Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween Plus a Genealogy Image Tip

As a mother of a 10-year-old, I couldn't let the day pass without wishing all of you a Happy Halloween. Be safe and have fun!

This image of a Halloween cake comes from American Cookery published in 1914, which I found on Flickr, thanks to Maureen Taylor's Legacy Family Tree webinarA Library at Your Fingertips - the Internet Archive.

While I'm sure I can't explain this as eloquently as Maureen, here are the basic steps to search Flickr for images of things such as an ancestor, a town, or a topic of interest.
  1. Go to the section on Flickr where you can search Internet Archive Book Images. You'll most likely want to bookmark it for future use as well. You can also search the collections of other participating institutions, so there's a lot to explore!
  2. Type in your search term: like I said, it can be an ancestor's surname, a town name, or topic of interest. Make sure you select "Internet Archive Book Images' Photostream" from the search box drop-down that appears when you start to type. For some reason, it disappears quickly so, if you don't select this, you'll be searching all of the photographs that every user has uploaded.
  3. Once you see an image that interests you, just click on it and view the description provided.
  4. Click on the "view book online" link underneath the image details to see how the image appeared in the original publication.
I hope I didn't "spook" you with all of these instructions. Please post a comment if you find any images of people in your family tree!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Learn More about Your Family by Searching eBay

While searching eBay for items relating to Pittsburgh, I came across a listing for an antique trophy. The seller indicated that, after a little cleaning, he was able to see an inscription saying it was awarded to F. J. Zak for first prize in an auto decorating contest during the opening of Pittsburgh's 16th Street Bridge on October 9, 1923.

A quick search on shows that this winner could have been Frank Joseph Zak, who would have been 42 at the time of the contest. I found records showing he was born in August 1881 in Pittsburgh, PA. In the 1900 census, he was living in Allegheny City with his mother Leopoldina and sister Mary.

In 1917, Frank worked as a funeral supplier manager on 7th and Liberty. By 1942, he was employed by a florist on E. Ohio Street and was living on the North Side of Pittsburgh with his wife. There's a lot more information I should be able to find about him, but this gives you an idea of the usual pieces we stitch together about our relatives: dates, locations, occupations, etc.

While all of these facts are extremely important, there's just something great about learning he won a car decorating contest. It shows us more about Frank as a person: his personality, his fun side.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to find more about your ancestor from an item offered for sale on eBay? I haven't been that lucky, but maybe you will!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Family Stories May Upset Descendants

Learning about your ancestors can lead to a story that makes you proud, or one that upsets you. But the truth is the truth, and trying to bury painful stories doesn't change the fact that they happened. However, because of the impact these family stories can have upon descendants, it's important to remember the importance of diligent research, providing sources for all of your findings, and sensitivity. You really don't want to share stories that are based on assumptions, rumors, or partial research.

An article in yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reminded me of how family stories can often be upsetting to living descendants.  "Former residents of Brentwood 'demon' house dispute book's claims" discusses reactions to a new book called The Demon of Brownsville Road. I haven't read this book and don't intend to, but apparently the author has upset the members of three families whose ancestors were associated with a house in Pittsburgh where paranormal activity has been experienced.

Two families dispute that the house is haunted because their parents and grandparents never mentioned it and they themselves never saw anything strange. And a third family objects to the author's assertion that a source of the problems at this house was their physician grandfather who rented space there in the 1920s and 1930s to perform illegal abortions. The newspaper article indicates that the author has no documentation to support these claims against the doctor, just "rumors and old stories ... he was told by Brentwood residents over the years."

While a family fact like this may be true, it's obviously something that living family members would not want to believe. The family claims the grandfather didn't move into the area until the 1940s, and I can't help but wonder if the author checked his timeline of events before including this story in his book.

Research won't change the facts or make painful stories any easier for descendants, but we should be aware of how these types of stories may affect others and should make sure we've been as thorough as possible.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

More Pennsylvania Death Certificates Online

I know how I'm going to use some of my free time this weekend. Oh, the joys of genealogy research! As you may have read yesterday on GeneaBloggers and Genea-Musings, has added more Pennsylvania death certificates. Its database now contains the images from 1906-1963. Previously, it only included records up to 1944.

The great thing about having this collection on Ancestry is that a surname search may help you discover children in your family tree that you didn't know about. In my own experience, I found several cousins who were born and died between censuses, and they may have remained "unknown" until I searched these death certificates.

Keep in mind, though, that the records added in the last batch had many transcription errors, so use wildcards to make sure you don't miss anyone. Since even cities were transcribed incorrectly--like "Pittsburgh, Oa" and "Moline, Hleriois"--surnames will definitely have errors as well. Be sure to try multiple wild card searches for the same surname to cover all possible spellings.

Please post a comment if you find any interesting details about your Pennsylvania ancestors after searching this database.

Friday, October 24, 2014

When Searching for Ancestors, Don't Forget about Ads

This ad is for a business in Pittsburgh that appears in J.F. Diffenbacher's Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Cities, 1889/1890. I chose it randomly to show how you may be missing family information when doing your genealogy research. 

Depending on the website, a keyword search could lead you to ads like this. On Ancestry, I found an ad for a saloon that was originally owned by my 2nd-great-grandfather and then passed to his daughter, Kate Nehren. In the 1889 publication, Our Firemen: The History of the Pittsburgh Fire Department, from the Village Period until the Present Time, her name is on the ad as the proprietor so a keyword search of "Nehren" found it.

In other cases, you may have to browse every page of a local publication. When using the wonderful resource Historic Pittsburgh, a keyword search of the 1889/1890 city directory did not result in the Moorhead ad shown above. There were 52 "hits" within the publication for Moorhead, but none of them was this ad. So if you rely only on search results, you could be missing a great piece of information about your ancestor.

Whether you try keyword searches or browse local publications from your ancestor's town and time period, it's worth the effort to look for ads for any family member who owned their own business. You never know what you may find!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Research: Take Time to Help Others

My sister and I visited Melrose Cemetery this month, in search of our great-aunt's second husband, William Triebsch, who died in 1944. Although on a very busy road, it's a peaceful spot in Bridgeville, which is south of Pittsburgh, PA. I haven't found much on the history of Melrose, but a contemporary newspaper indicated it was established in the 1880s. There are some entries in Find A Grave showing people who died before that year, so I don't know if the newspaper's date is incorrect or if those graves were moved later.

When I visit cemeteries, I also try to fulfill photo requests that are listed on Find A Grave. For Melrose Cemetery, there were only five requests. Two did not know the section, and I didn't have enough time to walk the entire property. But luckily my sister and I were able to find the other three headstones. Sadly, one was for a 15-year-old who had died in 1978. The person who requested the photo indicated that the deceased was his best friend when they were younger.

Remember to take a break from your own research to help others, especially when people may live far from a cemetery, courthouse, or library. On a beautiful day in October, I was able to find the headstones of my uncle and his parents and, with little effort, help others lessen the distance between them and a departed friend or family member.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Our Ancestors and Contagion Scares

Ebola is all over the news. People are uncertain, anxious and downright scared. Just imagine what it would have been like for our ancestors almost 100 years ago when the Spanish Influenza hit the world in 1918. Millions of people were infected. Hospitals became completely full, and public areas like schools and churches closed. Masks were distributed, and victims isolated. Everyone must have been extremely frightened.

My great-grandmother Alberta, known as "Albertina" by family, died of influenza in Pittsburgh on November 25, 1918. She was only 36 years old. Albertina left behind her husband and three children aged 12, 10, and 6. (Two other children had died as infants more than a decade earlier.)

As with many families, her death had a lasting impact on her children. Unable to care for them while he worked as a policeman, and I'm sure dealing with grief, my great-grandfather sent his children to live with his sister. She was 15 years older than their mother and already had 2 stepsons in the house, so I'm sure it was difficult time for everyone. Sadly, I've heard family stories that this aunt was not kind to them.

Albertina's death certificate indicates that the doctor started treating her on November 3. The length of her illness was different than some other victims. Many died within a couple of days, or just a few hours, of showing symptoms.

Millions of people died from this strain of flu, so the fear within families, neighborhoods, and entire cities and countries would have been rampant. Although the world has advanced during the last 100 years, that same type of fear is being seen with Ebola.

They say history often repeats itself, but they also say we can (and should) learn from it.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Happy Anniversary to My Grandparents

My grandparents were married exactly 80 years ago today on October 17, 1934, in Pittsburgh.

I was close to my Grandma and miss her very much, so I'm lucky to have a collection of cards that my grandfather gave her many years ago. Below is one she received before they were married. She also pasted into the back of her scrapbook a small yellowing newspaper clipping about their engagement. I later found that it was in the September 21, 1934, edition of The Mt. Washington News:
"Why does J.B. ... whistle while at work? It seems that he has been bitten by the love bird and his wedding is not far off. The girl--we hear she is some very nice girl from out in Beechview somewhere. Congratulations, John, and good luck."
Greeting cards like this may not help with genealogy research, but they are a great reminder that we should try to learn as much as we can about the personal side of our ancestors. I would never have thought that my grandfather called himself Johnny!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Who Was Your Ancestor's Employer?

When you look at a census page, think about all of the information it's showing you. In the 1900 census, I can see that my great-grandmother, Alice Laubersheimer, was single and living at 955 Western Avenue in Allegheny City, PA. But this record also gives me a small window into her life. It tells me that she was a servant for a doctor, and learning more about him can give me a sense of who she came in contact with while doing her job.

Alice worked for Dr. Lewis H. Willard, a surgeon in Allegheny City, who had a wife and two children. There were three other servants who worked with Alice.
"L.H. Willard, M.D., a native of Pennsylvania, was graduated at the Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania, and in 1866 located in Pittsburgh as resident physician in the Pittsburgh Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary. In 1867 he resigned this position and removed to Allegheny City... He has quite an extensive reputation as a surgeon." (Source: History of Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania, 1876)
Christina Schoeppner, the second wife of my great-grandfather, also worked for a physician. Her residence in 1900 was the home of Walter F. Edmundson at 3509 Fifth Avenue in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh. She was one of two servants who assisted the family, which included three sons and the parents and grandmother of Dr. Edmundson's wife.
"Dr. Walter F. Edmundson, who has practiced medicine in Pittsburg for over thirty-six years, is the son of Eli and Catherine A. (Batman) Edmundson, and was born at the corner of Smithfield street and Third avenue, Pittsburg. He is a descendant of one of seven brothers who emigrated from England with William Penn." (Source: A Century and a Half of Pittsburg and Her People: Genealogical Memoirs of the Leading Families of Pittsburg and Vicinity, 1908)
Although employers are not part of your family tree, researching them can be a way to learn a little about the lifestyle to which your ancestors may have been exposed while working for them.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Family Naming Patterns

When I was pregnant with my son--I'll refer to him as "J"--I wasn't doing genealogy research yet. So when my husband and I were making a list of possible names, it never occurred to me to pick a name from our families. If it had, he could have ended up as an Adam, or Isaac, or even Peter.

Choosing a given name based on family members was a common practice in the past, though. This was often done as a way of honoring them. Depending on a couple's ethnicity and whether the child was the first-born or the fourth, a son could have been named after a grandfather, the father's brother, or the father himself.

Another pattern you may see when researching your family is that a mother's maiden name was used as a child's middle name. I've found a few examples of this in my husband's family, where various parents gave their children the middle names of Dinsmore, Pollock, and Gamble. All were the maiden names of their mothers.

My grandfather's first and middle names were John Baptist. He was named after his father Johann Baptist, who was named after his father Jean Baptiste. Three generations with the same name. My husband is a Jr. but didn't want our son to have the same name, so that family pattern was ultimately broken. In the end, it was a coincidence but "J" ended up with the name of one of his 2nd great-grandfathers.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Be a Genealogy Skeptic

When doing genealogy research, don't believe everything you hear and everything you find. Even if you really, really want it to be the truth, details you uncover may be inaccurate. I'm here to tell you that it's perfectly ok to question.

For example, my 2nd great-grandfather was a Civil War veteran. I have a packet of his military records that confirms his service. When he died in Ohio in 1893, though, there were some statements in his obituary that don't seem to add up.

First, the Toledo Bee obituary says that he "came to America directly after the war [the German revolution of 1848] with Hecker and Schurz, two of the leaders in the revolution." Second, it says "Mr. Jay was a great personal friend of Gen. Hartranft, ex-governor of Pennsylvania, and was one of the pallbearers at the funeral of the ex-governor."

Ok, both things could be true. Who knows, maybe he was on the same ship with Hecker and Schurz before they ended up in completely different U.S. cities. And who's to say that a saloon owner couldn't be best buds with a governor? They weren't in the same Civil War regiment and lived more than 200 miles from each other, but that's not TOO far-fetched, is it?

He could be mentioned in the Governor's archived letters or perhaps there's a newspaper story that names the men who were pallbearers that day. But until I find something to connect him with these famous men, I choose to be skeptical. Remember, family members don't always get it right in stories, obituaries, or death certificates. Questioning can actually be a good thing and makes us better researchers.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

View Ancestor Homes without Traveling

My family doesn't have many old photographs. I can't look at images of my ancestors in front of their homes or in their neighborhoods. Census records and city directories tell me that Henry Jay, the brother of my great-grandfather, lived in and owned a grocery store at 2910 East Carson Street on the South Side of Pittsburgh from 1893 to the 1920s, but what did it look like? 

Well, there are places online you can search to try to get a glimpse of the past. One resource, of course, is Google Maps. This great shot of my great-uncle's home/store is courtesy of Google. The building still has its historic charm, so I can imagine that it looked very similar when his family lived there and neighbors stopped in to buy their weekly groceries.

There also are some local government websites that may have photographs, basic floor plans, and the age of homes where your ancestors lived. In the Pittsburgh area, the Allegheny County Office of Property Assessments has images of every home and is searchable by address. Wapello County, Iowa, and Cook County, Illinois, are just two others that have similar property search sites with photographs.

If you live far from your ancestral roots, try digging for similar websites. No travel required.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Immigration: Leaving Children Behind

We've all heard the stories where a father went to America and left his wife and children behind until he could start a new life and save money for them to join him. But I'm not sure how common it was for both parents to come to the U.S. without their children.

Fifteen-year-old Annie Moore, the first person to enter through Ellis Island when it opened in 1892, traveled with her younger brothers to join her parents who had come to America three years earlier. So it definitely happened. As a mother myself, it's hard to imagine leaving my son and not knowing when, or if, I'd ever see him again. It had to be a difficult decision for both parents to leave behind a child.

In 1864, my 2nd great-grandparents, Ignace and Caroline Huber, were married in Paris, France, and worked as a tailor and dressmaker. Their first son, Alphonse, was born that same year. I'm not sure when the couple left France but, by 1868, city directories show they were in Allegheny City, which is now part of Pittsburgh, PA. The 1870 census shows that Alphonse--6 years old by this time--wasn't with them. He didn't see his parents again until 1871 when he arrived in the U.S. with his uncle, Emil Wey. Alphonse was separated from his parents for at least 3 years.

During your research, have you found a similar immigration story of both parents leaving their children to come to America?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Occupations of Your Ancestors

I'm sure most of us would love to find out that our family tree contained royalty or a connection to someone famous. I vaguely remember hearing some story that one of my 2nd great-grandfathers was an exiled Prussian prince who escaped to America. Not likely.

My husband's ancestors include lawyers, doctors, and even one of the first residents of a town south of Pittsburgh. Mine? Mostly laborers: steelworkers, puddlers, coal miners, and glasshouse workers. There were a couple of tavern and shop owners. One of my great-grandfathers was a police officer, and his brother was a fireman.

But I'm proud of my family. They may have been common "everyday" people, but they're my family and I still think they are worthy of researching, remembering, and honoring. Don't research to find sensational stories. Research to learn more about your ancestors' lives and the times in which they lived.

If you need any help researching your family history, please contact me. If you're stuck, maybe I can take a look at it with a fresh eye and find something new.

(Puddler photograph courtesy of Christopher Bailey and the Father Pitt blog.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sadly, Research Doesn't Find All Answers

It's disturbing that a search of Pennsylvania death certificates on shows that close to 5,000 people who died between 1906 and 1944 were not identified. Simply listed as "Unknown Man" or "Unknown Female," they basically disappeared.

Here are some examples:

  • Unknown man, about 75 years old, died in Philadelphia of heart disease on March 12, 1916
  • Unknown woman, about 50 years old, died in Wilkes-Barre of acute alcoholism on January 31, 1930
  • Unknown male child, found along the river in Harrisburg, February 20, 1920
  • Unknown foreigner, died in Uniontown Hospital after lower limbs were crushed by a streetcar, September 14, 1907

Their family at the time probably never knew what happened, and those searching for them today will never know. It's heartbreaking.