Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Back to California — For Genealogy, of Course!

I haven't even been in Portland for three entire weeks, but I've already taken two day trips to California.  What could make me do that?  Genealogy!

Both trips were to give talks that had been scheduled before my move out of state.  The first was a presentation to the Contra Costa County Genealogical Society (CCCGS) last week on Thursday.  I flew to Oakland (via Ontario!) and took BART out to Concord, where Martha Whittaker graciously picked me up and took me to the premeeting group dinner, and from there Lisa Gorrell drove me to the meeting.  It was gratifying to see that the room was full for my presentation about using resources compiled for Jewish research to help research non-Jewish ancestors.  I was very glad that everyone appeared to enjoy the talk and several people came up to say they learned a lot.

The second trip was today (Tuesday), to the Santa Clara County Historical and Genealogical Society (SCCHGS).  This time I flew into San Jose, where Linda Sanders met me and took me to the Santa Clara City Library.  The topic was immigration and naturalization records, and the room was again full of genealogists.  I took up all the time allotted and had to leave a couple of questions unanswered because librarian Mary Boyle wanted to make sure I got to the airport on time for my return flight.  This talk also went well, and Mary said everyone appreciated the information.

I am grateful to CCCGS and SCCHGS for inviting me to be a speaker and then keeping me on the schedule after I moved.  Thank you both for your support, and I really enjoyed both presentations.  I hope I'm able to visit again soon.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Where Were My Ancestors 100 Years Ago?

For this week's edition of Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, Randy Seaver is doing a variation on a theme he used a couple of years ago.  Whereas that time he asked us where our ancestors were 150 years ago, this time we're moving into the 20th century and not looking back as far.

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

(1) Determine where your ancestral families were on 16 September 1917:  100 years ago.

(2) List them, their family members, their birth years, and their residence locations (as close as possible).  Do you have a photograph of their residence from about that time, and does the residence still exist?

(3) Tell us all about it in your own blog post, in a comment to this post, or in a Facebook Status or Google+ Stream post.


This is going to be a much shorter list for me than the 1865 version, because I won't be including any of the Sellers ancestor lines.  I still don't have addresses for my relatives, particularly for those living in Europe.

My 2nd-great-grandfather Joel Armstrong (1849) was living in Burlington County, New Jersey.

My great-grandparents Cornelius Elmer Sellers (1877) and Laura (Armstrong) Sellers (1882) were living in Mount Holly, New Jersey.  Elmer's World War I draft registration card, dated September 12, 1918, has the address 115 Clover Street, so that might be where they were in 1917.  (Elmer died two days after he filled out that draft card.)  My paternal grandfather, Bertram Lynn (Sr.) (1903), was also in the household, as were his siblings Catherine Marie (abt. 1907), George Moore "Dickie" (1908), and Nellie Elizabeth (1912).  It's possible that Herman J. (about 1914) and Amelia (after 1904) were still alive and in the household; I only know that both children died before 1920.

My great-grandparents Thomas Kirkland Gauntt (1870) and Jane (Dunstan) Gauntt (1871) were living in Burlington County, New Jersey, although I don't know if they were in Mount Holly or Burlington.  Children living with them were Edna May (1902), James Kirkland (1905), and Thomas Franklin (1908).

My paternal grandmother, Anna Gauntt (1893), was almost definitely living in Mount Holly, New Jersey with her husband, Charles Cooper Stradling (1895).  I don't think they divorced until the 1920's.  Also in the home would have been their daughter, my aunt Ruth Carrie (1914).

My 2nd-great-grandmother Bela (unknown maiden name) Mekler (unknown birth year) might have been alive.  I know she had died by 1924, but that's it.  If she was alive in 1917, she was probably living in the area of Kamenets Litovsk, Russian Empire (now Kameniec, Belarus).  I don't know who she might have been living with.

My 2nd-great-grandparents Gershon Itzhak Nowicki (about 1858) and Dora (Yelsky) Nowicki (about 1858) were still in Europe, probably in Porozowo, Russian Empire (now Porozovo, Belarus).  Chldren living with them might have included Louis, Chaim, Harry, and Mirke.  I don't know when Louis and Harry immigrated, and I don't know when Mirke married (she did not immigrate).  Chaim is said to have died in 1918 and no Anglicizied name was ever used for him, so he probably stayed in Europe also.

My great-grandparents Morris Meckler (about 1882) and Minnie Zelda (Nowicki) Meckler (about 1880) were living in Brooklyn, New York with all of their surviving children:  Sarah (about 1900; Sam (about 1903); Harry (about 1905); my maternal grandfather, Abraham (1912); Florence (1915); and Elsie (1919).

My 2nd-great-grandfather Isaac/Victor Gorodetsky (about 1866) was living in Brooklyn, New York, having immigrated in 1914.  I don't know with whom he might have been living; I suspect he was not living by himself.

My 2nd-great-grandparents Morris Brainin (about 1861) and Rose Dorothy (Jaffe) Brainin (about 1868) were living in Manhattan, New York.  Living with them were their children Lena (about 1884) and Benjamin (about 1896).  It's possible their son William (about 1892) was at home with them, but he enlisted in the U.S. Army for World War I, so he already might have been in the service.

My great-grandparents Joe Gordon (about 1892) and Sarah Libby (Brainin) Gordon (about 1890) were also living in Manhattan, New York.  At home with them were their sons Sidney (1915) and Alexander (1917), the latter of whom was a mere five months old.

None of my ancestors was living in the only home of which I have a photograph.  In 1930 my great-grandmother Laura (Armstrong) Sellers Ireland and my grandfather Bertram Lynn Sellers were living in the Armstrong home at 343 Broad Street, Mount Holly, but in 1917 Laura's great-uncle and -aunt were living there.

I have seventeen ancestors who were alive 100 years ago, and possibly eighteen.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Research Grief

I missed last week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun because I moved from Oakland, California to Portland, Oregon the day before, and I didn't get Internet until the Monday after.  Since this week's challenge is a repeat of the one from October 17, 2015, which I posted about at the time, I'm going to answer last week's question instead.

Your mission this [last] 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,
"Which ancestor gives you the most researching grief?"

(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.


The ancestor who has been giving me the most research grief of late is my paternal grandfather's biological father.  I used Y-DNA testing to prove that this man was not the husband of my great-grandmother, the man my grandfather grew up with as his father.  Since that time I have been working on trying to determine who the mystery man is.  My grandfather's original birth record did not list a father's name at all.

My father matches two men on 107 of 111 markers based on their Y-DNA test results.  Both of these men have the same last name, Mundy, which I have interpreted to mean it is the likely last name of my mystery great-grandfather.

I started looking for Mundys in and around Burlington County, New Jersey, where my great-grandmother lived.  As she did not have much money, I don't believe she could have traveled much, so my hypothesis has been that Mr. Mundy probably came to her area.  I have focused on Burlington County and Philadelphia, which is close by (just across the river) and the nearest big city.

I did find a Mundy family in New Jersey, but they were in the northern part of the state, so I noted them but put them aside.  I began to look at them more closely when a generous soul named Suzanne McClendon dug up several newspaper articles on Bert Mundy, a member of that northern Jersey family.  Good old Bert apparently was a traveling salesman and a philanderer, making him a decent possibility for someone who might have traveled to the southern end of the state and had a short fling.  Another thing that makes him a good candidate is that my grandfather's name was Bertram and he was said to have been named after a "close family friend."

I've done a lot of research on Bert's family, hoping to find some living not-too-distant cousins who might be willing to do autosomal DNA testing and compare results.  So far I've gone back two generations and brought everyone forward, but none of the lines has any surviving individuals.  Taking it back one more generation is getting to be a little too far to easily determine connections, but it's the most promising path right now.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Brother, Can You Spare an Hour (or Two)?

It's time for another round-up of projects that are looking for volunteer help, whether in the form of transcriptions, information, or time.  If you have an hour or two a week to spare or some specialized knowledge, maybe you're just the person for one of these requests.

Flooding in Montreal’s Bonaventure Depot in
1886.  Photo: George Charles Arless. Source:
McCord Museum, Montreal, Quebec, MP-1999.6.1
As is becoming more and more common, several of the projects are asking volunteers to transcribe digitized information.  McGill University in Montreal, Québec is hoping people will be interested in working on 150 years of meterological observations from the McGill Observatory.  The focus of the Data Rescue:  Archives and Weather (DRAW) project is studying the historical weather data to identify patterns and trends, but an article notes, “The Observatory ledgers are also full of interesting little notes about the daily lives of our ancestors."  So if you had relatives living in Montreal, you can learn more about what their weather was like and how it affected them.  The project site is still in a beta testing stage, but interested participants can sign up now and practice using the transcription tools.

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Yale University's recent foray into crowd-sourced transcription work is all about the drama — Yale's School of Drama, that is, along with the Yale Repertory Theatre Ephemera Collection.  The aim of the Ensemble @ Yale project is to create a database of Yale theatrical history.  Volunteers can browse digitized programs spanning more than 90 years and transcribe play titles, production dates, and names of directors, cast, and crew.  Once the first two collections have been transcribed and put into a searchable database, more Yale theater-related collections will be considered as additions.  If you had a family member at Yale or are into theater history, this may be the project for you.

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Ukrainian family from Tyshkivtsi,
Galicia, Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1890
A transcription project more directly related to family history research is the one connected to the recently launched database of genealogical records for Ukrainians born between 1650 and 1920.  The database is said to include information on more than two and a half million people, with plans to increase the total to between four and five million people by 2019.  Documents used as data sources originated with the Tsardom of Muscovy, Russian and Habsburg empires, Poland, and the Soviet Union.  The index is currently searchable only in Cyrillic, but a Roman alphabet search is planned for the future.  (Remember, Google Translate understands Ukrainian and is your friend.)

If you register on the project site you can create a family tree.  The transcription site provides instructions on how to do the transcription work, and lists locations and whether documents have been finished or are waiting to be worked on.  Something I didn't find on the site is a list of what documents are being used, which would be useful for determining whether Jewish individuals might be included in the database.

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There are enough volunteer transcription projects now that someone has created a page to aggregate them.  It's on an education-oriented blog, and the focus is on students working with historical texts, but it's a nice collection of links conveniently grouped together.

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1903 Vacaville Reporter front page
A local request for assistance comes from the Vacaville (Calfornia) Heritage Council, which is looking for volunteers to take on projects such as scanning photo negatives, researching local history, organizing donated historical material, and various computer tasks.  Some of the historical items that scream to be cared for are the Vacaville Reporter's newspaper collection from 1930–2006, microfilm of newspapers going back to 1883, and photo negatives.  Interested individuals can contact council president Doug Rodgers at the e-mail address given in the article.

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Three more local requests, these from museums in eastern Contra Costa County, California, were featured in a recent newspaper article.  The Antioch Historical Museum, East County Historical Museum, and Pittsburg Historical Museum and Society have each received healthy donations of newspapers, microfilm, and other historical items that now need to be sorted and prepared for access.  Contact information for each of the groups is in the article, if you have the time to help.

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Dr. Kimberly Jensen, a professor at Western Oregon University, is trying to find more information about The People's Bulletin, a black community newspaper published in Portland, Oregon.  The only known surviving issue, from June 7, 1917, is Volume 1, Number 34, and is held at the University of California at Santa Barbara's Special Research Collections, as part of its “Portland [Oregon] African-American Collection, circa 1900–1970.”  So far all documentation for the newspaper indicates only the year 1917, although June 7 was in the 23rd week of 1917, so the first issues should have come out in 1916.  It's obviously a very rare paper; it isn't even listed in the Chronicling America directory.  Anyone who can provide information about The People's Bulletin is asked to contact Dr. Jensen at the e-mail address given in the article linked above.

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There are always lots of Irish projects going on.  A releatively new one is Epic Journeys - Ellis Island, which aims to document the Irish experience going through Ellis Island.  The project began in 2015 with a focus on the parish of Tulla, County Clare but has now expanded to other departure points in Ireland, including locations in the counties of Cavan, Cork, Galway, and Tipperary.  The Web site is currently going through an upgrade, so contributions cannot be made through it directly, but they can be sent via an e-mail address on the site.

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The Edmonds Historical Museum (in Snohomish County, Washington State) is asking its area residents, whether military veterans, current service members, or civilians, to come forward and share their wartime memories, from World War II through to the recent War on Terror.  All interviews will be shared with repositories for permanent preservation, and participants will each be given a copy of the oral history interview to keep and to share with family members if desired.  After November 2017, the interview project will expand to general memories of Edmonds and south Snohomish County.  Details and contact information are in an online article about the project.

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This one isn't directly genealogy-related, but identifying the person should help one family.  Authorities from Orange County, California have put out a public request for help with their oldest cold case, who is a Jane Doe.  "Jane" was found dead on March 14, 1968 in Hungtington Beach, California.  She was estimated to be 20–30 years old, 5'2"–5'3", and about 130–140 pounds.  More information about her case, including the clothing and items found with her, is on the Defrosting Cold Cases blog.

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Detail from The Book of Magical Charms
The last project I'll mention today has nothing to do with genealogy, but it just sounds really cool, so I want to share it.  How would you like to transcribe magical manuscripts?  The Newberry Library in Chicago is giving you that opportunity.  The Book of Magical Charms describes how to care for toothaches, cheat at dice, complete a conjuring, and speak with spirits.  How can you possibly pass that up?  Atlas Obscura has an interesting article about the project, and you can visit the transcription project site to get started.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Treasure Chest Thursday: John Schafer Buys Property of the Late John Smith


This sheet, and each of the three that follows, measures 8 1/2" x 14", the standard for legal size.  This first sheet is slightly yellowed but appears to have originally been a creamy off-white.  It's a heavy bond, possibly more than 20#, with a very sturdy feel.  It has a watermark that is difficult to read, but I can make out "Byron / –eston Co / —n Recor— / 1918."  I think the first two lines might be "Byron Weston Company", but I'm stuck on the next word.

This is a sheet of letterhead for the St. Louis County Land Title Company.  Everything is typed on the page except for a check mark in pencil on the left and one sentence in pencil at the bottom:  "Where does the eastern boundary come in?"




These three pages are of a lesser stock than the first.  They're all a muted yellow-orange with stronger color at the top.  Everything on each is typed except for a penciled check mark to the left of each transaction.

The first page tells us that the set of documents is a chain of title to lots 9 and 10, which are the land at the center of the dispute between Jean and Emma La Forêt and Emma's three Curdt siblings.  The receipt posted last week says that the order was for lots 9 to 16; we'll have to wait until we go through all the pages to see which is correct.

It's clear that Jean copied the information from these entries to create his abbreviated version, which did not include all the details for every transaction.  But he wasn't perfect with his copying — the first mistake comes in the first entry, with the name Solomon, which Jean typed as Salomon.

From these four pages, Jean copied the first entry in its entirety.  On the second page, he took highlights of the first three listings and then copied the fourth completely.  He seems to have copied everything from the third and fourth pages.

One question this resolves is why the land was referred to as a subdivision of John Smith's estate in the legal waiver that Louis Curdt signed.  John Smith's heirs sold lot 10 to John Schafer.  Apparently Mr. Smith wanted to make sure his children's names stood out a little more than his:  Louisiana Smith and Doddridge Smith are decidedly less common.

John Schafer purchased lot 10 directly from Smith's heirs in 1856, but he didn't acquire lot 9 until 1864, almost ten years later.  He purchased that land from Rufus and Mary Lackland, who do not appear to have been Smith's heirs.  Since the chain of title was concerned with the properties from the time that Schafer had them, we don't get information on when the Lacklands bought lot 9, but the description mentions 182-116 and that is was part of Smith's estate.  Schafer's purchase of lot 10 was 183-316, so it was probably not long after the Lacklands bought lot 9.

Comparing the descriptions of the two pieces of land, one finds a lot more detail in that for lot 10, which uses landmarks ("a black oak, 5 inches in diameter"), degrees of direction, chain measurements, and roads to define the plot.  The description of lot 9, on the other hand, is distinctly less precise — "32.49 arpens, more or less" — refers to a file in the surveyor's office instead of giving details, and has spelling errors ("noreth" for north, "be" for by).  Maybe the two transactions were processed by different clerks.

I can see some logic to Elizabeth's letters of administration being listed here, as her appointment meant that she was in control of the land, but I'm surprised that information about the family's marriages and divorces appears in the chain of title.  I don't think they're normally registered at the same county office as land transactions.  When I looked at Jean's compilation, I figured he had obtained documents from multiple sources.  But the chain of title refers to the marriage records; why?

Here's another confusing thing about these documents:  Why are some letters and numbers underlined?  On the first page, we see "0.43 1/2" and "page 141".  On the second page, there are "Smith's" and "plat".  The third page has "Miss" Elizabeth Schafer, but that might have been underlined to emphasize the error, as a widow should be Mrs.  But why does the last entry have "Schafer" twice and "Kink"?  Happily, the fourth page has no strange underlines.

It appears that the check marks on these pages might simply have indicated that Jean had copied what he wanted from the entries, since he checked every one.  I don't know why someone wrote the question on the first page, though.  The description of lot 10 says it is bounded on the east by lot 9.  (That information is confirmed in the description of lot 9, which says it is bounded on the west by lot 10.)  So if the eastern boundary is defined, why would someone ask where it comes in?