How I Found a Cousin Using Newspapers and Only Newspapers

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For many, genealogy and family history research is a solo and solitary endeavor. For me, the first 8 years were pretty much “all by myself.”  I got lucky through Social Media to make a fantastic connection that opened up my “Braunhart” branch considerably.

But this article is not about that branch. It is the true story of how I found the siblings for my great great grandfather – Louis Marks.

And how they were found using PRIMARILY newspapers.

And how those old dusty newspapers (actually they were online so not so dusty) found me a NEW cousin!

Yes – all because of newspapers – the subject that I write about ALL the time.

I had found Louis early on, but knew nothing of his siblings, parents etc. As is often the case – Louis was the one who immigrated to America and so his parentage became significantly more difficult to discover. And also was identifying his brothers and sisters.


The First Clue – From Guess What….. A Newspaper

I began to get some hints and clues that he had a brother Emil. About 5 years ago I had found a newspaper clipping about an Emil Marks, who had been hit by a train and was killed in Oakland, California.

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Now I had an inkling that Emil and Louis were brothers. From a naturalization log and their naturalization index cards from 1864, they were suspiciously next to each other in the log, had the same naturalization date and had the same witness at their naturalization “hearing.”

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And a couple of years later, I found this entry in the 1875 San Francisco City Directory, which discusses a company named “Louis Marks and Bro” and cites both Louis and Emil. Evidence, not proof, but certainly enough for me at that juncture to claim their brotherhood.

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So NOW we have brothers Louis and Emil.

A Cousin Appears – Because of….. A Newspaper

A few years later I received an email from Scott Harris, a descendant of Fanny Lust (love that name). He had found a newspaper article that stated that Fanny was suing the railroad company, as she was handling the estate of Emil Marks. Scott had surmised that maybe he and I were related and asked me if I thought that possibly Emil and Fanny were brother and sister. He had heretofore not known anything about Emil or Louis.
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So through a bit more research, including California Death Index research, where that index states the name of the deceased’s parents as well as the maiden name of the mother – it was discovered that Fanny’s maiden name was indeed “Marks” and thus it was likely that Emil and Fanny were brother and sister. Now they could have been cousins as opposed to siblings. Fanny’s Death Certificate was ordered and it showed that her maiden name WAS Marks and that her father’s name was Isaac Marks.

So Yay! I had what was very likely a NEW COUSIN on the Marks’ side! And I didn’t have many cousins there to begin with and only one who was interested in Genealogy (my dear cousin Kit Crawford – for the record).

The Story Doesn’t End – Because of….. A Newspaper

Thanks for hanging in there with this story. We have a lot of clues and what some might call evidence, but nothing really that ties Emil, Louis and Fanny together a little more tightly. Until I found in the past week – an obituary in the newspaper OF COURSE – and it was for Emil – and it was a FANTASTIC find!
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Now – this obituary confirms the brotherhood of Emil and Louis – but who are Mrs. S Lust and Mrs. I Schudmack, their sisters?  Well we know from many types of records that have been accumulated – that Fanny was married to Simon Lust, who coincidentally was also killed by a train. And oh, by the way – Emil and Simon were business partners in the 1860s as we later discovered.

So now Scott Harris and I ARE cousins! Yippee! But who is Mrs I Schudmack?

The last few days have been filled with research and discoveries about Mrs I Schudmack – is that Lottie Schudmack, who had 7 children, who was married to Isaac Schudmack – and whose children when they died and were cited in the California Death Index had their Mother’s maiden name as “Marks”??? Oh and the Hebrew inscription on her gravestone translates to her father being named As Isaac Marks?

Yes indeed!

By the way – I have reached out to some of Lottie Marks Schudmack’s descendants via Social Media. Wish me luck as I hunt for more cousins.

In closing then, I just want to say one thing:

Yes – You Can Find Cousins – Researching…. A Newspaper

….and welcome to the family Scott! And we are waiting to welcome you – Schudmack descendants!


A Poem for My Favorite Cousin Genealogy Buddy

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It is my birthday today and on your birthday one should be able to do just about anything, right? Since I have written recently about the frustrations of trying to collaborate with uncooperative cousins (Cousin Collaboration – 16 Secret Commandments), it is now time to turn the tables.

Well for this birthday, I wish to pay tribute to my family history research buddy. The one who has contributed everything she has and knows about our collective ancestors. The one who has shared with me the joys of our newly found discoveries, and put her brain together with mine to solve some of the family mysteries.


To say I am appreciative would be a gross understatement.

So for you Watson – here goes:

The words are not correct and the verb tenses aren’t right but it sounds good to me – and isn’t it the thought that counts?


Tis been years of toil and sweat,
For my ancestors that everyone did forget
Yet I thunder on.

And she appears out of the cloud
Soon the I becomes we
And we thunder on.

The images are mostly faded
And for the most part unaided
We thunder on.

A revelation occurs as we find the will
And the homeland reveals a new beauty
And we thunder on.

With revitalized energy we continue to seek
And even though the results become bleak
We thunder on.

In the midst of this journey
An eternal friendship occurs
So we thunder on.

She calls me Sherlock
And I call her Watson
And we thunder on – together.



Cousin Collaboration – 16 Secret Commandments

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When we are doing our family history research, we sometimes get lucky. Sure, sometimes luck is involved when finding a document or some facts that further our research.

But the luck that I am talking about is finding a family member who you can collaborate with. I have had such luck. About 3 1/2 years ago because of another family history website that I created, I was contacted by a third cousin, once removed. It was a challenge for us to connect but it happened. And it changed my genealogy “life.”

The first year of our collaboration was “hot and heavy” – not THAT kind of hot and heavy. 30 to 50 emails a day hot and heavy – sharing information, emailing newly scanned old photos, discussing who was who and who might be related to who, etc. It was a blast.

During the course of that first year, we found living relatives – “cousins” who we had never met (and previously did not know the name of) – and started asking them for their help. As one might expect, there were different levels of response and cooperation. Some were “pretty cooperative,” some thought they were being quite cooperative but weren’t, and others – well their cooperation sucked.

So in a fit of frustration with our newly found relatives (and those not so new) – I created the following list of Commandments for Cousin Collaboration. This list was written in 2010 and I just found it again and thought I would share it with you. Names have been deleted to protect the guilty.

(Apologies in advance to those who don’t like coarse language – it serves to demonstrate the extreme frustration at the time)


The 16 Secret Commandments for Big Bad Cousin Collaborators (or Not)
  1. Details matter.
  2. Reading and responding appropriately to emails matters.
  3. Scanning photos instead of making shitty Xerox copies and mailing them matters.
  4. ACTUALLY participating when you say that you are instead of saying that you will and basically doing squat matters.
  5. Making a friggin decision about sending some photos to some dude that you have never met rather than asking a couple of other relatives if he’s a thief matters.
  6. Answering an email with some semblance of knowledge of the English language rather than writing like you are stoned matters.
  7. Cutting the bullshit and getting to the facts matters.
  8. Handling a lot of info at once matters.
  9. GUESSING at who’s in the photo does not constitute a move out of the Unknown Photo Album matters.
  10. Opening up and scanning and sharing what’s in the Hefty trash bag in the attic or the magic box in the garage matters.
  11. Giving all your stuff to the relatives that are actually doing something matters.
  12. Allowing your grown adult son to talk to big bad genealogy searching relatives matters.
  13. Realizing that when you die all your thoughts regarding family stories about your ancestors dies with you unless your big bad genealogy searching relatives can see dead people so you better get off your ass and do something to help them now matters.
  14. Sending a family DVD that you promised probably 5 or 10 years ago to your cousin matters.
  15. Realizing that you will not have your identity stolen if you tell your genealogy interested relatives where your parents were married matters.
  16. And lastly – for me and my collaborator – Making jokes while researching this INCREDIBLY SERIOUS ENDEAVOR matters.
 
How many of these have you dealt with?


Quality or Quantity Genealogy? 3 Sibling Rules I Follow

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If you have been doing family history research for any amount of time – that should be an answer that is easy to choose.

But you would be surprised at how many “genealogy types” take great pride in displaying their NUMBERS.

Some examples (NONE of these are mine by the way):

  • “I” have traced my ancestry back to the 15th century
  • “I” have 12,358 people in my family tree
  • “I” have traced my ancestry back to Charlemagne, or the Mayflower, or Genghis Khan, or Adam

Well guess what? I don’t care. Why? Because tracing one’s family history is not a competition. If you want to make it so – go for it.

To me it is all about Quality. I would rather know that my great great grandfather was born in Kolmar (AKA Chodziesen and now Chodziez) on July 2, 1825 and was the first of any of my ancestors to come to America (in 1851 to San Francisco via the steamer ship “New Orleans”) – and that he was a furniture dealer and had several stores on Broadway in Oakland, California and that he and his wife had 9 children, and only 5 girls lived to adulthood. And that he was a very early member of two B’nai B’rith organizations – one in Marysville and the other in Oakland. Etc Etc. It would be nice to know the names and BMD information about his parents and grandparents – but even if I did – how much more than that would I be able to find out? From 18th century newspapers in Germany/Prussia? I doubt it. Unless they were famous there is a one in a billion chance that I would know more than date information and how certain would that information be?

I make sure that I don’t gum up my tree with a bunch of extraneous “stuff.” And I don’t seek additional names just to increase the numbers. I have attempted to discourage “research runaway” by establishing some pretty strict rules for myself regarding collateral lines and “sideways” research, not to mention what I call “downlines.”


These are my rules and I am in no way suggesting that anyone adopt them. But what you should do is consider setting up your own rules to guide you.

So in addition to all my direct line ancestors of course, I have what I call 3 levels – !st, 2nd, and 3rd for sibling research. How deep (both directions) or wide are explained below:

1st Level – Siblings of Parents (my Aunts and Uncles)

(Name them here and include names under each sub-category below)

  • Spouses of parent’s siblings (my aunts and uncles by marriage)
  • Siblings and siblings spouses of aunts and uncles by marriage
  • Parents of aunts and uncles by marriage 
  • Grandparents of aunts and uncles by marriage and their children and children’s spouses
  • Only one generation of downline of siblings of spouses of aunts and uncles by marriage
  • Complete downline of all aunts and uncles (first cousins and their children, grandchildren,etc.)

2nd Level – Siblings of Grandparents (my Great Aunts and Great Uncles)

(Name them here and include names under each sub-category below)

  • Spouses of grandparent’s siblings (my great aunts and uncles by marriage)
  • Siblings and siblings spouses of great aunts and uncles by marriage
  • Parents of great aunts and uncles by marriage
  • No children or downlines from siblings of great aunts and uncles by marriage 
  • Downline of great aunts and uncles children limited to two generations

3rd level – Siblings of Great Grandparents (my Great Great Aunts and Great Great Uncles)

(Name them here and include names under each sub-category below)

  • Spouses of great grandparent’s siblings (my great great aunts and uncles by marriage)
  • Parents of great great aunts and uncles by marriage
  • No siblings of great great aunts and uncles by marriage
  • Downline of great great aunts and uncles children limited to two generations

Now – there are certainly going to be exceptions, and those tend to be selected subjectively, depending on the situation. And this does not mean that some folks are not researched – the living might be found in order to provide clarity on some of the “selected” folks. But those living folks may not be added to my tree.

So there you have it – if you want to have a better chance at having a quality tree – one way is to limit the number of names that you include and the only way is to set and stick to your own rules.

By the way – I only have 820 names in my Family Tree – and unless someone starts having lots of babies – it won’t get to a thousand any time soon. And there are just a small number who were born in the 1700s – and that’s fine by me.


Quality not Quantity!


When is Fuzzy Search Too Fuzzy? Elephind Tells Us!

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Approximately two weeks ago in my never-ending quest for more resources and repositories to research genealogy through newspapers, I wrote an article, Elephind – One To Watch  about a dynamic service that searches multiple online newspaper repositories at one time. I had considerable interest and have been in contact with them to discover more about their capabilities, technologies, etc.

Subsequent to reading my post, several genealogy bloggers have also written short articles about Elephind – attempting to inform their readership about this site. One of the articles was quite interesting in its comparison of results of a search using Elephind and the same search using the Library of Congress – Chronicling America newspaper research site. As a result of a comment penned by the Elephind folks in that article, I suggested that they write a guest post describing search technologies and the impact of fuzzy search on newspaper research.

So I am pleased to present the following guest post from Meredith Palmer of DL Consulting, the creators of Elephind:
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Search engine logic:  When is “fuzzy” search a bit too fuzzy?

By Meredith Palmer, DL Consulting

As a genealogist, family historian, or ancestor hunter, the almighty search engine is likely your most important forensic tool in the initial stages of discovery. These days, almost every website you come across, especially websites housing historical records, operates under some type of search functionality. It is the only way to wade through pages of documents efficiently and organize information in ways that make finding that hidden gem possible.

Faceted, federated, fuzzy…these are all terms to describe the various functions search engines can perform and each type has an important role to play in returning relevant results. Faceted search is something you are probably already familiar with as it is the function of filtering search results by criteria, such as date, title, or subject. Federated search is like an “uber-search”. It allows you to search multiple searchable resources with a single query. And finally, fuzzy search is…well…fuzzy.  It is a technique that helps us out by searching for words similar to the word we query, broadening the search to include likely alternative spellings. But, is it really helpful?

That depends. As Stefan Boddie recently described in response to a blog by Phillip Trauring on his website, www.bloodandfrogs.com, sometimes it can be very helpful but it may also be too clever for its own good, generating lots of false positive results. As Stefan points out, fuzzy search is useful in sorting through poor OCR text because it is intended to find close matches, assuming the resulting words are distorted versions of your query. The problem is the results are likely to include distorted versions of words similar to but not the same as your query. Suddenly, you have hundreds of thousands of results to sift through.

Chronicling America is an example of a website which uses fuzzy searching, for at least certain searches. To see how the search function on this site would behave I experimented with a search for my grandfather’s family name. 60 pages of results were returned, most matching a word similar to Meerse including “Monroe”, “Messrs”, “Melbourne”, “course”, “license” and many others. In a way, fuzzy search is like the wide angle lens on a camera. Turning the lens widens your view of the landscape including everything around you. If that’s too much to look at all at once, you need to dial back the focus, if the website you are using allows you to do that.

All historical news aggregators, such as Chronicling America, Trove, Papers Past, CDNC, as well as the pay per view news banks perform searches in slightly different ways. To make searching these sites easier and to provide a fast, federated search across all of them, Stefan Boddie and his colleagues built Elephind.com. Elephind incorporates many different digital newspaper collections and allows a user to query all of them at once. As Stefan says to Mr. Trauring, “Our goal is to make the search functions in Elephind better than those in the underlying collections like Chronicling America and Trove…” Therefore, the site is not set to conduct fuzzy search except on request.

If you would like to test out the search capabilities of Elephind and are interested in giving your feedback, I will pose the same questions Stefan asked Mr. Trauring. Do you think fuzzy search as implemented in Chronicling America is a good idea? Would it be better if searches were for exact matches by default, with some sort of “search for similar words” option the user could choose when desired? What other search features would make it easier to use these collections? Feel free to leave a reply here or contact me at Meredith@dlconsulting.com with your comments.



Genealogical Change? – No Big Deal – Ida Could Have Handled It

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During the last several weeks there has been a verbal uprising in the online genealogy community over the demise of Google Reader and the imminent demise of Ancestry.com’s “Old Search”. Hundreds if not thousands of posts on Social Media and blogs have been written about these two subjects.

I understand that people can be resistant to change, but give me a break. I had used Google Reader for a long time and after 5 minutes of research and 5 minutes of setup – I changed to Feedly and THAT major life problem was solved,

Regarding Old Search, I was a bit more reluctant because I liked it and because I had not used New Search enough to actually allay my concerns with it. So I watched a short tutorial from Ancestry.com about search and read a few things and switched over. Took a little more time and “convincing” but it was done. And everything works just fine. Again another major life crisis was averted.

Now please compare those two insignificant life changes with those that my Great Aunt Ida Mae Williams Fageol faced during her 108 years here on earth. Born in 1884, she lived until 1992. She lived through some HUGE technological and other changes and events that impacted her life – some directly and some indirectly:

  • Mass Electrification
  • Automobiles
  • Airplanes
  • Electronics
  • Radio
  • Television
  • Computers
  • Telephones
  • The Internet

She also survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake where she was displaced after her home was severely damaged. She had family members who served and fortunately survived World War I, World War II, and Vietnam.

Could Aunt Ida have handled the demise of Google Reader and Old Search? With her eyes closed and without breaking a sweat or increasing her heartbeat. And without complaint.


Elephind – One to Watch

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Since I am a newspaper researching fanatic, I am always on the lookout for new and interesting repositories and tools that might assist me with this facet of my genealogy and family history research.

Recently I became aware of a new service, provided by a company in New Zealand, that provides what I like to call a “combo” research methodology for searching multiple newspapers at one time.

I have done several YouTube videos and tutorials about navigating digital newspaper repositories and sites. They all have one thing in common – the site is dedicated more than likely to a U.S. state or Canadian province, with multiple newspapers from that geographical entity.

Elephind takes it one step further and eliminates the geographical boundary – they allow searching of several of these geographically “bounded” repositories at one time. 

Currently they have over 1,000 newspaper titles that they make available for searching. The largest two are from the National Library of Australia (Trove), and the U.S. Library of Congress (Chronicling America), and they include titles from Singapore and New Zealand, as well as other U.S, collections. Certainly you could search each of these sites individually, yet a search of all at one time might be appropriate at times.

I know I will be watching this site as it continues to grow.  If you are interested in different ways to access newspapers, you might want to also. They can be found at www.elephind.com. Also if you visit the site you will be able to discover what an elephind is!


Caution – Using Timelines to Display Your Family History

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I will be the first to admit that I am not an expert in using timelines to display ancestor events for my family history. In 2010 I became interested in incorporating a timeline in my website. So after a few hours research, I settled on xtimeline.com. I tried a few others and found xtimeline to my liking. 

Basically with xtimeline, you enter the events in your own private (or public) timeline on the xtimeline site. Then you can embed the timeline in your own site. As an example, check out my Braunhart Family Timeline.

OOPS – if you are using a smartphone, the timeline will not display. It is done in Flash, so obviously if you are on an iPhone it will not display. But I have an Android phone and it won’t display there either. This was recently discovered by me as I don’t often view my own website on my phone.

After further research, I discovered that many of the online timeline sites use Flash as well. This is not going to be a timeline site/app comparison discussion, but I have looked at Dipity, and Capzle as well as TimeToast. And there are dozens of others that are available, either for the iPhone, Android, or online via your PC – and many of them are based on Flash.

So the CAUTION is – if your timeline capability is based on Flash and you embed the timeline in your blog/website – you need to make a change – otherwise it will not be supported on mobile. Furthermore – what is the life expectancy of Flash on any platform? Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have an issue with Flash in general, but it is a technical issue as many vendors are eliminating the use of it.

So what to do? I settled on TimelineJS.  What is it?  From their website:

TimelineJS is an open-source tool that enables you to build visually-rich interactive timelines and is available in 40 languages. It can pull in media from different sources and has built in support for: Twitter, Flickr, Google Maps, YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Dailymotion, Wikipedia, SoundCloud and more media types are regularly added.

One of the things I like about it beyond the multi-media options, is that it is driven by entering data into a Google spreadsheet. I had my new timeline up and running in about 15 minutes, and after another 15 minutes of tweaks I embedded it into my website (see Braunhart Family Timeline). Fortunately xtimeline had an export capability to a .csv file so I didn’t have to retype everything. Oh I still need to populate the new timeline with photos and videos  but it is incredibly easy to do that.

So – be careful out there (to quote an old Hill Street Blues line). Check to see if the timeline on your site is supported on mobile devices. Everyone loves free – as most of these timeline apps are – but will they work long term?



If You Like Google Books – You will LOVE HathiTrust!

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This may be old hat to expert professional genealogy researchers but it is a new discovery for me and that is the HathiTrust Digital Library. It combines the best of Google Books, the Internet Archive and others into one amazing research site.

It began in 2008 as a consortium of several universities and now many institutions are jumping on board. Better yet a quote from the HathiTrust.org website:

HathiTrust began in 2008 as a collaboration of the thirteen universities of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, the University of California system, and the University of Virginia to establish a repository to archive and share their digitized collections. HathiTrust has quickly expanded to include additional partners and to provide those partners with an easy means to archive their digital content.”

The initial focus of the partnership has been on preserving and providing access to digitized book and journal content from the partner library collections. This includes both in copyright and public domain materials digitized by Google, the Internet Archive, and Microsoft, as well as through in-house initiatives. The partners aim to build a comprehensive archive of published literature from around the world and develop shared strategies for managing and developing their digital and print holdings in a collaborative way.

The primary community that HathiTrust serves are the members (faculty, students, and users) of its partners libraries, but the materials in HathiTrust are available to all to the extent permitted by law and contracts, providing the published record as a public good to users around the world.”
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In late 2012, there were over 10,000,000 volumes available.

What are the benefits?  There were two things that stood out for me immediately:

  1. Whereas Google Books often provides just a snippet of information or no preview at all of the material found in a search; with HathiTrust – on several occasions I was able to get full view and a pdf of a single page was easily downloaded (depending on copyright restrictions of course).
  2. The website interface is outstanding. Incredibly easy to use with multiple viewing, zooming options etc.

Furthermore – their FAQ and Help sections are very thorough, explaining the “how to use” hints as well as what is available for download and in great detail.

Am I a HathiTrust proponent.  Unequivocally YES! And I am still discovering more.

Give it a try – HATHITRUST.ORG


Two Terrific Free Sites for Online City Directory Research

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There are several subscription websites for researching City Directories to find your ancestors, including ancestry.com and fold3.com as just examples.

But are you aware of two free ones that are quite useful?

The first is well known, and that is Internet Archive (www.archive.org).  Just enter “city directory” with the quotes in the search box and depress the “Go” button. At the time of the publication of this post there are 1,696 results. You obviously would wish to refine the search by entering your city of interest, but it tells you that there are a lot of city directories available to you.

The second site, (Don’s List) has a far less number of directories available, approximately 10% of the Internet Archive collection, and also includes some international directories. You can find the directory links at http://www.donslist.net/PGHLookups/Dir1Win.shtml.  The international links are on the right side of the page about half way down.

I have not done a comparison to see the overlap between the two sites, but either of them are extremely useful for finding out where your ancestors lived.  And in many cases, their occupation and given name of spouse is provided, depending on the directory.

City directories are an under-appreciated form of research. Lots can be learned and if your ancestor owned a business, even more can be ascertained.

Give it a try!