The Blog

Using Family History Centers

One of the things the LDS Church (Mormon) is often known for is the strong interest in genealogy.  The Church’s contributions to the preservation of innumerable historical documents has helped the genealogical community for decades.  I am often surprised, then, when I talk to baby genealogists who have never stepped into an LDS Family History Center (FHC).  If you have not visited your local center, let me give you a few reasons to make a visit a priority in your search for your ancestral kin…

1.  A Wealth of Microfilms.  Some of the first preservation of records across the world was conducted by LDS genealogists under the original direction of the Genealogical Society of Utah.  They photographed old court records, church books, and more onto microfilm.  FamilySearch, a non-profit arm of the LDS church maintains these records on and offline.  They now work at an astounding rate to digitize and index these microfilms and make them available online.  Using FamilySearch online will be our next post.  Not all microfilms are online, but are still available to order and have sent to your local FHC to be read on a microfilm reader.  Many FHCs even have microfilm readers that will digitize your selected pages from the film to print or download onto a flashdrive.  Check the catalog for records you may need from the location your ancestors came.  Clicking on a film number will take you to an online ordering system.  Select the FHC you wish the film to arrive at, pay online using your credit card or PayPal, and you will receive emails notifying you of the status of your order.  Films generally cost $7.50 for postage and handling, and are available to be viewed at your local FHC for 6-8 weeks, depending on your location.  You can pay more to extend that time.  For me, ordering a $7.50 film from an out-of-state courthouse is worth the price.

2.  Resources galore at the library.  There are two types of libraries available from FamilySearch: the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake and smaller local libraries known as Family History Centers, often located in part of an LDS meetinghouse.  The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, is considered by many a genealogical mecca.  People travel there from all over, individually and in special groups, to have the opportunity to view all the films, books and indexes, and special collections, most of which are on site or can be ordered within a day or so.  One popular group research trip is organized by the National Genealogical Society twice a year. Free classes are available onsite at the FHL, separate from these group trips. There is still much available in your local FHC as well.  General how-to books, maps, magazines, and indexes featuring local history are available to patrons to view within each FHC.  Each FHC has an unique collection, depending on contributions or local needs.  There is an easy-to-use FHC finder on the FamilySearch website to direct you to the one closest to you.

3.  Helpful Volunteers.  While you cannot reasonably expect to find an expert on your particular genealogical conundrum at each local FHC, what you will find are people who are dedicated volunteers willing to help the best they can.  They can help familiarize you with the center, its holdings and hours, and the websites available for free online when you visit.  You don’t have to be a member of the LDS Church to volunteer yourself, you might consider donating a few hours a month to help out there too; ask the local FHC Director for more information.

4.  Online Access to Premium Sites.  Many premium online genealogy websites have generously donated access to their collections if you are using computers at the FHC and at the FHL.  Sites such as Ancestry.com, fold3, WorldVitalRecords.com, HistoricMapWorks, and NewspaperArchive.com are just some of the collections you can peruse while you visit.  The bonus is that those helpful volunteers often have experience with these sites and can assist you in person to familiarize yourself with those online collections.

5.  Best of all, its FREE!  People are always welcome in the Family History Centers, free of charge.  You need not expect proselytizing about the LDS church, the goal in the FHCs is to help you with your family history.  The only charges you might see are for the films, and those are generously low.  Now even copies are no charge in many local FHCs.

Perhaps a quote from Maya Angelou is appropriate here.  She said:

“We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors’ wisdom.” 

Perhaps the Family History Library and local Family History Centers are some of those tangible houses of history filled with valuable resources to genealogists of all levels. Visit one today and let us know of your experiences there! 

 

Gather ye DNA while ye may

Ever since I first heard that my own mitochondrial DNA could be analyzed, and that those results could give me answers about my genetic ancestry, I just knew that I wanted to be part of this effort.

Initially, I felt the test was cost prohibitive. But then as luck would have it, AncestryDNA (www.ancestrydna.com) recently made it feasible.  For only $99 plus shipping and handling I purchased a ‘genome scanning’ test kit for collecting my DNA sample. Pretty neat, huh?

The test requirements were easy, simple and painless:

DNA TEST DIRECTIONS:  Read accompanying instructions.

Do not eat or drink for thirty minutes before test. Open tube, fill tube with saliva to the black line on the tube (not including bubbles!), add stabilizing solution, close tube, shake, and mail saliva to address in Utah in the enclosed, prepaid-padded envelope. Wait six to eight weeks for results.

I now have the test results back from the DNA laboratory in Utah.  I am learning about recent generations of my family and also about the generations that reach back many thousands of years. For example I have learned that my ancestors have been on the British Isles for millennia.  This fact has been determined with 98 percent certainty based on the commonality of my mitochondrial DNA compared with others of similar lineage or ethnicity. I have even been given the names and email addresses of those who with 98 percent certainty are my fourth, fifth or sixth cousins. These are people who have also taken the same DNA test that I did. As more and more individuals take part in submitting their DNA samples for genetic research, more family connections will be made and our family tree can grow exponentially.

It excites me that it is now possible to reach out to my ‘cousins’ comparing our family trees, documents and the stories that have been passed down through the years. I’m hoping to find others with a common ancestor. Interestingly enough, I have also learned that two percent of my DNA links me with indigenous Americans.  This information has kept me up at night, pondering who those ancestors could be!

Have you ever thought about taking your family genealogy to the next level? It is so doable now and can open up a world of information, interest and fun for the whole family.  Who do you think you are?  Now’s the time to find out. Let us know if you found anything surprising from DNA tests.

For more information on DNA and “deep genealogy”, check out the following web sites:

www.cyndislist.com/dna/

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genealogical_DNA_test

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-02-18/news/ct-met-dna-genealogy-tests-20130218_1_dna-test-results-genetic-adam-genealogy-hobbyists

 

Memories of San Francisco 1924: Bootleg Whiskey, the Jazz Era and Vaudeville

 

Author’s note: The following is taken from my grandmother’s memoirs.  She wrote these words when she was 79 years old and lived to be 105.  Her memories are reflective of  the eyes of a young woman leaving home for the first time. 

This is the second of 3 guest posts from “Letters to My Kids“. Check back soon for Post 3.

We found an apartment in a new building on Ellis Street, near Hyde.  Later we learned we were living in the heart of the then ‘red light’ district of the city and we took a lot of kidding about it.  However, we were never bothered and it was a very good location – close to downtown theaters, shopping and not far from the financial district.  I found a position with the North British Insurance Company.  And made some friends, one of whom I still see now and then, Pearl Pickering.  It was a good fun-loving group in that office and I soon became initiated into the life of the jazz era.  If I had known then it was an ‘era,’ I might have paid more attention. Prohibition was the law but not greatly observed by San Franciscans.  I was never much of a drinker and was wary of anything except wine, but we thought it smart to drink and I usually indulged moderately at parties and dinners at the North Beach cafes.  The wine was always hidden under the table and served in coffee cups.

We loved to go to the French and Italian restaurants where we could get a full five-course meal for 50 cents, 75 cents on Sundays when half a chicken was the main course.  We continued our love affair with the movies.  All the downtown movie houses had live entertainment besides first-run pictures.  The Warfield, the Granada and others on Market Street vied with one another each week to produce the grandest extravaganzas so the public got its 50 cents worth and more.  The California Theater was famous for the organ concerts by Max Dolin and the Warfield for the shows produced by Fanchon and Marco, a San Francisco dance company.  We often went to the Orpheum Theater on O’Farrell Street to see the latest vaudeville shows.  Across the street from the Orpheum was the famous down-stairs after-theater club, Coffee Dan’s, where everyone pounded on the tables with wooden mallets whenever new guests arrived.  Next door to the Orpheum was Morrison’s Restaurant where we loved to eat before the performance – it was considered sheik to sit at the counter!  A short distance away was Marquard’s where there was tea dancing on Saturday afternoons.  On Powell Street was Tait’s famous coffee shop where one could get a good meal for a reasonable price amid a cosmopolitan atmosphere.

The city abounded in cafeterias that served excellent food amid tasteful surroundings.  Another gustatory delight, especially for women, were the numerous tearooms, mostly in downtown alleys and upstairs in buildings, that served better than home cooked food.  There was almost no limit to the number of restaurants in S.F. where one could get delicious food.  These restaurants were concentrated in the downtown and North Beach areas until the 60’s when a few began to appear in the outer reaches of the city.  One exception at that time as a cafeteria called Noah’s in Burlingame that was famous for its ham.  We would take a streetcar from down town and ride all the way to Burlingame just to go to Noah’s.  Yes, there was a streetcar from S.F. to Burlingame for many years after I came to S.F. in 1924.  The right-of-way is still there and should have been utilized for a rapid transit system long ago.

There were many nightclubs where there was dancing, good food and entertainment.  Our dates would bring a bottle of bootleg liquor, which was kept, discreetly under the table.  The club usually charged one dollar for a ginger ale “set-up”.  Our favorite nightclubs were the Lido on Columbus Avenue, Bimbo’s 365 Club on Market Street and Shorty Robert’s at the beach.

Altogether it was a fun time for a young single woman to be living in San Francisco.  We were “flappers” and followed all the styles of the time – daring short dresses, high heals, lots of makeup, short hair, cigarettes and dancing the Charleston.  Until the First World War, no nice woman would have dreamed of cutting her hair or smoking and drinking in public. We thought we were sophisticated but we were really very innocent, at least I was.  No one I knew lived with the opposite sex out of marriage, and most young women had high moral standards.

Ancestral Signatures in Genealogy

 

Hold Still Grandpa!  As you may have already experienced in your own research, some of your ancestors rarely stayed in one place.  They migrated to new countries, moved from county to county, or the lure of the plains of the open West was too much to resist.  If you are fortunate, you can identify two families as the same if you find church records, obituaries, county histories, or deed records that state that the ancestor had been “late of…” somewhere you knew he was.  But if those records cannot be found, then what?

You may find some success in connecting migrating family by collecting your ancestors’ signatures.  Remember to make a citation of where each signature was taken, when it was taken, and under what circumstances.  Let’s see an example of signatures above.

In the picture above, how many men do you find named John/Jonathan Lewis?  All of these signatures were taken from men who lived sometime in Garrard County, Kentucky, from about 1800 to 1830.  Do you see more than three signatures?  Now compare that with the image below.

 

So many men named John!  Do you agree with the analysis?  I believe there are seven distinct signatures for seven different men.  What about number three, why include that?  It is a clerk’s copy of a “signature” from a deed, which means that the document I saw was not the original, but a handwritten copy by the county clerk.  Clerks will “sign” for the ancestor, but is rarely the ancestor’s actual signature.  Why include the clerk’s copy of number three?  The answer is that now you know that this man named Jonathan Lewis can be distinguished from the others because of his illiteracy.

When looking for ancestral John Hancocks, try these ideas:

  1. Search a variety of records.  The records above came from many different sources including deed records, marriage bonds, original wills, and chancery (equity) records.  Try also: military pensions and bounty lands, draft registrations, oaths of allegiance, coroner’s reports with jury signatures, voter registrations, court bonds, backs of photographs, letters, journals, marriage licenses, death certificates (signatures of the informants), occupational records, stocks and bonds, flyleafs in books, yearbooks and autograph books, family bibles, and many more.
  2. Try a variety of locations.  I mentioned that all these men lived at some time in Garrard County, Kentucky, but that isn’t where I found all of their signatures.  As they migrated to nearby counties, visited state courts, or moved west, I followed their migrations and picked up signatures along the way.
  3. Seek out records of family and friends.  Your ancestor may not be indexed by name in the record of an in-law or neighbor, but the record itself may contain your ancestor’s signature as a witness or bondsman.  You have to love those ancestors who worked as the court clerk, and personally signed every deed in the county book!
  4. Be aware of age and language differences.  Your ancestor’s signature can change over time.  The confident hand of a newly married 25 year-old man in a marriage bond may change from the shaky pension application for bounty land of the seventy year-old man.  Literate immigrant ancestors accustomed to the Cyrillic alphabet characters may be less “literate” in the Americanized Roman alphabet.  Watch for phonetic name spelling changes, and newly adopted Americanized names.
  5. Not all ancestors signed with an X.  A few of our predecessors were more creative with their “mark.”  While many illiterate persons signed with a simple X, some had a more personal notation, such as a specialized cross or first letter of their name.
  6. Check out a book on handwriting.  Your local library has books on handwriting comparisons if you are not sure you have a match between two names.  If that doesn’t work, ask your genealogical buddy for an extra set of eyes, or hire a handwriting expert.

Our ancestor’s lives were as complex, busy, and emotional as ours today and they left their marks in so many places.  Our job is to follow their trail and pick up those crumbs that together become the genealogical bread of life.  Tell us about a brick-wall breakthrough that you’ve had using signatures while following your ancestors through time.

Memories of Los Angeles in 1923: Setting Sail, Early Motion Pictures and a Romance Gone Awry

 

Author’s note: The following is taken from my grandmother’s memoirs.  She wrote these words when she was 79 years old and lived to be 105.  Her memories are reflective of old Los Angeles from the eyes of a young woman leaving home for the first time. 

This is the first of 3 guest posts from “Letters to My Kids“. Check back soon for Posts 2 and 3.

I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with my life in Portland and in 1923, over the objections of my family, I left for Los Angeles with my friend Nora.  We took passage on a steamship to San Francisco where we stayed for two days.  I loved San Francisco from that first visit and even then regretted that I was not staying there.  We continued our journey by ship to San Pedro.  We stayed with my mother’s oldest sister, Polly, for a week or so until we found a one-room apartment in the Westlake District of Los Angeles.  It was all so exciting to us – the palm trees, the balmy climate (no smog then), and the beautiful clean beaches.

My very first job was as secretary to Col. Selig, who owned the Selig Zoo and also the Selig Motion Picture Studio.  During my lunch hours I became friendly with the elephant trainer, the lion trainer and Blossom Seeley, an ex-vaudeville star, who operated the studio cafeteria.  The elephant trainer let me ride the elephant bareback, the lion trainer showed me his scars, and Blossom fed me.  While I worked there, the picture Abraham Lincoln was being made and I watched them shoot many scenes.  The actors collected their paychecks at our office and although I knew most by sight I always made them tell me their names.  I refused to let them know I was impressed!  I stayed there only a few months because the office manager had very handy hands.  Even then there was sexual harassment.

I immediately found another position with the Union Oil Company in a brand new office building in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.  All the best stores were nearby, good places to eat, and exciting events happening.  Los Angeles was a beautiful city at that time and there I was right in the heart of it.  I could even walk to work!  My job was not at all that demanding – in fact I often wonder what I was paid for doing.

It was shortly after coming to L.A. that I met a young man with whom I had my first serious love affair.  He was very nice and pleasant but did not have much ambition.  His sister was a famous opera star; I cannot now remember her name.  I never met her, as she did not come to L.A. while I lived there.  Eventfully I became unhappy with the progress of my romance and decided to return to Portland, a decision I regretted.  I learned you can’t go home again.  Living at home after being on my own was unsatisfactory (I am sure my parents felt the same way although they never said so).  I found the climate of Portland very depressing after sunny California and in less than a year I took off for San Francisco with my friend, Ruby Christensen.