Saturday, January 31, 2015

SNGF: Bright Shiny Genealogy Objects

Randy Seaver, author of the GeneaMusings blog, has come up with yet another interesting Saturday Night Genealogy Fun (SNGF) challenge this week:

1) Do your research activities get sidetracked by Bright Shiny Genealogy Objects (BGSO?)  You know, an email, a record that pops up about an ancestor, something that you just have to look at?
2)  Provide an example of a recent BSGO and what you did with it.  How much time did you spend on it?  Was it worthwhile?
3)  How do you deal with them?  Do you always follow them, or do you pick and choose, or do you have the discipline to put it aside and finish what you planned to do?
4)  Share your responses in your own blog post, in a comment to this blog post, or in a post on Facebook or Google+.

The short answer is "Yes, of course."
I get sidetracked in numerous ways.
An email from a potential DNA match for me or the 4 other people I have tested will send me off on a multi-hour (or day) research tangent.
A call or email from a tangential cousin will send me off searching for an answer.
A newspaper obituary for a name or person in a location will get me researching their family (and trying to tie it to mine).
Every trip to the Family History Library I've ever made (at least a dozen) reveals records not connected to my direct line that I just "have to" search.
Obviously, I am not a very focused researcher.
And I'm fine with that.

I get Legacy obituaries sent to me daily for several surnames and one location. On Tuesday I got one for a QUIGG who died in Michigan and ended up spending a good 5 hours trying to connect this gentleman to my indirect Quigg line. As it turned out, I was able to make the connection and sent the information off to a 4th cousin once removed (a direct Quigg descendant). She was thrilled to learn about another cousin and will be calling the man's window in a few weeks (although it's going to be hard for her to wait that long).

I almost always follow up on questions from cousins, curious obituaries, and new record sets.
I'm getting more disciplined in my responses to potential DNA matches. I send them information on my line, but don't research theirs for them any more. I rarely hear back from them.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Searching for James Braithwaite Meldrum in Texas

My husband and I are planning a road trip to Texas in the next couple of weeks. He'll be meeting a friend to go birding and I am looking forward to 3 or 4 days of research time in central Texas. Last Fall I spent a week at the Family History Library focusing on my father's lines, but couldn't figure out what happened to my great-great grandfather, James Braithwaite MELDRUM.

James was born in Leeds, England on 15 Nov 1840, the second of six children of David MELDRUM and Elizabeth BRAITHWAITE. His older brother, William, had died 4 months earlier, having lived just less than a year. I have a copy of his birth and christening records.

The family emigrated to the US between 1847 (reported in 1900) and May 1849 (when daughter Catherine was born in New Jersey). shows a David Mildrum, b. ca. 1819, occupation = grower, as arriving in New York on 5 March 1849 (Source: Irish Immigrants: New York Port Arrival Records, 1846-1851). Unfortunately, it is just an index, so I can't tell for sure if this is the correct person/family.

In any event, the Meldrum family settled near Easton, Pennsylvania, and stayed there until the mid-1860s, when they moved to Pittsburgh. Father David worker primarily as a gardener and landscaper.

James B. Meldrum enlisted as a private in Co. D, 1st Infantry Regiment of Pennsylvania on 20 April 1861 for a period of three months. He then re-enlisted on 16 September 1861 in Co. A, 47th Infantry Regiment of Pennsylvania for three years. Records found at the National Archives suggest that he deserted on 24 January 1863 at Key West, Florida.

James apparently returned to the Easton area, as he married Nancy Maria STARK on 29 August 1866 in Easton. In 1867 he is listed in the Pittsburgh City Directory (as is his father) and he is enumerated in Ward 20 of Pittsburgh in 1870, along with his wife and two young sons. Another son and a daughter were born before the end of 1873 in Pittsburgh. James Meldrum, gardener, is listed in Pittsburgh city directories in 1870, 1876 and 1877. There is a Declaration of Intention filed 17 Feb 1873 and Petition for Citizenship dated 3 July 1876 in the District Court of the US for the Western District of Pennsylvania for a James Meldrum. (I am not positive this is the same James Meldrum, as there was another one in Pittsburgh at this time, but he was a tailor.) He then disappears from Pittsburgh records.

The 1880 US Census lists James' four children with their remarried mother in Williamson County, Texas. I found only one deed mentioning James in the microfilmed deed records of Williamson County. On 7 March 1878 James and Nancy sold a lot in Taylor to A. Bisang. I did not find any listing for when they purchased this property. 

What's curious is that the David Meldrum Bible lists James as dying on 15 March 1876.

But it also says James was age 37 when he died, which he could not have been in 1876. My suspicion is that he died 15 March 1878, barely a week after he sold the property in Taylor (originally called Taylorsville).

I hope to find records in Williamson County to confirm his 1878 death. There should be guardianship records for his 4 children, who were all minors in 1878. None have been microfilmed by the Family History Library. I also hope to find the deed record for when David purchased the lot that was sold in 1878.

I'd also like to know more about his widow's other two husbands. She married a man named A. T. Minor on 7 Jan. 1879 in Williamson County, but I haven't been able to find any records for A. T. (not even his full name). She then marries Frank J. Tomkins around 1885, probably in Houston, Texas (definitely not in Williamson County), but is living alone again in 1900. I don't know exactly when she died, but hope to learn that.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

SNGF: My 2015 Genealogy Education Plans

This week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge from Randy Seaver of the GeneaMusings blog is to write about our 2015 plans for genealogy education. Quite frankly, this is the kind of SNGF challenge I usually ignore. But at the risk of offending my readers, I'm going to take this one on.

I have to say that I don't have any concrete plans for genealogy education this year. I used to attend virtually every talk given at the Seattle Genealogical Society (SGS), especially while I was president. But between snowbirding all winter in Arizona and health issues last summer, I've really gotten away from that. If there are topics I'm interested in, I'll probably attend talks once we get back to Seattle, but SGS doesn't have a regular schedule of presentations, so it's easy to miss them. I hope to attend the quarterly DNA Special Interest Group meetings when I'm home, but somehow I seem to have conflicts with almost all of them.

I will probably attend both the spring and fall all-day workshops that the Seattle Genealogical Society will sponsor this year. The spring seminar features C. Lynn Anderson, a genealogist I've never heard of, and will focus on the mid-South states, which is where my mother's side of the family were from. The fall seminar will feature Dr. Thomas W. Jones, who I've heard before and always enjoyed. I don't really expect to learn anything new from either of these people, but I hope I will.

I have not intention of going on a genealogy cruise or attending any more national genealogy conferences. I've been to NGS, FGS, and RootsTech and, other than my first NGS conference (in Kansas City), I felt like I got very little return for my dollars. It cost me almost $2000 to attend FGS in Little Rock, AR, and I got absolutely nothing useful out of it. As an incoming society president, I had high hopes of meeting other, more experienced genealogy society board members and learning from them. Unfortunately, there was absolutely nobody presenting with any experience with an urban society. The people who should have been able to help answer my questions were too busy schmoozing with each other to talk to me. And other than Elizabeth Shown Mills and Tom Jones, the presentations I attended were very simplistic and often poorly presented.

IMHO, RootsTech 2013 was a complete and utter failure. The meeting logistics were very poorly conceived. Any presentation designated as "intermediate" filled up as soon as the doors opened. Anyone coming from another talk was closed out. I attended 5 or 6 talks and two "workshops" (supposedly hands-on computer workshops, but only had 50 minutes, so barely got started when they had to end) and learned absolutely nothing new. The focus of storytelling bugged the heck out of me, since there were not specifics about "how to" tell our own family stories. Needless to say, it was a frustrating experience.

When I get back to civilization I will start listening to webinars again, but our internet service here is limited to 500 MB per day, which won't make it through an hour-long webinar. I will selectively listen/watch webinars sponsored by Legacy Family Tree, Southern California Genealogical Society, and Minnesota Genealogy Society (for whom I'll be presenting in May).

Maybe I'm just jaundiced from being overeducated and very, very experienced as both an academic researcher and a genealogist. I expect to learn new things and explore new ideas when I go to a conference, not just hear the same old recycled presentations from the same presenters. I really loathe presenters peddling their wares during their presentations and have run into that at every national conference I've attended. I'm clearly not a genealogy groupie, nor do I have any status whatsoever in the genealogy community, so I don't get the same treatment Randy (and others) do at conferences. If my husband is with me (often the case these days), I really can't participate fully in social functions. For my travel dollars, I'd rather be researching in the areas where my ancestors lived or in national/regional repositories.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

SNGF: Updated Ancestor Score

This week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge from Randy Seaver is (essentially) to update our Ancestor Score from last year. You can see the details of his challenge here.
Last year's post on this same topic can be found here.

So, here is my updated table:
Relationship Possible People People in MY Tree Percent
1 Me 1 1 100%
2 Parents 2 2 100%
3 Grandparents 4 4 100%
4 Great-grandparents 8 8 100%
5 2x Great-grandparents 16 16 100%
6 3x Great-grandparents 32 30 94%
7 4x Great-grandparents 64 33 52%
8 5x Great-grandparents 128 35 27%
9 6x Great-grandparents 256 24 9%
10 7x Great-grandparents 512 21 4%

This year I created Outline Ancestor Reports in my two (paternal and maternal) Family TreeMaker databases, with me as the starting person. These reports number each generation, so it was easy to just count how many of each generation number were in each report. Much easier than what I did last year!

My overall score this year is 17%, a whopping 1% increase over last year. The research I did on my father's SONNEN and MOHR lines in September at the Family History Library added 7 names to my direct line, 2 in the 6th generation and 5 in the 7th generation.

Unfortunately, I don't have any New England ancestry and by the 10th generation almost all of my lines are back in the "old country." I have a smattering of 11th and 12th generation ancestor names in my database, but none beyond that. Even my "Swedes on the Delaware" line (STILLE/STILLEY) ancestors were born in Sweden by the 11th generation (b. 1640).

Saturday, January 3, 2015

SNGF: Best Find of 2014, Research Challenge for 2015

I'm surprised to see that I haven't done one of Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenges in over 3 months. Shame on me!

This week's SNGF is to:
1. Tell us about your best research achievement of 2014; and
2. What research problem do you want to work on in 2015?

2014 Research Achievement
During my 6-day trip to the Family History Library in September I focused on my father's maternal lines. They are the shortest by far of any of my ancestral lines. His mother, Virginia Corine MELDRUM (1896-1980), was the daughter of David James MELDRUM Jr. (1867 to 1908) and Matilda Elizabeth "Tillie" SONNEN (1871-1921). Tillie's father, Herman SONNEN (1833-1919) has been the end of that line in my family tree for over 20 years. With the help of several people at the FHL who could read German, I was able to document Herman SONNEN's birth and parentage. Here is a copy of his birth certificate from FHL microfilm 938382, Benrath, Rheinland, Prussia.

I also gathered records documenting two more generations of the SONNEN family.

2015 Research Goal
Staying with my father's lines, I am hoping to sneak away from a planned birding trip to southwest Texas next month and track down what happened to his mother's father and grandfather. I know her grandparents, James Braithwaite MELDRUM (1840-1876) and Nancy Maria STARK (1845-abt. 1913) were living in Taylor, Williamson County, Texas at the time James died. I have not been able to find any direct record of his death. The only account I have is in a letter written by his mother to one of his sisters. However, in September I found deed records as late as 1878 purportedly involving both James and Nancy. I did not find any record of Nancy selling the properties and am wondering if the children inherited it at some point.

I would love to get to Houston to research my Dad's lines, but that's just too far from where my husband will be birding with a friend. At best, I'm hoping to get to Austin (and the University of Texas newspaper collection) and Taylor, along with Georgetown, the county seat of Williamson County.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

SNGF: Photographs Through The Generations

This week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge posted by Randy Seaver on his Genea-Musings blog asks us to document and picture one of our ancestral lines.
Unfortunately, my family photos are not very well organized.
I think the longest line I can document photographically is my mother's Swicegood/Coffey line.
1. My great-great-grandparents were Squire COFFEY (1828-1912) and Drusilla PARKER (1833-1901), pictured here:
2-3. Their daughter, Martha Elizabeth COFFEY (1867-1947) married John Hiram Richmon Sharp SWICEGOOD (1858-1936), and had 4 children, one dying in infancy. The photo at right shows John and Mattie with their three surviving children circa late 1897. From left to right are Bonnie Pearl (aka "Pearl"), Beulah Bliss (baby on lap), John Hiram, Martha Elizabeth (aka "Mattie"), and my grandfather, William Earl (aka "Earl").
4. William Earl SWICEGOOD (1893-1979) married Mollie Fay BROOKSHIRE (1894-1966) and they had six children. My mother, Nancy Leah SWICEGOOD (1917-1996) (aka "Leah" to her family) was their second child. At left is a photo of my mother on leave from the Army ca. 1943. She was the first of her siblings to serve in World War II.
5-6. Me--Virginia Leah SHARP (1948-?)..... in 1951 and 2013 (with son and husband).
So, just 6 generations. Though now that I've done this, I realize that I have photos of my third great grandmother, Susannah BARTSHE COLLINS FREEMAN CARTER (1829-1912), so I really could go 7 generations.
Either way, it's embarrassing how few family photos I have on my computer from the last two generations.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

SNGF: Exploring Your Grandfather's Birthdate

Tonight's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge posted by Randy Seaver at the GeneaMusings blog is to:
1. Find the Day of the Week one of your Grandfathers was born;
2. List five events that occurred on the day and month of your Grandfather's birth;
3. List five famous people who were born on the same day as your Grandfather;
4. Give your answers in a blog post.

My paternal grandfather, Harold Herbert SHARP, was born in Oquawka, Henderson County, Illinois on 21 May 1893. I never met the man and didn't even know his name until a number of years after my father, his second son, had died.

21 May 1893 was a Sunday (according to ). I guess that means that Harold should have been "full of grace," but he died from alcoholism, so either the date or poem is wrong.

According to, the following events occurred on May 21st:
  • 1602    Martha's Vineyard was first sighted by Captain Bartholomew Gosnold
  • 1804    Lewis and Clark expedition began
  • 1832    first Democratic National Convention was held in Baltimore
  • 1846    first steamship arrived in Hawaii
  • 1881    American Red Cross was founded by Clara Barton
Famous people who were born on 21 May include (according to
  • 1527    Phillip II, King of Spain (1556-98) & Portugal (1580-98)
  • 1780    Elizabeth Fry, Quaker minister/prison reformer/nurse
  • 1843    Charles-Albert Gobat, Tramelan, Switzerland, Swiss politician, recipient of the 1902 Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1843    Louis Renault, French lawyer  [namesake of my first car???]
  • 1917    Dennis Day, Irish tenor/comedian/Jack Benny Show guest
I have to admit that I recognized very few of the names of people born on May 21st. There were also several Civil War generals on both sides and many inventors and artists that I've never heard of.