Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mothers in my family tree - Grandma Rosie

 With last Sunday being Mother's Day here in the US, I wanted to post a little tribute to the mothers in my family tree. I come from many remarkable and amazing women. I wish I had the time to pay adequate tribute to them all, but for now, I'll start with one - my great-grandmother, Rosie (Sitzman) (Wagner) Morris. She was an immigrant from what is now the Czech Republic, where her mother's family had lived for centuries. I still don't know for sure who her father was, as birth records aren't publicly available yet for the year she was born. She grew up in Montana, where she attended Catholic school as a little girl. She married my great-grandfather, Charles Wagner, and moved to Washington state, where they raised their family. After Charles' death, she later remarried to Clarence "Unc" Morris, and moved back to Montana, where she passed away in 1983.

The following two pictures best sum up my impression of her, based on the research I've done, the pictures I've reviewed, and the stories I've heard from family (she passed away when I was a little kid, so I only have one clear memory of her). The first picture is of Rosie and her family visiting the grave of her son, Charles. He died when he was 10 of tuberculosis. Having buried a child myself, I can imagine somewhat the pain and sadness she felt. Her expression, and that of her husband, to me epitomize the grief you feel when you bury a child. There just aren't words for it.

But I equally love this picture (which I think I've shared before on this blog). It was taken many years later, and shows that while she did experience great sorrow and grief at times, she also didn't let those emotions rule her life. She continued to look for joy and happiness. The sheer number of pictures she took (numbering in the thousands!) of her children, and especially her grandchildren, shows me that she found that joy in her family. 

Her daughter, my grandma Blossom, was the same way - family was everything. That love of family carried down to my dad, who has a closeness with his siblings and cousins that I envy. My dad and mom both did their best to instill that love of family in me and my siblings, and I hope I'm doing my best to pass it to my kids as well. Like Gordon B. Hinckley once said, don't let yourself be the weak link in the chain of the generations. Grandma Rosie was, and in many ways still is, a powerful influence in my family. I hope that I can continue to weld links in our family chain with the same strength and love she did.

Update: I tried colorizing the pictures, and the effect is amazing. The picture of Charles's grave is really different when you realize it was a beautiful sunny day. The black and white version captures the feeling better, but the colorized kind of helps me put that emotion in a larger context. The colorized version of the sledding picture almost looks like a still shot from a home movie. I love technology!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Terrible coincidences - a mother and daughter

I had some time tonight to do my own genealogy (yay!) and wanted to look into my wife's 3rd-great-grandmother, Augusta (Gast) Smith. I'd gotten a message recently from a DNA match to my father-in-law, who had some info on Augusta I wanted to corroborate, so I went digging.

I found that I didn't have a death certificate for Augusta, just an extraction from some La Porte County, Indiana health records with her death date. While looking for an actual death certificate (which I hoped would name her parents), I found her mentioned on the death certificate for her daughter, Olive Myrtle (Smith) Bloomhuff. Olive died on May 10, 1930 at the young age of 46. The cause of death was listed as: "death post operative: mid-thigh amputation. Elephantiasis lymphangiectatica." The words I could understand were awful enough - having a leg amputated at the mid-thigh due to some form of elephantitis-type disease. I did a little more digging, and if I'm reading things correctly, the disease she died of was filariasis, a disease caused by an infestation of filarial worms in the lymphatic system. The worm larvae are often transmitted by mosquito bites, and the infection directly leads to elephantiasis. Talk about an awful way to go. No info is given on the duration of the disease, so I can only hope she didn't have to suffer long.

Having found this information, I wanted to find Augusta's death certificate and see if she had a less traumatic cause of death. After looking through Indiana death certificates for a bit, I found hers. Augusta passed away on February 16, 1910 at the age of 47, very close to the age her daughter was when she died. The cause of death was difficult to make out, but thanks to the eagle eyes of Judy Russell, I learned how Augusta passed away. Her cause of death was listed as: "hemorrhage during operation to remove a tumor fr Large Fibroid and large Ovaries" (with nephritis, a kidney inflammation, contributing). Immediately I saw the similarity - she went in for an operation, which ultimately caused her death. A mother and daughter, similar in age, similar cause of death. Two tragedies, decades apart, yet so similar it's eery.

To be clear, I have nothing but respect and admiration for those in the medical profession (including my brother and sister). Having spent time in hospitals, I don't know how those who choose that profession can handle doing what they have to do, including sometimes seeing a patient die, not to mention having to be the person that has to pass that news to the patient's family. I have seen firsthand how difficult their job can be, and the effort, energy, and devotion that is put into efforts to save a person's life. It just surprised me to see that a mother and daughter left this world under circumstances that were so similar. I wonder what Augusta and Olive's family thought of those circumstances, and how they dealt with the losses.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

More Beilstein finds

Well that didn't take long! I got a happy surprise in the mail the other day - the death certificate I ordered for Jacob Henry Beilstein just a week ago came already! So glad that they jumped right on my request and sent it out.

This certificate confirms his name, his age, and his death of death. It's not exact on his age, so I can't calculate his date of birth, but it's pretty close. What's interesting is the nationality is German (which my Beilsteins were), and the place of birth is "Cor 48 & Bishop Court" which I'm guessing is the address of the hospital or house he was born in. I'm guessing it's a house, as it's also the location of his death. I'll need to find a map or gazetteer of Chicago to see where that was.
The cause of death was "brain fever," where part of the brain gets inflamed and causes symptoms that look like fever. The certificate says he suffered with it for two months prior to his passing. I can't imagine the pain of watching your little son suffer with something like that for two months, and then losing him. When my son Levi passed away at two months old, it happened within a matter of hours of the onset of whatever he died from. Having it drawn out over a period of months would be torture.
The downside is, like John Charles Beilstein, the certificate doesn't name his parents. I'll have to find my Beilsteins in a city directory or something to see if the 48th and Bishop Court address matches them. The address in John Charles' certificate is hard to read, but looks like 3573 Darhield. John died in October 1885, and Jacob in April the same year. If these boys were my ancestors' sons, I can't imagine the pain they must have endured. To lose an 11-year-old and an 18-month-old, so close to each other, must have been devastating.
Fortunately, the Beilstein discoveries weren't all tragic. I also found a newspaper article recently about John F. Beilstein, the father of Bertha Beilstein, who tragically murdered her mother after John's sudden passing. This article, dated 23 December 1885, described how the Ladies' Relief Society of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, was expressing gratitude for donations they received for the poor. There were donations of hundreds of garments, printing cards, dress goods, dry goods, caps, cloaks, and gloves to help the needy. On top of those donations, John F. Beilstein donated 1000 pounds (half a ton!) of beef and 1000 loaves of bread to the Society. I've known for a while that John was a successful and wealthy butcher, who trained my ancestor Jacob Beilstein in the same vocation. But to see record of such generosity is just amazing. You don't normally get to find out when people do good deeds like that, so knowing that a relative of mine gave so much to help the less fortunate is just a wonderful feeling. It makes me glad to be his relative, and want to reach to others in a larger way.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A lucky find - possible confirmation of Beilstein babies

When I got started in genealogy, I did what I'm sure a lot of genealogists do when starting out - I collected info everywhere I found it without regard of its source, and dumped it into my tree wholesale. After a couple years, I realized that I had a lot of "stuff" that I had no proof of - whole branches of my tree that were totally unsourced. I've tried to go back and document as much of it as time and circumstance would allow, but there's still a lot of people and events that need proving/disproving. One of those is my Beilstein line.

I've written many times about the tragic story of my 2nd-great-grandmother, Philena Beilstein. But one aspect of her life I haven't really touched on much is the alleged brothers she had. The info I had inherited/collected named three brothers, none of whom survived to adulthood:

John Charles Beilstein, born 8 August 1874, died 17 October 1885, both in Allgheny, Allegheny, Pennsylvania
William Harry Beilstein, born 30 October 1876, died 6 July 1877, both in Allgheny, Allegheny, Pennsylvania
Jacob Heinrich Beilstein, born 20 September 1883, died 14 April 1885, both in Chicago, Cook, Illinois

While I was working on another project, I came across a statewide index for Illinois death records I hadn't seen before. I had been thinking about the Beilsteins lately, and tried searching it. Imagine my shock when I found an entry for Jacob H Beilstein, with a death date matching what I've had in my files for years! I called the repository the next day, and ordered a copy of the certificate, and it only cost me $1! Wow!! All I have to do now is wait for the record to arrive. It's amazing to me that this person (whose existence I have frankly doubted because I've had no actual record of him) may finally be proven.

So following that success, I went on Ancestry tonight, and thought I'd try my luck again, this time with the first of the three brothers, John Charles. A few minutes' searching, and BOOM - there he was! Except the death record was in Chicago, not Pennsylvania. I found the records were online at FamilySearch, but you had to physically be in a Family History Center to see them. Fortunately for me, there happens to be one literally across the street from where I work. I went over on my lunch break the next day, and got a copy of the certificate.


The certificate confirmed the death date, corrected the birth date (I was off by a month), but unfortunately did not name his parents or even the informant. So while I'm grateful that I've at least confirmed John Charles' existence, I still can't say for sure he is the son of Jacob and Amelia Beilstein. Perhaps the certificate for Jacob will have the info I need. At least I can hope, right?

That just leaves William to try and find. That will be trickier, as he was born and died before 1878, when the Illinois death records start. If he was born and died in Pennsylvania, those records don't really start until the 1890s. But after finding John and Jacob, I'm not gonna say it's impossible!

Friday, February 23, 2018

The best of 2017

Last year had a lot of big accomplishments and memorable days for me - my genealogy business did better than ever, I got to attend DNA Day and the SCGS Jamboree again, and we commemorated the birthday and angel anniversary of my little boy Levi. Among everything that happened, one big thing stands out - an adoption research case I was asked to help on.

A coworker of mine had heard I was into genealogy, and wanted to know if I could help her find her birth family. I said sure, I'd be happy to do what I could. After following several DNA-related mailing lists and watching a few seasons of shows like Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots, I was expecting a long, drawn-out, exhaust every possible lead-style search. She brought me a stack of papers she'd collected from courts and other places. As I sorted through them, I was shocked to see how much information she had - transcripts and summaries of the court proceedings leading up to the adoption, detailed information (minus the names) of her birth parents and their families, including the name of the street they lived on and occupation of maternal grandfather. Also, the redaction on the birth mother's name in a couple places wasn't totally complete, as I could almost make out the first letter of her name, and definitely saw the last letter. I couldn't believe how much information there was right there.

I started with the city directory for the city the birth parents lived on for the year of the adoption (thank you Ancestry!). I went through every name on that street, searching for someone who had the occupation listed in the court records, or no occupation given, since it's not always listed. I'd made a list of about 70 names of possible candidates, when suddenly I found one man who worked for the exact company mentioned. Time froze for a second - was this the family? I knew from the court records the birth mother was born after 1940, but she had a couple siblings who were born before then. I jumped over to the 1940 census, found the family and everything fit. PERFECTLY. The ages, the genders, the address, all of it. I couldn't believe it - the whole thing took less than two hours!

I kept searching, and found a high school yearbook for the birth mother's school. She and the birth father had met in high school, and after looking through the high school yearbooks on Ancestry for that town, I was able to find their full names, and obtain senior pictures of both of them. I also found obituaries for them both (sadly they had had both passed away some years ago), which gave the names of half-siblings on both sides. I couldn't believe it!

I wrote a report of the search, compiled all the pictures, and handed them over the next day. Pretty soon, my coworker contacted me, saying she had located and contacted half-siblings on both sides, and was readily accepted by both sides of her family. That was the best news of all. You always wonder how that phone call will go - will they be expecting you? Will they even believe you? It was just awesome to hear about how well everything went for her. In all the research I've done over the years, this stands out in my absolute favorite experiences in genealogy.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

I'm back!

After a three-month hiatus, I have returned to blogging! It's been tough finding the time to blog, in between three jobs, three kids, and myriad other responsibilities. When push comes to shove, you have to do what puts food on the table first, right?

But now that things have finally slowed down, I can get back to some serious blogging about my research. I have some exciting plans for 2018! Here are a few of them:

1. Rootstech! I can't overstate how excited I am to be attending Rootstech for the first time next week. Five days of genealogy, DNA, the Family History Library, old friends, and maybe even some food and sleep. Aaaaah! :)

2. Jamboree in June. This makes fourth or fifth year in a row that I've attended Jamboree, and the first year I've attended more than one major conference in a year. I'm super grateful that my wife is willing to help me get to both of these conferences this year.

3. Big genealogy goals - I have two major genealogy goals that I want to accomplish this year.
a. Identify the biological father of Bettye Harris. I've put this off for a few years, while I've dug into other projects, but this year, I want to finally tackle this one.
b. Identify the slaves held by Lewis and Lucinda (Berry) Harris. I've wondered for years what became of them after emancipation. I know where the Harrises lived in 1860, so I'm gonna jump into the area's records and see if I can track any of them down. Family lore says some, if not all, followed them up to Montana. We'll just see about that. :)

4. Continue my professional research. I have absolutely LOVED doing genealogy professionally. I have learned and stretched a lot this last year, and I still have a long ways to go. I need to polish my writing skills, and push myself to make better use of my clients' time.

5. Blog more. I have made some really interesting discoveries, both professionally and personally, and want to share more about them here. I think I need to work on shorter blog posts. I tend to ramble a lot, and when I don't have the time to sit down and write down everything I want to say, I just don't do it. In this case, less would be more - less lenghty posts = more posts in general. Don't want to have to take another 3 month break from blogging.

So yeah, 2018 is looking very exciting! What are your plans for this year? Have you made any awesome discoveries already? Let me know!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Genealogy Blog Party - Thankful

The theme for the Genealogy Blog Party this month is thankful. The genealogy resource I'm thankful for today is mailing lists. One of the things I love most about the genealogy community is how much we help each other out, how often random strangers will come upon a request for help, drop what they're doing, and jump in with both feet to help someone find the answers and info they're looking for. I see this all the time in the mailing lists I've been on. Here are some examples.

The DNA-Newbie mailing list is where I turned for help when I first got into genetic genealogy five years ago. I met awesome people like CeCe Moore who answered my questions, pointed me to books and other resources, and helped me understand what I was looking at with all these test results.

The Alsace-Lorraine mailing list helped me find one of the most amazing websites out there, with literally hundreds of years of documents of my German/French ancestors from this part of Europe. Below are some of the ancestors I was able to find with these records.

The German Bohemia mailing list has some of the nicest, most helpful people on the planet. They answered my questions, dug into social and political history to explain obscure words, and helped me decipher the difficult German script, an example of which is below.
The Quebec genealogy mailing list helped me identify where in Quebec my French-Canadians were from, and helped me learn to navigate the French-Canadian records on Ancestry and other sites. Their help was crucial in solving a DNA problem I had with my French-Canadian ancestors, and finding the info would have taken much, much more time without their help.
The German-Volhynia-Poland mailing list helped me find records of my Germans in Russia, which led to one of the biggest brick wall busts in my genealogy career so far. I never would have guessed to look in church records written in Polish, kept by the Russian government, to look for my German ancestors without their expertise.
I'm sure there are others, but those are the ones that come to mind right away. I am a firm believer in the power of mailing lists, so if you are stuck on a line or an ancestor, find a mailing list that covers your topic. There may be someone with the answers you need just waiting to help!