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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