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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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Successful Genealogy Is in the Details

This post began as a tribute to my 3rd great-uncle who lost both his wife and newborn son in the 1880s, but it has turned into a good lesson about the importance of slowing down and paying attention to details. If you read a lot of other blogs like I do, you've probably heard multiple times that you should understand every collection that you search. Yeah, yeah, an obvious tip meant for newbies. Not so. It's a mistake I made, even though I should have known better.

My uncle, Thomas Baker, was born in Canada on February 1, 1857. To be more specific, his baptismal record from St. Patrick in Caledonia, Ontario, states that he was born in "the township of Seneca of the Mission of Indiana." Sometime before the age of 10, Thomas crossed the border with his parents and siblings and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In his 20s, Thomas met Maggie Olive Barnett (sometimes recorded as Burnett), got married, and had son John Wesley Baker in 1885. But the couple's lives together ended tragically. In 1888, their second son Allen was born in April and died in November of gastroenteritis. Then Maggie died six months later in 1889 of phthisis pulmonalis (tuberculosis).

Thomas raised his son as a single dad in Pittsburgh until he married Virginia Irwin Wilson on February 9, 1894, in Jefferson County, Ohio. With this marriage, he became the stepfather of two teen girls. The family stayed in Pittsburgh for a while, but then left for Glendale, California. One of Virginia's daughters had moved there with her ill husband and, when he died in 1921, it appears that her parents and sister decided to join her.

Thomas and Virginia were together for more than 30 years, until her death in 1927. I assumed that both died in California since that's where they're buried, but I wanted to see their death certificates to be sure. FamilySearch has images of California death certificates in its collection called "California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994." On the search page, I entered the names of both Thomas and Virginia but didn't find them in the list of results.

Then I read the description of the collection at the top of the page, which included this sentence at the very end: "The name index for death records covers Stockton, Lodi and Manteca cities and San Benito and San Joaquin counties." Clearly, I would have to browse the collection to find the Bakers' death certificates. It took a couple of steps, but I did find both of them.

California Death Certificate (partial), Thomas Baker, 1937

It was definitely a good reminder for me to slow down and focus on the details. All of us should take time to understand exactly what records are provided in each collection. Even though I remember reading this tip more than once on other blogs, I skipped this important step. The bottom line: there is so much we can learn from each other. Thank you, fellow bloggers!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Surname Spellings May Require Creative Searches

Are your ancestors hidden in the shadows because their names are misspelled in records? All of us have probably faced this issue at some point in our research.

Before Louise Binkert married her second husband, my 2nd great-uncle, her life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, seemed to be a mystery. Her 1925 death certificate and obituary indicate that her maiden name was Binkert, but I couldn't find her in the census records. Binkert doesn't seem to be a difficult name, right? But I was surprised by the spelling variations that I eventually found.

My uncle's military pension file contained a copy of their 1905 marriage certificate, which shows that Louise's name was Ofhouse, the surname of her first husband. That clue led to her 1883 marriage record from the West End United Church of Christ. Louise's surname was handwritten as "Bankart." Thinking that this earlier record might have the correct spelling, I searched for "Bankart" and "B*nk*rt" but still couldn't find her in the 1870 and 1880 censuses.

Louise's death certificate shows that her father was "Hanson Binkert." I couldn't find that name in any of the censuses either. In fact, the only match was a Pennsylvania death certificate for a Mary Binkert Geartner which shows her father was Hanson. I searched for other Binkert deaths in Pennsylvania and found that their fathers were recorded as "Ansom" and "Anson." Both of these spellings also appear in several Pittsburgh city directories next to his widow's listing. But there is one that says she was the widow of "Anslem." Finally a breakthrough!

I found the Binkert family in 1880 after several different searches using wildcards. Louise was listed as "Louis Benket" and her father was "Anslen Benket." Below is the list of various spellings of Binkert that I found in records for Louise's parents and siblings:

  • Bankart
  • Bankerd
  • Bankert
  • Beankart
  • Benkert
  • Benket
  • Bunkert
  • Renhert

At the risk of making this post way too long, I must share that Louise had one sister whose married name was completely botched as well. I'm still not sure at this point what the correct spelling is! The marriage record for Maggie Binkert shows that she married John Thuering. The 1900 census recorded it as Thuring. Her death certificate shows her surname as Tiering. Since Maggie's cause of death was tragic (her clothes caught on fire), I searched Pittsburgh newspapers for those surnames but couldn't find the story.

I tried searching newspapers for her address that's listed on her death certificate but had no luck. Then I searched for "Allegheny General," which was the hospital where she died, the word "fire," and the year 1909. There were four news stories about Maggie's accident, and her surname was spelled as "Theeny," "Theney," "Therry, and "Theery." I never would have found those spellings!

Whether looking at all family members for clues, using wildcards, or searching for addresses and key words other than surname, it's often necessary to think creatively in order to discover your hidden relatives.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Another Friday the 13th

Happy Friday! It doesn't bother me when the 13th falls on a Friday, but many people are superstitious. Here's an article about this special day that was published in a Pennsylvania newspaper in 1922:

Indiana Evening Gazette (Indiana, Pennsylvania), October 13, 1922

    "Keep your fingers crossed--look out for ladders and spilled salts--and run if you see a black cat. For today is Friday the 13th, the star Jonah combination of them all. That is, if you are superstitious.
     But if you're inclined to scoff at the Friday jinx, here are a few arguments in your favor: Columbus' expedition which discovered America, set sail on Friday and landed on Friday; Richard Henry Lee introduced the Declaration of Independence on a Friday; Cornwallis surrendered on Friday.
     And to argue against the 13 superstition: There were thirteen original united states; there are 13 stripes in our flag, and, originally, it contained 13 stars; President Wilson considered 13 as his lucky number--and he was right about it--California's 13 electoral college votes re-elected him.
     As for Friday, the 13th: General Pershing was born on Friday, the 13th. The Yanks won at St. Mihiel on Friday, September 13, 1918.
     Where the Friday 13 idea came from is still in doubt. The most probable explanation is that the Crucifixion gave rise to the Friday part and the 13 part from the fact that the Hebrew words for 'death' and for 'thirteen' were identical."

You can find great articles by searching newspapers, especially if you find pieces that mention ancestors!

Related Post:  Superstitious Beliefs of Ancestors

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Which Traits Will Help Genealogists in the New Year?

Genealogists share many personality traits but, in other ways, we're very different. I'm an introvert who could research for hours (and days!) without speaking to anyone, while others are more outgoing and need interpersonal interaction. Are there particular traits that will help us succeed at solving our family tree mysteries this year? Here are some that come to mind:

Accuracy / Attention to Detail - It's important to take time to review information before adding it to your family tree database and to include sources for all facts. Typos can lead to a mother giving birth after she died and other strange facts you've probably seen in online trees. Since facts are the foundation for building and expanding your family tree, accuracy is critical to your success as a researcher.

Commitment - Genealogy is a long-term project, and you certainly can't set a deadline since it won't ever be done. Individual success stories are often the result of hours and hours of research, and researching your entire family tree is a life-long commitment.

Creativity - Some family branches and their records are straight-forward, but others may take some detective work. Tapping into your creative mind can help in looking at a genealogy issue in a new way, which can lead to finding the answer you're looking for.

Curiosity - Questions about your family got you started in genealogy, and that curiosity continues to be important as you uncover facts. Why was a person missing from a household? Where were siblings and other relatives? When did someone arrive in the U.S.? What religion did a person practice? Asking questions and finding the answers may provide details to advance your research.

Focus - We all know how easy it is to get sidetracked while researching! The path to success is quicker if you can identify your research problem, locate the sources that may hold the answer, and then stay focused while you review the records. Jumping from collection to collection or person to person in a random manner may be more fun but won't be as effective.

Generosity - I've found that the genealogy community is very generous. Many have helped others by blogging, teaching in the community, posting photos of headstones, transcribing records, etc. Asking questions and learning from others will undoubtedly lead to success with your research, and paying it forward will help someone else.

Humility - We all make mistakes, and successful researchers are those who can admit it, fix it, and learn from it.

Patience - Although many online resources can provide instant gratification by showing scanned images in seconds, there are still times when you'll need to wait. Whether it's a response to an email, a record or reel you've ordered, or getting that brick wall to crumble, good things often come if you're willing to wait.

Persistence - Many ancestors are elusive characters who stay hidden for years. Records can contain inaccurate information or don't specify a key detail, so you'll often need to keep digging. Don't give up and you'll find success!

Post a comment if there are other traits you would add to this list. And good luck with your genealogy research in 2017!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Merry Christmas in 1932

The Christmas card below was given to my grandmother in 1932 by my grandfather, two years before they married.

I wish you and your family a wonderful Christmas and hope that you make many genealogy discoveries in the new year!

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Holiday Skating Tragedy, 1920

The holiday season is a time of joy but can also be difficult if you've lost a loved one. One particular loss had to be extremely tough for my Steimer branch to overcome and, since it happened so close to Christmas, most likely affected their holidays for many, many years.

Photograph from The Gazette Times (Pittsburgh, Pa.),
December 27, 1920
Vincent Steimer was probably a typical 10-year-old. His Christmas in 1920 had to have been full of excitement, presents, and family. Once the big day was over, my 2nd cousin three times removed decided to spend time outdoors with his friends. The day was cloudy and cold with the temperature in the 20s, but I'm sure the group of boys thought it was perfect for having fun.

According to this 1920 newspaper story published in The Pittsburgh Post on December 27th, two boys died that day:

     "Two boys were drowned, and two others, apparently dead, were resuscitated by prompt medical aid after being rescued by a man who risked his own life when a portion of the ice on Chartiers creek, near the plant of the Superior Steel Corporation, Carnegie, gave way yesterday afternoon.
     In trying to rescue the boys, Thomas Hall, 10 years old, of Logan and Cubbage streets, Carnegie, also fell into the water, but managed to get to shore safely.
Vincent Steimer, 9 years old [actual age was 10], of 711 Logan street, Carnegie.
Richard Joyce, 9 years old, of Logan and Cubbage streets, Carnegie.
John Walnosky, 10 years old, of 28 Bank street, Carnegie.
Leo Walnosky, 7 years old, brother of John Walnosky.

     The five boys went to the creek to skate shortly after noon and at 12:30 o'clock all were struggling in the water. According to the police, the ice gave way when the boys were about 10 feet from the shore. Young Hall was able to scramble from the water and ran to summon aid.
     H.C. Dodds, a druggist, of Oakdale, and Homer Moore, also of Oakdale, were riding in the Noblestown road when Dodds discovered the boys struggling in the water and crying for help. Operating his machine at fast speed he drove as near the creek as he could, and, leaping from the automobile, dashed across the Panhandle railroad tracks and jumped into the water.
     Moore followed, but remained on the shore. Dodds lifted the Walnosky brothers from the water and placed them on the ice. Assisted by Moore, both boys were carried to the automobile and rushed to the office of Dr. James A. Hamma, 408 Chartiers avenue, Carnegie, one-half mile away.
     Dodds stated that he believed both boys were dead, but hurried them to the office of Hamma.
     Although he believed each boy was dead, Dr. Hamma sent a call for aid to Dr. F. E. Herriott, of 412 Chartiers avenue, Carnegie, and also for the pulmotor at the power house of the Duquesne Light Company, in Railroad street, Carnegie.
     Assisted by Harry Schaffer, of Carnegie, the Shafter method of resuscitation was used until the pulmotor arrived.
     Dr. Herriott was on the scene in a short time and while one physician worked with the pulmotor on one boy, the other used the Shafter method. Previous to the using of the pulmotor, Rev. L. McCrory, pastor of St. Luke's Catholic Church of Carnegie, administered the last rites of the church to the boys.
     After working with the boys more than 30 minutes, the physicians restored them to consciousness. An hour later both were able to go to their homes.
     Dr. Hamma said that Joyce and Steimer probably disappeared below the ice after falling into the creek while the two Walnosky boys reappeared on the surface and were rescued.
     The bodies of Joyce and Steimer were recovered about one hour after the accident by Carnegie police, Watchman John Keil of the Superior Steel Corporation plant; James McCaffery, George Ebner and Orrin Baux, all of Carnegie who went to the creek after learning of the accident.
     Dodds said he did not see the Steimer or Joyce boys."

Discovering a family story like this one reminds us to cherish those in our lives today. You never know how much time you have with them.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving Ad, 1920

This vintage advertisement is from The Saturday Evening Post dated November 13, 1920. You can find images like this by searching the Internet Archive Book Images on Flickr.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!