Friday, May 22, 2015

Genealogy Societies:
What Are They Good For?

It’s that long drive home from our local genealogical society meeting, the third Thursday of the month, that gets me thinking. Sometimes, we have great speakers and the presentations—or something mentioned by a fellow member, afterward—spark ideas. My brain starts spinning off those ideas, careening into other thoughts, and I come away from the drive home, energized.

Then I log in to my email, or check my feed to see what’s been posted lately in genealogy blogs, and I see the feeling is not always mutual. From reading some of those posts, one would gather that genealogical societies are a dying breed. That their time has come—and gone. That they’re wearing out their welcome mat in this bright new age of instant access to digitized records.

That may be true, but.

Since when are we not social creatures? I like what one of our local board members once observed: genealogical societies are where we fanatics can gather together to tell each other about our latest research conquests without every eye in our audience beginning to roll. When we’re with people who understand, it makes all the difference. After all, every story needs an audience. And boy, are we the ones who find the stories.

Have those stories lost their pertinence? After all, who cares about grand-uncle Harry? Nobody even knows what “grand-uncle” means, anymore.

Or is it just that we’ve lost our ability to connect—not with our past, but with our present? That we are no longer able to encourage each other in the processes of our pursuit, here and now, among our peers experiencing the same research issues we stumble upon.

I’m wondering if there is any aspect to the “chemistry” that happens when people with this mutual interest in genealogy come together as a group. I’m one of those people who has just got to have faith in the process—that people excited about an exciting pursuit will resonate with excitement when they achieve their pursuit’s goals. And that excitement will attract more excitement—and more to get excited about.

If that explanation sounds redundant to you, I want it to appear as the obvious statement it is. How can we not generate some excitement about our mutually-chosen passion? Yeah, some people in some genealogical societies might not like some aspects of their organization. But you’ve got to find what works for the people in your group—what inspires them, what draws them back for more.

Our local society had entered a slump, years ago. Perhaps some thought it was a signal that we had come to the beginning of our end. A wise number-cruncher observed, from our group’s statistics, that our membership and meeting attendance began its downward spiral at the advent of online genealogy powerhouses. Why join a society, when you could pay a company to deliver all the research documents you needed, right to your own door?

The assumption underlying that conclusion, of course, was that people joined genealogical societies because they wanted a local source to help them access the material that improved their research results. While that may, indeed, be a worthy goal for such organizations, that is not the only reason researchers seek out fellow researchers. But even that doesn’t touch the crux of the matter.

Everyone knows that genealogical societies are two-headed monsters. We join together with lofty organizational goals such as “preserve local records of genealogical value”—and that does become a service of benefit to our home community. Yet, what is the focus of our members’ own genealogical research? Usually, every place but the one we currently call home. The uneasy truce between these diametrically opposed goals is to fill our events with generic educational programs that can cross-apply to anyone researching anything almost anywhere.

And when we water something down that far, anything can lose its zing. Even something we are as passionate about as genealogy.

While we admittedly can champion our enthusiasm about genealogy, the goal must not only be to generate excitement about our content. We also need to make peace with our process—how we build the organization that best delivers that content to our constituency. That there are people out there who want to share what they’re discovering during their genealogical pursuits, there is no question. How to build the infrastructure to accommodate that process may very well be the bigger question.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Yes, In Fact, I Did Write That

Apparently, it was high time I googled myself again.

Perhaps you remember my rant about “scraping,” back at the close of last year. Silly me: at that point, I had innocently remarked,
So what if they copy my stuff; I have enough internal links to lead readers back to my own site.

Apparently, that is not only incorrect, but I have a new “scraper” to contend with—one astute enough to remove my internal links and replace them with the appropriate new (and newly stolen) pages, as well.

Ah, live and learn. Now, time to go back and review all those links about combating scrapers that I wrote about, five months ago.

Never thought I’d be reviewing for another test quite so soon…

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

D N A: Not as Easy as A B C

As we’ll be discussing in a few more days, I’ve been diligently chipping away at my genetic genealogy test results. I’ve been pursuing outcomes in two tracks: one is on my matrilineal line, where my only mtDNA exact match is with an adoptee for whom I can find no nexus in my to-date two hundred year long paper trail; the other is awash in my well-over-eight-hundred matches from my autosomal DNA test.

I’ve been doing this since midway through last December. I suppose five months of steady work on this project does not bring me anywhere near expert status. But it does grant me a modicum of knowledge—just enough to jack up the frustration level when things that seem like they ought to work one way stubbornly resist cooperating with the expected.

The most recent problem is this: my one and only exact match through my mtDNA test results recently received news that he has another exact match. He kindly passed along the word to me, thinking I would have received that news as well.

I hadn’t.

This, of course, was puzzling, because if someone is an exact match to a person who is an exact match to someone else, well…

It brings to mind such previously disdained elementary-grade math class rules as “The Transitive Property of Equality.” You know:

If a = b and b = c, then a = c



Yeah, I know: I wasn’t always a cherub in math class. But I did remember that rule—even if I had to go back and look up what it was officially called.

So, here I am: stuck at the part that says, “then a = c.” In other words, if I equal my mystery cousin, and my mystery cousin equals this other guy, then why don’t I?

Never one to wait for an answer to come to him, my mystery cousin went straight to the source: a project administrator for Family Tree DNA, where we took our DNA tests.

The answer? “Never seen anything like it.”

This will take some “looking into.”

Now, on the cusp of realizing a second exact match, I’m having to sit back and wait. Hold my breath.

This is near impossible for me, as I’m sure you can imagine. After all, according to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, an “exact match”—at least at the level of the full mitochondrial sequence, as we’ve taken—means it “usually indicates a shared common ancestor within a genealogical timeframe.”

But…are we a match? Or aren’t we?

That is the question that’s awaiting an answer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Passing Through Mudville

Did any of your ancestors fall for the lure of quick riches and respond to the call of the California gold rush? While very few of my ancestors did—I believe one distant Broyles cousin fell into that camp—there were thousands who passed through my current hometown on their way to seek fame and fortune in the foothills east of this inland port city.

Some of them—though only a wise few—eventually realized they stood a better chance at financial gain by profiting off the supplies or services they could render to those many other gold miners streaming through town on their way east to strike it rich. Those were the ones who settled around the port, becoming merchants or inn keepers or livery men or bankers to that throng of fortune seekers.

The town those “Forty Niners” passed through was known by various monikers during its early history. In addition to Mudville, it had been called Fat City and also Tuleburg—after the tule, a type of large bulrushes growing in the marshy lowlands surrounding the port and meandering rivers leading from the Sierras to the San Francisco Bay. But by July 23, 1850, when the city was incorporated, the name chosen became the one it is known by today: Stockton.

Stockton was designated as the county seat for one of California’s original counties, San Joaquin, created in 1850 as California attained statehood. At its formation, the entire county boasted a population of 3,647 people. By the time of the 1860 census, the city of Stockton, alone, held that many people; the county’s population had more than doubled to 9,435 people.

Fast forward to present times, and blend that time warp with a large population of people having an avid interest in genealogy and local history. Do you ever wonder what became of those first pioneers and families who chose to settle in Fat City and the surrounding areas, rather than head to those hills to strike it rich?

Our local genealogical society—of which I’m honored to be a part—has partnered with the county’s Historical Society to delve into that very question. We won’t be able to do it alone, though, so we’ve decided to take the crowdsourcing approach: invite direct descendants of those early settlers to share their families’ stories with us.

The San Joaquin Genealogical Society has launched its First Families Certificate Program, and is seeking applicants who can document their relationship to an ancestor living within San Joaquin County in any of three periods of county history:

·       Founding Families in the county before 1860
·       Pioneer Families settling here between 1860 and 1880
·       Century Families resident in the county at least one hundred years ago.

In addition to the documentation required—similar to many lineage societies—we are inviting applicants to share photographs, stories and other memorabilia of their direct ancestors who once lived in San Joaquin County. Material submitted will form part of a collection housed at the San Joaquin County Historical Society which will be available to future researchers interested in the heritage of our earliest settlers.

As readers of A Family Tapestry, you have shared my research journeys and virtual quest to detail my own micro-history, set in the far-flung reaches of this country and beyond. Though I can’t claim any heritage vested in this county’s development, perhaps you can—or perhaps you know of someone else to whom you can pass along this brief announcement. You know our Society will appreciate any help you can provide in spreading the word as we launch this new certificate program.

For those interested, the Society has posted application forms and instructions on their blog here. While they have already had much interest in the program expressed locally, you know how it is with researching ancestors: those people who once lived in Stockton, California—or nearby cities of Lodi, Manteca, Tracy, Escalon, Lathrop and Ripon—may now have descendants whose homes are far, far away from the place once known as Mudville.

Perhaps you, too, once had a direct ancestor living in this inland California county. If so, consider yourself invited to share your ancestor’s story by applying for recognition as a descendant of one of the First Families of San Joaquin County.

Above: Drawing of a man panning for gold on the Mokelumne River in northern California, published as part of an 1860 article in Harper's Weekly, "How We Got Gold in California." Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Brick Walls, Disconnected Dots
and Outlaws—Oh, My!

Setting aside a research project for lack of any solid leads can be frustrating. Of course, happening this past couple weeks as it did—in tandem with our joyous celebration of our daughter’s graduation from college—the disappointment over research was offset by more happy occurrences.

I still, however, find myself back at that “milling about” place: the spot for wandering around in circles, not being able to light on one particular project idea. The looming question: Now what?

While I was spending the last couple months writing on Puhalskis, Kobers, Krauses and even Kusharvskas—instead of the purported McCann I am supposed to be—a number of other interesting diversions crossed my path. Perhaps today is an appropriate time to stop and smell those unexpected wildflowers that popped up on our way. These are, after all, loose ends that may need attention of their own.

First, my mtDNA results had an unexpected turn of events. While I have only one “exact match” in my matrilineal line—my mystery cousin, the adoptee—I supposedly received a second such exact match last week. Well, at least that person showed up on my mystery cousin’s readout as an exact match. On mine? Not one sign of a match. But wait! If A equals B and B equals C, then wouldn’t A equal C? Apparently not in this realm of DNA testing.

Something is woefully wrong. And will take some follow-up.

Task Number Two: when my in-laws came to visit for graduation, subsequent to doing their own DNA testing, they had lots of questions. So, in our spare time—we squeezed it in between all the celebrating!—we sat down and took a look at the readouts and what they meant. This means building a family tree for the in-laws of my in-laws. If you’ve been reading along here at A Family Tapestry for a while, you know what that means: more research on my outlaws.

But I’m okay with that. You know I love this research stuff. A challenge is a challenge—my family or yours!

Bonus challenge: back to researching in Ireland. No, really—not that fake McCann stuff, this time. It looks like I’ll be working on the Tully line a bit more. It seems extended family have converged, during this time and place, to bring up additional questions about the Tully origins. One cousin emailed me last week, asking for more information. And—this is the bonus—a distant cousin, who was here on the west coast, visiting from her home in Ireland, unexpectedly called with more Tully questions. I had not emailed her for years. In fact, I had lost touch with her brother years ago, because of a change of address, and had had no way to update their family on my research progress since that time. We’ll be doing some document and photo exchanges, and are both eagerly awaiting the release of digitized Catholic Church records by the National Library of Ireland this summer—hopefully, by the beginning of July.

Of course, it will only be a matter of a couple weeks until I head south for the DNA Day and conference at Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree event, the first week of June. If you are planning on attending, let’s get in touch! If you are not able to go, don’t worry: I’ll take you with me—via the blogosphere, that is!

In the meantime, I’ll be packing bits and pieces of discoveries from the challenges I’ve mentioned today in my posts leading up to that point. Hopefully, when the dust settles, we can find a clear vision for the next direction to take in our research adventures.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Seeking the Un-Findable

How hard is it to find a name like Kusharvska?

When I run across an unusual surname to research—like Aktabowski, another tidbit in my father’s line—it always impresses me as an easy accomplishment. Why? Because the oddity of the surname should increase the chances that the right person will be quickly located.

Silly me. That is only in my mind, where the theoretical reigns supreme.

In real life? Not so much.

So now that I’ve agreed to take on the mission of locating Anna Kusharvska—whether potential great grandmother or not—I thought I’d be led directly to her front door with signed, sealed and delivered documentation in hand.

As you’ve seen, that isn’t exactly how things turned out. Not only have I not located any passenger listings including her name, but I haven’t found any for her supposed son, Theodore Puhalski. Tracing her daughter, Rose Kober, hasn’t been any more helpful. Yes, they all reported their country of origin to be Germany. Yes, they all showed up in census records in Brooklyn, New York. But how they got there may well remain a mystery.

The beauty of digitized documents and search engines is that it allows genealogists to drill down to just the right level, be it census records or passenger lists, to find the right person. Some of those first offerings on these wonderful genealogy websites, a few years back, were indeed amazing in the amount of research struggle they spared us.

There were caveats, however. First among them were technical issues of indexing: unreadable enumerator handwriting, faded or damaged documents or other such stumbling blocks. Thinking about that, in retrospect, makes me wonder whether the “Kusharvska” appearing in the New York City Death Index might have been a poorly-deciphered rendering of an entirely different name. I won’t know for sure until I receive my own copy of Anna’s death certificate.

Back at that stage in the development of genealogical search engines, though places like or were helpful, they didn’t ace every search request. Sites providing search capabilities for passenger records at Ellis Island or Clinton Garden, for instance, sometimes bordered on frustrating.

That became the niche where Steve Morse’s One Step website really shone. It could bypass the more inept search engines and get to the core of the matter quickly. The unfindable became findable through the many One Step utilities.

So, I thought, why not revisit the One Step site and see if it could do its traditional magic on the names that had me stumped last week: Anna Kusharvska and her children, Rose and Theodore.

The only thing I had not banked on was the evolution of the search capabilities at these other genealogy sites. What used to be the impressive search prowess of the One Step site may now be par for the course, compared to the new and improved versions at all our usual places. Ancestry, for instance, just rolled out their latest updated search form, where parameters for many variables can be more accurately specified. I found myself going through the One Step site, performing searches that merely brought me back to the very same processes I had just completed in the original websites, nothing more.

Having not experienced any further success in my quest to locate the immigration records for my paternal grandfather or his mother and sister, I was exhausted enough to call it quits—at least for now.

But not before performing one last-ditch effort to find something. I decided to take that unusual Kusharvska surname—including its masculine variant, Kusharvski—and run it through its paces in various search engines.

I started with Google. Nothing. I tried the newspaper searches via Genealogy Bank and Old Fulton NY Postcards. No results. I mean zilch. I tried the name in both and FamilySearch, without any other delimiting variables. Surname only. Wide open—but no results.

Oh, I had several hits with the variant Kucharski. But nothing specific to Kusharvska or Kusharvski.

Which leads me back to the thought: could that surname be merely the unfortunate result of someone misreading impossible handwriting? After all, the newspaper report of Anna’s death noted her as having the surname Kraus—same as all the census records I had found. Could someone have read that writing wrong? Could it actually be a different name that I should be looking up?

Whoever Anna, Theodore and Rose might have been—and, though I don’t know anything else about them, I have good reason to believe they were all my blood relatives—all I know is that I can’t find any of them prior to the 1905 census, when I found Theodore living in his in-laws’ household in Brooklyn. Anna and Rose didn’t surface in government records until 1915. And that may be the best I’ll be able to do in pursuit of my paternal line—until more documentation shows up, some time in the future.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

What About Anna?

When it comes to researching people, it’s fairly safe to say there is not much undertaken in human endeavors that’s done in a vacuum. Whatever became of our mystery Theodore J. Puhalski—or his alternate identity, John T. McCann—I can safely say he didn’t go through it alone. Whether traveling to this country from Germany as a boy, or living with family in Brooklyn, or going to school or working or renting an apartment, he had someone else—someone we can trace—along with him.

That, at least, can be a comforting theory when confronted with the seemingly impossible disappearance of the ancestor one is researching. In practice, well, Theodore did seem to come from nowhere. And disappeared just as mysteriously.

Of course, now we know what became of Theodore Puhalski—or at least, we have an educated guess. He likely was one and the same as my paternal grandfather, John T. McCann.

But where did he come from? That’s the question that’s stumped me, now. Though he declared it on his naturalization papers, Theodore’s designated arrival in the United States in 1884—or any time close to that—yields no results. At least, there are none that can be found currently.

What about his family, though? That eight year old boy surely didn’t cross the Atlantic Ocean by himself. Wouldn’t his mom be present? Or his sister Rose?

I thought I’d switch to that tack and see if it yielded any results. First, I double checked that proposed arrival year against Rose’s and Anna’s own reports. The first I can find of them in New York—both as widows in the state census for 1915—showed Rose as a citizen living in the United States for thirty years, and Anna as an alien resident for that same period of time.

Let’s see…from the 1915 census, that thirty years brings us back to 1885. Not far from the 1884 date Theodore provided on his petition for citizenship in 1905.

Since we’ve stumbled upon the possibility that Anna’s surname might have actually been Kusharvska rather than the Kraus variants I’d found her under in census records, I first thought I’d search for passenger records using that surname.

No results. Oh, there were possibilities for Anna—but remember, it is unlikely that Anna did anything all by herself, either. She likely would have traveled with her daughter Rose and her son—at least we think he’s her son—Theodore. Keeping the family constellation in sight means not finding any results on searches through passenger records.

That doesn’t mean I necessarily have to give up the chase. Keep in mind: though we are spoiled with the instant accessibility of so many digitized records thanks to various systems available through the Internet, those results represent merely the tip of the records iceberg. Ninety percent (Stevens rough estimate) of those records remain submerged below the reachable surface. What that means is having to go to sites where the records I need are stored. Or waiting—just as I discovered when seeking Theodore so many years ago—until the right documents are digitized.

So, I send off my purchase request for Anna Kusharvska’s death certificate to see whether she is one and the same as the Anna Kraus who died in her daughter Rose’s Queens borough home that same night—the evening of September 21, 1928.

New York being what it is, I will likely have to wait four to six more weeks before that mystery is solved—maybe longer, if the twists found in her son’s story were merely the continuation of a family heritage of name changing. I may cut to the chase and give the Bronx cemetery a call to see whether that Anna was buried in the same family plot as Rose and her husband, George W. Kober.

Meanwhile, I may have another option open to me, in tracing the intact family constellation of Anna and her children, Rose and Theodore. It’s the program developed by computer guru Stephen P. Morse, known as the One Step Website. Where routine searches on genealogically-useful websites from to Ellis Island come up empty-handed, the One Step program is able to drill down beneath that surface to connect the dots on those hard-to-match family constellations like the one I'm seeking.

Perhaps, Anna and her children can be found that way.

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