the grumpy genealogist



A box containing 146 glass photographic negatives was recently discovered in a barn near Petersburg in Boone County, Kentucky. They appear to date from around 1910 to 1920, and the new owner is seeking help in identifying the subjects.

They show families, children, and other locals in various outdoor settings. There are several houses, a store, and a bridge, which, if recognized, could narrow down the search.  Read more

Turns out she meant to say full-blood Irish meat-packer...

Someone once asked "How do you research your native American ancestry, when all you have is old family stories?"

And I answered that you don't, unless the stories are very specific (ancestor's name, or exact place on pedigree). You just narrow down which branch of the family they are supposedly in, and research that line as you would any other. Child leads to parent. If you hit a dead end, search for distant cousins in that line and see if they have the same stories.

On a similar note, whenever the subject of genealogy comes up (which it often does with me), a friend of mine always mentions that her great-grandmother was a full-blood Cherokee. Read more


PHOTO RESTORATION: This is Sophie (1824-1921), my wife's great-great grandmother. Many photos exist from her golden years, aged 90 to 97, but none are very flattering. Only two photos have survived from her "younger" days: one from her 50th wedding anniversary as a sweet old grandma aged 76 (left), and another taken in her 40's (right), which was her personal favorite. The problem is that Sophie's favorite picture was terribly over-exposed on one side, and looks a bit freakish to her descendants. So they all choose to display the 76-year-old grandma photo, and tuck the 40-year-old mother photo away in a drawer.

Personally, I prefer the earlier photo. When we're fortunate enough to have photos of ancestors in various stages of life, it's always fun to compare them with living relatives of similar age. But before some cousin takes offense at being likened to Sophie's picture, I wanted to try and restore it as best I could.  Read More

In September 1880, my wife's soon-to-be-married great-grandfather, Frank X. Bezold, opened a general store in the rural farmlands of southern Campbell County, Kentucky. He sold spices, fabric, shoes, hardware, phonograph records, and gunpowder to the local farmers, who often paid with butter, eggs, or other crops. Then once a week, this produce was hauled to the big city by horse and wagon (a 12-hour journey) for sale to city grocers.

My wife's grandfather, Clem, was born in the house behind the store, and he and his brothers grew up farming, keeping shop, and hauling produce to market. "Old Dobbin" was retired in 1914, when they got their first truck. Dobbin, the family horse, was named after a lead character (the son of a grocer) in the 1848 novel Vanity Fair.   Read More

backup harddriveI got a new 1 terabyte hard drive for Christmas, to replace the 500 gigabyte drive in my old laptop (which was over 90% full). So now I can move the old 500gb drive into my computer backup rotation.

Previously, I had a 100gb and a 250gb backup, but now the 100gb is too small to hold all my genealogy and family pictures.

I like using the small 2.5" laptop drives for backup, because they can be stored in a modified DVD case.  Read More

While cleaning out the attic of an apartment house I own in the historic district, I came across a box belonging to a previous owner. A couple who bought the house in the 1930s for rental income, and later lived there, after retiring in the 1960s.

The box contained two custom leather-bound albums from the husband's retirement party (imprinted with his name, and full of letters and telegrams of congratulations), a box of personalized Christmas cards, his railroad pension papers, and lots of family pictures dating from 1890 to 1970..As a family historian, I felt a duty to rescue these items and get them back to their rightful family. So when I got home, I did a little genealogy work to find out what happened to them.

Name That Tune

Grandpa was in a brass band in the 1920s with his German immigrant friends. They reunited 45 years later as old men and made some recordings. We've named a few of the songs, but many are unfamiliar to us. If you can name these mystery tunes, please remark on my YouTube Videos. There are 24 in all.



Playing the Unplayable Records

Researchers and scientists at the Smithsonian work together together to find a way to play audio recordings made by the studio of inventor Alexander Graham Bell in the 1880s.   see Video


Arriving home Sunday night, after a fun day of Easter Egg hunting and wiffle ball games, I had an interesting email waiting for me. A woman found my family tree in an online search, and contacted me about a possible family relation.

She had a letter written in German by my wife's great-great-great aunt to a possible daughter in Alabama. I was not aware of this daughter, but knew the aunt was head of a blended family, and that she moved from Texas to Ohio before 1860.

Here is our correspondence, and how we reunited distant cousins:


Addie Hoyt Fargo 1901 Murder Mystery

Fargo MansionIn the wee hours of the morning, through the blackness of a warm summer's night, Enoch J. Fargo entered the bedroom of his frail and sickly wife, Addie Hoyt Fargo. While his two grown daughters, his servants, Addie's nurse, and Enoch's young mistress all slept quietly down the hall, Enoch put a gun to Addie's head and blew her brains out.

The family doctor was immediately summoned, bribed, and filed a fake death certificate. Addie was then taken directly to the cemetery for a quick burial that morning. Or was the coffin empty? For it seems that her burial permit is missing. And now Addie's ghost roams the grounds of her former home, the Fargo Mansion, in Lake Mills, Wisconsin.

Well, that's what the legend's promoters say. But the genealogist in me wanted to look a little deeper, and here's what I found...

anti-slavery meeting posterThe National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, has filed for bankruptcy. Paperwork says the organization has more than $3 million in debts. It will make little difference to visitors, however, since the museum doesn't actually exist.

Former Virginia governor Douglas Wilder, the first African American to be elected governor of the state, founded a nonprofit organization in 2001 to create the museum, and launched fundraising efforts that involved the likes of comedian Bill Cosby. 38 acres, valued at $7.6 million, was donated to the project in 2002. Deed restrictions say it can be used only for an African-American heritage museum or for "charitable, educational or public purposes and related uses." It was supposed to open in 2004 but never did. A small memorial sculpture garden was opened in 2007. Now some of the donors to the Slavery Museum are asking that their pieces be returned to them.


20 July 2011
Rejected Family Feuds with DAR

There is a lesson here. Don't take on the Daughters of the American Revolution unless you have PROOF! Their researchers are tough old broads, and harassment won't help your case. Here's a story of a family association rejected three times because they can't prove descent or military service...

Wayne Witt Bates did not set out to take on the DAR. But he is not used to being challenged on his genealogy. <read more>


Stanley Young III got a visit from his ancestors earlier this month.

Bundled in a parcel that arrived on his doorstep was an old photo album that depicted his great-grandmother and great-granduncle, along with various other relatives, in all their finery.

The family album, portions of which dated to the late 1800s, was accompanied by a family tree put together by a total stranger, a Maryland genealogist <read more>


I been collecting family photographs for a couple decades, and in recent years its been mostly great-great aunts and uncles, or other distant relatives. I can't remember the last time I got a "new" picture of one of our direct ancestors. That is until this week!

About a month ago, I discovered a new branch of my wife's family. When her great-great grandfather, Franz Rust (1823-1903), immigrated from Germany to Gubser's Mill, Kentucky in 1857, he brought along his 6-year-od niece, Sophia Rust. Unable to find any trace of Sophia after they came ashore, I assumed she had died sometime before 1860. But I couldn't have been more wrong! <read more>


24 June 2011
How to Tick-Off your Relatives

Ever wanted to write a family history book? Where you can talk about your successful children, show off your adorable grandkids, and tell the wondrous tales of childhood spent with your loving parents and grandparents?

Great! But, if you want to include your cousins AND sell copies to them, you better have something about their families, too. Here's a discussion I found on ... <read more>


As the testing becomes more commonplace, families sometimes learn painful facts. And that can raise ethical issues.

In a search for their ancestors, more than 140 people with variations of the last name Kincaid have taken DNA tests and shared their results on the Internet. They have found war heroes, sailors and survivors of the Irish potato famine. They have also stumbled upon bastards, liars and two-timers. Much of it is ancient history, long-dead ancestors whose dalliances are part of the intrigue of amateur genealogy. But sometimes the findings strike closer to home.
<read more>


"If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance." - George Bernard Shaw

St. John Cemetery Genealogy Project