17 June 2017


Forensic Genealogy is the use of genealogy in order to locate missing people and solve crimes, a juicy subject.

I recently attended a lecture by a well regarded and experienced Forensic Genealogist. She told about doing numerous family charts in order to locate someone who might know where a woman who had gone missing might be.  This was not exactly a teenage runaway situation.  There had been a remarriage, a step-parent, and the person intentionally cut off from everyone.  That's difficult to do.  Maybe her reasons wouldn't seem rational to you or me, but the Forensic Genealogist sought to give her family "closure." And they got it.  She had lived for many years but had commit suicide.  She had done what many people do when they want to get lost.  She had assumed the identity of a person who had died who was about her age. Other than assume this identity, and gather together the paperwork she would need to prove who she was and keep her cover, she was never involved in any other "criminal" activity.  I looked at some web sites that tied to the Forensic Genealogist's and some of them started out using the word "Criminal" because of "Identity Theft" on this person who needed to get lost as she saw it, and I sort of cringed. 

While listening to the lecture I thought about Missing Persons.

Tell me, if YOU hated your family, maybe had a terrible childhood, and you wanted to get lost, if you never wanted to hear from them again,what would you do?  Expect the FBI or CIA to create a new ID for you?  Law enforcement does those things for people in Witness Protection Programs sometimes. Tombstone websites would certainly make locating someone your age who died more accessible to you, easier than prowling cemeteries in other towns by yourself!

It turned out that yes, there was ONE person, a distant family member, who had contact with her and kept her secret for many years. That he kept her secret makes me think that she had some good reasons to leave and be in hiding.  My guess, the stepfather molested her.

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10 June 2017


Over the years, in books I've read especially, I've come across negative commentary by various authors who are finding fault with people's name changes.  Its their way of insinuating negative things about other's personality, character, or psychology, and that makes me mad.  It's most often unfair.  When I come across that kind of criticism in a biography, I wonder how much I should believe that the author wrote.

Many people are not comfortable with the name they were given at birth and many people have felt compelled to change their surname due to the prejudices they've experienced - or just because they feel like it.  Take for instance the children of hippies who were, as a friend's son was, given a long Native American name when they were Jewish!  (He changed his name in college.)

It seems to me that drastic name changes that individuals or their Hollywood studios, managers, or agents, demanded are understood or forgiven as the means to celebrity and career success.  (i.e. Norma Jeanne Baker became Marilyn Monroe.)  But oh if a common person adds a letter, gets rid of the son, ski, sky, szke, or some other suffix, or gives a name a twist or a twirl to do so.  Sometimes this change is to make a name difficult to pronounce in English easier on other people.

I've talked about the Ellis Island name change as a myth at least once on this blog, but I've met a lot of people who claim that is where a drastic name change occurred.  Maybe that's even what their immigrant ancestor claimed, but more than likely, if the name change was drastic, then the person probably decided that to completely start anew they might as well.

Some immigrants came from places were surnames were fairly recent, where family members were not unified in what they wanted the family surname to be, or they had a Jewish name and an American name.  (Their documents from the old country would be more revealing.  Did they get on the boat with the same name they got off with?  Did they apply for citizenship with the name they used on the boat? Did they appear on a census in the Old Country with that name?  What does it say on birth certificates?)

Many ethnic groups had a very hard time getting viable work and income, and found that when they were out of work employers didn't even call them in for interviews - until they changed their names.  This has been true for decades.  In my time one family I know changed their five syllable Italian name, which actually was quite musical to the ear pronounced correctly, to the father's first name (i.e. Robert Roberts) and his whole career changed.  Another family had a German name that sounded like a sex act and their children were being teased on the playground.  Let's just say they changed their surname to Fox, and their pubescent daughter stopped getting harassed.  If a child is being bullied, maybe it's time for a name change.

Other people have discovered their ethnic heritage roots in adulthood and discovered that their surname has been slightly misspelled all along and go back to the original spelling.

(to be continued)

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05 June 2017


Daughters of the American Revolution as well as Sons of the American Revolution are two membership groups that honor those who can prove ancestry to a Patriot, that's to say someone who helped the United States in its war of independence from The British. (But we are just so interested in Pippa Middleton's wedding aren't we?) Let me say that I've met some "experts" who live to help people prove their connection, and sometimes the Patriot gave a soldier a cup of water from the well, under, of course, threat of being harmed or killed for doing so, but never saw military action.  One expert told me some years ago that DAR was questioning some of the memberships that had been granted and were politely informing some people they were no longer members. The reason was that the references that had been used were no longer considered authoritative. I believed him.

One of the best things to do before you submit is use the resources a DAR or SAR library or their books of members at public libraries.  If you can prove you're related to someone who is already a member, that's certainly helpful.

That's why recently I advised someone that though they were "in" due to their deceased brother's research, they should double check all his research before going any further.  This is a situation in which genealogy myopia can easily set in and that's why having another person who is professional or holds themselves to professional standards look at the work can be a good idea.  It wasn't that I suspected her brother of any wrong doing.  In fact I suspected that she would find his research was worthy of DAR.  But I strongly believe that when you inherit someone else's research (or their warm and fuzzy family memory book) that you familiarize yourself with that work, check it, add to it, and be sure you really aren't tracing a wrong family.  It happens.  Especially when the surnames are more common.

This researcher wanted to go back past her brother's work to Great Britain, from the surname I suspected Scotland or Scottish roots.  She had found the 1790 and 1800 census not too helpful.  Here are some suggestions I made to her that may be helpful to you.

1) Just because his name appears to be James, does not mean he never went by a nickname or that James wasn't his middle name.  Become familiar with the many nicknames besides Jim that a James could be called.  Be aware that sometimes a Jacob got called James.

2) Run general searches on databases to see if the name is particular to a country or a town. That's not to say that there won't be any Scots in say, France, but if you find that name has an important cluster in say, Sterling, that may be the place to go to work from there forward.  (i.e. records of who left there and came to American where and when.)

3) Do not depend on any electronic databases to provide you all the information you need.  The "old fashioned" methods still work and may be the best way to go.

4) Call the local historical societies and libraries where the family name appears on the 1790 and or 1800.  The smaller the town the better chance you have of encountering a librarian who will roll some microfilm only they hold or check an obituary for you, or that you will connect with some local person who is very proud to know who was who.

5) Don't assume that tombstone projects have counted all the people in the cemetery.  In some cemeteries more than half of the people under ground never had a tombstone in the first place.  They were too expensive.  Also consider that some families, especially who owned farm land, set aside land for a family cemetery.  Contact locals to find out who has those old cemetery records.

6) Look at old maps, such as Platt maps, land grant maps, and so on, to see if the surname features as a place name or road name. (Some of these old maps will show family cemeteries.)  I know someone whose big break came when she noticed a tiny dot that had the family surname and the word berries.

7) A whole lot of archives, courthouses, lawyers offices, and so on have gone up on fire!
Actually, records burned up in a fire accidently or on purpose is a reason or excuse I and so many others have encountered it really makes you wonder.  Ask again anyway.  Just incase the last time you asked a clerk was buried under work and had no time to really look. (And by the way that includes more recent Military Records.  Check out the NARA site for more information. You may get a letter with a government stamp stating that the person's service has been "recreated from other sources.")

8) Using databases that allow you to use wild card or phonetic searches and play around with spelling or letters in a name can sometimes make all the difference or be a crazy waste of time and you may not know till you try.  Consider that there is PENMANSHIP and then there is HANDWRITING.  Penmanship was stressed in the old days, and imagine one was dipping that quill back into the ink every few words!  Here are some quick suggestions.

a) Add an S to the end of the surname.  That's because people refer to Smith as Smiths if there is more than one of them and that's likely.  It's probably the most frequent "misspelling" you can find.
b) Consider that D, P, and sometimes T can look alike.  So can a T and a Z. That's the capitals.  When it comes to the vowels, so very many e's and i's not doted can be confused, and o's and a's.
c) It's possible that the surname has really been screwed up by someone imputing into a database with multiple errors, so try a search for everyone named Jim, then look closely for names that might be close.  I still think reading handwriting off microfilm can solve these mysteries.

9) DNA: ask experts which company is the best one for the type of test you want. Remember that there are currently no samples of Abraham Lincoln's DNA and they are not going to dig him up to get some.  You may want to gift some samples to your children and other relatives before you die, even if you aren't into this aspect of genealogy.  Possibly you will be connected by the company to those who have also submitted samples and they will have the information you need.

10) Was the person by any chance a member of the Masons or other Lodge or Secret Society?  Is there a family tradition of membership? Some have records fairly far back.

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29 May 2017


I believe this old postcard is of the cemetery in Los Angeles
associated with the Veteran's Administration Hospital. 
There's no more room in it.
Recent VA burials are minimalistic and the body is taken into another county.
So genealogically, the person might have a Los Angeles County death certificate but not a Los Angeles County burial.
If you're driving on the 405 Freeway you can see the stiff rows of identical tombstones, standing, yes, a bit like soldiers at attention.
As far as I know the Soldier's home is abandoned but on the property. Since there are so many homeless veterans in the area, there's talk of tearing it down - who needs another historical site when modern housing is needed?

20 May 2017


Recently a friend was telling me that her parents have had the same phone number and landline since 1950 when they moved to a new suburb and shared a party line!  These days some people change their cell phone number every year.  (And I know a lot of people who never answer their phone unless a friend first text messages them.)

So it may be difficult to understand the value of old telephone books with all the amazing technological changes in both phones and networks.  Concerns about long distance phone call charges have evaporated with Unlimited calling all around the country, but not so long ago it could cost a lot more to call a few miles away into another network. The cost of phone calling meant that people used the mail (as in snail mail) to write each other letters.

Recently I traveled to Los Angeles Public Library Central to look through a half dozen old phone books there in the stacks.  Oh they were really decaying so much so that I had to wonder if the particular city I pulled from the shelf to look at 1940, 1945, 1950, 1955, 1960, and 1965 for certain surnames would disintegrate beneath my fingers.

Why would I do this, seeking what may be trivial information, when years ago I looked through the City Directories for the same surnames?

Well, let's remember that City Directories were often PRE-TELEPHONE or sometimes CO-EXISTED WITH TELEPHONE DIRECTORIES because City Directories had more in common with Yellow Pages or Business Directories than Residential Phone Books.

It cost to list yourself in most City Directories and so people did so to advertise the kind of work they were available to do or their business.  Sometimes a young woman would list herself so young men who might want to court her or marry her could find her, particularly if she was self supporting and had left home.

And then the telephone came to cities, towns, villages, suburbs at different times and places and not everyone wanted one or could afford one.  I once met a woman who discovered a secret in her family. 
A father in the family was so angered that one of his daughters would want to WORK and be a TELEPHONE OPERATOR and had responded to signs posted up around town for workers that he beat her and she rolled down the stairs and died.  Everyone knew he was a violent abusive man and in that time and place he wasn't the only class conscious man who thought "No woman in my family is going to WORK!",but he wasn't tried.  That he'd killed his daughter because she wanted to be a liberated woman was the dark family secret.

This leads into the value of using the old phone books.

They can put people at an address between census.  They can let you know that the same people lived at the same address for a short or long time.  Sometimes if the address is the same but a different person is listed, say the son or daughter, it can indicate that the father or breadwinner has died or left the home and that a child is now paying the bills.

Sometimes you can cross reference the address with the City Directory. Sometimes you can cross reference it with a census.  Sometimes you can cross reference it with a Social Security Application.  Or a ship manifest.

Sometimes you know where the family was living from a census but they simply do not yet have a phone.  (The 1940 census would be most revealing because by 1940 most places - especially the larger cities and suburbs surrounding them, have phone service for those who wanted it.  1935 there are phones but not as many of them. The books get fatter and fatter as they years go by and then with the onset of cell phones begin to skinny down.)

By looking for the surnames in the old phone books that I did, I stumbled upon one bit of information that is of special interest to me. That the wife of a man who divorced her some time after he returned from World War II does have her own phone, is listing herself as Mrs. and so by 1950 he must be living separate.  Because in 1950 it was rare for a couple to list their phone under the woman's name unless she was widowed or divorced.

Which brings us to the use of the phone book to possibly narrow down the years we must look for divorce or marriage records or death records.

Some of the phone books have the month and year date on them which is helpful but unlike a census this is the date of publication not the date of a census taker's visit.
Depending on the city and the location of the old paper books, you may find the old names, addresses, and phone numbers, with their now quaint "exchange names" very interesting!

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16 May 2017



It's exactly as we suspected, our noses do reveal something about the climate that our ancestors lived in.

EXCERPT: They selected people from four populations: North Europeans, South Asians, East Asians and West Africans. Shriver and his team looked at 3-D photos of each individual and examined the width of the nostrils, the distance between nostrils, the height of the nose, nose ridge length, nose protrusion, external area of the nose and area of the nostrils.

10 May 2017


In 1853, a minister named Charles Loring Brace, decided to address the urgent problem of immigrant children who were homeless, on the street, or living in deplorable conditions.  This film doesn't say it, but these children were not just begging, or singing for donations.  Many of them probably were being used for sex or sex trafficked.   Many of them were orphans or the children of unmarried women.  His Children's Aid Society moved 150,000 of these children to the Midwest, usually to farms, between the years of 1854 and 1929.  Some of the people who were moved to homes this way were still alive to testify for this documentary film.  Overall the film presents both sides.  Stories of a child who was worked to death like a slave and lived in fear, children who became the beloved adoptees by excellent parents. Children who stayed in one place and came to appreciate that they had been given a chance that saved them.  Others who moved from one place to another, who were hard to place. Other charities followed this example of placing children who had no real home to go to.

While watching this film, I couldn't help but think of all the children today who are awaiting foster homes or adoption or who are homeless and living in vehicles or motel rooms. Today I do not think this system of putting children on trains, having them get off at a stop, being chosen or rejected, and then putting them back on to another town until someone wanted them would be allowed.


Are you researching to find more out about someone who did or may have been adopted this way?  My advice is to find that person on a census at as young an age as possible.  Then inquire at the county they lived in to find out if any legal adoption was necessary.  I've found that adoption was often not a legal or formal procedure and the text to this program suggests that.  However, the Childrens Aid Society did ask any locatable parent to sign paperwork in which they agreed not to contact the child or interfere in their life, until they were an adult.

CHILDRENS AID SOCIETY NEW YORK  still in existence. 

06 May 2017


A Jewish Lesbian couple adopted three children.  Two of them, teenagers, a son and a daughter appear to be African American or Black.  The son has no interest in connecting with birth parents.  The daughter, Avery, who is the focus of this film, does.  Encouraged by her two mothers and of her own desire, she first contacts the agency that did the adoption.  She learns that her birth mother has never contacted them.  She persists and writes her birth mother a letter - and waits - and then another.  It seems the woman doesn't want to tell her too much about how she cameo be.  The delays, hesitations, and minor details she is willing to provide, mess up Avery.

She is the daughter of privilege as is, but, a track star with hopes of a college scholarship, she quits high school and thinks about a GED instead.  She's on the pill but she gets pregnant, and sure that she would never want any of her children adopted, she has an abortion.  She moves in with friends and out of the house, because she feels the tension over the birth mother and adoption issue is too much.

The whole time I was watching this film, I was thinking about adoption issues  Is it nurture or nature that makes us? 

Reaching into the experience of someone I'm related to my marriage, I think of a situation in which a child was adopted at about the age of 4 years old by two educated and working parents who were childless.  This child was treated well, not abused, and this child wanted for nothing but wasn't spoiled.  Still, as he neared teenage years he became a rebellious, violent, and hateful child, capable of saying horrible things to his parents, even striking his mother.  When he was 18 he was encouraged to find his siblings, who he had vague memories of, with the hopes that with some answers he would better find his place in the world.  Well, he did, and it turned out both parents were drug addicts who had overdosed or suicide, not all the children had been adopted, two of the siblings had quit high school and had babies without fathers, and one of his siblings was in prison. He had it better than any of them.  For whatever reason this knowledge made him worse.

Then there is the question of placement with a family. Avery appears to be African American or Black.  Very few African American or Black people in the United States are Jewish.  Usually they are Christians and Protestants.  Then there is the question of gay people, be they single or married, having children by adoption, surrogates, or sperm donations.  Frankly there are so very many children out there who need to be adopted, and in some places it's difficult to adopt unless you own a home, for instance.  Some children go through hell in foster care, though there are loving foster care homes.  To me anyone who is a decent human being who can be a responsible parent and wants to be should be allowed to.  But it can be complicated.

One thing that I felt was odd was how the discussions within the family seem to have a lot of analysis like you'd get in therapy.  (When I was growing up NOBODY talked therapeutic terms and if someone was in therapy it was considered their business.)  Avery states her needs in a sophisticated way, but she's still a child, and clearly what she wanted out of her birth mother was more acceptance.

A thought provoking film, the good news is that this young woman gets her life on track and decides to put off the birth mother until she's graduated from college.

25 April 2017


HAVE A SON OR SEN at the end of your surname?  How about having an MC before?  We've heard President Donald Trump may be related to Eric the Red.  What about Mr. Rogers?



Dr Alexandra Sanmark, from the University of the Highlands and Islands, said: 'Vikings in Britain can be traced through archaeological evidence, such as burials, place-names, DNA studies, Scandinavian influence on the English language.