and Captioned Photo

Having written a few bite-sized bios for Fold3, Family Search, etc., I'm improving my family history snippets each time I post a new one.

First, I'm adding more informative titles. Above, my title for my father's bio just posted on Fold3 not only mentions his birth/death dates, but that he's a World War II vet and his career was as a travel agent. I want to convey a bit more of his life from the very start.

Second, I'm including brief sources in brackets. The idea is to demonstrate that I'm not simply making this stuff up, and that I'm aware others may want to be able to check out my research. 

Third, I'm captioning each photo directly on it, including names, dates, places, and a "courtesy" line indicating that my family was the source. 

Fourth, I added to the end of the bio a notation "written by one of his daughters" and the date "December, 2020." This signals that a family member wrote the bio, having known this veteran personally. 

Thinking of you, Dad (Harold David Burk, 1909-1978) as I memorialize your life and military service on multiple sites. 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Sharing Family History Stories on Multiple Sites

This summer, I wrote a booklet about 18 of my husband's Civil War ancestors. With the stories written, I want to share them across multiple sites (as cousin bait and to keep the memories alive for future generations). I could even use one of my genealogy blog posts (slightly edited, or a snippet) as the basis for a brief story or memory to post on a genealogy or family history site. 

Here's how I shared one story on two well-known sites, and

Memorializing Isaac Larimer Work on Fold3

Through my state library website, I have free access to Fold3, known for its military databases. I created a free individual account so I can post brief write-ups of different veterans in the family tree of my husband as well as in my own family tree.

Today, I copied and pasted the brief bio I wrote of Isaac Larimer Work (1838-1862), my hubby's 1c4r.  The options allow me to boldface the name (or other words). I have no images, but I did add a gold star (see green arrow and oval at top right of screen shot) to indicate that Isaac died during the war. 

Now the memorial page (including my story) shows up in a search for "Isaac Larimer Work" along with his actual Civil War records (which Fold3 has available). Larimer and Work cousins will be able to read my story about this young man, who was born in December of 1838 and unfortunately died in December of 1862.

If you have access to Fold3, I encourage you to post photos and/or stories of veterans in your family tree. My father's photo is now there, along with a synopsis of his WWII service. Where possible, list sources so other researchers can retrace your steps. I'm getting ready to post more stories and photos (if available), little by little.

Memorializing Isaac Larimer Work on Family Search

Given the global reach of FamilySearch and its fame as a free collaborative family tree site, it's a great place to post ancestor stories. Above, I the same condensed story on Family Search, as one of the ancestor's memories. No boldface, but very readable. I can also tag other people, add topic and date/place tags, etc., enabling researchers to quickly and easily locate this man, his family, and his story.

My story is publicly visible and I am shown as the contributor. If cousins read the story and want to get in touch, they can use FamilySearch's messaging system. 

I encourage you to consider posting even a brief paragraph or two about ancestors, as a Life Sketch or a Memory on FamilySearch. It takes only a few minutes, and will be available to countless people over the years.


This is one of many bite-sized family history projects you can plan and complete in a short time! I'm giving a presentation on the topic of bite-sized projects during the all-virtual NERGC Conference in April, 2021.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Using WikiTree to Memorialize My Mom and Aunt

Today would have been the 101st birthday of my beloved Mom, Daisy Schwartz Burk (1919-1981) and her dear twin sister, Dorothy H. Schwartz (1919-2001). 

Recently, I found that a kind volunteer posted brief bios for both twins on the free worldwide family-tree site WikiTree. These bios are part of an effort to memorialize WACs, like my Aunt Dorothy, who served during World War II.

Above is an excerpt from Dorothy's profile, showing photos that appear on my blog and on my Ancestry family tree. 

WikiTree and Cousin Bait

Although I've heard a lot about WikiTree from friends on #GenChat and #AncestryHour, I've only just joined so I can add to the profiles of all the ancestors named on this memorial page, and expand the tree from there. 

WikiTree has video tutorials and detailed help pages for newbies like me. Also I know WikiTreers are quite happy to answer questions when people need help! I was warmly welcomed and offered assistance within the first hour of joining.

One of the best things about WikiTree is its ability to serve as cousin bait. The site even provides lots of ideas for maximizing the cousin-bait potential of a presence on WikiTree!

Photos to Personalize My WikiTree

At right is the first photo I'm posting for my Mom, a lovely portrait from about 1939. For easy identification, I added her name, dates, and a "courtesy" source line directly on the photo. 

On their special day, I'm remembering Daisy (Mom) and Dorothy (Auntie) with much love. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

My Honorary Aunt, Planner of America's Best-Known Parade

Leona "Lee" Wallace and feathery friend

Leona "Lee" Wallace (1903-1989) lived quite a life! She was my honorary aunt, the life partner of my favorite aunt, Dorothy Schwartz (1919-2001). As I write a dual family history of my aunt and her twin sister, my beloved Mom, I'm continuing to research their personal and professional lives--and making wonderful finds.

I had no idea of Lee's family background and early career until my newspaper research unexpectedly revealed a surprisingly informative interview published exactly 68 years ago today, on December 1, 1952

Lee Wallace, Head of Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Lee became famous during the 1950s for planning the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, known throughout the nation for its giant balloons and A-list bands. A respected master of publicity for Macy's special events, she was at the height of her fame when she sat down with journalist Alice Hughes, who wrote a column titled "A Woman's New York." (The copy I saw ran in the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York, column copyrighted by King Features Syndicate, Inc.--now saved to my Ancestry tree!)

In the 1952 interview, Lee spoke with enthusiasm about the five "mammoth inflated balloon figures" that were the stars of that year's parade, including a 50-foot rocket ship and a 60-foot space man. She said "jets and mystery missiles hurtling through space rivet [children's] eyes and minds to the sky." Although this was five years before Sputnik was launched, my honorary aunt was already focusing young people on the wonders of space!

Lee Wallace, Caring for Brothers and Taking Night Classes

The interviewer devoted two lengthy paragraphs to a synopsis of Lee's life before becoming America's most prominent parade planner.

  • Lee raised her two younger brothers on her own, working during the day and attending high school classes at night. In her spare time, she took art lessons.
  • During World War II, she worked in labor relations for the Quartermaster Corps, headquartered in Washington, D.C.
  • After the war, she applied to Macy's in New York and worked her way up to head of the department store's high-profile special events group--including planning for the biggest event of the year, the Thanksgiving Parade.
Lee and my aunt Dorothy met at Macy's and settled into a happy life together soon afterward. The photo at top shows Lee with the mischievous little parakeet that kept my mother company during the 1970s. 

I'm thinking of honorary aunt Lee with great affection today, and feeling quite grateful for the 1952 publication of an interview that told me so much about my honorary aunt's early life.

"Gratitude" is the theme of week 48 in the #52Ancestors challenge.

This is also my #GenealogyBlogParty entry for #WomensHistoryMonth at the Genealogy Blog Party for March, 2021!