Wednesday, July 31, 2019
I'm not much of a numbers geek, but it seems reasonable to think that, knowing a set of six given names belonging to the same Tucker family, we'd be able to narrow the field and perhaps even target the right bunch. But that's me—not a numbers geek, remember?
It didn't take too much number-crunching insight to realize that, for the 1900 census, the sole Tucker family in the whole of Saunders County—the place in Nebraska where our Tucker family had posed for their portrait over one hundred years ago—was not a family with five children. Even considering that one important missing piece to this puzzle—the patriarch of this Tucker family is simply called "Grand Dad"—I'm fairly certain the household of Albert C. Tucker does not fit the description from the label on the back of the photograph I found.
An Iowa native, now a settler in Oak Creek Township, halfway across the county from Wahoo, Albert Tucker lived with his wife Mary and only living child, their twenty-two year old daughter Nettie. No Jim, no Ernie, no Maud, no Annie—in fact, not a one of those names from our abandoned photograph matched up with this Tucker family in Saunders County.
That's when I thought trying to locate a household with a matching set of those names would overcome the impossibility of finding the right Tucker family. Tucker, after all, is a rather common surname. But that search approach wasn't yielding any satisfactory results, either, so it was back to the drawing board: take a second look at those names on the photo's label.
That's when I spotted my first mistake. Did you notice it? Despite the baby on the lap of "Grand Dad" looking more like a daughter than a son—at least, in today's way of looking at such things—there was one more boy's name than sons in the photograph. It turns out that what I thought was "Ernie" was actually written as Evie.
Still, looking for a Tucker family with a Ralph and an Evie didn't yield me much—until I spotted another Tucker family with almost all the right names. If we switch Jim for James, Evie for Eva, and allow that "Baby" might have been Ralph (if he was born in July, 1899), we might have found the right Tucker family. All but the two oldest children were born in Nebraska.
Only problem was...this family was living about twelve hundred miles away from Wahoo, Nebraska. And this Tucker family included another son—named Karl—who wasn't even mentioned in the photograph. Maybe this choice isn't working out so well, after all.
Above: Map of Saunders County, Nebraska, from a railway map of Nebraska, issued by the State Board of Transportation in 1889; courtesy United States Library of Congress Geography and Map Division; in the public domain.
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
It wouldn't do us any good to discuss how we are going to rescue the Tucker family of Wahoo, Nebraska, without first being properly introduced. While I already mentioned the names included on a label on the reverse of this photograph I found abandoned in an antique store in northern California, I haven't really given you a chance to see the family.
Let's take a moment to do that right now. That way, you'll see the type of frame the photo was displayed on, allowing the chance to determine the age of the picture. Then, too, you'll notice the missing portion of the bottom right corner of the card stock—the unfortunate break that obliterated the name of the state where Wahoo was located.
For the most part, you'll see a large family with the children displayed in stair-step fashion, with papa and mama serving as bookends to the portrait, with toddler Ralph on his dad's lap, and the girls in their twin dresses.
Our next task will be to locate a family constellation including those names conveniently included on the back of the photograph. Our next obstacle in this process: realizing that, at least in 1900 and 1910, there was no family matching the names of our Tucker family resident in Wahoo, the town where the portrait was taken. Either our Tuckers lived in a community even smaller than Wahoo—at that point, having a population of 2,100—or, like many families of that era, they were still heading west by the time that census was taken.
It would help, of course, if "Grand Dad" had been given a name by the person who was so careful to label the photograph. Although we don't have that useful piece of information, we still have seven other names to guide us. Next stop on this journey, in seeking to reunite this orphaned photograph with descendants of the Tucker family, will be to see where we can find this handsome family at the time of the 1900 census.
Above: Photograph of the Tucker Family of Wahoo, Nebraska, including "Grand Dad" Tucker, Ralph, Jim, Ernie, Maud, Annie, Frank, and Elmer. Photograph in possession of author until claimed by a direct descendant of this family.
Monday, July 29, 2019
Do you have any Tuckers in your family? If your trees—and your DNA test results—are anything like mine, you likely have a surname like that tucked in your file. Thus, last time I visited the antique stores in the Gold Country of northern California, I nearly walked away from the chance to rescue a hundred-year-old family photograph, despite seeing that it had been carefully labeled. Problem was, the label told me the name was Tucker. What are the chances?
This Tucker family, at some point over a century ago, walked into the Anderson photography studio in a little town called Wahoo. Only problem—for me, at least—was that the bottom right corner of the card stock was broken off, so that all I could see about the state where Wahoo was located was that it started with an "N." Of course, immediately you'll think of Nevada, but don't think too quickly. It could have signified New York. Or Nebraska. Also, remember that we've discussed photos from that same shop in Sonora which I subsequently sent all the way back to Canada. That "N" might represent Nova Scotia.
Fortunately for us, a quick check of towns by the name Wahoo revealed that, other than a fish taco restaurant chain by that name in both New York and Nevada, there is only one location which fits this "N" state category: the city of 4,500 people in Saunders County, Nebraska. And that's a good thing; I can't handle ambiguity.
The great thing about this photo from Wahoo, Nebraska, is that someone took great care to label it. Though it starts out with a less-than-helpful "Grand Dad Tucker," the label includes the names of the rest of the family members in the portrait. We learn from the tiny but tidy script that the Tucker family includes a toddler by the name of Ralph, along with names such as Jim, Ernie, Maud, Annie, Frank, and Elmer. Sadly, we also learn the detail that Frank was killed in World War I, showing us the perspective of the person who wrote the label. The label concludes with the note that "Maud is Mom B's mother," giving us another puzzle piece to manipulate as we search through this Tucker tree.
Despite a surname as common as Tucker, the fact that the photograph was taken in a town of such limited size—at the turn of the last century, the city of Wahoo had a population of just over two thousand, less than half the size it is today—gives us hope that we won't get mired in the dilemma of choosing between several families of the same name. That, alone, would be encouraging—until, that is, we realize that there really wasn't any family by the name Tucker to choose from. At least, there wasn't, at the time of the 1900 census.
There was, however, another possibility for this Tucker family constellation—but we'd have to move all the way to Oregon if it turned out to be the right bunch.
Above: Label from the reverse of an old family photograph, naming the Tucker Family: "Grand Dad Tucker - holding Ralph, Jim - Ernie - Maud - Annie - Frank - Killed in WWI + Elmer, Maud is Mom B's mother." Photograph in possession of author until claimed by a direct descendant.
Sunday, July 28, 2019
That does it! Time to put my family trees on a diet!
Normally, building a pedigree chart takes the genealogist on a predictable pattern of growth: for every child, there are two parents, four grandparents, eight greats, and so on. In my mother-in-law's tree, however, I run into the occasional pedigree collapse. It's not exactly a case of endogamy, but what I prefer to dub "endogamy lite"—lots of cousins (but not too many) marrying each other throughout the generations.
That would seem to leave me with a family tree with less than the expected number of ancestors. However, since I'm building this tree from my mother-in-law and working backwards from her family, I don't necessarily realize the duplication of names as I work through the generations.
Let's just say her family tree looks more like a tapestry, with its many interwoven threads of relationships, than the typical branching pedigree diagram. And then, suddenly, I get that deja vu feeling: Hey, I've seen that name before! Haven't I???
Right now, her tree sits at 16,587 names. Thanks to the discovery of an obituary of a distant cousin last week, I ended up adding 171 more names to her tree. This is a tree which is easy to build, because every family in that good, multiplying Catholic line seemed to stay in the same place—Perry County, Ohio—for generations. That process, however, ends up creating more work for me when I realize I've just snuck up on the back end of yet another display of pedigree collapse. I've got the same couple—and all their children—listed on another branch of her tree. Or two. Or three.
Thus, the need to go back and weed through all those names, checking for duplicates. It's time to do that again, a process I started this weekend (or my count would have been even higher).
Meanwhile, that progress I keep intending to maintain on my mother's southern roots—especially considering I'll be taking another SLIG class to bolster my efforts on Virginia ancestors—has slowed in the meantime. Yes, I've increased the count of names on her tree to 19,034—gaining 290 names in the past two weeks—but it could have been even more, if I hadn't let myself get distracted by the web of relatives I found duplicated in my mother-in-law's tree.
I suppose I can't have it my way in every case. And, as far as the men's trees in my family, I didn't. There was zero progress made on my father-in-law's tree and my own dad's tree—although that count is somewhat deceptive. Remember, on account of several DNA matches which have recently appeared—I got another close match just this past week—I've started a hidden tree to build out the line of a certain Michalski family of Milwaukee, which apparently is somehow connected to my paternal grandfather's ancestors. This, on its own, is good news for me, since my grandfather was reticent about telling his descendants anything about his past, but on paper, it doesn't look like I've made much progress figuring out the nexus between those Milwaukee folks and my own dad's New York line. However, even there, I now have 97 names in that tree, though I still haven't found any documents to verify the connection.
So, for the next two week's research plan, I'll be putting my mother-in-law's tree on a genealogy diet, weeding out the duplicate entries among her ancestors. But at the same time, thanks to some DNA matches coming my way lately, I'll be feverishly at work, seeking any connection between my ancestors and those DNA matches on my father's line and also on my father-in-law's tree. The urge to connect—and the emails flying between the continents in this pursuit—is demanding focus.
Saturday, July 27, 2019
My chief complaint, when serving as genealogical guinea pig, is that people mistake my bumbling demonstrations as lack of knowledge, when my goal is merely to provide a down-to-earth example of how almost anyone can tackle the same research problem. My hope, of course, is that others give it a try.
My greatest joy, on the other hand, is seeing someone follow suit and try something new, leading to a personal genealogical victory of sorts. I had the opportunity to hear of one such triumph yesterday.
It was over coffee—the place, it seems, where I conduct far more productive business than one would assume, given the social setting. I was meeting with a friend whom I had known for years, as we had been co-workers at not one, but two different agencies throughout our careers. A mutual friend of ours, now out of town, had recently contacted this friend with a proposal for a day trip: "Let's spend the day in Sonora."
Sonora, if you know anything about northern California geography—or recall having me mention the foothill town in one of my photo-rescuing posts—is one of those places which once drew throngs of people seeking their fortune from the Mother Lode of the California Gold Rush. Now,
It was to those antique stores that my friend and her traveling companion headed recently. On the ninety minute drive up there, my friend mentioned how I go up to various foothill towns to search for abandoned old photographs to rescue and return to family members. She described the process I use, including which pictures become the most likely candidates for successful returns. By the time they arrived in Sonora, they were both primed to give their own experiment a try.
Of course, Sonora being the type of place it is, you will not find it surprising to learn my friends found several photographs to buy. (No, though it may seem like it, I did not purchase all available pictures at Sonora antique shops during my last visit; there are many more available for others to try their hand at the project.) Once back home, it didn't take my friend long to locate a descendant of an Italian family from the Chicago area whose nicely labeled family portrait had ended up in Sonora. Now, she was asking me about the next steps to take, excited to tell me about what she had already discovered in this pursuit of someone else's family tree. The excitement certainly is contagious!
Just enjoying this review of the process reminds me that I have a few more photographs remaining from my last foray to Sonora, myself. Perhaps next week, while in the background I continue wrestling with my Virginia kin, I can pull those pictures out and see about finding a way to send them home, too.
Friday, July 26, 2019
Whenever I come upon a new chapter in my genealogical pursuits, I try to immerse myself in the place where I'll be researching. To track the paths my Tilson and Davis families took through the generations, that means I'll be spending time acquainting myself with the southwestern frontier of Virginia.
Some states are easy to research—particularly those where the researcher has lived, for instance, or those frequented while visiting a family member over the years. Others, however, present challenges when they are both unknown territories and places where the researcher has little chance to travel. Virginia, for me, is one of those places. I've only set foot in the place once in my life (that I know of), and that was only to make a stop at Arlington National Cemetery on a high school bus tour heading to our nation's capital. Other than that dim memory, I know little about the state of Virginia—except that a lot of my mother's ancestors once claimed Old Dominion as home.
To learn that, say, my Tilson ancestors once lived in Washington County, Virginia, tells me nothing. I have to look it up on a map. And then to learn that, over the decades, Washington County's boundaries were carved and reshaped and the land my ancestors once inhabited might later have fallen under another county's jurisdiction only stymies this Virginia-challenged researcher even further. Thus the need to add historic maps to my arsenal of necessary tools for research.
When I begin researching new territories, not only do I need these sets of maps and other data about the geography, but I rely heavily on learning by wandering around. In other words, I look up the terms I'm curious about—or have already encountered by venturing out in this new research territory—by googling them and following the links.
Not that I don't already have a protocol for reliable resources to provide initial orientation. My go-to sources for first-glance reviews of places like this new territory of Washington County, Virginia, include Wikipedia entries for the cities and county (including previous counties and subsequent new counties formed), Linkpendium overview for the main county and sub-headings, and FamilySearch.org wiki entries for the same. Of course, I'll also consult Cyndi's List and even the old GenWeb page.
But stretching further by also searching via browsers online helps find the many other resources which don't come up as the first or second choices in a Google search. Some of these discoveries can turn out to be gems, such as this website entry on the cemetery where many related Tilson family members were buried, or this small, privately-created website including data on pioneer families of Washington County.
Of course, I've already worked on this particular stopping place in the saga of the Tilson migration from their New England roots to their early-1800s settlement in Tennessee. But now I need to take a closer look at one specific stop in their journey: their years lived in Washington County—and subsequently Smyth County—in Virginia. In particular, the search now moves to a quest for documentation, whether tax records or church records. The clues I've garnered, thanks to the uniquely-named Saint Clair's Bottom Primitive Baptist Cemetery where several Tilson family members were buried, may indeed provide me a resource for further information on my branch of that family.
Thursday, July 25, 2019
If the colony of Virginia had an "outback," that would be the turf my Tilson ancestors claimed as home. Far from the civilized aspects of the Virginia we've heard described as the "center of the universe," my third great-grandparents chose to settle, in their generations-long migration from Massachusetts to Tennessee, in this frontier region of Old Dominion.
Trouble is, I can't connect the dots between the Tilson genealogy of my third great-grandmother and her children in Washington County, Tennessee. While I've found signs of Rachel Tilson's parents' wedding in Washington County, Virginia, in 1785, and have already written about finding mention of the Tilsons moving down to Washington County, Tennessee, likely before 1800, I still need more documentation to connect Rachel, bride of James C. Davis, to her Tilson ancestry.
That, given the family's preference for living on the far edges of civilization, may be hard to come by. My best hope, it seems, may be to rely on church records for baptisms and social connections, and tax and property records to trace their wanderings.
Fortunately, the extended Tilson family has included dedicated adherents to genealogical research, leaving folks like me with trailblazing narratives of the family's movement from its origins in New England through to the early 1900s, in the Mercer V. Tilson publication, The Tilson Genealogy. Although I've written about some of the discrepancies before, my third great-grandmother Rachel Tilson's family was listed—including the names enabling me to work forward in time to my own maternal grandfather—as correctly as I've been able to corroborate through documentation.
It's just moving backwards in time that I find challenging. And that documentation is what stands between me and admission to the Mayflower Society. Record-seeking in early 1800s Virginia (and earlier) is certainly not the same game as tracing census records a century later. Some of the records which likely would provide the substantiation I seek will likely not be found with a click of a mouse, online.
Not to worry, though, for come next January, I will be at a library billed as the largest genealogical library in North America. If I can't take a trip to Virginia, perhaps this will be the next best option for solving this records problem.
Above: Wisp of a record to piece together the Tilson paper trail almost two hundred years after the Tilson family's landing in New England, Tilson descendant Rachel marries James C. Davis on September 12, 1822, in Washington County, Tennessee; excerpt from image courtesy Ancestry.com.
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Some pedigree paths lead clearly from the current generation to those sought-after ancestors. Mine, sadly, do not. Even my Virginia ancestors—the ones I'm currently chasing—have turned out to be more stubborn than the stereotypical genteel aristocratic leanings of Virginia roots might have suggested. However, let us not presume that their Virginia origin, despite bestowing upon them citizenship at the Center of the Universe, confirms that aristocratic status. Among this untraceable lot may lurk forefathers wanted for skipping out on debt or, at the very least, pushing the edges of legality.
Let's look, today, at one of my second great-grandfathers, whom we suspect may have done just that: skipped town when bankruptcy stared him down. Tomorrow, we'll follow up with another Virginian who camped out just on the other side of permissible Virginian territory. Either way, it's easy to see why the paper trail didn't quite keep pace with these escaping ancestors.
The story, as I originally heard it nearly twenty years ago, came to me from another family researcher. He was a second cousin to my mother, though I doubt she ever met him or was even aware of his existence. He was, however, a determined and diligent family historian who left a trail of research information on the Boothe line all over the then-nascent Internet. After seeing his posts on such relics of pre-web existence as GeoCities, I finally got in touch with him by email, followed by telephone.
What I learned from this researcher was that this man—my second great-grandfather—was known as William Alexander Boothe, and that, though living in northeastern Tennessee, had been born in a place called Nansemond County, Virginia. He had come to Tennessee not as a single man, but as a widower with two young sons, having left Virginia, according to my researching Boothe cousin, on account of some bad debts after the death of his wife. My informant believed William Alexander Boothe may have fancied horses a bit more than his pocket could afford, and perhaps had squandered his money on that era's equivalent of bright, shiny sports cars in hopes of improving his social status.
For whatever reason, his midlife-crisis ruse didn't work, and the widower Boothe made his escape from Nansemond—relatively close to the border with North Carolina—to Washington County, Tennessee, nestled in the corner between the borders with North Carolina and Tennessee.
While I've been told he was born in 1812, I've yet to find the names of his parents—or even the name of his first wife. In census records for his newly-adopted home in Tennessee—in 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880—he consistently used the name Alexander Boothe rather than William. That, likewise, was the name registered for his marriage to my second great-grandmother, Rachel Riley. It wasn't until I had located an entry at Find A Grave that I saw the use of the name William.
Revisiting that Find A Grave memorial now reveals that someone has posted the name of his parents—though I have yet to find any paper trail to support that contention. And that is my problem: I don't want to presume, based on someone else's post on a website. I need to find these documents for myself.
Finding them, however, will be a challenge. If, for instance, my William Alexander Boothe was truly born in Nansemond County, Virginia, that county is no longer in existence. And while some records are now held at the Independent City Courthouse in Suffolk, civil records for birth and marriage were only kept beginning with the year 1853, eliminating any chance to find his first marriage record, and certainly any hope of finding a birth record for William Alexander or even his sons, both of whom were born before 1850. I won't mourn that problem much, though, for even if they had been kept, those records would have been lost in a fire there in 1866.
Fleeing financial woes might have been bad news for my second great-grandfather, but that might have turned into good news for a researcher like me: while governments might not have kept the best records in the past for births, they certainly took care to track the flow of money, especially when it came to taxes. If Mr. Boothe skipped out on account of money issues, there is sure to be a paper trail—or perhaps even a newspaper report—to point me in the right direction.
While we may not mention genealogical research and skip tracing in the same breath, such search techniques might come in handy in seeking the path of my second great-grandfather from Virginia to Tennessee. That—and a thorough overview of available record sets from that era of Virginia history—are some of the main reasons I'm looking forward to that class in Virginia research at SLIG 2020. However, you can be sure I won't wait until January to begin the investigation.
Above: Map showing the now-extinct Nansemond County, just above the border with North Carolina, from an 1895 map of Virginia; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
It would seem reasonable to assume, given a long-standing southern family, that roots would eventually reach back to Virginia. In several cases in my family tree, that does, indeed, prove true. While my Florida McClellans seem to be stuck in Georgia, and my Tisons reach back no farther than North Carolina, almost all the rest of my maternal grandmother's roots do find their way back to Virginia. We'll start today to take a bird's eye view of that cast of Virginian ancestors.
Since we've lately been examining the line of the Broyles family, that is as good a place to start as any. Ozey Broyles, father of the heart-throb Robert Broyles pined over in that book I've been reading, A Faithful Heart, descended from a line of Broyles men who originally settled in Virginia. Ozey's father left Culpeper, Virginia, to settle in South Carolina.
Ozey Broyles' wife, too, came from a line of Virginians. The former Sarah Taliaferro descended from a line of numerous Taliaferro men, who settled in various counties, all within Virginia. And Sarah's father's brother, Warren Taliaferro, was ancestor to another of my family's Virginian lines, linking me to yet more Virginia surnames: Gilmer, Lewis, and Meriwether. Even Thomas Firth Rainey, the man who married Warren Taliaferro's daughter—and then died before his own daughter (my direct ancestor, the orphan who married Ozey Broyles' son Thomas) was old enough to show up in a census record in the same household—hailed from Virginia.
That is just on my maternal grandmother's side. As for my maternal grandfather, a southern man himself, he could claim Virginia roots, as well. It's those lines, in fact, that have me stumped—my main impetus for signing up for the Virginia research course at SLIG 2020. Those messy Virginia ties, we'll review tomorrow.
Monday, July 22, 2019
There are two research lives led by the genealogy-guinea-pig-turned-blogger. One, of course, is the observed life of the writer, the research conquests documented as they occur, unfolding on the virtual page, warts and all, in real time. This can make for the thrill of what-happens-next, a by-product of not knowing what to expect at each research turn—but it can also make for some dull, repetitious, and-then-I-tried-this flops as posts.
That is what inspires the second life of such a blogger: the undercover role of the secret research agent, doggedly pursuing the unfindable, while all the while not saying a peep about any discoveries because, well, minutiae can make for a boring read.
While those now-multiple second-life pursuits are silently grinding away in the background, we need to set a new course for the public discussion of what's next on the research menu. I thought I'd take a cue from my dilemma about this time last year, just after I had signed up for SLIG 2019 and the course on Southern Research.
Back then, knowing I had been remiss at researching anything on my mother's southern roots, I was virtually staring at a blank page when it came to deciding how to make amends. So, last year in July, I figured it would take me nearly the rest of the year to get the running start I'd need to at least ask knowledgeable questions in class, so that's when I started working on those maternal southern lines.
Well, it's July. Again. And I've just signed up for another SLIG class on a topic about which I know very little. Perhaps it's high time to follow my own lead from last year, and start researching my Virginia roots, since it is Barbara Vines Little's course on Virginia research I'm about to take next January.
Perhaps, just perhaps, if I start work right now, I'll have enough time to get a running start before the beginning of that new year.
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Lately, some of my genea-friends have been posting on social media about their summertime learning excursions. For instance, one friend just returned home from GRIP, the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, full of ideas—and blog posts—on how she was going to put her newly-acquired learning to work, making me wish I had some learning opportunities lined up, myself.
To make matters worse, today marks exactly one month from the start of the Federation of Genealogical Societies' annual conference. I went to last year's FGS conference in Fort Wayne and enjoyed it immensely. This year's conference, however, is being held in Washington, D.C., a wearying trip entirely across the continent from my home—something I'd be less than inclined to tackle at the end of August. Besides, we've already missed the early-bird deadline for registration, doubly clinching my woes over not being able to participate.
Perhaps I've hit the learning doldrums because our own society has gone dark for the summer, or because my favorite genealogy conference—Jamboree in southern California—will be taking a hiatus until 2021. And yes, I know I can still tap into webinars through several different resources—some of them for free, some because of my membership in the host organization—but watching a webinar at home is just not the same experience as the energy and high-touch aspect of face-to-face events. It's nice to be able to say "hi" to a fellow attendee without having to type the message quickly enough to include it in the right space at the right time.
So...if you are going to FGS this summer, or any of the state conferences or other institutes, blog about it, won't you? I promise I'll read your post and try to feel like I'm seeing it through your eyes. Maybe that will be enough of a dose to hold me over until SLIG rescues me in January.
Saturday, July 20, 2019
Not only has last week been a hectic week, but now that I think of it, it feels like a million years since I last indexed any records at FamilySearch.org. Sure enough, checking my progress, it's been almost six weeks since I last volunteered to help get any online records search-ready. Time to get back to offering some regular help and giving back to the community.
Sometimes, when I've just gone through a busy work week but want to do my part with regular volunteer work, I look for an indexing project that is light and easy—something requiring little brain power on my part, but still needing the hands and effort to finish the work. This time, I returned to my home state of New York and found some World War II draft registration cards from New York City that needed some indexing help.
Once the drill is down—where to fill in what information, what rules apply to the process—the routine goes smoothly. Each batch of records contains about ten—or sometimes fewer—individual files, and clicking through each one can move quite quickly.
In this case, I opted to do two sets. Not a heavy load, admittedly, but my theory is to do a little bit of volunteer work on a regular basis, rather than to give my all in one huge push. That way, I'm sure to come back for more, over and over again. I won't let myself get burned out with any saintly sacrifices. Being realistic helps keep volunteers in the game for the long haul. And over that long haul, I'll have contributed, cumulatively, much more than I could in one grit-your-teeth-and-hold-on marathon volunteer day.
That's the theory I've learned to run with when working with volunteers in the organizations I've served, and the principle remains the same, when I switch roles and become the volunteer, myself. Taking in the big picture—FamilySearch.org, after all, has multiplied millions of records which still need that indexing transformation to become searchable online—that's the most realistic way to achieve such an enormous dream: one record at a time, one volunteer at a time. When we all come back to do what might seem to be our "little" part, it adds up to something impressive for all of us.
Friday, July 19, 2019
Help. This is your local genealogical guinea pig speaking, and I've just taken a glance behind me. Don't look now, but what lies behind includes the horrifying aftermath of several brick-wall-encountering research casualties. And it's time to take stock of the situation and engage in some remedial clean-up action.
To recap, I've been on a wild research spree over the past six months of 2019. Starting in January, I began my research journey into my maternal southern lines, launched from a class in Southern Research Techniques at SLIG. I followed up that invigorating week of instruction with some field experience in northern Florida, home of my third great-parents, George Edmund and Sidney Tison McClellan, when I discovered a DNA match with descendants of an enslaved family having connections to the McClellan line. Trying to ascertain the identity of that one particular enslaved family—turned out, it was King Stockton and his mother Hester—the search took us from Florida to the Tison plantation in coastal Georgia.
Encountering the last of any documents which could be located online from that Georgia county, that search got put on hold while I explored another southern line—Broyles in South Carolina—which tied into my heritage from a different direction. With rich reading material to amply supply my need to know more—I'm still absorbing all I can from that vein—I set that pursuit on a back burner, as far as the reporting aspect goes, to write about yet another DNA discovery: the possibility of another hitherto unknown branch of my husband's Irish-Canadian Tully line. When I exhausted all I could locate in the records on that family line, another DNA match popped up to tantalize me over another possibility: discovery of my own grandfather's mystery origin.
And now? Unable to proceed further without additional documentation—and unable to obtain that documentation without going to the paper source, I'm afraid—I'm stuck.
When I look back at the aftermath of all these research trails, I see pathways strewn with the clues of so many unfinished quests. Such is often the case with genealogical pursuits. We go as far as we can reach with the resources we have at hand, pushing as far as we dare go, until there is no more wind in our sails, or gasoline in our engines. And there our good intentions sit, littering the trail until we can replenish the go power to move onward.
Of course, the standard advice would be to take one research question, run with it as far as we can go, then push beyond that research limit and press on toward the answer. That, however, is only as practical an option as the resources we have at hand to address it: no further resources, no further action—let alone arrival at an answer. I can't, for instance, drop everything and fly to Poland. Not even to Ireland. Or Canada. The practicality of the situation is that I can only go so far as my research resources let me stretch. And then, I need to keep track of where I got stuck, the reasons why, a hypothesis for continuation when fair sailing conditions allow me to continue the course—say, with newly-available record sets online—and a tickler file to help refresh my memory when that day arrives.
This makes me wonder about setting up a spread sheet with reminders of each specific research course, a bulleted list of what I already found and a list of where I think I ought to check next—all ready to wrap up and tuck away some place where I can find it when the occasion arrives to revisit the journey again. That way, I'll be ready to hit the ground running when the opportunity presents itself, instead of losing time to re-acquaint myself with the particulars of how I got stuck, last time I tackled the issue.
Included in that spreadsheet, I'd add possible next steps to take in follow-up, and contact lists of people with whom I'm working, in cases such as these DNA matches. It's a research plan with a caveat: I'm limited in progress only by the availability of the resources I need to clinch the relationships or proceed to the previous generation. And those resources, as we've all seen, can pop up at any moment online—or, frustratingly, keep themselves just out of reach of the long-distance researcher for far longer than we'd like to see.
It's the researcher's life, isn't it? For some, it adds up to too much frustration and a solid reason to quit the chase; for others, it seems only to goad us on, doggedly determined to not cave to stubborn roadblocks along our research path.
Thursday, July 18, 2019
Despite all the energy and enthusiasm I like to display when I am teaching or meeting people, my days most often get off to a rugged start. I don't do mornings—not well, at least. I usually need a generous dose of "quiet time" before I'm ready to face the world—an alarming constraint today, considering I decided to spring for an impromptu morning coffee meeting with members of our local genealogical society.
What I usually do to coax myself into the inevitable "awake" state of mind most mornings is to stay in bed and read. Yes, my days are built backwards; the most productive times arrive long after the lingering freshness of the morning glow has fizzled. In my world, the sun and the horizon formally acknowledge each other's existence but once a day.
Among the reading selections I use to gently ease myself into the morning are thought-provoking blog posts. Top of the list is a daily thought piece by marketing guru Seth Godin. As if by special delivery, yesterday's post seemed to speak directly to me in this current state of mind:
Remember, it was barely a week ago that I was complaining over the loss of the sense of community which once built the many organizations enabling genealogists to come together and share mutual concerns. This, itself, had been followed by a front row seat only a few days later, when I witnessed a languishing group snatched, eleventh-hour, from the decision point of disbanding.
Events of the day—once I arose yesterday from my morning fog to join the land of the living—seemed to second that motion I had just read. Another board member and I met with two librarians from our local branch regarding next year's schedule for the workshops we provide at their venue. Along the way, the conversation turned to the role libraries can play in creating community.
Libraries, if you haven't noticed, have reinvented themselves—at least in the places where they are still in existence and haven't been dismantled by the trustees of their local government budget—and are now thriving places addressing a multitude of community service opportunities. In our case, our genealogical society contributes toward that evolution by helping library patrons to more effectively access the family history assets the library provides. Just talking with these librarians about that vision of more effectively assisting in community building was energizing. We each shared about tools and outreach ideas we found to be helpful.
Leaving that meeting, I stopped at the unsuspecting coffee shop where I and fellow society members plan to convene this morning, just to say hi to the familiar faces there and warn them of today's plans. Since I have a longstanding date with myself to do some reading on specific books I've selected for the summer—yes, I am still plowing through Emmala's diatribe about her jilting lover, Robert Broyles, brother to my second great grandfather—I decided, once at the coffee shop, to stay a while and read.
Again, that turned into a reminder about creating community when I spotted the book the woman at the next table was reading. Since The Art of Slow Reading pretty much embodies my theory about absorbing new information—I already have another book I value by a similar title—I had to reach out of my introverted self and beyond those furtive glances to ask this stranger if I could see the author's name.
Reaching out and connecting—as I'm sure you were able to predict—precipitates the first token of community building. After a pleasant conversation with this book owner—learning not only her name, but sharing ideas on that subject with a person who turns out to be a college instructor in English—I realized how reasonable it would be to find as-yet-unknown like-minded believers in such key topics at a place like a coffee shop. Like attracts like...but we seldom have the guts to reach out, even when we are surrounded by people with whom our interests would most strongly resonate. Yet creating community only starts when we take those chances to reach out and connect.
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Making the proverbial leap "across the pond" is usually an exciting milestone for genealogical researchers. Having diligently followed the generally accepted sequence of finding evidence and properly analyzing it, when that trail leads logically to that ancestral hometown across the ocean, it feels very rewarding. That sense of accomplishment, however, comes to those who have duly followed the sequence.
What, on the other hand, is the plight of the researcher who did not earn those wings to fly across the continents? After all, in researching my mystery grandfather's origin, I didn't exactly start at the beginning of the trail; there was this impenetrable brick wall in my face. And then, suddenly, I was handed the final step in the process: a conclusion to the matter, thanks to the results of six individuals' DNA tests. All of a sudden—and at warp speed—I've been transported backwards in time possibly two or three generations prior to any paper trail I've assembled. Where does "step by step" fit into this scenario?
Of course, if I hadn't been so insistent on taking a trifling class in Virginia genealogy at SLIG next January, I could have tackled this problem with (Broyles distant cousin) Karen Stanbary's course, "Meeting Standards Using DNA Evidence." Then, I would have known what to do. Instead, I'm left feeling like the genealogical floor has just been yanked from under my feet.
Instead of starting from the present and working my way backwards in time, I've been instantly transported to a village of four hundred people in Pomerania where a woman with almost the right maiden name has married a man with almost the right surname and produced a son with the Polish equivalent of my grandfather's given name in the same month and year which he, later in New York City, claimed was the time of his birth. It's almost too much to believe.
And yet, there is the proof: the DNA matches, with pedigrees stretching back to this exact village and the sisters of this same mystery parent. I'm just lacking the paper trail.
So how do I fit this into the Genealogical Proof Standard? First I have to find the records that would qualify as acceptable sources of this person's existence. Then, through diligent search, I'd need to demonstrate the true identity of this mystery baby—was he, indeed, my grandfather? Or was he another person with the same name who just happened to be born on the same date? I'd also need to clarify those incidents of similar but not exact surnames, finding any explanations for the variances. This would likely lead to examining Polish customs on name changes, which apparently happened enough to come with their own terminology.
Finding some of these sources of information will be challenging. After all, those DNA cousins all landed up in Wisconsin, not New York—and I am unaware of any connections between the families post-immigration. No letters between the families, no clippings of a sibling's faded obituary tucked in the back of a jewelry box, no other trail leading me back to convincing proof of a connection—but if I could find any, the GPS would demand that I cite those sources. Oh, that I could find sources to cite!
You know I've been worrying this research problem like a dog with a bone. I keep coming back to gnaw on the dilemma. The biological proof has already been presented to me; it's the genealogical proof that requires a convincing write-up. Once again, I tell myself to set this one aside—no one likes watching genealogical research get dissected any more than watching sausage being made—but then I find myself picking the subject back up again to write on the agony of not finding the answer.
Let me put this one to bed yet another time. Hopefully, the subject will remain under wraps until I uncover enough of significant value to drag it out again and gloat over the discovery.
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
There's a problem with doing those "quick and dirty" trees we build when we run into an unexplained DNA match. Genealogy has instilled in the serious adherent the respect for properly citing—after doing due diligence to find—supporting documentation for each step of the way. Each branch of the tree, each leaf on that branch, all need to be properly sourced.
Until, that is, we move from ascertaining the proof of the argument to exploring the much more shaky hypothesis.
I get that, in doing genetic genealogy, a researcher sometimes launches into what seems like a feverish pursuit of possible connections, sketching out branches for each generation in the pedigree until striking upon a reasonable explanation for how two test takers could be connected. I understand the utility of that thumbnail sketch.
But after years of being reminded to take each step of the research way carefully, examining all documentation and addressing each alternate explanation for what seems to be the answer, I'm having a real problem with just chasing ancestors with wild abandon. The two habits seem so terribly opposite.
In other words, I'm finding myself, in this chase to connect with my Michalski DNA matches, bogged down by the details of vetting each addition to my shadow tree. In my real tree—the public face I put forward on my online account—I have a certain routine I engage. I examine each decade's census record to find micro-clues about changes in the family. I read each digitized document to see what else might have been included but not indexed.
As you may guess, that bogs down the process in the DNA-matchmaking world. And I know I'm doing it, but I just can't stop myself. Habit? Perhaps. I really don't want to attach an individual to a tree I'm unfamiliar with just because, at first glance, it seems a reasonable guess. After all, there are a lot of cousins out there with similar dates of birth—all in the same town. But I'd like to connect all the branches of my six—or more—DNA matches with this same surname, and put them in one tree.
Besides, the more I organize this tree, the more surnames I can add—which might explain some of the other unconnected matches in my various accounts, and could help connect those matches who match my brother but not me on that same paternal side.
Slow and steady may finish the course for some races, but in the case of figuring out dozens of mystery DNA matches, the essence of the task comes down to the skill of quickly assembling viable family tree proposals. Grin and bear it, I suppose; I'll have to learn to get quicker about doing those "Quick and Dirty" trees.
Monday, July 15, 2019
Perhaps you've heard of Christmas in July. Well, I'm not talking about that, but I do want to talk about snowballs. In July. Metaphorically. So don't think of how quickly they would melt; that would spoil the comparison.
Imagine, for a moment, that we are magically transported to the side of your favorite mountain in the thick of winter—which, if you are in New Zealand or Argentina or anywhere in the southern hemisphere, would actually be right now. Think, on that hillside, of scooping up some snow in your mittened hands, pressing those flakes tightly together, and then rolling that tiny ball downhill in the snow.
As you may remember, that first small wintertime step led to something much bigger. That's how we kids used to make a snowman.
Something quite similar is what is happening with my metaphorical snowball of DNA: I've scooped up one genetic sequence on a handful of chromosomes. It glommed on to the exact pattern from some other people's DNA, leading to some hints from those genealogists' trees. And before I knew it, that hodgepodge of names I couldn't recognize became a runaway blockbuster, breaking through some impenetrable brick walls in the process.
Of course, I'm elated.
The main reason I'm mentioning this right now is that, thanks to the DNA links to several Michalski lines—including those in Wisconsin, a place I've never been—those hits just keep on coming.
I've been going back to some old correspondences from earlier DNA connections—you know, the kind which say something like "I don't know how we are connected, do you?"—and doing the "surprise!" routine (and instigating a few genealogy happy dances in the process).
This weekend, I reconnected with a DNA match I hadn't contacted for two years—ever since we both admitted being thoroughly puzzled about how we could match. It turns out she, too, had connections to this Michalski name—a name which, finally, I recognize.
Actually, to be clear, she wasn't a match to me; she matched my brother, whose DNA account I administer. Although we could plainly see that the connection had to be on my father's side—specifically, his father...oh, groan—we had never been able to push the line back to any convincing nexus. And gave up the chase.
At this point, it would be a good time to emphasize the helpfulness of even testing siblings, for one brother may carry genetic material that wasn't passed down to another sibling. That is the case here. If I hadn't asked my brother for his kind indulgence in doing both the autosomal DNA test as well as the Y-DNA test (after all, we both were wondering where our grandfather really came from), I would never have discovered this particular DNA match.
This match, as it turns out on second glance, contains a branch of that Michalski line which didn't end up in Wisconsin. I'm curious to learn the timeline of this ancestor's journey, because it did, for a brief span of time, end up in the vicinity of New York, where my family settled. Could my mystery grandfather have known that he did, after all, have relatives who lived nearby?
Of course, telling those of my siblings and cousins complicit in this quest for my grandfather's roots evoked more memories. One of my cousins shot back an email upon receiving the news, to tell me he remembered that my grandfather's best friend always called my grandfather by the name Teddy, even though his name was supposed to be John—at least, according to all the records I've found under the name we all knew him by. Teddy, I'm guessing, is a throwback to my grandfather's prior existence as a man by the name of Theodore J. Puchalski.
Between re-reading old correspondence with DNA matches, testing siblings as well as those more distant relatives, and keeping up-to-date those relatives interested in the results, I'm gathering more and more details to confirm my original guess of how my grandfather's descendants connect with a surname whose descendants ended up in Wisconsin. Like that snowball rolling downhill, each fact that gets packed on to the original assumption is adding weight to what's turning out to be a viable hypothesis.
While that's all well and good—and exciting—there still are some additional details that need to be heeded before I fall head over heels in love with what is really still just a hypothesis. I need to mind my Ps and Qs about decently constructing a proof argument for this case.
Sunday, July 14, 2019
It's been a long four weeks since I last counted my research progress. Perhaps I've had too much fun, out attending conferences. But now that I'm home, settled back into a vanilla state of mind, and have re-tabulated my progress, I'm ready for a genealogical accounting.
All told, over the past four weeks, I've added 159 researched names to my mother's family tree of 18,744 individuals, but what else I've managed to accomplish is the real story, as I've shifted from focusing solely on my maternal side for this second half of 2019. Thanks in part to discoveries of recent obituaries of distant relatives and part to the arrival of new DNA matches, I'm now back to adding information to the other three trees I've been keeping on hold. Now, my mother-in-law's tree has advanced 87 to total 16,416. My Irish-American father-in-law even gained 27 to total 1,541.
But the real news is that I'm finally finding names—and the documentation to support them—on my father's side of the family. That, if you recall, was the mystery for the longest time, with a paternal grandfather who insisted he was Irish, when he really was born somewhere in Poland. With my latest DNA discoveries, I've found 35 more people to add to his family tree, which now has made it to 573 individuals—a feat I never thought I'd achieve.
The biggest result of making those discoveries—and building a tree to connect all these genealogical dots—is that I now have created a new private, unsearchable tree which totals 90 people. I likely won't continue counting my progress on building that tree, for its use is only to inform me (and my matches) how we connect on paper in support of the tale told by our DNA. But in the process, I've finally realized how some other mystery DNA matches connect, adding two more people to the "finally answered" column in my tally. That it turns out to be a breakthrough on this paternal grandparent's side of my family is nothing if not awesome. I'm so appreciative of this set of DNA leads that pointed me in the right direction.
Speaking of counting, on another account, I did make it through the SLIG registration process this morning. Of course, it would be the very class I chose which closed after less than ten minutes of live registration time, but thankfully, I'm in. Next January, I'll be heading to Salt Lake City to take in Barbara Vines Little's course on "Virginia from the Colonial Period to the Civil War." But don't despair if you missed out. SLIG 2020 is offering fifteen other courses which might be of interest to you. Learning comes in so many different flavors!
Saturday, July 13, 2019
Some books spend less time on the shelf than others.
It was only last week when, puzzling over my mystery grandfather's roots and piecing together the pedigree charts of six different DNA matches, I ran across the possibility that the erstwhile Theodore J. Puchalski might have been born in a place known as Pomerania. While that might have been a fun discovery—in my sister's post-college season, she became the dubious owner of a dog who was the runt of a purebred Pomeranian litter—it didn't really inform me about our heritage.
Being one of those researchers who has to learn everything about the topic I'm studying, I wanted to delve deeper into Pomerania. This is where the newly-acquired habit of reading footnotes once again served me well. Just from tapping into the Wikipedia entry for Pomerania and following some links, I learned that not everyone who lived in Poland in the 1800s was technically Polish—like, for instance, the Kashubians. Considering that Poland was once under the rule of the Germans, perhaps that idea would not seem unique. But just as Polish people in America used to have to report their origin as "German" in some census records because they were then a people without their own country, there are other ethnic groups in the area who faced the same dilemma.
One of those groups was, as you've now guessed, known as the Kashubians. Curious to know what group that might have been, I clicked through to read up on yet another aspect of my new genealogy discoveries. In fact, the more I clicked, the more I realized I needed to learn, resulting in a wild and unrepeatable trail through the ether as I discovered more about the various ethnic people groups I never before had heard about throughout eastern Europe.
Somewhere in all my wandering, I ran across a footnote which mentioned a fascinating title to a book. Thankfully, I immediately copied down that title—mainly because I have yet to replicate my wandering path—and looked up the book.
It was a two volume set entitled Encyclopedia of Diasporas: Immigrant and Refugee Cultures Around the World. Here was the key to learning more about those ethnicities I had just discovered—those people groups without a country.
Lest you leave off reading here to rush off and do the same, pause a moment to learn the rest of my discovery. First of all, consider this Encyclopedia a two-part tome quite capable of competing with many of the complete dictionaries used, in days of yore, as door stops. Then, too, there's the possibility that the information contained in its covers could be outdated; after all, it was published over ten years ago.
And then there's this small matter of price. The 2005 edition can be had for a hundred bucks. But an ad on that page conveniently mentions that there is a "newer edition" of this very same book. Clicking through to that page, I discover it could be mine for a cool $733, if I order through Prime.
After that breath-taking experience, I opted for the more humble option of buying the used set, and for less than twenty five dollars, became the happy owner of both volumes of the book. How a book can go through so many price gyrations is beyond me. I heartily recommend thinking more like a starving student in this case.
Meanwhile, my mind has opened to the possibility that there are many people groups out there that we may not even be aware of—and if some of those groups were part of our ancestry, we'd want to learn more about those groups just as much as we'd want to know, if we turned out to be German, or Japanese, or Russian. In fact, many of those countries whose names we easily recognize did, themselves, contain many ethnic groups which, to our uninformed American eyes, were invisible.
Sometimes, those of us in "immigrant nations" such as the United States or Canada might think we are the only place on earth made up of multitudes of other people, when the surprising fact is that that is the story for almost every place on earth. People have moved around since the dawning of civilization allowed us to trace such details; that aspect of human nature is not confined to modern-day America. It informs the very ethnicity reports we receive from our DNA tests—and yet, even those reports are masked in that many people groups, both modern and historical, remain unknown by the average avocational genealogist.
Friday, July 12, 2019
The year of 2019 has been a productive year for me, when it comes to expanding my genealogical skills and reaching out into previously unexplored research areas. Though the year is certainly far from over, it gained a powerful boost by starting out with a January class in Southern Research at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy—followed by my own personal practicum when I traveled to Florida to explore my third great grandparents' history.
While we are far from SLIG 2020, we are closer than you might think. Especially close, if you are considering attending one of next January's sixteen course offerings, as registration for the January 12-17 week opens up tomorrow morning, promptly at 9:00 a.m., Mountain Daylight Time. If you think that translates into plenty of time to sign up for the course of your choice, think again: one course last year filled up in a mere six minutes. People in the know would be wise to be seated at their computer before 8:59 a.m., ready to push the button for their first choice.
Of course, being forewarned means having the twenty-four hour luxury of exploring the website of the Utah Genealogical Association, the host organization behind this twenty five year run of educational excellence. It gives the prospective attendee a chance to prepare for Saturday's mad dash by setting up your registration account ahead of time.
I'm already up and running, including the hard part: selecting which of many enticing course offerings I want to focus on for next January's learning opportunity. Since I've started the year with delving into Southern research, I plan to launch the next year with a similar pursuit—only this time, instead of focusing on my Florida roots pre-statehood through the present, I'll travel back in time and up in direction to Virginia, as I pursue my colonial roots in Old Dominion. I certainly have research puzzles needing further guidance, and this will be the opportunity to come to Salt Lake City equipped with questions, especially on the line which leads back to my Mayflower roots through the route of colonial Virginia.
Course Six, coordinated by Barbara Vines Little, will be my choice for SLIG 2020—if, that is, the class doesn't fill up before I can get myself logged in and registered. Otherwise, you can be sure my name will be on that waiting list—a place I've been before I learned the secret of signing up at the opening bell.
Disclaimer: While I am certainly honored to be designated as an Ambassador for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy 2020—and have shared about their impressive offerings for several years now—this year's designation comes to me with receipt of a modest discount to the upcoming registration fee. Nevertheless, my focus is on objectively sharing what aspects of the Institute readers at A Family Tapestry would likely find helpful, and I welcome the opportunity to continue serving as eyes and ears on site during this event for the benefit of my readers.
Thursday, July 11, 2019
When it comes to getting social, I'm all about the "-ize." And I'm concerned that we have begun using social media as an excuse for not actually going out to, you know, socialize.
Yesterday, a fellow genealogical society board member and I went on an idea-gathering mission and visited a neighboring society. After the meeting concluded, we had a chance to visit with the leaders of that group. Talk turned to discussion of yet another genealogy group whose leadership was frankly worn out from years of uninterrupted service and who teetered on the precipice of shuttering their operation.
Situations like that always invite comments on succession planning and other administrative oversights, of course, but another possibility for languishing organizations could have been the current trend away from in-person meetings and towards online connections. Everything from computer-based access to digitized records to online "hangouts" to social media sites hosting "groups" online seemingly have conspired to displace the face-to-face meeting.
On our hour-long drive home, I couldn't help but think of all the younger genealogy researchers I have met over the years. Most of them are working moms whose family and careers rightly demand more of their time than any spare moments they can afford for genealogy. Some of them are teachers or business owners—people for whom spare time comes, well, sparingly.
The thing is, of all these people I enjoy having met and talked with, not a one of them was a person I would have otherwise met than through one specific nexus: we made each other's acquaintance at a genealogy meeting. Not a one of them are people I've met face-to-face after having met them online. It was thanks to that apparently dying breed—the genealogy conference—that I've met all of them.
Face to face meetings grant us something that I've seldom seen in "social" media venues: time to socialize. Granted, yes, I suppose I'll eventually learn to entirely substitute a phone or a laptop for an actual face looking into mine, but I'm pretty sure I will miss out on all the people who I could have met, if we all kept up the habit of gathering ourselves together. Perhaps the social media habit is just something we'll have to learn to do just to get by—if, that is, genealogy conferences and even local meetings become the extinct entity trends seem to predict.
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
It's been thrilling finding a new area to research in that mystery branch of my paternal grandfather's family tree. But you know what I say about such genealogical endeavors: I add genealogy to the group that belongs with politics and sausage-making. Watching genealogical research unfold can be a boring—perhaps outright disgusting—process. So I won't be taking much time to continue the story, until I do find something of significance.
Before then, you can be sure I've gone back to square one, retracing my steps through making the acquaintance of online resources, much as a beginner would do when starting out on family history research. I've gone back and revisited Cyndi's List, pulling up the links for finding Polish records—though I notice, clicking through to suggested foreign sites, I'll often get a warning pop up about site security, causing hesitation in this journey into new territory. I've poked around at Geneteka, where I noticed just how many spelling variations I could find for the Puhała surname which might be in my history.
Not only have I tried to push ahead in finding the right records, but I've also attempted broadening my knowledge of how to pronounce those Polish names and words, which look like such tongue-twisters—until, at least, I learn the secret behind the phonics of those diacritical marks. I also tracked down the information on Czarnylas, that tiny village where Aunt Rose may have come from, locating background information in a gazetteer from the Prussian time period. And, of course, I'm continuing to absorb as much information as possible on the realm of Pomerania, the designation of the village at the time Aunt Rose's family once lived there.
While I've been working on Poland, I also went back and reviewed some of the Polish websites I had used when researching Theodore Puchalski's wife, Sophie Laskowska, adding a few more details from site updates since the last time I visited.
This is the kind of time when there is more to chase after than to write home about—and, if I even try to write about it, I can safely say there isn't really anything exciting to say at this point. Sometimes, research turns into that hit-or-miss, try this and try that, dull routine. We really need it to make any progress. And when we're done, the story can sure sound scintillating. It's just that the grunt work itself doesn't make for full length feature film glory.
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
In seeking to discover any information on my paternal grandfather's origin, we need to keep going back to that mysterious woman named Rose, supposedly my grandfather Theodore J. Puchalski's sister. Today is one of those days.
I've been agonizing over Aunt Rose for years, ever since I learned that there was such a woman. I've written about my search for Aunt Rose on this blog over four years ago, and have kept up the chase ever since. You know how it goes: sometimes, the search seems to rocket on into new territory; other times, it languishes.
At one point, I had found one of those serendipitous discoveries which, though it shouldn't have been there, remained long enough to grant me the clue I so desperately needed. Such was the case with the other side of my father's family in my paternal grandmother's roots, as divulged in a census enumerator's error in 1920, when I learned that the Laskowski family originated in the region of occupied Poland once called Posen by their German rulers.
The same thing, thankfully, also happened in the case of this Aunt Rose and her husband George Kober. Whoever the enumerator was for that neighborhood of New York City, she made the mistake of writing exactly what the reporting party said about Rose's place of birth. Instead of writing what would have then been the politically-correct answer of Germany, she entered the word, "Schwartzwald."
As you can see from this excerpt provided from Ancestry.com, the middle line—that was the entry for Rose—had the original entry "Schwartzwald" lined out and replaced by the letters "Ger" for Germany.
I couldn't have been more grateful for a mistake made. I copied that word "Schwartzwald" into my search engine to see what I could find. Of course, I found the predictable, with the spelling adjustment of Schwarzwald. Schwarz, of course, being German for black, immediately led me to the fabled region we know in English as the Black Forest.
While it was exciting to think that my ancestors might have hailed from such a picturesque land, once I sat down and thought this whole thing out, I realized it produced some conflicting information. Schwarzwald couldn't have been farther away from the place in Poland I have recently been researching, based on these new DNA match discoveries. When I had tried to make any progress with this discovery back in 2015, it is no surprise to see the search was cut short in its tracks. Complicating that was the subsequent discovery of Rose's mother's unexpected surname of Kusharvska—not a very German-sounding surname. With all those conflicting details, I had no choice but to put this puzzle on a back burner. I was stymied by what appeared to be unresolved leads heading in opposite directions.
Now that I'm mulling over these new DNA connections which lead me to a Michalski family with roots in the historic region of Pomerania, I'm addressing this question about Aunt Rose again from every angle. I'm studying local history, trying to build timelines which might reveal reasons why a family might leave their homeland for a new start so far away. I'm studying geography, seeking any hints that might align with these hopelessly enigmatic story lines—at least, the few hints my grandfather reluctantly divulged. Any possible clue, any weakest of hints: I'm following them.
And so, poking around that newly-found online resource for transcribed Pomeranian records, I exhausted every search angle I could think of—and noticed something. It seemed the parish location with the most records fitting the parameters of the Zegarska maiden name which connected with those Michalski DNA matches was for a place called Czarnylas. Where on earth would a place with a name like that have been located? A name I had never heard of before, I had to look it up.
I found some very interesting details on this new-to-me town. For one thing, it was small: a village of less than five hundred people. In current-day Poland, it is located in the Pomeranian Voivodeship. Its provincial capital is a city called Gdańsk, a port on the Baltic Sea. Perhaps those story my grandfather told of being an orphan put to work on a sailing vessel may have had a reasonable basis, after all.
Every time I am confronted with a new term or topic in my genealogical journey, I head first for Google, and ultimately to a generic source of information like Wikipedia. In this case, Wikipedia granted me an unexpected gift in its very abbreviated entry on the village of Czarnylas. At the very top of the page, after the name of the place and a pronunciation guide, was an entry informing the reader that this Polish place had also gone by a different name during the years of German occupation. That name—makes me cry to see it—was Schwarzwald.
Why the Germans would name two different places on entirely opposite sides of their country by the same name, I have no idea. I certainly would otherwise have had no way of knowing this fact. If it weren't for DNA testing, I never would have started looking at trees of people claiming the surname Michalski in their heritage. If it weren't for spotting a wife's maiden name of Zegarska in one of those Michalski trees, I might not have looked up this new-to-me Pomeranian website, nor spotted the name of the parish where the most promising entries led me. I certainly would have had no reason to look up any further information on such a tiny place as Czarnylas, if the path hadn't led me in that direction. But step by step, ignoring no clue, our research can coax us along into predicaments where we have no choice but to ask—and then answer—our own questions.
Above: Not the right Schwarzwald: Arnold Lyongrün's 1912 painting "Spring in Black Forest" depicts the scenery in the more widely known Schwarzwald, not my apparent ancestral village in Pomerania; image courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Monday, July 8, 2019
The problem with serving as the unofficial genealogy guinea pig is that the scribblings of such a lab rat are often noted as events occur. In other words, the story is being written as it unfolds. Sometimes, that can make for glacially slow progress. Besides, not knowing the way, the path often unfolds in unexpected directions. Not helpful for developing plot arcs. Learning can be awkward, when observed in real time.
As soon as I realized that six different DNA matches point me in the direction of uncovering the origin of my mystery paternal grandfather—with a new surname of Michalski and a new location in Milwaukee—I've been messaging the most promising contacts. Over the weekend, I was thankful to realize that not all DNA matches ignore their messages. I didn't think this one particular Michalski researcher would do so, since her tree seems so well documented, but experience can teach some hard lessons, and I was prepared to accept disappointment.
Thankfully, the worst never happened. This newly-discovered researcher and I have begun a lively partnership in trying to figure out the connection between my New York paternal side and her family's Milwaukee kin. This is where my fellow researcher shared a useful online resource.
Dubbed—predictably, for a Polish website—Pomorskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, the site contains transcriptions of baptisms, marriages, and death records for the region known as Pomerania. There, as both my correspondent and I realized, there are records for a woman surnamed Zegarska who married a man named—painfully similar but not exactly the same as I'd wish—Puchała. They had a son named Theodor, whom they had baptised in 1876.
This is exceedingly good news for someone like me, searching for the roots of a man who insisted that he was an orphan and refused to tell his grandchildren much, if anything, about his ancestry. We knew him as John T. McCann, but the inquiring minds of many cousins in this grandchildren's generation have unearthed the secret identity he once claimed: that of a man reported in New York City to be Theodore J. Puchalski.
And now, DNA matches point me to a connection with families named Michalski—all of whom have a female ancestor whose maiden name was Zegarska, very similar to that of John T. McCann's mother's reported maiden name of Zegar.
Naturally, now that I have this website's access at my fingertips, I took a look around to see what else I could find. First discovery was that searching on a Polish website for a name spelled Puchala would yield me nothing; I needed to use the proper diacritical mark and render that name properly: Puchała.
Once I did that, I learned that a woman named Anastasia Zegarska married a man named Thomas Puchała in 1868.
But when I went to the section for searching baptismal records, hoping to find a list of their children, the entry for their son—named Theodor, a discovery to make me ecstatic—contained no name for the father. The space for that entry was left blank. And for the woman's surname, I found a curious entry: "Puchała ur. Zegarska."
Well...what does "ur" mean?!?!
By now, I've learned to keep a tab open and set to Google Translate. I've been doing a lot of jumping back and forth lately, trying to figure out what all those Polish words mean. So I plugged in the phrase, "Puchała ur. Zegarska," to see what that "ur" might have meant.
I got the result:
Fluffy? Not what I was expecting.
At least, I found out what the abbreviation "ur." meant: born. Don't ask me how to pronounce it, but now we both know it stands for "urodzony." Now I can add that to "vel" in my lexicon of Words In Polish I Never Expected to Encounter.
As for Puchała, it goes the way of all genealogy research: one discovery creates an additional question. In this case, what happened to Thomas Puchała that he was not listed as the father?
In the process of trying to answer that question, I've already come across something that grabbed my attention and made me cry. I'm hoping I'll be able to take this as a confirmation that I'm on the right track.
Above image: excerpt from search results for Zegarska marriage entries on Pomorskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne; image below from search for phrase "Puchała ur. Zegarska" on Google Translate.
Sunday, July 7, 2019
Sometime last week, far too long after the great neighborhood blackout to go back and make amends, I realized I hadn't posted my traditional biweekly research progress report. If you heard that big "oops"—yes, that was my outside voice—you now know why it didn't show as planned on June 30. After spending six hours at a local cafe so I could glom on to their wifi and get some work done, I had written a brief post and headed home for the night. The whole difficult weekend had blown the thought of a missed post entirely out of mind.
What to do now? Two choices: post the tally now (and blow the entire yearlong sequence out of kilter), or wait another week, getting back on track so I don't have to rework my entire spreadsheet setup. I opted for the latter and, barring any unexpected upheavals in the week to come, will get back in sequence with next Sunday's post.
In the meantime, I've been getting tactical with the DNA albatross hanging around my neck. I've been working my way through a routine which has turned out to brighten the light at the end of the DNA tunnel. If you are like me, looking at all those thousands of DNA matches and wondering "Who are these people?" then you may benefit from this simple tactic to cut a clear path through your matches, as well.
First, a caveat. If you are one of those fortunate people who turn me green with envy, bragging about all your first- and second-cousin matches on your DNA readouts, you will not relate to my research agony. (Did I say I envy you?) This technique may not work for you because, of course, you
Uh uh. Not me. With a dad whose father boasted that he was an orphan—alone, with not a relative in the world—matches on my paternal side are few. So naturally, there aren't that many chances for random distant relatives out there to decide to take a DNA test. Hence, matches who mostly are fourth cousins or beyond—if any on that bereft side of the family.
Every now and then, a third cousin will pop up in my results at the five DNA companies where I've tested. But not often. Still, it helps to work with data which is organized, and that is what I set out to do this week.
Starting with Ancestry.com, where out of nearly fifty thousand DNA matches, I have only 1,657 who are fourth cousin or closer, I started sorting each of those "close" matches into four categories. Each color-coded category stands for matches who connect through a specific grandparent. That way, not only did I separate my maternal matches into my grandfather's Davis line versus my grandmother's McClellan line, but I also tried my best to split apart the few Laskowski matches I have from those of my mystery grandfather on my paternal—maybe Puchalski?—side.
I chose one confirmed close match from my mother's side to get started. It helps to have a little encouragement to get the ball rolling, and I already have a solid paper trail for that maternal side. I had this one McClellan relative who is a second cousin, once removed—someone I already knew about from family reports.
On my DNA Matches page at Ancestry, I clicked on "Add/Edit Groups" and chose the option, "Create custom group." I gave the new group a name and assigned a color to code the future members of the group. Then, because the option doesn't provide any place to actually label what the group is, I clicked on the individual match's page and added a note there so I could see right away what I had named that group.
After setting up that color-coded surname group for my maternal grandmother's line, I clicked through to that specific cousin's DNA entry, the one which shows a sketch of the match's family tree. My purpose now was to click on the choice labeled "Shared Matches."
Clicking on that choice, "Shared Matches," shows me all the matches I have in common with this close McClellan cousin. Since I don't have any pedigree collapse in this line for several generations, I can fairly safely assume that anyone who matches me and this known McClellan cousin will also be related to us through the McClellan line.
Thus, I work my way through all those DNA matches who show up as matches to this cousin, labeling each one just as I did this first one: with a color code, followed by entering a note stating the name of the group.
From that point, I am ready to start looking more closely at all these matches, divided out by each of four grandparents' lines, and see where I need to fill in my own tree. Of course, with 1,657 matches at the level of fourth cousin or closer, I still have a lot of work yet to do. But this way, that pile of 1,657 is now whittled down to four groups of much easier size, making the task a much less daunting challenge.