A Second Look

Last week I began to draft a blog post about the mortgage deeds of Frank L. Colomy and how that shed some light on his life and his family. As with most of my posts, I decided to look over the source documents again more closely.

Boy, did that open a can of worms!

What I was originally going to post has been put aside as I realized that I really need to take a much closer and more detailed look at these deeds. Additionally, what I’ve found seems to indicate that I need to do more research, including some in-person visits to Lynn, Massachusetts, which I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get to do.

So the story will have to wait, but I can promise, it looks like a great one! For now the genealogical adage to go back and look at your documents again continues to hold true!

Rosener, Ann, photographer. Washington, D.C. OWI Office of War Information research workers. District of Columbia United States Washington D.C. Washington D.C, 1943. May. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2017851716/. (Accessed April 15, 2018.)

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U-Turn: Great-grandfather John Biliunas

Way back when I wrote about my great-grandfather, I included a snippet from his World War I draft registration that stated his place of birth. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what it said, whether it began with an N or a V.

Portion of John Biliunas’ Draft Registration. Courtesy Ancestry.com.

Well, it turns out that it begins with an S! (If you look really carefully, you can see the very, very light line of the cursive S.) What I did was post that snippet on the Lithuanian Global Genealogy Facebook group, and someone was able to answer me right away. Apparently, the name of the town is Siauliai (I guess it has various spellings, including Siaule), which is in the northern portion of Lithuania and is the fourth largest city in Lithuania.

Cathedral of Siauliai. Courtesy of Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81090)

Now, whether John was actually born in Siuliai or in a nearby village, I don’t know. I have yet to order his naturalization paperwork which may give me more information, but that is on my To Do List this year.

#genchat Treasures: African American Genealogy

One of the cool things about #genchat is being able to discuss the genealogy of different ethnic origins. You may not have that ethnicity yourself, but you may learn of new resources and methodologies that you can apply to your own research. Personally, I like to approach it thinking, “if I were ethnicity, where would I look?”

This past February 2, we discussed African-American genealogy led by Renate Yarborough Sanders. Before I list all the wonderful resources that were shared, I just want to say that this was one of the most moving #genchats we’ve ever had. Not only did we learn of the unique experiences and challenges of African-American ancestors, but we explored the difficult topic of having a slave-owning ancestor. All this was done in a spirit of honesty and empathy on all sides. I’m a little choked up as I write: if only the rest of our divided society could come together like this, there would be so much healing.

Courtesy Library of Congress.

So the following resources mentioned during and after #genchat are listed here, not only to aid African-Americans with their research, but also to educate everyone about the research challenges and what you may be able to do if you have a slave-holding ancestor.

Resources:

Midwestern African American Genealogy Institute

Black Pro Gen

Hidden Cemeteries of Essex County

Radiant Roots, Boricua Branches list of African-American Genealogy blogs

Kentucky Historical Society – US Colored Troop Muster for KY 7th-9th districts

Kentucky Historical Society – letters mentioning slave names

Mississippi Dept of Archives & History – Sovereignty Commission Online

Library of Congress – African American History Month site

Articles/Blogposts/Podcasts:

African Roots Podcast

Ben Franklin’s World (podcast) – episode 118 – The business of slavery in Rhode Island

New York Post – College Compiles Index of Slaves and Their Owners

Roots Revealed – Genealogy Mishap Case

Southern Poverty Law Center – quiz – How Much Do You Know About American Slavery?

Life in the Past Lane – In the Shadow of Charlottesville

The Atlantic – The Freedman’s Story

Into the Light – Restore My Name

Family Tree Magazine – How to Trace African-American History Through Oral History

Slave-Holding Ancestors:

Reclaiming Kin – Suggestions for White Descendants of Slaveholders

Slave Name Roll Project

As always, if I’ve missed any resources that were mentioned or if you have something new to add, please reply in the comments!

Oral History: The Missing Link

Recently I was at a party where I was talking to a friend who was born in a foreign country. We were talking about family, and she was telling me that her father had two birth certificates: one saying he was born in that country, and the other saying he was born in a US territory.

Why did her father have two birth certificates? My friend explained: her father was actually born in the US territory and had that birth certificate. Once he married and started a family in the new country, the family wanted to move into an apartment in a much better neighborhood. However, to get into this new neighborhood, you needed to be “in” with the right people. And the right people only wanted to deal with those born in that country. So the father knew a guy who was able to get him what looked to be a valid birth certificate that stated he was born in that country. He got the birth certificate, which got him the apartment.

Now, imagine that you are a descendant of this man a hundred years from now. You are researching him and find two different birth certificates, but which one is correct? Say you do ascertain that the US territory certificate is correct; the question remains why there is another certificate? Maybe you ask yourself if this is even the same guy.

My point is that this is something that can really only be fleshed out with a family story, whether that be oral history or something written down. Lately, I’ve been learning a lot from my uncle and my mom about my maternal side of the family. They’ve been telling me stories about what their grandmother’s house was like, what certain cousins were like, how they were raised and certain events. These stories will never be in newspapers, DNA or vital records; they only come from the people that lived them.

I think of my favorite brick wall, George W. Colomy. The tiny clues I have of his life (his divorce, his name change) only tell me a sliver of his whole story. If I knew more, I would surely know where he came from and where he ended up before and after his marriage to Lucy Goodwin. But his story died with the people that were in it. (Don’t worry, cousins; I have NOT given up on him!)

What stories are in your family that need to be preserved? What seems to be mundane now that may interest future generations? Think about them, write them down, pass them on. But first: talk to your family and discover those stories!

The House on Herricks Lane

All these years, I believed that my great-grandparents John and Anna Biliunas just lived on some nondescript potato farm in Riverhead, New York. Little did I know that it was so much more!

Recently my maternal uncle and I were exchanging emails and he was giving me various pieces of information that I could follow up on for our family history. He told me that he thought he saw somewhere that the Biliunas house was on the National Register of Historic Places. WHAT??

Off to Google I went, and found this link. So it was true! The house, at 733 Herricks Lane, was listed as the “Hallock-Bilunas Farmstead” and on the National Register as of 2003 (#03000251). Searching on the address, I found that it operated as a bed & breakfast for 14 years in the early part of this century. The best search result was this article about when it went up for sale in 2012, because it showed pictures of the rooms inside! (Oh, that kitchen!)

Hallock-Bilunas Farmstead. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The article also gave some good historical background of the house, but also threw me for a bit of a loop with this sentence: “The Herricks Lane land belonged to Lemuel B. Hallock, and was later sold in 1940 to John Bilunas, a potato farmer.” This directly contradicted my original finding in a 1912 newspaper that Mary Hallock sold the farm to Anton Urnezis (Anna’s first husband, who died within the next couple of years). The U.S. Census always showed the Biliunas’s on Herricks Lane; so what was the story?

Fortunately, there are many Long Island newspapers online through New York Historic Newspapers. I didn’t find anything under John Biliunas’ name regarding a transfer of land at any time. What I did find was Lemuel Hallock’s obituary in The County Review dated March 17, 1938! (So Lemuel was obviously dead before this supposed selling of the farm.)

I did have the correct Lemuel: the obituary talked about him having lived on Herricks Lane. It also provided key information: he did have a wife named Mary and they lived in Mattituck “for the past 26 years” (which coincides with the 1912 sale of the farm). I wondered how Mary would have been the one to sell the farm. The 1912 newspaper stated it was sold by “Hallock, Mary &ano.”; obviously she was not the only person on the sales side. So why wouldn’t the sale have been “Lemuel &ano.”? I think one key fact in the obituary may lend a clue: Lemuel was deaf! Perhaps Mary, being able to hear, carried out the transaction on behalf of both of them.

So where would the 1940 date have come from? The only thing I can think of is perhaps that is when the mortgage on the farm was paid off; the time frame certainly makes sense. In any case, this ancestral home is a historical site (although not open to the public). That is pretty cool.

#genchat: The Next Generation

As you probably know, I’ve been involved in the popular genealogy Twitter chat, #genchat, since its beginning in 2013. Which means that as of this month, #genchat turns five years old!

Courtesy genealogygenchat.com

Late last year, #genchat’s host Jen Baldwin asked Kale Liam Hobbs (aka “Sir Leprechaun Rabbit“) and I if we might consider taking over hosting. Jen was looking to focus more on her own genealogy, writing and family at this time, but didn’t want to see #genchat fall to the wayside, since it had benefited so many. After our initial shock 🙂 we decided that yes, we would take this on.

Since Liam is in Canada and I’m in Connecticut, we’ve started this long-distance coordination of what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it via emails and messages. We’re still in the process of figuring it all out, but it is starting to come together. (So please be patient!)

You can still view the schedule on genealogygenchat.com (we’re working on getting the calendar working again). As you can see, we have lots of guest hosts with some exciting topics to cover, and 2018 looks to be shaping up to be the Year of the Archive.

Please join us again on January 19 when Christine Woodcock will be talking to us about “Planning Your Ancestral Tour”. #genchat starts at 10pm Eastern, 9pm Central, 8pm Mountain, 7pm Pacific, and as usual, Treeverne (our virtual bar) opens a half hour beforehand for some casual conversation. Always remember to use the hashtag (#genchat) in each tweet so that we can be sure to see you*, and for each question (Q1, Q2, etc.), answer with A1, A2, etc. to make the conversation easier to follow.

*For some reason, not all tweets are showing up on the tchat.io platform, so you may want to try TweetChat, TweetDeck or another Twitter chat platform.

U-Turn: Fifth Great-Grandmother Anna (Capernaum) Taunt

This particular story begins at the end of Anna (Capernaum) Taunt’s life, because it raises many questions for me.

The end came on January 29, 1856 in Braintree, Norfolk County, MA. Anna died of old age as a pauper. Being a widow, this did not raise any flags for me; but the 1855 Massachusetts Census, taken just six months before, did. On July 13, 1855, Anna is listed separate from any family members and boarding with the Albert and Eliza Howard family with about a dozen other boarders. Albert’s occupation was listed as a “keeper of poor house”. The 1860 Census notes that this was an alms house that was supported by the town. (Thank you, meticulous census-taker!)

The question I ask is: why wasn’t Anna with any of her family? Her husband Seth died on April 7, 1837, so he was out of the picture. The 1840 Census showed her living next door to her son Seth and his family, but she was head of her own household and living alone.

I wondered how long Anna lived apart from her children, so I looked at the 1850 Census for each of her children:

Cynthia (Taunt) Savil had been widowed in 1846 and was living with her two surviving children in Braintree, being supported by her son Elisha, who worked as a bootmaker.

Seth Taunt lived next door to his sister with his wife and two youngest children. He also worked as a bootmaker.

Jerusha (Taunt) Goodwin lived in Berwick, York County, Maine with her own family, as she had since her 1824 marriage to Ivory.

William Taunt was living in Braintree with his young wife and month-old baby.

Anna was not in or very near any of these homes. In fact, I could not find her on the 1850 Census. Albert Howard did not yet run the alms house, so I wonder if there may have been another alms house where Anna could have boarded. It is possible that she may not have been living in Braintree, but I strongly doubt it, since she lived there since birth and all but one of her children lived there.

So I am left wondering why Anna did not spend her widowed years living with her children, as so many women of her generation did. Was she especially independent-minded, in spite of her poverty? Did her children not have sufficient means to support her (which is possible)? Or was she difficult to live with? Whatever the answer, there is a story here!