Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Bernhardt Pinke

Bernhardt Pinke
July 16, 1917

Photo taken March 2009
Location: Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky

This very simple grave marker belongs to Mr. Bernhardt Pinke, a carpenter who emigrated from Germany and in 1910 was making his living as an employee of a hotel located at what was 417 Main Street in Frankfort (and also served as his residence).  On July 14th, 1917, Mr. Pinke had the misfortune of being run over by an automobile in downtown Frankfort, resulting in his death.  His grave marker lists the 16th of July as the date Mr. Pinke died, but according to his death certificate he passed on the 14th and was buried on the 16th.  It seems he had no family nearby, and little about his history is recorded on his death certificate other than he was about 68 years old at the time of his death and that he was originally from Munster, Germany.  What was known for sure, however, was the date that he died and you'd think that those in charge of providing this marker would have at least got that right.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Death of James M. Riley

When tracing a family tree, it's not often that I come across a cause of death that catches my attention as being unusual or remarkable.  In my own family history there have been drunken accidents and even a series of murders, but while recently researching my wife's family I came across one that I had never before encountered - tornado.

James M. Riley, my wife's second great-grandfather, was a farmer living in northwest Ohio in 1922 (just outside of Wapakoneta in Auglaize County, to be exact).  The day after Easter, April 17, a monumental storm began assaulting the Midwest.  Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio were devastated as a series of tornadoes carved a path of destruction stretching from Washington County in Illinois to Auglaize County in Ohio.  One particular series of tornadoes began at about 3:30 CST near Ogden, Illinois and moved east-northeast through Indiana before dissipating 210 miles later in Auglaize County - near Wapakoneta.  While these tornadoes were certainly not the most destructive in terms of lives lost and damage caused to property, they nonetheless wrecked havoc among the farms and small towns of the area.  Unfortunately, James was one of the sixteen deaths attributed to this storm.

According to his death certificate, James did not perish during the storm but was injured enough to be transported to St. Rita's Hospital in Lima, a distance of approximately twelve miles.  I can only imagine how jarring that journey must have been.  Even if James' family possessed an automobile, the farm roads would have been treacherous after a storm like that - especially considering that the trek was likely made after nightfall.  The records indicate that there was some kind of surgical operation performed on his left arm, which apparently did not go very well and contributed to James' death.  My medical vocabulary is sparse, so it's hard for me to determine exactly what that "contributing cause" might be other than a gangrenous left arm.

As tragic as this event was, it could have been considerably worse.  The eight Riley children, including my wife's great-grandfather Glenn, survived.  I personally have issues with tornadic storms, so this particular discovery has really touched a chord with me.  The things you find when you start to dig.....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Patrick J. Coleman, Jr.

Patrick Joseph Jr.
July 14, 1884
Mar. 22, 1931

Photo taken 6 March 2009
Location:  Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky

Patrick Coleman's parents, Patrick Joseph Sr. and Margaret Murphy, along with his sister Elizabeth, emigrated from the "free state" of Ireland in 1882 and settled on Steele Street in Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky.  Patrick Jr. was born there in 1884 and didn't stray far at all, living at house number 509 until his death from pneumonia in 1931.  He was a career plumber and never wed, instead sharing the family home with his parents and younger brother Lambert and his family (which included seven children).  It appears a bout with influenza brought on the pneumonia, and Patrick died at home.  He was buried two days later, on 24 March, in Frankfort Cemetery.

[1930 U.S. Census, First Ward, Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky; ED 2, sheet 6A, family 133, dwelling 144, Pat Coleman household; National Archives microfilm publication T626, roll 745]
[1920 U.S. Census, Bridge Precinct, Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky; ED 81, sheet 5B, dwelling 109, family 112, Pat Coleman household; National Archives microfilm publication T625, roll 570]
[1910 U.S. Census, Bridge Precinct, Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky; ED 44, sheet 15A, dwelling 286, family 289, Pat Coleman Sr. household; National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 476]
[1900 U.S. Census, First Magisterial District, Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky; ED 66, sheet 5, dwelling 73, family 85, Patrick Coleman household; National Archives microfilm publication T623, roll 521]
[Kentucky Dept. for Libraries and Archives, Vital Statistics Original Death Certificates - Microfilm (1911-1955); Frankfort, KY]

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Value of Obituaries

An item that can prove invaluable to a genealogist's quest, the obituary is nevertheless often overlooked.  One can find a wealth of information within these short blurbs, such as married names of female descendants, residences, occupations, church membership, etc. - each providing yet another avenue to pursue in learning all that we can about our ancestors.  Obituaries can also help solve genealogical mysteries and knock holes through a brick wall or two.

A week ago I posted about requesting some Robak obituaries from the Monroe County Historical Museum in Michigan to help tackle some outstanding issues I'm currently facing, the main one being the immigration brick wall.  In addition to the obituaries (which arrived in less than a week!!), I had requested a death certificate for great-grandfather John Robak from Monroe County.  The same day I made my request, I received a call from a very helpful woman at the County Clerk's office because there was no record of John's death in their files.  The obituary that I'd requested now had the potential of playing a role in dismantling two brick walls.

As to the first issue, the obits for John and his wife Viola did little to shed light in the immigration problem.  One of the arrival years I already had was 1906, and both of their obits echoed this fact.  Same with their country of birth, but I was able to learn that they married on September 12, 1902, when all I'd had before was a census estimate of 1903.  Unfortunately, no names of parents or siblings was given.

Significant light was shed upon the matter of John's death, however.  It turns out that John had died while visiting his daughter Rose, who's house was located just across the county line in Wayne County.  This explains why Monroe County had no record of his death, since the event actually occurred in a different county.  Not only was that mystery solved, but I was able to add several other lines to the family tree by discovering the spouses of all of John and Viola's children.

If you can find them, they're definitely a valuable source.  All that being said, they are comprised of second-hand information which can be vague and even contradict official records.  Keep that in mind.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: John Brislan

In Memory Of
John Brislan
May 19, 1800.
Mar. 6, 1876.
May he rest in peace.
Erected by thine Son.

Location: Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort, Franklin Co., Kentucky
Photo taken 23 March 2009

For my first Tombstone Tuesday contribution, and the inaugural post for this blog, I profiled the grave marker of a Ms. Hanora Canty and mentioned that in 1880 she was living with her son John's family, which included John's father-in-law James Brislan.  This week I'd like to introduce Mr. John Brislan, whose relationship to James is unclear but there is likely a familial tie of some kind.  None of the Brislans appear in the 1870 census for any county in Kentucky, or the United States for that matter.  In 1880, however, they are clearly established in Franklin County.  Jerry Brislan, a reputable 47-year-old grocer, appears likely to be the son of John who erected the monument in the photo and whose own son Jerry Jr. went on to be elected Sheriff in 1890.  Alas, I can't declare this mystery solved until more in-depth research is done.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Immigration Consternation

I find it quite frustrating that the vast physical boundary known as the Atlantic Ocean often manifests in genealogical research as an equally foreboding obstacle.  Two of the lines I'm working on for my wife's family reach the East Coast and then - vanish.  Well, it's not quite as dramatic as that, but information about them definitely dries up around the time they were to have arrived in the United States.

The Robaks, for example, are quite the enigma.  Thankfully my wife's grandfather is still with us and is more than happy to share stories of his childhood growing up an a farm in southern Michigan.  According to his recollection, the Robak family (mother, father, eldest brother) arrived in Detroit from Austria just prior to his birth in 1916.  The census records bear some of this out, showing father John as being of Polish decent born in Austria and a naturalized citizen from 1920 on.  His oldest child Walter and his wife Viola (or Valerie of Valeria, depending on the year) remain aliens until the 1930 census.  Their year of arrival is most suspect, however.  My wife's grandfather insisted it was 1916, yet in the 1910 census all three family members are counted and list the year as 1907.  In 1920 they list the year of arrival as 1909, and in 1930 it jumps back to 1906.  It seems obvious that the 1916 suggestion is erroneous, particularly when one considers that their first two children born in America have birth years of 1908 and 1912.  This fact also eliminates the year of 1909 listed on the 1920 census.  Still, what were the Robaks up to?  Were they trying to hide something, or did they truly forget when they came to America?  An internet search of immigration and naturalization records, including those of Ellis Island, has turned up absolutely nothing even remotely related to the three immigrant Robaks.  Thanks to Chris Kull, Archivist for the Monroe County Historical Museum in Michigan, I was able to find obituaries for John, Viola, and Paul (a son).  A request for copies has been sent, in which I hope to find more clues about the Robaks' arrival in the United States.  The next step is, I suppose, firing off $20 for a USCIS index search and, if they get a hit, another $20 for the record.

The other family that is giving me fits is the Riley family.  Whereas the Robaks are early 20th-century immigrants, the Rileys take things back to the mid 19th-century and the Irish diaspora.  Beginning with the 1860 census, the Riley family of Christopher and Bridget are fixtures in Urbana, Ohio.  Both Christopher and Bridget consistently list their origins as Ireland. Their first child, Mary, was born in Ohio in 1859 and that is the first record we have of them in America.  In 1860, Christopher's mother Bridget (born in Ireland in 1799) is living with them, so that gives us two ancestors to search for in naturalization and immigration records.  Like the Robaks, however, nothing can be found.  Unfortunately, both Christopher and Bridget (as well as Christopher's mother) are gone before the census questions regarding year of arrival are asked.  Christopher was born in 1831, so basically I am stuck with a considerably large range of twenty-eight years to sift through.  I've not yet exhausted my options when it comes to the Rileys.  I have the date that Christopher passed away, as well as the location of his grave, so perhaps something in his death and burial records will shed some light on the situation.  Assuming, of course, that his records still exist somewhere in Champaign County or the state archives.

With the amount of records kept regarding arriving immigrants, I find it remarkable that actually discovering information pertaining to specific ancestors is a considerable challenge.  I suppose it speaks to the sheer number of people arriving that so many immigrants went uncounted and unrecorded, frustrating genealogists generations later.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Ellen Callahan

Wife of
Michael Callahan
Born 1806 in Co. Cork
Died Jan. 2 1880
Rest in peace

Location: Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky
Photo taken:  March 2009

Ellen Callahan is, unfortunately, largely anonymous to history.  While no Ellen, married to Michael, can be found living in Franklin County around 1880, there is such a family recorded in Owenton, Owen County, as far back as 1850.  While it's not impossible that Ellen would have been buried in the (at that time) new State Cemetery at Frankfort - 30 miles distant from her home - it does seem unlikely.  The fact that the Ellen in Owenton lists her age such that a birth year of 1810 seems more reasonable than 1806 further lessens the likelihood that this is indeed her resting place.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Brick Wall: James McGregor

I've recently begun researching my wife's ancestry and it didn't take very log at all before I encountered my first, and very formidable, brick wall.  At issue is the origin of her paternal great-great-grandfather, James McGregor of Macon County, Missouri.  Through online research I've been able to learn a great deal about James, such as his marriage to Ida "Giddie" Calhoun and his death in 1914 which left his three young children (the oldest of which, my wife's great-grandfather, was only 15) orphaned.  He's a steady fixture in Macon County from 1880, according to census records, but it's the time from his birth in 1858 until that first census appearance that has me scratching my head.

Family lore has always held that James was an orphan, and that fact is confirmed on his death certificate.  James' father-in-law, Pleasant Calhoun, is listed as the informer on the certificate and notes that James was orphaned in infancy, an event which occurred in Pennsylvania.  This is also circumstantially backed up in the census records as James' story about where his parents were born varies from year to year.  For example, in 1880 he declares that they were both born in Pennsylvania.  In 1900, however, he states that his father was born in Scotland and his mother originated from Ireland.  The census for 1910 displays a slight alteration to the story, with his mother now being from England.

A pretty exhaustive search of census records from 1860 and 1870 has yielded no match for James McGregor, or any name remotely similar, with a birth year of 1858.  So how, if he truly was born in Pennsylvania, did he reach Missouri twenty-two years later?  When he first appears in 1880, he's a boarder in the home of an elderly couple named Linn.  No other McGregors are listed in the county, so a familial tie is very unlikely.  Enter the Orphan Trains as a possibility, then.  I fired off an email to Shirley Andrews, the Missouri contact for the National Orphan Train Complex, asking for more information of the resources available to those who think they may have had an ancestor who was a rider.  After all, several hundred thousand children from eastern cities moved west as part of this phenomena.  Shirley very quickly replied to my inquiry, though she couldn't locate James among her records.  She did, however, have some great suggestions, such as perusing the local newspapers from the period since many Orphan Train arrivals were mentioned in the press.  An interesting side note to my theory is that, in the 1870 census, there is a James Smith living with a Gordon family in Macon County.  This James was born about 1856 in Pennsylvania and is listed as a "domestic servant".  Many Orphan Train riders weren't adopted, but were taken in as laborers, farmhands, and servants.  Could this James and my James be one and the same?  Intriguing.

So what are my next steps?  Thanks to the great information on the website of the Macon County Genealogical Society I was able to ascertain that James' will and probate records still exist at the county courthouse.  I've sent away for copies in the hope that some clue to James' early years might be found there.  The State Historical Society of Missouri has a great collection of newspapers on microfilm that contains many Macon County editions from the 1870s.  They participate in the Inter-Library Loan program, but my local library refuses to accommodate requests for microfilm.  Hopefully the Kentucky Historical Society's Martin F. Schmidt Research Library can help me to get my hands on these reels.  One way or another, I am going to scour through those newspapers!

I'll keep you posted.