I have always wondered why certain documents seem to “appear”, when they do, within my research. They might not even be on the family line that I’m working on, but all of a sudden…there they are!
Two weeks ago I went on “vacation”…ok, so I spent a week and a half walking cemeteries, staring at a computer screen in an air conditioned library, and looking at microfilm in a darkened room…its what I consider a “Vacation”. I was back home trying desperately to piece together another small part of my family history and the history of a dear, dear friend.
So I went to the county microfilm office to research. I knew the routine…I had done this before many times…but….There was an “index” book that I had never ventured into before, so I thought…”Why not”. It turned out to be the Naturalization Index for the county. There were actually 3 books total…2 were indexes for 1880-1952 and then another one that the clerk stated was prior to that time frame. So I checked in the 1880-1952 book and…sure enough I found my grandpa and his brother Dominico. It really only confirmed what I had already found out about his date of immigration. But I still got copies of the records ($3 per complete record seemed like a bargain to me). Then I continued on with the computer and microfilm…but I kept looking at the other index. I didn’t have relatives before that timeframe…but I grabbed it anyway…just to look. BINGO!!! It wasn’t prior…it was AFTER 1952. My grandmother has also filed for Naturalization. I’m still not sure why…her father and her husband had both been Naturalized and she was mentioned on both their documents. (So, technically this was the THIRD time she was “Naturalized”) But I also know that Nani (Grandma in Italian) was a VERY strong willed (a.k.a. stubborn as H*LL) woman who did what she wanted, not what others told her to do. So I had them pull her record too. WOW…I finally had a date for her immigration thru Ellis Island!!! She was one of the relatives that I couldn’t find. Her papers stated she arrived on the Duca Degli Abruzzi, September 1, 1908. BUT….IT ENDED UP BEING WRONG!!! <insert head banging on my desk>
Last night I searched for her in the Ellis Island database….I had tried to do this a million times before…this time I had the ship to search for and a date of the voyage. Page by page I searched for her and members of her family…I knew she wouldn’t be traveling alone because the date proved she was only 6 when she arrived at Ellis Island. But…NOTHING…Zip…Zilch…Nada…They weren’t there. <Back to banging my head on the desk>
So…I took another approach to this. I knew about the right time frame…Nani had always said she was 6 or 7 when she came here. So I tried doing an advanced search based on her year of birth, 1902 (+/- 2 years), plus the 1908 date of arrival (+/- 2 years) and put in a partial first and last name (“starts with”)… I didn’t put in more than 3 letters of each name. It pulled up 9 children…and the 3rd one down, even though it was not spelled right (which I knew it had to be mis-spelled), was HER!! Instead of being listed as Frances Minelli…which was what we always knew her name to be…she was listed as Franceschina Minetta. I knew it was her…it was the right location (town and province in Italy)…so I clicked on the link to show me the manifest…I was so excited!!! I checked line 25….And….She’s NOT THERE! <bang…bang…bang…THUNK>
Why do my ancestors do this to me CONTINUALLY?!?!?! I can almost hear her laughing…”HAHAHAHA…You didn’t find me, did you!!! BWAHAHAHAHA”…UGH!
I spent 2 1/2 hours last night, going page by page…thru the entire manifest for the S.S. Florida..August 11, 1907 arrival…but I finally found her!!! She arrived with her mother (Maria Somma), her brothers Pilerio (later known as Uncle Larry) and Natale (Uncle Nato), and her sisters, Ceralina (It was actually Terasina, Aunt Teresa eventually), Giuseppina (Aunt Josephine),and possibly Carmela (this one I’m still not positive about – If she did come here, she went back to Italy…and there is a family story about one of the daughters returning to Italy to marry). There is a note on the manifest that states their surname was changed on the manifest (originally they had been listed with mom’s maiden name of Somma, but it was changed to Minetta…which was still wrong…their father’s surname was Minelli).
Oh well…I won this round of the genealogy game of hide and seek….so…Now its your move Nani. What other road blocks would you like to toss in my way?
I am sitting in the middle of my living room with little scraps of paper all over the place. I wish I could blame my puppy for the mess, but it’s all my fault. I had this brilliant idea recently that I was finally going to organize all my genealogy files and paperwork into Surname Notebooks. It sounded like a great idea, but I think someone needs to have me committed…I MUST BE CRAZY!!!!
I was feeling a bit overwhelmed when I made this choice and now I’m EXTREMELY overwhelmed. By the time I pulled every file, stack of papers, bits of scrap paper with information jotted on it, and booted up my computer, I had more that I ever imagined possible. But I couldn’t stop there. I needed a sense of accomplishment on this project and also I desperately needed to make sure I had everything possible on my ancestors in my computer as well as their paper files. I figured I better try to tackle this before it totally gets out of hand. <TOO LATE!!!>
STEP 1 – Make the notebooks
This was the easy part! I grabbed 5 notebooks and made covers and spines for them. They look really nice with the family Surname in fancy print and a copy of each surname crest. Simple enough….I’m a graphic designer. This part I could do with my eyes closed.
STEP 2 – Separating the pile
Now this part took some time. I literally sat on the floor with the huge pile of papers in front of me and I sorted them, one at a time into piles by Surname. Not bad….it only took me about an hour. By this time I was beginning to see that there were several of my family lines that I could probably handle pretty quickly. So I matched up each pile with the corresponding notebook. At least my living room floor looked good again….until I let the puppy back in….then it was covered in a different kind of clutter.
STEP 3 – One Notebook at a Time
It’s probably cheating, but I took the notebook with the least amount of papers and started with that one. Yeah…it was a cop-out….but what can I say. I needed to see some more progress at this point. Again, I sat on the floor and started sorting the papers. This time by individual. It actually was going pretty smooth…then I realized that I had some people that, obviously, crossed Surnames. My Grandma Anna would actually be in 3 notebooks (her Maiden Name book, and also in the Surname books of both of her husbands). Fortunately I was finding some duplicate papers, so I didn’t need to make a lot of photocopies.
STEP 4 – Making sure the information is in the computer
OK…so this one was definitely NOT the most fun…but it was a VERY necessary part of the organization project. Once my notebooks were assembled I made sure that every document was carefully read and the information entered into my software program. This served 2 purposes….I was sure I had the information logged, and it made me re-read each document. I actually found several pieces of information that I had missed before. I also made sure I had each item scanned and uploaded as media to my genealogy software. This took more time than all the remaining organization steps combined….actually, I’m still working on this one. But I still moved forward with the next step…
STEP 5 – Genealogical Cemetery Reports
This was a new step for me. Something that I’ve been wanting to do, but just haven’t had the time or the desire to get it done. Each “report” is individualized with an ancestors name and vital information along with a picture of their headstone, urn, etc. There is also cemetery information or cremains location information and information on their Find a Grave Memorial. As part of this process, I created a Find a Grave Memorial for each relative as I was creating these reports.
I do have one additional step that I’m working on and it will be a continuous process. Making a list of what I still need….by individual. This is going to be a very important step for me, as I found out I have duplicates of several documents. Things I didn’t remember I had because it was in a pile somewhere. Now I know what I have and what I still need.
Well…Truthfully…I’m not sure. I’m still working on making sure that all the information is in the computer and scanned…and I’m still photographing graves and entering info into the Cemetery Reports. But I know this for sure….I’m feeling much more organized and a little more sure of what I have and what I’m missing. A little organization has gone a long way in helping me feel much better about my project…and my house! I no longer get frustrated that I’m missing a little piece of paper that I wrote a couple dates on. They have all been put where they belong…..FOR NOW! The trick will be to keep the system going and not go back to my addiction for little pieces of paper. I might need to create my own 12-step program eventually!
I can’t believe my ancestors would hide from me on purpose….I want to believe they are just shy…after all, most of them have never even met me. I’ve tried everything. Internet searching…name changing…even yelling “olly olly oxen free”….but still they remain hidden just out of sight. OK…so I’m not really playing a game of Hide and Seek with my ancestors…I’m searching for them in US Census reports. Some days I’d really rather be playing a game of Hide and Seek. At least with the game, everyone comes out at the end. But how do I get my ancestors to come out of their hiding places? The only answer to this one is patience…and lots of time.
I recently went thru my family files and realized that I’m missing quite a few US Census reports on a bunch of my ancestors. Most of the missing Census reports are from the 1920 Census. After I looked at my list I actually wondered if I EVER checked the 1920 Census! There were a LOT of holes in this one….more than a piece of Swiss Cheese! So…off to the computer I went…I had to fix this problem.
Now you know as well as I do…Indexing of Census Records is not all its cracked up to be. You put in the name of your ancestor and most of the time you don’t get what you’re looking for. So what is a genealogist to do? Keep looking is the only answer.
Now, I know that most of my Italian ancestors, in 1920, would’ve been in the Chicago, IL area…the family didn’t move to Southwest Michigan until the mid-1920’s…at least that I know of. I really didn’t want to have to check the 1920 census page by page in an area as large as Chicago. So I headed back to my paper files…I needed some connections to look for to try and find those missing ancestors. My first thought was to gather all the names of the ancestors in 1920 that I HAD found in the census reports. Unfortunately, it wasn’t many….but it might just be enough. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my relatives, its that they all stuck together. One didn’t move very far from another. So if I could find a common area among the one’s I did have, I might be able to find some more of them. NOTE TO SELF: Remember to ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS check the page before and after the relatives that you find. You never know who might be lurking down the street, or be their backyard neighbor.
So I knew my Great Grandparents were in Chicago…their names were Elia and Giovanna Giudice…Unusual, Yes!…but not the most difficult names in the world. However…if you were a census taker in 1920 Chicago, I’m sure you were extremely frustrated with all the immigrants, their unusual accents, and trying to record all these strange names. I give them a LOT of credit. I’m not sure it’s a job I would want to take on myself! Anyway…I try to find Giovanna…I find absolutely NOTHING…so I try her name as Jennie…I know some of the family referred to them as Leo and Jennie, and I’ve seen those names related to them on other documents. BINGO! I have a hit for Jennie Giudice. Now…this is where the fun starts……….
Jennie Giudice, my great grandmother, is living in Chicago…at 2246 Wentworth Avenue to be exact. She is living with (or at least “in the home” with), her daughter Sarah (actually it was Sadie), son-in-law Tony, and granddaughter Mary. But where is Elia (or maybe his name is Leo now). I know both of them are still living…they died within a few months of each other in 1937 and I’ve visited their graves many times….in Michigan. So…I start checking beyond their address…not a difficult task…right below Jennie is her son, Dominick at a house either next door or across the street. Looking further on Wentworth Avenue I find Joe Giudice, Jennie’s son, at 2216. So this is the right neighborhood…
I take a step back and look at the enumeration district…I’m in Chicago Ward 1, District 34…but I’m on page 22 of 44 pages. So instead of just looking a page ahead and a page behind them I figured what would I lose to look thru all 44 pages of the district. It’s all in the same neighborhood…so I might find other relatives, too. Obviously this is either “Little Italy” or at least an Italian neighborhood…there seems to be a LOT of people who were Italian immigrants listed. So I paged back to Page 1 and started looking at each name. I can feel it…there has to be other relatives here.
And I find them…on page 4 I find one of Leo and Jennie’s daughters…she and her children are recorded with her husbands sister and brother-in-law. But, again this ancestor’s husband is missing….That’s now 2 husbands that have gone AWOL on me! So…back to the computer screen I go…and keep scanning for familiar names. Page 18 give me another hit…a BIG one this time…My Grand Parents! Sam and Frances Giudice have been FOUND! Six months after their marriage in Chicago…and they are found at 230 Alexander Street…obviously an apartment building due to the number of “households” at the same address….and 4 doors down from a Catholic Church! Gotta love those Italians and their love for being near a church!
The last one I found in this “neighborhood”, was Joe…Leo and Jennie’s son. So…that accounts for quite a few of the family members but not nearly close enough for me! I’m still missing a few husbands…some of them are still AWOL. Now if I was a truly suspicious person…and I started thinking about all the possible scenarios, I might be able to add about an hour to the Godfather movies…Italian fathers and sons missing…wives and children residing with relatives…Sounds like a “Protection” from the movies! But…this is not the movies…it’s not “The Godfather”…its just a family with a difficult to spell (and pronounce) name in 1920 Chicago. I still have a ton of pages of the census to look thru. I’m sure they are here somewhere. I better give my brain a rest…stop daydreaming about Al Capone, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and relatives that talk like Marlon Brando. I have census documents to look thru.
Check back soon…I still have about 350+ pages of the Chicago City portion of the 1920 US Federal Census to check thru. Keep your fingers crossed that I don’t suffer any permanent eye damage reading thru this one! I sure hope a few more relatives come out of hiding….I’d really like to know where the wives hid these husbands!
Everyone has a number that they consider their “Lucky Number”. I’ve bounced this number around many times…sometimes its 17 (my birth day)…sometimes its 5 (my birth month)…but I’ve always been drawn to the number 13. Even in my search for family records, 13 seems to be my lucky number.
Growing up I remember hearing a story that my great grandfather was one of 13 brothers that were all Sicilian Mounted Police. I don’t know if that story is true or not because I have not been able to find any generation with 13 male children, but its an intriguing story. I even have to laugh a bit because my cousins remember a different story with the great grandfather being on a different family line. Someday, maybe I’ll be able to figure that one out….but it still reminds me that the number 13 is tapping me on the shoulder.
Well…recently, I hit the number 13 again in my research. I had just returned home from a local Genealogy Society meeting, grabbed a few snacks, and settled down with my computer. I wanted to run some searches with my “Minelli” surname….again. Earlier in the day I had received a full translation of my Great Grandfather, Ferdinando’s birth record and the family was on my mind. Ferdinando had been given up at birth and I finally had, not only the quick translation of the document, but a word for word translation of it. It was the midwife that stated his name was to be Ferdinando and his surname Minelli. Maybe this name had something to do with the family after all. There might still be hope of finding out who his parents were. I wanted to see what other MInelli’s were nearby to the town of Castrovillari, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy. So…I did like I had done a dozen times in the past year…click, click, click…..nothing…..click, click, click….nothing…over and over again. Everything I was finding was the same stuff. The stuff I already knew and had verified. Now what?
The kids….lets look for info on the kids! That would keep me busy for a while and maybe give me something that I didn’t already have. So…I grabbed my files to see what I already knew and what was already in the files (I hate thinking I found something new, only to find out I had just overlooked it before). I knew that Ferdinando and his wife, Maria Somma, had 12 kids. Well…at least I had documented the births of 12. I also knew that I had one death certificate and one of those children I assumed died before they immigrated to the US, as I have no record of that child coming here. I also had one…their last child born…that I have no clue what happened to her. She was born in 1913 (hmmm….is that a “13”?) but was not on the 1920 census…and I have not found a death certificate for her.
So…here I sit, with the files of the “kids” spread out on my bed. Yes, I love to research while I’m curled up in bed in fuzzy jammies and a nice warm blanket on my bed (I live in Northern Michigan so it gets pretty cold here sometimes). I start flipping thru the files….Theresina (Theresa)…Michele (Mike)…Pilerio (Lawrence)…Rosina (Rosie)…Natale (Nato)…Francescadina (Frances – my grandmother)…Giuseppina (Josephine)…Frances Rosario Pasquale (Birth in Italy, but not immigrated and no death record yet)….Carmelo (born and died in 1896)…Sam…Annie…and Antonia. That’s 12 kids…WHEW!! I knew the least about Carmelo and Frances…They were both born early in Ferdinando and Maria’s marriage. Carmelo died as an infant. I had his death registry. Frances I also assumed has died before the family immigrated to the US because there is no record of him on a ships manifest or in any census records after they arrived here. So I started with these two children. Carmelo’s records were BAD copies…so I wondered if I could find them online and at least save them differently (I had found them on microfilm at the Family History Library during my trip to Salt Lake City in 2011). So I started with Carmelo….
Now, anyone that has ever searched for records online knows the procedure….enter in basic information…wait for the results to pop up…refine your search…find nothing…go back and redo your search…over and over again. All while hoping for a small hint of a relative. I entered in “CARMELO MINELLI” in the search fields…pressed enter….WOW…a lot of hits on this one. So I scanned the list…nope…nope…nope…maybe….click….nope….go back…over and over. Then I saw a manifest into Ellis Island. Hmmm…I wonder….who this might be…City says Cosenza, which is the right area. And I knew that when I found the children’s birth record EVERY Minelli in Cosenza was this family…Fingers crossed. Then I realized it said CARMELA….not CARMELO. Female child not male. Darn it….I was looking for a male child…but I looked anyway. It said line 11…yep, there was Carmela…Female…age 16 (really?!?!?!)…I don’t have a Carmela…maybe its another family. So I kept looking….Name and address of nearest relative or friend in country where alien came from….Grandfather Giuseppe Somma!!!! THAT’S MY GREAT GREAT GRANDFATHER!!!! I FOUND ANOTHER CHILD!!! NUMBER 13!!!
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I had just found the answer to another family story! I had talked with my cousin Sissy about 3 weeks ago. She told me she remembered her mom talking about a sister that had immigrated with the family to the US (to Chicago, specifically), and had gone back to Italy to get married. I had heard this story before, but nobody could remember her name. I think I might have just found her!!! The best part is….I now added another family member…I had an Aunt Carmela. She is my new Lucky Number 13! Now I just have to find out what happened to her…who did she marry? Did she have children? Is she related to the Minelli’s that currently live in Cosenza? Am I related to them too? There are always more questions to answer! I’m off to find more answers…be back soon!
Its been almost 2 years since I began my search for my dad’s military records. I did like everyone else has done…download the form online…fill out the basic information…and wait. Seven days later I received a form letter saying that my father’s military records were “most likely” lost in a fire in St. Louis in 1973. Nope…I don’t believe it…so I sent a second request. Again, I got the same exact packet and form letter…I bet they didn’t even look for his record. Frustrated, I just pushed it aside and did nothing with the packet where they were asking me to recreate his military experience with dates, locations, and information that I didn’t have…if I had that information, I wouldn’t be requesting the military file in the first place.
Two years later…July 22nd, I sent a new request for the information. This time thru the local Veteran’s Affairs office. They said they might be able to help in the process. Once again, on Monday, July 29th, I received my 3rd identical packet of forms and the same form letter. I still don’t believe that everything is gone and I don’t believe they even looked for them.
Anyone that has tried to get their own or a relative’s Military Records has heard the story of the fire that swept thru the National Archives in St. Louis on July 12, 1973. With the 40th anniversary of the fire just passing by, there has been a lot on the internet about, not only the fire, but the recovery and reconstruction of the records. I have read these stories with open eyes. Is it possible that my dad’s records partially survived this fire? Is it possible that I might be able to get something from the National Archives? Yeah, I think it’s possible. I’m not going to give up. Somebody somewhere has something. I know this deep in my heart.
In 1992, when my father passed away, we sent the paperwork for the bronze plaque, available thru the government, for the back of his headstone. My mom filled out tons of paperwork with the help of the funeral home. She gave them all the information to get the plaque…including his military rank…Master Sergeant. However, when his plaque arrived and was installed it gave his rank as Sergeant First Class. With this rank change, somewhere someone was able to verify his rank…so what were they looking at and what have I not been able to get a copy of. I just want to be able to fill in a few details that I haven’t been able to figure out. Things like what military base he served at in Ulm, Germany, what military hospital he had his surgery at during his service overseas, what exactly the surgery was and how long was he in the military hospital, what were his specific jobs (we knew he was a cook and oversaw the motor pool….what a combination!), and what was his Unit (many of them have websites).
So here I sit….waiting and wondering what will be in the envelope when it finally arrives in my mailbox. It could be a week (like the last time) or it could take several weeks (which would mean they at least looked for the file). I really want to just see the papers. I want to know if he received any commendations, when were his promotions, and get a better idea of his time in the military. I have tons of pictures that he said were from his time in Germany, but he never talked about them and none of them identify anything or anybody. But first I need to make sure I fill out everything I can….
I started writing this blog post in July…it’s now Labor Day weekend and I just found this draft copy. I was going to re-write it, but decided to just continue it. So let me start from today….
I have almost finished filling out the packet of paperwork that the National Archives sent me…I’ve decided to not only play their game, but I’m gonna win! Thru my own research I have found newspaper clippings stating when he left to be sworn in, where he was going to serve his basic training, and thru the help of a total stranger I have found out what Military Base he served at in the States…including his unit identification!
As I was piecing together the information, I pulled up my dad’s Find a Grave memorial. I needed to see the plaque on the back of his headstone to make sure I had the right information. When his memorial opened on my screen I just sat and stared at it…I don’t think I even blinked for a good 5 minutes. There was my dad in his military uniform staring back at me! A photo I have never seen before! Just remembering that moment brings tears to my eyes.
That one photo, uploaded by a kind gentleman that had HUNDREDS of photos in a Camp Atterbury Yearbook, opened up a whole new piece to my dad’s military mystery. I contacted him to get more information about the photo, and found out so much more! I now have information on his military unit, I have dates of when shipped out to Germany, when he arrived, and even the military ship he sailed over on. I have purchased the 2 yearbooks from his unit and have hundreds of pages to go thru…but the books are mine and I can take my time and really absorb the information. But this gives me even more information to send off to the National Archives in hopes of getting my dad’s records and hopefully a list of commendations that I can then purchase as replacements.
I’m finalizing his paperwork this afternoon…I finally think I’m ready to send it off and see what happens. A part of me is scared to drop the envelope into the mail, for fear of yet another form letter ad no closure. Another part of me is excited that maybe, finally, I will get some answers.
Stick with me…I’ll post my findings when the answer appears in my mailbox!
As I’m typing this blog entry, I’m sitting in my living room watching the latest episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?’. They are helping Christina Applegate research her grandparents and what happened to their marriage and the custody of their son (Christina’s father).
The story they are telling, although a very emotional revelation for her, is one that happens in many families. Most families have the same type of stories buried deep within their history. The families bury those stories and sometimes even make up alternate stories to protect the children, or others in the family, from hearing the truth….trying to protect them from getting hurt.
My first priority to my family history is not to cover up the past, but to find out the true stories, whether good or bad. Those involved in each situation are still my family and I love each of them dearly. Their situations, troubles, successes, failures, etc. are part of who they were and make up the fabulous (although not perfect) family that I belong to. It’s those imperfections that make each family member unique and a true treasure.
As I watch the end of this episode I’m reminded of my own quest to locate the grave of my mother’s brother Jimmy, in Indiana. His grave location was “lost” in her memory and I told her that I would help find him. Unfortunately, I didn’t find his grave until last summer…3 years after my mom passed away. The fact that she died not knowing where Jimmy was buried hurt me deeply. And part of my drive in finding my family history stemmed from this one search. In the process of finding Jimmy, I also found my maternal great grandparents graves and also a great uncle. None of them have headstones.
Watching Christina and her father go to his mothers grave and seeing their emotions as they laid flowers on the unmarked graves of his mother, grandfather, and aunt brought back the parallel experience I had at the foot of Uncle Jimmy’s and my other relatives graves in Hammond, Indiana. To hear him say that he would get them a headstone and then watch as they revealed the new stone “Three months later”, was touching. I will eventually get a headstone (or series of stones) for my relatives….someday. It’s not an expense that I can afford at the moment. But it is a promise I will keep.
I’m very pleased that the TLC network chose to film this type of story within this series. Sometimes it helps those recovering from such tragedies to know that others have dealt with the same issues. A lot of the previous “stories” in this series (when it was on NBC) showed good stories, war heroes, and happy endings. To see that Christina and her father were willing to share such an emotional part of their family history is as refreshing as it is heartbreaking. I cried along with them and have a new determination to make sure that my family will soon have proper headstones on their graves, too.
Anni Josefina Lehtonen…..Anna Josephine Lee…Anna Frechette…Anna Drakopulos….Grandma Anna…or just Grandma. It doesn’t matter what name I use (and she had a bunch of them)…she was, above anything else, my grandma. I didn’t have enough time with her….but do we ever? She passed away in 1975 at the age of 73 years old…I was 7 at the time. I still miss her and think about her often. Especially now that I’m working so hard on our family history. There are SOOOOO many unanswered questions that maybe she could answer for me. If I could only have one more day with her….but I can’t….and I’m not sure I really want to.
In my 7 year old eyes, my Grandma was the best thing since ice cold lemonade on a hot summer day. She was better than puppy kisses, jumping in mud puddles, swinging on an old tire swing, or even old playing cards clothes-pinned to your bicycle spokes. She was my secret keeper, my ally, my co-conspirator, and one of the best friends a 7 year old could ever have. She had old dishes and a cast iron stove outside at the farm to play house (and she always let me borrow one of her aprons), she always had hard candies in her apron pocket, and she’d try to sneak dollar bills to us (then tell us to “go ask mom” if we can have them). She loved playing with frogs, digging for worms, and I’m sure I got my love of raspberries from her. I remember her and I walking down the hill at my house to pick raspberries. We never took a container to put them in…that’s why she had an apron! Sometimes we even had raspberries left when we got back up the hill…sometimes we just sat on the hill and ate them right out of her apron.
Every Saturday morning my mom and I (and sometimes my brother) would go to “the farm” (the family homestead) to pick up Grandma to go grocery shopping. This was a ritual for us….it happened EVERY Saturday. We’d pick her up, go shopping at the local grocery store, and then head to our house and unload everything. Grandma’s stuff was taken downstairs and sorted…stuff for the downstairs fridge, stuff for the freezer, and a bag of pantry stuff that just sat on the freezer until we took Grandma back home. Then it was time to have fun, play outside (if it was nice), play rummy, watch TV, and have lunch. Normally after lunch we’d take Grandma back home.
That was the Grandma I knew and loved with all my heart. But I’ve gotten to know a totally different person since I’ve been working on the family genealogy over the last few years. And I think I love her even more now…if that’s at all possible.
I’ve learned what a hard life she had. The heartache she suffered. The strength she showed thru the tragedies in her life. I understand a little better, why, near the end of her life, she really just wanted to stay home and not go out in public unless she had to….she was content with her life on the farm…her life had gone full circle.
She was born in November 1901, on a remote island off the southwest coast of Finland…in the little town of Lövö, on an island named Vårdö in the Åland Islands. The family spoke Swedish, not Finnish…and at one time had been under Russian boundaries….which adds to my confusion about this side of my family. She had a brother and a sister, Carl and Hilda. Carl was 3 years older and Hilda, the baby of the family, was 3 years younger. They came to the United States with their mother in August 1910 (her father had already arrived here and found work with the railroad in Chicago several years earlier). It took me a while to find their passage to the US because they entered thru Canada not thru Ellis Island as we always believed.
I can only imagine what life for her was like on that island…how much different it had to be from living in Chicago….and then ultimately moving to Michigan to live on a farm. She endured so much in her 73 years of life. More than I ever imagined.
I have gotten to know a totally different side to my Grandma. I can picture her running around on the Island in Finland. She was not quite 9 years old when she got on that boat….saying goodbye to her friends, grandparents and other relatives that stayed in Finland. She traveled across an ocean to live in a strange country, where she didn’t speak the language, didn’t know anybody, reunited with the father she hadn’t seen in a many years….and in a large city instead of a small fishing community. They never seemed to move from the same neighborhood…when they did move it was only a block or two away. She would welcome a baby brother, named Leo, in 1914…the first of their family to be born in the United States….and then lose him to Diphtheria in October 1916. It was a month before her 15th birthday. How do you say good bye to a sibling so young?
But worse yet, would be the death of her father, 3 months later. His death certificate states he died of “internal injuries due to external violence while in the employ of the P?? Co. and in the discharge of his duties”. Unfortunately I can’t read the name of the company he worked for. Many friends have looked at the document and nobody has figured it out yet. But he worked for a railroad company in Chicago (possibly the Penn Co.)…most likely on the East Side, as that’s where they lived. She was 15 years old, her sister Hilda was 12, their brother Carl was 18…but was crippled in a scaffolding accident when he was younger. Carl had a newspaper stand near their home…he was now the man of the family and most likely the family’s primary income.
I wish I knew the details of what happened next in her life. I can only speculate from the documents I have found. She would have a child, my Uncle Dave, on April 9, 1918 in Chicago. I found 2 birth certificates for him. One stating his name as Carl Wilbur Lee…and the other, dated almost 18 years later, with the name of David Carl Frechette. I eventually put the pieces together and realized that my Uncle Dave was born out of wedlock. She named him Carl (her brother and my great grandfathers original name) Wilbur (after the baby’s father) and the last name of Lee (her maiden name). He was born at home….I’m not sure if his father lived with them at the time. The 1920 census lists him as David….and the whole family lived in the same house (or apartment) they did when her father was killed. Three months after Carl/David was born, she would marry her son’s father, Wilbur Frechette, in Crown Point, Indiana (on July 23, 1918).
Going thru my grandma’s possessions (the one’s my mom kept after Grandma died), it didn’t take me long to realize that Wilbur was the love of her life. She was happy…the few pictures I have of the two of them show her smiling and the two of them hugging or holding hands. But tragedy would follow her yet again. Wilbur died May 3, 1920 at 5:45 a.m….less than 2 years after they were married. His cause of death was listed as Pyaemia with Mastoiditis as a contributing factor…A sepsis infection caused by an inner ear infection. He was under doctors care for only 3 days prior to his death, but had surgery and was hospitalized April 18-20th. They had apparently rented a house or apartment sometime between January 3rd (the 1920 Census date) and May 3rd (the day Wilbur died) in 1920. As many times as I have looked at Wilbur’s death certificate and the other documents in my Grandma’s genealogy folder, I never noticed that Wilbur died at home…their own home. I always assumed that because of his surgery a few days earlier, he died at a hospital. I guess I wasn’t looking close enough…or wasn’t supposed to find that detail just yet.
Wilbur was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Hammond, Indiana. The same cemetery where my Grandma’s little brother and her father were buried. It was across the Illinois-Indiana state line but only a short distance away. This cemetery would hold many clues for me in the family history…and the more I “dig” (Yeah, it was a BAD pun, but you’ll survive!), the more I find out about my family.
I’m working more and more on my Grandma’s side of the family. There are a lot of holes I want to fill in. But where do I start and what are my next steps? Here’s a few clues I need to work on….
Timeline of events and addresses – to better understand the movement of the family and map out what was around them.
What do I have and what am I missing – I really need to see what is in my files and see what I’ve overlooked (like where Wilbur died).
Who are my living relatives and what can they add to my history story – they are all older than me and I bet they can help fill in the holes.
ROADTRIP – to Chicago and to see my cousins – I think this one is LONG OVERDUE!
Documents, documents, documents – I need to really understand what I have and what I need.
This weekend holds another research project for me…not into what else I can find on my Grandma’s life, but to discover (or rather, rediscover) what I already have and might have overlooked. I need to take a brief step back and see what’s in my files and in my boxes and really just get to know her again. It’s not a labor intensive job….it’s a true labor of love.
I’ll be back later with Part 2 of this story….I can’t wait to share more about “Who was Anna???”.
Wow….another year is almost passed…it’s been 21 years now since I lost my dad on Father’s Day Weekend 1992. It seems like just yesterday he was laughing, drinking coffee, and sharing old stories with friends and family around our kitchen table. That kitchen table seemed to attract people like a magnet attracts metal. Some weekends our kitchen seemed to have a revolving door. It was the same thing every weekend as far back as I can remember.
I remember one Sunday…I was probably only about 11 or 12 years old….my mom made 12 pots of coffee and 6 Bisquick Coffee Cakes that day. There was never less than 4 people sitting around the kitchen table. The stories were flying, the coffee hot, and the laughter flowed like a river. Good thing we had a big U-turn driveway. It could hold a LOT of cars and trucks…and sometimes even a tractor or two.
My dad solved a lot of problems at that table. A lot of napkins were sacrificed to draw out ideas, make lists of items to be purchased, and he always doodled while talking. Many family members and friends brought their problems to my dad to find a solution. He was highly respected, by everyone…but to me he was just Dad. The man that could move mountains for us…the man that even after a massive stroke, took care of us (even while we were trying to take care of him)…the man that could calm my nerves during the most stressful of situations. He was a man of knowledge and many people leaned on him thru the years. Almost every pot of coffee could guarantee the solution to a problem.
But I never understood, until years later, exactly what a wonderfully caring man my dad was. Just like any child, we tend to remember more of the bad, not the good, in our memories. We remember every time we’re told no…every time we don’t get our way…every time we’re challenged. I’m no different. Even years after my father’s death, I still deeply wondered why he and I seemed to “clash” on so many things. My answer didn’t come from him…it came from my mom. In 2008, about 6 months before my mom passed away, she started talking to me about my dad. How very much I was like him. Stubborn, determined, and having a huge desire to prove everyone wrong. I told her how desperately I wanted to please him…to succeed in his eyes. We talked about how he always told me I would need to find a man to “take care” of me because I’d never be able to do it on my own. I proved him wrong. Not only did I succeed in taking care of myself, but also took the role of single mom very seriously. She said he told me those things not because he didn’t believe in me, but because he knew I would fight to prove him wrong. And it worked. She told me he was proud of me and how I fought for what I believed in. I just wish he would’ve told me that….not her.
I have come to realize that we, as children, never appreciate the people in our lives. We take for granted that they will always be there…especially family. They leave us temporarily when they move…add new people thru marriage and births…but leave us with only memories when they die. Its after they are gone that we fully realize how important they really were to us.
Today, I am sitting at the beach watching the water and enjoying a local Sunday “Art Walk”. But my dad isn’t far from my mind. I can hear him telling me to enjoy the day…enjoy the moment. Be there for family and friends and life will shine on you. Because family and friends mean everything.
So today I celebrate him. The man that captured my heart many, many years ago…the man that calmed my fears…the man that taught me to stand on my own two feet and prove everyone wrong (including himself). He was always my rock…my knight in shining armor…the most important man in a girls life…her daddy.
I did listen, Dad…and I learned a lot. Happy Father’s Day!
Most of my blog posts so far have had humor and sarcasm sprinkled in them….some of them are SMOTHERED in it. Its time for a change… so, this blog post won’t be like my others….I promise.
I have been thinking a lot, lately, about family. Not necessarily MY family….just “family”. Everyone has one…even those that are estranged from their family or those that were adopted or those that seem to have “lost everyone”. Somewhere out there, there is a family for everyone. “Family” are those people that make you feel whole…people that you would give or do anything to make them happy, healthy, and feeling loved. To a Genealogist, “family” normally falls into a pedigree chart or GEDCOM file….but that doesn’t mean they are in “your” pedigree chart. A true genealogist will help anyone search for their family…we just sometimes put more effort into searching for those people we love and care about the most.
I started reflecting on the mountains of papers and computer documents that I have in my “library” at home and its staggering. Name upon name, image upon image…some in duplicate and even triplicate. I seem to know each person intimately. Their dates of birth, marriage, and death pop into my head as I thumb thru my files. These people have occupied more than just my files and my computer. They occupy my heart as well. And I take it personally when I can’t find a piece of them to make their files complete. Sometimes, I even get up in the middle of the night and can’t get them out of my mind…so I turn on my laptop and try just one more thing to find them. They all have become so important to me.
Lately, I have been helping several friends with searching for missing family members. Not trying to find their 15th great grandmother, or break thru a typical brick wall, but, rather looking for family members who have recently passed away…most within the last 20 or so years. These people are not the easiest people to find. In a lot of cases their records have not been microfilmed and put online, or they are still being protected by the county offices to cut down on Identity Theft. These are the most frustrating for me. I will spend a hundred hours using Google, Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Mocavo, etc., etc., etc., to try and find one little glimmer of finding the “missing person”. It’s not a matter of proving I can do it, or even for the acknowledgment that I found them, but it’s that I don’t want to let anyone down…especially those that mean so much to me. When I’m asked to help, I give it 250% of my effort.
Last night was one of those searches. At one point my computer cried “UNCLE” and froze for 10 minutes…I had 87 search tabs open in 4 browser windows…I didn’t even realize I had that many open. I’ve searched funeral home websites, death indexes, Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, bounced into Mocavo, surfed thru GenealogyBank and NewsLibrary for newspaper articles, and I’ve tried every variation of the child’s name, mom’s name, even looked for a common factor among other family members deaths that I could find. I’ve tried to find a cemetery where multiple family members were buried…a common funeral home the family used…but I’m not sure this one is going to be easily solved. So why am I getting myself upset over this one? Why is this search so different for me? Because the friend that requested my help is special. He holds a very special place in my heart and I’m so afraid of letting him down. What’s important to him, is important to me. This is truly the meaning of family.
So the next time you are flipping thru your family files or are stuck on that one piece of the puzzle that you can’t find, think about the person you are searching and the person you are doing the searching for. These people are a part of your family even if they are not biologically related to you….and they can be just as important deep in your heart.
I just went thru all my genealogy related books on my bookshelf…just a couple days ago. I wanted a good friend of mine to see what I had available in case she wanted to ever borrow them. Tucked into this big shelf of books is one I remember buying, but haven’t opened even once since I got it. It’s called, “Beyond the Family Tree”, by Jennifer Worick. It’s really a cool book…full of questions to ask during a genealogy interview or just great conversation starters with friends and family. One of the sections in it really caught my eye this morning. The section is called “Hopes and Dreams”. I thought it might be fun to try to answer some of these questions myself in relation to my own genealogy quest in my family. Some of them were pretty easy…some made me think a bit…Things like….
What family mementos or heirlooms do you most treasure?
What is your most precious possession?
If your home were on fire, what three things would you grab (assuming your family and pets got out already)?
Have you ever wanted to change your name? If so, to what?
But the one that stopped my eyes immediately was…. “Have you ever experienced anything you couldn’t explain?”…BOY HAVE I!!!
The first thing that came to mind was Oak Hill Cemetery in Hammond, Indiana. I’ve been going there for several years looking for the unmarked grave of my mom’s brother, Jimmy. Jimmy died of Rheumatic Fever, in 1939, when he was almost 9 years old. The family lived on the South Side of Chicago and buried him at Oak Hill (about a 20 minute drive away). My grandmother’s parents were already buried at Oak Hill, so it was only natural that Jimmy was buried there, too. I also have found out that my grandmother had a little brother named Leo that died in 1916 of Diphtheria and he’s also buried somewhere at Oak Hill (I haven’t found him yet).
On what seemed like the millionth trip to Hammond I decided to approach the search for Jimmy in a little different way. Thanks to Facebook I had found a group dedicated to getting Oak Hill Cemetery restored to its former beauty and met a wonderful lady named Kara who was spearheading this restoration. Kara was able to get access to all the cemetery records and maps and helped me locate Jimmy’s grave on the maps. Now all I had to do was get back to Hammond and find him. Sounds pretty easy, huh? Hardly!
It took me 3 additional trips into Hammond to find him. Little pieces of the puzzle fell in to place each time I went. It was like I wasn’t supposed to find him yet. It’s hard to explain…it all kind of worked out, so I never really questioned it until the day I found his grave. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a bit….
Doing genealogy you always look for dates and a lot of people think that’s the most important part…and it is VERY important information, but I’m also a stickler for getting more. Dates, locations, names, neighbors, etc. I collect anything that MIGHT help in the future. So these maps of Oak Hill were like a gold mine for me. I poured over them for hours at a time. It wasn’t easy finding Jimmy on the maps…there are pages and pages of them. All with little squares with names in them. Finally I found Jimmy! His grave was on the top of a page. I hadn’t been looking for anything except his name so I really wasn’t READING everything, just scanning them. With a name like James Drakopulos it kind of jumps out at you when you find it. It’s not like looking for John Smith.
I noted the names on the graves around him on that page and saw that several of those graves had headstones so I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult. But what I had to remember is that this little map was just one page in a HUGE map! A map that covers the entire 21 sections of Oak Hill Cemetery. There are thousands upon thousands of graves there. This could take time. And it did. I got frustrated several times…and walked many, many hours on the grounds at Oak Hill. At least I was able to find other family members graves that I knew were there but wasn’t really looking for. On my 3rd trip to Oak Hill I ended giving up because of a storm and vowed to come back again. I left the cemetery feeling defeated yet again.
I planned to return again in a few months but I needed to do my homework before I went. So I printed off all the maps of Section 20, where Jimmy was buried. I taped them together and matched up the rows and rows of graves in this section…..IT WAS HUGE!! How was I ever going to find him? With determination…that was what I decided. So I kept taping the rows together and then I noticed something…Jimmy’s grave was part of a FAMILY PLOT! OMG!!! My Great Grandparents and my grandmothers older brother were buried in the same place as Jimmy! 5 graves all part of the same family plot. Jimmy’s grave was the southern most plot, then my Great Grandfather Charles, then Great Uncle Carl, then my Great Grandmother Ida, and then what appears to be an empty grave (Although I’m still not convinced its empty…that’s another trip to Oak Hill in the near future).
With this new information I decided to plan another trip to Hammond. This might be easy for some people but Oak Hill Cemetery is 500 miles from home for me…so it takes a bit of planning. I couldn’t wait…I had the maps…I knew they were all together…and I knew the names of the headstones around them. So off to Oak Hill I traveled. I bought some roses on my way there…I just knew I was going to find them this time. I could feel it. It was like I was being pulled back to them. I bought 5 red roses and 2 yellow ones. The yellow ones were for my grandmothers sister Hilda and her husband Ben, who were buried in the adjoining section of Oak Hill with a large flat headstone…I knew I’d find them easily…they were only a couple rows off the main driveway into Oak Hill.
And sure enough I did…I found Aunt Hilda and Uncle Ben in a matter of a few seconds…I walked right to their graves. I cleaned off their headstone and placed the 2 roses on it. I felt a silent victory with this find. Of course I took a photo of the headstone for my research…and I quietly asked them to help me find Jimmy. I sat there for a few minutes and then decided to move on to Section 20…it was just to the east of their section. I got into my car and drove down the driveway…I stopped the car, shut it off, and sat there…it didn’t feel right, so I started the car again, and drove down about another 50 feet…and stopped again. Much better (I actually said it out loud). I grabbed my map and got out of the car. I was parked by a big tree with rows and rows of graves next to me….I walked down about 5 graves from the fence and stopped…I needed to figure out where I was. I looked at a headstone that was next to me and I couldn’t believe my eyes….It said Snyder on it…I remembered that name from the maps! I was actually standing right next to family plot! I had walked right to the 5 graves…I double and triple checked the map and I just sat on the ground and stared at them. All I could say was “I found you!”. I sat there for a long time…I put the roses on their graves…and I talked to each of them…introducing myself to them. Eventually I would go to the Township Trustees office and request help getting copies of the cemetery cards for each of my relatives, but for that moment I just sat there. I went and got lunch at the local White Castle and took it back to the cemetery…where I ate lunch with my new found relatives. People in the cemetery looked at me like I was strange sitting on a blanket with White Castle burgers and fries spread out in front of 5 roses laying on the ground.
I can’t explain why I was able to walk directly to those 5 graves that day (July 11, 2012). I can’t explain why I hadn’t found them in one of my previous trips….I had walked past their graves many times before. And I can’t explain why I felt so compelled to talk to them (I don’t normally sit and talk to graves in cemeteries). But at that moment it felt right and I felt like another missing part of my family had been brought home.
So if I had to answer that one question in this book I guess it would have to be with this story. It is the most unexplained situation I can think of. I still don’t understand why on that trip I was able to walk right to their graves without having to search at all. It all felt right. I have friends that explain it with the fact that I had done so much research with the maps, that I knew where I was going. I have another friend that says my relatives led me there…maybe they wanted to meet me, too. All I know is that this was the one thing that my mom talked to me about many, many times before she died. She wanted to find her brother Jimmy’s grave and have a headstone put there. And I’m working on that now. My cousin has a headstone from his fathers grave that we can use…his parents now have a double headstone. I just have to get it engraved for Jimmy…and get it placed on his grave. So I’m getting closer. I just wish my mom could’ve been there to actually stand in front of Jimmy’s grave and put the rose there herself.