10 September 2014


Soon Thanksgiving will be here, and then the Holidays.  Of course, your best time to interview relatives may be when you go on a visit to them and life isn't overly busy.  Still, I find that visiting people during the holidays is a good time to talk about Old Days.

Some people respond to formal interviews better than others.


1) Contact the person and tell them that you want to interview them about the family history or focus on a specific aspect of family history.  Although this can be on the phone, in person is best.  Other people in this person's life need to give you both time and space and not interrupt.

2) Set up a time to focus on just that in advance that's good for both people, and be there.

3) Be prepared with a list of questions (at least to get you started) and a recording device.
(Whatever works for you.  Some people are still using cassette machines.  Some people are settling up more than one machine at a time "just in case" one of them fails."  Recording is sometimes a more natural process as taking notes can also be distracting or stop the process.  You want to make eye contact, be comfortable, and listen too!)

The recording device sometimes intimidates people.  It may make the interview feel too important or heavy. You should tell them you intend to use one before hand, but it may help to put it out of the sight line.  Test your recorder to be sure it will pick up a voice from a few feet away.  Preserving the voice of a relative as they tell their story or give information can be very valuable, if you can keep doing technology updates with original recordings.  Our voices tell so much about us!

4) Set up water or tea or other beverages before you begin.  Avoid breaking the interview with eating food or other activities.  Get into the flow.

5) If, however, it's going to be a long interview or a series of interviews, try to do the interview first before taking a meal or long break or wait until after the meal.  You and your interviewee will probably respond best to knowing how it's going to go.


1) Show up and seize the moment.  (It's good to have that recording equipment close.)

2) Let the other person pick the topic or gently guide them to what you want to know.

3) Lends itself more than a formal interview to including more than one person.

04 September 2014


Recently I found myself dealing with home flooding.  It has set me back a couple weeks so far.

Luckily, I was home when this occurred and was able to take emergency action.  If it had happened when I was gone, it could have been much more of a disaster than it is and believe me when I say that it could be weeks before I'm back to sleeping in my bedroom and in my bed.  I've lost at least a week staying home for various repair and work people, few who showed up on time or cleaned up after themselves, and am frustrated and upset.

I had recently been sorting through research and was moving some of it into new binders and documents into folders as that research had expanded.  What had been a binder dedicated to one family is now several binders as I follow the children of that family.

I would work on it and then leave it on a desk or near my bed for the next opportunity to devote time to this.

In the flooding, I had at least three paper file boxes that were effected as well as bookcases that are warped.  Although I may not know the full extent of damage until I'm at the point of actually putting everything back in place, it appears that I managed to save just about everything without it becoming so damp or wet that it would grow mold or need to be thrown out.

I know that some of you are thinking that long ago I should have uploaded all family photos and all my research to some electronic/Internet holding area incase such a disaster happened. 

Actually, I have started doing that more than once, only to find myself unhappy with the whole process which is expensive, time consuming, and sadly requires upgrading for it to be consistently useful. It feels good sometimes to be so organized that you can imput pictures, names and dates and attach documents, until you try to access it months later and run into problems.

In other words, it is not time to give up on having paper copies of everything anyway, and you can still loose your memory devices, your hard-drive, give up a membership; even if you do have a "complete" book you should be printing copies and give them to those who they are written for so that there is always a copy somewhere.

Perhaps the worst thing about using the Internet these days via accounts that use e-mail or other password log ins, like this one, IS THAT YOUR PRIVACY IS JUST NOT SECURE.  All the hacking scandals of recent years have proven that to us, and as someone who has been hacked multiple times and has lost personal and private information to hackers, I'm not ready to give up on paper.  To rob me of information on paper you have to physically break into my home, knowing where I live. 

16 August 2014





There is no one way this is done, when it is possible.  Learning the actual nation can be about DNA rather than following documentation as the documentation may not exist.  Slave Ship databases may help you learn about what ships went where but do not have slave names.  But in order to gather information to set you on the right path you still have to methodically go back in time and learn as much as you can about the history and culture of that time and place. Don't take wild leaps going back 100 years or more. Also expect to research around her, following her children and other relations you may have never met.

You have shown me your great great great grandmother is on the 1870 census and so let's take a good look at that census page.

Here is what I think:

First this is only five years after Emancipation and yet she is living in a farmstead with a planter and her daughter and their family where she is listed as being the mother in law of the head of household.  The value of this farmstead is such I believe that this planter did not earn a huge sum of money in five years.  I also see that the neighbors are listed as W while he and his family are listed as B.  They are not living in a B ghetto.  I believe that pre emancipation this person was free so look at the regular U.S.  census (free person's rather than slave registers) and continue backward as far as you can, to come up with a possible date of freedom.  Maybe the planter was born free.  Maybe he bought the freedom of his wife and mother in law.  If so there may be records of the transactions or court hearings.

Then there is the issue of his wife who would be a child of your GGG Grandmother.   I see based on children that they have been together for a good 10 years before Emancipation. I want you to follow her and her family forward.  I want you to see if you can get a possible death era or date for her.  Then check with the present day county of their location to find out where any possible death records might be kept.  it is possible that if the daughter lived as many years as her mother than she just might be on a civil register.  If they didn't have civil records in this time and place, perhaps church records.  You want to find the daughter's death record because it may name her parents even if it is a notation by a priest at her funeral Mass.  Likewise following the GGG Grandmother forward  you may try for a record of her death, hoping that there is familial information on it.

Obituaries are not out of the question and local Louisiana historical societies and libraries may help.

You show that on the 1870 your GGG Grandmother is listed as coming from Africa and family history is that she came into New Orleans.  You want to check New Orleans resources.  Make some phone calls and find out what they have or know that might help you.

Additionally the surname of the family group in 1870 is not the surname spelling that was brought forward.  Be sensitive to that.  I ran a Freedman's bank record check for this surname and came up with nothing.  However the English variant had many records.  My sense is that this family had no Freedman Bank account because they were already free.

Ancestry has some New Orleans slave ship manifests.

Here is the SLAVE VOYAGES (TRANSATLANTIC SLAVE SHIP DATABASE)  it lists ship names and captains.

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall (who is of Russian and Polish Jewish ancestry and a historian) is highly respected for what became a life's work and great contribution to slave research.  This is a link  about her work:


A couple years ago another database became available from the Archdiocese of New Orleans.   ARCHIVES LOUISIANA - CATHOLIC CHURCH -BAPTISMALS SLAVE AND FREE PEOPLE OF COLOR   It begins with a note about how it was written in Spanish and to convert French names into their Spanish equivalents - or at least be sensitive that this may have happened.  Try for her daughter first since you know her birth year from the census.

GOOD LUCK!  Check in with me after you've done all this!

14 August 2014



I am rooting for Princess Charlene!   She converted to Catholicism, married Prince Albert II, a confirmed bachelor till she did, and now she is due to give birth to her first child and a heir to the throne (so to speak) who will be mostly of Irish heritage since Princess Grace, the mother of Albert was an Irish-American.  Though she is accomplished and lovely, she seems to always be attacked by the press and I'm sorry, but the Royal Family of Monaco can be difficult.  Like other high profile Princesses she dare not step outside without a fabulous up-to-the-minute-but-age-and-station-in-life appropriate wardrobe and that is the total focus on someone who has so much more to contribute.

For instance she had the nerve to CRY at her wedding!  So what!  I cry witnessing weddings too!  Many brides are overwhelmed by their weddings and emotional about moving their love into a life long commitment.


"The research, carried out by genealogy researchers Eneclann for Tourism Ireland, shows that Princess Charlene descends from one of the most successful gentlemen-merchant families in Dublin in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Fagans made a number of enduring contributions to the development of Dublin. In 1592, Richard and Christopher Fagan, the Princess’s great (x12) grandfathers, were key figures in the foundation of Trinity College; and in the 1660s, Christopher Fagan, the Princess’s great (x9) grandfather, sold the manor of Phoenix to the Duke of Ormond to create a royal deer park – which we know today as the Phoenix Park.

Yesterday, Princess Charlene was presented with a Certificate of Irish Heritage by HE Rory Montgomery, Irish Ambassador to France, in the Prince’s Palace in Monaco, with her husband, Prince Albert, also in attendance."

05 August 2014



Did you know that during World War II our largest state, Alaska, was considered terribly undefended from the Japanese?  Did you know that our service men built a 1520 mile road, facing temperatures so low that men cried, and when the thaw came, mud called muskeg so deep that logs had to be used to float  a road across the muck?

If you're ancestor served in World War II and you've looked at his World War II Draft Registration or service records on one of the databases such as Fold3 and it says ALASKA then he may have served to build the road which helped make Alaska defensible.

The road building began in May of 1942 and eventually went across sub Artic Alaska, British Columbia and the Yukon Territory involving thousands of U.S. soldiers at a time when troops were segregated. In this video we learn also about the respect that African American men earned though their hard labor.

While watching the archival footage you'll be tempted to want to stop the film to see if you recognize anyone.  Could that be Grandpa?

Picture from the PBS site linked above.

02 August 2014


Recently I happily confirmed that an ancestor I found on the World War I draft registration and the World War II "Old Man's Draft" Registration were the same person.  The addresses worked with census and city directories and the signature was the same - almost identical.  It's a special thrill to have the signature of an ancestor!

However, finding this person's naturalization papers has been fraught with issues as the name is common, there are at least five persons with the name in just one city, dozens within a state, Fold3 and Ancestry have microfilm copies that show some final papers and in the back of the front image you can see papers that are covered over that might not have been filmed individually, none of the addresses seem to match, family groups are wrong or not revealed.  (Oh how I wish I were rolling up my sleeves, wearing gloves, to turn the pages of the actual paper in an archive!)

It's a temptation to look at the signatures for a match!

I looked at the signatures on several final papers in which there is no address given and no family mentioned and I noticed that these signatures, different from that of the court clerk or other officials who also wrote on the papers, were very much alike.

The reason is that in those pre typewriter and computer days there was a huge emphasis on perfect penmanship in schools.  The individuality you see in penmanship in America - using the signers of the Declaration of Independence as an example - versus men educated in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, reveals this emphasis.  Additionally, there seems to be a difference in the signature and handwriting of those who did a lot of it and those whose literacy was confined to signing their name, something they must have practiced over and over since they would not use handwriting on a daily basis.  Sometimes you will see the signature of a woman who is otherwise unschooled which looks to be that of today's second grader though she is an intelligent and mature woman.  There was so little emphasis on women having education that even some noble women never learned to write their name.
But to write your own name was to be educated well past those who could only make their mark - an X- while someone else signed that they had witnessed this!

Therefore, signature alone cannot be used as evidence enough to accept that a person is the ancestor you seek!  There must still be other evidence to proof it.  I know you may be tempted to hire a professional graphologist or handwriting analysis person!

26 July 2014


CARNEGIE LIBRARY PITTSBURGH - LIST OF ORPHANAGES in Allegheny and some adjacent counties.

As I understand it, adoptions in Pennsylvania are closed records and very difficult to get though there is a PA adoption registry at  PA ADOPTION SEARCH (ROMBERGERS TRIPOD SITE) that has helpful information.

I'm posting this because someone I know was told that their ancestor had been at "Boys Town" in Pittsburgh and so he went crazy looking for it on the 1940 census but there is NO BOY'S TOWN IN PITTSBURGH - never was.  There were, over time, 70 such institutions in the area though, and the librarians at the Carnegie Library came up with this helpful list.  Bless them!  What's so great is that all the listings link to even more information and so with locations you may be able to use the census to get to the institution and search from there as a new start.

Those who live in an orphanage, poor folks home, maternity home (a place where a woman goes to have and often give up her baby), and homeless shelters, are called inmates,  the word used for anyone in any institution, not just criminals in jail or prison.

There was a Boys Industrial Home of Western Pennsylvania but I think that the Boys Town concept of villages of orphan boys got such good marketing and PR that some people just use the term to mean any boy's orphanage.

Orphanages became a dated concept as foster care and adoption became better options.

If you're wondering what I think of the children from Central American who have walked across our borders of the United States recently, I think they should all be privately adopted.  I think illegal immigration is offensive to every American and American family whose immigrant ancestors did it the right - and legal - way.  They should not be granted instant citizenship at this point.  As recently posted there was a way to declare that you had been brought to the U.S. as a child and wanted to be a citizen "of age." This was useful when one or both of your parents had died or they left you when they went back to the Old Country or got lost out West.

Sure I have a heart.  Most people do.  But there are so very many Americans who are homeless and there is no funding for them like what is proposed to help this stream of poor children.  I feel that at some point our country has to face that we cannot afford to keep helping others when we are not taking care of our own. 

There are also so many Americans who want to adopt but can't because they are considered to be too old or too poor.  Years ago a friend of mine faced this because they were told that when her husband hit 40 it was all over for them.  They never did get a child and they had saved money for years to buy a house with a yard in a nice community.  Americans have been adopting outside this country because it's even said that there are not enough children to adopt.  Well, now there are!

People over 40 can have natural children so why not adopted ones?  People who are not high income have children naturally, why not adopted ones?  People with natural children have them in bunk beds, sometimes two bunk beds to a room so why does an adopted child have to be guaranteed their own room?

I say let these children who walked in desperation (but without their parents!) have a chance at being LOVED by a family!  Let them be adopted.

So let's say you have a great grandpa who was an orphan in Allegheny County Pittsburgh.  If a name search doesn't bring him up on any databases, check out these institutions and find out if they are holding old records anywhere.   I do have to wonder about privacy of the children.  Maybe some places did not allow census takers in.  Maybe a child or mother was there between census!

16 July 2014


If you've been spinning your wheels looking for naturalization papers for an ancestor who came before 1906 I may be able to help you. 

Here is the NARA LINK TO EXPLAIN IT http://www.archives.gov/research/naturalization/naturalization.html 



Exceptions to the General Rule (*of having to live in the U.S. for two years, make a Declaration of Intent, then live for another 5 years proving yourself worthy and begin the process!)

Having stated this "two-step, 5-year" general rule, it is necessary to note several exceptions.
The first major exception was that "derivative" citizenship was granted to wives and minor children of naturalized men. From 1790 to 1922, wives of naturalized men automatically became citizens. This also meant that an alien woman who married a U.S. citizen automatically became a citizen. (Conversely, an American woman who married an alien lost her U.S. citizenship, even if she never left the United States.) From 1790 to 1940, children under the age of 21 automatically became naturalized citizens upon the naturalization of their father. Unfortunately, however, names and biographical information about wives and children are rarely included in declarations or petitions filed before September 1906. ...

(*So look at those birth dates everyone!)

The second major exception to the general rule was that, from 1824 to 1906, minor aliens who had lived in the United States 5 years before their 23rd birthday could file both their declarations and petitions at the same time. ...  (*that means they could arrive at the age of 18 or less and just do it!)
The third major exception to the general rule was the special consideration given to veterans. An 1862 law allowed honorably discharged Army veterans of any war to petition for naturalization--without previously having filed a declaration of intent--after only 1 year of residence in the United States. An 1894 law extended the same no-previous-declaration privilege to honorably discharged 5-year veterans of the Navy or Marine Corps. Over 192,000 aliens were naturalized between May 9, 1918, and June 30, 1919, under an act of May 9, 1918, that allowed aliens serving in the U.S. armed forces during "the present war" to file a petition for naturalization without making a declaration of intent or proving 5 years' residence. Laws enacted in 1919, 1926, 1940, and 1952 continued various preferential treatment provisions for veterans.

* my notes and THANKS TO BETTY at NARA New York City

12 July 2014


Did you know that when the Dust Bowl refugees (called "Exo-Dusters")  came to California on Route 66 citizens tried to stop them from entering the state at the borders ,not wanting these people to have any public support?  THE 1930's  MIGRATION OF THE DUST BOWL PEOPLE  DWARFS THAT OF THE MIGRATION OF THE COVERED WAGON ERA!  This was also one of the worst ecological disasters to happen in the 20th century.

This and many other facts that were brought forth make THE DUST BOWL by Ken Burns a film that should intrigue anyone working on American genealogy. The film has a multitude of black and white images of the people, the farmsteads, and the black clouds of dust that devastated farming and caused many to die of dust fever, a lung disease, including many children, and left many with life-long lung ailments.  This wasn't a little dust.  This was a chronic barrage of massive clouds that even left the equivalent of sand dunes of dusk and is a testimonial to ecological disaster that was man made but also man resolved after much suffering.  The film also has testimonials by some of the children who experienced migration who are now past mid-life.

Among the facts covered that are compelling to me and other American researchers are the following:

The clouds of dust were so fast and dark that some people thought the Biblical end of the world was upon them.  The dust blackened the skies and chocked them and gave them dust pneumonia. The dust caused static electricity that made using phones impossible.  The Buffalo grass that they had replaced with wheat is what nature and time had evolved as the perfect ground cover for a sometimes wet and sometimes parched area of the country there near Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle.  Eventually 40,000 farmers signed up to learn a new technique called contour farming which over several years time did resolve the issue, but through the 1930's 80% of the Great Plain soil was eroded.  As a result of the Dust, COUNTIES LOST 30-40% of their population in the 1930's. Schools closed.  (See the changes by looking at the 1930 and then 1940 census.*)  But 75% of the population hung in there maybe because they had families in the local cemeteries.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took a train ride, covering a couple thousand miles, in order to see for himself and talk to the farmers.  Now that we know that Roosevelt hid his crippled body, when we see film of him standing, with an aid next to him, arm provided support, and then raising his arm to wave, we know what an actor he was.   He saw that millions of acres were abandoned and that the children were underweight.

Many Dust Bowl families were too proud to accept what public relief there was.  HERE THEN COMES THE OPPORTUNITY OF THE CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS...  Young men made $30 a month and had to send $25 of it to their families.  Some people were critical, feeling that they were being paid to stand around, but others saw that over time these young men learned skills and used their hard physical labor to improve the country.  (I can tell you that there is a park nearby where I live where the walls and steps that CCC's members built are still in use and in great shape.)  And here then comes THE WORKS PROJECT ADMINISTRATION.
THE WPA BECAME THE BIGGEST EMPLOYER IN THE NATIONS with 8 million people employed and saving themselves from starvation.

By 1937 other ecological disasters were happening.  The 1937 OHIO RIVER FLOOD that effected the city of Pittsburgh with houses floating away

THE DUST BOWL a film by Ken Burns is a production of Florentine Films and WETA Television   C 2012  The Dust Bowl Film Project, LLC

Review C 2014 Ancestry Worship Genealogy