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Page-by-Page 1940

Most of my relatives lived in San Francisco in 1940.  While looking for a particular address in an ED I scan every name on every page hoping to find someone who’s address is unknown.  So far I’ve found three maternal and two paternal families living near each other.  Mine eyes have seen the glory! 

Linda Galley

Irish Historical Railroad Project

Although I have used Ancestry.com for my family research, my most recent usage has been in conjunction with a local history research project.  In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia from 1850-1858 nearly 2000 Irish immigrants workers and families labored to complete the Blue Ridge Railroad over the mountains.  A small local group has been working for several years to document these Irish immigrants and tell their stories.  Ancestry.com has proved to be invaluable in the search.  We find the Irish in the 1850 census in Albemarle County, Va., but by 1860 they have almost all disappeared.  By following the railroad and the census, we have found that many moved with the railroad work.  Most of our stories stop there.  The research group, Clann Mhor, is very interested in hearing from any family members who might have had Irish relatives who worked on the Blue Ridge Railroad or the Virginia Central Railroad from 1850-1858.  For more information on our research and to contact us, please go to www.clannmhor.org.

Thank you Ancestry.com!

From Belgium to the US and back

I’ve being searching for my ancestors now for 31 years, and with the help of Ancestry. the past 4-5 years. A cousin in Moline IL found me searching the family in the US and Can. She never knew what she was in for. Here in Belgium most people get back in history to Napoleon years, then it stops. Well I did got a little bit further. My root father and here mothers line of the family,was married in 1625 In Bruges, BelgiumAdrianus (Fools) Vols X Anna De Pape Adrianus Fools X Anna De Pape he was 30 years old. so that puts him born in 1595. Now if that was not enough she asked on here fathers side to have a look over here in Belgium, because that whas where he came from. She had a Frank Goossens, and no community here could find him.. He was born Franciscus.. so the story continued. And a friend found his three also back to the 1600… That is what Ancestry could do for people searching people…

Thanks Toby for the 2012 version and all the US updates.
Werner Vols

Grandparents marriage

I never knew exactly when my paternal grandparents were married.  All I had ever seen was 1906 in San Francisco, CA.  I knew that my dad had been born 7/15/1907 in San Francisco, CA, but never had a birth certificate for him.

Last year my sons got my husband and I round trip tickets and a weeks accomodations in San Francisco for my 65th birthday.  We went this past April and I started searching for any information I could find.  First I went in search of my dad’s birth certificate, but I had no luck.  I wasn’t too surprised because during that time many children were born at home and not in a hospital and frequently the births were not recorded.  I had that happen on my mom, so I didn’t think too much of it when I didn’t find dads.  Next I started looking for a marriage license for my grandparents.  I searched in 1906 and found nothing, so I looked for brides since my maiden name starts with an M and that is the most common start for a last name.  Lo and behold, I found it, but not in 1906 as I thought.  They were married on my birthday (June 13th), but in 1907, not 1906.  I guess that is why my grandmother would never say exactly when they were married.  It was not in either her or his obituary.  I’m sure she must have taken a lot of grief over that as it was not very common in those days.  I wonder what she must have thought when I was born all those years later on the date of her wedding, but she couldn’t say a word.

I look forward to seeing her again one day and tell her I know the truth, but perhaps she already knows.

Lynn Hemmelgarn

Fearlessness and Forged Signatures

My late grandmother Eleanor Agnes Fazzone Stanton, she of the bird legs and long nose I inherited, was born on December 7, 1914. A day that would eventually live in infamy. Today marks the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt exhorted Americans that they had nothing to fear but fear itself.

Nana encouraged a similar fearlessness in me, particularly in the dozens of letters she wrote me every year of my life. Until those final years when dementia crept in and then soon cloaked the spry nana that I once knew. Friends and the verses of songs stayed wrapped around her mind’s spindle, but her awareness of the present came completely unspooled.

Her handwriting started to look wobbly. The letters she sent decreased in frequency, the inside containing a pre-printed message, signed with her wobbly name.

I pulled away. I made no effort to visit her after she fell and broke her hip and spent months recovering in the hospital. She moved in with my uncle. Occasionally I sent letters with pictures of my daughter. I feared seeing her, I feared the feelings of helplessness that would accompany seeing her. I could not help this frail woman who had sat with me watching daytime television and making me tea when I was home from school, vomiting into buckets.

I wanted to cryogenically freeze my memories of her and let time do no harm to my impression of Nana.

I eventually got over myself. I went to visit her twice before she passed away. She sat in the living room of my uncle’s home where she smiled sweetly and nodded her head at my baby and occasionally hummed songs from memory. The final moments of happiness for my 94 year-old grandmother, crystallized by my six month-old daughter.

***
Two years later I was watching the ancestry program “Who Do You Think You Are?”. The celebrity accounts moved me in a way that reality television never does. The star’s searches netted them personal interviews with distant relatives, visits to slave plantations and European cemeteries. And while we cannot all finance a DNA consult with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., something they all seemed to echo about newfound identity –ascertaining who one was in the context of ancestry—spoke to me.

I had always desired the standard-issue answers about my stock: places of origin, dates, names, jobs, from where I inherited this impossibly round chin. I wanted to mine the raw facts, unmuddled by oral tradition, unsullied by personal agendas. I sought the hard documents, whatever public record could offer me, anything that had not been lost in translation.

So I joined Ancestry.com like the program touted, and my digital dig began. The initial phase of my search was rapid. Cousins once and twice-removed had already paved some of the way for my search. The software will gamely connect names and dates and relationships based largely on census records, and within a few days I had connected more than a few stars in my family’s constellation.

But the thing about geneology is that the grid of names and dates is never enough. I hungered for an artifact, some small piece d’ resistance that could speak volumes about whatever it was I was supposed to learn about my family and myself.

There was a romance to excavating all the pieces, even from the online archives. My search expanded. I e-mailed with distant cousins whom I’d never met, whom I may still never meet. I foraged through the Latter-Day Saints’ database. I purchased memberships to newspaper archives. The weeks turned into months, and my desk turned into a rat’s nest made of scraps of paper with family tree branches scrawled on both sides.

As my family tree solidified, two things became abundantly clear: That which I could find would surprise me. That which I couldn’t find would not. I learned that search entries were not always so cut and dry. Census takers estimated ages. Newspapers fudged facts. My grandmother forged her maiden name.

When I found my Nana’s perfect Catholic schoolgirl penmanship lopping off the whole second half of her maiden name on her marriage license and then again on the affidavit for the county records, I felt the weight of her secret. Did she fear discrimination of her Italian surname when she married in Kansas City, Missouri in the early 1940s? Was she trying to create a new identity as she settled with my grandfather in Nashville, TN. Had she already disinherited her late father, whom I also learned my great grandmother attempted to divorce for “cruel and barbarous treatment” per another snippet from the New Castle News?

As the oldest of my siblings and cousins, I have always stood at the edge of the forest where the mighty trees are established or felled, and where the little saplings are trying to take root. There is never a steady rain of information from the canopy, only sporadic droplets of memories and news that I work hard to shield from my siblings and cousins when I am able.

I thought tracing my family roots would allow me to finally funnel all those droplets from the canopy above. Instead of being a passive reception, though, it became more of an exercise of writing a love letter to the ones I would come to know through the archives, and to those that would read what I had exhumed. Dear Family of the Past. I don’t know what kind of stunts you pulled, but you’re interesting and I love you. Thank you for making it possible for me to be here, learning about you. Dear Family of the Present and Future. Thanks for understanding my need to figure all this out. I’m getting closer. I hope you are, too.

As Pearl Harbor Day passes again this year, F.D.R.’S words echo resoundingly against fear as we approach our future, but also as we engage the stories of our past, personal, public, or otherwise. The ink that penned these stories might be difficult to decipher, but the messages of love and fearlessness are unmistakable.

Nana, Baby, Me

My Dad, Jack

Jackson Parker Centers, my dad, was born in 1918, and joined the US Navy in 1937.  He was first assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, and was still aboard when the ship was tied at Pearl.  Dad didn’t speak much about the attack because he lost many friends aboard, but what he did say, enhanced by news articles and military records speak much about the man who was my father.

He had just finished breakfast and was relaxing in his bunk when the alarm of the attack blared out.  Apparently it was not the standard “This is not a drill,” because he would never assault his daughter’s innocent ears with exactly what was said.  The first thing he did do was go to his locker to grab a pack of cigarettes.  Then while running to his station he was startled to see a torpedo heading midship.

There were five men at his station when the Oklahoma was dealt her fatal blow and the ship turned upside down looking to all viewing from above like a beached whale.  The men fought to climb up to the bottom of the ship for the water line and available air, having to wrench open the heavy metal doors to get there.  For two days, up to their necks in water and oil they fought for survival.  My dad had taken off his belt and used the buckle to pound on the inside of the hull to alert those on the outside of their whereabouts.  Finally, on Tuesday morning, December 2, 1941, at approximately 2:30 in the morning, hearing my dad’s banging, men in a passing boat found the men.  They were cut out of the hull by the light of the burning Arizona.  And I am told, a torch could not be used because it could set fire to the oil in the water, so another method was use.  Unfortunately, by the time they were able to reach the men, only two of the five remained alive, my dad and a mate.  Dad was the last of only 32 survivors from the USS Oklahoma.

The folks at home had no idea of dad’s fate for about six weeks.  He went from the Oklahoma to the military hospital for an unknown length of time.  His girlfriend, my mother, and his dad checked frequently at the local post office for any news.

In 1943, after Mom finally agreed to marry dad, they became one when he was on military leave that year.  Dad lived to fight other close calls in that war.  I was born in 1947.

I can’t imagine the horror it must have felt like to be 23 years old, sinking with your ship and the struggle to survive, men dying around you.  I don’t know if I could have handled it.  But it gave dad the philosophy that each new day of life was a gift.  Dad passed in 1993. 

Thank you to all veterans of all wars who fight to preserve our blessed way of life

Terry Strick