Saturday, February 28, 2015

Leonard Nimoy and Me

Leonard Nimoy, Actor, Director, and Photographer, passed away yesterday February 27, 2015. He was known best for playing the role of Spock, on Star Trek.

As far as I know, I am not related to him.

His parents were born in Iziaslav, Volhynia [source], which is about 150km from Zhitomir, Volhynia, where I believe some of my Dudelczak ancestors may have lived.

I am a long-time Trekkie. Back in 2007 I posted a photograph of myself from a 1992 or 1993 Jerry Lewis Telethon, wearing a Star Trek uniform.

In 2010 I expressed excitement upon discovering, according to his tombstone, my great grandfather was descended either from Vulcans or Aaron, brother of Moses. (As I noted then, either descent would be equally difficult to trace.)

Nimoy died from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which he blamed on his years of smoking.
Both of my paternal grandparents died from smoking-related causes. I can't echo his sentiments enough.

In November of 2007 I had the opportunity to hear Nimoy speak at the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival. He was there to sell and sign copies of two books: The Full Body Project, a collection of photography, and A Lifetime of Love, a collection of poetry. I brought home the latter.

He will be missed, and remembered, by a legion of fans, as well as by his friends, and loved ones.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Research All Names

When a family historian is looking at ancestral documents it is important to give consideration to the other names one finds in the document. Friends, Business Associates, Witnesses - conducting at least minimal research on these individuals is advisable. Not doing so may lead to missing out on some major discoveries.

Examples from my own research:
(Links are to past entries where I discuss these instances in greater detail)

1) Max Wieselman - Selig Feinstein's business partner

My second great grandfather, Selig Feinstein, set up a business with Max Wieselman as horse shoers during the 1890s in St. Louis. (They also filed a patent together.) It wasn't until I conducted some research on Max and his wife that I realized Max was likely born in the same Ukranian town as Selig. This **could** be a coincidence. Coincidences happen. But there could also be a relationship. Unfortunately, the records I need aren't online. Barring localized research in the Ukraine, which may be beyond my abilities, my best shot is to find a descendant of Max and ask them to take a DNA test. If they're related, that wouldn't tell me *how*, but a DNA test should tell me one way or another whether more research is necessary.

2) Michael Flynn, County Clerk for Clifford Cruvant's name correction

The digital copy of Clifford Cruvant's name correction doesn't have a date. (Whoever did the scanning didn't get the whole document.) However, by researching the County Clerk's name, I was able to narrow down the possible years. I could order the document from the current County Clerk, but for now knowing that it was after 1930 is enough information. I haven't been able to find either Clifford or his mother in the 1920 or 1930 census, but I know they were alive, somewhere.

3) Marcus Hast, cantor at the marriage of Sol Newmark and Sarah Nathan

If I hadn't conducted research on Marcus Hast, the cantor who performed the wedding for my great grandfather's brother, Sol Newmark, and his wife Sarah Nathan, I would never have realized he was from Warsaw, Poland, not far from where the Newmark family was living before immigrating to England. I also wouldn't have discovered the scores for the wedding music that he had composed. It's not definite that it is the same music that was played at the Newmark-Nathan wedding, but there is a strong likelihood.

4) Bessie and Iva, friends of Mabel Fulkerson, and fellow heroines

When I discovered the news story about my wife's great grandmother's efforts as a girl of 14 to prevent a train wreck, I was amazed at the presence of mind and the physical effort put forth by her and her two friends. However, if I hadn't researched the names of the other two, I wouldn't have realized they were her nieces. (Due to the age difference between her and her two oldest sisters, she was actually younger than her two nieces.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Error Free Genealogy

I’ve mentioned before that error-free genealogy is impossible, no matter how careful one is. But with care, we can limit our mistakes.

Tracing a family backwards in time through census reports is something almost every genealogist does, but it is very easy to take a wrong turn if one isn’t careful. One problem is census reports only provide a snapshot every ten years, and lots can happen in ten years. Another problem is that census takers didn’t always have great handwriting, so the online indexers can easily garble a name.

Perhaps the easiest way to make a wrong turn is if you find what you’re looking for immediately.

For example:

Let’s say you find someone in the 1920 US census. They are married to the person you expect them to be married to, with the correct young child. You are certain it is the correct person, but you have no idea who his parents are. The 1920 census indicates an approximate birth year, and the place of birth (State or Country)

So you conduct a search for the person in the 1910 census, using their name, state of birth, and year of birth +- 2. And you find exactly one result – a child with two parents. How do you react? It’s very tempting to be relieved that it was so easy, to write down the information on the parents, and see if you can go further back.


What would you do if you found more than one result?
You’d have to conduct some research to see which family is the correct one.

And what would you do if you found no results?
Probably you’d add some wildcards into the search, and see if the person you’re searching for got indexed with a strange spelling.

Back to the one result…Do you see the problem?
If all you are going on is year of birth, state of birth, and name, it is possible, is it not, that this isn’t the correct person? The person you are searching for could be hiding under a poorly written, or poorly transcribed name. Or it is possible they don’t even appear in the census. The census reports are by no means complete. The more common the surname and given name, the more likely this is possible. Additionally, given names frequently change from childhood to adulthood.

I've made my share of research mistakes, and there are likely some I have made which I don't yet know about. What I feel is important is that I always keep an open mind to the possibility that any conclusions that I make from my research have a potential of being wrong.

Monday, February 16, 2015

There is No Federal Holiday Called, "President's Day."

George Washington's Birthday is celebrated as a federal holiday on the third Monday in February. It is one of eleven permanent holidays established by Congress. 

Federal holidays apply only to the federal government and the District of Columbia; Congress has never declared a national holiday binding in all states and each state decides its own legal holidays.
Contrary to popular belief, neither Congress nor the President has ever stipulated that the name of the holiday observed as Washington's Birthday be changed to "President's Day."
 Source: National Archives

Of course...state governments, schools, or the company you work for, can call a holiday whatever they want to call it. They can also declare the holiday celebrates whatever they want it to celebrate.  But the Federal Holiday that is today is only for George Washington.

Ironically...Washington was born on February 11, 1731 (while the Julian calendar was still in use.)  This became February 22nd, 1732 when we switched to the Gregorian Calendar.  The earliest the Third Monday of February can fall is February 15th.  The latest it can fall is February 21.  It is impossible for the Federal Holiday "Washington's Birthday" to be celebrated on Washington's real birthday, according to either the Julian or Gregorian calendar.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

NGS Genealogy Conference 2015

The National Genealogical Society is holding their annual conference in May ten miles from my home.

I have never been to a Genealogy Conference. Back in 2007 when the topic for the Genealogy Carnival was Conferences and Seminars, I wrote the humorous: What to expect when your favorite genealogical conference merges with a local SF convention.

I updated this list in 2012

My conference/convention experience is still limited to Science Fiction conventions, but I am looking forward to that changing in May. Any advice from experienced NGS conference-goers would be welcomed. I am especially interested in knowing at what events I am most likely to have a chance to meet some of the others in the genealogy community I've only had a chance to communicate with electronically for the past eight years. I suspect the panel sessions won't provide much opportunity to socialize.

I did post this query on the Facebook group: Genealogy Bloggers at NGS 2015

In so doing, it seems, I may have been volunteering to set up such a gathering - there seems to be some interest in setting something up on Saturday evening as a "Deconpression."

Note: to all those attending the conference who will have transportation. If you are planning on staying in the St. Louis area on the Sunday following, the St. Louis Renaissance Festival may be of interest, though it will be a half hour drive.

If you're attending the conference and looking for a nice restaurant in the St. Charles area for a dinner one of the nights - I can heartily recommend Little Hills Winery and Restaurant, which is 1.5 miles from the convention center, or Llewellyn's Pub, which is a similar distance. (I haven't eaten at the St. Charles location for Llewellyn's, but I was a frequent diner when there was only one location of this local eatery, and now there are seven.)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Genealogy Roadshow: Philadelphia - A Nitpick

My wife and I were watching Tuesday night’s episode of Genealogy Roadshow last night, and in general I enjoyed it. I’m especially pleased with how the series is presenting the viewer with tips on how to conduct genealogy research.

However, there was one instance where I shouted back at the television screen in complete frustration.

One of the individuals at the roadshow presented her question. She wanted to know if she was related to George Washington. One of the professional genealogist hosts told her that George Washington had no children, so she couldn’t be related to him. What?!

Just minutes earlier one of the hosts had told someone they were related to Emily Dickinson. Not descended from her, but sixth cousin five times removed, if I recall correctly. How can a professional genealogist confuse the phrases ‘related to’ and ‘descended from’ and still call themselves a professional genealogist?

Thinking about it, I realized that all individuals submit their queries months in advance, to give the show’s research team time to conduct the research. The individual probably asked if George Washington was her ancestor, and only changed it to ‘related to’ during the taping. The Genealogist Host was just presenting the 'research' done on the original question. (In scare quotes because they may have conducted none since they knew the answer without research.) However, the host, in my mind, should have taken the time to clarify the question for the viewer. “The question you submitted to us a few months ago was whether you were descended from Washington. Since Washington had no children of his own, this isn’t possible. You could be descended from one of Washington’s six siblings, or a cousin, and still be related to him.”

By not clarifying this for the viewer, the show encouraged the misuse of the terminology. It’s not uncommon to hear people mix up ‘relative’ and ‘descendant.’ Back in 2010 People Magazine reported that the actor, Robert Pattinson, was descended from Dracula, instead of a distant cousin. (They've corrected the main article, but you can still see the original error in the photo caption.) A professional genealogist should not encourage this confusion, though.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Page Updates

This is just to note that two pages have been updated on this blog

1) Selected Posts

I created the Selected Posts page back in January of 2013, and didn't update it last year. I selected posts to highlight from 2013 and 2014.

2) St. Louis Area Obituaries

I had last updated this page back in 2012. According to my statistics, it continues to be one of the most visited pages on the site, which isn't surprising. Even though it is narrowly focused, it provides a good overview of obituary indexes and databases, as well as various library policies on how to obtain microfilm copies.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much to change beyond updating a few links. The indexes haven't grown much in the interim except on the other side of the Mississippi. An index for the Freeburg, Illinois obituaries for 1999-2012 was added to the St. Clair Genealogical Society website in 2013.

MyHeritage Family Tree Builder - Date and Language functions

MyHeritage announced they had a free Mac version of their Family Tree Builder database software, so I decided to download it and give it a try. Not only because it was free, but I was hopeful it would handle something better than my current program. Hebrew calendar dates. I had good reason to be hopeful, MyHeritage is headquartered in Israel. I wasn't disappointed.

MyHeritage allows you to enter all dates in one of three calendars - Standard (Gregorian), Hebrew, and French Revolutionary Calendar. (The last surprised me at first. However, MyHeritage may have a sizable French user base, as the software appears to be written to appeal to an international audience.) It also provides easy conversion between these systems. I am somewhat disappointed that they haven't added the Julian calendar to this component, but perhaps they will at some point.

After I imported my database, this is what my second great grandmother's entry looked like at first:

I clicked on Edit in the lower right.

[Note: I know her death place, cause of death, and burial location. This information is in the Notes section. I haven't always entered it into the separate fields.]

 I clicked on the calendar icon next to the deceased date on the right side.

I clicked the convert button.  (The very first time I had to use the pull down menu to select "Standard to Hebrew." After that it defaults to the last used option.)

After clicking OK this is how her entry looks, with the Hebrew date in brackets:

It would seem nice if there was a way to automatically convert every date in the database with one click, instead of going through and doing it individually. However, it would be wrong for the software to encourage the genealogist to do this since the conversion depends on whether each event was before or after sunset. (The Hebrew calendar date starts at sunset.)

It is also possible to add a secondary language for entering data. In the "Tools" menu, select Languages.

You will see this menu:

 Select the checkbox indicating you want a secondary language, and click OK

You will be given a list of 40 languages!

I chose Hebrew, and this is now how my second great grandmother's "Edit Details" screen appears:

The order of information in the Hebrew language date is unusual.  It reads: February 1924 , 8 Adar A 5684 13. I am unsure why the Hebrew date is embedded within the Standard date in this manner.

If I click on "Names" I am given several fields, including "Religious Name," which will be useful for me, as well as both a "Maiden Name" and "Former Last Name." The latter would be useful for those who have multiple marriages.

Visually, I don't find the software's interface as appealing as my current software. However, its features could win me over. Currently I find it annoying that every time I load the software it asks me if I want to sync it with my "own family site" on MyHeritage. I don't have a family site on MyHeritage, and I don't want one right now. If anybody knows how to turn this pop-up off, let me know.

The software is free, though, so it's hard to get too upset.