Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween and "Chalk Night"

Today is my husband's birthday, and we always tease him about being born on the day of pranks that my family and others in Pittsburgh call "Devil's Night." Apparently in the early 1900s, there were other names used to describe the nights when kids ran rampant in anticipation of Halloween. Some of these included "Chalk Night" and "Corn Night."

Here's a 1907 newspaper article from The Daily Notes, found on, that explains these nights a little more:

"'Chalk night' is a rather new one and until last night had been but little observed here. However, many youngsters, liberally supplied with chalk, which perhaps the Canonsburg school board paid for, were out, and marks were left all over town. Many a pedestrian went home with the back of his overcoat or raincoat bearing a liberal supply of hieroglyphics which resembled, somewhat, the handwriting of Horace Greeley or a Chinese laundry check.
Tonight, 'corn night,' has long been associated with Hallowe'en, and the rattle of corn on window panes will have a familiar sound."

The Daily Notes (Canonsburg, Pa.),
October 30, 1907

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

6 Tips for Telling a Better Genealogy Story

Book with Red Cover; "The Story"
I know I have a lot of room for improvement in the area of storytelling. Here are some tips all of us can try to use when writing about our ancestors:
  1. Think about the audience - Who do you want to reach? You may want to inspire others who do genealogy research, share stories with your family, or you may be hoping to reach long-lost cousins. 
  2. Ask why this person or event matters - I've said it before: every life matters, and your family was important even though they may seem like ordinary folk. When you focus on the person or the impact of a particular event, you tend to write differently than just listing a bunch of facts.
  3. Tell the truth - Your storytelling should be accurate. There's no need to embellish; you'll find that your ancestors were interesting in their own way.
  4. Be bold - Don't be afraid to share your stories. It may not seem like it at times, but you have something important to say!
  5. Let your research guide you - It's always easier to focus your writing on a recent record find or someone you just researched.
  6. Keep practicing - If you commit to writing on a regular basis (my goal is three posts each week), you'll definitely keep improving.
I follow hundreds of genealogy blogs, and I enjoy reading the family stories. If you have any additional tips for telling a better story, please leave a comment.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Article: Headstone Photographs

The Observer-Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania) posted this article over the weekend: "What's old is new again with gravestone photographs." One of the captions says, "Tombstone photos were popular in the early 1900s but are gaining new popularity. The photos started as an ethnic tradition but are becoming a more widespread tradition as a way to honor and remember loved ones."

I've seen these photographs during some of my cemetery walks, and they always make me stop and wonder about the person's life. The images below are from a headstone I saw in Melrose Cemetery located in Bridgeville, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

Sylvester Selva
Born June 24 1871
Died Sept. 30 1921
Leaving Wife and Children
(Photo taken by the author)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Photographs: Cowden Family

My mother-in-law recently gave me dozens of photographs, mostly cabinet cards, saying that they were unknown members of her husband's family. All but two were unmarked, and I haven't found any Cowden photos on to help me identify the individuals.

Here are the only photos that have a name on them: one is Elmer Cowden (1884-1958) which was taken in front of a house in Canonburg, Pennsylvania, and the other is his sister Elva Cowden Hardesty (1890-1955). It's possible that the second man with Elmer is his only brother Harry.

Elmer Cowden, also marked "Cannonsburg [sic], Pa."

Closer view of photograph above

Elva Cowden Hardesty

I'll be sharing the rest of the photographs in future posts with the hope that a Cowden relative may find my blog and help identify them. If you are a cousin of my husband's family, I would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

3 More Children in My Family Tree Identified

1910 Federal Census
Since the censuses of 1900 and 1910 asked how many children a woman had (and how many were living), we can tell if we are missing any names in our family tree. If a child was born and died in between censuses, this may be the first hint we have that they existed.

Looking at those two censuses, I was able to see that my Stenglein great-grandparents had a child who must have died young. In another branch of my family tree, these censuses showed that I had three Kiefer cousins I hadn't identified. As I mentioned in a previous post called The Kiefer Children Died Too Young, Peter and Philippina Klein Kiefer had a total of 8 children, but I only knew about five of them.

Since both of these Pittsburgh families were Catholic, I contacted the Diocese of Pittsburgh to see if the volunteer researchers could help. The general public can't access the sacramental records, so I filled out the research request form and patiently waited. While they couldn't provide all of the answers I wanted, I'm grateful for what they did provide:
  • A burial record shows that my grandmother, Gertrude Stenglein, had a brother named John (the second brother with their father's name) who died on December 19, 1903, when he was only a day old and was buried in St. Michael's Cemetery on the same day;
  • Baptismal records show that Anna Marcella Kiefer, who was the second daughter with this name (the first died two years before this one was born), was baptized on May 15, 1898 at St. Peter's Church on the South Side of Pittsburgh;
  • Mary Catherine Kiefer was the name of another of the unidentified children; church baptismal records show she was born on September 11, 1900, and was baptized on September 23 of that same year; 
  • The third Kiefer child is still unknown because no baptismal record was found. The death of this third Kiefer child, as well as the deaths of Anna Marcella and Mary Catherine, are unknown because there are no existing burial records for St. Peter's Parish from May 1899 through March 1920.
Church records are an invaluable resource when civil registrations of births and deaths are unavailable. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Ontario Baptismal Record of Thomas Baker

Thank you to Lorine of The Olive Tree Genealogy blog for writing about the FamilySearch record collection of "Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923."  It was a good reminder for me to take a look at these records for the only branch of my family tree that seems to have lived in Canada.

My Baker relatives lived in Seneca, Haldimand County, Ontario, from at least 1861 to 1866. The first child was born earlier than that, somewhere in Canada in 1853, but I haven't confirmed that it was in Seneca. I'm not sure why I never browsed these images before but, since the only towns listed under Haldimand are Caledonia, Cayuga, and Dunnville, I wasn't sure if I'd find anything.

I started with Caledonia and saw that one of the record collections for St. Patrick Parish fit the time period for my Bakers: "Baptisms, marriages, burials 1857-1898." On the fourth image, I found a match. Fantastic! Thomas Baker was the brother of my 2nd great-grandmother, Mary Baker. It confirms their parents' names (although I have Arthur instead of Arthurs), and it points me to another possible relative, Mary Arthurs.

Baptismal Record for Thomas Baker, 1857
If I'm reading the writing correctly, the record says: "This eight day of October one thousand eight hundred and fifty seven I the undersigned priest have baptised Thomas - born since the first day of February from the lawful marriage of John Baker and of Elisabeth Arthurs of the township of Seneca of the Mission of Indiana, Sponsors were John Goslinn and Mary Arthurs."

This is the only family member I could find in any of the towns listed under Haldimand, but I'll take it. Thank you, Lorine!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Vintage Anniversary Card

My paternal grandparents were married on this day in 1934 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My grandmother saved some of the greeting cards she received from my grandfather; this one is for their 2nd anniversary in 1936:

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Hotel Image Preserved in Military Records

Years ago when I ordered my 2nd great-grandfather's Civil War records, I received an added bonus. Not only did I learn that he had moved from Pittsburgh to Toledo to live in the hotel owned by his daughter and her husband Charles Prill, but he signed a notarized letter on the hotel's letterhead. This simple letter about his address change allowed me to see how the building looked. Fabulous!

"This House is Specially Adapted to Accommodate the Traveling Trade"
Letterhead from Prill's Hotel, Toledo, Ohio, 1890

This is just another example of interesting details or special items you might stumble upon while researching your ancestors.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Record Browsing Has Benefits

We all may groan when we learn about a new record collection that hasn't been indexed yet. But wait, there are some benefits of having to browse record images:
  • Learning an Interesting Detail - When you're forced to browse, you actually look at the image, instead of finding a match from a search and just attaching it to your family tree. This may lead you to see on the page an interesting detail about your ancestor that you may have missed. Even for indexed collections, it's good to get in the habit of opening the image and reviewing it thoroughly.
  • Spotting a Different Relative - You might find a familiar name that you weren't looking for. When I searched for my 2nd great-grandfather in the 1890 Census of Union Veterans of the Civil War on FamilySearch and didn't get a match, I decided to browse the pages in case his name was botched. I still haven't found him even though he was alive at the time, but I did find two other distant relatives, including one who I didn't know had served in the Civil War.

Surnames of "the undersigned" at the bottom of this clipping (not included in the cropped image) are Brennan, Brown, Carroll, Collins, Conboy, Cullen, Cunningham, Dalton, Daugherty, Delaney, Donnelly, Downey, Doyle, Duffy, Evoy, Farrell, Hannan, Harris, Hayes, Higgins, Hogan, Hurly, Keating, Kelly, Kennedy, Lamond, Lennon, Madigan, Mangan, Mannix, McCarty, McGill, McGuill, McDonald, Meir, Murphy, Murray, O'Brien, O'Riley, Phillips, Reip, Ryan, Shea, Shehan, Smith, Sullivan, Sweeney, Walsh.
Browsing records is relaxing and fun for me (weird, I know!), and I enjoy reading interesting details about people even though they aren't in my family tree. So don't ignore collections that haven't been indexed or you may miss a great record for one of your ancestors.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Family's 3 Tragedies Due to Carbolic Acid

My family has a handful of photos of my 2nd great-grandmother, Mary Baker Klein (1855-1932), posing at various times outdoors when she was in her 60s and 70s. She doesn't look like a particularly warm or friendly woman (though it's hard to tell from those old photos!), and there's only one photo where her eyes seem to sparkle a little. But after learning more about her, I can look at these photos a little differently and with admiration that she found the strength to get through a very dark period in her life.

Mary and the Baker branch of my family tree had to deal with the tragedy of carbolic acid poisoning three times. Carbolic acid was used as a disinfectant and sometimes was accidentally ingested which caused death. According to the following newspaper article, this is what happened to Irene Kaufmann, the daughter of one of the men who ran the famous Kaufmann's department store in Pittsburgh. She thought she was taking "headache medicine."

The Pittsburgh Post, July 24, 1907

In the case of my relatives, the poisoning appears to have been intentional. Young Mary and her family moved from Canada to the United States around 1866 and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mary married Jacob Klein 10 years later and had 11 children. During a 3-year period in the 1910s, Mary and her siblings had to mourn the deaths of three family members due to carbolic acid poisoning:

  • Mary's brother, John H. Baker, died on March 15, 1912 at the age of 38 in Braddock, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. His death certificate says simply, "suicide by taking carbolic acid."
  • Mary's nephew and the son of her sister Sushannah, Albert Parrish Jr., died the same year on September 13, 1912. Sadly, his second child had just been born the previous year. A newspaper article and the coroner's report indicate that he was despondent due to lack of employment as a chain maker. His death certificate states his cause of death was "carbolic acid poisoning, suicide while temporarily insane."
  • Mary's brother-in-law, James H. Stuart, who was married to her sister Sarah Baker, died on May 21, 1915. His death certificate indicates that he was found in Braddock in a box car of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie railroad and that the cause of death was "carbolic acid poisoning (probably suicide)."

It must have been extremely difficult for Mary and her family to deal with such terrible tragedies so, when I look at photographs of her now, I see a woman of great strength.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Stuttgart Beer Festival

Beer Mugs - Stuttgart Beer Festival, GermanyIf you have ancestors who lived in Stuttgart, Germany, at any time since 1818, they most likely attended the annual Stuttgart Beer Festival, or Cannstatter Volksfest. This year's event ends on October 11 after almost three weeks of festivities.

My family tree doesn't have a connection to Stuttgart (other than it's the name of the ship that brought my German great-grandmother Susanna Truar to America in 1885), but my husband loves Oktoberfest and beer...and I love that it's a historical event that's been held for almost 200 years.

Stuttgart is the largest city and state capital of Baden-W├╝rttemberg. The Cannstatter Volksfest is considered the second largest beer festival in the world, after Munich's Oktoberfest. King Wilhelm I and Queen Katharina created the festival in 1818 to celebrate the harvest, two years after Europe's worst famine of the 19th century. Abnormal weather, including snow in the summer, led to extreme food shortages. Thousands of Germans left their homes to escape the famine, going to North America or Russia. After surviving such suffering, the country definitely had something to celebrate.

The Cannstatter Volksfest started as a one-day event for the locals and has grown to attract about 4 million visitors every year from many different countries. While beer, food, rides and special events may attract people today, it's an event based on tradition. Plus, it's interesting to think that someone in your family tree may have been at the festival during his or her lifetime.

Do you have any German ancestors who lived in Stuttgart?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

After One Year: Amazing Support

I can't believe that a year has passed since my first genealogy post on this blog. Looking back at my experience so far, there is one main theme that stands out for me: the genealogy community is amazingly supportive.

Starting with Thomas MacEntee who lists new blogs every week on GeneaBloggers, I felt welcome right away. Then, when I had only been blogging for three months, Randy Seaver took the time to mention one of my posts in his weekly Best of the Genea-Blogs. Needless to say, due to the number of readers he reaches, that post has remained my most popular one ever since. About four months after that, I was thrilled to be mentioned on Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems blog. (See my Mentions page to view these posts.)

But even more amazing, there are several bloggers who take time to regularly highlight the posts of others. Every week, Linda Stufflebean, Jana Last, Julie Cahill Tarr and others show that we can all learn from each other, and they've made me feel that I have something worthwhile to share even though I'm new to blogging.

Thank you for taking time to read my blog over the last year, and extra thanks to those who submitted comments. It's always great to hear from you! If you have only recently found my blog, please check out the most popular posts listed on the right side, as well as some of my favorite older posts:

Monday, October 5, 2015

Pittsburgh's Great Floods

Recent flooding along the East Coast made me think about two historic floods that Pittsburgh experienced in the 1900s. On March 15, 1907, the water rose to 38.5 feet (flood stage is 25 feet). A search of Flickr: The Commons pointed me to some great photos on the front page of the New York Tribune, which is available on Chronicling America:

New York Tribune, March 24, 1907

The worst flood ever in Pittsburgh's history was on March 17-18, 1936, with water levels at 46 feet. Internet Archive has a couple of videos showing the cleanup and some of the destruction, and this Universal Newsreels video is from YouTube:

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