Archive for the ‘genealogy’ Category

Scanning continued

Woohoo! One box of paper files scanned and emptied, papers recycled. Only 3 boxes to go.


In a lot of cases, I’m looking at source documents I haven’t seen in 20 years. The scanning process slows down because I’m checking for Findagrave memorials that didn’t exist back then, or I’m inputting the text of obituaries that I didn’t input at the time. Or, I’m finding Findagrave memorials for people I didn’t know have died recently, so I’m checking Genealogybank for their obituaries. My TMG* workflow has evolved over the years, not to mention the sourcing limitations I was under in the early years of PAF.** If I’m ever going to get my family lines output, I want my source citations cleaned up.


*The Master Genealogist

**Personal Ancestral File


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Filing vs. Scanning

I’ve been absent from the blog for several months because I’ve been immersed in a genealogical/clerical project of massive proportions.

I’ve been researching our families since about 1989. A genealogy hobby or vocation can really bring out your inner “hoarder” just by virtue of the fact that you have to document your sources. You’ll more than likely encounter records that you think might be your person of interest, but you can’t tell for sure. I don’t know about you, but I print out and save all that stuff, for further research.

Over the years, my collection of documentation grew. When I moved to Richmond 20 years ago, I had two file boxes. Now I have five. My filing system back then was to create a file folder for each marriage that had documentation. If the marriage produced children who didn’t live to adulthood, those documents stayed in that folder. If the children had their own marriages, they got new folders and their documents went into it. If the children reached adulthood but never married, they got their own folder. It worked well for a long time. (Obviously, I didn’t make folders until I had something to file in them.)

But this system just wasn’t sustainable. I looked at those five file boxes and I imagined them expanding to 8 or 10. Yikes! And the stack of filing I needed to do reached at least 2.5 feet. I wish I’d taken the photo when it was at its highest, but I’ve indicated about where it was and I’m not exaggerating.


And on top of all this filing, I also had piles of papers and more folders sitting on the floor around this, my sewing room, of research in progress. Another unsustainable/unscalable system. I had a folder for each ancestral surname, which was better than nothing, but if you’ve done genealogical research before, you know that the number of direct ancestors increases exponentially with each generation.

In the olden days, a researcher probably relied on 5-drawer office filing cabinets. I would have easily run out of room for those. As it was, my husband shared this space with me as his office when the kids were still living at home. After they left, I quickly pushed him into one of the spare bedrooms and took over.

So I needed a solution and quick! I decided the only sane system for me was to digitize everything and recycle the paper documents. But I needed to make another decision: where to house the scans and how to find stuff later. A blogpost by Dick Eastman gave me my answer. He told about a hardware/software bundle and I bought it. It still took me a long time to decide between the Paperless software and Evernote.

I chose Evernote. I am not going to go into an in-depth review of this product, it’s been around long enough that you’ve probably at least heard of it, if not already familiar with it.

With the Fujitsu Scan Snap 1300i, I can scan directly to Evernote as a PDF document, or to Evernote or local folder on my MacBook Air as a jpeg. I use PDFs for documents, jpegs for photos. The scanner isn’t the fastest in the world, especially when I set it to convert the PDFs to searchable text. I get about 4 pages per minute that way. I also have it set for duplex scanning, meaning it will scan the front and back of the paper at the same time. If the back is blank, it discards it. That’s quite a time-saver! I also have it set to name each file with a date and time stamp. I can go back and rename them later, but not having to worry about it during scanning is also a huge time-saver!

Evernote allows you to set up notebooks to house your documents (aka notes). I have one called Inbox, which is where almost all my documents go straight from the scanner. If I have a gigantic stack of papers that would all go in the same notebook, I can set that one as the default, and the scanner targets it. Once the documents are scanned, I go through them one-by-one, tag them with the who-what-where and move them to a notebook I called Genealogy, which is just a big dump of documents that I’m finished with. I decided that rather than create tags with names, I’d use tags with the people’s ID numbers from my genealogy software, The Master Genealogist (that’s the “who”). If I want, I can rename the note with the person’s name. But with so many duplicate names in my family tree, I figured it would be hard to differentiate one from the other in a tag. But the ID numbers are unique and there’s always the searchable text! I also tag the type of document (the “what”), and the “where.” I haven’t been as good to tag the “where” as I probably should, but I can always go back and add tags later. And I decided against using date tags. I also tag each document with the surnames of the closest ancestors that I have in common with the subject of the document. For example, if the nearest closest ancestor pair that we share is my grandparents (it doesn’t matter if that pair are their grandparents too or any other generation) then I tag that document with “Hoff” and “Schmieder.” This is probably the hardest thing for me to describe, but it works for me.

The only thing about Evernote that I would put on a wishlist, is the ability to nest notebooks at least one more layer deep. I had to come up with a system for all that research-in-progress. So I created what Evernote calls a “stack” and named it Ongoing Research. Then I created a surname notebook for each of my ancestors and put those documents where they belong. It would be great if I could have one more level of notebooks in the hierarchy that I could name for specific people, just to organize the surname notebooks a little better. I suppose had I thought it out, I could have lots of surname stacks at the highest level and then put the specific person’s notebook below that. Something to think about for future.

I’ve been scanning for the last 6-9 months. I have over 6,700 notes and I should mention that I do pay for Evernote so that I have additional storage with them. All the piles of paper on the floor are gone. That pile of filing is gone. All I have left are the file folders in those 5 boxes plus another file of correspondence. I figure I should be done by Christmas.


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I’ve been working on the family histories since 1989. I never went into this with a plan. Honestly, I started it because we bought our first PC and I was looking for something to use it for, you know, to justify the expense. I had seen an article about the LDS church’s genealogy software that you could buy for $35 (Personal Ancestral File for DOS) and that seemed like a fun thing to play with. And I never looked back.

But I’m not getting any younger and it’s time to think seriously about my legacy. What do I want to leave behind? I’ve always said I wanted to publish my research, but in looking at what I’ve accomplished, I realize that I am one of those “name collectors,” so reviled by many in the genealogical community. They say that doesn’t make me a family historian, that I’m not writing the story of my ancestors’ lives, just documenting branches on a tree. Well, I’m not ashamed of my work. I have laid the pathway for others to write the stories. Of course, all my work (and all anyone’s work) needs to be verified. I try not to jump to conclusions, but sometimes when faced with fact discrepancies, you go with your gut and write down what you’ve found, how it conflicts and which fact you think is the correct one. Just think how much time I will have saved someone if they don’t have to build the trees from scratch, they can look at my work and verify or discount.

On my father’s side, my goals have always been to discover where the immigrant ancestors came from. I don’t care to go any farther back in time than that. I’m not looking for a link to royalty or Charlemagne. And I’ve done that with our HOFF, SCHMIEDER, SCHMITZ and WEBER lines. A cousin found the birthplace of our BACHMANN line, so I make no claim to that. GRIMM and WELTER have so far eluded me.

On my mother’s side, all lines can probably be traced to colonial-era immigration. Some of these families have been researched by other cousins and I’ve been verifying their work as much as I can. What fun it would be to be reincarnated as a young person, to be given another lifetime to research where the older me had to leave off. The next few generations will see an explosion of data and records digitized and put online and they’ll be able to find things that for now are hidden away in courthouse basements, libraries, rotting old newspapers, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly feel blessed that I’m living in a time where so much is already available to me online as I’m able to afford to pay for it, as opposed to those who’ve gone before me and had to resort to recording data on index cards and  travel to faraway places to visit those basements, libraries and cemeteries. I hope and pray that the politicians who are so intent on locking up our vital records will relent and laws will change to a more open atmosphere. If not, it will be several more generations before anyone can access them.

So now I need to set some goals, doable goals. Yes, I want to keep working away on the GRIMMs and WELTERs. On my husband’s side, I want to be able to confirm that he is a direct descendant of John and Priscilla ALDEN of the Mayflower. Because that makes my children and grandchildren direct descendants also. I “inherited” a lineage from John’s grandmother but it only has a handwritten list of names, no notes, no sources. I don’t know who wrote the list or when (just that it was prior to 1980). Gram was long gone when I started this quest and John’s mother told me about the list but she didn’t know what happened to it, she was afraid it was tucked into a book that she put in her mother’s casket. Well, great! A few years ago, after John’s mother died, my sister-in-law found that paper in her garage as she was cleaning out stuff after her husband (John’s brother) died. The list was exactly the same as what I had come up with in my independent research and my heart soared that it could be right.  I want our kids and grandkids to know for sure, one way or the other.

I want to visit where the KASPAR family came from in what was 19th century’s Austria, today’s Poland (the area surrounding Nowy Sacz). I’ve been to the HOFF and SCHMIEDER birthplaces  in Germany (Thuine, Neidersachsen and Kappel-Niederschach, Baden respectively) and I want to visit where the WEBERs came from in Rhineland (Üdersdorf). After I find those GRIMMs (likely in the neighborhood of Neuhütten, Bavaria) and WELTERs (either Luxembourg, France or Germany), I want to go to those places, too.

And I want to put all this stuff in print, some way, some how. It’ll do no one any good if it’s buried on my computer. I have a plan for putting it online but that’s down the road a bit. My database could use some cleanup first.

So I feel good that I have made this list of goals and my next step is to get organized.

Heaven help me, I just bought a portable scanner (ScanSnap S1300i) and a database program called Paperless. I’ve been thinking for years how I can get all my piles of paper that are on the floor digitized in my lifetime. I’ve bought several scanners through the years and the ScanSnap seems to be the most usable for this project. It scans 2-sided and can handle multiple pages in one feed. I don’t have to use Paperless if I don’t want to but for genealogy stuff, it seems the most practical. I was playing with the scanner this weekend and I was able to scan directly to Evernote, although each document went to the Miscellaneous notebook. If there’s a way to direct a scan to the proper notebook, somebody please let me know. It’s easy to change it in Evernote, but that is one more step.

Next steps (per the Mayflower Descendants group on Facebook): contact the Virginia chapter of the Mayflower Society and get their guidance on this documentation journey. I looked into Society membership years and years ago and they were working on documenting the Alden’s first 5 generations. I’m told this is done now, so I should only have to connect our lines to theirs.




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If you have no interest in genealogy or family history, do yourself a favor and skip this post. It’s long.

Working on our family research is a big part of my life, so I can’t call this blog “allthingsrobin” without talking about it from time to time. Today’s story recounts a local Richmond woman who was my husband’s 3rd cousin once removed (don’t understand all that relationship stuff? Just Google it, there are a number of explanations on the internet).

When we moved to Richmond it was a job transfer only, we had no idea there had ever been any family living here. I was gifted with a photocopy of some family information that had been written down by another relative, long deceased, by one of my mother-in-law’s cousins . That paper said that William R. ETTENGER, a brother of my husband’s great-grandmother, Julia ETTENGER HESS, had lived in Richmond. The ETTENGER family originated in Philadelphia, so far as I’ve been able to determine, so a relative in Richmond was pretty exciting.

William ETTENGER lived in Richmond from 1850 to his death in 1895. He was part owner of several different companies here, most notably ETTENGER & EDMONDS, who manufactured steam fire engines. I’ve read several historic newspaper accounts of this company and they even went to St. Petersburg, Russia to sell their products. One article said that they supplied Richmond’s first steam fire engine. He and his family lived on E. Broad St. which is in a neighborhood called Church Hill (because it’s hilly and the famous St. John’s Church is there). The modest house is still there. The company was located at 19th and Franklin which is in Shockoe Bottom. I’m not sure if the building is still there. An 1870 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch talked about a great flood of the James River and the company was listed as one whose building(s) were flooded and sustained damage. The company apparently also was a foundry that produced armaments during the Civil War.

Researching William and his descendants several years ago led me to one of his great-great-grandsons who lives (or did at the time) not far from us and his two daughters went to high school with my daughter.  Cue more excitement. I’d never lived near anyone I was researching before.

But the subject of this story is one of William’s great-granddaughters, Beulah ETTENGER COBBS. Born in 1918 in Lawrenceville, Brunswick County, Virginia (between South Hill and Emporia, near the North Carolina line), Beulah was the daughter of Laura Belle ETTENGER, who was the daughter of Joseph Harry ETTENGER, who was the son of William and Mary ETTENGER. I was noodling around in the historical newspapers on GenealogyBank.com  this weekend (you need a paid subscription for this) and found several society articles about Beulah. She attended what is today Longwood College in Farmville (I think it was a teacher’s college then), visited her grandparents in Lawrenceville several times, got engaged to a local minister, had several bridal showers and then married Howard Clinton COBBS in 1942.

What struck me was that in so many of these articles, her mother was mentioned but never her father. And Beulah was always called ETTENGER. According to the 1920 census, Laura Belle was married, living with her parents and her daughter, but no husband. She was listed as an ETTENGER and so was Beulah. In 1930 and 1940 Laura Belle was listed as divorced. I got to wondering if she had actually really married; back in those days an out-of-wedlock baby would have been shameful so it would have been easy to tell the census taker she was married or divorced. There were probably a lot of tongue-waggers in their small town. One with a secret had to be careful.

But as I did more research on Beulah, I found that she died in January of 2013 at the age of 94. I found her obituary online at the Harrisonburg (VA) Daily News-Record. She and Howard had two sons, one of whom lives in my old stomping grounds out in California. But what caught my eye was the notation in the article that Beulah was the daughter of Laura Belle ETTENGER-CALLAHAN. No mention of a father. This was the first time I’d seen Laura Belle with a different name, had she remarried?

This is where I could give you a “long story short” explanation, but I won’t. I looked all over ancestry.com (subscription service) for Laura Belle Callahan and came up with nothing. And here’s your lesson for today, don’t limit yourself to just searching through Ancestry and Familysearch: I Googled Laura Belle’s name and up popped an entry from an index at the website of the Library of Virginia. A 1921 chancery court record from Mecklenburg County VA that listed Eddie L. Callahan as the plaintiff and Laura Belle Callahan as the defendant. Of the other names mentioned in the record, one was ETTENGER. Bingo! I found Eddie in the 1920 census, listed as single, living with his parents and siblings. Remember, Laura Belle was listed as married that year. Interesting. This gave more credence to my theory of the out-of-wedlock baby. But I needed a record of the purported marriage, or a divorce. Virginia’s vital records are not very open, so I didn’t think I’d be able to get either one of those, if they existed.

I work within walking distance of the Library of Virginia, so I went over there on my lunch hour today. I found the chancery record, the original paperwork from 1921, not even on microfilm. I didn’t know what to expect but I was hoping it was a divorce. And it was. Yippee! Included in the file was Eddie’s deposition, their 1917 marriage certificate and the testimonies of 2 character witnesses for Eddie. There was nothing from Laura Belle’s side of the story.

According to Eddie, he was working out in the fields on his parents’ farm when a car pulled up to the house and Laura Belle and her mother got out. Laura Belle went in, got out a suitcase and started packing. Eddie was apparently blind-sided; he asked her why she was leaving and she didn’t answer him, except to say that she was going back to live with her parents. This was in May of 1918, she was already pregnant with Beulah (he knew that) but only later heard through the grapevine that a baby had been born. He never got to see his daughter, who was referred to in the documentation as Beulah Callahan. He asked the court to release him from the marriage and any commitment for child support. Apparently both were granted.

According to Eddie and his character witnesses, he was a model husband. I wish Laura Belle’s deposition, if there was one, had been included to explain her abandonment of Eddie as he described it. But I can take away from this that there must have been something about Eddie or the marital situation she found herself in that made her want to get out after only 6 months, take back her maiden name and give it to her daughter. I wonder if Beulah ever got to meet her father. Obviously her children must have known about him because of the notation in her obituary. A little more research on Eddie shows that he remarried and had several children.

From Beulah’s obituary and the news articles when she was young, I think I would have liked her a lot (she was Presbyterian, after all LOL). There is a picture on her findagrave memorial: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=103174984. She looks like a nice lady.

#Ettenger #Callahan #Mecklenburg #Boydton #Brunswick #Lawrenceville #Virginia #EttengerandEdmonds


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You’ll want to skip this post if you’re not a WEBER or a KOELLER or a SALZMANN or a SCHMIEDER from the Grant County, Wisconsin area.

Sorry to post like this, but I was gifted with these old family photos and I need an easy way to get the word out to family members to help identify these unlabeled photos and hopefully find a better home for them.

Several years ago, I received these photos in the mail (unexpectedly) from a family member in Cuba City, Wisconsin. They were given to her by another family member. Several are labeled (Ed & Elsie MOLDOVAN KOELLER, Frank & Adelaide FITZGERALD SCHMIEDER, Henry & Mary WEBER KOELLER wedding portrait, Henry KOELLER (single), Joe & Emilia FISCHER WEBER wedding portrait, Joe WEBER (single), Charles & Millie SALZMANN LOEFFELHOLZ wedding portrait, Mary WEBER KOELLER (single), Matt & Maggie SCHMIEDER WEBER (2 poses),  but many are not:




4: I think this is one of my grandma Alma SCHMIEDER HOFF’s siblings, he or she looks like a SCHMIEDER











Koeller bunch



16: Matt WEBER?


If you can positively identify any of these people, please post in the comments here. It would be helpful to see another photo of the same person to help confirm the identity.


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I haven’t talked about my obsession with family history on this blog much yet, if at all, but it’s only because I’ve yet to get organized enough to post stuff. I started my journey in 1989, when we had a relatively new first personal computer and didn’t know quite what to do with it. At the time, there was a magazine called “Family Computing” and in one issue there was a review of a genealogy program sold by the Mormon church (LDS) to anyone who wanted it for $35 (Personal Ancestral File). I couldn’t resist and purchased it right away. There’s just something about database management that appeals to me and that’s exactly what this program was (and still is). Of course, back in the ’80’s the program was only available in DOS and when the world went to a GUI interface, I abandoned PAF and moved to Family Treemaker. It took the Mormons longer to translate PAF into a graphical format but I was ready for something more advanced, anyway. I abandoned FTM a long time ago too and moved to the program I still use today, The Master Genealogist.

But the reason I’m posting today is because just this morning, I found something I’ve been searching for for 23 years: the German birthplace of my 2nd-great-grandparents, Simon and Maria Gertrude (Gertie) WEBER. If you are a veteran at this you know that German vital records were kept at the local level and you have to know the town your ancestor was born in before you can search for records. Obviously, this is a problem when the name of that town is the information you need.

Back when Simon and Gertie came to Southwest Wisconsin (Grant County) in the early 1850’s, they didn’t contribute much to the local documentation. Most all the records I could find just said they were from Prussia. That’s like saying I’m from the U.S. I found Simon’s citizenship papers and nothing but Prussia, Prussia, Prussia. Same with census records. Same with church records if birthplace was even recorded. Same with his obituary. They left their oldest child behind with his grandparents and he came over when he was about 13, according to family legend. I followed Joseph throughout his life and again, his records only said Germany, Germany, Germany. Every document gave a different birthdate or age, like he didn’t even know when he was born. I can’t find any citizenship papers for him, even though every census that asked the question stated he’d been naturalized. (And I know the rules in the U.S. were such that minor children and wives were automatically naturalized when the husband/father was, but Simon waited until the 1880’s when Joseph was over 21. My presumption is that Joseph would have had to start the process himself. Indeed, the census records state that he was naturalized about 1875. But that could have been a big fat lie.)

I had a little bit of a breakthrough in the 1920 census for Joseph. It stated that his parents were from Rhineland. Yippee! That narrowed it down considerably, but again it’s like saying I’m from California. Joseph died in 1940, after social security was created but he was too old to apply. An SS-5 application form would have been a goldmine, I’m sure. Joseph had one son who had no children, so there the line died.

Back to this morning. I saw something on a blog post that prompted me to go to www.familysearch.org and look for another German ancestor. I didn’t find anything on that person, but I plugged in Simon’s name and VOILÁ, there he was. It was just so easy, it was crazy. I have searched the LDS records for Simon in all the years they’ve been online and he never came up. So somewhere along the way, this is new data.

This record gave me Simon’s parents’ names too, so I now know my 3rd-great-grandparents. I was able to get the same information on Gertie, so that’s another generation on her side, too.

My advice? NEVER GIVE UP

Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to live long enough to find this place. My goal when I started this journey was to find the birthplaces of my immigrant ancestors. I have accomplished that on my Dad’s HOFF and SCHMIEDER lines, and I got to visit those villages in 2003. I got to see the churches my ancestors probably worshipped in when they were young. Another cousin found the birthplace of our BACHMANN ancestor and that just leaves GRIMM. GRIMM was married to BACHMANN, so my assumption is that GRIMM had to have lived in the same general area, but so far we haven’t found where exactly. And no, neither GRIMM nor BACHMANN are in the records at familysearch. At least, not yet. NEVER GIVE UP!

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Imagine the possibilities

I just heard something on a podcast that sounds so exciting to me that I just had to share.

You probably don’t run in the same tech-geek circles I do and may not have heard the Apple news from last week’s MacWorld. Actually, when I heard about it, it was kind of a yawner for me, but then, I will never claim to be a person of vision. The news is an upgrade to the iPhoto software that is part of Apple’s iLife suite for Mac OSX. (I don’t use iPhoto which is part of my yawning reaction.) The new iPhoto includes “face recognition.” The short version is that you put photos in your iPhoto library, somehow tag them with the people’s names and it learns to match the name with the face. You probably have to do this a number of times in order for it to catch on, I would imagine. Then you can upload the photos to Facebook. If face recognition is not sci-fi enough for you, when other people upload their photos somehow it can scan yours for unidentified faces and match them to identified faces in those other people’s photos. Don’t ask me how. The Facebook angle is the other part of my yawn; I don’t use it either. I can see this being popular with kids because it is really cool. And during all the podcast discussions of this new feature, that’s all I was thinking.

But what I heard Fred Johnson say on this week’s episode of This Week in Photography podcast (link in the sidebar over there) made me sit up as straight as I could in the driver’s seat. He plans to take a box of old family photos of people he doesn’t know and sit with his dad while he scans them and has iPhoto tag all the aunts, uncles and cousins. That’s when I began to imagine the possibilities. I have inherited a lot of old family photos that aren’t identified on the backs, my in-laws are gone and how cool would it be to have this functionality? Granted, we’d have to get a lot (!) of other people on board with this in order for it to work, but don’t pooh pooh this idea yet, I’m just imagining.

And then I realized that the photos our kids are taking today will be the unidentified photos abandoned to the online flea markets (think Flickr in 100 years LOL) in the generations to come.

Does this inspire a vision for you? I’d love to hear about it.


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