Posts Tagged ‘family history’

Using Inferential Genealogy for Catherine Aspery

Earlier this year, I attended the Fairfax Genealogical Society Spring Conference and there were two lectures by Thomas W. Jones that were particularly helpful: “Using ‘Correlation’ to Reveal Facts that No Record States” and “Inferential Genealogy: Deducing Ancestors’ Identities Indirectly.”

I learned that I was not doing nearly enough to get past my brick walls.

Leaving the conference with fresh ideas and enthusiasm, I decided tackle the Catherine Aspery-Murphy family line.

Catherine Aspery

In a nutshell, Catherine was the wife of John William Murphy; mother to William, Harry M, John, James Joseph, May, Sarah T and four additional unknown children.  She was born about May 1854 in England and arrived in America in 1892 with husband and children. They moved to Mercer County, Pennsylvania.

Most of what I know is from the 1900 census and I hate only using one record for her birth year.  Catherine’s maiden name comes from three of her children’s death certificates all with independent sources.  Her own death certificate has not been located and I suspect she died between 1900 and 1906 (the year death certificates were required in PA).

Reasonably Exhaustive Search

As the Genealogical Proof Standard states, we must “search beyond the person, family, event, or record of most-direct impact on the project.” So, I’m going to investigate all the other Aspery families in England and the Mercer County area.  I can do this because the name Aspery is not very common. This method probably wouldn’t work for my Murphy relatives!

A quick search for Asperys in the 1861 U.K. census on Ancestry.com & FamilySearch.org comes up with 150-200 Aspery hits.  A search for Asperys in the 1900 U.S. census on HeritageQuest comes up with less than 20 hits and most of them are in the same area as “my” Catherine Aspery-Murphy. One of them must be a sibling or cousin!

I’ve started a spreadsheet with possible relatives (about 30 long now, some overlapping) and will keep it growing and ruling out those that don’t match. So far there are no obvious connections to Catherine.

I’m interested to hear if anyone has a best practice or recommendation on deducing ancestors’ identities indirectly? Any thoughts on this strategy?

Perspectives on Poverty and Genealogy

I love statistics and all the fun charts and graphs you can make. I also love TED Talks. You can imagine my delight when watching Hans Rosling’s New Insights on Poverty, when he inserts his grandparents into the data set while comparing past and present economic situations around the world. Genealogy adding context to economic data? Yes please!

Here’s how it works. Gapminder has compiled an incredible amount of historical data from around the world on various topics such as life expectancy, education, energy consumption, GDP, population growth, etc. Click here to view a chart of life expectancy and income per person (inflation-adjusted). On this particular chart, the data goes back to the year 1800 and if you click “play,” you’ll see some incredible patterns unfold.  Not much happens in the 1800’s, but around 1910 things start to really take off. On the right bar, you can click on a particular country to see their journey to increased life expectancy and income.

Inspired by Mr. Rosling’s example, I thought I would give some context to the world my ancestors were born into.

My Great Grandfather, John William Updegraff, who was born in 1889 in the United States, was born into similar conditions (life expectancy/income) as present day Swaziland.

Using the same reasoning, my Grandfather, Robert Lee Updegraff was born in South Africa and my Mother in Trinidad and Tobago. Myself, born in 1983, similar to present day United Arab Emirates.

I would have gone back to my 2nd Great Grandfather Henry Updegraff, who was born in 1855, but there are no present day countries represented in the data with similar life expectancy and income.

It’s interesting to note the consistent and significant increase of life expectancy among each generation in the United States.

Looking at my Dad’s family, all born in Austria, I ran into a couple issues.  In comparing child mortality with income per person (inflation-adjusted), I couldn’t find a similar present day equivalent to the world that my Great Grandfather Kilian Pirolt (1874 Austria) was born into. Furthermore, my Grandfather Johann Pirolt (1906 Austria) and my Father (1944 Austria), were both born into similar conditions; thanks to WW2 there was little improvement among the two generations.  In fact, in 1945, Austria reverted back to the 1860 income rate and 1914 child mortality rate.  It took nearly 5 years for them to get back on a consistent track of improvement.

I encourage everyone to check out the gapminder website and enter in the countries and dates your ancestors were born.  The data will give you a better understanding of the conditions of and improvements made from one generation to the next.

Genealogical Research Exchange

Library of Congress - Washington, DC

I often find that if I step away from a brick wall or mystery for a couple days or weeks, and approach with a fresh mind later, things start to fall into place.  In addition, nearly all of my former brick walls were solved with the assistance of fellow genealogy hobbyists.

With that in mind, I’d like to propose a little genealogical research exchange.  Send me one of your mysteries, problems, or outstanding to-dos, and I will send you one of mine.  Let’s work on it, as time permits, for the next month or two and then return back our conclusions.

Living in the metro DC area, I have access to many genealogical resources. Some of the things I can help with are:

  • Pull records at the National Archives
  • Newspaper search at the Library of Congress
  • Obituary search in local newspapers
  • Headstone photographs
  • Research at the Daughters of American Revolution Library
  • Help preparing for a research trip to DC (most of the work should done before you even get here)
  • Check over your current theories and conclusions

Some examples of my research problems and to-do’s include (but are not limited to): handwriting analysis, newspaper & directory research at local library, missing census records from 1900-1930, and help navigating Civil War records.

My goals are to help out a fellow hobbyist and to learn something new.  Send me an email if you’re interested!

The White House Library contains over 2700 books relating to American life. The Federal furnishings were made in New York, 1800-1820. The room is used for teas, meetings, and press interviews.

District of Columbia Genealogy Research

Do you have ancestors that lived in the District of Columbia?  Here are some suggestions on getting started with local DC records.

Newspapers
Birth, Marriage, and Death Announcements

DC Public Library:
Baltimore Sun 1837-1985
The Washington Post 1877-1994
Washington Times 1990-Present

You may search in any of the 25 DC Library Branches or online at home, but you must have a DC Library card.

NewspaperARCHIVE.com:
Washington Daily Globe 1837-1855
The Washington Post 1904-1924

Requires paid subscription.

Birth and Death 

District of Columbia Department of Health Vital Records Division:
Birth and Death Certificates August 1874 to Present
Birth certificate is public 100+ years after birth: application $23
Death certificate is public 50+ years after death: application $18

You must have an exact date, they do not do searches and do not allow researchers access to the records. Use the Family Search index (below) to find your ancestors before you order.  DC Department of Heath Vital Records does not do online requests, but you can order DC birth and death records (if they are public) through www.vitalchek.com.  Here are the FAQ & Guidelines.

Family Search:
Deaths and Burials 1840-1964 (index)
Deaths 1874-1959 (images available)
Births and Christenings 1830-1955 (index)

Marriage and Divorce

Family Search:
Marriages 1811-1950 (images available)
Marriages 1830-1921

DC Superior Court Marriage Bureau
Marriage Records 1811-1980
Divorce Records September 16, 1956-Present

You may request by mail or in person with a money order $10 made out to “Clerk, D.C. Superior Court.” Include full names, maiden names, and the date of marriage/divorce and mail to:

DC Superior Court Marriage Bureau
H. Carl Moultrie I. Courthouse
Room #4485
500 Indiana Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001

I highly recommend calling the court first before mailing in your request: (202) 879-4840

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:
Divorce Records prior to September 16, 1956
Call first!  (202) 354-3050

They may ask you send over a fax with all the known details and they will email you a response, either a copy of the divorce record or the location it is held in the National Archives.

Cemeteries

Congressional Cemetery 
Founded in 1807 and contains many famous Washingtonians, including J. Edgar Hoover, John Philip Sousa, and Elbridge Gerry.  Walking tour guides and an internment index are available on their website. More information available at the National Park Service.

Oak Hill Cemetery, Georgetown

Oak Hill Cemetery
One of DC’s best kept secrets and by far the most beautiful cemetery I have ever been too.  Local Georgetown residents often take walks through the gardens.  Founded in 1849, the cemetery’s history is mostly of the 19th century with an emphasis on the Civil War.  Take a walk through and do a quick google search of any of the headstone names, like Paul J. Pelz or Philip Barton Key and you’ll find some wonderful historical gems! An index of internments is available on their website.

Holy Rood Cemetery (no official website)
Established in 1832 and contains about 7,000 graves, including 1,000 free and enslaved African Americans.  This historical cemetery has been neglected for years by it’s current owner, Georgetown University and very few headstones remain.  A list of interments can be found at the Georgetown University Special Collections Research Center, open M-F 9am-5pm.

Mount Olivet Cemetery

Rock Creek Cemetery

For a full list of cemeteries located in DC, try using the findagrave.com directory here.

Other

There are tons of other resources for researching ancestors in DC.  Ancestry.com has a list of DC specific sources and the Family Search library has lots of interesting books and microfilm available for ordering, such as District of Columbia free Negro registers, 1821-1861 and Who’s who in the nation’s capital.

Harry Murphy and the Photo Mystery

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the discovery of a brother to my 2nd great grandfather, the elusive James Joseph Murphy.  This brother, Harry Murphy, had immigrated a couple years after his parents and siblings to Sharon, Pennsylvania.  The only way I found out about him is because my great grand aunt had his obituary with a large pile of old photos which was then passed on to her niece who recently passed the photos on to me.  Many of the photos are of unknown people; my mom and relatives have gotten lots of  “who are these people?” emails.

There are 6 photos with nice little captions on the back, all written by the same person in a somewhat affectionate way.  One in particular stands out.

“Bob’s wife Barbara, taken only two months ago with their new car a Ford Victoria”

Stylish woman, new car, and a huge cat! I love it.  I must be related to her.

“This is the only picture I have of Jim. From right to left they are myself, Harry Luse, and Jim my brother. This was taken about three years ago.”

The caption of the three men below tells me that the recipient probably didn’t speak or visit those in the picture on a regular basis.  Maybe they are cousins of my great grand aunt’s husband?

In this big pile of old photos and obituaries is also an envelope from H. Letson in Huntington Beach, CA to Mr. Harry Murphy.  That’s Harry Letson, Harry Murphy’s son that lived in Huntington Beach. Nothing in the envelope though; I wonder why it was saved.

As I was scanning some photos today, I realized that the return address handwriting is strikingly similar to the handwriting on the back of these photos.

The “to” address is written in big block generic letters so it never stuck out, but the return address gives the clue.

Bingo!  Harry Letson was sending these photos to his (estranged?) father.

Another clue: the date on the stamp is June 13, 1956.  Harry Murphy died in 1956.  Was his son sending him photos because he knew his father was dying soon?  I can only wonder.  All the captions are very kindly written and I get a sense that they were selected specifically to let the recipient a view of the immediate family living in Huntington Beach.

“This is me the old man and my two gals the best in the world”

Luckily, I found a descendant of Harry’s brother Jim on ancestry.com.  Hopefully they can provide some context. Meanwhile, I need to find the exact date of Harry Murphy’s death.

A Few Of My Favorite Things

Old Newspapers

How else would I know that my 4th great grandfather died at at 90 with all his teeth?

The Library of Congress Chronicling America is a great starting point for old newspapers.  Not all newspapers are digitized, but keep checking as more are added everyday.  You can search for an ancestor’s name or event; I got lucky a couple times with digitized copies of the Pittsburgh Dispatch.

If you are interested in a newspaper that has not been digitized, the database gives a list of possible locations to search in person.  Click on the link for US Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present and make your selections based on city, county, state and you will get a list of all the newspapers from that location.  Click on any of them for more information and then at the bottom of the page click on “view complete holdings information.”  You may find the newspaper in a more convenient location if you’re unable to make a long-distance research trip.  For example, I’m interested in looking through the Advance Argus of Greenville, PA 1887-1917 which happens to also be located in Harrisburg, PA (for me, four hours less of a drive).

Always check with the local library directly to see if they have indexed any local papers.  One of my favorite resources for old news articles and obituaries is the Butler County (PA) Public Library.  They have an excellent online index and the staff responds pretty quickly to paper copy requests.  Other great indexes I often use are the New Castle Public Library’s Marriage/Obituary Database and the Rutherford B Hayes Library Obituary Index.  If the local library does not have an index (most do not) you may try to find a librarian or local genealogist that doesn’t mind looking up a specific date for you.

I also use newspaperarchive.com, which is a paid service for access to an unbelievable amount of digitized newspapers.  When I first started using it, it was pretty costly, but since then the price has gone down.  It has definitely paid for itself many times over in saving me request/research fees and travel costs.

Old Photos

You don’t get any vital details out of an old photo, but they certainly provide some great context to your relatives and the time period. This photo is of my grandfather in the late 1930’s. I can make certain assumptions (and generate more questions) based on the instruments, clothing, and facial expressions.

I’ve created family photo albums on flickr so that everyone can view and comment. Old family photos are great conversation starters, especially to those relatives that “aren’t into genealogy.”

History Detectives 

“Just like watching the detectives…”  If you haven’t seen the show History Detectives on PBS, you are really missing out.  Each episode starts off with an artifact, story, or photo that very little is known about.  The History Detectives then investigate to find the real story behind the object.  Oftentimes, they will incorporate genealogy in their investigation.  From their website “History Detectives is devoted to exploring the complexities of historical mysteries, searching out the facts, myths and conundrums that connect local folklore, family legends and interesting objects.”  Every episode is fascinating and I always think “wow, I wish I had learned this in history class.”

Family History Books & Google Books

This is my favorite thing to just mess around with.  Just go to Google Books and type in a name or event you’re researching.  I’m currently doing research on my Updegraff lineage and by typing in Updegraff (or Op den Graeff) and then filtering for the 19th century, I get a list of interesting books that range from religion to historical accounts and biographies.  What is great, is that most of these books have been out of print for decades and the information and context you get is pretty unique.

Many Universities also contain old digitized books and lineages, including The University of Michigan Making of America Digital Library.  Each archive contains different books, so you should browse through various search engines.  FamilySearch.org has made it easy to sort through some of the collections here, which includes databases from Brigham Young University and the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research.  The lineage books contain lots of great clues and while it’s not recommended to copy other people’s trees, they may direct you to to the actual source.

Sunday’s Obituary – Margaret Davis-Updegraff

Margaret H. Davis was born 19 January 1861 in Johnstown,1 Pennsylvania to David H Davis and Catherine Annie Harris, both immigrants from Wales. She was the 5th child of 13 born to David and Catherine.

Margaret Davis married Henry Herman Updegraff in 1881.  Her siblings considered her “marrying well.”  The young couple moved to New Castle between 1885 and 18892 (just before the horrendous Johnstown Flood of 1889).  Margaret and Henry raised four children: Clarence David, Royer Howard, John William, and Alma Catherine.  Margaret’s younger sister, Rachel Davis also lived with Margaret and Henry until she was married to William G. Fischer in 1901.

Margaret hosted many social events for her children, especially her daughter Alma.3  They had a cottage at Brady’s Lake in Ohio and in one instance in 1904, Margaret and her sister Rachel Fischer took the two oldest children (Clarence and Royer) and their girlfriends (to whom they were later engaged) on a vacation there.  The family appeared in the “Society Section” of the New Castle News over 20 times between the year 1900 and 1920.

27 September 1945 - Youngstown Vindicator

Margaret was certainly the matriarch of the Davis and Updegraff family.  Not only did she host many family and social gatherings but she also cared for many.  In addition to caring for her younger sister Rachel, she also took in her niece, after her sister-in-law (widow of Margaret’s brother Luther John Davis) passed away unexpectedly.  When her niece, Irene married, the couple continued to live with the Updegraffs until they could afford a place of their own.

In 1923, Margaret’s husband, Henry Herman Updegraff passed away.  She moved to Youngstown, Ohio to live with her son John William and became the primary caregiver for her two grandsons Robert Lee (my grandfather) and John Leroy.  Margaret was a very important person in my grandfather’s life and according to my mother “she could do no wrong in his eyes.”

Margaret passed away on 26 September 1945 of heart failure.  She is buried with her husbad in Graceland Cemetery in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

1 The obituaries posted in the Youngstown Vindicator and New Castle News have conflicting birth dates: 23 January 1861 and 19 January 1861, respectively. Margaret’s death certificate lists the birth date as 19 January 1861.
2 Royer Howard was born in 1885 in Johnstown and the next child, John William, was born March 1889 in New Castle, indicating the family moved sometime between 1885 and March 1889.
3 To read more about the events and gatherings Margaret hosted with her daughter Alma, click here.

Click here for a list of sources used.

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