But what does it mean?

So, you have a photo, and it’s interesting, and it’s old.  But, the photo without interpretation is meaningless without context.  Who is in this photo?  Where is it from?  What is the context?  What exactly is going on here?  The answer to these questions filled in gaps of a story.  A picture is worth 1,000 words, but the researcher needs to find those words!Image


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Today I received an email from John Martino, the Project Coordinator for the Italian Genealogy Group  (IGG) that “Ancestry has made arrangements with New York City Municipal Archives to link to their vital records….This was done to promote the records and make them available to more genealogists then we could ever do.  Isn’t that why we took on this task?  We all wanted to help our fellow researchers… Ancestry will not have the actual certificates.  Researchers will have to contact the Municipal Archives to get copies of the certificates.”

I am very proud to have been one of the thousands of volunteers who worked on many of these projects.  The Italian Genealogy Group has done amazing work over the years transcribing and indexing record collections held at local and regional archives.     The full story can be read in the Long Island Newsday, January 16, 2014, page A8.

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Dutch records and resources

Many thanks to Jan Meisels Allen and to Gershon Lehrer for passing on information to her about these resources:

Jan pointed out https://www.wiewaswie.nl/ as a site with free 
access to newspapers in the Netherlands, and then Gershon sent her 
another excellent free site for newspapers and books:
http://kranten.delpher.nl/  with newspapers from 1618 - 1995.  There
are over 9 million pages old newspapers from the Dutch East Indies, 
Suriname, the Netherlands Antilles and the United States.  The site 
also has more than 90,000 books[ publications] from the 18th and 
19th centuries-- the (special) collections of the university 
libraries of Leiden and Amsterdam (UvA) and the Royal Library. 
This includes over two million pages from more
than 11,000 old prints from the Dutch-speaking region from the 
period 1781-1800 and in case that wasn't enough, there are also
1.5 million pages from 80 old journal titles from the second half 
of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

Thanks to Jan Meisels Allen and to Gershon Lehrer
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Researching West Indies?

Some places seem shrouded in mystery – details of residents are inaccessible via the internet, and research often requires hiring costly researchers  on the ground, or sending payments to foreign governments or researchers with whom contact is often difficult.

Good news now for people with families who lived in Jamaica, West Indies.  According to the new Jamaican research website,  This is a virtual genealogy library for those researching family history for Jamaica, West Indies, especially for people born before 1920. The site contains transcriptions from various documents including nineteenth century Jamaica Almanacs (which list property owners and civil and military officials), Jamaica Directories for 1878, 1891 and 1910, extractions from Jamaican Church records, Civil Registration, Wills, Jewish records, and excerpts from newspapers, books, and other documents. There is information on immigration and on slavery. ”  AND it’s free!

Thanks to Jan Meisels Allen for point out this terrific resource.

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Where would we be without our connections?

Genealogical research is a wonderful way for those of us who love jigsaw puzzles to work on a large-scale picture that has practical use.   However, just like in the TV show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” we often need help from other sources.  This is where our own private networks come into play.

Networking our way through research means figuring out the right questions and the right people to ask.  Most of the time we don’t have a clue as to either.  So, where do we begin?

The best thing I have found to do, once the obvious questions have been asked and we have a name, birth date, birth place and other vital statistics (or as much of them as the person we’re speaking to remembers) is to make sure that we’ve taken really careful notes.  Using those notes, getting to archives to verify information, and talking to other people to verify stories is the next likely path to take.  But what then?

Then we network.  Using resources like listserves, sites that allow inquiries about names and places, talking to even more people, we spread our reach and carefully listen and look for the tiniest clue, the smallest insight we might come across.  We repeat the stories we’ve been told to other people, and sooner or later, Eureka!  We hit gold.  Okay, so the gold vein we hit may be so tiny it’s almost unnoticeable, but nevertheless, each small gain leads to another, and like drops of water they accumulate.

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Truth – the next great frontier

About a month ago I got a call from a gentleman living in Chicago who is very ill.  He was looking for his biological daughter who was put up for adoption under duress in 1964-1965.  His goal was to locate her before his death so he could tell her the circumstances of her adoption and assure her that she was not given up because she was unwanted.

Jack Decker and Joyce Kotler of Chicago were high school sweethearts.  When they were 17, in 1964, Joyce got pregnant.  Her parents refused to allow them to get married and insisted that the baby be given up for adoption.  She was sent away, to Phoenix, Arizona for several months where she was basically under house arrest – very closely supervised and not permitted to make calls or send letters back home to Jack.

When her daughter was born, she was quickly adopted through arrangements that had been made by attorney Syd Wolfe during the pregnancy.  Unlike today’s world, the adoptive parents and the biological mother did not meet.

Unbeknownst to Jack and Joyce, the information on their daughter’s birth certificate was falsified – the birth mother’s name and birth date were fake.  About 7 months later, after high school graduation, Jack and Joyce got married.  Their plan was not to disturb their daughter’s life, but to try to get in touch with her after her eighteenth birthday.  Jack and Joyce unfortunately did not have a happily ever after.  Just a few short years later, Joyce died, just before her 25th birthday, a month after being diagnosed with leukemia.

Joyce herself had been adopted, and data on her birth certificate too had been falsified, so while during her illness her oncologist attempted to find her biological family to find out whether or not others had a similar disease and how it was treated, he was unable to do so.

Similarly, Jack’s daughter, located a month after he asked for my help, has had health problems – she had no medical history from her biological family.  Because of the falsified information on her birth certificate she was unable to locate them.  The daughter had no idea that the information she thought identified her biological mother was not true.

This is an amazing story and one which has a happy ending – Jack and his daughter have been reunited.  Most of the time we struggle with ascertaining the truth of data on documents, the consequences are not dire.  Documents of our ancestors often have birth dates and years covering a wide range of time, names are changed, spellings were not standardized, and it’s frustrating.  It is not a matter of life or death.  In this case it could have been.

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Importance of having a plan and knowing your resources

The other day, I was sitting in the New York City Municipal Archives on Chambers Street.  Actually, I was sitting there researching records for two solid days.  On the first day, a woman came into the archives.  It was clear, like so many others there, that she did not understand the kinds of records the archives held, or how to find data.

All of us are novices at some point, and it was commendable that she was trying to get information on her own.  In fact, I think she was also brave.  The archives are very intimidating.  However, rather than going to the archivist to ask for help and learn how to start her research and find records, she walked around the room asking people intent on their microfilm searches at the microfilm readers, and those sitting at computers looking for their own family.

At first, people were very helpful but as the day wore on, they had less and less patience with her. She finally went to the archivists for  help, which they provided.  She sat down and began accumulating the numbers of the microfilms she needed.  Then she stood in front of one of the two sets of drawers containing the marriage records pulling all the microfilms she needed at one time.  This prevented other researchers from being able to access the microfilm.

The message?  First, try to find out in advance of a visit to an archive what the layout and protocol is, where the records can be accessed and how.  If this is impossible, the first thing to do when entering the archives is to speak with someone who works there to get some guidance.  People who are doing research for themselves (or clients) in the archives are happy to lend  encouragement and share their expertise, but not extensively – they are there to do research.

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