Posted in Genealogy 101

Why Genealogy – Daniel’s Story

Welcome to week one of my new series “Why Genealogy”. I’ll be sharing the voices of my fellow genealogists and family history enthusiast who were all were bit by the genealogy bug at a young age. Genealogy isn’t something you have to wait to do! There is no age limit to who can learn about their family’s past.

This week, meet Daniel Loftus of Daniel’s Genealogy.

My Genealogy Journey

Now, while it seems that the question “What’s the best way of getting young people interested in genealogy?” seems like it should have a definitive answer – it doesn’t! There are a number of ways that the Next Gen of genealogists can pick up the genealogy bug. They could be curious about the story behind an old family heirloom that’s been passed down for generations. Some might even want to find more out about themselves to be able to see where they come from. Or you could even be like me, someone who had a long car journey back home and you had 2-3 hours to kill so you decided to quiz your parents on what they knew about their family. Guilty as charged! So while I’ve listed at least three different scenarios, that doesn’t mean that these are the only three ways to engage and even inspire young people to look into their past and those that walked the Earth before us.

So before I give some tips, I figure I may as well continue my story – so after I drove my parents nuts (no parents were irritated in this story!) asking them about their family history, I was just processing what I was hearing and I couldn’t believe some of the stories (good and bad, truth or rumour) that I was hearing. So nothing really happened for a few days until fast forward to January 7th 2017 [5 days later after the funeral] and I’m sitting flicking through Google on free family tree builders until I discovered Family Echo (I was not aware of Ancestry, FindMyPast or MyHeritage like I am now) and I thought brilliant, I can start adding my family to it and I did. Although it was just me filling it in to start and it only showed me how little about my own family, my own personal history. I showed my mother and asked if we could start filling more in but we left it until tomorrow and the following evening my mother dug out a dark green book with a gold ornate frame on the cover with the words “The History of our Family”. I asked her about the book and she said for my father’s side of the family, she sat down with my grandmother who was alive at the time and wrote down all the info that my nana was telling her about her family and a bit about my grandad’s family. Now for my mother’s side of the family – we were not so lucky when it came to info. Her mother’s side, she had no living aunts or uncles still alive (last one died in 1995) so she only had limited info. Her father’s side we didn’t have a clue about. I would sadly lose my grandfather that year as well but he was able to tell me his parents’ names and I’m grateful for just that piece of info (as small as it may seem it helped me to push back a number of generations.) and spent that evening inputting all of the info in that book and working back! I had a bit of help from cousins who knew bits that corroborated with what I was hearing. And from then on there isn’t much more to tell from then on – I just kept building my tree more and more. 

I think the main thing to keep in mind with all of this is it’s not going to be a quick task – I’ve been doing this for 4 years now (at time of writing) and while I may not have gotten any new leads or bits and pieces from family, who’s to say tomorrow won’t be the day that a brick wall could be broken? But what I’ll finish with is the answer to this question “What made me want to delve into my own history?” Well it was a combination of things, I love history as a subject in school (am better in that compared to some subjects!) I also wanted to know more about my family and where I came from and I’m so happy at the amount I’ve been able to discover about my past. And most importantly, I thought it’d be fun to try (and can happily say it was one of my best decisions!) And trust me, if you don’t think genealogy is for young people, then stick around with me on Twitter, [am on Facebook and Instagram if you’re not a Twitter user] I might be able to change that opinion. And most importantly – if any young genealogist does see this and is on the fence about doing this – it’s so much fun and a great hobby and if you’re a young genealogist reading this, please get in contact with me, I’d love to hear from you.

[Editor’s note: Thank you Amanda for the opportunity!]

Are you ready to get started on your genealogy journey? Check out my post on getting back to the basics!

Posted in Genealogy 101

Genealogy Burnout

It is a new month which means an opportunity to reset my genealogy goals and make plans for new content. As I was doing so, I realized that during the month of July I had unknowingly put all my genealogy work on the back burner. It wasn’t something that I had done intentionally. When I looked back at my weekends, I realized that most of them were spent just looking at my computer and making up excuses of why I couldn’t research or write. That’s when I realized that I was deep in genealogy burnout.

Just like anything else you are passionate about, at some point you have spent all the energy you have. The things you loved to do, like chasing down a DNA match, seem more like a chore than an adventure. Genealogy is such a time consuming and emotionally investing hobby, that sometimes we need to take a break. The question then becomes, how do we get back to this journey that we love so much?

Go Back to Where You Started

When I say go back to where you started, I don’t mean that you should start over. Just go back to the basics. Find that family line that you researched when you first started and see if maybe you can extend/expand that part of your tree. Sometimes going back to the line that first hooked you into doing genealogy will be the cure for your burnout.

For me, this means going back to my Miller line. If you’re familiar with my story, you know that John “Raccoon” Miller is my gateway ancestor. He is the one that helped me find my genealogy passion and is now the cure for my genealogy burnout. Luckily for me, he had a bunch of kids who had a bunch of kids. Whenever I’m struggling with finding my groove, I go back to this line and start searching for cousins. It usually does that trick!

Talk to Other Genealogist

You may be surprised how many of us find ourselves in some kind of genealogy burnout. The upside is, we don’t all experience it at the same time. This means that while you’re in a funk, your genealogist friends may not be. Talk to them about what they are researching. Find out what they are excited about. Sometimes when you talk to someone who is passionate about what they are doing, their passion is contagious.

Get Out of Your Head

Get out and experience genealogy. If you’re like me, you have a designated area in your house, or maybe at the library, where you always go to do research. That is great when you are focused and able to concentrate on researching. On the other hand, the routine can feed your genealogy burnout. When that happens, get out of there! That could look like going to visit a cemetery or going to a new research facility. One of my favorite things to do is to visit a local historic site. Even if it doesn’t relate to my ancestors, something about walking in history gets my genealogy soul moving!

Be Kind to Yourself

The most important thing you can do when you find yourself with genealogy burnout, is to be kind. Don’t force the research. Don’t force the connections. I guarantee when you do, you will find yourself dreading doing any kind of genealogy activities. You and I both don’t want that! It is okay to take a break. Life is happening now and sometimes we have to set the past aside and deal with the present. Your ancestors understand that better than anyone else. Give yourself grace. The passion and desire for genealogy will come back…I promise you.

Posted in Genealogy 101

Genealogy 101 – Death Records

When I first started researching my family’s history, death records were not high on my priority list. While I knew it was important to know when my ancestors died, it just seemed a bit depressing to spend my days reading obituaries and causes of death. It wasn’t until I came across an obituary that vividly painted my ancestor’s life, that I realized this subject wasn’t all doom and gloom. I changed my way of thinking from this is an ending to this is something I can use to celebrate my family member. Now, I love finding obituaries and walking though cemeteries. My friends still think I’m a bit strange, but they just don’t know what they are missing.

Death is inevitable. All of our ancestors have done it, so why can it be so hard to find death records? Also, when we find them, what other information can we gather? I hope the following tid-bits can help you on your journey.

Death Certificates

The most obvious place to find your ancestor’s death information is on a death certificate. Even the most basic certificate will give you a name, date of death, place of death, and cause of death. While that is all great information, it’s the other gems that may really help you break through a brick wall.

Let’s take a look at Anderson Carpenter’s death certificate. Anderson is my paternal 2x Great Grandfather. On his death certificate, we are able to gain basic information such as his birth and death date and location of death (including the hospital). Now, look at all the genealogy information that is included. We learn that he is a widower and that his wife was Lillie Lacy (actually, her name is Lizzie Lacy). The death certificate lists his parents as John Carpenter and Linda Tanner, who were both born in Ohio. If we look at the informant, it gives the name Marvin Carpenter. It’s easy to assume that Marvin is related in some way, which he is. Marvin is Anderson’s son. We are also given the name of the funeral home who handled the arrangements and the name/location of the cemetery. With just this one death certificate, we are able to go back another generation and fill in some holes such as Anderson’s wife’s name.

Anderson Carpenter’s death certificate

Funeral Cards

Funeral cards, also known as memorial cards or prayer cards, are an excellent source of information. The cards are designed as an easy keepsake to remember the deceased. At the very least, a funeral card will include your ancestor’s birth and death date. Some cards are a bit more detailed and may include a short memory of the deceased. Also, there a good chance that the funeral card may include a picture of your ancestor. These cards are not to be missed when you are collecting death records.

Below is my maternal Great Grandfather’s (William Howard Taft Price) funeral card. This card tells me that he obviously went by the name Taft, which could help me find him on other documents. It also states his birth and death date. While it doesn’t give me the locations of those events, the dates alone will help me to narrow down my search. Lastly, it gives me where the funeral was held, where he was buried, and the funeral home in charge of the arrangements. If nothing else, this information points me in the direction of finding more sources that I can use to find out more information.

William Howard Taft Price’s funeral card

Obituaries

Probably everyone’s favorite death record is an obituary. After all, no two obituaries are the same and they can sometimes be full of all kinds of genealogy information. Websites like Newspapers.com https://www.newspapers.com/ and Genealogy Bank https://www.genealogybank.com/ have made finding an obituary a little easier.

More recent obituaries tend to give a clearer genealogy picture. When looking at obits from the mid-1900s back leave a bit more puzzle pieces to be solved. Remember the time period and the fact that women were known more as someone’s husband than an individual. Take the obituary below as an example. This belongs to my paternal 4th Great Uncle, Hiram Goodwin. Hiram passed away in 1936 in Kanawha County, West Virginia. If you notice, his daughters are listed as Mrs. “insert husband’s name”. While this can be frustrating, it does as least give you names of spouses. All you have to do is play the match game and figure out who goes with who!

Hiram Goodwin’s obituary (1936)

Find-A-Grave and Headstones

When all else fails, there is always (well…almost always) a headstone to be found. Families tended to be buried in the same area, so if you can find one, you may be able to find more. If you’re not able to get out to the actual cemetery, check out Find-A-Grave https://www.findagrave.com/

Stella Alice Baker Martin’s headstone (my maternal 2x Great Grandmother)

Find-A-Grave is a great resource for information. By searching your ancestor’s name, you may find their birth/death dates, their obituary, and if you’re lucky, a picture! The Find-A-Grave community is pretty awesome too in the fact that you can put in a request for a particular cemetery. The only issue is that because the information is entered by volunteer individuals, you should also double check the dates, locations, ect. I’m not saying that the information is always wrong or anything like that. It just like when you’re looking at someone else’s family tree. It’s a great starting point, but you should always verify the information.

Next Steps

Now that we’ve covered all the actual vital records, birth, marriage, and death, it’s time to dig into census records! The new series will cover all the basics of how to search for census records and what you should be looking for!

If you need a refresher, check out the marriage records post!

Posted in Genealogy 101

Researching Holocaust Records

At some point, if you have Jewish ancestors, you are going to have to take a look into Holocaust records. History is full of horrible moments, and when we realize that our ancestors were victims of such events, it just hits you different. Researching isn’t easy, especially when you are tackling a subject like the Holocaust. Give yourself time and grace. Remember, genealogy isn’t a race. We should take our time and give our ancestors the moments they deserve.

Getting Started

Just like any other area of genealogy research, start with what you know. If you only have names of potential ancestors, that is okay. There are several databases (which I’ll go into later) that will allow you to search with only that information. It will take patience, but don’t be discouraged if you feel like you don’t have a lot of information to go on.

If you are able to locate the town they may have lived in during this time period that can help you narrow down your search range. By knowing the town, or even the area where they lived, will help you in following the path they may have taken. Gary Mokotoff’s book, How to Document Victims and Locate Survivors of the Holocaust is a wealth of information that can help you trace your ancestors’ steps. (For the record, Amazon only had one copy available. However, check with your library as this is a popular book for Jewish research).

Cover of Gary Mokotoff’s book

Yizkor Books

Yizkor books, or memorial books, were written after the Holocaust in order to memorialize Jewish communities that were destroyed during the Holocaust. Many Jewish genealogy specific organizations, such as JewishGen, are working to translate Yizkor books. Since they were written with a specific community in mind, the majority of them are not in English. However, the books that have been translated have also been digitized and are available online.

When looking at Yizkor books, remember to look not just for your ancestor, but also for general information about the community. This will help you to get a sense of what life was like for those who lived there. Also, each book includes a section called “Remembrance of Souls”. This section may include photographs and other specific information of those who lived in the community.

Example of a Yizkor Book

If you know the particular Yizkor book that you are looking for, it may be available for purchase. Both Amazon and JewishGen have Yizkor books that you may purchase.

Victim Database

If, unfortunately, you have an ancestor that was a victim of the Holocaust, they may be listed in one of the online databases. The most extensive database is Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims. https://www.yadvashem In the database, you may search by surname, first name, or place. Even if your ancestor’s name is not in the database, try searching for the place that they lived. If you can find other victims information, it may give you a nugget to use for your own ancestor.

An example from the Yad Vashem’s Central Database

Survivor Database

For the most extensive survivor database, look no futher than JewishGen https://www.jewishgen.org/ This website contains a search engine that covers over 190 databases and 2.5 million records. While JewishGen can point you in the right direction to find your Holocaust victim, this particular database only deals with survivors.

Dutch Survivor List from JewishGen

When searching on JewishGen, make sure to look at all the Holocaust collections. There are so many areas that may have your ancestor’s information. Again, be patient and remember that persistence pays off!

Example of databases found on JewishGen

More Holocaust Research

There are many different libraries and archives that have dedicated Holocaust sources. So many, in fact, that it is not possible to include them in this one post. If you are looking for more ways to search, I suggest using this guide that was assembled by The Ackman and Ziff Family Genealogy Institute. This 10 page “cheat sheet” is a great resource to have on hand whenever doing Holocaust research.

If you need a refresher, make sure to check out last week’s Intro to Jewish Genealogy post!

Posted in Genealogy 101

Genealogy 101 – Marriage Records

First comes love, then comes marriage, and then comes someone years later looking for proof! Marriage is such a hot topic when it comes to genealogy research. Figuring out if your ancestors were married, and when they were married, can be a challenge. Luckily, there are a few options for finding this much needed information.

Types of Marriage Records

When trying to find an ancestor’s marriage, keep in mind the different records. If you’re looking for an actual marriage record, you will be looking for either a marriage register or a marriage license. If you can’t find either one of those, there is always the 1900 U.S. Census that may point you in the right direction. Last, but certainly not least, you should dig around in newspapers.

Marriage Register

You can usually find marriage registers in county books. Many of these have been digitized and are easily accessible online. A basic marriage register gives limited information. At the very least, it will give you the date/place of the marriage, the names of the couple, and who performed the ceremony. Other marriage registers, like the one below, actually gives significant genealogy information. This marriage register belongs to my paternal Great Grandparents, James Anderson Hanna and Inez March Carpenter.

In the first line, we find the date of the marriage, their names, and their ages. We also see that they are both listed as single which means, unless one is fibbing, neither have been married before. In the second line, the marriage registers shows where they both live (Chapmanville, West Virginia). Next, it states James’ parents and then Inez’s parents. Yay! That’s another generation back! In the last two sections, it shows that James is a farmer and the name of the minister who performed the ceremony.

Marriage License

A basic marriage license usually has more information than a marriage register. A license tends to go into more detail, including the date it was applied for and the date of the actual marriage. When looking at the information included in a marriage license, make sure to pay attention to the details. You will often find potential family members, or at the very least family friends, listed as witnesses or even the person performing the ceremony.

For example, take the marriage license below for my maternal 2nd Great Uncle and Aunt, Royal Augustus Martin and Geneva Louise Hensley. If you look at the name of the minister who performed the ceremony, you will see the name J. W. Baker. I know that Royal’s mother was Stella Alice Baker. That leads me to believe that J. W. Baker must be related in some way. Spoiler alert, J. W. Baker is John William Baker who is Stella’s father. This means that Royal’s grandfather is the person who presided over the marriage ceremony!

1900 Census Records

An often overlooked source for marriage information is the 1900 U.S. Census. This census asks the head of household the number of years they have been married. While this gives you the number of years, keep in mind that people tended to lose track of time. Just like how ages fluctuate from census to census, the amount of years married is not always accurate. However, even if the number of years do not add up to the exact year, it will give you at least a ballpark.

The example below is from my paternal 2x Great Grandfather, James Benjamin Arthur. He actually nailed the number of years married. He states that he has been married 13 years which would put his marriage year in 1887. I have a marriage record for James and he was indeed married on July 21, 1887!

Newspapers

For more recent marriages, newspaper are the way to go. With the combination of engagement announcements and wedding articles, you can get a pretty accurate picture of what life was like for your betrothed ancestors.

The engagement announcement below is for my maternal Great Uncle and Aunt, Carl Edward Price and Alice Dianne Flannigan. Look at how much information is included!

Next is an example of a wedding announcement. While not as detailed as the above engagement announcement, there is still valuable information included. This article is in reference to the marriage of my paternal 2nd cousin 3x removed, Anna Riley.

Also, don’t discount articles regarding anniversaries! Like engagement and wedding announcements, these articles contain all kinds of good information. In a perfect genealogy world, these articles contain at least one picture of the couple and usually a list of family members who attended. Look for anniversary articles around milestone dates such as a 50th anniversary.

Marriage Records Tips

When researching marriage records, there are a few things to keep in mind. Watch out if dates fit. This means that if you known when your ancestor was born, do the math and see if the ages are appropriate for being married. Yes, marriages tended to happen to those younger in previous centuries, but unless we are in medieval times, a six year old did not get married. Also, pay attention to the place where the marriage occurred. If your ancestor did not get married in their hometown, did it make sense for them to travel to the marriage location? On occasion, couples had to travel to a minister or a town where the marriage ceremony could be held, but did it make sense to travel to a place days away?

Many marriage records are on the major research sites. If you happen to be doing research in West Virginia, I highly recommend the West Virginia Archives and History Vital Records search. Their database includes birth, marriage, and death records.

Birth Records Review

If you need a refresher on birth records, check out my previous post!

Posted in Genealogy 101

Researching Jewish Life

If you have been following along with the Intro to Jewish Genealogy series, you should now have a good idea of how to figure out your ancestors’ name and how to find their immigration records. Now, it’s time to dig deeper into their life. There is nothing better than connecting to your ancestor though one of their stories. It is much easier to find a piece of yourself if you have a better understanding of who they were.

Today’s blog post is going to go deeper into Jewish life and how the documents generated can be valuable to your family history research. Not just in Jewish life, but think about all the documents you touch every day. We are leaving a trail for our descends to find out without even realizing it! Your Jewish ancestors did the same thing.

Researching Synagogues

If you know the synagogue that your ancestor attended, you are in luck! Synagogues are full of documents with vital genealogy information. The most relevant documents include naming ceremony records, Bar/Bat Mitzvah records, marriage records, and burial records. If you are researching a synagogue in a small town/city, then ask for their member lists. This will give you a time frame of when your ancestor lived in the area. If they stayed in that particular town for a while, you may be able to trace the growth of their family. One of the lesser known, but no less important, is synagogue newsletters. They are full of Jewish life stories! You may find a personal story of one of your ancestors. At the very least, you will get an idea of the area they lived in and they people they knew.

New York Hebrew Burial Record – 1914-1915

If you not so lucky to know the synagogue that your ancestors attended, don’t give up just yet. Ask the older members of your family if they remember where relatives attended. If that doesn’t work, do not be afraid to reach out to a synagogue directly. This is especially true if you know the general vicinity of where your ancestor lived.

If you need a little extra help, The Center for Jewish History has a quick guide for finding synagogue records.

Researching Hebrew Schools

The obvious place to look for your ancestors when researching Hebrew schools is the yearbook. Especially during your ancestors’ senior year, a yearbook gives a perfect snapshot of what their school life was like. Much like researching synagogues, Hebrew schools tended to have their own newsletters. Both yearbooks and newsletters are a great place to find a more personal side of you ancestor.

Yeshiva University High School for Boys 1938 Yearbook (New York)

If you are having trouble locating the school your ancestor may have attended there are a few options. Ancestry has a yearbooks database for all schools, not just Hebrew schools. If you select “card catalog” in the search menu, then search “yearbooks” in the title box, you should see “U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999”. Click there and then you have multiple ways to search. You can type in your ancestors name and any additional information you have. If that doesn’t work, on the right side of the page, you can browse by state, city, school name, and year.

In case Ancestry doesn’t have what you are looking for, and you know the school that your ancestor attended, reach out to the school directly. Some schools have their own archives and will be more than happy to help you. For schools that don’t have an archive, many will be able to point you in the direction that you will need to go in order to find more about your ancestor. Either way, there is always someone to help you discover more about your ancestor’s school days.

Researching Jewish Newspapers

Newspapers are one of my favorite places to discover the lives of my ancestors. When researching, and I’ve hit a dead end, I turn to newspapers. All aspects of life are represented from birth to death and the same is true for Jewish life.

There are two websites that have an extensive collections of newspapers. I use both Newspapers.com and Genealogybank.com to search for stories. Both are subscription based search engines that you can search either a name, location, or a specific newspaper.

In my research, I was not able to find a Jewish specific database for newspapers. Like other aspects of research, Google seems to be your friend on this one. However, I did come across a project by the German-language newspaper, Aufbau. It’s not very user friendly, and the paper itself is in German, but you are able to search names and see where they appear in the paper. The paper did publish lists of Jewish holocaust survivors from September 1944 to September 27, 1946.

Page from Aufbau Newspaper, May 1942

Researching Jewish Societies

If all else fails, reach out to Jewish Societies. These organization are a wealth of information regarding Jewish life. If they don’t have what you are looking for, I can almost guarantee that they will know someone who does! There are several genealogical/historical societies that may be of help, including;

  • Federation of East European Family History Societies
  • Jewish Genealogical Society of New York
  • JewishGen
  • International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies
  • American Jewish Historical Society
  • Landsmannschaften (Societies of Fellow Immigrants)

When looking for a society, you should also look local. Many small town and counties have their own genealogical/historical societies. If you know where your ancestor lived, and especially if they lived in a predominantly Jewish area, it’s a good chance that they will have something to help you on your journey.

Posted in Genealogy 101

Let’s Go To the Club(house)

If you’re like me, when you think of genealogy you totally think of going clubbing. No? That’s just me? Well, let me change your mind. The social media platform, Clubhouse, is changing how we interact with other genealogist and bringing the love of history to a younger generation. If you are not familiar with Clubhouse, let me explain a few things.

What is Clubhouse?

According to the Clubhouse website, it is

a new type of social network based on voice—where people around the world come together to talk, listen and learn from each other in real-​time.

For me, I like to think of it as a live podcast without having to physically go somewhere and sit in an audience. Clubhouse has different “rooms” that each have their own topic. The topics come in a wide range and you can find just about anything that you’re looking for. Each room has at least one moderator, or host. It is their job to keep the conversation moving and somewhat focused. Let’s be real, when you have several people in a conversation, sometimes it hard to stay on topic.

Joining the Club

At the moment, Clubhouse is invitation only. That means you have to know someone who is already in Clubhouse to allow you in. Invitations are pretty easy to come by once you are in Clubhouse. You receive invites to give as soon as you join. Then, you accumulate invitations along the way. If anyone is ready to join, let me know. I have seven to pass out!

Getting On Stage

After joining a room on Clubhouse, you have two options. You can stay in the audience and just listen or you can join in conversation. To join a conversation, all you have to do is hit the “raise hand” button. This will alert the moderator that you wish to join in. The moderator will let you up onto the stage. You may have to wait a bit to actually begin speaking (make sure to unmute yourself!) because moderators can bring you up on stage at any time. The members of Clubhouse appreciate manners, so try not to interrupt and always be polite.

Club Hopping

Within Clubhouse, there are individuals for you to follow, as well as clubs to join. By joining a club, it puts you in contact with others who are interested in the same topic as you. It’s a great way to connect and networks. Also, on the club pages, it will give you some of the upcoming rooms. Keep an eye out for the “bell” button. You can find this on both individual and club pages. By selecting the “bell” button, you will then receive notifications on when that particular individual/club is in a room. Don’t be afraid to join all the clubs that you are interested in. That way, you won’t miss anything!

Genealogy and Clubhouse

I really believe that Clubhouse can be the future of genealogy. The genealogy rooms that I have attended are genre specific and hosted by moderators who know what they are talking about. Clubhouse is a great way to learn tips and tricks that others use in their research. It also allows you to pick the brains of other genealogists who may be able to help you break down a brick wall. I have found Clubhouse a great way to network with other genealogists and those who are in careers that use genealogists.

If you’re on Clubhouse, or decide to join, look for my club “The Cool Genealogy Club”. I want it to be a place where we can hang out, talk all things genealogy, and maybe help each other break down a brick wall…or two!

The Cool Genealogy Club logo on Clubhouse
Posted in Genealogy 101

Researching Jewish Immigration

In my first Jewish genealogy post, I talked about how to figure out your ancestor’s name. Now that you have a potential name, let’s find where in the world they are! Understanding Jewish immigration is key in researching your ancestor. If you know Jewish history, you know that past generations tended to move all over the place. While this post focuses mainly on immigration to America, some of these tools can be used in other parts of the world.

Know Your History

If your Jewish ancestor is one of the millions that came to America, the first step is narrowing down where in America they may have landed. To do this, you have to know the history of Jewish immigration. The first Jewish settlement in America was by a group of Sephardic Jews who made their home in New Amsterdam (or modern day New York) in September 1654. This group of 23 were fleeing persecution by the Portuguese Inquisition after the conquest of Dutch Brazil.

From 1654 to 1820, Jewish immigrants found their way to American shore through several different ports. The most popular were New York, Newport, Philadelphia, Savannah, and Charleston. Most of these ports had records of those who were allowed into the country. In 1820, a law was passed that required certain information to be included on passenger lists. Some of the information you can find on these lists include: names, age, gender, occupation, country of origin, and country/place of intended destination.

In 1855, Castle Garden in New York City opened. This was America’s first official immigration center. Castle Garden operated, officially, from August 3, 1855 to April 18, 1890. It was closed when the federal government decided to control all ports of entry and process all immigrants to America.

Passenger List from The Great Western (arrived at Ellis Island in 1858)

The most well-known port of entry, Ellis Island, opened in 1892. This port processed more immigrants, not just Jewish, than all the North American ports combined. The Ellis Island Foundation has a website where you can search their database for ancestors who would have arrived between 1820 (pulling from other ports) to 1957. According to their site, they have over 65 million passenger records and ship manifests. You can find more information at https://www.statueofliberty.org/ellis-island/

Passport Applications

If you are having a difficult time finding your ancestor when they arrived, there is a chance that at some point they went back to the homeland. Many immigrants ventured back home either to pick up additional family members to bring to America or they were just homesick. Whatever the reason, they would have needed a passport.

An example of a passport application is below. This belongs to my 4th cousin 4x removed, Elmer Murphy. While Elmer himself wasn’t an immigrant, he traveled extensively thought the world. In his application, we are able to learn where he was born, the date of his birth, where he currently lives, and his occupation. Since he is traveling with his wife, we learn her birth date and place of birth (although it doesn’t actually state her name). Some passport applications include a picture of the applicant. Even though Elmer’s application doesn’t, he is required to give a description of himself. We learn that he is currently 32 years old, 5’10”, with blue eyes, dark hair, and a dark complexion. Just those few details, allows you to be able to start picturing what your ancestor may look like.

Passport application for Elmer Murphy, submitted in 1910

When looking for your ancestor’s passport applications, Ancestry has an extensive collection. Also, keep in mind that the National Archives holds applications from October 1795 to March 1925. For applications from April 1925 to present, you will need to contact the State Department.

With Elmer, I was able to go one step further when looking at immigration records. It seems that he had business in Mexico and a card that allowed him to travel between the two countries. This card was different than a passport as it was for people other than tourists and visitors. The bonus, there is a picture with this one!

Spelling Variations

Just like researching any other documents, you will need to keep in mind spelling variations. This is especially true when looking at ship manifests. Names at ports tended to be spelled phonetically. With immigrants from different countries and different languages, most of those working at the port didn’t take the time to make sure names were spelled correctly. Also, names were sometimes translated into what they would be in English. For example, Schmidt became Smith. While it can be frustrating, spelling of names sometimes requires you to play around with the spelling before you find what you are looking for.

Naturalization Papers

Naturalization papers are a great source of information. Before 1906, the information contained in the papers varied depending on what court was handling the file. A three step process was adopted which helped to correct the problem. With the new process, the applicant was required to file a Declaration of Intent, then a Petition for Citizenship, and lastly a Certificate of Naturalization. All three documents contain valuable genealogy information.

Below is an example of a Declaration of Intent. This belongs to Richard Edward Burns who immigrated from Ireland. In this document, we learn when Richard was born, where he was born, which port he arrived at, and when he arrived to America. We also see where Richard is renouncing his “allegiance and fidelity” to Queen Victoria.

Richard Edward Burns Declaration of Intent paper filed in 1857

Research Tips

When looking for your ancestor’s immigration documents, there are a few key things to keep in mind. Remember, immigration documents could be filed in any court. There was not one specific government agency that handled immigration documents. If you’re having a difficult time finding your ancestor in America, take a look at Canadian records. America capped immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe which forced some immigrants to come in at Canadian ports. The two countries did develop a program where if the immigrants intent was to continue to America, they were given a card to present at the border that stated that information. Also, if you know they entered at an American port, but cannot figure out when, take a look at census records. In the years 1870, 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930, the census asked questions regarding immigration status. This sometimes included the year they immigrated. I have found that the year given to the census taker isn’t always accurate, but it at least will give you a time frame start with.

Posted in Genealogy 101

Genealogy 101 – Birth Certificates

If we’re going to talk about vital records, let’s start at the very beginning with birth certificates. This piece of paper is literally the first documentation of you, your ancestor, or whoever else you’re looking for. (There is the exception of delayed birth certificates, but I’ll talk about those in a bit.) In a perfect genealogy world, birth certificates would be where you start.

Primary Source

A birth certificate is considered a primary source of genealogy information. This means that the information contained in the document was given by someone at the event or an eye witness to the event. Primary sources are the best documents to use in research. There usually isn’t that question of who gave the information whether they are just relaying secondhand information.

What Information is Included?

Let’s look at an example. The birth certificate below belongs to my great grandmother, Vera Martin. On this certificate we see she was born in Kentucky, county of Harlan, on November 17, 1912. Her father is Frank Martin. He lives in Harlan, turned 38 years old on his last birthday, was born in Baily’s Switch and works as a miner. Her mother is Stelley (actually Stella) Baker. She lives in Harlan, is white, turned 18 on her last birthday, was born in Kevy, Laurel County, and is a housewife. We also learn that Stella has given birth to two children, but only one is living.

Also noted on the certificate is that this is a legitimate birth. Don’t get too hung up on this “fact” if it is on the birth certificate. I’ve found numerous births that were marked as legitimate which in fact were not. This is one of those facts that sometimes take a little more investigation.

In this one document, we are starting to get a clearer picture of who Vera’s parents are. If we are working our ancestor line back, we now know a significant amount to go back another generation. When we start digging into her parents, we have an approximate year that they were born and where they were born. Keep in mind, though, that county names changed over the years, so the county listed on the certificate (for the parents) may not be the name of the county when they were born.

Delayed Birth Certificates

Delayed birth certificates are birth records that were recorded usually years after the birth event. These certificates were generated for various reasons. Two of the main reasons for obtaining a delayed certificate include enlisting in the armed services and applying for Social Security benefits.

Below is an example of a delayed birth certificate. This belongs to another of my great grandmothers, Hattie Elizabeth Hopkins. While a delayed certificate may not give as much information as a regular birth certificate, it does give you some things to go on. This certificate shows that Hattie was born on January 15, 1891 in Raymond City, Putnam County, West Virginia. Her father is Fred M. Hopkins who was born in Kanawha County, West Virginia. Her mother is Nancy Dickerson who was born in Putnam County, West Virginia.

What makes a delayed birth certificate a primary source is the fact that supporting evidence has to be submitted to verify that the information is correct. On this certificate, we see that a family friend, Cecil Britton, made a affidavit stating when Hattie was born and the names of her parents. Hattie’s insurance policy from 1930 verified her age at that time. Lastly, we get even more genealogical information with the fact that Hattie’s marriage record is used. While it doesn’t give the name of her husband, it tells us exactly where the marriage was recorded and the date it was recorded.

Next Steps

When looking at birth certificates, it is best practice to write down all the information that could possibly be used in research. Even if you think it doesn’t matter, it just might when you are trying to pinpoint an ancestor. Like any record, keep in mind that names may be misspelled or a nickname may have been used. Birth records are a great place to start, especially with more recent generations. We tend to remember birth dates over death dates.

In the next Genealogy 101 post, I’ll be taking a look at marriage records and how to use them to further your research!

If you’re looking how to get started on your genealogy journey, check out my previous post “Taking It Way Back”!

Posted in Genealogy 101

Researching Jewish Names

Starting your journey into researching your Jewish ancestors is just like searching any ancestor…you start with what you know. The only problem is that sometimes you have only a name. Maybe that name is in its original form, but more than likely it has changed a few times over the years. How in the world do you figure out what a name should (or shouldn’t) be?!

Naming Patterns

Let’s go back with starting with what you already know. Maybe you have a name of some siblings, but have no idea what their parents and/or grandparents names might be. The good news is that like other ethnic naming patterns, Jewish names usually followed the same sequence. When naming their sons, parents usually named the first son after the father’s father, the second son after the mother’s father, and so on. The same pattern was used when naming daughters; the first daughter was named after the father’s mother, the second after the mother’s mother, and so on. While not always a perfect system, it may give you something to go on when trying to find the names of grandparents.

When looking at naming patterns there is an important pattern to keep in mind. Ashkenazi Jews would name their children after a recently deceased ancestor. Sephardic Jews did just the opposite. They would name their children after a living ancestor.

Jewish Surnames

Another stumbling block when it comes to Jewish names, is the fact that surnames were not used until the 1800s! This makes things a bit tricky. Before the 1800s, Jewish names usually consisted of their given name and their father’s name. While this may help you to figure out what someone’s father’s name is, it’s not very useful when trying to decided if one person is your ancestor over another. When surnames were adopted, there was usually a reason for the choice. Some surnames were assigned by the government. Other surnames represented a particular person’s occupation or the town where they originated. One thing to keep in mind, is that as Jews moved around to different countries, the spelling and pronunciation tended to match their new home. It was one way of acclimating to their new surroundings.

The D-M Soundex

If all else fails, there is one more trick you can use. The Daitch-Mokotoff (D-M) Soundex was developed to help in this situation. Jewish genealogists developed algorithms to address the unique letter/language combination there were common to Jewish naming patterns. Most Jewish specific genealogy website, such as https://www.jewishgen.org/ have this Soundex on their site. The Soundex will give you examples of whatever the current name you have might have been.

Now that you have some names, its time to starting find some people! Check back next Monday for tips on researching Jewish immigration records!