Updates and Plans

I haven’t written anything in a while. I think I got distracted by other things going in the world, in my world, and plans for what I’d like to see happen. One of those plans for the year is that I want to begin the certification program with the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). It seems like a pretty intensive year of research and writing, so I’ve been thinking a lot about how I would go about it.

My understanding is that all the work submitted for the certification program must be original, unpublished, unreviewed writing. The two big papers that I’m mainly thinking about are a case study involving conflicting, indirect or negative evidence, and a kinship-determination project. Without going into too many details, here is what I’m thinking.

I have a few situations in my family history where indirect and/or negative evidence is my only real evidence. This is particularly true with my 3rd-great grandmother, Mary Compton. I still have found no direct evidence of her existence before she married. Another is a case I’m working on with my Weigel 3rd-great grandparents, trying to find a direct link to their parents. But the one that seems to present the most fodder for a good research paper is the case of my great-grandfather, Josef Silber. His naturalization papers contain so much conflicting information that it would probably satisfy this requirement! Which is why I want to take it on. A good, thoroughly-researched write-up of why the conflicts exist and the truth behind them is definitely required.

The kinship-determination is a three-generation narrative of a family, documenting and proving relationships. At the moment, I’m considering the Weigel family mentioned above, starting with my great-great grandfather, Jacob Lewis Weigel, and moving back through his parents (mentioned above) to his grandparents. I have already found records for them in Germany, and feel confident about those connections. Now it will be about making sure the research and proof is solid.

I’m not totally committed on the subject of my kinship-determination, though. There is some work to be done on my father’s side in regards to documentation. His family comes from long lines of Mormon pioneers, and they all have some sort of history already published somewhere. Most appear to rely on first-hand accounts from the pioneers from the mid-19th century. But in my own research of some of these families, I’ve had a hard time finding documentation to support those accounts. I’m considering one of those families as well–starting with the first-hand information and adding documentation as proof of the story.

So this is what I’ve been thinking about rather than keeping up on this blog. There has been so much that I have wanted to write about, but I also don’t want to jeopardize the unpublished/uncritiqued requirement. I’m not sure how the blogging will go through this process. This may become more of an experiential blog for a while rather than a place for me to publish my research findings. More theory, experiences and ideas than information.

Now that I think about it, that could be a very good thing. It’s not all about my research after all. It’s about exploring how and why I research, which I suppose can only lead to better research and understanding. And motivation…for myself and hopefully others.

The Scarlet Letter “A”

IMG_0038The news of the past couple of days regarding children of same-sex partners reminds me of a lecture I heard years ago in a Church History class as a student at Brigham Young University back in 1993 or 1994, taught by a fairly prominent Mormon Church historian.

The lecture was about the Word of Wisdom, the Mormon law prohibiting the use of alcohol, tobacco and “hot drinks.” It was given as just that, a word of wisdom (you’d be wise to follow it) and not a commandment. In the early church, it was considered a “higher law”. One could choose to live the Word of Wisdom, and in some cases more prominent figures were called to live it. The same was true for polygamy and the Law of Consecration. No one was required, but some were called by Joseph Smith and, later, Brigham Young to live a higher calling by following one or more of those laws.

Some lived the Word of Wisdom, others did not. In 1933, when it came time to vote on repealing Prohibition, the President of the Church counseled that Utahns should vote in favor of keeping Prohibition. Utah was the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition. Shortly thereafter, the Word of Wisdom became a requirement to receive a temple recommend. In my professor’s words, more or less (it was over 20 years ago, but I distinctly remember the sentiment and tone of her voice), “He said, ‘Fine. Because you didn’t vote the way I told you to vote, you’ll have to follow the Word of Wisdom from now on if you want to go to the temple.’ And that’s how the Word of Wisdom became a commandment.”

My Mormon BYU-student mind was blown! The very idea that a “word of wisdom” became a commandment not through revelation from God but by what I could only see as spite astounded me.

I was reminded of this because I see direct parallels between this and the new policy about children with gay parents. Because the external fight to keep the law of the land on their side was unsuccessful, it is now focusing internally. In both cases, they tried to influence state and federal statutes to support their theology. In both cases, they lost. And now, in both cases, they doubled-down internally.

I can only guess that the leadership thinks they are doing this with the best intentions. They say they are doing it to protect the children and prevent discord in families with gay parents. However, labeling active homosexuals as “apostates” is a pretty dramatic thing in Mormon-dom. You might as well slap a scarlet letter “A” on them. “Apostate” is about as bad as it can get.

The children of gay parents (or as the new policy says, “a child of a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship”, which to me is clearly different from a child being raised by a gay couple) are already excluded by association. The question among some now is, “At what point will my association and support of my gay son/daughter/brother/sister/uncle/aunt/friend exclude me?” “Will attending a gay friend’s wedding constitute support or advocacy of apostates?”

Fear.

Despite what some consider the best of intentions, for others it has created fear–fear that their eternal salvation may be jeopardized by their association, love and support for their gay family members and friends. And worse, fear that they will be excluded and labeled “apostate” themselves. This is especially true for Mormon youth and young adults struggling to reconcile their gay feelings with their church’s teachings. I can tell you from personal experience that the internal struggle alone is enough to drive one to contemplate suicide. Possibly being labeled “apostate” only exacerbates the anxiety.

That, in my opinion, is an egregious abuse of power.

Lumbersexual ancestors update

Beard experiment

Five weeks untouched

It’s been about five weeks since I officially declared a ban on shaving, and I have to say that I’m pretty happy with the results. I haven’t shaved or trimmed at all since then. I hadn’t really trimmed it for three or four weeks before that, except for a slight trimming before going to the New York State Family History Conference. I was on the fence about it then, but the barber said she liked it as it was, and just did a light trim on it.

So it’s really been about two months of practically no trimming or grooming, and it’s filling out nicely. I’m not quite sure which ancestor wins yet, though. I think it’s really a combination, which makes sense since we’re all really a combination of our ancestors. I think I can say that I’m not going to get one of those ZZ Top beards, though. It just doesn’t seem to be growing in a way that would hang nicely. It’s more of a “wrap-around” sort of beard. If it were white, it would probably make a fairly decent Santa Claus beard after a while.

But next week I need to go into the office, so yesterday I went to the barber for a trim. I was trying to decide if this experiment was coming to an end, or if it was just time to start shaping and grooming. Fortunately, again, a good barber told me that he liked my beard, and gave some good advice on how he could groom it without losing it. So the experiment is still on! I’ll post another update in about a month.

After first grooming

After first grooming

The Begg paternal line…such as it is: Part II

With the information about the Alexander and Mary Hall family that I found in the 1881, 1891, and 1901 censuses, I can trace them back in time to try and learn more about them.

The family of Alexander and Mary Hall is found living at Smallburn in the parish of Muirkirk in the 1861 and 1871 Scotland censuses. In 1871 there were five children in the family: James (18), Samuel (14), Elizabeth (11), Alexander (8), and Margaret (3). All were born in Muirkirk, except James, who is listed as being born in Prestwick, the same location as his mother. Alexander is listed as 45 years old, and born in Newton on Ayr.

The 1861 census shows a family with three young children: James (9), Samuel (4), and Elizabeth (1). As in 1871, Samuel and Elizabeth are listed as born in Muirkirk, and James was born in the same place as his mother. However, that place is listed as Monkton. And Alexander is listed as born in Ayr.

Given the age of their oldest living child, James, Alexander and Mary were probably married somewhere around 1851. A quick search through the Old Parish Registers on ScotlandsPeople turns up a marriage in the registers of parish of Monkton and Prestwick.

Alexander Hall & Mary Scott both in this Parish gave in their names to be proclaimed in order to marriage 18 Oct. 1851, & after having been three times proclaimed they were married.

Not only does this give me a marriage date, but it also tells me that Alexander and Mary were in the parish of Monkton and Prestwick in 1851. If there is more than one Alexander Hall in Scotland (and let me tell you…there is), the one living in Monkton and Prestwick is likely the one I’m looking for in the 1851 census

Fortunately, this is only one Alexander Hall listed in the 1851 census living in Monkton and Prestwick. However, this census record presented a new puzzle. Alexander is found living in the Village of New Prestwick in the Parish of Monkton and Prestwick, age 26, and born in Newton on Ayr. His name is clearly listed as “Alexander Hall”, but his parents and younger brother and sister all have the last name McCall:

Robert McCall, Head of Household, 48
Margaret McCall, Wife, 51
Alexander Hall, Son, 26
Jannet McCall, Daughter, 15
James McCall, Son, 13

Based solely on this record, Alexander Hall is the son of Robert and Margaret McCall, which doesn’t make any sense since Alexander has different last name. My immediate assumption is that Alexander may be Margaret McCall’s son from a previous marriage. After all, Alexander’s death register says that his parents were James Hall and Margaret More.

The 1841 census has similar information to the 1851 census, with the addition of one younger sibling: Hugh McCall, age 1 in 1841. (I haven’t checked further on him, but I assume he died sometime between 1841 and 1851.) The family is living in the Parish of Newton, but their address peaks my interest: Moirs Square. Also, living very close by is a 67-year-old man named Alexander Moir and a 27-year-old woman named Mary Moir.

So, my next stop on this journey was to find a record of Robert McCall marrying a woman named Margaret somewhere between 1825 and 1835, which would place the marriage after Alexander’s birth, but before Jannet’s. Not to limit myself, I searched the Old Parish Registers for a marriage record between Robert McCall and Margaret in Ayrshire between 1820 and 1836. Only one result came back: Robert McCall and Margaret Moir were married in the Parish of Newton on Ayr on 2 Oct 1832.

The marriage date along with the difference in surname makes it pretty clear that Alexander Hall was not the son of Robert McCall. But the match between the Margaret Moir on the marriage record and Margaret More on Alexander’s death record make it pretty clear that Margaret McCall (née Moir) was Alexander’s mother. (And now I’m wondering if the 1841 neighbors Alexander Moir and Mary Moir are Margaret’s father and sister. That’s for another day!)

This is where the trail becomes even more murky. There is a marriage record in Newton on Ayr for James Hall and Margaret Moir, who were married on 5 Apr 1824. There is also a death record for a James Hall, listed only as “a seafaring man,” who died of consumption on 17 Jun 1825 in Newton on Ayr. (Alexander’s death record lists his father, James Hall, as a fisherman. The only other James Hall to die in Newton on Ayr between 1824 and 1832 is listed as “a hosier”, which is far from a fisherman.)

The most intriguing part in all of this, however, is that I can’t find a birth record for Alexander Hall that matches any of this information. In fact, I can’t find any birth records for children whose parents are James Hall and Margaret Moir. There is only one birth record for an Alexander Hall listed in all of Ayrshire between 1820 and 1830. It happens to be in Newton on Ayr (a close or perfect match for the census records), born 9 Feb 1823 (three years earlier than all census records and his death record indicate). His parent are “James Hall Carter and Agnes Cowan his wife”. (“Carter” is James Hall’s occupation, not an additional surname. But not a fisherman or a seafaring man.)

So the mystery deepens. Who are Alexander Hall’s parents? Was James Hall married to Agnes Cowan, who is actually Alexander’s mother? Did Agnes die, and then James married Margaret Moir shortly before dying himself, leaving Margaret to raise Alexander?

So many questions…

UPDATE: Shortly after posting this and reading it over again, I realized that I needed to do some research to see if there is a second Alexander Hall, in order to verify if the son of Agnes Cowan and James Hall is a different person from my Alexander Hall. It didn’t take me long to find that there are, indeed, two Alexander Halls. The other, the son of Agnes, lived his life in Newton on Ayr. He died in 1892 in Ayr, and his death record says he was the son of James Hall, Carter, and Agnes Cowan, and was married to Agnes Watson.

So this clearly indicates that the Alexander born in 1823 to Agnes Cowan and James Hall is not my Alexander Hall, and just goes to show that sometimes you have to research other people in order to disqualify them in your research.

The Begg paternal line…such as it is: Part I

I spent a good chunk of this past weekend on ScotlandsPeople, downloading birth, marriage, death, and census records. In particular, I was researching my mother-in-law’s paternal line–the Begg family. However, it’s not Begg for long.

Her grandfather, Samuel Begg, was born on 28 Jun 1878 in Muirkirk, Ayrshire, Scotland. His birth register only lists the name of his mother, Annie Stevenson Begg, and it clearly states that he is “illegitimate”. Annie would have been about 17 at the time of his birth, and was working as a domestic servant. But with no father listed, how can I track his paternal ancestry? Fortunately for me, a note in the margin gives a pretty direct hint at his father’s identity:

Paternity of child found by Dec. of Court. See Reg . of Cor. Entrs. Vol. 1 P 71. 2nd April 1879

Page 71 of the “Register of Corrected Entries for the parish of Muirkirk in the County of Ayr” says:

In the Fourth Column of Entry No 127 in the Register Book of Births for the year 1878, before the name of the child’s mother, insert Samuel Hall   Engineman, …to the following effect:

In an action relating to the paternity of a child named Samuel Begg born 28th June 1878, at the instance of Annie Stevenson Begg, Kames Row, Muirkirk, against Samuel Hall, Engineman, New Terrace, Muirkirk, the Sheriff Court of Ayrshire on the 29th da 7th day of January 1879, found that the said child was the illegitimate child of the parties aforesaid.

I don’t know the exact details of how it would have worked, but Annie apparently sued for child support or, at the very least, to have the father’s name recorded, and the court agreed that Samuel Hall was Samuel Begg’s biological father.

So the documentation makes it clear that Samuel Begg’s parents were Samuel Hall and Annie Stevenson Begg. Unfortunately, Samuel Hall died barely two years later on 18 Dec 1880 at age 23, of “phthisis”, better known today at tuberculosis. He was listed as single in the register of deaths, and had no other children that I know of, so matching DNA with his descendants is out of the question. His death register, however, confirms that he lived at 34 New Terrace, and lists his parents as Alexander Hall and Mary Scott. It was signed by his father, so I can be fairly certain that the information about his parents is correct. So I started researching Alexander Hall.

(An interesting side note: the registrar of Muirkirk who recorded Samuel’s death was named John Begg. I wonder what relation he might have been to Annie.)

My preferred method of researching the parents of a known individual is to track them forward in time through census records until they are no longer found, then search for death records after the last census year where I found them. The death record should hopefully give information about where and when the person was born, as well as the names of his/her parents. This information helps in tracking them back in time in census and other records from the family where they are listed as parents to the families where they are listed as children.

Tracing forward from Samuel’s death in 1880, the family is found in the 1881 census living at New Terrace in Muirkirk with two children: Alexander (17) and Margaret (13). The 1891 census has similar information, except that the two children are about ten years older, listed as 26 and 21 respectively, and their address is now 34 Railway Terrace #2. In the 1901 census, Mary Hall is living with her son, Alexander, in the same house at 34 Railway Terrace #2. Neither Alexander (the father) nor Mary appears in any census records after 1901. Their birth places in the census records vary: Alexander is listed as having been born Ayr, Newton, or Newton on Ayr; and Mary as being born in Monkton, Prestwick, or Newton.

As I mentioned, tracking the family forward in time gives me a sense of when Alexander and Mary may have died. Since Mary appears in the 1901 census without her husband, who was with her in the 1891 census, I can assume that he must have died sometime between 1891 and 1901. Sure enough, a search of death registers at ScotlandPeople turns up the death of an Alexander Hall on 11 Jan 1893. But how do I know that this is the right Alexander Hall? Three clues that match other evidence I’ve already found in the census records:

  1. the death register says he is “married to Mary Scott”, which matches the information found on their son’s death register and the census records;
  2. the death register is signed by “Alexander Hall, son”. From the census records before and after this death, I know they had a son named Alexander;
  3. most importantly, the death register says that he died at “34 New Terrace, Muirkirk”.

One glaring discrepancy is apparent, though: the addresses of New Terrace and Railway Terrace. Because 34 New Terrace was the same address listed on Samuel’s death register, and the 1891 census has the family living at 34 Railway Terrace #2, I am assuming that New Terrace and Railway Terrace refer to the same location. This is supported by the fact that they lived at Railway Terrace in the 1891 and 1901 censuses, but New Terrace is the address listed in 1893 on the death register. Also, the David Jack family is listed as their next-door neighbors in the 1881 census (where no specific house numbers were listed–just “New Terrace”), and again in the 1891 and 1901 censuses, living at 35 Railway Terrace #2. Still, I’ll want to do a bit more research to determine that for sure.

But there are other important clues in the death register that will now help me in researching Alexander Hall moving back in time.: the names and occupations of his parents, listed in his death register as “James Hall, Fisherman, (Deceased)” and “Margaret Hall, M.S. More, (Deceased)”. Do I know for sure that these are Alexander’s parents’ names? No. All I know is that Alexander’s and Mary’s son gave that information to the registrar. They are important clues, but they will need to be verified by additional records that corroborate the information or provide the correct information.

And as I soon discovered, the trail to further information is full of forks and sudden curves.

Take a second look: How revisiting old research can lead to new insights

Once in a while, it’s a good thing to go back and take another look at past research. With the passing of time and additional research, a second look over notes from past research can spark new insights.

Several years ago when I lived in New York City, I jumped on Metro North’s Hudson line and took a trip to Poughkeepsie. My great grandparents settled there after immigrating from Hungary in the early 20th century, and my grandfather was born and raised there. I’d never been (that I remembered, anyway), and wanted to see what the town was like and where they lived. I also knew that my great grandparents, Josef and Julia Silber, were buried in the Schomre Israel Cemetery near Vassar College, and I wanted to see who else might have been buried there and what information I could gather from their gravestones.

Silber plot

Visiting my ancestors at the Schomre Israel Cemetery in Poughkeepsie, NY

I was thrilled to find that there were several relatives buried in the same cemetery. Many of my grandfather’s siblings and aunts and uncles were also there. I was especially pleased to find the grave of my great-great grandfather, Ignatz Schwartz, there was well. I took lots of pictures of gravestones, including many that might be connected to my family even though I don’t know how they might, or even IF they might be.

Like many Jewish gravestones, all of my relatives graves had Hebrew inscriptions as well as English. A friend graciously translated the Hebrew for me on several of them, and I kept that in a document with my other genealogy research notes. Most helpful in these inscriptions was the listing of their Hebrew names, which include the names of their fathers. This confirmed a couple of things that I had found earlier, in particular that my great grandfather, Josef, was actually called Simon before coming to America. (His Hebrew name was Shimon Yehuda, and all records show his first name as Simon until the 1920 U.S. Census–his first in the United States.)

The other day I was looking at those translations for the first time in a while, and I noticed a name that instantly made a connection in my mind–one that I hadn’t made before. Before going to Poughkeepsie, I knew from my great grandparents’ marriage record in Hungary that his parents were named Samuel Silber and Czeczilia Kupferstein, and that his brother’s (Isidore’s) marriage record says that his parents were Saji Silber and Terez Kupferstein. (Read more here.) But I still couldn’t find anything to verify if these two couples were the same couple.

Gravestone of my great grandfather, Josef Silber

Gravestone of my great grandfather, Josef Silber

Here’s where taking another look at the gravestone translations led to a minor breakthrough. Josef’s and Isidore’s gravestones both listed them as sons of Isaiah. And the gravestone of one of Josef’s sons, Samuel, lists his Hebrew name as Shaia.

For some reason it immediately occurred to me that “Saji” in Hungary would be pronounced the same (or very close to the same) as “Shaia”. And “Shaia” is a alternate version of “Isaiah”. While this isn’t definitive proof of anything, it’s certainly provides a strong indication that Saji Silber and Samuel Silber (my great-great grandfather) may indeed be the same person–Saji/Shaia being his Hebrew name and Samuel being his Germanic name–and that my grandfather’s older brother, Shaia/Samuel Silber, was named after his grandfather, Saji/Samuel Silber.

Gravestone of Samuel Silber

Gravestone of Samuel Silber

I don’t know why I didn’t make this connection before. I had all the records and information. The important part is that what sparked this realization was revisiting old research notes.

New York Family History Conference–Day 2: DNA recap

I have to be honest. I was on the fence about coming to the New York State Family History Conference. My own family history doesn’t have much in the way of New York, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the money. Genealogy can be an expensive hobby at times with all the subscription sites, society memberships, record copy and microfilm orders, and DNA tests. There’s only so much in the way of vacation time I can take from the job that pays for all this as well, so I kind of have to prioritize where to spend the money and time.

But this conference had a full day of seminars scheduled on genetic genealogy. That’s something that I’ve been interested in since I first started hearing about it several years ago, and a full day of learning from the best was tugging at my heartstrings. So I decided to go for it. As I posted earlier, definitely no regrets with the non-genetic genealogy sessions, and genetic sessions were just as inspiring for me.

Five sessions, all about using DNA as a tool for genealogy, presented by Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., JD, and Judy Russell, JD, CG, CGL. Blaine is arguably the leading expert in genetic genealogy—he is The Genetic Genealogist, after all. And I’ll admit that he was a key factor that drew me to this conference. DNA was the lure, but Blaine got me hook, line and sinker! If you’re going to learn something, learn from the best.

Blaine did three sessions: an general introduction to using DNA in genealogy, a session devoted to mitochondrial DNA and y-chromosome DNA testing and their applications in genealogy, and one devoted to autosomal DNA tests.

Judy did two sessions: one about the ethics of DNA testing, and the final course showing how DNA results are used in genealogical research.

I’m not even going to pretend to be able to summarize the vast amount of information they presented, let alone act like I fully understood it all. I came into it with a  basic understanding of DNA, what it is, how it works. And I think I can say that I didn’t learn anything new about DNA itself, but then this wasn’t a science class. That wasn’t the point of these sessions.

The point is that DNA is no longer a curiosity or the latest trend in genealogy. DNA tests are an important tool in tracing family history, and the results are vital evidence. More and more, genealogical publications and associations are saying that DNA evidence is almost required as part of a solid proof argument, and a reasonably exhaustive search must include a DNA test.

And many times, one DNA match is not enough. I asked both Blaine, as a DNA expert, and Judy, as a board-certified genealogist, about the brick wall with my great-great-great grandmother, Mary Compton. Both said that the one mtDNA result is good evidence, but not enough to support the claim that Mary Compton is the daughter of Elias Compton and Sarah Long. They both suggested testing more people: Blaine recommended trying to find a descendant of Sarah Long’s mother and grandmother (through separate lines) to compare mtDNA with, and Judy recommended doing autosomal DNA tests for more of my cousins, aunts and uncles descended from Mary and comparing results with descendants of Elias Compton through his other children. Matching results would be a much clearer indication that I’m on the right track.

As a result of all this, I urgently made my way to the Family Tree DNA booth in the exhibit hall, and did a new mtDNA test on myself. My original test was with AncestryDNA, which doesn’t support it anymore. Also, the technology has advanced so much in the last six years that it was worth doing it over.

I’m also creating a list of family members I need to make sure to test. Judy really emphasized the need to preserve your DNA while you can, so older family members are in my target. My maternal grandparents both died before genetic genealogy was a thing, and I didn’t think to get my paternal grandparents tested before they passed away. But I have several aunts and uncles on both sides, as well as a couple siblings of some grandparents. Surely there are second and third cousins as well. I’ve met a few recently, so I know they’re out there.

Now I just have to add a DNA test line to my budget!