Monday, February 27, 2012

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Blair Underwood

The Blair Underwood episode of Who Do You Think You Are? opened with a voice-over about how Underwood has highlighted black issues in his roles and work and has won five NAACP Image Awards.  In Underwood's initial monologue he talked about how family has always been important to him and that he wanted to learn more about where his family came from.  His father was in the U.S. Army for 27 years and retired as a colonel; his paternal grandfather was the first black police officer in Steubenville, Ohio.  He knew some information about his mother's side of the family, not as much about the Underwoods.  The commercials for the episode had indicated he was going to Africa, so we knew that was coming at some point.  I thought it might be the big finale to the episode, as it had been with Emmitt Smith.

Underwood began his research by visiting his parents at their home in Petersburg, Virginia.  His brother Frank Underwood, Jr. is the family genealogist and had assembled information for the family to look at.  (Wouldn't it be nice if in one of these episodes the celebrity was the family historian?)  They discussed what they knew about the family and how they had hit the brick wall of 1865 -- how to find people who had been slaves prior to emancipation.  Underwood said that with "science and technology we can break through" and sent a DNA test kit off to

It's really annoying and unfair to constantly parade DNA around as a "magic bullet" that will give people answers about their ancestry.  A recent blog post by "The Legal Genealogist" discussed the general problems, including the fact that the results the tests give are based on probabilities and percentages, not on absolutes.  But people like easy answers, so the tests gain momentum.

Underwood began his research with genealogist Joseph Shumway (of ProGenealogists, owned by at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.  Shumway had already found records and showed Underwood the register entries for the marriage of Harry Royall and Ada White (Underwood's great-grandparents on his mother's side) listing their parents, Ben and Fannie Royall and Thomas and Mary White, and the marriage of Ben and Fannie, listing their parents.  The focus was on Fannie's parents, Saunie and Maria Early, and particularly on Saunie.

Shumway proceeded to show Sauney (yes, spelled differently) in the 1900 census -- born 1822, could read and write, but residing in the Central State [Mental] Hospital in Virginia -- 1880 census as Sawnee -- with wife Maria and daughter Fannie, working as a farm laborer -- and 1870 census again as Sauney -- this time working as a blacksmith.  Shumway mentioned that they would not be able to look for Sauney in the 1890 census because it had been burned, which is not entirely accurate.  There was a fire in the National Archives in which parts of the 1890 census did burn, but the reason we don't have it is because after they put out the fire they just left the wet pages as they were.  By the time someone looked at them again, they had been ruined by mold.  Shumway should certainly know that, and it helps no one to give inaccurate information.  I wonder if his research is that sloppy?

After showing Underwood the 1870 census, the two men discussed the fact that during the 1860 census Sauney was likely a slave and would not appear in the enumeration by name.  Underwood declared that they had "hit the wall" of slavery.  While that is true, there are definitely ways to determine former slave owners and then research slave ancestors, and it would have been nice to see Shumway discuss that.  Freedmen's Bureau records, available at all branches of the National Archives, are a goldmine of information.  Did WDYTYA's researchers look at the Freedmen's Bureau records and find nothing?  Did they look at all?

But back to Sauney -- he had obviously declined over the course of 30 years.  In 1870 he was a skilled tradesman, in 1880 a general laborer, and in 1900 in a mental hospital.  So what happened?  Underwood went to Jones Memorial Library in Lynchburg, Virginia to meet with Dr. Dan Fountain, a professor of history at Meredith College.  Fountain had found several newspaper articles about Sauney.  For the first one Underwood scrolled through a microfilm to the date that Fountain gave him, but after that they were practical and used printed copies of the articles.  Sawney (yup, another spelling) was called a "pestiferous darkey" in one article about how he stole a cow from a neighbor, R. M. Chambers; he was sent to jail in Liberty for that.  In the Lynchburg Daily Virginian, an 1897 article discussed how "Sawney" wore badges with cabalistic signs and described him as a "religious enthusiast."  And on January 23, 1884 another article explained that Sauney had been shot and killed by another neighbor, Mr. Tardy, in a fight over some timber.  (That article was in error, since Sauney was still alive in 1900.  Apparently a reporter didn't wait for the full story.)  And another article called Sauney a religious enthusiast again.

All of this led to a discussion of how Sauney must have been a "conjurer", a position in the community which originated in West African tradition.  The conjurer negotiated the boundary between the spirit and human worlds and was a leader in the community.  Now, Sauney had been shot and survived, and he liked shiny things, but it's still a big leap for me to decide he was a conjurer.  He could just as easily have had some mental problems, based on the information presented in the show.

The different ways that Sauney's name was spelled were not discussed at all, which was probably very confusing for people who have not seen this yet in their own research.  It didn't used to be important to spell consistently (Social Security is one of the reasons spelling became codified), and many people were illiterate or barely literate.  It is not uncommon to find a name spelled half a dozen ways or more.

From the library Underwood and Fountain went to what looked like an empty lot.  Fountain showed a map indicating the property lines of Sauney, Chambers, and someone named Armistead.  The properties in question were where they were standing.  He talked about how Chambers and Armistead were newcomers to the area and apparently were trying to push Sauney around.  Fountain had found a deposition in Bedford County (one assumes the county they were standing in, but it wasn't specified), given by a white man, stating that the cow which Sauney had "stolen" had wandered onto his property from Chambers' property.  Something that struck me in this scene was that Chambers and Armistead were identified on the map by their family names, but Sauney by his given name.  Usually calling someone by a given name shows less respect.  (I promise I do not mean any disrespect by using given names in this post!)

From all of these disparate pieces of information, including a comment that Sauney had been shot four times (we didn't see articles or evidence of all four times, however), Underwood decided that Sauney was a man who had lived by his own credo and could not be broken, and that maybe Chambers and the others had decided it would be easier to commit him rather than continue to fight him for the land.  Underwood was proud to have Sauney as his third-great-grandfather.  I would think if Sauney had been committed through that type of process, there should be court records to indicate it, so I'm a little suspicious.  Maybe there was something in the research we didn't get to see that supported the idea, but I can only judge by what they decided to include in the episode.

Underwood now went back to see Joseph Shumway, who had found information about Ada Belle White, who married Harry Royal.  Her parents in the marriage register were given as Thomas and Mary White.  The death certificate of Mary White showed that she died in 1917 in Lynchburg and was born in 1862.  Her father was listed as Delaware Scott.  Delaware Scott was in the 1860 census as a free person of color with Julia, William, and Judith Scott.  Family relationships were not stated in the 1860 census, but an educated guess based on everyone's ages was that Julia was Delaware's wife, William his son, and Judith possibly his mother.  Besides the family being free, it was also noted that Delaware owned real estate, which was definitely unusual.

At the Library of Virginia, Underwood met with Dr. Eva Sheppard Wolf, a historian and professor at California State University at San Francisco.  She had done extensive research on Delaware Scott and found him registered as a free Negro in 1849.  His mother was listed as Judith, he was 5'11" (the same as Underwood), and he was born free in 1823 (though in a later family tree diagram his birth was listed as 1824).  His mother had to have been free or he could not have been born free, as the child's status came from the mother.  We learned that there were thousands of free blacks in Virginia.  A 1782 law permitted slaves, with the exception of children and someone more than 45 years old, to be freed by deed or will.

A second registration for Delaware from September 5, 1852 again stated that Delaware was born free and mentioned a law from May 1, 1806.  Dr. Wolf discussed the law, which decreed that slaves freed after that date had to leave Virginia within one year, otherwise they could be captured and made slaves again.  Those people freed before May 1 did not have to leave.  By extension, Judith had to have been free before May 1, 1806, or the family could not have stayed in Virginia.

Dr. Wolf also found an 1850's deposition of some sort from a white man named Guy Lee.  He stated that he had known Amy Umbles for "60 years or upwards" and that she had been free.  He stated he also knew her two daughters, Judd and Tabby.  In the deposition he appeared to be vouching for the family in some way.  Wolf explained that Judd married Samuel Scott, and that they were the parents of Delaware Scott.  Later information showed Judd's name as Judith; no explanation was given in the episode about the change in her name.  Even given that people used variations of names at different times, the names here were different enough I thought this merited a comment explaining how they had determined Judith was Judd.

From here Underwood and Wolf went back to Lynchburg, to the Court Street Baptist Church, which the Scott family helped build.  Land deeds had been found showing that Samuel Scott was buying property in June 19, 1815.  He eventually owned about 200 acres, a pretty good amount for the time.  Tax records had also been found, which showed that Samuel owned two slaves in 1838 and 1839.  This, of course, threw Underwood for a loop.  Further research showed that in Samuel Scott's household in the 1840 census, only one slave was present, a male between 55-100 years of age.  Wolf said that a slave of that age was not someone who was working, so there had to be another reason to keep him.  She talked again about the law that slaves freed after May 1, 1806 had to leave Virginia; if someone remained a slave, he could stay.  She explained that most free black slave owners owned family members (she did not address if this was common only in Virginia because of the 1806 law or if it held for other states also).  Free people owned their family members so the family could stay together.  She hypothesized that the two slaves listed in the tax records were probably Samuel's parents, and that the person who died between 1839-1840 was likely his mother.

Underwood talked about how Samuel took care of his own and then said, "This is where the trail for the Scotts ends."  We have to assume that the show's researchers couldn't find any records for Amy Umbles or Samuel Scott stating when they were freed.  I'm wondering why the two slaves Samuel owned, theoretically his parents, didn't show up in any deeds or purchase transactions which might have named them.  How did Samuel come to own them?  He probably bought them from someone else, which should have generated a record.

Now we went from real research to the world of probabilities and smoke and mirrors.  Underwood met with Dr. Ken Chahine, the general manager of Ancestry DNA, in Lynchburg.  Chahine annoyed me from the start by using poor grammar when he said that Underwood's DNA "is comprised of" 74% African and 26% European roots.  The parts comprise the whole, not the other way around; you can say his DNA is composed of its parts, or you can say that 74% African and 26% European roots comprise his DNA.  Is good grammar really so difficult, guys?  Underwood's European roots were shown to be from what is now France, Switzerland, and Germany, and Underwood said he had always felt a connection with France.  His African roots indicated connections with the Bamoun, Yoruba, Igbo, and Bron tribes.  And the big revelation was that his closest DNA match was to a man named Eric Sonjowoh from Babungo, Cameroon.  Chahine said that they shared a male relative between the years 1600-1700.  The Legal Genealogist blogged about this also and gave some scathing comments about the pseudoscience that was expounded upon.  Suffice it to say that based on currently available science, they don't really know that Underwood and Sonjowoh are cousins; they're just guessing, and not really in an educated way.  Sure makes for good drama, though, doesn't it?

Something I immediately wondered is why a man in Babungo, Cameroon would possibly be in the Ancestry DNA database.  But this would be answered shortly.

Underwood went back to Petersburg to get his father and the two of them flew to Africa to meet their newfound "cousin" in Babungo.  The entire village came out, and it was obviously a major production that the Americans were coming.  When Underwood met Sonjowoh, it looked to me that they were using an interpreter who was not being shown on screen, because of the way they cut the camera shots.  Later Sonjowoh did speak in English, though he was subtitled throughout.  Underwood talked about how his ancestor had been separated from his family and now they were able to reunite.  (When, oh when, will it be discussed on these programs that the slave trade started because warring tribes were selling their enemies to the white traders?)  Then Underwood asked Sonjowoh why he was in the DNA database.  Hey, I wasn't the only person who wondered!  Apparently in 2005 a man came through the area offering to do DNA tests because blacks in America were trying to trace their family roots.  So seven years ago, someone was figuring out how to make money off of this in the future. It apparently was someone from

Underwood gave Sonjowoh a photograph of his family and invited him to come to the U.S. to visit.  He talked about how he had come from a long line of people with good values and how he was reuniting family members.  He also said that he was African because "Africa was born in us."

Overall the research in this episode was really good, and they found some amazing information.  But there were some huge gaps in what could have been sought that were not explained.  It is so frustrating to wonder whether it's the editing that's at fault or if the research is the problem.

And I almost forgot to include that this makes me three for three on my predictions.  Going by the teaser for the Reba McEntire episode, however, they're going somewhere overseas, so it looks as though I'll get my first ding next week.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Search for Owners of Vaults in the Pantin (Paris) Jewish Cemetery

Old Jewish Graves in Pantin Cemetery
The rights for two hundred burial vaults in the Pantin Jewish cemetery may legally be transferred to the Paris cemetery administration, which can have the deceased exhumed, unless descendants of those interred are traced.  The vast majority of these vaults are "tombs bought in perpetuity."  This means that the only cost to descendants would be for maintenance of the tombstones.  For other vaults, the continuance of the burial "concession" (i.e., for 100 years) must be paid, otherwise the bones will be exhumed.

Bought at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century by members of the Jewish community of Paris, these burial vaults are much deteriorated today.  Up to fifty tombs can be found in any one vault.  The vaults could be protected through the intervention of direct descendants of the owners, but unfortunately most are unaware of the current risk to their ancestral graves.  More than 80,000 French Jews were victims of the Holocaust, and any surviving descendants they may have are now scattered around the world.

Anyone related to the following early 20th-century Paris Jews should send an e-mail immediately to Deborah Dreyfus at

ATLAS Adolphe
BADY Maximilien
BEHAR Esperance
BLOCH Alexandre
BLOCH Esther
BLUM Clotilde
BLUM Gustave
BONN Julie
CAEN Edouard
CAHEN Emilie
CERF Charles
COHEN Abraham
DAVIDS Sylvain
FUCHS Charles
GOETSCH Ernestine
HELFT Gustave
HEYMAN Babette
HIRTZ Samuel
HUET Adelaide
ITZIG Philippe
JACOB Celina
JACOBER Benjamin
KARTUN Salomon
LANG Maurice
LEIB Albert
LEVI Mathilde
LEVY Camille
LEVY Emile
LEVY Jacob
LEVY Victor
MADERA Deborah
MAYER Raphael
MEYER Estelle
MOYSE Leopold
NETTER Mathias
NUNES Joseph
PENHA Mariana
ROSH Forestine
SALOMON Alphonse
SCHWOB Antoinette
SEE Arthur
SEIDLITZ Siegfried
SIMON Alexandre
STERN Benjamin
STERN Helene
STIBBE Abraham
SUISSA Massaoud
TIANO Joseph
TOLMAN Ephin et Naum
VILLAR Charles
WEIL Adrien et Bernard
WEIL Charles
WEIL Ellen
WEILL Charles
WOOG Adele

Monday, February 20, 2012

Historical Black Newspapers Talk at CGS

This Saturday, February 25, I will present my new talk on using online historical black newspapers for genealogical research, at the California Genealogical Society.  I've said before that newspapers can provide incredible amounts of information that will help you in your research.  An important aspect of researching black family history is that the major newspapers often did not publish items about members of the black community.  Newspapers published by and for the black community stepped up to fill that void.  Along with the kinds of things you'd expect -- births, marriages, deaths, military service, moves, hobbies, civic involvement, etc. -- you can also find stories specific to that community, such as personal ads searching for lost family members and historical reminiscences that include the names of former slave owners.

There is still room in the class, which will be 1:00-2:30 p.m. at CGS, 2201 Broadway Lower Level, Oakland, California.  You can register online.  Members of CGS attend for free as a membership benefit; nonmembers pay a nominal fee which can be applied to membership.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day, Bubbie

A few years after my grandfather died, I was talking with my grandmother (Bubbie), and she mentioned how every year on Valentine's Day for the 50 years they were married Zadie (my grandfather) had given her these big beautiful cards.  She sounded wistful as she told me about it.  They loved each other so much.  So the next year I started sending her big, flowery cards, the kind she told me Zadie used to give her.  She loved getting them.  She would call me when they arrived and thank me for thinking of her.  She's gone now also, but on Valentine's Day I think of her.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Marisa Tomei

This week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? focused almost entirely on the question of what actually happened to Marisa Tomei's great-grandfather Francesco Leopoldo Bianchi.  In the opening segment Tomei went to New York to meet with her parents, Gary and Addie, and brother, Adam, and discuss the story that her mother's grandfather had been murdered in 1910.  He supposedly had been shot in a bar, with the cause being fooling around with someone else's woman or that he owed money to somebody.  Tomei's mother also wondered what had happened to her grandmother after Bianchi was killed and how that affected her father, who was 2 years old at the time, and uncle, who was only 1.  Addie had a family tree on, which was prominently displayed.  The tree showed Bianchi and Adelaide Angiola Canovaro, Addie's grandmother.  Both sides of the family were from Tuscany, Italy.

After meeting with her parents, Tomei and Adam talked about how her mother had never discussed the murder but now was interested in learning more about it.  Adam said, "I suspect that you're gonna find out that there is something else" to the story about the murder.  So we had our sledgehammer cue that the story wasn't going to be quite what the family thought it was.  Foreshadowing is one thing, but I really wonder about the script writers on this show.

Tomei immediately went to Italy to begin her research, unlike the rest of us, who would have probably had to settle for hiring a researcher remotely.  Considering the information she later finds, though, it is possible she might not have been able to accomplish it without going in person.  Because we didn't see any of the research being done, we don't know if the researchers had any indices available or if they had to go page by page through the records.  She went first to Cecina, where the Bianchi family was from.  At the Cecina Municipal Cemetery and Archive she met with guide Fabio Di Segni (who actually has a film company).  In this segment Di Segni's dialog was accompanied by subtitles, which I didn't see the need for.  I thought his English was easily understandable.  Tomei and Di Segni went inside to meet with Loris Gagliardi, the caretaker for the cemetery.  Gagliardi spoke only in Italian; his dialog was translated in subtitles.  Tomei asked whether there were any documents relating to her great-grandfather's death in 1910.  Gagliardi said he would check and pulled out several folders.  He said there was nothing for 1910 and that he would look in 1911.  In that folder he found a record saying that Bianchi's body was transported to Cecina for burial on March 10, 1911 and that he had died of illness on March 7.  A translation was already prepared for Tomei to read (it appeared that her Italian skills are pretty basic).  It looked pretty silly to go through the motions of looking through the folders to see if there was a record and then conveniently have the translation ready.  After Tomei had read the translation, Gagliardi put everything back in the folders, so Tomei left without any copies.  I guess she's going to rely entirely on her memory for all the details she learned.

Tomei went to visit her great-grandfather's tombstone.  There were two photos on the tombstone, which they didn't pay any attention to.  I would be really excited to see photographs, and I wanted to see some longer close-ups.  Maybe the family already has plenty of photos of Leopoldo?  We learned that Adelaide is buried with Leopoldo; I think her stone said that she died in 1978.  Tomei talked about how Bianchi dying of illness didn't agree with the family story and then said disingenuously, "I think there are many more details to be had about Leopold's death."  Well, yeah, I guess, or we wouldn't have had an episode, would we?  Tomei decided to go to Elba, because Leopoldo and Adelaide had lived there and she thought maybe Leopoldo had died there.  She also wanted to look for records on Adelaide's side of the family.

The island of Elba is most famous for being the place where Napoleon spent his first exile.  I didn't know that it was so close to the Italian coast.  Tomei and Di Segni went to the parish church in Rio nell'Elba.  They talked about how important the church had been in people's lives, and Di Segni told Tomei that this church went back to the year 1200.  Inside the church they met with Leonardo Biancalani, the parish priest, who brought out several baptism registers for them to look through.  They made a big show of browsing through the registers as if they were looking for records relating to the Canovaro family, but when they reached a register with the birth of Alesandro Canovaro in 1641, Di Segni said that it was the last book with information about a Canovaro, making it obvious he had already looked at the records.  We were told that research in the parish records had found ten generations of Canovaros going back to Alesandro.  Then they just walked out of the church, again with no copies of the records.  What is with these people?

The next stop was the Elba Historical Municipal Archive in Portoferraio.  There they met with Dr. Gloria Peria, coordinator of the archive.  She spoke only in Italian (I was happy to learn that I remember enough Italian to understand almost everything she said), but surprisingly her comments were not translated in subitles; Di Segni acted as intepreter for Tomei.  Inconsistencies like that drive me crazy.  Peria had found the marriage record for Leopoldo Bianchi and Maria Adelaide Canovaro; they married June 25, 1904 in Elba.  She had also found a "family certificate" for Bianchi which stated that he was a merchant in the kiln business and that he and Adelaide moved back to Cecina on August 12, 1910.  Adelaide's family was also in the kiln business, so it appeared likely that's how she and Bianchi met.

The teaser before they cut to a commercial showed two newspaper articles, one with the word "omicido" in the title, which is "homicide" in Italian, so I knew when we returned we'd hear about the murder.  And indeed in the next segment Dr. Peria showed a newspaper article about Bianchi being killed in Castiglioncello by a man named Terzilio Lazzareschi, who was from Ponsacco.  It was not the article with "omicido", so the second one was still coming.  But we weren't going to see it in Elba.  Tomei said that she knew "for sure it was a treacherous murder" (what, from one newspaper article?) and decided to go to Castiglioncello, where the killing occurred.  Di Segni stayed in Elba to look for more information on the Canovaros, which confused me, because it had become obvious that Tomei did not speak enough Italian to have extended conversations without an interpreter.

When the next segment began the interpreter question became clear.  She met in a café with Steven Hughes, a professor of history and Italian duel expert (now that's a cool specialty!) from Loyola University in Maryland.  He showed Tomei the second newspaper article, "Omicido à Castiglioncello."  It told how Lazzareschi, a kiln operator and a well-off man, shot Bianchi outside Pilade Morelli's Café at 6:00 p.m. on March 7.  I had been wondering why they were meeting in a café, and that question was answered when Hughes told Tomei that it was supposed to be the café where the shooting occurred.  (They didn't bring this up in the episode, but I considered whether the café had been misremembered as a bar in the story that had come down through the family.)  Lazzareschi said he had been insulted and beaten, and so he shot Bianchi.

Hughes next showed Tomei a translation of the indictment against Lazzareschi from the Court of Appeal, dated July 17, 1911.  Lazzareschi claimed self-defense, but Bianchi was shot from behind; the gunshot went from the rear of his head through his eye.  Hughes then explained the connection between the two men, which was that Lazzareschi had bought a kiln business from Bianchi's father Dionisio Bianchi, with the deal brokered by Leopoldo Bianchi, apparently with the provision that Bianchi's brother Tito be hired (or possibly kept on) as an employee.  Lazzareschi had fired Tito claiming he had shown disloyalty, which would have been an issue of honor in the culture.  No information was given on the show about whether the claim was true.  After Tito was fired, the Bianchis came after Lazzareschi and beat him up, including injuries to his face.  There were laws in Italy about damaging someone's face, and it was considered a serious offense.  So Lazzareschi sought revenge.

From Castiglioncello Tomei traveled to Lucca, where Lazzareschi was indicted, to learn details of his trial.  She spoke with Francesco Tamburini, a professor of political history at the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Pisa.  They met at the Archivio Di Stato.  Tomei was astounded and dismayed to learn that Lazzareschi had been acquitted of voluntary homicide.  Tamburini explained that Lazzareschi had been able to hire the best lawyers available, Gattai and Lami, and compared them to O. J. Simpson's "Dream Team."  The judgment against Lazzareschi was to serve 38 days (which may have been time served?) and to pay 87.84 lire and a portion of the court costs.

A surprising footnote to the trial was a request that Lazzareschi made to the jury after the verdict.  He stated that he had had 500 lire in his billfold when he had been arrested, which had been deposited with the Pisa postal administration.  Of that, 380 lire was used to pay for the court costs.  He wanted the rest of his money back.  So after all of that, the main thing on his mind was money.  Between that and shooting a man in the back of the head, not exactly an honorable man.  Tamburini explained that even though he had been acquitted, the code of honor that men followed at the time meant that he would not have been accepted by people anymore, because he did shoot a man from behind.  He disappeared from local records and probably left the area.

Tomei mused over how she had had romantic notions about the murder but hearing the details had made it all too real.  She then headed back to Elba to meet with Di Segni, who had news about the Canovaro family.  Before he talked about the Canovaros, Tomei told him about the revelations from the court records.  Di Segni compared the name Lazzareschi to the word lazzarone, which he said was a "bad man."  (I looked it up in an online Italian dictionary; some of the synonyms were scoundrel, rogue, and villain.)  Then Di Segni told Tomei that he had found an 83-year-old woman, Rosetta Vanucci, who remembered Adelaide.  She had not been feeling good that day so was not able to meet with Tomei, but she wrote a letter.  She explained that she is the daughter of Bruna Bianchi, the youngest sister of Leopoldo (so she's Tomei's first cousin once removed).  She wrote about how after Bianchi had been killed Adelaide had met a marine in Genoa and had married him, and that they had had a good life together.  Her second husband took good care of her sons.  Tomei's grandfather Armondo had worked with his stepfather on boats.  Leopoldo's brother Guido sponsored Armondo to come to the U.S.  Di Segni had taken a photo of Vanucci, and she had given him a photo of Adelaide to give to Tomei.  While I would have probably tried to extend my visit so that I could meet this new cousin before I left, it's likely that the requirements of the program didn't permit Tomei to do so.  I hope they connected directly later.

At this point Tomei returned to New York to tell her mother all that she had learned.  She explained that Leopoldo had not been up to anything bad but had been defending his brother, and that he had not endangered his family.  Addie was surprised at how relieved she felt to learn that it had not been his fault.  She said, "Oh, my poor grandmother," but for some reason no discussion about Rosetta Vanucci's letter made it into the final edit.  At the end Tomei said that she now felt much more of a connection to Leopoldo.

My prediction count now is either two for two or one and a half for two.  I said that we might go back to Italy for Tomei's episode, but I said Lowe was my pick for a scandal.  I'm not sure if the murder qualifies as the scandal.  We'll have to see what other stories unfold.

I was struck by a couple of things with the commercials that ran during this episode.  Not surprisingly, an ad annoyed me.  Okay, I know, they're all annoying, but this one really hit me wrong.  It's a woman who gets all excited about deciding to look on Ancestry for information about her family, and she says something to the effect that "there aren't that many records."  A major part of's marketing is that they have the largest collection of genealogy records available online; why in the world would they have an ad saying that there aren't records?  Especially since the woman didn't find her great-grandfather in a record, but in someone else's online family tree?  Are we now to believe that the records on Ancestry aren't important, and that we should all be focusing on the trees that other people post?  Gee, does that mean Ancestry won't be acquiring the 1940 census when it's released on April 2?

The other thing I noticed is that there seemed to be an inordinate number of commercials for other NBC programs.  At one point I saw three in a row.  I don't think commercials for in-house programs generate revenue; if anything they would shift money from one part of the books to another, just shuffling things around.  Given the reports that viewership is down from last year for the first two episodes, it makes me wonder if NBC is having problems getting advertisers besides to pony up.  Just my humble opinion.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

How "Who Do You Think You Are?" Chooses Its Celebrities

The Investor's Business Daily blog has a short article about how Who Do You Think You Are? chooses the celebrities for its episodes.  It mentions how celebrities are coming to them to have the program work on their family histories.  It says the research is done beforehand and that not everyone has a story they deem worth telling, which we have heard about before, but also talks about some of what the celebrities go through to appear on the show.  The only celebrity I have heard named who was rejected for the show was Michael Parkinson, who was turned down for the British version of the program.  I wonder who the American producers have had to turn away?

It would appear that the reason this was covered on IDB was because is now publicly traded, as its stock exchange abbrevation is given a link.  An interesting note is a reference to the fact that WDYTYA had an increase in ratings last season, but no discussion about the lower ratings for this season's two episodes.

Putting Photos Online for Permanent Availability

On Saturday the California Genealogical Society hosted two photo scanning sessions with the online photo storage site  I had already heard of the company because last June someone from the company contacted me.  She was interested in talking to me about the service and having me test some of the new features.  She mentioned that the company was backed by the people from  We did not end up connecting back then, but today she was one of the people leading the scanning session.  The attendees had the opportunity to test the new "Shoebox" app (so called because many people store their photographs in shoeboxes) for the iPhone and iPad.  1000Memories even brought "loaner" iPhones for those of us who didn't have one.  (Because I don't have a smartphone of any type, I did not think to ask if 1000Memories has plans to release Shoebox for the Android platform.  There's nothing on the Web site about future platform releases.)

1000Memories has partnered with the Internet Archive to give as close to a guarantee of permanent digital storage and accessibility as is probably available today.  The service is totally free and the intention is to keep it that way.  You can upload your photos, tag them with names, dates, and descriptions, and link them to a family tree on the site.  As with most social networking sites, there are various levels of privacy controls, so that if you want you can allow other people the ability to view photos you haven't identified and contribute more tagging information.

The main reason for the scanning event today was to let people know about the new iPhone/iPad app.  The app works with the built-in camera on the Apple device and lets you tag or rotate photos before you upload them.  The upload function is built into the app.

The really cool feature of the app is its "perspective correction" ability, which allows you to deskew the images you have captured.  I'm sure most people who use digital cameras have had the experience of taking a photo of a document, book page, or photograph and found that the perspective was a little off.  Maybe you took the photo at an angle, and the image comes out wider at one end than the other.  The app shows you a frame on the image after you have taken the photo.  You can move the corners to frame the image the way you want, and the app then squares the image corners and fixes the skewed appearance.  The resulting final image looks much more like the original and, if the original had text, is easier to read.  I did find some bugs in the app the 1000Memories people didn't know about, all having to do with the framing feature.

I personally won't be using the app.  Not only do I not own an iPhone or iPad, I used to work in publishing, I own a flatbed scanner, and I have professional graphics software to edit my digital images.  But for the many people who do have iPhones and iPads and who don't have the professional experience and equipment I do, this new app is a convenient and easy way to scan those stacks of photos that tend to accumulate.  Once you get the hang of the app you can move along pretty quickly.  The photos are posted online, but if you don't want to share them with others, you can keep everything private.  I plan on scanning photos where I don't know who is in them and e-mailing a bunch of my cousins to see if they know.

I really like the commitment 1000Memories is making for permanent free storage for people's photos.  I think the Internet Archive is an ideal partner.  The only thing that gives me pause is the connection with, which was not mentioned during today's scanning session and is not listed on the company's Web site.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Black Family History Day

The African American Genealogical Society of Northern California (AAGSNC) held its third Black Family History Day today at the Oakland Family History Center.  Volunteers were told at the beginning of the event that 125 people had preregistered, and we knew we would have walk-ins.  I have not heard how many people we actually had, but it didn't seem crowded.  The February 2011 event drew between about 175 attendees; the event in October 2011 had 64 preregistered people and only a few walk-ins.  The fact that February is Black History Month probably gives some people more incentive to come.

Besides an introductory workshop for beginners and one-on-one consultations for individual research, today's event also included a performance by a church choir and a lecture on the Roots into the Future Project, given by Dr. Joanna Mountain of 23andMe.  Dr. Mountain's talk was presented twice so that attendees could take turns between the lecture and computer research.

About 35 volunteers (including me!) from AAGSNC, the California Genealogical Society, and the Oakland Family History Center were on hand to assist attendees.  Almost everyone found some information on their families.  In one way we were victims of our own success when we had so many people searching databases at the same time that the FHC server slowed everything to a crawl.

Last year I helped a friend of mine find herself in the 1930 census as a two-year-old girl.  I didn't have any results that dramatic this year, but I did help one woman find her grandmother in the California birth index under her birth name (she was informally adopted in the early 20th century).

It's great that these events get so many people to come and work on their family history, but I have noticed that very few of the attendees return to the Family History Center to do more research.  I hope they're working on it at home!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New Genealogical Affiliation

I am proud to announce that based on my past experience with forensic genealogical research I have been accepted as a Junior Member in the new Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (CAFG).  The word "forensic" means relating to courts of law, so forensic genealogy is research that has legal implications.

A good portion of the genealogy research I do is for heir searches, where there is some sort of inheritance or property and someone is searching for the person or persons with the legal right to that property.  I have also conducted research for a U.S. Army contractor who searches for relatives of MIA Army personnel to try to verify the identity of recovered remains through DNA comparisons, and research to determine eligibility for citizenship.

I was told I have a strong background and that I do good work, but that I have great potential to do better and to broaden the range of my work.  I look forward to increasing my skills and to working with other members of CAFG on the Council's objectives.

I've been welcomed on the CAFG blog.

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, February 5, 2012

“Build Your Own Genealogy Blog”

Craig Siulinski, the person who taught the class that got me started with my blog, will be making a presentation on the same topic at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 5, for the Genealogical Society of Santa Cruz County.  The talk will be at the Santa Cruz Public Library, 224 Church Street, Santa Cruz, California.  Craig explains things clearly and is very supportive of people in his classes, both during and after the class.  He gives you lots of resources and checks with you afterward to see how your blog is going.  I highly recommend his class for anyone who is thinking about starting a blog for their genealogy.  For more information call (831) 427-7707 x5794.

"Who Do You Think You Are" - Martin Sheen

The new season of Who Do You Think You Are? has arrived.  We started with Martin Sheen, who was born Ramón Antonio Gerard Estévez, the son of a Spanish father and an Irish mother.  Sheen has a long, well known history of political activism which was discussed in the voice-over at the beginning of the episode, cueing us to expect something connected to that in the research.  It's impossible to tell from the episode itself whether Sheen actually sought correlations in his family research to that aspect of his life or the producers were fortunate to find good material to work with and could make the connection, but it worked well.  We actually got three separate stories during this episode.

The opening scene showed Sheen in Malibu with his son Emilio, talking about wine.  There was a comment about a family history of winemaking, but nothing else was said about that during the show and the scene itself seemed forced and irrelevant.

Then Sheen talked about what he knew of his family history.  He said he knew more about his mother's side.  She was born Mary Ann Phelan in Borrisokane, County Tiperrary.  She died at the age of 48 in 1951, when Sheen was almost 11 years old.  She had a brother named Michael who was said to have been a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army, but the family didn't know any details about him.  Because of his involvement with the IRA and apparent willingness to fight for what he believed in, Sheen decided to focus on him first.

Unfortunately, this early in the show, we got our first Ancestry plug.  Sheen said he was going to "begin my search for Michael here on"  Geez, guys, can't you be a *little* subtle?  Between that and the commercials during the episode, I felt like I was being hit with a sledgehammer.  Anyway, Sheen typed in Michael Phelan and immediately found a death certificate for his uncle, who died in County Tipperary.  (When I entered Phelan's name, I got more than 10,000 hits; none on the first page of 50 hits was the death certificate.  I couldn't even find a database that had Irish or British death certificates.)  And what was his next step?  "I'll have to go to Ireland myself."

So off he goes to Ireland -- not to County Tipperary, where the family was from and where Michael Phelan died, but to Dublin.  Because he had been told Phelan was involved in the Irish Civil War, Sheen began his research at the Irish Military Archives at the Cathal Brugha Barracks.  The pleasant young man in a military uniform who delivered documents wasn't identified, but Sheen was handed Phelan's 1934 pension application file.  He marveled at the fact that it was all in Phelan's handwriting.  Phelan said he was in continuous service from July 12, 1921 to June 30, 1922.  The Irish Civil War began June 28, 1922, so he was a little ahead of the game; he was already part of the struggle for Irish freedom.

Before Ireland and Northern Ireland were split, the entire island was under the control of Great Britain.  Michael Collins, the famous Irish nationalist, fought for freedom for all of Ireland, but agreed to a compromise treaty that partitioned Northern Ireland and allowed it to become part of the United Kingdom and made the rest of Ireland "free" but part of the British Commonwealth.  Many Irish people disagreed with this capitulation and felt betrayed.  A letter in Phelan's file described how he had been captured and released by the Free State army several times, which meant that Phelan was against the treaty.  Sheen was surprised to discover that his uncle had sided not with Collins and the compromise, but with those Irishmen who had maintained a stand for a truly free and independent Ireland.

Victorian (East) Wing of
Kilmainham Gaol (This image is
licensed under a Creative Commons
by Attribution, No Derivatives,
Noncommercial License.)
Sheen then visited another Dublin location, the Pearse Centre at the Ireland Institute for Historic and Cultural Studies, and spoke with Dr. Edward Madigan of the Centre for War Studies at Trinity College.  They talked about how many IRA members continued the fight for true Irish independence after the treaty was signed.  Phelan was a committed Republican and while in jail was still resisting the regime.  He participated in organized disobedience and even helped burn one prison.  Sheen appreciated his idealism and commitment to his cause and decided to visit one of the jails in which Phelan was incarcerated.  William Murphy of Mater Dei, Dublin City University, took him on a tour of Kilmainham Gaol (spelled Jail for American audiences), which he described as the most iconic prison of the revolution.  The cells were small, and conditions would have been overcrowded.  Sheen compared his uncle's stand to his own work for peace and social justice and said, "[y]ou do it because you cannot not do it and be who you are."  He then announced, "This part of the journey is over," and said it was time to go to Spain.

Sheen began research on the family of his father, Francisco Estévez Martinez, with a visit to his sister, who lives in Madrid.  Similar to Rosie O'Donnell's brother, Carmen Estévez seemed to be the family historian, because she had lots of photos and remembered who was who in them.  She showed a photo of their grandmother, Dolores Martínez, at the family's home in Parderrubias, and then one of their paternal uncle Matías Estévez, who had been arrested as a Communist during the Spanish Civil War.  Matîas had been living in Galicia, where the Spanish Civil War began, and had fought against Francisco Franco's regime.  She talked about how Matías used to walk by what is now a cultural center but what apparently used to be a prison and gloat how he had lived longer than the people who had imprisoned him.

Sheen next went to the Biblioteca Nacional de España (National Library of Spain) and spoke with Alejandro Quiroga, a professor of Spanish history at Newcastle University.  Quiroga had a book that he said was written by a pro-Franco priest and which was essentially propaganda, but it had an article that mentioned Matîas.  The article described various things Matîas was said to have done and called him "El Rato" (the Mouse).  The civil war began in July 1936, and Matîas apparently had made efforts to stop the coup d'état.  He was arrested and charged with military rebellion by a military tribunal, even though Franco's group were not the legitimate government.  The tribunal condemned Matías to life imprisonment.

Quiroga then showed another book, Episodios de Terror ("Episodes of Terror") by Gonzalo Amoedo Lôpez and Roberto Mil Moure, which contained lists of prisoners held under Franco's regime.  Many Estévezes appeared in the list, including Matîas, who was prisoner #611.  Quiroga talked about how the prisons were designed to wear down the dissidents and break their wills.  Matîas was sentenced on September 24, 1936 to a life sentence, but he served one year at San Simon and then three years at San Cristobal, near Pamplona.  He was released in 1940 on some sort of house arrest.  He was officially "freed" on August 21, 1966.

Entrance Hall of San Cristóbal
Sheen traveled to El Fuerte de San Cristóbal, the prison near Pamplona in which Matîas was incarcerated for three years.  There he spoke with Dr. Julius Ruiz, a Spanish Civil War historian and a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh.  This was another decrepit monolothic prison, similar to what we saw in Dublin, and again the conditions were described as having been horrible, with between 25 and 50 men per cell and exposure to the elements.  I have a small problem with these descriptions and the ways the prisons were filmed, because the buildings had to have deteriorated over the intervening years, 70 for San Cristobal and 90 for Kilmainham.  I'm not saying that Michael Phelan or Matîas Estévez did not suffer through horrible experiences, but the buildings simply had to have been in better shape then.  Sheen closed this segment by saying that the Fascists labeled Matîas as El Rato, but he was the mouse that roared, because he outlived the Fascists.

The last research segment of this episode took Sheen to the Archivo Histôrico Diocesano (Diocesan Historical Archive) in Tui, Galicia.  He brought with him a copy of his father's birth record, which he had gotten from his sister Carmen.  In Tui he met with Matthew Hovious, a genealogist, who translated the birth record, which was written in Gallego, the native language of Galicia.  Hovious researched both sides of Sheen's father's family and discovered that Sheen's fourth-great-grandfather on his grandmother's side, Don Diego Francisco Suárez, was married to one woman but had six children (including Sheen's third-great-grandmother) with a mistress, María Antonia Gonzalez.  María apparently kept these children mostly out of the public eye until Don Diego died in 1774, because all six children were confirmed by a priest in September 1777.  Sheen said she must have been an extraordinary woman and very loyal to Don Diego.  Personally, I suspect that she was simply cowed and probably trapped in a relationship she didn't want, because Don Diego was the big man in town, as we were to learn.

Hovious found a document that described how in 1748 Don Diego, who was the "ordinary judge" in town, issued an edict against Antonia Pereira (which to me seems to be a Portuguese name, but the Gallego and Portuguese languages are closely related), a single woman who had had an affair with a "privileged" member of the community.  Hovious explained that in this context privileged usually meant the man was a member of the clergy, probably a priest.  In spring of 1748 Antonia was known to be pregnant, and she went to a midwife; the language used implied that she had gone for an abortion.  The upshot was that she was not being indicted for the affair or the pregnancy, but the abortion.  Don Diego actually ordered wanted posters to be created.  It was unclear in the segment whether Antonia was prosecuted or not; at one point the term "attempted prosecution" was used, while another time it was simply "prosecuted."  Sheen mentioned how Don Diego seemed to be applying a double standard and that he was above the law (but the way I see it, if the crime was the abortion, he wasn't really using a double standard.)  Then Hovious revealed that Antonia Pereira was actually the great-great-grandmother of Sheen's paternal grandfather.  So 150 or so years after Don Diego scandalized and disgraced Antonia with his edict, their descendants were married, which really is an extraordinary coincidence.

This wrapped up the research.  Sheen met up with Carmen and his son Ramon in Parderrubias, where Francisco Estévez was born.  He talked about his two uncles who had participated in their respective countries' civil wars and how they had each suffered ostracization by the community.  I found ostracized to be an odd choice of words, given each man's circumstances.  He discussed Don Diego and how he had been a big shot, and how he had prosecuted Antonia Pereira.  He then surprised them with the revelation about Don Diego and Antonia both being their ancestors.  It was hard to tell from Ramon's face if it was really a surprise, but Carmen certainly looked amazed.

The research on this episode held up fairly well.  Other than the slight discrepancy of whether Antonia Pereira was prosecuted, I didn't see any glaring inconsistencies.  Hovious even went into some detail on the four generations he had gone back from Sheen's grandparents.

With this first episode, I think I can claim one for one on my predictions so far.  I said we'd go to Ireland for Sheen and brought up the possibility of Spain.  I also figured we wouldn't see anything about Sheen's father's time in Cuba.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

San Francisco Discovers Family History

Last year I lamented the fact that the inaugural San Francisco History Expo had plenty of history but no family history.  This year they have corrected the error, and both the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society and SFGenealogy will be participants, with members of the California Genealogical Society on hand as well.  Apparently last year's comments were heard.

This year's event will be on Saturday and Sunday, March 3 and 4, at the Old Mint in San Francisco.  Hours are 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. each day.  Friday, March 2, school groups will come through on specially arranged tours.

The two-day event will feature interesting displays from participating organizations.  You can also view a special exhibition of 42 photographs called “Elegant Pit Stops”, a display of historic garages in the city.  (I wonder if the historic garage on Arguello I was searching for will be represented.)  Historic artist Alan Zimmerman of Stockton is returning, with large oil-on-wood paintings of Gold Rush San Francisco.  Historic films and special program are scheduled in the vault area for both days.

The event is free, and everyone is welcome.  Please come by, visit our booth, and learn a little about San Francisco Bay area family history!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Price Increase for Family History Library Films

I don't know about you, but I still use microfilm from the Family History Library on a regular basis.  It will still be several years before everything in the mountain is digitized and available online.  A message went out to Family History Center directors today that prices to rent Family History Library films will increase as of February 15, 2012, due to increases in the prices of microfilm stock, decreasing availability of the stock, and higher shipping costs.  The new prices for the United States and Canada will be:

Short-term film loan:  $7.50  + tax = $8.12
Short-term film loan extension:  $7.50 + tax = $8.12
Extended film loan:  $18.75 + tax = $20.30

The cost for microfiche will remain at $4.75 + tax = $5.14.

Wordless Wednesday