Friday, April 28, 2023

Bird-Brain Pets in Family History

Living in a New York City apartment, my parents felt we had no space or time for four-legged pets. But we did have a parakeet, always blue, always a boy! 

Directly above, Maxie, sitting on the shoulder of "Aunt" Lee Wallace, the life partner of my Auntie Dorothy Schwartz.

At top of post, you can see Tyrone, another parakeet pet, sitting on "Sha," the favorite doll of my niece. That niece, now grown up with a family of her own, has two big dogs she dearly loves.

Back in the day, my sisters and I got a kick out of our bird-brain pets, teaching them to speak intelligent phrases like "Stupid birdie." 

"Pets" is the week 18 prompt from Amy Johnson Crow's genealogy challenge, #52Ancestors. 

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Turning the FAN Club into the FANI or FANIL or KFAN Club

Over the 25 years of my genealogy journey, I've learned to investigate friends, associates, and neighbors (FAN Club) of ancestors to try to understand any relationships, familial and otherwise. More than once, I discovered that a "family friend" or neighbor was actually a relative.

What about rechristening the FAN Club as the FANI Club, to explicitly include in-laws? OR call it FANIL Club (for in-law, maybe FANI is not the best acronym). OR KFAN (for Kinfolk)!

Many of my hubby's Larimer ancestors settled in Indiana in the 1800s. A good number intermarried with men and women from the McKibbin family, the Short family, and the Work family. Investigating the in-law situation helped me untangle the cousin connection and recognize naming and marriage patterns in multiple generations.

As a result, I've come to suspect that these families were related in some way across the pond, well before they left for America. Some of the obits hint at that, and some of the old newspaper coverage of family reunions a century ago make that claim. No proof yet, but intriguing to investigate by scrutinizing in-laws.

Currently I'm looking at a family genealogy book (digitized and available for browsing or download via FamilySearch) called: "A family history of Murrays, McKibbins, Smiths, Planks, Neffs, and related families of Elkhart and LaGrange Counties in Indiana." As shown in the excerpted index, these families intermarried with Larimer folks, including some of my hubby's Larimers. 

The detailed index is a huge help, so I can focus on one Larimer at a time. I've already found a couple of fresh leads to follow and confirm through additional research. 

My takeaways: (1) do look at in-laws in the family tree, because some may actually be cousins or descendants of confirmed cousins; and (2) do check for digitized genealogy books in the Family Search collection.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Free Talks at Virtual Genealogical Association Birthday Party - April 22

On Saturday, April 22, the Virtual Genealogical Association is throwing a Zoom birthday party and everyone is invited! 

Here's the schedule and a link to register to see lots of FREE talks about family history.

My live talk about Find a Grave and cousin bait begins about 9:25 am Eastern. 

Speakers, prizes, trivia. Please give it a try...did I mention this special virtual event is free?!

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Bite-Sized Family History: Upgrading to Professional Photobooks

For the past decade, I've been compiling bite-sized family history booklets to share facts, stories, and photos with my relatives. Choosing a specific focus helps me manage each project so it doesn't become overwhelming for me or my readers.

Now I'm in the process of converting my many paper-based family history booklets into professionally-produced photobooks, one at a time. In the past, I had a local copy shop print my bite-sized booklets in color on heavyweight paper, then I put them into a plastic sleeve or a binder for each recipient. But I've noticed the earlier booklets are becoming worn looking, pages getting creased and torn. Some of the thinner booklets have been lost in the shuffle. 

I'm ready to upgrade, little by little. Why pay more for a professional photobook?

  • Professional photobooks are much higher quality, more polished looking. The photos are sharper, the layouts more sophisticated. 
  • Professional photobooks will far outlast my previous paper-based booklets. 
  • Professional photobooks can be customized so photos are larger or smaller, text areas carry more words, headlines are in different colors, etc. The creative possibilities are endless.
  • Professional photobooks impress my readers more than the paper-based booklets. I found this out with my small (6 inch by 6 inch) photobook about ancestors in World War II. Readers responded very enthusiastically!
  • Remember: Watch for discounts and sales. Some photobook sites announce discounts for major holidays...others offer free "extra pages" or other specials. Shop around and see which site meets your needs.
At top, the cover of my latest bite-sized project in progress, a photobook (8 x 11 inches) about my Mom and her twin sister. I first created this in paper booklet form two years ago. Transformed into a photobook, it will be a more durable keepsake that readers can page through again and again for years to come.

Plus I finally know the names of all the people in all the photos so my captions will be more complete! An older cousin reached back into her memory to identify the two "mystery children" in the above photo as part of the FAN club (friends, associates, neighbors), not relatives. We also dated the photo after carefully studying the apparent ages of the kids. 

Redoing my family history into a professional photobook offers an opportunity to correct, add, subtract, and focus. Everyone is identified by full name AND I inserted info from the 1950 US Census, among other changes. The paper-based booklets looked quite good, but these look really great.

Without question, photobooks are much more costly than paper booklets. For me, after 25 years of researching my family tree, it's a worthwhile investment in memorializing ancestors for the long term--but let me stress again that I wait for a sale to order. Actually, I'll first order a single copy to see how the book looks. Then I can either tinker or reorder for all my readers (on sale of course). 


Bring Family History Alive in Bite-Sized Projects is one of my genealogy presentations--learn more here.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Bite-Sized Ancestor Bios: Ideas from #GenChat

Last night and this morning, the #GenChat topic (on Twitter and Mastodon) was "Bite-Sized Ancestor Bios." To stimulate conversation as guest expert, I created a series of questions that participants answered in tweets or toots. Here's a recap--lots of ideas and food for thought! No right or wrong answers. "Everyone deserves to be remembered" as GenChat host Christine says. 

#GenChat Ice-breaker: Have you written any ancestor biographies, bite-sized or not?

Comments: Most folks have written at least a few ancestor bios. A bite-sized bio, no matter how brief, is more informative than no bio at all. One person said this was a good way to document both genealogy research and family lore (more about "lore" later). Several have been blogging ancestor bios for some time. Someone self-published the detailed bio of an ancestor after years of research. A few pointed to their growing number of bios on WikiTree profiles. 

One participant started with bullet points to get the ball rolling. Sometimes bios can be time-consuming if cross-reference related ancestors, research, etc. Preparing to write a bio, someone noted sources, research plans, timeline. What do you need to know before writing?

There was discussion about how short or long a bite-sized bio might be. Depends on the space available, what you know about an ancestor, the attention span of your audience, how much you want to include or need to include to help others understand that ancestor. 

Q1: What are the pros and cons of bite-sized bios?

Pros: the ability to commemorate an ancestor, preserve something of that person's life, humanize that person. Quick to research/write, quick for audience to absorb without getting overwhelmed. Interesting ancestor anecdote might spark interest among family members. Main facts at least summarize ancestor's life, putting in highlights and context adds dimension. Especially for ancestors without descendants and those who died quite young, a way to keep their memories alive. 

Cons: Difficult to choose what to include/exclude. Room for stories? Or just a teaser to capture interest, build excitement? If it's too brief, is it just a story about one episode in ancestor's life? Only include unproven "family lore" if room for explanation/proof, to avoid having anyone copy unproven info and perpetuate it. (My thought: label it clearly as "family story" or "family legend" so it will be remembered even if not proven, because adds color and personality--mention if any facts contradict or might maybe possibly tend to confirm but not actually prove.) If large family tree, might have a lot of bios to write, so prioritize (see later question). 

Q2: What to include, what to exclude in bite-sized bios?

Starting points to consider including: basic facts (birth, marriage, death); family situation/relationships; occupation; one or more notable highlights (good or bad). Also: migration, religion, military, cause of death.

Consider excluding: full names/data about living people, to protect privacy; info that could be hurtful or otherwise cause problems for living people; disclosing something consequential family doesn't know in an ancestor's bio. Keep info in your files for future if not include now.

Q3: When you know a little about an ancestor, how do you create a bite-sized bio? When you know a lot about an ancestor?

Comments: Harder to write when we know a lot because must decide on focus, such as occupation or an award/honor or whether ancestor was known/close to relatives still alive. What makes that ancestor "newsworthy" for the audience? What do we most want our audience to know? General outline might include: birth, parents, spouse/kids if any, residence, interesting fact, date of death (maybe cause). Focus on a theme if possible, breaking down into bite-sized chunks.

When we know a little: "Elevator pitch," set a goal for a small number of sentences. Mention in bio what you don't know, creates a bit of drama. Choose specific focus to do a deeper dive: occupation (specifically that person or in general type of occ that person had), immigration, schooling (or lack).

If on WikiTree, try the automatic bio generator here. It uses factual data entered by user (birth date, death date, etc) woven into narrative form, bite-sized bio that can be enhanced at later date if you want.

Q4: How can you share bite-sized bios with family and more widely?

Comments: Profiles on WikiTree and other genealogy platforms; in blog posts; in a book or letter or handout; at reunion; in family Facebook group; on family chat thread; on a family or surname or genealogy website; email to relatives; submit to selected libraries/archives/genealogy societies; post as "memory" to FamilySearch; on family calendar, one ancestor per month; posting on social media with visual to attract interest (or ask for help identifying more faces); send in cards on relatives' birthdays; during video calls, audio calls; as captions for photos; on Find a Grave, Fold3, other sites that are searchable; on ornaments, maps, more.

Q5: How do you set priorities for bite-sized ancestor biography projects?

Comments: Create a list (or spreadsheet) of ancestors you want to write about, some with bite-sized bios and some with longer bios. Or prioritize direct ancestors, followed by siblings/spouses of direct ancestors, first cousins of direct ancestors, etc. Or pick one generation to start. Or a single family to profile. Or write about ancestors you never met. Or be spontaneous, depending on which ancestor or line "calls" to you. Try to write regularly, maybe one bio a week or whatever fits your schedule.

Want to participate or follow along during #GenChat on Twitter or Mastodon?

Schedule is 2d and 4th Friday of every month on Twitter, then Saturday morning on Mastodon. For more, see the GenChat website.

#GenChat on Twitter: @_genchat

#GenChat on Mastodon:

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

How My Immigrant Grandparents Signed Their Names


Some of my immigrant grandparents had lovely, flowing handwriting when signing their names...others wrote more haltingly.

Maternal grandparents

At top, the 1911 signature of my Hungarian-born maternal grandfather, Theodore Schwartz (1887-1965), on his US naturalization cert. He arrived at Ellis Island, alone, at the age of 14. In New York, Teddy initially worked as a runner for steamship lines. I'm sure he put his name to many documents then and later as owner of a small dairy store in the Bronx, NY. His formal education stopped early, but he had an ear and affinity for languages. He also regularly wrote to his son and daughter serving in the military during World War II.

Above, the 1911 signature of my Hungarian-born maternal grandmother, Hermina Farkas (1886-1964). She was 24 years old when she signed this marriage license to wed Theodore Schwartz. Another flowing, cursive signature. She signed lots of paperwork during her life, helping her husband Teddy run their dairy store. She was, for a year or two, secretary of the Farkas Family Tree (formed by herself and her siblings) and signed the monthly meeting minutes. 

Paternal grandparents

Here's the signature of my paternal grandpa, Isaac Burk (1882-1943), on his World War II draft registration card. Born in Lithuania, Isaac came to North America at the age of 21. He was a self-employed carpenter and cabinetmaker. Isaac's signature looked halting, but was recognizable. On his 1906 marriage certificate (see below), he was transitioning to a more "Americanized" version of his name. The signature reads "Isaak Berk" but the official name on the document was "Isaac Burk" on this and all subsequent documents.

My paternal grandma, Henrietta Mahler (1881-1954) was born in Latvia and arrived in New York before she was 10 years old. She and Isaac Burk married in 1906, and it's clear that her signature was less halting than his, as shown on this marriage license. Henrietta (nicknamed Yetta in the family) wrote letters and sent packages to Isaac's cousins in Manchester, England, during and after World War II. How do I know? The cousins wrote back--and one of my relatives saved those notes, time capsules of the era and of family history. 

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Happy Easter 1914, from Aunt Nellie and Aunt Ada

In 1914, my husband's 9-year-old uncle, Wallis Wood, received two penny postal greeting cards for Easter. He lived in Cleveland, Ohio, and was the recipient of postcards for every holiday!

Above, a postcard from his father's older sister, Rachel Ellen Wood Kirby, who lived in Chicago. She signed "Aunt Nellie."

Below, a postcard from his mother's older sister, Adelaide Mary Ann Slatter Baker, who lived in Toledo. She signed "Aunt Ada."

Wishing you and your family a lovely Easter holiday!

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Relatives by Heart, Not by Paperwork

Thanks to an exchange of messages with another genealogy researcher, I was reminded that even when relationships are unofficial, they can be super-important to our ancestors.

In this case, the researcher was interested in one of hubby's ancestors (Lynn), who had a foster daughter (no full names, for privacy reasons). 

Lynn's obit mentioned the foster daughter, indicating a close emotional link. In fact, when the foster daughter's husband died, his obit named Lynn as grandmother of his child. 

So far as we know, there was no official government documentation of this foster relationship. They were relatives by heart, not by paperwork.

To honor this special bond, the researcher is connecting all of these folks on his family tree, with an explanation. 

Sources? He cites the obits as his sources. 

A lovely tribute.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

A is for Asenath: Wife, Mother, Pioneer, Baker, Library Founder

This week's #52Ancestors prompt from Amy Johnson Crow is "begins with a vowel." Great--a chance to write about one of the favorite female ancestors in my husband's family tree: Asenath Cornwell Larimer (1808-1897). At top, Asenath's home in Santa Monica, California, where she spent her last years after quite an adventurous life.

Canada to Ohio to Indiana

Asenath and her siblings were born in Canada, according to multiple Census records over multiple years. How she wound up in Ohio, I don't know. But on August 14, 1832, in Fairfield county, Ohio, she married hubby's great-great-great uncle James Larimer (1806-1847). They had 6 children together (sadly, one died in infancy). Within a year, they moved to Elkhart county, Indiana as pioneer farmers, clearing heavily wooded land to raise crops.

After James was accidentally thrown from a horse and died early in 1847, Asenath was left the family farm in Indiana and still had five children under the age of 10 to raise. Her brothers and in-laws helped out, but it was a struggle.

Gold Rush journey

Within a few years, she made a bold but emotionally difficult decision: Sell the farm, leave the children in care of family and friends, and use the money to accompany her brother John Cornwell, a jewelry merchant, on a journey to the Gold Rush in California. Starting in March, 1852, they took two steamboats en route to joining a wagon train at Lexington, Missouri. 

During the long, arduous trip west, Asenath wrote in a journal from March 1852-March 1853 about the daily thoughts and events of that period. Although her oldest son tried to dissuade her from leaving for California, she wrote in her journal about her strong faith: "...looking forward to the dangers and trails of the way, I feel very gloomy, but in the Lord put I my trust." She missed her children very much, yet she was hopeful of establishing herself in a new place where she could earn a living and the family would be reunited in the future.

By mid-May of 1852, her wagon train joined a "constant crowd of wagons" headed west. She wrote: "Colera [sic] and small pox both among these trains. 30 fresh graves have been counted on that road." Several more of her traveling companions sickened, passed away, and were buried, even as babies were born. 

California had been a state for less than two years--and Asenath writes of passing out of the United States, then entering the States again during the journey. By September of 1852, six months after leaving Indiana, she and her brother John reached Volcano (east of Sacramento). They went 8 miles further to Clinton, where they chose a lot and set up a tent. Her brother prospected for gold while Asenath earned a bit of cash washing, patching, and baking. 

After a while, when her brother did not strike gold, she moved to San Francisco and reinvented herself based on her skill in baking. 

John, for his part, traveled back to his family in Athens, Ohio the long way, around the tip of South America, and reopened his jewelry store. The store prospered for more than a century, finally closing its doors in 2019.

Putting down roots in California

Meanwhile, Asenath opened a bakery in San Francisco in the early 1860s. Soon, one of her married sons moved west and she lived with him and his family, continuing her bakery business. 

Later, she moved south to Santa Monica in Los Angeles County, Calif., where she was a force in establishing the first public library. Her granddaughter Elfie Asenath Mosse (1867-1939) was the first librarian in 1890. The quote above talks about Asenath's early involvement in the Santa Monica community and library.

Asenath never remarried. At the age of nearly 89, she passed away in 1897 and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica. I'm in the process of putting her bite-sized bio in multiple places, including here, WikiTree, and Find a Grave.

Remembering Asenath

Thanks to her journal and her civic involvement, Asenath has been mentioned in a number of sources that are digitized and searchable online. I hadn't seen her home before, which is in the Santa Monica Image Archives (image is at top of post). But clearly, Asenath is going to be remembered inside and outside the family, because her name and her life are referenced in a variety of places (not just on my blog and family trees).

This first post of April is dedicated to the courage, resilience, and faith of Asenath Cornwell Larimer, hubby's great-great-great aunt. PS: I'm going to continue looking at Asenath's family background. Bet I'll find lots of interesting folks!