Saturday, August 5, 2017

Genealogy Rewards Often Aren't Huge

No, I haven't found the parents of my great-grandmother, Kunigunda Boser Stenglein. And I haven't learned what happened to my Rüttger branch after they came to America in 1846. (Yet!) But I recently received two great emails from readers, so I feel like I hit the lottery last month. An email isn't a huge deal, but sometimes genealogy rewards come in small packages.

Mitchell asked for guidance on searching for a 1882 birth record from Marseille, France. He had the exact birth date and wanted to know the most direct way to locate the record. French records have been scanned and are available online for free, but they aren't searchable and there's no central website. There's a separate archive for each "department" in France.

If Mitchell's question had referenced a smaller village/commune, he could have gone directly to the civil registrations for 1882 and browsed. In my experience, though, dates can be off by a year or two and, more importantly, the location can be wrong. An ancestor may have said his birth was in Marseille when it actually took place on the outskirts of the city. That's why I suggest first browsing the Tables Decennales, basically ten-year indexes, to confirm that the date and location are accurate. Otherwise you may be paging through hundreds of scanned handwritten records and never find the one you need.

I also heard from a previously unknown fifth cousin of my husband. I wrote about his grandmother in "Cousin Zerelda of Indiana," and he emailed to say he didn't know her photo had appeared in Ladies Home Journal until reading my blog post. The great thing is that he found and bought that 1904 issue on eBay, which is a piece of family memorabilia that belongs with him.

Genealogy is a solitary activity most of the time, so it's great to get the chance to interact with others. Keep those emails and comments coming!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

6 Lessons from an Ancestry Message

She wasn't listening. A stranger, who contacted me through and incorrectly claimed a branch of my husband's family as her own, brushed aside my explanation of why his Jacob & Mary couldn't be her Jacob & Mary. I deleted my knee-jerk response before sending it and instead waited and thought about it a little longer.

My exchange of messages with this woman, who I'll call Kate, began as frustrating but ended on a very positive note. I strongly believe in the importance of learning from each other. In this instance, Kate reminded me about being kind and patient when interacting with others, and I hope she picked up some tips that she can use again when searching for ancestors.

Since the purpose of this post is to share lessons and not to shame anyone, I'm changing the names of the family at the center of the Ancestry messages.

Kate contacted me about a Jacob & Mary Fortman in her family tree who she insisted were the same Fortman couple in my husband's tree. I had recorded Mary with a different maiden name, and Kate wanted to know how I came to that conclusion and why I hadn't included one of the couple's daughters, Helen Lucille. She was desperate to find this daughter in the 1900 census, since she didn't have any information about Helen's life prior to her marriage around 1905.

After reviewing the Fortman branch and confirming my sources, I took a look at Kate's tree and saw that she and quite a few other Ancestry members had made some mental errors when they added Fortman records to their trees. When I replied to Kate that our Jacobs were two different men and gave my reasons (which I thought were clearly presented!), her response was "I do think they are the same Jacob, dob and dod both match."

Rather than provide all of the details of my research after receiving that response, I'll just say that I spent many hours digging into Kate's family to try to get her on the right track. It was very challenging, and I never did find Helen in 1900, but this story provides several lessons:

1.  Start with what you know - Helen's obituary provided parent names, place of birth, and the married names of two sisters. Absolutely none of that tied into my husband's Jacob & Mary Fortman. It said Fortman was Mary's maiden name, not her married name. It said Helen was born in a county that was different than (and rather far from) where my husband's Fortmans lived. Yes, obituaries can be wrong and it's good to question, but they are a good starting point. I think Kate fell into the trap of copying records from other Ancestry trees and then let that misinformation cloud her view of the obituary right in front of her.

2.  Don't ignore location - The obituary said Helen was born in 1887 in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. Census records from 1910 to 1940 show that she lived in Bedford and Indiana counties. My husband's Fortman family lived and died in Washington County. This should have been a red flag that prompted Kate to do more digging before assuming she had the right Jacob & Mary.

3.  Consider all household names, not just the parents - Kate was determined to find a Jacob & Mary Fortman in Pennsylvania and chose to ignore their children's names. The two sisters in Helen's obituary were the key in this research. They were difficult to find since one was listed with a nickname (Mrs. Sadie Ward) and the other using her husband's name (Mrs. Charles Conner), but I eventually tracked them down and learned that both their given and married names weren't even close to the daughters of my husband's Fortmans.

They were Helen's half-sisters. It appears that Mary was single when Helen was born in 1887. She was working as a servant when she married Peter Harper in 1891. Mary gave birth to the two girls in 1892 and 1895, and then unfortunately died in 1898 when she was only 30 years old. In 1900, the two young sisters were living in Bedford County with their widowed father, but Helen (who would have been 13 and not the man's biological daughter) was not living with them. The sisters were named at the end of a list of survivors in Helen's obituary, but they were at the top of my list in showing the two Fortman families didn't match.

4.  You may never find a census record - I'm not sure that Kate will ever find Helen's 1900 census record. I tried wildcard searches to account for possible misspellings of her name, looked for matches with her middle name and possible nicknames, searched the entire county for girls her same age, looked at nearby counties, and even scanned numerous pages of the handwritten census for any possible match. I looked at the households of her grandparents, aunts, and uncles to see if she was taken in by one of them. I looked at every household with the same surname as the father named in her obituary. All were dead ends.

5.  Don't respond right away - Take a deep breath and think before sending your response to a fellow researcher. At first, I wanted to tell her why she was so very wrong. She insisted our Jacobs were the same man because all of the vital dates matched. I wanted to point out that they matched because every single record she included in her tree was for the Jacob Fortman in Washington County. After some time to reflect, I decided to stay away from listing her mistakes and take the time to actually help her. I decided to never mention my husband's family again and just get her to focus on the facts I was able to find for her family.

6.  Taking time to help others is extremely satisfying - I didn't know how Kate would respond to my research. Would she say thanks but no thanks and insist that I was still wrong? I had no idea. Well, I'm happy to report that she was very grateful! She wrote back three times to thank me and give me updates. I must say that, while I spent a lot of time on this family that had zero connections to my own, I found the whole experience to be very rewarding. Kate's positive reaction and genuine appreciation had a lot to do with that.

If you don't have time to help a less experienced family researcher, I would say be kind when responding and then move on. But if you can't pass up a challenge and have time to take a short break from your own tree, you may be surprised at how wonderful it can be for both of you.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day Gift Idea, 1922

My wish today is that all mothers, stepmothers, foster mothers, and all who have a maternal role take a little time for themselves on this Mother's Day. No housework!

The Kansas City Kansan, May 11, 1922

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Cowden Land for 200+ Years

There are a lot of Cowdens in Washington County, Pennsylvania. I haven't tried yet to figure out how these cousins are exactly connected to my husband, but this chapter of the family story begins in 1787 with 154 acres that are still owned by Cowdens today.

Warrantee Township Map (partial)
Mount Pleasant, Washington County, Pennsylvania

This image from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission and PA State Archives shows the parcel of land called "Horn Head" in Mt. Pleasant, Washington County, that was owned by Mary Reynolds Cowden, my husband's 5th great-grandmother. Mary moved the family here from Guilford, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania (now Franklin County), several years after her husband John died.

After Mary died, her oldest son John--my husband's 4th great-grandfather--owned the farm. It then passed to his oldest son (another John) and remains with his descendants today. My husband's branch eventually left rural life and moved to Allegheny County for work in steel mills.

It's fantastic that the original 1787 farm is still owned by the Cowden family, more than 200 years after its brave matriarch moved to this unfamiliar part of the state.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cousin Zerelda of Indiana

Zerelda is the given name of my husband's 3rd cousin twice removed, the great-granddaughter of Hugh and Polly Cowden Rogers of Washington County, Pennsylvania. Her Cowden relatives were farmers and her Rogers family ran a livery, but Zerelda Margaret Rogers' father left Pennsylvania and started a real estate business in Indiana, where he raised two daughters.

With my husband's farming roots and my steelworker ancestors, our families didn't get mentioned in the society news section of papers. However, Zerelda had her photograph published in The Indianapolis Star twice.

Zerelda Rogers, age 6
The first time was in 1904, when she was a child:

"Zerelda Rogers, the little daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frank F. Rogers, 12 Woodruff place, has her photograph in the July issue of the Ladies' Home Journal as one of the 112 prettiest children in America. The little girl was honored by being one of those chosen from many hundreds. Zerelda is considered an especially beautiful child, and has a remarkably fine profile, Grecian in its lines. The photograph has been greatly admired, and art critics have commended it for its artistic qualities. The picture was taken two years ago, when the child was 6 years old. She is now a happy school girl, and, though she saw her photograph in the Journal, the fact did not make a deep impression on her young mind. Mrs. Rogers takes a mother's pride in her daughter's beauty, but modestly says that the photographer did much. The photograph took a prize at the Indiana state convention of the photographers last year and also at the New England convention."

Zerelda Rogers, age 20
Zerelda's photo also appeared in The Indianapolis Star in 1916, when she was 20 years old. The article describes her as one of the "social leaders of the city." There also are mentions in newspapers of Zerelda's return from a four-month tour of Europe in 1911, visits to the family's summer home in Michigan, and her debutante party in 1915. A very different life from her relatives back in Pennsylvania!

Zerelda married Courtland Whitney Knight in California in 1921, and they had two daughters, Cynthia and Nora. She filed for divorce in 1930 and remarried Courtland in 1937 in Denver. Zerelda grew up in Indiana but lived in California and New Mexico for most of her life. She died in 1991 at the age of 94.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Your Ancestor's Employer May Give a Glimpse of Her Life

Siegel-Cooper Employees, Long Branch, NJ
Many of us crave details about our ancestors so we can visualize what their lives may have been like. We want more than a bunch of dates and locations. What life struggles did they face? Why did they decide to move to another state or country? And even more trivial questions like: What did they do on Sundays?

If you know where your ancestor worked, a search for information about that employer may give you a glimpse of your ancestor's life. For example, if one of your female relatives worked for the Siegel-Cooper department store in New York, there's a publication in both Google Books and the HathiTrust Digital Library that provides details on how she may have spent a week during the summer.

Here are a few excerpts from Souvenir Program of The Siegel-Cooper Co. Employees' Association:

"The Siegel-Cooper Company's Employes' [sic] Association (duly incorporated under the laws of New York State on November 10, 1896) was formed entirely for the benefit of the employes of The Big Store. Raising a moderate revenue by the means of a monthly assessment, graded in amount according to the amount of each employe's salary, the Association pays a sick benefit to sick or disabled members, provides the free services of an able physician, makes occasional donations to sick or destitute members, and pays a death benefit of $50 or $100."

"Convinced that rest and recreation are essential for the health and happiness of its members, the Officers and Directors of The Siegel-Cooper Company Employes' Association decided to establish a summer home at Long Branch, where every eligible female employe was to be entitled to one week's vacation, free of every expense, including transportation."

"A private beach was obtained for surf-bathing, with life guards in attendance, and boats were chartered for excursions on the beautiful Shrewsbury River. The supply of daily newspapers, magazines and light literature was ample. Accommodations were provided at neighboring cottages for relatives and friends of employes, and every detail was planned with all the care and acumen that successful business men could bring to bear when their hearts as well as their heads were in the project."

Where did your ancestors work? Learning more about their employers may give you some information about your relatives, even if it's just a short period of their lives.

Related Post:  Who Was Your Ancestor's Employer?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Pittsburgh's Historic Oliver Bath House

Oliver Bath House,
From The American City, 1915

I mentioned the Oliver Bath House almost two years ago in my post "The Pittsburgh Buildings of Henry W. Oliver." On Friday, a newspaper article showed the efforts underway to designate the bath house as a historic landmark:

"The idea for the bath house was born in the early 1900s, when industrialist Henry W. Oliver saw the need to provide mill workers a place where they could clean and refresh themselves after their shifts. Indoor plumbing was rare, particularly in working-class neighborhoods. (Pittsburgh did not require bathrooms in homes or apartments until the 1950s.) Many workers simply rinsed off in the Monongahela River on their way home."

Many members of my family tree lived on the South Side of Pittsburgh. Who knows? Maybe they used the bath house or at least walked past it.

Read the entire Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article at "Preservation Pittsburgh pushes for historic designation for Oliver Bath House."

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Valentine from 1933

I hope you're having a great Valentine's Day. Here's another greeting card from my grandmother's collection. She received it from my grandfather in 1933, a year before they married. I love these vintage cards!

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