Category Archives: Genealogy

Getting To The Point With The Pikes

Years ago, someone on Twitter quoted Thomas Jones as he was giving a lecture at some genealogy event: “Genealogical proof is not a vote. The most censuses in agreement do not win.” I liked the quote and saved it. But I don’t completely agree.

I was working with someone who is almost my cousin to straighten out a family of her cousins. We had worked on this before, but her list of kids was a little different than mine, especially the order the kids were born. I had a bunch of vital records for them along with many censuses.

It was time, once and for all, to straighten it out. So I opened up a blank spreadsheet and charted them. I started with the censuses, just looking at the kids who were living with the parents.

Pretty quickly, I could see where I had gone wrong. My database was following the 1900 census, where the birth dates were listed in more detail, rather than just the age. But that was the outlier of all of them. The other censuses all agreed on the ages, showing each kid aging between four and six years between censuses, each census five years apart, whereas 1900 was all over the place in comparison. Nathan and Gussie were the biggest problems, as Nathan was far out of order and Gussie didn’t exist in any other record.

I then went on to look at other records I had. There were some kids who never showed up in the census because they died young in between the years. I had several birth and death certificates and one or two other records with exact dates for ten of them. Nathan’s death certificate matched with his age in 1905. And everything matched with the later censuses. The 1900 census was the outlier.

It turned out that my cousin had the kids’ birth order more correct than I did because I had used the earliest census more, and that one turned out to be quite wrong. When I work on families with no vital records, or people that didn’t know their actual birth dates, I tend to use the earliest information I can find, figuring it’s maybe the most accurate. In this case, that was a bad idea.

So the four censuses, along with more than ten other records, outvoted the one. The most censuses in agreement won.

Maybe Thomas went on to say that you need additional supporting documentation along with the censuses, which is what I did. Maybe I need a better source for his quote.

An Unusual Certificate

I found a most unusual certificate yesterday.

A good amount of my genealogy research in the US is attempting to find the origin location of immigrants. One of the best documents for doing this is naturalization records. It’s best if they naturalized after 1906 when the federal government standardized the forms, providing much more information.

Many of the documents I see contain a certificate of arrival along with the declaration and petition. Someone had to look through the ship lists and find the immigrant’s arrival. They marked the original ship list page and filled in a certificate saying they found it, the name the person arrived under, the ship, date, and port.

But yesterday, I found something new. It was a certificate of arrival that said a record of his arrival couldn’t be found. This was a first for me.

Ship list not found
Certificate of Arrival – Ship list not found – “No record of his arrival could be found for the reason that the Immigration authorities are unable to locate it from the information furnished.”

Also of interest, the Declaration listed the same ship as his wife’s naturalization years later. (She had no certificate of arrival and I haven’t found her on the ship either.) The Petition listed “SS Unknown”.

An additional detail: he was about 21 years old for his arrival. So it’s not like he arrived as an infant and had no memory of the event. And his naturalization was in 1924.

The next question is, can I find the ship list that the immigration authorities couldn’t find when the guy was alive? Well… I may have already found it. It needs more research to verify if it’s really him.

Warsaw, Poland – Summer 2018 Trip, Part 6

I didn’t mean to take this long to finish blogging about my summer trip, but at least it’s still during the same year. My trip ended back in Warsaw. I stayed in a hotel near the Old Town.

I went out to the Jewish Cemetery on Okopowa street, passing Umschlagplatz on the way. This cemetery was in better condition than Łodz, and was also actively being cleaned up and worked on.

In 2012, the POLIN Museum was still under construction and surrounded by fences, so I couldn’t see all the memorials that were immediately around it. This time, I got to see those and the museum. I spent four hours in the museum, but I rushed some of it because I was hungry for hours. Clearly I needed to prepare more time as there was so much to see and learn. I found two things in that museum that directly affected my own genealogy research.

There were crowds at the Jewish Ghetto Memorial outside of the POLIN Museum. On the way in, there was a row of people holding Israeli flags and a shofar blowing. On the way out, a group sang Hatikvah.

I wanted to go to the Jewish Historical Institute for some Belarus research, but the RtR site implied they had records that the JHI site did not have. instead, since I’d already seen the building, I headed to the Old Town and, on the last day of my visit, I joined the walking tour. I had seen almost everything on the tour already, but I got to hear some great stories about the Ikea castle and the bell, among others. The Warsaw Museum was free that day, so I spent some time in there too.

I ate in the Old Market Square, the tourist trap restaurants, but they were good. And then finally, I had to leave.

As a bonus on the flight back to the US, we flew over Greenland.

Lodz, Poland – Summer 2018 Trip, Part 5

My next visit was completely unplanned. To get to Kalisz, I had to change trains in Łódź, so I thought I might just make it a longer stop on the way back. Otherwise, I would have just gone back to Warsaw.

In JRI-Poland, I found a marriage record that was possibly my great aunt Reizel Halpert, and the couple were buried in the Łódź cemetery. I was able to get the image from JRI without going to the archive, saving me the archive visit.

My hotel was just off of Piotrkowska street, which is a bit of a tourist attraction. I walked up and down it a few times. The street is sprinkled with statues and a Walk of Fame for Polish cinema, along with a few impressive murals (and some I saw on other streets). I went out to Manufaktura; currently a mall, a cinema, a museum; but once the site of Izrael Poznański’s textile manufacturing complex.

And then I caught an Uber out to the Jewish cemetery. I was looking for four people but didn’t find any of them. My biggest problem was that JRI would not work on my phone, so while I was at the section, I couldn’t look up the stones I was looking at to figure out the location of my people in relation. Most of my people were on the right side out in the forest area. One was probably covered in ivy. Another just looked like an overgrown forest with no signs of stones, and two were in sections I never actually found. Still, I wandered around the cemetery for a few hours. Then I headed a little north to the ghetto area and Radegast railway station. The museum was closed for renovations and fenced off.

Checking online just before I left for anything else to do, I noticed that I had already taken a picture of the archive without even knowing it. One Uber driver knew English and suggested that Łódź was boring and I should visit Wrocław. I guess I’ll have to try that my next visit to Poland since I only had a few days left before my flight home.

Kalisz, Poland – Summer 2018 Trip, Part 4

After a few days of walking around Warsaw, I bought a train ticket and headed off to Kalisz. My previous trip to Poland included a visit to the Konin archive for records and I didn’t make it to Kalisz, so it was a priority. My grandmother was born in Kalisz and most of my research on her side of the family has been in Kalisz  records, with some in nearby Konin.

I found a picture online of a sign at the Jewish cemetery stating that it was open on Tuesdays. I walked over and found it wasn’t open. A call to the caretaker, Hila, and I had a plan to revisit on Wednesday, August 15th, which was two major holidays in Poland on the same day while everything else was closed. She pulled up on a bike and I headed in with my camera in hand. There was also a museum in the building, which finished off my visit. After my first glance through the gates from the day before, I was surprised to find so many more gravestones on the property than I expected, although many were piled and stacked up so the writing wasn’t visible, while others were hidden behind tall weeds. Hila barely knew any English but I think she was trying to tell me that many of the stones were recovered from the nearby streets and apartment buildings.

I didn’t go out to where the old cemetery had been because I read that it was just apartment buildings, there were no markers about its existence, and that the boundaries were not even known anymore. It was a little out of the way of everywhere else I went in the city, and the day I sort of headed to it, it started to rain and I didn’t have my umbrella.

I wanted to visit the archive, just for the sake of visiting, but didn’t have much to do there, with only one year of records not yet digitized, and it was quite a distance from the city center. Instead, I went to the Urząd Stanu Cywilnego, the civil registration office. The building had quite a crowd. Ignoring the signs telling me to take a number, I went upstairs to where the office was, pleasantly finding no crowd at all. A couple of people started asking me questions, but the Poles talk very quickly and are difficult for me to understand. Soon someone came along who knew English, so the conversation progressed much easier for me. My problem was that my grandmother was probably born in 1914, but the archive skipped over that year and I hoped the USC still had it. Additionally, I’d found the death of her sister in 1915, one year old. Was she a twin? I really needed 1914.

They didn’t have it. But the woman took a look in what she had and found the 1916 index, where Alta Galpert was listed, and it also noted that she was born in 1915.

This was good news! The archive had the 1916 books, but they hadn’t been digitized yet. It meant that I didn’t miss her birth in the missing 1914 book, just her sister’s. I decided to wait until they are digitized rather than heading out there for the one record. Maybe I can encourage them by email to scan the books sooner than they had planned.

I walked around the Old Town area a few times while I was in town, which was just over the bridge from my hotel. The town hall building had an observation deck, but it was under renovation at the time.

Warsaw, Poland – Summer 2018 Trip, Part 3

When the IAJGS conference concluded, my roommate’s daughter showed up, so I headed out to another hotel for a few nights, where the price was lower.

This is where my plans ended. I had a couple of rough ideas of what I’d do and gave myself almost two weeks in Europe before my return flight, but I was even less prepared this trip than the previous one. I was actually hoping that some people would want some research done, so I somehwat expected to not have time to do my own. But alas, for all the interest after my previous trip to Europe, I was here just for myself.

And then, the walking started. I thought I’d go on the Old Town walking tour, but I went out for a walk on my own first. Once I took a good look at the map, I could finally orient myself from my previous visit six years earlier. That time, I came in to Warsaw through the train station, which was just a few blocks from my hotel. And ulica Sienna was in between the two, the last remnant of the ghetto wall. There were lots of memorials to the ghetto wall in Warsaw with engravings on the ground showing where the wall was, including one right next to my hotel, but I believe that one is the last original piece.

Six years earlier, I had marked a bunch of things to see on a map and I didn’t spend much time in Warsaw to do them. This time, I opened up that map and went looking for it all. The old map was not of great quality in my phone, but I managed to find everything on it and more. Philip had shared a Google map to the conference, and he put a couple new things on it. As I did six years ago in Krakow, I accidentally walked farther than I meant to and made it all the way to Old Town in Warsaw. So I skipped the tour that I was thinking of doing the next day.

I headed to the Warsaw Uprising Museum on Sunday, when it was free. After standing in line for longer than I should have, I gave up and went walking again, all the way back to Old Town and then across to The Palm from my 2012 map.

IAJGS Conference – Summer 2018 Trip, Part 2

After my family reunion in Maine, I headed out to Warsaw, Poland for the IAJGS Conference on Jewish Genealogy. The two events fell on the same weekend. I missed two days of the conference. Because of that, I felt like the conference was just starting as it was actually ending.

It’s good to be the webmaster because I have access to the On Demand videos, so I will be able to watch the opening session and any others that I missed that were recorded. I’d consider buying them if I didn’t already get them. The opening sessions are usually really interesting.

I met a cousin at IAJGS this year. It’s not easy for Ashkenazi Jews to research enough to find fifth cousins, but I did that during this past year. Sady, I did not get to meet him. He was visiting with his mother and went home before I arrived in Poland. But I did get to meet my fourth cousin, once removed, Myra! We just connected some months ago. She is the first person I have found who attends IAJGS conferences who turns out to be my cousin. I have lots of DNA cousins, but we’ve never found the genealogy connection. She’s also my first confirmed Australian cousin (along with her descendents) and had an exciting story of how her ancestors went from Poland to Siberia and China. Myra found a marriage record and contacted the people in the JewishGen Family Finder with the new-to-her surname, Mularzewicz. And because of her diligence, we also made contact with three people in another branch of our family that we found online too.

I gave two presentations, went to a few SIG and BOF meetings, and attended just a few other lectures. I reprised Search as an Art on Friday and a new session called Three Adoptions and an Ethical Dilemma was on Wednesday. I think they both went really well. The BOF that I lead, the Webmasters Roundtable, was well attended; much more than I expected in Poland.

At the banquet, I received the IAJGS Award for Outstanding Project for CSI: Crowd Sourced Indexing! IGRA nominated me and made me an honorary member after the conference.

I don’t usually get a lot of photos from the conferences because my cameras don’t do well indoors, and I’m picky about good pictures. Also, crowds-at-conferences pictures never turn out the way I hope.

IGRA folks shared some other pictures that include me, but I’m just posting the ones from my camera here.

Maine – Summer 2018 Trip, Part 1

It seems to be time for me to begin catching up with my blogging. Here I am, settled into my hotel for the night in Kalisz, Poland, and I haven’t posted much of anything online about what I’ve been doing. With the other conference bloggers already on their way, I decided I’d get started.

This year’s summer trip is a big one. Just like the IAJGS conference in Paris set me on a trip a month long in Europe, so did the IAJGS conference in Warsaw.

To begin my trip to Europe, I went to Maine. Yes, the state. I began my trip to Europe in Maine.

My cousin Bonnie threw a smallish reunion. The Wolfe family was based in Portland, Maine for a while, where she still lives, so she invited a bunch of cousins to see where their ancestors lived, where they worshipped, and generally to walk in their footsteps.

I arrived earlier than most and spent a couple nights at Bonnie’s home. She drove me around and pointed things out along the way, most of which we revisited for the official reunion or I saw again on a trolley tour. We visited the two Portland area Jewish cemeteries where relatives and almost relatives were buried. And we visited four lighthouses.

Then the other cousins started showing up. I ended up rooming with Cheryl and hanging out with sisters Stacey and Sydney. As it turned out, these were the only people at the reunion who are not my cousins, but they were a lot of fun.

How are they not my cousins at a family reunion? Bonnie invited mostly people that she knew in the Wolfe branch of the family, and a few outside of it. It was supposed to be a Szleper/Shemper reunion: Moses Wolfe married Ida Shemper then Ruchel Szleper, who later went by Rose Bornstein. While a few non-Wolfes were supposed to be there, in the end, it was just me and the Wolfe pack (and spouses and significant others).

Bonnie arranged for a little walking tour, starting at the active synagogue, going to the house where Moses and Rose lived, and going to the ex-synagogue that they helped to found. The next day, we had a big meal farther south and went to Old Orchard Beach Pier. We finished off with a brunch at the community room at Bonnie’s home. Each day had a few more people join in and she left us plenty of time for touring and touristing.

It was a blast. I got to meet a pack of Wolfe cousins all in one place. I’d already met a few, but there were so many more I was already in contact with mostly via Facebook. Plus, there were a few surprise attendees too.

Besides weddings and such where a bunch of family show up and it’s sort of a reunion, this was only my second family reunion. (The first was five people, so this was really different.) I do hope that more of my relatives plan things like this. I wouldn’t be able to decide which branch of the family to do first, how big to make it, where to go, or what to do. But I’d be happy to try to help in the planning and the finding of relatives to invite.

Update: It has been pointed out to me that 50 people is not a “smallish” reunion. While I have seen pictures and heard of reunions of 100 people, I can agree that 50 was probably at least medium sized. Also that five generations of Wolfes have lived in Portland, which means, I’ve had relatives living there for over 100 years.

I’m Going to Europe. Who Needs Research?

It’s about time, right? After my first trip to Europe, I was all ready to go back right away, like at least once a year. And here it is, six years later?

Well, if it takes an IAJGS conference for me to finally go back, so be it. The IAJGS Jewish genealogy conference will be in Warsaw this year and I’m going.

Because of how long the flight is, I will be staying for a couple of weeks after the conference to do research, so I will be there for most of August. And I am for hire. If you are interested in some on-site research in Eastern Europe, please contact me.

My fees are a little more complicated than the in-Utah fees posted on my web site, but they’re not too bad. (I really don’t want them posted publicly for several reasons, including they could change for each trip.)

If nobody hires me, I have research to do for myself in Warsaw, Pultusk, Lodz, and Kalisz in Poland, and Uzhhorod in Ukraine. I am looking into visiting Grodno in Belarus and Moldova, but while I’d like to go, they are less likely on this trip.

On the other hand, if you need research in any other Polish archives, or in other Ukrainian archives, I would be happy to help you out. (I’d be happy to help in other countries’ archives too, but I haven’t been to them yet, so I can’t tell you how it might go.) All of the Polish archives should be open this August, though they may be hot. In Ukraine, I have so far only worked in Uzhhorod and I will require a translator anywhere but Poland, but I’m happy to head out there and see what I can do for you. (I need someone to communicate for me, but I do the research in the records myself.)

Some people ask me to do European research for them when they haven’t done all the US-based research they could do. Sometimes they are missing US records and sometimes there are European records that can be accessed without going all the way to Europe. So please contact me soon so we can try to get all of your pre-trip records first. Then I can spend my European time on records we can’t otherwise access.

You can see the archives I have already successfully researched in on my Research in Europe page. I wouldn’t mind adding a few more to that when I get home.

So, who needs some research done in Eastern Europe?

WDYTYA Nitpicker’s Version – 10×03 – Megan Mullally

I haven’t written a nitpicker’s guide in a while. Sometimes I fall behind and sometimes I just don’t have anything specific to say. This post is for the third episode of the season; I had no particular comments about the first two episodes.

The episode started out with Megan and her husband joking around, including him saying he was not interested in her ancestry, yet they both did their DNA tests. Nothing really came of that. Was Ancestry hoping something weird would show up that they would follow up on? Or were they just promoting their product in the hopes more people would test and do nothing with it?

Research Begins

Kyle Betit arrived with newspaper articles. Megan knew that her ancestor committed suicide yet she seemed to have a hard time reading the article about it. When I discover someone who committed suicide, I react less than the celebrities do on this show.

Kyle said that they had enough details to look at census records. Really? I look at census records first. She already knew her ancestors back to the 1920s. I would have started in 1930 or 1940, then made my way back in time.

Then they skipped back to when Charles was one month old in the 1860 census, without finding any other census. And the surname didn’t match exactly. And they had nothing in between but the one article that said he was from Macon, Georgia. That’s not the way to do it. You don’t look for a baby on the census without finding the names of the parents in some other record for the person.

Knowing they do a lot of research before the episode, they probably did all this. I hope they did all this. But people just watching the show who don’t know how to do the research learn bad practices.

Kyle then directed her to search for the marriage of Ira and Elizabeth, the parents found in the 1860 census, but he obviously knew there wasn’t a marriage for the people she was looking for. They never did find the marriage record they wanted. Did they find it and not show it in the episode? If I was doing the research, I’d look for it offline too.

To Georgia

At the Georgia Archive with Dr. Robin Sager, we saw another newspaper article.  The article was about Richard rather than Ira. Maybe that was why there was no marriage record in the index? I like that Robin mentioned that this article was backed up by other documents, showing that they had done other research that doesn’t appear in the episode. But how much do amateurs pay attention to little details like that?

I did like how Megan kept trying to figure out when things were happening in her family, calculating dates and ages, and when Elizabeth was pregnant. Some celebrities are seen taking notes, but she seemed to be memorizing it all.

Robin pointed out the time period right before the Civil War and Megan went straight to wondering if the second husband, James Venable, was a slave owner. Did she not wonder that about the first husband?

Fold3 was the next stop, a site with military records. Why did she say “wow” while the site was loading? Were they messing around in editing? She was thoroughly surprised by the Amnesty Papers found on James and Megan wanted to know more. Except it was just an index and Megan was sent off to find the actual record at NARA. Shouldn’t that collection online have been called an index? Some people, just like Megan did, will think that’s the whole record.

To Washington DC

Before she was even finished reading the letter written by James, she was asking more questions. Are the celebrities instructed to ask every question as they’re going even before reading every word in front of them? It seems jarring to me. That’s not how I do research. I read everything before asking follow-up questions, because sometimes the answers are right in front of me.

Back to Georgia

At least they didn’t send her over an ocean and back again. But she wanted to change her name to the second husband even before she learned any more about him.

Back in Georgia at the Bibb County Courthouse, she met with an historian from California who was somehow able to find a bound volume of old newspapers in Georgia. Did she really find that or did someone local do the research? In another newspaper article, from 1869, we learned that James wasn’t much better than the first husband, right after Megan said she liked him. And then she was sure that Elizabeth was the only one who wasn’t crazy, yet she knew very little about Elizabeth at the time too. She made a lot of assumptions about these people before she knew anything about them.

All that way for just one article? Then off to another library for more. The next researcher was from North Dakota State University, who apparently found another newspaper article. Why were all these people researching in Georgia from all over the country? Does Ancestry have no researcher in Georgia who actually did the research who could be on the show?

They were up to two articles in 1869 then skipped to 1890 to a court case between Elizabeth and her son over property that she bought between her marriages. The paper mentioned that she had other children with James and Megan began asking about those other children. But they never looked in the 1870 or 1880 censuses to find out more about those children. Instead they skipped ahead to 1900 where she had no other family living with her, and Megan found her listed as an inmate in a sanitarium.

By this time, Megan started assuming the worst of everyone instead of hoping they would do the right thing. She also assumed that Elizabeth supported her husbands. There was no evidence of that either. We hadn’t seen any record of the occupations of the husbands, especially the second one. That 1869 court case didn’t say anything about property that remained after James died, or if he had, or if the Mullally sons just wanted the property she had bought on her own before she married James.

Finishing up at the Central State Hospital, the site of the former sanitarium, Megan met with one more “researcher”, this time from Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre, which is in Canada. What did all these people have to do with researching this family in Georgia? Did any of them actually do any of the research on this family or are they chosen from a hat to appear in the episodes? From the Georgia Archives, the admission records were brought out to the hospital grounds. Why do they keep removing records from their archives?

That question about other children? It was on that last document, not read aloud in the episode, but it clearly showed she had eight children, but I couldn’t read if all eight were involved in admitting her. What did the document say that we couldn’t see on screen?


It seemed I found a lot more to say about this episode on my second viewing. I wonder if I’d have more to say about the previous two episodes as well.

This random assortment of researchers and historians from all over the continent but no one locally disturbs me. I hadn’t noticed that in the show before. What’s wrong with the people who did the research or local historians? Aren’t there any?

And they never did anything about Richard and Elizabeth coming from Ireland. Did they find anything more on that? Maybe they weren’t able to go back to those records. But since they don’t tell us, we won’t know. Many episodes focus on the immigrants and where they came from. I do like that they sometimes don’t, but they glanced over these people coming from Ireland. I had to go back in the episode just to find that it was mentioned where they were born.

I could see these episodes focusing a little more on looking at the details and making conclusions from them, rather than focusing on a celebrity overreacting to everything they see and speculating about their ancestors before actually learning about them.

I guess this is one reason why they use celebrities instead of average people. Celebrities are used to acting and an average person wouldn’t give them the giant overreactions they seem to like in this show.