If Only ______ Were Here to See This

photo taken from Adweek, originally from Chicago Cubs

This post has been a long time in coming — not only in the sense that the time required to write a blog post while taking care of a 2 month old and a two year old is much longer than it would otherwise be or in the sense that the topic would have been more relevant a week ago when my social media feed was dominated by feel-good sports stories instead of political rants. In a lot of ways, this post has been 108 years in the making.

I am of course talking about the fact that the Chicago Cubs, for the first time since 1908, have won the World Series. To non-Cubs fans, I am sure the media attention this story received seemed over the top, even bordering on obnoxious. Conversely, to those of us who have waited generations for this, no article or YouTube video can quite capture what this sporting event meant to us. This article maybe comes close.

Sure, there are much more important things in world than who wins a sporting event. It is a game, after all. Except, this year, it WAS actually more than JUST a game to a lot of people. I think above all, the Cub’s decade-in-the-making World Series win is a genealogy story. It is what prompted me to call my Grandma the day before game 7 to talk about how Gramps would have loved to see this team play and how if the Cubs were somehow able to pull out the win, we would be cheering on his behalf.

It’s the thought that many of my great-grandparents weren’t even in America the last time the Cubs won it all. My Irish great-grandparents arrived in 1909 and 1911 respectively, settling on Chicago’s North Side. Year after year, the Cubs played at Wrigley Field. Yet, my great-grandparents never got to see this. Up until 2 weeks ago, neither my grandparents nor my parents ever got to see this; But here we are, decades later, 4 generations of die-hard Cubs fans (My 5th generation Cubs fan son has no idea how special this is).14732310_10154501814066970_2209644246210962216_n

It’s the thought that comes to mind after we stopped raising our arms in the air and hugging those around us as tears come to our eyes, “if only _______ were here to see this.” I wrote out this statement on my Facebook page next to photos of my grandfather just after the Cubs clinched the title. My dad’s response? “They sure did it, Dad.”

When the love for a (mostly losing) sports team is passed down like that from generation to generation it becomes part of the fabric of our identity. In fact, I think in some sense it is an even stronger more enduring element of our family culture than things like religion or politics because even though we care SO much, in the end it IS just a game and we can always hope for “next year.” The millions of people who came to say thank you to this Cubs team for making this THE YEAR back me up on that statement (this in a city with TWO baseball teams). So do stories like this one.

Although I occasionally see glimpses of my immigrant ancestors’ culture and identity in my day to day life, the fact is that my life looks a lot different than theirs did. I don’t really practice religion, eat the same food, or dress the way they did. BUT, I do cheer for the same baseball team.


News and a Genealogy Birthdate Story

18-kjel0139of89-copyOn August 23rd, our family welcomed our second child, our first daughter, into the world! From now on, this date will have special significance to our family. For years to come on this date, we will celebrate her and reminisce about the day she was born.

It is interesting how this specific date is the one we will celebrate. I was certain she would arrive much earlier and all indicators supported this hunch. Yet, because of certain risks, my doctors insisted on scheduling the date of her “eviction” should she decide not to come on her own. August 23 was suggested and we agreed. Even though the number 23 carries positive connotations for any true Chicago sports fan, at the time I didn’t consider too carefully how I really felt about the date, because surely, I reasoned, she would come before then. Yet, as my due date came and went and this date loomed closer and closer, I began googling “This day in history” and famous birthdays on this date. Of course, once she arrived, I realized just how little these things truly matter and how the end goal is to have a healthy baby, which, thankfully, we do. Nevertheless, my genealogy research tells me I am not the first parent to care about the date on which her child is born.

My grandmother was born on December 18, 1919 – or so we always thought and so we always celebrated. This “fact” was supported by pretty air tight evidence. My mom said this was my Grammy’s birthday and my Grammy herself claimed this as her birthday. I found a copy of Grammy’s birth certificate at the FHL and indeed, the document said she was born on December 18th.[1] The only even remotely interesting thing about the document was that it was a delayed birth certificate, meaning it was written after the fact. My grandmother was born at home, at a time when Illinois vital statistics were regulated, but not always complied with[2], so it would seem that no official birth certificate was created at the time of her birth.

Then one day, when I am back home in Chicagoland, visiting family, the conversation turned to genealogy. My mom told me that she has a copy of my Grammy’s birth certificate if I wanted it. I explained how I already possessed a copy, but the topic prompted my mother to remember something:

“You know how sometimes Grammy misremembers things?” My mom asked. “Well, that’s another thing she got wrong. She once told me she was actually born on a different date, but her parents changed it because they didn’t like the date or something.”

“Wait, what?!” I replied.

“Yeah, she said they changed it, but they couldn’t have. Her birth certificate says she was born on December 18th.”

“Mom. . .” I explained, “Her birth certificate was a delayed certificate! — Meaning it was created after the fact and her father reported the date on which she was born. She was born at home, so no official certificate was created at a hospital or anything. It’s very possible they changed the date!”

In no time, we retrieved the birth certificate and I showed Mom how we know that the information was reported by my great grandfather in 1935, more than 15 years after my grandmother was born.

So, if the story my grandmother told is true, why would my great grandparents have changed my grandmother’s birthday?

While of course, I couldn’t swear to it, and knew I would likely never be able to prove my theory, I then and there developed my own beliefs about my grandmother’s true birthdate. I believe my Sicilian great grandparents, like most Sicilians of their time and place were fairly superstitious people. In their culture, 17 was considered an unlucky number.[3] So what do you do when your child is born on a day marked by this auspicious number? You simply say your child was born then next day! In this case, December 18.

Fast forward some weeks after this conversation with my mom when I find my Sicilian great-grandfather’s naturalization papers. On the 1924 document, he gave the names of his children and their birthdates. There, at the top, his firstborn child (my grandmother) is listed along with her birthdate: 17 December 1919!!![4]

Now, this may not be 100% proof that my theory was correct, but I’d say it’s looking pretty good!

The fact of the matter is that good genealogy research necessitates that we always take our ancestors’ birthdates with a grain of salt. Our modern idea of birthdays and how they are remembered and celebrated is often very different from those of our ancestors. The research ramifications of this truth are significant. I hope to expound on this idea in a future post.

But for now, I must go, since my two week old is about to wake up from her nap!

[1] Privately held by author

[2] Illinois Vital Records, “FamilySearch”, (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Illinois_Vital_Records#References : accessed 6 August 2016)

[3] Ethel Alec-Tweedie, Sunny Sicily, (London: Hutchinson, 1904), 125; downloaded from Google Books.

Also, Tweedie, Sunny Sicily, 198.

Also, Wikipedia Contributors, “17 (number),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:CiteThisPage&page=17_%28number%29&id=726870460 : accessed 8 September 2016).

[4] Privately held by author

15 Ways I Became a Better Genealogist in 2015

15 ways I became photo
Photos from author’s personal files. May not be used without permission.

2015 was quite a year. One for the history books, in my opinion. For one, I will never forget watching history as Thoroughbred racing’s American Pharoah won the first Triple Crown in almost 36 years. Something, as a lifelong horse lover, I had been waiting my whole life to see.

This year also saw the culmination of years of hard work when I finally reached my ultimate running goal of Qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

In 2015, my Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup and my Cubs won their first post-season playoff series at home in Wrigley Field history.

Besides these things, I will always remember 2015 as a banner year for my growth as a genealogist. As I look back on the year, I can pinpoint specific actions and experiences which fostered this growth. I still have a great deal to learn (stay tuned to for an upcoming New Year’s Resolution post), and am uncomfortable with the number of times I use the word “I” in this post. Nevertheless, I hope my experiences may inspire you. So here, in no particular order:

1. I listened to podcasts. You guys, there are so many free genealogy podcasts out there! The best part about education via podcast is that you don’t have to be sitting down to be learning. You can listen to them while you clean the house or when you are in the car or whatever. You can also download the audio to many of the free webinars out there and upload them to your listening device. My favorites include anything by Marian Pierre-Louis, and pretty much any webinar put out by the BCG or the APG. Check them out!

2. I exercised. I know this sounds a little ridiculous, but I sincerely can’t say enough about the value of getting away from the computer screen and getting your heart rate up. We genealogists tend to sit too long, intensely staring at screens and microfilm readers. Exercise helps loosen the tension from sitting and protect our health. For me personally, exercise gives me energy. So when my son goes down for his naps, instead of taking one too, I have the energy to work.

As you probably guessed by my aforementioned reference to the Boston Marathon, I love to run. Running provides a great opportunity to listen to those genealogy podcasts! It also just seems to spur creative thought. When I’m not listening to podcasts, I’m usually working out my genealogical brick walls or finding inspiration for blog posts.

3. I joined genealogical societies. In 2015, I joined the National Genealogical Society and the Chicago Genealogical Society. I can’t tell you how much I have learned from reading their publications, particularly those from NGS.

4. I took online courses. I currently stay home with my 2 year old. Consequently, I learn from home and I (mostly) work from home. Online learning provides classroom quality instruction without requiring me to actually be in a classroom. This year I completed several courses from the NGS and I am currently working my way through John Grenham’s Irish Ancestors course.

5. I read recommended books. There are so many genealogy books out there, sometimes it’s difficult to know which ones will most aid us in our efforts. I found there are a few books out there that come recommended time and again by top genealogists. Those are the books I’ve tried to acquire for my library and in each case, I have not been disappointed.

6. I started Almost Home. Few forms of learning are more effective than “learning by doing.” Client projects have stretched me and have also given me confidence in how much I have learned.

7. I joined the Association of Professional Genealogists. My membership in this organization has given Almost Home great exposure leading to some pretty exciting opportunities I hope to share more about in the future. The association’s email list provides another source of learning and an ever-present network of professionals to whom I can go for advice.

8. I admitted knowledge gaps. When I admit my knowledge gaps, I am more motivated to fill them. A few short months ago, I knew next to nothing about probate records, which I find almost embarrassing now that I know their value. Yet, just this week, I worked out a really difficult client problem relating to probate records, thanks to the steps I took to educate myself. I’m still no legal expert, but it was a proud moment.

9. I spent time significant time researching at the Family History Library. When we moved to Salt Lake, I knew we wouldn’t be here forever. I committed to getting the most out of living here while I could. That means I make at least weekly trips to the FHL, spending a minimum of 2 hours at a time. Even accounting for weeks that I traveled, or couldn’t make it for one reason or another, I spent at least 100 hours researching at this repository this year . . . and there’s still so much more to do there.

You may not have access to this library where you live, but you may live close to a Family History Center. If you aren’t already familiar with their holdings and the FHL’s loan program, I encourage you to check it out.

10. I diversified my repository research. Besides the FHL, I also spent time this year researching at the Chicago History Museum, Chicago’s Newberry Library, Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Utah State Archives, and the Salt Lake City Recorders Office.

11. I interviewed family members. While I certainly interviewed family members in years past, in 2015, I took better care to record or take notes on those interviews.

12. I investigated “old shoeboxes.” This practice led to a number of new clues and helped solve a few mysteries too. Read more here.

13. I learned under some the best at the BCG lecture series. Read more here.

14. I buckled down on source citations. I still have a long way to go in terms of getting accurate source citations attached to all my records, but I am happy to say I am making progress.

15. I learned from more experienced genealogists. I don’t read as many blogs as I would like and I don’t interact with other genealogists as much as I would like, but when I am able to connect with others, whether electronically or in person, I want their advice. I want to know their stories and learn from their experiences. That includes you. In what ways did you become a better genealogist in 2015?

Researching Urban-Dwelling Ancestors: Trick or Treat?

Happy (almost) Halloween, Everyone! Costume making, party planning, pumpkin carving – it has been a busy few weeks around here! I love sharing these traditions with my family and can’t help but think of how Halloween traditions have simultaneously evolved and endured over generations.

IMG_0421 copy
photo from personal files of author. May not be used with out permission.

How priceless is this Halloween photo from one of our family albums?! It also holds a great deal genealogical of value (FAN Club, house number and more!) too.

But today, I want to write about a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. Ironically, it was discussed on the FamilySearch Blog just yesterday. It is a truth I am learning, so I do not consider myself an expert, but here it is: Genealogy research in urban environments looks a lot different from genealogy research in small town or rural America. As mentioned in previous posts, I am currently working my way through Val Greenwood’s book, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy and I recently attended the BCG Lecture Series for the Family History Library. These educational experiences only reiterated to me this contrast between urban and rural genealogy. In fact, I buttonholed Cook County research expert, Jeanne Larzalere Bloom after the Conference to ask her about this very topic.

Sometimes, as I research my family, I feel lucky to have so many ancestors in Chicago. Other times, I find the challenges of research in a large city overwhelming. So trick or treat, here are some the pros and cons of having ancestors in urban environments:

Challenges (i.e. “tricks”)

1. Common Names

Is it just me, or does anyone else feel a little jealous when reading a case study in which the researcher uses negative research to correctly identify one individual out of maybe five others with the same name? Juxtapose this with urban research where scores of people may share a common name. For example, I have been researching one of my earliest known Irish immigrant ancestors for some time now. He is the key to a great deal of information on the family tree and the origin of a number of genealogical mysteries as well. His name? Michael Kelly. His occupation? Laborer. How on earth do I tell my Michael Kelly apart from the dozens of others with the same name living in Chicago at the same time? Though not long ago I considered this to be too daunting a task to even attempt, I have made good progress in recent months. I’m learning it takes work, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.

2. Frequent moves

In the past as well as today, people move into and out of cities frequently. Even individuals who lived in a city for all or most of their life often changed addresses multiple times [1]. This is in sharp contrast to families in rural areas which often lived on the same plot of land for generations. The example of my ancestor holds true here as well. Except for several years in the 1910s where my Michael Kelly stayed at one address, the guy moved constantly. This has been one of my biggest challenges to my proving I am following the correct person.

3. Inconsistent Spellings

If you are researching in a large city, chances are you have non-English speaking, immigrant and/or illiterate ancestors in your family line. As a result, your ancestor’s name may be grossly misspelled in the records documented by those with little familiarity with your ancestor’s foreign language, accent or traditional name-spelling [2]. Furthermore, your ancestor may have gone by a number of different names in an attempt to assimilate into American culture. This certainly necessitates a measure of creativity on the researcher’s part when using the old search box feature.

4. Lack of Property Records

Genealogists in rural communities appear to rely heavily on land records. Yet, for those of us searching our urban dwelling ancestors, we often find they owned no property [3]. The Rent or Own column on census records can provide a clue as to whether or not this is the case. Even if you think your ancestor owned property, you may have quite the task ahead of you. I can’t speak for other large cities, but I understand that when it comes to Chicago, the process involved in finding land and property records can be something of a nightmare [4] – not that that should keep us from trying. Just know what you might be in for.

5. Lack of Probate Records

A lack of property often translates to a lack of probate records, as well [5]. Many genealogists consider probate records to be among the most valuable record sets available thanks to their ability to define relationships. Unfortunately, this is one valuable source we may at times have to do without when researching in cities.

Despite these challenges, urban genealogy research is not a completely uphill battle. Here are some of the perks of having city-dwelling ancestors.

Benefits (i.e. “treats”)

1. City Directories

“In big cities . . . it is much more likely that urban ancestors appeared in city directories and that those directories still exist” wrote Duncan Kuehn on the FamilySearch Blog [6]. Even when you have an ancestor with a common name, city directories can be key to identifying that ancestor. There is a fantastic article on how to use city directories on the BCG Website. By knowing how to use them, you can often identify relationships, find employment records, identifying neighbors, understand address changes, and identify approximate dates of death [7].

2. Ethnic Neighborhoods and Churches

Though the city which your ancestor called home may have held a number of individuals with the same name, your ancestor’s immediate community may have held far fewer of them than you might think. Going back to my Michael Kelly example, I found that this ancestor of mine moved frequently, yes; But he always moved within a very small geographic region of what today is considered the near North Side/Magnificent Mile neighborhood, near Holy Name Cathedral where records show he attended church. Therefore, I can conclude that it is unlikely the person I find with the same name in the South Side Bridgeport neighborhood who attended Old St. Pat’s is the same person. The fact is, most large cities are just groups of smaller neighborhoods. So, if we learn the neighborhood, we will likely learn more about our ancestor.

Speaking of church records, urban church records are much more likely to have been preserved than rural church records [8], and many of them are digitized online. I personally have had good luck searching the Chicago Catholic Church records online at FamilySearch.

3. Newspapers – The same holds true for newspapers. It seems to me that large city newspapers are much more likely to be digitized and conveniently searchable than rural newspapers with small readership numbers. Even if you think your ancestor wouldn’t have been noteworthy enough to be mentioned in a newspaper article, you may find record of them in the classified ads [9].

4. Immigration and Naturalization records

If you have comparatively recent immigrant ancestors (generally speaking, post-1900 records contain more information than older documents) in your family line (which again, is fairly likely if you are searching in a large city), immigration and naturalization records can provide invaluable genealogical information such as town of origin, names of closest living relatives and more.

5. Preponderance of Documents

Kuehn again summed things up well when he wrote, “Big cities generate more documents and records than rural areas. They were often the first to institute death and burial records to deal with the increased health hazards that exist in cities due to pollution and overcrowding [10].”

6. Organized Cemetery Records

Generally speaking, city cemetery records are more organized and better preserved than rural cemetery records [11].

7. Genealogy Research Guides

You may not find a published book or reputable website on genealogy research for a small county America, but you are likely to find excellent city-specific research guides to America’s cities. I’ve got Loretto Dennis Szucs book, Chicago and Cook County: A Guide to Research on my current wishlist and I wrote about some of my old Chicago genealogy standbys here.

8. Employment Records

A number of individuals in my family tree worked for the Chicago Police Department and for the Chicago Surface Lines. Both of these agencies have surviving original records, as well as numerous related secondary sources just waiting to be investigated. The same is true for other large city agencies and corporations as well [12]. You may be surprised what employment records you find surviving in America’s cities.

So, there you have it. Have you noticed any other differences between research in large cities versus small towns or rural areas? Do you prefer one over the other? Do you know of any good resources on genealogy research in large cities or have any tips you would like to share?! Leave a comment or shoot me an email! I would love to hear from you!

[1] Duncan Kuehn, “Researching Your Ancestors from Large Cities,” FamilySearch Blog, 26 Oct 2015 (https://familysearch.org/blog/en/researching-ancestors-large-cities/ : Accessed 27 Oct 2015).

[2] Ibid.,

[3] Ibid.,

[4] “Land and Property,” Cook County Illinois Genealogy, FamilySearch Wiki, no date (https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Cook_County,_Illinois_Genealogy#Land_and_Property : accessed 27 Oct 2015)

[5]Val D. Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 3d ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Col, 2000), 310-311.

[6] Kuehn, “Researching Your Ancestors from Large Cities.”

[7] Kathleen W. Hinckley, “Analyzing City Directories,” Online Article citing OnBoard 2 (May 1996): 16, (http://www.bcgcertification.org/skillbuilders/skbld965.html : Accessed 27 Oct 2015).

[8] Kuehn, “Researching Your Ancestors from Large Cities.”

[9] Ibid.,

[10] Ibid.,

[11] Ibid.,

[12] Ibid.,

Immigrant Ancestors and Sport in the Progressive Era; plus Google doesn’t always know everything

Are you a descendant of immigrants who settled in a large US city around the turn of the twentieth century?

Do you consider yourself a sports fan?

Family Photo personally held; may not be used without permission
Family Photo personally held; may not be used without permission

If you answered yes to either of these questions then the following post is for you.

First, let me set the stage:

American cities during in the late 1800s and early 1900s underwent tremendous growth as industrialization beckoned both ambitous capitalists and low income workers, including large numbers of immigrants, to urban centers [1]. Chicago specifically (where my immigrant ancestors settled) saw unparalled growth as the city rebuilt in the years following the great Chicago Fire of 1871. While on the one hand, this rapid growth inspired a great deal of pride among City- dwellers, it was also blamed in part for a whole host of problems: Crowded slums, violent labor disputes, polluted air, inadequate public works leading to filthy city streets and contaminated Lake water to name a few [2]. Social and religious reformers saw other problems in America’s cities as well. They disapproved of the leisure time pursuits of many urban workers, namely, gambling and drinking [3].

As middle and upper class reformers set out to address these issues, philosophies such as the “rational recreation” and “parks movement” began to take hold which propagated the idea that parks and green space inspired morality. If individuals could pursue wholesome forms of leisure, they would in turn become better citizens, the philosophy said. Perhaps, reformers hoped, they could replace what they perceived as the gambling and drinking culture of immigrants with wholesome sport and leisure, thereby “Americanizing” and “homogenizing” divergent groups [4].

This era saw the inception of our modern sports culture [5]. During this time, the American Parks and Rec movement was born [6] . YMCAs sprang up in cities around the country. In one Massachusetts YMCA, James Naismith invented basketball in 1891 [7]. Industry leaders encouraged sports participation with the creation of industrial leagues in effort to control the leisure practices of workers and increase productivity [8] . Jane Addams’ “Hull House” became a prototype for charitable organizations, offering playgrounds and sports recreation to community members [9]. City planners considered the inclusion of green space as a necessity for its citizens, creating parks for the enjoyment of all [10]. Baseball became “America’s sport” as immigrants and domestic-born citizens alike embraced the game and its local heroes. Though the golden age of the recreational reform movement died out during the Great Depression, the sporting culture it fostered remained [11].

So what does this have to do with genealogy specifically?

Well, besides the fact that good genealogy understands historical context, it also means you might find record of your ancestor thanks to their participation in sport, which is exactly where I am in my family research at the moment.

The pictures below are of my Great-grandmother in a Baseball or Softball uniform. I scanned this photo from a family album last June. Obviously, she must have played on a team, but no one knew exactly for whom or when. Of course, I wanted to know more.

Family Photo privately held; may not be used without permission
Family Photo privately held; may not be used without permission
Family Photo personally held; may not be used without permission
Family Photo privately held; may not be used without permission

The photos aren’t dated, but I am guessing based on her birth and marriage date that they were taken sometime between 1915 and 1919 (yes, during the World War I era) [12].

I knew the family attended First St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and I also knew that my Great-grandma worked for Featheridge Rubber Company a few years later [13].

My first thought was that she might have played on a Lutheran League or an Industrial League, but it was through the uniform in these pictures that I was able to solve the mystery.

From these two pictures, I could see that the last 4 letters of the team name are “I V E T.” It also looks like the first letter is maybe an O or a D. Then it looks like the smaller letters underneath are “IN.” So, my guess is that the team name is “OLIVET” which is often a name with religious connotations.

I went to my good friends at Google and typed in “Olivet Baseball, Chicago” and “Olivet, Chicago.” Most of the resulting hits referred to Olivet Nazarene University. This did not seem like a logical connection since the University is located a good distance from the North side neighborhood where my Great-Grandmother grew up [14], and she almost certainly she never attended to college.

I was tempted to terminate the search here, concluding that the team name on her uniform was illegible. I really didn’t have any other leads to follow, so I mulled the problem over for a few days and read the fascinating Windy City Wars by Gerald R. Gems. I highly recommend this book if you are at all interested in the sports reform movement in Chicago. Not only did I learn a great deal about how this movement manifest itself in Chicago specifically, but I also have a whole host of original records and educational journals to look up thanks to the book’s copious footnotes. 51Z34A11SSL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_

Then, I got lucky. Instead of searching Google, whose algorithms find hits most relevant to the present day (not 1915-1920), I decided to search ARCHIE, the research catalog for the Chicago History Museum. I  typed in “Olivet Baseball.” A photograph popped up of a 1908 Olivet Men’s Baseball Team, with the player’s names listed [15]. I noticed that many of the players had German surnames. My Great-Grandma was German, and lived in Old Town which at the time had a high concentration of Germans [16] . I was hopeful I was on the right track.

I followed the links given on the photograph’s description to learn that the Olivet Institute (remember the small letters on the uniform in question started with IN) was a faith-based “settlement house and community center” located on the Near North Side offering “educational, recreational, and welfare services to local residents.” The institute was absorbed by the Chicago Commons Association in the 1960s. The CHM has a 6! boxes of material from the Olivet Institute [17]!

Next, I went over to my Chicago Tribune Archive database to find out more. I learned just from browsing a few articles that prior to a location move in the 1920s, and during the years my great-grandmother would have been a likely participant, the Olivet Institute was located at 701 Vedder Street [18].

Of course, as is often the case in when researching in Chicago, this address no longer exists. So I hopped on over to my friends at “A Look at Cook.” to find the corresponding present day address. Sure enough, the Olivet Institute was located two tenths of a mile from my Great-Grandma’s childhood home [19].

So is that enough evidence to conclude my Great-Grandma played baseball at the Olivet Institute? I would say it all looks very promising, though I would love to find further evidence. I am very much looking forward to upcoming trip to Chicago when I can hopefully take a look at the CHM archives for myself. Maybe I’ll find collaborative evidence there.

This photo is not the only hint that my ancestors were active sports participants. I also plan to research Great-Uncle’s supposed boxing talent with the Catholic Youth Organization and look for evidence that my Irish Great-Grandfather played soccer after his arrival in the US.

Do you suspect you may have a sporting past in your Chicago family? If so, there is no shortage of stones to unturn in your search. Gem’s book alone references nearly one hundred different leagues or organizations of which your ancestor may have been a member. Check it out, and I wish you luck on your search!

[1] Gary Cross, A Social History of Leisure since 1600, (State College: Venture, 1990), 87-88. Also, Donald L. Miller, City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), multiple pages, including chapter 13. Also Gerald R. Gems, Windy City Wars: Labor, Leisure and Sport in the Making of Chicago (Lanham, MA: Scarecrow Press, 1997), 17.

[2] For growth and pride see Miller, City of the Century, 446-448 Also Gems, Windy City Wars, 62. For problems see Gems, Windy City Wars, 64. Also Miller, City of the Century, 457.

[3] Gems, Windy City Wars, many pages, specifically 23, 81-82, 115-116. Also Miller, Windy City Wars, 460.

[4] Cross, A Social History of Leisure, chapter 7. Also Gems, Windy City Wars, many pages including 23.

[5] Gems, Windy City Wars, xiv.
[6] Ibid., 77-83.

[7] Cross, A Social History of Leisure, 146.

[8] Gems, Windy City Wars, 12-13, 116.

[9] Cross, A Social History of Leisure, 81-82.

[10] Gems, Windy City Wars, 77-83.

[11] Ibid., chapter 6.

[12] For Birth see [name withheld] Family Bible Records, circa 1925, Heilige Schrift (Chicago: Chicago Publication and Lithograph Co., no date), privately held by [name and address withheld], Illinois, 2015. Record is on a looseleaf sheet of paper. For marriage see Illinois, Cook County Marraiges, 1871-1920, [names withheld], 25 May 1918, certificate number 798006, FHL microfilm 1030674.

[13][name withheld] family photos, privately held by [name and address withheld], Illinois, 2015.

[14] 1910 U.S. Census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago, ED 947, Ward 22, p. 21, dwelling 4, family 6 [name withheld], digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed October 2015). Also 1920 U.S. Census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago ED 1217, Ward 22, p5A, dwelling 48, family 104 [name withheld] digital image, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com: accessed 21 Oct 2015), though she married and moved away, the family is still at the same address as the 1910 census.

[15] Chicago Daily News, Inc. Photographer, Olivet Indoor baseball team players posing in front of a light colored background in a room, photograph, 1908, digital image, Chicago History Museum Research Center Catalog (http://chsmedia.org: accessed 21 Oct 2015).

[16] Miller, City of the Century, 136.

[17] Olivet Community Center, Olivet Community Center records [manuscript], 1885-1966, summary and description, Chicago History Museum Research Center Catalog (http://chsmedia.org: accessed 12 Oct 2015).

[18] Bible as Model For Child Work: Boy and Girls of Olivet Institute to Build Altar, Ark and Jacob’s Ladder, Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922); Jan 31, 1912; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune, p 9. See also, Oney Fred Sweet, Olivet Serves as Model For Social Service, Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963); Dec 1, 1929; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune, pB1.

[19] Street Name Changes, A Look at Cook, PDF File (http://www.chsmedia.org/househistory/nameChanges/start.pdf ; accessed 21 Oct 2015).

I Just Qualified for the Boston Marathon and I’d Like to Thank my Great-Great-Grandfather

352811_206484436_XLarge copy2

If you came to this post as a runner, and not as a genealogist, you can find out more about my Boston Qualifying journey here.

This past weekend was a pretty eventful one for our family. On Saturday, I ran the St. George Marathon in Southern Utah and qualified for the 2017 Boston Marathon. Qualifying for Boston has been a dream of mine for a long time and something I’ve earnestly and ceaselessly worked towards for the past 5 years. I began running marathons 10 years ago, but not until I broke the 4 hour mark in did I even let myself consider the possibility of running fast enough to BQ. Though constantly doubting whether it would ever happen, I nonetheless committed myself to getting as fast as I possible could. I have battled injury and come back from an unexpected c-section, but thanks to the opportunity to train and race in Utah, and the unending support of my husband, I am thrilled to have met this goal on my 21st marathon.

To me, the Boston Marathon symbolizes the marriage of two of my passions: running and history. Boston is the oldest consecutive marathon to date, in one of the United State’s most historic cities. It takes place on Patriot’s Day, a local holiday commemorating the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  From the screaming Wellesley students at mile 13 to “Heartbreak Hill” near mile 21, the race is steeped in tradition. It is difficult to comprehend that in 1967 — just 15 years before I was born — race officials tried to physical prevent Boston’s first female finisher Katherine Switzer from completing the race. And today, not just anyone can run the marathon. For all but the most gifted, it takes work to qualify for Boston [1].

photo take from http://espn.go.com/espnw/news-commentary/article/7803502/2012-boston-marathon-how-kathrine-switzer-paved-way-female-runners

It’s funny. I used to hate running. I remember begging my high school volleyball coach to excuse us from running laps. Then, I left for college and wanted to join the fledgling women’s soccer program there. Not only was I the worst player at tryouts my freshman year, I was also the worst runner. Thankfully, running doesn’t require much coordination – just enough determination to get better at it. So that’s what I set out to do, and somewhere along the way I began to fall in love with it. Now, I am basically addicted. Running is as much a part of my life as anything.

I am not a genetically gifted runner. Most people who commit themselves to qualifying for Boston do so long before their 21st marathon. But who knows? Maybe there is something passed down from an ancestor that accounts for my tenacity at it. Thanks to genealogy, I have more than just an inkling that this might be the case.

In 2012, my husband and I traveled to Ireland and visited the ancestral homes of my Irish great-grandmother and great-grandfather. My great-grandmother emigrated from a tiny Island in Ireland’s Clew Bay, called Inishcuttle. When she left for Chicago in 1911 , Inishcuttle held 6 residences [2]. When we visited, there was only one oc04 01 12_5521cupied residence. Simply locating the exact Island in the Bay wasn’t easy. Few maps even include it, it is so small. Nevertheless, my husband somehow navigated our rental car across two low narrow causeways to the Island. A sheepdog stood between us and the only residence. I nervously got out of the car and found the dog friendly. My naturally introverted-self gathered enough courage to knock on the door of the house, and introduce myself to Mrs. Quinn who came to the door. She explained that her husband grew up on the Island and although he wasn’t home at the moment he would no doubt love to talk to me.04 01 12_5480

The Quinn’s came to our hotel to talk with us the following day. He ordered a whiskey and she ordered a weak coffee. He had trouble with my American accent. He told me about what it was like growing up on Inishcuttle. He remembered my great-grandmothe04 01 12_5502r, her siblings AND her parents. At one point, he was compelled to sing an Irish song for us. And then he told me this about my 2nd great-grandfather:

“He used to run for miles.”

“Wait. What?!” I replied.

“He was good runner. I remember one time he missed the trading ship to Sligo. So he ran there instead.”

I remember asking how far it was to Sligo. My notes and memory fail to recall the Quinn’s exact approximation of distance to Sligo via the cowpaths they told me he ran along, but along today’s roads, Google maps tells me this is some 60 miles [3].

Family lore is full of stories like this one — almost unbelievable, with no way to confirm or deny their veracity. But you know what? It doesn’t always matter whether the story is exactly true or not. I think I will always remember D. Joshua Taylor’s remarks on an episode of Ancestry Roadshow about (I’m paraphrasing) how all family stories, even those distorted by years of exaggeration, all started somewhere for some reason. Often there is at least a kernel of truth in them.

The fact is that someone who remembers my 2nd great-grandfather remembers him as a runner. The person who told me this had no idea that I had already completed somewhere around 15 marathons myself by that point. Of course, to me, this piece of information was priceless. Am I ever glad I knocked on that door!

On that note, I will close this post, but stay tuned for some upcoming topics I hope to write about:

1) More on sports genealogy – Besides my supposed ultra-marathoning 2nd great grandfather, I have some other sports leads I am looking into: Namely, that my great-grandfather played soccer in Chicago shortly after his immigration to the City. I am also hoping to investigate a couple photos I have of my great-grandmother in a baseball uniform. The whole 20th century sports and recreation urban reform movement was in full swing when my ancestors lived and worked in the city. I am currently working my way through a fascinating book on this topic called Windy City Wars by Gerald R. Gems. Also, let’s also not forget the CUBS are in PLAYOFFS!!!! I am happy to say I am multi-generation CUBS fan, rooting for the same team as my North Side Ancestors!!!

2) Today, I had the privilege to attend some of the lectures at the BCG Lecture Series at the Family History Library. I got to hear some of the best in the business for FREE! I love living in Salt Lake!!!


[2]1911 Census of Ireland, Mayo County, District Electoral Division (DED) Kilmeena, Inishcottle, Houses in Inishcottle, Census of Ireland 1901/1911 (http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1911/Mayo/Kilmeena/Inishcottle/ : accessed 9 Oct 2015); original manuscript not cited. For date of immigration see, “Passenger Record,” digital images, Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation (http://ellisisland.org : accessed 19 August 2015), manifest, SS Carmania, 12 April 1911, no page, line 22, Maria O Malley, age 20.

[3] Personal Knowledge of Author

Finding Out More about Probate Records Part II


A few weeks ago, I admitted to some considerable knowledge gaps when it comes to probate records. Ancestry’s recent mass digitization of probate records left me with a lot of questions. I decided to reinvest some income I received doing document retrievals and educate myself on this topic. I am happy to say I finally bought Greenwood’s book, The Researchers Guide to American Genealogy, which I am loving. I also rented the BCG webinar on probate records and have otherwise been reading what genealogists who specialize in this topic have to say. While I’m still no legal expert, I’ve already learned enough to answer most of my questions and then some. 516sJvhE1bL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Here’s a summary of the initial questions I posted along with my new-found knowledge:

1. Why can’t I find records for any of my Chicago ancestors? With very few exceptions, my ancestors were Chicagoans. Before Chicago, they lived in Europe. . . . Most of these people possessed very little in terms of material goods, so it is easy to assume this fact alone accounts for this lack of probate records. However, I am beginning to think that the assumption that poor families left no probate records is something of a misnomer. . . .

While it is true that you are much more likely to find record of probate for a wealthy ancestor than a poor one, the crux of the issue isn’t really economic status, but rather ownership of property. [1] If you are researching an ancestor who was poor, but also lived in an agrarian community or in a time and place where most people of similar socio-economic status owned land, you may just find a probate record for that individual. If however, you ancestors were like mine — poor, tenement urban dwellers – well, those individuals rarely had much in the way of property or material goods to be divided among their legal heirs. Hence, there is often no record of probate.

Nevertheless, even if your ancestor had no record of probate relating to his or her estate, that person could still be mentioned in another individual’s record of probate. I had not considered this possibility before. Probate records name witnesses, executors and heirs, to name a few – and your ancestor may be among these individuals. Even more interesting, probate records can be used to find record of enslaved people, who may have been listed as property on pre-civil war probate records. Greenwood estimates that about 50% of all “people in America, historically, have either left wills or have been mentioned in them. [2] So never assume probate records won’t be of much value to your genealogical search. Whether your ancestors had money or not, they may be found in probate records.

2. It appears that most of the available records on Ancestry date from early years of the 20th century or earlier. Is this a legitimate observation, or am I totally off? If I am correct, why is this the case?

I still haven’t found a great answer to this question, but I did learn that probate cases generally fall under county jurisdictions [3] , and their availability varies by each jurisdiction. Ancestry itself put it this way, “Knowing where your ancestor’s estate was processed is step one. Step two is determining whether or not Ancestry has records for that time and place. While the U.S. Wills and Probates collection does include records from all 50 states, it does not include all U.S. probate records. Over the years some records have been destroyed by fires, and in some places, they have not been microfilmed or digitized and still are only available offline in the
county courthouse or in a local repository.” [4]

It seems logical that early probate records are more readily available because those are the ones the local courthouses or repositories have already relinquished to the microfilm and digitization process. This might also help account for my negative searches for my Chicago family, who were all relative newcomers to the United States. The courthouse might still hold their records, if any exist; which brings me to my next question:

3. Where else should I be looking? Obviously, not every US probate record ever recorded is included in Ancestry’s database. I know the Circuit Court of Cook County has an index I’ve searched in the past with some promising results. I hope to do look ups there next time I am in town.

Ancestry itself tells us its record set is not exhaustive — not that we expected it to be. The fact that so many of these records are now digitized and searchable is something to appreciate. That said, fellow blogger Randy Seaver at Genea-musings, estimates that the Ancestry collection only includes some 5-10% of all probate records already microfilmed.[5] While I would be curious to know the source of this estimate, the point is clear: there are no doubt valuable probate records still out there to be found.

So first, I am going to look at the county level. As I already suspected, the Circuit Court of Cook County is a repository I need to investigate if I want to do more digging.[6]

Second, I am going to look over the FamilySearch probate holdings for Cook County again. While the FHL catalog is a logical place to search for probate records (For any genealogist, but for me especially since I am local), it is by no means the only archive containing microfilmed probate records. It seems worth your time to investigate these types of facilities for records pertaining to your ancestor’s local area. [7]

Finally, although I doubt whether I will find any useful to my personal family genealogy, in order to leave no stone unturned, I should check and see if there are any compilations or abstracts of probate records already published. Greenwood recommends using these when the originals cannot be obtained, which is sometimes the case for early records.[8]

Of course, between these various repositories and sources, there is bound to be some overlap. I don’t want to waste time searching for the same documents, but I want to make sure I cast my net as widely as possible. A detailed research log will be paramount here. Check out Seaver’s state by state research table strategy for keeping track of probate record searches.

4. What about privacy laws? Ancestry says they have records dated as recently as 2005. How is it I can easily access a 10 year old probate record, but I have to wait 72 years for the census?

The answer to this question is pretty simple, if somewhat illogical. Even though probate records give lot more information regarding matters some families might wish to keep private, the fact is they are simply classified as public record. Census records, on the other hand, are not designated as public record until 72 years after they were created.[9]

5. I’m really not familiar with law/legal terms. What does all this stuff mean and how did the process work?

I think the language and process of probate records can make them seem intimidating, when in reality, they are not that complicated. After just a few weeks of research, the process makes a lot more sense to me than it did initially. However, even though probate records need not intimidate genealogists, they still must be understood within their historical context. Greenwood wrote, “. . . the more you know about the legal processes which bring probate record into existence (within limits of course) the more value they will have for you. . . .” [10] Understanding the historical and legal context of a document will often necessitate further research. For example, in his lecture for the BCG, Hait gave an example where his understanding of a specific statute regarding the legal age of a probate witness helped him correctly identify an individual. Sometimes finding out exactly what the law said for the time period and jurisdiction you are researching will require extra effort. Hait recommended university law libraries and even Google Books as good starting places should your analysis require such research. [11]

In any case, my self-made crash course in probate records showed me there are a number of resources out there for those of us who lack a law background. Here are just a few resource I found along the way:

718TB3MSFTL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.gif–Black’s Law Dictionary by Henry Campbell Black

–Estate Inventories and How to Use Them by Kenneth L. Smith

–Judy G. Russell’s blog, “The Legal Genealogist” – a quick search for “probate records” brought up so many interesting posts! If you are not familiar with Russell or her blog, be sure to check it out.

Well, I’m glad to say I’m no longer completely in the dark regarding probate records. Iam  excited to see what I can dig up next time I’m in Chicago. Of course, my probate record research revealed to me new, additional topics about which I want learn next. My reading list gets ever longer. Nothing wrong with that.

[1] Val D. Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 3d ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Col, 2000), 310-311.

[2] Ibid., 310.

[3] Ibid., 312, 345.

[4] “5 Things You Should Know to Get the Most from the Probate Collection at Ancestry,” Article. Ancestry.com (http://c.ancestry.com/cs/media/5-things-about-probate-collection.pdf : accessed 28 Sept 2015).

[5] Seaver, Randy, “Mining the Ancestry Probate Records Collection – Post 1: Pennsylvania,” Genea-musings, 8 Sept 2015 (http://www.geneamusings.com/2015/09/mining-ancestry-probate-records.html :accessed 30 Sept 2015.

[6] According to the state by state guide in Val D. Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 3d. ed., 345-349.

[7]Ibid., 349.

[8] Ibid., 349.

[9] For classification of probate records see Teo Spengler, “Does Probate Make a Will Public,” Legal Zoom Website, No date (http://info.legalzoom.com/probate-make-public-4666.html : accessed 30 Sept 2015). For classification of census records see Census Records, United States Census Bureau, No Date (https://www.census.gov/history/www/genealogy/decennial_census_records/census_records_2.html : accessed 30 Sept 2015).

[10] Val D. Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 3d. ed., 326.

[11] Michael Hait, “Of Sound Mind and Body: Using Probate Records in your Research” BCG Webinar, 17 Nov 2014, (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/haitprobate : Accessed 27 Sept 2015).