Thursday, July 28, 2022

Did Your Ancestor Buy a Tombstone from Sears?


Wednesday night, I learned that the venerable Sears, Roebuck catalog actually marketed tombstones a century or more in the past!

This fascinating factoid came out during a book club meeting hosted by the Virtual Genealogical Association. 

We were discussing Stories in Stone by Douglas Keister, a terrific book about gravestone architecture, symbolism, and acronyms.

Then the Sears catalog was mentioned. I can envision ancestors in small, rural towns ordering a wide range of merchandise by mail. But I had no idea tombstones were also for sale in the catalog. 

Especially in tiny communities where few skilled craftspeople were available to create stones, this must have been a good alternative.

Doing a quick online search, I discovered an entire Sears catalog devoted to products  called Memorial Art in Granite and Marble, better known to consumers as tombstones. 

The 1906 catalog, available for free to view or download from Internet Archive, includes more than 200 pages of illustrations and explanations. The catalog page at top shows a stone priced at $57.40 (and upward), which today would be more than $1,800. 

Prices varied, depending on size, type of stone, and whether ordered with or without engraving. Want a bench or a fence? Also available in this specialized catalog.

I don't know for sure whether any ancestors purchased tombstones from Sears, but it's an intriguing possibility I hadn't considered before. Did you think any of your ancestors bought a stone from Sears?

Monday, July 25, 2022

1950 US Census Update at 115 Day Mark

The 1950 US Census was released 115 days ago, on April 1, 2022. You can browse or search for free on several sites. Indexing has been in the works since the first moment the Census was made available to the public. Here's an update on where things stand.

Family Search and Ancestry

Family Search and Ancestry teamed up to work on the index for this Census. Family Search's thousands of volunteers are making tremendous progress on reviewing and improving the index. You can browse any state while indexing continues.

Above, the map showing completed states and states still being reviewed. There's still time to participate and get this project over the finish line more quickly! Soon full search functionality should be ready at Family Search, for free.

Meanwhile, Ancestry's automated indexing system worked well enough that you may be able to find ancestors using the early draft index. Give it a try on Ancestry, for free. I've had excellent luck locating ancestors in 1950 using the Ancestry early index.


MyHeritage also has the 1950 US Census searchable for free, using this access page. Not every state has been indexed, but work continues and soon all states will be indexed and searchable. Again, I've had good luck with indexed states, so do give it a try for free.


The original US National Archives (NARA) website remains available for researching in the 1950 US Census, ideally by enumeration district and surname or full name of head of household. It's entirely free, forever.

The NARA index has been slightly improved since April 1st, thanks to corrections submitted by members of the public, but it remains a "work in progress." 

I was able to find a cousin and her husband by searching for him (head of household) in ED 1-1025 in Washington, D.C, as shown here. The NARA site returned the exact page as the top result. Without entering the enumeration district, however, there were too many results to explore.

Top Tip

If you've looked for some ancestors who should have been in this Census, but haven't yet found them, try this: Join the Facebook group called 1950 US Census for Genealogy. The wonderful members have a lot of experience with Census searches! First browse the latest posts (usually queries followed by suggestions and answers). Then post if you have a specific question about how to search or what might be missing. Check back regularly to see what's happening!

Friday, July 22, 2022

Where Was Maud Born? Research Hints Help!

Three of my husband's great uncles in the SLATTER family, born into poverty in Whitechapel, grew up to become well-known military bandmasters in Canada. 

I've been tracing their descendants as I write bite-sized family-history bios to share with relatives and post to my online family trees.

Albert William Slatter & family

Currently, I'm deep-diving into the children and grandchildren of Albert William Slatter (1862-1935), married to Eleanor M. Wilkinson (1865-1950). 

After earning a pension with the British military, Albert moved to Ontario, Canada and became bandmaster of the 7th London Fusiliers. (A digitized copy of this regiment's history, 1899-1914, mentioning Bandmaster Slatter, is here.)

Albert and Eleanor's oldest child was Maud Victoria Slatter, born June 21, 1887. She was my hubby's 1c1r, born 135 years ago.

Early in her life, she was listed as Victoria Maud Slatter on official documents. Later, she was listed as Maud Victoria or just Maud.

England or Egypt?

On a few historical records (such as the 1911 Canada Census and a 1932 border-crossing card from Canada to Buffalo, New York), Maud's birthplace is shown as England.

But more documents (including the 1950 US Census and multiple border crossing documents between Canada and New York) indicate her birthplace as Egypt, sometimes specifically Cairo.

Egypt was plausible as Maud's birthplace, given that her father's British military pension record included a period of 23 months in Egypt. But I wanted confirmation.

Research hints on Family Search 

To investigate further, I went to Family Search, where Maud was already part of the collaborative family tree. There were two research hints from a database called British Armed Forces and Overseas Vital Records. I've never seen this database before!

Clicking on both hints, I was happy to see they confirm Maud Victoria Slatter's birth in Cairo, Egypt, as shown in the index image at top. Both index sources are now attached to the collaborative tree and will be shown as sources in my other online trees. 

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Fave Genealogy Channels on YouTube

YouTube is a really fun, informative resource for genealogy education, news, and opinion! 

Five of my favorite channels for genealogy, in no particular order, are:

  • Family History Fanatics - Updated weekly or more often, lots of hands-on demonstrations and insightful examination of topical issues.
  • Amy Johnson Crow - Updated weekly, focusing on practical techniques, research resources, and contemporary concerns.
  • Allen County Public Library Genealogy - Regular updates with engaging 45- to 60- minute videos about a broad range of topics.
  • BYU Family History Library - Meaty genealogy content for all levels, including how-to for genealogy technology.
  • Genealogy TV- Updated weekly, with a wide variety of useful genealogy content plus lively expert interviews.

    Five more go-to YouTube channels: Family SearchAncestryMyHeritageFind My Past, and WikiTree

    There are more genealogy-related channels on YouTube, but these are among my very favorites because of the solid content. Whether you choose to subscribe or just watch a couple of videos to gain knowledge about a particular aspect of genealogy, do take a peek at these channels.

    If chat is available, try scrolling through . . . often there will be interesting Q&A or additional comments.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2022

    Searching for Fun Facts and Finding Jumbo

    This week's #52Ancestors genealogy prompt from Amy Johnson Crow is "fun facts."

    Looking for a fun new tidbit about my late father-in-law, Edgar James Wood (1903-1986), I did a quick online search with his full name in quotes and the name of his alma mater, Tufts. Ed remembered his years at Tufts with obvious affection when reminiscing many decades later. Now I wondered what a fresh search might uncover.

    The 1925 Jumbo Book

    Up popped a digital copy of The 1925 Jumbo Book, Tuft's yearbook. 

    I actually have Ed's bound yearbook safely stored in an archival box, ready for the next generation and beyond.

    But the digitized version is a valuable find because Tufts has made this downloadable by anyone, anywhere, any time. 

    It's been scanned by professionals and it's easily searchable for names and activities. 

    The digitized version can be read and annotated over and over again, saving the printed copy from wear and tear.

    For instance, here's the page devoted to the roster of Zeta Psi fraternity. I clipped it digitally from the downloaded yearbook.

    Then I highlighted Ed's name at the bottom.

    Never would I write in the original! Yet the digitized version is incredibly convenient for my family history projects.

    Why Jumbo?

    Why was the yearbook called the Jumbo Book? The story, according to Tufts:

    Master showman P.T. Barnum was a Tufts trustee and benefactor. In the 1880s, his circus toured with a huge elephant named Jumbo, standing nearly 12 feet tall and weighing six tons. 

    Jumbo died in 1885, and a few years later, Barnum donated the elephant's hide to Tufts. He intended it to be the centerpiece of a Barnum natural history museum to be built on campus. 

    Over time, Jumbo became a kind of good luck charm. He has served as mascot for the Tufts sports teams, as well as lending his name to the yearbook and other campus publications. He's even gone high tech: JumboSearch is the Tufts library's search system. 

    Jumbo fun--one reason I enjoy the #52Ancestors challenge!

    Saturday, July 16, 2022

    I Did a Double-Take When I Saw This Date!


    I do a lot of horizontal genealogy research, adding siblings, their spouses, and their in-laws to my family tree. More than once, I've discovered some of these folks are actually distant cousins of my ancestors!

    This man's relationship to me is not very close: sibling of husband of sister-in-law of 1c1r.

    Still, by looking closely at Ray Klein and his siblings, I'm seeking to determine whether and how their mother might be related to my maternal Waldman cousins from Hungary. 

    I did a double-take when this database info turned up. Anybody think this is an actual birth date?? 

    Um, no. 

    Automated indexing and extracts don't always get the details right. That's why I aim to look at original documents myself. 

    Wednesday, July 13, 2022

    Pandemic Pastime Becomes Family Craft

    What began as a weekly craft activity  during the pandemic lockdown has become a surprisingly popular family craft. 

    Pandemic rock painting parties

    In the spring of 2020, Sis invited me and two friends to her place every Saturday to paint rocks. We sat socially distant and wore masks to stay safe. Our artist friend helped by sketching outlines and making suggestions about color, shading, and proportion.

    Early efforts were, um, rudimentary. As we got better at painting something recognizable, we decided to share our art with neighbors. During walks around our neighborhood, we left rocks on fences, benches, and windowsills. A few are still in place, nearly two years after first placement.

    Soon we began painting rocks for particular family members: A vase of flowers for a green thumb gal, a trout for a guy who loves fishing, a saxophone for a musician, a silly face for a wee one, a sun-rise for an early bird.

    Sis and I became known at the local post office for mailing small boxes of rocks near and far.

    Let's paint 

    In 2021, we were visited by relatives with a two-year-old. This cute twig really wanted to paint rocks with us! He held the paint brush, dipped carefully in colors he liked, and decorated a couple of rocks, with his Mom's help. Easy, fast, and fun. 

    After that visit, the twig began collecting rocks during walks in his home town, asking to paint them. Sis mailed out supplies and our joy of rock painting spread to that family.

    Let's rock

    This year, when the now three-year-old twig visited, he brought rocks he had decorated especially for us. At top, a sparkly rainbow rock he placed in my front yard. 

    Of course, we held a painting party in this twig's honor. At right, two rocks he painted in bright colors to accompany our garden bunny.

    By now, every member of the family has taken a turn trying rock painting, good sports that they are. 

    And that's how our pandemic painting parties turned into a family craft. Family history in the making!

    Sunday, July 10, 2022

    Stories in Stone - VGA Book Club Pick

    The Virtual Genealogical Association has so much to offer, for only $20 per year. The name says it all: All virtual, all the time, including informative webinars (live and on-demand), special interest groups and hangouts, even a book club.

    This month, you don't have to be a member of the Virtual Genealogical Association to join the fun with the book club pick, Stories in Stone by Douglas Keister. 

    The subtitle previews what's inside: A field guide to cemetery symbolism and iconography. From architecture to gravestone symbols and beyond, this compact but comprehensive book is indispensable for genealogy folks. 

    Full-color photos illustrate so many of the key points, with clear explanations. In addition to an extensive index, this handy book includes pages and pages of acronyms deciphered, a big help when trying to understand organizational initials and symbols on gravestones.  

    No wonder I have this book at hand for ready reference and to accompany me on any cemetery field trips.

    Now VGA is hosting a contest in connection with the July book club. Mark your calendar: The book club meets virtually on Tuesday, July 26th, at 8 pm Eastern. See you there!

    Friday, July 8, 2022

    Seventeen Wood Children Born in Three States


    As I continue to draft bite-sized bios of my husband's great-grandparents, Mary Amanda Demarest (1831-1897), husband Thomas Haskell Wood (1809-1890), and their children, I'm examining what was going on in their lives. This helps me put each ancestor into the context of the time, place, and ongoing family situation. Even if I write only a sentence or two for the wee ones, it keeps their memory alive for the future.

    Bride from New York, groom from Massachusetts

    Thomas Haskell Wood was born in Massachusetts and his bride Mary Amanda Demarest was born in New York, yet they married in Iberville Parish, Louisiana, in 1845. 

    The Wood family was based in the whaling community of New Bedford, many working in the industry. There's some evidence that Thomas signed onto a whaling ship in New Bedford years earlier. He may have arranged to bring Mary to Louisiana by ship for an elopement, but we have no proof.

    Their 17 children were born in three states from 1846 to 1875. At left, the names and dates of their five girls and twelve boys. Mary was 15 when her first child arrived, and nearly 45 by the time the last child arrived. 

    Three born in Louisiana, 1846-1850

    Jane "Jennie," Thomas, and John--the first three children--all were born in Iberville Parish, Louisiana.

    Only Jane survived to adulthood, unfortunately. Thomas drowned at age 12, and John died at age 8.

    Why the family left Louisiana, no one has any idea. Thomas Haskell Wood was a carpenter and much later, a coach builder, so he could go wherever work was available. But they must have had a good reason to pack up and move 900 miles away.

    Six born in Virginia, 1851-1861

    Once the family settled in a part of Virginia that is today in West Virginia, six more children were born: Lucy, William, Alfred, Francis, Lavatia, and Joseph. 

    Sadly, not all lived long lives. Lucy died at age 18. Diphtheria claimed Lavatia just after her 5th birthday and Joseph just before his 2d birthday. William died of typhoid at age 39, leaving a wife and children. Alfred also died at age 39, leaving a widow but no children. 

    Francis grew up and followed his father into carpentry, forming a business with some of his brothers. He and his wife had four children--and their descendants are in some of the old Wood family photos.

    Eight born in Ohio, 1862-1875

    The move to Ohio, about 300 miles away, could very well have been precipitated by the US Civil War, which broke out in April of 1861. Both parents were from the North, so maybe they wanted to leave the South to settle in the Union state of Ohio, or simply wanted to be far from the fighting. 

    Another reason might have been opportunities for steady work on Ohio railroad projects, as indicated by occupation of "RR carpenter" and "coach builder" in two US Censuses taken after the family got to Ohio. 

    In Toledo, Ohio, the last eight of the Wood children were born between 1862 and 1875: Charles, Rachel "Nellie," George, Marion, Mary "Mollie," James, Robert, and Leander. During this period, one of the children born in Louisiana and two of the children born in Virginia died in Toledo. 

    Of those born in Ohio, neither George nor Leander lived more than a few months, sad to say. The other six children all grew up and married. The men went into carpentry or commercial painting, sometimes in partnership with each other. Photos of some of these ancestors are in our hands and in the hands of cousins.

    My husband's grandfather was home builder James Edgar Wood (1871-1939), the tenth of twelve sons who became the father of four sons himself. 

    Wednesday, July 6, 2022

    Fleeing War on the SS Nyassa

    My maternal grandfather Theodore Schwartz (1887-1965) was the first of his family to come to America from Ungvar, their Hungarian hometown. He then helped his brother Sam and sister Mary to come to America. 

    Unfortunately, many of their siblings were killed in the Holocaust, including the oldest sister, Rezi Schwartz Winkler (1881-1944). 

    Happily, in recent weeks, I've discovered that some of Rezi's descendants escaped Europe during and after World War II. As it turned out, in-law connections proved pivotal.

    Fleeing the war

    Rezi's daughter Leni Louise Winkler Price (1909-1997), her husband Eugene Preisz (Price) (1906-1979), and their daughter Edith came to America on the SS Nyassa, which left Lisbon on April 15, 1941. This trip was made possible because blocks of tickets were purchased by HIAS, the Jewish relief group working to get people out of harm's way.  

    The Prices had their passports issued in Marseilles, France, in January of 1941. Waiting for safe transport from Europe, they had lived in Belgium for a time and then made their way to Lisbon, somehow, for their voyage. 

    Fleeing on the very same ship were the parents and grandparents of Bettie Lennett Denny, whose blog post vividly brings to life this agonizing ordeal, truly a flight for life.

    Nearest relative in America

    According to the SS Nyassa's passenger list, Leni and Eugene were going to join Eugene's older brother David Price (1893-1985), who was already established with his family in Brooklyn, New York. 

    After the war, Eugene Price (now also living in Brooklyn) was the US contact noted on the 1948 passenger list for his brother-in-law Albert Winkler. I wrote about Albert recently in this blog post. Albert and Leni were my first cousins, once removed. 

    Thankfully, I've connected with a couple of cousins in my extended Winkler and Price families, thanks to public family trees and ancestor memorials on Find a Grave.

    This week's #52Ancestors challenge by Amy Johnson Crow is "extended family." 

    Sunday, July 3, 2022

    Independence Day Postcard from 115 Years Ago


    For Independence Day 115 years ago, my hubby's uncle Wallis W. Wood (1905-1957) in Cleveland, Ohio received this colorful penny postcard in the mail. 

    I just love these vintage postcards, still in the family more than a century later.

    The sender was Rachel "Nellie" Wood Kirby (1864-1954), an attentive aunt living in Chicago, Illinois. 

    Nellie and other members of the Wood family rarely missed an opportunity to send penny postcards to younger relatives. 

    One year, Nellie even sent her nephew a postcard for George Washington's birthday on February 22, which was celebrated as a federal holiday beginning in 1879. 

    Today, of course, George Washington shares his official holiday with Abraham Lincoln, both celebrated on Presidents' Day. 

    Happy Independence Day!

    Saturday, July 2, 2022

    Your Family Tree: One and Done or LOCKSS?

    As genealogy folks, we're used to looking back toward the past. But to keep family history safe for the long term so descendants and researchers won't need to reinvent the wheel, we should look ahead to the future. 

    Think LOCKSS:







    Will one family tree be enough? Here are some of the steps I've taken to perpetuate my family history by sharing trees (and more) in different places:

    • Posting my family tree on multiple sites (Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch, WikiTree, FindMyPast). These serve as cousin bait too! 
    • Posting bite-sized ancestor bios on these and other sites (Fold3, FindaGrave). 
    • Sharing family history with relatives now (via booklets, videos, heirloom photos, my blog, and more).
    • Sharing ancestor photos with relatives now (sometimes with a story, sometimes on a shared family tree, sometimes here on my blog).
    • Sharing family stories now (on my blog and during family gatherings, plus in conversation, as "memories" on family tree sites, and more).
    • Sharing ancestor bios with repositories where I've donated artifacts or materials. This keeps ancestors alive in their collections!

    LOCKSS. Keep your family history safe for the future. Maybe "one and done" isn't enough?


    For more ideas, please see my book (print and ebook), Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, on Amazon (US, UK, Canada, beyond) and at the American Ancestors book store. If you're a Kindle Unlimited member, you can read the ebook for free!