Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Are you sure you have all your Ancestor's artifacts documented?

For the past several weeks I have been busy scanning documents and photos that were given to me when my paternal grandmother, Virginia, passed away earlier this year.   Theses items, are carefully scanned and documented in my genealogy.   Photos are identified and the originals transferred into a archive box.  Other documents are scanned and filled into each person's file folder.  I have a treasure trove of information from these documents.   The types of documents vary from driver's licenses, to old passports used during a trip to the orient - along with pictures from that trip to several hundred military papers documenting everyday occurrences and daily orders, to a five page resume document that my grandfather typed up sometime between 1965 and 1977 when he passed away, to Mason membership cards.  This has kept me very busy and will keep me busy for the remainder of this year and possibly into next.   It actually surprised me on how much my grandmother decided to keep, like she knew it would bring me such joy to have some of these simple everyday items.   Why did it surprise me - because my grandmother was never into genealogy.   That side of me came from my maternal side.

I have been so excited to receive and go through these partly because I have very few of these types of items from my maternal grandmother, Florence.   And she was starting to dive into genealogy a few years before she passed away.  I got into genealogy when my mother was given my grandmother's genealogy papers - I was 11-12 years old at the time and my mom although she found it kinda interesting she was never interested in expanding on what my grandmother had.  There were a few printouts and extracts from records, a few citations, but mostly it was family group sheets and pedigree charts that were filled out and filed with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a long time before FamilySearch was around.   I have a few cards and letters neatly tucked away that my grandmother kept.   But no diaries, no family bibles, no birth or death certificates.

But today I realized that I was missing a few things in my documentation.   Isn't it funny how you can be going along and then all of a sudden WHAM!   You have one of the "Well Duh..." moments.

One of these moments happened to me, while cooking dinner tonight.   I sat there stirring the ground beef that soon would be tacos for the family and it dawned on me.   I have artifacts from both of my grandmothers that really should be documented in my genealogy - at least somewhere.   Now these items are not birth certificates, or a precious family bible, or even that elusive diary.    It is a simple but very useful .... skillet.    Yes a skillet.

I have my great grandma's, Florence Bunce, cast iron skillet.   And it is still being used today.  I am at least the 4th generation to use the thing, and it will be passed down to one of my daughters when I no longer need it.    Such a simple thing, it never occurred to me to document this artifact, but yet it tells me about the women in my family who have used it countless times before me.

I got the skillet this year when my mother, Velleda, had to move into a nursing home.   She has had it since 1986 when her mother, Florence, passed away.   Florence received the skillet when her mother, Florence, passed away in 1967.   It is unknown at this point when or where she received the skillet.

This new "enlightenment" got me thinking of the other precious items that I have of my mother's, grandmothers, and grandfathers.  I have some of her most priced possessions, like her china and some of her most common possessions too, like a cane she used and of course this skillet that got me thinking outside the paper lines.

Now I have more items on my to-do list to take photos of and document.

Just remember not all artifacts of our ancestor's are paper and/or pictures.   They are also some of the simple and elegant things that they have left us too.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Revisit old information

You should go back and revisit old information, for example I have a copy of my grandmother's birth certificate.  

For years I have known that her parents had named her after her grandmother and then for some unknown reason decided after the grandmother had died to change her name.    They started calling her by her "new" name around the time she was three years old, it was only when my grandmother had to get a passport after marrying my grandfather (he was career Army) that she learned that she was born with a different name.  

Her father had to go to court and swear in front of a Judge that they had changed her name without going to court to do so.   Today I looked at the birth certificate again and noticed that she did not have a middle name - I had always heard that her birth name was "Annie Laura" when in fact it was simply "Annie".  

I also noticed that both her parents were listed as residence of Denver Colorado, however she was born in El Paso, Texas.   Now I knew that my great grandparents actually hopped back and forth between Denver and El Paso, however until I took a look at this birth certificate again did I notice that at the time of my grandmother's birth they actually were living in Denver at the time.   Time to go and update some records.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

City Directories can tear down walls

I've decided to use this blog a more of as my family history journal, to document what I'm looking for and what and where I have found information.  As my own children are growing up, more online resources become available as well as a change in the industry I work for (not the career itself) I now find that I can spend more time researching and documenting our family and their histories.

In the past few months I have been very fortunate to finally find some information on my husband's family.   Despite having a few pictures of his paternal grandfather and great grandfather, both named Peter Joseph Horvath, we knew little to nothing about them.

Even though the last name was not that common, it wasn't very unique either.   Actually there are quite a few Horvath's in the US especially in the central part of the country where they were supposed to be from after migrating from Hungary.   What is even more I think the majority of the men were named Joseph Peter, but this just made searching for them harder in my opinion there were a lot of dead ends and climbing up the wrong trees.  I only had what little information from Peter's ex-wife - my husband's grandmother to go on.

Here is what we did know:   My husband's grandfather Peter Jr was a drinker, he died 24 Dec 1971 in Illinois, his mother was Irene and father was Peter Joseph Horvath.   According to my husband's grandmother (his wife), he drank every night after work to the point he would leave his entire paycheck at the bar.   For a while the bar would return the paycheck to the grandmother knowing that they had several young boys to raise.   However, after a while the paychecks stopped being returned, they were soon divorced  and she set about raising the boys on her own.    She had two pictures of his father, Peter, and two pictures of his mother, Irene.   Peter Sr was an ominous looking man, certainly a business man in the 1930s/1940s with a ganster type of look, in my opinion anyway.   And of course what family doesn't have family rumors.   Ours:   The family business was "Bootlegging" and their circle of friends "Al Capone".   Yes, the Al Capone!

Wow, now why can't I find anything about this side of the family then?   Until last fall I had resigned to believe that due to the nature of their business they were very good at hiding from most records.

My husband and I have been married for almost 26 years and throughout that time I have been researching both his side and my side of the family sometimes take a few years off for various reasons.    I found very little on my husband's side of his paternal family - well let me rephrase that in 26 years of searching I found these things items:

  • the death certificate for his grandfather from the State of Illinois, 
  • where the grandfather was buried through findagrave.com website, 
  • the SSDI record for the great grandmother indicating she died in California from familysearch.org - but was this our Irene Horvath - I believe so based on the date of death but it could be a coincidence too.
    • the death certificate for the great grandmother in California, and 
      • the existence of a daughter also named Irene as taken from the death certificate 
      • occupation of the great grandmother - owner of a restaurant
  • Application of Peter and Irene's marriage in South Bend, Indiana from ancestry.com  - was this really our Peter and Irene - I still am not sure.
Then finally in the fall last year, actually it was after a Christmas shopping trip that I started to look again into this side of the family.  During that trip, I had a conversation with my father-in-law, he told me a few stories regarding his father and grandparents.   Like how they were "Bootleggers" and were friends with Al Capone, they used their grocery store as a front for selling the illegal alcohol.   When he was still a very young is father wanted him to come and help work at the family bar (a business...can you say flakes of gold...I should be able to find something there...), but his mother refused to send him.  He also told us that his grandmother was a force of nature, what she said went!  During a storm their roof was leaking, she told her husband that he needed to fix the leak...so out into the storm he went and out onto the roof.   He apparently fell off the roof and died sometime after the fall but not right away.  I was also informed that there was another sister, one who was kidnapped as a young girl but found later however mentally she never recovered.

After this conversation with my father-in-law I just knew that I needed to start researching again.  I started with someone I knew I could find...Al Capone.   I read various articles and searched for the names and faces of his "gang" thinking that maybe the reason I couldn't find their records was because the father changed his name, maybe he was arrested in connection to Capone and his men.  And I still came up short, I found nothing not a mention of the family not a picture that would match the faces.  

So I took a step back and looked at what I did know and what I had heard to be true.   I knew that Peter Jr had 5 sons, I started looking more at records of the grandmother (ex-wife) of Peter.   Opal, now that is a name combination that isn't too prevalent, Opal Horvath.   I got a hit on a newly indexed set of records, City Directories.   There she was along with her husband in 1938 Joliet, Illinois.   Wait when was she in Joliet - this came as a surprise to me actually I'm not sure why but it did surprise me nonetheless.   I have her obit which states she moved to Joliet but by the time her and Peter were married they were in another Illinois town not Joliet.   This city directory was after their marriage date and actually after two of their five children were born.   But there it was in black and white Opal and Peter in Joliet, but that was not all.  In the same address I found Irene, Peter Sr, the unnamed sister "Elizabeth" and an unknown brother John and the family tavern.  This was the first record that I found listing Peter Sr.  I was thrilled to say the least.

I started looking at the other information I had on the children of Peter and Opal, there it was the entire time!  One of their children (my husband's uncle) was born in Joliet.   I can't believe I missed that!   But I was too thrilled with the discovery to be too hard on myself.   Then the flood gates opened.   I was able to track the family between 1925 and 1942 through city directories, the business went from a grocery to a beer distributor to a bar and finally to a tavern.  The change from grocery to bar happened at the time that prohibition ended.   I guess that part of the family stories sure appears to be true.  Based on the address in 1925, I was finally able to find the family in the 1920 census under an incorrectly indexed name.  I am still locating more information on this branch of the tree all the time.   I still don't have on record much but at least it is a start and a lot more than what I had just 4 months ago.   I still have yet to find a death record or date for Peter Sr, but what I did find was interesting to say the least, more possibilities and my wheels are turning too.

In the 1940 census Peter Sr was not listed, or was he?   I did find Irene at the same address listed as the head of the house, but the next line down was crossed out, through the line you can make out "Peter" above the line are the words "In Sanitarium 10 years".   Another lead to follow!

A big thank you goes out to ancestry.com for those initial city directories, without those I don't think I would have this information today.