Sunday, July 13, 2014

Half Priced? Pass the Spittoon!

Word is spreading like wildfire in the genealogy community - 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 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.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

52 Ancestors: #6 Jelina Williams O'Connor Trimble

Jelina Williams (alternately spelled Gelina) was my 2nd great-grandmother. She was the wife of John O'Connor and mother of Robert O'Connor. A year ago I knew nothing about her - not even her maiden name.

From the Colorado State Archives, I learned that John O'Connor filed for divorce from Jelina in Denver in 1922. In the divorce record, John indicates that they were married in Rolla, Missouri in 1902. With this information, I was able to find their Missouri marriage record online.

John O'Connor & Jelina Williams 1902 Marriage

I next searched census records for Rolla and that's where I found the 1900 Federal Census with Jelina living with her parents Johnson and Caroline Williams (my 3rd great-grandparents).

In the 1922 divorce record, John also states that Jelina deserted the family in July 1919. After this divorce record, the trail for Jelina goes cold. Did she remarry and change her last name? Or did she die as Jelina O'Connor? Did she stay in Colorado or move home to Missouri or elsewhere? I was stumped and had no idea.

Eventually, I came across the 1943 Missouri death record for Johnson Williams, and was struck by the name of the informant for his death: Mrs. Lina Kiser. Could this be Jelina (by a nickname) remarried with a new surname?

Johnson Williams Death Certificate - Lina is Informant

A search of Find a Grave in Rolla turned up a record for Fred Kaiser. The grave inscription said that Fred was the son of Henry Kaiser and husband of Lina. This led me to the 1940 census, where Fred and Lina Kaiser's household also includes Johnson Williams (who's listed as being the father in law of Fred). I quickly found the death certificate online for Fred Kaiser, which lists his wife and informant as Lina.

I next found the marriage license for Lina Connor to Fred Kaiser. It mentions that she's from Denver. With this preponderance of evidence, I'm pretty sure Lina Kaiser is my Jelina Williams; remarried in 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri - her second marriage.

Lina Conner and Fred Kaiser 1925 Marriage

I began corresponding with a user on who lives near Rolla. I asked him to provide a photo of Fred Kaiser's grave stone because his grave website said the stone had the inscription "husband of Lina." I wanted to see if the stone was a shared marker that provided her death date and therefore would confirm she was also buried in the cemetery. This guy had local burial records for the cemetery that confirmed the names of everyone buried in the grounds. He told me there were no other Kaisers buried in the cemetery.

However, he also told me that Fred was buried in the same plots as Johnson and Caroline Williams (Jelina's parents). At this point, I was even more certain we had the right woman (double confirming that the Lina Conner from Denver who married Fred Kaiser was our Jelina, daughter of Johnson and Caroline). He said the records showed a grave between Fred and Jelina's parents, and that he would take photos and let me know what - or who - was there. He came back with a photo of Fred's grave which only included dates for him - no shared marker with Jelina. However, he also informed me that there was a gravestone between Fred and Jelina's parents. The marker was for a Jelina Williams Trimble who, according to the burial records, was a daughter of Johnson and Caroline Williams.

I did some online research for Jelina Trimble and found a couple pages where people are researching an apparent husband, Willie Trimble. This Willie Trimble was born in 1895 and died in 1983. The Ancestry pages have him remarrying to Jelina after the death of his first wife. Unfortunately, none of the pages provide a marriage date or location. It looks like he lived mostly in Kentucky and briefly in Illinois and Indiana before being buried in Rolla (but a different cemetery from Jelina). I haven't been able to locate a marriage record. It's entirely possible that after the death of Fred Kaiser yet before marriage to Willie Trimble that Jelina remarried someone else thus changing her surname again.

I soon had another success on when a user, who is somehow related to Willie Trimble, responded to one of my direct messages. She shared a little bit about Willie and Jelina. She wrote:


I believe I have a hard copy of the marriage certificate for Willie & Jelina. They lived in Rolla, MO & may have been married there. It would have been between 1959 & 1961, I think. Because of a recent move, I'm not quite sure where my copy of the marriage license is, but will keep your message here & let you know when I find it.

I visited Willie & Jelina 2 or 3 times in Rolla when I was in grade school in the 1960's. We called her Grandma Jemmy (or possibly Jimmy?) & I believe Jemmy may have been a name she went by with other people as well. She was a round little woman with pretty white hair, a twinkle in her eye and hands crippled by arthritis. She was always very sweet to us kids (though she seemed to favor my brothers over my sister & I). And, like my grandfather, she was a hard worker, always busy in her garden or in the house when we visited.

I have a photo & will be posting it as soon as possible. When it goes up, you're certainly welcome to snag it for your own tree.

Jelina and Willie Trimble

From nothing to a photo. I know more of her chronology, but I still haven't uncovered or grasped what led her to abandon her family in 1919, as John suggested in his divorce petition. I hope to locate others who knew her and could help flesh out more of her life.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Family History: More Mission Than Hobby

For me, family history research feels more like a noble mission than a hobby. Gardening is a hobby. Genealogy is serious detective work that uncovers stories, and restores to life people who have long been forgotten.

In my own research, as I discover the names and lives of previous generations, it's striking to think about how many direct ancestors preceded me and how each played a key genetic role in my existence.

So, yesterday, when I came across this post, Your Family: Past, Present, Future on the Wait But Why website, I was excited to see the point expressed so articulately.  

The article includes a diagram illustrating that we each have 128 5th great-grandparents. That's a lot of people in the past 200 years (estimating 25-30 years per generation) that made you! But when you turn your mind from the numeracy and focus on the human story aspect it's quite moving.

"The craziest thing to me is that this diagram, which only represents the last 200 years of your ancestry, contains 127 romantic relationships, each involving at least one critical sex moment and most of them probably involving deep love. You’re the product of 127 romances, just in the last 200 years alone."

The post also jabs at those researchers who claim they're descendants of royals (hey, I admit that when I started this mission, I also focused on those prestigious links). With 4,096 12th great-grandparents, it's a given that we're all probably related to royalty, but not just royalty.

"You can see why it’s not really that impressive when someone tells you they are descended from famous royalty who lived a few hundred years ago. Look how many people you’re descended from only about 300 years back! Within that top section, there’s probably some royalty, in addition to some peasants, scholars, warriors, painters, prostitutes, murderers, lunatics, and any other kind of person who existed back then."

Prostitutes, murderers, lunatics, and any other kind of person - indeed! So many exciting stories to uncover and so little time.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

52 Ancestors: #5 Robert O'Connor

Robert Vincent O'Connor was my great-grandfather; father of my paternal grandmother. He married Bernice Stevens in November 1930 when he was just 19 years old. At the wedding, Bernice was already pregnant with my grandmother. Sadly, she passed away a week after giving birth.

Robert was removed from my grandmother's life when Bernice's parents, Eva and Thomas Fagan, adopted my grandmother as their own daughter. Presumably they did this because he was still a kid and in no position to take care of a newborn.

In chatting with my grandmother, she had little interaction with him throughout her life. This made uncovering his past more challenging since so little was known about him.

As an amateur genealogist, Robert represents for me my first successful foray into tracking down descendants with letters out of the blue, Facebook, and online white pages.

I knew he remarried and had other children. Using a variety of means I was able to locate addresses for the children. I sent the same letter to each one, apologizing for writing them out of the blue. I asked what they could tell me about Robert. And then I waited.

An email came first, then phone calls, and from further correspondence I was able to learn stories that shed more light on his life. I even received the first photographs I'd ever seen of him.

I learned that he was born in Colorado, and that his parents, John Francis O'Connor and Jelina Williams, had divorced when he was 12 years old. He was married several times. He passed away in 1981 in California, and was buried in Riverside Cemetery with a plaque commemorating his military enlistment.

While my research on his life and his ancestry continues, Robert is my lesson in the value and power of reaching out beyond the internet and talking with people. The stories, the images, the pieces are out there waiting to be discovered and brought together.