Thursday, December 19, 2013

Uncover Adoption Secrets with Genealogy Research Methods

Could genealogy help adult adoptees search for their birth parents? Genealogists who usually begin their search with grandparents or great grandparents and adult adoptees who usually don’t have knowledge of their birth parents, generally employ the same set of strategies to uncover their heritage. stock image

How many adoptees are there in the US? According to the website, 
 “In the last decade (since the year 2000), the U.S. Census has attempted to collect national demographics on the adoption community. The data have helped the government estimate that there are over 7 million adult adoptees in America and 1.5 child adoptees.” 

Of the approximately 7 million adult adoptees alive today in America, many are searching for their birth parents:

“Between two and four percent of all adoptees searched in the year 1990.” (American Adoption Congress, 1996)  

But there is another interesting statistic: stock images

“The psychological literature has established that the desire of 60 to 90 percent of adoptees wanting to obtain identifying information regarding their biological parents is a normative aspect of being adopted.” (American AdoptionCongress, 1996) 

If 60 to 90 percent have the desire to learn about their birth roots, why are only 2 to 4 percent actively searching? What holds adoptees back from searching for their birth parents? Many people may consider a search for many years without taking a step because of many obstacles, such as fear of failure, not knowing where to start, or any number of other reasons. But once a person decides to start a search, some help from genealogical research methods might come in handy.

Richard Hill, an adult adoptee who didn’t find out that he was adopted until he graduated from high school, shared his story of how he conducted his successful search for his birth parents in a book, Finding Family.
Used by permission of author
His experience can be enjoyed on one level as a riveting detective story with ups and downs, twists and turns, lucky breaks and disappointing dead ends. 

On another level, Finding Family is a road map of how to use many different kinds of sources that genealogists regularly employ to find ancestors. Richard started with the step that many genealogist gurus suggest that you begin with – interviewing family members and family friends. Ann Fleming Carter  explains more about how to approach the person you wish to interview, how to build rapport, and what questions to ask in Chapter 1 “Where Do I Start?” of her book The Organized Family Historian

While Richard digested and analyzed the information he collected from his interviews, he also began checking vital records, an often difficult and frustrating experience for adoptees. A search for vital records brings a researcher into contact with the keepers of such records, and these are often courts and health departments (Fleming provides a website, in her book, which lists where to find vital records by state.) Richard wrote to the Ingram County, Michigan Probate Court to
Photograph by Tim Hollosy,Ingham County Courthouse in
 Mason, Michigan, USA. December, 2006,Wikimedia.
request his non-identifying information. In Michigan, the probate court in each county holds the sealed adoption records for that county. This initiated a long relationship with the Probate Court that you will see described in the book. stock images
He also wrote to the state health department to see if there might be some kind of birth record on file. As his search progressed and he found out more details, Richard was to repeat this request several times with different results! While many genealogists find challenges in searching for birth records from more than 75 years ago, adoptees can have trouble getting their own birth record!
And it’s not that the courthouse burned or that birth records weren’t required by the state at the time they are searching.

After finding out where his mother went to high school from one of her friends whom Richard had tracked down, he consulted old high school yearbooks for possible photos of his mother. stock images
When he found out some places where she had worked, he searched for former co-workers to interview and newspaper articles about the target businesses. He employed a tactic that was new to me; he wrote to the Social Security Administration
US Social Security Blding: AgnosticPreachersKid,15 September 2008,
 Wilbur J. Cohen Federal Building, 330 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. A.K.A. the Social Security Administration Building, Wikimedia.
to request an earnings report for his mother for his target year and received a list of places where she had worked during a critical year of his search!

Richard talked about his search and mentioned some of the problems that plague many genealogists – the difficulty of staying motivated, the way day-to-day life gets in the way, and how some person will come along or some event will happen that gets you right back in the game! A critical step in Richard’s search was making contact with affinity groups in the area he was researching. stock image
It was through these groups that he found experts in this field. Just as genealogists sometimes find that networking with like-minded people or working with a professional can move their search forward, so did Richard.

First, someone recommended the Adoption Identity Movement (AIM) where adoptees who were searching could get together and share stories, strategies, and contacts. A person he met in an AIM meeting led him to Adoptees Search for Knowledge (ASK), a search group in Lansing, MI where Richard was born. It was at an ASK meeting that Richard found a person who would be key in helping him reach his goal.

Another record source, very familiar to genealogists, that Richard used was the newspaper. But he went beyond searching for obituaries in the library. He put an ad in some small, local newspapers stock image
that served communities near where his birth mother had lived and worked. Since Richard had found out, first in a general way from his father and then the specific details from his other family member and his mother’s friends, that his birth mother had died in an accident, he used this information to create the newspaper ad. And he received responses!

As a retired scientist, Richard knew the value of keeping copious notes of his search process. stock image
This helped him immensely when life put his search on the back burner several times over the decades of his journey to identify his birth parents:

“…I kept careful notes of my research, phone calls and meetings, plus copies of all correspondence.” (p. 70)

Each time Richard re-started his search after a long hiatus, he would review his notes, which brought him up-to-date. Also, when he uncovered people with new information, he could use his notes to see how these new pieces would fit with his existing knowledge.

Although Richard demonstrated persistence, patience and putting-in-the time in his search, he might have never discovered the identity of his father without the help of DNA testing. stock image
Richard’s story clearly demonstrates how DNA testing works hand-in-glove with traditional research methods to help untangle ancestry questions. That said, Richard’s experience also tells us that we can’t rely on DNA testing alone. It was through a combination of traditional research, the yDNA test and the autosomal DNA test that Richard successfully identified his father.

Adult adoptees searching for their birth parents use many of the same strategies that genealogists do in their search for ancestors. In fact, this type of search could be a gateway for adoptees to turn thinking about searching to taking the first steps. stock image
 Both adoptees and non-adoptees begin exploring family history because they want to know the people who came before them. Whether you are searching for parents or ancestors further back, you will be using many of the same research methods to find official records of many kinds, living people who might be able to provide information, books, and other types of source material. Kimberly Powell  in her online article, “Adoption Search: How to Find Your Birth Family”, presents a good introduction to searching.


  1. Richard Hill, Finding Family (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Privately printed, 2012).
  2. Ann Carter Fleming, The Organized Family Historian (Nashville, Tennessee: Rutledge Hill Press, 2004). 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Dress Up Your Family Tree with History

Most family historians have a companion interest in world history.

Ktrinko, world map made with natural earth data,
 eckert 4 projection, central meridian 10 ° east, Wikimedia.
 And our interest starts with ourselves. We are intrigued by the outside events that have shaped our own lives. A natural extension of our desire to know what historical events have impacted our lives is to also know what happenings affected the lives of our ancestors. Creating family trees with dates and locations for our forebears is necessary as a first step in organizing our family history. But if we  stop there, we will have only a list of facts. In order to understand our ancestors’ lives, we need to find out what was happening around them – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. We want to uncover what was influencing their daily lives: their decisions to move, to leave the farm, to go to another state or country.

In my post of Sept 16, 2012, I touched upon the need to put flesh on the bones of our ancestors by finding out how they lived and what the world was like during their lifetimes. Let’s see what professionals in the field have to say on this subject.

Anchor.svg, Open Clip Art Library, Wikimedia.
The genealogist Kimberly Powell is the author of The Everything Family Tree Book and a writer for One of the topics Ms. Powell covers in both her book and her on-line pieces is the need to anchor our ancestors in time. In her book, Ms. Powell states:

One of the first, most important steps in family history research is to gain an understanding of the history of the location and time period in which your ancestors lived.1 (p. 175) 

Where can we go to gain this understanding? Be sure to check sources such as archives, libraries, historical societies, and local genealogical societies. Many of these institutions have excellent web sites with on-line catalogs, so that you can find out what materials are available.  Also search and in addition to regular as you hunt for information about the times in which your ancestors lived. Search for experts in the time period that you are interested in. Read their books.
Eugenio Hansen, OFS, September 1, 2013, 
Library science symbol, Wikimedia.
And very often, if you contact them, they will give you suggestions and lead you to additional sources. Now let us look at some on-line sources that can help us find the historical context of our ancestors’ lives.

An piece (no author name given), Historical Research – Researching the DailyLives of Your Ancestors, provides many suggestions and on-line links where you can find information on disasters, epidemics, clothing styles, and much more.

lmproulx, 31 August 2011,
 Utilisé pour le site du, Wikimedia.
One type of historical web search site is based on what happened in the world on any given month and day, such as the Scopes Systems site.  Another type, including the dMarie site, let’s you enter day, month and year and then gives you a lengthy report on historical happenings. I have listed just two sites, but you can find many more on Google.

A genealogy blog by spotlights some of the kinds of historical events that can influence our ancestors’ lives, such as wars, inventions, legislation, and mineral discoveries. 

Epidemics, another type of historical event, can have devastating effects on people’s lives. I was familiar with the Black Death in Europe from 1348 to 1350, the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 
1918, St. Louis Red Cross Motor Corps on duty Oct. 1918 Influenza epidemic,
 Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 
and the polio epidemics in America and Europe in the 1930s and 1940s , and I know that these events likely touched the lives of many of our ancestors. But there are many more plagues that have happened throughout the world over time that can be investigated. For a list see the website “List of Epidemics”.

A plague that struck America several times, the worst episode being in 1878, was only vaguely familiar to me. Molly Caldwell Crosby, in her book 
Cover scan used by permission of author
reveals the horrific history of Yellow Fever which struck America so often that it earned the name The American Plague, also the title of the book. I want to use this epidemic as an example of how an event like this can change people’s lives.

My great grandfather, Johannes (John) Ulrich Kreis, was living with his family in New Orleans in 1878,
Kruseman & Tjeenk, 1877, Canal Street,
New Orleans, in the 1870s, Wikimedia.
 a fact that is corroborated by his filing of an application for naturalization on Oct 10, 1878. To see this document, please check my post of July 23, 2012. This was John’s second time in New Orleans as he had landed there in 1866 when he emigrated from Switzerland. Between 1866 and 1878 John had been first farming in LaSalle County, IL and then living in St. Louis, MO. I can time his arrival in New Orleans by the birth of his second son, George Kreis, in June of 1876. Because of Crosby’s research on the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1878, I now assume must have been a contributing factor to John Kreis’ leaving New Orleans once again. 
New Orleans, 1905: Screened horse-drawn ambulance
 during outbreak of Yellow Fever, the last to strike the city, Wikimedia.
The fever touched many countries in the Americas as noted by Ms. Crosby:

The 1878 epidemic had stretched from Brazil to Ohio….the final death toll in the Mississippi Valley would prove to be 20,000 lives and the financial loss close to $200 million.” (p. 74)

The horror of the fever caused mass exodus from places where it struck, such as Memphis, Tennessee. Again, Ms. Crosby describes the grim scene that met the refugees as they tried to flee:

Nearby farms locked their gates and doors, with shotguns ready. Public roads were wrecked and bridges burned to prevent travel. Many cities and towns refused admittance in fear of the dreaded fever.” (p. 47)

I don’t know exactly when John Kreis and his family left New Orleans; I only know that he showed up in the 1880 Ottawa, LaSalle, Illinois US Census.

So far, we have discussed why it is important to learn about the historical events that affected the lives of our ancestors. But how can we record what we find so that we might better be able to analyze, understand, and explain our findings?

Once you have gathered details about what was going on in the world of your ancestors, you need to be able to organize this information. In the words of Kimberly Powell:

This is where timelines: chronological listings of historical events – can offer an interesting perspective to your genealogy research. They can help to take you beyond names, dates and locations to the ‘big picture’ – events, situations and surroundings which probably had some sort of impact on your ancestors.(Timelines & Your Ancestors)

Ms. Powell gives a helpful suggestion on how to begin thinking about a timeline:

To create your own ancestral timeline, begin with a simple timeline of the major events in your ancestor’s life. Then use history books and pieces from historical … timelines to add in local and world events that took place during the same time period.” (Timelines & Your Ancestors)

Lynn Palermo, The Armchair Genealogist, presents an interesting framework based on categories for setting up a basic timeline in Word or Excel in Four Steps to a Family Timeline

One of my favorite articles about timelines is one written by Diane L. Richard for, Timelines as Genealogical Research Tools. I like how Ms. Richard uses Excel to build a tabular timeline model and how she integrates personal and historical events in an ancestor’s life.

After reading Ms. Richard’s article, I was inspired to follow her model and try my hand at a timeline for John Ulrich Kreis:

I first filled in the personal details, with dates, of John Kreis’ life: birth, leaving Switzerland to go to America, landing in America, working as a farm laborer, getting married and having children, moving from Illinois to Missouri to Louisiana and back to Illinois. Then I began researching to find historical events that may have shaped some of John’s decisions. These I highlighted in green.

I saw several things as I created the timeline that I had not seen before. First, I realized that John had landed in New Orleans when he emigrated so he was familiar with the city and that was one reason he chose to return ten years later. When I explored land records and legislation in the mid-1800s and learned more about the Homestead Acts, I realized how that affected John. On the wiki, Illinois Land and Property, I read that:

Illinois was a “federal-land” state, where unclaimed land was surveyed, then granted or sold by the government through federal and state land offices.

John worked as a laborer on a farm in LaSalle County, Illinois when he first arrived in America. But by the early 1870s he had married, had children and moved first to St. Louis and then to New Orleans. All of these places are close to that great water highway, the Mississippi River. 
Lee Russell, 1937, Detail of an abandoned farmhouse.
 Miller Township, LaSalle County, Illinois, 

The Second Industrial Revolution explains the movement from farm to city that John and many other Americans followed in the late 1800s through the twentieth century.

 Finally, I came upon Molly Caldwell Crosby’s book on Yellow Fever quite by accident. I was reading another book she had written and saw a reference to The American Plague on the book jacket. This book proved to hold the explanation of John’s move from New Orleans. And it gives me chills to think that he and his family lived through the great 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic that killed so many.

In conclusion, genealogy is so much more than lists of names and dates. When you add historical background to your ancestral stories, you learn so much more about the lives of your forebears. Once you have researched and gathered your historical events, you can organize them with a timeline, and you never know what will jump out at you.

Notes & Bibliography:
  1. Kimberly Powell, The Everything Family Tree Book. Avon, Massachusetts: Adams Media, 2006.
  2. Molly Caldwell Crosby, The American Plague. New York: The Berkeley Publishing Group, 2006.
  3. New York. Kimberly Powell, Timelines and Your Ancestors. Online <> Material downloaded November 2013.
  4. Cafferty, Pastora San Juan, Barry R. Chiswick and Andrew M. Greeley. The Dilemma of American Immigration: Beyond the Golden Door. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1983. Material downloaded November 2013.
  5. Washington. National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, About the Homestead Act. Online <>. Material downloaded November 2013.
  6. Florida. Wikimedia Foundation. Conclusion of the American War, Online <>. Material downloaded November 2013.
  7. Florida. Wikimedia Foundation. Second Industrial Revolution, Online  <>. Material downloaded November 2013.
  8. Utah. Online <> Material downloaded November 2013.
Categories: document types, genealogy education

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What a Heritage Guide Can Do for You

Most of us are familiar with tours and tour guides. Tours come in large and small sizes. I saw many while traveling in Europe this September. The hallmark of each was an energetic person holding an umbrella/flag high in the air, striding in front of a group of tourists.
David Vignoni,  Icon from
 Nuvola icon theme for KDE 3.x., Wikimedia.
I worried that if I ever was on such a tour, what would happen if I couldn’t keep up with the flying umbrella/flag? It wasn’t until planning this European genealogy trip that I learned about a different kind of tour guide – the ancestral or heritage guide.

The fact that I don’t speak Czech was the main impetus for my thinking about getting some help for my visit to the Czech Republic to find my grandfather’s ancestral home.

In my post from September 1, 2013, I wrote about how I found my personal guide to the Czech Republic, Ms. Marie Zahn of P.A.T.H. Finders International. Now let me describe our trip.

On Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 9:30 a.m., Marie picked up me and my husband, Bert, at the Best Western Kinsky Garden, our hotel in Prague. The Kinsky Hotel was a great choice for location, service and price, and we found it through Delta Vacations. Marie is a great guide to have in Prague as she is a native and very knowledgeable. 

Honza Groh, 7. 05. 2008, Memorial
of seven czech paratroupers…., Wikimedia.
As she drove us out of the city, Marie pointed out two of the main attractions we happened to drive by. The first was the Heydrich Terror Memorial, a tribute to two Czech heroes who assassinated a high-ranking Nazi in Prague. The second was “The Dancing House”, a building designed by two avant-garde architects, Vlado Milunić, a Croatian-Czech and Frank Gehry,  a Canadian-American, in 1992. The style is unusual in a city awash in medieval, Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture.
Maros M r a z, August 2004 Dancing House, Wikimedia.

After we left Prague, we soon were in the countryside. We saw large, cultivated fields interspersed with forested areas.
ŠJů,  31 August 2012, NihošoviceStrakonice District
South Bohemian RegionCzech Republic, Wikimedia.

We asked Marie about the huge farms; she explained that after the fall of Communism, many farmers whose lands had been collectivized, regained their land. But as in America, it’s difficult nowadays for small farmers to make a living. Many sold their land to developers, and the result is that large, corporate farms abound where most people in agriculture now work.

We saw cars parked in the forest areas and Marie explained the Czech national pastime – mushroom picking.
Karelj, October 2008, Boletus badius, 
Czech Republic, Wikimedia.
It seems that Czechs of all ages love to go to the woods and search for mushrooms. And Marie told us a joke: on a mushroom hunt, a non-Czech asks, “Are any of these mushrooms poisonous?” The answer is: “All mushrooms are edible, but some only once.” I’m glad we were ancestor-hunting.

When we reached Naceradec, we first stopped at the Administrative Town Office
Pat in Naceradec in front of
Town Office and Church
Book by Eva Prochazkova
where we met Mrs. Svecova with whom Marie had set up this meeting prior to the trip. Mrs. Svecova presented me with  a book on the history of Naceradec. It has many beautiful photographs from different eras in the town’s life. And best of all, there is a summary in the back that is in English!

Our first stop was the Catholic church of Naceradec which Mrs. Svecova unlocked for us. My heart was filled with emotion as I stood before the very same building where my grandfather was baptized and attended services.
Entrance to Naceradec
Catholic Church, Sept 2013
Altar Naceradec Catholic Church,
Sept 2013
Although I have toured many churches in different countries, I felt very different being in the church of my ancestors.
 While to most people, the altar and the decorated ceiling would be the sights to see in this church, to me, the baptismal fount where my grandfather was baptized was place that drew me.
Baptismal Fount Naceradec
Catholic Church, Sept 2013

Our second stop was the World War I memorial
WW I Memorial Naceradec Town
Square, Sept 2013

in the town square. This is a familiar site in many European towns but again, this was special to me as two people with my grandfather’s surname were etched onto the monument: Josef Holub and his son Rudolf. I don’t yet know how these Holub men are related to me, so I will be doing some research.
Close-up WWI Memorial Naceradec
Town Square, Sept 2013
The next to last stop was the town cemetery. We weren’t sure what we would find there except Mrs. Svecova had told Marie the number of the one Holub grave. Before we left for Europe, I had asked Marie if Czech cemeteries followed the same practice as some other European countries of only leasing graves for a certain period so that they can be used again. Marie responded that this is indeed the case in the Czech Republic as well.

We came upon the Holub grave
Grave Naceradec, Josef Hrolicka
 and Rudolf Holub
and I immediately noticed two things. First, two different families were buried in the plot and second, the plot looked somewhat neglected. The grave marker was made of glass and very hard to read in the sunlight with the reflection factor, but it looked like a Rudolf Holub was buried on one side. Now there were two Rudolf Holubs to investigate: one who died in WWI and one who was buried here in 1977.

Our last stop in Naceradec was the house where my grandfather was born. A Holub family lived there and was waiting to welcome us. The house was the last one in a small lane. We parked in front and Mrs. Holub (I have not used first names for privacy) came out to greet us with a warm smile. They had just returned from their daily visit to the hospital where Mr. Holub was under treatment. As I walked through the front door, I felt very emotional as this was the same threshold my grandfather and his family crossed in their daily lives so many years ago. We followed Mrs. Holub into the kitchen where Mr. Holub, despite his ill health, stood beaming. He offered us all a warm handshake and gestured towards the chairs around the kitchen table.

Mrs. Holub had graciously prepared a delicious Czech luncheon. First we had coffee and pastries.
Jonathunder,  29 November 2010, Home made poppy seed
 kolaches on a plate, Wikimedia.
My childhood memory of “kolache”, pastry filled with prune/apple/poppy seed, was reawakened – there were several on the dessert plate! Then we were presented with ham and cheese sandwiches, and each time one of our plates was empty, another sandwich appeared!
Makovec, 26 December 2012,
Cuisine of the Czech Republic, Wikimedia.
We spent the next few hours looking at photos from Mr. Holub’s life, and we saw his birth certificate. Marie translated as Mr. Holub told us the details of his birth. His mother, Antonie Holubuva, lived in Naceradec when she was pregnant with him. She did not marry his father but married another man from the town of Louny and moved there with him. Mr. Holub was actually born in Louny. Because he grew up in Louny, Mr. Holub unfortunately never met any of the Naceradec Holubs. 

Mr. Holub came to live in Naceradec in 1977 when a relative left him this house and he has been here ever since. He said that Holubs have always lived in this house. It will take some more research to find how we are related.

We noticed that Mr. Holub was looking tired so reluctantly we said our goodbyes and headed back to our hotel in Prague.

As I planned this post, I wondered what other companies might offer heritage tours in other European countries besides the Czech Republic. I did a quick search on google and found a few entries for heritage guides, mainly for non-English speaking countries. Please note that I have no experience with any company other than P.A.T.H. Finders InternationalFamilyTree Tours is the company of an American and a German and although the company “specializes in heritage tours to German-speaking countries, they are able to design and assist in trips to other European nations." (from FamilyTreeTours website.) Ancestral Attic offers heritage tours in Poland and other Eastern European countries while Polish Origins has services for Poland and the Ukraine.

Hiring Ms. Marie Zahn, of P.A.T.H. Finders International, turned out to be the best decision I made in planning this trip back to my Czech homeland. If you are planning a trip to Europe to learn more about your ancestors, I recommend that you consider hiring a guide to make your heritage tour the best it can be.

Categories: genealogy professional

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Checking out the Czechs – with a Personal Guide

My husband, Bert, and I have been planning a trip to Europe for about a year. One of the most indispensable tools in planning our trip has been Europe Through the Back Door 2013 by Rick Steves.

Used by permission of author

 Rick has guided us through packing light
and finding the best phone for use in Europe to how to make friends with local people and identifying the memorable sights to visit, and so much more. And all of this must-have information is written in an entertaining, easy-to-follow style. 

Earlier this year, my sister, Monique, made a fantastic discovery through lots of good research techniques. She located our maternal grandfather’s (Frank Holub) baptism certificate from the Czech Republic (see post of April 22, 2013 for more details.) This document provided us with a wealth of detail, including the place, Naceradec, Czech Republic,

Načeradec, Central Bohemian Region, the Czech Republic, 3 May 2009, cs:ŠJů, Wikimedia. 

where Frank and his family were living at his birth in 1903. The country was then known as Bohemia.

 Bert and I decided to begin our European trip by flying into Prague

View over Prague Old Town, Czech Republic, 15 May 2008, Petritap, Wikimedia.

as Naceradec is just 39 miles or 64 kilometers  from the capital city. To help prepare for the visit, we checked out Rick Steves’ book, Eastern Europe.
Used by permission of author

 Although Steves does give some information about Prague in Europe Through the Back Door, we wanted a more in-depth picture.

I was excited about visiting Naceradec but had some concerns about not knowing the language. I was hoping to find a cemetery that might have some Holub graves and maybe the church where Frank Holub was baptized. But our time was limited and I didn’t know how much I could accomplish. Then, as sometimes happens in life and genealogy, what I needed appeared!! As I was reading Eastern Europe, I came across a section on p. 70 called “Tours in Prague.” You can imagine my joy when I read this passage:

To get beyond the sights listed in most guidebooks, call Tom and Marie Zahn from P.A.T.H. Finders International. Tom is American, Marie is Czech….Their specialty is Personal Ancestral Tours & History (P.A.T.H.) – with sufficient notice, they can help Czech descendants find their ancestral homes, perhaps even a long-lost relative.” (p. 71)

In Steves’ book, you will find Tom’s and Marie’s web site: and an e-mail address: I immediately sent a message:

Hello Tom and Marie,
My husband, Bert Schuster, and I are traveling to Europe this year. I am a family historian and very interested in visiting Naceradec where my grandfather, Frantisek (Frank) Holub was born 20 April 1903. I attached a copy of Frank's baptism that my sister received from a relative here in the US. This is a recent discovery and was very exciting.
The Holub family lived at house # XXX (not listed for privacy) in Naceradec at the time of Frank's birth. 
I am hoping to visit the cottage and to see if any Holubs are currently living in the area. 
We are interested in having you be our guides.

Here is Marie’s first response:

Dear Pat,
Thank you for contacting us.

We would be happy to help you visit Naceradec, try to identify the house No. XXX where Frantisek was born, visit the parish church he was baptized in and try to locate living relatives in the area....Thank you for sending the copy. Please let us know what date would you like to travel to Naceradec and how many people will be joining you. We will send you our proposal when we hear back from you. You can visit our site at for more information about our services. You can also visit for more travel information.
Do not hesitate to ask questions. We will reply as soon as possible.
Best regards from Prague

From there, we discussed fees and payment and arranged for us to send a deposit. Now the fun  part began. We waited to see what Marie was able to find.
And soon came Marie’s first report:


The community your grandfather Frantisek was born does have its own parish church and it is the church where the child was baptized. Parishes also have cemeteries and therefore in Naceradec, it will also be possible to visit the cemetery. 

Part of making the local contacts is arranging for the church to be opened during your visit. We will try to arrange this so that you can see the church inside as well. 
I will be your guide - driver on Sept. 5th and I will come to your hotel at 9 AM to pick you up. Please let me know if this time meets with your approval. 
As for your question about the cemetery in Naceradec, burial traditions in the Czech Lands are similar to those of all parts of Central Europe. The lack of land available formed the burial traditions and cemeteries could stay relatively small. It is good to visit the cemeteries though since we can find a forgotten grave site. It would not be the first time it happened.
Best regards from Prague

In short order this amazing message came from Marie:

Dear Pat,
We are sending the results of the Local contacts in Naceradec.

We contacted the local office in Naceradec and spoke to Mrs. Svecova. She was very helpful and identified the house No. XXX in the present town. The house is still standing, did not change so much in past years and still is owned by family Holub. The present owner is Mr. XXX Holub who was born in 1934. I am trying to determine now, what is the relation between your and his ancestors…I hope a visit will be possible.
We have arranged for the church to be opened during your visit. Mrs. Svecova also asked that we stop at the local office before you leave the town.

Best regards from Prague

None of this information would have been easy to find on my own. The language barrier, time constraints and lack of local contacts would have made it unlikely for me to have found this wonderful news on my own. Again, I recommend working with genealogy professionals, (see post of November 5, 2011 for more details) such as Marie Zahn. I will report back in this blog on our trip with Marie to Naceradec.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Trunk full of Treasures

How often do genealogists dream of finding a trunk in a relative’s attic, filled with family documents and photos?
 I had the opportunity last month to meet someone (distantly related to me through the Shelton/Franklin lines) who had such a trunk, although in this case, it was a suitcase.

About six months ago, I saw in the rootsweb.archives, a message about the Sheltons that mentioned an “Alice Lockman” who had a family bible! 
Now that got my attention. I decided to try to find Mrs. Lockman by using some tools available to all of us for free on the internet – the whitepages, anywho or pipl.

When I contacted Alice by telephone, I was so pleased to find out that she is a genealogist who has been studying the Sheltons and related families for many years (she is in her 80s.) Sometime during our talk, Alice mentioned that the family bible had somehow gotten lost, but that she had a “suitcase” full of 30 years of research.  This was the first time in my family history research that I had run across the proverbial “trunk” or, in this case, “suitcase” full of documents. I cannot tell you how excited I felt. We had a lively conversation about some of the family stories including  about Glumdalclitch (see my post of May 24,2013.)

After several more telephone conversations, I asked Alice if I might come to visit her and look at her research, and she was excited to share her discoveries. I learned something very important at this time – many times we might feel hesitant to ask someone we don’t know well if we could look at their research. We fear rejection. But we overlook a human characteristic, highly developed in genealogists:  the desire to show what we have done.

I prepared my tools for the trip across several states to look in Alice Lockman’s suitcase. My husband was coming along to help with this task. First, I packed my VuPoint portable scanner in case I need to make copies of documents or photos at Alice’s home. I also packed my digital camera (see my post of Oct 9, 2012 to help in making copies if we had a lot to do. I wanted to be sure that I didn’t overstay my visit and wanted to be respectful of Alice’s time and health.

When we arrived at Alice’s home, she and her daughter welcomed us and we chatted awhile. I was excited to get down to the business of finding family history. Remember that I had not experienced this before -- going through a researcher’s life-time collection of documents. I knew my time was limited so I wanted to make the most of it:

Pat Spears photographed by Bert Schuster, May 2013

I noticed that the collection was actually individual papers and many, many personal letters in their envelopes. 
I wasn’t in a library or an archives, but in a home. So there was no “finding aid” of table of contents. Although I’m a researcher and a born organizer, I saw that this was a big task. Well, I just jumped in. I decided to concentrate on the letters. And this was fortuitous as I found some information that was new to me and vital for my family research.

As I looked at the first few letters, I learned about another researcher of the Sheltons/Franklins/Johnsons, in addition to Hobart Franklin and Kenneth Charles Wilde (see my post from May 24, 2013), one who had corresponded with Alice. This researcher was Richard Gosnell, who was related to the Sheltons through his great grandmother. I found the familiar discussion about Glumdalclitch’s son William Duckworth Shelton Franklin in the correspondence but with a new twist. This passage demonstrates what happens when two researchers "talk" with each other about family stories and try to coax out the "facts" from all the lore:

March 11, 1982, Richard Gosnell to Alice Lockman, p. 1
Here is the above passage transcribed for easier reading:

"In the short time that I have had to review the data, I do have a few questions. First, on the family of Roderick and Sarah Briggs Shelton, I noticed that your brother, Charles, listed a son William. I also noticed that a son William was listed on the interview with "Bud" Shelton....At first I thought that this was a reference to Roderick's son, William Duckworth Franklin by Glumdalclitch, but now I'm wondering if Roderick and Sarah also had a son named William."

In the same letter, I found that Richard was also corresponding with Kenneth Wilde: 
March 11, 1982, Richard Gosnell to Alice Lockman, p. 1

I made another very interesting discovery in the Lockman-Gosnell letters, something that has enriched my knowledge of the way my people lived in Madison County, NC in the early 1800s.
Map of Madison County, North Carolina, June 2007, taken from US Census website and modified by User:Ruhrfisch.

 In Richard’s letter of March 11, 1982, he introduces Alice to a fascinating piece of US history (the scan was not legible so I have transcribed the section below):

“If you could locate a copy of the book, ‘The Child thatToileth Not’  (go to the bottom of this page to access the full text) by Thomas Robinson Dawley Jr. (Princeton University Press 1912), I’m sure that you would be interested in reading it….Dawley was appointed as a special investigator by the U.S. Labor Dept to investigate child labor conditions in southern textile mills and to compare the lives of the children in the mills as contrasted to their former lives in the mountains where so many of them came from. Much of Dawley’s investigation was in Madison County, particularly the (Shelton) Laurel section.” (March 11, 1982, Richard Gosnell to Alice Lockman, p. 2)

There was controversy over the report as Dawley describes in the preface, and it was not published by the government. Because he praised the mills as saving children from the hunger and soul-killing toil of the farm, some people familiar with factory conditions thought he was in the pay of the textile industry. But after much effort, Dawley got his findings published privately. Regardless of the controversy, Dawley’s book gives us a rare glimpse into the lives of both adults and children who lived in the late 1800s in North Carolina. These words from the book paint a sad picture of the life of farm children:

“I seemed to hear the cries of their children from their dismal abodes. My thoughts reverted to their half starved bodies and miserable diet of crude corn meal and fat pork, and I could see their begrimed faces and partially clothed bodies draped in filthy rags.” (The Child that Toileth Not, p. IX)

In the early 1900s, a photographer and social reformer, Lewis W. Hine took photographs of mill workers and farm families in many states, including North Carolina and Virginia.
County Map of Virginia, and North Carolina, 1860, Samuel Augustus Mitchell, Wikimedia.

His work provides a companion to Dawley’s photos that appear in his report. In the photo below, Hines shows child laborers in a North Carolina cotton mill:

Some of the sweepers in a cotton mill. North Carolina, 11/1908, National Child Labor Committee Photographs taken by Lewis Hine, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Next, we see a female child worker in a North Carolina textile mill:

Two young girls working at the Loray Mill in Gastonia, NC. November 1908, National Child Labor Committee Photographs taken by Lewis Hine, Library of Congress.

 Another Lewis Hine photograph of a farm family in VA from the early 1900s, provides a glimpse into what Mr. Dawley saw during his research.

Part of the family of R.D. Thomas. He and a boy of 15 are working in the Century Cotton Mill, South Boston, Va., 1911 June, National Child Labor Committee Photographs taken by Lewis Hine, Library of Congress.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing I found in Dawley’s book, from a family historian’s point of view, was a reference he made to the Sheltons. Richard Gosnell remarked upon this story in his letter to Alice. Here is Dawley’s description of how Shelton Laurel got its name:

Walking Bear, ca. 1850s-1860s, Antoine-Louis Barye,
 in public domain, Wikimedia.

“My host (Jemerson Tweed) was well informed respecting the early settlement of the country. He said that the first settler in those parts was a famous hunter who came over the mountains in Tennessee from Virginia. He had a pack of dogs almost as famous as himself. As long as there was a bear anywhere in the country, he was sure to get it. The name of this bear-hunter was Shelton. He made his last stand on one of three tributaries to the Laurel River which became the Shelton-Laurel, and which in turn gave its name to that entire section of country, notorious for its feuds, fights and killing scrapes.” (The Child that Toileth Not, p. 170)

But Jemerson Tweed had more to say about the Sheltons, and Dawley faithfully recorded his words:

Cumberland Gap, Oct. 2005, Aaron/ConspiracyofHappiness,

“The Sheltons were said to be a tall, hardy race from England, who preferred hunting and fighting, to settling down in one place, and pursuing the peaceful occupation of farming. The name may be traced down through the Virginia Mountains into Kentucky and Tennessee, and it is said that wherever the Sheltons are found to this day, they are known for their fighting proclivities. On the upper Shelton-Laurel in the vicinity of where the original Shelton made his last stand, it is estimated that more than two-thirds of the families bear the name of Shelton.” (The Child that Toileth Not, p. 170)

Oh, how we genealogists love oral testimonies! Of course, we have no proof of the accuracy of Mr. Tweed’s reminiscences or of his motives for sharing them, but it is such stories that inject life into the names, dates and place names that fill our family history sheets.

I am in debt to Alice Lockman for allowing me to read her correspondence with Richard Gosnell, to Richard Gosnell for his discovery of Thomas Robinson Dawley Jr.’s book, and to Mr. Dawley for his efforts to record for posterity the conditions of the lives of the pioneer families of North Carolina’s Shelton Laurel.

I leave you with the reminder that you never know what you will find in your research. For that reason, I recommend following every lead that you uncover.
The Detective's Barnstar, 25 February 2007,by  ChrisO
released to public domain by author, Wikimedia
 Even a brief mention of a name in an old message on or can lead to spectacular results if you invest the time and energy into following up.

Categories: document types, genealogy tools, genealogy community