Family mentions in newspapers

I just posted links to all my clippings here. Most of them are at newspapers.com, so if you click the link in the heading you will go to a better image that you can enlarge. The small ones can be printed; the larger ones are a pain no matter what I’ve tried. A few of them are just scans of clippings or photocopies people have given me (no links), and I have no information on dates or publications.

Full family histories now available

UPDATED June 3, 2017

After years of collecting information, months of writing, and minutes of uploading, I now present histories of all the branches of my family tree. Unlike the data files I uploaded to FamilySearch in 2015, these are written histories in PDF format. I have tried to show our ancestors as living people using documents, records, family stories, memories, photos, excerpts from letters, newspaper stories, maps, and more.

The Spencers

From Jacob and Hannah Spencer in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, to Ralph and Gertrude Spencer in Oakland, Oregon. Includes James and Esther White, John and Elizabeth Lewis, and Samuel and Eleanor Watts.

The Seehawers

From the Seehawers in West Prussia in the 1800s to Rudolph and Mary Seehawer in Wisconsin. Includes John and Bridget Gormley and Charles and Alice Boesen. Shows the effect of the two world wars on the Seehawers remaining in Germany and has a section on “the Truth” (religion).

The Barrowses

From upstate New York right after the Revolutionary War to Chicago and northern Wisconsin in the twentieth century. Brief section on the Delanos.

The Spawrs

Begins with Peter Spawr and Elizabeth Messer’s arrivals in McLean County, Illinois, in 1827. Includes James and Catherine Neighbarger and John Griffith.

The Næsses

Norwegian ancestors back to the Næs/Næss/Nes farm.

The Busches

When images of the parish registers for Frank Busch’s hometown in Austria became available at FamilySearch a few years ago, I was able to find him in them and trace his ancestry back. Did you know the name was spelled Pusch then? This history also contains the family history of Frank’s wife, Elizabeth Gerritzen. Her ancestors came from Westphalia and Hanover.

The Helmses

Genealogy of Christian Heinrich/Henry Helms of Burdett, Kansas. What little is known about the family history of his wife, Marie Schmalgemeier, is included. They both had roots in Rahden, Westphalia.

My 1964-65 school picture. The horse pin from Spain, a gift from my Aunt Flippy Barrows, is what made me start asking about my family history. I learned I didn’t have any Spanish ancestry, but Norwegian, English, and German were just as special.

I started working on this in 1965, when I was 12, by quizzing my parents and writing to other relatives. I knew instinctively that I needed to get as much information as I could while they were still living and that the records would still be there when I had the time and money to travel around looking at them. Following that principle, I did travel to visit elderly aunts and to attend reunions.

After getting married in the 1970s, I began quizzing his parents and aunts about their history.

Of course the Internet changed everything in the late 1990s, and I have been able fill in much more of the history through sites such as FamilySearch and contacts with cousins I never knew we had.

Although I’ve spent countless hours researching online, I’ve spent even more identifying the people in the unlabeled photographs I’ve been blessed to receive. It is my pleasure to share them with you in these histories; perhaps they will help you identify some of your own old photos (and perhaps you will be inspired to share scans of them with me).

I am sharing these histories because I am starting to feel mortal and my husband and I do not expect to have grandchildren. I’ve seen so many people suddenly become interested in their genealogy after their elders have died. In fact, I hope you will enjoy some of the family stories you might have forgotten or never heard. These links won’t be here forever because at some point I’ll stop paying the domain fees, so please consider downloading the file or files for your branch(es) to share with your siblings, children, etc.

A few notes—

  • I’ve placed a Creative Commons license on the histories. It means that you’re welcome to copy them at no charge for any noncommercial use but please give me credit.
  • I’m not a fan of “creative nonfiction,” which is written by authors who think they need to make up things to keep history interesting. My intent with this work has been to present only facts, whether or not you find them as interesting as I do. You won’t have to wonder whether our ancestors really experienced something I’ve written about.
  • I’m proud of my research and have a source for everything I’ve included. However, it could still be wrong and naturally is incomplete. I welcome additional information.
  • Likewise, I don’t claim to be a designer, and Microsoft Word has to be the worst software in the world for doing this.
  • Most of the pictures are in poor condition after a century or more of being played with by children, stored in cardboard boxes under beds, and who knows what else. The only editing I’ve done has been cropping and, in a few cases, lightening.

Seeing ancestors’ homes without traveling

I drove past my German great-grandfather Rudolph Seehawer’s home yesterday. Well, technically I was in a Google Maps car that drove past it in July 2012 and digitally recorded the view so it could go online for me to enjoy. Here it is:

seehawer-home-neuhof-nowy-dwor-2-cropped

It took me some time to find it. Long story short, I had a couple of poor quality photos from cousins so I knew what I was looking for. The problem was finding the town. It was called Neuhof, or New Farm, when it was in Germany. Now it’s in Poland and called Nowy Dwór—and there are many towns in Poland with this name, many that don’t show up on Google Maps searches.

But I finally located the town and found myself moving (clicking) up the road and seeing the house as I approached!

Here’s one I found in England–the graveyard where my great-great-great-grandparents Jacob and Hannah Spencer are buried in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire:

wuecemeteryandtabernacle-google

Too bad I can’t get out of the car to read the headstones. Zooming in doesn’t help (believe me, I tried!).

Here’s the house in Reading, Berkshire, where my great-great-grandmother Mary Ann White Spencer worked as a servant until she married Joseph Spencer (now a restaurant and bar):

2londonst-google-cropped

And here is the farm where my great-great-great-grandparents John and Elizabeth Lewis worked and raised their family in Bisley, Gloucestershire:

catswoodfarm-google2010-cropped

By the way, I have seen some beautiful scenery in my “travels” along roads in Europe.

Google Maps work in the USA, too. I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to visit Chicago, but I found the house my great-grandfather Joseph Spencer bought or had built in Chicago in the early 1900s:

maysthousefromgooglemaps-cropped

I tried to find my great-great-aunt Lizzie Barrows’ boardinghouses on Wentworth in Chicago (where my grandparents lived at times), but unfortunately they’re not there any more.

I’m not finished and probably never will be. I don’t have exact addresses for most of my ancestors, but I still plan to virtually explore Norway (where my grandmother lived) and the area of the Czech Republic that used to be Austria (where my grandfather-in-law lived). I’m sure I’ll think of more!

All photos in this post courtesy Google Maps.

Ready to share all after 50 years

My Aunt Flippy saved this letter I wrote to her asking for family history information in 1965.
My Aunt Flippy saved this letter I wrote to her asking for family history information in 1965.

After 50 or so years of working on my family history (and 40 or so of working on my husband’s), I’m finally ready to share my research with the world. Really share it–not just put some of it on my website. Every individual, every source, every note. I’m motivated by the knowledge that I won’t live forever and our unmarried, childless sons are not even slightly interested in my work. Ironic that the family history nut would have only these two descendants, huh?

To access my “pedigree resource files” (one for each major branch), go to FamilySearch Genealogies and search for any ancestor or (deceased) relative you have in common with me. When you click on a name and go to that person’s page, you will see a description of the file and the name of the submitter at the top so you will know whether it’s my file (look for “Laurelroots”). You will be able to click on links to move around among the generations. In general, I’ve included ancestors through our ggg-grandparents. Living persons are hidden.

Frustrations

It was important to me to make the information available permanently and freely. None of my websites or social media accounts will be permanent. Ancestry.com and other sites like it require you to pay for a subscription to view donated files. I don’t think anyone even knows Rootsweb exists any more. That left FamilySearch.

FamilySearch is free to everyone, and you don’t even have to register to search and see most of its records. And if the LDS files aren’t permanent, none are (with their granite vault and all).

The downside of FamilySearch is it is so—to put it kindly—clunky. I will just say that it has taken me weeks to be able to search for and find individuals in the files I’ve uploaded. That seems to be fixed now.

I had hoped to provide links to the files I’ve uploaded so family members can go straight to them. That’s impossible. Maybe it’s for the best since I can’t update the files; when I get new information I can only delete and replace them.

Another problem is FamilySearch is so zealous about protecting the privacy of living persons (not a bad thing) that it completely removes them and they cannot serve as links between the deceased person and his or her ancestors. In other words, if you find a deceased person whose parent is still living, you will be at a dead end.

Why don’t I just use FamilySearch’s Family Tree? I tried. I just don’t have the patience and tolerance necessary to deal with it. I did spend many hours laboriously adding information there. Then Family Tree dangled “possible duplicate” links in front of stupid users, and they erroneously merged individuals I’d worked on into their individuals (some of whom were totally different people and many of whom had incomplete or incorrect information). When you merge someone with photos attached into someone else, the person with the photos attached is deleted and the photos are orphaned (to be found only in a search of Memories). It’s too stressful for me.

What’s next?

Now that I can finally cross this off my list (huge sigh), I am moving on to writing out all the memories I’ve collected from relatives over the years. I’m excited about this project because these memories become even more precious and rare after it’s too late to talk to our family members about them.

My hope is to publish the memories in an electronic book at Google. It should be both permanent and free there.

And there are the photos. I’ve been blessed with many old family photos. I’ve tried to share them freely over the years, but I’m now facing the same problem I did with the genealogy files. Besides being free and permanent, the site I use must allow lots of large files. I’m still looking for that.

For now, my best photos are attached to individuals in FamilySearch‘s Family Tree. To see those, you have to register with FamilySearch (it’s free) and search for the individuals under Memories.

I just hope it won’t take me 50 years to cross these off my list.

Did our poor immigrant ancestors prosper in America?

Americans think immigrants used to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That’s wrong” was posted on Vox.com yesterday. The article says, “Not only did less-educated immigrants from less-developed countries work in low-paying occupations when they got to the US, but their children also were likely to work in jobs that paid less than the average for natives.”

Considering my own ancestry, that’s probably true. However, it’s hard to pinpoint. For one thing, it’s not clear how countries are designated as more or less developed. Until now, I considered all European countries well developed, but this article designates Norway as less developed. For another, how do you compare a man’s occupation in the early 1900s with his daughter’s?

iNAEEliseBARinflowers
Elise (Næss) Barrows next to her tarpaper-wrapped house near Amberg, Wis.

But let’s look at my ancestors who immigrated from the mid 1850s to early 1900s:

  • John and Bridget (Sheridan) Gormley, a farmer and a servant from Ireland, arrived near the end of the potato famine in the mid 1800s. He made shoes in Massachusetts, worked on the railroad in Wisconsin and homesteaded in Nebraska. All of that had to be better than the potato famine.
  • Joseph T. and Sarah (Lewis) Spencer, journeyman house painter and his wife from England, arrived in Chicago in 1882. He retired to Athelstane, Wis., where he intended to farm a few acres. At the end of their lives, the county took their modest home and acreage to pay for their care.
  • Rudolph Seehawer, son of a prosperous German farmer, arrived in 1892. He married one of the Gormleys’ granddaughters in Athelstane, but he worked in Chicago to support his family.
  • Elise (Næss) Barrows, who had never had to work because her father had a good white collar job, arrived from Norway in 1904. She worked as a maid in Chicago until she married my grandfather, a teamster from an old American family. They tried to farm cut-over timberland in northern Wisconsin (and failed), but they spent more time living with relatives in Chicago.

Fast forward to the present. I don’t know all of my distant cousins, but the ones I do know, or know of, range from poor to blue collar to white collar to small business owners. Many of us have college degrees, but I don’t think anyone is a millionaire and no one is famous.

Most of us work hard, so what keeps descendants of poor immigrants from moving all the way up the ladder? Is it genetics? I know it’s not intelligence or talent. Having read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, I suspect it’s a combination of low expectations and lack of contacts among people in a position to pull us up. It’s true: It’s not what you know, it’s whom you know.

Here’s another truth: the best things in life are free. My grandmother’s smiling in the photo above. Sure, she didn’t get rich in America, but she had her flowers and the family she loved. I’m like her, and what’s wrong with that?