23 March 2020

StLGS and the Current COVID-19 Situation

Having cancelled our planned events for March through May, and, like all of you, unsure of how long we will have to shelter in place, the St. Louis Genealogical Society social media committee has been working to speed up the process of bringing you genealogy lectures and classes digitally. We had been exploring options before the coronavirus appeared, but we are now moving ahead a lot more quickly. As you will see below, however, this process will still take a bit of time.

What are we planning?

Our first priority is learning to use popular webinar software and getting a process in place to offer lectures online that can be both fee-based and free—free to members (like our classes), and, when appropriate, fee-based views (like our Family History Conference and Speaker Series.) While we were still able to meet last week, the social media committee began to develop this process, which will likely begin with a simple one-hour meeting sometime in the near future.

In addition, we are planning a virtual Family History Conference to replace the full-day in-person conference that had been scheduled for Saturday, 4 April. Members of the social media committee obtained willingness from the conference speakers to participate, and now we are moving ahead with the behind-the-scenes parts: contracts, payments, details of registration, etc. There are many steps we must take, but we are working on them diligently.

What can you do?

You can help us!
  1. Last week, we emailed a letter to members asking how you want to handle your registration fee, if you have already registered for the Family History Conference. If you haven't already responded to that email, please will you do so? Can't find the original email? Send a note to publications@stlgs.org and we'll send you another copy.
  2. Check our website (www.stlgs.org), our Facebook group (www.facebook.com/groups/76633518155), and/or our Twitter account (www.twitter.com/stlgs) periodically so you are up to date on progress. We want to stay connected with you so you will be aware of what is happening.
  3. If you have genealogy friends that are not getting this blog or are not using social media, encourage them to do so.
  4. If you have any questions, please send them via the StLGS Facebook group or Twitter account, or send an email to programs@stlgs.org so we can answer them for you.
  5. Most of all, we are pleased to say that exciting things are coming, and we appreciate your patience! Stay tuned!

16 March 2020

Celebrating a Pirate Queen and Calling for Your Biographies

March is National Women's History Month and St. Patrick's Day is just a day away, so this week we will celebrate the life of a remarkable woman of Irish heritage. Be thinking about those amazing women in your own family and how you can capture their stories as we examine the life of someone you may not know.

Have you heard of Grace O'Malley, "the notorious Pirate Queen of western Ireland"? Not surprising if you haven't as most Americans know nothing about Grace, but she was formidable! In the west of Ireland, in a remote, romantic spot on Achill Island, is the windblown stone tower called Grace O'Malley's Castle. It was here that this writer first learned about Grace, and her story is astonishing.

Born around 1530 into a family known for piracy and ruthlessness, when she was about twelve, Gráinne ni Mhaille, the only girl, was eager to travel with her father to Spain. Her mother refused to let her go, so Gráinne shaved her head and disguised herself as a boy, earning her a nickname she would carry for life. The Irish name Gráinne translates to Grace and Mhaol means bald, so she became Granuaile, pronounced "graw-nya-wail," or Bald Grace.

For years, she worked with her father, learning to be a sea trader, raider, and captain, as well as a diplomat and a great leader. She married twice, the first time at just fifteen, and had three children before her husband died in battle. His death left Granuaile, then twenty-three years old, in possession of a castle and numerous fighting ships. Her second husband owned Rockfleet Castle on Clew Bay near Newport. She stayed with him long enough to bear him a son and then take both the castle and the baby from him by literally putting him out the door.

Grace O'Malley went on to be the undisputed warrior queen of the western Irish coastline. She fought numerous battles for territory on land, led pirate ships at sea, and went head to head with Queen Elizabeth I in Greenwich, England, where she refused to bow to the monarch, saying that she was a queen herself. According to legend, Grace carried a dagger to the meeting, saying it was for her own protection. The women negotiated in Latin, as Grace did not speak English and Elizabeth knew no Irish. They reached an agreement that Elizabeth would release Grace's sons and her half-brother, who were being held as hostages, and Grace would stop terrorizing English ships off the Irish coast and supporting Irish rebels against the English. (The graphic shows Grace standing on the left and Queen Elizabeth on the right. There are no known contemporary portraits of Grace O'Malley; this is an illustration from Anthologia Hibernica, volume 11, published in 1793.)

Grace lived into her seventies, dying in 1603 at Rockfleet Castle. She is the stuff of Irish legends to this day. You can read a lot more about Grace online and this is a good place to start.

 Women in Your Family

Your turn! Is there an interesting woman or two in your family whose story deserves to be told? What better time to sit down in front of your computer and start writing? And what to do with your biography once it's done? Share it, of course! Give copies to your family so they know their heritage. Is your female ancestor a St. Louisan? Then we welcome her story as part of our St. Louis City/County Biographies project. You can get all the details on our website.

09 March 2020

Updates to Orphanage Care in St. Louis: St. Bridget's Half-Orphan Asylum for Girls

(Thanks to StLGS treasurer, Viki Fagyal, for contributing this week's blog post.) 
Questions about orphans and orphanage care in St. Louis are among the most frequent inquiries we get from genealogy researchers at St. Louis Genealogical Society. If you are a member of the society, we have quite a bit of information to help you on this topic on our website. Log into the site and go to the orphanage home page to start learning about the various institutions in St. Louis. The orphanage page will also give you basic information on orphan trains and available records in St. Louis.

St. Bridget's Half Orphan Asylum for Girls

St. Bridget’s Half-Orphan Asylum for Girls was established in 1858 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and was located on Lucas Avenue and Beaumont Street. The home served female half-orphans from five to twelve years old, who were placed by the surviving parent. Part of the founding mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet was St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis. This put the order in the unique position of being able to serve deaf orphans and half-orphans.

Of the ninety-nine white females between the ages of four and twenty-one listed in the 1870 census, twenty-five of the girls showed handicapping conditions: four were marked "idiotic," fifteen marked "deaf and dumb," one marked "deaf, dumb, and blind," two marked "blind," and three marked "mute." Of the ninety-four white females between the ages of ten months and nineteen years listed in the 1880 census, nine of the girls showed handicapping conditions: six were marked "deaf and dumb," two marked "idiotic," and one marked "disabled." This is remarkable because St. Bridget’s served a population not seen in the other orphanages.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet gave permission for the St. Louis Genealogical Society to place a list on our website of deaf children cared for and taught at St. Bridget’s. The data includes their names, birth places, parents’ names, when they left the asylum, and sometimes some additional information. This list can now be found at the top right of the Orphanages page on our website in the box labeled "More Orphanage Information." You can also go directly to it here, once you are logged into the site.

There is little history available for St. Bridget’s Half Orphan Asylum for Girls. In 1866 it was placed under the control of the Board of Managers of the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylums of St. Louis. The archives of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet deals only with the sisters; they do not have student records. The St. Louis Archdiocesan Archives does not have records for St. Bridget’s Half Orphan Asylum for Girls either.

More on St. Louis Orphanages

The StLGS website includes a bibliography of orphanage histories and articles, a finding aid for locating orphanages in the 1850 through 1940 censuses, a timeline of the locations for each orphanage through all their moves, and an Index to the Journal of Commitments for the House of Refuge.

The most comprehensive resource for St. Louis orphanages is Researching Orphans and Orphanage Care in St. Louis, written by Viki Fagyal ($13 members/$15 nonmembers), and available in our society's store. Don't forget to log in and get your member coupon code for the lower price.

02 March 2020

March Genealogy Meetings, Classes, and Special Events

Spring is in the air, and now that the weather shows signs of brightening up, March is crammed with all kinds of exciting genealogy events. In addition, there are many conferences and workshops coming up in the next few months. So, prepare yourself to keep busy doing your favorite hobby and grab your calendar!

Upcoming Meetings

StLGS Monthly Meeting: Saturday, 14 March 2020
"More Than Checkmarks: Finding Female Ancestors," by Jake Eubanks, St. Louis County Library Headquarters Auditorium, 10:00 a.m.; free, open to all, no pre-registration needed. More information available on the StLGS website.
Cliff Cave Library Genealogy Presentation: Wednesday, 4 March 2020
"Researching in Alsace and Lorraine," by Dan Lilienkamp, St. Louis County Library Cliff Cave Branch, 6:30 p.m.; free, open to all, no pre-registration needed. More information available on the library's website. 

St. Clair County (Illinois) Genealogical Society Monthly Meeting: Thursday, 5 March 2020
"Introduction to DNA Testing for Genealogy," by Bob McDonald, St. Luke's Parish Hall, 226 N. Church Street, Belleville, 7:00 p.m.; free, open to all, no pre-registration needed. More information available on the group's website.
Czech Genealogical Researchers Monthly Meeting: Saturday, 21 March 2020
"The Irish in Bohemia," by Mary Petersen, St. Louis County Library Headquarters, East Room, 1:30 p.m.; free, open to all, no pre-registration needed. More information available on the group's website.
Upcoming StLGS Classes
  • "Legacy Family Tree 101" (PC only) by Cathy Amen, Saturday, 21 March 2020
  • "Intermediate Irish Research," by Carol Hemmersmeier & Kay Weber; Saturday, 28 March 2020
Classes are held at the StLGS Office from 1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. Free to StLGS members; fee for non-members; pre-registration required at 314-647-8547.

 More information on these and more StLGS classes on our website.

StLGS German Special Interest Group Meeting

"German Genealogy: What Do You Need to Know?" by Carol Whitton, CG, German SIG leader; Wednesday, 25 March 2020, St. Louis County Library Headquarters Auditorium, 7:00 p.m.; free, open to all, no pre-registration needed. Click here for more information.


March Classes at St. Louis County Library

  • 5 March: "Exploring the Ancestry Database," Thornhill
  • 10 March: "FamilySearch Basics," Florissant Valley
  • 11 March: "Family History Online: Databases for Genealogical Research," Rock Road
  • 17 March: "History and Genealogy in Newspapers," Sachs
  • 18 March: "Library Skills for Genealogical Research," Natural Bridge
  • 19 March: "Discovering Ancestral Military Veterans," Weber Road
  • 26 March: "Finding Ancestors in U.S. Census Records," Headquarters
  • 31 March: "Who Were My Ancestors? Beginning Family History Research," Meramec Valley
All library classes are free but require pre-registration. More information available on the library's website.
Upcoming Special Events

"That Fabulous Summer" (1904 World's Fair)
Lecture and film at the Missouri History Museum, Sunday, 8 March 2020,
Lee Auditorium, 2:00 p.m. Free; no pre-registration required.

The museum is also sponsoring several classes this month with St. Louis Community College that are historical/genealogical in content. Specific details are on the museum's website.

Tours at Bellefontaine Cemetery
Celebrate Women's History Month and the coming of spring by taking a walking or a trolley tour at Bellefontaine. Tours are planned throughout the month of March. More information in the March Events Calendar on Bellefontaine's website.

  StLGS Trivia Night: Saturday, 7 March 2020
Richmond Heights Community Center, 8001 Dale Avenue (just south of I-64 between Hanley and Big Bend); doors open at 6:15 p.m.; questions begin at 7:00 p.m.
Questions on all topics. We'll provide snacks, fun, and an awesome silent auction!
Check out our website for more information and/or to register.


48th Annual Family History Conference
Proof Positive . . . Evidence in Court Records

Featuring Judy Russell, JD, CG, CGL
AND John Dougan, Missouri State Archivist
Local speakers, Exhibitors, Prizes and Raffles, and More!
Saturday, 4 April 2020
Orlando Gardens, 2050 Dorsett Road, St. Louis, MO 63043
Registration and complete program information
 on the StLGS website.


24 February 2020

The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918–1919

The newly discovered coronavirus has struck in the middle of the 2019/2020 influenza season and perhaps is taking over center stage at the moment. The sudden appearance and mobility of an unknown disease has many similarities with what is probably the best-known health crisis in the last century, and that is the great influenza outbreak following World War I. This world-wide event (a pandemic) was responsible for the deaths of about fifty million people, far more than were killed during the war, and has been described as having the highest mortality rate of any single pandemic in human history.

Influenza (Also called Flu or la Grippe)

Influenza has been known to humans since the twelfth century when an epidemic spread through Europe in 1173. The disease wasn't named, however, until the eighteenth century, when scientists in Italy assumed that only some heavenly "influence" could strike down so many people in so many locations at one time. Of course, they had no knowledge then of what caused most illnesses; in fact, in the early 1890s, a German doctor declared that he had identified the bacteria that caused the flu. He was wrong, however, since flu is caused by a virus.

The flu is a respiratory infection (there really is no such thing as the "stomach flu," although we hear people say they have it all the time!). The virus, like the common cold, is spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing, or touching infected objects. In early epidemics in Europe, the flu was mostly just an inconvenience. Seldom did people die from it, and those who did, for the most part, were elderly or already suffering from other ailments. It is only when the influenza virus began mutating into more potent forms, as viruses do, that the disease became fatal to a wider population.

The Pandemic of 1918 (Also called the Spanish Flu)

The outbreak after World War I was called the Spanish flu because the Spanish did not censor reporting about the spread of the disease while other countries were keeping it under wraps. However, we know now that the virus did not begin in Spain at all. Wherever it did begin (which is still uncertain), the virus spread quickly and widely because of troop movements at the end of the war. Unlike previous strains of influenza, this one attacked everyone and was most devastating to young people who appeared to be perfectly healthy. Within a year, the disease had reached every country on the planet and affected almost every household in some way. Unlike previous incarnations of flu, this variety was a killer. It often led to bacterial pneumonia (and there were no antibiotics until almost thirty years later) and sometimes, and most horribly, developed a symptom called "heliotrope cyanosis," in which the lungs filled with fluid and the patient died of lack of oxygen, their bodies turning blue or purple before they passed away.

Efforts to prevent the flu from spreading were widespread, but, as we are seeing with today's coronavirus, not effective enough, and, of course, there were no vaccines or adequate medical treatments.

Implications for Genealogists

Did you have relatives who died between 1918 and 1920? Have you looked at the cause of death on their death certificates or in their obituaries? Were they young and in good health but died suddenly? It is very likely that your family was affected by the great pandemic. Look for death by pneumonia, death by "la Grippe," or other respiratory infections as clues that your relative was a victim of this disease. Here are two examples. As you can see, influenza in both cases led to respiratory infections. Homer, age 36, died of pneumonia just nine days after contracting the flu, and Mary, age 66, died of bronchitis six weeks after she was taken ill.

Want to read more about the 1918 pandemic? The Center for Disease Control's website has an excellent history of the spread of the disease, including a timeline. The Smithsonian Magazine's website also has a good article. And don't forget, it's still not too late to get a flu shot, if you haven't already done so!

17 February 2020

Reclaim the Records: A Genealogy Group Worth Knowing About

They call themselves "your favorite little non-profit organization that picks fights with government
agencies, archives, and libraries for better public access to genealogical records and historical materials." But, far from being "little," Reclaim the Records has become a powerhouse of behind-the-scenes legal activity that is bringing long-suppressed indexes and records to the waiting hands of eager genealogists.

Although birth, death, and marriage indexes are supposed to be open and available, the reality is that many governmental agencies have taken it upon themselves to block access to them.  Privacy laws restrict access to actual records in all states, but the indexes to the records are not liable to the same restrictions. They are just indexes, and, according to the Freedom of Information laws, they should be open to the public.

Genealogist Brooke Schreier Ganz began the fight to win back records from New York City in 2015, and Reclaim the Records achieved its registered non-profit status two years later. Like St. Louis Genealogical Society, Brooke and her eight-member board of directors are all volunteers; they have no paid staff and rely on generous donations and helpers to move them forward. In the short time they have been active, they have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOI) lawsuits in multiple states (Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Washington, and Wyoming to date) and have managed to win access to millions of records. In spite of massive push back from governmental agencies, they have successfully negotiated the courts and released previously unavailable data online for free. They have gone to battle with few resources and won all of us the right to view marriage, birth, and death indexes that were previously off limits.

You can benefit from their hard work by going to the group's website. Their home page features a list of current lawsuits and record requests. Each of the record requests explains what was asked for and the current state of legislation. More importantly, each of the request graphics is a link to the status of the specific lawsuit. If the suit has been settled, the actual indexes will be posted there. You may be interested to note that litigation is in progress to open the Missouri birth index, for which the state tried to charge $1.5 million dollars! You can read more about that here. If your ancestors came from any of the states that are in the position of withholding access to records, the site invites you to take a records survey and let them know what records you have interest in. (NOTE: They have no jurisdiction over adoption or cemetery records, as those are private and not within FOI boundaries.)

What Else?
While you are on the site, you can sign up to receive their free newsletter so you will know what legislation is pending and be alerted when new records come online. If you want direct access to the records, they are all posted on the Internet Archive, although you will have to search for them individually. And, of course, as a small non-profit doing expensive work on our behalf, Reclaim the Records will gladly accept donations.

10 February 2020

Trivia Night Silent Auction Baskets: Filled with Goodies and Ready for You!

St. Louis Genealogical Society’s eleventh annual Trivia Night is rapidly approaching, and we hope you can join us for a few hours of brain teasers and good cheer on Saturday, 7 March 2020 at the Richmond Heights Community Center. This event is one of the society's major fundraisers, a fun-filled evening with ten rounds of questions, from easy to challenging, on a wide variety of topics, plus other favorites like 50-50 and Dead or Alive.

One of the highlights of this special evening is our silent auction, a win-win situation for both you and the St. Louis Genealogical Society. Each year, the Trivia Night committee fashions beautiful baskets filled with donations from individual members and generous local businesses. The society benefits from these gifts and you win if you make a lucky bid and get some treasure at a bargain rate.

Two weeks ago in this blog, we featured some of the outstanding artwork donated by StLGS members and friends. This week, we highlight just a few of the twenty fantastic baskets included in this year's silent auction.

Cold Drinks

This basket is just one of the many we have for you featuring wine and accessories. Valued at $110 and donated by Jane Theissen, the basket contains all you need for a lovely evening with friends. Two bottles of delicious wine, a cork trivet, canapé plates, and small spreader knives are included, all you need to supply is the good cheer.

Hawaiian Vacation

Ready to get away from the cold? This charming basket is filled with Hawaiian-inspired delights. Donated by Trish Gormley and valued at $50, the basket has a decidedly Tropical theme: lip balm, kitchen accessories, a coconut bra, and a flip-flop flyswatter! Pure fun!

Unplugged Game Night

One of two baskets filled with toys you can enjoy without electricity, this basket, valued at $100 and donated by Jackie Sanderson, will make you nostalgic for your childhood. In it you will find the classic game of Sorry, checkers, jigsaw puzzles, marbles, and more for you and the young ones in your life to enjoy in front of the fireplace on a cold winter's evening, even if the power is out!

Mickey and Minnie, Anyone?

For the Disney lover in your family, Mary Alice Gallagher has donated this little basket filled with Mickey and Minnie Mouse items. Valued at $56, it is certainly what some toddler in your family is waiting for you to bring home!

Purr-fect Gift for Cat Lovers

Here is just the thing for the cat lover in your life (or maybe you?). Inside, you will find holiday-themed kitchen towels, socks, a mug, and other cat-lovers' items. Donated by Jackie Sanderson and valued at $100, this basket is far too purr-fect to leave behind.

And for Bird Lovers . . .

Not a basket but a beautiful ceramic serving plate made by StLGS vice-president for membership, Michelle Pearce. Michelle was inspired by American wildlife artist, Charley Harper, whose beautiful, minimalist bird drawings are known world-wide. Michelle's plate is about ten inches in diameter and is completely food (but not dishwasher) safe. It is valued at about $45.

These are just a sampling of what is coming up. In addition to the baskets, we also have a membership to the St. Louis Art Museum, tickets to an assortment of plays, the St. Louis Symphony, and, of course lots of sports, including Blues and Cardinals games. And, as always, there are gift certificates to local restaurants and businesses and the Waterway 3-Month Clean Car Club, Blue Level with a value of $120.

Trivia Night Information

Are you excited yet? Trivia Night is Saturday, 7 March, at the Richmond Heights Community Center, a half-block south of Highway 40/Interstate 64, just east of Hanley, at 8001 Dale Avenue. There are still tables and individual seats available. You can register online on our website and get driving directions on the site, too. Go to https://stlgs.org/events/trivia-night for everything you need to get you there. We look forward to seeing you and appreciate your continued support.