September 29, 2012

Binding my family

I've been thinking lately of how amazing it is to have been able to discover so much about my family tree almost entirely-- either directly or indirectly-- from the internet. With a few clicks, one can access vital, census, and military records (often with images of the actual records), as well as city directories, online books, and newspaper articles while sitting in your bedroom in pjs.

Though technology is wonderful, and enables people in 2012 to access from home what they would had to have traveled to find just twenty years ago, it's not without its pitfalls and drawbacks: what would happen if my computer irreparably crashed or if the internet were no longer available? What if something happened to me-- would my research be accessible to my family members and their descendants?

I decided that my research should not simply be stored on a computer hard drive or on a website-- there needs to be a "paper trail."

With this in mind, I created a system for organizing/archiving my genealogical research and records using ring binders, clear sheet sleeves, and dividers with label tabs. This project also requires a printer and quite a large amount of printer ink, and the latter can be a bit expensive. All of these things are available at Staples or Office Depot.

I organized my records by surname, starting with my parents' and then grandmothers', then great-grandmothers', and so on. I stopped at 4th great-grandmothers' surnames, so basically I have binders with records and information for the surnames from my own to 4th great-grandmothers'.

I started with my own (my father's), and then my mother's maiden name, which filled up one binder. I start with the most recent person with that surname, and work my way back. For my mother's name, "Howes", I started with her, and then behind her went her father, and then his father, and then his father, and then his father (women are listed under their maiden names).

My parents' surnames went into one binder, my grandmother's maiden names filled the second, the third was for my great-grandmothers' names, the the next two were for great-great grandparents, etc.

For each person, I print out a individual date sheet from Family Tree Maker (the family tree program I use), and then behind that goes whatever records I have on him or her-- birth, marriage, census, residence, death-- as well as newspaper articles/clippings and photos. The records go into pvc-free sleeves to keep them from damage.

To save paper, ink, and repetition, marriage records are listed under the groom's name only, and census records are listed under the head of the household. So to find a particular person in the census when they were a child, you'd have to look under their father (or mother if she is the head). You'd find census record for a married woman under her husband's name.

Each different surname goes behind a labeled divider.

When printing out all of these records, I found that the biggest expense by far was ink. I also found that many record images you download online are surrounded by a black background; to save ink, and thereby money, crop off as much of the black background as possible before printing. This can be done easily in a photo editing program such as Photoshop.

Professionally-printed photo books could be made alternatively to the binders, but I like the binders because you can add records and move things around easily-- not to mention preserve any original documents.

I'm sure there are as many ways of organizing family history records as there are genealogists, but this was a system I found to work well. The important thing is to not leave your research just on your computer, but to have paper records in case of computer malfunction, changing technology, world apocalypse, et cetera.

September 8, 2012

DNA evidence for a family connection

Back in June, I had ordered and taken the new DNA test offered by My results were emailed to me at the end of July, and I linked my results to my online family tree.

Once you link your results to your tree, you are also able to see others who have taken the DNA test and whose results show a connection to you-- i.e., probable cousins. Shared surnames in your trees are also listed.

At the top of the list of likely cousins is someone who has the name RUSSELL in their tree; this person's great-grandmother was Alberta RUSSELL. Alberta was born in 1867 in New Brunswick, Canada. This piqued my interest, because my great-great grandmother Jane RUSSELL, one of my brick walls because I haven't been able to discover her parents, was born in St. John, New Brunswick, about 1853. Could they be related?

In the 1871 Canadian census, I had previously found two listings for Jane Russells who were the correct age (17) in St. John, New Brunswick: one was working for a family as a servant, and the other was living in the household of William and Jane RUSSELL. The second census entry indicates that William and Jane were born in England, aged 53 and 40 respectively.

I went back to look at these census records again-- particularly the second listing. In the household of William Russell, there were several other children listed besides Jane, and I noticed that the youngest was Alberta, aged 3. 

So here, for the first time, I have DNA evidence of a family connection-- that the Jane Russell who was living in the household of William Russell was my ancestor, hence the DNA connection to Alberta's great-grandson-- my third cousin once removed.

Whether the Jane Russell who was listed as a servant was a different person, or whether my great-great grandmother was working as a servant and was enumerated twice, I'll probably never know.

The marriage record of my great-great grandmother Jane to my great-great grandfather John HOWES on 4 August 1873 does not list their parents' names. I also found Jane's sister Alberta's marriage record to her husband William T. BABCOCK in 1888, but on this only their parents' first names are given-- so finding Jane's mother's maiden name is another challenge.

Ancestry line:

William RUSSELL (b. abt 1818, England) m. Jane UNKNOWN
Jane RUSSELL (b. abt 1853, New Brunswick, Canada) m. John HOWES 
Horace HOWES (1882-1976) m. Estelle SIMMONDS 
Henry HOWES (1913-1987) m. Dorothy PALMER 
S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father

September 3, 2012

Cooking up the past: how to roast beef, from the Frugal Housewife (c. 1803)

I love both history and food, so it stands to reason that I find the history of food very interesting.

In trying to find recipes from colonial New England, I discovered a really neat website,, that actually has links to information on foods eaten at various times in history. This site actually links to very old recipe books, with images of the actual pages.

One of these was The Frugal Housewife or Complete Woman Cookbook by Susannah Carter, published in 1803.

Here's one recipe contained therein for how to roast beef:

"If it be a sirloin or chump, butter a piece of writing-paper, and fasten it on the back of your meat with small skewers, and lay it down to a soaking fire, at a proper distance. As soon as your meat is warm, dust on some flour, and baste it with butter; then sprinkle some salt, and, at times, baste it with what comes from it. About a quarter of an hour before you take it up, remove the paper, duston a little flour, and baste it with a piece of butter, that it may go to the table with a good froth. Garnish your dish with scraped horse-radish, and serve it up with potatoes, brocoli, French beans, cauliflower, or celery."

Other than having to cook over an open fire, this recipe sounds surprisingly modern... and pretty yummy to boot, though I personally would forego the flour but add garlic and coarse ground pepper.

I'll probably post more recipes from the past in subsequent posts.

September 2, 2012

More records: PA births and deaths from 1906-1961

My great-grandmother Nachama/Naomi died in Philadelphia, PA, but I don't know when. A distant cousin sent me a short family history was written by a granddaughter of hers, Rose; without getting into complicated detail, Rose was my father's half-cousin, the daughter of Nachama's daughter Sheva, who was by Nachama's first husband.

According to Rose's account, Nachama had come to Philadelphia to live with her granddaughter Rebecca (Rose's sister) and her family, and she died at age 73.

From the details of her life that I know, plus the ages of her children, I've calculated that Nachama was born around 1860, give or take a couple of years. Assuming that she was indeed 73 when she died, that would put her date of death around 1933.

Back about a year ago, I tried ordering a death record for her for the year 1933 (a multi-year search was quadruple the amount, so I tried just one year); I received only a document stating that her death record could not be found.

At the time, PA vital records were not public record, so they were not available online at all. I discovered yesterday that this has since changed, and that listings for PA births and deaths from 1906-1961 are now viewable online. These aren't actual birth and death records, but contain the info you would need to order them.

I spend a good part of my Saturday night scrolling through the death records from 1928 through 1936, and found one promising lead: an entry with her first name but with a surname that, though with the first several letters correct, had a different suffix. This Nachama died in Philly on 25 Mary 1928, which fits.

Being that Nachama is a very unusual name, and that I never noticed any other Nachamas or Naomis while scrolling through the lists, I wonder if this isn't her. The name difference could possibly be a transcription error or a name change. For $9, I could order her death record and find out.

So if you have relatives who were born or who died in PA from 1906-1961, this is definitely worth looking at. The drawback: , the names from the 1930's years are not exactly alphabetical; if you are looking for a surname starting with K, for example, you basically have to scroll through all of the K listings. Nor are the listings listed chronologically, so it's a bit time-consuming and you find your eyes swimming out of focus after awhile.