Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mystery Photos: Bishop family album

Someone asked me where my profile picture is from. Ebay.

I have several family name searches saved on Ebay. I never found the fabled family bible, but I did find a photo album engraved “F. & L.H. Bishop.” I bought it. Great pictures. Some tintypes. Not a single one was labeled with the name of the subject.

I found the listing not by searching for Bishop, but for another family line, Duryea. Bishop is an annoying name to search because it’s a word in English. The Duryea search produces results for the car Duryea, Duryea Pennsylvania, actor Dan Duryea, actor George Duryea, actor Viola Allen- wife of Peter Duryea; but also the photographers Duryea. Two of the cabinet cards were by Duryea and mentioned in the description.

There are ways of dating pictures based on the size, color, and materials; the photographer and the address; as well as the setting and the clothes and hairstyles. I have not delved deeply into this yet.

Based on the locations of the studios- Newark, New York City, Brooklyn, Trenton, Pittsfield, Massachussetts, and Torrington, Connecticut- I think that these photos could be my Bishop line. Or they might not be. I have the album just in case. I have not yet found a Bishop couple with the initials F. and L.H., but I am still looking.

Fredericks, 770 Broadway, N.Y., 1887


Meuer, photo artist, 262 Bowery, New York

Bostwick, No. 98 Sixth Ave, Bet. 8th and 9th Sts., New York

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Certificate of Death: finding and using

Finding the death certificate can be very helpful for discovering the names of parents and of the cemetery. I have been disappointed many times when reading the parents' names as "Unknown." Also, the place of burial may have been changed after the death certificate was written, as I have discovered after a few wild goose chases.  But I have quite a few gems.  It is important to remember that the death certificate is written, by definition, after the subject has died and is not able to offer input.  The informant may not know the correct information or may give inaccurate information for lots of reasons.  Thus, the death certificate is a primary source for the date of death, but not the rest of the information found on the certificate.

This week, I received the death certificate of Calvin Cook.  He died 20 October 1889 in Jersey City, Hudson County, New Jersey.  Kudos to the Division of Archives for the fast- under two weeks- turnaround time.

Finding a date of death and then the death certificate in New Jersey is sometimes easy, sometimes impossible.  Calvin's acquisition proceeded like so:

1-  Calvin Cook, wife, and three children found in the 1880 federal census living on "Meadows" in Kearney, Hudson County, New Jersey.
2-  Neither he nor the wife found in the 1900 federal census.  Target death:  between 1880 and 1900.
3-  Found a potential match in an online family tree- died 20 October 1889.  Needed additional confirmation.  Emailed the creator.
4-  No matches found in a search of newspapers at  Performed a paper to paper search of the Jersey Journal at this website and find the obit on page 1 of the 22 October 1889 edition; died in Jersey City; buried in Dover, New Jersey.
5-  Mailed $10 and completed form to the New Jersey Division of Archives.

In the meantime, the creator of the online tree contacted me.  We discovered that we are third cousins, once removed.  I visited two cemeteries in Dover with no luck.  The office was closed at Locust Hill Cemetery, but I emailed them through their website.  The other cemetery, Orchard Street Cemetery, seemed older and more likely to be the one.  I walked around but did not see a Cook stone.

Two weeks later, I have the death certificate.  Parents of Calvin are listed as Stephen and Elizabeth.  This is great for researching the previous generation.  The place of burial was Dover, New Jersey.  No cemetery listed.

Game plan:  find death of Calvin's wife, Mary, and hope her obituary and death certificate lists an actual cemetery.

Eventual goal:  link this line to the Cooke line of the Mayflower.

Friday, August 20, 2010


While googling an ancestor in hopes of coming across useful genealogical info, I found a picture of his family grave at flickr.  I won't repaste the photograph here (in the interest of not violating any possible copyrights).  I have my own pictures of this plot, so they will suffice for the illustration.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Tarrytown, Westchester County, New York
30 July 2010
 The caption reads "Mini-Me."  The caption used to read "Got Bars?"

I myself have taken pictures of unusual or interesting graves.  This is the first that I have seen someone take such an interest in one of my family graves.  Is this flattering, spooky, or irreverent?  I am not sure.

In studying the picture, I realized that the "mini me" gravestones, also known as footstones, were once in their proper places, but had migrated to rest against the headstones.  Some were moved and broken when my grandmother was buried in this plot in 2003, so the cemetery may have repaired them and then moved the rest of the footstones.

March 2001

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cypress Hills Cemetery, part two

A great way of collecting a bunch of death dates for a family branch is to locate the family burial plot. I found a notice of the death of Van Rensellear Terry in the New York Times for 6 January 1857 and found out that he was buried at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. An inquiry to the cemetery resulted in the exchange of $30 for a handwritten transcription of the burials in the plot.

Was the month October or December for Catherine Moffat?  I was not finding the obit.  Was Florence Heniley 100 years old?  I was not finding ancient Florence in any census.

I visited the cemetery and had no qualms questioning the transcription. I paid my money and I needed an accurate account of the occupants of the plot. The date of death for Florence was confirmed to be zero, not 100. That still didn’t help. Babies aren’t zero. They are stillborn, one day, one hour, two weeks, but they are not zero. I visited the plot.

Next to the plot was a huge dugout crater. I didn’t fall in, but photographing became dangerous from certain angles. The hole was way deeper and wider than the mythical six feet under.

Of the people on the transcription, only Florence was on the tombstone- died 9 October 1864, aged 1 year and 9 months.  The other people on the tombstone were not on the transcription.  Nevertheless, this was the group I was seeking and the names and dates provided a bunch of information to work with.

Cypress Hills Cemetery
Brooklyn/Queens, New York
Section 4

Current Events; or Cypress Hills Cemetery, part one

This topic is not really new, but the article was in the New York Times yesterday.

“Graveyard Gridlock” by Marc Santora appeared on the first page of the Real Estate section- because cemetery plots are scarce and sell for a lot more money than your average parcel of land in NYC. (The online article was titled "City Cemeteries Face Gridlock.")  It makes me wonder who will finance the care of these plots when the cemeteries run out of ways to raise more money.

I visited the relatives in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn and Queens. The Hawkins family plot was a circular area with a little path all around it. The path had been filled in and graves surrounded the Hawkins’ circle, the original pattern now noticeable only for the circular fencing. They are long dead and cannot contest, but it makes you wonder if they paid more for their own little circle, and if so, if it’s really okay for the cemetery to fill in the land that made the circle cost more.

Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn/Queens, New York
Section 17

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mystery Photos, part two

My grandfather, Clifford Lutter (1915-1980) was a photographer in the Newark, New Jersey area.  I have some of the pictures he took.  I do not think that the people in these pictures are relatives.  I don't know who they are, which is a shame, because these are really good pictures of somebody's relatives.

Label your pictures!!!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Newspaper online: Red Bank Register

The Red Bank Register is online.  The available years are 1878-1991.  This is a tremendous resource for anyone with family in Monmouth County, New Jersey.  I found new family lines and clarified known lines through marriage announcements, society columns, and other articles.  The search function is pretty good.

I uncovered the date of death for Josephine Arnold Ormsby, wife of Harry Charles Winterton.  She died 10 August 1916 in New York.  Her daughter, Robina Winterton, died the following week in Keyport.  Without the newspaper articles, I probably would not have thought to search in New York for the death record.  If I did uncover the place and date of death, I would have wondered why Josephine was so far from her children, and possibly start thinking about marital discord.  But as explained in an article from 16 August 1916, I learned that Josephine was in New York, staying with her sister, Mrs. Boyd, for the wedding of their nephew.  The article provided the name of their mother and other siblings.

This was quite a find.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mystery Photos, part one of several

Part of the responsibility of being the "family historian" is the acquisition, identification, and preservation of family photos.  This would be a lot easier if people labeled the photos.  I have thousands of photos, mostly from the 1960s forward, with no identification on the photos.  Fortunately for these more recent photos, there are still relatives around who can identify most of the people in the photos.  Some of the photos also have the date of processing printed on the back.  These dates are approximate, as I found several Thanksgiving scenes with a date in August.

After scanning, I placed the photos in sleeves so that the front and back could be viewed.  I purchased in bulk from Exposures.  The result will do for now.  I am using standard binders but hope to someday select beautiful color-coded binders to display on equally beautiful shelving.  The dreams of the historian . . .

I copied the pictures to CDs for "interested" parties.  The project took months, but I am so glad that I did it.
Styles of clear photo sheets.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


When I first started researching over ten years ago, I searched a lot of microfilm rolls for information.  The film was broken a little bit every time someone loaded it through the machine.  Machines broke; light bulbs went out and were sometimes too expensive for libraries to replace.  In the meantime, multiple newspapers have been put online, some free, others not, reducing the need to seek out microfilm.

I recently made a microfilm trip to the Montclair Public Library in Montclair, Essex County, New Jersey with success.  A potential match for the wife of a cousin showed up in the Social Security Death Index, which is available through various websites, some offering more detailed search criteria for an additional fee.  The information was:

     Name: Elsie Uhl
     SSN: 124-20-9815
     Last Residence: 07043 Montclair, Essex, New Jersey, United States of America
     Born: 29 Jan 1903
     Died: Dec 1978
     State (Year) SSN issued: New York (Before 1951)

I did not know that this particular branch lived in Montclair, so I could not be sure that I had the right person without additional checking.  I am close enough to Montclair to make the trip.  In the past, I would have ordered a copy of the application for the number, which was cheap enough- under $10.  A few years ago, the fee jumped to $27. used to generate the letter of request for you; now the link to order the record does not seem to offer this option, but rather directs you to VitalCheck to order a birth, marriage, or death certificate.  (If you are going to be researching your family history to any great extent, I recommend learning how to obtain vital records directly from the state of interest.  For an occasional record, VitalCheck can save you hassle- for a small fee.)  The days of showing up at town hall for a copy of the death certificate are over, as the death was too recent and I cannot prove direct lineage.

So I headed over to the main Montclair Library and requested microfilm for the Montclair Times for December 1978.  The local paper is published once per week, so I did not have much to search.  Elsie may have died on the 1st through the 31st, as the index does not report day of death until more recently.  No obit.  I had to request the next reel for 1979 and there it was.  Elsie Uhl died 30 December 1978; the obit appeared in the 4 January 1979 paper.  And she was indeed the wife of my cousin.  It felt great to make the confirmation.  From here, I would usually visit the cemetery, but none was listed with this obituary.

The Montclair Times, 4 January 1979, page 4.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Welcome and Introduction

Hello and welcome to my blog.

I have been researching my family history for eleven years.  I consider myself lucky because most of my lines landed and lived in the same geographical area that I live in now- northeastern New Jersey.  I am usually able to visit the gravesites of my ancestors and distant cousins, save for those who retired to California and Florida and are buried there.

I became interested in researching my family history during a Girl Scout trip to Rahway Cemetery in Rahway, Union County, New Jersey.  I don't remember which badge had such a requirement.  I do remember seeing names on gravestones and wondering how I could ever find out if any of them were related to me.  Then a caretaker showed us the grave of an unknown woman buried there after she was murdered- and nobody ever claimed her.  I wondered if it was possible that today we could figure out who she was.

When I went to college, I was able to research on computers and manually view death notices and other articles on microfilm.  The research was painfully slow, but that's how things were done- and this was only a decade ago.  My research took off when I attended law school in Newark, housed at 33 Washington Street close to the Newark Public Library.  While the other students were reading textbooks and debating cases, I was next door on the third floor of the library in the New Jersey room, recording entries from the city directories and trying my luck with the soundex cards for the 1920 census.  With the boom of resources now available on the internet, my research yields results daily from the convenience of my home.

Thank you for reading.