Scour A Corner


Just when I feel confident I have turned every leaf and scoured every corner, I am blindsided by a new avenue for discovering an ancestor. And I was recently surprised with the finding of an ancestor's name on a proceedings list of a Masonic lodge in Washington County, Arkansas.

The Freemasons are a worldwide fraternity with a history of members that include many of our American Forefathers such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere. The philosophy of the Freemason fraternity is similar to the core principles of the American Constitution and include beliefs such as personal study, self-improvement and the liberty of the individual.

The ideals of the right to worship freely along with an emphasis in public education and a tradition of philanthropy partner well with the mainstay of America's core convictions, which is why Freemasonry has thrived for centuries.

Though I am still seeking the evidence, I believe at least four of my ancestors were Freemasons, but uncovering their membership list can be challenging. Like the majority of fraternities, the inner workings of Freemasonry is draped in secrecy, but to the delight of genealogists many Masonic lodges are opening their vaults to researchers.

The George Washington Masonic Memorial has begun digital archives. They are inviting Masonic grand lodges to add their records to the Memorial's searchable database. Currently, grand lodges of Kentucky, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Washington and West Virginia are within the Memorial's collection.

Another good source to help with your search is through the Masonic Library and Museum Association. On this site, you can access links to many of the Masonic libraries in several states and Canada along with easy contact to their librarians.

I found details of my ancestor on his Masonic lodge list within Goodspeed's History of Northwest Arkansas, a publication within the local genealogical library. Many small county genealogical libraries are a good source for the archived records of the counties' local Masonic lodges.

If you have never considered your ancestor's membership within the Freemasonry then you should. The fraternity was especially popular in the 18th and 19th centuries and though the records will consist mostly of membership lists, it will provide additional sources and documentation of an ancestor during gaps in the US Census records.

So turn up another leaf and scourer another corner. Seek out your ancestor's Freemasonry membership lists, adding a sweet detail to the history of your ancestor and their story.

Keep searching for answers,

(Source: Masonic Service Association)
Example of a Chicago Portrait Studio bubble glass picture frame
I love sifting through old photos but looking at a picture and feeling uncertain of the identity of the person staring back, is frequently perplexing and frustrating.

And often, a tad eerie.

I inherited, by default, a large oval portrait of a rather handsome looking gent. His hair slicked to the sides and mustache nicely polished, my anonymous ancestor sports a vested suit and tie most certainly purchased from a fine haberdashery. But unfortunately, no name of the gentleman is found on the back of the picture, leaving me guessing whom this character might be.

Considering that the identity of the portrait studio could provide clues to my nameless ancestor, I studied the curved cardboard backside of the photo for a studio name. But the stamp has, over time, crumbled and disappeared leaving only a fine, unreadable imprint of the studio stamp.

Recalling the cleverness of my 4th cousin when he brushed an ancestor's tombstone with shaving cream for easier readability, it dawned on me the same technique can be applied to indented lettering on old photos. So I snatched a piece of chalk from my desk drawer and lightly rubbed it against the indention, brushing off the surface and revealing the inscription:

"Chicago Portrait Company"

Ok, I thought, that's interesting, but I am not aware of an ancestor living in Chicago.

Still with no clue to the identity of my anonymous chap, I proceeded with what I know best: I researched the Chicago Portrait Company. And I became intrigued with its history.

The Chicago Portrait Company left a fascinating and quirky mark in history. It was in operation from 1893 through 1940 and though its offices were indeed in Chicago, the company was in fact a base for traveling salesmen throughout the country.

The salesmen or "drummers" fanned out across the rural countryside, knocking on doors selling beautiful handmade portraits of revered ancestor's photos, often replicas of tintypes redone in pastel, crayon or sepia.

The appeal was the price, $2.00-$3.00, but these fast-talking salesmen made their money in the "hook": delivering the finished portraits in large, beautiful burled wood frames with curved glass.

The cost of the portrait with the frame was of course, much more, but the "line" to the recipient was "no obligation to purchase the frame." Difficult to resist the finished portrait in its lovely frame, the unsuspecting customers doled out the dollars to the Chicago Portrait Company.

But the "sinker" to the scheme was that the expensive looking "burled wood frames" were not solid wood at all, but cheap replicas made from painted plaster.

The Chicago Portrait Company made a quick fortune off of people's sympathies, especially rural families who had little access to "big city" studios. But ironically, the company tumbled after they were sued in North Carolina for failure to pay taxes on out-of-state sales.

And so, I go back to my large, oval, bubble glass portrait of my ancestor, his identity still unknown but I am now intrigued not by the history of my anonymous ancestor, but of the legend behind the portrait itself.

The quirky story behind the commissioning of the portrait of my ancestor and the history of the Chicago Portrait Company.

And how my family fell victim to its scheme: hook, line and sinker.

Keep searching for answers,

The small township where I grew up is dying. The playground of the red brick schoolhouse I attended sits empty of children, void of tether ball tournaments and gym teachers disrupting play with screeching whistles and stern looks. The empty buildings have been demoted to hosting the school district's castaway furniture; echos of giggling children's voices heard only by lonely walls late at night.

The church that hosted bible schools and senior suppers is dissolving, sucked into a vacuum of a rootless area that is no longer a village. It is, instead, a grouping of people who are disconnected by a lack of structure: A little suburb of Tulsa that never incorporated.

My childhood home is not a victim of a poor economy. It is the aftermath of decades of family migrations; a sieve that without a structured foundation, collapsed into a ghost town similar to thousands of other ghost towns dotting the rural landscapes of America.

There will always be villages that fail to thrive while others continue to bloom. It is a natural progression of survival of the fittest; an evolving panorama that never stays the same.

But how do we, as family historians, adjust with the change and what on earth does this have to do with genealogy?

There are townships of some of our ancestors that are mere shells of their former selves; towns that faded when their main industry died or when the railroad or highway was rebuilt, leaving them to weaken and wither.

But the interest of the town's history and villagers remain, especially to genealogists seeking sources of ancestors who lived within the townships long ago.

If you are searching for remnants and history of your ancestor's ghost town, go to Ghost This well done website is fun to explore, covering tidbits of information on skeleton towns all across America.

Ghost Town USA is a Rootsweb site whose mission statement includes "Preserving the history of America's fading and vanished towns," and features a "ghost town of the month."

Legends of America is a wonderful website, brimming with historical information on possibly every ghost town in the U.S. If you have discovered your ancestor's village is lost within history, go to this website. You may likely find it's home within the site's pages.

As family historians, we are not only preserving the history of our ancestors but of the towns where they lived. And perhaps gaining insight into the history of your ancestor's ghost town, will give a peek into the life of your ancestor.

And maybe, breathe a little life back into their town.

Keep searching for answers,

As we relish in the relief of a day off from work during tomorrow's glorious Labor Day holiday, our hobby of digging for new and enticing sources of family history does not have to take a vacation too.

Labor unions, the very institutions that were founded on a desire of better working conditions for the workingman and whose activism spurred the institution of the holiday we all enjoy, can hold realms of archives important for genealogists.

Though the identity of the true founder of Labor Day has never been discerned, the evolution of labor unions certainly gave bloom to the holiday's creation. It was spun out of the Labor Movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894.

And it is important to gain awareness of why labor unions were created and the history surrounding its beginnings. A workingman's life was much different in the late 1800's than ours is today. While we are fortunate to enjoy forty-hour work weeks, eight-hour a day jobs and paid vacations, our ancestors average work day during the height of the Industrial Revolution meant twelve-hour days, seven days a week, just to eke out a paltry living.

Our ancestors worked in mines, factories and mills that were unsafe, most lacking access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks. Our grandfathers and great grandfather's lives were literally placed at risk just by going to work everyday.

So they became unified in their desire for improved working conditions and wages and labor unions were formed, thus improving the workingman's lives, their families' lives and eventually our lives.

Many labor unions have preserved volumes of records, some of which may contain relevant information for genealogical purposes. It is not a source we immediately consider but as I have learned, almost any type of archived record of an ancestor can be useful in genealogy.

If you are uncertain of your ancestor's labor union membership, consider their trade if known and then research for the appropriate chapter of a union in their state of residence.

If your ancestor was active in one of the twentieth century trade or labor unions, the Archives of Labor at Wayne State University in Detroit, may hold information on him. There you can find the record holdings of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Union of Farm Workers and Industrial Workers of the World, to name a few.

Other sources to explore are the United Mine Workers, Teamsters, United Automobile Workers and International Ladies Garment Workers. And if you are not confident of you grandfather and great grandfather's trade, explore the 1930 and 1940 US Census for clues.

As genealogy grows, so do our resources and with every turn, new avenues for research are discovered. And just imagine the possibilities if you discover your great grandfather's records within his labor union archives.

It will be another great source to explore and an even better story to retell.

Keep searching for answers,

(Source: Wiki Index)
Feathers of snow brushed across the living room window as Grace read her bible. It was an afternoon ritual rarely missed and though the pages of the little bible had frayed from wear, Grace discovered new inspiration with each new read.

As she folded the ribbon across the crease to mark her spot, Grace flipped to the back page to pen a new entry: "We had the first snow on the 10th of November 1972."

Family bibles are considered goldmines by family historians, often imparting details of births, deaths and marriages. They are a primary source of record for many and even lineage societies such as the DAR deem family bibles as valid and truthful identification of genealogical material.

But the discovery of my paternal grandmother's little bible tickled my heart as I read her daily notes. It is void of genealogical value. No elaborate family tree of ancestral details, just daily happenings and little thoughts that floated from pen to paper on an average day, of an average year, to an average woman.

I have discovered that on the 19th of May 1972, my grandmother got her hair permed and on the 5th of October 1972, my Aunt Irene visited my grandparents and left on the 10th.

Turning the pages, I discover that "Truman died on the 26th day of December 1972" and "Johnson died on the 22nd day of January 1973" and somewhere in between, a family member "left for overseas."

Dates of president's deaths, Vietnam war deployments, weekly hair appointments and autumn snows--a year in the life of my grandmother squeezed amidst the pages of a little tattered bible.

A sort of daily journal, unremarkable yet precious to me. It captures a life in its simplicity and that alone holds intrinsic value and I shall treat it as such.

Search out your family bibles and if you find one filled with beautiful, elaborate trees forthcoming of ancestral value then rejoice in the discovery. But if you are fortunate to run across a little tattered bible, ripped at the seams from daily use, you may turn the pages and realize a simple day in the life of your grandmother.

And feel grateful in the discovery because sometimes, daily simplicity holds great value too.

For websites with downloadable family bibles for genealogical research, look for: Ancestor's Hunt and Bible Records Online.

Keep searching for answers,


A Call From Home


The Bridge of Tears. The bridge that Donegal immigrants crossed on the way to the Londonderry Port.
If you are of Irish descent, you are being called home.

The Gathering: a year long calling from your ancestor's homeland asking you to return, even if you have never been, because Ireland knows if you are a part of the Irish Diaspora, then your heart surely belongs to them.

The Irish Government along with private partners, businesses and the tourism industry, have designated 2013 as The Gathering: a yearlong celebration of Irish music, heritage, festivals, sporting events that they hope will call home many of the Irish Diaspora around the world.

It begins in Dublin in January 2013 and festivals and events are sprinkled throughout the country until the end of the year. But The Gathering is not just carnivals and fairs. It is history lectures, genealogy sessions and clan reunions; a yearlong focus of discovering or rediscovering your Irish roots.

The Irish Diaspora are Irish immigrants and their descendents living in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada--even as far away as Argentina and South Africa. They are more than 80 million people, Irish born or of Irish descent, living outside Ireland: a little country of a mere 6.4 million today.

A country that over 160 years ago was tragically shattered by famine and poverty; bled dry of its people who were pulled away by a basic need for survival.

There will be many who cannot go but that does not mean if not there, The Gathering cannot be experienced. I expect the event will reach out through the Internet and we will hear more as the year approaches. I sense Ireland understands their Irish Diaspora have begun searching for their ancestors and in turn, the country is slowly opening its vaults.

PRONI and Irish Genealogy (a government sponsored website), are making more ancestral records available and free to the public. It is a constant appeal by the Irish Genealogical Society to the Irish Government, pleading their case that Irish descendents "own" their ancestor's records: a principle of public ownership and right of access.

Our desire to grasp hold of our family history and feel our ancestral heritage continues to expand and blossom. And it is refreshing that an entire country is calling us back.

To gather up its flock and perhaps open its vaults so we can experience a bit of our Irish ancestors at home and maybe...even abroad.

Keep searching for answers,

I stole a visit inside my childhood home last week and was stunned to discover the house and entire community moved ten miles away!

Impossible? Not in the world of genealogy. has been diligently indexing the names on the 1940 US Census records; millions now fully searchable. And my state, Oklahoma, has been completed.

Unexpectedly faced with the 1940 US Census of both my parents, I swiftly magnified each, skimming along as I read of my parents, grandparents and great-grandmother.

Neither census revealed features unknown to my family history except for one surprising and unusual element: the address. The little unincorporated community of the house where I grew up was within the township boundaries of a Tulsa suburb that is at present, ten miles away.

Seventy-two years of city, county and US Post boundaries have evolved, dissolved or shifted and family homesteads, especially those in rural communities, may have different addresses on the 1940 Census than today. Chalk it up to the fascinating and frustrating world of genealogy: everything old is new again.

Surprised at my little discovery, it was a simple reminder that if we hope to go forward into the digging of family history, we have to keep our minds open and inviting to all possibilities. Everything and nothing is as it seems. Proud family stories are suddenly dispelled; great-grandfathers had 2nd, sometimes 3rd wives and county boundaries shift from census year to census year.

And this is supposed to be fun?

You betcha. Genealogy is a hobby that continues to reveal surprises even of our closest, immediate family and in order to stay in the game, we have to be ready when it comes.

Delight in the shifting of facts and go with the flow.

You do not have to have an membership to search the 1940 US Census. All fifty states are complete and fully searchable and has provided a neat trick, highlighting each category as you glide along. It allows greater readability and interpretation of results.

The world of genealogy is exploding with new ancestral records every day and the ride continues to twist and turn.

We just have to remember to turn with it.

Keep searching for answers,

(Two other great resources to search the 1940 US Census are and the National Archives.)
Loving the beauty, art and of course, food of France, I subscribe to a French travel magazine for Americans. And this month, wouldn't you know it, an article on French Ancestry is highlighted.

The author of the article takes his readers with him as he ventures back to France to search for his father's family from the South Western end of the Cote d'Azur.

The author and family researcher, Chris Granet, reconnects with the charming homeland of his father. He provides a glimpse into the process of searching for French ancestors, noting the vastness of genealogical records within the archives of most of France's 101 Departements.

I am proud of my Irish and Scottish Ancestry but I drool every time I glance at French surnames on my family tree. Stumbling my way through the French language since high school French Class, I dream of a life in France, but occasional short trips will have to suffice. And though I am certain my family's culture was heavily influenced by our Irish Ancestry, I like to think the small bit of French on our tree added whimsy and flare.

I have struggled with the identity of my closest French ancestors: the parents of my paternal great-great-grandfather. The little dark-haired, dark-eyed Frenchman from Arkansas left few clues, strangely absent from census records until 1870. And though I have worked my fingers raw, few records have been found. Just my father's descriptive notes of a French grandmother, one census record stating my ancestor's mother was born in France and few fragments more.

Deeper along the lineage, French Huguenots dot the branch as it moves toward the 1600's but for me, I always search for the details of my closest immigrant ancestors--it just feels more real and touchable.

So I continue my struggle, hoping some day to stumble upon the identity of my French great-great-great-grandparents living only a couple of hours away (minus about 160 years.)

In a salute to my French Ancestry, I began a page of links for French genealogical websites. Though the search can be cumbersome due to obvious language barriers, they are worth looking at if you have any inkling of French Heritage. And of course there is quite a bit of information on French Huguenots.

The French Genealogy Blog is well done and in English; informative with fabulous research tips. Also, numerous real French Ancestral Records can be found on Family

The Huguenots has an English option, as does Huguenots Picards and several other sites seem friendly to non-French researchers.

If not already, I highly recommend becoming familiar with the geography and Departement Divisions within the country--obtaining a good map for reference while researching is highly recommended.

So take a look at my new French Links Page and come back often as it continues to build. I hope it gives you a peek through your French ancestral window and in time...mine too.

Keep searching for answers,

(Source: France; North America's best-selling magazine about France. September 2012
I have a confession:

During this very second, as I lounge at my computer clicking through genealogical websites, yawning and snacking and yawning again; a cousin and co-researcher is trekking two countries for me, tirelessly digging for ancestral finds.

Well...I guess not just for me...but also for him too.

It really is embarrassing and quite pathetic when you think about it. My unflagging trooper and fourth cousin is hiking genealogical trails (well, not really hiking), traveling from courthouse  to courthouse, state to state, country to country, desperately rummaging the dusty dungeons of county and state archives while I sit in my plumped-up chair, zipping him e-mails of "Oh, hey...while you're there...can you try to find?..."

And, I am hopelessly ashamed to say he quickly responds with a "Sure, no problem...I can look for that."

My traveling fourth cousin has roomed in Canadian hotels without wifi and cell phone coverage, wrangled with the French language, and fought a downpour in Michigan, all for the purpose of finding the hidden keys that could unlock the heavy cement door to our brick wall.

Hearing reports of his daily trials, disappointments and bitter-few triumphs, I send him cute little encouragements from the sidelines like: "Hang in there! You can make this! I'm proud of you!"

And then I yawn once more, click off my computer and crawl into my cozy bed with a glass of wine and a good book.


Oh, and then there is my other co-researcher and newly discovered cousin. My contact with him has unfolded delightful insights into our shared lineage. His wisdom, both of the geography and political history of our ancestor's state, has opened aspects of my family tree I would have never known.

Ancestors and research I had tucked away in files are now viewed with new perspectives, delivered as a result of the brilliance of my cousin.

Both of my co-researchers are generous, kind and unselfish and our on-line contacts have been invaluable. Sharing documents back and forth, hearing another angle I had not thought of before and discovering my previous research through a second set of eyes, has bridged doorways I might have never crossed.

For this I feel blessed.

Genealogy, especially done by way of the Internet, can be an isolating hobby. And yet, it should never be that way. Pause for a moment to consider that for every ancestor you are researching, at least five others are doing the same for the exact ancestor.

You are not alone. Combining efforts will only produce better results: two minds are better than one and four eyes are better than two.

So, I am taking up my blog space on this heat-sizzlin' summer day to salute my dear co-researchers and cousins: your vigorous, unrelenting search for answers have lifted my spirits and kept me on track.

And, oh yea...forth cousin in your lonely hotel room in Michigan: Do you mind looking for those extra death certificates while you are there?

Keep searching for answers,


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