Webinar “Using Indexes at FamilySearch” Released

Using Indexes at FamilySearch

Making the best use of indexed materials at FamilySearch requires a knowledge and understanding of how the indexes at FamilySearch work and how they do not. After providing an overview of search strategies to use at FamilySearch we will look at several examples where locating the person of interest was more involved than simply typing their name the search box and finding it the first time. This presentation will also briefly address organizing your online search strategy. Handout included.

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The Chicago Tribune Accuses Cousin William Trautvetter of Having Hallucinations

There are lessons here about taking things out of context, not realizing when someone is being sarcastic, jumping to conclusions, and failing to get the entire story. It’s also easy to fall for the conclusion that is the most dramatic.

A March 1932 editorial in the Chicago Tribune references a bombing at a drug store owned by a relative, William G. Trautvetter. The editorial concludes:

The more the matter is studied, the clearer it becomes that Trautvetter was neither robbed nor bombed. He is the victim of hallucinations. No crime was committed.

The editorial is being sarcastic. There’s always a danger when using any material that one does not interpret tone or intent accurately. The author of sarasm-trautvetterthe editorial appears to be making a dig at the Cook County State’s Attorney. There were witnesses to the robbery (which included a shooting in which no one was injured) and the robbery was referenced in several newspaper articles after the fact. The bombing was also reported in the newspaper at the time as well.

We will see in future posts what brought about the editorial and the newspaper’s  rationale for sarcastically declaring that the robbery and bombing never took place.

One lesson here is that one has to read and study newspaper accounts carefully as there may be “tone” that does not quite translate into modern terms. It’s usually best to get all the facts before reaching conclusions.

Otherwise I might think cousin William was having hallucinations.

William G. Trautvetter was a first cousin to my great-grandfather George A. Trautvetter (1869-1934). They were grandsons of Johann George Trautvetter (1798-1871).


Trautvetter Buys Chicago Drug Store in 1923

Add this to the list of things one can discover in the personals column:

evidence that someone purchased a drugstore


The 9 August 1923 issue of the Chicago Tribune contained a personal announcement that Wm. G. Trautvetter had purchased the drug store at 300 E. 79th Avenue in Chicago and would not be responsible for any dtrautvetter-buys-storeebts contracted by the business before to 3 August.

Whether Trautvetter purchased the building on the location is not known. It’s possible he only purchased the business and rented the property.

Time probably won’t allow me to follow up on those details of Trautvetter’s ownership, but this advertisement does help provide additional framework for Trautvetter’s drugstore operations in Chicago during the early twentieth century.

Not what I was expecting to find in the personals column. But it goes to show that one never knows what may end up in the classified advertisements of a newspaper.

1860 Census at Ancestry.com updated “how?”

Ancestry.com indicated on their website recently that their 1860 census has been updated.

As usual there is no real indication of just what type of ancestry-home-page-17febupdate has been posted. Most likely the update does not mean what I’m really hoping for:

a new index that lists Benjamin Butler who was born around 1819 probably in New York State.

While it is frustrating to have really no idea of “how” the database has been updated, I really doubt that the index has been modified in any substantial way–except for potential alternate transcriptions submitted by users of the site. It would be nice if the Ancestry.com blog addressed these changes, at least briefly.  If I knew the change was only to the viewer or to enhance some images, I would know that I really don’t need to bother redoing my searches for Benjamin.

Instead I may use the “update” as an excuse to revisit my searches for Benjamin and see if there is something I have overlooked.


Germany and Surrounding Area Directory includes Aurich in 1926

aurich-directoryIt may not be new, but it’s new to me, so I’m posting it.

Ancestry.com recently indicated that “Germany and Surrounding Areas, Address Books, 1829-1974” is a new or updated database. In taking a look at this image database (which appears to be heavily concentrated in late 19th and early 20th century materials), I made a nice little discovery: A 1926 directory for Aurich in Ostfriesland.

As the title page indicates it does not just include the city of Aurich.  My own families had left Ostfriesland by this time, but there were references to cousins who were living in the area at the time. The directory is a part of the larger “Germany and Surrounding Areas, Address Books, 1829-1974“database. I found it easier to browse the directory (which lists individuals alphabetically by name of town) than in searching it. There is some historical and demographic information in the introduction of the book–for those who read German. However some of the tables and charts can easily be read by those who know little German.

The database can be searched for just this directory by entering “Aurich, Lower Saxony, Germany” in the “Lived in” box when querying the “Germany and Surrounding Areas, Address Books, 1829-1974“database.

I even discovered a few of my Goldenstein family members still living in Wrisse in 1926.


Are There Really Genealogy Brick Walls?

img_20170215_104104“I have a brick wall. In fact, I have many brick walls.”

“There’s no such thing as brick walls. They are all in your head.”

It does not matter whether you think genealogical brick walls exist or whether you think they don’t. It doesn’t. What matters is how you approach your research when you think you are at one or when you think “if I believed in them, this would be one, but I don’t so it’s not.”

The problem is that research difficulties are not always solved by the exact same approach. Problems are contextual. What worked with one family may not work with another. That’s often why people feel they have reached an impasse in their research: they have a type of problem they have never encountered. They are experiencing a stumbling block they’ve never experienced before. If we continue the brick wall metaphor, then it’s possible that the best solution is:

  • scaling the wall with a ladder
  • digging under the wall
  • flying over the wall
  • breaking a hole in the wall
  • realizing the wall is just made of paper and punching through it
  • realizing the wall is simply a really big spot on your glasses
  • going to the end of the wall and walking around
  • etc.

Different solutions for different problems.

That’s true even if one does not believe in brick walls.

What matters is that you realize a new approach may be necessary. Your metaphor for this stage of the research can be “I’m stuck in the ditch and spinning my wheels.” And if that’s your metaphor someone is bound to say “That doesn’t really work because genealogy is not like driving a car at all. You really need to get a new metaphor.”

No you don’t. Your metaphor tells you that there’s a time when you need to stop spinning your wheels and do something else.That’s good. The brick wall metaphor tells you that you’ve got something blocking your path that you need to work around. Telling yourself that you are clueless about what to do next is another appropriate response.

What matters is realizing that something else needs to be done and a new approach is necessary.

Generally speaking, that means learning about:

  • all contemporary records that were kept at all political levels–how they were recorded, who was included, how they were maintained, how they are accessed, how to interpret them, etc.
  • all contemporary private records (including church records)–how they were recorded, who was included, how they were maintained, how they are accessed, how they are interpreted, etc.
  • all contemporary historical events that logically and directly (or indirectly) impacted your person of interest
  • the “neighborhood” in which your person of interest lived–his neighbors, the physical nature of his neighborhood, his social neighborhood (kinfolk, etc.), his culture, and so on
  • research methods appropriate to the time period and location

It also means:

  • stating, analyzing, and questioning all assumptions about the ancestor
  • reviewing old conclusions and document transcriptions for thoroughness, accuracy, and completeness
  • questioning statements about the ancestor made by other researchers
  • being willing to admit you were wrong
  • being willing to admit there may be something you need to learn
  • realizing that a cookie cutter approach may not work

The metaphor does not really matter.

What does matter is how you approach your research when you’ve reached that metaphor.



One of the Saddest Letters I’ve Ever Seen

Family tradition says that Anna Goldenstein spent a considerable fortune trying to determine how her son Henry died in a Kansas City hotel room in July of 1921. Anna was not the first person to fight to find out what happened to a deceased child and she will not be the last.

That does not make the letter she wrote to the Adams County, Illinois, Coroner in September of 1921 any less sad. Anna had paid for autopsies for her son after his body had been returned to Golden, Illinois, for burial in a grave next to his father and brother. There would be three separate autopsies on Henry in an attempt to determine whether he died from a gunshot wound to the head or was killed by blunt force trauma.

In this letter Anna asked for justice for her son from the Adams County Coroner because authorities in Kansas City did not seem interested. One cannot say for certain why that was the case, but it may very well have been that Goldenstein was just another out-of-town farm boy who had met an ill fate in the city. Writing it off as a suicide made it easier to close the case. goldenstein_inquest_page14-smaller

Family tradition did not say if anyone was found to be guilty in the death of Henry Goldenstein. I’m inclined to think that no one was or there would have been mention of it.

The coroner’s inquest references correspondence with authorities in Kansas City and the Missouri State Attorney General. We’re working on obtaining additional details and will post an update when there’s something to be said.

Burying a deceased child who comes home in a coffin due to an unexplained death is never easy. Anna is not the first grieving parent to want justice.

Note: Anna Goldenstein is my great-great-grandmother.

Do I Cite It All? Webinar Released

Do I Cite it All?

Making “your case” is more than simply citing every document that mentions a date of birth, a date of death, a marriage, a parent-child relationship, etc. It is determining what to cite, and if no one document states the fact clearly, including all the relevant documents. Depending upon the situation, making your case may involve deciding what documents to use if you have fifteen sources that all provide a date of birth. We will see how to pick and choose sources when there are many of them and how to make your case when it takes multiple sources to reach a conclusion. We will look at three different examples (at least) from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Purchase media file and handouts. Download is immediate. If you registered and did not receive the download, please let me know.

Is That Brick Wall In Your Head?

This originally ran in the Ancestry Daily News on 14 July 2004.

Genealogy brick walls–those problems we think are insurmountable– are frustrating. Occasionally the brick walls are of our own making, and those walls are the ones we are looking at this week. Some ancestors left behind confusing records, but it is possible that we have muddied the road ourselves. Today’s column focuses on some questions to ask yourself in an attempt to knock a hole in that brick wall.

Is the Tradition Really True?
Are you holding on too tightly to that beloved family tradition from Aunt Helen? The one that apparently was a state secret. Even though she lived in rural Kansas, she whispered it to you, fearful that the neighbor five miles up the road would hear.

Or, despite her insistence to the contrary, maybe her grandfather did not own eight hundred acres of prime Indiana farmland and maybe he was born into abject poverty.

Remember, you may find clues in these stories, but they may be small ones.

Do You Have the Right Place?
County boundaries have changed, and that is not the only potential geographic problem. Is it possible you are mixing up the name of the county with the name of the town? Remember that if a state has a county and town with a same name, the town may not be located in the county of the same name. Keokuk, Iowa, is located in Lee County, Iowa–not Keokuk County, Iowa, as one might expect. There are numerous other examples.

International boundaries can create difficulties as well. My daughter was looking on Mapquest, www.mapquest.com, for Limavady, Ireland, because she was creating a map for a project. After insisting to me that Limavady was not in Ireland and that I must be wrong (something children love to do), I realized that she should be searching for Limavady in the United Kingdom, not in Ireland, as Limavady is in Northern Ireland. Boundary and geo-political changes in other parts in other parts of the world can create similar problems.

Do You Have the Right Spelling?
Sometimes family historians “hold tight” to that one particular spelling, insisting that it is the “only one” and that those with a “wrong” spelling either cannot be the same person or are not related. As much as it irritates me, my last name is occasionally listed as “Neil,” “Neal,” “O’Neill,” and a variety of other spellings–particularly in old records. The sooner one learns to accept these variants and to search for them, the fewer brick walls they will have. And remember, if your ancestor was illiterate, he couldn’t read how his name was written anyway.

Do You Know What You Are Doing?
Our friends and relatives may occasionally wonder if we know what we are doing, but there is a serious side to this question. If you are researching in an area where you are unfamiliar with the history, culture, or records, you are at a serious disadvantage. You are also significantly increasing the chances of interpreting something incorrectly and researching in the wrong direction.

A few years ago in this column, we discussed the importance of learning about the time period and culture when a mid-eighteenth century will from Virginia was analyzed. The female writer of the will did not mention any real estate and her inventory did not list any real estate because at the time women were not allowed to own property and consequently could not bequeath any real property in a will.

It is always an excellent idea to learn about the time and place in which our ancestors lived.

Do You Know What the Word Means?
Are you absolutely certain you are interpreting a word in the proper historical and social context? Is the word a legal term with which you are not familiar? An incorrect interpretation may send you down the wrong path.

Are You Disorganized?
For some of us, this is a loaded question. The stacks of paper on our desktop attest to our organizational skills. Research that is highly unorganized and done in a haphazard fashion is apt to be inefficient and unsuccessful. It is also important to organize the information one has located in order to see patterns and trends that will not be obvious when the records are analyzed individually. There are a variety of ways one can organize information.

Do You Have the Right Person?
Sometimes more than one individual with the same name lived in the same location, and the two can easily be confused by a researcher two hundred years later. Is your confusion resulting from “merging” two different people together? First cousins (particularly males who share the same paternal grandfather) can easily have the same first and last name. If the last name is Smith or Jones, there can easily be several unrelated contemporary people with the same name in the same location.

Do You Have the Correct Pronunciation?
If your ancestor’s native language was not the language of the country where he lived and not the language in which his records were written, confusion can result. The town of Kisa, Sweden, can very easily be pronounced to where it sounds like “Cheesuh,” As a result, the name of the village might be spelled starting with the letters “Ch” instead of “K.” If your ancestor’s place of birth on a death record cannot be located, consider that the spelling on an English language record may be how a native English speaker interpreted a non-English word. Obtaining a guide to how letters are pronounced in a foreign language can be good start to overcoming this type of stumbling block.

Did Someone Get Remarried?
Multiple marriages of ancestors can create brick walls. If your ancestor was widowed or divorced, there is always a chance that he or she married again. Keep in mind that hard times and lack of financial support may have easily resulted in a marriage of convenience, if not outright necessity. This subsequent marriage may have meant the addition of stepchildren to the family and the informal changing of the last names of some children. All of these things can result in confusion for the researcher five generations later.

Do You Have Hidden Assumptions?
It is easy to make assumptions, and often they are necessary to get our research started. The downside to assumptions is that if we are not careful, they can migrate from the “land of assumption” to the “land of fact.” Assumptions that have accidentally become facts often do not go back to being assumptions.

To clean out your assumptions and become more aware of some you might have been overlooking, write down everything you “know” about an ancestor or a problem. Then find the sources you have to prove each statement. Are there statements for which you have no direct proof? Is it possible to verify these statements using a combination of documents and reasonable logic? If not, then you have assumptions left. Is it possible that some of these assumptions are incorrect? Even if they are not, a careful analysis may indicate that the remaining assumptions at least need to be modified.

Give Them a Rest
After all, most of your ancestors are dead and they are not going anywhere anytime soon. One final approach (and a favorite of mine) is to work on another family and then come back to the brick wall person a few weeks (or months) later. Sometimes time is the greatest destructive force that can be applied to a brick wall.

A Delayed Birth Certificate By Fifty Years–Part II

It took fifty years to record the 1913 birth of Anna Apgar in Chicago, Illinois. Fortunately it didn’t take me that long to find it.

Once I found an index entry for the birth certificate in FamilySearch‘s “Illinois, Cook County Birth Certificates, 1871-1940,” it was significantly less than fifty years before I had an electronic copy. Digital images of records are wonderful. (A big thanks to Nick Gombash of http://www.hungaryexchange.com/ for helping me get the image so quickly.)

The delayed record of birth for Anna Margaret Apgar, born 8 March 1913 in Chicago, Illinois, was actually filed on 6 March 1963, just shy of Anna’s fiftieth birthday. At that point, Anna was actually Anna Lake and living in Moline, Illinois, with her husband, Ola Lake. She made out an affidavit regarding her birth, included two pieces of documentation which are summarized on the delayed birth record, and signed the affidavit before Notary Public Virginia M. Kopko in East Moline, Illinois.


I was particularly interested in what Anna had used for documetation. The baptismal record from Holy Rosary Church in the Pullman area of Chicago is something I already have. What’s on the delayed birth record is an abbreviated summary of what’s in her baptismal record. More interesting was the reference to her school records. The affidavit indicated she used records from the Chicago Board of Education as evidence and that she had attended the Van Vlissingen School at least for the 1926 school year. The name of the school was  something I did not have. I’m contemplating obtaining copies of her school records, but am not certain what information they would give me that I do not already have.

Of course one never knows what a record will say until it has been obtained and they have read it.

Anna was just shy of her fiftieth birthday when she applied for the delayed birth certificate. Anna also applied for her social security number in February of 1963 (we’ll save that for a future post). Whether there is any significance to her nearing her fiftieth birthday and these applications is not known. Most likely she needed a number for work-related reasons. I’m not certain if it is worth the time to see if there’s any significance to her doing it shortly before her fiftieth birthday.

Sometimes one has to avoid going down some research rabbit holes.

A Conclusion We Should Not Draw

In addition to certified copies of actual records, sworn statements by those familiar with the birth were frequently used as supporting documentation. Statements by a surviving parent or older relative were often used and generally considered credible. One might conclude that since there is no statement from Anna’s mother in this 1963 application for a delayed birth certificate that Anna’s mother was dead when the application was made.

That’s not true.

She was very much alive and living in the Chicago area.