Sunday, August 31, 2014

Stone Broke

I've been looking for information on the death of Burr Zelah Dornon - my 4th great-grandfather - for quite some time. When and where did he pass away?

I last find him in the 1860 U.S. Federal census living with his wife Sophronia and seven of their children in Jackson County, Virginia (today West Virginia). I haven't been able to find him or his wife in the 1870 census. Where did they go?

Curiously, a now-deceased distant cousin had a death date for him in her unsourced tree: October 15, 1867. I've come across nothing that can help substantiate this date. Where did she pull this from? It's a frustrating mystery!

My research recently turned up a promising lead. I found a BillionGraves Kansas burial record for B.Z. Dornon who died May 23, 1872. There was even a photo of the grave stone!
Photo by Bill Bedell
(used by permission)

I quickly loaded the picture - excited that I may have finally cracked the mystery. When the image appeared on my screen, I realized that the stone (now well over 140 years old) was broken.

The top portion was missing. The standing portion read in large letters "B.Z. Dornon". However, the transcriber missed the faint inscription just above the name. It read, "Wife of". This wasn't the burial for B.Z. Dornon. It was the grave of his wife Sophronia.

I moved my detective work to FindAGrave.com where a volunteer quickly offered to visit Sophronia's grave at the Edwardsville Cemetery in Wyandotte, Kansas.

The volunteer was able to confirm that the top portion of Sophronia's headstone was facing skyward behind the rest of the monument. Sure enough, his picture revealed that this was in fact the burial for B.Z. Dornon's wife Sophronia. Her name is engraved along the cracked bottom of the stone.

Photo by Bill Bedell (used by permission)
Unfortunately, there was no nearby burial for B.Z. Dornon. He doesn't appear to have made it to Kansas (at least not the same cemetery as his wife). I've since updated the BillionGraves record to properly notate Sophronia's burial.

While the search continues for Burr Zelah, I'm now interested in the restoration process for Sophronia's headstone if it's not cost prohibitive. Is there a standard approach to reassembling and restoring old headstones? Or is the damage too severe? Must it be replaced by a new stone? I plan to visit the cemetery later this fall and assess the options.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Brickey Brick Wall

I have several brick walls in my tree that are tantalizingly close to revealing their secrets. This low hanging fruit - just out of reach - includes the identity of Mary Jane's birth mother, and the name of Thomas Stevens' "aged mother".

Add to these my Brickey brick wall.

Annie Charles Winkler - my 2nd great-grandmother - was born in June 1884 in Washington County, Arkansas. According to her obituary, she was the "daughter of Henry and Pauline Brickey Winkler". Both of her parents disappeared from her life, which has created considerable trouble in confirming their identities and tracking their paths after her birth.

I found a September 1883 marriage record for James H. Winkler (spelled Winkley) and Miss Paulina Brickey in Newton County, Missouri. This is the only record I've uncovered that links these two individuals in life.


Family stories suggest that James Henry Winkler (Jim) left Pauline to raise Annie alone. For whatever reasons, Pauline didn't take up the mantel. Annie is first documented in the 1900 US Federal Census living in Prairie Township, Washington County, Arkansas with an aunt - Matilda Wilson. Her parents are not in the household. Have they deserted her? Are they even alive? What I wouldn't give for the 1890 census!


I don't yet know Matilda Wilson's maiden name. Given her age, 73 years, it's most likely that she's an aunt to either James or Pauline. A son of Matilda's is living in the household. His surname is Phelan.

To advance my research, I next returned to Newton County, Missouri (where James H. Winkler and Pauline Brickey were married) to see if I could locate the Brickey or Winkler families.

In the 1880 census, there were no Winklers in Newton County. However, there was a widowed Elizabeth Brickey living with several children. None of them were named Pauline. I traced Elizabeth back to 1870 when she's living with Nelson A. Brickey (presumably her husband). There is a daughter in the household named Mary S. P. Brickey. In the 1860 census the name is spelled out as Samantha P. Brickey. It's the only female child with a "P" in the name. Is this Pauline?

I expanded my search to Washington County, Arkansas where Annie was born. The broadened search turned up a December 30, 1891 marriage record between J.R. Lee and "Mrs. Pauline Winkler". The Mrs. instead of Miss suggests to me that she was previously married.


Combined searches of Ancestry.com public family trees (gasp!) and FindAGrave.com pointed me to James Russell Lee who was married several times, including to Mrs. Pauline Winkler. Pauline Lee passes away in 1899 and is buried in Mars Hill Cemetery in Barry County, Missouri. I hypothesize that this is Pauline (Brickey) Winkler. If that's the case, Pauline's 1899 death would explain why Annie was living with an aunt in the 1900 census.

My search also indicated that J.R. and Pauline had a son Elmer F. Lee who was born in 1894 and passed away in 1966. An online family tree gives Elmer's mother's name as "Poleen Bricklin". Unfortunately, the connection is unsourced. However, I wonder if the name comes from Elmer's death certificate? Perhaps an informant was trying to recall his mother's maiden name and confused Pauline Brickey?

I'm hoping that an 1899 obituary or death notice was published in the local paper and can help source Mrs. Pauline Lee's origins. A copy of Elmer's death record or SSN application with his mother's maiden name could also help to substantiate my theory. Frankly, a divorce record between Pauline and James Henry would be handy, too!

Perhaps I'm close to smashing through the Brickey brick wall. Now where in tarnation is James Henry Winkler?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Genetic Genealogy: Not Your Grandpa's Genealogy

I've tested with all three genetic genealogy companies. I've had family members test, too (Yes, both of my grandmothers have spit in little tubes!). I understand that DNA can tell me who I am related to, and that different types of DNA (Y, mitochondrial, and autosomal) can point at shared common ancestors within the parameters of each particular type of DNA.

But how do I break through brick walls with DNA exactly? How do I triangulate all of the data to get at meaningful information? These questions drove me to attend the inaugural 2014 International Genetic Genealogy Conference sponsored by the Institute for Genetic Genealogy (i4GG).

The weekend proved to be a phenomenal education in genetic genealogy. Friday featured two-hour presentations by each of the three key players in the DNA ancestry field: 23andMe, Ancestry.com, and FamilyTreeDNA. All three walked through their products, took questions from the audience, and even hinted at future offerings. A couple even took audience feedback to heart, and one faced considerable audience criticism for their current refusal to share chromosome information that's critically important to confirming genetic relationships.

Across all presentations, I was struck by the increasingly exponential popularity of genetic genealogy. Keynote speaker Dr. Spencer Wells, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and Director of the Genographic Project, noted that it took 11 years for the one millionth consumer to complete a personal DNA test in 2013. By mid-2014, the second millionth consumer had already submitted their DNA sample.

Dr. Wells surmised that direct-to-consumer DNA testing is the "most disruptively radically changing technology in history." This isn't an understatement. We're still discovering the ways in which DNA can advance our genealogy.

During his presentation on Using Free Third-Party Tools to Analyze Your Autosomal DNA, Blaine Bettinger referenced a tool that allows users to analyze their inherited DNA to artificially reconstruct an ancestor's DNA. It's reminiscent of the March 2014 news that scientists were able to use DNA to create "crude 3D models of faces."

Clearly, this isn't grandpa's genealogy of yesteryear. We're not just talking about DNA helping to match us with distant cousins. We're talking about identifying DNA lost to time and reconstructing great-granddad's face! Maybe I'll finally be able to identify all of those old unlabeled family photos.

I left the conference exhausted (12 hour days, people!), but incredibly excited. There were many great sessions that provided insight into my initial questions about how to break down brick walls through triangulation. 

But I was most struck by the fascinating discoveries continued DNA research has in store for the future of family history, and how everyday genealogists (citizen scientists, really) are leading the practical application of the science to genealogy. As event organizer CeCe Moore noted, "the discoveries that we'll make are in our hands."

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Half Priced? Pass the Spittoon!

Word is spreading like wildfire in the genealogy community - Ancestry.com is offering half-priced DNA tests.

If you've been sitting on the fence, unwilling or unable to pay the $99 fee - now may be the time to climb down and join the rest of us in our genetic genealogy searches.

At $46 (the reduced rate coupled with the reduced shipping code of "socialdna"), that's enticement enough to encourage everyone to pass the spittoon. A little saliva goes a long way in advancing our research!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Jane Cox Hadley - Photographed

I was recently contacted by the head of the Randolph County Historical Society in North Carolina. He's conducting a search for original weaving patterns or "drafts" that were created by Jane Cox Hadley between 1835 and 1866. Jane was my 5th great-grandmother.

The existence of the drafts came to light in an article, "Jane Cox: Her Draft for Counterpins" that was published in Interweave (Volume IV, No. 3, Summer 1979).

I knew that Jane was a Quaker and had traveled with her husband and children from North Carolina to Iowa. But that was largely the extent of what I knew. I certainly had no idea that Jane was a weaver, or that her weave patterns would merit publication in a weaving enthusiast publication.

Interweave - Volume IV, No. 3, Summer 1979
When I received a copy of the article, I was pleasantly surprised to see a brief biographical overview of her life. I was particularly struck by a reference to her great-granddaughter's recollection of seeing a photograph of Jane.

I'm always on the hunt for photographs of ancestors. The challenge is to locate those pictures from the 1800s that were passed along to family that are now in the hands (hopefully!) of distant cousins. How exciting - and fortunate - to have written confirmation that there was a photograph of Jane.

With this confirmation, the next challenge is making an attempt to identify descendants who may have the photograph in their collection. Game on!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Where in Italy?

I've been trying to determine where in Italy my great-grandparents Giuseppe and Maria Rosa (La Rocca) Ruota were born. They were married and spent their lives in Denver, Colorado. However, I've been unable to locate immigration or naturalization records that could pinpoint their Italian comunes and shed light on their ancestry.

According to the 1900 US Federal census: 
  • Giuseppe was born in March 1868. He later anglicized his name to Joseph Route. 
  • Maria was born in May 1874. She went by Rose or Rosina Route.
According to that same census, Giuseppe arrived in the US in 1880 and Maria Rosa arrived in 1890. The 1910 US Federal census confirms an 1880 arrival for Giuseppe, but lists 1889 for Maria.

I have a copy of their March 1, 1890 Denver, Colorado church-issued marriage record. The original certificate lists the spellings of their names as Giuseppe Ruota and Maria Rosa La Rocca.


A couple years ago, I was able to visit Sacred Heart Church, which still operates in Denver. The registrar pulled out the leather-bound marriage register and found the original transcription of their marriage. The book's notation provided more details about their origins.

Sacred Heart Church

It stated that Giuseppe Ruota was the son of Vincent and of Vincentia Marsicana of Potenza, Italy. Maria Rosa La Rocca was the daughter of Pancratius (a Latin version of the Italian Pancrazio) and Maria Giuseppa de Malio of the "same locality" (presumably Potenza).

Original transcription of marriage
That notation is mighty helpful, but is it indicating that they're from the province of Potenza or is it more specific and suggesting they're also from the comune of Potenza? 

Curiously, their parentage is further confused by their death records. 

Joseph's death certificate from August 16, 1918 says his father was Vincent Route and his mother was Vincencia Raimondo. His mother's maiden name now differs from the marriage record, which indicated a maiden name of Marsicana.

Rose's death certificate from November 26, 1929 says her father was Garwood La Rocco and her mother was Josephine La Rocco. Josephine is an understandable transformation from Maria Giuseppa. However, I'm puzzled by Garwood in lieu of Pancrazio. Is this simply a case of the children not knowing for sure the father's name? Given that the marriage record was created during the lifetime of my grandparents I'm putting more credence in that document.

But why so little luck locating immigration records for either Giuseppe or Maria Rosa? I understand that Ruota may have been Ruoti and La Rocca has appeared alternately as La Rocco. Yet my search efforts using wildcards has yet to yield one of them up. Where to go from here?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Great Granny Is There Too?!

After reading the Online Newspapers Web Guide that appeared in the March/April issue of Family Tree Magazine, I decided to pilot a subscription to GenealogyBank.com. I haven't taken full advantage of online newspapers to help flesh out my family history stories, and I was curious if there were archived articles about my family.

Remember back in January when I profiled Thomas K. Stevens - my 3rd great-grandfather who was killed in a mining explosion with his eldest son and namesake? I decided I would plug his name in first to see if I could learn anything more about his violent death. Sure enough, a December 1886 article from the Denver Rocky Mountain News popped up (click at right and enlarge).

The article provided more insight into the cause of the explosion - it's believed that Thomas' son, Thomas H. Stevens, improperly assembled the charge that ignited prematurely. The article spares no details in illustrating the horrendous injuries to both men. I'm not kidding - no details spared! Check it out.

While I was interested in gaining a better understanding of what went wrong, I was particularly struck by the article's final paragraph. It talked about the grieving family that Thomas left behind, including his wife and four children. But here's the real kicker! The article says he also leaves behind "an aged mother who also resides here [Idaho Springs, Colorado]." I've been stuck on the question of his parents' identities and had no clue that his mother was still alive, let alone living in the same tiny mining town!


However, I'm still trying to figure out her name. She's not living with the family in the 1880 census and I don't see her with Thomas' widow in the 1900 census. Seriously, I could really use the 1890 census right about now - sheesh!

I do have a candidate that I'm eyeing. In the 1880 census, there's a 63 year-old Margaret Stephens (sic) widowed and living with a son Edward in South Park, Colorado. She was born in England and Edward was born in Canada. This aligns with the information I have on Thomas from the 1880 census - his parents are both born in England, and he meets his wife Susan in Canada. Perhaps this Margaret has moved to Idaho Springs by the time of the 1886 explosion? Curiously, I can't find the Edward after the 1880 census.

Lastly, the Idaho Springs Cemetery register for the plot that Susan bought lists a handful of names buried in alongside Thomas and his son. Among them is a Margaret Stevens who is interred September 27, 1906. Is this Thomas' mother? Colorado didn't routinely keep death records until about 1910, so the odds aren't good that a death record exists (no record exists for Thomas' 1886 death). Nonetheless, I may reach out to the state and see if the vital records office has anything for her on file.

I'm excited that an archived article generated the clue to locating the next branch of the family. Clearly, the case for incorporating newspaper archives into my research has been made.

****Update August 23, 2014****

I obtained a copy of the death certificate for the Margaret Stevens who was interred on September 27, 1906 in the Idaho Springs Cemetery. This Margaret was only 2-months old, and the niece of my Thomas K. Stevens (daughter of his brother Frank Benjamin Stevens).

I am still on the lookout for the 63 year-old Margaret Stephens who appeared in the 1880 census. Although the search continues, I believe the case has been strengthened by this new piece of the puzzle. The fact that Frank Stevens named his daughter Margaret could suggest a tribute to his mother (if she was in fact Margaret).