Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ancestry's Free Access Week to travel and immigration records Aug. 29-Sept. 5

Just an FYI for anyone who doesn't have an Ancestry.com account  - they are making their immigration and travel records available for free this week until Sept. 5, so if you think that might be useful to you (and from my own experience, if you can find travel or immigration records, especially recent ones, like from after 1900, they can be EXTREMELY useful in your family history research), go check it out while it lasts!

Immigration Collection

Friday, August 26, 2011

A quick thought about hurricanes. But not the fun kind from New Orleans...

As we've been preparing for the impending "extreme and extraordinary threat" of Hurricane Irene here on Long Island, it made me start to think about my family living here 50, 100, 200 years ago. We've known about Irene for about a week now, how big it it, how dangerous it is, how this could be our first serious hit up here since Gloria in 1986 (which I remember was both frightening because of the flooding and toppling trees and fun because my cousins who lived on the water came to stay with us) or even worse than that. All the coastal areas are being evacuated. Even where I live, with my house on a canal and the bay right down the street, we're on standby to evacuate to higher ground.

But I wonder about what it must have been like before satellites and Doppler, before up-to-the-minute radio news and up-to-the-second social media updates. When nobody knew a storm, a dangerous possibly lethal storm, was brewing, not until the clouds rolled in and the rain and wind picked up, probably not until it was too late. My family has lived here for 350 years, right on the water, fishing and oystering and making their living from the water. Granted, nor'easters are more common than hurricanes, which don't hit us here as much as the mid-Atlantic states, but even our nor'easters get pretty scary. As lifelong baymen, could they read the signs in the water and wind and air and wildlife and know something bad was on its way? I hope so, but even if they knew, I'm pretty sure they didn't have hurricane shelters back then, either!

But we're all here to wonder about it, so they must have toughed it out somehow.

Happy birthday to me...John Ricklefs admission register to New Jersey State Prison

My birthday present finally arrived, and only a day late! Ha ha.

The New Jersey State Archives sent me the inmate register to the New Jersey State Prison at Trenton for one of my favorite uncles, John Ricklefs. Alias Harry Young. Alias James Hamilton. It's nice to know an obsession with names runs in the family.

I would like to especially thank Bette M. Epstein at the Archives for her help with this, as some of the handwriting is next to impossible to read and she gave me her best translation of what it says - I'm not sure I would've been able to decipher it without her help!

But let's get to the good stuff, shall we?

After beating the rap for not one but two burglaries in the early part of 1916, John Ricklefs was arrested by the Elizabeth, N.J. police for either breaking and entering or burglary, but definitely stealing, and was sentenced Nov. 17, 1916 to 4 to 7 years at the state prison in Trenton and a $1000 fine. He would have been out by November 1923 at the latest, 1920 at the earliest. With only a year and change to go, he escaped from the New Jersey prison on June 22, 1919. Three months later he was arrested in Connecticut and sentenced to 5 to 10 years at the state prison in Wethersfield. From which he escaped only two months later, in December.

John Ricklefs, escape artist...our family's Harry Houdini.

Now there's a whole chunk of time where I'm missing info, from the deets of his incarceration in Connecticut, his escape from there, and his subsequent arrest and imprisonment in Massachusetts. I still haven't heard back from the Massachusetts State Archives about that. I do know that after serving his time in MA, he was sent back to Connecticut in 1936 to serve his time there, and then sent back to New Jersey to finish serving his time there. The register I received reads "returned from Conn Nov. 16, 1940," and apparently he was paroled on April 22, 1942. The info from NJ clarifies and corroborates info on both Jack's WWI and WWII draft registration cards - when he registered for World War I in 1917, it lists his residence as "NJ State Prison," and in 1942, he's living in an apartment complex in New Jersey, because it was after he was paroled after his second New Jersey prison stint.

Now, some of these prison records have been very helpful, but some have been very bare bones, but using the info from them, I've been able to find newspaper articles that round out the stories surrounding Jack's arrests, imprisonments, and escapes. Fultonhistory.com and ChroniclingAmerica.com have been especially helpful with that. The problem now is I need to find old New Jersey newspaper archives and neither of those sites have it, so I am opening the floor to my readers for suggestions!

Also, if the Massachusetts State Archives would be so kind as to get back to me, I'd really appreciate it...thanks!!

Happy weekend everyone! Anyone in the path of Hurricane Irene, please stay safe!

Wordless Wednesday - John Ricklefs mugshots

Filling in the blanks - the New Jersey State Archives

Going down one path will always lead to another

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A difficult research decision made... so long, but not goodbye, to my Ancestry account

I recently let my Ancestry.com subscription run out. This is the first time in easily four years that I don't have access to any of their records. Considering everything that Ancestry makes available to you, their prices (either a yearly, quarterly, or monthly subscription - I was paying monthly) are actually pretty reasonable. But at the moment I'm saving up to pay off some of my credit card debt and to be able to afford to move out, so every penny I can put toward that counts.

I'm not used to not being able to check their records collections whenever the impulse comes, although I have to admit that at the moment, I've sort of exhausted all their available records. My tree is still there, which I'm glad about - that would have been frustrating to recreate, even with the same exact tree saved to my family tree program on my laptop. So right now, I feel like I can afford to take a break from the website. But all of these family history research websites, whether it be Ancestry or FamilyLink or Archives or whatever, are constantly updating and adding to their databases. So even if their databases aren't helpful to my research at the moment, I might discover in the future a new family member or line to look up in their existing records, or I can wait to see what new collections become available - probably of most important note, the 1940 U.S. Census next April. I believe family historians shouldn't rely entirely on these genealogy research websites, but I really believe most if not all of these websites are invaluable genealogy tools in our research arsenals. :)

So it's not goodbye to my Ancestry account - just "until we meet again!"

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On this date (my birthday!) in history...

Today I thought we'd take a look at this auspicious date, ha ha, in history since we can't have full, rounded family trees without it. What's the second word in "family history" after all?

So, Rome fell to the Visigoths in 410 - that was the beginning of the fall of the Roman Empire.

Aa lot of groups of people were massacred, particularly the Jews (1349, 1391) and the French Huguenots (1572)...

The British invaded Washington D.C. in 1814 during the War of 1812 and burned down the White House. This is where the famous story of Dolly Madison, wife of President James Madison, saving the portrait of George Washington comes from.

Ooh, the waffle iron is invented in 1869!! (Which I guess is why today is National Waffle Day!)

Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly across the U.S. non-stop in 1932, which is pretty cool, because Amelia was totally one of my heroes growing up.

In 1944, Nazi troops begin attacking Paris (wow, this wasn't a really great date for important cities under the threat of being taken over during wartime, huh? First Rome, then D.C., now Paris!)...

...and my personal favorite, Mount Vesuvius erupts and buries Pompeii. In actuality, this event is extremely sad because of the loss of life, although the way the every day life of the every day person was preserved by the ash is beyond amazing - as genealogists, we all know that the further and further back you go in time, the harder it is to find any record of the common man, which is who most of us are and are from. But I like this event because of the symmetry not just with the date (August 24) but also with the year (79), exactly 1900 years before I was born.

Wordless Wednesday - Mary Ellen Gorry born August 24, 1979

As I celebrate the the 3rd anniversary of my 29th birthday, let's all just take a moment to look at how frickin' cute I used to be! Lol... When my great great grandchildren are looking at photos of me when I'm old, wrinkled, and grey, I want this one to be in the pile somewhere, too! (That was a little more wordy than wordless...sorry!) :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Holy earthquake, Batman!

5.9 on the Richter scale, epicenter in mid Virginia. It's no disaster movie scenario, I know this is a somewhat common thing for all you Left Coasters and that we've had earthquakes here in New York before, but this was my first one and let me tell you, it's completely disconcerting when you're not sure why the whole building is shaking, and continuing to shake, and when you get vertigo so badly when you stand up that you have to hold on to the wall to evacuate the building. It's been more than half an hour and I'm still dizzy!

Whenever some kind of natural phenomenon like that occurs though - earthquake, eclipse, or whatnot - it makes me wonder what our ancestors, maybe not a hundred or two hundred years ago, but maybe 300 or 400 or 1,000 years ago, what they thought was happening. If an earthquake is scary when you can explain it's cause as the shifting of tectonic plates against each other, how scary is it when you're not sure if it's witchcraft or the gods being angry or who knows what!

Anyway, hope everyone who felt it is safe and secure now!

Tombstone Tuesday - Old Brookville Cemetery, New York

From my trip to Old Brookville and Oyster Bay with my father in June 2010. This cemetery is tiny and overgrown, sitting on a hill overlooking the Upper Brookville police department, with a few new headstones but mostly old, weathered ones. Many of the residents of this cemetery are Tappens, a common family name in the area dating back to at least the 1700s. The cemetery also sits across the road from the site of a double murder that occurred in the 1883 - two of the original suspects were brothers, Ed and John Tappen.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend!

I got an e-mail last week about a new website and project called RestingSpot.com. I haven't gotten a chance to use it yet but I've taken a look at the website and this project, while extremely ambitious, could prove extremely useful to any family historian who has ever spent hours or days or weeks trying to find what cemetery an ancestor is buried in, only to get to the cemetery and not be able to find the grave. This website seems to take FindAGrave.com one step further, in that they hope to not only make available not only what cemetery a person is buried in but, using cellphones and GPS coordinates, identifying and recording the exact spot in the cemetery where the grave can be found. So, check it out, see if it's helpful, if it works, if you want to volunteer to help, if it's worth recommending and passing along. It seems to still be somewhat in it's infancy, but I think it's a great idea. You can find them at http://www.restingspot.com/, or follow them on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/RestingSpot/217684168263834) or on Twitter ( http://twitter.com/restingspot).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - John Ricklefs mugshots

I think this was my favorite part of the package I got from the NY State Archives... :)

John Ricklefs' mugshots from Elmira Reformatory in upstate New York, circa 1907-1908.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Filling in the blanks - the New Jersey State Archives and (true name) John Ricklefs

I've worked with the New Jersey State Archives before, when tracking down vital records on my Reinhardt relatives, and I've always been very pleased by how quickly they respond, how helpful they are, and how many of the records I need they actually have.Well, it turns out inquiring about criminal records is no exception.

I wrote an email yesterday to the NJ State Archives asking what records they might have on John Ricklefs and how I might go about getting them - the first time I wrote to the New York State Archives, I didn't include any of the information I was actually looking for, which might have saved me a day and an email, so now I just give them as much information as I have, straightaway - the more specific you can be about who and what you're looking for, the less work they have to do and the more quickly they can get back to you. This goes for any record you might be looking for, from any agency or institution.

 So, I wrote yesterday telling them John Ricklefs, sometimes spelled Rickless, served time at the state prison in Trenton - I knew what date he had been arrested and what date he had been incarcerated, and I had an idea of the year he escaped. I had also done some research on their website ahead of time (which never hurts to do - really, the more research you can do yourself and the less you have to rely on others, the better - although don't rely on yourself so much that you don't ask for help when you need it!) and thought it was possible, judging on the dates, that they might have an inmate register for him.

I heard back from them this afternoon and it turns out, they do. They will mail it to me as soon as I send them a check for the copying fees but they were nice enough to give me a bit of information contained in the file - John was received at the prison Nov. 23, 1916 and escaped on June 22, 1919 (which I did not have an exact date for previously); he spent two years at Blackwell's Island (which I think might have been his time in the House of Refuge but which I will have to look into), he spent 6 1/2 years at Sing Sing as Harry Young, and he was returned to the prison from Connecticut on April 16, 1940, which is just everything coming full circle - he escaped from jail in New Jersey in June of 1919, he was jailed in Connecticut three months later, he escaped from THAT prison in December 1919, he ended up in prison in Massachusetts about two years later, and after serving that term, was returned to Connecticut in 1936 for his jailbreak there, and after serving that term, was returned to NJ in 1940 for his jailbreak there.

I have no words. The more I learn about these brothers, the more fascinated I become, and the more my heart breaks. But for now, I have a check to write and mail, and I'll let you know what I find out!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Going down one path will always lead to another...

So I've been very happy with the New York State Archives in my research on the Ricklefs brothers, although this last time I associated with them there was such a long lull between my request for information and them getting back to me that I thought my email got lost! But even though this isn't really genealogy work per se, I feel like the research skills I'm using - whether it's thinking of any and all possible agency or institution to contact who might have the info I'm looking for, or not being afraid to ask questions or ask for help, or reading the documents I receive as closely as possible to catch any tiny clue that I might be able to use on the next leg of my research journey - are all skills we should all be using in our genealogy research, and this is good practice for me and a chance to hone them!

Anyway, I got a ton more information on John Ricklefs' early criminal career, just fascinating stuff, but also info and clues to help point me in another direction for finding out even more info to fill in the blanks and round out the picture. I knew, in addition to spending time in the New York House of Refuge, Elmira Reformatory, and Sing Sing, he had also spent time in Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate Dannemora; in New Jersey State Prison, from which he escaped; a Connecticut prison, from which he escaped; and prison in Massachusetts. These new documents the NY State Archives sent me included various case histories on John, which told me WHY he was sent to prison in NJ and CT (burglary, of course), the dates of his arrests and incarcerations; the prison names; his prisoner number; all useful information I can now use to take this path onto the next one. Now that the New York State Archives have been so helpful and proven so fruitful, it's time to see where these other states keep their historical prison records, and find out how I can get my hands on them.

It's all about connecting the dots...the journey doesn't end. When one path ends, another usually begins. Don't be afraid to take it!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In the midst of a busy summer, although not genealogy-wise...

Hopefully y'all have been too busy with your summer vacations to notice that I've been too busy with my summer vacation to write! There hasn't been a lot going on on the genealogy front for me lately and on top of that, I was away in Mexico for a wedding and there have been a lot of little day trips and busy weekends and now I have birthday planning to do! I think I'm going to need a vacation from my summer! :)

I really don't have much to add right now either but wanted to drop everyone a line just to say hi and to hope your genealogy research has been more productive lately than mine! I have much more to look at regarding the Ricklefs-Tiedemann Germany lines, which hopefully I'll get to once September rolls around. I've also, as I always do, jumped around back to my Raynor line - since reading Russell Shorto's "The Island at the Center of the World," I'm determined to look more closely at both my English and Dutch colonial ancestry to see how they connect to the events Shorto talks about in his book (or, if they don't connect, just finding the contemporaries of those New Amsterdam settlers and seeing what was going on in their lives). I also have an extra day off on Monday coming up and if it rains, I'm contemplating a trip into Manhattan to visit the Municipal Archives. It's been too long since I've been there and I have a couple of records I think I'll have better luck finding if I do my own search instead of relying on archive staff (if it's your tree and your research, you know what spelling variations or name variations to look for much better than an employee or volunteer with no vested interest in your personal tree would). If I get there, I'll let you know how it goes!