Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Stehley? Staley? Staly? Google tricks for variant spellings.

I have a 3rd great grandfather by the name of Gottlieb Stahley.  This is the kind of name that can give a genealogist agita.  There are probably a dozen different ways to spell both his first and last names.  Most genealogy sites have a wildcard function that eases the pain somewhat.  But what if you are searching on Google?  Well, the trick I use is to run a search like this:

Gottlieb|Gotlieb|Godlieb|Gottleib|Gotleib|Godleib Stehley|Stahley|Stehly|Stahly|Staley|Staly

The pipes mean "or," so the above string will find every combination of the listed names...thirty-six in all.  I don't have time to run thirty-six separate Google searches, so this is a great little shortcut.

By the way, this particular search helped me break through a huge brick wall.  I found Gottlieb in a list of headstone transcriptions, which further yielded a bonanza of information on that branch of my family

Friday, June 22, 2012

Old World origins

One of the things I really love to do is find ways to visualize data.  I do this for mundane things in my everyday life, and this compulsion has carried over to my work in genealogy.  Recently I decided to make a table of my ancestral origins.  This is the result:

Country Region City Surname(s) Immigrant(s) Date %
Italy Calabria Gioiosa Ionica Loccisano, Sfara Vincent Loccisano 1939 25.0%
Italy Calabria Cardinale De Fazio, Rotiroti Elizabeth De Fazio 1926 25.0%
Germany Hesse Angersbach Miller/Möller, Eifert Conrad Miller & Maria Eifert 1882-1887 12.5%
Germany Prussia, Posen Pogorzela Pritz, Zuelke Louis Pritz 1892 12.5%
United States NJ/PA Phillipsburg/ Easton Sauder, Barnett 5.5%
United States PA North Whitehall Mertz, Boyer, Klotz 4.7%
United States PA Lynn Schmidt, unk. 3.5%
Germany Württemberg Gerard Catherine Gerard 1816 3.1%
Germany Palatinate Dielkirchen Benner, Stoller Valentine Benner 1856 3.1%
Germany Württemberg Stehley/Stähle Jacob Stehley 1814 1.6%
Germany Moyer/Meyer Wilhelm Meyer 1740-1760 1.2%
Germany Trittenbach/ Drittenbach Johann Michael Drittenbach 1749 0.8%
United States PA Heidelberg Delong 0.8%
Germany Alsace Oberbetchdorf Kressley/ Grässel Jacob Grässel 1754 0.4%
Germany Palatinate Neff Anna Neff 1730-1760 0.4%

My goal here was to account for every immigration event in my family tree, and to determine the percentage of my ancestry tied to each event.  Of course I couldn't pin down every immigrant, so I simply listed the U.S. region of the relevant family branch.

So I am 50% Italian.  I've traced about 35% of my ancestors to Germany, or at least to areas that were culturally German, via nine separate immigration events, which I think is amazing.  The remaining 15% of my heritage is unaccounted for, but based on last names and locations in eastern Pa., I suspect it is mostly German as well.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Finding ancestors in online newspaper archives

One of the earliest stories my dad shared about our ancestors was that my 2nd great grandfather was a railroad engineer who died in a train wreck. My dad loved trains so I think this story particularly resonated with him. The upshot of such a sensational death is that the story is easy to find in newspapers.

Nathan D. Moyer (b. 1849, Lynn, PA) was the youngest child of Peter Moyer and Catherine Girard. As a teenager he got a job with the Jersey Central Railroad and would eventually become the oldest engineer on the line. On the morning of 9 October 1909, the air thick with fog, his train collided with another near Siegfried Station in Northampton, PA. The engineers of both trains were killed. Dramatic, yes, and made more dramatic when some bulls being carried by one of the trains escaped and gored two women.

My dad had a copy of the story from The Globe (Bethlehem, PA), which is the longest news article I have found on the matter, clocking in at 700 words or so. But some quick Google searches revealed the story was reported far and wide, even warranting a blurb in the New York Times. The best part is that, while searching online for articles about Nathan Moyer's death, I stumbled on some remarkable stories concerning his life.

Nathan D. Moyer, of Bethlehem, an engineer employed on the Bath division of the Central railroad, has had several experiences within the past few days which show of what kind of stuff men are made. The other afternoon, while going along tho road at a lively rate, between Bangor Junction and the Bangor Superior quarry, he noticed an object lying on the track between the rails. He quickly applied the brakes and by using every effort succeeded in bringing tho train to a standstill within a few feet of the object. Running ahead it was found that tho object on the rails was a five-year-old boy fast asleep. On Saturday last by a similar effort he stopped his train in time to save an old woman and a girl who were driving over the tracks.An 1898 article in The Scranton Tribune, included at left, recounts two incidents in which Nathan's quick thinking saved lives. Within the span of a week, he twice prevented his engine from running over people: first a small boy, then an old woman and a girl.

Nathan wasn't always so lucky, however. The next year, in 1899, The Easton Free Press reported that Nathan's train ran over a man on the tracks. It appeared to Nathan that the man deliberately knelt on the rails, making it a possible suicide.

Decades earlier, in 1876, a report on internal affairs for the state of Pennsylvania listed railroad accidents. The relevant text reads, "Cornelius Brown, stealing a ride on a coal train; jumped from the train while in motion, and had one leg crushed below the knee. -- Nathan Moyer, engineer; Edward Murta, conductor."

I'm glad I availed myself of these online newspaper/book archives. It has helped provide a clearer picture of my ancestor's life and profession.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thanks, Dad, for the inspiration

My dad was an avid genealogist.  It was a lifelong passion for him.  He would often take trips to cemeteries to photograph the gravestones of long-dead relatives, and at he attended family reunions with pen, paper, and a lot of questions.

Once, when I was fairly young, he showed me a hand-drawn pedigree chart--my ancestors, carefully arranged on a piece of paper.  I remember being keenly interested as he told me some of their stories.  But the genealogy bug never quite bit me like it had bitten my dad.  I was always peripherally interested in his progress over the years, regularly asking him how he was coming with the family history.  I listened intently to all his new discoveries and enjoyed pouring over the various descendant charts he printed out.  But genealogy was always his hobby, not mine.

Dad died on May 26, 2011.  He was quite young, and it was very unexpected.  During the weeks that followed, my thoughts kept returning to our family history--my father’s legacy.  I knew that I would be the one to preserve all his work.  It wasn’t so much a decision as it was a simple fact.  Still, I was somewhat daunted.

Sometime over that summer I worked up the courage to log into his account (thankfully, Dad was never one for imaginitive passwords).  The next few months were some of the most amazing of my life.  Browsing the family tree and piecing together the steps my dad had taken was a wonderful, eye-opening experience.  I had finally been bitten by the genealogy bug.

And so, genealogy became one of the many gifts my dad gave to me.

It’s been about a year now, and I feel like I’ve grown somewhat from a credulous newbie, unquestioningly accepting every possible lead as fact, into a hardened skeptic, making tentative hypotheses and seeking documentation.  I still have a lot to learn, though, and I decided that starting a blog is a good way both to organize my thoughts and find others who are researching my ancestors.