Saturday, May 18, 2024

Julia Wood and the Business of Claiming a Widow's Pension

In this month of Memorial Day, I've been looking closely at the military ancestors in my husband's family tree, both their lives and their families.

Lemuel Wood, master mariner

Hubby's great-granduncle Lemuel C. Wood (1792-1870) was a master mariner with controlling or partnership interest in whaling ships out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. After his first two wives died, he married Julia A. L. Sampson, widow of a whaling man who died at sea. Julia was 52 and Lemuel was 68 when they were wed in 1860. 

When the US Civil War broke out, Lemuel used his considerable knowledge and skill by serving in the Union Navy. He commanded the USS Daylight as part of the blockade against the Confederate states in late 1861 to early 1862. His military service ended about the time he turned 70 years old. Lemuel recorded his occupation as "mariner" on the 1865 Mass. Census and the 1870 US Census. He died on Sept. 16, 1870 at the age of 78. According to the Census, his real estate was then worth $8,000 and his personal estate was worth $12,000 (in all, the equivalent of $340,000 in today's dollars).

Julia A. Wood, widow seeking pension

Julia had no obvious source of income other than her late husband's land and personal property. She outlived him by many years and even living frugally, could eventually find herself short of money. In 1880, she was enumerated as a widow alone on Martha's Vineyard, not a fancy vacation area as it is today but quite a rural area and  not an expensive place to live. In 1890, she was living in New Bedford ... which I was able to find out because she was named in the Veterans' and Widows' Schedule! 

At top, two excerpts from the 1890 schedule, showing her as Lemuel's widow, his 8 months' service commanding the USS Daylight, and Julia's listing of her late husband's US military service. She said Lemuel served in the War of 1812 (I haven't yet found evidence of this), the Mexican War (again, not yet found evidence) and the Union side of the US Civil War (lots of evidence). More military research is in my future.

Importantly, in June of 1890, Congress passed and the President signed the Dependent and Disability Pensions Act, which made Lemuel eligible for a pension based on his Union Navy service. In his stead, Julia filed for his pension. She was nearly 83 at the time and she hired a Washington, D.C. lawyer to manage the multi-step process, I know from the lengthy file I found on 

Prove marriages, prove deaths, prove need

To claim the pension, Julia had to produce numerous documents that would prove that her first husband died, that she married Lemuel (where and when), that he died (where and when), and finally proof of her desperate need for expediting this pension application. 
Her lawyer provided not one but two affidavits attesting to Julia's lack of income except help from her son "on whom she has no legal claim" meaning he had no legal obligation to continue his financial assistance. The goal of these affidavits was to provoke "special" status so Julia's claim would be reviewed more quickly, taking care of business when most needed.

Claim approved, eventually dropped

Finally, in early 1891, Julia was approved for $8 per month in a widow's pension. She collected the pension until September of 1891, fell ill, and died in November, 1891, at age 84. 

After all that time and trouble and expense to prove eligibility, Julia collected the pension for less than seven months. No one seems to have notified the pension authorities about Julia's death because the file remained open until 1895. Then, as shown below, she was "dropped from rolls" due to "failure to claim pension."

"Taking care of business" is the week 20 genealogy prompt for Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors challenge.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Ancestor Bios of Military Veterans Make World History More Personal

In writing bite-sized bios of my husband's ancestors who were in the military, I've researched their units or militias and also tried to put their service into historical and familial context. This is especially important when I know fairly little about individuals who lived and died more than 150 years in the past. In the process, I hope to show my readers the personal side of world history, and the connection with family history.

In the above page about Elihu Wood Jr., I named his parents and said he was one of eight children, for family context. Also I pointed out that he was born only 20 years after the American Revolution, during which his father served for the Colonies.

In the War of 1812, Elihu became a private in the Massachusetts Militia, and I included an image from one of the state adjutant general books, showing his name and unit. 

Then I explained the historical background that prompted his two tours of two weeks each in the militia in 1814. Elihu's service, short though it might be, was an important element in the Colonial defense of the New England coastline. 

The final paragraph of this bite-sized bio provided some personal details about Elihu's wife (Sarah Howland) and their family. I ended with the observation that Sarah died just days after the 100th anniversary of the American Revolution. So even though I know only a bit about these people as individuals, adding the connection with world history puts them into a larger context and highlights the tradition of military service, both father and son being US veterans.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Happy Mother's Day


Remembering my Mom and my two grandmothers on Mother's Day weekend:

Grandma Hermina "Minnie" Farkas (1886-1966) - Married Theodore Schwartz in 1911, mother of my Mom

Grandma Henrietta Mahler (1881-1954) - Married Isaac Burk in 1906, mother of my Dad

Mom Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981) - Married Harold Burk in 1946. Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Finding All of Grandma Henrietta's Children in the 1920 US Census

Happy 143d birthday, Grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk, born on May 9, 1881 in Latvia. 

In January of 1920, the US Census taker listed you, Grandma, with your husband and one of four children in a big apartment building in New York City. I found you there when I was cranking microfilm to look at this Census maybe 20 years ago, before digitization and indexing made it faster and easier to locate ancestors. Neither you nor Grandpa Isaac had been naturalized at the time, as indicated by the "al" status in the column at right. 

Look at surrounding Census pages

Creative spelling for these names, but recognizable as you and Grandpa and your older daughter at the bottom of a page. Wait, what? The other three children were not on the next page nor on the previous page!? Puzzling, but I was certain the rest of the family couldn't be very far away. Luckily, I had already learned to check a page or two back and a page or two forward, so I kept cranking the microfilm.

Whew, your two sons and younger daughter were two pages away, at the top of the sheet. Here they are, shown as son, daughter, son. Harold D Berk [sic] is my Dad, so I figured out very quickly who these people were and who they belonged to, even though they were NOT the children of the last person on the previous page.

What did the enumerator do?

Today, with 26 years of experience in genealogy research, I can understand why Grandma Henrietta was not enumerated with all of her children. Here's the story as I pieced it together.

That enumerator stopped work early on Sunday, the 4th of January, 1920, before counting all the households at 1642/1644 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. He finished the bottom of your page and left. You and your husband and older daughter were listed as "number of family in order of visitation #62." Remember that number 62, which is shown before the surname on the Census sheet.

On Monday, the 5th of January, the enumerator returned to the area but didn't start with your apartment or even your building, I can see by looking at the page after you. Then, two pages after you, I found your other three children finally enumerated on the 5th of January. It's a good thing I recognized the names. 

But the enumerator did leave an important clue: #62, number of family in order of visitation. With that number, he was linking Harold, Miriam, and Sidney to #62 family in order of visitation, the household of Henrietta & Isaac, which he had enumerated two pages before at this address. I just didn't have enough experience and knowledge decades ago to decode his Census entry indicating these three names were actually the children of the parents at family #62.

Thinking of you, Grandma Henrietta, on this anniversary of your birth.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Preserving Bite-Sized Bios of Military Ancestors

During the 2020 summer of pandemic lockdown, I had lots of time to create a research-based but very readable booklet about the 18 Wood ancestors in my husband's family tree who served in the US Civil War. I sent the booklet to descendants, knowing several were keenly interested in that war and had visited battlefields in the past. Over time, I discovered additional ancestors who served for the Union, but I never updated the booklet. Until now.

With Memorial Day on my mind, I'm currently expanding this booklet to include Wood ancestors who served in:

  • The American Revolution (1 militia man in Massachusetts)
  • The War of 1812 (4 men in Ohio, 1 man in Massachusetts--son of the Revolutionary War patriot)
  • The US Civil War (20 serving for the Union, 3 serving for the Confederacy)
  • World War I, Allied side (8 US/Canadian/British ancestors)
  • World War II, Allied side (7 US/Canadian ancestors)
My goal is to honor the military service of these 40 ancestors and briefly tell their family stories in context. For instance, I was surprised to learn not long ago that my husband's uncle enlisted as World War II was ending, becoming a Staff Sgt with 1958th Service Command Unit of U.S. Army, which escorted military prisoners. Even though this man was 35 years old, married with two children at home, he chose to serve in the military for a year. I want his story to be remembered, along with the stories of all the other veterans in the family tree. Every story matters, and I will continue to post these bite-sized bios on genealogy websites to share what I know now--part of my plan to ensure a future for my family's history so these names and lives aren't forgotten.

As shown at top, I'm using two royalty-free color images to illustrate the title page. Color catches the eye and attracts readers to my short paragraphs. I'm updating the index to include all names, all military branches, all units, any honors and awards, and adding a special listing of the few who were unfortunately killed in action.

Just as important, I'm explaining the exact relationship of each ancestor to my readers, such as: John N. McClure, Union Army, 2d great uncle of my husband, 3d great uncle to the following generation. This helps my readers understand the family relationship to people they never met but will come to know through my bite-sized bios featuring their military service.

"Preserve" is Amy Johnson Crow's prompt for week 19 of her #52Ancestors  genealogy challenge.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Newly Indexed Records Reveal Surname of Sam's Second Wife

MyHeritage just announced a major, newly indexed collection of New York City vital records from 1866 on. Read about it here! In fact, if you're researching a NYC marriage from 1908 on, you may be lucky enough to discover not just the marriage certificate but also the affidavit for license to marry--which includes extra info such as bride/groom occupation. First-hand info from our ancestors, often in their own handwriting!

My Farkas, Schwartz and Mahler families all came to the Big Apple from Eastern Europe, so I headed over to search the NYC marriage database to try to break through a brick wall in my Schwartz tree. 

I never could find the maiden name of my great uncle Samuel Schwartz's second wife. I entered Sam's first and last name, indicated to "match name exactly" because this was how he spelled his name, entered his year of birth, place of birth, and the marriage place as Queens, NY. Then I clicked to search. If no decent results had been returned, I would have unclicked "match name" and tried variations. But no need in this case.

Above, the very first result in MyHeritage's listing. Amazingly, this is MY great uncle Sam, born on the 4th of July in 1883 in Hungary. And now I know a lot more about his second wife Margaret, because the bride and groom filled out pages of paperwork for their January, 1945 marriage. Let me show you their affidavit for license to marry:

Margaret's maiden name was Lazar, and her first husband was David Simon, who died in 1940. This document shows Margaret's current address, birth place, parents' names, all in her own writing. Same for my great uncle Sam, but nothing new since I already had his details and his signature from other documents--except the license date and wedding date!

Now, thanks to MyHeritage, I'm able to flesh out Margaret's branch of the family tree to document her full name and family relationships for future generations. 

Bottom line: New documents become available online all the time...different genealogy websites index differently...never give up!

Thursday, May 2, 2024

The Markell Brothers Make News

The Markell brothers were Barney, Philip, Julius, and Samuel, born in Vilnius, Lithuania. Barney (1874-1944) was the oldest and the first to come to America, in 1891. He was the original focus of my research because his son Joseph A. Markell married Mary Mahler - one of two matchmaker aunts who put my parents together on a blind date. I did a bit of research and found interesting news items about the Markell brothers, using GenealogyBank,, Internet Archive, and

Barney in the news

At top, an 1897 newspaper item from the court column of the Pittsburgh Press (Pennsylvania). A man named H. Cline testified he was insulted when Barney Markell "called me a Hungarian." The judge asked, "Was that all?" The witness answered, "Yes; isn't that plenty?" Judge: "Markell, you are discharged." Years later, Barney was in the news with his brother as well...

Philip in the news

Philip Markell (1880-1955) was in the Boston news in 1921 when he and brother Barney and another partner, Maurice Wolf, put together $15,000 to incorporate and finance their purchase of the Atlas Theater in Adams, Massachusetts. They showed motion pictures and hosted shows until divesting in 1935. Philip was also mentioned in the Motion Picture News, when he and partner(s) bought, improved, and sold theaters in Massachusetts during the 1920s. 

Julius in the news

Julius Markell (1882-1966) appeared in legal notices from 1915-1917 as he and his wife Ella Lebowitz Markell worked through a difficult divorce that she initiated. Yet Julius named his wife Ella on his 1918 WWI draft registration as his nearest relative, saying they both lived at same Brooklyn residence. Doubtful. She was almost certainly living in Pittsburgh where the rest of her family lived, having separated from Julius years earlier. Interestingly, when Ella applied for US citizenship in 1939, she said she was divorced from Julius in 1914. Nope, the divorce was definitely not yet final at that time.

Samuel in the news

The youngest brother, Samuel Markell (1885-1971), made the news in 1910 and 1911 when he became engaged and then married his fiancee, Marion Goldstein. I found that the name "Samuel Markell" appears in the Boston papers hundreds of times in early and mid 1900s, but that was a prominent attorney appearing in court or making philanthropic news. Not my Samuel Markell! 

Monday, April 29, 2024

No Arranged Marriages for the Farkas Sisters in America


My maternal grandma, Hermina "Minnie" Farkas (1886-1964), insisted on marrying the man of her choice. She met her future husband (Theodore "Ted" Schwartz, 1887-1965) in a Hungarian delicatessen in New York City's Lower East Side, an immigrant neighborhood packed with tenements and pushcarts. Minnie (born in Hungary) lived on East 6th Street, Ted (also born in Hungary) lived around the corner on Avenue D. Although Minnie's mother thought Ted was a "peasant" and not good enough for her, Minnie found ways to see the man she loved. 

What happened next is legend in my family: Minnie's parents tried to arrange a marriage with a man they considered more suitable. When this man came to the Farkas apartment with an engagement ring, Minnie threw it out the window. Her younger brothers ran downstairs to find the ring. What became of the ring? Nobody knows, but Minnie made her point. Her parents finally accepted her choice. Minnie and Ted were wed at the Clinton Street Synagogue in 1911, a few months after Ted was naturalized.

Where Minnie's sisters met their future husbands

Minnie showed her Farkas sisters that women in America could choose their own husbands. Here's how those young ladies, my great aunts, met their future spouses:

Irene (1896-1988) met farmer's son Milton one summer when she and her mother spent a couple of weeks boarding at his family farm in upstate New York, where they escaped the heat of Manhattan. Irene worked as a bookkeeper and was very much a city girl, but Milton's good looks and charm won her heart. They married in the Bronx and lived for a year or so with Milton's family. They then moved to the Bronx, a greener borough than Manhattan, where their two daughters were born.

Ella (1897-1991) went to college to be a teacher. She met civil engineer Joseph through her friendship with sons of neighbors. The couple married in the Bronx, had a son and a daughter, and the family remained tight-knit and happy until Joe's untimely death. Ella had never stopped working, a rarity among her married sisters, and she taught elementary school until her retirement.

Freda (1898-1989) also was introduced to her future husband Morris through the same neighbor boys who were friends with Ella's fella Joseph. Freda was a librarian when she met and married Morris, an actuary in insurance. They had two sons. During World War II, Freda worked at Grumman Aircraft, the only Rosie the Riveter among the Farkas sisters.

Rose (1901-1993) worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper. She met accountant George at an adult summer camp outside of New York City, and they married in Manhattan. Rose and George had three children. George went back to school for a law degree and opened a successful tax law practice. Rose was one of the matchmaker aunts who later got my mother and my father together on a blind date!

Jeanne (1905-1987) was a bookkeeper for a jeweler in Manhattan and although one of the owners proposed, Jeanne chose Harry, a dentist she met at an adult summer camp. Jeanne and Harry were married at a big wedding during the Depression. The entire family began to have their teeth cared for by Jeanne's hubby.

"Love and marriage" is this week's genealogy prompt from Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors series.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Father and Two Sons in 1812 War: Larimer, Larimore, Larrimore

In my husband's Larimer family, a father and two sons from Ohio defended the nation during the War of 1812. 

Because of the variable spelling of the day, the service records of all three were originally filed under different surnames. 

Isaac Larimer (1771-1823) and son Robert Larimer (1792-1850) both served for a year in the 3d Regiment Ohio Volunteers, while son John Larimer (1794-1843) was a 90-day enlistee in the Ohio Militia.

At top, Robert Larimer's NARA reference card, showing he was originally filed under Larimore and then under Larimer. I was interested to see he was a drummer, enlisted at age 20.  

On the other hand, John Larimer's NARA reference card at right shows he was originally filed under Larrimore and then cross-referenced under Larimore. He was a private in the First Regiment Ohio Militia.

Below, their father Isaac Larimer's NARA reference card shows he was originally filed under Larimer and then referenced under the surname Larimore. Isaac, in his early 40s, was an ensign, a commissioned officer in the army.

After Isaac's death, his widow Elizabeth received a warrant for land bounty of 160 acres in the Larimer name. 

Isaac and Elizabeth were my husband's 4th great-grandparents, moving their family westward from Pennsylvania to Ohio in search of fertile farmland. They were only some of my husband's ancestors who caught Ohio Fever.

This post is for week 17 of Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors genealogy prompt, "war."

PS: You know I married my husband for his ancestors, right?! 😆

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Artifacts + Context = Family History Story


I'm finishing a 20-page photo book about my husband's paternal grandparents, James Edgar Wood (1871-1939) and Mary Slatter Wood (1869-1925) and their life together. It's a bite-sized family history project, focused on one couple and their background and children. A page in the book is devoted to postcards...with a photo and context for these artifacts. The caption reads: 

James Edgar Wood's relatives were spread across several states. They stayed in touch via penny postcards and visits. Two of these cards were sent by Dorothy Baker (daughter of Ada) to her first cousin Wally, and one was sent by Aunt Nellie Lewis (sister of James). All are addressed to 12513 Lancelot Ave in Cleveland, a home built by James, where the Wood family lived from 1910 to 1912. The colorized photo shows this house in 1911, with Ed and Wally standing in front.

This page appears late in the book, so readers will already be familiar with the names, but they may not remember the relationships, which I included in parentheses. 

The colorized photo, passed down in black/white in the family, shows the very house where these postcards were delivered more than a century ago. The addressee and his older brother are pictured in front. The house was built by their father, James Edgar Wood, and it's still standing today, as you can see here

By linking these separate artifacts and providing context, I created a story that I hope will stick in the minds of the younger generation, part of my overall plan to keep family history alive for the future.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Colorizing James and Mary and Their Cleveland House


As I prepare a family history photo book about hubby's grandparents, James E. Wood (1871-1939) and Mary Slatter Wood (1869-1925), I'm colorizing a few old b/w photos to catch the eye of younger descendants. Of course, I'm noting that the photos are colorized. This book (and others I've created) are helping to keep family history alive for the future.

Above, the photo as colorized by Ancestry. James has more color, the second floor of the home has more color, but Mary appears less colorful. Overall, this photo is more interesting to look at and brings out more details than the original. I tried the sharpen tool but Ancestry couldn't detect the small faces.

Below, the same photo as colorized by MyHeritage. Here, Mary has more color and the sign advertising James's carpentry/building business is red and very visible. Note the tiny palette and magic wand symbols at bottom left of photo, added by MyHeritage to indicate that this image is both colorized and enhanced. I prefer this version and have inserted it into the photo book.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Finding FREE NYC Documents during WikiTree Connect-a-Thon

The April WikiTree ConnectAThon added nearly 89,000 new profiles to the worldwide WikiTree. I was part of Team L'Chaim and mostly added ancestors and ancestors-in-law from my Jewish roots. Along the way, I discovered new documents and worked my way backward to older generations as well as horizontally to siblings and spouses of distant cousins whose lives I'd never researched. 

FREE New York City Vital Records

A huge help: finding FREE vital records from the late 1800s through early 1900s on the New York City Digital Vital Records site. This site has birth, marriage, and death records scanned in color from the originals. No sending away, no paying, no waiting. Immediately view and download if that cert is available. Not all are, yet.

Above, shown on the site, an ancestor marriage license from October 7, 1923 that gave me parents' names to extend my tree further back, and witnesses for my FAN club (friends/associates/neighbors). A pdf is downloadable...and/or users can print. Such valuable info on an original document signed personally by the ancestors I'm researching. Gold mine! You can read more about this excellent and free site here.

I started by obtaining the marriage cert number (not license number) on Ancestry, although it can be obtained by using the database search functions on and other sites. The cert number, borough, and year are needed to get results.

Vital records reveal new facts and relatives

On the NYC Digital Vital Records site, I clicked "Search beta" and selected marriage cert, input the cert number, selected the city borough, and input the year. 

Not all of my searches resulted in finding certs, but about 75% did. I can redo my research later in the year to see whether additional certs become available. Did I mention this is a free search and free download?! 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Ancestry's Ask AI Feature

This week, when looking at a German language Hamburg passenger manifest for one of my ancestors, I noticed that Ancestry was offering me the opportunity to explore this document using its Ask AncestryAI feature. Of course I took a look! I haven't tried any Ancestry AI feature before this.

Above, part of the screen, with the AI interpretation on the right and the transcribed record (plus the original image) on the left. The AI seems to have used the info from the record detail and constructed a narrative that began "Bela Roth, a Hungarian male, departed from N. Bereg, Hungary, at the age of 42 on October 17, 1907..." 

The AI named the ship, the ship's ownership, and said he was a merchant (true) and was accompanied by six other household members (true) including his mother (not true) sons (true), and father (not true). The AI concluded by citing the source of this record.

In actuality, Bela was accompanied by his wife and sons, and he named his mother as the nearest relative in place he left. Bela, himself, was the father of the sons.

Deciphering a handwritten manifest is a challenge, and when I don't know the language, it's an even bigger challenge. Here, I had to compare what the AI said to the actual record AND to my family tree to understand what was true and what was not true. Also, the AI had no way of knowing that N. Bereg = Nagy Bereg. But I knew the full place name from prior research. I tried the AI feature on another German-launguage Hamburg passenger manifest, with similarly mixed results. 

I can imagine situations where the AI assist would be helpful. Still, IMHO, there's no substitute for understanding a document's purpose, timing, format, content, and trying to decipher it independently from what the transcription says and what any AI assistance says. I'll continue to test this feature, hoping to learn a few new details--that I'll confirm for myself.

UPDATE: This AI feature is available for a variety of documents. Here's what it told me about a man's WWII draft registration card. I clicked the thumbs down on this description--the man in question did not serve, and the narrative is rather flowery without much substance, unfortunately. Oh, and let me quote the disclaimer from the bottom of the screen: This feature is powered by an AI language model using only information from this record. Responses may be inaccurate. 

Try this feature if you can, and see what happens!

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

A Bio for Jennie, Two Memorials to Manage

My great aunt Jennie Birk Salkowitz was born on this day 134 years ago--on April 9, 1890 in Gargzdai, Lithuania. She came through Ellis Island on September 7, 1909, just 19 years old, and worked in the New York City garment district until marrying her husband, Paul Salkowitz (1889-1957). They were happily married for 38 years, jointly owning and running a Florida citrus grove after moving South from the Big Apple in the post-WWII period.

To honor her memory, I'm sharing her bite-sized bio on additional websites. When I posted her bio on MyHeritage, I also added a link within the bio to lead to her Find a Grave memorial page. It's easy, once I clicked on the link icon. As shown above: I pasted in the URL for her memorial page, chose the text where this link would be (here, the name of the cemetery), gave the link a title ("Find a Grave for Jennie B Salkowitz") and selected to open the link in a new window.

Then I went to her Find a Grave page to submit the same bite-sized bio as an edit, see image below. 

At the top of the page (see arrow) I noticed that Find a Grave was offering me the opportunity to manage Aunt Jennie's page. I don't necessarily feel the need to manage every memorial of every ancestor, just those of ancestors closest to me. But in this case, if the memorial has no manager, I think it makes sense to step up.

I clicked "Request to Manage" and yes, I'm now taking care of her memorial. Once the bio was in place, I clicked on her husband's link and was offered the opportunity to manage his page, as well. I've already posted his bite-sized bio there. Happy to honor their memories in this way!

Monday, April 8, 2024

Eclipse Day 2017 Revisited on Eclipse Day 2024

Today is Eclipse Day 2024 but I'm revisiting the August day in 2017 when I used a pinhole viewer to watch the solar eclipse from a nearby garden. The eclipse was clearly visible through this home-made contraption, and what I saw looked like a bite being taken out of the sun. 

Not as dramatic as the view will be for today's eclipse, but still exciting to experience. Fun to remember as we look forward to the more visible eclipse this afternoon, depending on cloud cover in my neck of the woods.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Wood and McClure Ancestors with Strong Church Ties

In my husband's family tree are a number of ancestors who made big life changes for their faith...were very involved with their churches, some as cofounders or leaders, some who married church leaders, some whose children led or founded congregations. Here are a few of these ancestors:

  • Hubby's Mayflower ancestors (Isaac Allerton, Mary Norris Allerton, Mary Allerton, Degory Priest, and Francis Cooke) came to America as Separatists, to worship as they chose. These ancestors are in my husband's Wood family line.
  • Hubby's great uncle and great aunt, Marion Elton Wood (1867-1947) and Minnie Miller (1869-1918) helped organize and were the hosts of the very first day of worship for the Bethany English Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1917 in Toledo, Ohio. 
  • Hubby's great-grand aunt Mary Ann McClure (1836-1901) married Reverend John J. Cook (1835-1916), a long-time Presbyterian Minister in Indiana and Michigan. Mary Ann's father Benjamin McClure (1812-1896) was a staunch Presbyterian in Wabash, Indiana, and a ruling church elder for 40 years.
  • Joseph Charles Rinehart (1872-1932) was a pastor of several United Brethren Church congregations in Ohio, and the founder of the Belle Grove Christian Church in Ohio. His sons, H. Stanley Rinehart and Fred A. Rinehart, both became church leaders. Joseph was hubby's 1c2r.

My bite-sized bios for these ancestors, still in progress, will reflect their religious involvement so future generations know of the strength of their beliefs. "Worship" is the #52Ancestors genealogy prompt for week 14 from Amy Johnson Crow.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Put Yourself into Your Family's History

As I write about my husband's paternal family, I've found a few ways to insert ourselves into the narrative and photos. 

For example, this page in my latest photo book is all about hubby's great uncle, Capt. John Daniel Slatter (1864-1954). John was one of three brothers who joined the British Army as young teens or preteens, working their way up through the music ranks. All three served 15-20+ years in the British military before they came to Canada and became bandmasters. All three attained the rank of captain and were well-known in their regions. Capt. John D. Slatter gained worldwide fame for leading one of the original kiltie bands.

Not only did I tell of John's distinguished military career (which began at the age of 11), his WWI service, and his personal life, I also accentuated the theme of military service through the generations by explaining that two of his sons served in WWI and a grandson served in WWII. 

Also, I wrote that hubby and I had been to the 48th Highlanders Museum in Toronto to learn more. My husband was honored to be allowed to hold Capt. Slatter's special sword, and to see the many medals he was awarded, now displayed in the museum. Who knows, maybe descendants will one day visit the museum and be inspired by this ancestor. 

The two color photos on this page put us into the context of family history. It's part of my plan to keep ancestral stories and faces alive for the future, with us in the picture too!

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Easter Greetings from Toledo to Cleveland, Ohio

In the 1910s, a young Wood relative in Cleveland, Ohio received this Easter postcard from his teenaged first cousin in Toledo, Ohio. The sender wrote in cursive, although the recipient could not yet read it! 

Why is a rooster is guarding a nest full of colorful Easter eggs? And why does this holiday-themed scene appear to be in Holland?! 

Happy Easter to all. 

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Share "Work in Progress" Genealogy

These genealogy fan charts will appear on pages 2 and 3 of my latest family history photo book. The book focuses on my husband's paternal grandparents, Mary Slatter (1869-1925) and James Edgar Wood (1871-1939). The colorful charts attract the eyes of readers and show, at a glance, the names and the dates (where known) of their ancestors. 

Thanks to one of the Wood cousins, who began his genealogy quest more than 40 years ago, we have a lot of solid, sourced info about James Edgar Wood's paternal family tree (on right). That same cousin tried for decades to learn more about Mary Amanda Demarest (1831-1897) with little success. 

I joined the "research team" 15 years ago and despite promising leads, we never have been able to prove her parentage with high confidence. This cousin did an intensive analysis of the 1840 US Census in New York City, Mary Amanda's birthplace, and narrowed her possible parentage to the household of Henry Demarest and Catherine Nitchie Demarest. 

Should I include these names on the fan chart or not, given the lack of proof? I returned to the research, looked carefully for fresh leads, came up empty, and decided to go ahead and put them on the tree. I'll explain elsewhere in the text that this is the best guesstimate at this time.

Similarly, the fan chart on the left is missing a lot of names and dates. Despite many years of digging, I haven't been able to go far back on Mary Slatter's family tree. I've been reviewing and reworking my research in search of new leads, without any breakthroughs. This branch of the tree is a real challenge, due to "John" and "Mary" married ancestors in multiple generations, few solid maiden names, common surnames, a lack of specific hometown info, and uneven record-keeping. I do know a great deal about Mary and her siblings and parents, so that's going to be my main focus in the photo book.

Despite the many missing slots on the family tree, I believe it's important to share my "work in progress" genealogy (after 26 years of digging) so descendants know what I know already. Each photo book ends with my name as the creator, and the month and year of printing. This will alert future generations that the information is as of that date. 

Sharing (through photo books, online trees, bite-sized bios, and more) is all part of planning a future for my family's past before I join my ancestors.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Tell Them About Telegrams and V-Mail and More

When writing captions or family history stories, tell your audience (younger folks in particular) about anything that might be unfamiliar or outdated, but figures prominently in a photo. The idea is to enhance the meaning of the photo.

When I included the above photo in a photo book about my parents' courtship, wedding, and honeymoon, I wrote a quick caption telling readers about congratulatory telegrams. I have to assume that future generations will have little knowledge of telegrams, since the last Western Union telegram in America was sent in 2006. This photo is a happy reminder that many relatives and friends sent their best wishes to the newlyweds in the form of telegrams delivered to the hotel where they were married.

Similarly, I wrote a brief caption to explain V-Mail when I included a photo of one such letter in a booklet about my aunt, a WAC in World War II. My aunt sent V-mails from France and other European posts, and the V-mails are still in the family (safe in archival boxes). Without an explanation, will readers have any idea that it was common for relatives of those serving overseas to receive V-Mail correspondence during the war? 

Just a sentence or two will avoid confusion and add important context, linking family history with the wider world. Like how "operator" as an occupation when the employer is in New York City's garment district meant someone who sewed, not a telephone operator. 

Friday, March 22, 2024

Family History at the Button Museum


My sis and I recently visited the Button Museum, a collection housed in the Mattatuck Museum in downtown Waterbury, Connecticut. Unexpectedly, we discovered a bit of family history there.

Nicknamed "Brass City," Waterbury was once a major industrial center for metal-based products like clocks, candlesticks, and buttons.

The Button Museum consists of framed shadowboxes displaying themed buttons produced in Waterbury over the years, plus drawers filled with a wide array of buttons sorted by type.

One drawer held buttons produced for WWII uniforms, including three sizes of brass buttons created for the Women's Army Corps. My aunt, Sgt. Dorothy Schwartz (1919-2001) served as a WAC. Although her uniforms are long, long gone, seeing what the buttons looked like was a delightful surprise. 

Also in the collection: brass buttons manufactured for fire and police departments all over America, such as Dayton, Hartford, and other big cities. Plus hundreds and hundreds of graceful and decorative buttons for all types of garments, a nostalgic look back at what was once a way to express personality, status, and belonging. What we saw was mostly metal but also some fabric-covered buttons and other specialty items from the past.

It was a serendipitous day at the museum, showing how family history connects with local and international history through objects arranged by curators. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Book Review: Nothing Really Bad Will Happen

Despite Sigmund Lichtenthal's stubborn, misguided belief that "nothing really bad will happen," he and his family suffered greatly during the Holocaust years. Now Sigmund's great-granddaughter Deborah S. Holman has written a powerful book of fictionalized family history, based on genealogical records, ancestral letters, oral history, and a deep sense of how generational trauma reverberated throughout her family tree. Nothing Really Bad Will Happen is available in print or ebook format on Amazon.

A lovely family tree at the start of the book helps readers follow the names and relationships as people weave in and out of the narrative. Each chapter is titled with a place and date, a good way to orient readers as the years go by and family members move around. Don't miss the "afterward" section where Deb describes who and what motivated her to tell this story and what happened to various relatives mentioned in the book.  

Focus on the patriarch, Sigmund 

The story begins with the author's great-grandfather Sigmund, a highly ambitious man with enormous pride in the prosperous hat company he built from scratch in Vienna over the course of decades. These early chapters reveal the man's incredible drive to be successful and how that affected everyone around him, both positively and negatively.  

By the early 1930s, his son Paul had married Rose and welcomed Sigmund's grandchild, Doris (the author's mother). As Hitler rose to power in Germany, Paul and Rose were thinking seriously about leaving Austria to settle in America. Sigmund, the patriarch of the family, didn't see immediate danger and wasn't at all ready to leave what he had worked so hard to achieve. 

Loss and legacy

The Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938 changed everything for the family, personally and professionally. Sigmund lost control of his company as Nazi officials forced Jewish people to transfer assets to non-Jews. Outraged, Sigmund embarked on many years of frustrating attempts to recover his business and possessions. This never-ending quest would have a major impact on the rest of his life and that of his entire family.

Meanwhile, Sigmund's son Paul was imprisoned in Dachau and then sent to Buchenwald, even as Paul's wife and daughter managed to get out and begin a new life in New Rochelle, New York. Paul was eventually released and reunited with his family in America, although he never fully recovered his health. Sigmund himself woke up to the urgency of getting out of Austria before it was too late. He arrived in New York with his wife in early 1941, only to discover that the Nazis had seized the precious possessions he tried to ship to America, another terrible loss.

A new resilience

Instead of ending with the safe arrival of her immigrant ancestors, Deb devotes the second half of her book to the family's struggles and resiliency during the 1940s, into the 1950s, and beyond. With honesty, sensitivity, and insight, she shows how events from the Holocaust era and even earlier shaped the later decisions and actions of her grandparents and parents. 

Not surprisingly, the hardship of starting over in America only made Sigmund more determined to reclaim what he had lost--a fight for justice that was carried on after his death by his descendants and their descendants, and ultimately by the author. 

Highly recommended!

In Nothing Really Bad Will Happen, my friend Deb has transformed a sprawling  trove of documentation and family lore into a cohesive, compelling story that will resonate with the wider world. She has a talent for capturing emotions, portraying inner motivations, setting a scene, and putting a human face on historical events that destroyed lives and ripped families apart. 

As she developed the narrative, Deb told some of this story in progress on her genealogy blog. More recently, she created a companion website to showcase the sources, photos, and bibliography she used as she wrote the story. I followed her progress from draft to draft and now to the finished book, which I really recommend.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Sharing Hubby's Irish Roots with Younger Generation

My husband has a number of Irish ancestors, as reflected in his latest DNA results update (above)!
 They are far back in the family tree, but we have some names and some dates, plus a few places.

Every year I remind the younger generation of these roots and encourage them to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with pride.

1.    Brice Smith was born in Pennsylvania in 1756. His immigrant parents, William and Jean Smith, were from Limerick. Brice and his wife, Eleanor Kenny Smith, were the 4th great-grandparents of my husband. Two descendants born much later were named Brice in honor of this ancestor.

2.    About 1740, Robert Larimer boarded a ship 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 Irish-born Mary Gallagher, and farmed in Pennsylvania. Later, the couple and their family moved to Rush Creek, Ohio. Robert and Mary were the 5th great grandparents of my husband.

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 were buried. 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 Isle of Skye in Scotland. Halbert, his wife, their children, and some of Halbert’s brothers sailed to Philadelphia and then walked together to Virginia. Their descendants became farmers in Ohio and then in Indiana. Halbert and Agnes were the 4th great grandparents of my husband.

5.     John and Mary Shehen, both born in Ireland but transplanted to England by 1840s. Their descendant married into the Slatter family, which ultimately left London to settle in North America during the early 1900s. Still researching their Irish roots.

6.     The Short family, apparently Scots-Irish. In-laws of our Larimer family, with intermarriage in several generations. Many doctors, dentists, other professionals in this line of the family tree.

7.     The Work family, originally from County Antrim, Ireland. In-laws of our Larimer family, intermarried in several generations. This branch did a lot of genealogical digging to trace the family's origins in early 1900s through mid-1900s.

8.    David O’Killia or O’Kelly, possibly born in Galway, married Jane Powell in Massachusetts in 1670. 7th great-grandparents of my husband. Still researching this ancestor, a challenge for sure.

I'm keeping these ancestors' names and memories alive by putting them in the spotlight as St. Patrick's Day rolls around.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Find a Grave Member for 12 Years

Today is my 12th anniversary of joining Find a Grave to add ancestor memorials, link ancestors to parents/siblings/children, post photos, post bite-sized bios, indicate which ancestors were veterans, offer suggested edits to improve memorials others have created, and use the site for cousin bait. All for free!

Above, my member profile page. Initially, I added a photo to personalize the page, then later added a "bio" listing the main ancestor branches I'm researching. Note that the profile offers the option of listing a "home page" - which, for me, is this genealogy blog. This makes it easy (and free) for cousins and surname researchers to contact me.

Another advantage of Find a Grave (owned by Ancestry) is that its memorials are included in search results on a number of major genealogy platforms, extending the reach of my ancestor memorial pages.

For convenience, I've created a number of virtual cemeteries in which I grouped listings of memorials for my paternal ancestors, my maternal ancestors, hubby's paternal ancestors, hubby's maternal ancestors, and related families. I can share the URL of these virtual cemeteries with relatives who are interested in knowing where family members were buried.

Over the years, several cousins and FAN club members (friends, associates, neighbors of my ancestors) have gotten in touch with me via Find a Grave's messaging feature. And I've connected with a couple of distant cousins because I discovered memorials they had made for our mutual ancestors and I sent them a message.

As I conduct research, I really appreciate when I find a memorial for one of my ancestors and see that someone has carefully photographed the grave, transcribed the info, and maybe even added a couple of extra pieces of info. I've also requested grave photos a few times, and had most of these requests fulfilled. I've thanked these volunteers privately, but this is my public thank-you to the many thousands of volunteers who add memorials and photos on Find a Grave.

Let me say that I entirely agree with the criticisms of Find a Grave for not preventing memorial pages from being created immediately after reports of peopling being killed in a terrible crime or disaster. There must be technical fixes to stop this, and by now, after years of criticism and outrage, it should be a top priority.

For myself, even after a dozen years, I continue to use Find a Grave every week, sometimes every day, to search for clues on memorial pages or add details to improve my ancestors' memorial pages for the sake of future generations.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Have You Checked for Fold3 Memorials?

In my presentations about Fold3, I demonstrate how to search the 39 million Memorial pages devoted to veterans and others, not just from the US but from other countries as well. (NOTE: Fold3 is owned by Ancestry, which also owns FindaGrave. It acquired the UK-based Forces War Records last year, merging it into Fold3.)

Some local and state libraries (and some FamilySearch libraries) offer free access to Fold3, which is also available with an all-access Ancestry subscription. Or you can start a free 7-day trial here. Sign in to begin your search.

Start from home page

To check for any ancestors who might be represented in the Memorials, start at the bottom of Fold3 home page, where you'll see a red banner to Search all Memorials. (Shown in image at top.)

On the search page that comes next, you can select a country or US state, a war, and filter by name of your ancestor. If you just want to get a sense of what a Memorial looks like, browse the full list and select one to view.

Lt. James Vernon Goss

I viewed the Memorial for US Army Air Corps Lt. James Vernon Goss, who died when his plane was hit by enemy fire during WWII. Here's what his Memorial looks like, including a photo of Lt. Goss in his uniform. Details of his service are in the timeline at left.

I labeled a source link at right, which takes you to the Find a Grave page of Lt. Goss. 

Also on the right is a section called "Partners" where a nonprofit is listed: Stories Behind the Stars, which encourages volunteers to research and write the stories of military men and women who died in the service of their country. I've bookmarked this site to explore later!

Getting in touch

The "owner" of Lt. Goss's Memorial, below the Partners heading, is a Fold3 member with the user name HideandSeek69. 

She added the photo and info on the page, and she is the only person authorized to add to the Memorial. 

Since her user name is blue, it's clickable. Go ahead and click!

Her member page shows all her contributions to Fold3. Over the years, she has written brief bios for dozens of service members and posted them on Fold3, with photos when available. 

Now notice the red "contact me" button that's located below the member's name and start date. This is how you can get in touch with a member if you recognize one of the service members and want to exchange info. 

Check for your ancestors

Follow this process to check Fold3 for any Memorials honoring your ancestors. Review the life events and photos posted, review any photos, and pay attention to the "owner" or authorized contributors so you can try to get in touch. 

A Fold3 Memorial page might serve as cousin bait, as well as a very good way to memorialize an ancestor fallen in the line of duty.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Family History: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

I'm preparing a photo book about the background of my husband's grandparents (Mary Slatter Wood, 1869-1925 and James Edgar Wood, 1871-1939). The content will the most wide-ranging of any family history project I've done to date.

It will cover the good, the bad, and the ugly of hubby's paternal family tree. 

If I don't convey the stories I've been told and the research I've uncovered, that info won't necessarily be passed along to future generations. I never want my family history or my husband's family history to be lost. 

Whether our ancestors' stories are happy, sad, regrettable, or something in between, I'm doing my best to share with relatives right now. The big exception: I'm not sharing the one or two stories that might be embarrassing or damaging to people still alive. Those particular stories are tucked into my surname files, to be inherited in the far future and rediscovered by my heirs, long after the people involved have passed from the scene.

The good

Mary Slatter, born in London, England, was a devoted, loving mother of four boys and a calming influence on her volatile husband, James. I have Mary's sons' own comments on this subject to add to the photo book. Given Mary's family background, this is an amazing outcome. In fact, the Slatter siblings all turned out well, despite their difficult early years. See the ugly below.

The bad

Well, James Edgar Wood had a temper and his four sons suffered as a result. I have James's sons' own comments on this subject, to be quoted in the photo book. No wonder the sons left home as soon as they were old enough, after their mother Mary died of a heart ailment. All stayed in touch with each other as adults.

James was in the building business in Cleveland, Ohio. He'd put up a house, move his family in after the framing, and they'd live in one finished room or even the attic (!) while he slowly completed the interior. Then he would sell the house even as he had another framed. James, Mary, and the boys moved every other year or, if he worked quickly enough and sold quickly enough, they moved every year. How do I know? Over the years, the addresses on the many postcards sent to one of the boys changed over and over as they moved from one new home to another. The sons didn't have fond memories of their many childhood moves.

The ugly

Mary's father was often out of the picture when she was a child. Poverty-stricken, desperate to survive, Mary and her mother and some siblings were in and out of workhouses in London for several years. Worse, Mary's mother was admitted to an insane asylum, and eventually died there. An ugly period in my husband's family history, but important to be included in my photo book so the names and stories won't be forgotten.

But still...

Despite this ugly start to their lives, the Slatter children grew up and did well. Mary was a dedicated wife and mother, her sister Ada was the same, and their three brothers were all respected military bandmasters in Canada. 

This photo book will have the good, the bad, and the ugly, ending with the resilience of Wood and Slatter ancestors over the generations. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Try It! FamilySearch's New Full-Text Search

If you have ancestors in the United States and Mexico, who may have been named in historical land, probate, or notary records, don't wait to try FamilySearch's new full-text search now available at FamilySearch Labs. It's part of a suite of experimental features you can learn about via this YouTube announcement.

From Browse to Search 

Until now, these mostly handwritten documents were browse-only (and good luck reading the cramped cursive)! But thanks to AI, FamilySearch has unlocked the names and details for us to locate via full-text search. The transcriptions aren't perfect, but they're sure good enough as a head start!

Lisa S. Gorrell explains, step by step, exactly how to search this collection. She also explains in detail, on her other genealogy blog, how to locate all the info needed for a useful source citation. Thank you, Lisa!

Finding Mary Amanda Demarest Wood's Will

Trying the new full-text search, I was able to quickly locate all the probate documents in Toledo, Ohio, including the will, of hubby's paternal great-grandma, Mary Amanda Demarest Wood (1831-1897). Surprisingly, Mary's administrator for the will was one of her younger sons, James Edgar Wood (1871-1939--my husband's grandpa). 

Best of all, the will had a listing of Mary's heirs, with "degree of kin" and "PO address." The heirs continued on the next page. Now I can definitively connect the youngest generation of heirs to the family tree, and continue descendancy research because of the addresses at time of this probate, 1897. Next step, 1900 Census!

NOTE: Although the transcriptions were not entirely correct, still they were a great place to start. The second name on the first list is Frank E. Wood, transcribed by AI tech incorrectly as Frank S. Wood. A few lines down, Robert O. Wood was transcribed incorrectly as Robert B. Wood. 

These are minor quibbles. The big picture is that we can find the documents and check the transcription by comparing with the image on our own. Do try it! Truly a game-changer, thanks to FamilySearch.