History-Itis Tuesday, Oct 15 2013 

A severe case of “history-itis” – that’s what I have! Never really caring much about learning dates of pertinent events or what states are where on the US map, my level of “Social Studies” knowledge is quite low. Reading the textbooks and learning about moments that since passed was always done from one perspective. As such, it was merely a story…and most times, one not told very well.

However, give me a great Victorian novel, and my mind opened to understand the plights of others. When Charles Dickens described the deplorable surroundings and class structures, he did so through story. By creating characters that you cared about and situations that led you on an adventure. He didn’t just lay out a series of dates and facts. Instead, the brilliant author used the inspirational power of art to connect.

All these years later, my severe lack of history knowledge makes for minor hiccups in my genealogy search. It would be most helpful to understand why my great-great grandmother’s origin of birth varies by decade. If I knew the history of how her homeland changed owners and names then I’d have a clearer picture of where she came from. Now, I rely on Internet research to learn about Hungary/Austria/Czechoslovakia history.

That information matters to me now precisely because I’ve put a face to the place, so to speak (write). I want to know what her home was like as a child. What sort of environment did she live in? Was it a hostile time? Were the people struggling for food, money and shelter? Why did she choose to leave home and move to America? What did she think about the change of name/ownership of the land in which she was raised? Did her loyalty to her homeland remain firm?

All of the above leads to thoughts of “How difficult was it for her to acclimate to her new home? Did she ever want to learn English? What did she miss most about her former country? Were there fellow immigrants nearby that she befriended?” I wonder about her life and the choices she made. I care about her history because her path led to mine.

I’m making it a personal goal to study both American and European history. To familiarize myself with not only facts and statistics but to understand and appreciate the environment in which my ancestors lived.

The Cost of Ancestry Research Sunday, Sep 15 2013 

I consider myself a family history detective, finding enjoyment and excitement by piecing together the puzzles in my genealogy.  Sometimes it’s highly frustrating hitting a roadblock but most times I’m challenged to keep digging.  Recently, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the cost of ancestry research.

MONEY:  There is absolutely a financial cost associated with genealogy research.  There are plenty of helpful family history sites online that do not charge you to search their collection of records.  One I find extremely beneficial is http://www.familysearch.org.  The range of records available includes marriage, birth, and census documents.  I have found a great many marriage records that helped connect the branches of my tree, especially when those records include the mother and father’s names.  I found half-siblings of my great-father that I never knew about and was able to verify the connection through other sources, on other ancestry search sites.  The other sites I primarily use in my search charge a fee.  However, the value outweighs the cut to my budget.

TIME:  I spend A LOT of time researching my family tree, more than I anticipated I would when I started.  It’s so easy to sit down at the computer and find one hint that leads you to another and another…before you know it, 3 hours have gone by and you’re so close to putting the piece in place!  As much fulfillment as I get from genealogy research, I  have a twinge of guilt when I think about the other projects I have in the works – my Young Adult fantasy novel, for instance.  Why am I not spending all of my free time to get my book done and published?!  That’s where my focus should be.  Shouldn’t it?  Do I spend a few hours learning about those who lived before me or use that time to write about an entirely fictional character?

SCANDAL:  Am I being selfish by asking the questions that makes family members uneasy to talk about?  What is the point of pushing for questions when the truth may reveal a path that you never intended to walk down?  Scandal, mysteries, long-buried truths – you’re likely to find any of the above if you go back far enough.  The question is…What do you do with the information once you have it?  Do you stuff it down until the subjects of said scandal have passed on?  Do you approach them with the knowledge and gently ask for their recollection of the events?  What is it that you seek to gain from prodding for the ‘truth’?  I haven’t encountered any jaw-dropping secrets so far in my search; that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Perhaps, some of what I found out (like remarriages and half-siblings) were considered significant drama and scandal to those who lived it at the time period.

One of my goals with this ancestry journey is to actually take a journey.  To visit the key places in my lineage and write about them.  Document what it means to me to be present in a place that once held meaning to my ancestors.  For a brief time, to stand where they stood.  Of course, in order to take that trip I need both time and money. Who knows what kind of scandal I might find!

A small world indeed Sunday, Oct 21 2012 

That’s how the world seems to me when researching genealogy information.  With ancestors on both sides who immigrated I often wonder if they viewed the world the same.

I live in a suburb of Philadelphia; an area that most wouldn’t know of unless they’re from this vicinity.  So when telling people where I’m from it’s easiest simply to say “Philadelphia”.  But every time those words cross my lips I feel inclined to clarify.  As though I’m doing a dis-service to not only those who actually reside within Philly but to the town in which I live.

Along that same vein, I grew up proud to be Irish and Polish even though I was born and bred right here – in Bucks County, PA.  I’m not Irish; I’m American.  And I’m proud to have been born here.  But I also have a European connection deep down.  One that I have yet to fully comprehend.

I love to travel and have purposefully made it a goal to visit these places I’ve longed to see.  Yet, I find it rather interesting that I have this longing to one day call Europe my home.  And that doesn’t make me any less proud to be American.  It just means that there’s a very strong part of me that wants to know more about the places my ancestors once called home.

My reasons for wanting to go across the ocean may differ greatly from that of my ancestors.  Whether it was a need to escape oppression, poverty, sickness or a desire to pursue their dreams, they had to make the choice to leave their homeland.  They left all that they knew – and started anew.  Sometimes they found success, other times situations as dire as the ones they left behind.

Though they came to embrace the country in which they now resided did they ever let go of the home they once loved so?  And if they did not, then the same holds true the other way; no matter what part of the world I may reside, I’ll still be proud of the American spirit within me.

What a difference 9 years makes! Tuesday, Sep 25 2012 

I know I am supposed to be alternating between my maternal and paternal heritage but a recent discovery just won’t let me go!

From a very young age I knew music existed within me.  There was no doubt.  As though the rhythm, melodies and lyrics blended into my very spirit.  I don’t know at what age I started singing but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t.

As much as I consider myself a writer I am equally a singer.  The passion I have comes from the warmth that radiates in my core, travels up my chest, tingles in my throat and reverberates on my lips.  I feel the music in every single fiber of my being and every cell in my body.  I am a writer.  I am a singer.  I am an artist.  And apparently so was my great, great-grandfather Elmer.

If you haven’t already read my post about Elmer’s coal mining accident in 1902 then a) why not and b) here’s a brief synopsis…he was killed in a tragic accident at the Cranberry mine at the age of 32.  I wasn’t surprised to learn that he was a coal miner.  My mother’s relatives come from upstate Pennsylvania, where coal miners and farmers are a-plenty.  But I was floored up on reading his 1893 marriage record.  His occupation was listed as…just wait…MUSICIAN!

I know!  How amazing is that? I gaped at my computer screen, blinked the clouds from my eyes and felt the chills course through my arms.  As stunned as I was I also started wondering more about his life.  What instrument did he play?  Did he sing?  Did he perform locally with friends or family members?  How did his life change so significantly within a short period of time?  Marriage and children – having to provide for his family was the most reasonable answer I came up with.  Most likely being a musician couldn’t sustain them.  Couldn’t pay bills.  Couldn’t keep food on the table.  What was the inner struggle over giving up a passion?  Were there extenuating circumstances?  An emotional or mental breakdown?  Or was he a pragmatic man who acknowledged the reality of his situation and simply moved forward?

In all my research, I’ve learned about intriguing individuals on both branches of my family tree.  But my connection to Elmer is deeply rooted by more than bloodlines!

to be continued…

History was never my favorite subject. Thursday, Sep 6 2012 

I know…I know…I’m interested in ancestry research so why do I dislike history?

During my school years I loved English and Math but hated Science and Social Studies.  I constantly heard that the pairings were typically Math & Science versus English & Social Studies.  If you liked one subject it was likely you’d do well in the other.  Not me!  I didn’t understand why History was linked with English.  Studying literature was so engrossing.  So creative and based on using your imagination and critical thinking.  On the other hand, History was based on facts.  How many states?  What are their capitals?  When was the Spanish-American war?  Who was the 14th president of the United States?  How did we….Sorry, I just bored myself to sleep.

It wasn’t until I started reading Historical Fiction that I came to appreciate Social Studies/History as more than empty facts.  It was about PEOPLE.  About their experiences, hopes, dreams and struggles.  It wasn’t about knowing the time period of the Civil War but more importantly, why did it occur and what were the reasons behind them?  Who were the individuals involved?  How did they struggle on both sides of that horrendous time?  My third great-grandfather is just one of many young men who fought during the Civil War.  His story leaves me to ponder not only what he experienced but how I perceive my own choices.

Pvt Martin Karchner served in Company K, Pennsylvania 81st Infantry Regiment.  He enlisted in 1861 and was shot in the foot during the Battle of Charles City (also known as Battle of Glendale) in June of 1862 and according to the records I’ve found he was captured by the Confederacy. He returned home in 1862 on a ship carrying sick and wounded soldiers and went on to marry my 3rd great-grandmother.  They went on to have many children; one of which was Elmer who died in a coal mining accident in 1902.

I’m in the midst of doing more research on Martin’s military experience; the results of which will prompt another blog entry at a later date.  The point being, knowing the dates have led to me to know where and when he fought.  That leads me to want to know more.

And that’s a history lesson worth paying attention to!

For more information, please visit…

http://www.angelfire.com/pa3/81stpennsylvania/oroster.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Glendale

Miller-ing around Thursday, Aug 23 2012 

Perhaps it’s unfair to declare only my father’s side of the family as stubborn…because my mom’s got her own challenging ancestors!

I made mention in an earlier post about the Smiths on my father’s side.  I mean really…John Smith?  Okay, moving on – my mother has a similar challenge in her lineage and that award goes to the Millers of Trenton, NJ!!!!!  Congrats guys on there being so many of you and living in an area where birth and marriage records are scarce.

As soon as I found out my mother’s grandmother’s maiden name was Miller I thought, “Oh Crap! You’ve got to be kidding.”  I don’t remember how I eventually found out her surname or how I stumbled upon the correct census info that listed her parents.  Once I found her parents, Oscar and Bertie, I also found a plethora of siblings.  Thankfully, they had unique first names like Calvin, Carl and Arthur.  No, not that Arthur Miller!  At least, I don’t think they’re one and the same. 😉

Oscar was born in, and lived for some time, in Pennsylvania.  According to the records I have been able to find Oscar, Bertie and their children moved from Hazleton down to Trenton, NJ between 1918 and 1920.  Thank goodness for the WWI draft cards and the 1920 census! My latest search is to find the real estate transaction for the home they purchased on Mulberry St.  One they lived in until at least the late 1940s.  I’ve come up short so far, but I’m continuing on.  I’m determined to find it.  But I think my next stop may involve visiting the local offices to look for records.

But there’s so much more to the story of Oscar and Bertie.  Bertie died in 1926 at a young age, leaving behind at least 8 children.  Four years later, the youngest daughter, Gladys, was living in the home of her mother’s sister; a home that she was still residing in as of the 1940 census.  Obituary records for her siblings and cousins indicate that she became more like a sister to her cousins.  Which makes sense since she literally grew up with them.

I wonder what life was like for them then.  How difficult must it have been for Oscar to have someone else raise his daughter after his wife’s death.  Granted, it was his sister-in-law but still.  It intrigues me to know their story.  Was there hurt feelings between them?  What was Gladys’ relationship like with her father in comparison to the one she had with her aunt and uncle?

But the story that caught me off-guard is this one…I found documentation and newspaper articles indicating Oscar remarried a woman named Delphina Dempster Kemble, sometime around 1945.  Delphina’s husband, Leroy Kemble had passed and Oscar was still a widow.  Here comes the most interesting part…according to the 1940 census Leroy and Delphina Kemble were living in the home of Oscar Miller and his sons (on Mulberry St).  Five years later, Oscar and Delphina were married.  So, my eyes bugged out of my head and the family detective/writer in me yearned to know more.

While I still look for verification of Oscar’s parents and grandparents I’m intrigued to know more about the stories and experiences that shaped them as individuals.

My Irish Ancestors are Stubborn Wednesday, Aug 15 2012 

A shocking statement, I know!  But no less true.  Stubbornness is often attributed to the Irish culture though why one group of people would get that label over others I never really understood.

As a rather stubborn individual myself I used to joke that I was both a Taurus and Irish which meant I was doubly stubborn!  But in all my family history research I’ve started to re-examine my perspective on many fronts.  The Irish people have very good reason to be stubborn and the after-effects still linger in many ways.  I don’t presume to know what it was like to live there during “the troubles” or the famine.  But I can ascertain that the pain, sorrow, anger and frustration could very well still linger if not addressed within each individual.

My great, great-grandfather (Thomas Deeny) emigrated from Ireland to the United States in the late 1800s and spent the last years of his young life in Philadelphia.  Try as I have to find out exactly what port he arrived in I’ve been unsuccessful.  I did find his naturalization records but that didn’t tell me whether he came in through Boston, New York or Philadelphia.  The assumption would be Philly, since that’s where he last resided.  But…the stories passed down from my grandfather and his siblings told of the Deenys (our immediate branch) coming in through Boston.

That could very well be the case but I have not found him in any of the immigration records I’ve searched through.  Nor have I found his wife, Elizabeth.  Thomas and Elizabeth’s first child, my great-grandfather, was born in 1886 and they were already in Philadelphia by that point.  So, were they married before they left Ireland or after?  Because I haven’t found marriage records from either country yet.  Plus, to make matters even more challenging, I had no clue what Elizabeth’s maiden name was for the first two years of my research.

I had found the cemetery listing for Elizabeth, Thomas, and some of their children about a year ago.  That was my first cemetery finding and I was ec…stat…ic!  I drove to Philadelphia, found the area on the cemetery map and lo and behold, no gravestones!  Ugh.  I literally sank to my knees, cried a little then started laughing.  I made a promise right then and there that one of the first things I’d do once I published my novel would be to buy them grave markers.  There’s at least 5 people in that one plot and not one has a headstone.  As I sat on the ground looking up to the branches that swayed above me I asked Elizabeth for help.  And eventually she came thru!

I now know her maiden name was Burke and I found her parents information based off of Elizabeth’s sister’s birth record. But trying to find an Elizabeth Burke is almost just as challenging as trying to find a Deeny!

I’m still looking for birth and marriage records for Thomas, Elizabeth and their children.  Some research days are more frustrating than others but finding their history, paths and stories is a goal I highly intend on fulfilling.

I leave you with an excerpt from a letter that Elizabeth Deen(e)y wrote to tell her mother-in-law of Thomas’ death in 1899.

It is with a sad heart that I have to let you know of the death of your son.  He died on the 8th of this month and was buried on the 13th Nov.  As you were aware he has been sick this long time but we all thought he would get over it if doctors & the best of care could do anything for him.  We did not think he would die so soon but at last had to realize that it was only a matter of time…We done all that lay in our power for him but to no avail as we were told that he had cancer of the stomach and there is no cure in this world for that.

If it’s not one thing… Monday, Aug 6 2012 

Last week I discussed the challenges I have been dealing with in researching my father’s side of the family.  It’s Mom’s turn this week and finding her relatives has been much easier; for the most part.

Growing up I spent a lot of time in my mother’s hometown.  Hazleton, Pennsylvania became my home away from home.  A place that I loved to spend my summers.  My grandmother had been one of the most important relationships in my young life and she’s remained a big part of my life ever since.  When my maternal grandmother died in 1984 I was only 7 but the impact of that loss was significant.  By that time, my mother had lost her father, her step-father and then her mother.  All before her 32nd birthday.  I can’t imagine what she had to deal with. She had four daughters left to raise without her mother to offer support, guidance and advice.  Sometimes, I think that’s part of the reason she’s such a pivotal part of her grandchildren’s life. 

My mother grew up in a house that her grandfather had built.  She’d tell me stories about the winding staircase, the fireplace and the family get-togethers.  We found pictures a few months ago that showed the ornate fireplace, the cherubed ceilings and the french doors.  There were so many photos of family members; especially my mother, uncle and their cousins. 

Family played a significant role in my mother’s life.  She grew up with so many cousins, on both sides of her family, and they spent a lot of time together.  (There’s a part of me that wished I had the same; but times change and families live where economics and employment determine they go.)  Even after my grandmother died we’d go back to Hazleton frequently.  My mother still had aunts, uncles and cousins in the area and there was even a family reunion every August.

I knew more about my mother’s side of the family then my father’s.  We joked that my mom was a coal miner’s daughter but it was only a few generations of difference.  In putting together my family tree I realized how happy I was that her side of the family had unique names, both first names and surnames.  Thank heavens for the Elmers, Ellsworths and Martins! I found generations of coal miners, farmers and truck drivers.  I realized that the strong family bonds were necessary because early death was not only likely but frequent.  My mother’s great-grandfather died in a coal mining accident in 1902 at the age of 32.  He left behind a wife and numerous children.  How did his family put food on the table, clothes on their backs and smiles on their faces?  My great, great-grandmother remarried a few years later and the half-siblings went on to hold that joint family reunion.

My mother’s father died at the age of 40.  A truck driver by occupation, he was injured in a fluke trucking accident; causing him to no longer be able to work.  My grandmother had to work to provide for the family.  Eventually, he became sick and died at an age that was much too young.  My grandmother remarried and I grew up knowing my mom’s brother, step-brother and step-sister as equal members of my family. 

In researching my maternal ancestors I’ve come to the conclusion that family isn’t always determined by blood.  Love guided my mother’s relations and she passed that down to her children.  For that, I will be eternally grateful!

I Think I’m Native American, but I know I’m Irish! Monday, Jul 30 2012 

Do you have an ancestor named John Smith?  Well, I do! And trying to find him has been nothing short of a challenge.

There are stories told down the generations that shift and form with every telling. One family history story engrained on my father’s side was of a Native American lineage.  I never knew what tribe we were connected to or asked what kind of documentation he had.

I knew that my paternal grandfather had Irish roots and my grandmother Native American.  That was enough info to run with.  I had no problem identifying myself with either nationality.  In fact, I quite embraced both cultures.

Two years ago, when I started my foray into genealogy, I struggled with my dad’s ancestors.  The Irish spelled the surname multiple ways, even a generation after immigrating, and typically went by their middle names.  There are 3 generations of Michael Francis’ who all went by Frank.  So, was Frank Sr.’s father’s name actually Thomas or would his birth certificate show otherwise.  It definitely makes for  a challenging search.

However, trying to find a Jonathon Smith in the 1800s has me stumped.  I know that the Smith side of my family lived, and some still do, in Michigan but according to records John was born in NY or CT.  So I focused my attention on the women instead.  In doing so, I may very well have found the strongest connection to Native American confirmation.

I know that we come from the Potawatomi tribe and apparently my 2nd great-grandfather, a Smith, married a woman with the last name of McKenzie.  I’ve traced her family to Scotland then they moved to Canada where the Potawatomi tribe may have strong connections.

I never would’ve thought that’s where I’d find what I was looking for.  But that’s normally what happens!

NEXT WEEK:  Coal mining and trucking: Maternal side

Moving FORE-Word Thursday, Jul 19 2012 

Moving forward sometimes requires looking back!  In doing genealogy research I’ve come to appreciate how similar our lives were.  Not in circumstance but in all else that matters.

I didn’t grow up in the Depression, immigrate to another country or work in a coal mine.  But my ancestors did.  I wonder what their experiences were.  How scared they must’ve been.  How they found the strength to get up each day and start again.

The ones who came before me are more than mere names, dates of births or cemetery records.  They have stories to tell.  And I’m here to make sure they’re remembered.

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