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Archive for the ‘Genealogy’ Category

Decluttering the Genealogy Office

December finds me taking a hiatus from active genealogical research. I devote the time instead to finishing up my research project for the year and cleaning up my office.

Now that January has arrived, I have a less cluttered workspace. Over the holidays, I worked to get rid of some materials I no longer need:

  1. Our office worktable had several stacks of work in progress. I admit they were all mine. I discarded or filed most of them, and now we have some clear space available.
  2. Many years ago, I joined a couple of genealogical societies that published monthly or quarterly newsmagazines. I saved them all. Last year I realized that much of the material in these magazines was time sensitive and of no use today. I went through these back issues, preserved the articles worth keeping, and discarded the rest. This freed up some valuable shelf space in the office.
  3. Several years ago, I inherited a cousin’s research library and work. The books sit on shelves, and file cabinets hold her research papers. And then there is The Box. Full of miscellaneous material, it sits on the office floor. I have begun working through it to file or discard its contents. Before long, I will be able to remove the empty box from our office.

My office remains stuffed with genealogical material despite this effort. I simply have too much, and many things from the cousin relate to her family, not mine. I need to get rid of it, and I have a plan to deal with that.

Instead of waiting until next December to resume the decluttering, I plan to go through the office systematically. Taking one drawer, one shelf, or one notebook at a time, I will work on purging something of the contents every day.

I wonder what my office will look like next December.

2022 Arrives

Another year has arrived. What will it bring?

I look forward to another year of rewarding research, involvement in lineage societies, and the upcoming Palatines to America conference in Denver.

What is on your genealogy agenda?

Happy New Year!

Julfest Time

At this time of year, Norwegians enjoy a Julfest to celebrate the solstice and the festival of Christmas.

Some parts of the U. S. hold large events with Nordic Markets and bonfires. They serve traditional Norwegian treats such as lefse, pickled herring, pea soup, and cookies, lots and lots of cookies.

Our local Sons of Norway lodge held a Julfest this month. We focused on the cookies for our party. Everyone brought some to exchange.

A few people brought more modern recipes, but several of the traditional cookies appeared as well:

  1. Krumkake—a waffle cookie made on a two-sided iron griddle,
  2. Sandbakkelse—sand tarts made in tins of different shapes
  3. Pepperkakker—spiced cookies
  4. Spritz cookies—a simple cookie dough pressed through a decorative disk
  5. Fattigmann—dough twisted into a fancy shape and deep fried
  6. Serinakaker—Norwegian butter cookies
  7. Rosettes—deep fried lacy treats made with a special rosette iron

After the Julfest, my husband/tech advisor and I took home a heaping plate of all sorts of cookies. We have been enjoying them all week.


A Family of Black Sheep

Families come in all shapes and sizes. Often they have individual members who contribute to society in ways that benefit everyone. Mine, not so much. One could describe many of our relatives as black sheep ancestors, or those who behaved in disreputable or disgraceful ways.

When I found a new branch of my dad’s family this year, I should not have been surprised to find that it, too, is peopled with black sheep. Every one of my dad’s grandparents had skeletons in the closet:

  1. Reed. My great-grandfather left his family and squandered his inheritance on fruitless land speculation. A Reed cousin defected to East Germany during the Cold War.
  2. Riddle. A distant great-uncle sued his brother over the family farm, leaving his sibling destitute and without means to make a living. Another brother served time for larceny and then became a reclusive sheepherder in Montana.
  3. Ryan. Over three generations, these men abandoned their children, either leaving them to be raised by relatives or placing them in orphanages. Some cousins were Nebraska bootleggers during Prohibition.
  4. Sherman. These blacksmiths believed in homemade money. Several were arrested for counterfeiting. One was shot and killed in his bed by a disgruntled associate.

As I uncover more of this doubtful legacy, I begin to wonder about the advice our great-grandfather Reed left with his offspring. He told them, “You inherited a good name, now keep it that way.”

Oh, the irony.


In Need of a Local Map

This week I wanted a map of the Nebraska area where my great-grandparents lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They homesteaded northeast of Palisade in Hayes County. I needed something that would locate their farms and provide some surrounding context.

My road atlas provided a political map with towns, roads, and county boundaries, but I was hoping for even more information. I remembered that I had once attended a seminar on using maps for genealogical research. Perhaps the instructor had offered some suggestions on where to look for the type of map I envisioned.

I pulled out his handout from 2014 (yes, I saved it!). I saw that he had given us a list of major map websites.

After seven years, I wondered how many of these could still be viable. I did recognize a few such as the USGS topographic maps, the David Rumsey map collection, and the Library of Congress map collection. I decided against starting with these.

The topo maps on the USGS site show only topographic information. I find the Rumsey site and the LOC site cumbersome to use. It takes me a long time to find what I am looking for, and I have a hard time trying to print what I need. I wanted a faster result.

The seminar handout listed another site that I decided to try. I was delighted to find that it still exists. It is called the National Map (, and it is maintained by the United States Geological Survey. As a government service, it is free to use.

The home page has a link to the National Map viewer. You can zoom in to any location in the United States. The resulting map of the Palisade, Nebraska area was exactly what I sought.

My map includes so many things of interest:

  1. Political entities like the town of Palisade, its nearby highways, and the Burlington Northern railroad line,
  2. Land survey section lines and numbers for the surrounding area,
  3. Waterways like Frenchman Creek and the Culbertson Canal,
  4. Places like the local cemetery, a dam, and a gravel pit,
  5. Topography lines to help me understand the elevations of the land.

My map is wonderful, exactly what I needed. The National Map website is simple to navigate, and it is easy to print a map.

I plan to return to this site to find other locations from my family’s history. Maps provide a great way to visualize the places they lived.

Writing Again

The Christmas season approaches. Each year I write an ancestor’s biographical sketch to send around to family members. I get these ready every November. In prior years I have completed work on all the great-grandparents and second great-grandparents that I could identify.

This year I had intended to move back a generation and begin working on my third great grandparents. I spent about half the year researching one of them, Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1851) of Chatham, MA.

Then a surprise DNA match arrived over the summer. Suddenly I knew the identity of a previously unknown great-grandfather. This man’s family branch had been a huge hole in my family tree. Now I had his name.

I dropped everything else to learn all I could about him. He became the focus of my biographical sketch for this year.

His death certificate and probate file arrived in the mail this month just in time for me to complete my 2021 project. I now have everything I need to tell his story.

Soon I will get it printed and send it around to the family in time for Christmas.

Veteran’s Day Ahead

This week we honor all the veterans of our armed forces. Coming from a family where many members have served, I like to take note of the day.

It will be a special one for me this time. In August, my application to become a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) was approved. I was eligible by virtue of descent from a veteran of the Revolutionary War.

My ancestor was Gershom Hall (1760-1844), a Patriot from Massachusetts. He enlisted at Barnstable County on 1 Sep 1780. He then served as a Private under Captain Nathaniel Freeman in Lt. Col. Enoch Hallett’s regiment where he served 2 mos., 4 days, including 4 days (75 miles) travel home. The unit was stationed in Rhode Island to reinforce the Continental Army. Gershom Hall was discharged 31 Oct 1780.

As we honor him and others on Veteran’s Day this week, we have an additional reason to remember our former servicemen. In Colorado we will commemorate the centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The DAR chapter in Aurora, CO will host a Veteran’s Day event at the Colorado Freedom Memorial. The ceremony will include the welcome of honored guests, a history of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a wreath laying, and the National Salute.

Join us at 10:30.



Genealogy Potpourri

Some weeks seem a little scattered in the home office. I engaged in several unrelated genealogy activities this week:

  1. My research papers on the Ryan family have taken on a life of their own. I spent my genealogy time yesterday sorting and organizing the mess. Now I am ready to move forward with some productive research.
  2. I have not attended the local Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society in-person programs that began this fall. They record their programs so members can listen later if they miss a meeting. I donned my headphones to hear the September program and hope to listen to the October program tonight.
  3. The Colorado Genealogical Society hosts Zoom classes on specialized topics once a month. I registered for an upcoming session on using the My Heritage online website.
  4. As I read the most recent journal of the Palatines to America organization yesterday, I found the information for next spring’s conference in Denver. I invited my half-German husband/tech advisor to go. We made a hotel reservation this morning. We are already looking forward to an immersion in German food, genealogy, culture, and companionship.

As the weekend approaches, I have Ryan family papers to analyze, an interesting lecture to hear, and both a class and a conference to look forward to. Not bad for a disjointed week.

A Young Woman with Many Footprints

Common wisdom states that genealogical research comes more easily for male ancestors than for female ones. I often find the opposite to be true in my family.

One example is my Irish ancestral couple, Daniel Ryan (1829-1863) and Jane Lawless (abt. 1829-1853), who resided in Illinois. I have found much more information about her and her family than I have located for his. I believe other researchers have encountered the same difficulties with Daniel because online family trees commingle him with another Daniel who lived in New York.

Everyone seems to have difficulty with him, yet Jane has been easy to find. Although she lived a short life, I have several records for her:

  1. Arriving New York passenger list for the Home on 1 May 1849. Jane and her family travelled in steerage from Ireland.
  2. 1850 U. S. census for Peoria, Illinois. Jane resided in the Thomas Lawless household with perhaps 10 siblings. Two other Lawless families appeared on the same page.
  3. 1851 marriage record for Jane Lawless and Daniel Ryan in Peoria, Illinois. They married 15 June 1851 in the Catholic Church.
  4. 1852 baptism record for her son Richard in Kickapoo, Peoria County, Illinois.
  5. Death in 1853. I have not located a death or burial record for Jane, but an affidavit in a Civil War pension application file states that she died at Bloomington, Illinois in 1853.

These records will provide ample fodder to learn much more about Jane and her family. All her siblings would have left tracks in Illinois and elsewhere.

Once again, the female in my family becomes the easier one to document.

One Man or Two?

Daniel Ryan (1829-1863) is proving to be a difficult ancestor to trace. Most information I have collected about him indicates that he lived in various counties in Illinois. But there was a Daniel Ryan the same age who lived in Clinton County, New York. Many online trees have the IL and NY information compiled into a single profile.

Were they the same man? As I gather more information, I find that I doubt it.

I know this about my ancestor:

  1. He was born in Ireland in 1828 or 1829.
  2. He married Jane Lawless in Peoria, IL in 1851.
  3. He had a son Richard born in 1852.
  4. Jane died in 1853, and Daniel married Bridget Murphy in Springfield, IL in 1854.
  5. He had a son James born in 1855.
  6. He enlisted in the Union Army in Illinois in 1861.
  7. As a soldier, he died from disease at New Orleans in 1863.
  8. His widow Bridget collected a Civil War widow’s pension.

I have collected only a little information so far on the Daniel Ryan who lived in New York:

  1. In 1850 he lived with his parents in Au Sable, Clinton County, NY and worked in the coaling industry.
  2. In 1860 he was still living in New York, working as a miner, with a wife Margaret.

Merging these two men, as so many online trees have done, strains my credibility:

  1. Daniel would have needed to travel from Au Sable (near the Vermont/Canada border in NY) to Springfield and back more than once between 1850 and 1860. During this period, he would have married three times.
  2. My Daniel Ryan’s widow Bridget was married to him from 1854 until his death in 1863. She lived in Illinois. Unless he was a bigamist, the same man could not have been married to Margaret and living in New York in 1860.

So why is everyone pulling all this information into the life story of one man? I think I know. I have not found my Daniel Ryan on either the 1850 or the 1860 U. S. census. It would be easy to assume the New York man is him because that is the only record that emerges in a census search for Daniel Ryan in those years. But the facts do not support this conclusion.

The evidence seems to be pointing to separate identities for the Daniel Ryan who lived in Illinois and the one who lived in New York.