The Joys of Sharing, by Juliana Smith

The other day I phoned my Aunt Judy, my dad’s little sister. She’s very special to me, but with more than 300 miles separating us, we don’t get to see each other or talk as often as I’d like. Her husband answered the phone, and we had a nice chat. He’s been working on his own family history for several years, and now he’s putting together some information for our side of the family. He had located the family in the 1920 census at, but was unable to locate the same people in 1910 or 1930. He asked if I had ever found them in those census years and if I had any other information I could share.

Since I hadn’t really worked on my dad’s family in a while, I took some time going through my files in search of interesting items that they might enjoy and find helpful. I have to confess to having a little ulterior motive: I want to keep them interested. Family history is always more fun when someone wants to join you in the hunt. I quickly shot off a few e-mails filled with family history goodies. This little exercise surprised me with some great new clues. Some clues had been there all along and were overlooked, but by adding more recent discoveries to the mix I’ve found a new path to follow.

Put Your Thoughts in Writing
With each record I sent, I wrote a paragraph or two about that particular record so that they could better understand why I was sending it. In some cases I just pointed out interesting tidbits that I’d found in the document. In others I addressed discrepancies and questions that still need to be answered. While I try to make notes immediately after I draw conclusions from documents, I found a few cases where I hadn’t done that. After sending the e-mails to Uncle Bruce, I printed the documents with their respective e-mails and placed each in the appropriate family three-ring binder. These highlights and explanations will help me the next time I need to revisit the files. Additionally, if someone else wants to join in the hunt in the future, these annotated documents will also serve as a guide to the research I’ve completed and why conclusions were made.

Attack Inconsistencies
Gathering my notes and documents was a fresh awakening. Uncle Bruce’s request made me go back and re-analyze finds from years ago. As I tried to explain these documents for him, several pieces of inconsistent information jumped out at me. My great-grandfather, John Mekalski was using the name John Wagner in the 1910 census. Why? This was a case where family stories and interviews were critical. Had my grandmother not told me that her Polish immigrant dad had trouble finding work when he first came to the United States, we probably never would have found them. Grandma told me that when he came to this country Poles were suffering from discrimination. Her dad saw that Germans were getting all the good engineering jobs and since he could speak fluent German, he simply changed his name and was quickly hired. That alternate Wagner name is documented in his alien registration. However, even when I found John Wagner in the 1910 census, some of the family first names weren’t right either. His wife Julia was listed as Mary, and his daughter Bertha was listed as Brony. The names of the father and son Henry matched and the ages of all matched perfectly.

A tape recording that I cherish provides further evidence that the 1910 census record is correct. This is my grandmother’s voice. . .

“. . . if it wasn’t for Mrs. Glass next door . . she’d open her window and yell for us . . . so Hank and I would get up, get dressed, and she would take care of Sophie until Sophie was ready for kindergarten.”

I found a Mrs. Katherine Glass enumerated on the page next to the one on which Grandma and her family were enumerated in the 1910 census. So, thanks to Grandma, I have more proof and best of all a wonderful story that brings the census pages to life.

Get Scanning
As I rounded up documents that I hadn’t looked at in years, I also found several records that I had never scanned. I would need to remedy that problem. I went through the binder that holds my dad’s side of the family and did an audit. I pulled all of the documents that needed to be converted and within a few minutes that problem was solved. I can now attach the newly scanned records to my family history software file, and I’ll have them with me wherever I go with my laptop.

Ask Questions
The sharing exercise also brought up questions–questions that perhaps my aunt could help me with. I included my questions in the e-mails. I copied my dad, too. Sometimes these things trigger memories of things he’s forgotten to tell me. I’m hoping the questions shared around the family will inspire some dialogue and lead us to answers that we can all enjoy.

What’s Changed?
One big find that came out of this was due to an oversight. My grandfather’s sister passed away several years ago, and while I had recorded her death date, I had never followed through to get her actual death record. I had been a bit stymied by the fact that this family moved back and forth between Cleveland and several small mining towns in both Jefferson and Belmont Counties. There was a gap between 1910 when they were enumerated in Cleveland and 1918 when my great-grandfather registered for the WWI Draft in Belmont County. The 1920 census found him back in Cleveland again and told me that he had been naturalized in 1914. But where should I look? Cuyahoga, Belmont, or maybe even Jefferson County where my grandfather had been born in 1907? Going after that aunt’s death record in the Ohio Death Index at gave me a big clue. She was born 17 September 1913 in Belmont County, Ohio. That is where we will begin the search for his 1914 naturalization.

It’s All Good
Sharing my finds was a great way to spark new interest in my dad’s family. Thanks to the new leads uncovered as I shared information with Aunt Judy and Uncle Bruce, I have new research paths to follow and the joy of bonding with them as we work. It’s all good! Do you have someone who might be interested in some of your family finds? Why not send them a little family history packet and see if your experience is similar to mine!

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Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for more than nine years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e-mail at, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.


2 thoughts on “The Joys of Sharing, by Juliana Smith

  1. Dear Juliana, Isn’t great when a member of one’s family is
    interested in Family History.
    I wish that in UK, we had access to latter census information like you appear to have. We have to wait until 2009 tp get a viewing of 1911 and that is I believe due to paid researchers pushing forward to get the time factor changed. I often wonder what the reason is unless it is because there is a shortage of people to transcribe information.
    I was quite shocked to find our 1911 census is being trancribed in the Phillipines.

    Thank you for writing up such an interesting Journal.

    Patricia Woodruff

  2. I have been scanning a copy of all documents I have. If I ever had a fire, I would be able to print up a copy from the scanned image. Some of my papers are so old, they are starting to crumble some. I can read the image and get the same information without messing up the original further.

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