Thursday, July 2, 2015

Holiday Access to

From July 1 - 5, 2015 offers free access to help you celebrate the 4th of July.  Go to the homepage, click on the "Search Free" box.

I entered "Ezra Dunn" for the name and "New Jersey" as the birthplace.  This brought me to a darkened page of results, asking for my email address so that I could be issued a username and passcode.  I clicked "No Thanks" and the list of results brightened.  There were 27 records, most from New Jersey, and just a few with the first name "Ezra."

I clicked on the first record and was brought to the page below, requiring registration to view the record.  Again I clicked "No thanks," but was returned to the list of results and not the actual record.

With my paid account, I searched for "Ezra Dunn" born in New Jersey and returned over seven million records.  (Over 99% of those records are irrelevant, so more specific search parameters would be more helpful.)

If anyone tries out this free access, please let us know what record types from which countries result.  Someone told me that a credit card is required for Free Access, which people are understandably hesitant to provide for a free service.

If this is truly free access to all of, then you have a great opportunity to explore the site to see if continued access via paid subscription could help your research.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Book Review: Orphan Train

I enjoyed reading Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

The book intertwines the stories of two unwanted teenagers- one in the 1920s and 1930s and the other now.  (Reminded me of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg.)  When the modern-day teenager started sleuthing, I knew I had to tell blog readers about this great genealogical novel.

The teenager of the 1920s and 1930s, Niamh, immigrated in 1927 to New York City from Kinvara, County Galway, Ireland with her parents and siblings.  In 1929 a fire in their squalid tenement killed her father and brothers.  With no one to care for her, Niamh was placed on a train by the Children's Aid Society and sent West in search of a family to take her in.

Such a system really existed.  Children did not have to be orphans to be sent away.  Their parents could be in prison or an asylum; homeless; or poor.  The program lasted from 1853 until 1930, when the Great Depression made placement unlikely.

Rules were lax about taking in such children.  Most children became indentured servants on farms.  Niamh's experiences were terrible and caused her to feel no attachment to anyone or thing.  She ended up in Minnesota.  Her name was changed to Dorothy, easier to pronounce than the Irish Niamh, and later to Vivian, to replace a couple's deceased daughter of the same name.

By chance, Vivian reunited with a fellow train rider, Hans "Dutchy," renamed Luke, and married him.  I thought the book would have a fairy tale ending, but Vivian's misfortunes continued.  Luke was drafted in 1943 to fight in World War II.  Shortly after his departure, Vivian discovered she was pregnant.  Luke was killed and Vivian gave her baby girl up for adoption.

"I sob uncontrollably for all that I've lost- the love of my life, my family, a future I'd dared to envision.  And in that moment I make a decision.  I can't go through this again.  I can't give myself to someone so completely only to lose them. . .  Then I do it.  I give her away."

The modern-day teenager, Molly, performed the genealogy research that I was silently screaming for.  Molly found the ship record of Niamh and her family arriving at Ellis Island.  Molly located a newspaper article about the fire that killed Niamh's father and brothers.  Niamh's sister, Maisie, survived the fire.  She was adopted by neighbors, who had lied to young Niamh that Maisie had perished in the fire.  Maisie, renamed Margaret, married and had a family of her own- but died five months before Molly searched.  Molly presented Niamh/Vivian with a picture of Maisie- a face she had not seen for over eighty years.

"[Molly] feels a vertiginous thrill, as if fictional characters have suddenly sprung to life."

This is how I feel when I find documentation of a family story.

Molly discovered that over 200,000 children rode on trains similar to Niamh's journey and that there are databases of names and possibilities to reconnect with lost family.

Molly also sought out an online adoption registry.  Vivian's daughter had submitted her information years earlier.  Vivian submitted her own information to confirm the match.  The book ends with the daughter, now in her 60s, arriving to meet Vivian.

As you research a family, if a child goes missing when the family came upon hard times, you may wish to consider researching orphan train records.  The same is true on the other side.  If a child appears with a family as a farm hand or domestic, you may want to consider that the child arrived on an orphan train.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tombstone Tuesday ING

This family plot of stones caught my eye in Green Grove Cemetery in Keyport, Monmouth County, New Jersey.  The stones had the surname COLLINS, except one, which included a G in the spelling:  COLLINGS.  Some regional accents barely pronounce the G sound in ING, which can account for the spelling difference in this situation.

The surname on this tombstone includes a G.

One of the tails in my family tree is my great-great-great grandfather, William Cumming (1856 - 1882).  Records spell the name with or without a G as well as an S.

Be open to spelling variations.  Figure out the most frequent variations based on phonetics.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Old Dutch Farmhouse: Jacobus House of Cedar Grove

I toured the oldest house in my hometown of Cedar Grove, New Jersey.  The Jacobus House was built in the 1700s by Roeloff Jacobus.  The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  You will come across the surname Jacobus if you study local Cedar Grove history or people who lived in this area.  (You can see older pictures of the house here.)

The house was recently renovated and is for sale!  If you've been wanting to live in a house like your Dutch ancestors who settled in New Jersey and New York, this is your opportunity.

Jody at the Jacobus House
178 Grove Avenue, Cedar Grove, New Jersey
A living room, kitchen, and full bathroom comprise the first floor.  Notice the beams.  Remember my trip to Amsterdam and the pictures of the beams?  The Dutch built these homes to last.

Fireplace in the living room.
Electricity, heat, and air conditioning have been integrated over the years.

Hearth in the kitchen.

Modern area of the kitchen for the days you feel like cooking on the stove and not the hearth.

300 years of difference in the kitchen
Upstairs you will find three bedrooms and another full bath.

The basement walls:  21 inch thick sandstone blocks.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Withholding Information

The United States Social Security Administration makes available to the public some information for certain people who are deceased.  You can search this Death Master File for free at FamilySearch in their Social Security Death Index.  This is a great resource if you are looking for someone who would have applied for a number, which started in 1935.  Results should include the deceased person's name, date of birth, month and year of death (day of death in more recent years), and the place that the last benefit was sent.

If you find an entry of interest, for $27 you can request a copy of the original application for the Social Security account number.  The fee used to be $7.

The original application asked for address, date and place of birth, employment, and names of parents.  This is great information in the study of a family's history.

I ordered my mother's application and was surprised to see information blocked from the copy.

The enclosed letter explained, "We have deleted the names of the parents, however, as they may still be living."  Another paragraph explained that I can file an appeal if I can prove that the parents are dead.  A decision will then be made if the people whose deaths I can prove are the same people on the application.

I can indeed supply copies of the death certificates and will appeal this decision.

I don't know if names of parents are automatically blocked on the copy of the application, or if there is a year of birth to serve as a cut-off time frame.  Research is greatly hindered when information is purposely withheld on what is supposed to be a document available to anyone by request and payment of a fee.  Imagine someone's predicament if the names of parents were not known and this document was the only way of discovering these names.

If anyone has recently requested a copy of the application for a Social Security Number, please let us know your experience.