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.

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!!

Family Vacation: Take Two Monday, Jan 6 2014 

My parents had a motor home when their four girls were young.  We went to Disney World numerous times, drove out to Texas to visit family (I even got to see the South Fork Ranch), and went up to New Hampshire to visit family friends.  I loved traveling in the motor home.  It was fun.  Sleeping on the top bunk, turning the dining room table into a bed at night, and watching my sisters argue.  Such fun memories!  Well, for most of us.

Sisterly Love

You guessed it…my parents didn’t find it as enjoyable of an experience as we did.  There was the time my sister rolled off the top bunk while sleeping and nearly fell on my grandmother.  Or, the time my older sister and I walked through the Disney campground and nearly got run over by another motor home driver who wasn’t paying attention.  Close quarters with four high-spirited and unique girls can rile anyone’s nerves so once we got a little older, my mom gave us a choice: get an above-ground pool in the backyard or keep the motor home.  We chose the pool, and I’m sure they got some relief.

That's more like it

Twenty some years later, my mom and I are discussing a family trip to visit some of the places I’ve been researching in my genealogy detective work.  Taking the entire family would be quite interesting and difficult to schedule since two of my sisters are married with families of their own.  I can just picture it – traveling through Czechoslovakia with 4 kids under the age of 10.  Though, it would definitely bring us full circle.  Then again, maybe we’d be better suited to go somewhere kid friendly, instead.

In the meantime, I continue with my research, jotting down the locations of interest and organizing them in order of visiting priority.  Austrian, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Michigan, Trenton…okay, maybe not the last one.

Foor-Score and Many Years Ago Monday, Oct 28 2013 

While I knew my paternal relatives lived in Philadelphia and her suburbs, I thought only my mother’s side of the family had roots in upstate PA.  Turns out, my paternal third great-grandfather was born in Bedford County, PA.  Who knew? Not me!

Apparently, the Foor’s have a rich history in Bedford – and many still call it home.  Noah Foor was no exception.  Sometime between 1860 and 1870, Noah’s family moved from Bedford County, Pennsylvania to Lenawee County, Michigan and that’s where my lineage knowledge strengthens.  Michigan became home for Noah’s daughter, Nina, her daughter, Margaret and ultimately my grandmother.  Then off to Bucks County, PA my grandmother went, returning to her hometown at different points throughout her life.

Noah R. Foor was never a name I heard growing up, but it’s one that greatly intrigues me now.  I still don’t have much information on Noah, other than residence and census data.  I know the name of his wife, Estella Emma Craft/Kraft, and his children.  I know that he was a farmer as of 1900 then a teamster in 1910 and 1920 and only a hint of what industry he specialized in.  The 1920 census record lists Noah as head of household and 8 lodgers living in his home, all laborers for a cement company.  That detail leads me to assume that Noah worked in the cement industry or involved in the railroad system, but I’ve learned not to assume anything when researching my lineage.

What happened between 1900 and 1910 that took Noah from being a farmer to skilled labor?  Why did he move his family?  Was it a positive achievement or could he no longer afford to sustain a livelihood on the farm?  So many questions that I don’t know will/can ever be truly answered.  However, that doesn’t hinder my desire to ask.  If anything, my interest is piqued all the more!

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!!!!

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  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!

Happy Father’s Day, Papa! Sunday, Jun 16 2013 

My father’s not perfect; that’s a lesson that took me a while to learn.  Mainly because I admire him in so many ways.  He’s intelligent, educated, well-spoken, a logical thinker, open-minded and spiritual.  He’s a wise soul that I could always seek counsel from.

Among his four girls, we used to joke that Dad had a lecture ready for every conceivable topic.  We’d start numbering them.  “Here comes lecture #67!”  He was never judgmental, only concerned for us.  Wanted us to be alert and aware of our surroundings and ready to stand our own two feet when the time came.  Since he always provided such thorough and wise counsel, I came to second guess my own decisions.  That was a self-inflicted action but one it took me a while to recognize.

My father made certain to tell us he loved us.  Gave us hugs and kisses.  Comforted us when we were sick.  Scolded us when needed and imparted wisdom even when not.  There are so many examples I could give to provide you with a fuller understanding of how wonderful my dad is, but I’ll start with the following:

  • GROWTH:  We all encounter struggles growing up; no one’s immune.  My father had his own stumbling blocks, including the death of his brother during Vietnam.  At only 16, my dad lost his best friend, comrade and trouble-making partner.  While he could’ve succumbed to a path of despair, misery and hatred, he instead choose to overcome his struggles and learn from them.  He moved forward, ultimately going to college, getting married and starting a family.  His willingness to learn and grow continuously led him to the life he leads today.
  • ECO-FRIENDLY:  My dad studies water pollution and seeks ways to improve the situation.  From the time I was small, I understood what my dad did for a living and was proud to know he was making a difference in the world in which we lived.  I even got to go to a water treatment plant with him for a Take Your Daughter to Work day.  That was so cool!  My dad imparted to us a respect for our environment.  To take care of the land we lived on for it wouldn’t sustain us forever.  Most recently, my father has been dedicated on a project to help make Levittown homes more sustainable.  He’s dedicated to the community he lives in and truly wants to give us the tools we need to make a better life for ourselves.
  • SPIRITUAL:  One of the greatest gifts my father gave me was Spirituality.  Being inquisitive by nature, Dad read up on subjects he found interesting, insightful, or perplexing.  Not only did he read the Bible multiple times, but he familiarized himself with understanding and respecting other religions.  Truthfully, I believe his spiritual base comes from the Native American heritage passed down in our family – a wise soul, indeed!

I am proud of my father.  Of his remarkable work ethic, dedication to his family, and renaissance-man spirit.  He’s someone I admire, look up to and inspire to be like.  I embrace the lessons he’s taught me and look forward to our next involved discussion.

I love you, Papa!

If it’s not one thing, it’s my mother! Saturday, May 11 2013 

**UPDATED: May 2015**

I certainly picked my mother well. She’s kind, thoughtful, caring, funny, and strong.  She wants her children to thrive and does what she can to help us achieve independence.  We don’t always agree and there are times when we don’t like one another, but love unites us. We’re related in genetic terms, but that’s not what makes her my Mom.

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Five Reasons I Love My Mom

  1. Her smile:  My mom makes me smile, her joy for life infectious.  She does her best to lift my spirits when I’m down, tells me I’m doing a great job, and boosts my ego about my artistic endeavors.
  2. Perseverance:  By the time she was in her early thirties, my mother had lost her father, step-father, and mother.  She was raising 4 girls, all under the age of 11, without a mother or father to offer support, guidance, or advice.  She learned as she went and did it with a sense of humor, strength, and unconditional love for her daughters.
  3. Family ties:  My mother came from a tight-knit family of aunts, uncles, cousins – all living close to one another.  She grew up with her family around her and while we didn’t have many family near us she would frequently take us back to her hometown to visit her family.  I love those days: staying at my MomMom’s house, swimming at Uncle Lenny’s and Aunt Betty’s, and going to the “K” family reunions.  I think of Hazleton as my second home and that’s thanks to my mother.
  4. Role Model:  I don’t say that I have many role models,; mainly because I believe that you are your own role model.  Having stated that, I look up to my mother in many ways – her strength, her cooking skills, her natural way with kids, her passion for education.  I am proud of my mother and all that she’s achieved, both personally and professionally.  If I have half of the same qualities that I see in her, then I’m truly blessed.
  5. Unconditional love:  My mother loves her girls unconditionally; without prejudice, judgment, or bias.  She doesn’t have a favorite (unless you count the dog) and she doesn’t pit one against the other.  She doesn’t always agree with our choices and lets us know when that’s the case.  But, it’s always done with love at the center of it all.  I know my mother loves me.  I’ve always known, even when I’m frustrated, stubborn, and afraid of letting her down.

I am proud to be my mother’s daughter.  I’m proud of the woman who raised me, who stayed with me at the hospital, supported me when I struggled, and showed me the importance of family.  When she chose my dad, she created a family infused with laughter, love, and individuality.  I thank her for all she’s done for me, my sisters, my brothers-in-law, and her grandbabies – all of whom she adores with equal parts love and devotion.

Dear Aunt Liz Saturday, Mar 9 2013 

In the wee hours of the morning on 1/13/2013 a woman of incredibe strength, determinaton and heart succumbed to the effects of cancer.

My Aunt Liz has parted from the body that housed her spirit. A body that endured tremendous pain in the last four years of her life. She’s now at peace. Most likely having plenty of laughs with her father, mother and brother.

It’s those of us still here who have the challenging task of celebrating her life while missing her terribly. And it’s not only those of us related by blood who share in that grief.  Liz was beloved by so many people and the love she showed to others came back two-fold. Neighbors, friends and those she welcomed with open arms are family too. She’s “Grandma Liz” with a readiness to spoil children and offer life advice when needed.

A woman of such spirit will continue on in some fashion. Whether enjoying the grace of Heaven, journeying on into her next life, or hanging around for a little while to wrap us in comfort.

I love you Aunt Liz. You’re fiery spirit left an indelible impression on my life as I’m certain it’s done for so many others. May you rest, relax and enjoy the peace then continue on and relish the freedom. You’ve earned it!

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