Saturday, February 17, 2018

In the House Where He Lived

I have some patrons who bring me extremely interesting research. In my last post I wrote about Jack and his quest to find out more about the uncle he is named after who died in WWII. This past week Jack returned to my desk with an object he said I would not believe; and he was right.

Jack brought in a deep shadowbox frame; about 18"x 18" and 4 inches deep. Contained in it was a round ornate circular silver frame. At the center of which was a 3 inch circular photo of a couple in their mid to late 50s, maybe very early 60s. Curved around the top of the photo it said 1878-1903; beneath it said 2 May. Around the couple's photo were 1 inch round photos of 5 younger people; presumably their children. This was a silver wedding anniversary frame; silver in color and material, as well as in the fact that it is a 25th anniversary commemorative frame.

Jack proceeded to tell me how this was in the home his parents bought in 1969 in Flushing, Queens, NY. Jack surprisingly knew the name of the previous homeowner. Do you know the name of the person who owned the house you grew up in? I sure as heck don't.

Even though their was no indication on the object as to who was in the photos, Jack believed it belonged to the former homeowner and wanted to get it back to the family. The former homeowner's name was George Washington Anger. I guess that is a pretty hard name to forget.

A search for George quickly resulted in finding his WWI draft registration card. The card confirmed that George lived in Flushing and it provided his date of birth which made subsequent searches much easier.

From there we back up through the U.S. Federal Census records, 1940 to 1930 to 1920 etc, to find George living with his parents at the address Jack had grown up at. Sure enough, George was 1 of 5 children of August and Caroline Anger.

1900 Census

Turning our interest to the parents, we found their marriage record in the New York, New York Marriage Index as, wouldn't you have it, 2 May 1878. This frame was theirs and those photos were these people we had seen in all these records.

Jack then asked if we could find any living family members. I always tell my patrons that it is easier to find the dead than it is to find the living. We took a shot though and searched the public family trees on We found someone who appeared to be the great-great grandson of August and Caroline. Using my personal account I was able to email the tree owner through Ancestry. I could see this Ancestry user was an active researcher because he had had an account since 2012 and had last logged in 2 days before.

We simply sent a note saying I was a genealogy librarian working with a patron who had an object that might be of interest to him if he was indeed related to this couple.

Today Jack and I received a reply to that email saying that yes, those are his great-great grandparents and that he would be delighted to know what we have in store for him.

I know that it is Jack's wish to see this object back in the hands of a family member who will love and cherish it as much as he has all these years - these strangers whose house he once lived in.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Souls without Heirs

Direct ancestors get researched all the time. Their graves are often visited and well tended, but those who left no heir, and sometimes not even a single record (like children who died between the censuses), those souls call to me.

Like my Cousin Mary over at Heritage & Vino I too have a strong affinity for those family members who left no heirs. Cousin Mary recently wrote about the siblings, Rebecca & Jacob Raynor; neither married but both obviously left strong impressions on the nieces and nephews around them.

I have recently been struggling to obtain a birth record from the City of New York for my relative, John Fay, who died in WWII and left no heirs. Part of the struggle is that I am not his direct descendant. I just want to document his existence for my family. Don't get me started...

BUT I have recently had some brilliant success, though, helping a patron connect with people that I will call his cousins even though they aren't really. Let me explain.

My patron, who I will call Jack, came to see me in search of information about the uncle he was named after but never knew. Uncle Jack died in WWII and is buried oversees. This patron came with a photo in hand of his Uncle Jack besides a woman who we believe to be Uncle Jack's wife; her name was unknown.

After some poking around on we found a record for Uncle Jack in the U.S. Headstone and Interment Records for U.S. Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, 1942 - 1949 dataset. Had we just looked at the indexed information and not opened the actual image file we would have never seen the note that in 1965 a woman in Missouri requested a photo of Uncle Jack's headstone in France.

We both suspected this woman, Helen, might be Uncle Jack's wife and so we set off on researching what became of her which lead us to a post on that included a photo of Helen. Although the FindAGrave photo showed a woman much older then the one in the photo with Uncle Jack, there was definitely a resemblance. I reached out to the FindAGrave contributor to see if perhaps he was related to the woman in the photo he posted.

In short time I received a response from the contributor. Unfortunately he was not related to Helen but he got the image from her online obituary which he sent to me. The obituary was a gem. It told of her life with great detail and mentioned that the last feat she wanted to accomplish before her passing was to write an autobiography. At the end of the obituary it listed all her children and their spouses by name and the cities they lived in when she passed in 2016.

I immediately went to Facebook and searched for her children who all had quite unusual names. I wrote to three people who I was 99% certain would be her kids but I still wasn't sure if Helen was Uncle Jack's wife. I told them that I was a NY genealogist working with a man who might have a connection to their mother. I asked if they had ever heard of her having a first husband who died in WWII. If so, I asked if I could get a copy of her autobiography. The next morning I received a response.

Yes, my mom Helen's first husband was [Jack], who died in WWII. ...As for the autobiography, it is 109 pages long and I only have my copy. Pages 19 through 24 are about [the Uncle Jack].

This was them. This was my patron's uncle's widow's family. That being said, obviously, there is no biological connection between my patron and these children of Helen; especially given the fact Helen's children are all adopted. But what makes family is not simply genetics.

Souls who leave no heirs does not mean they did not leave family, they most certainly did. They loved and influenced people around them and those energies emit long passed one's lifetime.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Dear Representative

Anyone who has been reading my recent posts knows that I am now on the path of learning all I can about my first cousin twice removed, John Michael Fay.

I recently acquired the marriage record for my great aunt, Anna Josephine Fay-McGarry which shows that John was her witness at her wedding.

On the marriage certificate recorded John's address as it was in 1943. That address confirmed for me another record which included his date of birth. John was born on 8 May 1919.

With the help of a contact at the NYC Municipal Archives I learned that the New York, New York, Birth Index, 1910-1965 is available on The NYC Municipal Archives, however does not have the birth certificates. They are held by the New York City Department of Health, Office of Vital Records. But get this...

I cannot have access to the record unless my name is on it as the child or the parent. 

Um, John was born in 1919. This birth record is nearly 99 years old and he has been dead for 73 years having died in WWII. Yet, I can't get his record?

I'm willing to pay the $15 fee. I'm even willing to go get the application request form notarized as New York City Department of Health requires but um, no. I was told that unfortunately I am not eligible to order that record.

Now I know I am not dealing with New York State but rather New York City. Just so you know, though, you can order a birth certificate from New York State "if [the birth certificate has been] on file for at least 75 years and the person whose name is on the birth certificate is known to be deceased." 

Again John's record has been on file for nearly 99 years and John has been dead for 73 years. His parents are long gone. John left no heirs. What could possibly be "wrong" with me having a copy of this record?

So, I wrote to my representative in Congress. 

I'm getting that damn record.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Is This Them in the 1920 Census?

When introducing newcomers to genealogical research I first stress the importance of family history interviewing. The first record type I direct them to, though, is the census.

Census taking is not unique to the United States by any means. If you are familiar with the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, Mary and Joseph were on the way to Nazareth to be counted in a census. A lot of countries have taken censuses for far longer that the United States.

The U.S. started creating census records in 1790 and we have taken it every ten years since; on the years ending in "0." The most recently released U.S. census is the 1940 census. These records are only released to the public when they are 72 years old. The aggregate data is released rather quickly. That is to say one can find out the statistics about the demographics of their towns, states, or the country as a whole not long after the census is complete but to look at the actual records you must wait 72 years.

That retention schedule, as it is called in archives land, is based on life expectancy. It is assumed that in 72 years most of the people recorded in that census will have passed away and if not they will certainly be living with different family groups. This schedule is set to protect individuals' identities and personal histories. That is not to say that I have not had many clients who can find themselves in the 1940 census; I have. Many people come to genealogy later in life. It is kind of exciting to see someone see themselves listed on a census.

It is however rare to find a family group that extend back through the censuses without some finagling of search terms. Sometimes you have to use variant spellings or remove the dates of birth from your search criteria. Something.

You should start looking for your relatives in the most recent census, the 1940, and move back one decade at a time to the 1930, then 1920, and so on. Keeping in mind that the 1890 census no longer exists as it was destroyed after the Commerce Department Building in Washington D.C. caught fire in January 1921 and that the 1850 census is the first to list every member of the household, there are really 9 censuses I'm always looking for. Census records before 1850 are there but not terribly easy to use.

That is my dream though; to find a family group evolve from 1940 to 1850 in each and every available census. In my experience that is a rarity. There is always at least 1 of those 9 censuses which proves to be challenging to find "the family" in. 

For example, I could not find my great grandparents in the 1930 for a really long time. That was because the penmanship of the original census taker made the name Earle look like Carle and so the indexer who ultimately put it online listed it as Carle. It took me years to find the record. It didn't happen  until I searched by a combination of the first names of the household member and left out the last name entirely.

But the dream, oh the dream, to collect them all brings great satisfaction when it happens. Today it happened for me, I think. 

I was looking more closely at census records for my great grandfather's sibling's family; Marion Fay-Leechin. Specifically I was looking for her eldest son, John Michael Fay. 

  • 1940: I saw Marion listed as Mary in the 1940 census at age 42 married to Thomas Leechin with 5 children including her son John Fay, age 20.
  • 1930: She is listed as Marion Lee, age 32, living with her mother Agnes Fay, 2 children and 2 boarders. One of those two children is John Fay, age 10.
  • 1920: I couldn't find her, or her mother, or John in 1920. More to come on this below.
  • 1910: Marion was listed as Mary, age 12, living with her parents, Michael and Agnes Fay, 4 siblings (including my great grandfather James Fay), and her mother's aunt.
  • 1900: Marion is just 2 living with her parents and 5 siblings. One of her siblings does not survive to the 1920 census.
  • 1880: Marion is not yet born and thus not recorded in the 1880 census. Her parents are not yet even married. Michael Fay is 26 years old, living with his widowed mother and several siblings in Manhattan. Her mother, then known as Agnes Joyce, is 15 living with her parents and siblings in Manhattan.
  • 1870: I find Michael Fay again living with his parents.
  • 1860: Again I see Michael Fay with his parents.
  • 1850: Michael Fay was not born until 1851 but in 1850 his parents are living together in some sort of boarding house or with friends or family in Saugerties, NY.
The dream. The Fay Family in every census. OH. Except that 1920 census. Where is Marion Fay? 

Was she married? Is that why I can't find her? Does she have a different last name? 

But what about her son who had his mother's maiden name later in his life - John Fay, did he have a different name at birth? He would have been about 7 months old at the time the 1920 census was taken. 

Maybe Marion is listed as Mary again? Am I looking for Mary Fay? Mary something else? She would have been about 22 years old. 

Marion/Mary may have been living with her widowed mother, Agnes Fay, who would have been about 54 years-old. Would she have had a different name too?

So I did a search specifically in the 1920 census for a John Fay born in 1919. And I finally came across this:

Could this be them? Agnes Fay listed as Fay, Tillie , age 54, widow; Marion listed as F. Manny, daughter, age 22, single; and John Fay, son, age 7/12 meaning 7 months old. If so, does it seem to you that Agnes was the head of a Shelter for Mothers with Children?

Is this them?

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Uncle Frank's First Family : Part 2

Back on January 2 I wrote a post about my Great Aunt Ann and her husband Frank. had suggested some records for Uncle Frank that indicated that he had been married before Ann. It made me curious enough that I ordered Frank and Ann's marriage records from the New York City Municipal Archives right away. The record arrived yesterday.

The three pages of documentation include an Affidavit for License to Marry, a form filled out by hand; a Marriage License, which is typed but identical in content to the previous document; and a Marriage Certificate for Anna Josephine Fay and Francis Thomas McGarry from June 1943.

The details included were pretty much as I expected; their names as I knew them to be, their dates of birth, and everything about Anna - her address in Elmhurst, place of birth, parents' names. The details include about Frank were new to me but not surprising. He was in the army, born in Pennsylvania but there it was - confirmation of his parents names. They were indeed who I thought they were; Thomas Joseph McGarry and Mary Agnes Carroll. 

The documentation states that Frank was never married before but the confirmation of his parents names affirms that the marriage record for Francis McGarry to Ruth Gifford in Dunmore, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania from 1931 is indeed my great uncle Frank as I thought.

That means those young boys for whom I found death records for are also all Frank's sons; Donald McGarry (1933-1933), Francis McGarry (1935-1935), John McGarry (1937-1937), and Baby Boy McGarry (1939-1939). When next I am in PA I plan to visit their graves at Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Dunmore.

What happened to his marriage to Ruth? Did they divorce? Did he just take off? Did Ann know he was married before?

I don't have any documentation to answer those questions but I suspect the loss of all those children was too much of a strain on Frank and Ruth to sustain their marriage. I bet they did divorce. If I had to guess I am sure my Aunt Ann knew all about Frank's previous marriage and it's demise. She didn't share it with me though.

While looking at the actual marriage certificate for Frank and Ann, I see the names of their witnesses. The maid-of-honor was Gladys McGarry; Frank's sister who I have found plenty of records for. The best man was John Michael Fay. 

Who is John Michael Fay? 

Ann only has sisters. Two of which lived to adulthood. Her older sister Margaret died as a child. Her other two sisters, Viola and my grandmother Marilyn were younger than Ann. 

Who is John Michael Fay?

...The saga continues...

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

This Removed Business

A client recently asked me to explain what "removed" means when speaking about family relationships. The best explanation I ever received was to replace "removed" with "a generation away." 

I think the charts provided by AncestryDNA when you have a match with someone who also has a common ancestor listed in their tree are a great way to see this "removed" business at work.

If you look at your DNA matches and you see a little leaf it means you and that match have someone in common listed in your tree resulting in a "shared ancestor hint."

Here is an example of someone and I having my forth great grandparents in common; Leonard L. Losee and Lydia Ann Smith-Losee.

Moving down the tree:

  • John M. Losee Sr. and Sarah Elizabeth Losee-Combs were siblings.
  • John M. Losee Jr. and Stella Combs were first cousins.
  • Ethel Mae Losee-Earle and the first male listed as Private on the right would have been second cousins.
  • My Grandpa Earle (the first male listed as Private on the left) would have been third cousins with the male directly across from him on the right.
  • My father and the male directly across from him would be 4th cousins.
  • If there were anyone across from my that person would be my 5th cousin.

This chart indicates my relationship to each person presented. See that (1x removed). That man is my father's 4th cousin; he is my 4th cousin once removed because I am one generation away from him. The man who was my grandfather's third cousin would be my third cousin too just twice removed or the two generations i am distant from him; my father being one generation away, my grandpa two generations away. 

So NO my father's cousin is not my second cousin. My father's first cousin is my first cousin...once removed.

My father's first cousins' children are my second cousins. Their kids are my second cousins once removed.

Got it?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

You Are Not Them

How many jackasses do you know? 

No, I am serious. 

I encounter nearly and endless stream of them on my way to work every day. Jackasses who cut me off on the highway; unfriendly baristas who serve me up cups of annoyance; rude, inconsiderate, just generally nasty, disgruntled human beings who I could just do without. 

I can also rattle off at least half a dozen people who hate my stinkin' guts for whatever ill-conceived notion they have of me.

And thus I am always stunned by people who have this sort of admiration for they ancestors who they known nothing about except perhaps dates of birth and death. They ought to do some math. 

You have 2 parents, right? 

Four grandparents...
Eight great grandparents...
Sixteen great-greats, and so on. 

By the time you get up to your 10th great grandparents there are 4,096 of them. Add all those generations up and by your 10th great grandparents there are 8,190 people directly responsible for your existence. 

Ya think one of them might have done something awful?

Recently I had a client who I lead back to a rather famous 10th great grandparent. While reading though that individual's biography the client exclaimed, "Ugh, we were involved in wars with the natives?! Ugh. I don't like that."

I quickly stated that NO, you weren't fighting native peoples, this guy was. Some of your ancestors were not good people because, well, they were people. They made bad decisions some of which hurt others. They did this because they were, um, human.

I believe it is very important for people to learn their history for this very reason. You are not them but yet, you kind of need to own their history to some degree; in the sense that you should learn from their errors.

I'll tell you, nothing was so disturbing to me as discovering slave owners in my own direct ancestry. At 16 I saw a will of my 7th great grandfather which contained the names of two people in there among the linens and furniture. I was deeply upset and disgusted really. No one really thinks of slavery here on Long Island certainly not in the household of a prominent religious figure of the time. There was something very humbling and almost humiliating about the experience. 

But ya know what? 
I don't own slaves but I do own that history. I make it my business to treat people of all races with respect and I do all I can to make others aware of the history of their ancestors and community. 

So for those of you who can trace their ancestry back 300 or 400 years or more and enjoy boasting about your forefather (and mothers), you might want to take a breath and examine those ancestors lives. Ask yourself why you are so eager to own those individuals who chartered their way to this continent but not the bank robbers, bigamists, and generally bad people you might find...because guess what, you aren't any of them. And yet, you are all of them. The sins of the father are not the sins of the son. Those sins are the lessons you get to learn without any of the guilt and none of the glory.