Genealogy Blog

George and Lizzie’s Long Journey Home

20 Sep 2014

This is a story of a nineteenth-century couple who travelled the country, and how they ended up in my living room on their way to reuniting with their family in Arizona.

George Sefton Crouse was born in Middleburg, Maryland, on March 12, 1862, eldest son of John Lewis Crouse and his wife Mary Margaret Sefton. John was a physician, and George spent his youth in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

He later moved to Ohio, where he married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Matilda Grimmer. She was born in Carthage (today a part of Cincinnati), Ohio, on May 26, 1863. She was a daughter of Andrew and Dorothea (Ludwig) Grimmer, who had immigrated from Germany.

They married in 1882 and the first few of their children were born there. By 1900 she had born 6 children, but only 3 remained alive. In the early 1890s they decided to make a great move and relocate the family to Montana. It may have had something to do with the economic depression that seized the country in 1893. About this time, they had their portraits taken. They were quite possibly made to give as keepsakes to family members being left behind.

By 1900 George was a food grocer in Great Falls. By 1910 he was working as a foreman at a smelter. But they owned their home free of a mortgage. George was just 56 years old when he passed away in Great Falls on October 12, 1918. Lizzie joined him on September 25, 1950, thirty-two years later. They are buried there together in the New Highland Cemetery.

So how did George and Lizzie end up in my living room? And why are they going to Arizona? It all started a visit to eBay. I was on a very specific mission looking for something. And along the way, I fell into the eBay trap. I clicked on one of the links that “might be something you might be interested in.”

There were two faces staring back at me. Clearly nineteenth-century charcoal portraits. And, they were identified, including the first, middle and last names of  what was likely a married couple (not 100% certain since on the woman’s portrait it provided only her maiden name. Knowing that there was a great likelihood they could end up gracing the wall of an Applebees or other restaurant, I bid on the portraits and won them. I asked the seller where she had obtained them, and she informed me that she found them at a Goodwill store.



George Sefton Crouse and Elizabeth Mathilda Grimmer (From the collection of the author, used with permission.)

George Sefton Crouse and Elizabeth Mathilda Grimmer (From the collection of the author, used with permission.)


I then started searching for descendants to whom I could return them. It did not take too long to piece together their three daughters and to find living descendants. Within days I actually found 2 men in their fifties, first cousins and descendants of George and Lizzie’s eldest daughter. I discovered that one of the cousins was a genealogist. He, clearly, would be the perfect person to return the portraits to.

John has a family tree online, and heads up a DNA study for his patrilineal line. Unfortunately, I was having difficulty obtaining current contact information for him. So I sent the word out to some of my friends who I thought might be able to help.

While waiting for their response, I asked my friend Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective, to help me. I told her about finding the portraits on eBay. She responded with “eBay is like Las Vegas for genealogists.” I couldn’t agree more. Sparkly things everywhere and it is very difficult not to get sucked in!

Maureen looked at the portraits for me, and determined that the photograph from which they were made was likely taken in the early 1890s. There are characteristics from the 1880s present, but some of the details were not around until the 1890s. This fits in perfectly with the move to Montana, thus my assertion that the portraits were taken to give to family members remaining behind in Ohio.

In the meantime, my friends in the DNA genealogy pulled through and found current information for me. I was able to finally make contact with a descendant. The portraits are now on their way to Arizona, where John now lives, repatriating them to the family.

In the end, it cost me about $80 to purchase the portraits, have them shipped to me, and ship them to John. The biggest portion of this was the shipping because the portraits were so large. I did not ask for remuneration, but did ask if he would please consider making a donation in that amount or more to the Preserve the Pensions Project. So the next time you are at a Goodwill, or yard sale, or on eBay, take a look around. Perhaps there is something there that you can repatriate to descendants of the owners.

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists September 19, 2014

19 Sep 2014

This week we have a variety of stories and sources for you.I hope you find them as interesting and informative as I do.

We start with a new book about he Civil War. The New York Times ran a preview of the full review that will appear this Sunday.  Laird Hunt has written Neverhome, a novel about a woman disguised as a man who fights for the Union in the Civl War. During his research, he discovered stories of ancestor Thomas Goatley Laird, who supposedly rode home from the war on the same horse he rode into the war with. He also discovered a box of family letters from that period. Read the preview in Civil War (and Family) History, and don’t forget to check the Times on Sunday for the full review.

Next we have another story about soldiers. Recently the cemetery in Yorktown, Indiana, held a cemetery to honor two soldiers buried there: one from the Revolutionary War and one from the War of 1812. Brothers Larry and Garry Applegate knew that there was an Applegate buried in the cemetery, but it was not until they heard of the ceremony that was about to happen that they did the research to confirm that yes, indeed, they were descended from War of 1812 veteran John Applegate. Read more in Family Finds Its History in Cemetery Ceremony.

The Legal Genealogist Judy G. Russell had an excellent piece this week about laws. Understanding the laws of the time and place in which you are researching is critical to properly identifying your ancestors. This week, Judy talks about the names of statutes, and how the popular name (such as the Homestead Act) are not necessarily the official name of the legislation, which may make it difficult for you to find it. Read more in Popularizing the Statutes.


Chromosome Mapper


Kitty Cooper writes a blog that focuses on genealogy and genetics, as well as gardening. Recently she wrote about how friends had created a wonderful illustration for a presentation on DNA. They used a chromosome mapper that Kitty created awhile back. The mapper shows where certain parts of your DNA comes from. Check out the chart in Using the Chromosome Mapper to Make a Four Generation Inheritance Picture, and you can see how you can make your own with her Ancestor Chromosome Mapper.

Finally, last week I reported that Canadian genealogist John D. Reid was conducting his Rockstar Genealogists survey again this year. This week he released the results. Congratulations to Judy G. Russell, Robert Estes, Janet Few, Steven C. Smyrl, Dick Eastman, and Shauna Hicks who led the packs in their individual categories. Find the full lists of the top ten for each category in this survey at Anglo-Celtic Connections.

News Stories and Blog Posts for Genealogists, September 12, 2014

12 Sep 2014

This week’s roundup of news stories covers a variety of topics, from the very serious to the more lighthearted. Discover how much money was raised at the FGS conference to preserve pensions from the War of 1812 and an effort to get Congress to award the Medal of Honor to a Civl War soldier, then comes a discussion of our approach to non-paternal events revealed by DNA. We end with a couple of more lighthearted pieces that discuss genealogy and music as well as a new map of the United States.

We start this week’s roundup with a follow up about the Preserve the Pensions walk in San Antonio. When the Legal Genealogist, Judy Russell, offered to have people who couldn’t attend the conference sponsor her walking, it was to help raise money for the Preserve the Pensions Project, working to digitize the War of 1812 pension files. The total at the moment — more than $20,000. With the matching contributions from FGS and, that’s worth almost $85,000. But they’re not finished yet. Read more in The Final Tally.

First Lieutenant ALonzo H. Chushing was a brash young man, fresh out of West Point. He was in command of an artillery brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg, and performed quite heroically. It ended with the ultimate sacrifice. Historians have been pushing for him to be awarded the Medal of Honor, but today it literally takes an act of Congress. Find out more in A Gettysburg Hero.

Kerry Scott writes the Clue Wagon blog, covering a wide variety of topics. This week she went on a well-deserved rant. She talks about the presumptions we make when DNA illuminates a “non-paternal event” in the family tree, and how wrong it is of us to do so. Excellent writing, and a good read in Can We Stop Calling Grandma a Whore?

We close with a couple of fun stories. First is an interesting piece that was published a few months ago in the Cornell Daily Sun. The Sun is a student-run newspaper at Cornell University. Contributor Henry Staley wrote a piece about a different kind of genealogy — the genealogy of music. He writes that “below I seek to show the degree to which the memorable pop musicians of the ’60s and ’70s were engaged in conversations with former thinkers or writers. I organize these conversations by thinker or movement.” Read more in On the Genealogy of Musicality.

Mental Floss has created an interesting new map. They took a map of the united states and redrew drew it.  The new map reflects fifty renamed states that are equal in population, although the geography is hardly of similar size. With names lik Menominee, Canaveral, and Shiprock, it is a very interesting map. Check it out in The U.S. Map Redrawn as 50 States with Equal Population.


New US Map


Vote in the 2014 Rockstar Genealogists Survey

11 Sep 2014

Rockstar Genealogists 2014

John D. Reid of Ottowa, Ontario, has once again started his Rockstar Genealogists survey. Since 2006 he has been writing the Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections Blog. He writes on a wide variety of topics of interest to those with Canadian or UKI roots.

For the past three years, John has run a Rockstar Genealogists poll. He solicits contributions from his readers to compile the initial list of nominees. The qualifications are:

“those who give ‘must attend’ presentations at family history conferences or as webinars. Who, when you see a new family history article or publication by that person, makes it a must buy. Who you hang on their every word on a blog, podcast or newsgroup, or follow avidly on Facebook or Twitter?”

Once again, I am quite honored to be one of the nominees. To be considered in the same company as Cyndi Ingle, Paul Milner, J. Mark Lowe, George Morgan, Drew Smith, and Curt Witcher, among others, is a tremendous privilege. It also includes noted genealogists from the UKI and such as Else Churchill, Bruce Durie, Fiona FitzSimmons, Michael Gandy, John Grenham, and John Titford.

One of the things I like about this contest is that it shows off many high-quality genealogists that you may or may not be aware of. Check out the list of nominees. Do you know every name? Can you identify what they do? Try looking for some of the individuals whose names are unfamiliar to you. If they write a blog, read some of their posts. Look for books they have authored or edited. Check their calendar to see if and when they are speaking near to you so you can attend one of their presentations. Explore your horizons.

Voting is going on over the next couple of days, and the results will be published next week. There are a couple of questions to answer for demographic purposes, and then you will see the list of nominees to vote on, presented in alphabetical order. You can see the list of names here, or go directly to voting here.

And thank you, once again, to John for running the survey. And thank you to his readers for the nomination. And congratulations to all whose names appear on the survey. Your very nomination proves that you are touching many people with your work.


Aaron the Ripper? DNA Identifies Most Infamous Murderer

10 Sep 2014

Two things that love to capture the public’s eye are conspiracy theories and unsolved mysteries. 126 years ago, terror reigned in Whitechapel, London, as a murder spree went on. At least five women were murdered in a very grisly fashion. Police investigators at the time were unable to identify the murderer. In September 1888 a letter was sent to the Central News agency, claiming to be from the murderer. It was signed “Jack the Ripper,” giving notoriety to the murders that has lasted for more than a century.

Over the years, conspiracy theorists have come up with many candidates for Jack the Ripper.  They run a wide range of possibilities. One man, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, was actually in Newgate Prison at the time the murders occurred: an unlikely candidate at best. Others accused include the noted author Lewis Carroll (who penned Alice in Wonderland among others) and even Prince Albert Victor, grandson of Queen Victoria, who was not even in London when the murders occurred, as well as many other unlikely candidates. Forty-eight-year-old Russell Edwards of London became fascinated with the mystery, and has spent fourteen years looking at the evidence. And he believes that he has finally solved the mystery forever.

Back in 2007, Edwards saw a shawl going up for auction. It was being sold by descendants of acting Sergeant Amos Simpson, one of the policemen who dealt with the murder of Catherine Eddowes. He took the shawl for his wife, but the wife, horrified at its origins, never wore it. It was placed in storage and handed down through the generations, until it was placed on display in a Scotland Yard museum. It went to auction in 2007.


Jack the Ripper


Edwards purchased the scarf, and brought it to Jari Louhelainen for testing. Louhelainen is a biology professor at LIverpool John Moores University. He conducted DNA testing on the shawl, and found a match with the mitochondrial DNA of a living family member of an original suspect.

Aaron Kosminski had immigrated to England in 1881, fleeing Poland’s Russian overlords. Police at the time of the Ripper murders never gathered sufficient evidence to prosecute Kosminski. He was eventually committed to a number of lunatic asylums. He died in an asylum in 1899 from gangrene.

Edwards is now writing a book about his investigation and solution to the crime. There are, of course, many detractors and skeptics. While a healthy amount of skepticism is good, I am a bit bewildered by some of it. In an article in USA today, an American professor, Dan Krane, says “That piece of specific DNA profiling is not the kind of test the general public is familiar with. . .” and “the statistics for that time of test are much less reliable. There’s a greater chance that somebody other than the victim might coincidentally have the same markers.” Granted, testing has improved greatly over the last few years, but many genealogists will be happy to have a conversation with the good professor about what lay people do and do not know about mtDNA testing. And, quite frankly, he seems to be confusing the victim’s DNA with the murderer’s DNA.

In the end, we need to know exactly when the testing was done and how many markers were tested in order to determine how accurate the identification is. And, most likely, that information will come to light in Edwards’ new book. Until then, criticism is useless and likely to make the critic look more foolish in the end.

You can read more about this fascinating story in the Guardian and in USA Today.

Preserve the Pensions Fun Walk Contest

26 Aug 2014

One of the biggest projects in the genealogical community at the moment is the Preserve the Pensions project. A joint effort of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Archives and Records Administration, Fold3, and, the project will eventually capture 7.2 million images of documents from more than 180,000 files.

This week at the FGS conference, there will be a special event for Preserve the Pensions. This Saturday, August 30, on the last day of the conference, the Federation is having a Fun Walk. Four well-known genealogists will walk from the convention center to the Alamo and back, as a fundraiser for the Preserve the Pensions project.


Preserve the Pensions Fun Walk


Judy G. Russell of The Legal Genealogist blog, Ed Donakey from FamilySearch, and D. Joshua Taylor and Kenyatta Berry from the Genealogy Roadshow will take the one-mile walk. They will be competing to see who can raise the most money for the project.

If you are at the conference, you can be there to see them off at 6:30 a.m. All of the money raised will go for digitizing records. Not only that, but your dollar will go much further than usual. Every dollar raised will be matched by the Federation. Then, will match the doubled amount dollar for dollar. So a $25 sponsorship will turn into $100 towards the project. This amount will fund almost 450 images!

If you are attending the conference, you can pay in person at the Preserve the Pension booth. But you don’t have to be there to donate! Everyone can contribute by visiting the Preserve the Pensions donation page. Be sure to check off one of the four genealogists walking in the “Honors and Tributes” section. And remember, the four of them are having a contest, so choose wisely!

Solving Your Genealogy Problems Like Magic

23 Aug 2014

David Kwong is an amazing young man. He gets to make his living doing things he loves and feels passionate about.  He is both a magician and a cruciverbalist. In fact, he received a degree from Harvard University in the history of magic. And he has something to teach us about genealogy problem solving.

He was fortunate to work at DreamWorks, in the animation story department. He then went on to found The Misdirectors Guild. The guild is “an elite group of magicians who are specialists in all areas of subterfuge, including stage illusion, sleight of hand, puzzles, and heists.” The guild consults with television and motion picture creators to help them with illusion and deception in their shows and films, including last year’s Now You See Me.

David is also a cruciverbalist: one who excels at crossword puzzles. In fact, he is so good at them that he is now regularly creates crossword puzzles for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications nationwide.


Magic and Crosswords


David presented an official talk at the Ted Conference in 2014., in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the publication of the first crossword puzzle. In his excellent presentation, David discusses why he believes that magic and puzzles are the same: “because they both key in to one of the most important human drives: the urge to solve. Human beings are wired to solve; to make order out of chaos.”

He then goes on to tell the story of how he arrived at this conclusion over time. He quotes research studies that show that human beings have a primitive urge to solve. It is intrinsic to who we are, as basic as eating and sleeping.

This could partially explain our urge to do genealogy. After all, what is family history research but a giant puzzle waiting to be explored and mapped out, filled with problem after problem and challenge after challenge. Often the answers to our research questions are simple. But frequently, we are presented with a chaotic mass of conflicting information and arbitrary or missing data that we must sift through to come up with our solutions.

Now, in his presentation he does an incredible trick. He shows how we as humans are so driven to solve problems and create order out of chaos that it often happens in our minds without our realizing it. I won’t give away the trick and the solution, because it is truly amazing.  And just when you think it is over, he unveils another twist.

But once you watch it, think about how this works in your genealogical research. Sometimes you don’t even realize how your mind is working in the background, and all of a sudden the answer jumps out at you, right? Now you know why. Watch David’s talk  Two Nerdy Obsessions Meet — And It’s Magic. Prepare to be amazed.


Why Your Brain Makes Typos

19 Aug 2014

I admit to being a bit of a nerd. One of the ways I satisfy my nerd impulses is to read magazines like Condé Nast’s Wired. There are always so many interesting stories, like a recent one on The Strange Blowpipe 19th Century Minuers Used to Analyze Ore.

As a writer, I was particularly intrigued by a story that ran last week about spelling errors. Nick Stockton is a technology and nature writer and has written for The Atlantic as well as Wired and numerous other publications. Last week Wired published his piece “What’s UP with That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos.”


Catch Typos


We all hate typos in our work. Whether it is a Facebook post, an email, a text message, or when writing your family history, spelling errors drive us crazy. In Stockton’s words:

“Typos suck. They are saboteurs, undermining your intent, causing your resume to land in the “pass” pile, or providing sustenance for an army of pedantic critics. Frustratingly, they are usually words you know how to spell, but somehow skimmed over in your rounds of editing. If we are our own harshest critics, why do we miss those annoying little details?”

The truth is that it has nothing to do with how smart we are. It has to do with how our brains work. When we are writing, our brains takes the simple parts like pushing keys to make words and sentences, and automates them so that they can focus on the more complicated tasks of conveying our ideas in the overall work of sentences and paragraphs. Thus, it is fairly easy to accidentally type the wrong letters.

This is the same reason why we cannot edit ourselves. When you proof your own writing, your brain already knows what you were trying to say. Because of this, we may see things that aren’t really there, and we can easily miss typographical errors and worse.

This is why editors and proofreaders exist. To review our work and help us from putting anything out with a big mistake in it. One of the suggestions Stockton received from an expert is that if you want to try to catch your mistakes, to make it look very different by changing fonts or background colors to make it more challenging for your brain. The best way, however, is to have someone else review your work for you. That way you won’t have to trick your brain. Read the entire piece for more information.

Blog Posts and News Stories for Genealogists, August 15, 2014

15 Aug 2014

This week’s roundup of stories comes to us courtesy of Facebook. Many of my friends post interesting (as well as humorous) links, so for this week’s collection I browsed over Facebook to see what had interested my friends. I hope you find these stories as interesting as I do.

The first story, posted on Feedbox, was posted by my friend Thomas MacEntee. Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington, painted in 1796, was commissioned as a gift for the William Petty FitzMaurice, the Marquess of Lansdowne, who was British Prime Minister during the final years of the American Revolution. Today known as the Lansdowne Portrait, it was saved by Dolly Madison during the burning of Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812. Today it hangs in the East Room of the White House. And it contains a rather drastic error in it. Find out what the error is and why it is there in One of the Most Famous Paintings in the White House Has a Huge Spelling Error.


Lansdowne Portrait from Wikimedia Commons.

Lansdowne Portrait from Wikimedia Commons.


Thomas posted another interesting story this week about how technology has changed the way people interact. Children today now spend almost 7.5 hours staring at computers. And 87% of teachers report that they now are more easily distracted and have short attention spans. Alok Deshpande, founder of Umenta/StoryCall (a company that help families preserve and capture their stories), wrote an interesting post providing five suggestions for the best ways to reach younger generations with your stories. Read more in Bridging the Generation Gap.

Elizabeth Shown Mills shared an interesting post this week written by Rita J. King and shared on LinkedIn. King is a cofounder of Science House, an organization that helps organizations foster collaboration. She shared five very valuable tips for writers. They apply whether you are writing fiction or your family history. Discover more in Kill Your Darlings: Five Rules for Writers.

My friend Mark Andrew Davis provided a link to a post in the New York Times blog, The Upshot. Gregor Aisch, Robert Gebeloff, and Kevin Quealy took census information from the University of Minnesota Population Center to create some very interesting graphic charts. State by state, they chart the places of birth of the population and how it changed from 1900 to 2012. Each chart has a sliding bar to show you what the numbers were in any given census year. Check out your states of interest in Where We Came From, State by State.

Finally comes a post from my friend and former NEHGS colleague, Chris Child. This week the world suffered an incredible loss with the death of comedian Robin Williams. Chris enjoys researching famous individuals and public figures. Chris has done some interesting work that shows Robin was a cousin of three United States presidents through their common descent from William Armistead of Virginia. Get the details at Notes on Robin Williams’s Ancestry.

Average Men Changing the Course of History: The Port Chicago 50

04 Aug 2014

World War II had a major impact on so many American families. Most often we hear the stories of the soldiers who went overseas, only to lose their lives in battlefields on foreign soil. But there were, on occasion, accidents and other events on domestic soil that also left families bereft. One of those occurred 70 years ago.

When the war started in 1942, a base was built about 30 miles north of San Francisco to deal with munitions headed to the Pacific. During this time, the American armed forces were still segregated. About 1,400 African-American were assigned to Port Chicago. As you can imagine, hauling munitions is dangerous and challenging work. As might be expected, this work was delegated to those units. The troops were ill-trained for this work. And because of the pressing needs of the war, officers pressed them with astronomically high production goals.

The night of July 17 was an average one. Two brand new cargo ships were at the pier. The S.S. E.A. Brian was docked at the inboard, landward side of the pier, while the S.S. Quinault Victory was docked on the outboard side. Workers had filled the hold of the Brian with 4,400 tons of munitions, and at 10:18 p.m. On the pier and ships, 320 men were preparing the Quinault Victory for loading.

Witnesses reported hearing the clash of metal on metal, and the sound of splintering wood, followed by an incredible blast. This was followed six seconds later by an explosion even more powerful than the first. White-hot metal was flying through air filled with fire and smoke. The blast was so powerful that it registered as a 3.4 seismic event on the Richter scale, and was felt as far away as Nevada.

The Brian and a nearby locomotive were completely obliterated. The 7,600-ton Quinault Victory was lifted out of the water and flung 500 feet, landing in pieces. All 320 men were instantly killed in the blast, and almost 400 more suffered serious injuries. Two-thirds of those killed were African-American troops.


Port Chicago


A Navy court of inquiry laid the blame at the feet of the African-American stevadores, without acknowledging that the white officers did not train them properly and pushed them too hard. The surviving stevadores were not given leave, and were ordered back to work immediately at nearby port. Hundreds of them were told to start loading ordnance again. 258 (about 80%) refused. It was the only order that they refused to obey.

The men were placed under guard on a prison barge. Admiral Carleton Wright warned them that their actions constituted an act of mutiny — which, during this time of war, carried the death penalty. All but 50 of the men returned to work.

The remaining men were put on trial for mutiny, the largest such trial in the history of the U.S. Navy. After six weeks, the men were found guilty, and sentenced with 8 to 15 years of hard labor.

A young NAACP lawyer named Thurgood Marshall witnessed the end of the hearings, and accused the Navy of framing the sailors. He appealed the decision to the Judge Advocate General, but it was denied. But the public fervor was against them. The Navy was forced to release the men, and in January 1946 became the first branch of the armed forces to become fully integrated. But the men were only given clemency, and never officially exonerated. More than half a century later, the men received an official pardon from President Bill Clinton.

The Port Chicago accident accounted for 15% of the total deaths of African-American military personnel during the entire war. During their lives, the “Port Chicago 50” actively avoided obtaining a pardon. In the words of one,  “That means, ‘You’re guilty but we forgive you.’ We want the decisions set aside.”