Feb 10, 2011 - Follow Friday    No Comments

Follow Friday: Virginia Genealogy Records Requests

How I wish I could pick up and go whenever there’s a genealogical record I want to look for Down South. As I’ve previously mentioned, I have roots in South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. With no teleportation device, I manage. In fact, I’ve been using the next best thing for one state: Virginia Genealogy Records Requests, which is run by Beth Bond.

Over the past three years, Beth’s help has been invaluable in finding old marriage and death records from the Library of Virginia that pertain to my ancestors. Her services are prompt, affordable and professional. In addition, Beth goes the extra mile by keeping you in the loop via e-mail during her record searching, in case there’s a detail you overlooked providing (to narrow down the name(s) you are seeking). If any documents are found, they are photocopied and mailed to you.

Beth will search for the following records, according to her website:

Va. death certificates, 1912-1939

Marriage records, 1853-1935

Va. obits, 1900-2010

Richmond death certificates, 1870-1912

Richmond & Norfolk interment cards

Virginia old birth records, 1853-1896 (there is an index, not all births reported)

Virginia old death records, 1853-1896 (no completed index yet, only about half of these deaths were reported)

Virginia census records, 1810-1930

Marriage notices & obits which are listed in the Henley database on LVA’s website


Feel free to contact Beth at deliaesther2@yahoo.com, or check out Virginia Genealogy Records Searches’ Facebook page.


Feb 8, 2011 - Tech Tuesday    No Comments

Tech Tuesday: The Flip-Pal

Back in December, I learned of a mobile scanning device known as the Flip-Pal–thanks to Cyndi’s List!  

I wanted the ease and convenience of being able to scan at a moment’s notice, especially when visiting relatives with old photos who might be leery of letting their treasured pictures leave their homes.

I was lucky to get a Flip-Pal as a Christmas gift, and it has been a great help in making the scanning process less tedious and more seamless.

(Check out this demo video. Or follow on Facebook.)

What I love about this portable gadget is that it’ll scan those photos that are too delicate, or stuck, to pull out of an album.

Another great feature is that you can scan a large (greater than 4×6) item, in parts, then “stitch” all the separate images together on your computer.

Flip-Pal, I celebrate you.

Feb 4, 2011 - News    1 Comment

Counting Down to the Release of the 1940 Census

Today, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)  tweeted that Elvis Presley, who was born in 1935, can be found in the 1940 census.

That only got me all shook up again for next year’s big reveal, the release of the 1940 census on April 2. The NARA website features a helpful counter to track the release date, and census research tips.

Studying an old census is like looking at a snapshot of a family unit at a certain moment in time.  And that annoying 72-year privacy law regarding the public inspection of personal census data requires patience, especially for a researcher with nothing but good, genealogical intentions.

Think about it: The family historian will have to wait until 2082 to catch you listed on the 2010 census, which is only 18 years away from the year 2100.

Since 1790, every census has offered different information over the decades. The 1940 census is no different. I am most looking forward to the responses to questions about a person’s income, residence in 1935, highest grade of school completed, and Social Security.

Feb 3, 2011 - Thankful Thursday    2 Comments

Thankful Thursday: The Coal Mining Branch

The brick wall is a seriously frustrating piece of architecture. I have a few that I’m presently trying to chisel away. But there’s one that got tumbled by an awesome researcher a few years ago. I would like to thank Laten Bechtel for the magnificent lead she gave us.

A branch of my family tree from Augusta, Va., seemed to vanish after the 1880 census. I wasn’t able to locate my great-great-grandmother Alice’s siblings. I couldn’t track her sisters definitively (since I didn’t know if they had married), and her brothers didn’t show up anywhere…or that’s what I thought.

After getting Laten’s help, we discovered that one of those siblings, Cassius (aka Cass/Cassie), relocated to Fayette County, Pa., in the late 1890s and worked in the coal mining industry. Many blacks came to work in the coal mines due to the labor shortage or to break strikes.  Cassius had a wife, Mary, and two children, Hobart and Sarah Virginia. We were able to acquire Cassius’ Pennsylvania marriage record from 1899 to Mary, which confirmed his identity. We also discovered that his nephew William Henry left Virginia for the Pennsylvania coal mines, too, working as a fireman*. William got married to a Frances. The men worked for the Eberly Coke and Coal Co., and the Frick Coal Co. 

But it gets better! Thanks to Ruth Sprowls, a researcher from Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, she found Cassius’ 1938 obituary in the Daily Courier newspaper from Connellsville, Pa.

That whet my appetite for more old articles. When I saw that newspaperarchive.com had issues for the Daily Courier and other Connellsville-area newspapers, I had to subscribe.

I hit the information mother lode on this coal mining family! I found obits for Mary, William and Frances, and their relatives. In addition, I learned that Cassius and his wife were active members of Mount Zion Baptist Church, based on articles mentioning church activities. There are even mentions of their children, like the 1918 listing below of males who registered during the WWI draft. Hobart shows up in the third column (and I made sure to check out his draft registration card on Ancestry.com).

Sarah’s name appears in a 1918 listing of all the eighth graders who passed their high school entrance exam, and in articles on the reunions of Dunbar Township High School’s Class of 1922, where she is listed among the memorialized classmates. So far, I haven’t been able to track down a yearbook.

As luck would have it, in turning up all this great information, I hit a new brick wall. My next mystery to crack in this specific branch is: WHO IS THE GRANDSON OF CASSIUS AND MARY? He is named in Mary’s 1963 obituary, living in Chicago. I don’t know if Sarah is his mother — or if he’s Hobart’s son. I also don’t know when or where this grandson was born. I’m hoping that he turns up in the 1940 census. It would be amazing if I could find him living today.

*Here is some fascinating background information that I got from Pamela Seighman, former curator at the Coal and Coke Heritage Center in Uniontown, Pa. I provided her with details about William Henry’s job and employer that I got from his WWI draft card.

A fireman worked in the boiler house where coal was transformed into steam used to produce electricity in the power house. That means [William Henry] didn’t work underground, rather he worked above ground at the mine site. The boiler house was usually a brick building that housed steam engines that powered the steel hoisting cable attached to the cages or elevators that took men, horses and supplies underground and brought the coal wagons to the surface. The steam was also used to operate motors used throughout the mine complex.The steam was produced from boilers fueled by coal that was mined at the site. William Henry’s job was to shovel coal into the boilers, a job known as a fireman. As you can imagine, it was a hard, dirty and laborious job. He’s listed as being employed at Continental #3/Newcomer, located in Georges Twp, Fayette County and owned by H.C. Frick Coke Company. This was a very large mine complex, in 1917, Continental #3/Newcomer employed 117 men working inside the mine, (and probably another 100 or so working outside) and produced 223,594 tons of coal (5,283 of that was used for steam and heat production). They mined the Pittsburgh vein, almost 8 ft. in thickness and known as the richest coking coal in the world. There were 330 coke ovens also at the mine site.

A few interesting websites to check out are the Coal and Coke Heritage Center (CCHC),  the African American Coal Mining Information Center, and this Fayette County, Pennsylvania coal mine index.
Feb 1, 2011 - News    1 Comment

Tuning in to Family History

This Friday is the season premiere of NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” The show began last March and features celebrities finding out about their roots with the help of experts and Ancestry.com. If you missed season one, NBC.com is streaming all seven episodes until Saturday (featuring Sarah Jessica Parker, Emmitt Smith, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Broderick, Brooke Shields, Susan Sarandon, and Spike Lee).

I can’t get enough of the emotions and the goosebumps, vicariously enjoying the revelations of each person’s episode. I applaud executive producer Lisa Kudrow, et. al., for promoting the benefits and marvels of genealogy. This season of “WDYTYA?” will feature Vanessa Williams, Ashley Judd, Kim Cattrall, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rosie O’Donnell, Tim McGraw, Lionel Richie, and Steve Buscemi.

Here are some other genealogy-related TV programs that you should add to your must-see list.

This four-part documentary, hosted by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., explores the family histories of Oprah Winfrey, Chris Tucker, Quincy Jones, Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Dr. Mae Jemison, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Dr. Ben Carson, and Whoopi Goldberg.

Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. hosts this next four-part documentary, which features Linda Johnson Rice, Don Cheadle, Chris Rock, Tom Joyner, Peter Gomes, Maya Angelou, Morgan Freeman, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Tina Turner, Kathleen Henderson, and Bliss Broyard.

Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s most recent genealogical program explored Americans of  diverse backgrounds: Elizabeth Alexander, Mario Batali, Stephen Colbert, Louise Erdrich, Malcolm Gladwell, Eva Longoria, Yo-Yo Ma, Queen Noor, Mike Nichols, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Meryl Streep, and Kristi Yamaguchi.

Journalist David Wilson (managing editor and founder of theGrio.com) traces his roots back to the North Carolina plantation where his ancestors were enslaved and meets a man who descends from the family who had owned Wilson’s relatives. In addition, he makes an emotional visit to Ghana after DNA testing  reveals his genetic origins.

Jan 28, 2011 - How-To's    3 Comments

Searching for Your Roots

Tomorrow is the 34th anniversary of the finale of Roots, the 12-hour miniseries based on Alex Haley’s Pulitzer-prize winning book of the same name. According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, Roots “scored higher ratings than any previous entertainment program in history,” with millions of U.S. households captivated by Haley’s story of the African-American experience.

I can remember being small, sitting in front of the television with my family as they tuned in to the historic program. At 1 1/2 years old, I was too young to comprehend its significance, but as kids often imitate what they see, I recall going down to the basement of our Brooklyn home to get my blue, plastic toy penguin. I wanted to re-create a scene that felt magical to me—the only one that stayed with me for years before I revisited the miniseries with an adult perspective. I held that toy above my head, just as Kunta Kinte held his infant Kizzy to the sky, and proclaimed, “Blue baby, blue.” In toddler-speak, that meant, “Behold, the only thing greater than yourself.” But naturally, eloquence escaped me at the time.

I wasn’t the only individual touched by Roots. It helped to awaken a consciousness in many black people, who began to want even more knowledge about their ties to the African continent. However, one’s specific African origins were hard to pinpoint, due to the harsh realities of slavery and the erasure of culture and heritage of the enslaved Africans who came against their will to new lands.

Today, that mystery is no more. Many companies provide DNA testing kits, which allow an individual to match his or her genetic makeup against databases of various races and ethnicities. One such company, African Ancestry was featured in 2006 on PBS’ African American Lives, hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. (African American Lives 2 aired in 2008).

Using this company’s services, cheek swabs from my father gave the clues to the DNA of the paternal line from which he descends. (A brother, uncle, or male cousin would’ve provided the same results).

In about six weeks, African Ancestry sent a package with in-depth data on various ethnic groups of Africa, a certificate, etc. The enclosed letter announced:

It is with pleasure that I report that our PatriClanTM analysis successfully identified your paternal genetic ancestry. The Y chromosome DNA that we determined from your sample shares ancestry with people living in two countries today: the Igbo people in Nigeria and the Mbundu people in Angola. While these groups may differ socially and culturally, there are people within them who share a common genetic ancestry.

Generations back in Jamaica, family lore spoke of an Ashanti princess in our lineage, but the DNA results did not mention Ghana. It doesn’t mean that we should rule out that oral tradition, however. I wonder if an Ashanti ancestry could’ve possibly been reflected in a matrilineal analysis.

For my own maternal line, my aunt sent in her cheek swabs to African Ancestry, and the results were the Kru people of Liberia, and the Mende people of Sierra Leone.

It is a wonderful thing to have this knowledge now. For those of you curious about other parts of your genetic makeup, here are some ideas you could explore:

Ancestry.com DNA Test: http://dna.ancestry.com/buyKitGoals.aspx

23andMe: https://www.23andme.com/ancestry/origins/

DNA Tribes Genetic Ancestry Analysis: http://www.dnatribes.com/

“My fondest hope is that Roots may start black, white, brown, red, and yellow people digging back for their own roots,” Haley said in an interview printed in the January 1977 issue of Playboy. Haley, who died in 1992, would be thrilled that his dream has been realized.