Monday, October 29, 2012

Descendant of HMS Bounty's Fletcher Christian Perishes in Hurricane

Claudene Christian, a fifth great-granddaughter of Fletcher Christian, who led the famous mutiny against Captain William Bligh on the HMS Bounty in 1789, perished today when the replica Bounty was damaged in Hurricane Sandy.  Claudene was a member of the crew aboard the replica Bounty that was constructed for the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty.  She had always been interested in the ship because of her ancestry and joined the crew in May of this year.

The Bounty left Connecticut last week headed to St. Petersburg, Florida.  It was caught in Hurricane Sandy on Monday afternoon and heavily damaged.  Fourteen of the sixteen crew members were saved by a U.S. Coast Guard rescue team.  Claudene was found unresponsive in the water and passed away in an Elizabeth City, North Carolina hospital this evening.

I knew Claudene from when I was in the USC Marching Band.  She became a song girl (cheerleader) in her freshman year, which was my last year in the band.  My deepest sympathies to her family and to the greater USC family on her passing.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Genealogy Served on a Silver Platter

Ever wonder what it would feel like to just be handed all the information on your family?  You know, kind of like what happened on episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots:  family trees, death certificates, photographs, military discharge papers, what have you.  But that never really happens, right?

Meet my friend Carol.

Over the years it has become a running joke between us.  Every so often, a family member contacts her and says, "Oh, I'd like to send you a copy of all the research I've done."  Then she receives another well put together and well documented part of her family tree, often with supporting materials.  She already has several copies of different trees and boxes of original letters and documents from both sides of her family.

She was just given another bonanza.

She received two large envelopes full of documents and a USPS Medium Flat Rate box of photo albums and loose photos.  Most of the photos are even labeled!

Among the documents are:
• eight family trees for various lines
• a typed transcript of her great-uncle interviewing her great-grandmother, including the story of how her family was instrumental in the founding of a town in Iowa
• two copies of a treatise on one of her family names
• two copies of a book about the church her ancestor established in the 1600's
• a photo of her grandfather's high school graduating class from 1917
• her grandfather's entire probate file, including correspondence
• original documents from when a relative legally changed his name
• her grandmother's college diploma and teaching certificate
• an original copy of her grandmother's death certificate from Spain (which probably would have been difficult to replace)
• original U.S. Army discharge papers
• a "whole pile" of family letters
• newspaper clippings
• church bulletins
• visitor books from funeral services

Carol's aunt (her mother's sister) collected all of this information.  She has moved to assisted living, and the aunt's daughter had to clean out the home.  This cousin talked with her brothers and her own children, but no one wanted all of the genealogical stuff.  Rather than just throw everything out, she asked around the family to find someone who did want it (hooray!).  Carol got all of this because, unlike her friend, when these items needed a home, she recognized their value.

Of course, now everything needs to be taken care of -- sorted out, put in archival boxes, separated with nonreactive paper.  And some of this is duplicates of what she already has.  But I know that Carol is up to the task.  Now if she were only more interested in genealogy ....

What was that?  No, of course I'm not jealous.  Whatever made you think so?

An Uncommon Reason for Family History Research

Sometimes different parts of my life cross over.  One of my coworkers at BART, where I am a part-time train operator, met someone I know from genealogy while they were shopping at a grocery store.  The genealogy acquaintance saw my coworker's uniform and commented that she knew a genealogist who worked at BART.  So the next time my coworker saw me he asked if it was true.  When I confirmed it, he said he wanted to show me a family tree he had created.  The next day he brought in an eight-page hand-drawn tree showing fourteen generations of descendants from one ancestor in England, a Mr. Clap.

He had obviously put a lot of work into his research, and what was particularly interesting to me was the reason he had created the tree.  His son had applied to Harvard University, and at some point in the application process they were asked if they had any relatives who had graduated from Harvard.  Apparently this would make his son eligible for some financial aid as a "legacy."  So off dad went to find out the answer.

He ended up identifying more than fifty descendants of his son's 11th great-grandfather who were Harvard graduates!  Surprisingly, only seven of those people were legacies themselves.  Among the alumni were the first president of Yale University and a man who created a pear cultivar which was named after him.  Even though all of the graduates were men, one female descendant is said to be the first woman who attended all of the required classes for a degree, albeit at a time when women were not permitted to matriculate.  Because of the specific focus he had while creating this tree, he only listed descendants with the family name, but he also included some Harvard alums who married Clap women.  And not a single one of the Harvard graduates was a direct ancestor.  But the effort was good enough to earn the financial aid.

I was happy to hear that now that the financial aid is wrapped up, he says he's going to go back and research all the other relatives in the family tree.  I hope he publishes it some day, because he's doing an amazing amount of work.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Workshop: The Present and Future of Public History in New York State

Currently this conference is free, including lunch, but you must make a reservation.  If they are swamped with reservations, they may decide to charge a small fee for lunch.  This sounds very interesting, and I wish I could attend.

Conversations in the Disciplines: The Present and Future of Public History in New York State
November 17, 2012
University of Albany (State University of New York at Albany)

The History Department and the Public History Program at the University of Albany will host a workshop, The Present and Future of Public History in New York State on Saturday, November 17, 2012. The workshop will bring together public historians and SUNY faculty from around the state to exchange ideas, build networks, and reflect on that will shape the practice of public history in future years.

This free workshop is sponsored by the Conversations in the Disciplines Program of the State University of New York, the New York State Council for the Humanities, and the M. E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives. It immediately follows the Researching New York conference on November 15 and 16. For more details and to register, contact David Hochfelder at

The purpose of the workshop is to foster discussion and debate about the role and purpose of public history in New York. The format of the workshop will be a series of roundtable discussions with no moderator in order to encourage dialogue between presenters and audience. The workshop will be held on the University of Albany campus and will use breakout areas to facilitate small group conversations.  Panels will include Public History in New York: A Wide Angle View, What Local Historians Do,  Grants to Fund Public History Projects, Training Future Public Historians, and The Future of Public History in New York.


9:30 a.m., Public History in New York: A Wide Angle View
Robert Weible, New York State Historian
Anne Ackerson, Executive Director, Museum Association of New York
Gerald Smith, President, Association of Public Historians of New York State

10:15 a.m., What Local Historians Do
Christine Ridarsky, Rochester City Historian and Director of Historical Projects
Carolyn Vacca, St. John Fisher College and Monroe County Historian
Don Rittner, Schenectady County and City Historian

11:00 a.m., Coffee Break

11:15 a.m., Grants to Fund Public History Projects
Jose Torre, SUNY Brockport
Karen Markoe, SUNY Maritime
Ralph Blasting, New York State Council for the Humanities and Siena College
Ken O’Brien, SUNY Brockport

12:00 noon, Lunch

1:00 p.m., Training Future Public Historians
Ellen Litwicki, SUNY Fredonia
Bruce Leslie, SUNY Brockport
Gretchen Sorin, Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta
Ivan Steen, University of Albany (emeritus)

2:00 p.m., Breakout Sessions

3:45 p.m., The Future of Public History in New York
James Chung, Reach Advisors
Cynthia Koch, Office of Presidential Libraries, National Archives

4:30 p.m., Workshop Ends.
Participants are encouraged to continue conversation informally over dinner.

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Death in Chicago

"Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930" is the fascinating Web site of the Chicago Historical Homicide Project, which began with the discovery of Chicago Police Department records of more than 11,000 homicides occurring in Chicago between 1870-1930.  Some additional deaths by misadventure are included, such as auto accident, suicide, and accidental poisoning.  The main feature of the Web site is a database of all the deaths from the logs.  The database may be searched by name, age, sex, or occupation of the victim or defendant, date, circumstances of the death, outcome of a trial, and several other variables.  The database may also be downloaded in several formats.  The site includes information about the historical and legal contexts of the homicides, several articles that can be downloaded, synoposes of about two dozen "crimes of the century", and more.  The graphics on the links at the top of the page change as you go back and forth between pages.  Warning:  Some links don't work from some of the pages.

The site says that the records run without interruption for the sixty years that they cover, so the inference is that they should be complete.  They probably are for homicides, but apparently not for all other deaths.  I looked for a suicide I know occurred on March 1, 1930 (I even have the death certificate), and it isn't there.  There is a comment on the site about how the homicides in the records became cases, so maybe this suicide didn't become a case, however that might be defined.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chinatown Sketches

Chinese Reception
I am indeed a glutton for punishment.  Even with my already packed schedule, I couldn't resist the opportunity to attend a reception Friday evening at the California Historical Society to promote the soon-to-be-released book Paul Frenzeny's Chinatown Sketches: An Artist's Fascination with San Francisco's Chinese Quarter, 1874-1882, by Dr. Claudine Chalmers.  The event was cosponsored by the Book Club of California, which is publishing Dr. Chalmers' book.

Dr. Chalmers' 1991 dissertation was on L'aventure française à San Francisco pendant la ruée vers l'or ("The French Adventure in Gold Rush San Francisco, 1849-1854").  While conducting her research she became particularly interested in the work of Paul Frenzeny, an expatriate who had been posted to Mexico as a soldier to fight with the French army.  When he was released from the army, he did not return to France but instead went to New York to learn art.  In 1873 he and another artist, Jules Tavernier, were hired by Harper's Weekly for a year-long sketching tour of the western frontier.  After the tour, between 1874-1882, Frenzeny sketched seventeen illustrations of San Francisco's Chinatown, which were also published by Harper's.  In contrast to most media depictions of the Chinese during that time, Frenzey's illustrations were largely sympathetic and showed several scenes of everyday life and of celebration.

Chalmers' new book will discuss in detail Frenzeny's Chinatown sketches.  Several pages from the book were on display last night, showing clearly that it is being produced in very high quality.  For anyone researching the Chinese in San Francisco in this period, it would be a worthy addition to a library, albeit at a steep price ($125).  Though the book does not yet appear on the Book Club of California's Web site, I was told that they are currently accepting preorders.

There were also flyers last night for a lecture and slide presentation by Philip P. Choy, who wrote the forward to Chalmers' new book.  Mr. Choy will be speaking on "An Insider's Guide to the History of San Francisco's Chinatown" from 11:00 a..m-12:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 27, at the San Francisco Public Library Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room, on the lower level of the main library.  The address is 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco.  The presentation is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

San Francisco Special Interest Group

Researchers in the San Francisco Bay Area who actually had relatives in San Francisco now have a new resource.  A San Francisco special interest group (SIG) was formed in August at the California Genealogical Society (CGS).  The group will look at records and research strategies for San Francisco city and county, both prior to and after the 1906 earthquake and fire.  The primary research guide is Raking the Ashes: Genealogical Strategies for Pre-1906 San Francisco, by Nancy Peterson.

The group meets on the third Saturday of every month, so the next meeting is this coming Saturday, October 20.  Meetings are held at the CGS library, 2201 Broadway Suite LL2, Oakland, California from 10:00-11:30 a.m.  Though CGS charges nonmembers a $5 fee to use the library, the SIG meeting is free to all attendees.  Anyone wishing to stay after the meeting and use the library will be subject to the nonmember fee.

Sandra Britt-Huber is the coordinator of the San Francisco SIG.  If you have questions about the group or want to let her know you will be coming to a meeting, send her a message at

Wordless Wednesday

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Family History Month? How about Family History *Week*?

Hmm, I'm not quite sure how I did this to myself.  Somehow I am scheduled for nine genealogy events in nine days, starting today (Saturday).  I mean, I love genealogy as much as the next person (okay, probably more than the next person!), but I may have gone a bit overboard this time.

Saturday was our fourth Black Family History Day, held at the Oakland FamilySearch Library (formerly the Family History Center) and coordinated by the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California.  We had about 55 attendees and a dozen and a half volunteers.  As usual, I was helping people with one-on-one consultations, where we sit down and actually look for records relating to the family.  I worked with five people today and was able to find at least one record for each person.  One man's ancestor was a free person of color living in Virginia who rendered assistance to the Confederate government.  We found several documents relating to the ancestor on, showing what he sold to the government and how much he was paid.  My only disappointment was that none of the friends I invited came today.  Maybe they'll be at the next one, in February!

Sunday morning I will teach my genealogy class at the Jewish community high school in Berkeley, and then drive to Davis to give a presentation to the Davis Genealogy Club on how even when you start with very little information, you can still methodically build on what you have step by step and learn more about your family.  Tuesday I will give my new talk about vital records (which was originally going to be in September; boy, I wish that had worked out) at the Oakland FamilySearch Library, for the California Genealogical Society.  Thursday I will be at the Napa Valley Genealogical Society with my overview of how helpful online newspapers can be in family history research.  Saturday is the Concord FamilySearch Library's annual Digging for Your Roots one-day conference, and I will teach the online newspapers class and the class I am teaching in Davis.  And I will wrap up my family history marathon the next day, when I will be at my high school genealogy class in the morning, and then preside over the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society meeting in the afternoon (where Steve Danko will explain how the scientific method can be applied to genealogy problem-solving).

Oh, and I'm doing all that while maintaining my regular work and research schedule.

Oy!  I better stock up on Mountain Dew!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Gay and Lesbian Relatives

Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers and HiDefGen asked bloggers to document the stories of their LGBT relatives and ancestors in honor of National Coming Out Day.  His post for the day can be found here.

I know of a few living members of my family who are gay.  I have two cousins who are in committed relationships, and I am happy to include their partners in my family tree (which surprised and delighted one of them).  Other than that, there is nothing to differentiate them from other relatives in the family tree, which I think in some ways is as it should be.  I don't make a point of noting that an unmarried relative is straight; why would I note that someone is gay?

On the other hand, as Thomas discusses in his post, relatives from earlier eras generally would not easily have been able to come out of the closet and remain part of the family.  Gays were routinely ostracized by family members and by society.  There have been rumors in the family for years about two cousins from older generations who were said to be gay.  If they were indeed gay, they probably led closeted lives.  Am I doing them an injustice by not including that information, even though I don't know for sure?

This is not a question with an easy answer.  I try to honor all of my relatives as I do my research by remembering them and sharing information with other family members.  But I also try to ensure that the information I share is as accurate as possible, not based just on hearsay.  If I can find something to substantiate the rumors, perhaps documentation of a long-term, close friend of the same sex, would that be enough to list the friend as a partner?  It certainly doesn't sound as though it would meet the requirements of the Genealogical Proof Standard, or even of a preponderance of evidence.  But would it help atone for the times those relatives lived in, when they could not express themselves freely?

As I said, not a question with an easy answer.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

DAR and Lithuanian Citizenship

from Ghosts of the Pines
Well, my new presentation was well received by the Mt. Diablo DAR chapter.  I spoke about my Revolutionary War ancestor, who was a drummer for his New Jersey unit, and his brother, a Loyalist who stayed in the colonies and was hung for treason.  I'm eligible for DAR through my ancestor, and eligible for the International Black Sheep Society of Genealogists because they accept a sibling of an ancestor.  What is particularly ironic is that my ancestor died destitute and has been almost forgotten, but his brother lives on in legends, comic books, and a documentary.  I don't even know if my ancestor has a surviving tombstone, but his brother's grave marker is replaced when it disappears.

After my talk, I went to the Oakland FamilySearch Library to do some research but ended up helping someone who came in looking for advice on how to prove his grandmother was Lithuanian, so he can claim Lithuanian citizenship.  I wrote recently about the right of return and my experience researching someone's Italian ancestry.  Apparently the Lithuanian requirements are similar to the Italian, including eligibility up through a great-grandparent (though the information on the Wikipedia page is singularly uninformative).  One aspect relating to eligibility is proving that the ancestor was a Lithuanian while Lithuania was an independent country, between 1918-1940.  His grandmother was living in Lithuania at that time, and there was a 1923 national census, so I recommended he try to find out if the census has survived and has information about individuals.  There's also the possibility of finding a civil birth registration (his grandmother was born when Lithuania was part of the Russian Empire), or maybe the visa issued by Lithuania when his grandmother left to immigrate to the United States.

An interesting quirk in this patron's situation is that his great-grandfather immigrated to the United States in 1913, while Lithuania was part of the Russian Empire, but did not apply for U.S. citizenship until 1922.  When the great-grandfather submitted his Declaration of Intention to become a citizen, he renounced citizenship and allegiance to Russia.  So I'm wondering what his citizenship status was from 1918-1922, when Lithuania was independent but he had not renounced any citizenship.  Was he Lithuanian?  Russian?  Stateless?

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bo, Bunkie, Dickie, Jan-Jan, and Sunny: Musings about Nicknames

Does Santa have trouble keeping
track of everyone's nicknames?
There was a discussion recently on one of my e-mail lists about nicknames -- how confusing they can be, making sure you have the right person, and of course documenting where you got your information.  Several people posted about interesting and unusual nicknames they had come across in their families and their research.  This of course got me thinking about nicknames of people I know.

The first thing that struck me was that many of my family's given names don't really lend themselves directly to nicknames.  What can you do with Myra, Mark, Stacy, Mary, and Todd?  The only one of those I know had a nickname was my mother Myra, but her nickname was Mike.  Her closest friend was Sam (for Samantha), and they were known as Sam and Mike.  Even my father can't tell me why they came up with Mike, other than no nicknames coming naturally from Myra.

My grandfather was Bertram Lynn Sellers.  He sometimes went by Bert, but mostly used his initials, B.L.  My father is a junior, and while he eventually settled on his middle name, when he was a child his nickname was Sunny.  Several of us thought that had to be spelled wrong and that it was Sonny, a common nickname for juniors, but my father insisted it was for his sunny disposition.  All four of his children have had trouble believing that, but my aunts have confirmed it.  (We're still trying to figure out what happened to his disposition after he grew up.)

I didn't know until I was in my 20's that my sister's name Laurie was actually a nickname for Laura.  She was named for our great-grandmother, who was still alive when she was born, so maybe the nickname was to prevent confusion between the two?

I have a friend Carol, which is a perfectly viable name in and of itself.  But hers is short for Carolyn.  On the other hand, I have an aunt named Carol, and that is her complete name.

I've never used a nickname, even though Jan is a common enough nickname for Janice.  (And no, Janet is not a nickname for Janice.)  The only person who really had a nickname for me was my grandmother, who used to call me Jan-Jan.  I asked her how she came up with that, and she said it was because of JFK's son John-John.  Does that count as two degrees of separation?

My family does have some interesting nicknames, though.  I have a cousin named Albert, but his nickname is Bunkie.  I asked him where that came from, and he said it used to be an old way to refer to someone, as in, "How ya' doin', bunkie?"  For some reason the family started calling him that at about the age of 2, and it stuck.  A well known Bunkie was Semon Knudsen of GM and Ford, but I can't find an explanation of how he acquired his nickname.

Then there was my grandfather's younger brother, George Moore Sellers, whose nickname was Dickie.  My great-aunt told me it was from an old phrase called the Dickie Do Flicker.  Now what that means is beyond me.  But Dickie named one of his sons Richard, who then of course went by the nickname of Dick.

My aunt's husband, Clarence Newcomb Lore, somehow acquired the nickname of Zeke.  No one has come up with an explanation for that so far.

I used to be in regular contact with four Chrises.  They were Christian, Christine, Christopher ... and Robert.  Now how, you are wondering, did Robert become Chris?  Well, when he went to college there were about half a dozen Roberts in the same dorm, and they decided each one had to have a unique nickname.  Rob and Bob probably went quickly, so when it came to my friend, he took his nickname from his last name:  Christiansen.  He's been Chris for about 60 years, so anyone who calls him Robert obviously doesn't really know him (and is probably a salesman!).

And some nicknames happen accidentally.  I have another friend whose name is Robert, which became Robbie when he was young, then migrated to Bob.  One day someone was typing his name and somehow dropped the second "b", so it ended up Bo.  (As opposed to Bo Jackson, who apparently got his nickname from shortening "wild boar hog.")  That's another one that stuck; he's gone by Bo for about 30 years now.

What are the stories of the nicknames in your family?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"Right of Return": Citizenship by Descent

Was your grandmother or great-grandfather born in Italy?  Was your grandfather born in Ireland?  Or maybe your mother or grandfather (even up to a great-great-grandfather) was born in India.  These are some of the countries that allow descendants of their diasporas (citizens and/or residents who left the country to live somewhere else, voluntarily or sometimes otherwise) to apply for citizenship under less stringent requirements than the average person.

Each country sets its own requirements and restrictions for citizenship through right of return, as they do with normal citizenship requirements.  For Italy, for example, you can apply if your great-grandparent, grandparent, or parent was born in Italy and did not renounce citizenship before a more recent ancestor was born in another country.  I recently helped someone with his application for Italian citizenship using this method.  His great-grandfather was born in Italy and did not give up Italian citizenship before his grandfather was born in the U.S.  I researched and confirmed the family connections, ordered copies of the relevant required documents, arranged for a translation of my client's birth certificate into Italian, and acquired an apostille (international certification similar in function to a notarization) for his birth certificate.  He submitted his application to the local Italian consulate, which approved it with no problems.  It will take about five months for the application to be processed, and he will then have dual citizenship, U.S. and Italy.

What's the point of doing this?  Some people do it because they want to be more closely connected to their ancestral homelands.  On a more practical level, some (such as my client) do it because Italian citizenship not only will allow him to travel freely to Italy, it also permits free travel throughout the European Union.

Most of the time citizenship acquired through right of return is equivalent to full citizenship of the country.  One country that does it differently is India.  Instead of granting citizenship, that country gives descendants of the Indian diaspora status as "Persons of Indian Origin."  This status allows someone to go to India without a visa, exempts him from restrictions on work for foreign nationals, and makes it easier to become a full citizen if desired.  (Maybe one day my stepsons will be interested; their grandfather was born in Punjab.)

Sometimes a person looking for citizenship through right of return is disappointed.  Someone else I did research for was not eligible for Italian citizenship because his great-grandfather became a naturalized U.S. citizen before his grandfather was born.  In an interesting twist, descendants of the grandfather's older brother are eligible, because the older brother was born before the great-grandfather renounced Italian citizenship.

General information about right of return can be found here, with examples from several countries.  One I found especially interesting was Spain, which has a specific provision for descendants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from the country in 1492 (which will require a lot of research to document!).  If the country you are looking for doesn't appear in this list, try searching for "right of return" and the name of the country.