Archive for November, 2011

I am the kind of person who has always tried to be thankful every day. But I have found that researching my family history has made me even more appreciative than before.

My grandfather graduating from college

My grandfather graduating from college.

This year I have traced my grandfather’s mother’s family back a few more generations in England. I have discovered that they were living on the margins of society; some were sometimes supported by the parish shortly before the poor laws were changed, and others were in the workhouse shortly after the poor laws were changed. My great-grandmother’s grandparents chose to leave everything and everyone they had known behind in hopes of making a better life for themselves and their descendants, and my great-grandmother’s father, a young man recently out on his own, chose to go with them. They left for Canada, and I have no evidence that they ever returned to the parishes where their families had lived for generations, nor that they ever saw anyone they had left behind in England ever again, which included a couple of their grown children and their living siblings.

My great-grandmother’s father met a fellow English emigre in Canada, married her, and started a family. In search of continuing to better their lives, they moved down to the United States shortly before my great-grandmother was born and bought a farm. In three generations the family had gone from desperately poor to land-owning. My great-grandmother’s son – and my grandfather – became the first person in this family to graduate from college. His graduation photo is pictured above. I find the picture all the more poignant now that I know the circumstances that eventually led to him standing there having his photo taken.

I am grateful every day for the sacrifices my ancestors made so that descendants like me could have better lives than they did.  Happy Thanksgiving to the fellow Americans who read this blog!

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I recently received what I have been calling “my latest treasure box.” In it, I received a large amount of family memorabilia, much of which had probably not seen the light of day in at least 20 years. One of the items in it was a pad containing the same form over and over, with a piece of carbon paper behind each form, and a second form behind each piece of carbon, to create a duplicate. This is what the form looks like:

Cincinnati Wardens Report Book

Cincinnati Citizens' Defense Corps Warden's Incident Report Book and accompanying handwritten note, both in possession of author.

The handwritten note pictured with the pad was found inside of it. The note is in my grandfather’s handwriting.  I had no idea that he had volunteered to do this until I opened the box and reviewed the contents. I posted the scan on a genealogy site, and got some responses from researchers who had a female relative that volunteered to sit in a tower watching for planes that might be coming to raid New England during WWII, as according to them, some areas of New England were considered prime targets for German air attacks. One of them suggested that this was a report pad for an Air Raid Warden, and that since Procter & Gamble is based in Cincinnati and was making items for the war, perhaps Cincinnati was also considered a top possible target.

Meanwhile, I looked for information on my own about all of this. I couldn’t really find anything online about the Cincinnati branch, so I focused in on searching for the Citizens’ Defense Corps without specifying a place. I found a small informational book that was published by the Office of Civilian Defense, a branch of the US government at the time, and had been scanned online – U. S. Citizens Defense Corps. It appears to be framed as a recruiting tool, describing the different tasks and qualifications for each role in the Corps. This is some of what it has to say about Air Raid Wardens:

The Air Raid Wardens are to many people the personal representatives of Civilian Defense. They are not policemen and do not have police powers, but usually function as part of the police force and with its help.

An Air Raid Warden’s post is organized to serve a unit of 500 people. It is accessible and plainly marked. Since at least one person is always on duty, four Air Raid Wardens usually are assigned to each post.

The Air Raid Warden’s duties include: (1) Observing lights showing during a black-out and warning occupants of the building; (2) directing persons in the streets to shelter;  (3) reporting to the Control Center any fallen bombs; (4) reporting fires to the Control Center and assisting in fighting incendiary bombs as soon as they fall; (5) detecting and reporting to the Control Center the presence of gas; (6) administering elementary first aid; (7) assisting victims in damaged buildings; (8) to set an example of cool efficiency under all conditions.

The booklet also says that a lot of training was required to qualify for the position – 10 hours of first aid; 3 hours of fire defense; 5 hours of gas defense; 5 “general” hours; and 2 hours of drills. I wondered, after reading the booklet, if perhaps the note stuck in the pad was from one of the classes my grandfather took.

My grandfather never served a day of military service in his life. But I already knew from a newspaper clipping the family had saved, and a candid photo that a photographer had taken and then sold to my grandfather, that my grandfather was heavily involved in selling war bonds, which fit well with the grandfather I knew, someone who had been involved in the financial industry the entire time I knew him. But my grandfather is definitely not the first person I would have thought of as volunteering to go around a city identifying what type of bomb had been dropped, getting people to safety, and tending to the injured. So far I have not determined whether the Citizens’ Defense Corps records survive and if so, who holds them. The pad and note meant enough to my grandfather to hold on to until he died, but whether he completed his Air Raid Warden training and served as a lookout over the city he so loved, I don’t know for sure, although his having the pad suggests that perhaps he did. However, just the fact that he volunteered to do so illustrates a theme I find over and over in my research, both with relatives I knew and people far distant in time – each record, each story, each photograph only tells a tiny snippet of the full life of an individual.

I had been meaning to write this post since I scanned the pad, and I was inspired to do so this evening by Corn and Cotton’s post, Maritime Monday: Liberty Ships.

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Many long-time genealogy researchers tend to find just about everything interesting. A common comment for being more efficient with research time is the need to limit what I call “Shiny Object Syndrome” – the fascination with anything interesting that is wandering into the research view – and what many other researchers call something such as “following rabbit trails.”  While this is certainly important when one is researching for someone else or researching at a repository for a very limited amount of time, sometimes following the path wherever it leads can be beneficial.

Chipmunks, a Northeastern North American mammal that burrows in the ground, are fascinating creatures.  They usually have at least three entrances/exits to their tunnels so that they can come in or out at will, escaping predators and other chipmunks.  They also typically have multiple food stores in their tunnels, because chipmunks have a propensity to raid each others’ food stores, and this way, their entire cache of food won’t be wiped out in a single raid.

What on earth, you are likely thinking, does any of this have to do with genealogy?  I posit a somewhat offbeat idea – that sometimes going down the chipmunk tunnel will lead you to a cache.

For some days, I had a piece of mail almost ready to go, waiting to be sent to a vital records department.  Like some other vital records repositories, this one requires a money order to process, so I hadn’t taken the final step of getting one.  When I have to take an extra step like that, I like to pool my order if I can.  Since this couple had gotten married in a particular town, and I believe they likely did so because a sibling lived there at the time, I wanted to try one more time to find some indication of where the sibling’s marriage took place before sending the letter in, so that I could request both records at once if it turned out to be in the same locale.

I started by searching for an obituary of the husband.  I knew his death date from family papers that had been passed down to me, and had previously confirmed the place and date with an online index, but had not looked for an obituary nor ordered the original record yet.  (I had previously searched multiple times for an obituary of the wife, who outlived him by 34 years, but had never found one.)  I found a death notice in a newspaper, and then found a full-page article about his life and death in a trade magazine on Google Books.  The article went into great detail about his life, but only gave a year for the marriage, and no place.

I had not researched his family of origin at all, though, and the lengthy article mentioned his father’s name and that his father died in the Civil War the same year he was born.  So out of curiosity I checked to confirm (or refute) his father’s service and death, and when I discovered it appeared to be true, I thought I’d check to see if the widow (the husband’s mother) filed for a pension.  I confirmed this easily on Ancestry’s pension index cards, and then went to check the other record set of pension index cards, since the two sets often contain different information.  Much to my shock, Fold3 turned out to contain the entire pension file – the first time I have found a Civil War pension file on there (they are very slowly indexing them, and were up to 3% complete the last time I checked), though I know a few other researchers who have found several.  I ended up very glad that it was on there, as it was by far the smallest Civil War pension file I’ve ever seen, and if I had ordered it from NARA at their flat rate of $75 per pension file for up to 100 pages, it would have cost about $3 per page.

After spending a bit of time skimming through the file, I went back to working on my original goal – when and where the couple married.  I found that the husband had published some articles in the trade magazine prior to his sudden death, and that those are online too.  I also found in googling that the wife had applied to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and did a descendant search for her on DAR’s database, hoping the application would include marriage information, as many of them do.  I discovered that she applied under a different ancestor than the one I knew served in the Revolutionary War.  I paid for and downloaded the PDF of her application, as well as a later application for the same ancestor that would likely be more detailed.  This is for a line that I haven’t really done much work on – I’m not stuck on it, I just haven’t done much to date.  Her application was bare-bones like many of the early DAR ones, and did not include any marriage information.  But the other application was very detailed, and will be useful for clues as I work on this line.

And then I turned back to searching and found a scanned “social register” which listed his marriage to his wife – in 1896, in the city she was from.  The article about his life and death had stated that they had married in 1898, and the estimate based on the 1900 census data was for a marriage in 1897.  Most interesting of all – at least to me – is that the social register had two different marriage dates listed, one under each of their cross-referenced names!  The dates were only two days apart, so at least it gave me a narrow window to focus my initial search.

So I went to FamilySearch, as I knew from other research that they had updated their “Ohio, County Marriages, 1790-1950” database with more records this year, and I figured it was worth a try to see if they had been added.  I searched for them, and there they were!  One of the two dates in the social register was correct.  I was sure I had the right couple, because the husband had a fairly unusual last name and a very unusual middle name.

I had the answer to my question, and new records to add to my files.  And I went ahead and stopped by the bank that day to get a money order, and sent the lone marriage record request on its way.

This may seem like a convoluted way to reach my destination.  But even if I hadn’t gotten the answer to my question, I still think it would have been a valuable pursuit.  Here are some of the things I learned in my two hours of research:

  • The death notice states that he died “suddenly.”
  • The article on his death provided a very large amount of information I had not already had. While it will need to be confirmed with other records (as shown by the marriage year being incorrect), what has been checked so far has mostly turned out to be accurate.
  • Finding the article on his death and the articles he had published in the trade magazine both show that Google Books has added more trade magazines. This is worth pursuing for other folks in my tree as well.
  • The trade magazine’s extremely detailed article on his life and death also showed just what a rich source of information they can be, and emphasized that it would be wise to give them more priority in relevant searches.
  • Fold3 is continuously adding to their Civil War pension files, and it is worth checking any time a new pensioner is discovered in my research.
  • At least for this one widow, the fact that her husband died during the war and she applied nearly immediately appears to have gotten her a pension quite quickly – much different than what I am used to seeing in my Civil War pension research. But she was also dropped from the rolls after some time of failing to collect her pension, according to the last page of the file; this is not something I have encountered before, and plan to explore what it means more.
  • The pension file also indicates that he was the only child of this couple.
  • The DAR applications suggest a possible path for a line I haven’t done much work on, as well as some sources to try for it. Her application and acceptance also tell me that she was a DAR member, and that she knew enough about her lineage to apply through one of her ancestors.
  • It’s always worth trying googling for a research question. (Just a self-reminder of something I already knew, but it’s always nice to have confirmation.)
  • It seems worthwhile to try the rest of my names of people who may have married in Ohio, since FamilySearch’s “Ohio, County Marriages, 1790-1950” seems to have expanded so much this year.
  • The date and place of the marriage, with a scan of the original record now added to my files.

And in my wanderings through the chipmunk tunnel, I found a cache.

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Note to readers: I have had several long posts in my head for a while, with scans already on my computer. Like can happen with so many things, I got it into my head that I needed to wait to write until I could write one of those long posts. Just as a brick wall can crumble when given to someone else who has a fresh perspective, so I am letting go of my preconceived notions about what I ‘should’ be blogging.

Unable to do as much research right now as I usually do, I have been turning to my long “to-do” list of little research tasks that I suspect every long-time researcher has, whether in their head or on paper.  One of the things I have intended to do for a long time is to contact the colleges with which people in my tree have been associated. This past week, I finally began doing that.

Most college archives give you a sense of their holdings on their website, so I started out at the site of a college for which one of my ancestors and his brother were both in an 1890 alumni directory. The site indicated that the archive strives to keep a file on all of its alumni, as well as anyone who has been associated with the school, even if they didn’t graduate. (Please note that in my research this week I have determined that this great depth and breadth does not seem to be typical of American colleges.)  So I emailed them and explained that I am a family historian, and asked if they would be willing and able to provide the alumni files of three people in my tree. One of the archivists responded explaining the fee schedule and I said that would be fine. That same day she emailed me PDFs of two files and said that she had been unable to locate the third person.

The files were larger than I expected.  The smaller of the two, for my ancestor who attended the school in the early 1880’s, contains:

  • A newspaper clipping about a book he wrote.
  • A newspaper clipping about his death.
  • A copy of a Christmas letter one of the deceased alumnus’s children sent out 35 years after his fairly young death, with lots of information about the living family members’ activities and lives.
  • A death notice about his widow.
  • An index card detailing his family relationships to other alumni (e.g., “first cousin once removed”).
  • A copy of his lengthy entry in an alumni biography book that was published well after he died (it includes his death date).
  • A very small typed item that is from a class report and talks briefly of all the deceased alumnus’s children.
  • A questionnaire filled out in his handwriting regarding his activities since graduation, for publication in an alumni book.
  • A carte de visite (photograph) of him as a young man that I had not seen before, though I possess a similar one that was probably taken a few years later.
  • A photo that was probably taken shortly before he died, and appears to be from a published book. I had also never seen this photo before.
  • A scan of the wrapping of the file.

The archivists were curious as to why they could not locate the third person even though he was listed in the 1890 alumni directory, and did some investigating on their own.  They discovered that he attended a school that was part of their school at the time and that was subsequently spun off into a separate school and moved to a different town, and discovered that two other people with the same surname from the same nearby small town were attending the same school at the same time.  Clearly they knew the family history of this small town because they supposed that the three people were brothers of each other and of my ancestor and referenced how many people with the surname used to live in that little town.  (They are definitely relatives, but can’t all be brothers.)  I am going to contact the other school’s archives to see if they also hold alumni files.

After this initial smashing success, I tried contacting a few other schools, one of them for an alumni file and two because someone else in my tree was a professor who taught at two universities.  So far one of the universities has responded; a staff member found the professor’s entry in old online directories that the school has scanned and hosts, and sent me a link with directions so I can see them myself.  In doing my background research before contacting them, I realized that the history of one of the departments online had been added to the school’s website since the last time I had Googled this ancestor and it mentions my ancestor as one of the earliest professors in this field at the school, including where he taught before coming there, the age he was when he began in the position, and what year he retired.

In doing my background research, I also discovered that Google Books has scanned a heck of a lot of alumni directories, and that some of them have a heck of a lot of information in them.  Through one of these alumni directories, I finally discovered the date and location for a marriage in my tree, and that I had been unable to locate the groom in the 1900 census because he was out of the country at the time!

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