Sunday, April 28, 2024

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: The Best Newspaper Article You've Found for Your Family History

I love newspaper research, so this week's challenge from Randy Seaver for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun should be right up my alley.

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

1.  What newspaper article is the best one you've found to help you with your family history?  Tell us about it:  where you found it, and what you learned from it.

2.  Tell us about your best newspaper article find in a comment on this post or in a Facebook post.  Please leave a link on this post if you write your own post.

Because I love newspaper research so much, I am constantly searching databases for family names, and as a result I have all sorts of articles about family members.  But I can't say that any of them has particularly helped with my family history.  I learn cool little tidbits of information, but I can't recall solving any significant mysteries or resolving any major questions with them.

I did answer a question the other way around, though.

Many years ago, when was still a pay site and had a lot more content (including older issues, and newspapers from not-so-small towns), I had access to it at some point, so I poked around and searched for various family names.  One article I discovered was in a DeFuniak Springs, Florida newspaper (which might have been the Herald or the Breeze, but I don't remember).  The article mentioned a display of antique carpenter's tools in the local library that had been provided by my paternal grandfather, B. L. Sellers, who lived in Niceville.

I printed out a copy (well before the days when I routinely saved electronic files, sadly) and remember thinking that I had never known my grandfather to collect carpenter's tools.  I wondered what had generated his interest in them.

Only a few months ago I was looking through a stack of papers that my grandfather saved from when he worked as a civilian at Fort Dix, New Jersey (he saved everything!) and learned that one of his early jobs there was as a carpenter.  So the newspaper article created the question for me, and other documents answered that question.

Another cool newspaper find was from the 1978 Playground Daily News (now the Northwest Floriday Daily News), the newspaper that covers a lot of the Florida Panhandle communities.  I lived in that area for six years.  I didn't find this myself; my father's sister was volunteering at the Historical Society Museum in Valparaiso and made the discovery.  She was sorting through a newspaper clippings file and found a photo of me at the museum, so she made a photocopy and mailed it to me.  During the summers, the museum used to offer craft classes, which I think were free.  So I have a photo of me learning traditional Indian pine needle basket weaving.  And I still have the little basket that I made in that class.

me, in a very 1970's polyester shirt
(which I actually remember!)

So no great revelations, but fun stuff nonetheless!

Thursday, April 25, 2024

One Ringy Dingy

I'm going to date myself here.  Are you old enough to remember when you did not actually own your telephone, but you only leased it from Ma Bell (American Telephone and Telegraph Company or AT&T, which many years earlier had started as Bell Telephone Company)?

Today is National Telephone Day, and I am old enough to remember that.

In fact, those were the days when in order to be able to get phone service, essentially you had to already have phone service, or you had to have someone personally vouch for you.

My family ran into a problem with that when we returned to the United States in 1973 from Australia, where we had lived for two years as potential immigrants.  My parents had decided not to naturalize as Australian citizens, and my father told me we left two years to the day after we arrived.

But when we returned, we wouldn't have had phone service in the United States for two years, which was going to make it difficult for us to then get new service.

So we had to choose somewhere to live where we would have someone willing to personally vouch for us — for my parents, really.  I will never know exactly how that decision was made, but we ended up going to Niceville, Florida, where my father's father lived, and he must have convinced Ma Bell that my parents were trustworthy, because we got a phone.

But it wasn't our phone.  It belonged to AT&T.  We officially leased it.

Even after I graduated high school and went to college, I didn't own my phone then.  I also leased it from Ma Bell.

This really sounds ridiculous nowadays.  What do you mean, you didn't own your phone?  What was so valuable about that equipment?

I wish I knew.  That tight control over even the telephones themselves may have been part of the reason AT&T was judged to be a monopoly and was broken up into the seven "Baby Bells" after the 1982 United States vs. AT&T antitrust lawsuit.  (Of course, the Baby Bells have been slithering back together over the years, so that wasn't really effective.)

And somewhere I think I still have my old AT&T phone.  It was a teal trimline phone.  I remember I wanted to keep it, because it was actually mine.  I finally owned it.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: What Was Your Best Genealogy Research Achievement This Past Month?

I had to really think about the answer to this week's question from Randy Seaver for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun.  It wasn't what what came to mind first.

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

1.  What was your best genealogy research achievement this past month?  Tell us about it — what you achieved, and how does it affect your 2024 goals?

2.  Tell us about your recent achievement in a comment on this post or in a Facebook post.  Please leave a link on this post if you write your own post.

When Randy posed his question, he almost certainly meant research on one's own family.  And I actually did research on my own family this past month and accomplished quite a bit!

But I think my best research achievement wasn't on my own family.  It was on the family of someone I'm working with on acquiring dual citizenship.

That person has an Italian ancestor through whom he is eligible for dual citizenship, and that has been the focus of the research and the planning for the application.  That's what he asked me to work on.

There's no problem with his eligibility.  It's very clear he can apply through that ancestor.  It's a great-grandfather, which is three generations back, and that requires three generations of documentation and all the associated bureaucratic processes associated with that.  Plus needing to make an appointment to go to the consulate in person, which apparently at this time is at least two to three years out.  If you can actually manage to make an appointment, which he hasn't been able to do after weeks of trying.

And then last week he told me that his mother, whom I had already known was born in Germany but had not verified what her citizenship was, immigrated to the United States under a German passport, after he was born.

Well, guess what?  That makes him eligible for German dual citizenship.  Only one generation back, and only one generation of documentation.  Fewer documents, less bureaucracy.  Can be accomplished in weeks or months, not years.  Much more straightforward.

That's a far more important achievement than verifying the birth and marriage dates of a few dozen of my British cousins.

It doesn't have anything to do with my planned research goals for 2024, though.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Seeking Assistance with a Hyena, a Shipwreck, Woodbine, and Route 66

This year National Volunteer Week runs from April 21 through 27.  The week, observed in Canada and the United States, is designed to honor volunteers and the contributions they make.  I use it to highlight the work that volunteers do within the family history world and projects that can currently use their assistance.  And I know about a few projects right now that would like your help, if you have the information they're looking for.

Judith A. Yates is a criminologist who is writing an all-encompassing book on Irma Grese, the "Hyena of Auschwitz."  She is seeking people to interview who came into contact with Grese, who was employed at:

  • Ravensbruck, July 1942 to March 1943
  • Auschwitz, March 1943 to January 1945 (mostly at Bergen-Belsen)
  • Belsen, March 1945

Yates would also like to interview:

  • people who attended the Belsen trials
  • people who know about Grese's home town, Wrechen (Neubrandenburg County), North Germany
  • people who can discuss the general life of female guards at either camp (behavior, where they lived, how they lived, etc.)
  • people who did not have personal dealings with Grese but knew "of" her personally
  • family members of survivors
  • anyone who can provide information, including photos and documents

You may contact Yates at  Her site is

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Descendants of victims from an Australian shipwreck are being sought to share their stories.

The SS Nemesis disappeared in 1904 on its way from Newcastle, New South Wales to Melbourne, Victoria.  Thirty-two crew members were on board the ship, and they left behind more than 40 children.

The ship's wreckage was found in 2022 and confirmed to be the Nemesis this year.  After the first call for descendants, twenty grandchildren and great-grandchildren, from almost every Australian state, came forward, including relatives of the ship's captain.  Heritage NSW is asking more relatives to share their stories so they can be saved and archived.

An article about this story has more details and includes contact information for Heritage NSW.

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Do you remember Route 66?  (I don't, I'm too young!)  Have any great stories?  The National Trust for Historic Preservation wants you to share those stories so they won't be forgotten!

Leading up to Route 66's centennial in 2026, the National Trust is hoping to receive (at least) 2,026 stories to celebrate the famous highway, and it's asking community members, travelers, historians, and everyone else to contribute.  More details and a link to the submission form can be found here, along with many stories and photos that have already been shared.

[I just discovered by reading the Wikipedia page about Route 66 that it was established on November 11, 1926.  Although this was commemorated as Armistice Day, it was not yet a holiday (that didn't happen until 1938).  And November 11 is a special day in my family because it was my mother's birthday.]

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Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D. of New York City is in the planning stages to film a documentary about the Jewish Agricultural Colony of Woodbine, New Jersey.  The filming is likely to happen this summer, but the exact scope and content are still under discussion.  He is looking for descendants and others from the extended Woodbine family who have anecdotal information or memorabilia related to the colony to share that information and/or to participate in the documentary.  You may contact him at

Monday, April 15, 2024

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's . . . .

Today is April 15, now probably most famous in the United States for being Income Tax Day, the deadline to file one's federal (and often state) income taxes, or at least make your payment while you extend your filing date for six months.  The date was codified in 1955 and varies sometimes depending on holidays, weekends, and events such as the COVID pandemic.

In 1912, the RMS Titanic sank on April 15, after having glancingly hit an iceberg the night before.

And in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln died, succumbing to the gunshot wound inflicted on him by John Wilkes Booth on April 14.

But even more important than any of these events, April 15 is my little brother's birthday.

Happy birthday, Mark!

Me and Mark, about 1964–1965

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Are You Experimenting with Artificial Intelligence for Genealogy?

For tonight's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge, Randy Seaver has posed a question that has actually been occupying my brain for a while.

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

1.  Are you experimenting with artificial intelligence (AI) for genealogy and family history?  What have you learned so far?  What have you done to date?  What GPTs have you used?  What results have you had — good or bad?

2.  Tell us about your AI experience in a comment on this post or in a Facebook post.  Please leave a link on this post if you write your own post.

I'll start out by saying that I am not going out of my way to experiment with artificial intelligence.  I have used no GPT's or set up any searches, no matter how much Bing keeps pressuring me to do so.  Google was bugging me about it also but seems to have given up.  I signed up for Bard at the beginning but decided it wasn't for me.

I know that I have been experimenting with AI anyway, whether I want to or not.  It's built into the hints that the genealogical database sites use, it's permeating our search engines and their algorithms, and it's being integrated throughout the computer and business worlds, because it's the latest greatest coolest thing that's going to make our lives easier and more wonderful and solve all the world's problems

Oh, wait, that isn't true?  Gee, you'd never know it from the way it's being touted.

Color me a skeptic, but I read an insightful article recently (and I'm still trying to figure out where I put it on my desk, which is why I haven't already posted my thoughts about AI) which pointed out that not only, as Randy mentioned, does AI give incorrect information when it doesn't know the answer because it just has to tell you something, but relying on AI to do your thinking for you means you are not using your own brain to do your thinking.  Go down that path often enough, and how long will it take for your brain to need AI for all those answers?

This is the stuff that many science fiction stories are based on:  technology being oh so convenient and performing all those boring tasks for people and people becoming more and more reliant on technology, to the point where it's no longer a choice to rely on technology, because people are no longer capable of doing those tasks themselves.

Using Randy's examples:

• Writing a biographical sketch:  Ancestry can already do this when you post a tree and input some dates (I'm sure that's classified as AI).  I'm pretty sure other sites and databases can do something similar.  Or, heaven forfend, you can write one yourself, using the same data.  AI will write in a standard formulaic manner.  You can actually give it personality.

• Writing an obituary (yours or someone else's):  Yes, you can have the computer create an obituary for you, or (again) you can write it yourself, using the same information.

• Book recommendations:  You can do this with a search engine already.  Search for books on a given subject, and you will receive a list longer than you want to look through.  You can do the same thing on Amazon.  I admit this is a situation where it's helpful to have that kind of capability, because you can't find what you don't know about.  But this capability has existed for years and years.  We didn't need ChatGPT to do it.

• MyHeritage features:  So, as I wrote above when commenting on Ancestry, another site can also create a biographical sketch based on information that has been fed into it.  RecordFinder sounds suspiciously like twitching leaves on Ancestry and hints on FamilySearch.

• Ancestry's AI feature:  Wow, I can input a search like that into Google and get something similar.  And Google is drawing from many more sources than Ancestry.  Actually, Google searches Ancestry also.

• DeepStory:  I already find it frighteningly misleading the directions that MyHeritage is taking on having moving and talking photographs and use of multimedia, because it won't take long for people to forget that they're all computer-generated and are not our relatives, just someone's interpretation of what they might have been like.  I want reality, not someone else's version of what it possibly could have been.

• FamilySearch's full text search:  I find it ironic how this is now being received, when not that long ago at an early RootsTech — you know, that genealogy conference that actually used to be about tech in genealogy?; nowadays referencing one URL in your presentation counts as tech — an app for reading handwriting came in second(!) in the innovator challenge to something as banal as being able to record a phone call on your mobile phone.  I guess the church finally decided that reading handwriting was worth something.  I have often wondered what happened with the programmer(s) working on this question years ago.

That said, I will admit that it's a lot harder to learn how to read old handwriting than how to write something relatively straightforward such as an obituary or a quick historical profile of a person.  But this will quickly become something where people don't check the writing themselves to verify the reading made by AI, they'll just accept it and move on.  Gee, I hope it's accurate.

• Google Bard/Gemini and MS CoPilot:  You can create your own images/collages with standard photo editing software that already exists.  Some of the programs are even free.  The more you do it, the better you become.  Why let someone else's AI improve, instead of improving yourself?

Another thing to keep in mind is that, along with only being able to provide answers based on what information it has available, AI has already been found to carry on and put forward the preconceptions of the people who program it.  So if it doesn't have more than one perspective available, or if one perspective is weighted more strongly, that will affect the answers it provides.

So, cynic that I am, I am not jumping on the AI/ChatGPT bandwagon and have no plans to do so.  I know I can't avoid it entirely, and I'm not trying to, but I'll use it judiciously and continue to rely primarily on my brain and my own abilities to puzzle things out, write obituaries for family members when the need arises, make collages, and research what happened in the times and places my family members lived.  I'll even continue to write my own blog posts, like this one.  After all, how do we know that Randy didn't just feed ChatGPT the topics he wanted to cover and let it write his column?

Friday, April 12, 2024

National Pet Day, April 11

Well, yes, I'm a day behind posting for National Pet Day, but I had really good intentions that were waylaid by being sick yesterday (and today even!).  But I love my pets, so I still wanted to honor and talk about them.  I have always had pets in my life, and I wouldn't know how to live without them.

A few years ago I suggested the topic of pets to Randy Seaver for a Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge, which he decided to use.  I wrote about my furry and feathered children at that time in some detail.

Since that post, both Brandy and Frankie have passed away.  When Brandy was gone, it was obvious that Frankie was a lonely kitty, so I looked around for a new friend for him.  Someone was looking for a new home for her female Siamese.  I have been a sucker for Siameses ever since I was a kid, so I leapt in without asking enough questions.  Mimi turned out not to be a good companion cat for Frankie, as she is pretty much terrified of her own shadow.  It took a year for her to mostly become used to me, and she's still not comfortable around other people.  But she is a beautiful little girl, and she's a little more relaxed than she was, so I have faith she'll come around eventually, even if it takes another year or two.

Mr. Frankie never was the same without having a buddy, and I said goodbye to him this year.  He went to the vet on a regular basis for recurring problems, and everyone there misses him tremendously.

When I started going through the big photo bonanza that I received from my sister, I found a photograph my father took of me and all my babies (at the time) when he and my stepmother came out to California in 2004.  This seems like a good time to share it.

Me lying on the bed with Noodle barely visible in back,
Hank next to me, Sassy on the chair, and Kirby on the floor

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Umm, Beer . . . .

"The cause of and solution to all of life's problems." — Homer Simpson

Well, I'm not sure Homer is entirely correct, but good beer is well worth enjoying.

Did you know that April 7 is National Beer Day?  According to the National Day Calendar, beer is the world's most popular alcoholic beverage and third most popular beverage overall, behind water and tea.

My favorite choice for good beer is Guinness Stout.  I have had the excellent fortune to enjoy Guinness at the St. James's Gate brewery in Dublin, Ireland, and yes, it does taste better there.  I don't know if it's really because of the water from the River Liffey, which is what they tell you, but it definitely tastes better.  It's smooth and malty and goes down just like that.

When I went to the brewery, I was with a friend.  He took two sips of the Guinness, pushed it away, and said, "I don't like it."  What??!!  Are you crazy??!!  On the one hand, to each his own, but on the other hand, there's no sense wasting good Guinness, so I took his and drank it after finishing mine.

When I participated in the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Southern California several years ago, we were told that the beer they drank in Elizabethan times in England was like liquid bread, and that's how I think of Guinness.  It doesn't just quench your thirst, it's actual nourishment.

I remember, though, when I was a kid living with my family in California, when we visited relatives on the east coast, we had to promise to bring Coors with us, because you couldn't get it on the other side of the country then, and everyone wanted it.  Now when I taste a Coors (well, rarely), I wonder if they actually liked it, or if it was just better than the other choices available (such as Bud, eww!)?  Or did they want it only because they couldn't buy it?

I admit, I like my beer malty, not hoppy, and Coors and Bud are far hoppier than Guinness.  Maybe if you like hoppy better they're perfectly fine.  I'll stick to my Guinness, thank you.

I'm not happy that Guinness is now owned by the multinational conglomerate Diageo.  But I guess it's better than not having Guinness at all.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: When Has Someone Helped You Find a Record or Solve a Mystery?

How could we get by in genealogy without people who help us find things?  That's the focus for tonight's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge from Randy Seaver.

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

1.  We all need, and usually enjoy, a little help from our genealogy friends.  This week's challenge is to share a time when a genea-friend helped you find a record, or even solve a mystery.  It could be a recent help, or something from long ago.

2.  Tell us about them in a comment on this post or in a Facebook post.  Please leave a link on this post if you write your own post.

For one of the most important records that someone helped me find, it wasn't a genea-friend who stepped up, it was my sister.

I had requested a search for my paternal grandfather's birth record from the state of New Jersey a few times, and I had failed every time.  I tried with his name as I knew it, with no given name, and under his mother's maiden name.  Fail, fail, fail.

But my sister had offered to help with the family research, and I took her up on the offer.  I did the previsit legwork:  checked with the archives on their procedures, verified their hours, etc., etc., etc.

So when my sister went in to search manually, she was successful!  And the lovely archivists even had found when my great-grandmother had amended the birth certificate 37 years after my grandfather was born.

The original birth certificate of my grandfather, whom I knew as Bertram Lynn Sellers, was made out in the name of Gertrude L. Armstrong, female, born April 6, 1903.

We're never going to be able to explain the mystery of how a mistake was made on the sex and name of the child, but 37 years later, his mother had it corrected.

And with the help of my sister (who I guess is also my genea-friend!), we now have the documentation to show it happened.

Coincidentally, today is April 6, my grandfather's birthday.

Friday, April 5, 2024

National Read a Road Map Day

According to several sites (Days of the Year, National Day Calendar, Time and Date, There Is a Day for That), today, April 5, is National Read a Road Map Day, but none of them has any information on how it started or who initiated it.  No matter, I love maps of all kinds, including road maps.

My most memorable experience reading a road map came during the summer of 1976.  I was living in Villa Tasso, Florida and had just finished C. W. Ruckel Junior High School, in Niceville, 10 miles away.  I also had been a Junior Girl Scout during the three previous years and had "graduated" with other girls in my troop.  To celebrate, we took a trip to Atlanta.

I remember there were a few cars, each loaded with girls and one chaperone driver.  Somehow our driver became separated from the others as we were getting into Atlanta.  Then she got lost, on the "wrong" side of town.  Then she got scared.  Because she was a white Southern woman, and everyone around us was Black.  She started freaking out.  (That's the kind of people I lived around at that time of my life; the joys of living in the Deep South.)

But we had a road map!  And I was already good at reading maps.  So I figured out where we were on the map and guided her to wherever we were supposed to be going, probably a hotel.  (That I don't remember.)  And she slowly got unfreaked out.

Knowing how to read a map is a useful skill.