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,”, 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  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 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   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 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 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 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