Monday, December 19, 2011

Kings County, New York Wills 1866-1923 online

I continue to be amazed by the growing collection of original records over at Family Search.  Original and indexed probate records for wills are available for Kings County, New York, for the years 1866-1923.  You can't beat free and online original records, so if you have any lines with any connections to Brooklyn, you best run the names through the search.

Documents accompanying the will can include a date of death.  If you are unable to easily locate a death certificate, probate records are another source to try to uncover a date of death.  Remember that a date of death recorded on a death certificate is a primary source, while a date of death recorded in the estate file is secondary information at the most.

I used this resource in hopes of uncovering more information about a pair of siblings, Mary and George Hawkins, born in the late 1880s in Brooklyn.  Fortunately, all four of their grandparents have records in this collection.  Their maternal grandparents, Georgianna and Smith Nostrand, could be considered collateral lines, but I find such lines to be worth researching for at least a few generations.  Georgianna's records were most interesting.  We were provided with a date of death of 15 May 1917, which will greatly assist in locating a death certificate and obituary.  The witnesses to the will were what intrigued me.  Marguerite Stewart, formerly Hawkins, was one witness.  This provided a married name and made Marguerite easier to trace.  The other witness was Walter Phelps.  He was a cousin of Marguerite, but on the Hawkins side, not the Nostrand side.  So why did Walter bear witness?  We do not know.  He may have simply been available when Georgianna was creating her will.  Or his signature could indicate a deeper relationship among these families that has not yet been uncovered.  It is something to bear in mind as research continues on these lines.

Portion of estate papers of Georgianna Nostrand, 1917.

1900 federal census
Georgianna and Smith Nostrand with their daughter and her family
914 Greene Avenue, Brooklyn

Miniature family tree diagram illustrating relationship between testator, Georgianna Nostrand,
and witnesses, Walter Phelps and Marguerite Hawkins

Friday, December 16, 2011

DNA Sales Continue- which company will you choose?

Two major DNA testing companies, 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA, are having sales.  Their pricing is roughly the same for the first year.  The problem with 23andMe is that you need to continue to pay a monthly subscription fee of $9 for a Personal Genome Service, or you risk losing access to your results and new genetic matches.  This fee structure, which was not in place when I originally purchased my kits a year ago, is disappointing.  I have not used the services of FamilyTreeDNA, but will strongly consider using their website for any future DNA purchases.

In addition to the fee structure, I am disappointed in the genealogical offerings of 23andMe.  I have been fortunate enough to encounter several people who are serious researchers and are actively corresponding with me to find our common ancestors.  Unfortunately, most of my genetic matches do not correspond with me at all.  My father has over 600 genetic matches.  Eleven of these people have outright declined contact.  About 150 have accepted contact; few have researched their family trees and are unable to assist in identifying our link.  The other 450 remain silent and do not respond to my requests to share information.  The plentiful database of matches is meaningless if most matches are not interested in genealogy.  23andMe promotes both health analysis and genealogy, and some of its customers are more interested in one than the other.  This is understandable but frustrating when someone who is not interested in finding relatives is added to the pool of matches.  FamilyTreeDNA, as its name implies, has much more of a genealogical attraction.

23andMe sent its customers a link to save $23 on new DNA kits.  If you purchase through the 23andMe website directly, the savings is $10.  As a disclaimer, if you use the above link to purchase a kit to save $23, my account is credited with chances of winning a prize.

The pricing over at FamilyTreeDNA is a one-time $199 with no subscription.

Although the kit from 23andMe costs only $99, you must pay a $9 monthly charge for a year, bringing your total to $207 after one year.  If you stop paying $9 per month after a year, you may lose access to your results, making your new genetic cousins vanish.

In an upcoming post, I will detail my substantive experiences of using 23andMe for autosomal DNA testing.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

City Directories Online through Millburn Library

I previously wrote about researching in Millburn, Essex County, New Jersey.  I highlighted an interesting coincidence of similar names.  Someone took me up on my offer of further investigation, causing me to again visit the website of the Millburn Public Library.  I was most pleasantly surprised.  In addition to the local paper and other archival information, the city directories are online!  The earliest year is 1850.  The primary collection is 1889-1981.  I have not viewed every edition, but towns besides Millburn and Short Hills are included in the directories.  For example, 1918 included Irvington, Livingston, Millburn/Short Hills, and the Oranges [West, East, South, and Orange- no North Orange in Essex County for those of you who were wondering].  The search function picked up every word I tried.

City directories are an invaluable tool for researching families.  By analyzing names associated with an address, you can link individuals as part of a larger family.  Later years can include death dates, new spouses, and moving information.  Someone who may have worked in town may be included, even if he/she lived elsewhere.

1918 The Price & Lee Company City Directory
Oranges, Irvington, Livingston, and Millburn
Essex County, New Jersey
Online through the Millburn Public Library Archives

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

23andMe Coupon

The genetic testing company 23andMe is conducting a survey of its subscribers.  Completion of the survey generates a coupon code for $10 off an order to use by December 31st.  I manage a few accounts and the coupon code WFEDKR has been the same for all of them, so I am sharing it here.  If the code is successful for more than one person, it would be great to know.

In another post I will discuss my experiences with 23andMe for your consideration in selecting a DNA testing company to assist you in your family history research.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Social Security Death Index

A great way of finding a date of death for someone in all states for recent times is the Social Security Death Index, which is available at or (for free). Starting in 1937, certain employed people could participate in this federal retirement program. Based on certain conditions, some of these people made it into the Death Index. The point is that you will not find everyone in the Death Index. When you find someone in the Index, you will have a birthdate and a month and year of death, maybe even the day. You may also get one or two locations of death; one might be where the check was being sent; the other might be a residence. entry for the Social Security Death Index
James Earl Jones, 241-18-6528
Note the date of birth as 1921

If you find an entry for a person of interest in the Death Index, you can order the original application.  Ancestry will generate a letter for you.  The fee used to be $7. A few years ago, the fee jumped to $27. This is unfortunate, as the application contains great information, such as birthdate, place, and names of parents.

Note that the information in the Index lists the date of birth for James Earl Jones as 1921; but the original application has 1920 as the year of birth.  This is an interesting point and is why you need to order the original application.
Copy of the original application for a Social Security Number
James Earl Jones
Note that the year of birth he provided was 1920
Sometimes you may have a Social Security Number for someone who is deceased, but you cannot find the person or number in the Death Index.  For $29, you can request a search of the number.  I have tried this with a few people, but have not had success in locating a record with Social Security.

The death certificate of Nellie Duryea provides a Social Security Number.
The Number is not listed in the Death Index.
I requested a search of the Social Security Number listed on the death certificate for Nellie Duryea,
but the Social Security Administration reported not finding a record.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Visiting Home

As you research your ancestors, you will uncover more and more locations where they lived.  You will probably want to visit these locations.  Most of my ancestral lines lived fairly close to where I live now, so I have visited many homesteads.  The original structures are usually long gone, though.  Amazingly, a house where my family lived in Manhattan in the 1850s is still standing.

Stephen C. Duryea lived at 326 Spring Street in New York city in the early 1850s with his first wife, Mary, not to be confused with his second wife, also Mary.  Here is his listing in the city directory in 1851:

Doggett's New York City city directory, 1851
Back in Stephen's time, just as today, the building houses a bar, now called the Ear Inn.  The structure was built around 1817 and is now called the James Brown House and is on the National Register of Historic Buildings.  [Information not digitized at as of this writing.]

This land used to be on the southern shore of the island and was part of a farm.  Isn't that hard to picture?  If you follow the links for the official sites of this building and the bar, you can view pictures of the inside of the living quarters as well as items found over the years.  I wonder if Stephen Duryea sat in front of the same fireplace 160 years ago, or if he used any of the bottles found in the attic.

If you wish to visit an old homestead, first try google maps to see if you can satisfy your curiosity from your couch.  If you decide to physically travel, keep in mind that house numbers and street names change over the years.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Upromise adds

I was surprised this morning when I visited and the Upromise banner appeared at the top of the page.

Upromise has added to its stores.  Right now, purchases at Ancestry will earn you 20% back at Upromise plus an additional 11% (not the listed 1%) with the Upromise credit card.

Missing Marriage Returns

If you cannot find a marriage return filed with the State, this article from 1897 could explain why.  It seems that Father O'Connor of Hudson County, New Jersey, was remiss in completing and filing marriage returns for several years.  When prompted, he filed seven years of marriage returns.  If you come across one of these returns, you need to keep in mind that they may not have been made at the time of the event and some were made on behalf of other priests.

I am still searching in the Trenton Archives for a marriage from 1887 performed in Bayonne, Hudson County by Reverend Egan.  The marriage turns up in the index at  (Remember to use any index as a guide for where to locate the actual record.)
This marriage record should contain names of parents, which would be wonderful, if I could locate the record.
St. Mary's Church is still active in Bayonne and has a record of this marriage.  They kindly sent me a transcription of their record.

Record of 1887 marriage of Patrick ODonnell to Delia Joyce in Bayonne.
Courtesy St. Mary Star of the Sea Church
The next important step is to locate the actual marriage return.  Marriages in New Jersey in 1887 are indexed by the name of the groom.  But there is no listing in the index for a marriage between Patrick ODonnell and Delia Joyce.

Index of Marriages in New Jersey
June 1, 1878 to December 31, 1900
Surname ODonnell
(No listing for Patrick ODonnell to Delia Joyce)

There are possible explanations for the marriage not appearing in the index:  it was misspelled, it was left out of the index, or the return was never filed with the State.  For now, the above church record is what I use for a source of the marriage date and place, but with a notation that the record cannot be located in the State's records.

You may ask, "Why does this matter?"  For this particular couple, we are dealing with some common surnames.  We would like to pluck this Patrick ODonnell out of the vast sea of ODonnells inhabiting Hudson County in the late 1800s.  This particular Patrick ODonnell was born in Ireland, but we know that he was in the United States by 1887 because he married in New Jersey.  This 1887 marriage record is actually the earliest definitive record that I have found on this man.  The 1880 United States Federal Census does not provide us with a good match for an Irish couple named Peter and Margaret ODonnell with a son named Patrick.  The 1890 census was destroyed.  In 1900, Patrick is living with his wife and children, but not his parents.  We need to link Patrick ODonnell to a set of parents, and the marriage return is a great way of doing this.  The luck of the Irish was with me when someone filled out Patrick's death certificate in 1931.  His parents are listed as Peter ODonnell and Margaret Gallagher, which bolsters the information supplied at

We want to next establish the identity of the parents of the bride, Delia Joyce.  She died in Bayonne in 1929.  Her death certificate lists her father, but not her mother.

I previously wrote of the death of Delia Joyce's mother in 1870 in Pawling, Dutchess County, New York.  The record of this death is provided by the 1870 mortality schedule, a companion to the census.  In this record, Mary Joyce was killed by a train in 1870; she matches up to family 21 in the census, which is Patrick Joyce, age 40, with a bunch of small children, but no wife.

1870 morality schedule for Pawling, Dutchess County, New York
Viewed at
While we can say with confidence that the father of Delia Joyce was Patrick Joyce, we need additional documentation to establish that her mother was Mary or Margaret and that her last name was Campbell.  We can use the name Campbell to help us perhaps find a marriage record for Delia's parents.  Having a copy of Delia's marriage return, rather than an online index entry, would lend more credence to a claim that Delia Joyce's mother was Ms. Campbell.  There are still other paths to try, such as marriage and death records for Delia's siblings.

Friday, October 28, 2011

New Jersey Death Index at has published online indexes for deaths in New Jersey 1798-1971 and births/christenings 1660-1931.  The information is based on the indexes available (for free) at  These indexes are fantastic for genealogical research in New Jersey.  The New Jersey Division of Archives and Records Management (NJDARM) has free online indexes for marriages for 1655-1799 and 1848-1878, as well as deaths from 1878-1887. also has an index for New Jersey marriages from 1678-1985, which is not exhaustive.

I have successfully used these indexes to locate pertinent records.  But I must offer some guidance as you use these indexes.  First, all indexes can contain errors or omissions because they were made by humans.  Merely because something is appearing on your computer screen does not mean that the computer checked the information for accuracy.  Plus, how your family now spells your last name may not be how it was spelled 200 years ago, or how it looked to the person deciphering the handwriting to produce a neatly typed version.

Second, and this is very important, the indexes for deaths can be off by one year.  This is because deaths in certain time periods were organized not from January through December of one particular year, but rather from July of one year through June of the following year.  You need to follow through on an index entry by finding the original record to verify the name and date of death (and possibly learn names of parents and burial location).

Below is an example of the error in year.  Eliakim Marsh died in Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey on 15 January 1881.  Here is his death certificate copied in Trenton at the NJDARM.  (Remember that only the indexes are online.  The actual records are housed in Trenton.  You need to request a copy by mail or go in person.)

The index at the NJDARM has his correct year of death as 1881.

New Jersey Division of Archives and Records Management

Yet the indexes at and now have the year of death as 1880, off by one year.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Jersey Death Certificates available through 1955

The New Jersey State Archives has added death certificates through 1955 to its collection, expanding on the recent addition of years 1941-1946.

The certificates for some years are in alphabetical order, while others are organized by an assigned file number.  An index exists to discover the number.  The index contains the month, but not day, of death.  The place of residence and place of death are also listed by code.

Index for Deaths in New Jersey in 1955
Durham through Dvorak
Copied from microfilm at the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton

As with any index, watch for errors.

Index entry for Ellen Duryea, nee Byard, misspelled DURYRA.
She died 5 February 1955 in Jersey City.

The addition of these years is most welcome for two reasons.  First, searching for a record yourself can be faster and more accurate.  Second, New Jersey has a pesky "habit" of blocking the cause of death in official copies.  There are supposed exceptions to this rule, but I can attest from my ordering history that this rule is not consistently followed.  For those of you who feel the need to know what ailments caused the demise of your ancestors, blocking the cause of death thwarts your efforts to know your family's medical history.  For others, the blocked area makes for an unappealing copy.

Death certificate for Clara Lutter, nee Uhl, died 5 April 1955 in Newark.
Obtained through the Department of Health and Senior Services.
The cause of death is blocked, even though I am a direct descendant with the same last name.
Same death certificate obtained at the Archives, enabling the cause of death to be known.
She died of a kidney failure, which is not unusual in a ninety year old.
More intriguing is why the family had her autopsied.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Catholic Cemetery Records Online

The website for the Archdiocese of Newark (New Jersey) has placed on their website a free, searchable index of burials at eight Catholic cemeteries.  Included are:  Maryrest in Mahwah, Gate of Heaven in East Hanover, Holy Cross in North Arlington, Saint Gertrude in Colonia (not North Arlington), Holy Name in Jersey City, Christ the King in Franklin Lakes, and Holy Sepulchre in East Orange.  In addition, there are "open houses" at some of these cemeteries in September, October, and November.

This free service is in contrast to their usual $25 search fee.

Fee schedule for "genealogical research fee" as

You can search by last name without specifying a cemetery.  Listings appear for burials in the 1800s and 1900s along with a grave/plot number.  The database does not appear to be complete, as I was able to compare the website-generated burials with my findings at these cemeteries and found several names to be missing.

Grave for Bosset and Loihle children at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in East Orange, Essex County, New Jersey.

For some reason, the burials shown on the stone do not appear in the online index, but Catherine was listed in triplicate.
Cemetery records are invaluable resources in the pursuit of tracing a family's history.  It is understandable that cemeteries do not have the time or the staff to allocate to locating such records, which were often not kept in an organized and clean state.  I commend the cemeteries who are placing their records online for genealogical research.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Indexing Projects

The Italian Genealogical Group has indexed many records useful in researching New York City area family lines, such as vital records and naturalization records.  These indexes are free at their website.  I have used their death indexes and marriage indexes to locate many important dates and discover birth names for some ladies.

I have been given the opportunity to give back to this group by helping index naturalization records for New Jersey.  The typing part seems simple, but once this index is created and online, so many people will be aided in their research.

An example of the information that I am keying to help index New Jersey naturalization records
for The Italian Genealogical Group.
If you would like to participate in such a project, Ancestry has a World Archives Project where you can select from several different records.  You can also help index at FamilySearch.  It is so easy to click, click, click on a free database and find so much information within seconds, but please remember that all of the information you find was placed there through the efforts of someone else.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


I proudly present a better organization of my genealogical papers and photographs.

These boxes are from the Stockholm collection available at The Container Store.  You can shop online if you are not fortunate enough to have a store near you.

Someday I will have a master list of the contents of these files, but for now, these boxes are far better than the towering piles I have been navigating.  Most of my newly acquired records never morph into a paper version.  I am able to shoot clear photos with my iPhone and libraries are increasingly offering scanners in lieu of photocopiers.

The amount of records becoming available is staggering.  You need to be organized to collect, process, and retain the information or you will waste time retracing your steps.

Rather than print out a grainy copy of this obituary from the Bayonne Times,
I snapped a picture with my iPhone and edited with Picasa by Google.
Unfortunately, I can't find the piece of paper where I was writing down the dates and page numbers.
It will turn up.  I can figure out the date of the paper by her death certificate.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Monmouth County Archives Day 2011

Today I attended Archives and History Day at the Monmouth County Library in Manalapan, New Jersey.  Table after table was filled with helpful people and information from various municipalities in Monmouth County.  I was treated to a tour of the Archives, located in the bottom of the library, which is a wonderland for someone who loves to research old records.

I previously touted the digitization and free online availability of the Red Bank Register Newspaper.  In this spirit, the Archives are busily digitizing the myriad of records in these boxes.  Some are already done and are available online for you to search and view for free.  I was told that if a record is not viewable online yet, you may request a paper copy.  I recommend doing your research online first and then making an appointment to visit the archives to retrieve copies and search for yourself all of the paper copies that are not yet digitized.
If you search in the Coroner Inquests for last name "Wall," you come up with listings such as this:

The Archives holds the Coroner Inquest papers regarding the death of Maud Walling.  Death by murder could provide more details about your family than other modes of death, so it's definitely worth checking out.  (Do not overlook the people in your tree who did not marry or have children.  They also left a paper trail that might be more discoverable than the breadcrumbs left by your direct ancestors.)  The actual papers are not available online yet, but you can request them.  This goes beyond merely reading the articles concerning the death in the Red Bank Register.

Maud's abrupt ending provides us with some great family information.
She was the daughter of Wyckoff Walling; her cousin was Clinton H Walling, son of John H Walling;
John's wife was married previously and had a daughter named Bessie Blauvelt.
You can also research Maud's death and what became of Clinton Walling in the Archives.
If you have branches of your tree that lived or worked in Monmouth County, New Jersey, you have a lot more records to find.

Monday, October 3, 2011

October- Family History Month

October is family history month.  I started the month at Woodland Cemetery in Newark, Essex County, New Jersey, assisting with recording of gravestones.  The cemetery has been vandalized over the years and is not well-maintained.

This is a recent burial, yet the stone is already knocked over and collecting water,
which will cause deterioration more rapidly.
Emile Alexay 1891-1949
Florence W Alexay 1903-1984

Some people do not have any markers.  Bessie Hazzard (1886-1931) has two.

The gravestone of Frederick Schnauffer (1888-1915) was recovered.
His stone is more legible than a nearby stone, George L Rabenstein (1851-1915),
bearing the same year of burial.