Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Birthday, Isabella

In honor of this year's Leap Day, I searched through my family tree database for any February 29th births.  I found

Isabella McAleer was born on 29 Feb 1856 in Birtley, County Durham, England.

Isabella is my half second great great aunt.  Or, she is the half sister of my great great grandmother, Mary Ann McAleer McBride.  Or, we share a common ancestor in Bernard McAleer.  Ah, it's complicated!

            Happy Birthday Isabella!                    

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Blanchette

Today I am sharing some of my Blanchette family gravestones.  You can read about the family, most recently here.

Large tree trunk family monument with Blanchard on the scroll
Louis was a sawyer, so this is very appropriate

Pvt. Louis Blanchard
Co. H  4th Reg
Wisconsin Cavalry
1840 - 1923
above in Hope Cemetery, Chippewa Falls, Chippewa, Wisconsin

 Julia Blanchard Richards Hough
1832 - 19xx  (1914)

Solomon R. Hough
1825 - 1909
(second husband of Julia Blanchard) 

My Husband
Charles Richards
Drowned in Kal. River
Sept 17, 1867
AE 48 Yrs  3 M's
(first husband of Julia Blanchard, drowned in logging accident in the Kalamazoo River)

above in Riverside Cemetery, Saugatuck, Allegan, Michigan

Rena Blanchard Riley (1882-1967)
Riley family lot

above in South Lockport a/k/a St. Dennis Cemetery, Lockport, Will, Illinois


Monday, February 27, 2012

Family Stories - Going Backwards with the Blanchette's

Today wraps up my research journey of the Blanchette family.  If you want to catch up, the first two posts are here and here.

We will start with my great-grandmother and work backward.  Clara Regina "Rena" Blanchard was born in 1882 near Chippewa Falls, Chippewa, Wisconsin.  Her parents were Louis Blanchette, the subject of these posts, and his wife, Mary Virginia Richard of Belgium.  Rena was the 11th of their eventual 14 children.  Louis continued his work as a small time farmer and lumberman along the Chippewa River.  Sadly, Mary Virginia died shortly after giving birth to their last daughter, baptized Virginia Mary.  This left Louis in the northern woods with 11 surviving children and little help.

During the 1890's, Rena was sent to live with her Aunt Julia and Julia's second husband, Solomon Hough.  The Hough's were living for a short time in the busy canal town of Lockport, Will, Illinois.  They all appear together there on the 1900 census.  Julia's children were all grown, and Julia and Solomon's only child together died as an infant.  Rena lived a happy and almost spoiled childhood with her aunt and uncle.  She graduated high school and took music lessons.  In 1902, she met and married my great-grandfather, John Patrick Riley of Lockport.  The newlyweds moved to Chicago for Grandpa John's work, and the Hough's moved back to Saugatuck, Michigan to be near Julia's grown children.

Julia Blanchette Richards Hough died in 1914, at the Soldiers Home in Grand Rapids, Kent, Michigan.  This is her death certificate provided online by  Of significance are the birthplace of Canada, a father's name of Blanchard, and best of all, her birthdate of 7 September 1832...matching exactly her birth record from the tiny town of Baie-du-Febvre in Quebec.  Her death certificate was finally that one clue that wrapped the pieces together.

Because my great-great-grandfather Louis Blanchette left Canada at such an early age - likely a teen - and with little education, he never truly knew his birthdate.  His Civil War pension papers are also vague.  He generally used December 1840 as his date. My Louis also never used a middle or baptismal name. This led to the confusing conclusion my cousin came to, because there WAS a Louis Onesime Blanchette born at this time.  But upon closer inspection of ALL the area church records, he was the wrong Louis, both by name and because he did not survive childhood.

It took me several years to piece together all the facts.  I tend to jump from family to family in my research, based on record availability.  Once I was able to access the Drouin records and compile the information myself, the family became clear.  This case demonstrates the need for working backward in time (seeing who Rena lived with and where) and tracking collateral or sibling lines (learning Rena was raised by Aunt Julia, then tracing Julia's past).  I have also been able to accurately trace the Blanchette family into the 1770's in northern Quebec.  This was a great use of primary and secondary research sources tied together with colorful, but not always accurate, family stories.  Using both made a greater whole than they would have independently.

In my cousin's family book, she noted that Julia took in Louis after he ran away from home.  She does not say where specifically, but we now know that they lived together in Saugatuck.  Louis's woodsman skills came in handy as Saugatuck was a booming milling town along Lake Michigan in the mid-1800's.  But not only did Julia help Louis, she was instrumental in raising Great-Grandma Rena as well.  And because so many genealogists love a good coincidence, those few years living in Illinois - the only time ANY of the Blanchette's did - were what caused me to be an Illinoisan by a few simple twists of genealogical fate :)

courtesy P. Riley


Sunday, February 26, 2012

1940 Census Ambassador

Recently, I signed on to become a 1940 Census Ambassador. You can, too! See over there?  -->

I'm not sure how many people I will reach, but some are better than none, right?

The 1940 release date is getting closer, and I am beginning to consider who I might look for first.  The obvious answer is my dad, who was 4 years old.  My mother will miss the 1940 by months, as my grandmother was still pregnant on the 1940 census day!  Sorry mom, but you have a ten year wait.

Both sets of my grandparents were married in the 1930's - paternal in 1934 and maternal in 1939.  I am very curious to see them in a household of their own.  My paternal grandfather was raised by his mother - his father died suddenly while his mother was pregnant with him - and lived among extended family.  I don't know a lot about his cousins, so the 1940 census will help.

Coincidentally, my maternal grandfather was also raised in a single-parent household - his mother died of pneumonia when he was 11 years old - so I want to see how his father and siblings lived.

BIG GOAL - seeing the family structures of my grandparents and their immediate families.

Census countdown - 36 days!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Who Do You Think You Are?" with Blair Underwood

After a week off the air and with a cold winter night outside, I was excited to watch NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?", featuring actor Blair Underwood.

Blair's adventure spoke to me most because at the beginning of his genealogical journey, he was like many of us. He had some family information and wanted to learn more.  Most importantly, he didn't start his journey with preconceived notions.  He was in it for the anticipation and excitement about what he might find.

The professionals who helped him started the way I would: use what you know, then go to the basic records like censuses to fill in more information.  Blair's journey was very "usual" in that sense.  As he dug deeper into the Sauney Early story, he found that it was important to keep digging - there were clearly two sides to the story.  As a taphophile, I was secretly disappointed that he didn't visit Sauney's grave.

This episode also highlighted facts about early American laws regarding slavery.  These laws had a particular and emotional effect on Blair's family. I learned amazing things!  Genealogy is a never-ending education.

Once again, NBC did a great job!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

THIMBY Thursday - The History in My Backyard - Rialto

One of the most famous buildings of my youth is the Rialto Theater in downtown Joliet, Illinois.  The Rialto was built in 1924 and after some years of limited use, has become a jewel in the revitalization of the Joliet area.  Last summer, the crystal chandelier called "The Duchess" was lowered for cleaning (which happens in decade timespans) so I visited to see the restoration.

The Rialto was "the" place to be seen in my grandparents' days.  Could you imagine attending a ball or even a wedding inside?  I've only been for plays and school field trips!

The Rialto was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.  Here and here are more articles about this beautiful theater.


"The Duchess" chandelier

What can you share from your backyard?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Exercising the Horses

My great-grandfather (r) Edward Spencer with his brother Burr
Spencer family farm, Locke Township, Ingham County, Michigan, circa 1910


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Stateville Prison Cemetery

I have come to learn that cemeteries can be, if nothing else, fascinating places.  I have photographed thousands of tombstones for my research and as a volunteer. Cemeteries are peaceful and even artistic.  I brave the "haunted" ones with respect, but not fear.  Last week was a little different story.

While visiting another cemetery for a Find A Grave request, I found myself near the property of Stateville Prison, outside Joliet, Illinois.  Yes, THE maximum security Stateville.  I happened to look across the road.  There in the dull, winter grass were several neatly laid rows of headstones.  There was no fence or barrier.  A large orange monument caught my attention so, of course, I went to look.  I only photographed from a distance, because quite honestly, it made me more than a little apprehensive.

This was the Illinois State Prison cemetery.

If you're interested, here is a video I found of the property:

credit for this video to its creator


Monday, February 20, 2012

Family Stories - Blanchette of Quebec

A few weeks ago, I posted about the conflicts between using my cousin's family stories and using typical genealogical records in researching my Blanchette line.  Much of my proof comes from using collateral records of siblings, and to be honest, having a bit of an open mind when it comes to exact spellings and locations.

My ancestor, Louis Blanchette, which was anglicized to Blanchard, ended up in Chippewa County, Wisconsin in the 1860's under less-than-clear circumstances.  Cousin's stories suggest he had a difficult childhood and ran away.  Perhaps being the youngest boy, Louis headed out on his own to find his calling.  We may never know the truth.  What I can show are some of the records showing the locations he and his sister Julia did live.

The birth records of both Louis and Julia from the Drouin collection of Quebec church records read:

 Birth of Julie Blanchette, 7 Sep 1832, in Parish of Baie-du-Febvre, Yamaska (?), Quebec
Father is Seraphin Blanchette, journalier (day laborer)
Mother is Marie-Edesse Dionne

Birth of Louis Blanchette, 19 Jun 1838, in Parish of Baie-du-Febvre, Yamaska (?), Quebec
Father is Seraphin Blanchette, journalier (day laborer)
Mother is Marie-Edesse Dionne

Clearly, there is no dispute that these two children, Julie and Louis, are brother and sister.  It would be helpful to see them together in Baie-du-Febvre, Quebec, Canada.  The 1831 census of Canada does have the household of Seraphin Blanchette listed with the correct number and age ranges of children.  The family members are not named individually.  There does not appear to be a filmed version of the 1841 or 1851 censuses of this portion of Quebec or the parish of Baie-du-Febvre.  

Here is my family group sheet of Seraphin Blanchette and Marie-Edesse Dionne:

The next evidence we have of Julie and Louis is the 1860 census record from Saugatuck, Allegan County, Michigan, showing Julia with her husband Charles Richards, and a male laborer called "Lois Planchet".  I am certain this is my family.

Charles Richards, 36, Farmer, Prussia
Julia Richards, 26, Canada
Mary A. Richards, 8, Michigan
Joseph Richards, 6, Michigan
Charles Richards, 4 Michigan
George Richards, 2, Michigan
Jacob Richards, 3/12, Michigan
Charles Westfield, 28, Day Laborer, Prussia
Lois Planchet, 20, Day Laborer, Canada 1860 census, Michigan, Allegan County, Newark Twp, Saugatuck, p 93, lines 12-20

I will show you how I was finally comfortable with the evidence of this family.  This is what I love about genealogy research - slogging through the data and seeing everything come together in a "this really is my family" moment.

To be continued...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

THIMBY Thursday - The History In My Backyard - Abraham Lincoln

I was recently in the city of Ottawa, LaSalle County, Illinois (professionally, not genealogically - rats!) and as I drove downtown, noticed this park and statue.  I had my trusty camera, so I parked, walked around, and snapped a few photos.

Downtown Ottawa is the home of the first Lincoln - Douglas debate, occurring in 1858.  The event is memorialized on the large plaque erected at the entrance to Washington Square.

The text of the plaque reads:

Site of the First Lincoln - Douglas Debate

   On August 21, 1858, the first of the famous debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas was held in Washington Square. Here ten thousand heard the two candidates debate for a seat in the United States Senate.
   Principally the great debates revolved around a single sentence in the Declaration of Independence.  The phrase "all men are created equal" was central to Lincoln's argument, his primary evidence for the antislavery intentions of the Founding Fathers.  Lincoln eloquently dwelled on the original premise of the Declaration of Independence, and declared "...there is no reason in the world why the Negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man."  Douglas, however, refused to address the morality of slavery.  He insisted that the people in individual states should be left to decide the question, a concept he endorsed as "popular sovereignty".
   Lincoln came to Ottawa several times throughout his life.  In May of 1832, Captain Lincoln was mustered out of the service in the Black Hawk War at the mouth of the Fox River.  Lincoln practiced law before the Supreme Court of Illinois at sessions held in the old LaSalle County Couthouse, and many times before the LaSalle County courts in downtown Ottawa.  Lincoln served here as a claims commissioner for the Illinois & Michigan Canal in December of 1852.  In October of 1856, he appeared in Ottawa as a speaker for John C. Freemont, who sought election, as the first Republican presidential candidate.
   Washington Square was platted as part of the original town of Ottawa in 1831 by the Illinois and Michigan Canal Commission.

Erected by the City of Ottawa
and by the Illinois Department of Transportation, 1996

 view of the park, memorial statue, and Veteran's monument

Lincoln and Douglas

What a great and unexpected peek at history!  Ten thousand people at the debate?  Imagine if your ancestors were there.  I wonder if it held the same meaning at the time as it does historically.

What can you share from your backyard?


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Porcelain Art - Part 2 of 2

Last week, I posted several gravestones with porcelain portraits.  They are from the stones of Eastern European immigrants in the Joliet, Illinois area.

"Tu Spociva" is Czech for "Here Lies" and "Tu Odpociva" is Czech for "Here Rests" or "At Rest".

Ann Vitanovec (1888-1918)

 Josef Fukas (1879-1929)

Josef Fukas proudly in his military uniform

Vakay Gyorgy (1893-1915?)

close up of Vakay Gyorgy

Surinak Family stone with 2 cameos
Ondrej Surinak (1860-1928)
Maria Surinak (1862-1942)
Andrew J. Surinak, Jr (1900-1978)
Jozef Surinak (1903-1929)

Close up of Surinak family cameos

I hope there are families researching these names.  What an unexpected piece of history these stones hold.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Who Do You Think You Are?" with Marisa Tomei

Friday's episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" featuring actor Marisa Tomei was another well-done program.

Marisa hoped to learn about a murder mystery on her mother's side of the family.  This episode differed from last week in that there was a family myth to research.  I think those of us who have researched our family for any length of time have one of those handed-down stories.  How much is fact and how much is fiction? Stories can be like a game of "telephone", where the story is told so many times, the truth is obscured.

I appreciated that not only was Marisa engaged in the fact-finding, but also had access to records from numerous sources.  She was able to see original church books, newspaper accounts, court proceedings, and family letters to help bring her myth to light.  Sharing her finding with her mother and the sense of contentment it seemed to bring was very touching.  Her mother's comment about how your ancestors were somehow a mystical part of making you who you are was very true.

Great job again, NBC!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

THIMBY Thursday - The History in My Backyard - Shabbona

Many of us, perhaps most of us, live in a place other than where our ancestral family originated.  I certainly do!  When I am driving during my day,  I begin to notice all the places in my area that could be important to someone else.  This new post series will take on "The History in My Backyard", with the easy acronym THIMBY.

This photo is of the grave of Chief Shabbona, a famous figure from the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, and negotiations between Indian tribes and the United States.  Shabbona died in 1859 and this stone marks his grave in Evergreen Cemetery, Morris, Grundy County, Illinois.

What can you share from your backyard?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Locke Township School

Locke Township School, Ingham County, Michigan, date and students unknown
cabinet card among my Spencer family photographs

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Porcelain Art - Part 1 of 2

While fulfilling a Find A Grave request at Saints Cyril and Methodius Cemetery in Joliet, Illinois, I noticed many of the gravestones had porcelain portraits mounted to the front.  Portraits appeared most often on gravestones of children or teens, and first-generation adult immigrants. The pillar-style stones were generally quite simple.  This cemetery is the final resting place of many Eastern European immigrants who came to the Joliet area to work in the mills, mines, and railroads during the late 1800's and early 1900's.

"Tu Spociva" translates to "Here Lies" from the Czech language.

 Michal Ivanisko (1874-1919)

 Maria Jablonski (1863-1916)

close up of Maria Jablonski stone

Matej Hucik (1892-1934)
Matej's portrait is long missing

Magdalena Dulka ( 1892-1918)
Magdalena's portrait is also missing

More next week...


Saturday, February 4, 2012

"Who Do You Think You Are?" with Martin Sheen

I watched the third season premiere of NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" featuring the family of actor Martin Sheen.

I have Irish roots, but mine are of the early 1800's.  I do not know nearly enough of my Irish ancestry to know if any cousins may have participated in the Irish Civil War.  One of my great-great-grandfathers, Thomas Riley, came to America in the 1850's and lived until 1915.  On the 1930 census, his son John P. Riley listed Thomas's birthplace as "Irish Free State": 1930 census, Illinois, Will County, Lockport City, ED 99-65, sheet 17B, lines 85-94

I was more fascinated by the exploration into Sheen's Spanish heritage.  He was so fortunate to have records created regarding his family and their exploits, regardless of the results.  One of my most favorite parts of researching my own family is finding those amazing coincidences.  I have ancestors who lived one or two miles apart in one state whose progeny married generations later in another state, a long-lost sister buried near her brother, and two individuals from opposite sides of my Michigan roots whose obituaries appeared together on the same California.

Records created in other parts of the world are often far more complete than many of us can find in the United States.  I have worked with records in West Prussia and Denmark and have had great success.

Martin found he had ancestors that had social and moral convictions they fought for, as does Sheen.  I think a big part of researching your family is finding where you fit on your tree.  It's hard to say if it is nature or nurture that created our non-physical traits.  But it is nice to find family like you.

Good start, NBC!  Can't wait until next week!

Did you watch the show?  What did you like?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012