Broken Branch: A Royal Mistake

Two weeks ago, I missed the #52Ancestors prompt of “Mistake”, but this week’s prompt of “Broken Branch” gives me a chance to redeem myself!  

It all began back in 2010, when I started my genealogy journey in earnest.  Like so many newbie genealogist, I took online trees at face value and started grafting branches willy-nilly into my tree.  Now, online trees can be very helpful in giving clues, and many of those branches have proved themselves through other sources.

Except one.  One I got really excited about.  One that promised me royal blood and a castle!

Rocksavage; not my castle. Courtesy Wikipedia.

On one online tree, it stated that Roger Billings, the immigrant from England to Dorchester, Massachusetts, married Hannah Savage, daughter of a Thomas Savage, a descendant of the noble Savage family in Clifton, Cheshire, England and which owned the castle known as Rocksavage.  Wanting to know more, I started digging into Thomas Savage.  Then I found out that Thomas never had a daughter named Hannah, and all other accounts of Roger Billings don’t give a surname for his wife Hannah.   Goodbye, castle!

So how did this vicious rumor start?  In researching the Billings family, I came across a written family history that quoted various researchers.  In it, it said something like:  “Roger Billings married Hannah.  Savage wrote that…”  This Savage was the name of a researcher.  The online tree creator probably did not see the period after Hannah’s name, and then proceeded to link her up to Thomas Savage, who lived in nearby Boston.  

So I don’t have a castle, nor do I have a maiden name for Hannah Billings.  But I did learn not to take online trees at their word and to evaluate all my sources better.  

Popular Name: John

This week’s #52Ancestors theme is “popular name”.  With my French-Canadian line, the most popular name in my tree would have to be “Marie”, since just about every female’s name starts with that.  However, most of those women go by their middle name anyway.  So I’m looking at my British Isles ancestors, and of course, “John” is that most popular name!

Created with the Canva app.

The name John means “graced by God”, and many John’s grace my family tree.  Some of these numbers won’t add up exactly, due to some missing information, but here’s the basic lowdown:

  • 245 “non-private “ (deceased) John’s
  • 18 “private” (living); some might just be middle names, though 
  • 14 have the last name Goodwin 

And by the century (by birth, if known):

  • 1400s=2
  • 1500s=6
  • 1600s=43
  • 1700s=12
  • 1800s=49
  • 1900s (deceased)=8

Like the name John, nothing fancy, but there it is!

Conflict: Dead or Alive?

OK, the following conflict is really low-stakes for me.  It’s about a second cousin, twice removed, but the nature of the conflict really irritates me.  Here’s the scoop:

Jean Louis [Edmond] Pleau and his wife Anna Marie had three children born in Loretteville, Quebec:  Marie Gilberte, born 1905 (died 1907), Joseph Henri Paul (born 1906), and Joseph Armand (1907).  Then they seem to have moved to Trois Rivieres, where their fourth child, Joseph Jean Baptiste Edmond Pleau, was born and baptized.  He was baptized “Jos. J.B. Edmond Pleau” at the Cathedrale l’Assomption on  October 22, 1909.

There is a burial record for the Cathedrale l’Assomption on October 30, 1909, showing “J.B. Edmond Pleau” son of Jean Louis and Anna Marie Pleau, died the previous day at age 7 days.  Pretty straightforward, yes?

JB Edmond Pleau burial record. Courtesy FamilySearch.

Fast forward two years to the 1911 Census, and we find Jean L. and Ana M. Pleau with their family in Trois Rivieres with Henri Paul and “Joseph Arm”,  plus two more:  a girl named Marie L. born December 1910, and son, Edmond J., born October 1909.  Now how can this possibly be?

Ten years later in the 1921 Census, I know Joseph Armand has died, and the family consists of Edmond (aka Jean Louis), Anna Marie, Paul, Luci (aka Marie L), then younger children. No sign of Joseph Jean Baptiste Edmond, who should have been 11 years old.  

So far, I haven’t been able to find any other record of his death.  I just can’t figure out:  if he died in 1909, why did he seem to show up on the 1911 Census?  And if that wasn’t him, who was it and why did he seem to be born at the same time as Joseph Jean Baptiste Edmond (who was NOT a twin).

As I said, this isn’t a high priority; it just bamboozles me!

Yearbook: What I Have, What I’d Like

Yearbook collections are a really cool genealogical find!  Not only do you learn when your people attended school, you can find out what kinds of activities they participated in and perhaps some of what the in-jokes were.  And it’s always fun to look at the hairstyles and fashions of the time; my trip to the History Room in the Holyoke Library revealed that, despite not being able to find my maternal grandfather’s immediate family.

I have a small collection of family yearbooks, below:

  • My dad’s high school yearbook
  • My mom’s high school yearbook
  • My paternal aunt’s high school yearbook
  • My dad’s college yearbook
  • Two yearbooks from two schools my dad taught at (such a bonus when you have teachers in your family!)
  • My two junior high school yearbooks
  • My junior year and senior year high school yearbooks
  • My college yearbook
Some of the yearbooks I own. Author’s collection.

But you know, as a genealogist, you could always use more yearbooks, right?  The following are those I wish I had or that I could find online; I don’t even know if all of these existed during the years in question:

  • 1934 Riverhead [NY] High School (for my maternal grandparents)
  • 1940 Lynn [MA] English High School (for my paternal grandfather, since he was the first in his family line to graduate high school)
  • 1964 New Bedford [MA] High School (since my dad taught there only one year; I really know next to nothing about his time there)
  • 1980 Foran High School [Milford, CT] (I went there a year and a half and never got a yearbook!)

That’s not too much to ask, right?  I suppose my best bet is a road trip to these various locations.  Fortunately none of them are too far away!

#genchat: Reclaim the Records Revisited

At the May 6 #genchat, Brooke Schreier Ganz from Reclaim the Records (“RTR”) was our guest expert and helped us catch up with what RTR has been up to since we last chatted.  Again, the discussion was so informative, another blog post was in order!  I will feature our questions, Brooke’s answers (with permission), and other useful information that was shared.

Courtesy Kale Liam Hobbes.

ICEBREAKER  Was any of your research facilitated by Reclaim the Records (RTR) efforts?

Brooke:  Every time we reclaim new data (whether they’re images or occasionally databases/spreadsheets) from a government agency, we upload them to @internetarchive, as our giant free hard drive in the sky.  Then we link the collection from our website.

  • @MarianBWood:  So grateful for the many NYC records made public by @ReclaimTheRecs because my immigrant grandparents all settled in Big Apple.
  • @_genchat:  Personally…yes!  I’ve found numerous marriage & death dates (a few births) & later some certificates! ^cm [That’s me, by the way!]
  • @TreeBra44061473:  Probably.  They’ve done a lot.
  • @packrat74:  The NYC vital records indexes have helped with finding my husband’s people who moved there.  Especially since the NYC Historical Vital Records site launched.
  • @MyFamilyGenie: NYC Records (when they comply at least) have been a blessing.
  • @DawnCarlile:  Not yet, but someday.  I do appreciate RTR’s efforts.
  • @MiningthePast:  Not that I’m aware of.  I have no US ancestry and only use US records when I’m pursuing a DNA match.  [MiningthePast is from Australia.]  I probably don’t have enough awareness of which jurisdictions have been recalcitrant.  I am a bit of an activist though and love seeing when RTR have had a big win.
  • @kwolchak:  Them getting NYC to release records may help me find out when/if my grandmother’s sister was married in NYC.  She lived there, just don’t know if that’s where she got married.
  • @TLKoehnline:  …I’ve found RTR records for my cousins in Wyoming; the death & marriage indexes have been helpful.  Aside from my own family, the NYC records have been invaluable for a great deal of NY Jewish research I’ve done lately, of course.
  • @Cferra1227:  I guess I have them to thank for some NY records regarding some of my great-grandmother’s sisters and brother who moved to NY.
  • @Free2BFreSpirit:  Yes!  All of my research started with New York, tracing back to Italy.
  • @laurabmack:  The NYC vitals have helped me a lot!  Thank you!

Q1  What are some of the places you can look to find the records that have been reclaimed?

Brooke:  If we do reclaim a textural data set, rather than just images, then we often build “single serving” standalone searchable websites with that data.  For example, we have ones like NewJerseyDeathIndex.com … or MissouriBirthIndex.com … or NYCMarriageIndex.com … or NebraskaDeathIndex.com … and several others.  And we’re working on a few more right now!

Q2  Do you know of any agencies that have worked with RTR to make their records publicly accessible?

Brooke:  Yes! Some State Archives have been fantastic to work with.  They know their state Freedom of Information laws, and they follow them.
Some stand-outs who get <trophy emoji> include the Washington State Archives, the Wyoming State Archives, New Jersey, and another state archive that we haven’t announced publicly yet, but which I think will surprise people to hear.
And it will especially surprise a certain genealogy company who thought they had some kind of exclusive access rights to that archive’s digitized files.

Q3  How can we distinguish what can/should go behind a paywall & what should not?

Brooke:  None of it should go behind a paywall.
Public data should be free.  All of it.  And we’re working to make that happen.
Next question.

  • There was much discussion on this, but some pointed out to keep legislation and personal privacy in mind (such as Social Security Numbers), as well as the costs agencies incur to send out or even host a data repository.

Q4  How has the pandemic impacted ease of record access?

Brooke:  It’s helped us at RTR make the argument in our court briefs that  it’s inexcusable for certain archives to have digitized files and then NOT put them online, thereby limiting public access to records while the archive buildings were closed. 
Looking at you guys, as usual.  @nycrecords Hiiii, our latest Memorandum of Law and our latest Sworn Affidavit in our latest lawsuit against you guys got filed with the court late this afternoon, lol.

Yes, actually.  It has driven home the issues of fair and equitable public access, about the ridiculous requirements of traven and even physical mobility for records, which could just as easily be open to everyone on a computer screen, from their homes.  As they should be.

  • @packrat74:  You win some, you lose some.  Records that need to be accessed in-person in an archive? The pandemic really messed with that.  But some archives used the downtime to get more records online, so win-win.

Q5  What are some ways we can stay apprised of records access issues?

Brooke:  The Records Public Access Committee (RPAC) is one way to hear about goings-on in the US and to some extent other countries.  They have an e-mail list to which you can subscribe to get updates on records access issues.  They also write terrific angry letters to government bodies that  might be trying to stifle or restrict public access to genealogical materials.  And we’ve cited those letters in many of our lawsuits!  Because they prove that the gov’t knew about those issues, but ignored them.  Here’s the link to their website, so you can sign up:  ngsgenealogy.org/rpac/

  • @FamilySleuther:  Follow @ReclaimTheRecs on Twitter and Facebook!
  • @_genchat:  I remember last time, Brooke made us aware of RPAC … that also led me to this site:  recordsadvocate.org 
  • @MiningthePast:  Following archives accounts and interacting with people who work with them through tweetchats.
  • @packrat74:  For records access issues, I follow Judy G. Russell.  I also keep an eye on MuckRock.  muckrock.com

Q6  Do you have any questions for Brooke?

  • @MiningthePast:  How many of you are there?  Is it your day job or do you volunteer?  Are you all located together or dispersed across the US.  How did you find each [other] and get started?

Brooke:  RTR started with one frustrated genealogist.  We filed our first FOIL request on January 2015, as our New Year’s  Resolution that year!
That turned into our first lawsuit in late 2015.  We won a settlement and all records.  And we got hooked.
RTR then morphed from “this would be cool to try” into a real 501(c)3 non-profit organization in early 2017 (and the by-laws were filed in late 2016).  By that time, we had multiple lawsuits under our belt.  We’re now one of the largest open records orgs in the United States.  
The money we raise goes almost entirely to our awesome lawyers — who are amazing, but not exactly inexpensive, because lawyers, you know — with a little left over for things like web servers, mailing list software, etc.
Not paid staff…yet.  But that’s coming soon!
And sometimes we win attorneys fees in our lawsuits, which means the entire suit ends up being free!  But only after we’ve worked on it for a year or more (and paid the attorneys in that timeframe). 
Our board members live spread out all across the US.  We’ve got everyone from a college student (who helped us win a copy of the Mississippi death index a while back) to professional genealogists to a Citizen Archivist who does military work to a housewife/mom (hi).

As stated in the chat, you can take RTR’s records survey for records they can potentially uncover:  https://www.reclaimtherecords.org/records-survey/.  Also, you can donate to RTR here:  https://www.reclaimtherecords.org/donate/donate-to-reclaim-the-records/

Honor Roll Project: Shea-Magrath Memorial (Part 3)

In recognition of those who have served our country in the military, Heather Wilkinson Rojo of the Nutfield Genealogy blog started the Honor Roll Project.  It’s an opportunity to publicly document the names on military memorials around the world, thus making them easily searchable on the internet for people who are looking for them!

Shea-Magrath Memorial, main panel. Author’s collection.

This post continues several I’ll post over time regarding the Shea-Magrath Memorial at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk, CT.  Today’s panel is for the Korean War:

Korean War panel. Author’s collection.

THEY PLAYED HERE AS BOYS,
THEY LEFT US IN THEIR YOUTH;
THEY SERVED AS MEN,
THEY DIED AS HEROES;
THEY LIVE AGAIN,
FOREVER ENSHRINED IN THE
HEART OF THIS GRATEFUL CITY.

KOREA 1950 – 54

Pvt. Frank Beerwa1951U.S.A.
Pfc. Donald Browne1952U.S.M.C.
Pfc. George Fischer1953U.S.A.
ATI/C John Lyons1952U.S.N.
Ens. George Martin1951U.S.N.
Lt. John McGuinness1954U.S.A.F.
Cpl. Julius Nacci1950U.S.M.C.
Pfc. Joseph A. Rizzi1953 U.S.A.
Pfc. Allen A. Scofield 1952U.S.A.

“I DID NOT KNOW THE DIGNITY OF THEIR BIRTH,
BUT I DO KNOW THE GLORY OF THEIR DEATH.”

DOUGLAS MACARTHUR  1951

Textile: Family Needlework

In 2020, I didn’t get a lot of genealogy work done, but I did turn my attention to cross-stitch, as noted on this post.  I’ve been interested in needlework since junior high school, where we had a Needlework Club.  Since then I’ve dabbled in needlepoint, crewel, embroidery, bargello, latch-hook and cross-stitch.  My interest must be genetic, because I find examples of needlework on both sides of my family, especially my maternal side.

Viola Markoski lace. Author’s collection.
Eva Atwell laces: top and left; Viola Markoski lace, right. Author’s collection.

I’ve written about how my great-grandmother Eva (Lipsett) Atwell would tat lace.  My maternal grandmother Viola (Biliunas) Markoski also made lace via crochet; but her talents extended to crocheting afghans and Christmas ornaments, making plastic canvas needlepoint pictures and ornaments and stitching beautiful crewel pictures.  (She would help me out in my struggle with French knots!)  Her husband Bruno Markoski took up the needle in his retirement years, working with her to make intricate pieces of a plastic canvas Christmas village that they would sell at a local craft shop.  He even took some time to make latch-hook rugs, one of which I still have.

Bruno Markoski latch-hook rug. Author’s collection.

Their daughters also dabbled in needlework, like free-form cross-stitch and quilting.  My mom had gone through quite the quilt phase during my early teen years, experimenting with different patterns and getting rid of some outgrown or worn out clothing from the 1970s.  Some looked like very traditional quilts, but the one that I inherited looks very groovy!

My mom’s groovy quilt. Author’s collection.

For me, I found that needlework was a good way to be creative, keep my hands busy and even soothe the nerves.  I’m sure my forebears found that to be true as well!

Crewel by Viola Markoski. Author’s collection.
Plastic canvas gingerbread house by Viola Markoski. Author’s collection.

Food & Drink: Kugeli from Lithuania

This week’s #52Ancestors theme is “Food & Drink”.  There are so many dishes that remind me of my parents and grandparents, but I thought I’d share a recipe with deeper roots:  Kugeli (also called “kugelis”), which is a potato dish from Lithuania.  Wikipedia calls it a pudding, but I think of it more like a loaf, like meatloaf.  I suppose that all depends on what kind of dish you bake it in.

Kugeli, or Kugelis. Courtesy Wikipedia.

This is my mom’s recipe.  She probably got it from her mom (Viola (Biliunas) Markoski), who may have gotten it from her mom (Anna (Valek)(Urnezis) Biliunas).  I’ve made it a couple times and have to say it can taste kind of bland, though there are recipes that call for bacon in it.  (Bacon makes everything better, doesn’t it?). 

Kugeli

Grate 6 large potatoes & drain off juice.  Scald about ¾ cup milk & pour over potatoes.  Beat 2 eggs well & add to potatoes and milk.  Fry one onion in salt pork or butter and add.

Add salt, pepper & ¼ cup cream of wheat.  Mix well.  Turn into buttered casserole.

Bake in preheated 425 oven for about 1 hour.

Social: Bertha’s Church Life

For many years here in the USA, church life has taken center stage in people’s lives.  In colonial times, church basically was the governing institution, especially in New England.  As time went on and church and state became separate, church was the touchstone for not only religion, but a strong part of everyday life.  

This was no exception for my great-grandmother Bertha Colomy and her family.  I knew from reading the newspaper articles about her running off with Percy St. Clair that the family did attend church.  Since learning about this, I’ve found so many more articles that point to her involvement in the Christian Church at 38 Silsbee Street in Lynn (yes, that was the name of the church).  I also saw her cousin Augusta (“Gussie”) Goodwin and aunt Fannie (White) Burns mentioned!

“Christian Church, Silsbee Street,” NOBLE Digital Heritage, accessed May 6, 2022, https://digitalheritage.noblenet.org/noble/items/show/1438.

Not surprisingly, Bertha was mostly involved in various music programs at the church, whether playing piano, singing or both from about 1889 to 1897.  She even trained the children’s Sunday School for their Christmas Concert in 1896 and did a fine job.  Bertha was involved in other ways:  she was a member of the S.O.L.O. Club, the Sewing Circle and was even the secretary of the church’s Young People’s Society Christian Endeavor.

The most fascinating story, however, took place on May 26, 1892.  Bertha threw a party for her mother Jennie, inviting about thirty people over and having cake and ice cream and extensive entertainment.  The pastor of the Christian Church, A.A. Williams, made a speech on Bertha’s behalf and a presentation of a gift of money from Bertha to Jennie.  No, it wasn’t Jennie’s birthday or other special occasion.  What wasn’t mentioned in this article, but in another later article, was that Jennie was having problems paying the mortgage since Frank was out of town at this time.  This money was probably the result of Bertha’s piano lessons.

As of this date, however, Bertha was going to have a new source of income:  she was just hired by Percy St. Clair to be a bookkeeper in his piano shop.  Perhaps Percy was even at the party, since I know he had been to the Colomy home prior to the trouble he would be dragging Bertha into just two weeks later.  

Document: Hiding Behind A Picture

Sometimes you don’t find documents in an archive or online; sometimes you find them in unusual places!  A few months ago, I was visiting with my aunt to scan a multitude of family pictures and to hear her stories.  Among the items in the box was this:

Certificate to sell steamer tickets. Author’s collection.

My aunt told me that she found it behind a picture in a frame that my grandmother had.  She was wise to even look!  This document ties together a bunch of facts that I’ve accumulated on Stanislaus (or Stanislau, as spelled here) and have subsequently learned.

On the 1920 Census, “Stanley” Markoski is listed as a “ticket agent” for a “steamship company.”  This occupation was not listed at all in the city directories, so I thought maybe it was a very short-lived job.  Or was it?

I remember my mom telling me once that her grandfather helped people leave Poland.  At the time, I thought that maybe it was during World War II and that maybe it was something he may have done via the Kosciuszko Club.  Well, this 1921 certificate rules out the WWII idea.  However, it does seem that the Polish American Navigation Corporation was involved in immigration.  From a little internet research, it was established as a shipping company in 1919 but soon added passenger ships in 1920.  (Side note:  I just found a link to a 1926 Google Book called “Relief of the Polish-American Navigation Corporation:  Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on the Merchant Marine and and Fisheries House of Representatives”, which I really need to look over in more detail.)

In any case, the location where Stanislau sold tickets for these steamers (119 Lyman Street in Holyoke) was the location of the Kosciusko Club, according to city directories and a 1915 Sanborn Insurance Map.  Also according to city directories, Stanislau was secretary of the Kosciuszko Club from 1921-1927.  So it does look like the Kosciuszko Club had some kind of involvement in the sale of these steamship tickets.  Many returned to Poland to rebuild the country after World War I when the country was re-formed, so instead of helping people leave, he helped them return!

Annotated extract of 1915 Sanborn Insurance Map, showing the Kosciuszko Club at 119 Lyman Street. Courtesy Library of Congress.

It looks like the Polish American Navigation Corporation ran into financial trouble, as the steamships lost the value of their initial investment. I imagine that the 1924 law imposing immigration quotas may have had an impact on demand for passage as well.  The corporation seems to have stopped selling tickets in the 1920s and before the decade was out, Stanislau was employed as a “rubber worker”.  The Kosciuszko Club, however, continued in Holyoke until 2012 when it dissolved.

So that’s the story, as best as I can tell, of the mysterious document that my aunt had found and kept.