21 November 2012

Ketchup and Thanksgiving, This Is Not A Drive By

It's been close to a month since I've written to you my poor neglected blog.  

While away, I have accomplished many, many good things.

My DAR Chapter placed an historical marker on the spot where Kit Carson - scout for the Fremont Expedition - made camp in 1843 right here in San Joaquin County.  

I was elected to the Board for the Association of Professional Genealogists.  I begin my 2 year term in January.

I was on a discussion panel about online resources at the Family History Day at the California State Archives in Sacramento.

I presented a little workshop at the California Genealogical Society in Oakland about different places to put your family tree online. 

Speaking of online family trees, A recent article seems to have rubbed many a genealogist the wrong way.  Amy Coffin of the  WeTree Genealogy Blog and Debbie Mascot of Mascot Manor share their thoughts on said article.  I have to agree with Amy and Debbie.   

I understand where the author (who is a board certified genealogist) is coming from, but OUCH!  There are many who already think that the BCG are snobby and this article just added fuel to that flame.  The article does come across as snobby and condescending.  

As you may remember, last April I submitted my preliminary application to the Board for Certification of Genealogists which "started the clock" giving me one year to submit a portfolio to be reviewed and judged by 3 board certified genealogists.

Validation - that's the name of my game, my reason for attempting for certification.  If you ask any of the 246 people who have submitted successful portfolios why they did it, I think you'll get 246 different answers.  But I certainly don't think I am a snob for wanting to be certified. But just in case anyone thinks I have maybe gone to the "dark side" by wanting certification, have a look below.  I just can't help myself.

26 October 2012

The Art of Writing Letters

Boy, that makes it sound so grand, doesn't it?  No wonder it's like pulling teeth to get our children to sit down and write anything, much less a letter.

I don't usually endorse or do reviews on products, but I was approached by Pamela Lohman who is the owner of a company called "GrandConnect" and her product was created to try and close the generational gap between grandparents and grandchildren with a clever monthly writing program.

This is how it works:  The kit comes with 2 identical folders that include colorful stationary, suggested writing topics and a pledge for each person to sign promising to write letters every month.

I don't have grandchildren yet so I am going to use the kit with my mother.  It is only a 2 hour drive to my mother's home and I don't make that trip often enough.  Promising to write her every month and having the fun stationary to do it with should be a grand adventure.  

Disclosure:  I was provided with a GrandConnect kit to use and write a review.

24 October 2012

What's In A Name?

Everything!  Absolutely everything.  While browsing around the internet highways and byways I came across a favorite blog of mine -  Looking4Ancestors.  Now Kathryn Lake Hogan is not a stranger to me.  Well at least I didn't think so until I saw the  genealogy super hero name she is AKA  -  "The Honey Badger of Genealogy"  Now how cool of a name is that?  I am positively fluorescent green with envy.

Yeah, yeah - I know that I am "The Educated Genealogist" however let's get real people, that name is no where near as exciting as "The Honey Badger of Genealogy."

So while I am off on a mission to find a cool genealogy super-hero name for myself, why don't you click on over and visit with the Honey Badger.  Kathryn specializes in Canadian and English research as well as United Empire Loyalist lineages.  Oh and to add more envy to the pot - Kathryn has published a book this year called "Digging Your Canadian Roots."  

28 September 2012

Help for Understanding and Translating German Handwriting

I was approached by a gentleman named Peter who is part of a small family business located in Berlin, Germany that specializes in transcribing and translating old handwritten German documents into English. Peter asked if he could possibly be a guest author and write a post for The Educated Genealogist.  Sounding a little too good to be true, I snooped around and checked this company out.  The company is called "Metascriptum" and found they have a great rep for  accuracy and excellent customer service.  With few Germans capable of translating the Old German handwriting known as Sütterlin script, many are turning to this company for help.

German Writing:  The Difference in Time

As anyone who has seen an older German document and a newer one can tell you, German writing has undergone many changes throughout a vast span of time. What is now considered to be standard German was only recently developed out of the ashes of older German dialects. Understanding older German documents can be quite trying to the unpracticed mind.

There are actually many different variations of the German language, some of which are no longer spoken or used in the written word. As such, there are many cases of German writing that cannot be read by fluent speakers and readers of standard German. A brief history of the German language can be very interesting and worthwhile to learn.

Low and High German

Before the middle ages, the German language went through what is called the Second Germanic Sound Shift. This sound shift was only adopted by the Southern half of Germany. The Northern lowlands did not adopt the sound shift. Therefore, low and high German was born. It was called Low German due to the lowlands.

Low German is now rarely used. It has been losing popularity over the last several hundred years, and there are many who can no longer speak or read it. Low German dialects are still sometimes found in the Northern lowlands, however, although the more common standard German is used throughout Germany.

Old, Middle and New High German

High German went through many different stages. Old high German was spoken until around the tenth century. This form of German has many differences in how articles are used, or actually not used in Old High German, as well as verb conjugation and other features of the language. Middle high German was used by minstrels in speaking and particularly in writing. It overlaps with both the old and the new High German, but is distinctly different from both. Finally, new High German developed out of Middle High German, near the end of the middle ages.

The German You Hear Today

Today’s German language is called standard German. This is now the language that all German writing is in. It has been the language of writing for the country as a whole for some years. The development of standard German was slow, with important steps being taken in the thirteenth century and each century thereafter until the 1800’s. As such, there are many older forms of German writing that are difficult to read or understand.

If you have writings that are clearly written in a dialect or form of German, and you cannot understand them, there are those that can help. Professional transcribers who have a grasp of the old and new Germanic languages can transcribe older forms of German to the new German. Alternatively, you can also have those writings translated into English, although this may take a bit more time. In this way, the German writing of the past need not be lost or misunderstood. The meaning can easily be restored and studied, giving older German writing back to the masses, or simply back to a united family. 

DISCLOSURE:  I have not received any compensation nor services from this company in return for the guest post.  EVEN MORE DISCLOSURE:  I have been really busy lately and my blog needed a post and he happened to approach me at the right time so I used him.  

23 September 2012

New England Hospitality

Before I left for my trip to Rhode Island,  Barbara Mathews informed me that pineapples symbolize welcome and they are carved everywhere in Rhode Island.  Well I didn't see any pineapples during my trip, but I did get to meet with several genealogists who until now I have adored and admired from afar.

Marian and Me

Marian Pierre-Louis drove all the way from Massachusetts just to have lunch with me. We ate at a place she described as a shi-shi type restaurant. It didn't matter to me, I was thrilled to finally meet Marian in person. I don't know how she manages to get things done especially with a young family, but she does. And she does it well. Marian is the author of two blogs: Marian's Roots and Rambles and The New England House Historian. You will also find her presenting webinars over at Legacy. Her latest project is a weekly radio show called Fieldstone Common. The show airs live every Thursday at 1:00pm Eastern. Her guest this week will be Maureen Taylor - The Photo Detective - to discuss her newest books "The Last Muster" and "Fashionable Folks Hairstyles 1840-1900."

And this lets me segue smoothly into the next day when I had a lovely dinner and a grand tour of Providence at night by car with Maureen Taylor. I have met Maureen several times at conferences over the last couple of years but this was the first time I had her all to myself. After we had a lovely dinner she drove me around Providence, pointing out all the historical sites of the city.

Diane and Me with Barbara in the mirror taking photo

I had yet another enjoyable lunch with Barbara Poole and Diane Boumenot. Diane is the author of "One Rhode Island Family." Although fairly new to genealogy blogging, Diane is not new to genealogical research. Her blog has a page devoted to free Rhode Island Resources that you won't find anywhere else! Barbara, who also drove from Massachusetts, is the author of two blogs "Life From The Roots" and "Seeing New England." She started blogging about the same time I did and felt like I knew her already. But meeting for the first time in person was way more than special for me.

Barbara, Me and Sharon

Last but most certainly not least was when I drove to Massachusetts (without GPS or a map) to an extraordinary dinner I shared with Sharon Sergeant and Barbara Mathews. Both are brainiacs beyond belief. I had some previous interaction with Sharon through various online things. The first was back in 2006 when Ancestral Manor had presentations one could attend via teleconference. One of the best was when Tom Jones gave a presentation about writing for genealogical periodicals. This was way before webinars came on the scene. Barbara Mathews is a certified genealogist who works for the Massachusetts Society of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America as a verifying genealogist. She is also the author of a great blog - "The Demanding Genealogist." Barbara is proof that CG's know how to have a good time. I wish that I had more time to chat about the experience she had becoming certified through the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

New England Hospitality. I experienced it first hand and will never be the same.

22 September 2012

Office of the Town Clerk in Rhode Island

DAY 2   IN RHODE ISLAND - Yesterday I told you about the mahvalous time had by all at the Exeter Town Clerk's Office.  Well I am here to tell you that not every town clerk office is quite so accommodating.  AND I think that you ought to know about it.  It blows my mind that each of these offices rule the roost however they want.  I cannot believe that there is no consistency from one office to the next.  Total Chaos and dare I say it - a touch of Anarchy.  Town Clerks are allowed to run amok in the State of Rhode Island.  They should be called realms and the Town Clerk is the Lord of the Manor who makes the rules.  As far as I can tell, there is no place to file a complaint should one dare to disagree with the rules. Here are the ones I have dealt with in the past week:

Exeter Town Hall
675 Ten Rod Road
Exeter, RI  02822
Town Clerk:  Lynn Hawkins
Deputy Clerk:  Ruth Stone
Clerical Assistant:  Pat Whitford

The ladies of the kingdom of Exeter were so helpful, pleasant and knowledgeable about the records housed in their office.  If you find the record you came for, Ruth cheerfully makes a copy of the pages of the book the record is in and charges 20 cents per page.  Keep in mind this is for birth and marriage records over 100 years old and for death records over 50 years old.  For records or certificates more current, you will not be able to browse, however if you have a general time period they will search for the record for you.

869 Park Avenue
Cranston, RI  02910

When you walk into this very busy office you will see a sign that says the only persons allowed in the vault to search for records are:


If you have an exact date of the birth, marriage or death then the clerk will go into the vault and retrieve the book.  It is then transcribed from the book to the shiny modern certificate for $20.  This bothers me.  What if the clerk makes an error transcribing?  When I asked for a photocopy of the page and would gladly pay for it and the certificate  I was told no - I could only have the certificate.  If you do not know the exact date of the vital event you are told to go to the Rhode Island State Archives or to the Rhode Island Historical Society.  The staff in this office seemed to have no patience for people there to search or obtain vital records.

1385 Hartford Avenue
  Johnston, RI  02919

This office appears to have all of their records indexed in a database on their computers.  They do not allow the public into the vault to search through records.  The clerk at the front desk was friendly and was willing to search through their database to help me locate records.  Unfortunately they were not there so I don't have information about costs for certificates or copies.

1670 Flat River Road
Coventry, RI  

The public is welcome to enter the vault to search for birth and marriage records over 100 years old and death records over 50 years old.  Land records, probate records, plat maps and more are also available in the vault to search through.  You are expected to make your own photocopies at $1.00 per page which is a little pricey but worth it for the opportunity to search the records yourself.

181 Howard Hill Road
Foster, RI 

Town Clerk :  Tina Freeman

According to their website all of their land and probate records are "Public Records" and their vital records are not.  If the record you want is over 100 years old they will refer you to the Rhode Island State Archives. Otherwise if you have an exact date of the vital event you will pay $20 for a certificate but they will make you a copy of the page of the book the record was found in.  The ladies in this office were friendly and had no problem with helping you look for records in their office.

More to come . . . . .

18 September 2012

OMG! I Love Rhode Island!

It has been ages since I have written on my blog, however I have been kept extremely busy with a long term research project for a dream client. This client is so dreamy she sent me to Rhode Island to research her family more in depth. And so here I am in Rhode Island as I write this.

Rhode Island is a state that has few to almost no digital images of any kind of records. FamilySearch has digital images of the Rhode Island State Census 1885, 1905, 1915, 1925, 1935. They have also indexed some birth, marriage and death records but no digital images of those records.

Rhode Island is also a state where vital records are kept at the town level. Nothing is held at the county level. So if you don't know exactly which town the event occurred, then you are pretty much screwed unless it is in the Arnold Collection which is only records up to 1850.

Birth and marriage records 100 years or older and death records 50 years or older are considered public records and may be obtained from the city or town hall where the event happened or through the Rhode Island State Archives.

I have found some of the Arnold Collection volumes over at Internet Archives. Boy oh boy, what was this Arnold guy thinking when he put these books together? I almost need to take a class on how to use the books!

I had the best experience with the ladies of the town clerk's office in Exeter. The office is located at 675 Ten Rod Road, Exeter. The town clerk Lynn Hawkins, Deputy Clerk Ruth Stone and Asst. Pat Whitford were so very helpful and friendly. No one will give you the old "eye roll" in this place. Jeeze the place looks like my great grandmother's house - not an office building!

Yes it is going to be a good week here. How do I know this? It's because of my rental car - it is a "arrest me right now red" colored camero!!!

22 August 2012

Women of the DAR Come in All Shapes and Sizes

As you know, I am a proud member of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.  For the next two years I am will serve as regent for the El Toyon Chapter here in Stockton.

Our chapter has a monthly newsletter and I am obligated to contribute something.  A friend recently asked me "What kind of woman joins the DAR?"  After 4 hours of intense research (intense = no distraction by shiny things) I can tell you that currently over 170,000 women are members of DAR.  If you go back to the beginning in 1890 over 890,000 women have become members. 

I can also tell you that the women of DAR come in all sizes, shapes and colors.  They are doctors, lawyers, astronauts, teachers, housewives, single parents, suffragist leaders, pilots, artists and even an admiral of the US Navy.

Political Heavy Hitters:  Janet Reno, Sandra Day O'Connor, Elizabeth Dole

Several actresses:  Bo Derek, Lillian Gish, Ginger Rogers, Dina Merrill and Virginia Mayo

Eleven First Ladies :  Barbara Pierce Bush, Laura Welch Bush, Roslyn Smith Carter, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower, Julia Dent Grant, Florence Kling Harding, Caroline Scott Harrison, Nancy Davis Reagan, Edith Carow Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt.

And then there is
 Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump Stratton Magri

Better known as Mrs. Tom Thumb.  

Now tell me true people - is this a "Shiny Thing" or what!!!  So for the better part of four hours I sat at the computer - clickty clack, clickty clack went my keyboard.

This woman had the most interesting and exciting life.  She was born in 1841 to James Sullivan Bump and Huldah Pierce Warren at Middleborough, Plymouth County, Massachusetts.  She came from a long-established and well-respected New England family that descends from five passengers of the Mayflower:  John Billington, Francis Cooke, Edward Doty, Stephen Hopkins and Richard Warren.    Lavinia's parents are of normal size as all her siblings with the exception of her younger sister Minnie.  Minnie who also had a form of proportionate dwarfism.

At the age of 16 she became a school teacher.  A few years later, she made a career change.  She left Massachusetts and went to Mississippi to work as a a miniature dancing chanteuse on her cousin's showboat.  P.T. Barnum, who was managing Tom Thumb at the time,  learned of Lavinia and brought her into his show.  Tom's real name was Charles Sherwood Stratton.

It must have been love at first sight, because just one week later, Tom Thumb and Livinia were married on 10 February 1863  in an elaborate ceremony at Grace Episcopal Church in New York City.  Her sister Minnie was her maid of honor.  P.T. Barnum, ever the show-man, didn't charge admission to the wedding.  He did however charge $75 a person to the first 5000 people who wanted to attend the reception at the Metropolitan Hotel. It was a sold out event.  They went to Europe for their honeymoon and one of the first stops was to England to call on Queen Victoria.

Twenty years later, on 15 July 1883, Tom suffered a stroke and died at the age of 45.  In 1885, Lavinia remarried to Count Primo Magri, an Italian dwarf and they operated a famous roadside stand in Middleborough, Massachusetts.  Lavinia died 25 November 1919 at the age of 78 and is buried next to her first husband Tom Thumb with a  grave stone that reads simply, "His Wife."

I wasn't able to find the date that Lavinia joined the DAR nor which chapter she belonged to, but I was able to find her DAR membership number - 43670 - and her  patriot ancestor.  Through her maternal line, Lavinia descends from Sylvanus Warren who served as a Sergeant in the Massachusetts Militia.

Photos courtesy of University of Washington Library Special Collections and Wikimedia Commons

13 August 2012

REDEUX: Are Your Germans From Russia?

Here for your reading enjoyment, is a post from 2008.  This article sparked comments and further discussion that continues even today among 55 readers of this blog!

In 1763 Catherine the Great of Russia, published a manifesto inviting settlers to immigrate and colonize Russian promising free lands, expenses for the move, freedom from taxation for 30 years, and exemption from civil and military service for themselves and their descendants. Agents of the Empress recruited settlers especially from the poorer German states devastated by the Seven Year War. My paternal Befort family were among one of the first groups who made the journey in 1766 with hopes of a better future for themselves and their children.

The Catholic settlement of Obermonjou was established on the east side of the Volga River--about 40 miles northeast of Saratov--by 82 families on 5 March 1767. By 1798 the town consisted of 211 males, 218 females totaling 429 people comprising of 76 families. There are extant census records for the village of Obermonjou for the years 1798, 1816, 1834, 1850 and 1857. The Befort family appear in all of them.

A century after the first Germans had settled in the Volga region, Russia passed legislation that revoked many of the privileges promised to them by Catherine the Great. In 1878, all but a few from the village of Obermonjou packed their belongings and came to the United States.

My 2nd great grandparents Gerhardt Befort and Catherina Stecklein (pictured below) arrived at the Port of New York on 17 July 1878 on the ship SS Donau. Scouts had been sent ahead of time to find a suitable place to settle. It was perhaps a poster like  the one above that drew them to Kansas. Whatever the reason, it was Ellis County, Kansas that the majority of Catholic Volga Germans from Russia chose to live.  

Gerhardt Befort and Katherina Stecklein

They used whatever they could find to build their first homes that summer including saplings and trees from the nearby creek and prairie sod to help build dugouts and their "Semlinkas" (sod homes).  

Russian-Germans in Kansas did not quickly adopt American customs and manners. As in Russia, they settled in close-knit rural communities and remained somewhat isolated from other residents. They preserved their language and traditions for decades, entering mainstream American life only gradually. 

Unlike most other immigrants to Kansas, the Russian-Germans generally arrived in large groups, often by the trainload. They caused something of a sensation and attracted a great deal of curiosity. The clothing of early Volga Germans was a constant source of amusement to newspaper columnists. Accustomed to severe Russian winters, the Volga Germans wore longs sheepskin coats, heavy felt boots, and head coverings much heavier than the Kansas climate required. The women generally wore dark colored clothing. The only bits of color you might see would be embroidered on black shawls they wore to cover their heads. They were Catholics and very devout. Religion played a very important part of their daily lives.

The very year of their arrival the settlers purchased Section 25, and organized the Munjor Land Company, which in 1882 was superseded by an incorporated organization, the Munjor Town and Grazing Company. Part of the section was surveyed for a town site, and each lot holder became a member of the company, which started business with a capital stock of $10,000 - 200 shares at $50.00 per share. Among other things, the charter provided that the company have a board of directors made up of five members, a president, a vice-president, a secretary, and a treasurer, all to be chosen from the members of the company; that no portion of the land holdings could be burdened with debt, transferred, or sold without the consent of two-thirds of the shareholders. The by-laws provided for quarterly meetings, and an annual election of directors. 

Munjor, Ellis County, Kansas

Unfortunately , the settlers were incapable of properly handling the affairs of such a corporation, and the result was a long series of accusations and quarrels which split the town in half. After a futile attempt to settle matters in the courts, the two contending parties came to an agreement, the Munjor Town and Grazing Company was dissolved and peace and harmony restored.

St. Francis Catholic Church

St. Francis Catholic Church Cemetery is where my Befort family is buried.  A point of interest - If you see painted iron crosses  in a cemetery, you can be sure that Germans from Russian are buried there.  

Catholic church cemetery in Victoria, Ellis County, Kansas

St. Francis Cemetery has 72 beautiful metal art works that are the iron cross grave markers for many of the early Munjor pioneers.

Gerhardt & Catherina Befort headstones, St. Francis Catholic Church Cemetery, Munjor, Ellis County, Kansas

Gerhardt Befort's headstone  isn't one of those fabulous iron crosses.  His is made of some type of stone and the words aren't in English, but I was assured by the church secretary that it is his headstone. 

Anyone researching Volga-Germans are in an enviable position genealogically speaking. While residing in Russia they never really became "Russians."  For 150 years, they spoke only German, remained true to the Catholic faith and did not marry outside of their communities, even if the villages were within a few miles of each other.  This behaviour continued even after they immigrated to Kansas.  My father was the first in his family to use English as a first language and the first to leave Munjor and marry an outsider - my mother who he met while attending Kansas State University in Manhattan.

Munjor remains a small, unincorporated village in Ellis County, Kansas with a population of 224 inhabitants.

12 August 2012

REDEUX: A Primer on Setting and Achieving Goals

Time for a little fun - I wrote this post way back in 2008.

When I was about 35 years old, my best friend Sue and I decided we needed to set some goals to achieve before we reached the age of 50. It seems like it was only yesterday that we we riding on that mechanical bull at Jack's Rodeo Bar and Grill having a very serious discussion of what we wanted from life and what we wanted to accomplish before that ominous, dreaded age  of 50. 

Recently, my oldest son called to inform me that he was celebrating his 30th birthday. I tried telling him that he had the wrong number and I was going to hang up the phone.  Despite my best efforts to persuade him that I was only 29 and therefore couldn't be his mother, he wouldn't budge.  Later that day I got out my calculator and did the math.  It was true - I was going to be 50 years old.

I was running out of time to complete my list.  Jeeze, I didn't even remember what was left on the list. After tearing up my closet I, found the bar tab from Jack's Rodeo on which I had written my list 15 years ago . Sue and I  each listed 10 items to experience or accomplish by age 50.  I had only 2 items left and after a quick phone call to Sue, I learned that she had the same 2 items left on her list.

Together we checked one of those items off the list.  Neither of us had ever been  horseback riding. So we went to Half Moon Bay, California and rode horses or at least she got to ride a horse.  I'm not so sure the animal I rode was a horse.  I'm thinking it might have been a donkey. Sue insisted it was just a very short horse and I needed to be more appreciative of how thoughtful they were to give me a horse to match my height.  There was a group of about 10 of us and once we were all mounted, a guide led us to the beach. 

The horses were very well trained. All of us in a straight line, nose to tail, no one wondering off the trail. When we finally got down to the beach,  I was supposed to get the thrill of a life time. Each of us were to leave the posse, one at a time and race the horse down a stretch of the beach. I sat there waiting for my turn, envisioning myself galloping down the beach in the surf, my hair flying behind me....  All the other riders in front of me were living that dream, surely I would too.

Besides being short, my horse must have been either mentally or physically challenged (or both). There was no galloping. There was no hair flying. There was no "being one with the horse" and bouncing up and down in perfect rhythm.

I had gently used my heels to encourage it to move along and the damn thing turned around and bit me and then (to add insult to injury) WALKED down the shore line for 100 feet, stopped and threw me off his back. Imagine my disappointment.

My final item to tick off the list - I have never, ever been on a motorcycle. Sue says that the one I paid a quarter to ride in front of the grocery store does not count because it never left the merry-go-round it was welded onto. While I was really bummed that it wasn't a sanctioned ride, it did bring my youngest son and I closer together.  

He just  happened to pull into the grocery store parking lot at the same time I was riding in my merry-go-round motorcycle. He tells me now that he is a much stronger person and that he knows I was only expressing my love for him when I was shouting at the top of my lungs, "I'm Kristopher Fenley's Mother!" while enjoying my ride. 

In fact it's my youngest I have to thank for making the arrangements for me to reach my final goal before I turn 50. 

There really is a genealogical purpose to this posting. Set goals for not only for yourself but for your research projects as well. Make the time limit you set realistic enough that you can achieve them with a little effort and imagination.

I have to go, my son paid the guy for a 30 minute ride and I still have 10 minutes left.

11 August 2012

On With The Show - REDEUX: What I Want To See On A Genealogy Society Website

There have been many posts recently about genealogy and historical societies, so I thought this post from last year would be appropriate.

What do I want to see on a genealogy society website?  I am tech-challenged beyond mortal comprehension so I may be asking for the impossible, but here  is what I would like to see on a genealogy society website:

I adore sites that have  a clean, sharp, uncluttered  look and are easy to navigate.

The landing page of a society's website should tell me exactly what I'm going to find on the site and clearly labeled buttons  to click and take me there.  Example:  Let's say I read somewhere that Our City Genealogical Society has an obituary index located on their website.  When I arrive at the website I don't want to have to spend time looking for it. Something that is meant to be a draw should stand out on the home page.

One of the first things I look for and very rarely see are PHOTOS - photos of special and even not so special events and meetings that include the membership.  Photos that show the benefits of membership.  Photos that make me want to belong to that society.

Another section I really enjoy is the History of the Society.  When was it established?  How many people are currently members?  Who was the first president?  Special achievements?

An important part that I see lacking on many websites is the Contact Page.  It does not please me when the only way to contact the society is to mail  a letter to a P.O. Box.   Who are the current board members and what are their email addresses?  I appreciate the convenience of  a contact form right there on the site to fill out.

One of the best ways to get the feel for a society and the way they run things is to read their Newsletters.  I understand that the most current newsletter is a benefit of membership and have no problem with that. However, a sample of a  newsletter from the last year is not an unreasonable request.   I have come across quite a few society websites that only have newsletters from 10 years ago.

And last, but certainly not least is the section about Membership.  In a perfect genealogy world, one could become a member simply by filling out an online form then click a button to pay the dues online.  Having to print an application form, fill it out by hand, write a check, buy a stamp and mail it practically guarantees that I won't be a member of that society anytime soon.  I am lazy that way.  Make it as easy as possible for people  and I'm going to bet that you will see membership numbers rise.

So there you have it.  My rants and raves.  What about you?  What do you want from a genealogy website?

And Now, A Word From Our Sponsor

And who might that sponsor be you ask?  It's me!

I finally have my business website up and while it may need a tweak here and there, I am quite pleased with it.  Especially since I created the site all by myself.

Take a minute and click on over and have a look.  Then come back and let me know what you think.

08 August 2012

REDEUX: Enemy Alien in the House

My 2nd great grandfather is John Fred Borgstadter.  He was born 20 August 1853 in Germany.  One record says Hitzenhausen another says Hanover.  He came to the U.S. sometime between 1870 and 1873 depending on the record consulted. His obituary states that he came to the US in 1872.   In 1900 census states he immigrated 1872.  In 1910 census states immigrated 1871.  In 1920 census states he immigrated 1873.  Too many conflicting records - I began the hunt to straighten this out.

Searching passenger lists was becoming a nightmare.  Of course there was no one with the name Borgstadter and the number of variants was staggering.  So I decided to try another route. Fred Borgstadter married Elizabeth Hobrock on 24 March 1881 in Beardstown, Cass County, Illinois so I started a search in the Cass County courthouse.

I found a Declaration of Intent sworn out by Fred Borgstadter to become a U.S. citizen filed in the Circuit Court of Cass County located in Virginia, Illinois. It is dated 12 February 1880 and he paid a fee of 50 cents to file it.  This was the only record they had for him.

Well I knew that in the Fall of 1886, The Borgstadter family moved to Elkhorn Township, Lincoln County, Kansas.  Maybe he continued with the naturalization process in the courts there.  So you can imagine how surprised I was when I came across an index that listed Fred as an "Enemy Alien."

After World War I started, non-naturalized "Enemy Aliens" were required to register with United States authorities as a national security measure. A presidential proclamation of 16 November 1917 required all males who were natives, citizens, denizens or subjects of the German Empire age 14 and older who were within the United States to register as alien enemies. 

An act of Congress of 16 April 1918 changed the definition of “alien enemy” to include women age 14 and older,  that INCLUDED those women of American birth that were married to enemy aliens. Under the Expatriation Act of 2 March 1907, upon marriage, women acquired their husband's nationality and lost their own.

On 25 January 1918, all German aliens were given five days to register. Registration occurred at Police stations or in small towns at the Post Office. Filing first citizenship papers was not sufficient grounds for not registering.  The actual registration was conducted by various marshals, in some cases the chief of police designated by the regulations. Each “alien enemy” was issued a registration card, which he was required to have on his person at all times. The “alien enemy” also needed permission from the local registrar to travel or change place of residence. 

Well this answered my question about Fred Borgstadter's quest to become a naturalized citizen.  He filed his first papers but obviously never followed through with the process.  I'll probably never know the reason.  I can only imagine that like most of us, life happened and time got away from him.

What did it mean to be an "Enemy Alien" at that time?

When United States President Woodrow Wilson declared war, essentially two American battles broke out against Germany: one militarily in Europe and the other culturally in the United States. Twenty-six states passed laws against the use of  the German language on the streets, via telephone, or in public meetings. Libraries eliminated German materials. Public schools removed all German language instruction from their curriculum. 

Buildings, towns, streets, foods—anything considered German was stripped of its ties to the fatherland and renamed to denounce Germany. Sauerkraut became Liberty Cabbage, and frankfurters were called  hot dogs. Chicago’s Bismarck Hotel changed its name to the Hotel Randolph as a demonstration of patriotism.

Mary Elizabeth Hobrock Borgstadter

I can't begin to imagine how my 2nd great grandmother must have felt when she was told that because her husband was not a naturalized citizen, they both were considered "Enemy Aliens." It was as if she were being arrested. They took her picture and her fingerprints. Registering meant filling out an eight page form and answering personal questions asked by a complete stranger. An intimidating stranger at that - a U.S. Marshall .

Fred Borgstadter 

After I had found their names in the index, I ordered each file from NARA.  I remember being so excited for their arrival because the questions asked of the registrant would finally give me answers to the questions I had about Fred Borgstadter.  And knowing  that he that actually answered the questions himself  - icing on the cake.  I was in for a bit of a let-down.

The key questions asked of Fred:

Where and when were you born?  "Hitzenhausen, Germany  on 20 August 1853" 

When and where did you enter the United States?  "I arrived in September 1873 at the port of New York.  I do not remember the name of the ship."

What is the name of your father?    "I do not know."
What is the name of your mother? " I do not know."
Do you have any living relatives in the country of your birth?  "No."

He doesn't know who his parents were? Well it is possible he was an orphan  He doesn't remember the name of the ship that brought him to America? Although he appears to be much older than 65 (his age in 1918 - see his photo above) I don't think senility is the reason for his answers.  I thought I would have the right date and place of birth, but taking into consideration his answers for the other questions, I am not certain.  

Even though I didn't get the information I wanted from these records, they did have some priceless gems - Their photograph, their signature and their fingerprints.  How many of you can say you have your ancestor's fingerprints and they weren't convicts?  Hmmmm?

While these records are a boon to the genealogist, the bad news is that very nearly all have been destroyed. Below are a few of the remaining records:

U.S. District Court, Phoenix Division,

Fort Wayne, Allen County, Indiana

St. Paul, Minnesota

07 August 2012

REDEUX: Not Your Average Nursery Rhymes

The following two posts - first published in 2011 -  I have mashed together here for your reading enjoyment.


So I have been working on a new project for a client and I have to tell you, it is probably the most interesting  I have had in a long time.

The year is 1897 in San Joaquin County, California. A man is hauled into jail for attempting to kill his wife. Reading the newspapers of the day, it appears that the wife was going to run away with another man. The padding in her dress stopped the bullet from doing any real damage, she suffered a slight flesh wound.

The jury took only 2 hours to find him guilty and gave him the maximum sentence allowed by law at the time - 14 years.

So off to San Quentin Prison he goes. Then two years later in 1899 the Governor of California is presented with an application for a pardon for the man. The contents of this application makes this case extremely unusual:

1)   A formal petition from THE PANEL OF JURORS THAT CONVICTED HIM stating that the man had been in prison long enough that justice has been served. It is signed by each and every juror.

2)   A letter to the Governor from the District Attorney who prosecuted the man, asking that he be given a full pardon. The District Attorney states: 
"This is the first case of the number I have prosecuted as District Attorney, wherein I felt that I could address the Governor upon the grounds and in behalf of a person seeking pardon or parole."

3)   A formal petition requesting a pardon for the man that is signed by every adult in the small town of Linden where the man had been born and raised and had been a resident up until his incarceration.

Well this just stunned me. What had happened in the two years 1897-1899 that changed everyone's mind. Remember this is the same jury that wasted no time in throwing the book at the guy. The District Attorney had wasted no time in getting the case to trial. Start to finish was approximately 3 weeks.

I have gone through the newspapers page by page for those two years and there are no items about the man, his family, any of the jurors, the District Attorney (other than different cases he was prosecuting at the time).

I checked local vital records and there were no deaths, births or marriages that might have been a factor.

The man was finally granted a pardon three years later in 1900. So again I am at the newspapers, but there is no mention of his homecoming. Census records have not been useful in this case either.

Any thought on what might have happened to make basically an entire community do an about face? And why it would not have been news?


Well upon further investigation I have found that it is not just a simple case of jealous husband tries to kill his wife. In fact, I'm not sure what it is anymore! 

There had to be more to the story and I found it.  I went back to the library to re-check the newspaper microfilm and found that the library is missing 3 weeks of the Stockton Daily Record - the 3 weeks during the trial of the husband.  So like the educated genealogist I am, I went to the source.  I went downtown to the newspaper's office and asked to see their archived copies of the paper for that time period.  After much begging, pleading and skillful negotiating (a 1lb box of See's Candy) I was able to obtain this accounting from the Stockton Daily Record [I have only posted the important snippets]:

"A WOMAN SHOT BY HER HUSBAND - Insane Jealousy The Reason For The Shooting"

"It was learned incidentally of Douglass that he is addicted to drink, or in the habit of having sprees at which times he abused his wife shamefully.  That these abuses and beatings had led once to separation and divorce but that the man was desirous of resuming the relation." 

"It is learned from District Attorney Nutter that Mary E. Douglass procured a divorce from J.J. Douglass last summer, alleging failure to provide as a cause for action.  It seems that the ladies of the Aid Society found Mrs. Douglass in poverty and sleeping on old sacks stuffed with straw and her two children as well as herself in tatters."

"Finally the neglected woman applied to the District Attorney under the impression that it was his duty as a public official to procure  her a divorce.  Mr. Nutter did not try to disabuse her mind of the error, having learned of the circumstances, but filed the complaint and obtained the divorce.  Mrs. Douglass did not allege drunkenness, but indolence and neglect on the part of the husband."

It goes on to say that the husband had been visiting the wife's place rather frequently of late on the pretext of spending time with the children.  On the morning of the incident, the husband accused the wife of "not being straight."  She told him he was full of baloney whereupon he pulled a revolver and shot her.

Incredulously the last paragraph in the newspaper article is:

"Douglas showed no signs of having been drinking and there is nothing to suggest that he is a drinking man."

Huh?  At the beginning of the article the man is accused of being a drunk and the article ends with the complete opposite!

The information provided by the District Attorney to the newspaper is interesting enough but still does not explain his change of heart for the defendant. 

So after I read the wonderful comments and suggestions that many of you left for me, I thought of a source that I had not checked out.  My client had given me a file folder of records that she had procured from the California State Archives.  There was the Commitment Order from San Joaquin Superior Court, a copy of the man's entry in the Prison Register and Descriptive List of Convicts, and the Application For Pardon which had attached to it the petitions and the personal letter from the District Attorney who prosecuted the case. But was there more?

What is one of the basic rules of research?  Go have a look at the original source.  I drove up to Sacramento to the California State Archives to have a look at the pardon file.  There was one letter that my client had not  included for some reason.  It tells yet another version of the story.

From the Postmaster of the town of Linden to the Governor of California:

"James Douglass is a most respected young man of his neighborhood.  His family are old pioneers and highly respected by all.  I have been Postmaster nine years and know the facts of this case.  He married a strange girl that came here.  They had two children.  She did not love home and quietness he did and she was determined to get rid of him to take up with another stranger that moved in our town.  She did and ran away with him in eight days after her husband was convicted.  It is a fact she was living a life of asignation inside one month after leaving her home and when last heard from (one year later) she was still leading a life of shame.  It was said to dissappoint the man she ran away with.  She said to people (when leaving Linden) that she had put up a job on her husband, he was only a stupid fool anyway and now she was going to have her own way and a good time."

Who knows what the real story is.  It seems that the part about the wife running away with another man is true, found her in the 1900 census with him and her two children.  I'm off with the new information to try and find the rest of the story.

NOTE:  The California State Archives has State Prison records that include San Quentin and Folsom prison registers, inmate photographs, inmate case files and pardon files. There is a name index for the years 1850–1979.