An Image Here and an Image There: a BillionGraves Tale

Last spring while I was off playing Grandmother, my husband Jim decided to take a “stay-cation” and found a project dear to the heart of any genealogist … photographing gravestones in area cemeteries.  (I suspect he has a few symptoms of “genealogy fever.”)

He downloaded the app from BillionGraves.com to his cell phone and registered for an account (all free).  Then by using the camera on his phone he took a picture of each tombstone, “linked” those stones and memorials if they were family members (e.g husband and wife), and uploaded the images to the BillionGraves website.  Other volunteers transcribed the writing on the tombstones.  An especially helpful feature of the website is that not only is it searchable by cemetery and by name, but the location of the gravestone is indicated on a map of the cemetery.  Very useful for locating a particular burial site in a large cemetery!  (Of course this only works if there is a tombstone or grave marker.)

To date, Jim has contributed nearly 11,000 images to BillionGraves!  He has photographed all five of the cemeteries in Ames, Iowa as well as a few in the surrounding area.

The work was not without a few challenges, however.  He encountered snakes, bees, cold, heat and rain.  But the biggest challenge was fending off the mosquitoes in late July and early August.  In Jim’s words, “They considered me their person blood drive.”  He gained the upper hand when he wore this mosquito hat that kept most of them at bay.

Jim 2

And Jim without the netting:

Jim

The value of the BillionGraves website was brought home to me this last week when I helped a friend unravel a mystery she had been trying to solve for some time.  We found her relative’s grave in a cemetery in Illinois … thanks to other kind and generous volunteers who had photograved and transcribed the images from that cemetery for BillionGraves.

So, a big round of  applause and appreciation for ALL the volunteers at BillionGraves who have donated vast hours making this information available not only to genealogists, but to persons trying to find the final resting place of their loved ones.  Your work is a wonderful and helpful tool.

(Thanks  to our daughter Naomi for suggesting the topic of this post.)

 

 

 

 

Posted in Genealogy, Research, Story County Iowa, Technology | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Genealogy Jig

Time for the genealogy happy dance!

One of the biggest genealogy challenges I’ve faced with my German ancestors is finding the village or town where they were born and lived.  The reason for needing this information is that there was no centralized repository for 18th and 19th century records of births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths.  These events were recorded at the local level, either in the church registers or the municipal archives.  So, in order to find them  you have to know where to look.  (Basic genealogy principle!)  And until you can identify where an ancestor lived, you really can’t do much research.  For example, it took me about four years of intense searching to local the ancestral village and parish of my Schwans ancestors.  But persistence paid off and eventually I found the little town of Vreschen-Bokel (with an incredible amount of help from Jens and Jane and many other persons!)

In researching the birthplace of my son-in-law’s German ancestors, I was facing the same challenges, with absolutely NO clue where in Germany they originated.  So I focused on other lines that were easier to research and “forgot” about the Roths and Muellers.  But one night recently I took another look at an obituary for Susanna Roth Mueller and noticed she had a sister who survived.  Further research on the surviving sister, Elizabeth Rath Weimers, (now deceased) yielded her memorial on Findagrave.com and, wonder of wonders, an actual copy of her death record at FamilySearch.org.    And what should appear on her death record but the names of her parents (including the maiden name of her mother) AND her place of birth.  And, as almost a pure gift, the information was typed so I did not have to decipher handwriting.  More checking on FamilySearch confirmed the names of the parents, Johannes Rath (not Roth) and Susanna Schmidt (or Schmitt).

As is so often the case, this opened more doors and I identified seven children who had been born to this couple … as well as the date of their marriage.  But why stop there?  I have ordered the microfilmed records in hopes of identifying the names of the parents, one generation back.  Yeah, it does seem like we genealogists are never satisfied!  But if the information is available to be found, I want to find it.  Why quit when the chase is hot!

The place of birth on Elizabeth Rath Weimer’s death certificate was given as Dürkheim.  The index to the microfilm listed her place of birth as Grethen and baptism in  Dürkheim … but on a map there is a distance of almost 300 miles between Grethen and a town named Bad Dürkheim.  That didn’t make sense that parents would travel that distance in 1855 with a newborn.

Back to more checking on the towns … it turns out there was a town called Grethen that was annexed by Bad Dürkheim in 1935.  Also, the town of Dürkheim became Bad Dürkheim in 1905.  NOW, the pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together.

Now where are those dancing shoes?

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in German Ancestry, Germany, Research | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Coincidence Times Three

If you’ve read my two previous posting, you’ll recall my telling of some coincidences I’ve recently observed or experienced.

Well, if events come in threes, I can attest to a third:

This week I had two persons contact me for genealogy suggestions and advice: both were originally from South Dakota, my home state. One person was also a South Dakota State alumni, as am I (“Go, Jacks!”) and, both had questions about searching in areas of South Dakota which were familiar to me.

Love these “did this really happen” and “small world” experiences!

Posted in Genealogy, Humor, South Dakota | 1 Comment

“I Recognize Those Names”

Keeping an open mind–and being prepared for finding answers in unexpected places–is a familiar adage to experienced genealogy researchers.  I saw an example of this in a recent day-long workshop that our local genealogy society presented.

During the last session of the day, the presenter was using some of her own family tree as an example.  Suddenly a member of the audience announced with delight, “Hey, those are my ancestors, too!”

The speaker and audience member had never met previously, but a follow-up discussion revealed they were second cousins once removed!  They had grown up in the same area of Iowa, but with about a little more than a generation between them.  Currently they live about 90 miles apart.

This genealogy research is good for finding deceased ancestors but becomes even more rewarding when a connection is made with a fellow cousin.   Especially when the example used includes  the very people you are researching!

 

 

Posted in ancestry, Iowa | 2 Comments

Two Serendipity Events

What person doesn’t enjoy a pleasant surprise? As a genealogy researcher, I love that “a-ha” moment of discovery, sometimes celebrated with what is known as the “genealogy happy dance.”

Recently, there have been two very pleasant such events in my genealogy life. The first occurred during a vacation to Indiana. We had just toured the Twin Oaks Dairy Farm and stopped at their gift shop to eat lunch. As I was browsing some of the displays, someone hurled their baseball cap at me. I winced and though, “What bratty kid is throwing things in here?” Well, it was not a bratty kid at all, but my older brother Ron. (Yes, in our growing up years I may have called him that, but the fact is I have always admired him … even when we would fight).  Ron, his wife Marilyn, and their daughter Maria were traveling from Minnesota to the East Coast to visit another family member when they decided to take a quick break at the Twin Oaks gift shop. Now what are the chances of this happening? I’d say very, very remote. Neither of us knew of the others travel plan. It was such a delight to see and visit with them, realizing if either of us had been ten minutes earlier or later, we would have missed each other. I am glad that was not the case

The second serendipity event happened as I did some further research on the genealogy of our son-in-law’s ancestors. It turns out that his sixth great-grandfather (and, thus our granddaughter Ava’s seventh great-grandfather) was the original owner of the property where we owned our first house. It was home to Ava’s mother Naomi for the first four years of her life.  Translated: Ryan’s sixth great-grandfather, John Wheeler, had a land patent (homestead) from the U.S. government in 1852, making him the original owner after Uncle Sam.  In the middle 1970s we bought our first house on a portion of that land.

So, again, what is the probability of a person living on a portion of land previously owned by a seventh generation ancestor of her future husband?

Coincidences of these kind are fun and fascinating!

 

 

Posted in ancestry, Genealogy, Humor, Schwans Genealogy, Story County Iowa | 2 Comments

Celebrating Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day 2014 has been a wonderful day for me.  First, of all because Jim and I raised the most wonderful daughter, Naomi, and we enjoy an excellent relationship with her.  And there was an extra blessing this year when Ava Jeanette Meeks was born to Naomi and Ryan.  So we’re enjoying this “Grandparents Thing” and are beginning to understand why grandparents can be a bit silly sometimes.

And this year my husband, Jim, gave me a very special present when he restored the child’s cupboard pictured below.  This cupboard was built by my grandfather John Schaefers for my mother Julitta, probably in the early 1920s.  My sister Pat and I used it as children and I have memories of many happy hour of playing with our toy dishes and it.

The cupboard has been made the rounds of various nieces that had it, beginning in the mid-1970s.  Now the cupboard has come into my possession, but it had shown signs of wear after almost 90 years.

My husband patiently and lovingly sanded it, removed the (probably original) paint, made repairs, and repainted it.  Now it looks exactly as I remember it from my childhood!

What a lovely gift this has been!  Thank you, Jim!

Cupboard

 

Posted in Memories, Schaefers Genealogy | Tagged , | 3 Comments

South Dakota Easter memories from the 1950s

Easter, the holiest day in Christianity, is a time of great rejoicing and celebrated widely.  Growing up in South Dakota it was a special time for my siblings and me during the 1950s.  We had the practice of “giving up” candy during Lent and, since Lent officially ended at noon on Saturday of Holy Week, we splurged and indulged our taste in sweets.  Mine was chocolate, my favorite food group (the other three being Coke, popcorn and fruit).  What fun it was not to have to wait until after mass on Easter to be able to feast a bit.

The other activity of the day before Easter was the annual tradition of dyeing Easter eggs.  Oh, the patience my mom had, especially the year we spontaneously invited three or four of the neighborhood kids to join us in this ritual.  I don’t have any bad memories of that day so we must not have spilled the egg-dye.  Probably the layers of newspapers we had spread around served a good purpose.

My favorite egg color was purple.  Maybe it was the intensity.  And we loved to put the decals on the eggs but that usually did not turn out very well.  And I always scratched my colored egg with the metal thingy we used to handle the eggs.  It was obvious at an early age that being an egg-dyeing artist was not in my future.  <Sigh>

When there were only one egg left to dye, we would pour all the colors together and the result was a muddy-looking colored egg.   Not surprisingly, that one was buried at the bottom of the pile of the colored eggs.  It was not very pretty.

The other element of preparing for Easter was The Easter Outfit.  That probably meant a new dress, shoes, and hat since we covered our head in church.  Most years we only bought what needed to be replaced, especially if we’d had a growth spurt in the past months.  But it was always a special feeling to have our new outfit.  My mother was an excellent seamstress and she made some of our clothes, frequently using the same pattern and type of fabric for my sister and me.  But the dresses were always a different color so we were not “matched.”  It was a special feeling to attend mass on Easter Sunday looking our best.

Happy Easter to all my readers!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments