Riddle me this: an Irish/British genetic genealogy question

Family history-wise, my father is half Irish and half German. All his paternal ancestors trace back to Ireland. All his maternal ancestors trace back to Germany. This is documented - I have done the legwork, and I know for a fact where all his immigrant ancestors originally hailed from, and it's either an Irish county or a German state. So explain to me, then, how my father is more than a quarter British, DNA-wise?


This is my father's genetic break-down according to AncestryDNA. As you can see, they differentiate between Irish and British. Irish is considered Irish/Scottish/Welsh, and British is considered English/Scottish/Welsh. There is the Scottish and Welsh overlap between the two, but no overlap between the Irish and English. Scandinavia I assume is from some kind of genetic influence via my father's Irish family or northern German family. But 28% British is no small chunk of change - not that we inherit DNA evenly from all our ancestors, but that's the equivalent of one full grandparent! 

I do have one theory I'm working on - my father's last name, Gorry, which we've traced back to the Kells vicinity of County Meath, Ireland, shows up a LOT in British records - England, Australia, TONS of Scottish Gorrys, and in particular, A LOT in the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man, as I've learned, is it's own sovereignty, but is considered British - it sits in the English Channel, about even with Cumbria, one of the northernmost parts of England, to the east, is just south of Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland, and is about even with County Louth in Ireland on the west. County Meath is right below County Louth, also situated on that coast. I had always thought maybe at some point some Gorrys from Ireland, some of my Gorrys, had traveled east and ended up populating the Isle of Man...but what if the migration wasn't west to east, from Ireland to Great Britain, but from east to west, and the Gorrys actually have BRITISH origins, ending up in Ireland?

I would love any input from someone who has a better grasp than I do of genetic genealogy - am I reading too much into the British/Irish differentiation? Am I making up a mystery where there is none? Or does my father's DNA support SOME kind of connection between the Gorrys of County Meath and the many, many Gorry names that pop up in English, Scottish and Isle of Man records? 

Websites I used:

Stumbling upwards: how I accidentally discovered Ellen Prendergast Tormey's family

I knew about my great-great grandmother, Ellen Prendergast Tormey, but I didn't know anything about her. Based on various records I had, including my great-grandmother's birth certificate and Ellen's death certificate from Brooklyn in 1912, I knew that she had been born in Ireland around 1861, that her parents were Edward Prendergast and Ellen, no last name, that she came over about 1885, and that she married my great great grandfather, Michael Tormey, around 1887. That's it. She was a more recent Irish immigrant ancestor of mine - not a Famine immigrant, but still too early for Ellis Island. Her Irish origins were probably the most murky of all my murky Irish ancestor origins - at least for all the others, I had a county (which is still pretty useless without a specific place within the county). For Ellen, I just had "Ireland."

I had recently found a transcription of her marriage to Michael in FindMyPast's Archdiocese of New York Catholic records, but it provided no information beyond a date and place - I've been waiting for FindMyPast to upload the actual images to the database. In the meantime, I did what I always do when I'm at a roadblock - I go to a newspaper archive, in this case FultonHistory.com, and I insert random word combinations into the search field to see what comes up. My favorite search type on that website is the boolean seach, so this might be my search history for a certain day: first name within 2 of last name, last name within 5 of street name, street name and house number, last name within 15 of mother's maiden name, last name within 15 of street name in parentheses within 20 of sister's married last name. I mean, it doesn't matter how random the combination, I will try it - it's half an act of desperation, half an act of curiosity to see what I might discover.

So the other day, I did a search for Tormey within 15 of Prendergast and got an obituary for a Michael Prendergast who had died at the home of his niece, Winnie Tormey.

This was new, but intriguing. I had never heard of a Michael Prendergast before, but Winnie Tormey, his niece, had the same name as my great-grandmother's sister, and he was the right age to have been Ellen's brother. She didn't seem to be living at the address with which I always associated the family, but a quick search of marriage license applications in the newspaper, listed with the man I knew my Winnie married, she is living at the same address as the Winnie whose uncle was Michael Prendergast. I think maybe I finally found a relative of my great-great grandmother's, and not just Michael, but three living siblings who are mentioned - Ann Rotchford, Bridget Kelly, and Thomas Prendergast! And there was one huge important clue to unlocking that potential connection further: Michael Prendergast was born in County Roscommon, Ireland. Roscommon! 

Further research confirmed that Michael's father was Edward Prendergast, but his mother was a woman named Winifred Kelly. A search for Ann, Bridget and Thomas also found records for children of Edward Prendergast and Winifred Kelly. But my Ellen's mother was Ellen - could she have been a half-sibling? She was born in the middle of all these other siblings. Could I have the wrong family after all? Or could the informant on her death certificate gotten her mother's name wrong, as I've so often seen? Ellen DID have a daughter named Winifred, and many families (especially my family) have naming patterns and traditions, that Ellen could've named her daughter after her mother. A search found that Edward Prendergast and Winifred Kelly had a daughter Ellen in 1861 - the same year as my Ellen. These were not coincidences. An educated guess and my gut, which I always trust in genealogy, was telling me that Ellen's mother was not Ellen, a name that turns out to have messed up my searches for her for so many years - her parents were Edward (nicknamed Ned!) and Winifred. By doing a random newspaper search I had stumbled upon a huge breakthrough - I not only found Ellen's parents, I not only found her siblings (more than mentioned in Michael's obituary), but I found her actual date of birth and I found her birthplace and one of my Irish ancestral villages - Kiltulla, Castlerea, County Roscommon. That simple placename has broken open this family line to cousins who remained behind in Ireland, cousins who ended up in Chicago, and finding my 3x great-grandmother's name in the 1901 Irish census. My Irish family came over so long ago (even the recent ones like the Prendergasts) that I've never seen any of my ancestors listed in a 20th century Irish document. Winnie died later that same year, in 1901, but seeing her name on that piece of paper, seeing that she spoke both English and Irish, and that she was living with her son, surrounded by her grandchildren...it was an emotional moment for me. And I accidentally stumbled into all of it.

 Prendergast family in Carraghs East, Roscommon in the 1901 Irish Census: my 3x great grandmother, Winnie Kelly Prendergast, is listed last.

Prendergast family in Carraghs East, Roscommon in the 1901 Irish Census: my 3x great grandmother, Winnie Kelly Prendergast, is listed last.

winfred close up.JPG

Moral of the story: Be creative and loose when doing online searches.

Moral of the story II: NEVER take as ironclad information, especially secondhand information, that has not been backed up by another source.

Websites I used:
Old Fulton Postcards
National Archives of Ireland

Breakthrough: Looking for your German family in French records

My earliest German immigrant ancestors, the Reinhardts, emigrated about 1839 to New York City. My 4x great grandmother, Barbara Reinhardt was born there, although they moved to the Weehawken, New Jersey area when she was a child and most of the family ended up there. I know a lot about the Reinhardts and their time in America, but nothing from before then. I had records that my 5x great grandparents, John Reinhardt and Magdalena Engelmann, came from Bavaria. No idea where in Bavaria, and so no way to trace them further back. All of their children were born in New York, except for their oldest, John, who was born in 1838 - in France. This always stuck out as a bit of an anomaly to me, but I never really followed up on it. I recently found baptismal records for his children that clarified that he was most likely born in Le Havre, France, which is a port city, and I realized, I might finally have a lead to trace to see if I could find out more about the Reinhardts on the other side of the Atlantic. The Reinhardts, like many German families in that time period, made their way to America and other destinations via port cities in France, and some of these families temporarily settled in these seaside locations while they waited to emigrate. I don't know when the Reinhardts arrived in Le Havre, but they were there long enough for John to be born their in 1838, and I THINK they came to New York in 1839, so they were probably living in France for about a year.

Anyway, I had recently done work for a client looking up records in this same region of France, Seine-Maritime, and so I knew there were online records available to look at here: http://recherche.archivesdepartementales76.net/?id=recherche_guidee_etat_civil. It's a wonderful, extremely helpful resource, but of course - it's unindexed. Some of the databases have indexes inside of them, which helps, and there are 10 year index records you can scroll through, but you can't just type a name into the search function and pull up the page with your relative's name...you actually have to dive into the database and look for these and then look through these indexes yourself. I lucked out, big time. Pretty much every single record I had on Barbara's brother John told me he was born between 1837-1839 - a two year window is easy-peasy. In one of the 10 year indexes, I found a "Jean Eduard Reinhardt" born March 4, 1838 in Graville, France - same department as Le Havre, and just east of that city. When I pulled up the record itself, it listed his parents - "Jean Reinhardt" and "Madeleine Eingelmann," the French version of my 5x great-grandparents' names (because, obviously, the records are in French). The names matched. Their ages matched. And, lo and behold, it also stated that John and Magdalena were married April 27, 1837 in Göllheim, Bavaria - for the first time for this branch of my family, I had a place! A German village! AND a marriage record I could look for! This literally just happened today and I was so excited I had to pass it along. Now I have to plot my next moves - the records I need are not online but they ARE available to view at a Family History Center, to try to find that marriage record and then maybe their birth records and parents' names. This whole branch has opened up for me, and I guess my advice to anyone reading this is: think outside the box. My Reinhardt family is German but my breakthrough record was a French record. Be familiar with history. I knew a lot of German families passed through that way and there was a chance that John had been recorded there. Check out the other branches of your tree. I couldn't trace that line backward from my direct line, Barbara - I had to look to her brother, John, to move the line further back. I have so much luck advancing lines backward when I take siblings into consideration - don't have such a narrow focus on your direct line that you inadvertently box yourself out of making important family history discoveries. I'm riding high right now...I can't wait to get back at it. That feeling is what I wish for all of you! :)

Websites I used for this research:

Department Archives of Seine-Maritime

If you're lucky enough to be Irish, you're lucky enough...

...maybe that's why there's no luck left over when it comes to tracing my Irish roots. I'm half Irish - half on my mom's side, and half on my dad's, and when it comes to tracing my family history roots, none are so frustrating as my Irish roots. Part of the problem is the sheer dearth of Irish records, many of which were intentionally destroyed (why? Why? WHY????) Part of the problem is that the majority of my Irish ancestors came to the United States prior to Ellis Island, when passenger list manifests and naturalization records listed their place of origin simply as "Ireland." As with many other places, you need at the very least a county, and even better, an actual parish or village that your family originated from to have any hope of tracing your Irish roots, and even then, it's a crap shoot. My Gorry and Corr lines were Famine Irish who came over in the 1840s and 1850s - I have a Gorry ancestor Irish death certificate and mentioned in Griffith's land valuation, which gives me specifics - Kells, County Meath. But I haven't been able to trace the Gorrys further than my 4x great grandfather. I actually found my Corrs in a database of Irish immigrants who had bank accounts in New York, but the village in County Cavan that's listed doesn't seem to exist. Most of my Irish came over in the mid-1880s but they're even harder to trace. One is from Cork City, another from Killashee, County Longford, another from Ballingarry, County Limerick...and on all I'm stuck about 3x and 4x great-grandparents. I guess I can't complain too much...that's earlier than a lot of people can get on certain lines. But with brick walls crumbling on many of my German, Danish and American lines, it's frustrating and sad to know that the records for my Irish ancestors just aren't there, and those brick walls will probably always stand.

My grandmother's father was off the boat Irish - in terms of generations, he's my most recent immigrant ancestor. He's my most tangible connection to Ireland, since she knew him, and I knew her. She shared a lot of interesting and helpful information about his family, the Cronins, including a lot of anecdotes about her father, but even she hit a brick wall with her father's family. Even though she knew he was baptized in Dromtarriff, County Cork, and even VISITED the church in Ireland in which he would have been baptized and the cemetery in which his family would have been buried, she still hit a dead end. At least she got a nice trip to Ireland out of it...

There is some hope, though. Ireland's Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht has put online a bunch of civil and parish records, a lot with images. If you haven't checked out their website, you absolutely should - while there are few Irish records to work with, this department is trying to make available to the public those records that DO exist...and I've found images of death and baptismal records that have been helpful in at least rounding out the picture (addresses, parent occupation).

So maybe the Irish have some luck after all. Tomorrow I will be setting a leprechaun trap with my kids, ages 5 and 2. I haven't had a lot of culture and tradition handed down to me just because most of my immigrant ancestors came so long ago, but in my family, the leprechauns exist, and it's something I share with my kids. Well into her 90s, my grandmother claimed the little people were playing tricks on her in her apartment (maybe it was BECAUSE she was in her 90s that she thought this, but it was always with a twinkle in her eye, that she was joking/not joking...) And I will always be proud of the fact that as an extremely shy young student many years ago I did not even hesitate to correct my teacher who tried to lump leprechauns in with other fairy tale creatures because I KNEW leprechauns are real - my great grandfather saw one when he was growing up in Ireland, and he told my grandmother, who told my mother, who told me, and even though the Irish are known for spinning a good yarn and telling tall tales, I know this story is REAL. We can all use a little magic in our lives, and so tomorrow my kids and I will try to trap a leprechaun, and I'll tell them how their 2x great grandfather saw one when he was a kid...when we can't go any farther back on a line, we can do what we can to keep what we DO know, including the stories, alive for future generations.

Websites used:
Find My Past




The curious case of Hannah Gorry

Like Benjamin Button, my 3x great aunt Hannah Gorry seemed to have the magical ability to age backward.

Hannah was the older sister of my great great grandfather Jimmy Gorry. Hannah and their two other siblings, Michael and Mamie, never married, and when youngest sibling Jimmy died suddenly at the age of 28, the spinster aunts and bachelor uncle, who lived together their whole lives, took in my young great-grandfather, Elmer. I imagine them all as a little eccentric, not least of which is because the one fact I've always known about Hannah is that she refused to tell anyone her age. My grandfather had an old autograph album of hers from junior high with beautiful, sweet messages from all her classmates, a glimpse into school-aged minds from the past, but we didn't know when in the past because all the dates were scratched out. Hannah's a little bit like a family historian's worst nightmare. My dad's dad told him he was pretty sure Hannah had been born during the Civil War, but I didn't have a birth certificate so I had no way of knowing. Jimmy was the youngest, born in New York in 1869, so Hannah was definitely older than that. Her obituary lists no age. So I've always relied on her presence in the census records, which has been an endless source of amusement and frustrated for me. And here's why:

In the 1870 census, Hannah is listed as being 9 years old.
In the 1900 census, Hannah should be 39 based on her age in 1870; she is listed as 33 years old.
In the 1905 NY census, Hannah should be 42 based on her age in 1870; she is listed as 32 years old.
In the 1910 census, Hannah should be 49 based on her age in 1870; she is listed as 41 years old. (At least this time around he age went up!)
In the 1915 NY census, Hannah is listed as 53 years old - this actually jives with her age in 1870.
In the 1930 census, Hannah should be 69 years old; she is listed as 50, which puts her year of birth at about 1880...making her 11 years younger than her younger brother.

So here Hollywood made this big-budget fantasy story about a man who aged backwards, and all along I had the real Benjamin Button in my family tree! In addition to showing that magic is, in fact, real, this case illustrates the unreliability of records we often take as fact. In a census, a person is providing information about themselves to the census-taker. If that person was vain like Aunt Hannah and lied about her age, how would the census-taker know? How would we, the descendants, know? A lot of times we'll see people's ages wobble between a 2-3 year range just because people weren't always certain how old they were, and that's not an attempt to trick a government worker. But Aunt Hannah is a good example of why we need to use multiple sources whenever possible to verify life facts such as date of birth. Sometimes we end up having to just make an educated guess based on the data available. Sometimes we end up getting lucky. Using Find My Past's new Archdiocese of New York baptismal records, I found Hannah's baptismal record, which lists her year of birth. Since she was an infant, this record was made contemporaneously to when she was born, so we can be pretty sure that this record is the most accurate to tell us how old Aunt Hannah really was.

I got you, Hannah! But don't worry - your secret is safe with me! ;)

Websites I used in my research:
Find My Past

Putting to the test Find My Past's new Archdiocese of New York marriage and baptismal records

If you move in genealogy circles, you've probably already heard that Find My Past recently added transcripts of the Archdiocese of New York's baptismal and marriage records to its databases. If you're only a family history hobbyist, here's the scoop: Find My Past has recently added baptismal and marriage records for the Archdiocese of New York. You heard it here first...or seventh. ;)

I don't use Find My Past a lot...I've found the website nominally useful for Irish and British records I'm searching for, but other than that, I haven't found anything on the website that I can't already find on Ancestry or FamilySearch. But I have some marriage records from the 1870s-1890s for Roman Catholic Irish ancestors that have been impossible to find...so I decided to give this new database a whirl. I knew my 2x great-grandparents Michael Tormey and Ellen Prendergast were married in New York; I knew it was probably around 1885. But I have never been able to find a marriage record for them. It's been beyond frustrating. I didn't expect it to be so easy to find them in this database. But there they are, married May 10, 1885 in St. Gabriel's Church in Manhattan. Unbelievable. You labor and labor to find a record and then, BOOM! It just falls in your lap.

Tormey Pendergast marriage 1885.JPG

So if you have Catholic ancestors from New York City, definitely check this out. You need a subscription but you can buy a one-month subscription or pay-as-you go credits (also, some genealogy societies, such as the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, provide access with membership). Right now, it's only the transcriptions available but I think the plan is to have images uploaded to the website soon as well. Not sure of that time frame, though I think it's in the "months" range. Also just to note - if your ancestors lived in Brooklyn or Queens, they would have lived in the Diocese of Brooklyn, so they won't be in this database. But if you've been hitting some Manhattan, Bronx, or Westchester roadblocks, you might want to check this out.

Websites used for this research:

Where there's a will...there's a glimpse into every day life: the will of Edward Haase part II

Recently I wrote about the will of my 3x great-grandfather Edward Haase, which revealed the existence of an illegitimate son. In it, he left money to the boy's mother to care for him and to provide for his schooling and upbringing. Because the money was designated for this express purpose, the boy's mother, Catherine Graham, had to provide an accounting of the money she spent on her son, and it's a really interesting glimpse into the every day life of raising (or being) an 11 year old boy in 1920...

There's the usual clothing items - a winter coat in January, a bathing suit in August. Just like now, Catherine had to take her son to the doctor, and she had to pay the bill. But the accounting reveals other interesting details about her son's life at that time - in June of 1920 he joined the Boy Scouts, and he had to buy him a uniform, a canteen, a knapsack, a knife, and all the other little knick knacks a Scout would need (any parent nowadays who has a kid in a sport or activity can relate to the long list of items you need to buy so your kid can participate!)

That August the boy went to Boy Scout camp, and he also started playing baseball. He must have spent a lot of time riding his bicycle because in September, it needed to be repaired. In June of 1921, he made his First Communion, and his mother bought him a new suit. That September, at the age of 12, Catherine enrolled him in a military boarding school in Ossining, New York. He came home for Thanksgiving, and that winter, he went ice skating. 

There's nothing extraordinary in this list of activities and items bought for them. They're all extremely ordinary. But most of us, in our day to day lives, live in the ordinary, not the extraordinary, and to see a mother and son nearly 100 years ago engaging in the ordinary day to day activities and shopping that we do today with our families, humanizes our ancestors and helps connect us to the past. 


My blog turned 10 years old this year!

This past month, on January 16, 2018, marked 10 years since I started my genealogy blog, which feels a bit surreal and yet pretty amazing. I've learned and shared so much over this past decade, but am still knee-deep in family mysteries, brick walls, and new discoveries...the journey never ends! I've met new cousins, both close and distant, and built a community with them of exchanging family tree info and just getting to know each other as well. I've gotten married, had two children, and moved to another state...I've lost loved ones, but watched as the next generation of my family has blossomed and grown. I look forward to continuing this adventure in the next decade, to see what more I learn, who else I discover, and how the practice of genealogy develops, through the use of science and technology, the release and availability of new records and databases, and the involvement of more people sharing their photos, documents and oral histories...it's an exhilarating ride to be on!

For anyone who wasn't here when I started who might be interested in how this blogging adventure began, here's a link to my very first blog post:

Becoming Nancy Drew

Where there's a will...there's important family info: the will of Edward Haase.

My 3x great grandmother, Eva Meinberg Haase, died Sept. 11, 1919. Eleven days later, her husband Edward Haase, my 3x great grandfather, wrote a will containing some interesting information, information I believe he had kept secret from his wife, since he didn't put it in writing till after she had passed. In fact, this info made me unsure that this will even belonged to MY Edward Haase till I saw my 2x great grandfather mentioned as a beneficiary and executor of the will. The secret info that was revealed? My 3x great grandfather had a second family, an illegitimate son, something I NEVER knew until I read this will. I imagine Eva never knew, and I wonder how much my 2x great grandfather, Gus Haase, knew, or if he found out when his father died just two months later on Nov. 25, 1919 that he had a 10 year old half-brother, Edward George Haase.

So in the second item in the will, Edward Sr. left $15,000 to be used for the support and education of an Edward George Haase, born January 15, 1909. The will does not explicitly say that Edward is his son, but Edward is NOT one of his any known nephews, and the only other people named as beneficiaries are his one known son, Gus, and Edward's siblings. $15,000 in 1919 is the equivalent of more than $200,000 today, and a lot of money to leave randomly to someone who just happens to have the same last name as you...In genealogy, we rely on compelling evidence to make a case. But we also rely on experience and educated guesses to carry us through until we find the evidence that proves or disproves a theory about a family member. I believe Edward the younger was my Edward's illegitimate son.

The third item of the will leaves money to a variety of people, all relatives, except for the very first person, Catharine Graham, to whom Edward leaves $5,000. Catharine Graham was also appointed the guardian of Edward the younger in terms of the inheritance Edward the elder left him. A search of census records reveals that Catharine Graham was also Edward the younger's mother.

Wills and probate records are some of my favorite sources of family history documentation - they can be RICH with details about family relationships, the financial status and physical holdings of an individual, and, as it turns out, family secrets as well.

Edward Haase will excerpt.JPG

February babies: Happy birthday to two of my grandparents

My maternal grandfather, Dick Raynor, would have been 104 years old yesterday. He was born Feb. 1, 1914. My paternal grandmother, Helen Stutzmann Gorry, would be celebrating her 86th birthday next week - she was born Feb. 10, 1932. Happy birthday to two of my grandparents, both February babies. Love and miss you both.


 Dick Raynor joined the Navy in November 1943.

Dick Raynor joined the Navy in November 1943.

 My grandfather on his wedding day in 1946.

My grandfather on his wedding day in 1946.

 Birth announcement for Helen Stutzmann in the Feb. 19, 1932 Ridgewood Times - she weighed five and a half pounds.

Birth announcement for Helen Stutzmann in the Feb. 19, 1932 Ridgewood Times - she weighed five and a half pounds.

 My grandmother as a little girl.

My grandmother as a little girl.

William Golder's Memories of Aunt Beckie and Uncle Jacob Raynor

Sometimes there are people who get lost of family trees - children who died young or in infancy, people who grew up but never married, usually those without direct descendants trying to find them. Lately I've been trying to find and record the young children who have been lost on my tree, but today while doing some research on Fulton History's newspaper archive website, I came across a piece in the Nassau Daily Review Star from January 20, 1941 by William Golder, reminiscing about his Aunt Beckie Raynor, a spinster, and Uncle Jacob Raynor, a bachelor. Well, William is my first cousin, 4x removed (his mother is the sister of my 3x great-grandmother) so Beckie and Jacob are my aunt and uncle, too. I've known for years about Beckie and Jacob, as the spinster sister and brother of my 4x great-grandfather, James Washington Raynor - I've always known Beckie as Rebecca, though, like her mother - never knew she had a nickname! I've always known next to nothing about Jacob, and the big thing I knew Rebecca for was having an incredibly detailed will outlining her many nieces and nephews, their spouses, and where they lived - basically your dream will, if you're a family historian. But William's memories of Beckie and Jacob shed tons of light on them as people - she enjoyed the company of the young people in town, reading their fortunes in tea leaves. Jacob was eccentric, enjoyed reading about astronomy, grew grape vines, and loved to look at the stars with his telescope. This is an amazing part of genealogy, not just discovering a person, but discovering who they were.

Websites I used for this research:
Old Fulton New York Postcards: www.fultonhistory.com

Raynor memories.JPG

Never give up, never surrender...how I knocked down a brick wall after 15 years

Galaxy Quest sure had it right.

My 3x great-grandmother, Mathilda Rau, was your standard brick wall. She did in 1880 at the age of 35 from bilious fever. Her parents' names are not on her death certificate. She was an immigrant - I have her on a passenger list manifest from 1871 that lists her place of origin as Wurttemburg, nothing more specific. She was pretty much a blank slate - a name and a couple of dates. That's all I knew. My only shot at getting past this brick wall, to putting her in a place, and placing her in a family, was to find her marriage record. She was unmarried when she came to New York, listed right next to Friedrich Stutzmann, the man who would become her husband, so I was pretty sure they were married in New York, but no matter what search I did - first names only, last names only, first initials, boolean, soundex, birth dates, no birth dates - I always turned up empty handed. They were nowhere to be found.

I research my family tree in cycles. I'll do one branch till I've exhausted all my information and evidence, then move on to the next. If new info and records become available for a certain person or line, I'll head that way, or I'll revisit a line I haven't done in awhile in the hopes that new information will have become available. You never know. Just because there was nothing when you started doesn't mean new records, or new people researching their own trees, haven't popped up...ALWAYS go back again. Always. And so that's what I did with Mathilda. I had recently broken through a brick wall on another German line of mine, one I thought was destined to remain a dead end, and so I decided to give Mathilda another go. And this time it worked.

I found Friedrich and Mathilda indexed in the New York marriage records as Frederick Stulzmann and Mathilda Prau. Prau was never going to come up in a boolean or soundex search! I received the marriage certificate from the New York City Municipal Archives just before Christmas...Best. Christmas. Present. EVER. Suddenly, I had the name of Mathilda's hometown, Obergriesheim in Wurttemburg, and the names of her parents, Joseph Michael Rau and Walpurga Hartman (isn't her mom's name just the most German name??) and I also had her signature! I love signatures...they really humanize the names in our trees. Unfortunately, the area in Germany where she comes from has no records online; so I'm going to have to wait, or do some real world research, see if I can find some microfilms, visit some libraries. For now, this family remains a brick wall...but a brick wall with possibility. I know what church books to look for, what municipality to check civil records...Mathilda is no longer alone (I know she was married with children, but my great-great grandfather was only 5 when she died and her husband went on to remarry two more times, so she always felt very alone and left behind to me...) But she now has parents. She has a town in which she grew up. She has two younger sisters that she played with as a child and bossed around as they got older.

For now, I move on to the next line on my tree. But I can't wait to come back to Mathilda.

Websites I used for this research:

Family Search
Italian Genealogy Group: www.italiangen.org
NYC Municipal Archives: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/records/historical-records/vital-records.page

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen - discovering my Danish roots

I come from pretty standard Irish-German-English stock, so I've long been intrigued by my lone outlier line, the Bergs of Copenhagen, Denmark. My 3x great-grandfather, Peter Hansen Berg, was born there in 1824. I had the names of his parents - Hans Pedersen and Ane Margarethe Christensdatter, that a distant cousin had discovered, but other than that, I knew nothing. The Bergs remained an exotic (to me, anyway) mystery.

But as often the case with my research, my best discoveries, my most interesting and enlightening discoveries, occur when I get off the index, get off of Ancestry, and jump head first into the records. There are SO many records available, on both Ancestry and FamilySearch, that are unindexed and they are a virtual treasure trove of information...but the search without an index can be time-consuming as you go record by record, page by page, for possibly 1000s of pages...complicated by having to decipher handwriting in a language you don't understand. It's maddening. It's exhilarating.

So that's what I did. I did a Google search and discovered that there are at least two websites that have Danish census records online, both transcribed and actual images, and unlike U.S. census records which become less helpful prior to 1850, Danish records list whole families backward through the late 1700s. I had to learn to recognize important genealogical words in Danish - father, mother, baptism, marriage, death, the usual. Anytime you do family research, it's handy to keep a little cheat sheet of these words in the language of the records you're looking into - some important info might get lost, such as parents' occupation or other little notes, but you can often figure out the general gist of an entry with these key words, proper names, dates, and place names. I also jumped into Danish vital records, mostly unindexed, on FamilySearch and Ancestry. I started getting used to following the patronymic naming system, which is extremely helpful in finding a person's father and children, but not necessarily helpful in grouping a person to their spouse. So while I had often done earlier searches for Peter Hansen Berg, I ended up looking for Peder Hansen, and found him. I found his baptismal record and his Lutheran confirmation record. I found the birth and death of many of his siblings, and I found his family in several Danish census records. I discovered that the family didn't live in Copenhagen city, but from two small towns just southwest of the city, which made it easy to find the family in early census records, when the populations of those towns were under 1,000.

 Ishoj, Copenhagen, Denmark - one of the places my family comes from. From:http://www.visitvestegnen.dk/ishoej-havn-gdk620905

Ishoj, Copenhagen, Denmark - one of the places my family comes from. From:http://www.visitvestegnen.dk/ishoej-havn-gdk620905

It was a major breakthrough what has been an enduring brick wall for me. I found my 4x great grandparents' marriage and death records. I found my 5x great-grandparents, Peder Pedersen and Birthe Christensdatter, both working in a household as 20 year old servants in 1787...maybe that's where they met. I found my 6x great-grandparents, Christen Pedersen and Cidse Pedersdatter, born in the 1730s. I have no idea what was going on in Danish history from the 1730s to the 1860s, when my last living direct ancestor still over there finally died, but I want to find out. I knew nothing about this branch of my family tree. And now I have so much to learn...I can't wait to get started!

Websites I used in this research:

The Danish Demographic Database: http://www.ddd.dda.dk/kiplink_en.htm
Danish Family Search: https://www.danishfamilysearch.com/census/

We're the millers: finding family occupations (the Meinbergs, millers of Heppenheim)

After you've found out the when and where of a family member's birth and death, one of the easier facts to fill in in between (not always, but a lot of times, yes) is occupation (for men anyway, although it's always interesting to see women's occupations throughout history. But it can tell you a lot - it can give you an idea of whether a place was urban or rural; it can give you an idea of what a person's father might have done for a living, as some children followed in their father's footsteps; it can give you an idea of what was driving the local economy; it can give you an idea if or why your family moved, if they were working in an industry that eventually collapsed or became obsolete.

So I always get excited when I find out a new ancestor occupation, and I recently did, about my Meinberg family in Heppenheim. Eva Meinberg Haase, my third-great grandmother, was born in New York City in 1861; her father, John Meinberg, was an immigrant from Heppenheim in Hesse. I know nothing about him personally - he's one of my ghost ancestors I'm still chasing - but I know about his family, and they both apparently came from a long line of millers in Heppenheim. They were *the* millers apparently, and the title of the article I found is "Once one of the richest families in the city."



There were at least 14 millers in the family over 8 generations and they were, obviously, very successful at it. It appears that at some point, the milling business passed to another branch of the Meinbergs, not my Meinbergs, which is perhaps why my branch ended up in America, if they hadn't inherited the lucrative family business. I have no idea what John ended up doing in America instead. But it was interesting to see this article, not written as a genealogy article, but written by someone interested in history, specifically German history and the history of mills, focusing on my family - my 9th great-grandparents, Johann Meinberg and Eva Farrenkopf, are mentioned in the article. In fact, that's how I found the story. Lesson number two today - never underestimate the power of a well-phrased Google search, as well as the power of Google translate!!



When genealogy is heartbreaking...

There's a lot of fun and excitement that comes with tracing your family tree - discovering new ancestors, new cousins, new facts, new vital records...it can get the adrenaline pumping, for sure!

But it's not always like that. Sometimes researching your family history can be heartbreaking. I think, for example, of confirming my great-great aunt's death in the General Slocum steamboat disaster...and then to compound the tragedy of it all, discovering that she had a one year old son who died with her. I have a one year old son, so maybe that's why it particularly hit home for me, but I cried for a day after finding that out. This is when genealogy is heartbreaking.

I think about all the people researching their African-American lineage who almost without fail will reach that unbreakable Civil War brick wall, because their ancestors were slaves and no vital records were kept of them - if they were named at all, it can probably be found in transfer of property records. This is when genealogy is heartbreaking.

Recently, I was researching Eastern European Jewish genealogy for a client. As you can imagine, this can be another difficult task, as Eastern European and Russian Jews have their own brick wall, usually somewhere in the early to mid-2oth century, because those records were destroyed, whole villages were destroyed, and millions of Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust. This particular client knew he had family who had died in concentration camps, and I've worked with clients before where it was understood without explicitly coming up that they had lost family in the Holocaust, but this was the first time I worked to document some of those relatives who had been lost. Sisters, brothers, parents, in-laws - people whose birth records I had just discovered, whose marriage records I had just seen, snapshots of happy days, joyous moments in their lives, quickly followed by confirmation that yes, this one was sent to Auschwitz where she was killed, this one was sent to Russia where he was killed...this is when genealogy is heartbreaking.

It's heartbreaking because genealogy is not just pieces of paper with names and dates - those pieces of paper represent real people, like ourselves, who lived and laughed and loved. Tracing our family trees can be exciting and it can be heartbreaking, because life can be exciting and it can be heartbreaking, and that's what makes genealogy something so special and something I love.

Thought of the day: birthdays and birth records

I was just going through my vital records for my family tree recently, looking at all the birth certificates I have, thinking about how I had evidence of an exact birthday for so many of these people. My train of thought then led to how those same people on those records would list their age as one thing in one census, only 8 years older in a census 10 years later, 11 years older again in another census 10 years after that... a lot of our ancestors didn't know when their birthday was. Maybe the month, maybe the day, not always the year. A lot of times, they were just guestimating. Maybe their birthday was recorded somewhere in a family Bible, but chances were, they didn't have a copy of their birth certificate. But I do. They didn't know when their own birthday was...but I do, because I have access to their birth records. They didn't have their birth record in their own lifetime, but 100 years later, 200 years later, 300 years later I do... Isn't that crazy?

Anyway, happy weekend everybody...have fun and be safe!

Technology & Genealogy: Catholic Cemeteries of Brooklyn's "Locate A Loved One"

Just discovered this today!

Oh, I could go on and on about all the advantages of doing family history research in the information technology age, but here's an example: while looking into my Enright ancestors, I discovered that Catholic Cemeteries of the Diocese of Brooklyn have a "Locate a Loved One" search engine. Now, this one won't tell you what cemetery your ancestor is buried in - BUT, let's say you know when and where your great-grandmother died, and that she's buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, you could put her in and find the location of her grave. Maybe you don't know when your great-grandfather died, but you assume he is not only buried in the same cemetery but in the same plot as your great-grandmother, so you put in his name, and cross reference plot locations - voila! Hopefully you can find out when HE died, and then order his death certificate (this is what I just did, and plan to do...sooo excited!)

Another perk of this search engine that maybe isn't at the forefront of people's mind but is just such another important service, is that this simplifies finding the location of your family member's grave or your family's plot in a cemetery, making visiting it so much easier. I have had a lot of luck visiting cemeteries and encountering helpful employees who look up my family's information and hand me a map with the grave location circled. But sometimes I show up and the office is closed - either it's lunchtime, or after hours, or the weekend. And sometimes they've been busy and I've had to wait a bit (which I don't mind, but my young children do!) Now, you can get that information ahead of time - this website has a map of the cemetery on it, with all the sections labeled. And it looks like they have an app that you can download to help locate your ancestors on the go...

For me, this kind of technology is invaluable. I think it's going to open new doors for research but even just for visiting our family members who have passed, which is part of this genealogy journey that I really enjoy. So if you don't have ancestors buried in Brooklyn, see if your local cemetery/diocese has a website like this, and let me know if you found it helpful!

Happy 9 year blogiversary to me!

Nine years??? How is that even possible?

Nine years ago today I started this blogging journey. I had been doing family history research for years prior to that but that was my first attempt to document my journey, both my successes and frustrations - this was both to help others, so they could see what I was doing and what I was going through, and to help myself, a way to kind of think out loud, figure out where I'd been, what steps I might need to do next, and maybe think outside the box. It was also my first attempt to reach out to others, not only to help others but to get help FROM others...what could you think of or see that I couldn't? And I was trying to connect to cousins...and I did! I found and met so many new cousins, some of whom weren't looking for the family tree information I had, and so many more of whom were an amazing wealth of family history information that I needed...and I'd like to think that some of them even became friends along the way!

In these past nine years, I've changed jobs, gotten married and had children, and this blog and digging into the past has oftentimes taken a back seat to real life...but it continues to be something I really enjoy and even as my blogging has become less frequent, I hope that this time next year I'm still here, celebrating my 10 year blogiversary!

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day everyone! In honor of MLK, I found a quote we can all look to as genealogists, family historians, and, well, human beings.

Christmas Flood of 1717

In addition to learning the facts about our ancestors, it's important to learn about the times and places in which they lived. It is nothing but helpful to try to put our family into context - sometimes, it will help you decipher the motivations of why they might have moved from one place to another; it can help you figure out what language they might have spoken or what religion they might have practiced, both of which can be clues to where there might be records about their lives; it can give you clues to what their occupations might have been; at the very least, it can give you an idea of what their daily lives might have been like, or what might have been some big events and upheavals they dealt with.

In the course of researching my Tiedemann family - my immigrant ancestor and 3rd great grandmother, Meta Tiedemann, was born in Mittelstenahe, Hanover, Germany - I discovered that they hailed from all over the German state of Lower Saxony (which, strangely enough, is in the northern part of Germany), in particular the more northern coastal areas near the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven - Mittelstenahe is 42 km east of the coastal city of Bremerhaven, at the mouth of the Weser river; it is 41 km south of the coastal city of Cuxhaven, at the mouth of the Elbe River, smack dab in the middle of the Elbe-Weser Triangle. Other cities in the vicinity my family came from include Lamstedt, Stinstedt, Osterholz and Hackemuhlen. While researching these branches of my tree, I learned that a terrible natural disaster hit the region: the Christmas Flood of 1717, or  or Die Weihnachtsflut vom 24. Dezember 1717 in German. My 8th great-grandparents were living in the area in 1717.

According to Wikipedia, the Christmas Flood of 1717 was the result of a northwesterly storm, which hit the coast area of the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia on Christmas night of 1717. 

In total, approximately 14,000 people drowned. The whole region is flat and low-lying, which is why the flood was so devastating. It was the last large storm flood in the north of the Netherlands. Floodwaters reached towns 21 km inland. Many villages near the sea were devastated entirely. The local communities had to cope with population loss, economic decline and poverty. No area of the coast between the Netherlands and Denmark was spared. Everywhere dyke breaches were followed by wide flooding of the flat country. Between Tønder in Slesvig and Emden in East Frisia about 9,000 people drowned - this is right in the area of where my family lived. Cattle were lost, houses were washed away and the damage to dykes was immense. Many survivors waited months to learn the fate of missing family members, and some never found out what happened to them. The coldness of winter didn't help the situation of those who survived, and another flood hit two months later.

The family members I know of did not live right on the coast, but they lived along the rivers that led to the coast. Were they affected by this devastating flood? Did they come from towns closer to the coast, where they might have still had family? Did they travel to these coastal areas for business? Did they see the devastation firsthand, and if not, what did they think when they first learned of it via word of mouth, maybe months later? Did it affect the economy of the region? Travel and trade out of ports along the damaged coastline, the loss of crops and livestock, all must have taken a toll on the entire region.

My Tiedemanns and adjacent family lines remained in Lower Saxony for years and generations afterward, so whatever personal loss or setbacks from the flood must not have been lasting. It's just interesting from a historical perspective to learn about these events that for the most part, just fade away into the ether, unless you have some personal tie or connection to it.

In the course of your family history research, have you come across any events - natural disasters, political uprisings, epidemics, etc. - that occurred where your family was living that might have affected them personally? I'd love to hear about it!

Unknown - Copper Engraving Abbildung der fast übernatürlich-hohen Wasserflut am H(eiligen) Christ-Tag 1717 und am 25. Hornung (= Februar)


Wikipedia, Christmas Flood of 1717. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_Flood_of_1717

Christmas traditions

First off, happy New Year to all my readers! But since we're still technically in the 12 days of Christmas, here's a quick Christmas post...

Christmas time always brings out the German heritage in me...as a kid, we always had a pickle ornament hanging on our tree that our parents hid and my siblings and I had to find it. It's an old German tradition and it was always a fun part of Christmas day, trying to find the pickle. Sometimes the person who finds it is supposed to get an extra present, or get to open an extra present, or supposed to get good luck in the coming year...in my house, we got to lord it over our siblings that we were the "winner." I come from a family that has been in the United States for so long that we don't have a lot of Old World traditions that have been handed down or that we practice, so I always enjoyed this little piece of my German ancestry.

I actually bought a pickle ornament this year and I had my husband and 3 year old daughter look for it. He found it right away...she couldn't find it even though it was right in front of her face. It was still fun, though, and I look forward to carrying forward this German tradition and passing down to my children something from my own childhood, and from our German family history.

What Christmas traditions do you and your family have that come from your cultural or ethnic background?

Can you find the pickle ornament in the Christmas tree??