Monday, September 19, 2016

Is professional genealogy all it's cracked up to be?

I wrote about six months ago that I was officially in business as a professional genealogist. Since that time, I've been blessed to have requests come in from family, friends, and strangers to research their families. So now that I have a taste of what it's really like to be a professional genealogist, I wanted to ask myself - is this all it was cracked up to be? Am I happy doing it? Am I as passionate about researching the families of others as I am my own family?

The answers to those questions are: Yes, absolutely, and definitely! It's more challenging than I thought it would be, as you really have to focus your efforts because you're billing clients for your skills by the hour, and you want them to get the most bang for their buck. Obviously you can't control what the results of the search will be, but you certainly can give them the best research and reporting you're capable of doing. It's also been a stretching/growing experience, as I've been asked to research families in Washington, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, Mexico, and Sweden. I've done research in some of these areas, but others were brand new to me. I really pushed myself to get in there, see what was available, and try to find as much information as I could for these clients. So far, they've been happy with the results!

I think the most difficult part of things so far was right at the start when I had two clients at the same time. I didn't have any trouble keeping the research separate in my head, thankfully (taking classes in multiple foreign languages helped me learn how to compartmentalize my learning, it seems) but finding the time to do the research for multiple clients, with similar deadlines, was interesting. But it all come together, and I got both of them done on time.

One interesting challenge has been waiting for paper documents or lookup requests to come in. Normally, in my own research, I would keep plugging away, looking other places while waiting and hoping that the records I ordered would provide the answers I needed. When doing research for hire, however, I don't have the luxury of unlimited time - I have to be selective about where I research, so I can't just keep looking and looking and looking. It's kind of hard to put the research on hold until that document comes in, but as the direction of the research may depend on what that document says or doesn't say, it's in the client's best interest to wait until it arrives. Then you can see what information is still needed, and get back to it.

Writing up the research reports has been an experience too. In my perfect world, the client would want to know everything about everything I looked up, what it means, and treasure every detail. Realistically, they have a question that needs answering, and including anything that doesn't help answer that question is basically wasting my time and their money. For example, a recent client commissioned research to get some information on the ethnic background of an ancestor. In the course of the research, I found records of a member of that ancestor's family that had married young and had a son soon after the marriage. The son died of seizures at only 5 days old, and the mother passed away two days after that. It was a tragedy for that poor family that I personally felt was worth remembering, but because it didn't help answer the client's question, I had to leave it out. It makes me want to include a "misc. stories I came across that didn't fit in with your request" section to my reports.  I wonder if any clients would want something like that?

All in all, I am absolutely LOVING being a professional genealogist. One night, while telling my wife about some of the discoveries I had made for one project, she commented that I never talked about my office job (or any other previous job) the way I was talking about my research. While I have appreciated the jobs I've had in the past, the experiences there and the people I've worked with and for, I have to agree - this is where my heart is. This is what I love. And I am beyond grateful for the chance to do this as a professional and help others discover things about their family they never knew. I know there will be ups and downs, and not every project will have that nice little "here's the answer to your question" bow on it. But I wouldn't trade the chance to do this for anything.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tuesday's Tip - Why I bother going after original records

About 10 years ago, I somehow came across a printout from the Norwegian digital archives website, that showed information extracted from the 1865 Norwegian census. It listed the names of all Hammers living in Bergen county, Norway, among whom was my 3rd-great-grandfather, Philip Wilhelm Hammer. I took the information from the extract, noted it in my files, and moved on.

Fast forward to yesterday. I was revisiting the info I'd collected on Philip, as well as going through some new documents provided by my awesome cousin Jackie. She's done a lot of digging on the Hammers, and had uncovered about 100 pages of data on Philip and the runaround his poor wife was given while applying for a Civil War pension (that is a whole nother story, to be discussed in a future post). But while going through my files on Philip, I saw that same printout from the 1865 census and realized I've never seen the original article. Really good genealogists will always tell you to go after the original document because there is often information that didn't make it to the transcription for whatever reason - it was in the sidenotes, or hard to read, or the transcriber didn't think it important enough to extract, or any number of reasons. So I figured I'd go after the original census and see what I could find.

After finding the census (which was super easy, thanks to the awesome website the Norwegian digital archives has) I didn't see anything new right away. The names were there, the information was all there, same as in the extract. So I flipped a few pages back and forth, and it turns out every farm had its own kind of title page, with instructions on how the document was to be filled out, and when it was due by (no later than 8 January 1866). It also gave the address of the farm, the name of the principal owner, and the name of the area the farm was in. Then down at the bottom of the page, it gives a place for the person completing the farm census to sign his or her name. I knew from the census data that Philip was living on Nils Bassesen's farm in Bergen county in 1865, who was probably connected to the trade he was learning (watchmaking and jewelry making). Imagine my surprise, then, to see this signature for Nils' farm census:

So far in my research, this is the only time I have ever seen his actual signature. And had I not gone after the original document and poked around, I never would have found it. This is a great example of exactly why it's so important to go after the original documents. You really never know what you will find there.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Genealogy Blog Party - Pool Party and Ancestor Dunking!

Undated photo of Charles Wagner

The last time I attended the Genealogy Blog Party, I talked about my great-grandmother Edna's trials and struggles, and how she endured them. This time, we're having a little more lighthearted party - a pool party! And what pool party would be complete without someone getting unceremoniously pushed into the pool? The Genealogy Blog Party theme this month is to pick an ancestor who has caused you all kinds of genealogical grief (name changes, lots of moves, disappearing from the records, etc.) and push them into the pool! My party's lucky stiff is none other than my great-great-grandfather, Charles Wagner. 

The biggest question I have about him is simple - where was he born? Going through the records I have of him and his children, there was either a lot of confusion, a lot of deception, or lots of both. I don't know how else to explain this. Here's what I mean, from the documents in chronological order of creation: 

1. The 1880 census says he was born in Mecklenberg, as was his older brother Henry and his parents Charles and Friedericka "Rika" Wagner. Pretty straightforward, right? 
2. The 1900 census says he was born in New York. The birth certificates of his daughter Gertrude, son Charles, and the 1905 Minnesota state census all likewise say New York. 
3. Birth certificates for his sons Donald Roscoe "Bill" Wagner and Ralph Wagner both say Charles was born in Ohio. 
4. The 1910 census says Charles was born in Kansas. 
5. I have no idea where he was when the 1920 census was compiled, so I don't know what state or country he would have said then.
6. In the 1930 census, his then ex-wife Eldora (head of the household and presumed informant for the family) said her children's father was born in Ohio (which matches the birth certificates of Bill and Ralph, who were living with their mom at the time). At the same time, his son Charles, then on his own, said his dad was born in Minnesota, while his other son Howard said Germany! 
7. To top it off, his son Howard was the informant on Charles' death certificate and said his dad was born in - Illinois. *facepalm* Though the Illinois connection was interesting, as that's where Charles was living in 1880...

I haven't gone through the 1940 censuses yet, though those were all created after Charles' death in 1934. If this kind of confusion reigned while he was alive, it stands to reason that it would only increase and multiply as time passed and generations handed down what information they had. 

Happy swimming Charles! 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

What's in a name? No seriously, what?

While going through some recent finds on, I came across an interesting article about one of my wife's relatives, named Wakon Iron. It was brief, but advertised Wakon's upcoming performance at a meeting of the Pythian association, of which he was a member.

This caught my eye for a couple reasons. First, the article included a picture, the first I've seen of him. He reminds me of pictures I've seen of my wife's grandfather on that side, so it's really interesting to see a family resemblance there. Second, he was apparently an accomplished singer, given that the article touted his upcoming performance as "one of the outstanding numbers" to be given at the lodge meeting. 

But the most interesting thing about the article is what it says about his name. It gives both his English name, Wakon Iron (including a nickname "Wake" that I hadn't heard before), and his Osage name, Wah-Kon-Te-Ah. The Osage name is spelled exactly as I've seen it written in the Osage censuses, so either the article's author was familiar with Osage names, or maybe it was dictated by Wakon Iron himself. The article says Wakon did not know the exact meaning of the first half of his name in English, which I found interesting. Having studied a few languages myself, I know that there are some words you just can't easily translate from one language to another. "Ganbare" in Japanese comes to mind - it kind of means good luck and try your hardest at the same time, so how do you express that succinctly in English? 

We tend to think of names as being different though, especially surnames. Someone's surname is usually understood to mean something, and just that something. For example, Gibson means son of Gib, which I'm told is a pet name of Gilbert. So way back somewhere there was a Gilbert who had a son, and his descendants were known as Gib's sons, or Gibsons. Japanese names are similar - Yamanashi means mountain pear, Nakayama means middle of the mountain, Kamiooka means up big hills. Apparently Osage names are not so easily translated. 

So that got me thinking - what about my wife's most distant Indian ancestor's name? His name was written Wy-e-gla-in-kah in the Indian census rolls, the earliest of which I'd found dated to 1888. Unlike US Federal censuses, the Indian censuses were taken every year (makes me wish all censuses were done that way!) and Wy-e-gla-in-kah dutifully shows up in many of them. However, from 1888 - 1896 he had no English name given, just his Indian name. There are two listings for him in 1897 (one is a school census, one is the general population census). The population census lists him with no English name, but the school census gives him an English name - Ray Nosent. His son Tsa-Moie was listed with the English name of Raymond Nosent. I didn't know what "Nosent" means - not sent? No scent? No sentence? Something else entirely? 

From 1898-1906, he is back to just his Indian name, no English name. However, his son Tsa-Moie starts appearing in 1904 as Raymond Red Corn, first with his Indian name, and later without it. Then in 1907, Wy-e-gla-in-kah has an English name of Red Corn for the first time. He keeps that name for the rest of his life, until his passing in 1927. 

I'd always thought Wy-e-gla-in-kah literally translated to Red Corn, and that he went by that name and passed it to his son Raymond/Tsa-Moie as they adopted the Western practice of surnames. Judging from the census records, it almost looks like Red Corn was an invention of his son's that he adopted. So if his name didn't mean Red Corn, what does it mean? Is a literal English translation of his name possible? 

I went back to the censuses, trying to look for clues about some of the other members of his family - his son Wah-kon-te-ah, as well as an aunt of Wakon Iron's named Moh-se-che-he that (judging from the censuses) raised Wakon Iron from the time he was a toddler. While going through those records, I found Red Corn in the 1887 census, a year earlier than the earliest record I'd previously found. This one was different - it gave English names for both Wy-e-gla-in-kah and Tsa-Moie, but names I'd never seen anywhere else. The father's name was "Thoughtless" and the son's name was "Dead Beat". 

When I showed this to my wife, her reaction was the same as my initial reaction - that the agent taking the census had taken some...liberties in translating their names and called them whatever he wanted to. Some quick research showed me that guidelines regarding the literal translation of names and rules against the use of demeaning names didn't come down until 1902, or 15 years after this census was taken. So why would he be given the name "Thoughtless" if not as a jab at the fellow, one that he would probably never know had been given? 

But then, while flipping through the pages of the 1887 census, I found something unexpected - another Osage named Wy-e-gla-in-kah, several years younger than my wife's ancestor, Somehow I'd gotten the idea that no one else would have that name, as though everyone in the tribe would have a totally unique name that exclusively belonged to only them. Obviously that's not the case (has it ever been the case in any society? I highly doubt it). But this younger man had an English name as well - Thoughtless. The idea that an agent would insult two Osages several years apart in age in the exact same way just because they had the same name seemed very unlikely. Maybe there was more to this name than I originally thought. 

Wy-e-gla-in-kah in Osage clothing
So I turned to that never-failing source if knowledge and wisdom - Facebook. I quickly found a couple Facebook groups regarding Native American genealogy, and one specifically geared towards Osage language and culture. I put my questions to them, and they responded with some very interesting information. I was told that "the name referred to him being enraged in battle and fearless so much that he fought like he was out of his mind. Hence the literal translation of-"Without a Mind" or "No Thought"." The "Nosent" name was another translation, and actually should have been written "No sense" with the same idea of bravery to the point of senselessness. That put a very different spin on the name! The gentleman that gave me this information gave another example of a name's translation causing confusion: 

"Once, when I was a teenager, I heard the named of Osage man called by his name "Big Ugly". I chuckled at the name and my Elders severely criticized me for "thinking like a white man". They said to them, when they heard that man's name, they all saw a clear image of the face of a very large angry Buffalo bull that was ready to charge."

Wy-e-gla-in-kah in Western clothes
He also recommended I get an Osage dictionary, and suggested an edition written by Carolyn Quintero. My genealogy budget is still in recovery after my trip to California, but I look forward to picking it up and seeing what else I can learn about the names of my wife's Osage ancestors. 

I still don't know where the name Red Corn comes from, but I do now know who first used it, and that's a clue. I also have a better idea of what the name Wy-e-gla-in-kah really means, and it makes me more curious about the man that was given that name. Did he actually fight in battle? If so, did he fight Indians, whites. maybe both? More questions! 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Genealogy Blog Party - Edna Ascends the Iron Throne

Time for another round of Genealogy Blog Party!

Elizabeth O'Neal's Blog Party logo, used with permission

For this month's genealogy blog party, we are talking about an ancestor who epitomizes the word "strong," or in Game of Thrones* terminology, is worthy to sit on the Iron Throne - a throne made of 1000 swords and knives and was known to cause injury (or worse) to those that sat on it. Strength could be defined as military achievement, passing through hardships, or surviving an event or situation that others didn't. While I have many ancestors that I look up to as examples of strength, I chose to focus on my great-grandmother, Edna Mae (Craddock) (Harris) Moore. Edna was the oldest child of Ernest Leonard Craddock and Philena Emily "Lena" Beilstein. She was born on August 11, 1911 in Philipsburg, Montana and died December 25, 1996 in Sequim, Washington.

Edna as a baby with her mother Lena (Beilstein) Craddock
Edna went through a lot of trials in her early years, many connected with her family's poverty. Edna's daughter Sally told me the home Edna lived in at one point when she was young was a one room cabin with dirt floors. Edna's mom apparently broke down in tears when she saw it (and I don't think they were tears of joy). I can't imagine the impact of moving into a home so...rustic, if you want to put it that way, and then seeing your own mother crying because of the living conditions there. Later on, Edna's mom made a birthday cake for one of the girls (Edna had 3 sisters) and when it was done she covered it with a towel. When time came to eat it, she took the towel off, only to discover a large rat eating the cake! On another day, her father went shopping for supplies and came home with shoes for the girls, and Edna got two shoes for the same foot. With no other options (apparently returning the shoes wasn't an option), she wore them, though she later said this contributed to feet problems she had later in life.

Some time later the family moved back into a home in Philipsburg, Montana, and Edna joined the school basketball team. One day Edna complained of pain in her stomach. Her mother didn't believe her, and just assumed she didn't want to go to school. The pain was real however, and that night she had an emergency appendectomy. (This reminds me all too well of a similar story in my paternal grandmother Blossom (Wagner) Gibson's family, where her younger brother Charles Wagner complained of pain days after getting hit by a baseball while playing with friends. His parents didn't believe him, also feeling he wanted to skip school. Tragically, he was actually ill and died of tuberculosis).

Edna's parents separated sometime before she was 17, and her mom remarried to Jack White (among others; see my earlier posts on Lena Beilstein for details). Ernest was left with all four girls, and not having enough money to support them, he put them in the Montana State Orphans' Home for several years. Going into the orphanage must have interfered with her education, as the 1940 census reports that Edna only made it to 8th grade in school. Sally said this was because the orphanage put her to work doing laundry, and didn't give her time for school. Her younger sisters fared a little better, Hazel getting one year of high school and Grace two. Else was the only daughter in the family to actually complete high school.

In 1930, Edna married James Harris, son of Frank Harris and Charlotte Scribner. While I don't know too many details of their marriage, I do know that things were pretty rocky for them while they were together. Edna had dental problems in the late 1930s that caused her to have all her teeth pulled. She and Jim got some money together, ostensibly to buy her a set of false teeth. However, one night Jim came home and announced "your teeth are in the driveway." Edna went outside and saw a new car, purchased with the money that would have bought her teeth.

Jim and Edna divorced in the 1940s, Edna was then briefly married to a man named Ed Cole, then Isaac Hays, and then Bill Moore. She and Bill remained married for almost 25 years until Bill's death in 1975. She remained Edna Moore for the rest of her life (that is the name I remember seeing on her mail when we'd come to visit when I was young, and I always wondered why her last name didn't match my grandmother or mother's surnames. If I'd only asked!).

Edna in 1989
Edna had many health and other challenges in her later years. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1967, but radiation therapy sent the cancer into remission. She fell and broke her wrist in her 70s, but the wrist wasn't set properly and didn't heal correctly. She outlived her parents and all three of her sisters, her last surviving sister passing away in 1992. The next year she was diagnosed with another form of cancer, which eventually claimed her life on Christmas Day, 1996.

As with any person's life, you can't really go into all the challenges and struggles they faced in life in just a few paragraphs. Even in this brief overview of her life, I am struck with how many struggles and challenges and setbacks she was dealt. Yet the thing that strikes me the most was that every time I saw her, even in her later years when she could barely move, she was never anything but kind, cheerful, and happy. As a child and teenager, I had no clue about the hard life she had lived, and she showed no evidence of it in the way she acted around me and my siblings. She always greeted me with a hug and a smile, and would tell me to pull up my "britches" if they slouched too low. She really was the strong, silent type - silent in terms of not complaining about or bemoaning her circumstances. She took what she was given and did all she could with it. If there's anyone worthy to be called strong in my family, it's her. That's why I chose great-grandma Edna to sit on the Iron Throne.

*Disclaimer: I've never seen Game of Thrones, and had to Google search the Iron Throne to see what it was. Honestly though, after reviewing my great-grandma Edna's life, I think she'd take that throne, throw a few decorations on it and take a nap in it without blinking.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Tombstone Tuesday - Tragedy at Mussigbrod Lake

Death records can be very interesting things. Sometimes they can tell a whole story all by themselves. The death certificate I found recently for a second cousin twice removed is like that - the story it tells is brief and tragic, but all the major details are there. The events happened at Mussigbrod Lake exactly 40 years ago this Thursday.

On June 9, 1976, Michael Frankovich, Jr., son of Michael Frankovich, Sr. and Mary (Levick) Frankovich, was a police officer on vacation at Mussigbrod Lake. Mussigbrod Lake lies about 10 miles northwest of the town of Wisdom in Beaverhead County, Montana, and about 60 miles away from Michael's home in Anaconda. At 6pm, on June 9, he was in a boat in the middle of the lake when the boat capsized. Michael didn't make it to shore, as he drowned within minutes of entering the water. His wife Nita was the informant on the sad event, which led me to believe she either witnessed it, or was at the lake with her husband when it happened. Either way, it must have been a horrible experience for her.

Wondering if there might be more to this story, I went and searched for more information. I quickly found this article from a Spokane, WA newspaper two days after the drowning.

Apparently Michael, Nita, and their seven children had gone to the lake with Michael's brother-in-law Tim Mix to celebrate the Mixes coming to visit. Tim and Michael had been fishing when the boat capsized. Tim made it to shore, but Michael didn't. They recovered his body around midnight that night. The fact that Michael's wife and kids were all there, and that they were celebrating a joyful reunion with family, makes his drowning all the more tragic.

It's amazing how the events of just a few minutes can forever alter the course of people's lives. Nita, her seven kids, and her in-laws probably never forgot that day in June when she became a widow, her kids became fatherless, and her in-laws lost a brother. Ferris Bueller may have been a little flippant when he said "life moves pretty fast," but he was right. I do need to slow down and enjoy things around me a little more, because as Michael's death certificate shows, changes that last forever can happen more quickly than you want to believe.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday - A Fire in the Coals

Four years ago, I began my journey into genetic genealogy and DNA testing. Right away, from my first round of tests, I found some unexpected results, and set about trying to solve them - my grandmother's biological father,  the question of whether Ernest Craddock was my ancestor (and fortunately he is!), etc. Since those questions have been answered, I've felt like I kind of plateaued in my DNA research. Not that I haven't made big strides in some areas, because I have. But I haven't had a specific goal in mind, a question to resolve. I'm sitting on mountains of data, and I don't quite know what to do with it all. I feel kind of like a coal that's been taken out of the fire and left on its own.

So this year, I'm doing something about it. I'm now at the Marriott hotel in Burbank, California, eagerly awaiting the start of DNA Day at the SCGS Genealogy Jamboree! It's going to be a day packed with talks and presentations all about DNA and genetic genealogy. I'm hoping I'll hear something (or lots of somethings!) to get me inspired and motivated to take my genetic genealogy research and skills to the next level. I'm ready to jump back into the fire with both feet, and come out ready to hit the research running again.

Speaking of DNA testing, I'm still waiting on the results from my Wagner relative's Y-DNA test. It's been delayed four times now at FTDNA (who has, I've noticed, added an additional disclaimer to the projected completion dates saying "this is just an estimate, subject to quality controls, etc"). I was really hoping the results would be in before now so I could take what I learn and use it as I hear it. But maybe it's a good thing the results aren't in just yet. Maybe I need to have that test to look forward to when I get home, to work on after Jamboree is over, and put all that new knowledge and fire to work for me. Silver lining, blessing in disguise, that kind of thing.

At any rate, I am so stoked for this weekend. Here's to continuing education and jumping back into the fire!