Thursday, January 28, 2016

My Childhood Scrapbook

My son celebrated his 12th birthday this week. As he opened his cards, it reminded me of the wonderful scrapbook that my mom created and updated annually for me.

My parents raised 7 children, and my mom somehow made time to sew all of our clothes...and update a scrapbook for each of us! When we left home as young adults, she handed a book over to each of us. I haven't looked at mine for years, but I decided to get it out yesterday.

At the beginning of the scrapbook, she pasted both of our hospital bands and newspaper clippings from the day I was born. There also are pages of my baby cards, like this one:

The rest of the book has every card I received from age 1 to 13, which I can open to see who sent it to me. And she continued to include the news headlines, fashion, weather, and horoscope that appeared in print on my birthday. I love that she saw the value of newspapers! 

Because of this family tradition, I've saved and dated all of my son's cards...but I haven't put them in a scrapbook yet. I don't know how my mom did it all!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Wonderful Westmoreland County Deeds

Online county deeds are not created equal. In Pennsylvania, for instance, some counties allow you to search back to the 1970s only. At the other extreme, Westmoreland County provides access to records going back to the late 18th century. Fabulous!

An initial Simple Search of this county's deeds will only show results from 1918 to the present. For those dated 1943 and onward, a "Display Doc" link takes you quickly to the actual image. As an example, here's the first page of a deed from 1943:

Westmoreland County (PA) Deed, 27 Aug 1943,
Hattie Belle Ambler to Panfilo and Helen DeChellis

For results dated 1918 to 1942, you will need to write down the volume and page numbers and then do a second Archive Search that will take you to the image. (Please note that this Archive Search doesn't seem to work on mobile devices.)

For deeds older than 1918, they've been scanned and are available but, because they aren't indexed, they can't be searched. But they're there! Here's an image of a record from the county's very first deed book:

Westmoreland County (PA) Deed, 5 May 1790,
William Todd to John Parker

I don't have many relatives who lived in Westmoreland County, but I just had to share this resource with you. If you find anything interesting or helpful in these deeds, please post a comment.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

January Death Instead of a Homecoming

When I first started to research my 1st cousin twice removed, I assumed his death was related to World War I. I'm now learning that his story is different than I expected.

Norbert Frederick Henkel, the second of nine children, was born in 1894, six months after his older brother died of convulsions at the age of 1. A funeral prayer card shows that Norbert died on January 29, 1919. His youngest sister was only 7 years old when his family received the news.

I found Norbert's obituary in a Pittsburgh newspaper, but the only thing it said was that he died in Cape May, New Jersey. Some military records online recently helped fill in a little more detail.

In Ancestry's Pennsylvania WWI Veterans Service and Compensation Files, a record shows that the month before his 24th birthday, Norbert was called to report for active duty. While he was at training camp in Camp May, New Jersey, the war ended. Oh, the relief his parents must have felt. Their son would be coming home!

Unfortunately, just a couple of days before he was supposed to leave Cape May, Norbert died. In the U.S. Navy Burial Records on Ancestry, on a page where most of the men are listed as having died of influenza, the cause of death for Norbert is "Fracture cervical." A broken neck? How could that have happened? I was a little shocked to see that detail next to his name.

His death was confirmed in the Veterans Service and Compensation File. Norbert's father indicated on a Veteran's Compensation Application: "Killed Jan. 29, 1919 - Wissahickon Barracks Cape May, N.J." A couple of pages later in the file (be sure to read beyond the first image that pops up!), there's a copy of a 1934 typed letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Military Affairs to the Navy Department in Washington DC: "It is requested this office be informed the active duty date, the inactive duty date together with character and date of discharge; also under what condition Veteran died."

The Gazette Times (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania),
February 1, 1919
The response dated a month later was typed at the bottom of the page: "The above named man reported for active duty 25 Jul 1918 and served on active duty from that date until 29 January 1919 when he died at the Naval Hospital, Cape May, N.J., as a result of having been struck by a motor truck; otherwise entitled to an honorable discharge."

The Pittsburgh newspaper article shown here doesn't give any more details but does point out that the train Norbert was expected to take home on January 31 was instead carrying his body to be buried. His parents were so close to welcoming their son home, when this terrible accident took him from them forever.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Is Genealogy Sharing a "Female Thing"?

Share Key on a Computer Keyboard
A couple of months ago, Forbes published an article called "Why Sharing Is A Female Thing." Here are some quotes from this piece:

  • Men and women "communicate and collaborate differently";
  • The "double-X-chromosome set generally knows how to get along and get things done";
  • The "whole idea of sharing is very natural" to women; and
  • "[W]omen are conditioned to seek connection and commonality."

This got me thinking about sharing and genealogy. Since the purpose of blogging and social media is to share, are more genealogy bloggers female than male? Do more female users of Ancestry and other genealogy sites share their family trees with the public instead of keeping them private? Are there more female speakers sharing information at genealogy conferences than men? Is the library staff who is available to give you information about genealogy resources made up of more women than men?

Although the answer may be yes to some of the above questions, I'd like to think that it doesn't prove that gender is the reason that the genealogy community shares with one another. When a person shares, it may be due to one or more of a variety of factors: people with previous careers in teaching or training, for example; those who feel the rewards of sharing outweigh any costs; people who enjoy helping others; those who prefer being part of a group rather than participating in a solitary activity, etc. It seems to me that your motivation for sharing is the key factor, not your gender.

So, what do you think? Is any type of sharing, including in the realm of genealogy, more likely to be a female trait?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

1880s Autograph Book Owned by William J. Dix

William James Dix was the son of Daniel & America Dix and grew up in West Virginia. He attended Fairmont State Normal School and then became the proprietor of his own drug store in Daviess County, Missouri. William and his wife Sarah had three children. His 1936 obituary says, "His father was a circuit rider and a state senator in Virginia during the Civil War. He was related to Stonewall Jackson through his mother."

I found William's autograph book from the 1880s in a Pittsburgh antique store. My favorite page was written by Effie Swindler in Palatine, West Virginia, on December 7, 1883: "Let our lives be pure as snow-fields, Where our foot-steps leave a mark but not a stain."

Many of the pages are faded, but here's a list of some of the people who signed it:

Mary Anson, Davis City, Iowa
J.M. Dix, Wheeling, West Virginia
Gypsy W. Fleming, Fairmont State Normal School
Charles W. Haymonet, Marion County, West Virginia
Della Leonard, Palatine, West Virginia
E. D. Leonard, Palatine, West Virginia
Minnie Linn, Fairmont State Normal School
Minnie Lloyd, Palatine, West Virginia
J.E. Maxwell, Fairmont, West Virginia
Chas. H. Orr, Palatine, West Virginia
Mary A. Orr, Palatine, West Virginia
H. F. Smith, Fairmont, West Virginia
E. W. Teale, Davis City, Iowa
Chas. Watkins, Palatine, West Virginia
Jacob Yates, Palatine, West Virginia

I'd like to return the book to a descendant of William Dix, so let me know if he's in your family tree.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Freedom Papers Filed in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania

The Recorder of Deeds for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, provides a link "to search for Historical Deeds, Chattel Mortgage Book and Feme Sol Trader Offices; for the period 1792-1857." I tried various random name searches and didn't find any property deeds, but there are numerous images of Freedom and Indenture Papers for that time frame.

Here's a freedom paper, which was recorded on March 4, 1842, for a man named Edward Robinson, who was born in Kentucky:

Freedom Paper for Edward Robinson, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
"I, Chas. H. Israel, a Notary Public by Authority of Pennsylvania duly Commissioned and Sworn residing in the City of Pittsburgh do certify that I have satisfactory Evidence that Edward Robinson a young man of Color who is now Present is a Free man and was born of free parents in the State of Kentucky and was bound by Indenture to the late Benjamin Page in Pittsburgh State Pennsylvania. Said Edward Robinson is about five feet six inches high 27 years of age and upwards stout built scar under left eye. Said Edward has been personally known to the subscriber for many years as a free person and further the said Edward Robinson has subscribed his name in his own proper hand writing on the margin of this paper. ... I do further certify that the said Edward Robinson is a free Citizen of the State of Pennsylvania entitled to all the privileges of a free White man of said State." 

This record collection is very interesting. If you've used it for your genealogy research, please post a comment.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A Clue that Nathan Isn't the Father?

Albert G. Lewis, my husband's 2nd great-grandfather, died on June 16, 1924, in Franklin, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. His death certificate shows that his parents were Nathan & Elizabeth Lewis. In the 1860 census, Albert appears in Nathan's household as a 14-year-old. At first glance, it all seems straight-forward, so it's no wonder that several Ancestry family trees display Nathan as the father of Albert.

But after looking a little more closely, something just doesn't seem right to me, and I'm not convinced of this father-son relationship. For instance:

  • Albert was born in 1846 but doesn't appear in Nathan's household in the 1850 census. The year 1846 may be off, but every other census and his death certificate back up this year. 
  • In the 1860 census, Nathan is 73 and Elizabeth is 65. If Elizabeth was Albert's mother, she would have been 51 years old when she gave birth to Albert and 57 years old at the birth of another little boy, Louis, who also appears in this census. Not impossible, but... 
  • Finally, there's a 12-year gap between Albert and the next oldest child in the 1860 census.

Looking at Nathan's older children hasn't provided any answers so far; I haven't been able to find the youngest boy Louis Lewis in other records yet, and a newspaper search came up empty. If a will exists for Nathan in 1875, it may state his relationship with Albert, but Fayette County wills don't seem to be online, so I'm not sure yet if one exists. Orphan court records are available, but a look at Lewis surnames in guardian appointments did not mention an Albert. Church records may help, so I need to determine the family's religious affiliation.

I don't know how this will turn out, but as I've said before: Questioning can actually be a good thing and makes us better researchers. If you have any suggestions, or if you're a Lewis relative and have additional information to show that Nathan is indeed Albert's father, I'd love to hear from you!

Related Post: Be a Genealogy Skeptic

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Check for Pennsylvania Birth & Death Indices

For those of us with Pennsylvania ancestors, it was exciting when Ancestry provided access to two vital record collections: Pennsylvania Birth Records, 1906-1908, and Pennsylvania Death Certificates, 1906-1963. I spent many hours searching those databases and finding great information, including learning about previously unknown cousins who had been born and then died young between the 1900 and 1910 censuses. And I continue to access these collections today.

However, since it's unclear when additional years may be added by Ancestry, keep in mind that the PDFs of the indices may be helpful too. These listings provide the birth name, maiden name of mother (father isn't in the index), the birth town or city, and date of birth.

Sample from Pennsylvania Birth Index, 1909

The Pennsylvania birth and death indices are maintained by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, and legislation allows the release of a new year annually. Birth records are made public 105 years after a person was born, and death records are released 50 years after death. So currently they have lists of births from 1906 to 1909 and deaths from 1906 to 1964. I expect a PDF of 1910 births and 1965 deaths will be added in 2016.

I recently browsed the birth index for 1909 and found some great information:

  • Specific dates of birth, which can then lead to additional information such as military records that match the birth date, or perhaps death certificates - I located the 1909 birth listing for a Zewe cousin which, after entering the date into Ancestry, led me to a death certificate match with her spouse's surname and a new branch of my tree containing their Kyle children;
  • Correct places of birth - the death certificate for one of my husband's Cowden cousins says he was born in Hickory, Washington County, Pennsylvania, while the birth index shows he was actually born in neighboring Cross Creek Township;
  • Missing maiden names of mothers - I found the birth date of the husband of a great-aunt (previously only known to be "abt 1909"), as well as the maiden name of his mother; this then led to the certificate for her death due to breast cancer at the age of 35, which provided his father's name;
  • Original given names - my grandmother's 1909 birth listing in the index shows her given name as Marian H. instead of the Helen Marian she used later in life; this doesn't seem to be unusual (at least for my family!) since my grandfather John Baptist was recorded as John Harold at his birth in 1908 and his brother Roy was actually named Jacob Ray in 1906.

Don't forget to check back annually to see when the next index has been added, and request a copy of any certificates that may advance your research. These Pennsylvania indices may provide the clue that leads you to additional information about one or more of your relatives.

UPDATE: The indices of 1910 births and 1965 deaths have been posted.