Sunday, May 31, 2009

Family Roots in The Good Earth

image by footnoteMaven
The topic for the 73rd Carnival of Genealogy is "The Good Earth". We are asked to write about our ancestral ties to the land.

I don't have to go back many generations on my mother's side to find farmers. Both my maternal grandmother and grandfather were born on farms - one in Texas, the other in Transylvania. My grandmother's father, Melvin Van Every, had most of his success raising colonies of bees, though he also raised sheep, and had crops. My grandmother's maternal grandfather, Ebenezer Denyer, was a 'regimental teamster' in the Confederate army, pulling a team of oxen. His father, William Denyer, was a "farmer in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, later he burned lime from oyster shells, in Philadelphia, was in ice business, rafted lumber down the Schuylkill river, boated on the Schuylkill canal, ran a saw and grist mill in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, and engaged in whip-sawing at New Albany, Indiana." [Source: Fretz Family History, AJ Fretz, 1890]

In Transylvania, my grandfather's father, Samuel Deutsch, grew apples, plums, tomatoes, and potatoes - or at least that is the recollection of my grandfather's older brother. Definitely plums, as that was turned into a plum brandy called slivowitz, which they then sold to a local brewery.

I'm not sure how far back I have to go on my father's side to find farmers. The small towns in Lithuania and Poland from which they came may have been rural, but still, the generation that immigrated were craftsmen, mostly tailors and shoemakers, and it's likely they learned the trade from their fathers.

My childhood was unequivocally suburban. I spent several summers at a camp in Michigan which had a barn, and a donkey named Jack (obviously named for the enjoyment of the campers.) My parents have friends with a farm in rural Missouri which I visited a few times -- which mainly meant getting to ride a horse, and go on a hayride. I also spent a few years at a college in rural Grinnell, Iowa. I enjoy open land, and could easily envision myself living on a farm, but not working it.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Jules Goux, the first Frenchman to win the Indianapolis 500 - in 1913
Image from Library of Congress

This is my 500th post.

Free Art for your Blog

One way to enliven a blog entry is with photography or artwork. Many entries on a genealogy blog will obviously be illustrated by photographs from family collections. However, sometimes we write about things we don't have photographs for. Some bloggers are handy with a camera, or the sketchpad, but others aren’t. Those of us who find our creativity restricted to the palette of words in the dictionary soon find ourselves wondering where we can find free photography and art.

Sure, you can go to Google Images, search for keywords, download, and then use the images you find. However, while possibly tempting, most bloggers realize there are legal issues with doing this. Furthermore, we don’t want people copying and pasting our words on their websites without our permission; therefore we should show the same respect to photographers and artists.

However, there is a lot available that is free (or almost free) of copyright restrictions.

I. Flickr

A. The Commons

Flickr, the photo-sharing website, has a section they call The Commons. The Commons began in January of 2008 when The Library of Congress released about 1500 photographs from their collection to display on Flickr. Since then, The Library of Congress Flickr collection has grown to over 5000 photographs. Several other libraries and museums have added photographs from their collections. If you search The Commons any photographs you find will be completely free of copyright restrictions. If you follow a link to the museum’s full collection on Flickr, leaving The Commons, some of those photographs may have copyright restrictions. The description of the photograph should indicate whether or not there are any restrictions.

[Note: The 1860s image on the left of the
Jefferson Barracks military post just South of St. Louis, Missouri came from the New York Public Library collection at The Commons.]

B. Creative Commons

Flickr also has a section entitled Creative Commons

Anyone is able to contribute photographs to this section. These photographs aren’t completely free of copyright restrictions, but they fall into the “almost free” category. There are six groups, each with a different combination of four requirements

Attribution: The simplest, this means to use the photograph or artwork you must provide credit. An easy way to do this is to provide a link to the individual Flickr account from which the work came.

No Derivatives: You can display the artwork or photography exactly as it appears; you can’t make any changes. (Changing the size of the photograph, as well as trimming a ‘detail’ are both derivative works. Even copying the image in photo-editing software, pasting it into a new file, and adding a caption in whitespace underneath, is still a derivative work. The image you download from Flickr must be the exact same file you upload to your website.)

Non Commercial: – You can’t use the work for commercial purposes. (While many people will think ‘commercial’ means putting the photo on the cover of your CD, or on a tshirt you sell on CafePress – if your blog has advertisements from which you make money, a court could decide your blog is commercial. Since you probably don't wish to upset the artist, I would recommend asking permission from the owner – as they should be easily contactable from their Flickr accounts.)

ShareAlike: ShareAlike means if you make a derivative work, you must distribute it under a similar Creative Commons license

With those four definitions in mind, here are the six Creative Commons categories at Flickr, each of which can be searched individually:

1) Attribution License: Only attribution is required. You can make derivatives, use it for commercial purposes, etc. Once you make changes to the work, you can redistribute your derived work under a different set of requirements.

2) Attribution No Derivs License: You must give credit, and you aren’t allowed to make any derivatives. But as long as you don't make any changes to the work, you can still use it for commercial purposes.

3) Attribution – Non Commercial – No Derivs License: The most restrictive of the categories, the photographs are still free to use on a personal, non-commercial site.

4) Attribution – Non Commercial: Derivatives are allowed.

5) Attribution – NonCommercial – ShareAlike: If you make a derivative work, you must distribute it under a similar Creative Commons license

6) Attribution – ShareAlike: Same as #5, but you may use for commercial purposes.

II. LIFE Magazine

LIFE Magazine is sharing a large portion of their historical photo collection on Google Images .

They have the images organized by decade, and images from the 1880s through the 1910s are free of copyright restrictions. Those in the 1920 category and later are restricted to “Personal – non-commercial usage.”

III. The US Government

The US Government has an index of the images available on all their websites:
Most of these images and graphics are available for use in the public domain, and they may be used and reproduced without permission or fee. However, some images may be protected by license. We strongly recommend you thoroughly read the disclaimers on each site before use. For information about obtaining seals of Federal Agencies and the United States, please see the Government Printing Office website.

Images range from insects on the US Department of Agriculture website, photographs of the Grand Canyon on the National Park Service website, to images of the lunar surface on the NASA website.

IV. Classic works of art are a great way to illustrate your entries.

Art History Resources on the Web
is a handy index to websites where you can find classic works of art that are free of copyright restriction.

Note: While artwork might be in the ‘public domain’ the photographs of the artwork might not be. If the image is the painting only, and you don’t see the frame, or the museum wall behind it, one photograph is going to be nearly identical to any other photograph, so it can be safely assumed to be in the public domain. However, once the creativity of the photographer enters into the photograph, you are on rockier grounds. And if the work of art is a sculpture, the photographer will often matter.

There are websites that will sell you the rights to photography, such as iStockPhoto or Getty Images . However, since there are several places to find free images, unless there is a particular image at one of these sites that really strike your fancy, there is no need to use them.

With all these sources for free photography and artwork, when you don't have a photograph from your family collection for a blog entry, your entry doesn't need to be image-free.

This article is revised somewhat from an article written for the St. Louis Bloggers Guild

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Audio Transcription

So…you’ve managed to digitize that family audiotape recorded 20-30 years ago and you are playing it from your computer’s iTunes or Windows Media Player.

You have Appleworks or Microsoft Word open and you are doing your best to transcribe what’s on the tape. Manually rewinding every time the audio gets ahead of your typing, being forced to re-listen to what you’ve already transcribed because you rewound too far. This may involve a lot of switching back and forth between the word processor window and the audio window. It can be tiring.

What would be really helpful is if there was some software that could make this easier for you. Perhaps you could rewind the digital audio a second by a mere key-press, minimizing re-listening to the same section over and over. Perhaps there could even be a setting where you tell the computer to playback at half-speed. Maybe at 50% speed you wouldn’t have to rewind at all. Maybe you’re a slightly better typist and can handle 70%, or perhaps you would need to play it at 30% speed. The software could handle it.

How much would you pay for this software?

How about a free download?
Express Scribe Transcription Playback Software
Versions for Mac, PC and Linux

At that price, it is certainly worth at least trying out. And I did. And I’m very impressed.

If your audio isn't already digitized, it loads input from both analog and digital recorders. It allows for variable playback speed, and the hot-keys are easily definable.

There are a lot of features I am sure I will never try out, such as its support for 'professional foot pedals'. The 'hot-key' function is definitely sufficient for my usage. There are also features to receive audio from the internet - if it is being used in a professional workplace.

The website sells related software, foot pedals, and headsets. But Express Scribe is free, and quickens the transcription process in my experience.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Amanuensis Monday: War Buddies

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

My great-uncle Mandell Newmark (1923-1945) was killed in action during WWII. In honor of Memorial Day, I thought I would transcribe the list of wartime 'buddies' from his war journal. I notice that the handwriting appears to change on the second page. It's possible he handed the book to his friends for them to enter their own information. It occurs to me that it is also possible some of the information was entered after his death.

My great uncle would have been 86 this year. If any of the below are still alive with wartime memories of my great uncle, I would be interested in hearing them.

My Buddies in the Service

Harold F Keenan - MED
5300 Broadway Terr
Oakland, II, Calif

Edward J. Maloney - MED
211 Pacific
Piemont, Calif

Danny D. Stoll - MED
3622 DeTonty
St. Louis, Mo. Gn3897

Richard A. Marshall - Roberts - MED
1816 Bolyston
Seattle, Washington

John Piper - Roberts
Route 1 - Box 371
Arlington, Calif (Riverside)

Page 2

Marlowe Phillips - Roberts
6260 Cates Ave
U City, Mo.

Lyle E. Baumgarner - Roberts
517 J St.
Nevada, Iowa

Olin F. Crow - (me drinker) Med.
123 E. Market St.
Harrisonburg, Virginia

Norman E. Fuller - Med.
Libby, Mont.

Mrogan L Gillespie - Med.
1437 Godwin
Houston, Texas

Lyle J. Bishop - MED
416 Grand Ave
West Des Moines, Iowa

Lloyd R Himds _ MED
Estelline, S. Dak

Ralph L. Taylor - MED
Whitefish, Montana

Raymond S. Ulis A.T.
3046 North Water St.
Bay City, Mich

Herman Nalmbaur - AT
East River Rd.
Grand Island, NY.

Page 3

Glenn P. Hartman - AT
Box 132
Harlan, Montana

Norman Bronstein - MED
1484 Washington Ave
Bronx, 56, New York

Milton L Larmore
909 Riverside Drive
Salisbury, Maryland

Geroge H Doney (Biak) A.T.
Box 34
Hays, Montana

Earnest Kerr "Doc" - Cook
434 13th St.
[?] Nevada

Niki Granate A.T.
18 Speedwell Place
Morristown, New Jersey

Harold T. Henry "L"
Plattsburg Missouri

John Robert McGrory "L"
56 Chauncy Street
Weymouth, Mass

Keeneth M. Dahlstrom ("L" Co)
2327 Eastwood Ave
Chicago IL

Peter J. Manna (L Co)
66 Washington Ave
Natick, Mass

Page 4

Bill Dostal (L Co)
1829 So. 57 Ave
Cicero Ill

Thomas E Brownhill
Madras, Oregon - "Co L"

LeRoy M Morse
Tribune Kansas
Co. L

George H Nance
1614 Englewood St.
Fresno, 3, Calif

Hal McCullough
Burlington, Kansas

If you choose to join me in Amanuensis Monday and post your transcriptions, feel free to add a link to your post below, or in the comments.

On Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in the military service. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War (it is celebrated near the day of reunification after the civil war), it was expanded after World War I to include American casualties of any war or military action. [source]
Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, is for honoring those who died in service. It is often confused with Veterans Day, which is observed on November 11, and is for honoring all who have served, including those who died in and out of service, but also those veterans still living.

Both are American holidays in such that they are intended for honoring America's veterans and casualties of war. Though it seems natural to remember our ancestors on these days who served their respective nations honorably.

Last year on Memorial Day I posted the cartoon on the left by John T. McCutcheon - published circa 1900; I also mentioned my Great Uncle Mandell, as he is my closest relative who died in military service, and I mused about whether or not I really do have ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War and American Revolution as family lore suggested.

Today in another entry I transcribe a few pages of my Great Uncle Mandell's war journal containing a list of his 'war buddies'. Below is his tombstone at United Hebrew Cemetery in St. Louis, MO.

Finally, I'd like to share a short work of prose by Walt Whitman

Unnamed Remains the Bravest Soldier - by Walt Whitman (From 'Specimen Days')

OF scenes like these, I say, who writes—whoe’er can write the story? Of many a score—aye, thousands, north and south, of unwrit heroes, unknown heroisms, incredible, impromptu, first-class desperations—who tells? No history ever—no poem sings, no music sounds, those bravest men of all—those deeds. No formal general’s report, nor book in the library, nor column in the paper, embalms the bravest, north or south, east or west. Unnamed, unknown, remain, and still remain, the bravest soldiers. Our manliest—our boys—our hardy darlings; no picture gives them. Likely, the typic one of them (standing, no doubt, for hundreds, thousands,) crawls aside to some bush-clump, or ferny tuft, on receiving his death-shot—there sheltering a little while, soaking roots, grass and soil, with red blood—the battle advances, retreats, flits from the scene, sweeps by—and there, haply with pain and suffering (yet less, far less, than is supposed,) the last lethargy winds like a serpent round him—the eyes glaze in death—none recks—perhaps the burial-squads, in truce, a week afterwards, search not the secluded spot—and there, at last, the Bravest Soldier crumbles in mother earth, unburied and unknown.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Genealogy Obsession Bumper Sticker

This week's "Saturday Night Fun" at Geneamusings
For this Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, please:

1) Make up a/some Bumper Sticker(s) that describes your genealogy addicti.., er, passion in 12 words or less. You could recite some of your favorite tag lines like those found here or here. Or you could be very creative and make up your own!

2) Post them to your blog or to comments on this post.

3) Extra credit if you make them look like a real bumper sticker!
With the first one, I had an extra word before I reached the 12-word maximum, so I made it a 'Twitter Bumper' by adding a hashtag.

The big question is, if I put these on my car, and someone honked, what would I do?

I think I might pull over to the side of the road, and see if they did the same...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Carnival of Genealogy has been posted

The 72nd Carnival of Genealogy, has been posted over at CreativeGene, with 19 submissions Honoring Mothers.

The topic for the 73rd edition will be "The Good Earth"
Were your ancestors sharecroppers or land barons? Perhaps an ancestor was a logger or a miner. Do you have stories of homesteading? Is there a master gardener in your tree? If your ancestors lived in the city did they keep a square foot garden or escape the city to a favorite park? Tell us about your family's ties to the land!
More information at CreativeGene.

I have lots of stories I can share on this topic, and my challenge will be in the choosing.

Tombstone Tuesday: Moshe Leyb Cruvant

Below is the front and back of the tombstone of my second great grandfather, Moshe Leyb (Morris Louis) Cruvant. I blogged the front two years ago. This is one of the first tombstones I photographed. Some may be able to tell that the back was photographed at a later date. (The leaves on the ground suggest a different season.)

Translation of the Hebrew on the front:
Line 1: Here is interred (You will see these letters at the top of many Jewish tombstones)
Line 2: Reb Moshe Leyb, son of (Reb doesn't mean 'Rabbi'. It's just a title of respect.)
Line 3: Ahron Kruvant.
Line 4: Died five days into
Line 5: the month of Tishrei
Line 6: in the year 5672.
Line 7: May his soul be bound in the bonds of life. (The last line is actually an abbreviation for this bible verse (Samuel I, 25:29) and you will see these letters at the bottom of many Jewish tombstones.)

This guide
at JewishGen will guide you through translating the Hebrew on a tombstone.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Family Tree videos

Some videos I found on YouTube:

Family Tree - Disney (1932) - 5:34

The Addams Family Tree 1964 - Season 1, Episode 5 (21:58) [courtesy of MGMDigitalMedia]

[Wherein the Addams Family hires a genealogist to research their family tree...]

Amanuensis Monday: An unsent letter?

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

My grandfather, Martin Deutsch, working for the Chicago Post Office, accepted the promotion to Postal Ispector in the St. Louis Division in June of 1933. However, the division covered a large amount of territory, and I believe he was in Fort Smith, Arkansas for a year.

The below letter was written in June of 1934 to the Inspector-in-Charge of the St. Louis Post Office. It accepts a transfer to the St. Louis headquarters, and requests a name change.

I don't believe this version of the letter was actually sent, as it doesn't appear in his Official Personnel Folder. It only appeared in my grandfather's personal records. If it was sent, his request to change the spelling of his name was denied. (And I don't know why such a request if desired would be denied, so it seems logical it was never actually sent.) However, it suggests my grandfather, at least at that point in his life, thought his last name was pronounced a little differently than I was taught. (Research indicates he thought it was pronounced in the traditional German fashion, almost sounding like "ditch" and I have always heard it pronounced in the Austrian fashion, rhyming with 'boy'.)

M.J. Deutsch
Inspector Fort Smith, Arkansas, June 8, 1934

Mr. W.L. Noah,
Inspector in Charge,
Saint Louis, Missouri.

This is in response to your communication of the 5th of this month, relative to my possible transfer to Saint Louis. I believe that I would like such an assignment, and a transfer to headquarters would be satisfactory to me.

At this time, I would like to submit a request which I have been considering for some time, but for which I have not found the opportunity until now. I have at various times thought of changing the spelling in my surname, which, although pronounced as it would be if spelled “Dyche”, has a number of superfluous letters. It has caused embarrassment and confusion at different times and is quite a handicap particularly on this job in which much traveling is done and new people are very frequently met. I would like to request permission to change the spelling in my surname, spelling it the way it is pronounced, in the manner noted, “Dyche”. I am making this request at this time so that it may be made effective at the time of my transfer to another domicile, at which time it would cause the least confusion.

I realize that the change requested will cause confusion in the records for awhile, but I believe that this will be righted in a short time, and it will be advantageous as time goes on. In the event that the request is granted, a change will be necessary in my traveling commission and this feature should receive consideration. Your approval and favorable recommendation in this matter will be appreciated.

Post Office Inspector

There is a country music lyric, written by Garth Brooks: "Some of G-d's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers." I think the same may go for unsent letters.

There is also the possibility that the letter was meant to be humorous. I don't understand the reference to his 'traveling commission' needing to be changed, but in context, it sounds like it might have been an inside joke.

If you choose to join me in Amanuensis Monday and post your transcriptions, feel free to add a link to your post below, or in the comments.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wolfram|Alpha v Wikipedia

In the National Business Review there is an article which I believe was originally entitled WolframAlpha a Potential Wikipedia Killer (because that's what the link says) but the article is now entitled with a less sensational "WolframAlpha destined to be one of the web's top 10 sites."

The article admits that Wolfram|Alpha's forte is numbers, statistics, or financial data.
WolframAlpha happily draws on its rivals, which is helpful when responses to queries like Peter Jackson provide nothing but his age and occupation, then a link to the director's Wikipedia biography. Typing swine flu draws a pretty basic response from WolframAlpha - a table numbering infections by country; to find out more, you can click a supplied link to execute a "Web search" (which turns out to be a Google search).
I don't imagine Wolfram|Alpha's data on people is going to get too much more expansive. Victor Hugo's entry, for example, could at some point include a list of published works, but even then would be a pale shade of the information at Wikipedia.

And the source provided for "Peter Jackson" and "Victor Hugo"?
As much as professionals complain about the lack of source information on Wikipedia (a complaint that has grown more and more outdated recently as source information has been added) Wolfram|Alpha basically is citing itself as its own source. Following this circular citation is a list of other resources, which they follow with this statement:

When I follow that link at the bottom for requesting detailed information on sources, I get a 404 msg: "Sorry, Wolfram|Alpha could not find the page you asked for." Yes, this is opening weekend, and I am sure this is just one of several oversights. However, even when they correct this, emailing them for source information isn't what most researchers are going to want.

On the other hand, while we still have the circular citation, Wolfram|Alpha's entry on scientific queries such as Oxygen may provide the information a student is seeking in a clearer, more concise fashion than the Wikipedia entry on Oxygen. Where you go will depend upon what you want. (And whether or not you need a source that doesn't cite itself.)


Wolfram|Alpha is the newest InformationSite to hit the webs, released to the public this weekend. Its long-term goals are highly ambitious.
Wolfram|Alpha's long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.

Wolfram|Alpha is an ambitious, long-term intellectual endeavor that we intend will deliver increasing capabilities over the years and decades to come. With a world-class team and participation from top outside experts in countless fields, our goal is to create something that will stand as a major milestone of 21st century intellectual achievement.
Keeping in mind that this is the long-term goal, and it is fresh on the scene, what is available there now?

When you go to the site, you can enter your request in the input box at the top of the page. But what should one enter? On the right hand side, there are a few examples of commands to try, as well as a link to Examples by Topics

One of their examples is to enter any date, so I chose my birthdate
Input: January 21, 1969
Time difference from today (Sunday, May 17, 2009):
40 years 3 months 27 days ago
2103 weeks 5 days ago
14 726 days ago
40.32 years ago

Daylight information for January 21, 1969 in Saint Louis, Missouri:
sunrise | 7:15 am CST
sunset | 5:11 pm CST
duration of daylight | 9 hours 56 minutes

and it was a waxing crescent moon.

(It clearly looked up my IP address to figure out what city I was in. That isn’t magic, though some people might wonder how it knows.)

The ability to look up sunrise/sunset info for any day could be useful to an author who wants their historical novel to be nitpickingly exact.

There are also two sections that are blank

Observances for January 21, 1969 (United States):
(no official holidays or major observances)

Notable events for January 21, 1969:
(no known major notable events)

If you want information for a city other than your IP address, you can add a city to your input:
Input: January 21, 1969 Warsaw, Poland
I learn the sunrise/sunset info for Warsaw, and I also learn that it was Grandmother’s Day in Poland. (My paternal Grandmother’s parents were both born in Poland, so this is nice to know.)

I kind of would have liked to know this information without having to have hit upon it by luck. I’d like Wolfram|Alpha to list Observances worldwide for the date. I tried: January 21, 1969 World – but was told there are no observances for the date in World (It understood the word ‘World’ as the input January 21, 1969 Everywhere yields their standard error msg: “Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input.” )

Their next suggestion was to enter “Any City”
Input: Cekiske, Lithuania
Wolfram|Alpha didn’t understand the input
Input: Losice, Poland
Wolfram|Alpha interprets as a typo for Lostice, Czech Republic, and provides me the distance from there to Poland, and compares the population of the Czech town to the population of Poland.
Input: Warsaw, Poland
SUCCESS! Warsaw is large enough for Wolfram|Alpha to recognize, as is nearby Warka, which surprised me. Warka only has 11,000 people. Losice has a population of 7,000 (according to Wikipedia). I believe Cekiske is smaller. Wolfram knows cities in the US which are significantly smaller. It doesn't recognize Dixville Notch, NH (population 75, and infamous for voting first in US elections), but it does recognize Cuba, MO (population 3,447)

For cities I see population, a visual map of the country, and a red dot where the city is located, the current local time and weather, approximate elevation, and nearby larger cities.

For Warka, Poland I am told the population of and distance to Warsaw and Radom, Poland

For Warsaw, Poland I am told the population and distance to Minsk, Belarus (because it’s the nearest larger city). For Minsk, the nearest larger city is Kiev, Ukraine, and for Kiev, they stop providing the information. (I think this means there is no larger city on the same continent, or within an unknown specified distance. If I enter as my input: Kiev Beijing – for example – it will provide me the distance between the two cities, and their respective populations, and the Beijing population is five times the size of Kiev. So it knows the information, but it stops providing the information for this command, and the user has to figure out another way to retrieve it.)

In their table of Examples they have a Genealogy section:

You can enter a relationship:
Input: father's mother's father's mother's sister's son's daughter
You’re given a visual representation of the relationship
Told you’re second cousins twice removed
And that your ‘blood relationship’ is 1/256.

They also have a section on names:
Input : Name ____
It will try to guess whether it is a surname or given name, and provide a link to the other if it guessed wrong. For surnames, they will provide numbers and ethnic distribution from the US Census. If you want information outside the US, Wolfram|Alpha appears stumped
Input: Name Smith England
Yields a comparaison between the surnames Smith and England in the US.

With given names, they will provide historical distribution information going back to 1880. Once again, for the US. (For example, Smith as a given name was significantly more popular in 1880 (.015%) than it is today (0%).)

My biggest gripe here is if I enter:
Input: Surname Smith
Wolfram|Alpha has no idea what I want to find out. I have to enter: Name Smith. I realize their goal to accept free-form input is long term. But it may be the area where it needs the most work beyond additional content.

Also, of my sixteen great great grandparents, it only knows the surnames: Weiss, Adler, Hartley, and Stuart. For my other twelve surnames (Newmark, Cantkert, Feinstein, Blatt, Mojsabovski, Cruvant, Wyman, Perlik, Deutsch, Lichtman, Van Every, and Denyer) the command Name Surname results in “Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input.” I’m more surprised for some of these surnames than others. (I’d prefer the response – statistical information for given surname unavailable, since surely it recognizes the ‘Name’ command.)

Other commands Genealogists might find useful:
Input: Soundex [Surname]
Provides the Soundex code for the given surname

Date calculations:
Input: August 10, 1906 - 60 years 5 months 21 days
Results in Feb 17, 1846.

(My g-g-g-grandmother, Gitel Slupsky Dudelsack died on Aug 10, 1906, and her death certificate said she lived 60 years, 5 months, and 21 days. This is the same result I achieved when I did the calculations with pen and paper, so I am pleased. Though her tombstone says she was born in 1831.)

I suspect I missed some applications of genealogical interst. There are a lot of examples they have provided, and I haven’t browsed through them all. There are a lot of examples in science and math categories which I am certain will be useful for those whose field of study falls in those areas. These areas lend themselves best to objective datasets.

There is a lot of information where Wolfram|Alpha is not the first place I would head. If I wanted to look up information on a city, I would go to Wikipedia first (and look at the sources the entry provides, and try to find those sources for further research, like I was trained to do with traditional encyclopedias as a youth.) Each of Wolfram|Alpha's results does include a source list. This is usually a list of several sources which Wolfram|Alpha says 'may have been used' for the particular results. I noticed Wikimedia as one of the sources on the geographical queries.

One of their categories is Movies, and if you input a movie title, and it recognizes it as a movie title, it will provide director, writer, and cast information. But I would still go to IMDB for this information. (And unsurprisingly, IMDB is listed as one of Wolfram's sources for this query.)

I think one of their ideas is they want to be a general - go to first - site for any data, but they have a long way to go. Of course, it was released this weekend, and I am sure they will improve as time progresses.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Update on St. Louis Post Dispatch Obituaries

The below information is outdated.
Please follow this link for more recent info.
A month ago I wrote about the St. Louis City Public Library's database and index of the St. Louis Post Dispatch Obituaries they (and the St. Louis County library) have on microfilm. The staff is hard at work updating their site, as there have been changes in the past month.

Their database now covers 1880-1930, 1942-1945, 1960-1963, and 1992-2001.

In addition to adding 1998-2001 data, they have added an Obituaries by Year index covering the same years. This is on their new website and successfully replaces the index on their old website. For the moment, the old website is the only place to go for the 2002-2006 obituary index, but I expect that to change relatively quickly considering their pace in updating the new site in the past couple months. The old index page also has the World War 1 and World War 2 casualty, MIA and POW lists. At some point I expect those to be transferred to the new website as well.

A month ago I said that the newer indexes weren't as important since the Post Dispatch's archive goes back to 1988, but as I discovered a couple days ago, the Post Dispatch's archive is incomplete.

As I mentioned last month, once you find a particular obituary listing you are seeking, if you do live in St. Louis, you can find the obituary in the microfilm archives at either the St. Louis County or St. Louis City headquarter libraries.

You can also request the County library photocopy and mail it to you. The fee is minimal.

For post-1988 obituaries, if you have a subscription, you can also search on GenealogyBank, NewsBank, or any other source for America's Obituaries' database - and see if the obituary is there. It might save you a library trip.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: Samuel Van Every

Below is the tombstone of my second great grandfather, Samuel Van Every. Born Feb 25, 1820 in Brant County, Ontario, Canada, he died April 18, 1888 in San Marcos, Texas. The photographs were taken by a kindly RAOGK volunteer.

The volunteer took several views of the tombstone, including a closeup of the base

Kind father of love
thou art gone to thy rest
forever to bask mid the
joys of the blest.

Monday, May 11, 2009

America's Obituaries - incomplete

So I was visiting a local message board where someone asked for help in looking up an obituary. Being the helpful sort, I checked the St. Louis Post Dispatch indexes, and they were listed, so I knew the exact issues the obituaries appeared in. Since they were recent obituaries (1995 and 2001) and I have a GenealogyBank subscription, I realized I’d be able to make them very happy by sending them the obituaries within a few hours of their asking for them.

But they weren’t on GenealogyBank. I blinked. GB claims they have the Post Dispatch obituaries Jan 1, 1988 to current.

A few quick test searches revealed the issue. GenealogyBank allows you to search by date and state alone, and pull up every obituary they have that appeared on that date in a particular state. Their database isn’t complete.

A search on one date – December 2, 1995 - yielded 10 results in the state of Missouri, and all of them in the Kansas City Star.

The other date – December 5, 2001 – yielded 19 results for the Post Dispatch, but not the obituary I was seeking, and according to the online index, should be there. By 2001 the obituary listings should be over 20 people daily in St. Louis. One week later on Dec 12, there are 72 entries.

It's not GenealogyBank's fault. The source they list for their Post Dispatch obituaries is America’s Obituaries, which is the same one NewsBank uses, so it is the same one I can access for free through the St. Louis County Library’s database, and the same one that the Post Dispatch website’s fee-based Obituary Archive uses. I checked, but unsurprisingly, since they use the same database, these obituaries don’t appear on any of the three sites. I, or another volunteer, will have to look these obituaries up on microfilm.

None of the sites appear to warn the user that the database is incomplete. They all seem to imply that they are complete from January 1, 1988 to current date. This isn't the case.

I suspect this is also true for other newspapers. (For example, I suspect the Kansas City Star had more than 10 death notices on Dec 2, 1995.) So researchers need to know - if a search turns up empty on these databases, that doesn't necessarily mean that no obituary appeared in that newspaper for that person. The particular obituary might just be absent from the database, as the database is incomplete.

No online database should really be assumed complete - as the data is entered by humans, and to err is human. But I think many of us get into a habit of thinking "I searched that database online, so I found all that was there - there's no need to actually look at the microfilm." Sometimes you do.

Amanuensis Monday: Selig Feinstein and Carr Lane Primary School

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

From patents to community service, my second great grandfather, Selig Feinstein has been one of my more surprising ancestors. Family lore passed down that his occupation was real estate, and that he had operated a laundry, though through city directories I learned for the first 15 years in St. Louis he had first been a shoer/blacksmith, and then became a junk dealer, before turning to real estate in 1905.

Last week I entered his name into Google Books again, and found a new appearance in the St. Louis City Board of Education Official Report. All Google Books gave me was a teaser:
"A proposition has been received from Selig Feinstein to purchase the land on which the Carr Lane Primary School was located, said land being located at the"
It was dated 1911. I wondered if this was related to a real estate venture, or something else. I was unable to view any more online, and had to track down a copy of the book, which wasn't difficult as Google Books links directly to WorldCat, and there were several local libraries that had it. Fortunately, before I did anything else, I conducted a search on "Carr Lane Primary School" and retrieved a second page number within the same volume of the Official Report. So I knew I had two references to look up at the library. Transcriptions appear below.

(pp. 401-402)
January 10th

V. Proposition to Purchase General Fund Real Estate

A proposition has been received from Selig Feinstein to purchase land on which the Carr Lane Primary School was located, said land being located at the northwest corner of Twenty-third and Carr streets, having a frontage of 75 feet on Twenty-third street, by a depth of 100 feet on Carr street, for the sum of $5,000.00 cash.

As the price offered is considered sufficient to justify the sale of the above property, it is recommended that the undersigned be authorized to offer same for sale at public auction at the Real Estate Exchange of the City of St. Louis and report the result of said sale to the Board for its action.

(p. 561)
March 14th

VIII. Sale of Land Belonging to the General Fund
(a) Baden School. [...]
(b) Carr Lane Primary.

The undersigned reports that pursuant to the action of the Board at its meeting on January 10, 1911, he offered for sale at public auction to the highest bidder, at the Real Estate Exchange in the city of St. Louis, at twelve o'clock noon, on Friday, March 3, 1911, the Carr Lane Primary School, described as follows:

A lot of ground situated in city block 962, fronting 75 feet on the west line of Twenty-third street, by a depth westwardly of 100 feet along the northern line of Carr street, together with the improvements thereon.

The same was bid in by Anna Feinstein, the highest bidder, for the sum of $5,000.00 cash.

It is recommended that the above sales be approved and that the proper officers be authorized to execute warranty deeds to be delivered to the successful bidders upon payment of the purchase prices.

Official report, Board of Education of the City of St. Louis, 1911, volume 17, pp. 401-402, 561.

* Anna Feinstein was my second great-grandmother, Selig's wife. A search on "Anna Feinstein" in Google Books doesn't retrieve any results, since in the text her surname is split between two lines with a dash. When I search for: "Anna Fein-stein" I find the above book.

* I looked in city directories for Selig last year through his death in 1915, however, I was unable to find the location of his businesses after 1911. According to the city directories, 1911 was when he started his fourth career in Laundry, with a store called Royal Laundry. Family lore said he had opened a second store, Farmer's Laundry, at 2300 Carr, which several of his children managed, but I was unable to find evidence of this in the city directories. The description above suggests it may have been converted from a former school. However, the 'frontage' of the school was on 23rd street, and usually that would mean a 23rd street address. There is a small possibility that the laundry and the school were on two separate corners of the same intersection.

* In 1906 Carr Lane Primary was on a list of schools that the St. Louis City Board of Education felt were worn out and should be replaced. Apparently they did. However, it isn't clear whether Selig felt it was still usable, refurbished it, or tore it down and built something new at that location. So I still have a few questions to answer in connecting this purchase to Selig's laundry.

If you choose to join me in Amanuensis Monday and post your transcriptions, feel free to add a link to your post below, or in the comments.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

72nd Carnival of Genealogy: Mothers

The topic for the 72nd Carnival of Genealogy is in honor of Mother's Day
Mother’s Day is right around the corner.
This is the perfect time to honor a Mother.
Home from a filling Mother's Day Brunch at a local dining establishment, here's a portrait of my mother drawn 35 years ago...

The artist was a mere 5 years old, though his artistic skills haven't improved much.

I am thankful for many things from my mother. One small thing for which I am thankful is she had the foresight to type dates on my early creative attempts. Of course, this decreases the artistic value, as I am sure the world is grateful that Da Vinci's mother didn't type the date on the Mona Lisa. But I am no Da Vinci, so I am thankful for the date.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Missouri Digital Heritage

I mentioned in my list of Top Ten Genealogy Sites – Missouri Digital Heritage.

Through the Missouri Digital Heritage Initiative, the Missouri State Archives and the Missouri State Library, in partnership with the State Historical Society of Missouri, are assisting institutions across the state in digitizing their records and placing them online for easy access. We invite you to explore our website and to join with us in celebrating our collective past.
I mentioned that while the Missouri Death Certificate collection is perhaps the best known part of this collection, there is a whole lot more there. Following is a sample of some of the things you will find there of genealogical or historical interest

We will start with collections housed at the Missouri State Archives:

Index to federal and state census records, 1830-1930, available on microfilm at the Missouri State Archives.
Abstracts of Missouri birth, stillbirth, and death records recorded before 1910.
Index of death certificates, linked to digital images of the original death certificate. Updated annually.
These historic probate records offer insight into the lives of Missourians through wills, inventories, settlements, and guardianship records. Circuit court cases provide a wealth of information on everything from the fur trade to the Civil War, steamboats to McCormick Reapers, and agriculture to urbanization.
Index of coroner records from seven Missouri counties and the City of St. Louis, dates range from 1842 to 1932.
This database, produced by the Missouri Local Records Preservation Program, is a compilation of inventories of local government records identified as having permanent or enduring value and housed primarily in county and municipal offices, but includes some libraries, museums, and historical and genealogical societies that maintain government records. Not all Missouri offices have been inventoried. This database is being updated periodically as additional inventories are completed.
Abstracts of citizenship records from 22 Missouri counties.
Database abstracted from the service cards of over 576,000 Missourians who served in twelve wars and military engagements. Includes those in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I, as well as the Heatherly War (1836), the Mormon War (1838), and the Iowa (Honey) War (1839). Over 380,000 of the records are for Civil War soldiers.
Listing of microfilm reels, by county, office, and municipality, held by the Missouri State Archives.
Gateway to state records concerning the Missouri-Mormon conflict, 1838-1841. Includes finding aids and some digitized records.

The Digital Heritage collections also includes links to collections elsewhere that have been ‘contributed’ by outside sources.

Contributed by: University of Missouri Libraries
Electronic books from University of Missouri Digital library. [Includes St. Louis Social Registers of 1916, 1922. 1924 and 1925, Missouri Plat books from 1930, Sanborn Maps, and more]

Contributed by: Washington University Libraries

Collection of one hundred and eleven documents, over 400 pages of full-text searchable resource that represents the full case history of the Dred Scott Case.

Contributed by: Springfield-Greene County Library District

Collection of full text indexes and abstracts to records including circuit court record books, coroner's records, alms house records, justice of the peace records and others.

Contributed by: Hannibal Free Public Library

Polk City Directories 1859 - 1925.

Contributed by: Blue Springs Historical Society

Historical photograph collection depicting life in Blue Springs, Missouri.

Contributed by: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

Collection of 90 documents of President Truman's 1948 Presidential Campaign covering years 1946-1968

This is still a small sampling, but should give an idea of the diverse materials available through this collection. I am hopeful that the initiative, the brainchild of our current Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, will continue expanding unabated if in 2010 she wins her Senate campaign.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: Children of Samuel Van Every

Below are the tombstones of 4 children of my second great grandfather, Samuel Van Every - all four of whom died as infants or young children. There is also one grandchild. All five are buried at San Marcos City Cemetery in San Marcos, Texas. When an exact date is included, it comes from my notes. Unless otherwise indicated, the dates come from a cousin I had an email conversation with, and I currently have no documentation to back it up. All of the photographs were taken for me by an RAOGK volunteer.

Willie Van Every - May 1, 1866 - May 4, 1866 (3 days)

Naomi Van Every - Apr 13, 1875 - June 1885 (10 years)

Lubie Van Every - May 2, 1883 - 1883 (less than a year)

Wilmina - 1882 - 1887 (* 5 years)

Melvin - 1888-1889 (** 1 year)

(*) Despite the tombstone, the 'Return of Death' record on FamilySearch says she lived from 1867-1872. This is also 5 years.

(**) Samuel's son Melvin Elijah Van Every (my great grandfather) lived from 1863-1929. This might be Melvin's son Melvin Theodore, who according to a Family Record sheet, lived from May 15, 1898 - May 11, 1899. Or it could be the son of another one of Samuel's children.

It's possible both Melvin and Wilmina's tombstones are replacements, and the original stones were illegible when the replacements were made.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Amanuensis Monday: Letter from Willa - 1916

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

The below letter was written by my grandmother Myrtle's sister, Willa, to their father Melvin Van Every. The year was 1916. Willa died one month later on July 8th. There's a lot of slang I have difficulty deciphering, but it is clear she is not happy with the man she married, and is only staying with him out of a sense of duty. When Willa dies, it is clear from other letters Willa's daughter is raised by her maternal grandparents, and not by her father.

Lockhart, Texas
June 6, 1916

My Dear Papa

Well how are you all to-day? I am not feeling so very good to day. I bet you are enjoying yourself on that good sleeping porch to day. I say that is the life.

I have not answered your letter any sooner because news is scarce here. Every one is in the grass pretty bad, but cotton is pretty. If it does not rain in a few days corn will not amount to much. We are eating roasting corn now. We also have beans, squashes and radishes in garden to eat. My tomatoes are large as eggs. I am glad you bought my honey. If I can get off I want to come home. I might make some money next week chopping cotton. Agnes Lee is fine, she surely got scared when I read that tiger story to her, she never got out of my sight for 3 or 4 days.

Did mama go to see Evva? Is Myrtle coming up here on a trip? How’s that trouble with your lungs? I do hope you are getting better. The people are surely moving out of the country about Robstown and Alga Dulce, The Woodmen here sent after one fellow that was nearly all in, and lots are coming back on their own hook.

How is Aunt Let and Red making it? I hope all OK. We went to a picnic at New Braunfels last Friday. Sure had a nice time. We played some 2x2 last night. Pa taken the kids all to the picture show. Agnes Lee talks every day about all and especially you. She is surely anxious to come down there.

Well I don’t believe the Mexican situation looks bad to these people around here. There has been no disturbance whatever. I wish they would go to war and quit this foolishness. I think something exciting would be fine. Maybe a war would kill off a whole lot of these parasites that is always digging the other fellow and never pays his debts.

Say, Lex has sold his crop and for just what our store account is. At least they just took up his debt. He carpenters some and chops cotton. I hope we don’t starve. Sometimes I think I ought to have done like you suggested and never come back up here.

Duty is all that made me come. As far as love is concerned, that is a thing of the past with me. But it seems like I am not giving Agnes Lee a fair chance. I do believe she’ll be ashamed of him when she’s older. I am now. That’s one reason I hate to come back down there. He owes everybody and told so many lies, that I do hope the people don’t blame me. The worst part of all is he has not got any chance to pay any of his debts this year. It’s just disgusting. He has no management whatever about him.

Well it gives me a headache to think of all this mess. I don’t know nothing to write so I will close with lots of love to you and mama and Myrtle, and love and kisses from Agnes Lee to you all. I am as ever your little girl Bill.

Willa is the author of the poem, Mother, which I posted last August.

If you choose to join me in Amanuensis Monday and post your transcriptions, please add a link to your post below.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Top Ten Genealogy Sites

Randy at Geneamusings for his weekly Saturday Night Fun asks for our Top Ten Genealogy Sites
Record databases, data portals, how-to sites, family trees, software, entertainment, blogs, etc. Your choice, your opinion - what educates, helps, or entertains you in your genealogy quest for a big GEDCOM file?
1. Ancestry

Ancestry will be on the top of many lists, and deserves it in my opinion. I have heard some comments that beyond the census reports (which are appearing elsewhere) others have found very little there. But this isn't the case for me. I have found ship manifests, war documents, and more. I also used to use their Public Records Index to find living cousins - which has been replaced by an older and less useful set of public records. My ranking of Ancestry might drop in the future if I find less information in the new databases they continue to add, but I am eternally grateful for what I have found.

2. FamilySearch

Linking to FamilySearch Labs - this is the part of FamilySearch I am following with glee as they upload and index their extensive holdings - making it accessible for free.

3. Rootsweb

Randy lists Rootsweb separately from Ancestry, so I will as well - even though the two sites have merged. I have made several useful contacts in the Rootsweb communities. Some of my Surname discussion groups are more active than others, but I have learned a lot there, and I have received help from a few community boards.

4. Footnote

I found all the Dawes Commission testimony of my Hartley ancestors at Footnote, and also found my second great grandfather Ebenezer Denyer's Civil War papers there as well.

5. GenealogyBank

A great resource for finding obituaries. They also have a good collection of scanned/searchable newspapers.

6. JewishGen

Databases focused on Jewish communities throughout the world. While they are now housed on Ancestry's servers, and Ancestry has most if not all of their database holdings, JewishGen is completely free, and there are a few community features of JewishGen that make it worthy to include separately. I expect to go into detail on one of these in a week or two after I test it out.

7. Missouri Digital Heritage

Those whose family tree has roots in Missouri need to check out this website.
"The Missouri Digital Heritage Initiative includes records of enduring historical value from institutions throughout the state of Missouri. These historical resources, including documents, photographs, maps and other materials of interest, are grouped here by general topic."
Missouri Death Certificates 1910-1958 is among these collections, but there is so much more.

8. NewspaperArchive

A great collection of scanned/searchable newspapers.

9. iFamilyForLeopard

My genealogy database software of choice. Development of the software has slowed down as the original developer, Keith Wilson, passed away at the end of last year. His son, Warwick, has taken over the development, but has to split his time between his career and what had been his father's 'hobby'. I may test out future releases of other software, but I feel currently this is the best software out there for my purposes on the Mac, and one of the least expensive.

10. MediaWiki

MediaWiki is where you can download the code for the software that runs WikiPedia and other WikiSites. You can then install it on your own website, if you have your own domain. I have used it to create several family wikis that are username protected so only family members have access allowing me to upload images and documents I wouldn't normally share with the world.