Thursday, September 30, 2010


I let my first blogiversary go by without notice (because I forgot) but this second one has been on my mind for awhile and is a much bigger deal to me, as I'm sure all subsequent blogiversaries will be. 

I started this little blog on September 30th, 2008.  I was working on my genealogy website and wanted to start a blog as a companion to my site, sort of as a research journal to track my progress and hits and misses.  I'm ashamed to say that this blog actually had a pretty pitiful start and fell the way of countless other blogs rather quickly.  After a month I had  forgotten about it and it went dark for the rest of the winter.

It probably would have stayed unused and unloved were it not for the GeneaBloggers group on Facebook.  I had joined the group in July of 2008 when my interest in all things genealogy exploded like never before.  But at that time it wasn't really my "thing" so I filed GeneaBloggers under the nice-but-not-for-me tab in my brain.  I was very active on Facebook then (still do have an account, but if you friend me it might take me six months to accept, just FYI) and regularly got the GeneaBloggers event notices.  I never paid much attention since I wasn't an active blogger but then for some reason, I start reading them and getting caught up on what exactly GeneaBloggers was.  Before long I was hooked and decided to revisit this blog.  And the rest is history.

With the help of GeneaBloggers I've kept at it and hope to be "keeping at it" for a long time to come.  Thank you to everyone who has ever stopped to read, comment, follow or bookmark.  You truly do make this blog worthwhile for me and I wouldn't be celebrating today without you. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Best Genealogy Advice I Ever Got Was

I love genealogy advice, little nuggets of wisdom that can completely change the way you view a certain aspect of family history or mystery person.

Since I love getting genealogy advice, I'm asking for you to let me know what (in your mind) the best piece of genealogy advice you ever got was.  It can be as broad and basic as "start with yourself and work your way back" or much more specific .  It can be one sentence or a long paragraph.  It can be something that you heard or read and were struck by and have taken to heart or a piece of advice that was passed on to you.  It can be something well known that has stood the test of time or it can be advice for genealogy in the 21st Century.  It can even be something that you just thought up 10 seconds ago!  Here is some of the best I have come across:

On Lineage Societies:

"Start small and build up to the big leagues.  Go after a pioneer or century certificate from one of the counties an ancestor settled in before tackling something like the DAR on your first run." - a kind lady from a local genealogy society event I went to

On Early Ancestors and Places:

"Keep a list (and check it often) of when US states and counties were formed that pertain to your research.  You don't want to waste time looking for someone in a place that didn't exist yet. " - a distant cousin of mine, one of the first pieces of advice I ever got

On a General Outlook/Words to Live By:

"One of the biggest mistakes that the genealogist makes is to erect ethnic or religious walls around them self... the records themselves weren't segregated...  Our ancestors lived cheek and jowl, they shared a world, they interacted, they created records together..."- Elizabeth Shown Mills, in this video (actually, the entire video is some of the best genealogy advice you'll ever hear)

These are just some of my favorites and are words of wisdom that have stayed with me.  So I told you some of mine, what are yours? 

If you would like a chance to win a ticket to the CA Family History Expo, e-mail me your "best advice" (first one to e-mail me wins it). If you aren't interested in the ticket but still want to share your "best advice" with me (which I'd love to hear), comment this post. (Contest closed)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Informing on Informants

I don't know about you but it is one of the first things I look for when I get a certificate, who the informant was.  Because really, if you know or have an idea who the informant was you have an idea as to how genealogically valuable the document is going to be.  It has gotten to the point where if I know the ideal person to be the informant probably wasn't, that certificate falls to the bottom of my to order priority list.  Here is my breakdown of the best to worst when it comes informants based on my experiences:

  • Ancestors (parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents).  My favorite certificates are the ones that are usually the most tragic.  They were filled out by a parent or grandparent of the deceased (usually a child in these cases).  But, because of the close connection to the deceased, the certificate is usually pretty spot-on and thorough. 
  • Children.  Talk about hit-or-miss.  No certificate offers as much uncertainty as when a child of the deceased is the informant.  I've gotten some that were surprisingly thorough and others that are truly head-scratching.  When my great-grandmother died and her son supplied the information, he put "unknown" for both her parents.  Now, I knew my great-grandmother and she talked about her parents often so you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in my family who didn't know who they were.  I can only figure that he didn't read over the certificate very thoroughly before he signed it.
  • Spouses.  This is the most common informant I've found and usually one of the best.  If I know the deceased had a living spouse, the certificate goes way up on my priority list of ones to get.  I do find that while the deceased's parents are listed, little mistakes are often present and the maiden name of the deceased's mother is often missing. 
  • Other Relatives (cousins, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, etc.).  Much the same as children, very hit-or-miss (but usually miss).
  • Friends, Neighbors and Strangers.  I don't know about you, but I rarely discuss my family tree with people I am unrelated to or who are uninterested in genealogy.  If I were to die today, I can count very few people unrelated to me who would make a decent informant on my death certificate.  I have found that this is often the case with relatives, thus these certificates are usually disappointing. 
Before ordering a certificate, I usually look at where the person died to determine who the informant might have been.  If they were born, raised and lived in Rolland Twp., Isabella, Michigan and, for whatever reason, died in Los Angeles, California I know that the informant was probably someone not very knowledgeable about the deceased's family.  I also look at what living family members the deceased had and where they were living.  If that person from Rolland Twp. that died in Los Angeles happened to have a nephew also living in Los Angeles, then the nephew was probably the informant and my interest in the certificate goes up.

Obviously, any good genealogist goes after all the certificates available and I do.  But I'm also not a wealthy person so when ordering a certificate, I want it to give me the most information (and most accurate information).  That is why knowing or at least having an idea who the informant was is important to me.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Joseph's Letter

A few days ago I posted A Letter from Joseph for the 98th COG, its theme being to analyze a document that helped break down a brick wall.  For more background on the letter and how it helped me find my Swiss ancestors, read that post.  Here is a transcript of the letter in its entirety:

"Evansville, Ind. May 8 1915

Dear Sister
    Although I have not had an answer to my last letter I am going to write you another one, to tell you what I think of your boy.  Gideon, I must confess we had some ideas about him after we heard he was coming, him being a Preacher Student.  We did not know how to receive him.  Well he came on time, and before he was with us 24 hours we were in love with him.  You certainly have a lovely son, I don't know what it was - he is not a great talker, but there is something about his ways that drew us to him more than words could have done - and we were all truly sorry when the time came for him to go and it seemed to us as if we had known him for years.  We would have liked to kept him longer he tried to talk the girls into coming to California and they certainly have the fever now and nothing would please me better than to let them go - it would be the trip of their lives and perhaps would be the best thing for them but times are so hard here at present that it is all I can do to make ends meet If it wasn't for that I would let them come out this summer.  Business is a little better than it was during the winter months but a long ways from being good and as long as the war lasts I don't look for anything better.  I was very glad that Gideon stopped over to see us and I don't want Ever any of your boys to go East without seeing us.  I was glad to hear that you are in such good health and that you don't have to worry about anything that must be nice.  I don't know how that feels.  I have no family worries for we live as happy as any 4 people on Earth can live but in Financial Matters it seems I can't make a success.  I s???s with the work I do and save and no Extravagant Family I aught to be away better off than I am.  With same amount of work now I can't make the money I used to do  Well I guess with good health I aught to be satisfied now dear sister if ??? of the boys comes East I want you to try and come along.  We will do our best to make you comfortable and I believe you will like us allright.  I must close now I hope to hear from you soon my wife and the girls send you their love and so do I.  From your Bro. Joe"

Sunday, September 12, 2010

September To-Dos

Have you ever been a fan of something for a really long time before the light bulb goes and you realize that, oh hey, I could do that too!  With me it was first the meme Amanuensis Monday and second this one which I have seen on numerous blogs for a long time (I have no idea as to where it originated, but I like the way Mavis organizes hers best) but for some reason I've never adopted it before now.  Which is odd because I'm a list-making kind of person, I make to-do lists for my to-do lists! 

We're already a bit into the month and I've accomplished a lot, but here is what is left to do:

Writing and this Blog:
  • Continue to post to this blog - try and produce more than 8 posts this month!
  • Start working on The Life and Letters of John W. Berger so it will be done in time for Christmas (*knock wood*)
  • Leave a comment on two different blogs (this is my baseline, I hope to increase the number each month.  I'm so horrible about commenting, it really is my greatest "blogger shame")
  • Add at least 6 new blogs to my reader this month (I'm usually pretty good at hitting this number or surpassing it in a month, but it never hurts to remind yourself)
  • Submit Mayflower Society worksheets (should be ready after acquiring father's birth certificate)
  • Prepare pedigrees and genealogy goody-bags for the family gathering next month
  • Prepare for Family History Expo next month (select classes, reserve hotel room, etc.)
  • Index at least 200 names this month for FamilySearch Indexing (my favorites are Jamaica Civil Birth Recs and County Marriages in California)
  • Do my "10" for the Restore the Ancestors Project
I've got oodles more I need/want to do this month, what is listed above is just at the top of my priority list.

Friday, September 10, 2010

2nd Annual CA Family History Expo

I'll be there, will you?  Since I only live about an hour and a half from Pleasanton, I am very excited that it will be so close to my own backyard.  My only regret is that I will be missing something even closer to my own backyard, Family History Day at the CA Archives in Sacramento.  I had really hoped to attend and am still sad that the two were scheduled for the same weekend, but an executive decision had to be made and was.  So, I will be at the CA Family History Expo and it will be my first genealogy conference of any kind so I am both nervous and looking forward to it immensely. 

If you will also be there, please come and say hello.  I have a feeling I'll be one of the younger people there so I should be easy to spot in a crowd.  When not in class (I'll be posting a tentative schedule of the sessions I'm planning to attend closer to the event) you should be able to find me in the Beacon of Bloggers area. 

I will also be a Blogger of Honor at the event.  I am still shocked and incredibly honored  by it all and a big thank you goes out to Holly Hanson (the founder of Family History Expos)  for thinking of me and this little dog and pony show.  I'm also very humbled and honored to be included with so many luminaries of the genealogy blogging community, a full list of the other "B of Hs" can be found here

In addition to the sessions, I am also looking forward to checking out the FlipPal Mobile Scanner I have been hearing raves about.  Another sponsor of the event I am excited to visit is the California Genealogical Society.  I have been a member since January but have never been unable to make it to Oakland thus far, so this will be my opportunity to meet some of the fellow members.

For those of you who are old-hats at this sort of thing, do you have any tips or tricks on what to see, do and bring for a newbie like myself?

Full disclosure: I received a complimentary registration to the event for being a Blogger of Honor.  I received no further remuneration from either Family History Expos, Inc. or the event sponsors nor was I prompted to write this post by any party.  I am in no way affiliated with either Family History Expos, Inc. or the event sponsors.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Letter From Joseph

(This post was written for the 98th Edition of the COG: "The topic for the next edition of the COG will be: Document Analysis! Show us a document that helped you break down a brick wall on your family tree. Discuss the information that appears on the document and how it contributes to your family history.")

In May of 2008, I got the idea that I wanted to make a family history book for my grandmother for Christmas of that year.  The only problem was that I didn't know a whole lot about her family, her grandmother being the biggest mystery.  Susanna von Allmen, the lady in question and my great-great-grandmother, was a real enigma even though I had several pictures of her and she dutifully showed up in every census after her marriage in 1866.  From those records I knew that she was born around 1850 in Illinois and that her parents were from Switzerland. That was it.

Since I didn't have much on my grandmother's ancestors, I asked if I could go through her family documents and was, to my joy, told that I could go through and keep whatever I wanted.  I only had about an hour or two that day to actually go look at what she had so I needed to quickly gloss over everything, pull out anything that looked the least bit genealogical, and throw it in a bag to take home and analyze later.  Among the things I took that day was a bundle of letters.  I hadn't really looked at them closely, but I knew they were letters to Susanna from her husband, John Berger and later, her son, Gideon (my great-grandfather). 

That night, once I had some free time, I started going through it all.  The letters were the last thing I looked at.  I had been putting them off because there were so many to look through, but at the same time I knew, just looking at the bundle, there it would probably be a goldmine.  It was, but I still knew nothing more about Susanna than when I had started and there were only a few more letters to go.  Then it happened: I came across a letter unlike any of the others and from a man I had never heard of before. 

The first thing I saw when I unfolded the letter was the header "Joseph Allmen" (see the image) and that whoever this Joseph Allmen was, was from Evansville, Indiana (the same place where Susanna got married in 1866).  The letter began "Dear Sister" and my breathe caught in my throat at the thought that this could be a relative of Susanna's and possibly the key to finding out who her parents were.  The rest of the letter (which I will transcribe for Amanuensis Monday) goes on to discuss my great-grandfather, Gideon, who apparently came and stayed with Joseph Allmen and his family while he (Gideon) was on his way back east to attend Boston University.  It quickly becomes clear that this Joseph Allmen, although his name is somewhat different from "von Allmen," is the brother of my Susanna. 

(the first page of Joseph's letter to his sister, Susanna.  May 8, 1915.)

Armed with the name of a sibling and the new knowledge that Susanna had family in Evansville as late as 1915, I was off.  The first thing I did was look for Joseph in the 1910 census. Up popped a "Joseph Alman" in Evansville, born in Illinois around 1868 (which I would later learn was off by about ten years, he was born in 1857), his wife of 20 years, Missouri and their two teenage daughters, Helen and Alzadia.  Then I started going backwards, first the 1900 census, then 1880 and then 1870.  In 1870 I found a Joseph Allmen living in Evansville, born in Illinois and about twenty-three years old.  In the household are two other boys, Isaac age 17 and Abraham, age 20.  Also in the household are a Christian Allman, age 55 and Barbary Allman, age 48.  They were of the right age to be Joseph's and Susanna's parents, and they were born in Switzerland.  But I still had to place Susanna in the same household.  I NEEDED to find the 1860 census because it would be the only one to have both Susanna and Joseph in the same household (Susanna was married by the 1870 census and Joseph wasn't alive for the 1850 census).

I hunted and hunted but found nothing.  I looked in Illinois and I looked in Evansville and everywhere in between.  Nada.  Then it struck me: remove the last name.  It had been giving me fits anyway, none of them were ever "von Allmen," sometime they were Allmen, sometimes Allman, and occasionally Alman or Almen.  So I just typed in "Joseph," age about three (plus/minus 5 years), in Evansville.   I got 38 hits.  I scrolled through them, looking for anything resembling "Allmen" and then I found it!  Joseph "Ollman," about three years of age, born in Illinois.  With him are parents, Christ (45, born in France this time), Barbara (38, also born in France), Mary (18, France again), Margret (14, Illinois), Susan (10, Illinois), Isaac (9, Illinois) and Abe (8, Illinois).  I recognized Isaac and Abe from the 1870 census and was thrilled to see a Susan in the family. 

I now had the tentative names of Susanna's parents, Christian and Barbara Allmen.  Not long after, I was given Susanna's funeral card from my grandmother.  It listed her exact birth date and location and exact death date and location.  Knowing that, I was able to get Susanna's death certificate and it confirmed what I believed.  Her parents were Christian von Allmen and Barbara Steiner. 

Since then I have learned about where in Switzerland the family was from as well as trace back a further couple of generations.  I've also been able to trace Susanna's siblings and discover the death information for her parents.  I learned that the family dropped the "von" part of the name upon arriving in the USA, but Susanna alone, for some reason, hung on to it which is why it had been so difficult to trace her family.  Since then I've been in touch with descendants of Joseph and other von Allmen relatives far and wide and we have exchange information, with me learning a little something new about the family each time.  I have come so far since that May day two years ago and I have one document to thank for it, a letter from Joseph.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ellis Island Oral Histories

When I heard about the new collection of Ellis Island Oral Histories over at Ancestry I knew the chances of my ancestors being there were slim to none.  But, I did decide to check it out and I am glad I did.

I decided to search by the name of the ship they came over on which was the "Madonna."  One hit came up, for a gentleman unrelated to me who came over on the ship a mere two months before my ancestors did.  He also came from a rural area in Italy not far from where my ancestors were from.  Suffice to say, I was very excited.  Some things I learned from the interview that I think might also apply to my ancestors story:
  • The gentleman in the interview took the train to Naples, the port of departure for both him and my ancestors. 
  • The interviewee was only in Naples a day before the ship departed.  For some reason I have always pictured it taking longer to board and leave, perhaps because once they arrived in Ellis Island they were usually detained for some time and went through a long process to enter the country. 
  • The interviewee described, briefly, the ship.  He said there were bunks in the bottom of the ship where the passengers would sleep (steerage class, like my ancestors) as well as regular beds and that some people had an individual room to themselves (I would imagine these were for upper class passengers).
  • The interviewee described his favorite pastime on the ship, which was going up to the front and watching it cut through the water.  Little anecdotes like that make the story all the more real, I think.
  • The voyage took fourteen days.
  • Most people sat around and talked during the voyage as there wasn't much else to do. 
  • Passengers were given good food according to the interviewee and they were fed on trays and it sounds as though they all ate in a communal area regardless of their class.
The interviewee didn't really discuss his time at Ellis Island which disappointed me but I am grateful for what he had to say about the ship and voyage. 

I also searched for people from the same province in Italy as my great-grandparents and only one person came up.  Unfortunately the interviewee's accent was so thick (as was the interviewer's New York drawl) and the recording so old that it was very difficult to understand what was being said.  Next I searched for anyone from Italy who came through Ellis Island in 1920, the same year as my great-grandparents.  I listened to a few of these histories and the stories seem to be similar to each other and filled in what the gentleman above skipped over. 

I was surprised at how moved I was when I heard the description of the ship and the voyage over which would have been the same for my ancestors.  I am happy that I gave these wonderful interviews a listen and feel like my genealogy is richer for it because I now have a better understanding and appreciation for my great-grandparents journey.  I highly recommend checking out this wonderful new collection over at Ancestry, espcially if you have ancestors who came through Ellis Island.

Disclaimer:  I am in no way affiliated with, its parent company or any other organizations under the umbrella.  I was in no way prompted to write this post by nor did I receive any remuneration for this post.