Sunday, October 30, 2022

Black Cat, Hat, Jack O'Lantern, and a Broom, 1913


On Oct 28, 1913, Rachel Ellen "Nellie" Wood Lewis Kirby (1864-1954) mailed this Halloween postcard from her home in Chicago, Illinois to her 8-year-old nephew in East Cleveland, Ohio.

By this point in her life, Nellie had experienced many losses. Her first child (Nellie Lucy Blossom Lewis) sadly lived only two months, passing away in December of 1895. Earlier in that same year, her older brother Alfred Olando Wood died (1855-1895) and her younger brother Charles Augustus Wood died (1862-1895). Just two years later, she lost her husband, Walter Alfred Lewis Sr. (1860-1897).

Nellie remarried in 1907, to Samuel Arthur Kirby (1860-1939), and they soon moved to Chicago. Not too long afterward, she began sending holiday and birthday postcards to her Wood nephew in Cleveland, often signing "Aunt Nellie & Uncle Art." 

Unfortunately, Nellie's son Walter A. Lewis Jr. died in 1915, just shy of his 27th birthday. We have no postcards from Nellie after that date--either the cards didn't survive, or Nellie didn't send more. But her nephew treasured the cards from this favorite aunt, and the cards remain in the family to this day, shared among descendants.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Old, Handwritten, Detailed--But Accurate?

My hubby is lucky to have originals and copies of handwritten notes by ancestors who were documenting a slice of his family history. Above, part of a multipage manuscript written in 1875 by my husband's 1c4r, Dr. James Anderson Work (1845-1928). A descendant used it when writing the genealogy of the Work family and a genealogy of the intermarried Larimer family. 

This handwritten document has a lot of detail, sometimes even specific dates for births, marriages, and deaths. Certain aspects of these ancestors' lives are described particularly vividly, including the shipwreck of Robert Larimer (1719-1803), my husband's immigrant ancestor who came to the American colonies in about 1741 (according to this note).

Hubby's grandfather Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970) also left handwritten genealogical notes of his own, including the document shown here. Brice's note begins "I am Brice McClure, son of _________" and goes back to Robert Larimer, the man who left his home in the north of Ireland and came to America "in 1740," and married "1741 or 1742," according to Brice's note. 

The two handwritten family histories concur on many key points but differ on others, including the year Robert Larimer arrived in America, the maiden name of his wife, and the year of his death. 

Since I posted Brice's handwritten note on Ancestry more than a decade ago, 170 other users have saved it to their family trees. Understandably, since solid genealogical documentation is scarce for these ancestors at that time and place. 

Still, I view these notes as clues, only starting points for research. They offer a decent outline of the family tree, but too many details are missing or inconsistent. Remember, Dr. Work wrote in 1875 about ancestors born more than 150 years earlier. Brice McClure wrote in the 1940s about ancestors born more than 200 years earlier. 

If the notes had been contemporaneous with the events (written close to the time when the ancestor arrived in America, for instance, or started a family), I would have more confidence in the content.

Much as I appreciate and enjoy these handwritten notes, I hope my ongoing research will uncover additional sources to verify more names, dates, and stories.

What are your thoughts about handwritten family history notes like these?

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Celebrating WikiTree's 14th Anniversary


WikiTree is throwing an anniversary party and all are invited to learn more about genealogy and family history topics--for free!

The anniversary is on Saturday, November 5 but the celebration begins on Friday, November 4. Lots of well-known speakers are on the schedule, plus trivia, door prizes, exhibitors, and more.

If you can't attend live, the videos will be available for 30 days so mark your calendar for this educational celebration.

Genealogy clues and cousin bait on Find a Grave

I'm honored to participate as a speaker on November 4 at 10 am. My topic is "Genealogy clues and cousin bait on Find a Grave."

Above, a little preview from my talk. Imagine you're researching on Ancestry or Family Search and you find summaries of Find a Grave records much like those shown here (my ancestor on left, hubby's ancestor on the right). 

Notice that both mention a biography on the memorial page. One mentions a photo. Very possibly cousin bait? Definitely worth checking out! I'll discuss these tips and more on November 4. Hope to see you then!

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Share It, Link It, or Lose It!


Although I've blogged often about my maternal Auntie (Dorothy H. Schwartz, 1919-2001), I'm nearly finished with a linking project to share a key element of her life. 

Sgt. Dorothy Schwartz served with the US Women's Army Corps during WWII, earning the Bronze Star for her contributions to the war effort and serving as historian of her WAC unit. She went on to a successful career as a high school teacher of typing and stenography. 

Donating artifacts and ancestor info

Since Dorothy had no descendants, my sister and I donated her WAC memorabilia to the US Army Women's Museum, with a detailed biography and an original copy of the WAC history she wrote. 

The museum is keenly interested in receiving artifacts, oral histories, and biographical information about women who have served in the Army. Sis and I believe this is the best possible home for our aunt's materials, because these things (and her life story) will be preserved and archived for the future.*

Happily, the WAC history has been digitized and is now available at HathiTrust for anyone to read or browse. The front cover is shown above. Want to take a peek inside? Here's the link.

Posting photos and links 

To be sure this important wartime aspect of my aunt's life isn't entirely lost as the years pass, I'm posting the history's cover and a link to the digitized book on multiple genealogy-related sites. 

Above, the cover is now the main photo on my aunt's MyHeritage profile, and the link is on her bio.

At left, I posted the book cover (and other photos) on Find a Grave, with a link. 

Below, the book cover is one of a variety of wartime images I posted on her Fold3 memorial page. 

The Fold3 page is also linked to Dorothy's profile on Ancestry. 

In addition, the cover and a link is on Dorothy's WikiTree profile page. 

Lots of posts and lots of links will help keep alive the memory of Sgt. Schwartz and her WAC service.

This is my week 42 post for #52Ancestors, following Amy Johnson Crow's theme of "lost."

*I explain the why and how of donating family history artifacts in my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

"We Were There Too"

Interested in the “Great War” experience of Jewish people in Britain? Let me suggest a virtual visit to “British Jews in the First World War: We Were There Too.” 

This multidisciplinary project is an ongoing educational collaboration between multiple British institutions and the Jewish community, weaving together personal stories, historical background, evocative images, and archival resources that reveal the war’s impact on Jewish people in the military and at home. Participating institutions include the Jewish Museum London, the Imperial War Museum, Manchester Central Archives, and the Liverpool Central Archives, among many others.

Solomon Ash diaries and photos

I first heard about “We Were There Too” from my cousin in Manchester, who lent a digitized copy of a diary kept by her grandfather, Solomon Ash (1899-1955).

Company Quartermaster Sgt. Ash served with the Royal Fusiliers 39th Battalion, and he jotted notes as his unit journeyed home from Palestine more than a year after the war ended. My cousin also submitted photos taken by Ash, along with details about his life before and after World War I. The 1920 diary, scanned and transcribed, can be viewed on the Solomon Ash Diary page (excerpt at top).

In all, the "We Were There Too" database includes more than 50,000 Jewish men and women in Britain who were part of the war effort. Project coordinators created a record page for each individual, then appended supporting documents such as Census and military records (sourced from Find My Past, Forces War Records, and Ancestry).

Search and Navigate 

Free to all, the site is an ever-expanding gateway to diverse collections relevant to the Jewish experience in early 20th century wartime Britain. 

Browse the home page for collection highlights and an illustrated timeline of key dates in the period, from Britain declaring war on Germany in 1914 to Armistice Day in 1918. 


  • To search for individuals, use the Personal Record tab at the top of the home page. Advanced search allows variables beyond name, such as region, gender, place of burial, military rank, and awards. At right, part of the personal record page of Solomon Ash, with family history and photos and other details.
  • The Discover tab leads to fascinating historical vignettes about Jewish nurses, immigration from Russia, Jewish recipients of the Victoria Cross, and much more. These pieces, often with research notes and links, provide background on various aspects of the war that affected Jewish people in Britain.
  • For added social and historical context, use the Collections tab to access a wide array of digitized materials, from stereoscopic images and wartime letters to period maps and old school photos.

I highly recommend “We Were There Too” for fresh, first-hand perspectives into the military and home front experiences of Jewish men and women in Britain during World War I.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Ephemera Passed Down from a Bachelor Uncle

My Uncle Sidney Bernard Burk (1914-1995), was the only member of the Burk family born in Montreal, Canada.

His father, my immigrant grandpa Isaac Burk (1881-1943), was a skilled cabinetmaker. In search of work, Isaac moved the family back and forth from New York City to Montreal during the period of 1910 to 1915, according to family stories and border crossing documents. 

Ephemera passed down = breakthrough

Turns out, my bachelor uncle Sidney was very important to my genealogy efforts. If not for his tendency to hold onto stuff for decades, I wouldn't have been able to research the lives of Isaac Burk and his siblings.

One key piece of ephemera he passed down was a wedding invitation (see excerpt below) mailed from relatives in Manchester, England to Sidney's Aunt Nellie (Isaac Burk's older sister) in New York City during the 1930s. 

That single item, with a specific date, full names, and a street address, enabled me to trace and connect with an entire branch of the family tree in England. 

Now my British cousins and I communicate regularly, exchanging photos and info--all because Uncle Sidney passed down scraps of old family history containing crucial clues.

Keeping his memory alive

Uncle Sidney never married and had no descendants, so I've been documenting his life and posting publicly on a variety of sites such as WikiTree, to be sure he's not forgotten.

Here's part of the free memorial page I created on Fold3, emphasizing Sidney's military service during WWII. I included a photo with name, dates, and attribution. 

Thank you, Uncle Sidney, for passing down ephemera that helped fill major gaps in the Burk family tree!

Passed down is this week's #52Ancestors prompt from Amy Johnson Crow.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Redoing Research = Fresh Results

During the summer, the Library and Archives Canada website launched a new website, redesigned for accessibility and easier navigation. 

Today, with Canada's Thanksgiving Day on my mind, I retraced my steps to redo my research into hubby's great uncles from the Slatter family tree, all Canadian bandmasters.

Ancestor search

As shown here on the main search page, the choices are "library search" and "ancestor search."

I used "ancestor search" to look for results related to Captain John D. Slatter (1864-1954), the renowned bandmaster of the 48th Highlanders of Toronto. 

He served in that post for 50 years and both wrote and arranged lots of military music. Two musical pieces show up as the first of 65 items in the results. Although I know a lot about the good Captain, I'm always interested in discovering new nuggets of family history, like these.

Look at all results

Interestingly, because of the way the search function operates on this website, I found not John D. Slatter, but his oldest son, Albert Matthew Slatter (1887-1970), on page 3 of the results. 

Clicking to view the result, I found in the Canada Gazette of November 15, 1919, Albert was mentioned in a long list of changes in military status (promotions, demobs, medically unfit, etc) announced via this paper. 

I knew of Albert's military service, because I have his attestation and other documents, but this aspect was a new wrinkle. So I'm happily redoing other searches for the Slatter bandmasters, expecting a few fresh results to turn up!

By the way, my genealogy friend and blogger Linda Stufflebean left a comment that reinforces the idea of redoing research as time goes on: "Today, it always pays to refresh because of all the new records becoming available." So true!

Happy Thanksgiving to my friends up north.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Have You Registered for RootsTech?

Yippee! RootsTech returns in 2023 as a vibrant in-person genealogy conference with a robust virtual component for those who prefer to participate from home.

The conference takes place March 2-4 in Salt Lake City. 

As in the past, virtual presentations will be available on demand even after the event is officially over.

The cost for in-person attendance (180+ sessions and a lot more) is $98 US.

The cost for virtual participation is zero, including a virtual expo hall. 

I just registered for the free virtual event, since I can't get away in March.

Here's the link for more information and to register

Looking forward to another lineup of informative virtual sessions presented by experts from around the world.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Looking Ahead to 1960 US Census Release in 2032

Nine and a half years from now, the 1960 US Census will be released to the public, as the US National Archives kindly pointed out on social media just the other day.

Of course I had to preview the questionnaire (see list of questions here). 

And again, I see that some of the same outdated assumptions from the 1950 US Census were carried over to the 1960 US Census.

Only men in the military?

As shown at top, the 1960 Census questionnaire asks specifically about military service. 

But only men were asked. Just as in the 1950 US Census questionnaire.

Despite the fact that in the Korean War alone, more than 50,000 women served in military roles. 

Despite the fact that in World War II, more than 275,000 women served as WACs, WAVES, and WASPS.

Thousands of women served in military roles during World War I. 

But no women were asked about their military service on the 1950 or 1960 Census form. Sigh.

Never married? Not asked about babies!

In the 1950 Census, only women who reported they were married, widowed, divorced, or separated were asked about how many children they had ever had.

As shown above, the 1960 Census had a question about the number of babies a woman had ever had. 

But women who reported they were never married would not be asked this question

Great genealogical clues

Still, the 1960 US Census will have lots and lots of great genealogical clues. For one thing, more people were asked sample questions in this Census than in the 1950 Census, so there's a better chance one of our ancestors answered in some detail.

As shown in the image above, answers to the question about when the person was married (and, if married more than once, when married for first time) will narrow the window for researching marriage certificates.

As shown at left, we'll get wonderful clues from the question about where each person was born (note that enumerators were told to "use international boundaries as now recognized by the US).

Also an interesting question about what language was spoken in an immigrant's home before arriving in the US.

Really glad to see questions about country of birth for each parent.

And a question about the specific period when a person moved into the house or apartment where he or she is being enumerated.

Lots of clues to follow up on April 1, 2032, when this next Census is released.

Only 3,465 days to go!

Sunday, October 2, 2022

It's October: Have You Found Your 1950 Ancestors?

It's October, Family History Month! And it's been six months since the US National Archives released the mid-century Census taken on April 1, 1950.

If you haven't yet found your ancestors in that Census, this is a good time to try again, because indexing is nearly complete! 

Plus access to the 1950 US Census is free on all the major genealogy sites. 

Below are some links to check out, including search, browsing, and extra info for background.

Tip: If you can't find your ancestor using one site, try a different one. A couple of my ancestors didn't shown up in a search on one site but were indexed and discoverable by a search on another site. (current index review status, background on this US Census) (release details, links to forms, lots more) (search or browse the 1950 Census)  (search this US Census, and background on this Census) (includes link to search this Census) (how and why to use district finder feature, useful for browsing in an Enumeration District for FAN club members)  (tips and search link for 1950 US Census) (index reviewed by people) (indexed by computer) (browse 1950 images by state, county, Enumeration District)

This is my entry for the Genealogy Blog Party for October, 2022.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

World Postcard Day: Spring Valley to the Bronx


In April of 1941, my mother's best friend Sara sent this colorful postcard to Mom in the Bronx.

Sara was on a brief getaway to the green, leafy town of Spring Valley, New York. Today, that town is much more populated and easy to reach via the Tappan Zee Bridge. 

But in 1941, there was no bridge, very little the area was a quiet, bucolic place to escape the bustle of city life.

In fact, my maternal grandparents sometimes rented a bungalow in Spring Valley to get out of the Bronx during the hottest summer weeks.

This was before America entered WWII, well before Sara's husband began to serve in the Navy, well before Mom's sister, brother and first cousins began to serve in the US military.

Notice the one solitary car at far right of the postcard? Fun.