Monday, May 30, 2022

Why I'm Staying with FindaGrave

Despite the many criticisms of, I'm sticking with it. 

There are valid criticisms, to be sure, as this post by "Legal Genealogist" Judy Russell shows. Rather than throw the baby out with the bath water and stop participating because some volunteers misuse FindaGrave, I'm choosing the other path. 

I'm doubling down to improve the memorials of ancestors and in-laws in my family tree and my husband's family tree. 

The site, now owned by Ancestry, is completely free and available worldwide. 

Not every cemetery on the planet is represented, and certainly not every burial site or columbarium. 

Still, FindaGrave has long been a convenient site for me to memorialize ancestors, link relatives to other family members, and create virtual cemeteries so I can share with my own family. It's genealogy but it's also a whole lot more.

On Memorial Day and Veterans' Day, I like to leave virtual flowers or flags on the  memorial pages of ancestors (mine and hubby's) who served in the military, honoring their memory and service. 

Above, three generations of my husband's Larimer cousins who served their country, one in the Union Army, one in World War I, and one in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

All were memorialized on FindaGrave by other volunteers who took the time to photograph grave stones and list the names. Picking up from there, other volunteers (including me) have linked these men to their spouses, parents, and children, and in some cases, written bite-sized bios to add more detail about their lives. 

In my view, virtual memorials help keep alive the names of these ancestors and make info about their burial places (and their lives) discoverable for anyone doing a search. 

For me, this is a great way to share family history now and to publicly show my respect for those who came before me. That's why I'm staying with FindaGrave, despite the ongoing and quite valid criticisms and definite need for improvement. I will also add my voice to the chorus letting Ancestry know about the need to take action and address misuse of its FindaGrave platform.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Yearbook Photos of Ancestors Who Served in the Military

This is a combination post for Memorial Day 2022 and for this week's #52Ancestors prompt of "yearbook," honoring two ancestors who served during World War II.

My Aunt, the WWII WAC 

My aunt, Dorothy Schwartz (1919-2001), served overseas as a US Army WAC in World War II. 

Dorothy and her twin sister Daisy Schwartz (my Mom, 1919-1981) graduated from James Monroe High School in the Bronx, New York, in January of 1936. 

This was the same south Bronx high school attended by their older brother Frederick (see below).

When World War II broke out, Auntie Dorothy was attending Hunter College in Manhattan. 

She enlisted in the Women's Army Corps on September 11, 1942, and later was promoted to become Sgt. Schwartz (see photo at right). 

Dorothy was awarded the Bronze Star for "meritorious service in direct support of operations against the enemy." Back in civilian life, she finished college, went to work, then returned to school for education courses and became a high school teacher.

My Uncle, the WWII Army Teacher

My uncle, Frederick Schwartz (1912-1991), graduated from James Monroe High School in the Bronx, New York, in June of 1928. He was only 16.

He worked part-time as he went to college, aiming to become a high school teacher.

By the time Uncle Fred was drafted into the US Army on Nov 10, 1943, he was teaching at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. He was also married with a baby just a few months old.

Following basic training, much of Fred's three years in the US Army was devoted to teaching. At the end of the war, he held classes teaching soldiers how to navigate the Army system to receive benefits and apply skills to civilian life. 

I dedicate this post to my aunt and uncle, with affection and gratitude for their service.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Open Mic Night: Challenges Faced by Genealogy Groups

Friday night's #GenChat on Twitter was an open mic hour of chat about genealogy and family history and related topics. 

One tweet kicked off a spirited conversation that has continued with additional comments posted for several days, and from multiple countries:

Does anyone else who volunteers with a historical & genealogical society struggle to find volunteers? I have been volunteering at a society for 4 years now as trustee and they have not gained any new volunteers.

This is not a new challenge, to be sure. During the pandemic period in particular, some groups are struggling while others have tried to adapt to remain relevant in a changing world. Lots of groups have had this conversation internally. #GenChat's discussion was impromptu, not structured and has attracted additional tweeted comments in recent days.

During the wide-ranging discussion, some tweets mentioned an entrenched "old guard" of officers unwilling to try new ideas. Other tweets observed that younger people often don't feel welcomed by older members. Still other tweets noted the need for new blood and new outreach techniques. 

You can read most of the comments by looking for #GenChat hashtag on Twitter, with posts dated May 20 and later. Some posts don't have the hashtag, so here are an even dozen representative comments about the challenges of keeping genealogical and historical society groups alive and well. 

Tweets from the discussion

"...Sometimes there is problem of “old heads” running off “newbies” — refusing to try new ways or ideas — or just not relinquishing reins where they should. Great way to kill an org."

"It is worlds easier to collaborate and help from a distance than ever before! (Whether that distance is across the country or just across town.) But too many genealogy societies insist on not trying anything new."

"At the last [genealogy] fair I went to there was one group that seemed to hold everyone's attention but wouldn't talk to anyone outside the group."

"I hear from so many younger genealogists that their societies aren't welcoming. How do we bridge the gap?"

"Societies, overall, are *way* too passive in recruiting volunteers. They don’t ask specific people, nor do they have good job descriptions. “We need volunteers for XYZ project.” Ok, but what will they *do* and what skills and time commitment are required?"

"Common issue. Many [genealogy groups] were founded at a time when working patterns were different. Today, some feel unwelcoming. I feel there will be big changes in the next few years. Some will go, some will merge, experiments with different platforms. Big societies and hyper local ones."

"My local society has trouble finding volunteers for committee chairs and the board officers but [people] are willing to volunteer for one-off jobs all the time." 

"I think some may be somewhat hostile to trying new things too, i.e. using social media to promote themselves and get the word out about their organization. I remember seeing a family history society that had ZERO social media presence."

"A lot to learn from attachment theory. People feel attached to what they have, changing it elicits a grieving process which people try to avoid because it is painful. How do we acknowledge and work through it?" 

"If a society is trying to draw members only through programming, they’re doomed. Instead, they need to show why they are unique, why they are *valuable* to the public. They go broad, when they should be going deep."

"Unique and value are the key words. Some "deep" specialized societies have great member resources not just interesting programs. Some "broad" clubs demonstrate value via networking, mentoring, more. Need to articulate real benefits to attract people & volunteers."

"Maybe not enough people understand the importance of knowing and preserving their history. They need to understand their history connects them to the global world."

What do you think? 

This is a huge topic, and while the #GenChat hour only scratched the surface, it got people thinking and commenting about challenges and opportunities.

Please join the conversation by leaving a comment on my blog or by tweeting using the hashtag #GenChat so we can all read and chime in!

Sunday, May 22, 2022

1950 US Census Hints: Filter by Name


In the weeks since began delivering 1950 US Census hints to my family trees, I've been enjoying the convenience of reviewing and adding this information to ancestor profiles.

By now, there are LOTS of hints. The default hint arrangement is by most recent hint added to my list.

But at this point, I'm being choosier about who I want to see first.

As shown above, Blackford is a recent addition to my hint list, but a low priority because the relationship is quite distant. Maternal grandfather of husband of sister-in-law! Not a high priority.

To see more of the people I care more about, I'm going to filter my 1950 US Census hints by name (see star at top). Then I can specify the closer ancestors I want to see first (see image below).

Filter by first name or last name or both

Later, I'll go back and review the remaining hints for distant ancestors.

Hope you're having fun finding ancestors and the FAN club (friends, associates, neighbors) in the 1950 Census. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

What's Wrong with This Picture?

One of the most famous gravestone typos of all time is on a stone at the Old Mission Cemetery in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. 

My hubby's grandparents are buried in Old Mission (Brice Larimer McClure and Floyda Steiner McClure), which is how we happened to see and photograph the headstone shown here.

Can you spot the mistake?

The Find a Grave memorial for Christiana Haag offers more info here.

In my family tree, the headstone for a great uncle shows an incorrect date--a discrepancy I discovered when I obtained his death cert. 

This stone with a typo is a great reminder: Even if a name, date, or age is "carved in stone," we still need to check and confirm!

This photo is, as my friend says, "a grave mistake."

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Curating and Sharing Old Family Photos


This week I've been moving "old" family photos into archival photo albums. The ultimate goal is to encourage relatives to page through the albums now and then.

Currently, I'm sorting and arranging hundreds and hundreds of snapshots from the more recent past--meaning 2010 back through the 1960s. I'm saving the very oldest photos for last, because I'll be using a different kind of photo album for those odd-sized prints.

Happily, most of the photos have the month and year of development auto-printed on the back (as shown at top, left) or on the front border. This is a big help in sparking memories about who, what, when, where, and why, for captioning purposes.

There are a LOT of near duplicate photos, for a very good reason. In the pre-digital age, we would often take two or even three photos of the same person or scene, because we weren't always sure which would come out well (if any). That's why there are SO many photos to reorganize into albums.

As I sort through the photos, I'm curating by:

  • Tossing out of focus or very poor quality photos, like the one at top right. 
  • Saving only one of exact double and triple prints, sending most of the dupes to relatives as a surprise.
  • Putting the best photo in the album and inserting a near-duplicate underneath the best print. The near-dupe isn't visible but it's available in the album, if I don't send one or more to relatives right now ;)
Curating doesn't take much time but it will focus attention on the most important photos from our family's past. It also means the albums will not have too many multiple versions of the near-same photo. 

Plus it's fun to share the dupes and near-dupes with relatives now--and it gets a conversation going about family history.

I may even create a few photo books with themes such as weddings, graduations, or holidays, featuring different ancestors and relatives through the years. It's another way to keep alive the memory of our ancestors, gone but not forgotten.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Saving Family Letters for Future Generations

My aunt Dorothy Schwartz (1919-2001) was a prodigious correspondent, writing monthly letters to relatives near and far. 

I have dozens of letters and a few postcards written to one of her nieces, dating from the early 1980s and continuing until shortly before her death nearly 20 years later. 

"Auntie" wrote of life after retiring from her teaching career, about her travels, about being in touch with relatives, about her health, and more.

I found some really interesting family history tidbits in her letters. Did Dorothy's grandpa Moritz Farkas (1867-1936) play favorites? Dorothy says Moritz's oldest daughter was his favorite--even though another of Moritz's daughters insisted she was always the favorite. And that's just one example.

Put a sleeve on it

Yesterday I finished carefully unfolding and inserting each letter into a clear archival resealable sleeve, sliding the envelope in the back of each sleeve, to keep everything safe for the future. (This was long after I had removed staples, clips, and rubber bands.)

The letters, flat and straight in their sleeves, will be organized chronologically. Some don't have years, just day and month at top of the letter, and a few have no envelopes with postmarks. I'll have to "guess" the year based on what each undated letter says. At some point, I'll scan the letters but for now, I want to smooth them out and keep them safe.

Next step: For easy storage, I like to box things up.

Box things up 

My favorite storage method is the archival box. As shown above, I buy boxes with metal corners so they can be stacked 6 high without giving way. Boxes come in a variety of sizes to fit nearly every kind of genealogical item that can lay flat, such as a document or a photo or an album or even a Bible.

I use my trusty label maker to add a descriptive label on the short side and the long side of each box, so I can read the contents no matter which side faces out.

As soon as I finish arranging my aunt's letters, that box will join the rest of the archival boxes of documents and photos in my home office--including the box above, containing letters written home during World War II by service members in my Farkas family tree. 

Transcribe for accessibility

I've previously transcribed the WWII letters and sent copies of the letters and transcriptions to my cousins, the children and grandchildren of those service members. Years ago, I transcribed letters written to my mother during the late 1940s, when she met and was courted by my father. Other letters still await transcription.

Meanwhile, the letters are safely stored and will go to designated genealogy heirs when I join my ancestors someday.


For more about organizing, curating, and preserving family history for the sake of future generations and future researchers, please take a look at my concise, affordable book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available on Amazon, at the American Ancestors book store/catalog, and at the Newberry Library book store.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Drool-worthy Food from Family History

When I indexed the 30 years of meeting notes from my mother's Farkas Family Tree association, I never thought to index the foods so carefully and deliciously described. Those meeting minutes have given me lots of genealogy clues and insights into family history dynamics over the years. This week, I drooled over the talk of food!

The tree (known within the family as the FFT) was formed in 1933 by the adult children of Lena Kunstler Farkas (1865-1938) and Morris Farkas (1857-1936), who left Hungary for a new life in America at the turn of the 20th century. 

Since their descendants mostly lived in the New York City area, the tree meetings provided a structure for relatives to see each other often.

Not only did the tree conduct "business," such as purchasing cemetery plots, it also served as a focal point for socializing all year. And socializing means food, right?!

From dessert to full meals

In the first year, a Depression period, only desserts were described, such as home-made cheese strudel served by my great aunt Jennie Katz Farkas (1886-1974) in December, 1933.

It didn't take very long for a little culinary rivalry to creep in. Sometimes meeting hosts and hostesses offered a big spread of delicatessen meats, cheeses and salads. Others prepared roast beef with lots of side dishes, served buffet style. 

Turkey wasn't just for Thanksgiving. Given the size of the crowd (at least 15 adults per meeting, plus their children), cooking a turkey made sense. The minutes for one meeting, echoing comments in others, say: "A bee-line was made straight for the delicious turkey, salads, and all the trimmings." 

One night late in the 1930s, when the FFT met at the apartment of my maternal grandparents, Theodore Schwartz (1887-1965) and Hermina Farkas Schwartz (1886-1964), the secretary reported in the minutes: 

"Our host and hostess for the evening, Ted and Min, rather outdid themselves in the preparation of a meal before this meeting. But the guests did the [hot] dogs--and I don't mean Skippy--justice. But we must not forget the many side dishes accompanying the dogs. Sauerkraut, potato salad, beans, and others were not spared. I am sure the guests of the evening would have preferred to sleep after that, to the "hard" work that they proceeded to put in." [Note: the actual business meeting lasted for an hour, followed by card playing "until all hours."]

War-time meetings and beyond

During World War II, rationing and food shortages forced the hosting families to change their menus, I noticed as I read through the meeting minutes. 

One hostess was "congratulated and thanked for the franks and trimmings" she served after business was concluded. How did this come about? A clue in another set of meeting minutes, when a hostess reminded relatives to please bring their ration books so they could get enough of certain foods, especially for holiday meals.

After the war, so many of the members were busy with growing families (marriages, children, grandchildren) that the FFT met less often. The tree organized a yearly summer picnic in the park or at the beach, with barbecued franks and burgers. But no more holiday meals for 50 at home. Instead, the FFT held big Thanksgiving bashes in Manhattan hotels or restaurants during the 1950s, so all members could enjoy the festivities without food prep, cooking, or cleanup.

Here's my great aunt Ella's favorite rice pudding recipe--more custard than rice. She wrote it for 6-8 servings, scaling up for the family tree crowds. She didn't note size of baking dish, probably a buttered two-quart oven-safe pan, so just experiment!

Ella's Custardy Rice Pudding

1/4 cup rice

1 TB butter

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp salt (for water)

2 1/2 - 3 cups milk (adjust as needed)

3 eggs, well beaten

cinnamon (optional)

Directions: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, boil rice in a lot of salted water. Drain and place cooked rice in oven-safe deep dish. Add butter and sugar to rice, mix, and then pour at least 2 1/2 cups of milk over all, until 1" from top of dish. Mix again. Now fold eggs into mixture, very gently. Top with sprinkling of cinnamon if desired, and bake for 40 minutes. Turn off oven and leave dish in for 10 more minutes. Remove gently, cool on rack for a few minutes, serve warm or chilled.

This is my "Food and Drink" post for Amy Johnson Crow's weekly #52Ancestors prompt.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

In the May Show for Mother's Day, 1950

My late mom-in-law, Marian Jane McClure Wood (1909-1983) became interested in ceramic sculpture as a hobby in the late 1940s. She took classes at Oxford Elementary School in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, with a renowned ceramicist, Edris Eckhardt

Marian became so interested in ceramics that her husband and father built her a kiln in the basement of the family home in Cleveland Heights so she could fire her sculptures.

Like all area artists and craftspeople, she aspired to have her creations shown in the Cleveland Museum of Art's prestigious juried May Show, held (of course) every May since 1919.

In fact, Marian had four works accepted for May Shows: a zebra sculpture in 1948; a zebra and a "Spring Night" sculpture in 1949; and a sculpture called "The Champ" in 1950. 

The zebra shown at top has the date 1950 scratched into the underside. That year, Mother's Day was celebrated on May 14th.

In the 1950 Census, I found Marian and her husband, Edgar James Wood (1903-1983) enumerated at home on Cleveland Heights Boulevard, the house where she created and fired her ceramic artworks. 

On Mother's Day of 2022, I'm honoring the mom-in-law I never met and the sculptures she created, special heirlooms with a special story for descendants to treasure through the years ahead.

Happy Mother's Day to all moms, yesterday--today--tomorrow! 💕

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Did the 1950 US Census Enhance My Family Tree?

The 1950 US Census release has brought new excitement and fresh energy to my genealogy research! It's been fun looking for ancestors, sometimes by browsing one page at a time, and feeling the thrill of discovery.

But has this new resource actually enhanced my family tree? 

Happy surprises

I was pleased that at least some of the adult ancestors in my tree and my hubby's tree were chosen to answer sample questions. One reported an astonishing $30,000 as annual income in 1949--the equivalent of more than $300,000 today, and quite a fortune for the time.

Some birthplace answers simultaneously made me happy and confirmed my research. In 1950, Lithuania was in the clutches of what was then the USSR. Yet many of my paternal ancestors (Burk, Birk, Berk) answered "Lithuania" when asked about their birthplace (which I know was Gargzdai, Lithuania). 

I noticed a number of interesting occupations in our trees. One of my Dad's first cousins was the manager of a "5 & 10 cent store." Those don't exist any more. Two of the big chains of the time were Woolworth and Kresge (which later evolved into Kmart), but I don't know whether this cousin worked for either of them.

Another surprise was seeing my aunt Dorothy, who was a WAC in WWII, at age 30 still living at home with her parents. I know from family sources that she found her own apartment in 1950, and now I know it was after April 1st. Interestingly, she was chosen to answer sample questions but was not asked about her military service, because of her gender. Only males were asked that question!

Intriguing mysteries

The Census also turned up the heat on a few mysteries. For example, in the 1940 US Census, my great uncle David Mahler (1882-1964) was shown as married, but no wife in the household. In the 1950 US Census, he's shown as widowed. When he died, his death cert said he was widowed (sister was the informant). 

I've chased multiple people named David Mahler through multiple research sources and not yet found where or when my great uncle was married. He was quite the wanderer when younger, and could have married in nearly any state at any time. More research is in my future.

Checking hints, documenting details

My pace of research accelerated further when Ancestry's 1950 US Census hints began popping up this week. 

It's quick and easy to attach the 1950 Census to each person in my tree, and I'm transcribing key details onto each ancestor profile--allowing relatives to see, at a glance, where our family was and what they were doing at that point in time.

I'm also updating my virtual cemeteries on Find a Grave as I look at these ancestors and link family members. And I'm suggesting edits to ancestor memorial pages based on the latest research. Over time, I'll be improving my family trees on other sites, little by little.

Grain of salt

Because 1950 isn't that long ago, my relatives and I can almost always figure out whether the Census information makes sense. Too often, it's incomplete or flat-out inaccurate.

One great uncle and aunt were listed only by name with clearly approximate ages, no occupation or birthplace or anything else. The enumerator wrote: "all information available - given by superintendent after 4 calls." So in the 1950 US Census "fact" block on these ancestors' profiles, I inserted a warning: Info other than address was provided by building superintendent, not reliable. 

In other cases, enumerators indicated that neighbors or others had given the information. One in-law was listed as "Enid" even though her name was actually "Lena." Not even close! 

No wonder I consider Census data to be clues, not facts, and carefully double-check and correlate with other sources.

Bottom line: The 1950 US Census has been a plus for my genealogy, reenergizing my voyage of ancestor discovery and reinforcing the need to confirm new info in the context of what I've already proven.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

1950 US Census: Decoding Birthplaces, Relationships

Although I can usually read the handwritten answers in the 1950 US Census, I wanted to see how the Census Bureau coded some answers for tabulation and analysis. Also, if handwriting is unclear or illegible, deciphering the codes will help me figure out what was written down.

With sincere gratitude to Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub, I used their special page to decode birthplace if born in the United States, birthplace if born in another country (and citizenship), and how related to head of household. 

At top, some random examples I plugged into the special Steve Morse page. This shows how the drop-down menus work. I experimented to see all the coding possibilities and then looked at codes on some actual Census pages where my ancestors were mentioned.

By the way, remember that the coding only puts into numbers what the enumerator wrote. And the enumerator wrote what the resident said (or a neighbor said). Not necessarily the truth, but what the enumerator was told.

State & country codes - naturalization too!

At right, coding for birth in Maryland = 052, coding for birth in  Pennsylvania = 023. 

Since this Census page was from New York state, only non-New York codes were entered on the pages. 
The last entry in this excerpt shows Russia as country of birth for someone who answered "Yes" about being a naturalized citizen.

This entry was coded as 155 = born in Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, US citizen. Note that the initial 1 in the code stands for naturalized.

If this country code had said 255, it would mean born in Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but not a US citizen. 

If this country code had said 355, it would mean born in Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and parents are US citizens.

Relationship to head of household

At left, coding for three people in multiple households on a Census page. 

The step-daughter in this example is coded as 3, which stands for son, daughter, or step-child. NOT included in this code are sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, coded separately as as 4. 

The sister of head is coded as 7. This code covers brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, and so on. 

The lodger in a household is coded as 9, meaning non-relative of head of household.

Decoding the codes is a fun extra as I wring every bit of info from what enumerators recorded about my ancestors during the 1950 US Census. 

BIG NEWS! Ancestry has uploaded an "early version" of the index for the entire 1950 US Census. For more, see Crista Cowan on YouTube here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Decoding Ancestor Occupations in 1950 US Census

When the 1950 US Census was released last month, I located dozens of ancestors, noted the basic details for each, and downloaded the Census pages for further study.

Now I'm comparing what was written as an ancestor's occupation/industry to what the codes say, at the far right of each line. These codes were added much later in the process as the government tabulated and analyzed 1950 Census data.

Travel agent = 300 (agent)

My entrepreneurial father (Harold Burk) and his brother (Sidney Burk), who lived a few doors away from each other in the Bronx, were travel agents in my Dad's travel business. At top is an excerpt from their Census page. 

Both were coded as O (working in own business), occupation 300 (agents), industry 808 (miscellaneous business services), and 3 (class code for "own business"). 

Steve Morse & Joel Weintraub decipher the codes 

The reason I was able to decipher these codes easily, as shown above, was by looking them up on a very convenient page provided by Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub, found here

Codes are particularly important when the enumerator's handwriting is unclear or the occupation or industry aren't legible. Just plug in the codes and see, at least in a general way, what our ancestors said they did for work.

More specific coding?

The 1950 Census training manual stressed that enumerators were to be as clear and specific as possible when recording occupation/industry. In fact, what the enumerator listed as occupation/industry for my Dad and uncle was quite specific. 

Yet the coding of this information was anything but specific, IMHO. 

So I looked up the occupation "travel agent" in the official Alphabetical Listing of Occupations and Industries from 1950 (link here leads to a pdf), where all the numerical codes are shown. 

The snippet from "travel agent" shown above says:

  • "300" correctly corresponds to the general category of agents.
  • "Ind" indicates that the next set of numbers will be "industry." 
  • "568" is an industry code for services incidental to transportation.

Surely 568 would have been a better classification for my father's travel agent business than, say, 808 = miscellaneous business services?

For more about the 1950 US Census, please see my summary page here.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

LOCKSS: Back Up Your Family History!


Every day is backup day but especially on the 1st of every month, I take a moment to be sure my family trees, family booklets, old photos, files, ancestor coloring books, and other documents are safe with multiple backup methods.

This is the LOCKSS principle in action: Lots of copies keep stuff safe. 

Not only do I have backups in the cloud and on two external drives, I also send selected items to relatives. 

Plus I have family trees and ancestor bios on multiple genealogy sites. 

These are a few of the ways I preserve family history for today and for tomorrow.