22 December 2016


Here in Southern California, few people actually have the appropriate outer wear for cold, rain, or snow.  So it's kind of funny to be having coffee at a coffee house near a transportation hub, nice and warm inside, see the rain pouring down outside, and watch all the people who have used plastic trash bags to fashion rain-coats of sorts or who are holding plastic bags over their heads, racing down the streets. 

Umbrellas are sold here, particularly by enterprising street venders who buy some wholesale downtown and head out.  They are mostly made in China and good for one storm, one blast of cold air.  Then they turn inside out or break off and go into the trash bins.

It's been raining off and on for a couple days, and I'm seeing men outside without hats or  umbrellas, without sweaters or jackets.  I'm seeing women who have matching hats and scarves; they must have them stored away for years for the opportunity to wear them!

Maybe you can appreciate that we endured weeks of above average temperatures - in the nineties and the hundreds - this past summer, and that means that when it goes down into the forties or fifties we've experienced a temperature crash.  I'm OK with the outside temperature in the 60's but one recent morning at five, I needed to take my very patient dog outside already, and it was thirty seven degrees and windy.  There was black ice on the street.  I was creaking.  Steam came up from under the dog as she went.


But I promised I wouldn't complain about the cold when it was too hot out.

On the news, the POLAR VORTEX, the reason for this FREEZE.  I looked at the map and long underwear sales must be fierce in much of the United States.

I think of our ancestors who came to the states from the cold and remained living in the cold, as if cold was their heritage and their inheritance.  Seems like many of these people were bodily acclimated to cold weather.  Did they really not notice it?  Not mind it?  Were they just sturdier people?  I think of Native Americans.  I think of Colonials.  I think of dwellings without insulation or central heating.  Hovering near a fire place.

For me, this stretch of rain and cold just makes me want to burrow in.  If I could, I'd be cabin bound.  Instead I'm doing a little more decorating, baking, sewing, and crocheting, than usual.

Happy Holidays to All My Readers!

07 December 2016


It's been a while, nearer 20 years than 10, since, around this time of year, when I was first trying to attract some pay for my genealogy research skills, that I met a woman who taught me a lesson.  Never ever, for any reason, take on a client who suddenly has a "rush order" for genealogy services.

I met the woman at a lecture about searching through the Ellis Island Databases, and she had, she said, spent years compiling research for a book.  A family reunion was coming up, and she was missing some information on a relative who had gotten lost in Texas.  She hoped to have the book published and ready to hand out at the reunion. Actually, the relative had married outside her faith and the family disowned and shunned her.  Now, decades later, this woman felt it was only right to include this once disowned person in the book. She hired me to find "Bertha" and provide some information which might be easy to get to.

I knew what I needed to do, but there was one big issue.  "Bertha" had a given name that had undoubtedly been changed, and this family had even forgotten what her married surname was.  There had apparently been absolutely no contact with her once she married. It was said that despite them the marriage had succeeded and that there had been property, a ranch.  They were sure she had died.  They couldn't even remember what the given name of her husband was. They also only knew it was in Texas, a big state with lots of counties.

Based on the information this researcher gave me as a starting point, I did historical research about how immigrants from Europe got to Texas in the days when Ellis Island was a frequent drop off point for steerage (sometimes called 3rd class) passengers.   Had Bertha come in steerage? People are so sure because they don't know that passengers with better tickets skipped the Ellis Island routine.   Had she taken a train from New York?  What trains ran to Texas?  After finding that there was a way to Texas mostly by train, from New York to Chicago and then going south, I decided that Bertha had possibly come into New York, but as she didn't appear on any of the New York Ship Records Databases, to try other ports.  The one I focused upon first was the one in Galveston, Texas.

One could travel by ship down the coast, around Florida, and through the Gulf of Mexico.  Or one could travel by land to Florida.  I found a woman with a surname that was probably a variation on the original surname coming into Galveston.

I wondered why she had gone to Texas?  I suspected that there was land to be had free or inexpensive, some lure to settlement in a place so different than Germany.  But maybe it wasn't that she chose Texas and went and then met the man.  Maybe she met the man and he said, "New York City is not for us."

I lost the trail.  Meanwhile my client started calling me too much and inappropriately, such as at ten at night and on Sundays.  I figured she was lonely and trying to make a friend but she also was in error thinking that all the time spent on the phone was pushing me to work harder.  I was already working smart and efficiently and started to feel hounded and resentful. 

I called historical societies and archives in Texas, starting with the Galveston area, to learn about local resources.  I talked to an "expert."  Was there, for instance, a particular settlement where people from Germany who spoke German wanted to live?  Had there been a call out from ranchers who needed wives?

Again using databases, I searched for this woman using several known variations of her maiden surname and given name.  Nothing came up.  That didn't mean she wasn't in Texas when she should have been, just that the information wasn't on databases.

I set up an in person appointment at this client's home to go over all that I had done and what I had found.  Was it possible that this might help her or one of her relatives remember more about Bertha? I wrote up a few paragraphs about Bertha that summed up what was known about her life before she left the family, careful to call what was speculation, speculation, and not fact.

I got there and my client suggested that she was a poor senior citizen and asked for a senior citizen discount.  Meanwhile, maybe it was only a condo in Beverly Hills, but the interior was lux.

I've never done this since, but I stopped working for her, stopped taking her calls, sent her the work I had done in the mail, and never billed her.
I heard she took all my work, claiming it was hers, down to a local LDS where she asked the missionaries for help.  They know what all I had done and told her they didn't know anyone who could.  I appreciated that.

C 2016 All Rights Reserved.  This post is a section of a book I will someday publish.
Please honor it accordingly. 

02 December 2016



Hi there.  I'm trying to trace a line of ancestors that came from Galicia, Poland, and am not Jewish.  I joined Jewish Gen and have looked at their databases but wasn't actually expecting anything to come up for me.  Latter Day Saints doesn't have anything useful.  Should I hire someone in Poland to do the research for me?  Any advice would be appreciated.   Anna


As I understand it there are reliable people in that part of Poland who can walk into archives and do research for you.  Before you hire someone though, at least research what archives you can expect the information to be in. Be prepared to hand over - by mail - the research you've done that would lead the researcher to these people, some documentation that you deserve to have the information, such as an explanation in a letter - preferably translated into Polish - on how you are related to them. Present any researcher with a list of the goals you want to achieve and have focused upon. Have a clear idea about how much you can afford and how much time you want to allow for the research to be done. As you know, sometimes information is found very easily and sometimes you have to dig.  There is no such thing as a "rush order" genealogy.
What you are hoping for is someone who knows their way around and has developed a personal relationship with some of the people who work in the state run and church run archives that hold documents.  You can always reassess as the project goes on.  Have the person mail you copies of what documents they find, even if this can all be done by e-mail, uploading photos and so on.  Be sure that they are checking in with you and giving a progress report at least every other week.

As for how to hire someone who does this professionally and what their background might be, for this I think I would make some phone calls and other inquires based on the region and town where you expect they lived before immigration.  JewishGen might be a useful tool for you, since they have groups based on towns and regions and people reporting in when they do heritage tours.  However, consider contacting the priest at the local church for a referral.  Call heritage tour operators, even if you have no plan to go soon yourself, and ask them who they might know there.  Also the Polish Genealogical Society in Chicago might have some leads.  See if you can talk to the people who have hired someone on the phone to get a feel for how it went. 
Yes there are some areas of Poland, some areas all over the world where the Latter Day Saint Missionaries have not been allowed to copy or film.  We are spoiled by the ease of renting films from them instead of traveling ourselves or hiring others.

Wishing you the best on this, Anne!