Friday, December 31, 2021

Letting the Other Shoe Drop

 

Yesterday, for the fifth of those Twelve Most Wanted ancestors I'll be researching next year, I mentioned I chose to tidy up my mother-in-law's Metzger family tree because of so many fascinating—but unfinished—features of that line. It was really a toss-up between that branch of the family and another branch, the Gordon line, so I had a hard time choosing.

But why choose? (You knew that other shoe was going to drop at some point.)

For the sixth month of the upcoming research year, I'll go ahead and focus on the DNA matches leading me to my mother-in-law's Gordon line. And why not? That line alone probably accounts for more DNA matches in my husband's DNA results than any other of his maternal family lines. And that is just looking at one testing company for only his results. That's not to mention his two sisters' test results, plus his account at the other four major DNA testing companies. There are more Gordon descendants out there to find, and I may as well become diligent in matching up our lines with these distant Gordon cousins.

My mother-in-law's Gordon ancestors stretch back to the colonial days in Maryland, then lead us on an immigrant trail through Pennsylvania, eventually landing in Perry County, Ohio, where I've found many Gordons to research. But the Gordon family didn't stop there. This was the line I've pursued since the early days of Internet genealogy, when I made the online acquaintance of a persistent Gordon researcher whose branch of the family landed her in Michigan. Other descendants from that line have moved far beyond those midwestern locations. I've still got a long way to go before I can say I've found all the Gordon descendants.

The goal with this final selection for my mother-in-law's ancestors to research in 2022 is to connect as many Gordon DNA matches with the branches of her family tree as possible. I know there are many more branches of this surname which need more work, and next June will be my chance to do some spring cleaning on the Gordon line.  

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Finding the Founders

 

Even if it is not yet possible to determine the exact origin of an immigrant ancestor, it is a quite satisfactory approach to learn all that can be found on that individual (or couple), once they have arrived in their new homeland. With my mother-in-law's family tree, she has several ancestors who arrived in Perry County, Ohio, in the early 1800s and stayed there, along with all their descendants, for generations. Likewise, though I know where family members say those ancestors originated, I have yet to locate any reliable documentation demonstrating the facts.

For my fifth choice of the Twelve Most Wanted I will be researching in the upcoming year, I am torn between two founding families in my mother-in-law's family history. Unable to make the choice, I once again turned to DNA to help flip the coin. There are two family surnames—Gordon and Metzger—which have been in Perry County since the early 1800s, but my question is: which line has the most interesting possible DNA matches to connect to my mother-in-law's extended family tree?

I took a look at the Thru-Lines readout at Ancestry.com for each of those surnames for my husband's test results. Hands down, third great-grandfather Gordon has far and above more DNA matches listed for his account than his counterpart Metzger. Though I haven't done the grunt work to connect some of them to the tree, it was easy to spot, just at a glance, that putting the Gordon puzzle pieces together would be far easier to handle.

But that is not what big goals are about.

Opting for the messier—but far more likely to be interesting—goal of pursuing my mother-in-law's Metzger roots, my fifth Most Wanted ancestor will be an immigrant by the name of Michael Metzger, my mother-in-law's second great-grandfather. Born in 1783—but where is not yet confirmed, at least in my mind—he and his wife and at least one child somehow arrived in the New World and settled in Ohio before 1830.

There are many gaps in the records I've accumulated for Michael Metzger so far, and more work is needed, stateside. But the main research goal for this coming May is to see whether there is any indication of where in the old country the man and his wife—not to mention his son Michael, direct line ancestor of my mother-in-law—once lived before making that momentous decision to forsake all and leave for America.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Seeking an 1804 Immigrant's Story

 

The story of some ancestors reaches so far into the past that any paper trail has become sparse through crumbling records—or lack of any records at all. Such is particularly the case for immigrant ancestors moving into pioneer territory.

That is exactly the case with the family I'd like to focus on as the fourth choice for my Twelve Most Wanted for 2022. With this fourth choice, we also move from selecting ancestors from my mother's line, to that of my mother-in-law.

Once again, I'll let DNA guide my choice. It happens that my mother-in-law has ancestors on both sides of her family who descend from the same Snider ancestor. Each of her grandmothers can claim descent from 1804 immigrants Anna Elizabeth Eckhardt and Nicholas Schneider, who arrived with their children in Ohio by 1819. With the large families typical of Catholics of that era of time, that has produced, over generations, a large number of DNA matches leading back to that same couple. 

It's time for me to connect the dots and clean up my Snider/Snyder/Schneider database. After all, the whole reason we use DNA testing for genealogical purposes is to organize—and hopefully extend—our family tree. I don't just want to plug those matches into my tree and call my job done; I want to see whether there is any chance to push the line back yet another generation.

Thus, in examining what can be found on founding ancestors Nicholas and Anna Elizabeth, I'll trace them backwards in time from Perry County, Ohio, to each stop on the way leading them there from their arrival at port on the east coast. Sifting through any records that can be found on this couple and their children, we'll see whether any clues reveal the exact location of their European origin.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Playing With the Puzzle Pieces

 

Setting goals makes you face up to your messiest research problems. At some point, you have to solve those problems—if that is at all possible. And even if it turns out not to be possible—at least, right now—difficult problems allow us the opportunity to dig deeper into the surrounding puzzle pieces.

That's exactly what I'm facing with the goal I simply can't put off for another year. For the third selection of my Twelve Most Wanted ancestors to research for 2022, I'm going to square off with my fourth great-grandfather, Charles McClellan. Supposedly born in South Carolina about 1775, he somehow made his way first to Georgia, and then over the Georgia state line into then-territorial Florida before 1830.

There are a lot of conjectures about my fourth great-grandfather. For one thing, no one has been able to determine the maiden name of his wife, thus meaning no one has found any documentation of Charles' marriage to Elizabeth. Despite having a large family, adding up over the centuries to many descendants, you'd think with that many people on his research trail, someone would have risen triumphantly, clutching a telltale document in hand. But no.

I realize I will likely not be any more successful than the many motivated researchers who have gone before me. But I take this as an opportunity to learn much more than just the vital details for the man. When I tackle this research problem in March, I want to peruse all that can be found on the history of the regions where he once lived. He has, as I've already discovered, left his name scattered among the records of others who were tangentially connected to the McClellan family. Perhaps, in addition to delving into local history, some attention to the McClellan F.A.N. Club may turn up a clue.

Research goals don't necessarily need to outline enormous, earth-shaking endeavors. For this longstanding challenge, my goal will be to learn what I can about the whereabouts, extended family, friends and neighbors of this man as a first step. We'll see where that first step leads us in March, and, who knows, maybe continue the pursuit in a future year, as well.  

Monday, December 27, 2021

Taking a Cue from D N A

 

If you are wondering what research item you should place a priority on, why not let your DNA test results be your guide? 

As I choose the Twelve Most Wanted of my family's ancestors to focus on for the coming year's genealogical research goals, I realize I have been all but ignoring one obvious clue: I have plenty of DNA matches connecting me to one specific surname on my mother's tree. However, there is one problem with that little genetic gift: none of those people who match me have anyone in their tree who connects with my line bearing that surname.

Now, don't go thinking I am about to discuss a family surname like Jones. While yes, I do have Joneses in my family, I strangely have been able to sort them out to my satisfaction. The surname I'm concerned with now is less familiar than Jones—or Smith, or Baker, or any other surname you might consider irksomely common. The surname I will be working on, come this February, will be the maiden name of my second great-grandmother, Sarah Catherine Laws.

Wife of Thomas Davis of Washington County, Tennessee, Sarah Catherine Laws has had me stumped ever since I found documentation of her existence. For the most part, the records I could find were of her children's death certificates. I have not been able to find any paperwork which connects her to the previous generation.

And yet...over the past few years, I've noticed DNA matches at several of the companies where I've tested that lead to Laws family ancestry. All, of course, are distant matches clustering around the estimated fourth cousin mark. As if resisting the urge to make things easier, each of these Laws matches leads back to a different Laws ancestor. My matches' family lines do not seem to line up to mine.

So, I procrastinate. Avoid this mess. Set this puzzle aside. But no more; I need to settle this question for myself. Thus I face the music: examine each match's potential tree—rebuild it, if necessary—to see which family configuration makes the most sense. Above all, look for documentation—if, that is, any is still there to be found.

When I look at the overall progress made in the past year on my mother's family tree, I can see I've gained ground. I started the year with 24,961 people in her family tree, and ended it with 27,082 documented individuals. While that represents an overall gain this year of 2,121 individuals, the progress has been spotty. There are some branches which literally blossomed, while others seem to have withered from inattention.

The Laws branch, unfortunately, is one which has stood frozen in time. It's time this February to introduce a spring thaw in that region and see whether I can pry loose a few isolated records to add to this family picture. Sarah Catherine Laws—and, hopefully, her mystery parents and siblings—will become Ancestor Number Two of my Twelve Most Wanted for 2022.    

Sunday, December 26, 2021

12 For '22

 

In this lull following the celebration of Christmas, I've long learned to use this quiet time to assemble my thoughts and plans for the upcoming year. This includes my hopes for the upcoming research year, in particular my goals for tackling the research puzzles which have kept me stumped.

A couple years ago, I borrowed from the age-old custom of celebrating the twelve days of Christmas, and have since re-purposed that set of days between Christmas and Epiphany to outline my plans for learning more about what I call my "Twelve Most Wanted" in my family tree. Sometimes, those Twelve Most Wanted are direct ancestors holding a place in our family's pedigree charts, but other times, I've chosen to follow a collateral line, or even a friend of the family.

The system of selecting those twelve is simple. For each month, I designate a different individual to research, based on a rotation through both mine and my husband's maternal and paternal branches. For the first quarter of the year, I select one ancestor from my mother's family for each month. For the second quarter, the same process is repeated, only this time, selected from my mother-in-law's family tree. For the summer months, I move to my father-in-law's pedigree to research three of his ancestors. And as we approach the end of the year, I tackle the difficult prospect of researching my father's Polish ancestry.

That said, the process begins again for a new year with today's selection. Usually that choice is made easy by the fact that I always have attended an in-depth training class in January at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, but this year will be different: not only has the SLIG winter term reverted its plans to virtual classes only, but I hadn't registered for any of the sessions. However, I'm missing my annual research trips to Salt Lake City so much that I'm hoping to return for an independent research project, possibly with a friend.

There is one branch of my mother's line which has been a longstanding brick wall for me: the line which I can push back no farther than the life of my fourth great-grandfather, Job Tison. I know he died in Glynn County, Georgia, in 1824, and that years earlier, he likely moved there from somewhere in North Carolina. But where? And who were his parents? Besides, what brought him to Georgia?

These are the type of research questions which require sitting down with some source material likely not found online. Hence, my hope to pursue these questions at a research library. Depending on the safety status of air travel in January, I may still be able to avail myself of such resources.

If not, I've got a "Plan B" to gather as much background information on the man's whereabouts and search for general information on the locations where he once lived. No matter which way the pandemic winds its way into our future, my goal will be to further understand the life and times of my fourth great-grandfather Job Tison.   

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Warm Wishes

 

We've traveled through a long season of holiday celebrations, from the autumn Thanksgiving celebrations in North America through all the season's events of December—and we've yet another week to enjoy. These holidays bring to mind thoughts of family past—those loved ones no longer with us, with whom we once cherished our holiday traditions—as well as the family present with whom we are now celebrating. With hopes of family future, we pass our holiday traditions to the newest in our family in hopes that someday, there will be those yet to share in these meaningful times.

Perhaps there are none who feel this hope as much as those of us who have traced our family's stories through the generations. For you in particular, I wish the warmest of holiday wishes, and opportunities during this month of holidays to share your family's stories with those who mean the most to you.

Merry Christmas

 



Friday, December 24, 2021

Tonight? Or Tomorrow Morning?

 

That's one question that may help us delve into our roots: the traditions our families have held through the generations. Holiday traditions are prime exhibits: we've inherited the way we handle these special events, perhaps not even being aware of where they originated.

When families blend, one holiday question for those who celebrate Christmas is likely, "When do we open the gifts?" For some families, there is no question: the event is always on Christmas eve. For others, it would be unthinkable to jump ahead and open them before Christmas morning. But where did that custom come from? The answer may lead us to our ancestral story.

Mine is a family which blended both traditions. My own family was a Christmas morning kind of clan, while my husband's family kept the Christmas Eve tradition. So now, we do a little of both.

Perusing all the photos I've gathered from the collection of Marilyn Sowle Bean, I spotted a few Christmas pictures, including this one which clearly showed a family accustomed to celebrating with gifts on Christmas Eve.

With Marilyn's Scandinavian roots, it's no surprise to learn that her grandparents came from a Lutheran tradition, so for her children, Christmas Eve meant a traditional evening church service, followed by a gift exchange later that night. While my own family's Christmas morning photos might have included kids cuddled up in their pajamas and bunny slippers, Marilyn's family was still dressed in their church-going clothes when they posed for the evening's photos.

No matter which way your family chose to follow their December traditions, I wish you the best for this holiday season.


Above: Christmas Eve gifts for Greg and Judy; from the photograph collection of their mother, Marilyn Sowle Bean, December 1964.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

When New Does Turn out to be Nicer

 

Sometimes, the promise of change can be near cringe-worthy. Like reaching into a trusty toolbox for just the right tool for the job, we want our hammers to do exactly that: hammer. Not screw things up.

With past disappointing experiences in mind, I did not exactly jump for joy when I logged into my Ancestry.com account the other day. The first glimpse I caught was of an unexpected note explaining that the website had been updated. New and improved, the notice claimed. I held my breath. I like things exactly as they are on my go-to genealogy websites.

New it was. According to the official Ancestry.com blog, the website revision was unveiled on December 9, offering a "more modern look and feel" including subtle changes to color, visual elements, and design. Best of all—at least for me—was the promise of "improved contrast ratios for legibility" and a more modern typeface design.

While the blog indicated the new design was revealed beginning with the December 9 launch, the revision has apparently been rolled out to subscribers gradually. My account's update showed up only this week. Perhaps there are others still awaiting the change.

The promise seems to be that the new look is the outward appearance of what, tucked inside the package, includes setting the stage for more frequent updates in the future, and a basis for launching new features faster. There's that word "new" again—making me wonder what else is in store besides a graphics facelift. Overall, the changes this month seem visually pleasing—not to mention, more legible, in my opinion—which hopefully will be the tone of the new changes yet to come.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Now That the Days Are Getting Longer

 

I don't mean to rush things, but being past the winter solstice gives that illusion of having more time. We are now on our way to more daylight, more warmth, more...well, whatever you fancy to be an encouraging sign.

Of course, the next few days are set aside to enjoy the Christmas holiday, but I also see one additional lift to the spirits heading this way: the hope placed in a new year. The week between Christmas and New Year's Day has always been my favorite time to retreat from the rush to plan out what I hope to accomplish for the upcoming year.

Genealogy always figures prominently in that time of planning. For the past two years, I have tried a new strategy to guide my research plans for the upcoming year. I call that seeking my "Twelve Most Wanted"—the ancestors for whom I most want to find more information. For each day of the proverbial Twelve Days of Christmas leading up to Epiphany, I select one ancestor to feature, laying out what is lacking in that person's story and targeting an upcoming month to concentrate on achieving the specified research goal.

Some months, I've selected an ancestor on the direct line of either my family or my husband's family. Other times, I've fingered a relative from an ancestor's collateral line, often in hopes that the process will help uncover the information I couldn't figure out about my direct line ancestor. A few times, I've even gone farther afield, selecting a person to research who is more friend than family in my F.A.N. Club—like my godmother's father Michael Melnitchenko, or King Stockton, the former slave who maintained a lifelong relationship with my second great-grandfather.

For each upcoming year, I distribute the choices among four different family groups. For the first three months of the year, I concentrate on my mother's ancestors. The second quarter of the year is dedicated to the ancestors of my Ohio-born mother-in-law, and as we move into the third quarter, I shift to examine the challenges from my father-in-law's side of the family. The last three months of the year I tackle my father's difficult-to-trace Polish ancestors.

With that plan, I distribute my research efforts among all four branches of our family's heritage. Using the Twelve Most Wanted approach enables me to lay out a basic road map for the upcoming year. Details like trips I plan to take figure prominently in this planning session, as well, and hopefully the upcoming year will see more opportunities to access repositories in person.

Now who would have guessed a few silly extra moments of sunshine could inspire such enthusiasm for planning out a new year of research? If you have a few quiet moments to yourself before the end of this holiday season, I hope you will join me in planning your research adventures for next year, too.  

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Rest of the (Very Short) Story

 

Two weeks shy of an exact twenty one years after Effie Woodworth sent her grandson a letter lecturing him on his lack of respect for a family name, she followed with another letter to the same family. Only this time, Earle Bean had been dead for over a year; this letter was to Earle's widow, Marilyn Sowle Bean. Marilyn was dealing with the dire possibility that her husband's fate, owing to Marfan Syndrome, might one day become the same story for her son.

Ironically, the letter began with Effie—the same one scolding Earle for dropping the "e" in his given name—apologizing for not remembering how to spell Marilyn's name. I'm not sure how to read between the lines on this one, but when I found it, Effie's May 1957 letter had tucked within its envelope that original letter to Marilyn's then-ten-year-old husband about his name—likely left just the way Marilyn had stored them.

Along with the earlier letter from Effie was a newspaper clipping, two columns' length cut from an unnamed and undated newspaper, held together with a straight pin. On her 1957 letter, Effie added a note, "You see I have had that clipping about 30 yrs." She was right; it was almost exactly thirty years.

Headlines to the story read "Surgical Feat Performed on Baby Here"—the "here" apparently meaning the city of San Francisco. The baby was Effie's grandson, Earle's twin brother Merle, who unlike his womb-mate, had failed to thrive in the first year of his life. At nine months, while Earle weighed twenty three pounds, his twin weighed only eleven.

I had long known Earle had a twin brother, and though I knew he had died just short of what would have been his first birthday, I never knew what happened to him. According to the news article—replicated, though without his name, in an article in the San Francisco Examiner—the surgery was to repair a ruptured diaphragm, which had caused the infant's stomach to protrude and press against his lungs.

The procedure involved a two-step process, with one surgery approaching the site from the baby's right side, pushing the stomach back into place, and a follow-up surgery would correct issues on the left side. The medical feat was brought to the attention of the press by Merle's other grandmother, Ella Bean—incorrectly reported to be Merle's own mother. Effie's letter continued with the explanation that the child's aunt—Leona, herself a public health nurse—said that physical malady was not what killed Merle, but that he had erysipelas. However, the child's mother didn't agree, and neither did Effie, who launched into a long explanation in her letter of all the people in the Woodworth family who were troubled with hernias.

Whatever it was—and Effie, with her extensive knowledge of Woodworth family history, may have trumped the professional opinion of the child's aunt—nine month old Merle may have survived the ordeal of the two surgeries in May of 1927, but by July, one week before his first birthday, he breathed his last. Whether the surgery helped, hindered, or didn't make any difference at all, Maude Woodworth and her blind and deaf husband Samuel Bean had to say goodbye to their baby boy.

In searching out the data regarding our family's story, we strive to obtain the names, dates, and places  to record each person in the family constellation. We see some living long, perhaps even living past the century mark, while others' life stories are far more brief in the telling. Yet sometimes, the only way to fully know the story is not solely by governmental documentation, but through the gift of personal recollections. Finding the treasure trove of Marilyn Sowle Bean's memorabilia at the antique store the other day affords me that peek into the minutiae of just what happened in Merle Bean's very short life.


Above: Undated newspaper clipping, likely from the San Francisco, California, area, describing the first of two 1927 surgeries by "famous San Francisco surgeon" Dr. Leo Eloesser on nine-month-old infant Merle Bean to repair his ruptured diaphragm and displaced stomach.

 

Monday, December 20, 2021

About That Family Name

 

Kids can get so embarrassed by anything that makes them seem different than their friends. In the case of Marilyn Sowle Bean's husband, apparently it was his own name which embarrassed him. 

Given the name Earle, it seemed to have an extra letter at the end, a pretentious "e" which set him apart. Since Earle had also inherited another detail which made him stand apart from everyone else in school—he was born with Marfan Syndrome, causing his unusual height—he must have figured carving an "e" off his name was far more manageable than shedding a foot off his height. Why draw more attention to oneself than necessary?

Apparently, by the time he was about to turn ten, his maternal grandmother Effie Williams Woodworth had gotten wind of the egregious omission, and wrote to inform him of her displeasure. Her May 15, 1936, letter was sent to the boy barely three years after he had lost his mother—Maude, Effie's daughter—leaving him, along with his brother Sam, to be raised by his blind and deaf father and his paternal grandmother.

The letter may have started out like a typical note from a grandmother, with thanks for a Mother's Day gift he had made her, along with a report on how the weather had been in Oroville, California, where she had moved only the past March. She did not miss an opportunity to gently chide Earle and his brother for not writing her more often, then remind them that their dear departed mother's birthday was coming up a week from the next Sunday.

Then came the lecture.

Now Earle, I see you do not spell your name as it should be. Yours is a family name. That's why your mother named you Earle. Your brother's name was Merle. Please remember your name is Earle.
That last Earle was underlined for emphasis. Effie did not want Earle to miss her point. She then launched into the explanation: her paternal grandmother was an Earle—the twin sister "Merriette" Earle. You could tell she was quite proud of her family heritage—though I suspect her grandson did not appreciate the history lesson about to follow.

The Earles were very aristocratic people so you should feel honored. Your mother would wish you to spell it that way. My father's name was Eugene Earle Williams + where ever there is an Earle in our family it's spelled Earle.

Effie continued to regale her young grandson with examples of others in the extended family whose full name included Earle, then threw in a sentence about how the "Indians" in northern Wisconsin captured some of the Earle family—most of whom subsequently escaped—and then abruptly closed the letter with a cheery, "Well Earle, write again" and signed off "lovingly" as Grandma Woodworth.

I had long heard the story of how Earle had dropped that final "e" in his name over the protests of his grandmother, and now that I've received that package of Marilyn's saved letters, I now can read that note for myself. Saved after all those years, first by Earle himself, then by his wife Marilyn, eighty five years later it has finally made its way to me. Some family stories can be substantiated, but the proof doesn't always come easily.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

A Letter Circles Back Home

 

Have you ever written a letter to family, only to find it returning to you, years afterwards? That's what just happened to me.

Yesterday was the day set aside to head to the antique shop in town where a newfound genea-friend had, earlier this year, alerted me about some family photographs for sale. Since the store is soon closing for the last time, it was important for me to get down there before I missed my chance to regain some of the photographs once owned by Marilyn Sowle Bean.

On the appointed day, I met with the store's owner, who had graciously set aside all she had assembled of the remains of Marilyn's collection.

To cut to the chase on the day's outcome, I suppose I should start out with the hackneyed offering: "first, the bad news." There were no remaining photographs. While I don't quite understand the explanation, apparently an "estate liquidator"—sounds so ominous!—had come in and removed all the photographs. Just the photographs.

Just my luck.

The good news is that, despite the loose-leaf condition of the remainder of Marilyn's mementos, the store owner kept noticing the same names, figured the items all belonged to one family and had, over the years, assembled them into one collection. There were newspaper clippings, club newsletter announcements, and letters—including one letter written to Marilyn from me.

"Hey, that's my handwriting," I blurted out upon seeing the envelope. I hardly expected to find my own writing becoming part of the ephemera for sale in an antique store—at least not yet!

The letter, while brief enough to fit on two sheets of stationary, was written on the occasion of having returned from a visit to Belle Woodworth, wife of Marilyn's husband's uncle—the one whose several sons manifested some form of Marfan Syndrome which lately has prompted me to search the tree for signs of which line might have carried any genetic propensity for the disease. Apparently, that same thought had been on my mind when I first began researching Marilyn's family tree so long ago.

The Bean family was my first foray into genealogy, so I was surprised to see how much information I had already laid out for Marilyn. The letter contained only a thumbnail sketch—and most of that, thanks to the documents assembled by a Woodworth cousin in that pre-Internet era of research. But much of it has been since borne out by my exploration last month.

Besides that letter to Marilyn, there were several others, including notes from her husband's maternal grandmother, Effie Williams Woodworth, on another side of the family's history. While much of the information I've already gleaned from the online resources we now find so beneficial for research, it is the little details newly found which bring these stories to life—stories which I hope to share early next year.

We'll keep in touch, this storekeeper and I, in the hopes that something else might materialize from what used to be Marilyn Sowle Bean's collection of memorabilia. In all likelihood, whatever photos remained from her original collection are now parted out and scattered in multiple directions. But we can always hope that something else will show up from the storeroom, or when the new owner sells those photos, or...or...


Above: Excerpt from letter to Marilyn Sowle Bean, outlining portions of the family tree of her mother-in-law, Maude Woodworth Bean.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

A Season for Giving Back

 

The winter holidays come with a call for giving. Whether Hanukkah or Christmas, there is a sense of gratefulness and a willingness to give. This year, for me, is also a year to remember that this is not just about gifts, but about giving back for all that others have given me through the years.

Most of us, when genealogy newbies, can recall how someone else helped us learn not only how to search, but where to find all the hidden resources. When we turn around, years later, and help someone else, we do it remembering how others were there for us when we got started.

One way I've found to give back to others is to rescue abandoned family photographs and return them to a descendant of the picture's subject. How ironic that it turned out that someone found a photo collection once belonging to someone in my family and sent it to me. Now, I'm finding pictures in that collection which actually belong to another family—whose family, I've yet to discover.

One of the pictures tucked away in Marilyn Sowle Bean's collection was a Christmas postcard from someone in boot camp with the United States Marine Corps. To the young man's photo, someone added a handwritten note: "Peter Danisanakes—Boot Camp."


 

Who that Peter might have been, I have no clue. Likely a family friend. This is a perfect example of how we find, in family photo collections passed down to us, relics of the F.A.N. Club of our ancestors. I can't help but think that, just as I'd love to receive a picture of one of my ancestors, someone out there—though who, and where, I don't yet know—would love to have this photo for their own collection.

I tried my hand at locating any identifying information on this Peter. Since Marilyn's family had been in southern California since she was a toddler—not to mention her husband's family, which had been in the state for generations—I presumed this Peter might have been a friend of either family, so I took a look at what I could find.

Since Peter's surname was a bit hard to decipher—was it Danisanakes?—I tried searching by various spelling variations. The closest hit I got on Ancestry.com was an entry in a 1907 city directory—much too early a year—for a J. P. Danisankes, a fruit and vegetables vendor in Oakland, California. 

Flipping the card over to read the note on the reverse didn't help. Or maybe it did. In writing definitely not Marilyn's hand, the note read:

Bufflo Bill's Riding Academy
Colma, Calif.
(South San Francisco)
No phone
(out in the vegetable Gardens)
go out 19th Ave.  

Whether this Peter was a relative of the vegetable vendor in Oakland, I can't be sure. The spelling of the surname is different. But the odd insertion of the hint, "out in the vegetable gardens," sure made it sound more likely. The more I thought about it, the more I was inclined to think the note was written by Marilyn's husband's uncle—Bill Bean, the car dealership owner. The handwriting seemed similar, and I've seen other pictures in Bill's own collection with the reverse of the picture seemingly used as scratch paper to note business details. Most important detail: the Bean family was centered in the Oakland and Alameda County area of northern California.

When I think of all the pictures people send out to their friends over the years—high school or college graduation photos of the kids, holiday cards with the family posing, engagement announcements—I begin to realize how many of us could help others reconnect with images of their long-gone family members. They may not have a copy of those photos now, but we might. All it takes is a way to connect: to let others know what we have, and a willingness to take the step to get in touch.

More than ever, with the Internet, this is possible. We'll see whether it will happen for this photo of young Marine Peter Danisanakes.  


Friday, December 17, 2021

Saturday's the Day

 

Why yes, I realize it is still a week away from Christmas, but in my case, I may get to enjoy a little Christmas this coming Saturday as well. My reason to celebrate? Apparently, the antique store in town which holds the remainder of Marilyn Sowle Bean's photo collection has not yet closed.

I made the phone call yesterday to see whether it was already too late. After all, though I saw the news on social media that this particular antique shop was slated to close, there was no mention of a precise date for this unfortunate occurrence. Since travel plans had already whisked me thousands of miles away for the past week, there was nothing I could do about this predicament until I returned home.

When the phone rang this time at Hubba Hubba—yes, that is the name of the store—the owner did something she said she never does: answer the phone, herself. Usually, she lets the staff standing closer to the phone handle the calls. For some reason, this time was different.

She remembered the photos. After all, it was a collection, not just a few scattered items. Because so many were labeled, she could tell these were part of a family collection, and made sure to keep as many of the items together as possible.

There were not just pictures, but newspaper clippings and other items more suited to a scrapbook collection. Thinking over some of the details she had spotted, the owner had questions. Did one of the men own a lot of dogs? Well, yes—sort of. That was Sam, the poodle trainer for the Ice Follies. Was Marilyn's nickname Rinkie? There was a copy of her high school graduation program with her nickname written in it. The shopkeeper had evidently gotten to know her "client" well, for we had quite a conversation about the items included in Marilyn's collection.

Of course, paramount in the exchange was securing a time when I could access the collection to see for myself what is left. How soon would the shop be closing? I didn't want to miss my last chance.

"Give me a few days," the owner replied. She wanted to assemble all the pieces of the collection before I met with her. Thus it was decided: I'll be able to see what else can be rescued from Marilyn's collection this Saturday. What a long journey this personal treasure chest has taken—and if I can find any extended family members who would like to receive a particular photo from the collection, that journey may continue, long after our Saturday meeting.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

The Food Less Eaten

 

Our travels are not over yet. Less than twenty four hours after landing at the San Francisco International Airport, we were back to pick up another traveler. During rush hour. Wonderful.

Anyone who has been stuck on the road during the commute hour knows the only way to avoid stop-and-go traffic woes is to pull off the road and enjoy an early dinner. So we did. 

On the menu was something so pedestrian, a lesser man might have passed over the suggestion, but not my husband. He noticed a slight twist to the usually-mundane details of a pepperoni pizza, and asked: is it any good? Our waitress, a jovial and energetic spokesperson for her enterprise, had no idea, so the only option was to give this less usual option a try.

There wasn't much to be said for the proposed addition of "hot honey" to a flatbread rendition of a pepperoni pizza. The honey wasn't hot by virtue of spices, just due to a warming process. It didn't seem to detract from the dough—nor, for that matter, for dipping the pepperoni slices directly into the honey—but let's say it didn't really augment the experience, either. I'd wager this will become one of the foods less eaten on that restaurant's unique menu offerings.

The experience served to shove my mind down a rabbit trail of thoughts about food and family. After all, it is the holiday season, a time rich with regional food traditions. I couldn't help but recall author Gena Philibert-Ortega's comments that we can often discern our family's roots simply by observing some of the traditional foods served during holidays.

While that may be helpful advice for some, it certainly does no good for someone in my shoes. One of our family's favorite treats for Christmas is a pastry known as struffoli. Hint: unlike our family, those sweet honey balls don't come from Poland. They don't even come from Ireland, the place my paternal grandfather tried to convince everyone was his family's homeland. But they did come from my neighbor's kitchen during the Christmas season. At least I can guess where her family originated.

Now that I do know where my patriline once resided, I thought I'd review some articles on just what might have shown up on the dining room table during the Christmas season in Poland. Thankfully, there are some helpful online resources out there to fill me in on just what I've been missing for dinner that my Polish distant cousins still get to enjoy. Clue: other than Pierogi—a dish with a name recognized by many in North America, whether Polish or not—none of those recipes sounded familiar to me.

I did pick up the article's hint that not everyone in Poland ate exactly the same traditional foods. Aha! I thought: maybe the reason those dishes don't sound familiar to me is that my grandfather didn't just come from Poland, he came from Pomerania. Maybe the Christmas treats were different up north.

Nope. Nothing from at least this one overview of Pomeranian Christmas traditions rang a bell—at least, not a dinner bell. All it did was remind me of how much I'd love to find a shop close by that sold struffoli, but the closest store I could find was located—as you may have guessed—in New York City

True, I know my sister will take on the labor-intensive job of mixing up a batch for her Cuban-born husband and their family and friends. And maybe two or three decades from now, the fallout from that annual venture will be descendants and kids of family friends who will wonder why the pastries of Naples feature more prominently in their holiday traditions than do the treats of their own ancestors' homeland. 

Maybe it will be that the foods less eaten in that special season turn out to be the cabbage rolls of family food history's cluster genealogy, and the new favorites will be the ones we adopt from the "Neighbors" part of the genealogical F.A.N. Club. If I don't know anything else about why my paternal family chose to ditch their Polish holiday food traditions, at least I can now tell you what part of Italy my neighbor's grandparents once called home.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

A Paradise Without Genealogy

 

Can there be any such thing? For me, likely not.

It's been a wonderful week's respite, relaxing under the Hawaiian sun this past week, even though our family didn't exactly travel there for vacation purposes. Let's just say it is simply impossible to come to the islands to rush, even if on business.

Before the week was out, however, I found my mind racing to make connections. Genealogical connections. Perhaps my brain is just wired that way.

Unfortunately, I have zero family history connections to this tropical paradise. No great-grandparental lines to research at the local archives. Not even any stories of families, generations ago, stopping here en route to some other trans-Pacific destination. About our only connection to Oahu is the reminder that the recently-passed anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor eighty years ago became the inspiration for my then-seventeen-year-old father-in-law to sign up to serve in the United States Navy.

Lacking any connection to our own family history on this island, I found a week without research played surprising tricks on my mind. Like a Pac-Man chomping on point-bearing dots in a never-ending maze, my mind was left to search for familial connections which never materialized. That genealogically-starved mind glommed on to strange substitutes. Discovering one type of local bird was result of an interbreeding of pigeons and doves—would you call that a "pove" or a "digeon"?—my mind even diverted to consider bird genealogy. 

Now that we are safely returned home—and once the holidays are past us—I'll likely return to more traditional genealogical pursuits. Before I accomplish anything else in this absorbing subject, though, there is one task that must be attended to, and quickly. There is an antique shop which, hopefully, has not closed its doors yet for the last time—a shop which still has in its stock the many family photographs once belonging to Marilyn Sowle Bean. Though I've regained many of those pictures, I have yet to see if I can obtain any of the rest of the collection. Today's my first chance to find out.  

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

But What About the Patriline?

 

It certainly can be encouraging, when tentatively dipping into new research territory, to find hits for searches on those foreign-sounding surnames. I had no problem getting results to my queries for the Polish surname Radomski, the maiden name—in the feminine form of Radomska—for my second great-grandmother. Even when I limited the search to her hometown of Lubichowo in the region of Pomerania, there were websites cheering me on to the right track.

Not so for Susanna Radomska's husband. His surname, supposedly Puchała, gave me very few signs that I was on the right track. Looking for anyone else besides their son Thomas—or whatever his given name really was in Polish—I could only come up with one other candidate in the same village.

That possibility was a woman by the name of Marianna Puchała, who in 1858 married a man listed as Johann Flizik. Predictably, within the year, they welcomed their firstborn, a daughter they named Anna Elisabeth. And then promptly dropped out of sight.

Oh great: a surname to search which is even more obscure than Puchała. This caused me grave doubts that I was on the right track. I headed back to my go-to websites for surname origins at Forebears.io, where they assured me that, yes, there is such a surname as Puchała—although a rather rare one. Predictably, the greatest occurrence of that name occurs in Poland, where over six thousand incidences of that surname adds up to a relative rank of 742.

Okay, so now I understand where my struggle lies: there aren't too many of us around. Perhaps all my distant cousins tried the same tactic as had my paternal grandfather: move to New York and change your name.

Just to make sure there are others of us around—that still wasn't convincing enough for a doubter like me—I visited good ol' FamilySearch.org, where I entered the plain search term of Puchała. When enough hits helped build my courage that I am not imaging this surname, I tried a few limiting additions: search for Puchała in Pomorskie, Poland (the term for the province of Pomerania), and even search in Lubichowo.

I found plenty of people claiming that surname, both in Poland and in the United States, which was encouraging. Of course, they aren't my people, but at least there are people with that name in existence—a detail I was beginning to doubt. After all, having had my brother test his Y-DNA has not, in all those seven years since he agreed to test, produced one single exact match on that patriline. Where are all these Puchałas?

There is, however, one other question which plagues me as I pursue this Puchała line. That may have been the surname I was led back to as I traced this family from my grandfather in New York, to his multiply-married mother's birthplace in Poland, thanks to yet another boost from DNA testing. But Puchała wasn't the surname which I found my grandfather using when I first spotted him in New York before his top-secret name change. The name he was using then, depending on who was trying to spell it for American documents, was Puchalski, not Puchała. Where did he get the "-ski" from? 

Monday, December 13, 2021

Building Trees in the Clouds

 

It has been an idyllic week in Hawaii. Perhaps watching the puffy clouds fly over this paradise has had an effect on my tree-building skills, though. Right now, I'm contemplating how to tackle the disembodied branches of the family tree I'm building—the possible collateral lines of my great-grandfather Thomas Puchała's maternal line.

Thomas Puchała's mother was Susanna Radomska—at least, as far as I can tell. Susanna likely married Thomas' father—a man with perhaps a Polish version of the name entered in his baptismal record as Johann—in Lubichowo, the same two thousand person village in Pomerania where Thomas was born in 1844.

Since my only long-distance resources for records of that time period and location are websites which provide transcriptions, not digitized copies of actual documents, I am somewhat limited in how to approach building a family constellation for either of Thomas' parents. The plan is to search the online resources for all listings of those two surnames, limited to the village of Lubichowo, to see what can be found. From that point, the next step would be to see whether any names could be clustered into logical family groupings.

To achieve that task, I started out with a search at the PTG—short for Pomorskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne—to locate any records containing the surname Radomski in Lubichowo. This involved both spellings customary for use of surnames in Poland—Radomski for the men, Radomska for the women—as well as checking three different search options for birth, marriage, and death.

Furthermore, since it helps to familiarize oneself with the website being used, I noticed that there were two categories for records transcribed from Lubichowo. One had, simply, the village's name. The other was labeled "Lubichowo USC."

What's a USC?

Google Search to the rescue: I entered "Lubichowo USC" in the search bar at Google and was rewarded with a few websites in response. Only problem: the websites were entirely in Polish.

I don't speak Polish.

Simple solution: take it to Google Translate. Thus, I discovered that, cutting and pasting "Urząd Stanu Cywilnego (USC) Lubichowo"—the first line on the first hit of my query to Google—into Google Translate, it provided me with the instant answer. "Urząd Stanu Cywilnego"—the words represented by the Polish abbreviation USC—stands for the English term, "Registry Office."

Bottom line: until I can figure out when the people in Pomerania were required to use the Registry Office rather than just record their infants' information in a baptismal record, I will search using both options.

Meanwhile, I not only took my search to the PTG, but also consulted another website which provides transcripts of records: a Polish site known as Geneteka. The best point about this website was that I could drill down to the specific province and parish to search for my Radomski roots—or explore by neighborhoods within a fifteen kilometer radius. Between searches on the birth, marriage, and death tabs, I found several families claiming that surname, then built out each couple's family tree. From that point, consulting death records, I could determine which children died young, and which survived to adulthood so I could continue by setting up a family for their own generation.

Now my challenge is to find a way to connect each of these Radomski relatives from Lubichowo. I can't yet say, for instance, that Susanna Radomska is sisters with Francisca Radomska—or cousins. Likewise with Martin Radomski and Johann Radomski—her brothers? Or her cousins?

At any rate, thanks to these online transcriptions, I've been able to build trees for each of their families. I just don't know yet how—or if—I can connect them to my Susanna Radomska's branch in my tree. I can enter them as "floating" branches, of course, making sure to note the addition somewhere so that I won't forget that outer-space part of my database. With some of the family lines boasting large families with children born like clockwork every two years, I don't want to lose the work that went into assembling the family constellations. Even if they aren't helpful for my purposes in the long run, perhaps they would be of use to someone else researching that Radomski line.

Meanwhile, those pages of handwritten notes I've composed will serve to give me something to muse over as I ponder what my next step might be in tackling my research goal for December. This has turned out to be a far more challenging goal than I had envisioned, back in January when I made the call to head in this direction.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Gifts From S K S

 

'Tis the season for giving gifts, but no, that "SKS" is not an awkward way to abbreviate Santa Claus. However, over the past few weeks, I have been gifted with some genealogical helps from Some Kind Soul which have helped advance my research goals. 

A while back, I had opened the messaging system used by Ancestry.com subscribers to connect with fellow researchers, and realized someone had actually sent me a message. It was a transcription of an obituary for a resident of the county where my mother-in-law grew up. Being a rural, isolated location, it had been home to early settlers of the place whose extended families, over the generations, have intermarried with the several other family lines in the area.

Now, chances are that almost any obituary for a long-standing family from that area will turn out to represent some sort of distant cousin—and, because I research all collateral lines for DNA match purposes, I want to document all these connections, no matter how intertwined they may become. In my mother-in-law's case, it is not quite what researchers formally label endogamy—however, it is definitely a form of pedigree collapse—so I like to call it "endogamy lite."

Not long after that first thoughtful gift of the unbidden obituary, another arrived in my in-box. And then another. With each subsequent gift, I made sure to add the information gleaned from the article into my mother-in-law's family tree.

In these past two weeks, when I've been wrapping up the photograph-inspired search for the names in Marilyn Sowle Bean's pedigree chart, I haven't been working much on my own research goals. I had expected my biweekly count to drop to near-zero on my own trees, but with this unexpected gift from that genealogical benefactor, I have managed to make some research progress on the trees I'm supposed to be tending. My in-laws' tree gained a modest—but much appreciated—sixty nine confirmed names, to bring that tree's total to 24,453.

As for my own tree, I again received a prompt—though this time, it was thanks to some old communications with a fellow family researcher who has been comparing notes and sharing discoveries with me for more than a decade. Updating my tree from leads in our correspondence—not to mention the continuation of my desperate attempt at working on this month's research goal—I've added sixty five new names to my own tree, as well. That brings my parents' tree tally to 27,040.

We all have some information which, shared, could be of benefit to a fellow researcher. I haven't forgotten a recent conversation with a fellow genealogical society member, a woman who realized that her extensive family photo collection could be shared with no loss to her own possessions if she simply scanned each picture to digitize it. In some ways, we can have our genealogical cake and eat it, too.

The month of December is calling my name to go and do likewise.Though I have very few family photographs which I can share, I certainly have Marilyn's collection—and hope to pass it on. Then, too, there are photographs of headstones, taken the old-school way with film; they, too, can be digitized and posted to Find A Grave where no other memorial has yet been created.

In fact, there are many ways we can all try genealogically giving back during this season of sharing. The only experience better than receiving an unexpected gift from Some Kind Soul is to turn into one and pass a gift on to someone else.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Getting Ready to Plan Ahead

 

Don't look now, but in only two weeks, Christmas will be upon us. And the day after Christmas begins my annual planning session for the upcoming year's research projects. I call that annual research lineup my Twelve Most Wanted, and I refashion the "Twelve Days of Christmas" to suit my family history researching purposes.

In years past, it was easy to devise a plan for each month of the coming year. All I had to do was look at the pedigree charts of my daughter's four grandparents to see where the gaps glared the worst. Those became the upcoming year's choices. I took a month each for three of my mother's ancestors, then move on in subsequent quarters to my mother-in-law's relatives, then my father-in-law's tree, and finally, when I was most research-weary, tackle three individuals from my father's own impossible lineage.

That selection process may not work as well for me now. For one thing, the farther back in time one presses, the more likely it seems to be that the process requires hands-on research at local repositories, rather than at the click of a mouse in the comfort of my own home. Then, too, my research goals reach far beyond just filling in details on a pedigree chart; I'm looking for the stories, too. And all the collateral lines in the family, generation by generation. Where once I might have been on a quest to identify a fourth great-grandfather, now I'm more interested in including all the children—and maybe even multiple spouses, too.

Blending DNA testing into the mix—a necessary step for my paternal line, for sure—means constructing entire family constellations, examining how members of a generation fit together, maybe even learning more about the community, not just the family. To find a right fit means testing hypotheses from several angles; what may look correct at first glance could be proven incorrect on closer inspection.

With all that in mind, it looks like I'll be starting my selection process for next year's Twelve Most Wanted much earlier than usual. While I'll still name my final choices on those same twelve days spanning the time between Christmas and Epiphany, I'll take some time next weekend to mull over the selection process, as well. There may be some hidden pockets lacking as full a picture of the family as I'd like to see in this ever-growing tree. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

Fingerprints of History Show up
in D N A Ethnicity Estimates

 

When puzzled by the strange results on your DNA ethnicity estimate, it might help to review the history of the land from which your ancestors emerged. In the case of Thomas Puchała, whose baptismal record pointed me to the current Polish village of Lubichowo, there was much to learn from the history of the region once known as Pomerania.

Lubichowo is a village of about two thousand people, located in the Pomeranian Voivodeship (think province) of northern Poland. That is its current geopolitical designation. However, the region known as Pomerania has an extensive history.

That depth of history, extending back much farther than any genealogical paper trail I'll hope to find, includes a "rich and complicated political and demographic history at the intersection of several cultures." Considering that very description could be used for the American city where I now choose to live—Stockton in California—it makes me wonder whether my choice of residence can be chalked up to a multi-ethnic message emanating from deep within my genetic roots.

Starting with the "Old Prussians" of the tenth century, Polish and German rulers attempted to subjugate this Baltic people group of the region, which eventually meant that it was assimilated by the time of the fifteenth century. Thus, though I have yet to figure out which ancestor might have emigrated from what is now one of the Baltic republics to northern Poland, these facts from the history of the broader region may explain how that trace of Baltic ethnicity landed in my own DNA readout.

Likewise, learning that that same time period was followed by international struggles which eventually saw portions of Pomerania overtaken by the Swedish Empire, I now am no longer surprised to see that small percentage of Swedish ethnicity in my DNA results. It didn't mean that any of my ancestors came from Sweden, but it certainly could have hinted at Swedish military attaches before 1648 temporarily residing in the part of Pomerania now claimed by Poland.

Meanwhile, back to the reality of whatever genealogical documentation can be found in Lubichowo—or any other town nearby—I need to examine what can be found for the names Puchała or Radomski, the surnames linked to my great-grandfather Thomas. Next, I'll gather a cluster of all entries—baptismal, marriage, or death—transcribed for either of those surnames, which we then can sort into possible family groupings.

Hopefully, a pattern will emerge to suggest which family members belonged to Thomas Puchała's own immediate family. After all, if I can't discover anything new about Thomas himself, perhaps his collateral lines will give up his secrets to me.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

The Truth About John T.

 

Ever since the advent of DNA testing for genealogical purposes, there have been adherents who didn't expect to discover what they subsequently learned about their parentage. When I explore the true story about my paternal grandfather, I feel a kindred spirit with everyone from adoptees to those who unexpectedly uncovered the identity of their actual parent. The only difference is, I already knew my grandfather was not going to turn out to have the same identity he wanted everyone to think he had.

John T. McCann, the man I knew as my paternal grandfather, was a soul in need of a disguised identity. While I am still firmly convinced he was, indeed, my father's father, he spent his adult life ensuring that no one learned his true identity. There were only two problems with that lifelong strategy: his mother, and his sister. Factoring in his wife—and the fact that as a young married couple, John and Sophie lived in New York City with her parents—his documented life leaves us a trail which begins to tell the story he never wanted anyone to learn.

I've worked on the story of John T. and his family for a long time. While I still don't have a completed dossier on John's sister Rose, I've traced enough of her life story to connect her to a "F.A.N. Club" of possible future suspects on this paper chase—not to mention, a few helpful hints that pointed me in the right direction. As for John's mother, Anna, the twists and turns in her own life story sometimes leave me stumped, but give me at least enough detail of her identity to confirm important connections.

John T. himself turns out to originally have been bestowed the Polish equivalent of the name Theodore—presumably represented by the "T" that he subsequently carried around as his ever-present middle initial. The facts of his existence in New York gradually were augmented with details which showed our family a clearer picture of the story our grandfather never wanted anyone to know: that he wasn't born in Brooklyn, New York, as his death certificate declared, but somewhere in the former domain of a now-banished country known as Prussia.

It was over two years ago when DNA matches at various testing companies pointed me to further connections for John T. I learned that Theodore—the "T" in John T.—was likely born in 1876, son of a woman named Anastasia Zegarska, for which Anna was a shortened, Americanized nickname, and a man by the name of Thomas Puchała, the very man whose roots I am pursuing this month.

Even last year, plugging away at this perennially plaguing research problem, I attempted further progress on Anna, herself. Again, DNA helped identify familial connections back in a specific region within the current country of Poland: a place historically called Pomerania.

The beauty about researching genealogical documentation for roots in Pomerania is that I now have an online resource to consult: the Pomorskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne (Pomeranian Genealogical Association), or PTG for short. While the website only provides volunteer-entered transcriptions of their local records, not the digitized documents themselves, that is more than I had before discovering their website.

Exploring the PTG entries for baptisms, marriages, and deaths, I've discovered that John T.'s—Theodore's—paternal grandparents were probably Johann Puchała and Susanna Radomska.


Now, the question is, what else can I uncover about that couple? As far back in time as I can reach on this database of transcribed records, it's time to explore the possibilities and cluster the family names in my John T.'s ancestry, all apparently found in one specific location in Pomerania: the village of Lubichowo.


Above: Readout of search results at the PTG website for baptisms in the Pomeranian village of Lubichowo for children born to Johann Puchała and Susanna Radomska.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Meanwhile, Not So Hubba Hubba

 

Pursuing genealogy goals is always a good research policy...until, that is, life happens. In my case, yesterday, life happened—and Thomas Puchała and the quest to discover this great-grandfather's parents will have to be put on hold. At least for one more day.

In the meantime, I took the opportunity to fly to Honolulu on the eightieth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Yeah, what was I thinking? If my husband had thought longer and harder about it, we would have gotten here a day earlier so we could actually visit the now-historic site on this commemorative day and immerse ourselves in the history that inspired his father to enlist in the U.S. Navy before he could even finish high school.

Meanwhile, I was wishing we had made the trip a day or two later, so I'd have one last chance to make it to a special sale. You see, the local newspaper just provided the headlines in their community section informing our little corner of the world that an antique shop had announced it was closing. Not just any antique store, though; this one was called, of all things, Hubba Hubba. And that was the store where a new-found genea-friend found all of Marilyn Sowle Bean's family photos.

Oh, I had bought plenty of the photos from that collection, once my friend messaged me with the tip to go find them there. But reduced price and great bargain nonetheless, it takes money to rescue as many photos as Marilyn kept. I always promised myself that I would go back and rescue the rest of them. Someday.

That someday, however, may have already passed. In the meantime, posting here at A Family Tapestry about the family lines related to Marilyn's parents and in-laws, I've since been fortunate to hear from a few of her distant relatives—and wished I could now go back with clearer eyes to thumb through the rest of those pictures. The names I might not have recognized before I am now much more well acquainted with. Perhaps there are more still to rescue. If I can get in touch.

As sometimes happens, the answer might come in the guise of a friend of a friend. In desperation, I've reached out to someone who knows a woman affiliated with the owner of the store. As uncertainly as a castaway on some tropical isle might cast a message in a bottle into the sea, I'll be sending my desperate plea to a stranger twenty five hundred miles away, in hopes of recouping that once-lost photo collection.

Some discoveries have a way of eclipsing our best research intentions.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Making the Leap Once Again

 

Family history buffs seem so excited to arrive at that momentous step when they will leap "across the pond" to explore their roots in the ancestral homeland. Landing in that strange new world, however, can be quite disorienting.

The premise, of course, is that one of the genealogical guides we've become accustomed to relying on in the English-speaking world will be there to take us by the hand and introduce us to the challenges of research in a new setting—and often in a new language. In some instances, that will indeed be the case. For my foray into Poland and my paternal roots, unfortunately, the records I need are not there at my favorite go-to sites—yet.

From the kindness of others further down the research path than I am, I've learned about some alternate genealogical resources in Poland. We've already explored what is available when I tackled my research challenges concerning my paternal grandmother. Sophie Laskowska was born in what is now Poland and arrived in New York as a young child—too young, probably, to even have remembered what home was like, or where to find it. But from some serendipitous errors on the part of census enumerators in New York, I was able to learn exactly where in Poland the family originated: a region called Posen by the Prussians, but Poznań by the Polish.

As it turned out, the lack of digitized documents for the region in our usual go-to places was made up by a website put together by enterprising genealogists in Poland. You can be sure I made good use of that website, once I found it. But I also discovered something about that website: it worked great for finding way pointers for my ancestors related to Sophie's family in that region, but not for her future husband's family. Why? Because that line—my father's patriline—came from a different region of the country which is now Poland.

Thomas Puchała, my great-grandfather, came from an area of Poland known as Pomerania.While the website covering records from Poznań would be of no help to me in this new project, there was—thankfully!—another resourceful group of local genealogists who banded together to create a database of use to researchers like myself.

The website was created by a group known in Poland as Pomorskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne—or, translated, the Pomeranian Genealogical Association. Let's just say I'd like to follow suit and call them PTG for short, as they suggest. 

The PTG has been in existence since the key organizers met in 2005, but they formalized the organization in 2011. Adopting the slogan, "If you want something to be done for you, you should do something for others first," the PTG set about transcribing local records which are searchable for free on their website. Transcribed information covers baptisms, marriages, and deaths, as well as information regarding cemeteries. Each resource is cross-referenced to the location of the original record.

From that discovery, brought to my attention by a fellow researcher following the same line as I am, I became the recipient of one of those acts of "giving back," that genea-kindness which has helped so many of us progress in our research. Now, my quest—although at this point, it may merely be an attempt—is to see if I can push back to yet another generation on this line, to the parents of my great-grandfather Thomas Puchała.


Monday, December 6, 2021

Pursuing the Impossible

 

As we move along the first branch of the twig which becomes our family tree, it is far easier to determine the right names, dates, and locations, than when that tree grows into the many gnarled branches of a well-researched, multi-generational project. Choosing my Twelve Most Wanted for the ancestors I planned on researching in the upcoming year made for easy pickings, years ago. Not so, now.

For this last month's goal of 2021, I was hoping to face the double challenge of researching a possible husband and wife team representing my second great-grandparents. While that may not sound like much of a challenge, this couple belongs on the paternal side of my pedigree—specifically, the paternal grandparents of my mystery grandfather, the one who refused to divulge his roots to even his own family.

The discoveries I've made so far on this family branch have come not from the usual resources—not at Ancestry.com, not at FamilySearch.org—but from websites across the pond, a leap made by me most tenuously. These I learned from those helpful others who believe firmly in "giving back" to help others new to that particular research task—and new I was to exploring the records of Poland, the secret homeland of my immigrant paternal grandfather.

From the resources of one particular Polish website, it seems my patriline makes its last stop on its trip back in history—so far—with the parents of Thomas Puchała. From research progress made last year, I discovered that Thomas was born about 1844. That was two years after his father, listed in church records under the very un-Polish name Johann, had married a woman by the name of Susanna Radomska.

The same couple—Johann and Susanna—were listed as parents of two more sons and one daughter, all who died within the year of their birth. The only other family member was a daughter named Marianna, for whom I can find no other mention in records—whether following suit of a premature death with the others, or somehow living to adulthood, but not much longer, like her brother Thomas.

All these events apparently took place in the village of Lubichowo, located to the north of Poland in what once was considered the region of Pomerania. To explore documentation, it takes a visit to yet another Polish website than the ones we've visited earlier this year, so to start the process on this last goal for my 2021 Twelve Most Wanted, tomorrow we'll review our research resources. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Imprints

 

Finding resemblances in the family photos from previous generations may be the one process which has enticed many into the pursuit of their family history. Think of every expectant couple, now proud parents of a newborn, with whom relatives share baby pictures of the previous generation with comments on how junior's eyes look like grandpa's—how often has that scenario repeated itself?

After posting a month of research articles on the family linked with the rescued photographs of Marilyn Sowle Bean, I couldn't just abandon the topic without sharing a few more from her collection (which I'll continue to do on weekends this month, as well).

Pulling out the one I chose for today's post, I found myself enticed into that same tendency of spotting recognizable features. Only this time, it wasn't so much a facial feature or a single trait I spotted, as much as a reaction to the overall impact of seeing the photograph.

The picture itself was tiny, what we'd now call a wallet-sized photograph. The label on the reverse, while helpful in providing the date—1931—left only the inked message, "Dad and Mother, Hollywood, Cal." In a similar hand, someone else had penciled in, "G'ma + G'pa Sowle."

Ah, the surname. Now, that is helpful—but which Sowle? It is hard to determine the perspective of the person labeling the photograph, when I can't figure out just who did the writing—Marilyn? Or her mother?

Judging by the appearance of the two people in the picture, the photograph couldn't have represented Marilyn's own parents, David and Olive Brague Sowle, for 1931 would have been only three years after Marilyn's own birth. Marilyn's paternal grandparents, Joe and Dora Sowle, might have followed their son to California that early—or perhaps they were just visiting their son's new home.


Wherever they were posing for their picture, I wish I could tell on account of just one detail: the extreme difference in their height. But then it struck me: if Joseph Leslie Sowle was as tall and lanky as that photo made him out to be, I am no longer surprised that tiny Marilyn chose for herself a mate as tall and slender as her own husband turned out to be.

Years ago, I had shared the photo of newlyweds Marilyn and Earle Bean, an impromptu shot composed as a joking commentary on the disparity of their relative height. But seeing the photo of an aging Joe and Dora Sowle—if that is indeed who they were—with Joe towering over his wife, makes me wonder whether that image was imprinted on Marilyn's young mind. Sometimes in life, we tend to move toward the familiar scenarios from our past, as if in hopes of replicating that in our own generation. Marilyn certainly did.


Photographs: Above, 1931 picture of Dora Moore and Joseph Leslie Sowle in Hollywood, California; Below, Marilyn Sowle and Earle Raymond Bean at unidentified location after their 1948 wedding; both pictures currently in possession of author.

 

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Glad I'm Not a Time Traveler

 

It's been a busy season for me, coming out of pandemic isolation and back into the always-rush-hour world of inter-connectedness. In just one season, my family has flown cross-country to Florida on business, then to Connecticut for training, then driven to San Diego for yet another company event. Before the month is out, we will complete one more masked venture on a five hour flight across the ocean. Even I can't keep up with myself. Despite the theoretical perks for family historians, it makes me glad I don't have the capability to be a time traveler.

Having a perpetual motion schedule has its down side, as you can imagine. The theoretical approach of completing work ahead of time to make space for down time on trips is near laughable. I think working ahead only doubles the "fun" by dooming such a poor soul to have to repeat the effort upon return home; there is always something more to complete in the after-thought. I find myself reviewing tasks and realizing how much got neglected, despite the twice-over built into the travel system. Perhaps there is something to be said for the value of peaceful contemplation in unhurried pandemic conditions.

That said, what prompted me to consider how klutzy a time traveler I'd be was the moment of stumbling upon readers' kind comments from the past month, and realizing I hadn't responded. One comment in particular touched on how to choose research projects. While I can't lay out a rigid how-to procedure in response, I do have some suggestions based on my own experience, and will spend some time at the end of this month to discuss how I go about planning future research.

The year ahead certainly promises to be different than either the nearly two-year-long pandemic season we've just passed or life-as-we-knew-it before words like coronavirus became part of our everyday lexicon. Yes, there may be variants on the horizon, or another surge, but people are making plans to travel—or actually going out there and doing it now. Some folks will be packing their bags for that annual trip to the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in January—sadly, I will not be among them next year—or maybe even venturing out to Sacramento, California, for the National Genealogical Society's annual conference this coming May. There will be trips to courthouses to retrieve records, or pilgrimages to clean ancestors' headstones. Maybe people will be brave enough to gather together in family reunions once again.

It will be good to see familiar faces back in the same comfortable places where we once enjoyed gathering—or in places new to us with future friends and associates in upcoming learning experiences. No matter which trip it is that becomes my preferred way to disrupt my everyday schedule, I'll be glad it involves only the here and now and not the wide-open world of time travel. I'll leave those scenarios to the imagination of science fiction right now. No falling into the plagues, leprosy, or consumption from ages past for this uncoordinated traveler; masking up for the coronavirus is challenge enough for me.

 

Friday, December 3, 2021

Postscript on Marilyn's Family Photos

 

It was a "giving back" project which started me on a path of finding "orphan" photos and putting family history research skills to work to return them to long-lost family. Genealogists have long had a tradition of volunteering to help other researchers—especially those just starting out—because we, too, were once beginners. We call it "giving back" in gratitude for what others once did to help us, or "paying it forward," knowing that one day, we too will need a hand with our brick wall research problems.

Never did I think, however, that one day I'd find myself rescuing my own family's pictures, but that is exactly what happened when I got the message that someone had found Marilyn Sowle Bean's photo collection in a local antique store.

Finding Marilyn's photos prompted me to dive deeper into a project which I had started but long ago set aside: to find any sign in her now-deceased son's family tree of the genetic origin of the disease which eventually cost him his life. I already knew there were several cousins in the family related to Marilyn's mother-in-law, Maude Woodworth Bean, who had inherited some form of Marfan Syndrome, but that there weren't any signs of the malady in the other branches of the family.

In this past month—after a research lull following my inability to find details on the month's goal for my Twelve Most Wanted ancestors—we spent the month exploring the family related to Marilyn's mother-in-law, Maude. We made it through each of Maude's four grandparents' lines—Woodworth, Williams, Farrend, and Smith—but I can't say that I located any conclusive evidence to pinpoint that deadly heritage upon any of those four lines.

Granted, seeking early deaths in a family timeline stretching back into the nineteenth century can be a tricky business. Recorded causes of death are not as accessible in those old files as they might be in a modern death certificate. Besides, given that Marfan Syndrome wasn't observed as a separate entity until it was first described by a pediatrician—by the name of Antoine Marfan, as you may have guessed—in 1896, or even used as a descriptor of that set of symptoms until 1931, there would be no mechanism for pinpointing such a cause of death in Maude's ancestors of the 1800s.

But, of course, we could still guess. Any male descendant in Maude's grandparents' lines who died as a young adult caught my eye. However, many early deaths could be ruled out by the usual explanations of that century: injuries from battle in wars, contagion from widespread diseases among them.

But there were others whose demise still left me puzzled—such as Joel Smith, the twenty year old brother of Maude's paternal grandmother. His death in 1852 was noted only by a cenotaph erected where his parents lived in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. Looking closely at the monument, a now-barely legible line after his name and date of death states "Buried in Greenwood Cemetery NY." As you might have guessed, there is more than one cemetery in New York by that name, and no, none of them produces a record of that name when searched on Find A Grave—let alone any obituary published in a New York newspaper.

Along the way in this pursuit of Marfan Syndrome in Maude Woodworth Bean's family, we did make some worthwhile discoveries. I've built out a family tree for Marilyn—yes, her side was included in this effort—and ventured beyond just the names, places, and dates to discover the stories behind the statistics.

But there is a melancholy down side to all the discoveries: there is no one left in the family with whom to share these stories. They are all gone: Marilyn, her two children, her parents and in-laws, even those cousins whose telltale height trumpeted their inheritance of Marfan Syndrome.

On the bright side, I also learned that what once might have been a very elongated death knell—after all, we all have been handed a terminal diagnosis, it's just that some of us get down to the business of it quicker than others—may now be far from such a somber diagnosis. While still a serious consideration, Marfan Syndrome is apparently now one which has been said to allow for "something approaching a normal lifespan." That is a remarkable victory.

All told, I'll still keep working on Marilyn's family photographs. As for the research goal of pinpointing family in previous generations afflicted with Marfan Syndrome, I will keep building out Maude's family tree and learning her relatives' life stories.

But this is a new month, and with the flip of a calendar page comes yet another research goal to conquer. Though I've made the unfortunate choice of piggy-backing December's goal with that of my failed November goal, we'll still review what, if anything, can be found, before moving on to more discussion on "giving back" projects and, finally, wrapping up the month with a look ahead to the new year's Twelve Most Wanted

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