Great Sources

O0019I forget how interesting it is to look through a newspaper like The Chicago Defender, a current and historic African American newspaper, because it’s not something I have normal access to. I spent most of the first day of a recent WMGS bus trip to Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center, searching Proquest’s African American Historical Newspapers (available for on-site use) for news of Bradley County, Arkansas. The Chicago Defender had fairly regular columns sharing news from Arkansas including a column specifically on Warren. It featured the comings and goings of many of my collateral and direct line families, society news, the occasional obituary, etc. My favorite finds include those related to my Great Aunt Rachel C. (York) Elliott. A few examples include:

Mar 30, 1957

Mrs. Henrietta Moman and Mrs. R. C. [Elliott] motored to Little Rock to visit Mrs. Elliot’s brother, Fred York, who is ill in the University hospital. We hope he gets well soon.

Immediately followed by…

The Usher board sponsored a tea in the home of R. C. Elliott. Union Hill Baptist Church usher board was co-sponsor. It was a great success.

Sep 27, 1958

Mrs. T. R. Alexander and Mrs. R. C. Eliott motored to Little Rock on business last week and reported that the trip was very successful.

Fellow Bradley county researchers, if you’re looking for a little more color to your family stories and haven’t dived into this resource there are entries on Mount Olive and Union Hill families in particular with heavy coverage of the Feaster, Wilfong, Webb, Steppes, Terry, Phillips and related families and I definitely didn’t go through everything available–mostly focusing on Mrs. Mattie M. Burnett’s run as columnist (very) roughly from 1952-1962. There’s definitely earlier runs with different columnists as well.

Happy hunting,


Family History Month has turned out to be an eventful and fun one for me. I never followed up on my experiences at Western Michigan Genealogical Society’s Got Ancestors?! program but it was yet another success for WMGS with great presentations by D. Joshua Taylor. I’d recommend any of his talks but the Friday night presentation “Genealogy in Prime Time,” while giving a lot of fun and interesting information about Josh’s work on Who Do You think You Are? and Genealogy Roadshow, really resonated with me when it came to the message of providing the story—that’s what gets people hooked on, not the long lists of names and dates. Saturday’s presentations were equally informative and entertaining. As an Archivist I wanted to get up and cheer when Josh presented on researching in archives. And in his presentation, “Census, Vital Records and Locality Searching,” I was reminded that I haven’t spent nearly enough time exploring the census non-population schedules.

Additionally, I had a lot of fun at Family Tree Talk at Capital Area District Libraries South Lansing Branch. The group had great questions and I’m really hoping to visit again as more of a participant.  They meet on the third Saturday of the month at 2 pm.

I also had a great experience presenting for the Mid-Michigan Genealogical Society last night. They normally meet on the fourth Wednesdays, February-June and September-November (with November’s date bumped earlier to stay away from the Thanksgiving holiday).  Their next meeting will be November 18th featuring a speaker on Scottish Ancestry.

I have also learned from another project that I really wish I had French Canadian Catholic ancestry! What beautifully detailed records in the Drouin Collection! In baptismal record alone you get: Name, parents name with mother’s maiden name, father’s job, birth date, baptism, godparents, godfather’s occupation, and sometimes explanations of how they are related to the child. Combine that and the marriage records and if you’re careful (and the handwriting is legible) you actually may be able to go back in a straight line on your ancestors.

SampleDrouinThe sample document is a baptismal records for Rose Anna Herminise Plamondon, naming her the legitimate child of Louis Plamondon, shoemaker, and Adelina Lapierre of St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Montréal, Quebec Canada. It also names her godparents as Jean Baptiste and Rose Anna Plamondon, brother and sister of the infant.

Happy hunting,


While I am plotting possible roadtrips… I’m also trying to make full use of the resources I have access to at home so I’ll be talking about a few databases I’ve found—some within Ancestry and some outside it—in a few posts.

SSDIIn case you missed it—and thank you Anne and Jeff for bringing it to my attention— added a new and fabulous database at the end of July. The U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 expands on the information in the Social Security Death Index (sample to the right) including parents’ names, actual death dates; and various forms of the name (married names, middle names) used at different times in the person’s life.

YorkEdSandyI haven’t had time to fully mine this resource but my find of the week is the transcript of my Great Uncle Edward Sandy York’s application. Other than finding out his middle name was Sandy (after his father), it is also the first document I have found that has offered a possible maiden name for my 2nd Great Grandmother Agnes. He listed her as Agnes Ingram.

This is a particularly useful resource for maiden names, married names you might not have heard before, residences to explore, etc. For one of my cousins it listed two extra married names opening up a whole other line of inquiry.  Login in at home or head out to your library or archives and dive in to this new resource.

Happy hunting,


When you feel like you’ve run out of records and the trip to New York seems impossible to plan right now… what do you do? I tend to start researching the locations, ideally to unearth more records. For this particular branch of the tree that meant researching Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties in New York.  By looking through the St. Lawrence County Historical Association’s website I discovered the NYS Historic Newspapers project—a fabulous resource for New York researchers! Again, newspapers are the perfect resource for finding out the dirt on our black sheep relatives—what sells in the news business has not really changed… scandal and crime being top of the list. And that’s how I learned another piece of Michael O’Shea’s story.

OSheaMWatertownReunion18860428I was aware of Michael’s existence. He was an Irish immigrant and tailor in Upstate New York. I believe he is a close relative of my 3rd Great Grandfather, Patrick Shea or O’Shea and I know the men married sisters, Amy and Theresa McCumber, and the two couples were listed consecutively in the 1850 United States Census in Philadelphia, Jefferson County, New York. I had already found evidence that Michael and his wife were buried at St Patrick’s Cemetery in Rossie, New York (as was Patrick). But that was pretty much the total of my information prior to finding the newspapers.

Upon searching the NYS Historic Newspapers, I learned that Michael stopped by the hotel of George McLear in Rossie for drinks twice on the 21st of April 1886 and then while walking home that night fell into the Indian River. He was first reported missing but his body washed ashore days later.

OSheaMHisdeathwasnolossIn response, his widow, Amy, filed a civil suit against the hotel owner for serving Michael. The story plays out in articles in a number of the region’s newspapers in two counties as the case was tried, overturned and pursued again later by Michael’s daughter Rosanna. Ultimately the O’Shea’s lost the case when the defense persuaded the jury that Michael wasn’t that drunk and it had been a very dark night to be out walking without a lantern and it was likely just an accident.

His history of drinking didn’t serve the family well either as the defendant in the first trial remarked, “his death was no loss to the plaintiff as he was a worthless fellow and did nothing to support his wife.”


Happy hunting,


So as I noted, I’ve been working on a presentation on black sheep ancestors—which I’ve found a fair number of hanging out on my family tree. Some I’ve found by accident, some I obviously went looking for—like good old H.R. I’m going to write about a few of the side characters in my presentation because of their interesting stories and the great resources I found to research them.

SmithAbner1902I was trying to be better about following out the siblings of my direct ancestors and researching the siblings of Hugh and Jane Alison Massy starting with Rowland Hill and Elizabeth Massy Alison (because siblings marrying siblings). I’d hoped the double family tie might lead me to more information on my Massy-Alison family. But while the Rowland Alison family did move briefly to Detroit and it appears Jane and family followed along right after Hugh’s death, Rowland and family quickly moved on to Chicago where they settled and the research hasn’t yet led me to further revelations on my direct line. But it did lead to a few interesting characters like Abner Smith.

Rowland had at least 5 children including Edith who married Charles Lee Caswell in 1870. The couple had two children including Charles Lee Junior who studied at Northwestern University Law School and was admitted to the Bar by the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois on 1896. He worked in practical law in Chicago until he made junior partner in the firm Smith & Caswell with Judge Abner Smith upon the Judge’s retirement from the Circuit Court Bench in 1903. Smith and Caswell can each be found among the turn of the century who’s who for Chicago prior to the fall of 1905 when Abner became the president of Bank of America and Caswell appears to have gone on to found Caswell & Healy.

DarrowonSmith19090602By April the following year Smith and several others were indicted for conspiracy leading to the wreck of the bank. Among those who lost the majority of their investments was Clarence Darrow who paid out of pocket to all small depositors and served with his partner Edgar Lee Masters (Spoon River Anthology) as attorney for the receiver, Daniel Healy, at Abner’s hearings. There are great detailed write ups in the Chicago Tribune Archives—like this one, “Smith Plea Met by New Charges”.  Abner tried every appeal possible before turning himself in to the Cook County Jail for transport to the State Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois in May of 1909. And then the process was lengthened when the Sheriff actually refused to transport him.

SmithARasclChiTrib1909In the end he served a year and a month, and on parole in July of 1910 returned home to Chicago and practicing law. His wife Ada died in 1914, he was enumerated as a widowed lodger in 1920, and when the census came round again in 1930 he had married his former partner’s widowed mother, Mrs. Edith Alison Caswell—Rowland’s daughter and my 1st cousin 5 times removed. Abner died in 1932 at the age of 89 and Edith died a year later.

One of my biggest finds from this side trip is that the Tribune archives are fabulous for researching the notable and infamous—especially if you have Chicago roots. And as cases get messy enough you may be able to continue your research in legal reviews or biographies of notable lawyers.

For example, Reports of Cases at Common Law and in Chancery Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois Vol 239 (available in Google Books) has a detailed and verbose review of the case which charged that the defendants wrongfully, wickedly, fraudulently, feloniously and unlawfully conspired, combined, and confederated… to cheat and defraud and injure the public…” and that’s leaving out a ton.

Happy hunting,


The last installment on my Pennsylvania road trip…

Where Gettysburg was a somber experience my next stop was invigorating. The next morning I got up bright and early in the city of York to do research at the York County Heritage Trust. Again, I had emailed ahead to see what I might expect and had received a very positive reply from the head archivist indicating that there was a substantial amount of information on the Helsel/Heltzel/Hoetzel families. I parking at a local ramp and walked a couple blocks to the Museum and Archives. It’s another repository that charges a daily fee for non-members and asks you to put the majority of your materials away in lockers before fully entering the premises—but it’s so worth it.

I could have spent a week here—and as it was I opted to change my plans and spend half the following day there versus making other stops on my last research day. I went in focused on the Helsel family and was very impressed with their systematic approach. With the proliferation of German names they have control spellings and numbers for their research files so, for example, the Helsel’s control spelling was “Heltze”l and the number was 2636. Armed with that, a volunteer pulled a clippings file, and the appropriate sections of cemetery, tax, estate, and vital card files. And the card files in turn led me to detailed transcriptions and facsimiles of relevant church records. And as I started going through those I realized that I could find information on almost all of my German lines within their collection. As I said, I could have stayed a week.

I spent all of day one on the Helsel’s or working through the church records. And the staff didn’t have to twist my arm to get me to come back the next morning—despite the huge one day parking garage bill. In the end that too, could have been helped if I’d asked the right questions up front. When I paid for my copies at the end of the day the receptionist told me that they had access to free parking in a temporary lot behind the building. I’m chalking the day one bill up to a city donation for having such a fabulous research facility.

Christ Lutheran Church, York, PennsylvaniaChrist Lutheran Church Cemetery, York, PennsylvaniaOn the second day, I got up a little earlier so that I had time to walk down to Christ Lutheran Church (where one branch of the family worshiped) and take photographs. At the archives I spent time on my Mohr, Morningstar, Glass, and Kuntz families—all solidly intermingled long before the same families are marrying in again upon migrating to Ohio. If I had more time I would have spent even more time researching my Dice, Coppenhaver, and Grove families. I have no doubt there would be materials to find. Maybe next trip?

Happy hunting,


I recently came upon this blogpost from The Art of Manliness on a trend the writer noticed on the ease and intimacy of men in the past in photographs. It made me think of these photos from our family collection. The following are both shots of my Great Grandfather Robert Shea and his friends. The first (which I’ve posted before) is with his fellow patients at the Michigan State Sanatorium. The other is with a friend I do not recognize (though I think I have other pictures of) and I’m not sure where the photo was taken.

Happy hunting,


Robert James Shea (2nd from right) at Howell Tubercular Sanatorium c. 1920Robert Shea (Left) and Friend

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