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.