Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Childhood Neighborhood in NW Chicago

Used by permission of subject

From 1945 to 1955, I lived with my parents and siblings in a Veterans’ Housing Project in northwest Chicago, IL on land that belonged to the Forest Preserve. I remember just a few things about the Project: chalky white, one-story houses with pitched roofs, quiet streets where a child could ride a tricycle, and long towers of hollyhocks in the summer.
By 1955, the government told the veterans that they would need to find other housing as the Project was to be closed.

My parents began looking for housing in the city of Chicago where they had both been born and grew up. But the only apartments they could afford (my father was a semi-skilled laborer) were cold-water flats in poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods.

A friend told my father that in Tucson, AZ one could buy a house on the G.I. Bill for $5,000! Well, that was all it took for my parents to pack us up and leave what had been our families’ home for four generations. Off we went to AZ but that is another story.

All my life I have wondered about my first and only Chicago neighborhood. I had done some google searching on the topic but nothing much had come up until this month – Dec 2011. I struck gold!
Lee Bey, a native Chicagoan, is a writer, photographer, architecture critic, and blogger. My search brought up his blog posting from Feb 2, 2011. The subject was a vanished Chicago neighborhood which just happened to be my long-lost Project!

Mr. Bey writes about a man, Michael Delarosa who lived in the area that once was the Project in the 1970s. Michael wanted to find out what the neighborhood had looked like over the last 70 years. He used the website Historic Aerials to find aerial photographs showing the Project when it was first built in 1945. And then another photograph in 1962 showed that the neighborhood of veterans’ homes was gone.

From Mr. Bey’s blog posting, I found out for the first time that my neighborhood was called Sauganash Homes. Sauganash was the Indian name given to Thomas “Billy” Caldwell, who was born in 1780 to a Mohawk woman and an Irishman. As a reward for his work as a translator and emissary between the Indians and the US government, Billy was given some land in Chicago by the federal government. Part of this land was to become the Sauganash Homes.

As the fourth generation of their families in Chicago, my father and mother broke that chain of residency in that great city when the Sauganash Homes’ closing left them without affordable housing. I was only ten years old, but I had already become enamored with my home city. I was looking forward to riding the buses by myself. But that was not to be. After 1955, I never again lived in Chicago.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What Keeps Us Going

I know that you, like me, have met non-genealogists who ask, “How do you keep going? Why don’t you ever give up on an ancestor who seems impossible to find? How many years can you spend looking for someone?”

Well, psychology may give us the answer. My friend, Anne Gomertz from Gastonia, NC, who is a librarian, tech wizard and expert genealogist, used the term “intermittent reinforcement”  to describe what keeps us in the genealogy game. 

How I put this phenomenon in the context of genealogy is that while we go along, doing our diligent research, including:  searching for documents, analyzing  possible relationships, tracing migration trails, scrutinizing maps, searching for living relatives, to name just a few activities we do, we sometimes actually FIND something!
We may get reinforcement for our continuing research efforts in the form of identifying the parents of our target ancestor and even his full name from a record we never knew existed. This happened to me when a genealogical friend found Henry Kreis’ baptismal record in an on-line index. I ordered the microfilm from the Family History Center. The copy is barely legible, so I transcribed it:

Now I knew both Henry's and his parents' full German names. I could use his parents' names to search on passenger records. Before I was searching under "John Kreis" (since that was the only name I had) and found no one that seemed to match. But when he immigrated, he was probably using his German name.

Or we may finally locate our ancestor in a census under an entirely different name – either s/he started going by a middle name or the spelling of the surname was so far off that we had overlooked it all the hundreds of times that we looked at the document before or a newly found living relative tells us she heard a family story that Henry Kreis went to CA in 1929. With that information, I searched for "Kreis" in the 1930 Los Angeles, CA census. And I found: 

Was this my Henry using the name "John"? The birth date is close, the birth place matches and his parents birth places match.

Or a friend and fellow genealogist, sitting by you in a Family History Library looking at the 1920 Essex County, NJ census, figures out the first married name of the head of household that John Kries is living in, and you then immediately recognize her as the character witness in Henry Kreis' first divorce trial.

Or a researcher sends us an obituary with the name of a living relative who turns out to be the grand daughter by this second wife, Henrietta, of my great grandfather! 

Locating a living relative is a wonderful break for a genealogist. But, a word to the wise is important here. Genealogy is all about our relationship with our ancestors. However, a relationship with people who are no longer on this earth is quite different from a relationship with a living person.

When you meet a new person through your genealogical research, you need to follow the same rules of social interaction that govern other meetings. In our zeal to gain information from our new contact, we may be tempted to “hurry” through the initial “getting to know you” stage.

But we do the person and ourselves a disservice if we fall into this trap. Taking the time to really learn about someone can be its own reward. After all, we all yearn to “know” our ancestors. Why miss the chance to “know” our living relations?

When we take the time to build trust by exchanging personal background information and sharing knowledge we have discovered about our shared family lines, we may make discoveries, solve long standing puzzles, or just make a new friend. 

I have just started to build a relationship with J.D. As she is the granddaughter of Henry Kreis and I am his great granddaughter, we are first cousins once removed. J.D. is in her 80s still living in Essex County, NJ where Henry Kreis and his second wife lived in the early 1900s. J.D. was quite surprised to hear from me as she didn’t know I even existed.

 I first called about two weeks before Thanksgiving. It was a momentous contact for me as she is the only person I know who actually had first hand knowledge of Henry Kreis through her mother and other family members. J.D. told me several facts that I didn’t know. She is the person who told me that Henry went to California in 1929. And she reported that Henrietta divorced Henry. When I later requested the divorce record from Tom Ankner, the researcher I was working with in NJ, I saw that the circumstances of the divorce -- non-support, abandonment, and abuse – were eerily similar to the ones that caused Mary Carney, Henry’s first wife, to file for divorce.

So one of my questions had been answered by J.D.’s information. I had wondered why Henry was living apart from his wife in the 1920 census even though Henrietta identified herself as his wife on that same census. Sometimes documents can’t tell the whole story.

But J.D. had a surprise of her own for me. She casually mentioned that her mother had left her a trunk full of photos, including one of John Kreis, and his immigration papers!!
Now, I could hardly breathe. Other genealogists, the very lucky ones, have come across these “trunks” filled with artifacts. But my family’s records seemed to have disappeared. I had often complained about this to my genealogy friends.

I had to remind myself that J.D. didn’t know me and probably wouldn’t want me barging in on her and grabbing that trunk! So, I just thanked her for the information and said that I would send her the documents that I had collected about our ancestors.

But this one interaction with J.D. was sufficient to keep me going for many months to come. I would make more calls to her and hope to gain her trust.

I think of these occurrences as miracles, but I know that they come from building a genealogical community and sharing information, from regularly searching for documents, from working with professional researchers, and from never giving up!
Taken by Szani Uherkovich April 19, 2010 Crocus neapolitanus Used by permission.

Categories: genealogy professional

Friday, December 2, 2011

Serendipity in Genealogical Research

Have you ever noticed how diligent working on records can only get you so far in hunting for information on your ancestors? So many times we search for years for tiny glimpses into the lives of our forbears. Sometimes it seems that we go for weeks or even months without seeing any light on a particular question we are trying to answer.

But then, voila, something incredible happens. We get a lucky break. We find a massive clue in a place we wouldn’t ordinarily be looking. We find a person, just by chance, who has valuable information to give us. This wonderful phenomenon is known as “serendipity”.  


Just a few weeks ago, in early November, I had a serendipitous experience. I was doing a Google search on my Kreis line. I have been confused about John Kreis’ birth place as it is stated as “Switzerland” in some documents and as “Germany” in others. Just on a whim, I typed “Kreis surname: Switzerland” in Google. The second item that came up was the “Krise Surname DNA Project”. 
And right under this title were these words:

“Another surname in this group is Kreis. ... in the Habsburg project, two more matching profiles in the FTDNA databank belong to living Swiss men named Kreis. ...”

Well, this certainly got my attention. I clicked on the “About this Group” tab at the top of the page. There I found the purpose of the group:

 “The Krise Surname DNA Project has been established to create a databank of Y-DNA profiles of families with variations on the surname Krise. The primary purpose is to provide a basis for documenting and distinguishing different family lines which share a common surname.”

Now I was really excited; I wanted to communicate with this group. Here I might find another research tool.

 On the same page I found the name of the project administrator, Gary Kriss, and his e-mail address. I e-mailed Gary and introduced him to my Kreis line, starting with Johann (John) Ulrich Kreis and mentioned that I would like to join his project. Gary responded on the same day.

First, he said that he would welcome me to the group but the only way to get in was to get a yDNA test from a Kreis male cousin. Now, this was perfect timing! I had wanted to ask my cousin, Frank Kries, to take a yDNA test. I guess I was just waiting for an opportune time. I called Frank and he agreed. I was on the phone ordering the test from FamilyTree DNA.

In his first message, Gary gave me some invaluable background on the Kriss/Krise/Kreis/Kries surname that he had done. He said that he tended to believe that Switzerland was the origin of his Kriss forbears and perhaps mine also. And he offered this startling fact:

“We have living genetic cousins in Switzerland who spell their name Kreis. Since the Habsburg Project identifies our deeper roots in Switzerland and your family tradition recalls Swiss roots, there is a good chance that you are part of our genetic family. But the only way to prove that is with Y-DNA.”

This was the first glimmer of hope that I had in trying to pinpoint where John Ulrich Kreis was born. I will find out more when Frank takes the DNA test.

Gary also told me that his family’s American origins are in Pennsylvania and Maryland. I know that one of the families that the Kreises married into, Hausmann/Hannaman, also landed in PA on their way to NJ and IL. Perhaps the Kreis clan also spent some time in PA.

I feel so lucky to have found Gary Kriss and the Krise Surname DNA Project. It is wonderful to find others who have been bitten by the genealogical bug. This one lucky break has moved my research on the Kreis line a step forward.

Categories: DNA

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Power of Conferences To Increase Your Genealogical Skills

As a former teacher and a life-long learner, I really enjoy the academic aspects of genealogy, including: understanding the fundamentals of DNA, becoming familiar with the historical periods our ancestors lived in, and learning more about methods of research. Genealogy conferences provide a great opportunity to sharpen our skills in these areas.
I just got back from the day and a half Family History Expo (Nov 11-12) in nearby Duluth, GA, sponsored by FamilySearch. I was really fortunate that they had four workshops devoted to German research to help me with my Kreis line. The presenter was Tamra Stansfield, a German Research Consultant at the Family History Library in UT, who is accredited in German Research though The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen). I was able to attend three of the workshops:
1.    "Historical Events and Their Impact on German Research" -- good snapshot of major events in German history
2.    "Hansel and Gretel: Finding and Following the Trail Home to Our German Ancestors" -- summary of US and German record sources (I learned about the Evangelical Lutheran Church of American archives.)
3.    German Records Other Than Parish and Vital – including citizenship, city, and emigration records

I also took a workshop on DNA. I figure if I take enough classes on this subject, maybe, maybe, I'll understand it! I learned that over 1,000,000 people have been tested in the last 12 years since the test was first available. 

A great thing about conferences is that part of the registration fee covers a CD with the hand-outs for all the workshops. This gives you a chance to look over materials from workshops that you weren’t able to attend.

The exhibit area was only one room since it was a local event (much smaller than the exhibit area at the National Genealogical Society National Conference in May 2011 in Charleston, SC), but it had some great materials which I am adding to my genealogical library:
  1. a large colorful chart of “Kinship Connections” showing relationships back seven generations
  2.  a guide, Understanding Meyers Orts by Fay S. Dearden, a gazetteer for Germany that I learned at two conferences is absolutely essential for locating towns and places in the old German Empire. You can learn more about Meyers Orts from a FamilySearch wiki.
  3. Witter’s German-English Primer for Public Schools to learn how to decipher old German script that you find in German records.
Another thing that I love about attending conferences is that you often leave with a clarion call to action. My spur to action came from the presenter, Anna Swayne, of the DNA workshop, “The Power of DNA in Unlocking Family Relationships”, said that there are two paths people take after they get their DNA results: sit and wait for possible matches to contact you or be proactive and upload your results to different 3rd party databases. Well, I came home and immediately started scouring the internet to see how this can be done. In a future post I will discuss how this process works.

Categories: genealogy education, DNA

Saturday, November 5, 2011

How to Find a Professional Researcher and What are the Rules of the Game?

Before you begin looking for someone to work with you on a family history project, you need to be sure that you have all the information that you have gathered on this subject ready to give to the researcher. This will prevent such things as a researcher sending you a document that you already have. For more information on what to share with someone who will be working with you, please see this article from Ancestry Magazine called “Hiring a Professional Genealogist”. 

Now that you have your materials prepared, the next step is to actually find a researcher. Like other things in life, one of the best ways to find a person to perform a service for you is to ask friends and neighbors whom they would recommend. But in genealogy we often need to find someone in another state or even another country. Word of mouth may not be available here.

When I began looking for outside help, I used the internet to check if there was a local genealogy society in the town/area I was interested in. That is how I found Ellen Gammon (see 10/18/11 post). Another place to look for researcher listings is public library websites. And of course you can put a request on a message board or mailing list. The article, “When to Hire a Professional Genealogist” from, gives a great list of national and international organizations that provide names of researchers.

When you find a person that has expertise in your target area, you are ready to begin the contracting process. This will involve some back and forth communication. First, you need to have a scope of work. What exactly do you want the researcher to look for? What is the time frame in which you want the work accomplished? What is the format of the work: are you expecting just documents or do you want a report with an analysis of findings? This part of the process is covered in more depth in an article from called “Hiring a Professional Researcher” (see Step 5 “Make an Agreement”). 

All of this said, research is not cut and dried. Surprising things happen along the way that may affect the course of the search. It is important to understand that you and the researcher are engaged in a journey. When the researcher digs up a document, you will react to its contents. You may learn something that causes
you to turn the search in a new direction. I asked Tom Ankner, the NJ-based researcher I introduced in my 10/18/11 post, to visit Hollywood Cemetery in Newark, Essex, NJ to find the grave of Henrietta Hausmann Williams Kreis, Henry Kreis’ second wife. He found a surprise – a Charles Hanaman (variant of Hausmann) was buried in the same grave! Who was he? By reading tombstone, Tom saw that Charles was Henrietta’s brother. This led to new questions. Where was Henry buried? Why wasn’t he buried with Henrietta?

You need to find out what the researcher charges and decide the maximum amount you want to pay. Many factors go into how much a researcher charges such as the experience of the person, their professional credentials, the market rate, the work you want done, and many more. For more information on this topic and for tips on how to control costs, please see the “How Genealogists are Paid” section of “Hiring a Professional Researcher”. 

In conclusion, as a result of working with professional researchers, I have seen my ancestor knowledge grow by leaps and bounds. With careful preparation including time spent on choosing the “right” researcher for your project, having your background materials ready to share, having a scope of work, and being open to surprising twists and turns in the journey, I believe that you will profit much from this partnership.

Categories: genealogy professional, research terms

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When to Hire a Professional Researcher

Have you been wondering if it is time to look for some outside assistance in your genealogical research? Some people hesitate because they think hiring a consultant is a luxury that is beyond their budget. But in my experience this has not been the case. The time saved and the new information and contacts I have gained from working with consultants have more than made up for their very reasonable fees.   

There are many reasons that might propel a person into the world of working with paid consultants.

First, when you are doing out of state research, someone actually living in that area can be very helpful.  That person can visit archives or other record depositories to search for information. An in-person search is much faster than ordering records by mail. Not all records have been digitized or are available on the computer. And a local person may know of places to research in the area that you have not thought of.

The first time that I worked with an outside consultant was in 2007 when I needed some documents from the Briggs Lawrence County Public Library in Ironton, OH. By studying their webpage, I found that Briggs has microfilm of marriages in Lawrence County from 1817 - present. I was searching for the marriage record of George Washington Spears (b. 1858 in Fayette Township and married in 1887 to Frances Henrietta Allis). But I couldn’t physically get to Briggs at that time so I needed some on-site help.

I didn't know any researchers living in Lawrence County. But I knew that a good place to go for local genealogy information is always the local genealogical society.
I looked at the Lawrence County Genealogical Society web page for suggested researchers. This is where I found Ellen Gammon whom I first contacted by e-mail. And this was the beginning of a professional relationship that has been so valuable to me in my research in Ohio. Ms. Gammon goes far beyond “business as usual”. An example of her care, local knowledge and desire to be of help to family members seeking to know their Lawrence ancestors is this map that she sent me when I finally had the chance to arrange a trip to OH:

Without this map, I never could have found the Union Hill Cemetery in Union Township, Lawrence County, OH.
Photo taken by Bert Schuster 4/10/2008

About a month ago, a consultant found me just when I needed him. I recently picked up the trail of my great grandfather, Henry Kreis, living in Irvington, Essex, NJ in 1920. Until a few weeks ago, I had no knowledge of Henry’s whereabouts after his divorce from my great grandmother, Mary Carney, in 1906 in Chicago, IL. I discovered that Henry had married a second time in NJ to Henrietta Hausmann Williams – who happened to be a character witness at his divorce trial!

From Essex, NJ census records, I knew that John Kreis, Henry’s father, was also living in Newark with his daughter-in-law, Henrietta and his grandchildren. I was hoping to find more information on this branch of my family, so I put a message on the Essex County, NJ forum of The next day Tom Ankner, a local researcher from Newark, NJ, responded to my posting and offered his services. Not only was Tom able to search the state archives for me and find a death certificate for John Kreis, but he suggested another local contact that proved immensely valuable.

Tom had heard about a local genealogist, Mary Lish, who had “adopted” a cemetery where some of her ancestors were buried. In the last ten years, Mary has digitized many of the burial cards and headstone information from Woodland Cemetery in Newark. She holds an annual “Photo Day” when volunteers clean up parts of the graveyard. This cemetery, like many local graveyards, has little funding for physical maintenance let alone record keeping. Without people like Mary Lish, many burial records and gravestones would be lost to the damages of time.

Photo taken by Tom Ankner 8/2011
Mary was able to look at her spreadsheet and locate not only John Kreis but several other Hausmanns. I was in for a special surprise. On a burial card for the Kreis/Hausmann plot was a note that Henrietta Kreis was buried in Hollywood Cemetery! Now I needed Tom Ankner. He was able to visit Hollywood and take pictures for me.

In my opinion, no research plan is complete without the knowledge of when it’s time to hire an outside professional. Sometimes this decision will mean finding a piece of the puzzle of ancestor knowledge that you might otherwise have missed.

In my next post, I will address in more detail what to do after you decide you want to hire a professional researcher. This will include ideas about where to find lists of people offering their services and where to find information on the actual contractual process. How do you negotiate the fee? What will you get for what you pay?

Categories: genealogy professional

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Message Boards v. Mailing Lists

On my last post, Sept 19, I talked about my experience with GenForum, a message board provided by But until this week, I didn’t know that there was a difference between a message board and a mailing list.

And as happens often in genealogy, you learn something new when you have a question that you need answered and you ask for help. That’s where Kate Herron, my friend/mentor from Chicago, IL, and the mailing list come in.

The question that I needed answered came from a marriage license for my maternal great grandparents, Peter Fleseras and Louise Miller. I found the document at
 The document says the marriage was performed by the rector of St. Andrews in Chicago, IL in 1901. But I couldn’t read the name of the rector. Hard- to-read handwriting is one of the things that plague genealogists.

I know that Peter Fleseras was Greek and that Louis Miller’s father (Frederick Miller) was German and her mother (Catherine Norton) was Irish, from County Mayo. Which church would they probably have attended? Greek Orthodox? Catholic? Protestant?

I googled for St. Andrew in Chicago, IL and found both a Greek Orthodox and a Catholic.The Greek Orthodox St.Andrew opened in 1926 – after the 1901 marriage. The Catholic St. Andrew opened in 1895 – well in time for the 1901 event.

I tried some analysis on my own. Catholics don’t usually write “clergyman” on a document. They put “priest”. And “rector” didn’t seem to be the usual Catholic choice of words either.

I was stumped so I e-mailed Kate for help. Kate suggested that I post a message on the Cook County Mailing List, gave me the following web address, said to be sure I linked to my marriage document, and told me to be careful to use digest mode:

Well, this gave me plenty of challenges. I didn’t know that had a mailing list function although I had been using their WorldConnect section for years (see future post). Second, I didn’t know what “digest mode” meant. And third, I didn’t know how to “link” inside a mailing list post.

Here’s where I can offer a piece of advice: never abuse your community of friends and mentors by asking pesky questions that you can find the answers for yourself. Save them for the BIG questions. So I started educating myself about message boards and mailing lists.

I went to the wikipedia site on internet forums to find out exactly what these two forms of communication are and how they differ. To paraphrase wikipedia, a message board, or web forum, is an internet discussion site where people have conversations that take the form of back and forth message postings.

A mailing list (in the link scroll down to "Comparison with other Web applications")  is also an internet discussion site with posted messages. It differs from a message board mainly in how messages are retrieved. On a mailing list, new messages come directly to your e-mail inbox; whereas on a message board, you have to log-on to the site to see messages. Some message boards, like GenForum, will send you an e-mail notification that there are messages waiting for you at the forum site.

stock image from
My next self-education step was to find out what was “digest mode”. I returned to and went to the Help section.The difference this time comes in the way you receive messages from the list. In “mail mode”, you receive each single message at the time it is sent to the list. That could be a lot of messages in your inbox. In “digest mode” you receive a group of messages once a day or so. This latter way cuts way down on traffic to your inbox.

Armed with this information, I was ready to go. I subscribed to Cook-CO-IL-L by following the instructions at that site.  I received a message response from the administrator of the list that  included an address of the list that I should send my messages to.

I posted my message on Cook-CO-IL-L on Tuesday, Sept 20, 2011 and in two days received several answers. I hit the jackpot with the message suggesting that I check out the 1900 Lakeside Chicago City Directory at

stock image from
Now this is a funny thing about genealogy researching. Many times we know about a particular resource and may have even used it several times before. But then we may file it away in our minds and not think of it. This is what happened in this case. Well, I wasted no time going to the ChicagoAncestors site and in the front section of the directory, I struck gold. On p. 18 there was a list of churches in 1900 Chicago. Can you imagine how I felt when I saw:

St. Andrew’s Church – Washington boul(evard) Cor(ner) S. Robey. Rector, Rev. W.C. DeWitt.

This was it! As I looked back at the nearly indecipherable signature of the clergyman on the license, everything just fell into place.

You can be sure that I will make more use of the mailing list feature of in the future.  And by the way, also has a message board feature.

Categories: genealogy community, genealogy tool

Monday, September 19, 2011

Building a Community with GenForum

Stock image from

Many people have heard the old expression: “Two heads (or more) are better than one”. In genealogy this axiom is especially true. But I didn’t find this out until years after I had been researching on my own.

Probably like you, I just started my family research by looking at the census and talking to relatives (of which I have only a few that are known to me).

 Soon I was sending away for records and finding many pieces. Sometimes the pieces just didn’t fit together.
When I moved to Augusta, GA in 2006, I met A.S., a very talented genealogist who has become a good friend. Not too soon after we met, I had an idea that if I could find some living relatives in the Kreis line, I might be able to make some of my pieces fit. But I wondered -- how best to do this?

A.S. suggested that I post a message on Well going public like that intimidated me back then. I was concerned about privacy issues. However, the drive to find out more family information overrode my initial reluctance. And I can truly say that posting on GenForum became one of the most valuable and rewarding things I have ever done in genealogy. And another benefit is that it is easy to do with a computer.

stock photo from

Now back in the days before the internet, if you wanted to put out a query or question about an ancestor, you had to search for a place to post it. If you were lucky enough to live near a genealogy society, you could post it on a bulletin board there. Or you could search for a genealogy journal or magazine that covered the geographic area where your ancestor lived. Then you could leave your address and wait until someone who might know of your ancestor might look at the journal/magazine and might see your posting. Well you can see that the probability of success was not too great.

stock photo from
But now we are in the Age of the Internet. And this is where comes in. If you go to the home page, you will see that GenForum uses what the company calls “forums” to guide people to groups of interest to them. These groups or forums are arranged around surnames and geographic place names. There are forums for US cities, counties and states and for countries all over the world. And if you can’t find a forum that fits your needs, you can start one!

Besides posting to a forum, you can also search archived messages in a forum. If you are looking for “Henry Kreis”, you can go to the Kreis forum and put “Henry Kreis” in the search box.

Next it’s time to post your own messages. Think of all the possible forums that might lead you to some new information on your family. In my case, I posted to my surnames and to the states where they lived in America. I haven’t yet been able to identify for many of my ancestors the county/city/town where they came from in Europe, so I haven’t posted to many international forums.

Both the opportunities and the power of this medium are incredible. I once put a general message on the Greek forum and received a response from a very kind genealogist in Athens who isn’t related to me at all but just likes to help Americans learn more about their Greek roots.
Posting on the Chicago forum in GenForum helped me find a wonderful genealogist who lives in Chicago and has helped me many times to think through a puzzle. If left to my own devices, I might slowly sink into one of many genealogical sand traps:
  • Tyring to force a “fit” when there isn’t one
  • Not being able to see the forest for the trees
  • Overlooking a clue that is right there crying out for you to see
  • Looking in the wrong place for a record and not knowing where the right place might be
And this is to name just a few.

In conclusion, two heads (and more) are needed to be successful at genealogy. Or to paraphrase Hillary Clinton, “It takes a village to do family research successfully.” So start building your village with GenForum.

Categories: genealogy community, research terms

Monday, September 12, 2011

Get More Bang for Your Genealogical Buck – look at Groups

Stock photo from

So you want more bang for your genealogical buck? Well you can increase your chances of getting answers to questions about your ancestors by expanding your target from individuals to groups. 

Working with the census brings up a key research technique – looking at neighboring families for clues to your target family. I was first introduced to this technique by my good friend and fellow genealogist, A.S. She showed me how to make a linkage diagram listing extended family members and neighbors living near them as shown on the census and  other documents, such as land records . Then as you continue your research, you try to draw relationship links between these people.

When you find a family of interest on a census, be sure to check back three-four pages and forward three-four pages to search for related families.

I have come across the term “cohort” used in research studies to mean a group that shares a common characteristic such as age or gender. This commonality allows researchers to observe how the group reacts over time to different stimuli as compared to other groups.

From this clinical definition, the definition has become more general to mean, among other things:

“A group of people banded together or treated as a group.”  
Google Dictionary

I have found this idea of cohort group to be useful in genealogy to describe families that have been found living near each other over many years. These cohort families sometimes knew each other back in their countries of origin. They may have emigrated together. After they came to America, they moved together in search of better opportunities. Often they shared the same religion. They bought land next to each other. They intermarried.

A wonderful resource on this topic of cohort families is Emily Anne Croom’s book The Sleuth Book for Genealogists: Strategies for more successful family history research. In Chapter Three “Broadening the Scope: Cluster Genealogy” pgs. 40-53, Ms. Croom explains why we should study our ancestors not in isolation but in “clusters”, which she defines as “…relatives, neighbors, friends, and associates.” (p. 40).

 I have experienced first hand the joy of finding answers to genealogical questions through cluster research many times. One recent example happened when I was searching for Irene Kreis' (my paternal grandmother), birth certificate. I was hoping to find my Henry Kreis' (my paternal great grandfather) birthplace listed. I had already seen his birthplace given in several census documents as “St. Louis”, but I have learned one golden rule of genealogy – always try to substantiate facts about your ancestor with several documents.

I knew Irene had siblings, including a brother named Lawrence, from her mother’s divorce record. I went to and found a birth record for Lawrence Kreis. I learned several good pieces of information: the exact birth date of Lawrence, the address of the family at that time, corroboration of Henry’s birth place, and even Henry’s occupation (Teamster), all of which I would have missed if I had stopped my search for birth records when I could not find Irene’s.

Categories: research terms