Saturday, August 19, 2017

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: A Family Heirloom

This week for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, Randy Seaver is following up on another question on the Family History Hound's list.

Your mission this week, should you decide to accept it, is:

(1) The Family History Hound listed 20 Questions about Your Ancestor, and I'm going to use some of them in the next few months.

(2) Please answer the question, "
What heirloom do you have that has been handed down through the generations?" 

(3) Write your own blog post, make a comment on this post, or post your answer on Facebook or Google+.  Please leave a link to your answer in comments on this post.

I'm a little short on heirlooms in my family.  On my father's side, my grandfather's father died young and the family was poor.  (In fact, my great-grandfather's mother paid for the funeral.)  If there were any heirlooms or family items, I haven't heard about them.  My grandmother's family were farmers in southern New Jersey, again without a lot of money.  Perhaps there was a family bible on one side, but if so it went to a different line in the family.

My mother's grandparents on both sides came to the United States as poor immigrants with not much more than the clothes on their backs.  I don't know of any significant items they brought with them from Europe.  That said, the closest thing I can describe as an "heirloom" is the set of silver-plated flatware that my great-grandmother Sarah Libby (Brainin) Gordon owned.

Definitely obtained here in the United States, it's a service for twelve in one of those cases that has cut-outs where you stack the forks, spoons, and some serving implements and bands on the inside of the lid where you slide the knives.  My mother kept it, apparently for several years, and gave it to me before she passed away.  She's the one who told me it belonged to my great-grandmother.  I believe my grandmother held the set for a while before giving it to my mother,

The utensils don't have a monogram or family initial and the set isn't anything really fancy, but I guess I'm now the fourth generation to have it.  I used the set every year when I held my annual Passover seder (dinner), for about thirteen years or so, but I haven't been able to do that for the past four or five years.  I'm hoping to be able to start again next year.

I don't have any description of the history of the flatware in the box to explain that this is a family item.  I should print a copy of this blog post and include it to document the history,

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Treasure Chest Thursday: The Chain of Deeds for the Schafer Property

This sheet of paper is 8 1/2" x 14" and is dark orange.  It is the last page of a packet of documents held together with two large brads and appears to be the "cover" page.  At some point in the past the pages were probably folded in half and this was on the outside.  The stain in the lower right corner looks as though it might be from grease.  The page is labeled as coming from the St. Louis County Land Title Company.  The title on the page, "Abstract of Title", describes reasonably well the contents of the packet.

This half sheet measures 8 1/4" x 4 1/2".  It is the last page in the set of documents, appearing just before the above file "cover."  It is a receipt from the St. Louis County Land Title Company, addressed to Jean L. "LaForest" of Overland, Missouri and shows an order for the chain of deeds for lots 9 through 16 in Belt's Subdivision.  The dates on it appear to indicate that Jean placed his order on January 6, 1920 and paid $10, probably a deposit against the total copying to be done.  He might have mailed his order, because the top of the receipt is dated January 17, 1920; it's also possible that it simply took a week for a clerk to register the request as #8855 with a charge of $25.  When the job was finished, the balance due was $15, although no date is entered for that.  The "PAID" stamp shows the bill was paid off February 4, 1920, and Jean's note in the upper left records that he received the documents the next day, on February 5.

This sheet also measures 8 1/2" x 14".  The hand-drawn map was attached to the front of the complete packet from the title company.  The blank page (from a different land title company) is the reverse side of the map.  Judging by the handwriting on the map, I suspect that Jean La Forêt is the person who created it.

The large packet of papers between these sheets consists of abstracts of land transactions for the lots mentioned on the receipt.  These abstracts appear to be the source of the information that Jean used to reconstruct the history of the sales of the land purchased by John Schafer, lots 9 and 10, the focus of the dispute between Emma (Schafer) La Forêt and her three Curdt siblings.  So Jean didn't go to the county recorder or assessor and research all this himself; he ordered copies and let the county office do the research for him.  Then he pulled out the information relevant to his search and apparently retyped all of it.  There are more than 20 pages in the packet, so I will be posting only a few each week.

I find it interesting that Jean's last name was misspelled "LaForest" on the receipt.  As a French language major, I learned that a word containing a vowel with a circonflexe (circumflex in English) over it often appears in English with an "s" after the vowel.  So, for example, the word "forêt" translates as "forest."  I doubt that the clerk in Missouri in 1920 knew this, and yet Jean's last name became Forest.  Just how did that happen?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: My Genealogy Database Statistics

For Saturday Night Genealogy Fun this week, we're looking at the statistics in our family tree databases:

Your mission this week, should you decide to accept it, is:

(1) If you have your family tree research in a genealogy management program (GMP), whether a computer software program or an online family tree, figure out how to find how many persons, places, sources, etc. are in your database.  (Hint:  The Help button is your friend!)

(2) Tell us which GMP you use, and how many persons, places, sources, etc. are in your database(s) today in a blog post of your own, in a comment to this blog post, or in a Facebook status or Google+ stream comment.

NOTE:  We last did this in June 2016.

Even though Randy uses Roots Magic, I'm glad he was nice enough to include the instructions for other programs again, because I had already forgotten how to get the information in Family Tree Maker.  And this time I remembered to make a screen capture of the little pop-up that FTM provided:

So the statistics this year for my family file are:

• Size:  6,940 kb
• Total number of individuals:  7,971
• Total number of marriages:  2,659
• Average lifespan:  57 years 7 months
• Earliest birth:  1540, Ebert Mack (from my adoptive Sellers line)
• Text records:  73,002 (I still don't know what this means)
• Total number of generations:  18
• Total number of different surnames:  2,003

For comparison, here's my post from last year.

During the past year I have added 87 individuals, 37 marriages (most gained from the release of the New York City marriage index, I think), and 33 surnames.  The average lifespan has gone up by 3 months.  The earliest birth and the number of generations have remained the same.  The text records have increased by 1,237, but since I don't know what those are (notes, maybe?), I don't really know what to think about it.  The file size increased by 105 kb.

I added some information this past year, but I have a lot more I haven't gotten to.  I really need to find some free time!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Treasure Chest Thursday: A Short Synopsis of the Beginning of the Schafer Property

This sheet of paper is 8 1/2" x 10 7/8".  It is off-white in color, perhaps a light cream.  It is 20# bond with no watermark.  Everything on it is typed.  The outline of a rusted paper clip is visible at the top of the page.  (I removed the paper clip and disposed of it.)

This page was clipped to two others that are carbon copies of it.  Unlike many of the carbons I have looked at while ploughing through the reams of paperwork that Jean La Forêt created (and I'm pretty sure he typed this one also), none of these three pages has been amended in a way to make it different from the others, which is why I decided not to post the other two copies.  They're all exactly the same in content.

As mentioned above, everything is typed on the paper, so no transcription is required.  Only two changes were made to what was originally typed.  First, near the top, in the section that begins "May ...... 1865", at the end of the second line, the word beginning with "Novb" had the letters "er" typed over whatevrer was there to begin with, which is no longer visible.  Second, at the bottom of the page, at the end of the last paragraph, "Was he then abetted" was typed and then erased on all three copies.

Most of the facts presented here have been seen in previous documents from Jean.  The new piece of information is in the last section, which points out that when the widow Elizabeth (Walz) Schafer married Louis Curdt, her powers as administratrix of her late husband's estate and any position she may have had as guardian of the property for her daughter, Emma Margaret Schafer, would have passed to her new husband.  The document also states that Louis and Elizabeth Curdt never reported an accounting of the estate.

Since John Schafer died intestate, the disposition of his property would have relied on the existing laws at the time in Missouri.  While Jean did quote from The Revised Statutes of the State of Missouri, 1899, an important section that did not appear on that sheet was the actual order of distribution of property when there was no will.

On page 739 in the edition of the Statutes which I found previously, Section 2908, "Real and personal estate descends, to whom", states that after debts are paid and the widow receives her dower, the estate goes "[f]irst, to his children."  That would have made Emma the sole heir after her mother had received her share as widow.  As Emma was a minor when her father died, a guardian would have been appointed to oversee the property that was to come to Emma when she reached adulthood.

I find it significant that nowhere in all the papers I received when I was talked into taking this on is there a copy of any documents having to do with John Schafer's estate:  no appointment of administratrix, no inventory, no list of debts, no distribution, no guardian report, no nothin'.  Considering how diligent Jean appears to have been with other aspects of documentation and saving paper, that's rather surprising.  Perhaps he did acquire a copy, which is what led him to say that the the Curdts never "rendered an account."  So now I have to wonder if those documents were among the others and were removed by an unknown person at some point in the past.

After I've gone through the remaining papers in my little treasure chest (there's still quite a pile left), obtaining a copy of John Schafer's probate file may have just moved to the top of my to-do list.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Identifying Esther Leah (Schneiderman) Gorodetsky

Avigdor, Etta, and Esther Leah Gorodetsky, circa 1890, Kamenets Podolsky, Russian Empire

The path to the discovery had begun two years previously, in 2000.  I had visited my grandmother in south Florida, and we had eaten lunch with cousins on her father's side of the family.  During conversation, Bubbie (Yiddish for "grandmother") had made comments to various of the cousins there:  "I have a photograph of your parents on their wedding day."  "I have a photo of your brother when he was a baby."  "I have a photo of your mother."  And she promised to give them the photos.

When Bubbie and I returned to her apartment, she instructed me to pull out four big boxes of photographs.  We went through them, not focusing much on the photos in general but searching only for those to be given to the aforementioned cousins.  I was not permitted to label any of the other photos.  We ended up with a small pile of about seven photographs, which she would make sure got to the appropriate cousins.

Fast forward two years to 2004.  My grandmother's memory had started to slip a little.  In conversation, she began to repeat statements and questions four or five times.  I was already planning on a trip to the Orlando area for Thanksgiving to visit a cousin on my father's side.  I remembered those four boxes of photographs, all unlabeled and unidentified beyond my grandmother's memory, and worried about identifying them before it was too late.  So I made a spur-of-the-moment decision.  I called Bubbie and asked if she would like me to visit for a few days.  I added a round-trip ticket from Orlando to Ft. Lauderdale to the front end of my existing trip.

When I arrived at Bubbie's apartment, I asked if we could look through the boxes of photographs again, and this time could I label them, please?  I was surprised and elated when she said yes.  I had prepared by bringing a large supply of sticky notes.  I brought out the boxes again, and every time Bubbie identified a photo — "This is my grandparents, Mendel Herz and Ruchel Dvojre."  "This is my parents' engagement photo."  "This is Uncle Willie in his Army uniform." — I wrote a short note on a sticky and put it on the back of the photo.

Bubbie looked at one photo and announced, "I have no idea who these people are," then tossed it aside.  I picked it up to check it out.  The photo was of three people:  a man seated on a chair on the left, a young child on a column in the middle, and a woman standing on the right.  The printing on the card was in Cyrillic and gave the photographer's name and location, Kamenets Podolsky, Russia.  I knew that's where Bubbie's father and grandfather were supposed to have been from, so I thought the people might be relatives.  I asked if I could take the photo with me, and Bubbie said, "Sure."

After working through all four boxes, almost everything was put away again and I had far fewer sticky notes remaining.  The photos for the cousins which had been pulled out two years ago were still sitting around, never having been delivered, so I was allowed to take them (and accept responsibility for mailing them), in addition to the unidentified photo of three people in Kamenets Podolsky.

When my visit with Bubbie was over, I flew to Orlando to spend Thanksgiving with my cousin and his family.  While I was there, I talked about the photographs my grandmother and I had pored over and the few I had been permitted to take away with me.  My cousin's wife was interested in seeing the photos, so I brought them out.  We looked at the ones destined to be sent to cousins and then came to the one from Kamenets Podolsky.  Fern declared, "We've seen her before!"  My response:  "We have?"  We went slowly through the photographs and came to the one Fern was talking about.

The photo was one that my grandmother had identified as being of Sarah (Gordon) Millstein, a younger sister of my great-grandfather Joe Gordon.  She was the spitting image of the woman in the photo.  They looked so much alike, one might easily think they were of the same person, or that the two women were twins.  The giveaways were the clothing and the photographer locations.  The woman in the Russian photograph is wearing a lovely Victorian dress, whereas the photo of Sarah shows her in a stylish 1920's dress, a moment captured by a photographer in New York City.

So if the Russian photograph wasn't of Sarah, who could it be?  Given the clues of time and place, I realized it was probably my great-great-grandmother Esther Leah (Schneiderman) Gorodetsky, Sarah's mother, and also mother of my great-grandfather.  She died in Kishinev (now in Moldova) in late 1908, a month after the birth of her eighth surviving child.  Early the next year my great-grandfather began the chain migration of the family to the United States.

I was very excited but not quite willing to commit.  When I returned home I compared the man in the photo to a known photo of my great-great-grandfather Victor Gordon (formerly Gorodetsky).  It looked like the same person!  Furthermore, I could date the photo, to approximately 1890.  The child in the photograph appears to be a little girl.  The oldest child in the family, my great-grandfather's older sister, was Etta, who was born about 1890.  All the pieces were fitting!

Because Esther Leah died in Russia, any photos of her had to have been taken there.  So far this is the only one that has surfaced.  I thought it was such an important discovery that I had the photo digitally cleaned up and then mailed prints to all the cousins on that side of the family, so everyone would know what Esther Leah looked like.  I did not want her to be forgotten again, tossed aside with a comment of "I have no idea who these people are."

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: 100-Word Genealogy Challenge

It's Saturday, so it must be time for more Saturday Night Genealogy Fun with Randy Seaver!  This was another easy choice for me.

Your mission this week, should you decide to accept it, is:

(1) This SNGF is based on the 100 Word Challenge ( that school children are participating in around the world.  They are given a word or phrase to write a story about in one hundred words.

(2) Write a short 100-word story using the phrase
"the most interesting ancestor I have . . ." in 100 words.  [Hint:  If you write it in a word processor, you can use Tools > Word Count (or similar) to count words.]

(3) Share the story with all of us by writing your own blog post, writing a comment on this blog post, or putting it in a Google+ Stream or Facebook Status or Note.  Please leave a comment on this post so others can find it.

Here's mine:

The most interesting ancestor I have is my 6x-great-grandmother Ann Ridgway, who was born October 10, 1710 and married Hananiah Gaunt August 8, 1730.  Even before her marriage, she was a well known Quaker minister from Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey.  She began preaching when a young girl and traveled extensively on preaching excursions from then until she reached an advanced age.  She was a minister for more than 60 years.  When she was very old and could no longer stand to preach, she instead would pray on her knees for hours.  And people listened.  She died February 6, 1794.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Treasure Chest Thursday: It's a Conspiracy!

There wasn't a Treasure Chest Thursday post last week, partly because I was at the IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, and partly because the large flatbed scanner I have been using was out of commission.  When I returned from Florida, however, I discovered that the scanner had been repaired, so I started scanning the oversize pages regarding the property/inheritance dispute between Emma (Schafer) La Forêt and her Curdt siblings.

While I was scanning, this little scrap of paper jumped out, begging for attention.  I have to admit, I laughed when I first saw it, but I thought it was a fine way to get back into the spirit of Jean's feelings regarding the entire situation with the Curdts.

The paper is 5" x 3 13/16".  It's a grayish off-white with lines lightly printed in blue (I think), columns in red, and a border in red and blue.  It was neatly torn off of a larger piece of paper.  It looks as though it might have come from an accounting ledger or something similar.

The only words on it are "Conspiracy / Curdt — Schaefer", in what appears to be Jean La Forêt's handwriting.  We have seen the word "conspiracy" used previously in the documents connected to this story.  In fact, it was at the very beginning of my posts, in the typed history of Emma Schafer:

"From this time on, there existed a Conspiracy to defraud and despoil EMMA M. SCHAFER of her property."


"Thus Elizabeth Curdt disclosed her partnership in the CONSPIRACY, and stuck to her criminal husband against her first child."

So it's very clear what Jean thought of the goings-on.  Maybe this little note was the first time he had put it in writing.