Showing posts with label genealogy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label genealogy. Show all posts

Saturday, January 6, 2018

52 Ancestors #1: Grandpa Got Me Started in Genealogy

I never knew my father's father, Grandpa Isaac Burk (1882-1943). I didn't know what he looked like, didn't know when or where he was born, didn't know when or where he died. But it was Grandpa who got me started on my genealogy journey 20 years ago.

In 1998, the genealogist of my mother's Farkas family wanted to add my father and his parents to her comprehensive family tree. There was little I could tell her other than Grandpa's name. There was no one left to ask. Of course, I couldn't resist trying to find out more. Little did I know how elusive Grandpa's trail was going to be!

As a complete novice, my first stop was the Milstein Division of the New York Public Library. In those days of microfilm research, I figured this was one-stop shopping for info and advice about finding Grandpa Isaac's records. I was sure he lived in New York City after arriving from somewhere in Eastern Europe.

With the help of librarians, I checked NYC directories and newspaper records. Yup, Grandpa Isaac and Grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk did live in NYC. I cranked that microfilm reader until I found a terse obit in the New York Times for October 10, 1943. No mention of burial place. Nothing in death record indexes. Next, I mailed a check to New York City with a search request for Grandpa's death cert. I was hooked and had to know more.

Uh-oh. No NYC death cert was on record. Nor was there a death cert in New York State. And no hint of which cemetery Grandpa might be buried in. Remember, Find a Grave was in its infancy, so I couldn't just click to search for him. The funeral folks couldn't help, either.

I continued my quest for Grandpa Isaac little by little over the next few years, locating his marriage record from 1906 and all the US and NY State Census records available at the time. But--no death cert, even though every document showed him living in NYC. Still, I was determined to solve this seemingly basic family mystery.

In desperation, I actually called New York City's vital records department and threw myself on their mercy, asking for help. A very kind gentleman lowered his voice and told me I should try searching further afield. He offered the unofficial hint that Grandpa Isaac might have died in someplace like, say, Washington, D.C.

Huh? Who would Grandpa Isaac and Grandma Henrietta know in Washington, D.C.? And why would Grandpa have died there?

I immediately wrote to the vital records department in D.C., including a check, and waited.

Two weeks later, I had Grandpa Isaac's death cert in my hand. The details fit, this was definitely him. Later, I found Isaac's naturalization record and saw his face and signature for the very first time.

Why were Isaac and Henrietta in D.C. for four days before he had a heart attack and died--in the home of Louis Volk?

The quest for a connection with Louis Volk eventually brought me into contact with some wonderful 2d cousins! But that's another story for another week in the challenge. 

I only wish Grandpa Isaac could know how he got me started in #genealogy--and that I'm making sure the family knows as much about him and his life story as I can discover.

Thank you to Amy Johnson Crow for this 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge!


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: What's Your Genealogy Elevator Pitch?

Do you have a genealogy elevator pitch? You know, a few quick sentences summarizing your family's background, adapted to the situation at hand. Entrepreneurs use elevator pitches to get investors interested in their businesses; we use elevator pitches to connect with relatives and possible relatives in several situations.

With genealogy elevator pitches, the goal is to share information very concisely, spark interest in your family or your research, and--hopefully--motivate action. Especially valuable during Genealogy Go-Overs or Do-Overs!

Here are three situations where I use my genealogy elevator pitches:
  • Following up on a DNA match or a family-tree hint. The right elevator pitch, polite and concise with an upbeat tone, makes a big difference. Mention exactly what the match or hint is, then list family names/places to get the ball rolling on trying to confirm the match. Some people manage more than one DNA kit and are active on more than one DNA site or family-tree site, so I give particulars to save them time. My elevator pitch: "My name is ___, my kit # is ___, and I'm writing about a match with FamilyTreeDNA kit #___, which is listed under the name of ____.  I suspect the connection might be through my Farkas family from Botpalad (Hungary) or my Kunstler family from Nagy Bereg (Hungary). Please let me know if any of these names or places are familiar. Thanks very much, and I'm looking forward to hearing from you." By adding the phrase looking forward to hearing from you, I'm requesting a response, positive or negative. Much of the time, it works.
  • Younger relatives ask a question or appear interested in an old photo. Be ready with a minute or two of explanation--vividly bring that person to life in that moment. Above, a photo my grandsons found interesting. My elevator pitch: "That's your great-great-grandpa James Edgar Wood and his construction crew, building a house in Cleveland Heights more than 100 years ago. Did you know he built so many homes in Cleveland that Wood Road is named for him? And most of those homes are still standing today!" Depending on the reaction, I either dig out more house photos or tell another story about the Wood family--keeping it brief.
  • At a family gathering or on the phone with a relative who asks, "what's new?" Oooh, so glad you asked. My latest elevator pitch: "Hubby and his first cousins took DNA tests, and surprisingly, the results show that the Wood family has some roots outside the British Isles. Would you consider taking a DNA test so we can learn more? [Insert name of DNA testing firm] has a big sale coming up!" The element of surprise in DNA results can be highly intriguing, and the mention of a sale also grabs attention. Three cousins were kind enough to take a DNA test during a sale this summer. My pitch was successful! So many cMs, so little time.
So polish your genealogy elevator pitch. And if you're going to a genealogy conference, polish the "surnames research" part of your pitch and/or have calling cards printed (above, mine and my husband's cards) to exchange with other researchers.

    Sunday, August 6, 2017

    Weighing the Evidence on Grandpa's Birthplace

    Six of my Burk (aka Berg/Berk/Birk/Burke) ancestors came to North America from Lithuania. The oldest of the siblings, Abraham, settled in Montreal. All the others lived for decades in New York City.

    In birth order, they were:
    • Abraham Berk (1877-1962)
    • Nellie Block (1878-1950)
    • Isaac Burk (1882-1943) - Hi, Grandpa!
    • Meyer Berg (1883-1981)
    • Jennie Birk (1890-1972)
    • Max (Matel) Berk (1892-1953)
    Where, exactly, were these Litvak ancestors from? I've been weighing the evidence, following the Evidence Explained principles. Fortunately for me, the evidence is quite compelling in favor of one birthplace for all the siblings.

    Of course I'm putting the most weight on primary (original) sources created by "someone with first hand knowledge . . . created at or about the time an event occurred." Primary information (from original sources) tends to be more reliable, even though the person who provided the info may not remember correctly or may answer inaccurately for some other reason.

    I've assembled the following evidence about the siblings' birthplace.
    1. Abraham Berk's Canadian naturalization petition listed Gordz, Kovno, Russia as his birthplace. When Abraham entered America in 1919 to visit his brother Isaac, he said he was born in Gorst-Kovna-Russia. Abraham provided all this info.
    2. Nellie Block never declared any birthplace that I can find, unfortunately. I don't believe she ever married, nor did she apply for Social Security or naturalization. 
    3. Isaac Burk told US border officials in 1904 that he was born in Gerst, Russia, when he entered America from Canada. His 1939 naturalization papers and WWII draft registration show Lithuania as his birthplace (Isaac provided the info). Grandpa Isaac was buried in a cemetery plot that's part of the Sons of Telsh society. That adds to the indirect evidence in a small way.
    4. Meyer Berg's passenger manifest from 1903 shows Gelsen, Kovno as his most recent residence. His WWI draft record shows Gorsd, Russia as his birthplace; his WWII draft record shows Gorso, Russia as his birthplace. Meyer's naturalization petition from 1920 shows his birthplace as Kovna, Russia. Meyer provided this info.
    5. Jennie Birk's 1966 passport lists Lithuania as her birthplace. Her husband Paul Salkowitz listed Gardzai, Lithuania, as his birthplace on naturalization papers, but didn't show anything for her birthplace. Best of all, Jennie's marriage license from 1919 shows Garsden, Russia as her birthplace, info provided by her.
    6. Max Berk's 1920 naturalization petition shows Kovno, Russia as his birthplace. His 1906 passenger manifest shows Korst as his last residence. Max provided this info.

    According to the Jewish Genealogy Communities Database, nearly all of these places are, essentially, other names for one place: Gargzdai, Lithuania (sometimes not spelled correctly or only spelled phonetically).

    This evidence leads me to conclude that Grandpa Isaac and his siblings came from Gargzdai. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Plus I'm going to change the family tree so that every one of the siblings shows this as their birthplace.

    Thursday, February 2, 2017

    Meet NERGC Speaker Janeen Bjork, Expert on Newspaper Research

    Extra! Extra! Janeen Bjork has combined her 30 years of experience as a television researcher and presenter with her love of family history. Her methodology for locating hard-to-find newspaper items was developed as she uncovered 130 widely-varying accounts of the 1894 murder-suicide that left one of her great-great-grandfathers dead in Syracuse, New York. Her popular "Newspapers for Genealogy" classes, workshops, and presentations in CT, NY and MA, have helped many others research their families over the years.

    Janeen will share her tips and tricks at NERGC on Saturday, April 29th, from 3:15 – 4:15 pm, during her presentation “Using Newspapers to Track Your Family, Character by Character.” She’ll discuss the technology that allows newspapers to be scanned and indexed, offer her Top 10 Tips for searching digitized newspapers, and share her favorite online newspaper resources. Look for her upcoming classes and presentations at,, and You can get to know her notorious great-great-grandfather on the social media accounts she manages in his name ( and

    1.      What first attracted you to genealogy, and what keeps it fresh and fascinating every day?

    My sister-in-law sat me down in front of her computer on Thanksgiving Day, 2011 and said, “This is You’re doing this for your niece and nephew.” She added that she had been working on her family tree for over four years, and her two children, who share my surname, wanted to know where the Bjorks were. I had a professional background in research (you could say research is in my DNA) and in a matter of days, I found second cousins who had been doing genealogy for two or three decades, and who were looking for me. I’d like to say we’ve been doing “Genealogy on steroids” ever since. And there were many octogenarians and nonagenarians in both my ancestral lines who were happy to let me pick their brains, scan their photos and documents, and swab their cheeks for DNA.

    As for fresh and fascinating every day, I am energized by opportunities to pass on what I have learned. It’s gratifying to be told that someone who heard me speak about my online newspaper methodology broke through a brick wall. And it’s a kick when new family items come my way. In late 2016 my sister and my father were both cleaning out old boxes and came up with photos of my maternal grandmother’s parents, WWII ration books and a postcard written during the war. Taking my own advice during the holidays, I looked for family members in newspapers beyond the areas where they lived and  found a photo of my mother's brother Al Quadrini and two other Navy SeaBees on the front page (above the fold!) of the Oxnard Press Courier in 1954 when they dug ditches for a California Boys Club. Stories about my brother Bob Bjork appeared in several distant New York newspapers when his 1978 high school basketball team went to the state championship finals.

    2.      Who is your most exotic, challenging, exciting, admirable, despicable, or enigmatic ancestor?

    That’s easy: My great-great-grandfather William Strutz. He was arrested in June 1893 on a charge of assault in the third degree on his wife. He was the first murder victim in Syracuse in almost a year when his former best friend, Henry Vogler, who believed William had been seeing Henry’s wife, shot William and then killed himself in July 1894. Both the Associated Press and United Press picked up the story, and to date I’ve found 130 accounts of the tragedy. Two German language papers had the story as well, one in Syracuse, where a major German celebration was happening and where there was time for local gossip to embellish the story before the weekly published, and one in Baltimore where an editor changed their names to Wilhelm and Heinrich.

    There is a relative who is a close second to William that I could call exciting. It was my father’s Aunt Dorothea, a thrice-married flapper. Her picture appeared in the paper multiple times, for her achievements as a captain and pitcher for a "Girls" softball team sponsored by the Syracuse Journal in the 1930s, as well as for a suicide attempt at 17 and a near drowning in a swim meet at 18. She died at age 86 in San Diego, California.

    3.      What are your favorite tools for researching family history?

    I am a big booster of newspapers for genealogy. My first eight-week Intermediate Genealogy class spent six weeks looking at online newspaper sites. Obituaries are the most obvious places to start when researching ancestors. But there are often stories leading up to or following the death that are full of details. Obituaries and death certificates will tell you that someone died in a vehicular accident, but a newspaper story may tell you who they were with, where they were going, and what they were doing at the time.

    My second favorite tool is DNA testing. I’ve gotten 10 family members to agree to test (only one is a generation behind me, most are my parents’ generation) and to appear in various databases. While we have yet to break through a brick wall, we have found some distant cousins we wouldn’t have met any other way.

    4.      What’s the number one thing you want attendees to remember from your NERGC presentation about using newspapers to research family history?

    The importance of keyword searches. Names can be misspelled, or altered by a hyphen or by optical character recognition. Fuzzy search and Boolean queries have helped me unearth many hidden items. So go ahead and try different spellings and strategies.

    5.      What is your game plan for getting the most out of NERGC?

    While I always create a game plan for Genealogy conferences, and intend to take advantage of the many sessions and workshops, I also like to improvise. Conferences are fabulous networking opportunities. I made a connection with James M. Beidler at the 2016 New York State Family History Conference. Jim specializes in newspaper research (as well as German and Pennsylvania research) and he has asked me to contribute the William Strutz story to his upcoming book, The Family Tree Historical Newspapers Guide.

    6.      What is your greatest genealogical regret?

    My maternal grandmother and I spent three weeks in the ancestral hometown in 1983 and I was introduced to about 55 close Italian relatives. Since then I have been the family ambassador, accompanying other American family members and writing the letters and emails to my many Italian cousins.

    In 2014, in preparation for a family reunion, I decided it was time to visit the records office in Arpino, Italy. It was my personal "Under The Tuscan Sun," as I heard "no" (it's the same word in Italian) more times that morning than I had in any morning in my life. With the help of a cousin and someone from My Italian Family (run by Bianca Ottone from New Hope, PA), I spent the afternoon in the two churches of the town and found my family first appeared in the records in the 1500s, with a slightly different name. A church custodian told me there was a man in town who had researched my family and other Arpino families. I left without asking for that man's contact information. Big mistake. I learned last year that he had died and his nephews hadn't valued the work. He had used the church records to track all the early families, recording his trees on the backs of calendar pages. Another genealogy lesson learned the hard way.

    Thursday, July 7, 2016

    Those Places Thursday: 50 Years Ago in the Bronx

    Fifty years ago, in the spring of 1966, this was what the Bronx looked like after a light dusting of snow, in a snapshot taken taken from the high ground of Paulding Avenue and the Esplanade. Thank you to Sis for rediscovering this photo!*

    In the foreground is the subway stop known as Morris Park-Esplanade, one stop further into the Bronx from 180th Street on the Dyre Avenue subway line.

    The street heading upward in the photo is Lydig Avenue, lined with attached homes and apartment buildings. Lydig Avenue held all manner of delis and bakeries, among other retail businesses. Walk up Lydig toward the top of this photo and within not too many blocks is White Plains Road, a main street where the elevated subway can be heard rumbling overhead.

    Taking a subway to Manhattan from the Bronx, Brooklyn, or Queens was known as going "downtown."

    *Even though the photo is dated May '66, it's clearly from earlier that spring. Once upon a time, in the last century, people used cameras and physical film. Nobody had a roll of film developed until every shot was taken. The film cost money, the developing cost money, each print cost money. So we often waited several months or more, snapping a photo here or there and waiting until after we used up all 24 or 36 shots. Then the roll was sent out for developing, either at a local drug store or by mail. Wait a brief week (7 days!) and the prints would be back, along with negatives. Remember negatives?

    Saturday, September 5, 2015

    Friday's Faces from the Past: My Family Photo Detective Experience

    Who is this little girl, holding a tambourine and standing next to an ornate piano? I posted her photo in my "mystery" gallery last year. Alas, no one in the family recognizes her.

    Following the process described by Maureen A. Taylor in her excellent Family Photo Detective, I wanted to look for clues to identifying this mystery girl from the photo itself.

    My conclusion (supported by the steps I followed below) is that for a mystery photo such as this little girl, the location of the photographer and the costume are two vital clues to when, where, and why the photo was taken.

    Step by step, here's how I analyzed the photo:

    Photographer's location in 1925 - most likely AFTER the photo was taken
    1. Maureen recommends analyzing the type of photo print as a first step. This is not a daguerreotype, meaning it's newer. It's a photo (silver print?) glued to a matte board with the photographer's name and address, which seems to suggest the date is later than 1900. 
    2. Second, Maureen looks at the paper and board. The card stock for the little girl seems to be thick, and the edges are beveled, suggesting it's relatively new (early 20th century, rather than late 19th century). By the way, Maureen gives a hint for identifying relatives among a collection of portrait photos: If the number on the back of one photo is, say, 105, then portraits numbered 104 or 106 may be siblings or parents or children of the person in 105.
    3. The next step is to identify the photographer, which is easy in this case. "F. Krichefsky" is the name imprinted on the card stock, with a studio at 496 Claremont Parkway, Bronx, N.Y. Maureen suggests an online search for the photographer to find out more. No luck using Google, but I used Ancestry and immediately found the 1925 New York City directory listing for Mr. Krichefsky, photographer--at a different address, half a mile away from the address on my mystery photo. Then I used the mapping function to see where the studio was located (see map below). Off-hand, I don't know of ancestors who lived within walking distance--but I still don't know when the photo was taken.
      Photographer's studio location in 1915-17
    4. Still researching the photographer, I searched for his name plus "Bronx 1910" and came up with an image he had produced that is dated 1905-10, in the collection of the Museum of Jewish History. This is helping me narrow down the period of the photo. Also I found "Faivel Krichevsky" in the 1912 NYC Business Directory, a photographer at 496 Wendover Ave. In the 1915-16-17 NYC directories, I finally found "Feibel Krichefsky" at the Claremont Parkway address! So most likely this is more in the approximate time-frame of my little girl's photograph.
      Spelling slowed me down but here's the photographer in the NYC directory, at the address on my photo!
    5. Maureen suggests thinking about when in the person's life the image might have been taken--for a special event, as an example. This mystery girl looks too young for school but perhaps this was taken for a holiday or because the rest of the family was in the studio for a portrait? Music is clearly a major theme, but I don't know why. I have to return to my mystery photo archive box to see whether others were from this studio...perhaps there was a special event for the whole family, and they used that opportunity for individual portraits.
    6. Next would be facial recognition, which I would tackle using Picasa, free from Google. I'm saving this for another time.
    7. Maureen puts a lot of emphasis on "identifying costume" (chapter 9). Because of the big bow in the hair, and the shoes, the date is early in the 20th century. Her loose dress also seems to be from the pre-1920 era.
    MY CONCLUSION: The photo is probably from 1905-1915. My next step: Look up the 1905/1915 NY Censuses and the 1910 US Census addresses for my ancestors in the Bronx and see whether any were within walking distance of this studio on Claremont Parkway. Also, I'll search my other mystery photos to find more, if any, from the Krichefsky studio.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Wisdom Wednesday: 5 Things to Do Before I Become an Ancestor (Update)

    Last year I wrote about the 5 genealogy things I have to do before I (gulp) become an ancestor. Now it's time to update the list with a slightly different take on the 5 "must do" genealogy tasks:
    1. Document the most important things (and don't count on technology). The genealogist(s) of the next generation may not be able to figure out who's who and what's what, even with the Census photocopies and other notes in my files. Whoever comes after me may not know (or care) how to use my genealogy software and they sure won't be able to access my Mozy backups. That's why I'm creating and printing pedigree charts and family info NOW, this week. Each major family has a file folder in my cabinet and some major figures in each family have their own folders within folders. But if there are no pedigree charts, a system that makes sense to me may not make sense to the next genealogist. So I'm putting the basics into print and sending a copy to interested family members, with extra copies in my files.
    2. Keep putting labels on photos. I've made a good start. Nearly all my photos are in archival plastic sleeves. But I feel strongly about telling the stories that go with the photos (see #3 below) and that's slowing me down. I've been scanning each photo and writing up a couple of paragraphs about it. After all, that's the only way that the little girl who was 18 months old in a family photo will know that we were gathered for a certain holiday, that her dress was hand-made by her mother, that great-uncle Joe had just died, and her grandmother was too ill to be present. Small details, I know, but they bring family history alive and they put the basic facts into a context. And, because others may not know how to use my Picasa photo software, where I've carefully named each scanned photo, I need to print out the photo with the story and file it where it can be found.
    3. Tell the stories. What did my ancestors value? What did they aspire to? What made them cry or laugh? Why did they leave their hometowns and move across the state or around the world? What else was happening around them that affected their lives? I know some (not all) of the answers...and I'm compelled to tell the stories. Maybe my nieces have a vague understanding of WWII, but they don't know much about what their grandpa did in the war and why he was busted to private more than once. The stories show what kind of guy grandpa was! And when I tell a story to a family member, it's possible that that relative may know another part of the story or have a different take on the situation. So keep telling the stories.
    4. Reopen the search for key ancestors. Three years ago, I conducted an intensive search to determine whether William Madison McClure and his father Benjamin McClure are definitely my husband's ancestors. With the help of a genealogy angel who had some key local history books, I concluded that they were "very probably" family members. It's time to reopen the search, write away for more info if necessary and available, and either put them on the pedigree charts or find out who belongs there. The McClures are high on my "to do" list for 2011. And I have other holes in the family tree to plug, of course.
    5. Stay in touch. It was on my previous list and it's still on my list this time around. Last fall, my 2d cousin Lois found me through this blog and we've met and corresponded. Plus she introduced me to our 2d cousin Lil! The joy of genealogy is in meeting cousins and widening the family circle, IMHO. Blogging is wonderful cousin bait--and I mean that in the best way possible. If a cousin I haven't found does an online search for our family name and lands on my blog, I'll be thrilled, and I'll stay in touch.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Sunday's Obituary - Isaac Burk

    When paternal grandfather Isaac Burk died suddenly while visiting his wife's sister and brother-in-law in Washington, DC, the obit in the New York Times was quite terse, with nothing more than the basics. It read:
    BURK--Isaac, on Oct. 8, 1943, husband of Yetta, father of Millie, Miriam, Harold and Sidney. Funeral 3:15 pm Sunday, Oct. 10. 1943.
    This obit appeared on the day of the funeral service, which took place in New York City where Isaac lived, with the burial in New Jersey. "Yetta" was actually Henrietta, and "Millie" was Mildred, Isaac's oldest daughter. Since Isaac's sons Harold and Sidney were fighting in Europe at this point, having enlisted early in WWII, it must have been a very small group that attended the funeral, unfortunately. I've never uncovered any evidence of Isaac having siblings, so I suspect that only his daughters, widow, and widow's family were in attendance.

    Isaac's name was recorded as "Birk" when he arrived as an immigrant, but he changed it (or the spelling was changed for him) sometime during his early years in New York City and Montreal, moving between the two places as a carpenter looking for work.

    When Isaac married Henrietta MAHLER (my grandmother) in June, 1906, he listed his father's name as Elias (L. or S.) Burk and his mother as Necke (or Neche) Burk, although the "Burk" last name was clearly corrected on the marriage cert so it may have actually been spelled "Birk" or "Berk" the first time through the clerk's hands. Isaac said he was 26 and Henrietta said she was 19 at the time of their marriage.

    Any BIRK or BURK relatives out there?

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    Genealogy and music

    One of the strongest musical memories of my early childhood is the stirring march of "Zulu Warrior" from Songs of the South African Veld by Marais and Miranda. The cover is at left, thanks to the magic of the Web. We children would sing and dance around our apartment as these South African songs played over and over and over. Wish I had that song to listen to again!

    My parents had a surprisingly eclectic (if small) record collection, including the Ink Spots and Mitch Miller, plus some Broadway soundtracks, Readers Digest albums of popular songs and classics, and at least a few very old Caruso opera records (alas, long gone). I remember the bulky albums of scratchy 78s like the one shown above and the mono LPs (Andre Kostelanetz, anyone?).

    Looking back, knowing how tight money was in our family, I wish I had asked my parents what prompted them to buy these particular recordings. I'm going to add a few details about music to my genealogy write-up so future generations can get a bit of insight into my parents' personalities.

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    Five Genealogy Things to Do Before I Become an Ancestor

    Our culture seems obsessed by life lists. Here's my list of 5 things every family researcher must do before he or she becomes an ancestor. If you think of additional "must do" items, please add your comments.
    1. Label all family photos. Start early--in fact, start now! How many family photos have you puzzled over during your research, trying to tease out a clue to which relative or what year or what place they depict? I'm easing into this by putting a label on the back of every family group photo from Xmas, birthdays, etc. "Xmas 2009, at ___'s house in ____ city. Front row, L -> R: Janey, Joey, Jan, Jen, Grandpa Joseph holding baby Jock." If we don't label our own photos and the old photos we found in the closet, our descendants may never figure out who's who. And don't forget to explain strange things in photos (such as unusual outfits on adults that, in the future, might not be recognized as Halloween costumes).
    2. Document key dates. Birthdays are easy, but what about wedding anniversaries, death dates, and other key milestones? Even if I don't get to updating my Family Tree Maker for a while, I need to jot down the dates of newly-found ancestors and put the notes into the appropriate file for later. Also I'm writing down recent family dates. The next generation will have an easier time continuing our research if we get the dates right. Don't fudge--even if Aunt Gertie wants outsiders to think her age is 49.95 plus shipping and handling, our family deserves the truth.
    3. Tell the stories. Genealogy is about more than names and dates--it's about the lives our ancestors lived. Who were they? Why did they do what they did? Those stories bring our heritage alive. I'm making a conscious effort to tell the snippets I remember about my grandparents and parents and their siblings. Like the fateful time Grandpa's horse ran away and made him late to his wedding to Grandma (supposedly true story from a century ago). Ultimately, I'll write down as many of the stories as I can remember and circulate them to siblings and cousins, asking for any additional memories they can insert.
    4. Stay in touch. This is one of the joys of genealogy: Getting to know cousins and other relatives I hadn't met or even knew existed. Not a one-time deal, staying in touch means e-mailing or calling or even putting pen to paper every once in a while to say "how are you?" and pass along some family news of my own. I also stay in touch with family researchers who aren't, strictly speaking, part of my family but who're fun and who share the "genealogy gene" for solving ancestor mysteries. Who else cares about our battles with stubborn town clerks or recalcitrant health department authorities over getting birth and death certificates for our late, great relatives?
    5. Think long term. Genealogy is our passion now, but we need other family members to carry on the tradition and keep the search and the documentation going into the future. One of my nieces is interested in being the next generation's genealogist. It's up to me to be sure she knows where the files are kept, where the photo boxes are, what I've been researching, who's missing, who's found, and so on. Otherwise, she'll reinvent the wheel again and again. To make it easy for those who come after me, I will (1) label all photos, (2) document key dates, (3) tell the stories, (4) stay in touch with relatives and put the next generation in touch, and (5) think long term!

    Thursday, July 23, 2009

    Do Distant Relatives Want to Hear from Us?

    A few weeks ago I found the obit of a descendant of my grand-aunt Anna, and wrote a letter to one of the surviving relatives. I also sent a Facebook message to her son (he was listed in the obit, as well).

    Both of my notes were polite and enthusiastic, explaining that I'm researching my family tree, found what I think is a connection to their family, and would like to ask a couple of questions about where Anna came from in the Old World. Also I offered a photo of Anna if they'd like to see what she looked like. No answer.

    Does no answer mean "no" or does it mean "too busy to respond" or "don't want to think about the old days" or "don't want to talk to strangers" or "moved, no forwarding address" or what? I've never received a letter like the ones I'm sending, so I can't say how I'd react. Most likely I'd at least contact the writer to confirm that we are, in fact, related, and then go from there.

    My 2d cousin Harriet was delighted when my letter found her two years ago. She and I got together for a wonderful visit and we call each other now and then. But I never heard from my husband's distant cousins (presumably related) when we found them in NJ and wrote them last summer.

    On the other hand, when the Wood family genealogist and I located a long-lost cousin of theirs after doing a lot of pretty interesting research, we started an ongoing e-mail dialogue with photos and family details flying back and forth. It's been fun getting to know all these folks.

    So my question is: Do distant relatives want to hear from us? Update: Via Twitter, found this good discussion thread about online contacts. Check it out!

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009

    Twitter Genealogy

    So many genealogy experts and businesses are tweeting these days. Here are a few I'm following:

    More are popping up every day. So many leads, so little time.

    And I continue to blog to keep my names in the search results in case somebody is researching a distant branch of my family tree and notices my site while on Google.

    Tuesday, September 16, 2008

    Finding Kovno ancestors

    My ggrandfather's death cert shows his birthplace as Kovno and his father's birthplace as Riga. It also gave his mother's maiden name as Luria, a name with a long heritage in Lithuania and surrounding areas. Tracing ancestors in these areas during the mid-1800s is no picnic. My cousin Amy is doing some of the historical research (thanks, Amy!) and has found a Davidic connection through the Lurias.

    Another source of ideas for researching in this area is Schelly Talalay Dardashti's Tracing the Tribe blog. Thank you, Shelly!

    Thursday, August 28, 2008

    Connecting through CousinConnect

    blog it
    I connected with my husband's second cousin by answering a genealogical query on a site like this. I also connected with a cousin of the daughter-in-law of a great aunt, which led me to uncover more roots and three second cousins I hadn't known about.

    These experiences have made me such a believer in queries that I've posted some on every forum connected to a surname in my family tree and my husband's family tree.

    My first query wasn't specific enough, as a kindly (and anonymous) correspondent pointed out. She suggested I mention dates and places and names of several family members, which I now do. Thank you!

    Monday, August 25, 2008

    When did great-grandpa die?

    One of the biggest mysteries of my family's genealogy has been finding out exactly when and where (and why) my father's grandfather died. Come to think of it, I wasn't sure exactly when and where he was born. When nearly every other Mahler ancestor died, he or she had a brief obit in the New York Times. Not Great-Grandpa Mahler.

    But yesterday I reexamined the 1910 Census very carefully and sure enough, Great-Grandma Mahler was a widow in April, 1910. I checked NYC death records and found an entry for Great-Grandpa in January, 1910. Quick as you can say "ten bucks" I sent to NYC for the record.

    Thanks to Ancestry, I already knew that Great-Grandpa had become naturalized in 1900. Out came my checkbook again and I sent for that record, as well. It will take weeks, but I'll know a lot more about my Mahler roots (in Latvia) when these two documents show up in the mailbox.