Nov 21, 2013

My Mother's Doll A1920's Bye-Lo Baby

 The other day while standing in front of my china closet my daughter commented on how "that doll in there" terrified her.  It struck me as strange because it gives me a totally different feeling of being connected to the past.  Even when it was "officially" passed down to me when I was 5 years old I was never frightened by it but instead felt very special and was in awe that my mother actually played with a doll that had a glass head.

The doll my daughter referred to was my mother's ONLY doll when she was a child and it is a Bye-Lo Baby from the 1920's.

 I loved the family story attached to this doll.  Because the family was poor it was the only doll my mother ever had when she was a child.  My mother named her Barbara which was her mother's middle name.  I was only allowed to hold this without "help" from an adult.  But my mother played with it, a lot, when she was little.  Mom often wondered how Barbara survived all these years.  She would put it in a baby carriage and run up and down the gravel alley by her house with her friends, all the while Barbara was bouncing all over the place.  She survived many moves the family made after my grandfather died.

She does show some wear and tear.  Her head is dirty, she is missing a few fingers, and I have no idea if her clothes are original or not.  I think her "booties" are real baby socks put on at some point by my grandmother.  To me this shows she was well loved by a child.

I found the history behind the Bye-Lo Baby just as interesting.  It was originally sculpted by Grace Storey Putnam who need a way to support her young children after a divorce in the 1920's.  It was one of the first realistic looking dolls made.  Grace supposedly used a 3 day old baby as a model.  Here is a close up of her face.

Here is a picture from the day Barbara was passed down to me by my mother.  I don't remember but maybe she was a Christmas gift since the Christmas decorations are in the background.

Oct 3, 2013

Government Shut Down-Messing With My Genealogy Research

I will admit it--I had not paid much attention to the whole Government Shut Down fiasco.  I am fortunate that it has not affected my family financially or otherwise.  The worst I had experienced was listening to my daughter complain that if the government is not working then she shouldn't have to go to school and "work" either.  That was until yesterday when I came across a fairly decent free newspaper search site for my genealogy research.  I got numerous hits for the Pittsburgh Dispatch Newspaper and when I clicked on them this is what I got.

 Now I was really aggravated.  Never occurred to me this shutdown would affect my genealogy.  Then I started to realize how far reaching and damaging the shut down has become.  Not only all government websites but museums and other places are closed.  Which means the people working there are out of work until further notice.  My daughter came home from school and told me the mother of one her friends is layed off from work because of the shutdown.  Having my research disrupted is a minor annoyance compared to losing your income and benefits.  But it was an eye opener for me and made me pay more attention to the current events.  Now on to my newspaper find.

The newspaper site I found is called Elephind.  It contains papers from the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore.  Many of the papers from the US I had on my list of "free newspapers".  But what is beneficial is I can now search them all at once instead of individually.  They have an advanced search to help you narrow things down.  Plus you can revise your search by years, states, and even specific papers.  Until this whole shut down thing is over you cannot access papers from the US Library of Congress but that is only a small portion of what is available on Elephind.  The website is if you want to try it out for yourself.  Information found in newspapers can be priceless for genealogy especially when the site if free.

Sep 17, 2013

Family Stories - It Pays to Investigate

Most family researchers have heard and collected stories that have been passed down in their families.  I am referring to those stories that are told over and over again by Grandma at every family gathering and just assumed to be true.  In fact it was the often related "story" of how my great grandfather abandoned his family then disappeared that got me started in genealogy so long ago.

I have learned that as a researcher it is important to investigate the facts contained in these tales.  Whether they turn out to be true or just myth you can learn a great deal from your investigation.  Even if they turn out to be just a myth it will give you insight into your family history as to why the story was passed down.  Here is an example of just that from my Orth branch of the family.  This experience is what led me to research ALL family stories.
L to R:  Bobby Orth, Marie Lammay Orth, Sarah Orth Lammay Thomas, and Sarah Orth Collettes
This story is about the death of Sarah Orth Collettes (far left in plaid in above picture).  She was my grandfather's sister.  This story was told to my mother from the time she was young and repeated by my mother and grandmother to me many times as I was growing up.  Both my mother and I just took it at face value and assumed it was true.  We had no reason to question it, I mean why would grandma lie?

Here is what grandma told us about Sarah and her death.  Sarah died an unfortunate death at the age of 20 in 1926 (that much is indeed true).  Grandma said she was single, never married.  Sarah went to spend the night with a female friend who lived in an apartment.  The building caught fire during the night and Sarah perished.

Grandma always said it was a suspicious fire.  Sarah was the only one in the building to die.  Her purse was supposedly found after the fire and her wallet was missing.  Because of this incident my mother was never allowed to "have a sleepover" at a friends when she was a child.  My own mother would repeat this story to me every time I wanted to sleep over at a friends house.

As I got older and started my genealogy journey I did think parts of the story were odd.  Sarah and the whole Orth family were very far from wealthy.  I couldn't imagine the amount of money she might have had in her wallet to justify such a crime by anyone.  But still it did not occur to me to check it out (this was before the internet also so not as easy to check newspapers).  I just chalked it up to grandma being overly suspicious.

Grandma passed away in 1986.  At the funeral home an Orth cousin brought a small typed booklet with what he knew on the Orth genealogy.  He had ironically just completed it and had not had a chance to mail it out to family members.  I of course read it immediately that night. 

I was baffled when I came to the paragraph on Sarah Orth.  He claimed she was married to a man named Al Collettes and had died in their home.  According to him (as per his mother) Sarah's clothes had caught fire from the kitchen stove and she died from her burns.

The next day at the funeral home my mother and I told our cousin that he was wrong.  Sarah was single and died in a fire at a friends home.  He said she was most definitely married to Al Collettes.  His mother had taken him as a child numerous times to visit Al---in prison!  Al Collettes was incarcerated for a car theft that occurred after Sarah's death.  Plus our cousin's mother had told him many times the circumstances of Sarah perishing in her kitchen which seemed a much more reasonable scenario.

Grandma was now gone so we could not question her but I have to say both my mother and I were rattled by this new information.  My investigation confirmed Sarah was indeed married.  I found her marriage record, cemetery records list her as Sarah Collettes, and have even spoken to a descendant of Al Collettes. 

I do not have her death certificate and am waiting for to get PA death records on line.  But I have intensively searched the local papers for any news articles of her death and have found none.  Which seems reasonable to me.  A large apartment fire with a death should have made the papers where one unknown person dying from burns from a stove in 1926 very well may not.

So why the bizarre story?  Mom and I came to the conclusion that is was mainly to hide the fact Sarah was married to someone who ended up in prison which we know would have embarrassed grandma.  Plus we think it was a great reason for grandma to use to not allow my mom to stay over at any friends house.

Aug 29, 2013

Free on Immigration and Travel Records is offering their Immigration and Travel records for free now through September 2, 2013.  This is a great way to research your immigrant ancestors for free if you do not have an membership.
Example of a Ship Passenger List

Some of the free databases are ship passenger lists, border crossings, passport applications, and naturalization records.  The link to the free databases is Free Immigration and Travel Records.
From this link you can also get some helpful tips for searching your ancestor's records.

Depending on the year of arrival passenger lists can tell you where your ancestors came from as well as a specific destination.  I have even found names of relatives in the destination fields.  Names of everyone in the family who was on the ship has helped me discover children I did not know existed.  Make sure to check the whole list if you find an ancestor because other family members may be on the ship also.

Even if your ancestor was not an immigrant these records can provide information if they ever traveled overseas or crossed borders.  Border crossing records can tell you if they ever ventured into Mexico or Canada.  I have been surprised to find many of my natural born ancestors did make trips to both of these countries.  For me the best part about passport applications is they sometimes include a photograph of the applicant.  Even if there is no photo they give birth dates, places of birth and residence and the purpose of the trip.

Who needs a Labor Day picnic when you can spend the holiday researching your ancestors for free!  Happy Hunting.

Aug 20, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday-Mausoleum With A Basement!

This grand mausoleum at Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh is one of the most unique I have ever come across.  It is large with ornate details but what makes it stand out -- it has a basement!  I have never seen a mausoleum with underground crypts.  You can look into the small "windows" at ground level and see the underground burial area.  Looking through the glass on the main door the steps that lead down to the basement are also visible.

This mausoleum was built in 1862 for the Moorhead family of Pittsburgh.  James Kennedy Moorhead was a wealthy and prominent business man and most likely the family member who commissioned this structure according to the Allegheny Cemetery website.  He died in 1884.
James Kennedy Moorhead  1806 - 1884
The mausoleum was one of the earliest built in Allegheny Cemetery and sits on its own little hill.  It originally was surrounded by an iron fence which is now long gone.  It has sadly deteriorated over the years.  Bars have been installed on the windows and heavy chains are now are the doors to prevent vandalism which is so sad.  But it is still rather majestic and just unique (and a bit spooky) with the underground burial area.

Aug 6, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday: Beautiful Old Cross Grave Marker

I photographed this cross when I was in Chartiers Cemetery in Carnegie, PA awhile back because I thought it was a beautiful marker.  It has so much detail carved into the stone.  This young lady is no relation but I also found it so sad, she was only 20 years old.  Here is the inscription:

Emily J. Fetterman
Died May 14th 1872
Aged 20 Years
"Simply To Thy Cross I Cling"

Jul 29, 2013

Where Your Ancestors Lived - Pictures

I have always wished I could go back in time to visit my ancestors.  Not only to talk to to them but also to see where they lived and what their homes looked like.

I am lucky to have a few pictures of my Bird ancestors home, including the inside of their house.  The picture above includes my Great Grandmother Bird, Great, Great, Grandfather Bird and two cousins inside their house at 31 Early Street in Morristown, New Jersey.  I love this picture because I actually have two of the items in the picture in my house. Lucky for me this family lived in the same house for close to 90 years and were pack rats!  The large picture on the wall of the little girl (my Grandmother) above the man with the large mustache currently hangs in my dining room.  The large vase on the end of the mantle on the fireplace is in my china closet.  This gives me a real connection to these ancestors as well as a historical record because this house was torn down in the late 1960's to make way for a hospital.

I was thrilled to recently come across some pictures my Father took while on a trip to New Jersey back in the late 1980's.  He went through the pictures with his sister and wrote on the backs which relatives had lived in houses they could identify.  So now I can see where a few other New Jersey ancestors lived also.

Here are some of the pictures I recently found.  This is the house where my great grandfather James Rennick lived in Morristown, New Jersey.  He worked as a horse and grounds caretaker for a wealthy family in the area.

This is the home of Carrie Woodhull Fox, a cousin to my great grandmother Bird.  She was windowed at age 30 when her only child was 2 months old, then her only child died 9 months later.  She never remarried or had any more children.  I suspect this may have been her parents home because she moved back in with them after the death of her husband and child according to census data.

 This house is where another cousin of great grandmother Bird lived.  Her name was Fannie Howell Bennett.  Her husband was a doctor and his office was also located in this house.

I realize it is not the norm to find a stack of pictures of your ancestor's homes.  Here are some tips for locating pictures related to your own ancestors.
1.  Find Where They Lived
You can get the town name and sometimes the exact address from numerous sources.  Records to search include the census, birth and death records, wills, city directories, draft registrations, and the SSN Death Database.
2.  Google Search
Doing a search on names or even just the town they lived in can produce pictures.  I found a picture of a home on Long Island of a Woodhull ancestor who lived in the early 1800's through a Google Search.
3.  Local Historical Societies
Many times Historical Societies have pictures on line which can include individual homes as well as pictures and the history of the local area in general.
4.  Family Members
Check with other family members.  You never know what pictures or information they may have.  My father never would have been able to identify as many homes as he did without his sister's help.
5.  Local Property Tax Websites
Allegheny County in PA has a property tax site that includes photos of almost all homes on the tax list, so I am sure many other states/counties do also.  If you ancestor's home is still standing you could find a picture or at least see what is currently located on the street which they lived.  I found pictures of many homes this way.
6.  Libraries
Libraries usually contain a wealth of pictures on specific areas.

Seeing the houses, inside or out gives you a glimpse into your ancestor's life that you can't get from records.   Even just seeing pictures of the area they lived in can you give a better feel for what their lives were like.  Now if I could just go to all these places and walk around inside the houses I would be happy!