Monday, April 30, 2012

Birthday surprise party for John Meinberg, November 13, 1915

As you can see, I'm on a newspaper kick. These are my favorite - the noting of a normal, lifetime event, a moment of family gathering together, a hint that these people weren't just family - they enjoyed spending time together. And most importantly it's a reminder that these people weren't just names and dates - they threw surprise birthdays for each other, they had fun, they did impressions of famous actors, they lived lives, lives that we, as genealogists, believe are worth remembering. In this case, it's a surprise birthday for John Meinberg, my fourth-great uncle. I had hoped it was an article about his father, somebody I know absolutely nothing about - he had four children with my 4th great grandmother and then disappeared between 1873-1878, presumedly dead since she remarried. Still, this was a pretty neat find. Love the reference to Charlie Chaplin, back when he was actually a real live movie star!

The story comes from the Brooklyn Daily Star, November 1915: "A birthday surprise party was given John Meinberg of 1629 Decatur Street, Evergreen, on Saturday evening, November 13. Mr. Meinberg is one of Evergreen's oldest and most prominent residents. ... Dancing and merriment of all kinds were indulged in ... Fred Meinberg jr. gave an impersonation of Charlie Chaplin."

 Among those present were my third great grandparents, Ed and Eva (Meinberg) Haase (Eva was John Meinberg's sister); my great great grandparents, Gus Haase and Meta (Ricklefs) Haase, John and Eva's sister and brother-in-law, Anthony and Elise/Elizabeth Smith, their brother and sister-in-law, Fred C. and Justine Meinberg, their half-sister Katherine and her husband, Henry Hennigan, John's son James W. Meinberg and his not-yet wife Edith Lorch, John's other son John Meinberg Jr., Fred's son Fred Meinberg Jr., August Lorch, who I assume to be Edith's brother, John Sr.'s wife, Emma, my fourth-great grandmother Katherine Hellman (maiden name Naeher, mother of the Meinberg children), her sister Elizabeth Riders, Elizabeth's daughter (and cousin to John, Eva, Elise & Fred Meinberg & Kate Hellmann) Kate Weigert, Elise's sons William, George, and John Smith, John Sr's daughters Dorothy and Deborah Meinberg; and Fred's daughters Elisabeth and Eva Meinberg.

There are a few people I have yet to identify, whether they be family friends or married names of daughters, but I'd like to look into that to see if they are important clues to this tree. But we have here three generations of a family - it just warms my heart to see this!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Whitehead Raynor's estate for sale, 1845

I found this on one of my favorite websites, the newspaper archives at, and thought it was so interesting - it doesn't really add anything genealogically (although it does verify some known info) but the description of Whitehead's land helps me picture a little bit what his life might have been like living there. Whitehead Raynor, by the way, is my fifth great-grandfather.

From the Long Island Farmer, July 1845:
Salt Meadow at Auction
The subscribers, executors of Whitehead Raynor, deceased, will sell at Auction on Monday, the fourth day of August, next, at 1 o'clock, P.M., on the premises, the salt meadow, upland, hay house, and landing, formerly belonging to Whitehead and John Raynor, situated at the landing formerly known as John Raynor's, between Raynor South and Hick's Neck, in the town of Hempstead. This tract of meadow contains about 24 acres, and the most of it of a good quality and conveniently situated. It has recently been surveyed and and divided off into four pieces, containing from 5 to 7 acres each, and will be sold separately. The upland contains upwards of 2 acres and has a Hay House on it.
         The terms of sale will be 10 percent on the day of sale, and the balance 1st of May, 1846, when the deed will be given. Title indisputable. For further particulars inquire of Joseph Smith, Merrick, where a Map of the Meadow can be seen.
Joseph Smith
Hiram Raynor
Samuel Raynor, Executors
Hempstead South, July 14, 1845
Should the weather be stormy on the day mentioned above, the sale will take place the first fair day.

Hiram and Samuel Raynor were Whitehead's sons. Joseph Smith was his son in law. Raynor South is now the village of Freeport and Hick's Neck is now the town of Baldwin, located right next to each other. In this second one, from the Long Island Farmer, December 1845, more of Whitehead's property is being sold. Parts read: "executors of the estate of the late Whitehead Raynor, offer the Farm recently owned and occupied by said deceased, situated in the town of Hempstead, on the road leading from Greenwich Point to Raynor South, and about 3 1/2 miles South of the village of Hempstead. Said farm is pleasantly situated, and contains about 50 acres of land, 4 acres which is excellent woodland and 3 acres of wood and swamp. The land is generally of a good quality, and with good fences. There is an orchard containing Apple, Pear, and Plum trees, with other fruit. A well of the very best water conveniently situated. The buildings consist of a two story House and Kitchen adjoining, a small new Dwelling House a few rods below. Also, Barn, Wagon-House, Hovels, and other outbuildings. ...Should the said Farm not be sold at private sale by the first of February next , it will be offered at Public Auction."

Again, Raynor South is present-day Freeport, and Greenwich Point appears to have been in the vicinity of present-day Roosevelt, which is to the town right north of Freeport (if you look at the old map from 1873 here, you can see Babylon Turnpike's northernmost end, which is in Roosevelt).

But I love the descriptions - fruit trees! A well! Woodland! All these buildings dotting the landscape! Can't you just picture what it looked like? I love it! :)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

If you love dead people, you're either a serial killer or a genealogist

So sayeth cousin April and I.

So, a few weeks ago already - Good Friday, I think it was, since we both had off - April and I drove up to Albany to take a look at some holdings at the New York State Archives. If you're an armchair genealogist, there's nothing wrong with that - you can find all sorts of perfectly reliable info at your fingertips on the Internet nowadays. Part of the fun for me, though, is the field trips. Even when the field trips are a bit fruitless.

April and I are each currently researching several branches of our own trees but the thing that brought us together and that we're determined to solve, is the mystery of Jacob Raynor's parents. Jacob and his wife Rebecca are our common ancestors - April is descended from their daughter Elizabeth and I am descended from their sons Joseph and James. The Raynor name is huge where we're from on Long Island because they were one of the founding families of the area, but strangely enough, we're connected to them through Rebecca (who, yes, was a Raynor before she married a Raynor - that's what happened in these colonial towns where everybody was related to everybody else!), but no one seems to know who Jacob's parents are. Two theories have been posited but no one can seem to tell me or April the basis for putting forth these possible parents - all we want is some proof of said theories. That was the purpose of our Albany trip.

An interesting but also frustrating thing about genealogy research is that while there are records that are overaching, for the most part, each locality also has its own types of records that you may not find in other places or in other years. In the course of some of her own research, April had stumbled upon something for the Town of Hempstead called the earmark register, in which people had to register the identifying marks on the ears of their cattle. What some of these entries indicate, and what can also be inferred by similarities in earmarks, is who the cattle came from - in many cases, they were inherited by sons or grandsons. If we could find Jacob as someone's son or grandson...well, that would be too easy. That would solve our whole mystery there!

Needless to say, that didn't happen. April and I sat in front of a microfilm machine for hours pouring over pages and pages of indecipherable handwriting and nowhere did we find "Jacob, son of." What we did find, however, were some possibly important clues as to who else to look at to get to the next step - sometimes you can't go back from a person, but you can go back from a sibling or another relative. We saw a lot of "James, son of Jacob"s, which could be my James, son of Jacob, though they were both common names, but two other names were starting to show a pattern - Micajah Raynor and Zebulon Smith.

Gotta love those crazy Old Testament names, huh?

Those two names kept coming up in connection to a Jacob Raynor. Micajah pinged on mine and April's radar because when we took a fruitless field trip up to Boston several months ago, April had brought an inventory of Jacob's estate from 1829 that was put together by a one Micajah Raynor. When we showed it to David Allen Lambert, a professional genealogist with the New England Historic Genealogical Society, his very first reaction, without hesitation, was that Micajah was of course Jacob's brother. Now is it possible he was just a good friend or neighbor? Of course. There were Raynors everywhere at that time. But Dave's gut was telling him something and I never, ever discredit my gut when it comes to following a lead.

Now, Zebulon Smith was NOT a name April or I had ever seen in connection to our Raynors before, but he, too, was turning up everywhere. One set of posited parents for Jacob was Joseph Raynor and Phebe Smith. Was Zebulon Smith Phebe's father? Was he Jacob's grandfather? In many unsubstantiated family trees floating around the Internet, Joseph and Phebe most often are not listed with a son Jacob. But they are listed with a son Micajah. And Zebulah (bastardized version of Zebulon Smith?)

So that's the direction April and I are heading in now. Zebulon and Micajah, unlike Jacob, seem to want to be found, very much so. Is it because they're family? Maybe. But we're thinking if we can somehow find death dates and then wills or property deeds or transactions for Zebulon and/or Micajah and/or Joseph and Phebe, maybe someone will make mention of "my brother/son/cousin/nephew/grandson Jacob...husband of Rebecca, not to be confused with the other Jacobs out there." It's extremely, extremely frustrating. But this is also the exact reason I love genealogy so much - if it wasn't as much of a mystery and a puzzle, it wouldn't be half as fun!

And just as a sidenote, if any of you out there reading this has some reliable research on Micajah Raynor, Zebulon Smith, or Joseph Raynor and Phebe Smith, hit a sister up, would ya? :)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday: Ayn Rand, Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, NY

Cousin April and I went on a genealogy field trip to the New York State Archives in Albany on Friday to try to chip away at the mystery of Jacob Raynor's parents. It was an interesting day, which I will write about in a later post. On the way back, she wanted to stop at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, where some newly discovered relatives were buried. Like many of us with poor relations, they did not have a headstone, but the many people who do have these huge, unique, sometimes beautiful, sometimes ostentatious headstones and mausoleums. The place is just absolutely gorgeous. Anyway, quite a few famous people also happen to be buried there. April and I visited two of them, and I submit this photo I took of Ayn Rand's grave for this week's Tombstone Tuesday post:

Ayn Rand headstone in Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, NY. Taken by Mary Ellen Gorry, 6 April 2012.
I'll be honest - I've never actually read any Ayn Rand novels but I am an avid reader and I know she's one of the great figures of modern literature. We also stopped to look at the grave of Lou Gehrig; I posted that photo in my sports blog here. In both cases I loved seeing how simple the headstones were of these two very famous people. I also liked seeing Ayn Rand buried with her husband, and Lou Gehrig surrounded by his family - I think sometimes we forget that even famous historical figures had families and were mothers, wives, and daughters.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Happy 97th birthday to my genealogy inspiration...

Grandma, circa 1930, with her mother, Ellen Casey Cronin.
 My grandmother, Mary Cronin Raynor, is 97 years old today and still kickin'. She started to learn genealogy as a hobby when her kids - my mother, my aunt, and my two uncles - were in school, way back when you still had to use books and write snail mail letters to distant relatives to ask them what information they know, and depend on church records and any old letters or photos or, if you were lucky, birth and death certificates that your parents or grandparents might have kept. My grandmother's family is 100 percent Irish - her dad, Timothy Ambrose Cronin, was born in Ireland, as were her maternal grandparents, Peter Casey and Mary Agnes Enright, and while Grandma did a great job of recording as much as she could find on her family from her grandparents down, what lay beyond that was always a brick wall for her - she even made a trip to Ireland to try to find her grandfather Denis Cronin's grave, but the cemetery was full of Denis Cronins, with no dates or other info on the headstones. I've had a bit more luck, finding Mary Enright's maternal grandparents, but not much more than that. My grandmother kept good notes though full of clues about cousins on her dad's side of the family, and she gave them to me, so at least I have something to work with.

My grandmother actually focused much of what she learned on my grandfather and her husband, Clifford Monroe Raynor's, side of the family. The Raynors have a lot of information out there. My grandmother recorded it all down, and she even researched his mother's side of the family, the Bergs. She wrote down who she got the information from and little anecdotes they told her as well.

After my parents got married, Grandma even went so far as to find information on my *dad's* side of the family tree - the first thing I know about my paternal grandmother, Helen Stutzmann's, side of the family is from my maternal grandmother. How cool is that?

But I got my first taste of genealogy from looking through the books of information my grandmother had put together. I was hooked even before I knew I was hooked. And as I got older and took it more seriously, I became someone she could share her research with, she loved hearing about all the new things I was discovering about the family, and genealogy became something we could always talk about.

So thank you Grandma, for inspiring me to always keep chipping away at those brick walls, and for instilling in me a passion for trying to learn who my family is and where I come from. Happy 97th birthday!

The two Marys and two genealogists.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Nancy Drew and the case of the 1940 U.S. census

The detective work has become and the first results have already come in! The period between 1930-1940 saw a lot of deaths in my family and a lot of families moving around, which can make finding their enumeration districts difficult. Lucky for me, the Raynors have deep Freeport roots. They came in the 1650s and they never left, so I know exactly where to find them!

I neglected to put in my last post where to find the census - if you're an Ancestry member, they're uploading the census images as we speak. If you're not, you can go to, but be forewarned - EVERYBODY is using the site and pages are loading extremely slowly, if even at all. I searched for 3rd great-grandmother, Meta Tiedemann Ricklefs, where I last saw her, in Patchogue, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York. Her husband, John Ricklefs, had died in 1937, and I couldn't find her at first glance, so she's either in the next ED over or she has died by 1940 as well. Freeport is a fairly small place, and that's where the Raynors are entrenched, so that's where I went next. The good news is, once I FINALLY got to an ED, I found that they've been broken up into manageable chunks - you only have to go through about 24 pages, at least in the EDs I've checked so far. But Randy Seaver over at Genea-Musings gave some good advice here, suggesting how to find the ED if you don't already know, and that downloading all the ED file would be a better way to look over each page, which is what I did - it was taking too long for the images to appear on my screen, but they downloaded very quickly to my computer.

I already found my grandfather, Clifford Raynor, his father, Monroe Raynor, and HIS father, Joseph J. Raynor, living on South Main Street in Freeport - the handwriting isn't so great so it's a little difficult to read some of the info, and since these are ancestors I know pretty well, there aren't too many surprises so far, but I have already found mistakes - great-great grandpa J.J.'s daughter Eliza is listed as his wife, and his daughter-in-law, Alice, is listed as a daughter and his *granddaughter* is listed as a daughter. There's supposed to be an "x" next to the name of the person who provided the information, but I haven't seen one so far. Still, I'm excited to see what else I find, but I know now that I'm going to have to perfect the art of patience over the next few weeks. Maybe I should start meditating...

1940 has arrived!

Starting today, you can look for family in the 1940 U.S. Census.

If all you've ever experienced was a nicely indexed census where all you have to do is type in the name of the person you're looking for and, voila, it appears out of thin air, then be forewarned.

This census, at least for the time being, is going to be a lot of tedious, frustrating work.

Indexing is in the works, and if you feel up to the task, volunteers are signing up every day to help with the process. I'm both excited about and dreading this day - I'm looking forward to finding out what happened to some of the individuals in my family who I last saw in 1930 - I know a lot about their early years but almost nothing about their later years. But I remember a time, not too long ago, when the 1920 census wasn't indexed, and I had to sit at my computer, for hours on end, on one page, a street map of Brooklyn on the other, and try to find, based on my ancestors' addresses, the proper enumeration district, and THEN scroll through that district page by page by page by get the idea. For now, that's what we're all in for. And while it's time-consuming work, in a way, I'm kind of looking forward to it, because it puts the detective aspect back into genealogy. This information is not going to be handed to you on a silver platter. You're going to have to earn it. It's going to be boring. It's going to make you want to tear your hair out. But when you find what you're looking for, boy, is it worth it!

Good luck everyone - happy hunting!