It Always Pays to Re-Search

Dear Reader: Do you think you are related to the individuals listed in this post? Please drop me a note! I love hearing from cousins and others researching my family!

I’ve been through Ancestry records too many times to count, but I find that it’s always fruitful to go back and repeat searches for folks I added to my family tree ages ago. Today’s finds:

A 1904 mention in the Washington Post of a lawsuit in which my grandfather, a physician, was suing an individual, presumably a patient, for $639.42.

A 1910 mention in the Post in an article detailing the inspection of a new milk plant in the D.C. area; my grandfather was one of 100 physicians and other medical personnel invited to tour the facility.

A 1911 Washington Post blurb about recent car sales. My grandfather had just purchased a Model 35 Buick Roadster. According to the American Automobiles web site, the 1912 Model 35 sold for $1,000. An ad for the vehicle is available online.

A 1915 Washington Post announcement that my grandmother would be one of many women assisting at the College Women’s Club’s presentation of “Color in the Home.”

Another 1915 Post article about a University of Pennsylvania alumni dinner that my grandfather attended.

Alert readers will note that all of these items come from the same source. I found them by drilling down into the various categories of records returned among my search results. This helps to separate the wheat form the chaff, bypassing all of those unrelated census records, etc., that always seem to clog up the first few pages of top-level search results.

All of the above items add colorful details about my grandparents’ lives and also a jumping off point for discovering more records (especially regarding that lawsuit!).

Wordy Wednesday: My Meeting with a Buffalo Soldier

I didn’t want the last days of February — Black History Month — to slip away without relating one of the more awesome experiences I had back in my reporting days. In 1998, I had the chance to interview Mark Matthews, age 103 at the time, and one of the last surviving Buffalo Soldiers who fought in the Old West.

I met with Matthews in the home of his daughter, not far from the Maryland/Washington, D.C., line. The first time I arrived to interview him, with a photographer in tow, we were refused because he didn’t feel up to having his picture taken that day. The photographer was disappointed, but when you’re 103, you call the shots.

The second time we arrived for the interview, Matthews was feeling better. Much better. I asked him one question and he talked for 40 minutes. I asked him a second question and he talked for 30 more minutes. When it came time for the photographer to take his picture, Matthews donned his cavalry hat, sat up straight and jutted out his chin, though he could barely see the camera that was pointed at him.

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Here’s a quick summary about Matthews:

He joined the Buffalo Soldiers 10th Cavalry shortly after meeting some of the soldiers when he was only 15. A friend helped him forge papers he needed to join up because you had to be 17 at the time to enlist.

“They got me all trained up and everything,” he said. “When I got to 17, they shipped me out right to Arizona.”

Matthews was part of the border patrol at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where he encountered bandits, including Pancho Villa’s men. He also served in World War II.

He later was stationed at Fort Myer, Va., where he performed in drills for the likes of Queen Elizabeth II. He got to meet President Clinton twice.

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At the time I wrote the article, it was believed that Matthews was the last surviving Buffalo Soldier from his regiment. Over time, I often wondered what happened to Matthews. After years went by, I thought surely he must have passed away. Turns out, he lived until he was 111 years old! I found this tribute page with the text of his 2005 obituary from the Washington Post. It is noted in his obituaries that he was the oldest surviving Buffalo Soldier before he died. He also was the oldest man in Washington, D.C.

It’s been nearly 12 years since the interview and I still can’t believe I had the opportunity to meet this man and hear his incredible story first-hand.

52 Weeks to a Better Genealogy: Google Maps

Here’s this week’s challenge from Amy at We Tree:

“Play with Google Maps. This is a helpful tool for determining the locations of addresses in your family history. Where your ancestral homestead once stood may now be a warehouse, a parking lot or a field. Perhaps the house is still there. When you input addresses in Google Maps, don’t forget to use the Satellite View and Street View options for perspectives that put you were right there where your ancestors once stood. If you’ve used this tool before, take sometime and play with it again. Push all the buttons, click all the links and devise new ways it can help with your personal genealogy research. If you have a genealogy blog, write about your experiences with Google Maps, or suggest similar easy (and free) tools that have helped in your own research.”

I decided to look up the address my paternal grandfather listed on his WWI draft registration card. The address is in Northwest Washington, D.C. By looking at the various views on Google Maps, I was able to determine that he lived near the National Zoo:

And that the location is now nestled between a bank and a Verizon Wireless store:

Google Maps states that a management company (with some pretty negative reviews) currently is housed at the address, but there’s a For Rent sign in the window on Street View.

My grandfather was a physician and it’s likely that his practice was housed in this building as well, especially since it appears to be a mixed use area. I know that the family used to live on the premises because I have other documents, including a letter written by my father as a teenager, bearing the address.

What I want to know is if some of the photos I have of my dad were taken at this address, including his ever-popular Rick Astley shot, which would have been taken around the time the family lived at this address. Has the neighborhood changed that much or was this photo taken at a different location?

Folks who like this kind of task may get a kick out of the Historical Aerials web site. It’s not comprehensive, but you may luck out and be able to see what your ancestral locations looked like from the air decades ago. I was able to find a view of the above street corner from 1963.

[This post constitutes Task A in the Expand Your Knowledge Event of the GeneaBloggers 2010 Winter Games and earns me a bronze medal!]

Holiday Travel

This is post #13 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Growing up, we almost always drove from Silver Spring, Md., to Alexandria, Va., on Christmas Day, to spend the afternoon and evening with my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. The drive was maybe 30-40 minutes back then. Sometimes Mom would take us through downtown Washington instead of swinging around the Beltway. I loved driving past the Pentagon and the lights of the monuments on the drive home at night.

Mom and my sister moved to New Mexico after I finished high school and so then I started flying for the holidays. I remember many dicey flights on Northwest to Albuquerque. After one harrowing landing on an icy runway in Minneapolis that caused the plane to buck and fishtail, one of the flight attendants announced over the intercom, “That, ladies and gentelemen, is why you wear your seatbelt.”

I’m actually surprised, looking back, that I didn’t experience more delays and problem flights given how much I was flying in winter weather between Washington-ABQ and then eventually Boston-Knoxville. Also, in all those years, I had only one lost bag.

Which reminds me of the time I arrived in Knoxville on Christmas Eve so famished that I begged Mom to take me to the Chili’s in the airport before we drove to her house. Halfway through my margarita, I was surprised to hear my name over the airport speaker system — I’d forgotten to claim my bag at the baggage carousel! Friends who’ve known me and my stomach know that it’s not unusual for me to have a one-track mind when I’m hungry.

Getting Started with Genealogical Research at the Library of Congress

If you are even remotely interested in history, genealogy or books, and you happen to find yourself in the Washington, D.C., area, you must make time for a visit to the Library of Congress (LoC). This post is meant to guide first-time visitors to the main facility in general and the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room, specifically. I hope to delve more deeply into some of the LoC’s specific resources in future posts.

The Local History and Genealogy Reading Room of the LoC is located in the Thomas Jefferson Building, Room LJ-G42, 101 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, D.C. 20540-4660. It is within walking distance of the Capital South Metro Station. The facility is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; and Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed Sundays and federal holidays.

This past August, I visited the Library of Congress to check out a book on my ancestors that I knew was in the LoC’s holdings. Before requesting to see the book, I decided to attend a free class on using genealogical resources at the LoC. These 1.5-hour orientation classes are usually held twice a month, on Wednesday mornings, and are infinitely helpful if you plan to do research at the LoC and in the reading room.

On arrival at the LoC, you must pass through security (rules: http://www.loc.gov/rr/genealogy/begin.html) and apply for a reader card that gets you access to the reading rooms and materials. This process took me less than half an hour.

Librarian Reginald Downs was the leader of the orientation session that I attended. In addition to telling us about the resources available and the protocols for requesting and using materials, he took us on a walking tour of the LoC, including the main reading room and several of the alcoves that would be of interest to genealogists/historians (the original card catalog and the city telephone directory rooms included). Reginald also briefly covered some of the other reading rooms that might be of help to historians/genealogists, including the map collection, the manuscripts reading room, the newspaper/current periodicals reading room and the rare book and special collections reading room.

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When you locate a volume at the LoC that you would like to view, you fill out a call slip and give it to a staff member in the reading room. Once you are an established user, you can request materials ahead of time online when you locate materials in the catalog before you arrive (tips for searching the catalog: http://www.loc.gov/rr/genealogy/tips.html). It takes about 45 minutes to one hour for materials to be brought to you at the room. You can write “HOLD” on the slip and your material will be set aside for you, allowing you to visit another part of the facility in the meantime (perhaps another reading room, or there are two cafeterias inside the facility that both offer pretty good food).

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The reading room has desks available for your day’s research. If your work will take several days to complete, you can request a shelf or room for long-term purposes. Use reserved slips to hold the materials you are working on (this is advisable, because once you return a volume, it can take up to 7-10 days to be re-shelved and, therefore, requested again). You must use your reserved space and materials at least once a week in order to maintain it.

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In addition to desk space where you can spread out the materials you are working with, the reading room also has computers where you can access the LoC’s subscription databases (including Ancestry Library Edition and HeritageQuest Online, among others) and the Internet. Printing from the computers is free. Copying pages from books, on the other hand, requires the purchase of a copy card for use at the reading room’s copier for $.20 per copy. Professional copying services are available at the LoC as well.

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Stay tuned for more details on using specific resources in the reading room in future posts.

If you have published a genealogy, the LoC wants a copy! Learn how to donate materials and help future researchers here: http://www.loc.gov/rr/genealogy/gifts.html