Monday, May 30, 2011

Using Cemeteries to Learn Local History

Find-A-Grave to Discover African American History
Memorial Day encouraged cemetery hopping.  Adjacent to a beautiful, modern, well tended and decorated cemetery on the hill in Kansas City, Kansas, there's a less cared for weedy spacious cemetery sloping toward a ravine.  Many headstones had toppled over into the dandelions being choked by another weed variety.  Yet, I couldn't help but wonder who was buried in the Westlawn Cemetery.  My car, seemingly on its own, turned into the "less than" welcoming gates.  (Well actually I told my husband to turn).  But, even the entrance wept of the echoing struggle of the plots of loved ones. 

Westlawn Cemetery, Kansas City, Kansas
Many elderly were walking in search of tombstones, but what I quickly noticed was that, at that time, every single person was African American.  Now, I can't say this is a complete African American cemetery, but I saw nothing that indicated otherwise.

The Westlawn Cemetery haunted me, so once I reached my trusty computer, I quickly researched using Find A Grave.  As I had suspected, the Westlawn Cemetery is the last resting place (maybe the only resting place) of ancestors who had a struggling past.  But there were a few noticeables that left me with researchable questions:
1) This was far west (and south) of the early African American Kansas City community. Why were they buried here, so far from the community? 
2) There were an extreme amount of children who died in the 1920's and a lot of plots in that timeframe. Perhaps the heyday of that cemetery, or was there an epidemic at the time?
3) Another large percentage of burials in the 1950's. A struggling time for African Americans may give rise to this once prestigious cemetery (based on the headstones) popularity. Is this cemetery telling me something about the social class of Kansas City?
4) There were several recent burials (as late as 2005 - Vera Jane Patterson). Although for many obvious reasons, the family of Patterson may have interred their love one at Westlawn, but why in a ground-shifting sloping area where the life struggles continue in fighting dandelions, and headstone topplings?
Find A Grave gave 448 interments; 2 famous persons.  What is considered famous at any given time, gives the genealogical researcher a lot of information on the social history:

Brown, Ada b. May 1, 1890  d. March 31, 1950
Most famous for her appearance in Stormy Weather, Ada Brown was a Blues Singer. Born in Kansas City, Kansas, her early career was spent on stage in musical theaters and vaudeville. In 1926, she made her first recording "Evil Mama Blues" with band leader Bennie Moten. Her other recordings included, "111 Natural Blues", "Break O'Day Blues", "That Ain't Right" and "Crazy 'Bout My Lollypop". She was a founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America in 1936, performed on Broadway in the 1930s and appeared in the 1943 film, "Story Weather". (Bio by: John "J-Cat" Griffith). 

This bio is a scant overview of her contributions. Be sure to read about her at Google Books, Harlem Renaissance Lives from the African AmericanNational Biography, pg. 74-75.

Scott, James S.  b. 1886  d. 1938
Musician, Composer. Born in Neosho, Newton County, Mo.  Known as the “Little Professor,” he was second only to his contemporary and friend Scott Joplin. Born the second child of former slaves, in Neosho, Missouri, he composed such works like the "Hilarity Rag," "Frog Legs Rag," and "Kansas City Rag". After the popularity of rag gave way to jazz, he was employed as music director of a cinema chain located in and around the Jazz district of Kansas City until the advent of talkies made music during the feature obsolete.  He gave piano lessons and continued to write music throughout his life but could no longer secure a publisher. He died in Kansas City in 1938.  (Bio by: G.B.O

Each has a story to be told.  And although my ancestors do not rest among the 448 in Westlawn Cemetery it would be great to have a bit on each.  Who are these people? What did they do? How did they pass the day?  And where is the Westlawn Cemetery groundskeeper?

Kathleen Brandt

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day Facts

War Statistics and Veteran Research

Memorial Day is upon us and every American has a reason to honor a veteran.  Names of our ancestors and family members are most likely among the statistics of battle deaths, nonmortally wounded veterans, and service members who served in wars from 1775 to the current Global War on Terror, according to the Veterans Administration (VA).  There are 17,456,000 living war veterans and 23,442,000 living veterans. Approximately 1,065,000 veterans served in multiple conflicts.  See American Wars: US Casualties and Veterans website. 

From Civil War to Civility 
"If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other ears cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us." -- General John Logan, General Order No. 11, 5 May 1868  
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by the National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR),  General John Logan. The GAR was founded to honor discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865.  You can review the full GAR Order No. 11, 5 May 1868 at the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) website. Among our many ancestors, five American Presidents were GAR members - Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley.

Memorial Day Facts:
  1. Memorial Day was first observed on 30 May 1868 with flowers placed on the soldiers' graves at Arlington National Cemetery.
  2. By 1890 Memorial Day was recognized by all of the northern states.
  3. After World War I, southerners joined in honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.
  4. The National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 - 363) officially recognized Memorial Day.
  5. Several southern states still have a separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.
Veteran Memorials and Research
There are memorial parks, 131 veteran cemeteries, Confederate and Union organizations, and museums to further your veteran research.  A good place to start may be the Memorial and Casualty files.

But don't limit your search. I was able to confirm Willis Cox and other veterans as GAR involved veterans via  the Coldwater, Kansas newspaper, Western Star. Cox, the sole African American veteran of this contingency, and other veterans were traveling to a GAR Encampment held in Wichita KS. The annual GAR Encampment, was an elaborate multi-day gathering that often included formal dinners and memorial events. For more GAR Research visit the Library of Congress GAR website:

Have a safe and memorable Memorial Day Weekend
Kathleen Brandt

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gazetteers and Genealogy - From Ireland to Vermont

World, State, and Town Gazetteers
1808 World Map
Names change, boundary lines shift, and the maps are re-drawn.  Towns and even countries disappear.  Some suggest this practice merely keeps cartographers in business and is intentionally done to ensure genealogical brick walls.  But even this wall, with the correct tool, can be scaled.  Amanda of Geni blog asked if we have used a gazetteer in these types of searches?

To summarize, a Gazetteer is a great geographical genealogical tool offering family researchers historical places and place names assisting the family researcher in finding that allusive ancestor. There are a variety of Gazetteer categories based on your needs, but I find the geographical ones to be most helpful in my early searches.

Take the year  1808, a pivotal year in shaping maps and boundaries, and who can keep it straight? France turned on Spain, there was the Napoleonic Wars to include Britain and France War, 1803-1814 and the Peninsular War 1808-1814 to name a few. And of course the Russo-Swedish War.  This is when Gazetteers can help determine jurisdiction of the land allowing the researcher to pinpoint areas, locations of records, etc. 

World Gazetteers
There are World Gazetteers like that offered by Apple Manor Press. World Gazetteers give listings of countries and helpful statistics.  An 1808 World Gazetteer offers descriptions of empires, kingdoms, states, provinces, cities, etc, with government customs, religion of inhabitants. And a great help to pinpointing lost landmarks by using the longitude and altitude coordinates. As written on Geni blog, these details are great resources to the genealogist. 

Apple Manor Press, dedicated to assist genealogists, reprints books of yesteryear and specializes in "classic local history and genealogy books."  A reprint of the 1808 edition of The New General Gazetteer can be purchased on line.  

State Gazetteers
Like World Gazetteers, State Gazetteers offer the genealogists a great way to pinpoint an ancestor's whereabouts.  The popular and well-known Hemenway's Vermont Historical Gazetteer (1860-1892) references a comprehensive listing of Vermont towns. A few of the towns were excluded like those of Windsor County. This resource offers the researcher hints to churches, schools and jurisdiction of records for given years.  This can be useful in locating vital records or maybe even immigration and naturalization records.  Remember Gazetteers are not limited to the USA.  Recently in trying to resolve an Ireland parish, I stumbled upon information on The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland.

Town Gazetteers
There are times the researcher needs specific town information.  Another great tool for the genealogist - Gazetteers at the town level.  This is often useful for church searches, as well as identifying town name changes (to list a few uses). A quick search on the Apple Manor Press' website uncovered the title The History of the Town of Montpelier, Including That of the Town of East Montpelier, for the First One Hundred and Two Years.  The content within was extracted from Vol. IV, of the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, 1882, by Abby Maria Hemenway.  This useful tool may narrow the genealogists' search, again, giving the genealogists hints as to an ancestors' home-place. And there's probably a Gazetteer chocked full of data on your town of interest. 

How to Use Gazetteers for Genealogy
1) determine where your ancestor's lived
2) identify jurisdiction of vital records and state or county naturalization papers
3) reveal older communities and town names
4) specify religious jurisdiction
5) pinpoint today's locale on the map

Kathleen Brandt

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Follow the Epidemics, Plagues, and Scares

Our Ancestors and Migratory Paths
Fear motivated our ancestors to move. You may never know the particulars of your ancestor abrupt move, but a newspaper search or local history book may reveal what they were moving from and what they were running to. 

Fievre jaune  (yellow fever)  as known by the French, and negro vomito, the Spanish reference, was a true fear of early Mississippi, as early as 1701.  It not only reared its ugly head under French rule of the state, but revisited Mississippi during Spanish rule in 1789. Perhaps your ancestors survived and transplanted their families to Louisiana or Florida. Not necessarily a better prospect. Louisiana was also plagued with yellow fever,  outlined in George Augustin's History of Yellow Fever (New Orleans, 1909). 

There was the 1793 Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic that practically cleared the city through death and mass exists.  Fever epidemics never stayed at bay. In late 1861 and early 1862 the scarlet fever epidemics of Fredricksburg and Richmond VA (and others) were overshadowed by the war, but the local cemeteries tell a story of their own. In an effort to save young children, families moved to fever-free state.

Poor crops due to reoccurring droughts and even the locust plague helped Midwest farmers make the choice to join wagon trains to travel overland to richer soil. In 1875 there was the locust plague in some Kansas and Missouri counties that resulted in depopulation of whole towns. Many of these ancestral families may be found in Texas or Oklahoma.

Milwaukee (and other cities in the USA) saw mass exits between 1849 and 1854 due to cholera epidemics.  You may find your ancestors moved to Illinois and may have even returned to Wisconsin in later years.  However, Wisconsin was hit again in 1918, this time by the Spanish Flu.  Some families temporary moved south to Nebraska, Iowa (for example) or other rural areas to escape the rapid spread of the disease.

Where to Start
In writing this posts, I stumbled on the website Encyclopedia of Genealogy.  This looks like a good place to begin your area search. But, don't forget local histories, newspapers and even cemetery records.  In searching death records of Coldwater Kansas, I realized there were excessive deaths in the year of 1893. The newspaper shared the town fear of losing its population to what appeared to be consumption, later described as an intestinal epidemic.  Three loses in my ancestral family and they moved to Oklahoma, as did most of the town. Of course, this was a depression era also.

Where Did They Go?
These epidemic and plagues, although devastating to families, were also the impetus of making a move to new opened lands, following the railroad, etc. Often extended families and neighbors from one community can be found side-by-side in the new locale. Be sure to check tax records to pinpoint the year they deserted one community and arrived in another. Voters registration records are good for this also (unless your ancestors name is William Smith or some other unbearable common name.)  However, this is a good chance to cross reference neighbors who may have traveled with them.  Then, of course, go to deeds, wills and probate records to verify that you have the correct William Smith.

Proof from Tara:
Tara, an astute reader of this blog, forwarded the link to The Great Pandemic 1918-1919.  She also provides for us a quick case study:
Kathleen, I am from St Louis, MO. Once my sister and I went to visit our father's grave in Calvary Cemetery. We were very curious about the back portion of the cemetery because it has a lot of old graves. We especially liked looking to see if there were any pictures of the deceased on the headstones. In one section, we kept encountering the graves of numerous people, particularly children, who died in 1918. We thought there must have been some epidemic. When you posted the Encyclopedia of Genealogy: Epidemics, I remembered that day and looked up the year 1918. Sure enough, influenza was worldwide and did effect St. Louis.

Thanks Tara.  I'm sure the a3Genealogy readers will learn from your experience. 
Kathleen Brandt
Professional Genealogist and Genealogy Consultant

Friday, May 13, 2011

Wagon Trains 1840-1860

How Did They Get There?

We know there were wagon trains. Extended families packed their belongings, and carried their personal wealth overland to reach the newly opened west lands.  It wasn't just for those panning for gold.  There were the Mormon's escaping persecution, the future vintner wanting rich soil, and those who made a living in transport.  Oh...there were many others.  But how do you find records that verify a date of passage?  Their method of passage?  Your ancestor's experience.

Learn the Trails
It is possible your ancestor traveled overland, by water, or partly by rail.  A good source to understand their choices may be answered in John Unruh, Jr.'s book The Plains Across;  The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-1860.  It is possible that Great-Grandpa left Illinois with his four (4) brothers, but only two (2) settled in California.  The remainder of the party may have ended their journey in Salt Lake, or may have taken any other fork in the trail. 

What I find interesting, is that many made several trips overland.  We may be able to confirm their one-way trips to California, but how did they return to Missouri?  Did you know that many returned to the Mid-west through Panama - Isthmus!  Be sure to check any ship  records going to Louisiana ports from San Francisco or other west coast ports.  The trip from Louisiana up the Mississippi River was still arduous, but without the protection of a large wagon train, going through hostile territories, was not usually an option.  Plus, the military controlled the trails, and would detain small groups travel due to safety. 

Search for Your Ancestors in Writings
 What did five (5) month travelers do?  They recorded their journeys in diaries and letters back home, detailing the trip.  Ok, not all of them. But you will be surprised where you may find your ancestor's name. Sometimes the diaries are filled with gruesome details as the writer recalls on paper a companion's demise. Sometimes the accounts are so detailed they read like a novel.  Sometimes they just follow a train of thought, or confirm a reader's suspicion. 

I recently proved that a religious "group," Bethel Community, occupied settlements in both Missouri and Oregon.  I located the letters that leader, William Kiel, wrote to his congregation back home in Missouri from 1855-1870.  He even threatened to excommunicate ("bar them from the Bethel Community") a few Missourians for raising the Union flag, and endangering the community. Interestingly enough, he was writing from his new Bethel Community in Oregon.  The letters were filled with historical data, names of members and religious practices.[1] 

Where to Find Diaries?
Following are a few of my favorites: 
1) The Oregon-California Trails Association (OCTA) hosts of Paper Trail, an online database Guide to Overland Pioneer Names and Documents is a great place to begin your diary, manuscript, and written information search.
It is subscription based, but the initial search is free.  This database will GUIDE you to the correct repository. You cannot download the diary from this location, but it leads you to where to go using a surname search.
2) Be sure to research the Merrill J. Mattes Reseearch Library at the National Frontier Trails Museum. I must say, spending a day with this concentrated selection of wagon train resources, makes me smile.  
3) The California, Pioneer and Immigrant Files, 1790-1950 database holds 10,000 records "with biographical information about pioneers who arrived in California before 1860.
4) Local Histories and Newspapers detail wagon trains and their departure (it was both exciting and devastating to communities and families).  Small-town newspapers also reprinted letters sent "home" for the community to read; sometimes enticing others to follow, and just as frequently warnings of the danger.

My Ancestor Wasn't Mentioned
Well, not everyone will find Great-Grandpa's passage recorded, or even his name.  But, by narrowing his year, and month of travel, you may find his experience recorded through the eyes of his neighbors and friends.  Analyze the diaries from his hometown. Follow the path and his final settlement to determine his passage. 

African Americans?
The overland journeys were before the Civil War.  But free-coloreds, as many as 3000 by 1850, found their way to California from the onset of the gold rush.  Even though some slaves were carried by their masters, many found the westward journey as an integral step to their escape plan. Well, the trails did have several forks in the roads. If you need to refresh your history of the role African Americans played during this westward movement, you may wish to read Blacks in Gold Rush California, by Rudolph M. Lapp. 
Another great source is the Negro Trail Blazers of California by Delilah L. Beasley; original 1818; reprinted 1969. 
Happy Wagon Trail Researching,

Kathleen Brandt

[1] Kiel, Wm., Letters 1855-1870; Bethel Community to Oregon 24 Jun 1855; microfilm, Western Historical Manuscript Collection, UMKC

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Preserving Family Records

Cool, Dry, and Acid Free 

To begin, who knew there's acid free paper, acid free blotter sheets, acid free file folders, and acid free tissue?  There's even acid free boxes.  So the question is where are your valuable family memorabilia?  Is it in an acid free storage, or are you acid friendly?

We've heard it before, we know it's true, and Joyce Burner of the National Archives, Kansas City, reminded a full room of participants on 29 April that the keywords to preserving family records are Cool, Dry, and Acid Free.

J. Burner shared the distinct ways to preserve books and loose papers, newspapers, photographs, rolled records, and digitized materials. I don't want to break my mother's heart in telling her that "scrapbooking is a hobby, not preservation," but I will be delicately recreating (thus, preserving) Mother's artful work in an acid-free solution. 

Of all the tips given, I took heed to disaster recovery the most.  There's mold damage, water damage, damage from folding documents, and brittle paper.  Well, for at least a few of these disasters, there seems to be salvageable solutions.

For more information, there's a few good sources to have in your personal library (so I've been told):

Keeping Your Past, $8.00, 220 page guide from Kansas City Area Archivists
Kansas City Area Archivists
Western Historical Manuscript Collection - Kansas City
302 Newcomb hall, UMKC
5100 Rockhill Road
Kansas City, Mo.  64110-2499

Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC)
Resources for Private and Family Collections
"NEDCC Offers Hints for Preserving Family Collections"

5 Tips for Preserving Your Digital Photos
From the Kansas City Public Library

Preserving Historic Newspapers
The University of Kansas Libraries                    

Preservation of Scrapbooks and Albums
Library of Congress

Remember cool, dry, and acid free, for the next generation.

Kathleen Brandt
(photos from Library of Congress)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Perhaps He Repaired Watches - Post WWII

Obituaries and Career/Trade Research Leads

Even though WWII era census records, 1940, have not yet been released, obituaries are a good replacement to verify ancestor's vocations.  Obituaries hold data to help us trace our allusive WWII ancestor  - especially if he attended a school to learn his trade.

Our veterans served in WWII and came home to a country depleted of skilled laborers.  Jewelry stores and watch repair shops across the nation were holding thousands of mechanical watches in vaults needing repairs. And, as did many business sectors, watchmaking schools across the USA met the challenge of training veterans. 

Your veteran ancestor may not have remained in the city of his training, but school records, proud of their skilled force placement, may have documented your ancestor's whereabouts.  Coupled with city directories, VA records and other sources, you are well on your way to tell the story of your soldier.
Watchmaking Schools
Horology schools could take up to 3 years to complete, but the average was about 18 months.  The most popular Watch Repair school, opened its doors in 1945 for disabled veterans and invalids. Arde Bulova, named it for his father Joseph, who founded the Bulova Watch Company in New York in 1875. This school trained thousands of veterans in watchmaking up to the Vietnam era, closing its doors in 1997.

The Kansas City School of Watchmaking was founded in 1936 by Gustave Van Erp. Ninety percent (90 %) of its enrollees were war veterans who were  "attracted by the assurance of a job once training is completed."  Information on this popular midwest school, founded 21 Sep 1946 can be found at the Kansas City Public Library, Business Week, Missouri Valley Room Collection.  The collection holds photos of its location and text.

Where to Begin
Whether millinery, embalming, tailoring or watchmaking, to begin your search you may wish to peruse the College & private school directory of the United States series by the American Educational Association, Educational Aid Society, Educational Bureau, inc, Educational Societies Corp  to confirm vocational school locations.  

Kathleen Brandt