Wednesday, June 18, 2014

In his own words: Grandpa Elmer Gorry reflects

Elmer Gorry reflects on his career/life before working at NBC in the Fall-Winter 1998 Peacock North newsletter.
My dad recently showed me this page from an old NBC magazine, in which my grandfather, Elmer Gorry, reflects on his days before working for the television network. He talks about his days working as a longshoreman in Brooklyn in the late 1940s-early 1950s (think the classic movie "On the Waterfront") and delivering baked goods to homes in Queens in the early 1950s. I knew about his working as a longshoreman but it was so cool to "hear" about it in his own words. These are the kinds of stories - the stories about life in general in a particular time period and place and about life in particular for individual members of our families - that really round out our genealogy research and make it come alive. These are the stories we try to get when we interview family members, glimpses into their lives, the stories that become part of our families' oral tradition. My grandfather, who passed away 8 years ago, was always very funny and had a sharp wit, and it was nice to "hear" his voice again in reading this vignette.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Call for help: What happened to William Meyer/William Myer? And who was his family?

Sometimes in genealogy, people seemingly disappear into thin air. Sometimes it's someone from way back, like my John Meinberg, who pretty much just dropped off the face of the earth somewhere in the mid-1870s. Did he die? Did he up and leave? Did he get swallowed by a whale or abducted by aliens? Nobody knows. Well, maybe somebody knows. But I don't. Other times, it's somebody more recent, as in the case of a recent client who is searching for someone from the 20th century on her family tree. So this is our call for help - we don't know what happened to him or even really his family history, but maybe YOU know. Here's what we do know:
  • His name was Bill or William Mayer(s)/Meyer(s)/Myer(s).
  • He was born possibly in 1932, but to cover our bases, let's say somewhere between 1927-1934.
  • He was from the Bronx, New York, though he might not have been born there and he might have lived in other parts of New York City as a child.
  • He was an Air Force military policeman (MP) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, where he was stationed in 1953-1954. 
  • He also worked off base as a bartender.
  • He wore glasses!
  • He was Jewish.
Edited to add: we have some new information to take into consideration! In addition to the above info, the following are STRONG leads:
  • William Meyer seems to be the correct spelling, or at least how he was spelling his name in the late 1940s, early 1950s.
  • 1929-30 seems to be the more accurate date of birth range.
  • He may have attended R.O.T.C. School of Military Science at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona during the years 1949-50.
Did you serve in the Air Force with Bill Meyer? Was William Myer you grandmother's cousin? We're all connected in so many ways and there's always somebody else somewhere either looking for the same person in the same tree or who has the info being looked for. My client is just looking for some personal connection to that branch of their family tree - were William or his parents immigrants, and where might they have come from? Were they musicians? What were they like, and might it be possible to make that leap even further back to across the Atlantic? 

So if you think you can help, please leave me a comment on this post and we'll figure out how to put all the pieces together! Thanks, genealogy family! :)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Check that tunnel vision - looking beyond what is right in front of you

This is, I think, good advice in general, in life, and also in genealogy, whether it's looking to the side - siblings, cousins - to try to work our way backward, or whether it's switching from an ancestor we've been scrutinizing unsuccessfully to another person or branch, or just thinking outside the box when it comes to what records or resources we use.

But I have a very specific reason for talking about this today.

This morning was my grandmother's funeral. If you read my blog, you know that my 99 year old grandmother, my genealogy inspiration, died May 15. Born in Brooklyn, we returned her there today to be buried with my grandfather, both her parents, Timothy Cronin and Ellen Casey Cronin, her grandmother, Nora Donahue Cronin, and three aunts and uncles who never married - Denis Cronin, Daniel Cronin, and Mary Cronin.

Just as a side note, I love cemeteries. Morbid? Maybe. But I feel very peaceful and at home whenever I go to one, even when I'm not there to visit anyone specific, but moreso when I am. I love seeing names on headstones that I've researched so well that I feel like I actually know them, so today it was nice to "visit" my great-grandparents, my great great grandmother, and some of my great great aunts and uncles.

Anyway, back to the whole reason for this post. My grandmother's family plot is in Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn. In the course of my research, I've tried to visit all my family plots that I know of, and more than once if I am able, so I'd been to the plot in Holy Cross before. After the graveside ceremony, my family hung around for awhile, and somebody happened to walk behind the headstone and say, "Hey, there's another Cronin buried here. Maybe they're related!" So of course I was intrigued, and yes, right behind the big family headstone is a smaller plot with a smaller headstone, and while everybody was sitting there going, "I wonder if they're related. Could they be related?," I was sitting there thinking, "Oh, hi Aunt Julia, hi Aunt Kate." I never even knew that headstone was there but I knew the names immediately. I finally got to "meet" Julia Cronin, a fourth unmarried sibling of my great-grandfather Timothy Cronin's - I had seen her death notice in an old newspaper but never knew where she was buried. And she was in the same plot as her sister Katherine, or Kate I guess, Flannery, who died fairly young, somewhere in her 30s or 40s, as well as Kate's two children, who died heartbreakingly young - John, at less than a year old, and Julia, as a young teenager. Considering how sad the circumstances were of us being there, it was a fairly exciting discovery for me, and I wonder how much my grandmother had to do with nudging us toward that headstone.

Which brings me to the point of this post - don't be so focused and wrapped up in the one person or family you're researching or looking for; step back and look around. Specific to cemetery research, if you're visiting one grave, take a look at the surrounding ones - family was often buried near family, and even if the names are different, they still might be related. But in general, just step back and look around - you never know what you might find.

Thanks, Grandma. I'm looking forward to your genealogy help from the other side.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Passing of my grandmother, my genealogy inspiration

This morning my 99 year old grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Cronin Raynor, passed away in her sleep.

At the ripe old age of 99, you don't exactly mourn the passing of a loved one - Grandma lived a long and happy life, filled with love and surrounded by family, and that's all any of us can really hope for in this life. Of course, living almost a century comes with some heartache as well - she lived to see most of her friends and family go before her. She outlived her husband, my grandfather, Clifford Monroe Raynor, by almost 23 years, and she had to live through the death of her youngest daughter, my mother, Margaret, almost 14 years ago, so I know she was ready whenever her time came. But she also lived to see her grandchildren grow up, get jobs, marry, have children of their own. I am forever grateful that she was well enough to attend my baby shower last year, where she gave me one of my favorite gifts, ever - an afghan, hand made by her mother. And one of the best days was when I got to introduce my daughter, her first great-granddaughter, to her last summer, and I loved watching them laugh and play together every time we went to visit. I am sorry my daughter won't remember her great-grandmother, but I am so happy that I have pictures of them together and that I can tell her, "You always made Great-Grandma smile, and boy, did she love you!"

My grandmother was our original family genealogist. She is the reason I became interested in genealogy. She is the one who got our tree started, who handed me the information and tools I needed to continue on my own. She is the one who got me hooked, who introduced me to what has become one of my life's passions. She is the one who told me stories about her childhood and about her parents and grandparents and my grandfather and his parents. She is the one who asked how my research was going and who I could talk to about some of the exciting discoveries I made. I am heartbroken that she is gone and forever grateful that she gave me the gift of genealogy.

My grandmother was a devout Catholic. I don't know what I believe about the afterlife, but whatever it is, I hope my grandfather and my mother were there to greet her on the other side, and that all our ancestors - those she and I knew about and those I have yet to discover but who are hopefully introducing themselves to her even now as I type -  welcomed her with smiling faces and open arms.

Grandma, I am so thankful for all the years I got to spend with you. I will always continue working on our family tree, to pass down to my grandchildren like you passed it down to me - I will miss you always, till we meet again.

Great-Grandma and Elena meeting for the first time, summer 2013.

Baby me and my grandmther, 1979.

Friday, April 25, 2014

In honor of DNA Day, an AncestryDNA update

Today is National DNA Day apparently, commemorating the 1953 publication of papers on the structure of DNA. In honor of that, I actually have an AncestryDNA update - I got my first shared ancestor hint!

I have literally 150 pages worth of DNA matches on Ancestry, people I connect to genetically, but up until this week I had no idea how I connect to any of these people. Nowhere did we have any matching people in our family trees. But finally, FINALLY, I got a shared ancestor hint. And, of course, it's a Raynor connection (that's my most researched line). This person and I are seventh cousins. Our shared ancestors are Joseph Raynor and Elizabeth Lester, who lived in the 1700s on Long Island. So, yay, I DO have at least a tiny bit of Raynor DNA in me! But I can't believe this is my only shared ancestor hint so far - Cousin April over at Digging Up the Dirt on My Dead People has very genetically cooperative DNA...mine is making me work just a little bit harder.

But, that's exciting. That's what I've been waiting for, that's what I was hoping for when I took this test, not only hopefully adding to and extending some of my branches, but connecting to cousins in a definitive way where I can see the connection.

But it wouldn't be an AncestryDNA post without some complaints, right? So here they are:

  • I never got a notification that I had a shared ancestor hint. I found it by accident, when I was looking to see if I had any genetic matches with anyone with Raynor in their tree. If I hadn't checked that specifically, I have so many pages of matches, I might never have found him! I had actually, manually, connected myself to this person before, seeing we had Joseph and Elizabeth in common, but this was months ago and there was no shared ancestor hint at the time.
  • Which brings me to my second complaint - I was doing a Raynor-specific search because Cousin April's sister had matched with someone who had a Micajah Raynor in their tree. If you've read this blog before, you may know that April and I have been searching for a connection to Micajah Raynor in the hopes that he will shed light on one of our brick wall ancestors, Jacob Raynor. But this person April's sister matched to had Micajah as a brother to Jacob's wife Rebecca, the daughter of Joseph Raynor and Elizabeth Lester (yes, the same people who were my first shared ancestors hint). But I have a copy of Joseph's will, and he lists his children by name, and nowhere is there a Micajah mentioned. So Micajah probably is NOT the son of Joseph and Elizabeth. So while this DNA project is a great help in connecting us to people, some of those people we are connecting to are unfortunately doing shodding genealogy work. DNA doesn't lie - if you are a match to someone, you ARE related, but do NOT take their family tree at face value, especially if it is not sourced well!
  • And my third complaint - the person I have a shared ancestor with also has Joseph and Elizabeth as a shared ancestor with April's father (she is related to me through her father's side) - so how come her father and I don't have Joseph and Elizabeth as a shared ancestor hint? 
So many questions, so many things for AncestryDNA to continue working on. How has your experience been so far with DNA genealogy? Would love to hear what you're happy with and what you think could still be improved!

And on a completely unrelated note, have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Call for help: Who was Thomas Thomas' parents?

Hello all - it's been awhile! Spring is finally here - the perfect time to start adding new leaves and branches to my tree again, I hope!

Since I began blogging about genealogy, I have connected with so many cousins near and far, old and young - many times I've been able to help them with a genealogy question or problem they've been having, but more often than not they have been invaluable in helping me break through my own brick walls and add to my branches. So I thought as a service to my genealogy clients, I'd offer them the opportunity to post their own genealogy problems, questions, or brick walls to my blog - you never know who's out there reading; you never know who's out there researching those same questions...or who is out there with the answers!

So today we have a question from K. about his great-great-grandfather, Thomas Thomas. According to K, Thomas Thomas is listed in the 1880 Census in Ellsworth, Kansas, where it says he was born in Pennsylvania and was married to Louisa A. According to his family's oral tradition, the couple lived previously in Lebanon, Ohio, where K's great grandmother, Rebecca Jane Thomas, was born. From there, the family moved to Ottawa (LaSalle), Illinois, where Rebecca married Loren(zo) Dow Pratt in 1866 - he was just home from the Civil War.

Soon after Rebecca and Lorenzo's marriage they moved to Marion, Kansas, and Thomas Thomas, her father, moved his family to Ellsworth, Kansas. In the 1880 census, Thomas is listed as a policeman, "which is interesting," K writes, "since Ellsworth was one of the wildest of the end of the trail cowtowns." Sounds exciting, right? Bet there are some good stories there! In addition to Rebecca Jane, Thomas and Louisa had a son, Joseph C., also of Marion, Kansas, and a daughter, Maria, who accompanied Louisa to Marion for the birth of Thomas V. Pratt (Rebecca's son and Thomas' grandson) in 1875.

So, to bring us back to the beginning, K wants to knock through his brick wall and answer the question: Who was Thomas Thomas' parents?

We have a lot of good info here - we have specific towns and locations, we have a few years, and we have a couple of siblings and in-laws, all of whom might have descendants out there researching these same questions or who already have the answers! So if anybody is reading this and just got that excited feeling of, "Oh my gosh - this is MY family, too!" whether or not you have the actually answer K is looking for (sometimes two people working together to search for the same answer is better than one), you can leave me a message in my comments and I will be happy to put you in contact with K and y'all can enjoy the fun of connecting with cousins!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Some random snowy Monday night AncestryDNA thoughts...

On a personal level, I have been very happy with AncestryDNA and especially since the results were revamped, updated, and made more specific...I mean, it's been thrilling. I can't wait till I get a job and can buy DNA kits for all my siblings and my father to see the slight variations and hopefully see something pop up in theirs that didn't pop up in never know. That's the fun thing about DNA.

On a connecting level, however... ::sigh:: It's been a total bust. I have tons and tons of matches. I have 30 4th cousin matches (4th-6th cousin range, usually) and I would say more than 100 distant matches, many of whom are "moderate" probability, not "low" or "very low." And yet, I have no shared ancestor hints. Not a single one. Nada. Zilch. I am super super jealous of Cousin April over at Digging up the dirt on my dead people, who has made several genetic matches on the family line that we share - but I don't connect genetically to her or any of her matches. Of course, until the database is overflowing with people, most people are going to be in my boat - the great and terrible thing about DNA connections is it will connect you to people you might never be able to prove a connection to with any records. I have several very well documented lines - my Raynor line, which is my shared line with Cousin April and dates back to colonial America, and several of my German lines, which immigrated more recently (the 1800s). I think a lot of my DNA connections are on my Irish lines, which I will never be able to prove with records - so that's a genetic dead end. And unfortunately, AncestryDNA is not yet available to many foreign countries, so I won't be able to connect to any of my well documented German lines unless their descendants came to America and also took the DNA test. Which basically leaves me with my Raynor line, which has proved useless so far.

Part of the problem is two of my pet peeves with AncestryDNA - the people who took tests who A), have a private family tree and B) the people who took tests who have NO family tree. At the very least, you can input you, your parents, and your grandparents. That would be enough for me to see whether or not there was a possible Raynor connection. And I understand people who want to keep their family tree private from the general public but it would be nice if Ancestry came up with a way to allow users to make their trees public to other AncestryDNA users, to see if there's a connection there.

So, I'm taking matters into my own hands, as much as I can anyway. I have largely, on my public tree anyway, only gone backwards, never sideways. Well, my new goal is to add as many branches and cousins as possible, to widen that net and hopefully catch a few AncestryDNA cousin connections or even just normal genealogy researching cousins - if they won't or can't connect to me, I'm going to do my damnest to connect to them.

Now I also uploaded my DNA results to after hearing that Cousin April was able to connect to a non-U.S. cousin through that website - no matter which DNA website you use, you can upload your results and connect to genetic matches - I got a ton of results (including one person with the last name Carman, who is, of course, somewhere on the Raynor line I'm sure - another old Long Island name) but I don't really understand how it works yet or how to contact these people or how accurate it is. What was kind of cool is there's a beta database that gives you a picture of what it believes your eye color looks like, based on your DNA results, and mine was DEAD ON. It was insane. I have a fairly unique eye color so the fact that it accurately picked out what my eye looks like makes me think the website is pretty legit.

Anyway, I have a lot of work to do - tons to keep me busy on these snowy days. Happy hunting, everyone!