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.

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.

Talking to Dead People Tuesday, Oct 8 2013 

…or, Ghost Whispering – that’s what I call ancestry research.  I don’t ACTUALLY see ghosts, but I do have a strong connection to that which I deem “spiritual”.  This is not a story about spirits with a veiled mist around them or mystical figures cloaked in black robes.  Instead, I ask you to open your mind to the possibility that our ancestors are communicating with us, even if we’re not listening.  And they do so in very creative ways!

A view of Ellis Island

A view of Ellis Island

For instance, very recently I had a rather interesting writing experience.  As I sat with my pencil pressed against a beautifully designed journal, I struggled for words.  I’d been thinking a great deal about my genealogy stalemate and that could have very well prompted what followed.  I wrote about a young girl walking down a path, one which led her to a coal mine.  She was searching for her ancestor, the one who died there as a young man.  Then she asked him questions, and he responded.  The words flowed through my mind, and my pencil floated across the page.  The young girl in my story proceeded along her journey, conversing with her paternal grandmother at a Native American camp and the 5-year old version of her Irish great-great-grandmother.

When I wrote the section about my grandmother, I instantly imagined her sitting next to me.  Smiling and supporting me to keep writing.  There was even some humor intermixed in the conversation.  We didn’t communicate much while she lived, but I feel her presence more so now since her spirit vacated her body almost five years ago.  As I struggle to trace her Native American lineage, I can really use her guidance and assistance.  I may just be using my creative imagination to help me along the path.  That’s a-okay by me – if the journey is filled with intriguing paths and interesting people.

Artistry and creativity are my connection to the spiritual world, as a reminder that my goal in this life is to learn and grow.  To not remain stagnant or stuck.  The creative outlets that I consistently gravitated to these past three decades provided me solace, inspiration, and motivation.  I have no doubt the same is true now.

When I finished that writing exercise, I smiled broadly with tears in my eyes goosebumps on my arms.  I felt a comforting blend of peaceful existence and exhilaration.

I’ll keep writing my ancestor’s stories – I can only hope they keep talking!!!!

Hollywood Ancestry Sunday, Apr 7 2013 

My ancestors grew up in Hollywood.  No, not that one!  The one in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.  Never heard of it? Neither had I until I delved into my family history.

A lack of information exists about the small PA village known as Hollywood.  From what I’ve learned, Hollywood was a coal mining town (shocking for that area, I know) and according to family members who grew up near there or still reside in the neighboring Hazleton, Hollywood consisted of a small patch of houses off of Route 309.

My mom can recall that Hollywood was at the top of Hazleton Mountain and Angela Park was located at the bottom.  She distinctly remembers school field trips to the park; an amusement park of sorts that had games, rides and even a mini train.  The park has since closed down but it’s got me intrigued to write more about it in a future post.

If you’ve happened by my entertainment blog then you  know that I have a deep appreciation for all things film, television and theatre related.  So, you can imagine my delight upon learning I have relatives that called Hollywood home.  Okay, maybe it’s not THAT entertainment mecca but it made me smile nonetheless.

I’m on a mission to know more about this town.  What it looked like in 1894 when my 2nd great-grandparents married there or thirty years later when their daughter married my great-grandfather.  I have marriage records for both of the aforementioned parties, showing Hollywood, PA as their residence – so I know it existed and that they lived in that particular location.  I just need to see for myself what the environment looked like.  There will be visit in the near future so that I can see for myself what it looks like now.

I don’t expect it to be a vision of beauty or elegance like its namesake.  It’s likely it was given such a  name out of a witty sense of humor or a “this is real life” statement.  The reasoning behind the name choice interests me as does having a visual representation of the homes and locations that my ancestors spent their lives.

Being able to imagine them in their own habitat, whatever it may have looked like, provides a window into understanding their choices.  What did they struggle with?  What was a typical day like for them?  Did they have a strong desire to leave Hollywood and venture into the big cities of Hazleton or Wilkes-Barre?  When so many left their small towns to move to Hollywood, CA how many dreamed of leaving the one in PA?

My great-grandparents, after marrying, did call Hazleton home as did the generations that followed.  Did my great-grandmother visit her Hollywood family often?  Was there any type of class/social issues that arose between those in Hollywood and family that moved to Hazleton?  These are the types of questions that peak this writer’s interest and I’m itching to know more.

I will follow-up on this post in the coming months, after I make a visit up to Hollywood.  In the meantime, I can simply imagine!

The smallest of movements Saturday, Dec 29 2012 

As is evident by my delay in posting a new entry I’ve lost a little steam on the ancestry train.

When I first got started on this family history journey there was excitement, exhilaration and anticipation.  What would I find?  How far back could I go?  It’s so easy to get lost in the past.  To become overwhelmed with the history of others that I don’t pay as much attention to myself.  It’s easy to sit at the computer for hours at a time, tracing just one ancestor.  What if I look on this site?  What if I change-up the spelling of their last name?  I can search by their children’s names too.  Maybe I’ll search them to find obituaries or marriage records.  Perhaps I’ll find the smallest of new details.

I follow that path until four hours go by.  I look back on the day and wonder how much more productive activities I could have accomplished.  I could’ve been signing up for a night class, making a new necklace or writing a new blog entry.  I spend 40 hours a week writing on a computer.  Given that I’m sedentary for 8 hours a day why do I choose to remain mostly inactive once I get home?  Whether sitting on the couch watching TV or plopped on a chair doing genealogy research I’m still not moving.  Physically, that is.

I whole-heartedly believe that sometimes moving forward requires looking back.  That we can find strength, hope and inspiration in what’s since passed.  That we may gain insight into the choices someone else made and reflect upon our own decisions.  I have found remarkable insight and inspiration in the smallest of family history details that I’ve learned so far.  There are so many stories I yearn to tell that I get overwhelmed at where to start.

I’m sure I am not alone in this quandary and that many other family researchers stumble upon a similar “block” along their ancestry journey.  I’m moving forward, albeit slowly…but at least there’s movement!

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