Monday, February 28, 2011

German genealogy resource - the "sippenbuch"

Today, I discovered a German genealogy resource I had never heard of before but which seems to be not only a somewhat common German practice but an extremely valuable resource to boot.

Wait, first I have to thank Tom for solving the Martin Neher comment mystery.

Nancy Drew and the Case of the Martin Nehr Comment

While I still don't know who the person is who posted the comment with the information about Martin Neher's origins and parentage in Heppenheim, Germany, Tom sent me an e-mail saying that it is probably reliable information, as it came from a "sippenbuch."

According to the Special Collections Department newsletter from the St. Louis County Public Library:

"Numerous rich sources for German genealogy are published in German-speaking countries. Chief among them are Ortssippenbücher (OSBs), also known as Ortsfamilienbücher, Familienbücher, Dorfsippenbücher and Sippenbücher. Literally translated, these terms mean “local clan books” (Sippe means “clan”) or
“family books.” OSBs are the published results of indexing and abstracting projects usually done by genealogical and historical societies.

An OSB focuses on a local village or grouping of villages within an ecclesiastical parish or administrative district. Genealogical information is abstracted from local church and civil records and commonly presented as one might find on a family group sheet. Compilers usually assign a unique numerical code to each individual for cross–referencing purposes (OSBs for neighboring communities can also reference each other). Genealogical information usually follows a standard format using common symbols and abbreviations, making it possible to decipher entries without an extensive knowledge of German.
Besides genealogical information, many OSBs also offer histories about the locality, its churches and schools, and they often include lists of clergy, teachers, community leaders, and soldiers who died during military service. Some OSBs include lists of emigrants from the village with their destinations."

Because these are basically compilations of actual vital records, despite the possibility of human error during the transcription and compilation, these seem like they are probably fairly reliable. Okay, so the Heppenheim Historical Society put together several volumes of what is called the Sippenbuch Heppenheim, which is where the info from the Martin Neher comment came from and from the looks of it, there is much more information on the Neher family in there.

So my next goal now is to somehow get my hands on these books - it looks like I might be able to order a microfilm copy from a Family History Center, so I may have to try that, as apparently it's not so simple as to order one of these books from Amazon. But for any of you out there with German ancestry who has never heard of this resource before, it might be worth it, if you know the town or area where your ancestors came from, to see if there is a sippenbuch that might be helpful to you and your research.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Some quick thoughts on the fourth episode of WDYTYA

  • Oh, tears and tears and tears at this one. I'm not a mother but my heart just went out to Kim Cattrall's mom and her two aunties, as she called them (so cute), as they told about how their family was devastated by their father's leaving, as they finally got the courage to find out what happened to him, how their hearts must have just broken at finally seeing a picture of him and seeing his happy little second family, and how they were finally able to get some closure.
  • So often this show depicts stories of discovering brave or pioneering or groundbreaking ancestors being discovered, but the truth is that all families have those people who are just unlikeable, for whatever reason.
  • Kim, like Lisa Kudrow last season, was interested in only one particular person, and a very recent person at that - our search for family isn't always in the distant past. Our parents and grandparents, just as our children and grandchildren, are also parts of our family history.
  • As someone so interested in family records who thinks all sorts of documentation is just so important, I can't understand a person, like Kim's grandfather, who just did not want to be in any pictures. I have an aunt, my great grandfather's Aunt Hannah, who lied about her age all the time and went so far as to scratch out any dates on documents. As a family historian, I could strangle her.
  • I was glad to see at the end of the episode that Kim's mom and aunties reached out to their half-siblings in Australia - I totally get Kim's not wanting to pursue it at the time, I think the whole journey packed a huge emotional wallop on all of them, but after letting things settle down for a bit, I'm glad to see they did that.
  • I couldn't believe Kim Cattrall's accent - I know her primarily from Sex and the City as a loud and fabulous New Yorker and to hear her accent get even more British as she spent time in England was awesome.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Reminder - fourth episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" tonight

Tonight's episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" focuses on Kim Cattrall's search for why her grandfather abandoned her family years and years ago. The previews hint at some kind of bigamy on his part. As Kim is actually British, they should show some different records for her research than are used by her American counterparts. Should be interesting. I won't get to watch this episode until this weekend, but look for my thoughts on it at some point tomorrow or Sunday.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" airs tonight on NBC at 8 p.m. EST - watch it!

Happy weekend everyone!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Taking a closer look at ship passenger manifests

I'm not sure what made me go back and look at the ship passenger manifests for my great-great grandparents, Rudolph and Augusta Stutzmann, but that's what I'm doing today. Most people with immigrant ancestors will, hopefully, be able to find their person or people on a ship passenger manifest documenting their entry into the United States (or wherever your ancestor might have gone to). Rudolph Stutzmann was actually born here in New York, but because he was a rich bank president, he and his wife traveled extensively, and so I have them listed on 8 different lists from 1910 to 1932.

So, here's what I've looked at on them before - all the usual suspects such as birth date and place, ship name, arrival date in New York, departing port. Sometimes their home address was listed, sometimes his occupation, sometimes his passport number. She is listed on several manifests as "a citizen by marriage." (Augusta was born in Germany). Corresponding newspaper articles about the Stutzmanns helped me realize why some of these trips were made - once when they toured Germany and France with the German singing society they belonged to, once when they sailed to Bermuda for a "conference" for bank presidents and their wives (my job needs to have conferences like that!), once when Rudolph toured post World War I France as the representative of the Ridgewood branch of the American Red Cross.

Today, I decided to dig a little deeper. Why not? I think sometimes we focus so much on the details, on what we need to find or just on our particular people, that we forget that this is a historical document, that it contains a lot more information than what I think I have to look for. This applies not to just ship passenger manifests. This applies to every document we look at.

I started with a trip Rudolph made in 1932. I didn't know why he made the trip. I didn't know where the ship had sailed, as both departure and arrival port were listed as New York. And then I skimmed the entire page where his name was listed and saw that two names were crossed out because they had "departed at Havana."

So Rudolph had gone to Cuba.

I checked out the front page of the manifest and saw that yes, several passengers had embarked at Havana. I decided to look at other ship manifests - some were pretty obvious that they had sailed out of European ports, such as Hamburg or Cherbourg. But I noticed that some of them made more than one stop. One ship had orginated in Bremen. Another made a stop at Southampton, England. Many of these ships were carrying diplomats. One had a count. A couple of other ships were carrying actresses.

I'm starting to get a better feel for Rudolph and Augusta's world. So this is how they rolled, huh?

I'm still in the process of reading these manifests. This blog post is a reminder to myself, and hopefully you all, to apply this approach to other sources I both come across in the future and that I've already saved and only taken a glimpse at.

Happy Hump Day everyone - only 2 and a half more days until the weekend! :)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Some quick thoughts on the third episode of WDYTYA

  • I've thought it before but I like how there's always one or two family members of these celebrities who help them on their family research journey - someone else who holds information important to starting the search or someone else interested in hearing about what that person finds out. A love of family history is something my dad and I share and so I can relate to the whole family history search bringing you closer to the family already in your life.
  • Along that same line, so many of these celebrities, and I think also some of us, use their genealogy search as a way to get close to immediate family members they lost, like Matthew Broderick and his dad last season, and Rosie O'Donnell and her mom last night. Looking into their person's family tree is a way to stay connected to loved ones who are gone or who we might never have known very well.
  • Rosie's family history is very similar to my own, as we are both Irish Catholics from Long Island, so it was very interesting to see what steps in her research that she took that I had already taken, and I was also paying attention to anything she did that I never thought to do, so I can use it in my own research!
  • New York City Municipal Archives shout-out! Rosie went there to look up some info on her family and I have been there many a times to look for birth, marriage, and death certificates - LOVE that place!
  • Some people hit nothing but dead ends, and obviously a show like this isn't going to follow people who can't find anything on their trees, but how lucky for Rosie that she found so much information about the people she was looking for - obits with dates and place names, baptismal records in Montreal and in County Kildare, Ireland. Persistence and serendipity, I tell ya...
  • I knew nothing about those workhouses that her Murtagh relatives lived in before emigrating, but how sad and awful those places must have been! Many of my Irish ancestors actually remained in Ireland long after the potato famine, coming to New York in the late 19th century, but my immigrant ancestor James Gorry and his wife's family, the Corrs, left Ireland during that time period. Such a devastatingly awful piece of Irish history - I can't even imagine what it must have been like to live through.
  • Oh my God, I can't believe Rosie was able to identify the woman in that photo that had hung in her play room as a child! Talk about serendipity!
  • And last but not least, of course I cried, the most I have so far this season, at pretty much every part, but I guess the part I'll single out is how Rosie was able to put the pain of losing her mother at a young age in perspective to the struggles and pain her Murtagh relatives went through and how everything they went through was why she is the person she is today (we'll forget for a moment that rumor has it the person she is isn't so nice...)
Next week, Kim Cattrall...looks like another good one!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Love for "Who Do You Think You Are?" in the media

I clicked on the link because it said "Best show you're not watching" and I love television almost as much as I love genealogy. Imagine my surprise and happiness at seeing what show they were talking about!

The article is short but sweet - read it, then watch the show! Only an hour and a half to go! :)

Reminder - third episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" on tonight

Tonight's episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" follows Rosie O'Donnell. As I think she's going to be looking for the family of her mom, who she lost when she was very young, and anything emotional having to do with mothers always sets me off, I am anticipating many tears on my part tonight. Crying streak FTW!

As usual, I will post my thoughts on the episode at some point this weekend. I will be working both Sunday and Monday, but I hope everyone else enjoys their holiday weekend!

WDYTYA airs on NBC at 8 p.m. EST - watch it!! :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Naeher/Neher/Nehr house in Heppenheim, Germany

House where Elizabeth Neher Riders was born in Heppenheim, near Darmstadt, Germany. Elizabeth was the younger sister of my fourth-great grandmother, Catherina Neher Meinberg Hellmann (1840-1918), which I will assume means my Catherine lived in this house at some point during her childhood, too. Thanks to Tom for finding and posting the picture, which was taken by Elizabeth's granddaughter, Katherine Loretta Mayer, in 1923. 


Monday, February 14, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday - finding more spots in Calvary Cemetery used in "The Godfather"

In case you can't tell, this has become my father's hobby of the month, stopping in at Calvary Cemetery on his way home from work and matching up spots with scenes from "The Godfather." This one, if you look, is the same spot but from a different angle - the "Daly" headstone helps orient you. Enjoy!

Valentine's Day tribute to my family

Just wanted to post some photos of couples in my tree, who if they had never gotten together, I wouldn't be here today - Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

My great-great grandparents, Delia Dauch Berg and Theodore Peterson Berg circa 1930.

Three couples for the price of one! - my great grandparents (standing from left to right) Timothy Cronin and Ellen Casey Cronin, Amelia Berg Raynor and Monroe Raynor at the 2 Nov 1946 wedding of their kids and my grandparents, Mary Cronin Raynor and Clifford Monroe Raynor (seated middle).

The wedding photo of my great grandparents Timothy Cronin and Ellen Casey Cronin, 15 Oct 1912 (he was 33, she was 19).

My great great grandparents Joseph James "J.J." Raynor and Annie Poole Raynor, circa 1930.

My grandparents, Helen Meta Stutzmann Gorry and Elmer Anthony Gorry, on their wedding day 18 Aug 1951 - look how happy they look and how beautiful my grandmother was!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Some quick thoughts on the second episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

  • I didn't cry watching this episode this morning but I definitely teared up, enough so that I had to wipe my eyes, so I'm counting it - the streak continues!
  • Learned something new - I had thought that my German ancestors were here early, coming over to New York about 1840 but apparently there were German immigrants here by 1710, which I did not know. Tim McGraw's ancestor Jost Hite was from the same region of Germany, the Rhineland-Palatinate, as some of my German ancestors. Maybe they knew each other back in the Old Country! :)
  • Got misty eyed when Tim was in the Library of Congress and realized that his ancestor had made an impression on one of Tim's heroes, George Washington, enough so that Washington mentioned them in his journal and in a letter. That's got to be a cool discovery.
  • Liked that Tim wasn't just looking for names, dates, and places - he wanted to know why decisions were made and things happened, the whole story behind an event like someone's early death. That's the way to do this right - you should want to know the whole picture and the whole person your ancestor was.
  • Tim really seemed to identify with his one ancestor Jost Hite and I think we've all been there, the one person in our tree we come across whose story we just have to know, who really makes an impression on us, who we either truly identify with or whose story just truly amazes us.
  • And that point leads me to the other thing I thought about as I was watching Tim McGraw on his journey - that delving into our family histories is about discovering our family stories but it's also about either discovering things about ourselves or seeing something about ourselves in former generations - Tim talked about themes or patterns he was discovering in his ancestors' personalities and I think we all want to find ourselves in our ancestors - we all want to be part of the pattern or part of the theme.
Next week, Rosie O'Donnell. Not a huge fan of hers but am very much looking forward to her story - as someone who lost her mother very young she probably knew very little about that side of her family.

Enjoy your weekends everyone! :)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Reminder: Episode 2 of Who Do You Think You Are? - Tim McGraw

Just a reminder to watch or set your DVR for the second episode of NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" tonight. Tonight's episode focuses on country music star Tim McGraw - since he didn't know who his real father was for quite some time, looks like this should be an interesting episode. I'll post my thoughts on the ep sometime this weekend, but for now, I'm taking bets on whether or not y'all think the crying streak will continue tonight! I'm going to try to match last year's perfect season, LOL

NBC at 8 p.m. - watch it, ya heard? :)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Happy birthday, Grandma!

And just because I'm a terrible granddaughter who forgot and my just dad reminded me, I'd like to wish my late grandmother, Helen Stutzmann Gorry, a very happy birthday - she would have been 79 years old today. Grandma, I hope Grandpa is throwing you a great big birthday bash and making you laugh your butt off up in heaven!

Marys, Marys everywhere...the confusion that comes when everyone in your tree has the same name

What do you do when your great grandmother's name is Mary Gorry? And your great-great grandmother's name is Mary Gorry? And your great-great-great grandmother's name is Mary Gorry? (And seriously, in my family, I can go both backward and sideways several times more with that name...) And then what do you do when two of those Marys are married to a James Gorry?

For one, it can be very easy to confuse not only what record belongs to which person, but just who is who to begin with. Now, most families don't suffer this name confusion to the extent that my family does, but everyone has someone in their tree who has the same name or a very similar name to someone else in their tree, in which case it can be very easy to confuse two individuals and get information wrong. My best friend is a firm believer that naming a son a junior is not a good idea, because then bills and records for father and son with identical first, middle, and last names get easily mixed up and sent to the wrong person. So it is with genealogical research.

This can also happen when families have more than one child with the same name - sometimes this happens when a first child dies and the family has another baby to whom they give the same name. Such is what happened with my great great grandmother, Mary Tormey Gorry, who had an older sister Mary who died as an infant before my Mary was born. And then there are families (I know both the Irish and the Germans do this) who have a tradition of giving all the sons or all the daughters the same first name and then calling the child by their middle name.

Anyway, my dad mentioned to me that he came across this multiple Mary-James problem when he first started researching his tree, and I thought it was a great point - check dates, check other records. Discrepencies in information can mean human error in making the record. Or it could mean you've come across two different people with the same name. Pay special attention to this if your family has a tradition of giving the same name over and over again!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ancestors who want to be found - Catherine Neher Meinberg Hellmann

I have to say, in all my years researching my family tree, no ancestor of mine wants to be found more than my 4th great-grandmother Catherine Neher Meinberg Hellmann. Her spirit seems to be manipulating the universe to open up avenues for me to discover her, moreso than any other person I've had to find entirely from scratch.

A little less than a year ago is when I had my first breakthrough with her, with the discovery of her obit and the fact that the reason I couldn't find her anywhere is that because after her first husband and my 4th great grandfather John Meinberg died, she remarried to a George Hellmann. That oh so tiny but oh so important fact knocked down her brick wall, and I found her in the census, discovered she had at least two sisters, and was able to order both a death certificate and marriage certificate. Those two last items led me to my 5th great grandparents, Martin Neher and Anna Maria Mitsch, who, like every new generation that is revealed, posed yet another brick wall, and so I put aside my Catherine Neher research for the time being. Sometimes you need to refocus, regroup, and then return.

Catherine, though, seems to be an impatient one. I think I might have annoyed her a bit by moving on to my other branches.

On Ancestry, you can build a family tree. It's both a help and a hindrance, because the website automatically searches its records periodically for matches to people in your tree - sometimes the searches are fruitful but more often than not they've just been completely wrong and a source of false hope. What it also does is connect you to other people who are researching the same people in their trees - again, this is both a good and a bad thing. Obviously, I am a huge proponent of sharing your research, and I am happy for people to have access to the records I have acquired. It's when I am doing my own research that I am either a) told to connect to someone who is sharing wrong, unsourced info or b) people whose sources are my own, with no new ones to offer that this feature isn't my favorite.

Anyway, recently someone has been copying my sources and records for Catherine to their own tree. Fantastic. Apparently they are following the lines of one of her sisters, Elizabeth Neher Riders. I don't primarily work on side branches, but I try to update them when all my backroads are blocked. Plus, knowing the side branches gives you other names to search for, as someone might not have your ancestor on their tree, but they might be descended from a sibling and have information on his or her parents that you don't have. So it's important to trace those side lines.

And how.

Something moved me today to check this person's actual tree, instead of just looking at the notifications of what they were taking from me. Catherine was giving me a little nudge, I suppose. Attached to my Catherine, Martin, and Anna Maria in his tree were handwritten notes on the Neher family by this person's relative - names and dates and how people were related and married names and ship names and birthplaces and I'm just so excited that I can't even stand it. The photos of these notes also shows two other people have connected these records to their trees, so those are other relatives of mine out there.

Since Catherine is being pushy today, I'm going to read these notes more closely in a bit, and will be let you know more when I get a chance!

A little bit persistence, a little bit serendipity...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Matrilineal Monday - Mary Donnelly Corr

I'd like to introduce you to my fourth-great grandmother, Mary Donnelly Corr, of County Cavan, Ireland. Two years ago I didn't know a lick about her. But through some persistence and a little bit o' luck (the usual suspects), I know a lot more about this woman than I ever dreamed.

It starts with her daughter, Mary Corr Gorry, who was married to James Gorry. I knew she was a Mary but I didn't know her maiden name until I ordered a copy of her death certificate from July 1901 in New York City - her parents' first names were unknown, but her father's name was listed as "Mr. Corr." Being the Nancy Drew-in-training that I am, a lightbulb immediately went off in my head. Here was my first connection to the obit for Catherine Corr that my dad had found in his father's basement. I don't believe in coincidences, so my Mary and this Catherine had to be related. Catherine was the daughter of the late Thomas, and judging from the date of things, it appeared that my Mary, born between 1830-1835 and Catherine's father Thomas, were sister and brother.

Off to Ancestry! A search for "Mary Corr" born circa 1832 in Ireland turned up a passenger list manifest from May 7, 1846 for the Macedonia into New York harbor with a Mary Corr, age 17, a Thomas Corr, age 20, a Philipp Corr, age 26, and a Mary D. Corr, age 45, all from County Cavan, Ireland. No family relations were included but I made the assumption that Mary D. Corr had traveled to America with her three children - Philip, Thomas, and Mary. I now had my Corr line, only recently even unknown, back a generation, and to a specific county in Ireland as well.

Which brings us to Mary D. Corr. Luckily, "Philip Corr" is a fairly unusual name, so an Ancestry search for him turned up a hit in the 1850 census, where Philip "Carr" is living with his new wife Bridget, their infant son Thomas, and a Mary Donelly.

Now, we always try to verify and prove everything. But sometimes in order to find those connections that lead us to the proofs, we have to make assumptions - not wild assumptions. More like educated guesses. So this was my educated guess - that this was indeed my Philip and Mary, and that the "D" in "Mary D. Corr" was for Donelly, possibly her maiden name. Why she was using it or recorded as such in the census, I don't know, but it was another clue.

From there, I had my first experience using the New York Emigrants Savings Bank database, which if you can find the right kind of entry, has a wealth of information in it. Luckily for me (and believe me, I don't usually have this kind of luck, finding things so easily, when I do my research) both Thomas and Philip had accounts at that bank, and cross-referencing their entries helped to verify a lot of the information. In an entry for Philip from 8 July 1856, we have Philip Corr, a cartman living at the corner of 5th Street and 14th Avenue, a native of Dungimmon, County Cavan (so now we have a *town* too - excitement!) who arrived May 7, 1846 on the Macedonia. Father, Thomas, is dead. Mother is Mary Donelly. An entry for Thomas Corr from July 1857 lists him as a cartman living on the corner of 5th St. and First Avenue. He was a native of Dungimmon, County Cavan (check), arrived May 7, 1846 on the Macedonia (check). Father, Thomas, dead (check); mother, Mary Donnelly, in New York (check). Married to Bridget Baxter, 3 children. Thomas Corr and Bridget Baxter were the parents of Catherine Corr, of obit fame.

So a hello, too, to Mary Donelly's husband, Thomas Corr. I haven't been able to find Mary in any other census and I have no idea when she died; I don't know a thing about her husband except that he died in Ireland before 1846 and I know nothing of her life there. But by now, I had a wealth of information about her, starting with the simple fact of her existence and a name to put instead of "Mary Corr Gorry's mother," and almost all from records not her own, as our matrilineal research often works. I also had to follow a convoluted path from her daughter Mary to her granddaughter and Mary's niece Catherine to her son and Catherine's father Thomas to her other son Philip in order to find her.

The moral of the story is - look everyone! Everyone can be found. Unless, like some of my ancestors, they apparently don't *want* to be found. But that's a story for another day...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A few quick thoughts about last night's "Who Do You Think You Are?" episode

* Long Island shout-out! Vanessa Williams' father was from Oyster Bay, about a 25 minute drive from me. That whole area is dotted with tiny, old cemeteries like the one her father is buried in.

* Didn't cry for the first 20 minutes or so but did finally break down, so my record remains intact...awesome!

* The National Archives, where she went for her great great grandfather's Civil War records, is where I went for my 4th great grandfather Charles Haase's Civil War records - they are a great resource for military records. Vanessa Williams was lucky to find so much information in her relative's file.

* It was interesting to see how each generation of her family was integrated white, African-American, mulatto. It was have been hard for them in post-Civil War America and early 20th century America but it was interesting to see that being color-blind was a sensibility passed down through the family.

* Watching this show again reiterated for me the need to do more field trips and field work...I do some, like visiting cemeteries, but I don't do enough non-computer based research, which I think means I'm missing some research opportunities.

* It also reiterated that when I need help, I should ask for help. If I don't know the answer, someone else might. For example - now that I have a date and place of death for my 3rd great grandfather John Ricklefs, why haven't I gone to the Patchogue village or Brookhaven town clerk/historian/archivist to get a copy of his death certificate and find where he's buried?

* I think I really lost it in this episode when Vanessa was saying how researching her father's family made her feel close to her father, how reading the story of one of her ancestors was like reading a story about her father, that they both stood for the same things and were the same kind of man. I think that's absolutely one of the best parts of genealogy, is how it can bring us closer to not only our ancestors but our immediate loved ones, those who are still here and those who are gone.

* Love that in the end she did the second most important thing you can do besides researching your family tree - pass it on to your family, most notably the next generation!!

So, so glad this show is back! :)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Reminder - Second season premiere of NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?"

For anyone who was a fan of the first season of this show, the second season premieres tonight at 8 p.m. on NBC - I believe Vanessa Williams is the subject of the first episode.

I loved the first season of this show. I don't think I learned anything new about how to better do genealogy research but I loved watching other people travel down the roads I've already traveled and the emotions that came with it - the excitement, the frustration, the sadness, the feeling of discovering a little bit more about who you are and the feeling of getting to know and getting close to your family who came before. This show follows celebrities but I think their stories are our stories, whether we're famous or not. We can all relate to the wonder of the genealogy journey.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I think I cried at some point during every single one of last season's six episodes. And every single episode pumped me up to continue my own genealogy journey.

NBC, 8 p.m., "Who Do You Think You Are?" - watch it!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Genealogy website review and round-up - Ancestry, Footnote, World Vital Records, Familysearch

I am currently in the middle of getting all my finances in order. I've spent the past few years being less than fiscally responsible and splurging on things I want but don't necessarily need - a new Coach bag, all my favorite tv shows on dvd, a full subscription...

I love Ancestry ( It has made available, right at our fingertips, so many primary documents that otherwise would have been difficult if not impossible for us to find. That website has been instrumental in the verification and expansion of my tree. It has also cost me a pretty penny. So this past week, I decided to shop around.

I don't like to shop around. Even in real life when I go shopping I don't like to shop around. I find something I like, something I'm comfortable with, and I stick with it. That's my m.o. But Ancestry was costing me $32 a month. That's almost $400 a year. And while the site was invaluable in the beginning and middle stages of my research, lately it hasn't been that helpful with finding new information. So I decided to see if I could find something cheaper.

First I tried Footnote ( It was advertised on Ancestry. A lot of these websites are either affiliated with each other or have some kind of association, so they help each other out. Most of them will offer at least a 7-day free trial (I started my Ancestry membership almost 10 years ago with a 2-week free trial). Footnote was interesting, because it has documents, many from the National Archives, that Ancestry does not have, so I can see it being a good companion website to Ancestry, but at the same time, their records seemed very specialized - military records, Native American records, FBI records - which is great if that's what you're looking for, but it was not what I was looking for. So I cancelled that.

Then I decided to do a Google search of "best genealogy websites" and I found something called World Vital Records ( It's by the same people who started Ancestry and has many of the same records available, such as some of the U.S. Census records and a huge newspaper collection, but doesn't have quite as an extensive collection of records. At $10 a month, though, a membership to World Vital Records is much more affordable than Ancestry and might be a good place to start if you're not sure what you're looking for yet. Also, just to note, I wasn't really a fan of either sites' search engine and whereas it was easy to cancel my Footnote free trial online, World Vital Records made it more difficult in that I had to call up. That could make it easy to let the free trial end date pass and get stuck paying, but the customer service rep I spoke with was very nice and very helpful.

I don't know if trying two new websites qualifies as "shopping around" but after almost two weeks I decided to stick with Ancestry and downgrade from the monthly world deluxe membership to the monthly U.S. deluxe membership - it's about $10 cheaper and I was using mostly U.S. records anyway. Despite the cost, I really like Ancestry, and if I decide to change my mind again in the future, it's really easy to upgrade to another membership. Also, they are constantly adding new records, so even though I haven't found anything lately, I can't rule out finding pertinent info in the future (1940 U.S. census coming out in 2012 anyone? :))

And on a sidenote, if you don't feel like paying for a website subscription, the LDS Familysearch website ( is free and pretty decent. They recently overhauled it, so the search engine is new, but they have a ton of records you can't even find on Ancestry - that's where I found the 1892 and 1905 New York State censuses as well as Kings County probate files for some of my family members. A lot of their databases aren't indexed but if you have the time and patience to go through each record (and believe me, that's what I had to do with Ancestry's census images, line by line, before they were indexed), there are records from all over the world - including Latin America, which Ancestry is not so great with record-wise - with family history nuggets just waiting to be found!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday - Elizabeth Oakes Smith

Elizabeth Oakes Smith headstone in Lakeview Cemetery, Patchogue, New York. Photo by Mary Ellen Gorry 30 June 2009.

I was wandering around Lakeview Cemetery in Patchogue, New York in June 2009, looking headstone by headstone to see if my Ricklefs family, who moved from the city to a farm there in the 1920s, were possibly buried there. At that time, I didn't have a date of death for either John or Meta and so had no death certificate, where you can usually find a place of burial. But I did have an afternoon to kill, so I drove out there and walked around for a couple of hours. I came home with no more info on them, but with a killer sunburn.

Anyway, I like to look at names as I cemetery-wander, and taking photos of names and headstones that interest me, and I came across this - a woman named Elizabeth Oakes Smith, "a lecturer, reformer, and poetess," a "woman of vision and of courage." I had never heard of her, but apparently at the time of her death she was quite important, at least locally so, so this being the 21st century and all, I googled her as soon as I got home, and guess what? I got some hits.

She was born in Maine in 1806 and between the 1830s and 1880s she seems to have been a somewhat well-known feminist writer. She was married to magazine editor and humorist Seba Smith, had six sons, and continued to write across many genres and many forms of media, but most passionately about women's rights.

She and Seba moved to New York City in 1838. In 1859, they retired to rural Patchogue, much as my Ricklefs would 65 years later. She died in 1893.