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Finding Patti Page

As I was washing dishes the other day, strains of How Much is That Doggie in the Window came drifting into the kitchen from the living room. My husband was watching the news and they were sadly reporting that Patti Page, who made that song famous, had died.

I must confess, I never really knew much about Patti Page. I didn’t have any of her records growing up, but in the early 60s, that 1953 novelty song, was still a hit in elementary schools across the country. I can remember our music teacher hammering it out on the piano that she wheeled from classroom to classroom at music time. I stepped out to the living room to find out more about Patti Page.

Whenever someone dies, I get the urge to find out more about them. I guess as a kind of homage. But the news piece was brief and unsatisfying. A few clips of her singing a few songs, and we were back to averting the fiscal cliff. So after the dishes were done, I found myself on the computer googling this woman, who prior to her death I hadn’t really thought much about. Some people might think it a bit strange, but I’m a genealogist. It’s what we do. We research dead people. 

I learned quickly that her name was actually Clara Ann Fowler and that she was from Oklahoma and was born in 1927. Parents’ names—B.A. and Margaret. OK, good enough for a start.  I hit and started with a basic search—name, birth date, and birth state.  Sure enough, the first hit was for her in the 1930 U.S. census. Parents B.A. and Margaret, and nine children—among them Clara, age two.


Her dad worked for the railroad and the family was living in Foraker, Osage County, Oklahoma. So what else could I find? The family should still be somewhere in Oklahoma in 1940, but where was that entry? I went back and scanned the list of results—nothing.
Curiosity piqued. I went directly to 1940. Tried Clara Fowler, and added in her parents’ names. Nothing. Added siblings. Again, nothing. 

OK, Universe, challenge accepted. I cracked my knuckles and went in for the kill. I pulled the “sans surname search technique” from my bag of tricks.  I entered just the first name of Clara (leaving off the surname),  born 1927 in Oklahoma. Added in father B.A., mother Margaret, and to beef up my chances, I added siblings Ruby and Virginia. Based on their ages in the 1930 census, Ruby and Virginia would have been around the ages of 17 and 14, so there was a good chance they were still living at home.

I scanned the list of results for a name that in some way resembled Fowler, but the first hit caught my attention. It was for Clara Adalphus, and the parents were Benjamin and Margaret.  Was the B. in B.A. an abbreviation for Benjamin? I took a closer look and sure enough, I had the right family. But why Adalphus, or Adolphus as it looked to be upon closer inspection? 


Immediately my mind started swirling with wild possibilities. Was the family on the lamb? Didn’t seem likely. Dad was still working on the railroad, and was now assistant foreman making $1,200 a year.  The answer turned out to be something a bit more mundane.  A search of for his father using the birth date and place I found in the censuses turned up more records, but the answer to the question came in a match in an online tree. His name was listed on that tree as Benjamin Adolphes [sic] Fowler—a.k.a., B.A.  Fowler.  The census taker probably just asked for the husband’s name. Margaret responded “Benjamin Adolphus” and he assumed Adolphus was the family surname. 

So it wasn’t some fantastic story I had unearthed, but now I have a little more to attach to that pretty face and voice. And I will most likely have How Much is That Doggie in the Window running through my head for the rest of the day. Oh well, there are worse things.

“We see the Lady!”—Tales from the Immigrant Journey

The trip to America wasn’t an easy one for many of our ancestors. There was seasickness, less than appetizing food, crowded conditions, and the fear that when they arrived they would be turned away. But it was a life-changing journey for millions of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island and other U.S. ports. Sometimes stories of that journey were passed on to family members, but too often they were lost to time.

Beginning in 1973, the Ellis Island Oral History Program, created through the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, has been collecting first-hand recollections from immigrants who came to America during the years Ellis Island was in operation (1892-1954). Audio files of the 1,700 interviews can be found on  and they are full of rich stories and details about life in the old country, the journey to America, and their early experiences in their new home.

The Trip to America

Rose Milazzo emigrated from Naples in 1901 when she was seven.

We started at Naples and boarded the ship and… my last meal was in Naples and I got seasick and didn’t eat another meal until we got to Ellis Island… [My mother] had funny ideas that if they caught me seasick, they’d throw me overboard, so she hid me from the authorities or even from a doctor which maybe could have helped me a little bit… We used to be pushed on deck because they’d have to clean the steerage where we come from, so it was easy to hide me under a blanket… We spent Christmas on board. I was under the blanket but I could see that they gave out figs and they gave out delicacies that they wouldn’t give out ordinarily. So we landed at Ellis Island and got a delicious soup with white bread.

Estelle Schwartz Belford, a Jewish Romanian immigrant described her trip in 1905 when she was five years-old.

I remember riding in this wagon to a certain cousin in this large town and that was the first time that we saw houses almost that you could see across from one house to another, and everything was just wonderful… We stayed in a town by the name of Beltz for two days also. We stayed there for about two days also with somebody else that we knew and I had an uncle there who was a politician, and through him we were able to ride across the border because in those days you couldn’t get out of that town…and people had to really steal their way across, but we were able to ride across the border.

And then we got to the seaport…Antwerp. And we stayed there only for about a day or so and then that was the first time my mother saw a lot of people in one room, like in the waiting room and she was telling us this story that when she went into the ladies room and, there was a lot of sinks there from what she described, and mirrors and the toilets on the side and we children were standing by the mirrors. She came in and she saw us. She didn’t see herself, she saw us in the mirror, she never saw a mirror before. And she thought we were there and she started scolding us, “Come over here,” and then she realized, and she was very much embarrassed. My mother was a very, very sensitive person, and all the way through she would make one little mistake and people laughed and then she wouldn’t say another word.

About life on board the ship in steerage, Estelle tells us,

It was terrible, the whole trip… You didn’t change your clothing every day on board the ship… Once, a few people came down from upstairs and spoke to us children and gave us some candy, the first time that we ever saw any candy or sweets and we were so happy to get it….

The meals were brought to you very sparingly. The food was so bad that sometimes my mom would say, “Don’t eat it.” or “Eat very little.” She herself was very sick. She was confined to the bed the whole trip through, and we three kids would stand around her. We were allowed to go out on the deck. And people from first class would look down at us and they felt sorry for us. And many times they would throw down an orange, or apples or some food, and the children would all stand by, and I remember, this one would catch this, and this one would catch that, and you were lucky enough you’d get something, and being as my mother was sick, if it was an orange or so, we’d bring it to her…My mother [had never seen] a banana, none of us ever saw a banana.

Here’s Estelle’s description on their first sight of the Statue of Liberty.

And then all of a sudden we heard a big commotion and we came to America. And everybody started yelling they see the Lady, the Statue of Liberty. And we all ran upstairs and my mother got out of bed. We went upstairs and everybody started screaming and crying. You were kissing each other –people that you didn’t even know before that were alongside of you and you never paid any attention. Everybody was so excited that you see America and you see the Lady with her hand up, you know.

You can almost feel the joy through that passage. These stories and many more can be explored for free on For those of us who don’t hit the family history lotto and find an ancestor in this collection, you can still get a real feel for the conditions our ancestors experienced on their way to America. Try searching for interviews of people who share your ancestor’s ethnic heritage to learn more about life in the old country. Search for someone who traveled about the same time to get a feel for ship conditions. Whether or not you learn something new, you will enjoy the time spent listening to these interviews. They are precious pieces of history that will thankfully be preserved for posterity thanks to this project.

Maps: A Path to Your Ancestors

Today I presented a Livestream event, Maps: A Path to Your Ancestors, which you can now view below or on the YouTube page.

Map Resources on

Search page

Card Catalog

Maps, Atlases & Gazetteers

U.S. Enumeration District Maps and Descriptions, 1940

U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918

Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000

A gazetteer of the states of Illinois and Missouri

Cassell’s Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland

Meyers Gazetteer of the German Empire

Germany, Topographic Maps, 1860-1965

German Research Center 

Meyers Orts Abbreviations ( 

U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (Beta)

This Cleveland of Ours

Phyllis Diller: The Consummate Performer

Yesterday we lost a comedic legend when Phyllis Diller died at the age of 95. I remember watching her on Bob Hope specials and on so many variety shows when I was growing up. The sight of that crazy hair and wardrobe never failed to bring a smile. And that awesome laugh. If you didn’t laugh at the joke she was telling (and that was rare), you laughed when she laughed. It was contagious.

She was born Phyllis Driver in Lima, Ohio to Perry and Ada Driver in 1917. Perry is listed as an insurance salesman in the 1920 census.

By the time she was almost seven, Phyllis Driver was already a rising star in Lima. Her mentions in the Lima News are numerous, for her musical talents playing the piano and saxophone.

Lima News, 4 May 1924

The social pages chronicle her visits home to see her parents when she went off to the Sherwood School of Music in Chicago, as well as her recitals in Chicago.

Lima News, 24 May 1936

When she returned to Allen Co., Ohio, to attend Bluffton College as a music major, the Bluffton College yearbook notes her contribution to the school newspaper, the debate club, and the drama club.

After she married Sherwood Diller in 1939, the birth of her first child landed the proud mother back in the social pages of the Lima News in September 1940.

Phyllis went on to give birth to five more children, one of whom died just shy of two-weeks old.  She and her family moved to California where she would begin her career in a San Francisco nightclub called the Purple Onion. This article tells of her double-life as a mother and comedienne.

From her nightclub days, she went on to become a star in movies, on Broadway, and even on two of her own television shows, all whilst appearing as a guest on many others. She periodically returned to her hometown of Lima to perform, including a 1973 musical performance with the Lima Symphony Orchestra that raised money for music scholarships at her alma mater. In return, Lima pulled out all the stops. Saturday and Sunday were declared Phyllis Diller days, and the Lima News ran a full-page story titled “This Was Your Life,” filled with reminiscences from local friends, former teachers, and even the doctor who delivered two of her children.

Phyllis Diller once said, “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”  As I pored over the clippings and various records Phyllis left behind in Ohio, it became very clear that she spent a good portion of her life passing out those smiles that set everything straight. Thanks Phyllis.

If you want to take a trip down memory lane and see Phyllis combine her musical and comedic talents, I found this clip on YouTube from The Muppet Show. Enjoy!

Andy Griffith’s Legacy

My heart fell this morning when I heard the news that the beloved actor, Andy Griffith, had passed. Through the cold Chicago winters, and hot summers as well, my sisters and I would park in front of the TV when the The Andy Griffith Show would come on. Decades later, I remember telling my daughter to turn off the TV to get to sleep for school as she begged for one more half hour because Andy was on. I usually gave her that half hour.

The Andy Griffith Show had a kind of timeless humor. For a brief time we are transported to that little town in North Carolina, where the characters welcome us to a simpler time. We can be guaranteed a few laughs and the world rights itself in a half hour. Is it any wonder we’re still drawn to it? The series incorporated many of Andy Griffith’s memories of his home town of Mount Airy, North Carolina. That’s where we find Andy living with his parents, Carl and Geneva Griffith in the 1930 and 1940 U.S. federal censuses.

Like his character, he came from humble roots. His father worked in a furniture factory, as a laborer in 1930 and band saw operator in 1940. His salary of $850 per year was enough that the family owned their home at 197 Haymore Street in Mount Airy.

By 1940, Andy’s six years in school had already eclipsed the education levels of both of his parents, and he would go on to finish high school in Mount Airy. Five days before his eighteenth birthday, on 2 June 1944, he registered for the World War II draft.

Having just graduated from high school at the time of the draft, he doesn’t have a job at the time, but soon he was off to college where he was active in music and drama. His yearbook shows he was president of the Men’s Glee Club in 1947 at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

He was also a member of the musical fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha at UNC.

His education and talent in music, comedy and drama paid dividends that will benefit generations to come. Andy Griffith made us feel like he was our next door neighbor and we could sit down with him and forget about the troubles in the world. His legacy is the smile that comes to our lips we recall a more innocent time – a time when humor was less about shock value and more about uplifting our spirits.

Three Days, Three New Classes

I hope you’ll join me and several of my colleagues for three days of free online classes.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012, 8 PM ET Searches: A Behind the Scenes Look
John Bacus

(Note: This class was last night but will be archived soon in the Learning Center. John gave a very good presentation on some of the inner workings of search and some great tips.)

Learn how search at works AND get an inside view of tricks you’ll need to take full advantage of its power. John Bacus, Search Product Manager, walks you through the tech side and presents you with plenty of tips, advice and even a few workarounds—all of which will help you make your next search at more effective, productive, and better than ever.

John is a Principal Product Manager at, where he is responsible for the core search features of the site, such as search forms and search results. Prior to his time at, he held search-related product management roles at AltaVista and eBay. John’s interest in genealogy was first piqued with the family history his grandparents put together when he was a child, and has enjoyed validating and building upon the research they did with two curious minds, some spare time, and a motor home.

Click here to register.  

Thursday, 24 May 2012, 3 PM ET
Common Surnames: Finding Your Smith
Juliana Smith

Despite his common moniker, your ancestor was unique. Get the tools and tips you need to find your ancestors with common surnames in this free one-hour class with Juliana Smith. In this class you’ll learn how to craft the best search on, and how to save your findings in a way that makes it easy to pick your family out of the crowd.

Juliana has been working for for just shy of 14 years and began her family history journey trolling through microfilms at the tender age of 11 with her mother. She is a certificate holder in the Boston University Genealogical Research program, and wrote the “Computers and Technology” chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Her favorite part of family history is discovering the stories in the records of her ancestors.

Click here to register

Thursday, 25 May 2012, 1 PM ET
Forward thinking: Tracing the children of your ancestors. And their children…
Crista Cowan

Are you stuck in your march back through time identifying ancestors? Turn around. Revitalize your research. Rekindle your desire to continue with some success. Descendancy research utilizes much of the same methodology as ancestral research but can lead to a whole new way of looking at your genealogy. Often it can lead to discovery of cousins who have missing pieces of the puzzle needed to complete your picture of common ancestors.

Crista Cowan has been doing genealogy since she was a child and has been an employee since 2004. Known as the Barefoot Genealogist, Crista brings her passion for family history into her presentations and provides common sense solutions for the challenges we face in the search for our ancestors.

Click here to register