Sunday, May 31, 2015

Returning to Canada

It’s funny how, when being absent from a place for a while, the return trip makes one sensitized to all the minute changes that occurred during that absence. I know that’s the disoriented feeling that descended upon me when I returned to my childhood home, many years after graduating college. Hey, there were roads that no longer went in the same direction as they used to go!

It’s the same, I’m discovering, now that I’m returning to research our Tully ancestors as they passed through Canada, over one hundred years ago. After all, if I’m planning on widening my DNA “net” to catch more Tully cousins, I need to consider that Canada, for many of them, either became home permanently, or became the home they returned to, after their foray into the territories of the western United States.

A little review of the Irish Tully immigrants may be in order here. Originating—at least as far back as I can determine in church records—in the tiny village of Ballina in northern County Tipperary, Ireland, this family chose to leave their homeland and head for the New World.

The time of the Tully emigration likely coincided with the Irish famine, though I have yet to find any telltale passenger records. Unlike many leaving Ireland for good, the Tully family didn’t head to New York or Boston, those most Irish of American cities. They apparently opted for the more northern route through Canada. Whether they intended to settle there or simply pass through to an interior American port like Chicago or Detroit, I can’t say. But I do know their first recorded stopping place was Paris in Brant County, Ontario.

From there, the children of Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully mostly moved on, once they were old enough to live on their own. Oldest daughter Johanna married a Ryan and headed west, through Winnipeg to the hard life on the American frontier of Dakota Territory. Son Michael—at least, presumptive son—first took his young family to the closer American destination of Detroit, Michigan. John, our direct ancestor, headed for Chicago, as did his brothers Patrick and William. Their sister Margaret, born in 1844 in Ireland and showing on Canada West census records up to 1861, is the only one of the family I have not been able to track, likely owing either to a premature death or yet-to-be-uncovered marriage.

Following the generations from this original immigrant family becomes challenging. I’ve been able, for instance, to track the company of Ryan immigrants moving from Winnipeg to what eventually became Grafton in Walsh County, North Dakota—and then realize that something tragic must have befallen the extended family there, for many of those who survived chose to return to Canada.

It’s been quite a while since I tried my research wings over the western plains and mountains of Canada. A lot has changed since then. The felicitous aspect of all this change is the fact that more digitized records are now available to help me figure out what became of every branch of this family. As I progress and add surnames like Dunn and Guinan and Wilkie and Thomson to my list of DNA connections, I get enthused over the increase of potential matches.

At the same time, I realize how woefully inadequate the holdings at are for researching our Canadian cousins. And I recall all the Canada-specific websites I had discovered, the last time I had wandered in this direction. It’s time to pull out those old lists of Canadian resources, brush them off, and pay those sites a visit. It would be nice to find some third and fourth cousins north of the border. I know they’re out there.

Above: "Golden Summer, Eaglemont," 1889 oil on canvas by Australian artist Sir Arthur Ernest Streeton; courtesy Google Art Project via Wikipedia; in the public domain. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Reconstructing Branches

When parents introduce their young children to someone called “Aunt,” does that always mean the woman is a sibling to either Mom or Dad?

We all know that is sometimes not the case. The handy convention of having children demonstrate respect for family friends by dubbing them as aunts and uncles is a widespread tradition, at least in American circles.

It would be too far a stretch to expand that device to the point of assuming that the children of such an "aunt" or "uncle" would then be considered cousins. But, in going with the “Aunt” and “Uncle” custom, could it be possible that a family might have insisted on such an informal designation?

That was my dilemma, almost three years ago, as I sifted through the piles of papers rescued from Agnes Tully Stevens’ files. I had found a photograph and ordination invitation in Agnes' keepsakes, labeled by her daughter, “my cousin.”

The name, though, was one that hadn’t—yet—shown up in my genealogical searches. I had no idea how this man—Father John Bernard Davidson—connected to the Tully family.

It took quite a while to reconstruct Father Davidson’s own family tree—perhaps, if you’ve been reading at A Family Tapestry for that long, you may recall seeing the explanation in the two part series here and here. I was able to put together a chart of the two generations preceding him, leading up to the very Michael Tully who had appeared on the same page in the Canadian 1861 census in Paris, Ontario, as our Tully family’s progenitor, Denis Tully.

If, I reasoned, Agnes’ daughter knew to label the photograph of Father John Davidson as “my cousin,” this must not have been an example of that friendly convention. I felt somewhat confident that this was family, not just good friend.

But I lacked any final documentation. After all, 1860s Canada was not the best place to send for birth documentation. The Catholic Church there in Paris, Ontario, had barely been established. They were having trouble identifying the people buried in their graveyard at that time, let alone preserving that decade’s baptismal records.

Fast forward to my angst, this week, over discovering that I never actually entered that family line in my database. Of course I didn’t: I couldn’t locate any documentation that Michael was son of Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully. All I had were family notes—the two handwritten entries on material saved from John Bernard Davidson’s ordination being among other such discoveries—stating that relationship as fact.

So, do I save this? Or not? Evidently, I had chosen the more cautious route, the last time I visited this dilemma. And then turned back, seeking my notes documenting the discovery, only to find I couldn’t locate them. I sure don’t want to repeat that again.

There is a second aspect to this story that compels me to revisit it. Remember my mention, regarding DNA test results, about lack of any device to separate my husband’s paternally-linked results from those of his mother’s line? It occurred to me that I needed to seek a willing family participant whose test results could serve to delineate which, among the autosomal results, were from his mother’s side, and which from his father’s line.

I now realize I may already have such a device. And if not, I’m close enough to a willing subject to quickly grant that wish. You see, by plugging in the data from that Davidson branch into my Tully database—notwithstanding lack of a specific document stating the connection between patriarch Denis Tully and his son Michael—I now can reap several additional surnames to look for in my results. And, recalling that I’ve already met two distant cousins from that line, I may also find that they are willing to pursue DNA testing—if they haven’t already done so.

So—though I still can’t shake that hesitancy to add a name without a bona fide document—I’ve bit the bullet and added this entire line to my Tully tree. Beginning with the Michael Tully who appeared in the 1861 Canadian census for Paris, Ontario, I’ve traced everyone from his firstborn son—named, significantly, Denis, just like any Irish son of Denis would have done for his firstborn son—on down to Father John Bernard Davidson. Armed with the names of several more cousins—including married names for the female descendants—I now have much more to work with.

Perhaps this will yield some handy tools in further evaluating our DNA test results. It would be nice to witness some progress on this attempt. If nothing else, lacking that one key document, perhaps the DNA will confirm my hunch.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Losing a Piece of My Mind

It’s reroofing time at the Stevens household. Thus, it might be appropriate to say I’m losing my peace of mind. However, that is not what I wish to focus on, today. I’m much more frustrated over a discovery made last night—too late to do anything about it other than to stew over what is missing.

The aggravation comes from a widespread genealogical bugaboo, and the avoidance behavior it engenders. The bugaboo is about indiscriminate, wholesale copying of other people’s family trees posted on online sites like The corollary avoidance behavior—at least in the minds of those prone to practicing proactive prevention techniques—is to never put anything online about one’s genealogical connections that might in any way possible not be perfectly correct.

And so, well-intentioned little ol’ me decided, in cases in which there was any hint of a shadow of doubt, to not note my genealogical hypotheses in the form of an entry on my online tree.

The drawback was, when it came to a major discovery of an entirely new branch of my husband's Tully tree, neither did I make a note of my suspicions on my computer-based genealogical database program, either. After all, who wants to pass along error?

Somewhere, out in the many boxes I have stored, containing the files of notes made to myself—pending several bona fide versions of confirmation, of course—is a folder labeled Tully. In that folder is my extensive diagram of an entire branch of the Tully family, now missing because I was too hypersensitive about adding it to a tree that—heavens, forbid—might then be seen and copied by someone before I could attach yet another verifying document.

When I first discovered I had withheld the entry from my tree, I nonchalantly thought, “I’ll just pull it up in my Family Tree Maker file.” No problem. Right?

Except that my outrageous habit had followed me there, as well. No sign of that Tully branch resident in my desktop computer files, either.

With that sinking feeling over realization of how many file cabinets and boxes I might have to sift through before finding a set of temporary, hand-written notes, I began mentally bemoaning that personal policy of being so fussy. In the face of a research brick wall, that type of difficulty puts a researcher between a rock and a hard place. I mean, I can post something publicly that turns out to be in error, though I’ve tried my best to ascertain that it was a good fit in the family constellation where I placed it—and then reap the multiplied errors of other users copying and pasting that same hypothesis into their own family trees.

Or, I can just yank the whole project and switch my Ancestry tree to private status. And nobody gets to see it. Which means I lose out on cousin bait.

Meanwhile, slowly dawning on me are two possibilities.

One is that most of what I had discovered about this extra branch of our Tully family was contained, not in written notes, but mental notes—which meant the possibility that, in forgetting it, I was losing a valuable piece of my mind.

The other is that it was highly likely, as I discovered this potential Tully line, I blogged about it.

The second possibility, mercifully, turned out to be so. I did blog about my discovery of another sibling of John Tully and his sister Johanna—the one whose descendant placed that call to me recently, inviting me to revisit this research. You can find my original thoughts on this Tully sibling discovery in a two part post beginning here and followed up here.

Now that I’ve found at least part of my exploration of this possible other Tully brother, I’ve got to plug it in somewhere in my database. I still cringe to think my hypothesis might turn out to be wrong, but I’ve got to have somewhere to hang this hat in the big framework of the family’s history. If nothing else, I certainly don’t want to lose this data again.

Oh, if there were only a way, on these widely-accessible public genealogical databases, to enter the warning in bold red letters,
            Caveat emptor.

Buyer beware! The family tree data you are about to copy may not be entirely correct. You must perform your own due diligence before cutting and pasting this tidbit!

After all, I might discover I made a mistake. Later—after you’ve come and gone. Let the wise genealogical researcher realize that we all—no matter how hypersensitive we are about documentation—are prone to errors.

Besides, I just need a corner of this genealogical world where it’s safe to test drive those hunches.  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Something in Common

There’s nothing like being contacted by a distant cousin to rev up the search engines on a previously-forsaken line of research pursuit. After exhausting all possibilities for further progress following our research trip to Ireland last fall, I had set aside my work on the Stevens, Tully and related lines long before Christmas. I confess: I prefer progress to head banging on genealogical brick walls.

Now, prompted by a distant cousin’s recent contact, I’m returning to pursue those Irish roots on my husband’s side of the family. It sure would be handy to find a way to corroborate connections via DNA testing. A handy device for that—at least, based on my experience with my own autosomal test results at Family Tree DNA—has been the “In Common With” sorting option on their Family Finder program.

That’s the handy crossed double arrows button on the dashboard at FTDNA that I’ve used when working on my own lines. If you remember, I have a half brother who was willing to test. We share the paternal side of our family. Generally, on my autosomal DNA results, if I want to eliminate results from my maternal side and hone in on my paternal ancestors, I can go to my brother’s entry on my readout and click “In Common With” to eliminate all my maternal matches—and believe me, there are hundreds of them. Poof! Gone with one keystroke.

When it comes to my husband’s DNA test results, I have no such handy device. While I have confirmed two matches on his maternal side, each of those matches is too far removed from him to whisk away all maternal connections. I need something more all-encompassing before I can achieve anything as sweeping as that. Either I’ll need to talk a very close relative on one side of the family into testing—not, obviously, anyone at the level of sister, though—or at least confirm several matches specific to his paternal side to be able to isolate certain lines within the DNA results.

Granted, there will surely come a time when Family Tree DNA offers another helpful sale on their tests, and I’ll want to snag that opportunity to talk family members into testing. But it would also be handy to find someone who has already tested and is a close enough relationship to help with comparisons.

It does seem tedious, though, to go through these hundreds of matches, shopping for that perfect specimen. The great preponderance of matches we’ve seen already seems to be at the fourth cousin level or beyond—not very helpful in locating the candidate I’m seeking.

All I want—and maybe, in time for Father’s Day, if FTDNA follows suit on its traditional sales pattern—is someone in the family with whom my husband’s paternal line shares something in common. And a willingness to volunteer as participant in this genetic genealogy pursuit.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Someone Did Want That Picture

When I first started writing A Family Tapestry, a seasoned blogger popped up out of nowhere and became not only my inspiration but a wonderful mentor, as well. Among her other online properties, one was a blog dedicated to the worthy mission—at least in genealogists’ eyes—to find and rescue abandoned old photographs and reunite them with family members.

While I was infinitely jealous of the fact that she was located in the far northern reaches of our country—in “Minnesnowda,” as she likes to call it—instead of being out and about, scouring the antique shops in the Southern hometowns of my ancestors, I was impressed with what she is accomplishing. To date, she has posted 1,914 rescued photographs on her blog and returned 118 of them to grateful family members.

Perhaps you already recognize, by this description, the accomplishments witnessed on the blog known as Forgotten Old Photos by the near-anonymous blogger who calls herself Far Side of Fifty. Perhaps you, too, have learned a lot about the photographs of the mid to late 1800s and beyond, just by following her daily posts and watching the scramble as readers attempt to identify living family members of her mystery photograph subjects.

Granted, having a subscriber base well over 1700 helps the reunification process—yet another aspect about which I must confess harboring feelings of envy. Sometimes, in struggling over the photographs left behind by my own family’s ancestors, I wish I could just hand the pictures over to Far Side and let her choreograph the magic that occurs on her site with such regularity.

However, I am me, and she is, well, phenomenal. I can only hope to someday achieve a smidgeon of that reunification success rate.

Last night, though, I received a comment on A Family Tapestry that made me perk up and renew that dream of becoming Far Side’s “Mini Me.” The note was concerning a post from June, 2013—about a photograph from the mostly-unlabeled Bean family collection that I never could just bring myself to throw away.

“Someone might want this picture” would be the thought going through my mind, every time I sternly lectured myself on the foolishness of keeping that hopeless collection of faces from my now-long-deceased first husband’s grandfather’s siblings. But I guess I had a soft spot in my heart for the crotchety Aunt Leona and Uncle Bill. And the photographs stayed on in the old box I received them in after their passing, back in the 1980s.

You can imagine how I perked up when this note came through my email inbox:
Hi. This is my grandfather, Leo Walter Harrington from Tonapol.

The message went on to read,
My grandfather went to Stanford and studied law. He was born on October 15th, 1896.

That year—1896—was the same year Bill Bean was born in Redwood City, California, not far from Palo Alto, where the Bean family later lived and in which Stanford University is located. Though I have yet to find out how Bill met Leo Harrington, perhaps now I will have a chance to learn—and, of course, like my inspiration, Far Side of Forgotten Old Photos, to return the photograph of a young Leo Walter Harrington to a family member who might like to have it.

Leo Harrington from Tonapol while attending Stanford University California as law student

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Gearing Up For Team #scgs2015

One week from tomorrow, I’ll be hopping in the car and making the marathon drive down south for my favorite genealogy event of the year: the Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree.

Don’t think that means I’m packing, this far in advance. I tend to do that sort of prep work all in one swoop, the night before heading out.

There is one aspect I am attending to this early, though: planning my networking strategy. After all, one of the virtues of attending conferences in person is meeting people. Otherwise, why endure a six hour road trip? I could just stay home and check out live streaming of key sessions in the comfort of my own living room.

That, however, wouldn’t offer the opportunity to get to know my fellow genealogy enthusiasts—and certainly would not afford me the chance for face time with my favorite geneabloggers. We all spend enough time connecting online, as it is. It’s good to switch things up and go the personal route sometimes. I may be a wallflower, but I’m certainly not a couch potato.

So, when I read that another geneablogger is going to be at Jamboree, I send her a tweet to make initial contact—or an email, if we’re not connected via Twitter. I’ll never forget the time I learned, through a blogger’s post after Jamboree, that we had both been in the same sessions but hadn’t realized it! I don’t want to come away from this four day extravaganza (including DNA Day) without meeting with people I know from blogging and research connections.

Granted, those are online connections. You and I might spend a few virtual minutes together each day—at the very least, tag teaming it—over the posts at A Family Tapestry, but if I were to cross paths with you in real life, it’s quite likely we’d both be oblivious to that fact. Unless, that is, we had some way to be alerted to that detail and to then introduce ourselves.

This is our chance to give each other that heads up.

Besides—okay, you shrinking violets out there, back me up on this!—how many of us are quite handy at walking into a room full of strangers, sticking out our hand at random and shouting, “HI! MY NAME IS….”

Isn’t it so much nicer to discover who the other person is, ahead of time? To make plans to find that person and grab a moment to chat?

I’ll never forget the time I realized I was sitting across the aisle from fellow blogger Melanie Frick: it was after tweeting a comment about the Jamboree session I was attending. I had used that year’s Jamboree hashtag; right away, she saw it. The inevitable follow-up:
            Where are you?

That is how we met. If not that way, I’d likely had never known she was there.

I would much rather meet people that way, than to shoulder my way through an army of strangers in hopes of connecting with someone I’ve never seen in real life. Yeah, I know: shy and retiring. But I have lots of company.

I once went to a place for lunch, a restaurant in the Bay Area whose cheeky menu invited comments—even complaints. “You have a mouth; use it” was their tag line.

Now we’re in the twenty first century. That motto may as well read, “You have a Twitter account; use it.”

At least, I do; it’s @jacqistevens. If you have a Twitter account too, and are planning to attend Jamboree, why not do two things during this week leading up to Jamboree Day One:
  • Send me a tweet saying you’ll be there too, and
  • Use the Twitter hashtag #scgs2015 for all your tweets during Jamboree.

Consider yourself deputized to become a part of Team #scgs2015. In today’s world of social media, anyone can, really. Together, we’ll not only blanket the social media genea-sphere with our take on Jamboree proceedings, but send out a signal that says, “Hey, I’m here, too!”

That way, you and I and everyone else there can connect on a more personal level. After all, if we’re not connecting while we’re all there together, we may as well have taken it all in from the couch-potato hermitage of our own homes.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Day For Remembering

By the time you read this post, an army of flag-bearers will have blanketed every national cemetery in the country—and a number of grave sites in other cemeteries as well—with the Red, White and Blue in preparation for the Memorial Day weekend remembrances. True, the honorees of this weekend are specifically those who have made their supreme sacrifice in service to their country, and many of us haven’t had to bear the burden of that empty place at our dinner tables, or growing up without the dad or sibling who will never be coming home again.

In our family, it takes a bit of searching through our family tree before we find anyone who would rightfully be remembered on this national holiday. There are some—like my husband’s first cousin once removed, Joseph Edward McGonagle, Staff Sergeant of the 563rd Bomber Squadron 388th Bomber Group, shot down in Europe on March 8, 1944—whom our living relatives personally remember. There are others—such as the Civil War soldiers I’ve uncovered in my most recent project to research my maternal family lines—who have been commemorated since the inception of Decoration Day traditions.

Though today isn’t their day, those surviving family members who have served in the military and those who are veterans of past wars still have my gratitude, as well. Though they may have escaped death during their service, it seems as if many of them returned home with Death strapped to their backpacks. Even those who survived carried the internal scars of what they bore “over there.” As I follow the research trail through the various extended lines of both my husband’s and my own family trees, I can’t help but notice the life spans of many of those veterans, shortened by ten to twenty years from that of their own siblings. No matter which way they returned home, they paid a price for what they endured.

If you have a family member whose sacrifice is being commemorated today, you have my highest gratitude. There are no words that could adequately express what that service represents—only a perpetual call to demonstrate our debt through our humble gestures of remembrance.

Above: "The March of Time," 1896 oil on canvas by Henry Sandham, depicting a parade of veterans of the U.S. Civil War during Decoration Day. Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Splat on the Proverbial Brick Wall

Is there any wiggle room, pressed hard up against the genealogical brick wall? That’s what I’m about to find out. Hopefully, this inquiry will deliver me to the felicitous date when the National Library of Ireland releases its digitized version of Irish Catholic Church records to the virtual world, supplying me with a fresh supply of potential documentation to build my case about my husband's Irish ancestry.

I’m not so sure, though. The current promised release date for the digitization project is July 8. And we haven’t yet escaped the clutches of May. That would make for a pretty long wiggle.

When I last left researching my husband’s Irish family lines, we had concluded a wonderful—yet exhausting—research trip to counties Cork, Tipperary, and Kerry leading up to a week at the books in Dublin. Once home, I had transcribed and muddled over my nearly-illegible notes, taken in utter haste during that three week trip. (Three weeks may seem like a lot for time on the road, but when it comes to searching for genealogical records, it never seems to be enough time.)

That I was bumping into a brick wall of time-restricted availability of records was not lost on me. Not only were we limited by our time in Ireland—those precious few days in that three week period—but we were also confined by the limitations of what was available on Catholic families living in that former realm of the United Kingdom.

It did, indeed, feel as if I had gone “splat” on that brick wall.

It is amazing how one phone call can resurrect hopes. And just one week ago, that is exactly what happened. Now, I’m re-entering the sharing stage with a distant cousin, eager to compare notes on our mutual family’s history. All we have to go on, really, are a few hand-written notes stowed in keepsake boxes passed down through the generations. We may have some of the very few written remembrances of those family members. The wonder is that they corroborate each other.

The person on the other end of the phone last week is the sister of the third cousin who shared baptismal records for Johanna Tully Ryan. Those, if you recall from this old post, aligned with the baptismal note we subsequently found for my husband’s great-grandfather, John Tully. Of course, there are more items to compare, which is what our upcoming project will likely entail.

That is what launched me on a new course of inspection: wondering just how my progress has been going on the autosomal DNA testing for my husband’s family.

Yes (groan), more number crunching in our future. Consider today’s post a baseline report.

When I subscribed to, I decided that, rather than recreate the same family tree I have resident on my desktop program, I would separate out each of our parents’ surnames. Thus, I now have four separate family trees on Ancestry, one representing the family tree of each of our four parents. Comparing them to my husband’s DNA results will be somewhat of a problem, as I don’t have any handy devices—like my half-brother’s DNA results on my side—to separate out the maternal from the paternal. So, while I can track my progress on each tree—Stevens or Flowers on my husband’s side—I can’t separate the count through his DNA results.

With that caveat, here is where we stand at this re-beginning. The Stevens tree, itself, now holds 768 individuals, mostly within the last five generations—including, as I’ve discovered to be helpful when examining autosomal DNA results, as many of the siblings of each generation as possible plus their descendants.

In contrast, my husband’s maternal tree includes 967 people. Perhaps that difference is owing to the fact that, though she assumed her family had “just gotten off the boat” a few generations back, my mother-in-law’s family came to the United States before the beginning of the 1800s. Often, the longer an immigrant was resident in this country, the easier it is to press backward through the generations with viable documentation.

That, perhaps, is why, of my husband’s 462 autosomal DNA test matches, the only two confirmed relationships belong to descendants on his maternal side.

While it will be tempting, now that I’m re-opening the possibilities of revisiting past progress on my husband’s lines, to go back and add more names on that easy-sailing maternal side, I need to maintain my focus on the Stevens side. While the going will be fraught with struggle—after all, I’m no better off, right now, than a bug splat on my windshield after a drive on the freeway—this is what needs to be pursued right now. Who knows what a cooperative cousin may bring to this adventure.

Above: Print of Mitchelstown Castle, County Cork, Ireland, originally published in 1820 in "Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen, in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland." Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Happy is a Kind of Stress, Too

It’s been a wonderful month—in everything, that is, except genealogy.

At our home, we’ve had loads of company, visits from out-of-state family members, celebrations and graduation and end-of-school-year and c’mon-summer-vacation highs. What more could we ask?

When I look at all the good times, good food and good company, I guess I can’t complain too much about my lack of progress in research statistics. Besides, I did get something done. In the past two weeks, I nudged my maternal family tree head count up from 3,444 to 3,727. The rate of progress is slowing, admittedly, but I’m still pressing on. I know “slow and steady” is an admirable goal; perhaps slowing but steady could count, too.

Things seem to be slowing down at Family Tree DNA, as well, for I only received an additional four autosomal DNA matches in the last two weeks, bringing my total to 833. As FTDNA tends to offer sale pricing for their tests around Father’s Day, here’s hoping that will bring on another surge of matches.

I did, however, manage to send one contact email to a distant match, so we are mutually muddling over how, exactly, we might be fifth cousins—a discussion unlikely to bring us to any resolution in the foreseeable future, but at least we are trying. This DNA testing does spur us on to hone our researching skills, if nothing else.

On the mtDNA front, however, the good news is that the “computer glitch” which told my exact match mystery cousin that he had an exact match—but failed to record the same for me—has been amended. All is now right with the world again; the “a” that equals the “b” that equals the “c” now reciprocates nicely to demonstrate that “c” will also equal “a.” I now have two exact matches—and both of them were adopted. Nothing is ever easy.

With the abrupt conclusion to my new attempt at unraveling my paternal line’s mystery, numbers there were stunningly unimpressive, as well. Actually, that is putting it optimistically; in reality, I accomplished absolutely nothing in that line. I’m still hovering at 148 names in my paternal tree, with twenty two matches through my autosomal DNA results.

Since last week brought a renewed connection with a distant cousin in my husband’s Tully line, it may be time to begin keeping stats on his DNA results, as well. Because some of my husband’s lines were also in this country for a couple centuries, it has been relatively easy to document connections back through several generations. This is the type of fertile field where genetic genealogists must like to frolic when they need encouragement—which, at this juncture, might not be a bad idea.

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.


Friday, May 15, 2015

It’s Never That Easy

So, I’ve finally located Theodore J. Puhalski’s naturalization papers. What did I discover about his arrival and origin? The court documented that he arrived in the Port of New York some time in the middle of May, 1884. That would mean a likely slam-dunk, once we worked our way from the court records to the passenger lists.


After all the twists and turns in following this case, I invite you to think again. At least, according to the database of digitized records from Castle Garden—the immigration point for New York City arrivals from 1855 to 1890—there is no record of a Theodore Puhalski arriving any time near 1884.

Did you not expect it to turn out that way?

If we can rely on Theodore’s self-reported date of birth as August 7, 1876, an arrival in May of 1884 would mean we are seeking a boy of almost eight years of age. One could expect a child of that age to be traveling with his family—at the least, with his mother.

Just as we had seen when tracking the arrival of Theodore’s wife, Sophie, in her own childhood journey from her homeland in 1889, the surname given for all the family members would often be changed to include the suffix ending in “a”—the common convention for the surnames of Polish women—because they were traveling with their mother. Just in case the same had happened in Theodore’s record, when searching for his entry, I used a wild card symbol—in this case, the asterisk—to replace the final letter in Theodore’s surname.

Still no result.

Since a prevalent spelling of his surname included an added “c,” I also inserted an asterisk before the “h” in hopes of including that variation, as well.

You know that didn’t help.

Though there were no Puhalskis traveling in May, 1884, with the first name Theodore—nor John, for that matter—I took a look to see if there were any signs of Anna or her daughter Rose. I still am not ready to give up the possibility that Anna was, indeed, Theodore’s mother. Yet, no sign of Rose.

There were, however, a few Annas. One, traveling in February, 1885, reported her age to be twenty three—a little too young to be our Anna, at least if we can presume her estimated birth year of 1850 was correct in the other documents we have on her. She was traveling with children, though—but those children were named Johanna, Valerian and Valerie. None of the children’s ages matched that of our Theodore.

However, the presence of two forms of the same name among those children—Valerian and Valerie—seemed notable. Theodore did, as we’ve already noted, name his own son Valentine. Perhaps there was something to this, after all.

Checking on an alternate site——for passenger records offered little more. There was an Anna Puchalski traveling from Antwerp in 1878, but that was the name of a nine year old girl and—presumably—her sixty six year old grandmother by the same name. Neither of these would be likely candidates, either.

Though the Castle Garden website offers digitized records on eleven million immigrants, either it doesn’t include the record for Theodore Puhalski’s arrival, or yet once again, Theodore was re-inventing himself as a different person from a different place.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Smoking Gun

One precept of genealogical research I’ve found to be true is: if at first you don’t find what you’re seeking, try looking again.

I cannot tell you how many times, over the years, I’ve tried to locate immigration and naturalization papers on my paternal grandfather. Whether searching for the name I knew him by—John T. McCann—or by the more recently discovered name of Theodore J. Puhalski, year after year, my pursuit of any such records ended in failure.

Thankfully, I looked just one more time.

It was due to the question about lack of draft registration that I was prompted to return to the digitized records on for the New York City area. I had wondered if, perhaps, my grandfather’s disappearance from the expected paper trails might have been owing to a need to hide—from something or from someone. A German immigrant in America just might have had such a need in 1914, if he hadn’t already cooperated with authorities in securing the right documentation.

Indexing dexterity might also have helped me find the missing documentation more quickly, too. If it hadn’t been for the telltale other details about Theodore J. Puhalski, I might still be thinking he had skipped out on all the obligatory reporting duties of his early adult life.

Thankfully, though it was filed under the name Phalski, the “Index to Petitions for Naturalization filed in New York City, 1792-1989” finally revealed the fact that Theodore had indeed followed through. Apparently, on December 29, 1905, Theodore Puhalski had been naturalized as a citizen in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

Finding the photocopy of that index card revealed a few interesting tidbits. First, Theodore’s middle name—before this point, only represented, and poorly at that, by indecipherable initials—turned out to be John. This, as you are probably already thinking, could easily be reversed to represent the name, John T. McCann.

But not so fast! Not every Theodore J. can be said to be the same as every John T. We still have more to consider before drawing that conclusion.

The index card gave up a few more promising details, though. For one, this Theodore John Puhalski was a machinist—same, coincidentally, as John T. McCann.

In addition—just in case anyone is suspicious of the possibility that there might be more than one Theodore John Puhalski in New York City—his given address of 107 North Sixth Street happens to match that of the state census taken only a few months earlier. That address, by the way, was the one given for Theodore’s in-laws, Anton and Mary Laskowski, where Theodore, his wife Sophie, and his newborn son Valentine—my father—resided in 1905.

The cherry on top of this whole concoction, in my opinion, was the date Theodore provided for his own birthday. Just as was recorded on the death certificate of John T. McCann many years later by his daughter Anna, the birth date for Theodore J. Puhalski read August 7, 1876.

Coincidence? Well, I suppose in a city of many millions of people, there would be a good chance that two men could share the same birth date. Whether those two men would turn out to claim the same wife and give the same names to their son and daughter might be debatable. But I’ll tentatively concede the possibility that we have a match here.

What was lovely about the discovery of this index card was that it was quickly followed up by locating the digitized record of the District Court’s naturalization file, itself. There, though regrettably not naming the specific steamship that brought him, the document provided the note that “on or about” the middle of May, 1884, Theodore John Puhalski arrived in the Port of New York.

Above: Theodore John Puhalski's signature from the Declaration of Intention portion of his petition for citizenship completed on December 29, 1905, in the District Court of the United States, Eastern District of New York; courtesy

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dodging the Details

What could have occurred, leading up to the year 1915 in metropolitan New York, to convince a German immigrant that he needed to disguise his identity?

That’s a question I’ve asked myself, over and over, as I ponder the possible reasons why my paternal grandfather might have disappeared from his Brooklyn home after 1910 and re-invented himself as an Irish-American citizen in Queens by 1915.

Of course, the key assumption embedded in that question is the proviso, if. If, that is, it was the same man, once known as Theodore J. Puhalski, who now materialized—along with Theodore’s family—as John T. McCann.

After wearing the search paths thin, pursuing any clues via surnames and addresses, it was time to step back from the computer and think this thing out holistically. Take in the big picture. Consider what hints history could provide for motivations.

Though America’s entry into World War One was not yet on the horizon, even in 1915, the fact that we are talking about a man of German origin was not lost upon me. Depending on where one lived and where we were in the overarching timeline of current events, hostilities toward those aliens in our country with a German nativity were either simmering or outright exploding on the scene. It might not have been a good time to go public with one’s heritage. Perhaps that was the impetus for the family story about having to change their identity to allow their father to obtain a job.

With a scenario like that insinuating itself upon my wild imagination, I dreamed up all sorts of brick wall possibilities. Was Theodore Puhalski a German spy? A draft dodger?

The timeline for the World War started—at least for those located in Europe—in 1914. While that could have influenced Theodore’s decision to re-invent himself (if that is what, indeed, happened), the pacifist mood fostered in American political circles likely didn’t provide enough immediate pressure for a German in America to be that forward-thinking. However, the news from Europe, coupled with the possibility that he hadn’t complied with proper naturalization procedures, might have impelled him to realize he would have to either provide himself with the necessary documentation, or disappear into the mass of humanity which was New York City.

This, indeed, was do-able. Especially if Theodore had arrived in America at as young an age as some of his self-reported arrival dates indicated, he could have grown up without the slightest trace of any giveaway speech traits other than a Brooklyn accent.

Things changed rapidly in this war timeline, though. The United States was drawn into the European conflict by 1917. With Congress passing the Selective Service Act of 1917, the nation quickly mobilized and sent wave after wave of military personnel across the ocean. Yet, Theodore would have been classified in Class IV: married registrants with dependent spouse and children with insufficient family income if drafted. However, while he would have been exempted, that would not have eliminated the requirement for him to have registered for the draft.

Complicating matters—at least at the point when I first started re-thinking my research predicament—was the fact that I could not locate a draft registration card for either Theodore Puhalski or John T. McCann. Admittedly, ascertaining whether I had found the document for the right John McCann was a challenge, but as of last week, I hadn’t even located any solid possibilities.

Though lack of any such discovery powered wild speculations on my part, as it turned out, missing documentation was not owing to negligence—or outright refusal—on the part of anyone back in 1917. Rather, it proved to be a case of indexing complications. Search results finally yielded an entry filed under John L. McCann when I looked last week, though prior to that, nothing at all had surfaced.

Finding the document, using the birth date I had located via other documents—August 7, 1876—helped confirm that I had the right John McCann. Though the handwriting made his wife’s name look like “Jophie,” the telltale clue about his place of employment—Mergenthaler—clinched it for me. So our John McCann had, indeed, complied with the requirements of the Selective Service Act.

But what about Theodore Puhalski? Was there a draft registration card for him as well?

None that I could see—at least in searches up to this point. Perhaps, just as had happened when seeking the card for John McCann, it will take time to sift through all the records to find one for Theodore, hidden among those mounds of data.

However, if Theodore and John were one and the same person, Theodore’s plan to morph into a less-egregious American alien before the war’s pressures mounted to the level of mandatory draft would have succeeded.

Yet, I still have to wonder: did he do it by sheer dint of will and impersonation skills? Or did he have the foresight to secure the proper documentation to make the switch?

That was the record I had yet to uncover.

Above: World War I Draft Registration Card for John T. McCann, courtesy of 
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