Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Grandpa with Barbara Eden and Joe Garagiola

I Dream of Jeannie :)

My grandfather, Elmer Gorry, used to work on the Orange Bowl Parade for NBC. In this pic he's with Barbara Eden (Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie for those too young to know) and Joe Garagiola, center - I don't know who he is but apparently he used to be a Major League catcher and was a panelist on The Today Show. Barbara and Joe were both the hosts of the parade that year, which I believe was 1985.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Info found on John Ricklefs in The Hartford Courant

So, as I mentioned in my last post, thanks to a tip from fellow blogger TCasteel over at Tangled Trees, I was able to find more information on the criminal hijinks of Great Uncle Jack Ricklefs in the newspaper archives of The Hartford Courant. I found several stories from 1919, when he escaped the prison in Wethersfield, and several from 1936, when he was returned to Connecticut by the state of Massachusetts (where he served time in prison during the years in between) to be tried for that escape and finish serving the remaining original sentence.

The more I read about John, the more I shake my head at either his stupidity or his stubbornness, in that he seems to be stuck in an endless loop (and I'm not sure if it's by choice) of going to jail, either being released or escaping from said jail, then being arrested within a year or so for the very thing that he was previously in jail for, only to be sent back to jail and the cycle continues. But these last few stories made me very sad for him. But also very angry. I kinda wanted to reach back in time and smack him upside the head and just shout, "Stop it already!" at him.


Okay, so as we already know, he was one of four prisoners to escape from Wethersfield prison in December of 1919, and I found some fun articles talking about the many escapes from that prison in that time period, whether due to negligience or complicity on the part of prison staff. I also found a fun editorial calling this particular group of escaped convicts kinda stupid for choosing to break free in the middle of winter. I think I concur. Anyway, within a day they were all captured except for John, who we already know ended up in prison in Massachusetts just two years later. But I knew very little about his time there, especially since I've reached a brick wall in obtaining his prison records from the state archives there since I don't know when John died. But the articles from 1936 fill in some of the very sad and somewhat horrible details of his years there. I will summarize:

  • He was arrested in Massachusetts for his specialty (although you'd think he'd be better at it by that point, it being his specialty and all) of breaking and entering and sentenced to 12 to 15 years. He was given an additional 3 years for, big surprise, a failed escape attempt.
  • We have more aliases to add to the list following True Name John Ricklefs. The list now reads aliases John Anderson, Harry Young, Robert Johnson, James Hamilton, James Ricklefs, and Henry Johnson. It's definitely a method of keeping the cops from finding you quite as easily but I would be super confused as to what name I was using when. 
  • He ended up serving 15 years in several Massachusetts prisons, including Deer Island, New Bedford, and Charlestown.  
  • Seven of those years he spent in solitary confinement. In a Feb. 22, 1936 article, it reads: "Ricklefs told the court that during his confinement in Massachusetts ... he was kept for seven years in a "blind door cell," from which he was removed only 15 minutes at a time, five times a week for exercise." A parole officer corroborated his story.
  • From same story: "'This man has been severely punished,' Judge Jennings said to State's Attorney Hugh M. Alcorn. 'I don't see how he's kept his sanity.' ... Ricklefs, whose home was on Patchogue, L.I., is now gray-haired and stoop-shouldered, with a mild, bespectacled face. His pictures at the time he was an inmate showed him to be sturdy with strong, hard features."
As far as I know, this was the end of John's criminal journey. Well, after serving his time in Connecticut he was returned to New Jersey to finish serving his time there, and THAT was the end of his journey. But by then he was in his 50s or 60s. With the exception of just a few years, he spent his entire adult life in prison. I'm hoping that now, FINALLY, he had learned his lesson. Or that he was just too tired and cranky to continue the criminal lifestyle. But you never know. After all, his brother, though ten years younger, was still at it out on the East End of Long Island. Which is part of the reason my search for John continues...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Another "A-ha!" moment, brought to you by SHARING

They teach you to do it in kindergarten, and now as a genealogist more than 25 years later, I am reaping the benefits.

As my regular readers know, I love newspaper archives. They are by far my favorite hidden treasure for family history research. It's through newspaper archives, mostly found on, that I've been finding clues and tracing the criminal exploits of the notorious Ricklefs brothers, my family's (so far) most colorful characters.

Because they lived in the New York metro area, and have both been instrumental in my research on these two troublemakers. But John in particular spent a large part of his criminal career in prisons in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, which newspapers are sparsely archived, if at all, on those sites. A Google search of newspaper archives for each of those particular states turned up pretty much nothing.

Now today, several weeks after my Ricklefs searches stalled out, along comes a post by TCasteel over at her genealogy blog, Tangled Trees, about Wikipedia having a listing of both free and pay newspaper archive sites for various countries and pretty much every state in the U.S.

I feel the genealogy itch coming back to my fingertips...oh, how I have missed you!!

At first, I was most excited to check out the New Jersey archives for possible information on John's arrest there, but searching every spelling of his name (damn those Germans!!) proved fruitless. So? Off to Connecticut.

Pay dirt.

The Hartford Courant, a paper I'd never even heard of, has it's archives online courtesy of ProQuest (which Cousin April has told me about many times before and which I had filed away in my already over-filed brain and never used; apparently if you go to your local library, you should be able to use their version for free, though printing fees may apply) ... anyway, I had to pay to view and print copies of the stories I found, but it wasn't that expensive and the truth is you're almost always going to have to shell out something, even if it's a "donation" in order to get the good stuff in genealogy. But I found eight articles about John, from his escape from Wethersfield prison in 1919 to his return in 1936, with quite a few details about his stint in several Massachusetts prisons (including an escape attempt, of course, and solitary confinement) in between.

So I will be going through those articles this weekend. That's what a genealogist considers good, clean weekend fun.

But the point is, even when your search stalls, it doesn't mean it's over. Sometimes you need to step away for awhile just to get a new perspective or, you know, retain your sanity. And sometimes someone else will share a tip or skill they discovered or learned which will prove helpful to your own search. So make sure you pay it forward, ok?


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Just a friendly reminder: Raynor Round-up XX coming up Oct. 1

Ah, it feels like it was only yesterday that the Raynor Round-up XIX was rolling around!

It's that time of year again! The Raynor Family Association annual reunion, Round-Up XX, will be held Sat., Oct. 1, at the Lake Ronkonkoma community building, 505 Hawkins Rd., Lake Ronkonkoma, NY.

The reunion will begin at 9:30 a.m. with registration, coffee, exhibits and a social hour, followed by a brief annual meeting and program. Dale Spencer, curator of the Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society will speak about Lake Ronkonkoma history and the Raynor connection. A luncheon is included.

For more information and costs, call Jeanne Raynor 516-623-5967 or E-mail: This genealogist will be unable to attend this year as I will be at a wedding, but for more information on the Raynor Family Association (to which I do belong, although I can't recall the last time I actually paid dues...oh well!) or to join the RFA, you can go to their website at

Cousin April, if you're reading this - how about we make it our goal to find SOMETHING on Jacob (our common Raynor brick wall) to share with the larger family by the time Round-up XXI rolls around??

Friday, September 16, 2011

Blast from the past - Raynor Round-up comes to Freeport, 1997

More stories from the Oct. 2, 1997 issue of The Leader on the occasion of the Raynor Round-up, the annual family reunion, being held there that year. I'll give The Leader this - they give us Raynors in particular and the history of Freeport in general a lot of love....

Surprisingly, this article about Edward Raynor is fairly accurate...

My uncle, Tom Raynor, is second from the right.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blast from the past - Raynor grist mill and saw mill, Freeport, New York

Once again, from the Oct. 2, 1997 issue of Freeport's neighborhood newspaper The Leader, a photo of the old Raynor grist mill and saw mill, located on the corner of South Main Street and - of course - Mill Road:

This is what the site looks like today (and this is the historic marker that was placed in the old location of the mill at the time of this reunion, on Oct. 4, 1997):

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

(Not quite) Wordless Wednesday - Blast from the past: Freeport becomes Raynortown for a day

In an effort to get her hoarding under control, this genealogist started throwing away old newspapers she had been collecting for, oh I don't know, a bazillion years, and I came across this story from the Oct. 2, 1997 issue of The Leader, the newspaper from Freeport:

Direct descendant Thomas Timothy Raynor, toward the end of the story, is my mom's twin brother, so that would be my Raynor line, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 update: App now available for Android phones

Ah, genealogy in the 21st century!

For those of you who may have checked out the website, which is taking the goal of Find-A-Grave to the next level by asking volunteers to mark the exact spot of people's graves in a cemetery using GPS technology, the app to do this is now available for Android phones as well. As I said in my last post about this new website, I think it's an ambitious but exciting project - I would love to one day go to a cemetery I've never been to before and not spend all afternoon, sometimes unsuccessfully, looking for an ancestor's grave site. I haven't been to any cemeteries lately, but now that the app is available for Android phones, I will be downloading it so that next time I head out one of those ways (Greenfield is right by my job and I'd like to say hi to my Raynor, Berg, and Dauch peeps again before the weather stops being so beautiful) I can contribute to the project.

You can find more information at or by following the project on Facebook or Twitter!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Check out the Carnival of Genealogy, 109th edition at The Catholic Gene

In case you missed it, Sept. 4th was the 109th edition of the Carnival Genealogy, hosted by The Catholic Gene. The topic was "Where did your ancestors worship?" Yours truly was one of this month's featured bloggers, where I took a look back at a blog post I did on St. George's Episcopal Church in Hempstead, where many of my Raynor branch ancestors worshipped.

Check out my entry and many others here:

Carnival of Genealogy, 109th edition at The Catholic Gene

Nancy Drew and the case of the missing death date

That's the question of the day - when did John Ricklefs die?

So, I finally heard back from the Massachusetts State Archives - they seem to keep a tighter lid on their records, as they reminded me about the 75 year period that has to pass and all the records they do NOT make available, ever. Which seems to be most of them.

But they do release prison records. And as we all know, one of the many states in which Great Uncle Jack was incarcerated was Massachusetts. So Mass. will give me those records.

But first I have to send them a copy of John's death certificate.

As genealogists, that's one of our favorite questions - when did someone die? Fortunately, there are many ways to find that out. If someone had a social security number, you can look them up in the Social Security Death Index. You can look in newspapers to see if you can find an obituary - that's how I found out when John's father, also John Ricklefs, died. Some places, like New York City and the state of New Jersey, will have online indexes of death records for certain years. Sometimes you go to visit someone's grave and discover the death dates of other family members, either by a tombstone inscription or a cemetery plot listing. Sometimes you can narrow down the window enough to just ask for a search to be done for multiple years.

Unfortunately, I have no idea when John died. He had no social security number as far as I can tell. I can't find an obituary. I don't know where his parents are buried, so I don't know whether or not he might be buried with them.

This is what I do know - according to his World War II Draft Registration card, he was living in New Jersey in 1942. He was born in 1887, so if we assume he lived no more than 100 years, that still gives us a 42-year window in which he could have died. And on top of that, I also can't assume that he died in New Jersey. So in theory, if I can't discover any more information about the end of his life, I would have to send away to at least two states - New Jersey where he lived and New York, where his family lived - and possibly a third - Florida, since he had a sister who moved there, and ask them each to do a 40-plus year search for his death record. Oh, and also take into consideration the very, very, VERY many spellings of his last name.

I definitely cannot afford to pay how much that kind of search would cost.

And so my search for more information continues, as it always does for us. I've delved into his death date before and backed away because of how daunting that search is, but I am so, so curious about his time spent in prison in Massachusetts - I know almost nothing about those years - and so in order to get those records, I need to really buckle down and start thinking outside the box, start thinking like Nancy Drew, about how I can solve this latest mystery in John Ricklefs' life...