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.