Friday, September 30, 2022

Don't Be in a Hurry! Check the Actual Vital Record

Over time, I've been researching vital records for my husband's Work, Short, McClure, McKibbin, and related ancestors who spent time in Indiana. 

Although the Hoosier State began requiring registration of births in 1882, not every county or municipality complied. Luckily, nearly all of the births after 1920 were registered with the state health department. This informative page on the Family Search wiki explains the details.

Recently, I heard from a descendant of my husband's McKibbin line, who was kind enough to mention new clues that jumpstarted my research.

When I got to hubby's 4c1r, it would have been easy to quickly read the transcribed info and add to my tree without looking at the digitized image of the record.

BUT if I'd hurried on, I would have missed the extra details that Indiana so thoughtfully requested on its birth certs at that time, and which I didn't know about till I looked at the record itself.

Multiple birth?

Note the questions in the hot pink oval: 

  • Is this birth a twin or triplet or other?
  • Number of order of birth of this child
  • Is this child legitimate?
Although this child was not part of a multiple birth, I would have liked answers to such questions on other vital records for twins elsewhere in the family tree.

Researching decades after a twin or triplet has died, it's often difficult or impossible to learn who was born first and who was born next. Because I'm an older twin, and but my mother was a younger twin, I have a special interest in birth order among multiple births!

Learning about legitimacy is also of interest to my research, a nudge to look for marriage documents (or not). 

How many children in all?

I'm familiar with New York City/state birth certs because that's where many in my family tree were from. As shown above, there's a question on the NY cert asking how many previous children were born to this mother and how many are now living, in all. This child was the second for this mother, and both were living in 1908, the year of this cert.

Similarly, in Indiana, as shown at top, the blue oval highlights those questions:

  • Number of children born to this mother, including present birth?
  • Number of children still living, including present birth?
For the McKibbin ancestor born in Indiana in 1921, this cert revealed he was one of 8 but only 7 living at that point.

Now I had a narrower window for researching the other siblings, including the one who sadly was born and died before 1921. This is especially important for children who were lived their entire lives between Census years.

By taking a few moments to look at the actual vital record, and read the fine print, I saved a lot of research time in the end. Slow and steady wins!

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Book Review: "Memories of Newburyport, Massachusetts"

It's too bad my hubby and I have no ancestors who were born, married, died, worked, or sojourned in Newburyport from the 1850s to 1950s. 

Even though we don't know anyone from that place and that period, I really enjoyed reading "Memories of Newburyport, Massachusetts by Henry Bailey Little, 1851-1957," compiled by Margaret Peckham Motes. 

This is a charming recent reprint from Clearfield Company/Genealogical Publishing.

The memories of Henry Bailey Little, originally published in the late 1950s, evoke a fascinating, engaging picture of the changes taking place from the mid-19th century to beyond the turn of the 20th century. 

Little had a front-row seat for changing times in Newburyport, raised on a farm and later serving as president of a major savings bank for more than five decades. 

Of the shipping industry, once a huge economic engine in the area, Little recollects: 

"With the exception of the cotton mills, practically all the business of the town was on the river-bank, the shipyards, and the wharves. The shipyards have disappeared and been forgotten and the wharves are in a state of decay. The last square-rigger was built here in 1884 and while there were a few small vessels built later, after that date shipbuilding was for the most part ended."

The accompanying illustrations shepherd readers through the town's past, including those shipyards, the mills, and even a few gravestones of note. 

Of special interest to anyone with ancestral roots in or near Newburyport: the book has a detailed index of names, places, industries, and businesses. 

In short, check out this book if your ancestors had even a minor connection with the area!

*Note: sent me this book free, for review purposes. The opinions here are entirely my own!

Monday, September 26, 2022

How a Family Heirloom Lives On

My paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk (1882-1943) and his older brother, Abraham Berk (1877-1962), both trained as cabinetmakers before leaving their hometown of Gargzdai, Lithuania, around the turn of the 20th century. They were seeking more economic opportunity in North America...Isaac ultimately settling in New York City, Abraham settling in Montreal.

That lovely piece of furniture in the photo at top, complete with special touches, was handmade by Isaac many decades in the past.

After Isaac died, the night stand was used daily by his widow, my grandmother Henrietta Mahler Burk (1881-1954), and then inherited by her younger son, my uncle Sidney B. Burk (1914-1995). 

Today, this heirloom has a special place in the home of my first cousin, who regularly talks of Isaac and Henrietta to his children and grandchildren.

Even without the actual heirloom, I do the same--telling descendants of Isaac's woodworking virtuosity and showing off the photo to give the next generation a sense of pride about their ancestor's creation. His name and his skills will live on!

Thursday, September 22, 2022

From Training Ship to Bandmaster: Goliath Boys

My husband's Slatter ancestors, who lived in the impoverished London neighborhood of Whitechapel, have quite a back story. I've previously researched and written about the difficult life and sad fate of his great-great grandmother Mary Shehen Slatter (1837-1889), who ended her days in an insane asylum. Her husband, John Slatter (1838-1901) left his family behind even before Mary died, making his way to Ohio to start over. 

The impressive--and inspiring--part of this family's history, however, is that as adults, the Slatter children broke the cycle of poverty. Both of the daughters (Ada and Mary) followed their father to Ohio, married hard-working men, and raised children in the Buckeye State. 

Amazingly, three Slatter sons--Albert William (1862-1935), Henry Arthur (1866-1942), and John Daniel (1864-1954)--began the journey toward a better future when they were placed on a training ship anchored in the Thames. They became "Goliath boys."

On the Training Ship Goliath

The Slatter children had been sent to Forest Gate School for education while their father was absent and their mother was in an asylum. From 1870 on, this school operated a training ship positioned near Grays, called the Goliath. The goal was to teach young pauper boys necessary skills that would prepare them for military or civilian occupations (and keep them out of poorhouses).

From knots to notes, plus swimming and reading, thousands of boys gained skills especially valuable for the Royal Navy or for serving on merchant vessels. Instructors hoped their students would "follow the sea" after leaving the Goliath, and many did just that.

The training situation was highly disciplined, and conditions often were harsh...but the three Slatter boys apparently had musical talent that was shaped and sharpened by their time on the Goliath. In fact, John was Band Sergeant and solo cornet of the Goliath's Boy's Band at the age of 11, in 1875, according to one of his obituaries.

Tragedy on the Goliath

Teenaged Albert William Slatter left the Goliath in November of 1875, enlisting in the Shropshire Light Infantry--not the Royal Navy

But the other two Slatter boys--not yet teens--were among the hundreds of students remaining on the Goliath when fire broke out on December 22, 1875.

Despite efforts to extinguish the flames, the ship was consumed by fire and the boys were urged to save themselves by diving into the water. John Daniel Slatter and Henry Arthur Slatter survived by jumping into the Thames, but some students and at least one adult died, sad to say.

This horrific fire was covered by newspapers far and wide, I was a bit surprised to learn when I did an online search. In addition to British press, I found coverage stretching into 1876 in the New York Times and even in a New Zealand paper, and the Goliath has multiple online references (not just a brief, sketchy Wikipedia page).

From Goliath to the Exmouth

The Exmouth, another training ship in the Thames, was the next stop for many of the students who escaped the Goliath fire. 

At top is an excerpt from a record book for the Exmouth, showing that John Slatter was a "Goliath boy" moved to the Exmouth from March to August of 1876. The notation states he was discharged to an Army regiment in Colchester--not the Royal Navy!

Above, the record book page for Henry Arthur Slatter, also listed as a "Goliath Boy," living on the Exmouth until September of 1877. Subsequently, Henry joined the Army--not the Royal Navy

Building Better Lives 

In time, all three of these Slatter brothers used their musical skills to advance through the ranks and become highly respected military bandmasters in Canada, as well as devoted family men.

John Daniel Slatter was bandmaster of the 48th Highlanders of Toronto, which popularized the "kiltie band" fad at the turn of the 20th century.

Henry Arthur Slatter was bandmaster of the 72d Seaforth Highlanders of Vancouver.

Albert William Slatter was bandmaster of the 7th London Fusiliers of Ontario.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Low Points and High Points of Ed's 1926 Summer of Jazz

On this day, 96 years ago, my late father-in-law (Edgar James Wood, 1903-1986) arrived in New York City aboard the S.S. Berengaria, after a summer of playing jazz piano across the Atlantic and across the European continent.

His name appears at the top of this excerpt from the passenger manifest from the Berengaria, which sailed from Cherbourg on September 11, 1926, and docked in New York City on September 17, 1926. The manifest identifies Ed as a native of Cleveland, Ohio, born on August 13, 1903--exactly matching the passport he saved for the rest of his life. Ed turned 23 years old during that summer.

Ed had been at Tufts College, not graduating because he failed the language requirement. During his college years and for a time afterward, he played piano on gigs around Boston and beyond. That's how he met Richard "Dick" Bowers (see starred name on manifest above) and was recruited for the 1926 summer of jazz. At this point in the Roaring Twenties, jazz had become a worldwide phenomenon.

Low points, high points

Dick, the band leader, billed the group as an all-American college jazz band. For several summers in succession, he secured bookings to play on trans-Atlantic ships, then at resorts around Europe, then on a return voyage back to New York. 

Ed and the other musicians received little or no pay on the ships, playing in return for their passage. Similarly, their pay at the resorts was minimal, but they were allowed to use some of the resort facilities.

Fortunately, Ed kept notes of those unforgettable adventures in 1926, which whetted his appetite for foreign travel. 

The low points: being housed in dinky, tacky "staff rooms" at the ritziest resorts and pooling money with band members to buy super-cheap food toward the end of the summer when cash was running low. 

The high point? When interviewed by the Boston Herald a few weeks after he sailed home, here's what Ed said about his 1926 summer of jazz:

One of the things I remember best was when we played at a costume ball given by Count Volki, Italian minister of finance--he was at the head of the Italian debt commission to the United States, you know--at his castle on the Grand Canal, in honor of Prince Umberto, the Crown Prince. It was attended by members of the royal family and a host of Italian dukes and counts. It was one of the things that you see only in the movies, unless you are fortunate enough to be a member of the Italian nobility or a jazz musician.

"High and low" is the theme for this week's #52Ancestors challenge by Amy Johnson Crow.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Married 124 Years Ago by Reverend Hopkins

On September 21, 1898, nearly 124 years ago, my husband's grandparents Mary Slatter (1869-1925) and James Edgar Wood (1871-1939) were married in Toledo, Ohio. The couple received the license and were wed on the same day, a Wednesday.

Curious about the officiant, whose name is circled in the image at top, I searched online for more background. Reverend William Cyprian Hopkins, 1834-1910, was born in Burlington, Vermont, a son of the state's first Episcopal Bishop. After college, he earned a Doctor of Divinity degree and became rector of a church in Vermont until being commissioned as a chaplain in the Union Army during the US Civil War, serving with the 7th Vermont Infantry. 

Later, Rev. Hopkins became rector for churches in Louisiana, Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio. In 1898, he married hubby's grandparents while at St. Paul's Church of Toledo, Ohio. 

Because Rev. Hopkins was from a prominent Vermont family, he and his family appear in a wide variety of sources.

At left, a news clipping from the New York Journal newspaper of January 23, 1899, from the US Library of Congress website. It described the will of Charles Jerome Hopkins, a talented yet eccentric and prolific composer. 

The composer left his estate to his brother, Reverend Hopkins, with the exception of his music, which was left to his nieces in Chicago.

Happy almost anniversary to my husband's grandparents, never forgotten.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Voter Records Reflect Tight-Knit Family


My Mahler ancestors (on my Dad's side) and in-law families often lived near each other, I can see from the 1900 US Census and 1905 New York Census and going forward in time. 

These ancestors (some immigrants, some the first generation born in America) were enthusiastic about exercising their right to vote. Since the voter lists are arranged by address, this is a great opportunity to explore the tight-knit connections between Mahler siblings and spouses in the 1920s.

At top, an excerpt from the 1924 Voter List for the apartment house at 2347 Morris Avenue in the Bronx, New York.

In the first blue oval is the name of my great uncle Joseph A. Markell, who was married to my great aunt Mary Mahler in 1921. Mary is on the voter list, but a bit further down. 

Also in the first oval is the name of my great uncle Morris Mahler, who for many years was the main support of his mother (my paternal grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk) and his younger sister Dora Mahler, who had a chronic health condition that limited her ability to work.

In the next blue oval is my great uncle Louis Volk, who married my great aunt Ida Mahler in 1920. Ida's name appears a bit further down on the the third blue oval, where her sister Mary shows up.

In the final blue oval at bottom of the list is my great aunt Dora Mahler, who did NOT live at 2348 Morris Avenue. She actually lived in the same building as her Mahler siblings, specifically in the apartment with her older brother Morris. 

The 2348 address on this voter list is a typo, pure and simple. Dora never married, and a chronic health condition limited her ability to work--so she tended to live with her brother or her mother.

I can be certain that Dora's address was 2347 Morris Avenue because she was enumerated at that residence in the household of her brother Morris in 1925, when the New York Census was taken. In the next apartment at that address was Ida Mahler Volk and Louis Volk, along with their first-born child.

Family stories confirm that the Mahler sisters in particular were quite close, and their spouses got along famously. Even when they moved further away, they were in touch and their hearts remained close. 

"Exploration" is this week's #52Ancestors theme from Amy Johnson Crow. 

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Book Review: "Ancestry" by Simon Mawer

Anyone who has discovered conflicting or confusing genealogical records will appreciate the difficulty of constructing a plausible narrative to explain what was happening during a certain period in an ancestor's life. 

Famed novelist Simon Mawer had a variety of real-life genealogical documents in hand, plus old family photos, when he wrote his latest book, Ancestry, a blend of historical fiction and biographical fiction loosely based on his family tree. The records didn't tell one cohesive story--instead, they revealed tantalizing clues to underlying dynamics that shaped ancestors' decisions and actions from the early 1800s toward the end of the 19th century.

Flesh and blood ancestors

Mawer's interest, readers learn in the preface on page 1, is in trying to understand who these ancestors really were: "Where is the flesh and blood? Who were the people? What did they feel? Where have they gone?" Being a novelist, he used fiction as a way to explore what key ancestors thought and did during their lives, sometimes offering more than one possible explanation to fit the known facts.

In the first section, the main characters are his great-great-grandparents Abraham Block (who goes to sea and winds up missing) and Naomi Lulham (a naive seamstress striving for a better life). Mawer describes Abraham's seafaring life and Naomi's challenges at home with great attention to social and historical context, imagining their inner lives with fictional creativity.

The author quickly ties up genealogical loose ends by summarizing what happened to the descendants of these ancestors in just three pages. Having followed the fictionalized trials and tribulations of Abraham and Naomi for a number of chapters, I wished for a little more detail (factual too) about later generations.

In the second section, readers meet the author's military ancestor George Mawer and his Irish bride Ann Scanlon, who bunks with her husband in the barracks as his regiment is posted thither and yon. Again, Mawer combines solid research and creative imagination to describe what both ancestors will face, physically and emotionally, during George's military career leading up to the Crimean War, which will change the family tree forever.

Documentation combined with imagination

As a genealogy buff, my favorite parts of the book were the reproductions of the actual documents, with Mawer's interpretation of what was officially said and what was not reflected on the documents. Such as the name of a baby's father, a fact obscured on more than official birth record. I also appreciated the way the author focused on particular details to convey the feeling of everyday life in the mid-1800s. 

The Guardian's reviewer was unhappy that actual documentation interrupted the fictional flow of the creative story line (the opposite of my experience). The reviewer for the The Spectator cited the author's ability to vividly paint historical details as a particular strength of this book (as was my experience). The Financial Times reviewer especially appreciated the way Mawer created female ancestors who were "anything but ordinary" on the page (I agree, although I don't necessarily agree with the motivations ascribed to these women by the author).

My last thought: If only Mawer had included a family tree! Even a very basic tree (protecting the privacy of recent generations) would have been helpful in following along as babies were born and grew up. 

Friday, September 2, 2022

Check Those County History Books!

My husband's Larimer ancestors intermarried with members of the Work, Short, and McKibbin families after they all came to America in the 1700s.

At first, the immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, and later they and their descendants moved westward in search of fresh farmland in Ohio, Indiana, and beyond.

I've been checking county history books for biographies of ancestors (or their relatives), and as historical and social context for life and times. Some books are digitized and available through Family Search, some through subscription-based genealogy sites, some through Internet Archive, some through Google Books, etc.

Above, the cover of "pictorial and biographical memoirs" covering two counties in Indiana. At right, the subtitle of this 1890s publication. 

Note that it focuses on "prominent men . . . both living and dead." Including my husband's Larimer and Work ancestors! Wives and children were frequently included in the bios.

I found this digitized copy on Ancestry and Google Books, but it may be available on other sites as well. It described Abel Work and as far back as his grandfather Samuel's background. Samuel Work's place of birth was listed as County Antrim, Ireland, and the book says he wed his wife in Ireland before all came to America, where their six children were born. Names, occupations, and more details!

Interestingly, the name of Sam's wife in the county history is different from the name of Sam's wife shown in the Work family history written by a descendant (digitally available on Family Search). 

More research is needed to follow up on this clue, but it's certainly possible this ancestor had two wives or that one of the histories had an error. I wouldn't have even known to investigate this possibility if I didn't research in the county history books as well as the published family history.

If you're researching US ancestors, be sure to check the lengthy list of digitized, freely available county histories for all 50 states, compiled (as a labor of love) by genealogy blogger extraordinaire Linda Stufflebean.