Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Call for Genealogy Assignments

I feel like I start every entry with this statement but...

It has been so long since I have posted anything here. 

And here we are in the middle of Family History Month. I've got to write something...

...So I will give you just a little update on what I have been up to.

Often when I am absent from posting it means I am knee deep in family research; if not my own then someone else's.

I really am enjoying working with patrons out at the Mastic-Moriches-Shirley Community Library. I now go out there twice per month to work one-on-one with individuals researching their family history. I am surprised to see such a wide variety of individuals at this pursuit. I had this assumption that most of my patrons would be little old ladies...and some of them are but many of them are much younger than retirement age or have just recently retired. More than a handful have been younger than me. Additionally, I have a lot more male clients than I thought I would. 

In any case, they keep me on my toes and provide me the opportunity to explore resources that my own family history would not have led me to. 

Did you know Pennsylvania's death records on Ancestry? As are Alabama's...and Texas! Yeah, none of that applying to the state's Department of Health or sending in any identification. It's right there.

Anyway, all of this is helping me to prepare for a course I will be teaching this summer. Yup. I am slated to teach an online summer session course on Genealogical Resources through St. John's University. 

Since receiving notice of the opportunity I have been giving a lot of thought to how best to teach this type of research. I know how I learned. I worked on my own family history but it took a lot longer than 4 weeks...a lot longer.

I know I will be expecting my students to research their own family history using an array of online resources. In good conscience I can't grade anyone on their family tree as every family is different and not every individual left enough, quality resources. Nonetheless, they will have to learn how to fill in a family tree form, as well as family group sheets.

I think I am also going to have them watch and critique some of the popular genealogy based television shows as well as discuss the impact Roots had on family history research in this country.

Local history and resources related to specific ethnic groups play an important role in genealogy research as well. So I'd like to incorporate some aspect of that into my syllabus as well. Remember though, we only have 4 weeks.

Ultimately, I think I am going to have each student write a well documented biography on an ancestor. Ideally, I'd love to see each write a 3 or 4 generation family history narrative like those published in periodicals such as The New England Historical and Genealogical Register...but then again...we only have 4 weeks.

So if you have any ideas about resources, readings, discussions, or short activities that you think might help someone to learn how to find and use genealogical resources, I'd like to hear your ideas.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Keeping the Faith: Multi-Religions

This coming weekend my 5 month old niece is going to be baptized in the Catholic church. Now I am Catholic but my sister is not. Our mother is Catholic but my sister's father wasn't. We have different fathers. My dad is Catholic, though. Now my brother-in-law, the baby's father, he is Catholic too. And although my parents are both Catholic, neither of my grandfathers were. My paternal Grandpa eventually converted to Catholicism but maternal Grandpa never did. But then again, his father was a Catholic...but his great grandfather wasn't. 

:) Are you following any of this?

My point is simply to never assume that just because you are baptized in one faith that your ancestors were of the same denomination. The likelihood is that they were NOT all of the same faith. I truly think that in the past a family's particular brand of Christianity depended on the denomination of the church they could walk to. I'm really not kidding.

Just keep in mind while you are researching your family's history that all their baptismal records may not be in the same church...or synagogue. 

My grandma's brother-in-law is a priest. Her grand nephew...a rabbi. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review: Meet the Hitlers

I finally got the opportunity to watch the 2014 documentary, Meet the Hitlers. The film  examines the relationship between name and identity without much commentary. 

The director, Matthew Ogens, introduces the viewer to a variety of real life characters including several individuals with the name 'Hitler.' There is a man named Romano-Lukas Hitler, a European of some ilk who believes himself to be a relative of the Nazi leader. There is also an elderly gentleman, Gene Hitler, an American with no known connection to the infamous Adolph Hitler. One subject is a teenage girl who has the surname Hittler who explains that her peers do not react to the name quite the same way as grown-ups do. There is also the white supremacists from New Jersey who several years ago made the news for naming their son Adolph Hitler. Another subject is a name born in Ecuador named Hitler Gutierrez. Then there are those subjects who do not bear the name Hitler themselves but explore the image, identity, and ancestry of the Adolph Hitler. Their stories allow you to draw your own conclusions about name and identity.

Writer, David Gardner, is in pursuit of last known descendants of Adolph Hitler's half-brother. Gardner wrote the 2001 book, The Last of the Hitlers: The story of Adolf Hitler's British nephew and the amazing pact to make sure his genes die out. That British half-brother's child moved to America and settled in a town on Long Island called Patchogue; the same town some of my relatives settled in. This may not be surprising but the Hitlers changed their surname. The author protects the family's anonymity. My Patchogue relatives also changed their name. They changed it from Desjardins to Gardner; no known relation to the author introduced here though.

It is fascinating to see how each subject reacts to and connects with the name Hitler and how having such an infamous name affects them. It documents a wide variety of human responses; there are those who find it humorous, those who shrug it off as a mere coincidence of no consequence and take great pride in their ancestry, some subjects have a horrific admiration for the Nazi leader, and then others have buried their genetic relationship to infamous Hitler.

Two things struck me. One was when the director asked Gene Hitler why it was important to him to keep his name. why didn't he change it. Gene gave it some thought and said his name was important to him because his parents gave it to him.

The other moving moment for me was the ending. David Gardner, unable to interview the Hitlers of Patchoque, decided to interview a Holocaust survivor residing in Patchogue. At one point the author asks the man how he would feel knowing that descendants of Adolph Hitler live near him. The kindly Jewish man shrugs a bit and says that he does not hold the author responsible for the acts of his ancestors; these Hitlers of Patchogue are not responsible for the horrors their ancestor committed.

That is kind of the message I try to put across in this blog. 

I am the great granddaughter of a schizophrenic, a great-great granddaughter of a man who committed a murder-suicide, one of my 5th great grandfathers was a Colonel at the Battle of Saratoga which was the turning point of the American Revolution, and I'm a descendant of Charlemagne (supposedly, I can't document it just yet but aren't we all descendants of Charlemagne? We each have something like 131,072 15th great-grandparents.). 

Although I believe you should take pride in your existence and owe some reverence to those who came before you, I also do not think the sins of the father are the sins of the son. If you ask me, which I acknowledge you did not, those who wear their surname like a badge of honor ought to do something on their own to be proud of. Those people who came before you, those whose DNA you carry within your own cells, they were just people. Good. Bad. Ugly. And Beautiful. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Home on the Road and Great Grandpa Albert's WWI Draft Registration

Every June I take a road trip. Well, if you aren't home for your birthday it doesn't count. This is how I get to stay perpetually 28. :)

This summer Cousin Peter and Godmother Joanne and I traipsed from Salt Lake City, Utah to Kansas City. Missouri and then turned south towards Austin, Texas, Our stop in Kansas City required a visit to the Kansas City Public Library where they were having an exhibit of the first Shakespeare folio; basically a very old rare book contained in a glass case opened to one page of the play Hamlet. Well.....


We were there for me to look through city directories but its nice they had something out for Cousin Peter and Godmother Joanne to look at.

Despite my long seeded New York roots, I apparently had a few relatives on my mother's side who resided in Kansas City in the early 1900s. One of which was my great grandfather, Albert Gardner.

Great Grandpa Albert is intriguing to me. Born on September 21, 1891 in Queens, New York he was christened Almond Desjardins. His very French name is pronounced AL-mon-d Day-shar-dan but everyone says it like the nut, Almond and pronounces the last name Des-Jar-Dins. I'm sure he Anglicized the name not because of the course American pronunciation though but rather for employment opportunities. Desjardins means from the garden and Gardner is a very historic family name on Long Island where his family settled after coming from Montreal. The choice of Gardner for a surname makes sense.

Several years ago I came cross his World War I draft registration card. Curiously, though, he was living in Kansas City. That surprised me. Even though "Albert Gardner" is a rather common name, I am sure it is his draft registration card. The birthday matches other records I have, He was born in New York. I was told by his son that he was a painter. In 1917 when this registration was created his mother would have been a widow and it is likely he was helping to financially support her. He wasn't married yet.

But what is that bit there about having already served in the Cavalry for 3 years? And why is it stamped "Delinquent or Deserter"?

Has anyone else seen that on a draft registration card?

And what do you think it says between "Private" and "Cavalry"?

That aside, while in KC, MO, I did try to find Great Grandpa Albert's residence. Sad to say that 619 Troost Ave. no longer exists. Troost is still a street but 619 is now where the U.S. Interstate 70 and I-35 come together. In some sense that feels right. His home is now on the road and personally, I feel quite at home on that road.

Monday, June 6, 2016

REALLY Related to Aunt Jeannette

It is with heavy heart and teary eyes that I share with you the news that my great aunt, Jeannette, passed away on Friday, June 3, 2016 at the age of 83.

My Aunt Jeannette is the reason I got started in genealogy research. Not that she was into family history, she really wasn't. It was her connection to me piqued my interest. Aunt Jeannette was both my great aunt AND my second cousin twice removed.

Oh you know when that removed word get thrown out there that things are complicated. Stay with me...

When I was about 16 I went to a family reunion for my paternal grandfather's mother's side of the family; the Losee Family. My father's side has always been very close. I know most of my father's first cousins (who would be my first cousins once removed because we are one generation apart thus, once removed. Follow?). My father grew up across the street from his mother's sister and her 8 children. He attended grade school with them as well as with other cousins from his mother's side; the Cramers. The Henry sisters, Clare Henry-Earle (my grandma), Great Aunt Jean Henry-Drew, and Aunt Ann Henry-Cramer, were tight.

But if you asked my Grandpa Earle about his family, he would've told you he didn't have any. None. His parents were both dead and his older brother, Allen, died of a heart attack at age 40 and left no children. We were it. His wife, five kids, and 10 grandchildren were Poppy Earle's whole family.

So here we are at the Losee Family Reunion and in walks Grandma Earle's brother Uncle Richie and his wife, Aunt Jeannette. I didn't think it odd at first to see grandma's side of the family at grandpa's family reunion. Earles are pretty infamous for extending the family to friends and distant relations. Every census record I find for this branch of the family has someone else living with them; a cousin, a friend, an in-law, a boarder, what have you.

So in walk Uncle Richie and Aunt Jeannette. At some point I utter something to my grandmother like, "It's nice that your side of the family made it to this."

"Oh no," grandma said. "Aunt Jeannette is grandpa's cousin."

"WHAT!!?!?! I thought she is married to your brother. And hey, grandpa doesn't have any family!" Yet, here we are with close to 100 people gathered around from Poppy's side and yet, he has no family? Confusion and the recognition of misinformation starts to set in. "WAIT, Poppy sure as heck has family. Who are these people? And how is Aunt Jeannette his cousin?"

Grandma tried her best to explain. "Jeannette is his second cousin." At this point I had no idea what the hell a second cousin was. I just had cousins, period.

After a few minutes of coming to terms with the fact that I didn't know what the heck was going on around me, I made the assumption that Grandpa must have introduced his brother-in-law, Richie, to Jeannette.

"Oh no," grandma said, "They didn't figure out that they were related until after Richie and Jeanette were engaged." This was getting more and more confusing by the minute. Grandpa didn't know Jeannette was his cousin. It was then that I had then decided I needed to figure out for myself how Aunt Jeannette was related to my grandpa.

I also learned at this reunion that the Losee Family had long standing roots in Freeport, NY, and so this gathering was followed by a trip to the Freeport Memorial Library with grandma. This was a time before the Internet existed and so the library was the only "go-to." 

Freeport Memorial Library is a public library that was built as a memorial to the 13 men from Freeport, Long Island, NY who died in the Civil War. The original library building is still part of the current, greatly expanded FML. The Memorial Room, as the original library has come to be known is a small yet impressive room covered in plaques commemorating the individuals who have served the community through military and public service. 

Standing beneath one particular plaque, my tiny little grandma pointed upward saying, "Would you look at that!" Among those 13 Civil War soldiers names was a Benjamin F. Losee. And from that point on it has all been one long mission to unpuzzle my family's history. 

Thanks, Aunt Jeannette. 
Although, I did not get to see her much, I already miss her.

By the way, I did ultimately figure out how Jeannette and my grandpa were related. And they were actually double second cousins. :) They had more than one set of great-grandparents in common. Two Losee brothers married two Smith sisters. Grandpa was the grandson of John Losee and Flora Smith-Losee. Jeannette was the granddaughter of Oliver Combs Losee and Melinda Smith-Losee. Their great grandparents were [John Losee (Sr.) and Susan Amelia Combs-Losee] AND [Gersham Smith and Sarah Garvey-Smith].

Plus, she married my grandma's brother.

We were REALLY related, Aunt Jeannette, REALLY related.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mental Illness in the Census

Laying around in the air conditioning on this hot and sticky Memorial Day weekend, I began to participate in my favorite sport; channel surfing. I landed on a show called Ghost Asylum. It is one of the many television reality shows in which teams of people investigate paranormal activity. I don't know if I believe flashing lights and beeping tones on electromagnetic meters mean there really is a presence of a human spirit, genealogy research stirs up the dead in a different way then ghost hunting does, but what drew me to the show was their investigation of the Peoria State Hospital. 

It took me a minute to remember where I had come across this hospital in my research. Yes, I came across this particular hospital while conducting some genealogy research during this past year of my graduate studies. My capstone project was on a scrapbook created by a man named Claude Villette Boller. In my effort to determine how my library might have acquired his scrapbook I created a family tree on for Mr. Boller. I hoped it would help me to connect with some descendant of Mr. Boller or descendants of his siblings who might be able to provide some provenance for the scrapbook. Provenance is a fancy academic term for the origin or earliest known history of ownership on an object. 

Most family history researchers are interested in extending their own trees back as far as they can but when you are chasing family lore you really should spread out and trace more than just your direct line. You should trace the lines of siblings. Think about it. If you have siblings you know some of them may be interested in family history and heirlooms but some of them aren't. When family stories are passed down, some siblings retain them better than others. Right? 

So I went looking for records about Mr. Boller's siblings. He was the youngest of 10. Some of his siblings died young but most of them lived out their lives in locations far from their hometown of Lexington, IL. Mr. Boller wound up in Freeport, Long Island, NY. His brother Jacob lived in California. There was even a niece who died in El Salvador. There was one sister though who showed up in the 1910 U.S. Census listed as a patient at Peoria State Hospital. 

I didn't think much of it really but in a recent reference interview with a client at my part-time gig as a genealogy librarian, the patron mentioned that she had a great aunt who lived in a "mental hospital." The patron then said, "so there won't be any record of her in the census." "Oh no," I said, "Everyone is recorded in the census." 

Well, in theory, EVERYONE, is recorded in the census. I have some ancestors I can't find in census records. I'm sure there are people who were on vacation when the census taker came. There were others who probably just didn't answer the door but if they were a patient in a hospital, an orphan in a state home, or prisoner in the clink you can be sure they were recorded in the census. 

So there she was Elizabeth Boller, age 61, living in the Peoria State Hospital in 1910. Moving back in time, in 1900 she was living in The Illinois Central Hospital for the "blank." Blank? Yes. The name of the hospital is cut off. If you do not scroll to the next page of the record you wouldn't know the full name of the location is The Illinois Central Hospital for the Insane. In the 1880 census, at the age of 30, Elizabeth was living with her parents in Lexington, IL. If one reads that very faded census record carefully, though, in a far left columns there is a mark in Elizabeth's row; an aggressively stroked "1" under the heading "insane." 

Life inside Peoria State Hospital did not seem pretty according to this television show and despite the lovely architecture and gatherings of employees I can find in photos online. It opened in 1902 it closed in 1973. I don't know when Elizabeth Boller arrived there or if she lived out the remainder of days in that particular institution; medical records are often restricted and off-limits to genealogists. What I do know, though, is that thousands of patients went in and out of their doors and more than a few died there. In 1903 a patient was beaten to death by two attendants. Those two employees were charged with murder but never tried. 

Nowadays we fight to remove the stigma of mental illness but back then many of the mentally ill were locked away, abused, neglected, and forgotten. Elizabeth, though, is not buried in the infamous Peoria State Hospital cemetery known for its full-bodied apparitions. When Elizabeth died in 1919, she was brought home and buried in the Boller family grave. Now really, I don't know what her life was like, but I pray that her burial location is an indication that she was close to her family and that they cared for her as best they could.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Learning of Lost Children

U.S. Census records present a wide variety of data. The first U.S. Federal Census, conducted in 1790, just listed the heads of household with other household members categorized by sex and age group. That was how census data was recorded until the 1850 census when they started to list each household member by name. It wasn't until the 1880 census takers were instructed to identify the relationship of each person to the head of household. The 1870 census is very important if you're researching African American ancestors because prior to 1870 slaves were not reported by name, only by age and sex under their owner's name on separate records called slave schedules. The 1890 census, as most genealogy researches are sadly aware, was destroyed by a fire with only 1% of its records surviving. The 1900 census is the only census to report the month and year of birth for each person, as well as the first census to report a person's the year of immigration. Come 1920 the census also records the year in which a person was naturalized. As time goes on each census collected more and more data. 

In the 1900 census women were asked how many children they had given birth to and how many were living. In an effort to learn about the rate of infant mortality, this information can also help you discover children in your family history who died between the censuses.

In the case of Annette Henry-Hinch, my great-great grandmother, the 1900 census indicates that she had 3 children, 2 of which were alive at the time; Charles and Jane. Both Charles and Jane lived into adulthood, married, and had children of their own. One child had died though.

In the 1910 census this type of information is recorded again. This time Annette states she has had given birth 5 times and 3 of her children were living. That third child I know to be Victor Henry, named after his father. He too lived to be an adult. So, here I learned one more child had died.

So now I was curious if I could find at least the names of those children she lost, if not also the causes of their deaths and places of burial.

I went straight to and specifically searched their database for New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949 because their index shows the most data. Instead of just the name of deceased and the date of the death, this FamilySearch index often provides the names of the deceased person's parents, estimated date of birth, location of death, occupation, and place of burial.

I put in the last name Henry, and then in the section on parents I listed the father's name as Victor and the mother as Anna, the variation on Annette's name that she most commonly went by. Keeping in mind that Annette's husband, Victor, died in 1908 and she never remarried, I also included the date ranges of when those lost children could have been born, 1880 - 1909,

This search pulled up not just the two dead children that Anna had accounted for in the 1900 & 1910 census records but three. 
  1. Mary Henry, who was born in 1898, between Charles and Jane, and died on 6 April 1899 in Brooklyn, before Jane Henry was born in November of that same year. The index indicates that Mary is interred in St. Monica's Cemetery in Queens where I know other members of the Hinch family are buried.
  2. James Henry, was born in 1904, after Victor Jr. was born, and died on 16 July 1905. The index on does not indicate the cemetery he was buried in but I assume St. Monica's because the next child in the database is also buried there.
  3. A son, no given name, was born in 1906 and died on 10 February 1906. 
I then wanted to cross reference those death records with the "New York City Municipal Births, 1846-1909" which is also available through There I found records for 5 or Annette's 6 children.
  1. Annie Henry, who must have been Mary Henry listed above, born 8 December 1897. 
  2. Annie Henry, who is actually Jane Henry who lived to adulthood and whose birthday was 14 November 1899.
  3. Victor Henry was born 10 July 1902.
  4. James Henry, listed above, was born 24 June 1904.
  5. Robert Henry, listed above as an unnamed son, was born on 7 February 1906. 
So now I have a complete list of the children of Victor and Annette Henry:
  1. Charles Henry (26 March 1896 - 14 June 1949), my great-grandfather.
  2. Mary / Annie #1 Henry (8 December 1897 - 6 April 1899)
  3. Jane / Annie #2 Henry (14 November 1899 - 19 May 1982) 
  4. Victor Henry (10 July 1902 - 15 September 1940)
  5. James Henry (24 June 1904 - 16 July 1905)
  6. Robert Henry (7 February 1906 - 10 February 1906)
To learn the causes of death for Mary (Annie #1), James, and Robert, I would need to see their death certificates. Causes of death are not visible on the FamilySearch index. I will either have to order their death records from the NY City Municipal Archives ( or make a trip there some day soon. 

Til then, rest in peace, little ones.