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.

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!

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. {2018 UPDATE: They married 1885 in Philly}

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.

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!

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!!!!

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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