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.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Trying, New from MyHeritage

I've been trying, the new historical newspaper site that was announced at RootsTech by MyHeritage. 

Playing around with a search

The search interface is clean and uncluttered. On first glance, though, it's not clear that users can filter the name, the date(s), the place, even publication name.

But as shown above, after I entered the given name and surname of hubby's great uncle, the renowned Canadian bandmaster Capt. John D. Slatter, I was able to filter by tapping my cursor in the name box. A drop-down menu let me click or unclick to match the exact phrase. I didn't want search results to have "John" or "Slatter" or separated by other words, so I clicked to match the phrase exactly. You may want to try your search both ways, just in case.

Filtering is also possible for publication place, again by tapping the cursor in the publication place box, as shown above. I chose to match the place, because this was Capt. Slatter's hometown. I know he was in news reports all over North America, but for this search, I only wanted news of him in Toronto in a specific time period.

My full search eventually looked like this: exact name, publication year + or _ 20 years, exact place, no publication name (because I wanted to see multiple Toronto newspapers if available).  BTW, I did try "Captain Slatter" but results weren't at all close, at least in this time period. And I didn't try a later time period, which I will do at another point.


Among other results, up popped a truly wonderful result from the Daily Mail and Empire, Toronto, which I have never seen

It's the origin story of how Capt. Slatter came to be hired as bandmaster of the 48th Highlanders of Toronto. Best of all, it confirms that this illustrious ancestor of my husband did, indeed, live in Detroit (briefly), played with the Grand Opera orchestra there, and was indeed a member of John Philip Sousa's famous band. Wow! I'm thrilled.


I wish there was easy, obvious access to a listing of publications that I could check before performing a search. 

I wish I could see at a glance what countries and cities are represented in this newspaper database.

I wish I could specify a certain time period to search, such as 1881-1904, instead of clicking for plus or minus a set number of years.

These enhancements may be on the way, but for now, I'm trying different searches to see what new info I can find.