Wednesday, November 1, 2017

With Reservations and Reluctance

So many people are so excited about researching their family history through these newfangled online websites that often we forget that some come to genealogy research with reservations and reluctance.

I am working with a gentleman now who I will call "Mr. S" who is only doing his genealogical research for his daughter. She desperately wants to know more about her ethnic origin and lineage; in part because her husband has a long well-research family history that stretches back to the 12th century. With all these 30-60 minute long television shows that make this all look so quick and easy, it's challenging to impress upon people that research takes much much longer than that. Sometimes it takes years to find information about even one's own grandparents. And Mr. S's circumstances have left him little information to work with. Mr. S grew up in foster care, separated from his siblings, and apparently lied to about the details of his parents' lives.

Together he and I came across a Social Security Death Index (SSDI) record for a man who had the same name as Mr. S's birth father but the dates just did not seem correct. The date of birth was much further back that either of us expected and the date of death was nearly 20 years after the year he was told his father had committed suicide. Additionally the SSDI record indicated this man obtained his SS# in Georgia; a detail Mr. S had never heard before.

Unsettled by the record, I went home and investigated further. I was unable to find this man, who may be Mr. S's father, in a 1940 census record on Ancestry. On a whim I tried looking for him in the 1940 census using instead. Sure enough, I found a record. In 1940 this man was living in a boarding house in New York City. Upon closer examination, another man with the same last name was also living in the house, presumably his brother,  his first name was Sidney. Now Sidney is not a bizarre first name but it certainly is not common. AND Mr. S had a brother of his own named Sidney. At that point, I was pretty convinced that these men were Mr. S's father and uncle and that the SSDI record was for his father.

Further confirmation came when I looked more closely at a death record Mr. S & I found together for his older brother who died at birth in 1941. That death record taken from the NYC Municipal Death Record Index through FamilySearch stated that the child died at the same address of the boarding house.

Mr. S's father wasn't born in the 1920s as we estimated, he was born in 1907 in Georgia. And he didn't die in the 1950s, he died in 1976.

I think these are painful truths for anyone in Mr. S's situation to have to face. It's hard enough to have had a difficult childhood, to have to rehash the details of it can be incredibly painful and frustrating.

I am not certain Mr. S's daughter will appreciate how much of a success this find is given how little detail we had. Sometimes adding just 1 more generation to the tree is as much as one can get.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Earth Shattering Family History for Fred Armisen

Did you know October is Family History Month? 

Yeah, I knew too but I've been so crazy busy that I haven't planned anything special. Typically, I try to do some project to enhance my personal family history research. In the past I have turned my blog over to guest cousin writers, written biographies on each of my direct ancestors, traveled to far flung cemeteries on a weekly basis, etc. etc. etc. 

This year I didn't plan anything but this morning I realized I am watching Finding Your Roots every week with my dad. He mostly uses it to fall asleep to but since I too am apparently half-assing Family History Month, I find this acceptable.

Have you been watching Finding Your Roots?

I loved Fred Armisen's family story which was in last night's episode (October 10, 2017). He is the grandson of a thought-to-be Japanese famous dancer turned WWII spy. As my almost 5 year-old niece Sofie would say in a sharp, short, voice, "What?!" It was absolutely mind blowing. 

Armisen barely knew his grandfather so certainly there would be surprising revelations. He had only met his grandfather a handful of times in his life. He knew he was a Japanese dancer and choreographer; at least he thought he was. Not only did he did not know of his grandfather's role as a spy, he also did not know his true ethnic origin, original name, and the fact that there is a museum in Japan dedicated to his art. What the what?!?!

Now I have learned some surprising facts about my ancestors but nothing quite as Earth shattering as a museum about them. Jeez-Louise.

Additionally, the researchers were able to find a chokbo which is a Korean book of genealogy that traced Armisen's family back to the 1600's. For a man who knew so little when he started the episode he certainly left with a tremendous amount of information; more than most people find in a lifetime of research.

At the end of the episode they showed clips of Armisen visiting the museum and seeing images of his grandfather's works and costumes. Just amazing!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Remembering Ben and Reflecting on Cremation

On Saturday, August 5, 2017, I received an Earth shattering call from Cousin Peter that his cousin Ben had passed away. Since that day I have burst into tears at least once per day.

Ben was like a cousin to me. I didn't see him often but then again, I did see him more frequently then some of my own first cousins. I think of him as family. He was. And there was a time when we were close; a brief period when we called one another just to chat.

Ben was my age...or just about. I was born in June of 1974, Ben in November. However, I will always be 28. And well, now I suppose Ben will always be 42.

He and I seemed to have very similar emotional responses to the circumstances and situations around us. Ben, however, like so many I have loved, struggled with addiction. Recently, it had seemed he had gotten a handle on his demons; that he was sober and finally in a good place. Sadly, though, it was  indeed an overdose that took him from us.

His funeral was like no other that I have experienced. I thought my grandfather's wake had a huge turn out; the procession from the mass to the cemetery comprised about 75 cars of family and friends. Ben's wake, though, was so crowded that you couldn't move. People were packed into the double room shoulder to shoulder, out the door, filled the foyer, out the building, and down the block. And I had never been to a service where I had seen more people visibly shaken and unable to compose themselves; including me.

That is because Ben was awesome; funny beyond measure, generous beyond belief. He taunted everyone equally and no one was spared.

When I read his obituary I learned that his remains would be cremated and it made me a little sad. I shouldn't have been surprised and I really wasn't. Cousin Peter's family had chosen cremation for both of his grandparents on his mother's side. Of course Ben would be cremated. However, it made me flash back to when I was working on Mr. Boller's scrapbook.

I was about a semester into working on Mr. Boller's scrapbook, my capstone project for my Masters in Public History, when I finally obtained Mr. Boller's obituary which stated that he too had been cremated. It made me sad then that I had no place to go to pay my respects to Mr. Boller whom I had never met. Ben I at least knew and can sense around me since his passing.

However, Cousin Peter has assured me that Ben's cremains will be interred in a columbarium or outdoor memorial wall of some sort so I will indeed have a place to visit Ben. For researchers, however, who read such obituaries, one does not know if those person's ashes are interred somewhere or simply scattered about the deceased's favorite park or body of water or ballfield, what-have-you.  I hate obituaries like that. However, Ben's obituary is really quite beautiful, informative about familial connections (like all genealogist want to see), and very fitting.

If you have someone close to your heart who has struggled with and succumbed to the pain of addiction, or even if they are presently struggling, I encourage you to consider making a donation to Hope House Ministries of Port Jefferson, NY ( They are an organization that ministers to individuals and families in crisis and a place that has provided much love and support to Ben's family. Once you click on the "Submit Information" button on this page (, whether you fill in any information or not, you will be brought to a paypal site through which you can make an online contribution.

Friday, August 4, 2017

More Moors

Several years ago, late June of 2012 to be more precise, some of my very best friends, Andrea and Laszlo, were visiting Laszlo's mother in New Hampshire. It was at that time that I discovered my connection to an American Revolution Patriot; two in fact, my 5th great grandfathers, Colonel Daniel Moor and his brother, Robert Moor. Yeah, one set of my 4th great grandparents were 1st cousins. Daniel's daughter, Eleanor, married Robert's son, William.

It just so happened that Daniel and Robert were buried in Derry, NH right where my friends were vacationing. At my request, their family went trampling around Forest Hills Cemetery looking for headstones of my ancestors. 

Forest Hills Cemetery is where Robert Moor is interred as well as his parents, my 6th great grandparents, John Moor and Janet Grey-Moor.

On my recent road trip to Maine, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia with Cousin Kelly and Cousin Peter, we made our way home through New Hampshire and stopped at the cemetery where Colonel Daniel Moor is interred; Old Bedford Cemetery on Back River Road.

This here is an aerial shot of the cemetery. My Moors are located at the top of the diamond here:

Early settlers of Londonderry, NH, now known as Derry, NH, were buried here. This includes many Moor family members.

To give you an idea how the size of these headstone that appear as little black dots above, here is a photo of Cousin Kelly standing in front of Colonel Daniel's stone:

I am much shorter than Cousin Kelly. Basically, the large stone here is my height; 4' 10".

It is a little hard to read but here is the face of the stone:

A more curious stone to me was this one below. It was tucked off in the corner but right near this family's section. It was that of Peter Moor, a "Negro Servant of William Moor, Elder. He died July 9th, 1790 In the 39th year of his age.":

I do believe William Moor Elder, the term they used then to mean Sr., was the brother of Colonel Daniel but I have to put a little more research into sorting out the mesh of Moors in my family tree and Derry.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Genealogical Sources & Services 101 in Review

It has been awhile since I have posted. It's been a very busy spring and summer. If you have read my blog in the past, you may know that this past June I taught my very first online graduate course on genealogical sources and services through St. John's University's Division of Library and Information Science.

It was a great experience. I really really enjoyed it and my students seemed to as well. I received really positive feedback from the 14 students I had.

They were from very diverse backgrounds which made their final papers fun to read. The focus of the 4 1/2 week online course was for each of them to write a brief biography on a relative who passed away before the student was born. In order to do so they had to conduct their own family history research. This included conducting a family history interview, building a family tree, using online databases through &, and developing research strategies to fill in the gaps in their findings. Additionally, we covered topics more specific to librarianship in the field of genealogy; topics like ethics, empathy, referrals, and public perception. 

Some of the feedback from my students verbalized thoughts and feelings I myself have experienced but was never able to put into words like this:

"While I did not uncover anything earth-shattering about my ancestors, seeing their signatures on documents, photos on naturalization papers, and handwriting on forms (ie: WWI and WWII draft registrations) was enough to bring a smile to my face."

"Going back through my family history made me appreciate where I am today even more."

"I really enjoyed ... how my project brought my family closer."

I look forward to teaching the course again next summer and I'm already thinking about what changes I would like to make to the course. I think I am going to cut out a portion about interviewing professionals and just post some interviews I conduct by myself with genealogy librarians. Also, I think I might add in some brain storming activity about creating potential library programs one could design related to genealogy.

Have you attended any genealogy related programs at your public library that you really enjoyed and/or learned a lot from? 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Now Mrs. G's Grandpa and the U.S. Applications for Seaman's Protection Certificates

My last visit to my job at the Mastic-Moriches-Shirley Community Library has had some dazzling results. I had another return patron sit down with me for a one-on-one research session during which time she told me all about the story surrounding her grandfather's murder; well, at least what she had heard. 

It happened long before she was born so Mrs. G never knew her granddad. As she began to tell the story I immediately went to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle online at; a free resource. There we found several articles revealing many of the details Mrs. G already knew.

From the date of death, we found the death record for her grandpa. He had a very common name. Without that date I fear I would have never been able to narrow down which man he was - his name is so common; William Walsh. Using The New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949 database ( with in, though, I found it right away.

From there we learned his parents names. When I got home, I did sort of a back-end search this time in the New York, New York City Births, 1846-1909 ( I searched for children born to a couple with the same names as Mrs. G's great grandparents names. This revealed not only her grandfather's date of birth but also several of his siblings and their birthdates.

Armed with the names of some of the members of this family group I was able to find census records for the family. I then moved beyond the censuses to vital records and military records. When all of sudden, what do my eyes behold but three records; two for William and one for his brother (with a much more unusual name) in the U.S. Applications for Seaman's Protection Certificates in

I have run across these Protection Certificates before. According to the National Archives catalog, "A typical application contains the seaman's name, the date and place of his birth, his address, signature, thumb print, a photograph, his present or prospective rating, and the name of the vessel on which he served or was expected to join. As evidence of citizenship, birth certificates, affidavits by relatives or friends, or citations to naturalization proceedings were frequently appended." That's right, like naturalization records, these records often have photographs and sure enough staring back at me were images of William; young with eyes full of hopes and dreams. A man his granddaughter has never laid eyes on.

Additionally, these men's birth certificates were appended to the applications which confirmed their parents' names.

I immediately called Mrs. G who was so excited and looks forward to gathering the copies of the images of the documents that I will leave for her at the reference desk when next I visit the library.

During our session together, Mrs. G had burst into tears at one point, so overcome with excitement but saddened by the notion that she had no family members who remembered these people; no one to share her grandfather's story with. 

I expressed to her that it isn't necessary that these stories be shared with people acquainted with the deceased. I assured her that there would be many people who would want to hear his story. Many. I told her it isn't always this easy; especially with ancestors who have common names. Sometimes it's very near impossible to discern one common named individual from another. But, some relatives just want to be found. They just want their story known. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Mr. H's Grandpa & The New York City Catholic Protectory

This summer I will be teaching an online course through St. John's University about Genealogical Sources & Services. Some time ago I determined the culminating project for the course to be an ancestor's biography. My students will write a 1500-3000 work biography on an relative; it doesn't really have to be a direct ancestor just someone who passed before they were born and that they are able to find records about. 

As a teacher you can write all sorts of checklists and rubrics conveying to the students your expectations and how they will be graded but in some instances I believe it is best to also supply them an example they can model. Some worry themselves that the students will just copy the example and not really learn the concepts involved. I disagree, especially in this instance. There is no way they can really copy the biography I wrote on my great grandfather, Albert.

Albert was quite a character. According to newspaper articles he had quite a few brushes with the law as a youth. At one point he was sentenced to the New York City Catholic Protectory. This institution was sort of an orphanage / juvenile delinquency program run by the Catholic Church in an effort to instill morality and ethics in children. Hmm. 

According to a New York Times article from July of 1865 this institution received children who were:

  1. Children under the age of 14 years, who, by consent in writing of their parents or guardians, may be intrusted to it for protection or reformation.
  2. Children between 7 and 14 years of age, who may be committed to the care of such corporation as idle, truant, vicious, or homeless, by order of any magistrate in the City of New-York, empowered by law to make committal of children for any such cause.
  3. Children of the like age who may be transferred, at the option of the Commissioners of Public Charities and Correction of the City of New-York, to such corporation.

For my biography on Albert, I researched the history of the Protectory as well as discovered records available about the young residents in

As my regular readers know, I also work at a public library once (sometimes twice) per month doing one-on-one consultations with individuals interested in researching their family history. 

This past month I worked with a patron we'll call Mr. H. He has come to see me once before. At that time we worked on his father's side of the family. At this visit we focused on his mother's side. After finding a few records he began to tell me a story about his grandfather. He had heard his grandfather and his brothers were put in some type of orphanage after his mother died. "But it wasn't an orphanage really because they eventually went back to their father," Mr. H said. "He went there when he got in trouble with the law too one time. It was run by the Catholic church which is why he didn't want to have anything to do with the church."

I became silent. I waited for him to say the word protectory. I waited. I could see him struggling to recall the word. And then I asked. "Was it the New York City Catholic Protectory?"


I immediately switched over to and found the un-indexed database. The struggle to find this particular database was due to the fact that is it titled Residents' Identification Cards, ca. 1880-1938 and authored by The Society for the Protection of Destitute Roman Catholic Children of New York City. Lot of words to remember. However, it is indeed the records for what was part of the New York City Catholic Protectory

Because it is not indexed, we had to scroll through the alphabetically organized images. And there we found it, Mr. H's grandpa 12 index cards worth of information about the circumstances surrounding his residency there at what was then called The Lincoln Hall School in Lincolndale, New York.

The cards told of his brush with the law at a very young age, about the health conditions of his parents which landed him there at his first visit, it gave his mother's maiden name, and helped us to narrow down her date of death to sometime between 1905 and 1907.

Albert was just 2 1/2 years older than Mr. H's grandpa. And although I can't find Albert in those digitized records, not all of them are digitized mind you, I can't help but wonder if the two resided there at the same time and if so, did they know each other. Either way, I like to think that my great grandpa Albert helped me help Mr. H add a little more detail and color to his own family history.