Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Memorable Christmas

Caron's First Christmas
Carol and Aaron with Taffy (the dog) and Caron

Our family has always had strong Christmas traditions.  Family is always the focal point.  Every Christmas morning from the year I was born and lasting 40 years, my parents hosted a casual Christmas breakfast for family and friends.  People would drop by on their way to and from other places.  We served a continental breakfast:  breakfast breads, grapefruit, juices, coffee, egg casseroles in later years, and lots of Christmas cookies.

My mother had a guideline for Christmas gifts for her children she used over the years and I adopted:  something to read, something to play with and something to wear. 

I do not know if my sisters will remember but in 1965 we were living in Wheaton Illinois at the end of a dead end road in an unincorporated area – a rural feeling atmosphere.  Dad was working hard to make his new business a success, traveling a lot, and Mom told us (or maybe just me) that there was not a lot of money for Christmas this year and not to expect too much.

I did not think too much about it until Christmas morning.  Donna and I had a few gifts under the tree.  We each got a book and a new sweater/skirt outfit.  I do not remember what Amy received, but she was still very young and probably had an outfit and a book as well.  After we opened the gifts under the tree and from our Christmas stockings, Dad told us to go get the stuff for breakfast from the garage refrigerator.   He insisted that both of us go do this chore together.  Imagine our surprise when we opened the door to the attached garage and saw shiny new bicycles with our names on them sitting there!  We were very excited as the bikes would give us more freedom to get around and to get to school.  While it may not have been my best Christmas ever, it certainly is one of my most memorable!

New Bikes!  Amy, Donna and Caron

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Birthday to Lissi!

Lissi Diehl celebrates her 
100th birthday on 27 December 2013! 

She was born Elizabeth Diehl on 27 Dec 1913 in Marburg, Hessen, Germany to Jacob and Lina (Schraub) Diehl.  She had two younger sisters, Margarete and Hildegard.  During the Diehl Family Gathering in Butzbach, Germany in 2007 she met many cousins from other countries, including Finalnd, Sweden and the USA.  She still lives in her home in Butzbach under the care of her nephew Alfred Häuser.

Hilde and Lissi in 2007

Friday, September 13, 2013

What is in a Name?

Those middle or first names of family members that appear out of the blue could be from relatives you do not yet know about, famous people, locations, or someone's maiden name.

And it is always possible your ancestor simply pulled the name out of thin air.

Used with permission © Michael John Neill, “Genealogy Tip of the Day,” http://genealogytipoftheday.blogspot.com, 7 Aug 2013.

The 3 Merles

                      When I read this tip it resonated with me!  I share a middle name with my mother, who was named for her maternal aunt and godmother.  All three of us have October birthdays.   My children have their own unique first names, but their middle names are after family members.  My sister used the same naming convention with her children – unique first name, family middle name.
                In doing family history research, it is apparent that there were naming conventions in many of my “branches.”  One direct line has 5 generations of Henrys, along with a plethora of Samuels, Benjamins and Williams!   We also have three women in three generations named Merle in our family tree.  Merle Davies was my great-grandmother Mamie’s younger sister.  (Mamie’s full name was Mary Elizabeth Davies Kell.)  Mamie named her daughter Merle Elizabeth.  Merle Elizabeth then named her daughter Merle Jean.  The middle name Jean came from her younger sister, Sarah Jean.
                Recently my mother revealed how her daughters got their names in her Living Story.  It seems in high school my parents discovered that the middle letters of their first names were the same. When Mom found out she was pregnant, they assumed the baby would be a boy and he would be Aaron.  Surprise!  I turned out to be a girl, so they stayed with the middle letters and named me Caron. (The nurse in labor and delivery warned her that I would hate her for the unusual spelling, but I like it!)  During my mother’s second pregnancy, they once again anticipated a boy, who would be called Donald, after my father’s cousin.  Turns out it was a girl, my sister Donna, still named for her godfather Uncle Don!   When my mother was pregnant a third time, the baby was referred to as Amos by all of us.  When the baby was a girl, she was called Amy with her middle name for her godmother.
                My paternal grandmother gave her first born son family names as middle names.  My father was the second son.  She named him Aaron Leon.  Those names appear NOWHERE in our family tree.   She is no longer available to ask the origin of that name so I can only speculate.  She was a church-going lady and so perhaps Aaron was a Biblical reference.  No idea where Leon came from.  Asked my mom, she doesn't know either.  Another family mystery!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Carol’s Living Story

                 I won a raffle prize at the DuPage County Genealogical Society’s Annual Conference in St. Charles, Illinois on February 23, 2013. My prize was a Living Story for the subject of my choosing by Janette Quinn of LivingStories.us.  In May 2013 I asked her to work with my mother Carol (Koepke) Primas and write her story.
                Janette met with Mom twice to interview and digitally record her memories in her Lombard home.  I provided many family pictures and documents to help stimulate Mom’s memory (she is 82 and still pretty sharp!) for the interviews.  Janette used the family history and photos and also conducted independent research about the places, people, activities and circumstances of Mom’s life. She also encouraged Mom’s own writing about memories and messages she considers to be most important. Finally, Janette melded it all into a book almost 50 pages long.   
                My sisters and I were anxious to hear what Mom had to say.  While I provided old family pictures, my sisters sent her questions they wanted answered and other suggestions.  Even though Dad is no longer with us, there was a lot of his information in the book as well.  Mom and Dad had been married over 50 years when he died and they had a lot of history together.
                We received the final copy a few weeks ago.  It is wonderful!  Mom has read it several times and we have shared it with other family members.   Mom’s brother Dick passed away in 2002.  His children were grateful to hear about his childhood through Mom’s story.  

Dick and Carol c. 1935

                From my perspective, it was a great family bonding experience.  I think Mom may have been a bit more open with an “objective third party” listening and taking notes than she would have been with a daughter.  It stimulated discussions about other family members which never made it into the book.  The younger generations learned about things they might not have otherwise known – like as kids, Mom and Dick jumping on the bed and breaking it.  The Living Story is a great legacy.  We had copies made for all the daughters and there are enough copies each grandchild will have one of their own as well.
                After reading the story, we are already planning additional “chapters”.  It was also noted that while Mom talked about daughters and grandchildren, no mention was made of son-in-laws!  We also decided we would like more pictures – but then we are a picture-oriented family.
                We as a family agree this would be a wonderful experience for all families!  Thank you to ISGS and Janette for this great gift!           

                LivingStories.us is a member of the Association of Personal Historians and the Association of Senior Service Providers. Its principal, Janette Quinn, lost both of her parents at ages 55 and 60 to cancer on September 17, 1973 when she was 18. Her personal and corporate mission is to preserve families’ most valuable assets, the stories of elders in their own words, before it’s too late. She holds a B.S. in journalism from Northern Illinois University and an M.S. in management consulting from DePaul University.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Can I Say I Told You So?

All Europeans are related if you go back just 1,000 years, scientists say.  

“A genetic survey concludes that all Europeans living today are related to the same set of ancestors who lived 1,000 years ago. And you wouldn't have to go back much further to find that everyone in the world is related to each other.

“Family researchers have long known that if you go back far enough, everyone with a European connection ends up being related to Charlemagne
The concept was laid out scientifically more than a decade ago. Now Coop and University of Southern California geneticist Peter Ralph have come up with the evidence. Their findings were published on Tuesday in the open-access journal on: none;">PLOS Biology.”

You can read the full study,  "The Geography of Recent Genetic Ancestry Across Europe," and a less technical synopsis of the research on the PLOS Biology website.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

For the Love of Spreadsheets

                Yesterday I attended DuPage County Genealogical Society’s 38th Annual Conference:  Discovering Early American Roots.  My first session was Jeanne Larzalere Bloom’s presentation Spreadsheets 101: EXCEL, the Genealogist Underutilized Tool on using Excel Spreadsheets.  I have always been a spreadsheet aficionado, so I thought I might pick up some pointers.  She had some good examples of how she documented her research using customized spreadsheets.
                In her syllabus Jeanne cited Gary Minder’s www.censustools.com.  So of course, I had to go check it out.  This website has also been written up in Dick Eastman’s newsletter.  In the responses to Dick’s article on Gary’s spreadsheets, there was one from Dae Powell of Shoestring Genealogy.  He suggested a key spreadsheet was missing on censustools.com – one to track city directory finds.  Since I have one of my own for that, I wanted to see what Dae came up with.  I was pleasantly surprised to see 22 forms offered for download on shoestringgenealogy.com as well as a wealth of other material he has compiled!

                I reviewed Gary’s spreadsheets, which include more than just census sheets by the way.  I liked them enough I bought the package of 40 spreadsheets.  I may not use them all, but it was a fair price for the work Gary has put into the spreadsheets.  Why did I buy these instead of downloading the ones at Shoestring Genealogy?  I liked the idea of having spreadsheets I could actually enter data into on my computer – Shoestring is a download of a PDF file.  You will need a pencil or pen to use those.  Then how do I get them back into my computer or manipulate the discrete data elements?
                Everyone has their own way of managing their genealogy data.  One of these sites may have something that will help you!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Circuit Court of Cook County Archives on-line

            I recently visited the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County Archives on-line at http://www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org/NR/about.aspx.  I found it by chance via a Google search.   
            I found a few people I was looking for in the database search, downloaded the form, completed it and mailed it, per instructions on the web site, with my check.  I was totally surprised to receive it back with the documents in about a week!   I received a copy of the original Declaration of Intent which was loaded with details I did not have before:  the ship of arrival, the ports of departure and arrival, place of birth and physical description with “visible distinctive marks” (in this case a birthmark on the left cheek).

What I received in the mail

Here is the detail from the web site:
The Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County Archives is home to more than 500,000 naturalization petitions covering the years 1871 to 1929. More than 400,000 of these records are Declarations of Intention, 1906-1929 which were usually the first papers to be filed by those who wished to become U.S. citizens.
Because the Declaration may be the only public record of an individual immigrant, it is a significant source of documentation for genealogists and scholars.
Also, taken as a whole, the Declarations of Intention document the social changes of the immigrant experience during this era and so can be of interest to scholars and researchers from many disciplines.
This database of Declarations of Intention was created thanks to a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a division of the National Archives.

Where do I find records filed before 1906 and after 1929?
For records filed before 1906 in Cook County refer to the following Clerk of the Circuit Court Archive web page:
After 1929, the local Cook County courts stopped granting naturalizations, and the task was given entirely to the Federal Courts. To find local naturalizations after 1929, please contact a local branch of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Chicago is served by NARA Great Lakes Region. You can find them here:  http://www.archives.gov/great-lakes/.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Holocaust archive rescues lost identities, reunites family after decades

Nearly 70 years after the end of the Second World War, a Holocaust archive in Germany is helping victims and survivors of Nazi atrocities to find clues about the past -- and is still reuniting families. NBC News' Andy Eckardt reports from Bad Arolsen, Germany.
   Read the entire article here

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cemetery Adventures and Lessons Learned

This genealogy tip of the day from Michael John Neill resonated with me when I read it because of my own experience. 

Are there "empty" spaces in your family's lot of graves in the cemetery? Is it possible that there are unmarked burials. The cemetery may (or may not) have records of burials even if no stone was erected after the funeral.

Used with permission:  © Michael John Neill, “Genealogy Tip of the Day,” http://genealogytipoftheday.blogspot.com, Posted: 07 Jan 2013 06:15 AM PST

A few years ago I was trying to locate the graves of my Primas Great-Uncles.  I knew that two of them were at “the windmill cemetery”, officially known as Mount Emblem Cemetery in Elmhurst, Illinois.  I went to the main office and asked for the location of all persons with Primas as their surname located in the cemetery.  I received the list I expected, with one surprise:  Emma Primas, my great-grandmother.

Emma Stroschein Primas
I knew my great-grandfather Paul Primas (Emma’s husband) died at the age of 46 years in 1906 and was buried in Concordia Cemetery, Forest Park, Illinois.  When I visited the grave site there was space but no stone for Emma.  I assumed that she was there with no marker.  


There was a child of Paul and Emma’s named Franz that died at the age of 2 years, 6 months of croup and diphtheria.  He was also buried in Concordia Cemetery.  When I inquired about the location I was told that he had been buried in a special section for children.  That area had no permanent plots, it was in effect leased.  There was no marker to be seen. 

Emma died at the age of 63 years in 1928, having lived 22 years longer than Paul.  She was left a widow with five children to raise, so it seemed that perhaps a lack of money might have been the reason for no marker.  Maybe the family planned to get a marker when they had more funds.
So what was Emma doing in Mount Emblem?  I went to find her grave site.  There was only a cement disk with the number of the plot.  No headstone.  Next to her space were headstones for Ernest and Evelyn Stroschein.  Ernest, called Ernie by the family, was Emma’s nephew, her brother’s son.  Across the road were Emma’s sons Frederick and Otto, her daughter Amelia (called Millie) and Otto’s wife Marie.  Fred and Millie have no markers.  In a different section of the cemetery are plots for her other sons: Oscar (my grandfather) is on one side of the road, and on the other side of the road are plots for Frank Primas and his wife, both unmarked.
When I asked why there were no markers on the plots for Frank and his wife, his son told me “they aren’t there”.  They are buried in Missouri where they had retired years ago.
I am still left with more questions:  why is Emma in a different cemetery than her husband?  Did the children not know or forget about the Concordia plot?  Why is she buried next to her nephew and not her sons?  Why is Paul's grave marker so large?  Why does Emma has no grave marker?
Some lessons learned from this adventure: 
     1.       Always ask at the cemetery office for the people you are looking for
     2.       Don’t assume everyone has a marker
     3.       Don’t assume that because someone bought the plot that they are in it

Your Cousin Caron

Friday, January 18, 2013

Researching a Civil War Soldier

I have mentioned my 95-years-young cousin Gus before.  He had all the pages of his mother’s scrapbook scanned and copies sent to me.  What a gift!  Among the newspaper clippings was an obituary “Death of Mrs. Samuel Herbert”.  Mrs. Samuel Herbert was born Jane Lewis.  The notice mentions that she was predeceased by her brother, John Lewis, who died in Andersonville Prison.  This was news to me – I had never heard this before.

I checked www.Ancestry.com  for John Lewis and found 2 possible suspects in the Andersonville Prisoner of War database but no exact match.  There were also a number of John Lewis’ named in the US Army, Register of Enlistments database but again no exact match.  So I wondered did he really die at Andersonville or was he just a prisoner there?  I was suspicious of a newspaper account 30 years after the fact.
I went to www.Fold3.com and checked the NARA database of Civil War Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900.  There were two men listed as John Lewis that requested pensions on their own behalf as invalids:  John Lewis, Private, Illinois, Infantry, Regiment 90, Company D and John Lewis, Corporal, Illinois Infantry, Regiment 111, Company H.  Another request was from the mother of John Lewis, Private, Illinois Infantry, Regiment 39, Company K who died at Andersonville Prison on September 23, 1864.  This last one looked promising, but was it really MY John Lewis?
I went to check www.cyberdriveillinois.com   for Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls.  In the Illinois regiments listing I found over 25 men named John Lewis on the muster rolls, including the three from the pension database.   I was able to see (and save) the Illinois Civil War Detail report on my three suspects.  This detail report includes Name, Rank, Residence, Age, Height, Hair  and Eye color, Complexion, Marital status,  Occupation, Location of birth; when and where they joined; where and when they mustered in and out of service; and remarks including notes about discharge and where they were taken prisoner.    I was able to verify that the John Lewis who died in Andersonville Sep 23, 1864 was my 3rd great-grand-uncle.  His remarks showed that he was “taken prisoner May 16, 1864 at Drury’s Bluff, Virginia”.  He is the first documented Civil War soldier in my family tree!

Your Cousin Caron

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Looking for Brennans in Chicago

I was recently given this picture and was told that these women are my husband’s great-grandmother and grand-aunt.  Possible names are Annie and Mary Brennan.  Do you know who they are?

Possibly Stephen Brennan's mother and sister

According to family legend, my husband’s grandfather Brennan married out of the faith and was disowned by his birth family.  He then was divorced from his wife (at a time that it was considered “scandalous”) and had minimal contact with his children afterwards.

Stephen Brennan c. 1918

We were told that Stephen Francis Brennan was born in Chicago December 26, 1873; however, there is no documentation to be found to verify this.  Several inquiries to the Cook County Clerk have resulted in messages that no birth record is found and that it possibly was “burned in a fire”.  His marriage certificate shows his age as 32 which would make is birth year 1878.  His first appearance in the records is in Chicago in the 1910 US Census, as a boarder in the home of Berjetta Marcusen, his future mother-in-law.

Stephen’s World War I Draft Card shows his birth information as December 26, 1873 in the USA. That document shows he is a motorman for the Chicago Surface Lines, is married to Anna Elizabeth Brennan and living at 4242 Wilcox St in Chicago.   He had three children with Anna:  Clarence born in 1912 who died shortly after birth, Charles Joseph born in 1914 and Marion Elizabeth born in 1917.  Stephen is still with the family in the 1930 US Census.  He is not found in the 1940 US Census in Moosehaven where he was living at the time.  He is listed in the Florida State Census of 1945 as age 73, retired with a 7th grade education.  Stephen Brennan died August 17, 1951 at the Moosehaven Home in Orange Park, Clay County, Florida where he had been living for 19 years.

Stephen Brennan in 1930s

Stephen’s daughter Marion tells me that Stephen’s parents were immigrants from Ireland, possibly Michael and Annie Brennan.  He had at least one sister, Mary, who never married.  She worked in a convent on the "north side" of Chicago but was not a nun.  There were also supposed to be some relations in West Chicago but I have no detail on that.  With such a large immigrant Irish population in Chicago at the turn of the century, I am sure you can appreciate how difficult it might be to find the "right" Michael Brennan with wife Annie and daughter Mary in Chicago! 

If you recognize anyone in this blog post, please contact me!

Your Cousin Caron

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Making Technology Work for Me

I have always embraced technology because I am a busy person and am always looking for an easier, faster way to do things.  Some people call me a “geek” because I work with information systems, although I work on the “people side” of the business.  I always say I know just enough to be dangerous regarding hardware, networking and gadgets.  I do not want gadgets for the sake of having them.  I only want things that are going to actually help me accomplish what I need or want to do, which is to connect with more of my ever-growing family.  Not just to put names in a chart or my software, but to really connect with them as people.
A while back I went to visit my 91-years-young cousin (first cousin, twice removed) Gus.  This visit was made possible by technology.  I found him because several years ago I posted my family tree on the Internet at Ancestry.com and Rootsweb.  A different cousin, Howard, contacted me via email about our family connection a few years after my posting.  He lives in Atlanta.  Our common g-grandparents are from Pontiac, Illinois.  Until he saw my posting, we did not know of each other’s existence.  We have pooled our records and he now has a posting on Ancestry.com to which we both contribute.  A different cousin, Pam, saw this posting and contacted Howard.  It turns out that she is Gus’ daughter and they live in the Chicago suburbs near me.  
I called and made arrangements to visit with Gus and Pam.  I used a cell phone to call and tell her I was running late and the GPS navigation system in my car to find the house.  I took my 3-inch ring binder for the easy viewing of all the paper documents I have collected over the years and a spiral notebook for notes.  I dragged along my laptop computer with The Master Genealogist (TMG) software installed.   I also packed a USB external hard drive loaded with all the pictures and documents I have scanned as well as images collected from various web sites (i.e. census documents, draft registration forms).   I also brought a small portable flatbed scanner that I purchased on another genealogy trip that fits in my laptop travel case and that hooks up to the laptop through the USB port.  The scanner works with legal size items and smaller.    I have also learned never to leave home without my digital camera!
When I arrived at the house, I set up my equipment on the dining room table.  It did not take much space, just a little more than a place setting.  I was able to pull up pictures of our mutual relatives on a screen that was easier to see than the original photos.  Gus was able to identify some people I did not know in the pictures.  Gus shared his pictures with me and I was able to scan them into my computer without them ever leaving his possession. Gus did not have an internet connection, but if he had, I would have shown him the family web site Howard set up.  I was able to show Gus how we were related with a relationship graph from TMG.  We were also able to immediately change his record in TMG when he told me I had his middle name wrong!  After I showed him the cemetery listing for his grandparents in Wisconsin that I found on the internet and their family group sheet, he told me, “you know more about my family than I do!” We had a great visit with a promise to have more.
On my genealogy tools wish list is a digital voice recorder.  I want to be able to record the stories and not have to take notes to decipher later.  I will transfer these files to the computer and perhaps use transcription software to “write it up”.  I am also considering a portable printer.  It would have been nice to print out the information on Gus’ family that he did not have.  I have considered an Ancestry.com app for my phone for research trips, but I am not yet convinced that it will be better than my laptop.  I am also entertaining the suggestion Tony Burroughs made at a workshop I attended.  He suggested getting a cell phone that has GPS tagging capability built in.  Then I can take a picture of a gravestone with my phone and tag it so I know exactly where I found it without an additional piece of equipment.
My portable genealogy “office” fits into a rolling briefcase that fits in the overhead bin or under the seat in an airplane or a small space in the car.  I can take all my files and not find out that I needed a different file which was still at home.  Even five years ago, this would have seemed like a fantasy. Isn’t technology wonderful when we make it work for us!

Your Cousin Caron

Where Did I Put Great-Grandpa? Organizing for Genealogists

     I had a great time presenting Where Did I Put Great-Grandpa?  Organizing for Genealogists at the SchaumburgTownship District Library this past Tuesday!  My presentation focused on organizing your genealogy information so that you can find what you want when you want it.  Tony Kierna, the Genealogy Coordinator at STDL, videotaped the presentation and will have it available through the library.  Check his blog for details!

Your Cousin Caron