22 July 2017


HALLOWED GROUNDS focuses on the cemeteries in Europe where soldiers from World War I and World War II are buried. Turns out that simple crosses lined up like soldiers feature in most of these cemeteries. Most touching is that some Europeans have picked a soldier, learned of his sacrifice for their freedom, and have adopted him, bringing flowers since his own family is not likely to visit.  These cemeteries are in England and France, Italy, Luxemberg, Belgium.  Why was I surprised to learn that there are locations in Tunisia and the Philippines?
My meditation on this film was also that, sadly, we seem to be essentially hung up on World War II.  What about Viet Nam?  What about undeclared war?  I think maybe if it's not officially a war than it can't have official heroes (and heroines!)
According to this film at least 125,000 American military men and women are buried in these cemeteries.  Then there are so many more who are missing.  Probably forever.
Worth watching!

12 July 2017


You may have used a database that has an index or text version extracted from the original records that were originally on printed forms but handwritten. Depending on the database you've used, you may be satisfied with what comes up.  But I advise "go further."  Go to the actual document and if it's not available on that database send away for photocopies of the original from the county or state or city where those documents are held.

I recently looked at an original and there in neat but tiny handwriting were the words "real name Polasky" under the bridges name information.  This bit of information proofed an oral history as well as confirmed that a possible reason that the bride's family wasn't coming up on census records and so on was that, though it was a first marriage and she was just 21, there had been a name change in the family quite soon after immigration; these immigrants Germanized their surname. 

This means to me that:
1) They could have done so because they thought or knew that it would mean work.
2) Quite likely they also spoke some German, as well as their native Polish.
3) That could mean they were from the part of Poland that was once the Austrian Empire since people went to school for free but learned in German.
4) Perhaps someday I will go back a generation or two and find some of their ancestors in Poland were German and had German surnames.  Or that they left Poland but more recently lived in Germany.

Because the bride stated it was her first marriage, I knew that this name change was not a result of marriage.

But from the license and the civil paperwork submitted by the person who performed the marriage, it was not clear if that person was a priest, justice of the peace, circuit judge, preacher, or some other person officially able to conduct marriages.  The family was also not sure, because the groom married a second time quickly after this first wife, I'll call her the Polasky bride, died, if these were religious marriages.  Rumors flew that the Polasky bride was Jewish. The next step was to run the addresses of the bride, groom, and the officiate, as well as to check what day of the week they filed for licenses and the day of the week they married.  Did they have a church wedding?

And what did he mean "real name?"  Most likely, the family did change their name, but they might not have gone through a legal process.  At the time many people did not.

I was able, because historical information came up on the Internet, to verify that in both cases, the marriages were performed within a week of the license and during the middle of the week.  This means there was no long engagement and it's less likely I'll find any announcements of engagements, marriages, or honeymoons in newspapers.  They decided and they went ahead and were married.  In one case, the certificate was signed by a priest who did not mention he was a priest, and in another it simply says "clergy." Though I suspect that there wasn't a special wedding Mass said for them, and that these weddings were a bit closer to a simple ceremony, in each case though, the marriages were performed in Catholic Churches, the first a Polish parish, and the second a Hungarian parish.  I learned where the records are kept for each.  One of the parishes is still functioning a hundred years or so after being founded, and there is a cemetery attached. 

The Polasky bride's death certificate gives both names she used.  I called the cemetery and they don't know where she is buried.  There is no headstone, if there ever was one.

Then I ran the names through FamilySearch were someone has submitted for some branch of the family.  The name of the Polasky bride's parents are not the same as the one submitted, nor are they in the same state.  But the submitter shows that there was a name change - and it matches the family I was searching for.

What this means right now is that I feel certain that the family in the other state is that of her uncle and his children.  His birthdate makes him old enough to be her father, and I would guess that her father is an older or younger brother.

However, unless I eventually find her and her parents that match her wedding license, and I suspect I will with their names horribly written and further transcribed distant from the actual surname. There are some other speculations I must deal with:

That her birth father was in the United States for a while, but went back to Poland, leaving her, and possibly some siblings as adults to support themselves.  Also a possibility is that I have found her father but he has remarried, and was married three times, her mother being a brief second marriage.  Possibly her mother died.  Finally though I have a second possible clue that links me to a family in another states and that is the oral history that her mother was named Veronica.  Her mother was not named Veronica, but if she is linked to this family, she would have an older sister or half sister named Veronica who was also on the census in the same place as she was married - briefly.

It's my intuition that the oral history that she had a mother named Veronica is actually that her mother died when she was born or young, and that this older sister, so long as she was still living in the same place, still looked in on her though there was a remarriage.

This particular situation has really challenged by genealogy myopia (we all have it at times).
If the records are correct, she came in 1904 with someone.  The possible uncle in another state also states he came in 1904.  She married in 1916.  Had a first child in 1918.  Died in 1920.

Proofing of course is needed!

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08 July 2017


(Continued - part one was posted about a month ago.)

I know of a Celtic /Irish American author who has been defamed by one biographer by adding a second L...

If you are researching a "difficult to pronounce or spell" surname, first, use on online translator that has speech capability or talk to someone of the ethnic heritage (that may mean contacting a Native American tribe or special ethnic research group), and get the SOUND of the name.  Write down what it sounds like to you.  Ask other people to write down what they think they are hearing. 

Use SOUNDEX to bring up names that sound like that.  (Be aware that Soundex (s) aren't perfect.  One is considered to be Germanized.)  Try to imagine what it might be to a German speaker who is a census taker.

Become sensitized through the use of SOUNDEX or database opportunities to bring up names that are close in spelling.  Though so many names are common, in particular names based on professions, that it doesn't imply descendants are from one massive family.  However, you may find that the name has changed through time as people you're related to moved from country to country.

When it comes to snobbery, I've heard many people criticized for have a van, von, or other prefix indicating land ownership, if not also nobility, before their surname.  Some families dropped this when they accepted the democratic ideals of the United States of America, but if your family was using it in the Old Country, then that's your name!  Remember that wealth and elite status then isn't what it is now.  They could have had inherited land but be broke.)

(part three coming!)

28 June 2017



I ran a search for a name and was a little surprised to find a Pennsylvania Newspaper completely typeset in GERMAN.  Though I knew that at one time there was a vote about our National Language and German came in second to English, so many Germans were here by then that many publications and records used for genealogy are in German.

Depending on your library system, you may or may not have some newspaper databases available for free.  This one is, and is brought to us from the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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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