Thursday, March 31, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: Emma Responds with Documents

My little "treasure chest" included carbon copies (who out there besides me remembers typing those?) of three pages that appear to have been sent in response to the letter of May 17, 1927 that was addressed to Emma La Forêt.  All of these are typed clearly and have almost no handwriting, so I think I'll forego the transcriptions today.

The first is a letter on 8 1/2" x 11" green bond paper with a watermark of "Interlake Bond."  This looks to be the cover letter Emma sent with the subsequent pages.  It references W.O.1560656, the claim number for the pension application being processed by the Bureau of Pensions.  It is addressed to the Commissioner of Pensions, Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.  (It has no street address!  No ZIP Code!  How ever did it get to the right office?)

From the items requested in the May 17 letter, Emma here covers:
• sworn statement of the Marine's service (requested in the letter)
• Jean's height, complexion, hair and eye color, occupation, and birthplace (#15 from the "circular")
• Jean's signature (#17 from the circular)
• Emma's response to the request for sworn statements of two people who knew Jean between 1874–1896, during which time she said he was a resident of France (requested in the letter)

The May 17 letter also requested that the information be a sworn statement from Emma.  This letter is signed by her and notarized by W. T. Kelley, a notary public in Solano County, and impressed with his notary seal (which doesn't show in the scan above).

Emma included her birthdate and age, which was requested on the second page of the circular, although not as a numbered item.

There's a small time conflict for the years Emma said Jean was a resident of France.  If he was living there from 1874–1896, then how could he have served in the U.S. Marines from August 11, 1884 to August 10, 1889?  I doubt that his five years of service were all in France.  Maybe the pension office asked her to clarify that later.

Unfortunately, the example of Jean La Forêt's signature isn't included.  She didn't state in her letter what the signature was on.  The fact that it's from March 15, 1906 means that it not only predates Jean and Emma's marriage, but also Emma's divorce from Emile Petit.  Ah, well, when I get around to ordering a copy of the pension file, maybe it will be included there.

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

This is an 8 1/2" x 11" piece of canary onionskin (another thing many people today won't recognize, I'm sure).  It is all a typed carbon copy except for the same notary's signature and impressed seal, and a handwritten date.

This is a transcription of the final divorce decree for Emma Schafer and Emile Petit.  It was in answer to item #5 on the circular, which was a request for proof that the claimant was widowed or divorced from any former husbands.

I have an original copy of that divorce decree, so I was able to compare the two documents word for word.  I found three changes in wording:  "haveing" was transcribed as "having", and two words were omitted—"the said Plaintiff" became "said Plaintiff", and "each of them is freed" became "each of them freed."  Other than that, some words were typed in capital letters that weren't in the original, and it wasn't noted that "L. G. Harrier" was a signature.  Overall, that's a pretty good job, though not perfect.

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

This is a second piece of 8 1/2" x 11" canary onionskin and another typed carbon copy.  The only items not typed are the notary's signature and his impressed seal.  The date at the bottom (which is next to the seal, which still doesn't show in the scan) was typed directly on this piece of paper, as opposed to having been from the carbon paper.   The word "were", interpolated between the fourth and fifth lines of text, was also typed directly on this sheet.

This page fulfills #2 from the circular's list of requested items and is a transcription of Jean L. La Forêt's and Emma Schafer Petit marriage certificate from Florida.  That I don't have a copy of, so I have to rely on the transcription to be accurate.  It says they were married in Jacksonville, so I guess I'll be writing to Duval County when I try to get a copy of the original.

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

Emma was pretty good at following directions.  Referring back to the letter from last week, it looks as though she sent everything requested except #4, a statement about whether any former husband had served in the U.S. Army or Navy (this office really didn't deal with Marines on a regular basis, did it?).  I'm sure they came back to her with another letter asking where that was.

Her sworn statement was made before a notary, so she followed that instruction.  The copies of the records were attested to by the notary.

It appears that Emma didn't quite comply with some other directions, though.  The circular said that every document needed the name and service number of the Marine, but the two transcriptions don't have that information.  Maybe they were added to the original copies before they were mailed to Washington.

A Push to the Finish for the Freedmen's Bureau

Last year I wrote about the Freedmen's Bureau transcription project, the effort coordinated by FamilySearch to create an (almost) every-name index to all the surviving records created by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.  FamilySearch had already digitized the records and placed them online.  What was needed next was to create the index.

Unfortunately, the genealogical community has not jumped onto this project with the same enthusiasm it had for the 1940 census.  I don't remember how long that took, but I think it was something like four or five months?  We're nine months into the Freedmen's Bureau project now, and it's only about 64% complete.

The project was started last year on Juneteenth.  FamilySearch is hoping that enough volunteers can be energized to finish the transcription in time for this year's Juneteenth celebrations.

Remember, these records are so important in black family history research because they are one of the most easily accessible primary sources that can indicate the last owner of a formerly enslaved individual.  Many of the records created by the Freedmen's Bureau directly asked for the name of the last slave owner.  That owner's name is critical to finding more information about the individual prior to Emancipation.

And these records are helpful even if your ancestors were not Freedmen!  Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, posted about how the records are useful to anyone doing Southern research.

New "indexing parties" are being organized to help get us to the finish line.  At the Oakland FamilySearch Library, we have three scheduled for April:
Thursday, April 14,  3:00-9:00 p.m.
Thursday, April 21,  3:00-9:00 p.m.
Monday, April 25, 3:00-9:00 p.m.

If you haven't used the FamilySearch indexing software yet, we'll have volunteers on hand who will be happy to teach you.  We'll also have people there who have worked on these records already, who can give advice on working with them.

If you think working with a group on this sounds good, come over and join in!  The library is at 4766 Lincoln Avenue in Oakland, California.

If it's difficult for you to get to the library, you're not in our area, or you just would prefer to work on your computer, we've got you covered:  You can help from the comfort of your own home!  Go to, where you'll find the information you need to transcribe at home, maybe while wearing bunny slippers.

C'mon, guys, we can do it!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Ancestral Birthplace Chart

I knew this was coming.  When I saw Paul Hawthorne's post earlier this week about the cool table he had designed, I just knew that Randy Seaver was going to pick up on it for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun this week.  And I was right:

Here is your assignment if you choose to play along (cue the Mission Impossible music, please!):

1) My friend and colleague J. Paul Hawthorne started this on Facebook, and many geneabloggers have already done it.

2)  The challenge is to create a five- or six-generation ancestor chart that shows your ancestors' birthplaces.  You can download Paul's sample chart (an Excel spreadsheet) available at  Pat Richley-Erickson created another spreadsheet (5 or 6 generations), available at

3)  These are spreadsheets (use Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice, Google Sheets, or similar), so you will have to enter text in the cells and then use the background and font color features to make it correct and look colorful.  You could make your own in some other program also. 

4)  Use your genealogy program to figure out which state or country your ancestors came from, then enter the data into the correct cell.  Make an image of your spreadsheet; I used the Windows Snipping Tool and saved the image as a .jpg file.  You could make a screen capture of your spreadsheet and save it as an image also.

5)  Share your Ancestral Birthplace Chart with the genealogy world on your own blog post or on Facebook or Google+.

This was a fun little exercise, but it reminded me of the custom maps Randy posted about last year.  The map of my family in the U.S. in 1865 showed only three states.  Then I found a site that created maps for the entire world — and in 1865 my ancestors lived in only three different countries (which I had to show as five due to border changes).

I used Paul's Excel spreadsheet, changed colors (because I like blue better than orange), and took a screen capture of the image.  Because I'm currently on the hunt for my grandfather's biological father, nothing is filled in for that branch.  Here's the six-generation color-coded chart with my ancestors' birthplaces:

I have family lines with long roots in New Jersey, England, and the Russian Empire.   But they're easier to research because they didn't move much, right?

Friday, March 25, 2016

World Tuberculosis Day 2016

I recently learned that March 24 is commemorated every year as World Tuberculosis Day.  In honor of the day and to help maintain awareness that tuberculosis still kills far too many people each year, I am posting the death certificate of Lavina Danner Sellers, who died of pulmonary tuberculosis on March 1, 1919 in Duchouquet Township, Auglaize County, Ohio.  She was the wife of Henry Sellers, my 3rd cousin 4 times removed.  I count myself as fortunate that she was the closest relative I found in my family tree who died of the disease.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: One of Emma's Pension Claims Moves Forward

This 1927 letter is on 8 1/2" x 11" bond paper with no visible watermark.  The primary return address and the phrase "In Reply Refer to" are preprinted in blue, and everything else is typed excepted for the stamped signature.  A slightly rusted triangular paper clip was at the top; it left some rust on the top of the page and at the bottom, which apparently rested against the clip at some point.  The sheet of paper has two sets of folds that look as though the letter was folded to fit into two different envelopes.  I've underlined everything but the printed information.

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

Widow Division                                       3–1865
W. O. 1560956                                   —————
Jean L. La Foret                             UNITED STATES
U.S.M. C.                           DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
                                                             WASHINGTON                             May 17, 1927

          Mrs. Emma M. La Foret
          615 Indiana Avenue
          Vallejo, Calif.


               Your above entitled claim awaits the evidence indicated
          in the accompanying circular letter and also your sworn state-
          ment showing the designation of the marine's service in the
          United States Army.

               There are also required the sworn statements of two persons
          who were acquainted with the marine from about the timehe attained
          the age of 21 years to 1896 when it appears that Hector Orrick and
          James Grant became acquainted with him, showing whether during
          that period of time he was ever married.


                                                          Winfield Scott [stamped signature]

                                                                       WINFIELD SCOTT

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

A letter that appears to be the "accompanying circular letter" mentioned above was also in the collection of Emma's materials I received, although it was not clipped to the cover letter.  This letter is also on 8 1/2" x 11" bond with no watermark.  It also has two sets of folds that look as though the letter was folded to fit into two different envelopes.  The back side of the sheet has a rusty mark that seems to match the position of the clip as it sits on the front side of the cover letter, as though this second page was lying on top of the cover letter.

This sheet is a form to be filled out.  Almost everything is preprinted on it.  The exceptions are the return address in the upper left, the code over the main address, Emma's address and salutation, the items checked off and filled in, and the rubber-stamped signature.  Here again I've underlined everything but the preprinted information.

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

 WIDOW Division     AVG/EW                  3–2053
W. O. 1560956
Jean L. La Foret                             UNITED STATES
U.S.M.C.                            DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
                                                             WASHINGTON                             May 17, 1927

          Mrs. Emma M. La Foret
          615 Indiana Avenue
          Vallejo, Calif.


        In the above-entitled claim the evidence indicated in paragraphs No. 2, 4, 5,
  15 and 17 --------------------------------------------------------- should be furnished.
  1.   A verified copy of the public record; or, if no such record exists, the sworn
  statement of the attending physician, showing the date ........................... of the
  .......................... death.
       If such evidence can not be obtained, the sworn statement of witnesses present
  at the death, or having personal knowledge of same, should be furnished, showing the
  fact and date of the ................................................. death.
2.    A verified copy of the public or church record of the claimant's marriage to
  the marine   ; or, if no such record exists, the sworn statement of the person
  who performed the ceremony; or, if that can not be obtained, the sworn statement of
  two persons who were present at the marriage, showing the date thereof.
       If the evidence of marriage above indicated can not be obtained, there should
  be furnished the sworn statement of two persons showing whether the marine 
  and claimant lived together as husband and wife and were so recognized, and showing
  where and how long within the knowledge of the person testifying  marine 
  and claimant so lived together.
  3.   The claimant's sworn statement showing whether either she or the ...............
  had been married prior to their marriage to each other; and, if so, the number of
  times, the name of each former husband or wife, the date of each former marriage,
  and the date and manner of dissolution of each former marriage.
4.   If the claimant had been previously married, her sworn statement showing whether
  any former husband served in the Army or Navy of the United States; and, if so, the
  designation of such service, and whether any application for pension has been made
  by herself or any other person based on such service.
5.   If the claimant had been previously married, the fact and date of death or di-
  vorce of each former husband should be proved; in case of death, by a verified copy
  of the public record, or, if no such record exists, by the sworn statement of wit-
  nesses present at the death, or having personal knowledge of same; in case of divorce,
  by a verified copy of the decree of the court.
  6.   If there ................................................................................................... marriage of
  the fact should be shown by the sworn statement of witnesses who have known her and
  are able to testify from personal knowledge.


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

  7.   If the ................................... had been previously married, the fact and date of
  death or divorce of each former wife should be proven:  In case of death, by a veri-
  fied copy of the public record; or, if no such record exists, by the sworn statement
  of witnesses present at the death, or having personal knowledge of same; in case of
  divorce, by a verified copy of the decree of court.
  8.   If there ......................................................................... marriage of ................
  ................................................................................................................... the fact
  should be shown by the sworn statement of witnesses who knew him and are able to
  testify from personal knowledge.
  9.   The sworn statement of witnesses having knowledge of the facts, showing whether
  .......................... and claimant were ever divorced, and whether they lived together as
  husband and wife ........................................................................... to the date of the
  ................................ death.
  10.  If the claimant has not remarried since the .................................... death that fact
  should be shown by the sworn statement of witnesses who have known her during this
  period.  If she has remarried, the date of remarriage should be shown by evidence of
  the kind indicated in paragraph 2.
  11.  The date of birth of each child claimed for should be shown by evidence in the
  following order:  By a duly verified copy of the public record or the church record
  of baptism; or, by the sworn statement of the physician who attended the mother; or,
  by the sworn statement of a person who was present at the birth, who should state how
  she is able to fix the date.
  12.  The sworn statement of two witnesses showing whether the child ........... claimed
  for (naming child...........................); if any has died, proof of the
  date of death should be furnished.
  13.  The claimant's sworn statement showing the name under which she was married to
  the ...................................................................................................................................
  14.  The claimant's sworn statement naming the places of her residence since the
  death of the .............................................................., giving dates.
15.  The claimant's sworn statement showing the marine's height and complexion,
  the color of his hair and eyes, his age and occupation at the date of enlistment, and
  the place of his birth.
  16.  The discharge certificate of the ..........................................................................
17.  Some paper bearing the marine's signature made about the time of his service.

       All sworn statements should be made before some officer authorized to administer
  oaths for general purpose.
       Persons testifying should state their ages, post-office addresses, and means of
  knowledge of the facts to which they testify.
      Copies of records should be over the signature and official seal of the person
  having custody of the record.  If such person has no seal of office, then the correct-
  ness of the copy should be sworn to.
      Do not fail to inscribe on each paper furnished the name and service of the
  marine                                     and the number of the claim to which it relates.


                                                            Winfield Scott [stamped signature]


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

Oh, don't you just love government red tape!  This paperwork is for the first claim for which Emma received an acknowledgment.  It's the same claim number, WO1560956, and the same government office, the Bureau of Pensions in the Department of the Interior.  Both sheets also have a stamped signature of Winfield Scott, whose name appeared on the acknowledgment postcard.  The correspondence was apparently requested by someone with the initials AVG and typed by EW, as evidenced by the letters in the lower left of the cover letter and upper left of the "circular letter."

You have to admire the thoroughness of the person requesting the documentation of Jean La Forêt's history.  It sounds as though he was trying to account for every day of La Forêt's life.

I wonder if the Bureau of Pensions didn't receive many pension applications from Marines.  I've never heard of a "marine's service in the United States Army."  Not only has the United States Marine Corps (under that name) been in existence as its own branch of the armed forces since 1798 (with the Corps' birthday celebrated as November 10, 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized the raising of two battalions of Marines), it is the under the Department of the Navy and has been since 1834.  Maybe the Bureau was staffed by a bunch of Army people.

Emma must have supplied some documentation when she first filed her application for the pension.  The form did not ask her to supply a copy of La Forêt's death certificate (#1), nor to make a statement as to whether she had been married previous to her marriage to La Forêt (#3).  She was not asked to send his discharge certificate (#16).  She also was not asked to supply the facts for #13 and #14, which would seem to apply to her.

The pension might have been requested solely for Emma, because the questions about children (#11 and #12) were not checked off.  On the other hand, perhaps Emma sent documents about Rosita with the application.

I'm a little amused at the requirement that Emma swear to La Forêt's height, complexion, hair and eye color, age, and occupation at his date of enlistment.  His first term in the Marines was well before she even knew him.  Maybe she was able to supply all that information for his second term, during World War I.

I'm starting to wonder what those numbers at the tops of these letters, and the ones similar to them, mean.  The cover letter has 3–1865; the form has 3–2053.  The postcard acknowledging this pension application has 6–6441 on the address side and 3–837 on the other side.  The acknowledgment postcard from the Veterans Bureau has 2–13703 on both sides.  The second postcard has "Form 7201" on one side; does that mean the other numbers do not refer to forms?  Anyone out there who can enlighten me?

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Obituary of F. P. Sellers

Belvidere Intelligencer, July 3, 1863
As I recently posted, I determined through Y-DNA testing of a male cousin that my Sellers grandfather's father was not the man my great-grandmother married.  Because of that, I've decided not to do much more research on the Sellers line.  I figure researching my adoptive line back to 1615 is nothing to sneeze at.

There's some completed Sellers research, however, that I haven't posted yet.  I wrote about my discovery of the online index to the Belvidere (New Jersey) Intelligencer and the obituaries it revealed, including that of my 3x-great-grandfather Franklin P. Sellers.  I was touched by it, as I learned that his death occurred apparently because he became ill while trying to connect with his son Cornelius while the latter was in the hospital during the war.

Cornelius was admitted to the hospital at Fairfax Seminary in Virginia on June 14, 1863.  The information in his compiled military service record says that he was treated for anemia, although his commanding officer, General Robert McAllister, noted on June 10 that Cornelius was suffering from typhoid fever.  He returned to duty on July 2.

McAllister also wrote that a doctor was to let Cornelius' father know about his illness and to come see him.  According to his death notice published on July 3, 1863 (above image) and his long obituary of July 10, the two men barely connected before they lost track of each other, and then F. P. Sellers became too ill to see Cornelius again.  This was ironic, because the obituary says he went to bring his dying son home, and Cornelius survived and lived several more years.

The copy of the obituary I received is poor-quality images on multiple pages, so scanning it isn't practical.  Instead I've transcribed it below, complete with the interesting word "pursavering."  As often happens after someone dies, especially when the death is sudden and unexpected, F. P. Sellers seems to have become a saint.

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

The Belvidere Intelligencer, Friday, July 10, 1863

Our last issue contained the announcement of the death of MR. SELLERS, Editor and Proprietor of the Intelligencer.  The sad and unexpected event, would come almost as sorrowful to his numerous friends, as it did to his bereaved family.  Some three weeks before his death, he left home, upon almost an hours notice, to bring, as he feared, the dying form of his son, from the Army of the Potomac.  On his journey thither, he encountered the confusion attendant upon the movement of the army, and fell in with the object of his search, who was being conveyed to one of the District Hospitals.  The father and son became separated, by some misfortune or misdirection, and MR. SELLERS was detained in Washington for a week or more, pursavering his almost fruitless inquiries.  The son was at length reported as an inmate of Fairfax Hospital, and the father as unable to visit him, on account of illness.  The intense anxiety which he endured for those days of search, and the necessary care felt for his interests at home, together with a diarrhœa induced by the change of climate and water, prostrated his system beyond recovery.  The brief interview with his son was gladsome but final, for the father who rushed to the relief of his child, encountered and fell upon the perils, which he, too confidently, hoped to avert.  The intelligence of his illness was from the first alarming, though as usual hopeful.  In a partly convalescent condition, he was removed to Philadelphia, to the house of his brother.  Here he was somewhat nearer home, and had all the attention the relatives and friends could bestow, but the disease had taken too firm a hold of his system, and he died before any of his own immediate family could reach him.

MR. SELLERS, as all who had any intercourse with him could readily discern, was a kind and agreeable man.  Every one will also as readily assent to his integrity, and honesty of purpose.  His connection with politics carried none of the peculiar arts or intrigues of politicians built into his character.  He was remarkably exempt from the practice of the frauds and trickery so common among men.  He had no relish for the strifes and contentions, the bustles and tumults, the bickerings and animosities, and all the angry warfare, in which the management of a country paper is often required to participate, in order to repel.  The five years spent in Belvidere, he often used to say, were the most arduous and trying of his life.  A man of uprightness of motive, he almost withered under the constant defamation inflicted upon him, and the malicious sport of others, perhaps proved the indirect cause of his death.

MR. SELLERS had reached the grand climacteric of human life, and had borne his full share of its burdens, and perils.  He was a native of Bucks Co., Pa., learned his business in an office where Hon. Simon Cameron was a fellow apprentice, and conducted a Temperance paper in Doylestown, in his native county many years with marked success.  He thence removed to Lambertville, N. J., where he pursued his calling in the editorship of the Lambertsville Beacon, and in October, 1858, became the Proprietor of the INTELLIGENCER.  His efforts to render the INTELLIGENCER worthy the patronage of the intelligence of the county, and make it alike serviceable in combating political untruth, are too well known, and too numerous to need recalling.  From the first outbreak of the present rebellion, his whole heart was interested in its suppression.  His loyalty no man could question, and his earnestness in advocating a policy, which would procure a restoration of peace, was surpassed by none.  Entirely void of the ambition of place, or public life, he would assist to the extent of his ability any one who deserved it.  He lived on the noble principles of Woolsey's experience : "Let all the ends thou aimes't at be thy country's, Thy God's, and truth's ; if then thou fallest, Thou fallest a blessed martyr."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: Emma Files a Second Pension Claim?

This postcard is from 1927.  It is another preprinted 3 1/2" by 5 1/2" postcard with an acknowledgment on the back and address on the front, similar to the postcard I described last week.  It appears to be about 10# cardstock, the same yellowish-buff color that resembles the lower card in last week's post.  Both sides of this postcard look much lighter in the scans than in real life.  This card has no creases but has three small circular indentations in the middle.  The following transcription has information that was entered by hand underlined.

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

            WASHINGTON, D. C.                                       PAYMENT OF POSTAGE, $300
                         ———      [postmarked Washington, D.C. 2-PM JAN 16 1927]
               OFFICIAL BUSINESS

                                Mrs. J. L. La Foret,
                                         615 Indiana St.,
                                                    Vallejo, Calif.

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


Dear Sir: Madam:
     This will acknowledge the receipt of your communication relative to the claim on account of the death of Jean Leon La Foret.

XC– 670 084                   has been assigned to this claim and you are assured that it is receiving prompt attention.
     In all future correspondence with reference to this claim, kindly mention ex-service man's full name, rank, organization, Army serial mumber, and claim number.

                              By direction:

W. C. Black [signature]
Chief, Mail and Records Division
Form 7201      GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE         2—13703              Chief Clerk

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

This postcard is dated less than two months after the previous acknowledgment.  Emma is at the same address in Vallejo.  Things that differ are the claim number — on the previous card it was WO1560956 — and the department handling the correspondence.  The 1926 postcard was from the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Pensions.  This postcard from 1927 came from the Veterans Bureau.  According to a short note on Wikipedia, both of these agencies, in addition to the National Home for Disabled Soldiers, handled "various benefits" for servicemen through the 1920's.  I wonder if poor Emma had to communicate with both divisions on a regular basis?  Better yet, I wonder if the different records are still separate or have been consolidated into one file?  I guess I'll find out when I order them, won't I?

I also noted that Emma is addressed with her late husband's name instead of her own given name.  Perhaps the Veterans Bureau (or Chief Clerk W. C. Black) was more formal than the Bureau of Pensions.

The disadvantage of a preprinted form is that it usually doesn't cover all the possibilities.  On this card "Sir" was struck through and "Madam" was typed im its place.  The card refers to the ex-serviceman's Army serial number — except that the card has "mumber"; is that a mumbled number? — but Jean La Forêt was a Marine.  Interesting that "Army" was not struck through and replaced by "Marine."

Sunday, March 13, 2016

My Summer Speaking Trifecta

I am so excited!  I'll be attending three genealogy conferences this summer, because I've been fortunate enough to have talks accepted at each of them.

In June I'll be at the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree in beautiful downtown Burbank, California (anyone else remember Laugh In?).  The conference begins on Thursday, June 2, with an all-day Genetic Genealogy event.  The Genealogy Jamboree proper will run from Friday, June 3, through Sunday, June 5.  My talk on finding religious records is scheduled for Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m.

Come August I'll be in Seattle, Washington at the 36th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy.  The conference begins on Sunday, August 7, and continues through Friday, August 12.  This presentation will be about the research I've done to learn about my cousins who immigrated to Cuba from Eastern Europe.  The program schedule hasn't been released yet, so I don't yet know when this talk will be, not even which day.

One month later, I'll be at the International Black Genealogy Summit (IBGS) in Arlington, Virginia.  That conference will take place Thursday–Saturday, September 1–3.  The first day is registration and an opening reception, with the programming on Friday and Saturday.  I'll be talking about online historical black newspapers in the first workshop session, bright and early Friday morning at 9:15.

This is the first time I'll be speaking at Jamboree and IBGS, and my first time attending IBGS.  I'm really looking forward to these educational opportunities and the chance to get together with so many other genealogists.  I'm going to have a lot of fun this summer!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Middle Names

I almost always find it interesting when Randy Seaver suggests mining for details in our family tree databases for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun.  This week we're looking for middle names:

1)   It became tradition in English-speaking countries to bestow middle names on children during the 19th century and later.  Go back four generations in your ancestral families and list the middle names of the children in these families.  Do you know why those middle names were bestowed?

2)  Share your family middle names on your own blog post, in a comment to this post, or on social media like Facebook or Google+.

1.  Father:  Bertram Lynn Sellers, Jr. (1935– ):  Middle name is father's middle name.
Mother:  Myra Roslyn Meckler (1940–1995):  The R is for maternal great-grandmother's first name, Ruchel, but no idea why Roslyn for the American name.
Daughter:  Janice Marie Sellers (1962– ):  The M is for great-grandfather Moshe Meckler; Marie is supposed to be for a Catholic saint, probably Jesus' mother.
Son:  Mark Russell Sellers (1963– ):  Russell was the name of one of mother's old boyfriends.
Daughter:  Stacy Ann Sellers (1964– ):  Ann is for paternal grandmother.

2.  Father:  Bertram Lynn Sellers, Sr. (1903–1995):  Middle name was said to be for a "close friend of the family", but unknown whether middle or family name; story yet to be confirmed.
Mother:  Anna Gauntt (1893–1986)
Son:  Bertram Lynn Sellers, Jr. (1935– ):  Middle name is father's middle name.

3.  Father:  Abraham Meckler (1912–1989)
Mother:  Esther Lillian Gordon (birth name, later changed to Lillyan E.; 1919–2006):  Middle name is for paternal grandmother's middle name.
Daughter:  Myra Roslyn Meckler (1940–1995):  The R is for great-grandmother's first name, Ruchel, but I don't know why Roslyn for the American name.
Son:  Martin Herbert Meckler (1944– ):  The H is for maternal great-grandfather's middle name, Hertz, but no idea why Herbert for the American name.
Son:  Gary Steve Meckler (1951– ):  The S is for mother's sister-in-law's mother's name (that become complicated, didn't it?), Scheindel; Hebrew name is Sholem.  No idea why Sholem or why Steve for the American name.

4.  Father:  unknown, possibly Bertram Lynn
Mother:  Laura May Armstrong (1882–1970):  No known ancestor with this name.
Son:  Bertram Lynn Sellers, Sr. (1903–1995):  Middle name was said to be for a "close friend of the family", but unknown whether middle or family name; story yet to be confirmed.

5.  Father:  Thomas Kirkland Gauntt (1870–1951):  No known ancestor with this name.
Mother:  Jane Dunstan (1871–1954)
Son:  Frederick Cleworth Gauntt (1892–1910):  Middle name is maternal grandfather's middle name.
Daughter:  Anna Gauntt (1893–1986)
Daughter:  Bertha Gauntt (1895–1900)
Daughter:  Carrie Florence Gauntt (1896–1985):  No known ancestor with this name.
Daughter:  Mary Louise Gauntt (1899–1971):  No known ancestor with this name.
Daughter:  Edna May Gauntt (1902–1981):  No known ancestor with this name.
Son:  James Kirkland Gauntt (1905–1949):  Middle name is father's middle name.
Son:  Thomas Franklin Gauntt (1908–1991):  Middle name is possibly for Benjamin Franklin.
Son:  Elmer Gauntt (1912–1912)
Son:  John H. Gauntt (1914–1917)

6.  Father:  Joyne Gorodetsky (birth name; about 1892–1955)
Mother:  Sore Leibe Brainin (birth name; about 1890–1963):  No known ancestor with this name.
Son:  Sidney Gordon (1915–?)
Son:  Alexander Gordon (1917–1995)
Daughter:   Esther Lillian Gordon (birth name, later changed to Lillyan E.; 1919–2006):  Middle name is for paternal grandmother's middle name.

7.  Father:  Moshe Meckler (birth name; about 1882–1953)
Mother:  Mushe Zelda Nowicki (birth name; about 1880–1936):  No known ancestor with this name.
Daughter:  Sore Meckler (birth name; about 1900–1980)
Son:  Simcha Meckler (birth name; about 1903–1968)
Son:  Hirschel Meckler (birth name; about 1905–1968)
Son:  Abraham Meckler (1912–1989)
Son:  Rubin Meckler (1914–1915)
Daughter:  Florence Meckler (1915–2005)
Daughter:  Elsie Meckler (1919–1974)

In these names I found:
• 2 where middle name is father's middle name
• 1 where middle name is great-grandmother's given name and unknown source of American name
• 1 where middle initial is for great-grandfather's given name and name is for Catholic saint
• 1 where middle name is mother's old boyfriend's name
• 1 where middle name is for grandmother's given name
• 1 where middle name is said to be for close family friend but unknown which part of name
• 1 where middle name is grandmother's middle name
• 1 where middle name is great-grandfather's middle name and unknown source of American name
• 1 where middle initial is for mother's sister-in-law's mother's name and unknown source of American name
• 1 where middle name is grandfather's middle name
• 1 where middle name is possibly for Benjamin Franklin

I believe I have a total of 36 names for the four generations.  Twelve had middle names from a known family member.  Seven had middle names of unknown origin.  For one I have only an initial for the middle name.  Fifteen have no middle names.  And one person I'm not actually sure what his name was (but I'm working on it!).

Friday, March 11, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: The Widow Emma Seeks a Pension

While the previous document I discussed for Emma is from 1917, this one leaps ahead to 1926.  (Maybe Emma didn't find anything in between worth keeping?)  This is a 3 1/2" x 5 1/2" postcard with a preprinted acknowledgement with some lines to fill out on the back and a mailing address and postmark on the front.  It's probably 10# cardstock, a yellowish-buff color (close to that in the bottom image above; I don't know why the top image scanned so much lighter).  Three corners have creases in them; the back has a rust mark at the top left by a paper clip.  In my transcription below I have underlined the information that was entered by hand or stamped on the card.

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

UNITED STATES                                                               PENALTY FOR PRIVATE USE TO AVOID
———              [postmarked Washington, D.C. 2-PM Nov 22 1926]

            Mrs Emma M La Foret
                       615 Indiana St   
                                Vallejo, Calif     
6-6441                              __________

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RECORD DIVISION                                 3—837

  NOV 20 1926   [rubber stamped], 19
     The claim of   Emma Margaret La Foret         
                    Widow of                   
                    Jean L La Foret                    
late of Co. ____, ______ Reg't      U S Marine Corps         
for pension under the act of May 1, 1926, was received   Nov 8         , 1926 , and
numbered WO1560956          
     The claim will be considered when reached in its order, and the requirements, if any, duly communicated.  The number of the claim, as given above, and the soldier's name and service should be indorsed on every paper relating thereto which may hereafter be filed in this Bureau.
                    Very respectfully,
WINFIELD SCOTT [rubber stamped]

GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE     6-6441                                           COMMISSIONER OF PENSIONS.

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

Probably the most important information to be learned from this is that Jean La Forêt died sometime between the issuance of Emma's 1917 passport and the application for a widow's pension for which this is an acknowledgment.  The "act of May 1, 1926" under which she applied was for veterans of the Spanish-American War.

Another fact gleaned from the postcard is that Emma was living in Vallejo again.  When she applied for her emergency passport, she said her permanent residence was in San Francisco, which must have been where Jean La Forêt was living, because she lived in Vallejo prior to moving to Missouri.  As this postcard is nine years after the passport and I have no documents between the two, I don't know (yet!) if she ever actually lived in San Francisco herself.

I was wondering what the "M I S" handwritten in the lower left corner of the back of the postcard meant.  I realized after looking at the rubber-stamped "WINFIELD SCOTT" that it's probably the initials of the person who actually filled out the postcard.

When I saw the name Winfield Scott I first thought of the general after whom Fort Winfield Scott (first the installation now known as Fort Point and later an artillery post on the San Francisco Presidio) was named, but it couldn't be him, as he died in 1866.  Perhaps it was one of his descendants.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

World War I MIAs, Holocaust Eyewitnesses, Pullman Porters, and the 1916 Rising

The first two appeals for assistance below are coming up fairly soon.  I hope this helps the word get out a little more.

The Doughboy MIA Project will be visiting the National Archives in College Park, Maryland from March 29 to April 1.  They need volunteers to help them review the 300 boxes of records of American soldiers from World War I still listed as missing.  Contact project founder Rob Laplander at if you are interested in helping.

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This year is the 100th anniversary of Ireland's 1916 Easter Rising, a rebellion fomented by proponents of Irish independence to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish republic.  With that in mind, the Digital Repository of Ireland and the Inspiring Ireland project are asking people in Ireland and the Irish diaspora and anyone with a connection to the Rising to bring mementos, letters, family stories, and whatever else you have to one of the scheduled collection days.  Items that are brought in will be assessed by experts and then digitized so they can be added to the archive and exhibition of 1916 memorabilia.  Three collection days are coming up:

• March 18 in London, England
• April 17 in New York City, New York
• May 14 in Belfast, Northern Ireland

It is necessary to register for a collection session.  Irish Central has an article with more information and examples of some of the items that have been brought to previous collection events.

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The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is preparing for a new exhibition on Americans and the Holocaust, planned in conjunction with the museum's 25th anniversary in 2018.  For this new exhibition, the museum is seeking artifacts from survivors (or their descendants), liberators, and other eyewitnesses who have lived in the United States.  If you have items you are willing to donate, please contact the museum at (202) 488-0456 or

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The Pullman Porter Museum is creating an online database of black railroad workers.  When it is launched visitors to the museum's Web site will be able to read submissions from across the country.  The museum is also inviting former railroad employees and their relatives to add their information to the database.  A Chicago Tribune article has some background about how the project started and its plans for the future.

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Miracle Baby

Lily Gordon, circa 1935
Family stories are always interesting, but are they accurate?  My grandmother Esther Lillian Gordon, whom I always called Bubbie (Yiddish for grandmother), was born March 6, 1919.  One of the stories I heard many times while I was growing up was how it was a miracle she had been born and survived.

The story goes that Bubbie's mother, Sarah Libby (Brainin) Gordon, was pregnant with her when Sarah's brother, William Brainin, came home from the Army with influenza during the 1918 pandemic.  He infected his sister, who became gravely ill.  She had to go to the hospital and have a lung removed, while still pregnant.  Everything was touch and go, and there were serious questions as to whether either or both of Sarah and the baby would survive.

Somehow, Sarah recovered and gave birth to my grandmother.  Both of them were healthy, and Sarah's father, Rabbi Mendel Herz Brainin, was so overjoyed he went dancing in the streets. As an epilog to the story, Bubbie also said that her Uncle Willie had died before she was born.

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So far, the only part of this story that I've attempted to research is Uncle Willie's death.  My first clue that he didn't actually die before my grandmother was born was that I found him, or someone who certainly appeared to be him, in the 1920 U.S. census with his parents in Manhattan.  After that discovery, I searched for him in the New York City death index and found a likely listing with a death date of January 26, 1920.  I ordered the death certificate and confirmed it was indeed for the brother of my great-grandmother.  Obviously, I was very lucky in that he lived long enough to be enumerated in the census!

Learning that Uncle Willie had died in 1920, not before Bubbie's birth in March 1919, does seem to poke a fairly large hole in my grandmother's story.  Unfortunately, the other avenues of research aren't particularly viable.  The odds on any hospital records from 1918–1919 surviving are very small, and even if they existed, I probably wouldn't be permitted to view them, because medical records of any type are considered sacrosanct in this country, and New York is especially well known for being unfriendly about allowing researchers access to records (yes, even 100-year-old records that are supposed to be available).

A slightly — only slightly — better angle would be to research Uncle Willie's time in the Army.  He apparently did serve, because there was a photograph of him in his uniform that my grandmother identified.  It disappeared several years ago, but he was an enlisted man.  About 80% of Army enlisted personnel records for soldiers discharged between 1912 and 1960 were destroyed in a fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.  So the chances of his records having survived are low.  I do need to try requesting them, though, because that's still a 20% of being successful.  If his records did survive, I might be able to find out if and when he was sent home with the flu.  (It's on my [long] list of things to do for my own family research.)  If he did have the flu, and if he went home between about June 1918 and February 1919, maybe the story is true after all!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The ZichronNote February 2016 Issue Has Been Published

The most recent issue of ZichronNote, the quarterly journal of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society (and the publication for which I recently won an editing award) was e-mailed and mailed out to SFBAJGS members before the month of February ended (thank heavens for that leap day this year!).  Deborah Cohn's lead article focused on the detailed personal information you can find in newspapers, one of my favorite resources.  Susan Steeble discussed how she had to use two different Web sites to find online naturalization forms from the State Supreme Court of Kings County (Brooklyn), New York.  Judy Vasos and her husband took a trip to Eschau, Germany to visit the home of his ancestor.  And Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, reviewed Israel Pickholtz's recently published book on endogamy and DNA research.

Do these articles sound interesting to you?  Well, to receive ZichronNote when it is published, all you need to do is join the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society!  If you join at our very affordable annual membership rate, you not only will have the journal when it's hot off the press, you will be helping fund the research projects that the society supports and supporting a pastime that you enjoy.

There is another way to get a copy of ZichronNote:  You could contribute an article!  I could be promoting your fine prose here!  If you have had a breakthrough in your family history research, solved a family mystery through painstaking work, discovered an innovative way to use resource materials, or contacted a "tenuously, absurdly distant" cousin to learn more about your family, we would love to read about it.  If you are interested in writing for ZichronNote, send me a message, and we can discuss!

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: An Internet "Bucket List" Meme

I was surprised at this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun from Randy Seaver.  I had seen this going around Facebook and pretty much ignored it:

1)  A "Bucket List" meme went around Facebook several weeks ago where you put an "X" in the box if you have done it!  

2)  Copy and paste it into your own blog post, in a comment to this post, or on Facebook or Google+ and fill it out (erase my entries and insert your own).

3)  Put a comment on this blog post to tell me where I can read all about you!

So here's the list I've been ignoring for a while and my responses:

(X) Shot a gun
(X) Gone on a blind date
(X) Skipped school
(X) Watched someone die
(X) Visited Canada
(X) Visited Hawaii
(X) Visited Cuba
(X) Visited Europe
(X) Visited Las Vegas
(X) Visited Central America

(  ) Visited Asia
(  ) Visited Africa
(X) Visited Florida
(X) Visited Mexico
(  ) Seen the Grand Canyon in person
(X) Flown in a helicopter
(X) Served on a jury
(X) Been lost
(X) Traveled to the opposite side of the country
(X) Visited Washington, D.C.

(X) Swam in the ocean 
(X) Cried yourself to sleep
(X) Played cops and robbers
(X) Played cowboys and Indians
(  ) Recently colored with crayons
(X) Sang karaoke
(X) Sang a solo or duet in church
(  ) Paid for a meal with coins only
(X) Made prank phone calls
(X) Laughed until some beverage came out of your nose

(X) Caught a snowflake on your tongue
(  ) Had children
(X) Had a pet
(X) Been skinny-dipping
(X) Been fishing
(X) Been boating
(  ) Been downhill skiing
(X) Been water skiing
(X) Been camping in a trailer/RV
(X) Been camping in a tent

(X) Driven a motorcycle
(  ) Been bungee-jumping (ripcord jumping)
(X) Gone to a drive-in movie
(X) Done something that could have killed you
(X) Done something that you will regret for the rest of your life
(  ) Rode an elephant
(  ) Rode a camel
(X) Eaten just cookies or cake or ice cream for dinner
(X) Been on TV  
(  ) Stolen any traffic signs

(X) Been in a car accident
(X) Been in the hospital in past 24 months
(X) Donated blood 
(  ) Gotten a speeding or any other type of ticket in the past 12 months
(X) Gotten a piercing
(X) Gotten a tattoo 
(X) Driven a manual transmission vehicle
(X) Ever owned your dream car
(  ) Been married
(  ) Been divorced

(X) Fell in love
(X) Fell out of love
(  ) Paid for a stranger's meal
(  ) Driven over 100 mph
(  ) Been scuba diving
(X) Written a published book/story/poetry
(X) Eaten snails

Apparently my life has not been quite as sheltered as Randy's!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: Emma La Forêt's Emergency Passport

Last week I posted Emma la Forêt's application for an emergency passport to leave Europe in 1917.  This week we get to see the passport itself (yes, this is the real thing!).  It is a buff-colored 12" x 17 1/4" piece of paper, watermarked with the seal of the U.S. Department of State.  It has three impressed seals and one rubber-stamped seal of the American Embassy in Paris, France on the front.  On the back, there are, in succession, an impressed seal of the American Consulate in Algiers, Algeria; a rubber-stamped seal of the Département d'Alger Sûreté Départementale (Algeria Regional Police); an impressed seal of the American Consulate in Marseilles, France; a rubber-stamped seal from the Commissariat in Marseille, but I can't read most of it; and a rubber-stamped seal from the Ministère de l'Interieure (Minister of the Interior) in Bordeaux, France.  As usual, I have underlined the information that was entered onto the preprinted form.

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

Photo of Emma and Rosita                          This document expires Dec 14. 1917 unless
E. La Foret [signature]                                 renewed.  The holder has applied to the
[impressed Paris Embassy seal]                   Department of State for a regular passport
[rubber stamp of Paris Embassy seal]
Good only for
six months from date.

                                                                  The person to whom this passport is issued
                    printed Great Seal                 has declared under oath that he desires it for
                    of the United States              use in visiting the countries hereinafter named,
                                                                  for the following objects:
                                                                  Algeria  (name of country)    Residence (object of visit)
                                                                  France  (name of country)    en route (object of visit)
                                                                  ———  (name of country)    United (object of visit)
                                                                  ———  (name of country)     States (object of visit)
This passport is not valid for use in other countries
except for necessary transit to or from the countries
named, unless amended by an American
diplomatic or principal consular officer.

of the
United States of America,
    Paris, France   
To all to whom these presents shall come, Greeting;
The undersigned Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
of the United States of America,
hereby request all whom it may concern to permit
— Emma La Forêt — ———
Description                                                  a Citizen of the United States accompanied
Age 50 Years ______                                   by her minor child Rosita safely
Stature 5 Feet 7 Inches Eng.                       and freely to pass and in case of need to give
Forehead   high                                             them all lawful Aid and Protection.
Eyes     blue grey   
Nose    regular                                                            Given under my hand and the
Mouth    medium                                                         Seal of the Embassy of the
Chin    round                              [impressed                        United States
Hair    dark brown                         Paris                       at   Paris, France    
Complexion    fair                       Embassy                   the  14th  day of September
Face    oval                                    seal]                       in the year 1917 and of the
                                                                                     Independence of the United States
                                                                                     the one hundred and forty second
Signature of the Bearer.
  Emma La Foret.   [signature]

CANCELED [rubber stamped diagonally]

No. 1704
Wm G. Sharp [signature]

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

                     October 4, 1917.
~~~~~~            A. C. Frost [signature]
  BON           Consul of the United
                      States of America.
Service No. 214
(No fee)
[impressed           I hereby certify that
Algerian              the bearer of this
Consulate            passport is the wife
seal]                    of Jean L. La Forêt
                           Vice Consul of the
                            United States of
                            America at Algiers,
                                 A. C. Frost [signature]
                                 Consul of the
                    United States of America.

No 3454.
Vu à la PRÉFECTURE d'Alger
Bon pour se rendre = en Amérique
via Marseille - Bordeaux - New. York
Objet du voyage = rentre dans son pays.

Alger, le 4 Octobre 1917
Le Chef de la Sûreté Départementale délégué.
Algeria Regional Police                Imaranos(?) [signature]

BON  Consulat Général des États - Unis
          d'Amérique à Marseille, France.
          Vu le 9th of October 1917
          Le Consul Général des États- Unis
No fee
Service No. 838.                  John Q.(?) Moody(?) [signature]

VU [illegible]
Marseille, le 9 [illegible] 1917.
Giraud(?) [signature]

[illegible] la Préfecture
                  VU au départ pour les
Marseille, le 9/10/17    Etats-Unis
[rubber-stamped      Pour le Préfet           via Bordeaux
Marseille                 et par délégation
Commissariat          Le Commissaire Spécial
seal]                              Morelli(?) [signature]

VU pour se rendre à New. York
Bordeaux, le 12/10/ 1917 .
La Commissaire Spécial délégué.
[illegible signature]
Minister of the Interior

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

Wow!  I think this passport is very cool, and I am lucky to have it, even if it isn't for a member of my own family.  It's fairly straightforward; most of the information came directly from the passport application Emma submitted September 7.  It was processed very quickly, being dated September 14 in Paris.

The two sentences that were struck through on the front of the passport were probably for standard emergency passport procedures.  As Emma seemingly did not plan to travel again, they were not relevant for her.

The back of the passport has the same types of stamps that one might see in a passport today, and we can see Emma and Rosita's route from Algeria to Marseille to Bordeaux to New York.  I wish I could read the French signatures better, but c'est la vie!

My guess is that the "Canceled" stamp was put on the passport after Emma and Rosita arrived in New York.  As there is no date by the stamp, however, that is only a guess.

I have noticed that Emma consistently does not use the accent on Forêt.  (I wonder if that bothered Jean?)  As the passport was processed in Paris, I'm not surprised that they did include it.

When I received this gift of documents, the passport was folded and in the envelope in which it appears to have been sent:

This is pretty easy to read, so I won't transcribe it, but in the upper-right corner is a note in pencil:

Left Alger Oct 7/17

This was the only part of Emma and Rosita's trip not present on the passport.  So they left Algeria three weeks after the passport was dated.  There's no indication when they received it.

A second notation in the upper-right corner is "103" in pen.  This isn't the passport number, and no other number on the passport matches it.  It's a mystery what it refers to.

The other item that was in the envelope was Jean La Forêt's business card:

Jean L. La Forêt
Vice Consul Américain à Alger
6, Rue Henricet                 St. Eugène (Alger)

The reason it was included was because of the handwritten note on the back:

Emma La Foret
and minor child Rosita.
Issued by Embassy of
the United States at
Paris, France, on
Sept. 14-1917, for
three months, to go
from Algiers to New
York via France.
No. 1704.
Signed = Wm. G. Sharp

This writing looks similar to that of Emma's handwritten narrative, and the name of Wm. G. Sharp bears no resemblance to the signature on the passport.  So Emma wrote a short note describing the passport, even though all of the information she wrote was included on the passport itself.  I know documentation is good, but I don't understand the purpose of her note.  On the other hand, it's nice to have one of Jean La Forêt's Vice Consul business cards.