Monday, September 29, 2014

So You Want to Learn How to Do Swedish Research?

We are lucky at the Oakland (California) FamilySearch Library to have very strong support for Swedish family research.  Along with some subscription databases not available at most FamilySearch Centers, two members of our staff have a dedicated day each week for Swedish research.  One or both of them are available all day to assist beginning and experienced researchers with their Swedish family history.

Last year our library was part of the tour the SwedGen team made through the U.S.  That was for an advanced research seminar.  This year we are hosting a beginning Swedish research class on Saturday, October 18, 2014, from 10:30 a.m.–12:00 noon.  If you have wanted to start your Swedish research but weren't sure what to do, this class is for you.  It is designed not only to help you find your ancestors, but also to get in touch with living relatives.

The class is free, but preregistration is required.  Send a message to

The Oakland FamilySearch Library is at 4766 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland, CA 94602.  There is a large parking lot available.  Public transportation is more difficult, but AC Transit has one line that goes up Lincoln from the Fruitvale BART station.  Information on how to make that connection is in my post on using BART to get to East Bay genealogy research locations.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Search for a Photo of a Bride Wearing Her Wedding Veil

A friend of mine, Sheri Fenley, is looking for a photograph of a bride wearing her wedding veil.

While I'm sure the bride was beautiful, what's actually more important here is her veil.

The bride was Jeanette Augusta Meier.  She was the daughter of Abe Meier and Minnie Eisig, and the granddaughter of Aaron Meier and Augusta Hirsch.  Aaron Meier started the Meier & Frank stores in Portland, Oregon in 1857.  The family was Jewish and from Bavaria.  They were early pioneers of Portland and prominent socially.

Jeanette married Walter David Heller on November 14, 1922 in Portland.  He was the son of Moses Heller and Adele Walter, and the grandson of Martin Heller and Babette Kuper.  Martin Heller was a Bavarian Jew who came to San Francisco in the 1850's.  He was president of Congregation Emanuel in San Francisco from 1876 until his death in 1894.  The Heller family was also socially prominent.

The veil that Jeanette wore on her wedding day has been worn by 48 members of the family and extended family at their own weddings.  Jeanette's granddaughter is helping her mother put together a scrapbook that will stay with the wedding veil as it continues to be passed down through the generations.  They have a photograph of every single bride who wore the veil — except for Jeanette Augusta Meier Heller.

So I am helping spread the word about the search for a photo.

Since the bride was from Oregon and the groom from California, Sheri has been trying to cover both areas.  She has searched these newspaper collections online:
• Chronicling America,
• Historic Oregon Newspapers,
• California Digital Newspaper Collection,
• ProQuest Historic San Francisco Chronicle online

She found several articles about the wedding, but no photos.  She has also contacted the Jewish Genealogical Society of Oregon, the Oregon Jewish Museum, and the Oregon Historical Society, and no luck there either.

The best remaining possibility would seem to be the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the Bancroft Library on the University of California at Berkeley campus.  Among the items in the collection are a card index for the Emanu–El newspaper and the complete historical run of the paper.  I'm sure the wedding was reported in the newspaper; maybe there's a photo?  That index would be really convenient to check, but the staff at Bancroft said that, "Unfortunately the materials are as yet unprocessed and there's no way of telling whether this collection contains the photo you are looking for."  Well, the index has been catalogued and some parts of the collection have been processed; many of us have been waiting patiently for several years for the rest of the Magnes Collection to be accessioned at Bancroft, i.e., made accessible for researchers.  The Bancroft staff apparently have been busy with lots of other things and somehow just haven't gotten around to finishing this task.

There are a couple of other possibilities for the Emanu-El newspaper.  According to the Chronicling America database, both the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and the New York Public Library have the newspaper for 1922, JTS in hard copy and NYPL on microfilm.  Neither has an index, of course, but they could be searched manually.  But access is difficult for us, as Sheri and I are both in California.

And there's always a small chance that someone out there who was connected with the Heller and/or Meier families has a photo in a collection at home.  The more people who share this story, the better the odds that anyone who might have a photo hears about the search.

So here goes my shot in the dark.  Let's see where it lands.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Finding Relatives in Probate Files

I wrote yesterday about the new presentation on probate records I recently created.  Probate is the process of validating someone's will and distributing his belongings according to his wishes, or showing there is no will (or no valid will) and dividing the belongings according to the applicable laws in that place and time.  Probate files can be fantastic sources of family information.  I always try to get every record I can find in my research, but sometimes the reason that finally prompts me to spend the money on a probate file may be unusual.  The reasons I ordered two of the most informative probate files I have received was less for the normal genealogical ones than to find out if someone's story was true.

In the first situation, I had been told by more than one relative that my grandfather's older sister was not a very likeable person.  In particular, my grandmother told me that when her father-in-law (my great-grandfather) died, he left only $1 to this sister and the rest of his estate to the other siblings.  I had been curious about the truth of this story for several years, but Kings County (Brooklyn), New York wanted $70 (!) for a copy of the probate file, and that was a tidy sum for me ten years ago.  But I saved my pennies and finallly splurged on the order.

When I received the packet, the first thing I read was the will.  I discovered that my grandmother had exaggerated a little, but the story was substantially true.  In the first section of the will, my great-grandfather left bequests of several hundred dollars to five of his six children, but to Sarah he left only $25.  The next section consisted of bequests to many social and benevolent organizations.  He also left some money to be spent on a new tombstone for his own father's grave in Kamenets-Litovsk, Poland, which was valuable information.  The last section of the will stated that the remainder of the estate was to be divided equally among all of his children — except Sarah.  So it was true — even he didn't like her.

In addition to learning that the story was true and where my great-great-grandfather was buried, the other valuable information came from when the will was actually probated, or proven, and the assets distributed.  One of the bequests in the will had been to my great-grandfather's sister, still in Europe.  I didn't have her correct name prior to this (my great-aunt was wrong on both first and married names).  Unfortunately, she predeceased him, because she stayed in Europe during World War II and perished during the Holocaust.  Her inheritance was divided among her six surviving children, who were listed by name with their addresses, four in Israel and two in Buenos Aires, Argentina (which also finally gave me names for the "cousins in South America" I had heard about from my mother and a cousin).  After all these years I'm still trying to find information about the South American cousins, but I have managed to obtain contact information for two of the cousins who went to Israel.

The second probate file that gave me a huge boon was for my stepsons' grandfather.  I had been told that each of his children should have had an inheritance of about $2 million, but one daughter kept filing against the estate saying that she didn't owe for a loan she had received from her father, and all the attorneys' fees ate into the estate to the extent that everyone received only $200,000 instead.  I decided I wanted to know if that story was true, so I requested the file from Los Angeles County.  (That was entertaining in and of itself, as the file ended up being more than 600 pages and the order was processed in about five stages.)

Again, the basic gist of the story was true.  The sister in question did make multiple claims that she did not owe for the loan.  The executor made a counterclaim each time.  Lots of paperwork, lots of hours racked up by attorneys.  She ended up having to pay the money back into the estate, but the process had to have whittled the estate down.  I don't know if the value of the inheritances would really have equaled $12 million, but the estate included many properties around the Los Angeles area, so it's plausible.

But the true gold in the file was, again, the list of heirs with addresses.  I had been trying to track down the half-sister in the family with no success.  There she was in the list, with her address.  (Everyone's children were listed also!)  Surprisingly, the address was only half an hour from where I was living.  Even more surprising, she still lived there, although the probate file was 24 years old!  I showed up at her door one day and introduced myself.  We had a lovely three-hour talk, and the information she gave me helped me track down the famous Hollywood cousins in the family.

Not everyone has intriguing stories to try to prove, but probate files can help almost everyone by supplying names, family relationships, and more.  If you haven't used them yet in your research, order one soon.  Look for probate records at the county level, at the superior court in most states.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Genealogy Talks and Journals

Whew!  I finally have a chance to come up for air!  I've given four genealogy talks this month, which I realize isn't that many, but three of them were brand-new ones I was doing for the first time, so there's been a lot of last-minute running around, looking for the right graphics, finalizing handouts, and generally tweaking the presentations.  On the positive side, all of the talks went well (yay!), so the time invested in them was worth it, and I now have presentations on probate records, city and other directories, and deaths in San Francisco.  Unfortunately, the time spent on preparing the talks came at the expense of writing for my blog, so now I have a backlog of articles.  I'm going to have to work on catching up!

Something else that kept me busy was finishing the most recent issues of  The Baobab Tree and ZichronNote.  I didn't quite get them out on schedule as I had hoped, but I was close!  The summer issue of Baobab includes articles on the history of black mariners and resources for researching them; some information on the life and history of the first black resident of Antioch, California; personal memories about a relative who portrayed marketing icon Aunt Jemima at public events; and an introduction to the journal of a doctor in the British Royal Navy in the 19th century, with his observations on race and the slave trade.

The August issue of ZichronNote includes four pieces about the annual IAJGS conference, which took place this year in Salt Lake City:  commentary from several SFBAJGS members about their experiences, President Jeremy Frankel's commentary on the conference in general and on the annual business meeting and election in particular, and winners of the annual awards (ZichronNote unfortunately being beaten in the society journal category by Lineage, the newsletter of the JGS of Long Island).  Jeremy also wrote about a genealogical puzzle that took him 29 years to solve, and there is a thoughtful article about growing up with a grandfather who was a Torah scribe.

My usual caveat about these informative journals is that you have to be a member of the respective societies to receive them.  So if these articles sound interesting to you, visit the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society (for ZichronNote) and the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California (for The Baobab Tree) to join and you can be reading them soon.

And I realize I have not written yet about the Minnie Driver episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, but I ran into a problem:  I always review an episode to make sure I didn't miss anything, and my cable provider did not have the episode available on demand.  So I'm still working on that too.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

She Was in the Book!

Catherine Fox Owen
Sellers Moore
I have been interested in my family history since I was very young, because my mother and grandmother always spoke about family members.  I grew up knowing names, relationships, birthdays, and anniversaries and hearing lots of stories.  But what really got me hooked was an assignment in junior high school to fill in a family tree back four generations.

I still have that purple mimeographed tree (that special smell is long gone, though).  I also have all the notes I made when I interviewed my relatives.  I knew a fair amount about my mother's side but not as much on my father's.  To learn more, I spoke with my dad, my aunt who lived nearby, and my grandfather.

One of the facts that everyone seemed to agree on at the time was that my grandfather's paternal grandmother was Kate Moore.  Everyone told me that.  So I dutifully wrote it down (no personal computers with family tree programs back in the mid-1970's) and began my search for her.

Over many years of searching I was not able to find a Kate or Katherine/Catherine Moore who married a Sellers and had a son named Cornelius Elmer, but I kept looking.  Sometime around 2000, I found a book on eBay about the Benjamin Moore family of Burlington County, New Jersey, the county in which the family lived for many decades.  It wasn't going for much money, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

The book arrived just before Labor Day weekend.  I was going to a convention in Los Angeles for the weekend and brought the book with me for "light reading."  I checked the index and found one mention of a Sellers, but it was for a Catherine Owen Sellers marrying someone named Moore, which didn't fit what I had been told.  In addition, there was no son named Cornelius Elmer.  I read through most of the rest of the book, which seemed well put together, but it didn't appear to be my family after all.  When I packed up to return home at the end of the convention I tossed the book into the van with everything else.

A month later, I discovered that one of my grandfather's sisters was still alive (you'd think someone in my family would have already mentioned this to me, wouldn't you?).  Of course, I immediately wanted to talk with her.  My aunt gave me Aunt Betty's phone number, and I settled in on a Sunday afternoon to call her.

When Aunt Betty answered, I introduced myself and told her I was the granddaughter of Bert (her brother) and that I wanted to talk to her about family history.  She sounded suspicious but said, "Tell me what you know," in a no-nonsense tone.  I ran through a quick overview of the information I had.  She started to warm up to me, so I figured I must have been reasonably accurate.  Then I mentioned that I had been told Kate Moore was the mother of Cornelius Elmer (Aunt Betty's father).  She said, "Well, you know that Moore was her second husband."


Aunt Betty proceeded to explain that Kate's first husband, Cornelius Elmer's father, had died young and that she had married George W. Moore a few years later.  That's how she became Kate Moore.  She also told me that George and Kate had a son, Howard Evans Moore.  Cornelius Elmer had loved his stepfather so much he named one of his own sons after him:  George Moore Sellers (who later was known as Dickie).

Wow!  That was certainly going to change my research.  I thanked Aunt Betty and wrapped up our call.  I went through my notes and made sure the scribbles were legible, then called my dad.  When I told him that Aunt Betty had been very short and matter-of-fact at the beginning of the call, he said, "Yeah, that's Aunt Betty, all right."  He also was surprised to hear about Kate Moore's second marriage.

The next morning I was telling someone about my conversation with Aunt Betty when I suddenly remembered the book I had read a month previously.  I jumped up and said, "I'll be right back!"  I ran out to my van, got the book (yes, it was still in the van a month later — don't ask), and ran back inside.  Lo and behold, when I looked again at that Catherine Owen Sellers, whom did she marry?  Why, George W. Moore, that's who.  And wouldn't you know, they had a son named . . . Howard Evans Moore!  So she was in the book after all!

In 2002 I made a special trip to Florida to meet Aunt Betty in person.  We had a great time and got along beautifully.  I'm really glad I was able to go when I did, because she passed away less than two years later.  Thanks for your help, Aunt Betty!  You are still in my thoughts.