Monday, January 31, 2011

My life Monday - Rocky Rocket

I am creating this blog prompt as a reminder to myself. Like most genealogists I am an expert on my ancestors. I am also an expert on myself, of course, but I epically FAIL when it comes to detailing my own memories. I do keep an old-school journal, but I have found over the years that I am very good at writing in it when things are not really going my way, but will go for years without an entry when things are good. This prompt is an opportunity to write some of the memories I have.

The first pet I ever had was a cat. Or rather a wacky, disappearing kitten. When I was 7 or 8-years-old my family and I made a trip to the Lake of the Ozarks in southern Missouri. My father was visiting a National Guard buddy of his that, I believe, owned the hotel named Rocky Point. I don't remember the actual vacation, but I do remember the cabin we stayed in. It was your typical cabin with one bedroom and a fold-out couch in the living room. At some point in the trip I came across a small kitten. He was adorable and I somehow got him in to the cabin and spent the bulk of our trip playing with him. I asked my parents if I could take the cat home with us and they agreed on the condition that I ask the owner if I could have him. That was a devastating blow, as I was a very shy child and the idea of talking to a stranger, or at least a stranger to me, was horrifying. But one look at my kitten was all I needed to muster up the courage. I finally asked the owner of the property and he happily agreed.

On the morning of our last day of vacation we all got up and straightened the cabin in preparation to leave. But my kitten was nowhere to be found. I knew I had brought him in to the cabin, but now he was gone. I was heartbroken and cried the whole way home. We already had one dog and one cat at home, but that was no consolation for the cat that I felt a special connection to.

A day or two after we got home my dad got a call from his Army buddy. They were cleaning out our cabin and when they took out the fold-out couch to change the sheets out popped my kitten! He must have been scared by all the ruckus of our pack up and hid in the couch. Good news, except for that we lived in Kansas City; a four-hour drive to Branson. But I was a lucky girl and my parents are and were nothing if not adventurous. The next weekend we drove back to Branson and picked up my disappearing kitten, who the hotel owners had kept under a watchful eye. I still vividly remember the drive home in my Dad's 1986 GMC truck with my parents and my kitten in a box on my lap.

We named the kitten Rocky after the place we had to visit twice to get him. Rocky lived to be nearly 20-years-old and we had countless good times together. In an odd twist, my parents sent me a birthday card from Rocky, with a lovely inky paw print, that I received on the day he died. I loved that cat. And I love the story of him. It reminds me of how much my parents love me and how a pet really can make such a big difference in your life.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Sin: Living versus dead

I made a realization over Christmas (which was soon forgotten in the post-Christmas recovery): I may know more about the dead than I do the living. I am so very fanatical about genealogy and finding that next relative, that I sometimes forget the relative that I could actually call. Stories from the present are just as important as stories from the past. I live far away from my relatives, but that doesn't mean I can't keep in touch by telephone, email or even Facebook. So one of my genealogy resolutions will be to maintain better contact with the living. After all, if it weren't for the dead they wouldn't be here. (Thank you to Threading needles in a haystack: the genealogy journey for the reminder of my forgotten resolution!)

Friday, January 28, 2011

I am asking for too much?

I suppose that I can be selfish sometimes. After all, I am only human. But I am beginning to wonder if I am unnecessarily selfish when it comes to genealogy. This thought came to my mind as I was reviewing some of my past genealogy board posts. I have made many, many posts on countless different genealogy boards on Rootsweb.com, Genealogy.com and others. Every time I make a request I ask simply for information on a specific ancestor and provide as much information about the individual as I have. My goal in posting is to find out as much as humanly possible about a person. What better way to do so then to connect with a fellow researcher interested or knowledgeable on a similar surname or locality? Most often, if I receive a response at all, the individual is informative and helpful. I have even made connections where individuals provide me with copies of ancestral files. But I have received enough responses that I consider to be a little "short" with me and my request that I want to know if I am breaching some sort of board posting etiquette.

I received one response where the individual reprimanded me for not narrowing down what I was looking for. Herein lies the rub. If I were only looking for an individual's death date, I would say so. But I am interested in all facets of an individual's life and would rather have the fire hydrant of information then a small trickle of water. Is this really asking too much?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thriller Thursday - Jesse C. Turnage, murdered by guerrillas

Missouri was rife with confederate guerrilla action throughout the Civil War. In an effort to combat the growing guerrilla problem in the state, Major General Harry W. Halleck, then Commander of the Department of Mississippi, issued General Order #2 on 13 March 1862. A portion of the order read as follows:

"Evidence has been received at these headquarters that Maj. Gen. Sterling Price has issued commissions or licenses to certain bandits in this State, authorizing them to raise "guerrilla forces," for the purpose of plunder and marauding. General Price ought to know that such a course is contrary to the rules of civilized warfare, and that every man who enlists in such an organization forfeits his life and becomes an outlaw. All persons are hereby warned that if they join any guerrilla band they will not, if captured, be treated as ordinary prisoners of war, but will be hung as robbers and murderers. Their lives shall atone for the barbarity of their general."

Heady stuff, and clear that guerrilla activity would not be accepted by Union forces in the state of Missouri. Brigadier General Schofield, Commander of the Department of Missouri, created the Enrolled Missouri Militia in July 1862 in a further effort to thwart the guerrilla activity. The Militia was considered a part-time force, called in to duty for emergency and garrison-type policing duties. Its formation then freed Missouri State Militia troops to actively hunt the guerrillas.

Jesse C. Turnage enrolled in the Enrolled Missouri Militia October 2, 1862. The story goes that on 18 July 1864, 2LT Turnage was on leave and working in his fields in Ray County, Missouri. "Bloody Bill" Anderson and his gang of guerrillas came upon Turnage, and knowing his role in the Militia, tied him up and interrogated him. Anderson then decided that Turnage would die and a member of his gang cut the Soldier's throat. The story continues that the gang then went to the Turnage family home and forced Turnage's wife, Esther, to make them food.
William T. Anderson, known as "Bloody Bill"

A tragic story, but is it true? This incident took place in Ray County, Missouri, and I can find no copy of the local newspaper for that date. Library holdings stop a week prior to 18 July 1864. But such an event must have been recorded in the daily reports of the 51st EMM. The Cornell University Library has digitized the entire volume of The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. In this publication I was able to find a report dated 18 July 1864 from Joseph E. Black to Brigadier General Clinton B. Fisk. The report states in part:

"On the 18th they [guerrillas] passed northwest of Richmond, about seven miles from the city, murdering Lieutenant Turnage, of company D, Fifty-first Regiment Enrolled Missouri Militia...Lieutenant Turnage was shot three times in the head and his throat was cut from ear to ear."

So the story is true and more gruesome than I was aware of. I have yet to determine the validity of the guerrillas then forcing themselves into Turnage's home. While the above is not conclusive proof that "Bloody Bill" Anderson was actually involved, it does show the savage nature of the Civil War in in the state of Missouri. The fact that it was attributed to Anderson also shows that, while it may not be fact, it was definitely an example of his modus operandi and an example of how he earned his terrible moniker.

Sources: Maj. Gen. Halleck's General Order #2: The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 - Volume 8, pages 611-612.
Joseph Black report to Brig. Gen. Fisk: The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 - Volume 41 (Part II), page 252.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ode to double-checking your sources: Frank Roelker

When I met my husband I never truly considered his last name. I was more interested in those blue eyes and big heart. It wasn’t until after we were married that I began to wonder about my new name: Roelker. I have been passionate about genealogy all my life but I had never considered being passionate about someone else’s roots until I made the connection that they were now my roots as well.

So I began to ask questions. My husband and in-laws knew that the name was of German origin, they believed it was from the Black Forest area, and that their immigrant ancestor came to the United States fairly recently.

My search started with collecting all of the census records I could find. I was able to trace the line back to Frank Roelker who, according to census records, was born in Germany in 1861. I found him and his wife Regina with their six children on the 1900 census in Montezuma County, Colorado. As far as official records went, this is as far as I could get. The 1900 census stated that Frank immigrated to the United States in 1878, but despite many searches I was unable to find any record of his arrival in America.

The 1900 census also stated that Frank was a naturalized citizen but finding proof of that also eluded me. I contacted the Colorado State Archives to see if they had a record of his naturalization but they had no documentation on Frank. In a search of Colorado newspapers at The Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection I found small notes about the Roelkers' social life, but no information about their origin. I knew when Frank and Regina had died based on a search on FindAGrave.com, so contacted the local library, but there were no copies of the local newspaper from that time to search for an obituary. The Colorado Historical Society had copies of the newspaper on microfilm, but they were closed and in the middle of a move between buildings. Dead end.

I decided to request Frank Roelker's death certificate. I downloaded a death certificate request form from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and mailed it to the appropriate address. Unfortunately, his death certificate did not have any information that I did not already know. It only stated that he was born in Germany and the informant, his son William Roelker, did not know his grandparents name so they are not listed on the certificate.

It seemed that I was officially at a brick wall. I went back to my census research to see if there was anything I missed. In my second look at the 1900 census I noticed something I should have seen the first time: all of Frank and Regina's children were born in Colorado except for his first child, Mary. Mary was born in Ohio around 1885. If the information was correct, the Roelkers lived in Ohio around 1885 and moved to Colorado somewhere in between 1885 and 1900. 
The 1900 census page that broke my
brick wall for the Roelker family.
It was a great find and opened up a whole new line of research, but I also wanted to hit myself across the head. I should have noticed that information the first time around. I often get so excited to move on to the next shiny object that I fly through documents rather than really investigate them. It is hard to say when even the smallest tidbit of information will open new leads. So this is my ode to double-checking facts. May I one day learn!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

To Meet Tuesday: Lois Burnett Kuhn


I have decided to start my own blog prompt for Tuesday: To Meet Tuesday. I know what you are thinking...why not Meet Monday? Well, I like Military Monday too much. Anyway, this prompt is all about the ancestors you wish you could meet in person, if only for a little bit, and what you would say to them.

If I'm honest I would like to meet every ancestor I find, but I have no problem picking the first person I would want to meet. It would be my grandmother, Lois Burnett Kuhn. Lois was my father's mother and she died when he was only 18 of a heart attack. She was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri and following a divorce was a single, working mother. She was in her mid-twenties during WWII and worked in a factory...and fell in love with a Soldier. My father has told me many stories of his mother including how she used to roll up the carpet in their living room and make dad dance with her to big band music. I can imagine the two of them swinging around the room. From the stories I have heard from family she was an independent woman.


Leroy Kuhn and Lois Burnett
on their wedding day

If I met her I think I would tell her how much I have missed her. How much everyone has missed her. I would also tell her about my father and myself and what we have accomplished, although perhaps that is a waste as she probably already knows. No, maybe I would just focus on asking her about herself. Things she loved and hated, how she liked to spend her time. And before she left I would tell her how I believe I learned my independence, in part, from her.

It is a sad thing to me that I was never able to meet my grandmother. I'm not sure how I know, but I am positive we would have been peas in a pod. But even though she isn't here, she has been a big influence on my life. I have always thought of her watching and supporting me from wherever she is. We never met, but she has always been here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Military Monday: Exploits in Military Records, part II

My Kuhn line is filled with men who served their country. Our military legacy stretches back to the Revolutionary War, which means a large portion of my research time is devoted to military history and research. One ancestor that I have always been curious about is Warren Edward Kuhn. I knew from a very young age that Warren died in WWII and that my father was named after him. We didn't know very much about his service, other than that he served in the European theater and was buried in Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium. My father has often told me the story about his visit to that cemetery during his military tour in Germany in the 1960s; it gave him a very strange feeling to see his own name on a headstone.

Years later I was able to make my own visit to Henri-Chapelle to pay my respects on Veteran's Day. The cemetery is located in Belgium, just north of the village of Henri-Chapelle and only seven miles from the German border. In order to find the location of the headstone we stopped to visit with the cemetery administrator. He was very kind and when he found out we were looking for a relative's grave he took us to his office and prepared a packet of documents for us which included a printout of information from the American Battle Monuments Commission website and an official Presidential certificate honoring my uncle's service. He also escorted my husband and I to the grave and gave us a flag to honor him. I was floored and had not expected such a welcome or the level of respect for my fallen ancestor.

I walked away from the experience realizing that I did not know anything about my uncle. I resolved to dig deeper and learn more about both him and his service. In a quick search on Ancestry.com I located the WWI, WWII, and Korean War Casualty Listings archive and found a listing on my uncle, which included his service number. As I did with my grandfather, I wrote to the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) and requested a copy of his official military record file or OMPF. I could not use the eVetRecs service of the National Archives because I am not a direct descendant, but instead filled out the Standard Form 180. I sent my request on  4 September 2009. On 11 January 2010 I received a response. In the cover letter the archivist mentioned that the record I requested was in the portion of the NPRC that received the most damage during the fire there in 1973, but that they did have a few documents that were saved and for $60 I could get copies of them. That was a pretty steep price to pay, but I just couldn't say no.

In March 2010 I received the documents in a packet 1/2" thick. It included all the paperwork from Warren's induction into the military. It also contained documents from March 1945 when he was killed in action. It included the place in Germany where he was injured and the injuries he sustained. I am not a morbid person, but for some reason it was very important to me to understand what he had gone through and where he had died. I received the information after I moved from Germany, but when I return I plan to visit the city where he was killed.

My results for the request of his OMPF are not typical. Very few World War II Army personnel records we saved from the 1973 fire. That being said, there are still other options when researching Army veterans killed in action during WWII. Ancestry.com has many resources for military casualty listings which include not only service numbers but assigned units. Although it is a fee-based website many libraries offer the site for free. If you have the assigned unit you can trace the unit's movement, as well as that of their higher headquarters, and find a better idea of where your ancestor was when they were killed. I knew that Warren was assigned to the 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion and in a quick Google search of that unit I found many links that gave me an idea of what the unit did during the war. By narrowing the search to Google Books I found books that discussed the history of the unit that I could view and download in some instances. I also visited WorldCat.org, a website that compiles the holdings of libraries from across the country, and found many other books that I could request through interlibrary loan. Many Army divisions also have associations where past members gather and maintain the history of the division. You are especially lucky if your ancestor's unit still exists, as you can find information on their heritage by contacting the Army historian for the unit or its higher headquarters.

For a better understanding of what your military ancestor experienced you can visit The National World War II Museum in New Orleans or visit the website for the U.S. Army Center of Military History which has a myriad of publications and links.

I am especially proud of my uncle and his sacrifice. The search for his service history has been fascinating and only makes me the more proud.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sometimes a genealogist must step away from the computer

I'll admit it, I'm an Internet Genealogist. I have two small children and there's just something about a loud 3-year-old that doesn't work in a library. I have found over the years that I can find some of the best ancestry information on the Internet. Whether it is from a monster genealogy site like Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org or just a small county GenWeb site, there is always something great to find on the Internet. But I have learned that while the Internet is great there is often no replacement for setting your feet on the ground of your ancestors.

Early last year my family took a ski trip to Colorado. We took our time driving home and took a different route through Oklahoma than we had taken before. As we were driving down the highway, I started seeing exit signs for the city of Pawnee. I knew it was familiar, but I couldn't place it. Then it hit me: Pawnee was the city I had researched for my Creed line. Gussie Creed is my great-grandmother on my father's side and I knew that she and her parents had lived in Pawnee County, Oklahoma. We were this close...I just had to go. So I asked my husband to take a brief detour just to see the town.

Joseph and Mary Creed of Pawnee, Oklahoma

Our decision was quick as we had to take the next exit. I knew that Gussie's parents, Joseph and Mary (Reece) Creed were buried in Pawnee so my initial thought was to just find the cemetery they were buried in and pay my respects. To find that information we headed to the local library, which we found through street signs. The librarian was very helpful, and was also a genealogist, so she lead us directly to the bound book that kept the cemetery information. We quickly found my ancestors in Highland Cemetery. Overhearing our find, the librarian stated that she had a layout of all the graves for that cemetery and she made a copy for us. She also suggested that we visit the Pawnee County Historical Society Museum on the square. A good nugget of information, as we were not aware of the museum.

We jotted over to the museum and spoke to the volunteers there. They did indeed have genealogy information, but neither of them were familiar with it. Instead, they called the resident expert, Gladys Kitchen, who offered to come to the museum to help me. In a strange twist of fate, I had actually been in contact with Gladys via email and now I had an opportunity to meet her. She drove to the museum and helped me go through the Creed family files. She was able to give me their obituaries and show me the plot of land they had owned. It turns out that Joseph Creed had been a part of the 4th Land Rush in Oklahoma. I walked away with information I had not known and would not have found through my searches on the Internet. And of course, I gave a donation to the historical society!

In the meantime, my husband walked around the square, in an effort to keep my young son from getting bored at the museum, and explored the town. He came across a great drug store and an antique store where we ended up buying a couple of lamps. And at the end of our visit we stopped by the cemetery and paid our respects.

I'm not sure what I had hoped to see in Pawnee, maybe just to know that I had walked in their footsteps. In our brief 2-hour stop I was not only able to do that, but learned information I had not known and patronized businesses in small-town America. This short adventure is one we still talk about. I had often wondered why the Creed family had come to Oklahoma and stayed. Having visited and met the locals I know exactly why they stayed. You just can't find this kind of stuff on the Internet!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Talented Tuesday - Aunt Bruna McGuire

My family is from Ray County, Missouri, and everytime I get a chance I return there to visit. My grandmother knows how much I love family history so she suggested I make a visit to the Ray County Historical Society Museum. Never one to shirk a museum visit opportunity I happily obliged. The museum is set in the old Ray County Poor Farm and houses three floors of exhibits. As I made my tour I kept coming across one of my family names: McGuire. In one room there was a dress gifted to the museum by my great-great grandmother, Francis Wall McGuire, and in the hallway a painting of my Great-aunt Bruna McGuire. I'll admit that it was a bit disorientating to see things from my family in a museum...but how cool is that?

I especially enjoyed the painting of Bruna. It shows her standing next to her Model A Ford which she drove across the county for many years. I have heard many stories of Bruna and just know that we would have gotten along. She was by all accounts a feisty woman. The talent she is most remembered for is her writing. She, along with Betty Wall, compiled a book on the McGuire and Wall family lines. But how most people knew Bruna is through her weekly column printed in newspapers across Ray County to include the Richmond Missourian, the Richmond Conservator, the Hardin News and the Lexington News. I have read that many people that had moved away from the county would request subscriptions to the newspapers solely to read Bruna's column. She had a folksy tone to her writing and her in-depth knowledge of all the people in the area made her an expert at finding relevant connections to everyone.

Bruna also attended college and traveled around the country. In a time period when a woman's role was marriage and children, Bruna broke the mold. She would try anything and was extremely brave, especially when puttering around in her Model A with faster cars whizzing past her.

If you knew Bruna, you will always remember her. I only wish I could be so lucky.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Military Monday: Exploits in Military Records, Part I

Leroy C. Kuhn
My family has a long history of serving in the military. Being a military member myself and a military spouse I feel a close connection with my military ancestors. That connection has led me to some fascinating forays into the quest for military genealogy records. Over the past two years I have focused on locating military records for many of my ancestors. Footnote.com has a terrific collection of Revolutionary war and civil war records, which I have found several pertinent records in. For more recent wars I have contacted the National Archives.

My first exploit in military records was attempting to find the records of my grandfather, Leroy C. Kuhn. I never had the opportunity to meet him, but I knew he had served in the military because he was buried in Leavenworth National Cemetery and was an active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In a search on Ancestry.com I found his enlistment record in the U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 collection. It stated that he enlisted as a private in the Army's medical department on 25 July 1940 in Leavenworth, Kansas and would serve in the Philippine department.

In order to get a copy of my grandfather's service record, I utilized the eVetRecs System of The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The NARA is essentially the United States' record keeper. The organization maintains historical records in an effort to chronicle our country's heritage through documents. You can order copies of military records they maintain through several methods, but the two easiest options are the eVetRecs System and the postal service. The eVetRecs System is an online military records request system. You may use this option if you are requesting your own records or if you are the next of kin for a deceased military veteran. If you are not a veteran or direct descendant you must fill out Standard Form 180 and mail it to the appropriate address listed on the form (there are several military records custodians based on branch of service). The NARA's updated website has a link directly from the home page to Veterans' records. The homepage for Veterans' Service Records makes it easy to to find the particular page you need:
For my grandfather's records I had my father put in the request. The eVetsRecs System is very easy to use, simply launch the program and it walks you through the steps to order the specific records you need. It is helpful to have the following information on your veteran: Full name, branch of service (Army, Navy, Marines, etc.), Service Unit (whether the veteran was active component or reserve), Social Security number, Date of Birth, Place of birth, Service Number, whether the veteran was an officer or enlisted and the approximate date that the veteran left the Service. Much of this can be found on an enlistment record, but don't worry if you don't have all the information, the NARA will conduct the search on what you have.

The eVetsRecs System provides a signature verification form which the next of kin must sign and then mail to the address listed on the form. Keep of copy of this document so you will have a record of your request. We actually made two requests: one for my grandfather's active-duty Army service and one for his Naval Reserve service. Both requests were made on 23 June 2009. We received a response for our Reserve component request on 14 July 2009. The packet included a copy of his navel reserve enlistment contract and his naval reserve service record.
I received the copy of my grandfather's active-duty Army records 1 November 2009, about four months after I made the request. The packet included his report of separation, a copy of his discharge papers and a statement of his service. His service file was not very robust, but did have important information in it that I did not already have such as the names of the units he was assigned to. This information will help me to track down the type of war action my grandfather saw, if any.

The most difficult part in requesting military records is the wait, but that is something genealogists must, by necessity, be good at. Take the opportunity to make the request and you may find a wealth of information on your military ancestor.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

My successful (not scary) LDS adventure

I wrote two days ago about my decision to rip off the Band-Aid and visit a Church of Latter Day Saints Family History Center. I will admit that I was afraid to venture into a LDS church. Not because I thought they would eat me, but because I am inherently shy and sometimes find it hard to try things out of my comfort zone. So yesterday I begged my husband to go with me to visit one of the Family History Centers in our area. We loaded up the car with both children and all drove out to the church.

It was a Saturday, so I knew the FHC would be open. I wasn't sure if it was part of the actual church or a separate building so we just entered the church, which was not locked, and started walking around. We didn't see a soul in the building until we walked past several class rooms where it looked like they were having some type of religious class, like a Sunday school. Other than that we saw no one and after walking around the whole church we had still not found the FHC. The church was essentially a rectangle with a long hallway all around the rectangle and the chapel and a gym in the center. After walking around the entire rectangle without finding the FHC, I poked my head in the gym where I found two church members prepping for a party. I told them we were lost and they showed us where the FHC was...we had walked right past it. It had a small sign but was no different looking then any of the other rooms.

On this particular day, the FHC was manned by two volunteers, neither of which knew too much about ordering films from the main LDS library in Salt Lake City. While they might not have known very much about the process, they were very nice and welcoming and even took the time to chat with my husband and offer a coloring book and crayons to my preschooler.

The bottom line is that the trip I was fearing was far from scary. The church members were very nice and helpful and made me feel welcome. I do wish that the church had directional signs to show visitors where different places are, but then again the church is not made for visitors like me. I have several suggestions when visiting an LDS Family History Center:

1. Call to make sure that they will be open on the day and time you want to visit. The FHC I visited changes their hours quite often based on when volunteers can come. Just because the FamilySearch website lists particular hours does not mean that the church is always able to be open at that time.

2. If you are going to the FHC having already located the film you would like to loan from the main LDS archives, be sure to print off a copy of the Title Details page from the FamilySearch site. I have shown a copy below. Having this document makes it much easier for the volunteers to fill out the paperwork and they can attach it to your order form should there be any questions.


3. Bring cash to order your films. There is a fee of $5.50 for each film. If possible, bring exact change.

The volunteers told me I would get a call when my films arrive. I will have one month to view them before they have to be sent back, so my adventures will continue. But I am no longer nervous and while I do not know yet if the films I order will actually further my genealogy research I am so happy I tried! 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Backing up your genealogical (read:technological) life

In these days of electronic wizardry, a large portion of our lives is conducted and saved on computers. From photographs and videos to work and school projects, we would be lost without our computers. Along with our dependence on technology we should have a healthy respect for the fact that it is not infallible. Hard drives die, servers crash and things are lost. We may not be able to outsmart technology, but we can take the time to do what we can to save our electronic lives.

Backing up your genealogy research is an important part of conducting family history these days. Just as our predecessors took special care of personal papers, newsprint and print photographs, we must do the same with our digital files, photographs and videos. I am by no means an IT person, but I can share with you how this laywoman backs up her genealogy research.

First off, it may sound strange but I actually use Ancestry.com to store my family tree. I like the format of the site and their servers are way more reliable than anything I may have. I download a GEDCOM file from the site every few weeks so I have copy on my computer, but I only use that to print any reports I may need.

I maintain one folder on my computer for all of my family history files and one folder for all of my photos. Within these folders I created subfolders for every family line or photographed event. Creating the subfolders makes it easy to track down a particular document or photograph. It also makes it very easy to back the files up. I have two external hard drives, which can be purchased at reasonable prices just about anywhere, that I save the files to every few weeks. Because my files are only in two folders it is easy to copy them to the hard drive, rather than hunting all over the computer for files I need to save. I have one external hard drive always connected to my computer so I can save or retrieve files whenever necessary. The other hard drive is kept in my fire-proof safe. I rotate the hard drives once every two months. I do this in case some sort of freak electrical incident kills my computer and the hard drive connected to it, I will still have all my research saved on the hard drive in the safe. If you have family near you, or own a safe deposit box, you might contemplate storing a hard drive of your files there in the event that some sort of disaster strikes your home.

While much of our genealogy research can be conducted online, it is still a very paper-heavy hobby. I have many paper documents that I am currently working to digitize. When I receive a document I immediately scan it in to my computer. I'm a pack rat, so I still keep the paper version, but if something should happen I now have it digitized. I am also working to digitize all of my family's photos. I borrowed my grandmother's photos and have been scanning all of them in to my computer. I also back these files up on my hard drives. When I am finished I plan to burn cds of all of the photos and give copies to my relatives. This allows all of us to have a copy of the old photos and also makes it easy to have prints created at the local drugstore or box department store.

I do not have any fancy equipment, just an external hard drive and an all-in-one printer/fax/scanner that I purchased from Dell. You can find all of these items at places like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, or your favorite office store. Or you can order them online.

Another option is to utilize a fee-based data back-up website such at Mozy or Carbonite. These sites offer data backup for around $60 a year and provide not only a storage site for your files, but also offer encryption and access to your files from any computer with an Internet connection. Keep in mind that with these subscriptions you are solely responsible for your backed-up data and may not hold the companies liable should something happen to your files.

It may seem cumbersome to save your research, but if you make it part of your routine it is not a big deal at all. It is much easier than starting from square one should the evil technology gremlins steal your files.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Alright, I'm finally going to do it

Alright, alright, alright...I give up already. I have come to several dead ends in my genealogy research that I can't get out of my mind and I think I have finally come to the point where I have to pop the cork and...visit the LDS church! DUN, DUN, DUN (she sings aloud)!!!!!

No, it isn't that big of a deal. Honestly, I can't really say why I have yet to utilize the LDS records as a resource. Actually, that's a lie. I know exactly why I haven't gone to a Family History Center (FHC): I'm afraid. I am not a religious person and even though I know that volunteers at FHCs do not proselytize I am still nervous to cross their threshold. I am also inherently a shy person and the idea of walking in to a strange place to do something I've never done before makes my skin crawl.

Yet I am drawn to the myriad of resources that may be able to break down my brick walls. I have one major obstacle that first comes to mind:


Marcellus White's headstone in Lavelock Cemetery, Hardin, Missouri.
 Marcellus White. Marcellus is my third great-grandfather on my mother's side. He lived most of his life in Ray County, Missouri, and family stories state that he came from the Roanoke area of Virginia. There are no records for Marcellus in Missouri. There are no probate documents, no death record, no obituary. Not even a miscellaneous newspaper article. I have three census records and a photo of his headstone. Based on information in the book 1881 History of Ray County, Missouri, compiled by the Missouri Historical Company, I know that Marcellus served in the civil war on the confederate side. The book only mentions his participation: no unit information or state affiliation. A search on the National Park Service's Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System yields two entries for Marcellus F. White, both from units in southwest Virginia. One entry is for the 9th Virginia Infantry and the other is for Salem's Flying Artillery, both units being created in the Roanoke area of Virginia.

With that information in hand I went to Footnote.com to see what records they might have. A search for Marcellus F. White finds an entire Confederate Civil War Service record. It traces Marcellus from his enlistment in Salem, Virginia in 1861 to his parole at Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865. It is a fascinating set of documents. There is only one problem: I have no idea if this individual is "my" Marcellus.

I have found several online family trees that connect Marcellus F. White of Missouri to the White family of Roanoke, Virginia. None of them include sources. I am a stickler about sources. If I can't find a source for a detail, or at least several different sources that could lead to the same conjecture, than I try to not put the information in my tree. I have one source that may link Marcellus to Virginia. An 1850 census from Roanoke, Virginia lists a Marcellous [sic] White, age 18, living with his parents: Edmond P. and Sally White. This is the only tentative link I have between the two states. I know that Marcellus is a fairly unique name, but I have found several other Marcellus Whites while searching through Virginian documents.

So now we come full circle to the LDS archives. I have found many, many microfilm reels in their library catalog that may help me in all my family lines. For Marcellus I have found the resource Marriage licenses, 1838-1853; marriage register, 1853-1918 (1919), from the Roanoke, Virginia County Clerk. If Marcellus is on the document, it may contain his parents' names, or at least something a little more concrete. Plus it would verify his wife's information as well.

I suppose I'll do anything for a resource, even stretch out of my personal comfort zone. Wish me luck!

History Detectives...or Why can't I have such a cool job?

I really don't watch much television. If I'm honest, I spend much more time on the computer researching. But there are some television shows that I just can't do without. My current favorite, aside from a myriad of "ghost" shows, is the program History Detectives, which airs on PBS. The show follows five different historical "detectives," each with their own specialities, as they track down the history of interesting found objects. Many of the stories start with an individual contacting the television show and requesting that the history detectives track the past of a family heirloom or a great find from the flea market or antique store. The cast then traces the history of the item and weaves it's story in to the history of the time.

I find the show fascinating and often like to think of the items I own that may have an interesting history. Of course, I don't really own anything old and interesting. But my grandmother does. Such as the blanket chest that supposedly traveled from Virginia to Missouri on a covered wagon. We don't own anything that was of national historical importance, but each item is significant to the family and I would love to track down their stories.

I also think, what an awesome job to have! Surrounded by historical research every day may sound tiresome, but to me it sounds wonderful. Maybe someday! History Detectives airs Mondays at 9 p.m./8 p.m. (c). The show is currently between seasons, but you can check out back episodes on the History Detectives website

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Iowa: Good for farming, cold winters and....a great census

I often offer to do genealogy research for my friends when I need a break from my own family research. What I most enjoy about these forays into other families is the discovery of great resources I have yet to come across with my own family lines. A perfect example is the 1925 Iowa census.
The Iowa state capital.
Photo by Chuck Felix

My friend Marie was born and raised in Iowa and her family has been there for at least 100 years. In researching one of her family lines I came across the Iowa state census for 1925. I figured this census was like any other state census record: a nice document to have, if only to track your family between federal censuses, but only the barest of facts. For this particular document the family was split between two pages, so I naturally had to turn the digital page to retrieve the rest of the family's members. I was surprised when that page turn showed not the rest of the family, but rather the nativity of the first few people in the family! It included the father and mother of each individual, to include  places of birth and mother's maiden name. Further investigation revealed that the document also provides an individual's military record, occupation and church affiliation.

I was dumbfounded to have stumbled upon this extra information and a little jealous that I had no family from Iowa! The bigger picture is that I have learned to always "turn the page" as you never know what you may find.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

City histories offer hidden resources

During a recent trip to Kansas City for the holidays I was able to squeeze in a brief visit to the Midwest Genealogy Center, a part of the Mid-Continent Public Library (MCPL) system. I could only make a brief stop, so I opted to just browse through some of thier local resources for the county in Missouri that many of my family members are from: Ray county. As I had made several visits to the library before, I had already reviewed most of the resources. But this time I noticed a book that I had not looked through before: Hardin, Missouri : a centennial history, 1870-1970, compiled by Mrs. Cecil Hogan.  Hardin, Missouri is a small town just east of Richmond, the county seat. My family did not live in Hardin, but just north of the town. However, I knew that a great-uncle and great-aunt had owned a grocery store there so I decided to see if my family might be discussed in the book, however remote that chance might be.

Florence and Claude McGuire with their children Margaret and Virginia. The photo was found in the Hardin, Missouri : a centennial history, 1870-1970, compiled by Mrs. Cecil Hogan.

The book turned out to be a compilation of not only the town's one-hundred-year history, but also included forty some odd pages of resident photos. Low and behold there were at least twenty photos of my family that I had never seen before, including some photos of a line that I had not seen photographed. Due to my visit being a "drive-by," I was not prepared to photograph, scan or even copy the photographs. I took a couple of shots of the book's information with my cell phone to look it up later.

I was desperate to get digital copies of the photographs I had come across. I found that the book was available at the Ray County Library, but it was located in the reference section and I could not check it out. My next thought was utilizing Interlibrary Loan. I contacted my local library, the Central Arkansas Library system and put in a request to loan the book from the Midwest Genealogy Center. Unfortunately, my request was denied because the book was non-circulating.

Not to be deterred, I decided to try to find a copy of the book to buy. I headed to ebay and quickly found a copy for sell. I was surprised to find a copy, as I know print runs of these types of publications are never very large and people tend to hold on to them. A couple of weeks later I received my own copy of the book.

The important lesson to learn from all of my hunting and pecking is that even the most seemingly remote resource can pay off in big ways. I have learned that in genealogy research there are times to ensure that you are on point and focused and then there are times to take a moment and try the unexpected. You never know what you will find.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Breaking down a genealogy brick wall: Worldcat.org

For a genealogist patience is a virtue. I will be the first to admit that I am a card-carrying member of the “instant gratification” generation. For me, and those of my ilk, information is at the tips of our fingers through the wonders of the Internet. Whether I am looking for the closest Chinese restaurant, or whether snakes snore, all I need is a computer (or my phone) and a wireless connection.

This need for an instant answer does not bode well for my genealogy research…or my nerves. I try to remain patient when conducting my research, but I must admit that it is pretty difficult. This was especially true when researching my Great-Great-Great Grandfather, Philip Kuhn.

I am lucky enough to have received some information on Philip through my family. I knew that Philip had been a musician for the 120th Ohio Regiment during the Civil War and I did what research I could on the Internet to find out more about him and his wife, Bertha. But not being able to travel to their home states of Ohio and Kansas, I finally came to a wall. I thought that Philip and Bertha Kuhn were just another example of family history disappeared. I stopped researching the pair and moved on to other branches of my tree.

I’m not sure what made me Google “Philip Reymer Kuhn” a few months later, but I was not disappointed. My search came up with an interesting hit: “Letters, 1863-1865 by Philip Kuhn.” Awestruck, I quickly followed the link and landed on a citation on WorldCat, a website that lists the holdings of libraries across the country. The citation was for an archive of information that included letters from Philip to Bertha during the war and a photocopy of his discharge, among other things. I could not believe my luck! On the WorldCat system you are able to find the libraries that maintain the holding you are interested in, but in my case, no library was listed.

The citation listed a myriad of interesting information, except for the crucial detail of location. Thus began my obsession with “Letters.” Knowing of the letters existence I was now like a donkey with a dangling carrot. But I was unfamiliar with the WorldCat system and had no idea how to track down the archive.

I started by considering that a library or historical society close to where Philip and Bertha had lived would have been gifted the archive. I knew that they had lived in Ohio during the war, but soon after moved to Missouri and Kansas, finally settling in Baldwin City, Kansas. I sent an email to the Baldwin City Library and the Douglas County, Kansas, Historical Society thinking that Philip and Bertha would have kept the letters until they passed. Perhaps the Society or library would know of such an archive.

I received a quick response from the history resources volunteer of the Baldwin City Library: they did not have the letters. The library was able to send me Philip’s obituary which mentioned that his children attended Baker University. Could this connection with the university mean that my documents were in their library?

Well, the answer is no. And the University of Kansas is also located in Douglas County and has a large collection of Kansas documents but there was no record of the archive there either. There was no knowledge on any community genealogy message boards and no further information on WorldCat, despite having tried numerous times hoping that just maybe more information would be posted.

I am nothing if not tenacious, but even I was beginning to feel that my brick wall may very well be one I could not scale. It was about this time that my father sent me a newspaper article from the Kansas City Star about the genealogy library in Independence, Missouri. A part of the Mid-Continent Public Library System of the Kansas City metropolitan area, the Midwest Genealogy Center has a large collection of documents, books and resources from both the Midwest and beyond. Even though all my darts had missed the target, why not one more try?

So I sent yet another email to yet another source quite frankly not holding out much hope. Within a few hours I received a response that they did not have the archive in their holdings. Of course, story of my life. But when they looked in WorldCat they were able to determine that the archive was in the Special Collections Department of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Success! After months of searching, I had found the war time correspondence of my Civil War-era grandfather. Sadly, I realized that if I had only gone to my local library I could have probably learned of the archives whereabouts much sooner, but then the moment of finding them would not have been as sweet.

A portion of a civil war-era letter from Philip Kuhn to his wife, Bertha.
I immediately found the contact information for the McCormick Library of Special Collections and sent a request, along with the citation from WorldCat. Within two weeks a copy of the archive arrived. Only a genealogist would understand the anticipation and excitement I felt when the packet was delivered.

Savoring my success, I scoured through the documents which included several letters from Philip to Bertha, a letter from Bertha to Philip and a copy of his discharge from service, among other things. As genealogists we have many statistics on our ancestors: birth, marriage and death dates, cities and counties of residence, children’s names. But it is a truly rare instance to be able to fill the spaces with their actual thoughts, dreams and desires.

The archive was a wealth of information. Not only were the documents a first hand account of the events of the 1860s, but also a wealth of leads to which I could find out more about Philip and Bertha Kuhn. I learned that Philip was a prisoner of war held by the Confederate Army in Camp Ford, Texas. I learned that Bertha was home alone with two young children for four years while Philip fought a war. Being a military member and spouse, as well as a mother, I felt a connection with Bertha that I had not before.

I did not come across this genealogical gem instantly, but I believe that my tendency to quick gratification fueled my desire and pushed me to continue researching, even if the road seemed a trifle crooked. I will take away several lessons from my adventures with Philip and Bertha, but the most important is that patience and creativity are keys to success in family research. Although it is not in my nature, I see now more than ever that the successful genealogist is the epitome of patience, and it sometimes takes a great success to make that patience worth while.


A Secret Gift, by Ted Gup: a book review

A Secret Gift, written by Ted Gup, is based on his investigation of a secret gift of charity made by his grandfather, Sam Stone, during the Depression. In 1933 Sam Stone ran an advertisement in the local Canton newspaper offering a small donation to needy families. The families only need write to his pseudonym, Mr. B. Virdot (a clever reference to his three daughters: Barbara, Virginia and Dorothry) and explain their situation. The entire project was anonymous as Stone felt that even though they were down on their luck, people still had pride.
The book is filled with insights into the everyday lives of Canton residents. From the destitute to the wealthy, the "Hard Times" touched everyone. Gup uses his investigative reporter skills to track down the descendants of each of the families that received the $5 gift. Along with their stories, Gup weaves through the book his search to clear up his grandfather's mysterious past.
While the division of chapters is often choppy, Gup does an effective job of weaving the stories of those Sam Stone helped with the story of discovering Stone's past. I chose to read the book because the story seemed like a great "good feeling" read, especially during the holiday season. I was not disappointed. Of course, not all of the families had stories that ended on a positive note, but the idea that someone put others before oneself brought a bright spot to my season. I wish that Gup had mentioned more of the steps he took to find the recipients of his grandfather's gifts and their descendants, but I suppose that would have narrowed down the audience too much. Overall, I would recommend this book to any fan of genealogy or history.

Monday, January 3, 2011

John Wilkes Booth's DNA


I read an article today in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, reprinted from the Philadelphia Inquirer and written by Edward Colimore, titled: "For Booth kin, the proof is in the DNA." The article reports that the descendants of John Wilkes Booth's brother, Edwin, are trying to once and for all settle a debate about whether John Wilkes Booth was really killed in a tobacco barn in Port Royal, Virginia in 1865, or that he survived and went on to lead a long life in relative obscurity. Their plan is to resume Edwin Booth's remains and compare them to suspected DNA samples of John Wilkes Booth's remains. By comparing the samples the family hopes to put to rest the question of what really happened to John Wilkes Booth.

This is an interesting case for the use of DNA and genealogical research. If the samples do not significantly match then everything that Lincoln scholars, history books and television shows have always taken as fact will suddenly be wrong. The important lesson for genealogists to take from this story is that you can not always accept everything as fact. I have seen many researchers "cut and paste" genealogical information they find in various places without the least bit of research to prove its proof. Now, the John Wilkes Booth case is an extreme example of this, and how would scholars have really known otherwise? I just think it is a great opportunity to remind ourselves to check and double check our facts.

Here's hoping that the Booth family will find the answers they seek and the dilemma can be put to rest.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Baldwin City, Kansas home


I recently received a packet of old photos from a cousin, which included a photo of a house. Written on the photo is Baldwin, Kansas, and on the back someone wrote Baldwin home. Is this familar to anyone? I would love to know if this house is still standing. I believe that the Kuhn family lived in this home, in the early 1900s, but I am not sure.