Wednesday, March 30, 2016

An Adventure in Researching Birth Records

At the beginning of the year, I mentioned that one of my goals for 2016 was to work on my MASON family surname. And one of the first items on my "to-do" list for the MASONS research was to organize the information. This is a great way to discover what information is missing.

After organizing my files, I quickly discovered that a LOT of documentation was missing for some of my closest relatives. The birth, marriage & death dates were listed. But no documentation. This was because I couldn't afford the price of obtaining the documents for collateral lines, cousins, aunts and uncles. Until more recently.

No, I did not get a huge raise at the library, win the lottery, or inherit a fortune. It is just that a lot more information is more available. Ancestry Library Edition and helped fill in some of the gaps. But some of the information was too recent to be available online, for privacy reasons. Specifically, I was looking for the birth certificates for my mother's siblings; two brothers and one sister.

Luckily, here in Ohio you can obtain birth certificates for anyone born in Ohio after 1908 from your local health department. A certified copy costs $22. But, if you don't need a certified copy, and I didn't, you can request to see the certificate and then take a picture of it!

Example of a certified birth certificate.
Example of an "uncertified" Ohio birth certificate.
Look at all the information that is left off the certified copy!

So armed with their three names, dates of birth, places of birth and their parents names, I headed over to the Medina County Health Department on Ledgewood Drive (right next to WalMart).

Medina County Health Department, 4800 Ledgewood Drive, Medina.

The clerks in the Vital Statistics division of the Health Department are always very friendly and helpful. When you fill out the paperwork to request to see the copy of a birth certificate, write "For Genealogical Purposes" across the top. The clerks then know to not make a certified copy, but to just print it out. In Medina, they stamp "View Only" across the copy.

However, they could only find one of the birth certificates. The one for my Mom's younger brother, Charlie. They couldn't find the certificates for John Jr. nor Dixie. After their mother died, Dixie had been adopted by a family named Roberts. The clerk said I would have to know the adoptive mother's name to find her certificate. But John?  Why wasn't his certificate showing?

In certain places and times, compliance with the law to register births wasn't consistently followed. But during the 1930's compliance in Ohio was pretty complete, even in the cases of home births. Both my mother and Uncle Charlie had been born at home.

Elated at having at least one of the certificates, I went home to review my files to see if there was a piece of information missing that might help locate Uncle John's birth certificate. In all of the siblings' files was a printout from Ancestry Library Edition for the Ohio birth indexes. Uncle John's printout listed a file number. I checked Uncle Charlie's printout with the picture of the certificate and noticed the certificate number and file number were nearly identical!

Now armed with the certificate number, I made another trip to the Health Department. BINGO! They easily found Uncle John's certificate. Perplexed as to why it did not show up during the first search, the clerk looked in the index and found that he was indexed under the name Raymond Sherwood Mason, instead of John Sherwood Mason, Jr.!  Bizarre!

If not for the persistence of the clerk and myself, and using multiple sources, we wouldn't have found it!

Oh, and the clerk promised to fix the index.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Family Treasures

The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family's Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis by Simon Goodman. 

One of the wonderful  benefits of working at a public library is finding and sharing all of the really great books. My co-worker, Cheryl, recommended this book to me and for that, I thank her!


From the topic, Nazi confiscation of artwork from Jewish citizens during World War II, I was skeptical about how "readable" the book would be. I am not a Holocaust scholar, and am often intimidated by the horror of the topic. Nor am I any kind of art expert. I had one Art History class in college that I did manage to pass, over 30 years ago! I have been fortunate enough to visit several major art museums (Cleveland, New York, Florence, Venice) and stand open-mouthed in front of some truly incredible masterpieces. But I didn't think that would get me through this book.

But I was wrong! Within the first pages, I was captivated  by the author's easy, warm, almost casual style. 300+ pages and I couldn't put it down. 

It is the story of Simon and Nick Goodman, who received boxes and boxes of paperwork after their father died. Their father, Bernard, was a quiet, perhaps depressed, man who didn't connect with his sons. Living in England while growing up, the sons would often accompany Bernard on his trips to Europe. They always assumed that the trips were connected with their father's work as a travel agent. Only when they were teens did the boys learn that their grandparents were victims of the Holocaust.

Without telling you the whole story, know that the author carries you along as the men rediscover their father in the boxes of paperwork that contained his painstaking research and efforts to recover the family's stolen artwork. They encounter personal connections to the coldness and brutality of the Nazi preoccupation with stealing the great art of all of Europe. Throughout the 90's, they suffer when governments, museums, and art collectors refuse to acknowledge that art in their possession was stolen during World War II from the Goodman/Gutmann family. We celebrate along with them when a turning point comes, records open up, compassion prevails, and they are able to start recovering their family's art treasures.

But this excerpt is why I wanted to share this book with you. It appears on the very last page of the book:

"As I embarked on this quest to find my family's lost treasures, a solution to my underlying grief emerged. The more I traced our hidden artworks, the more my family's buried history resurfaced. As I placed yet one more piece of the shattered jigsaw puzzle back together, the lost lives became tangible once more. With each piece came a little renewed pride. Today I am comforted by knowing my place in all this. I no longer suffer from an isolation of rootlessness. My roots are deep and wide, with ancestors that go back many centuries and relatives on four continents."

These words are true for all of us who research our family's history. The treasures we are searching for aren't gold or silver. They are the family Bible, the needlework sampler, the military records and wills of our ancestors. They reconnect us to our ancestors in the same way. All of roots are "deep and wide" if we look for them.

Simon Goodman, author, with his family's Orpheus Clock
If you were a fan of the movies, Monuments Men or The Woman in Gold, or the books, My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past or 
The Family: A Journey into the Heart of the Twentieth Century you will enjoy this book.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Robert Whipp

Whipp's Ledges of the Cleveland Metroparks near Hinckley.
Named for Robert Whipp.

Most Medinians, indeed, most residents of northeast Ohio, have at least heard of Whipps Ledges in the Hinckley Metroparks. Many have clambered over the rocks and ledges. Some more adventurous types have climbed the cliffs. But how many of them know the story of Robert Whipp for whom the Ledges are named?

Robert Whipp was born in Lancashire England around 1822. He came to Ohio around 1852. It is said that while in England, he lost a herd of cattle due to disease and that is why he came to America. He worked for someone for a few years, but soon he was on his own again.

Robert Whipp

In 1854 he married a widow, Mrs. Mehitable Waite in Medina County. In the 1860 Census, she is 12 years older than Robert. Apparently, the couple never had children. While Robert registered for the draft during the U.S. Civil War, there is no indication that he ever served. Robert was again dealing in cattle and investing in real estate.

By the 1870 Census, his real estate was valued at $47,900! His personal property $7,200. A wealthy man by the standards of the day.

On July 27th 1876, his wife, Mehitable died. Things went sour after that.

He had a housekeeper named Mrs. Spensley. She had a young widowed daughter, Rachel Kuder. She was just 24 years old, to Robert's 55. He asked her to marry him, but then stood her up at the altar. Twice. But as they used to say, Rachel was "in a delicate condition" and threatened to ruin him if he didn't do right by her. So on August 13, 1877 the couple were married.

From the start, they both knew that they had made a bad marriage. Rachel was confiding that she only married Robert for his money. Robert was threatening divorce.

You wouldn't think that things could get much worse, but they quickly did. In the early morning hours of 15 September, Robert awoke to the smell of chloroform in his bedroom. There were two men in the room and they quickly tried to put a rope around Robert's neck. From the voices, he recognized one of the men as his brother-in-law, Lonsdale Spensley. Robert fought them off and ran into the night to one of the neighbor's farms where the authorities were notified. Spensley was quickly arrested.

By October, indictments were handed down against Lonsdale Spensley, Rachel Whipp and Alfred Taylor for assault with intent to kill. The plan had been to chloroform Robert and then hang him by the neck with the rope, hoping to make it look like a suicide.

The trial started in January of 1878 and was quite sensational. Alfred Taylor asked for and was granted a separate trial from Rachel and Spensley. The trial last for 11 days. The jury decided they were guilty.

The judge sentenced them both, Rachel & her brother, Lonsdale, to seven years in the penitentiary.

Rachel pleaded with Whipp to visit her in jail before she left. He went to see her, asking if she understood that her current circumstances were all of her own doing, that he was not responsible for her being in jail. She ignored his questions and crying uncontrollably, she asked him to use his influence to make sure she didn't go to the pen. Robert replied there was nothing he could do now.

In February of 1878, while serving her time in the penitentiary, Rachel gave birth to a son, named Eddie.

Meantime, Robert filed for divorce in May of 1878 and it was granted in September of that year.

From these two articles we know that Rachel spent a little over one year in prison:

Medina County Gazette 3 January 1879 p. 2

Medina County Gazette 3 January 1879, p. 7

In the 1880 Census, Rachel is living with her mother in Granger Township with her young son, Edward Whipp.

In 1881, Rachel, now divorced and free from prison, married Alfred Taylor. Alfred had successfully petitioned for a change of venue to Lorain County. His case was thrown out by the Lorain Courts in November of 1878. Perhaps this information influenced the governor to pardon Rachel?

Robert Whipp continued to deal in cattle and be involved in small legal claims with his neighbors.

He died September 24, 1890 after years of sickness, dying blind, helpless, and cared for by his hired hand.

Robert had made out his will in August of 1878. It went into probate in October of 1890. The will makes no mention of Rachel's child that was born in February of 1878. But the probate record does list Eddie Taylor "otherwise known as Eddie Whipp" as his son!

(The Library's resources do not reveal the amount, if any, of Robert's estate young Eddie inherited.)

Ancestry Library Edition
History of Medina County and Ohio (1881) Baskin & Battey, pp. 616-617.
Medina County Gazette
-- 5 Jan. 1877 p. 8
-- 21 Sep. 1877 p. 1
-- 5 Oct. 1877 p. 5
--18 Jan. 1878 p. 1
-- 25 Jan 1878 p. 1
-- 1 Feb 1878 p. 4
-- 8 Feb. 1878 p. 2
-- 26 Apr. 1878 p. 4
-- 24 May 1878 p. 7
-- 3 Jun 1881 p. 3
-- 3 Oct. 1890 p. 1

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Using Maps in Your Genealogical Research

Have you been using maps in your genealogical research? Hopefully, your answer was a resounding "Yes!" If it wasn't, it will be after you read this blog!

One of the most basic uses of maps is to show the location of a place in relationship to other places. For example, most Americans' knowledge of English geography is limited, so when saying that my TAGG ancestors emigrated from Kettering, Northamptonshire, England, I include a map that shows Kettering's distance from and location in relationship to London, England.

A map like this one gives relative distance to other major cities and general location within the country. From this we learn that Kettering is not on the coast and not very near London.

Maps showing boundary changes.

Another important use of maps is to show boundary changes. The above map shows some of the major boundary changes in 20th century Europe. You have to know what the place was called and who ruled it to find the records of your ancestors. Last fall, we learned that many of the Slovakia records from the 1800's are in Hungarian, because that is who ruled the area for most of that century.

Boundary Changes for Medina County 1800-1840

1810 Medina County exists but is
administered by Portage County
1800 Medina County doesn't exist

1820 - Medina is very rectangular!
Starting 1818, they administered themselves
1830 - Medina County lost western land to
newly formed Lorain County

1840 - Medina lost eastern lands to
newly formed Summit County.

Above image excerpts taken from Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses 1790-1920 by William Thorndale and William Dollarhide. Keep boundary changes in mind when looking for family records.

Maps can help illustrate how our ancestors moved from one place to another. I used a modified version of the map below to show how my TAGG ancestors got from the piers of New York Harbor, to Rootstown, Portage County, Ohio via the canal systems of the 1830's. Such visual aids helps us to understand the hardships they might have encountered on the way as well as when we find a couple's children born in multiple states, along the migration route.

From the FamilySearch website:

Maps can also show how an area changes over time. Just think about the changes in streets and housing developments you have witnessed in your lifetime.

 A local example is the creation of Reagan Parkway, linking Route 3 on the northeast of the city, with Marks Road on the northwest. 30 years ago, this street didn't exist. The Elsie Northrup school didn't exist. Jefferson Street did not extend to Stonegate Drive, which also didn't exist.

How many of you remember when the area that is the KMart Plaza was just open fields?  All of these changes would be reflected in maps of the area.

1981 Map for Medina. Location of Reagan Parkway is marked in red dashes
Notice how little development is in the area

2009 Map of Medina with Reagan Parkway highlighted in yellow.
Look at all the development!!

Topographical maps show landscape features and can explain ancestor's behaviors and occupation. If an ancestor lived near a major river, it is understandable if he appears as a stevedore in the census records.

This detail of a tropographic map of Gallia County, Ohio, shows the hilly terrain where my ancestors had farms. With this information, I understand why their farms emphasized cattle and sheep and not grain farms. The creek running left to right in the middle of the picture is called Williams Creek after my 3X great grandfather, John Williams.

This detail from the 1885 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps shows the intersection of Washington and Broadway in the city of Medina. Notice the "dwelling" at the corner. These maps can show how close different structures and often show materials used, for the purposes of insurance...

Notice in this detail from the 1932-1940 Fire Insurance Maps, that now, the Franklin Sylvester Library occupies that spot.

If your ancestor participated in military engagements, maps illustrate their involvment in time periods lacking any photographic evidence.

This map shows Fort Montgomery, New York. My ancestor Christian Young served here during the Revolutionary War. He helped construct the Chevron-de-Frise, shown as "chain" in the map, across the Hudson River. It was a failed attempt to keep the British from sailing up the Hudson. The American forces, holding Ft. Montgomery were attacked by the British, simultaneously from ships in the Hudson and nearby Fort Clinton. The Americans escaped on foot across the rough terrain into the nearby woods.

Plat maps and atlases can show land ownership. County atlases, directories and plat maps can show land ownership, as does this example for a 1991 Plat Map of Medina.
Plat maps show land ownership. Also listed here is the acreage of each portion of land.

Do you have any research stories of how maps solved a family mystery for you?

Please share below.

References and more information:

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

John Smart House

The Medina County Historical Society was formed in 1922 and started collecting items of historical interest. For a while the collection was housed at the Franklin Sylvester Library, then later the Garfield School. In 1956, they acquired the Munson House. In 1985, the Society moved into the John Smart House.

Beautiful Victorian, John Smart House, built in 1886. Located at the corner of Elmwood and Friendship

The John Smart house was built in 1886 by.... John Smart! He and his wife, Julia, and daughters, Anna and Maud, lived in the house until around 1900 when they moved to Cleveland.

The house was then purchased by Orlo Jackson, cabinet maker, and his wife Adelaide Jackson, milliner. They lived in the house until 1913.

POP QUIZ: What is a milliner???  Answer below.

Next, William Benson Baldwin family bought the home. He was the editor of The Medina County Gazette.

Finally, the home was purchased by William L. Hammerschmidt, who owned a florist shop and greenhouse. He and his family lived in the house until the 1930's.

The house became a rental home for awhile and then it housed the Medina Eagles.

Around 1950, the home housed Medina County Government offices, primarily, the Board of Education.

In 1985, the Medina County Historical Society took over the house.
More details on the house's history.

The Historical Society has worked hard to restore the Victorian home to its original splendor.
Medina County Gazette 31 Oct. 1987 page C-4.
This is how the house looked when the Historical Society took it over.
This is how the house looked in 1987 after the exterior renovation.
The interior did not need as much work to restore it to its original condition.

They continue to work very hard to  maintain it. Which is why the house, which is home to the Historical Society's Museum collection will be closed for two months. And they have sent out a call for help:

Press Release from Historical Society

If you have never visited the John Smart House, plan a visit when it  reopens in May. The wonderful Victorian architecture and furnishings are incredible. Then, there is the Historical Collection to WOW any history buff. And we can all look forward to the new, dry basement!

Happy St. Patrick's Day
(a little early, I know!)

The folks at FindMyPast are giving free access to millions of Irish records until 7 March in honor of St. Patrick's Day.  FindMyPast

We're excited to reveal the launch of 10 million new Irish Catholic Parish Registers on Findmypast today. Covering the majority of Ireland, this incredible record set includes 40 million names, 3,500 registers and over 1,000 parishes. To celebrate, we're making all 110 million Irish records free for everyone until 7th March.

Answer to POP QUIZ: according to Merriam Webster a milliner is:  "a person who designs, makes, or sells women's hats."

Sources: Historical Highlights of Medina County, "Welcome to the John Smart House" brochure, The Medina County Gazette, 31 October 1987, page C-4.