Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top 10 Posts of 2014

I'm still very new to blogging, but it occurred to me that I'm coming up on my fourth blogiversary and I've never looked to see which of my posts people had found the most interesting, based on the number of views.  These are my ten most popular posts for 2014.  I have to admit, some of the results surprised me a little.

Would you have guessed that transcription could be a popular subject?  Well, #10 on the list is my commentary about the episode of Antiques Roadshow when we finally saw an appraiser suggest on air that a guest transcribe his important historical materials.  Sure, the guest wasn't excited about the idea, but baby steps, right?  At least genealogists know that transcription is important.

Now, a story about a bride I definitely can see generating interest, especially when a mystery is attached.  #9 in popularity is the story of Sheri Fenley and her family's search for a photo of Jeanette Augusta Meir wearing her wedding veil.  (The best news about that story is that a photo was found, a great Christmas present for the family.)

It appears that forensic genealogy is interesting to a lot of people, as my review of the sessions in the Advanced Forensic Evidence Analysis track at this year's Forensic Genealogy Institute came in at #8.  I'm particularly happy to see this, as I am a proud member of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy and want people to recognize the difference between real forensic genealogy and merely matching the edges of photographs.

Another surprise for me is that a family photograph I posted for Wordless Wednesday was the #7 post of the year.  It's a nice photo of part of the Sellers family, but I don't know why this one caught people's eyes more than any other.

These four posts were all relatively close in the number of views.  The top six had significantly bigger gaps between them.

Speaking of forensic genealogy, I was not at all surprised that my post about how Dick Eastman declined to approve my response to his item came in fairly high, at #6 to be specific.  This post also had the highest number of shares that I could track.

Many people have told me that they enjoy reading my write-ups of Who Do You Think You Are?, so it makes sense that three of those posts placed high:  Cynthia Nixon at #5, Jesse Tyler Ferguson at #4, and Valerie Bertinelli at #2.  It's no mystery to me that the McAdams sisters didn't do as well, as I didn't think the episode was that compelling, but I thought Kelsey Grammer would have been up here also.

Another surprise for me in the top numbers was that #3 is a post about the new newspaper links I had added to the Wikipedia page I regularly contribute to.  It's gratifying to see such interest in newspaper archives, but none of the other newspaper update posts during the year came close to this one.

And at #1, with 25% more views than the next closest post, not Who Do You Think You Are?, but the Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown episode that was part of of CNN's "Roots:  Our Journeys Home" series.  The surprise for me about this is not only that it came in at the top, but that it continually adds significant numbers of new views.  That's interesting, considering how little genealogy was actually in the show.

What did I learn from this?  First of all, I noticed that half of my top posts are about television programs.  To me, that indicates the recent explosion of programs about genealogy really is a great way to connect with other people who are interested in family history.  I hope people who come to my blog and read those posts stick around and find other interesting material.  Second, the only other topic with more than one post in the top 10 is forensic genealogy.  It's hard to say how much of a groundswell of interest that indicates, but I'll take it as a positive thing.  And third, as with the family photograph, you never know what will pique people's interests.

While I was looking at these numbers, I also figured out my top post in the past four years.  Would you believe Lionel Ritchie on Who Do You Think You Are?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

This is my niece Miriam and nephew Adam in their first Santa photo.  I wish them and everyone else a very happy holiday and a productive and fulfilling new year.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Finding Your Roots" - Derek Jeter, Billie Jean King, and Rebecca Lobo

I recently had some relatively minor surgery on my left wrist.  You'd think being off work would give me lots of time to catch up on blog posts, wouldn't you?  It is amazing how much energy even a small surgery can drain from you.  I'm recovering just fine, but suddenly I'll be totally wiped out and need to take a nap.  And the fact that the surgery was on my wrist means that typing for long periods is totally out.  But I'm still working on catching up on my backlog of Finding Your Roots episodes that I haven't posted about.

"Born Champions" opened by posing the perennial question of where superstar athletes get their incredible talents:  Are they inborn, or do they come from hard work?  The question was not actually resolved during the episode or even really addressed again, reminding me of poorly constructed high-school reports.  As it turned out, all three guests — Derek Jeter, Billie Jean King, and Rebecca Lobo — had ancestors who were athletically inclined, even if not to the level of our celebrities.  But all three celebrities also worked very hard to attain the success they did.  So the question remained unanswered.

As for the research, well, it had its ups and downs, as usual.  One of the more annoying moments was when our host, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was discussing Derek Jeter's ancestry.  Jeter is biracial; his father is black, and his mother is white.  Gates described how the researchers searched for whites with the name Jeter in the area where Jeter's family had lived to try to determine the former slaveholder.  It's frustrating enough that hobby genealogists use that deprecated method, but Gates must know about Freedmen's Bureau records, which are a much better way to do slave research.  He is supposed to be a highly regarded professional.  And he also talked about how many slaves took their former owners' names.  You'd think he would also mention how current, modern research has shown that the majority of former slaves did not do so, so it is not necessarily the best approach to assume they did.  Well, I would mention it.

In talking with Billie Jean King about the 19th-century adoption of her grandmother, Gates declared that "adoptions aren't part of the public record."  They certainly were part of the public record prior to the early to mid-20th century.  They were usually indexed with the probate cases in civil court records.  To the best of my knowledge, very few states retroactively closed early adoption records when they began to seal adoption records in the 20th century.  I have not only found adoptions listed in the probate index, I have gotten the records.

And now to pick on the ever-popular autosomal DNA results (cocktail-party conversation, remember?).  Gates told Rebecca Lobo that we "all inherit 12.5% of our DNA from each of our great-grandparents."  Well, not exactly.  While it's pretty safe to say that we each inherit 50% of our DNA from each of our parents, the random mixing that happens with each generation means that the percentages beyond that can vary, and after a few generations you might lose all DNA from one of your lines.  (I know that Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, wrote about this in one of her posts, but I can't find the specific one.)  So depending on exactly how far back Rebecca's hypothetical Jewish ancestor would be, she might no longer have any of that person's DNA.

We know that the celebrities don't do the research on this program, any more than they do on Who Do You Think You Are?  One of the differences between Finding Your Roots and Who Do You Think You Are?, however, is that in the latter, the celebrities actually visit several of the locations associated with the histories of their families.  On Finding Your Roots, Dr. Gates is the only person we see visiting those locations, such as in this episode when he is filmed at Ellis Island.  Sometimes I wonder if that makes the celebrities on WDYTYA feel more connected to the information they're learning about their relatives.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wordless Wednesday


Where in the United States Is Dave?

David Brainin
(taken in Butte, Montana)
I believe in "whole family research."  This means that I research not only my direct ancestors but also their siblings, spouses, and sometimes further out.  I do this because you don't always find the answers to questions such as parents' names in your ancestors' records, and also because you get a fuller, richer picture of what your family was doing and how people interacted when you look at everyone in the family.

When I started working on my Brainin line, I ran into a lot of problems.  First, as is common in general, the name was spelled all kinds of different ways.  It particularly showed up a lot as "Brennan" and similar spellings, which caused all kinds of confusion, becuase most of those were Irish or English, whereas my family were Jews from Russia.  But over time, as I worked through multiple censuses and as more finding aids (such as online databases) became available, I found all of my family members in almost all the censuses after they arrived in the United States.

Except Dave in 1910.

I had found Dave (Dovid) arriving at Ellis Island with his sister (my great-grandmother) Sarah and their older sister Lena on the Caronia on August 2, 1905, so I knew he was here before 1910.  (I even found the three of them on a Special Inquiry page, listed as likely public charges, because they were two young unmarried women and a teenage male with no skilled trade.)  I had found all the other family members in 1910.  They were all living together at 236 East 103rd Street in Manhattan — my great-great-grandparents Max (Mendel Hirsch) and Rose (Ruchel) Brainin with their children Lena, Sarah, William, Bessie, and Benjamin — except for the oldest son, Max, who was already married.  He was living at 101 Columbus Avenue in Manhattan with his wife, Nellie, and their son, Sidney.

I found Dave in 1920, still living with his parents.  This time they were at 1575 Madison Avenue in Manhattan, the address my grandmother remembered for her grandparents (and where she was born).  I have a copy of his 1927 marriage license, again in Manhattan.  His children were born in Manhattan in 1929 and 1931.  By 1940 the family had moved to Cumberland County, New Jersey.

But where was he in 1910?

Everything I knew about the family in general, and about Dave in particular, was associated with New York and New Jersey. I turned the search pages on Ancestry.com upside-down and sideways trying to find Dave in one of those states.  I tried variations of first and last name, first name only, last name only.  I tried birthplace and age with no name.  I bought a copy of the New York City 1910 index that was available on a CD and checked it.  I went crazy going in circles.  But still no Dave.

At this point I thought about just giving up.  After all, I had several records attesting to Dave's life in this country.  I knew when he arrived, where and when he was married, where his children were born, where he died and was buried, even when he adopted his nephew.  I didn't really need to find him in 1910.  I knew he had to have been here then.  I was pretty darned sure he hadn't traveled back to Russia to visit, since the whole family had come here.

But I'm stubborn.  I wanted to find him.  I wanted to know why he was hiding from me, laughing at me.

So one day, after having unsuccessfully tried some new permutations of the search, I thought, "Well, why don't I just look around the whole country?  It couldn't hurt."

And instead of restricting the search to only New York or New Jersey, I looked through the whole U.S.  And what did I see?

Hey, who's that in . . . San Francisco?!  That couldn't be Dave, could it?

I looked at the census page itself.  The address was 1018 Webster Street (which no longer seems to exist, but the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce is at 1006 Webster).  It sure looked like Dave — age, birthplace, arrival in U.S., occupation, all jived with the information I knew.  But what was he doing in California?

I still wasn't sure it was Dave, but keeping in mind the possibility that it could be, I looked for other possible records for him out west.

I found his World War I draft registration — in Butte, Montana.

I found an index entry for a naturalization — in Washington State.

After obtaining the naturalization (a fast-tracked U.S. Army one at Camp Lewis that didn't have much information in it) and piecing everything together, I was very sure it was my David Brainin.  There were no conflicts in information.  Apparently, he was the only member of the family who heard the call of "Go west, young man" and left the East Coast to see more of this new country to which he had immigrated.  He was out west at least between 1910 and 1918.  And by 1920 he was back in New York with the rest of the family.

Considering all the stories about the family I heard while I was growing up, I was surprised that I never heard about Dave's adventures out west.  No one ever mentioned it.  And at this point I suspect that no one still alive would really know why he did it.

I did learn a valuable lesson in searching for Dave in 1910 — people aren't always where you expect them to be.  And as usual, I want to find more.  For example, since I live near San Francisco, it would be cool if I could find a photo of the building Dave used to live in, and maybe other records from when he was here.  But I'm happy I finally found him in 1910 and learned a little about his travels out west.  And I don't think he's laughing at me anymore.

After I had found these records, I came into possession of several photographs that belonged to my grandmother.  Amazingly enough, one of the photos was of Dave, taken in Butte, Montana.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It's That Giving Time of Year: World War I and II, Missouri Death Certificates, Vishniac Photos, Kilts, and More

It seems there are always more genealogy projects and mysteries that volunteers can help with, doesn't it?  I'm posting some of these later than I planned to, but all still appear to need assistance or answers.

More large institutions are turning to crowdsourcing to make information available.  The Smithsonian opened its Transcription Center to public input this past July.  After having digitized many handwritten documents, volunteers are now sought to transcribe the often difficult-to-read writing.  As with most such projects, each document is transcribed by multiple volunteers to try to ensure the highest accuracy.

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The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is also following the trend.  The museum has worked with the International Center of Photography in New York to digitize and place online the work of photographer Roman Vishniac.  Many, probably most, of the existing captions did not name the individuals in the photos.  If you can give names to previously unidentified photos, your help is wanted.  Visit the Vishniac collection and see if there's someone you know.  If you recognize a person or a place, click the link below the photo to send a message.

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Now this is a project made for family historians.  To help commemorate the centennial of World War I, the New York Times is asking people to share stories of their ancestors' roles during the war, along with the efforts made to learn about those stories.  So instead of just the bare facts, you can tell about the research you did and where you went to find out what happened to your great-grandfather.  One woman's story about her grandfather, who fought on the German side, is online.

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Every January 2, under Missouri state law, the Missouri State Archives receives another year's worth of death certificates from 50 years previous.  The archives processes and scans the certificates, and then volunteers do a transcription marathon.  It takes the volunteers only about four days to transcribe and check the year's worth of certificates, around 50,000–60,000 images.  The archives usually adds the images and the transcribed entries to the death certificate database by the middle of February.

Volunteers work from the comfort of their own homes, as with the FamilySearch Indexing program.  Also similar is that each record is transcribed twice and then checked.  If they don't match, however, a third person transcribes the record.  If none of the transcriptions match at that point, a staff member reviews the certificate.  Unlike FamilySearch, this program has no software you must download, but you do need to create a free account.

Mary Stanfield is the eVolunteer Project Coordinator.  If you or your society is interested in participating this January to transcribe 1964 death certificates, or if you have any questions, contact her at archvol@sos.mo.gov.

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The Jews of Frankfort DNA Project is both a regional and a surname Y-DNA project.  Male participants are sought who are Jewish; have a surname found in Frankfort/Worms in the 16th century; and have a documented lineage back to a male ancestor in the 16th century or earlier living in Frankfurt, Worms, Mainz, Alsace, Prague, Vienna, or another major Jewish center.  If you fit the criteria, the project would like you to take a Y-DNA test at Family Tree DNA and submit the results.  More information, including the known list of surnames, is available on the project Web site.

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A Glasgow seamstress sewing a kilt intended to be part of a World War I uniform included a note tucked into the stitching.  It's possible that Helen Govan was looking for a future husband:  "I hope your kilt will fit you well, & in it you will look a swell. If married never mind. If single drop a line. Wish you bags of luck, & a speedy return back to Blighty Town."  Now that the note has been discovered, the family that owns the kilt is searching for descendants or other relatives of Govan to learn more about her and the reason she included the note.

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A man who purchased a World War I medallion, and his father, are now trying to determine to whom the medal belonged.  They have done some research and learned that six men who served on the SS River Clyde at Gallipoli earned the Victoria Cross and this medallion, which was given by the Imperial Merchant Service Guild for bravery.  You can read the story of the men's service here.  The names of five of the men are included in the article.

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An online Michigan newspaper has been searching for the 39,000 World War II veterans it estimates are still alive in Michigan at the present time.  MLive created a database to share the veterans' names, photographs, and experiences and to honor their service.  The big push was to include information by Veterans Day, but information is still being sought.  An announcement about the project is available, and the database and submission form can be found here (scroll down for the submission form).

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At the Battle of Bannockburn, the outnumbered forces of Robert the Bruce defeated the English army of King Edward.  The 700th anniversary of the battle has passed, but if you believe you are descended from one of the men who fought there, researchers would still like to talk to you and help you determine if your ancestor was there, using modern DNA techniques.  Stewarts and McDonalds particularly are encouraged to contact Graham Holton, who was the head of the family history project for the anniversary.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wordless Wednesday


More Newspaper Links!

Here's another batch of links that have been added to the Wikipedia newspaper archives page.  I'm a little behind schedule on posting because of some recent health problems (just had surgery this morning!).  This is another interesting group, with more university student papers.  And all of the new links are free!

• England:  The Illustrated London News has posted an archive for the News and seven additional titles covering the years of 1914–1919, in conjunction with the World War I centennial.

• Ireland:  The Church of Ireland Gazette has added 1914 to its online archive.

• Alabama:  The University of Montevallo has a collection of newspapers from Montevallo and Shelby County.  So far there are five titles, with plans to add more.

• California - The Berkeley Public Library has an index to obituaries that were published in the Berkeley Daily Gazette.  The obituaries range from 1894–1979, but several years are not included.

• California:  The B'nai B'rith Messenger has been added to the collection of Jewish newspapers available from the National Library of Israel.

• California:  The Sacramento Public Library has purchased a digital archive of the Sacramento Bee for 1900–1983.  Currently the years 1940–1959 are online, with the rest to be added over the next four years (1960–1969 in 2015, 1970–1979 in 2016, 1980–1983 in 2017, and 1900–1939 in 2018).  You must have a Sacramento Public Library (available to all California residents) to use this NewsBank database.

• Illinois:  The Chicago Sentinel, which had a broken link for a while, is no longer hosted at the Spertus Institute but has become part of the Illinois Digital Archives.

• Illinois:  The Rock Island County Illinois Genealogical Society has posted obituary indices for the Rock Island Argus and Quad City Times for 2005–2013.  They will send copies of obituaries for a small fee.

• Iowa:  The Fort Dodge Public Library has a collection of 54 newspapers and two directories online.

• Michigan:  The Loutit District Library has searchable databases for birth announcements (1891–1959, 2001–present) and obituaries (1891–1979) from the Grand Haven Tribune.  These are indices only.

• Michigan:  The Flat River Community Library has two Greenville newspapers online for free:  the Greenville Independent (1857–1923) and the Daily Call (1922–1923).

• Missouri:  Scenic Regional Library in Franklin County has been working with the state historical society to digitize many historical newspapers from the area.  Currently fourteen newspapers from three counties, covering 1875–1950, are available.

• New Jersey:  An index to death announcements published in the Elmer Times from 1901–1940 is available from the Gloucester County Historical Society.

• New York:  A collection of fourteen newspapers from the Hudson River Valley, ranging from 1831–2013, has been put online.

• New York:  The Tompkins County Public Library has several newspaper indices available as PDF's.

• North Carolina:  The first 70 years of the Technician, the student newspaper from North Carolina State University, are now searchable and browsable online.

• Ohio:  The Tuscarawas County Genealogical Society has two index databases of death notices and obituaries, for 1954–1967 and 2003–2011.

• Oregon:  The student newspaper for Willamette University, the Collegian, has been digitized from 1875–2012 and put online.

• South Carolina:  The Richland Library has an obituary index for 1875–present for the Columbia area.

• Texas:  The Calhoun County Genealogical Society has created an index for local birth, engagement, and marriage announcements and obituaries, for the letters A–M.  They will send copies of items for a nominal fee.

Have you found a great item in the newspaper recently?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

I'm Going to RootsTech and the FGS Conference!

Right now I feel like an incredibly lucky person.

Randy Seaver, who publishes the Genea-Musings blog, is a blogging ambassador for RootsTech.  He ran a contest for a free full-conference pass to RootsTech, taking place February 12–14, 2015 in Salt Lake City.  Randy asked entrants to list a session they wanted to attend and a vendor they wanted to visit.  I said:

1.  I want to attend the "School Daze—Finding the School Records of Our Ancestors" session because I know several schools associated with my family members and I would love to be able to find school records for them.

2.  I hope NIGS is one of the vendors, so I can stop by and visit with the always pleasant Louise St. Denis.

Randy had stated that the choice would be made by a random draw.  For some reason, only seven (!) people entered his contest.  And I was the winner!!  So I started doing the genealogy happy dance.  And Louise even wrote to me to say thanks for the mention.  (She really is a very nice person.)

But it gets better.

Dee Dee King of Forensic Genealogy Services very generously has provided scholarships to a small number of genealogists every year since 2010.  Through her assistance, I was able to attend Jamboree in 2011 and the Forensic Genealogy Institute in 2013.  This year I applied for a scholarship to attend the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) conference, which is being held in conjunction with RootsTech next year and starts a day earlier.  And yesterday Dee Dee let me know that I had won a scholarship for FGS.  So I was able to add an FGS pass onto my RootsTech registration, and I'll be attending the ProQuest library event the day before the FGS conference begins.  More genealogy happy dance around the house!

And of course I'll post from the conference about all the great stuff I'll be learning.

Hmm, maybe I should go out and buy a lottery ticket or something . . . .

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November ZichronNote Has Been Delivered! (Electronically)

Hooray!  The November issue of ZichronNote has been put to bed, and it's still November.  The electronic version has already been sent to SFBAJGS members, and the print copy will be mailed out soon.  I really enjoyed the articles in this one.  (Okay, I enjoy the articles in every issue!)  Larry Fagan, one of our members, broke through a longstanding brick wall by availing himself of help from JewishGen classes and our brick wall session in August.  Heidi Lyss, a board member, has written about the "Jews in Utah" session at this summer's IAJGS conference and the direct connection it had to her own family research.  Jeremy Frankel has given us the second part of the story of discovering a lost branch of his family, and we learned that we now have part three to look forward to, with more revelations!  And this time even I contributed:  some updates, but still looking for a wedding photo of Jeanette August Meier Heller; and information about the JewishGen Memorial Plaques Database and how to contribute to it.

Does all of this sound like something you just have to read?  Well, remember, the most recent issues of ZichronNote are available only to members of the society. If you join (at the still very affordable annual membership rate) you get a subscription to the journal, help fund research projects, and support a hobby you enjoy.  And if you're interested in contributing to ZichronNote, write to me for more information.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Six Generations of Sellers Signatures

For Veterans Day I wrote about my great-great-grandfather Cornelius Godshalk Sellers and some of the events in his life, including his experiences as a New Jersey volunteer in the Civil War.  I mentioned that I was waiting on a copy of Cornelius' payment voucher from 1865 and that I would then have a copy of his signature.  One of the reasons this was significant to me was because it would allow me to put together six generations of Sellers signatures — Cornelius was the only one I was missing.

Guess what arrived in the mail?

Janice Marie Sellers (me), born 1962

Bertram Lynn Sellers, Jr. (my father), born 1935

Bertram Lynn Sellers [Sr.] (my grandfather), born circa 1903

Cornelius Elmer Sellers (my great-grandfather), born 1874

Cornelius Godshalk Sellers (my great-great-grandfather), born 1845

Franklin Peter Sellers (my great-great-great-grandfather), born 1800

Next goal:  Find a signature of my fourth-great-grandfather, Abraham Sellers!

Friday, November 28, 2014

National Day of Listening

In 2008 StoryCorps, a nonprofit oral history project, launched the National Day of Listening, a day when Americans are encouraged to make time to record the stories of family members, friends, and community members.  It now regularly takes place on the Friday after Thanksgiving — which means today!

StoryCorps has recording booths in some cities in the United States, and conducts mobile tours, where people can come and record interviews.  These must be reserved ahead of time.  It also has recommendations for equipment and resources for people to conduct their own interviews.

Take some time today to interview a relative and record that person's story.   Better yet, make it a family event and have multiple interviews!  Save family stories and pass them down to other family members.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Make a Timeline

Today's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun event from Randy Seaver was interesting, so I thought I'd participate.  He asked people to create a timeline for an ancestor and then post about it.  So here's my entry.

1) Have you created a Timeline for one of your ancestors using a genealogy software program (e.g., Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, Legacy, Reunion, etc.) or an online family Tree (e.g., Ancestry Member Tree, FamilySearch Family Tree, Geni, MyHeritage, etc.), or in a spreadsheet (e.g., Excel) or in a word processor table?
2)  If not, try to create a timeline using the program/website of your choice.  If so, create another one for the ancestor of your choice!

3)  Show us your Timeline creation, and tell us how you did it.  Which program/website did you use, the process you used, and how you captured the images to display your timeline.
4)  Share your Timeline creation on your own blog post, in a comment to this post, or on Facebook or Google+.


1) and 2) I have created timelines previously, but I put this one together tonight.

3) I used Family Tree Maker 16 (I've seen no need to upgrade past that version) and created a genealogy report that included all the facts I had.  I then exported the information in an RTF file and did some editing in Word.  I copied and pasted from Word directly into this post.  (I found it amusing that a timeline with fourteen entries has thirty-eight sources!)  Because I did the timeline in a word processor, I don't have any images.

Like Randy's timeline, this is pretty plain, but it has all the information and is easy to read.  I also would like to add more information, starting with what O.K.S.B. stands for.

4) So I'm sharing my timeline here on my blog, I'll add a comment to Randy's post, and it will show up on Facebook and Google+.  I'm covering all the bases.




ELLIS STEINFIRST:
Abt. December 1851, born in Poland/Germany, to a Jewish family1,2,3,4,5,6,7,49,50,51,52
Abt. 1870, Immigration to United States34,35,36,37,38,39
July 14, 1872 married JENNIE WEINSTEIN in Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania11,12,13,14,15
Bet. 1879–1880, member of O.K.S.B.40,41
June 4, 1880, enumerated in census at 83 Spring Street, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania, occupation huckster29,44
Abt. 1892, naturalized in Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania?42,43
June 1, 1900, enumerated in census at 104 North Martin Street, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania, occupation scrap iron dealer30,45
April 21, 1910, enumerated in census at 110 Martin Street, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania, occupation junk dealer31,46
January 9, 1920, enumerated in census at 320 North Martin Street, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania, occupation scrap iron dealer32,47
April 5, 1930, enumerated in census at 320 North Martin Street, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania, occupation scrap iron co manager33,48
February 27, 1932, died in Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York, cause of death bronchopneumonia8,9,10,28
February 29, 1932, obituary published in Titusville Herald7
March 1, 1932, buried in B'nai Gemeluth Chesed Cemetery, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania25,26,27

Endnotes

1.  1880 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 125 Pg 8D Ln 31. STE-C001
2.  1900 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 45 Pg 2A Ln 49. STE-C002a
3.  1920 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 45 Pg 7A Ln 31. STE-C003
4.  1930 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 20-48 Pg 4B Ln 32. STE-C004
5.  New York State Department of Health, New York State Certificate of Death, February 27, 1932, #8963. STE-V002
6.  JewishGen.org, JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry, "Electronic," accessed online database July 12, 2008. STE-V003
7.  1910 U.S. Census, Titusville City, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 44 Pg 11B Ln 99. STE-C019a
8.  "Titusville Morning Herald," February 29, 1932, page 2. STE-N013
9.  New York State Department of Health, New York State Certificate of Death, February 27, 1932, #8963. STE-V001
10.  JewishGen.org, JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry, "Electronic," accessed online database July 12, 2008. STE-V003
11.  1930 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 20-48 Pg 4B Ln 32. STE-C004
12.  "Titusville Morning Herald," February 29, 1932, page 2. STE-N013
13.  1910 U.S. Census, Titusville City, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 44 Pg 11B Ln 99, 100. STE-C019a
14.  "Titusville Morning Herald," July 15, 1872. STE-N049
15.  "Titusville Herald," Titusville, Pennsylvania, July 13, 1922, page 5. STE-N057
25.  "Titusville Morning Herald," March 2, 1932, page 3. STE-N014
26.  New York State Department of Health, New York State Certificate of Death, February 27, 1932, #8963. STE-V001
27.  JewishGen.org, JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry, "Electronic," accessed online database July 12, 2008. STE-V003
28.  New York State Department of Health, New York State Certificate of Death, February 27, 1932, #8963. STE-V001
29.  1880 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 125 Pg 8D Ln 31. STE-C001
30.  1900 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 45 Pg 2A Ln 49. STE-C002a
31.  1910 U.S. Census, Titusville City, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 44 Pg 11B Ln 99. STE-C019a
32.  1920 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 45 Pg 7A Ln 31. STE-C003
33.  1930 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 20-48 Pg 4B Ln 32. STE-C004
34.  1900 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 45 Pg 2A Ln 49. STE-C002a
35.  1920 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 45 Pg 7A Ln 31. STE-C003
36.  1930 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 20-48 Pg 4B Ln 32. STE-C004
37.  "Titusville Morning Herald," February 29, 1932, page 2. STE-N013
38.  New York State Department of Health, New York State Certificate of Death, February 27, 1932, #8963. STE-V001
39.  1910 U.S. Census, Titusville City, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 44 Pg 11B Ln 99. STE-C019a
40.  "Titusville Morning Herald," June 23, 1879. STE-N002
41.  "Titusville Morning Herald," July 5, 1880. STE-N005
42.  1920 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 45 Pg 7A Ln 31. STE-C003
43.  1910 U.S. Census, Titusville City, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 44 Pg 11B Ln 99. STE-C019a
44.  1880 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 125 Pg 8D Ln 31. STE-C001
45.  1900 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 45 Pg 2A Ln 49. STE-C002a
46.  1920 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 45 Pg 7A Ln 31. STE-C003
47.  1910 U.S. Census, Titusville City, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 44 Pg 11B Ln 99. STE-C019a
48.  1930 U.S. Census, Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania ED 20-48 Pg 4B Ln 32. STE-C004
49.  "Titusville Morning Herald," December 1, 1885, page 1. STE-N007
50.  "Titusville Morning Herald," April 16, 1887. STE-N008
51.  "Titusville Morning Herald," February 29, 1932, page 2. STE-N013
52.  "Titusville Herald," Titusville, Pennsylvania, March 7, 1910, page 5. STE-N051

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Finding Your Roots" - Alan Dershowitz, Carole King, and Tony Kushner

I have continued to watch the new season of Finding Your Roots, albeit in "encore performances" (PBS doesn't really have reruns, right?), but I find myself continually underwhelmed, both by the stories and by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., himself.  It isn't that the family stories aren't interesting — if I thought family stories were boring, then becoming a professional genealogist would have been a bad career move — but the method by which Gates presents the information does not lend itself to suspense.  It's hard to get excited when he says, "Please turn the page."  Since he is not actually telling a narrative but merely picking out essentially random facts, the "revelations" often seem to be a connect-the-dots puzzle that has not been completed.

The overall presentation style does not help.  Like an elderly aunt trying to extend her nephew's visit by doling out treats slowly over time, the guest finds himself obligated to stay longer and longer.  This sense of deliberate dragging out is heightened by extensive use of bland B-roll shots as filler.  How many times can we watch Gates walk slowly across a lawn or a room, gazing soulfully up at the sky or into the distance?  Or see yet another nameless researcher in an unidentified repository scroll through yet one more roll of microfilm with no context?

Something I have found extremely annoying is when a celebrity asks Gates, "Where did you find this?"  Most of the time Gates merely dissembles, but he has actually responded, "I can't tell you that!"  Well, why not?  What's the big secret?  This is PBS, and it's supposed to be educational.  Must our education be limited to hearing how great Dr. Gates is, and not how an ordinary person may learn about his own family?  Is access to these documents limited to people with big TV budgets?

And one more pet peeve.  The opening of each episode includes some CG text in the lower left corner of the screen:  "A film by Kunhardt McGree Productions . . . ."  I hate to deflate Dr. Gates, but these are not films; they are television episodes.  Films have plots and narratives, something lacking in Finding Your Roots.

Because there is little of substance to to talk about in the program, I thought I would be able to combine commentary on more than episode in a single blog post.  I surprised myself with what I had to say about only this episode, so I guess I will have a few more posts covering the program.  As several episodes have been aired since my first post, I decided to pick up again with one I watched more recently, coincidentally the one with three Jewish celebrities.

As I've mentioned, we have no continuity to follow in the research process, so it's impossible for me to say anything about that.  Since Gates declines to let his guests or his audience know about the big secret repository where he finds all of his stunning revelatory documents, I obviously can't comment on that either.  Unfortunately, that mostly leaves me with negative observations on some of what Gates says during the program.

In "Our People, Our Traditions", Gates presented Books of Life (should I include a trademark designation with that?) to Tony Kushner, Carole King, and Alan Dershowitz.  We watched the standard short background on each guest and the slow, painful parceling out of tidbits of information to each of them.  I will admit, probably the most startling thing I've heard on this show, or almost anywhere else, was Kushner's recollection of the woman in Lake Charles, Louisiaia, who asked him, "Where are the horns?", because she truly believed the old anti-Semitic myth that Jews have vestigial horns on their heads.  Seriously?  In the 20th century?  I hope that woman didn't breed.  I am so thankful I no longer live in the Deep South.

At one point, when talking with King, Gates commented, ". . . like all Jewish Americans have experienced prejudice."  Excuse me, but just where the hell does he get off making a blanket statement like that about several million people and passing it off as fact?  Am I the only one who noticed that remark?  How can he purport to know that every single solitary Jew in America has experienced prejudice?  Did he conduct a survey?  I sure didn't get a copy of it.

When speaking with Kushner about his family's move to Louisiana, Gates discussed the fact that many Jews who moved to the South in the third quarter of the 19th century did so not only for economic opportunity, but specifically because they were willing to do business with recently freed slaves, whereas many of the white residents of the areas would not do so.  I was happy to see this point made.  Even into the 20th century this situation persisted; Kushner's family started its lumber company in Lake Charles in 1927 and thrived in part because they were happy to serve the black community.  (Hey, what do you know!  Not every comment is negative.)

In relation to Dershowitz's ancestors, Gates explained they were from Galicia and said it was "now located in Poland."  That would be a significant surprise to the many people in what was formerly Eastern Galicia, which is solidly part of Ukraine now.

This same segment with Dershowitz included an interesting piece of information I had never heard before.  Dershowitz discussed an old Jewish religious law that did not permit observant Jews to travel on a ship on the Sabbhath, which is consistent with what I understand of similar restrictions, such as not being able to drive or ride in a car on the Sabbath.  He didn't state when this law was modified, but if it had not been, Orthodox Jews such as my own grandfather's parents would not have been able to make the trip to the "Goldene Medina", because the ship passage took more than seven days and therefore necessitated traveling on at least one Sabbath, if not more.

Truly unfortunately, Gates did not quash an old wives' tale regarding immigration when he had the opportunity.  King said she had been told that her family's name was changed at Ellis Island.  This myth persists today even though many credible and knowledgeable sources have explained why it simply could not have happened.  Instead of categorically denying the possibility, though, Gates said merely that it "almost never happened."  Why even leave that door open?  It NEVER happened.

I think Gates and his team may have bitten off a little more than they could chew with this theme.  They were apparently unable to trace any of the celebrities' families back very far.  I think the farthest he got was to a second- or third-great-grandfather for one person.  I noted several instances of missing maiden names on the family tree sketches that were shown.  This affected even relatively recent generations, such as David and Mollie Glajman, King's paternal grandparents.  Very few family photographs were displayed and identified; most of the images appeared to be "generic."  No really big revelations.  And they didn't even talk about the DNA results, apparently because the basic results were very predictable.

And since this episode was about Jewish research, have you ever noticed the underwriters for the series?  Dr. Georgette Bennett, Dr. Leonard Polonsky, Candace King Weir, the Daryl & Steven Roth Foundation — that's a lot of Jewish names, isn't it?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fall Issue of "The Baobab Tree"

It's still autumn, right?  That means the fall issue of The Baobab Tree was published on time!  I'm stilll working on getting it out a little earlier, but I'm getting closer.

This issue has fewer articles than usual, but they're longer.  Nicka Smith, one of my fellow board members for the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California, has written about a promise she made to a cousin to find out what happened to his brother in Louisiana, her unfinished search, and the importance of searching even when it is unsuccessful.  The second article discusses a wonderful archival discovery — a letter that mentioned an ancestor and how he contributed to his community in Ohio.  And I shared information about a powerful 18th-century poem written by an abolitionist, a poem that is freely available online.

So are you a member of AAGSNC?  If so, you should be receiving your fall issue soon.  If not, have you considered joining?  Visit our Web site and become a member, and you'll get a copy also.

Have you written about your family research and discoveries?  Articles for The Baobab Tree are accepted from both members and nonmembers.  If you submit an article that is published, you will receive a copy of the issue with your article even if you are not a member.  Submissions may be articles, reviews, graphics, or almost anything genealogy-related, both original and previously published, and must be relevant to black family history research.  Submission guidelines for The Baobab Tree, including deadlines, are available online.  And I'm an easy editor to work with!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cornelius Godshalk Sellers, My Civil War Ancestor

Cornelius Godshalk Sellers, my great-great-grandfather, was born January 15, 1845, in Doylestown, Buck County, Pennsylvania.  His family was enumerated in Pennsylvania in the 1850 census, but by the time of the 1860 census they had moved to Belvidere, Warren County, New Jersey.  When the call came for volunteers to help fight for the United States in the Civil War, he wanted to enlist.  Because he was underage, his father, Franklin Peter Sellers, had to sign to give his permission, which he did on August 7, 1862.


Cornelius enlisted in the 11th New Jersey Infantry, Company I.  He mustered in on August 8 in Trenton, New Jersey, where he was paid a bounty of $25.


The 11th New Jersey saw action at some important battles of the war, along with several lesser-known battles:
Cornelius was admitted to the hospital at Farfax Seminary in Virginia on June 14, 1863.  There he was treated for anemia.  He was returned to duty on July 2, 1863, just in time for the Battle of Gettysburg.


Cornelius was admitted to the hospital again on March 24, 1864, this time in Alexandria, Virginia.  The stated ailment was epilepsy.


This time, however, he apparently was not truly ill.  The treatment portion of the file states, "Claims to have had frequent convulsions before admission, but has had none here — Evidently shamming."  It's possible he was simply tired of fighting.  He was returned to duty April 20, 1864, having missed no fights involving his unit.


Even with that little incident, he managed to be promoted to corporal on February 23, 1865, having remained a private throughout the previous two and a half years.


The Civil War officially ended on April 9, 1865, with the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House.  Cornelius' unit was mustered out a month later, on June 6, 1865, near Washington, D.C.  He owed the government $5.45 on his clothing account, but he was due a $75 bounty, possibly for fulfilling his enlistment.  The muster card indicates he was wounded at Fort Morton, Virginia, on October 6, 1864, which does not correlate with the battles I know of.  Apparently he did not age during his almost three years in the army, as the card also says he was 18 years old, the same age as listed on his muster-in.


Soon after his mustering out he went to Philadelphia, where he set up shop as a printer by 1865, following the same trade as his father.  He married Catherine Fox Owen, my great-great-grandmother, in January 1870.  They had at least two children — Cornelius Elmer Sellers (who went by Elmer), born November 7, 1874, and Sarah Owen Sellers, born July 26, 1878.

Cornelius was still working as a printer when he died, on December 15, 1877, of acute bronchicitis.  He was only thirty-two years old.  He was buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery three days later, on December 18.


I have just barely scratched the surface of researching Cornelius during the Civil War.  I want to get copies of the morning reports for the unit, which will list his name on the roll and might have more information about the injury at Fort Morton.  I have not yet had the opportunity to check for more hospital records.  I have ordered but not yet received a copy of his payment voucher from June 19, 1865, for $21.46 — and then I will have a copy of his signature.  I don't even know if he had a tombstone or if it survived the destruction of the cemetery.  And I would dearly love to find a photograph of him, whether in uniform or civilian clothes.  But research is always ongoing, and I am happy I can honor Cornelius on Veterans Day this year.