27 November 2017

Family Stories: Is It True?

(Our guest author this week is Dr. Ted Bainbridge, who has written a series of articles on what he has learned from researching his wife's and his own family stories. We hope you pick up some good ideas for your own quests based on what Dr. Bainbridge has written.)

Many families tell and retell dramatic, strange, or funny stories about their ancestors. Some of them might even be true. Here are some examples of true, false, and partly-true stories in my family.

From the Mayflower to the Revolution

One of my mother’s cousins wrote this in a letter in 1973: “In the 1920s, Aunt Sadie . . . had the family tree done by professionals. . . . Something that may interest you from Aunt Sadie’s tree––two English [family surname] came over on the Mayflower but died the first winter in Massachusetts. When the second ship came over, two more Englishes came over. They were Geo. and William English. These two were our forbearers [sic]. . . . Another interesting thing is when Benedict Arnold gave the plans to Major André, the man who was presiding officer at the trials was our relation. He was Brevet Gen. Alexander English who ordered Major Andre hanged. He is buried in West Point cemetery. I visited his grave many times when I was stationed at the ‘Point’ in 1924 to 1928.”

During the 1970s, many relatives born around 1900 told me Aunt Sadie bragged about her tree, always carried it in her purse, and frequently brandished it to relatives while telling them they couldn’t read it because they hadn’t paid for it. The then-current owner promised Sadie she wouldn’t let anybody else see it, but she let me copy it because I lived more than 2,000 miles away. The report was done in 1930. It was not done by a professional. It went back only to Sadie’s grandfather who was born in 1803. It did not include any of the above stories.

Researching reliable historical records shows the following. The Mayflower brought one English, not two, and he died the first winter without issue. The second ship did not bring anybody named English or anything like that. No George or William English arrived in America for at least eighteen years after the Mayflower’s arrival. The presiding officer at Major André’s trial was Nathaniel Greene. The Daughters of the American Revolution Patriot Index shows no English with a rank above lieutenant. The hanging was ordered by the court martial board and confirmed by General Washington. General Alexander English, who is buried at West Point, was born seventeen years after Major André was hanged. Oh, sigh! How disappointing! [More on this family coming in the next installment.]
Went to Texas and Were Killed by Indians

My wife Carol researched a Masterson who married a Lanman, losing track of that family in Iowa in 1850. She asked the current Masterson genealogist of highest standing if she knew what happened to those people. She said they moved to Texas and were killed by Indians.

Carol found them in the 1860 census of Jack County, Texas. Several years later, she Googled “Texas Lanman.” She found a description of an Indian raid that took place in Jack County several weeks after the census was taken. In that raid, three members of that Lanman-Masterson family were killed.

From Portugal or the Netherlands?

A patron at the Longmont Family History Center asked for help researching her family. Some family members said they came from Portugal, others said they came from the Netherlands, and still others said they came from Portugal-Netherlands. The family name sounded Dutch rather than Portuguese.

Carol searched the Internet for an old gazetteer and found an entry for Portugaal in Zuid Holland. Her search of old maps found one, dated 1450, that showed a town named Portugaal near Rotterdam. A modern Google map shows Poortugaal among the southwestern suburbs of Rotterdam.
A Scottish Name in Switzerland

A friend asked me to help her start researching her family. She said the family used to be wealthy and lived in their castle on an island in a lake in Switzerland. The name sounded Scottish rather than German, French, or Italian.

Switzerland doesn’t have a lake with an island. I found that family’s association website. They are descended from the man and woman of that name who were wealthy and lived in their castle on an island in a lake near the west coast of Scotland. The association offers copies of their extensive genealogical data to anybody who can show they are descended from any family members they recognize. My friend’s great-grandfather was among them. So she had her ancestry back to 1750 in one day.
 So . . .

Stories preserved within your family might be true or false or some of each. Think of how you might prove or disprove parts of the story using authoritative sources that do not come from the family. Imagine what you would like to find if the world were an ideal place. Then hunt for such information on the Internet. If an imaginative and persistent search fails, try looking for books on relevant subjects in Worldcat at www.worldcat.org/. That site lists more than two billion items in libraries around the world. If you find something interesting, ask your local librarian to get it for you through Interlibrary Loan.

Hope that you can prove or disprove the stories you have inherited, but realize that some questions cannot be answered conclusively. For example, consider John English, who was a private in the Second Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Line and who claimed that he took an active part in the hanging of Major André. He was in that unit for two years before and three years after the André incident. That unit was close to Major André’s location the day he was hanged. No record of events close to the execution mentions John and no record says the Second attended the hanging. Was he nearby? Yes. Was he there? Maybe. Did he participate? We’ll never know. [More on John English in a subsequent installment.]

 Advice and Examples

Read Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact from Fiction in Family Legends by Richard Hite. This book is a collection of family traditions and explanations of how they were investigated. Some were true, some were false, and some were a little of both. If the library nearest you doesn’t have this book, ask a librarian to get it for you through Interlibrary Loan. [Or purchase a copy at the StLGS online store. Click here to go to the correct page. Remember to log in and get your discount code first, if you are an StLGS member.]

19 November 2017

Genealogical Musing with Fran

(Former StLGS president, Fran Behrman, is our guest blogger this week. As you gather with your family on Thanksgiving, remember that the holidays are a perfect time for encouraging stories to be told, recorded, written down, and preserved. Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at StLGS!)

Hello from StLGS to all of our fellow genealogists,

What is a genealogist? Investigator, searcher, sleuth, explorer, authenticator, fact finder, scrutinizer, thinker, writer, historian. Just some of the adjectives that you might use to explain what you do in your quest for the facts of your family’s past. There are no shortcuts. No maybes. This is serious work that requires a studious, nosy, persistent, inquisitive, discerning mind. 
 Do you remember your first great discovery? What a thrill! It is the “hook” that makes you want more.
I have a maternal great-grandfather whose name is James Vaton Smith. Thank goodness for the Vaton part as that is how, after hours and hours of perusing through microfilm, I knew I had found my man. Way back before computers and the Internet, the average researcher had to go to the source of original records. It was not always possible or practical to travel to explore those records, so many of us ordered microfilm from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. We had a local Family History Center near my home, so when a microfilm would arrive, I would go there and research. My James Vaton Smith went through Arkansas to join the land rush to claim property in Oklahoma at the turn of the century (we know this because my grandmother was born in Arkansas). Not knowing more than his name and his destination, I started with the most northern counties of Arkansas and planned to search each and every county. I could have come up empty, as he may have never been in any one location long enough to be in a census or tax or land record, but it was my duty to try. Luckily, I did indeed find my James V. Smith in a marriage record in Stone County, Arkansas. That led to knowing my great-grandmother’s maiden name and her parents. What a find! And it was Smith! But he had used his middle name!
No, I didn’t make this discovery in a day or a week or even a month, but the satisfaction and joy of the discovery is still one I remember and smile about. Researching is what we do and the sweet joy of an accurate discovery is a glorious moment.
Do you remember your first discovery? Do you do your genealogy alone or do you have a partner or team that you work with? I have always had the joy of sharing with my sisters who have been as excited and sometimes as stunned as I by the facts we found.
Genealogy has grown in popularity as a hobby (some say it is now the most popular pastime in the U.S.) and it is easy to understand why. The discovery of an ancestor is a thrill. Once you find the name then adding “meat to bone,” so to speak, by researching the person in depth, brings great satisfaction.
Are all ancestors easy to find?  Of course not. But to me the thrill of the hunt is as great as the thrill of the find. How many places have I traveled to that I would probably never have had the joy of visiting if the hunt for ancestors was not my “thing”? Small towns, large cities, and in between, from north to south and east to west across the great oceans to unknown places, following the clues and the documents found in towns that I may have never heard of before.
Genealogy takes an inquisitive mind, which the Energizer bunny ad says “ just keeps on goin!” Do you think you are finished when you have collected all the facts about everyone in your family tree? Well, I don’t think so. After collecting, you must preserve what you’ve found and hopefully write the story of your family’s past. Now that can be an even harder task, but this doesn’t have to be the great American novel. No, this is the story based on documented facts, that you will leave to generations to come who will know the contribution your family made to our world.
I am a genealogist. I am an investigator. I am an authenticator! And I am proud to be a member of StLGS, which has dedicated fifty years to assisting those who want to know about their family’s history.
             Wishing you great success in your genealogical search. Fran

16 November 2017

Meet Author A. J. Jacobs, Thursday, 30 November

StLGS is proud to be a co-sponsor of an exciting author event at the end of this month. Teaming with Meet Me St. Louis and the Kirkwood Public Library, we are delighted to introduce you to A. J. Jacobs, author of It's All Relative, Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree.

A. J. is a contributing editor to Esquire magazine and National Public Radio and the author of a New York Times best seller called The Year of Living Biblically. His new book tells of his quest to build the largest family tree in the world and to understand just what makes up family. Told with great humor and enthusiasm for his research, the book crosses the world, ethnic groups, and social classes. It has been described as a "fascinating look at the bonds that connect us all."

What: Presentation, Q and A, and book signing
Where: Kirkwood Public Library, 140 East Jefferson Avenue, Kirkwood, MO 63122
When: Thursday, 30 November 2017, 7:30 p.m.

Advance Tickets: $35 (Includes presentation and book)
General Admission and Tickets at the Door: $20 (Book not included; entrance only if space permits)
Students with Valid ID: $10 (Book not included)

For more information on Meet Me St. Louis, click here.

To purchase tickets, click here.

For directions to the Kirkwood Public Library, click here.

13 November 2017

Loss of StLGS Volunteer, Doris Eshbach, and Upcoming Steamboat Talk

In Memoriam: Dr. Doris Eshbach

It is with great sadness that we report that longtime volunteer, researcher, and exuberant StLGS member/supporter, Dr. Doris Eschbach, passed away suddenly on Wednesday, 1 November 2017. Doris was passionate about her German heritage, traveling with us numerous times on our annual research trip to Salt Lake City and to Europe with her family. She volunteered at the Family History Conference each year, came to every meeting she could, was an ardent participant in the German Special Interest Group, and attended classes and workshops regularly. Doris had been a teacher and university professor before her retirement and then pursued her interest in and devotion to genealogy, traveling, and her family. All of us who knew her will miss her bright smile, her bubbly personality, and her unfailing enthusiasm for the things she loved.

We extend our deepest sympathy to Doris's husband, Leonard, her children, grandchildren, and great-granddaughter.

For Those with an Interest in Steamboats . . .

The Bridgeton Historical Society invites you to hear Porsche Schlapper, the new curator of the Herman T. Pott National Inland Waterways Library located in the Mercantile Library at UMSL, give a talk on "Traveling by Steamboats on the Mississippi."
Tuesday, 14 November from 7:00 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.
Bridgeton Recreation Center, 4201 Fee Fee Road, Bridgeton, Missouri

The talk is free and needs no pre-registration. For directions to the venue, click here.

06 November 2017

Archeology in St. Louis and a Treat for Illinois Residents

From the Old Trails Historical Society in St. Louis County:
You are invited to their November general meeting, 8 November 2017, at 7 p.m., at the West County EMS and Firehouse, Henry Road, in Manchester, Mo.
“New and Amazing Archaeological Discoveries in St. Louis at the Site of the new St. Louis-Based National Geospatial Intelligence Agency” is the topic.
Preparation is underway for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency on ninety-seven acres in the City of St. Louis. So before it was too late and the ground was bulldozed and prepared for construction, Joe Harl, archaeologist, regional expert, and co-founder of the Archaeological Research Center of St. Louis, Inc., conducted extensive investigations throughout the large parcel of land, knowing that important data would certainly be obtained there. This neighborhood was occupied by immigrants from Germany and Ireland and their families for many generations and went through dramatic changes in the mid-twentieth century. Recovery was made of more than 300 historical features dating back to the Victorian Era in the late 1800s and through the early 1900s. Joe Harl will share the importance of these findings about life in St. Louis between the 1850s and 1950s.
This meeting is free and open to the public. No need to pre-register; just be there!
(Thanks to Viki Fagyal for forwarding this information.)

Try-It Illinois is a collection of databases available to Illinois residents for a free trial until 30 November. Fold3, Newspaper Archive, Newspapers.com, and the Historical Chicago Tribune are just a few of the resources on the site that will appeal to genealogists. To get access, you must live in Illinois and request the username and password on the Try-It Illinois website (right side of the home page in a pale yellow box) or contact your local Illinois public library. You can find Try-It Illinois at http://www.finditillinois.org/tryit/.

(Thanks to the Illinois State Genealogical Society Blog for this information.)