Year: 2012


I ran across a website recently that is a really clever idea. I know I’ve stumbled upon it before, but for some reason I never stayed. Now I’m hooked. BillionGraves.com is a site, similar is some ways to Find-A-Grave. To be honest, while I love Find-A-Grave and I will always use it, its age is showing. The site has not changed since I first found it over 10 years ago. The user interface is lacking, the headstone-adding process is getting clunkier every day, and it’s old and archaic. BillionGraves just feels fresh, new, and powerful. The sites, while having the same goal, work in a very different way.

I know I’ve had a similar idea in the past, though I never did much with it. I did transcribe one cemetery by hand once about 12 years ago, St. Finbar’s Cemetery in Saukville, Wisconsin, which is still online at interment.net. That was a small cemetery and it was a lot of work requiring going to the cemetery, visiting each stone, transcribing the info, writing it down in a notebook, taking it home, typing it into a computer, etc. I used a whole day just on that little cemetery. I love digitizing old records and other family information for people to find online. I had an idea to take pictures of every headstone in a cemetery and make some sort of website, but it still sounded like a lot of work for me, so I never did anything with it. Well, now Billion Graves has done it, and much better than I ever could have on my own.

Let them show you how they take people and technology to make the process extremely powerful:

So, if you have a smart phone of the iPhone or Android variety, you can download the BillionGraves.com app (iTunes link) and then visit your local cemetery and just start taking photos. The app will automatically capture the GPS coordinates on the cemetery and headstone and upload the photo to their servers.

Even if you don’t have a smart phone device, you can help by visiting the website and transcribing headstone photos that others have uploaded. I, myself, have transcribed almost 100 headstone photos already. It’s quick and easy and hopefully it’ll help countless people around the world.

Now that close friends and family have been notified, it’s time to let the rest of the world know. My wife, Darcy, and I are now expecting our second child in December of this year. I think Aerissa will really enjoy having a younger sibling to play with. She’s keeps us pretty busy.

I’m happy with either a son or a daughter, but since we have a daughter I’m leaning towards a son. As a dad, it’s always nice to have a son, someone to pass the ZALEWSKI name down another generation. We’ll see once we’re able to find out the gender.

 

Since I do have some data collected for my The Zalewski Project website, I decided to launch it in a “beta test” state.

It’s very basic looking and it only has data from the 1880 and 1900 US Census records, but it all can be browsed by city. I am currently working on the 1910 US Census and will also add other data as I get it. The Census was tough to get working at first, but I found a way to allow me to use all of the data and only pull what I need when you ask for it.

Take a look at the site now and let me know if there are any issues with the data, not the site, I know the site isn’t perfect, yet.

Here is another update on the previously-mentioned Zalewski Project I’ve been slowly working on.

I have collected the data from the 1880 US Census and the 1900 US Census and have created systems for it to allow you to view the data. I’m just working on making it “pretty” so it’s somewhat easy to view. Hopefully, this small phase won’t take long and you’ll be able to browse it in a basic format very soon.

I had the luck of finding a photo of my 4th-great-grandmother while doing some research on her descendant lines on Ancestry.com. I happened to see a photo of her daughter, Mary, with some other people. I clicked on it and saw that it said the name of the older woman was “Frances Thompson.” I did a double-take to make sure that was the name I thought it was.

Frances was born Claude-Françoise QUINET in 1817 in Menoux, Département de Haute-Saône (Franche-Comté), France. She came to America with her family in about 1832 and I think settled in New York state for a bit. She married William THOMPSON in that area in about 1839. I find them next in the 1850 Census in Granville, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Granville is now mostly part of the Brown Deer area. After that they traveled up to Wrightstown, Brown, Wisconsin where they lived out the rest of their lives.

This photo includes Frances, her daughter Mary, Mary’s son Charles, and Charles’ son Edwin. I don’t know the exact year, but Frances died in 1899 and Edwin was born about 1889. If I had to guess I’d say it’s from about 1894-95 or so since Edwin looks to be about 5 or 6.

Click for larger version

How can I go through this week without a post about the 1940 Census? The digital images were released on Monday, April 2nd free for everyone, though I personally never got to see them until late on Monday night. I don’t think they expected as much traffic as they got on day one. I heard somewhere around 37 million visits on Monday alone. It was no surprise to me. I wasn’t expecting to be able to view the images right away. I’ve been through my fair share of first day launches with things like MMORPGs and other websites to know not to expect much on the first day.

Since the 1940 Census was just released on Monday, there is no name index created, so you cannot search by name. There is currently a massive indexing project going on, that anyone (including you) can help with, that will hopefully bring us this index soon. You need to know the Enumeration District where your ancestors lived in 1940 and browse page by page through it. If you do not know the 1940 Census ED, the website has a nice little  form that will convert the ED from the 1930 Census to the ED in the 1940 Census. In my experience, most EDs are only 30 pages are so on average. Though, when I was able to access the images, I was pleasantly surprised to find out I could download the entire Enumeration District to browse via my own computer instead on needing to browse one-by-one online.

I was able to find all four of my grandparents pretty quickly since I knew where they lived in 1940 and also my great-grandparents at the same time due to the fact that my grandparents were all in their teens. I also ran across my great-great-grandmother from the same area as one of my grandparents. The first image I found is below.

Frank Zalewski; Ward 13, Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; ED 72-288; Household 172 - Click for larger version

The 1940 Census image for my great-grandfather, Frank ZALEWSKI. Frank’s wife, Anna, died in 1939 so he is listed alone in his specific “household.” His youngest son, Frank, Jr., is listed in the same building with his wife Louise. (This also proves the marriage I wrote about the other day.)

I found my grandfather, Richard ZALEWSKI, living near his grandfather, Frank, in Milwaukee, his dad working as a Milwaukee Police Officer. I found my grandmother, Mary Jane CORRIGAN, living in Kingsford, Michigan, her dad working as a machine operator at the Ford Motor Company. I found my other grandfather living in Grafton, Wisconsin and my other grandmother living in Port Washington, Wisconsin. I am currently trying to find my wife’s grandparents. Her paternal grandfather giving me some trouble since I didn’t find him in the ED he lived in in 1930. He was also 21 at the time, so he could be living as a boarder, etc if he is out on his own.

I’m just getting started digging for my family and I also hope to do some indexing soon enough. I know the indexes will help me in the future, why not help everyone else by creating it?

I recently finished reading the wonderful book by Megan Smolenyak called Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing. I read another book she wrote a few years back, when DNA testing was still pretty new, called Trace Your Roots With DNA which was also very interesting.

In the book, Megan goes over cases she has worked on throughout her life that involve genealogy or searching for people that need finding. From tracing Obama’s roots to Ireland to finding the next of kin of “unclaimed person” to finding the real Annie Moore, she covers a lot of interesting paths. You definitely don’t need to be a genealogist, or even do any family research for that matter, to enjoy this book. Her writing style makes it easy to follow along and  learn about the detective work that went into everything she does.

I found the chapter named “A House Divided, A Bible Shared” that talked about a family bible that started with a soldier in the Confederate Army and ended up with a Union Soldier from Wisconsin. While the chapter itself was interesting, I perked up when I read the Union soldier was from Company K, Wisconsin 18th Infantry. My 3rd-great-grandfather, Johann LAST, was in Company K, though he was with the 50th Infantry. It seems the 18th Infantry went down to Louisiana and the 50th (from what I can tell) traveled up to the Dakota Territory. Who knows, maybe they crossed paths?

I also enjoyed the chapter, “King of America,” where Megan worked to figure out who would be the King of America today if George Washington would’ve been King instead of President. There is much more to learn about the monarchy than I had originally thought. She explains the differences very well and it’s an interesting read. Obviously, if Washington had been King, the descendants would’ve chosen their spouses differently, etc, but it’s a cool theoretical project to take on.

I recommend this book to anyone, especially genealogists, but any person interested in history or detective work would definitely enjoy it. I read the Kindle version, but the physical version is also available on Amazon.

That seems to be how it always works, doesn’t it? You finally solve a family research mystery and it just creates more mysteries. But, what fun would it be if we ran out of mysteries to solve?

The story of how I solved one mystery late last night is somewhat interesting. I spent a few hours over the last month trying to track down the birth record of my 3rd-great-grandfather, Johann LAST. I happened to run across his marriage record in 1849 in, what was then called, Plathe in Pommern, Germany (today it’s Płoty in western Poland.) The record indicated that he was from Minten, which was near Naugard (now Nowogard) which is a bit south of the area. I spent hours looking through the available church records on FamilySearch’s website in the Naugard area for any trace. I did find a few LAST entries, but nothing for my family.

Last night, on a whim, I just decided to start looking through records just to the north of the Plathe area, since I didn’t get to those on my last search. I wasn’t expecting much since it’s not that close to Naugard or Minten. I started with the parish of Batzwitz (now called Baszewice) which also included a few other smaller parishes in the area. I jumped in a few pages to skip over the cover page, etc, and the first page I came to had a baptism entry for LAST. Though it wasn’t anything familiar, I did take it as a good sign. In all of my searching, I found that the surname isn’t very common. I was only in 1823 and Johann was listed to be born in 1825. I kept working through the pages, seeing more LAST entries. Then, on the first page of the 1825 baptism records for the parish of Barkow, I spotted what looked like “Johann Wilhelm Gottlieb,” his full name from his marriage record.

This is where one mystery was (more than likely) solved and another one (or more) created. It seems that Johann is listed as uneheliche sohn which basically translates to “illegitimate son.” It does list his mother as Dorothea Sophia LAST, but no father. I know that some church records sometimes have a “legitimacy” section that has listings for when they legitimize the children, so I’m hoping it’s there.

Now, that’s not the only mystery. I spent some time looking through more pages to see if I could see Dorothea in more places and possibly connect her to parents or even a husband at some point. I read one LAST entry that listed the father as Justmann Wilhelm Last and then a sponsor listed as Karl Gottlieb Last Justmann. After some basic searching, I can only figure that Justmann means a “well-to-do man.” Adding even more intrigue, Dorothea is listed as a sponsor in another baptism as schulzen tochter which translates to “mayor’s daughter.” In the next entry is a father listed as schulzen sohn Gottlieb Last which means “mayor’s son, Gottlieb Last.” My guess is Dorothea and Gottlieb are siblings, but I want to dig deeper to find out more since it was late last night when I found this.

History and documentation has always hinted that my great-granduncle, Frank Zalewski, Jr, the brother of my great-grandfather, Joseph, never married, never had children. There was never any mention of a wife, anywhere, and he was buried with his parents, Frank & Anna, when he died in 1976.  I, surprisingly, can’t find his obituary in the Milwaukee Sentinel archives from November 1976. The Milwaukee Journal does not have any editions during that time available online.

One day, while browsing through the Milwaukee Journal archives at Google News, I ran across an interesting news story.

The title of the article didn’t surprise me much. I picked up, through the years of research, that Frank, Jr seemed to never really “amount to much” in his life. There seemed to never be a lot of mention of him or photos of him. He seemed to be the black sheep of this Zalewski family. A far cry from his older brother, Joseph, who was a WWI veteran and a 33-year veteran of the Milwaukee Police Department. Though, according to the article, it seemed his wife wasn’t much better. That was the key to all of this. It says, “his wife Louise.” I’m almost certain this is Frank, Jr since his age matches up exactly, and this is the same address he lived at when his father died in 1941. I also found him in the 1940 Milwaukee City Directory at the same address, listed as “Frank E jr (Louise K).”

The funny thing is, I can’t find any mention of this marriage (though, by the looks of it, it probably didn’t last much longer) in any records. I’m pretty sure Frank, Jr is always listed as “Single.” Though, come April 2nd, when the 1940 Census comes out, it looks like he was married according to the City Directory. Maybe that will shed some light on the subject.