Monday, March 31, 2014

Blame it on an Ink Blot

As a sufferer of the “ooh, shiny” syndrome, I often need an alibi for the embarrassing symptoms of my malady. Today, I’ll blame it all on an ink blot.

I’ve been puzzling over how to handle tracing my Tully line back in time from Chicago to Ontario and ultimately all the way to Ireland. You certainly understand how difficult it can be, having to research names like John or Mary in a place like Ireland.

I decided my strategy would be to piggy back on the vehicle of a relative with a more unusual name. I found that name, literally, under an ink blot in the Canada West census for 1852.

There, just eighteen scant lines below my Denis Tully family in Paris, Ontario, was a Flannery family.

You may recall that I had discovered—almost accidentally—that Denis’ wife, listed as “Mrs.” in the 1852 census, was actually born Margaret Flannery. As you can imagine, any Flannery family living this close to my Tully family—especially so far from their original home—would be of great interest to me.

And it was. Except that I couldn’t read the given name of the head of that Flannery household. It looked like “Edman.” Or, possibly, that “m” was actually a “w” and the man’s name—but for the slip of a letter—could have been Edward. I couldn’t really be sure, because right in the middle of the name, census enumerator John Sinclair’s otherwise stellar handwriting was besmirched by an errant ink blot.

Without the corresponding wife’s name to serve as an alternate guide to the parents’ generation, I was left with the names of his four sons to obtain hints about how to research this family. When I took a serious look at those sons’ names—seeing the usual Irish lineup in offerings such as John and Patrick—I was about to despair of finding a way back to the Emerald Isle.

Until, that is, I found Cornelius. That, I thought, was a name I could grab and run with.

I ran in both directions—seeing, first, if I could snag any early returns from a foray into Irish documents, then reversing gears and looking forward in time, attempting to locate any descendants. While the peek into Irish records yielded some promising results, seeking more recent Canadian records left me clueless. Apparently, Cornelius Flannery is not as rare a name as I had at first presumed.

The questions occurring, thanks to that small experiment, make me wonder about the possibility that Cornelius and his Flannery kin left Canada for cities south of the border in either Detroit—as had their Tully cousin, Michael—or in Chicago, along with John Tully’s family.

In the guinea-pig spirit in which this blog was first launched, I’ll share the beginnings of my foray into hypothesis testing tomorrow, when I check the possibilities found in both those state-side locations.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

You’re Not Gonna Believe This…

Hmmm…let me start that another way.
“Guess what just happened?!”

No…no. That isn’t quite the way to say it. Try this again.
“News Flash: Regular Passport Renewals Arrive Faster Than Expedited Applications for New Passports.”

Yep. That just about says it all. Don’t waste your money on expediting your passport application. Someone at the U.S. Department of State will go over that application with a magnifying glass, looking for any burp, hiccup, or stray hair that is not up to standards. After all, what’s the big hurry?

Those other applications? The ones that contained photographs taken at the same time and place as the expedited application’s photograph—the one that got rejected? They sailed right through that other bureaucrat’s in-box and out the door after a cursory moment for processing. We received them in yesterday's mail.

Maybe Walgreens got it wrong. And maybe they didn’t.

Maybe some civil servant was just having a bad hair day. Or got up on the wrong side of the bed.

Whatever the case, the “expedited” passport application—the one that cost significantly more money—is still being held hostage somewhere in the vast bureaucratic maze at the State Department.

In the meantime, someone’s application for study abroad is put on hold until that magic passport number arrives from said State Department and can be affixed to its proper place by an anxious college student.

Above: photograph of United States passport cover, courtesy Wikipedia.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Stuck in Paris

I live near a quaint downtown area, full of antique shops, outdoor cafés, blocks-long summertime farmers’ markets—a place with a lot of community cohesiveness. While it’s not the city in which I live, I love driving there for everything from a well-crafted loaf of fresh bread to a good cup of coffee with a friend.

That particular town didn’t always have such a chic ambience. In fact, the ’70s mantra the place found itself embarrassingly branded with came from the refrain from the B-side of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising: “Oh, Lord, stuck in Lodi again.”

Admittedly, back in 1969, when the song was first released, Lodi was a dumpy little agricultural community. Over time, though, things can change.

I suppose it may be just the same for the apparently maligned village of Paris in Brant County, Ontario, that we’ve been discussing. Of course, I’ve never been there, so I wouldn’t know. My interest in this village of Paris isn’t for the present, however, but for the past. Judging from the many historic photos collected for sharing on the Internet—and via books for purchase, too—this little town has a sense of place, as well.

Paris—the one in Brant County, that is—has one thing going for it, at least as far as my family history research goes. It was the home of the county’s first Catholic Church.

As you can imagine, our family’s Tully ancestors, arriving from Ireland, were quite pleased to discover that fact. While I’m not certain exactly when the Tully family arrived in Canada West—I can find no passenger records yet—I do know they were included in the1852 census. And that census record confirms that their youngest son, William, was born on Canadian soil two years prior, yielding 1850 as my best guess for their arrival.

By the year of 1850, Paris already had established its Catholic parish. According to a brief overview of the church’s history on the church’s own website, the Catholics in the region had gathered together to vote on their preferred location for that first church back in 1834. Paris had won as the selected location by one vote, thirteen to twelve. That gives you an idea of the size of that initial congregation.

By 1837, the proposed church had received the deed to its property and building commenced, with doors to the new Sacred Heart Church opening about a year later.

Thinking of all the Tully family members likely to have attended that parish well over ten years after it was established, one would presume things would have settled down to some fashion of organization to properly keep essential documents by 1850. Yet, as some distant Tully cousins with whom I’m working discovered, sometimes those earlier records have a way of vanishing.

I’ve mentioned our meeting with these third cousins, last summer during our most recent trip to Chicago. After we got together in August, one of the cousins sent me a copy of the response she had received to her inquiry about these early Tully relatives from the Sacred Heart Church in Paris. It got right to the point with an opener that was quite disappointing:
After going through many years in our early records, I find no mention of…

The letter did contain some information on a few baptismal records, but those were for later family members whose dates we already had verified from other sources. An almost apologetic close to the letter reminded us, “Very hard to read the old records.”

Where could we find any documentation for those old family records? What about “Mrs.” Denis Tully, who had to have died in Paris sometime between the 1852 census and that of 1861? And what became of her husband, Denis, whose sons had moved to the States by the time of the 1870 census? Would he, as an elderly man by that point, have moved to Chicago or Detroit with them? I find no record supporting that. My guess is that we would find him in that Paris cemetery.

Granted, online cemetery records—such as Find A Grave—are sometimes scant in the data captured for a given cemetery. In the case of Sacred Heart’s cemetery in Paris, included a more thorough list—but even that could have been incomplete. How would I know?

Admittedly, I already have that magic slip of paper that directs me to bypass Canada and move directly to Ballina in County Tipperary, Ireland. I don’t need to be “stuck” in Paris. Before I go skipping out on the small town of Paris in Canada, though, I’d like to see if I can discover any more about the Tully family’s stay in Ontario. Family history, after all, is about so much more than just names and dates. I want to know about these ancestors’ lives.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Less-Romantic City of Paris

If, upon hearing the name, “Paris,” you begin envisioning romantic trysts at cafés overlooking the Seine, disabuse yourself of that tendency. Today, we’re going to talk about Paris—but not that Paris. While it is also situated on a river, this town of Paris is far removed from that well-known capital of cultural delights.

A town of barely two thousand people at the point at which our family’s Tully ancestors settled there around 1850, this Paris—in Ontario, Canada—derived its name from nearby gypsum deposits used to make plaster of Paris.

Looking at the 1852 census page for Brant County in “Canada West,” I can find several names of interest in the village of Paris.

Of course, there is the household of Denis Tully—complete with “Mrs.” given as entry for his wife’s name—showing children Johana, Patrick, John, Margaret and William. Despite the lack of an actual name for Denis Tully’s wife, I’ve fortunately found other records indicating her name to have been Margaret Flannery.

Scrolling down this census page reveals another family whose surname just happens to be Flannery, possibly providing collaboration to the notion that some immigrant families traveled not alone, but in small communities. While I have yet to conclusively tie this Flannery family to Mrs. Tully’s line back in County Tipperary, I have found a few hints to confirm I’m on the right track. This is an area that needs further attention prior to leaving on our trip to Ireland.

At the very bottom of the census page, the Tully surname appears again. I have yet to discover who this thirty six year old John Tully might be. He is way too old to be my John Tully, but he is a likely candidate to clear up a mystery I’ve struggled with for years—that of a John or “Jack” Tully who lived just outside Chicago in the late 1800s. Once the extended Tully family had moved from Ontario to Chicago, occasional mention had been made of another John Tully, whom I had never been able to identify. Perhaps this is the man.

Frustratingly, this John Tully had the same tendency as the others I’ve researched: naming his children Mary and Margaret. The multiplied usage of such common names makes research so much more difficult—but then, isn’t that the type of challenge we are up to in this genealogical pursuit?

Our Tully family remained in the Paris area for over ten years, at least. Some family members may have stayed on in the area longer, particularly Denis Tully’s daughter Margaret. Not being able to find any married name, I am at a loss as to how to pursue her.

As we move into the later decade, the Tully household shows changes. Johanna, for one, is no longer present—by this time, I suspect, having married Edward Ryan and moved further west to Dakota Territory. It is certainly obvious that Denis’ wife was missing from the list on that later census, most likely having passed away before that point.

That 1861 census hints at some further family connections. Scrolling down the same page upon which Denis Tully was listed, there is an entry for a “Michel” Tully. (I suspect the census enumerator took his spelling cues from a French heritage.) This Tully household included Michael’s wife Margaret, and their young son, also named Denis. A relation to the older Denis? I’ve already tackled that question here, and am still presuming we have a match.

Just below that entry, there is another possible future family connection. In the household of widow Bridget Hogan, there is a sixteen year old Mary A. Hogan who just might be the future wife of elder Denis Tully’s son Patrick. Interestingly, zooming far into the future to inspect Patrick’s wife’s 1914 death certificate, it gives her mother’s name as “Bridges” O’Reily—most likely Bridget’s maiden name. Though probably in error, the certificate also shows Patrick’s wife’s place of birth to be—of all places—Paris, Ontario, Canada. Perhaps we are witnessing the neighborly beginnings of a lifelong match right here in this 1861 census.

With this cluster of surnames gleaned from these two Canadian census records, I’m better equipped to discern which Mary, or Margaret, or John it might be that I’m viewing in parish documents, once I start researching in Ireland. Wherever I’ll focus on Tully in Ireland, it helps to know those other friends’ and family names should not be far away.   

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Stuck Out West in Canada

If you had the kind of rocky relationship I had with grade school history classes, you might have gotten that multiple choice question about the Northwest Territory wrong, too. To me, “west” just sounds so far—well, west! It does not bring up visions of any portion of the Ohio River.

A ghost of the same concept still plagues me today, as I research the immigration trail of my husband’s Tully family. Before arriving in Chicago by the 1870s, this Tully line actually lived in Canada. Back then, though, the place where they lived in Ontario was considered “Canada West,” conjuring up images in my mind of somewhere to the far west like, say, Saskatchewan.

I was fortunate to discover the Tully family’s location in Canada. It took working my way backwards through siblings’ lines, since our direct John Tully line lost its patriarch just before governmental requirements added data on parents’ names or place of birth. To find any possible clues about the family's origin in Canada, I needed a relative old enough to have been born in Canada, but not so old as to have been born all the way back home in Ireland. And I needed a Tully family member whose death post-dated that point in time at which death certificates added such useful details.

It was John Tully’s niece Margaret, daughter of John's brother Patrick, whose death certificate provided me with the town in Canada where the family had lived. Eventually, I was able to trace a number of the other Tully siblings back to that same spot in Canada: the town of Paris in the County of Brant, Ontario.

I’ve already written about some of the discoveries that had taken place during that episode in my research journey, so I won’t recount them here. If you’d like to refresh your memory, you can revisit where I wrote about efforts to piece together the Tully family tree through notes on the backs of photographs here and here, and discoveries about Tully (and related) baptismal records here and here.

Since then, of course, literally thousands of documents have been digitized and added to various genealogical resources available online. Now that I’m ready to revisit this research topic, I’ve been hoping some of those new documents would be just the thing I’ve been looking for.

That has not shown itself to be necessarily so.

Just searching for Denis Tully—the father of John Tully of Chicago—recently yielded everything but information on the man I was seeking. comes up with only two Tullys in Brant County, Ontario, for the 1852 census, and neither of them is from the right family.

Fortunately, I had already marked the spot in the 1852 census provided at—but how I found it, I’ll never know. It was indexed under the given name “Derris” instead of the correct transcription, “Denis.”

When it comes to researching these earlier census records for Canada, I prefer using the rather plain-jane site, Automated Genealogy. For a free website devoid of the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect online, Automated Genealogy allows me several search options. I can search by surname. I can sort the listings by specific geographic areas. And—best yet, in my book—I can request a “split screen” view of the actual digitized census page, superimposed above the typed transcription listed below.

Seeing that actual census page and being able to explore who else lived nearby provides me with the chance to play around with several “what if” scenarios. In the case of the Denis Tully family, their neighbors indeed prompted many questions about relationships—something we’ll explore in more detail tomorrow.

For a settlement for these traveling families, the midst of Ontario may indeed have seemed to be far “west” of their home in Ireland. It is very likely, though, that the Tully family did not travel west to Ontario alone.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Back to Where the Trail Goes Cold

As we await processing of our travel documents, there is much to be done before we get to commence research in the Old Country. Ireland may be, relatively, a small country, but it is full of Kellys and Tullys and even Falveys. Which John or Mary would be ours? Lest we squander our precious three weeks research time in the Emerald Isle, the goal is to ascertain the right John Kellys before we leave home, here in the States.

Right now, I’m taking time to sort through each major surname group, to see where I left off in research. Call this a needs assessment for my research’s current status. While I felt pretty good about the condition in which I left each surname project, last time I reviewed it, I had worked each project back in time as far as I could push it, and then froze it in its corner and left it standing there.

Some good things have happened in the meantime. For one, both and have been in what appears to be an arms race to see who can amass the greatest heap of digital records in the shortest time. Don’t expect to see any non-proliferation treaties in this race. Instead of mutual destruction, this race insures a mutual benefit for all researchers.

Then, these two genealogy giants are being joined by many upstarts—both for-profit and non-profit organizations—adding their contributions to the universe of historic documents available online. There is such a patchwork of genealogical websites out there that the phrase “Google™ is your friend” has indeed become the genealogist’s mantra.

The bottom line for me—having put my Irish brick walls to bed long before the winter holiday season was upon us—is that there may well be multiple additional resources now available to help me pick up the trail and blaze a path further back in time. The key is: to push that path back far enough to land me on the western shores of Ireland.

To make sure no hint is left unnoticed, I’ve got to have a research plan. Here are the trails, as I left off work on each surname, and what I still need to do with them to land me in the right parish in that family’s homeland.

Tully and Flannery

From their home in Chicago, where we met Frank Stevens through his World War II letters home to his mother, Agnes Tully Stevens, the Tully family followed a path northward to Canada West, as it was called in the 1860s. There, I’ve last seen their records in a small town called Paris in Brant County. The challenge here is to find documentation at that early date, and also to trace what became of the women of the Tully family—many of whom I can’t locate after the 1852 census. Additionally, my hope is to uncover any relationships between the Tully families listed in that census, and to see how the Tully matriarch, whose maiden name was Flannery, connects with the Flannery neighbors in the vicinity of the Tully home.

We’ve already obtained written notice of the Tully family’s origin in Ireland, which makes this the ancestral line most likely to allow me to make connections with a specific parish, once we get to Ireland. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll even find distant cousins still in the town of Ballina in County Tipperary.

Flanagan and Malloy

While I’m unlikely to find any further trace of the unfortunate Stephen Malloy after his unexpected flight to Boston from Liverpool in 1848, hopefully I’ll be able to figure out what drew his wife—after her pursuit of her missing husband—to the recently established transportation hub of the Midwest city of Chicago. While I’ve located—thanks to a copy of a letter passed down through the family—the name of the ship Stephen traveled on (and, incidentally, his home address in Ireland, thanks to the foresight someone had to save the letter in its envelope), I’ve yet to find any passenger records showing me how his wife and, later, his young daughter, got to the New World from the Old.

Before the Mrs. Malloy’s determined pursuit of her fleeing husband, there are undoubtedly records of the Malloys’ marriage, and their daughter’s birth. Thankfully, I do know that Mrs. Malloy’s maiden name was Flanagan, and that she had a brother. What I have yet to find is confirmation that her brother was indeed the William Flanagan that was sentenced to transportation for seven years—and, if so, how he decided to return not to his homeland, and not to Boston, where his sister had traveled, but to Chicago. And who got there first? William? Or his sister?

Most of all, I’d like to find out: why Chicago? And were they the only ones? Or did other Flanagan siblings also find their way westward?

Kelly and Falvey

This is the line that has its marching orders laid out in the best-defined manner of all our Irish ancestral lines. My first duty will be to send for immigration records from the courts for the Kelly family which settled in Fort Wayne. Here’s hoping the records will be for the right John Kelly! And, finding that, that they will contain the kind of information I’m seeking. I’ve already been informed by family tradition that this Kelly family was from the Lakes of Killarney. That, however, is the type of remembrance rife with possibilities for romanticism.

As I’ve already mentioned, I had once been excited to discover that John Kelly’s wife had the unusual name of Johanna Falvey. Unusual, that is, to me. To the folks back home in County Kerry, apparently Falvey was not all that uncommon. Though an obituary helped me discover the origin in County Kerry, there is still much work to determine which Johanna Falvey it might have been who married which John Kelly.

The Other Kelly

There is yet another Kelly puzzle I’ve got to decipher: that of the Catherine Kelly who married the original immigrant John Stevens. This young Catherine Kelly apparently came to the United States with her own parents, and married here—somewhere. Because this detail transpired sometime close to 1850, and may have occurred in either the Midwest or possibly even in New Orleans, sources for solid documentation may not be available. There are only the slightest hints of possible names for this Catherine Kelly’s parents. Even these may be false leads. All that’s been passed down orally from family tradition is that this Kelly family came from the Dublin area—not a reassuring lead. I may be researching more Kellys than I counted on, just to find the right one. And that’s even before I leave the shores of this country.

Stevens: the family’s namesake

The primary prize in all this searching would be to locate the origin of the Stevens immigrant from whom our whole family descended. In one serendipitous moment in Lafayette, Indiana, I was able to find a Declaration of Intent, isolating County Mayo as John Stevens’ origin in Ireland. In addition, the form included details on John Stevens’ route of travel to Indiana: up the Mississippi from New Orleans.

To find any passenger record of this man’s travels, though, has been near impossible to this point. Trying to jump to the source by scouring the records already available online for a John Stevens in County Mayo is fruitless—or, rather, too plentiful in its yield. Which John Stevens would be ours? The goal is to find any other indicators which would allow me to isolate this John Stevens with certainty, either by parents’ names, siblings’ names, or other records of his origin.

A Tall Order

Between the marching orders for these eight Irish surnames, I’ve got a lot of work to cover within the next six months. From this vantage point, it seems like a race to the finish. While some lines may gain ground quickly, others may seem to stall out, but overall, here’s hoping to make steady progress on average, as the months fly by on the way to an autumn finish line.    

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Paved With Good Intentions

The journey from our house to Ireland has not turned out to enjoy as auspicious a start as we had hoped. A couple weeks ago, during our daughter’s spring break from college classes, she went down to the courthouse to begin the passport process. Since my husband and I needed to renew our own passports, we used the prodding to tag along.

Each of us had to first obtain a photo suitable for the many government requirements for such things.

We went to just the place designed to handle lots of such requests: our corner Walgreens. The friendly Walgreens guy took us through the process. First, he snapped our individual pictures. Then, he took the digital version and manipulated it just so—there was a handy-dandy computerized template to shrink our heads down to the right size to fit into a superimposed grid. Then, he flicked the contrast dial until he sucked all the color out of the background—and much of it out of our faces—then clicked “save” and slapped it into the photo processor.

In less than ten minutes, we were out the door with our uniformly-sized head shots in hand.

We had been advised by the college department that handles such matters that if we wished to avoid impossibly long lines, we should show up at the courthouse first thing. Being the perennially-late creatures that we are, we arrived at our downtown location twenty minutes after eight.

For those of you sympathetic to my cause, that is eight in the morning.

We apparently made it through the metal detectors in the entry way in record time, caught an elevator up to the third floor, followed the signs to a propped-open door, stepped inside the appropriate office and all the way up to the counter.

There was no line. How could this be? The office looked set up for a line out the door, but no one was in sight.

We had each of our applications processed quickly. We opted to pay to expedite our daughter’s application, not only because it was an initial application, but because it will be the one detail missing from an otherwise already completed application for her study-abroad site.

You see, the foreign studies consortium through which her university arranges such opportunities offers these many venues from around the world with one caveat: the assignments are doled out in something resembling a lottery.

You give them your first choice for where you wish to study abroad.

Then you give them a second choice.

And then a third.

Maybe you’ll get your wish, and go to your first choice. Maybe not.

The problem for our daughter is that she only has one choice: Ireland. Her special major studies in anthropology and archaeology come with a specific focus: Ireland. It would be quite the challenge if she were to have to complete her studies in Irish archaeology in, say, Brazil. Or Swaziland. It does not take a rocket scientist to deduce that there is only one place for her to complete this goal: Ireland.

And yet, there at the top of the application—which, of course, must be completed in its entirety to be accepted—is a square in which she must insert her passport number.

Right. The passport she has yet to receive.

No passport number, no application submitted. Hence the payment to expedite.

You can imagine our consternation when, in an email received not more than a few days ago, our daughter was informed that the “contrast” on her passport photo was unacceptable and that she would have to re-do her photograph and resubmit it before the passport application process could be completed.

When you are faced with a situation like that, you can go back to the store where the defective goods were obtained and complain, get your money back, vent your spleen, or whatever gives you satisfaction—but that still doesn’t guarantee that the same mistake won’t be made yet again. The complaining, the pursuit of refund will have to wait. This time, the job has to be done right.

No time to lose, our undaunted Irish-bound exchange student sprinted over to a different shop—one which a college friend had used without any such unfortunate results—obtained a second passport photo, and followed the explicit governmental-ese instructions to the “t” to re-submit it.

Meanwhile, the “expedite” we had paid for is becoming less expedited than we had originally planned. I don’t think we can heave a collective sigh of relief until the actual passport is safely in hand, and its unique individual identifier copied dutifully onto the college application requesting that her destination be—oh please, oh please—indeed, Ireland.

I’m sure Walgreens meant well. I’m sure the government worker inspecting the passport application meant well, too. I guess we’ll see whether this was a case of over-zealous bureaucrat if our own passport renewal requests hit the same bump in the road. Whatever the case, I just hope that bump happens in the road that’s still going to Ireland.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Road to Ireland

Though the date for the much-anticipated trip to Ireland will soon be upon us, the way leading up to that point still seems to be long and winding.

The plan is for my daughter, now a junior in college—at the only undergraduate School of International Studies on the west coast—to spend her upcoming fall semester studying abroad in Ireland. Her hoped-for study-abroad university assignment is University College Cork.

For anyone who has followed A Family Tapestry for any length of time, Cork is the city that is conveniently located just down the road from some of my husband’s Irish forebears. How could we not take advantage of such serendipitous situation?!

Yet, as much as I intended to stay on task and dutifully complete all the prerequisite research in preparation for arrival in our target cities, there have been many roadblocks to its completion. Admittedly, some of them were unavoidable—like serious injury and even death in the family—but nonetheless, it appears I’ve got to quickly get back to the business of preliminary research in order to be sufficiently prepared for the task ahead of us.

Yes, it was informative and entertaining, even, to take the detours in the past few months that led me to the Ukraine on behalf of my godmother’s Melnitchenko family, and to the old south of my mother’s maternal ancestors, but for the most part, the road ahead will be filled with all the details I can find on the Irish heritage claimed by my husband and his family.

Step one will be to review what I’ve already written on each branch of that family. So far, I’ve blogged about the Tully family and their roots in Ballina, County Tipperary. I’ve made some mention of the Malloy family—especially the mysterious Stephen Malloy whose disappearance to Boston led to the family’s ultimate immigration to Chicago—and the related Flanagan family of County Limerick (they who were just up the road from Cork). I’ve bemoaned my research fate in having to find the Kelly family from County Kerry, and even my discovery that the Falvey family from that county had a more common surname than I at first had suspected.

Following that, step two will be to see where the trail ends for each of the Irish family names I’m tracing—where, exactly, I’m stuck in retracing the family’s steps from the New World back to their ancestral home in Ireland.

Step three, of course, will be to work feverishly to connect the dots from where the trail goes dark in Chicago or New Orleans or even Ontario to where it began in the old country.

My hope is that this several-months’ hiatus from researching the Irish story will have not only provided a respite for the researcher (and, by proxy, the researcher’s followers) but a period of renewal for all those much-appreciated online services which are, daily, adding to their collections of digitized records.

Above: photograph of the Long Hall and Clock Tower of University College Cork by Bjorn Christian Torrissen via Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Energized by Upcoming Events

I hear it’s the genealogy conference season approaching—a time when invigorating sessions convene to yield opportunities to learn, make connections, and envision personal possibilities for future projects.

There are multitudes of such opportunities out there. Just ask Jen Baldwin, creator of the Conference Keeper website listing conventions, seminars, expos and other learning opportunities occurring around the world.

In my corner of that learning world, I’ve decided to return to one particular venue in Burbank, California, where the Southern California Genealogical Society sponsors their Jamboree. Now coupled with the International Society of Genetic Genealogy’s more recently launched conference, “Family History and DNA: Genetic Genealogy in 2014,” this June event makes it the forty fifth annual Jamboree for SCGS.

That first weekend in June is loaded with nationally-recognized speakers in a wide variety of topics in genealogy: research, writing, technology, focus on ethnic groups, advice on dismantling brick walls.

It was from this same conference, last year, that I came away from the event full of ideas, thoughts, questions—stuff. You know, the stuff that makes you want to go out and get more done.

In the meantime, with SCGS’ cutting edge technology interface, the experience afforded the attendee way more than could be absorbed in one weekend. It took a while to digest all that I gained in that one weekend, leaving me with the thought that I just needed to come back and give this a second try. Maybe, for the uninitiated, it was overwhelming. But I sensed the possibilities were there to absorb even more.

One thing I would have liked to have accomplished last year was to make better use of all the opportunities to connect with like-minded others. With so many class choices, the event can seem larger-than-life, when in reality, participants are welcome to slow down and dial back to a rate more suited to personal purposes. This year, I’ll be exchanging the frenzy of getting-to-session-before-they-close-the-doors for stopping to chat with the passing acquaintance who just shouted “hi” my way. Learning is great, but connecting is better.

Best of all is the chance to explore possibilities, and at Jamboree—as well as in the preceding Genetic Genealogy day—I intend to jump in, eyes wide open. New ideas generate invigorating thoughts, at least in my mind, and a weekend at the SCGS Jamboree is just the venue to incubate these creative possibilities.

Whether you can make it all the way out to southern California for your next learning experience or not, there are many other conferences across the land slated for the next few months. If you can grab the opportunity to attend—even if you’ve done so before—I heartily recommend you do so. And after you’ve done so, consider yourself invited back here to share your observations on your experience.   

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Energized by Possibilities

I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people.
            ~American Playwright John Guare in Six Degrees of Separation

In a moment in which blog posts become influenced by the previous day’s harvest of reader comments, I saw the possibilities in what reader Intense Guy mentioned yesterday:
I think it would be cool if we (all your readers) could find a link, no matter how "loose" or "vague" to each other!

Mind you, I’m not out to propose that we all pull out our pedigrees and plat maps and compare notes to find connections. But we could. And we’d likely be amazed at the common ties we’d discover.

We already have made some connections here at A Family Tapestry. Taking a brief tour through all the comments in the last six months or so, I found a number of posts by readers, mentioning some way or another in which we connect.

First and foremost, I can’t forget the comment by blogger Susan Clark, entered after one post about my Tennessee roots. Predictably, this would catch Susan’s eye—after all, the title of her blog is Nolichucky Roots, her own catalog of ancestral connections in that same east Tennessee region where my grandfather grew up. After one post, Susan commented:
I have been so negligent about commenting, Jacqi, but I am adoring the Erwin connection. Today's entry sent chills down my spine. Your Nellie lived only a block and a half from my great-grandparents in Johnson City. Your names today were so familiar to me that I dug around a bit. Her husband's death record gives a street address that shows up at the corner of Southwest and Maple. My Williams great-grandparents lived in the next block, at 415 W. Maple. I have no words for joy this gives me.

After completing my series on the Bean family in the San Francisco Bay area—and subsequently further north in Santa Rosa—another reader added some comments which revealed a neighbor who actually remembered this family from childhood. The comments were added to the post three months after it was published, so you may have missed reading them, but all of them point to a re-connection. Here’s one of the comments:
I believe I know this neighborhood. I think the young woman on the right is Marilyn Bean. If that's her mother, Mrs. Lincoln, on the left, she is looking very young to me, but I knew her only as a very elderly woman. She babysat me when I was 4 - 5 years old. She had a large stuffed owl in her den, with big, staring eyes, guaranteed not to let a little kid sleep.

In finding my posts about the Stevens family military travels, someone stopped by to compare notes with a couple comments like this one:
I commented on the USNS Gen. Alexander M. Patch and our voyage on it from Bremerhaven to New York in 1952 when I was 15 months old. The stateside home of record listed for us on the passenger list was Greenville, South Carolina, which had become my mother's home city in 1942 when she was 16. My parents married in Greenville in July of 1949 and went to Germany the following month. I was born in Frankfurt in 1951. So, there is another connection we share.

One of my most delightful discoveries was not through a comment to a post, but in subsequent emails with another blogger—Lisa, known online as “Smallest Leaf,” whose blogs include Small-Leaved Shamrock and 100 Years in America. Lisa’s grandparents, as it turned out, lived in the same town in New York in which I grew up. Talk about close connections of the non-related kind!

This all reminds me of the proverbial “Six Degrees of Separation”—the speculation that any two individuals may likely be connected by, at the most, five other people. Remember that sociology class I mentioned in yesterday’s post? It was thanks to that class that I first became aware of the Stanley Milgram experiment, attempting to get a package from a randomly-selected person in a Midwest city to a target individual in Boston, Massachusetts, via only people that the sender knew personally.

While psychologist Stanley Milgram was not the one to coin the descriptive tag “Six Degrees of Separation” that was later given to the “small world” phenomenon, the concept has been mused over, written about, mathematically toyed with and academically pontificated over since at least 1929. As it turns out, many randomly-selected strangers may be connected by as little as three links.

Given the much more limited pool of ethnically-connected ancestors you or I might have in common, it is actually no surprise that we would find some sort of connection between us genealogically, either.

Of course, I’m still awaiting the glorious day when someone emails to inform me that he or she is my long-lost twenty-seventh cousin. Until that happens, however, connections like these from readers really make my day.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Energized by Connections

One of my college professors in sociology assigned, for one of his textbooks, a paperback volume entitled, predictably, The Social Animal.

I’m not sure I buy into the “animal” part, but I have to say, when it comes to “social,” there are a lot of people who will step up and admit, “That’s me.”

I’m not one of them. Give me a book and a cozy corner—preferably with a fireplace, and on a rainy day—and I’d be content just to while away the hours in solitude. The quiet of seclusion makes for better concentration.

Yet a funny thing has happened along the way in spending untold hours working in front of a computer screen: I actually find myself liking the chance to escape the office cubicle and share a cup of coffee and a meandering conversation with someone else.

There is something energizing about connecting with real people. I find myself coming away from face to face conversations, full of ideas for new projects, or solutions for old problems.

Who would have thought a cup of coffee and a couple of hours with a friend could do something like that?

I’ve heard someone assert that we become the sum of the people we surround ourselves with. Even a quintessential loner like I am can agree to that. I find myself gravitating toward the positive, the creative, the inspirational, the accomplished in human form in those moments when I can connect with others.

Yet, after discussing the benefits, yesterday, of drawing our energy from others around us, in retrospect, I realize that energy can be transmitted even when people don’t have the opportunity to meet face to face. Ask all those teenagers on the telephone if they feel connected with friends without seeing them face to face. Of course it’s possible.

After reading the comments to yesterday’s post, I realized we do have another energizing avenue available to us as genealogy researchers, even if we aren’t able to connect through activities like genealogical society meetings, as reader Wendy had mentioned. With all the social media outlets we have available at our fingertips, we have multiple ways to gain that energy of connecting. While you may not “tweet,” nor check your Facebook, nor decorate your Pinterest page, you and I—and everyone else here—are connecting every time we share the conversation via comments online. Intense Guy is right: participating in the crowdsourcing efforts of something like finding a way to send an orphan photo “home,” as Far Side does, is a way to connect. Sharing resources on genealogy blogs—as many of you have done here—is a way we connect.

The connections we make online are not exactly tangible, but they are viable relationships nonetheless. They bring people together with the same interests and goals—people who most likely would never have met, otherwise. When each of us adds our own touch to what the other has said, or found, or shown in a comment, we add that burst of energy that keeps on drawing us back for more.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Energized by Learning

Now that we’ve closed the current chapter on research about the Melnitchenko family, it will soon be time to return to my original pursuit for this year: research in preparation for a trip to find my husband’s roots in Ireland.

Before we return to that study, consider the posts of the next few days a seventh-inning stretch. Every now and then, I just need to take a process break and talk about what is going on right now.

Lately, I’ve found myself more and more involved with our local genealogical society. This is a good thing. It fits well with the philosophy behind many of the projects I take on—like writing this blog, for instance. It’s a philosophy of giving back—in return for all the help along the way, on behalf of the many who would also appreciate knowing what I’ve learned about family history.

For the past year, our society has taken on the project of giving back to the community by providing free classes on how to begin genealogical research. We conduct these classes in cooperation with our local public library system. The library provides the classroom and the administrative interface, the Friends of the Library funds the refreshments, and our genealogical society provides the instruction—once a month throughout the spring and fall semesters.

Last Saturday was our most recent training event. While our sessions are equipped for about fifteen attendees (complete with laptops and wifi access to the Library Edition of, we haven’t always played to a full house, but last week we did.

The positive response we received last Saturday went beyond just seeing every seat in the house taken, though. It went beyond the subject matter taught that day. What was particularly rewarding about this event was what occurred afterwards. You see, our classes follow a general format like this:
            11:00 — Sign in and introductions
            11:15 — Begin instruction on specific topic
            12:00 — Q&A about the topic just taught
            12:15 — Break
            12:30 — One on one sessions with society volunteers

It is in this second hour that registrants for the class get to break open their own notebooks, open their computers, and share with our volunteers just what it is that has them stuck in their own research—or where they’d like to begin their research journey.

Our volunteers get all sorts of questions. We get attendees who have no clue where to begin but remember some story grandma used to tell them—was that true? And we get attendees who waltz in with three-inch-thick binders filled with pristinely-organized, studiously-completed charts, springing questions on us about their tenth-great-grandparents and the finer aspects of research in the native origins of their line.

There are two types of reactions that are notable, regarding these situations.

The first is the response of inspired awe at seeing, for the first time, a family member’s name—or even the actual signature—in a digital copy of a document online. That’s the my-hands-are-shaking, I-can’t-believe-how-incredible-this-is kind of response that has hooked us all and converted us into diehard genealogists.

The second is the transcending response of sheer relief: here, at last, is someone else who appreciates what I’ve discovered, who walks the same solitary road I have, loving the very pursuit that for others merely invokes that expression of my-eyes-glaze-over boredom.

What is interesting about generating these responses in a classroom setting is that they can achieve a critical mass if multiplied in sufficient amount over a short period of time.

That is what happened in class last Saturday.

Who knows. Maybe it was just a great bunch of students last week. Maybe it was the glorious advent of a spring sun bringing everyone’s spirits back from a winter lethargy. It could have been any reason causing the positive energy to flow.

On the other hand—and this is what I suspect is the more likely reason—there is something very affirming about gathering together to share one’s passion, even in a group as random as this assembly of strangers. Letting the vehicle of genealogy classes help hone the self-selection process results in the type of participants more likely to resonate with delight over discoveries.

And like a chain reaction of the nuclear kind, each burst of energy shared multiplies subsequent reactions, until the positive energy flow infuses the entire group—and spills out the doors to reach out into the community and invite others to come join in next time for more of the same.

In the case of positive energy flow in genealogical workshops, critical mass can be achieved by a group small enough to fit into a library classroom. It could be achieved by fifteen. It did last Saturday.

Or it could be achieved by a much smaller group. All it really takes is two: to listen, to share, to connect through the mutual fascination with what we are researching.

An energy level approaching that magnitude is, however, something near impossible to obtain, just sitting alone in front of a computer screen in your own home. When it comes to energy like that, it's something that just has to be shared with someone else.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Benefit of “Unusual”

Since beginning my search for the origin of my godmother’s family earlier this month, I’ve been amazed how much information could be assembled in such a short amount of time.  

The benefit of weird names in helping research move along quickly needs to be carefully balanced. Too weird, and you get no hits at all. Witness my attempts to find material on the Aktabowski family.  Too common—think John Kelly in Ireland here—and you get buried under an avalanche of search hits.

Looking for the surname Melnitchenko seemed to put me in the spot labeled “just right.” I was surprised to see how much I could find online since starting this search on March 5, from nothing but one name and a few childhood memories.

And that isn’t all. For some perverse reason—I dunno, maybe I was getting greedy for more?—I kept searching, even after all I’ve found so far. Visiting one of my all-time favorite sites, Old Fulton Postcards, I garnered five additional citations, including one from the Mount Vernon, New York, Daily Argus, raving about “the American debut of Genia Melnitchenko, brilliant Franco-Russian prima ballerina.”

Besides that, apparently, there is an entire file of magazine articles, old photographs and other write-ups on Genia housed at the New York Public Library—the only place in the country, in fact, with many of these holdings. And they’re not loaning them out.

When I consider all the material I’ve been able to find, I sometimes wonder if this would be the type of project that ought to be pursued. Someone ought to write this stuff up, I think.

But then my alter ego gets in the act and demands, “But who would want to know?”

And so I go, continuing the argument inside my own head, never quite overcoming the last zinger of a “yeah, but.”

Meanwhile, the fact that this search was all-too-easy—so far, at least—can’t be ignored. I must have found the sweet spot with a name like Melnitchenko. And that coupled nicely with all the material that keeps getting rolled out, daily, by several online companies and non-profit organizations in their own sort of arms race to digitize historic documentation.

It all has its limits, though. For one thing, you notice there haven’t been any “Russian”—or even Ukrainian—records forthcoming. I don’t suppose there will be any showing up in the next season or so, at this point. And for some documents, well, the only way to get hold of them is still the same old fashioned way we did it back when all we had was wood-burning computers: snail mail.

With that, I’ll have to set aside my project to pursue Genia Melnitchenko back to her grandparents’ generation. While I have a hint that there is an Ivan Melnitchenko out there—and a Theodore, too, tied to Lydia Melnitchenko’s maiden name, whatever that may be—that will have to suffice for now.

Some day, one digitized or snail-mailed way or another, there will be more to know. But for now, there are many other projects waiting in the wings for their own debut.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Searching For the Beginning

In researching my godmother’s Melnitchenko family, my hope was to locate the family’s origin in Europe. Of course, I was well aware that my godmother had been born and raised in France, but I knew France wasn’t where the family was from. The Melnitchenkos always claimed their heritage was Russian.

While to get the full story will require me to send to New York for immigration papers, I had hoped, in the meantime, to find at least a few more clues about where the Melnitchenkos first lived.

When I found records in New York matching the description of my godmother’s father, Michael, I was so pleased to discover at least one of them had included a place of birth. That document was the passenger list I later posted about last Sunday. Among the other surprising tidbits that unusual listing had provided, the form bore record that seaman and ship’s chief officer Michael Melnitchenko had been born in “Necolaeff, Russia.”

Immediately upon finding that, I flew straight to a list of Russian city names. Bearing in mind the fact that Russian place names over the last century have undergone changes, I hoped for the best. One name on the list I found seemed to be a phonetic approximation of the city name I was seeking: Nikolayevsk. A small town in Volgograd, the only problem it came with was the fact that it wasn’t anywhere near a seaport.

Granted, it was on the banks of the Volga River. But I had my doubts. Sailor Michael Melnitchenko needed a seaport to make his life’s story seem more consistent.

It was at that point in my research in preparation for these posts that we began discussing seeking family roots via origin of surname types. That was when reader Intense Guy sent information on a book about the Ukraine, and I Googled the origin of names ending in “–enko.”

As you have probably realized in your own family history research, many documents bear the name of a region based on its current geopolitical circumstances. Thus, those researching the Alsace region may find their ancestor born in “France” in one record, then ten years later, the birthplace will be listed as “Germany”—same place, different regime.

Perhaps that very dynamic was operating in the Melnitchenkos’ early years. Their origin was always listed as Russia, when in fact it may very well have been Ukrainian, instead.

As it happens, in addition to the doubtfully-situated city of Nikolayevsk, Russia—though phonetically close enough to match the record I’d found of Michael’s birthplace—there was a similarly-named town in the Ukraine. A place known as Mykolayiv was sometimes—especially in Russian—also called Nikolayev, handily approximating the phonetic rendering given by Michael on that 1943 passenger list.

Of course, back in 1943, that Nikolayev would have been under the control of Soviet Russia. Even in the 1920s, when the Melnitchenkos likely left their homeland, Nikolayev would have been part of the new Soviet Russia. It was likely that the famine that followed the Russian Revolution may have played a part in the Melnitchenkos’ decision to emigrate.

And, to complete the picture in a more convincing way, we find that this Nikolayev was located on the coast of the Black Sea—a suitable situation for a sailor like Michael, and yet another confirmation that the more likely place to continue this search is in the Ukraine and not in Russia.

Artwork, above left: "The Storm on the Volga," 1870 painting by Ilya Repin; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain in those countries with a copyright term of life of the artist plus eighty years or less.

Monday, March 17, 2014

And What Was He Doing There ?

Since my godmother’s father, Michael Melnitchenko, was a sailor, it would be natural to expect him to live near a seaport. Granted, for the early years of his working life, that seaport was in his native land, somewhere within the realm of the former Russian Empire. Later, it was at the scenic Mediterranean seaport of Marseilles, France. When he moved to the United States—even after retirement—he still stayed close to the ocean, living in New York City.

So…what was he doing, living in Pennsylvania in 1942?

It was a World War II draft registration card that tipped me off. For the longest time, I discounted the entry that popped up in my searches on because it was indexed under the name “Michael Juan Melnitchenko.”

Juan? Talk about cross-cultural! I didn’t think that would be my guy, and never took a peek.

Until later.

I hadn’t thought about the possibility that the name “Ivan” could have been written in such a way that someone would have mis-read it as “Juan.”

That minor detail aside, I also hadn’t entertained the possibility that someone who gained his livelihood from the sea would be living in western Pennsylvania.

Inconveniently, the details matched up all too neatly. The first name, Michael, and last name, Melnitchenko, coupled with an Americanized version of the patronym for “son of Ivan,” were handily all there—well, if you morphed that doubtful “Juan” into a more reasonable “Ivan.”

The birthday was even correct: all other documents I had found convinced me the proper date was January 11, 1897. And the place of birth was a rough phonetic equivalent of the entry I had found in a few other documents for Michael’s hometown in Russia.

But why would Michael Melnitchenko, the Russian immigrant to France, be filling out a draft registration card in the United States? And why would he be living and working in a place called “West Hickory” in Forest County, Pennsylvania?

According to the registration card, Michael was employed in an unlikely place called West Hickory Tanning Company. He gave, for his most trusted contact person, someone by the very un-Russian name of R. R. Smith, another resident of the mysterious West Hickory.

Michael had registered in a local draft board in the nearby city of Pittsburgh. The whole scenario was so incredibly out of place for me that I couldn’t help but dismiss it out of hand. The only excuse I could come up with for its existence was the idea that it would be a risky business to keep going out to sea in an enemy-infested realm in the north Atlantic.

But why leave New York to take such an uncharacteristic job as what he found on the far side of Pennsylvania?

Those were the types of questions I struggled with—the questions that led me to just set the whole issue aside and forget about it—until I found the passenger list containing that one name entered on the return trip from delivering “vital military cargo” to a port in northern Africa.

I had to revisit the narrative, from the award notation for Captain Erich Richter on the U.S. Merchant Marine website, to check the details of the voyage. The ship upon which Michael Melnitchenko had been serving as Chief Officer—the soon-to-be-torpedoed S.S. Richard Olney—had set sail some time before its demise on September 22, 1943.

There was an unusual entry on the passenger list for Michael’s return trip to New York following his rescue from the downed S.S. Richard Olney that made me do a double take. On the second page of his entry, the question on the passenger list form asked, “Whether ever before in the United States, and if so, when and where?”

Naturally, knowing Michael’s home base at the time to be in France, I would have presumed the answer to have been “Yes” only if the stop were for shore leave for a limited duration. That, however, was not the case. Though the “Where” was answered “N.Y.,” the duration was listed as a much longer fourteen months.

Michael’s last given date of departure from New York was listed as August 5, 1943. Could that have been when the Richard Olney set sail on its mission? His passage was listed as paid by the W.S.A.—the War Shipping Administration.

What about those previous fourteen months in the United States? That would have brought him back to at least June of 1942, just a couple months past his stint in West Hickory in Forest County, Pennsylvania, at the date when he completed his draft registration card.

Had he really been working at a tanning shop in west Pennsylvania all that time he claimed he was in New York?

Grasping for any clues at all, I noticed the registration card included the man’s signature.

Once again, I revisited another signature page I had found to see if they matched. Granted, that other resource was the document in which my Michael Melnitchenko had just petitioned the Southern District court in New York to change his name during the naturalization process on this exact day today, sixty two years ago.

His hand was still uncertain as it navigated the unfamiliar Melch surname. But the entry for his first name, Michael, looked promisingly similar.

I was beginning to wonder if Michael Melnitchenko was leading a double life.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Day in the Life of a Sailor

While Genia Melikova may have led a life of glamour in the spotlights of stages around the world, her father lived a very different type of international lifestyle.

Michael Ivanivitch Melnitchenko was a seaman. Sailing the seas, in fact, may have been the very thing that allowed him to escape, some time in the 1920s, the devastating future of his Russian homeland.

Thanks to currently-available digitized records online, we can trace his life’s work through various ships’ records, in which he was included among the crew of the vessels sailing in and out of New York harbor. Many of those records indicated voyages begun in his adopted city, Marseilles—or at least originating somewhere in France.

While Michael’s wife may have experienced a life of stress subsequent to the family’s flight from their war-torn homeland—and then again from their adopted home after yet another war—the seaman himself faced stressful challenges in his chosen occupation.

In trying to find any hints about the Melnitchenkos’ past in the various passenger lists online, I scoured every detail on every list bearing that surname. One, later in Michael’s career, looked very promising for its inclusion of his city of birth.

As I tried to determine where in Russia—Michael’s stated homeland—the given city might have been, I nearly missed an even bigger discovery about the man: the event unfolding via handwritten notes scrawled around the neat printed report on the government-mandated passenger list for the S.S. John Rutledge.

Sailing from Bizerte in northern Africa, the John Rutledge arrived in New York on December 18, 1943. Michael’s entry was listed on a page empty of any other data than his own record. The requested information provided much of what we’ve already been able to gather about Michael Melnitchenko:
            He was forty seven years old at that time
            He could read and write both English and Russian
            He was married to Lydia, who still resided in Marseilles, France

The records noted that, as a seaman, he served as chief officer—but not, however, on the ship in which he was currently sailing. In script above the usual entries, someone else had written, “Repatriated Seaman.” Another note alongside it mentioned, “Ex SS Richard Olney.” And then the printed note:
            T O R P

Somewhere off the coast of what is now Tunisia, the ship in which Michael served as chief officer had been attacked. According to notes I found in one site listing American merchant ships sunk in World War II (where you must scroll down three quarters of the length of the alphabetized page to the entry for the S.S. Richard Olney), it was a Liberty Ship which was torpedoed on September 22, 1943. Two of the crew members lost their lives in that attack.

In the attack, according to an entry in an online site honoring Merchant Marine heroes, “A large hole was torn in the vessel’s side, the boilers and engine room were wrecked and machinery plant rendered useless.”

Thanks to the quick thinking and exemplary leadership of the vessel’s commander, Captain Erich Richter, temporary repairs made, coupled with escort by a Naval vessel, enabled the ship to be towed to a protected location at the north African port of Bizerte. At that point, “vital military cargo” was unloaded.

Following that close call, at least one seaman was returned to New York: Michael Melnitchenko. His paperwork as he disembarked from the return ship, the S.S. John Rutledge, indicated he was traveling under the auspices of the War Shipping Administration, 45 West Broadway, New York City.

A note followed that entry: “Reship.” Whether that meant to “reship” Michael back to New York, or, following his arrival at the New York port, that he should be returned to France was unclear. After all, what did that entry “Repatriated Seaman” mean?

Despite introducing further questions, this document may have provided clues to resolve two other mysteries: first, the question of Michael’s birth place and second, an explanation for an extended period of time in which Michael may have actually lived and worked in Pennsylvania.

How do I know that?

I found it on a United States draft registration form—for a Russian-born Frenchman.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Case of Two Signatures

In the midst of trying to determine whether my godmother, whom I knew personally as Genia Melnitchenko but whom the rest of the world knew as ballerina Genia Melikova, was the same as the immigrant I found in online documents, I recalled one little slip of paper that might help cinch matters.

Years ago, when I was probably still an infant, my godmother had sent a fanciful little Christmas greeting to me—via my mother, of course, who would have to serve as interpreter. My mother saved that little card and tucked it away among the small collection of cherished items from her earlier life.

I in turn, upon receiving it from my mother, tucked it away for memory’s sake. It was one of the Christmas tidbits I intended to include as a season’s greeting on a December blog post—but if you won’t mind reruns when it comes closer to that hectic season, I’ll share it now for one specific point.

I realized that was the one piece of paper I had bearing the signature of my godmother. The reason it comes in handy is that, among the immigration papers posted online, I found another item that included Genia’s signature.

This other specimen of her signature was on the documents granting her the name change from Melnitchenko to Melch, which we had discussed last week. From the way she formed her “G” for Genia, to the distinct formation of her “n” at the middle of her name, I felt it replicated the card I had remembered tucking away for safekeeping.

Of course, there is no way to check how she signed her last name against anything I owned of hers, for she never signed her last name in cards for me. It was always "Aunt Genia." Besides, how awkward that “Melch” seemed to be written—a word her hand seemed to rebel against in its very formation.

Despite hopes of now heading into less wintery weather, I pulled out that Christmas reminder and took a look. Let me know what you think.

Here is her Christmas greeting from so many years ago:

And here is the card from her petition to change her name in the Southern District of the New York court:

It was just a little token to remind me that this fairy tale godmother truly did exist in real life. How strange that we sometimes need repeated affirmation that our past really did happen to us.

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