Saturday, December 26, 2020

Christmas Memories and Traditions

I was waiting to see what Randy Seaver posted for this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, but it wasn't a topic that inspired me, so I'm wandering off on my own tonight.  I'm thinking about my memories of Christmas, which, like me, are a little eclectic.

One of my earliest memories of Christmas isn't about something expected like Santa Claus.  No, it's how when my mother's best friend, Sam, used to come over for Christmas, we would have not only the traditional turkey but also ham, because Sam loved ham.  (When Sam was over we also had ham with the turkey for Thanksgiving.)  I suspect not many people associate ham with Christmas, but I do.  And we usually had sweet potatoes, which my mother tried to convince me once were candy (as in candied yams).  It's really hard to trust a parent again when she pulls that on you.  By the way, no, I don't like sweet potatoes.

We didn't have a Christmas tree for Christmas; we had a Chanukah bush.  Yes, it's the same thing, just with a different name.  I don't know why my mother called it a Chanukah bush, since she didn't do anything else Chanukah-ish other than put out a menorah.  She didn't light the candles, mind you, just put the menorah out on display.   But we had our Chanukah bush to go with the menorah.

One tradition we had whether Sam was visiting us or not was to open one present on Christmas Eve.  We had different ways of trying to pick the present:  What looked the coolest?  Which was the largest?  Which had the prettiest wrapping paper?  Did one make a certain noise when it was shaken?  And my mother was pretty strict that it was only one present, so if you picked a boring one, oh, well!  Have to wait until Christma smorning to open the rest!  I don't remember any really boring ones, so maybe it always worked out okay.

During the time my family lived in Australia, Boxing Day, the day after Christmas (i.e., December 26), became part of our Christmas routine.  I remember that we used to receive an extra gift on Boxing Day, but I don't remember that we gave gifts to any of the people who did work for us during the year.  That doesn't mean we didn't, just that I don't remember it.

After moving from home to start college, I flew back and spent the next four Christmases with my parents.  What I remember most from those trips is that my mother had gotten hooked on daytime soap operas, and my sister used to watch them with her.  I would come, not having seen anything of the shows during the intervening year (because I didn't and still don't watch soap opears), and yet somehow I was able to follow the plots with no problem.  That reminds me of an old joke about soap operas:  They're the only place where it takes a woman eleven nmonths to have a premature baby.

After I graduated college I didn't have the money to fly back east for Christmas.  I started celebrating Christmas locally with friends for the most part, the specifics of which might change from one year to the next depending on where I was living and other factors.

When I was with my ex, I regularly traveled to Portland for the Christmas holidays, because that's where his world was centered.  That's when I really started spending Christmas with my "family of choice" (and also had my first white Christmas).  And then after we had grandchildren, I went to Portland as much as possible, espcially during Christmas, because the grandchidlren were mostly in that area.

Now that I live in the Portland area myself, I don't have to go as far to see my grandchildren, which is good, because they're now the most important part of my Christmas.  This year I visited the three youngest in person on Christmas Eve and had a video chat with the two older ones on Christmas Day and was able to watch them open their presents.  And those are great memories to add to the others.

All five grandchildren, Christmas 2017


Saturday, December 19, 2020

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Blog Caroling!

How do you carol on a blog?  Let's see how Randy Seaver explains it for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun:

Are you in the Christmas spirit yet?  I love this time of year — and hearing and singing Christmas carols and songs is my favorite holiday pastime.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to:

(1) Identify your absolute favorite Christmas carol or holiday song.  

(2) Share your favorite Christmas carol or holiday song in a blog post, in a comment to this post, or in a Facebook post.  Please leave a comment and link here to your post.

(3) For extra credit, post an audio or video of the carol or song (almost all are on and the words to the song.  Add the background of the song and the artists if you can find them.

(4) Enjoy the memories and feelings that the carol or song brings to your heart and mind, and share them too!

I'm going to double-dip toinght.

First, my absolute favorite Christmas carol is "Do You Hear What I Hear?"  I don't remember the first time I heard it, but I might have actually sung it in junior-high chorus.  My teacher was Miss Foster.

You can find Robert Goulet singing the song here, on YouTube, as Randy predicted.  There's another recording of him singing it that includes this description of the song:

"Do You Hear What I Hear?", the beloved Christmas song was written by Noel Regney, in 1962 with Gloria Shayne, his wife at that time. It was recorded by Bing Crosby and Perry Como, among others, in more than 120 versions, in musical styles ranging from jazz and New Age to funk and reggae. Mr. Regney said in an 1985 interview in The New York, "I wrote it as a clear and plaintive plea for peace at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, in October 1962." His favorite version was Robert Goulet's. "When Mr. Goulet came to the line, ''Pray for peace, people, everywhere,'' he almost shouted the words. I am amazed that people can think they know the song -- and not know it is a prayer for peace. But we are so bombarded by sound and our attention spans are so short that we now listen only to catchy beginnings.''

And the lyrics:

Do You Hear What I Hear? 

Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear?
(Do you hear what I hear?)
Ringing through the sky. shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear?
(Do you hear what I hear?)
A song, a song
High above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea
Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know?
(Do you know what I know?)
In your palace warm, mighty king

Do you know what I know?
(Do you know what I know?)
A child, a child
Shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say!
(Listen to what I say!)
Pray for peace, people everywhere
Listen to what I say!
(Listen to what I say!)
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light
[Lyrics source:  Musicmatch.  Songwriters:  Noel Regney, Gloria Shayne.  "Do You Hear What I Hear?" lyrics © Jewel Music Publiching Company, Inc.]
And second, my favorite Chanukah song is "Light One Candle", the hippie social-protest Chanukah folksong.  (You didn't know there was such a thing?)  It was written by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary and sung by them many times before Mary passed away.  One of my favorite versions (yes, available on YouTube) is this one from a PBS concert.  And I love it even more than "Do You Hear What I Hear?"

The song has a Wikipedia page with some background information, and here are the lyrics:

Don't Let the Light Go Out
Light one candle for the Maccabee children
With thanks that their light didn't die
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand
But light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peacemaker's time is at hand
Don't let the light go out!
It's lasted for so many years!
Don't let the light go out!
Let it shine through our hope and our tears. (2)
Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe
And light one candle for those who are suffering
The pain we learned so long ago
Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart
And light one candle to bind us together
With peace as the song in our hearts 
Don't let the light go out!
It's lasted for so many years!
Don't let the light go out!
Let it shine through our hope and our tears. (2) 
What is the memory that's valued so highly
That we keep it alive in that flame?
What's the commitment to those who have died
That we cry out they've not died in vain?
We have come this far always believing
That justice would somehow prevail
This is the burden, this is the promise
And this is why we will not fail! 
Don't let the light go out!
Don't let the light go out!
Don't let the light go out!
[Lyrics source:  LyricFind.  Songwriter:  Peter Yarrow.  "Light One Candle" lyrics © Warner Chappell, Inc.]

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: How Many Children Did Your Ancestors Have?

I'm playing catch-up to an older Saturday Night Genealogy Fun post that I intended to comment on at the time, so no, you are not in a time warp.  That's why my topic doesn't match what's on Randy's blog today.

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

(1) Thinking about your ancestors back through 2nd-great-grandparents — in other words, ancestors #2 to #31 on your pedigree chart — how many children did they have?  How many lived long enough to marry?  How many died before age 10?

(2) Tell us all about it in a blog post of your own, in comments on this blog post, or in a post on Facebook.  Be sure to link to them in a comment on this blog post.

So I took my cue from Randy and am only recording children born to my ancestral couples, not to other marriages or relationships those ancestors might have had.

#2–3:  Bertram Lynn Sellers, Jr. (1935–2019) and Myra Roslyn Meckler (1940–1995), 3 children, all lived long enough to marry.

#4–5:  Bertram Lynn Sellers, Sr. (1903–1995) and Anna Gauntt (1893–1986), 1 child, who lived long enough to marry.

#6–7:  Abraham Meckler (1912–1989) and Lillyan E. Gordon (1919–2006), 3 children, all lived long enough to marry.

#8–9:  Unknown, possibly Mundy (?–?) and Laura May Armstrong (1882–1970), 1 known child, who lived long enough to marry; small possibility of a second child, who died before the age of 10.

#10–11:  Thomas Kirkland Gauntt (1870–1951) and Jane Dunstan (1871–1954), 10 children, 6 lived long enough to marry, 3 died before the age of 10.

#12–13:  Morris Meckler (~1882–1953) and Minnie Zelda Nowicki (~1880–1936), 7 children, 6 lived long enough to marry, 1 died before the age of 10.

#14–15:  Joe Gordon (~1890–1955) and Sarah Libby Brainin (~1885–1963), 4 children, 3 lived long enough to marry, 1 died before the age of 10.

#16–17:  Unknown, possibly Mundy (?–?) and Unknown (?–?), 1 known child, who lived long enough to marry.

#18–19:  Joel Armstrong (1849–~1921) and Sarah Ann Deacon Lippincott (1860–after 1904), 3 known children, all lived long enough to marry.

#20–21:  James Gauntt (1831–1899) and Amelia Gibson (1831–1908), 9 known children, 7 (that I know of) lived long enough to marry

#22–23:  Frederick Cleworth Dunstan (1840–1873) and Martha Winn (1837–1884), 6 children, 4 lived long enough to marry, 2 died before the age of 10.

#24–25:  Simcha Dovid Mekler (?–before 1905) and Bela (?–before 1924), 2 known children, both lived long enough to marry.

#26–27:  Gershon Itzhak Novitsky (~1858–1948) and Dora Yelsky (~1858–1936), 7 known children, all lived long enough to marry.

#28–29:  Victor Gordon (~1866–1925) and Esther Leah Schneiderman (~1871–1908), 9 known children, 8 lived long enough to marry, one died before the age of 10.

#30–31:  Morris Brainin (~1861–1930) and Rose Dorothy Jaffe (~1868–1934), 8 known children, 7 lived long enough to marry, one died before the age of 10.

I didn't break down the children by sex, but the total number of children is 74.  Of those, 62 lived long enough to marry (the original question Randy posed, not whether they actually did marry) and 9 died before the age of 10, but I don't have death dates for everyone, so both numbers might actually be higher.  In addition, there is one child whose father is unknown, but that man might be the same as someone else's, which would bring total number of children to 75 and 10 children who died before the age of 10.

I had 15 families, the same number as Randy, but my average was 4.93 children per family and 4.13 children who lived long enough to marry.

One family had only 1 child and two other families had only 1 known child.  One family had 2 known children, but there were almost definitely more.  Three families had 3 children; one of them might have had more.  One family had 4 children, one had 6, two had 7, one had 8, two had 9, and one had 10.  Several of those might have had more children.

My parents had 3 children and no deaths before the age of 10.  My grandparents' generation averaged 2 children and no deaths before the age of 10 per family.  My great-grandparents' generation averaged 5.5 children and 1.25 deaths before the age of 10 per family; and my great-great-grandparents' generation averaged 5.625 children and 0.5 deaths before the age of 10 per family.

My numbers differed from Randy's in some ways, but as he said, it's hard to tell what exactly that signifies.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

"DNA Weekly" Interview

I'm very excited!  I was interviewed recently by DNA Weekly about my genealogy research, and the interview has gone through the editing process and is now available online.

I'm sure people who know me will recognize my rambling, but I think it turned out very well.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Happy Ninth Anniversary!

Today is the 9th anniversary for my brother and my sister-in-law, who were married in Elkridge, Maryland.  They chose November 12 as their wedding date as they wanted to honor my deceased mother, whose birthday was November 11, but did not think it appropriate to have the wedding on her actual birthday.  Ergo, it took place the day after.

The traditional gifts for the 9th anniversary, per the lists on Wikipedia, are pottery or leather goods in the United States (or copper in the United Kingdom).  Those sounded kind of blah to me, so I figured a blog post commemorating their special day was a nicer gift.

Happy anniversary!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Remembering My Granduncle for Veterans Day

The older of my grandmother's two older brothers was Sidney Gordon.  He was born December 22, 1915 in Manhattan, New York and died May 10, 2012 in Graniteville, Richmond County (Staten Island), New York, where he had lived since about 1952.  During World War II, from about 1939 to 1943 he served in the U.S. Navy, with at least some of that time spent as a medic in Trinidad, or at least that's what I've been told.

Sidney had several photos taken of himself during his Navy service, and he apparently sent copies of the photos to his sister.  I now have my grandmother's photo collection and therefore lots of photos of Sidney in the Navy.

I think this is the first time I've collected them all together.  I don't have anything to date them by, so I don't know what order they should be in.  While I'm pretty sure that some of them were taken in Trinidad, others (such as the one where Sidney is wearing a heavy coat) might have been in the States.  I wish I had more details.

At this point I believe his service records should be available to me, and since he was in the Navy and not the Army, I shouldn't have to worry about lost records.  I need to put requesting them on my to do list.

Visit this month's Genealogy Blog Party at The Family Heart for more family history stories about veterans.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Your Oldest Ancestral Item

Time to go on a treasure hunt with Randy Seaver for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun!

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

(1) Lorine Mcginnis Schulze on her Olive Tree Genealogy blog asked this question several weeks ago in

(2) So have at it — what is the oldest ancestral item in your collection of artifacts and stuff?  

(3) Tell us all about it in a blog post of your own, in comments on this blog post, or in a post on Facebook.  Be sure to link to them in a comment on this blog post.

Thank you to Lorine for the idea and to Linda S. for suggesting it.

I don't have many ancestral items to begin with and very few old ones, but I did take my time thinking about this to make sure I had determined the oldest item.  I'm pretty sure it's a photo of my Gorodetsky great-great-grandparents taken in Kamenets Podolsky, Russian Empire, from about 1890.  It's the only family item I have from before 1900.

The second-oldest ancestral item I have is a photo of a different set of great-great-grandparents, the Brainins, from about 1906, taken in Manhattan.

And that's almost everything I have that can count as an "ancestral item."  I do have my great-grandmother's set of silverplate tableware, but I don't have a date for them.  She married in 1914, so that's the oldest they are likely to be, but there's a good chance they're more recent.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Hallowe'en Memories and Family History

Today is Hallowe'en, so it's to be expected that Randy Seaver would focus on that for this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun.

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

(1) What are your Hallowe'en memories from childhood or adulthood?  How did you celebrate the day?  Do you have any photographs?

(2) What about haunted houses?  Are there any in your family history?  Black cats?  Creepy neighbors?  Or witches — are there any in your family history? 

(3) If you were to make a genealogy-themed costume, what would it be?

(4) Tell us all about it in a blog post of your own, in comments on this blog post, or in a post on Facebook.  Be sure to link to them in a comment on this blog post.

Well, let's see how I do with this.

1.  The only Hallowe'en costumes I remember are from my teen years and later, when I traditionally dressed up as a hooker.  I am sure that my brother, my sister, and I went out trick or treating when we were young, but I have no specific memories from childhood.  So far I have found no family photos of my siblings or me in Hallowe'en costumes.  I'm hoping there are some in my father's photos, which my stepbrother delivered to my sister.  Her niece scanned a bunch, but so far nothing from Hallowe'en.

2.  Two friends of mine were convinced that my house in Oakland, California, where I lived for 24 years, was haunted, particularly the front bathroom.  I never felt anything.  I know of no haunted houses or witches in my family history on either side of the family.  We did, however, have a few black cats.  I remember Shazam and her daughter Velvet from when my family lived in Pomona, California.

3.  Does it count as a genealogy-themed costume if you dress up as an ancestor?  That's the first thing that came to my mind.  Or maybe dress as someone of the appropriate social class and ethnic background as an immigrant ancestor?  I could dress as a middle-aged Jewish woman, either middle-class or peasant, from the Russian Empire circa 1890–1910 or so.  Here's my great-great-grandmother Esther Leah (Schneiderman) Gorodetsky, who was middle class and lived in the Russian Empire.  How about dressing up like that?

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Where Were Your Ancestors 80 Years Ago?

It's time to look at the 1940 census for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun with Randy Seaver!

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

(1) Determine where your ancestral families were on 1 April 1940, 80 years ago, when the U.S. census was taken.

(2) List them, their family members, their birth years, and their residence locations (as close as possible).  Do you have photographs of their residences from about that time, and do the residences still exist?

(3) Tell us all about it in your own blog post, in a comment to this post, or in a Facebook Status post.

I actually had several ancestors alive in 1940 (not "direct ancestors", because that's a nonsense term; someone is either an ancestor or a collateral relative).

• My father, Bertram Lynn Sellers, Jr. (born 1935), and my paternal grandparents, Bertram Lynn Sellers, Sr. (born 1903) and Anna Gauntt (born 1893), were living either in New Jersey or in NewYork.  I have looked up, down, and sideways for them in the 1940 census and have not found them.  At this point I don't expect to, because when my grandfather compiled a list of all the places he had lived during his life, he included three(!) locations for 1940.  I'm pretty sure they simply were missed by census takers.

• My paternal grandfather's mother, my great-grandmother Laura May (Armstrong) Sellers Ireland (later called Nanny Ireland; born 1882), was also not enumerated in the 1940 census.  I know the address at which she was living on Broad Street in Mount Holly, Burlington County, New Jersey, but that house number was missed by the census taker.  It does not appear in the enumeration district.  I have a photo of the house, though, which was owned by family members for at least 40 years.

• My paternal grandmother's parents, my great-grandparents Thomas Kirkland Gauntt (born 1870) and Jane (Dunstan) Gauntt (born 1872), were living at 119 Hume Street, Mount Holly Township, Burlington County, New Jersey.  I not only don't have a photo of the house, I can't find the address on Google Maps, so the street name might have changed.

• My maternal grandparents, Abraham Meckler (born 1912) and Lillian Esther (Gordon) Meckler (born 1919), were living at 484 Livonia Avenue, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York.  My mother was there also, in a way, because my grandmother was pregnant with her when the census was taken.  I don't have a photo of the building from that time, and a quick peek at Google Maps shows a pretty modern-looking building, but I might be able to get a photo by paying New York City.

• My maternal grandfather's father, my great-grandfather Morris Meckler (born about 1862), should be in Brooklyn, but I haven't found him yet.  I really want to find him in 1940 because I have been told that he married a second time after my great-grandmother Minnie Zelda (Nowicki) Meckler died in 1936.  If he actually did, that second wife might be enumerated with him.  I know he was alive in 1940 because he didn't die until 1953.

• I might have found Minnie's father, my great-great-grandfather Gershon Itzhak Novitsky (born about 1858), also in Brooklyn, at 99 44th Street.  I think it's him, even though the person is enumerated as Jean, not Gershon, because the age and birth location are right, and he is enumerated with a wife named Ethel.  If this is the correct couple, that Ethel is Ethel (Nowicki) Perlman (botn about 1868), who was Gershon's niece.  I was told many years ago that Gershon had married his niece later in life.  Apparently, it was not uncommon in some Jewish communities for an older man who was widowed to marry a niece.  This wasn't necessarily a fully "active" (ahem!) marriage; the reason for it was for the elderly widower to have someone to take care of him.  I have a second one of these uncle/niece marriages in my family.  I don't have a photo of this residence, and Google Maps shows me a modern concrete building, so that ain't it.  This is another location that I might be able to obtain a photo through New York City.

• My maternal grandmother's parents, my great-grandparents Joe Gordon (born about 1892) and Sarah Libby (Brainin) Gordon (born about 1885), were living at 10 Livonia Avenue, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, just a few blocks from my grandparents.  Also living with them was their oldest child, Sidney Gordon (born 1915).  I don't have a photo, and when I look for that addresss on Google Maps, I can't even tell what the building looks like, because it's covered with scaffolding.  Yet another location that I might be able to get a photo from New York City.

So I have a total of twelve ancestors who were alive in 1940, seven of whom I have found in the 1940 census.  Four of the remaining ancestors I have conceded that I will never find.  The only one left after that is Morris Meckler; I haven't given up on finding him — someday.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Your Top 10 Free Genealogy Sites

I'm not really a fan of "Top 10" and similar posts, but at least I can come up a list fairly easily for the subject Randy Seaver has chosen for today's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun:

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

(1) Last week we defined our top 5 or 10 fee-based genealogy websites.  This week, let's define our top 10 free genealogy websites!

(2) List your Top 10 (or 20 if you want!) FREE genealogy sites and a short reason for listing each of them.

(3) Share your list on your own blog, in a comment on this post, or on Facebook.  Please leave a link to your list wherever it is.

Drum roll, please:

1., absolutely.  Not only does it have a massive collection of records, it also has a wonderful wiki with great information on so many research topics.  Plus there are the FHL catalog, online digitized books, learning center, and the FamilyTree, if you want to have your tree online.  And all totally FREE!!

2.  Chronicling America.  Since I love newspaper research so much, this one is a natural, plus it's our tax dollars at work for us.  Chronicling America is the online collection that grew out of the mandate for all states to catalog and digitize their historic newspapers.  One day, all fifty states will finally be posted . . . .

3.  You can also find this site by going to and, but not  Just remember, that guy is the imposter; the genealogy Steve Morse is the real deal.  Steve started working on his genealogy shortly before the Ellis Island database went online; when he discovered how badly designed the search engine was, he created his own, and it has only grown from there.  Not only does he have better search pages for Ellis Island, he also has pages for most of the major immigration databases and a huge list of BMD search sites, plus all sorts of cool tools, such as transliterating Cyrillic and Hebrew to the Latin alphabet and figuring out the dates for Easter and Passover every year.  And a whole bunch more besides those!  Oh, just go check out the site and bookmark it!

4.  This is actually just one section of a cool site created by Joe Beine.  There are also links to sites for German research, immigration databases, Black research, county histories, and more.  Plus you can sign up for e-mail notifications of when new links are added.

5.  This is still the granddaddy (or should I say grandmomma?) of genealogy portals.  It includes links to hundreds (thousands?) of categories of genealogy sites covering all sorts of topics, and more are added regularly.

6. and  These are two different sites owned by different companies (Ancestry owns FindAGrave; BilliomGraves is independent), but they're essentialy the same thing:  collections of data collated from tombstones in cemeteries and contributed by volunteers.  There's overlap between them, and each has information the other doesn't.  If you're looking for a death, check 'em both out.

7.  Family Tree Webinars.  This used to be an independent site, part of the company that created Legacy Family Tree software, until the parent company was gobbled up by MyHeritage.  The site itself isn't totally "free", but most of the Webinars offered are free to watch when they air and for up to a week afterward.  Lots of genealogy topics are covered, sometimes multiple speakers covering the same subject at different times.

8.  Wikipedia.  At first I thought of one specific page on Wikipedia, the List of Online Newspaper Archives, which I contribute to regularly.  Then I decided I should broaden the listing to include the entire site, as a free online encyclopedia is useful for research in so many ways.  But my favorite page is sitll the List of Online Newspaper Archives.

9.  U.S. GenWeb.  This is a volunteer contribution site for the United States.  It's broken down by states and counties.  You never know ahead of time what you're going to find for a given location, because you don't know what someone might have contributed.  So it's always good to check and see what is there.  And if you feel like contributing, or maybe vounteering to be the coordinator for a county that doesn't have one, so much the better.  Oh, and there is an archive of older U.S. GenWeb info, too.  (There is also a World GenWeb which works similarly, so check that out too.)

10.  Google.  Yes, I know, Google isn't actually a genealogy site per se, but you can use the tools to help you with your research, and it is free.  And as Randy pointed out in his top 10 list, in addition to Search (which I admit keeps getting worse and worse as Google continues to dumb it down for mobile users, but I still like it better than the alternatives), Google also has Blogger (the platform I use for this blog), Translate, Images, Books, News Archive, Maps, and more.

So there they are, my top 10 free sites that I use for genealogy.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Discovering a Family Health History

Mary Lou was the mother of my half-sister Laurie.  I try to write about her on her birthday, October 16.  In previous years I've shared some fun stories and memories about her (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016), but this year I have a more serious topic.

Because I love genealogy so much, of course I did research on Laurie's mother's side of the family.  It also helped that I knew Mary Lou.  I had the opportunity to ask her some questions about her family, but I didn't make significant progress until after she passed away.

I had collected a reasonable amount of information and had entered everything into my family tree database.  I only had four generations at the time, but I had everyone's birth and death dates.  So I printed out a basic family tree to share with my sister.

I was looking over the tree and suddenly noticed something.  In four generations of men, only one had lived to see the age of 60.

I thought I must have made a mistake.  I went back to all of my documents and certificates and checked everything.  But I wasn't wrong.

In Mary Lou's generation, her brother Robert died at 54.  Her cousin William died at 50.

Her father Francis died at 49.  Her paternal uncle Paul was dead at 59.

Her grandfather William died at the age of 58.  And his father, John, died at 57.

Okay, I was getting a little creeped out.

When I looked at the death certificates, the cause of death was the same for every man:  heart attack.

The only man in the family I have found so far who lived to see 60 was Mary Lou's cousin Jimmy, William's brother.

I've often wondered if Jimmy looked around and noticed that his brother, father, cousin, uncle, and grandfather weren't around any more, and whether he knew that they all died of heart attacks.  I actually met him once but didn't feel I could ask him that question.  I do know that he retired young and that he survived to celebrate his 60th birthday.

I hadn't looked for this health history in Mary Lou's family, but it was so striking that I couldn't help but see it once I put the information together.

But putting together a health history of your family is something you can do when you research your family history.  Read all those death certificates to learn what the causes of death were.  Do you see any trends?  Let other family members know about them.

I know not everyone gets into genealogy (!), but this is one aspect of it that you can share with your family members that they might appreciate a little more.  Maybe you can save someone's life by letting them know which health problems are part of their history.

Mary Lou would have been 82 years old today.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

If You Don't Ask, the Answer Is No

Way back when I was a little girl, my mother taught me that if I wanted to learn something, I should be willing to ask questions to find my answer.  If I wasn't willing to ask, then the answer to my question was automatically no, because I couldn't find the answer that way.

This is particularly pertinent in genealogy.  If you don't want to ask family members what they remember about older relatives, or how the family fared during the Depression, or what happened at your cousin's wedding that everyone still snickers about, then your answer is no.  You most likely won't be able to find out.  Even if you think that your aunt probably doesn't know, until you ask her, your answer is already no.  So why not go ahead and ask, and maybe that no will become a yes?

When I was researching my ex's family, I had made some good progress, but I had lost track of his maternal grandparents.  I knew they had moved from Massachusetts to California, but I couldn't find them after that.  My ex was convinced that they had returned to Massachusetts and died there, but I hadn't found records to verify that.  I had searched through several indices and had not found their names.

So I tried a different angle.  My ex's brother is two years older than he.  I figured two years was enough that he might remember what happened to the grandparents — when they had died, or moved, or something.  My ex didn't want me to ask, insisting that his brother couldn't possibly remember anything he didn't remember himself.  So my answer was "no."

But I kept working on him, and finally he relented and gave me his brother's e-mail address.  And lo and behold, what do you know?  Yes, indeed, he did remember.  The grandmother had died in California, and then the grandfather returned to Massachusetts and died there.  And he had a pretty good idea of the years, also.

Now that I had years to work with and could narrow my search, I found the grandmother's death in California and the grandfather's death a few years later in Massachusetts.  Both names had been indexed poorly, and I hadn't been able to pick them out because I was searching through too many years and overlooked them.  But now I had them!  I turned the no into a yes simply by asking.

Another time I was willing to ask questions was a little more daunting.  I was doing research on a man who had lived in San Francisco for about six years and had owned an automobile repair garage.  I had been asked to find a photograph of the garage.  I had determined the address but had discovered that the building was no longer there.  In its place were parking spaces in front of a gas station convenience store, part of a larger piece of property which included the gas station itself.  After more research, I figured out that the same gasoline company had had a gas station on that corner property for more than a hundred years, including the period during which my guy had owned his garage.

Logically, at some point the gas company must have bought the lot which had the garage and added it to the gas station.  It seemed that asking the company about the history of the proprty might be a useful step.  But who goes around asking gas companies questions like that?  They seem to be pretty protective about their information, especially in a city like San Francisco, where gas companies are not held in the highest esteem.

But if you don't ask, the answer is no, remember?

So I looked up the phone number of the administrative office of the gas company.  I explained I was researching the history of the property and was wondering if the company might have an archive of some sort with information about the company's history.

And it did.  (By the way, this is a relatively common thing.  If a company has been around for more than a century, it probably has an archive.)

Not only did it have an archive, the archivist was friendly and helpful!  She was able to find a little bit of the history of the property.  She even found two photos of that specific lot!  Unfortunately, they were after the garage had been torn down, so I didn't get the photograph I wanted, but I did have some additional information, including verifiying that the gas company had bought the land where the garage used to be.  And I confirmed the lesson I learned from my mother all those years ago:

If you don't ask, the answer is automatically no.  But if you ask, you might just find out something.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Statement of Non-Support: Board of African American Genealogy

Most of my blog readers know that one of my research specialties is Black genealogy.  I started that research about 25 years ago for extended family members.  Since then I have discovred my own Black relatives and the African ancestry that appears in my DNA.

This is to say that I am not new to this field.  Although I am white, I have many years of involvement in the Black genealogy community.  I, along with many others, have often looked for more visibility for the community.

But this isn't the way to do it.

I learned of the Board of African American Genealogy this past Friday, October 9, when I received a message forwarded from Nicka Smith, a genealogy colleague of mine.  We used to serve together on the board of the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California (AAGSNC) and worked together on AAGSNC's quarterly journal, The Baobab Tree.  She is a nationally known lecturer on Black genealogy and the founder and host of BlackProGen Live.

She discovered that the founder and promoter of the Board of African American Genealogy (BOAAG) was using her name and the names of other genealogists prominent in the Black genealogy community to market the new organization, without their permission or knowledge beforehand.  She learned that some of those individuals had contacted BOAAG to try to find out more about what was going on and had either been rebuffed or given the run-around.

Nicka has written an opinion piece about the situation which I recommend anyone interested in Black genealogy read.  It lays out the facts as known at this time.

It is possible that BOAAG actually has the good of the Black genealogy community in mind.  But for now it is taking actions that appear to be more self-serving than beneficial to others, and doing so in a way that is not completely aboveboard.  So I agree with Nicika's assessment and announcement, and I have added my name to those listed with her post.  I do not recommend supporting the Board of African American Genealogy.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Your Top 5 or 10 Fee-based Genealogy Sites

It's Saturday night, so it must be time for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun with Randy Seaver!  Tonight he's gone in a direction I don't think I've seen before.

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

(1) Ken McKinlay posted My Top 10 Fee-based Genealogy Sites this past week, so I've made it the challenge this week (thanks to Linda Stufflebean for the suggestion!).

(2) List your Top 5 or 10 top fee-based genealogy sites and a short reason for listing them.

(3) Share your list on your own blog, in a comment on this post, or on Facebook.  Please leave a link to your list wherever it is.

Ah, so this is a third-hand challenge!  Ken McKinlay wrote it, Linda Stufflebean saw and suggested it, and now Randy has posted it for the rest of us.  It's a good thing we're all friends in genealogy.

This is an interesting question for me, because I don't actually pay for many sites.  But here we go.  I'm going to stick to a Top 5, and I will point out that this list is skewed toward American research.

1.  Yup,  It has to be.  It's the 500-pound gorilla of the genealogy world.  And for fee-based sites, I believe it does have the most records of anyone.

2.  FindMyPast, I think.  I still don't like the fact that it dumped the really good search forms that it used to have and dumbed everything down for the American market, but it's a great collection of records, including many not available on other sites, such as the British parish records.  This is the one subscription site I pony up for every year (in fact, they just charged me my renewal recently).

3.  It's a tough call which should be #3, this or, but I went with for two reasons:  its strength in mid-20th-century newspapers and the fact that you get a discount if you bundle it with, which owns it.  I was known as the "newspaper queen" in the San Francisco Bay area because I taught so many classes on using newspapers for genealogy, and I still think they're goldmines for research.  For a lot of people who are still working on tracing their families back to the early 20th century, the mid-20th-century ones can be critical in bridging the gap backward from what relatives still remember.

4.  I find that NewspaperArchive has a broader collection than, but its strength is in older periods.  That won't help you so much if you haven't gotten your family lines back to the 19th century.  So I made it #4.

5., I guess?  After my top four, I really had trouble deciding what would be the next most useful site.  I decided on Fold3 because that's where Ancestry shifted a lot of its military records and where the new ones in that category have been added, plus it has a lot of city directories and some newspapers.  In addition, as with, if you subscribe to Ancestry also, you can get a discount.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Create a Fact List in Your Genealogy Software

Almost every time Randy Seaver asks us to do something with our genealogy database software for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, I end up leanring something new.  Tonight was no exception.

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

1.  Does your genealogy management software (e.g., Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree, Reunion, Heredis, Family Historian, etc.) create a "Fact List" report (or something similar):  a list of the profiles in your family tree that have (or don't have) a specific Fact (e.g., birth, death, burial, immigration, etc.)?

2.  If so, run a Fact List to determine which people have a specific Fact (or don't have a specific Fact) and share it with us. 

3.  Share your results with us in your own blog post, in a comment on this post, or in a Facebook post.  Leave a comment on this post with a link to your results.

I still have not resolved my problem with reinstalling Family Tree Maker (FTM) since my laptop hard drive died, so I'm still using Reunion.  But because I intend to go back to FTM, I haven't really learned the ins and outs of Reunion.

While working on tonight's challenge, I learned that in addition to being able to search for lots of basic facts (e.g., name, birth date, marriage date, etc.) Reunion has a selection of preset searches.  One of them is "With Multiple Spouses."  I decided that would be a fun search to run.

Running the Find request automatically created a list.  I discovered that 291 people in my database are listed with multiple spouses.  Technically, that's actually multiple partners, as I know that several of them don't have marriage dates but were noted in FTM as having met, not having been married.  Apparently when I imported the GEDCOM file into Reunion, that distinction was not retained, or at least Reunion doesn't distinguish between the two for the purpose of this search.

The list gives me an option at the bottom to create a report.  When I clicked on that, it took about 8 seconds for the report to be generated and opened in Word.

And I 100% agree with Randy's comment that being able to run searches and create reports such as these are advantages of using a family tree database program versus having an online tree.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Your "7 Generations in 1 Chart"

We're digging deep into our genealogy databases for this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun exercise from Randy Seaver:

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

1.  The DNAsleuth (Ann Raymont) created a 7-in-1 chart showing seven generations of ancestors on one page several weeks ago.  See her blog post at target="_blank".  In her post is a link to her Word document if you wish to use it.

2.  Linda Stufflebean's husband, Dave, took the concept a step further and created an Excel template for the 7-in-1 chart.  You can download Dave's file from my Google Drive at  Linda's completed chart is at (I opened it to "Editor" so you can download it and work with it).

Here is an image of the blank 7-in-1 chart:

As you can see, the left column is the generation number, and the other columns are for ancestors of Gen. 1 listed in columns for each grandparent.  So the chart covers Ancestors #1 through #127 in an Ahnentafel list or a large pedigree chart.

3.  The challenge tonight is to fill out your 7-in-1 chart and show it to us.  I used the spreadsheet, added the ancestor numbers while adding the names (starting with 1 = me, 2 = father, 3 = mother, etc.).   I added the names and birth/death years (if known) for the first seven generations.  Then I colored the boxes by birth place by countries and saved my chart as an XLS file.  I then saved my chart as a JPG by using the Windows Snipping Tool to create the image.  This task took me an hour to complete, so plan ahead!

4.  Show us your 7-in-1 chart in your own blog post or in a Facebook post.  Please leave a link to your creation in a comment on this post.

Well, mine isn't nearly as well filled out as Randy's.

I filled out the cells with names and birth/death years, as Randy did, but I have a lot more unknown names than he does.  I also color-coded the cells by country; my color code is at the bottom of my chart.  I made a screen capture of the image using the native Mac OS capability, which automatically saves the image as a JPG.  I'm not sure how legible the image is, though.

I was doing well through the 3x-great-grandparents, but I pretty much fell apart on the 4x-great-grandparents.  Notice the entire right side is full of unknowns?  The left side isn't much better.

Ah, well, just more inspiration to continue my research, right?

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Happy 75th Birthday, Cousin, Wherever You Are

Seventy-five years ago today, on September 23, 1945, my paternal aunt, Dorothy Mae "Dottie" Sellers, had a son whom she named Raymond Lawrence Sellers.  The father was Clarence Newcomb "Zeke" Lore.  This was Dottie's second child, and the second out of wedlock.  Although she had kept her first son, because of different circumstances in her life this time, she made the difficult decision to give Raymond up for adoption.

Dottie is currently 94 years old.  About the time she turned 90, she asked me if I could help her find Raymond.  She kmew she doesn't have too many years left on this earth, and she wants to reunite with her son if possible before she dies.

Raymond was born in Bridgeton, Cumberland County, New Jersey.  He was also surrendered for adoption in Cumberland County.

The state of New Jersey has closed all adoption records after 1940, and that's a hard-and-fast rule.  We have no way of gaining access to the file.  The only procedure available to us through New Jersey is to have Dottie register with the state and attest that she is open to being contacted by Raymond if he goes through the state's system to try to find his biological mother.  We've done that.

I have searched the Social Security Death Index and the Claims Index with Raymond's birthday, just in case someone who looked like a likely candidate would pop up.  No luck there.

The way a lot of connections have been made after adoptions is through DNA.  Mostly you hear about adoptees having DNA tests and looking for their biological families, but it happens the other way also.  We have all the major databases covered —, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage, and GEDCom — with Dottie's DNA and/or that of Raymond's siblings, half-siblings, and first cousins.  So far still no matches on any of the sites.

We have no idea what happened to Raymond after his adoption.  He might have died as a young child or anytime between 1945 and now.  He might have remained single his whole life.  Or he might have married and had children.

At this point DNA appears to be the best, if not only, chance of finding Raymond.  I realize that in reality only a very small percentage of people have been tested, so the lack of a match does not mean he or his hypothetical descendants are not out there.  After all, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  I just have to keep hoping that he or one of those hypothetical descendants decides to take the plunge and see what all the fuss is about DNA.

And I hope it's in time for Dottie.