Friday, December 30, 2016

Top 10 Posts of 2016

It is very close to the end of the year, and it's natural to look back at one's work over that time.  This year's most viewed posts fall somewhat between the results from last year and those of the year before.  In 2014 the top posts covered a wide range of topics, while in 2015 the list was solidly populated by Who Do You Think You Are?  This year half the list is WDYTYA, and the other half is all over the place.  So it appears I still have my mandate, but people are reading other topics also.

Tied at #10 are an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (no surprise), the one about Scott Foley, and a post about one of my family mysteries, the question of whether the biological father of my grandfather Bertram might also have been the father of Bertolet, the daughter my great-grandmother had three years after her husband had died.  It's nice to see that a story about my family can compete with WDYTYA.

The next two are more episodes of Who Do You Think You Are?Katey Sagal at #9 and Chris Noth at #8.  They were were within just a few views of each other.

Coming in at #7 is when I worked out several generations of my female ancestors' ages at death, one of my posts for Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun meme.  (The corresponding post about my male ancestors' ages at death had a 10% lower viewing count, possibly because it was published a week off schedule.)

I am very happy to see that the post about photos of "contraband" scholars that were appraised on an episode of Antiques Roadshow placed high, at #6.  I keep hoping that someone will find a photograph of an ancestor in that collection.

Returning to Who Do You Think You Are?, the episode with Aisha Tyler placed #5 on the list of most-viewed posts.  She was the opening episode for this year's season and generated a lot of interest.

A big surprise was that how many place names appear in my Family Tree Maker family database came in at #4.  This was another Saturday Night Genealogy Fun post, which certainly helps garner more viewers, but that's a pretty narrow topic.

Neoklis Girihidis
Another surprise, but a good one, was that one of my posts about opportunities to volunteer or share information placed #3 on the year's list.  The number of views was significantly higher than any other volunteer post.  I suspect one of the projects particularly caught people's attention, but I have no idea which one.  I hope it was the one about the Greek man looking to contact the Jewish boys he helped escape during World War II.

This year the highest an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? placed was again #2.  My review of the Lea Michele episode was extremely popular, even though I wasn't able to post it until more than a month after the program aired.  I transcribed all the documents that were shown, however, and I'm sure that helped bring in readers.

Warming my little editor's heart, the #1 post on my blog this year was about copyright.  Yes, the post wherein I chastised two genealogical societies (not by name, of course) for abusing others' copyrights was well ahead of #2, by a good 10% more views.  I hope the post helps people think more carefully before they just copy things from the Internet and put them into their society newsletters.  No, just because it's on the Internet does not mean it's free, and the author didn't put it there so you could copy it.

Now that I've gone through the list, the final surprise is that not a single post about newspapers made it into the top 10.  Considering that two did last year (and three were in the top 12), I wonder what happened.

I checked to see how many episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? were aired this year:  a grand total of six.  And five of those made it into my top 10.  For some reason, Molly Ringwald didn't interest people anywhere near as much as the other celebrities.  But now I know why other topics were able to do as well.

I wasn't able to compare the number of shares this year, because Blogger/Google no longer seems to provide that statistic.  The most commented-on post was another Saturday Night Genealogy Fun one, where Randy asked everyone to write about their most recent unknown ancestor.  That generated almost 40 comments, most from a very generous woman who looked for newspaper articles to help me in my search.  It worked — I think I've identified my grandfather's father.  I'm now searching for a likely Y-DNA candidate for testing.

Something that has not changed since last year is my overall most-viewed post.  That, now with about 67% more views than the runner-up (Lionel Ritchie on Who Do You Think You Are?, the same as last year), is the discussion of the potential of gaining citizenship through descent for people wishing to reclaim ancestral connections.  That post about citizenship is also far in the lead in the number of comments, with more than 150.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: Jean La Forêt May Have Owned a Record Player

This is a sheet of paper measuring 8 3/8" x 10 7/8", just a little smaller than the modern standard of 8 1/2" x 11".  It's a muted off-white, which may have been its original color.  It has a watermark that says "BOND."  Not only is the Kieselhorst Piano Company's contact and marketing information printed at the top, there's a music-themed frame going around the whole page.  This is an attractive piece of letterhead.  Glued to the lower right corner is a business card for Helen Moore, in the Phonograph Dept. at the Kieselhorst Piano Company.  It was clear that I was going to be unable to detach the card without damaging the letter, so I've left it where it is.  After peeking under the card and looking at the back side of the page, Miss Moore does not appear to have signed the letter but glued the card on in lieu of a signature.  The letter was folded in sixths and came in an envelope:

The envelope, 6 1/4" x 3 5/8" and yellowish in color, matches the letterhead, with the same company name, logo, and address.  It is addressed to Mr. Jean L. La Foret at the rural delivery address he included in the short list of facts about himself and Emma that he typed in late 1924.

The letter is dated July 10, 1925 and is addressed to Mr. [Jean] La Foret.  The envelope was postmarked on the same date.  Jean's handwritten note in pencil on the lower left corner of the letter indicates that he received it on July 11.  A second handwritten note on the letter, this one in the middle of the left side, says "5 Packs needles rec'd 7-13-25" in blue.  Another note in blue handwriting appears on the envelope, where "Settlement" and the flourishes underneath it run almost the entire width.

Because Helen Moore's business card covers some of the text of her letter, I have transcribed the final three paragraphs:

Now I may not loose [sic] you as a customer!  You know,
 Kieselhorst Service extends all over, and as you say
you intend getting a Victor or Brunswick Console when
you get located again, I'll appreciate it very much if
you will write to me when you are ready.  I know I can take
good care of you even though you are quite some distance

I intended writing you sooner, and ask your pardon for
not doing so, but thought perhaps you had already left.

Now please don't forget me, and again wishing you and
yours the very best of health and happiness, with many
thanksfor [sic] your past kindnesses, I remain

The content of the letter is a little at odds with Jean's handwritten comments.  In a friendly, chatty manner, Miss Moore discusses Jean's impending move to California (which now we know must have been after July 11), her relatives there, the "terrible" earthquakes, and the fact that even in California Kieselhorst will be happy to provide service for him.  But the "Settlement" on the envelope suggests there was a problem that needed to be settled, which might be what the five packs of needles were for, as both of those were written in the same blue.  But if Jean had not yet bought a console, what were the needles for?  Had he perhaps already purchased a record player from Kieselhorst?  Since the company apparently closed its doors in 1930, I somehow doubt I'll find records to resolve this question.

I have to admit, as a native Californian, former journal copy editor at the Seismological Society of America, and someone with a strong personal interest in the study of earthquakes, I am very amused at Miss Moore's comment that "we all hope [the earthquakes are] all over."  My guess is that she was thinking about the 1906 great San Francisco earthquake, which did make news throughout the country.  I'm sure she would have been frightened to learn that the earthquakes kept coming!  I'm also trying to picture exactly how one would "look out" for a quake.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Season of Giving: Mississippi Midwifery, U.S. Civil War Coded Telegrams, Victims of the Grim Sleeper, and a Possible "Righteous" Couple

The end of the year is often called the "season of giving", when people are asked to contribute to worthy causes.  The worthy causes and projects listed below are asking not for your money but for your time, knowledge, and information.  Please read through them and see if you can help.

The American War Cemetery and Memorial at Margraten, Netherlands includes graves for 8,301 American soldiers and an additional 1,722 names listed on the Walls of the Missing.  The “Faces of Margraten” project, sponsored by the Foundation of United Adopters of American War Graves, has collected almost 4,100 photos of service members buried in Margraten or listed on Walls of the Missing since 2009.  The aim of the group is to remember U.S. soldiers buried in overseas American cemeteries and to commemorate the World War II liberators of the province of Limburg and of the Netherlands.

If you have a photo of a soldier buried or memorialized in Margarten, please consider submitting it via the site's contact page.  Information will be stored in the Fields of Honor database, where searches can be made for soldiers buried or memorialized in the American War Cemeteries in Margraten, Ardennes, and Henri-Chapelle.  The next public tribute will be in 2018.

Contributions of photographs are welcome at any time.  Photographs may also be submitted by mailing them to:
Stichting Verenigde Adoptanten Amerikaanse Oorlogsgraven
Loonsevaert 21
5171 LL Kaatsheuvel

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Gunnar Pudlatz of Hamburg, Germany is looking for witnesses or testimony on actions by his grandparents in the years 1939–1945.  He has about 930 letters his grandparents wrote to each other in the 1930's and 1940's, in which they talk about people being hidden.

Karl Kessler in 1937
Gunnar's grandparents were Karl Anton Keßler (1912–1942) and Gerda (Bertram) Keßler (1911–1983).  They were pastors of the reformed church in Altlandsberg, east of Berlin, and were in Altlandsberg from 1939–1945. According to oral history they hid up to 50 Jews in their home at Bernauer Straße (street) 16.  Jews would probably have arrived through the back yard, entering the garden through a gate in the town wall, and were most likely hidden in the basement.  The garden was used to grow plenty of fruits and vegetables, so there was always enough food to share with those the Kesslers hid.  Karl and Gerda were well connected with other pastors in the area.  Karl had worked at Büro Grüber and was a member of the confession church, whose members helped each other through networking and evidently also built up a chain of shelters around Berlin, so people in hiding could be passed from one hideout to another.  Gerda said that sometimes they hid Jews for "longer periods."  Unfortunately Gerda never mentioned any names after the war, and because her house was one of the few in the city that had burned to the ground, she left Altlandsberg in September 1945.  The hope is that the photographs, names, and circumstances shown here will be found by survivors who spent that time around Berlin or anyone who has information about these people.

Gerda Kessler in 1942
Suche nach Zeugen und Belegen für Hilfsaktionen für Juden durch Karl Anton und Gerda Keßler in Altlandsberg (1939-1945).  Karl Anton Keßler (1912-1942) und Gerda Keßler (1911-1983), geborene Bertram, halfen in der Nazizeit/im zweiten Weltkrieg als junge evangelische Vikare der Bekennenden Kirche im Pfarrhaus der von ihnen betreuten reformierten Schlosskirchengemeinde von Altlandsberg (östlich von Berlin) mehreren Menschen, die als Juden verfolgte waren. Ihrer Tochter Johanna – meiner Mutter – hat Gerda Keßler nach dem Krieg davon erzählt. Karl Keßler arbeitete zusätzlich zu seiner Arbeit in der Gemeinde im Berliner „Büro Grüber“, wo bedrängte Menschen betreut wurden und von wo aus Ausreisemöglichkeiten vermittelt wurden. Während Karl in den Krieg zog und bei Stalingrad starb versteckte Gerda noch bis zum Kriegsende verfolgte Juden im Pfarrhaus in der Bernauer Straße 16 in Altlandsberg, unter ihnen gelegentlich auch Kinder. Gerda Keßler verließ Altlandsberg im September 1945. Sie erwähnte gegenüber ihrer Tochter nie die Namen der Versteckten. Sollte sich jemand an Hilfsleistungen der beiden erinnern, diese bezeugen, mündliche oder schriftliche Belege dafür haben, würde ich mich über Informationen und Kontakte sehr freuen.

For questions and more pictures Gunnar can be contacted via e-mail at

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Was your Irish ancestor a Mountbellow Workhouse girl who immigrated to Australia in 1853 aboard the Palestine?  The Mountbellow Workhouse Project is tracing the descendants of 33 Mountbellow girls who left on that ship.  The project wants to tell the girls' stories, establish from where in Galway they came, and connect descendants with their Irish cousins.  Some of the girls' siblings immigrated to the United States, so there are relatives there also.  Background information and the story of Mary Dooley, one of the workhouse girls, can be read in an article on IrishCentral; more information about Mary Dooley can be found in a follow-up article.  You can contact the Mountbellow Workhouse Project via its Facebook page.

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The Mississippi Link recently published an article about an effort to collect information and stories about the history of midwifery.  The oral histories conducted have included people who were birthed by midwives and women who used the services of midwives when they had their children.  The article noted that black midwives delivered white babies and white midwives delivered black babies, and the oral history collection will include stories of both races.  More stories of midwives are being sought, but it is unclear whether only stories relating to midwives in Mississippi are desired.  To share stories and for more information on this project, e-mail Alferdteen Harrison, Ph.D., at or call (601) 953-4060.

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Did you know that you can help decode and transcribe U.S. Civil War messages and telegrams?  Thomas Eckert, who was in charge of the U.S. War Department's Civil War telegraph program, saved almost 16,000 telegrams that helped direct the course of the war.  Eckert kept the telegrams, including many in code and the accompanying cipher books.  These have now been digitized and are being transcribed through a crowdsourcing effort.  The Huntington Library, which holds the collection, announced the project on its blog.  You can learn how to participate and sign up on Zooniverse, which is hosting the project.

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As part of its 50th anniversary commemoration, the British housing charity Shelter is trying to make contact with children and families who appear in 1960's and 1970's photographs depicting postwar run-down housing conditions.  This article discusses the history of the original photography project and includes commentary from the photographer.  Images of all of the photographs are available online.

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Why do you want to research your family tree?  Dr. Tanya Evans of Macquarie University in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia wants to hear only from residents of Great Britain and Australia about this question.  She is interested in learning the motivations behind your research and the emotional impact of your family discoveries.  Evans has written a book on the history of Australia's oldest surviving charity and has acted as a consultant for the Australian version of Who Do You Think You Are?  You can contact her at

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This is an update to an effort I have written about previously.  The Jewish Community of Nuremberg is in possession of the so-called Stürmer or Streicher Library, a collection of approximately 10,000 books the Nazis took from Jews, Catholics, Freemasons, and others.  The books were taken primarily from Nuremberg, Franconia; Strasbourg, Alsace-Lorraine; and Vienna, Austria, but provenance research has indicated that more than 2,200 owners were from other parts of Europe or from overseas.  The Jewish Community is asking for assistance in finding the former owners or their descendants so that the books may be returned.  Restitution is free of charge.  So far more than 700 items have been returned to ten different countries.

More background on the collection, a list of known owners, and photos of identifying information from the books are available on GenTeam.  Additional background information is available here.  Contact Leibl Rosenberg, representative of the city of Nuremberg for the Jewish Community, with questions and research results.

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Front:  Dawson, Gordon, Moss
Back:  McFaden, Taylor, Cooper
The Canadian Letters and Images Project, which began in 2000, is an online archive of the Canadian war experience—from any war—as told through letters and images of Canadians themselves.  Contemporary letters, diaries, and photographs are digitized, permitting Canadians to tell their stories through words and photographs.  This is the largest such collection online in Canada, about 20,000 letters and growing.

A YouTube video about the project may be viewed at To search the project site go to

The project wants to borrow correspondence, diaries, photographs, and other personal materials connected to Canadians at war, on the home front and the battlefront.  The documents are digitized in their entirety, with no editing, and the originals are returned to their owners.  The project makes arrangements—at its expense—to have materials picked up and returned by courier to ensure the materials' safety.

If you are interested in sharing your family's war letters, diaries, etc. with the project, visit and scroll down to “Contact Us.”  The materials must be about Canadians, but anyone, whether in Canada or not, may contribute letters, diaries, and other memorabilia.

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Lonnie Franklin, Jr., was convicted on May 5, 2016 of being the serial killer nicknamed the "Grim Sleeper."  Part of the evidence that connected him to deaths that occurred in Los Angeles between 1985 and 2007 was a collection of photographs hidden in his home.  Franklin had apparently been in the habit of taking photos of each of his victims.  While the photos helped gain Franklin's conviction, not all of the women in the photos have been identified.  A page on the Los Angeles Police Department's site shows photos of 33 women whose identities are not yet known.  Some of the women appear to be unconscious or possibly dead, so his list of victims may be longer than is currently known.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: My Santa Claus Memories

This is another of Randy Seaver's challenges when I'm impressed with his memory as compared to my own.  As it is Christmas Eve today, this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun is about a timely subject.

Come on, everybody, join in, accept the mission, and execute it with precision.

(1) Answer these questions:
(a) Did you ever send a letter to Santa Claus?
(b) Did you ever visit Santa and "make a list?"
(c) Do you still believe in Santa Claus?
(d) When did you find out "the truth" about Santa Claus?

(2) Tell us your answers in a blog post of your own or in a Facebook or Google+ post.  Be sure to leave a comment on this post with a link to your answers.

Ok, here's what I remember (which is to say, not much).

(a) I suspect I sent at least one letter to Santa Claus, but I don't remember any or asking for any specific presents.

(b) I also suspect my mother probably did a Santa photo visit at least once, but I don't remember any and I don't recall any photographic evidence.

(c) I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus.  Does that count?

(d) Santa Claus must not have made that great of an impression on me, because I don't remember when I realized he wasn't really coming to our house.  I have vague recollections of watching NORAD track Santa on TV and watching to see if he was near our house, so I must have believed for a while.

My lack of memory might make me seem Grinchlike, but that really is not the case.  I'm sure if my mother were still alive she could have enlightened me on at least some of these points, but I never thought to ask these kinds of questions before she passed away almost 22 years ago.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: Basic Information about Jean and Emma La Forêt

This off-white piece of paper is 5 1/2" x 5 11/16".  It has some marks on it but is otherwise clean and in good condition.  I found no watermark.  It was previously folded in half down the middle horizontally, but I flattened it.

I'm getting the impression that Jean La Forêt liked to have things organized. This is the fourth item I've found in my little treasure chest where he has typed up information to create what appears to be a sort of reference sheet.  Earlier we've seen the introduction to his will and life story, the list of ailments from which he was suffering, and a timeline of his U.S. military service.  Before that he had created lists in his journal.

Although there is no date on this sheet, I can estimate when it was typed because Jean included his birthdate, December 4, 1851,  and wrote that he was almost 73.  As he would have turned 73 on December 4, 1924, this was probably typed late in 1924 but before his birthday.

Jean and Emma were still living in Missouri at this time, and we even have the full address.  They had moved again:  In 1920 they were in Overland, in 1921 in Maryland Heights, and in 1924 in Creve-Coeur.  The move to Maryland Heights was about 5 miles to the west; Creve-Coeur is about 4 miles south of Maryland Heights.  They were not moving far, but they did keep moving.

This reminds me of following the paths of recent immigrants year to year in city directories in large cities, such as Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Almost every year they're at a new address.  I have read that this was often due to the fact that they did not have much money and were always looking for better deals (and sometimes skipping out on the last month or two of rent).  Thinking about that, I remembered that in Emma's handwritten narrative of her life, she noted that:

". . . we lost a great deal during the war, on account of the war, and were really in need, living for the present on my husband's retired pay, almost not sufficient to live on, and nothing else in view . . ."

So maybe they were constantly moving because of their straitened circumstances.

I found it interesting that Jean included his naturalization date in this little synopsis of his life, especially since he did not write that he was born in France.  What made it important to note that he was an American citizen?

Emma gets somewhat short shrift in this little note.  Jean did not give her complete birthdate, and her occupation is simply that of being his wife.

One last thing about the note is that it further pushes back the date that Jean and Emma could have returned to California.  So Jean's list of ailments is starting to look as though it might have been typed even as late as 1925.

The final item to mention here is that this post marks one year that I have been writing about my "treasure chest" of documents relating to Emma Margaret Schafer and Jean Leon La Forêt.  My post about the first of Emma's documents was on December 17, 2015.  It seems so long ago!  And I know I have at least another year's worth of documents to go!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

An Adventure Meeting Cousins

Ben Kushner, my cousins'
father, in hospital
Several months ago, I was contacted by someone who said she was my cousin.  Gayle had received a copy of the family tree I had shared with several of the cousins I met when I traveled to Winnipeg, Manitoba in the summer of 2007.  (That visit also happened because a cousin had contacted me out of the blue, but that's a different story.)

Gayle was getting in touch with me because she was organizing a family reunion for November in San Diego and hoped I would be able to come, since I was the family genealogist.  I put the date on my calendar and started looking forward to meeting new cousins.

As the date approached, I realized I hadn't heard from Gayle in a while, so I sent a message to confirm the reunion was still going to happen.  She ruefully told me that most of the relatives who had said they were going to come had since had something come up or had changed their minds, but about half a dozen people were still supposed to be there.  She also said that they were going to be in San Diego for five days.

Eek!  I checked my calendar and discovered that I had managed to fill my schedule for all the days except the one she had originally told me.  I felt horrible, but I asked if anyone would be offended if I flew down in the morning and had to fly back that evening.  She said it wasn't a problem, so I booked my up-and-back flight.  Shopping for the flight wasn't difficult:  Only one airline has the route between Oakland and San Diego.  All I had to worry about was times.  So I stretched out the day as much as I could:  departure at 6:55 a.m., return at 11:25 p.m.  Gayle assured me that the early arrival time wouldn't be a problem for her, because she lives in the Central Time zone and probably would be getting up early anyway.

As the date approached, Gayle warned me that the "reunion" was getting smaller by the day.  More people had had things come up and would not be able to make it.  Would I be disappointed it if were only her and her brother?  This time it was my turn to reassure her.  I am happy to meet any of my cousins, so as long as they would be there, I still wanted to go.  I was especially looking forward to meeting them because they're cousins on the Meckler side of my family, which has been very difficult to research.  Gayle sent me a photo of herself and her brother so I would know who I was looking for.  (Unfortunately, I didn't think to send them one of myself!)

I packed lightly:  family trees, a laptop, and a scanner.  Gayle had told me her brother was going to bring lots of photos, and I was hoping to scan them on site.  When I arrived at the airport, I headed outside to the pick-up area to look for Gayle and/or Paul.  I had been standing out there for about ten minutes when someone walked up behind me and asked, "Are you Janice?"  I turned around, and it was Paul!  Apparently he had just missed me when he went to the waiting area inside.  He had made a sign with my name on it, in classic "meeting someone at the airport you've never seen before" fashion (it even has my flight number and arrival time):

I'm still not sure how Paul figured out who I was, but we went back inside to collect Gayle and began a lovely day of getting acquainted.  Even though San Diego was having a beautiful "chamber of commerce day" without a cloud in the sky, we went to the condo they had rented and talked about family.  I peppered them with dozens of questions about their branch of the family, for which I had minimal information.  Paul brought out their father's scrapbook, which he now owns, and we looked through it from front to back.  Paul was able to identify almost everyone in the photographs.  He also told lots of great stories to go with the photos.

One interesting revelation that came out of our talking about family was that I discovered that Paul and Gayle's branch of the family, my branch, and that of the cousin who wrote to me in 2007 each descend from different siblings of our oldest known ancestor.

We did go out for a lunch break.  We discovered that we all loved Vietnamese food, so we went to a nice little pho (phở) place not far from the condo.  Gayle and Paul had been in San Diego for a couple of days already and had been learning their way around pretty well.  After lunch we found a Trader Joe's to buy the fixings for dinner and then headed back to the condo.  I was all ready to scan — and then discovered that I had forgotten the cable to connect the scanner to the laptop!  Paul was so gracious, he said I could bring the photos and scrapbook back with me and return them after everything had been scanned.  I recently finished doing that, and the package will be heading back to Manitoba soon. (It was a scanning bonanza!  All together it was about 250 photographs, plus several documents, including birth and marriage records.  I consider myself very lucky.)

George (top), Dobby (left), Ben (right), and John (bottom) Kushner, circa 1939

Paul and Michael Kushner, circa 1958

Left to right:  Paul, Gayle, and Michael Kushner, circa 1959

Later in the afternoon, two more cousins arrived, just in time for all of us to have dinner together before I headed back to Oakland.  I am so glad I took the day to go and meet everyone!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Pauleen's Christmas Meme

Well, this is going to be interesting.  From a quick glance at the beginning of the list, I suspect I'll have a lot of "no" answers to these questions.  But I'm game, so here we go with this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun from Randy Seaver:

Come on, everybody, join in, accept the mission, and execute it with precision. Here's your chance to sit on Genea-Santa's lap (virtually) and tell him your Christmas traditions.

Pauleen (Cassmob), who writes the Family History across the Seas blog, started a Christmas meme in 2012 (see Deck the Halls:  2012 Christmas GeneaMeme).  So we will use that for SNGF this week (since very few readers did it in past years!):

(1) Copy and paste the meme questions into your blog or word processor, and then answer the questions.  You can use short statements, long paragraphs, or a link to one of your earlier posts.

(2) Tell us about your meme answers in a blog post of your own, in a comment to this post, or on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter.

(3) Be sure to leave a comment on Pauleen's blog post about your entry in this Christmas 2016 Geneameme.  She'll be surprised!

Here is my list (questions in green, answers in red, because I copied the text from Randy's blog and got his HTML mark-up at the same time):

The 2012 Christmas Geneameme (for 2016)
  1. Do you have any special Christmas traditions in your family?  I don't remember anything in particular from growing up, unless putting up a menorah and having your mother call the Christmas tree a Chanukah bush counts.
  2. Is church attendance an important part of your Christmas celebrations, and do you go the evening before or on Xmas Day?  Never in my nuclear family.  The closest we came was the two or three years I attended Midnight Mass with my Jewish mother (she was the one who wanted to go, and I kept her company).
  3. Did/do you or your children/grandchildren believe in Santa?  I certainly remember my siblings and I believed when we were little.  I don't remember when we stopped believing.  I think my grandchildren still believe in Santa.
  4. Do you go caroling in your neighbourhood?  Nope.
  5. What’s your favorite Christmas music?  I enoy almost all music, so it's hard to pick favorites, but I particularly enjoy Christmas carols, because they're so much fun to sing.  
  6. What’s your favourite Christmas carol?   "Do You Hear What I Hear?Second is "The Little Drummer Boy."
  7. Do you have a special Christmas movie/book you like to watch/read?  I think my favorite Christmas movie was The Ref, but I've only seen it once
  8. Does your family do individual gifts, gifts for littlies only, Secret Santa (aka Kris Kringle)?  My family members usually mail individual gifts to each other.  When I visit my grandchildren, we also exchange individual gifts.
  9. Is your main Christmas meal indoors or outdoors, at home or away?  It is definitely indoors.  We didn't even do outdoor meals for Christmas when we lived in Australia, where Christmas happens during the summer.
  10. What do you eat as your main course for the Christmas meal?  When I was young, we had turkey and ham.  Nowadays it's usually turkey.
  11. Do you have a special recipe you use for Christmas?  I don't cook for Christmas.  For Chanukah, however, I have a favorite latke recipe.
  12. Does Christmas pudding feature on the Christmas menu?  Is it your recipe or one you inherited?  I don't remember ever having Christmas pudding, not even in Australia.
  13. Do you have any other special Christmas foods?  What are they?  Nope, none.
  14. Do you give home-made food/craft for gifts at Christmas?  No to food.  I have done crafts in the past, usually needlework, but not for many years.
  15. Do you return to your family for Christmas or vice versa?  I go visit someone, usually my stepsons and grandchildren.
  16. Is your Christmas celebrated differently from your childhood ones?  If yes, how does it differ?  Christmas when I was young was my nuclear family, and sometimes my mother's best friend.  Mine is very different because I'm not married and have no nuclear family of my own.
  17. How do you celebrate Christmas with your friends?  Lunch?  Pre-Christmas outings?  Drop-ins?  I get together with some friends for Chanukah, but not usually for Christmas.  We pick a night to celebrate, and I'm the designated latke maker.
  18. Do you decorate your house with lights?  A little or a lot?  I have one string of lights up, and some nights I remember to turn them on.
  19. Is your neighbourhood a “Christmas lights” tour venue?  Most houses have some lights visible in the windows, but that's about it.
  20. Does your family attend Carols by Candlelight singalongs/concerts? Where?  I've never heard of Carols by Candlelight concerts.
  21. Have any of your Christmases been spent camping (unlikely for our northern-hemisphere friends)?  No.
  22. Is Christmas spent at your home, with family, or at a holiday venue?  With family.
  23. Do you have snow for Christmas where you live?  No snow in Oakland, California.  One year we had snow in Portland, Oregon, but usually not.
  24. Do you have a Christmas tree every year?  I have a few trees.  I don't remember the last time I put one up.
  25. Is your Christmas tree a live tree (potted/harvested) or an imitation?  All of my trees are artificial.
  26. Do you have special Christmas tree decorations?  Yes, but they're packed away.
  27. Which is more important to your family, Christmas or Thanksgiving?  Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: Another Newspaper Clipping about Pensions

This is a small newspaper clipping, 3 3/8" x 1 1/2".  No date or newspaper name appears on either side (the back has an ad for a rug sale).  I have not been able to determine when or where this was published.  My guess on when is around 1922–1923, primarily because of the long article about pensions that I wrote about last week.  This piece was pasted into the same notebook, just beneath the long article.

It seems obvious what items on this clipping were of interest to the person who saved it, whom I surmise to be Jean La Forêt, because it was in his notebook.  Penciled semicircles were made to the left of the first and third items.  Both items refer to widow's pensions; the latter specifically discusses Spanish-American War veterans.  So this appears to be related to the topic of last week's article, the pension eligibility of soldiers and sailors who fought in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, and the Boxer Rebellion.  I hypothesized last week that Jean probably fought in the Spanish-American War, based on dates and information from his journal.  This clipping supports that theory.

This is a different perspective on Jean's interest in a pension.  So far I have no evidence that he applied for one himself, but this clipping indicates he had an interest in knowing that Emma would be eligible for one based on his service.  I don't know how pensions worked in this period, so maybe there was a reason for him to put off receiving benefits.  Maybe he felt that the family didn't need the money while he was there.  Or maybe he was just too proud to want to take the money for himself.

Oh, and I finally scanned the cover of the notebook!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Your 2016 Dear Genea-Santa Letter

Christmas is coming soon, so it must be time for Randy Seaver to suggest that his readers write to Santa for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun:

Come on, everybody, join in, accept the mission, and execute it with precision. Here's your chance to sit on Genea-Santa's lap (virtually) and tell him your Christmas genealogy-oriented wish list:

(1) Write your Genea-Santa letter.  Have you been a good genealogy girl or boy?  What genealogy-oriented items are on your Christmas wish list?  They could be family history items, technology items, or things that you want to pursue in your ancestral quest. 

(2) Tell us about them in your own blog post, in a comment on this post, or in a Facebook status or Google Stream post. 

Here are my wishes:

I've tried hard to be a good genealogy girl again this year.  I'm still doing lots of volunteer work for a number of genealogical organizations, including serving on three boards and editing four different publications (one went away, but I added a new one).  Somehow I have been able to maintain my blog schedule, posting regularly between two to four times a week.  I had my 1,000th post a little while ago!  I've continued a robust educational program, attending four conferences, three all-day seminars, many in-person classes, and another 50 or so Webinars, in addition to teaching 30 classes myself.  Plus I've done more research on my family and helped other people with their research.  I am a genealogy geek indeed!

I'm very grateful for the gifts I received this past year.  I found a cousin willing to take a Y-DNA test and determined that my grandfather's biological father was not Mr. Sellers.  I'm now in contact with someone from a Y-DNA line that matches my father well, and I have a strong lead for my great-grandfather (this guy seems to have been somewhat of a ladies' man).  Some cousins from my mother's side of the family coordinated a small family reunion and invited me to attend, so I met more relatives and now have scans of more than 250 photographs from their branch, along with additional information for the family tree.  And an article about my Cuban cousins and the research I've done on them was published this summer.

But people always want more, don't they?  And I do have some wishes for next year.  These are things I would love to see in 2017 (and I'm dreaming big again):

• My top priority is still that I want to help my now 91-year-old aunt find and make contact with Raymond Lawrence Sellers, the son she gave up for adoption 71 years ago.  We haven't made much progress since last year.  She did a DNA test through Family Tree DNA, the results of which I've uploaded to GEDMatch.  (Unfortunately, she wasn't able to manufacture enough saliva for a successful AncestryDNA test, so we aren't able to search directly in that pool.)  The bad news is that she doesn't show any close matches besides her siblings, her son, and me (i.e., family members we already knew had tested).  It's possible that her son didn't have any descendants, or that absolutely none of them has decided to try the whole DNA thing.  It is so important for her to find him, so I'm really hoping for this one.  It's the number one item on my list.

• Last year's plan for my brother and me to join a Ukrainian research project didn't end up happening.  It would be great if another project were to start this year, and maybe we can find actual records from the Kamenets Podolsky area on our Gorodetsky family (and even the Kardishes).

• I keep hoping for a treasure trove of heretofore unknown surviving Jewish records from the former Grodno gubernia to be unearthed.  If some of my relatives were mentioned in them, so much the better.

• I'm still waiting for optical character recognition (OCR) scanning of old newspapers to become more accurate and reliable.  I thought I had heard that someone had come up with a way for computers to assess poor-quality spots on newspaper pages (torn, ink blobs, type dropped out) and try logical infilling, rather than merely scanning them as is and having something that looks like a bunch of control characters come out as the search text, but I haven't seen anything more about it.

• I agree with Randy in wishing that give subscribers access to their raw DNA data and permit chromosome browsing, rather than relying on the twitching, dancing leaves to do everyone's research for them.  (I gave up years ago on Ancestry correcting indexing mistakes; those corrections won't add to the bottom line, so Ancestry has no interest in putting out money for them.  I'm happy it shares the "alternative readings" that people submit.)

I don't think I'm being greedy, Genea-Santa.  Most of my wishes are for things that other people will benefit from.  If you'd really like cookies this year, I promise to get some for you.  And last year's offer of brandy or wine instead of milk is still good.  Or maybe you like a good Port?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: "New Pension Legislation" That Could Affect Jean La Forêt

This is an article cut out of a newspaper.  It is actually two pieces that have been pasted together.  The complete piece is 3 1/4" x 21 3/4".  No date or newspaper name appears.  After some diligent searching, my best guess is that this was published in 1922, but I was unable to determine a specific newspaper from which it was clipped.  The article was pasted in the same small notebook that holds Jean's typed announcement about his life story and will.

The subject of the article is pension legislation for soldiers and sailors who participated in the Spanish-American War, April 21–August 13, 1898; the Philippine Insurrection, February 4, 1899–July 4, 1902; and/or the Boxer Rebellion, August 1899–September 1901.  Also eligible for benefits were the servicemen's widows and dependent parents.

Since this article was in Jean La Forêt's notebook, it is logical to hypothesize he was the person who clipped it.  Because it deals with pensions for three specific conflicts and he made the effort to save it, it is also logical to hypothesize that Jean must have been involved in at least one of those conflicts.

Looking over Jean's diary, it does not appear he could have been present at the Boxer Rebellion.  His stated locations between May 25, 1899 and January 20, 1902 leave no time for him to have been in China.

The Philippine Insurrection, or Philippine-American War, officially began on February 4, 1899.  Jean wrote that he reported for duty at Mare Island, California on May 25, 1899.  He might have been in the Philippines during the war, but it could have been for only a short period.

The Spanish-American War, however, looks more promising.  Jean's journal had a gap between May 24, 1897, when he sailed on the Independence, and his report date at Mare Island.  Coincidentally, the entire period of the war fits in that gap!  Maybe he was too busy to write, or maybe he didn't want to write about the fighting.  But I suspect that when I get around to ordering a copy of Jean's service file, I'll discover he fought during this war.  Perhaps he was already in the Philippines for the Spanish-American War and so was also there for the beginning of the Insurrection.

It looks as though Jean was interested in his eligibility for a pension, but so far I have seen no documents indicating that he actually applied for one, only that Emma did so after Jean died.  Even though he appears to have been feeling his mortality, maybe he just kept putting off the pension paperwork and never got around to it.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Who Is Your MRUA?

This week's assignment from Randy Seaver for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun sounds like a great opportunity to get ideas from other people:

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

(1) Who is your MRUA:  your Most Recent Unknown Ancestor?  This is the person with the lowest number on your Pedigree Chart or Ahnentafel List whom you have not identified a last name for, or a first name if you know a surname but not a first name. 

(2) Have you looked at your research files for this unknown person recently?  Why don't you scan them again just to see if there's something you have missed? 

(3) What online or offline resources might you search that might help identify your MRUA?

(4) Tell us about him or her, and your answers to (2) and (3) above, in a blog post, in a comment to this post, or in a comment on Facebook or Google+.

I suspect I will have one of the lower numbers for this exercise.

1.  My Most Recent Unknown Ancestor is the father of my paternal grandfather, who is #8 on a standard pedigree chart and Ahnentafel list.  I do not know his first or last name.  In fact, I know nothing about him except that he must have existed.

2.  I have indeed recently looked at my research for this man.  He preys on my mind, in fact.

After several clues over many years made me suspect more and more that my grandfather's father might not have been the man my great-grandmother married, I set about to try to prove it one way or another.  I started out by sending my sister in person to the New Jersey State Archives to find our grandfather's birth record.  She was successful, but the father's name was not listed on the certificate, merely the socially disapproving "OW" (for "out of wedlock").

My grandfather was named Bertram.  My great-grandmother had another out-of-wedlock child three years after her husband died.  That daughter was named Bertolet (no, really, I didn't make that up).  My sister and I both started to wonder if Bertram and Bertolet might have had the same father, someone with "Bert" or something similar as part of his name.  The next time my sister was able to go to the archives, Bertolet's birth and death records were at the top of the list to acquire.  My great-grandmother thwarted us again:  No father's name was included on either record.

Every other record I have found for my grandfather identifies his father's name as Elmer.  Bertolet lived only about six years, so few records exist for her at all.

Now that the standard paper methods had failed me, I turned to DNA.  I was very fortunate in that the only sibling of my grandfather who had surviving children was his brother, who had sons, who had sons.  I tracked down several of my male cousins and convinced one to take a Y-DNA test that I paid for.  I already had my father's Y-DNA test results.  After my cousin's results came in, the inescapable conclusion is that my grandfather and his brother did not have the same father.  Based on the talks I have had with several family members, I am certain that none of the children in the family (my grandfather, his brother, and their two sisters) knew this, so family gossip will not be able to help me either.

My father matches one gentleman in the Family Tree DNA database at 107 markers on his Y-DNA, so I have been pursuing that lead.  The family name there is Mundy.  In addition, a woman contacted my father recently because her husband, also a Mundy, matched my father at about the same number of markers.  So currently I am working on tracing the FTDNA match's family back, and our new contact is doing the same with her husband's family.  For the number of matching markers, the estimated relationship is about 6th cousin, so we have a lot of work to do.  Interestingly, the man on FTDNA identifies as Irish, while the woman's husband's family seems to be English.  The goal is to try to find a man on one or both of these Mundy lines who was in the area of Burlington County, New Jersey or Philadelphia in the summer or fall of 1902.

I have tried searches for Mundys and for variations of "Bert" in the area, but they have had scattershot results at best, as I know nothing about this man other than possibly his last name and part of his first name.  I haven't found anyone named "Bert" Mundy in the area, that's for sure.

3.  I need to do more work on researching the Mundy family identified by the Y-DNA match on FTDNA.  I've only gone back three generations so far, and I need to go further back and then bring all those lines forward, tracking every man.

I have had both of my surviving aunts, who along with my father are my grandfather's children, do DNA tests.  I need to transfer their results to GEDMatch to help the research along.  Based on what I have seen for matches so far, however, I am beginning to suspect that this great-grandfather might not have had any other children, or at least none who had surviving progeny.  Neither my father nor my aunts have any matches closer than 3rd cousin in their autosomal results.

I'm also considering ponying up the fee on GEDMatch to try the Lazarus tool.  I now have DNA results for my father, my aunts, my brother, my sister, and myself.  That might be enough to give me some kind of credible profile for this mystery man.

If anyone has other suggestions on how I can try to learn who my great-grandfather was, I will be happy to hear them!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: Jean La Forêt Is Feeling His Age

This is an article from a newspaper.  It measures 2 1/2" x 7 1/4".  Although it appears to be black and white in the scan, it's actually the color of old newsprint, that warm, light tan many researchers are familiar with.  At the top someone, probably Jean La Forêt, wrote "3-Score and Ten" in pencil and underlined it.

This side of the article shows that it came from the Daily Globe-Democrat, which was one of the major newspapers published in St. Louis, Missouri.  As of late 1921, the La Forêt family lived in Creve Coeur, which is in the greater St. Louis area, so it makes sense they would read a St. Loius newspaper.  The other side of this article (which I somehow neglected to scan) shows the date, May 25, 1922.  And that's why I think it was Jean who wrote the comment above the article.

According to the information we've seen, Jean was born December 4, 1851.  So he turned 70 years old, or "3-Score and Ten", on December 4, 1921.  This article must have struck a chord with him, with its claim that 70 was just about as old as anyone could expect to live, more or less.  Perhaps he looked at the fact that it was published not long after he turned 70 as an omen.

As it turned out, Jean died a little shy of his 75th birthday.  So in his case, "a little more, a little less" turned out to be pretty accurate.