That’s why it’s so rewarding when a listener takes the time to write and let me know what they accomplished using the techniques they heard about on the show or in our videos.
Busting Genealogy Brick Walls
But can a podcast help you bust a genealogical brick wall? Well, according to listener and Genealogy Gems Premium member Natalie Zett, you bet they can! With Natalie’s permission I want to share her email with you today because I believe it will not only inspire you, but it also provides an excellent example of how to apply what you hear.
“Hi Lisa Louise and the Genealogy Gems Gang –
As a long-time listener and Premium Subscriber, I recently put everything I’ve learned from you to the test!
I’ve traced most of my direct ancestors back to the 1500s–and have a fairly complete family tree. So, I figured that there weren’t any BIG things left to discover.
Then, a few months ago, I searched my father’s surname, “Zett,” among my Ancestry.com (DNA) matches, fully expecting to see family members that I already knew. I wanted to know if they had photos or other records that I didn’t have so I could stay current.
I saw the list of usual suspects (cousins that I’d grown up with), but also saw a handful of new 4th cousin matches who had the surname Zett in their family trees. I had no idea who any of these matches were!
A closer look revealed that those matches with family trees shared a common ancestor: “Caroline Zett,” who was born “in Hungary” around 1859 and died in Syracuse, New York around 1899.
The records for Caroline were scant–besides the family tree listings, there were only a few census entries, and marriage certificates for her children. Initially I thought she married into our family, but it appeared that Zett was her birth name. “Caroline” however is not a name I would expect to see.
My Zett ancestors are Carpatho-Rusyns, an ethnic minority from the part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now Eastern Slovakia.
Our surname was “Zid” in Slovak or “Zsid” in Hungarian, but in terms of first names, there wasn’t much variation.
My direct-line female ancestors were: Maria, Anna, and Elizabeta. Within their nuclear families, names were often recycled. For example, if a girl called Maria died and another girl was born later, she might also be named Maria –this made family tree work a lot of fun! So, “Caroline” didn’t fit into that naming tradition–and, to my ears, didn’t sound Slavic.
Caroline’s husband was called John Frisco, which also didn’t sound very Slavic (the Frisco’s I knew were all Italian). Marrying outside of one’s ethnic group in the 1880s would have been unusual, so that also was a puzzle.
And Syracuse, New York was also perplexing. My grandparents on both sides immigrated from Eastern Europe to Johnstown, PA, and those who did branch out, moved westward. I knew of no one in the family who settled in New York.
Famous for a flood: “Wreck and Ruin, Johnstown, PA U.S.A.” Kilburn Brothers, Photographer (Public Domain)
What was going on here? The brick wall I was hoping to scale was turning into genealogical quicksand!”
WWLLD Leads to 4 Actionable Steps
“So, in the spirit of WWLLD (“What Would Lisa Louise Do?”), I countered that confusion with the following actions!!
1. Created a private family tree on Ancestry for Caroline (Editor’s note: an idea discussed in episode #229) and her descendants and conducted records searches, which provided clues:
Two of Caroline’s children were listed as being born in “Hungary” which is something I’ve often seen in my early research (for years, I thought I was Hungarian!)
Another child was born in Johnstown in 1888. Besides the Johnstown connection, this was significant since my great-grandparents briefly lived in Johnstown during that same time period before returning to Slovakia.
The obituary of another child mentioned that she was buried in a Greek Catholic cemetery in Syracuse. This was also significant since, at that time, Rusyns were usually members of the Byzantine (Greek Catholic) church.
2. Used triangulation to validate that all of these “Caroline” matches belonged to my paternal grandfather’s family.
3. Reached out to the DNA matches (heard from just one person who had no information about Caroline).
4. Also used Ancestry’s “Predicted relationship” tool, which showed that these matches and I shared the same gr-gr-great grandparents.
All signs pointed to Caroline being the sister of my paternal great-grandfather, Andreas. But the records for my great-grandfather’s siblings listed Maria, Anna, Anna, Anna, Anna, Elizabeta, George, and Adam. (Yes, there were four different Anna’s among those siblings!). No Caroline to be found there.
I took a closer look at those records though and found that Elizabeta was born the same year as “Caroline” (1859) and later married Joannes Fecko (which sounds somewhat like John Frisco). This is where my intuition kicked in and said I’d found them!
Still, I wanted to be sure, and consulted with a cousin who’s an expert on our Rusyn ancestors. Having traveled back and forth to our ancestral home village, Olsavica, Slovakia many times, cousin Dave has collected lots of records throughout the years. (Most of these records are unavailable online).
Dave reviewed these records against my research and found the marriage for Elizabeta and Joannes. He further found the birth records for two children who were born in Olsavica. The names and birthdates of these children exactly matched the records for the children I’d located.
He concluded that Elizabeta and Joannes immigrated to America in the late 1880s and would have been among the first immigrants from Olsavica to venture to the USA.
He further theorized that, after my great-grandparents returned to Olsavica, Elizabeta and Joannes may have decided to adapt to America ways quicker than they would have otherwise to survive, thus adopting names that (to them) sounded more American.
So, Elizabeta became Caroline and similarly, her husband, Joannes Fecko, became John Frisco! Also, since Elizabeta and Joannes were living in Johnstown during the great flood of 1889, that might have inspired them to relocate to Syracuse.
This is the first time I’ve run into this type of name switching in my ancestral research!
In tandem, I wonder if any living Frisco cousins grew up thinking they had Italian ancestry –and are puzzled as to why this isn’t showing up in their Ancestry DNA results!
Should I ever establish/reestablish contact with any of them, I’m sure they’ll be surprised as well!
I didn’t realize how much knowledge I’d absorbed (actively or even passively) from listening to your podcasts, watching your videos, and reading your articles. But whenever I hit a roadblock, I always had another tool I could pull out, e.g., Hit a dead-end with records? No problem, just study the DNA matches (editor’s note: as we discuss in many Premium videos and podcast episodes like Episode #197.) When that stops working, look at newspapers and Google Books! I had it covered!
(Editor’s note: Here’s a listing of all our articles on Newspaper research. Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning members can watch the full length video class Google Books:The Tool You Should Use Every Dayhere.)
Newspaper found! “Solomon Levi, who was arrested by Deputy United States Marshall Spaulding last week at Split Rock, was arraigned before United States Commissioner Northrup yesterday on a charge of selling liquor without a license, and was held under $500 bonds for the United States grand jury. The principal witnesses were John Frisco, a Hungarian saloon keeper, and his 13-year-old daughter, Mary, who also acted as interpreter to her father. The little girl was pretty and cute and her had own opinion about things. Frisco said that Levi, who lives in this city, had peddled whiskey and alcohol for about three years and carried it in jugs along with clothing and other things which he sold. John Scallion, a hotel keeper, said that he knew Levi as “Old Alcohol,” United States District Attorney (illegible) of Oswego appeared for the people as: S.D. Solon for the (illegible).” January 16, 1896. The Syracuse Standard.
Although I didn’t get this written until (now), rest assured that I thought of each of you at Genealogy Gems and was so grateful!
Thank you for helping me place my Great-Aunt, Elizabeta/Caroline and her descendants in their rightful place in our family tree!! It’s quite a story and I couldn’t have cracked that wall without you.
Thanks for the continual inspiration. I swear my IQ has gone up several points since I began listening to GG!
With gratitude, Natalie Zett”
Share Your Story
Reading the challenges faced and strategies used by other researchers can help to reinvigorate our own genealogical search. Thank you to Natalie for taking the time to write and for providing permission to share her story.
Have you made an exciting discovery thanks to something you heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast? Please leave a comment below!
Recently I decided to learn more about my great-uncle Paul McClellan, my grandfather’s brother. After World War II, Paul left his Idaho hometown for Pennsylvania. Surviving relatives know hardly anything of his life or family.
The census only takes me through 1940 and he lived through the 1970s. Pennsylvania vital records are pretty tight-lipped. So almost immediately, I found myself looking for obituaries.
Our online community tree at FamilySearch told me when and where he died. I emailed the local history and genealogy contact at the public library in that town. I heard back within a day and had this obituary within a week.
I’ve seen a lot of detailed obituaries. But perhaps because I’m so thirsty for information on Paul, the level of detail in this obituary made me especially happy. I see his:
Hospital where he died and length of stay there
Birthplace and age
Parents’ names, including mother’s maiden name
Employer and retirement date
Membership in local civic organizations
WWII Army veteran status
Surviving widow’s name, including maiden name
Names, spouses and residences of surviving siblings
Name of funeral home and officiator of funeral
Wow! Some of these details confirmed that I had the right guy: his age, birth data, relatives’ names. Others open new avenues of research for me. I’ve already started following leads to the civic organizations, funeral home and cemetery.
You know, what is NOT said in this obituary may also prove important as I continue my research on Paul. First, there are no surviving children or grandchildren listed. This disappoints me as I was told he did have children by at least one previous marriage. If he did have children, the informant (his widow?) either didn’t know about them or didn’t choose to mention them. Second, the informant did know a lot about Paul’s kin. Maybe Paul and his wife didn’t totally lose touch with the folks back home–it just seems so years later.
Have you worked much with obituaries? Do you know how to find them? Learn more in Lisa’s book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, available in print or as an e-book. There’s an entire chapter on online digitized newspaper collections, and one on online resources for finding newspapers (either online or offline). Yet another chapter is devoted to African American newspapers. This book will teach you to find all those elusive obituaries–and plenty more mentions of your family in old newspapers.
Betty has at least 130 good reasons to use Google Books for genealogy! She used this powerful Google tool to find her ancestor’s name in a book–which led to a treasure trove of his original letters in an archive. Here’s what happened–and how to try this with your own family history research.
You’ve heard me say that Google Books is the tool I turn to every day. Now, you may be thinking, “But my ancestors wouldn’t be in history books!” Resist the temptation to make assumptions about sources, and about your ancestors. With over 25 million books, Google Books is more likely to have something pertinent to your genealogy research than you think. And as I often tell my audiences, those books can include source citations, providing a trail to even more treasures.
Why to Use Google Books for Genealogy: Success Story!
At the National Genealogical Society conference this past spring, Betty attended my class and then stopped by the Genealogy Gems booth to share her story. I recorded it, and here’s a transcription:
Betty: I was stuck on my Duncan Mackenzie ancestor, so I put his name in Google Books, because when you’re stuck, that’s what you do!
Lisa: Yes, I do!
Betty: So, up popped this history of Mississippi, it was sort of a specific history, and it said Duncan Mackenzie had written a letter to his brother-in-law in North Carolina from Covington County, Mississippi. And of course I already had my tax records and my census records that placed him in Covington County. This was in the 1840s. I thought, this just couldn’t be him! Why would any of my relatives be in a book? [Sound familiar?]
So, finally, weeks later, it occurred to me to go back and look at the footnotes in the book, and I found that the letters could be found in the Duncan McLarin papers at Duke University. So, I didn’t even think to even borrow the microfilm. I just told my husband, “next time you go East for work, we need to go by Duke University.” So I set up a time, and I went, and it WAS my great-great-grandfather who wrote those letters! I have now transcribed 130 letters from that collection. They let me scan them all, and I’ve been back again to scan the rest of the legal papers.
Lisa: So, an online search into Google Books not only help you find something online, but it led you to the offline gems!
Betty: And it just changed my life! Because I spend all my time on these letters. It’s distracted me from other lines! [LOL! I get that!]
How to Use Google Books for Genealogy
Are you ready to put Google Books to work in your own research and discover some genealogy gems of your own? Here, I re-create Betty’s search for you, so you can see how to get started:
1. Go to Google Books (books.google.com). Enter search terms that would pertain to your ancestor, like a name and a place.
2. Browse the search results. The first three that show up here all look promising. Click on the first one.
3. Review the text that comes up in the text screen. As you can see here, Duncan McKenzie of Covington County is mentioned–and the source note at the bottom of the page tells you that the original letter cited in the book is at Duke University.
Learn More about Using Google Books for Genealogy
Learn more by watching my free Google Books video series at the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel. Click the video below to watch the first one. (And be sure to subscribe while you’re there, because there are more videos to come!)
Then, watch the video below for a quick preview of my full one hour video class (and downloadable handout) called Google Books: The Tool You Need Every Day!, available to all Genealogy Gems Premium Members.
This template is a blank checklist you can use for every ancestor you research. On the checklist are all the different record types you might check: each type of vital record, census, land record, electoral roll, etc.l, along with the various repositories that should be visited or contacted. Why not create a similar temple for the countries you research, if you don’t have Aussie or Kiwi roots?
This is just one way Evernote helps you track your family history research. Learn more with these resources:
I’m excited to keynote Family Tree University’s Fall Virtual Genealogy Conference, September 15-17, 2017. Get three days of video presentations packed with DNA research strategies, the latest tech tools, organization and preservation tips, and MORE! Sign up by September 15, 2017 with our coupon code for off registration.
My grandmother was fond of saying, “The devil’s in the details.” I’m not sure about the devil’s current residence, but I do know that even the smallest details can add up to a really big picture. As genealogists, we’re all hunting for even the tiniest facts and features that will bring that picture into clear focus.
Family Tree University’s 2017 Fall Virtual Genealogy Conference (September 15-17) aims to help you discover and apply all those little details to your family history. With fifteen presentations ranging from DNA testing to research strategies, technology and preservation tools (and everything in between), you’ll gain a host of tricks for understanding your ancestors’ lives better. Some lectures focus on specific record sets, like Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton’s presentation on mining the U.S. census. Other classes help you reconstruct compelling ancestral stories; for example, Nancy Hendrickson’s “Resources for Visual Storytelling” and my own classes, “Time Travel Technology” and “5 Google Secrets Revealed.”
I’m tying all these virtual classes together with a live keynote presentation, “Big Pictures in Little Details,” on Sunday, September 17, after which I’ll do a brief, live Q&A.
The best part about the FTU virtual conference weekend: Not only can you participate from the comfort of your own home, but you won’t have to choose between presentations occurring at the same time. They’re all available to stream and download. So you can keep them and refer back long after the conference is over. Even my live keynote and Q&As will be recorded, so you won’t have to miss a thing!
Come join me for a fun-filled three days at the 2017 Fall Virtual Conference!