Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Small Family History Book Brings Wartime Activities to Life

Early this month, a young relative asked about our family in World War II. In response, I created a small (six inch by six inch) photobook focused mainly on the military service of my Dad, my two uncles, and my aunt. Bite-sized family history projects like this don't take a lot of time to prepare and don't overwhelm the audience with details--using images to bring ancestors and stories to life.

The cover (see above) shows the four focus ancestors, with a colorful border around each image. Even a small touch of color is important because the next generation has complained that "black and white is boring." The text is dark green, and the background is light tan, avoiding the dreaded black-and-white that makes eyes roll among my younger audience.

On the back cover, I repeated the two most colorful images from the inside pages. Top left, the unit shoulder patch from Dad's US Army unit. He was in the 3163d US Signal Service Company, and everything on that patch has significance, from the thunderbolts forming a V for victory to the blue star in a white background, which stands for the Army Service Forces, and the broken chains, freeing Europe from the Axis. I explained the significance inside the book.

Lower right on the back cover is the shoulder patch for the 9th US Air Force, to which my aunt's WAC unit was attached. This particular image is from that WAC's unit history, researched and written by my aunt, Sgt. Schwartz.

Inside, I also included a few sentences (with photos) about the military service of Dad and Mom's first cousins, noting that Mom was in the New York City Air Warden Service. 

This attractive bite-sized book has a hard cover and looks professional, with flashes of color throughout. Now the next generation will know that our Schwartz and Burk ancestors were active during World War II in the US Army, US Army Air Force, US Marines, US Navy, US WACs, and on the home front as well.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

LOCKSS via Find a Grave

After I join my ancestors, I don't want my family history to be forgotten or lost. That's why I've been sharing far and wide, knowing that LOCKSS - lots of copies keep stuff safe.

In addition to documenting my family tree and hubby's family tree on multiple websites, I've made Find a Grave a big part of my LOCKSS plan. Membership in Find a Grave is free: register, create a member profile (you can list surnames you're researching, great cousin bait!), and get started. 

Create memorials, link relatives, add bios

I'm steadily going through my trees and checking for Find a Grave memorials. I add a page for ancestors who have none, when I know where those people were buried (or cremated or memorialized on a cenotaph, like hubby's cousin here). Little by little, I'm also adding bite-sized bios, as shown on hubby's cousin's page.

If a memorial already exists, I link the memorial pages of ancestors who were related to each other. That way the memorial will show an ancestor's parents/spouse/children/sibling(s) as family context--and clues for other researchers. This also gives me a push to conduct a bit of research if I'm missing a date or a relationship.

Nearly all the memorial managers I've dealt with have approved my edits quickly and completely. The wonderful manager whose bio I show here holds a few ancestral memorials from my tree. He's posted all suggested edits within a day or two, and also made one transfer at my request. He is the ideal manager IMHO. I've heard so so many complaints about managers who won't transfer memorials, won't make edits, but rarely have I had a bad experience and I'm not easily deterred from my mission of LOCKSS.

Once or twice I had to explain my edits to a memorial manager by showing documentation. For instance, when there was no headstone, I proved someone's name was wrong in the cemetery's index and the manager changed the page. This doesn't happen often, but I can understand a manager striving for accuracy might want to know "how I know."

On the other hand, I disagreed with an edit suggested by a researcher trying to be helpful. The edit suggested adding "Jr" to the ancestor's name because his father was "Sr." Um, the younger guy had a different middle name than his dad AND never in his life did he use the "Jr" suffix (lots of documentation on this guy). We had a polite exchange of messages when I rejected the proposed "Jr" change, explaining my reasoning and thanking the researcher for other edits I did approve.

Find a Grave index is widely available

Now back to LOCKSS. At top is a screen shot of the Ancestry catalog entry for Find a Grave. This, this, is a big reason why I invest so much time in Find a Grave. 

See how many millions upon millions of Find a Grave memorials are indexed and searchable on Ancestry?

Anyone researching an ancestor of mine via Ancestry is highly likely to see a link to the Find a Grave memorial page. They'll fill out their tree, and may even connect with me to share info (remember my Find a Grave profile shows surnames researched). My ancestors on multiple Ancestry trees--LOCKSS.

FamilySearch also makes the Find a Grave index available on its free website. Millions of people use FamilySearch--meaning any of them could potentially notice the Find a Grave memorial I created OR a link to a relative on Find a Grave. Quite a powerful incentive to add my ancestors to Find a Grave and improve existing memorial pages!

Is Find a Grave perfect? Of course not, and there are any number of legitimate concerns. But the many pluses make it an important part of my plan for LOCKSS, which is why I'm an active member.

"Membership" is Amy Johnson Crow's genealogy prompt for week 12 of #52Ancestors. 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Book Review: Essential Guide to Researching Your Kentucky Family History

If you're researching ancestors in the Bluegrass State, you'll find lots of practical information in the brand-new book Essential Guide to Researching Your Kentucky Family History. 

Published by the Kentucky Genealogical Society, available on Amazon here, this 144-page book is filled with expert research advice, useful historical maps, insider's tips, and much more. Disclaimer: I'm a member of the KGS and received a free copy to review, but the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

Organization of chapters

Not for beginners only, the Essential Guide is divided into six sections, leading readers through the background of the state, genealogical methodology, and specific resources and techniques for genealogy research in Kentucky:
  • Understanding Kentucky History (forming counties, pioneer family paths, Jackson Purchase, common causes of death in 19th century)
  • Basics of Family Research (getting started, pedigree charts, tips for research, remotely researching in Kentucky, strategies for working with clues)
  • Finding Genealogical Sources (Census, tax lists, land grants, obits, military records)
  • Genealogy Techniques and Tricks (maps, vital records, female ancestors, marriages for formerly enslaved persons, timelines, courthouse disaster plan, published ancestor research)
  • Sharing Your Research (catch relatives' attention, tips and suggestions for family storytellers)
  • Reference (county formation dates/county seats, cousin formula)
Insider's knowledge

The book spotlights resources and approaches not necessarily familiar to researchers outside of the state--but known to the insiders at the Kentucky Genealogy Society. 

For instance, the chapter titled "Is Your Kentucky Ancestor in the Log Cabin?" explains how to access and search, for free, issues of a weekly newspaper published in the Harrison County area from 1896 to 1960. Often ancestors' activities were mentioned in the paper--a terrific place to check if your family's roots extended to that region of Kentucky.

I'm partial to maps, so I particularly like the chapter about the use and source of topographical maps, historical county maps, and cadastral maps (which indicate land ownership). 

Another super-valuable chapter digs into techniques for researching Kentucky land grants, following the four-step patent process and specifics of where to locate land documentation.

In short, anyone who has Kentucky ancestors will want to read and refer to this detailed yet succinct guide again and again. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Word Cloud of Hubby's Irish Ancestors

For St. Patrick's Day, I created a lucky four-leaf clover of surnames and places from my husband's Irish ancestry. The free site I used is WordArt.com

As always, I sent "Erin Go Bragh" greeting cards to the grandkids. This year I included a four-question quiz about a few of the Irish ancestors I've been telling them about for years.

  1. Who was the first Brice in our family to be born in America, and where in Ireland did his parents come from?
  2. What happened to our ancestor Robert Larimer after he set sail from Northern Ireland bound for America in the 1740s?
  3. Where in Ireland were Larimer in-laws Thomas McKibbin and Jane Irvine McKibbin born before moving to Turkeytrot, Pennsylvania?
  4. Which Scots-Irish ancestors, born in Donegal, paid for passage to sail to Philadelphia and then walked to Virginia to buy farm land?

  1. Brice Smith was the Brice in our family to be born in America, in Pennsylvania in 1756. His parents, William and Jean Smith, were from Limerick. Brice and his wife Eleanor Kenny Smith were hubby's 4th great-grandparents. There is also a Brice in my husband's generation.
  2. Robert Larimer boarded a ship about 1740 to sail across the Atlantic in search of a new life, age 21. Unfortunately, he was shipwrecked and forced to serve as an indentured servant to work off the cost of his rescue. After years of hard work, Robert ran away, married Mary Gallagher, and farmed in Pennsylvania. Later, the couple and their family moved to Rush Creek, Ohio. Robert and Mary were hubby's 5th great-grandparents.
  3. Thomas McKibbin was born in County Down, Ireland, and married his wife Jane Irvine in Ireland before traveling to Pennsylvania about 1812. Later, Thomas and Jane moved west to pioneer in Indiana, where both are buried. Thomas and Jane were in-laws of hubby's Larimer family.
  4. Halbert McClure and his wife, Agnes, were both born in Donegal, although the McClure family is originally from Scotland. Halbert, his wife, their children, and some of Halbert’s brothers sailed to Philadelphia and then walked together to Virginia in the 1700s. Their descendants became farmers in Ohio and then in Indiana. Halbert and Agnes were 5th great-grandparents of my husband.
"Lucky" is the 52 Ancestors theme for this week, from Amy Johnson Crow. 

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Bite-Sized Family History from World War II

It seems my relatives like to learn about family history in small doses. Not for them a big data dump about dozens of ancestors or multiple generations. Keep it focused, keep it simple, they'll pay attention for at least a little while.

This week, I created a bite-sized photo book with snippets of what some ancestors did during World War II--in the military and on the home front. (Photo of photobook will be posted soon!)

Many served in the armed forces. I selected four to profile in some detail: my Dad (US Army), his brother (US Army Air Corps), my aunt (WAC), and my uncle (US Army). Lots of photos and bits of documents brought their stories alive.

I also briefly touched on the military service of Dad's and Mom's first cousins, including one in the US Navy and one in the US Marines Corps. Another of Dad's cousins served in the New York Guard. Nearly every branch of the armed forces was represented in the family tree, and mentioned in the bite-sized book!

Supporting the war on the home front

Beyond the military, our Farkas family had its very own Rosie the Riveter. My great aunt Freda, younger sister of my Grandma Minnie, worked long hours in the Grumman aircraft factory on Long Island. 

Other women in the family tree were supporting the war effort on the home front, as well. My Mom and her twin, plus two cousins, joined the American Woman's Voluntary Services, volunteering for a range of activities including selling war bonds. 

My maternal grandma's Farkas Family Tree association often held war-bond sales during monthly meetings, raising a couple thousand dollars at a clip. Mom was also involved with New York City's civilian Air Warden Service during 1943, checking that curtains were closed for blackouts in case of overnight enemy bombing raids. 

Does your family tree include any Rosie the Riveters? Women's History Month is a great time to show pride in these ancestors by telling their stories in a bite-sized family history project.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

International Women's Day: Honoring the Women in My Family Tree


Today is International Women's Day!

To honor the women in my family tree, let me present:

  • Daisy Schwartz Burk, my Mom
  • Hermina Farkas Schwartz, my maternal Grandma
  • Leni Kunstler Farkas, my maternal great-grandmother
  • Henrietta Mahler Burk, my paternal Grandma
  • Rachel Shuham Jacobs, my paternal great-great-grandmother
  • Tillie Jacobs Mahler, my paternal great-grandmother
Thinking of them with affection and appreciation today, March 8, 2023.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Translating Facts and Artifacts into Family History

Last week, one of my younger relatives asked about the World War II service of our ancestors. Little did he know that he would get answers, lots of answers!

For this young man and other descendants, I'm preparing a little photo book with snapshots, documents, and stories of our ancestors who served. The focus is on my immediate family: Dorothy Schwartz (maternal aunt, a WAC), Fred Shaw (maternal uncle, US Army), Harold Burk (Dad, US Army), Sidney Burk (paternal uncle, US Army Air Corps). Plus a paragraph about my Mom doing her part at home (see below). After all, it is Women's History Month, so Mom and her twin should both be included!

Facts into stories

Dad's honorable discharge documentation recorded the facts of what he did overseas, but no details or explanation (see at top). I had other documentation, from Fold3 and other sources, as well as from family files. I wanted to translate the facts into readable snippets about his role in WWII.

Doing an online search for his 3163d Signal Corps unit, I stumbled on an oral history from someone who served at the same time in the same unit! After reading a summary of the background provided by Alan B. Conlin Jr. in 2013, I was able to write a few lively sentences about the unit's vital wartime role, exactly where they were stationed, and when. 

This fleshed out the facts of Dad's wartime service into a brief story of how the Signal Corps installed and managed communications such as radio and teletype, extremely vital for transmitting troop orders and bombing instructions in the European Theater. 

Artifacts into stories

Meanwhile, my wonderful husband was intrigued by the wartime shoulder patch my father had saved all his life. After a bit of online searching, hubby discovered a detailed explanation of the symbolism on the Pritzker Military Museum website. Someone had donated the unit patch and the museum summarized what each element means, as you can see here

In the book I'm preparing, the photo of the patch will be accompanied by a rephrased version of what the patch represents. For sure I wouldn't have recognized that the twin thunderbolts represent V for Victory. Now descendants will know that part of the artifact's story, along with a clear photo of Dad's own patch (being passed down to heirs).

On the home front

Not to leave out my Mom, Daisy Schwartz, I included this image of her Air Warden service in 1943. She didn't serve in the armed forces, but she did work as deputy communications director for the New York City units. 

My book will include a brief description of the function of an air warden, so the document is "translated" into a story of my Mom doing something meaningful to support the war effort on the home front.

With younger folks in mind, these bits of research helped me turn bare facts into actual stories to capture my audience's attention and bring family history alive. 

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

Friday, March 3, 2023

Book Review: "Generation By Generation"

Know any newcomers to genealogy? I encourage you to point them toward a new book designed specifically for people just starting their journey into family history: Generation By Generation, a Modern Approach to the Basics of Genealogy by Drew Smith, from Genealogical.com. Disclosure: Although I received a free copy from the publisher, the opinions in this book review are entirely my own.

Drew is well known as co-host of the Genealogy Guys podcast, founder of the Genealogy Squad Facebook group, and a frequent speaker on genealogy topics. One of his innovations is to organize the research chapters according to how we actually trace a family tree--starting with ourselves and going back in time, one generation at a time:

  • Generations after 1950 in the US
  • Generations from 1880 to 1950 in the US
  • Generations from 1850 to 1880 in the US
  • Generations from 1776 to 1850 in the US
  • Generations in British America before 1776

He also assumes that today's genealogy newbies will be relying on technology, both for research and for documenting family history. Chapter 4 is all about getting organized, with software, bookmarks, etc. Chapter 7 focuses on the four major online genealogy platforms (FamilySearch, Ancestry, MyHeritage, FindMyPast). Truly a modern approach! 

At 170 pages, this large-format book is well-illustrated and highly readable, making the genealogy process more accessible to newcomers. In short, I highly recommend Generation By Generation.

Note: In the introduction, Drew reminds readers to share family history so it can live on, a philosophy dear to my heart. Drew, if you ever write a second edition, my suggestion is to add a brief chapter with a few ideas about how newbies can do that, so ancestors will not be forgotten in the years to come. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Back Up Your Genealogy and More


The first of every month is backup day. 

Don't take any chances with your genealogy! Having lost a few folders of family photos to some computer glitch years ago, I'm careful to back up both automatically and manually.

I have three external hard drives, as you can see, with one specifically for all those wonderful family and family history photos. That drive is where I put my manual backups--meaning that when I create something new or update something, I copy and paste it on that hard drive. All of my genealogy presentations are also backed up on the photo hard drive.

The other two hard drives store daily and weekly backup drives, running automatically in the background. (I schedule my backups at a time when I'm not active on the computer so I can leave it running and step away while the automatic systems do the backups.)

For extra safety, I put genealogy presentations on flash drives in case something doesn't work properly as I'm speaking, and I need to make a switch quickly. Plus I have two cloud backups running every day.

My family trees are on multiple sites, as well as on my RootsMagic8 software. 

Lots of copies keep stuff safe. LOCKSS! Please backup regularly. Your descendants will thank you. 

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Family History as Ancestors Lived It

Famed Presidential scholar/author Doris Kearns Goodwin makes an important point about writing history, which also applies to family history. 

Dr. Goodwin recommends writing history from the perspective of what someone knew at the time, not what we know today as we look back on the past and see events and their consequences.

What did they know, when did they know it?

As an example, in her research for writing about President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Goodwin carefully studied their diaries and letters, to get a sense of their thoughts and emotions at particular points in time, particularly over the course of World War II.

Her goal was to write so "the reader could feel what it was like to be Franklin and Eleanor at that time, which means that if they made mistakes, you could at least understand why they did. If they did something admirable, you could feel it with them."

In terms of family history, our ancestors had no way of knowing what would happen when they decided to leave their home country, or get married, or join the military, or change jobs. Today, we can be Monday morning quarterbacks, applauding some ancestors' moves while questioning others. But what could they have known at the time they faced that decision and at each step of the way afterward?

Tell the story as the ancestor lived it

What was it like for my aunt Dorothy Schwartz (1919-2001), a daughter of Hungarian immigrants, to decide to join the WACs in WWII, and eventually make a dangerous trip overseas to serve in war zones? I have some idea about her day-to-day story as it unfolded, thanks to news articles, letters home, family meeting minutes, and the recollections of a friend she made on board the RMS Aquitania when going to war. The NY Times and other publications covered the voyage to Europe because Dorothy and her WAC unit was the first sent overseas in WWII.

As background, Dorothy worked for a few years after high school before attending Hunter College in New York City, her home town. She was ardently pro-democracy during college--her quotes on the subject were included in local news coverage of the time. Dorothy didn't have a clue how World War II would turn out, but she was determined to do her part when she applied for the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. She didn't even know whether she would be chosen to serve, because 35 women applied for each open position. Once she was chosen, her life took a very different direction than if she had stayed in New York and finished college. Remember, she was only in her early 20s.

Dorothy's letters home during training and after deployment showed her learning to be part of a WAC team, gaining an appreciation for the immense tasks ahead, and developing into a squadron leader. They also revealed her pride in the professionalism she and her WAC colleagues displayed, despite being underestimated by many men in the military and in everyday life. This was a theme that came up over and over again--countering misperceptions through hard work and super-professionalism.

Ancestor's story in context

Decisions like Dorothy's aren't easy, and they change not just the individual's life, but the entire family's situation. Dorothy left her aging parents and her beloved twin sister to become a WAC. She never dreamed she would be away from home for nearly 3 years, nor did she imagine serving alongside Allied bombing squadrons. 

Her letters reveal she felt intense pressure to perform perfectly because thousands of lives depended on her accuracy in recording and transcribing bombing orders. When Dorothy finally came home, she had a huge sense of accomplishment in helping to win the war and fresh confidence in her own capabilities.

We know how these decisions turned out, but our ancestors had to live each day without any idea of the eventual outcome. If we tell as much of the story as we can learn, tell it as it unfolded from the ancestor's perspective, we can help our relatives and future generations appreciate the true drama and suspense of family history. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Happy Twin Birthday


Happy twin birthday to Sis and me, shown here in winter bonnets, all snuggly settled into our deluxe baby buggy. 

We were clearly ready for a bit of a joy-ride around our corner of the Bronx, New York. This is one of my fave photos from our early childhood!

Saturday, February 18, 2023

My Family Tree Word Cloud


Here are the main names on my family tree, including many of those who married into my maternal and paternal lines. Fun to see them in a tree shape! 

Thanks to the free online word cloud generator here, which includes a tree shape and the option to customize colors, sizes, and fonts, not just names. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

In Memory of Cousin Annie Jacobs, 1895-1896


My 1c2r Annie Jacobs died on this day in 1896, only 13 months old. She was the third child of my great uncle Joseph Jacobs (1864-1918) and his wife, Eva Michalovsky Jacobs (1869-1941).

As shown on her death cert above, little Annie died of bronchitis, with other illnesses contributing to her death. She was buried in the Plungianer society plot of Mount Zion Cemetery in Queens, New York. 

The Jacobs family suffered many hardships and losses after arriving in New York City from Russia. Joe came first in 1882, bringing his mother Rachel Shuham Jacobs within a few years. He became a US citizen in 1888, and married another immigrant, Eva Michalovsky in New York City on March 2, 1890. He initially worked as a cap-maker and a tailor to support his family, but as his health declined, he later worked as a janitor.

Joe and Eva had four daughters and two sons together. Sadly, Annie was the first of their children to die, followed by Pauline in 1907 (at age 6) and Flora in 1923 (at age 32). Joseph's mother Rachel died in 1915, and he himself died in 1918 of Parkinson's, after being hospitalized for nearly a decade. 

Dear cousin Annie, I'm keeping your memory alive as I blog about you, and put your story on public family trees, 127 years after you passed away.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Happy Valentine's Day, 1912 and 1946

 My husband's uncle Wallis W. Wood (1905-1957) was six years old when he received this colorful Valentine's Day card from an aunt and uncle.

It was postmarked 12 February 1912, sent from Chicago to Cleveland. 

The senders were Nellie (Rachel Ellen) Wood Kirby and her second husband, Arthur Kirby

How many six-year-olds get mail? Wallis (the correct spelling of his given name, not the wrong spelling shown on the card) was probably happy to see this pretty card from relatives!

My father, Harold Burk (1909-1978) sent the flowery card (below) to my mother (Daisy Schwartz Burk, 1919-1981) on the first Valentine's Day after they were engaged in 1946. 

Dad made heavy use of greeting cards throughout the year, sending Mom a mushy or funny greeting nearly every month right up until their wedding on Thanksgiving weekend of 1946. She saved them all, and today they're safely tucked away in an archival box, preserved for the next generation and beyond.

Dear readers, Happy Valentine's Day 2023.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Put Your Genealogical Proof on Your Tree(s)

Last night, Shelley Bishop gave a terrific talk to my local genealogical society, titled "Avoiding an Ancestor ID Crisis." She suggested writing a proof statement to clarify your evidence and reasoning when trying to determine which individual is actually your ancestor.

But what about public family trees that show the wrong individual instead of the person you can now prove is the real ancestor? Or collaborative trees where someone is perpetuating incorrect info? I have some ideas, please read on!

Ask questions, answer questions

A decade ago, nearly all public family trees showed the mother of Lucinda Helen Bentley Shank as S.L. Hixon, based on an old county history book. Above is the page in question, where a sentence notes: "The first children born where those of S.L. Hixon and Wm. T. Bentley, in 1835." (See green arrow.)

Reading that source, I had questions: Why would S.L. Hixon be named that way, rather than with a given name and the surname of Bentley? Also, reading the rest of the page, it seemed clear that S.L. Hixon was male, since he had a first wife named Nancy (above the green arrow) and is mentioned in the final sentence as "Mr. Hixon."

My theory was that the book was naming only the fathers of the first two babies born among settlers in 1835. Digging deeper, I was able to locate and order a death record for Lucinda. Although only an extract was available at that time, it clearly showed Olivia Morgan as the mother's maiden name, NOT S.L. Hixon. 

Therefore, I added Olivia Morgan as a new name to my family tree, and uploaded the death cert extract as proof she was Lucinda's mother. Six other people subsequently saved the extract as source to their family trees. Later, Lucinda's actual death cert became available and I attached it as my source, as well. Even though death certs aren't necessarily completely accurate, I felt fairly confident because I found Olivia's name on another child's documents. 

On Ancestry, I posted the S.L. Hixon page on Olivia Morgan's profile (since she was, after all, the wife of Wm T. Bentley and mother of one of the first babies born to settlers). Soon afterward, someone posted a question on the "comments" section of the source page, asking how I found Olivia to be the mother. Shown above, I explained my reasoning. Happily, over time, Olivia Morgan replaced S.L. Hixon as the mother on dozens of family trees!

BUT you don't have to wait for anyone to ask a question. You can simply post your own comment about proof on a source or on your ancestor's profile. If your tree is public, any researcher can read your comment. Maybe that comment will diminish the spread of incorrect info and encourage the spread of accurate info.

Show your proof as a source

On Family Search, I posted a document and explanation to confirm that Olivia Morgan was indeed the mother of Lucinda Helen Bentley Shank. 

It's easy to do this by creating your own source on the ancestor's profile. I uploaded the death cert extract from Olivia Morgan's daughter, and wrote a sentence explaining why this source was being attached (see blue star above).

This is an easy way to share your source and reasoning with others who are researching the same ancestors--and, hopefully, persuade them to leave the facts intact based on your evidence.

UPDATE: In her comment below, Teresa Eckford recommends using the new "notes/alert" function added to FamilySearch a few months ago. Here's a link to learn more about this easy way to let others know about important research info for a particular ancestor. TY to Teresa for this excellent suggestion! 

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Deep Dive Inside the Census Process: Democracy's Data

"In every boring bureaucratic form, there lurks drama, conflict, and the quintessentially modern struggle to fit messy lives into standardized categories."

In Democracy's Data, Dr. Dan Bouk pulls back the curtain on the surprisingly contentious and complicated process of planning and implementing the US Census throughout American history. 

No boring, stale history here. His highly readable book puts the 1940 Census under the microscope as a great example of hidden stories of people and the nation--and how to tease out stories from the mass of data collected. Highly recommended!

Chapter 1, "The Question Men," is aptly named because all but two of the people who planned the 1940 US Census questionnaire were male. All were white. Government officials were well represented but so was the world of commerce, with the head of Sears, Roebuck in attendance, insurance execs, union researchers, academics, and more.

Dr. Bouk's exploration of Census design makes a key point clear: "The census 'made' the facts that its columns defined. It hid the facts that its columns denied."

So when immigration was of national concern, the 1920 US Census asked questions about citizenship status, language spoken, etc. By 1940, the Question Men were less concerned about immigration and more concerned about internal migration, one of the effects of the Great Depression, and about income levels. The questions added and removed reflected these changing priorities.

Don't miss the Epilogue, where Dr. Bouk describes his experience with the 2020 US Census, comparing the enumeration process and questions to those of earlier Census years, and explaining the ramifications of various responses.

"I want to be counted so that my individual data (and the story it tells about me and my country) will survive. I appreciate that I and all of my neighbors will have some trace of our existence preserved permanently," he writes. I share this sentiment.

Unfortunately, Dr. Bouk isn't reassured about the "permanence" of today's Census data, because the 2010 and 2020 Census data are being stored only digitally, no paper trail at all, no microfilm either. He's worried about media obsolescence and whether our 2020 Census responses will still be available in 2092, when the individual results are to be publicly revealed. I share his worry.

To hear the author speak about this book, of interest to all genealogy folks who use US Census data in their research, take a look at one of these two videos:

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Too Many Aunts and Uncles on Find a Grave?


My maternal grandmother had 10 siblings, and my paternal grandmother had 8 siblings. Most of these people married, so I'm a niece (and great-niece) by marriage as well. That's a lot of aunts, uncles, great aunts, and great uncles. 

I've been honoring their memory by not only adding them to my family trees but also creating or improving memorial pages on Find a Grave. This includes linking my ancestors' memorial pages to the pages of their parents, siblings, and children.

When I add a new memorial page, Find a Grave asks whether I'm a close relative. I answer yes and then click the box to reflect the kind of relationship. As shown directly above, the "niece/nephew" box also includes an option for "great-niece/great-nephew."

For the first time yesterday, I discovered that Find a Grave limits how many people a single user can claim in a niece or nephew relationship. At top of this post, you can see the notice displayed on Find a Grave when I attempted to have my niece relationship displayed on the memorial page of an uncle who died in the 1980s--someone I'd known and hugged.

Find a Grave's explanation is:

We limit the number of memorials you can manage within each relationship type to help prevent abuse.

There is an option to appeal to the support center...which I may do at some point. For now, at least I'm the manager of these memorial pages and can add bite-sized bios, photos, etc. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Recovering from A Genealogy Oops

Watching the US National Figure Skating Championships for the past few days, I was inspired by Jason Brown.

Deep into his 2023 long program, in contention for a gold medal, he slipped on a key jump. Yet by the end of his performance, Jason was smiling (and so was his coach). They knew the rest of his performance was terrific! He earned a silver medal, despite his oops.

Although my genealogy research isn't "live" like a sports performance, the results are very much on display because my family trees are public (except for 2 speculative trees). And as much as I strive for accuracy, I don't always get everything right. 

Over the years, cousins (and FAN club members) have been in touch with all kinds of corrections and suggestions--for which I'm truly grateful. They've not only helped me recover from a genealogy oops, they've set me on the path toward additional discoveries.

One example from 10 years ago: My Philly cuz urged me to reconsider a small but critical detail in my research into our Schwartz family. I thought I was looking for "Violet," which sent me down one investigative path, researching someone of that name who was from the same home town as our Schwartz ancestors, had the same maiden name. Violet's story had been well documented but alas, she was not part of our Schwartz branch.

Philly urged me to look for "Viola." When I retraced my research steps, with "Viola" firmly in mind, I saw more had become available since my initial search--leading to an amazing, emotional breakthrough. What had been an "oops" turned into a powerful and enduring connection with my cousins -- even as it strengthened the accuracy of my family tree.


"Oops" is this week's #52Ancestors challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

For International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I want to bear witness to the families destroyed and commemorate the tenacity of survivors whose testimony kept alive the names of those who perished. 

When I began my genealogical journey 25 years ago, I had only a vague thought that anyone in my family tree had been directly harmed by the Holocaust. My parents and grandparents never spoke of it, mentioned no names.

It is only because of Yad Vashem testimonies, a photo in one testimony that looked so much like an old photo I'd inherited, and a survivor's video interview that I was able to discover how the horrors of the Holocaust stole the lives of too many of my ancestors.

Last week, my wonderful niece Kay said Kaddish for our murdered ancestors during a visit to Auschwitz. She also felt a sense of relief that some imperiled family members ultimately survived.

I now know the Holocaust victims and survivors in my family tree were descendants and in-laws of my great-grandparents, Herman Yehuda Schwartz (1857-1921) and Hani Simonowitz Schwartz (1858-1933). Herman and Hani raised their children and welcomed grandchildren at their home in Ungvar, Hungary (now Uzhhorod, Ukraine).

Schwartz family survivors

Viola Schwartz (1925-2019), a granddaughter of Herman & Hani, who was held at Auschwitz before being transported to a work camp and then being liberated in May of 1945. My sister met Viola and her family in Israel some years ago!

Dezso Gyula Winkler (1900-1995), a grandson of Herman & Hani, who made his way to Israel after World War II and became a citizen before moving to America, where he later became a naturalized US citizen.

Albert Bela Winkler (1912-1993), a grandson of Herman & Hani (and twin brother of Lili Winkler Feldman, who died in Auschwitz). Albert survived, arriving in America after the war and becoming a naturalized US citizen in the 1960s.

Leni Louise Winkler Price (1909-1997), a granddaughter of Herman & Hani, who evaded capture by first fleeing to Belgium and then sailing to America from Portugal, arriving in America in 1941 with her husband and child. 

Schwartz family victims

Rezi Schwartz Winkler (1881-1944) was the oldest child of Herman & Hani. Fate unknown of her husband Moritz Winkler. Their son Albert Bela Winkler survived and submitted testimony about his mother's death in Auschwitz and the death of others in the immediate family:

  • Lenke Lena Winkler Zeller (1899-1944), daughter of Rezi, died in a forced labor camp. Her husband Ignatz Zeller survived concentration camps and came to America. One of her sons died in Buchenwald (Tibor, a 15-year-old baker's apprentice), the other survived and came to America. 
  • Ludwik Winkler (1902-1944), son of Rezi, probably killed in Auschwitz (fate unknown of Ludwik’s wife Masha).
  • Blanka Winkler Rezenbach (1904-1944), daughter of Rezi, probably killed in Auschwitz (husband Peter Rezenbach also died in Holocaust).
  • Lili Winkler Feldman (1912-1944), daughter of Rezi, killed in Auschwitz (fate unknown of Lili’s husband Sam Feldman).
  • Yuelko Feldman (1936?-1944), grandson of Rezi, son of Lili Winkler Feldman & Sam Feldman. 

Etel Schwartz Stark (1892-1944), a daughter of Herman & Hani, died in Auschwitz (fate unknown of Etel’s husband Fissel Ferencz Stark and their child Mici Stark). 

Paula Schwartz (1898-1944), a younger daughter of Herman & Hani, was killed at Auschwitz. Her daughter Viola survived Auschwitz and also submitted testimony to Yad Vashem, which started me on my quest to learn more a decade ago when I found the written testimony and the photo of Paula.

May their memories be for a blessing.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Library of Congress Images Add Context to Family History

Going beyond ancestor portraits, basic facts, and stories passed down from earlier generations, a family history project might benefit from outside images that add social or historical context. The idea is to provide a more well-rounded picture [pun intended] of ancestors' lives.

That's why I've been looking at the US Library of Congress prints and photos collection. It includes a gazillion digitized images available to view, and sometimes to download, for free. Not just of America, but well beyond.

LOC prints and photographs online catalog

Start by going to the Library of Congress catalog page for prints and photos. One entire area of the collection is devoted to US Civil War images (my husband has 20+ ancestors who served on both sides of that war).

Other featured collections are listed by name on the main page. A tiny sample includes:

  • Stereograph cards
  • Wright brother's negatives
  • African American photos for 1900 Paris Expo
  • Posters from World War I

It's easy to browse specific collections and check whether any of the images are available for free download.

Search by keyword (place, subject, etc)

Another way to find suitable images for family history projects is to use the search box. At top, you can see I searched for "New York City" images and received more than 27,000 results. Most of my immigrant ancestors came through Castle Garden and Ellis Island and remained in the Big Apple, which is why I'm interested in images of the city and its people and institutions. 

I found lots of images depicting aspects of daily life in Manhattan during the first decades of the 20th century--when and where my ancestors first lived upon arrival from Eastern Europe.

Another search, for images of Jewish life in New York City, resulted in numerous results, including the collection shown in this image, covering the period when my Jewish ancestors were just getting settled in the city. 

This group of images is part of the much larger George Grantham Bain Collection. The Library of Congress notes: "The collection richly documents sports events, theater, celebrities, crime, strikes, disasters, political activities including the woman suffrage campaign, conventions and public celebrations."

Free to use and reuse

The Library of Congress has made free images very accessible with a link at bottom of its home page that leads here.

Down the rabbit hole I go, and if you're interested in images to illuminate your family's history in America (and beyond), do take a look at the Library of Congress.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

The Difference Between Genealogy and Family History?

I asked the Artificial Intelligence bot ChatGPT to explain the difference between genealogy and family history. The AI system wrote three sentences of explanation, as shown above. 

Did the AI get it right? Let me add two more perspectives on this distinction: 

  • The Society of Genealogists notes that genealogy focuses on building an accurate family tree, showing how one generation is connected to the next, whereas family history is broader--incorporating genealogy.
  • Family Tree Magazine columnist Paul Chiddicks wrote a 2021 blog post that continues to generate discussion about the differences between a genealogist and a family historian. 
IMHO, genealogy is narrower than family history. When I began tracing my family tree in 1998, learning about my grandparents' siblings/spouses and going back further in time, I was doing genealogy. 

Once I had the basic branches of my tree in place, I could begin to analyze and understand my ancestor's lives, relationships, and movements within a societal and historical framework--the bigger picture of family history.

What do you think? 

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Grandpa Isaac's Face and Signature on Naturalization Petition


My genealogy journey began 25 years ago, when a cousin researching my mother's family tree asked me about my father's parents. 

Her inquiry sent me on a quest to learn when, where, and how my paternal grandfather Isaac Burk died. This was the good ole days of cranking microfilm readers and using snail mail to order vital records, so it took a good few years.

When I eventually received his death certificate, I learned he had a heart attack and died in 1943 in Washington, D.C. I didn't discover why Grandpa was in Washington and who the informant was on the death cert for a few more years. Spoiler alert: He and Grandma were visiting her favorite sister, whose husband was the informant. 

Still, I didn't know what Grandpa Isaac looked like. I recognized his wife, Henrietta Mahler Burk, in old family photos standing alongside my Dad. However, Grandpa Isaac wasn't in those particular photos.

Once digitized records became available online, I found Grandpa Isaac's face on his petition for naturalization from 1939, along with his signature. It wasn't a great photo (actually kind of faded and faint), but it showed the shape of his face and his features. Going back to older family photos, I could then pick him out, despite changes in weight and age over the years.

Not long ago, I used MyHeritage's photo enhancement/repair tools to fix Grandpa Isaac's photo. There it is at top of this post--my favorite photo because he is the reason I got bitten by the genealogy bug. 

"Favorite photo" is Amy Johnson Crow's prompt for week 2 of the #52Ancestors genealogy challenge.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

John McClure's Parents Connect Him to WikiTree

One by one, I've been adding my ancestors and my husband's ancestors to the one-tree site WikiTree, double-checking sources and writing bite-sized bios so their entries are more than just names and dates, wherever possible. 

For my tree, I was given an incredible head start by many talented WikiTreers during the December, 2021 challenge when I was extremely fortunate to be the featured guest. Three brick walls smashed on my tree, plus intriguing clues for me to follow up!

Adding hubby's ancestors individually

Now I'm focusing on my husband's tree, entering each ancestor individually. This helps me slow down and analyze all research and relationships carefully, aiming for accuracy and searching for connections. 

At top, the profile I created for hubby's 3d great-grandfather John McClure, whose dates are approximate but birth, marriage, and death places are definite. 

Trying to add his father, Alexander McClure, I discovered that someone had already created a profile for this ancestor and for his second wife Martha [maiden name unk] McClure. 

Connecting to existing profiles 

Now my hubby's branch connects to ancestors who have already been documented on WikiTree, for the first time. That means I can collaborate with researchers working on mutual ancestors on WikiTree, examining their sources and building on their previous research while contributing what I've learned.

In fact, I was able to improve Martha McClure's existing profile and better approximate her death date by adding the above handwritten attestation from John McClure's wedding documentation. It shows his mother Martha McClure swearing her son was over the age of 21 on his wedding day, 8 April 1801, in Rockbridge county, Virginia. 

As I move upward and outward on the McClure branch of the family tree, I'm looking forward to collaborating with other WikiTreers. 

Friday, January 6, 2023

Heirloom Pin from Mom-in-Law I Never Met

During the holidays, I passed down this lovely silver pin to a member of the youngest generation in the family tree. It was given to me by my sister-in-law on the occasion of my marriage to her brother some years ago...and I wanted to share that story, with the pin, so the recipient would know the happy history of this graceful heirloom. 

Telling more stories

My late mother-in-law Marian McClure Wood (1909-1983) was the first owner of this pin. I'm sad to say she passed away before I joined the family. But fortunately, her granddaughter remembers how Marian loved to wear pins, and she also told that story as the pin's new owner listened intently. 

In fact, the family has a number of photos of Marian wearing a pin prominently on her lapel. Not this particular pin, but others. She had personal style as well as an artist's eye. The family has told and retold stories about the small animal statues she made while taking lessons from a world-class ceramicist. Plus I have a box of her needlework creations (tablecloth, gloves, doilies) to share with descendants in the future. My goal is to share heirlooms while telling stories so recipients get a sense of why these items are important to family history.

Keeping her memory alive

How I wish I could have met Marian McClure Wood, a talented, creative woman. I would ask about her creative endeavors and her early life as a much-loved only child. Of course I would ask about her memories of ancestors, with a few specific questions about an in-law who married three times. 

Mom-in-law Marian would probably have been amused to know her son married another Marian, who is a needlework enthusiast and a wearer of pins. 

Most of all, I hope she would be pleased that her creations are still treasured by the family and accompanied by stories about her life, keeping her memory alive for years to come.

"I'd like to meet" is Amy Johnson Crow's first #52Ancestors prompt of 2023. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Check out Fold3 Links on Find a Grave Memorials

Find a Grave memorial for Pvt Train C McClure

If you have military veterans in your family tree, take a look at the bottom of their Find a Grave memorials. More and more now have a direct link (see orange arrow) from Find a Grave to that veteran's Fold3 memorial page. 

This little link can lead to interesting genealogical information! It's there because Find a Grave and Fold3 are both owned by Ancestry.com.

Fold3 memorial pages are FREE

Go ahead and click the link leading to Fold3--because a memorial page is completely free to view (or create or improve).

Above is part of the Fold3 memorial page for Union Army veteran Train C. McClure, which popped up when I clicked the link from Find a Grave. I can navigate to facts (shown in timeline format), stories, gallery, and sources. 

In the facts section, you'll see that the sources of both the birth date and birth place are 1 Fgv Document. Translation: one Find a Grave page. 

What are the sources?

In the sources section of this memorial page, there are two records attached (see below). 

One is Civil War info from Fold3, and the other is the Find a Grave memorial for Pvt Train C. McClure, marked as a Fgv Document. Since Pvt McClure is in my husband's family tree, I examined everything in detail.

Other documents, images, even photos may be attached to a veteran's Fold3 memorial page, so definitely click to see what you can learn. Save whatever you can to your own computer, attach to your family trees, and follow up any clues.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

What About Twitter and Mastodon for Genealogy?

Having enjoyed the genealogy community on Twitter for 14 years, I'm tentatively keeping my account there despite the chaos that ensued after the new ownership began in October, 2022. For the record, I don't agree at all with the new policies and actions, nor do I like the changed atmosphere. 

But I very much like the genealogy people I've met on Twitter, and I get a lot out of participating in various genealogy chats. Every other Friday night is the US-based #GenChat (10 pm Eastern). Tuesday afternoon (Eastern time) is the UK-based #AncestryHour. There are other themed chats, but these I try to attend regularly. Not only do I learn from participants, I have a fun time!

Exploring Mastodon

Still, I may yet dump Twitter, especially if many more folks bail out in the coming months. So, as a possible Twitter alternative, I joined Mastodon late in 2022. With my interest in family history, I joined via a server (known as an "instance" in the platform's terminology) that is primarily focused on genealogy. It's called Genealysis.social, and you can read more here.

My Mastodon account is: @MarianBWood@genealysis.social (see image at top--with me in one of the MyHeritage AI Time Machine portraits).

I highly recommend Daniel Loftus's YouTube tutorial on how to use Mastodon. He was an early adopter and knows the ins and outs. TY to Daniel for the master class! The tutorial helped me get up and running while I gain experience.

I'm delighted that there is a list of genealogy and family-history #Geneadons as a pinned toot on Mish Holman's Mastodon account. TY to Mish for making this available on Mastodon, so I can find and follow my family history friends.

As of March, I haven't yet noticed a high volume of genealogy conversation on Mastodon, not anywhere near as much as used to be on Twitter prior to October, 2022. Happily, #GenChat is now on Mastodon, with a small but interested group. But so far, Mastodon has not at all become a hotbed of genealogy conversations.

And as we get deeper into 2023, other platforms may possibly wind up to be more popular with genealogy folks. We'll see what else the new year brings.