Saturday, November 22, 2014

New York City Municipal Archives – Good Egg Award


I have been waiting since September for the death certificate of Kate Nunn Preiss (or letter stating “Not Found”) from the New York City Municipal Archives. My check of late July had been cashed, so I know they had received the request form and SASE.

This week I decided enough additional time had gone by that I should contact them to see where my request was in the queue.  To my surprise, my email was answered the very next day. The note implied that something had been sent, though further communication revealed that my request was probably lost. 

In spite of this I am giving the New York City Municipal Archives the Good Egg Award, because they not only answered my query, they immediately searched through the April 1928 deaths for Kate.  

Alas, Kate was not found.  But the archives informed me of the newly updated German Genealogy (and Italian Genealogy) databases that I could search for vital records myself from home. I have used these databases for years through SteveMorse.org, but the links the archives gave me sends me to the updated sites.  I was told if I found Kate listed, let them know and they would send the certificate.  Needless to say I am impressed by the customer service, not something I expected.

I searched the updated database, expanding the boroughs, expanding the years and found nothing for Kate or Carl Preiss. Sigh. Not surprising this family continues to give problems.  I thank the archives for alerting me to the updated website and for honoring my check for a future search for Kate. 

I hope the database will prove useful in searching more of my German relatives.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Rightmires to Darraghs to Wixoms

Delia, Elmer and Shirley Wixom abt 1927

While working on my Tucker family line this morning I came upon this photo that for years rested in a box in the corner of my great-grandmother’s barn. The box of photos was rescued by my cousin and delivered to our home in Newtown, Connecticut.

The photo was damaged, so I decided to scan and put it in its rightful place within the Tucker genealogy document.  And that is what brought me back to the Rightmire family, which then lead me to the family of John Darragh.

John Rightmire (who married my great-grandmother’s sister Olive B. Tucker) was born in 1867.  John and Olive had one daughter, Delia born June 1896.  Currently my research goes right to Delia who married Elmer Wixom. The photo shows this couple with their baby daughter Shirley.

As I started to fill in the Enfield, New York family of Delia’s father, John Rightmire, I found that at three years of age, John was living with his mother, Rachel, his sister Ann age 4 and brother Charles, age 1. Where is the father?  By 1880 these three children are living with their grandparents, John and Rachel Kennedy Darragh, Where is the mother?

In the local Rolfe Cemetery I found three children of John and Rachel Darragh that all died in 1858.  To what disease did they succumb?

If I thought this was going to be a quick and easy fleshing out of the Rightmire family, I was way off the mark! I do look forward to solving these mysteries.

Monday, October 27, 2014

“Marriage Bureau Calm Once Again”



Front page of the 1 August 1940 Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star reported this happy news.  Happy news, at least, for those working in the Fredericksburg court clerk’s office.  That office had been under siege for 20 months with couples fleeing their states’ premarital examination law and “wait laws.”

“Stampede for Licenses over. Expect return to Normalcy” was the subheading. Why? Because on August 1, 1940 the State of Virginia’s new law requiring a serological test went into effect.

As reported in an earlier blog about digitizing of these marriage records, the Free Lance-Star confirms our guesstimate on numbers.  Through the end of July 1940 the total for July was 484, exceeding all records for a month, with the number to date for the year to 1,456.  [The end total for that year was 1,599]

The paper reported, “ Since early December 1938, when Virginia first began to feel the effects of “wait” laws which had been passed in a number of eastern states, until yesterday a total of 3,312 licenses were issues at the local clerk’s office.” 

Maryland no longer a Gretna Green.  Couples came to Virginia when Maryland, “one of the most famous Gretna Greens in the east passed a 72 hour wait law between issuance of license and marriage. That law went into effect December 1, 1938.  Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut had already passed laws – the reason for the high volume of these residents pouring into Fredericksburg.

Seeing this massive invasion of couples and the pressure it was putting on the court clerks, the Virginia Assembly discussed passing a “wait law” similar to that of other states. This was shelved and replaced by a law requiring a blood test for venereal disease.  Although the presence of venereal disease did not prevent marriage, the law demanded the infected person take treatment until cured, as long as they were Virginia residents.

Two photos are included with this article.  Couples being married are: Roland J. Leveque and Ellen Gordon; John Erhardt and Josephine Ryan of Philadelphia.  Virginia has Marriage Commissions, so couples could fill out the paperwork, pay a couple of dollars, and be married immediately inside the courthouse (or outside by a crepe myrtle in summer) by a Marriage Commissioner.  These commissioners are still available today and are allowed to charge up to $50 for each marriage performed.

Today - The article is helpful to us as we continue our digitizing efforts since it lists the years previous and how many licenses were issued each year.  As we go back to 1914, we will know ahead of time how many we can do in a morning.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

FRGS Fall Genealogy Program – A Success!!


For the past several months Shannon Bennett and I have been busy organizing a Fall Genealogy Program scheduled for Saturday 11 October 2014 at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg.

The program featured two 45 minute presentations on helpful search techniques for FamilySearch.org and using the U.S. Census. The third presentation was on a relatively new site, Find My Past.   Immediately following the presentations we offered one-on-one consultations for those who had made appointments - Fredericksburg’s version of Ancestors Road Show.

Over 50 people arrived for the three morning presentations.  Nine people were assisted with their brick walls following those sessions. Four more left their names for future assistance.

What we did right:  We kept the presentations to 45 minutes. The presenters were challenged to keep their PowerPoints to this amount of time, but were thankful when they achieved it.  We had a few minutes break between each session so computers could be switched out, which gave the audience time to visit the restrooms, grab some coffee, water and to sample some of the wonderful baked goods our members supplied.  The one-on-one sessions, called Brick Wall Busters, was also a hit. This concept is new to Fredericksburg, but I wanted to try it because it was a huge hit when we offered this in Newtown several years ago.  We are so thankful to the five volunteers who gave up their time, energy and expertise to assist these folks.

What we will do better next time:  When Shannon brought up the suggestion of doing a fall genealogy program there didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm by members of the society.  But we forged ahead working with the library staff over the summer to put things in place.  A sort of holiday weekend (schools are in session on Monday), and apparent lack of the club’s enthusiasm to spread the word made us feel not many would show. Consequently, we did not feel registration was necessary except for the consults.  About 25 people thought they should register so my cell phone and email were busy this past week.  I realized then why registration is important - refreshments!!  Duh!  At first I thought one Box of Joe each for regular and decaf would suffice – I ended up getting 5 boxes (50 cups), which was way too much.  Live and learn.

We see the need for presentations that meet various experience levels. That is also a challenge for the presenters, but our three presenters yesterday met that challenge well.

We are already brainstorming for our next genealogy program!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

And the winner is …



New York City, with close runners-up of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC.

By 1913 many states had laws on the books requiring some sort of medical certificate or oath that the male was free of venereal disease before a marriage license would be issued.  New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia required an oath.

By 1925 many states passed laws that required a physical examination of both parties, but there was not much interest in enforcement.

In 1935, however, Connecticut passed the “Premarital Examination Law,” which required a blood test for Syphilis and a physical examination of both parties before a marriage license application could be made.

In 1936, Surgeon General Thomas Parren of the Public Health Service began a nationwide drive for venereal disease testing before marriage.

New York State enacted their “Premarital Examination Law” in June 1939.  Marriages in Upstate New York increased that year from 1938, and we suspect it was to get married before the new law took effect mid-year.

New Jersey enacted legislation in 1938, which may have driven those residents to seek licenses in Virginia that did not require blood tests until August 1940.

On October 1, we sorted the 1,771 1939 marriage licenses taken out at Fredericksburg, VA Circuit Court into piles of 100s.  We will start digitizing them next week, and it will be at that time we will learn when the licenses of the states listed above as the “winners” were taken out.  If the licenses for couples from New York were during the first half of the year, we will surmise it was to avoid the new premarital examination law passed by that state.

For further information on this subject please see Premarital Health Examination Legislation: Analysis and Compilation of State Laws, J.K. Shafer, M.D., published by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service. Digitized by Google; original from University of Michigan. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Philadelphia, PA 1940 Marriages



One reason for my blog silence the last couple of weeks is we have been working overtime on your volunteer project of digitizing marriage records at Fredericksburg, VA Circuit Court.

After a month’s hiatus while the circuit court employees got settled into their spacious office space in the new courthouse, we were called back to work on September 12.  That day we digitized 285 1941 marriages, coming down from the 335 1942 marriages done at the end of July.

Easy street we thought.  We knew as we went back in time we would have fewer marriages (less population), and could then possibly digitize two years each week.  Wrong.

Our mouths dropped when we asked to see the boxes of 1940 marriages, thinking that might be the year we could start doing multiple years in one morning.

The most archive boxes we had faced previously was three.  For 1939 and 1940, each of those years had TEN archive boxes.

We did not plan on the effect the war in Europe would have on American couples.  That, and the fact that Virginia is a Gretna Green, and Fredericksburg is easily accessible by rail, and the Court only three blocks from the station, created a perfect storm of marriages.

It took us five hours of steady work just to sort the 1,599 marriages for 1940 into piles of 100s.  It took another four mornings of 3-4 hours each to digitize those.  As we plugged along, the Circuit Court Clerk stopped by and said, “Just think how great this information will be for genealogists.”  We agreed. That is why we were there.

Several days were heavy traffic days, the court overrun with people wanting marriage licenses. The clerk at the time cried out for more help; the circuit court was open on Saturdays to accommodate the crowds.  On Saturday, July 27, for example, the circuit court processed 69 marriage licenses. Another reason for the rush was that starting in August 1940 Virginia required blood tests. Consequently, approximately 1450 licenses were processed by the end of July, with only about 150 for the rest of the year.

These are not Virginia people.  What we noticed as we worked our way through 1940 is many, many couples were from Philadelphia, PA.  If your ancestors lived and worked in Philadelphia in the late 1930s, you just might find their marriage license in Fredericksburg, VA.  Of course there are many other states represented as well, but Philly really stood out in this group.  We shall see what information the 1,000+ 1939 licenses bring us. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Monographs – A way to share


We like to produce monographs of our research.  According to Merriam-Webster, a monograph is, “a learned treatise on a small area of learning.”  In other words, take one family line, follow it, include photos, social, cultural, religious, geographic information about that particular family, and write up that research in a way that makes interesting reading. 

It is not as hard as you might think, and it is a perfect way to share your research to date.  Everyone knows genealogy research is never done. So publish now what you have!

As I ready my next monograph for publication, I came across a handout I received from Patricia Law Hatcher, CG, FASG in 2004 titled, Monographs: Reviving a Respected Publishing Format.

In a nutshell, she advises to keep the topic focused. Not easy when you have lots of branches on that family tree. But your monograph could be: “extended biographies, documentary transcriptions of diaries, limited pedigrees, family that turn out to not be attached to your family tree, and research-in-progress.” 

There is a number of genealogical self-publishing printing companies sprouting up. If you decide to go this route, research these carefully. We like to print an original ourselves on 28 or 30 pound paper. We then take it to the local PostNet or Staples, and give them our 28 or 30 pound paper on which to run the copies.  We usually run any pages with color photos ourselves since sometimes copy centers don’t have the best color cartridges installed.  Another option is we remove the pages with the color photos and pay to have them run separately.  But we always supply our own paper.  After checking each set one page at a time, we then have the copy center bind them. 

Check the pages:  When I was producing Voices of our Past, the oral history project for the Ulysses Historical Society, I had Staples make the copies.  I brought the six sets of 334 pages each home and proceeded to look at every page. On the third set, a quarter the way through, something had gotten onto the drum, and the bottom half of all the pages were blank. I had to go back over and have those copies rerun. Not a fun time.

The title: If you want researchers to find your family, don’t title it something like, The Branches on my Family Tree.  A better title includes the family name and geographic place.  One of my monographs has the title: The Tuckers of Enfield, New York. Include all major surnames on the title page. 

The Devil is in the Details: Develop a table of contents and an index.  When developing your index think like a researcher. If your family had a business, or you talked about a number of farms, index those. Geographic areas in your monograph should also be indexed.

How Many? Before going to print think about the number of copies you will need. How many family members will want a copy of your research? Is there an historical society or library that would want one or more copies?  And there is the Family History Library, the Library of Congress and the DAR Library. Do check their submission guidelines. Some accept only unbound works.

Once the finished product is in your hands, you will have such a feeling of accomplishment.  And it is rewarding to receive all those heartfelt thank you notes from the repositories to which you sent your finished product.

Would love to hear success stories!!