Saturday, January 31, 2015

Black Family History Day, February 15, 2015

The African American Genealogical Society of Northern California, with the support of the Oakland FamilySearch Library, will hold its seventh Black Family History Day on the Sunday of Presidents' Day weekend, February 15, 2015.  The society's event, created to celebrate Black History Month, began in 2011.

The family history day will take place from 1:00–5:00 p.m. at the Oakland FamilySearch Library, 4766 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland, California.  There is no charge to participate, but it helps if you preregister, so we have a better idea of how many people to expect.

New researchers will attend a short introductory workshop and then receive assistance in creating their initial family tree charts.  From there they will go to one-on-one assistance and start to learn how to do research and search for documents about their families.  Attendees who already have some research experience will be able to go directly to the one-on-one research stage.  Whether you're a beginner or already have done some work, it's a good idea to bring copies (please leave your originals at home!) of the information you have so it's at hand if you need to check it.

I have helped at every Black Family History Day since the first one, and I will maintain my perfect attendance record by being there this year also.  (Lucky for me, it's the day after RootsTech/FGS ends, and I was able to schedule my return flight for late Saturday.)  I really enjoy helping people learn how to find their family histories, so I'm looking forward to another fun day of family discoveries!

Monday, January 26, 2015

20th Anniversary of a Devastating Month

In 1995 I rejected January as the beginning of the new year.  I announced that I was beginning my year with the Chinese new year, in February.  I did that because the month of January was so devastating that I didn't want to include it in my life at all.  In January 1995 I lost three members of my family.  While none of the deaths was unexpected, their quick succession was overwhelming, and much of the rest of the year disappeared into a fog.  I think I'm ready to bring that month back, by commemorating the lives of those relatives.

Myra, Lillyan, Sarah
My mother, Myra Roslyn Meckler Sellers Preuss, died on January 2, 1995, at the age of 54.  She was on her second go-round with colon cancer, and we had known from the time of that second diagnosis that she would probably not survive.  All three of us children went to Florida for Thanksgiving to see her, but my brother was the only one still there when she passed away.

My mother had such a huge effect on my interest in family history.  I've written about how she and my grandmother used to tell me family stories when I was just a little girl and shared several of those stories on Mother's Day in 2011, 2012, and 2013.  It's a pretty safe bet that I wouldn't have become a genealogist without my mother's influence.

Sidney, Al
My great-uncle Alexander Gordon died on January 9, 1995, at the age of 77, just one week after his niece.  He had had a severe stroke many years before that and had been in surprisingly good condition, all things considered.  But his health had been worsening, and when I received the news that he had passed away, it again did not come as a shock.

I didn't get to see my Uncle Al often, as we lived on opposite sides of the country, but he was always friendly and welcoming to us.  I heard only good stories about him from my mother and grandmother (his sister).  He seemed to be a genuinely nice person every time I saw him, and he maintained a cheerful outlook on life.

Betty, Bert, Catherine
My paternal grandfather, Bertram Lynn Sellers, Sr., died on January 23, 1995, at the age of approximately 92 (I still haven't found documentation of his birth!), two weeks after my uncle.  His health had been very good even past the age of 80.  But around 1991 he had a bad stroke and lost a lot of memory.  His health began to deteriorate slowly but steadily shortly after that.  I was able to visit him on the same Thanksgiving trip when I saw my mother.  Unfortunately, he no longer recognized anyone except the young woman, a relative of his wife, who came to the care facility every day and helped him with his physical therapy.

My grandfather was a pretty impressive guy.  His family was not well off, and he lost a leg at the age of 13.  But he went on to have three marriages and another significant relationship, father seven children, and work as a civil engineer for the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force.  His leg didn't slow him down; he even drove vehicles with stick shifts.  My first job, not counting babysitting, was working for him in his stamp shop.  I learned about stamps and coins, and also how to use hot lead to make rubber stamps.  I tell people that "old" doesn't start until 80 because that's when he began to slow down (a little).

Even now, twenty years later, it's difficult to think about how that January did a number on me.  But I'm glad I can share memories of my mother, uncle, and grandfather and celebrate their lives and the good memories I have of them.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Family Discoveries: More on Cornelius Godshalk Sellers

"Camp of the 11th N.J. Volunteers,
Fitzhugh Farm, . . . March 1863"
I mentioned in a recent post about the two documents I had ordered from the New Jersey State Archives relating to my great-great-grandfather, Cornelius Godshalk Sellers.  One of them provided a copy of his signature, allowing me to put together six consecutive generations of Sellers signatures.  That document also gave me a small mystery:  Cornelius mustered out June 6, 1865, but the voucher I received was for a payment due from when his father, Franklin, had died in 1863.  I don't know why the money was paid two years later when Cornelius mustered out, but it's now on my list of projects.  Always more research to do . . . .

snippet from The Civil War Letters
of General Robert McAllister

on Google Books
Since I had such good luck with the new information about Cornelius, I decided to keep looking for more.  I Googled different variations of his name and found some interesting stuff.  His name shows up twice in a book about the Civil War letters of General Robert McAllister, the commander of the New Jersey 11th Volunteers.  Cornelius was McAllister's orderly in May and June of 1863.  In May, Cornelius apparently had been speaking to McAllister about his father's (Franklin's) newspaper in Belvidere, New Jersey.  In the letter written in June, McAllister said that Cornelius was sick with typhoid fever and was going to the hospital.  Going by the date, this matches with one of the hospital documents I found at the National Archives, but that document says Cornelius was suffering from anemia.  Maybe typhoid fever was going around the camp and McAllister just assumed that's what Cornelius was suffering from.  Yet another reason to work on getting all the morning reports for the regiment!

At the top of both letters, McAllister indicated that he was writing from Camp Fitzhugh Farm.  When I searched for that, I found the pencil drawing above, digitized and available online from the Rutgers University Libraries.  It was drawn by a Sergeant Smith of the New Jersey 11th, showing the regiment in March 1863 while it was camped at Fitzhugh Farm.  There's not enough detail to see anyone specifically, and no one is identified, but I can pretend that Cornelius is one of the men pictured in the drawing.

I also found a few instances of Cornelius' name on a blog dedicated to Warren County, New Jersey, in the Civil War.  Those posts did not provide any new information about Cornelius, being merely his name in lists of men from the county who had volunteered to fight, but the posts led me to read more of the blog, and I found a lot about Cornelius' father, which I'll talk about in a future post dedicated to him.  I also learned the name of Cornelius' half-brother from his mother's first marriage, yet another new research avenue.

Last but not least, I learned a little more about the Odd Fellows Cemetery in which Cornelius was buried in 1877.  According to information on FindAGrave, when Odd Fellows was taken over by the city of Philadelphia, some bodies were distinterred and moved to two other cemeteries.  While the odds are against Cornelius being one of those bodies, I try not to leave any (tomb)stone unturned, so I'll be pursuing this lead, along with all the other new ones I turned up.

It is so much fun when I have time to research my own family!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

My Fourth Blogiversary Already?

I think this year I want to sing:

Happy fourth blogiversary to me!
Happy fourth blogiversary to me!
Happy fourth blogiversary, dear Janice,
Happy fourth blogiversary to me!

(No comments about being out of tune!)

Wow, four years later, and I'm still writing a blog.  How did that happen?  I'm the person who hates to write.  But I still have all these stories I want to share, so here I am, and starting another year.

I've recently had the opportunity to do a lot of research on my own family, and it's been so much fun.  I've found several new lines (even if most of them are more Germans!), and even connected with some cousins through DNA databases.  I'm looking forward to posting about my discoveries, along with the regular broad range of topics I normally cover.

I really appreciate the support I get from the people who read and comment on my blog.  Thanks for being there!  It's so great to have a genealogy community to share my passion with!

Monday, January 12, 2015

My First All-day Seminar!

I am so excited and proud!  I have been selected by the Calaveras Genealogical Society to be the presenter at this year's annual Family History Seminar.  They've chosen four of my talks for the seminar:

• Get Me to the Church on Time:  Finding Religious Records
• Where There's a Will:  Probate Records Can Prove Family Connections
• Reconstructing Family Information When You Start with Almost Nothing: A Case Study
• They Wouldn't Put It on the Web If They Didn't Want Me to Use It:  Copyright Issues for Genealogy

All of these focus primarily on the U.S., although there is some discussion of records from other locations.  "Finding Religious Records" is mostly about Christian church records and includes some information about Jewish and Muslim records.   "Where There's a Will" describes the probate process and the types of family relationships that can be documented.  The case study shows the methodical research steps taken when I started out with a town name, one person's last name, a married woman's first name, and a third person's occupation (but no name) and slowly built up a seven-generation family tree.  The final talk addresses some of the commonly seen problems with how Internet users readily "borrow" information.

The seminar will be on Saturday, April 18, at the LDS Conference Center, 400 Bret Harte Drive, Murphys, California.  More information should be available soon on the CGS site.  I don't know yet if the seminar is open to the public or if there is a fee for attending, but I'll post when I find out.

The speaker for last year's seminar was Steve Morse, so I have a big act to follow.  But I'm looking forward to this great experience!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: My Ancestor Score

Today's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun was an educational exercise.  Randy asked people to compute their "ancestor score", the percentage of possible ancestors that they have found to date.

1)  Determine how complete your genealogy research is.  For background, read Crista Cowan's post Family History All Done? What’s Your Number? and Kris Stewart's What Is Your Genealogy "Score?"  For comparison purposes, keep the list to 10 or 11 generations with you as the first person. 
2)  Create a table similar to Crista's second table, and fill it in however you can (you could create an Ahnentafel (Ancestor Name) list and count the number in each generation, or use some other method).  Tell us how you calculated the numbers.
3)  Show us your table, and calculate your "Ancestral Score" - what is your percentage of known names to possible names (1,023 for 10 generations).
4)  For extra credit (or more SNGF), do more generations and add them to your chart.
5)  Post your table, and your "Ancestor Score," on your own blog, in a comment to this post, or in a Facebook Status post or Google+ Stream post.


I created an ancestor tree in FTM16 going back fourteen generations, to the lone 12th-great-grandparent for whom I have a name.  I then manually counted the number of individuals in each generation.  Here's the table with the results:


My Ancestor Score at ten generations is a mere 10.2%, as compared to Randy's 51.0%.  Going all the way out to fifteen generations as he did, it drops to a sad little 0.4%, where he has 6.5%.  I didn't even have 6.5% at eleven generations!  The big reason for those low numbers is that on my mother's side, which is Jewish, I know the name of only one fourth-great-grandparent and no one beyond that.  (On the other hand, I have names for fourteen of my sixteen third-great-grandparents on that side, which is actually really good.)  I wish I had some of those solid New England lines that are much better documented!

It will be interesting to revisit this next January and see how much farther back I've been able to go on some of these lines.