Tips from the Pros: Do You Really Know the Name? from Michael John Neill

Assumptions get us into all kinds of trouble. For years I searched for an ancestor, Noentjelena Grass, in passenger lists, trying all kinds of variants of her first and last names. Censuses, family tradition, and her date of marriage gave me a consistent immigration time frame, but I still could not find her.

I had almost given up. Then I received copies of letters she had written to relatives about ten years after her marriage. Not one clue about her immigration, but there were more subtle revelations. The letters were all signed “Lena.” Not Noentjelena or Noentje (names I thought she used), but Lena. After reading the letters it dawned on me–I had never really searched extensively for that first name in the manifests. So I went back.

A search of the passenger lists at during New York’s Castle Garden era contained an entry for a Luie Gross arriving in 1873. The year was correct for my ancestor. Looking at the actual manifest the name looked like Lena to me, although I could see how it could have been read as Luie. Fortunately this entry was for a single female with a year of immigration and an age consistent to be my ancestor. Further work needs to be done so I can be reasonably certain I have the correct person, but I think I am on the right path.

Do you really know your ancestor’s name? Have you considered every nickname he or she might have used? Failure to consider one may cause the relative to remain unfound forever.

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Your Quick Tips, 19 May 2008

Truth in the Family Story
In the “Ancestry Weekly Journal” of May 5th, you wrote about hyperinflation in Germany due to the country being hit with billions of dollars in war reparations in the 1920s.

My mom had always said her Uncle Hugo and his family went back to Germany after WWI to make a better life. The family story was that Uncle Hugo thought they could live less expensively there. According to my mother, they ended up broke and had to work on the boat to earn passage back to the States. Was this a family fable? Ancestry brought answers.

My Grand-uncle Hugo Fischer was sixteen in May 1891 when he immigrated to the U.S. with his mother and three siblings.

When Ancestry added the U.S. Passport database not long ago, I found an application, from 1920, for Hugo, his wife Regina, and their children, Elisabeth and Herman C. 

The passport was to be sent to Hugo Fischer in Bedford, Ohio and included great photos of the family. However, the passport stated that they were traveling for one year to Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland to “settle an estate and visit relatives.” Not a mention of Germany. What happened to the family story?

Again Ancestry answered, with my search of the New York passenger lists. On board the “George Washington” arriving in New York City, 07 April 1923 from Bremerhaven (page 135 out of 135, under “List of Aliens Employed on the Vessel as Members of Crew”), I found Hugo:

“. . . Fischer, Hugo; Asst Steward; hired: 3/27/23 in B’haven; Paid off in NYC . . .”

I found the other family members arriving on other ships in the weeks and months that followed. So it turned out that Grand-uncle Hugo did work his way back to the U.S. and “The Year Was 1923” gave a clear illustration of the reason. Thanks.

Cari Thomas

Continue reading

The Year Was 1943

Ghetto Life in Warsaw (from the Library of Congress Photo Collection at year was 1943 and World War II raged on. In Leningrad, there was finally a break in the siege of that city as the Red Army opened a land passage that would allow food and fuel to the starving and freezing citizens who had been trapped in the city since September of 1941. The siege wouldn’t officially end until January of 1944 (900 days after it began) and by then an estimated 632,000 people had died of disease, starvation, and the extremely cold winters.

In March and April of 1941, Jewish people in and around Krakow were rounded up and moved into a ghetto in the Podgorze district of Krakow. 20,000 Jews were confined to an area that had previously only housed 3,000. Illness and hunger took its toll on the ghetto inhabitants, and in subsequent years mass transportations to death camps began. Finally in March of 1943, the remainder of the population was either killed on the spot or shipped to death camps. The Krakow Ghetto was completely wiped out. 

In the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, reports of the death camps were trickling in, and in January residents fired on German troops who were trying to deport another group of Jews. This initial resistance was successful and inspired the fighters, but in April German troops returned a final time. Although they were able to hold off the German troops for nearly a month, eventually they were unsuccessful. 7,000 Jews were killed there. Another 56,000 were deported to meet their fate in death camps. Continue reading

Photo Corner

MitmanContributed by Maynard L. Keller, Jr., Roanoke, Virginia
Attached is a beach photo taken around 1910, probably Ocean City, New Jersey. My great-grandmother, Mary Ellen Mitman, is the person at the bottom left. Also pictured are her husband, Ulyssus Koder (top right); sister, Minnie (top center); Minnie’s husband, Linwood Singer (top left); and a family friend (bottom right).

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Mae [Otis] Green, welder 1942

Contributed by Bill and Carol
My mother was a welder in 1942 building ships for the war. Her name was Mae [Otis] Green and she lived in Napa, California. They called her Maize the welder.

A Garden Philosophy for Family History, by Juliana Smith

Juliana's garden--purple irisWorking in my yard is one of my favorite things to do–next to chasing ancestors of course. This past Saturday was beautiful and I got the opportunity to go out and do some weeding and planting and just generally have fun in the yard. As I worked relocating plants, filling planters and weeding, my mind wandered and I found myself drawing parallels between my two favorite pastimes. Today I thought I’d share a few that I came up with while I was out playing in the dirt.

Get to Know Your Location
It took me a while after moving into this house to figure out what plants work best, and where. I had to study the amount of sunlight each area of the yard gets, and when I buy new plants to go in a particular section, I check the tags to make sure they’ll do well in the space where I’m planting them.

Just as we have to get familiar with our garden features, we need to be familiar with our ancestors’ surroundings. We need to know what churches, cemeteries, and municipal offices were in the vicinity. What repositories are currently holding the records created in that area for the time span we are researching? What events might have impacted them during the time in which they lived there?

Create a locality file that you can use for reference. Include the holdings of local repositories, vital record availability, maps, church and cemetery information (including dates of establishment), a history folder with interesting historical tidbits, and possibly a timeline of the area in question. Not only will putting this file together better acquaint you with the history that impacted your ancestors, but you’ll find that it’s a reference tool that you’ll be able to use time and time again. Continue reading

Start Your Father’s Day AncestryPress Gift Today!

APress Photobook160x100.bmpRemember how Dad’s face would light up when you gave him that special Father’s Day gift you made in school? This year, skip the necktie and get Dad something he’ll treasure for years–a family history book that you created yourself with AncestryPress.

June 2 is the last day for guaranteed delivery by Father’s Day with standard shipping so get started on your project today! Plus get a free upgrade to a leather cover* (a $10 value) when you enter this coupon code at checkout: DAD2008.

Click here to start your AncestryPress Project.

* Coupon expires June 2, 2008. This code may not be combined with any other special offer. Regular shipping charges apply.

National Archives and Partner to Make Millions of Historical Documents Available Online

Ancestry____logo.bmpJust received the following press release regarding an upcoming media event:

WHAT:  To celebrate Memorial Day and honor all who have served our country, – the world’s largest online resource for family history – is teaming up with the National Archives and Records Administration – the nation’s record keeper – to kick off a new agreement that makes millions of historical records more easily available to the public.

WHO:  Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein and Tim Sullivan, CEO,

WHEN:  10 A.M., Tuesday, May 20, 2008

WHERE:  Washington Room, National Archives Building
Constitution Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets NW, Washington, DC
(Press should use the Special Events entrance at Constitution and 7th St. NW)

MEDIA OPPS:  Visuals of historical records including a passenger list of the US Army Transport USS Grant arriving at the San Francisco port in November 1929, the military service record for William James, a Washington, D.C. native who enlisted in the Union Army’s 1st Colored Infantry in 1863, and the death record of Judy Garland.

One-on-one interviews with Professor Allen Weinstein and Tim Sullivan, CEO,, to learn more about the agreement and how and the National Archives are working to preserve America’s heritage and provide access to important historical documents to Americans.

Background:  For more than a decade, and the National Archives have collaborated to make important historical records available to the public, demonstrating their commitment to preserving America’s heritage. currently has the largest online collection of digitized and indexed National Archives content, including passenger lists from 1820-1960, and WWI and WWII draft registration cards. This new agreement provides critical access to these important historical records at a faster rate than ever before due to the placement of technicians and scanning machines at the National Archives to continually digitize content for online access.

For more information about and its offer of free public access to its U.S. Military Collection, go to

For more information on the new agreement between and NARA, visit

Media Contacts:

National Archives Public Affairs staff at: (202) 357-5300., Sara Black at: (213) 996-3812; Global Content, Product, and Marketing Update

Ancestry____logo.bmpTo mark the first day of the 2008 National Genealogical Society Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, Tim Sullivan, has published a letter to the genealogy community. He highlights several recently released content collections and product enhancements on, and gives insights into some exciting new projects on the horizon. Tim is the CEO of The Generations Network (parent company of and his letter has been posted on the TGN media site.

Click here to get a look at some of the major collections and updates you’ll be seeing at