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