Monday, October 13, 2008

La famille Gorry?

My sister received a Facebook friend request over the weekend from someone she didn't know but perhaps should, a girl named Alice Gorry. I know there are other Gorrys out there, but the name is no Smith or Jones - I have never met a Gorry I'm not related to. The more intriguing thing to me, besides the fact this 15 year old girl probably did a friend search for people with the name "Gorry," which is a brilliant idea, is that she is French. She lives in France. What?!? I've heard of American Gorrys and Australian Gorrys and Scottish Gorrys, but never French Gorrys. So now I'm wondering what kind of possible question there could be. Does this girl know where her grandparents or even great-grandparents are from? My sister laughed and said that requesting her as a friend was probably one of the dumbest things this girl has ever done, because now she's going to have me badgering her with genealogical questions. My sister is definitely not wrong...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Random genealogy search engine frustration

Sometimes the easiest way to find genealogical information is to go to Google or some other search engine and just type in the name of the person you're looking for. I've found obituaries, newspaper articles, and other research being done by amateur genealogists from around the world. But I always hit two roadblocks in my searches.

If I type in "Gorry genealogy," I get a ton of hits. Not one of them has to do with my family tree. There is a professional genealogist out there, Paul Gorry, and websites about him and his work will always turn up. And he's not researching his family tree. He's always doing somebody elses.

I also can't type in "Rudolph Stutzmann." Well, I can, and of the ton of hits I get, one or two of them will be about his contributions to the Ridgewood area or his German roots, but 99 percent of them are obituaries for other people, in which he and his funeral home did the funeral arrangements. Apparently his funeral home was very successful and very popular, much to my genealogical researching chagrin.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The interesting thing about genetic genealogy... actually something I will probably never experience. As someone of entirely Western European descent (could my ancestry *be* anymore boring? Thank God for Peter Berg of Denmark for mixing it up just the tiniest bit!), there's really nothing...exotic? unique?...that I expect my DNA ancestry to reveal. Having my dad return as a K and not the uber-popular H was a pleasant surprise, but all that really tells me as of right now is that he belongs to a somewhat common Western European group, not a super common one.

I'm thinking in terms of people of mixed ancestry, or who don't know specifics but who have family stories that their great-great-great grandmother might've been a slave or that somewhere along the line, a Native American married into their family tree. Or for people who don't know anything about their genealogy. Maybe you're of Asian descent. Maybe you're of Jewish.

That's where I think, right now, this genetic genealogy is most interesting. Finding out something like that, about your theoretical, far-reaching family tree, could give a starting point and fuel an interest in researching your tangible, much closer family tree. That's what I think anyway. But I'm already hooked, so what do I know?

Haplogroup T

I knew my results would come last night. The lab received my sample the day after my dad's, so I had a feeling I would get my results the day after he got his. Hoped, anyway.

Reconfirmed that I am, indeed, part of mtDNA haplogroup T. Second-most popular group to belong to among people of European descent (I think the number is between 10-20 percent). So, while I might have more fun looking for possible ancestral paths for my dad's group, K, I will probably have more luck finding people who are an exact match for me.

Of note: mtDNA mutations change so slowly that if you're not an exact match to someone, you're not related. That doesn't mean you are closely related to someone who is an exact match, but you definitely are not if there are any differences. Not through that branch, anyway. So, so far there are about 20 people on Ancestry who match up to me exactly. And my dad so far is SOL, thanks to his one extra mutation that nobody else in K seems to have. What a mutant! Ha, seriously. My next line of thought for this genetics journey when it comes to T is to find people who are tracing an Irish T line, since that's where my T comes from (Limerick, to be exact, as far back as I can tell, which isn't that far - 1820s, maybe). You have to start somewhere, so I figure you go from one thing being in common (haplogroup T) to something else you might have in common (Irish ancestors).

Another note: about belonging to haplogroups, which is kind of hard to wrap your head around. My dad asked me last night if I'm a K since he's a K. Genetically speaking, no. Genetically, my mutations make me a T. But genealogically, yes. Genealogically, I am a T. I am a K. I am a y-DNA haplogroup R1b. I am whatever my Raynor line turns out to be. I carry the genetic markers of a specific haplogroup, but I am here and who I am because of all the people I am descended from who belong to all these different haplogroups. Humans seem to have a need to define and categorize and organize things. And by "humans," I mean "me." Life is messy. Genealogy is messy. Haplogroups help trace the human journey - literally. The human migration. Genetically, I am a T. But genetically, I am also related to my dad. So I would like to think that if the Ks all got together and threw an awesome party, that I would get an invitation because even though I'm not one of them, I am of one of them.

Yeah, trying to wrap my head around this is starting to hurt...

DNA a potential aid in solving Raynor mystery?

I was just thinking about it now as I was sitting here looking at my family tree. As with all small founding communities, there was a lot of intermarriage among just a few families in early Hempstead, so I have no less than three generations on my family tree where there is a Raynor marrying a Raynor. About 8 generations back, though, on one branch it comes down to a single couple, Jacob Raynor, and his wife, Rebecca Raynor. Jacob's parents are disputed at best, unknown at worst. It is through his wife, Rebecca, that I connect myself to the larger Raynor family tree on that branch. But it is to Jacob and his father and grandfather that a y-DNA test would connect the Raynor men in my family - my mother's brothers and their sons (my cousins). I can connect myself to the larger tree through other male Raynors, but they are the fathers of daughters on my line. Jacob is the mystery, and an exact match to someone else would guarantee with 95 percent accuracy that you are related within 11 generations, which means if my cousin matched exactly to another Raynor who could trace his paternal genealogy that far back (and lucky for me, most of the Raynors can), then at best, we might be able to narrow down which of a few individuals might be Jacob's father. At worst, we could definitely connect Jacob to one of Freeport founder Edward's sons, which would be proof at least that Jacob is part of this interwoven tree.

On that note, my male Raynor cousin has offered to take the y-DNA test. He has his own family tree up now. It seems he has gotten the genealogy bug from his father. I'm starting to become convinced that an interest in genealogy is either genetic or its contagious.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

mtDNA Haplogroup K

This is all going much quicker than I thought it would. Well, I guess it is my DNA nd the DNA of my should be aware of how impatient I am!

Last night I got an e-mail saying my father's mtDNA results were in. These results follow his mother's mother's mother's line, and turns out he (and I by extension) belongs to haplogroup K. What does this tell me? Not much so far. I just started sifting through the information. It does tell me that this is another line where I don't belong to the most popular Western European haplogroup of H. Awesome. I have a serious need to be different. Of course, this will make it more difficult to connect with DNA family. Oh well. I love a good challenge.

What else...Katie Couric belongs to haplogroup K, as does Oesti, the Tyrolean Iceman, which is interesting because my family's always kinda been interested in him, since he was found on the Austro-Italian border shortly before we traveled there for the first time.

Haplogroup K is also found in large numbers in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. This doesn't mean that if you're a K, you have Jewish roots. But it's an interesting angle. According to Wikipedia, it is common in non-Jews from Ireland, the Alps, and Great Britain. In my family, K belongs to a German line I'm following (Helen Stutzman, Helen Haase, Meta Ricklefs, Meta Tiedemann, Meta Buckmann, and possibly Lucia Borger. Obviously, it goes way further back than that. Bu that's he extent of my non-DNA genealogical research into my father's maternal branch.

The way mtDNA works is that certain mutations in your DNA place you into certain haplogroups. So, K members have six basic mutations - 16311C, 16519C, 73G, 263G and 315.1C. Then there are subclades, or subgroups, within the haplogroup. Ashkenazi Jews have certain markers. More than a few K subclades have the 146C and 152C mutation as well. My father has all of these. So far, though, i my limited research, he also has 2 other mutations, one, 309.1C which I think I saw someone else had, and 16153A, which I haven't been able to find in anybody else. The good thing about this is that you have to be an exact mtDNA match to be anywhere close to being related (and I'm talking close as in thousands of years, not tens of thousands of years). The bad thing is it makes the search harder.

I also realized that my father's test results were HVR 1 plus HVR 2 results, which means more markers were tested, which means you have a better chance of findng what subclade you belong to. When I tested as haplogroup T for the National Geographic Genographic project, I only got HVR 1 results, so I may actually get new information back when I get my results (of course the impatient one's results come in last!)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Relatability test

Ok, so starting to get a feel for what these DNA tests can do. Ancestry created a new account for each of the tests I bought. I didn't want to have to log into my brother's account every time I wanted to check his results, so I manually entered his results onto my page (since they belong to me, too). Now we're both in the database, so when it gives me my paternal matches, my brother comes up as an exact match. With an exact match, our most recent common ancestor (MRCA) was given as 1 generation back. Which, yes, that's true. But it turns out that it's only a 50 percent certainty. The site pretty much guarantees a 95 percent certainty of a MRCA at 11 generations. So while my brother and I are an exact match and related one generation back, anyone else I find in the database with an exact match could be anywhere between there and 275 years back for a MRCA. The database says anyone off by only 2 or 3 markers is a pretty close match, which would seem to be true, but to find someone related no more than 300 years back from you, you need an exact match. Which considering my branchless tree (at least on the Gorry end of things) is one I need to cross my fingers and knock on wood for.

Paternal genealogy

The interesting thing about my paternal genealogy line (and maybe for some of you I'm playing a little fast and loose with the word "interesting") is that with the exception of my dad's cousins by his dad's brother, I'm not entirely hopeful about finding close relatives on the Gorry line. Well, close is a relative term. At least as far back as my 3rd great grandfather, James Gorry (6 generations, born 1830 in Ireland) until my grandfather and his brother, there is only a single Gorry line to follow. James Sr. had two sons, James and Michael, but Michael never married or had kids. James Jr. had two sons, Joseph and Elmer Sr., but Joseph died three days before his 7th birthday. Elmer Sr. had two sons, Elmer Jr. (my grandfather) and Eugene (Uncle Gerard), and its here that the Gorry line has its first branches in 100 years. Uncle Gerard had three sons who each had a son, and my grandfather had two sons, of which my father had two sons. So I have my paternal second-cousins, but other than that, the closest paternal cousins (or even cousins following a maternal Gorry line for that matter as none of the daughters born in that 100 year interval had any children of their own, either...totally branchless!) I can hope to find would be if James Sr. had any siblings or if his father, Cornelius, had any siblings. Cornelius is as far back as I've traced that line. That would be a fifth or sixth cousin. But it would be interesting if I could find one, although if I had to go even further back to find a long-lost cousin, it would make me even more amazed at the persistance of the Gorry line in the face of its branch shortage...nature just can't seem to get rid of us!

DNA results #1 are in!

I am super stoked! Just yesterday, I was on the website checking the DNA page and saying to myself, "Why are you being a glutton for punishment? You *know* the results won't be in yet!" And then I got the e-mail!! Apparently my brother has super speedy DNA. I was supposed to have to wait four weeks and I only had to wait a week for his. If his DNA was a girl, some people would not be calling it a lady...but I don't care, because it knew I was impatient and it came through for me to tide me over till the other results come in!

I guess y-chromosome DNA tests are easier to read than mtDNA tests. That's probably the real answer.

So, the y-chromosome test was for the Gorry line (father's father's father's line, etc.) and the Gorrys, like 70 percent of people from Western Europe and 90 percent from England and Ireland, belong to the group R1b. The page shows a readout of the results, a map of the group coming out of Mesopotamia and traveling through Eastern to Western Europe, a description of that particular group of people, all of which I have to read more closely to get a better idea of what it all means. But the coolest factor I think is you can also find paternal matches of other people who have uploaded their DNA results to Ancestry. Depending on how many markers you have in common, you can find people you are closely related to and how many generations back you have to go to find a common ancestor. Like, at 70 generations back, my brother matched with more than 250 people. Big whoop. Everyone in the world is related 70 generations back. But there's one woman in England that has a 50 percent chance of being related to us only 13 generations, or 325 years, back. That would be around the year 1683. My Raynor ancestors had already been in America for 50 years at that point, so for me as a genealogist, a connection from that time period does not feel that far back. And on the Gorry side...I can't trace them farther than 1800 so far!

Anyway, it's all just as exciting as I thought it would be. And as more people do this and add their info to the database, more possible familial links will turn up and more "long-lost" relatives could be found. Definitely have to start finding out more about my bro's results, then...jeez, I feel like such a dork. But I'm so excited, I don't even care!

Friday, September 5, 2008

DNA analysis in progress!

Just checked the Ancestry website and finally got the news I've been looking for...the labs have received my DNA samples. They got mine and my brother's yesterday, my father's on Wednesday. Apparently his DNA was so super excited to be analyzed that even though I mailed all the packets at the same time, his searched for and found a short cut in order to get to Utah a day earlier than the other two...and he couldn't share his time-saving tip with his comrades? I don't know how I feel about my dad's DNA anymore...

Anyhow, uppity and unfriendly DNA aside, all three samples are accounted for and the analysis can begin. They say it takes an average of 4 weeks to get results. With my Irish luck, it'll take longer, but in any case, let the countdown begin!

Friday, August 29, 2008

The genetics journey begins

Well, the cheeks have been swabbed, vigorously, and the swabs have been mailed. My dad, my brother, and I all took our DNA tests and submitted them to for testing. I'm very excited. We each took a different test (well, my dad and I took the same one, but they'll be tracing different lines), so I should be getting results that trace my paternal Gorry line, my maternal line, and my father's maternal line - those lines are impossible to name as it follows the female so each generation has a new name...

I'm very curious about the results, which I probably won't be getting for another four weeks at the earliest (even when I'm hitting brick walls, genealogy still teaches me things, like patience!). My sample should come back showing the T haplogroup, which is what my NatGeo DNA results told me, but I'd like to see if there's any more info on T than there was 4 years ago. I don't know anything about tracing the y-chromosome, so I have no idea what to expect result-wise for the Gorry line, so that'll be something new to learn when I get those results back, and then there's my father's maternal line. Like I said in another post, 40-60 percent of people of European descent belong to the H haplogroup according to their mtDNA, so that's the result I'm expecting to find there. And I don't think my father quite understands why we did this or what we'll learn from it, so I'm excited to share those results with him once they come in - hopefully there'll be a map and some info more specific to the haplogroup we fall into, which will clear some things up.

So thanks to my dad and my brother for helping out, especially my brother, who gave me his DNA even though I couldn't guarantee that it wouldn't be used at some point in the future to frame him for a crime he never committed. Thanks, family! :)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Genographic Project

I've actually taken a genealogical DNA test before, in June 2005, as part of National Geographic's The Genographic Project. They were studying isolated, indigenous populations but asked for as many participants as possible to send in their DNA to create a map of the human journey. I thought it sounded so interesting - how could I not be a part of it?

The results of the test put you into a haplogroup - depending on what mutations they find in your DNA, they can group you with others with that same mutation back to a common ancestor/group of people. The tree starts with a common ancestor in Africa, and from their branches out, and those branches branch out, and again, and it's on those various branches that your DNA will place you. The National Geographic website explains it much better than I do, so if you want to know more, I highly recommend visiting the site:

Anyway, I learned that I had four mutations that put me in haplogroup T. 40-60 percent of Western Europeans belong to haplogroup H, and as someone who seems to constantly strive to be different, I was happy to find I didn't fall into that group. T, though the second most popular Western European haplogroup, is only found in 20 percent of the population. Anyway, T is considered one of the main genetic signatures of the Neolithic expansion, which is basically when, around 10,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers became farmers. A lot of Ts can be found in the Ukraine/Russia/Georgia region, which I found interesting, because I was following an Irish line. Obviously, 10,000 years ago there were no Irish people. They all had to come from somewhere. But it was interesting to learn that where many of my branch ended up beside Ireland.

The next geneological frontier: DNA

Yep, I'm jumping on the bandwagon. With all the increase in interest in genealogy, it was only a matter of time before DNA entered the picture. Not only can it, in some cases, pinpoint your relation to someone in Australia (or fill-in-the-blank random spot here) in terms of how many generations back you could have a common ancestor, but it can rule out people you think you might be related to, and for those of us who are constantly trying to see the bigger picture, who are always in pursuit of information to fill in the never ending gaps in our trees and our trees in history, DNA can paint you a somewhat interesting picture (using broad strokes, for sure, but the pictures still there) of your ancient ancestors' journey over the years - out of Africa, through the Fertile Crescent, and to wherever your ancestors might have traveled beyond that.

I've been keen to hop on board this train for awhile, but the limitations for me in my genealogical pursuit are always the same: lack of information and lack of money. In this case, it was the money issue. DNA tests are expensive! (That's why it's good to make sure you know who the father of your children is. That, and it's makes it easier to trace his side of their family tree for them!)

Anyway,, which now has a DNA section up to explain your results to you, put you in touch with people with similar DNA backgrounds, and provide a place to chat and share information, is having a sale on DNA testing - 50 percent off until September 30. It's still not inexpensive, but it's half as expensive as it normally is, which is perfect for me, as why in the world would I be content to buy just one DNA kit?

Here's the deal - y-chromosome DNA traces the paternal line: son to father to father to father to father and so on. Mitochondrial, or MtDNA testing traces the maternal line: son/daughter to mother to mother to mother and so on. As you can see, males can get both tests done. Females are stuck with just the MtDNA option, in which case you have to recruit a brother or father to trace your paternal lineage.

So, wanting to get as much information as possible (there's a reason that everything I do - genealogy, reading, being a journalist - revolves around gathering information...I'm just going to pretend that you didn't just say, "Yeah, it's because she's crazy!"), I ordered one y-chromosome and 2 MtDNA tests. I will be taking one of the MtDNA tests - all that's involved is swabbing the inside of your cheek (pretty hard, though, I might add) and mailing it back to the lab, after which it takes a few weeks to get results. As far back as I can go maternally (seven generations, about the year 1800) I am Irish.

I am asking either my brother or my father to get me my paternal DNA results with the y-chromosome test. That line is also Irish. Then, I'm asking my father to take an MtDNA test, which would follow my paternal grandmother's line, which goes seven or eight generations back that I know of, and is a German line. When I get my next paycheck, I'm considering ordering another y-chromosome test and asking one of my maternal uncles or cousins to take it, which would follow my English Raynor line.

I ordered the tests yesterday and they were shipped today. I already feel impatient, because I know these things can take forever (not to get to me, but to be tested in the lab) and I just want to know already, but it's fun getting that genealogical itch again and knowing that to some extent, even if it's in a couple of weeks, I'm going to get to scratch it. In a field that I know (and dread) has to ultimately end on all branches with an impassable dead end, DNA genealogy gives us a tool to go beyond those dead ends - you won't get names, you won't get pictures, you won't get occupations, but something is better than nothing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tying seemingly unrelated branches together

So, I'm working on a theory that, in the not too distant past - let's say, early 1800s to late 1700s - I can connect my father's side of the family to my mother's.

Because of the insular situation of the early English families in Nassau County, even up to the 1800s, there was a lot of intermarrying going on among the Old Guard families. That goes without saying in any community with roots and a bit of isolation. See my post on my Canada cousins. Or read James Michener's "Hawaii."

Sometimes there are unrelated branches that intertwine - unrelated to each other, that is, but with the (unbeknownst to them) same connection to you. One case on my tree is my great great grand uncle, Peter Hansen Berg, who married my first cousin 3 times removed, Harriet Dauch. Harriet's grandparents, Thomas and Barbara Dauch, are my 3rd great grandparents. Peter's parents, Peter and Sophia Berg, are also my 3rd great grandparents. Harriet and Peter weren't related to each other, but Peter's niece through his brother Theodore, Millie Berg, was also Harriet's cousin through her aunt Delia. And Millie Berg is my great-grandmother.

Confused yet?

My great-great grandmother on my father's side was Meta Ricklefs Haase. Her sister, Margaret, married a man named Oscar Hudson Cornelius, who was born in Amityville on Long Island and who, it turns out, is part of the Old Guard Long Island family, the Corneliuses (the Corneliui?) As we all know, I am connected to most of the Old Guard Long Island families by blood or by marriage, but on my mother's side. And I have somewhat close cousins (second cousins several times removed) of the same time period as Oscar, with the last name of Cornelius. Oscar's father's name was William, whose father seemed to be Carman. One of my cousins, Powell Cornelius, had a father, also named William, but a different William, whose father seemed to be Richard. I know there's a connection - there's always a connection, you sometimes just have to keep going back to find it - but I guess I haven't gone far enough back to find it yet. But that would be an interesting interfamily connection for me - cousins on my dad's city, German, new immigrant by the Raynor's standard (1840s) side related to cousins on my mother's OG LI side.

Gorry, Gorry, Gorry, oi, oi, oi: the Australian connection

So, I was recently in Sydney, Australia for business, which didn't leave me with a lot of free time on my hands. If I had had more time, I would have liked to have done a bit of investigation into the Australian Gorry connection.

I don't have much to go on. Part of the problem is that of all my ancestral branches, the one whose name I have is one of my least researched one because there's very little information to be found (or if it's there, it's very well hidden!) But one thing that always pops up is the name Gorry, spelled Gorry, in Australia.

A Google search finds that Jane Gorry was the first Australian postulant for the Sisters of Mercy.

An search finds that 77 Gorrys sailed to Australia in the early to mid 1800s. For the period between 1861-1933, an Ancestry search also pulls up a directory of 184 Gorrys in Sydney and New South Wales.

User-posted family trees on the Ancestry World Tree Project also list more than a few Gorrys originating in Australia.

So that could've been an intriguing search. Am a curious that most early European settlers of Australia were criminals? Absolutely. Does rebellion run in the family? Or maybe it's just a downright disregard for the law. Anyway, I don't have anything to work with right now from home, but it definitely would be interesting to see if there's some kind of familial connection I could make to cousins Down Under - that would definitely give me a reason to go back...

Friday, June 27, 2008


So, I am currently amusing myself by trying to find familial connections. That's another thing I do when I'm unsuccessfully chipping away at a brick wall for an ancestor, is try to figure out which of my friends or what celebrities might be my "cousins."

I use the term "cousin" loosely. Technically, it's correct, but after awhile (like your third or fourth cousins) it kind of loses its meaning. Every now and then MSNBC or will do a puff piece on how Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and George Bush and Madonna and Brad Pitt are all related to each other. Related is a strong word. Yes, they probably all belong to the same tree. In fact, I theoretically belong to that tree as well - my colonial English ancestry is the gateway to royal European ancestry (none of those links of which I've verified, but at least one or two that have been researched enough by others to make me believe there is some truth in those connections). In many cases, a colonial family connection is enough to be able to claim a lot of these celebrities as "cousins," but find anyone who can trace their Western European ancestry back far enough and your "cousins" will be endless. I can't find the exact page I read it, but it's something like everybody of European descent today is a descendent of Charlemagne. But at what point does it become silly to claim that familial connection?

On my own tree, I have Brad Pitt listed as a 20th cousin; George W. Bush as a 15th cousin; Princes William and Harry as 15th cousins; that goes back to the late 1300s. The late Christopher Reeve looks to be an 11th cousin through my colonial Pearsall ancestors, but even those common "grandparents" are from the mid-1500s. If I actually claim Brad Pitt as a cousin, then I pretty much have to claim everybody and their mother (and grandmother and great-grandmother) as a cousin. Go far enough back and we're all family. It's kind of humbling and strange and exciting, these family connections, isn't it? It kind of gives new meaning to the idea of the human family, that we're all brothers and sisters.

Anyway, we'll leave the philosophizing to another day. For me, if I start looking for famous cousins, I can connect myself to most of them, which is why I've set a limit on how far back that connection can be before I decide not to include them on my family tree (this is my personal, "for fun" family tree, by the way, not the one I share with others as a serious researcher)...I think I've set that limit at about somewhere between 1400-1500. I made an exception for Brad. If you can claim him as a relation, no matter how far back that connection, it's just silly not to. :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Founding families love only each other

That is, of course, an exaggeration. In the beginning, when starting new communities and new lives, they had only each other to intermarry with, and if the next generations stay local enough, everybody has some kind of connection to each other.

As a lifelong Long Islander with several connections to the Long Island founding families, I've always noticed it locally - when I read a name in the newspaper, when I look at the street names in my town and the towns around me. But it's not a local phenomenon.

For lack of any other genealogical avenues to currently explore, I've been focusing on a branch of my family, the Spragues, who ended up in Canada, concentrated mostly in southern Ontario, though spreading to Manitoba and British Columbia (and Minnesota, Washington, and California from there, as well). Anyway, up Canada's way, they seem to have become one of the founding families of many of the early communities there and in tracing those lines, the same names keep reappearing - Morden, Roblin, Wrightmeyer, German. They're all part of the same big happy Ontario family.

On Long Island, you had Raynors marrying Smiths marrying Carmans marrying Seamans marrying Pearsalls in all sorts of wacky permutations till you get to the fun part when it becomes quite obvious that someone has a connection to several founding families because every single one of their names is a founding family name. If you randomly pick just two or three of those names to link together in any order, I can guarantee you'd find there was at least one person (but probably more) with that name.

You had local celebrity Raynor Rock Smith, whose mother's last name was Raynor and who spawned about 4 generations of namesakes. You had Bedell Raynor, Jed Rocksmith Raynor, Judson Fowler Raynor, Carman Pearsall Smith, George Duryea Smith, Irving Seaman Smith, James Sprague Smith, Julian Denton Smith, Lila Carman Denton, Bergen Benjamin Carman, Hiram Bedell Pearsall, Richard Smith Bedell, etc. The list is probably endless, but these are just a few examples from the branches of my own Long Island family tree.

In genealogy searches, if you have a feel for some of the names associated with the early settlement of an area, then you'll know that if you find someone with one or two or three of those names, you've found someone who is probably connected to multiple early families.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Finding famous folk in historical records, part tres

Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, his wife Olivia, and two daughters Susan and Clara are living in Hartford, Connecticut in 1880, where he is listed in the census as "author," just 4 years after the publication of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and five years before the publication of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." 20 years later, he and his wife are still living there with Clara and their third daughter, Jean.

In 1900, George H. Ruth was a little 5 year old living with his parents in his native Baltimore, Maryland. By 1930, he was living in New York as a baseball player going by the nickname "Babe."

In 1920, 5 year old Joe DiMaggio was living with his parents, grandparents, and 8 siblings in San Francisco, California. You can also find old newspaper clippings on Ancestry about DiMaggio temporarily quitting baseball to fight in World War II.

Albert Einstein can be found on 3 passenger lists sailing into New York: in April 1921, listed as a professor of Hebrew ethnicity; in December 1930; and in October 1933, listed as a scientist.

Thomas Edison, as Alvah Edison, can be found living as a 13 year old in Port Huron, Michigan in the 1860 census. In 1900, Edison and his family are living in West Orange, New Jersey, where he is supporting them as a "general inventor."

The lists, of course, go on and on, depending on who you find interesting and who you want to find out more about. For added fun and a way to keep doing genealogy that interests you when your own family tree search has stalled, I like to trace the trees of these famous folk to see if their tree and mine intersect anywhere close at all (so far for me? Not really...not anywhere before the 1700s, anyway...) Pick figures who share the same ethnic history as you, and you can even do current figures (Brad Pitt? Madonna? Princes William and Harry?Brett Favre?)...if you can find their parents and/or grandparents on record, that's all you need to get started...

Looking for famous folk in historical records, part deux

I didn't realize there were so many people I had looked up in my spare time, so now that I've shared some of the historical figures I find intriguing enough to "genealogically stalk," here are some of the Hollywood actors I also looked for and found:

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart are on a passenger list flying into New York from London on April 8, 1954 (it's still kinda weird for me when passenger manifests cross over from ships to planes, but oh well...)

5 year old Marlon Brando is living with his parents and siblings in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska in the 1930 census.

In the 1910 census, 2 year old Marion R. Morrison is living with his parents in Madison, Iowa. In 1920, he is Marion M. Morrison (his parents changed his middle name from Robert to Michael when they decided to name their second son Robert), and his parents have moved with him and his brother to Glendale, California. Why do you care about little Marion? Because one day he'll grow up to be John Wayne...

7 year old Frances Gumm, born in Minnesota, is living with her family in Antelope, California in 1930. She will one day go by the stage name Judy Garland.

In the 1930 census, Victor and Lillian Crawford of Indianapolis, Indiana, have taken in their daughter, Julian, and her 2 month old son, Terrence "Steve" McQueen...

In the 1891 England Census, 2 year old Charles "Charlie" Chaplin is living with his mother, Hannah, a music professional, his brother, and his maternal grandmother, Mary Hill, a wardrobe dealer, in London.

In 1930, Charlie Chaplin, the "motion picture actor," is living in Beverly Hills. On the same census page is listed Douglas Fairbanks and his wife, Mary (Pickford), both also "motion picture actors."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A break from your own genealogy: looking for famous folk in historical records

Yes, it is something I consider a fun pasttime - I greet all your shouts of "genealogy dork!" and "history nerd!" with three little words: you're not wrong...

Sometimes the genealogical search becomes overwhelming. Sometimes the brick walls become frustrating. That's when I make a list of celebrities and historical figures to search for on Most of them are dead now. Many of them were dead before I was even born. Some of them are preserved forever as either actors or characters in Hollywood films, but there's just something about seeing their names on a worn census form as a child, or with their families, or just eking out a living, way back before anyone ever knew they'd be someone history would one day remember, that makes them feel extremely real and extremely human. (Let the name calling continuing...please, try to be creative with your barbs!)

I guess it started after I watched Tombstone, the Kurt Russell-Val Kilmer movie about Wyatt Earp. Earp was born in Illinois in 1848, and died in 1929, which means in theory he should be able to be found on every census from 1850 to 1920 - there he is as a 2 year old in Lake Prairie, Illinois with his siblings and parents, N.P. (Nicholas Porter) and Virginia; in 1870, he was living in Missouri near his brother and he was married; by 1880, he was living in Tombstone, Arizona with his brothers Virgil and James, which is where the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral would take place just a year 1910, he's now in California with his third wife, Josephine...

Recommendations: Do a bit of research ahead of time. Wikipedia is a good place to start, but like anything on the Internet, don't assume it's all fact. Still, Wiki can be helpful to tell you when and where a person was born, who their parents were, and where they might have lived at a certain time, profession, all helpful for people (not Wyatt Earp, of course, who had a fairly unique name) who might have had a somewhat common name. Oh, and also to look up what their real name is...there are a lot of Hollywood celebrities you won't be able to find because they're known by a stage name...

Wyatt Earp is definitely one of my favorites...some of the other people I've looked up:

Doc Holliday, of course! Real name John Henry, born in Georgia, originally a dentist by trade. In 1870 he's living in Valdosta, Georgia with his father and stepmother as an 18 year old 1880 he's in Prescott, Arizona as "J. H. Holliday" as a dentist (Ancestry does a fairly good job of identifying famous people in their census indexes)

Abraham 1850, "Abram Lincoln" is a 40 year old attorney living in Springfield, Illinois with his wife and young son...still there 10 years later...

In 1930, the "Hon. Franklin Roosevelt" is living in Albany, New York as the governor...

In the 1900 census, Governor Theodore Roosevelt is living in Oyster Bay, New York with his wife and their gaggle of children and 1910, he's still there, but now he's a magazine editor...

John F. Kennedy can be found in the 1920 census in Brookline, Massachusetts as a 3 year old with his banker father, Joseph, his mother, Rose, and his siblings Joseph and Rosemary...

Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the "Little House on the Prairie" series, another one of my all-time favorites!!! (for some reason I enjoy searching for historical figures like Laura and Wyatt Earp who lived all over the place) 1870, 3 year old "Laura Ingles," born in Wisconsin, is living in Rutland, Kansas, with her parents and her two 1880, the family is living in De Smet, Dakota 1900, Laura is living in Pleasant Valley, Missouri, with her husband Almanzo (A.J.) and daughter, Rose...

In 1900, Amelia Earhart is just a 2 year old girl living with her parents and sister in Kansas City, 1930, Amelia, a "flyer and writer" by occupation, is living in New York City...Seven years later she would disappear while attempting to fly solo around the world...

(Laura Ingalls Wilder and Amelia Earhart are two of my childhood female heroes, rounded out by Annie Oakley, who I am now determined to find in a census - real name Phoebe Ann "Annie" Mosey/Mozee/Moses, born 1860, married to Frank Butler)...another mystery to solve!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Like a kid in a candy store...

Yay!! After just a little more than 2 weeks, the Municipal Archives comes through, and yes, to be fair to whoever put together the index, the names on the marriage certificate do look like John Riekleffs and Neta Tiedermann. Of course, all you have to do is flip it over to the other side and look at their signatures and their names are clearly John Ricklefs and Meta Tiedemann. Frustrating, yes. But there are thousands of certificates indexed there and I don't blame whoever put that index together if they didn't feel like creating twice as much work for themselves. I complain about the often shoddy interpretation of handwriting on these records (that goes for's census index as well), but I thank from the bottom of my heart those people who put in the time and effort of putting that index together in the first place, making my life and genealogical searches so, so much easier.

Anyway, what a find. On the back, we have every line of information filled out, including both sets of parents (yay! That's huge!) - John Ricklefs, living at 222 First Avenue in NYC, almost 23, an oyster dealer born at Bremerhaven, Germany to Friedrich Ricklefs and Sophie Dozen (?) - lists her name as Sophie Dozen and so far, that is what it looks like to me...we'll see if I change my mind upon further inspection. He's marrying Meta Tiederman, living at 222 First Ave., almost 25 years old, born in...not only is her place of birth listed as Hanover, Germany, but there's a town, too! This could be invaluable in finding birth records or records on her parents...if only I could make out that illegible handwriting! Will keep trying, though, of John Henry Tiedermann and Meta Buckmann. It's the first marriage for both. Witnesses, Leopold Ropper and Gertrude Andriano. Married by Morris W. Leibert, pastor of the German-Moravian Church.

This kind of stuff gets my heart exciting! And it came on Saturday and I didn't know till Sunday night...I'm shocked my father didn't open it the minute it arrived. This record though should further some research and speculation for a bit, whether or not it turns up anything else more conclusive. At the least, though, I've gotten that branch back one generation further...I'm like a kid in a candy store with this thing!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Genealogical mystery: Cronins, Donohues, and Cullinanes

So, like I've said before, siblings are key. Along that same vein, cousins can also be key to going further back on family lines. If you can make the connections.

My grandmother, Mary Cronin Raynor, was the main genealogist for years in my family. Just the other day I was marveling over how much she accomplished, how much she discovered without ever using a computer. Her research has been invaluable to me.

In her research, she talks about Cronin cousins, the Donohues and the Cullinanes. The Donohues intrigue me because my grandmother's grandmother, Nora Donohue Cronin, born in Ireland in the late 1830s, is the farthest back I can go on that line. John, Dennis, Timothy, and Katherine Donohue (married name Shea) are cousins living in Brooklyn at the turn of the century, contemporaries of my great-grandfather, Timothy Cronin. I found them listed in a census with parents named Cornelius and Hannah Donohue (born late 1830s, early 1840s in Ireland), which means Cornelius could be a brother or a cousin of my Nora. If I can find someone tracing Cornelius as a direct line, or further information about that line, it could prove helpful to my Nora Donohue search...

More confusing, however, are the Cullinanes, John and Julia, and their kids John, Denis, Ellen, Mary, Timothy, and Nora, who came over from Ireland and settled in the Dobbs Ferry area of Westchester. My grandmother believed the Cullinanes were also cousins on the Donohue line, but research done by descendents of John Jr. through his daughter Julia show that Julia Sr.'s maiden name was...Cronin. So are the Cullinane's cousins of Nora Donohue's husband Denis Cronin? Could Julia be a cousin or sister of his?

The mystery deepens, however.

Timothy Cronin, son of Denis and Nora, married Ellen Casey. In my research on the Casey line, specifically the line of Ellen's mother, Mary Agnes Enright, I found the following information. Mary's parents were John Enright and Bridget Collins (born in Ireland in late 1830s), and according to Bridget's death certificate, her parents were Thomas Collins and...Ann Cullinane. So it's possible the Cullinanes are cousins on the Casey-Enright side (my grandmother's mother's branch, as opposed to her father's branch).

So the search for information continues...

Monday, March 31, 2008

Fun with names

I'm a name person. I love names. I can't really explain why. A person's name is an important part of who they are. Whether or not they like their name tells you something about them. How they use their name tells you something about them - nickname, first and middle name, initials? You can tell a lot about someone by the names they choose for others - their pets, their kids. When I was younger, I read a lot but I went through a phase where the books I would buy were baby name books. I wanted to know what names were out there and what they meant. I wanted to know baby naming trends, and I kept my own list of top ten boys and girls names for several years in a row. A lot of the names came and went. A few stayed the same. Half the fun of writing is figuring out what your characters' names are.

My name is very old-fashioned and very Irish: Mary Ellen. I remember not liking my name at some point when I was younger, but I don't know when that changed. All I know now is that I love my name. I think that because of my name I tend to identify strongly with my Irish heritage over my other ancestry a lot. And even as someone who enjoys being different and being independent, I like that I am the latest in a long line of Mary Ellen Gorrys - it makes me feel connected to them.

So that's the sincere fun with names. Now comes the part where by "fun" I mean "frustration, amusement, and annoyance."

My 4th great-grandmother, Eva Justina Christina Herner Dauch, is listed in a 1845 ship passenger manifest as Eva Dauch. In the 1870 census, she's Christiana Dowe. In her 1877 death listing in the Queens County Sentinel, she's again Eva J. Dauch, but I believe the copy of her death certificate in my grandmother's possession lists her as Mary Eva Dauch.

The Dauch name itself is lots of fun. Apparently, the correct pronunciation, at least on our line, of the name is "Dow," rhymes with "cow." And so, besides being found under Dauch in the census records, I have also found the family under Dowe, Dow, and for some reason, Tow.

A lot of the inconsistencies, like Gorry being spelled Gorey, Gory, Garry, and Gaurry among others, is because of illiteracy and just people's preference for one spelling over another. A lot comes from how a recorder (like a census taker) not part of the family hears the name when spelling it. At the genealogy conference I went to, one of the presenters showed a marriage certificate where someone's mother was supposed to be "Mary Enright," but where it was recorded as "Mary N. Wright."

Elmira Sprague Raynor also becomes Almira. Sophia Stegt Berg is also Soffiah (and sometimes Dorothea, which is her middle name, or the Americanized Dorothy). Nicknames and multiple names also add lots of fun. My great-great grandmother, Maria Eva Justina Dauch Berg, is Christina Dowe in the 1870 census. Luckily I am aware that she didn't like her name, changed it on her own, and eventually had it officially changed, because in every census after that she becomes Delia.

My great-grandmother Amelia Ellen Berg Raynor went by the nickname Millie. So in one census she's Amelia. In another she's Millie. In yet another, someone assumed Millie was a nickname for Mildred, so she's listed as Mildred. Her kids had fun switchable names, whereby Audrey Mildred is also known as Mildred Audrey and Carol Dorothy is sometimes Dorothy Carol. Luckily, Millie's sons are both listed by their real names in the census: Monroe and my grandfather, Clifford, but in real life, Clifford was called Dick and Monroe was called Bob. Go figure.

My great-grandmother Ellen Casey Cronin signed her marriage certificate as Nellie, and in the census her sisters can be found under both Margaret/Maggie and Genevieve/Jennie. Mary Tormey Gorry's sisters can be found as Margaret/Maggie, Anna/Annie, and Winifred (spelled lots of fun ways)/Winnie. Michael Gorry is sometimes Micheal Gorry, and sometimes Mike Gorry. Timothy Tormey is also Temothy/Themothy/Tim.

Despite all that, I still love names. Names provide clues about family connections. If someone names their son Joseph, it's possible his father's name was Joseph. If you think you've found a record for someone's mother being Barbara, see if there are a lot of other Barbara's floating around. That could be a sign you're going in the right direction. And the fluidity of names, even on official records, is just something to be aware of. If you can't find someone under one name, try another spelling. Try a nickname. Or try another name altogether. Be creative. Make educated guesses. Don't give up...and have fun! Laugh your way through the frustration!

Recharging the genealogy battery

Sometimes it takes something simple like coming together with other people who are excited about genealogy to help renew your own excitement and remind you of your own enthusiasm for the subject. So that was something else that came out of the genealogy conference I attended. Doing genealogy the right way can be an exhausting and often frustrating process, so it's nice to feel a kind of renewing of the genealogical spirit, to get your genealogical battery recharged. Meeting like-minded people whose eyes don't glaze over as soon as you start mentioning archives and obituaries and heirlooms recharges the battery. Hearing other people's success stories recharges the battery. Learning new research tools and techniques recharges the battery. Just talking genealogy will do it. These people that you meet aren't just another type of genealogical resource (which, they are); they're a genealogical support system.

So what have I been inspired to return to? Tracking down what should be the easy information, but for whatever reason, continues to be elusive. Or backing up more solidly information I already have. For example, I have names, dates, birthplaces, occupations, and narrative on the parents of my 3rd great-grandfather, Friedrich Stutzmann. Friedrich's son, Rudolph, my great-great grandfather, was a prominent German-American in Brooklyn and Queens in both his role as the owner and operator of Stutzmann and Son's Funeral Home and the first president of the Ridgewood Savings Bank. Because of this, the Stutzmann's are included in the four-volume "Schlegel's American Families of German Ancestry in the United States." The pages on the Stutzmanns were a huge goldmine in fleshing out that branch of my tree. Of course, it also turned out to be incomplete and full of incorrect facts, but a lot was accurate and the rest provided a decent starting point. And yet knowing the inconsistencies in those volumes, I don't think I've ever tried to verify that Friedrich's parents were in fact Peter Stutzmann and Charlotte Schlick (and actually, someone doing research on a family that married into the Stutzmann's has Peter married to Louise Charlotte Schlick, which if true, would mean that even though I might be able to find family records under the name Charlotte, if that's the name she went by, I would never have been able to find any official records if they used the name Louise). Anyway, Friedrich was born in Germany, so I haven't yet tried to get that record. His death certificate lists both his parents as "unknown." So I decided to try his marriage records. On, I was unable to find a listing for Friedrich's marriage to my 3rd great-grandmother, Mathilde Rau (who died very young in 1880 of "bilious fever," aka yellow fever), but I was able to find one for his second marriage to Rosalie Goess. So, while his marriage certificate to Mathilde might have yielded important information not only on his parents but her parents as well (so far, they are completely unknown to me), his marriage certificate to Rosalie will hopefully include the names of his parents, which will either back up or dispute what I think I already know. I have sent away to the Municipal Archives for that record, which again, will take 4-6 weeks to arrive.

Other mysteries I'm tackling: trying to find people in the census who should be there but aren't, at least not obviously. For example, John Horgan died in 1908, but I can't find him anywhere in the 1900 census. While being creative as to what last name he's listed under, I may have to stop assuming he was living in New York at the time, or start looking him up under possible nicknames (nicknames always throw me for a loop in the census. Amelia, Millie, and Mildred are all the same person, my great-grandmother Amelia Berg Raynor - thanks for making that easy for me!) My 4th great-grandmother, Eva Herner Dauch, came to the United States in 1845 and died in 1877. She's in the 1870 census (as Christiana Dowe) but nowhere to be found in the 1850 or 1860 census records. So, even as I continue to search for new people to add to my tree, there's still a lot to be done with the names I already have.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Ricklefs breakthrough thanks to

And this is how progress is made, often in a haphazard, seemingly random fashion.

On, I had found records giving the parents for both my 3rd great grandfather, John Ricklefs and his wife, Meta Tiedemann, as well as a marriage date, 8 Sept 1884 in Manhattan. Familysearch, like Ancestry, has a lot of inaccurate, user-posted information, but it also has a lot of government, official, accurate records. Unfortunately, unlike with Ancestry, there are no links to image copies of the original documents, but if you can find accurate data on Familysearch, at least you know there's an original record out there to be found. But in this case, I could never find that actual record.

Well, now I think I have.

One of the Web sites touted at the genealogy conference I went to on March 15 was It is the Web site for The Italian Genealogical Group, but thanks to the efforts of a large group of volunteers, the site has information posted pertaining to not just Italians but many people looking for information on New York ancestors. Among that information are many of the records in the marriage index kept at the New York Municipal Archives. The Municipal Archives are one of my favorite sources of original documentation in my genealogical search, but the one drawback has always been their index. When requesting a certificate search online, there is no provision for name variations. So if I search for "Ricklefs," it won't search for "Reckleff" or "Rickleff." Variation in spellings is common. But even making a trip down to the Archives can be tedious if the person transcribing the index or putting the index together misinterprets someone's handwriting, and the name ends up in a part of the index you would never to think to look - in one of the census records I have, the family is indexed under "Ricklebs," due to the transcriber mistaking the script "f" as a "b."

What the Italian Genealogical Group has done is allow the user to do a soundex search using the index, and a lot of what I put in yielded no results. But a soundex search of "John Ricklefs" produced several boring and one intriguing result of "John Riekleffs." When I checked the link to his bride's name, what did I find? The name "Neta Tiedermann." In my head, I can see someone's old-fashioned handwriting, loopy or sloppy or with unique flairs to letters being misinterpreted by the person transcribing the index. The "c" in "Rickleffs" gets recorded as an "e". "Meta" becomes "Neta." I'm inclined to believe this is the couple I am looking for. My hunches about genealogical records, when they're this strong, are very rarely wrong, but I will reserve judgment till I receive the marriage record. The index on the Web site included a certificate number, which I used to send away for a copy from the Municipal Archives (it's cheaper to ask for just a specific record as opposed to requesting a search and a copy). Verification of names and a marriage date and place would be important information to add to my tree, but will the record also include the needed verification of the possible parents of both these parties? That would be a somewhat huge breakthrough on the Ricklefs line. I have to wait 4-6 weeks for the record to come. I think I'm going to be antsy beyond belief till then!!

"You don't choose genealogy; it chooses you."

So said Tony Burroughs, the keynote speaker at the genealogy conference I attended Saturday March 15. And when he said it, something just clicked. Because that's exactly how it feels. Genealogy can be a long, hard, frustrating process, but it has fallen onto our shoulders to remember our ancestors and to preserve the knowledge we gain for future generations.

The conference, "Family Roots III: Where to Begin, How to Continue and Share" was sponsored by the Genealogy Federation of Long Island and was an all-day affair at Stony Brook University. My cousin April was the one who heard about it and suggested we go. Besides the keynote address, we were able to attend four lectures, given by various professional genealogists.

We attended one on tracing German ancestry and one on tracing Irish ancestry, both of which were somewhat helpful - learned some quirks about German names, places and records, and several Web sites to check out for Irish ancestry records.

After lunch we attended a lecture, "Odd(ities) and (Dead) Ends: Details and Quirks of New York Vital Records," which was a bit helpful but basically just made April and me lament the sorry state of early record keeping, at least on the state and federal levels. The last lecture of the day was entitled "Prove It! Evidence Analysis for Genealogists" which was interesting from the perspective of someone trying to do genealogy the right way, by gathering as much information and "proof" as possible about the people in my family tree. April and I also commisserated about how much it might cost to hire the presenter to give this same "prove it!" talk to the many people researching our family tree who frustratingly don't go this route.

All in all, I can't say I learned a great deal about genealogy that I didn't already know, but it backed up and supported a lot of what I already do, which was nice. And April and I were the youngest ones there by at least 15 years, so I kept getting mistaken for a student at Stony Brook, which was a nice ego boost.

Other notes from the day:
1. Our ancestors are not just names and dates, they existed in a place and time, and it's important to get as full a picture as we can, and in order to figure out the next step in our search, we have to understand that place and time in which they existed. Genealogy, sociology, all ties together!
2. One of the presenters gave personal examples of people in her family that she has traced and to see how she went from clue to clue to clue was an echo of how I work and it was just nice to see someone else who not only is also working hard to piece together the puzzle but who enjoys the challenge as much as I do.
3. Indirect evidence can be proof!
4. Siblings are key! I become more and more convinced of that as time goes on...if your direct ancestor's records don't give you what you need to get to the next step, always go to the siblings!!
5. The Internet has opened access to so many genealogical records to so many people who otherwise would never be able to use them, but it is not the be all and end all of genealogy research...get offline!!
6. Everyone extolled the virtues of the Family History Centre in Plainview, so I will have to make a stop there at some point, just to see what it's all about.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Brick walls

Anyone who does enough genealogy will inevitably hit a brick wall. All the easy research has been done, even some where you had to dig a little deeper, and suddenly, your family line just disappears and seemingly ends. Obviously, they didn't. Everybody comes from somebody before them, but if there are no records going further back, then your brick wall might as well have just spontaneously come to life. In many cases (at least on my family tree), the brick wall seems to be the immigrant ancestor. You can find them on all the census forms. You can find them on a ship passenger manifest. But now you have to rely on foreign vital records for research, some of which might be in a language you don't understand, some of which might not exist at all. Irish genealogy seems to be the hardest for me, even though it's also the most recent.

Now, my Raynor side has been in America for so long that on some branches I hit brick walls way before the immigrant ancestor. One that is particularly frustrating is Jacob Raynor, my 5th great-grandfather. Jacob is the common ancestor that brought cousin April E. into my life, as she is probably even more frustrated than I am by this common brick wall of ours (and so I'm hoping her diligence in researching him will be very helpful!)

Various Raynor genealogists have listed this Jacob, husband of Rebecca Raynor, as one of two people - Jacob, son of Daniel, born 1771 or Jacob, son of Joseph, born 1754. Daniel Raynor moved upstate, and based on her research, April is convinced that Jacob, son of Daniel, is not our guy.

So does that make Jacob, son of Joseph, our Jacob? I have yet to find any proof linking a Jacob and Joseph together. April is intent on researching wills and estate listings, though the lack of organization of those records at Hofstra University make that task an enormous undertaking. Families often repeated names - Jacob and Rebecca had a son, Joseph, so Jacob's father could be a Joseph, although Rebecca's father's name seems to have been Joseph as well. Prior to 1850, census records only list heads of household and other vital records become harder to come by. We know Jacob was dead by 1850 (as Rebecca is listed as a widow in the census), but we don't know where he's buried. Jacob, son of Joseph, came from somewhere, but I don't know who it came from or the reliability of where that person got that information. Sometimes, it can get so frustrating that all you want to do is bang your head repeatedly against said brick wall.

When that happens, I put that branch aside. I focus on another branch, or on adding cousins or rounding out information on those I already have. And then I go back, hopefully with fresh eyes and a renewed spirit of enthusiasm - after all, half the fun of genealogy is the challenge in figuring out the puzzle, right? Sometimes you just need a new idea, approach the wall from a different avenue, and if you're lucky, you'll start to find chinks. Many brick walls can crumble and even be broken down.

I had successfully researched my Dauch family line back to a ship passenger manifest from 1845: parents Nicolas and Eva, and children Andreas, Marie and Thomas, my 3rd great-grandfather. I had come back to this family recently to try and trace my Dauch cousins, not go back further than Nicolas and Eva, but inputting a name into Ancestry brought up a family tree posted by a man in Germany, tracing Nicolas and Eva back three or four more generations. Are those names sourced? No. Are they reliable? I have no idea. But this new information puts a chink into the brick wall that was Nicolas and Eva, a place to go from and try and bring this wall down.

Inevitably, we'll all hit the ultimate brick wall, the one that will stand the test of time. But new information, reliable or not, can be found every day. People just starting to become interested in genealogy will share what they know. Sometimes you need luck, sometimes creativity and ingenuity, and sometimes you'll find that the thing you were banging your head against wasn't a brick wall after all.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ancestor profile: Hulda Lindemann and the General Slocum disaster

Hulda Lindemann is not a direct ancestor of mine. She is the sister of my 2nd great grandmother, Augusta Lindemann Stutzmann, but her story, what I can discern of it, is an interesting though tragic one.

Hulda, like her parents and siblings, was born in Germany. She was born about July 1876 and emigrated to the United States about 1891. The family settled in Queens and Brooklyn, New York.

Her sister and my 2nd great-grandmother, Augusta, married very well, marrying Rudolph Stutzmann, a successful funeral home director and later founder and president of Ridgewood Savings Bank, and it's possible that prior to her marriage she worked as a servant but she married in 1899, so there are no records of her prior to her married life. There are records, though, that her sisters, including Hulda, found work as servants in other people's homes.

In 1900, Hulda was working as a serving for the Feldhusen family: patriarch George, a saloon manager; his wife Maria; and their son, Nicholas. They lived a couple blocks north of Washington Square Park in Manhattan.

On June 15, 1904, St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Little Germany chartered the General Slocum, a passenger ship, for an annual trip that included sailing up the East River before heading to Long Island for a picnic. They had been doing this for 17 years. From maps, it seems the Feldhusens lived just outside Little Germany, but being German immigrants, perhaps they were parishioners at St. Mark's, or had family and friends who were members. Whatever the case, Maria and Nicholas Feldhusen were among the more than 1,300 passengers (most of whom were women and children) who boarded the General Slocum that day, accompanied by the family servant, Hulda Lindemann.

Now, in June of 1904, Hulda was almost 28 years old. All three of her sisters and both her brothers were married (3 of those siblings being younger than her). Not judging, since I am 28 and unmarried, but in 1904, when all her siblings had managed to be married off, I have to wonder why Hulda was not. Her sisters had stopped serving others and started families of their own, but Hulda remained in the Feldhusen house. What was it that kept her there? Whatever it was, it killed her.

The General Slocum caught fire by 10 a.m. that day. Most of the lifevests and lifeboats on board were useless. Instead of running the ship aground (and possibly spreading the fire on shore), the captain of the General Slocum stayed on course. Most of the passengers were unable to swim. Besides those that succumbed to the flames, many drowned, and some were crushed when the upper levels of the ship collapsed. In all, an estimated 1,021 people died, with 321 survivors. Prior to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the General Slocum disaster was the worst loss-of-life disaster in New York City.

I've read Brooklyn newspaper accounts of the disaster in the days that followed it, and they are devastating - a child who watched his whole family die, a mother who can't find any of her children, countless fathers who spent a last normal day at work only to come home and hear what had happened to their wives and children. There's a list of victims' names, identified from their remains, and the names Maria and Nicholas Feldhusen (age 12) are on it. In the 1910 census, George Feldhusen is a widower and living alone.

There's no Hulda Lindemann on the list. Like with 9/11, a lot of the victims just weren't able to be identified. But her family knows that after that day, she never came home. Her parents, Casper and Eva, are buried in Lutheran Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, and though Hulda has no resting place, Lutheran Cemetery is where many of the General Slocum victims were buried, and where a monument was erected in 1905 to honor the unidentified dead.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Mad props to

The Internet is a wonderful tool for accomplishing any kind of research. Unfortunately, because you don't have to be an expert and have credentials to post information to the web, there is a lot of drek out there. A lot. The Internet has filled the world of genealogy with countless amounts of misinformation - someone posts unsubstantiated information, which is copied by somebody else, which is copied by someone else, and its soon taken as fact. It almost makes genealogy research harder. I'm all for helping other genealogists out, for sharing of family research, but I'm also of the belief that if they can't back that information up, then you need to before you use it and pass it along to others.

So, lots of drek - anybody with access to the Internet can post their family tree, substantiated or not. But there's a wealth of good, factual information, a lot of primary sources that the Internet has opened access to, and for that, it has made genealogy research worlds easier. It's just all about being a savvy surfer.

For me, my Internet genealogy goldmine has been I started with a free trial and was quickly hooked. Like the rest of the Internet, there are parts of Ancestry that shouldn't be taken at its word - anybody can post an unsourced, unresearched family tree on their site. But the Ancestry community page lets you meet and talk with others looking for the same information you are - both family members I met doing genealogy, Milt Haase and April Earle, found me through Ancestry. And people can post queries from all over the world, so if you're doing research on your family from an obscure town in Germany, there just might be another user from that town who can help you out.

But most important about Ancestry are the primary sources it has unlocked, and that information has been a vital part of building my tree. I won't list every record they hold, but I have personally found important and interesting information from the U.S. census (they have them from 1790-1930, with the exception of the 1890 census, which was destroyed by a fire); the Canadian census; ship passenger manifests; naturalization records; newspaper obituaries; birth, death, and marriage records from individual states such as North Carolina, Minnesota, Texas, and California; passport applications; and banking records. The records available on the site run the gamut from broad, universal records like the U.S. census to special, regional records for a particular town or time period.

Of course, you don't ever get something for nothing. You have to pay to get access to Ancestry, and there are plans based on what records you want access to...full access to the site is somewhat pricey, but for someone like me who uses the site practically every day and who uses more than census records, it might be worth it to pay that price.

I don't think Ancestry is the only pay site out there with this wealth of information, either, but its the one I use and the one I love. Two snaps to them for making my research so much easier and restoring my faith in the Internet as a viable research tool.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Genealogical mystery: When did John Horgan die?

I have in my possession the clipped obituary of my 3rd great-grandfather, John Horgan. It reads: "On April 10, John Horgan, beloved husband of the late Julia Murphy and father of Mary E. Gorry, native City of Cork, Ireland. Funeral from his late residence, 352 E. 16th St., on Sunday, April 12, at 2 p.m."

The clipping is helpful in many regards - lists his late wife along with her maiden name, lists address, lists where he was born, lists date of death. Doesn't list year of death. Leaves out that one very important detail. And it's very, very difficult to find a death certificate without that bit of information.

The clipping is of that one obit, too small to show what newspaper it came from much less what date it ran. I let it slide for a little while, before I finally put my Nancy Drew cap on and decided there was just too much information there, too many clues, to just give up on ever knowing the date.

I went with the obvious first: he had to have died after 14 Aug 1890, because that's when his daughter Mary was married, and in the obit she's listed with her married name. Going a step further, I realized it listed his funeral as being *Sunday*, April 12. April 12 only falls on that day of the week every couple of years and luckily my genealogy program, Personal Ancestral File, has a date calculator on it. Starting with the year 1890, April 12 falls on a Sunday in the years 1891, 1896, 1903, 1908, 1914, 1925, 1931, 1936, 1942, and 1953. Ten years is certainly much more doable than 60.

But could I narrow it down even further? I decided to flip the obituary over and see what was written on the other side of the newspaper page.

It happens to be a headline: "Griffo beats William in fight between 'Kids.'"

A Google search turned up the information that Young Griffo was an Australian boxer who came to the U.S. in 1893 and was pretty much retired by 1911, dead by 1927. That left me with the possible years of 1896, 1903, 1908, or maybe 1914. Looking for the date of the actual fight turned out to be next to impossible, partly because I didn't know the exact name, Kid Williams (not William), that Young Griffo was fighting. But 4 years is a much easier search than 10.

As it turns out, sending away for a death certificate to the Municipal Archives still proved fruitless and I think the one time I traveled there myself there were still too many microfilmed records to scroll through (I was looking for other records as well and after a few hours, my head feels like its going to explode and I just have to go home, to continue the search another day.) It was my father who actually got his hands on the death certificate and I don't think I ever asked how he found it. But even though my legwork proved to be unnecessary, it also proved to be correct.

John Horgan died on 10 April in the year 1908.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Worlds apart, but part of the same family: pooling information with the gene pool

At home, I can talk genealogy with my grandmother and my father. That's about it. They're the only ones who get my excitement over some new genealogical discovery. My friends just look at me like I have two heads. And you can discuss genealogy on message boards and stuff, but it's likely that no one's really going to share your excitement unless the information you're gushing over is info that concerns them, too (my father tries, but unless I'm jumping up and down over something I discovered about his side of the family, he's not too invested in sharing my excitement...)

But chances are, you're not the only person researching your particular tree. And that's where discovering long-lost relatives comes in. My Raynor side of the family is up to the gills in long-lost relatives - they're easy to find because the Raynors have their own genealogy association you can join. They're not cousins, they're not second-cousins, and more often than not they're not even third cousins - sometimes, the relationship you share goes so far back, you really can't even consider yourself family. Except that you both call Edward your 9th great-grandfather. Which can't help but kind of make you feel like family anyway. Especially when one of you has a copy of a will or a family Bible that lists relatives that pertain to you both. Or when her great-great-grandmother saved and gave her photos of cousins that are your direct ancestors. So these relatives can be a valuable resource. But it can also be nice to just get to know them as "cousins" and as people.

Two examples for ya: about 7 months ago, I was contacted by Milton H. from Georgia. Milton is 75 years old and my 2nd cousin 3 times removed. We were both researching Barbara Reinhardt Haase, born in New York in 1841, my 4th great-grandmother. He sent me a number of very nice e-mails, and we spoke on the phone several times. He was the one who shared with me that his cousin remembered my 3rd great grandfather, Edward Haase, and his fruit stand. He shared with me a number of stories, we exchanged the respective Haase genealogy we had gathered, and most valuable to me was a photo he possessed and shared with me of Barbara and 2 of her sisters, which must have been taken somewhere at the turn of the century.

I used to only focus on my own direct genealogy, but as I became frustrated by the number of brick walls I was hitting (do enough research and you will end up hitting a brick wall. Finally get through that one and you're guaranteed to find another), I decided to branch out my research into the cousin realm. So when Milt e-mailed me, I already had him on my tree! To put a voice to the name was nice, and his information on his siblings, aunts and uncles, and children, helped me in really filling in that Haase cousin line.

Around the same time I heard from Milt, I got an e-mail from April E., my 6th cousin once removed. We were both equally frustrated with the brick wall we had hit with Jacob Raynor, her 6th great-grandfather and my 5th. Because she lives in Baldwin, the next town over, we've been able to meet up several times to share info, talk, and strategize. What's nice in this situation is that we're close in age as well, and so can commisserate with being young researchers in a field that seems to be filled predominantly with people of an older persuasion. I don't think I've been much help to April in the sharing arena, as she is kind of an expert researcher, but she's been invaluable to me, sharing copies of wills and estate lists among other things. I think maybe I've been helpful though in being someone who gets her excitement over a find...or frustration over the lack of one. We went to a local archives to look over all the estate holdings they had microfilmed in the hopes of finding anything on Jacob or his wife Rebecca's family, only to both be horrified that not only were they not indexed but they were not in any kind of chronological or alphabetical order. She is much braver than me, as she is planning on going back. I still get a headache just thinking about that day.

But overall, the genealogy pool makes me think about the human family: we're all much more closely related than we think. There are people living in this world who are so different from me, who lead lives that are completely alien to me, and we are as closely related as 3rd or 4th cousins: a retiree in Germany who was a pilot for Nazi Germany during World War II and who spent several years in a Russian prison camp; young Mormons living and teaching in Hawaii; a young Southern Baptist girl who was home-schooled, only wears dresses, and doesn't believe in dating; we are worlds apart, but we're part of the same family.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ancestor profile: Mary Ellen Horgan Gorry

Mary Ellen Horgan Gorry, my 2nd great grandmother, is one of those people for me. Despite several trips to the Municipal Archives in the city, I haven't been able to find her birth certificate, but my father found in my grandfather's basement a record of her baptism on 11 Aug 1873 at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in New York that gives her birthdate as 6 August that same year. As far as I can tell, she was born in New York. According to her father's obituary (also found in my grandfather's basement - packrat extraordinaire!), he was born in Cork, Ireland, and I think I have found a ship passenger manifest that shows Mary's mother, Julia Murphy, was also born in Ireland.

I have also had trouble finding Mary in the 1880 census - I have a theory that I've found them in Manhattan under the last name "Holgan" but that's still just a theory. As far as I can tell, Mary was an only child. Thanks to the destruction in a fire of the 1890 census, there are a lot of holes in a lot of family histories, something that continues to frustrate me in my research, but according to a marriage certificate, Mary married James Gorry on 14 Aug 1890 at Immaculate Conception Church. According to his death certificate, he was a brass finisher.

James and Mary had four children: Joseph Francis on 11 Nov 1891, twins Mary and Ellen on 4 Jun 1893, and Elmer Anthony (my great-grandfather) on 28 Jul 1896. Both of the twins died the same month they were born. James and Mary were married for only 7 years. After falling ill in October of 1897, he died on 1 Dec 1897 at about the age of 29, leaving Mary a 24 year old widow with two young sons. The cause of death is somewhat illegible on his death certificate, but its possible that one of the words is "pulmonale." "Cor pulmonale" is a problem with the heart resulting from a respiratory disorder. But the heartache was not over. Her son Joseph died of acute endocarditis less than a year later, 3 days short of his 7th birthday.

Back then, there was no Social Security. Women couldn't vote. Most women did not have jobs outside the home. Most 25-year-old widows would remarry, not only to ensure their own livelihood but to ensure the livelihood of their children. Mary was young; she could have had more children, started a new family. But she didn't.

I don't know where her father is all of this. I can't find him in the 1900 census. He died in 1908 and Mary is listed in his obituary. But in 1900, Mary and Elmer were living with her husband's family - her mother-in-law, Mary Corr Gorry; her two spinster sister-in-laws, Mary and Hannah; and her bachelor brother-in-law, Michael.

By 1910, the situation had changed. Michael, Mary, and Hannah Gorry had moved to Brooklyn and taken their 13 year old nephew Elmer with them. Mary Horgan Gorry had lost everything - her husband, her father, her 3 children, and I imagine it broke her heart to not have her son with her, but I think maybe she knew she couldn't hold down a job and care for her son, too. In Brooklyn, Michael was an ironworker and Mary and Hannah were dressmakers, maybe from home, maybe able to work and care for Elmer at the same time. In Brooklyn, Elmer was able to go to school, almost all the way through high school. In Manhattan, Mary was living with her cousins, the Hallorans, and working in a pencil factory.

During World War I, Mary corresponded with a soldier named R. Morrow, who from his photo (letters and photo courtesy, again, of my grandfather's basement), looks African-American. In 1920, Mary is still living with the Hallorans and working at a pencil factory. Ten years later, she and her cousin Jeremiah Halloran are still at the same address, but she was working as a launderer at a branch of Bellevue Hospital. By that same year, 1930, she was also a grandmother to Elmer Anthony Gorry Jr., my grandfather, living across the river in Queens. She died 31 Aug 1955 at the age of 82.

I imagine Mary as a strong woman - maybe the tragedies that plagued the early part of her life left her broken, but she survived. She did what she needed to do to make sure her son had his own chance at a good life. She didn't rely on a man to take care of her; she didn't remarry because she had to. I imagine she was probably very lonely at times too. Maybe James was the love of her life. Maybe she couldn't bear to marry again. Life was probably a struggle. But she had her son. And she had her two grandsons. And she lived to see two great-grandsons, one of which is my father. She inspires me when I feel like my own tragedies in life are too much - I have her blood in me, and I have her name, so maybe I have some of her strength, too.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ancestor profile: Charles Haase

Sometimes, as our family trees grow and the information we find paints a fuller and more complete picture of individuals, there are certain people who jump out at us. As in all things, some people have more compelling stories than others. I offer these ancestor profiles as examples of the kinds of stories you can find, the kinds of people you can discover, and also to illustrate what resources I used and how I pieced their stories together.

Charles Haase is my 4th great grandfather, on my paternal grandmother's side. I first learned about Charles from his son's birth certificate. I went through a whole convoluted journey to paint his picture, but there was a lot of information there to be founded - I used U.S. census forms, I ordered his death certificate, I visited his grave where I learned he was a Civil War veteran, I got his pension records from the National Archives in Washington D.C., and successfully tried out the New Jersey archive system to get his marriage record.

Charles was born in Germany, in Saxony according to the 1870 and 1880 U.S. Census. Those census years as well as his marriage record put his birth somewhere around 1838-1839. According to his death certificate, he emigrated from Germany about 1855. I have a record in the 1860 census that I've gravitated toward as possibly being him living in Manhattan with a mother named Louisa but I can't prove it...

He's listed in the New Jersey Marriage Registry as marrying 20-year-old Barbara Reinhardt, daughter of John and Catherina, on July 12, 1861. They were married in New York but resided in Union Hill, Hudson County, New Jersey. His occupation was as a hatter.

When I visited his grave in Evergreen Cemetery in Brooklyn, I discovered that Charles was a Civil War veteran. According to Civil War records, he enlisted as a private on 22 September 1864, and was drafted into Company H of the 33rd Infantry Regiment New Jersey. He mustered out 1 June 1865 in Bladensburg, Maryland, same rank, company, and regiment.

Looking up Company H of the 33rd Infantry Regiment online for the time period of September 1864-June 1865, I found out it was part of the Army of the Cumberland. While Charles was with them, they took part in the occupation of Atlanta (Sept. 2-Nov. 15), Sherman's march to the sea (Nov. 15-Dec. 10), the siege of Savannah (Dec. 10-21), the Campaign of the Carolinas January to April, 1865, the advance on and occupation of Raleigh April 10-14, among others. The regiment lost during service 6 Officers and 72 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 85 Enlisted men by disease for a total of 163. This immigrant hatter from New Jersey saw more of the country than he probably ever would have dreamed (and probably more bloodshed and gore in more time away from his young family then he ever wanted) during the war. He was only about 26 years old and besides his wife, he had a young daughter, Louisa, at home.

In 1870, Charles and Barbara were still living in Union, New Jersey and things appear to be back to normal - Charles is still a hatter, and besides daughter Louisa, they now also have a son, Edward (my 3rd great-grandfather). In 1880, Charles has moved his family to Brooklyn, and all but one of his six children are born. His mother-in-law is living with them, he is still a hat maker, and his son Edward is listed as being a "fruit huckster" (according to Milt Haase, another descendent of Charles, his cousin vaguely remembered Edward, and that he grew up to be a grocer, which became the family business).

Sadly, Charles Haase died on January 10, 1891 at the age of about 53. While his death certificate lists his cause of death as nephritis or kidney inflammation, more information is provided in the Civil War pension records for his wife from the National Archives. In December of 1890,Charles Haase applied for a pension on the grounds that he was unable to work due to "rheumatism, asthma, heart trouble, kidney troubles and several complications of diseases (that produce) general disability." He died a month later, after which his widow applied for a pension to support herself and her three minor children: Louis, Jacob Frederick, and Josephine.

Genealogical resources: cemeteries

I love cemeteries. Yeah, I know...weird doesn't even begin to describe it. Even before I developed an interest in genealogy, I used to love going to the cemetery with the Girl Scouts on Memorial Day to place flags on the graves of veterans. I find them to be very peaceful. And I remember getting really excited when I realized I had family buried in one of the cemeteries we went to. I should've realized then what my future held for me.

Anyway, cemeteries are another source of genealogical information, especially if you're lucky enough to live in the vicinity of ones where family members are buried. Sometimes, like in the case of your parents or grandparents, you already know where to find them - my mother is in St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, my grandfather is in Holy Cross in Brooklyn, his parents are in Greenfield in Hempstead. Other times, a death certificate can provide this information - that's how I discovered family plots (and in one case, a mausoleum!) in Evergreen and Lutheran Cemeteries in Brooklyn.

But why visit the actual cemetery? From personal experience, being able to see and touch a family member's name on a headstone makes me feel closer to them and makes them feel more real. But headstones carry a lot of important information - other family members buried in the plot that you might not have known about or who you did know about but needed dates for. I visited my 4th great-grandfather's grave in Evergreen Cemetery and discovered he was a Civil War veteran when I saw it engraved on his headstone.

Sometimes there isn't a headstone, like in the Gorry family plot in Calvary Cemetery in Woodside. They were just too poor to afford one. But the cemetery office can still provide you with a list of names for most if not everyone buried there.

I have always found the cemetery offices to be extremely helpful. In most of the cases of my cemetery visits (Calvary, Holy Cross, Lutheran, and Evergreen are all in the same general area, so sometimes I would make a day of it and visit two or three in one trip), I had never been there before. Sometimes they need a name, sometimes they need a death date, but usually they can find your family member in their index and locate their burial site on a map for you.

I have had mixed results when trying to get the names of those buried in a plot with no headstone - for that, there is usually a fee. One cemetery (can't remember specifics but it was definitely one of the Catholic cemeteries...) wanted to charge me close to $100 for all the names. All he would tell me for free was how many people were in the plot and when they had died. But the people at Lutheran Cemetery were very helpful with that and the price was reasonable (I think maybe $20 for what turned out to be 4 or 5 names).

If you don't live near a cemetery where you have family, many cemeteries will give you this information over the phone - of course, policies and prices vary, but you can find a lot of that information, as well as phone numbers to call, online.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Genealogical resources: archived records

For the most part my ancestors came to New York and through the years, stayed in New York. Up until my dad and my maternal grandmother, those lines pretty much stayed in the vicinity of Queens-Brooklyn-Manhattan, which has made the New York Municipal Archives a great resource for me. I first found them online at Among their holdings are microfilmed birth (prior to 1910), death (prior to 1949), and marriage certificates (prior to 1930) for the five boroughs of New York City. The services aren't free, but the fees and wait period are extremely reasonable. I found many valuable records by sending a search request online - I discovered the names of once nameless parents, I found addresses by which to look up the family in a corresponding census record, I found birth dates and maiden names. But I didn't find everything I was looking for. As exciting as it was to receive a new record in the mail, it was equally disappointing to get a nearly empty envelope saying the search had been unsuccessful.

Well, I only live 40 minutes from the city. If I couldn't rely on others to do my search for me, I would do the search myself.

Open weekdays from 9-4:30 (1 on Fridays), the Archives are located in Manhattan right by the Brooklyn Bridge. For $5, you get access to a microfilm machine for the entire day. I went armed with paper, pen, and a list of names, dates, and places I was looking for and spent the whole day there on more than one occasion.

Sometimes I was unsuccessful. But sometimes, I had pay dirt. It's convenient and easy that the Archives have a search request online, especially for those people looking up New York records who don't live in the New York area. But for those who can get into the Archives to continue an unsuccessful online search, it can make all the difference. The search itself can be tedious - I think microfilm machines are hard on the eyes to begin with, and it's not long before your eyes start to cross and every birth certificate blurs into the next.

But doing the search yourself lets you work with variables - when you order a search online, you get to look for one name. In my case, maybe the name was of my ancestor James Gorry. But Gorry is a tricky name - on James' birth certificate, did they spell his last name Gorry, or was it one of the many versions I've seen on census forms and other documents - Gorey, Gory, Gaurry?

As it turns out, it was spelled Garry. And his birth certificate is issued to "male Garry." I never would have found that online.

Another person I couldn't believe I couldn't find was my great-grandfather, Elmer Anthony Gorry. Records that are more recent tend to be easier to find - record keeping in earlier years was spotty at best, but Elmer was born in 1896. That record was practically brand new! Each record type is indexed several different ways, and since I had his birthdate, I think that's the index I used to find him. Turns out he, too, was listed as a Garry, not as "Elmer Garry," but as "Anthony Garry."

There's another fee to print out any records you find and the whole experience is usually very taxing and exhausting, but the point is, birth, death, and marriage certificates can be an invaluable resource, not only to continue your search but to discover an interesting family story (like the marriage certificate I found that proved my great-grandmother was born only seven months after her parents were married), and sometimes you are lucky enough to be able to go that extra step in a search and that the chances of being successful by doing the legwork yourself may be worth it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Genealogical resources: one person's junk is another person's treasure

When I started doing genealogy, it was just a hobby and it was just for fun. It had to be for fun, because I started a lot of my research in college, where my main resource, due to convenience and lack of funds, was the Internet. The great thing about the Internet is people can post information about anything from anywhere. The bad thing about the Internet is people can post information about anything from anywhere. What you find on the Internet can give you a place to start - a name to look for, a date to find - but there's a lot of bad and just plain wrong information out there, and it's meaningless unless you can back it up with facts.

A couple of years ago, my dad brought home his grandmother's death certificate and funeral bill, which he'd found in the basement of my grandfather's house (as it turns out, sometimes being a pack rat ends up being a good thing - you may save lots of useless junk but occasionally you might save something valuable and useful.) He also found lots of old photos, an old diary of one of his great aunt's (who, if she were alive today, I would take real issue with because, being sensitive about her age, she erased any dates and mentionings of her age in everything she owned!), a datebook his grandfather kept for the entire year before his father was born, and a 100-year old family Bible with the names of all the children and their dates of birth listed on the inside cover. These were facts. These were things that could back up and prove (or disprove) any information I found on the web.

The Internet is a good place to start, like I said. But unless you're using a site like where you have access to primary sources, it's only good enough for the most part for speculative, "fun" genealogy. Family records and heirlooms like the ones that apparently filled my grandfather's basement for years can provide proof. And they can provide information with which to further your genealogical search - death certificates can give date and place of birth, parents' names and place of birth, mother's maiden name, addresses, places of burial. My father found clipped obituaries, letters written to my great-grandmother by a soldier pen pal of hers during World War I, a baptismal certificate for his grandmother, another funeral bill for another members may be holding onto resources and not even know it! For someone who isn't a genealogist, a funeral bill is just a bill. It doesn't matter if it's 100 years old. It's just junk taking up space. But everything is a clue, a part of the story. If you can find it, you can not only fill in pieces of the puzzle, you can find more spots that need pieces filled in.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Wild, Wild East

They had to settle and build towns from scratch. There was nothing but wilderness and Native Americans, both of which could be inviting or could be hostile. 200 years later this landscape would be the wild, wild West but in 1634, when 10-year-old Edward Raynor sailed to America with a group of English settlers that included his uncle, his aunt, and his cousins, he was greeted by the wild, wild East.

Edward Raynor was the reason I became interested in genealogy. I remember seeing the actual family tree drawn out by Gerald Van Sise Raynor and other family historians, showing each branch through the years, from Edward's grandfather, all the way down to where my mother's name was scribbled. I remember having to do a family tree project in school and being told we should consider ourselves lucky to be able to get all our grandparents names and possibly any of their parents and thinking to myself that I wished I could go back further than 15 generations.

Anyway, Edward. My direct ancestor, the man who started it all. He was orphaned before he was 10, and sailed to America with his uncle Thurston and Thurston's family on the Elizabeth, landing in probably the Boston area. The European settlement of America was still very, very new. Jamestown had been founded only 27 years earlier, it had been only 14 years since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth on the Mayflower, and only 13 years since the first Thanksgiving. Thurston appears to have been a leader among his group, and like the wagon trains and prospectors who 200 years later would migrate west across the continent, Edward and his uncle spent the next 10 years migrating south, helping to found, build, and settle towns such as Wetherfield and Stamford, Connecticut, along the way. Sometimes I tend to romanticize it the way life in the Wild West is often romanticized, but I can't imagine it was an easy life - Thurston's first wife apparently died somewhere along the way and he remarried, water mills washed out and had to be rebuilt, lawlessness had to be dealt with, and Indian attacks occurred, such as during the 1636-1638 Pequot Indian War. Around 1644, now 20 years old, Edward was uprooted again when Thurston was among a group of English settlers who were granted land in the middle of Dutch territory on Long Island (present-day Suffolk County was English land, but Nassau County, which is where the group settled, was part of the Dutch colony). They settled what is now Hempstead, where they farmed, fished, and raised animals that grazed on the Hempstead Plains, the only prairie east of the Mississippi River. Thurston eventually got itchy feet again and moved his family east to Southampton, while Edward elected to remain behind, settling the Great South Woods on the South Shore of Long Island where he founded what would become known as Raynortown and eventually Freeport, which is where my family still lives today.

Edward Raynor was where it all started. But as I began to become a more savvy genealogist, realizing I could take other's work as a place to start but shouldn't rely on it as fact unless I could back it up, I realized there was still a lot of work to do. Primary sources needed to be found. The Raynor family had done a great job of tracing the Raynor family name, but what about the mothers? My name is Gorry but I am just as much a Raynor as I am a Gorry - to me, the female lines were equally as important. And I had three other grandparents whose genealogy I knew little to nothing about.

But I often still think about Edward, who had lost both his parents, spent three months on a ship crossing the Atlantic, then spent the next 10 years continually starting over, struggling to survive, exploring virgin territory, learning and creating and not even realizing that he was changing the landscape of history. I often think that those Europeans who came to America for whatever reason possessed a more adventurous spirit than those who stayed behind, and following that logic, that those Americans who headed West were more adventurous than those who remained on the East Coast. But at least in the case of the Raynors and those like them, there was no civilization to escape...the East was wild enough.