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.

In-laws who perished in Holocaust include Gyula Preisz (1908-about 1944), who died as a result of being in a forced labor battalion, according to Yad Vashem database. Others were in the Simonowitz side of the family, no specifics known at this time, sorry to say.

May their memories be for a blessing. Never forgotten. Never forget.

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. UPDATE NOV 2023: Still don't like the atmosphere on Twitter, supposedly known as X these days. In fact, I had 100 bots a week follow me on Twitter, so I've taken my account there private. No more bots. 

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. UPDATE: #AncestryHour has been on hiatus since Twitter imposed limits on the number of posts that can be viewed without paying, mid-2023. However, #GenChat is alive and well.

Exploring Mastodon

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. Still, Mastodon is not yet as interactive as Twitter, and other social media platforms may emerge that are even better alternatives.

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 May, 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.

UPDATE NOV 2023: Although Mastodon has not at all become a hotbed of genealogy conversations, #GenChat has definitely picked up steam and attracts a different crowd on Mastodon, especially participants from Europe and down under. It's been fun and worthwhile, though fewer are joining the conversation compared with what used to happen on Twitter.