Busting Genealogical Brick Walls with a Podcast

Podcasts are hotter than ever. Folks listen while doing a wide range of activities: working, exercising, commuting, cooking or simply relaxing. 

My hope is that as you listen to the free Genealogy Gems Podcast (and the ad-free Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast to which our members have exclusive access) you’ll not only listen, but put into action the ideas and strategies that you hear. 

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.

johnstown Pennsylvania

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).

Olsavica today

Using Google Earth for Genealogy – Street View of Olsavica today.

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.

Map of the Johnstown Flood Area

Map of the Johnstown Flood Area. The Premium Video Reconstruct Your Family’s Amazing Stories features genealogical research in this area at that time.

I can only say WHEW!  

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 Day here.)

John Frisco and Mary Frisco newspaper

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!

England Wales electoral registers Be_A_Dear_Please_Share new records Ancestrycom

 

Georgia Genealogical Society Seminar

The Georgia Genealogical Society is hosting an all-day seminar on September 16, 2017 in Marietta, Georgia. I’m the invited speaker–and you’re invited, too! Come learn cutting-edge skills and tools you can start using in your family history research immediately. Register online until September 12, 2017.  You can book me for your genealogy event here.

Georgia Genealogy Seminar

If you can make it to Marietta, Georgia on Saturday, September 16, I hope you’ll join me for an all-day seminar sponsored by the Georgia Genealogical Society. The event organizers have chosen a well-rounded set of classes I’m excited to teach! You’ll get cutting-edge tips on online search strategies, an in-depth newspaper research class, a unique and fun approach to working a “genealogical cold case,” and inspiring, attention-getting ideas to share your family history discoveries with your relatives.

Georgia Genealogical Society Seminar Details

Here’s what you’ll want to know now about this event:

What: All-Day Seminar with Lisa Louise Cooke
Where: First Presbyterian Church, 189 Church St., Marietta, GA
When: Saturday, September 16, 2017, 9:45 am – 4:15 pm (doors open at 9:15 am for registration)
Hosted by: Georgia Genealogical Society; co-sponsored by Cobb County Genealogical Society
Registration: Register online via PayPal by midnight on Tuesday, September 12, 2017, to get the regular event price and the class handouts.

And boy oh boy are we going to dig into genealogy!:

10:15 am: Google Books: The Tool You Should Use Every Day! Over 25 million digitized and searchable free books are at your fingertips with Google Books. Learn how to make the most of this goldmine chock full of historical data. (This is a brand new class in 2017 and was a BIG hit at Rootstech,)

11:30: Get the Scoop on your Ancestors with Newspapers. Yearning to “read all about it?” Newspapers are a fantastic source of research leads, information and historical context for your family history. Learn the specialized approach that is required to achieve success in locating the news on your ancestors.  Includes 3 Cool Tech Tools that will get you started.

(12:30-2:00 pm: Lunch is on your own)

2:00 pm: How to Reopen and Work a Genealogy Cold Case. Become a genealogical detective in this vital session. You’ll learn to track ancestors like a criminal cold case detective, sniffing out holes in your research and getting missing information on the record with cutting edge technology.

3:15 pm: Inspiring Ways to Capture the Interest of Non-Genealogists. If you are researching your family tree but haven’t shared it with your family in a way that sparks their interest, then you are only experiencing half of the joy of genealogy! And if your descendants don’t grasp the importance of their heritage, your hard work may tragically find it’s way to the city dump when you are gone. Don’t just collect your family history and store it away in binders and files! Learn how creative displays and crafts can capture the imagination of your non-historian friends and relatives, while honoring your ancestors. These projects are guaranteed to inspire your family to ask you to tell them more about the family tree!

Click here for more about the event and to register.

4 More Ways to Learn New Genealogy Skills

If you can’t be in Marietta (darn!) on September 16, check out these free options for learning with me and the rest of my team here at Genealogy Gems:

    • Subscribe to my free weekly e-newsletter. You’ll get my free Google research e-book as a thank you gift. Simply enter your email address into this box, and I’ll deliver news, how-tos and stories from my blog, including my popular weekly update of new genealogy records online.

Newsletter Sign Up

  • Listen to the free Genealogy Gems podcast. My flagship audio show has been delivering in-depth stories, research strategies, tech tips and more for more than 10 years–with more than 2 million times worldwide. Why not listen for yourself?
  • Subscribe to my YouTube channel. Watch, learn and be inspired with the many genealogy how-to videos I’ve shared on my YouTube channel.

Thanks for sharing this event invitation with your friends. I hope to meet you in Marietta, on social media or as a new listener or email subscriber!

We Dig These Gems: New Genealogy Records Online

Each Friday we share a list of selected new genealogy records online. Watch for records in which your ancestors might appear–and get inspired by the kinds of records that may be out there waiting for you to discover. This week: Australian cemetery records, British military officer deaths, various U.S. passenger lists and North Carolina marriage records.

AUSTRALIAN CEMETERY RECORDS. Two million indexed records have been added to the free Australia, Queensland Cemetery Records, 1802–1990 dataset at FamilySearch.org. According to the site, “The records include an index which combines several other indexes, cemetery transcriptions, burial and other records from cemeteries in Queensland….Cemetery records are especially helpful for identifying ancestors who were not recorded in other records, such as children who died young or women. They may also give clues to finding more information. In Australia, the first cemetery is reported to have been in Sydney in 1788.”

BRITISH MILITARY OFFICER DEATHS. FindMyPast’s new dataset, Royal Artillery Officer Deaths 1850-2011, lists the details of over 17,000 commissioned officers who were killed or died during the campaigns in Kosovo, Bosnia, Borneo and Iraq as well as the First and Second World Wars. It is estimated that since the regiment’s formation in May 1716, over 2.5 million men and women have served with the regiment. Each record includes a transcript of details found in the original records.

US PASSENGER LISTS. Browsable images were added to several existing US immigration records. Click here (and then scroll down) to view a table that has links directly to these datasets:

  • For San Diego, CA:Airplane Passenger and Crew Lists, 1929–1954 and an apparently segregated Chinese Passenger and Crew Lists, 1905–1923;
  • San Francisco, CA Passenger Lists, 1893–1953;
  • Key West, FL Passenger Lists, 1898-1945;
  • Minnesota Passenger Lists, 1910-1923;
  • New York City, NY Passenger and Crew Lists Soundex (meaning an index based on how a name sounds), 1887-1921; (this is actually a new image collection)
  • North Dakota Manifests of Immigrant Arrivals, 1910-1952 (this is also new).

NORTH CAROLINA (US) COUNTY MARRIAGES, 1741-2011. This new dataset on Ancestry “includes images of marriage bonds, licenses, certificates, and registers from 87 different counties.” According to an Ancestry blog post, some marriages have multiple records in this collection, like a bond and an indexed marriage record. This record set may be particularly useful for those tracing African-American marriages, as they “reference the joining of couples living as man and wife dating back to 1820, and possibly earlier…. Sometimes they also include the names of their former owners.” There’s a free, similar-looking dataset at FamilySearch, but the dates aren’t as extensive (it covers 1762-1979).

Tip: When searching within record sets like these, read the record collection description! Sometimes you are just seeing a partial collection that is being updated on an ongoing basis. Some years or locales may be missing from an otherwise complete record set.

When you have questions that aren’t answered in the record collection description online, Google them! Use keywords like the type of record (“marriage records”) and the missing locale (“Burdett County”) to see whether other sites can lead you to these records or confirm that they don’t exist. Learn more about advanced Google searching for genealogy in the fully-updated 2nd edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.

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