Saturday, October 19, 2019

Now That's What I Call a Blended Family!

My stepfather
Recently I visited Florida for my high school 40th reunion (which I may write about at some point; still processing my feelings about it).  While I was there, I stayed at my stepfather's house, and it occurred to me just how blended of a family I have.

Both of my parents have passed away, my mother 25 years ago this coming January and my father this past May.  So the only living parents I have now are my stepparents.

When I scheduled the trip for the reunion, I was also intending to visit my father and stepmother.  After my father's death, however, my stepmother has been moved to Texas, where she now lives with her son and daughter-in-law, because she really couldn't live on her own anymore.  So I didn't get to see here, unfortunately.

My stepmother's son, of course, is my stepbrother.  He has two sisters, who are my stepsisters.

My stepfather has two sons from his first marriage, so I have two more stepbrothers.  (I did get to see both of them on my trip.)

I have a full brother and full sister from my parents' marriage.

I also have a half-sister, about whom I have written several times, from my father's first marriage.

I guess I had a stepgrandmother growing up, because my grandfather was on his third wife before I was even born.

I even have a living stepgrandmother, because my stepfather's mother is still alive and kicking (in fact, she turns 94 this December!).

And as if that weren't enough to keep track of, my brother used to ask people this question, just to see their reactions:

"When is my sister's sister not my sister?"

And that happens when your half-sister's mother remarries and has a daughter with her second husband.  So my half-sister's half-sister is not biologically related to me and therefore not my sister.

(They could have used a variation of that line on NCIS:  When is my brother's brother not my brother?  Ziva's half-brother, Ari, had a half-brother, Sergei, from his mother's second marriage.  Sergei was not related by blood to Ziva at all.  And so we have art imitating life.)

I guess that's why I had to become a genealogist — just so someone in the family could keep track of all this.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Where Are Those Other Children?

Mary Lou is on the right
Today is October 16, the birthday of my half-sister's mother, Mary Lou Jocelyn (Bowen) Sellers James.  I have been posting my memories of her on my blog over the past few years.

Mary Lou was really good at storytelling.  Sometimes she may have exaggerated just a little.  One of the stories where she apparently did that was about my father (the parent I share with my half-sister).

Several times Mary Lou told me, seemingly with all sincerity, that my father had other children somewhere out there.  She appeared to be absolutely convinced that there were little bastard kids out there I was related to, little mini Lynns running around.  She never told me how she knew this, but she insisted it was true.

I never asked my father about this while Mary Lou was still alive, probably because I thought it might cause some kind of trouble.  But some years after she passed away, I did broach the subject with him.

You could tell he had heard the story many times himself.  As soon as I started asking him, he knew exactly what it was about.  And he told me flat out that no, as far as he knew, he had no other children out there.

He didn't seem to know where Mary Lou had gotten the story either and why she continued to repeat it.  He had told her multiple times it wasn't true.

I think my father had the last laugh, though.  He has almost 6,000 people who match him on DNA testing sites, and the only children matches are my sister and me.  No one else is even close.

I guess Mary Lou was just making it up.

Mary Lou would have been 81 years old today.

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Genealogy Volunteer Work in Oregon

I knew I would end up doing volunteer work in genealogy after my move to Oregon, because volunteering is just something I do, and most of it nowadays has something to do with genealogy.

Less than a week after I arrived I called the Family History Center in Gresham, a mere three miles from my house, and asked if they were looking for volunteers.  No surprise, I was told, "Yes!"  I think I started my Tuesday morning shift the week after that.  It's a lot slower pace than when I was at the Oakland Family History Center in California, though.  We usually have only one or two patrons come in during the four-hour shift, and most of the time the help they need is computer-oriented rather than for research.  I'm still trying to figure out ways to "market" the FHC to get more people to come in and use our resources.

I didn't realize I hadn't posted about this when it started, and somehow a year has passed already.  Last fall I took on the job of coordinating the African American Special Interest Group (AA SIG for short) at the Genealogical Forum of Oregon.  The group began the year before, soon after I moved here, and I attended regularly.  The person who started the SIG determined she was trying to do too many things and asked for someone to take over leading the group.  Apparently I was the only person who volunteered.  I have had a small amount of pushback, because I am not black, but neither of the two people who complained was willing to do the work and everyone else is fine with me, so I'm still doing it.  I've been able to get some good speakers, and we've built a pretty solid group.

At the 2018 Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) conference, one of the sessions I attended was about records access for the genealogical community.  The primary genealogical group that keeps an eye on such issues is the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), which is a joint effort between FGS (which is now part of NGS), the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, and the National Genealogical Society (NGS).  I felt so inspired by the presentation that I volunteered to be the contact person for the state of Oregon, which did not have one at the time.  One of my responsibilities is to let the committee know about "records access and preservation activities within the state, including both problems (issues) and successes."  So if you hear about any records access problems in Oregon, please let me know!

The most recent position I've taken on is Vice President of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Oregon (JGSO).  The board voted me in a mere week ago.  My primary job is handling programming for our meetings.  So far I've attended only one board meeting, although I have put together a long list of ideas for future programs.  All I need now is the schedule for the year (which someone else is handling), so I can try to find speakers!

Genealogy still relies heavily on volunteers in so many ways for societies to function.  I'm very happy I am able to help these groups.

What genealogy volunteer work do you do?

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Which Ancestral Home Would You Like to Visit?

Randy Seaver asks for a difficult decision in this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun:

Here is your assignment, if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music, please!):

Tell us which ancestral home (an actual building, a village, a town, even a country) you would most like to visit.   Which ancestors lived there and for how long?  

(2) Share your ancestral home information in your own blog post or on Facebook, and leave a link to it in the comments.

Thank you to Linda Stufflebean for suggesting this topic.

Randy appears to be fortunate in that he has several lines in his family that were in the same location, making it easy to choose that place.  Mine are kind of scattered all over the place, which makes the choice difficult.  On the other hand, Randy did give country as an option, so I think I'll choose "Russian Empire."  As in the one that doesn't exist anymore.  But it was the country from which all of the ancestors on my mother's side of the family emigrated.

All the American documentation I have says that the Brainins came from Kreuzburg, which is now Krustpils, Latvia.  I would love to go there and try to find some European documents that actually confirm that's where they were from.  Supposedly my 3x-great-grandfather was a doctor; maybe that increases the possibility of finding a record about him?

The Mecklers came from Kamenetz Litovsk, Grodno gubernia, which is now Kamyanyets, Belarus.  I have that family tracked back to my 3x-great-grandfather Zvi Mekler.  I wouldn't expect to find much about my family in modern Kamyanyets, but I want the opportunity to look.

The Nowicki family came from Porozovo, Grodno gubernia, now Porazava, Belarus.  This is another location where not much has survived regarding the former Jewish population, but you never know unless you try.

The Gorodetskys were at least registered in Orinin, Kamenets Podolskiy gubernia, which is now Orynyn, Ukraine.  I don't know how far back that registration goes or how long it might have been since someone lived there.  The family was apparently at one time in the city of Kamenets Podolskiy (now Kamyanets Podilskyy), which is where my great-grandfather and his older sister are said to have been born, so that's probably the more important location to visit first.

The Schneidermans were also said to have been from Kamenets Podolskiy, although I don't think it was stated whether that was the city or merely the gubernia.

I don't know where the Jaffes, Bindermans, Blooms, or Yelskys are supposed to have been from.  I guess I would start searching for the Jaffes and Bindermans in Krustpils and the Blooms and Yelskys in Porazava.  I might also have Cohen and Kardish/Kortisch ancestors.  I would start my search for them in Kamyanets Podilskyy.

So that gives me a lot of territory to cover.  What was once one (very large) country would now necessitate going through at least three modern countries.  And not going at all to modern Russia, because my ancestors all seem to have stayed in the Pale, apparently not having any of the high-end occupations that permitted one to reside in Russia proper.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: One of Your Immigrant Ancestors

All of us have immigrant ancestors of some sort, although some can be researched more easily than others.  This week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun from Randy Seaver asks us to choose one of those ancestors to discuss:

Here is your assignment, if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music, please!):

Tell us about one of your immigrant ancestors.  Where and when did he come from, how did he migrate, where did he land, where did he settle?

(2) Share your immigrant ancestor information in your own blog post or on Facebook, and leave a link to it in the comments.

Thank you to Linda Stufflebean for suggesting this topic.

Unlike Randy, my family is made up of much more recent immigrants.  On my mother's side of the family, the least recent arriving family member came in 1904.  On my father's side, however, the most recent came in 1890.  I think I'll write about her today.

Jane, about 1881
My great-grandmother Jane Dunstan was born April 28, 1871 in Manchester, Lancashire, England to parents Frederick Dunstan and Martha Winn.  Her father died when she was 3 years old, and I'm sure the family went through difficult times.  In the 1881 census the family was enumerated at 48 Owen Street, Hulme, Lancashire.  Jane's mother died about 1884, when she was about 13.  I don't know with whom she lived after that point, but she immigrated to the United States on October 21, 1890, arriving in Philadelphia on the Lord Clive, and thereby missing the 1891 English census.  (Jane's older brother, Frederick Cleworth Dunstan, also came to the United States, but I have not found him on a passenger list, so I don't know which sibling came first, although I suspect it was Fred.)

Soon after Jane's arrival into Philadelphia, she apparently moved to New Jersey, because there she married Thomas Kirkland Gauntt on September 2, 1891 in Greensand, Middlesex County.  Upon her marriage Jane instantly became a U.S. citizen, because she was a female foreign national marrying a male citizen.

Between January 7, 1892 and December 30, 1914, Thomas and Jane had ten children that I know of, seven of whom lived to adulthood.  My grandmother Anna Gauntt was the second child and oldest daughter.  It is interesting to note that the first child was born only four months after the marriage.  Perhaps that is why Thomas and Jane married in Middlesex County instead of Thomas' home of Burlington County?

In every census (both federal and state) in which I have found Thomas and Jane, they are living in Burlington County, except for 1895, when they were living in Camden County.  Thomas was almost always listed as a farmer or farm laborer, but in 1910 he was working as an insurance agent.

Thomas (left) and Jane (middle)
with granddaughter Esther
My father knew his grandparents and remembered that his grandmother maintained an English accent all of her life.  Not only that, her accent might have worn off on her husband, whom my father also remembered as speaking with a slight English accent.

Thomas died January 21, 1951, leaving Jane a widow.  She lived only a few more years after that, dying on August 1, 1954.  They are both buried in Brotherhood Cemetery, Hainesport, Burlington County, New Jersey.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Your Most Frustrating Brick Wall Problem

I was driving home from Klamath Falls last night after teaching a four-course seminar there during the day.  I didn't get home until midnight and pretty much collapsed right after I got home anyway, so I was unable to post my response to this week's challenge from Randy Seaver in Saturday Night Genealogy Fun until now:

Here is your assignment, if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music, please!):

(1) What is your most frustrating brick wall problem?  Tell us what you want to know and what you have found to date.

(2) Share your genealogy brick wall problem in your own blog post or on Facebook, and leave a link to it in the comments.

I have two very frustrating research problems:  determining who the biological father of my paternal grandfather was (which I have posted about several times) and finding my great-great-grandmother immigrating with three small children to the United States.  By my definition, neither is a "brick wall", because I haven't exhausted every possible avenue of research yet, but I'm pretty close to that on the latter, so I'll write about it.

My Brainin family came to the United States in a chain migration, as was common with immigrant families.  The first one to show up was the oldest child in the family, Nachman (later Max), who arrived in New York Harbor on August 21, 1904 aboard the S.S. New York.  He said he was coming to his cousin H. Weinstein, whom I have not yet identified (and no one in the family knows of any Weinstein cousins).

Next came Chase (Lena), Sora (Sarah), and Dovid (David) on the Caronia on August 2, 1905, also into New York.  They were the next oldest children.  Sarah is my great-grandmother.  Per the passenger list, their fares were paid for by their brother, which should be Max, and they were going to their sister Sophie Rosen.  I know of no sister in the family named Sophie, and that wasn't Max's wife's name, but I'm sure it's the correct family because the rest of the information matches, plus the numbers written above Sarah's name on the page correspond with her naturalization file, which I have obtained.  Lena, Sarah, and David were detained for special inquiry because they were two single women and a young, unskilled man.  They were held for two days as likely public charges based on the number of meals they ate and were admitted on August 3, but the 1905 form unfortunately does not include the name of the person who picked them up.

The next family member I found on a passenger list is my great-great-grandfather Mendel Hertz Brainin  (he went by Morris and Max in the United States).  He arrived on April 17, 1906 on the Gneisenau, also into New York.  He was going to Max, and his son paid for his ticket.  The passenger list has a notation about a "Dr Cert", and he was held for special inquiry as a likely public charge.  He was there about seven days and was admitted on August 24, again with no note of who picked him up.

And in 1910 the entire family appears in the United States federal census:  Max (Mendel), Rose, Lena, Sarah, David, William, Bessie, and Benjamin at 236 East 103rd Street, Manhattan, and Max (Nachman) and his new wife and son, Nellie and Sidney, at 101 West(?) 94th Street, also in Manhattan.

"Wait a minute!," I can hear you say.  "You didn't tell us when Rose, William, Bessie, and Benjamin came to the U.S.!"

Yup, and that's my frustrating research problem.  I still haven't found them.

Seriously, how can anyone lose a woman and three young children?  That's four people who should be together on a passenger list somewhere.

But it's true.  I can't find them.

I know all of their Jewish (Yiddish) names.  Rose was Ruchel Dwojre, maiden name Jaffe.  William was Velvel, Bessie was Pesche, and Benjamin was Binyamin.  Ruchel Dwojre was born about 1866–1871 in the Russian Empire, Velvel was born about 1891, Pesche about 1892–1895, and Binyamin about 1896.  So I know the names and approximate ages to look for on the passenger lists.  Still no luck.

Since Chase, Sora, and Dovid came relatively soon after Nachman, I'm pretty sure they were the second set of arrivals.  I don't know whether Ruchel and the youngest children arrived before or after Mendel.  It's common both ways, for the father to come last or for the wife and youngest children to come last.  But I know that they had arrived by 1910 because they appear in the census, so sometime between 1904 (after Nachman's arrival) and 1910.

My beginning hypothesis was that they had come into New York, as did all other family members, so I focused my searches there.  When discussing this once with my grandmother, she said that she remembered her grandmother saying something about coming into Watertown, which led me to research Boston records.  I later discovered that there is a Watertown, New York which was a border crossing, so I searched Canadian border crossing records.

I have looked for Ruchel and the children in the Ancestry New York passenger record collection; the Ellis Island database, using the Steve Morse interface; microfilmed Ellis Island index cards at the Family History Library; the Ancestry Boston passenger record collection; the Ancestry Canadian border crossing collection; and the FindMyPast outbound UK passenger list collection.  I have searched using only their Jewish given names and have looked under Brainin and Jaffe.  I have found no one who even closely approximates them.

I recently discovered that Binyamin (Benjamin) filed a Declaration of Intention to become a citizen, when my cousin (his granddaughter) suddenly told me she had a copy of the declaration.  On that, he stated that he had left Europe from Libau on the Coronia and had arrived in New York on September 15, 1906.  I did not find the ship arriving in New York on that date.  I have searched that ship’s passenger lists for other dates in 1906 on Ancestry and through Steve Morse’s site, but not exhaustively.

William said on his World War I draft registration that he was a naturalized citizen.  Willie was in the Army, and he likely had a fast-tracked military naturalization (such as his brother David had), which has almost no details; these naturalization documents often lack information such as the date and ship of arrival into the United States.  I did, however, request a USCIS index search to see if they could find his naturalization file.  I submitted the request in 2016 but never received the results.  When I checked the tracking system today, however, it said that the search was completed in 2017.  So I have just now sent a request for another copy of the search results.

I have one remaining clue I have not yet pursued.  On the 1910 census, there is a note that Max (Mendel) had filed naturalization papers, i.e., had made a Declaration of Intention to become a citizen.  I have not yet pursued this, because I strongly suspect the search will not be profitable and because it currently costs $65 to request an index search from USCIS.  In the 1920 census Morris/Mendel (who died before the 1930 census was taken) was listed as an alien, not as having filed papers.  It was common for older immigrants not to become naturalized citizens.  But there are discrepancies in other information on the 1920 census:  It says everyone in the family — Morris, Rose, Lena, Dave, and Willie — arrived in 1904.  I know Morris came in 1906; of course, I still haven't found Rose and Willie, so I don't know when they arrived.  It also says that Dave became a citizen in 1907 and Willie did in 1909.  I have Dave's naturalization papers, and he became a citizen in 1918.  So it is possible that Mendel did file papers, as the 1910 census states, and that the information on the 1920 is incorrect.  But right now I don't have the extra $65 to cough up for that search.