Family History Research

Madness Monday – Those Ancestry Leaves

If you follow me on Twitter @jencoffeelover, you may have seen my rant last week about those Ancestry.com leaves and people merging stuff into their trees. Let me explain.

My Holik ancestors came to Chicago from Senetin, Bohemia. They all came to Chicago and appear based on all the records I have found, to not have lived anywhere in between once they got off the ship. Their ship logs all indicated another member of the family as the person in the U.S. they were meeting. For pretty much all the kids that immigrated, Frantisek Holik, their father in Senetin or Anna Holik, their mother in Senetin, was listed as the closest relative in the old country.

I found a tree on Ancestry.com where a woman had merged all my Holik stuff into her tree for a Marie Holek. Names and birth years were close so it must be right? Right?

She took my Marie Holik, sister to my great grandfather John, as hers. She merged in records for that Marie and my great great grandmother Marie Rataj Holik into her Marie.

Now it appears her Marie was born around 1890 and probably lived in Ohio. The records for her husband Jan V* show him in Ohio. BUT her son was born when she was four years old and her grandson was born before her. So I have no idea what her real birth date is, or for her descendants either. But Ancestry showed this person all these pretty leaves so it all was merged into her tree.

Let’s look at what she merged and why I can tell you these are not the same Marie’s.

1890    Birth in Czechoslovakia

Sources: 1910 Federal Census (Chicago); 1920 Federal Censuses (Chicago and Ohio); 1930 Censuses (Chicago and Ohio); New York Passenger List for my Marie Holik.

 1906    Arrival

Source: 1920 Federal Census (Chicago) for Marie Holik born 1883. This is my Marie Holik’s sister in-law Marie nee Rataj Holik.

 28 Apr 1909    Arrival          

Source: New York Passenger Lists for my Mary Holik.

 1909    Arrival       

Source: 1910 Federal Census for my Marie Holik in Chicago.

 1910    Arrival    

Source: 1920 Federal Census Ohio.

 1910    Residence Chicago Ward 34, Cook, Illinois   

Source: 1910 Federal Census for my Marie Holik in Chicago.

 1920    Residence Gorham, Fulton, Ohio    

Source: 1920 Federal Census Ohio

 1920    Residence Chicago Ward 34, Cook, Illinois   

Source: 1920 Federal Census Chicago for for Marie Holik born 1883. This is my Marie Holik’s sister in-law Marie nee Rataj Holik.

 1930    Residence Chicago, Cook, Illinois       

Source: 1930 Federal Census for a Mary Holik married to a J. Frank Holik. These people are not in my tree.

1930    Residence Richland, Defiance, Ohio. This fact is in her profile twice.

Source: 1930 Federal Census

 4 Mar 1944      Death Chicago, Cook, Illinois           

Source: Cook County, Illinois Death Index 1908-1988 for Marie Holik Kratchovil. My Marie.

Can you see why it is difficult to even know what information is accurate for this Marie Holek in this tree?

Moral of this story is – just because Ancestry shows you all those pretty leaves doesn’t mean those records belong to your person. They are possible matches but it is up to you, the human, to evaluate the information in the record being suggested.

Have you run into this in your research? Tell us about it in the comments.

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NGS Home Study Course Thoughts

Since last December-ish I have been working on the NGS HSC graded version. My goal was to learn some things I didn’t know, brush up on things I did and in the end, earn a certificate. I thought it was an affordable way to expand my genealogical education. If I had it to do over I think I would save my money and find another educational opportunity.

Why, you ask?

While I do not mind independent study courses, this is a little too independent for me. There have been a few instances where I emailed a grader of my assignments only to not have my specific questions answered. Asking questions again still went unanswered. And the grader was not very kind in the responses.

In a lesson on census I was supposed to list everyone on page one of my pedigree chart and all the census years in which they could be found. I listed each person and under those who were immigrants, specifically noted the year they immigrated. The grader chose to ignore this and berated me for not including all the censuses for those people’s life time. Well, if my great grandfather immigrated in 1904, he certainly will not be found on the 1900 census will he? Or because he was simply alive I should have included the 1900 on the list even though he didn’t live in the U.S.? That isn’t competent research.

Today I got a lesson back marked complete on military records. The lesson said to choose a grandfather. A grandfather, not list every male in my pedigree chart. Then list the grandfather’s known ancestors and all the wars they may have served in starting with the Revolutionary War to WWII. Well, I had two grandfathers. Jerry who immigrated in 1925 and could have served in WWII. Jerry’s father died in Bohemia. The End.The other grandpa Joseph was listed. I also listed his father and said specifically that he immigrated in 1904 so he could have served in WWI. He died in 1930.

The grader said in my comments that it she didn’t believe I had no other male ancestors in the country during that time period. But she would give me the benefit of the doubt that I had listed them all. I sent a note to the course administrator who forwarded it to the grader. I asked if I didn’t complete that part of the assignment correctly because it said to choose a grandfather. Not every male. The grader responded apologizing saying I did complete it correctly and that she should read the assignment directions before grading.

WHAT? I have never had the same grader twice. So don’t they focus on one set of the lessons? How could you NOT understand the instructions if you are responsible for grading one specific lesson over and over?

I get the feeling sometimes that those dealing with the NGS HSC don’t understand that not all of us have ancestors who have been here since the Mayflower. That some of us have shallow roots in this country. And I really feel they do not provide enough feedback or answer questions like they should.

I have many years of research experience but it concerns me that those who are just starting out or have only a few years under their belt are not getting the full experience they should. They are not being provided with enough feedback. So how are they supposed to fully learn? And how can you learn if your questions are not being answered?

I will finish the HSC as I only have five lessons left. I have learned a lot and do not regret taking the course. I just wish my experience had been a little better to this point.

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Family of Frantisek and Anna Holik

Frantisek and Anna Holik lived in Senetin, Bohemia before 1900. Senetin is located east of Prague. Frantisek lived from 1845 to 1910. Anna lived from 1860 to 1934. Frank and Anna had 11 children, many of whom came to America.

For each of the children, I stumble across a new piece of information every few months. I am still searching for pieces of information here and there and my son has developed interesting theories for some of my missing pieces. It is good to return to this family once in a while and see what new things can be found and in the process, a mystery solved.

Bozena was born April 3, 1879. She died September 13, 1935 in Senetin, Bohemia.

Jan was born February 11, 1883. Jan immigrated in 1903 or 1904 according to the Declaration of Intent he filed to become a citizen and 1910 and 1920 census records. His Declaration contains a ship name, the Barbarossa, and date of immigration, but I cannot locate him on a ship log. I’m now going through page by page of every ship log the Barbarossa had in 1903 and 1904 in the hopes that his name was transcribed incorrectly and I will find him. Jan married Marie Ratay June 11, 1905 in Chicago. I have found a ship log entry for Marie that I am fairly certain is correct. Jan died April 8, 1930, before he was Naturalized. Jan and Marie are my great grandparents.

Katerina was born June 7, 1887. She immigrated and arrived in New York on March 18, 1903 on the Kronprinz Wilhelm. She married Jan Koluvek May 14, 1905. Interestingly, Jan was on the same ship as Katerina. They were listed one page apart on the ship log. Jan lived in Snet, Bohemia and Katerina in Senetin. These towns were 40 km apart. I am not sure if they met on the ship or in Chicago. There is no indication prior to living in Chicago that they knew each other. My nine year old son has a theory they met on the ship. I believe they met in Chicago. It is a nice debate for us and a way for him to look at the evidence available to create a theory and try to prove, disprove, or rule it a possibility.  We will never know exactly where and how Katerina and Jan met but it is a nice debate. Katerina died in Florida on December 15, 1980. Her husband Jan died in Florida in 1950.

Frantiska was born March 8, 1885. No other information is known on her.

Anna was born November 6, 1889 and died a few years later in 1896.

Frank was born November 25, 1890. He immigrated to the U.S. on March 16, 1910 on the Rijndam. Frank married Agnes Vadlejch on March 13, 1911 in Chicago. Frank died before 1963.

Marie was born January 31, 1894. She immigrated in 1909 on the Kaiser Wilhelm II. According to the 1910 Census, Marie was working at the Chicago Municipal Isolation Hospital (for smallpox) at 3400 S. Lawndale. This hospital was run by German nuns, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. Marie was only 17 or 18 years old when she worked as a nurse there. I think she might have married in 1911 but need to research this more. She was not working there in1920.

Josef was born April 2, 1896 and immigrated on November 3, 1921 on the Orbita. Josef married Anna, maiden name unknown on May 12, 1923, in Berwyn, Illinois. Josef died September 1979 in Elmhurst, Illinois.

Alois Josef was born March 10, 1899 and died soon after.

Gabriela was born January 29, 1900. No other information is known on her.

Anna was born September 13, 1902. She immigrated the year before Josef and arrived in the U.S. on August 30, 1920 on the Noordam. At this time I have no information about her after she arrived in Chicago.

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Telling the story of your “Silent Women”

History and women’s history are two important components of a well rounded family history. What is important to recognize is that these components are often left out when family history researchers tell the stories of their families. Why are these components left out? I believe it is because family history researchers do not know the importance of incorporating history into family histories and they do not know the great wealth of resources available to them when researching the stories of their family, especially women.

I would like to tell you the story of my great grandmother Anna Svihlik Tregler. Between 1915 and 1925, Anna made a few trips back and forth between Bohemia, which became Czechoslovakia, and the United States, specifically Chicago. From information I have gathered, she was bringing her children over and then returning to Eastern Europe with her husband for reasons unknown. She married her second husband, Jaroslav, in Chicago in 1915, three years after the birth of my grandfather, Jerry. Family story is, when Jaroslav died in 1922, he left Anna and Jerry with a small sum of money. As a result, Jaroslav’s family did not want Anna to leave Czechoslovakia because she would have taken her money with her. Anna decided to leave Czechoslovakia for the last time in 1925 and wanted to take my grandfather, Jerry, to Chicago.  Apparently the Tregler family tried to prevent Anna from leaving so she sought help from Thomas Masaryk in order to leave the country. Anna was successful and arrived in the United States April 14, 1925.

This story is interesting at first glance, but what is the importance? Anna’s story offers a combination of world history, U.S. history, Chicago history and women’s history. When I heard the story for the first time I wondered why Anna left Bohemia. In the end, why did she ask Thomas Masaryk for help and who was he?

In researching Anna’s story on and off over the last 14 years, I began finding answers to these questions and of course, finding more questions I wanted answers to. Why did Anna leave Bohemia and then after returning, Czechoslovakia? The exact answer will never be known, but by looking at the history of Czechoslovakia and Europe during her lifetime, I can see the political, social and economic upheavals occurring before and after World War I. These upheavals gave me possible reasons why Anna left. Why did she enlist the help of Thomas Masaryk and who was he? Masaryk was the first President of Czechoslovakia when it became an independent nation on October 28, 1918 at the end of World War I. He was still the President in 1925 and although I have no documentation to prove he assisted Anna, I suppose it is possible. Another mystery!

If a researcher has the basic information such as names, dates, and places, possibly a family story, but no history, they certainly do not have a complete story of the lives of their ancestors. Val Greenwood said it best, in his book, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, “Genealogy and history (religious, economic, social and political) cannot be separated. Men cannot be dissociated from the times and places in which they lived and still be understood. It is impossible to recognize the full extent of research possibilities if you are not aware of the historical background from which your ancestor came.” In a sense, researchers have separated history from genealogy. What Greenwood is telling us is that we must know history to put out ancestors into the historical context in which they lived. He is also saying that by putting our ancestors into historical context, we understand exactly what resources are available to us in our research. Once researchers understand how to incorporate history into their family histories, it is time to move forward to researching the women in our past.

As researchers collect all these names, dates, and places, they strive to see how far back they can trace their paternal lines. In essence, family history researchers focus more on the lives and stories of men, rather than women. When writing women’s history, Christina Schaefer wrote, “Women’s history should not reflect only an isolated tale of victims, but should give a full context of the events which women helped to shape.” Scahefer goes on to state, “Looking for women requires a readjustment in how we view traditional record sources.” (Source: The Hidden Half of the Family by Christina Schaefer). With these ideas in mind, it is my hope to leave you with a greater understanding of what resources are available to you as a family historian incorporating history, and more specifically, women’s history into your family stories and give you a new perspective on some already used sources.

I would like to share a few topics family history researchers can examine about the lives of their female ancestors. Please understand there are many more topics about which stories can be written. Researchers can examine a specific period in their ancestor’s life and compare it to other time periods with these topics in mind. Not only do you want to examine the lives of your matrilineal line, but also of sisters, cousins, and aunts, of the women you are researching. It is interesting to compare the women not only across generations, but within the generation. Here are some possible topics.

  • Was the woman married or single? If married, at what age did she marry?
  • What were her roles? What was expected of her as a woman, wife, mother, friend, daughter?
  • Was she educated? If she had formal education, how much education did she have? If she did not have formal education, what skills did she learn growing up? Was she encouraged to further her education if formally educated?
  • What was her occupation? Did she work inside or outside of the home or both?
  • Where did she live? Alone? With a spouse and children? With her family?
  • When and how did she come to the United States if she was an immigrant?
  • Was she involved in any women’s clubs?
  • Did she work during World War I or World War II?
  • Was she a pioneer somewhere in the United States?
  • Was she in Chicago and experience any major historical event such as the Great Chicago Fire or World’s Columbian Exposition, etc.? This is a specific example to Chicago but can be applied to any city and major event.

As an example, I did a study comparing the roles of married women in my family. I looked at my grandmother and her mother. I looked at their roles in the family, what was expected of them, whether they worked inside or out of the home, and where they lived in relation to their families. The time period was roughly the 1930s. I then looked at my mother in comparison to my grandmother and finally myself. It was interesting to see how different the generations were in comparison to one another.

Now that you have an idea about the types of stories you could write, where do you find the information for these stories? The best place to start is with home sources. These are the same sources used to fine pure genealogical data such as names, dates, and places of events in your family. Examined more closely, these sources help you find clues about the lives of your female ancestors. As in pure family history research, it is also very important to document your sources so you know from where the information came.

Next I would encourage you to find books about women’s history for the time period in which your ancestor lived. Find books specifically about tracing women’s history such as The Hidden Half of the Family by Christina Schaefer or Discovering Your Female Ancestors by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack. These books will be reviewed on my blog in an upcoming post.

Go online and Google women’s history and specific topics in which you are interested. Talk to others online via blogs, message boards, and other online forums about women’s topics. The possibilities are endless for finding information on women.

In conclusion, I used a quote from Christina Schaefer’s, The Hidden Half of the Family, “Looking for women requires a readjustment in how we view traditional record sources.” Readjusting our view and use of these tools as family history researchers, will allow us to start researching the lives of our female ancestors and being to write their stories.

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