Artistic Spirits – Now and Then Thursday, Oct 19 2017 

I often wonder about why I’m drawn to artistic outlets – music, theatre, and writing to name a few. They live within me, guiding my path and the spiritual heart within.

Was my spirit always an artistic one? Did I spend my time with angels who sang and told me stories? Or did my spirit travel from one physical life to the next creating art in each moment of time? Did the family members who lived before me pass on a love of art and a deep spiritual foundation?

Ten years into my genealogy search and I’ve “met” ancestors whose stories I long to tell and yet there is one whom I feel a strong connection to though a century of time separates us.

LKCY0581

On his 1893 marriage record, Elmer listed his occupation as musician. Did he sing? Play an instrument? How did he earn a living as a musician in the late 1800s – in a rural area no less?  Is that how he met his wife, Mattie? As he took on the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood, his life undoubtedly changed. An artistic profession at that time could have sustained him but it’s highly unlikely that he could continue down that path as the number of dependents grew rapidly.

Nine years later (at the age of 32) he’s killed in a coal mining accident, his occupation title that of Carpenter Boss.  The tragic circumstances of his death, one of two lost that day, hasn’t left me since researching the details many years ago.

 

Elmer Karchner_Sandusky 1902_12_04_0009

Sandusky Daily Star – 4 Dec 1902

 

I wonder about him:

  • What type of environment was he raised in?
  • His father was a Union veteran – did he teach his children to have open hearts and minds?
  • Did he always love music?
  • Did he instill that love into the household?
  • Did he sing lullabies to his children?
  • Did he showcase his artistic side in his personal life as it couldn’t be present in his professional one?

My questions are plentiful,  and while I may  never know the answers, asking inspires the writer within. Pondering about the lives of my ancestors help craft characters worthy of interest and intrigue. One day I’d like to visit the now closed mine to get a deeper appreciation for the life lived and lost far too soon.

I am an artistic spirit – one who wonders if there were many others on my ancestral branches who considered themselves the same.

Importance of Middle Names in Genealogy Research Wednesday, Dec 30 2015 

Branches and Leaves (2)

What’s in a middle name? In the world of genealogy research, the name some refuse to utter can actually be quite helpful.

Let’s examine…

•    MAIDEN NAME: I’ve encountered many instances where the children’s middle names are in fact the maiden name of their mother. This helps solidify that I have the correct person in the death or veteran records searched. If I knew that John Smith and Mary Miller had a son name George, how can I confirm that the George Smith on the death certificate I locate was the son of John and Mary? Well, when I see that his full name lists George Miller Smith, I have more confidence that I’ve made the correct family connection.

•    IN TRIBUTE: Many times, children’s middle names were chosen in honor or tribute of a beloved family member (grandparent, aunt, sibling who passed). For example, my great-grandfather, Roy Leon, was likely named in honor of two relatives: his paternal grandmother’s family name of ROY and his maternal grandmother’s middle name of LEONE. This is only a guess, but it helps make connections where previous ones had not existed in my search.

•    JUNIORS AND SENIORS: Middle names can help distinguish John Smith, the elder from John Smith, Jr. In those cases, the middle name would be identical. However, how do you figure out who is who when they show up in search results as adults? For instance, what if John E Smith and John E Smith are both listed in the 1901 Philly city directory at different addresses? You’d have to do further research to confirm who lived at which residence. It can be tricky, indeed. On the other hand, if the father is John E. Smith and his son is John P. Smith, then the puzzle pieces fit together much easier.

•    MIDDLE NAME PREFERRED: I’ve discovered that plenty of my Irish ancestors used their middle names as their preferred name. Three generations of Michael Francis all went by Frank. This usage does lead to genealogical confusion sometimes. I know that my 3 times great-grandfather was known as Thomas, but was that the first name on his birth certificate or did he go by his middle name? Would that explain why I have yet to locate him in marriage records or on ship manifests?

This is not to say that every middle name has meaning. Perhaps the parents simply couldn’t agree on a first name so they used both. Why is my great-grandmother’s middle name Violeta when I can’t find any connections to a Violet in my research? Maybe they just liked purple.

There are plenty of us in this day and age who adamantly dislike, or outright despise, our middle names. Before you start cursing your parents for choosing an unusual or embarrassing middle name, just know that future family historians will be quite grateful for the specificity.

Irish Pride Today and Every Day Tuesday, Mar 17 2015 

A view from atop Blarney Castle

A view from atop Blarney Castle

The Irish blood flows through my veins though I’ve never visited the actual villages or hometowns of my ancestors.  I traveled to Southern Ireland about ten years ago, but at the time, I hadn’t started my genealogy research. As such, I didn’t know that my Deenys originated from the Donegal/Derry counties of Northern Ireland.  That just gives me one more reason to return to the stunning Isle and walk the paths that my great-great grandparents did.

Though there were Deenys (and Deeneys) aplenty in Philadelphia and Boston during the time of my great-grandparents immigration, I have yet to find a direct link to the ones who were here before my relatives arrived.  Many of us remained in England and Ireland and some Deenys made Iowa their home. *Sidenote: I haven’t connected the Philly area Deenys to the Iowa Deenys as of yet.*

I love the language, land, and mystic history of the Celtic people though I must admit that my taste buds were the last to adjust during my trip.  I grew up with a solid pride for my Irish heritage even though I knew quite little of the country my ancestors once called home.

As Americans celebrate “St. Patrick’s Day” I join in by wearing green, listening to my favorite Celtic music, and adorning myself with a flashy shamrock necklace.  The celebration doesn’t end there, because my journey to find my Irish roots continues.  I’ve lived over thirty years as a proud descendant of Irish immigrants and know that my pride will only grow the moment I understand the ones who came before.

Unlocking Doors in My Genealogy Research Monday, Feb 9 2015 

Photo taken in Dublin, Ireland - circa 2004

Photo taken in Dublin, Ireland – circa 2004

My genealogy search stalled once again due to employment necessity, or a lack thereof. Given the fact that I cannot quickly look something up without it turning into a few hours of family history research, I pushed it aside until I had ample time to focus on this project.

DOORS

If you’ve read some of my earlier blog posts entry, you know that I’ve encountered one locked door after another with the Smith side of my family tree.  I have yet to find substantial proof of our rumored Native American lineage and the numerous marriages/remarriages of my great-grandfather and his father leave me searching for months on end.

OBITUARIES

So, you can imagine my elation when I found an “unlocked door”! Thanks to new documents available on FamilySearch, I found numerous obituaries for some of my Smith relatives in Michigan; my great-grandmother and her mother-in-law being two of the findings. I have not found my great-grandfather’s obit nor that of his father, but my search continues with renewed hope and focus that with a little determination, patience, and refocus, I’ll find those whom I seek.

 

Have you encountered similar struggles? If so, how did you overcome them?

 

Happy searching from one family detective to another!

The Strength of My Female Ancestors: Working in the early 1900’s Friday, Jul 25 2014 

Recent developments in my professional life have me pondering how I would’ve survived in the 1900’s. I seek a career that fills both my bank account and my artistic spirit – two goals not easily achieved simultaneously.  As I grow more and more picky about job choices, I consider my female ancestral relations. These women were employed as housekeepers, seamstresses, office clerks, and factory workers.

I’ve made mention in prior posts that history was never my favorite subject during my years of schooling.  It  just wasn’t that interesting to me – all the dates to memorize, names to know, and facts to remember.  It all seemed so impersonal to me.  It’s only since I started along the genealogy path that I wish I knew more about not only American history but other nations as well.  I wish I knew what the socio-economic state was in Philadelphia in 1899 or understood why my ancestors emigrated from Ireland before the famine.  What prompted their decisions and choices?  I’m intrigued about the resilient women in my history but also all the others who experienced struggle, grief, and poverty, whose names are known only to their descendants.

My great-great grandmother, Elizabeth, had three children to provide for at the turn of the 20th century after her husband died young.  The widowed Irishwoman owned the homes she lived in and worked as a seamstress in 1900 and housekeeper in 1910.  I can only imagine that she must have dealt with incredible challenges to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and clothes on her children’s backs.  It’s her story I long to tell.  Her experiences I yearn to know more about.  She’s a mystery to me, and I’m excited to delve into her history.

The strength, determination, and perseverance of my female ancestors puts my circumstance into much clearer perspective. So, when I complain about not finding an “ideal” job or missing a day of fun with my visiting family members, I think about the women who came before me and the difficult times they lived through.

 

Happy searching!

3 Tips for Genealogy Info Overload Tuesday, May 20 2014 

Overwhelmed with the amount of information in front of you and which branch of your family tree to focus on first? You’re not alone!

Before you stop the search altogether, take a breather and try the following:

  • NARROW YOUR SEARCH: Starting broad can lead to an overload of information.  Pick one branch and keep the search focused on that individual and their immediate relations.  Try alternate spellings of the last name and re-examine the records you already found for them.  You might just find a new connection in a census record that you overlooked the first time through.
  • BE NEIGHBORLY:  When you hit a roadblock in your search for a common surname (talking to you Smiths and Millers), step back and research a neighbor listed on a census record.  They could likely have been an in-law, cousin, or friend.  For example, it turns out the witness on my great-great grandfather’s Naturalization record was a neighbor.  In searching the name of the witness I found new details on my direct ancestor.
  • CHANGE IT UP: Don’t use only one website or genealogy software program.  When you rely too heavily on one, sometimes you can get frustrated at seeing the same records again and again.  Move over to a different site, like one with more specific type records.  For example, search a cemetery records/grave listing website or one that stores a collection of newspapers.  I’ve found this tip very helpful in my own searching.  I found an obituary listing in a 1899 newspaper that contained my ancestor’s address and listed him as a member of a fraternal organization – the former a confirmation and the latter information to me.

In summary, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with information overload.  Instead of getting frustrated, try a different tactic.  You just might create a crack in that roadblock!

 

HAPPY SEARCHING!!

The Long and Short Hand of It Saturday, Apr 5 2014 

Even though I drafted this blog entry on a keyboard, I much prefer writing with pencil and paper.  There’s a certain energy that exists when my writing implement flows across the page.  Sometimes it’s frantic, other times my hand moves with ease.  I find solace, motivation, and meaning when I write long-hand.  While my handwriting leaves much to be desired, I love knowing that generations to come can stumble upon one of my notebooks and discover a story.

 

As much as we’ve become attached to our electronic devices, there are moments when a handwritten document delights us more than a miniature-sized screen ever could. Do you remember how it felt to receive a letter in the mail from a distant friend or relative?  I grew up in the middle stages of the typewriter and electronic boom.  My friends and I wrote notes back and forth, leaving them in each other’s locker.  When my friends went away to college, I yearned for a letter to find out how they were doing.  Sure, you can do that now with social media and email, but once it’s on the internet it’s out there for public consumption.  If you send me a letter, I’m going to read it privately, fold it up, and store it until I stumble upon it while Spring cleaning years later.

 

A desire for continuous convenience and improvement led us to reading books electronically.  As a writer, the very idea that my novel wouldn’t actually be read in a paper format makes me cringe.  There are benefits to a digital format, absolutely, but nothing quite compares to holding a book in your hands.  I want my readers to have that sensation.  To feel the energy that went in to its creation.  To see the words typed on the page and have them come alive.

 

Doing genealogy research only amplified my love of handwritten communication.  Discovering a letter written by my ancestor in 1899, a funeral home receipt from the early 1900’s, and correspondence between my great-aunt and her Irish cousins, is nothing short of priceless.  Every now and again I like to unfold them (delicately) and re-read them, gaining a newfound appreciation for the care that went into each chosen word.  I frequently find myself saying, “People don’t write so eloquently anymore, with such grace.”  In today’s time, it’s all about brevity.  How many letters can you cut out of a word and still get your meaning across?  “I love you” is too important to be abbreviated.

 

I’m glad to know that I am not alone in the excitement of discovering old documents.  For instance, when I watch TV shows about ancestry research, I’m elated to see that the researcher moved, in awe, and excited when handling precious documents.  They have value, meaning, and beauty in a society that equates our handwriting ability with what font type we like best.  The art of writing by hand has fallen to the wayside and that’s a shame for not only this generation but for all those that are to come.

My Brave Immigrant Ancestors Sunday, Mar 9 2014 

Picking up and moving from a place you call “home” to a land filled with wonder and uncertainty had to be both daunting and freeing; scary and exciting; lonely and friendship-building.  Nothing brought that idea to fruition more to me than visiting Ellis Island.

Ellis Island

During my roughly 5 years of ancestry research, I found wondrous records that provided insight into my ancestors’ lives.  How many children did they have?  Where did they live?  What were their occupations?  I started looking at them as more than just names of deceased relatives.  I wondered what sort of experiences they had and how they compared to present day. Sure, the modern word has it’s own share of joys and sorrows but so did 1899.  How did my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Deen(e)y, manage to raise her children after her husband died so young?  Then her five-year-old daughter, Mary, dies only a month after her husband.  The pain, grief, determination that must have swirled within her.  And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I yearn to know about Elizabeth Burke Deen(e)y.

As I stood in the Great Hall at the Ellis Island museum I gazed in awe at the enormity of the situation.  What entangled web of emotions did the newcomers experience?  Standing amidst a plethora of strangers all with the same hopes of a new life must have been both terrifying and comforting.  “Will they let us all in?  What kind of questions will they ask?  Will I understand what they’re asking me?  Why are they separating members of the same family?”  My heart ached just thinking of the possible scenarios my ancestors, and yours, would’ve likely encountered upon arrival.  That’s not even taking into account the image of leaving home ingrained in your memory and the long passage it took to get them to America.

I have been unsuccessful in locating the Immigration records for my Irish ancestors.  From family stories, I believe Elizabeth Burke came over first and Thomas Deen(e)y followed her, an action that was apparently quite scandalous at the time.  However, I can’t find a marriage record in either Ireland or the State for Thomas and Elizabeth.  My search continues to learn more about their lives in Ireland and when they arrived stateside.  In the meantime, they are not the only immigrants in my family tree.

The majority of ancestors on my maternal branch emigrated from Europe, Eastern Europe to be more specific.  Some came from Germany but another lineage called Austria/Hungary/Czechoslovakia home. Helen (Helena/Ella/Ellie) was born in Sasova, Czechoslovakia in 1858.  She married and had  her first child by age twenty, remarried my great-great grandfather in 1882, and immigrated to the States around 1890 with her husband and daughter from 2nd marriage. According to the 1900 census, Ellie had 10 children but only 6 were living, five of those 6 were living with her.  While I do not have records proving or disproving that Ellie came through Ellis Island, my thinking is that regardless or where she arrived, the trepidation and motivation would have been quite similar.

My suspicion is that this was taken in her Eastern European homeland.

My suspicion is that this was taken in her Eastern European homeland.

Elizabeth and Thomas settled in Philadelphia while Ellie and John made Luzerne County, PA their new residence.  The struggles they encountered in the states (i.e. discrimination) I can only speculate about.  Despite any hurdles in the new country, were they glad they made the brave choices they did?  And, did they ever look across the Atlantic towards the land they once called home?

In contemplating the life-changing choices my immigrant ancestors made, I wonder about my own.  Would I have had the courage at such a young age to pick up and move away from a place I considered to be home?  Even if poverty, political oppression, or starvation plagued the region, would I have been brave enough to seek out a better life for myself and my loved ones?  And, if they can do it then why do so many people today agonize over moving from one state to the next given the ease of transportation and online career networking available?  I’m not claiming it would be easy in today’s time, but by standing in the Great Hall I gained some much-needed perspective.

Click here for more information on Ellis Island.

Deenys: So close, yet so far Thursday, Feb 13 2014 

A ride through Killarney

A ride through Killarney

When I found out my paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Smith, I laughed and prepared for an uphill challenge in this ancestry detective work.  A 3rd great-grandfather named John Smith, that threw me for a loop but only momentarily.  I got on that genealogy “train” and headed straight for Michigan, in computer land that is.  However, I never expected to find so many of my own surname living in close proximity.

Growing up, the only people I knew with the surname of Deeny were related to me.  In all my schooling I never once met anyone else with the same last name.  I felt unique and special in knowing that my name was different.  Not that it was easy to spell or pronounce apparently.  We frequently got “Denny” or “Deeney”, so I picked up the habit of spelling it out for the ease of both parties.  Since starting along the family history path, I’ve since learned that the Deeny name has had many spelling origins.  My great-great-grandfather, Thomas, spelled it “Deeney” – and he was the one who immigrated from Ireland sometime prior to 1886.  However, turns out the Deeny/Deeney name traces much, much further back in Ireland.  From research done by distant cousins a few generations older than me, I learned that Deeny is linked back to Dhuibhne.  I am in the midst of learning more about that connection and added Northern Ireland to my list of must-visit places.

Turns out there were many Deenys and Deeneys living in Philadelphia around the same time that my 2nd great-grandparents called Philly home.  However, connecting those Deenys with MY Deenys has proved unsuccessful.  Whether they were cousins or of no relation, I just don’t know.  In doing further research of present day Deenys, there are many of us not only in the States but a great number back across the ocean, in Ireland and England.  Thanks to the wonders of social media, I’ve found some international Deeny relations and hope one day to return back to the land my ancestors emigrated from so many years ago.

In the meantime, I’m busy tracing the lines and connecting the dots of just which Deenys are branches or leaves on my family tree!

Happy searching,

Kelly

Hazleton, Pennsylvania: My Second Home Tuesday, Jan 28 2014 

I was not born nor raised in the Hazleton area, but I spent so much time there during my childhood that I consider it a home away from home.

It was the place my mother grew up, and her parents and grandparents before her.  In fact, generations of her family called the Hazleton area (or West Hazleton, Sugarloaf, and Conyngham to be specific) home.  Most of my ancestral relatives on this branch of my family tree were coal miners or truck drivers.  They made an honest living out of grueling work that kept them away from their wives and children for long periods of time.  Not only was it time-consuming but dangerous.

My 2nd great-grandfather, Elmer Karchner, died in a coal mining accident at the age of 32.  He left behind a wife and numerous young children.  This was a man who seven years prior listed his occupation as Musician on his marriage license.  What heartbreak!  How many of those young men and boys lost their lives not only on the job but developed illnesses as a result of their treacherous working conditions?  The very notion of such tragedy leaves an imprint on my spirit to know so many suffered so much.

My maternal grandfather died when my mother was just fifteen years of age.  Ten years prior, he suffered an accident on the job.  While fixing an issue on his tractor-trailer, the rear wheels rolled over both of his legs.  As a result, my grandmother went to work to help support the family and a hospital bed placed in the family’s dining room.  My mom tells the story of how a tree was planted in the empty lot near the house, allowing my grandfather to watch from the window as the tree grew. My grandfather eventually regained use of his legs and returned to work, albeit not every day.  He eventually died of a ruptured colon, likely caused by the accident a decade earlier.

Though the employment options were not the safest, it was home.  There were open spaces.  Relatives lived near one another.  You walked down the main street and knew the local shop owners.  One of my great-grand uncle’s even ran a furniture store, employing some of his brothers. Though my parents moved down to Bucks County once married, we frequently returned to Hazleton to visit my grandmother and other relatives in the area.  I recall those times as some of the most vivid and memorable of my childhood.  Here are just some of the memories that have stuck with  me:

  • MOM-MOM’S HOUSE:  My grandmother’s house in Hazleton would not be considered large by standards of the time or now, but it was the perfect size.  This was a home that welcomed family and friends.  She had 3 bedrooms upstairs, ideal for her young grandchildren to spend the night. Downstairs you’d find the living room that melted into the dining area, a place filled with guests during the holidays or celebrations.  The kitchen was small yet adequate.  The backyard included room for a garden and had a sandbox for the kids to play.  I have so many vivid memories of staying at MomMom’s house.  I can visualize my uncle lifting us up to hang on the push-up bar in the kitchen entryway.  I remember playing with my grandmother’s shoes and costume jewelry in her bedroom.  I recall extended family seated around the dining room table during a Thanksgiving meal.  I loved my grandmother, and I adored the house she called home.

My dad loved his mother-in-law's cooking!

  • FAMILY AND FRIENDS:  My mom had the luxury of growing up near so many cousins.  They  were her playmates, her confidantes and friends.  When we went to Hazleton, many of her cousins still remained in town.  As such, their children became our playmates.  I think of them not as my second cousins or first cousins once removed but I simply call them my cousins.  Now that we’ve all grown, I am so very thankful to have had them as part of my childhood.
  • AUNTS AND UNCLES:  Once my grandmother passed, we continued to visit family members in the Hazleton area.  My Uncle Lenny and Aunt Betty had the BEST house I’d ever seen: hidden passageways (storage area), an indoor pool (watch out for the sliding glass door), and a split-level.  My uncle would take us for drive around the yard and quiet street in his golf cart.  I have so many fond memories of not only the house but my time with my aunt, uncle and cousins.Scan-140128-0003

Though times have changed and residents found new places to call home, the Hazleton area will always hold a very special place in the hearts of many!!

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