Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cousin Zerelda of Indiana

Zerelda is the given name of my husband's 3rd cousin twice removed, the great-granddaughter of Hugh and Polly Cowden Rogers of Washington County, Pennsylvania. Her Cowden relatives were farmers and her Rogers family ran a livery, but Zerelda Margaret Rogers' father left Pennsylvania and started a real estate business in Indiana, where he raised two daughters.

With my husband's farming roots and my steelworker ancestors, our families didn't get mentioned in the society news section of papers. However, Zerelda had her photograph published in The Indianapolis Star twice.

Zerelda Rogers, age 6
The first time was in 1904, when she was a child:

"Zerelda Rogers, the little daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frank F. Rogers, 12 Woodruff place, has her photograph in the July issue of the Ladies' Home Journal as one of the 112 prettiest children in America. The little girl was honored by being one of those chosen from many hundreds. Zerelda is considered an especially beautiful child, and has a remarkably fine profile, Grecian in its lines. The photograph has been greatly admired, and art critics have commended it for its artistic qualities. The picture was taken two years ago, when the child was 6 years old. She is now a happy school girl, and, though she saw her photograph in the Journal, the fact did not make a deep impression on her young mind. Mrs. Rogers takes a mother's pride in her daughter's beauty, but modestly says that the photographer did much. The photograph took a prize at the Indiana state convention of the photographers last year and also at the New England convention."

Zerelda Rogers, age 20
Zerelda's photo also appeared in The Indianapolis Star in 1916, when she was 20 years old. The article describes her as one of the "social leaders of the city." There also are mentions in newspapers of Zerelda's return from a four-month tour of Europe in 1911, visits to the family's summer home in Michigan, and her debutante party in 1915. A very different life from her relatives back in Pennsylvania!

Zerelda married Courtland Whitney Knight in California in 1921, and they had two daughters, Cynthia and Nora. She filed for divorce in 1930 and remarried Courtland in 1937 in Denver. Zerelda grew up in Indiana but lived in California and New Mexico for most of her life. She died in 1991 at the age of 94.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Your Ancestor's Employer May Give a Glimpse of Her Life

Siegel-Cooper Employees, Long Branch, NJ
Many of us crave details about our ancestors so we can visualize what their lives may have been like. We want more than a bunch of dates and locations. What life struggles did they face? Why did they decide to move to another state or country? And even more trivial questions like: What did they do on Sundays?

If you know where your ancestor worked, a search for information about that employer may give you a glimpse of your ancestor's life. For example, if one of your female relatives worked for the Siegel-Cooper department store in New York, there's a publication in both Google Books and the HathiTrust Digital Library that provides details on how she may have spent a week during the summer.

Here are a few excerpts from Souvenir Program of The Siegel-Cooper Co. Employees' Association:

"The Siegel-Cooper Company's Employes' [sic] Association (duly incorporated under the laws of New York State on November 10, 1896) was formed entirely for the benefit of the employes of The Big Store. Raising a moderate revenue by the means of a monthly assessment, graded in amount according to the amount of each employe's salary, the Association pays a sick benefit to sick or disabled members, provides the free services of an able physician, makes occasional donations to sick or destitute members, and pays a death benefit of $50 or $100."

"Convinced that rest and recreation are essential for the health and happiness of its members, the Officers and Directors of The Siegel-Cooper Company Employes' Association decided to establish a summer home at Long Branch, where every eligible female employe was to be entitled to one week's vacation, free of every expense, including transportation."

"A private beach was obtained for surf-bathing, with life guards in attendance, and boats were chartered for excursions on the beautiful Shrewsbury River. The supply of daily newspapers, magazines and light literature was ample. Accommodations were provided at neighboring cottages for relatives and friends of employes, and every detail was planned with all the care and acumen that successful business men could bring to bear when their hearts as well as their heads were in the project."

Where did your ancestors work? Learning more about their employers may give you some information about your relatives, even if it's just a short period of their lives.

Related Post:  Who Was Your Ancestor's Employer?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Pittsburgh's Historic Oliver Bath House

Oliver Bath House,
From The American City, 1915

I mentioned the Oliver Bath House almost two years ago in my post "The Pittsburgh Buildings of Henry W. Oliver." On Friday, a newspaper article showed the efforts underway to designate the bath house as a historic landmark:

"The idea for the bath house was born in the early 1900s, when industrialist Henry W. Oliver saw the need to provide mill workers a place where they could clean and refresh themselves after their shifts. Indoor plumbing was rare, particularly in working-class neighborhoods. (Pittsburgh did not require bathrooms in homes or apartments until the 1950s.) Many workers simply rinsed off in the Monongahela River on their way home."

Many members of my family tree lived on the South Side of Pittsburgh. Who knows? Maybe they used the bath house or at least walked past it.

Read the entire Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article at "Preservation Pittsburgh pushes for historic designation for Oliver Bath House."

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
[CLICK TO VIEW LARGER]

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!