Saturday, September 20, 2014

Assumptions: Documents are a Snapshot in Time

Second in a series of posts.

A discussion of assumptions one might be tempted to make. With examples taken from my own research.

Assumption: Documentation that an individual lived somewhere in time indicates they lived there before or after that moment in time.

Every document is a snapshot in time. Except in rare occasions, they don't tell you what happened before or after that snapshot.

Below are entries from the St. Louis City Directory for my grandmother, Myrtle Van Every

•1921 - Astor Hotel
•1921 - 4528a Enright
•1922 - Westgate Hotel
•1922 - 4123 Westminster
•1923 - 4515 Washington
•1924 - 5630 Delmar
•1925 - 5540 Pershing
•1926 - 4506 Forest Park
•1927 - 4545 Washington
•1928 - 5707 McPherson apt 111
•1928 - 5656 Kingsbury apt 203
•1930 - Georgiana Court Apartments, 5660 Kingsbury, apt 203, St. Louis, MO (census - ED 169 - Sheet 1B)

She moved around a lot, but she remained in St. Louis. She doesn't appear in the 1929 directory, but not appearing in a particular directory isn't uncommon. I can imagine many genealogists, of varying experience levels, stating as fact that she lived in St. Louis continually from 1921 to 1930, citing the St. Louis City Directories and the 1930 census as evidence.

And there's nothing wrong with that, except for using the word 'fact.'

In April of 1927 my grandmother married in Oakland, California. In October of 1927 she divorced her husband, and returned to St. Louis. She didn't miss appearing in the 1927 directory. She appeared in the 1928 directory under her maiden name, and her married name. She did appear in the 1929 directory, but only under her married name. She returned to her maiden name by the census in 1930.

Remember: Every document is a snapshot in time. Be open to learning something important happened between two snapshots.

Ancestry doesn't handle European Dates well in Family Trees

I was looking at the entry for one of my wife's ancestors on somebody else's Ancestry Family Tree. As you can see, the person entered her birth date as 04.11.1817. And her death date as 17.07.1915.

From the death date, it is clear they are using the European system of Date.Month.Year.  There is no 17th month. The birth date could either be in April or November. 

If you glance down at the Timeline - Ancestry assumes the user was using the American Month/Date/Year format. Oops.

If I were able to copy the whole entry, you'd notice that the Ancestry Timeline gets the death date correct. Which means the software program is coded to recognize the existence of both methods, but only uses the European method if the American method returns an error. I used to be a computer programmer, and I don't think I'd have coded it this way.

Note: I went to my own family tree and tested the interface. There is no clear way to indicate which method you are using, and the software made the same mistake when I entered the same dates. However, the person who created the entry below did make a mistake in entering the date of birth. They cite FindAGrave as a source, which cites her death certificate. Both sources have her date of birth as November 14th. A simple typo, but a reminder to look at the sources.

Further Note: It was mentioned that this programming error may only exist if one uses periods to separate the numbers in the date. So I tested it with the more traditional /s and the same thing happened.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Assumptions: Government Documents Are Always Reliable

First in a series of posts.

A discussion of assumptions one might be tempted to make. With examples taken from my own research.

Assumption: Government Documents are Always Reliable

While one might say, "of course they aren't, no one would make that mistake," this is what makes me cringe most often when watching Who Do You Think You Are. The researcher finds the grandmother in a household in a census, and tells the celebrity the parents in the household are their great grandparents. Perhaps their great grandparents are dead, and these are actually the grandmother's uncle and aunt? I assume (hope) the researcher has conducted additional research to verify the information, but they don't mention it on television, leading some viewers perhaps not to ask that question in their own research.

I have distant relatives who have looked at the above US census record from 1870 for the Denyer family, and recorded in online databases Amanda, Sherwood, and Ida as children of Ebenezer and Sarah, despite them being a decade older than William and McAlpin. They are actually the children of Ebenezer's brother, Samuel Denyer, who died in 1861, and his wife Zarelda, who died in 1867. (As a side note, several of the names in this record are actually middle names. McAlpin, for example, is my great grandmother, Margaret Jane McAlpin (Denyer) Vanevery.

Above is a marriage record from the UK General Register Office. The marriage occurred in London in 1902. If I asked you to tell me the name of the Father of the Bride, your answer would be "Nathan Nathan." I'm pretty certain I know what happened. The clerk asked the bride for her maiden name, and then asked only for her father's given name. Unfortunately, it appears Sarah followed the Jewish custom of using her father's first name as her last. Perhaps as an affectation, since it was no longer common in the 1900's. The 1901 UK census indicates the family name was Sandler, and Sandler appears on some documents as Sarah's maiden name.

Just because there is a government stamp on a document doesn't mean the information is necessarily correct. Record the information in your database, and cite your source, but always be open to discovering new, conflicting information.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sarah LNU (Not any longer)

Randy Seaver at GeneaMusings, for his weekly Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, asked:
How Many Sarah LNU's Are in Your Genealogy Database? If you have one that is your ancestor, have you looked recently to determine if there are more records online that might lead you to her surname? Go look for one - you might be surprised!
LNU is an acronym for "Last Name Unknown." Using the acronym, instead of leaving the surname blank, facilitates finding these mysteries in your database to research at a later time.

LNUs, by the nature of surnames in Western European culture, are almost always female.


I had one Sarah LNU - however, she wasn't related to me. She was the husband of my 2nd great grandfather's business partner, Max Wieselman. I had entered Max into my database as an "Associated Person." (iFamily chart to the left.) Max and my 2nd great grandfather, Selig Dudelczyk (he changed his surname to Feinstein), worked as horse shoers/blacksmiths together, and were co-inventors of a modification to a fire hydrant. When I first visited the cemetery where Selig and Anna, as well as several other paternal ancestors are buried, I parked a fair distance from where their plots were, planning to walk the rest of the way. At my feet, when I got out of the car, was the headstones for Max and Sarah.

I had only entered their names and dates from the tombstones, and hadn't conducted any additional research yet. While he was my ancestor's business partner for a decade, I had no other reason to conduct any research on him or his family. The first thing I did this weekend was look up their death certificates at the Missouri Digital Heritage website. They were both there, as well as the certificates for two sons. According to Sarah's death certificate, her maiden name was Ottman.

However, Max's death certificate was more interesting to me. It stated he was born in Zhitomir, Volhynia. The same town Selig's brother Julius had for town of origin on his manifest. Did Selig and Max know each other in the old country, or did they meet each other in St. Louis?

Census records indicate Max immigrated in 1884, a few years prior to Selig. It looks like at some point I may need to conduct some more research on the Wieselmans. However, the information I want is likely in Ukrainian records.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Happy Labor Day Weekend 2014

For the Labor Day holiday, I thought I'd reshare the below poems and music.

For those uncertain as to the origins and intent of this holiday, these should help clarify.
It's not about barbecues.

Dropkick Murphys - Worker's Song

Fellow Citizens - Carl Sandburg (1912)

I DRANK musty ale at the Illinois Athletic Club with
the millionaire manufacturer of Green River butter
one night
And his face had the shining light of an old-time Quaker,
he spoke of a beautiful daughter, and I knew he had
a peace and a happiness up his sleeve somewhere.
Then I heard Jim Kirch make a speech to the Advertising
Association on the trade resources of South America.
And the way he lighted a three-for-a-nickel stogie and
cocked it at an angle regardless of the manners of
our best people,
I knew he had a clutch on a real happiness even though
some of the reporters on his newspaper say he is
the living double of Jack London's Sea Wolf.
In the mayor's office the mayor himself told me he was
happy though it is a hard job to satisfy all the office-
seekers and eat all the dinners he is asked to eat.
Down in Gilpin Place, near Hull House, was a man with
his jaw wrapped for a bad toothache,
And he had it all over the butter millionaire, Jim Kirch
and the mayor when it came to happiness.
He is a maker of accordions and guitars and not only
makes them from start to finish, but plays them
after he makes them.
And he had a guitar of mahogany with a walnut bottom
he offered for seven dollars and a half if I wanted it,
And another just like it, only smaller, for six dollars,
though he never mentioned the price till I asked him,
And he stated the price in a sorry way, as though the
music and the make of an instrument count for a
million times more than the price in money.
I thought he had a real soul and knew a lot about God.
There was light in his eyes of one who has conquered
sorrow in so far as sorrow is conquerable or worth
Anyway he is the only Chicago citizen I was jealous of
that day.
He played a dance they play in some parts of Italy
when the harvest of grapes is over and the wine
presses are ready for work.
Billy Bragg - There is Power in a Union

A Pict Song - Rudyard Kipling (1917)

Rome never looks where she treads,
Always her heavy hooves fall,
On our stomachs, our hearts or our heads;
And Rome never heeds when we bawl.
Her sentries pass on—that is all,
And we gather behind them in hordes,
And plot to reconquer the Wall,
With only our tongues for our swords.

We are the Little Folk—we !
Too little to love or to hate.
Leave us alone and you'll see
How we can drag down the Great!
We are the worm in the wood !
We are the rot at the root!
We are the germ in the blood !
We are the thorn in the foot !

Mistletoe killing an oak—
Rats gnawing cables in two—
Moths making holes in a cloak—
How they must love what they do!
Yes,—and we Little Folk too,
We are as busy as they—
Working our works out of view—
Watch, and you'll see it some day!

No indeed ! We are not strong,
But we know Peoples that are.
Yes, and we'll guide them along,
To smash and destroy you in War!
We shall be slaves just the same ?
Yes, we have always been slaves;
But you—you will die of the shame,
And then we shall dance on your graves.

We are the Little Folk, we ! etc.

Evan Greer - Never Walk Across a Picket Line

End of Summer Rituals
by John Newmark ©August 2001

On September Third
Millions of Americans
Will celebrate the End of Summer
By having a barbecue.
Few know where the name
Of this holiday came from.
To most, it seems ironic
Since none but a few work.
Labor Day now means
The changing color of trees,
The start of the school year,
Or just another day off.
Any connection to unions
Or the forbidden word, "Socialism,"
Is obscured by the distance
From the First of May.
If we're to return to the roots
Of this annual worker's holiday
We need to barbecue Phil Knight
Over a bonfire of shoes
Or observe how Bill Gates
Changes colors
As we remove his tongue
And he can't speak a Word.®

Monday, August 18, 2014

Amanuensis Monday: Death Certificate of Moshe Leyb Cruvant - 1911

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, newspaper articles, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them.

I began this project back on February 16, 2009. Since I began, many others have joined in on the meme. I am thrilled that this meme I started has inspired so many to transcribe and share their family history documents. Why do we transcribe? I provide my three reasons in the linked post. You may find others.

This week I transcribe the death certificate of my second great grandfather, Moshe Leyb (Morris Louis) Cruvant.

Certificate And Record of Death Register No: 31532
1. Full Name: Morris L. Cruvant
2. (a) Sex: M (b) Color: W. (c) Married
3. (a) Birthplace: Russia (b) Date of Birth: July 1, 1857
4. Age: 54 Years 3 Months
5. Died on the 26 Day of September 1911 at about 1125PM
6. Last Occupation: Merchant From 1900-1911
7. Previous Occupation: Tailor From 1881-1900
8. Place of Death: 1307 St. Louis Ave, East St. Louis County of St. Clair
9. How Long in State: 11 years
10. How Long in US (if Foreign Born): 35 years
11. (a) Name of Father: Aron Cruvant (b) Birthplace of Father: Russia
12. (a) Maiden Name of Mother: Unknown(b) Birthplace of Mother: Unknown
The foregoing stated personal particulars are true to the best of my knowledge and belief
13. Informant: David Cruvant Address: 1307b St. Louis Ave
14. Place of Burial: Hashaschelomus St. Louis Mo Date of Burial: Sept 27, 1911 1pm
15. Undertaker: H.B. Berger Address: St. Louis, Mo
Physician’s Certificate of Cause of Death
I hereby certify that I attended the Deceased from Aug 20 1911 to Sept 26 1911; that I last saw alive on the 26 day of September 1911. That death occurred on the date stated above, at about 1125pm and that to the best of my knowledge and belief the cause of his death was as Hereunder Written
(If Under One Year Old, State How Fed.)
(a) Cause of Death: Carcinoma of Liver
(b) Contributory (secondary) [blank]
Witness my hand (signature) illegible Address: (illegible) Bldg, East. St. Louis, Ill.

1) The first thing I do when looking at a certificate is look for obvious errors.

He was born in Lithuania, though from 1795-1918 it was under control of Russia, so Russia is accurate for his birthplace.

Though there is a place on the form where indicating age to include number of days, his age was rounded up to the next month. It should say 54 years, 2 months, 26 days.

It's questionable whether he had been in the US for 35 years. That would mean an immigration year of 1876 at age 19, which isn't impossible, but his eldest son who was born about 1883 is believed to have been born in Lithuania. It is believed they were in the US by 1886/7 when my great grandmother was born. Perhaps 35 should be 25.

2) I like that there was a question for both Occupation and Previous Occupation. I don't see that on many death certificates, and it provides a year for when he changed professions. Of course, the accuracy of the years is completely dependent upon the memory of the informant, his second eldest child. In this case, the city directories confirm the dates.

3) The place of burial isn't a truly horrible spelling for what I am sure whoever wrote it down heard. They probably didn't ask the informant how to spell it, because I suspect he could have done a better job. It should say: Chesed Shel Emeth.

4) The only facts on a death certificate for which I consider the death certificate a primary source is the Date/Time of Death, Place of Death, Cause of Death, and Place of Burial. That is, I trust the recordings of the doctor and undertaker. For the rest of the information I take into consideration who the informant was, and how much they are likely to know. In this case, the informant being his son, 26 years old at the time, the reliability is pretty good.

5) Since he died on the 26th of September, 1911, after sunset, that converts to the 5th of Tishrei, 5672, which corresponds with what is inscribed on his tombstone.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Differing Reactions to Historical Figures

My wife and I were watching the Who Do You Think You Are episode with Valerie Bertinelli.
Ms. Bertinelli learned she had King Edward I for an ancestor.
As the historian was telling her all about the great things King Edward, or Longshanks, did for parliamentary democracy, my wife had a very different reaction.
Another nickname for King Edward, besides Longshanks, was Hammer of the Scots. My wife's maiden name is Wallace.

Some historical figures have both positive and negative associations - depending upon who you are. People will react differently to discovering they have a particular US President in their family tree. There are Romanians who count Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, aka Vlad the Impaler, as a national folk hero.
I'm sure my wife hopes Valerie Bertinelli, and her family, are able to focus on the good things King Edward did, but she is happy we haven't found Edwardian ancestry for either of us.
(The image is of a portrait in Westminster Abbey thought to be of Edward I)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Happy 100th Birthday to my grandmother - Belle "Sissie" (Feinstein) Newmark (1914-2002)

Belle "Sissie" (Feinstein) Newmark - August 14, 1914 - Oct 11, 2002
Today my grandmother would have turned 100. Below are some photographs.
Top L-R: With her brother, Ben; With her brother, Seymour (Babe); With her parents, Herman and Annie, and her brother, Seymour.

Bottom L-R: With me (1995); with her husband, my grandfather, Melvin - two photographs; high school graduation. (And, of course, the baby photo, and newspaper engagement notice.)

Below: As a young girl, and two photographs of her and my grandfather on their honeymoon