Monday, June 28, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: WWI Veteran Wants New Name

(Amanuensis Monday is a popular meme meant to help get you transcribing family memorabilia for future generations.  It originates over at the great TransylvanianDutch blog.)

I've recently been writing a bit on the von Schmidts, starting with my find of George Washington von Schmidt's period under the care of the Boys and Girls Aid Society as a half-orphan (his mother had died, his father was in an asylum). 

I had read that George died in 1918 but I recently found an article which throws that into question:

From the Oakland Tribune, 18 March 1924

"World War Veteran Wants New Name

George Washington von Schmidt, who says he was born in Fresno July 10, 1896 and served with the United States Marines during the World War, receiving an honorable discharge September 30, 1921, has petitioned the superior court to change his name to George Washburn Smith.  He says he was married under this assumed name on February 24, 1922."

A quick search of the CA Death Index, 1940-1997 revealed that George did indeed change his name to George Washburn Smith.  He died in Santa Cruz on 20 Nov 1980.

I wanted to know what happened to George's brother and father, who were both committed (see the previous articles on the von Schmidts).  I believe they both spent the rest of their lives in an asylum, Alfred Sr., in the Mendocino State Hospital in Talmadge (near Ukiah) and Alfred Jr. at the Sonoma State Home in Glen Ellen.  Alfred Jr. died 25 June 1943, I don't know when his father died (it was between 1930 and 1940).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: B & W

Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park
Photo taken and privately held by the author, [address for private use], CA, May 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Hereditary Insanity

I've done transcriptions before but this is the first "Amanuensis Monday" post I've done.  It is a popular meme that has its roots over at TransylvanianDutch.

Awhile back I wrote about my great-grandmother's second cousin, George Washington von Schmidt, who was a half orphan.  I learned then that his father, Alfred Waldemar, had been in an insane asylum in Ukiah and I wondered whether Alfred had a history of mental illness and what had happened to him.  I quickly found this article from the San Francisco Chronicle (dated 6 Nov 1909):


That criminality is a taint in the blood, likely to be handed down by one generation to another, was demonstrated anew by a case decided in Judge Morgan's court yesterday.

Alfred von Schmidt, aged 21 years, was before the Court, charged with being of unsound mind.  It appeared from the testimony that six years ago he shot his brother, and that six months ago Judge Morgan had committed von Schmidt's father to Ukiah.  Other curious and unsound traits in the family menality were disclosed.

Ten years ago Edward von Schmidt, and uncle of the defendant, killed himself and his wife in Alameda.  The grandparents of Alfred von Schmidt, it was said, were both insane, and a thirteen-year-old grandson of this couple is now in a home for the feeble-minded.  The family is well known in Alameda and quite wealthy.  Major C. L. Tilden is related to the defendant by marriage.

Judge Morgan decided that Alfred von Schmidt should be sent to the Glen Ellen Home for the Feeble-Minded."

At the same time the San Francisco Call ran this story:


Man's Father and Grandparents Were Unbalanced

An extraordinary story of hereditary insanity was revealed to Judge Morgan yesterday in committing Alfred von Schmidt aged 20, to the asylum at Glen Ellen.  The young man's father, Alfred von Schmidt Sr., was pronounced insane and committed to the Ukiah institution six months ago.

Both the grandparents are inmates of insane asylums and a brother of the grandfather is also mentally unbalanced.

George von Schmidt, 13 years of age, a brother or Alfred von Schmidt Jr., is an inmate of the Boys and Girls Aid Society, having been declared irresponsible.

Tragedy of the darkest kind has attended the unhappy family.  At Watsonville six years ago the young man committed yesterday to Glen Ellen shot and killed his own brother.  Edward von Schmidt, his uncle, killed himself and wife in Alameda 10 years ago."

After this find, articles came pouring in about murders, suicides and insanity among other things.  From what I've read it seems like schizophrenia affected the von Schmidts (periods of incoherence, extreme violence, and intermittent lucid spells seem to be the hallmarks of whatever affected the family) .  Frances Everalyn Mott (my connection to the von Schmidts; she was the sister of my third great-grandmother and the mother of the Alfred von Schmidt who was sent to Ukiah) had a brother who had "dementia" and spent the last while of his life in the Stockton Insane Asylum and died there as a young man in 1880.  This is the only occurrence of insanity I've come across with the Motts, though I'm wondering now if Frances Everalyn Mott was one of the von Schmidt grandparents mentioned in the articles who was supposedly unbalanced.  She died in 1875 and I have yet to find any articles on her. 

It should be noted that Frances Everalyn Mott's (as well as my third great-grandmother, Mary Gertrude Smith Mott) parents were first cousins (their mothers were sisters).  Whether any of this is connected to the mental illness of  the von Schmidts, I do not know.  I also don't know much about the early von Schmidts, so it is entirely possible that whatever affected the family came from that side.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

SNGF: Most Prolific

This week's SNGF challenge, courtesy of Randy, is:

"1) Determine who is one of the most prolific fathers in your genealogy database or in your ancestry. By prolific, I mean the one who fathered the most children.
2) Tell us about him in your own blog post, in comments to this blog post, or in comments on Facebook."
The most prolific I can think of off the top of my head is John Chappel/Chapple Wellons, my third great-grandfather.  John was born in Pulaski Co., Kentucky in 1805.  On August 12, 1831 in Pulaski he married Sarah Elizabeth Hudson who was then fifteen.  By the time the family left Kentucky about twenty years later, they had ten children.  Two more were born in Indiana and two more were born in Iowa.  Of the 14 known children, it is quite probable that there were more that died as infants. 
Sarah died in 1861 and John re-married a woman with two children of her own from her first marriage. They had a son, Charles, in 1866.  Unfortunately the marriage didn't work out too well.  In 1880, John's stepdaughter had an illegitimate child that her mother (John's second wife) killed.  The second wife was arrested and sent to prison where John divorced her. 
Of John's fifteen known children, all reached adulthood (rare in the 19th Century).  The only one that died unmarried was Charles Wellons who was 19.  Most of the children went on to have large families of their own.
John never re-married after his divorce and died in Warren Co., Iowa in 1896 at the age of 90.

Surname Saturday: New England Planters

My New England Planter ancestors are as follows:

    Ebenezer Ellis and Hannah Wing came to Nova Scotia from Sandwich, Massachusetts in 1761.
    My line: Ebenezer to Hannah to Ebenezer Haley (came to CA, see Haley line below)
    Ebenezer Haley and Grace Bullen came to Nova Scotia from Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1762. 
    My line: Ebenezer to Comfort to Ebenezer (came to CA) to Comfort to Lauren to Gladys, my great-grandmother
    Amos Hilton and Mary Lee came to Nova Scotia from Manchester, MA in 1765.
    My line: Amos to Ruth to Mary Lee Scott (came to CA, see Scott line below)
    Jonathan Scott came to Nova Scotia from Fitchburg, MA in 1765
    My line: Jonathan to John to Mary Lee (came to CA) to Comfort Haley (later Healey, see Haley line above)
    George Ring and Lucretia Chipman came to Nova Scotia from Kingston, MA in 1762
    My line: George to Lucy to John Scott (see Scott line above)

I'd be happy to exchange information with anyone connected to any of these names.  E-mail me or comment this post (and include your contact info) to get in touch with me.

Friday, June 18, 2010

My World Cup Plans

So I went on at one o'clock this morning (whenever there is a free promotion going on like this, I prefer to do my searching in the middle of the night when there is less traffic and less chance of a server fail).  In case you don't know about their promotion right now, click here.  Suffice to say, I was excited... darn excited.  So excited that I actually went and looked up England's World Cup Schedule and marked my calendar accordingly.

Since I only had ninety minutes of all access, I made a list of all the people I wanted to look up and then checked the site's databases to see if they'd have anything for those people (mostly brick walls of mine).   I actually ended up being so well prepared that I had found everything on my list within the first half hour.  But that ended up being nice because it gave me a lot of free time to explore the whole website (which led me to things I hadn't expected to find).  Of course, the 1911 census is the big draw and one of the main things I wanted to check.  But I was surprised at how thorough the parish records were - much more so than FamilySearch's pilot site.  In fact, the majority of my finds were in those parish records. 

Here is a breakdown of what I've found:
  • Burial dates and places for 6 ancestors (and another two probable ancestors).
  • Marriage dates and places for six ancestors (three couples).
  • Baptism dates and places for two ancestors
  • The maiden name of my 4th great-grandmother (its Moulds by the way).
Other things I learned:
  • I really need to visit Churchill, Somerset, England.  I have quite a few ancestors buried in the cemetery of the Church of St. John the Baptist.
  • My great-grandmother's 1st cousin and probable namesake was a professional singer in the Battersea district of London in the 1910s (and possibly later). 
  • Oddly enough, I also need to visit Alkborough in Lincolnshire because I have many ancestors buried in their Church of St. John the Baptist cemetery.
  • When my great-great-grandparents came to the USA in 1892, their port of departure was Liverpool and their port of arrival was Philadelphia (destination Michigan).
  • When my great-great-grandfather's brother came to the USA 14 years later, his port of arrival when leaving Liverpool is New York, yet his ship is known to have arrived in Boston.
Overall, I'm very happy with everything I found.  I don't have much more to look up but I'll still try and visit the site whenever I know England is playing.  This really is a wonderful deal and if you have any fairly recent British born ancestors (though some of their holdings do date back to the 1700s), I highly recommend checking out (especially whenever England is playing in the World Cup).

NOTE: I was in no way prompted or contacted to write this post nor did I receive payment of any kind for writing this post.  I am a registered user of but do not subscribe. 

Follow Friday: Genealogy Sub-Categories

While I like very much and use it often, I am easily and frequently overwhelmed by everything they have to offer.  Recently, I've discovered the sub-categories option when it comes to research on the site.  It allows me to make a more focused search and it eliminates a lot of superfluous results.  There are many sub-categories to search under and most have their own page, much like the far broader genealogy page.  These are some of my favorite sub-categories (and are only a small sampling):

Allen County Public Library
ACPL is easily one the largest contributors to's genealogy section and it might surprise you to learn that in addition to US records and documents, I have found quite a few European resources on the Internet Archive from them.

Much like ACPL, offers a lot of resources that run the gamut geographically.  I have found many compiled genealogy books and one name studies through this sub-category.  ACPL and this sub-category are the main ones for just genealogy, others that have contributed some genealogical resources (but do no concentrate on genealogy) are below.

Boston Public Library, U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Microfilm Database, Library of Congress, U. of New Hampshire Library, New York Public Library, U. of California Libraries, and U. of Michigan are some of the other sub-categories I search under.  Many of these have broader offerings than just regionally specific genealogy (for example, I've found some good Canadian resources through the University of Michigan's Internet Archive page).  But it is important to note that these libraries have uploaded far more than just genealogical ephemera so use key search terms (such as 'probate,' 'wills,' 'deeds,' 'marriage,' etc.) when using them (and on the whole). 

While in many instances it may be best to just do a broad search without using sub-categories, I have found it useful to bookmark these sub-categories if for no other reason than to explore them.  Many times I'll find a resource they have contributed through regular search of all of, which leads me to their page where I can hunt around and find other resources I hadn't thought to search for. 
Above is a screen shot from the book Lawrence County, Indiana: Records (1900).  Zooming in on the details of the book:

You'll note that the Book Contributor is Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center.  Clicking on that link takes me to their page where I can search under their sub-category and also browse what they have.

All sub-categories of follow this URL template:  For example, ACPL's page is and LoC's page is  It is important to note this because to do a sub-category search you need to follow this formula: "your search terms AND contributor:blank."  So for example, I want to find Lawrence Co., Indiana records from ACPL.  I enter: "lawrence indiana AND contributor:allen_county" in the search box.

That narrows the search down to the ACPL sub-category specifically, eliminating all other search results for Lawrence Co., Indiana from other contributors.

If none of this makes any sense (which is quite possible) let me know and I can try and clarify things.  Using sub-categories can be just another extra step and not worth it to many, but I find it useful and I think I'll come to rely on it even more as continues to grow.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park
Photo taken and privately held by the author, [address for private use], California.  May 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Inspired by this post over at The Research Journal (one of my very favorite blogs), I decided to check out the new database San Francisco Orphans, Half Orphans, Etc. on State Aid, 1903-1910.  I didn't really expect to find anything but I typed in my main San Francisco surnames just in case.   I got no hits and was just about to leave when I decided to just scroll through it a bit and surprise! George von Schmidt!  George von Schmidt was the son of Alfred Waldemar von Schmidt and Jennie L. Spielman.  His paternal grandmother (Alfred's mother) was Frances Everalyn Mott, sister of "Essie," whose memoir I've been transcribing here and my third great-grandmother, Mary Gertrude Smith Mott Healey. 

As I read George's sad story, I learned quite a bit and also have some new questions.  George was born in Fresno on July 10, 1896.  He had three elder siblings: Hazel, Alfred and Frederick; and one younger sister: Isabel who don't appear with George.  George's mother, Jennie, is listed as dying in Los Angeles in 1903.  But George's father was still living... he was an inmate in the insane asylum in Ukiah.  George is listed as being put in the care of the Boys and Girls Aid Society on October 1, 1909.  He was discharged from their care a few months later, on his 14th Birthday. 

I found a little blurb on the society on the SFGenealogy website: 
"Boys and Girls Aid Society. Incorporated September 15, 1874. Rescues homeless, neglected or abused children of California and receives juvenile offenders who (by legal commitment or otherwise) are in danger of being sent to prison; provides for such until suitable homes or employment are found for them, and continues to look after their condition and treatment; maintains reading rooms, libraries, baths, sewing school and class in music. Lodgings and board are furnished at a nominal cost to working boys and girls who have neither homes nor suitable guardianship in the city. The work is free from sectarianism and depends upon voluntary contributions for its support. Office and "Home," corner Grove and Baker streets, San Francisco. Children are also received from parents and others for discipline, so called, to check their gravitation into crime; others for temporary care while parents are ill or pending legal proceedings."

So apparently George was in a pretty rough place.  I'm left to wonder, and research, what happened to Alfred?  This was the first that I had learned he was in an asylum.  I also wonder what happened to George's siblings after their mother died and their father was committed. 

For anyone wondering, George's first cousin was the noted artist Harold von Schmidt (and Harold's son, musician Eric), a contemporary of Norman Rockwell.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Arrival in New Lands: My German, Danish and Swiss Ancestors

I know very little about why my Swiss, German and Danish ancestors came to America.  My Swiss and German ancestors came to the US around the same time (late 1830s/early 1840s) and I believe they came for the same reason so many others came at this time, for the opportunities and wide open spaces that this country offered at the time.  They came from small villages in Europe, communities which were struggling with too little food to go around, overcrowding, and religious wars.  I think this also had something to do with why they left their ancestral homelands to come to the US.

When they did arrive, they settled in Indiana (after a brief stay in Illinois for my Swiss ancestors) where one family farmed and the other went into business making brooms (a business that lasted two generations and over twenty years).  They lived quiet, if uneventful lives.  I've wondered if they (as with all my immigrant ancestors) ever regretted coming to this country or if they ever felt let down by their adoptive homelands.  They certainly didn't strike it rich or lead easy lives once they got here.  But I think they were happy they came.  They got involved in public affairs, sent their children off to fight for their adoptive homeland and were law abiding, productive citizens. 

My Danish ancestors are a bit of a different story.  When they got here they seemed to have wandered, eventual settling in Ohio before quickly coming out to California.  I also don't know why they left Germany, but they did leave with a mass exodus of fellow Danes in Germany.  It was not long after the Austro-Prussian War had ended that they left.  The area had changed hands so many times and so many squabbles over the area (dating back to before the Dark Ages) had made it a rather contentious place to live.  I know very little about this branch of my family, indeed, I haven't even been able to find where in Germany they lived. 

This post was written for the 30th edition of the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy, focused on "Arrival in New Lands", dealing with the who, where, and why our ancestors may have left their homelands and settled in new countries.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Surname Saturday: Nielsen

My parents
My grandparents

Elmer John Shinn
5 Sep 1877, San Joaquin Co., CA; 9 Jul 1946, San Joaquin Co., CA
Gladys Viola Healey
3 Oct 1898, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA; 21 Dec 1998, Lodi, San Joaquin, CA

Lauren Everett Healey
27 Aug 1873, Newark, Alameda, CA; 11 Feb 1959, San Jose, Santa Clara, CA
Katherine Nielsen
25 Nov 1875, Mt. Eden, Alameda, CA; 12 March 1918, Alameda, Alameda, CA

Niels Christian Nielsen
8 Jan 1850, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany; 4 April 1940, Alameda, California
Engeline Christine Petersen
9 March 1857, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany; 28 Feb 1932, Alameda, Alameda, California

Anders Nielsen
?; ?

An entry in a family Bible lists Niels' father, as Anders but that is all the information I've been able to find on him.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Rainbow

Taken atop Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park
Photo taken and privately held by the author, [address for private use], California.  May, 2010

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Surname Saturday: Tock

My parents
My grandparents

Elmer John Shinn
B. 5 Sep 1877, San Joaquin, California; 9 July 1946, San Joaquin, California
Gladys Viola Healey
B. 3 Oct 1898, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA; D. 21 Dec 1998, Lodi, San Joaquin, CA

Heman Doyle Shinn
B. 8 Dec 1853, New Jersey; D. 4 July 1928, San Joaquin, California
Emma Sophia Tock
B. 27 Jan 1859, Charlotte, New Brunswick, Canada; D. 11 April 1928, San Joaquin, CA

James Tock
B. 12 July 1818, Alkborough, Lincolnshire, England; D. 20 May 1891, Lodi, San Joaquin, CA
Martha Wadd
B. 25 Oct 1823, Burton On Stather, Lincolnshire, England; D. 1861, Charlotte, New Brunswick, Canada OR Calais, Washington, Maine

William Tock
B. circa 1776, Gunhouse, Lincolnshire, ENG; D. 13 July 1853, Lincolnshire, ENG
Elizabeth ?
B. circa 1796, Burringham, Lincolnshire, ENG; D. 1874, Lincolnshire, ENG

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Half Dome

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
Photo taken and privately held by the author, [address for private use], California. May, 2010