Monday, November 30, 2015

Interesting 1917 Adoption Story in Newspaper

I kind of have adoption on the brain at the moment, because I'm still working to help my aunt try to find the son she gave up for adoption 70 years ago.  (Progress has been made!  Cumberland County has said that there is a record!)  So this story about a woman who seems to have adopted a baby boy in 1917 caught my eye when I was reading this newspaper for another article.  I wonder if this child's adoption file is traceable based on the small amount of information in the article.  I wonder if the boy was ever told this story.

I also found it surprising that someone would call the police department to inquire about where to get a baby.  I somehow don't think that was the standard procedure for adoption, even in 1917.

-- >< -- >< -- >< -- >< --

Atlanta Constitution, March 22, 1917, page 13

Recalls Promise and Now Baby Boy Has a Fine Home

When Woman Brings Homeless Child to Police Station Secretary Morris Remembers Telephone Request of Months Ago.

If it had not been for the fact that William T. Morris, secretary to the chief of police, made a rash promise some four months ago, and for the further fact that a good-hearted woman of Atlanta is anxious for a baby in her home, one 18-month-old boy would still be homeless.

At the time above mentioned, the telephone on Morris’ desk rang.

“Hello,” he answered.  “Chief’s office; secretary talking; something I can do for you?”

The voice was a timid feminine one.

“Yes,” it said.  “I want to know if you can tell me where I can get a baby?”

Morris took the lady’s telephone number and promised to help her if he could.

Wednesday afternoon a woman carrying a pretty child of 18 months came to the station.  She told the chief that the child had been left with her by its mother and that she was to receive $5 per week for caring for it, but that the mother had left the city, also leaving about five weeks’ wages due.

“I can’t afford to care for the boy,” she cried.  “But he’s such a fine little fellow that I hate to give him up.  If only I could get some good home for him—”

She was telling her story to other officials, but Morris had heard enough to recall the telephone conversation with a certain pretty little woman of Atlanta.

He fumbled in his desk through many memoranda and finally dug up a telephone number.

“Is this Mrs. ——?” he asked.

“Yes,” came the answer.

“Have you found that baby yet?”

“No, I haven’t; but I’m still looking.”

“Well,” said Morris, clearing his throat in his most impressive manner, “if you want a boy, now is your chance.”  Then directions were given and the lady in question called at the place where the baby is now staying Wednesday afternoon, and then she decided that Thursday she would take what steps were necessary to legally adopt it.

Her name?

She requested that it be withheld until the papers were properly executed.

“You see,” she said, “I want the child; but I’m afraid that if anything is published now some one else will get him.”

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Thanksgiving Memories

I suppose it shouldn't be much of a surprise that this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun is about Thanksgiving, as it was only two days ago.  Randy Seaver is usually very topical:

1) We just celebrated Thanksgiving in the USA, and many of us have celebrated it every year for decades.  For this SNGF, please share a favorite Thanksgiving memory; it can be sentimental, humorous, reflective, etc.

2)  Share your Thanksgiving memory with us in your own blog post, in a comment on this blog post, or on Facebook or Google+.

I don't remember any specific Thanksgiving from when I was growing up.  I do recall that when my family still lived in Southern California, my mother's "sister" (my mother didn't have a sister of her own, so her close friend filled that role) usually came over for Thanksgiving.  Sam liked ham (not green ham, though!), so along with the turkey, we always had ham.  (And Sam usually celebrated Christmas with us, so we had turkey and ham then also.)  My mother was not the greatest of cooks and not particularly adventurous at that time, so the accompaniments were the traditional green bean casserole, yams with marshmallows, mashed potatoes, and canned cranberry sauce.

My favorite parts of the turkey are the neck and the tuchus, or pope's nose.  If my grandmother was celebrating with us, she got the neck and the tuchus.  So I was always torn between happy to have her with us but not getting the parts I wanted.  Now that she's passed, I think about her when I do have the neck.

I hated the yams.  They were mushy, and they tasted nasty, and I didn't even like the marshmallows.  One year my mother conned me into eating some by telling me they were "candy."  When I had a bite, I realized I'd been tricked and yelled at her, "They're yams!"  She smiled and said, "Yup, candied yams!"  Talk about ruining your faith in your parents!

The first big holiday meal I cooked in the house I'm living in now was for Thanksgiving in 1993.  My housemate and his mother (who was living in the house with us at that time) were there.  My aunt and uncle drove in from the San Joaquin Valley, and my friend Joe came.

My most important Thanksgiving was in 1994.  My mother was terminally ill with cancer, so all three of us children went to Florida to be together with her before she died.  Not the happiest of holidays under the circumstances, but it was good to know we were able to see her.

This year a friend invited me over for Thanksgiving dinner.  It was a small gathering, only six of us, but the food was delicious, and we had plenty of wine to go with it.  I educated my friend's "lady friend" about the joys of watching "football tushies" on TV, and we closed the day with a rousing game of Cards against Humanity.  That's a lot to be thankful for.  What more could anyone want?

Monday, November 23, 2015

The 1838 Census of Indian Key, Florida

You can find the most interesting things online these days.  Buried in The Senate of the United States, Third Session of the Twenty-fifth Congress, Begun and Held at the City of Washington, December 3, 1838, and in the Sixty-third Year of the Independence of the United States, Volume II, Containing Documents from No. 18 to No. 146 (printed by Blair and Rives, Washington: 1839), is the petition of Thomas Jefferson Smith to have Indian Key, Florida (when Florida was still but a territory) become an official port of entry for the United States (Volume 2, number 71, page 1).  Among the various claims and pieces of information Mr. Smith put forth to support his desire to have Indian Key made an official port of entry is a census of the island as of March 1838 (page 12).  And in that census, along with 98 white inhabitants, were enumerated 29 slaves and 14 free colored persons.

Slaves on Indian Key (in the order presented in the book)
Benjamin Housman
Bazal Housman
James Housman
Billy Housman
Lydia Housman
Dolly Housman
Chenia Housman
Rebecah Housman
Mary Housman
Quashia Housman
David Housman
Paul Fuiler
Peggy Cold
Lucy English
Chasy English
Isaac Spencer
Sophia Spencer
Binah English
Mary English
Ellen English
Alexander English
Betsey Smith
William Howe
March Howe
Samuel Howe
David Howe
Jenny Howe
Hannay Howe
Wm. Henry Howe

All the enumerated slaves save one carry last names that match white inhabitants of the island.  The name of Paul Fuiler, the one slave who does not, is similar to that of George Fowler.  Perhaps the name as published was in error, or perhaps Paul had his own name and was permitted to use it?

I am happy to recover these names and add them to the Slave Name Roll Project.  I hope that sharing these names and making them easier to find will help someone find an ancestor.

In addition to the census, the petition included a list of the landowners of Indian Key.  That list can be found on page 11, right before the census.

Many thanks to Linda Jack for telling me about this census.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Who Is Your Most Recent Immigrant Ancestor?

This week for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun Randy Seaver posed a question about immigrant ancestors:

1) Who is your most recent immigrant ancestor?  I'm assuming that your ancestors moved from one country to another at some point in time.

2)  Tell us about that person:  name, birth and death, emigration and immigration country and port, date or year of immigration, etc.  Share it in a blog post of your own, in a comment on this blog post, or on Facebook or Google+.

Well, my family are relative latecomers compared to Randy's, by almost 70 years.  My most recent immigrant ancestors were my great-great-grandparents, Gershon Nowicki and Dvojre (Yelsky) Nowicki, shown as Gerszon and Dobra Nowitzky, who departed Liverpool on August 24, 1922 on the S.S. Laconia and arrived in New York City on September 3.  When they immigrated they were listed as being about 66 and 64 years old, respectively.  Gershon was a woodturner, and Dvojre was simply his wife.  They were of the Hebrew race (Jewish), and their last permanent residence was Porosowa, Poland (now Porozovo, Belarus).  Their nearest relative whence they came was their daughter, Mirke Krimelewicz, also in Porosowa.

The second page of the passenger list shows that Gershon and Dvojre paid for their own tickets, were each in possession of $25, and had never before been in the United States.  The relative they were joining was their son, Sam Nowitzky, who lived at 1160 52nd Street, Brooklyn.  They replied no to all of the big "boot you out right away" questions:  ever been in prison, are you a polygaist or an archist, do you advocate overthrow of the government, etc.  They both stated they were in good physical and mental health and were not deformed or crippled.  Gershon is listed as 4'5" and Dvojre as only 4', which seems incredibly tiny to me; no one has ever told me they were that short.  They both had fair complexions and dark hair and eyes, and were born in Porosowa.

So that covers all the typed information on the form, which was created when they embarked.  Now we get to the added comments, most of them handwritten, which came at Ellis Island.  The first clue that there's more to look for is the word "ADMITTED" stamped over the letters "S I" to the left of their names on the first page (I admit, the letters are hard to read under the ADMITTED).  When you see this, or a handwritten "X" to the left, you should look for your immigrant relative on a page near the end of the complete ship manifest for detained aliens or those held for special inquiry.  The names are often spelled differently on the two pages, so they might not come up in the same search.  That happened to me with Gershon.  On the special inquiry page, his name is Gerzon Nowitzcy.  Dvojre's first name is still Dobra, however.  On the second page of the passenger list, both Gershon and Dvojre have "Senility which may aff." handwritten over the typed responses and "Med. cert" and a number.

And now for the special inquiry page.  An explanation of the special inquiry process can be found on the site, including a partial list of abbreviations found.  (Part of the explanation is the bad news that most of the special inquiry records no longer exist.)  Going by this information, both of my great-great-grandparents were considered likely public charges (LPC) due to being physically (PH) defective (DEF).  The processors at Ellis Island believed that they weren't capable of working to support themselves.  Their inspector was named Tufarolo.  They were finally admitted on September 9, and while they were held they ate eight breakfasts, ten dinners, and eight suppers.  The additional days of meals after they were admitted was probably due to it taking a day or two to contact Sam or another relative and let them know that Gershon and Dvojre were allowed to stay.

In earlier years, the page listing aliens held for special inquiry also included the name and address of the person who picked up the immigrants, which can often be very helpful.  By 1922, however, this was no longer the case, so I don't know if it was my cousin Sam or someone else who collected his parents from the detention center at Ellis Island.

I don't have documented birth information on either of these great-great-grandparents.  They were both born roughly about 1858.  Dvojre died February 9, 1936 in Brooklyn.  Gershon died December 12, 1948 in Brooklyn.  And as for him being physically defective or senile, after his arrival he worked as a Hebrew teacher for several years, and family members have told me he was a rambunctious dirty old man right up until the end.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Your "Where I'm From" Poem

This was definitely a departure from the norm.  For Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, Randy Seaver suggested people participate in the "Where I'm From" poetry contest being conducted by Lisa Louise Cooke of Genealogy Gems:

1) Did you see Sunny Morton's post titled Write Your Own “Where I’m From” Poem and Enter to Win FREE Genealogy Gems Membership! (11 November 2015)?  You can win something on Genealogy Gems.

2)  Write your own "Where I'm From" poem and enter the contest.  You can see a sample format at

3)  Share your poem on your own blog post, in a comment to this post, or on Facebook or Google+.

I've never been one for poetry, but here's mine.

Where Is Janice From?

I am from constantly moving freeways, from slow country roads,
From skyscrapers and apartment buildings, from small churches and family homes.

I am from too many homes to remember,
From the city and the suburbs and the country.
From Southern California and Sydney and Florida,
From behind the sausage factory and from the trailer park.
From trees and trellises and bookshelves to climb,
From swimming pools and bayous to swim in.

I am from sagebrush and oleander, from honeysuckle and raspberry bushes,
From manicured lawns and rose bushes, from kudzu and live oaks.
From dogs and cats and gerbils as pets,
From cottonmouths and ground-dwelling hornets to avoid.

I am from Sellers and Meckler and Gauntt and Brainin,
From Armstrong and Dunstan and Nowicki and Gordon,
From Lippincott and Wynn and Yelsky and Blum.
From tall and short and thin and fat,
From misers and spendthrifts, frugal and gamblers,
From cheerful and dour and friendly and aloof.

I am from college and books, from mechanics and taxi drivers,
From bookkeepers and cashiers, from dressmakers and farmers.
From "You can do anything you want to do" to
"Why aren't you married and where is my granddaughter?"

I am from Lancashire and Baden, from Grodno and Podolsky,
From Cornwall and Courland, and maybe border rievers,
But not from John of Gaunt or Peter Sellers.
I am from La Puente and Pagewood, from Niceville and Villa Tasso,
From Los Angeles and Berkeley and Oakland.
I am from California, from New Jersey, from New York,
From delis and chili, from take-out Chinese and ham for Easter.

I am from Jews and Catholics, from Chanukah and Christmas,
From Quakers and Dunkers, from Lutherans and Separatists.
From a fervent Quaker witnessing from her knees,
From a cremated Jew who attended Midnight Mass.

I am from the Mayflower, from 20th-century immigration,
From the Depression and from the Holocaust.
From the free-wheeling West Coast, the intellectual East Coast,
And a little bit of hick from the South.

I am from photographs and jewelry and yarmulkes and silverware,
From dishes and menorahs and crocheted cups saved and treasured.
From family names remembered through the years
And reborn in the lives of descendants.

A Belated Thank You to Fort Walton Beach

Northwest Florida
Daily News
October 24, 2015
(verbal permission
to post given
by Lynn at the
Daily News)
Who said you can't go "home" again?  Last week I was in Florida, where I lived for six years and went to junior high and high school, to celebrate my aunt's 90th and my father's 80th birthdays.  Before all the family members arrived for our mini reunion, I was privileged to give a presentation on using newspapers for genealogy at the LDS Church in Fort Walton Beach.  (I actually lived in Niceville and then Villa Tasso, but they're all really close to each other.) 

Elder and Sister Legge, the directors of the FamilySearch Center at the church, were absolutely wonderful hosts and took care of everything.  They arranged for publicity for my talk ahead of time, and an article about it was published in the front section of the local newspaper!

The Legges had warned me they weren't sure how many people would attend, as they don't have many genealogical speakers give talks there often.  They ended up having to move the talk to a larger room because of the number of people who responded.

The group gave me a very warm welcome and asked thoughtful questions throughout my talk.  Most of the attendees had not been using newspapers in their research, and it was great to see how enthusiastic they quickly became about the possibilities.  And we even had a small "reception" afterward, as many people had brought tasty snacks such as homemade bread, chocolate chip cookies, and fresh fruit.

So this is a big "thank you" to the Legges and everyone who attended my talk.  It felt very special to go "home" and be treated almost as a celebrity.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Celebrating Two Big Birthdays with a Small Family Reunion

Wow, what a weekend!  I'm still coming down from something I've been planning for a year.  In 2014, I realized that my father would turn 80 in December this year, and his sister would be 90 in October.  In addition, this year is my father's 35th wedding anniversary, and I thought that should be celebrated as well.  I decided that it would be a great idea to have family members meet up in northwest Florida, where both my father and his sister live, to celebrate these milestones.

I set everything up from California, including finding restaurants, a caterer, a bakery, and an event room.  I kept track of all the responses for who was coming, and unfortunately the one last-minute cancellation.  (We missed you, Ruth Anne!)

And somehow it managed to work.  Family members came from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, and other parts of Florida, and me from California.  In total we had 20 attendees, which was probably about as many as we could handle.  Several of us had not seen each other for many years, and it was great to get together in honor of the "birthday kids."

I encouraged people to bring photos with them so that they could be scanned and then shared among everyone.  I am so happy some of my relatives took me up on that!  I scanned about 100 photos, and almost all of them are already identified!

One of the highlights of the weekend was sharing with everyone the recent discovery that my grandfather's original birth record said he was female.  My father in particular was highly amused to learn this news about his father.

Here are some of the photos from the weekend.  Unfortunately, we weren't able to coordinate one of all of us together, but everyone shows up in at least a few.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Skeletons in the Closet: Illegitimate Births

This is one in my occasional series of posts about those "touchy" subjects which may arise during your family history research, or which some relatives may try to have you ignore.  A page listing all of the posts in the series can be found here.

It isn't actually that uncommon to find an illegitimate birth, or more broadly a birth outside of a marriage, in a family.  Modern society doesn't have a lock on the situation; it's been going on for hundreds of years.  There are court cases in the 1600's for financial support for children fathered out of wedlock.  But depending on the family's social status and the specific circumstances, there may have been embarrassment at the time and more now when learning about it.

In some times and places, there wasn't even a stigma attached to having a child out of wedlock as long as the couple stayed together and raised and supported the child.

I recently confirmed that my paternal grandfather was born seven months before his mother married.  I don't know if his father was the man his mother married, as no name appears on the original birth registration.  The fact that my great-grandmother added that husband's name to the amended birth record 37 years later, 22 years after the man in question had died, doesn't exactly make me feel too confident about it.  I'm currently exploring other ways to investigate that and try to learn more definitively who my great-grandfather was.

Several years ago I learned that my grandparents were never married.  My grandfather was still married to his first wife but was a real charmer, and my grandmother apparently was ok with the situation.  My father was surprised to find out, but luckily he has a good sense of humor.

As young soldiers were going off to fight in World War II, many of them convinced their girlfriends to "give" just a little more, which led to several "surprises" about nine months later.  We have one of those in my family also.

The confusing part about researching an illegitimate child is figuring out what surname the birth is registered under.  When searching for my grandfather's record, my first two attempts were for Sellers.  When I learned that his parents had married after his likely birth date, I tried with his mother's maiden name, which I eventually learned was the name on the birth record.  Of course, I was looking for a boy, and I had no way of knowing then that his original record said that he was a female child; that doesn't happen very often, though.  (Though I do have a second example of it in my family:  My half-sister's maternal grandfather, whose name was Francis Maria [a good Irish Catholic name!], was recorded as a girl with the name Frances Maria.)  You just need to leave your mind open to multiple possibilities.

If this research involves relatives who have all passed away, it often doesn't cause too many problems among living family members.  If it's for people who are still alive, your access to records may be affected by privacy restrictions.  Then you'll probably have to ask those living family members for help, and they may not want to talk.  As usual, be diplomatic and nonjudgmental, but don't be surprised if you are rebuffed anyway.  You may simply need to put that particular research on the back burner for a while.

And speaking of skeletons in the closet, the Illinois State Genealogical Society is offering a free Webinar this Tuesday, November 10, on that very subject.  It will run from 8:00-9:00 p.m. Central time.  You can register for it here.

Monday, November 2, 2015

An Administrative Change of Sex

I have tried three times in the past to obtain a copy of my grandfather's birth record by mail.  He had claimed several different years at different times but always used the date of April 6.  He eventually settled on the year of 1903.  The first time I wrote to the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton and requested a search for Bertram Sellers, giving a range of 1903 ± 5 years.  No luck.

The second time I tried "male" Sellers, thinking that maybe the given name had not been formalized yet when the birth was registered, still with the range of 10 years.  "Sorry, no record was found . . . ."

My third attempt was after I had acquired a copy of my great-grandparents' marriage record.  They were married on November 7, 1903.  I thought, Hmm, if he really was born in April 1903, before the marriage, maybe he was registered under his mother's maiden name.  So I sent in a request for Bertram or male Armstrong.  Still nothing!  This was becoming annoying!

I finally decided it was going to require someone going in person to actually browse through the records.  As my sister lives in Pennsylvania, she's the closest relative to Trenton, and she had told me once she would be willing to go look for records to help with the family history research (silly girl!).  So I hit her up, and she agreed to go.  Of course, she keeps a very busy schedule, so it took her a while, but she was finally able to go to Trenton today.  And what did she find?  A record for a female child, *Gertrude* Armstrong, born April 6, 1903, mother's name Laura Armstrong.  No father was listed, merely the socially disapproving abbreviation "OW" (out of wedlock).  With the correct birth date and mother's name, this certainly seemed to be the record we wanted, but Gertrude?  Female?  Was this perhaps a heretofore unknown twin of my grandfather, and his birth was still hiding?

But the lovely people at the archives found a second record.  In 1940, my great-grandmother filed a form to correct or amend a birth certificate.  She said that the child listed as female had actually been male, and instead of Gertrude L. Armstrong, the name really should have been Bertram Lynn Sellers.  Oh, and by the way, since it wasn't on the original record, the father's name was Cornelius Elmer Sellers, and here's the marriage date.  (And I finally understood why the archives had not been able to find the record before.)

So at the age of almost 37, my grandfather had a sex change — on paper.