Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving and Family Reunions

Thanksgiving is the time of family gatherings. In the past, when transportation wasn't as quick or convenient, it may have been one of the few times during the year when everyone was able to get together. If you search old newspapers, you'll see many mentions of Thanksgiving family reunions.

I found this article on from the December 7, 1905, issue of The Lima News in Ohio:

"The Bowers family held their annual family reunion, Thanksgiving, at the home of L.E. Crites and wife. An elegant dinner was served, the table groaning under its weight of good things to which all did ample justice. L.E. Crites and Chas Hood especially enjoyed this part of the program.
The sixty relatives gathered found many causes for thanksgiving, especially that (while a few were detained at home on account of illness) the hand of death had not visited the family in the past year.
The day was closed with a thank offering, consisting of various articles which were presented to the minister Rev. J.C. Cupp and family. Rev. Cupp gave an interesting talk on family reunions, their purpose and benefit, which all enjoyed. With the sinking of the sun they separated, hoping to meet again, if not here, in a better world beyond."

This family isn't part of my tree, but it's another example of the wonderful stories you can find about your ancestors by searching historic newspapers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Family and Thanksgiving Turkeys

This Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to remember my maternal grandparents who owned a turkey farm located south of Pittsburgh. They sold the farm before I was born so I never saw it, but they supposedly delivered many hundreds of turkeys during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons. All of their children were involved, including my mother who helped process the turkeys and make deliveries.

More than 50 years later, I now live less than 5 minutes from where that farm was located. I didn't grow up in the area but, after I got married, my husband and I decided to look at homes here because of lower property taxes and large lots. I wasn't doing genealogy research then or my family roots in the area might have been the reason we bought a home here.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoy spending time with your family and friends!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why You Should Celebrate Thanksgiving Day, 1915

I found this article while searching the Internet Archive Book Images on Flickr. It's from The Utah Farmer, November 20, 1915.

"There are many reasons why the people of Utah should celebrate next Thursday, November 25 as Thanksgiving Day. We have this year great grounds for thankfulness by reason of our material prosperity. The fields have yielded their increase. Nowhere in all our land has there been an absolute failure of crops. True, there has been a shortage here and there, but generally the returns to the farmer have been exceptionally good. So far as material things are concerned, we have greater reason for thanksgiving than in any recent years.
Perhaps the present war could not, under existing conditions, have been avoided, but let us pray that the final outcome of this terrible scatastrophy [sic] will open the eyes of all the peoples on earth to a full realization of the fact that war is wrong, and that a means be found by which disarmament will become world-wide and war between nations be forever stopped.
Let us be generous in lending a helping hand to the millions of our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic, who, through no fault of their own, are suffering for want of the bare necessities of life. There is perhaps no better and truer way of showing a thankful spirit than to aid those in need of help.
As we view this dreadful war from this distance, we are apt to conclude that the world's veneer of civilization is very thin indeed and that we are still but a step removed from barbarism. In reality, however, the situation is not so bad as that. None of the nations at war are today fighting because they love to kill and destroy, but rather because of lack of knowledge of how to avoid it. Some day nations will learn to settle their misunderstandings between themselves just as individuals of these same nations are compelled to adjust their difficulties without recourse to fighting."

Friday, November 21, 2014

Historic Pittsburgh Snowstorm of November 1950

In 1950, a huge snowstorm that started Friday, November 24, continued for several days until more than 30 inches had fallen. People abandoned their vehicles, and public transportation was "paralyzed," according to The Pittsburgh Press.

Department stores tried to open but most employees couldn't make it to work. The mayor asked people to stay away from the downtown area so there wouldn't have been many shoppers anyway. Newspaper employees walked, one trekking all the way from the southern suburb of Mt. Lebanon.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette posted an article about this storm last year, and some of the contemporary comments are very interesting. One person said her grandmother went into labor and had to be taken to the hospital on a sled. Another recalled that all of the neighborhood residents had to work together to shovel snow from the street themselves.

My own mother was a young girl at the time and also remembers this historic event. She lived in a rural neighborhood south of Pittsburgh in Washington County. Only one door could be used to exit the house because it was under a covered awning or roof. The others had snow piled up against them. Her family cleared the drive leading up to the house by pushing large snowballs down the hill which picked up snow as they rolled.

But the most memorable part was that her grandmother, Kunigunda Boser Stenglein, had died on Wednesday, November 22. On the day of the funeral, my mom's family couldn't make the drive to Pittsburgh. My mother isn't even sure there was a funeral, unless other relatives who lived near the church were able to walk to it. And her memory is that the cemetery held the body until she could be buried later.

The Pittsburgh Press news story at the time seems to confirm this:
"There were no burials because of the five to six feet snow drifts in cemeteries throughout the district. Funerals were held, in most cases, and the bodies stored in vaults until their graves can be cleared."  
Kunigunda's death certificate, however, says she was buried on Saturday, November 25, in St. Michael's Cemetery. Perhaps being stored in a vault was recorded as a burial on the certificates.

In the midst of all that crazy weather, Kunigunda--who was pregnant when she and her husband made the difficult trip across the Atlantic in 1891, whose eldest son was killed in action during World War I, and who buried 3 other children--was involved in one more difficult situation before she finally could be laid to rest.

My great-grandmother may not have been surrounded by all of her loved ones, but she was not forgotten by them.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

5 Genealogy Assumptions That Could Be Wrong

While doing genealogy research, we all make assumptions. As we find pieces of an ancestor's past, formulating hypotheses is part of the process. But you should keep digging to find the facts that either back up your thinking or that lead you in another direction.

Although there are dozens I could list, here are just a few examples of some assumptions that could be mistakenly made as you look for your ancestors:

Assumption #1: When a spouse is no longer in a household, he or she must have died. Even though you may be looking at censuses from a century or more ago, couples did separate and divorce so keep digging for your ancestor in another home. My maternal 2nd great-grandparents appear to have been living separately for up to 20 years and died in different states.

Assumption #2: When an elderly ancestor can't be located in a census, he or she must have died.  Even though life expectancy was lower in the 1900s, an ancestor who was in his 60s in one census and then can't be found in the next census doesn't necessarily mean that he/she died. I located my 3rd great-uncle James Baker in the 1920 census but am still looking for him in the 1930 and 1940 censuses. His Pennsylvania death certificate indicates that he didn't die until 1944, so an assumption that he died between 1920 and 1930 would have been wrong.

Assumption #3: An immigrant ancestor would not have returned to the old country.  We've heard how difficult the trip across the Atlantic was for immigrants, so it would be easy to assume they never left North America after their arrival. My paternal 2nd great-grandfather returned to Germany in 1890, more than 35 years after leaving. On the PBS genealogy show, Finding Your Roots, one of Chef Tom Colicchio's ancestors made the trip back to Italy at least three times.

Assumption #4: A couple living together with children are the parents of those children.  There used to be at least one Ancestry member tree that showed my 2nd great-aunt Christina Belsterling as the mother of my grandfather and his two siblings. She was their aunt, and they went to live with her after their mother died. Christina also was not the mother of the other children in the house; she was their stepmother.

Assumption #5: Your city laborer ancestor couldn't have owned several pieces of property.  My 3rd great-grandfather Peter Klein was a coal miner. When I searched probate records, I really didn't expect to find a will for him. It seemed to be a trend in my family: no photos, no wills, no headstones. I just assumed my family was full of hardworking, but poor, laborers. But Peter did have a will, and it surprised me to read about his plan of 12 lots that he left to his wife and children. A map from 1896 shows it clearly marked as the "P. Klein Plan."

So remember, preliminary assumptions in genealogy research are ok as long as you look for the facts to determine if those assumptions are accurate.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ancestor Birth: Henry Stewart in 1831

On this day in 1831, my husband's 3rd great-uncle was born in McKeesport, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Henry Stewart was the son of Hamilton and Nancy Scott Dinsmore Stewart and stayed in the McKeesport/Versailles area his entire life. He served in the Civil War and then married his wife, Mary Hammond. After Mary and their seven children all died between 1873 and 1875, Henry lived another 30 years on his own. His occupations included farmer, teacher, store clerk, salesman, and shipping clerk.

This is his obituary from The Gazette Times in Pittsburgh on December 25, 1908:
"Henry Stewart, 77 years old, a veteran of the civil war and one of the best known men of McKeesport, died yesterday at his home, 2004 East Tenth avenue, of heart failure and general debility. He was born in McKeesport and was injured at the battle of Wilderness in 1862, after which he returned to McKeesport and married Mary Hammond. He was a member of the First Presbyterian church and the Grand Army of the Republic, having been a past commander and quartermaster of Sam Black post No. 59. But one member of the family survives, a sister, Mrs. Martha Scott of Cedar avenue, North Side. The funeral will take place tomorrow afternoon."
A monument stands in The McKeesport and Versailles Cemetery that lists Henry Stewart, his wife Mary, and the names of all seven children.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Search for Old Addresses, Not Just Names

When searching online publications like books, newspapers, and city directories, try entering the house number and street name where your ancestor lived. If you limit your search to surname, you may miss:

  • results where a name was misspelled, 
  • other relatives with different surnames who also lived at a particular home, or 
  • items that may have just mentioned the location and not the owner. 

For example, searching for a house number and street may lead you to an advertisement or news item where an address appears without your ancestor's name.

In addition, this type of search can help you determine when an ancestor bought or sold a property. When I searched the Historic Pittsburgh website for "2910 Carson" (the home and grocery store of my great-great uncle Henry Jay), I was able to pinpoint when he occupied this building by looking at the city directory search results. In the 1892 city directory, a grocer by the name of Henry C. Snyder was at this address. The 1893 city directory shows the first year my 2nd great-uncle's name was listed at this address. He continued to own this property until his death in 1923. (On another post, you can see a photo of the property as it looks today.)

Post a comment if you have searched for an address and uncovered some useful information about your ancestors.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fashion in November 1896

Fashion isn't my thing, but I thought you might enjoy seeing what your ancestors may have been wearing more than 115 years ago. It caught my eye while I was browsing

The Times (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), November 25, 1896

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Photograph: Genealogy Mystery

The Pennsylvania death certificates on helped me solve a genealogy mystery. You see, the photograph below was in a box with other loose photos that were passed to my father after both of his parents died. But we had no idea who some of the people were. And if you look closely, you will notice something that I missed several times when I looked at this photograph. The man in the middle is missing his right arm. Who was he?

My grandfather and his sister are the children in the first row, and I know the photo was taken before 1918 because, as I wrote in an earlier post, that was the year their mother Albertina died of the Spanish Influenza. She's in the middle of the back row. The only other people I know in the photo are my 2nd great-grandparents: the woman seated in the front row is Mary Baker Klein and the man in the back is her husband Jacob. The other three are a mystery.

I felt the man had to be a close relative because the little girl (my great-aunt Mildred) was leaning against his leg, something I don't think a child would do to a stranger or someone she didn't see often. But I had no idea how to figure out his identity, so I put the photo back in the box where it stayed for several years.

When added a batch of Pennsylvania death certificates up to the year 1944, I entered each family surname into the search box and found the death records for many of my relatives. When I looked at the image of James Baker's death certificate, I knew I had the answer to the mystery of the photograph.

James was a younger brother of Mary Baker Klein, was born in Canada in 1861, and died in Pittsburgh on June 29, 1944. The cause of death was listed as congestive heart failure due to hypertensive heart disease. And next to Other Conditions was written "old amputation of right arm from accident 40 years ago." It was a great genealogy moment.

Please post a comment if you have a similar story of how a death certificate helped you solve a family mystery.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

German Obituary: November 6, 1887

My great-great uncle, Jacob Nehren, died today more than 125 years ago. I know from his death registration and his veteran burial card that he was 44 years old. He died of cirrhosis of the liver, which I assume was a hazard of being a tavern owner.

Jacob served in the Civil War, apparently under the alias William Cline, before he married my great-grandfather's sister. When he was 19, he first enlisted in the Maryland Infantry and was shot in his left forearm 18 months later. After he mustered out, Jacob then enlisted in the Navy. He was honorably discharged almost 4 years later in 1869.

Although Jacob spent time in Maryland both before and after his military service, he ended up in Pittsburgh sometime between the 1870 census and his marriage in 1872. He ran the bar that was previously owned by his father-in-law and was the father of 2 boys who both died before they reached their fourth birthdays.

Jacob's obituary appeared in a German newspaper, Pittsburger Volksblatt, on November 7, 1887. Unfortunately, I don't know what it says. I can make out bits and pieces but am curious as to whether it may contain any clues about him that I don't already know. I see that it says something about Baltimore near the end, which is where his brother Frank Nehren lived.

If you can translate any of this obituary, please leave me a comment. Thank you!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Family Traditions: German Food

When I was in elementary school, I remember spending a week with my grandparents during several summer breaks. We would go on an outing almost every day. I also remember missing my mom's cooking. Meals just didn't taste the same that week: meats were a little dry and mashed potatoes weren't as creamy. (Sorry, Grandma!)  It just could have been a sign of homesickness, or maybe everyone feels that way about their mother's cooking.

In some handwritten notes I have from my grandmother, she described her German mother as a "wonderful cook and baker." Some of the foods she listed as family traditions were:

Chicken & Dumplings
Rivel Soup
Sour Tongue
Apple Kuchen
Christmas Stollen

Unfortunately, I don't have any recipes that were passed down from my great-grandmother, but clicking on each of the foods above will take you to websites where others describe how to make these dishes. What great recipes did you inherit from your ancestors?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Pittsburgh Children's Hospital Fire of 1923

While browsing some historic online newspapers, I came across an obituary for a woman (whose name I've forgotten) who was described as a hero for saving many children during a devastating fire that destroyed the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh on May 31, 1923. I was curious to learn more about this event, so I found this article headline in The Pittsburgh Press.

"Sixty-three children were rescued, 16 firemen, a policeman and a physician were injured or overcome by smoke and escaping formaldehyde fumes and damage estimated at $100,000 resulted when fire swept the administration building of the Children's hospital, Forbes and Ophelia sts., early today." (Source: The Pittsburgh Press, May 31, 1923)
Amazingly, no one died in the fire. This particular article lists the names of 18 who were injured, as well as the dozens of children who were rescued.